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The Vanished

Discussion in 'General Role Play' started by Dark Soul, Sep 9, 2012.

  1. (OOC; I'm sorry for the wait, but here it is; The full first post of this new RP set up by me, RMA, Tunduli, Tangrow, Toru, and Dinova! I hope it will be an enjoyable and informative read for you all, and I can't wait to see your additions!

    On a side note, be sure to refresh before posting, seeing as I have no one set for being the first to post- If your character is male, first come is first serve. It'd be annoying to have plot confusion this early on, although if I remember correctly, there might be an error message displayed for that?

    BIC;)

    Gwen closed her eyes and tried to relax.

    The warm water covered her entire body, with only her head still out, placed on a small rock outcropping fitted to the back of her head. It was silent around her, although in the distance she could hear the splashing, excited shouting and murmur of the public part of the pool- If you could call it that.

    The water of this lake, at the bottom of the Atlantis citadel, was heated by the Earth’s own core and constantly purified by the multi-coloured crystals on the bottom, making it not only completely sterile, but infused with rejuvenating and healing energy.

    This part of the lake was walled off, and belonged to the infirmary that treated those with physical wounds from combat, accidents or whatever could cause harm to the human body. The medical properties of the water were astounding, according to Owen. For her, it was mostly just nice to have a warm bath after everything that had happened the last few days.

    She hadn’t stopped thinking about it since she had woken up several mornings ago, in an infirmary bed, with barely enough life in her to even speak. From right before she’d passed out earlier- From bloodloss and fatigue- She only remembered being scrunched up against Owen, somewhere in an abandoned, cold apartment on the outskirts of Detroit, his hand firmly pressed against the wound on her abdomen, where a bullet had penetrated, only narrowly missing her vital organs.

    The two of them had been lucky. Three others of their team had been killed during the chase through the centre of Detroit, after They had discovered their position amongst the many streetroamers in that city. Owen had somehow managed to carry her all the way to the nearest leyline cave entrance, through said cave, and all the way back to the border of the Atlantis citadel, where he had collapsed. Others in the immediate area had brought them safely over to the infirmary.

    According to the nurse, all Owen had required to get back on his feet were a long rest and a good meal. Aside from a couple of bruises and cuts, the chase had left him relatively unharmed. Gwen’s wound, on the other hand, had been a lot more severe. She wouldn’t have survived without the medical attention Owen had given her, back in Detroit.

    Only one time before had she lost a teammate. Now she had lost another three, and it hurt every bit as much as the first time. Although she hadn’t exactly been close to the three, she’d spent a considerable amount of time with them and they had gotten along well. Gwen didn’t think she’ d ever get used to it. How could she?

    Gwen realized she was slipping into depression again; She’d cried enough these last few days, with Owen at her side to comfort her. It was time to start focusing on the positive things. She was alive, she would heal up completely without even a scar left on her abdomen. She still had the boy who meant more to her than anyone else in this community.

    As if on cue, she heard someone wading into the water at the shore behind her- If you could call the smooth rock that made up the edges of the lake a shore- towards her. She would’ve reacted, but she knew that she wasn’t in any danger. Besides, she was pretty sure she knew who it was.

    A soft and grainy voice sounded. ‘How are you holding up?’

    Gwen opened her eyes and found herself looking into a pair of blue ones, under a short-cropped black head of hair. Owen towered over her even more than he already did anyway; He was half a foot taller than her, not because he was tall per se- More because Gwen was quite short. Owen’s gaze flashed to the wound on her abdomen, in plain sight since she was wearing naught but a bikini, and back to her face. ‘The water’s nice.’ She replied, attempting a smile. ‘Why don’t you join me? You’ve got plenty of scars and bruises yourself.’ Owen smiled back, relieved she was in a good enough mood to joke around. ‘You know I don’t like having my scars dissolved.’ Owen said, sitting down on a larger rock to Gwen’s right.

    Gwen sighed. ‘I know, and I think it’s dumb. Why would you choose to keep your scars, when you can get rid of them and make your skin look a lot nicer? Are you keeping them just to impress the ladies?’ She joked. Owen snorted. ‘The wounds still heal up, so it really is just the skin. I just...’ He paused to think. ‘What is the point of being a soldier when, out of combat, you have nothing to prove it with because your skin is smooth as a baby’s again? When I have grandkids, I want to have something I can point at and go ’Hey, kids, see this? I got this while kicking a guy in a trenchcoat in the face.’’ Gwen couldn’t help but laugh.

    A short silence lasted between the two. ‘So, how’s the wound?’ Owen inquired, in a more serious tone, his inner nurse shining through. ‘Depends on which one you mean.’ Gwen answered, placing a hand on her belly. ‘This wound is healing up nicely, although it’s still painful. Nowhere near as painful as the one in my mind, though.’ She added. ‘And that one’s healing a lot slower.’

    Owen looked down and nodded. ‘I know what you mean. It’s never going to get easier.’ He said. Gwen shrugged. ‘You’re handling it a lot better than I am, it seems.’ She remarked. Owen looked sullen. ‘I don’t know if I am, honestly.’ Before Gwen could ask what he meant, he sat up straight again. ‘Anyway, that’s not really what I came here for. A messenger has asked me to tell you that we’re up for filing our mission report in two days’ time.’

    Gwen frowned. ‘It’s barely been a week. How desperate for news are they?’

    Owens shrugged. ‘Quite desperate, apparently. Not many missions have been issued the last few months, and those who are are usually reconnaissance, supply gathering, babysaving and stuff like that.’ He said. ‘In a way, it’s a good thing, because it means we’re still keeping them in the dark. Less people are getting killed, more people are getting saved.’

    Gwen looked at him. ‘But?’ She asked.

    Owen ran his tongue over his teeth. ‘It’s not a war anymore. It’s a Half-War. We don’t know what They are doing in their labs while we hide away here, and if they develop something that could end us, we’re just sitting ducks here.’ He said.

    ‘Is that what you’re afraid of? That they’ll catch up to us?’ Gwen asked softly. It was a thought she hadn’t considered, or perhaps not dared consider. Owen nodded. ‘I can’t stand the thought of us losing all we’ve built around the globe. And no one even finding out, because all of this remains hidden from the eyes of normal people.’

    ‘We’re far more powerful than they’ll ever be, Owen. Remember that.’ Gwen said, in an effort to comfort her friend. Owen smiled half-heartedly. ‘I’ll try.’ He took a first step away from Gwen, then turned around again. ‘By the way, have you got any idea what you’re going to be doing once you’re back in your feet?’ He asked.

    Gwen nodded as she looked up at him, which was rather uncomfortable because of his position relative to her. ‘I’ve been talking to a friend, who teaches younger children at the school here in Atlantis. She can use my help.’

    ~~~

    Chapter 3; 1. The limitations of transformation.

    The boy was hidden under the sheets of his bed, in the large room he shared with fifteen others. Large pods had been crafted into the side of the rocky walls, offering more then enough space for the ten-to-twelve-year-olds who slept here every night. The crystal lamps that provided light during the day- Standard Subterranean Time, which was the standard timezone for all underground locations, and based on GMT- Were now turned off, and it was pitch-black.

    A soft glow from the boy’s palm, however, still enabled him to read, although only barely. He couldn’t sleep, and besides, this library book was too interesting to put away. Some of the boys made fun of him for being with his nose in the books all day instead of running around with a ball, and because he was always the first one to answer a question the teacher asked. But he didn’t care; The teachers were proud of him, after all.

    Like all other variations of magic utilized by the Vanished, transformation has certain limitations. These are, in minimal description;

    1. The Physical Limitation (A human body is able to generate only a certain amount of energy before exhaustion.)

    2. The Focus (A more focused individual can call on larger amounts of energy from given sources and control these more efficiently.)

    3. Available Energy (A Vanished might have an external power source in the vicinity, such as an electrical outlet or crystal to draw energy from.)

    Some of these limitations tend to intertwine, seeing as all three are essential parts of all situations in which a Vanished might decide to use magic. For example, an individual whom has been hurt in battle will not be able to focus as much as he/she would have been able to when physically healthy. Further along the same line, someone who is not focused enough might not be able to properly call on energy from external sources.


    One of his roommates muttered something in his sleep. He stopped reading for a split second to see if anything would follow, then continued reading.

    There are other (smaller) factors, one of which is creativity. This limitation is not as widely recognized in the field of magical studies, as ‘creativity’ is seen as a subjective construct and ‘uncreative’ magical actions can be just as effective as the ones that have been thought through more. More creativity does, however, allow for more efficient and/or effective solutions when applied to certain situations, such as combat.

    ~~~

    Even though her eyes had been closed and her body unmoving, Gwen had been far from asleep when she heard footsteps at her bedside. She hadn't been able to sleep properly ever since Owen had dragged her all the way to Atlantis. Every night in this hospital bed, just when she thought she had finally found some internal calm, the sounds- Explosions, shots fired, the screaming of pedestrians- and sights- A flaming car toppling through the sky above her, barely missing her head, a teammate toppling to the ground after a bullet shot straight through her chest- flashed through her consciousness. No one could sleep when such things roamed their mind, no matter how tired they were. And she was most definitely tired.

    Gwen opened her eyes, because it was useless to pretend to be asleep- Her vital functions would betray her on the crystal-tech screen beside her. Plus, she felt like she could do with a little bit of company, even if it was just a nurse doing a check-up. This made for an even more pleasant surprise to see that the nurse at her side was, in fact, her friend Owen. He smiled like he had been smiling all along, even though she could sense he was not the slightest bit less worried.

    'Still can't sleep?' Owen asked. Gwen nodded as he sat down on the side of her bed. She didn't have to look up to him this time, because the upper part of the mattress had been elevated to more or less forty degrees to allow for more comfort. 'Well, you're not the only one.' He remarked with a sigh. Gwen was genuinely surprised to hear this. 'What, even you've been having trouble sleeping? You're kidding, right?'

    Owenn raised an eyebrow and grinned. 'What are you talking about? You know me. You could drop me out of an airplane when I'm tired and I'd fall asleep halfway down.' Despite everything, Gwen laughed. Once Owen was asleep, it took, at the very least, some violent shaking to wake him from his dreams. 'The people in this hospital, on the other hand, have been drinking too much coffee. Or they are troubled like you... like us.' Owen continued. 'Even though we're supposed to be stronger of mind, more disciplined and tougher than the surface dwellers, post-traumatic stress is a big issue. I've seen people, grown men, cry their eyeballs out for hours on end. It's...' He pursed his lips. 'Well, you're doing relatively well.' He said, with half a smile.

    Owen stood up. 'I shouldn't be keeping you up. You need all the rest you can...' He paused when he felt Gwen's hand clench his wrist. Gwen looked at him drowsily. 'Can you... Can you just stay with me?' She couldn't recall the last time she had felt like this; Like the little girl she had been not too many years ago, alone in the dark and afraid of it. Her father had always stayed with her at night, at her side, gently caressing her cheek or just sitting there, his kind presence like a ward against the shapes she could sometimes make out in the dark.

    Gwen sniffled.

    Owen's gaze went even softer as he took her palm in both hands and bent down over her. ''Hey. Hey, look at me. Of course I'll stay with you- I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.' He spoke to her in a hushed, comforting voice. She wanted to recollect herself, thank him, but her crying only got worse. She would never have allowed herself to break down like this if she'd been more stable, but she wasn't stable, just tired- So tired.

    He climbed onto the bed and pressed his palms against her cheek and the back of her head. She wrapped her arms around his back in the childish reflex of a comforting parental hug, and he let her, laying down on his side as she had, her covers thrown off. She buried her face in the soft fabric of Owen's t-shirt, and he moved one hand from her cheek to her back so that he could hold her closer. She stayed like that, pressed against him, her tears staining his shirt while he whispered words of comfort.

    Gradually, her breathing returned to a somewhat more normal rate, and the tears stopped flowing as uncontrollably. She still kept her head pressed against his torso, her mind zoning on his steady, strong heartbeat and long, deep breaths. There was something oddly calming about the natural rythm, combined with the kind words and his presence in general. Her firm, almost desperate grip on his waist turned into something more like a snuggle as her fatigue took over again, and she dwindled dangerously close to sleep.

    She spoke up, her voice muffled and somewhat faltering due to the rawness of her throat. 'I guess I'm not handling it as well as you thought I were.' She said. 'You're doing fine.' Owen assured her. 'Venting is good for you, and this is the best way to do it.' He said. 'I won't leave until I know for sure you're asleep, but there's still some work around here for me to do...' He yawned, and laughed mid-yawn. 'That is, if I don't fall asleep myself.' Gwen smiled, closing her eyes because she couldn't bother keeping them open anymore. There was only one more thing she wanted to say.

    'Owen?'

    'Hmm?'

    'I want to do something fun tomorrow.' Gwen mumbled. 'Get a wheelchair somewhere, and take me to the city. I can't stand this anymore.'

    This time it was Owen's turn to smile. 'That's a very healthy attitude.'

    Gwen hadn't heard him. The last sniffle made place for the soft breathing of a deep sleep.

    ~~~

    Another nurse found them like that the next morning; Both vast asleep, wrapped in a mutual hug with peaceful looks on their faces. This, and the fact that Gwen was only wearing light underwear under her hospital nightgown, earned them curious looks from patients and nurses alike throughout the hospital, and in Owen's case, a couple of jokes and pats on the back from male colleagues. They let it slide. Gwen felt lighter, happier after having let it it all out, improving her mood and health alike. They went out to the cafetaria for coffee and breakfast together- A short enough distance for Gwen to be able to walk it- And discussed what they would do the rest of the day.

    In the end, they decided on a walk along the Outer Circle (The road that followed the longest curve at the widest point of the roughly egg-shaped citadel), with stops at the Shinto shrine in the crystal park and whatever shop or boutique either of them wanted to visit. Later in the evening, they would pick a restaurant for dinner and, if Gwen wasn't too tired at that point, catch a movie after that. It was rather like a date in a lot of ways, although at the same time, it wasn't one. The relationship between her and Owen was hard to explain. It had all the qualities of love, apart from the chemical and the sensual. It was more than friendship, but nonetheless platonic.

    Preparing for the trip turned out to be a piece of cake. A foldable wheelchair was easily retrieved from the storage, and after an impartial nurse did a quick reading of her vitals and the wound and judged her plenty capable to withstand the physical stress of a day out, the head nurse waved them off with a smile. Before they knew it, they were outside the large basalt gate of Poseidon Hospital & Clinic. They intiated their day trip along the Outer Circle, checking out boutiques and stands and occasionaly having some light chatter.

    'What do the surface news reports say about the Detroit incident?' Gwen informed. Owen was relunctant to address the event again, in fear of another emotional breakdown, but after Gwen assured him she could handle it, he gave in. 'Large scale car crash, involving multiple vehicles. A police chase resulted in the driver of a stolen vehicle losing control of the wheel, damaging several cars in the narrow street and eventually crashing into an abandoned truck that had already been reported to be leaking gasoline and was scheduled to be towed not thirty minutes after the accident happened.' Owen said bitterly. 'It resulted in an explosion and the stolen vehicle flipping over. The driver didn't make it and the explosion killed three high school students whom happened to be passing by. There was security camera footage, witness interviews and everything. I would've believed it if I hadn't been there.'

    Gwen sighed. 'Was it Dean who demolished that truck with a firebolt?' She asked, as she ran her finger across a row of necklaces hanging from a sidewalk stand. Masses of people, most of them their age or older, buzzed in the street around them. 'Yeah. And Leeroy was the one who threw that car at our pursuers. I wonder how many he killed with that.' Owen answered. 'Not enough.' Gwen remarked grimly. She shook her head. 'Poor Dean, poor Leeroy. Those two were so tight. Leeroy has always been a fool- I'm surprised he hadn’t gotten himself killed earlier.' She picked a necklace and tried to reach for it, but it was too high up for her to reach from her wheelchair. Instead of bothering Owen to help her, she flicked her hand and a tiny spark appeared in the vibrant golden crystal in the pendant around her neck. The necklace drifted off the rack into her outstretched hand. She draped it over her shoulders, removing her hair from under it at the back of her neck, and checked herself out in the mirror that was fortunately low enough for her to see herself in from the wheelchair.

    Gwen had looked better in the past. Even though last night's rest had been much better than that of all the nights before, her face looked worn, and the slight cuts and bruises did little to help either. Her She'd lost some weight from distress and physical exertion, making her look a lot skinnier than a girl her age was supposed to. She tried not to focus on it, reverting her gaze to the necklace. The wood it was made up of had different shades, which, unfortunately, clashed with her pendant. Although the African totem symbol between the patterns of wood was quite pretty, it would've been a waste of money to purchase it.

    Fortunately, other stands and shops proved to have better merchandise of all sorts. Even though the appropriate credits for the Detroit mission had not been deposited yet because the mission report had yet to be filed, Gwen had a fair amount of it still in her possession and she decided she wouldn't be spend the day worrying about cash. Her aim was to have an enjoyable day with her friend, and she would do whatever it took to fulfill that.

    Owen shared in her excitement over the products offered. There were stands with books of all genres, fancy accessories, Thai and Japanese delicacies. It was more like a busy Chinese marketplace than the shopping avenue it was originally meant to be, because at the time of creation of the Citadels, the Council had not foreseen the Half-War principle. Because of the Half-War, the number of soldiers dwindled down to the lowest number it had ever been in the history of the Vanished as an organized community, while under the act of preservation and pre-emptive or acute rescue, the numbers of the Vanished in total increased and the life expectancy improved drastically.

    This heavy burden degraded the ecomony over the years, and in certain periods, there were shortages of food and items. It took large amounts of reorganization, modernisation, reinventarisation and whatever -ion the Council liked to spout in an official message to those they governed to create a more stable economy, one that had held strong for years and was still efficient nowadays, although a lot of it depended on working on the tertiary sector; Those who could not lend themselves as soldiers for missions on the surface- A job that was well-rewarded because of the high mortality rate- had to take on jobs in education, production, supplying, scavenging, trading and selling.

    It was hard work, but rewarding. There was a certain sense of unity, of working together for the greater good. In stark contrast with the surface dwellers, there were no viable threats from any terrorist factions and very limited cultural tensions, with the exception of when a person had grown up believing another part of society was despicable or malicious before reclusion into the Underground.

    Those who where more open-minded, however, joined the melting pot of cultures the Atlantis citadel in special was known for. Some Citadels, usually those based under a certain region, contained a larger ratio of people from that area whom simply didn't want to get too far away from their old lives. Gwen couldn't blame them. She herself had only vague memories of the place she had ran from when she was ten, together with Owen; Manchester, in the US state of New Hampshire. Some memories had been lost over time, some she had pushed back to where she wouldn't have live through them anymore. She had yet to return to the place. Owen had, a year a ago. According to him, nothing much had changed, and both their families seemed to be happy and faring well. It had been an emotional time for both of them.

    Perhaps some day she would return there, just for old time's sake.

    By now, they were nearing the entrance of the crystal park, a place Gwen would never grow tired of. It was an enormous hall outside the main space of the Citadel, where crystals of all colours had been altered into the shape of large trees, bushes and even flowers. The park had been sorted into different seasons and climates, with flowers and grass in the spring and summer, winter tundras with tall, snow-covered pines, luminous autumn leaves decorating the forest floor in autumn. Even the dense rainforest hadn't been left out. Because everything consisted of crystal, it remained unmoving, making a trip through the forests like a neon dream where everything but you was frozen in time.

    Amidst all this were several monuments, shrines and other builds, including the Shinto shrine Gwen wanted to visit. She didn’t consider herself a religious person, despite being raised Protestant, but there was something about the culture and that place in particular that made her feel more calm. It was an escape from everything, the daily fuzz, dreadful missions. A tranquil place.

    The entered the hall, the large silver fountain in front of them catching their gaze as always. The fountain was a beautifully crafted monument, a homage to all the Vanished whom had fallen in missions throughout recorded history. Those who had fallen after the Council had been founded, at which moment registration and identification first became an official issue, had their names inscribed on the plating of the outer rim.

    The actual fountain was shaped like a crystal, a pillar with six long protrusions at the bottom, raised up at an angle of forty degrees, like a grotesque but simple lotus. Unlike almost all energy crystals, it was perfectly symmetrical, and if this statue had been a to-scale depiction, it would’ve been a large crystal by many standards; The middle pillar was nearly nine feet tall.

    Of course, it wasn’t to scale, as indicated by the small silver figurine on top of the pillar, depicting the patron saint of the Vanished, the Lost Traveler, at the correct relative height. The crystal was the size of a twenty story tall building. It was part of the Lost Traveler’s legend; His personal crystal was the largest and purest one on Earth, inhabited by the essence of Mother Earth herself. His unimaginable power came from that very structure.

    Unfortunately, although his existence had been proven, this part of the Lost Wanderer’s story was the least realistically funded. A crystal of this size and power, not matter where it was, would have been sensed and found by now, unless the energy residing in it had been minimized, which would render it useless. It was a dead end, and a disappointment for historians and treasure hunters alike.

    Gwen eyed the fountain not without disdain. ‘Do you think their names have been added yet?’ She asked. ‘No, that usually happens after the mission report has been filed.’ Owen’s voice sounded from behind her, as he was the one pushing the wheelchair around. He automatically went for the eastmost path, which led directly to the Shinto shrine. Because of Gwen’s wheelchair, they couldn’t stray from the paved paths, which Gwen found a shame. The small, quiet paths was where you could truly enjoy the neon beauty.

    They went past the fountain. ‘Have you decided where you want to go for dinner?’ Gwen asked in an attempt to lighten the mood a bit. ‘I was thinking we could go for the Italian restaurant.’ Owen asnwered, sounding a little bit relieved he wasn’t going to have to be the one breaking the tension. ‘It’s quite a while away- Past the cinema- but I really feel like having a calzone.’

    Gwen flicked her hair aside. ‘I don’t mind if it’s a longer distance. You’re the one pushing me around, after all.’ She joked. Owen huffed. ‘Yeah, and it’s making me hungry. So let’s go to the Italian right after we’re done at the shrine.’

    ~~~

    ‘I shouldn’t have finished it.’

    Gwen leant back in her wheelchair, staring at her empty plate with a mix of disgust and bliss. Out of sheer hunger, she had devoured an entire pizza calzone and she was absolutely bursting. But nonetheless, the food had been great and the company possibly even nicer.

    The interior of the Italian restaurant had been ‘authentically decorated’, meaning props like wine bottles, Italian signs, and murals of Mediterranean sights adorned the walls and ceilings. It was a fun place just to be at, and even though the environment was fake, the quality of the meals was very much authentic. Normally, this place was packed, but they’d arrived quite early despite spending a good two hours at the shrine.

    ‘You’re full already? I’ve still got place for dessert.’ Owen said, grinning and patting his stomach. ‘Not very much, though.’ He added. The noise of people chatting and laughing combined with the candlelight made the atmosphere very enjoyable, Gwen thought. She was quite tired already, especially with her stomach spending so much energy on digesting her food, and a certain gloom was beginning to settle over her mind.

    ‘Are you still up for that movie?’ Owen inquired after he ordered some tiramisu from the waiter. Gwen shook her head. ‘I’d probably fall asleep halfway through. But we’ll remember it for another time, okay?’ Owen nodded as if he had expected this. ‘Well, since you bought us lunch, I’ll take care of the check.’ He offered kindly.

    Gwen wanted to refuse, but it was probably for the better if she let him. Owen was very stubborn in his helpfulness, and besides, today hadn’t been kind on her wallet; The amount of bank notes that the Vanished used for cash had diminished more than she’d foreseen. She could always withdraw more from her bank account if she wanted to, but she was notorious for spending too much if she didn’t keep an eye on her finances.

    But had it been worth it? Absolutely. Gwen felt happier and more content then she had in a long time. Tomorrow was a big day, the day where she could continue her everyday life again. With extensive healing, she would be able to walk properly again in a week or two, according to the hospital staff. After that, the Council could technically deploy her whenever they wished, but she knew it’d be a while. The waiting time for a new mission could last for a month these days, if not more.

    Owen payed the check and got behind the handles of Gwen’s wheel again. ‘Well, let’s get you safely to your bed. You owe me that movie, though.’ He said in an overly serious tone. Gwen laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t forget.’ She answered.

    ~~~

    There was always something eerie about the interior of Council locations. Where basically all of the building in Atlantis were made of dark grey basalt adorned with a variety of crystals for light, ambience, and because they were difficult to remove from rock. The inside of the Council Hall, however, was almost entirely plated with white minerals such as marble, and lit up brightly using pure white crystals. It gave the place a more sterile look than any hospital Gwen had ever been in.

    She knew it was supposed to represent the neutrality of the Vanished as a people when it came to nationality, as well as strengthen the vision of unity and simplicity, and that kind of stuff, but Gwen didn’t know if having government buildings be devoid of culture or decoration of any kind was a good idea. Even the furniture was made with simple black leather, chrome and glass in the monochrome ‘modern’ style you’d find at certain luxurious surface banks, trade centers or restaurants.

    Still, the building served its purpose. And one of these purposes were interviews like the ones Owen and Gwen were about to go through. Interviews for mission reports were nothing new, because they were held after each mission once it ended, but this time it would be a lot more intense, for this mission had failed.

    Even though she had successfully walked small distances the last few days, Gwen still depended on her wheelchair to get around, preferably with someone to push it. Luckily, the healing sessions and bathing were doing miracles for the wound and the damage done.

    In the entrance hall, a Council worker who looked she was barely older than the two of them, had been waiting for them and was now escorting them to one of the interviews them. Earlier this morning she and Owen had conversed for a long time to get their stories straight and matching up, so that there’d be no confusion; The interviews were taken separately to ensure privacy.

    For the second time in her life, Gwen was nervous and maybe even a little scared to file her official statements. There was nothing to be scared about- It was the military equivalent of paperwork. But they’d caused chaos, they’d cost lives, and she would have to retell everything down to the last detail. It was... Tough.

    They arrived at a small waiting room with a single door on the far end, and eight leather chairs without arms, four on each wall between two glass tables with magazines. The girl who had introduced herself to them as Roxie Kleinn asked Owen if he wanted to go first, to which he nodded in agreement. He was looking more tense and a bit paler than usual, although the latter could have been because of the lighting. Gwen gave his palm a comforting squeeze as he went by her wheelchair, and he turned and smiled. 'I'll see you in a bit, Gwen.' He departed through the grey, windowless door.

    Roxie gave a reassuring smile. The contrast between her vanilla blonde hair in a ponytail and her businesslike grey wear was somewhat disconcerting, but Gwen managed a somewhat less heartily smile back. 'Can I get you anything, Gwen?' She offered. 'Some coffee or tea, maybe?' Gwen shook her head; She didn't think she could stomach anything right now. 'No, thanks.' Roxie nodded. 'Alright, then. Once the interviews have been completed, do swing by the service counter so we can work out your finances.' She left with another polite smile. The clicks of her shoes sounded through the hall.

    Gwen sighed to herself and grabbed a copy of The Typhon from the glass table. It was a half-newsoriented, half-tabloid magazine that summarized the happenings in Citadels and other underground locations every week, as well as supplying reports on latest trends in the worlds of fashion, culinary and entertainment facilities. It looked like this was the most recent print, so if there was any mention of the failed mission the two had survived, it would've been in this.

    Minutes went by. Five, ten. Interviews could last for a while, but Owen was not exactly a man of many words. Gwen had made her way through a good portion of the magazine by now, skimming most of the content- Although she couldn't help but marvel over some of the new clothing styles brought down from the surface- but she had found no mention of the Detroit incident as of yet. There was a possibility, of course, that it had simply escaped their attention, although they were usually quite vigilant when it came to military scoops.

    Fifteen. Twenty. Surely they were rounding up by now.

    As if on cue, the door opened and Owen stepped out. He didn't look much better than he had before, but maybe a little more relieved. Gwen hastily put the magazine back on the table. 'How'd it go?' She asked, pushing down on the front of her wheels to roll up to him. He scratched the back of his head. 'Pretty much like I'd expected, so it was alright.' He motioned to the open doorway. 'Anyway, you're up. Want me to push you in?' Gwen smiled. 'I think I can manage this much myself, but thanks.' Owen nodded and sat down on one of the chairs.

    Gwen rolled herself in over the bump, and headed for the table to her right where two people were seated; One at the opposite side of the table, and one on the side. Notes and files were spread across the table, along with a couple of empty coffee cups. The man at the side of the table had black hair and a scruffy beard, and looked to be in his late twenties. The woman on the other side of the table was probably a couple of years younger, with ginger curls and freckles on her pale skin.

    The woman smiled and reached over the table to shake Gwen’s hand. The black-haired man nodded kindly. ‘How are you? My name is Samantha Morelock, and this is Lance Ros.’ Samantha said, motioning at her colleague. Gwen introduced herself with her full name, code and rank- Gwen Phillips, G8E-4A7, First Lieutenant- which Lance penned down on his clipboard, even though it was already in the files. He was today’s notary, it seemed.

    'It's good to see you here, Gwen.' Samantha started, in a peaceful and professional tone of voice that she had been trained in to adress a soldier with. 'Let's start with you personally. How has your recovery been going?' As she asked this, she put a battery-powered audio recorder on the table and pressed record. Batteries were high-price goods, because they were a source of electricity; Something the Vanished were not yet able to gather from crystals. Some electricity was farmed from simple thermal power stations, but it was reserved for official institutions so they could keep digital records.

    So Gwen started talking. About the origin of the wound, the healing applied immediately by the exhausted Owen, analysation of the wound, further healing and her ongoing but steady recovery. Everything was jotted down rapidly by Lance. From there, they moved onto the mission.

    Gwen reminiscended about the preparations for the mission, meeting her teammates, departing to the surface outside of Detroit's center and anonymously joining the mass of streetwalkers, or as the surface dwellers called them, 'homeless'. The Vanished felt more connected to the streetwalkers than any other kind of surface dweller, because every Vanished essentialy started out as a homeless person before they found their way underground, or rather these days, were found. Along with that, pretending to be a homeless teenager rumaging through town granted an excellent opportunity to gain insight and allow surveillance in larger cities.

    The purpose of the mission had been to build and maintain connections with the streetwalkers and other surface dwellers who could help the Vanished, be it by observing police and government behaviour, granting supplies, or helping them inbed their influences in the different levels of civiliation (Although mostly the lowest).

    But it seemed word had traveled into the wrong ears. The government had their own spies amongst the streetwalkers, and after a period of two weeks of relative safety, several agents had tried to pick them off the moment they crossed over into the center of town. Their initial strategy had, as usual, been to try and take them alive. Nets had been shot down from the top of the roofs when the five soldiers stepped into a back alley, only to be saved by Dean shooting a wave of fire upwards a second before they had gotten pinned down.

    From thereon, the chase had started, because they had no chance of winning against the agents with a height disadvantage like that. The agents had followed them onto the streets- In broad daylight- And tried to catch up with them on foot, by motorcycle and by cars. Gwen, as the highest ranking officer and leader, had indicated for her teammates to fight back. Their cover had been blown and the nearest exit to the leycaves was behind their attackers, so their only option was to fight back and get there. But when powerful attacks were thrown at Them, They often crossed the lethality line and brought out the real weaponry. All they could do was take cover and send lightning, firebolts and cars their way whenever the oppurtunity arose.

    The first one to die had been Leeroy, who had rushed in and used telekinesis to lift a car and throw it at the agents, leaving himself exposed. That was all They had needed, and a shot clean through his chest had ended his life. Gwen felt herself choking up at this stage, and Samantha paused the interview to give her some time to recover. The blank white interview room, bare of any features apart from the furniture and mirrored glass- There wasn't supposed to be anyone behind there, seeing as military interviews were private, but Gwen couldn't help but occasionally throw nervous glances at it- wasn't a very comforting enviroment, but she spoke up again to continue the story of the battle and the escape.

    ~~~

    Lance finished the last word in his long transcript with a decisive mark of a dot, putting his palm down on the table afterward to rest it. The stacks of files had been rearranged, opened, and closed again and the desk was possibly even more cluttered than it had already been. Even though the interview had officially ended, Samantha told Gwen there were two more questions she would like her to answer. She kept the recorder running. 'First of all, during the previous interview with your colleague Owen, his story seemed to be... Centered around you.' Samantha started, tactfully. ‘Could I get you to describe the exact relationship between the two of you?’

    Gwen frowned. ‘I... How is this relevant?’ She asked. Samantha had opened a file on Owen, although Gwen couldn’t make out what the lines read. ‘We’ve had trouble with military agents getting romantically involved in the past, and while this is, as of yet, not covered by law, it has proved to be inefficient and dangerous.’ She explained, looking at Gwen with an unusually intense gaze.

    Gwen shook her head. ‘Well, it’s... It’s not like that. To me, Owen is like...’ She tried to think of the right words. Gwen’d never had to explain what went on between her and Owen in a proffesional manner. ‘A best friend, a brother, a father, all at the same time. He doesn’t want to leave my side, because he fears that the moment he can’t protect me from harm, I will die. And if I died, he’d lose the one thing that he values more than his own life, because I was there for him when we both ran, as much as he was there for me.’ She finally stated.

    For a short moment, Samantha smiled as if Gwen’s explanation had truly touched her. She caught herself though, and returned to her more businesslike persona. ‘I see. I think that’s a good kind of dependence for two soldiers to have. I’ll make sure the officials know and will continue to put you in missions together.’ She offered, and Gwen nodded in agreement. ‘This, however, brings me to my second question.’ She continued.

    The file she took from the bottom of another stack was coloured differently compared to the rest, a strange light orange. ‘Normally this process would take a long time, but the Council has expressed specific interest in it and has ordered for us to make haste. We’re just tying up the loose ends here.’ She handed some papers to Gwen, who found herself shocked to recognize them as papers relating to a mission- A new mission.

    ‘Although we understand that you have not yet fully recovered from your previous experiences, we would like to hear if you’d be interested in partaking in this freshly issued military undertaking.’ Samantha said. ‘It will be one of the largest missions issued this year, with a comprehensive group of about thirty of our finer soldiers, spread across three main groups. As you can see, the pay grade is much higher than most missions.’ She explained- and advertised. Gwen scanned the text for clues on the subject. ‘The pay sounds nice, but... The paper doesn’t explain what the actual mission is.’ Gwen remarked.

    Samantha nodded. ‘Like I said, we are not yet completely finished with the issue. You don’t have to give us your word right now, but we would like to invite you to the conference that takes place a week from now right here in the Atlantis hall. Your partner has already consented to attending.’ Gwen folded the papers and handed the papers back. ‘In that case, I think it will be worth attending. We’ll be there.’ She said. Her interviewer seemed pleased with this answer.

    ~~~

    As promised, one week later, Owen and Gwen walked into the main conference halls of the citadel’s main Council establishment in a somewhat more formal attire, for as far as either of them owned such an outfit. Gwen was allowed to walk now, although she resorted to using a crutch in her right hand and having Owen at her left in case she took a misstep.

    Probably because of her decreased walking speed, they were one of the last people to enter; Gwen estimated a good twenty-something were already seated in the three rows of plastic chairs placed opposite the podium. Some she thought she recognized, maybe from seeing them in public from to time, maybe from news articles. These people were supposedly amongst the more skilled, and the Council apparently counted her one of those- Something she was still surprised about. Her record had not been too much out of the ordinary.

    They sat down on the furthest row, as the first two were already filled up. The sound of Gwen’s crutch and her general appearance had turned a good couple of faces their way, but they returned their attention to in front of them. There was a soft murmur of excited conversation, and a lot of people seemed both tense and curious about what they were going to be hearing. But first off, following protocol, was the individual stating of name. This was used both for checking attendance and garnering recognition in the crowd.

    Soon enough, once the last seats had been filled, a man walked up to the microphone. Everyone quieted down and stared attentively and seemed somewhat taken aback, for the man they were facing looked downright old for a Vanished. He was in his late forties, maybe even early fifties, but the scars- Most prominently a slash across his ebony skin around his right eye socket,- proved that he had done a long term as a soldier.

    He spoke up. ‘Welcome to all attendees. It pleases me to see that everyone who was invited, has decided to join us for the day.’ He started, running his gaze across the rows of teenagers and young adults he was looking down upon from the marble podium. About eighty percent of serving soldiers were under the age of twenty-four, according to statistics. The life expectancy was not high. The risk of getting captured or killed was.

    ‘My name is Jacques Noir, General of the Atlantis-based military commandment- Which I believe you all fall under, even if you have been granted secondary housing in different citadels. My goal here today is to give you all an impression of what the mission you have all been informed of is about, and to prove how vital it is, landing at why you all in particular have been screened.’ He straightened his tie.

    ‘But I’m afraid that will have to wait until the role call has been completed.’ He said, seeming not overly happy with the prospect himself even though he had to be used to it. ‘We will start at the left- My left- of the row each time and move to the right; If you can all stand up and state your name in order, we can stripe you off and we’ll be done soon.’ He pointed at the first soldier on the left of the first row. ‘Now, son, we’ll start with you.’
     
  2. Violet blurs peppersprayed around the area, circling a tall stocky build man who backed up slowly. His head swivelled this way and that to keep track of whatever it was that was homing in on him, but it was too late. The small orbs swelled quickly in front of the man giving off a horribly high pitch sound before exploding around him into a beautifully scary purple dustcloud, twinkling like fine grains of sand as it was slowly blown away. Tony brought his arms down from his face and looked around. He was safe. Walking slowly forward, a quivering smile crept onto his face, before his mouth shot open, delivering a jovial jolt of a laugh.

    “You sure got me there, man! I thought that was actually the end for me!” Tony backed up his obvious banter with a emphasised wiping of the brow, which had actually helped to wipe off the cool drops of sweat on his brow after the small spar he had just had with his friend. “So what does that make it?” Tony jogged over to the person who had almost appeared to nearly take his life. “42 to 33?”

    The other person, Blake, held his hand up to give him a second whilst he used his other digits to bring the metal flask up and take a small swig of what he liked to call his ‘special mix’. The sweet but edgy taste soothed his nerves, especially after a fast paced spar like that. “That’s it, right.” Blake screwed the cap onto the flask and quickly pocketed it again. Tony gave a shrug, talking to him in the same upbeat casual voice he used for everyone as the two of them walked out of the large sports cage and out into the streets.

    “When exactly are you going to stop drinking that stuff, bro? It’s waay too strong and I’ve told you it’s bad for you – you’re a soldier aren’t you? If I don’t need to take that stuff, neither do you.”

    “You wouldn’t understand.”

    “Naaaah! Sure I would!”

    Blake brought his head away from Tony’s a little, grunting in frustration.

    “You’re too loud! Could you keep it down? You’ve been even more like yourself today.”

    Tony’s gusto quickly died down, as he gave a breath with a smile, turning himself away a little but still trying to keep the same energy.

    “Well, you know. It’s today, know what I mean, right?”

    Blake’s fussed look suddenly disappeared and he shut his mouth as he carried on walking with a slightly stoic expression. Although it appeared from a glance that Blake didn’t show any concern, he most definitely did.

    “I’m sorry, I don’t think you’ve told me the date.”

    “Yeah well, I – We – Um – J-ju-just don’t worry about it, alright?”

    Any Vanished will remember the horrible first moment when they wake up, out in the harsh surface with nothing to look back on. Some get over it. Some of the more sensitive ones never do. Tony still carries scars all over his abdomen from when they attacked him that first day, the ‘Fresh Day’ as most call it. How such a casual nickname was given to such a serious matter is a mystery to most. The scars made from knives, broken bottles – whatever the scum could find really – still burned with harsh memories, each smooth yet jagged line carrying a story that hits you like a blow to the stomach. Tony has only had the confidence to tell Blake that he was attacked, and there were scars and frankly, that’s all he wanted to know.

    Aside from the occasional disagreement and mentioning of the ‘Fresh Day’, the two of them got along very well; a sort of mutual agreement kept them together – polar opposites attract of course. Blake’s occupation as a soldier for The Vanished kept him quite busy, so whenever they met up they took lots of time to catch up. Tony used to be a soldier, fighting in the lines with his ability to make tremors through the ground and control over the earth made him a powerful soldier, but after seeing the horrors of the battlefield, even his rock – solid outer shell became frail. He now took for more relaxing work in construction, where he would shift large piles of bricks with ease, but he still kept the amount of manual labour high, as it kept him in shape – his diet wasn’t exactly the best though, meaning he was stuck on the fence for overall wellbeing.

    Eventually the two made it round to the marketplace, home to a lot of different wares. Many of them were crystal related, giving some of the simplest items some convenience. For instance Tony had a habit of always singing praises about the small spherical crystal. It was attached to his keychain and he’d bought from the market; whenever he used it which made opening the door a quick and easy task. Blake looked around, taking care not to overlook any of the fine goods.

    “Wat’chu lookin’ at Willis?” Tony chimed out in a silly childish voice.

    “Nothing in particular, really. Why?”

    “Mmm, just wondering.”

    It was then that Blake spotted a girl in a wheelchair trying on a beautiful amber necklace. It glowed well in the dim blue light of Atlantis, and really defined her, Blake thought.

    “Heeeeyyy, who was that? Nice looking lady you’ve got your eyes on?”

    “No, you nonce! That was the healer involved in the recently failed mission.”

    “…Oh, right. Sorry. Hope she’s doing alright.”

    “My thoughts exactly – up for a drink then?”

    As they had held a slight conversation after passing Gwen and Owen, Blake and Tony ended up by one of their usual haunts – The Chrysalis Grail. It was here they had their long conversations and long island ice teas – one of their personal favourites. Sitting in the dark room on a large comfy blue sofa, they sat with their ‘poisons’ and talked for a while.

    “So! How’s Alice been?”

    “Alright, alright. She told me that Crimsonia’s been a little rough recently, but she’s been doing her best to keep herself going.”

    “You should go visit her soon, man. Go spend some time with her.”

    Blake shrugged, sipping his drink. “Guess so – I think I’m going to stay here for the time being. Until I’m assigned a bit mission, I know I won’t be able to leave.”

    The two of them sat and chatted for a while longer, before Blake decided it was time to head off. After a brief farewell, Blake headed home to get some well needed rest.

    ---

    Hey son, don’t areotrgnjiorryafeit! W’vfeva#ere he@vre!r!

    Yes, this daefnfvrsg vrerst GOD.


    “No, it’s no – what are you even saying?”

    WATCH OUT!

    Blake shot out of bed, screaming and breathing heavily. Whatever that was, he didn’t like it one bit, and it was most definitely obvious. He was sweating and he could feel and see his heart drumming through his chest. He checked the time on the alarm clock next to his bedside table. 6:00am. Blake was quite surprised he was having dreams around now, but he had no time to wonder why – the new telephone in his hallway rung out clearly. Jogging over and speaking slowly, Blake said hello.

    “Hello Mr. Reed.”

    Blake recognised the monotone voice almost immediately. The Council.

    “Yes, hello there. Is there something the matter?

    “Not as much Mr. Reed – we’ve been having trouble trying to contact you.”

    “Oh, sorry – the phone broke and I’ve been busy, sorry.”

    “That’s fine Mr. Reed. The Council wish for you to come down to a meeting today. We tried to get a hold of you a week before, but –“

    ‘Mr. Reed’ took a deep breath, rubbing his thumb and index at the top of his nose before replying.

    “It’s fine, no problem. Thanks for contacting me early.”

    ---

    Blake sat on the very far right on the front row, meaning he had a poor view of the front and couldn’t really see if any of his other teammates were in the crowd. At least he was comfy – he had an odd sense of comfort in the outfit he wore for Council meetings. Either way, he was slightly eager to hear what exactly was going on – if it was a mission, he’d want to get it out of the way as fast as possible. The Command Vet Jacques Noir gave a small introductory speech quite slowly.

    Come on, come on… hurry it up!

    Blake took a large swig from his metal flask and drummed his fingers on his thigh impatiently.

    “But I’m afraid that will have to wait until the role call has been completed.”

    Blake’s drumming became faster. It was this point he started to question his odd bout of desperation. Was it the rough night? All of the covert drinking? Constant streams of reasons danced around his brain until he heard Noir mention the roll call.

    “Now son, we’ll start with you.”

    Blake quickly put on his usual stoic face and looked up at Jacques Noir.

    “Blake Reed, here Sir!”
     
  3. Mr.RMA

    Mr.RMA Magearna before it was cool

    “Seriously, man…this’s been bugging me for a while now- Why would you ever wanna be seen with that thing?” A young man, likely in his late-teens, asked the slightly older-looking fellow seated in front of him, absolute disgust emanating in the sound of his voice. The one being questioned, a gentleman by the name of Cleve, had been pestered by this boy about a particular article of his since the two both arrived at the conference hall, roughly at the same time for that matter, and for the longest time, the man didn’t respond. Had this boy known just who he was, he wouldn’t have bothered to waste his breath on such a pointless question that he’d never get a satisfying answer for.

    “Reconnaissance…stealth…disguises…y’know, to fit in among the enemy and all that…” Cleve finally murmured back. “Throws them all off-guard more often than not.” He was giving the usual, semi-professional excuse that he always gave in these situations, always desiring the questions to stop right there, but, alas, never getting what he wished for.

    “Uh…alright…Not sure if you noticed, pal, but, you can’t just steal one of Their things right from under their noses and just walk away without a scratch on ya, 'specially not when you're one of us. How’d you get your hands on it?”

    No response this time…

    “Uh, did you hear me?” The boy asked, persistent.

    “Yeah, I heard you…”

    “Well?”

    “'Well', what? I heard you, and I chose not to respond. If you used that thick head of yours, you'd figure out that I don’t wanna give you that information!” Cleve snapped back, his voice rising, causing the boy to flinch. Realizing he could’ve responded to that in a far more polite matter, he hesitated for a bit and sighed before continuing, his voice reverting back to its quieter, tamer state.

    “Look, I’m sorry for snapping at you like that. It’s just that question is kinda personal to me. I don’t really like to tell people all about it.” He explained apologetically, rubbing at his brow, something he’d habitually do whenever he felt stressed or conflicted.

    “Uh…n-no, it’s fine. Shouldn’t have bugged you so much about it anyways…I mean, at least you're on our side, right?.” The younger Vanished answered back, giving an uneasy chuckle at that.

    “That you can bet on, friend. That…you can bet on…” That particular assertion started getting him to thinking about something he hadn't paid much mind to for a long time...just how long it had been since he had taken up residence in this underground world.

    Two years now… it wasn’t exactly ages ago, but it sure felt like it. Pretty much all of Cleve’s past life was pulled out from underneath him, without warning, in one single day. A day that, while it already felt so distant, had permanently branded itself in his memory, burning into his conscience a little more with each passing moment. It was impossible to forget, no matter how hard he attempted to do so. Ironic, considering how everyone he knew…or…everyone he knew who was still alive at least, had forgotten everything in an instant. Yet, for Cleve, it all replayed perfectly in his mind like a roll of film that never burned out: That last morning of normalcy, aside from that strangely grim look on his old man’s face; that afternoon, the moment those thugs jumped him; that one single moment where he went to defend himself… He remembered their bloodied, lifeless faces, frozen in shock, and the complete and utter fear and bewilderment surging through his own psyche at the sight and the realization that he had blood on his hands. That was all traumatic enough, but that day from hell had yet to end for him...What happened when They arrived...it was too much for him to even think about. How he found the motivation to escape from their clutches was beyond him. He shouldn’t have had the strength to carry on, not after what he had seen and felt, and yet…something kept telling him he had to keep going; that he wasn’t done yet; that Cleve Lash was still of use to this world somehow.

    He soon came to realize this was, in fact, true, but he never in a million years would’ve guessed such a calling would’ve led to all this. To be honest, even after he was found and rescued by other Vanished, he still didn't believe it for a time. For a while, he did nothing but constantly beg the higher authorities to just let him go back to New York and start a normal surface life anew, but they wouldn't have any of it. Not only would that present a horrible danger to himself, it would jeopardize the entire community's existence as a whole. They knew who he was...what he was...and because of this, there was no going back; he just had to accept it. Eventually, though it still pained him, he did just that, yet he never was quite the same man that he had been above ground. For one thing, evident in his recent exchange with the younger Vanished, he had become very reserved concerning his social life, both past and present- Even if someone managed to befriend him, they never truly got to know him very well. He was an enigma, through and through, and so far, no one seemed curious, brave, or stupid enough to unravel this mystery even slightly.

    It wasn’t too long after his initiation as one of the Vanished when he chose to become a soldier. He wasn’t hesitant on taking the risky job; the pay was good, he was given the chance to go back to the surface on a regular basis, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel a pang of satisfaction by putting Them back in their place, especially after they had taken so much from him and his new comrades. Not to mention, he wouldn’t have to form any concrete relationships with any of the others, as his partners were prone to change on a normal basis. Apparently, he hadn’t been doing that bad of a job in his new career, as the ones holding this conference had only invited the more exceptionally skilled soldiers in. He should’ve been grateful upon receiving his invite that week before in his quiet abode, within one of the more secluded areas in Atlantis, but all he could think about was the inconvenience it would be to explain his…unique garb, to the folks who didn’t already know about it. He was already getting looks from people sitting adjacent to him and he could hear some murmurs going around...He could only hope that none of these potential rumors would end up getting out of hand.

    Cleve started getting more and more lost in thought, only to be snapped out of it upon hearing General Noir introduce himself, subsequently starting the dreaded, but inevitable roll-call, with the first, fairly dedicated sounding, soldier to state his name only several seats away. Small beads of sweat started to condense on Cleve's pale forehead, underneath his short, yet messy, dark brown hair, only to suddenly turn into beads of ice. Damn powers…now he had more than one reason to be shivering at the moment.
     
  4. Jack sat by himself, quietly wondering what was taking his food so long. The restaurant was a little place that had become his favorite place to eat. It wasn't anything special, they just made great comfort food. Normally, he'd just come in to order lunch, but today was a bit of a special occasion. The only thing he had ordered was a slice of triple-chocolate cake. Honestly, he hated chocolate cake, but it had been Mary's favorite so it seemed fitting.

    He pulled a small locket from inside his shirt and opened it. Inside was a picture of himself, his little sister, his mom and his dad posing in front of The Washington Monument. His sister had one arm wrapped around Jack's shoulders while flashing a peace-sign at the camera. Jack's mom and dad were in the background, laughing and smiling as Jack tried to prise himself from his sister's grip. Jack closed the locket and sighed as he fondly remembered that trip. At the time, Mary and Jack had been 11 and 14, respectively. Although most of The Vanished had tried to move on from their old lives, Jack had never even tried. He had been unable to "move on" since the day They had forced him to run.

    He always wondered how his family was doing or what they were doing. Sometimes, he even did stuff like this. Today would be Mary's 21st birthday, so Jack had decided to celebrate it by getting some of Mary's favorite dessert. Some of his friends thought it was unhealthy for him to obsess over his family so much, but he felt they just didn't get it. He just couldn't let himself forget. Somehow, They had managed to take everything from him. Physical or intangible, once they were done trying to wipe him from existence, he had been left with nothing. He felt that if he let himself forget, then They would have succeeded in wiping him from existence. It was his own little way of resisting Them. That and taking a few of Them out when he had the chance on missions. Besides, he wasn't obsessed!

    As the cake finally arrived, Jack noticed that the server sat down across from him. Jack was surprised until he realized who the server was. It was just Sarah, a friend of his who worked at the restaurant. The red-head was a welcome sight. Her presence made him feel a little less melancholy. He still planned to have some fun at her expense. Jack's face twisted into mock disappointment. "Aww, I thought the cute red-head was going to be my waitress." he said, sounding dejected.

    Sarah scoffed. "Do you want the cake or not? I don't have to give it to you, y'know." she said, waving the cake at him.

    "Don't you have work to do? You know, other than taunting me with my food?" Jack asked.

    “I’m on break Einstein.” She said, sliding the cake towards him. As Jack spooned a piece of the cake into his mouth, Sarah looked at him confused. “I thought you hated chocolate.”

    Through the overpoweringly sweet taste in his mouth, Jack replied, “I do, but I just had to. It’s –“

    “Mary’s birthday?”

    “Her birthday, yeah.” Jack said, swallowing another piece of cake.

    Sarah grabbed another spoon and took a bite from the cake as well and smiled at Jack. “Well then, happy birthday, Mary. Thanks for the excuse to ruin my diet.”
    That was another reason Jack enjoyed Sarah’s company. She felt exactly the way he did about his family. She never called things like this unhealthy or told him to move on. She was the same way. Not all of the Vanished were so capable of moving on.

    After they had finished the cake, they began to talk about different things. Eventually, Sarah asked if Jack had any plans for that week, reminding him of the other reason he had come. “Oh, that reminds me! Could you apartment-sit for a few days? I’ve got some work coming up.” Jack said. He had nearly forgotten.

    “So…what kind of work?” Sarah asked, quietly. She knew that Jack was a soldier. She was also familiar with the jobs infamous mortality rate, so she was understandably worried. Jack simply said he didn’t know and that there would be a mission briefing in a few days. Sarah agreed to watch his apartment. She also asked him not to take too many unnecessary risks.

    To which Jack replied, “What’s the point in being sensible all the time?”

    As Jack prepared to leave, he took out his wallet to pay for the cake, but Sarah stopped him. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I payed for it before I brought it out. I get those things for free.” She said, smiling. Jack thanked her and turned to leave, but Sarah called out to him. “Jack, I… um. I-I wanted to know when I should pick up the key.” Sarah stuttered, her face turning bright red.

    Somehow, Jack didn’t notice Sarah’s odd behavior. “Tomorrow at six, ok? See ya then.” Jack said as he walked out the door.

    Sarah buried her face in her hands and muttered, “Idiot.”
    --

    Eventually, the day arrived and Jack filed into the council hall with several others who had been given this mission.

    As he sat down he noticed just how many people were here. Silently, Jack wondered , ‘What kind of mission takes this many people?’ He looked around, but failed to recognize anyone. However, the longer he sat there, the more his main concern became staying awake. It didn’t help that the blazer and slacks he was wearing were absolutely stifiling.

    A particularly old man, a remarkable feat for a soldier, stepped up to the podium. Apparently he was their general or something, but all he could focus on was the blazer currently suffocating him. He snapped out of it when he heard the old guy say. “But I’m afraid that will have to wait until the role call has been completed.” Jack gave a small sigh of relief. At least role call meant they were getting underway.

    Once the role call began, each person in the rows in front of him stood and announced their names. Once it was his turn, Jack stood and did the same.

    He stood tall and announced clearly, “Jack Sawyer, Sir!”
     
  5. The Shinto Shrine was a picture of serenity in Atlantis, even in times of strife. From the walkway to the shrine itself, and the immaculate gardens within its lands. Naturally, however, such a beautiful garden needed continuous attending to so as to continue to present itself as a place of rest for the weary soldiers and other residents. The Shinto Shrine had an extensive staff on hand to keep the garden clean and to please the spirits. One such member was tending to the flowers near the entrance, taking the utmost care that each got their fill. After finishing with this, the man sighed, wiping his brow before turning his gaze upwards, although what he wanted to see would not be so easily found in Atlantis.

    Rowan could not particularly recall much of life before he was part of The Vanished, but he knew he was loved. It was that love that he kept in his heart at all times. Ceasing such thoughts of recollection, Rowan's gaze to nothing broke when he heard footsteps approaching. Turning his head, his features thinned upon sight of the visitors. "...Is it today, then?" Rowan straightened to full height, a bit taller than the nicely dressed pair of men.

    "Indeed, Mister Odan. Please, follow us." One responded. Rowan sighed, running a hand through short brown hair. Without another word, he got up and followed the men as they turned. Rowan most certainly knew the way to the asylum by now, but he supposed they'd rather keep track of him. A breeze blew against their path, blowing back his loose sleeves and pant legs. Rowan found them to be both warm and not at all restrictive.

    Before long, however, Rowan found himself walking down the clean white halls of Safe Haven once more. Rowan thought it was a pleasant name, in his opinion. What it meant, however, is this was where the less stable Vanished lived. Not everyone can take the pain of loss so easily, compounded with other factors. They continued walking down the halls, making many turns, and up one flight of stairs. Observation Room 201A. Rowan despised this place. The two men opened the door for him, and without hesitation, he entered.

    "Ah, good, you're here." The tall, spindly man from the clipboard looked up. "Today is the day, so do your best." He motioned to the large one way mirror in front of him. From the other side, one could see a girl with blonde hair sitting at a table. The walls were padded. Rowan nodded and took the door next to said mirror. It was clean and white.

    --------------------------------------------

    "...Good morning, Rufa."

    "...No." The girl responded to the greeting curtly. "No. No." Rowan sighed as Rufa set down the teacup she was holding. "I am mad."

    "Rufa, we need you." He said in an even tone.

    "Fix me," She said, her face even, but with an underlying venom beneath it. She placed her hand right below her neck, although the area was covered by the high necked shirt. "Fix me."

    "No."

    "Fix me!" She replied, with more emphasis.

    "No." As always, Rowan kept himself composed and void of emotion.

    "FIX ME!" Her emotions getting the better of herself, Rufa pushed the small table aside, removing the barrier between her and Rowan. She grabbed his shoulders, pulling her face close to his. So close, in fact, that Rowan could smell her breath. It was like roses. “FIX ME, FIX ME, FIX ME!” She shook him, but he wouldn’t budge. “FIX ME!”

    “Stop.” Rowan said. With the simple command, Rufa’s hands seemed to still themselves. She slowly looked down to see a long card wrapped around her arm. “Rufa, look at me.” And so she did. “I cannot keep doing this. Rufa, we need you. And I have tried to be kind.” He stopped, taking a breath.

    “You will come with me, and we will be presentable. We are going to go on a mission. Do you know what a mission is?”

    “Fix-“

    “Do you know what a mission is, Rufa?” Rowan asked again, his gaze piercing into her eyes.

    “I-I…” Rufa hesitated. She did not like The Paper Man at all. “Yes. Rufa had gone on a mission a long time ago. It was…” Her lips curled upwards into a sinister grin and she giggled, remembering. “Fun.” Then the grin fell. “But now Rufa is here…” Rufa’s eyes then lit up as she realized why The Paper Man would ask such a question. “Is Rufa going on a mission?” Rowan’s face remained passive and emotionless, but nonetheless, Rufa giggled, and her giggles became a laugh. “Ahahahahah! Rufa is going on a mission! Rufa is going on a miss-“

    “Stop.” Once more with that nasty word. Rufa shut her mouth on the spot. Rowan sighed once more, glancing at the card that stuck fast on her arm, despite her rubbing at it. “…Yes, we are going on a mission. Yes, you will be fixed. But only sometimes. Rufa, look at me.” He prompted, grabbing the girl’s attention just before it wandered away. Rufa appeared to be about eighteen, but she acted more like she was eight. “You are going to behave properly. If you behave properly, you can break things, but if you don’t,” He paused, letting Rufa take this in. “You will be back here again. Do you understand?”

    Silence.

    “Do you understand me, Rufa?”

    Rufa nodded.

    ------------------------------------------------------------

    Rowan looked to his right to see Rufa fidgeting with her dress once more, pulling and prodding and tugging at a fiendish rate. He sighed. It was nothing he could control, but it bothered him nonetheless. After finding Rufa a less casual outfit, they had made their way to the conference hall for the mission meeting. Rufa was not a problem most of the way, although, for some reason she insisted on a very loud and very pink dress to wear, with a high neck to cover herself a bit more than a woman would normally. It kept her happy, so Rowan approved. Rowan, himself, however, still wore his very loose-flowing clothes with many laces moving through it.

    “Rufa…” Rowan said, under his breath.

    “Sorry.” She muttered, and tried to sit up once more. All she accomplished was slowly slumping down in the chair again. Embarrassed, the man sighed, but let it pass. They were taking role call at this point, and the introductions were quickly moving towards the pair. Once it was their turn, Rowan stood up and bowed slightly. “Rowan Odan. Thank you for the opportunity.” After giving his greetings, he sat down once more, and turned to Rufa, who perked up once she realized all eyes were on her. She jumped up happily.

    “I’m Rufa! And,” She was about to run her mouth with a likely threatening statement, but the glare coming from Rowan out of the corner of her eye kept her in line.

    “…And I am a good girl.”
     
  6. (OOC: i am so sorry for the delay! ahhh, please forgive me; i dunno if this is all short or what, first posts confuse me ;____; )

    It was a horrible sound. One of the worst she was ever subjected to.

    What made it all the more horrible was that it sounded every day. Every single day. At the same time, each day. That same horrible, piercing sound; the sound she heard every morning as her eyes flicked open and she was thrown into the harsh reality that was her life.

    With one strong movement, she flung herself over to her side and slammed her fist down on the alarm clock. The shrill screech set to awaken her every morning was cut off with a blunt crash and shatter of glass from the clock face. The pain would usually be enough to make anyone scream in agony, but she didn't mind too much. And anyways, she could easily buy a new alarm clock - especially with the pay cheque bound to tag along with her new mission.

    She just about managed to pull herself up to sit on her cold bedsheets, her newly wounded hand placed just upon her lap. She should probably clean the blood up, at least before she handled anything else in her room and got herself ready for the big day up ahead of her. With a slight groan, she dragged herself out of bed and tread her feet along the soft curls of her beige carpet. It was one of the most surreal feelings, those cloudy-soft ringlets against her stone-cold feet. Her eyes weren't even fully open by the time she found herself standing in front of the clean, shining bathroom mirror.

    In reality, she didn't look the most womanly - her most defining lady-like feature was her hips, but even then they weren't extremely flattering. She wasn't an ugly young woman, certainly, but her shoulders were wide, her arms muscled and her chest vaguely flat in her plain hanging white vest top. Even her hair wasn't very womanly; her natural red-head was cut and styled to a slightly waved quiff above her head, short back and sides. A month or two ago she had a perfectly dyed blonde streak amongst the auburn; a straight yellow line. But her roots were coming. This, of course, wasn't of the highest priority in her mind; her unscathed hand still clutched the blood-soaken one, holding it underneath the running cold tap. With the healthy hand she grabbed for a handful of toilet paper, quickly covering the wounded hand. In no time at all it seemed, the papers were, too, covered in her blood. But of course, the tissue was no matter really, and soon it was in her bin, the tap turned off and herself out of the bathroom door.

    Her hand was quickly swept away from her mind; it was okay. There were still slight signs of cutting from her destruction of the alarm clock, but the open wounds had vanished completely. It was the same with all the scars up either arm that her eyes flickered past on their journey around her bedroom; that was her power, to immediately close wounds and leave only vaguely significant scarring. She preferred not to talk about it - or rather, how she discovered it - but it wasn't at all hidden that she was a healer. A good one too; even if her years of healing had somewhat disoriented her perception of pain.

    It didn't take her long to get dressed and ready, she didn't wear particularly complicated or even showy clothes in general, even for big days like that certain one. From her light rosewood wardrobe she slung out a plain black with silver buttons and tan denims, somewhat similar to the shade of her dyed streak. She pulled these articles on quickly and withdrew grey gloves and scarf from her matching rosewood drawer to the left of the room below her window with the softest of sighs, slightly reluctant to get herself ready at all. She couldn't help but gaze upon the surface of the drawer for a little while longer, dragging her fingers across the simple jewelry she had splayed across the table top. This was just about all of the jewelry she owned; a silver necklace with a glowing yellow stone dangling to-from, a platinum chain with her initials carved in the catch, an inexpensive metal link bracelet - probably a counterfeit of more costly surface brands - and another yellow-oriented article of jewelry, a simpler silver ring. Probably a matching piece of metal for the silver necklace, but she had found them on the street of the surface from the time in which she was forced to scavenge. It was for that reason that she felt the need to appreciate her sparkly and frankly impractical pieces of metal, and for the same reason that she felt a tinge of pain every time her eyes laid upon them. But that wasn't important.

    After pulling on her scuffed brown Doctor Martens, another one of the few belongings she managed to drag with her from her previous life, and donning a simple but edgy black leather jacket, she turned around and sighed in respect for her simple room for her simple self living her contrastingly complicated life. She nodded a silent goodbye to her humble abode, making a quick mental note to keep an eye out for another alarm clock.

    With the slam of her apartment door behind her, she started down the stairwell in the direction of the exit of her block of flats, her feet drumming down on each step. One-two, one-two, one-two, they sang, casually echoing throughout the building. She doubted there were many other residents asleep who could possibly be disturbed by the noise anyway, so she carelessly threw herself down from the last flight of stairs with a bounce, landing perfectly aligned at the front door. It was not the first time that she had demonstrated her keen agility in such an ever so slightly reckless way; it was one of the few things in her 21-year-long life that never failed to make her smile.

    She flung the front door open carelessly and braced herself for what she undoubtfully predicted to be the unsurprisingly dull day ahead of her.

    ---

    She flung herself into one of the flimsy seats in the hall, arms crossed and chin buried deep into her scarf. Her fingers nervously tapped her thigh lightly and she raised her left hand to attempt to cover the twitch of her eye. It was one of the little things she developed from the times of emotional trauma, just occasional slight twitching. But she was always fidgety. Her nose poked out and her eyes glared upwards to the currently empty stage, running through a list of things that could make the day even less enjoyable.

    It wasn't that she was unhappy to have this opportunity; she was flattered to have been chosen to be part of this mission. She was a dedicated soldier after all and even though she had made some pretty bad mistakes in her early missions - one of which, in particular, cost a painfully significant life - she was a good woman for her people to have on their side. She may even be considered as an asset to her team by some. She was undeniably a talent, at least.

    But even remote "social gatherings" like this were not her thing. She glanced around agitatedly at her fellow soldiers; some of whom she didn't understand their reason for being here. Just a couple of seats away from her there was someone pestering a poor guy about one of his possessions despite the fact that he displayed his disinterest in the questions for personal reasons, which she fully understood. Others just didn't look quite up for the job.

    And the old guy that just embarked the stage; he didn't look like much of a treasure either. Sure, old guys were rare around here, and he had his fair share of scars, but they could have picked someone at least a little more interesting to brief the mission.

    Like someone who didn't insist on doing role call. Now that's something I didn't think of for my list of unentertainables, she thought, stiffling a blatant roll of her eyes.

    A boy - a man, rather - from the front shouted out "Blake" and something to do with a plant. "Reed", or a similar word. A name starting with a C, and a "Sawyer". "Rowan" something-or-other, and quite a young-sounding girl called something that sounded a little like "roofer".

    Brushing her fingers through her quiff, she realised she probably wasn't the most observant. It might pay to pay more attention; to actually listen to her fellow colleagues that were naming themselves, but for now she just wanted to get things over with. When she guessed it must be her turn, she thrust her chin out from behind her scarf and called audibly to the room.

    "Joan Starc," she called, "but I like the name Jo."
     
  7. (OOC; It's a day later than it should've been, but nonetheless, here's your continuation! This is another post for you characters to catch up to, chronologically, but I'm merely setting the basics and once that's done we can start with proper interactions!

    I'm going to assume there's going to be some plot points you might be confused about after reading this, but I'll be conferring with Toby over them and make sure things get clearer and more fleshed out, seeing as his character has been assigned commander in-universe for convenience's (and plot's) sake. Along with that, I'll explain some things in the discussion thread so the questions that are left after Toby's post will be answered there.

    I hope you'll enjoy the post, because I know I will have fun reading yours! ^^

    BIC;)

    As everyone stood up and called out their name, one by one- A meticulously slow process and a tradition that many seeked to abolish- Gwen ran every name past her memories, to see if she knew any of the people in this large marble conference hall. None of them she had worked with, or even met personally, as far as she could remember. She ran some names by Owen as well, but he was the same. Not surprisingly, as they led their lives practically parallel.

    Normally, Gwen wouldn’t have payed this much attention to the identity of the people she would be on a mission with, but this was supposedly a very important one, and definitely large-scale. She was dying to hear what it entailed, and wondered why everything about it seemed to be so overly official and secretive. It couldn’t be normal reconnaissance, babysaving, infiltration or Theirrorism (The joking term for acts of violence inflicted upon their enemy).

    Soon enough, the role call landed at them. Owen was first, standing up with a dignified expression and simply stating his name and nothing more. Some people had given ‘at your service’’s or expressed their preferred naming- One girl had even stated she was a good girl, to her apparent partner’s embarrasment- But Owen liked to keep it simple. Gwen did the same, although she did give a salute with her free arm as a courtesy to the veteran soldier representing the mission.

    The role call had been completed, and an assistant whom Gwen didn’t recognize gave Jacques a nod to indicate everyone was indeed attending. He turned his attention back to his softly whispering audience, with an attempt at a reassuring smile. ‘Well, now that that’s out of the way, we can get onto the subject matter of this mission briefing.’ Everyone set up a little straighter, eager to hear the information.

    A white canvas creen rolled down from the ceiling- Driven manually via a set of wheels and a handle, guessing by the mechanical noises- And behind them, a light started flashing; A projector. It was all a bit pathetic compared to the technology available to the surface dwellers, but it was what they had to do with. The machine projected the image of the Council’s emblem, a set of black rings forming a circle, representing Earth, with, strikingly, the words ‘The Council’ under it. The same simplicity and neutrality.

    [​IMG]

    ‘I would like to introduce you all to a mission that we understand is one of the most vital ones in the history of the Vanished as an organized community.’ He started. ‘These last few years, we have been constantly monitoring, infiltrating, and sabotaging our enemy all across the globe. We’ve got assets that they can only dream of, being you. And I’m proud to say that all the gathered intelligence has more than payed off.’

    ‘However, one of the many things we’ve gathered is a rather worrying subject. We’ve all heard the reports of Them trying to devise technology that can harvest energy from the Earth’s energetic minerals, but thanks to their own incompetence as well as our meddling, they’ve been unable to do so. If They achieved the ability to utilize crystal energy in ways similar we do, we would be at a great disadvantage.’

    A soft murmur rose again. Owen looked especially grave.

    ‘One of our more recent infiltration missions has supplied us with some diagrams and maps, which I will be showing you now.’ The screen flickered from the logo to a collection of photocopies, depecting... Depicting what, exactly? At first sight, it seemed to be some sort of complicated cylindrical object, consisting of three main parts. The lowest one was the base, with eight hooked spikes serving as supporting pillars, giving it a spider-like appearance.

    The two other round segments were equally large- Four meters wide and two meters high, according to the measurements on the sides. The center part held a large compartiment within, while the top segment was adorned with four antenna's. These were the only relevant details Gwen could pick up from the images and blueprints. The object in its entirety had tubes, spools, wiring and what-have-you running troughout, there were several large touch-screens on the bottom round. It was overwhelming and confusing to someone who wasn't an advanced engineer of sorts, but Gwen wasn't overly interested in the machine's exact workings in the first place. She was more worried about what it did.

    Their General looked at his soldiers with a grave expression. 'It took a lot of intrepid analysis, but our technicians finally figured out that this device is meant specifically for not only dispersing energy from crystals, but also negating the effects of this energy in controlled form.' The talking in the room reached a critical level of noise. Some people looked downright scared, and were widey-eyedly discussing the information with their neighbours. Jacques Noir raised his hand and, by the sheer force of the authority he emanated, the audience quieted down.

    'Now, I fully realize how worrying this news will sound to all of you, and the Council considers it a very serious threat to the existence of the Vanished community. The thruth is, these last few decades, The Council has always considered it to be a matter of time before humanity's technology improved sufficiently for Them to be able to develop the ability to regulate the Earth's energy. They've taken stabs at it throughout history- In medieval times, through their own research of magic, religion and even the occult, and in more advanced times, with chemical solutions, using more scientific approaches. But, for the first time, it looks like one of Their methods will actually be put into practice succesfully.'

    He leaned forward over the pedestal, and his gaze became even more intense. Owen's eyes were still latched onto the images of the dreaded machine, and his fists were clenched up to the point where they were shaking. Gwen gently placed her palm on his fist, and his gaze broke away from the screen and turned to her. The expressions in his blue eyes was somewhere between a blind panic and a contained rage. It was almost scary to see these feelings raging in the normally calm soul of her partner.

    Not to say Gwen wasn't distraught as well, but she liked to think she was handling it more professionally. Merely being worried about something didn't fix it- Something had to be done about. Nevertheless, something cold and heavy seemed to have gripped her heart as dreadful scenarios flashed by. Without their powers, The Vanished were... Well, powerless. The sheer bulk of resources and weaponry They owned was much vaster than that of the Vanished, and combined with their expertise, they would long have eradicated the underground folk if it hadn't been for their control over destructive energies.

    She wrung her fingers between Owen's, both for her own comfort and to keep him from digging into his own palms with his sharp nails.

    'But there is good news. As we speak, this machine is still only late in its developmental stage- Which is how we were able to glean these prints. We aren't exactly sure how long it will take for the device to be completed, but the technology required for it is partially still experimental- And, unsurprisingly, completely unknown to the general public.’

    ‘More importantly, thanks to the fine stealth specialists and electro-cognitive infiltrators of our army, we’ve found out that the three segments of this device will be manufactured in three different facilities across the globe. At the time of infiltration, the locations for the production had not yet been set. And this is where we come in.’’

    New pictures appeared on the projection screen; Army bunkers on snowy mountaintops or deep in the jungle, underground bases, factories belonging to everyday brands, government facilities, universities, famous landmarks- Every location in the world where, unknown to almost all of the Earth’s population, organizations worked to create a world they perceived as ideal. In the general consensus, that meant a world without the Vanished.

    Times had been so much more simple before technology had become advanced enough for Them to be able to wipe memories collectively and even set up illusions to further replicate a life never having existed. Even without that technology, They had made sure the people of various civilizations never found out. Turning stories and accounts into folklore or condemning them as pagan myths, using religion as an foundation against them, back in the Dark Ages. Later, by creating cover-up articles, silencing those who were most vocal on the subject, and making sure no form of media dedicated any real attention to it.

    ‘Without any further idea of where the segments of the device will be created, it’s been a matter of investigating all known facilities one by one until we were down to the three most likely candidates for production. We’ve already been able to stripe a majority off the list, because those bases are either not advanced enough or the organizations running them probably do not have the resources on hand. We’ve ended up with a shortlist of the three best candidates... But as of now, we don’t know if those places will actually be the construction sites.’

    ‘The thirty of you will be split up into three groups, Alpha, Beta and Gamma. Which group you’re in will be announced in the files that will be sent to you after this briefing. In two week’s time, the groups will be issued to three of the nine locations. The mission is the same in each case; Observe, hold your ground, and if things take a bad turn, fight. Our infiltrators will continue their work, and you- All of you, as the strongest and most skilled Atlantis has to offer- Will be the live perimeter.’

    ‘We will man that perimeter until we have got the security of knowing if our guesses were right. At that moment, at the same time in all three locations, we will have a break-in. Sweep the place, destroy it from the inside. It’s about sending the message to Them that we are even more powerful than They already know we are, and that we won’t let them build something they can defeat us with.’

    A member of the audience raised their hand. Jacques had not yet announced question time, but was apparently ready to answer one regardless. ‘Yes?’ He said, pointing at the individual.

    ‘Why do we have to mobilise to the perimeter while the infiltrators keep at it? We could save resources if we waited for confirmation from them before moving in.’ A male voice rang out. A couple of people nodded in agreement; It was a fair point.

    Jacques smiled as if he had expected someone to point this out. ‘Primarily, safety. Two weeks is the absolute minimum time needed to gather all the resources for the device, according to our own specialists. Because of the extreme complexity of this technology, it’s a tedious process to build it while having to make sure every last detail is right. Furthermore, some of the elements that are utilised tend to be... Volatile. With an uncertain timeframe, we need to be able to kick into action at any given moment. That’s why I don’t want to be a minute late.’

    Owen’s hand had relaxed, but he remained staring at the screen, seemingly devoid of emotion- Although, knowing him, he was currently anything but that. Gwen monitored him closely, and kept tight hold of his hand. Although her partner was normally calm, extreme stress or emotion could make him snap. It was a rare occurrence, a lasting infliction from the trauma in his childhood. She wasn’t planning on letting it happen to him, not this publicly.

    Fortunately, there was no further discussion of things that could've triggered an overreaction. For the rest of the meeting, themes as accomodation, supplies and backup from other citadels where this mission was being issued were the main subjects. A lot of the questions asked were met with the reply that the answer would be found in the mission files that were to be sent to them, which, as every Soldier knew, was a sophisticated way of explaining they hadn't figured everything out yet either.

    In time, Jacques Noir ended the meeting officially and excused himself, saying he had other duties to attend now, and thanked all attendees for their time and attention. 'Before I go, however, I want to make sure you all know that the Mission Secrecy commandment of your military contracts still stands. I hope I don't have to remind you of the consequences of breaking this Council law, because they are not pleasant.' The lights came on again, the screen was rolled back up to the ceiling. The people rose from their seats and practically immediately iniated heated discussions. It was naive of the Council to have even the slightest hope that the rumour wouldn't start circulating the citadels by the end of this day, but Gwen also knew that the Council was fully aware of this. They were still in control of the newspapers and wouldn't confirm anything until they thought the time was right. The same old.

    They joined the small crowd of teenagers and young adults headed for the exits, Gwen's left arm locked around Owen's right. He had yet to speak a word, but she decided not to force it by asking him a question. When they had fled from their homes, running from their pursuers, there had been entire days where he'd failed to utter a single word, recluded behind the barriers of his own mind. The expressions on the faces of their fellow soldier ranged from worried, to excited, to scared and confused. Gwen wasn't sure what she thought of it either. A bit of everything, maybe?

    The world felt a bit surreal as they stepped out into the damp air of Atlantis, the same woozy sensation you experienced stepping out of a cinema. It was late now, meaning the streets were calmer, and the lights were dim. The multitude of crystal formations set into the walls and ceiling created the illusion of a starry night, but more colourful. With Owen close at her side, Gwen made her way to her apartment at a slow pace. They ignored the sounds of life bands and laughing, glasses being clunked together. For them and others, tonight was not a night for partying.

    ~~~

    The water boiled, and Gwen turned off the gas.

    She poured the water into two mugs, the bags already in, and once the whispy arms of flavour and colour had settled, and added sugar to both. From the living room drifted the melodious trumpet tones of 'La Vie En Rose' as covered by Louis Armstrong, a song with the most soothing tones Gwen thought existed, as well as her favourite. She set both mugs down on a tray, along with a saucer with several biscuits, and carefully stepped into the main quarter of her apartment.

    Hooold me close, and hold me fast;
    The magic spell you cast,
    This is la vie en rose ~


    The deep voice flowed from the brass horn of an authentic gramophone, one that had to be manually wound for it to play. It was one of Gwen's most prized posessions, placed proudly on a small table by the couch against her back wall. She could spend entire days strolling around antique markets in various citadels or, whenever she was able obtain a clearance for it, in various locations on the surface, looking for records from her favourite artists and bands. Among her collection were classic composers, Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaff, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and, of course, Louis Armstrong.

    Wheeen you kiss me heaven sighs,
    And though I close my eyes,
    I see la vie en rose...


    Despite being seated on the couch right next to the music's point of origin, and although he had admitted to greatly enjoying the song as well, the words didn't seem to reach Owen. He sat there with hazey eyes, wringing his palms together, his face pointed towards the lower portion of the opposite wall. He didn't react when Gwen moved into his line of view, set the tray down on the coffee table, nor when she sat down next to him. He did, however, stop wringing his hands together.

    Gwen felt genuinely sorry for him. He'd been doing well for so long, until this briefing had come along and affected him much more deeply than anything else could've. He had been directly confronted with what might've been his biggest fear besides losing Gwen; Losing everything else. Now it was up to her to get him back up on his feet before he dwindled further into depression and seclusion- A job she was more than willing to take on as he had done to same for her a while back, and would do it over and over again to save her. But she couldn't do it if he wasn't willing to do it, and she didn't want to trigger the wrong kind of reaction by saying the wrong thing.

    When you press me to your heaaart,
    I'm in a world apaaart,
    A world where roses bloom...


    Just as she was about to place her hand on his knee as a comforting gesture, he raised his to his face and inhaled sharply, letting the air out again with a stammer. 'Jesus.' He exclaimed, his voice muffled by his palms. A sob escaped his lips. '... Jesus.' Gwen finished her gesture, making him look up and at her. The one eye she could see through his fingers was wet, and there was true despair in it. Gwen realized that his state was incredibly similar to what hers had been that night in the hospital. Would the same approach he had taken to comfort her work on him?

    She moved over until her legs were touching his, and wrapped her arms around his shoulder. His sobbing continued, worsened. The tea and biscuits remained untouched, as they would for the rest of the night, as Gwen comforted her partner without a moment of rest. In contrast with Owen, she kept silent as she held him tight, both because she didn't think she'd be able to find the right words and because she didn't think he needed them in the first place. Her presence was usually enough for him, especially now that she was this close to him.

    ~~~

    The crystal lamps hummed slightly, melodiously, as the energy generated by the Earth concentrated into rays of light and refracted into the room, bathing it in an emerald glow. The green lighting was popular amongst the Vanished for making the process of waking up more natural and enjoyable. Despite this, as Gwen opened her eyes and let them adjust to the light, something felt different than normal. There was a pressure on her mattress that didn't belong there, along with an indiscernible warmth, behind her back.

    Only then did the sleep-induced confusion clear from her head sufficiently for her to remember there was someone in the bed with her.

    Owen's chest fell and rose at a steady rate. He was positioned on his back, the same position he'd been in when they'd fallen asleep laying in each other's arms, so Gwen figured she had rolled away and off of him sometime during her sleep. It was good to see him sleeping this peacefully, because it quite likely meant he hadn't experienced any nightmares.

    She decided against waking him right away, and climbed out of bed carefully. On her way to the kitchen, she checked her appearance in the bathroom mirror. She was looking much healthier than before, now that she was well-rested. Her scars and bruises had healed up nicely so far, only a few of them still remaining visible. The pain in her abdomen was neglible over short distances, and with enough further exercise, she would be as good a runner as the next person once again. All in all, a good recovery so far, thanks to all the medical attention she had been provided with.

    She stretched, and noticed a slight buzz around her waist. It was probably from Owen's arm had been resting there. Although he had full control over both his healing and damaging abilities, prolonged skin contact with him could leave a slight sensation. Gwen'd noticed this when she'd had to hold his hand for longer periods of time on a mission where they had pretended to be a teenage couple from a local high school. When he was more agitated or had very recently performed magic, even a short touch could cause slight stinging, something he was always apologetic about and tried to prevent. It was a passive effect of his magic being calibrated towards human biology.

    She went through the process of making proper morning coffee. Putting the water on, grinding a measured amount of fresh medium roast beans and scooping them into the filter placed inside a funnel, pouring the boiled water over the ground beans elegantly to account for all the flavour until the first drip had settled. Thirty seconds later the rest of the water could be poured in down the middle of the filter, and the cup tediously filled with pure, black coffee. She added a dash of sugar to account for the bitterness, and with the hot beverage in both hands, walked back to her bed.

    At first, Owen didn't react to her gentle prodding of his shoulder. She opted instead to run her fingers across the side of his cheek, and this seemed to work better; He suddenly breathed in more deeply, stirred, and slowly sat up straight, rubbing his eyes. Gwen sat down on the side of the bed, next to his legs. Owen blinked a couple of times to adjust the light, looked at her, and gave a smile. Gwen handed him the steaming coffee, which he took in both hands and rested on the sheets on his lap, careful not to spill any of it.

    His eyes were still somewhat bloodshot and he looked, understandably, shaken- Although much less so than he had the night before. His voice was hoarse when he tried to speak up, and he had to cough before he tried again. 'We need to stop making a habit out of this.' He remarked, in a serious tone but with a smile. 'People will really be talking now.' Gwen smiled back and rolled her eyes. 'We'll let them. It's not like they haven't been doing so for the longest.' She replied. Owen nodded and brought the cup to his mouth in a first attempt to take a sip, but found it too hot, and put it back down again.

    He looked away contemplatively. 'I... don't really know what happened to me. Last night.' He started. 'I just know I overreacted, and... I'm sorry you had to go through all that.' He said, softly. Gwen shook her head. 'There's nothing to be sorry for. I promised you, a long time ago, that I would always be there for you, and you promised me back.' She said. He turned his head to her again, but his gaze was aimed at the coffee on his lap. 'And I'll stand by that promise, Owen. That includes taking care of you, looking after you, comforting you, because you have done- And would do- the same for me.' She continued.

    He now looked up at her, and his smile was even brighter. 'Thanks, Gwen. I just wish it hadn't shaken me up this badly. It wasn't like the panicked fear of death you'd have fighting off enemies... This was worse. It was as if, for the first time, I realized just how bad things can end up. That everything and everyone I owe my life to, can be gone... In a flash.' He took a sip of his coffee and swallowed it with some trouble. 'You're not the only one who worries, Owen, and definitely not the only one who's scared. Everyone is, and everyone handles it differently. It just happens to affect you more deeply, but that's not your fault.'

    He rubbed the side of his neck with his outstretched fingers. 'I know it isn't. It shouldn't be. But sometimes I don't feel like a soldier, or even like a young adult. I just feel like a kid, hiding under the sheets because he's hearing noises.' He took another sip, and sighed afterwards. 'I was afraid of a lot of things when I was young. Afraid of the dark, afraid of monsters under my bed, or that I'd lose my parents in a busy street. Now that all those things don't apply anymore, it's developed into something like a big... Multi-phobia. And I don't know how much more of that I can take.'

    'We built a world, this world, from scratch, Gwen. We understood the necesity of our survival, so we decided stop running and fought back for once. We built, and we organized, we improved. But then we stopped fighting as hard, but we didn't return to running- We hid. And we're still hiding now, while the world above us evolved faster than we thought possible. Our fears are now more justified then ever.' His hands shook slightly as he brought the cup to his lips again.

    'But that's why we're soldiers, isn't it? That's why people like us, some even younger than us, risk their lives om the surface every day. We assure the safety of others, and we find and rescue people like us. We'll never stop fighting, Owen, because we fight for a future. Even if everyone else stops, we won't.'

    Owen chuckled. 'You would make a great psychologist.'

    Gwen laughed. 'You would make an excellent philosopher.'

    He finished the last of his coffee, put the cup down and lowered himself back onto the pillow with his hands behind his head. 'We're going to sign up for the mission, right? No matter what the files say or how hard it's going to be?' He asked, looking at Gwen expectantly. 'Damn right we are.' Gwen replied. 'No chance we're going to miss out on something like that.' Owen nodded approvingly, as if he hadn't expected anything else. 'But, for now, let's go on with our normal lives. You need to get back to the hospital, and I'm off to my friend at the elementary school to help her with the youngsters.'

    Gwen placed her hand on Owen's shoulder and gave him a very serious and meaningful look. 'Which means you need to get out of my bedroom, because even though your colleagues might be used to seeing you rough and in the same clothes for days in a row, Ineed to shower and change.' She said. Owen flushed red. 'Oh. Yeah, of course. I, er....' He raised himself up again and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He'd slept in his clothes, minus shoes and vest, and his shirt was a bit dusty. He stood up and dusted himself off with his hands, then picked up his vest and shoes from the floor. Gwen couldn't help but laugh at his embarrassed demeanor.

    'Thanks for the coffee.' Owen remarked. 'And... Well, everything else.' He continued. 'I would've been in this state for days if it hadn't been for your care.' Gwen smiled as she got up from the side of the bed herself. She tried, in vain, to fix his ruffled black hair, but the spikey strands remained in their gravity-defying position. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed herself against him tightly. 'Always.' She said.

    ~~~

    The mission files arrived a mere two days later. Gwen and Owen met up at his apartment to read them through together, carefully examining all the details and information. They had been placed in group Beta, under the leadership of Blake Reed, and were to be positioned in central London- One of Gwen's favourite cities on the planet, although she would've been a lot more excited about it hadn't the both of them been placed in the 'streetwalker' group. Weeks of spending either day- or night shifts roaming the streets in the role of a runaway, homeless teenager- Despite her actual age of eighteen, Gwen looked more sixteen due to her moderate size. It was excellent for patrol and incognito investigation work, but not exactly a comfortable lifestyle.

    Owen wasn't particularly gleeful about it either; The streetwalker role was more hazardous than that of high school/college student or tourist, because you had to account for both the police and the genuinely deranged or criminal homeless. He did, however, like the idea of not shaving for a while; He personally thought he looked quite dashing with a beard, and more mature. Gwen's opinion on his facial hair, and facial hair in general, was far less positive.

    The final page of the folder was, as always, the contract form. All the information, including personal, had already been printed on it. They were one scribble away from a dangerous military operation.

    Without ado, they both signed.

    ~~~

    Gwen's thoughts were ended abruptly when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

    She quickly looked up, into the hazel eyes of her dear friend Amanda. She frowned and chuckled when she saw Gwen's alerted expression. 'Did I startle you?' She asked, as she took a seat on the other end of the small table in the teacher lounge. It wasn't lunchtime yet, but the class they had been teaching today was currently working on a creative project with another teacher, allowing Amanda and Gwen to take a long break which had only just started. Amanda had been off to the kitchen for two cups of tea, and there were no other teachers present.

    Gwen smiled. 'Nah, you just caught me off guard.' She replied, and thanked her for the tea. 'Thinking about the mission?' Amanda asked tactfully, with an earnest expression. Amanda was a tall and beautiful woman, a year older than Gwen, with a dark ebony complexion and black, frilly hair. She was calm-natured but also clever and sarcastic, as well as a born teacher- An aspiration she'd had all her life. Her ability to gauge and even influence the collective emotions of multiple individuals was very useful for this.

    Gwen nodded before she took a sip. 'It's just, you know... The buildup. Your mind keeps coming back to it.' She didn't expect her to understand completely as she wasn't a soldier like her, but a plain understanding of worrying and nervosity came a long way. Fear of pain and the experience of mortal pain itself was something she was plenty familiar with, though. Two years ago, she had given birth to her boy Jayden with only minor sedation, nine months after a detestable crime had been inflicted on her. Gwen had personally joined the police team to find the criminal, and she had succeeded- After a showdown in a dark alley in Crimsonia, he had ended up without hair but with a mostly blackened skin. Nonetheless, Amanda loved her son more than anyone in the world.

    'I think I can relate.' She said wittingly, as always not afraid to joke about life.

    'How have the preparations been going?' She asked, and Gwen shrugged. 'As normal, I guess? I've been at the gun range, combat training, magic training... I've been brushing up on my British accent, jogging in Crystal Park.' She summed up. The regime was tiring her out, but at the same time, it was nice to have returned to her normal state of health.

    She noticed a figure in the doorway and looked in the direction of the entrance, Amanda following her gaze. It was Owen, in running attire and with sweat covering his skin and dripping from his hair. He was breathing heavily, and there was a paper bag in his hand. Amanda crinkled her nose, and Gwen laughed. She hadn't seen him this exasperated in a long time. 'Owen! What're you doing here?' She asked. Owen held up the paper bag, then had to bend over forward with his hands on his legs to catch his breath. 'Hospital had... Tuna sandwich... Today... Your favourite.... Thought you'd like.' He tried to explain. Gwen got up and took the bag from his hand. 'You ran all the way here from the hospital to deliver this? Jesus, Owen, your life is worth more than my lunch!' She said, chuckling.

    Owen smiled and flexed. 'Ah, I can use... The exercise.' He replied. 'Enjoy your sandwich.'

    Gwen sighed in disbelief. 'Oh, I will.' She contemplated hugging him, but decided against it. 'Hey, are you available tonight?' He asked. Gwen shook her head apologetically. 'I have some paperwork to do with Amanda. I promised I'd help her out.' Owen nodded. 'Well, it's fine. I might go to a club, or something.' He said. 'Haven't done that in a while.'

    They said their goodbyes and he jogged away again. Something told Gwen that he was going to take it a lot easier on his way back. Gwen put the paper bag in the lunch compartiment of her bag, and once she sat down again, saw the funny look Amanda was giving her. 'What?' She exclaimed. Amanda intensified her ''guuuurl'' look. 'You two are so a couple.' Amanda said. Gwen put her hands up. 'I'm not going to waste any more energy defending myself. If that's what you want to think, so be it.'

    ~~~

    'Gwen!'

    Gwen turned around, and saw her partner approaching with a heavy-looking backpack in his arms. He was dressed in the selection of second-hand clothes that had been delivered to his doorstep the day before; Somewhat tattered jeans, worn black sneakers, a black shirt under a grey sweater and an army-green, long overcoat over that. He was also adorned with a black wool shawl and a a grey beanie hat pulled down over his ears. Down here in the warm leycave it was unbearably hot in outfits like these, but in the frigid London air they would be thankful for the layers of warm, unfashionable clothing.

    Owen ran his fingers over the stubble on his chin and jawline. 'And? Do I look homeless enough?' He inquired. Gwen gave him a sarcastic look. 'Plenty, believe me.' She retorted. Owen chuckled. 'Right back at you, princess. You don't look too shabby yourself... Well, I guess you do!' Gwen raised her arm, ready to slap him, and Owen backed away with his arms in a defensive position and a jolly grin on his face. Gwen shot a jealous glare at the tourist and student impersonators, most of whom were stood in their own little cliques rather awkwardly. The group was larger than Gwen had anticipated; Apparently the backup from other Citadels had decided to join them in Atlantis instead of on the surface as had originally been the idea. It did save time, she had to admit.

    Despite the differences in roles and nationalities, the mood in the group was good. Everyone was nervous, even the adults, and joking around was the best way to relieve tension. The last checks of food, items and people were completed and eventually a voice rang out from further inside the cave. 'Alright, everyone!' The conversations died down. It was a male voice, and deep, most likely belonging to Blake Reed. Their leader, not nearly the oldest of the bunch but nonetheless confident, explained that further information and assignments would be given once they were out on the surface and asked them to follow him through. This was met with praise; No one wanted to spend any more time in the cave, lest they faint.

    Gwen and Owen walked down the cave side by side, runnning their palms across the smooth walls. The air hummed as lines of people focused their energy into the walls and into enveloping their own physical body, and concentrated on their destination. One by one, the energy of each person reached a critical mass and they zapped out of view. They closed their eyes, breathed out and...

    A sharp, dizzying sensation, like being knocked against the head, only without the pain. Gwen and Owen immediately held on to the cave wall to steady themselves, open their eyes, take a deep breath of the much cooler air in this new leycave. They then had to keep walking further up the moderately steep cave floor to make room for those who were behind them.

    The glowing crystals lessened in number and size as they got closer to the more polluted surface, and eventually it got dark enough for them to turn on their flashlights. The air become colder the more they travelled, and finally, they walked out into the starlit night. There were soft ooh's and aah's as people got to see the only partially cloudy sky again after weeks or even months underground. Gwen propped up the collar of her coat against the back of her neck. It'd only been little over a month since she'd last seen the stars, but she had to confess it was a sight that never got old.

    They were standing on a deserted harbor somewhere along the Thames, not too far from London. There were people already standing there who had been waiting for them, experienced streetwalkers, their civil allies- People, almost all of them without abilities, with a daily and usually mundane existence whom the Vanished knew they could trust. They provided accommodation, rations, sometimes even transport. It was a big responsibility, one that could lead to them being erased would They ever find out about them, but they did it anyway. Out of kindness, out of excitement.They made the life of the Vanished so much easier and safer.

    One of their allies stepped out of the shadows towards Blake, shook his hand and they exchanged greetings. Some of the soldiers moved to the edges of the group, looking somewhat weary of the surface dwellers in the area, standing watch just in case anything took place. A couple others were less distrusting and shook hands or chatted with surface friends or acquaintances from previous missions.

    The first night was always about reaching the destination, setting up and organizing and the larger part of the day following included resting for those who were lucky enough to not be issued to start immediately, although they would earn an early night in return. For streetwalkers, your sleeping locations varied between under a bridge, in abandoned buildings, or on camp beds in the basements of allies- Or a real bed in a guest room if you were lucky. Everyone followed their own schedules in certain locations. On this mission, that schedule would consist of patrol, reconnaissance, and eventually, combat.

    Gwen felt something wet on her nose, making it itch, and she wiped it away. She felt it again almost immediately afterwards, and not just on her nose, but all over her face. She looked up at the sky and people all around her did the same thing, including Owen.

    Snowflakes dwindled down from the silent sky, lit by the moon and stars. Some people grumbled and complained about it becoming even colder, but Gwen was mesmerized by just how pretty it looked. How long had it been since she’d last seen snow fall? Not even in Detroit, where it’d already been chilly a month back, had the weather been like this.

    Her attention shifted to Blake when his voice rang out again.
     
  8. "Alright Beta Squad," Blake said with a large breath. "Gather round, because I'm only going to say this one once." As the other Vanished gathered round as Blake asked so, he took a moment to look up at the cozy grey blanket above, showering London with beautiful snowflakes. London. A name very peculiar to Blake, as it brought back a lot of memories. Home. His Family. His Exiling from society. Now wasn't the time for deep thinking however - people were waiting for a briefing.

    "Now I'm sure you guys all know why we're exactly here. General Noire has debriefed me, and I intend to do the same. One of the manufacturing sites for the devices currently being developed is somewhere in London. However, due to the covert nature of the surface, we're not entirely sure where this factory lies. Because of this, the mission is going to be spread across two phases;"

    Blake brought an index finger up, looking about as focused as a sleepy child in a lesson.

    "Phase one will work out exactly how a normal streetwalking assignment would work - the streets could be filled with any level of threats, so for the time being we're going to get a vague idea of what's exactly in the city that could pose any danger to us. After that, Phase two. Phase two will follow up from using what we've learned to eventually track down this facility. Once we've found it, planning and infiltration shall be worked out as soon as. So, for those of you who don't know how streetwalking missions go, we're gonna need to pair up. Feel free to jump with whoever you feel comfortable with."

    As Blake nodded and people bustled around to partner up, Blake leaned back on a railing and looked back up at the snow coming down. Everything he'd just said sounded so causal - nothing like how some of the generals would sound. Why Noire wanted Blake as a leader he'd never understand. Sure, Blake had done a lot of feats worth commending, but his person was definitely not suited for that of a leadership role. Maybe being in command would be something he came to get a grasp of as this mission went underway. Blake was a literal man of wonder, from his perspective anyways. For the most part, especially at times like these, all he would do is stir and think to himself.

    Was this the right way to act at the moment, though? If this mission fell apart, not only would good Atlantian troops be lost - the future of the rest of The Vanished would be completely at stake. It was whilst Blake thought about this, he hadn't realised a certain person coming up behind him.
     
  9. As Jack exited the ley cave, he found himself as part of the group staring up at the sky and at the falling snow. Even after having lived in Chicago, where it snowed frequently, seeing the white crystals fall from the sky was a sorely missed sight. It was a rare pleasure that only soldiers got to experience. Just seeing the sky again was a treat in itself. Being underground for so long could do that. Honestly, focusing on the sky was a much less unsettling idea than focusing on just why he was here.

    During the briefing, he had wondered just what kind of mission would require such a large number of soldiers. Well,the fate of all the Vanished seemed an appropriate reason. They had created a way to artificially strip the Vanished of their abilities. It was up to the soldiers to make sure they didn't lose the one advantage they had that kept them alive. Their natural abilities were the only reason the Vanished had lasted as long as they had. Without them, they were sitting ducks. So, if they failed it was only the end of the Vanished as a whole, no pressure.

    The charged atmosphere surrounding this mission already had Jack on edge, so their present company didn't help his nerves. Like many of the Vanished, Jack wasn't entirely happy to be around "normal" humans. It wasn't that he didn't trust them... ok, he didn't trust them. The people that had been trying to wipe out the Vanished were exactly the same, but at least these people had proven that they were moderately trustworthy. Regardless, Jack stood near the fringe,keeping an eye on their "allies". He was glad to see he wasn't the only one with the idea. While many of the Vanished greeted the streetwalkers warmly, a few others did the same as Jack, keeping watch and a safe distance. Nice to see paranoia still being put to good use in the world.

    Blake Reed, the leader for this misson, spoke over the assembled group, drawing everyone's attention. "Now I'm sure you guys all know why we're exactly here. General Noire has debriefed me, and I intend to do the same. One of the manufacturing sites for the devices currently being developed is somewhere in London. However, due to the covert nature of the surface, we're not entirely sure where this factory lies. Because of this, the mission is going to be spread across two phases;"

    "Phase one will work out exactly how a normal streetwalking assignment would work - the streets could be filled with any level of threats, so for the time being we're going to get a vague idea of what's exactly in the city that could pose any danger to us. After that, Phase two. Phase two will follow up from using what we've learned to eventually track down this facility. Once we've found it, planning and infiltration shall be worked out as soon as. So, for those of you who don't know how streetwalking missions go, we're gonna need to pair up. Feel free to jump with whoever you feel comfortable with."

    Jack hung back as people started to pair up. People would most likely go with someone they knew, or someone that paired well with their skills or lack thereof. Jack was doing the same. He was looking for someone who wasn't scrambling around, who seemed confident enough to go solo. That would be an effective pairing for him, since his abilities meant whomever he was paired with would be on their own for the most part. By the time he had noticed someone, most of the group had already paired up. As he approached the person, he realized it was Blake Reed. He seemed to be deep in thought.

    Jack cleared his throat, and introduced himself to the mission leader. "Hi there Commander Reed! Seems we waited a little to long to partner up. It seems your stuck with a Recon Rover like me, Jack Sawyer by the way." Jack said, jokingly using the slang term for the animal transformation recon squad. He extended his hand in greeting to his CO, and hopefully, his partner. Jack sked casually, "So, are you familiar with the area?"
     
  10. Mr.RMA

    Mr.RMA Magearna before it was cool

    The roll call, contrary to Cleve’s initial worries, ended up going without a hitch, as he had realized by the time his turn came around that he could just take off his controversial piece of attire before he stood up, which, of course, he did. However, once he had returned to his seated position, he was quick to put it back on, as to avoid leaving it behind, something that would’ve likely proven quite devastating had he done so…

    After all, it wasn’t like a trench coat of that notability would go unrecognized for long.

    Yes, Cleve was, in fact, sporting the very uniform of the people he had sworn to fight against since the realization over who he really was, and he rarely thought twice about it. He wore it all the time, publically, privately, most every time he went out somewhere, be it in the citadel or out on the surface for a mission. Obviously, he got a lot of backlash from his fellow Vanished for this decision, with a number of…creatively verbal…comments thrown his way on a regular basis by some, and absolutely no acknowledgement from others. One could almost consider him an outcast of the outcasts in this vein, but fortunately for Cleve, not everyone was so unforgiving about the whole thing, and he had made a number of acquaintanceships throughout his term underground. Friends on the other hand…well…perhaps someday someone could fulfill that role.

    Concern over personal issues, however, wasn’t exactly first priority at the moment, as Noir had already gone underway with the mission briefing, causing Cleve to get himself into a somewhat more upright slouch in an effort to appear a little more attentive…by his standards at least. He’d have been lying if he said he wasn’t at all nervous over just what the general was going on about, this device of Theirs bothering him mostly in particular, but even as many of the other soldiers started to bicker amongst themselves, he remained silent, his outer expression hiding his true concern with a sense of apathy. He continued listening intently as Noir went about describing his plan of action: three groups of ten to search through three facilities in different locations, likely destroying each of them in the process. Seemed fairly clear-cut, even if this specific mission had a far more critical level of importance than previous ones.

    Once Noir started moving towards subjects like supplies, accommodation and the like, Cleve allowed his mind to wander, choosing to let one of his soon-to-be associates fill him in on all this later. No need to remember something that others could remember for him. During this time, he started to think about the possible locations these facilities could be located in, leaning back in his chair as he let the possibilities roam in his mind. Obviously, he was hoping for an urban environment, American-urban would be nice in particular, but he wasn’t expecting to get his wish. He hadn’t gotten any action in the big cities over there for at least a month now, and this assignment was likely not going to change any of that.

    Eventually, after the usual “Mission Secrecy” lecture, the meeting came to a close, and the crowd of people started to make towards the exits. Cleve, however, stayed put for a moment, watching the masses stray for a few seconds before letting out a quiet sigh, then leaning further back on his chair, letting his feet leave the floor as the chair fell backwards, allowing himself to fall back with it…yet while the chair hit the floor with a slight thud, the Vanished that had occupied it had disappeared from sight, or at least, plain sight. If one looked more closely, they’d see that the young man’s shadow was still present beside the fallen chair, presenting a flat, ground-bound, silhouette of Cleve standing up and walking towards the crowded exit, slipping beneath the feet of the three-dimensional folks slowly pushing their way out. Once he was ahead of the crowd, Cleve emerged from his shadow, leaping back on his feet and walking casually away from the meeting area, beginning his quiet journey back home…alone as usual.

    ---
    It was a humble little abode, fairly quaint where location was concerned, positioned in the very northern outskirts of the Atlantis citadel. The previous owner had been going through hell just to get a reasonable buyer for the lonely structure, and he was more than happy to hand it over to Cleve at a bargain of a price, just to get rid of it. It turned out to be the perfect place for the former Brooklynite: A small brick building, looking much like an old city apartment, or the office of some PI. The interior seemed to represent the latter for the most part, with the dull lighting, sepia furniture, and overall cold atmosphere…metaphorically and literally. Thanks to the two crystals he always wore to keep his powers available for any occasion, one as a ring on his right ring finger, the other as a brooch attached to the beige button-up he wore under his jacket, his place of residence was almost always very chilly, and very dark. It mattered not, of course, to the man who had a natural affinity for such elements, and if his attire didn’t already prove the point that he wasn’t exactly a social butterfly, then his living space sure did.

    Opening the door to his study, the darkest and coldest room of them all, in no small part due to all the time he spent there, Cleve took a seat behind the desk he had positioned near the glass door that led to the balcony, leaning back as he viewed the rest of the city in the distance. He had to admit…even if he couldn’t stand the thought of being cooped up in the citadel for the rest of his life; it really did look quite nice on occasion, this particular evening being one of them. Everything felt quiet, serene, and safe…sensations he once felt he’d never experience again for a time.

    ---

    The two weeks passed by quickly and uneventfully, and the eve of the mission had now arrived, and Cleve was, per usual, sitting motionless in his study. After a few moments of pure silence, he got up from his chair and reached for his saxophone leaning against the table, stepping out onto the balcony. He had gotten the brass woodwind while on a mission in The Bronx roughly a year ago, snagging it when he found it near a tattered music shop in his desire to finally own something that reminded him of home, and wouldn’t be so frowned upon by this society he was now a part of. Since then, it became a tradition of his to play the instrument every night before a mission, playing any tune that came to mind that particular evening. At first, due to his initial musical inexperience, most of the “tunes” were just jumbled notes and broken melodies, but he eventually taught himself to play simple songs, gradually working up to more complex pieces. By this point, he had gotten to be pretty good at the craft, and he was now able to play a number of songs by ear. He was no Jimmy Dorsey, but he didn’t care, so long as he could get himself caught in the music. Tonight’s performance was Coldplay’s “Paradise” (and yes, he was well aware of the irony). The sounds of the instrument echoed through the citadel, traveling towards the more populous reaches of Atlantis. It wasn’t uncommon for Cleve to hear people commenting on his mini-recitals the next day on his way to the cave, most completely unaware that he was the musician in question. That was just how he liked it though. No need to garner any possible reputation from it all…not when his current infamy was already pretty much set in stone.

    ---

    The day of the mission started up like many previous ones, Cleve making his way to the cave alone, with his usual attire. He understood this was a “walker” mission (He despised the term streetwalker, due to the particular…erm…business, many of that term conducted), but he wasn’t going to go get a complete change of wardrobe for a single outing…and anyways, that trench coat of his proved a valuable asset more often than not. As he always said, it was indeed a practical form of reconnaissance, and if he was being seen around the others, They would likely have their suspicions eased and more often than not leave them alone, should they accidently pass by any of Them.

    Once he arrived, he avoided getting into any sort of discussion with any of the others, walking off towards the quietest spot within the cave in which he could still listen for the group leader’s orders. He started running the content of the files he had been given in his head: He was placed in the Beta group, their destination being central London…yup, just as he thought, an entire ocean away from his preference…all of them going for the whole homeless look…well, that’s what the papers said at least. He’d be going as his usual self, under his own disguise, along with his own natural stealth abilities. This had bothered some of his colleagues before, but due to how his success rate consistently remained high, most just looked the other way now.

    Once they were all given the OK to go, Cleve just let out a light sigh before following after the leader, a younger boy by the name of Blake Reed, deeper into the cave, going through the whole leyline process. Stepping out of this new cave, reaching the surface world once again, he took in a deep breath as he stared up into the sky like many of the others, he himself relishing the cooler climate of the area. He was quick to notice the falling snow, particularly due to the flakes near him swirling around him like he was caught up in some kind of snowstorm-typhoon. He hastily shook off the intervening slush, brushing off his coat and walking off on his own to survey for any possible trouble. He didn’t put much thought into who he’d pair up with, seeing how he knew that in this even number of Vanished, one of them would eventually prove to be the odd one out, and that person would have to be stuck with him, whether they liked it or not.
     

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