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Branching Out (Wild Hearts)

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It had been a few years since John had come through Dougton; largely because he couldn't stand the place. An entire continent full of cutting edge magitech, and these morons wanted to live like ascetics; doing as much as they could by hand. It was like visiting the land that time forgot in many respects, not helped by the smug attitudes of many who chose to live there. Like they were somehow better than anyone else because they opted to needlessly make their lives more difficult. But, he had to admit, there were a few things that he liked about the city. The citizenry's love of food meant that they had some of the most delicious cooking anywhere in Terrenus; and their police force produced some of the best swordsmen in the world. He had killed one once, and he could say without doubt that the man would have killed him if his healing factor wasn't as potent as it was.

Still, he wasn't sure what Eliza, one of his newest employees chose here of all places. He figured now would be a good time to ask, and looked over to her as they walked down the street.

"You could have opened your branch anywhere in Terrenus, and you choose Dougton? Help me understand my dear."

@Aleksei

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ZpY6uTN.png"It's a tad wild, right?"

She understood his question, giving a half-assed smile that was working its way to a wide grin. Dougton was like stepping into a past that should be long gone, but wasn't.

"The detachment is what drew me to it in the beginning. This is a place that takes obvious pride in its history; you can't walk down the street without noticing something from its past."

The elf clasped her hands behind her back, her grin now worn comfortably as she openly admired the city. It did remind her a bit like her own home, making her feel a bit more comfortable to be wandering about the streets in such a satisfactory manner. Not a single person has pushed her back on the streets and off the clean pavement; no one has spat at her or slapped her because they could. In Dougton she wouldn't have to struggle to acclimate as much as she would in a more prominent and more heavily technological place. 

"There's no real competition here in Dougton. It is a primary contributor to both volume and variety of Terrenus's food supply; the land is dedicated to farming, and the people understand what hard work is, even if it's a little old-aged."

She smiled at a few passersby before continuing. "There is enough opportunity for us here without being faced with too many hardships. I know I am capable of handling whatever is thrown at me, but I'm not so proud to not admit to my ineptitudes."

At least to her employer. When she had first been hired, Eliza had tried her honest best to appear as someone who could do the job but had faltered here and there due to her somewhat true nature. She wasn't lying to John about where she comes from and what she had done back home, those were essentials to put herself in the right spot at the right time to be hired. What she has kept close to her chest was her rank as a slave, something she will continue to keep in her back pocket unless he chooses to dig deeper into her past.

"I want to be able to flourish before any failures arise and if there are failures, have enough breathing room to fix them for the future."

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"I suppose I can see the wisdom in that," John mused.

There was a time in his life when a new beginning, unburdened by the past, was exactly what John had been looking for in life. Just after he had escaped from the testing facility that had given him his abilities, he had been alone in the world, trying his best to make sense of tattered patchwork of memories. To this day it still wasn't complete, and there were still things about himself that he couldn't remember. Back then he had figured that if he couldn't be who he had been, he might as well make the most of it, and create an entirely new identity for himself. That was the day that John Wilder had been born, and he'd had a hell of a time sense. Sometimes a new beginning was just what was needed.

"So, do you have a starting point picked out? Some real estate on which to plant the seed of your glory, if you will?"

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ZpY6uTN.png"I do."

Eliza had put some thought into the building she wanted to make a home. Dougton had a variety of real estate to pick from, making it a little difficult to choose due to how tightly everything is pushed together. There is small breathing room between each building, making the roads slim and crowded; if you're one for personal space, then perhaps Dougton is not for you. No matter what place she picked, she was going to have some pretty exciting neighbors sniffing around her business. 

Once over the bridge, she walked past one cluster of buildings before turning to her left and then stopped. Further to their right is the Children's Refuge, behind them is the Lovely Giant, Tavern & Inn, then right in front of them over the buildings is the water.

"This particular spot is surrounded by potential interests for anyone. Being so close to the tavern is a plus, as is being against the water. We are also far enough from the Spectral District that it won't be much of a nuisance to our business."

The building needed a fresh coat of paint and a sign to indicate what it is, but other than that it's a place that can adequately harbor the necessary goods. Two stories high, the upstairs has a small apartment that she'll be occupying and downstairs is a counter with a large back room that can be modified to fit the theme of future transactions.

"Big enough to fit our needs and not so crowded that we can't change anything. The apartment is in great condition, and the downstairs is ready to be filled with all the things!"

She would also have to wash the large windows dirtied and covered in specks of paint from a lazy scrapping job. Eliza had enough funds to take care of the little housekeeping duties and still survive for a few months or more. The Boss has yet to give her the dirty details about her payment and the overall operations of things. The elf hadn't thought about asking for him to explain her position further when he hired her, too excited she was to get a foot in the door finally.

"All that's left is you telling me what you want me to do and how to do it."

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The building was indeed perfect for the kind of business that would be going on inside of it. John was satisfied with Eliza's reasoning for picking the spot, glad to see that she was taking things so seriously. The elf seemed so excited to have the job that he couldn't help but smile genuinely when he saw her enthusiasm. He wanted his employees to be happy, as happy subordinates were hardworking and loyal subordinates. Genuinely caring about people was the best way to get them to care about you; and putting aside business, he liked to have friends. 

"All that's left is you telling me what you want me to do and how to do it."

John smiled, "Of course my dear. Within a week, you will receive a shipment containing drugs, weapons, and a few other party favors; accompanied by some muscle and, eh, women of the night. From whatever front you establish in this little spot, you will purvey our wares. Each month, you will take a percentage of the earnings for yourself before sending the remainder back with the men who deliver the next months shipment. I will allow you to decide what percentage is fair. Should you run into any problems, you will contact me immediately, and I will dispatch a Troubleshooter."

Pulling a fold of bills from his jacket he handed it to Eliza, "Here, a thousand or so to get you started. Shall we do a bit of cleaning?"

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ZpY6uTN.pngGood and bad, right and wrong, they're so easily interchangeable depending on the situation. She has sold people, to some that are disgusting and deplorable, but to a vast majority in Kalopsia, people are the biggest commodities to be found. Slavery is a transaction that goes far deeper than the simple exchange of goods and services. There is some blood on the beautiful elf's slender hands, making her a threat in the eyes who praise justice and honor. To her, that spilled blood had been necessary, and there is nothing anyone can say to change her mind of that.

It hadn't crossed her that her excitement was caused by illegal dealings - she didn't see it like that. No, this excitement stemmed from her making choices that will affect her life, choices she is making on her own free will with no one 'gently' guiding her. The Eliza from Kalopsia had died the second she was handed the papers signifying her freedom. The person she is now will grow, fall and rise, and deal with the consequences of her actions. 

"Ah, yes - please!"

She guided them inside, stepping to the side to allow her employer to step ahead and take a proper look at their soon-to-be shop. It pleased her that he seemed to be rather pleased with her choices thus far; looks like she hasn't gotten soft in the last few months. Her eagerness to impress not only himself but also herself made it increasingly easier to learn the area. Knowing what to do made the chances for failure limited.

Grabbing a broom and offering John a rag, the two set off to clean the place up. 

"Would it be inappropriate for me to ask more about you?"

The question bubbled out during a moment of silence. Questions have become a necessity to the woman, they get you answers and often trouble that led to answers. Knowledge is a powerful tool, and she plans on wielding it masterfully. 

"I'm one to pry, but I'm not so rude to keep my questions to myself when told off."

Secrecy was often needed to ensure the safety of the business, something she understands entirely and respects to the fullest - the weight of her pay made her somewhat cautious. She barely knows the people she had interviewed with, though a good majority of that is due to getting herself settled, having put all available time into that nonsense. She will have to make an effort to at least know the names of her fellow associates, especially if there is a chance they will have to work together at some point.

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John was silent for a few moments after Eliza had stopped talking, wondering how much of his past he should share with his employee. He didn't have a problem with talking about himself, though only one person knew everything about his past. But he did wonder if he should maintain a professional distance from his subordinates, keep them at arms length. The answer materialized in his head almost as soon as he asked it; and that was no. He liked being friendly with the people who worked for him, and saw no reason to alienate them just for the sake of professionalism.

"I was born somewhere in Terrenus, probably Hell's Gate. Joined the military for a while, then got volunteered for some kind of experimental super soldier program. That's where I got my abilities. And where I lost a lot of my memories. I remember enough now to have a general idea of the person I was, but it honestly doesn't interest me all that much. Who I am now is what I care about."

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ZpY6uTN.pngThere are some minor differences between their trail of thought. Slavery hadn't stifled much of her want to converse and be friendly with others; truthfully, it only exasperated her need to be "normal." Her master had been a relatively kind man who allowed her to be herself - within reason, of course. A silent slave sold nothing but air, he would say in his rough, proud voice. 

"I can understand that."

She pushed a small pile of dust to the middle of the room, looking at it thoughtfully. Cleaning and caring for the littles are usually what slaves are used for, especially in the Flame Court where the men and women are more focused on producing heirs and preserving their history than anything else. They are a bought convenience who've dedicated their entire lives to be the perfect slave to live the ideal life. Who doesn't want to be protected their whole lives and given a chance to follow an already predestined path? A poor man can sell himself, provide for his family, make a name for himself; slavery has its faults, but Kalopsia has exploited its bounty.

Scooping up the pile and throwing it away, she puts her attention on the corners. 

"The markings on my face show that I am a slave, and the more elaborate they are, the more influential my owner is. My master was a simple merchant who had made a rather solid living out of haggling and arguing."

Eliza gave a soft laugh, her memories working their way into her conversation.

"My mother and father were also slaves; when I was old enough to be sold, I was."

It's a common thing for children of slaves to be sold, primarily if the household was unable to afford to feed another mouth. As items, they are expected to be taken good care of or else they will face the law that has consistently punished abusive slavers. Slavery is part of the economy of Kalopsia, each Maharaja and Raj have made sure that it's kept healthy by applying rules that are taken seriously. There are some that can avoid the arm of the law, but it's never for long, and they are often done away with to ensure the safety and health of the island. 

"This is my first time being free. When I had the money, I bought my freedom and immediately left."

Leaning against the broom, the dark elf laughed and shook her head. "My master was angry for a lot of things. He was angry; he taught me how to read and write, allowed me to grow interests outside serving him, and a few other things. When you look at it, he bought my freedom for me."

It had been a great day when she walked onto the ship that was sailing to another world. She hadn't expected to become homesick within the first few days of hitting land, but the lack of spices sifting in the air and the colorful banners waving in the sky struck a chord in her. Looking out the window now, she still yearns for the comforts of home, but it's a stubbornness that keeps her planted.

"I don't want you thinking that I left illegally and someone is going to come after me. I assure you I will be doing my best."

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Slavery was one of the things John hated most in this world; to the point that he would go out of his way to kill slavers should the chance present itself. To him, there were few crimes more terrible than taking away another's freedom, depriving them of their agency. He thought it was interesting that her master had bothered to pay her, and that she considered this him purchasing her freedom. Personally he doubted that the man himself thought that way; every slaver he'd ever met had only cared about themselves at the cost of anything and everyone else. It was interesting to know that Eliza had been born into slavery instead of being captured and sold like many were. 

"Well, if this is your first taste of freedom, I hope it's a good one!"

He went back to cleaning for a moment before adding, "Oh, and don't worry. If someone came for you, legally or not, we'd just kill them. Can't have people harassing my employees after all."

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ZpY6uTN.png"It is for sure not conventional!"

She laughed proudly, feeling more comfortable now that those pieces of her life are out in the open.

"I hope that it doesn't come to that."

Truthfully, so. While her life wasn't the most ideal, she was grateful that she had an owner who cared for his items and treated her with all the kindness that was legal. She was released out into the wild, he had no right to take away her freedom, not since it was paid and fought for. The law may be on her side, but so is justice and justice seems to act at a swifter pace than the rule. It's comforting to know that she has an unorthodox support system that'll keep her safe and on the right track. 

Finished sweeping, she goes behind the counter and begins to pilfer through the various drawers and shelves. The little shop had been abandoned for a very long time now, and whoever owned it beforehand was in a bit of a hurry. Some manifests, notes, and scribbles were left strewn about, but nothing of real importance that's worth keeping around - yet. These kinds of little holes in the walls always have some sort of secret or two hiding away, and she has a feeling that this one has something strangely attached to it. 

"Looks like the previous owner was interested in the Spectral District," she said, throwing a bundle of notes atop the counter. "Is it a trendy place?"

She asked her boss, feeling that in general, the district might be the one area most wouldn't visit or deal with. When researching a place to set up shop, she didn't want to be very close to the area considering it may be detrimental to business. Outside of that, Eliza has very little knowledge about the spooky spot across the river. 

"A real placed haunted; it's not a thing you see every day. It's a little surprising that no one has tried to use it for themselves."

You often hear silly little stories how some houses are haunted and through the years said stories get sillier and sillier, eventually losing their scary factor. Eliza believes in spooks and goblins; she has just never come face to face with anything of their kind. Curses and hexes are also a new thing to her; Kalopsia tries to weed such things out to ensure the safety of and sanctity of the island. Can't have people going out trying to raise the dead or curse their neighbor for silly reasons, so such things are closely watched but not entirely regulated, but there are watching eyes. 

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Jack sometimes worried that he was a bit too cavalier about killing; but it was something that he couldn't help. He had lived a violent life; both by choice and by circumstance. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, as the saying goes. When most of your problems are trying to kill you, you quickly learn to kill them first. He could distantly remember a time when he hadn't enjoyed fighting and killing. But such a time was long ago.

"I'm afraid I don't know much about the Spectral District," he commented, "But we can take a look if you'd like."

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ZpY6uTN.pngEliza took a moment to properly look over the notes and such, an attempt to see if there were any specific clues as to why the District was a point of interest. By its name alone, she can see how come anyone would find it to be an exciting place, but there was nothing within the notes that struck her odd or unique. That only made her more curious.

"I don't think it would hurt to get a peek at this place."

Initially, she had openly worried that going near the area would be bad for business, but perhaps they can carve out a niche there. Not many people in this world are scared of ghosts, goblins, and all other forms of unnatural beings. She can't say she is ultimately one of those people, but she is far too curious to worry much about such things. Having lived in a world that shunned the abnormal, she can't help but be drawn to the intricacies of spells, hexes, and the creatures that often hone them. 

Already her mind begins to work how they can associate such an area with their current dealings. Maybe they will be able to rope in a few lingering spirits to join them or perhaps wrangle a couple of specters to keep the place civil. Perhaps they could be led to unique treasures or other little trinkets that could be useful to them. 

"Maybe we'll find something interesting?"

The elf guides her employer outside and locks the door before they begin their little walk towards the mysterious district. 

"How are the rest of the crew doing?" 

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"Maybe we'll find something interesting?"

"Always a possibility, my dear."

Jack can't help but notice how the foot traffic seemed to thin out the closer they got to the area known as the Spectral District. Whether or not the place was actually haunted, it seemed something was keeping people from casually coming and going. Of course, there were plenty of non-supernatural reasons why the local populace would choose to avoid the district. Every city had neighborhoods where the average citizen feared to tread. Why, he himself had probably been the cause of such reputations for more than a few neighborhoods. At the very least, it would be interesting to find out the reason for the Spectral District's reputation.

"Oh, they're all doing well," Jack said, responding to Eliza's question, "Professionals one and all. Why, just the other week, Oxidus and I recruited a gifted chemist into our ranks!"

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ZpY6uTN.png"That's pretty fantastic! It's always great to hear that we're all getting along, whether we want to or not."

The two wander closer and closer to the Spectral District; the air got a bit heavier and a tad more stale. Some individuals were walking about the outskirts, but one glance and you could tell they come from the rougher patches of Dougton. Eliza almost felt like she was back at home, the same atmosphere, the same vibe - the same. The dark familiarity comforted her almost immediately. This is a place where she can be at peace, strangely enough, but it's entirely true.

Taking the lead, she guided her boss through the District without really knowing where she was going. What she describes as 'something' is guiding her through the cursed area with a sense of absurdness. The markings on her face softly glow green, indicating the differences of magic flowing through the area.

"And how is Cerebri?"

The question slipped from her lips, making her concentration somewhat falter. It is difficult to ignore such a person, Cerebri filled a room and was domineering in almost everything he does - you can't ignore him. When they had first met, it was a tad awkward and uncertain, but they spoke for a minute, and that had been enough.

"I hope he is getting along with everyone."

They turned a corner and were confronted by a building falling to pieces. The roof was bowed in, the windows broken and partially boarded up; the sign inside the window had been turned to close years ago as it was barely eligible. Something from the notes found in her shop mentioned a cobbler and a few other things; her feet and the 'something' led her to this little area that had been long abandoned. There was something here, something a little irritated and dangerous, and very talkative. She couldn't understand the words, but she could feel the distress.

Something putrid made her nose wrinkle, and she turns to Jack to see if he could feel and smell the same things she was.

"I don't think we're alone here. Let's take a look inside."

 

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Jack chuckled, "Cerebri continues to conduct his duties with the utmost efficiency. He asks about you as well."

Eliza and Cerebri had hit it off during a mission to set up the latter as their chief of operations in Renovatio. Jack had done what he could to encourage the two into a relationship, bot subtly and overtly. Unlike some management, he had no problem with fraternization among his subordinates. Life was too short not to pursue ones interests after all. The two of them clearly had something between them, and he hoped they would realize it sooner rather than later.

On 9/19/2019 at 9:28 AM, Aleksei said:

"I don't think we're alone here. Let's take a look inside."

The crime lord took a look at the dilapidated building, doubtful that even the most desperate of junkies would make this place their home. Something about the place gave off an ominous air. 

"Very well my dear."

The front door proved to be chained shut, but that wouldn't inhibit their progress for long. Picking up the chain, Jack snapped it with ease before shoving the door open.

"Stay close to me."

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