This RP is part of the Great Reformation arc.
Synopsis: Over the months, Ahab and Milon manage to amass a decent group of volunteers who had been broken up into bands initially to spread out across East Ankou to capture the Infected from designated locales. With the combined efforts, the streets of East Ankou have become safer and easier to travel alone, but the pace at which the streets are clearing is faster than the changes in movement and behavior of the survivors in the fortified city. Everyone part of Operation Blood converge in this scene to finally meet La Croix, the woman behind their efforts. They come upon an area of fenced off apartments that is slowly being transformed to house the new center of operations. Croix offers everyone food and a safe place to sleep in exchange for their efforts, and Milon questions her about what she actually wants. Afterwards, Ahab confides in Croix about the crisis he's experiencing because of the drastic changes to the world he once knew, and Croix tries to offer some words of reassurance.
Characters: Ahab, Croix, and Milon
Location: Derelict Apartments, East Ankou Ennis
The industrial area of the island had several apartment complexes constructed to house their workers near the factories in which they worked. The buildings have been boarded up with sheets of thick metal, making it evident that most who had once lived in the area had once refused to leave. Not even scavengers attempt at unsealing most of them, for fear of the booby traps that have claimed many of their own. The stench of death is heavy here, and evidence of the cursed is all around. Doors and windows bear claw marks and broken finger nails while a few corpses, young and old, can still be found, riddled with bullets. It likely that any of the residents that remain are no longer in the mind or body that they had once possessed..
Permission or no, Croix was going to do what she did best, and that was capitalize on that which none were capitalizing on already. An old, rundown building surrounded by more debris of fallen structures than actual buildings had been located before dawn and designated the home base. The relatively small crew of men she’d brought to the East with her had set about searching every building left standing that surrounded home base for stray infected. Croix didn’t know how many infected were left but judging by her correspondences with Ahab since the meeting with the survivor city’s leader, they weren’t too much of a threat anymore. By now, those that were getting better could be identified since the ones that weren’t going to make it had either died off or were barely able to walk, let alone attack anyone. Her men were instructed to mercy-kill any infected that looked far from recovery and capture those that showed signs of improvement, no matter how small that improvement might have seemed. The buildings were about halfway through being cleared by midday when several volunteers from the survivor city arrived to help secure the locations. There weren’t many of them, but they would be enough for now. Croix was confident that word would spread and before long, she would have a big enough taskforce to turn the whole city. They all worked long and hard the rest of the day, surrounding each of the buildings with barbed fences and systematically teaming up against the infected to either kill or capture them. Those that were captured were secured and put away to be dealt with later, and those that met their ends were carried off to be buried when there was time to deal with them. Security was imperative and she’d be sure to deliver it. Tonight, the volunteers would get to sleep safely outside of the walls of the survivor city.
Milon cracked his neck side to side as he walked quietly after Ahab and exhaled a tired breath. He didn't know where the guy was taking him and he pretty much didn't care. He was a vagabond of East Ankou, never belonged anywhere, and never cared to where he went. All he knew was that he was gonna meet some woman by the name of Croix and that she was in charge of Ahab and his friends who were helping with Operation Blood. They walked through a bunch of blocks, most of which Milon would recognize as a district that'd been cleared by Operation Blood, some by him and Ahab and others by other workers. They didn't always walk by the buildings that had the blood-soaked banners over them to mark them as the buildings that were keeping the infected inside, but he knew exactly when they were walking past those buildings he and Ahab had filled. He sighed more loudly, unable to help himself, before glancing sidelong to the other people that were walking with him. He didn't really know all of them; all he knew was that they had volunteered to join Operation Blood when he and Ahab went to the survivor city months ago. He just knew the ones that rendezvoused with him to pick up bombs and supplies for their teams' own operations in different districts. He wasn't sure if some of them had died over the months, but there were definitely fewer than they'd started out with, and there hadn't been all that many to begin with. Eyes slipped to look ahead again and then to the horizon. Sun was falling. He figured they'd get to their destination after dark. He just didn't know if it would be soon after dark or much later. "When'll we get there?" he asked Ahab, but his voice was raised so that the whole group could hear him. They were all in the same boat as him, though; none of them knew where they were going, only that they were going to meet the woman behind Operation Blood.
Ahab had changed over the past couple of months. For the better, perhaps, from an outside perspective. He had his head held high. He was proud of what he was doing. He enjoyed the work. Inside, however, he was screaming. Tearing himself apart at the seams as the reality he was so used to was being torn down and replaced with something infinitely better. He didn't quite know how to feel about that. He'd figure it all out eventually, he thought to himself. He had to! Shaking the thoughts off, he looked at the crew behind him. They'd seen some shit. More than he expected them to. But he didn't know their names. Or at least, didn't care to remember them. It's not that they specifically were expendable...it was just that anyone could die, at any moment. Then Milon voiced his question, and it broke him out of his internal screaming. "We ARE there. Give 'er a few minutes 'n we'll find her." He knew she was here, he could feel it. That damned link proved useful, on occasion. Like an instinct. Stopping a volunteer they came across, he questioned him on Croix's exact location and once given, rounded the corner with his little cleanup crew to finally meet up with her. It had been a while since they'd been in direct contact, as they'd been doing two separate jobs. Quite well, admittedly. "Well la Croix, y'been fixin' things up right proper 'n pretty, ehn? Impressive."
Croix had her hands on her hips as she was admiring the day's work when Ahab spoke up. She had felt him coming, but she didn't turn to acknowledge him before he announced himself. She turned to look at him with a crooked smirk. Her eyes looked the same as they ever did, even when she looked indifferent, but the smirk was something else. She didn't look perpetually bored anymore; Croix had found something to do with her time, and she was enjoying her authority. Hands slipped from her hips as she turned more fully to face them, and she saluted them. She wore a different tricorn hat, not looking any newer than the one she'd lost so many months ago in search of the airport's deed, but it was supposed to be new. "Horses will be comin' in two days, so we'll be buildin' a stable fah them tomorrow. We're just about finished clearin' the buildings. That's the last one," she said, pointing to one of the buildings nearby. "Then we'll be settin' up the cots so everyone can sleep cumf'tably t'nahght. Y'all must be hungry," she drawled. Her words were slow and her tone, monotone. This wasn't a woman who seemed to ever feel like she was up against the clock, but there had been a time when she was, and Ahab had been there with her. She started for a nearby fire, leading the group to join the man who was stoking it and cooking tonight's dinner. "George has been at it fah a little while now, so it shouldn't be too long before the food's ready. Why don't y'all sit and relax. We got business t'talk, but there isn't a rush yet."
Milon sighed in relief and looked to the sky at the news, but he started to wonder what to expect when he met this Croix. He had no idea what she would be like. He'd seen Westerners come off the train before and lose their lives pretty quickly, but he'd never known any to survive the East and try to change it. Those that survived ended up becoming an honorary Easterner, fighting and trying to survive like the rest of them, but this one was trying to change the East on its head. He'd never seen so many people from the East gathered outside the survivor city's walls, working together to make the rest of the East habitable. He was stunned at the sight of barbed fences and campfires set so closely to each other. It took him by surprise. And no matter what he told himself he had expected to find, he wasn't prepared to meet the woman he did. She had the strangest shape of eyes and a shade of skin he'd never seen before. Her clothes were outlandish to him and her breasts were huge. Probably most important was the fact that the look in her eyes and the smirk on her face intimidated him. This bizarre outsider had managed to get all of these people together to capture and kill infected like never before and to set up a safe place for all of those people to live, and now she was going to feed them. His stomach felt like it'd been turned inside out and coiled around itself. He walked with the group as they followed after Croix. Some were already pulling off their gear and plumping down by the fire, but Milon stayed standing with his pump-action in both hands, lowered. He wasn't armed to shoot anyone but had carried it the whole journey just in case. "What do you want from us?" he asked curiously. It wasn't defensive or demanding, but he wondered why she was doing all of it. "No one just offers up their food, so I'm wondering what you expect from us."
Ahab offered a half-smile in return to Croix. He'd missed her, at least a little. My, how far they'd come from where they'd started. To think at one point he wanted to strangle the life out of her. Strange. He'd pretty much direct his crew to the campfires, though as they'd probably attest, they'd never seen Ahab eat. Or never ate what he did. Plenty had chalked it up to him being secretive, but of course, the only one amongst all of them that knew the truth was Croix. Even Milon had been spared the cruel reality of his condition. He would've joined everyone at the fire, but Milon had fielded his next question, and he gave Croix a look. A 'we need to talk' look. Not now, but later. Then, he looked back towards Milon. "Croix's'a one who actually cares. Y'know. The good kinda westerner. Ahhh but I shouldn't steal this answer from her, my bad." He took a step back, throwing his hands up for having spoken to soon, letting Croix have the floor.
Croix turned her attention to Milon's question and then to Ahab. Her expression didn't change. The smirk was gone, and in its place was the indifference most would attribute to her, but there was no obvious change in her mood. When Ahab cut himself off, she turned her attention again to Milon. "Ah don't want anythin' in particuluh from anyone. Ah just want people who care enough t'trah t'make a difference. There's a lot to be done, and Ah sure as hell can't do it bah mahself, so Ah need people like you who're willin' to do some of the work. The food is an expression of gratitude. Not an expectation that you continue workin' fah me," she drawled matter-of-factly. "It ain't a brahbe t'keep workin'. Ah just don't plan on leavin' y'all t'work without compensation. Fah now, Ah give you food and a place t'sleep. But Ah can do that 'cause there ain't that many of you. The more workers Ah get, the more different things'll be, but you'll always get somethin' you want fah the work you do. You'll nevah get anythin' beforehand. " Black eyes lingered on Milon.
Milon kept his eyes on hers despite his intimidation. He wasn't used to people giving him food or someone being in charge of him. As long as he and Ahab had worked, they were more or less on the same playing field. Ahab was better at dealing with people than he was in most cases, and Milon never cared enough about anyone to boss them around, so he always left that part to Ahab, but Milon was usually the one who came up with the plan for every operation and told people where they had to go, what they had to do, and how they had to do it. He didn't think of it as bossing them around, though. It was just the facts of the plan. He looked to the ground thoughtfully and glanced at Ahab, and then looked at her again. "So what happens when there are more people?" His eyes turned to Ahab, eyebrows drawn together in skeptical question, searching for an answer from whomever would offer it to him.
Ahab looked Croix's way, then back to Milon. "We keep goin'. More people means more help to rebuild the East. 'n more people can make more noise. Get noticed. Make the West really see shit." Then he looked Croix's way and shrugged. "Least that's what I reckon. Ain't gonna be easy. But it's gotta be done."
Croix agreed, "Rahght, and Ah only have so much food and so many beds fah people t'eat and sleep in, which means Ah'll have t'fahnd anothah way t'pay you fah your work." She looked down at the fire as George stirred the food. With a rag in hand, he pulled the pot off the fire and set it down on the ground. He reached for a bowl from the pile of wooden ones set beside him and started ladling the stew and handing it to the group around the fire. "Past it down until everyone has a bowl," he mumbled gruffly and continued to ladle stew and pass the bowl along. She nodded to Milon, "Have a seat. Eat. Y'don't need tah worry about me. If you or anyone evah wants t'stop workin' fah me, you're all free t'do so," she said to the group. "You're all here 'cause you chose to be, not because I or Ahab evah forced you t'do any of this. This ain't life or death anymore," she drawled. "You have a choice now." Croix started to walk off, boots crunching on the gravel in the growing darkness as she moved away from the fire. It was a wonder how she saw in the darkness – to everyone except Ahab.
Milon didn't say another word after his question was answered. He took his seat just as Croix had told him to and set his gun down on the ground beside him. He helped pass bowls to anyone who didn't have one yet and quite gratefully accepted his own bowl. Everyone started to devour their stew as soon as they'd gotten ahold of their own bowl, no one waiting for anyone else to eat. This was survivor city still. No one ever forgot their hunger long enough to wait for others to get their food. No one else in the group seemed to be as intimidated or concerned as Milon felt, and as he snuck a glance at everyone in the circle while they ate, he wondered if he was being unreasonable to doubt Croix. Someone finally broke the silence and made some small talk. Milon didn't respond to it because he was never good with people, but others chimed in easily, especially those who worked with the one who'd spoken up. He was reminded that no matter where he was, he was always by himself.
Ahab observed the end of the conversation, and her final answer, musing to himself how damn good Croix was at being...there was a word for it. Charismatic? Best one he could muster up. Before following after Croix, he moved to where Milon sat and patted him on the shoulder. "Enjoy yer food, bud. Gonna have a chat with Croix." And just like that, he was off following her into the black. It's not like they'd have trouble. Hell, maybe they'd get jumped! By angry infected! That thought excited him for all of seconds before he realized that probably wouldn't happen. Once they were far enough out, he whistled low. "Yer gettin' a lotta shit done. Y'never fail to amaze."
Croix looked over her shoulder at Ahab and quietly agreed. "Ah'm not doin' it bah mahself. The people you sent me from the survivor city made a huge difference in the amount of stuff we got done, and tomorrow we'll be able to map out where the infected have been quarantined off and talk about how we can deal with 'em. Who's that man who spoke up? You know him?" she asked. They moved further and further away from the group but they were still within the protection of the barbed fence. Ahab would start to smell what they were headed towards and before long, they'd stop by the pile of infected that had been mercifully killed. She picked up a shovel from a pile of them by the bodies and started to dig. There wasn't much time to take a break and although there was no way Croix would be able to dig a pit big enough for all the bodies, she'd at least get started while everyone rested for the night. Ahab would just have to talk to her while she worked.
Ahab nodded. Many hands, light work, so on so on. He wouldn't leave Croix to do this alone, so he grabbed a shovel and started helping right alongside her. "Yeah, Milon. Good guy. Kinda reminds me'a me a bit. 'cept a bit less murdery. He's the one makin' all the plans out in the field. Smart. Capable. Hell of a shot." And probably the most levelheaded, all things considered, right behind Croix. "So I been thinkin' ahead. Y'know. Past all the...shit. What's gonna happen when we're all done." Each time the shovel drove into the ground, he remembered digging holes to sleep in. Once a night, every night, like clockwork. Twenty long years of that. It'd been a while since he dug a hole. "...don't think I'll be around much, once y'finish 'n everything's all...right."
Croix didn't miss a beat as she drove her own shovel into the ground, stomped on it to drive it deeper, and then tossed the dirt aside. "Wah's that?" she asked. She didn't sound more curious or surprised than she usually was, which shouldn't come as a surprise to Ahab.
Ahab followed her rhythm. When she lifted her shovel, his went into the ground. So on, so on. "I ain't right in the head, Croix. You know it. I know it. Pretty sure Milon knows it." Hell, his parents would have known it if they'd been around much longer. "Take too much joy in it. Killin'. Guttin'...eatin'. Y'know how I feel now?" Stab. "Empty." Stab. "Feel like a walkin', talkin' infected. When all the infected're gone, I'll still be here. Killin'. Eatin'." Stab. He paused, upsetting his own rhythm, staring at the pile of bodies. "...how long till I start goin' for people who don't deserve it. People like Clara 'n Milon..." He continued shoveling after a pause. "I know you hate it when I ramble. When I go on. But...yer the only one who even seems t'get it." Stab. "How long till I go crazy?"
Ahab said, "How long till I make a pile bigger than that?"
Croix may not have seemed it, but she was listening to Ahab while she worked. It was true that she used to grow annoyed with Ahab's rambling, but it seemed different to listen to him while shoveling dirt. "Sounds lahke you're afraid of change," she said. There was a brief silence as she shoveled more dirt before she continued. "You don't seem tah know how tah sort yahself out," she commented. "One minute, you hate everyone and everythin' because you were left tah suhvahve on ya own, and now you feel empty because people are changin' the world so you don't have tah do that anymore. Have you evah trahd fahndin' out what it really is you want tah do?" She stopped shoveling for a minute, stabbing the shovel into the ground and leaning on it to stretch her back, breasts in less-than-modest view but it was neither intentional nor provocative. Her breasts were just big and gravity was just real. "Give yahself tahme to adjust. You don't need to go on and make decisions about your life before you've given your future self a chance to decahde fah himself." She straightened and started shoveling again. "If you still feel that way come the end of it all, then you go ahead and trah tah fahnd yaself wherever your soul search takes you, but Ah'll tell you one thing rahght now: no mattah where you go, you'll always be hungry and you'll always be on the outside. No one evah fits in. Some people are just bettah than othahs at carvin' themselves a little niche in the mess of it all."
Ahab continued shoveling as he listened. Even as she stopped, he kept shoveling. And shoveling. He wasn't tuning her out, but it was the only thing preventing him from throwing the shovel. Or running away. But finally he stopped and let himself stare at the dirt for a bit. "...I am afraid." He was absolutely terrified. He had grown so USED to it. "So...used to livin' every day, killin' 'em, any second able to DIE 'n now it's not like that anymore...it's not gonna be like that ever again from here on out...I just..." He was having difficulty finding the words. He wanted to cry again, but he beat it down. Suppressed it like he had suppressed it all the times before. "What's the difference, Croix?" He finally looked at her and it was plain to see on his face; Ahab was well and truly scared of life. Of hope. Of actually having survived the Plague. He hadn't expected to. Even as his voice wavered slightly and he tried to keep his tone level, his expression betrayed a deep, primal fear and an almost broken man. "What's even separatin' me from them, Croix?" Ahab was an unstable mess. Wiping at his eyes, he quietly returned the shovel to its pile. "Fuck, I...I gotta go." Somewhere.
Croix stopped shoveling again and watched him, head canted slightly to the side as she did. It was then that Ahab might see the look of sympathy for him in her eyes. She stabbed the shovel into the ground again and approached him, stilling his shoveling to get his attention. "Look at me, Ahab," she drawled gently.
Ahab was stopped by Croix's hand on the shovel, and he did as she asked, staring her in the face. Not the eyes. The face. Anywhere but the eyes. Her forehead, the bridge of her nose, whatever. Not the eyes.
Croix reached her arms around him to pull him into a mother's embrace. She didn't expect him to resist because he looked like he needed a hug, and she was the only one there to give it, but she wouldn't be disappointed if he didn't let her. "Everythin' separates you from the people who were infected, Ahab. What's more is that they don't really exist anymore, so what are you tryin' to compare yourself to?" she drawled. "Most of them are dead and the rest of them will return to a normal life. If you want to compare yourself to them, then look at it that way. You aren't dead, so you should be returnin' to a normal life, too." She pulled back to look at the buildings they'd taken back. "You see these apartments?" she started, pointing to them. "People who used to be infected will be livin' in them some day soon. They probably won't know what to do once they come back. We're gonna have to take care of 'em and help them get used to life again. And you know what else?" she said, looking at Ahab. "The survivors will need help gettin' used to their new lives, too. Everyone's changed. Here's an opportunity fah every person to take charge of their new lives, to live happier and healthier. You're not alone in that," she said. "So wah are you afraid to finally get a chance to relax? No one knows what they're doin' or what to expect next. No one knows what they're gonna do with themselves. That guy back there, Milon? He's afraid out of his fuckin' mahnd about the changes, too. He's workin' as hard as anyone else to make those changes happen, but he's just as scared of them. You oughta look at this as an opportunity to redefahne yourself. You don't need to be confahned to your tragedies. Life isn't about what happens to you; it's about what you do with it. Fahnd a niche, Ahab. Even murderers and rapists fahnd a way to fit in. You sure as hell can, too."
Ahab didn't quite return the hug, but he was pulled into it regardless. And he listened. He didn't quite think...he knew what a normal life was. Normal life, for him, was survival. But it didn't have to be like that anymore, did it? Why was he afraid? Afraid of PEACE? Redefining. He didn't know what grand change he could make, what he could well and truly do to change everything. But he had listened. He took a moment to follow her gaze, then to look back to her. "Think...think I need't'go fer a walk, Croix. Jus' for a bit. Gotta pay a visit." Doctor. There were notes, there. He had the beginnings of an idea, of something. Start small. "...what do you think about...me turnin' you?" He had never really asked. He had offered it, she scoffed, and then just as quickly as they had met and bedded, he had effectively killed her and potentially changed her way of living. "I jus'...'m curious."
Croix shrugged, not really sure how to answer his question. "It's disgustin'… but Ah'm used to it bah now. It has a lot of ups to it Ah hadn't thought about and some downsahdes Ah hadn't expected, but Ah don't regret it… Might be the best thing to evah happen to me," she said more solemnly. Her life had been a series of cruel and unusual events, and getting stripped of her humanity was the best part of it all. "Ah died a long tahme ago," she drawled thoughtfully. "You should let yourself die too and then let yourself be reborn again."
Ahab nodded. "I'm...glad, then. Glad y'enjoy it, for all it gives. 'n admittedly kinda takes." He chuckled, wiping at his eyes again. "Hey, least we only gotta eat every once in a while, right? Listen, I'm gonna head out. There's this...person. Kindofa' doctor. Knows a lot about the infected, 'n I read a buncha their notes kinda obsessively when I came back over, so...might see if I can get 'em to help us with pickin' out who's still, y'know. Functionin'." Dying. The only time he'd come close to actually dying wasn't even when Kordellia had turned him, it was in that dark place below Ankou, when he'd been bit. When he was able to fight like he'd always wanted to. No restraints. Maybe there'd be a use for that kind of fighting, soon. Maybe. "...when we get back west, can we see another symphony?"
Croix nodded to his request, stepping away to reach for her shovel. "Let me know what you fahnd out from the doctuh. Ah'll be here all day tomorrow." Pulling the shovel up from the dirt, she added, "Ah know Ah don't need tuh tell you but be careful." With that, she started shoveling again.
Ahab offered her a half-assed salute. "Aye, la Croix. If they ain't gonna do it, well...didn't read those notes for nothin'." With that, he finally put his shovel back in the pile and with one last look Croix's way, went off to find the Doctor...perhaps a bit more stable than he'd been when he had arrived.