"Well, alright then. I guess its time to chop off a few...inches of your hair then. You all set? Cause you know once I cut it, it isn't going to be back to that length for a long time."
Ilya eyed the blade carefully, taking in its relative simpleness but all-around usefulness in this day and age. If she were in a different situation, Ilya would be running the other way but in this case she cared little for it. Now the actual cutting would be a little awkward unless she did it herself.
"Yeah... that's what I want. Adapt to survive, right?" Ilya peeped out.
The cut was clean as she had hoped. Her hair fell like taught rope onto the ground and even with it washed, the weight of having all that hair made Ilya's head feel lighter. She could better feel the wind on her back which she counted as a good thing to some extent. Derrick had a mirror lying around and she looked at it, not recognizing the person reflected back at first. Ilya could better see her elongated face, her gaunt cheeks, sharp chin, small nose, and pale lips. Her skin still rested in the shadow of her remaining hair but as she raised it with her hand, the light above was reflected off her skin. It gleamed despite the sallow light source and Ilya was transfixed by it. A day ago this would never have happened to her let alone would she have done so. A gasp of astonishment escaped her lips followed by exhalation of wonder as she looked at her face at different angles. This happened for a few moments before she remembered that this wasn't a dream and Derrick was still in her presence. Ilya turned to him sheepishly.
"Sorry... not used to not having a lot of hair." Ilya mumbled.
"Thanks!" she shouted back as the man left. Lady. He called me lady. Didn't think I'd be getting that after the start I had here. Sir this, creature that. Nice to hear lady again.
After another go through, Platinum felt her hair was sufficiently clean, and the rest of her body was dust free for the first time in days. One of the only benefits of her acquired skin color was it seemed a little more resistant to the elements then her original tanned look. Maybe that was just the absence of the creams and lotions that she used to use to keep her body is prime condition that attracted dirt. Whatever, she still felt better.
She turned off the water and stepped out of the stall, finding the towel that had been left by the man, along with a can of beer. She gave herself a quick go-over with the towel before wrapping it around her hair. Her clothes were still a birty dirty but at least the steam from the shower had cleaned them up a little bit. It was something. On went her tank top and shorts and then she turned to the drink. Platinum tried to lift the tab off and open it, but her talons weren't allowing for easy flipping. After a couple of tries she resorted to her usual method; she stabbed through the top of the can with her index figure. The hole was small, but a twist opened it up enough for the liquid to come out. A small sip reacquainted her with the taste of beer. After all that wine and liquor we had, a non-flat beer is a welcome change.
Leaving the towel in the stall, Platinum walked back out to where the beds were and plonked down onto the nearest one. She splayed out on the best, the claws on her feet pointing up as she spread out, enjoying a chance just lay there, not having to worry about finding food, or killing some mutant beast. She leaned up to get another sip from the can and put her head back down, keeping the towel in place. I could just fall asleep right here.
"Ruby, get us a glass of wine from a fresh bottle? The help here is ridiculously slow," Sapphire instructed the younger girl. "Ask for a bottle of something light, maybe a bottle of sparkling Rosť champagne?" Sonia took a moment to commit the request to memory in case she accidentally said something wrong.
"Well, go on." Not trusting herself to speak, Sonia simply nodded and got up from her seat. She knew Sapphire was getting her away from the pit fight for a while. It was a smart move: she would likely remain uncomfortable, or worse, if she remained close to the blood sport. The crowds began to cheer on the fight as she walked away with a modicum of haste, making her way towards the bar that was set up a fair distance away from the arena and the seats surrounding it.
The two bartenders behind the counter were already dealing with a fair few people, juggling drinks for individual customers and bottles or trays for the hired help. Sonia stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the other girls: they all wore similar outfits, and she was dressed differently to them. The bartenders took a while getting to her: she simply took a seat and waited her turn, sometimes aware of a set of eyes on her. She paid them no heed for now.
Eventually one of the bartenders had a spare moment for Sonia. "C'n I help you, miss?"
"Yes. A bottle of sparkling champagne, please, and three glasses," she promptly answered. She was trying to sound like she had every right to be at the bar, ordering a bottle of - probably expensive - wine. The third glass - for herself - was likely going to go unused, but Sonia had been taught to always provide the option for herself unless specifically requested otherwise.
The bartender, a slightly balding man in his forties, was skeptical. "You're a bit young to be drinkin', missie. On whose tab am I chargin' this?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Mr. Deschamps, sir."
"Ahh. Saw ole Deschamps walkin' in a little while back with a lady on each arm... 'e's a little bit out of the loop sometimes, from what I 'ear, but 'e sure knows how to pick 'em, if'n you don't mind me sayin'." Sonia didn't: she simply gave the man a smile and tried a gesture she'd seen Sapphire use earlier. Tucking a stray lock of dyed-blonde hair behind one ear resulted in a small smile playing at the corners of the bartender's mouth; the man produced a large bottle in a bucket filled with ice, and a trio of crystal glasses on a plain silver tray.
"Enjoy, young miss," he said as he passed the bucket and tray to Sonia. She carefully balanced the tray on one upraised hand as she had been taught, and collected the wine with her other hand. Once she was sure she had everything in place, she carefully made her way back to Sapphire and Deschamps, taking a slightly winding path that avoided the possibility of tripping over someone as they went about their business.
Derrick stood away, letting Ilya admire her features in the small mirror that he had. It never hurt to have one handy, especially when selling clothes to many individuals. The women in particular seemed to consistently need the mirror to verify how they would look in certain bands, or a certain gem or accessory to add on to their outfit. However, in any case it was slightly odd for him to be waiting about like this, especially for another girl which wasn't even officially introduced to the business yet. However, he was more than willing to spend a bit more time. Besides, it was time for him to reflect a bit before she suddenly gasped and spoke.
"Sorry... not used to not having a lot of hair." Ilya mumbled.
"Even underneath those clothes you are still a woman, and even I remember that. You look well, and I imagine you feel somewhat out of place. Which is as good a place to start, as we are going to be heading somewhere where you probably haven't been in some time. We are going to a somewhat more...fancy place for business. I'm going to show you some places and information that will help you on the road you are about to undertake." Derrick said, rising from where he had sat down as he waited for Illya to look herself over.
"Now, as we get going, I want you to note a few things in particular. First, on who you are going to be dealing with. Your experience with nobles is a good one, but when you are actively selling things like this, it is more about making them want it to be worth more. Next, you need to note where you are dealing with them, as a deal in a bar is somewhat more...sensitive than a deal on the streets like we have been doing. Think your eyes can keep up with those for now?"
Derrick couldn't say he was exactly in his element in teaching someone else how to be a proper merchant as he had largely done all his learning first hand experience, and less with someone guiding him. However, he figured that this was as good a way as any, and would provide the most differing experiences for Illya to see...and maybe a chance to see a particular someone.
Ilya nodded, taking in Derrick's words. She recalls very little of being in a bar let alone being in a place where mostly humans conversed. She always stood away, far from those who could tell her apart which was a dark corner elsewhere. She checked the mirror once more, drawn by her looks but mostly from the anxiety of being in a tight place but hopefully they would be too intoxicated to figure it out. Even with Derrick's kind words, Ilya remained slightly nervous about the endeavor.
"Think your eyes can keep up with those for now?"
"Yeah... I can." Ilya said, this time with more courage as to not make Derrick nervous about bringing a disguised carrier to a bar filled with humans.
It was a bit of a walk to get to the bar Derrick picked out but in the mean time, Ilya thought about the different scenarios that could play out which ended in either them walking out or not at all. It would be difficult for her to break out of her shell for other people besides Derrick because she owed him but she had to otherwise she would be back to scavenging which wasn't necessarily that bad. The pair went back into the nice streets once more but at least this time, not many people paid attention to her which was a plus.
Then, Derrick pushed open the door to the bar where the smell of alcohol flushed her sense of smell. There was loud talking and banter throughout the bar with a drop of laughter every few seconds. This place was alien to a wide-eyed Ilya. She turned nervously to Derrick who was already greeted by a few people.
"W-what do I do now?" Ilya nervously asked.
William walked up to the woman on the bed with an extra blanket before noticing her clothes were still dirty.
"You want one of us to get your clothes washed for ya? We can find ya some clean workout clothes or something to wear while ya wait if you're worried about modesty. Maybe even find a pair in your size from one of the boy's wives." He offered as he set the blanket down over the metal head board near her head.
The music was still playing as the workers continued to dance and drink. They were lucky to have some old world music and the means to play it but tonight a few of them men had felt like setting up a band and actually playing some of the music they had learned by ear. Of course they also had the peanut gallery commenting on every mistake they made while learning so it may as well have been pitch perfect.
"If you can find something similar to these, that would be great," Platinum told her host as she stood up and started to remove her clothing. Modesty was not something she was worried about. At least a thousand men had seen her naked already. What was a thousand and one? She peeled off the tank top and slipped the shorts off, tossing them both to the man. "I don't know if you can do anything with the heavier clothes, but my outer layer could probably use a cleaning as well." She notioned towards the pants and jacket still hanging in the bathroom. "They took most of the dust on my travels."
For the first time, Platinum noticed the music playing. It was inaudible over the running water before, but now it was nice. It reminded her of home. Not New Buffalo or the Golden Sparrow, but home home. Rendil. It had been so long since she had been there. Not since her mother's 45th birthday party. She looked down at the floor, trying to remember anything from that time, but it was hard coming.
She sat back down on the bed, stretching her legs, taking the blanket that had been dropped off and throwing it over herself. The beer took another hit as Platinum took a long swig from the can. "If you've got anything in the way of reading material too, that'd be nice. Hard to come by books in the ruins, and I used to read a lot during my down time."
"I will see what I can do for ya ma'am. Time in the wastes earns ya a little luxury now and then. Or at least as close as we can get to it." William said with a laugh as he pulled the blanket she had been laying on off the bed before she laid down on it again. He decided not to comment on her nudity, it wasn't the first time somebody had been nude in the building nor would it be the last. Not like it would bode ill for her in any way as it was, the men were respectful enough to not try anything. He took the underclothes and started a washer with some detergent after some difficulty getting the darned machine to work.
He then walked over to one of the wives of the workers and pointed to the pants and jacket.
"You mind doin me a favor and seein what ya can do about cleanin those up for our guest. She's picked up a lot of dust on her travels and it wouldn't be very neighborly of us to send her out covered in filth." The woman smiled and nodded before walking off to clean them properly.
"I owe ya one." He said as she walked away. With that he went off to find some clothes for her. He found a tank top and a pair of sweat pants and walked back by the bed, casually throwing them onto her body as he continued walking in the direction he had been going.
The purpose was to get books for her. They kept piles of them scattered around based on which had survived in better condition. The ones that were destroyed tended to be used as kindling in the worse months of the year. He grabbed an armful and set them down next to the bed. They varied wildly in size and content, ranging from old science journals and magazines to novels and translations of older works.
"Here's one pick of what we got, if ya want you can get up and find more." With that he walked over to the fridge and grabbed a beer of his own, sitting down on a bed before taking a drink of it.
Joel was once again on the streets, doing his best to look as inconspicuous as a giant with an even larger metal arm could look. In truth, he didn't really care if more of Mallone's goons spotted him; they wouldn't stop him, but a large scale fight could draw the attention of much more powerful forces. Joel already had a few run-ins with some of his former comrades in the guard force; he had been paid to snuff out some of them. Those hadn't been assignments he was too thrilled to accept, but he had to make a living somehow.
Looking around, he found himself back in the area surrounding GunShotz. The aptly named bar was itself now filled with bullet holes from real gun shots. There were no lights on, and it was clear that the bartender had packed up and fled after the fight. Despite all that, the normal hustle and bustle of that corner of Triumph had resumed, with people casually walking by the shot up structure as if nothing had happened at all. Jole never could tell if this kind of nonchalant attitude from Ritheen's populace was due to a built up resistance or a sweeping wave of apathy. In the end, it probably didn't matter which.
Blending with the crowd, and occasionally having to lightly push his way through, Joel continued onward, heading deeper into the city. He knew from previous visits that Andy spent most of his time in his estate in Rendil, but he occasionally came up for air and to lick the boots of the nobles who were in higher standing than himself. Joel recalled hearing about a gathering at the Behari Mansion, a few dozen notable people from across the nation gathering to witness a few bouts of gladiatorial combat. He knew Mallone to have a sick fascination with the blood sports, it wasn't unlikely that Joel might find the treacherous bastard at such an event.
Elsewhere in Triumph a trio of rookie city guards were out on their routine patrol. Since earning their uniforms only a few months back, the three young men had been out through light security details in a few of the cities, but most of their time was spent serving under Captain Simms in Triumph. They had yet to experience anything truly horrible in the line of duty, so they possessed an air of levity not typically found among the city guards. They merged with the citizens of Triumph, rather than make a deliberate attempt to stick out; giving an occasional nod of acknowledgement, or even a friendly "Hello" as they went about their business.
The lead guard glanced back at his brothers in arms, "Hey Wilson, after my week's up here I'm doin' a stint in Baronstadt. Got a patrol near the Sparrow," he said, making conversation.
"You lucky fucker, how'd you land that?" Wilson responded.
"My Uncle's a lieutenant in that sector, got him to pull some strings to get me the transfer."
"Damn, man... girls there are pretty hot."
"Yeah, no shit!"
"You gonna be taking a lot of R&R there?"
"You know it. I think I uh... think I made an impression on of 'em when I was there a few months ago. She told me to 'come back reeeeal soon.'"
"Yeah, I think she was just trying to get more of your money, man."
"No, no, she told me to drop her name the next time I'm there and that'll get me their VIP Service."
"And what exactly are the benefits of this alleged 'VIP Service'?"
"I have no idea, but I am damn excited to find out."
The lead guard turned back again, this time to check the guard in the back. The usually talkative and active man was strangely silent, and appeared to be walking along at a slower pace. "Hey, Barnaby, you alright back there?" he shouted out to the guard in back.
"Yeah... I'm fine," Barnaby responded with a cough, "think I'm just gettin' a cold is all."
"Well, after our shift is done we'll head on down to the bar. We'll get some tequila, that'll fix ya up."
"Ha ... Sounds good."
In a seemingly run down building located near the southern edge of the city, nestled between a few of it's many market districts, there stood a mysterious hooded figure with an older man at his side. The two were looking at a computer screen as countless bits of data flashed by.
"You sure they'll be making their move soon?" The figure said, his voice deepened and warped through a robotic filter."
"Yes, the same reports keep showing up several times over; it's being passed around to all the governors and a few of the captains," the man replied matter-of-factly.
"We knew they were going to up the pressure at some point. We'll just have to hit then back, same as we always do."
"A risky move at this point. When The Baron's killed so many of us, I don't know if we have the numbers we need to keep fighting this way. We need more bodies."
"Agreed... Get the word out to our people in the field. Tell them to be on the lookout for recruits; capable people who hold a grudge."
"Are we starting an open recruitment now?"
"We don't have much choice. We need to be ready before he puts his plans in motion."
"Otherwise the children might see their end."
"We might fall, but Erebus will live on."
The data was saved onto a storage drive and the computer was purged then turned off. The two men stepped away from the machine and turned to each other. The older man pressed his arm to his chest and bowed his head. "From our efforts," he stated.
"Our people will be free," the figure replied in turn, before grabbing the other mans hand in a handshake.
Derrick couldn't help but laugh as a few patrons recognized him, asking if he was buying a drink or going to join them for a bit. He decided that it was better to decline, as drinking then trying to show how a merchant does things was probably not the best plan he could think of today. Besides, some of his colleagues seemed to note his particularly wide eyed partner looking around rather nervously, and joked that perhaps he should take her to the kiddy waters first. He laughed and told them in general terms that she was going to get the hang of it one way or another.
Derrick turned, chuckling to himself as Ilya seemed horribly out of her element, which was probably a good start. He went over to a table, and sat, gesturing to Ilya to do the same. This was where he was known well enough to not have to worry about people screwing things up, but at the same time knowing his business well enough to want something from time to time.
"W-what do I do now?"
"Simple, my good traveler. Your task here is to simply try to tell me what the people here would buy, and what they would be willing to buy...." Derrick said simply. Maybe he should have brought some goods with him? Was a bit too late at this point. Doing a quick scan, he chose out several individuals over at the bar. A slightly differing group, but he knew them well enough to claim reasonable prices and goods.
"Those folks over there. Those seven. I want you to choose what you think they want, and if they are expensive or cheap. Its a simple, but I would like to see what you think people like. Especially when....in their element. Like a drink? I think it can help relax your nerves a bit. My treat, for the moment." Derrick teased, sitting back and relaxing simply soaking in the atmosphere of the place.
"My treat, for the moment." Ilya took the drink in her hand, swirling the potent substance in front of her.
Ilya took a tiny sip of the drink and the best way description her mind could come up with was that of a medical alcohol. She remembered dipping her finger in that substance when she was just a child and her mother put a swab of alcohol to treat a cut. Even with just a swipe, the alcohol moistened her finger and soon she placed it in her mouth. Disgust followed. Disgust, that was what Ilya felt in her stomach but she kept in to try and show Derrick that she would deal with it. After a few seconds, she regained her train of thought and looked to the seven people that Derrick pointed out. They looked like they were a party of people just enjoying their time at the bar. The only people-reading Ilya was used to was if someone was leaving or staying.
One of the men held his arm around the woman next to him. Something shone on his finger and so did the woman. A couple.
"Th-those two. The couple, I think they want something together. Maybe a bigger house, a better place to stay than here. I guess more food too... for a family maybe." Ilya mumbled. Words rolled off her tongue with ease but her filter had a hard time keeping up.
Then her eyes moved on to the singular woman who laughed along with them, drinking the same toxic that she was drinking. Her face looked different than the others in this room. It looked loud, eye-catching.
"Her... she'd buy things to make her stick out. Clothes." Much to Ilya's dismay, she found herself taking another small sip. If it made her speak better then she might as well take more of it. Lights began to look different, and something began to make her sweat.
Next one up was a man taller and bigger than anyone in the group. He looked like a giant in man's skin. Ilya heard stories of creatures bigger than the infected, stronger than them in every way that roamed the wild wastelands and she was convinced that the man was one of them.
"Him." Ilya pointed. "Big things... like hammers, tools. He looks like he works with tools or maybe he protects important people. He looks good to hurt people but also help them."
The man with the horned-rim glasses was next. There was a frailness to him. Ilya was thinking of how long he'd last in the wasteland. His hands were heavy with veins that pulsated with each breath he took but mostly because of his lack of fat. He was as thin as a stake in the ground.
"The one with the glasses. Maybe he's into books because it doesn't look like he's the type to be in the wild but who is?"
Finally, there was another couple but they seemed different from the other ones they were directly across from. Instead of arms being tangled with each others, they crossed themselves. Neither of them had shiny rings on their fingers but they still shared the look the other couple had. These ones were the hardest to read.
"The other two... I don't think they're together like the other couple. I think they want to buy something to get them to the same level as the other two. I think they'd buy more drinks..."
Ilya's vision began to swirl. She never felt anything like this before and it felt especially dreadful. The air inside the room was thick and constricted her ability to breathe. Ilya left the table and went outside to the nearest alleyway. Ilya was emptied of anything in her stomach as she groaned, leaning on the wall. She heard Derrick's steps come closer and she removed her sunglasses to look at him with her yellow eyes. Ilya peered from a corner and saw something familiar behind him. His blue "aura" was framed by the red aura that she closely associated with the infected. Behind Derrick, three guards were about to enter the restaurant and one of them was infected. Panic pumped through her veins. Ilya's first instinct was to run but Derrick was so close to them so left the safety of the alleyway and stumbled into Derrick. She leaned close to his ear while on his neck.
"The guards... one of them is infected..." She whispered into his ear. To the guards it looked like a couple exchanging an intimate moment but to Ilya, it was something else.
As Derrick followed Ilya, he couldn't help but give his head a small shake. While she showed spirit, it was somewhat apparent to him that she didn't possess quite the eyesight he was looking for. She saw all the obvious signs, but nothing exactly good for selling. A few pointers, but it was a start at least. Though perhaps it was not such a good idea to give her a drink to get going with things. However, when she jumped back into his arms he was slightly surprised, but even more surprised by the message.
"The guards... one of them is infected..."
Derrick's expression darkened, and his thoughts quickly shifted to a very particular courtesan whom he knew was somewhere in this richer part of the city. While he could only guess where, he began hoping that she was VERY far from this location, especially if Ilya was right, and could see the infected man.
"Then we will worry about this little exercise later. Can you walk alright? Here..." Derrick offered an arm and began helping Ilya make her way away from the bar and also guards. Perhaps the man would turn there, or perhaps he would turn some small distance away. Whatever the case, he knew that he needed to be at a less crowded location, and also needed to make sure the right people were safe from this disaster.
"Hope you don't mind the terrible question, but how....fast have you seen someone turn? Just to see if you've seen it happen...well, faster than I can predict. Otherwise, we'll need to get the hell out of this city. Now."
And get quite a few others out of here as well. That will be a bit more tricky, but....there are old ways of getting around. Perhaps I could use those? First things first Derrick, find out how bad this is going to get....
Having finished off the rest of his reserves in under half a day, Captain Simms placed the empty glass on his desk. He stood there looking over his paperwork, his elevated position of great importance within the force he served for so long. To Simms, it just signified the death of career, and the murder of any hope he'd see action again, all because of "The Children."
Simms sighed and got behind the desk, parking himself in front of the computer that had become the staple of his days. Multiple reports of various disturbances had come in over the past few hours, a few more noteworthy than usual.
Adjusting his eyes to the small font and bright screen of the computer, Simms reviewed the new data:
-The shooting up of a dive bar in the slums
-A disturbingly large pocket of infected approaching the southeastern wall
-The murder of several members of Simms' own men in broad daylight
-Eyewitness accounts of an unsanctioned blood match being held at the Behari estate
-Unsubstantiated rumors of a drug trade going on in the market district.
The Captain furrowed his brow, and regretted sleeping off some of his still lingering hangover, while the city of Triumph saw an unusually busy day within its dusty walls. Directing the whole of all units stationed in the city from the hub of his office, Simms started radioing a general order to his men, "Comm check. All active personnel report in."
At the Behari Mansion, amidst the crowds still enjoying the bloodshed stood a man appearing to be in his late 20s. By all accounts he drew no attention to himself; he was dressed in an appropriate manner, and he stood among the crowd as if he belonged there, but to a more careful observer it would be obvious that he didn't.
His mannerisms, the way he carried himself didn't suggest the bearings of nobility, or one who frequently associated with them. His face, rougher, less smooth and soft, suggested he had seen a life outside the gilded halls and luxurious mansions of the other patrons at this party. His hair had been haphazardly neatened, and the look of determination, of purpose in his eyes were a far cry from the aimless hunger that most of Ritheen's privileged always had.
The man counted his blessings that he would likely not find himself scoped out and analyzed; he didn't belong among the crowds of this party, and he was anxious to leave, but he knew he had a job to accomplish first. As he stood among the crowds and watched the climax of a brutal fight between the infected and Behari's own personal beasts, he heard a ringing in his left ear. Subtly, the man brushed his hand up against his neck, and quickly pressed on the comm device he was wearing.
"Saber?" A familiar voice filled the young man's ear, a female voice at that.
"Saber here," he responded as quietly as he could without rendering himself inaudible.
"How goes the party?" the woman asked, with a playful tone in her voice.
"Oh, it's everything I was promised," Saber replied in a deadpan manner, "I saw a walking refrigerator toss a man into a pit after snapping his neck."
"Do you think he has potential?"
"I... dunno. Seeing what I saw didn't exactly build confidence."
"We need help, and we're not exactly in the best position to be choosy."
"I know, but I'm not sure about opening our doors like this."
"We're taking precautions, doing this as carefully as we can."
"What we really need, is to be careful about who we let in."
"Well, there should be no shortage of potential candidates among the fighters there. Surely one of them wants to fight for something greater than coin."
With a quick tap on the device, their communication ended. Saber was once again left to search on his own, his sight focused back to the bloodied arena. The fighters seen earlier were suitable, but none seemed up to the task; no one combatant seemed to stand out as truly impressive. The man wondered if it was a solid fighter he was really looking for. If need be, he could approach a band of mercs and get the same thing with significantly less hassle.
His thoughts wandered as his gaze turned from the arena to the crowd; he scanned the people across from him. No one seemed to stand out, until he caught a glimpse of a young girl. He had stolen glances at this thin, red headed girl a few times during the day's proceeding. Initially, he thought it was merely because he was captured by her physical beauty; a notion which he forced himself to brush off to focus on the fighters, but now, he was able to get a better look at her. He saw something in her green eyes; the familiar glare of a thief, scoping out her marks. That kind of training, of the eyes to always be alert, was impossible to conceal. He now wondered if that wasn't what drew him to her before; could she have been the potential recruit he was looking for all along?
"Squads: B5, G9, C4, I'm deviating you from your scheduled patrol this afternoon," Simms informed his men, "As you're probably aware by now, there have been reports of a violent struggle over at GunShotz. We have reason to believe that some of our men may have perished in the attack. This theory is supported by the fact that I have yet to receive comm checks from: Lasky, Parker, Norris, Barnaby, or Winston. I want you to go down there; find any evidence you can. Be on alert for any suspicious activity in the area."
Saber started working his way over to the girl. He was uncertain of what he would say to try and convince her to join a group he couldn't safely mention by name in public. He was, frankly, amazed that Erebus picked him to serve as one of his recruiters. He had been with The Children long enough for their leader to know that public relations wasn't his strong point. As he moved each foot in front of the other, his mind kept formulating the right way to go about doing it. He wasn't even certain she possessed the ideology Erebus required, she could have been a sympathizer to The Baron's cause, or simply uninterested in the conflict as a whole.
His thoughts were cut short, however, by another round of ringing in his ear.
He quickly responded to the call, "Saber!" the woman's voice was much more hectic now.
"Saber here, what is it High Intel? I'm a bit busy at the moment," he responded.
"We've intercepted some chatter coming from Captain Simms. You need to hear this," she informed him.
After a small crack in the audio and a second of static, Captain Simms' voice sounded through the comm piece. "Squads: A7, F3, D2, I want you to break up the Behari party. We have intel that claims Gadin Behari has not been completely forthright about what's going on behind his walls this afternoon," Simms claimed. Saber listened on intently, "The mansion will likely be filled with powerful people, dangerous people. We merely want Bahari brought in and his... guests dispersed, but I doubt watching an unsanctioned death match is the only criminal activity these people are engaging in. Use your discretion, but if things get ugly, I'm authorizing a shoot to kill order. No great loss if anyone at that party were to become a casualty."
"That sounds bad," the man stated to his contact.
"It is," the woman responded plainly.
"How much time do I have?"
"Squad A7 is stationed in the same sector as the mansion. They're probably already on their way; I'd say you have five minutes, tops."
"Not sure I'll be able to get our recruit out of here that quickly."
"Well you'll need to convince him, fast!"
Saber looked at the girl, and at the company she kept, another young woman, though older than the girl, and a much older man, probably a nobleman. He quickly walked towards the trio and grabbed the man's right arm, bringing him closer. "You don't know me, but you and your friends are in serious danger if you don't get out of here right now," he said to the man in a hushed tone, quiet enough to avoid alerting the entire mansion and risking a riot.
Ilya's swirling thoughts were beginning to merge together again thanks to the situation at hand but that didn't get rid of a pounding headache. She thought about what Derrick said concerning the infection.
She's seen humans turn more than she would like to admit but they were all different. Some turned in an instant while others turned in a matter of hours or up to a whole day. She would, out of curiosity, follow the infected humans to watch the effects of the infection and the eventual transformation which wasn't pretty. Ilya remembered following one human after he was bitten for a few hours then he met up with another group of humans. The man turned, even in his sleep. The others were too late in realizing or stopping this. Ilya figured that was how the infection initially spread to swallow the world.
"I-it depends. The guard didn't look so far gone so we should have some time before he t-turns." Ilya stuttered. Derrick's assistance in helping her stand made it easier for her to regain her balance and it was the closest she's ever been to a human that wasn't infected. It worried her even more.
As the man walked off, the clothes that were available got thrown on quickly. The tank top was a little loose on Platinum, something that made her frown a bit. Sigh, I would have filled this out so well before I had to be fast and able to move. Now it's just hanging on me. She slid the sweatpants on and hopped back on the bed just in time for the man to return with the requested readings.
A quick leaf through the slightly decayed material revealed a lot of scientific pictures that went over Platinum's head. She was a student of the arts, not of more mechanical works. There were a couple novels that interested her, the more striking of the two was a dog-eared copy of Angels and Demons. Platinum had never heard of it but the artwork on the cover was pretty looking.
She took the novel. "Thanks. You can tell your friends the music is lovely as well. Probably won't last a few pages before I doze off with them playing like that."
"Trust me, the band doesn't need an inflating of their egos." William joked as he took a drink of his beer.
"And no worries about the books. Plenty more scattered around here if ya find yourself getting through it quicker than you thought. Again make yourself comfortable, we try to be a hospitable bunch." With that he left to go join some of the others in his group who were dancing with the music as others chatted and laughed. Wherever that band decided to set up for the night tended to be where most of them congregated.
Light bubbles filled Sapphire's champagne glass. Deschamps had rose from the couch before Ruby returned,leaning over the pit with the other nobles, placing bets and savoring the blood. She brought the glass up to her lips, letting the alcohol wet her mouth. If she drank too much, she might end up forgetting the rest of her money. But there was no arguing with free. It was one of the perks: they were paid their fees in addition to food and drink, jewelry, dresses, and lingerie.
"Enjoying the party, Ruby?" Sapphire put her feet up on the couch, flipping her hair over to one side. The 'festivities' were starting to get boring. See one infected biped pull the legs off a dog, you've seen them all. Although it was the first time she saw a dog rolled into a ball from the back legs up.
Taking another sip, she noticed a young man walk up to Deschamps. Gambling? No, the other man was uneasy, urgent. Deschamps yelled at him, shoving him back from the pit before going back to shouting at the animals. I wonder what that's about... Whatever it was, he looked like he was going to try again. Sapphire plucked a grape off a passing tray and tossed it at the man. He struck her as a rouge-ish lordling. He didn't have the look of new money, but rather, the look of some nobleman's son who went off chasing fame and fortune. She scoot over so her arm touched Ruby's, pointing him out with a slight nod. Pointing him out as a... person of interest. A smile curled her lips as she beckoned him over with a finger.
If they were lucky, she could get her hands on some dirt. If they weren't... well, there weren't too many bad outcomes.
"I-it depends. The guard didn't look so far gone so we should have some time before he t-turns."
Derrick shook his head, not exactly happy about the information. It was at least something to work off of, at least, and perhaps meant that he would be of some distance away from the disaster that would no doubt occur. He had seen this type of problem before, but it was usually some random traveler or person who got sick and then was quickly gunned down by guards. This time, it would be an armored guard who was infected and none were the wiser. And he would rather not have to deal with that kind of scenario if he could help it. That, and he didn't quite know how it would play out. Would the man go after his other guards first, making the problem far worse? His questions to himself were quickly interrupted when he noticed that some amount of guards seemed to be heading in the same direction he was. Towards the mansion which he had made a point to know the location of, just in case something in particular happened. Largely, Derrick mused, because the man called Deschamps was a bit of a scoundrel, and a bastard in some business circles.
Of course, even when he is bringing in expensive help he doesn't seem to mind throwing it all to the wind. Damned man, and damned bad luck. I won't be able to get there before the guards at this point. Going to need to be smart about this.
"Hey, you gonna be alright? You seem kinda...off. Apologies for the drink, I guess I didn't realize you wouldn't take to it very well." Derrick said, now directing them to another location, where he could get underground, and thus away from the guards. "Hope you don't mind a bit of climbing, but we need to get out of sight, I think."
"Hope you don't mind a bit of climbing, but we need to get out of sight, I think."
Ilya managed to regain her composure soon enough as Derrick suggested going underground. "Yeah... I can manage." Ilya muttered although she was far more concerned about not going. She'd never seen the infection spread in a city before and she would hate to see it now. The infected wouldn't hurt her if she wasn't careful but rather the humans who couldn't tell the difference between her kind and them.
Derrick paused for a moment, looking Ilya over as he continued to help her walk along. She was....recovering, was the best way he could put it. She would likely not be in the best of shapes too soon, which meant that he would either need to be a bit more careful in this particular...excursion, or would need to leave her underground at one place to rest. However, he would worry about that particular scenario when it got here, and instead made his way to one of the more distant alleys and finally got to the old entrance. It was maintenance for the subways under the city, he guessed. He wasn't really sure, as there were not exactly any signs in good repair that offered any insight.
And at this point, it doesn't matter. This entrance will get me past most of the annoying nonsense in my way, and out of the more dangerous streets if things do start to get out of hand. And that would work as well in getting out of here...though it isn't exactly the most glamorous way out. Less problematic though.
"Alright, here we are. You want to go down first, or shall I? Or are you still unsteady, and need a rest? Don't need you falling down the ladder now, cause I'm sure you would break something important." Derrick said, sliding the cover out of the way after taking a quick look around to make sure they would not be bothered. Such an action was almost habit for him at this point, but it paid to be out of anyone's eye for a period of time, and this was one of those times.
"I'll go first." Ilya replied. There was no better way to regain her movement than by some physical activity. Ilya approached the decrepit entrance carefully, eyeing any signs of advanced decay or any hint of danger like rusted pipes that could collapse at any second. It reminded Ilya of her own time, scavenging in old tunnels that ran through mountains filled with vehicles and their "occupants". It was dangerous operating in the dark but they often yielded plenty of loot.
Ilya lowered herself to the ladder, the nausea from her drink creeping through her movements but they were careful. Ilya climbed down with no accident and she scanned the tunnel they were in now which was mostly obscured by the darkness although she could make out the curves and walls from the light they deflected off their moist surfaces. It didn't smell all that well either but it wasn't anything too overwhelming. For the moment it looked clear and she signaled Derrick with a simple thumbs-up, not wanting to attract any unwanted attention with her voice.
Saber quickly steadied his footing after being shoved out of the way by the man. He was surprisingly strong for a man of his age (and size.) The younger man shot the older one a piercing glare, highlighted by his icy blue eyes, as he went back to yelling some inane orders at the beasts in the ring, as if they'd understand him at all.
He was about to press the man again, when he saw something small and purple heading towards him out the corner of his eye. In a swift motion, he grabbed the grape before it hit him, and his gaze was directed to the one that tossed it, the young woman that accompanied the old man and the girl. Without saying anything, he tossed the grape aside and approached her.
Joel was still steadily making his way to the mansion, when he noticed a group of seven guards quickly brushing through the crowd, heading in the same direction. After staring for a brief moment, and thinking he overheard the word "Behari" being mentioned, Joel increased his own pace.
The sound of footsteps kicking rubble echoed through the maintenance tunnels under Triumph. The beam of a flashlight cut through the darkness, illuminating a maze of systems. Two figures could be seen wandering through the tunnels, a man and a woman.
The woman jumped down from a particularly large bit of rubble. Her booted feet made a splash as she landed in a small puddle; the echo seemed to go on for miles. She shined the flashlight ahead of her as her eyes peered further down the tunnel. Her view snapped behind her as her compatriot tripped and landed face first on the ground.
"Ugh," she groaned as she walked over to him, extending out her hand, "get up!" She pulled him to his feet. "Sorry," he said indignantly, "but we've been wandering around these tunnels for a half an hour now. Do you even know where you're going?"
"Vaguely," she replied.
"Fuckin' great," the man griped as he stepped over the puddle, keeping in step with his companion.
The two continued down the tunnel until the entered an old and dilapidated subway system.
The man had his left hand pressed against his ear, "Comm chatter's goin' nuts out there, somethin' big's goin' down," the man stated.
"No shit," the woman responded.
The man took a quick look around the area they were in, he caught glimpses of long dried blood spatter, and a few fettered human remains. The grim sight made him shudder, "Hell of a place to set up shop," he broadcasted his thoughts, "do we really have to wander through this graveyard?"
"We should be getting close...er, just suck it up, you pussy," she mocked him.
"Just sayin', a guy who can call this place 'home' doesn't seem all there."
"This guy's on the level."
"You sure about that?"
"You just haven't worked with him before. Will's a good guy; he showed me how to find this place after all."
"Led you to his underground lair... just gets better and better."
"Not just his lair, his men's too. It takes a lot of trust to reveal something like that. You should be willing to give him at least a little."
"We'll see when we get there."
After wandering through the underground remains, and finally climbing up some stairs, the two had finally reached their destination.
The man proceeded to head straight in, but the woman stretched her arm out and blocked him. She shot him a look and shook her head, then turned forward and shouted out "Will, y'old bastard, you in here? It's Allison."
William heard the shouting and grabbed a pistol before heading down. He held it at the ready and popped around the corner pointing it in their direction before seeing that everything was fine and immediately lowering it. A smile immediately broke out on his face and he walked over and hugged the girl.
"Allison! A pleasure to see you again m'girl. It has been far too long since you visited." He said as he released her and ushered the two people in, holding the pistol calmly at his side.
"Apologies for pointing a gun at ya, can never be too careful these days. So what brings ya to this neck of the woods? More importantly though how have you and the resistance been as of late? Also, who is your friend here?" He asked as he walked them into the main area. He shouted to the main group.
"Look who it is everybody, Allison decided to show her face around here again! Slumming it withe the dregs of society once more!" At that a cheer and laugh went up. Everyone in his company were supporters of The Children, so anytime they showed up everyone made sure to treat them right.
"So anything I can get either of you, or are we going straight to business?"
"Business instead of pleasure today, I'm afraid," Allison responded, "Though I'd never say no to a beer." The two Erebus operatives walked deeper inside the hideout, Allison gave friendly waves to the men in the company. "Nice to see this place still looks like a fuckin' mausoleum," she joked.
The man following behind her audibly cleared his throat. She snapped to attention, "Oh shit, right. Will, this is Tom." She introduced the two men as Tom stepped forward to shake William's hand, "Actually, it's Tomas, or 'Agent Redding' if you don't mind," Tomas corrected her. Allison rolled her eyes at her compatriot's remark, "He's one of our mission handlers, higher up on the food chain than us grunts," she explained while sizing him up. "I'm not actually sure he's ever stepped outside before; doesn't have a sense of how things are really done."
William laughed heartily at the last comment. Grabbing two beers from the fridge and offering them to Allison and Agent Redding.
"Well we try and make sure this place looks as old as it can. And if Agent Redding hasn't been down here that often it must have been quite the experience." He finished laughing and looked to the Agent.
"So what exactly brings you down here to meet with us? Never known you to send an agent if it was just buying explosives or sending us out to hit some small time target." He said as he continued to hold their beers out for them.
Derrick slid down the ladder quickly, not worrying about the view since he had been given the all clear, and they had come too far to start doing that kind of nonsense for each other. As he glanced up at the cover he had slid back in place, he noted that no one seemed to be messing with the lid, which was good enough for him. Drawing out a small light, he made mental note where he had ended up at this point, and nodded to himself.
"Alright....If we are going to even have a chance of getting in there on time, we need to get going this way. You going to be alright? Because from here it gets a bit...difficult to travel. Lots of rubble and such, and I need to do some quick climbing to get to a...particular friend of mine before the mess above gets out of hand....?" Derrick paused as he heard a few small echos seem to ring out. Someone shouting, perhaps falling over rubble or something.
"...Well, lets hope that isn't anyone we run into. Lets get going, and stay close. This place is also a bit of a maze, since....well, everything happened to it. It'll hold together though, everything is pretty well done falling down at this point." Derrick finished, starting down one of the tunnels through an abandoned train.
Allison grabbed the beer and immediately popped it open, Redding took the one offered to him, but decided to save the opening part for later.
She took a seat on the nearby couch and took a swig from the beer. "Things are getting bad out there, Will," she stated, a hint of regretful seriousness washing over her usually confident voice. "Remember that job you lent us some bombs for, a couple weeks back, that raid out in Teranthal?" She stopped for a second, looked down, and shook her head, "It didn't end well," she said looking back up at William. "We lost everybody to The Baron's forces. It's like they knew we were coming. I would've been there, and dead, myself if I wasn't put on leave for pulling my shoulder muscle a few days before." She took another gulp, "Fuckin' hell, man. Eighteen guys there, and they all fell, every one." She re-situated herself on the couch, "We're losin' people faster than we can recruit them."
"Which brings us to why we're here," Redding said, interrupting her. "You've been an ally to Erebus for a... decent amount of time now, and though some of us have reservations about this," his tone of voice clearly indicated he was referring to himself, though he tried to hide it, "an invitation to officially join us has been extended to you, and your men."
"There's also a more... practical reason Erebus is doin' this," Allison added. "The big guy wants to set up shop down here too; thinks this place might make a good operation center in a pinch. Hope you don't mind some extra company," she joked.
Sapphire watched the "nobleman" approach through half opened eyes, parting her painted lips to sip her wine. She changed her mind about this man. Was he a guard? Maybe a hunter, or an assassin. He wasn't a plain nobleman, if he was noble at all. Obviously Deschamps didn't think so.
"Hey there, hot stuff" she purred, interest peaked. "Now why are you over there agitating our dear benefactor? Didn't your mother teach you not to bother the nice nobleman when he's gambling?"
"I'm better here than up there..." Ilya mumbled to Derrick as they passed through the train tunnel. Navigating murky tunnels and abandoned trains were certainly more of her forte than "reading people" because at least an abandoned train was an abandoned train and nothing else. Ilya kept her distance from the light but not far enough as to be consumed in total darkness. Her vision accounted for living beings not every nook and cranny of a path which meant to her that a little light couldn't hurt anybody. Ilya's heightened senses started to fully come back to her. She walked slowly but deliberately and only sped up to catch up with Derrick or to elude a mysterious noise. If she didn't know what made that noise then it probably isn't worth her sticking around for.
The tunnels breathed decrepit life. The air was heavy and hot, the mucky smell clung to her nostrils while everything around them seemed to be covered with rust or dust. Something jumped from the corner of her eye and she crouched to the side, turning her head to the source as she did so. Her agile movements caught a large rat darting away into the darkness. Derrick turned to see a rising, more alive Ilya. He didn't notice it now but her stance was more cautious, and careful but Ilya didn't notice either because she was so accustomed to living in this type of environment. Her travels has taken her on and below the wasteland in search for scrap so to her instincts take hold out of experience.
"Just a rat." Ilya shrugged. "How far is the place from here?" She asked, taking the pause in their travel to ask the question. From the light source, Ilya could make out barricaded stairs leading up but beyond the spears of light, she could barely make out a thing. Columns ran next to them, parallel to the train tracks that stretched far beyond them.
The book had done it's job. It took less than ten pages for Platinum to become so bored she drifted off to sleep. There were no dreams, there hadn't been dreams in a while, but it's doubtful she would have had the time as the shouts soared over the music being played, and then they were the only thing.
"Will, y'old bastard, you in here? It's Allison." This shout made her groan.
"Look who it is everybody, Allison decided to show her face around here again! Slumming it with the dregs of society once more!" This one got her awake and cursing. "Wha-? The hell is going on?"
Platinum got out of bed and crept towards where the voices were coming from. Everything went quiet, but there were still sounds of discussion coming from the opposite end of the giant foyer, from what appeared to be an old storefront? Hard to tell. She crept closer, as quietly as she could, although she was failing with her claws clicking on the tiled floor. As the voices became clearer, she could hear the one she guessed was Allison talking.
"We lost everybody to The Baron's forces. It's like they knew we were coming."
The Baron got another group too? He's on the warpath lately. But why these guys? Doesn't seem like they can do much. Even with a hammer and a stick of dynamite. Still I guess if they're after the Baron and they know where he, they might be able to help me find where they took Derrick at the very least. The talking stopped, that's when Platinum decided to move in.
"So the Baron's taking genocide to his own people as well?" she asked. "Nice to know we weren't discriminated against, I guess, but it's hardly any manner of silver lining."
"Well we aren't exactly prized citizens. In fact you'd call us rebels." William said with a smirk before turning back to Allison.
"I'm sorry to hear about your men, but I'm glad to hear that you're safe. We all lose too many friends as it is, hate to have it happen every day. I'm sure my men are happy to join and I'll do what I can." He then looked to the Agent. Looking him dead in the eyes to try and discern whether he should trust him or not. His face went straight as he looked at him.
"I trust Allison, I don't know about you yet. Were Allison not here I may just tell you where an empty station was and pretend I never saw you. But she's asking and I don't turn away friends. You can move as many men and materials as you need in here. Though I'm going to make this clear. You're set up here, you don't run here. You are our guests, and as such you are going to live by our rules. We don't have many, but the ones we have you will respect. First and foremost, you and your men don't disturb those at peace down here. By which I mean the skeletons. We make sure to leave them where they lay in the tunnels below. You and your men don't move them and you don't harm them.
Others thought we were crazy for leaving them and for the fact we thought it bad luck to move them. They called us superstitious, most of them are in jail or dead now. The others left when they saw what happened to those like them. I'm not going to have you bringing bad luck down on my men. Because as much as I want to help your cause and get the baron out of power, my first priority is the safety of my people. We clear on that?"
"How far is the place from here?"
"Almost there....Actually, right here." Derrick said, finishing climbing past some graves that he figured were older than he was at this point. He looked upward at the ladder which led to another maintenance cover for the underground area. This would take him relatively close to the more affluent areas, and nearly within the arena itself. Which made this next part quite a bit easier. However...
"Well, this is where things get tricky. I can probably get up there and move around without much of an issue. You probably won't have such the luxury though. So, it is now a question of what you would like to do. I could have you assist me in finding my friends, or you can keep a close watch and as soon as things get too dicey, you get the hell out of there and make sure they don't realize that it is a way out. Unless you have another idea, I think those are our only options..."
Derrick sat back against the wall now, wondering how it would go. Getting back here wouldn't be too much of an issue. It was all a matter of how much time he had to get back here in the first place. Guards probably wanted a perimeter set first, which would give him some amount of time. That, and down in the tunnels wasn't exactly the cleanest of places...but it would be better than the surface, at least. Well, shortly it would anyways.
Allison's eyes briefly widened in surprise at the sight of the carrier woman, but her attention was turned back to William before she had a chance to say anything.
"I'm sorry to hear about your men, but I'm glad to hear that you're safe. We all lose too many friends as it is, hate to have it happen every day. I'm sure my men are happy to join and I'll do what I can."
She smiled warmly after hearing that; she figured William and his men would be up to the task.
Agent Redding's gaze was met Williams's intense stare. It was obvious the demo worker was silently judging him, trying to sum up his entire character in that one instant. Redding didn't feel the need to stare down a man to judge his character. From what he had been told by Allison, his impressions had already been formed, and the brief scene he witnessed thus far didn't do much to change them.
The recent, more lax approach by Erebus regarding recruitment meant that more opportunists and potential traitors could work their way into the organization. The good word of a few field operatives shouldn't have been enough to secure one a place amidst The Children. The presence of a carrier in their midst only furthered his already heightened suspicions.
"...I'm not going to have you bringing bad luck down on my men. Because as much as I want to help your cause and get the baron out of power, my first priority is the safety of my people. We clear on that?"
Of course, the decision to recruit these men wasn't up to Redding. The only thing he could do was accept their terms.
"Crystal," he responded.
With the deal seemingly secured, Allison's attention was drawn back to the grey skinned woman standing before them. She looked at the carrier with an expression that was half curiosity and half wonderment. For as long as she had lived in Ritheen she had never seen one of its infected citizens before, there were few enough within the nation's walls, and even fewer of them were members of The Children, "only about a handful," she recalled once hearing, if even that.
"So," she spoke out, "I had no idea Will was already entertaining another guest."
"Hey there, hot stuff. Now why are you over there agitating our dear benefactor? Didn't your mother teach you not to bother the nice nobleman when he's gambling?"
"Guess not," Saber muttered. "I was trying to warn him," he admitted to the woman, "I need to get him... and you two, out of here, now."
"So, I had no idea Will was already entertaining another guest."
"Will is it?" Platinum looked down at the man who had led her into this underground oasis. "At least now I can call him something other than 'that guy'." She walked around the two newcomers and pulled up a seat on an empty chair. "He helped me out of a little jam earlier when I was dealing with the local welcoming party. My fault for picking the wrong guy to sit beside I guess." She crossed her legs as she tried to get more comfortable in the old piece of furniture, but it was proving difficult. "Still, you guys sound like you're dead against that jackass tyrant, so it looks like I'm amongst my kind of people, anyway."
He kept his eyes locked onto Redding.
"Good, then we can have a nice long relationship with one another. Feel free to report back to whoever you report back to that you are all welcome to set up as soon as you want." He then looked to Allison and Platinum.
"Well I don't particularly care if my company is a bit unconventional Alli. So long as we don't start swappin' body fluids I don't see why I should treat her any different than anybody else in this city. We're all in it together aren't we?" William then had the decency to look embarrassed as he realized he had never told Platinum his name.
"My apologies, I'm William. My friends call me Will. Guess I got to caught up in running and getting you settled in."