Four Criminals Walk Into A Space Station...

Anders Nazret

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Station Elbrecht was situated in the star lanes between Mesa Roja and Erde Nona. It was an old government installation. Which government? Well, no one really remembered. Whichever institution had a vested interest in the station had long since dissolved or simply ceased caring about the station’s fate. For a long while it was not much more than a floating space hulk that had been gutted for anything valuable. Carcasses of industry, however, always left behind a skeleton. This skeleton was what had interested Zanzibar. With no established owner all he had to do was move in and claim it as his own. It took more than a few favors (and a lot of money), but he managed to rebuild Station Elbrecht.

Officially it was marketed as a resort. And, that was true. Station Elbrecht had all manner of entertainment - from zero-G waterpark to quantum spa, and even a well-stocked zoo. Businessmen would be sent to broker deals in Elbrecht’s luxurious conference rooms; while travelers frequented the several world-class restaurants Elbrecht had to offer. Of course, this wasn’t all the station had to offer. There was a reason Zanzibar chose a station that was so far from planetary jurisdiction. There was money to be had in offering things that no one else could offer legally. Prostitution, drugs, arms, and all sorts of black market offerings were not only sanctioned by Zanzibar, but ultimately controlled by him as well.

Naturally his security was quite formidable. Pirates, after all, were a real threat out in the fringes of space. He kept an employ of bounty hunters and mercenaries. They were there to keep the peace, but also to nab anyone visiting with a price on their head. With state-of-the-art facial recognition surveillance every single person that entered Elbrecht was silently run through a database. Most came back with little more than unpaid parking tickets. Occasionally, however, some unwitting criminal would arrive looking to partake in what Elbrecht had to offer. Without any laws in place to limit rules of engagement Zanzibar’s hunters were able to employ whatever tactic they saw fit. Be it neurotoxin slipped into food, dream curses, or good ol’ fashioned stun guns. Considering their quarry usually had no clue they were being hunted (and were usually sauced up by whatever illegalities they decided to pursue), Zanzibar’s hunters had a 100% success rate.

It was for this reason that his advisor approached him that day. Zanzibar himself was nursing a head cold, and watching the latest episode of Days of Our Hives - a soap opera centered around a sentient hive of humanoid bee people. Just as DiMarcio was about to confess his love for the Queen Angelisa (which was a terrible faux-pa in bee people culture), Zanzibar’s advisor burst in. With a sigh Zanzibar paused the program and turned towards the young man. His advisor, William, was a tweedy man - anal retentive and bookish in all the right ways. William held out a tablet with a video feed of Elbrecht’s space dock.

“What am I looking at?” Zanzibar said, taking a moment to blow his nose.

“Some new arrivals,” William answered, obviously excited. When Zanzibar didn’t respond he followed up expectantly, “Don’t you recognize them?”

Zanzibar furrowed his brow. He grabbed the tablet and studied the video feed. He was an imposing man, though he rarely used this intentionally. His skin was a deep red-brown with purple crystalline growths. Technically he was half human, but his Tentorian lineage all but washed that away - save for opposable thumbs which he greatly appreciated. In the feed he saw four people exit a ship and then converse amongst themselves. Whether it was the cold medicine or ignorance he recognized not a single one of them.

“Should I recognize them?” He finally surrendered.

Should you?” He repeated, “Boss, between the four of them they’re worth nearly 10,000 coins - if we bring them in we can probably afford those renovations on Splashland that you’ve been eyeing.”

He was hoping to get the quantum jacuzzi installed before Erde spring break. Still, it was hard to work up excitement with just how congested he was. Plus, he felt a bit blue-balled having to pause DiMarcio’s confession like that. After a few moments to collect himself he finally spoke, “Just go ahead and handle it William, send whoever you’d like after them, just don’t bother me again - please, my head is pounding.

--

Anders scowled as a pack of over-excited businessmen poured from their space-ferry and rushed past him. In their frat-boy excitement they had drifted dangerously close to the swordmage’s personal bubble. Flashing neon signs advertised every available service, alongside holographic displays, and interactive kiosks. Between the chittering of vacationers and the shrill warbling of advertisements he wasn’t sure which was more obnoxious.

“This place is barbaric,” Anders grunted.

Demetri patted him on the back and said, “A bit too much stimulation for you, old man?”

“I can handle stimulation,” He explained, “But this… cacophony is migraine-inducing, how are you supposed to find anything when everything is pulling you in a different direction?”

“Come now, this is not so bad,” the rogue answered with a hint of smug amusement, “I guarantee our little jailbreak will be a thousand times more chaotic.” He was swiftly elbowed in the side by his diminutive, silver-masked partner, and scoffed a grunt in surprise.

Anders looked for support from Aquarius, but the automaton simply shrugged. What was there to say? Elbrecht was as advertised on the tin, loud, exciting, and home to every unconscionable thing you could imagine.

“That does not fill me with confidence,” Anders noted, “But, let’s get this over with.”

In preparation for said jailbreak they would need supplies - supplies sold in abundance on Station Elbrecht. Weaponry, cryptojacks, and all other sorts of bits and bobs designed to make busting out a jailbird effortless. Secondary to this supply run was information gathering. Nightingale and Shadow mentioned they had a contact with links to Arcadia on board. Whether this contact was a businessman looking to get his nose wet or a government official meant little to Anders. He had not the mind for such clandestine things and resolved to defer to their expertise.
 

Masahir N'air

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The Nightingale sighed quietly from behind her mask as she brushed past the Shadow and came up beside Nazret. “All of the technobabble can be overwhelming, yes?” Her gloved hand gestured broadly at the flashing advertisements and constantly mumbling speakers. The firebrand simply nodded, grunting a short affirmative, so she continued. “You will learn to focus through it, because you are a man of great discipline. Concentrate, focus on precisely what it is you are looking for and start from there.”

The protrusions of her hood twitched as her ears inside scanned across the myriad of noise surrounding their group. To her right she heard the humming chime of automated shopkeepers announcing various deals, amoralistic in nature or not; the drumming shuffle of countless footsteps flowing in a ragtime rhythm; an elevator slid open with a crying ding!. To her left she heard the constant burble of endless conversation layering atop each other; a low sizzling hiss and still more pleasantries from merchants to customers. All around them the whirr of ceiling fans and ducts moved and purified the air around the station’s closed system, and a radio station played easy-listening jazz.

“Our contact says they are currently busy with a client.” The Shadow stated as he moved to the front of the group and made to encourage them forward. “We can make ourselves busy gathering up what we came to get until they finish. I trust we all brought our shopping lists along?”

The rogue’s silver eyes glanced from Anders, who seemed busy trying to narrow his focus, to the always terse Aquarius. “We will be in touch if anything changes, aye? ... Good talk.” He followed up after a slightly awkward silence from the three introverts.

The two heralds moved off to inspect an informational sign board, while the thiefly duo began wandering off to the right, the Nightingale trailing close behind the rogue. She was busy between checking her communicator and making sure she wasn’t about to walk headfirst into someone or some unfortunate kiosk. The mask made it hard to decipher her thoughts- until she reached forward to catch his wrist with a small, near inaudible gasp. He quirked a brow as he slowed to a stop and turned to eye her curiously. “Something the matter?”

“It is good news,” her voice was low and sultry, her vowels stretched with what he had come to recognize as excitement. “This one thinks he will be quite pleased in fact~”

“Oh~? What, has one hell of a job lead landed on our laps?”

Her rasping chuckle reverberated just a smidge behind her mask. “No, not quite, though it is equally good, if not better in her opinion. Here.” The Nightingale offered her communicator out to him. When he scrolled he took in the information: documentation and legal paperwork. “The deed she got ahold of. She had it legally cleared and purchased.”

The feline twined an arm around his and swiped a finger across her screen, bringing up several photos of the estate for him to peruse. Sandstone structures framed either side of a cobbled path, patched up fine with plaster and daub; a thick stone wall surrounded and gated off the mouth to the valley; scenic waterfalls slinked over cliffs and lounged around as a blue-watered oasis. The thief nodded, taking a moment to appreciate each image before handing the device back. “Looks nice. Did you get tired of living inside of Uruk’s walls?”

The khajiit sneak-thief kept stride with him as he resumed his pace. “Uruk has its perks... And its downsides. The cameras lining the corners are... suffocating, to say the least. Tedious to move around at times. She was thinking it would be easier to expand and run our dear guild once out from under its endless gaze. Besides, the more space, the less questions, and all the better for us~”

“Think that you will miss the hustle and bustle of a city?”

She fell quiet for a moment, studying the man next to her. Over the last several days she had heard him go on about his crew, his old ship, interesting jobs he had done, the times he spent getting lucky while gambling in the underground... But never once had he mentioned a home he was proud of, or a family that he loved. He kept his talks light and easy, easy to answer and easy to get out of, regardless of the darkness plaguing him.

“No, out there she will finally be free to look up and enjoy the light of each star, unwashed from the city lights. This one will still keep her business in Uruk, but she will likely spend most of her free time in this new place. Besides, she has heard whispers that the waters of the oasis are blessed with healing properties, she is looking forward to the spa days in her future~” She snickered.

“Sounds wonderful, I will make sure to drop by and visit- just make sure you remember to invite me over for dinner some nights, yeah?” He smirked, giving her a nudge with his elbow.

Ra shook her head, scoffing in jest. “Why would she have to do that~?”

As if on queue the man dramatically clutched at the dark leathers on his chest and spun to face her, now walking backwards at the same pace. He made a sweeping gesture with his free hand. “How cold-”

“Does he have a place to stay besides the bunkroom of his crew’s ship or the inn rooms of his nightly lovers, or is he really a rough-sleeping bum?” She cut in with a prickle at his expense, not even bothering to let him start in his theatrics.

“A dastardly pirate lives his life on the run sweetheart~” He took the dart in stride.

“Running from inn to inn? Then maybe he needs somewhere steady he can lie low and rest between his fleet footed escapades with the law, hrm~?”

“I have always managed to survive with my cunning and wit, but I certainly would be a fool to turn down such a prime offer~”

“Then purrhaps there is plenty of space for him to make his home alongside her and our guild.” She chuckled dryly, her tone softening as if to tune back down to sincerity. “Our Thieves’ Oasis will always be open to you at no cost, varzeva. This one only asks that he split the costs of recruitment with her, and pay his dues to the coffers when he can spare the generosity. Find his own ways to take care of our investment. A very reasonable and fair deal this wise Nightingale thinks, yes sleek one?”

“Far too fair a deal to spare taking~” There was a certain extra bounce to his swanker as he glanced behind them, reaching out to take his partner’s hand and pull her along with him into a rather industrial looking weapons store. The walls were made of corrugated metal sheets, display stands were fashioned from harsh, cold steel shelving units, the till-counter was some sort of amalgamation of reclaimed scrap wood above a glass display case. All manner of guns, large, small and even highly explosive, lined the walls and displays, along with knives, cyber katanas, grenades and even military grade C4.

Taking it all in, the teensy display rack beside the register that boasted bubblegum and business cards seemed nearly misplaced in its disarming cuteness. The cashier (a burly man whose body clearly served as an artistically inclined canvas) eyed them up skeptically, wary of their clear cloak-and-dagger aesthetic, though the heavily tatt’d up man had encountered others dressed similarly in this line of work.

“Good~ Most agreeable,” the Nightingale started, her eyes instantly drawn towards a display of finely crafted knives and daggers. “This one can make sure to handle the finances, and he can handle the ‘people’ side of things. He is extroverted and sociable enough, certainly.”

The rogue chuckled, keen to notice where his partner’s masked gaze fell. “Of course~ You see a pretty new dagger you fancy~?”

The Nightingale shrugged. “It would probably only be a collectible.” She held her hand up in front of him and in a wisp of dark green shadows a cruel looking rubedite dagger appeared. Her signature assassination weapon of choice, if he had to bet. He peered at it, enamored by how the crimson of the blade caught the light and almost seemed to be made from languidly flowing blood. “Eight-claws is hard to best. See how sleek her lines are, how dreadfully sharp her blade? She is a flawless instrument, without peer, perfectly crafted for her intended purpose...”

“A fine looking dagger you got there.” The shopkeeper interjected without invitation. The barrel chested man was leant forward on the glass display counter, his thick dark beard was long and scruffy as it jutted out. “Rarely see something of such a quality. I’d be more that willing to take it off your hands, trade it up for something a bit... more.”

“... And it is a prized gift from a goddess well-served. Irreplaceably unique.” The feline answered bluntly, clearly very disinterested in any sort of ‘trade’ mentioned. She turned back to her partner.

“Lady Noctra?” The rogue inquir-

“Ah, a divine weapon. Seen a few of those in my time, no stranger to moving around relics. I could cut you in on a nice price for it.” The shopkeep was not getting the hint.

The assassin let a low snarl escape to signal her increasing annoyance with the man, who promptly put his hands up plaintively. “A good merchant knows when to drop an offer, so drop it.” With nothing more than a twiddle of her fingers, Eight-claws vanished.

“Okay, okay, no need to get all feral on me.” The merchant grumbled, moving off to assist a less ornery customer for the time being.

“Talk about being catty.” The Shadow chuckled.

She turned back to her fellow Guildmaster, who was casually contemplating the back wall of handguns, and decided to allow the cat pun to slide. “One should never call upon the lady of mysteries before altering the census. It brings unconquerable darkness upon the soul.”

“Thought you liked the darkness, sugar.”

The feline clasped her hands behind her back in parade rest. “She does, but not the unfathomable kind that sticks to one’s soul like tar and oil to damn you in the afterlife. Such prayers should be made out to Mafala or Boethra, instead.”

“And what are they the gods of? Heard you mention Mandala before in your murder-club.” The Shadow asked a bit idly as he moved to inspect a very nice looking set of throwing knives.

“Dark clan-mother Mafala is the web-spinning prince of whispers and secrets, of course.” The Nightingale stated, as if it were common and basic knowledge everyone should know. “She records all eternal shame and hidden guilt for one’s transgressions and affairs. Boethra is the sharp-tongued patron of rebellious warriors and exiles, though many know them as the betrayer god, she-who-erases, he-who-devours. The Prince of Plot and Betrayal. A ravenous hunger that seeks to consume all others in order to get ahead. A fitting god-patron for the slave-taking Mormer.” There was such a distinctly disgusted hiss to her tone at the mention of slaving that the rogue beside her would have been utterly tone-deaf to miss.

He did not. He simply chose not to press it, lest he open a door that could not be so easily shut.

“What, an assassin who is not a fan of the murder-god? I am nothing short of shocked, darling.” The Shadow teased sarcastically, running a finger along the broadside of a throwing knife and testing its weight in his palms.

“Boethra consumes like a glutton, without any greater purpose than their own hedonistic pleasure, and this one thinks Sangiin is much better suited as a god of hedonism than the Destroyer.” The woman answered matter-of-factly, observing how her partner went about inspecting his potential gear. “He throws much better parties, at the very least.”

“Can a mere mortal man catch an invite, or are those parties exclusive?”

The feline snorted, the noise hollow and canned sounding from under her mask. “Sure, maybe we will come across the god of hedonists and thrill seekers at the next bar we stop at, and beat him in a drinking contest to win invitations.”

The rogue scoffed, smirking as he chuckled. “Maybe indeed.”
 

Aquarius

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Even with his ability to see with the eye of a machine, Aquarius found himself nigh as overloaded as his compatriot. A place of unnecessary hedonism that swelled with delusions of grandeur. If it could see itself perhaps this station would recognize its own pointless lunacy. It wasn't even built in a way to be traversed easily but perhaps deterioration of such a thing has sprung from the over-populace of the place. It was difficult for him to note anything beyond the heads of so many people walking in front of them.

They'd luckily reached the information board without much struggle. Most people here seemed to be drawn into shops at random or were veterans of places like this. A place without lush openness and walls that gave breathing room like their old home had. To not be distracted by the crossing noises flooding from every corner, Aquarius placed a lone finger on the board and dragged to each individual item until he found something that would be worth their time.

He looked back to Anders. The man was seemingly forming a migraine from the tumult.

"I know." Aquarius spoke with as understanding a tone as his mechanical cords would allow. "The swifter we deal with this the swifter we're gone."

Anders nodded. "Right." He said in agreement. The assassin had been right after all. If they could just focus on the tasks at hand than there would be no time to take in the sights and sounds for much longer.

Aquarius continued perusing the board until something caught his attention. A place named Bing-Bang-Boom. What was so odd about the entry was that it seemed to be an added one. One not sanctioned by the government intended to watch this place over but rather a place implemented by the denizens of this area and written in crudely onto this information board.

From the sounds of it;

"Black market demolitions." Aquarius said aloud. Anders turned his head to the automaton, finally able to break free of the thoughtless clamors.

They nodded at each other and took off in its direction.


---

"Aye you uh still talking to that dame? Fuck I don't remember her name." The stoic man with a cigarette in his mouth leaned against an alleyway wall talking to the other man across from him.

"What, you mean Alicia? Nah, she got her head cut off in a star race."

"Jesus man, how can you be so candid about that shit?"


The other man shrugged, flipping his communicator up and down in his hand to calm his own fidgets. Only stopping when the crackle of a voice broke through.

"Yo it's William. You there, Notty?" The man named Notty caught his communicator one last time, a cheap and old model, putting to his lips as he looked into the eyes of the man smoking a cigarette.

"What it is it?" William never bothered him much unless money was to be made. And he was no slouch either. A job from William was one well worth the effort.

"Some new arrivals. I'm sending you the pics. Gather your guys and get on it. This is a big one."

The photo from the stations cams was low quality but enough to make out what they looked like. Notty's expression changed, as did the parallel man as he was shown the pictures. They said nothing as the rest of their crew stood up from the alleys shadows. In unison, the group of men donned long haired Oni masks, turned the safeties off their weapons, and left in different directions.
 

Demetri Malius

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Through the clear glass of the shop window, Demetri could make out a small troop of security guards roaming about, scanning the crowd. His criminal senses tingled as he glanced over to Ratima.

“Heads up, kitten,” he started as he peeked around one of the shelves. “Whatever you are buying, make it quick.”

The khajiit’s ears twitched as she followed his gaze. “That is a lot of muscle for just handling shoplifters,” she noted aloud. “Think they caught wind of the price on our heads?”

“You never know, sometimes all it takes is a greedy security head looking for their next paycheck and they’ll send the whole station after you.”

“You talk as if from experience, sleek one~”

“I’ve managed to avoid getting caught,” he spoke with a smirk as he lifted a small trinket off of the shelf and headed to the self-checkout. “It’ll take more than some underpaid security force to take on thieves like us anyways.” He slipped a card out of his sleeve and passed it on the register after scanning the item.

“What, no sleek tricks for the space merchants?” Ratima asked with a smirk, surprised that the man was actually paying for whatever merchandise he just slipped into his pocket.

“They’re smart up here, good stuff won’t get activated unless the transaction is verified. Not attached to my name exactly, but without it, all you are taking is scrap metal and cursed jewelry.”

“And what is his plan for slipping past security? Not that she would have any trouble, but this one is curious about your strategy.”

“Well, how about a little bit of public affection to start out with?” The thief spoke with a smirk as he reached an arm around and pulled her in closer to him, similar to another couple approaching them. Demetri’s eyes shone with a hint of magic as he scanned to look for camera angles, and waited for the opportune moment.

The woman held her head to her lover’s chest, and hardly paid any attention to the fur that suddenly came out of her ears as she nuzzled her head into him. The man grew a beard upon his previously bare face, and the features they once naturally wore had been stolen without a bat of an eye.

Instead, Ratima and Demetri had become them, a cute and innocent couple going about their business. It wouldn’t last long, but it would give them enough time to regroup with the other half of the crew.

“Hmmm, this one is not sure if she likes the visage of bare skin upon herself. It feels so unnatural.”

“And I haven’t been barefaced since I was a young lad, yet here I am. I’ll make you a prettier disguise when we aren’t avoiding detection, alright kitten~?” The khajiiti woman gave a bit of a huff, while begrudgingly hiding the upward turn of the corner of her lips. It was clear that she would remember this and hold him to his words.

The security team closed in, clearly receiving updates to the whereabouts of their targets as they scanned the space mall. With their disguise fully in place, Demetri flicked his finger and cast a spell to the officer in front.

Through the eyes of the officer, Demetri could see himself and Ratima in the edge of their vision, not even on their radar as they walked past each other. The officer glanced at the other three with him, and gave a nod. “Status on the dark-haired one and the cat?”

A voice came in through the headset they wore. “Looks like they noticed you, they started heading in the opposite direction. They are trying to play it straight, don’t let them get too far.”

“Alright, let’s pick up the pace, split up and let’s get them before the food court. Cover the flanks and don’t let them slip through.”

After they moved to a jog, gathering a bit more attention from the passersby, they reached just out of the rogue’s range.


“Like a charm~” he boasted to his partner, a smug smile on his face as he pursed his lips for a kiss. Her response was a push from her hairless human fingers as she pushed his face away.

“Kiss me when we grow our hair back sleek one, it is uncanny.” She frowned and narrowed her eyes.

“Alright, alright, let me give Anders a buzz and make sure we meet the contact and get out of here before they realize those two lovebirds are just as lost as they are…”
 

Anders Nazret

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Anders and his companion followed the information board’s directions and came to an alleyway. Bing-Bang-Boom seemed to be nonexistent. Even the alleyway was entirely too narrow, as if it hadn’t actually been planned to exist. On one side sat an internet cafe and the other was some sort of hyper-salon specializing in extradimensional hairdos. The two Arcadians stood outside the alleyway, neither of them especially excited about the prospect of squeezing into a dark and tight passageway.

“We will need heavy and specialized ordinance if our plan is to succeed,” Aquarius noted.

“Indeed,” Anders said, “Ideally from a discrete, professional, and untraceable supplier.”

They both continued staring down the darkened alley. It was generous to even refer to it as an alley, it was more like a crevice. They couldn’t even see where it ended. Hell, for all they knew it didn’t have an end. It was quite possible the passageway went right through the entire space station right out into space. Someone stepped out of the salon, their hair crackling with hot-pink lightning. Anders scoffed.

“You go first,” Aquarius said, “As our leader you should be the one to make the introductions.”

“Right…” Anders scowled.

After a few more moments of deliberation Anders stepped forward and slid into the darkened passage. To his surprise, it was not nearly as cramped as he had expected. In fact, it was unusually spacious. He turned around to beckon for Aquarius, but found that the exit had disappeared. In fact everything had disappeared. He was plunged into darkness and felt a sudden wave of nausea. Even the walls on either side of him had fallen away. His ears popped. He blinked. And he was standing inside some sort of storefront. Behind him there was a *pop* like someone snapping bubblegum and Aquarius blinked into existence.

“An unexpected, but pleasant surprise,” Anders noted. They had slipped into some sort of pocket dimension. A handful of dangerous-looking aliens meandered about, each of them examining various types of weaponry. Behind the counter sat a large blob-like alien with several tentacles and splotchy orange-red skin. A universal translator was strapped around its neck, or at least what Anders assumed was its neck. As they approached the alien spoke in a litany of squeaks and grunts and the translator translated using a high-class robotic accent.

”Welcome to Bing-Bang-Boom, where if it doesn’t go bing, it goes bang, and if it don’t go bang then it goes boom! What are you fine folks in the market for?” The blob creature examined them with a yellowed eye perched atop a fleshy stalk, ”Say you two look familiar, have you been here before?”

“We have not,” Anders answered, his eyes examining various weapons inside the glass display counter.

“We’re looking for breaching charges, and anything else you might recommend,” Aquarius added.

“Right, right, well we have all sorts of breaching charges,” The shopkeeper answered, using a noodle appendage to grab a cylindrical device, “This is the Flerx 5000, it rips open a semi-stable wormhole through just about anything that doesn’t have trans-dimensional shielding. Quiet as a space whale and once deactivated leaves no visible trace - 60,000 coins.”

“60,000 coins?” Aquarius exclaimed.

“Semi-stable?” Anders asked simultaneously.

“Well, nothing is ever 100%,” The alien explained, In laboratory settings the Flerx 5000 had a less than .01% chance of scattering your particles to the atomic winds. Safer than C4 if you ask me, and less messy. Normally 60,000, but for you - friend discount, 55,000 coins.”

Anders and Aquarius shared a look before the latter said, “Perhaps, something a bit more… mundane.”

”Ah, yes, yes, yes, breaching on a budget, of course my friends of course,” The alien reaching for another device, but something behind the desk beeped. It’s eyestalk lowered to examine whatever beeped before staring at Anders first and Aquarius second. The alien set the device on the counter and said, ”Just a moment my friends.” It reached up and turned a dial on its translator collar. With another noodle-arm it brought a communicator up to its body and squeaked and chirped into it. Unfortunately the creature hadn’t turned the communicator off. Instead, it had turned the wrong dial and cranked the volume up. It broadcasted, ”THEY ARE HERE RIGHT NOW, COME THROUGH THE FRONT ENTRANCE.”

There was a *pop* behind them as someone else entered the hidden space. Anders turned, just in time to see a tether of orange lightning spring from the newcomer’s wrist and wrap around Anders’s throat. A beat later Anders fell to the ground as his body was overloaded with 50,000 volts of electricity. The newcomer’s face was covered by a ceramic mask painted to resemble a glowering oni. Broad-shoulder and covered in cybernetic augments he pulled his electric lasso tight, sliding the convulsing Anders across the ground. Steam exhaled from his joints and he leveled a pistol towards Aquarius.

If Aquarius could have smirked he would have. Such crude engineering strapped onto an overburdened and unnecessarily large frame. It was child's play to sidestep the assassin's first round, and by the time he had a bead for the second round Aquarius was upon him. What he didn’t account for was that his assailant would discard his pistol. Instead, as Aquarius moved in to strike, the assassin moved in as well, catching Aquarius’s face in his servo-powered grip. The next moment he was introduced to the ground. Crude and brutish, but quite effective when applied to the face.

Anders clawed at the mono-wire filament tight against his throat. Every few moments another surge of electricity would send him spasming against the ground. Purple splotches appeared in his vision and he struggled to breath. Even with his fingers worked beneath the garotte the frequent shocks would lock up his lungs and expel what little oxygen he did suck down. Asphyxiation would come within minutes, but he’d lose any combat effectiveness long before then. Another shock. He inhaled sharply, sucking in as much air as he could before the next jolt of lightning. All he needed was one word.

”Wound”

A singular word suffused with arcane power and impossible to ignore escaped from Anders’s lips. It traveled as vibrations through the air until it was received by the android’s audio processor. These thaumaturgic sound waves were processed and enhanced through several thousand computations. So sensitive were his synthetic ears that even though Anders barely whispered the word he heard it loud and crystal clear. That was all the power word needed. There was a twisting, wrenching of reality, almost as if light itself lensed around the assassin. Then a sudden and terrible series of snaps and pops and explosions as synthetic organs burst open.
 

Aquarius

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It never ceased to amaze Aquarius how strong Anders' magic was. It was a beautiful recollection of what Arcadia once knew. Now its magic was but a mockery of what it used to be. The assassin seemed to be in a state where it could no longer fight back. Too bad.

Aquarius leapt upward from his prone position, landing on his feet while his hand reached for Ganymede's sheath. The blade unholstered with an electric whoosh it cut across the attacker's throat, leaving naught but a cauterized nub where his head once was. Its body fell knees first and the mechanical samurai reached for the gun he had dropped. He turned on his heels and pointed it at the amorphous shop keep and putting a thumb on the hammer.

"HEY WAIT WE CAN TALK ABOUT THIS. I HAVE TO MAKE A LIVING YOU KN-"

The incessant volume was enough to make Aquarius' senses nearly overload.

GZZZZ

Ca-chick

GZZZZ

Ca-chick

Two rounds from the pulse revolver fired off into center mass of the blob. Then followed sweet silence. Except for the sounds of several aliens fleeing the pocket space to avoid conflict. The others, more hardened by their journeys, found it amusing and just pocketed what they wanted. Aquarius reached an arm to Anders as the fight ended and lifted him to his feet. The swordmage touched at his neck with a grimace.

"We seem to make friends everywhere we go." Jested Aquarius. Anders wanted to laugh at the statement, but it held a lot of weight. And there was likely more waiting for them outside of the pocket dimension.

"Seems that way." Anders replied. "Perhaps now is a good time to reach out to Nightingale and Shadow."

Aquarius didn’t love the idea but that’s why they hired them, wasn’t it? He reached into his cloak for his communicator. No signal.

“Problem.” Aquarius started. “We likely won’t be able to reach them until we exit the pocket dimension. I doubt they’d send just one of these would-be killers if they know who we are.“

Anders checked his own just for the sake of confirmation. Alas, the outcome was the same. Aquarius was likely right. Meaning they’d either be jumped the moment they exited or have to move quick to avoid that happening. Anders began searching for the exit while Aquarius thought better of leaving this place empty handed. Watching the others take what they needed, well, their group needed something, too. That same charge he'd been told was 60,000 coins now costed him a sweet nothing. Sliding it into his robe he walked back to his ally.

The two walked out of the pocket dimension preparing for the worst but upon reentering the station there were no Oni mask clad cyborgs waiting to pounce. Just the bustle of a city that had lost all sense of the word subtlety. Without a word they began to walk away while Aquarius once again pulled his communicator out;

"Nightingale, Shadow, do you copy?"

---

Demetri reached for his communicator to dial Anders and check their status and the moment it entered his hands a sharp, metallic voice rang from its speaker.

"Nightingale, Shadow, do you copy?"

He smiled at Ra'tima and shrugged.

"And he shall appear, no?" Clicking down he responded,

"Well just where have you two been?"

"Now is not the time. We are being pursued."


The rogues shot each other a knowing glance.

"Details?"

"Unsure of numbers. Adversaries in ornate masks. Weapons are meant for capture. We are going to disappear for the moment. Keep your eyes out. Do not contact us again until we contact you."


With that the robot's voice died out and the world around them faded back in with scattered laughter and shuffling feet. Demetri sighed.

"You don't suppose they can make themselves look like a lovely couple, do you?"

---

Aquarius took point with Anders just behind.

This was his specialty. The tactician in him. He knew places like this. He could find a place for them to lay low and let the heat die. That was if not every place in the station was bugged with proprietors ready to sell them out. The machine's apt eye scanned as quickly as he could with Anders keeping an eye for any sign of the men that were hunting them. So far, nothing. But being stealthily tailed was nowhere near out of the question.

It took a frustratingly long time for Aquarius to finally figure out where they should go. It did appear, however. An outstretched arm pointed to a ramen joint called Slurps Up.

Anders looked quizzically at his comrade.

"Are you sure?"

"It is tucked away, seedy, and cheap. There is a lot of people there. We can blend in."


They nodded at each other. Anders had to trust the automaton. If they split for a moment, it could be death for the both of them. With long strides and a quick gait, the two made it effortlessly into the crammed restaurant and sat down at the bar. Two available seats in the dead middle of rush hour here, putting them both shoulder to shoulder with strangers. An enormous Tri-clops was sat beside Anders, and they briefly made eye contact in an awkward and borderline hostile manner. The Tri-clops snorted Anders' way before turning back to its three bowls of ramen. Fitting.

Aquarius motioned for the owner to take their order and a tan human with dirty blond hair came to their side of the bar.

"Brohalo, amigos! Welcome to Slurp's Up! What can Chazz whip up for a couple of fine fellas like yourselves?" The man spoke with the cadence of someone who'd smoked entirely too much pipe weed and smelled like grease. Anders looked up to meet the man's gaze.

"Is there a menu that I ca-"

"Two of whatever you recommend. Please."
Aquarius interrupted. This Chazz fellow threw a 'hang loose' at the two of them and chuckled the sort of chuckle that made you want to hit the guy.

"Comin' right up, brohemian rhapsodies!"

He turned away and Aquarius leaned in to Anders.

"I apologize for taking your choice away from you. Please forgive me. I just believe it imperative that we do things quickly, blend in as quickly as possible."

"It's fine. Just try and not make a habit of undermining my decisions."

"I swear to you that I will not, after all I have dedicated myself to-"

"HEYA NUTSN' BOLTS."


A third voice broke in through the conversation. The humanoid sitting next to Aquarius spoke with rasp and curiosity. The automaton turned to face a ratfolk pirate staring him dead in the eye.

"Pardon?"

"You ain't gonna eat that shit. Give it t'me."

"What are you talking about?"


The ratfolk rolled his eyes. "The ramen you just ordered. You ain't gonna eat it, are'ya? You'd screw up your circuitry or what the fuck ever. Give't to me."

Aquarius turned slowly in his stool to face Anders who just offered him an equally confused shrug.

"Hey! Cans-fer-brains! I'm tellin' ya' t'give me your ramen! The name's Belladon. Like Belladonna but like for boys, or whatever. I run with gangs out here, y'hear me? Give me your ramen or there's gonna be trouble."

If Aquarius could get a migraine, he'd be sharing the one forming in Anders' head over the entire situation. A loud restaurant with an obnoxious chef, immediately being threatened hollowly. Voices everywhere. Anders looked outside of the restaurant's curtains to focus on anything else when he saw a pair of boots plant themselves in front of the entrance.

The very same worn by their previous attacker. They had indeed been followed here.
 

Masahir N'air

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“It seems our time here runs much shorter than we wished.” The disguised Nightingale remarked tartly. She kept looking at her light skinned hand, turning it over again and again in her studies as if it was one of the most novel things she had experienced.

“What, not used to life on the run kitten?” The equally disguised Shadow chuckled, unphased as he scanned the crowds. A buzz sounded and his keen eyes flicked down to his phone.

A smile curled the corners of his partner’s mouth as he tapped away at the screen. “She has plenty of experience needing to run and lay low, varzeva. It is not her favored method of living, she admits.”

The rogue finished his text and pocketed his phone once more. “Ah, the merchant’s life has spoiled you in retirement, hm?”

“This one values stability a bit too much to run about like a man with his pants on fire. There are plenty of job opportunities for people like us within society, with the right connections.”

“Are you encouraging me to get a desk job, sweetheart~?”

The Nightingale snorted wryly. “No. He would simply expire under the boredom and tedium of the cubical routines. Besides, is he good at math and numbers?”

Shadow seemed to consider for a moment. “I think that I am alright with arithmetic when it comes down to it.”

“Said like a man uncertain of his skill.” She jabbed with a tease.

He cut his eyes at her and smirked. “Darling, I think I am more than confident for the both of us combined.”

“Mm. Mhmm. She believes him.” The response had earned her a demanding tug into his side, as if to pull her back into a more agreeable stance.

“Did you not tell me that you were a woman of great faith~? Learn to believe.”

The Nightingale rolled her eyes, but failed to push back against his grasp. Her far-more-human features made it easier to read the amusement under the sass. “So who is this contact of yours that we must meet?”

The Shadow lowered his voice. “They are known as the Shadow Broker on this side of the Crossroads. Good for avoiding patrols... and setting certain birds free.”

The woman leaned in against his chest. “Information?”

“Aye, and they are never wrong.”

“Never?” She questioned as he looked down at his phone once more.

The man shook his head in agreement, pulling them along with a quicker pace now, a clear destination in mind. “Come on, the broker is done with that client. Let us not keep them waiting...”

He maneuvered them through the crowd, a slithering snake with how he wove between the throngs of people. They slid past vendors and merchants alike, snatching new likenesses at regular intervals to maintain the element of stealth.

No matter how many years the Nightingale had experienced, there was still a heart-racing thrill at slipping past so close to unsuspecting but alert guards, and for a moment she was glad she seemed tailless- certainly the rogue appendage would be flicking back and forth in the suppressed anxious urge to pounce on their hunters with the advantage. Instead the masked khajiit settled with squeezing her partner’s hand and being squoze back with a coy smirk from the Shadow.

The Shadow lived for the thrill and risk, not to mention the bragging rights- this she had learned quickly in her days with him thus far. She should have disagreed with the risk-taking, she should have suggested that they voidwalk to avoid the entire fiasco... But there was a large part of her that enjoyed the tactical show of skill he seemed to put on for her. And when he chuckled warm and low with a devious smirk, amused by his own wit, her mind was helplessly pulled back into countless memories an entire world apart.

She closed her eyes, implicitly trusting her ears and Demetri’s guidance, hoping to shut the nostalgia printed on rice paper memories away before it welled too far up. It was not time to dwell on what she could not change. It was time to focus, time to concentrate on the task at hand, not distractions. Jaunty ragtime piano rang out into the common space and when she reopened her eyes, she was greeted with the sight of a lively pub constructed in rich lacquered hardwoods and plaster. One might mistake it for a slice of Camelot, if they didn’t know any better.

“Are we meeting your broker at the bar, or are you a midday lush?” The Nightingale wondered aloud.

“They are one of finer tastes.” He gave a non-answer, catching her wrist and guiding her into the pub, down a dead-end hallway with the bathrooms on one side and what she would only guess was a maintenance closet on the other, but she was hardly that naïve.

Her suspicions were proven correct when her partner lifted a black gloved hand and rapped on the metal door. A well disguised eye-slit slid open, a pair of stoic aquamarine eyes peering out at them and waiting in silence.

Demetri cleared his throat. “We seek the child of the forbidden coupling of Koarae and Phaeduros, we wish to tour their library and learn but a few of their secrets.”

The slit was quickly closed, and the clunking rattle of several locks disengaging was audible from the other side of the metal. The door swung in and the two thieves were quick to step inside under the supervision of the guard. “The Broker is waiting for you.” They directed.

The two criminals were standing in a rather upscale looking foyer with an impressive solid wooden door at one end. The space was decorated with exquisite Victorian styled furnishings. The rich redwood was polished, shimmering with the lustrous reflections of chandelier lights. A pair of cyber-enhanced andromedans, tall and graceful in their movements, served as guards. The khajiit had not seen man nor mer constructed with such flawless features, and she found it uncanny.

“Hey, kitten-” Shadow called softly, “stop one sec. We should go over some things real quick before we head in.”

“She thought he did not want to ‘keep the broker waiting’?” Ra asked as she studied an expensive looking oil portrait painting of an ephemeral blonde woman best described in poise as a ‘countess’ or some other upper-crust aristocrat. Ritsy, affluent. Was this woman the Shadow Broker?

“It’s about the broker.” He answered in a hushed tone, lowering his voice so that the hired muscle wouldn’t catch any suspicions while he guided them to a more secluded corner of the foyer.

The khajiit was quick to produce Eight-claws, holding the grizzly dagger in the concealed space between them. “Does this one need to have her blade ready?”

“What? No no no- none of that, sweetheart.” He reached up and mindfully urged her hand back down to her side, careful to hide it from the security in the hallway. “The broker is someone demanding of the utmost respect. Kind of the type that is a bit... sensitive over the subject. Proud, proud is one way to put it.”

Ra stared right through him, already guessing at what he was getting to. “You want this one to keep her mouth shut.”

“It might be best to let me do the talking, we have a history.”

“And he is afraid that this one will, what? Cause a disaster?” The feline snorted wryly, dismissing her weapon with a flick of her fingers. Demetri pursed his lips, his silver eyes narrowing.

“Are you familiar with telepaths?” He asked as he leaned in, lips brushing against the harsh fabric of Ra’s hood. “Keep your mental guard up, kitten.”

With that he turned, took a breath, brushed his bangs out of his eyes and ran a considerate hand over his beard to straighten it. He pushed the towering wooden doors open, revealing a study room with a large desk in the middle. It was backed by several holographic monitors that glowed in soft cyber-blue cyan.

Sitting behind the desk, posed proper like a photoshoot doll, the portrait blonde ‘countess’ stared hard at the man.

“Darling~ Did you get a haircut, or did you get it styled just for me?” He attempted to be smooth.

“Oh, if it isn't anyone other than Demetri Malius himself. Back from the dead.” The blonde woman’s tone was nothing shy of full-snark. “No, I didn’t get my hair cut, but I did hear that you had a little taken off the top.”

“You know I would never do that. I think I am more of a charming knight or dashing rogue than a... friar monk.” The rogue chuckled with only a smidge of unease at the thought of trying to rock such a dorky hair-do.

“And were you ever planning on telling me that you were alive, or did it have to wait until you needed me for a job?”

Demetri cleared his throat and gave the tall andromedan an apologetic smile. “I have been a bit out of service lately. You understand the importance of a low profile, don’t you, Izzy~?”

The shadow broker gave a sharp scoff, her green eyes sliding over the silent khajiiti as she tossed her long blonde waves and turned back to her monitor. “What is it that you are wanting from me, Shadow? Information? A contact? A job lead?” Izzy asked with an airy sigh that sounded like the midway point between relieved and disappointed. The man had a habit of disappearing when he wanted to but the last time had been different. She wanted to ask him what happened, ask where he had been- instead her concerns came out as:

“They said they had you handled, you know.” Said with fine pink lips pursed into a thin line. An expression of calm, begrudging acceptance came over the rogue. Izzy simply pulled another one of her holographic monitors up, fingers primed to punch a search in.

“Aye. I am aware... Information, Izzy. We need a work up on Alexander ‘Caustic’ Nox-”

“The carcinogen chemist?” She tapped the name into the search, green eyes scanning the lines of text. “Talk about the last name being a predictor for careers.”

“You are familiar?”

“He’s participated in the Carnival Rosa and Karl Jak’s infamous little Abyssal games, not to mention that botched bank heist in Erde’s capital... Seems like he dropped off the official records after he was apprehended for his terrorist actions against the state.” A coy smirk played at the very edges of her lips.

Demetri drew up close to the desk, bracing his palms on the surface and leaning forward. “... We both know that is not the end of the records.” There was subtext to his words. ’You are more connected than that,’ was what he was saying.

Izzy’s faint smirk peeled into a smug smile, but she still did not look up from the screen. “Information has a price. Perhaps seven months ago you could walk into my office and bat those striking silver eyes at me and I’d give you what you asked for, but today... Well, I am a woman with needs and wants. I expect them to be addressed.”

He cocked a sharp brow, and the broker could feel his mind stray southwards as he focused on her face, a sly and amused expression on his handsome mug. “Oh, we both know that request is a non-issue~ Do I not always leave you satisfied from our transactions, love~?”

Now it was her turn to lean in, as smarmy as ever as she stopped typing. “We both know what you are shy over, lovely~ Besides, how daring of you, playing with fire in front of a live audience.” She gestured to the masked, androgynous khajiit standing against the wall with their arms crossed over their chest, utterly silent and as still as a statue. “And a pity for you that I am not free enough in schedule to indulge your bankrupt desires.”

Izzy giggled impishly, amused as she watched him roll his eyes and smile back at her before responding. “What, you are too busy today so you want to set up a scheduled payment~?”

“No.” The broker shook her head. “Something with this level of string pulling? Digging up contacts for a blacksite or a cloak-and-dagger body disposal and cover-up? Frankly, finding his corpse would be less tedious. This favor has weight, and commands a price larger than what seclusion with you offers. Information.” Izzy lifted her hand, looking past Demetri to the masked criminal. “Them. Come here. Do they have a name or are they doing the whole infamous silent-strong trope?”

The Nightingale remained against the wall, only exchanging looks with Demetri before he turned back to Izzy, shooting her a skeptical look, “You want information on my partner?”

“Correct. Information for information. I think that’s fair, considering what you’re wanting from me. Besides, I prefer to know who I’m working with, lest they leave me with a dagger in the back, hm?” The blonde smirked, voice inflecting up at the end with an almost cheerful reminder of the unspoken elephant in the room.

It earned her the beginnings of a sneer before he gave a focused sigh. “You can call them The Nightingale. They are a child of the shadows as much as I am, skilled in their interests and highly proficient in their trade.”

“The... Nightingale...” She repeated as she opened a new entry. “And those skills and trade, what are they?”

“Martial, stealth. A fellow rogue.” He leaned back off the desk and gave a small smile, resting a hand on his side. “A damn good one with an eye for appraisal, no less- and I have never seen someone work a lock like them, either. Maybe when you have more time in your crowded schedule, you can get a demonstration.”

“Hm, I’ll look forward to it when I get the time...” Izzy trailed off as she finished the entry, flicking over to a different tab. “A man by the name of Alexander Nox was entered into- oh. Rura Penthe. You two really have your work cut out. Are either of you familiar...? Well, it’s rumored to be inescapable, a prison out in the frozen wastes of the hinterlands...”
 

Demetri Malius

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“Appreciate the info as always, love,” Demetri cooed at the informant with a wink. “Sent you over my personal line as well, just in case anything else comes up or you want to catch up.”

Izzy rolled her eyes and gave a narrowed look. “Just don’t go disappearing on me again.”

With another wink and wave the thief brought his partner in tow, heading back out into the crowd

“The shadow seems to be missed when night falls.” The Khajiit quipped, swishing her tail as she avoided any drunkards in the bar.

“I have a bit of a reputation, kitten, and I plan on picking up where I left off.”

“Mhmm.” His partner seemed to be keen on seeing what that entailed. “It has been too long since the other two have contacted us.”

Demetri paused for a moment. “It has, though they did mention that they would contact us first. Suppose we should ensure that they aren't already behind bars, like their companion, shouldn't we?”

“This one agrees. More of your magic eyes, then?” She teased.

“Well, yes.”

Demetri took a seat near the exit of the establishment, having Ratima sit beside him as he cast his sight upon a departing patron.

They walked through the door, stumbling a bit and belching before they stretched and shook off their jitters. They squinted as they strode forward, heavy from the drinking they indulged in. Demetri focused on checking for security, though it didn't seem that the situation was much different than before. When the man passed by a guard, the thief changed perspectives, starting to get their comms. It was a solid minute before he finally retreated to his own senses.

“They haven’t found them yet, but given the circumstances, I believe someone else may have. We should move.”

“And what about your drink?”

Demetri glanced down, not aware of the glass of ale that sat in front of him. She must have ordered it while he was scanning the area.

“You shouldn’t have~” he smirked as he graciously accepted her gift, taking a few moments to down the drink in a swift series of swigs. He gave a satisfied gasp before setting it back on the table. “Didn’t think you’d let me drink on the job.”

“This one thinks that he can handle himself with only a single drink, she has seen how skillful he is when tripping over his own feet, after all.”

Demetri chuckled before motioning to the door.

“Well, off we go then, any requests for the disguises this time? Maybe I can find someone a bit more fuzzy…” His voice trailed off as he felt her suspicion.

“What does he have in mind?”

The rogue thought for a moment before shrugging, allowing his companion to slip past him and out the tavern. “Could just change our hair colors I suppose, if you’d rather wear your own coat~” he smirked and raised his hands and brows in question.

“Fine, but something with taste at least.”

“Of course, kitten~”

With a soft manipulation of the air from the illusionist after the door closed behind, the khajiit’s fur began to darken and her spotted leopard marks faded into splotches of orange, black, and white. Demetri on the other hand, was drained of his own color, his hair slipping into a dark blonde, finishing just as they started to join the crowd. He glanced over to his partner-in-crime.

“Think this could be a look?”

"This one hates to say it but he reminds her of Victor Wolfe."

"I would have accepted a no?"
 
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