RP:Down the Rabbit Hole
This RP is part of the When the Wall Falls arc.
Synopsis: Reaching the dead end of the sewer system, Ahab discovers a grate they can travel through to continue their journey. The original party of three, plus a captured Infected, slip down through the grate violently. Clara is mortally wounded, but neither Ahab nor Croix can stop their search, and so they leave Clara behind as they travel the only way they can go. They come upon a great, antiquated clockwork door. Behind it, they'll find Ankou's treasure, its salvation, and its perdition. The future of Ankou Ennis lay in their hands, and a decision was made. Ankou Ennis lives.
Note: For quick details on Ankou's fate, scroll down to the bolded paragraph toward the end.
Location: The Dead End, the Dripping Tunnel, the Clockwork Tunnel Access, and the Cure; in the sewers of East Ankou Ennis
The Dead End
The darkness of the tunnels felt as though it were closing in, heavier now for the scent of blood and sweat and death that loomed. Clara had caught up when silence reigned. If she had been growing uncomfortable amid their small community before, she'd only grown more anxious upon finding them again. Bloodied, bleeding, surrounded by Infected.. and escorting one, now. She gave them as much berth as the tunnel would allow. Her blade was tied against her back to free up her pistol bearing hand, and perhaps counterproductively she'd taken the torch at the tunnel's entrance to carry in her other. She'd not offered much by ways of words, save for a quiet thank you for what had been done to handle the infected, but she said no more as she walked ahead.
Ahab's pace had slowed down significantly, though it picked back up into something resembling a loping gait when Clara showed up. He had a bit more drive, then. He wanted the other three here to get out. Not unscarred mentally, certainly, but at least physically he could do his best to ensure it. One hand moved to unsling his pack, and he reached in and took out something wrapped in a bundle of cloth, tied tightly. "Clara...here." He moved over to her side, keeping up, and held the package out for her. "S'fer you." With that, he picked up the pace to keep ahead. He wouldn't risk the three of them. Only himself, now.
In the time that it had taken Clara to rejoin them, Croix had gotten to work in finding any material she could fashion into a rope to leash, so to speak, her newfound prisoner to herself. Frayed wires twisted over and over to fortify their strength against the Infected's attempts to escape had been expertly tied around his torso, tying his already bound arms down against him to further restrain him. If a captain of rogue upbringing didn't know how to tie a prisoner up for travel, then the title of captain was wholly undeserved. Croix was not a woman of undeserved standing. The Infected struggled against her, but in his disadvantaged state, he was no match for the upir captain. He dug his feet in suddenly to try to rip himself free of her grasp, blinded by the cloth mask over his face and unbalanced by the inability to use his arms. With his shoulders, he tried to yank himself free, but Croix's hold only tightened more and she tugged sharply, the way an owner does with a leashed dog that wants to stray. The captain looked wary but not worn. She was driven, and though she knew or cared little of what the others were feeling, she had a purpose here, and she remained near blind to everything else. There was a remedy just ahead in their future. The Infected boy would follow whether he wanted to or not because a mother knew best and Croix had adopted him.
Clara could only try to ignore the infected with them. She did not see a boy in the creature, and there was a part of her that refused to connect or allow any empathy. She would not see Garith in the child who would have only been a few years her junior. That was a thing, and she said nothing because it was not her business to mention. Blue eyes lifted to Ahab when the cloth was tossed her way. She did not open it yet, but there was some sentiment in tucking it away into her shirt. Clara was no soldier to notice the flicker of fire that would indicate a breeze as she walked. Perhaps they might, but it mightn't be long before it became increasingly evident that the air seemed just a little less stagnant. Ahab would likely notice it first, if he were ahead of them: the slight breeze that seemed to come from somewhere around the foot.
Closer inspection of the wall reveals the source of the breeze: a mangled grate. The bars seem to have been twisted just wide enough that a man might be able to squeeze his way through. However, the light does not reach more than a few inches within the access. One might be able to light their own torch, if they are willing to try to illuminate the darkness.
Ahab continued onwards. He didn't care about the boy's life except in direct correlation to Croix's happiness, at which point he became an infinitely precious resource. Maybe peace was in the happiness of others? Bah. He shook his head for a moment to clear himself of the thought, before the breeze tickled at him. He took a few more hesitant steps forward to find its source, before finding it; a mangled grate he began to toe at. Kneeling down into the muck, he gave it a closer look. "...room fer one. Can fit. Clara..." He waved her over. "Shine yer light in, girly. Wanna see what I'm jumpin int'eh." He had at least that much self preservation. He DID want to get out of this relatively alive.
Croix came to an abrupt stop when she noticed Ahab's attention focused on a grate, and it caused her prisoner to fumble at the unexpected stop. The Infected boy was still fighting her and his restraints, but he was losing his resolve, and Croix was wearing him out intentionally. She yanked again and sharply whispered a, "Stop that," at him in her southern drawl. He would refuse to listen to her, though, whether he understood her or not. "You're insufferable," she chastised him with exasperation, herself choosing to ignore his unwillingness to acknowledge her words. She was typically a woman of logic and reason, believing that all things could be resolved if one followed a strict path through logical reasoning, but the boy was beyond reason, and she was able to appreciate no amount of argument would sway him. For that alone, she chose instead to simply wear him out until he lost the fight in him. She was winning.
Clara closed her eyes, then opened them again, as though she were gathering herself up. But she did as she was told, and did not seem to mind proximity to Ahab as much as her silence might have hinted toward. The seamstress was kneeling down as well, shining the light into the grate. "Bugger me blind.." It was hissed under her breath. There was no seeing anything in the darkness beyond a few inches. "I can't. Hold on, then." Since he was hurt. Even if he was the one going down first, she could offer something of a break. She twisted carefully under one bar, her blade scraping against the metal inside the tunnel as she leaned in and forward. "It's a pipe, s'all.. n' it goes.." Another careful lift of her knee to scoot in through the slime and muck so she could look. "..It goes down." And she. Was suddenly quite aware the pipe was tighter than she'd expected. She tried once to ease back, and a second time, only to find the readjustment of her shoulders did little for letting her back out. "BUGGER ME. Fucking piss in the bloody eye, if I'm stuck." But she was, and wriggling wasn't doing much for helping her back out. "..I think I'mma just go down the pipe."
Ahab watched her go about her business, listening to her description...and as much as he could, stifling the tiniest of mad giggles when she got stuck. It was almost the final straw that had broken him. Almost, but not quite in. "Aye, careful'n yer way down...I'll follow through. 'n Croix..." He looked over his shoulder at the woman, with no idea how he'd get she'd get down, along with the infected boy. "...let Clara get down, then you 'n the kid. I'll go last, s'matter'a fact...keep a good eye on him." He looked at the infected child and mused for a moment how similar he looked to himself, years and years ago. He got to his feet and took a few steps away from the pipe to let Croix and the child have at it.
Croix pulled the teenaged boy closer to the grate by Clara to await her turn. If Clara's tiny body would get stuck, Croix wasn't sure how she'd get through. Not only was she tremendously big-breasted, but she was also a thicker woman than the poster models of West Ankou. Looking down at herself, she realized she'd actually lost a lot of weight since coming to the East. There was no room for indulgence, and she'd been on the strictest and most barren of diets since getting into the tunnels. It worked to her advantage then, at least. Thick or not, she would get through. Black, almond-shaped eyes were turned to the lanky figure that was her prisoner. He had largely stilled, even if his chest and shoulders rose and fell with the typical harsh, fast pants of the Infected. Was he ready to submit to her, she wondered. "Make sure he doesn't run when he gets to the bottom with ya," she told Clara in a grovelly drawl. There was something about that long silence between all of them and that hungry monster inside her that turned her voice into a monotonous, level rumble. "He's goin' in aftah you, but Ah'll be close behahnd." The moment the three of them left behind got word of where Clara ended up, Croix would shove her boy through the grate and follow after him.
Ahab waited until the two or three of them had finally squeezed on in, and then looked around the damp, ugly, truly disgusting tunnel. "...can't be worse." With that, his gaunt frame moved to squeeze himself into the grate and through to whatever fresh hell waited on the other side.
Clara fell and fell hard, and she was all too aware of what felt like a punch to the back that knocked darkness behind her eyes. If she had managed to be jarred unconscious, it lasted only a moment before she was squinting up into the pitch blackness, too dazed to feel the myriad of pains that were running across her body. The lantern had gone out. Her pistol was gone. Her teeth hurt, and a run of her tongue through the back of her mouth found a chip in one of her molars. The fragment of tooth was still hiding alongside her gums. Those were things she was aware of, if not the exact positions of her companions. "..Ah." It was so quiet, that were the others not so likely attuned to the scent of blood they mightn't have realized anything was wrong at all. But it was dark, and they likely wouldn't see where the fanblade had ended up, or that the end was poking straight through the side of her belly. Even Clara didn't quite know or realize what had happened. She was okay, because she had to be. Nevermind the cuts from the pipe, those were superficial, and she could push herself up to a stand. The girl tried, first, with a grunt that sounded all of a whimper. No use standing up. Sitting first, maybe, but even that was a struggle that she gave up on. Broken stone. She'd landed on broken stone. Her hand shifted through the too warm wetness of water around her. "..I think I'm.. gonna need a minute."
Croix realized on her way down that sending a tied up Infected through the grate before her was probably one of the many unwise ways to have gone about it. The frayed wires that had been used to restrain the Infected teenager caught on the jagged pipes down the shaft, abruptly halting his movement until gravity kept tugging at him to go down and sending Croix down violently with him. His slide was probably the most turbulent, and when he reached the end of the shaft's plummet, his restraints caught sharply, and he would've stayed stuck if it weren't for Croix crashing on him hard enough to dislodge them both and sending them careening toward the broken stone below. The two fell just off from Clara's impalement, but their weights would crash on her almost simultaneously regardless. The Infected seemed to still entirely, and though Croix felt her organs too shaken for her own health, she was pushing to her feet almost too quickly. She couldn't feel her body yet, but she was determined to be on her feet, and suddenly she stumbled over rocks and fell backwards away from the pile. Everything was black and she could smell the blood. Even if she hadn't recovered from that jolt of a crash to the ground, her mouth watered at the scent of blood. Words escaped her entirely as she lay there and waited to find her wits about her.
Ahab's descent was a bit more careful and measured, with his hands digging into the walls...that were slime covered...his descent was no longer careful and measured, as he began to slide and pieces of his clothing tore on the debris. Finally, he was deposited at the other end of the pipe, landing on his feet just above Clara with a 'foomp', dropping slightly as his hands pressed on either side of Clara. It would be a strange sight, Ahab's upside-down face looking down at her. But...blood. He could smell it. On her. In her. He was acutely aware of her. Of her everything. Blood. He tore his gaze from her and moved away, beginning to tromp down the damn tunnel. No. He could survive a little longer. A little longer without food. Food. A little longer.
The Dripping Tunnel
Clara, if she had needed anything to jolt her back to somewhat coherent thinking, would have the full weight of an infected and Croix on top of her. It was when she could breathe again, and as fingers were making the slow, slow search down her body that eyes met Ahab's. Her breaths were ragged, and if there was nothing else, she was aware of what was looking back at her in the darkness- even if she could not entirely see. She stilled almost immediately; a doe in a lion's den. But he was moving, and after a few heartbeats, she was shifting her fingers further down to where she felt that digging sensation in her belly. "Oh.. fuck." She was okay. If she repeated that enough it was true, and this was not. But every inch up her blade that her fingers trailed and down again to her abdomen was enough to let her know that it was reality. She closed her eyes, turned her head. "..Fuck. Fuck." That was bad, wasn't it? "..Hey.. I'm really hurt." She didn't know how bad it was, but it was.. bad. Bad. Bad. "..Miss Croix.. Ahab.." Maybe she didn't know how far he'd gotten. "..This is bad. I don't think I can move." And she was trying, desperately hard not to panic. There was still a disconnect. If she took her fingers away she could pretend there was not a blade sticking out of her. It didn't hurt yet. Not as much as the pains of falling did. "Okay. Okay. I need.. I need a favor." Don't panic, Clara girl. "..Okay. If there's a cure. It needs to go to the Conductor who runs the train too.. He's a doctor.. Okay. Please. I really.. I don't think I can move."
Ahab's sloshing footsteps stopped. No. Don't. His head was slowly turning. No. Don't. Fuck. "Fuck." Fucking hell. He was already on his way back to her, and dropping by her side. "Listen, girly. None of us came this far t'start lazin' about 'n dyin', so you ain't in tha'boat. Now I want'cha...to relax." His frenzied instincts were screaming at him to sink his teeth into her face. He would not. "We're gonna get...that thing outta ye...bandage y'up...then get'cha on yer feet. Niiice 'n slow, 'kay girly? Ehn? No dyin'. Nobody's dyin'. Today..." Was it day? Was it night? He couldn't tell. "...today's a new day. Fer'all'a damn Ankou an'yer gonna see it 'n Croix's gonna see it'n tha'boy's gonna see it, yeah?" He didn't even believe what he was saying. He desperately wanted to but he couldn't eat the bitch believe what he was saying. But he at least sounded convincing. With that, his hands began searching for something to rip the wound.
Croix was still dazed from her first and second falls, hearing what the others were saying to each other but not fully comprehending. "Jaime!" she shot up in a panic, worried for her son's health. It was a beat after that she realized Jaime was not there and never had been. She was afraid for the Infected. Many years Jaime's older, Croix couldn't help herself but see her own son in him, and she was afraid for him. He was silent. But before she had a moment to worry and search for him, she caught the tail end of Ahab's words. The word "No!" ripped from her lungs into the tunnel they'd found themselves in, and it carried away from them down the tunnel. Her heart hammered in her chest as she realized she may have alerted their position to any other Infecteds, but there was no way she could take it back. She tried scrambling to her feet, and unable to get that far up, she instead crawled painfully over to where she could smell the blood, broken stone digging into her knees and palms as she did. "Y'don't take anythin' outta her, d'ya undastand me?" she barked. "What is it?" she demanded as she stopped beside Clara, hands roaming around carefully over Clara's body to find the wound. "Didja get stabbed?" she asked. Just then, she found the blade, and she felt how far up it went from her abdomen. "Did it go through?" she asked next, already reaching under Clara and pressing against her back to see if she could find an exit wound. This wasn't the first time Croix had seen this kind of an injury. "Ahab, snap the blade that's stickin' out, but don't tug on it. You'll kill 'er if ya do. We wanna minimahze the bleedin'."
Ahab was back and she could try, try, try not to panic, even if it swelled in her chest and stung at her eyes. She hadn't been in the deadland of Ankou for so many months to cry when she'd faced death every day. "Okay. Okay." Then the No, and her body tensed in a way that was so painful. "Aye.. on my own.. blade. How stupid." The answer was quiet as the squeak of a mouse, but she wasn't crying yet. Be brave. It was almost the end. Ahab was right. And she could take the cure to Garith and even if the entire east were left rotting, Garith would be okay. And that was what mattered. "Dunno." She couldn't tell. Not with all the sharpness of rocks digging into her. But Croix would feel the end, jagged and sharp as though it had broken off beneath the girl's back. The seamstress sucked in a sharp breath, whimpered. "Sorry.." She said, because she couldn't help it. And she felt stupid and small and scared and selfish. "..Don't think I broke anythin' but a tooth though.." It was murmured. A joke, maybe, but the tone didn't make it onto the ragged breath that breathed it out.
Ahab's hands recoiled from Clara at that 'no', but then she was giving far better instructions and he nodded, following along. Fingers went down to find the blade and snap off every bit that stuck out with relative precision. It wasn't pretty, but it would get it done. Now left with a few extra pieces of sword he didn't need, he dropped them off to the side, uncaring. "Croix...y'got her? I'm gonna check the tunnel if'y'do..." He wanted to make sure anything that was potentially infected and breathing further down met a swift and violent end.
Croix nodded whether he could see her or not. "Go," was the approving command he'd get as she tore from Clara's clothes a make-shift bandage and tried to get Clara to sit up. "Be gentle," she said as she tugged Clara to a sit by the arm. "Don't make sudden movements. Ah gotta break the blade from the back, then bandage you," she explained in that level voice of hers. Like Ahab, she was fighting that hunger. "Ah can't stay here when Ah've gotcha wrapped," she added. "You're on ya own from that point on. You'll have'ta get up on ya feet and keep yourself as safe as possible, but y'can't ask me t'stay and die with ya when one of us needs t'get outta here with that cure t'save everybody else. Are you ready t'die, Clara? You shoulda been the moment you stepped into the East. Ah need you t'know that Death's reality is nearer t'you now than evah before. You could die in these tunnels t'day. Ah need you t'be ready for that possibility, for that moment, if the gods wish it upon you this day." The words she spoke were an echo from her past. Once, when she was younger and less ready for the world, Pere tried to prepare her for his death. He had somehow known it would come soon, and he tried to brace her for it, but it had been futile. Even so, Croix did what she could in that moment to try to prepare Clara for that future that was likely to come. The air was heavy with the imminence of that reality.
Clara was quiet through those ministrations. A whimper when the blade was broken at either end, but she bit down on her teeth, all too aware of the one that had broken. She hadn't expected sympathy, didn't want it. She was a survivor in the way orphans survived without parents or love and in the way she had pinprick scars in the crook of her arm where she had worked in the brothel. And she would not cry even though she was so scared that she wanted to vomit. But she knew what Croix was saying was true, and perhaps she wouldn't make it to a stand or out of the tunnels, but she knew she would have to be ready for that. Even if she had thought if it came, it would be a little quicker than bleeding to death in a sewer. Blue eyes lifted to Croix. "Please.. Promise. Garith. His name is Garith and he won't say he's a doctor, but he is.. and the cure needs to go to him." That should have been enough. No further explanation needed, even if there was a selfish part of her that didn't care if the whole of the island were lost, so long as the cure made it to Garith. "Please." And she was still scared and still hoping that maybe she could stand when she was alone, but there was a part of her that knew..
Ahab couldn't see anything, or smell anything. There was nothing in this tunnel save the three of them, it felt. But who knew if his senses were dulled by hunger. On he went, then, just a bit further down. He couldn't turn around or else he wouldn't leave Clara behind at all. So he kept marching on into uncertainty. It was all he could do.
Croix stared at Clara with pursed lips when that plea came, her hands stilling from wrapping the makeshift bandage. She nodded slowly, "Ah'll trah." That was her way of avoiding making a promise because part of her did wonder if taking the cure back to the West made more sense. It wasn't a decision she'd make lightly, whichever way she chose to go. Croix finished wrapping her bandages. "All set," she announced in a solemn voice and rose to her feet to sniff out her Infected. The closer she approached his body, the better she could hear the almost too faint sound of his rasping, quickened breath. She couldn't tell if he was conscious or not, but she'd toe him with her boot to see if he stirred. He would make the smallest of movements that gave away that he was awake, but he didn't do much more. It was as if he'd given up the fight and was ready to let whatever be done to him be done. Croix had no patience for him laying there curled up, and so she grabbed him by the frayed wires that bound his upper body and tugged him up to force him to rise. He gave way with little resistance and some minor fumbling, unprepared to be pulled up, but his feet caught under him and he stood. Croix tugged on him roughly into the direction she wanted him to go, after Ahab, and she was met with no fight. He had finally submitted to her. Together, they left Clara behind. For the sake of humanity.
Ahab continued on down the damned path. He hated leaving her behind. But he didn't hate it as much as he hated the infected. It was an overriding, burning fire in him that would keep him going this day. And even as the walls began to close in...first mentally, then physically, ducking his head low, he came to the door. A strange one at least but...well. "It's fuckin' somethin'...”
The Clockwork Tunnel Access
Croix hurried down the tunnel as quickly as she could with her Infected, having convinced him to run along too. She kept her hands on his restraints, guiding him the way they needed to, and eventually they reached a point where he needed to duck before she did because of her height, but then she had to duck shortly too. "Damn this god forsaken place," she cursed in an annoyed drawl, but then her attention was seized by the solid metal door. "Oh... mah word," she breathed as she stared at it.
Ahab said to Croix, “Fuckin' 'ell, shit looks ancient...Croix? Got anythin'?"
A hint of the scent of tobacco smoke can be found on the air, and there is the overwhelming sense that one should touch one of the vials.
Croix felt nearly paralyzed in place upon seeing it. It was the same door from that vision she'd been shown. Meran had led her right to it. It took her a moment to take her eyes off the door to focus on Ahab's words, then. She moved closer with her Infected in tow and studied the door carefully. "Ah have no idea," she admitted in bafflement. Her eyes fell on the vials. "Ah don't see anythin' we could do. Maybe a lever...?" she looked around but didn't find anything. She walked her Infected over to Ahab, pushing him toward Ahab. "Hold 'im for a sec." She turned toward the door again, looking up at it and inspecting it more closely. Her hand reached toward the vials, not recognizing the technology of it precisely. Maybe if she tried twisting certain parts of the door... Fingers brushed against the vials as that familiar scent made itself known.
Where Croix's finger's touched, a glow begins to form over the glass of one vial and begins to spread, warming the liquid within. Very soon, the liquid within begins to light up with a cool blue color, flooding the glass pipelines that connect the vials to each other. From within the access door a loud click is heard and the cogs begin to turn.
Ahab got a tight hold on the infected child, but as the vials began to light up he stepped a bit forward, eyes widening. "Well, y'feckin' did somethin'...take yer boy back. I'll go first in case any shite's left o'er for us."
Croix jumped back when she heard that click, surprised that her touch had done anything at all. She turned to Ahab and took the teenaged boy from him, pulling him several steps back to let the door open and Ahab go through without risking harm to them if there was something on the other side. It would be a short-lived precaution because as soon as Ahab was stepping through, Croix would be shortly behind him, walking her teenager in front of her.
Ankou's Salvation can be found here.Ankou's Perdition can be found here.
Ahab took his sweet time entering. Years of caution, of being a beast, had taught him this. But when he saw the core, the pipes, the metal...he was stunned, really. Down the stairs he went, step by step, marveling at it all. It was massive. And all of this had been under the East, this entire time? "...fuckin'...it got worst..." He had no idea what to make of it, really. "Don't...touch...shit. We gotta...we gotta take a moment...gotta..." He abruptly, without warning, sat down a few meters away from the box. He needed a second. "Croix...what the fuck did we just find?"
Croix was just as stunned as Ahab, looking around her with wide eyes. "Holy hell..." was all she could manage as she followed her sire down the steps. "Ah dunno what the fuck a cure is supposed t'look like in alla this," she answered, coming to a stand a few feet from Ahab. She forced the Infected to sit, and he did - with some resistance, and then she walked on forward to look around. She wasn't sure that touching things would be bad, but she wondered... A quick glance over her shoulder toward Ahab, and she kneeled in front of the box. "Y'think it's in here?" she asked. The cure. Hands trembled as they reached toward the lid, but they paused before touching it. She was afraid. Pulling her hands back suddenly, she looked around. Where she'd seen the deed in the vision, it was just on the ground covered in some blood, but where was it then? Croix didn't see it anywhere, and she pursed her lips. Not even a stain of blood, maybe. "Might there be anothah way?" she asked herself. To get ownership of the airport. She had come here specifically to find the deed, but what bore more over all their heads was the health of Ankou's population. Once everyone was cured, she could send a team down here to locate the deed for her later. The deed was far less important than their civilization. It was far less important than the impaled girl they'd left behind, and far less important than the life of the Infected teenager she had risked her life to bring with her. Yes, what she needed was to give him his life back. Airport or no, the teenager and Clara, the entire East and West population meant more. A deed and a building could both be replaced, but humanity could not. Croix opened the box in the hopes of finding the cure.
The scent of musk and wildness leached from the box, like an animal or some primitive creature trapped within that was so out of place in Ankou Ennis. Warmth breathed out like a sigh, and perhaps Croix might not have been insane to believe that the box was alive. Though the exterior of the container was tarnished and blackened over years within the underground, a glitter of gold sparkled across the woman's hands and midriff as the box was opened. Unmarked, golden coins gleamed, sending a dazzling refraction of light through gems of ruby and emerald and sapphire, diamonds and pearls; a wealth hidden away in the underground. Croix would know the parchment that set at the top of the treasure, alight with the glow of Ankou's secret. Both, however, would suddenly be aware of the faint scent of parchment and ink hidden just below the primal odor of the wealth. The Narrator posed as elegant a figure as she always did, trimmed in black satin with bell-sleeves and accentuating ruffles that trailed down the ball gown. Her features were too pretty, too perfect in the light, like a doll with its hair cut jagged and wounded, tamed only by the dark ribbon hidden in aurelian. "..All of it." The blonde turned her head toward the two, her lips parted just slightly as her face found a slight tilt of an angle from which to observe them. "..Salvation or Perdition. The wealth of a king.. freedom from the Island of Death with no consequence but for the island itself.. Or a dream lost.." The deed had been so perfectly preserved, nested atop the treasure as though it had been lovingly and delicately placed upon it. "For Mercy's sake. The choice must be made."
The treasure gleamed, and behind it, the box-sized access offered a scent like tobacco smoke.
The savage beast kept a watchful eye on Croix as she opened the box, peering over her shoulder at..."Mother 'o feckin' mercy..." That was more treasure than he had ever seen in his life. The things he could do with that. He knew money was what talked the loudest on this godforsaken island...and it probably did in other places, too. There was a flash of greed before he shook the thought from his mind. It couldn't buy back what he'd already lost. And the deed, too. "...I came here...fer that shite." He pointed over her shoulder at the deed. But. "...I can't get it fer'ye, Croix. But...why not burn it." The island. "Why not burn...ALL of it?" He took a step back, eyes locked on the box...or rather, where the box was. "...fuck has this island done for me...ehn? Nothin'. Only thing this...godsdamn place has done t'me is TAKE." He practically spat the word out. It dripped with poison, venom, with years upon years of crushing despair. It hung in the air like a vengeful spirit. At this point, that's what Ahab felt like. "...Iunno if I...I don' know if...iffin...if I can let go, Croix. Iunno if I can let go of how much...I fuckin' hate this island. And ev'rythin' s'done to me." He kept his hands to himself. He had distanced himself on purpose. He couldn't deal with it. "...y'gotta understan'...please..." She had to. She just had to understand where he was. "...this island has taken everything from me. Any...any chance I coulda had...for anythin' resembling PEACE. NORMAL. A LIFE. I wanna live. I w-wanna believe peace exists. Somewhere. S'gotta exist. I wanna try'n find it. I wanna not hate. I wanna do somethin' different. S'all I know. How to kill. Survive. Hate." Once again, he took a seat. This wasn't something he could process, or deal with, or decide on. It's not that he couldn't make the choice. He was afraid to make one. Because he knew, deep down, that he still wanted it to burn. "...take this from me. Please." The beast had become a child. "...take it away. Take the burnin' away."
Croix didn’t move, her gentle hands lingering on the lid as she stared in stoic bafflement at a perfectly preserved deed and unimaginably gorgeous wealth beneath it. It was such a beautiful sight, and though La Croix loved a masterful work of art, she was never one to drown in its superficiality. She was only half listening to Ahab when she finally lifted her gaze to stare at the Narrator. That familiar scent of tobacco smoke was a drug on her senses, removing her from body and mind. It was like she wasn’t in that strange place, surrounded by a surreal scene that belonged somewhere far from Ankou Ennis. Her expression was poised, stoic, and thoughtful. There was no intention to speak yet or to act. What was sure was that the treasure before her had not captured her in the slightest. The wealth she saw before her she could make in her lifetime. She was an entrepreneur, a strategist with a capitalist mind. Croix knew how to drive economy, how to produce wealth. If she wanted to triple her inheritance, she knew ways to invest to do as much.
Her turn to look at Ahab was at once very like herself and very not. The indifference that was her expression was familiar, but there was this light in her eyes that spoke of sympathy and understanding. It was a mother’s gaze. It would linger on Ahab for a moment, and then she’d turn more to look at the bound Infected. He had given up the fight. She looked to Ahab again to consider him, and she decided that he hadn’t quite given up the fight even if he spoke of burning Ankou to the ground. “The ah-lind didn’t do anythin’ t’you,” she drawled neutrally in a tone that conveyed an attempt to reason. “Your birth heyuh was the luck of the draw.” Her gaze flicked to the Infected and stayed there. “Mah life was chance, too. No one’s t’blame fah the life we’re born into. What mattahs is what we do t’make it count despite our circumstance…” She turned from Ahab and shut the box then, rising to her feet and brushing her knees as she did. “Ah don’t doubt the horrors you’ve lived,” she continued, turning to face Ahab to give him the acknowledgement and respect he deserved. “Ah’ve been heyuh fah gods know how long, and Ah still can’t imagine it. But Ah know it was awful. Even so, it doesn’t justifah trynna punish an entire ah-lind of people who are as much a victim of circumstance as you. Their circumstance may or may not have been different from yours, but don’t think for a moment that burnin’ the world is the resolution to ya own pain. Forge a new path, a new way. Make a new future for yaself. A new life.” There was a brief pause as she glanced toward the Narrator again and looked back at Ahab. “Born from ash: be new again, Ahab. This is your chance.”
Croix turned away from him then and strode over to the Narrator, maintaining some level of distance between them when she came to a halt. “Where’s the cure?” she seemed to ask her, but really she was bypassing the Narrator and trying to speak to Meran personally. She knew he was there, and although she couldn’t see him, the Narrator was the closest thing to him that she could address. This island would be saved, and Croix would go to war to make sure it happened.
Silence reigned. The Narrator was so still and so silent, dark eyes resting on first the male for his outburst, then shifting to the female. She could have been mistaken for a porcelain statue, embellished in shimmering black where it not for that so subtle movement. She was only the Narrator. Not a player in the Story, not the Story, only a guiding voice who listened and pointed out the path.. or led the characters along. But the choice was made, and she straightened. "Deep inside the island.." Her hand lifted, slender finger uncurling to indicate the access at the base of the pillar, perfectly sized to ease the closed box into. "The Treasure is the source and the fuel.." There was something to the Narrator's voice, a quiet flanging effect like a second voice hidden within her own as she spoke. "To feed the Infected and the Cure. Pitch the treasure into the machine." The second voice grew louder, barely half a beat behind the Narrator's own, then matching hers, then overtaking it, until Meran's words were the first and the loudest that escaped the woman's bow lips: " This world is about to change.. and this Story was only the Beginning." Her hand lowered, her mouth closed, and then, as though she had never been at all, the Narrator was gone. The treasure's luster began to fade, its ethereal light dimming as if anticipation. There would be time, yet, for a new choice, but it seemed even the Treasure anticipated that which was most likely to happen, next. The fires and the ash, forging a tale worthy of Lore and Craft.
Ahab listened to the woman intently. Croix, that is. He had no words, no response. Maybe she was right. Maybe. It all wouldn't matter if he wasn't cured. Out of the ash. Ahab didn't feel peace, then. But he felt...something. The eternal flame burning inside of him, the heat of the hatred...it guttered. If only for a moment. For a second, he could feel it become...spent. It was enough to appease him. He slowly pushed himself to his feet, lumbering over to stand by Croix's side. "...have at 'er, Croix. S'been too long. Think it's time we fix it...yeah? Some...two hundred odd years?" A giggle escaped him. "Can't wait t'see the look on the Doctor's face..." It would be something wonderful, no doubt. If, y'know. The Doctor had a face. Ahab could figure out where to go...after. And what to do after. He could figure it all out after. He was going to be reborn. He could do it himself. "...from ash."
Croix’s eyes widened subtly with the look of surprise when Meran’s voice came forth from the Narrator’s lips, and she almost reached, but she stopped herself. She remained still, tense and stunned, staring at the empty space where the Narrator had been just a moment before. For a beat, she was unsure of what she should do. She wanted to call him back, to convince him to show himself, but she had received the answer to her question, and she understood he would waste his time no more. The turn toward the tarnished box was slow and apprehensive. She could see the glow dying, but she hesitated carrying it to the machine. Not because she wanted the treasure inside, the deed, or to witness Ankou’s destruction, but because she couldn’t believe it was that simple. Ahab’s words drew her out of that stunned state, and she stared at him with worried eyes. It may have been the first time Ahab had ever seen such an emotion on the captain’s face, and even when she blinked and turned her attention to the box, that expression didn’t fade. “Okay,” she said with a firm nod, grounding herself. Ahab was right: it was about damn time it ended. Her feet carried her confidently toward the box and she lifted it without hesitation. It felt lighter than she had anticipated, and she wondered for a moment if it was because of her upir’s strength or because what was inside wasn’t real. Croix wouldn’t dwell on it as she carried it over to the machine in the center of the underground chamber. Opening the hatch, she slid the box in, pushing it in with the flat of her palm. She released the hatch and it shut with a screech and clatter of old metal, separating her from what had once been her ambition. “…we’re born again,” she drawled quietly, turning to look at Ahab. Her eyes looked uncertain but hopeful. That airport would be hers one day, and that day would come in the absence of the plague.
As the hatch closed and the box dropped within, they would be aware of the quiet and tell-tale click and clank of machinery and cogs grinding to life. The pillar began to move in segments, each groaning as they began their rotation. Round and round and round, with the pillar expanding as yet more, smaller segments began to extend upward to the ceiling of that cavernous space. The surface of the machine seemed less like solid metal, and much more like clouded glass- though it was sturdy and strong. From within, the blue light of the alchemic pipes began to shimmer, and shift drastically to a fiery gold. The color shot upward, from near base, then outward, extending into the walls until the room lit up like pyre. Higher, higher, until the peak of the spire pressed against the solidness of the Underground's ceiling.. then higher still, penetrating its surface as it forced its way up to freedom. Ankou Ennis would suffer the quake. It rocked the east, and banged tightly woven buildings of the west against one another. A few of the less sturdy houses tipped over on their foundation, and the steadfast clockwork soldiers found themselves quite suddenly grounded, and the populace east and west sought cover. The great wall groaned, and the spire grew. The cure might seem anything but when it finally stopped its growth. It peeked over the wall; a golden beacon erected on the Old Road. The plague did not cease. Not immediately, not overnight. The infected shuddered as though something in their cores had shifted, as if something had been lost and gained. It would be days, weeks, before the color would flush the cheeks of those most recently turned; those who had sustained survivable wounds. It would be longer still before the hair began to grow and the red mist cleared from their vision. Weeks, months, the time was unknowable before reason overcame instinct and memories returned. Those older creatures would feel the loss worse. They could not spread their infection. They could not flush with color and life and breathe steady again. They would rot from the inside out until the old corpses decorated the land. But their souls could move on to the embrace of the Underworld.
It was in the underground that the boy groaned. A gift and nothing but, that whisper of a breath like a sigh. A peaceful expression, eyes that saw. Not his mother, but his savior, and perhaps it was only because Croix was so favored that the youth seemed much more a boy than a monster and much more at peace before he was kneeling and might lay if not stopped. No fight left. No need for that. Just sleep. Ahab was far more recent an infected body and it would be his gift that the fire was doused from his veins.
Ahab watched the spire begin to rise, quite...shocked by the whole affair. It didn't make much sense to him, technology in general. So this was all...new. But when it finally ceased its movement, he felt...almost like a warmth. Not warmth like heat, not the heat of his fire and of his pain and anger. But something different. He could feel it slink away...gone now. He was still an upir, of course. That hadn't changed. But he felt that mist that had begun to collect at the corner of his eyes dissipate. He shook his head, as if his mind had cleared significantly. He wasn't aware how clouded it had been since the bite...but there was a difference, now. "...Clara. Croix, I gotta...I gotta go back." He had to find Clara. He had to get her out of this place. Everyone deserved this second chance...especially her. Even now he was taking a few steps towards the way they'd come in, watching Croix to see if she'd follow. He felt an odd sense of...pride, perhaps. "...y'know...turnin' ye into...what y'are now. Like me." A beat. "...it feels like it was the right choice."
Croix had turned at the clicking of the cogs, staring at the expanding spire in silent awe. Her gaze wouldn’t be pulled from it until the earth beneath her shook and she crouched to steady her balance. When the earth stilled once more, she slowly straightened and looked to Ahab. Still frightened by that quake, she nodded to Ahab with wide eyes, understanding his need to return to Clara. “Go on, then,” she said as she looked to her own charge: the boy. “Ah’ll take care of him,” she added, already moving over to him as he laid himself down. It was in mid-crouch that Ahab started that surprising thought, and as knees touched the ground by the boy’s head, she looked up toward Ahab. The smile that touched her face was unusual, not for any reason other than the simple fact she smiled at all. It was subdued and shaky from the lingering apprehension of a quaking earth but sincere. “Go get Clara, Ahab. Get ‘er outta heyuh. Don’t wait fah me. Ah won’t be that far behahnd.” Turning her black gaze to the boy, she lifted her hand to his head and soothed him to sleep. “You’ll be fine,” she said. It was unclear if she was speaking to Ahab or the boy, but it was clear Croix didn’t intend to leave just yet. He wanted to sleep, and Croix was ready to wait for him until he woke up. She wouldn’t leave without him.
In the aftermath of the Cure's rising, only silence reigned once more.