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 The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)

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ConfusedShipper123

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PostSubject: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 1:37 am

Summary (Abeiya and CS123):
There's a high cost to diversity. Whether or not it is worth it, is yet to be determined by most the citizens of this world and their greatest city. Originally Alena, a world of two vastly different islands, Elois and Ariak, of farmers, scholars, and warriors, becomes an even more complex society with the addition of three other islands, Tephra, Asteri, and Sidero, and populated by very different people. As the world of Pentemia grows, so too do social hierarchies. As much as the citizens aim for unity, divisions grow as well. But as an old enemy begins to resurge, ending the lives of many on all islands, Pentemia is faces the ultimate chance to unite or divide even further. The illness is spreading and loyalties are changing. The Alenians are keeping treatment for themselves, and Ariaks of many walks are joining a criminal family underneath a city that had been intended to unify all of the nations. People are dying. But allegiances remain. Danger lurks in the open, in the dark, and in many unexpected places.

In the midst of uncertainty, a Senator in Asteri calls upon a young bounty hunter and his own nephew, a bodyguard, to track down two dangerous men involved with the underground of the city. The challenges of Pentemia, of each island, lies within every individual citizen. Five islands, five cultures, and many people are being challenged to unite. Tensions are rising, at the surface, in the depths, on national levels, within cities, villages, families, and individuals. What will become of Pentemia? Can the five become one, in the midst of threats at every level of their long-constructed society?

The Islands (by Abeiya)

Elios: One of the two original islands of Alena, the first name of what would become Pentemia. The people of Elios are known for their connectedness with their island. They are loyal to their land of white sandy beaches and rolling green hills. The people of Elios are farmers and scholars, exporting much of Pentemia’s produce and texts. Elosi are generally tall, slim, fair people. It is custom for Elosi women to grow their hair long and braid it, while the men usually keep their hair cropped short until marriage, at which point it is allowed to grow long and free. The Elosi are considered the oldest Pentemians. Their society is matriarchal. They have never engaged in war. Since their very beginning, they have cooperated with one another to achieve their ends. They have worshipped, worked and prospered in peace. Their culture is built around non-violence, but the rules of their society are to be strictly followed. Presently, they keep themselves secluded and above most of the issues of Pentemia: For in Elios, it is not customary to associate with those below oneself.

Ariak: The history of Ariak is not as clean and docile as that of its sister island. The Ariak began as a bloody people, each family fighting for itself for food and water. The Ariak were not blessed with the fertile hills of Elios. The center of the island is mountainous forest, the outer ring is all barren plains and the edges are craggy cliffs. As time passed, the Ariak stopped their fighting and banded together to fight starvation. A drought had caused the trees to whither. A leader from each family stepped up to figure out a way to obtain food. Soon, the most respected members of the Ariak tribes were the most skilled hunters. They hunted the beasts of the mountains and the cliffs and snatched the tribes from the jaws of death. The Ariak built great wooden and stone cities in their central mountains and there they thrived. The Ariak made peace with the Elosi and their partnership, though cold and distant, still stands. They purchase glass and greens from the Elosi in exchange for protection. The Ariak have Pentemia’s best military. They themselves export wood and stone. The Ariak are proud, but not above helping others. Their tradition is family or blood.

Tephra: Tephra was the first true collaboration between the Ariak and the Elosi people. The island was abandoned when it was found, save for the local fauna, for there was very little flora at all. To commemorate their partnership, Ariak and Elios built a beautiful steel and glass city on the center of Tephra. They filled it with their people and in a century it was a thriving metropolis. Soon the people began to branch out, fixing the island. Giving it Elios’ white sand and Ariak’s strong forests. And soon villages popped up everywhere. Tephra was exactly what the Elosi and the Ariak wanted it to be. It was a success. It was progress. But fate had other plans. A sickness took the innermost ring of Tephra’s metropolis and it was unstoppable. The sickness took the island from the inside out, reaching the villages last. Those who could fled the island, but most of the population was trapped on the pestilent rock. The steel and glass became a prison. The Elosi did not know what to do to save their creation. They began to evacuate as many people as they could to try and integrate them into Elios’ society. But the Ariak were not so hopeful. They knew what needed to be done. One day, a century before the present, the Ariak burned down the entire island with their zeppelins. All that was left was ash. Nothing lived on the island for years until the Elosi grew tired of how different the Tephrans were from them. It was not customary for someone who looked like a Tephran or an Ariak to marry an Elosi, a pure people. The Elosi soon banished the Tephrans and their mixed offspring back to their charred rock in the south. The Tephrans began to rebuild what they could. They resented the Ariak for burning their home and the Elosi for exiling them. Life on Tephra is still grey and severe. Every once in a while, the sickness returns and takes many of the older Tephrans, leaving the small ones with more resistance to the disease to live in Tephra’s orphanage. The Tephrans are a broken people. For them, no other island can be trusted to help. For they were betrayed by the enlightened people and the brotherly people. They were betrayed by their parent islands. They have nothing to look back on or forward to. Ashes will always return to ashes.

Asteri: Asteri was born from unhappy people. There were those Elosi who were disgusted by their island’s treatment of the unfortunate Tephrans. They knew that they were not welcome in Tephra and they left to join Ariak who were disappointed in their island’s burning of a cousin culture. The Ariak and Elosi pilgrims travelled to a large southeastern island. The island naturally had the white sands of Elios and tall, green forests that reminded the Ariak of their homeland. These forests were different: layered and teeming with life. The water on the island was sweet and clear. These migrant people became the Aster of Asteri, determined to make their island as harmonious as the nature that thrived on it. The Asteri live in balance with one another and with their island. They have much respect for living things and they respect equality, resenting the Elosi most for their ingrained hierarchy, but also admiring their intelligence. At the center of the island is a waterfall beneath the canopy. Here the capital of Asteri was built, a great stone and steel city. Villages branched out from the capital and the Asteri people took to building towns in the trees and underground in the caves. Asteri succeeded in being all that Elios, Ariak, and Tephran failed to be. Equal, balanced and prosperous. The Asteri are happy people. They love each other like Ariak, strive for beauty and excellence like the Elosi and were built from nothing like the Tephrans. Asteri people are only rivaled by the Elosi in their technical advances. They most resemble the Tephrans: Dark skinned, dark-haired people. They have the eyes of the Elosi, clear and bright and most have the stature and work ethic of the Ariak. There is no obstacle an Asteri will not try to cross in the path to discovery. Within reason. Because for an Aster balance is always key.

Sidero: Sidero is the world’s melting pot. The Elosi came out from their recluse lifestyle and extended their talents to their sister Ariak, the World’s workers. The Ariak persuaded the Asteri to work along with them. And the Asteri bribed the Tephrans to become a part of what would be Pentemia’s greatest symbol of reconciliation. Sidero was an untouched center isle to the four islands. The natives who lived on it centuries earlier were wiped away by the disease that once plagued Tephra. Sidero was to be the great peace offering. It would allow all four islands to work together in harmony. Each island agreed to send a portion of its population to colonize Sidero. Much like the islands that preceded it, Sidero’s capital city was built in its center. The Asteri and Elosi worked together to engineer the city’s complex canal system. The Ariak worked to build the canals and the Tephrans created a city underneath the city, to ensure that history could not repeat itself and disease could be kept away from the new Sideroans. Throughout the years, the city sprawled and walls were built around it. The city became tiered, the counsel building becoming its center and the rest of the metropolis forming concentric rings around it. The city has four rings. The innermost ring holds the Pentemian embassies and union building, along with parks and clear water ways. The next ring contains most of the Sideroan businesses and educational centers. The third ring is residential and fourth ring contains some lower income housing and the shipping, packing and manufacturing industries. The Sideroans are experiencing some cultural clashes, as was expected. But in the tunnels beneath the cities, gang activity has begun to spike. Umbra, as the locals began to call the subterranean city, also became the home of Sidero’s budding organized crime syndicate.


Last edited by ConfusedShipper123 on Sun Jul 29, 2012 3:02 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Characters   Sun Jul 29, 2012 1:59 am

Original Protagonists

Abeiya:

Name: Callan Phoenix (No known first name to clients)
Gender: Female
Age: 19
Profession: Bounty Hunter
Connections (to Mafia): Clientele
Home Island: Tephra (Ariak when asked)
Appearance: Tall for a girl. Has a very feminine figure and long legs, but is deceptively strong. Her hair is blue-black and down to her collar bones, but is usually kept up. She has dark olive skin. Her eyes are large, amber flecked with gold and fringed with thick, black lashes. She has full lips and high, but not prominent, cheekbones.
History: Phoenix’s parents were taken by Tephra’s disease when she was very young and her sister was a year younger. Phoenix and Mina resided in one of Tephra’s relief orphanages. As a child, Mina was very beautiful and she caught the attention of a young, wealthy Ariak man, who paid to free her and Phoenix. Though he was 20 years her senior, the young man made arrangements to marry her sister. He wanted nothing to do with Phoenix, who was defiant and outspoken. He sent her to be trained for the Ariak military. Phoenix became the top of her class, for she had nothing else to enjoy in life. But the rigidity of the rules became too much and with the help of a teacher, escaped training and began to pick up hunting contracts. Her first clients were gang leaders. They taught her the best tricks of the trade and from there, she became popular among politicians, because her method was nearly flawless. She became acquainted with the Asteri Senator when she was fifteen years old. The two had a sort of connection that was unusual for Phoenix. She began putting his contracts at the top of her priorities and he made sure that if she was ever in any trouble, he would lend a helping hand.

ConfusedShipper123
Name: Ulric Konstan
Age: 18
Profession: Bodyguard
Connection(s to Mafia): Clientele/Father (former)
Home Island: Family is known to be Aster/Ariak; Uncle is the Senator of Asteri
History: to be completed

Other Characters

Senator Mazim, 46, Senator of Asteri (Abeiya)

Peris, messenger for Senator Mazim and Phoenix (Abeiya)

Mafia (members of note)

Aurelius, the Boss; married to Ginevra; 38 years old at beginning of roleplay (TBD)

Upton, Elosi-Ariak Underboss; twin brother of Fioro; 35 years old (ConfusedShipper123)

Fioro, Elosi-Ariak Underboss; twin brother of Upton; 35 years old (Abeiya)

Ginevra, wife of Aurelius, 18 years old (Abeiya(?))

Blathnat, Ariak; wife of Upton; 34 years old (ConfusedShipper123)

Stamatia, Capo (CS123/Abeiya)

Elasid, Consigliere/Boss/Diplomat; Elosi (TBD)

Ares, Capo (Abeiya)


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PostSubject: FINALLY! The Actual Roleplay   Sun Jul 29, 2012 2:20 am

Senator Mazim sat in his office waiting for his bounty hunter. He was unsure of how she would slip past his security this time. It was always something different. Phoenix was among the best in the business. She always got her man, as long as her fee was paid. Mazim had been working with her for a few years. He had her catching extortionists, mostly. Asteri was the closest thing Pentemia had to a mediator and every so often someone would threaten him or his family to try and sway a decision. Phoenix took care of it every time.

He wiped the light sheen of sweat from his upper lip. He was anxious. He had a proposal for Phoenix that he knew she wouldn't like. But she would take him up on the offer because they were friends. Sort of friends. As friendly as one could get with a girl who didn't do names and was difficult to locate. It'll be fine. She's a reasonable young woman. It was ridiculous. Me. A forty-six year old man. A senator. Afraid of a girl. I-

His thoughts were interrupted by a service woman. She looked like an Elosi mix. "Anything I can get you, Senator? Anything to eat or drink?"

"I would love a drink. Something strong, if you would," Mazim nearly murmured.

"Of course, Senator." The woman bustled into the office, closing the door behind her and moving to the liquor cabinet. She pulled out a glass bottle of amber liquid and a tumbler, pouring a generous drink for her superior. She moved across the room and offered the drink to Mazim, who began to reach out.

And then the woman took the drink for herself. She laughed, wiping the lines of age from her face with the backs of her white gloves. "It _is_ nice to see you again, Senator Mazim." She pulled away the blonde wig and servicegirl hat, shaking out her blue-black hair. "You should really look into more observant security guards."

Mazim's expression went from the surprise to amusement. "It's nice to see you, too, Phoenix."

"Hm. So. What do you have for me?" the bounty hunter asked, taking a seat across from her client.

"Well you see.." Mazim began, pausing to consider his wording.

"Today, Senator."

"I'm sure you've heard about the underground in Sidero."

"Indeed I have. And?" Phoenix asked, swirling what was left of the liquor in her tumbler.

"I need you to start snooping."

"Who do you want?"

"The organized crime boss."

"You want me to bring in another Ariak?"

"Phoenix you don't know that it's another Ariak. And it shouldn't matter. I don't know what the boss is doing yet, but I don't like the way the gangs have been acting around the capital."

"But they haven't been acting any way. No one's seen them for weeks."

"Precisely."

Phoenix leaned forward, interested. "Ah. So they're underground. I like it. I'll take it."

"There's one condition. I want you to take a.. a, uh, a bodyguard."

"...Excuse me?"

"I don't want you going into Umbra alone. Or the capital alone. If you want the job, you must take my nephew with you."

"What? I..!" Phoenix stopped herself, trying to keep cool. "What's he good at?"

"He knows his way around there. He can guide you."

"Hmph. Let me see him." Phoenix said, her voice soaked in skepticism.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

An arduous journey it was, from Sidero to Asteri. Many passengers on the boat were strangely unaccustomed to the travel, several spending half the trip with their stomachs emptied into the sea. The crew, predominantly Aster and Tephran, were steely-eyed and focused. Whatever seasickness touched their passengers seemed impossible to them, the strong armed and stoic men and women who brought the ship through weather, ever-focused on their work, but their minds secretly on home, whatever it meant to them.

Few were unaffected by the rocky waters. Ulric was one of those few. In fact, he spent most of his time reading a terribly uninteresting Elosi "autobiography", pushed on him by a vendor in one of the older markets of Sidero's capital city. The blanched leather cover gave it away immediately, but the old woman selling the book seemed so desperate. He gave in, with only the slightest of fights.

The book was a fictitious piece of propaganda, a typical piece for the extremists, promoting the supremacy of the Elosi. By the end of the second day on the sea, he had completed the work. The third day, he had several interesting conversations with a few Asteri, taking the time to grasp the anxiety that had reached even the most seemingly peaceful islands of Pentemia. And the fourth, he spent almost entirely to build himself physically, later meditating in the night.

Finally, the roads came. And the glimmering gray of Asteri's stony jewel. He could he feel the collection and courtesy of the trip slipping easily with the growing nearness of his uncle's residence. He had grown accustomed to ever-shifting environments, but this particular environment was one he would never adjust to.

Breaking from his travel group, he navigated to the man's home, entered through the instructed door with the necessary messages to the Senator's guards, and was so led to his chambers.

Perhaps the nerves were not only of entering a place so different from his own home. He had guarded a diverse group of individuals, and even groups along with others of his stature and position, had been trained nearly his entire life to face threats to himself and others he was responsible for.

But if his suddenly shaking hands were any indication, he had little experience guarding the body of a bounty hunter. At home, the thought had been exhilarating. But if the senator's nephew had any flaw, it was believing that, simply because it was necessary, one could keep his composure in every situation.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mazim nodded, with a sigh. “This way, Phoenix.”

“Wait,” she told him. “I’m changing.”

“May I ask why?”

“First impressions are very important. Not everything, but still important. I don’t want your nephew to see me looking like a servicegirl,” she replied.

“Very well. I will assume that you know where to go.”

“And you are correct in your assumption. I’ll be quick.” And with that Phoenix took the leftmost door out of Mazim’s office into what appeared to be a parlor and washroom. She changed out of the grey and white skirt-and-shirt combo and into something a little more typical of her line of work. She needed to look normal. Look like nothing special. A nineteen year-old girl on leave from her studies. She wore slim-cut black pants and a deep red blouse, tying her hair back. After haphazardly stuffing her disguise into a small backpack, she swung it over her back and walked back in to see the Senator. “Alright. Show me.”

“This way.” Mazim stood up from his chair, moving across the room and out of the main doors. Phoenix walked five paces behind him, amber eyes observing her client’s gait as he walked.

They travelled down two long hallways. The walls were adorned with paintings and much like the rest of Asteri, it was all steel, glass, and gold. Phoenix looked through the floor as she walked, her face showing some uncertainty. As though she was unsure if the thick glass would support her. Mazim stopped at an arched metal door and rapped his knuckles firmly on its surface three times, waiting for his nephew to answer.

Phoenix found herself imagining this new.. bodyguard of hers. She pictured him with a beard like Mazim’s, but she imagined that he was some fifteen years younger. Tall, about at her eye level like Mazim That he would judge her for being young. But she was accustomed to that. Whenever she was forced to work with someone, they were older. The proper training took time.

At home, she had received training because her sister married a rich man. Her sister was very beautiful and married her husband when she was very young. The couple didn’t know what to do with Phoenix. So the husband sent her away to be trained. Give her services to the Ariak military. Phoenix liked the fighting, loved to understand that the way people thought was just like the way intelligent animals thought. They could be manipulated the same way. It was all so interesting. But there were too many rules. And when Phoenix gathered the money she left and never came back. It was then that she started picking up contracts through her primary combat trainer. Clanging stole away her reminiscent thoughts.

Mazim knocked on the door again. “Are you here?”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ulric strained to fix his focus upon the situation at hand. If he was like this on the job with the bounty hunter, they could both end up dead. He could scarcely believe it; he was almost _never_ nervous, especially not like this, nor did he ever show fear. It was not as though he did not feel it, but he had grown accustomed to hiding it, as opponents and enemies were quick to find weaknesses through such expression; he had been told, had witnessed this, many times over.

He had seen the gangs active in Sidero. He had guarded and defended against them. But they were strong, and their power was growing. They had sprouted from Umbra, but the seeds of their ideas and ideals were blown and planted and nourished all over Pentemia now. Their roots were thicker, and their messages were everywhere. In a dying land, the solution was theft and violence. In a dying world, such actions were salvation. They would bring forth life, would eliminate the agents of death that had spread.

But only for a few. And with this thought, came the very recent recollection of three knocks, brought back to this moment with a stronger, singular sound.

"Are you here?"

He silenced his alarmingly wandering mind and turned the knob on the other side of the door, greeted at once by his uncle and a woman. He had been standing straight, attentive, when he'd opened the door, posing himself to eliminate any evidence of his earlier dark musings, his private indulgences in fear and uncertainty, but at the woman's presence, he wished to stand straighter, to appear more composed, more competent, than he ever wished to be. She was stunning, captivating, and even in her decidedly "casual student" dress, she would blend in with the most brazen, fashionable women of Sidero on the sheer power of her aura, the atmosphere she created simply by presence.

There was an intensity to her eyes, a fierceness, a strength absolutely undeniable, no matter how she may have seen to others. As much as she would have tried to blend in somewhere, Ulric thought she might stand out. This concerned him, for obvious reasons. But of all the bounty hunters he could guard.. this surely distracting and intense woman, certain to plunge directly into danger, and potentially as dangerous as the man they were after. He could already sense their future conflicts. Quickly, he looked to his uncle, before again looking into the amber eyes, just across from his own.

"I am Ulric, Senator Mazim's nephew. It will be my honor to guard you in Sidero."

Masking every doubt about this assignment, he extended his hand to the woman.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Phoenix gave Ulric a piercing gaze, allowing him to hold her eyes for a moment as she took his hand into a firm shake. She appraised the look in his eyes and caught what she thought might have been fear followed by absolute composure. She was surprised by him. He was far from what she had expected. She did her best to hide it and bite her tongue. "Pleasure to meet you, Ulric. They call me Phoenix." She was careful to keep her expression hard.

Mazim suppressed a sigh, as he predicted what would come next. Phoenix dropped Ulric's hand and proceeded to circle him, continuing her appraisal more throughly. She stepped slowly, a shark observing her prey. Her hips swayed. Her arms were set back slightly as though she was an Elosi dancer.

Phoenix couldn't hold it in anymore. She was looking _up_ at him and it irritated her. She wasn't used to having to look up at anyone. The shark struck. She brought her hand to his face, gently holding his jaw and angling his head down toward him. Her suspicions were affirmed and she let go of him. "I... Ulric. How old are you?"

Mazim looked down and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. _And it begins._

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Her grip was hard, strong as any experienced Ariak warrior. She could squeeze out a neck's pulse with that hand. It was not that he hadn't taken shots when he's needed to, but her eyes, piercing amber, blades ready for more than battle, for a kill, further enhanced the sensation of her hand. Then came that voice, exemplifying all he assumed from her appearance; the same thinly veiled ferocity, her expression hardly changing. He was determined not to give into her. He refused to permit her incoming manipulation. He stared straight ahead, as she circled him; she was a predator, down to the core.

Still, his peripheral vision picked up her movements, he the prey, and she moved to bring him in, to pounce. He would not let her take advantage of him, he refused. So she was somewhat older, so she moved like the ivory-swathed women that seemed to imitate goddesses at Elosi festivities. So she appraised him. He wasn't sure what he was avoiding, but he knew that this woman was not safe, not so smooth and collected as she feigned. Efficient, perhaps. But he would not have her taking advantage of him like an impressionable boy at the beginning of adolescence.

But there was that hand again, no longer a vice, but deadly nonetheless, in all of its softness. He was visibly startled, but tried quickly to suppress such an expression to the woman. But into her eyes he was forced again, and she released him. Still, his gaze was upon her. He felt something red and dark build up within, and just as he was vowing to never let her any closer again, she spoke.

In that same tone, but mock-hesitant. Thickened just beneath with satisfaction.

"I... Ulric, how old are you?"

He shoved down a glare and stared intently into those eyes again, steeling himself with all the possible confidence.

"Eighteen, but I have been trained virtually my entire life to do what I came here for. Might I ask the same of you?"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Phoenix bit her lip to suppress the amused smirk trying to paint itself on her face. She intentionally ignored the boy’s question. "Hm." She turned away from him to face his uncle. "Senator. He's a baby. You can't possibly--"

Mazim held up his hand and she was silent. "Now Phoenix. Be reasonable. You're a smart girl and you know that the things going on under Sidero's capital could very well over power you if you were alone. It's unlikely that you would come back." He could see that he wasn't convincing her. "It's a bad investment, Phoenix." She crossed her arms, raising her eyebrows. She was quietly offended. "And Ulric is only a year younger than you."

Phoenix replied venomously, "Exactly, Mazim. A baby. I don't want to responsible if anything happens to him." Mazim was fazed only by the fact that she used his name without his title. It was unlike her. She realized and softened a bit. "He's important to someone, Senator. He has a family. It's... I'm uncomfortable with the idea, to put it lightly."

Mazim's looked became stony, "Well you had better become comfortable with it. He is on the contract."

Phoenix considered walking away for a few moments, glaring at her client the entire time. "It's a deal then, I suppose."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The young man strained to hold back, as he was spoken about as though he was not present, and as the bounty hunter's qualms were expressed outright. He couldn't tell when she was or was not being sincere. Every moment with this woman brought forth a new weakness of his, just from being in direct contact with her. This would not be a good span of time. And with the way the Umbran underground was moving, it might be a long one. Starting in Sidero's capital city would do them good for as long as their target was present.

While they spoke, he decided not to fixate on the potential for destruction. The woman was obviously good at what she did. Competence was key. And her terrible and terrifying manipulative nature certainly would be of use in the situations that were about participate in. She was strong. As he glanced at her again, noted beyond her feminine features, looking to her discreetly, he saw the lean muscles of her arms and legs, the collected fury of her training. The way she presented herself, masked something. Perhaps a departure of an older nature.

Ulric pieced together the woman, taking in every small detail that he could perceive. In all her strength, all her power, her competency, her manipulation, was an even stronger drive, by slender legs down an Ariak road somewhere new. She caught, but she had once run. Not from a bounty hunter, but another life.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I knew you would come around," Mazim said to her, "I'll go get the paper work. We'll work out your fee when I get back, but for now I will leave you here to get acquainted with your new.." The Senator thought it wise to avoid the word 'bodyguard.' "Partner," he decided.

Phoenix started, "Senator, couldn't you just call for a servicegir--" but her request was rejected by the closing metal door and the Senator's rushing footfall. "Well, then."

The bounty hunter looked upon her bodyguard, trying to grasp what working with him would be like. He had not yet really spoken to her, beyond his very polite introduction.

"Well. That was interesting. You seem like you're very good at what you do, partner. Or Phoenix? Do you have a preferred title?" he said. She seemed to have lost some of her former shell, with the closing of the door. In this state, he wondered, prematurely, if he could begin to perceive more about her. He didn't need him, with that way she guarded herself. He suppressed any fears of danger, as he had spoken looking into her eyes again.

"I am good at what I do, Ulric. And Phoenix is fine. Is your surname Mizam, like the Senator's?" Phoenix asked, looking right back into his eyes. She decided not to probe. The boy seemed to be onto her. To know her game. And the fun of it was not having the victim know what she was about. He had already retreated, keeping himself deep beneath this straight-standing, serious person. So she stopped playing. If she waited, she knew he would come out play with her again soon. Phoenix shifted her weight, leaning one hip more than the other. She could play the waiting game, too.

"No, I have my father's surname, Konstan. So this will be your first trip to Sidero?" he went on, cordially. She had certainly toned down, but he knew to keep _himself_ guarded in her presence. He expected that her true nature laid somewhere between this mask of civility and the other, bolder lioness she had been upon entering the room. And so he would wait with her. Usually, he was genuinely civil, until the situation called him not to be. He kept to himself, but he also conversed with those who wanted to, when there was time for conversation. He tried to hold to Aster ideals of balance, even while his own small nation, from homes and street sides, to crumbling political meetinghouses, had begun to slip out of it.

Phoenix let her gaze wander around the room. _He is Mazim's nephew by way of a sister, then._ "Ulric Konstan," she repeated. She was trying to relax. Mazim was right. She needed to become comfortable with Ulric. "It will not. Sidero was where I finished up my training. But that was years ago. Before this mess in Umbra. I never became too familiar with island or the city, really." She needed to trust him.

"Ah. Well, thing have certainly wound up, I'd imagine, since you were last there." Trained on Sidero, but never familiarized with the island. She must have received some sort of military training, if not on the island, somewhere else. The Ariak military certainly had a presence in Sidero, a growing one, in recent times. He tried to keep from speculating about that particular history and the young woman before him now. She was young, but also quite skilled in her work. They had, if he honestly assessed the majority of his work, that in common. And he could see that they'd both been looked down upon because of their youth. He began to notice traces of discomfort on her face, already a contrast to what he understood of her.
"Is there... Anything you'd liketo know about the island? Any questions I could answer?"

Phoenix allowed a smile to play across her lips for a moment, before returning to her usual neutral expression. She allowed her curiosity to take hold. She didn't know what Ulric was about. Maybe his take on his home would reveal some of it. "You live in Sidero, yes? Tell me about it. What is it like living there with all the gang activity?"

"I do live there, yes. It's been rather challenging lately with the increased gang activity, but it's nothing new. I try to stay out of it if I can, depending on clients, but otherwise, I just do my best to keep my family safe. It was a little milder before," he said. The subject, unmentioned directly, was delicate, to say the least. Everyone had a connection to that plague, regardless of race, class, line of work. To bring it up brought forth many a response, and usually not a positive one.

Phoenix's brow wrinkled at his last remarks. "I'm sorry to hear that. But it's good that your family has you around. How long have you been in your line of work?" She found her way to a cushioned chair and sat down.

Mazim gathered the necessary paperwork and took his time walking down the corridor to his nephew's chamber. He knew that Phoenix was trying to adjust to the boy. It was for both their benefits that he paired them together this way. They could teach one another. It was as if he was trying to polish their training. And so he gave them a little extra time to get acquainted before their departure from the island and his watch.

He would worry. In all honesty, the two were the closest thing he had to children.
----
Ulric toyed with whether to tell Phoenix the official or honest date.

"About four years now. I started somewhat young. When did you get into... your line of work?"

She wasn't that much older than him, so he imagined that she couldn't have started any earlier or later.
---

Phoenix looked up at him, arching a brow slightly. "Me? Well. About four years ago, as well." In this specific line of work, anyway, she added in her thoughts. Four years. She wondered about that. How much could this boy have seen in four years? Have done in four years?

He nodded, as if considering her words, affirming them. He wondered if she had been a little less honest in her words, which he would understand. What would it be like, to have done what she had for all that time, and more? He wondered how she managed to reach the point she had. How difficult it would have been. He cautiously sat across from her, on a small sofa.

"It's a long time, isn't it?"

He barely heard his uncle just outside the door. Once more, he looked at the woman, as if to ask her the same question, inquiring how they should respond, with the slightest of smirks.

Phoenix swallowed a laugh when her looked at her and then cleared her throat. "Not quite! I'm not decent!" she called, doing her best to sound flustered. She ruffled her hair a bit.

Ulric followed her lead, ruffling his own hair slightly, barely believing that he was the one who conceived this fantastically awful idea. But it was mildly entertaining. And probably would be until his Uncle actually entered. And Phonix's swallowed laugh, and its slight resemblance to a smile was rather pleasant, to say the least.

Phoenix stifled another laugh, putting on a mask of guilty composure. She wondered what the Senator would thing and, of course, hoped that she wasn't pushing things too far. "Um, it's safe now! Please come in!" She crossed her legs, shifting a bit in her chair.

Mazim was astonished. He fumbled for words. "Well.. This.. You--" He creased his brow, looking hard at both of them, "I for one am! Completely! You! You have defiled--! You should be--! I don't even kn--"

"Senator!" interrupted Phoenix. "It was a joke. But as you can see, we work... deceptively well as a team." She sat up straighter, her face taking on a humorless and dignified look. "Now let's get a look at those documents."

Mazim was at a loss for words. "Phoenix!" he sputtered.

"Senator!" she said. "Honestly! We have work to do."

Mazim blew out a puff of air, looking at her and his nephew sternly for a few moments, before beckoning them to join him at a table across the room to review the terms of the assignment.

Just the sputtering and the stern look was enough for Ulric not to do that in front of his uncle ever again. In front of him, anyway. And Phoenix was absolutely right about their deceptive wellness as a team. Perhaps that particular skill would grow for them as their time spent went on.

He followed just behind, then beside Phoenix to pore over the papers, anxiously awaiting a review the terms of the assignment.

Phoenix leaned over the table, observing the carefully laid out papers on the table. Mazim sat down and gestured for the two younger people to do the same. Phoenix took her seat.

"Now," said the Senator, "Both of you are very aware of the present danger in Sidero. The gangs have been wound up and fighting in the streets. And it has been brought to my attention that they are hiding their supplies and gathering their strength in Umbra. It also appears that the crime bosses from Ariak have become involved as well. What has truly caught my attention," Mazim paused to center two photographs on the table, "Are these men."

The photographs were of an Elosi man, all bright green eyes and flowing cornsilk locks, and an Ariak man, broad-faced and stern with dark, almond shaped eyes and a thick goatee. "These men have been seen together before several of the worst brawls. Whenever they are seen, young people end up dying. I want to know why. I want them or whoever they are working for. Because of this mildly vague claim, I have decided the fee should be paid by head."

I love piecework, thought Phoenix, as she took in the images on the table. Mazim pulled a thick sheet of paper to the table's center now. "Phoenix, Ulric. I urge you. Be very cautious. This contract is not like others I have written. This is based in research. I need to know what's going on and if you cannot bring anyone in... That's fine. I will understand. If that is the case, we can figure out the fee for leads upon your return. The men on the table are 10,000 a head. Their leader is 50,000." The Senator slipped the documents on the table into a long envelope that had several other papers in it, as well. "Inside here are my terms. Most of them are self-explanatory. I want the targets alive. They are worth half as much to me dead. Leads must be verified before payment. For this contract, you are to return immediately if either one of you is severely injured. You will drop this contract and be taken care of here. Leave no traces and do not get caught. These people.." Mazim had difficulty saying the next few words, "These people will kill you. Or worse." He paused and regained his composure. "Do you accept the terms of this assignment?"

Ulric listened intently to his Uncle's words, taking each one into account. All the while, he observed the photographs, the overall looks of the men, the notable physical traits, their builds. Again, like most, it was their eyes that struck the most. They could be any Elosi and Ariak man, but it was their eyes that would give them away in a crowd of Sideri gangsters. Every feature, however, he put to memory.

A drop in his Uncle's voice shifted the young bodyguard's attention, as the man delved into the darker matters of their assignment. In his own concern, he served to them the gravity of the situation with direct words. His mind rushed ahead to see all the potential disasters again, but he would refuse to listen. If he was in the situation leading to disaster, whatever his partner's protest, he would be the first to offend and defend. Those were the terms that would always be on his contract. And so the bounty hunter's partner also nodded, and replied.

"Yes, sir."

Mazim pursed his lips and nodded. "Good." He handed Phoenix a thick, black quill. She signed her name on the bottom of the contract with a flourish and then handed the quill off to Ulric.

Mazim looked at her for a moment, while she signed and then said to both of them, "I've made arrangements for the both of you to leave on a ship carrying glass into the capital tomorrow morning. It departs at the fifth hour of dawn. I have found a Sideri youth hostel in which you can reside until work takes you elsewhere. You are students looking to study at the Elosi Academy in the second ring."

Phoenix nodded.

"Phoenix, you're welcome to stay here tonight, if you like."

"It's probably a good idea since we're practically leaving in the middle of the night."

Mazim smiled at her. "Very well. I'll have Rhea show you to the second guest chamber. She'll set you up."

"Thank you, Senator," she walked a few paces toward the door before adding, "For everything."

"You're welcome. Get some rest."

"Will do. Good night, Senator." She turned and threw Ulric a slight smile, "Night, partner," before pivoting and moving to depart the room. A servicegirl was waiting at the door to receive her.

Ulric signed the contract in the designated location, wondering what now laid ahead for his partner and him, now that their partnership was completely official. Instead of thinking of the implications of such an assignment, he began to think of calm and quiet, preparing for the few hours of sleep he would have before their travel. After several days of such, he tried to refuse his own complaints. This was the life that he and Phoenix lived and would live. He did not involve himself in the exchange between his uncle and the bounty hunter; the care that the man had was admirable, genuine.

The concern for the young woman was surprising, when it was implied that she may not stay for the night. But he was assured with her reply. And just as he was to sit down on the floor, she looked to him and smiled.

"Night, ,partner."

There was nothing to do but return the smile and the words, as a servicegirl took her from his chambers.

"Good night, partner," he replied, in her absence.


Mazim reached down and rested a hand on Ulric's shoulder for a moment. "Ulric. You be careful out there. And you make sure that she's careful out there, too. Keep her reigned in. She's going to fight you, but stay grounded. Good night. I'll see you in the morning before you leave." And with that the Senator swept out of the room to retire to his bedchamber.

--------

Phoenix bathed and combed her hair. She slipped into the bedclothes Rhea brought for her and doused the lights and the fire in the room. She felt around the room, finding her way into the bed. She laid on her back for a while, thinking about the day's events and then rolled to her side, facing the wall. She drifted into peaceful, dreamless sleep.

Phoenix awoke at 3 o'clock, or the third hour of the morning, as the Aster liked to say. She half-stumbled out of bed and sat on the floor, rummaging zombie-like through her knapsack. The lack of light would have made it difficult to see, but Phoenix had her eyes shut anyway. With the exception of when she was in the presence of a threat, Phoenix was not a fully functioning human being during her first twenty minutes of wakefulness. After a few minutes, she found what she was looking for: a soft black bar and a sheathed knife. She reached up and felt around to place them on the bed.

After attempting to get up, she got herself a bit tangled in the bedsheets. And a "Wahh!" followed by a thump signaled her fall onto the ground. Nobody saw that. She groaned something about getting up early and kicked off the sheets, before collecting her items and making her way down the hallway and into a dark washroom. She turned the water on in the bathtub, as hot as she could take it and closed the door. She then took of her bedclothes and sat in the tub for a few minutes, trying to wake up. When she was feeling a bit more like herself, she picked up the black bar, wet her hair and then started rubbing it with the bar until it was all ink black. The water ran black as she rinsed out the excess. After draining the tub, she stepped out of the water and hastily wrapped a towel around herself. With the blade, she cut two or three inches from her hair before picking up her clothes, cleaning up, and heading down the hall back to her room.

She dressed for the journey and took out a small vial of dark liquid. She tipped back her head and put a few drops in each eye. The burn flooded her eyes with dark tears. She wiped them from her face and inspected her eyes in her blade. Dark brown, nearly black. Perfect. She could be any Ariak girl now.

She then proceeded to take out a few blades from her knapsack. She sat on her bed, meticulously sharpening them and waiting for the rest of the manor to awaken.

The "Wahh!" and thump down the halls from Ulric's chambers woke him easily. Such noise did not originate from a service girl, and certainly not from his uncle. But were it not for Phoenix's loud awakening, he would have been asleep much longer. It wasn't that he typically slept in later than necessary, but those last, long, albeit uneventful, days of travel had exhausted him strangely.

Regardless, and certain of the woman's recovery, in spite of his inclination to ensure such by locating her room and knocking on her door, he brought himself, alternately, to preparing for the day. He lit one lamp to add breadth to the trickling stream of early-morning moonlight. He bathed and dressed in comfortable clothing, and put on his shoes.

His hand was cautious on the knob to exit the room, and he peered into the hallway, seeing just a few lamps lit for their leave. With this, he traveled to the source of the waking noise.

Phoenix looked up at the sound of light footsteps in the hallway, at which point she was positive she had woken someone with her fumbling. Wonderful. She slipped on her shoes and packed up her knives, along with the rest of her things.

Mazim awoke, washed, and dressed in a timely manner. He had always been an early riser. He adjusted his robes before exiting his bedchamber and walking down the stairs to the foyer, where he would say his goodbyes. He sat in a chair near the front door and pulled a small volume from a shelf. He began reading while he waited for his young employees and the carriage that would bring them to the boat.

Ulric had long concealed any weapons of his, in his pack, on his person; it was the first thing he did in the morning. Otherwise, the hall seemed abnormally long, but he was never comfortable with the Aster architecture, for all its steel and glass, the light constantly reflecting more than just sun. Some believed the city glittered, diamond-like, a place of unity and progress and balance. But he always sensed dishonesty acutely, and the entire location gave him a feeling of uneasiness, lopsidedness. Then again, such a sense was beginning to appear in many other places.

Gently, he knocked on the door where he'd determined Phoenix's location.

"Everything alright in there?"

By now, she had to already be prepared. Perhaps they would take to his Uncle's chambers together, from this morning onward, they were a team.

Phoenix stood up, swinging her pack onto one shoulder. She recognized the voice of her new bodyguard and opened the door, stepping out to join him in the hallway. "Why, yes. Good morning, Ulric."

"Wonderful. Good morning, Phoenix," he said, debating whether he should mention her 'rough awakening' or not. He decided that the latter may be wiser, at least to start their morning positively.

"I think the stairs are this way," he said, hoping that the labyrinth would not be so difficult to navigate with less guidance than their last entrance. However, he had the slightest feeling that, disturbingly, perhaps, Phoenix may have known her way more than himself.

Phoenix nodded, deciding to take this time to test his sense of direction. She knew this building well, inside and out. The infiltration of it from time to time had facilitated her navigation of it. "Well, we'll find out, won't we."

She started to walk down the hall, but not too quickly. She would quietly give him the lead. His memory and navigation skills needed to be sharp for quick escapes.

Out of his minimal visits to the Senator's manor, Ulric continued down the hall, in the tiny drops of light that they were offered by the lamps. He knew the general location of staircases and other means of traversing to the prominent and more discreet exits of the space. Thinking briefly of a nearly-forgotten lesson in Aster architecture, from an extremely long time ago, he took them to a staircase, then toward the southern side of the house. The windows in the home were few, making it nearly claustrophobic sort of privacy, but the windows that were, were large and typically elaborate, curtained lavishly for the night.

The door by which his uncle awaited he and his partner was shaded, for security, but only slightly, for those indoors to see outside.

"Good morning, Uncle," he said, quietly, as he approached.

Phoenix descended the stairs silently on her toes. It had become a habit. "Good morning, Senator Mazim," she said, bowing her head respectfully.

"Good morning, Ulric. Phoenix," replied the Senator, as he closed his book and stood up. "I trust you are both well-rested? You have a long journey ahead of you."

Phoenix recalled her early morning tumble. "Of course."

Outside, the sound of hooves could be heard padding along the sandy path to the house. Phoenix stared as the four strange animals pulled a carriage up to the house. They were white with swan-like necks and four legs. Their faces were long and their eyes large and blue. Stag antlers sprouted from the tops of their heads and their mouths were hard, black and curved like beaks. She had never seen anything like them. Odd, but beautiful. Must be an Aster thing.

The Senator stood up and opened the door. "It is time."

Ulric nodded in affirmation. And then the magnificent Aster creatures arrived attached to a carriage and driven by men arrived, just before them. It was time indeed.

He turned to his uncle, giving him a solemn look, both accepting and thanking him for such an assignment and granting him last greetings. He hoped to see him again.

Phoenix gave Mazim a genuine smile, trying to ease his nerves. "We'll meet again soon, Senator."

"We will." He extended his hand to her. She took it and a firm shake was exchanged, but Phoenix let go and very briefly hugged her only father-figure. Mazim was taken aback by the sudden show of affection, but he reciprocated the gesture. Phoenix pulled away and nodded, before taking the hand of the carriage driver, who helped her into the car.

Mazim looked upon Ulric with the same solemn eyes. "Take care, nephew."

----
"Thank you, uncle," he replied. Ulric intended for both of them to meet him again. With that determination, the door opened. The path to the carriage was clear. He would not leave the man in the manor, nor his family at home. The sudden sting of that thought took him aback, but he pulled himself forward. A quick glance at Phoenix, and the thought of her affection for his uncle placed her beside them in his mind already. This would be more than a dangerous assignment between them; that connection could never be severed. She would be his priority until they accomplished their goal.
----
When both of them were in the carriage, the driver closed the door. He tipped his hat to the Senator and then swung onto the top of the carriage and whipped the reigns, urging the strange animals forward. They took off at a good clip and Mazim watched for a few moments as the carriage disappeared into the dark landscape, glittering with morning's first light.

Phoenix stared out of the window of the carriage for a while. The rocking and the even sound of synchronized hooves calmed her mind. It threatened to lull her to sleep. She didn't want to sleep. She turned to Ulric, trying to read the expression on his face.
----
Ulric looked out his window as well, watching trees of all sizes, of great height, wide and narrow leaves, once silhouettes, illuminated by the sun's gradual arrival, creating gold-traced edges of deep emerald, and silver in the distance. It always amazed him, how quickly the environment changed. And how much attention it required. He looked closer to the trunks of the trees, knowing where thieves and others hid among them, or so they did in the lesser-populated, yet traveled parts of Sidero. But Asteri was different, for all of its changes in recent years.

In the corner of his eye, he noted Phoenix, with a subtle nod of her head indicating her need for rest. The sound of the hooves seemed good for sleep, for her.

"You should probably rest, Phoenix. We have many long days ahead of us," he said, in the quietest voice audible. He already masked his wonder, trying only to stay within the moment.
----
Phoenix considered his words carefully. She was so useless upon waking. Perhaps this environment was safe enough for him to experience it. "I think I will." She folded her arms to keep warm and sank down a bit in her seat, tilting her head back against its cushion. She allowed her newly darkened eyes to close, her expression softened, and the hoofbeats carried her off into unconsciousness.

She awoke when the carriage stopped at port and shook her head to stay awake and functioning. After climbing out of the car, followed by Ulric, the two boarded the ship that would sail them to their assignment.

----

The travel was quicker than before, and strangely quiet. Ulric had limited his communication with others, preferring to focus on his assignment and his partner, who remained rather closed during their time. As large as the island may have been, it did not take long for the two to arrive in Noia, the great capital city. Even from the outside, the evidence of all four islands was present. The city walls of strong stone stood tall and proud, indicating the traditions that formed it, but hiding a darker reality just within.

After entering the gates, for all the indication of wealth and strength, the outermost ring was not easy to hide. The structures were squat, some cracked, breaking down in the outer rings. Industry produced a haze through the walks and waterways, darkening the stream by which they traveled. The canal-rowers barely acknowledged the surroundings, the factories and some run-down houses just managing to stand. And they did not even give a glance to the people. The outer-ring was not a great advertisement for Noia, and was also the most effected by the illness now.

Ulric did not try to keep himself from being overwhelmed by all the senses' dark engagement in this part of the city. He knew its neglect, its non-existence in the inner-most rings, its acknowledgment coming only out of its association with Umbran criminal activity. And he'd walked its walkways, rowed its canals, hidden among it enough to know the nature of the outer ring, the true nature of the people. Many of them were out, working endlessly to provide the rest of the city, and much of Sidero and even Pentemia with the products it survived on. Even with the other necessity of such production, the recurrence of the illness increased the suffering of the lower ring more than anyone could have ever imagined. And given the general lack of Alenian heritage in this particular ring, treatment was not generally administered to them. Not usually.

Another thought threatened to enter his mind, but he fought it, focusing instead at the upcoming entrance, the less than official, but still entirely obvious, second ring. The homes would grow progressively neater as they wound deeper into the city. The second ring was wide and spread out, of mostly sturdy and established homes, while some were more elaborately built. One could easily pick out neighborhoods where other islanders congregated, the clean, simple, but spacious homes of Elosi neighborhoods, the established stone spaces of the Ariak, elaborately constructed Aster, and the crowding Tephran homes. Ulric could not see his home from where they were, especially given the enormity of the residential ring, where diversity and segregation coexisted, more uncomfortably than ever with even a common enemy. Distrust had increased with the mortality rate and the number of missing persons.

Passing by an enormous residence of Ariak and Elosi architecture combined, Ulric glanced over to his partner, wondering desperately what she might think of their assigned location. Danger lurked most, sadly, in the outermost rings and the innermost ring. At the highest part of the city's business and political sphere, and in its depths, in the darkest parts of Umbra. It was a city of extremes. Beauty and ugliness. Luxury and lacking. Its only greys were in those buildings. Noia, they named it, with such irony; someone must have predicted its future.

He put his attention on any threat, however unlikely in their present, public location. Yet he still tried to gauge the response of Phoenix to his home city. It seemed to speak for itself.
----
Phoenix watched Noia’s outermost rings float by with wide-eyed interest. She had never seen a city quite like it. The walls between the rings were the most massive structures she had ever seen. Beautiful in their own grungy way. She stared out at the residential ring, the variety of structures and the evidence of their heritage. There was so much of everything. The magnitude of the assignment slammed down upon her. The targets could be hiding absolutely anywhere in this behemoth metropolis. Anywhere. She felt her stomach drop, as though she was falling through the air, with anxiety and excitement. It was exhilarating.

She walked to the front of the tall gondola, as they passed through the yawning arch of the next wall. She sat down near the small bow, leaning over its pointed edge slightly, looking up at the tall, pale buildings that made up the Elosi education centers. The loomed, high and regal over the canal and Phoenix couldn’t help but stare up at their impressive spires. Weaving between these centers were young people, some of whom looked Elosi, Ariak, Asteri and even Tephran. Others looked like their own unique race. Perhaps what the Sideri youth had become. This ring was carpeted by plush grass and stoney paths that led to the various buildings.

As they continued to float, Phoenix took note of the total lack of poverty. It was eerily absent from this ring in a way that it had not been in the rings that preceded it. This next series of buildings was tall and square. Many of them were made of black stone, starkly contrasting with the education centers. Between them ran smaller canals, for shipping. This was the financial district. Phoenix suspected there were more than a few crooked characters here. It was just a matter of figuring out who they were.

The water was becoming steadily clearer. Phoenix was not accustomed to the cool draft that arose from it. She pulled her hood over her head, which she then rested upon her folded arms on the edge of the gondola. The entrance into the next ring was triangular. She stared down into the cold, blue water as they passed beneath it, seeing a fourth corner deep down in the canal. This ring was the smallest, the innermost ring. And without a doubt, Noia’s most impressive and extravagant ring. Rolling green hills had been landscaped into its outer edges and Phoenix immediately felt as though she had entered some sort of Elosi paradise. She was quietly startled by a rushing noise from overhead. She looked up to discover its source and saw twin, razor-like rails that crawled beside the wall of this ring. Monorails. Their rails were suspended by a network of some sort of hovering devices that glowed blue from underneath them. Interrupting the hills was a ring of mirror-like water, in which small swimming creatures could be seen. This ring of water held in a park with golden brown paths, bright foliage and various peoples walking through it.
Some of them riding atop odd animals that reminded Phoenix of those that pulled the Aster carriage.

Up ahead, the union building became visible, fringed by five other buildings: the four embassies and Sidero’s government building. The Elosi embassy was tall and white, like most of the Elosi architecture. It was simply and clean. The Ariak building was severe, dark and long. Its dark stone was accented with ornately carved wood. The Asteri building glittered, glass and steel. It had multiple spires and people could be seen through the large sheets of glass, moving through it. The Tephran building was grey and square. There were few windows. And the union building trumped them all, towering above them, its red stone standing out among the rest.

Soon, the gondola docked, just at the edge of one of the parks. Phoenix stood up, a bit wobbly. She steadied herself with the side of the boat and walked to Ulric to disembark with him.
---
Ulric kept watch as they entered the inner rings of the city, easily spotting the figures who were not as straightforward as they appeared. It wasn't stereotyping; he knew how they identified each other. They were more obvious here than in the other rings, for all attempts to blend in. It wasn't just the more obvious indicators of nervousness that pointed them out, but the small details of their outfit. It was subtle, how they pointed themselves out to each other. Umbra was not well-respected, but its necessity to some was more acknowledged than even the lowest rings. He stepped out of the gondola with as his partner steadied herself with the side. Having rarely left Noia, he might never understand what it would be like to really see the city for the first time. But he did understand the wonder. And the true enormity of their assignment.

He glanced over at his partner, seeing the flash of exhilaration in her darkened eyes; he had noticed the first day of their travels that she had changed her appearance. She looked more Ariak than he'd seen her initially. But then again, if her disguises were this convincing all the time...

"You seem to be seeing something I'm not," he said. "Are you really as excited as you look right now?"

----
Phoenix stepped off the boat and tugged at her sleeves, pulling them further down her wrists. She looked up at her skeptical bodyguard. "Me?" she asked. "I assure you, I'm seeing exactly what you're seeing. Just from a different perspective. And I'm probably more excited than I look."

She pulled out a map from her bag, determined to look as green as possible. Helplessness was a good tool for bounty hunting. It brought targets within range. Phoenix knew it would be a useful tool here in Noia. "Now where's the commuter to the third ring..?" she allowed her last word to linger, as she traced paths on the map with her finger. "Aha!" she tapped a blue dot on the paper. She folded the map. "But I mean. You should be able to get us there, right, Ulric?"

----
He eyed her even more skeptically as she removed the map from her backpack; making herself so obvious to the people around her was probably helpful in some way, that apparently made sense to her, but he couldn't entirely understand himself. Regardless, he followed her lead, while she would be following his soon enough. Perhaps he was fooling himself. He couldn't really predict Phoenix.

"Certainly," he said, dryly, taking a small step ahead of her, but not enough to lose sight of the bounty hunter. She would do as she would, and he would as he would. But he knew they shouldn't separate, regardless of what they were doing.

----
“Beautiful," said Phoenix, following just behind him. She could see him judging her behind those dark eyes. It didn't matter to her. She assumed they would just.. get used to one another at some point. She was very unaccustomed to having to stick to someone during an assignment. Whenever she collaborated with another party, they usually worked separately until a rendezvous just before apprehending a target.

She could only imagine the clashes that would come before they got used to one another. And she wanted to avoid them in public. The only solution she could think of at the moment was keeping the conversation to a minimum.
----
Ulric understood keeping the conversation low, especially in public. But he did wonder about their brief collaboration, however minimal, in the room at his Uncle's manor. It was small and for their own entertainment, the one second to prove that immaturity still reigned in some small part of them, but it was good. That one second to pretend they were not adults. It shouldn't have mattered, but those were the initial moments spent, other than the young woman's thorough "analysis" of him.

Regardless of his inability to really understand who the person beside him was, and perhaps hers, their ability to cooperate with one another had to be held above everything else. So he committed himself to doing whatever it took to maintain that connection, at the very least.

"It's a long walk to the hostel, but I suppose it's another way to see the city. Most take the canals for distance travel, but the monorails are quite popular in this area of the city," he said, offering minimally significant information in place of silence and the sound of Noia's bustling inner-ring citizens.

----
Phoenix nodded as she walked, tucking that information into her mind's back pocket. She knew very little about Noia. It was nice to get some first hand information. If anything, Ulric would save her time. There would be no need to attach herself to a person because she was just a defenseless girl in a big, unfamiliar place in need of a friend. That was the usual way in. But she had a guide this time.

She did wonder about Ulric. Wondered why he had been trained from such a young age to protect people. Guard bodies. Whatever they call it. Wondered why he was so serious all the time. Wondered what his house was like, what his family was like. And she knew that he wondered the same things about her. Because that was natural. But they were in a difficult position to extract information in the usual way of asking questions.

So they merely toyed with the idea from behind their facades.

"I see. That's alright. I like walking." She took note of what appeared to be businessmen headed toward what she remembered to be the elevator to the monorail. They all wore the same thing and walked in the same fashion. It was peculiar. But it could have been a Sideri thing. There was no way of knowing. This whole part of the city was gilded. She could sense it with a glance into the watchful eyes of passersby.
----
Ulric noted the men boarding the monorail, certain of where they were headed. Strange how some of the highest places in the city led into the darkest places. He would go over this when they had some degree of privacy. In the inner rings, it took conscious effort to suppress the overwhelming sense of a thousand eyes from windows and passerby's, all concealed beneath the wardrobe of wealth and success. He longed for the exposure of the true nature of some in this part of the city, and strained to conceal his discomfort, making his urgent pace appear purposeful.

He cursed his own transparency as the two of them went on. For all his years constructing walls and making masks, he still could not perfect them. It posed great danger, perhaps destruction, in some of his previous endeavors, but thus far, he had managed. It was in this moment, in such close proximity with someone almost entirely a stranger to him, that he felt this trait of his so acutely.

The buildings were shrinking in height around them but not even slightly losing their ornate and culturally-conspicuous appearances.
----

Phoenix could see in the way that Ulric tensed the small muscles in his neck and the thicker ones in his back that he was worked up about something. She wanted to know what it was that had unnerved him so. He must have been used to seeing people like those men. So what could be bothering him?

She noticed the falling height of the buildings. This part of the city was too pristine. It was impossible to keep such a mixed place so utterly perfect. Diversity was messy. Worthwhile, but certainly not easy at first.

She glanced up at Ulric again and murmured, "Hey. It's okay."
----
The voice startled him, the source unexpected and very near. he stared in the direction of their destination, not slowing even for her, perhaps, attempt at reassurance. He wished to trust that voice, the man who had brought it to them. But this street kept him from doing so. He walked on in silence, even faster, barely noticing the pace, the sights in his peripheral vision.
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ConfusedShipper123

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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 3:12 pm

Phoenix lengthened and quickened her strides to keep up with him. He was so jumpy. He didn't seem like the sort of person who would get so nervous. She was trying to create some sort of bond with him. Or at least an agreement. An agreement that they could be comfortable with one another. They were safe.

Looking around, Phoenix suppressed the growing unease breeding in her stomach. She was slightly more wary of this place now. He lived here and he was this worked up. Umbra must have been worse than she thought.
----
Umbra could be as clean and covered as the men climbing to the monorail, or nastier than polluted waters. It was exactly what it indicated--Noia, underground. All groups were represented. But there was no natural light. And, as if directly resulting from that lack of light, darkness within the people who entered below was amplified. Measures of desperation were the norm, no matter how discreet such measures appeared. But it was worse now.

He knew because he'd seen it, and a great deal too much. He knew he might have even looked suspicious, but it was a risk he would take; he would look "normal" the moment they broke from this part of the ring. As soon as they passed all the entrances to that darker realm of Noia, of Sidero. He noted each one, tried to remind himself to let his partner know of them once they reached their temporary residence. His hood was pulled up over his face now, as a chill came over the street, from the landscaped hills, the ocean just beyond it.

"I apologize, Phoenix. We definitely will have to return here, but I think that's about all I can say."
----
Phoenix mirrored Ulric's motion and pulled up her hood, as well. She sped up so that she was walking beside him. She felt like she was being watched and it set her on edge. "Understood," she murmured. She wanted to get out of there just as much as he did.

The sideways glances she was getting from a few of the men just standing around waiting for the commuter boats and monorails scared her in a way that she wasn't accustomed to. There were just so many of them. And they were ruthless. She could see it in their unrelenting stares. That confidence was obvious. They were brazen and strong. Not the kind of men that they should take head on.

She wandered even closer to her bodyguard, her shoulder brushing his as they moved along.
---
Ulric did his best to ignore the men and women who glanced at them, and tried even harder not to recognize them. His hood was nearly over his eyes, leaving just enough fabric to see clearly ahead of them. He turned at the edge of the street, heading onto a sidestreet, with fewer of the shady inner-ring figures. The street was populated with with youths, a university only a few blocks west of their current location. Nowhere was safe, but their age permitted them to blend in here. Past the school, and a few more turns would bring them to a far less shady path to the hostel. He appreciated that Phoenix merely followed, and her nearness did not heighten his nervousness; it was a relief to know that neither of them had yet been swept away. Though he remained on the defensive inside, and continued to keep track of surroundings, he visibly loosened from his previously anxious posture. This was usually a long walk, but their previous speed had pushed them ahead just enough.

"We're almost there," he said, as they arrived on the path, a primarily Elosi street with a few small businesses and residences.
----
Phoenix saw a certain resemblance between some of the faces that she found intriguing. Were they like a family?Some of them, I'm sure, she thought.

The change of environment allowed her breath to come a little more easily. These people were different. Most of them seemed to be exactly what they appeared to be: Students. Harmless, for the most part. She slowed her pace a bit, at Ulric's words. "Okay."

This Elosi street made her feel as unwelcome as she did on the darker path. It was not a calming light. It was probing and blinding in its beauty. The people here were not to be trusted either.
----
Ulric walked somewhat briskly through the Elosi street, knowing that it would stand out at least slightly among the people there, but he knew that he and his partner were very obviously not Elosi. At least here, among most, he would not be very well-identified. He appeared, to most to be any youth of Sidero, maybe an Aster, physically fit, nothing out of the ordinary. The young woman beside him likely received the looks she had for the reasons that he'd assumed she would originally. Unless someone knew of their assignment.

No... you're almost to the hostel, keep on track, he told himself. The Elosi street led them to a red stone and thick-glass building, with travelers checking in and walking out. He took quick steps to the entrance. This is where they would stay.
---
As they neared their destination, Phoenix held her neck still, using her peripheral vision to the fullest extent that she could. She kept her face a mask of easy serenity. She was listening. Feeling the air for anything unfamiliar. If there was anywhere the enemy couldn't know about it was this place. They were really going to hide in plain sight.

She followed Ulric inside the building and walked up to the young woman at the front desk. "Hello, how many today?"

"Two," Phoenix replied, motioning to Ulric.

"This way," said the young woman, leading them down a corridor.

"Keys?" asked Phoenix.

"Of course." Phoenix flicked a small, folded piece of paper from the lining of her sleeve to the palm of her hand and when the two women's hands met, they exchanged: key for paper.

"Right," said the girl. She looked the two of them over again, "Right," she repeated, a little more quietly, in recognition of what she was dealing with. "Up here," she led them up a staircase, to a small room with two beds on opposite ends and a window covering the whole wall between them. The thick drapes were halfway drawn.

"Phoenix," replied the girl. She pushed a thick lock of brassy auburn hair behind her ear and waved to Ulric. "Hello. I've been expecting the both of you."

"I was hoping we'd see you here. The old lion seems to have taken a liking to using the two of us together."

"That he has. So, I'll be doing the usual. If you need anything.. I'll be around, okay?"

Phoenix nodded, "We'll let you know."

"Hm," replied Peris, before walking toward the door. "Oh," she smiled and laughed a bit, "And it really is nice to meet you, Master Ulric."

With that, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Phoenix turned away from the door, toward the window, biting her lip to avoid laughing at Peris' departure.

"We can talk now."
----
Master?

"Well, you seem to have some sort of connection here... should I ask?" he began. The situation was complicated enough. It shouldn't have surprised him that she knew at least one person in Noia; he couldn't imagine where she'd been in her work, although this was her first visit to Sidero, in the very least.

He set down his things, stashing them beneath his bed until he could find better storage, drawing the curtains a little more, sacrificing some light for security. Windows could give them nothing but trouble in this place.
---
Phoenix suppressed the smile at his mild confusion. "Peris is the person that your uncle most often chooses for me as a contact. Obviously, we ourselves cannot keep in contact with him. We're too involved with the assignment. But Peris can move messages freely between us," she explained. "If anything should go wrong, or we need something urgent, we notify her, she notifies him." Phoenix plopped onto her bed on her back, letting her head hang off the side of the bed. She looked at Ulric upside down.

"She's our very own messenger pigeon," she said. "And," she added with what might have been a hint at a laugh, "She seems to have taken a shine to you already."
---
"Wow," Ulric replied feebly. He had not realized the extent of involvement between his partner and his Uncle. They had clearly been working together longer and in more frequency than he had previously understood. It was a rather positive realization, in most respects. Still, he knew less about Phoenix than he'd like in order to trust her. And he wasn't so sure what to think abouat Peris, but he was relieved to have the connection to his uncle.

He offered Phoenix the slightest of smiles. Perhaps he would tell her what she needed to know in a moment.

"First impressions are usually quite important, if I'm not mistaken," he added.
---
"Mm, you're very right." She sat up and laid on her stomach, looking at him. "So," she propped herself up on her elbows, "How bad is it?" She figured they could have a little time to ask some questions and get some answers. Decide who they were going to be until they got into the underground.

It couldn't be done by brute force. The whole assignment would need some coaxing to be completed. Planning was necessary.
---
The city was constructed on plans and strained attempts at peace. None of the cultures combined there were exclusively violent; in fact, most were quite non- or anti-violence. But there were always exceptions to that usual "rule". Still, it was cunning and manipulation that ruled Umbra. And death still resulted from the methods of the darker Noia.

"Very. It might have been obvious to you, but the city, especially the inner rings, is not as it seems. The men by the monorail when we first got in, they were definitely... on their way to Umbra. Those clothes don't just show a social class; they signify an allegiance. There were a few more on the way over to the Saphinia University block. Umbra's everywhere, really. And there were quite a few secret entrances on the street we came down originally. Since its propensity for crime was discovered and developed, most usually enter in that way, or take the monorail, which is the usual way in. It wasn't always like this, but that doesn't really matter. I'd say, in your case, stop wearing red. And we can't walk around with our hoods up all the time. Is there anything else you'd like to know?"

He knew there was a great deal more to say, but he figured he could start with what she thought were the most important details. And then there was the matter of creating their official identities here.

Phoenix nodded as she memorized all of the information she was given. She had figured as much about the hoods, but was glad to know about the red. She pulled the tie out of her hair wrapped it around her wrist.

She looked up at Ulric, watching his eyes while he talked for a while. They gave away surprisingly little. So she started to watch his mouth. Her ears circumnavigated the foreign accent and her eyes adjusted to the way it made her partner form words. She noticed the tightness around his mouth whenever he said "Umbra."

It was same the way her mouth tightened when she talked about home. _There's clearly a problem there._ She knew that she wouldn't talk about where she was from. But in this case, it was important.

"Of course," she replied nonchalantly, "There are always things I want to know. For example, I'd like to know what or who is your connection to the underground."


Ulric tensed. He should have noticed the way she had been watching him, so intently during his whole introduction to the subjects at hand.

"I don't really know if that's exactly in your best interests right now."

He knew it wouldn't be long before his connection would be necessary to reveal; regardless, he would waste the time trying to avoid doing so.


Phoenix wrinkled her brow a bit. Why couldn't she know? It would be dangerous for her not to know who she was walking around with. Who was the Senator's nephew?

Did the Senator even know?

She folded her hands, intertwining her fingers and looking down at them. "Ulric, I need to know. Answer me that one question and I will answer any of yours."

He tensed again, before taking a deep breath. He would do what he had to, as he always had.

"I... I'll start with this. My father started at the lowest ring. It took a long time to reach where he did. It's an uncommon story, even for Noia, but worshiped all over Sidero. Working one's way up. When he got there, we were already old enough to know how to survive. The first, second, and third rings had their own unique challenges."

Challenges he took on defensively, walking ahead and beside and around his siblings every second. "Training" began in the first ring.

He continued.

"Umbra and the business districts are inextricably linked, always have been, since long before the illness started becoming everyone's primary concern."

He paused, trying to sort out his own thoughts, his own memories, compose them to explain every detail as he understood the truth.

"My youngest sister fell ill. He started doing everything he needed to to receive the treatment. It started there, and since then, he's gotten more and more involved."

Another pause.

"He believed in giving treatment to the least likely to receive it. I think... I think he saw something he shouldn't have, and... he didn't like what he saw. He came home one night, wound up. My siblings were asleep, my mom was waiting, I was watching, he said he couldn't say anything, but we knew he... he didn't take risks impulsively... I knew that. But he'd seen something wrong. He was in danger. We were in danger. But... I knew he wanted to right that wrong."

Instinctively, the young man checked the room as subtly as he could. He lowered his voice, looked at the wall.

"The un-corrupt authorities, the ones remaining, the ones who still have power, went to Umbra that night. My father disappeared."

Another breath, his gaze still not having left the wall.

His family was in Sidero, hiding practically in plain sight, desperate to leave, disconnected. There was a risk in every outside contact. He was risking almost too much to do what he was doing now, but it was necessary... finding these men could be the solution for more than them. For many.

"I'm sorry I brought you into this. I've done what I can to conceal myself, but nowhere near as well as you can. I just..."

Finally, he looked at her. He wanted, even with potential justified indignation at what he'd told her, hidden from her, affirmation. That he could give her this information. That he could trust her. Even with his potential to be more of a liability than a roadmap.

At the back of his mind, five letters pounded him like a mallet. Leave. He could only bring them both to ruin.


Phoenix looked into Ulric's eyes the entire time he spoke, even when his gaze floated away to the wall. She kneaded her hands nervously at some parts of his tale, partially out of sympathy for this boy that sat in front of her and partially because of the mention of the disease.

Otherwise she kept a very put together face with compassionate eyes. He needed to know that she felt something. That she wasn't just staring at him while he poured out.. bled out portions of a painful memory.

She was unsure of what to do when he looked at her, at the end of his story. This was a dangerous situation made more dangerous by his involvement. Part of her whispered that it knew she should never have accepted this assignment. That she should have walked away. Another part whispered that it was a worthwhile task. That she had a way in now. And the last part murmured the importance of trust during a job like this one.

In those dark eyes she saw more of the Senator in Ulric than she had ever seen before.

"It's okay, Ulric..." She moved from her bed and sat next to him, and lightly, though somewhat awkwardly, laid a hand on his shoulder. "We will be fine."


Whatever release he felt from finally exposing the truth of his own life was overcome by the pain of recollection and the pressure he felt now for further complicating another.

But such compassion in her eyes; he wanted to look away, but he couldn't leave her gaze; such compassion. And she moved to sit next to him.

_"It's okay, Ulric..."_

Her hand upon her shoulder, so gentle even with the discomfort evident on her face.

_"We will be fine."_

It was too much. He didn't expect this, not from her; not from anyone, really. He closed his eyes, focused on breathing, not moving away nor closer, just inhalation, exhalation. He would hold himself together for this moment.

He recalled that he could ask her something now, but whatever question he had seemed insignificant, as much as he wanted to know her. He _did_ want to know her. But he didn't need her deepest secret to know he could trust her, at least right now. He swallowed, and filled and felt his lungs. Yet above this was the feeling of that hand, the warmth, on his shoulder, just beside him. Almost too close. There was, however, another connection between them.

"What about you?" he whispered, opening his eyes, taking in another incredibly conscious breath before continuing. "How did you... how did you come to meet my uncle?"


Phoenix had been preparing to answer this question. She lifted her hand from his shoulder and then folded both her hands in her lap. She looked at them when she spoke, unaccustomed to eye contact in such close range.

"I met your uncle four years ago. When I was through with my training, my master knew that I wasn't quite cut out for the line of work I had been selected for. She helped me run away and get started with small hunting contracts."

She shifted slightly in her seat, thinking about the various omissions she would need to make. There were things about those times that she didn't want to talk about ever again. There was no reason for her to relive them.

"Eventually, I started to get a reputation bringing in thieves. The clients were usually well-off families with missing shipments. The occasional boss, but those were usually cases of petty thievery. My teacher brought me to your uncle. She wanted me to have a powerful connection so that..." she had already started to say more than she wanted to.

"She wanted me to know someone who would be able to help me if anything happened. My teacher was... sick. And when I proved myself with my contracts for the Senator, he and I became friends. He dealt almost exclusively with me if he needed anyone brought in. The Aster put up a front of balance but," she gave a singular, dry laugh, "It's impossible to be completely balanced. There's always someone.."


Ulric offered her sympathy, empathy, though he knew that he wondered more. But he would not ask any further, would not try to fish anymore facts or history from her; it wasn't right. He watched her face, her gaze at her hands, the intensity of her expression in her brief pauses. He responded similarly with her mention of sickness. This conversation, whether either of them wanted it or not, had added another dimension to this partnership. A new fear sprang up in him, even with his decision to trust Phoenix. With its reinforcement in her ability to do the same for him.

He attempted his own weak smile, nodding slightly ((slightlySlightlySLIGHTLY)) at her dry word and laughter; he knew exactly what she meant. Again, he met her eyes, noting the gold specks returning with the day's nearing conclusion.


Phoenix returned his small almost-smile. She was afraid to trust him. She hardly knew him. But that was what the job called for. They were in this together now (NOHSM.NO.). Phoenix always got her man. This time would be no different.

She changed the subject.

"So, Ulric Konstan. Who are we while we're here?" She looked at the window, its drapes rather, for a moment. She asked again, in a smaller voice, "Well.. Who am I? They know you..."


His gaze dropped to the floor with her last phrase, but he sustained his earlier attempts at lightness.

"Who do you think you should be? I'm not very good at... inventing identities."


Phoenix bit her lip, seeing that her phrasing was not the best it could have been. She needed to tiptoe around Ulric. She didn't want to scare him away or hurt him. Trust would never form that way.

"Well... who would you hang around with?" she asked. She knew little about him socially. And they needed to stay together all the time, for the most part.


Ulric seriously considered her question, trying to think of who he actually would hang around with. He hadn't committed to attending school in a while, taking jobs around the city with whomever needed a bodyguard; granted, he usually wasn't alone in that position, but those individuals were his only company. His voice wasn't often needed in his line of work otherwise, and the people he guarded mostly attempted to stay out of the sight of those who made them necessitate traveling with a bodyguard, for however long.

Otherwise, he was with his family. There weren't many options for Phoenix's fabricated identity. If they were "related", it may pose another struggle for them. A friend from a distant childhood?

"Honestly... clients and my family. If you can make anything out of that. I suppose... I could be considering attending the Aster university. We could meet there."

He was visibly running out of ideas.


Phoenix nodded, "Sounds good to me." She started putting the look of an Aster girl in her head. The current hair color would suffice. The eyes needed to be lighter. She knew Asteri like the hilt of her blade. It would be an easy place to be from.

She would need to act and speak differently. The Asteri accent would be simple enough to feign. A gentle lilt in the voice, more open vowels and padded hard consonants, though a little faded because of previous travel. She had heard it often enough for an adequate imitation. After all, the accent in which she spoke presently was an imitation, as well.

Her posture would change. Even more upright. Looking a little proud all the time. Always a refined look, a serious, but not hard expression. Not necessarily quick to smile.

She put the accent together, trying to get her tongue used to the way it would need to work during this assignment. "For the time being," she said, "You may call me Lita. Li, if you like." It was short and easy enough to remember. Not an alias she had ever used before, or at least definitely never in Noia with her small contracts.

She liked becoming someone else. It was the most enjoyable part of her job, other than hauling in targets when the time was right.

Phoenix moved from Ulric's side to her back, feeling around the for smooth, cool surface of another glass vial. She pulled out a few before finding the two she wanted: one filled with a clear liquid and the other with a bluish grey liquid. She tipped her head back and used the clear liquid in her eyes, her fist clenching a portion of the sheets and a quiet, but sharp intake of breath as her only indicators of pain. When she tipped her head forward again, her tears ran black down her face. Her irises were amber again. She took the next vial and repeated the process, leaving her eyes closed for a while to let the color take. The pain was much more bearable. Nothing burned as much as the cleaner did.

When she opened her eyes again, they were a clear and deep blue-grey. With the inky black hair and deep skin tone, she more Aster than Ariak, but still slightly mixed.


Ulric watched in total mystification as Phoenix turned away. As her accent changed nearly flawlessly into that of a well-traveled Aster, as she straightened her posture, her expression serious, but delicately sophisticated, the pride she suddenly held herself with subtle. And when she spoke, he heard a well-traveled Aster. Lita. She was already becoming an entirely different person. Even without changing her physical appearance, he would have believed her, hadn't he seen her just moments ago, posing as a pure, Alenian Ariak.

In the back of his mind, he recognized that her abilities to disguise could go even further than he could possibly imagine; if she disguised herself as Ariak, she wasn't entirely Ariak. He could see it, especially in her amber eyes; those eyes were rare, even for a Sideri of various descent. Again, he wouldn't ask; it didn't matter to him, as long as she had told him enough truth to trust. She had achieved this. But some more cynical part of him questioned her further. He worked to silence it, at least for this relationship. There would be no more questions until they became necessary. For either of them.

Just before him, something magnificent occurred as the young woman pulled out glass vials, dripped their liquids into her eyes, barely indicating pain; he wished a moment to reach out to her. Black tears ran down her cheeks, but when her eyes opened, blue-grey irises circled her pupils; she was no longer Ariak, no longer Phoenix, but Lita. She had become an entirely different person right in front of him. The transformation was entirely stunning.
"Wow," he said, unable to say anymore that didn't involve stating the obvious. She was very convincing.


Phoenix smiled at him. Not her own smile, of course, but the one she had fabricated for Lita. Despite that, the thought behind the smile was genuine. There was something endearing about his stupefaction. "I've been at this a long time. This is always the most entertaining part of the job." She twirled a lock of dark hair around her finger, inspecting it, "It's always nice to not have to be yourself for a while. Walking around in someone else's skin is, well... a relief."

She laughed a bit. The sound did not belong to her in the way that her previous smile did not. And this time there was no Phoenix behind it. "It's nerve-racking, too, but..." she wet her lips, "That's the fun of it."

Now he knew what she could do in the field of disguise. There was no reason to act like someone else behind closed doors with him. _Trust._ She let herself slouch a little, let her chin hang lower and let her expression fall back into the usual humorless mask she wore while doing business. Phoenix again. Ulric was observant. She trusted he would usually note the difference between a persona and his true partner.

"So. Now that we have all that sorted out. How do we get into Umbra? I figure it's not the kind of place we can just go poking around in.."


Watching Phoenix disguise herself was like watching a magical girl transformation without the sparkles...*jk*

Phoenix and Lita were completely separate entities, as far as Ulric was concerned; he knew he would have to figure out how he would act with her in public, but for now, as awed as he was, he preferred to have no fiction between them, while they were in this strangely private space.

Just a change in posture and expression then the return of her former accent was an incredible transformation; such small, subtle things, usually integrated as one person, were not always noticed. But separate, watching as each one emerged as part of how someone presented herself, was nothing short of astonishing. He hardly heard her question, overcome momentarily by what he had seen of Phoenix until this moment.

Once he recalled the question, he answered.

"Uh... well... it certainly isn't. There are different ways to get in. Like the monorail, or a few places on that street we came down. There usually needs to be some sort of connection to get in now. I could show you a couple of actual entrances. The more discreet ways in are... messy, to say the least. The cleanest, most obvious ways in do require connections and sometimes... trades of sorts, or fees. We could take another walk out tomorrow."


Phoenix nodded, "Okay. I like the idea of another walk." She had one more question. And she wanted to give him time to recover; she knew she had asked a lot of him that night. The sunlight had stopped trying to shine its way through the curtains and she assumed it was late. Probably close to the time when they should go to sleep.

She pursed her lips, making her voice as small and gentle as possible. She stared down at her hands. "Ulric? Can I... please ask you one more question?"


Ulric had seen the light of the sun beginning to drift from the curtains, the room falling darker. Even so, the young woman beside him was still clear in his sight. He was nearly ready to fall with the sun beyond the walls and the tallest buildings, in this hostel bed, receive the hours needed to restore himself for the morning, when Phoenix spoke up again. Her gaze was in her hands; she had that tendency, when she was nervous, or hesitant, in some way, he noted. He did not want to answer anymore questions. But he would.

"Yes?" he replied, tentatively.


Phoenix met his eyes, allowing her own to search his. Maybe they did give _something_ away. Maybe she was missing it. Or maybe he really was that guarded. She kept her own eyes guarded as she analyzed his expression for the answer to this question.

"Do they know you? Have you ever worked for them?"


Ulric glanced away from Phoenix, staring hard at the wall again, before angling himself from her, hiding his expression. He knew they were both very attentive, both incredibly skilled at analysis of others, even those with seemingly impenetrable shells. She knew, regardless of how he hid or what he could ever make up to say.

"I've guarded for them. It was before... our recent circumstances."

Another decision had to be made. Out of the corner of his eye, he tried to make out what the young woman was thinking. He swallowed.

"I have handled the treatment. In the lowest ring. It's... mostly unknown. That incident. I was with my father. Not too long before..."


Phoenix swallowed, the knuckles on her fingers turning white with the strain of knitting her hands together. _So at least some of them know who he is.. an associate? A soldier? Is that who I'm working with? Who's supposed to protect me?_ The questions rushed through her mind, leaving her head swimming.

"I... see," she said, extracting what discomfort she could from her voice. She moved her hand to his shoulder, even though he had angled himself away from her. This time the motion was less awkward. Apologetic. "I... Thank you for telling me that. I know it's difficult for you to talk about." I think it's.. time for us to rest."


Ulric wanted to tell her that he was not ever officially involved, but even so, nothing he did was going to be easily forgotten, however insignificant. He'd been under the radar for long enough. That canal let off in such a terribly inconvenient part of the city. If he was in good favor, the connection could have been advantageous. He began to doubt his own reasoning for accepting his uncle's offer, the more he revealed about himself and others. He had, from the second he'd received the information, but he hadn't expected the assignment to go as far as the senator had required.

The hand on his shoulder indicated something else now. With her words, he swallowed, turning slightly ahead, but closer to his partner, to where he had been a minute ago.

"I'm sorry," he said, closing his eyes. "I understand if you... don't want my participation in this assignment anymore. If I come clean to my uncle, there might be ramifications, but it won't be nearly as... disastrous... as something happening here, now, in Sidero. I'll tell him why this won't work, and... maybe you'll find someone else here who knows enough about the city. I can see what you can do; it might not be as difficult as the Senator may have thought. Just... don't do this if you think it's going to be more of a risk than you had expected."


Phoenix closed her eyes for a moment, considering this person that sat before her. Considered everything she had learned about him since they had entered this room. Everything from the gondola. Everything from the Senator's manor on Asteri. It led her to think about the Senator. How she held his judgement above anyone else's. He assigned her his own nephew as a bodyguard for a reason. And he was the only person that she truly trusted at this point in her life.

She had to keep Ulric. The whole thinking process took only a few seconds. She opened her eyes and smiled at Ulric, truly smiled at him. She moved her hand up to ruffle his hair.

"You're not getting rid of me that easily."

With that, Phoenix stood up and went back to the bag by her bed, pulling out some bed clothes. She looked at Ulric and spun her fingers around a few times, "Now, turn around."


Phoenix never ceased to confound her bodyguard, her partner, established with such a totally astounding acceptance, and a ruffle of hair, a few almost lightly spoken words. And when she stood and looked at him, he definitely did what she said. He was reminded of that first night again, but now it meant so much more. She knew nearly everything there was to know about him, nearly every dark thing, every potentially incriminating thing that he could possibly tell in one night. And still, she did what she did.

He gladly looked away, even shut his eyes again, but heard her laugh in his head, saw the smiles that were genuine; not Lita, the friend from university, but Phoenix, the utterly bewildering huntress of men and chameleon with an indisputable ability to pierce right through murky surfaces, but an equally undeniable capacity for compassion. For just this one night, he knew he would sleep without fear.

Phoenix smiled inwardly at his compliance. He was a good boy. Kind and strong. He was like her in the way that he did what he needed to do to survive when he was younger. And she respected that.

She slipped off her day clothes, folding them quickly and neatly, before putting on her pajamas. She slipped under the covers of her bed, pulling them over her shoulders and turning so that she faced the wall.

"Good night, Ulric."

She closed her eyes and sleep took her quickly.


A surprising amount of light flooded through the cracks of the curtains, piercing through in just the right place to illuminate Ulric's face. He squinted in the light, sitting up and stretching with a muffled yawn. He stood, quietly taking up his morning supplies, change of clothes and the like, to prepare for the day; he walked lightly so as not to wake Phoenix. It hadn't been definite, when she'd wanted to wake up. So he supposed a few more minutes would not be detrimental for her.


Phoenix felt the light hitting her eyelids, mildly warmer than the air in the room. It forced her eyes to flutter open and she groaned quietly, rolling to the part of her bed that was shaded by the curtains. -Her Subconscious- Some part of her that was more conscious than the rest told her that if the room was that bright already, it was probably time to get up.

The bounty hunter was reduced to a barely-waking teenager. She stumbled out of bed, careful to adequately unwrap the sheets from her calves before trying to get out of bed this time. No need to make a spectacle of herself again. Her eyes were still closed. She felt the floor with her feet and knew it was safe to stand up, so she did. And then, rather suddenly, she fell to her hands and knees, rummaging through her bag for clothes. When she found what she was looking for, she removed the items. Then she stretched out, feline, on the floor before dragging her lids over her eyes and standing up.

She mumbled something that might have been "hi," and then left the room, crossing the hall to the washroom.


Ulric suppressed a laugh at the semi-consciousness of his waking partner, waking up in true youthful nature. He was sure she was used to waking up at this time or even earlier, even so. She just seemed so young and oddly without a care before she fully wakened. He'd associated such a long morning routine with other personalities.

"Good morning," he replied.

After she left, he began to take off his nightclothes to change into his outfit for the day. Clean, neutral slacks and an even cleaner collared shirt, his shoes already scuffed as much as necessary one button undone at the top, an unbuttoned vest, no jacket, a remote indication of casualness; most of the Noian university students did not keep strictly to the traditions of their island origins. They preferred to invent their own, every youth projecting their effortless personas.

Phoenix closed the door behind her and washed her face. She dried it off, then painted on some subtle eye makeup and a plum lip color. She pulled on a clean dark blue blouse that laced up from the navel. She tightened it until just below her collarbone. She pulled on and straightened a grey pencil skirt that left enough to the imagination and ran a brush through her hair. She looked in the mirror and shrugged. Pretty collegiate.

Phoenix walked across the hall and knocked on the door. "M.." she croaked. She cleared her throat and spoke in a raspy morning-voice, "May I come in?"

Ulric had brushed his teeth and the like, including sweeping his hair across his forehead, just neat and unkempt enough to pass, in a washroom down the hall, taking just enough time to return to the room before Phoenix would. He stashed away everything neatly beneath his bed, trying to ignore what he didn't want to carry inside of his bag, when the bounty hunter knocked upon their door.

He stood, approaching the door cautiously, before opening it as his response.

Phoenix--no, Lita, looked very collegiate. And he was again struck by her, even in her tired state; he was brought to the moment she circled him, grabbed his face, forced him to look at her. Only now, she wasn't forcing him at all.

"Looks like we're... about ready," he said, looking swiftly into the clear, grey-blue eyes of his partner's disguise.

Phoenix smiled at him sweetly, projecting her new persona. "Almost." She slipped behind him into the room and got down on the floor to find a pair of shoes. She selected something that would be comfortable for all the walking they would be doing and put them on. She threw everything she thought might be useful for the day into her pack, haphazardly shoving everything else into the drawer of the modest nightstand by her bed.

She stood up and smoothed down her skirt. "Okay."

Ulric kept his gaze through the door frame, waiting for his partner to pack her bag completely, and stepping out into the hall when she signaled its completion.

Phoenix joined him in the hallway. She locked the door behind them and then led the way down the hall, toward the front desk where she expected to see Peris waiting.

As they approached, she was surprised to see that the redhead was absent from the reception area. _Probably out trying to score with some college boys._ Almost as if on cue, she caught a glimpse a mildly disheveled looking Peris ran giggling across an adjacent hallway, followed by a broad, dark-haired young man. _Yup._ In Peris' place at the front desk was another young woman. She smiled at them as they passed. Lita returned her smile and waved, before continuing to the door.

The young man noted Peris's absence also, but did not assign a great deal of meaning to it; she couldn't be at the reception desk all of the time. However, he hadn't quite expected where she had actually been, but it was not really any of his business, nor was he interested. Instead, he followed his partner out to the outside world, where they stood as supposedly average university students.

"Let's go back downtown," he said, filling in the lack of silence with his lightest voice possible. The sounds of people milling around, going to and from workplaces, homes, and many other, less obvious locations, never ceased in Noia. The windows in their particular hostel just happened to have the thick glass associated with most Asteri architecture.

"After you," replied his partner. She stood behind him, just flanking his shoulder, looking around them discreetly and taking in their surroundings. Memorization of the layout of each ring would be crucial during this assignment. She would take each outing as an opportunity to review.

Ulric followed Phoenix's lead as well, committing to memory the more important details of their surroundings, and the significant locations near them. An Elosi shop, the view of the central ring from the miles they would need to travel to return there. The neighborhood a block away. The alleys, the side streets they passed on their way back to the Aster university.

As they approached a particular street, he wondered briefly if they should have constructed some sort of code of communication for their public interactions. There was an entrance nearby.

Phoenix followed, somewhat blindly. She trusted he knew exactly where he was going. She trusted he knew his city and its underground well enough to navigate them safely through the former to reach the latter. She realized that they had virtually no way of communicating in public other than short sentences and physical signage, both of which the two of them were adept at using.
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Abeiya



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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:12 pm

She hoped that if she needed to know something important, he would figure out a way to tell her.

----

"We just passed one of the lesser-traveled canals near our hostel," Ulric said, casually as humanly possible. He knew he was being somewhat obvious, but to the average accidental eavesdropper, the words wouldn't mean anymore than what he had literally said. Even to a more-than-average eavesdropper, there still wasn't enough in his voice, in his language, to signal anything worrisome. He knew what language to use in order to do so, and he intentionally avoided it.

At the same time, he kept his own ears open, attentive with as many senses as he consciously could.

----

"Mm," Phoenix murmured, acknowledging that she knew what he was talking about. The sound was nonchalant enough to be inconspicuous. She was rather impressed by how coolly her partner communicated. He really was a good match for this job. When she first accepted the assignment, she expected that she would need to coddle him.

She was pleasantly surprised.

She keep watching and waiting. She couldn't afford to let her guard down.

----

Ulric continued to lead his partner down the streets they had previously walked, pointing out significant places with the same subtlety as his first landmark's announcement. There was way in through a large Elosi home, the back of an Ariak business building just within sight. There were people of note in high offices, there were associates on the street. He did his best to call attention to anything she might need to know, his conversational tone flowing as though he was giving the well-dressed, attractive Aster student beside him a simple tour of Noia's second-most affluent, primarily Elosi district.

When they reached the university, he had covered only a small amount of ground.

"As you might have noticed, the Elosi keep a very clean neighborhood. The Aster here do the same, but their architecture varies. I'm certain you're familiar with it, however."

The street was bustling with their supposed fellow students, in the center of their endless days; for all the knowledge they obtained, they seemed completely oblivious to the bodyguard. This place was an illusion.

----

Phoenix was almost amused by the feeling in the pit of her stomach that something was off about everyone and everything in this place. Somewhere on the inside, it absolutely terrified her. Adrenaline leaked into her veins, making everything clear and significant. Her stomach dropped as though she was riding a descending aeroplane. Her job never failed to thrill her.

But Lita merely smiled sweetly at her tour guide from time to time, as though impressed by the things he was showing her. The kind, handsome Sideri boy who was charitable enough to show her around Noia. She nodded occasionally, to signal that she was still listening intently. "Quite," she replied. Not even her gait matched the bounty hunter's as they moved along. There was minimal swing in the hips. The strides were neater and quicker. The arms swung freely instead of being constrained by hands resting in pockets.

She and her tour guide were illusions, too. Here they were both very out of place and right at home.

----

Ulric started toward the entrance of one of the buildings, silently observing his surroundings.

"And this is the physical education building. There are a variety of activities to participate in as part of the student body here. Many of our athletes train here, and even outdoors, year round. If we continue in this direction, we find training spaces tailored to particular activities."

He took her past an actual gym and track, down a quiet open corridor with students accompanying a great deal of books, and then entered another building. Halfway through it, was a staircase.

"We'll be on our way to one of those spaces now."

----

Phoenix cautiously followed him down the stairs. She got the gist of what he meant, but was unsure of what to expect at the bottom of the staircase. It unnerved her. But Lita smiled, "How exciting!" she said, her voice a whispery murmur that teemed with enthusiasm.

----

Ulric continued down the stairs, until he stopped at a door. He opened it, leading her into another small passage, with another, thicker, windowless door. From his backpack, he pulled out a key, inserting it into a lock, which then proceeded to expose another sort of lock. Swiftly, he shifted the pieces of a code into the panel, the door swinging slowly, revealing a few men in a more casual, but similar dress to those by the monorail.

----

Phoenix watched the complex mechanism work, her mouth slightly ajar to signify her wonder at the workings of the lock. Lita could barely stop her reaction from being audible, but Phoenix's kept her in line. She closed her mouth to stop herself from gawking at the men who were present before her. Their dress betrayed their intentions. She sobered up, kept herself very guarded and put together, but visibly at ease.

----

One of the men, clearly Ariak, perhaps three to ten years older than the pair of entrants glanced at another man across from him, exchanging a purposeful glance before explicitly acknowledging the pair. He was dressed in dark colors save for the shock of red on the cuffs of his shirt, peeking out beneath the sleeves of his jacket. Ulric faced the man, his face expressionless as he met the man's eyes.

"Two recruits, Ariak-Aster. Stamatia is expecting us," he said.

The man observed them thoroughly, but swiftly, efficiently, before he stepped toward them.

"I'll be checking you both for Russian weapons now," he replied, before patting them down in a similar manner.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:16 pm

Phoenix cringed ever so slightly as the Ariak man patted her down. She was not one much for close contact. Her body went rigid when his hand slid over the knife concealed in the pleat on the back of her skirt. "I, um..." she proceeded with feigned awkwardness. "I didn't know what to expect," she murmured, blushing, "I figured better safe than sorry. But um.. you can take it! If you want it, I mean, I don't know about what you..." she decided to cut herself off to avoid more rambling, "Do as you wish..!"

She gave up the knife and then other associates of this underground group led them into a separate room, where they were ushered into seats near the back of the small lecture hall. At the front sat a woman with long, straight, dark hair. She looked purely Ariak. A man settled beside Phoenix and she made a conscious effort to keep eye contact with the woman at front, Stamatia.

"Welcome, potential associates," the woman began. Her voice was deep and dark, potent enough to command the attention of the entire hall. "You are all here because you are interested in our operation. I am here to tell you that we will support no weak members in our.. community." A smirk crept across her face. "You there," she pointed at a young Sideri man seated at front and beckoned him to stand beside her. The young man did as she wanted and then she promptly slid a blade between his ribs. The young man collapsed. Lita's mouth fell open. Phoenix closed it, clenched her teeth. "This is what awaits you if you betray what we have going here. You will tell no one of who you saw here today or what you saw here today. And if that is upheld, you may walk away unharmed. Or you can delve deeper. See what our family has to offer. This boy," she said, motioning to the young man on the floor, who gurgled and gulped, convulsing, "Was a traitor. Do not end up like him. You have chosen to come here today. For many of you, that was the wrong decision. But for a few of you, it will be the best decision you've ever made. You'll have us. You'll have a family to fall back on. All the security you could ever need. All the money you could ever want. You just need to be willing to be..." she paused and smiled at someone in the back row, "A team player. If you want to come back for our... induction ceremony... we'll find you. Goodbye." And with that Stamatia faded back into the darkness of the underground hallways, a few bodyguards flanking her every movement.

People attending the meeting began to disperse. A few men and women cleaned up the scene of the stabbing, taking the body off into the hallways and bleaching the bloodstains on the floor.

Phoenix went to stand when the hall was nearly empty. When she was halfway up, the man to her left grabbed her arm and forced her to sit down again. He cupped her jaw gently, but firmly and forced her to look at him. Without hesitation, her hand flew up to grab his wrist, a latent threat.

"Hey, hey," he said, raising his other hand in surrender and letting go of her. "Calm down, little bird."

No. Phoenix tried to make it look as though she didn't recognize him. "I'm sorry. I just... I don't know--"

"Don't play me for a fool, bird. I couldn't forget a face like that." He shot her a crooked smile and she frowned. She put her hand on Ulric's hand, to let him know that she could handle this situation.

"Fine. Hi, Ares."

"Hello, bird. So, what am I to call you now, sweetheart?"

"Lita," Phoenix spat.

"Hmm, Lita," Ares replied, smiling at her, "I like it."

Phoenix was growing impatient. "What do you want?"

"Why, I want to help you. I'm a Capo now."

She swallowed, "Oh.." her voice was small. "I.. see. I..."

Ares smirked and patted her head, "Still the same I see. I'm glad."

"Oh, go drown."

----

Ulric tensed when the man discovered Phoenix's knife, and instinctively prepared to defend, but was relieved to find the associates convinced by her display of awkwardness. He proceeded to follow the associates down to the lecture hall, familiar with the disturbing and deceptively plain walls of the corridor, the crowded hall they entered. His eyes kept track of the room, but he kept his head somewhat low, as if out of respect, evading the recognition of anyone.

Especially the woman at the front of the room. He was a forgettable presence, and his father may have been also. But he didn't want to take any chances. When the woman picked a young, Sideri, man from the group, he knew what would come. He tried not to cringe when the blade slipped in between the man averted his gaze, but he couldn't help but hear the terrible sounds of his death. From the moment on, he hardened his expression, but kept his eyes mostly to the floor if there were no other immediate threats. When the crowds dispersed for the corridors, he walked toward the bounty hunter from the four seats that had terrifyingly separated them.

Just as he came back to her side, in the clear hallway, it had been just a second after looking up that a higher-ranked man grabbed his partner as she stood. He positioned himself for defense again, already utterly prepared to attack, when Phoenix touched his hand, signaling her ability to do what she would about the situation.

She'd been more than recognized; there was something lethal about the prior knowledge the man before them had about Phoenix.

----

Ares smiled at her, "And just what would you do without me, Lita?" He moved his hand to the center of Phoenix's back, reeling her in closer. She could merely look uncomfortable as he controlled her. She couldn't make a scene here. She was unarmed and the space was enclosed. And she could not, under any circumstances, endanger Ulric.

Ares smirked, "No comeback?"

"Nothing," Phoenix breathed, sounding submissive and defeated.

"Good girl," he murmured and before she could really grasp the situation, his mouth was on her mouth, locking her into a kiss that stung her with familiarity.

Ares let her go, though his hands lingered on her shoulder for a while as he spoke, "You'd best fly off then, little bird. And bring your new friend with you. I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to you down here." His black gaze rested on Ulric for a moment before he casually turned and left them.

Phoenix sat there for a moment, unsure of what to do with herself. Her ego was mangled beyond recognition. She was absolutely humiliated. She wiped her cheek, almost as though she was trying to scrub away the reddish tint that had taken to them. The motion was quick enough that the light did not catch the droplet that tried to run down from her eyes. It was so frustrating.

She inhaled deeply, but did not look at Ulric when she said, "Let's go."
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:57 pm

Ulric’s breath was eerily even as he looked at the man grabbed his partner and took hold of her; he had never seen her like this, her confidence so suddenly and markedly snatched away. So much within him was shrieking to step between and run them both into Noia’s fantasy land just above them. And when the man pressed his surely dirty lips to her, it took everything to resist the ideas of his now clenched fists. He opened his hands when they parted, when he still had his hands on her shoulder, vises, but the temptation threatened to overflow into action. He had long learned to control such impulses, but this seemed an near-appropriate time to throw such control down rapid streams.

He returned the man’s gaze with an equally dark stare before the man turned away. It wasn’t difficult to see just how deeply he affected Phoenix. He followed when she signaled them to leave, and he saw her face as they climbed the stairs toward the light, noting one tearstain down a frustration-tinted cheek.

Their ascent was somewhat different in speed compared to their descent into Umbra, somewhat slower, in spite of either’s desire to leave there as quickly as possible and potentially evade the necessity of return.
The bodyguard stayed just near enough to the bounty hunter, the kind guide near the Asteri student. He tried to keep himself composed enough to the public; even so, quietly, only to the young woman beside him, he spoke.

“Are you going to be alright?” he said, audible to only her. He knew it was beyond this. And the situation, beyond his knowledge. He would not try to understand it entirely; not until they were back in the temporary safety of the hostel, until she was prepared to speak of it, if she would be. He was usually capable of sifting through a person’s motives, but this man seemed either to have too many, or only one. To stay involved with him, regardless of whatever drove him, however, might mean a great mess. He couldn’t believe what he’d seen; such power, over someone so strong. Next time they met, he wasn’t sure of his ability resist his original impulses, however reckless.

Their walk was met with more gazes after their emergence from the school; their unfamiliarity had become unexpectedly noticeable.

“We’ll take this route,” he said, his voice a milder version of the tourguide tone he’d held before they’d seen the city from below.

He led them from the campus through a roundabout section of Asteri and Tephran architecture, businesses and Saphinia University buildings as well as stretch of housing. They would need a canal to reach the area they needed to in order to return to the hostel, and he knew the comparatively safest place to start. He paid to rent a gondola for which he would propel for them, in order to keep them from more undesirable involvement; the rest of the canal was full of others doing the same. They were once more seamed into the fabric of the city, as he brought them away from the school and its secret.

----

Phoenix stayed close to Ulric, but could not bring herself to meet his eyes. "Yes." She walked with her arms wrapped around herself protectively and sat with them in the same position on the gondola. She felt like she needed to scrub her skin raw, but she knew that it would never help. Ares could compromise this whole operation. Maybe I should just give up now.


Soon the Gondola docked in the second ring. Phoenix stood up and walked with her bodyguard to the youth hostel. She nodded to Peris when they passed her and the girl nodded back. The bounty hunter wove her way up to their room, unlocked the door and then closed it behind them. Then her legs collapsed under her when she was by her bed. She landed seated on the mattress and exhaled as though she had been holding her breath for a long time.

She was unsure of what to say to him. Couldn't say anything to him. Just sat there, feeling ashamed. She was rendered completely useless by that one man.

----

Ulric seated himself next to Phoenix, looking only at her face, her arms still wrapped around her, but permitting her to breathe. He swallowed before speaking again.

"What... what happened?" he asked, implying either or both the exchange he had witnessed or the events that led to it.

----

Phoenix stared at a spot on the ground. "I'm... not entirely certain. I couldn't fight him..." she paused for a moment, trying to keep track of what had happened below the university. She added more quietly, "I was afraid of him."

She could still feel his hands on her. She scratched her shoulder. "We knew each other from the last time I was here. I didn't think I would ever see him again... This place is so big... I thought..."

----

The bounty hunter's partner didn't want to press her further, but there was profound sense that the pair's tenuous grip on security was even further strained by the presence of this man, a Capo in Umbra, Ares. He already disgusted Ulric, but he had to keep them safe. He had to protect her, whatever the cost.

"Phoenix... what did he do?" he said, gently as possible.

----

Phoenix bit her lip for a moment, wondering how much she should tell him but... His voice was so gentle. He had been so open with her, it was only fair to tell him as much as possible. "I got in too deep while I was starting out working contracts for small-time bosses here. Ares and I were together for a while. We were happy. I knew he worked for gangs sometimes, too, but I didn't know that he was anything more than an associate like I was. I had no idea he was a soldier."

She shifted and crossed her legs, "After a while, he got angrier. He became violent at times. And sometimes he would take his frustration out on me when we saw one another. I felt indebted to him because he was always around to protect me, so I didn't do anything about it for while. But then it became too much. I went to Seraphi, my teacher for help but I couldn't find her. Everyone told me she was long gone... I was scared and alone with Ares. He was quickly becoming a monster."

Her hand closed around a section of the sheets, her vice-like grip turning her knuckles white.

"My curiosity got the best of me one night and I followed him on one of his jobs. I watched him.. kill a man. Watched him join up with his other friends. Heard them talking about recent hits and eventually I heard that..."

She shifted again, looking increasingly uncomfortable, "That Seraphi had not gone missing. That she had been caught trying to take something from a gang shipment. And that when Ares saw her, he overpowered her," she closed her eyes and kept her breathing and voice level, "And killed her. So I went home. I finished my last contract and then I left Sidero."

The bounty hunter could still hear Ares' voice. "When is my little bird flying back to me?" It sent a chill down her spine.

----

Ulric felt another sort of chill come over him, his own insides freezing, then shattering at the words the young woman before him spoke. Then heat, only heat. A deep scarlet feeling filled him. He felt the sudden urge to reach into the history spoken before him and strangle the vicious creature that stalked every word.

Their next encounter, which he foresaw as inevitable, would not go over well, to say the least.

He cautiously touched her hand, gesturing comfort; he couldn't possibly imagine everything she'd gone through. But he too, had endured a mysterious loss. And something told him it was permanent. Even so, he wished to communicate her safety here, in this particular room, with him, as well as acceptance of the gravity they faced now in this situation. He would never let Ares or anyone like him near her again, if he could help it. This would not happen again.

----

Reflexively, Phoenix flinched at his touch. Her head snapped up and the fear was made very apparently. She told herself to calm down. Convinced herself that it was only Ulric. That he wasn't going to hurt her. She was thankful that he was not leaving her alone with her thoughts. Left to her own devices, she was beat herself up for hours about how stupid she had been. About how she should never have let anyone in.

Mirroring her partner's caution, she rested her head very lightly on his shoulder. She trusted that Ulric would not let her make terrible decisions as she had in the past.

----

Ulric saw the fear in her eyes and felt an instantaneous pang of guilt. But seeing her calm, watching as she came nearer, then feeling her head against his shoulder, just barely present, but warm, he knew that things were alright between them. He held her hand just as lightly, just as cautiously, but still so near to her. It was safe, at least for now.

----

Phoenix gave his hand a very light squeeze. Allowed herself to lean on him more and murmured, "Thank you." She felt safe with him here. The feeling was unfamiliar, but not unwelcome.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The message on the telegraph disturbed Upton greatly. A soldier had tipped off an operation in the outer rings and had heightened their visibility after a their period of seeming silence to greater Pentemia. The soldier wasn't much of a loss, but the information and the public's knowledge created a nuisance, maybe worse; these incidences might become more frequent, as they continued their business with the medical services in Noia. They needed a solution. They already had a grip with the authorities at the top and the bottom of the city's classes, but there had to be more. He looked out outside of their uniquely elaborate Umbran chambers, look at the Ariak-style streets and the cavernous stone-sky. He and his brother had taken their whole lives to reach this point and he relished the power that they now had, for all the dedication it had taken. No matter his light-colored eyes and long, blonde hair, the his Ariak blood flowed strong. It seemed now, that much of the rising generation of their family did not reach the standards of loyalty that they had come to be known for. And in such a time of crisis.

"What do we about this?" he said to his brother just behind him, turning from the window and facing the man, handing him the message.

----

Fioro’s dark eyes scanned the message. His fist closed around it out of frustration, crumpling the parchment. The lack of loyalty in their newest recruits was becoming obvious. The family was only as strong as its weakest soldier. And nothing made the family weaker than a disloyal fighter. It needed to be dealt with quickly. He stroked the dark hair on his chin in thought. They had come so far. There was no reason to throw away all this progress over a few soldiers. They were disposable.

“Who was that soldier’s Capo?” he asked his brother.

----

"Stamatia. She's all the way out in the Aster block as of this morning," he said. Stamatia was usually better than this, but there was just something about these new recruits. He was certain she would be able to deal with this one. And they needed to communicate with her regardless, with the next inductions soon.


"Hmm..." muttered Fioro. Stamatia's record had been nearly spotless, with the exception of this ordeal. It was most unlike her. Very disturbing. Perhaps she had become gentle in the comfort of her lofty position. That would need to change.

"We'll need to have a word with her. Would it be handled best in person or by message?" he asked. "In fact... All of our Capos should know."

The policy for admittance to meetings needed to be stricter. The boss wanted to have the gang be a public thing, but it was really too risky. There were spies everywhere. And the gang was nothing without secrecy. The only exposure needed to be desired and purposeful exposure.

Whoever was coming in needed to be tested. "One does not cannot simply become a part of the family."

----

"Perhaps in person, if this requires all of our Capos."

Upton looked at his brother and nodded once, quite seriously in response to his last statement. He couldn't agree more. He started for the door, to enter his personal chambers to prepare to leave. The home contained expensive Ariak and Elosi decor, as well as tributes to the family itself, resembling the best homes of their national origins, but far underground the newest city.

He changed into something more appropriate for their occasion, mentally preparing for whatever might come.

----

Fioro nodded. "Right then. Send out a wire to all of our Capo brothers and sisters. Tell them the shadows call." He knew that they would know what to do.

The gang had the numbers now. All they needed was the skill. Unskilled soldiers were useless. There was no point in being a large syndicate if it was going to be disorganized. In this way, Fioro's Elosi blood showed through his dark eyes, black hair and olive skin. Fioro needed for everything to be in order. The boss had other things to deal with. He needed to work directly with Elios. It was Upton and Fioro's responsibility to keep everything under control when the boss was busy. To make sure he didn't catch wind of any trouble. The twins were fire extinguishers.

It was time to suffocate another flame.

----

Upton did as his brother requested, notifying the others just below them, before taking the stairs with all the intention of meeting with his brother and the guards who were expecting them.

"Where are you going?" said a woman harshly, entering the stairs from the second floor, swiftly taking a place by the man as he tried to reach his destination. Her dark hair was tied back behind her head, and she was clothed like a high-class Noian socialite, a combination of styles, with distinctly Ariak touches, her stare hard.

"Handling a situation with Stamatia's men. No need to get yourself worked up tonight," he said, looking at the stairs ahead of himself.

"I figured as much. You and your brother seem to be sitting around here a lot."

"You know that's not the case, Blanat."

"You'll be here in Umbra, then."

"Yes. As of right now."

"Well. Do what needs to be done, but don't get yourself killed," she said.

The man finally looked to the woman, his wife, seeing past the stony gaze of hazel eyes.

"Like I said. Nothing to worry about."

The woman nodded, before again ascending the stairs, slower than before the brief encounter with her husband. Upton continued the descent, scarcely moved by their conversation. He _had_ been busy, in the highest level of the Umbran home, in private chambers, discussing the most important matters of the gang with his partner, fellow underboss, his brother, sorting out what needed to be sorted out. They _were_ out a lot more than the woman had implied; he didn't quite understand her all the time, and her ambivalence had only grown in recent months.

Even so, he was undeterred from the matters at hand. The family was first, after all. He was sure he'd hear enough from Blanat when he returned, regardless.

Soon, he arrived at the exit, looking up for the return of Fioro.

----

A young woman with the olive skin of an Ariak, but the fine bone structure and deep blue eyes of an Aster walked into the room shortly after Blanat's departure. "Mr. Upton?" she asked, clutching her clipboard nervously to her chest. "Mr. Fioro is waiting for you in the conference room."

It was very much like Fioro to send someone else to do his work for him when he could. He liked to network. He believed it was the key to gaining trust and loyalty from his subordinates.

And he had become a bit of a womanizer since the end of his relationship with his fiancee when he was a much younger man. But he kept that part of it pretty out of sight.

Fioro sat with a wine glass in his right hand. He swirled the maroon liquid around as he waited for his brother. He had never really enjoyed the taste of red wine. From the time, he knew that most of the Capos had boarded the monorails to get there. The meeting would soon begin.

----

"Of course. Thank you," Upton replied, suppressing a sigh as he started toward the conference room. The nervous servicegirl may or may not have been one of his brother's flames at this time. He may have tried to keep his activities out of sight, but there were things that his twin could easily detect what others didn't.

The man entered the empty conference room, seeing a glass of wine already in front of his brother, mostly for appearances he assumed. He poured himself a glass and followed the other man's actions before taking a sip. He was alright with the taste. As much as he needed to maintain clear thought for tonight's meeting, he could only hope he'd have the same amount of clear thinking maintained by the end of the meeting.

----

Fioro nodded to his brother upon his entry. He knocked back a swig of the wine. It helped slow his racing thoughts.

Before long, a few men and women began to trickle into the room. All of them were clad in black. They were all neatly groomed and sharply dressed. An impressive group of people. They sat down, three men and two women. Ares took his seat next to Stamatia.

Fioro looked up to address the young people before he and his brother. They held a lot of promise. They filled him with optimism. They were strong and loyal.

"We have gathered you here today to discuss the methods of recruiting new members to the gang," he began. He paused to stare at Stamatia, "In light of a mishap regarding a newly recruited soldier and some leaked information."

----

Upton was pleased the the group that entered as well, impressed long ago by the men and women in the room, all who had been loyal and strong until now. Even now. He believed Stamatia could overcome this blip, whatever it meant, although much of the responsibility fell on her. She had been one of their best until now.

---

Stamatia had entered with as much confidence as she had the lecture hall that morning. She thought back to the room, which had seemed too full for recruits; there were certainly some that needed to be filtered out. The family had become to easy to enter; there were traitors to be found everywhere, and when she had them, which was not often, she was quick to deal with them, and memorably. Her standards were high and she did not permit anyone lower than them to serve in her region.

But the unyielding Capo could still be frozen by the words of the underboss, her immediate supervisor. This "mishap" was a travesty, especially from her. She felt suddenly and strongly indignant at the mess of a soldier that had tarnished her flawless leadership and even threatened an operation. It didn't help that he was wasting her time, and worse, the Family's time, being searched for by a couple of associates now.

She agreed wholeheartedly with the reasons for the gathering. She would accept whatever they put upon her; she learned not to accept subpar behavior from this life, and she held herself to those standards as well. Hopefully the recruits had learned from that morning's session.

----

Ares swallowed a snicker at the expression on Stamatia's face. So much for that spotless record. He looked extra douchey more informal than the other Capos. He posture was laid-back and his clothes were less tailored. He looked greener than the rest and he was. But his vicious ferocity got him the position and earned him respect within this upper ring of the family.

Fioro continued to address the room from beside his brother. "From today on, there will be no more meetings open to the public. No more secret advertising. Each of you will seek out new associates and soldiers using your own judgement. Pick up the downtrodden from the outer rings. Pick up the unhappy in the inner rings. We need soliders that need us. That is how we inspire loyalty."

He took another swig of wine, exhaling.

"We do not need fighters. We need family members. People willing to die for any other family member. And willing to kill for any other member, as well."
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:10 pm

(("I'll take an Ares, with an extra side of DOUCHE."))

Stamatia affirmed Fioro's message with the slightest of changes in her expressions, a brief, solemn nod. She agreed wholeheartedly with his words, already calculating plans to seek new recruits, prepared to go to the necessary extremes to ensure their loyalty. She hid the satisfaction growing deep within her, with merely the thought of what she could and would, from this point on, mold into members of this family. She hoped to express exactly the command which lied within the sentiment of the underboss's words. Thinking back to the morning's recruits, she tried to recall anyone who would be of use to them, from what little she had seen. It was unfortunate, that the easiest to spot were the weakest, and there were many of them in the room.

The eyes of the men and women in the hall that morning when she'd selected the morning's example gave a great deal away about them. Those who would not last stood out the most. There had to be some worth bringing in.

---
Upton followed his brother's actions, finding that the man covered nearly everything that needed to be said. He had always been the more eloquent of the two. But they each had their strengths. Looking over the five Capos, he saw potential in each of them. He saw where they placed their priorities, how they arrived where they were today.

"I'm sure you understand the importance of inspiring loyalty in the family. You understand the significance of our current operations. If we're not willing to die and kill, we will merely die. The responsibility falls on you, and your judgment. Think of this with every recruit you approach in the near future. When you know you have true commitment, make it grow. When you find fault, don't hesitate to take action. These are our standards. Meeting those standards keeps the family strong. It makes us who we are."

((iHopethisisnotALLLLtheclicheee.^^'))
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:47 pm

(("Ma'am, Ares already comes with extra douche. If we add any more, you might go blind."))

Ares nodded, after hearing the instructions of his superiors. He would have no problem weeding out the weak ones. He might just have a couple suggestions for candidates for Stamatia's sector. There was no reason not to make things a bit more interesting for his little bird. A smirk crept across his face, twisting his expression with malice. These next few recruits would be the best he had ever collected. Training them would be a pleasure.

---

Fioro smiled at the company he and his brother were holding. "I trust we have made ourselves perfectly clear. Thank you for attending today, sisters and brothers. We look forward to hearing from you soon, when we make our rounds. You may go."
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 11:08 pm

(("Oh, I suppose that is an acceptable amount of douche. Thanks!"))

Stamatia removed herself from the room when the meeting concluded, confidence restored. Her and her guards began the route away and back out of Umbra, many ideas planted in her mind.
---
Upton looked meaningfully at his brother, before drinking the rest of his glass.

"I think that went well," he said, staring at the dark glass of the table between them. It seemed like business was over for the evening. Perhaps he would be going back to Blanat tonight. He sighed at the thought, as he turned to exit the conference room.

"I suppose I'll see you in the morning, if nothing else... comes up," he said, before taking a direct route to the third floor.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Sun Jul 29, 2012 11:27 pm

Ares caught Stamatia by the arm as she exitted. "Stamatia, my dear. I'd like to have a word."

---

"Indeed. I'll be seeing you soon then, brother. Say hello to Blanat for me, will you?" And with that Fioro was off into the depths of Umbra. He would make his rounds tonight and then he would see if he could find some company. Perhaps he could do both at he same time which was totally not a double entendre. By now, the halls should have been completely empty.

And if they weren't. Well, he would see to it that they were vacated immediately. This was his home now. The kingdom he ruled beside his brother.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 1:07 am

((EHEHEHEHEH.NOTADOUBLEENTENDRE.))

Stamatia scowled at her fellow Capo. As much as she appreciated his fierce methods with his soldiers, she did not appreciate his social personality and tendency to patronize the female members of the family.

"Yes, Ares?" she replied, taking her arm from his grasp.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 1:11 am

Ares smirked at her movements He was rather amused by her reluctance. "I noticed two promising people at your... seminar. I would like you to invite them to the induction. An Asteri girl and her Sideri guide. Interesting individuals."

((Douchenese, with a specialty in Condescending Douchenese. And a master of Douchebaggery.))

"Did you," she replied coldly. She considered his suggestions; Ares wouldn't choose incompetent individuals to join the Mafia, regardless of some of his misjudgments.

"Alright, I'll consider it. The two you were sitting by in the back, then?"

Ares nodded, "Those two, yes. They'll make it through the trials. I guarantee it."

"And how are you so sure of this?"

Ares snickered, "Oh. I've done some investigating."

"Oh?" she said, clearly skeptical.

"Oh, yes. Believe me, my dear. You won't regret it," he murmured. He reached out and touched her cheek, "This I guarantee."

Stamatia snatched Ares' hand from her face by the wrist, slapping him with the other hand.

"Do not touch me, asshole/canto di animale," she said, her eyes narrowed.

"I'll make my decision based on my own judgment."

The woman turned away from Ares, taking the corridors with swift, dignified steps. She was sure that he did this just to aggravate her, but there were far less significant (and less dangerous) people to aggravate. Like Fioro's service girls. ((ANDANASTASIASTEELE)).
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 1:19 am

Ares laughed, "Ooh!" He grinned, "I like my women with violent tendencies." He rubbed his cheek, still smiling. "Well, beautiful. You take some time to mull over my request. I'll see you in a few weeks." He winked at her and then made his way further into the Umbran streets.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 2:20 am

As Upton entered his and his wife's quarters on the third floor, he was surprised to find that his wife waiting right at the entrance of their main room.

"That was fast," she commented, as he faced her in the doorway.

"Yes. The meeting went surprisingly well," he replied curtly, closing the door as he moved to prepare himself something stronger than the wine from the conference room. ((LIKESCOTCHKA))

"Would you like anything?" the man asked his wife, his back still turned as he instinctively pulled out another tumbler for the woman, suddenly behind him.

"Not tonight," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder.

The man took a sip of his drink, the air suddenly darkening with the touch of his wife.

"What's going on, Blanat?" he said, setting down the drink before turning around.

"I'm pregnant, Upton," she said, without sentimentality.

He turned and grabbed the nearly-full tumbler behind him, taking one, long swig to finish it, before taking another breath, still not facing his wife.

"How... how do you know? Are you sure?!"

"I CHECKED THE TEA, UPTON. IT TURNED PURPLE. I JUMPED OFF A BUILDING AND TWO STORKS AND A PELICAN CAUGHT ME. IT'S A BOY!I know, Upton. I've taken many proven Elosi tests, and I know."

Upton stared at his wife, her face, her abdomen, then her face again. She stared back at him, softer than before he'd left that night, but stoic all the same.

"I realize that this makes things complicated, Upton. But once our child is born, we will have our first heir. There is potential in this situation," she said. The man nodded, looking into the woman's eyes, wondering how she saw what she saw.

"This will be unpleasant for me, and possibly you, and may have even further unintended consequences. It is important to see things realistically."

"How do you... how do you do that? We have enemies, Blanat, you know what this could mean_"

"An heir, Upton. This only strengthens our future, in the long run."

With that, the woman turned and entered a bedroom.

The man stared at the door long after it shut, before pouring another tumbler of deep amber liquid.

---

timeskip?
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 2:36 am

Phoenix awoke in a panic. Someone was in the room. Adrenaline coursed through her veins and her heart thrashed in her chest. What was happening? It was so dark. Someone was holding her down. There was a cloth to her nose and a snicker. Something dark slipping over her head, veiling her eyes from any light. Something binding her struggling arms. A voice telling her to sleep.

She was forced to obey.

The bounty hunter awoke in darkness. She was absolutely frantic. Where was she? What had happened? There was something in her mouth. She groaned at her throbbing headache and allowed her head to hang between her shoulders.

She heard a laugh. "You're awake. Good."

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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:05 pm

Stamatia smirked down at the girl in the dark. She and her Aster "companion" were surprisingly easy to capture. She'd expected more from them, even with the methods used to obtain them. There were about ten of their recruits in the room at the time, and they each followed suit in waking. Ares' recommendations did, however, did pique a certain interest for her.

"If you haven't quite realized why you're here, it is because you have been given the honor of having the chance to join the great Umbran family. You showed your interest when you came to our recent recruitment meeting, and we kept our promise to find you. You will be here until the induction ceremony is over. When that has been completed, we will move on to further training. We have high standards here, higher than some of you will be able to meet. But there is one thing to understand, once you make it here. We are exactly as we say--a family. You'll be with us the rest of your life. If you watch out for us, we will watch out for you. We keep our promises, and if you keep yours, the one you make by being here today, you'll be living a life greater than you ever thought possible. But you saw what happens to traitors. If you betray us after today, I can promise you, your fate will be much messier."

She looked to her guards by the edge of the dark room and gestured to them. Two men swiftly lit lamps at each end of the room.

"I'll give you all a little while to get your bearings, then the induction ceremony will begin. You will be challenged. But I'll be the first to tell you... this is more than worth it. With us, you will always be secure. You won't find that anywhere else in Noia. In Pentemia."

With this, she put out one lamp, leaving half of the room lit, permitting sight for the new recruits and her guards, but stepping into the shadows where she would not be seen well herself. This would be very, very interesting. She had never seen such a diverse group rounded up like this. The one thing they had in common, however, was need. Just as Fioro had said. There was little that kept them rooted to their origins, or too much. There was purpose for them here, they would find. Purpose and unity.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:06 pm

The burlap sack was pulled off of Phoenix's head and she squinted, cringing at the sudden light. The ropes securing her hands and torso to a chair were severed and she watched as the Capo and her two men faded back into the shadows. Ulric.

She began to search, trying to maintain some air of subtlety. Was it even any use now? The mob had found them. They were to be tried and hopefully inducted. She assumed Lita immediately. There was no reason to blow her cover now that she was here. Looked nervous.

She would have to fight. But she needed to fight like someone else. Oh, good.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:01 pm

Ulric squinted in the light, relieved to be free of restraint yet thoroughly bound to the place he was in and what he was about to participate in. He scanned the room for his partner, spotting her nearly immediately. The others seemed vaguely familiar in his cloudy memory of the lecture hall.

He looked into the darkness, imagining the sick amusement on their judges' faces. With a deep breath, he prepared for what was to come.

Stamatia spoke through the shadows masking her presence.

"For our induction ceremony tonight, you will be put into two groups of five. You will engage in the ultraviolence hand-to-hand combat. Every man for himself. The ceremony's conclusion will be announced. If you would all stand."

Ulric took another deep breath, and stood, at nearly the same time as the other nine. He looked to Phoenix/Lita.

Then the Capo's voice rang out again.

"The Induction Ceremony commences... now."

Immediately, a fist flew toward the bodyguard, his arms shooting up in defense, before taking a position of offense and taking that man down like WOLVERIIIIIIIINE, taking his assailant down in just a few effective blows. His mind became only his training and his actions became only a reflection of what had been instructed to him for survival.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:18 pm

Phoenix's hands flew up by her face. She looked overwhelmed. Frightened. Before she could really grasp the situation, a girl was flying at her, screeching. Whoever she was, she had been waiting for the moment when the Umbran gang would find her. Phoenix weaved to the side, allowing the girl to scratch her face. Blood trailed down her cheek, spilling from three distinct lacerations.

The bounty hunter screeched right back at her opponent, crouching down low with her hands open, ready to pounce and scratch. This was not her usual method. She was flat footed, less limber. Crouching defensively. Fighting like someone who had seen the streets, but was not accustomed to fighting herself.

The Aster girl swung at her again and Phoenix ducked, charging the girl to break her stance. She caught her around the stomach and tackled her to the ground. Her adrenaline was pumping. She was enjoying the fight. Relishing in the excitement. The unpredictability. Keep it under control.
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PostSubject: PAGECLAIM!!!!   Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:09 am

((PAGECLAIIIM!))

Ulric continued defend himself against the attacks of the other recruits, blocking nearly every hit, steely-eyed and concentrated, strategic with his every move. One man charged him, but the bodyguard kept his position, before punching the man several times in the chest, the gut, shoving back his fists when he tried again to respond. His opponent then aimed higher, but the guard struck first, and the man hit the ground, just in time for another to approach, a female, who was quick to aggress, using a similar strategy of only aiming for vital places, going first for his chest, then straight for his head. Just before the hit connected, he grabbed her fist and shoved her toward the ground, though she stood her ground. He took her down in the same way that he had the previous man, leaving her reeling next to him on the ground.

He hadn't noticed that he'd been inching nearer and nearer to the other side of the room, as he swept away the blows of the men and women around him.

((PAGECLAIM!!!))
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:19 am

Phoenix charged a man, after he made a swift grab at her hair. He managed to swipe away a piece of it. The pain made her angry. Fueled the fire behind her swift jabs to his lower back. He still fought her, grabbed her by the waist to throw her off of him. She pressed her knee into his chest and then her elbow onto his windpipe. She suppressed a sick smile at the panic in his eyes as he lost consciousness.

Ares grinned at all of the mayhem in the room, from beside Stamatia and her guards. He looked at Stamatia. "You see, sweetheart? I knew what I was talking about. You want them. Both of them." He laughed as he saw the bounty hunter force a man into unconsciousness. I've never seen this side of her. He watched the Sideri Aster boy knock away everyone who tried to cross him. "Beautiful, aren't they?"
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:37 am

Stamatia hid her satisfied smirk from the other Capo, still debating whether or not to reveal her utter agreement with the young man. His judgment was quite sound in this regard. She did turn toward him once, showing her face, and offering a nod, before looking back to the group. The pair was dominating.

"Yes, I... I would have to agree with you this time, Ares. They certainly are," she replied, her gaze hardly leaving each of them. Soon, they would be the only two standing. She could hardly suppress her enthusiasm, her smirk growing wider.
---
Ulric was straining to regain his breath when another woman landed upon the hard floor. His gaze swept the room, as he backed slowly away from darkness, as the lamp had begun to dim and the sounds of groaning had overtaken those of assault.

But the top of his shoulder reached another, and he realized that he was not the last one standing.
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:49 am

Phoenix whipped around aiming a potent jab at the target that she had bumped into. She was blind with the rush of adrenaline. She wanted to keep fighting. Wanting to keep moving. Wanted to fight like she would if her life depended on it.

But she couldn't be herself. They couldn't know her strategies.

She pulled her fist back, feigning a hit and then jumped up, trying to wrap her fingers around her new opponent's throat.

Ares laughed at the girl who had gone from innocent and disoriented to vicious and unyielding. He clapped his hands together in delight. "Atta girl!"
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PostSubject: Re: The Shadow of Peace (Abeiya and ConfusedShipper123)   Tue Jul 31, 2012 1:05 am

Ulric blocked the jab of the woman he'd bumped into, barely able to keep with her frantic pace and ferocity. He hit her wherever she was visible, aimed for her face, chest. And when she pulled back her arm, he planned to block the hit, thoroughly stunned by her next move, gasping a moment before grabbing her slender yet strong wrists in his hands, aiming to fling her away from him toward the floor.
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