What Will Be (Peregrine x cyclopsdoe)

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Peregrine, Apr 12, 2015.

  1. Even with the light from the gibbous moon, only partially obscured behind a layer of clouds, the streets were dark. Yellow streetlamps buzzed at the intersections, casting a sickly light over the road, but the alleys remained in deep shadow. People walking this late at night were either so inebriated as to not notice the potential dangers lurking in the shadows, or they hurried home as quickly as possible, casting glances over their shoulders and keeping any purses, bags, or backpacks tucked close to their person.

    He lurked in one of these dark alleys, leaning up against a grimy brick wall, eyes trained on the door of the only building for a couple of blocks that had every light turned on. The bar was a haven for the drunk, and the single bouncer on the premises meant that almost anyone could get away with anything without consequence. Those who came here were looking for one of two things, to have the night of their life they’d never remember, or to drown out unimaginable sorrows. For many it was both.

    The hours rolled slowly by, but the man leaning against the wall did not move an inch. His attention was absolute, and the one thug that came close to him, wondering if he’d found an easy target, was immediately chased away at a single cold look. But, in the early hours of the morning, something finally changed.

    Another man stumbled his way out of the bar, so drunk it seemed pure luck that he managed to stay upright. But the strange man shifted, and the sudden tilt of his shoulders made it clear he had finally found his target. He crept quietly out of the shadows, drawing up behind the man, who did not notice the approaching silhouette of his fate. The man closed strong hand around the drunk’s shoulder, before bodily hauling him into the alley, one hand clamped over his mouth to muffle any scream.

    The drunk was crying, and as he looked up at the face outlined in shadowed moonlight he let out a broken hearted sob. “You.” There was no surprise in his voice.

    “Me,” the stranger agreed, his pleasant voice at odds with his tight grip on the drunkard.

    “Please,” the drunk man bawled, “I don’t want to die.”

    “You made your deal, and your ten years are now up. You knew what was coming when you made the contract.”

    The man shook his head wildly, hands clawing at the stranger’s arms. “Please,” he repeated. It was all he could say, over and over again. “Please, please, please.”

    "I know, I know." One of The Collector’s hands let go of the man's jacket and he reached up to cup his face gently, almost like a lover. A brief expression of sorrow flashed across his face, but then his eyes went blank again. The man's blubbering slowed under the touch of The Collector, and he took a couple of heaving breaths. "Just close your eyes," The Collector murmured gently in his ear. The man let out one last panicked sob, before his eyes fluttered shut.

    The hand on the man's face dropped down, pressing against the man’s chest. Slowly his hand moved, sinking into the beer-stained shirt and then even deeper still, before he pulled it back out. The drunkard went limp, and in the Collector’s fist something unknowably bright flashed between the cracks of his fingers. Carefully he lifted his fist towards his face, before shoving the brightness down his throat.

    A faint scream of pain came from deep within his throat as his eyes briefly flared pure white, and he collapsed limply to the ground. For a moment he lay there, right next to the cooling corpse of the drunk man, quivering in pain.

    Finally the man’s shaking came to an end, and he pushed himself to his feet. He rubbed a tired hand across his face, before pushing some of his black hair back into place. He staggered to one wall, where he leaned, gasping, as the pain subsided.

    But, before much time had truly passed, any signs of weakness vanished from his form. The night was still young, and there was still so much work to do. Every fulfilled contract needed to be replaced by a new one as soon as possible. How ironic that the very place that the drunkard had come to try and escape his fate would be the same place where someone else would be drawn into it.
  2. [​IMG]
    Katherine Collins || 36 || FBI Agent
    pb: Amy Adams
    The sun had just began to rise over the streets of Philadelphia, taking the blue dark of night way and giving rise to a new spring day. At just after six in the morning, Katherine was usually pulled out of bed by a call and rushing to get down to whatever crime scene the local thugs had left behind. Currently, and by some sort of miracle, Katherine found herself in bed, still very much asleep and wrapped around a warm body that she definitely didn't get to see enough of. The redhead had her face buried in a mane of dark hair, the black strands tickling her nose as she slowly breathed in and out, dead to the world until an unfortunately familiar song filled the room. Getting to sleep in or take it easy would always be a pipe dream.

    Groaning, Katherine unlatched her arm from the curve of Ana's midsection and turned to grab her cell phone that was lying on the nightstand. Her fingers fumbled over the smooth surface before she was finally able to take the call and silence Queen's Another One Bites The Dust. “Collins,” Katherine answered, voice thick with sleep. She was already sitting up, movements on autopilot as she swung her bare feet over the side of the bed and pushed herself up with much reluctance.

    Got a cold one down on fifty-first,” said the velvet-like voice of whatever detective had arrived on the scene first. “No signs of trauma, but I hear these things are yours and Cox's scene.”

    Shouldering the phone, Katherine was already at her closet, pulling out something to wear now that the day had started without her. “I'll be there in fifteen,” she replied and then hung up the phone. The redhead turned and tossed the phone toward the foot of the bed where it slid across the blue comforter and nearly onto the floor. Thankfully, Ana's calves were there to stop the second casualty of the day. In the meantime, Katherine was quick to strip out of her pajamas and get dressed before heading to the bathroom. She brushed her teeth and pulled her hair into a ponytail, feeling that it was going to be a long day.

    Walking back out into the bedroom, Katherine padded over to Ana and smoothed her hair back from her face. “I'll see you tonight,” she whispered and leaned down for a minty kiss. The other woman seemed grumpy on top of being half asleep, but Katherine could only worry about one crisis at a time. Right now, she had a crime scene to take over from the local PD. “Love you,” she added quickly before grabbing her shoes and sneaking out of the room and down the stairs.

    The drive down to 51st street didn't take long and Katherine even had time to stop for two coffees on the way over. She assumed that Cox had been called before her, and the older man never forgot when his apprentice owed him a fresh cup. It wasn't long before Katherine was pulling up on the scene and her blue eyes were met with cop cars and the coroners van who would swoop in after she and Cox did what the FBI did best. As the redhead exited the car, the same detective who had called her in fell into step beside her—she could tell by his voice.

    So what are we looking at?” she asked, taking a sip from her coffee cup. It was going to be one of those days, Katherine could already feel it.

    The young detective ushered her over to the alley that had already been taped off. “Male, mid to late forties, no signs of trauma. There's a dry cleaners over there,” he gestured to the left of them, “owner found him this morning when she was taking out the trash. We think he came from the bar.”

    “You called us out here for some drunk?”

    Turning around, Katherine smiled as she saw Raymond Cox lift the police tape and swagger onto the scene. Just after six was obviously too early as well. The man with the salt and pepper hair strode over to where she and the detective stood and took one of the cups from Katherine's hand. “Well?” he asked, one hand out in front of him as if he were waiting for the detective to put the evidence in his hand.

    There's no trauma, no signs of a struggle. We've got no witnesses, but one lady who lives across the street over there said she heard a scream somewhere around three or four—can't be sure.” the detective explained quickly. “This is the third one in four months. Figured we had to call you in.”

    Their own investigation of the scene revealed much of the same thing as the local cops. It was both surprising and frustrating, and with another one of these cases popped up out of the blue, where the victim showed no signs of anything but death, having no leads wasn't promising. Then again, they didn't have much to go on when it came to the other eerily similar murders either. “What do you make of all this?” Katherine asked as she watched the coroner zip up the body bag over John Doe's face.

    Raymond shrugged his hunched shoulders and made a non-committal sound. His face looked worried, though, eyes darting all around they alley as if they had missed something. “Not everything can be solved, Collins.”

    That sounded ominous, and although it was unlike the redhead to be suspicious of Cox, she couldn't help but wonder if her partner knew something that she didn't.

    // Hope it's okay! Let me know if you need me to add or change anything.
  3. There was very little that could be called pleasant about waking up with the smell of old rubbish in your nose. He had fallen asleep that night under an old bridge, curled up in the small space between an old black man who was missing half his teeth and a woman so thin it almost hurt to look at her. The small rubbish fire that had been built up in an old oil drum had been barely warm enough to chase away the chill.

    He sat up slowly, carefully extracting himself from his two sleeping fellows, before making his way over to the trash can. He huddled himself close to the small flame, stretching out his hands, and his eyes began to radiate a faint, white light. Under his gaze the tongues of flame leaped brightly, releasing a wave of heat in the small space, and highlighting his dark hair.

    He did not truly belong in that space, the man standing before the fire. He was too healthy, too clean, and far, far too pretty to belong in this penniless world. The vagabonds who lived there had watched him with a skeptical eye when he had entered last night, but he had simply sat down, closing his eyes in the uncomfortable silence.

    He was not unfamiliar with having to spend the night in places like this. It was something that occasionally had to happen when he spent every day in a different city, somewhere in the world. It would have been preferable to sleep somewhere warm and soft, but by the time he had finished his collection and subsequent bargaining it had been late in the night. The energy of the soul he had collected could have burned away his need for sleep, but he preferred to save that precious resource for when it was really needed. Sleeping outside one night would never do him any harm.

    Eventually one of the men had shuffled up to him, gruffly questioning his reasons for being there. He had shook off the man with vague, dissatisfying answers that gave no true hints to his real reasoning.

    “Who are ya, at least?” The man had asked.

    Over the years he had been known by many names. He had once, a long time ago, been known as Colius Runne, but that name had become sacrifice to the flow of time and duty. He had been called the Bargainer, the Contract Writer, the Man Without a Name. He had even been called the Devil himself. Most now called him the Collector, for that was the part of his job that those who knew of him feared the most.

    None of those titles, though, truly spoke to who he was. Who he was still linked most closely to that old, long abandoned name.


    Now the people under the bridge did not worry about him. They left him be, and he left them be. None of them would ever see him again.

    The Collector had written contracts with the homeless once. They had nothing, and the thought that they could spend ten years in luxury rather than an uncertain time in fear and poverty was too tempting for any to resist. They never realized until the last moment what exactly they had traded away so willingly. Eventually Cole simply gave up on all of the homeless. They would never change. Not in 600 years had one refused the contract.

    But the Contract Writer hadn’t spoken to any of them. None of them would be seeing him again in ten years.

    But someone was going to be seeing him again today. The face formed slowly in his mind as he sat around that impossibly bright fire. He didn’t recognize it. How could he, after all they years, all the faces? But that person would recognize him. They always would. Apparently it was impossible to forget the face of the man who would one day be coming to collect your soul and leave you for dead.

    As he stood up and moved away from the fire its head ebbed. Several of the people shivered unconsciously, rolling closer to the makeshift stove in their sleep. Just outside the bridge, a second face began to form in his mind. There were two today, a man and a woman. He hated the days when there were two, even though they came just as frequently as days when there were only one.

    He had 24 hours to collect both of their souls, or there would be consequences. There were always consequences. But he was used to it. Cole had been doing his job for a very long time. There was no one else to do it for him, and he hadn’t failed once in over six hundred years.

    At least these two had stayed close to each other over the ten years. He always made same day contracts in the same city, but people tended to scatter, both across the country, and across the world. An even greater relief was that they were close to his current location. This was a rare gift, and for once he would not have to use the scraps of energy granted to him from the Collection to move his body across the space that separated him from his targets. He would be able to save it, and use it later.

    With a sigh the Collector moved away from the bridge. There were more souls to collect.
  4. These deaths, no matter how innocent they looked from the outside were cause for stress. Katherine couldn't help but suspect that something else was going on with all of victims, that they were connected somehow but hours of pouring over reports and tapes had offered nothing but frustration. Glancing to Cox, still in the alley as the latest victim was hauled away, the redhead looked to her partner. She trusted the other man's judgment so much, sometimes more than her own, but even Cox and all of his experience didn't seem optimistic about solving this latest case. Whoever was doing this, out there with the means to murder and leave no trace, needed to be off the streets and locked up where they couldn't harm anyone. Katherine needed to solve this, she just needed more help.

    We should go over what we have again, see if this guy has anything in common with the others,” she suggested and lifted her tepid cup of coffee to her lips. Although spring had finally graced the city of brotherly love, the mornings were still chilly.

    Unfortunately, Cox didn't seem to agree. The grey-haired man shook his head again and waved his hand, acting as though his ambitious partner should just forget the whole thing. “A politician and some drunk in an alley don't have anything in common.”

    Stranger things had happened and more obscure connections had been made in the past. A politician, no matter how low or high-ranking, all kept skeletons in their closet. A drunk in an alley could have worked for someone who knew the now deceased senator, or maybe money was involved. Although Katherine hadn't been with the FBI nearly as long as Cox, cash was crime's most basic motivation. “Then what do you suggest we do?” she asked, lightly lifting her shoulders. Cox was never one to stick cases on the back-burner for very long.

    I've got some things to check out. We'll meet up later,” Cox answered, hoping that his tone was final enough to not prompt more questions from Katherine. She was completely in the dark about what was happening, but the older agent had a thought about what, or rather, what could be behind this recent string of murders. It rattled something inside of him to think about it, the contract he had made years ago but at the same time, irrational thinking like that made him feel crazy. A lack of control wasn't something that Cox was used to.

    After leaving Collins behind, Cox found his own car and tossed out the rest of his coffee before getting in. The leads that he allured to had been a lie, just an excuse to get a moment to himself and although Raymond didn't know the area like his partner, the safety of a public park shouldn't have been hard to find. As he drove, Raymond's eyes continued to shift to the rear view mirror, more paranoid thoughts filling his mind every time he thought that someone was following him. He took an unnecessary amount of turns, going right and left down side streets before he finally found a place to rest for a while.

    The park, with its brightly colored and scarcely graffiti-ed playground equipment, was mostly empty. Cox's careful eye spotted a few joggers, some people walking their dogs, and a small group of mothers pushing strollers. The activity was enough for Raymond to feel safe, secure in his choice to leave Collins behind while he tried to wrap his mind around what was and wasn't happening. In all the years that he had been with the agency, no case had ever occupied his mind this way. Breathing a sigh, Raymond rubbed a hand across his face, already tired from anticipation.
  5. The house looked to be made entirely out of glass and smooth white plaster and stone facade, low and lean and modern. It stuck out like a sore thumb against the old brick and mortar houses that filled up a good part of the City of Brotherly Love, but the Collector could not help but guess that might very well have been the point. Some people wore wealth subtly, others flaunted it for all to see. This was beyond flaunting, for no one would fail to miss this structure. But the peons were meant to admire from afar, not approach the glass walls. The whole villa was protected by a steel and brick fence, which wound around the inner-city property. The top of the fence was beyond the reach of even Cole’s long arms, and the spikes were for far more than decoration. They looked capable of drawing blood if unwary fingers got too close. From the sidewalk it was possible to see security cameras covering every angle, and a few men posted guard at various doors. His target was taking no chances. The Collector could not help but wonder if she really believed these measures would keep him away, or if she had put them in place to protect her material possessions while she could still enjoy them.

    In the end, it did not really matter. Her security measures were nothing to him, even if he was not in a position where he could flaunt the portion of energy that had been left within him as he had consumed the soul. He could easily bend the light around him, and sneak in under his power, using only a small portion of the power left to him. But now he was inclined to push things a little bit. This was in part because it was the middle of the day and Cole was never a fan of doing his business in the middle of the day, but it was also more than that. He was normally cautious with the energy given to him, in case he should need to burn it recklessly to get himself out of an unexpected situation. He feared running out of the energy, and then finding that he needed it. It had only ever happened once, in his hundreds of years of collecting. He had still been young at the time, and resentful. Only the intervention of the thing for whom he collected had saved his life, and the pain of channeling its power had left him unconscious for days. He had never let himself run out after that point.

    At the same time, there were consequences if he hoarded too much of the power within his body. He had felt that as well, although the effects were much more subtle, and much more damaging in the long term. Today he was going to have to collect two souls, and the portion of their energy would be stacking on top of the man from yesterday. Normally moving himself from contracted to contracted burned a good portion of the energy, but today they were all so close that he could walk with ease. He would have to burn off the power in some way, and he might as well use it to show off a bit, even if the only person who would see it would not be around long enough to appreciate it.

    There was no one on the street. It was time to go. His eyes turned white.

    Had someone been watching, it would have looked like there was something seeping over his body, dissolving it into nothing. The extremities were the first to go, until there was nothing left but his beating heart, suspended in the middle of the air. And then that too was gone, both hidden from sight and from contact with the rest of the world. He slid through the fence, melting between the cracks only to reform on the other side. Within her yard he solidified slightly, still hidden from sight. Getting into her house was no greater challenge.

    The place was empty and rather austere. Cole was not a good judge of such things, but he had found that the houses of the lonely wealthy tended to all look the same. Every surface was clean and gleamed. Paintings and statues offered beauty, but it was just an illusion of warmth. The whole place felt sterile. Empty. Cole had never called any place home since he had become the Collector, but he still preferred the streets to this place of isolation.

    When he finally found her he reformed, the insubstantiality shedding away from him like a coating. The woman was in the center of her house, sealed behind several locked doors. She was drunk. There was an empty bottle of hard liquor sitting by her side, and another mostly drained one within her hand. From her attitude it seemed that she intended to kill herself from alcohol poisoning before he could get his hands on her soul.

    Inebriation seemed to be the common state in which he found people when he came to collect them. He sometimes waited, talking to those people who wished to speak to him before they were died. Most of them had found liquid courage within a bottle. One man had told him that it numbed the reality. He told of a game people played, asking each other if they would like to know the date they would die. He told Cole that more people would find their sanity in the bottom of a bottle if they could track that date growing ever closer on the calendar. Ten years felt like such a long time. It was no time at all.

    “Fuck you,” the woman spat when her blurry eyes finally locked onto him. “Fuck you and your contract.” Her words were venomous, but they were also empty. He could see the fear in her eyes, buried behind a layer as she tried to blame her plight on him. Her smooth, young face was wrinkled by lines of wrath. But, deep down she understood she had no one to blame but herself. She was the one who had traded her life away for ten years of empty wealth.

    “Was it worth it?” Cole didn’t know what prompted him to ask her that. It wasn’t as though the answer would really matter.

    “Of course.” Who was she trying to convince? Him? Or herself?

    She shied away from the reach of his hand, before she lifted the bottle to her lips, draining the last of the bottle in several quick mouthfuls. The burning of her throat must have granted her some final measure of resolve, because she cast the bottle away from him, where it shattered against the wall. She threw her shoulder back, baring her chest and neck to him.

    “Hurry up. I don’t have all day.” For a moment she almost sounded like the woman she must have been for these past ten years, haughty, self-important, and aloof. The Collector’s hand sunk into her chest.

    Her soul was bright and hot within him. Cole nearly bit off his own tongue, trying to keep the scream from escaping his lips. When he was finally able to manage the pain he used the smallest taste of her energy to heal his tongue, swallowing the rest of the blood that filled his mouth. The burning of the souls never changed, but by now he had grown used to it. Perhaps someday he would not even flinch at the agony of it as it seared through his body, before being carried away. It was not that hard to imagine. Once, back when he had first started, the consumption of a soul had left him incapacitated for hours, sometimes days. Now he could manage it within a couple minutes. He both longed and feared for that day. It would be an end to the pain, but what else would be ending with the pain?

    There was nothing left for him to do here. Her body would be found soon enough, most likely by one of her housekeepers. Funeral arrangements would be made; she would have left a will. Cole would not attend, even in passing. He would not know when it occurred unless it was reported in a newspaper.

    He would have to find someone to replace her contract. He would do that before he went to find the man. His contract would be left empty until tomorrow, when Cole would find two more, one for him and one for whatever soul was due that day.

    It never took long to find a replacement, but it took even less time in a crime-riddled city like Philadelphia. Ten years seemed like a lifetime to the power hungry, but only a few ever actually succeeded in reaching their ambitions before the time came. Cole did not avoid contracts with criminals the way he avoided it with the homeless. In his eyes, many of them had already forfeited their right to a full life. If anything, the contract kept them alive longer. They would be given their ten years, nothing more and nothing less. The only reason Cole disliked it was because entering a maximum security prison without detection burned through far more of his energy reserves than he would have liked.

    That was a problem for ten years from now.

    The man was waiting in a park. Cole had not recognized his face when the Keeper of the Souls had called his contract due, but as he saw the man sitting in the park, head cradled in his hands, Cole recognized him. Hadn’t it been in this exact position when he had found him? Oh, yes, Cole remembered him. He remembered very few, but Raymond Cox had stuck with him long after the contract had been made.

    He had finished writing his contract, apparently with the woman whose soul had just come due, and he had seated himself in a park, watching the people pass by him, reveling in the empty, unobligated moment. He had not noticed there was someone on the other end of the bench for nearly fifteen minutes, and Cole did not know what had driven him to speak to the man when he finally noticed him. Perhaps it was the desperation that rose off of him like waves.

    Cole’s favorite targets were the conflicted, the one who had everything to gain but also had everything to lose. The ones who loved their life, but still longed for more. That silent conflict, as they weighed and feared and hoped while Cole gently pushed them to their answer was always exhilarating. These were the kinds of people who turned him down more than any other. The man on that bench, ten years ago to the day, had everything to gain and everything to lose, but in a different way than Cole had anticipated. His wife had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the doctors had given her two months. They had been married for over 20 years, had seen three children born and grown, but their marriage had never descended into petty squabbles, even despite how much Cox’s work had eaten at their time.

    He had everything to gain. The doctors had said there was no hope. But he had everything to lose as well. He would have ten more years with the woman he loved, but then he would be the one leaving her.

    But that was the thing that all the love poems and stories always said. “I love you more than life itself.” And so Cole had offered him the deal, and for once the man had not died in the Collector’s eyes when he accepted. For this was a life for life, and a life for love. How could he hate Cox when he himself had made the very same deal once, so long ago?

    Cole sat down on the opposite end of the bench, and waited patiently to be noticed. It did not take long, but the man still seemed shocked by his appearance.

    “How long have you been sitting there?”

    “Ten years.”

    Cox stared for a second, before he shook his head in something akin to resignation. His hands were shaking slightly. “Yes. I suppose that is true. You look... just the same. Except for the clothes.”

    “How’s your wife?”

    “You remember?” Cole nodded faintly.

    “We celebrated our 33rd anniversary seven months ago. She didn’t understand when I was making such a big deal about it, it seems like such a random number, but she humored me. We threw a massive party.” His voice trailed off, but there was nothing else that needed to be said. There would be no 34th.

    The Collector’s eyes went white, and the air around them began to distort faintly. He felt the man next to him stiffen in surprise and fear. Apparently he had thought the park, all the people, offered him safety.

    “Please, one question?”

    Cole nodded. Most had one question. He had heard them all by this point, and had the answers waiting on the tip of his tongue.

    “Did you kill Senator Sutton?”

    Cole blinked. Apparently he hadn’t heard them all. That was, all things considered, the very last question he would have expected to hear. “That is none of your concern,” he said calmly, “and really should no longer matter to you.” He started to reach out.

    “It may not be mine, but it is yours.” Cole hesitated, and Cox took that as prompting to continue. “People were suspicious of his death. They found others, recent ones mostly, but they are looking for someone who can kill without trace. The FBI created a task force, which I was heading. I thought it might be you, but I couldn’t be sure. I was looking for a man just in case, but if it was you... that changes everything.”

    “William Sutton made a contract.”

    “I see.” Cole could not tell whether or not this was the answer that Cox had wanted to hear.

    “It’s time,” the Collector said softly.

    “Yes,” Cox agreed. And then, before Cole even had a chance to process what he was doing, the man was on his feet, racing out into the crowds. The woman who was walking past them let out a surprised shriek as Raymond burst through the illusion Cole had erected around the bench. To her, it must have seemed as though he appeared from thin air. Cox shoved past her, sending her sprawling.

    The Collector’s eyes burned white, erasing all traces of his own eyes. Power surged around him, and he threw it after the man. He did not care if he made a commotion at this moment. No man escaped him. The power reached out, a furious tide, before crashing unexpectedly against the barrier he had erected. The barrier he had designed to contain the energy of a soul so that none might accidentally see the white flare should some leak through as he ate the man’s soul. Had Cole thrown anything else, the barrier would not have been able to stop it. But in his surprise and haste, with the excess power that flowed through his veins, Cole had hurled pure power without thinking. It was a novice mistake, a mistake he never should have made. Cox had seemed so calm, so ready. It had been so long since the last man had run. The Collector had grown sloppy.

    The power was wasted. He dispelled the barrier, trying to hurl himself after Cox. But for being a short, older man, Cox was alarmingly fast. He had already disappeared into the crowds, which seemed to be growing heavier by the moment. As Cole ran, heedlessly shoving his way past people, Cole began to realize that Cox had always planned to run. He should have guessed. The man had even told him that his answer would change everything.

    It was no good. Cox was gone. Cole wanted to swear, but he kept himself forcibly calm. Others had run before. He had always found them. He would find this man too, even though the Keeper would not again tell Cole where Cox was. It did not matter. The Collector did not need help for this.

    Raymond Cox’s soul was due.
  6. It was possible, despite Cox's assessment of the situation, that a drunk in an alley and a prestigious politician did have a few things in common. The investigation into Senator Sutton's death had yielded little results, but Katherine distinctly remembered that Cox found the entire thing to be suspicious, as if there was one giant piece to the puzzle that they were missing, and that mystery piece would connect all of the other deaths. Most people wouldn't have thought twice about a drunk lying dead in an alley, but Katherine knew there had to be something more, and Raymond's mysterious attitude hadn't helped to tamp down her enthusiasm for finding out who was behind everything. Although the older agent had been her partner and mentor for quite some time, sometimes, it was easiest for a person to follow their gut—and Katherine's intuition was telling her that they were close to something big.

    After leaving the crime scene, Katherine returned to the field office. Out of all the things she had witnessed in her career thus far, gruesome murders, human trafficking, the bloated corpse of a drug dealer who had washed up in the Mangroves down in Florida, behind a desk was Katherine's least favorite place to be. Paper work existed to keep things and people in order, systems to look back on and Raymond had always stressed the importance of creating neat reports, leaving something useful behind for the guy that came in afterward, but Katherine loathed everything about writing them. Adding onto the case file was somewhat easier, but the process was always slow going for the redhead.

    For the next few hours, Katherine worked as hard as her constantly thinking mind possibly could. Every so often, she would get up from her desk and get something to drink, or stop to chat with a co-worker about whatever exciting case they were closing in on. After lunch, she switched gears and found herself re-reading the notes on the Sutton case, along with a few of the other victims that may as well have been cold cases. She took new notes, new things to look into and although she didn't wish to bother the families again, dredge up the past and make them relive the loss of their loved one, getting to the bottom of things was imperative. Any normal person would have wanted closure, and Katherine intended to give it to them.

    When her cell phone rang at close to five-PM, Katherine expected it to be Cox. She reached for the device without looking, and gave her standard greeting.

    ”Are you coming home for dinner?”

    Dinner? Katherine hadn't even noticed that it was that time of day, but one thing she certainly did notice was that Cox had yet to return, and he hadn't checked in since they had parted ways at the crime scene. “Uh...” Katherine stalled to Ana, her mind in a million different places. “I don't think so? I'm sorry.”

    “Of course,” Ana sighed.

    The other woman sounded so angry lately, and it was hard for Katherine to be sympathetic when she was always complaining. When the two women had first met, Ana never seemed to have a problem with the job, and the long hours were just something to be accepted. Now, if Katherine wasn't home at five, or six, or even seven o'clock, there was trouble. “We're just in the middle of something,” she explained, but another sigh from Ana said that she wasn't hearing it. Katherine leaned back in her chair and frustratedly put her hand hand over her eyes. “I don't have time to fight with you right now.”

    From the corner of the office, through the frosted glass window, Katherine could see a figure approaching. The distorted image was thin and short, her dark hair done up in a ponytail—definitely not Cox, not even undercover. The secretary poked her head into the room after knocking quickly on the door.

    “There's another agent here to see Cox. I can't find him,” she whispered as Ana continued on some tirade that Katherine hadn't even attempted to pay attention to.

    Holding the phone away from her face, Katherine's actions were on auto-pilot. “I'll see him, and I'll see about getting Cox back here too.” The secretary nodded and was quick to leave the room. Katherine swallowed whatever sigh threatened to escape her lips as she interrupted the woman on the phone. “I have to go. You can fight with me later, okay?” Hanging up was the best option, even if Katherine didn't have another agent to think about. For a moment, she wondered if Cox had called someone in to replace her, if that was why he was acting so strange. Katherine's office work had always been a little on the lackadaisical side, but she didn't think it was enough to warrant a replacement.

    Regardless, Katherine swallowed that stress as well and stood from her desk. She straightened up her pants suit, pulling out the creases but didn't bother to slide on the jacket that had been removed the moment she had sat down in the late morning. Soon enough, she was face to face with the other agent. He was a tall man, handsome in a classic sort of way, and if he was there to steal the case from her, Katherine thought she might snap.

    “Sorry Cox isn't here to see you right now,” she apologized and came out from behind the desk to shake the man's hand. “I'm his partner, Collins. Is there something I can help you with?” She hoped that it would be something simple, easy, but Katherine had a feeling that it was anything but.
  7. This was the last place Cole wanted to be. The Philadelphia FBI Branch seemed to contain no one but the no-nonsense, by-the-book type of person that was so common in government work. It was almost enough to make him antsy.

    When he had first started Collecting, back when it had seemed as though the world was infinite stretches of land that would never come to an end, Cole's job had been easy. He would never have called it that then, but as he looked back on it he knew that the only true difficulty had arisen from his own ignorant inexperience. Back then, no one had bothered to keep track of the bodies. No one had needed to know exactly what caused people to die, and it was simply considered the hand of God or a sudden imbalance of the humors when a person who appeared healthy died without warning. Beyond that, there had been no one who would bother to be on the look out for him. No one cared about a few dead bodies in a village unless they were royalty, and even then there was no need to orchestrate a manhunt unless there were obvious signs of murder.

    Nowadays, when everyone seemed to keep track of everyone else, and changing his identity took so much more effort than simply calling himself something else, Cole had been forced to adapt. He still left a massive trail of bodies, but very few were ever investigated. Most people were willing to accept that someone had simply died, without need for a full inquiry. Oftentimes he used the victims' own alcoholic stupor or drug-addled high to cover his tracks. Even though even a decent coroner could find that wasn't true, few bothered to conduct that kind of investigation. It wasn't worth the paperwork. And, when they did, there was no way to find all the victims, let alone connect them.

    All the same, Cole was wary of the police, and was even more wary of the FBI. If he was not careful they could make his job hell. They couldn't stop him, but by god could they make it difficult and irritating. His fear was that they would make it just difficult enough that he would fail in collecting one victim. One was all it would take, and then the Keeper would find a new Collector.

    That was why he still felt a faint tremor pass through him just before he walked up to Agent Collins. He had checked and double checked everything about himself, from appearance to outfit to badge, and he knew every piece would pass the most careful of examinations. No one would think him an imposter. All the same, he wished he wasn't here.

    Not that he had much choice. Cole had done everything short of calling on the full extent of the Keeper's power to try and find Cox. At first the Collector had been sure that a mere trace of power to track the man would be enough, but there were simply so many people that there was no way he had been able to single out one man. He had widened his search, but by that point there would have been so many roads, streets, footpaths, shortcuts, and alleys that finding a trace of the Agent would have been nothing more than dumb luck. It was obvious that Cox had been planning this for quite a while, and he had taken every conceivable precaution against a supernatural power the man could not guess at, and had, in all honesty, probably overestimated.

    When it had become obvious that Cole was not going to be able to find Cox on his own, he had called to the Keeper, asking for the location of the contract. Even though he immediately teleported to the spot, ripping a faint gossamer portal through the empty air, he had still not found Cox. When his searches once more failed Cole had called again. There had been no answer. Cole had used up all his chances, and now it was on him to find Cox before the next morning, or fail in his duty and pay the ultimate cost.

    Eventually, late in the afternoon, Cole had been forced to admit there was no way he was going to find Raymond on his own. At first he had considered going to the man's wife, as the one he had given up his soul for Cole had reasoned she would be the one he was most likely to return for. However, on his way there he had begun to think about why Cox had actually ran.

    There was a quiet threat at the signing of each contract, a threat about what exactly it would mean to run. No person would attempt that lightly, especially not when they had given up their soul for love. If Cox's only goal had been to escape, whatever the consequences to his wife, the man would never have been waiting on that bench. Cole thought back, remembering the conversation, the odd question, and the investigation. Eventually Cole had come to the conclusion that Cox's choice to run had something to do with that investigation. There was nothing else it could be.

    So, here he was, standing before Cox's partner and desperately hoping that he had made the right choice.

    "Agent Collins, right? My name is Agent Cole Rowe. I've been ordered to deliver some potentially imperative information to Agent Cox. Can you please tell me where to find him?" Cole was worried that he might have been a bit brusque, he had no desire to alienate the female agent, but the sun was also starting to set outside. He had just over 12 hours to find Raymond, and he had no time to try and play at politics. Hopefully she would understand.
  8. Out of all of the people who had filtered in and out of Katherine's life for the last ten years, Raymond Cox had been the most constant. They had been through an incredible amount of cases together and had cultivated a closeness that most people could only dream about. For Katherine, who had never known much of her father, Raymond was someone that she could look to when she needed help. He was more than a partner to her, he was a friend, and that was why his sudden disappearance was so concerning. While it wasn't unheard of for the two of them to go their separate ways on a case or two, just to cover more ground, there had never been secrets. The redhead continued to think back to that morning, how eager Cox seemed to get out of the alley and out on his own. Wherever he was, she hoped that he was okay.

    For now, there was the new agent to deal with. Her previous paranoid thoughts were fleeting, and Katherine had quickly decided that Cox wasn't trying to replace her. They had been too solid of a team for him to take issue with her overnight. So, whatever Rowe needed, it had to be something else—either a case, or the offer to join a task force—that was a rumor that had been floating around the department for quite some time; something that Cox probably would have excelled at.

    “Have a seat,” Katherine politely offered and gestured to a seat of chairs that were positioned in front of her desk. She moved back around to the opposite side after shaking hands with Cole and waited for him to speak. His vagueness, or rather, his reluctance to include her wasn't a good sign and although Katherine wasn't one for office politics, she was rather determined to find out what was going on behind her back. It was unfortunate for Cole that Katherine could be something of a royal pain in the ass when it was necessary.

    The smile that Katherine wore was measured, and she reached for a pen from the Flyers mug at the corner of her desk, ready to take down whatever information Rowe felt like giving up. “He's out right now,” she explained for Cox, “that's why you're here with me.” Moving the keyboard off of the yellow legal pad that she kept for messages, Katherine wrote the date and time next to the agent's name in tight cursive. “What's this imperative information about?” she asked, looking up to meet his eyes. Her tone was casual enough, but Katherine didn't think that Cole wouldn't know what she was trying to do.

    There were several cases that she and Cox had open, and Cole could have had information about any of them—not just the most recent and baffling one that had eaten up most of their time. Katherine glanced away from the man sitting across from her, and her eyes fell to the door. There was a part of her that expected Cox to burst in and take over, or kick the third agent out of her office so that they could discuss whatever he had been up to for most of the day. It was wishful thinking, and completely unrealistic, and Katherine felt ridiculous for being so worried.

    “Who sent you, by the way?” she followed up her question with another, still casual but expectant.

    (( I kept it on the shorter side because it's just conversation. Let me know if you'd like me to add! ))
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  9. Cole had known that there was no way that Cox's partner would simply accept his request and point him in the direction of the older agent as best as she was able. For that reason, at Agent Collins's questions, he simply put on a smile that was the perfect mirror of her own. He had his answer well prepared.
    "I'm sorry, but I'm not in a position to tell you any of that. I was given very strict orders to give this information directly to Agent Cox." He gave a measured shrug. "If it ever got back to the wrong ears that I had broken these instructions, even on something relatively minor, if probably end up buried under paperwork for the rest of my career."

    There was a moment of silence, and Cole knew that wasn't going to be enough. He could practically feel the patient doggedness radiating off of the woman, and taste her determination to know what exactly Cole's "information" was. He was going to have to do something else.
    An unexpectedly mischievous, and surprisingly honest, smile split his face. "Of course," he said softly, almost as though letting Katherine in on a secret, "they never said I couldn't tell someone else when I was telling Cox. Help me find him, and I'll be more than willing to tell the both of you my information."

    He hoped this would be enough. If it wasn't he would fall back on his power, but he was starting to feel the power draining away within him. Changing someone's mind, even temporarily, was a a time consuming effort that took a great deal of power, and he wanted to save what was left for the hunt for Raymond.
  10. Paperwork was any agency's number one enemy, and a bureaucrat's best friend. Katherine could easily sympathize with the agent sitting across from her, and the threat of mounds of never-ending paperwork would have been enough to keep her in line as well. Regardless, the redhead wasn't about to stop prying, especially when this (allegedly) sensitive and important information had something to do with Cox. The older man was still missing, and the more minutes that ticked by off the clock, the more concerned Katherine became. Although she didn't show it in front of Cole, she had half a mind to cut the meeting short, let him sit and wait in the lobby and go and find Cox herself.

    However, before the red-haired woman could make up her mind, Cole offered her a loophole, something that was the best of both worlds. She could find Cox, and then they could both hear whatever intel the male agent had. For a moment, Katherine let her blue eyes settle on him and took a few extra seconds to try and poke holes in this latest plan. She found it rather odd that he was reluctant to let her pass on the information, but eavesdropping was completely fine. Perhaps it was Cox's absence that had Katherine agreeing, the sudden drive to find her possibly-missing partner before it got too dark outside and the streets of Philadelphia became even more mean.

    “There's a few places I can think of,” Katherine said before standing to get her coat. “If we can't find him, then I don't know what to tell you.” Cole would just have to give her the information, or write it down so that it could be passed on whatever Cox showed up. Katherine really did feel uneasy about everything, but she masked her emotions as she lead the other agent out of her office and the building. Her car was parked close by and Katherine unlocked the doors from a distance with the press of a button.

    Getting into the driver's seat, Katherine waited for Cole to get situated before pulling out of the parking lot. “Sometimes he likes to go to this one park when he needs a quiet place to think,” she explained. As she drove, there was a silence between them, but the redhead was quick to break it. “You never told me where you were from,” she mentioned, much more conversational than prying this time around.
  11. Cole followed along silently, slipping into the passenger seat without a word. He was pleased that the agent had been willing to accept his fictitious middle ground, as fighting against her would have consumed precious resources that he had neither the time nor the energy to give. The minutes were driftig away with the wind, and the tension inside Cole was slowly building. After over 600 years of life, the few hours he had remaining seemed like such a short amount of time. How was he ever going to accomplish it?

    No. People had run before, they would run again in the future, and Cole would still be around to catch them. He was not going to let a middle-aged man get the better of him. Not after so long. He would take whatever this agent had to offer, and if that didn't work he would fall back on his last resort. He would also be more careful, more observant in the future. That was all he could do.

    The car was government issue, a smooth, low, black sedan with comfortable seats and a clean floor, although he figured the last piece said more about Agent Collins than it did about the car. She moved out of the parking lot and through the narrow turns to the main street with the ease of long familiarity. Cole remained silent, watching the street roll by his window. It had been a long time since he had driven a car, not having one to his name, or the required license to do it legally. He might have to do that again soon, if simply so that the busy streets would not overwhelm him should the need arrive. Agent Collins certainly seemed comfortable driving through the inner-city traffic, and Cole didn't bother to ask where they were going. He was sure he would find out soon enough anyways. Sure enough, shortly after she left the parking lot, Agent Collins spoke.

    He offered a nod of agreement to her comment about the park. Cole, of course, knew exactly which park the agent was referring to, although he would not be able to tell her that her hunch was right on the mark. All the same, her guess was the first good thing to happen to him since Cox had run. It gave him a bit of confidence that she might know the man well enough to actually find him before the contract ran out.

    Her follow up question was, unfortunately, nowhere near so reassuring. Cole hadn't thought too much about his cover, other than to build a badge that would pass inspection. He was almost certain that his badge would have his office listed on it. He wished he could look. What would happen if he got it wrong? Desperately Cole thought back, trying to remember the badge he had created. What was it?

    "I'm from the Wilmington office, just downriver in Delaware." Yes, that sounded right. Wilmington was downriver from both Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, and bodies washed up on the shore with almost alarming frequency. As they came from other states, the FBI were the ones who ultimately got involved. It was very reasonable that an agent from that office might have information pertinent to someone from Philadelphia.

    What Cole really wanted to do at this moment was dredge Collins for details on the case. Maybe if he understood it a little better, he would also be able to understand why Cox would have taken such a huge risk to escape from him. However, Agent Rowe was supposed to already have this information, at least in basics. Perhaps if he was subtle about it, he might be able to get some information from her while they drove and looked for parking.

    "How are your cases going?"
  12. Between growing up in the city and working on the streets, the layout of Philadelphia was incredibly familiar and easy for Katherine to navigate. She knew all of the shortcuts, all of the easiest ways to get from point A to point B, and the ever-important facts on which neighborhoods to stay out of after the streetlights came on. This was hardly the first time that she had been out after dark and searching for someone, but it was the first time that she was looking for another agent, and her partner. The redhead remained appropriately worried about finding Cox, but she didn't let it show on her face or cloud her judgment as she drove. After all, Katherine still wanted to find out what agent Rowe's crucial information was, and whether or not it pertained to one very active case in particular.

    Now that the man in the passenger seat had decided to answer some of questions, Katherine felt more at ease. She made a mental note to put a call into Wilmington and get a little more background on Cole when she had the chance—for now, it was low priority. “I bet you get a lot of interesting cases with the river right there,” she mentioned, still trying to be conversational and polite as she continued to drive.

    When asked about her own cases, Katherine laughed lightly. “Slowly,” she said. There were several that had become almost entirely stalled, and that was through no fault of her own or Cox's, it was just the system doing what it did best. “Red tape, you know how it is.” With her mind being in several different places, Katherine hadn't thought that Cole had been asking for specifics about her work; she thought he was just trying to be friendly and make their ride go a little more smoothly.

    The park wasn't far off, and Katherine even took a detour to pass by the crime scene that had kicked off her day that morning. Sometimes, Cox liked to go back and stand around, look for anything he'd missed. The alley was empty although the yellow crime tape was still up, there was no sign of Cox. Cursing under her breath, the agent drove on, toward the park just to pass by. In the pit of her stomach, Katherine felt like driving around would prove to be useless, just more wasted time and her worry intensified. She had never had anyone in her life go missing before, not even a pet. “It doesn't look like he's here,” Katherine said as they drove by the park's chain-link fence. Inside and under a few of the remaining lamps, there was a gaggle of kids sitting on one of the benches while a few others attempted to break the swing set. Bored kids were hardly a concern.

    Braking, Katherine looked to Cole. “There's another place I can think of, but...” she shook her head, thinking that too would be fruitless. Reaching for her cell phone, she quickly brought up Cox's number and dialed in a quick call to his phone. If she could hear his voice, that would ease her mind. Waiting, the line only rang once before it went straight to voicemail, and Katherine nearly broke the skin on her bottom lip when she heard the prompt to leave a message. Now rather frustrated, she left her phone to rest in the unoccupied cup holder.

    We can swing by the other place on the way back to the office,” she mentioned, mostly thinking out loud. What was the point of working for the government if she couldn't get the government to work for her when she needed it? There were all kinds of techs back at the agency, people who could help them. “You sure you can't tell me what this is about?” she asked, trying just one last time before pulling back onto the street.
  13. As was his wont Cole kept one eye glued on everything that was passing by outside the car, but the other one was on Agent Collins. He knew the chances of them finding his target simply by looking for him on the streets was slim, and he doubted that the young woman had any more hope for its success than him, but they both persisted, driven on by the same hope.

    It was when they drove by a very familiar looking alley covered in yellow tape, situated right next to a bar that he had spent a whole evening in, that Cole began to think there might have been more validity to Raymond’s actions than he had given the man credit for. He knew there was no way that the bodies he left scattered about could be traced back to him, but the FBI were indeed looking into the contracts. But why had that caused Cox to flee? Was he trying to alert someone to the truth? No. There was no way that could be the answer. Cox would have known, or at least had his suspicions, from the moment the first body had been drawn to his attention. He knew the cost of the contract, and how it was paid. Had he tried to tell anyone, though, even hinted at the truth to someone who did not already know, his contract would have been rendered completely null, and his life would have been stolen from him. There was no way the Keeper would allow someone trying to reveal the truth to live. No, if that is what the man was trying to do, Cole would already have his soul in his mouth. So what on earth could he possibly be trying to do?

    This whole situation made no sense. Returning to the park didn’t help illuminate matters. Cole and Collins both had to know that driving around wasn’t going to work. What could he do? What would help the most?

    He had to find some way to let Collins know that Cox had undoubtedly been at the park. That was a truth that he would have no way of knowing, but having her know it. He eyed the bench carefully, still allowing his eyes to roam across the park so that the Agent would not think he was looking too specifically at any one location. Cole did not want to have to create something that was not there, as that was more draining than almost any form of magic, and he still had the whole evening, but if he had to, he would. He was running out of time, and they were about to leave the park.

    No, it looked like he might be in luck. There was a small key resting near the bench, right near where Cox had run into the woman and the baby stroller. It was dull, looking as though it had been used for nearly a decade, and had landed in a small crack right near the foot of the bench, which was probably why no one had picked it up. But would the Agent recognize her partner’s key? There was only one way to find out.

    With a small tendril of power, just as the car was about to leave, a reflection of light caught on Katherine’s eye. Would that be enough to get her to stop again?
  14. Before Cole answered anymore more of her repeated, probing questions, a glint of light caught Katherine's eyes. By some kind of divine convenience, the angle of the car pulling back out onto the narrow streets aligned perfectly with one of the few working streetlights on the block, and shined brightly on something lying beneath the seat of the park bench. Again, Katherine braked and stared toward the park, her blue eyes fixed on the bright reflection that continued to call to her, wordlessly glistening and waiting to be picked up. For reasons that Katherine didn't comprehend, an overwhelming sense of intuition came over her, a hunch that said the glistening object lying in the grass had something to do with Cox and his currently missing state.

    Hold on,” the redhead said, not bothering to pull back into the spot that the black sedan had just vacated. Leaving the car to sit in the middle of the street, rudely blocking traffic, Katherine got out and half-jogged her way into the park. The teenagers that were over on the playground took interest and called to her, their voices mere annoyances as she approached the vacant bench. Dropping down, Katherine was quick to grasp the key and she held the dulled silver up to the dim light. She squinted at it slightly, turning it over in her hand a few times as she finally recognized the semi-familiar object. On occasion, Katherine had pressured Cox to get a new key for his house, that the ridges were thin and worn down—she was often surprised that he was still able to get through his own door.

    Closing her fingers around the silver key, Katherine took a deep breath. Her intuition had been correct, and Cox was at this park sometime during the last ten hours. That was a lot of ground to cover, one hell of a head start, but now that there was a starting point; they had something to work with.

    Before turning to go back to the car, the teenagers on the swingset with their cigarettes and bad attitudes called to her once more. Katherine turned to face them, one hand on her hip and the closed fist with the key inside left to dangle. She wasn't sure how long they had been there, but asking was worth a shot. “Have any of you seen a man? On the short side, grey hair? Dressed in a suit and a tan coat?”

    Nah, not really,” one of the boys called back. “He your husband?”

    Shaking her head, Katherine thanked the kids for their time and left them to their destruction of public property. After jogging back to the car, Katherine slid into the driver's side and turned to Cole. “I found his house key,” she said and held it up for the other agent to see. “He must have dropped it, but he was here.” Although, the redhead wasn't sure how the key had gotten loose, but stranger things had happened. The logic that she was always so meticulous about was currently taking a backseat because one of their own was missing, a man who had become so close to Katherine and she wasn't willing to overlook coincidences that could possibly point them in the right direction.

    The other location wasn't going to give them anything, and Katherine already knew that. Deciding to skip the detour, she drove back toward the office and explained her latest plan of action to Cole as they went. As someone who was also an agent, the redhead doubted that he needed a play-by-play of how investigations worked but she knew how frustrating it was to go along with another office's rules and regulations.

    They made it back in record time thanks to shortcuts and minimal traffic lights, and Katherine lead the way back inside. At this time of night, most of the techs were busy or gone, but there was bound to be a few still lingering. After giving the location of the park and working back from the morning, both Katherine and agent Rowe were seated, looking over grainy video footage. “You want a coffee or something?” she asked, looking over to the man beside her. Just then, the image of Cox appeared on the screen and Katherine perked up.
  15. Agent Collin's plan was simple and to the point, and also happened to be exactly what Cole needed her to do. Now that she had proof that Cox had been in this park, she would be able to start a search that only the modern day world would provide. No need to try and track him through this concrete jungle on foot, they would be able to head back to the FBI building, and get the massive database of cameras that covered the city, and track him that way. It would be slow and hard, there were more cameras in this city than Cole could believe, but it was his only option left. He would have to put his faith in the skill of the FBI, Keeper help him.

    Cole was not particularly worried about being spotted anywhere near or around the missing agent. Even without him using his ability, cameras of all kind seemed to have some sort of aversion to him. Perhaps it was from whatever power kept him alive despite the press of the years, perhaps it was some direct interference from the Keeper, but, whatever it was, there was no photo, video, or painting anywhere in the world. It was a blessing, although he had not come to fully appreciate it until the last twenty years, but now he gave silent thanks to the Keeper for whatever caused it. It saved him from so much worry and stress.

    Cole clung close to the Agent, trying to look like he was familiar with the process being set up before him, while staying out of the way and never actually doing anything useful. The tech who was pulled in to help them was a middle aged man, slightly overweight and with heavy glasses on his nose. Cole couldn't help but wonder if he'd ruined his eyesight from decades at staring at screens, or if he'd simply been born looking like a geek. All the same, the man was very familiar with his technology, and he had pulled up the cameras almost impossibly fast, starting a slow backwards scroll with the simple service camera that faced the park bench.

    Cole watched the time slowly roll backwards on the camera, and felt anxiety building up within him. There was nothing he could do to speed up the process, not without giving away information he had no desire to let Agent Collins know, and nor could he let his anxiety show. She was already suspicious about why he needed to see Agent Cox, and seeming impatient to find him, beyond what would be normal whenever any agent went missing, would raise far too many questions, and would probably end up taking even longer than if he just sat still and quiet.

    So sit still and quiet he did. He repressed every urge to fidget, complain, or worry, and instead set about calculating how long it would take before they reached the point where Cox had been sitting on the bench, hidden behind a magic shield that did not let anyone see him talking to a man who was not there. He ignored her question about the coffee, instead leaning forward, his eyes focused on the screen in imitation of Katherine. "Is that him?"

    The camera began to move forward again. People rushed by the bench at an impossible speed, and Cox sat, shifting on the seat. Cole knew when he showed up, because the restlessness of the man faded. Stillness was an easier facsimile to create than motion. And then there was that odd moment, where one moment Cox was sitting calmly on the bench, and the next he was crashing into the woman with the stroller who was passing by. At that moment Cole was grateful for the low quality of the film, because it made it impossible to fully see the impossible. The strange jump would be easy to blame on low camera quality.

    For a short, old man who was more used to working behind a desk than chasing criminals out on the street, Cole was once again impressed with exactly how quickly Cox was able to move. He blended in among the throng of people, quickly disappearing from sight.

    "Will you be able to track him?" Cole asked the tech.

    The man was already busy typing away, scrolling through the other cameras in the park. Despite the fact that Cole was the one who asked the question, the tech spoke to Agent Collins. And why wouldn't he? It was her partner that had gone missing. "I'll find him again, Agent. Promise."
  16. Thanks to the modern age and the growing paranoia of the government for its citizens, CCTV cameras were the new normal. Everything about every day life was captured from a man getting coffee on his way to work, to children crossing the street on their way to school and every mundane thing in between. In a way, working for the government had desensitized Katherine and made her believe that a far reach was necessary for stopping crimes. However, a visit down to the techs and hours of scrolling through video feeds always left the redhead a bit uneasy, and the feeling of nervousness that had been sitting heavily in her stomach for most of the day only intensified as the footage from the park came into view. Cox couldn't have gone far—they just needed a starting point.

    The video footage on the monitor was grainy at best, but the shape of a man sitting on a lonely park bench was clearly Raymond Cox. Katherine paused, her blue eyes immediately affixed to the screen in front of her as the tech began to play back the video feed. At first, everything seemed normal and although the redhead didn't often know her partner to take a quiet walk by himself, there wasn't anything overly suspicious about it. Sometimes, people just needed a break. She continued to watch as she stirred in a third packet of sugar to coffee—a pick-me-up that Rowe had passed on. Obviously, he didn't understand what a long night this could be.

    Yeah, that's him,” Katherine confirmed before taking the first of many warm sips from the sturdy paper cup in her hand. The footage continued to scroll by, playing back the usual park activities while Cox just sat there and fidgeted every couple of minutes. At first, their big break was starting to look like nothing but the sudden movement of the older agent had Katherine's eyes widening in surprise. She stilled as Cox jumped from the bench, startled by absolutely nothing before taking off in one incredibly athletic sprint. Fast was hardly a word that Katherine would have used to describe her partner before today.

    Losing and regaining sight of a suspect wasn't something that Katherine was unfamiliar with, but this was the first time that a case had gotten so personal for her. It took the woman a moment to get her head back in the game, but Cole's question to the middle-aged tech had her looking to him for answers as well. The technology that the FBI had was incredible, and Katherine had no doubts that Cox would soon be showing up on more footage, scurrying frantically away from some unknown threat—that was the real question now, and logic wasn't offering up any explanation to the man's odd behavior.

    As the tech directed his response to her and not Cole, Katherine gave a nod. “I know,” she replied before taking another drink from the cup in her hand.

    The next several minutes felt long and drawn out and Katherine's eyes continued to dart around the monitors, looking at nothing from empty streets to people hurrying down the sidewalk, but the video contained no sign of Cox. It wasn't until he appeared again did the redhead breathe a quiet sigh of relief, and the tech was soon back to following his movements. The different angles from the cameras offered new views; the look of anxiety on the older man's face, the way he continued to look over his shoulder and his hurried paces as he crossed from street to street. In the middle, there was a moment where Cox disappeared down an alley but the tech found him again and he was headed toward the water.

    Is this it?” Katherine asked after watching little more than an hour from Cox's rather strange day. There was little that cameras could pick up by the marina once a person went down to the boat docks and after the agent had slipped from view once more, Katherine had a sinking feeling that he wasn't going to come back into the frame. Whatever he was running from, it must have been bad and Katherine almost felt betrayed over the fact that her partner hadn't come to her first—she was always there to help.

    Looking up from the screens, the tech with the thick glasses gave a solemn nod. “I'm afraid so,” he said and pushed the rims up from the tip of his nose. “There are private cameras there—we could ask for their footage.”

    Somehow, Katherine didn't think that there was going to be time for that. “Keep looking—if you see anything else, give me a call,” she said and then looked to the new agent and motioned for him to follow along.

    Several traffic laws had been violated and trampled over, but Katherine and Cole made it down to the marina in record time. Stepping out of the car, the agent gave a look around for anything suspicious and oddly enough, something that may have indicated any recent cement shoes. Although Raymond was a straight-laced and clean cut guy, the truth about a person never came out until they were in trouble. “He has to be here somewhere,” she said and started for the long ramp of wooden stairs.
  17. The later into the evening it got, the harder it became for Cole to sit still. In the end he forced himself to remain sedentary through sheer force of will. What took an even greater amount of effort was keeping himself from glancing at the clock every five seconds. He could feel his time slipping away from him as though it was a physical thing inside his person, the more that flowed out of him the more empty and deflated he became. Even the signs on the computer that were a verifiable method of showing they were making progress towards his location wasn't enough to calm him down. No one else was on a deadline, despite Agent Collin's obvious anxiety about the fate of her partner. What difference would it really make to her if they found Cox before or after 6:23 AM? To Cole it was life and death.

    All the same, when the tech person was no longer able to track Cox past the marina Cole nearly reached out to grab Agent Collins and bring her to a halt. Where they sure that was where he was? What made her so sure? What would they do if they were wrong? How long would it take to get there? Even if he was there before, would he still be there now? A hundred different questions raced through him, each one feeling more urgent than the last. It was nearly 3 in the morning, and if he wasn't there Cole wouldn't get another chance. All his years of careful self-control seemed to be shedding off him like water. For the first time in hundreds of years, he felt like he was back on his first collection. It was a feeling he had never wanted to experience again. Now he could remember why.

    What would the Keeper of Souls do if he failed? This was a question that had haunted him for 600 years worth of collections. He had always known he was on his second and only chance. If he messed up, it would be like he had never been a collector at all. The Keeper would rip his soul from him and devour it. But after 600 years of not a single mistake, hadn't he earned one favor? One chance to mess up? He couldn't bet his life on it.

    In the end he didn't try to stop her, although he did double check with the tech agent (who was clearly exhausted at the unexpected late night) whether or not he was certain that there was no sign of Cox leaving the area around the marina. The tech shot him a dirty look that was all the answer Cole needed.

    Once Agent Collins parked the vehicle after a drive that made Cole rethink his desire to learn how to handle a car, he sent out an incredibly fine wave of power, looking for any human life in the surrounding area. The first wave brought him nothing. The second was no better, even though it went further out. How could he possibly get the Agent to give up on her search before it had even begun? However, with the third wave came a relief so staggering it nearly brought him to his knees. There was someone in a warehouse, nearly five blocks down from where they were currently parked. Normally Cole wouldn't be able to tell who it was without using more power, but he always knew the soul he was supposed to be collecting. There was no mistaking it. It was due.

    But the Agent was walking in the complete opposite direction, and clearly intended him to follow. Where was she going? They hadn't really been able to tell where Cox had went once he entered into the surrounding area. What made her think he was there when he wasn't?

    With Cox so close, Cole threw caution to the wind. "Where are you going? We don't really know where he is in here. I'm guessing you have some destination in mind, but wouldn't it make more sense for us to split up? Cover more ground?"
  18. Had Katherine been less focused on the task at hand, finding Cox and getting to the bottom of whatever the hell he was involved in, maybe she would have noticed the gradually increasing discomfort of Agent Rowe. The truth was that she was hardly paying attention to the other man, and merely continued to tote him around because he had some kind of important, sensitive information for Raymond. The later it got, Katherine found that she no longer cared to find out what it was, or why she wasn't permitted to know—all she wanted to do was find Cox and make sure that he stayed safe. The thought of losing him, of not having that grumpy old man in her life was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes.

    Fortunately, there was no time for crying and when Katherine needed to focus on something, it was easy for her to get her thoughts gathered. At three in the morning, the marina was almost eerily silent, save for the soft sound of water gently lapping at the docks and the boats parked below, but Katherine didn't let that bother her. She had seen worse things in her life and a few bumps in the night weren't going to deter her from finding her partner. Selfishly, and without really thinking about what Cole was going to do, the redhead walked ahead and only stopped when the other agent called out to her with new ideas about splitting up.

    Cox has a boat down here,” Katherine revealed, her form half obscured by a shadow as he looked at up at Cole. “I'm going to check it out. If you want to look around the rest of the area, be my guest.” She didn't need to wait for him, not when she had already convinced herself that Cox was hiding out in the vessel that he'd named after his wife. On top of that, she just wanted a minute alone with her partner, a chance to put the chaos of the day behind them and possibly find out what had him running scared enough to disappear. If he was involved with something illegal, she wanted to be the first to know. After all, agents looked out for one another and it was easier to fix something from the inside than let the higher ups conduct their own investigation.

    Holding the other man's gaze for a moment, Katherine spoke again. “We'll meet back here by the car in fifteen, alright?” That seemed like enough to find the boat and check out the scene while giving Cole a bit of busy work to make himself feel useful. If only Katherine knew the sinister truth, she wouldn't have been so eager to part ways and let the new agent get his claws into her partner.

    After the agreement was quickly made, Katherine set off and began her walk along the weathered wooden planks. Although she had only been to the marina once or twice with Cox, she vaguely remembered where his boat was but knew that she would recognize it once she saw it. Walking along, the silence became that much more apparent and each splash of a fish in the distance, or a particularly loud smack of a wave against the dock caught her attention. The pathway was somewhat lighted from the street, her luck ran short as a turn took her deeper into the harbor and away from the soft glow of the streetlights. Still, Katherine could see fairly well, her eyes adjusted to the dark as she moved along at a purposeful pace and checked the names of each boat that she passed.

    Finally, after nearly coming to the end of the dock, Katherine found the boat. She wasted little time in stepping on board, but a sinking feeling in her stomach said that Cox wasn't there and the boat itself showed no signs of a recent presence. Still, she called out to him anyway and when her words failed to receive any kind of response, she dug a little deeper. There was a small compartment meant for storage near the wheel and although Katherine already knew that she wasn't going to find Raymond hiding out in there, looking wouldn't hurt. The redhead crouched down and opened up the latch, instantly wishing that she'd brought a flashlight with her but the only thing she saw were life jackets some fishing equipment and what looked to be a tackle or tool box. She reached for it.
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  19. "Alright," Cole agreed quickly, and before the sound of Agent Collin's footsteps heading off down the wooden plank had ended Cole was moving off in the opposite direction. As soon as he was certain that the agent would no longer be able to track his movements Cole veered to the side, heading for the warehouse Cox was occupying. At first Cole had considered teleporting directly to the warehouse, but a little bit of reasoned thought had told him that Cox wouldn't be moving any time soon. He had, after all, been waiting here for several hours.

    Why had he done that? Had the man thought Cole wouldn't find him here? In all honesty, it had taken him much longer than he would have liked, but this whole situation seemed more than a bit odd to him. If the man had a boat, why hadn't he just gone out to sea? There was no chance Cole would have been able to track him down, and it would have guaranteed the man his life, even if it would have been at the cost of his wife's. None of it made sense. Cole's pace unconsciously sped up. He was only two more blocks away from his answers.

    He found Cox sitting on a stack of wooden pallets, wire tight and looking as though he had swallowed a gallon of caffeine. The agent seemed to have lost fifteen pounds in the past few hours, as his face was drawn and tight. Cole stepped out of the shadows, his face calm even as every instinct in him urged him to lunge for the man and take his soul before he had a chance to run again and Cole lost this opportunity.

    "There you are," Cox said, some fo the tension seeming to ease from his shoulders. "What took you so long?"

    This was not the reaction Cole had been expecting. He tried not to let it show. "You know, I nearly claimed the forfeit price when you ran like that," Cole said, almost cheerfully. The Agent blanched. Cole had been right. There was no way this man would have forfeited his wife's soul in place of his own. But why had he run. "Instead I had to get your partner, Agent Collins, to help out in tracking you down."

    "Yes, I know, I'm sorry. I just had to..." Cole's statement finally seemed to register, and his face went, if possible, even paler. "You did what?!"

    Now Cole let out a short, sharp glower. "In case you've forgotten, you are the one who ran."

    "I thought you'd be able to find me easily. I just needed a bit of time to finish preparations."

    "Preparations for what? Besides, I had to think of some repercussion for you fleeing. Your partner seemed like an adequate choice."

    "This is no punishment for me, Collector, but for you. Katherine is one of the best field agents I've ever seen, and she isn't going to let this go easily. I ran to set up a scenario that might satisfy her instinct to pursue the case we were working on, the case involving you. This might have gotten her off of it permanently, but with you showing up at just this moment, asking questions, and then disappearing, it is going to raise a whole new set of questions. You'd better have covered your tracks well, or she'll be on your track once more, and this time closer than ever."

    Cole didn't let on that Cox's words had any impact on him, although they did. He couldn't help but wonder if Cox was right, and he had made a mistake involving Agent Collins. All the same, covering his tracks would take less energy than having to use his power to search every block of this city for him. It would be over soon enough. "I don't think it is my life you should be worrying about, Raymond."

    "No," Cox replied with a sigh. "I suppose not."

    Cole glanced around at the near-empty warehouse. It looked as though it had been owned by a profitable shipping company fifteen years ago, or so, but had since fallen into disrepair. "So long as we are here, we've got a bit of time. The longer you talk the longer you live, so you might as well tell me what you've done here."

    Cox, too, looked around. "I set up a... scenario, which will trigger upon my death. It will give the FBI agents a suspect, who will be deceased and therefore not able to protest, as well as a method, non-repeatable, for how he could have poisoned the senator. I've been working on this since the case started, and I began to suspect that you were the one causing these deaths. There's a lot of nuanced detail that probably wouldn't make much sense if you weren't a law enforcement agent but, rest assured, all the details will add up. The case will be closed, and you will be free to go back to your job without interruption.

    "And, not that I'm trying to tell you how to do your job, but maybe you should dispose of the bodies a bit better in the future? At least if their death might draw some attention." Cox offered a weak smile.

    "I'll keep that in mind. Anything in particular you'd like me to do for you?"

    "I've... got that covered."

    "You do, do you?"


    The silence began to stretch.

    "Nothing else to say?" Cole finally asked, one eyebrow lifting up. "You're ready to go?"

    "I don't think anyone's ever ready to die, Collector. A concept I'm sure you aren't familiar with." If only he knew how wrong he was, and how much this single man had put the fear of death into the Collector. "But I've made my peace. A few more minutes isn't going to make any difference."

    "As you wish." Cole replied. He sat down next to Cox, and rested one hand on his shoulder. Gently, his other hand slipped into the man's back, and emerged with a bright, glowing soul slipping from between his fingers. Cox let out a faint smile before he began to slip sideways, and words began to form on his lips. 'Payback'.

    There was a faint click. Cole's eyes went wide.

    He had been so absorbed in getting Cox that he hadn't even noticed what was in the rest of the storage unit. There was an unconscious man hidden behind another platform, who was just starting to wake up. Beakers and chemicals were perched on a table, and behind that was a pool of dripping chemicals . There were sparks going off near the chemicals, and a switch in Cox's hand, which had been released when the man died. In an instant fire was lit, and there was a concussive wave. Cole only just had time to shove Cox's soul into himself and throw up a desperate barrier before he was hurled out of the building on the blast of a giant explosion.

    A scenario had indeed triggered.

  20. It was difficult to see much of anything in the dark, and Katherine found herself squinting at almost everything she removed from the tackle box. Most of the paper that had been stuffed into the compartments were just receipts, insignificant in every way as she quickly looked through them and moved onto something else. The other contents were related to fishing, brightly colored and differently textured lures, some spare fishing line, tools for getting fish off of hooks, chemicals for cleaning, but nothing that really stood out. Sometimes, the redhead had to take things for what they were, and although she'd originally thought that Cox's boat would give her all of the answers she could ever want, it was time to face facts—she had been wrong. Breathing a defeated sigh, Katherine was ready to close the box and move on, go find Agent Rowe and reluctantly move back to square one.

    After putting the box back where it came from, Katherine paused before standing, having felt something underneath her knee. Curiously, the agent moved out the way and felt along the slightly rough surface of the boat's floor before her fingers slid over a small, and very thin key. Grasping it, she held the object up to what little light there was to examine it further. It had deep ridges, and the middle was slightly bent, as if someone had gotten angry and yanked it out of its rightful lock. The rounded top was decorated with some kind of pattern, little circles that formed a border, but there was nothing else about the key that made Katherine think that it meant something.

    Curious, and feeling as though she had all the time in the world, Katherine lifted the key to the engine but the body was too thin to start the boat. Squinting through the darkness, she looked for a missed lock, but found nothing. How the key had gotten onto the floor was something of a mystery—it could have fallen out of the tackle box, or a gull could have dropped it as it flew overhead—the world may never know. It probably didn't have anything to do with Cox's disappearance and just as Katherine was about to put the key back in a safe spot, an earth-shattering boom sounded in the distance.

    The sky around the warehouse five blocks down had lit up like a fireball, the sudden explosion shaking everything from the parking lot to the dock and the few houses and businesses that sat across the street. Gasping, a very delayed reaction to the sudden chaos, Katherine put the key in her pocket and hopped out of the boat. Once she was back on the dock, Katherine ran toward the devastated warehouse, her mind on autopilot as she looked for potential victims staggering away from the blast, or criminals trying to make a break for it. At this hour, there was no one out and that may have been the silver lining because there was no telling how many people could have been hurt if this had happened during the day.

    As she drew closer to the warehouse, her legs burning with the exertion of sprinting for five blocks, Katherine drew her weapon and used her training to secure the immediate area. There was smoke pouring from the shattered windows, a noxious combination of chemicals and smoldering debris filled the air as the flames threatened to engulf the building. Moving with purpose, the redhead checked as much of the perimeter as she could without endangering her own life, and then did her best to peer into the empty windows. Between the flames, and the heavy smoke, Katherine couldn't see anything. "Is anyone in there?" she called and waited for a response, the heat near her face was starting to make her sweat.

    The only answer was a groan from the building, the structure becoming quickly damaged after being rocked by the blast and Katherine knew that she had to move away. If there were any criminals around, they had either gotten away already, or had died in the blast. She ran back toward the safety of the street, unsure of whether or not another explosion was coming, but from the corner of her eye, new movement caught her attention. Agent Rowe was coming toward her from the opposite direction, thankfully untouched and looking a bit shaken up. She was glad to see him, happy to know that agreeing to split up hadn't gotten him killed.

    "Are you okay?" she asked, looking him over before holstering her weapon and reaching for her cell phone. "Did you see what happened?" The fire department needed to be called, and while Katherine was sure that someone had already reported, doing it on her own was a good way to remain in control. The conversation with dispatch was brief but concise and after, Katherine turned back to the building. They could have left, could have gone back to the office with nothing to show for a long night, but knowing the facts of the explosion seemed like a necessity.

    In the distance, Katherine could hear the approach sound of blaring sirens and there wasn't much left to do besides wait.
    #20 neptune, Jul 14, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2015