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Tyler

A Case for Journalistic Integrity

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@scrivener @Diremast

It was a damp, chilly spring night in Norkotia. A misty rain flowed down from the heavens, creating a humid atmosphere supplemented by the cool breeze that flowed from the across the mighty Garrison Lake. But though a miserable night such as this could chill the bone, the natives had come to appreciate moisture whenever it was present, for it would be at a premium when the arid summer months rolled around. Still, it took a man or woman of cheery disposition to make light of a night such as this.

Fitting, it would seem, that unscrupulous dealings were to be had on this night. A pair of unaffiliated foreigners had been clandestinely summoned to a crumbling brick warehouse at the edge of town, away from the watchful eyes of law enforcement officials and militiamen. The rotten, worm-eaten doors were not locked, allowing the two men access to the dark innards of the abandoned structure. Within lie the broken-down relics of a more useful time, when this warehouse saw frequent business and was staffed by a full complement of employees.

But now the only object in the building that wasn’t wreckage was a lone, rectangular table standing at the very center of the warehouse. Closer inspection would reveal a large box-shaped object that appeared to be a primitive sound recorder of some sort. A small note pinned to the table indicated a button they should press to begin the playback and receive their briefing...

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When it rains, it sure does pour.

Best one can do is to find yourself something, or someone to shelter you through the cold night.

And let me give you an advice, you better cherish that faint whiff the sweet aroma of affection.

Because before you know it, life will flick you on the nose and just like that the dream will be gone.


11zqxsn.jpgIt had been a harsh few months for Jeremiah Jackson, but he would weather the storm. After all, how many times could you really flip a coin until it would finally land on the bright side? It was just a matter of time, surely. He had been drifting from place to place, trading in an extra hand for a meager reward. He must've seen it a thousand times by now, the same tiresome story about this guy owing that guy something something which he needed to collect. It amazed him just how hard they would to always try to justify their request, as if he actually gave a fuck about their reasons.

If the coin was good enough, then as far as he was concerned the end always justified the means.

He was a mercenary at heart, although the law had branded him a criminal and fugitive. They had come after him countless times but every attempt had proven one of utter futility. Because however you want to angle it, in the end you’re either a sheep or a wolf. And what the law bringers that had sought him out had failed to understand, is that it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

Standing over their corpses, he had left his howl known to all those who would aim to challenge him.


For him, this was just another job. Another notch under his belt. It was easy enough to make his way to his destination, taking care to avoid prying eyes. A gentle but freezing cold breeze of air bit him deep and as it overstayed its welcome as he set his eyes on the abandoned warehouse. Wasting little time before making his way inside. Its rugged walls and bleak furnishing brought him comfort. He was a minimalist, thus he appreciated his pale surroundings. In the center of the room was a single table and on top was some kind of device of some kind along with a note. In his approach, he shook his coat from the rain and brushed his forehead. Surely enough instructions had been scribbled on it, telling him to press play on the device.

“Well that’s one way to do it.” He spoke, seemingly to himself as he chuckled at the idea that whoever wanted to hire his services knew better than to venture out during a night like this. Turning around towards from where he had entered, Jeremiah reached into his sides, bringing up a cigarette hastily rolled cigarette. Then he brushed his match against his rugged and leathery coat to light it. With a deep inhale he drew the fire into the cigarette before flicking the match and stomping the light out of it.

This was supposed to be a group job, and so he awaited his partner(s) to show themselves.

Edited by Diremast

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Acorn was in the moldy room of a dingy little inn located in the more derelict parts of Casper. He had just finished a caper, less 'big' and more 'chubby', and was tabulating how much money he had left after the fence's cut, splitting the take with his partner, and sending off the lion's share back home to help pay off a substantial familial debt his father had accrued before his untimely passing. 

The short answer was: plenty, but not enough. 

So he finished his bitter coffee, smoked a bitter pipe, and went downstairs to the innkeeper so as to convert a small amount of rhodium for a larger amount of gold and silver before settling his bill. He still had more on him than he liked to carry, so he gave this to the first mate of the Aria and went to even shadier parts of Casper to look for more work before his furlough ran up. He found that work on the lips of two foreign bounty hunters holed up in Casper, talking about a place he'd never heard of before and a job that fit right into his wheelhouse.

Three days later

Acorn pressed his back against the leather seat and his index finger against the button on his arm rest. The hum of the motor rolling the window down was dim, barely louder than the whine of the rubber wheels against a paved road. He looked out of the window at Norkotia's skyline – Acorn had never seen something quite like it. 

He'd been to Hell's Gate. He knew about skyscrapers and complexes. But he'd never seen something like it outside of Hell's Gate, at this scale, with so many buildings made of what looked like poured concrete rather than metal or shaped earth. He'd been to Tia. Had seen their automatic wagons. But had never been in one that that wasn't designed for the all-terrain of the Wilds, but for the paved roads, of which there were more than he had seen in anywhere on Valucre. 

It was something alright. When he finished up the job he might stick around to see how these people made and moved their money, and maybe even spend some time chasing after the local women. 

The cab came to a stop at the last diner before one pushed towards the edge of town, and out of it. he waited for the cab to depart then walked past the dinner, towards that edge, to a fringe populated mostly with emaciated warehouses. Strict adherence to instructions eventually brought Acorn before a brick warehouse.

Acorn put up the collar of his coat and mused to himself. "Hmmmm.'

He was circumspect. Rather than heading down a line to the warehouse, he walked a circle around it. Finding no snipers in nests or bruisers lurking in shadows, he entered the warehouse through a side entrance. There was nothing of interest anywhere in the warehouse except at its center, which bore a table, upon which sat a recorder. 

"Hmmmm." He mused again. 

This time he waited, seated on an empty crate, amusing himself by fiddling a coin between his fingers. Before too long someone else entered the warehouse. He wasn't reckless or loud, but also made no attempt at caution – he just walked right up to the table and lifted the paper next to the device. Acorn held his breath. When local police didn't swarm the warehouse for a sting, he let the breath out with a word. 

"Hey."

Then stepped out of the shadows. 

"Play the damn thing I guess." 

Edited by scrivener

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When the recorder was finally activated, a slightly muffled voice began to speak. The recording quality was not as impressive as a digital or magical recording, as it crackled slightly and had a faint white noise, but alas, Norkotia wasn't quite as developed as some places in the world. Still, the device would serve its purpose.

"Good evening, gentlemen." the individual began, "The instructions you are about to be given are for your ears alone. Pay close attention, as this message will be destroyed upon completion."

The speaker allowed a moment's pause here, perhaps to indicate that the subject was changing or just to ensure the two had enough time to process what they had just been told.

"Your task is to break into the headquarters of the Norkotian News Corporation, also known as the NNC, in order to obtain certain items which will be discussed in greater detail momentarily. The building is located on the intersection of Garrison Drive and Broadway, in downtown Norkotia City. The building officially closes down at 0800 hours, however; there will be a skeletal crew present in the radio and television broadcasting studios on the upper levels. There is also a complement of armed security guards who patrol every floor. Let me emphasize that you are not to be captured under any circumstances. It is likewise strongly preferred that your activities are not discovered in general.

Once you have enacted entry, your task is to obtain proof that the NNC has illicit connections with other corporate and government entities in Norkotia. Any items that indicate bribery, corruption, collusion or intentional distortion of facts in news stories, are your objectives. Any other items that could prove scandalous to the NNC or any other organization or individual are also acceptable recoveries. In the event that nothing suitable can be found, your payment will be reduced. Your payment will also be reduced if you are discovered. I emphasize again that you must not be captured, even if discovery is unavoidable.

In short, infiltrate the building, search for any evidence against the company, escape without being discovered. This message has now concluded."

As soon as the voice finished speaking, there was a snap like that of a small explosion, and the recording device visually sparked before smoke began to climb out of its mechanical innards.

Edited by Tyler

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It didn’t take long until his companion revealed himself before him. For a moment Jeremiah wondered just how long the man had been watching him, but he knew better than ask questions he didn’t really want answered. Unlike many of previous partners in crime who often promoted caution above resolve, Jeremiah wasn’t one to waste time. That being said, he didn’t have any problem with being subtle. But if you go poking around for discrepancies you will sooner or later find them and when that happened their mystery will cling to your mind, preventing you from focusing on the task at hand.

Everyone had their share of dark secrets, looming quietly behind fake smiles.

Together they listened to the broadcast that seemed had been pre-recorded for their benefit. While that was all fine and dandy at first glance, it sure would have been nice to actually be able to ask questions about regarding their impending mission. However given the desired method of relaying their assignment, he supposed that they wouldn’t really be keen to divulge anything useful anyway.

The job seemed simple enough, no need to make it more complicated that it had to be, right? Get in and get some documents incriminating the firm, then get out without being discovered. The real problem was that they did not know what to target. He supposed they could try to tap into the network of the station, but there were bound to be security measures in place to prevent unwanted intrusions. Personally he would prefer to play the human angle as from his experience as they were usually much easier to exploit. Perhaps bribe a few guards to look the other way, or perhaps follow a manager to gain leverage and use it as to kindly persuade the person to spill the beans about the station’s most well kept secrets.

Because people with power are bound to use that power to dominate those without it, one way or another. No matter if they ever intended it or not. 

He scratched his cheek while thinking over the options popping up in his mind as he watched the device self-destruct. Then he turned to his companion and watched him in silence for a few moments. The man didn’t look like much, but looks could sure be deceiving. After all, the greatest trick the devil had ever pulled off, was to convince people that he didn’t exist. He guy did manage to more of less sneak up on him, so that at least spoke of his competence.

“Jeremiah Jackson, pleased to meet you… Mr…?” He didn’t bother extending his hand for a proper greeting in form of a handshake. He wasn’t one to waste time on useless ceremony, especially with people that he didn’t know. The false pretense that being polite suggested was beneath people like them. He took another puff of his cigarette, allowing time for the man to respond before continuing.

“So what’s your take on this? How would you play this out?" He paused to allow the question to settle in while taking another inhale of the cigarette. 

"If we’re going to be working together I need to get an idea how you think. Tell me, can I trust you to handle yourself once we get in there?” He exhaled and filled the space between them with a thick cloud of smoke, obscuring their vision of each other. However it only lingered for a short period of time and would fade within seconds. He would carefully examine the reaction of the man.

"Convince me." In that moment, every action by him had been calculated in order to determine the measure of the man before him. First impressions carried much weight, and should Jeremiah find himself anything less than convinced without any doubt of the man’s competence before their conversation would conclude... 

He would walk out the same door from where he had entered and never look back.

Edited by Diremast

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It took a particularly insensitive sort not to feel the heat of Jeremiah's steady gaze. Acorn was the sensitive sort. He felt Jeremiah taking his measure, ticking off items from a list whose end result would inform Jeremiah of the kind of person he was dealing with. His height and weight were no doubt at the forefront of this list. The nimble fingers of a pickpocket, the calloused hands of a laborer, the bright, lively eyes and quick smile of a con man.

But Acorn was good at taking measures too. The man's complexion marked him a foreigner to the Terrenus mainland. He stepped light. He smelled of the grease of gun oil and the acerbic taint of explosive. He had tattoos on his hand whose content hinted at a poetic mind, and poetic minds hinted at intellects which were usually not so dull. When the tape's reel ran out and Jeremiah concluded his survey, he introduced himself to Acorn, and Acorn was obliged to do likewise.

"Acorn. Just Acorn. Nice to meet ya bub."

When asked for his take on the job, Acorn's lips parted, but the words froze before they could tumble out of his teeth. Jeremiah had kept talking, and Acorn didn't much like what he was saying.

"Me? Convince you? You must be flyin' high as a damn bird, fella. I dunno 'bout you but I got called here to do a job, not to convince someone else to do theirs. If you don't like the way the job sounds or the hirin' practices of the client then you can go on and kick rocks – you either get replaced or the whole shindig gets called off. Skin of my teeth? None."

Throughout the rhythmic cadence of his speech, Acorn's arms floated up to cross over his chest and his right eyebrow shaped itself into an arch. He didn't budge, and if Jeremiah stuck around to see what else the man might have to say, it would be nearly a half minute before Acorn spoke again.

"If all that's outta your system . . ." He uncrossed his arms, eyes widening from the squint of skepticism into the wide-eyed expression of free-flowing thought.

"Way I see it, this fella don't know quite what he wants. He wants leverage but he don't know nothing about professional crookin'. He says the only way to get it is to skulk around a crew and an armed patrol? Acorn don't like that. He'll do what needs to be done but if there's an easier way, Acorn likes that more.

"I'm thinkin' we go, we case the joint, we see how heavy everythin' is and what it'd take to sneak around a crew and guards without so much as lettin' someone get a glimpse of our fannies. That's a big ask. And if it's too heavy, I think we can find dirt if we follow the money, and to do that, we follow the accountant. Break into their digs while they're at the office and see what we see."

Acorn jutted his chin towards Jeremiah interrogatively.

"How's that sit wit' ya fella?"

Edited by scrivener

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Jeremiah may not have liked it at that particular time, but he had to admit that the guy had spirit and seemed capable in his own right. Heck he might even begun to like the bastard from the words coming out of his mouth. He flicked his cigarette as the man’s speech ended with a question and turned towards the device again as he watched the parts that had remained on the table slowly begin to melt.

Such a waste of good table, he thought to himself.

“Fair enough, but just make sure that Acorn don’t get me killed out there.” He paused for a second, but not long enough to warrant a reply before he would continue.

“You got a good head on you, I’ll give you that. I take it that it's not your first rodeo, then?" The question was rhetorical. 

"Good." He continued. 

"Agreed, I think the best option given the circumstances would be some light reconnaissance followed with some-” He paused and turned back to face the man again.

“Polite convincing should prove to be necessary. Busting a few kneecaps should loosen tongues fairly quickly should it come to that.” He didn’t like walking in blind and he was glad that his partner felt the same way. Being reckless had cost him in the past, but he had learned his lesson.

Finishing his his train of thought he began to take steps towards the exit. There had been enough talk and it was time for some action. Time for them to earn their pay, and for his partner to prove his worth. Hopefully the job would go without a hitch, but it was best to expect the worst in any given situation. If nothing else, it would save him some disappointment should this guy get his head blown off by some trigger happy fuck just doing his job.

One thing was sure however, Jeremiah wouldn’t risk putting his head on the chopping block for a stranger he wouldn’t expect Acorn feeling any different on the matter.

Edited by Diremast

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As far as buildings go, the headquarters of the Norkotian News Corporation was hardly the most impressive structure one could find on Terrenus. Indeed, one would likely find it rather pitiful compared to the great works of architecture found in many of the megacities spread all across the land. But for the comparatively small, sparsely-populated, confederation of city-states that was Norkotia, it was actually on the larger side. The eight-story building was a rather boxy rectangular shape, fashioned primarily of brick but with a base of poured concrete, and a great many windows. Several antenna towers and dishes could be seen on jutting up from the roof, broadcasting the radio and television works of the company all across the golden plain surrounding the city. Garrison Drive, named after the rather imposing Garrison Lake that bordered the Northeastern edge of town, was an East to West road that intersected with Broadway, a major North-South road that merged into a highway once it left the city limits. The building was here, at the Northwest corner of this intersection, its main entrance facing Southward toward Garrison Drive. There was a small parking lot on the far side of the building from Broadway, between the NNC building and another structure. There was a narrow alleyway with a dumpster on the North end of the building, which was the least traveled area, though it was visible by motorists driving down Broadway.

Most of the workers at the company walked to the building from a small parking ramp a few blocks away, while the parking lot adjacent to the building was reserved for administrative staff, quite possibly including the accountant. Another parking lot existed across the street, where various journalists and reporters parked their vehicles, and news vans were sometimes stored during operation hours. All this would be certainly be useful in narrowing down where people stood in the company's hierarchy, not to mention the it offered a chance to obtain the plate numbers of persons of interest.

As for the people themselves, they could be seen entering and exiting at the expected times in the morning, lunch hour, and closing time, but also during several other periods throughout the day, which indicated a large number of staggered shifts. A sizable chunk of the workers would leave the building to go to various restaurants or parks to eat their lunch at noon, which may be a good time to attempt to locate potential squealers. By the official closing time though, there would be very little foot traffic in or out of the building, as the night shift members starting at eight o'clock worked continuously in the building until the early morning hours the next day. The one exception was a small group of people who would leave the building around midnight to get their "lunch" from an all-night diner a couple blocks away. None appeared to be security guards, however; indicating they all remained in the building.

Edited by Tyler

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"Shit."

Acorn kicked the table onto its side then grabbed it by the legs to flip it upside down. The table snuffed out the growing flames and Acorn, arms akimbo, addressed Jeremiah over his shoulder.

"Wouldn't wanna draw attention our way by leaving a big ol' fire behind us."

He found that Jeremiah was already on his way out of the warehouse and turned his walk into a brisk jog so that he could catch up.

"I don't pay no nevermind to knee cappin' but I'll tell you this much. I don't like murder, not unless my own life is on the line, self-defense style. I don't like killin'. It makes things messier, cause of the blood, and cause of the law. It just makes me sick to my stomach thinkin someone lost their life over a vase or a painting or some information. It ain't no fun.

"Besides which getting too tough gets me a lil green around the gills so if it's all the same to you I'll leave the knees in your hands."

Once they got away from the derelict edges of the city and into proper service roads, they were able to hail a cab. Acorn had the cab take them halfway to their target, got out of the cab, hailed another which took them a quarter of the remaining half, and then walked the rest of the way."

"Just so's we clear that wasn't no charity. We splittin' that fare."

The two men were halfway up the full length of the adjacent parking lot, observing the main building in the shadows of support pillars and obscured by guard rails. They spent hours up there, getting used to the ebb and flow of people.

Looking over the NNC, Acorn was brimming over with ideas. There were so many windows that he was sure they were being monitored, but he was just as sure they couldn't monitor every square inch and so started thinking about unconventional entry points.

"All them there antennas need servicing, way I see it. Roof entrance is a damn near given but now I'm thinking maybe there's a service access type entrance too. I'm thinking we wanna find out where the cleaning crew keeps their gear, pinch us a few of their uniforms, and try to weasel in the back way. If that don't fly we find a soft-touch receptionist and try to finesse names and schedules outta her."

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Jeremiah was quick to shrug of Acorn’s comment about murder and the hunch that the guy would most likely pass out at the first sight of blood. He wasn’t no bloodhound though and if they would agree one only one thing it would be that murder sure is a expensive and bloody business.

And they hadn’t been paid enough for it to warrant pest extermination.

During their trip, Jeremiah would find himself staring out the window of the cab, watching idly at the houses and passing individuals. To him they were all faceless cattle. Addicted to the false ideals that they were anything more than fodder for the hamster wheels of corporate conglomerates that don’t give a fuck about them.

“Save the receipt.” He instructed as they slammed the door shut as watched for a moment as the taxi sped off. Their attention then shifted towards their target and some light reconnaissance had given fruit. They have managed to identify several potential routes in order to infiltrate the building without being noticed. The problem was still finding documents or other incrimination information. And where his partner had determined several ways for them to get inside, Jeremiah had thought about how to get the information they needed in order to acquire their target.

“Well I’ve always viewed myself as a cleaner, of sorts. How fitting, must be a sign.” In reality he didn’t believe in that kind of shit, but it added a desired flair at the time. There wasn’t no transcendent being, guiding their steps in mysterious ways.

“With that settled, I have an idea. Follow me.” Without waiting for Acorn to respond to his suggestion he would begin to make his way towards the parking lot. While traversing further in, he examined the cars briefly until he finally stopped at one of the most fancy ones. Whoever was the owner of this car, they had to be in some position of power. And so he would position himself in order to be able to stakeout the vehicle while at the same time staying out of sight.

And so they would wait.

They didn’t have to wait long until Jeremiah spotted a man wearing a fancy suit making his way towards the car. Like a mouse walking into a trap head first, the man opened one of the doors to the backseat and threw his briefcase at the seat. But that time had already approached the man from the opposite direction with the door in between them. With his attention directed elsewhere he was startled as he laid eyes on Jeremiah but before he had time to react he slammed the door into the man, causing him to fall to the ground.

Jeremiah looked to his right, and then to his left.

“Keep an eye out.” He told Acorn before walking over to the man and entered a squatting position next to him. Without speaking, he searched the man and quickly found the man’s keys and wallet. Standing up, he opened the wallet and examined the contents. Mark Withersburg was his name and it seemed like he had loving a family.

Perfect.  

“Mr Withersburg, I am sorry to inform you that you are currently a victim of armed robbery.” Jeremiah glanced over towards Acorn for a second.  

“But don’t worry, there is still a chance for you to come out as a hero. But you need to follow a few instructions. First, you will tell me where your office is. Then, you will not report the loss of your keys and briefcase until at least 48 hours from now. Third, you were assaulted by three teenage anarchists at knife point. Do you understand these instructions.” He paused to allow his instructions to sink in. The man let out a faint whimper in response, clearly intimidated by him. Jeremiah returned to his previous position, hunched over at the man while he was still laying on the ground.

“If you don’t follow these simple instructions exactly, believe me I will find your family and I will stomp their faces in until there is nothing left but a pool of blood and teeth.” As he spoke he removed a photo of the man and his family and placed it in front of his face. While doing so he threw the wallet back to the man but he was clearly showing that he was going to keep the image of the man’s family. After a few moments the man had given all the information that they need.

“Thank you.” Jeremiah spoke as he helped the man to his feet with an extended hand.

“I’m sorry about this, but I am going to have to hit you.” His words were instantly followed by a knuckle to the face of the man and he again fell into the car but this time he managed to stay on his feet as he was able to hold on to the handle of the car. Jeremiah then turned to Acorn and then back to the man that was now gasping for air.

He had almost forgot.

“Oh by the way, me and my colleague here had to take a cab to get here. But no need to worry we saved the receipt.” Jeremiah again turned to Acorn.

“Well go on, give the man the receipt.” He told Acorn and waited for their compensation of transit.  

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Acorn shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets and following Jeremiah deeper into the parking lot. They stopped before what was undeniably a sleeker car than most. Acting on a hunch Acorn moved to the front of the car; there were words spray painted underneath the car's hood. However the payoff was only partial. He'd been hoping for a title but all he found was a name.

Oh well. It was more than what they started off with.

Jeremiah made use of the interplay between light and shadow for their vantage. The light streaming in from the open-air partition in front of Mark Withersburg's car highlighted Mark in stark relief, meanwhile deepening the shadows that Acorn and Jeremiah occupied. When Mark put his hand on the door handle Jeremiah crossed the distance between them, frightfully subtle for his speed. He pushed the man around and then knocked him to the ground with a swing of the car door.

Meanwhile the two of them worked out their issues, Acorn insinuated himself into the car and busied himself with the briefcase. The introduction of two thin spokes of metal saw the briefcase's lock undone in seconds. Acorn put his tools away and began rifling through the man's papers.

There were memorandums, marketing plans, commercial interests that wanted to rent space on the NNC's papers. But nothing that stood out to Acorn as being the proverbial smoking gun. He closed the briefcase and took the whole thing with him, exiting the car just as Jeremiah put the finishing touches on his scare-job and threw the wallet back to its owner.

When prompted to give Mark the receipt for the cab fare, Acorn shook his head and laughed.

"You're funny."

With his free hand, he took Mark's wallet, liberated from its innards the whole of Mark's currency, and gave him back the empty billfold. Acorn couldn't take seriously the idea that they would give to a victim of theirs proof definitive as to their comings and goings, and thought that Jeremiah must be joking. With Mark's funds in his pocket, Acorn touched two fingers to the brim of an invisible hat in mock salute.

"Thanks for the tip buddy. Here's to hoping we never hafta see each other again."

Acorn leaned in to whisper something into Mark's ear, and came away with a confident smile that deflated the moment he saw Mark still staring up at him, scared and confused. He leaned in again and whispered something else, something longer and more urgent, and this time Mark slumped fully to the ground, unconscious.

Acorn addressed Jeremiah as they made their way out of the parking lot and towards the main building to ransack Mark's office.

"I dunno about you, but my magic ain't working right. That first sleep charm shoulda knocked him out cold. I had to use a group spell just to get that one guy down and he didn't seem very strong to me. Must be something in the air… anyway that should keep him down a few hours, give us a head start."

Edited by scrivener

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The two may also have spotted an identification card on Withersburg, indicating him as the "Senior Director of Marketing". It was possible the card was meant as an I.D. for building access, but only as a visual cue for the guards. There was no code strip or scan bar on it. Though there were no guards outside the building, one could suspect there was at least one guarding the door, or at least patrolling around while keeping an eye on it.

Deeper delving into the briefcase might net a few suspicious items, even if none were blatant. A couple of organizations that had applied for advertising had gotten discounts on their ad requests, though no indication as to why was given. One of the groups was BlackBlood Energy Incorporated, which would be identified as a major supplier of coal-based electricity and both raw and refined petroleum, if the two were to ask around. BlackBlood apparently was the largest energy conglomerate in Norkotia, though its influence extended into the less inhabited regions surrounding the city-state confederation. The other entity was something called the "Progress and Prosperity Foundation", which was a political advocacy group. Depending on who they asked, some would identify it as a movement that lobbied for positive social change in Norkotia's backward-thinking society, while others would call it a corporate front group that sought to subvert Norkotia's traditional culture and morality, while turning people away from Gaia. Though, one might quickly come to realize that the Norkotians had a very different view of Gaia than the rest of Terrenus.

Though that information depending on if they chose to more thoroughly study the contents of the briefcase. It wouldn't be enough to implicate the NNC, but it might point them in the right direction of where to look or what to look for. Speaking of where to look, Withersburg's office was in the marketing department, which was on one of the mid-levels. Right now, being as it was evening and most of the employees had departed for the day, Mr. Withersburg being one of the last ones out of the office for his shift, the only people they needed to worry about were the guards and some of the night crew for the radio and TV stations on the upper levels.

...And the cleaning crew, which had arrived and parked in one of the empty spots in the VIP lot. They appeared to enter the building through a back entrance rather than the front entrance, however; having a key to access that door which was normally locked.

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On their way to the NNC main building, Acorn placed a hand on Jeremiah's shoulder to keep him from advancing, and then led them both to the coveting shadow of a support pillar. He pointed across the way to a van which was, even now, nosing into a VIP spot.

"Funny huh? I'd expect all of the flagship employees to have a car like Mark's."

The side door slid open and out streamed a small contingency of uniformed laborers. Acorn smiled as he watched them steer heavy vacuums and floor buffers down a ramp into an access door. Minutes later Acorn was squatting down in front of the driver's side door, as it faced away from the NNC building into the dark recesses of the parking lot. His magic was being dampened by his dexterity was as finely tuned as ever; his hands were those of an artist, twiddling a torsion wrench until the tumblers clicked into place and the lock gave way almost gleefully.

"Got pretty much everything we need in here. Uniforms, cleaning supplies. And here's the best part." On hands and knees, Acorn dug his fingers under the side of the van's sheet metal paneling and pulled it loose, revealing a small cache of additional pass cards.

"This is what it's all about Jerry. You can spend a million doors on crash-proof fencing and bullet proof glass and access-controlled locks, but laziness and convenience will always find a way to punch a hole in your security."Right alongside the access door was a section of ballistic glass which allowed a distant guard to get a visual on whoever was going into the building.

"If he let's me in, I'll hold the door open and you can rush in after me. If he doesn't, I'll try and get him to come outside."

Acorn brought with him enough cleaning supplies that, by holding them in both of his arms, he was able to obscure most of his face. Through the gap presented by the veil of aerosol cans, rags, and a mop, Acorn shook his leg first at the guard vestibule and then at the access door. 

"Hey fella! My crew is going to get real sore at me if I don't show up with all this junk. Mind grabbing the door for me?"

Edited by scrivener

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The guard was a tad confused as to why this guy hadn't come in earlier with the first crew, which aroused his suspicions somewhat. Still, he figured the man must be a late-comer who arrived separately with additional supplies, so he got up and opened the door. He intended not just to let Acorn in, but to check his name badge and ensure he was approved to enter. As soon as he had allowed Acorn inside, told him to hold up.

"Wait there a moment, buddy. I need to see your I.D."

He examined Acorn up and down to see of the badge was hanging anywhere, then, presuming he found it, tried to get a look at his face. The I.D. card was an approved one, but the guard noticed that the man trying to make entry had a darker skin complexion than the one on the card. Could be that he had gotten a lot of sun, despite how early in the season it was. Or perhaps the lighting in this room was playing tricks on his eyes. Even so, he intended to make certain before allowing this newcomer to head inside.

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The guard opened the door and Acorn did his best to just keep things moving – don't give the guard too much time to think and start poking holes in his ruse. But alas Acorn only got a half dozen steps into the building before the guard got a bright idea, put a hand on his shoulder, and kept him from going any further.

"Yeah sure boss. No problem at all. Let me just put some of this stuff down."

Acorn did so and positioned himself so that he was facing the door through which he had just entered – which meant that, in order to keep addressing him, the guard had to keep his back to the same entryway. The guard squinted and brought the ID close to his face, eyes playing pong as they bounced between Acorn and the picture on the ID.

"Let me guess. You're surprised at how much weight I lost. I owe it all to this miracle berry a friend of mine found outside of Norkotia. Do you want to hear about it?"

The guard parted his lips to speak and then slumped to the ground unconscious; Jeremiah stood over the guard, putting away the revolver whose butt he had used as a sap. Together the two of them tied the guard up and shoved him under the desk. Jeremiah slipped into the guard uniform and took the unconscious man's post at the vestibule.

"I've got one of their little radio boxes. Call me if anything funky happens. I'm going to prowl around Mark's office for a bit."

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