One Big Happy Family
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
The closet door creaked open, and the other Marcine emerged shaking her head, but not before they glimpsed her wiping her eyes. "Why are you provoking the Denarian?" Without waiting for a response, she folded her arms. “Now, again: What do you need me for?”
“How do you feel about fighting a dragon?” Marcine asked.
Her double snorted, looked doubtful, then determined she wasn’t joking. “Dragons. That thing in the fairgrounds. That dragon.”
“You want to kill that dragon.”
“At least keep it busy while we do what we need to. That’s where all this started. We have to get to the source if we’re going to do anything about it.”
“Or I could stay and not have to remake all the wards if I die again.”
Seth, still standing in the doorway, grimaced. “How many times…?”
She reached up to rub her left arm. “I stopped keeping track.”
That motion clicked with the strange way she’d held her rifle--mostly in her right hand, the left braced against it, supporting her aim but not really holding it. “What happened to your arm?” Marcine asked.
Her double looked down at her hand like she’d just noticed what she was doing. She shrugged to herself and slid up the flared sleeve. A smooth scar started at her shoulder, which bore the mark of a newly-healed puncture wound, and ended just past her elbow. She flexed her hand, but only her thumb and forefinger moved much; the rest barely straightened from their neutral relaxed curl. “Outsiders happened.” She dropped her sleeve. “At least I survived. Maks didn’t.”
Marcine felt the weight of her violin. It would be impossible to play in that condition. That was the kind of injury she’d feared her entire life. “I’m sorry,” she said numbly.
She folded her arms, with the left resting on top, her right supporting it. It didn’t look comfortable. Neither did she. “Yeah, well. If you think you sense Maks out there, don’t listen to it. It’s not him.” She seemed to stare through the wall rather than at it. “Even if it is, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Seth put an arm around her shoulder. “You wouldn’t be alone.”
“So I get to see even more people die for no reason? Great. Wonderful.” She shrugged him off and glared at the intruders. “You still haven’t answered my drat question.”
“What answer do you want?” Marcine asked. “We don’t know what’s in there. We just need to tip the odds as far in our favor as possible.” She gestured toward where the wall had been. “That would be useful! I don’t even know what kind of things you can do now, I just know it’s more than I can.”
“You don’t get it. You know what death does to magic?” Her double raised her right hand and snapped her fingers. “Gone. The people here rely on me. They’re not talents. They can’t defend themselves against vampires or Outsiders or any loving thing out there. I can. Just me. Because that’s how I had to build all this poo poo. Because nobody loving else would. And you want me to go fight a drat dragon for some vague plan that might work.”
“Has worked,” Elbridge spoke up. “At least up until this point. We’re in the city and we have a way inside. Cagey bastard really does have it all mapped out, doesn’t he?”
“Oh. So this is you again. He wants us to get eaten by a dragon because the Outsiders didn’t do the job.” Her lip curled. “I am done with his loving ‘plans.’”
“But he got us here,” Marcine insisted. “We can fix it. The barrier was already collapsing.”
“Since when do you believe in acceptable losses?” she snapped.
Marcine’s mouth twitched. “Maybe since a friend’s death curse gave us our way in yesterday. He won’t be coming back.”
“Neither will Maks,” she said bitterly.
“And would Maks want you to sit around here when you have the chance to fix it?”
Her eyebrows arched. “But you’re the one fixing it.”
Marcine now knew what it felt like to want to punch yourself. “I haven’t come all this way to fail.”
“Neither have I.” Her double pointed at the doors. “Get out.”
Marcine stood her ground. Her hands twitched, wanting to grab something; she settled on the pin and let the soft feel of Zophiel’s feathers calm her down. Getting mad wasn’t going to do anything. “Do you still have these?”
“They’re a nice hat decoration with a handy plus-one versus vampires.”
This might not be a good idea, with a fallen angel lurking in her double’s head, but Marcine didn’t see many alternatives. “His name’s Zophiel. I summoned ours to this timeline for help. He’s holding the way open for us, through the other side of the barrier, so we can get out if things go wrong. But we’d have to do it through a horde of Outsiders hanging around. He seems to believe in us.”
“From your timeline.” Her double gritted her teeth audibly. “Then where’s ours after six drat years?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I only had a direct link to mine.”
“Even the heavenly host cannot travel openly in the beyond,” Shamsiel said, stepping out from behind their partner. “I would have taken us home long ago, if it were possible. Not that it’s an excuse for six years of inaction on their part but what can you expect?”
If looks could kill, Seth would have evaporated Shamsiel on the spot.
Marcine tightened her hold on the brooch. “Then you can ask yours. Believe me, I was ready to throw these things out with everything we had to go through to get here, but breaking this stupid bubble is more important than worrying about that. Elbridge opened the door, Zophiel helped us get through it, and everything else is up to us. If we do nothing, you’re just going to keep fighting a slow decay. You know drat well you can’t win that.”
Her double snorted. “Since when did that ever stop me from trying?”
“From trying to prevent it? Sometime in the last six years, apparently.”
“Don’t you loving imply I haven’t done anything--”
“Then DO SOMETHING NOW!” Marcine shouted, which was enough to take her counterpart aback. “We have one shot at this. One. If we fail, we don’t have a chance to regroup and decide that maybe we could have done it if we had a couple more hands on deck. We don’t get to try again. You don’t get to try again, no one ever gets out of here, and the world tree dies.” She faced Shamsiel. “At least you should know what that means.”
“Yes.” The Denarian tucked their hands inside their sleeves and gave her a slight bow. “I am, at heart, a performer, Miss Sterling. I demand an audience. I admit to a certain… enthusiasm… upon our first meeting, but I have no real need to hurt anyone, unlike some of my more bloodthirsty cousins. Something that you’ve come to appreciate over the years.”
“Much like a staph infection,” she said tiredly, “Sham grows on you.”
Shamsiel kept going. “In fact we have created a place of safety, of security, even in this, to pardon the term, private hell.” They smiled at their own joke, but the look they shot Elbridge after was pure poison. “If there is as you say, a way out, not just for us but for everyone that Hardley hasn’t yet condemned to oblivion... ”
”I see worse than you every time I close my eyes at night,” Elbridge muttered, though not so quietly that Shamsiel couldn’t hear it.
“...then I believe we should take it. ‘Do not go gentle into the night’, as the poet said. ‘Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.’ I must agree. We should fight this beast and destroy it, or at least have tried. I have never been an advocate of doing nothing.”
Despite their overly eloquent words, they looked to their Marcine with fondness, like a parent trying to coach a child to be brave enough to try something new.
“You too?” she muttered. She looked upward, toward all the people in their apartments above. “I’ll regret this like I regret everything else I let Elbridge talk me into.”
“Not this time,” Marcine said firmly.
“Regrets are like wrinkles,” Elbridge mumbled, his eyes distant for a moment. “They come with age and some people claim they’ve found a way to avoid them, but it always involves taking something toxic.”
“You’d know that best,” the other Marcine observed with a sigh. “Fine. I need to prep. I’ll meet you at the bar.”
Seth gave her shoulder a light squeeze. “I’m staying with you.”
“That little trust?” Despite the question, she smiled. “Sure.”
Marcine couldn’t say she was disappointed to get away from the Denarian. “See you there, then.” She braced herself as they headed outside. Now she’d have to hear the goddamn buzzing again.
After they left, Seth turned to Shamsiel and took a slow breath; what he was about to say already pained him. “I expect you already know my opinion of you. And I’m sure we’ll have a lot to discuss later. All the same… I appreciate that you’ve looked out for my daughter.”
“I do like being appreciated,” Shamsiel said, smugly.
“Don’t get used to it.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 22:08|
|# ? Feb 21, 2018 14:57|
The Clock Ticks
Scene: All Around the City
“I guess that went about as well as it could have,” Marcine said as they left the apartments. The buzzing was back in her head and her skin crawled with the awareness that there could be Outsiders lurking anywhere. She gritted her teeth and stayed alert. No point talking until they were safe(r) in the car.
They were nearly there when a sound, like distant fracturing glass, made them look up. A crack shot upward through the sky, across the dome of the barrier. More cracks spread outward from it like a growing spiderweb, until with a terrible shatter they felt more than heard, it gave way and fell inward. For an awful moment, she thought she saw the horde of Outsiders lurking on the other side, waiting for this very opportunity. Then the sky collapsed, wavered, and returned to grey, like it had been before.
Except a moment ago, she’d seen buildings in the distance. Now, there was only the same empty grey void as the rest of the sky. She knew that skyline. Those buildings were only a few miles away.
Marcine sucked in a harsh breath and only then realized she’d stopped breathing. “Holy poo poo.”
“...we need to hurry,” Elbridge said tensely.
“Then I’ll pick you up at the curb.” She broke into a flat sprint for her car.
Her counterpart stood at the window of her apartment. She’d seen this happen too many times before. Every time, they got closer. Eventually one would swallow up her and everything she’d worked so hard to protect. It had nearly been this one.
She felt her father’s hand on her shoulder, trembling slightly. She was right, she thought. This really is our last shot.
Are you afraid? Shamsiel asked.
She looked for the high-rises that she’d seen every day from her window for all the years she’d lived here, but they were gone. Like everything else between there and the edge before this. Let’s say a dragon doesn’t sound so bad right now.
Finally, a fitting audience for us. Not some low ranking vampire or idiot thug but a true opponent… I have longed to show you what you are truly capable of, Marcine. Not for the first time, they saw the destruction through her eyes and didn’t care.
She tore her eyes away from the scene outside to finish getting what she needed. Finally, something she could punch in the face--figuratively and maybe literally--to solve her problems. All of them. Permanently. Good. I’m looking forward to it.
Rupert turned at the sound of fracturing glass, the piercing tone interrupting the quiet stillness of the street they were walking down on the way back to the bar, his hand dropping briefly to the purloined handgun at his waist before he saw it.
Frozen in place, he watched silently as more of the city fell to the Outsiders.
“Well,” he grumbled, “That can't be good.”
“We should go back to the bar,” Ed said.
“But…” Lucy looked over her shoulder, as if she hoped that somehow, Turner would be there. But he wasn’t, and her brother was right. “Yeah. We’re out of time.”
Rupert was silent for a moment, watching the now much closer grey sky. Turning to follow after the kids, he said to himself quietly, “Still got a chance. Just need to believe.”
|# ? Feb 13, 2018 04:01|
We All Hang Together
Scene: El Gato Negro
The “airlock” to the Gato was crammed full between Elbridge, Marcine, Rupert, Hugues, Edward, and Lucy. It was like standing in the world’s most-uncomfortable elevator, with only some untimely flatulence needed to complete the experience. Elbridge took the time to refresh the fog-proofing spell on his glasses yet again - crossing all of these thresholds had done a number on the fragile enchantment.
“So,” he said at last. “How did it go?” It was about as close to small talk as he felt he could manage at the moment.
“Oh, you know, some little buggers tried to eat us, got a gun pointed at me by myself,” replied a Rupert slumped down on the floor, trying to manage something that vaguely resembled rest, “The usual for this place. No luck with Hugues’ counterpart, unfortunately. Apartment was empty and after, well…” He inclined his head towards the outer door, “We thought we better head back.”
“Ah.” Elbridge nodded, his thoughts still not quite in the here-and-now. “We found Ms. Sterling’s double.” He did not sound particularly-happy about it.
“I sense there’s a 'but’ coming,” replied Rupert, looking up at Elbridge and Marcine.
She grimaced. “Might as well say it before she gets here… You know that Fallen I told you about? She took the coin to protect herself.”
Rupert sucked in a breath and swore, “drat.”
“The whole area around the apartment was a wreck, so I guess I can’t blame her. Shamsiel was the one that convinced her to help us in the end, so I’m not sure what to think.”
“The outlook was a bit, er...disastrous,” Elbridge said. “Wholly-inauspicious, really, by the reading. But since I swore an oath on my power to Seth…”
“At least he found his daughter. Small victories, I suppose,” said Rupert. Glancing up, he added, “And hey, she’s on our side for the moment. That’s something.”
“You sure it wasn’t Tamiel?” Lucy asked nervously.
“He seemed like the type to want everyone to know exactly who he was.” Marcine glanced from her to Edward. So these were the kids Rupert had told her about.
“Definitely not Tamiel then,” Ed said, squeezing Lucy’s hand. “I don’t think she’s still here, Lu. Would’ve shown up by now.”
Lucy looked away. “Yeah, well, apparently we missed another one so…”
“From everything I could find out, the coins have a habit of doing stuff like that,” replied Rupert, grimly, “Wish I could have found out more.” With a sigh, he added, “And here was me thinking the whole golem limb thing my counterpart had going on was going to be the craziest thing our counterparts were up to.”
Marcine raised an eyebrow. “Golem limb thing?”
A sudden, jarring impact cracked the enchanted glass of the airlock’s interior door. The sound was deafening in the confined space. Chips and shards fell away on both sides, and the indentation in the window resembled most of a fist, topped with a smear of blood.
“Ah.” Elbridge nodded to Marcine. “Golem limb thing.”
“Damnit,” swore Rupert again, dragging himself up, “This brings a whole new meaning to the idea of lying to myself.”
The door finally swung open at that moment to reveal quite a scene. The Black Cat’s barricaded interior looked as if it had been stormed by a mob of angry ogres. Tables were overturned and splintered, bottles and glasses shattered, and several other fist-shaped indentations were evident in the walls. An older, more-grizzled Rupert was doubled over from exertion, breathing haggardly, glaring daggers at the other Elbridge. For his part, El-2’s white Panama suit was streaked red with blood, and the flesh around one eye was livid and bruised. His face was as stony and impassive as ever; as they watched, the older Rupert threw another punch at him, gathering dirt and debris around the fist in a stony shell. Then, suddenly, El-2 was on the other side of the bar, and yet another bottle of bottom-shelf vodka exploded in the space behind where he’d been standing.
“How much more of this bloody city has to fall thanks to your damned fool plan?” spat the older Rupert in halted growls as he leaned against the bar, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath.
“That depends.” El-2 waved his hand, and the trashed interior began to sort itself out. Tables uprighted, chairs and barstools slid back into place, and the glass...well, nothing doing there. The pieces simply moved to pile themselves in unobtrusive corners, awaiting a dustbin. “Are you quite finished yet?”
“Depends,” grumbled old Rupert, snatching one of the remaining bottles from behind the bar. He lowered the scarf covering his face just long enough to take a long swig. A big chunk of his chin was missing. It wasn't pretty. “Are you still doing the whole not-giving-a-toss thing about the cost of your insane plan?” Taking another swig, he sunk down onto one of the bar stools, still glaring at El-2.
“Singh, don’t presume to guess at my feelings,” El-2 said icily. “They’re rather beside the point.”
“You promised!” Lucy said, striding into the room with her hands on her hips, and no heed for the damage, self-repairing or otherwise.
“I said I wouldn't shoot him,” said old Rupert, leaning back against the bar and nodding towards the pile of firearms he’d dropped on it earlier, “Besides, he’s had worse than a punch or two. He’ll survive.”
Marcine went to see if Elbridge needed medical attention, but pulled up short at the sound of her own dry laugh from behind her.
Her double stood smirking beside the door. “Well, aren’t you a sight for black eyes.”
Marcine shot her a glare and kept moving.
“Ms. Sterling,” El-2 said. He didn’t push Marcine’s help away, but nor did he quite move to accommodate her. “Will you be joining us, then?” If he noticed anything, or guessed at anything, or had known anything all along, none of them could tell. He might as well have been greeting his bridge partner.
“Might as well drag something worthwhile out of your mess.” She walked to a corner of the bar, hooked a chair upright with her foot and sat down as Seth joined her. He looked uncomfortable at the entire situation. Marcine noticed her double had changed into an open-backed tunic and leggings with sandals--a rather strange outfit to be fighting a dragon in.
Maria walked out of the kitchen and threw a bag of frozen peas on the bar. It skidded to a stop in front of El-2.
“Ah. Thank you,” he told her. “And you,” he added to Marcine, pressing the bag to his swollen orbit. “Are we all present, then?”
“Tsk,” said Shamsiel, from behind Marcine. “Our supporting cast is a bit… lacking.”
Edward faced them, one of his flammable talismans tucked between two fingers. “You want to go solo the dragon, green eyes? We’ll wait.”
“Oh, we’re letting children fight now?” Shamsiel rolled their eyes. “My, my, how desperate we’ve become.”
The older Marcine snorted. “Wasn’t that your entire sales pitch to get me over here?”
Shamsiel sighed. “True. It would be pointless to cause discord now, when they are in such need of our help.”
With that apparently settled, she waved Maria over and turned away from the rest of the room with a clear air of dismissal.
“Well?” Talia said from the back booth, where she, Drouillard and Nicholas had been watching the fight.
“If everyone is prepared-” El-2 began.
“Where’s Angie?” Marcine cut in.
“She went to retrieve Warden Cole,” El-2 said, slightly peevish at the interruption. “She did not return to the rendezvous point, nor to here, and she has not made contact since. I know that she is still alive, but I do not think she will be joining us at the moment.” He reached under the bar and retrieved Angie’s rifle from its place next to Maria’s bat and Drou’s shotgun, passing it to Marcine. “She requested that I give you this.”
“Oh.” Because she was more comfortable with a rifle and didn’t have hers. Marcine sat down and tried not to think about what ‘still alive’ might imply.
“With that in mind, here is the plan of action: Operation Blue Sky,” El-2 continued. “No evil books this time. No secrets or lies. Just us, our last hope for the city, and a bloody great dragon.”
“Well, and a gazebo,” Nicky said. “The gazebo is more important than the dragon, really.”
“The dragon is on top of the gazebo, Stripe,” Talia explained patiently. “One thing at a time.”
|# ? Feb 13, 2018 04:02|
Minutes to Midnight
Elbridge Hardley posted:
Attn: Senior Council
Excerpt from pg. 246: posted:
“‘Operation Blue Sky is ready to commence,’” Elbridge said, quoting his double. “‘There will be no drills this time, and minimal preparation. In an hour, we will be staring down the maw of the dragon Factorax. If we fail, then our city is lost to the Outside. If they fail, then our entire world is lost with it.’” His lips drew thin. “He put a bit more inflection on ’our’, and looked right at me while he said it. I don’t think that he, er...trusted us all that much.”
“They were not your priority.” Bellworth said.
“We literally moved Heaven and Earth to find a solution that didn’t sacrifice an entire world to the Void, Laura,” Elbridge said. He didn’t sound boastful, or even peevish as he usually might. He was just...so very tired. “I would have hoped that counted for something.”
“They say you are your own worst critic.”
Excerpt, Cont’d: posted:
|# ? Feb 13, 2018 04:10|