[Oc] Week 232: Consequences Pt. 2

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MoonlitRain014

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In the cellar of her manor house, TorBru Corporation’s ex-science advisor Yulia slid a cowled cloak over her other clothing. She tugged the cowl around her face and turned to the blank wall. Running her hand across a spot on it, there was a click and a panel opened in it to reveal a doorway. The elderly but still spry woman stepped through the door. Another touch of the wall behind her and the panel slid shut. Yulia proceeded down the passageway on the other side of the hidden door. Somewhere outside the walls of the house, she climbed a flight of stairs and emerged in a small room at the back of a pub. She shut the hidden door there and emerged from the front of the pub. Glancing around attentively, she stepped out into the street and let the crowd sweep her along.

Twenty minutes later, a hooded figure climbed the rickety stairs to Aeria’s semi-crumbling building. Like most of the buildings on the edges of the Lupanar district, the tenement was unloved looking with flaking plaster and unrepaired holes in the walls. Yulia glared up at it and raised an eyebrow, but proceeded cautiously up the stairs.

Any watching eyes would simply have seen a small cowled figure climbing the staircase, indistinguishable from most of the other residents. Now the silver-haired, grey cloaked laicar rapped gently on the door. A moment later it opened a crack and through it, the elderly scientist caught a glint of metal.

“Yes? Who is it?”

“Yulia. Remember? Professor Craxtus’ friend?”

The door opened slightly wider and before being yanked fully open.

“Yulia! I do remember you. Come in!”

The silver-haired scientist did as she was bid, Aeria’s eyes swept around jerkily, brows furrowed as she shut the door, turning to face Yulia. Her gaze went from cagey to assessing.

“What are you doing here? Are you sure you weren’t followed?”

Yulia smiled.

“Quite sure! I’m here because the Professor wants to meet you.”

A welter of emotions flickered across Aeria’s prettily androgynous features. She collapsed onto the plain wooden chair behind her, tears starting in her eyes.

“He’s alive! Oh thank the Vis!”

For a moment, Aeria’s lips worked but she couldn’t manage to produce any sound. Taking a deep breath, she forced those trapped words out.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to see him, Yulia. It’s a risk but I’ll take it.”

Nodding, the practical woman standing on the other side of the unadorned wooden table was all business, laying everything out calmly.

“I am going to send a steam coach for you later today. It will take you to a safe location from where you will be able to reach my house unseen.”

“How can you guarantee TorBru won’t follow me?” Aeria’s forehead wrinkled and she unconsciously nibbled on a fingernail.

“I’ll put my best operatives to work. Trust me, you won’t be followed.”

After this, the efficient silver haired woman began slipping her cloak back on, moving quickly. There was a sense of urgency about each movement. A few more reassuring words were uttered before she took her leave and merged back into the bustling crowds, being swept along as she stepped into the thickest knots of people.

The rest of the day saw Aeria pacing, starting tasks before abandoning them and picking at a meagre dinner of hard sausage and some biscuits. Every few minutes, she stared out of the window and went back to circling the tiny room. No steam coach appeared, but eventually a man jogged up the apartment’s staircase and pushed a note through the crack under the spurii’s door.

A few moments later and Aeria was descending the back stairs of the rickety block of flats. The alleyway was empty of any people and a few men of assorted races leaned against the walls at either end, their eyes inconspicuously sweeping back and forth. A steam carriage sat there, chugging softly, two large wheels waiting for their attendant pistons to drive them forward. Not stopping to look around, Aeria swung herself up into the carriage and they set off.

The circuituous route they took made the spurii’s head spin and she was dropped outside of a non-descript pub into which she stepped. She walked up to the bar and ordered a Pelagian Purple ale. After about ten minutes of careful sipping, she got up and walked towards the back of the pub and through a curtain. On the other side, she strode up to the blank wall and ran a hand across it. The passageway opened and in she walked.

Eventually Aeria found herself standing in the sumptuous drawing room of Yulia’s manor house. Her hands were clasped tightly together and her fingers fidgeted, her whole body bouncing as she waited. The soft sound of footsteps made her turn her face and spontaneously her expression broke into a broad smile, although that smile was accompanied by tears that began running freely from her eyes.

“Professor! Oh!”

The spurii crossed the room in three steps and threw her arms around the surprised elderly man, burying her face against his shoulder and sobbing into it. She whispered over and over, words that tumbled out, full of relief.

Eventually she pulled away, resting her hands on Craxtus’ upper arms, eyes running over his features as a wistful expression chased over her own face.

“I thought you were dead. I thought...I thought that I’d never see you again.”

Craxtus’ grizzled, seamed face went through a series of expressions. Eventually his face settled into a a gruff half-smile accompanied by a shrug.

“You sure you really want to see me again? I remember times when you wanted me to disappear!”

Another smile broke through Aeria’s tears as she said, “We-e-ell sometimes you can be a bit of a pain in the ass, Professor.”

Now it was his turn to break into a full blown smile as he laughed with his apprentice.

Yulia had watched this exchange with twinkling eyes and a warm smile, but she broke the mood as she spoke and her face settled into more serious lines.

“You two can catch up later, but we’ve got some issues to discuss.”

Nodding gravely, Aeria’s face tightened into taut lines.

“Oh we certainly do. Those bastards from TorBru smashed the hell out of my current employer’s office because he wouldn’t give me up to them!”

Craxtus leaned forward, bushy eyebrows drawing together and fists clenching but Yulia held up a hand.

“Before you start shouting, Craxtus, hear me out.”

The professor leaned back reluctantly, grumbling into his white mustache as the petite, but forceful elderly woman across from him continued to speak.

“Their plans are very deliberate, Aeria. I’ve got sources who keep me appraised about what the mad Chairman’s up to these days. His intent, as far as I understand it, is to deny you any shelter so you’re forced to constantly run. It’ll be easier to seize you if you can’t stop running.”

Again Craxtus began to lean inwards, his face turning a deeper shade of crimson but once again Yulia stopped him.

“Smashing up your workplace plays into that grand plan. Their next goal is to target your known associates like Ignis of Animi and the demvir detective Laermont. Apparently Chairman Mercuti has authorized any amount of force deemed necessary in order to accomplish his goals.”

She went on, “Laermont will be their first target because of his investigations in the Southern jungles. He discovered an item that TorBru was trying to secure for themselves. Mercuti always wants to kill two birds with one stone and this is an ideal chance.”

Aeria cut in, her voice high and tight.

“We have to warn him! I don’t want anyone else getting hurt because of me!”

The professor, who had been glowering quietly in the corner, stood and paced rapidly into the middle of the room.

“There’s one idea that we haven’t explored. We haven’t talked about using me as bait. After all, this started because of TorBru wanting to get their paws on me. What if we offer them what they want?”

“No!” Aeria surged to her feet and stood defiantly in front of Craxtus, her face tight.

“I’ve only just found out that you’re still alive! You can’t put yourself in danger again!”

The professor laid a hand gently on Aeria’s shoulder, rubbing it softly.

“I never said I’d let them get their hands on me, just that I’d dangle myself in front of them.”

“Even that’s too dangerous, Professor! What if something goes wrong? What if they get you?”

The professor’s face was drawn, but it was thought that pulled his eyebrows together, rather than worry.

“I’m going to get Laermont to help me with this particular trap. He still has pull with the police force, even if the upper echelons might look askance. I know that he’s respected by the people he’s worked with.”

“Even he can’t guarantee your safety!” Aeria had turned quite red by now, fists clenched.

Yulia stepped forward and put an arm around Aeria’s shoulders.

“I know you’re scared, but we can’t keep sitting on our hands. We need to force them into making a move, Craxtus is right.”

The spurii took a deep breath and let it trickle from her nostrils.

“I’ll wait until we talk to Laermont before I say anything else, but I still think you’re making a mistake!”

Craxtus shook his head.

“I’ve calculated the risks. I’m not going in blind. You’re right though, we do need to talk to Laermont before anything else happens. Can you find him, Yulia?”

The grey-haired woman gave a perfunctory nod.

“I’ll get on that. In the mean time, why don’t you go have a hot bath, Aeria? I think relaxation in a safe place will do you some good.”

Aeria looked as if she might object, but shrugged and then gave an affirmative ‘mmm’

After she’d left the room, climbing the stairs to the second floor, Yulia turned to face Craxtus.

“I really hope you know what you’re doing, you old coot.”

In response, the professor only smiled enigmatically.

[1690]
 

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