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Forehead had been pressed to her palm for the last ten minutes.  THIS was why she didn’t reach out to others for favors… or leave her neighborhood.  Archaic, feudalistic bullshit!  When the world ended, the snakes came out to hold it together.  So what did that make her?  She couldn’t pile blame onto herself for being desperate at the time, she could however think he was a complete ass for trying to cash in on the fact she owed him a debt from such a horrible event. 


“Richard,” she started, the sultry hum in her voice calm even though she wanted to rip out his throat.


There was reason, and then there was Richard.  The ass from Brooklyn was going to be the death of her.   He wanted it, her new shiny thing, or her...he wasn't really picky about which.  She’d sent him packing more than once from his slimy come-ons.  So instead, they were negotiating an item she’d been tracking for almost a year.  Her relic.  Hers.  Maybe she deserved the turnabout, undercutting him in a deal not six months earlier.  Damn him.  What was worse, is it was almost unreachable.  Her contact, go-get wasn’t available at the moment.  Richard had a buyer right now.  Fuck.  FUCK!  She didn’t drive… well….  Nina had been giving her lessons, and she’d bought a car, a gunmetal gray Land Rover that had seen better days, but it ran and did the job.  It was a five hour drive south, and knocking on the front door of Vanguard territory.


Alexandria Archeology Museum, or what was left of it anyway.  A ‘gentleman’ that had skivvied everything he could find into the tunnels under the city had the thing.  A skimmer that had a penchant for odd items.  Even worse than the abandoned nothing that was once the former nation’s capitol.


Normally, she would tell him to fuck off but he had leverage.  He'd been applying it right under her nose in the last month and was ready to squeeze her lines shut.  She'd been too busy building back her stock from the explosions to see it. Hadn't the world moved past this type of extortion?  She was solid in Hell’s kitchen, but it was a bubble that could only exist because others did business with it.  He had the ability to make that very difficult, and the things they needed would be out of reach until she rebuilt the proverbial bridges.  It would take too long, and she would be forced to reach out for his help again... he would own her world.  Ten years of fighting to stay above water, dashed in her effort to do a good deed for the city.


THIS.  This was why she didn’t leave her neighborhood!


Mother.  Fucker. 


“Yes, yes… fine.  Give me two days.”


Then she would skin the asshole out of business, or burn him down.  She stood from her workbench and snapped the phone shut, immediately storming with long strides into the shop.  Nina was not pleased at the news.  Nina however, was not her mother, still insisting on following her upstairs as she packed to continue to give her an earful.  Rorye humored her, patience thin. The older woman was worried; this was not up for discussion, packing quickly despite the lecturing.  The normally gently elegant shopkeeper traveled light.  She didn’t need a lot, passing over what most women would grab for.- make-up and all that crap, this wasn’t a social call.  Instead, a toothbrush, change of clothes, jeans, her boots… black cami, white button up and her fitted leather jacket.  Sheaths on her forearms first, blades snapped in and jacket wrists zipped over them.  Dark blue scarf wound around her neck and hair in a thick single plait.  It was a rare moment she wished she had a gun... she would have to trust her own abilities.


Gas.  She needed it.  Highly unlikely she would be able to fill up for the return trip, she had to make a stop first.  Nina still on her tail, she hopped down the stairs two at a time and beelined for the kitchen, packing anything edible that would keep for several days into her leather messenger bag and picked up two gallons of water.


“It’s a five hour drive one way. I should be back by morning.”


She returned to the back room, pulling down several boxes and putting them into the back of the SUV as well.  Payment.


*npc*  Rorye… at least call someone to go with you.  Jesse maybe…


“No, NO!  I’m not going to owe anyone any more favors,” tailgate of the Land Rover was slammed down with unusual force.  Patience was gone.  “You think you have a warm place to sleep because people are nice to us Nina?  I have to deal with assholes, every fucking day!  I stuck my neck out to help, and this is where it got us.  I have a debt to pay, and I have to pay it.”


Keys were flipped through as she slid into the driver’s seat and started it, leaning over to pull a battered map from the glovebox.  This was incredibly stupid, but it was her only option.  Her relic.  HER Nebra Sky Disc….rumored to have predicted the Resonance among other odd powers.  The man knew she was interested, but he wasn’t expecting her to show up in person.


Maybe it would help grease the wheels.  Then again, it could be a complete bust and she would owe Richard dinner instead.  It made her stomach turn.


Her cell only had a charge of less than a day.  If she was going to go, she had to go now.  Pulling out of her parking space, the phone clicked open… hoping for voicemail, she was not in the mood to lie to Alistair’s face...throat cleared softly as the phone went to voicemail, Nina had told her she was a terrible liar.  She'd gotten better.  It didn't quell the sting of guilt though...


“..Alistair, hi, I’m going to have to put dinner on hold.  I know I was going to cook and all, I have to deal with an emergency.  I’ll be back tomorrow morning hopefully.  I'll call when I get back.”


Phone clicked closed and was slid into her pocket.  She never went anywhere.  If he had suspicions, Nina better keep her damn trap shut.


Stop was quick, enough gas in portables for the return trip.  Further than she’d ever been… hopefully, without a hitch.

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Alistair climbed up the last few steps from the utility service entrance in the basement and came out in the alley, slinging his shotgun back over one shoulder as he looked down to the other man who was emerging on his heels. Robert Baronak was a beast of a man, an offensive tackle in his college days, and one of Alistair's oldest friends dating back to his early days at the Order in New York. He was also an almost literal human tank when he wanted to be, so when going into an enclosed space... pretty good call for backup, really.

[alistair]That wasn't so bad, I guess.[/alistair] Alistair said cheerfully, only for the larger man to lift a brow, shaking his head as he walked over to lean against the building and try to scrape the slime off his boots. Alistair had burned his off already, but was holding out on Robert's - there had been a sarcastic comment made about his coat, which he was playing at holding a grudge for. In the meantime, Alistair opened the shielded pocket of his coat and took his phone out, shaking his head a bit when a message popped up. Well, he HAD been underground, and keeping his phone in a protected pocket to keep his own power from cooking it, which sometimes made it not work, unsurprisingly.

So he tapped the code in - and maneuvered around the psychometric defenses he'd woven in with a bit of applied technomancy, then put it back up to his ear to listen. His expression fell slightly, and by the time he lowered the phone, Robert was looking curious.

[npc]Something come up?[/npc]

Alistair thought a moment. [alistair]You know those notes people leave when they're going off to their almost certain death?[/alistair]

[npc]Yeah. 'I should be back' insert short time frame, but probably not from the tone?[/npc]

[alistair]Yep. Just got one of those in voicemail form.[/alistair]

[npc]Voicemail. You'd think someone could just text that sort of thing.[/npc]

[alistair]Wouldn't you? Christ. Alright, get the spoils back to base. I'm going to go see about this one.[/alistair]

[npc]... Not kinda writing your own letter there?[/npc]

Alistair grinned, walking backwards toward the alleyway entrance where his Jeep was parked. [alistair]Oh, come on. I defy tropes all the time, I'm not going to drop such a classic line and then go die, it would ruin everything![/alistair]

Robert chuckled, finishing with his boots. He was, suffice to say, somewhat used to Alistair's antics. And, well... the man did have a knack for getting out of the worst situations. Maybe it would turn out to be nothing.

It wouldn't, though. Alistair might have been lucky in that he continued to manage to not die. Every other way? Unlucky as hell.

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Damn her conscience. 


Damn it.


It didn’t help that her back was killing her, that her hands were sore from holding onto the damn 10 and 2 o’clock like she’d been taught… now lazy with an elbow on the sill and fingers to her temple, the other on the bottom of the wheel- unknowingly falling into the habits of the rest of the world.  At first the traffic was normal, as the buildings faded away, so did the others sharing the road.  The steel and brick that was her castle walls peeled away to four lanes of silence, occasional abandoned suburbs and the cacophony of her thoughts.  When everything was gone, it was only then the silence felt heavier than the constant thrum of subways and life.  Beyond New York was lonely, sparse, and overgrown, the highway littered with vehicles on either side picked to the bone for anything salvageable.  Eerie neighborhoods when passing through old cities seemed to stare at her.  Places popped up like tiny oases after that, some fortified, some not… sometimes having to go up and over the on/off ramps to get past a collapsed overpass, wary to make sure they were not diverted traps….every way shape or form one could trick or be tricked, she’d learned growing up on the streets.


But driving…?  Overrated.  Damn her ass hurt.  It hadn’t even been an hour, and her jiminy cricket was giving her fits.


Fuck this.


Pulling over, she turned off the engine and got out, stretching her lean form on the endless dusty highway.  Long shadows already spilled gold fronds of light through trees and across fields that were still sputtered with snow in their crevices; the silence, unnerving.  Phone flipped out, thumb massaging the numbers in her need to watch the sheer oddness of no buildings….no people, nothing.  She’d never been out of the city, hand dropping to her side to just look, magnificent.  The scent of, nothing but wet earth.. melting snow and a new spring.  Fingers pulled rampant locks clinging to her cheeks.  God she loved windy days.


It was… breathtaking.


…and getting dark.


Lifting the phone to her ear she dialed, on a wing and a prayer.  It might be too late for her change of heart.  Two times, call failed.  Another.  The last… voicemail?


She paused, lips pressed together before words finally came forth.


“I’m on my way to D.C. on 95….about to travel out of cell range,” she paused again, toe playing with a small piece of broken asphalt.  “I have a contact for relics at the old Alexandria, he’s useful and I was going to tell you about him… but I need to see him in person this time.  I need to pay back the favors I called in helping with the damn explosions.  They didn't give me a choice.”  Voice went quiet, almost apologetic, “I’m gonna wait here for a bit so I don’t lose reception… if you get this message and you want to go, call.  I’ll come get you, I’m only just north of Trenton. If not, I’ll be back tomorrow.”


She stopped, eyes flicking to the treeline… that was a weird noise.  Like, a rattle?  Sand swishing in a bottle… Eyes flicked again to the trees beyond the guardrail, thumb near the release on one of the blades under her sleeve.


“I have to go…sorry about not telling you. I'll make it up to you,” phone snapped shut and went into her coat pocket, fingers pinching the bridge of her nose with a seethe.  She was getting tired of apologizing to everyone for doing what had to be done, even more pissed at herself that she couldn't just trust the man to come with her in the first place.


She was afraid he'd take her things...?  Or treat her like she didn't know her ass from her elbow...?


Side of her fist smacked the door of her car, annoyed, she was on the losing end of this battle.  He was right, she didn't have the skills to be dealing in this shit anymore.  Luck only got you so far.  How was she going to get the skills then?  She would do it herself.  No.  No no no!  Alistair had become that damn voice in her head second guessing every risk, and somehow she'd gotten back in the car and was about to turn the key... let go of, hands on the wheel to grip as hard as she could until the wheel shook, every New York cuss known to the free world hissed through her teeth.


Skull leaned back on the head rest, eyes rolling to watch the trees.


Fifteen minutes.  She would give him fifteen minutes.



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There was a certain measure of liberation in not bothering to take the prudent path - in doing whatever the hell you felt like, and damn the torpedoes. Not that he spent a large amount of time doing that sort of thing, given that he couldn't really afford to, but then, with all the time he spent counseling others on being careful about the risks they took, he could on occasion take a stupid risk or two himself. Like driving out of the city on the off chance he could run into the girl he'd been seeing on and off the last several months. That no doubt counted.

She probably wouldn't appreciate the fact that he'd gone to the effort of using a tracer spell on her. She might or might not have been aware that he could, by this point he didn't need much to be able to do it, since she'd spent enough time with him. He could get traces of her aura just by swinging by her shop, after all. Which meant that, while he didn't have anything pinpoint, he had a good direction. And if she was going for fast, that meant the freeway. So he got onto that, and drove a bit faster than the traffic. If she was able to get in touch somehow... Well he'd be in the vicinity then. The only thing was he'd have to slow down and refresh the spell every so often, which would slow him down.

Was it patronizing to think she needed his help? He hoped not. It was more a matter of who had more experience going out beyond the city and not getting killed, and he had a lot more than most. Enough to know that, by and large, it wasn't something you did just by luck. The New York area, for all its dangers, was startlingly safe when you compared it against the wilds, especially the largely unpatrolled no-man's-land between there and the Vanguard's nation-state in the south. Because there was constant argument over who owned what part of the land, neither of them adequately kept it clear of the monsters. That was a dangerous as shit job too, and he had a policy of sending a pair of Knights from ARMA with each sweeper team. It tied up manpower he could have used elsewhere, but having good soldiers get their asses fried by magic and demons wasn't something he could allow either, if the EAA was to keep itself together. And he did NOT want the Vanguard stepping in to fill the gap if that happened.

He was deep enough in that train of thought though that he ALMOST missed her, parked by the side of the road. [alistair]FUCK![/alistair] He just barely avoided screeching the tires by how hard he hit the brakes, and the thud of some of his gear hitting the back of the seats behind him told just how quick he'd stopped - along with the stuff in the back seat sliding off and onto the floor mats behind his seat. He swore a few more times in quieter but no less colorful language as he pulled off to the side just in front of her borrowed vehicle, and he climbed out before turning and looking back at her, throwing his arms up in exasperation.

[alistair]I leave you alone for a few hours and you try and go on vacation without me!?[/alistair] he called out, keeping a straight face for approximately half of the comment while he walked over to look in through her window.

[alistair]You really have to not leave messages like that. I get paranoid. Where are you headed?[/alistair] Reception outside the city being what it was, he hadn't gotten her very recent voicemail.

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She had a temper. Regrettably. It was fueled by a lot of things actually… anyone that generally treated her neighborhood like a piece of garbage or an opportunity to dirty deal, like Richard. Impatience, waiting for word from someone she genuinely cared about. Alistair. This was a mixture of both, boiling up her neck and blossoming on her cheeks like windburn. She was absolutely certain Alistair had no idea how much she respected his advice enough to even pause for a second in the mission of doing something that had to be done. Why didn't he know? She hadn’t told him. Everything was so close to the vest with her, it was rare she trusted… people tended to attempt to take things from her when she did. Even though her logical side reasoned that it was a good thing to have each other’s backs, the cynicism still cast doubt. So, she smiled when she needed to, so easily… all the time expecting the closest people in her life to try and rip out her throat when she wasn’t expecting it. Surrounded by people but always alone. The biggest fucking cliché that existed, actively wondering if it was still considered a cliché when it was a legitimate fear in this new weird world.


Pushing the door open, she tried the call again, heel twisting a bit on the asphalt… nothing.


Fingers pushed through her hair, the heavy sigh in and out. A few more minutes. A few more. For what? For him to tell her it was stupid to go alone. She knew that. She didn’t have a choice. Feet were kicking through the long tangled post winter grass at the side of the road as she paced, walking toward the treeline.


What was beyond? She had no idea. There was nothing but the barely travelled highway, and the trees that surrounded it. It was like the city, but not. Not knowing who could be peering back from places you didn’t know were there. Crackle of branches. To the normal eye she’d barely moved, blade sliding out and flipped backward along her forearm. Instinct. She had good ones. Maybe a bit suicidal at times… like stopping in no man’s land, getting out of a car, looking into the growing darkness of trees the likes of which she’d only seen in Central Park. She had what most others lacked, the fortitude to do what was necessary to survive at all costs, hence her current predicament. Now she was second guessing her choices. Is that what happened when you decided to trust people?


Kneeling, she plucked an early daffodil from the brush at the edge of the loom of trees and made her way back to her truck, sliding the blade back beneath her sleeve. She couldn’t wait any longer, making her way back through the browned grass. Sliding in and turning the key, her own string of curses lit as the Jeep came to a halt. Hand let go of a weapon of recent choice she had gone for. God damn it. Annoyed? Oddly, no. She rolled the window down.


"I leave you alone for a few hours and you try and go on vacation without me!?"


“That’s what you get for leaving me alone,” the retort was instinctual, a bit of sass behind it. He was so damn hot when he was being a smart ass. Okay, where the fuck had that come from? Moving on… fingers tapped on the window sill. “If it were a vacation I would have brought a bikini and expected to get laid,” the delivery was dry, but the quirk on her lips hinted otherwise. She was on a roll, his banter something she’d come to appreciate. “Sadly, not a vacation.”


Opening the door, she got out, hands sliding into her back pockets as she tapped her heel on a rumble strip.


"You really have to not leave messages like that. I get paranoid. Where are you headed?"


He didn’t get her message. Damn.


“The Alexandria, D.C.” voice had slipped to the dark place where it hummed with a sultry timbre, a seriousness that was not inviting an argument. “I have some fun toys to pick up. My usual gopher isn’t around in the time frame I need them, so it’s just me… and I have my own car now.”


Fingers patted the hood of her prize, then pushed billowing strands from her face to tuck them behind her ears. The whole situation was bothering her, a lot. She didn’t like being backed into a corner when it came to keeping the peace between neighborhoods… she tended to bite back.


“So, can I give you a ride? I’ll promise to keep my hands to myself and introduce you to someone you need to know.” Smile was genuine, but the reality of how he’d found her was starting to gel in the back of her brain. Temper. Had Nina squeaked? It had to be Nina, She would hate to think he could hoodoo something on her. Maybe he could. “I can’t turn back, I have to get this done, and I promised you that I’d turn things over to you anyway.”


In all reality though, she couldn't in good conscience expect him to leave his truck on the side of the road. Hers was old, it ran... but it was old. Which meant, he was driving or he was turning back and leaving her to go alone. Somehow, she didn't think the odds were in favor of a solo trip.

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Alistair scoffed at the first comment she made. [alistair]Yeah, because you'd appreciate me hovering all the time anyway.[/alistair] he drawled. The next bit drew a grin though, and he shrugged a bit, lifting an eyebrow in a somewhat suggestive manner. There were always chances, after all. It didn't do to just go ruling things out, now did it? [alistair]Well that's a pity. And here you're headed into such a fun, relaxing, safe area.[/alistair] He looked down the road in the direction she'd been going, then back to her. She admitted the rest though, and he let out a breath, nodding as he considered.

Some fucking people. As if there weren't enough risks in the world, sending people out into situations like this.

[alistair]Ah, yes. I noticed.[/alistair] he assured her, flashing a momentary smile - he was still putting two and seventeen together by this point, though at the end, when she asked if he wanted to go along, he didn't take a great deal of time before he stepped up to her, leaning down to kiss her. [alistair]Sounds too tempting to pass up. Who knows, maybe I'll find a zombie congressman I can light up.[/alistair] he said, affecting a wishful tone as he patted the spot under his coat where he usually kept his .45.

That was probably a bit wrong to say as far as most people were concerned, but, well, it wasn't as though anyone who'd turned had any use for the body by this point anyway. Why NOT use it as target practice, and a certain degree of stored up irritation? He shook his head a little bit, peering down the side of the road for a mile marker as he pulled out his phone, shooting a text off to someone - a favor, to come and grab the vehicle. His might have been newer, but hey... all the more reason NOT to take it to DC at this point.

[alistair]I'm not sure about this 'keeping your hands to yourself' business though. Kind of sounds like a letdown.[/alistair] he added, flashing another vaguely cheeky smile before he walked around to the back door of his Jeep. He pulled out a heavy duty backpack from it, slung it over his shoulder, and walked around to the passenger side of her truck before he lay his arms against the hood.

[alistair]I'd just keep following you anyway.[/alistair]

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"Well that's a pity. And here you're headed into such a fun, relaxing, safe area."


Hands slid into her back pockets as he looked toward the road ahead, her relaxed and playfully sarcastic glance around happy to see him not chewing her out.


“Yah, the brochure said great things. Deserted roads, overpass checkpoints, weird noises from the woods. Great fun.” she smirked, his quip about noticing she now had a car bringing a narrowed scowl. “Ass,” she remarked, but the naturally sultry voice held a playful glitter. “Figured if I was going out into the world I’d have to stop bumming rides. Driving sucks. Why do people do this again? Makes my back hurt.”


"…maybe I'll find a zombie congressman I can light up."


“Can’t say I’ve had much experience with those. My specialty seems to center on killing living things with objects that don’t go boom.” The only gun she'd ever shot was his.


"I'm not sure about this 'keeping your hands to yourself' business though. Kind of sounds like a letdown."


Lashes fluttered at the reciprocated sass, fighting the urge for her jaw to drop. An uncharacteristic blush rushed up her neck to hover on the apples of her cheeks. She wasn’t sure why she could give him so much affection when his attention wasn’t squarely on her, then froze like a fucking schoolgirl staring at a high school senior when it was. Fuck. No, she knew why. If somehow she managed to allow the sync to line up, she would have to face what she’d done. Sure, she’d killed Michael. Sat in shock for days. Buried him herself. Kept his skull for Pete’s sake… she’d thought for way too long that was how to come to terms. Instead it had been just some sadistic punishment to keep sticking her deed in her face, as if someday the horror would go away.


She had to find some kind of common ground. She owed it to herself to finish grieving, to stop feeling guilt and to move on- and owed Alistair an apology that she’d been distant, yet not. Most girls called it playing games, except she really had more of a reason other than to just be a bitch. She wasn't playing games, she was simply... afraid. He’d put up with it, he’d stayed around. Loyal, as far as she knew. That was something right?


"In a car would definitely be a first," she muttered under her breath as she turned to open her door.


The fact he seemed okay on leaving his Jeep behind was also something. He didn’t appear the type to not have a plan to keep it safe, so she left it alone.


"I'd just keep following you anyway."


An eyebrow cocked slightly as he staked a claim on the other side of her truck, “get in Sam… but driver picks the tunes.”


Did her CD player work? She wasn’t really sure.


“Toss your stuff in the back and let’s get going. Isn’t much, sorry. Runs like a champ though. Had a mechanic kick the engine’s ass. ”


As he got situated, she rolled her window down, finding the headlights. They were going to be a giant “kick-me” sign that they didn’t belong, but she didn’t have a choice. No matter how much she explained herself, she didn’t think he would truly believe the depths to which her pride and responsibility went. This would also show him she was willing to keep her word. She had promised him her leads after all, and he was right… most of this shit she shouldn’t have her hands on anyway.


She was silent for a while after they were underway into the growing darkness. Elbow rested on the windowsill, pushing back tendrils of hair that had escaped their plait every once and a while. This was kind of nice, the night air whooshing against cheeks that were still hot.


“I have a network of gophers, some ex-Order- straight up wilderness junkies. They find cool stuff in places nobody wants to go, and bring it to me. I pay them. Sometimes I broker it off to others, most of the time I sell it in my shop. Have no idea what they do with the other stuff too powerful for general public. I have some ideas, but they’re just… rumors.” She was silent again for a while. Not used to talking to anyone about her methods. It felt like she was giving away bits of her foothold, her power in life. Lip was chewed softly a moment; it was really up to Alistair to make her feel like he was taking it away or keeping it close to the vest. Trust was not something she was used to. “Coy is... eccentric, living underneath the Alexandria in the sealed vaults. Old curator that went a bit nuts locked in there after the Event to keep from losing his face to zombies. Genius in a way, but also armed to the teeth. I can talk my way in, I have a few hours to figure out how to talk you in. I bartered for the Nebra Sky Disk for myself. Richard, one of my colleagues in Brooklyn that sent all the medical supplies to the clusterfuck a few weeks ago, wants it. I asked for a favor, he’s calling it back. He’s got the power to choke off my supply route and isolate Hell’s Kitchen.”


She rubbed the back of her neck.


“…and has a particular distaste for me because I told him to take his cheap dates and fuck off. He’s the definition of a dick. He doesn't think I can get it, and he'll end up walking through my shop to take anything he wants.”


Weird… driving seemed to be some sort of cathartic thing. In a dark box with a faint blue glow. Silence, focus, and nothing to do but talk.



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[alistair]Groovy. Sounds like we should have a garishly painted 70's van or something.[/alistair] he deadpanned, shaking his head a bit as she described her own impression of the area. He'd been there a time or two - it reminded him of nothing so much as Fallout 3, actually. The Capitol Wasteland and all that, but with a distinct lack of wacky radio personalities. Kind of detracted from the experience, really.

[alistair]No boom? You're missing out. The boom is a key part of the experience. Unless you're trying to be quiet, in which case, yeah I can get behind a lack of boom. Not that it won't make me a little sad, I've gotten used to it.[/alistair] Since the whole situation was a little outside their comfort zone (for him it was mostly in having someone who was basically a civilian around), it seemed like they'd both lapsed into some variant of sarcasm or just outright dry humor to get through the whole thing. Nothing inherently wrong with that, except that they might have confused the hell out of anyone who came by and noticed them. But hey, screw those people.

Her silence when he volleyed back at her was a bit unexpected, and he turned a bit to look at her, lifting a querying brow, but he shook that off too before going to take care of his vehicle. He had a few constructed spells in the back... ways to keep the thing hidden, though if a magus came after it they'd be in trouble. Ah well - couldn't be totally safe all the time. He came back up the hill with a pack over his shoulder, shaking his head at the music comment.

[alistair]Unless you have a heretofor unexpressed love for gangster rap I imagine I'll survive.[/alistair] He climbed into the passenger seat, stowing a rather large military shotgun in the foot well before he sat back and strapped himself in. Seatbelts - good for when monsters made you crash the car, bad for when monsters got INTO the car. But he had a knife to hand for that... yes, he was pretty paranoid, in several ways. He would have preferred his own vehicle to be sure, but Rorye had gone on this mission... it seemed like it would be wrong to try and hijack it from her that way. He was trying to give her trust, give her a line. The fact that he was simply more experienced with things like this and accustomed to working with people who understood that made it damned difficult, but he was trying.

On the way, as she began explaining, he looked up a bit and listened, more or less silently. [alistair]I'm more or less familiar with the process. Order kind of started the whole game, few other groups got involved later.[/alistair]

There was one thing that bothered him, though. [alistair]So, this Richard guy. Something in particular giving him that kind of clout? Not a name I recognize from any of the organized crime briefs...[/alistair] One thing that was always dangerous to a mage was not knowing - it was always a bit of a nasty surprise to find there were still people operating under the radar. Sure, there always would be, but it didn't mean he had to like it.


[Alistair]I think people mostly drive because horses sucked even more, by the way.[/alistair]

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"Groovy. Sounds like we should have a garishly painted 70's van or something."


Her smile was playfully sarcastic.  In truth, maybe it was hiding a bit of apprehension at the whole pilgrimage.  She was out of her comfort zone, and was trying really fucking hard to not give a line she may have been out of her league.  Experience maybe, but not ability.  She had to start trusting she had the wherewithal to stuff a pencil in someone’s eyesocket in the blink of an eye.  She’d saved her life before, she could do it again.  Sure, it was in someone else’s backyard and not the comfort of her own, but the world wasn’t comfortable anymore was it?

"No boom? You're missing out. The boom is a key part of the experience. Unless you're trying to be quiet, in which case, yeah I can get behind a lack of boom. Not that it won't make me a little sad, I've gotten used to it."


That brought a smirk.  Might be useful to learn, but for now she needed to get a handle on her own hands with stationary weapons before putting something projectile in them.  Could she hit a target with a knife as quickly as Alistair could with a bullet?  That she didn’t know.  A blink did catch the quirk of brow… quickly finding something else to do to draw the attention off.  Like, drive.  She really had to think before she opened her mouth, especially when it came to innuendo... or Freudian slips.  In the car, just get in the car... turn on the player and find something to listen to.

"Unless you have a heretofor unexpressed love for gangster rap I imagine I'll survive."


“Bagpipes might be involved,” she quipped.  Total lie, and the sideglance betrayed it.  “More of a…  what strikes my fancy type of music lover.  Don’t wear Harley boots because I like Barry Manilow either,” it was an easy banter, something that wasn’t usual as of late. Distance had grown between her and the people around her, not a breach of trust, but a need to protect.  Her primary job was keeping people alive.  Was hard to do while having beers and goofing off.  She missed that part of her life, it'd changed so much recently, an almost melancholy sadness developing in its place.  Explaining the nature of her predicament, and the reason for the trip betrayed it.


"I'm more or less familiar with the process. Order kind of started the whole game, few other groups got involved later."

“Sorry..  you probably are,” she shrugged slightly, rubbing the back of her neck as she drove.  She forgot she wasn't talking to a normal person, per se.  “We sort of exist under the radar though.  Not enough to catch attention of Mt. Olympus, but still with our own drama.”  It was a crude analogy, but one she embraced.  She did not consider herself and any other HwA on the same level with a full blown Magus like Alistair.  Maybe it was a mistake, maybe not.  If she faced Alistair head to head, sure she could get in her licks… but her survival would be doubtful.


"So, this Richard guy. Something in particular giving him that kind of clout? Not a name I recognize from any of the organized crime briefs..."


Brow quirked slightly.  She hated hearing the name from his own lips.  It made him real, more than just a guy a few neighborhoods over that she tiptoed around.


“Because he’s not a crime boss. He’s a ‘philanthropist’, like me.  Except, I don’t profit from people’s misery.  I reinvest.  You deal with power, real tangible power.  Violence.  Force.  Factions are public.  We’re not.  Nobody gives us our power except the willingness to take care of others by giving what we have.  We control by loyalty.  He has more people loyal to him than I do, people that I do business with to get the things I need.  He says I don’t have things they want, or my stuff isn’t worth doing business for, they believe him.  To them, his word is law.”


She was silent a while.


“And… I hate to throw this in the mix because it seems so cliché, but I’m also a woman.  He’s the quintessential alpha male.  People follow him because they feel powerful around him.  People come to me because they know I’ll help without expecting something in return.  To him, and those that follow him, they see what I do as weakness.”


Both hands settled on the wheel again as she stretched her back.


“That’s what gives him power.  He has the potential to br a royal pain in your ass, especially if he gets wind of where I get my stuff.  Which is why I’m taking you there.”


She slid a smile to him that had no hint of sarcasm, eyes back on the road.  Total, pitch darkness except for the beacon of light from her headlights.  It was unnerving.


“I trust you more than you think, firecracker,” the endearing term had not been lost since he corrected her some time ago after a clusterfuck in the shop.  She couldn't think of anything else, and was never one for pet names.  She still had the urge to call him Mr. Greene.  Alistair just made her blush, it admitted too much even though she'd already done things that revealed more than just the "want to hang out" phase.  This trip was business.  It had to be, or people would get hurt.  Focus.  She had to focus.  “Is it always this dark out here?  Even before the Event?  I’ve never been out of New York, I’ve never seen this many stars before.”

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For his part, Alistair's only reali anxiety was related to present company. This wouldn't be his first trip way out of the city to try and obtain some sort of relic. Shit, it probably wouldn't even have been his thirtieth. That sort of familiarity tended to... well, if not increase someone's comfort, at least deaden them to the worry. He knew enough about what to expect to take things as they came, and of course it always helped that he had the sort of powerset to do things about any trouble that might otherwise be inbound.

The thing was, he usually went out a bit more heavily loaded. Not weapon-wise, his pistol, sword, and shotgun were about what he generally carried. But most of his previous excursions had been with Joce, or at least with Alia and Robert. He and Joce had made themselves into legends of a sort taking down some of the worst the Eastern Seaboard had to offer, and while Alia and Robert had started out as rookies (Alia had actually been Ali's first apprentice), they'd come into their own as highly dangerous mages quickly. So, a trip like this with a largely untrained civilian, even if she did have a speed power that could be damn handy, was new. And he didn't mean to sell her short, especially knowing she had 'Red' in tow, but... He wasn't sure she understood her own ability entirely, certainly he didn't. It wasn't often he found himself playing the lone heavy.

[alistair]I hear that the man who invented the bagpipe did so because Scottish musicians were tired of having to strangle dozens of cats at once for every performance.[/alistair] the mage quipped, propping his chin up with his elbow against the frame of the door. [alistair]Ah, gotcha. Used to call that 'eclectic', right?[/alistair] The music scene had, understandably, gotten a bit anemic for a while, with about half the populaiton dying off and all. Not a lot of albums being produced, lots of live shows. He didn't mind that last part, except that they were so often sources of trouble. Get a bunch of teenagers and like minded twentysomethings in a big room and see how many of them had powers...

[alistair]Yeah, I figured.[/alistair] he responded, regarding her smaller network of artifact collectors. [alistair]We decided a long time ago that it was crazy to try and grab up everything. There's never been enough mages or powered sorts who actually want to be professionals that way. I mean, in the comics it seems like everyone wants to be an Avenger, but not everyone wants to stand up to the cosmic threat du jour every other week.[/alistair]

The mage lifted a brow as she explained the details of the underground economy she'd apparently gotten into. [alistair]No shit... funny how things get layered. Sounds like my world. Just... with less fire. Assholes, assholes everywhere.[/alistair] He crossed his arms, considering for a few seconds. [alistair]Pain in my ass. Sure - see how much of a pain he wants to be to my face one of these days. Ugh. I didn't understand before why Jocelyn was always mad when she had a problem she couldn't punch.[/alistair]

He looked back to her and grinned. [alistair]Anyway. Appreciated. And also likewise. Besides, where else would I be? Bored?[/alistair] The next part she said took him a little by surprise though, and he looked at her in a way that made that clear. [alistair]No kidding? It probably wasn't this dark in this part of the country, but away from all the streetlights? Always. Out where I grew up it was like this plenty. You really never left the city? So Central Park is your idea of 'wilderness'?[/alistair]

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Fingers tightened on the wheel, releasing her right first and stretching her fingers before doing the same with the left.  The world was utterly a black hole around them, her dimmed headlights enough to see about a hundred feet in front of them.  Every once in a great while, there would be other headlights, sometimes off the highway, sometimes on the other side.  It was always a nervous few moments to see if they would turn and follow, a release when they did not.  Seems the world wasn’t as desolate as she’d once believed outside of her big apple, but it was those kinds of people that had the balls to do it.  So either, they understood not to fuck with each other, or they hadn’t run across someone yet that wanted a pissing contest.


For all the human senses splayed beyond the car that were becoming mentally draining, she was keenly honed in on Alistair.  It was that weird feeling again.  A strange, condescending… pat on the head oddness that she was really starting to loathe.  Unable to quite put her finger on it, but pretty sure it was going to continue to bother her until she attempted to clear the air… about to open her mouth when he spoke again.


"I hear that the man who invented the bagpipe did so because Scottish musicians were tired of having to strangle dozens of cats at once for every performance."


Eyebrows rose slightly before the smile cracked dimples on her cheeks.


“Wish I could tell you I’d never heard that before… baaaaad joke Alistair. You owe me one for that,”  tone was light, but the following subjects were not.  Was she some sort of black market competitor?  Apparently, according to her own definition, she kind of was.


"There's never been enough mages or powered sorts who actually want to be professionals that way. I mean, in the comics it seems like everyone wants to be an Avenger, but not everyone wants to stand up to the cosmic threat du jour every other week."


“It’s not the ‘enough mages’ you need to worry about.  It’s the ones they’re selling it to.  If they’ve collected one thing, you better believe they have more than one.  You get the right collection of things under the noses of people like us…  like you I mean, big problems ahead for everyone.”


She scolded herself silently.  She wasn’t one of “us”, at least she didn’t feel like it, or even knew whether or not she wanted to be part of it.  Seemed though lately, like it was sucking her in.  It was doubtful any of them decided one day to just out on the membership jacket… long process perhaps?


“I’m almost convinced there is something more.  I’ve seen, patterns.  Certain people wanting and looking for certain things.  Dunno… just got their weird feeling someone is playing people like me and counting on your group to not notice,”  the smile was again on her lips in the semi-darkness when he began his amiably rant about assholes.  She had to agree.  Moreso lately.  She would say it was a full moon, or a weird line-up of planets but well, the sky had a giant crack in it so it was kinda fucking obvious what the issue was.


“I need to meet Jocelyn, she sounds… like a good time.  I just usually punch their ass anyway.”


"No kidding? It probably wasn't this dark in this part of the country, but away from all the streetlights? Always. Out where I grew up it was like this plenty. You really never left the city? So Central Park is your idea of 'wilderness'?"


There it was again, even through the smile at her question about the stars, that weird ‘pat on the head’ for being so innocent.


“Brooklyn is my idea of wilderness,”  she smirked.  “Nah, never wanted to.  Everything I had was right in front of me.  Michael always wanted to, just… my family was never well off you know, but his was.  No need for cars when there was a subway.  Always working, going to school.  He wanted to give me things I didn’t earn, his family thought I was just a freeloader, so I never accepted anything.” 


Oh good god, had she just crossed the taboo line?  No, he’d asked.  She was being honest. 


“Missed out on a lot of vacations that way, but I’m not a freeloader.  Spent the entirety of the shitstorm after the Nevus earning the shop.”  Well that was out in the open.  He was smart enough to figure out she owed a dead man for the somewhat comfortable life she had now.  A dead man she’d killed.


She had to consciously keep her eyes on the road, fighting the urge to look up through the moon-roof that the older truck had in it.  It was there, but didn’t open.  That was okay.  It ran.


“Do you think I’m weak, Alistair?”  she had his tight ass trapped in the car, she was going to damn well ask the question that had been burning the back of her brain.  “Because… I feel the toddler gloves being used sometimes.  Maybe it’s just my imagination, I don’t know… but I didn't make it this far by being a moron... “  voice trailed off.  Would she change his mind, not really sure, this was her gig. 


Subject changed abruptly, she'd given him at least something to think about.  Time for business.  Seemed conversation made time start to fly.  She understood the appeal of it in a car now.


“Oddly enough, Coy likes tea.  I seem to have a little expertise in that area.  Old English bastard has expensive tastes.  I will do the talking and bartering, he hates talking to people and I just have a little more time to think of how to explain you.  Take my cues, do not get me killed, okay?”  Reaching between the seats, she handed him a map, “that’s my gopher’s map.  Everything that’s destroyed from New York to D.C. is marked, so are Vanguard and possible Vanguard holds.  Places where they’ve encountered problems with stupid are also marked.  You’re the navigator…  don’t run us into a roadblock or get us attacked by zombies please."

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[alistair]Hmph. I apologize for nothing.[/alistair] Alistair replied, putting on his best Hedonism Bot impression as he said it, then flashing a cheeky grin. Though at her next bit his smile faded, and he shook his head a little bit, putting his elbow on the window and propping his chin up against it.

[alistair]Well, that's not quite what I meant, but you're still right. Just a different topic. Believe me, it's something I spend a fair amount of time worrying about. Not enough hours in the day... people haven't realized yet just to what extend Resonance handed WMDs to about half the freaking world. That's why you have groups like ARMA - and other people trying to keep everything from getting outright fucking ruined all the time.[/alistair] He scowled at nothing in particular, considering for a while as he did.

She was right, there wasn't exactly a membership jacket, but nor had she ever asked to be part of the club. In fact, she seemed pretty keen on keeping that 'switzerland' status she kept talking about, which was pretty much the whole reason she wasn't. He wasn't exactly pressing people into service, now was he? Still...

[alistair]If that's true, there's more than one group at it.[/alistair] he said, shaking his head a little bit again. [alistair]Because at the very least, on the list of 'people collecting certain items according to a particular agenda', there's me, and the High Archmagi. I have a pretty good idea of what they were after around the time I betrayed them, but... they seem to have shifted their pattern since then. Might be because of the wrench I threw in by denying them New York... might be something else. Or maybe what I've been attributing to them is this other entity you're suggesting.[/alistair] There, of course, wasn't something he generally admitted to peope. Certainly notsomething that he told the press or the general public. But this was where she was involved... might as well bring her up to speed, so to speak.

[alistair]And yeah - you'd like Murph. She doesn't let me get away with any shit, either. You've no idea how many bruises I've gotten trying to spar with her... seven years of getting my ass kicked by that one, makes vampires seem downright tame.[/alistair] He winced a bit at the memory, rubbing at his shoulder as though at an old wound, though he chuckled all the same.

[alistair]Last label I'd put on you is 'freeloader'... kind of a weird call, that.[/alistair] he added, looking genuinely surprised, though he supposed it was possible she was different these days than she had been back then. [alistair]Brooklyn does get kind of messed up... but then, that's now. I didn't know it very well before. I was the opposite - growing up, a place like New York just seemed too damn foreign. I never really meant to move there, it was just where work took me. I'm more used to big lakes and little tourist towns. Or, I was anyway.[/alistair]

And then she asked the big question. He thought he'd caught a bit of that floating around the conversation, so while his eyebrows went up, he wasn't quite as surprised as he might otherwise have been. Perhaps because of that, he took a few more seconds than usual to reply. Finally, he thought of something reasonably concise, so he went with that. [alistair]Wouldn't be here if I didn't think you could take care of yourself in a general sense. I'd have tazed you and dragged you back to the city. You're tough, and you're smart. But I would, frankly, tear a new asshole in any of my people who tried to go on a mission like this alone. Let me put it like this: back in the old world, did you see soldiers, even fucking SEALs, taking off by themselves? More to the point, how do soldiers or police or firefighters usually take civilians walking into situations they've spent years training for?[/alistair]

[alistair]I don't think you're weak. I don't think you're stupid. I'm worried that you don't know what's out there. Because I know I sure as shit didn't. And things are worse today in some ways than they were when I was starting out. So I hope it doesn't offend you, but I've seen stronger people than me die doing stuff like this. So I guess you can chalk it up to my particular brand of PTSD.[/alistair] She was just going to have to understand one of these days. She had learned to fight, sure. But for how long had she been a tougher than average shopkeep? She was just learning to control her power, and not to mention the unpredictable spirit she was toting around. Maybe it was just him being an asshole, but no, he didn't know if she was ready for the stuff she seemed so eager to jump into of late, and so indignant about his reservations.

Was he paranoid? Fucking right he was. Plenty of reasons to be. Wasn't about how strong she was, or how fast. She hadn't been out here. Scouting reports and stories weren't the whole story of it.

He took the map with a nod, far less talkative now it seemed, and he pored over it for a few seconds, before taking out a crystal pendant and touching it to a few of the indications. Might be able to check the map with a bit of divination, not that it was anything he specialized in. Though as it turned out... He reached into his pocket, pulling out a map of his own, and he arrayed them side by side, looking for discrepencies. It had been a while since they'd swept the area... interesting to see who missed what.

[alistair]Got it - I'll keep you posted. Just say so if you want me waiting outside.[/alistair]

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Lips smirked at his cheeky grin.  It seemed to be easy, for once… to have a conversation with someone, let alone him.  She was so crappy at this kind of stuff.  The last time she dated was, high school?  That was a terrible basis of learning for relationships.  She was stumbling through this bit and he was being incredibly patient, and that she appreciated.


But she kept opening her damn mouth, and her damn mouth had to make a decision.

“That's why you have groups like ARMA - and other people trying to keep everything from getting outright fucking ruined all the time."


Sigh was soft, fingers tensing on the wheel before relaxing again.


"If that's true, there's more than one group at it."


She nodded,  “there are, and I can tell you who they are.”  Okay, that was a big step.  Would she be seen as a rat?  They had the time in the car for her to figure out the intricacies of what she wanted more.  “There’s more than you know,” inklings.  She watched, and listened… when you didn’t get in the middle of things you could figure them out where most took stuff at face value.  “The world sees Republicans, Democrats for lack of a better analogy… I see all the other little factions that are just as much a pain in the ass.  To a point, I’m one of them.”


…and for that she was sorry, wasn’t she?  Is that where this was going.  Christ, she was making a decision in the car and didn’t even realize it.

"And yeah - you'd like Murph. She doesn't let me get away with any shit, either. You've no idea how many bruises I've gotten trying to spar with her... seven years of getting my ass kicked by that one, makes vampires seem downright tame."


The smile was warm for once, she remembered the affectionate names they had for each other.  She’d been given one, and had meant to look it up but for the life of her she couldn’t remember what it was.  The bitch, the nerd, who knew?


“I’ve picked up a few things in the last few months,” understatement of the year.  “Once upon a time I was a kickboxer, seems I’ve not forgotten everything.”  She’d been doing well, too well.  It was hard to train anymore when the trainers weren’t fast enough to keep up with the punches and kicks, or the bags wouldn’t stay on the hook with the force behind her movements.  It was one thing to be fast, she was also powerful.  Bones no longer seemed to be a hindrance.  “Maybe I’ll introduce you to my hometown gym.  A little rough around the edges, but good guys down there.”

"Last label I'd put on you is 'freeloader'... kind of a weird call, that."


Face darkened then, embarrassed almost.  She was quiet.  He could reassure her, but it still felt she owed a debt she could never repay.  It was meant to be for the both of them, and by her hands she’d taken it.  Necessary, but still unfair.  Chains now maybe, the wince in her brow still churning on decisions when she decided to go for the final questions…

"Wouldn't be here if I didn't think you could take care of yourself in a general sense. I'd have tazed you and dragged you back to the city. You're tough, and you're smart. But I would, frankly, tear a new asshole in any of my people who tried to go on a mission like this alone. Let me put it like this: back in the old world, did you see soldiers, even fucking SEALs, taking off by themselves? More to the point, how do soldiers or police or firefighters usually take civilians walking into situations they've spent years training for?"

The rest of what he said was listened to patiently, a long breath before letting it out.


“It doesn’t offend me,” she was quiet for a while though.  It was just what she thought, and believed.  “I don’t have a team.  If I did, they’d be with me.”


Had she made that decision?  As he pulled something from his pocket and looked over the map she’d given him, then seemed to pull out his own.  Speed slowed, and she turned off the headlights for a moment as she stopped on the side of the road and he studied the maps.

“I absolutely have to get there tonight,” sigh was again long.  “But, I promise if I have to do this again you have the authority to chew me a new one.  I don’t take orders well, and I’m not used to working with a team that isn’t under my call… but I’ll try.  I have a world of knowledge you could use,” lower lip rolled through her teeth.  “So if you want me on your team, I’m willing to play ball.  I’ll make this up to you, I swear.  You can even chew me out when we get back.”


Swallow was thick, she hoped… more than anything, he knew how hard the decision was to make.  It wasn’t about her and her charges.  She was offering to help a greater cause, and with that came more risks and responsibilities, and something she was having a hard time admitting to herself.  A bit of selfishness went along with it, hard fought and agonized over too many times before now, a quick lean over placing a soft, lingering kiss on his cheek before flicking the lights back on and navigating the last length to the city.


It was eerie, and mostly deserted.  The clear lights of New York replaced by the cheap yellow of a city barely back to life.  Debris, and errant fires beneath overpasses.  This was a bad idea. A really, really bad idea.  Fingers tightened on the steering wheel, then relaxed, reaching one at a time to retrieve new toys from beneath her seat and slide them into soft custom sheaths on her spine beneath the leather jacket.


“New toys,” she said quietly.  “We have to come in from the south side and park a block out.  Keep us off of George Washington.”  Eyes were keenly soaking in everything.  Every vehicle, every shrap of movement that caught her attention.  If shit was going to go wrong, it was about to start now.


"I'll get you back to New York, I promise," there was no wink, no smart-assery.  It was a promise, a hard fought, serious promise she would sacrifice herself to keep.

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Alistair lifted a brow at her reply. She kept dropping hints and implying that she knew things he didn't, and then not actually coming out with the information. She seemed to be struggling with whether or not to let it out at all, but he wished if she was still on the fence she'd not keep hinting at it. Considering he was an innately curious person, it was sort of maddening. Not to mention the assumption that she knew how much he knew, which... well on a professional level that did prickle at him. But he was doing his best to keep that under wraps, it didn't seem like a fair thing to get annoyed by.

[alistair]Probably not the best analogy.[/alistair] he said, poring over his maps as he did. [alistair]Considering, back in the day, they were the only parties that mattered.[/alistair] He pulled a pen out of his pocket and began annotating - adding to his own map the items that had been on hers but not his. Looking at the pair of them was going to be a pain in the ass if he went forward that way for too much longer, and it made the big picture hard to see.

[alistair]Hey - if you don't have a team handy, you probably oughta get one. And yeah, I would do that without your permission too, thanks.[/alistair] He flashed another quick smile, and had gone back to work on the map when she leaned over and kissed him. Well, hey... here he had kind of thought things had gotten a little contentious during their ride. Seemed like she was alright with it after all. But then, he supposed she was tense in general - at least, where relationships went.

Out here... Well, it had been a while since he'd been out here. But he was always struck by, no matter how bad things had been in New York, they were so much worse in other parts of the country. People who had left the city and refused to return, whether because of fear or crimes they were still wanted for. It was hard to say... and sometimes he worried about the answer. But he wasn't the government - he couldn't solve every problem, no matter how much he wanted to. Down that path lay madness, as it were.

He nodded a little at her comment, lifting his brows appreciatively when she drew the weapons out. [alistair]Looks like the smith did a pretty good job for you there... good. And hey - likewise. Let me out a few blocks further out, I'll catch up. Best case, they don't know you have anyone else. Especially because I don't want any of them recognizing me - might freak out if they find out who you brought along.[/alistair] If they were trying to keep ARMA from noticing things, like she said, they might not appreciate her bringing the commander of the whole damn thing along with her.

He made some marks on the map she'd given him as well, then passed it back to her. [alistair]Here. If we get separated, meet me at the point marked A. Drop me up here.[/alistair] He waited for her to bring the vehicle to a stop, then leaned over and kissed her before she could react, before he winked and slipped out of the vehicle. [alistair]I'll be waiting for a signal, so, if you need me... Do something obvious. And preferably loud. Stay safe.[/alistair] He lifted a hand in a wave, then waited for her to get going herself before he took a breath and tucked the map into the chest pocket of his coat.

Well... Better get on the way then.

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"Probably not the best analogy."


Nose scrunched at him.


"Considering, back in the day, they were the only parties that mattered."


“The others stole support, game changers.  Might never have had a chance in hell of winning, but they sure did have the power to swing the vote,”  she hoped he got the point, which was why she was in the predicament she was in with loyalty.  Falling quiet, she watched him with his maps as she drove in the tunnel of darkness.


“It’s accurate,”  she said softly.  “Some threats may no longer exist, but where there is a mark, there was a problem,”  lean back stretched slightly to loosen stiff muscles.  She definitely did not like to drive a car.

"Hey - if you don't have a team handy, you probably oughta get one. And yeah, I would do that without your permission too, thanks."


“Good to know, just warn me first and I'll distract you,”  and she was quiet again.  Not much else to say after confessing that she was volunteering to be a rat to her own sort of underground system and be loyal to a group she wasn’t sure would win the war.  It felt wrong on many levels, but the right thing to do on more.  Attention was on everything around them.  If her perception skills were faster than the average bear, she didn’t know.  She was sure as hell trying to keep on top of this.  Several sets of weapons, a new set of enchanted ones to try out with the set she’d been made earlier.  Green.  This was a helluva trip to test her sea legs.  There was no regret for coming, she had to no matter what, but she couldn’t lie to herself and say she wasn’t worried.


Or scared.


Or worried more she would fail and he would be right.  He was right, she was not ready.  Some people didn’t have a choice to be ready though, she was one of them.

Let me out a few blocks further out, I'll catch up. Best case, they don't know you have anyone else. Especially because I don't want any of them recognizing me - might freak out if they find out who you brought along."


“Good point… see, you’re helpful,”  it was meant to be a humorous quip, managing to only come out as a whisper. Maybe it betrayed her apprehension, but she didn’t have time for trepidation.  They’d come all this way, her ass was on the line.  Trial by fire if there ever was.


Eyes flicked to the map he held out, taking it carefully.


"Here. If we get separated, meet me at the point marked A. Drop me up here."


No.  No no no!  She almost refused to stop the car… damn it!  She hit the brakes quietly and dimmed the lights.  After pledging to do what he told her to on events like this, the sudden flush from biting her tongue sprung anger to places she didn’t know existed- doused completely when the surprise kiss replaced it with panic as he slipped out of the car and her fingers were too late to catch his coat.  He simply could not go out on his own. Fuck this!  Bite....  just shut up Rorye.


"I'll be waiting for a signal, so, if you need me... Do something obvious. And preferably loud. Stay safe."


It was her first official nod to a first official set orders.  It may have been her trip, but she’d given over control of it with just a few words.  It felt, weird.  Extremely strange.  Smile was small to his wave,  fingers lingering on his seat for a quick second.  She had to remind herself he could take care of himself.  He was trusting her at her word… she had been adamant SHE could take care of herself.  Car was placed into gear again, heavy eyes watching him disappear into the darkness of the rear view.  She would not screw this up.  She could NOT screw this up.

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Alistair laughed, though the expression was almost dark as he did - certainly, his thoughts were running along a vein of black humor at this point. He was going to let her go out ahead. Far from taking control, he was giving it to her - if she didn't signal, he stayed outside. He was just positioning himself as backup and giving her a bit of commonsense advice with how to deal with having backup, considering she had admitted more than once to having been a loner pretty much all the time before this.

She seemed worried... maybe all this was finally settling in. But the worry had been worse when he got out and she realized she had to let him. Dammit, Rorye. I'm the last person you need to worry about out here. He watched the vehicle move on for a few seconds, then let out a breath and checked his gear. Shotgun, check. Sword, check. Pistol, check. Backup pistol, also check. Condensers, check. Totems, also check. He pushed the left sleeve of his jacket up a bit, making sure the silver chain that wrapped its way up his arm was in place the way it was supposed to be, then he shoved his hands in his pockets and started walking.

Part of the problem was, no matter what he did, he didn't look like he belonged in the DC wasteland. He was too well groomed, too well dressed, and probably not malnourished enough to fit in, so he just did his best to keep to the shadows and move like he belonged - or at least, move with a purpose. While people sometimes noticed other people who moved that way, they were a lot less likely to interfere if you seemed like someone with a solid plan. The more tentative you looked, the more likely someone was to try and take advantage. But then, that was New York... and here he was breaking his own rules. He'd never been here without at least Murph for backup. Stupid... also too late to really do anything about it.

He had made it about a mile, moving at a pretty good clip down the crumbling streets, when he picked up his first follower. He should have expected it - the black coat was a bit of a signature in New York, but not something that drew a ton of attention. Out here, it was a sign that he had things, things worth stealing. And so even if he seemed like someone in charge, it was probably inevitable that someone bold would make a go at it. The problem was... there were two of them

Goddammit. He took in a deep breath and  expelled it again, slowly gathering his power. He held the forms in his mind, offloading the magic to a separate part of his mind. He'd practiced this until he bled... it was the mark of a good combat mage. Had to be able to fight and cast at the same time. The magus continued as though he hadn't noticed them while they closed in.

Now, the question was, were they going to give him warning, or just strike? Maybe a little of both...

[npc]Hey, bossman, what's the hurry?[/npc]

Alistair started to turn, and as soon as he did, the one who hadn't spoken was at his back. There was a sharp point that was almost definitely a knife, but what the jackass didn't know was that it would take a hell of a knife to easily get through his coat. Actually, there was a lot he didn't know... could fill a book with it. The first one slipped around in front of him, grinning. [npc]We gotta hunt out here, Big City... this ain't your stomping ground[/npc]

[alistair]Yeah, well. I'm a shithead like that. I suppose you'll be wanting the watch.[/alistair] He held his left hand out, and the man laughed, reaching out for his sleeve.

[npc]Well ain't you giving it up easy? You must have plenty you think we won't find. Believe me, we wi-[/npc]

When the man was just about to touch him, Alistair's hand flipped over, catching the rogue's wrist and sending a disabling surge of electricity through him. The man seized up, a strangled noise coming from his throat as he started to topple backward. The second one was confused for a moment, and Alistair took ruthless advantage, dropping his stance and sliding one foot behind, turning his body just enough to clear the point of the knife before he locked a hand around the knife-holding wrist and jerked it forward. He didn't want to overuse his magic, so for this part he went with the jiu-jitsu. One hand blocked behind the man's shoulder and he forced his torso down while twisting the arm upward until the man cried out and dropped the knife. That done, and before the man could properly fight, he twisted the man the exact opposite way, driving him over Alistair's hip and off his feet. The mage landed hard on him, forcing the crook around until he had a rear choke.

[alistair]Not everyone in a nice coat is a rich fuck, you prick.[/alistair] he whispered as the man gasped and flailed, helplessly and increasingly weak until he passed out, and Alistair dropped him. He stood up, pushing the man onto his stomach, then stepped back to the other, whose muscles were just now starting to obey him again. [alistair]Gonna need that poncho. So no one else gets the wrong idea. No, don't get up.[/alistair] He took a knee, clapping his hands on either side of the man's head and muttering - there was a momentary jerk, then the man passed out. He'd be fine... Alistair had practiced that one. No sense killing someone just for trying to eat.

He stripped the tattered raingear off the man - he was larger, so that would work alright - and stuck $50 in his pocket before going on his way. Hey... he wasn't a thief.

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Hands tightened on the steering wheel, turning headlights to low.  The yellow flickering streetlights did really nothing to brighten the city other than cast a weird eerie glow that Alistair had been swallowed into. She didn’t want him off on his own, dammit- as if somehow she of all people could protect him. Maybe she could, maybe she couldn’t… she had to focus on the task at hand.   He made his choice to come along, and so had she.


It felt like only moments until she slowed down on the ramp of a parking garage and someone stepped in front of her car, gun drawn, motioning her to park to the side.  She did.  There were more, two at the sides and one behind her within seconds.  Expected, thumbs had already clicked the snaps on her wrists, keeping her hands on the wheel after rolling down the window.


*npc*  “You’re not Cecil,” it was a woman, shaved head revealing a rather ugly reason to not shave anyone’s head when you had a bad skull.  Ugh.


Head shook gently, “Cecil couldn’t make it.  I’m Cecil’s contact, Rorye.”


*npc*  “You here alone?”


Nod was slow.


*npc*  “Out.  Car stays here.”


She complied, pulling her messenger bag and keys –fuck them having access to the truck- out with her.  The disc was going in it to replace payment.  She would not leave without it.  They wanted it, to search of course and she relinquished her bag on request, keys sliding into her back pocket.


“The normal price, plus a bit of extra,”  she said.  “Cecil was up north and couldn’t meet my deadline, so I had to come myself.”


Baldie cocked a brow.


*npc* “…you gotta be fucking kidding me.”


Well, specialty tea was not everyone’s bag.  Old English bastard had expensive tastes for things only she could get her hands on.  Plus, trinkets they didn’t realize weren’t just trinkets.  The shipment Cecil had brought her from down near Louisiana... odd little necklaces with scorpions and other weird bugs encased in glass.  She’d told Ali about it; that they were kind of doing strange things.  Not interested or forgot, they were now Coy’s to have.  Annnnd.... a book.  Yep.  She knew she shouldn't have it.  She knew... but for the Sky Disc?  It was more necessary than tea and voodoo charms.  They put it on the hood of her truck, some other roughneck patting her down and touching her forearms.


“Not stupid enough to drive out from New York unarmed.”


Baldie waved for her to give them up, obstinate answer shaking her head.


“You tell me you shake Cecil down every time he comes out here?  Bullshit.  He’s on my payroll.”


The moment was terse.  They knew her, never seeing her face before.  She didn’t bankroll Coy’s entire dealings, but she was important to him.  She moved product, a cog in the underground machine before valuable things were swiped up and swallowed by the Order or even Arma.  Would he be happy if he was expecting her things and they had to explain why he couldn't have his damn four o-clock tea every day?


Dark eyes watched baldie roll over the same things in her head, nodding once.  She knew it would keep her in cross hairs the entire exchange.  Was she faster than a speeding bullet?  She was hoping not to find out.


Bag was handed back to her and she slung it over her shoulder, intent footsteps leaving the car in the hands of people she really didn’t care to but had no choice.  Following the woman into the depths of a parking garage, the others folded in behind her and they trekked down under the massive building.


Something loud if she needed help?  That seemed out of the question the further underground they moved...

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Poncho hood up and at least blending in to the place a little better, Alistair did his best to move quickly without looking like he was in a hurry. That was the sort of eternal problem that plagued him - it had never been easy to strike that sort of balance after all. But for the most part, the path forward seemed to be relatively clear - people weren't poking around this part of town. That was enough to make a guy just a bit nervous. It meant he was headed for the right place, but it also meant that Rorye's buyer had a solid lock on power around here. That was enough to make a guy worry a bit... he could take on a lot of normals, but if too many of them had proper training or powers of their own, it was going to make things... difficult.

Then again, the plan was not to go in as a one-man army, so he hoped he could avoid having to do anything like that. He wasn't Superman. Hell, he wasn't even a late-series Dresden, if it came to that. Well, no sense complaining about any of it at this point. He was deep enough into the mess and now he had to deal with it.

Naturally, he made it to Rorye's meetup point some time after her. Thankfully, it looked like she and her 'friends' had spent enough time dicking around that he had a chance to catch up, which he appreciated. Maybe she'd even done it on purpose. He lingered at the edge of one of the buildings, hand against the cool cement as they spoke. Too faint for him to make anything out. Not much of a shock there. So the question was... where was the backup? He was fairly sure that there were more than just the guys standing around Rorye. He made a couple shadows on the rooftops, watching the irregular pools of light cast by the few working lights on the outside of the building. So they had power? That was sort of impressive, this far out.

Rorye and the men started for the cleared entrance, and the mage swore under his breath. He wasn't going to be able to keep an eye on shit if they were underground like that. Which meant, somehow, he had to figure out a way to follow them. Great. Of course I didn't come dressed for playing Solid Snake. he griped to himself, then he turned and started making his way around the buildings. Following them through their entrance was right out, of course. But maybe if he could get to the second floor? The eastside of the garage didn't seem to have anyone watching it, not that his senses could detect - even as he cast his aura out in an attempt to sense anyone out of sight. But there was still the issue of getting up there... aha.

Part of the floor had collapsed inward, seemingly due to some kind of impact. Still high up, but if he got a running start... Alistair took a few steps back, then broke into a sprint, and threw his hand out toward the lights. It was a weak spell, but the lights dimmed and began to flicker, and he used the time to cross the open ground, gathering for a second spell and leaping. He pushed off at the same time he conjured a momentary burst of hurricane winds beneath him, adding to the leap and carrying him the extra few feet up to a point where he could get purchase. It also picked his speed up way more than he wanted, and he tried to land, tripped, hissed a curse, and managed to tuck and roll to kill the rest of his speed before he broke anything.

He did, however, land about six feet from a guard.

The man blinked, shocked, a half-eaten sandwich in one hand, rifle leaned againt the support pillar beside him. His mouth was full, so his attempted cry of alarm was muffled and inaudible, thank god - it gave Alistair a chance. He didn't have time to ready another spell, but the symbols of the last were still fresh in his mind, and he snapped his hand back out, but pulled back this time. The gust sucked the man in toward him this time, as the mage sprang back to his feet and delivered a hard right cross into the man's jaw.

The guard's head snapped back, his feet went out, and the last of the wind actually propelled him through a backflip until he crashed down on his stomach, unconscious. Alistair, once he was sure the man was down, clutched at his right hand with his left, hissing barely audible curses in a string before he moved to grab the man's legs and drag him somewhere into the dark.

Goddamn Metal Gear, after all. Now he just needed to find an elevator shaft. Even if those didn't work anymore, he could use them to get down...

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The first few years after the event, she would walk the streets in the middle of the night.  Empty, dark, full of silence so thick most stayed huddled wherever they had found to continue living beyond the disaster.  She still owned the leather jacket that would be pulled around her like a security blanket, keeping out the demons that lingered in the world to prey on those that dared to take their lives back. Hands were always shoved in her pockets, cheek against the updrafts that pulled at the strands of mahogany hair in its careless plait… the feel of chilled windburned cheeks keeping her attention sharp to the shadows as she would walk for hours, miles to clear her head..  shed the guilt of what she’d done to survive.  Deals with the devil and all that cliché bullshit.  She’d done the worst, killed, lied, cheated- all close to the vest, what was necessary to keep her neighborhood alive.  Not… necessarily cheating and lying. What was necessary.  If she kept telling herself that, it would make it real.  She didn’t do what anyone else wouldn’t have done to keep her ‘family’ together.  Those nights of walking would lift that guilt from her skin with the heat it wicked, returning to a warm shop and appreciative faces.


It was the reverberation, the echo of the same worn-in boots that had done that walking bouncing across century old bricks in her city that brought the stark memory back.


They were now making an identical sound against the emptied parking garage as she followed to what hopefully was the little old man everyone described him as, her same battered and well-loved leather jacket no longer pulled tight around her like a shield.  She’d become something else.




Haha. Nope.


She was terrified, the odd sensation running adrenaline up and down her skin in waves of marching prickles.  It wasn’t her turf, her territory.  The tall altered human was folding into the control of someone else’s home, and she didn’t like it.  Get the shit and get out.  That would most likely take balls and charm at the same time.  She could do that.


Fingers tightened on the handle of the messenger bag, trying not to scan the shadows beyond the small flickering bastions of light they traveled between to get to the elevator that led into the building.  She never been… with all her interest in unique oddities, she’d never made the trip to this place.  Shame.


Power.  The place had power, the sound of a moving elevator bringing the subject to the forefront of her brain.  It made sense, the most important historical items in history had to be protected from power outages and such... who knew what kind of generator system still laced through this place.  That also meant built-in security checkpoints, alarm systems.  Shit.


They stopped at the small glass alcove that protected the doors from the elements, the strange whoosh of air as the doors opened smelled of…


Books.  Old paper.


They weren’t going up.  Crafty old bastard.  Temperature controlled ‘catacombs’ shut off from the world.  The rumors were true, he had hidden underground while the world burned.  The museums in New York had the same… most likely labyrinths of halls, rooms, networks and storage- which was good on the one hand… if things went south, lots of places to find cover.  On the other, a maze.  She could get lost, caught, killed.


That didn’t bother her as much as the doors of the elevator opening. She’d felt it before, an odd hum in her bones as she stepped over the threshold, like she was passing through the skin of a bubble.


The rational side of her brain kept telling herself it was just precautions, that he was an opportunist just like she was. She went after things she wanted, was willing to pay what was asked, and then leave. He was the same.  Hopefully.


The instinct side of her brain was screaming at her to get the fuck out.


Dark eyes lifted up at the light that flickered as the elevator traveled downward, fixated for a moment on the long rods of fluorescent lights.  They were a dance of pulsating shadows within the tubes. Either they were on their way to burning out, or whatever was keeping this place lit was fluctuating.  It held her attention for a moment, just long enough to notice the emergency hatch cleverly hidden in the demurely decorative panels.


It came to a stop, doors opening to a dimly lit hallway of doors and filtered light. Baldie flipped out a key, locking the elevator on their floor.


Good to know.


She was a nimble thing.  The elevator was a way out regardless if she could make it move or not.


Everything smelled like books… trying to remember the turns they were taking, the locked doors, realizing the soles of her boots were making small black marks on the polished floor if she scuffed slightly.  She nonchalantly scuffed a bit more.  Keypads seemed to not be working, abandoned for a ring of keys the woman kept clipped to her belt and in her pocket by a chain.  All wasn’t the beacon of light it had seemed outwardly to be, the weird sensation when they stepped on the elevator made sense.  There were mages in this place. Shit.


“So you’re the tea-maker.”


The voice breaking the silence of shuffling feet and fabric was stark. 


A smoking coat swaddled man had shuffled out from a door they had passed, sweet scent of tobacco puffing from his pipe. Perhaps she turned too fast, startled by an obviously defenseless elderly gentleman, but the guns clicked to attention and her hands were up in an instant.  She nodded carefully, her breath completely still in her chest.


Something loud...  something loud.  Well the guns shooting her would be loud, but pretty pointless for Alistair to come at that point.


“Oh stop it,” the frown was directed at them.  “You can’t blame them for being cautious, city slickers aren’t something we see way out here very often.”


He was chuckling to himself as he motioned her to follow him into the room he had emerged from….she blinked at the guns as they lowered and stepped between several goons that had no intention of moving out of the way for her. Holy shit…  he was like, that grandpa from Jurassic Park.  The rich naïve one.


“Make no mistake though, you try to fuck me over and they’ll shoot you in the face.”


…or… maybe not.

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Hm. Shit. Alistair had made his way around the garage to the building access, and once he'd gotten there, the elevator doors had only taken him a minute or two to pry open. That was a trick, at least, that he'd learned quite a while back in New York. The number of times he'd been in a building with no power, chasing down something or other... or the times his own magic had shorted the stupid elevator out.

Suffice to say, except for the modified elevators at the Reserve, Alistair spent a lot of time taking the stairs.

But while he might have gotten the door open, and might have been pretty familiar with that part... Well the black void that was the shaft once he'd gotten it open wasn't his favorite thing in the world. [alistair]Come do DC, we'll get together, have a few laughs...[/alistair] he muttered, tugging his gloves on a bit tighter before he reached out for the cables at either side. A few harrowing minutes later, and he lowered himself gently to the roof of the elevator. Well. Gently-ish. He dropped low, listening for a moment to see if anyone was near, but thankfully there was nothing.

Okay then - Another step down. Solid Snake always sounded like a porn name. He wasn't playing that character. Plus, in those games, you never needed a multitool to open up the access panel on top of an elevator. Suck it, Hollywood... Then again, he definitely wished that he could skip over the boring and or tedious parts.... Maybe he wasn't exactly winning here. Still, he got the panel off, and dropped down into the elevator, which was mercifully still. He didn't know if the thing even worked - they had some power here, sure, but if they only had small generators, anything more than lighting was going to be a stretch. They'd need 480, probably, and you weren't getting that out of your average Honda jenny.

Alright, so if I was a megalomaniac artifact collector trying to impress and or threaten a pretty lady who was kind of here to do a business deal, but I was also kind of a dick, where would I be?

He was extrapolating on the 'kind of a dick', part, but then the hints Rorye had dropped... it seemed kinda probable. The magus took a breath and stepped out into the hall, his power up and letting it interfere with the flow of power in the walls. The lights flickered and died as he passed - he kept it low enough that it probably wouldn't ruin the equipment permanently... but the power had better things to be doing right about now. Like charging his aura up, and stopping the overhead lighting from showing the trenchcoated magus walking down the halls.

Quiet down here, except... voices. Huh - well that was something to go on, anyway. As long as he didn't run into any jackasses in the halls, like - shit! He slipped to the side of the hall, and put his hand on the doorknob nearby. Stupid thing was locked... okay... muttering a quick spell, he pressed his hand against the lock - there was a quiet crackle-snap of electricity, and he turned the knob until the locking pin melted and it gave way, letting him slip into the next room.

Holy shit... What was that smell?

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*npc*  Please, sit.


A gentlemanly gesture, from a kind looking man with a warm voice that happened to just threatened her.


Her heart started an odd flutter, the strange palpation that stole your breath for a moment and brought your attention dangerously close to mortality.  His calm demeanor raised every hackle on her skin.  The threat had fallen off his lips so casually, easy.  Too easy.  Was it him who actually pulled the trigger if he found his visitors to be wanting?  Who knew what the old bat had hidden down in his cultured labyrinth.  He was a collector of books and other magical items. What other things did he collect?  Running a band of misfit toys that would kill for him, successfully commanding a chunk of a city that had slipped into the wild beyond the civilized… harnessed the light for it to survive where most hadn’t.  There was more to this man than what she could anticipate. Was he altered? A full out mage?


He could just be a rational businessman like her and the odd jump in her chest could be nothing more than nerves, then again comparing her concept of rational to anyone’s was a poor judge of character.  She was ruthless when she had to be, but so was everyone else. Making herself out to be a saint when she in fact had spilled her own share of blood was stupid.


Brain was going off the rails with this one… imagining him as everything from a serial killer to a torture extraordinaire.  She had to cut it out and get this over with.


For a moment, just a split one… she wondered if this was worth it. The flicker of regret enough to…


*Npc*  Rorye, is it?


Lashes quivered a moment, she’d been staring at a stack of books while contemplating her own certain doom.  Dark eyes tore themselves away from the pile, heavy and a bit blurred.  Slow blink cleared more than just her vision, now taking the time to travel completely around the room.


Yes, she answered just as calm, the rich hum to her vocal timbre hiding so much.


It was like a savant professor’s dream.  Stacks and stacks of antique books and papers, clutter of gadgets and other items she could only guess were relics in his collection.  Somewhere between colliding curiosity, imminent danger, hellbent stubbornness and fear she had to keep a clear head.


Fingers tightened on the strap of her bag.


*npc* Rorye, please sit.  I have water steeping, we can sample your trade.


Teeth set on edge, but the perfect hostess slid over her features.  It was the person she was, or at least wanted to be… lately it had escaped her.


With all due respect, it’s a long way back to…


*npc* That wasn’t a suggestion.


It was delivered with the same suave calm as everything else he’d said.


*npc* Besides, Cecil always stays long enough to chat.  Since you’re effectively taking his place, the ritual remains the same. Plus, it’s not often I get intelligent company.  I might want to keep you.


It felt like her heart was vibrating, humming in her chest with the anger of a thousand hornets. The silent growl in her blood heavy, she felt her body doing something else than strangling the bastard like she wanted to. It sat.  A large, dark leather chair in front of his massive desk soaked in books and odd things now held her weight as he poured hot water from a coffeepot he had resting on a less cluttered countertop.


An amused smirk slid over her features, if your office is any indication of what you have here, I might want to stay.


He set the two cups in front of her.  She knew exactly what to do, knew every tea ceremony in the world and probably a few more.  He sat expectantly at his desk as she worked. Black, with a hint of spice.  It was fresher than he’d probably ever had.


*npc* We don’t often get the cultured down here anymore.


Understandable.  The nowhere in between here and New York isn’t the most pleasant.


She steeped it quietly, enjoying the scent immensely.  It reminded her of home, grounded her, solidified what she was doing here and what she had to do.  Save a way of life.  Sure, Hell’s Kitchen was a shithole many ways, but it still had life.  A life she refused to let go to crime and thuggery.


*npc* Why did you decide to come this late?  You couldn’t have missed that you’d be heading back in the middle of the night.  Not the best time.


I’m a busy girl, I have things to do tomorrow.


*npc* You didn’t come alone then I expect, employing Cecil isn’t something people do that can come out on their own.


I’m here, I’m sure that counts as coming down here on my own.


Her smile was wry, placing both full tins on his desk and getting up to set the cup within his reach before sitting back down to enjoy her own.  She waited quietly, blowing at the heated steam before finally drinking it.  He was driving this boat. 


After a moment that should have been awkward, he finally spoke.


*npc*I understand you also have that book I’ve been looking for.


She nodded. Alistair would absolutely kill her if he knew she had another one of these damn things. She wasn’t about to keep it… she was a broker for this one, a grimoire for the creepy crawly of sorts.  This man’s tastes had always been a bit on the macabre side, which is why she was hoping the Disc would be easy to pry out of his hands.  Pulling the book from her bag, she rose and placed the brown paper wrapped book in front of him and returned to her seat to enjoy what she hoped would be quick.


Every wrinkled corner of his face lit up like a Christmas tree as he pulled it to him and tugged at the twine.  She knew how to present things, giftwrapped in a rustically elegant way.  As he opened it, the child-like smile turned to a more curt smirk.


*npc* Your ability to find what most can’t never ceases to amaze me.  You’d be incredibly useful to me down here instead of peddling incense up in New York.


Oh shit.  Quick thinking…


Yes, but the biggest reason I can get my hands on these things is because I ‘peddle incense’.  People wanting to move things feel safe I’m not an obvious front for their moneymaking.


*npc* Conspiracy theories again?


Comment was wistful as his fingers wandered over the book’s cover, chuckling.


I’ve always thought there was something more than just individuals slinging weird objects back and forth.


*npc*  As do I.  What a wonderful discovery that would be.


His fingers went to pluck the book open, instant reaction pulled from her core.


Wait!  I’ve had a few unfortunate run-ins with those things, please wait until I’m gone.


*npc* Getting squeamish in your old age?


No, just…


She didn’t get a chance to finish, Baldie joining them rather abruptly and leaning to his ear for a conversation she of course wasn’t going to be privy to.  He glanced at her, then nodded to his companion before she left.


*npc* I’m not afraid of whatever lurks in these tomes, you should see what I really have down here.


Dark eyes resisted the urge to scan the floor.  What the fuck did that mean?


*npc* Deal is done.  You can have your sky disc for whatever you’ve brought me.


He nodded at a thin box leaning against his desk. 


*npc* Go ahead, take it.


Removing the rest of what was in her bag, and placing it on his desk… also all wonderfully presented… fingers picked up the box and slid it carefully into her bag.


Thank you.


*npc* Not even going to check?


You’ve never given me reason to not trust you.


*npc* Funny thing, trust…


Every knot that had ever existed jumped into her throat at that moment.


*npc* We’ve made our deal for the disc, but you broke my one simple rule.  Now we make the deal for your lives.


Lives?  Brows flickered.  Shit.  Shit!  SHIT!


*npc* The price of you leaving.  Your artifact, you know the one.  I want it.


Or what?


Her body stood straight up, both knives pulled faster than his eyes could comprehend. It only seemed to bring more amusement.


*npc* You’re altered, that’s a caveat I wasn’t expecting.  I survived what was down here, you ever wonder why?  No worries, even you aren’t fast enough to outrun what’s in your bag, it's most likely on your person by now.  Unless you rip off everything you're wearing and shake it out, which would be most amusing for me, it's just a matter of time before you hit the floor.


Body was tingling, the split second turn making the decision not to outrun what was on her person, but to take it with her.  Something loud, something loud… the sound of footsteps returning to the man’s office were imminent.


So was the fire pull just outside his door.


She could actually feel her muscles spring to life like a racehorse when their gates slammed open, purposely pushing a stack of books to mar his way after her, yanking the fire pull and hoping that was still in working order as she tore off back to the elevator.  An elevator she didn’t have a key for… a path to it almost in the dark every time the alarm’s acrid voice would scream through the tunnels, sucking the limited resources in its limited pulse.


She could feel it, something tense. Irritated.  It hummed in the air like the buzzing of flies, twittering of insects.  There was movie she'd seen about this...  hadn't she?  With.. 


Oh good god…

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He didn't know why, in retrospect, he hadn't realized what it was before. Hell, the last eight years, Alistair had seen more than his share of grisly crimes committed, not just the aftermaths but the actual acts themselves. People sucked dry by vampires, torn to pieces by werewolves or whatever other unmentionable horror du jour had crawled its way up to New York's streets. He had gotten to the point where some sights were almost banal anymore. It didn't mean you ever quite got used to the sight of a genuine atrocity, though. It was one of the few things that, from time to time, reminded him he was still human.

So when he flicked on his flashlight and shone it around the room, and he almost threw up in his mouth, there was an element to the whole thing that was almost reassuring.

The room was packed with bodies, almost all of them in various states of disassembly. The cuts suggested something clinical perhaps, or... god forbid, culinary? Were these fucks eating their captives? The organs had been removed from most of them, almost as though they were field dressed... the cold of the room made sense now. Some kind of spell or relic to keep them from spoiling. The bastards. The fucking -

The sudden shriek of the fire alam broke him out of his thoughts, snapping the abstract rage that had been building him into sharp focus. He'd said to do something loud... this part seemed pretty fucking loud. In between the cries of the barely functional sirens, he heard a grasping at the door, and a man's voice. [npc]I swear, I saw something come this way, you go see what's happening with the boss, I'll-[/npc]

Before he got a chance to finish, Alistair turned back to the portal, held out his hand, and blew the door off its hinges. Had it been a wooden door, he probably would have smashed it into splinters, but as it was, the rusting hinges gave way first, and the slab of hollow metal warped on the inside, bowing out into the hall as it slammed into the guard and carried him with it halfway across the hall. The man was probably dead, and Alistair was quite certain he didn't give a fuck.

A string of curses came from the hall, and Alistair stepped into it, stainless steel Colt shining in his hand as he leveled it on the second man. When the Order, or Arma these days, trained a mage one of the first things they did was teach the novice how to control their anger. Magic was a powerful force, akin to handing a child a firearm in many ways. Difficult to use correctly, easy to use badly, but there were plenty of nuances that couldn't be conveyed in simple analogy. Like the way those same strong emotions that were dangerous to a novice, that made it easier to screw up a spell, could also give magic far more than its usual power. So if you could learn to use that anger, there was a lot you could do... the magic in him reacted well to it after all this time, surging up eagerly to meet the fire in his heart.

It had been a little too long, perhaps, since he'd really let himself cut loose. The second guard got a shot off, just one, but the magus had already charged his defenses, and a flick of his left wrist met the shot with a flash of silver light, the bullet diverted down the hall, harmless at least to him. Alistair leveled his pistol and fired a shot of his own, then a second. As the man fell, Alistair gestured again, a sudden gust knocking the weapon away from where it fell, then he started on down the hall himself. Now that he wasn't so damn worried about keeping a low profile, he felt something down the halls... Rorye had gone that way, but specifically? Hard to say. And unfortunately, loud as the noise she had made was - good job, that - it wasn't exactly helpful in tracing her steps.

The compound was coming alive now... had to expect that. But then, he supposed things were getting about that desperate. Another pair of guards came around one of the corners, into his path as he stalked down the hall, and he didn't waste any time shooting the first. The second though, before he could return fire, Alistair disarmed. His left hand released the grip over his right on the pistol, and he let the potential energy he'd been storing rage out into the air, casting what was for him an actually fairly minor electrical arc at the man. Alistair's lightning would never look much like the real thing - it was directed by a will, not the fickle whims of the air currents, and so the flash of blue-white light took a far more direct path, only arcing slightly upward and then down again as the superheated air rose skyward.

The guard was just fortunate the target was his rifle - which didn't mean he didn't catch a good bit of heat and some stray current from the bolt that fused his weapon's action into uselessness, cooking off the round in the chamber (which fired into the ground, and failed to reload the action with the bolt already half-welded to the upper receiver. The man reached for the charging handle of the AR, trying to unjam it, but Alistair leveled his pistol, his tone making no question of his sincerity.

[alistair]Your boss, and the woman guest who showed up with the artifact. Where the fuck did they go, or I make damn sure you don't die fast.[/alistair]

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Something was beautiful about the way blood arched in the air when skin sliced open.  It was like painting, the motion of her hands a brush that in her eyes moved with the grace of being underwater- to the real world the speed of an expert with a switchblade.  Adrenaline. Maybe in her it ran hotter, honed her senses, hairtriggered her reactions….she was quite certain though that the man she’d just fileted in less than five seconds was most undoubtedly dead when she shove kicked his sternum to get the asshole out of her way.  Her chest was barely moving, deciding not to dwell on the first kill of the evening and casting a glance at the new blades in her hands.  She made a mental note to thank the man who made them, not getting much of a chance to propel herself forward before smacking directly into someone that rounded the corner.


Speed, she had.  Pre-cog, she was not.


Her back hit the floor hard enough to knock the wind out of her as he simply stumbled backward.  She was already rolling up, going for tendons that incapacitated him first, then a swipe at his throat that arched blood against the wall.


Shit!  Boots slid, squealing slightly as she bolted down the hallway toward the elevator.  So much blood… the elevator, she had to get to the damn elevator.  She could climb up the fucking shaft if she had to...


Another corner.


"Your boss, and the woman guest who showed up with the artifact. Where the fuck did they go, or I make damn sure you don't die fast."




Bladed hands came up instinctively in surrender, coming to an abrupt halt behind the guard that was looking down the barrel of Alistair’s pistol.  Eyes flicked to the mage, without hesitation bringing a blade up to slice the man’s throat open from behind and watch him crumple in front of her.  If Alistair wanted to kick the guy's ass, she'd just thwarted that party. 


Chest heaved for a moment as she pulled herself together.  Relieved to see him, worst fears denied, unaware she had speckles of blood on her nose that mimicked freckles.  Odd polarity from the vicious expression on her features, perhaps it made it even more concerning, afraid to admit it actually... felt good to get the bad guys.


Brain snapped back to the present, the urgent... the clusterfucked.


“I have to find a place to get my clothes off…  now,” voice left no room for it to be a joke. She was already moving toward him, checking for open doors…..


“Clothes off or you have to electrocute me,” she turned the corner, no explanation… braid swishing as she ran with hurried steps, finally slipping into a darkened room.

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Alistair couldn't decide if it was anticlimactic or just damn lucky that Rorye came skidding around the corner right around the time he was asking about her location. But it really did simplify matters to a considerable degree. He didn't have to go around looking for her, anyway, now did he? She took the kill then, with what was... well frankly a bit scary speed, but considering the ride-along she had, he supposed that was just to be expected. It wasn't like he was one to judge, just... Well he had a little more experience killing people than most, no matter how much he'd originally planned to avoid it.

Still, he wasn't exactly sure what to say. He opened his mouth to make some kind of glib comment, but she beat him to it with... Well probably the one thing he hadn't been expecting her to say. Despite the situation, he blinked, lowering his handgun. [alistair]I mean, I'm glad to see you too, but -[/alistair] He wasn't serious, but then again his natural inclination to fire off a quip like that in dangerous situations was generally a bit too strong to properly fight off, so, why bother?

He followed her around the corner then as she looked for a room, though when she ducked in he paused outside, scratching the back of his head with the rear sight of his pitsol. [alistair]I'm gonna need an explanation for that one sooner or later, you know.[/alistair] There was the sound of boots on marble after that, and the magus turned, leveling his pistol and firing off a few shots to keep their heads down. What was far more ominous was the deep thudding sound he heard down the hall... and as it got louder, his optimism continued to wane.

A couple guards came out of the hall, and he fired again, driving them back, then he threw out his free hand and snapped, sending another blast down the hall that knocked paintings off the walls before it took the both of them off their feet. Which was about when the golem came out. [alistair]Oh, fuck.[/alistair] Alistair said, dropping the pistol to his side. The golem let out a reverberating, ethereal roar and began its gradual, loping charge at him. Just for the hell of it, Alistair lifted his pistol, firing the last two shots until the weapon clicked dry, then he dropped it to the ground, holding his hands out in front of him.

[alistair]Yeah okay... make me work for it.[/alistair] The great monster was made primarily of stone and clay, but that didn't mean lightning couldn't put it down - he knew that from experience. The problem was how much it was going to take. He put his fingertips together, gritting his teeth, and drew them apart, a web of arcing electricity crackling between the digits. It took time to summon this kind of power... and the golem just kept coming.

[alistair]Wait for it, big guy... wait for iiiit...[/alistair] The hallway floors shook as it barreled down on him, but he waited until the last minute, the light between his hands growing steadily brighter, until... [alistair]Okay, FUCK YOU[/alistair] He threw his hands out, focusing and releasing the stored energy in a long burst. The blast rattled the floors more powerfully even than the golem's steps, as a lance of blinding blue and violet plasma reached out, its momentary arc spearing the golem first in the head, before the mage dragged the torrent of energy down. The thermal bloom from the blast shattered the rock as much as it melted it, sending chunks and chips of half-melted rock down the hall. Finally, the two halves of the golem crashed to the ground, edges glowing cherry red, and Alistair looked past it to the two men who hadn't quite gotten up, both of whom were now looking at him with wide eyes.

The magus tried not to breathe heavily enough for them to notice as he said [alistair]That's right. You fuckers better run, too.[/alistair]

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"I mean, I'm glad to see you too, but -"


[rorye]…this isn’t exactly how I envisioned my clothes being ripped off in your presence either![/rorye]


Her voice hissed in annoyed sarcasm, dripping with the acknowledgement of potential danger as she hustled to find somewhere… anywhere that could give her just a few minutes or else their escape was about to get incredibly complicated. Hell, it was already incredibly complicated!  If she had to climb up the damn elevator shaft in her coat and skivvies she was never going to live this down… especially if he was climbing up after her.


"I'm gonna need an explanation for that one sooner or later, you know."


[rorye]Just buy me a few minutes…[/rorye] she ducked into a doorway and pushed the door almost closed to make sure she didn’t lose sight of him.  Thank god an honest to goodness normal office.  How much more shit could go wrong??  Fuck, she should not have even let that cross her mind.  [rorye]The “I told you so’s” for this clusterfuck will have to wait.[/rorye]


Her bag was already off, dropped to a desk.  Boots clunking to the floor after being shaken out vigorously.  Holsters, straps, weapons…  Gunshots, breath was sucked in tight as she peered out into the hall, jacket next and snapped a few times before discarding it on the desk.  Alistair had it handled.


The thuds though, ominous in an “oh shit” kind of way paused a shirt halfway over her nose as it was being pulled roughly up and over.


[rorye]How we doing out there?[/rorye] she asked urgently, ripping it the rest of the way off and shaking it out.  Nothing yet.  Either the dipshit was lying about his creepy-crawlies or it had gotten places she didn’t want to think about.  Rainbow socks were torn off and shaken…  yes, it was laundry day.  Undies were shimmied down, flicked off her foot and back on very quickly- okay, not there… bully for her.  Only one more layer, cami then…


More gunshots… she moved faster.


"Oh, fuck."


The tone of his voice was not good.  Alistair had many tones…  sorta sarcastic, humorously sarcastic… sadly sarcastic, angry sarcastic, and this…  This was not one she knew.


The roar that made her jump in her skivvies answered her question.






Completely, and utterly buck naked except for her undies -which thank god were black lacy and adorable- biceps paused in that familiar squish pose… the squish every girl used at some point in time in the girl’s locker room before they were comfortable with their bobbies being bared to the world.  Good god why was she being modest now?  Bra was dangling from her fingertips by one strap, frozen for a moment as she heard Alistair’s pistol fire and click dry.


Hand vigorously shook the bra and yanked it back on.


Nothing. Nothing!


Her bag…


"Yeah okay... make me work for it."


She blinked... Riding naked into battle was not a good idea, and she should have damn well been out there helping….


Papers next to her clothes were swiped off the desk in one fell swoop.  Messenger bag was flung open, the Sky Disc slid out quickly as she picked up a boot heel and banged the hell out of her bag on top of what was a really nice desk- not so much when she was done with it. Top to bottom, bottom to top… the sound of her battle inside almost as furious as Alistair’s battle outside, floors shaking, bare feet cold on the tile.  Picking up the bag and shaking it onto the dented desktop, a skitter of something fell out- legs and goo as it curled in on its dead self.  Nose crinkled.  A spider? Some kind of centipede?  Stupid bastard.  Eyes cast quickly over her shoulder, catching the brightness growing menacingly beyond the cracked door, her own legs finding it hard to stay on her feet, and then she wasn’t… on her ass with her back against the desk and arms over her head to shield her from bits of everything plinking into the room through the now wide open door.


The world now was a throbbing ringing of her ears.


Mother fucker!


She peered over the desk at the door, grabbing her clothes and starting to yank everything back on.


"That's right. You fuckers better run, too."


Socks.  Pants.  Boots.  Weapon sheaths, shirt and jacket in the crook of her arm, Sky Disc scooped into the bag in hand and awkwardly yanking her cami over her head as she stepped out the door and grabbed his arm.


[rorye]This way,[/rorye] she quipped, blinking for a moment at the carnage he’d wrought, then him, eyes falling to the floor to find the line of scuff marks on the floor her boots had purposefully made on her way in.


Shirt was pulled on as she began to move in the opposite direction, jacket, bag crisscross over her shoulder.


[rorye]It was a bad idea to come here.[/rorye]  She was winded, from running, from fighting, from having to rip her clothes off with no place to go…  [rorye]We should have gone out, like for… Chinese.  Or stayed in, nice bottle of wine.  A game on tv.  Trapped subground with a guy that can control POISONOUS bugs is not something I want to do again![/rorye]


She came to a stop at the elevator doors, slamming her hand on the buttons. Baldie had the damn key! 


Okay.  Hands went up to smooth the frayed locks of hair that had been pulled unceremoniously from their plait minutes earlier.


What now?


[rorye]You wouldn’t happen to have the key would you?  Back door exit maybe?[/rorye]


Hearing more ruckus from a direction she couldn't pinpoint, both knives were pulled...



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