11; Answered Questions
Micali walked the Lucrum Marginibus - the central road that bisected the city and separated the industrial and residential districts - for nearly an hour when the previously distant gate that marked the only official entrance to the city was before her. The four keepers that guarded the gate halted her exit, and Micali’s eyes nearly rolled into the back of her head. But then- the gate was closest to Pes Exis, so of course the keepers always had a presence here.
The keepers cared for all of the city, once, back when the council lacked the corruption that it seemed to carry inherently now. A century ago, an elected council member allowed nomads into the city, who then committed a slaughter in Estro Boris overnight. The reasoning was never discovered as all the nomads were killed, but the council member resigned, and the council passed legislation to instead have all member-elects be selected by the council itself. After that, it was a twisted history of social climbing and backstabbing, business deals and trades.
One of them halted her approach, held up a hand from his side, his stocky frame visibly spilling over the armour that hardly fit him. “Halt. What’cher business?”
She slung Cora off her back, held the bow up to the man. “Hunting. Got a deal with Allec to bring in some lanigerae for some social event in the next few weeks.” The lie was one she had kept locked away for use whenever she needed to get out of the city for a spell. Unless this keeper knew Rubeum Allec personally, it was likely that the fib would work.
Sure enough, he paused a second, gave a short nod, and shifted out of the way. Micali passed him, and managed to keep her smug grin down. Her encounters with keepers were a rare thing now, especially compared to her time in the Insidiis where it was nearly every mission that she would be staring them down through a scope or telling calculated lies to their faces based on information she’d studied for days prior.
Past the other three guards was the large painted design surrounding the gate that crested above the Lucrum Marginibus, its patterns intricate and modern, upkept every few months while the back half of the city was left to crumble. The wall that surrounded Lucrus was roughly eighty feet tall, with six watchtowers that peaked up an additional twenty. The towers were spaced evenly around the city’s ovular infrastructure, though the ones further from the entrance to the city were rarely manned as heavily as those closest to the gate.
They were about twenty feet in width as well, as the barracks for the keepers were within the terra regia-inforced stone walls themselves, including a few armories and dormitories. Also within those walls were the stairs that led up to the top of the wall, where keepers paced daily, with guard rotations every six hours. Then they all got to go home to their big houses and fancy dinners.
As Micali passed beneath and through the wall, she walked beneath the two metal gates that rarely descended, each at the edges of the wall, and passed the set of four guards on the other end of the wall. She paid them no mind, and they to her; if someone were to walk from behind, they were cleared, which made sneaking in and out of the city exceptionally easy.
The day that greeted the sniper was overcast with short bursts of breeze, the sky threatening to descend at any moment. She liked it. Outside the gate, she got a clear glimpse of the rolling, forested fields that surrounded Lucrus. The city itself was a mess, and some part of Micali almost preferred the wilderness, the purity of it, how it had been untouched by the greed of those that dwelled behind walls.
She began down the long gradual hill that led up to Lucrus where it sat upon a particularly large hill. The grass reached up to her knee, and it waved in the occasional gusts that crawled through the plain. Her destination wasn’t too far, only thirty minutes from the city, a wood that she frequented for these kinds of occasions. It helped that there were actually lanigerae there, though it remained to be seen how successful she would be in relieving the thoughts that plagued her.
The uphill incline of an eventual hill forced her into her mind as she anticipated the view of the distant wood upon reaching the height of the slope. These trips were good to ignore her thoughts, true, but they also served to sort them. She would likely have to get Talrigori’s attention again, and that would probably require her to knock a name off that list. Knowing the enlil, it wouldn’t count towards any other Devil, as Pallorus was already dead. Of everyone on that list, she knew three, and felt that Hicla Terem was her best bet. The woman headed the construction and infrastructure of the city, and while that was indeed a prestigious enough position to have her in a cushy, guarded home in Pes Exis, it also meant she would have to leave said home on occasion.
She would need to speak with Gemma, probably, to get information on any upcoming work. The brothel owner had also mentioned that a new group had taken over where the Insidiis had left off. Micali wondered about the validity of them as potential allies, though again she would likely need to learn more from Gemma. She crested the hill, and the familiar wood in the distance came into view. It wasn’t necessarily large, but it was certainly thick enough that wildlife could flourish. Descending the hill, Micali concluded that she had some measure of time to make decisions; the assassin’s hirer hadn’t made a second attempt in the weeks it had been since the first, and she felt confident that Talrigori was likely her only threat at this point, though the woman seemed more intent on cutting a deal with her former teammate.
The wood approached as her thoughts rescinded into the depths of her mind, and she became the hunter she often masqueraded as. Her footfalls were quieted as she laid them flat each time, slow and familiar with the layout of the trees from her past trips. A short way into the forest, there was a clearing that lanigerae could almost always be found grazing at, a natural springwater stream coalescing into a pond in the center of said grove.
At the same point as usual, Micali ascended along the trunk of a tree, her feet and hands reaching to the same holds as every other time, and she was now about fifteen feet up, forest floor exchanged for thick tree limbs as she prowled closer to the clearing. It finally came into sight as she made one last short step onto another tree, whose trunk split into four limbs at the top, allowing for a decent roost to watch and shoot from.
Just like every other time, there were a few lanigerae that fawned at the springwater pond despite the heavy clouds above. A couple larger ones, and a small one. A fourth hobbled about in the background, elder and sallow, and the brunette felt a familiar note speak in the back of her conscience. How was this so different from people? Things died aplenty, and Micali didn’t view herself as some horrible monster for killing people as a job. She wasn’t acting on a vendetta when she accepted hits, she was simply the weapon being used for the job, to ensure a death that was swift, and final. How was her work that different from a hunters? These people would likely be killed one way or another, as life dictated, and likely by the very people that contact Micali in the first place. If not her, it would be someone else, so why not be the one and take the money that accompanied it?
The hunter pulled Cora from her back carefully, sure to time her movements with the breezes that occurred to minimize any noise that her prey could perceive. An arrow was nocked, and she relished the chalky hum of wood grazing along wood. She would need to adjust her aim to account for the wind, which seemed to be continuous from the same direction. The laniger continued to pace, and she tracked every movement until it slowed for a stop to chew at the grass of the forest floor, then rear its head back up as it ate. With one eye shut and one aimed down toward her target, Micali ever-so-slightly moved her aim to the right as the breeze reappeared. She loosed her arrow, and the rush of an imminent kill wasn’t lost as the elderly, pallid laniger collapsed to the forest floor with an arrow through its eye.
The other three scattered, and Micali descended from her spot, sure to brace her knees for the landing, which thankfully wasn’t far enough for more than a sharp, split second of ache before she rose to stand and approach the freshly killed creature. Closer, she noticed just how sick it truly must have been. It was unfit for consumption, which she had known from her first glimpse upon it, and its likelihood to die in the coming weeks was high, so the kill wasn’t more than a sped up inevitability. The other three looked much healthier, which had made her choice of target much easier. Even then, the death of this one wasn’t for nothing, as its body would likely be consumed by a wayward predator anytime soon, or decompose into the earth.
As she descended to attempt to pluck the arrow from its head, a voice behind her shot her defenses up, and she whipped around as her hand reached to nock another arrow. Her braid flung around and settled along her chest, then slid back to behind her. Her skin buzzed and her eyes sharpened as a white and grey-feathered enlil came into view.
“Hunting for sport?” Talrigori held no expression, her hands behind her back as she stood before the sniper. She wore a green jacket that came up halfway above her unmoving face, clearly in anticipation of rain, and was otherwise adorned in an assortment of dark colours beneath the poncho. “You need to look behind yourself more.”
Micali tightened her grip on the arrow, her eyes clued in on the fact that the enlil likely held something behind her back - a weapon, probably. “Give me one good reason not to kill you right now.”
“Because without me, you won’t find the others. And,” Talrigori held herself painting-still as she spoke, “because I didn’t help kill your daughter.”
Micali felt the opportunity to loose her arrow come to a head, as the next words spoken would determine the other woman’s likelihood of seeing another day. Above them, the clouds parted for an instant to allow Caesar to beam down unto the grove, illuminating the tableau of a bow and arrow trained on a calculatedly calm existence.
“I knew they were going to come after you, but not when. I expected them to last longer than they did, really, and when I heard what they did to Cora, I knew very well that they would die for it one day, especially since the imbeciles failed to kill you.”
The words kept Micali on edge, fingers loosening on the arrow, instances away from ending Talrigori’s life. “Last longer than what!? Why the fuck did they do it?”
Talrigori stood as stock still as she had been for the entirety of the conversation. “Because they thought you knew that they killed Editus Malum, and they thought you’d sell them out to Anima after she took over.”
Anima Sphaeram was a name that hadn’t crossed Micali’s mind in quite a long time, and the revelation shifted several missing pieces into place. As clouds passed in front of Caesar yet again, Micali allowed the bowstring to relax, the arrow placated. She didn’t put said arrow away, but owed Talrigori for finally giving her a vis-damned answer. They killed Editus; she truly had no idea, which meant that the attack on her and Cora hadn’t even been for any real reason. It wasn’t her fault. “Let’s say I believe you, and they killed Editus. Why?” She nearly lowered her bow, but didn’t trust this just yet.
“Because Viktor Industria paid them to, and made hollow promises, as he does.” Talrigori truly did know everything, apparently, as her answers continued to line up somewhat with everything Micali had scraped together as evidence as to why everything happened. “And the idiots believed him; Cid and Foss. From what I understand, they roped the others in after they had already decided they needed you gone.”
And again, it added up. Foss had buddied up with Cidisti and Olivor as soon as he came into their lives, and it was no surprise that the former two had been in on it all together. The thought dredged up another thought. “Olivor sent someone to kill me. Do you know why?” Micali kept a steady distance, though she did let her guard drop slightly. If Talrigori wanted her dead at this point, she’d already be dead - the short, monochromatic enlil was as ungiven to conversation as Micali herself.
“He probably got word you survived that night somehow.” Talrigori kept her disposition as plain as it had been, and she made no reaction to Micali’s movements. She must have known that she was too valuable as long as she had answers.
“Oh, like Pallorus? Since you fucking told him?” Micali’s hands stuttered, but she managed to lower them down, the answers more satisfying than an arrow through her informant’s chest would be.
“He told you...of course he did.” Talrigori let out a sigh, and the image before Micali shimmered and faded, and the enlil twinkled out of existence.
Micali almost moved forward before a hand on her shoulder caught her by surprise, the arrow in her hand brought up in a thrusting motion, only for her wrist to be caught by Talrigori - the actual Talrigori - who had been standing behind her all along. The sniper cursed herself for not realizing that the rogue would pull such a trick.
“Look,” she began, as she released Micali’s wrist and walked forward to pace before the brunette, “I want them dead too. Not only because what they did to Cora was beyond wrong, but because as long as they live, they pose a very real threat to both of our lives. Olivor sent an assassin after you, and if he knows that you’re alive - I didn’t tell him, by the way - then it’s only a matter of time until he realizes he failed and runs crying to Cidisti. We both know Cidisti’s smart enough to hire someone competent.”
She was right, and Micali felt the practiced facade crumble away from the other woman. It was rare that Talrigori let her defenses down like this, and it was all that Micali needed to sheathe her bow and arrow. The brunette reached down, dislodged the arrow from the laniger’s corpse after a foot to its skull allowed for a particularly meaty yank to free it. She cleaned it off on her tunic, and looked to her old teammate. The arrow found its way into her quiver, and Micali extended a hand.
Talrigori eyed Micali’s arm, likely analyzing for some kind of deceit, but after her eyes fell to Micali’s, she seemed to find whatever she was looking for. She walked forward, and tan flesh met white feathers as the two symbolized their reunited - if uneasy - allyship.
“Why those six people?” The walk back toward Lucrus was taken at a leisurely pace as the two conversed in sparsity. Small drops of rain began to fall unto the seas of grass as they crested a hill, the city in the distance. The one that intrigued her most was Viktor Industria, however, as the essential leader of the city. Talrigori had been the one to return the Ring of the Council after the vernissage all those years earlier, so they’d interacted before. Micali could only wonder how far those interactions spanned afterward.
Talrigori offered no response, for a time. “I have my reasons, just as you have yours.” That was good enough, Micali supposed. Talrigori wouldn’t press into Micali’s exact motives and intentions, and the opposite could be true as well. “Do know that the first three are interchangeable in order, but the last three must die last.”
“Viktor Industria dead last, huh? That’s gonna be one hell of a shot to pull off.” Micali moved her bangs from her eyes as rain began to pitter along her head, and she felt a sudden pang of regret that she’d forgotten her hooded cloak when she left the bar.
“If you can’t do it, I can find someone else.” The words weren’t threatening, couldn’t be with Talrigori’s empty tone and expressionless face. “But I will say that the first three should be relatively easy. Armac Elantur is a Pelagian scientist who’s visiting the city for business, and you should know the other two.” Talrigori’s feathers collected water as the two walked the now wet grasslands.
“How long is he staying for?” Micali didn’t recognize the name Elantur whatsoever, knew sparse details of Pelagia, the velen kingdom, and knew even less about science and business.
“A month.” Firm and simple, a typical response.
Micali’s eyebrows shot up at that, though the enlil likely couldn’t tell as their bodies moved through the rain. “For a business trip?”
“It’s important business, I would suppose.” Talrigori’s eyes narrowed after she spoke those words, and Micali knew to back off. “The other three...I’ll tell you about them when you finish the first set. A name for a name. Pallorus is already dead, so...wipe Hicla Terem off the list. She’s the least consequential.”
Micali worried at her lip at that. Terem was the easiest of the targets, which would only complicate matters. “Who’s closest to here...of the Devils?”
“Micali.” Chiding and disciplinary, a familiar intonation that Micali heard many times throughout her life from the other woman.
“What?” She felt her hands ball into fists, and the splitting pain of her stressed knuckles was the only thing to deter her rage.
“We have a deal. A name for a name.” Dispassionate and empty, a standard tone.
“I know. Still,” Micali began, her voice heavy with worry that she didn’t bother to disguise, “getting to a Pelagian dignitary, or Viktor Industria for that matter, won’t be easy.”
Talrigori stopped, then, and Micali had to turn to watch the shorter, feathered woman. “...How much do you know about the Industria family?” For the first time since the previous night, Talrigori seemed surprised, even confused.
“N-not much. Why?” Micali blamed the cold for her stutter and not the fact that she somehow said something to confuse her ally.
Talrigori’s expression shifted back to its normal position of even eyes and a firm line of a mouth, and gave a slight hum. “Never mind.”
Micali knew better than to press for answers, and so the walk continued in near silence, as the lush greenery around them received a tempestuous reward for enduring a previously dry summer. After some time of boredom, she decided to ask another question that burned newly in her mind.
“What’s Anima up to, then?” Micali hoped the question wouldn’t betray her lack of knowledge on current events in the criminal world of Lucrus.
Talrigori didn’t let on any inclination towards a positive or negative response, though that left her as likely to be annoyed as complacent. “The Insidiis are a shadow of their former selves, Micali. After we left, their few solo operatives either followed suit or died soon after due to being given work that would normally go to us. The reputation of the organization was destroyed, and Anima moved on. She created the Creditori after that.”
“The Creditori?” A cocked eyebrow from the laicar.
“Yes. The new group in Lucrus, though they’re much more motivated by Anima’s bleeding heart than any business deal with the council members. They’re closer to keepers for Cura than anything.” The wind and rain had flattened most of Talrigori’s monochromatic feathers, but she continued on as though it hadn’t affected her.
Micali’s eyes shot wide at that, the idea that Cura’s growth could be owed to more than the council gaining a member that wasn’t completely selfish. It checked out, though. Cura clinics had been raided less, if Rosa’s relay of comments from Volo were any indication. The clinic she’d been in herself had guards as well, though she failed to notice it then. She hummed to herself, then relaxed. They could be allies if she were to go after Viktor Industria eventually.
As they approached the gate, Talrigori lowered the high collar of her poncho and the guards nodded, and thusly, the pair entered without err. Micali turned to the other, and her eyes had widened. “How...?”
The woman pulled the light green of her poncho back over the lower half of her face. “You’re not the only one that’s evolved, Micali. Keep that in mind, especially if you’re going after the Devils.”
Memories flashed by of Pallorus and her time spent recovering from her head injury. “Yeah, I figured. The fact that three of us were still in town, though...quite the coincidence.” Micali kept any accusation out of her voice, but maintained suspicion in her attempts to probe the grey-eyed woman for detail.
Talrigori paused, and Micali kept moving for a moment, then stopped to let the other woman talk. “I’ll tell you this once, and only once, Micali. There are no coincidences in Lucrus.”
The sniper turned then, and the rogue was gone.
The door closed behind her, and she sighed contentedly at the escape from the sudden rainstorm. As she turned and looked upon the bar, it was a calmingly familiar sight. Somewhat busy, and Rosa scurried from table to table as she collected tips and took orders. The brothers were likely busy in the back, but Paulo popped out from time to time to drop off meals, and Dom worked the bar with fervor. Micali strode over and took a seat upon one of a few open barstools, and the portly green enlil man gave her a smile and handed her a mug of whatever was on tap.
The night progressed as she made small talk with Dom when she could, filled him in on the current plan, and eventually moved to retire to her room as they began to close up the store. Just as she was about to open the door to her room, heeled footsteps came from behind her, and Rosa appeared at the top of the stairs. “...Hey.”
Micali felt all the frustration of being ignored come to a bubbling head. “‘Hey?’ Just ‘hey’ after ignoring me all day?” She crossed her arms, and ignored the look of guilt that crossed the velen’s face.
“Sorry. I’m- can we talk in my room?” Rosa turned back towards the stairs, as though she feared anyone hearing their conversation.
Part of Micali wished to tell her that was too bad and move to her own room, slam the door, and go to bed. The reasonable part of Micali took hold, and she gave a single impatient nod. “Fine.”
Rosa moved to open her door, and ushered Micali in behind her. “Sorry, it’s a bit messy.”
The room was rather similar to Micali’s, though much more organized. Her furniture was color-coordinated, and evenly spaced throughout the room. Soft pinks and calm greys toned the room, and it smelled faintly of wildflowers. There was no noticeable mess whatsoever. Micali moved forward, peeked out the window at the dark night outside, and crossed her arms. “Speak.”
“So...okay...how do I…?” Rosa muttered to herself, and Micali turned to face her. As the two locked eyes, the brunette fully understood the grim seriousness that this conversation was to hold, and Rosa surely found something in Micali’s own brown orbs as she stopped rambling and grounded herself. “How do you know Viktor Industria?” The woman’s black irises looked firmly into those of her friend’s.
Micali cocked an eyebrow, her stance just as stubborn. “Why do you care?” The words lacked any malice, couldn’t have contained it even if Micali had wished it to be so.
Rosa sank, finally broke Micali’s gaze with a heavy sigh. “Because...he’s my father.”