Golden City Prequel: When Aisling met Corbett (Anguissette x Shizuochan)

Discussion in 'CHRONICLES' started by Anguissette, Jan 15, 2018.

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  1. In the days that followed, Aisling saw very little of Corbett and he of her.

    For the first Aisling was utterly focused on completing her design. The core mechanism worked with the new parts she'd gotten stabbed over, but she wasn't satisfied with that. Using tweezers and an eyeglass to embed each carefully fashioned brass feather into its own tiny coil of wire, she fledged the starling and placed a small tube of greasy silver up inside its head.

    Finally she melted the wax almost off the bauble and sealed up its chest piece with an angular brass plate she fastened into place with minute screws, and set it on its perch. After a few seconds its talons clamped down on the stand and it stood independently.

    On the second day Aisling went out with a hooded cage in hand, making her way through the narrow streets of Pariah's Bay to her contact at the edge of the merchant's district. Harry Singer wasn't the most reputable of tradesmen and he never questioned where the marvelous golden birds came from, only urging her to find more. Faster. He certainly never gave her a fair price for the automata, reserving the lion's share of the profits for himself after he fashioned a false bill of sale and sold it to the wealthy traders closer to the Center - or sometimes even the Skybound merchants themselves!

    Most folks of ambition had a plan for how they would get to the Sky in their lifetime, and making obscene money was a key part of his. Leaving the merchant to congratulate himself, the stray tinker lady returned to the streets only to spy Corbett watching her steadily. The look she gave him should by rights have ignited him instantly. Instead she felt him watching her all the way home, though she refused to dignify his highhandedness with her attention.

    On the third day Aisling went to the apartment at the other end of the block and bought a door. The creaky door from the front of their apartment specifically, along with the man of the apartment's drunken assistance in holding it in place while she replaced the hinges. The work was complicated somewhat by a clash of personalities, although she kept a wary eye on him to be sure he had no ideas about compromising her station. F

    inally with the door in place and the lock socketed into the wood, Aisling paid the man and waved him away - and disappeared within. It wasn't until two of the clock that she reappeared in the hallway and made her way directly across to her new bodyguard's domicile to catch his attention by the rhythmic application of her knuckles.

    She knocked.

    When Corbett did choose to make an appearance, a concerned man might find himself concerned about hers. In the past few days the slender woman had managed to drop weight she could ill afford, and by the dark shadows under her eyes had slept lightly if at all. She was dressed for travel, a black coat over her day dress and a small bag looped over her wrists. "You may as well not bother pretending," she began directly.

    "I know that you are watching my home. Are you ready to leave now, or would you prefer to coincidentally run into me later on?" It would be just like him to follow her again, but she swore mentally that if he insisted on tracking her everywhere she went, she would do her best to lose him in the alleyways. Yes she'd been stabbed before, but she could look after herself!

    "I have business Downstairs."
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  2. After the Palmers-debacle, the task of watching over one Aisling Grey had descended into tedium. Of course, strictly speaking, Corbett Baines was at least - to some degree - liable for whatever calamities, doubtlessly denoted with the explosive variety in mind, might ensue from Aisling’s tinkerings. Easily enough said from on high, Corbett thought with no small degree of bitterness. It was one thing to stave off brutish thugs with more brutality than sense, it was another thing entirely to shield one from their deepest passions.

    After all, if his negligence lead to any sort of catastrophe, he was likely already close enough to be blown to high heaven alongside his charge.

    The Lady’s travels had gone, thankfully, without much in the way of event. One Mister Singer perhaps warranted a more indepth background check - but insofar as Corbett could tell, only took advantage of Aisling in ways that left her wellbeing unmolested. The only ‘real’ development, perhaps, was the palpable sense of ire and contempt his charge felt towards him. Doubtlessly it would prove troublesome down the line. For now, however, he would interpret it as a sign of a job well-done.

    On the third day, and against his expectations, she knocked.

    Corbett emerged, distinctly ready to scour the out-and-abouts - or, perhaps, studiously stalk his charge - in a suit jacket of navy blue that seemed to almost define him. He regarded Aisling, face stony with put upon courtesy, unblinking eyes scanning her form. He noted that she had grown almost sickly-frail in unfathomable time - the fast of the mad genius, perhaps, or simply of the mad.

    “Miss Grey.” Corbett allowed Aisling her words uninterrupted, the raising of eyebrows the extent of reaction he allowed himself to betray. Inwardly, he felt the urge to recoil; Downstairs, indeed! “Begging your pardon; one moment.”

    Corbett turned from Aisling Grey, retreating further into the confines his new abode, which was, in most respects, in no better condition than that of his charge’s. It was a den of solitude; a single chair, and a single table from with which to sup. He returned, bearing the contents that sat upon that table; a chipped white plate, with potatoes mashed to a gruel, and eggs seasoned to a thoroughly unappetizing grey.

    “I broke my fast quite late, as it happened. Have you eaten, Miss Grey? That is to say, recently - or within any of the past few days.” He pushed the mass of food, perhaps a bite or two lesser than it had began, towards Aisling, “Eat, and we can discuss the particulars of your business for the afternoon”
    #22 Shizuochan, Feb 6, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
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  3. Aisling sighed impatiently as the man withdrew into the shelter of his abode. Maybe she should have simply made a break for it; it seemed the man was in no rush to follow her, and only the vestige of proper manners kept her from turning on her heel and making for the stairwell before he returned. He had begged her pardon however, and under the circumstances that meant she simply couldn't disappear on him. Not yet at least. Not without making her farewell or at least leaving a note. The short-haired woman was midway through composing the latter in her head when the navy-clad man returned with a plate of food that looked barely more appetising than the chipped ceramic.

    Still, it was better than some things she'd eaten since her exile. She went to snap out an answer to his presumptuous question, then frowned. Uncertainty crept into her expression as she finally admitted, "I can't remember exactly." When had she eaten last? She remembered making vegetable stew... before she went out to buy parts, a few days ago. But there had been bread? She must have eaten sometime, surely?

    Aisling took the plate, her expression shifting from confusion to distrust to gentility before proffering it back. "I thank you, but I cannot take your breakfast. What would you eat? I can share though, provided you eat as well." The gesture of open kindness - if that's what it was - unnerved her and left her looking for the trap buried in the mashed potato. She had only a birdlike appetite, but was cautiously willing to eat; her fork following his around the plate. Sampling the same things he'd just eaten and abhorring anything her paranoia whispered might be poison.

    "So," she began when they were settled in. "What particulars are there to discuss? I have business with a man of my recent acquaintance in the Underground, so I will go to him as I certainly cannot have him calling on me." If he would even come. No, that might be worse. "I will take the stairs, as I do not have the ready coin for the Elevator. You are of course welcome to ride down and meet me at the bottom. Or simply stay here and settle in to your new dwelling?" She looked around the front room of his home. It didn't look like much, but was already much improved from the last time she'd seen it. The absence of three small children running around and littering the space with their little treasures was a solid step in that direction, though she suspected Corbett had been cleaning up as well rather than simply squatting in the space.

    "Was there anything else you wished to discuss before I leave?"
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  4. Corbett found no particular pleasure in his meal, shoddily prepared as it was, only the muted satisfaction of a ‘task’ completed. The eggs were over-seasoned, acrid from almost wanton application of black pepper, while the potatoes were some formless mash that uncomfortably adhered to the roof of the mouth. Corbett noted to himself the folly of his culinary pretense; Pariah Bay spices were either overpriced or unfit for consumption, while he himself was ill-suited to the task.

    Just as well, as cook-work did not fall beneath his purview.

    “Some time ago, I spoke to you regarding the necessity of ‘concessions’,” Corbett lifted his eyes from the substandard fare, regarding Aisling with a stare of some nonchalance, “, of which a number have remained decidedly unspoken; the casting of my discerning… and, I admit, persistent eye chief amongst them. Other concessions will be spoken of in plainer fashion.

    Your business Downstairs, for instance. I cannot allow it, in any capacity.”

    Barring his charge in such a manner was not, strictly speaking, a tenet of his job description. As it happened, it had been posited that the doing so would even prove to be counterproductive, if not wholly detrimental. All the same, he cursed the cloying hand of the overseer; the Underground was no place for one of Aisling’s ilk.

    “You will provide me with the details of this current engagement, and I will resolve it on your behalf. Henceforth, ventures of the Underground should be cast from your mind. Is this agreeable to you, Miss Grey?”

    For his own sake, he sincerely hoped so; he had little intention to cast himself down into that muck.
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  5. The surroundings were plain, but tidy enough. The glutinous mass that made up their shared breakfast felt as though it was attempting to creep back up her throat, yet that too was acceptable. She'd had worse. Corbett's ultimatum however was absolutely bloody not.

    "You will do no such thing, Mr Baines!" she retorted hotly, her faded eyes now ablaze with righteous fury. How dare he? "My business downstairs is my own. I had intended to speak on my purpose there out of common courtesy, but I now see I cannot trust you with it. You are just as like to decide you know better, with the same high handed manner you've displayed here today."

    Aisling slammed down her borrowed cutlery and shot up to her feet, her chair scraping back on the cold stone floor. "And another thing. I am not a child and do not require your constant supervision. You call it the casting of your persistent eye," she mimicked his tones cuttingly, if not with any particular skill. "I call it spying, you skilamalink mutton shunter. I will not have it - stay away from me!" That was pure Aisling Silbermann as she unthinkingly spoke with every ounce of her old hauteur, turned on her heel and stormed out of the man's humble dwelling. His door was spared the recent ill treatment of her own; she simply left it swinging.

    Stalking out into the dimly lit corridor, her rage carried the tinker down flight after flight of stairs and onto the narrow streets. Every flash of light was another sneering face telling her The Way It Had To Be, every face that swam into view another threat to be avoided. From the outside, the dark-clad woman's progress was the whirling fall of an autumn leaf, stiff-limbed, following a path of least resistance that took her past any man or child she deemed might be a threat. Sometimes she missed them entirely and went straight for a block, sometimes she veered away from something no-one else could readily perceive. At one point a pair of shabby men leaned out from an alleyway as she neared, startling a child's mutt. Aisling took no notice of the men, but the dog spooked her into crossing the street once again and the reached the Land's Centre uninterrupted.

    There she was confronted by an opponent she could not so easily master, the raging beast of an open city market in the full throes of commerce. She could see the silver braids climbing to the Sky high above and she knew the darker helix that descended from their bases, but there were so many variables in between each operating semi-independently of one another. She climbed onto a crate, then leaned against the outside wall of Challing & Sons Confectionery as she attempted to plot the complicated interrelationships of the market and a safe course between them.

    She could do this.

    She just wished everyone would go away.
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  6. “Miss Grey,” Corbett had began to utter, but quickly thought better of wasting his breath. The unfinished sentence lingered without any particular verve behind it, an ethereal dust in the wake of Aisling’s rampage. A lost cause. Perhaps he had misstepped, addressing the matter in such a manner; he had caused his ward to hold him in adversarial contempt. There was the danger that Aisling’s choleric huff-and-puff would lead her to behaviour irrational and unsafe, counterproductive to Corbett’s own mandate. The regrettable aftermath of a child’s tantrum.

    That line of thought, amusingly, assuaged Corbett’s momentary doubt in his approach. Miss Grey could claim that she was no child all she wanted, but the former Cloak knew - with some fervent confidence - the nature of people. Functionally they were all as if children, he believed. To coddle them with leniency was to allow them to exploit a fundamental weakness.

    And so the only leniency Corbett would allow Miss Grey was the courtesy of the head-start, allowing the door’s momentum to carry it to its natural conclusion before vacating his domicile. The hall was empty when Corbett emerged from his abode, and thus did his… hunt begin. The task of guardianship was distressingly akin to cat-and-mouse, Corbett found.

    That was just as well.

    Some of the more pretentious Cloaks liked to regard the hunt as an ‘art’, Corbett had recalled as he strode towards the stairs, his hands idly dragging across the tenement halls, tracing the various inscriptions that lined them. He himself thought of it more as a ‘science’ - and, in more recent times, a ‘bother’. Regardless of stance, all of them understood an undefeatable truth; men and women alike cast more than a singular shadow.

    He judged Aisling’s pace and motion by the reverberations of her every step crashing against the stony steps.

    He deciphered the quickest angles across the raucous streets, diagonal paths that sliced through the masses.

    He observed, with some curiosity, Aisling’s own modus of travel. Irregular, scatterbrained - by design, perhaps?

    But all the same, Corbett considered it folly. Aisling had already given away her intentions to go Underground - and there were only so many chartable courses that would lead her there. And so, when Corbett found himself thirty or so paces away from the tinker curiously perched upon her crate, he considered it an inevitability. The challenge then, was to convince, one way or another, his ward to accept it.

    “Miss Grey,” he called, ostensibly in defying a myriad number of wishes and desires, “Are you quite lost?”
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  7. Her course was certainly not intended as an evasive measure, the world was drawing in around her and she was beginning to see almost everyone else as a threat.

    If Aisling were a cat, she would have sprung three feet in the air and wheeled to hiss at the man who'd crept up behind her with malicious intent. Utterly unaware of his approach, when he spoke and startled her the tinker spun to stare at him. Her wide green eyes regarded him with a blank lack of recognition, and absent the earlier requirements of courtesy she was suffering visibly. One hand was clamped to her temples as the pounding within her skull threatened to explode.

    "Who- who are you?" She asked, backing towards the crowd. "What do you want with me?"

    Aisling's hand hovered towards the small bag in her hand, then she looked nervously over her shoulder at the crowd between her and the stairwell. The tinker hunched protectively over her bag, keeping her body between it and the crowd; when she looked back to Corbett she was desperate. Then a light of realisation dawned, and she blinked and slowly lowered her hand from her head with a controlled squint against the Landing light.

    "Mr Baines?" Her voice was uncertain, thready but strengthening with each word. "What are you doing out here? Did you follow me, even after what I said?" She watched him a few moments longer, her expression indecipherable as she mentally reconstructed his words. Then she spoke, "I... yes, Mr Baines I suppose I am."

    She swallowed, her throat still dry as the pistons kept pounding behind her eyeballs as she finally confessed her weakness. "You know my past, you know how quickly I was asked to leave the Sky. There is a... Medicine I take." She sat on the crate as the strength drained from her legs. "Something I have to have, or," she shrugged expressively, her palms upturned.

    "I don't go Underground on a whim, Mr Baines, whatever you think of me. The Inquisition has never been known for its compassion, and I can hardly get the substance delivered to me regularly so I am forced to depend on... less licit means." If her capable shadow was following her to catch her in some misdeed, this confession had likely served her up on a silver platter. She was just too tired to argue any more, though her paranoia would doubtless rise again soon along with a blaze of hyperalertness. If only her head would stop, for just a few minutes!

    That was all she needed, just a few minutes of peace.

    She looked out at the swirling crowds and the patterns coalesced; she pulled herself to her feet and offered her arm with a dry-lipped smile. "Would you do me the honour of escorting me? The stairs are long, but I regret I do not have the coin to take the elevator instead." Maybe on the way up, if she could avoid paying everything she owned this time.
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  8. It bore repeating; what a strange lady Aisling Grey was.

    Corbett had steadied himself, bent ever so slightly at the knees in case sudden impetus was required. He had not known the lady to carry a firearm, per se, but whomever could predict the wildly varied (and debatably misused) resources of the tinkerer? That, at the very least, was something Palmers the brute could attest to, if indeed the past, shocking experience had not addled him out of his right mind and memory.

    While he would keep the fact mum, Corbett felt a slight degree of relief when recognition flashed over the tinker-girl’s visage.

    “It is not within my own particular interests to chase around scornful ladies, as it were. Nor incredibly foolish ones. Seldom beneficial towards one’s wellbeing.”

    Nor sickly ladies either, in most cases. But he understood. Aisling Grey was as if a wounded bird, tossed into the winds well before its wings were mended. She had been accustomed to certain accommodations, and they were lost to her here. The lesser often spoke of the Floaters being dragged down to their level - to see how well they would fare - and here she stood, an exhibition of that particular experiment.

    It was worth pitying.

    Corbett took Aisling by offered arm, “You had only needed to communicate to me your condition, Miss Grey, and all would have been understood. I will escort you to the Underground to accommodate this particular need.

    Furthermore, I cannot help but imagine that less than optimal habits of sustenance and sleep can only serve to compound… this problem. I am not a skilled cook, but I would like to propose… a meal plan of sorts; I will arrive at your door, at certain allotted times, with reasonable dishes of your choosing. We will broach the idea of ensuring healthy sleep patterns at some… more palatable time.

    So steady now, Miss Grey, and think of a menu.”

    And so, Corbett lead her to the top of the stairs, slightly confused as to how he had offered away his less-than-acceptable culinary ‘talent’.
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  9. The unusual pair proceeded down the stairs like a wind up marionette found and rescued from oblivion in the bottom of the toybox of a child long grown. Slow at first, with frequent pause and joints ill-fitting as they journeyed down to the first landing, and then smooth and more fluid. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairway - six hundred and twenty seven steps later - they were trained and practiced masters of the fine art of escorting a lady down a shabby staircase into the Underground, escorter and escortee moving in perfect union. By the last few hundred it was even to the same rhythm as the pounding in her head!

    Wounded bird or no, sickly underfed tinker-lady as she may be, Aisling knew how to walk; indeed she was become quite a student of the art. From ball room promenades that quietly demanded the attention of all onlookers to a serviceable totter that said you had worn heeled shoes for far too long and needed rest. More recently she had discovered the overly casual stroll that said that, whatever that explosion, choked-off scream or trail of blood might be, shewas certainly wholly unaware of the matter. Somewhat inadvertently she had also perfected Distracted Crazy Woman, who strode through the mean streets of Pariah Bay with such a blithe disregard for her surroundings that she clearly had no regard for dangers and nothing on her person worth the robbing.

    It was the latter that had served her well in her previous jaunts to the Underground, at least with the sort of petty thugs who hung around the base of the Stairs in search of random plums which might one day drop into their lap. It was rendered slightly less plausible in Corbett's genteel company, and with the lady actually smiling at him as they discussed magnificent banquet dishes wholly unreproducible in his spartan kitchen unit.

    "Or savouries, maybe some of those little round quiches with the ham and the cheese, ah, um, a lorraine as the French have it? Or spiced pears poached in bechamel and... oh!" Somewhere in the descent Aisling had become animated and almost forgot her pain, and the sparkling eye and vivacious smile don't fade at once to find themselves in a shadier clime. Instead she makes to lead the way, tugging at her escort to follow her. "This way Mr Baines. The Hound's compound isn't far."

    This couple do not share the same innocuous air as the lone crazy lady picking her way down the stairs, half out of her mind with withdrawal. These two are attracting attention, and three average looking men in average-looking clothes made grey by the dim light casually set out to trail them an average of a hundred yards behind.
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  10. And for perhaps the first time in years, Corbett Baines does not see them. The myriad shadows that pervade the Land and the Underground, pickpockets or, perhaps, the more nefarious variety of sinners. Perhaps Corbett Baines has grown rusty, or perhaps the Cloak is too used to observing from his perch, a cavalry scout upon his high horse. Finally, one must allow for the possibility that Corbett Baines is thinking about Bechamel, and the poaching of various fruits, pear or otherwise.

    “Bechamel, eh? Butter, yolk, and juice of lemon, as I somehow recall.” One versed in cuisine and gastronomy may well have considered this to be an ominous portent, the egregious confusion of mother sauces, of Bechamel and Hollandaise. Corbett, however, cast it from his mind, allowing himself the momentary distraction to serve as one without any particular professional discretion or diligence, “You will have to detail to me what, precisely, the particulars and accoutrements of this lorraine matter.”

    The banquet of her past life had reinvigorated her, Corbett noted. He wondered, perhaps, if there were idle moments where she regretted her myriad choices - follies, as some would uncharitably offer - the tinkerings and machinations that led her to be cast down to the world below.

    Perhaps it was that because he recalled that they were, indeed, in the world below, that Corbett offered a compulsory glance over the shoulder. Still, Corbett Baines did not note their pursuers, made sooty beneath the polluted light. He merely ushered Aisling forth as best he could, remembering the dangers of their environment, and that his job duty consisted of more than the discussing of food.
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