Fire from Ash

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Kreska, Dec 27, 2014.

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  1. "It's Dr. Erol! Hello again, sir!"

    Erol turned, wary and full of attention as he prepared to face the person addressing him.

    "Buying more biscuits and fish today, Dr. Erol?"

    "Right," he muttered to himself. "The fish merchant..." He'd told his name— or the name he used around here, at any rate— to the fish merchant in hopes of getting a discount from the friendly old fellow, knowing by now that the day he didn't take advantage of everything and everyone was the day he made a mistake.
    "Fish merchant, that is me!" The old man, maybe ten years elder to Erol, hunched over his stall laughed again. "Come to buy more haddock from old Jori's humble emporium again?"
    "Good to see you too, Jori," Erol replied jocularly, turning on his personality like a switch. "If you've still got it in stock, I've got the money, my friend. Two filets and the biscui—" His eyes widened as he counted his change, the Ustav guilder coins sounding insubstantial as they plinked onto the counter. "Oh, for the love of... I swear, I had eight guilder just a moment ago."
    "Five's plenty enough for me," Jori said, wrapping the fish and biscuits haphazardly in some paper, obviously not very skilled. "I know times are tough, even for sciencey types like you. Best we can do is keep movin' along 'til the economy picks up."
    "You're absolutely right, aren't you," Erol said, voice cracking in saccharine gratitude as he pushed the five guilder across the counter and gingerly picked up the bundle of fish meat as if it was gold. "When we get through this mess, I'll buy you a drink," he said with a flourish.
    "And I'll buy ya ten!" Jori replied with a cackle. "Happy Patrons' Day, Dr. Erol!"
    "Same to you, friend," Erol said as he walked away from the stall.
    "Heathens and their heathen holidays!" another man, seemingly homeless, cried out suddenly. "Tomorrow is Firmament Day! Patrons' Day is a lie built on lies! Same as the whole Unity Church!" The man continued rambling, but Erol paid him no mind and kept walking. His pace increased as soon as he as out of sight, the other coins that he possessed not jingling in his jacket because he'd put them all in separate pockets.

    Erol wasn't the real name of that man, wearily wary, who had gone to the run-down Pravoskian market at the crack of dawn to buy fish and biscuits and just barely missed out on a zealotry-motivated brawl. Ivak knew by now that he never got around to buying food if he put it off until midday, and in the evening the food was all gone or prices driven too high. "Bad enough I've been reduced to using coins," he murmured as he made the turn into an alleyway, climbing a rickety metal fire exit to an apartment. "Salvation, fifty per cent off if you commit to a monthly payment..." He jammed an old key in a keyhole and wrestled it until it clicked, opening the faded red door and slamming it shut behind him.

    The apartment consisted of a kitchen and a hallway with a bedroom on either side and a bathroom that was more like an afterthought at the end of the hallway. The apartment in its entirety was like an afterthought, really. All of the hallway's doors lay ajar, just as Ivak had left them. Sighing, he unwrapped the fish carelessly on the counter, cutting it with the cheap kitchen knife from a drawer, and proceeded to slap together a fish sandwich— if some cheap fish and flavorless bread on top of each other could be called that. It was just about the most unremarkable meal you could find in Pravosk city these days, but also one of the most common.

    After his meal, Ivak washed his hands. After washing his hands, he made his way to the rightmost of the two bedrooms, opening the door to be greeted by his work, an ensemble of medical machines, marvels of the modern world. Soft lights flashed on and off, temperature indicators floating from one number to the next and back again. A vitamin solution flowed through a tube as he changed a vial on a rack, some blood flowing the other way through another tube into another vial. Indicators, meters, readers, clocks, timers, pressure pumps and transistors, the machines were truly a symphony of what scientific advancement had granted the medical profession in the past fifty years, all the three-pronged power plugs comically jammed into every single electrical outlet the room had to offer. To think, there would be a new millennium in eleven years, and Ivak just might live to see it. It was a funny thought, more like a joke, for it would truly be a surprise if he managed to hold onto his life for eleven more long years.

    But there were other ways of living on than simply living.

    A woman lay strapped to the bed unconscious, the sole focus of the whirring host of life support surrounding the bed. Estelle Eisen, female, blood type A, he recalled the details that she had been required to fill out on a medical form. Date of birth: 1964; ethnicity: Ustav; place of permanent residence: Poll; emergency contact details: none. Some fine print and a signature followed those details on the paper, Ivak knew. But the detail of most interest was not written anywhere.
    Resistance to volatile strains: highly probable.

    Ivak's eyes widened at one of the machines' measurements. Estelle's pulse had changed again, it seemed. He deftly slipped gloves onto his hands and a medical mask over his mouth before placing a hand on her neck to confirm the pulse. It seemed right. He requested a new temperature reading from another of his mechanical helpers with the press of a button. 38.2°C— a fever, but no longer one that seriously threatened the brain's integrity. He hastily grabbed the blood sample in a vial and swapped it out for an empty one, taking a little more. Scribbling an "Ў" and Estelle's initials underneath the letter on a few labels, he sealed the vials and stuck the labels on before setting them aside to wait, his mask concealing a rare, hearty smile.
    This one was going to survive.

    "Estelle Eisen." Ivak's utterance of the woman's name broke a silence in the room that had only otherwise been broken by his muttering. "Does that name sound familiar to you?"
    Now there was only to find out exactly how her brain had been altered over her day of feverish trance. Terialis: the disease's very name meant "loss".
    But Ivak had reason to believe that Estelle had a great deal to gain from terialis.
    He steadied a camera on a mechanical arm over one of her eyes and pressed the button on it as he waited for a response. A soft light illuminated her face as the device began taking pictures at timed intervals, the lens closing and opening again repeatedly.
    #1 Kreska, Dec 27, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
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  2. Estelle was falling. The sky was receding above her, the stars and the moon and the sun growing infinitely farther away as her frail form raced toward the earth. As if as an unfeeling observer, she placidly watched herself gain speed, watched the sky fade from black to blue, watched the clouds scatter into nothingness as she passed them. The ground below her approached faster and faster, the concrete skyline reaching up toward her as if to pluck her out of the air and deposit her in a room on one of the industrial giants. She passed the buildings. The street was just below her now. And then her vision was filled with a great light that perhaps encompassed the entire world, and when she could see again, time had stopped. The people that dotted the sidewalks were frozen midstride, the banners flapping in the wind stilled. And, of course, Estelle herself hung suspended in the air, watching the stasis below her. Then, every disappeared, and there was only light.

    "Estelle Eisen. Does that name sound familiar to you?

    The woman awoke with a gasp, her eyes flying open as she startled into the waking world. Unaware of the gray tinge slowly overwhelming the blue of her eyes, her gaze darted around the room, surveying the equipment. Her brain quickly registered the medical instruments. Hospital, then. She flinched suddenly at the flash of the camera. Camera? Was there a camera? Why was there a camera? Her hand instintively dove into her--
    Loose white robe. Not a trenchcoat. No scarf. No mask. No knives, no pistols. Nothing to defend herself. Words flashed through her mind. Poll. Snow. Information. Spy. Kelsk. Valerie. Valerie? That word felt like it should have meant something, but her mind strained to find the memory and could not. There was just emptiness. There was a single name floating in the void of blackness, a blackness where there should have been memories. They should have been there! But they were not. She knew behind the name was a person. But who? She did not know. She should have known. She used to know. But she did not. The memory was stolen. Erased. Hidden. Locked away.
    Who was she? Who was she? Valerie? Estelle?
    Her mind snapped back to reality as her eyes found the man impatiently standing above her, realizing that he had spoken. Estelle?
    That name meant something. That name conjured up a wash of images. Blood. Theft. Crime. Gunfire. But they were just that; images. Nothing else. The woman knew, somehow, that Estelle was her. But if she was Estelle, who was Valerie? That void gnawed at her, nagged her. She knew the answer. She had to know the answer. But try as she might she could not. It was a futile struggle. You could not fight Terialis.
    That was something she knew. A disease. Death incarnate. She had a vague rememberance of fever, being wracked with seizures. She should be dead. But she was not. She was alive. Perhaps more alive in this moment than she had ever been before. She was alive because she was not dead; she had survived, and that made her life exponentially more valuable. The trial had been difficult. Long. But she had fought. Even as her memories slipped away, Estelle had fought. It had felt like days, but in reality it had only been a few hours. And she had won. The battle if not the war. She could still feel it sapping her strength, reducing her to a gaunt skeleton of a woman. It was still there.
    But so was she.

    "Estelle," She mused. "I suppose it does." She answered the man's question. As she studied his face, a name came to mind. Ivak. She knew his name. How, she did not know, but she did. "Ivak." She said tentatively, realizing they must know each other. "What happened?" She knew. Vaguely. She knew that she had fought, and she knew that she had a history with this man. I think. Poll. The word came into her mind again. A city. A backstreet. A bar in the shady part of town. A cellar. A table. A flickering, naked bulb. Papers, scattered over the floors and the table. She had lived there, she realized. But...not anymore. Now she was here. Wherever here was. "Where are we?" The wording was intentional. She did not know how far her knowledge of this man went. But she knew she was in danger, that her time was limited. She knew, vaguely, that perhaps he could help. Her cunning mind was not dulled by the disease, even as it had taken her memories. She knew that a bond would provide incentive. Speaking in terms of "we" and not "I" meant that she considered him. That he meant something. That he was important. If he thought that she thought he was important, he would be more likely to form an emotional attachment. He would be more likely to expend time and resources to aid her. She had to foster this relationship very carefully if she was going to survive.
    It would be a long road.
    #2 Valentyne, Dec 27, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
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  3. "You know both our names, at least," Ivak started. "That's good." He pushed the camera away, pressing its button again so it would stop taking pictures. It had taken enough. "As for your questions, I'll give you short answers first— they might spark whatever's left in your head. Long answers will come after." He swiped a cotton swab across Estelle's mouth before she could reäct. "Saliva sample," he explained as he poured some liquid into a cup and dropped the swab in. "Need to make sure this doesn't spread for the time being." He eventually brought another cup of liquid to place it on the nightstand next to her. "Just water. You're dehydrated, so drink it."

    Ivak paced back to where he'd been in the small room after moving a duffel bag from its spot near the wall to rest next to the bed where Estelle could reach it. The bag, she would find, contained the possessions she'd brought with her, a scarf poking out of a gap between the zippers in the first place. Ivak knew full well that there were weapons in it, but Estelle's personality seemed intact, thankfully, so he guessed that she would not try to kill him right off the bat. "Now for your questions. What happened: my suspicions were right. By mutual agreement, your body is now host to strain W, one of the most volatile known strains of terialis, and you're resisting it with ease... relative ease, at least. If you do not recall what terialis is, I'll get to that in a moment." He cleared his throat. "Where are we: Pravosk, capital of Ustava. It's south of Poll, your home." He held up the other water cup with the cotton swab within: there was no notable reäction between the liquid and the trace amounts of saliva. He smiled grimly: as volatile as strain W was within a host's brain, it tended not to be nearly as contagious as its cousins for some reason yet beyond Ivak's comprehension. "We're in Pravosk as part of the agreement... But before I continue, Estelle, does any of what I said make sense to you?"
    #3 Kreska, Dec 27, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
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  4. Estelle sat up, comfortably resting her back against the pillow. She realized how thirsty she was as soon as Ivak mentioned it, and snatched up the glass, draining it in one gulp. She was pleased that she had correctly remembered both their names, although her memories as a whole were fragmented and incomplete. When Ivak brought her possessions in, she deftly slipped out of bed, landing softly on her bare feet. As he spoke, she rummaged through the duffel bag, picking out the dark blue trenchcoat and pulling it on over her white, hospital-esque gown. She also dug out the scarf, wrapping it around her neck, and the weapons, depositing them into their usual places in her coat. She could get the rest later.

    "Strain W. Terialis." She repeated, more to test the sound of the words than anything. They weren't nice-sounding words, she noted. Suddenly, more information flooded back into her mind. "...Wait, resistant? So I should develop an...ability. But we're not entirely sure when." Not waiting for an answer, she continued. "Right. Poll. I ran...some kind of business, there. I think. Something illegal." Assassin? No. Hired thug? No. Security? No. Espionage. Yes, espionage. That was it. I gather information. It's my speciality. "Ustava is a country. Pravosk. Big city. Why do we move here? Something must be happening. Something we need to see. That, or we needed something from here. Equipment?" She guessed, looking at the medical machines around her bed.
  5. "Yes, Estelle, you were an information broker," Ivak confirmed. "There's hardly any law to break in Poll in the first place, though... and now for the long version." He continued talking as he exited the bedroom for a moment to retrieve the plate holding what remained of the fish and bread he'd bought earlier, as well as a folded-up newspaper. "Several weeks ago, we met on the Northern Line of the Express, a train running from Poll to Niama, an isolated Ustav enclave northeast of us. Our mission was to retrieve a briefcase, which contained several vials of blood and saliva: terialis samples. One of them was your very own strain W." He held up one of the vials for her to see on the way back to the side of the bed before placing it back on the table and the plate of food on the nightstand. Pre-terialis, Estelle had seemingly had an aversion to eating, and Ivak was curious to see if it still existed, so another test was put into motion as he payed the fish sandwich no mind after leaving it beside her. "You asked me some questions, and I answered them before we parted for the time being. I searched furiously throughout my facility in Poll, knowing it was no longer safe. Someone had betrayed me in sending that terialis to Niama— and I suspect that they sent more elsewhere, namely Tusk... That's south of Poll, west of here." He handed Estelle the newspaper, dated about a month ago, pointing at a column that was scarcely larger than the margins. ...Fever ravages Tusk, 7 dead.... Aid pledged by western governments... in talks for border restrictions... "This all but confirmed it." He shook his head, thinking back to his failure as a manager in that chaotic city-state. "I wonder what it was that triggered it all. Some other Ivak in some other reality must've succeeded in stopping that worm, but I didn't. Anyway, I recalled your interest in the... enhancing properties of terialis, this obscure ailment, so I called your office. I found a new lead, someone who's made their way to Pravosk but done nothing with what they've stolen... Yet. You can probably see where this is going: I hired you to come to Pravosk with me so we can find him and eliminate him, and offered you all the Pollic leaf I had left as payment... but you didn't want more money." Ivak navigated the primitive display on one side of the camera device's base, selecting a photograph to print out and giving a command to discard the others. He looked back to Estelle as the photo began printing, in sparse greyscale ink that was running out but a tiny lighter patch still visible in the eye's iris.
    "You wanted strain W."

    Ivak cleared his throat again, giving himself a moment. At this rate, he would need a cup of water too. He took off the medical mask, which had proved unnecessary: Estelle's terialis showed no trace in her saliva, so it would not travel on the air either, and she wasn't coughing blood so there was no real danger. "I suppose this information will take a moment to sink in, so allow me to ask you a few more questions." He deposited the mask on the table and returned to the room with the cup of water from before refilled, as well as one of his own. "First, how are you feeling? Anything unusual? Pain in places where it wasn't before?" He gave her a moment as he took the newspaper back to fold it over again, holding it beside a small photograph that he had produced from his wallet. On the newspaper was a plump, balding tanned man: Edgar Cain, a politician from the western land of Cerano who was one of the first to offer aid to Tusk. The memory of him was a semantic one, of a talking head whom everyone knew about because it was just a thing that people knew after so many papers read or Choroban news broadcasts overheard. The photograph from the wallet, meanwhile, was of a young woman: blond-haired, green-eyed, and clad in a school uniform. It was of Mira, Ivak's daughter whom he had passingly mentioned in conversation once. To remember that she existed required of the brain a decidedly different method of storage. "Secondly, do you know who either of these people are?" It was clear to see by now that Ivak was testing Estelle's memory in as many ways he could possibly think of as he waited for a response. He was probably flooding Estelle with information, but they only had so much time.
  6. Estelle ignored the food, barely sparing it a cursory glance. She didn't feel hungry, though logic would dictate that she should be after several hours asleep. At Ivak's description of the mission on the train, more images flashed into her mind. A glinting knife. Blood spurting. A man with a punctured throat. A briefcase at his side. Seems like it was quite bloody. She noted mentally. "Where did this disease originate?" She asked when he mentioned it again. "I remember it, but only its characteristics. It's rather extraordinary. ...So Tusk was quarantined? What's the best way to contain the terialis?" She asked. "I remember something about water. A theory about building moats around infected cities?"

    "So you want me to help locate the samples here?" She said. "That's reasonable. ...I don't have anything else to do right now, anyway." She continued rummaging through the duffel bag, finding spare clips of ammunition, rope, and a handheld camera besides the clothing. About what she had expected. They'd come in handy. She looked up again when Ivak asked his questions.
    "I feel tired." She answered. "No special pain, just very tired." She looked closely at the photo of Cain. "Politician, pretty famous." She said. "Don't know much else though." Her gaze turned to the photo of the woman. It wasn't familiar to her in the slightest, but... "...Valerie?" She guessed, half hopefully. The abscence of the memory of...whoever that was was seriously bothering Estelle. It seemed like it should be very important, and she felt like she was missing something integral about herself by failing to connect the name to a face.
  7. "Valerie?" Ivak echoed, clueless. He had no idea who that was. "The politician is Edgar Cain from Cerano. As for the little flower here, that's my daughter Mira." The Mira in the picture didn't exactly fit the description of "little flower" to anyone but Ivak, looking more a woman than a girl. He shoved the photograph back into his wallet and the wallet back into his coat pocket. "A bit of a personal thing to be showing off for my tastes, but I had to use something to test your memory. I have no idea who this Valerie is, though."

    "Where it originated... I'm not sure sure exactly," Ivak answered to the first question. "The most credible story of its origin is that it festered in the marshes of Bial before it escaped somehow. The local religion, the Doln sect, mentions it a few times in its mythology. However, they failed to link the powers with the sickness, instead believing that it was a gift from their goddess. And the fact that there are so many strains of terialis signals that it is very adaptable, even more so than a virus evading the antibiotics designed to kill it." He took a drink of water. "It was an Ustav scientist who discovered the hydrophobic properties of terialis. To think it would be averse to water, even when the people it infects are mostly made up of water already, took either a madman or a genius. Perhaps that man was both... But even still, his discoveries fell on the wrong ears. There's a city called Vodigrad, in the middle of the sea of Vorusk, that isolated itself in fear as soon as its people were informed about terialis and water. They destroyed all the dams keeping the sea dried up, so now the city exists as an island. Barely anyone enters or leaves... I'm afraid that the whole of Choroba is doomed to follow Vodigrad's example. Ustava closed its borders to Tusk last week, but I fear they were too late. But if they weren't too late... I, no, we can stop this thing from blowing up any more than it already has." He finally gestured at the fish on the table. "You should eat something. Although you've had nutrients fed into you at a trickle for the past few hours, you'll feel better with something in your stomach." He smiled a bit at the scarf that she was already wearing. "Also, Estelle, it's the middle of June, so even though you're probably feeling cold from your fever, you may get a few weird looks if you choose to walk around all bundled up." It was important that he kept calling Estelle by name, getting her used to her self again, because he was still in need of the person she was before as well as the person she was now. He drew open the curtain that lay over the sole window of the room, a grid of sun rays flooding in (though they were filtered by the lattice of the fire exits above them), and then opened the window to a crack. It was a cool day for being June, but Ivak kept the apartment cold for the sake of the medical equipment's health. It wouldn't hurt for it to be exposed to warmth for a moment, though.
    "Now would you rather continue resting, or would you rather go for a walk and take a look at the places you'll be breaking into tonight?"
  8. "Ah..." Estelle said, keenly disappointed that Ivak offered no answers to the question of Valerie's identity. She mentally noted the politician's name. Ivak has a daughter. That could be valuable information later on. If she ever needed to manipulate the man, she could exploit it. His speech indicated he was fond of her, and her existence also revealed that there was some woman in Ivak's life, which could also help if she needed something. Let's try not to forget, this time. She thought wryly.
    She habitually sneered at the mention of mythology. Estelle didn't put much stock in religion, especially if there wasn't any hard fact behind it. Although her skeptical grounds were being shaken by the disease's very existence, as she had solid evidence for the seemingly supernatural abilities. ...I think. I wouldn't have done this if I hadn't. Maybe there was a deity.
    "If this as spreading as fast as I get the impression," She said. "Vodigrad won't be safe for very long, unless they have really good security. Whether's it a terrorist attack or an unwitting patient, it'll happen." She shook her head.
    She cast a glance at the food. "...Fine." I do feel pretty tired. Maybe it won't hurt. She regretfully tugged her scarf off her neck, dropping it back into the duffel, but left the trenchcoat and weapons. She was not leaving those behind.
    "I think I want to stretch my legs." She answered Ivak. "As soon as I eat and change clothes." She looked down disdainfully at the white robe beneath her dark blue coat.
  9. Ivak turned off the majority of the machines, unplugging any that had a standby light and properly closing the IVs that Estelle had already pulled from her arms previously. It wasn't as if he had much of the nutrient fluid left— the majority of it had been spent on Estelle, who had already been largely deficient thanks to her anorexia. Perhaps, if her tendencies were still there, they would allow some degree of control over her, Ivak mused. "I'll be waiting outside," he said after closing the window that he had opened. "We only use the back door— the red one." He would let her ask why later.

    Ivak and Estelle walked for a good twenty minutes or so, passing various masses of street rabble before they exited the economy district entirely, the squat apartments and offices transitioning into buildings that were all at least twice as tall apiece. Eventually, he stopped at one of the shorter ones, a sign helpfully labeling it List Corp. "This building isn't actually an office of List Corporation," Ivak explained. "My former compatriots simply rented most of it indefinitely." He glanced at the door— List Corp. Offices— Hours 9:00~21:00. He glanced at his wristwatch. 7:24. "There's a less obvious entrance at the side of the building, but there's a keypad and I don't have the code," he said. "Your best bet is to follow someone in. I do not care if you incapacitate them or anyone else, but do try not to kill anyone or be noticed. The man we're after here is one Dr. Marovik— I saw the name floating around back in Poll and surmised he was a recipient of some of the samples that August— my suspect— stole from me. I'm known as Dr. Erol in this particular region, but I don't know what kind of welcome they'll give me, since it was also possible that that identity was compromised with August's betrayal." Upon close examination, the building appeared to have three stories, with windows on the front side that presumably led to offices. There was a jut in the roof's architecture on the same side as the side door: the entrance to a stairwell, presumably.
    #9 Kreska, Dec 28, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2014
  10. Estelle stalked around the building, circling it and looking for obvious other entrances. There weren't any good ones on the ground floor, but the roof access to the stairwell was quite promising. People rarely looked up, at night. Even better should the weather turned unpleasant. If the door was locked there would likely be no one around to interrupt her while she picked it, so that wouldn't be a problem. If she went in around 1:00 or so, the corridors would likely be empty as well, and anyone she did encounter could be dispatched easily enough. She walked around to a side wall, which left a narrow space of maybe ten feet, at the most, between it and the next building. Well shielded from the street, so likely the ideal place to make the climb. She strolled back to Ivak and leaned close enough to whisper her plan.

    "I'll climb up there," She gestured toward the area she had just came from. "Then go in through the roof access. There shouldn't be anyone lurking around if I go in late at night, about 1:00, and can perform a cursory search of the building to find the samples. If I really need a keypad code I can grill an employee for information, but I don't think I will. Even if the door is locked, I can pick it, and there are other ways, such as ventilation shafts, to navigate a building like this. Ideally, they'll have a uniform, and I can mug some clerk for his badge and clothes in a dark alley to make it look more convincing when I leave through a side door. Can you get your hands of any more specific information? Schematics of the building, guards? Anything?"
    #10 Valentyne, Dec 29, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2014
  11. "Sounds like a good plan to me," Ivak said. "I'm not the best at sneaking around, though, which is why you're here. As for the samples..." He sighed. "There's no guarantee that they'll be there, so if you can't find them, the next best thing would be a lead. Notes, facsimiles, anything that might give us a clue where the samples are kept. Evidence of correspondence between Marovik and August would be the next best thing." A hand on his chin, he looked over the building, trying to remember exactly where each hallway would be. "Office spaces like this are a dime a dozen in Pravosk." Probably almost literally, thanks to the economy. "If it's like most of the others, the first floor will mainly be a large public area full of cubicles. Floors two and three are usually hallways with private offices. The stairwell connects all floors and the roof, as well as the side door. There will likely be a few guards, but I don't think there could be enough to cover the whole building. One for each floor at most."
  12. "So the objective is most likely to be on the second or third floor." Estelle mused. "I'm going to guess the third. People tend to put valuable stuff higher up, for some reason. I think there's some human instinct that makes us equate height to safety. It sounds like I'll be able to easily deal with any security personnel I run into, so my only real problem is finding the objective." She turned back to Ivak. "Let's get back to the safehouse and take stock of our equipment. If possible, I'd like some better gear. A nonlethal weapon--something like pepper spray--climbing gear, spare lockpicks, a padded satchel to carry the vials in so there's no chance of them breaking. Stuff like that." With her mind focused entirely on business now, Estelle was able to keep her mind off the gnawing gaps in her memory. However, the questions still lurked in the back of her mind. Who was Kelsk? What had she been doing before Poll? How had she ended up working with Ivak? And most importantly, who was Valerie? But for now, Estelle was just an infiltrator. She'd have time to think when the job was over.
  13. "Pepper spray: something I don't have, unfortunately," Ivak said, regretting that he hadn't thought to bring some with him. "As for climbing gear, I have some cord and karabiners— those metal loop-hook-things. Lockpicks... the best thing I have is probably a large paperclip." He was clearly no adventuring type as he listed what he had. "I suppose we should find a hardware shop. I'll cover what expenses I can as part of your pay." Almost all of his money— his Ustav guilder, anyway— was divided between hiding places in the run-down apartment, an office in another part of Pravosk, and his pockets. There was no longer much reason for one to entrust their money to a bank these days.

    "Get what you need," Ivak told Estelle, pressing fifty guilder worth of coins into her hand as they arrived at the hardware shop, whose entrance was barely visible between all the stalls of the marketplace. It didn't seem like much at first, but she would find that the crude coins stretched their value far more than the currency of Poll. Each a rough disc of nickel with some old president's face pounded into it, the Ustav guilder looked downright medieval in comparison to the shining silvered copper of the Pollic leaf, which was itself mostly exchanged in the form of checks and contracts when in its laissez-faire native land.

    "Dr. Erol!" Much to Ivak's chagrin, the old fish merchant had spotted him again and was now hobbling in his direction.
    "Hm? Oh, hello again, Jori," he said in the same upbeat tone from earlier, a harsh contrast to the kind murmurs he had been using with Estelle. "What's the matter? The market should be waking up just about now, shouldn't it?" The clock now past eight hours, there were already some impatient customers wandering away from Jori's stall in search of another one: it was rare that the stinking fishmonger ever left his post, even to go to the restroom.
    "Doct— Oh, I'm terribly sorry; I'm interrupting something," Jori said upon noticing Estelle's presence and that she was with Ivak. "Well, I'll be, Dr. Erol; I'm mighty happy for ya! It's high time ya moved on and got a new—"
    Ivak quickly interrupted the elderly man by clearing his throat before speaking. "This is, ah, Ellen. Just a friend." He gave Estelle a nervous pat on the shoulder as Jori nodded dramatically and winked at him. "So, Jori, what is the matter?"
    "Well, Dr. Erol, some men came by my humble stall not fifteen minutes ago, asking for ya. Seemed like they were yer co-workers or friends or somethin'; looked real business-like. I told 'em I would tell you they came by... Ah, if only I'd kept 'em a few minutes ya could've seen 'em, but y'usually only come by once in the mornin', so..."
    "I see," Ivak said, nodding after his eyes widened momentarily. If they came by Jori's stall, then they didn't know to come by the safe-house. I still have some time. "Yes, that would make sense. I'm going to see if I can catch up with them..." He turned to Estelle, pretending another affectionate pat but actually covertly handing her a key to the old apartment that they were based in. "If I'm not back by midnight, get started without me," he muttered before continuing louder, "I'm going to see if I can catch up with them and get some business done. I trust you can finish our shopping without me, Ellen."
    "Ya better make it up to her later," Jori teased in response.
    "Goodbye, Jori." Ivak nodded before slowly walking away, down the street in the direction he knew the men would have traveled in. The fishmonger would stop bothering him and Estelle both once he left, he knew.
    "Happy Patrons' Day!" Jori called loudly as Ivak turned his back. Several people in the nearby crowds muttered about blasphemy before going back to their business, but there was luckily no holy turf war this time. "He's a good guy, but he don't have a clue where to take a girl like you," he whispered to Estelle. "Tell 'im the Eastern Gardens are mighty pretty this time o' year and he'll get the hint."

    As Jori jigged back to his fish stand rather sloppily, Estelle found for the first time since she'd been a healthier, slightly different Estelle that she was at a crossroads of sorts. Whether or not to press the old merchant for questions after shopping, and then whether to return to the apartment to scour it or follow Ivak afterward, it was clear that she now had a smörgåsbord of options before her.
    #13 Kreska, Dec 30, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2014
  14. "Ellen" glared daggers at the fish merchant, profoundly irritated at the doddering old fop's mistake. But there was no point in correcting him. She certainly wasn't going to reveal her true identity. She'd run with this cover as was necessary, but she didn't care for the hand she'd been dealt. She picked up some bog-standard climbing hooks at the hardware store, as well as a heavier steel hook and a box of long, thin objects that she could substitute for lockpicks. They were something used in construction, but their original purpose didn't matter to her. The heavy hook could be used as a bludgeoning weapon, so she'd have a nonlethal alternative to her knives and firearms.

    Leaving the shop, she debated briefly in her mind whether she wanted to follow Ivak or not, but a glance at the time settled it. She would like to stake out the target, but there was still a whole day before she'd need to commence the operation, so she had time. Deciding she didn't have time to deposit the supplies at the safehouse, she set off down the street Ivak had disappeared down at her most covert pace.
  15. Estelle would find Ivak near a tall building, seemingly mostly covered in windows but the "windows" all tinted an opaque cyan hue. He was seemingly bargaining with a guardsman by the front door.
    "Listen, Dr. Erol, I'm going back to Tusk as soon as I can," the guard said. "Until then, I'm not taking sides."
    "If you really weren't taking sides, Stefan, you wouldn't be withholding information from me," Ivak said impatiently. "If you want to be so painful, then I will say: this is an Ustav affair, so let an Ustav deal with it. Where. Did. They. Go?" He had been subtly moving forward for the entire conversation, Stefan stepping back to maintain the space between them, so now the guard was backed against a wall.
    "Stefan." Ivak grabbed the guard's arm as he reached for a walkie-talkie. "If you start a commotion now, you will be held accountable and you will never be able to return to Tusk. You know this." It was a safe bluff, one that he knew would work.
    "... About ten minutes ago," Stefan finally said, withdrawing his arm. "They were government guys, I think. I don't know why they're here, but I had no choice but to let them through."
    "I see," Ivak said grimly, nodding. "... Can you let me in? I haven't gotten around to getting a new card."
    "Sure thing." Stefan, his expression remaining blank, swiped an ID card in the scanner next to the door, equally as blue as the building's windows.
    Ivak glanced behind himself before entering, but he didn't notice Estelle before giving himself a nod and throwing open the door to slip into it.

    Entering an atrium area, Ivak quickened his pace: this was not a typical Pravoskian office space, he knew. He abruptly ducked in front of a reception desk...
    "Slow day, Dr. Erol?" a secretary murmured from behind the desk.
    "If you wish to keep your job," Ivak hissed at her, "you will not say a word." He peered around the corner, resolving to wait until the balconies above were clear of people walking on them. "... Actually, strike that. Tell them I called in sick today." He nodded at her; she nodded back, a few strands of brown hair freeing themselves from the tangled bun they'd been stuffed into, and Ivak decided he couldn't wait any longer and began intently walking across the atrium to an elevator.
    He needed to get to his office.
  16. Estelle stayed around the corner listening to Stefan and Ivak's exchange, carefully staying out of the guard's sight and contemplating her next move. Deciding, she took a deep breath and came around the corner, quickening her pace, relaxing the tense stride that marked her paranoia, and morphing her expression to a mix of irritation, concern, or puzzlement. She stepped up to Stefan. "Excuse me, sir," She began. "I'm looking for Dr. Erol. I was just with him a few minutes ago, but we separated and I think I caught a glimpse of him coming in here. I understand that he works here. Can you please direct me to him?" She wasn't sure how gullible this guard was, but the "sweet young lady looking for her friend" act had worked before. And if it didn't, well. She still had a heavy hook stashed in the grocery bag that held her purchases.
  17. "'Three suits, a doctor, and a woman enter an office...' Is this the start of a joke or something?" Stefan muttered. "Whatever it is, I don't want to hear the punchline." He swiped his ID in the card scanner again before speaking up. "He just came through, miss. I'm just a guard, so I can't show you in... But, well, listen." His voice descended to a harsh whisper as he leaned forward. "Whatever it is Dr. Erol's up to in there, I don't have a clue about it. My hands are clean, okay?" He opened the door, waving Estelle in.

    Ivak waited at the elevator for entirely too long. He had initially thought it would be faster than taking the stairs, but it was always slowest coming when one needed it the most... and as soon as one left to take the stairs the elevator was apt to arrive. That's what hell must be, he imagined, just a bunch of elevators.
    "Good morning." He heard the secretary's greeting to someone arriving back at the other end of the atrium. "Do you have an appointment toda—"
    She cut herself off when she heard a thump, and turned to see the opened elevator from which an official-looking man in a suit had exited and proceeded to lock himself in battle with Ivak. Ivak dodged backward, shoving the suit's arms off of his shoulders before he could find a firm grip, and his hand dove deep into his jacket, a click sounding as he drew a large knife similar in shape to a kukri. He bashed the weapon's hilt against the suit's head, although it only sent the man staggering backwards, not enough force put into the strike to knock him unconscious.

    "Es— Ellen," he called to Estelle after turning around. "... Well, now that you're here, come help!" He ran to the elevator to hold the door open, but was yanked out of it by the suit, who had produced a telescoping baton from his belt as he got up. Ivak grunted loudly and fell back, holding his kukri defensively after the baton smacked him in the right shoulder. The thrumming of the featureless black stick betrayed that it was electrically-charged at the tip, and Ivak knew from experience that it would sting like getting smacked by a bush of nettles should it make contact with his head or some other area where he was not protected by jackets that were normally considered too heavy to be wearing in the summer. Good thing it's been a cool few months, he mused. "You!" He yelled at the secretary. "Stay put and you'll— rgh— get a promotion!" He wrestled the suit as he was tackled.
    "I—" The secretary stammered, getting up from her desk and moving to the door. "I'm an intern..." But she pulled the door shut instead of escaping out of it, locking it after Estelle entered. Her eyes widened and one of her hands moved to her open mouth as another suit jumped from the balcony above with baton drawn, making a crash as he knocked over a lonely table.
    Stefan remained outside facing away from the building, holding his ears shut.
  18. Unable to immediately help Ivak for fear of leaving herself open to the other one, Estelle dropped the bag and drew a stiletto from her coat. As the second suit warily approached her, holding his baton out, she casually sent the knife hurtling end over end through the air, eventually burying itself in his shoulder. As he screamed, dropping the baton and struggling to pull the knife out, she grabbed the heavy hook out of the bag, ran up to him, and introduced his face to the end of it with a heavy swing. He dropped like a felled ox. Turning to where Ivak was wrestling with the other one, she approached them and neatly pulled the suit's right arm, stamping it into the floor with a booted foot. Then she brought the hook down on his hand, producing a satisfying crack of his fingers snapping as the baton rolled out of his crippled hand. Then she kicked him in the face, rolling him off of Ivak and onto the floor, and bashed him in the forehead with the hook. He stopped struggling and slumped, unconscious. Unlike the other one, who was busy bleeding out, he'd live. But he'd have a helluva headache when he woke up. She turned to help Ivak up. "Any idea what's going on?" She asked mildly.
    #18 Valentyne, Jan 2, 2015
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
  19. "A few ghosts from the past." Ivak answered as if this was a normal occurrence, but frustration was clear in his voice as he got up. "I was hoping not to leave any evidence of a clash, but I suppose it doesn't matter at this point..."
    "Dr. Erol?" The secretary meekly approached the gruesome scene as Ivak barely caught the elevator door from closing again, putting his kukri away.
    "You're an intern?" he asked her. "That means you're in this for the experience."
    "There's one more upstairs somewhere," she continued, seeming more starstruck than horrified. "I mean, three came through the front door, so..." She shrugged.
    "Stay behind us," Ivak commanded, beckoning her onto the lift along with Estelle before hitting the "6" button. The secretary was a witness, so she couldn't be allowed lightly to just leave, and at the same time Ivak had been finding a lot of figurative bridges burning down these days. May as well try and build a new one, he thought, knowing that this was probably one of Estelle's least favorite types of people: bumbling, jumpy, and only fit to do tasks that anyone else could do fairly well already. But even this type of person just might come in handy, Ivak believed. "Slightly less time than I thought," he muttered.

    Konstantin Erol, Ph. D.: the nameplate on the wide-open door was already winking at Ivak, Estelle, and their intern as the elevator arrived on the sixth floor. He'll be disappearing soon, Ivak thought grimly of the false identity which had been crafted with far more love and care than he ever put into his job. And to think, I task my mercenary with raiding an office and promptly get my office raided. Bit of a premature bite from karma if you ask me... The hallway, running the outer periphery of the building with the offices in the inner part, was barely furnished, the only thing sticking out being a potted plant next to the large windows, which shined an annoying cyan in the morning sun's light. The stem of the plant bristling with tiny hairs, several of its fragile purplish petals already adorned the floor.
    "Dr. Erol, is that you?" Alerted by the arriving elevator's bell ringing, the third suited man slowly appeared from behind the open door, nondescript and armed with an extending baton like the others. "He's here," he muttered into a walkie-talkie.

    "... Shit," Ivak nervously muttered as it dawned on him. "This was a trap... Who paid you off?!" His mutter transitioned into a yell as he pointed accusingly at the suit. "Was it August?! Shit, shit..." He glanced to the door and back to the suit, who was now slowly approaching with a smile, reveling in the moment.
    "Ellen, take him down!" Ivak yelled before grabbing the intern by the shoulders to look at her face. She had strange eyes. "Listen. You must think you're in a crime scene right now, but these are— these are just hitmen," Ivak told her quickly, as if that made everything better. "Follow my instructions: Go to the fourth floor; cross the bridge into the other building. Go to room 431; it's a closet. Take the red box." He fumbled with his pockets, getting out a business card and giving it to her. "Contact me later and I will see to it you get all the internships and experience you will ever need. If my friend and I don't catch up to you in a few minutes, run and don't stop. Clear?"
    The intern made to say something, her mouth opening as she shook in place confusedly. She took a breath afterward and nodded, running for a stairwell.
    Ivak made for his office, beginning the run around the hallway the other way so that he would come up on the office behind the door and the suit, who made for Estelle, his humming baton swinging wildly.
  20. Before they went up, Estelle wrenched her stiletto from the shoulder of the wounded guard, who screamed in pain as she did so. She casually wiped the bloody blade on his suit, staining it horribly, and then turned to follow Ivak into the lift. She sighed at the revelation that there were more of them and just hoped that this wouldn't interfere with their upcoming operation. Or render it moot. Eying the suit approaching her, she said. "Look. I don't have time to play with you. Get the hell out." The man ignored her, of course. "Have it your way." She told him mildly. He rushed her, swinging his baton upward in a swing that was way too wide. She crouched under the attack, holding her knife in her left hand and her hook in her left. She bashed his knee out with the hook, causing him to cry out and collapse sideways, clutching it. Dropping the hook and passing her knife to her primary hand, she leaned over almost delicately dipped her knife into his throat, then ripped it up and out. He wouldn't live thirty seconds. Again casually wiping her knife on his suit, she stowed it again and stood up, taking up the hook. She had been aware of the other assailant on the other end of the hallway warily approaching her, but he hadn't made a move to rush so she had ignored him.

    Now, however, she suddenly sprinted toward him, diving to his left as he vainly swung his baton and smartly rapping him on the back of the head with the hook. He stumbled but didn't fall, so she stepped behind him and hit him repeatedly, smashing it against his skull two more times. He crumpled, blood leaking from the back of his head. Then she turned to follow Ivak, keeping one hand on the pistol still hidden in her coat. If she fought more than two at once, she might have to use it.
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