Noir, Kingsbury, The Emperor's Castle In the moon-colony of Noir, the zeitgeist had shifted - nay struck off-kilter. Odd trends, motifs, and patterns had begun to normalise in the populace, apparently out of thin air... ♫ CHAOS VECTOR - EKPYROSIS ♫ The influence of strange forces, rooted deep within the alleys and passages and concealed with fantastic means had begun to seep into even the laypeople, rising up from the foggy caverns. Their lives were so caught up in servicing Noir's obligations and debts they scarcely noticed the addition of human meat in their packed meals, the uptick of magic users being checked into psych wards and being caught engaging in heinous rituals, to wonder what was in the patina that formed on their drinking water, and to notice whether the targeted advertising was getting a little too close to home: digging into dark secrets and desires, or making outright destructive suggestions. With so much distraction and frequent disruption in their lives, these people just accepted these changes as the way of Noir. The Ordinant Hand, a consistent beacon within the city of measured violence, found themselves shaking down and turning out people who babbled strange names, emaciated and delirious. One day, something answered and a routine checkpointing made a bloody mess of the men and women - and the Ordinant Hand swore vengeance for this transgression, but they didn't know where to look, or how to get there alone. Runners and other couriers were disappearing more frequently than usual, even in pairs or trios as was mandated when high-profile disappearances rocked Gamble's Runners. The Sweepers and Hospitaliers were each tripping over gruesome crime scenes - the wakes of horrific mutilations and perverse rituals - people throughout the city were disappearing and they kept coming up short, always there for the aftermath. The police found themselves with a fresh caseload of graphic crimes that the public high, low, and scared wanted answers for. Reports and ill press from gangs reputable and not, companies, individuals and travellers filtered upwards, reflecting a palpable dread that'd gripped the city. The myriad business interests and collectives were stating trade uncertainty was hurting their bottom lines. Kandin Ta Jolokia, the elected governor of Noir - saw these irregularities forming a disturbing picture. They begun making calls to trusted associates, eyes, and ears - something else was in town and pushing it a direction that disturbed him, a feeling corroborated by his third eye Yedije Jals. He looked out the window and through the haze towards that black and mint-green skyscraper with a scowl. He knew something distasteful was fermenting in there at the very least. Tanhauss' new-found belligerence with Sargasso threatened Noir's trade and ties, and arisen the ire of the Units. Sargasso could find new avenues to flog to, while Noir seemed to be getting increasingly isolated. This was bad for business, and Kandin wanted this course corrected sooner rather than later. "Erik Van Krupp. What the fuck is happening in your company?" Kandin demanded once he was finally able to patch through. "Why aren't you answering your usual lines?" "Something horrible, Kandin." The elderly owner-inheritor relayed, breathing hard. "Ilsa thought she could control it, and Lange is starstruck by its charms. The board were upsold, and have cut me out." Something was already off. "...Where the hell are you?" A trace was already going out, the call bouncing through multiple channels and layers between Erik and Kandin. "The board cut you out? That's impossible though - you own them." "My influence and word has been overshadowed by the latest majority shareholder, and I have to keep my head down now," Erik protested "lest I lose it for assisting the enemy." "Assisting the enemy? Of Tanhauss? What enemy?" Kandin realised exactly who that could be, grimacing. "Right, him... So you go behind your company's back to give Luca Pavone an order to tear your own company down-" His insight was on the money here - deducing , "-because Ilsa and the organ grinder have gotten ambitious all the sudden?" but not here. "I made my choices, because She is watching. She is all there is, and all there'll ever be if he doesn't slay this demon." "Who, Ilsa?" Kandin scoffed, knowing Ilsa was a feisty woman when provoked. "That's impossible; This is as secure a line as money can buy." "No, its-" A burst of static flared onto the line, spiking through Kandin's desk communicator "-help!-" Erik's voice was drowned out and snuffed, followed by a high pitched whine rising into a bitcrushed howl that could've cursed the stars and moons with its violence. Yedije saw Kandin's face screwing up as they were screamed into. "Erik?" Kandin asked a dial tone, breathing heavy. "...Erik, you there? ... fuck me." He felt a migraine pulsing up his spinal column and straight into his head, causing him to stumble. Yedije came to his aid immediately, cradling him on the floor. Something was watching indeed, smiling from the opposite window across the cityscape. MISSION - START! Aaaaah~! Watch out, you might get what you're after Cool babies! Strange but not a stranger I'm an or-din-a-ry guy Burning down the house! Tom Jones and The Cardigans - Burning Down The House (covering Talking Heads) Sargasso, Barrier Island, B.I Medical Upon the heirarchy of needs, the base-most needs were physiological: Food, water, warmth, restfulness, followed by safety and security and above that, the need to belong. That last point was driving a wedge into Luca Pavone's mind. Operating in the military machine had transformed the need for intimate relationships into the need for camaraderie among like peers. Those peers, however - had spun away from his life when the EAD fell apart. Dean ... had to be let go - There was no more Dean, just Driver, driven into madness and Tanhauss' hands by obsession. A planet away and tied down with their own worries and trouble was another comrade, who'd come in for him. If Jirou ever cried out in their time of need, Luca would leap for them. Not because it was what was commanded of him in the crucible of life-or-death acts, or the shiny new arm, but it was the right thing to do by a man who fought and bled with him. Luca reckoned Jirou would call a favour in, but his long term-trajectory pointed him towards Noir Post-military, ex-military, new avenues had arisen and Luca ... didn't know what to do with them. That old coot was right about something after all. The Crude entering his life dazzled him with shifting anatomy, but he was hooked with the potential to face more conflict head on in what was chasing after her and ignoring the love she was pouring into him as thanks. Meeting Harumi for the first time outside that gambling den led the way to further intimacy Luca couldn't reciprocate in full whenever they interacted between jobs - he never wanted to let on the extent of the holes in his heart or psyche. His living demanded him to be invulnerable. He knew how to fuck - everyone around here fucked, let's not mince words - but how to love and be loved in turn, felt nigh-impossible, alien, untouchable. Intimate contact a rare facet of his life until recently. Even surrounded by new faces in the team Yttrium had the idea of pulling together, Luca had time to feel as though it hinged on his ability to inflict violence, rather than his ability to connect and lead - which, he admitted, turned into wax without practice. Maybe the brutality he exhibited alienated them, he thought. Perhaps they were too far removed from Luca's worldview to connect with, in the case of a Raiken. Other interests could've had their number first, in the inventor's case. Luca was at odds with his magnetic qualities, unable to understand why these people followed him into danger. He figured he was looking for the wrong kind of connections, had to look beyond the raw combat potential - see them as people first. The topmost bullet point upon the hierarchy of needs was to actualise, and just beneath to feel prestige. To fulfil potentials, no matter how lofty or base. Many people used these moments not only to put themselves forward in their professions, but to indulge and master creative activities and hobbies. For Luca, his driving actualisation was heroic. Be the man those who trusted him close and afar believed him to be, above the need for cheap thrill or theatrics - theatrics which cost him an arm at the worst possible moment. Chasing prestige for its sake alone had almost killed him. To confront a threat which could engulf all of the Unity Protocol if left unchecked was prestigious enough without the need to showboat; Luca only saw a blurred glimpse of the dimension Temhebu sprung from, but it was enough to convince the man in red that this threat needed to be addressed, no matter how unnerving, grotesque, or personal it got. Gruppen Tanhauss was Public Enemy number 1 of Sargasso - They didn't just have to fall, but the being pulling these eldritch arrangements into place had to be driven away, someway, somehow. And She knew he would be coming: There was no mistaking that sanguinity and verve. Few leapt into the mouth of such a beast, and fewer still could walk away stronger and wiser for it. An eye was upon him, but he was game to stare it down and act with impunity - no matter how deep down its scale and maleficence it frightened him. Luca Pavone was informally discharged from Barrier Island Medical with a clean bill of health, his clothing handed back to him, and a successfully installed replacement limb provided by a dear friend. Waiting for him in the lobby and immediately engulfing him in a hug and showering him in fluorescent kisses was Yttrium, while Johnny Longhands and Ally Kelly were spectators - a blush spreading across Ally's cheeks while Johnny remained unmoved by watching the man and the crude reunite. Yttrium lead Luca's new arm into view for the others to see - it was a slick piece of hardware, crisp, interleaving crimson panels atop a dark, artificial muscle substrate that was pulsing with electro-chemical potential. It almost looked like a glove, and it blended with the jacket too. "...I think it even vibrates on command~!" Yttrium lied, giving Luca a sideways bump with a sway of the hips. Ally chuckled at the suggestion. "Oh, you~ Aren't you game to find out?" Luca joked with a face full of cyan kisses, giving his squeeze a slap on the ass - her hair pulsed, lit up and curled for a moment. "There'll be plenty of time later; Watch this." He put his hand out, snapped his fingers, and a gout of orange flame the length of a thumb sprung from his fingertips, wowing the Crude until he relaxed his hand. Johnny was surprised more by how open their relationship had turned, not that his long-term customer had developed psionic abilities. "Does this mean you'll stop buying incendiaries now that you can provide your own, mister magician you?" Johnny queried, scoffing at the tiny flame. "Nahhh, just kidding. Nice kit - whoever built it knew you inside and out and they tossed in an Psionic amp for free? You got bigger friends than poor ol' Johnny?" The man in red put his arm around the merchant. "Nonsense! I'm more than a customer ID and a long list of receipts. We've covered each other's backs plenty of times." "True, just don't you forget who supplied you when you make it big, boy!" Johnny grinned, giving Luca a jab in the ribs. The man in red chortled - it was a frequent joke between the two about who would break out big first. A supportive relationship built on trust and the occasional odd job. "I'm already atop the world, and you're with me there-" Luca complimented his friend, "-so don't you sell yourself short Mr. Longhands." Ally egged both parties on. "You trying to get in his pants all the sudden as well, Johnny?" "Bah. As if he needs an invitation!" Johnny swiftly, looking back at the waitress with a grin. It wasn't the way he swung, but he had to play off Ally's perverted worldview to humour her. Luca peeled away to get closer to his squeeze. He and Yttrium were looking into each other's eyes - cerise lashes and cyan iris on a shifting medium peering down into tired, determined dark eyes adorned with caterpillar eyebrows set among strong cheekbones - they nodded, knowing what had to happen next. "Let's rock and roll, Blue." The man in red led Yttrium outside, whistling for his motorcycle to come hither. "We've got officials to collect." It had a new addition, an articulated sidecar which could reposition by swinging behind the bike to go on the left or right, or trailing behind. "Right behind you, Lulu~" She answered, slipping into the sidecar and reclining in it, mane spilling out the edges and flowing in the afternoon wind. "I'm done running from Tanhauss." She had the list of names to track down, and she was checking them twice - nobody she recognised immediately, but their positions and roles checked out. Code: FR: Yttrium, Luca TO: PT-GroupChat MSG: Luca: Ladies, Gentlemen, Ravnir, we're on! Ytt: Lulu and I are going to start north of Barrier Island and circle around to collect these awful people. Luca: If you're in Barrier Island and not heading our way, you're welcome to group up and head south down to Ogonori Island to circle around and grab the others, meeting at the Starliner Mall in Central View for Ichi Sasaki. Otherwise, tag with us. Seiren, we'll meet you on the way to HaChi, our first target. Ravnir, you do what you feel's best. Breyja, Snuffles, I'll see you where/when I see you. Ytt: Tanhauss must answer for what they're doing. Luca: And I'm happy to hear them out, ONE FIST AT A TIME! ♫ Jeroen Tel/Windefalk - Outrun Europa: Stage 1 (8-Bit Bootleg) ♫ Ally watched the bike throttle up, rev, and they left together in a cloud of dust northwards. "Man, have those two always had something going on?" She remembered watching Luca last year, stoic in the face of such raw sexuality and innuendo from Yttrium, but now dishing it right back and - possibly even indulging her? That was new. "They got something that goes further than the surfaces you skim at Harumi's, and even learned something from each other." Johnny tersely, not really understanding how deep those surfaces got at Harumi's. "You might wanna look into trying it out one day?" "I did - didn't work," Ally shrugged dismissively, resigned to her lot "figured it wasn't for me afterwards." Johnny heaved a false sigh. "That sounds like a you problem..." Speeding northwards along the cost and avoiding the centre of Middleton, Luca and Yttrium noticed they were being tailed by a black car with a tint too dark to be inconspicuous, and a lack of numberplates. Once the midday traffic thinned out on the highway, the windows wound down, and Luca saw the distinct silhouette of an arm carrying a t-shaped machine pistol and cried "Contact, on our five!" - accelerating into the cover of the vehicle ahead of them while Yttrium swung behind - her chest unfurling to reveal her massive rack - of explosives. "You boys want some cans of bang~?" She taunted with her arms above her head, having taken pages from Luca's book as he was swerving and manoeuvring to dodge hot lead - the cans launched with fluorescent trails of smoke, smashing into the windscreen and blasting the occupants - with a fire inside the cabin, it swerved off the road and into the emergency lane - broccoli-shaped men emerging, burning and continuing to fire at the motorcycle in the distance. "Hot enough for you~?" She added well outside earshot. "Whoooo-eee. Man, they're already pissed at us!" Luca hollered once they were in the clear, with a wide grin. "It's like they know what we're up to before we do it-" Yttrium replied as she slowly reconstituted and her chest closed, a little concerned at how quickly Tanhauss was on the power couple's case. "Should we be worried?" Luca had an inkling as to how - but he wasn't going to let it scare him. "They should be worried."