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638ddd939bd0d5c7ac89cb547f752950.jpg?response-cache-control=max-age=2628000lycoris romanova


 

The caverns are extensive, from the vantage point of the audience: far-reaching rock tunnels under the snowy mountains. It reminds Lycoris of a similar scenario in her early childhood, when she had witnessed the Crow leave three girls within a deep pit, only one allowed to resurface. Even now, she can see it plain as day: Belladonna’s trembling limbs as she clung to the rope pulling her out of the darkness, sticky crimson pointedly not the girl’s own drying out in the hot summer heat.

It gives her nightmares, to this day.

Shaking herself out of the somber thoughts, Lycoris turns her attention back to the arena, watches who she assumes to be the real Erin open a flask of some kind as the woman waits in the silence. The hairs on the back of her neck tingle in tense anticipation, even in the unreality of this virtual world, and something has to happen soon to break this tenuous thread, a hairline away from snapping under the force of the viewers’ impatience—

An invisible object of some kind collides with the real Erin, all of a sudden, with enough force to cause her to stumble should she be unprepared, and the audience jumps to its feet in enraptured shock. Lycoris lets her mouth fall open, if only for a brief moment.

The following events unravel in snapshot flashes: the return of the fake Erin to the visible plane, her bow nowhere in sight; a bloodied hand rising to wrap around the other’s neck in a grappling position; the gleam of a knife in the lowlight, aimed for the real Erin’s throat.

 


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The food was laced with barbiturates. It was a happy coincidence that the first and only member of their party to eat the poisoned food was Xavier. As the most physically imposing among the four of them the doses had been calibrated to his bulk; what was intended to knock Xavier onto his ass could have made another one of them comatose, or even downright kill them.

Eldwine returned more bloodied, half of his face swollen with bruises, dragging by the collar a man that looked exactly like the Falcon but in miniature. He was smaller than Eldwine, but had the same flowing chestnut hair, the same thick glasses; the sword at his back looked flimsy even from a distance, even under the unreliable lightning conditions of CyberFunk's clandestine level, and his loincloth was just an imprint over pants.

At the amount of food Xavier managed to eat before Eldwine interrupted him the Orc wouldn't go unconscious but he'd feel his reflexes slowed, and perhaps more importantly, he'd feel more at peace; it would take more than a strong sword-arm to link this to the potential impact it could have on his berserker rage (which the opposition assumed on sight, knowing nothing about Xavier's close relationship with his armor or how his strength outstripped even his peers).

After throwing the man in after him Eldwine shut the door behind him, locked it, then pushed some furniture in front for a makeshift barricade. He spared Erin and Lycoris a passing glance, then focused on Xavier.

"Go in and pull them out. We can work with this guy right here."

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Erin was forced to drop the flask of invisibility potion, as her left hand instinctively reached up to grab the arm of her opponent as it began to strangle her. Her right had also sprang into action, barely catching the clone's knife arm at the wrist, just before it could penetrate Erin's flank. The momentum of the clone's movement's also shoved Erin against the stalagmite, pinning her back to the wall in effect. Realizing she could not break the clone's grip around her threat Erin released her hold on the choke arm, but the clone immediately responded by slamming her knee into Erin's groin area. It was a dirty blow, one Erin knew she herself would use in a heartbeat in a similar scenario against a male opponent. Luckily for her, such an attack was not very useful against her, considering the obvious.

"My body... doesn't... work..." she wheezed, not audible enough for the audience to really hear, "...like that... no more!" 

She doubted the other user, or computer program, would understand what she meant, but it was what came to her mind in response to the knee strike. More importantly though, the words were meant to distract her opponent's attention, just long enough for her to draw a knife from her belt with a free hand and stab it through the choke arm, causing virtual blood to splatter on both of their faces.

However, the clone merely grunted and twitched slightly, but its face remained impassive and focused, and its grip unwavering, all the while glaring at the real Erin with a soulless expression. Whatever the hell was behind those glossy, animated eyes, it either didn't feel pain, or was one tough (son-of-a-)bitch. 

Edited by Tyler

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Xavier scarfed down several edibles and drank at least two of the vials before Eldwine managed to interrupt his binge. The orc recognized the familiarity of the smaller man that was just thrust into this room but just suddenly didn’t care to correlate where that feeling came from. All he felt was a wash of tranquility that caused him to close his eyes and smile toothily. The peace that inundated him now and beckoned him toward sleep made Eldwine’s words fail to register clearly though the orc nodded extremely slow as if he understood what needed to be done.

 

Setting the food down awkwardly along the table nearby, he just stood there with his head tilted upward and his arms lightly swinging for several seconds after the order to go back in to retrieve Lycoris and Erin was given. His massive bulk nodded off a bit and nearly fell backward if it weren’t for the sporadic movement of Obtenebra that whipped him around.

 

“Whaaa?”

 

Obtenebra did not enjoy seeing its host’s biological system affected by the enormous amount of depressants, worming through Xavier’s body frantically as it tried to mitigate its affects. The sentient ooze decided to motivate Xavier into action the only way it knew how….pain. Digging hard into muscles and giving extra focus to the wound that had been created by the robotic lizard, it caused a shock of pain within Xavier that shot the orc into a state where he was far more alert than before.

 

“What is going on?”

 

The sight of the small man on the floor triggered his short term memory a bit and the bulk of Eldwine’s words from before flooded back into his mind and then he pivoted, trying to brush off the fatigue that had settled in admirably though it was clear he was having trouble. "Right. I'll be back" Fumbling to place the nodes back on and put on the suit lethargically, he struggled to execute the order provided but when he noticed the suit was primed to initiate again he almost let out a shout of joy before he stopped himself and simply went back in.

 

The flood of audio from the crowd filled his senses again, jarring him once again but he got his avatar moving again right next to Lycoris. He still stumbled a bit and nearly fell against her frame, the mass of his shoulder feeling the synaptic feedback from the collision. Calm words slid out to relay the message given by Eldwine.

 

“Leader says it is time to get out of here. He brought in a small man and says we can work with him.”

 

Xavier’s head slowly turned to see two Erin’s facing off against each other and fighting dirty but was too tired to let his mind try to process it all. Instead, he just blankly stared at the screen, grimacing from time to time thanks to Obtenebra’s nagging assistance.

 

“We need to go.”

 

He turned back to look at Lycoris, expecting her to jump into action and figure out how to notify Erin it was time to go. He would do it himself, but the idea of fumbling around only to have to guess which Erin he should be talking to was just so….bothersome. He was too tired for all that nonsense.

Edited by Dolor Aeternum

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638ddd939bd0d5c7ac89cb547f752950.jpg?response-cache-control=max-age=2628000lycoris romanova


 

She’s at the edge of her seat now, literally and figuratively speaking.

Lycoris watches with no small measure of anticipation as the two Erins scuffle with each other, the fake one engaging in far more unscrupulous tricks than her real counterpart. So engrossed is she in the fight that when the orc beside her pivots towards her, she does not notice at first.

“Leader says it is time to get out of here. He brought in a small man and says we can work with him.”

She very pointedly does not startle at all at Xavier’s sudden reappearance in the virtual world. Resisting the urge to ask him what particular sort of work he means or what they’ve been doing the last few minutes while they’ve been away, Lycoris turns towards the orc with a curious look that turns slightly disappointed when he mentions that they must leave now, because really, that’s such a sad statement to hear. Nevertheless, work is work, and she’s here on a mission; any fun diversions will have to be pursued after their job is done. “Shame,” Lycoris murmurs, sighing a bit; she can’t help it, “it’s been entertaining.”

"ERIN WINS!"

The audience erupts in a wild, rambunctious roar that sweeps across the whole arena, and when Lycoris shifts her gaze back towards the screen, their companion is standing victorious over the dead body of her opponent, the virtual corpse looking as if it had just given out and bled out over sheer exhaustion.

There is—a lot of blood.

The crimson image persists in her mind’s eye, and the roar of the crowd persists in her ringing ears, even after the whirlwind of the rewarding ceremony, the payment of virtual credits, and their subsequent escape from that other world.

She jolts a little, when she returns to her real body. Lycoris blinks once, twice, before settling her gaze on the scene at hand.

 


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When their pixelated fields of vision resolved into the crystal clarity of life, when their mind's collectively disengaged from the illusory world of virtual reality and dovetailed back into the material cages of brain, blood and bone, it was to a vision of Eldwine looming over Falcon-mini, blood partly dried and partly dripping from the knuckles on his right hand.

Eldwine was breathing hard, completing the suggestion of exertion started by his bloodied knuckles, and with every second lengthened and slowed his breath until he seemed as calm as an office worker in a cubicle might. His left hand was busy among the folds of his attire – before too long it settled, withdrew, brought with it a satchel pregnant with coin. Eldwine rummaged around in it, took a handful of coins. These he shoved back into the folds of his coat; the satchel, with the remaining coin, he threw carelessly onto the Falcon's shuddering body.  

"Listen, next time this sort of thing happens, if you can be bought you gotta say that sort of thing right away. Saves a lot of time and a lot of mess."

He turned to the others.

"Martial Town police headquarters. One of the people on the grift, one of the bandits I mean, was a guard. He's placed the loot inside of MTPD evidence room on the third floor. Not on any ledger, not part of any audit, it'll just sit there until the building collapses if he wants.

"That means if we can break in and break out and bring it with us, no one will even know anything is missing. No one except the guy I mean. The rub of it is, well, it's no accident that's where the guy put it. We have to find a way in and out without getting swarmed by cops."

As he spoke Eldwine maneuvered them towards the door, over and through the makeshift barricade, and into the flashing lights and ringing sound-effects of the overly, almost grimly, playful atmosphere of the arcade.

"Ideas?"

Edited by supernal

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It was all over so fast. Erin ripped the knife out of her doppelganger's arm, then a back and forth scuffle between their arms ensued. When it was done, Erin was standing over body of her clone, her knife dripping with blood, blood from the throat of the dying copy. The moment was a surreal one, as she stared down at the thing that looked like her, sounded like her, even acted like her. It was like watching oneself die from an out-of-body perspective, and no matter how much experience Erin had in watching people die, this sight was not one that would soon leave her mind. Is this what it would look like when she someday met her own actual end?

The announcer's voice, the roar of the crowd, the ching-ching of credits being transferred into an escrow account for Erin to claim later, all these were tuned out as she watched her clone lie stiffly on the floor. The blood kept gushing, creating an ever larger pool around her body, even causing Erin to have to step back to avoid standing in it. By the time she finally got over it and her mind returned to reality, she was already being drawn out of the virtual world and back into the real one. Her vision was briefly discombobulated, as her brain switched from taking its stimuli from the halo back to her eyes. Her head ached a little from it all, but it wasn't debilitating, just annoying. As she shook her head to try and clear it out, she heard Eldwine talking to someone, who she soon found to be a smaller version of The Falcon. So Eldwine found him somehow? If he knew where, why didn't he do it sooner? Unless he traced the signature of the Falcon's signal or some techno-mumbo-jumbo like that? Whatever, all it meant was that her entire ordeal in the arena effectively a meaningless effort.

"Well, that's just typical..."

Standing up and stretching a bit to loosen her muscles, she listened as their leader explained the new developments. An eyebrow was raised when he indicated that their target item was stashed in the police station, of all places. That wasn't going to make this an easy recovery.

"Ideas?"

Erin wished she didn't feel so groggy right now, because it was liable to make her fumble over words and sound like an idiot, if she didn't already sound like one ninety-nine percent of the time already.

"I have a few invisibility potions, not enough for the whole lot of us, but enough that I might be able to get in and out without be detected visually." she offered, "But I don't know what other security measures they'd have that might be able to see through the potion's effects."

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Xavier slowly took his time coming back from the illusory world that he cared little for. With his vision returned to Eldwine standing over mini Falcon, the orc lethargically began taking off the suit, still feeling the effects of the barbiturates. If it weren’t for the stings of Obtenebra urging him back into awareness, his massive frame might have just collapsed for what he felt was a much needed nap. Through grimace and yawn, he was finally free of the burden of that device so he stretched real wide as Eldwine explained their current situation. He mulled over the task, his mind still lagging in terms of reaction time but admirably capable. In the end, however, he decided to discard whatever he conjured up and walk up toward Falcon-mini.

 

The shuddering boy turned away but could not escape Xavier poking at him with his index finger. “Much smaller in person. You picked the wrong group to betray.” The finger poked hard at the Falcon’s ribs before Xavier grabbed the satchel with the remaining coin. “I will take this for all the trouble you caused me.” A large booted foot stepped on the Falcon lightly and was about to press in further but Eldwine motioned them away so he simply stepped over the man and out into the arcade.

 

Once Erin provided her idea, Xavier allowed himself to return to attempting to conjure up an idea. The orc knew his strengths and none of them seemed to apply here initially. He didn’t have Blob Boss with him so brute forcing their way to the third floor wasn’t even remotely plausible. He didn’t have the technomancer with him either so hacking their way into the facility wasn’t possible either. His specialization seemed to limit him but this sort of moment might prove useful for development. In that spirit, Xavier spoke rather candidly, the inflections of his voice returning as the barbiturates were nearly flushed from his system now.

 

“Impersonate a guard and gain access to the evidence room that way? Can we get the layout of the place or intel on a guard somehow?”

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638ddd939bd0d5c7ac89cb547f752950.jpg?response-cache-control=max-age=2628000lycoris romanova


 

Truth be told, Lycoris feels no small amount of surprise at the sight of Eldwine’s crimson-stained fist, but perhaps it is merely because she has not seen him in action beforehand, had not considered the man’s potential skillset in order to fulfill this mission. Now, it seems that he definitely has something of value in the way of forceful persuasion.

She almost feels the urge to applaud.

While the others discuss their ideas and plans of action for their next step, Lycoris takes the opportunity to remove herself from the halo, shake herself out of whatever after-effects are left lingering, brought about by her return to reality. The daze is hard to shake off especially now that they’re making their way back out into the kaleidoscope lights of the arcade, but she blinks her eyes rapidly and controls her breathing, slow and steady; by the time Xavier finishes his suggestion, she is ready to jump in with an idea of her own.

“I would’ve proposed that we commit a felony to land us right into that jail where we can work from within, but I find the best plans spawn from the marriage of good ideas.” Lycoris does not flinch as she says the words Belladonna had spoken a long time ago, but it is a near thing. “Therefore, I propose a collaboration: a prisoner to act as a distraction, an impersonator to assume the role of the police officer, and another to assume the role of a maintenance person and make their way inside before using the invisibility potions, on the off-chance that the fake officer fails.” She studies her nails under the flashing neon lights; they look entirely too pale. “How about that?”

 


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Eldwine scratched at the stubble on his cheek and neck. He winched when he touched the wound given him by their robot assailant. Although his body was robust and he had already begun to heal, the wound was still fresh and even this minor agitation opened it up again, causing a thin trickle of blood to spring forth, run down his neck, and pool in the already stained collar of his shirt.

"I think some combination of the ideas could be something."

Unable to hear even himself, Eldwine realized he had to talk louder than he thought would be wise in order to pierce the veil of the arcade's strident ambience. So he kept them down until they were at ground level and walking Martial Town's grungy streets.

Before he could say anything Lycoris beat him to it. He was a little bristled at that, but as long as good ideas were being introduced, discussed, and dissected, what did it matter their origin? He swallowed his pride; the hollow ringing sound it made as it hit his stomach reminded him.

"I gotta get something to fucking eat."

They stopped at a corner food truck. Eldwine ordered the electric nachos with laser jalapenos and strength cubes. He was patient enough to wait for everyone to get their food before digging in, and did precisely that the moment the last of them actually laid hands on their food. He was a loud and sloppy eater, and he spoke while he ate, but miraculously managed to keep from spitting any food at them; this was a very subtle glimpse into the kind of man Eldwine was. He must talk with his mouth full a lot.

"Try this on. We flip an actual guard instead of pretending to be one. If we do it right, then we'll get the intel we need from him too. Nothing fancy. Rough numbers, rough layout, things like that. More importantly if there are any sentries, security cameras and the like, he's legit, he can get past them. How we do this is up in the air but I'm thinking, oh, poison."

Eldwine looked pointedly towards Lycoris, paused to shovel more food into his mouth.

"Something he can feel right away so he knows we aren't bluffing but that will keep him functional a few hours until this whole thing is done. Hell it doesn't even have to actually be deadly as long as it makes him feel like absolute shit. We dangle the antidote in front of him as his reward for being a good boy. Him or her, whatever, you get the point.

"He'll take one of us prisoner and Erin will go along invisible, that is if the info we get tells us it'll actually do any good. That way we have two people on the inside, and they only know about one. Those two make with the distraction, while the other two break into the evidence locker. That way, none of us is ever alone inside of a fucking police station."

Edited by supernal

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Erin was happy to have something to eat, so she didn't argue at all when the boss suggested they grab a bite. As they were doing so, he began laying out his idea for a plan.

"So, you are suggesting that I and the selected prisoner will just be the decoy, rather than the recovery team?" Erin asked after a moment of considering Eldwine's suggestion, "How will the other two get in?"

While she didn't mind not having to be the recovery team, as it would be far easier to cut-and-run if things got rough as the distraction, she was also curious how Eldwine proposed to pull off reaching and extracting the payload without the stealthiest person in the room. Unless of course, she was completely misunderstanding what he was saying.

"I think that part of the plan will depend a lot on the information we get from the guard, from the first part of the plan. If there's a window we can break in, or maybe a schedule of services we can use to social engineer our way in. Maybe even on what kind of distraction we use, which can range anywhere from centralizing their personnel away from the locker to evacuating them from the building." was the reply.

"Well then, are we looking at a specific distraction, or just improvisation?" she added.

"I'm all ears on that. What's your expertise say we should do?"

"My expertise would say to stealthily kill them all one-by-one until there was nobody left to bother us." Erin shrugged, "But I doubt that would work on professional police forces as well as it does on bandits living in caves. So I'm think something like a fire, a power outage, a bomb or whatever... hell, if we're already doing the poison thing, maybe we could throw some sort of toxin in the vents. If you're not real keen on killing the cops, maybe something that will just knock them all out would do. I'll just carry an extra gas mask for whoever goes prisoner. I don't know, just throwing shit out there right now."

Edited by Tyler

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