Scene Title Blanc/Noir
Synopsis Look what you had to start / Why all the change of heart? / You need to play your part
Date September 29, 2018

Seneca Park has managed to remain scenic through chaos and war. Cool waters, lush flora, winding paths— visitors are spoiled for choice. And given a space to wander for a while in a better world. Nathalie isn't there for the beauty, though. The shade of the trees and the wealth of isolation are enough to draw her. There's a certain solace in being alone. More than usual these days.

The hunt no longer holds the allure it used to.

Desperate for some bit of distraction from thoughts she often finds floating through her mind, she came to the park in hopes of some kind of peace. What she found instead was work. Volunteers are sprinkled throughout the park, helping to clear invasive plants out of the area. With hair tied back, skin smudged with dirt, and gloves on, Leroux works on removing a group of blackberry bushes. A hat settled nearby holds some berries that she's deemed too good to pass up, but there's proof enough that her focus has been on the work rather than the profit.

Slivers of blue sky and shimmers of light as golden and viscous as honey filter past the verdance of trees in full leaf, casting the park in an ambiance of eternal summer. In the timeless, thoughtless monotony of physical labor, it feels as though this moment of solitary peace will never end, that the seasons need never turn and autumn never come.

The sound of soft footsteps on dirt, the sense of an approaching presence, puts the lie to that impression.

That's the hazard of paths: people walk along them, uninvited strangers intruding into one's hard-earned bubble of peace and quiet. This stranger is alone, no one strolling ahead ahead or behind; just a little taller than the volunteer were she standing, perhaps a little slighter. Hard to be wholly certain given the ankle-length navy skirt, long-sleeved plum-colored blouse, and dark blue gloves she wears. The violet hijab concealing hair and face around a pair of sunglasses implies a devout Muslim at first glance — but second glance brings doubt in the hints of alabaster skin that peek betwixt and between, paleness at odds with expectation's stereotype.

The stranger pauses at the path's nearest approach to the volunteer at work, curiosity evident in the set of her shoulders, the tilt of her head. Yet she says nothing — not out loud, anyway, gloved hands sketching a sequence of gestures clearly as natural to the stranger as speech, and just as clearly slowed from their natural fluidity on the chance that might enhance audience comprehension.

Straightening up at the sound of footsteps, Nathalie wipes her forehead with her arm— getting rid of sweat, but adding dirt— and turns toward the sound. She looks the other figure over, but her expression stays neutral.

Until she starts to gesture. It’s clear that LeRoux doesn’t understand, as she looks suddenly troubled. “I’m sorry,” she says, shaking her head a moment later. Her urge is to turn back to her work and let the stranger go about her business, but she doesn’t. She steps away from the bushes, scrapes and cuts standing out here and there although she isn’t concerned about them at the moment. “Do you— Can I help you with something?”

Curiosity fades, its vibrance leached away by patent noncomprehension, though not wholly so. For all that her query is defeated, the stranger does not turn away, does not recede into the summer ambience from which she came. Her hands move again, terse flickers that seem musing, pensive, now indifferent to Nathalie's potential understanding.

After, those hands settle at her sides, quiescent. The stranger's head shifts in a way that indicates the torn-up brambles on the far side of the volunteer. She steps forward, closing the span of polite distance between them; her attitude remains relaxed, even nonchalant, and it seems as though she might continue past Nathalie — perhaps to more directly indicate the subject of her query. Except she doesn't. Instead, she halts abruptly at the edge of arm's reach, her head swiveling towards the shorter woman as with a sudden thought.

Another gesture, slow and graceful; another question whose clearest significance is that its subject is also the one being addressed.

The stranger lowers her head, reaching up to slide the glasses free, tucking one arm over the neckline of her blouse so as to empty her hands. Lifting her gaze once more, she repeats the sign from a moment before with slight modification, strikingly rose-hued eyes boring intently into brown.

With her moving closer, LeRoux can't help a step back, like the potential breach of her personal space were as invasive to her as an actual one. But, it's only a step before she stops herself and opts to watch the woman instead. Her brow furrows. An eyebrow lifts. And then she reaches into a pocket for her phone. She opens a note, tapping out words there before she looks sideways toward the stranger— curious and wary at once.

Turning back, she starts to pass the phone over before she sees those eyes and pauses mid-reach. Recognition is there, and also isn't— like trying to remember something too distant to really catch. Pulling the phone back again she adds another line and passes it over to the woman.

I can't understand you. Would this work better? sits at the top, but is already forgotten in favor of what follows.

I know you, don't I?


Pale eyes flick to the extended screen, taking in its contents with that fleeting glance, but when the stranger holds up a hand it is in forestalling gesture, two fingers raised and no attempt made to reach for the device. Instead, that hand continues upward, touching the space just before the woman's ear and below the uppermost reach of her cheekbone. Pressure momentarily reveals an angular contour, the hint of a low-profile device concealed beneath shrouding cloth.

An altogether different form of touch, intangible and subliminal, is momentarily wielded to strengthen what already exists; the conceptual feel of piqued interest and sharpened attention tip inner balance away from wariness, though only by a matter of degree. In contrast, the beat of calculation that follows soon after, sensation akin to cool water at the base of her skull, owes exactly nothing to Nathalie's own emotions — but its subject is not granted the luxury of peace in which to process the ramifications.

"Does any here know me?" comes promptly instead, archaic phrasing uttered by a manifestly synthetic feminine voice — one whose elocution very nearly aligns with natural speech, as if the speaker merely possessed a resolutely unplaceable accent. Where the artificial tone fails is in encapsulating any emotion whatsoever, but the stranger draws herself up in a manner that more than compensates for that lack, self-possessed hauteur in the straight span of her spine and the slow waist-level spread of her hands, challenge glittering brightly in that rose-hued gaze.

"Either his notion weakens, or his discernings are lethargied. Ha, sleeping or waking? Sure, ’tis not so. Who is it that can tell me who I am?"

Sensation grows teeth venomous and aflame, searing pain biting pervasively into flesh and bone despite the absence of any predicating injury, nor even so much as an aggressive motion on the stranger's part. One moment is possessed of curiosity and wariness and the slow coil of disquiet that precedes suspicion; the next is consumed by pure, distilled agony, the experiences of a veritable lifetime shadowed in pain. Thus is simple sensation wrought into trial, test, crucible; thus is the true question put forth, intended to reveal an answer far more quintessential than could possibly be circumscribed by words, by awareness, by conscious and chosen speech.

What dross might be burned away under purifying fire? What inner self might be revealed?

Who are you?

The phone disappears into a pocket while Nathalie gives a troubled look at the device. She barely notices the shift in her own emotions, just the thought that the woman in front of her is not someone she should dismiss. And when the quote begins— filtered through that unnatural voice— LeRoux has a moment's realization about how alone she made herself here. And how unlikely a rescue is to come.

Her gaze turns back to the woman's eyes. That she picked that play, that character, that quote makes something feel out of place. A book on the wrong shelf. A pencil rolling off the edge of an otherwise pristine desk.

"Lear's shadow," is the easy reply, but it comes in a worried voice, and it comes only moments before she cries out at the pain.

Dropping to her knees, Nathalie grips onto the grass and tries to find her breath and something steady to focus on. The too-fast beat of her heart is something, counting beats until she can match her breathing to it. It comes through clenched teeth. Her move, when it comes, is telegraphed clearly as she shifts against the pain, pulling a knife from her boot and slashing it toward the stranger's legs. A wild attack, coming from desperation instead of calculation.

She expects an attempt to neutralize pain's wellspring, even before gathered tension and shifting posture telegraph its actual moment and path. Given that warning, the stranger simply hops clear of the flailing arc of edged metal, then herself drops to a knee, gloved hands swooping down to pin that exposed arm to the ground. In tandem, the pale woman flexes her will along the pattern action provides, bearing down with a flare as actinic as lightning — a spike not meant to burn but to utterly drown, flooding out all other sensation and short-circuiting thoughts.

"Come, sir," that synthetic voice says, once again borrowing the words of the Bard — though her audience likely appreciates them not at all. Meanwhile, she also 'borrows' the offending knife, prying it free from Nathalie's fingers in her moment of imposed impunity. "I would you would make use of that good wisdom whereof I know you are fraught."

The knife is launched on a swift course for distant space, blade sinking into grassy earth far enough away from the two women as to become a nonfactor. Though, to present evidence, it seems not much of one to begin with. After, as lightning's lash begins to ebb, the stranger releases her physical hold in favor of plucking free her left glove, dark blue cotton discarded to the ground. The ghostly fetter of pain remains, albeit lessened considerably — what might equally be a warning or a goad.

The pale stare leveled on LeRoux across a span best measured in inches — that is definitely the latter.

Nathalie can't keep herself up when the pain intensifies. She can barely tell that her arm is being pinned down or when the knife disappears from her hand. She presses her forehead to the ground, as if the pressure might push everything else out. Her fingers dig into the ground, pulling up grass and dirt as she hunts for purchase.

I am just a copy of a copy of a copy

Everything I say has come before

Assembled into something into something into something

I don't know for certain anymore

It's true that the quote isn't appreciated just now. LeRoux turns her head enough to give the stranger a glare as she speaks. There's a lot of information in her words, and later Nathalie might think back to them, but now, they only draw her anger. She rolls onto her back when the pain eases, hands moving to press against closed eyes while her heels work holes into the grass.

I am just a shadow of a shadow of a shadow

Always trying to catch up with myself

I am just an echo of an echo of an echo

Listening to someone's cry for help

She's slow to work her way back up, getting only as far as her knees before she stops to look over at the woman. Dark eyes meet her pale ones and she lets out a heavy exhale. The lingering pain is noted, but easier to push to the side now.

Look what you had to start
Why all the change of heart?
You need to play your part
**A copy of a copy of a— **

LeRoux slams her forehead into the stranger's, the move coming without warning now that she's been given time to recover and with her positioned so close. She doesn't mind feeling it herself, it doesn't reach what she was just put through by a long stretch.

For whatever reason, the stranger seems content to wait. As the younger woman gathers herself, rises to her knees, her antagonist changes nothing: not the sensations plucked from her nerves, nor even her own posture, one knee to the ground and shoulders square to Nathalie.

So it is that the headbutt sends the pale woman swaying backwards, right hand splaying reflexively against the ground to prevent herself from toppling over. Automatically, the impact is mirrored upon its instigator, compounding with that which LeRoux brought upon herself… though only for the span of a heartbeat. After that beat, nothing so trivial as a headache matters — not when metaphorical lightning strikes again, lash of neurological whip as swift and sudden as a cat's claws, and more debilitating by far.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, really, the capability having been demonstrated just moments before. And yet it is the nature of pain to be surprising, breathtakingly so: to override focus and command attention, to demand the mind drop everything else and attend to the body's problems posthaste.

The stranger picks herself back up then, fingertips pressed to her own forehead. Looking down at Nathalie, the set of her shoulders and the angle of her gaze implies nothing so much as disappointment. With her free hand, she reaches up to her ear, adjusting the set of the device beneath her headcovering. "Is that the way of it, then?" might not be intended for anyone but herself; the artificial voice flattens out any such subtle cues.

Mental pressure now unrelenting, the pale woman leans forward over Nathalie, lowering ungloved hand to instead splay it across her collarbones, fingertips just slightly warm where they rest against the skin of her neck.

"I implore you," that synthetic voice states without nuance as pale eyes bore down into dark, the tenor of her expression shifted from provocation to steely demand.

"Put away these dispositions that of late transform you from what you rightly are."

Nathalie whimpers when the pain ratchets up again, and she drops back to sit on her feet, her hands gripping her legs. All she can do, at first, is breathe through it. Her gaze slides over to the stranger when she speaks again, glare obvious even though pain contorts her face.

With that touch, Nathalie squeezes her eyes shut and her breathing turns labored. "He's not coming," she says, every word forced out. Because of the pain or for emphasis, it's hard to say. But, her hand moves to cover the stranger's, pressing it against her harder. At the same moment, her eyes open— once brown, but now bright blue— and her mouth twists into a snarl. "It isn't yours," she says, her ability reaching out to the stranger. "It isn't his." But not to harm. Instead, she starts to knit her back together, bit by bit.

"It's mine."

There's a moment where rose eyes stare into blue, and pain is split by a bolt of sheer soaring triumph — no, vindication.

Then an intrusive touch sinks deep into the flesh of Yvette Volken, at once both akin and utterly alien to the power she expected to evoke. The pale woman recoils as suddenly as one might expect from the shadow of death rather than that of life; imposed agony ceases abruptly, leaving a sensational void nearly deafening in its figurative silence. Even the unyielding pressure of the earth below, the sounds of birds in the trees, seem distant and muted as they reassert their presence.

Where before Yvette closed distance, now she opens it, withdrawing just beyond casual reach; she remains in a crouch, near enough to level with the other woman, and continues to regard her steadily — chin lifted and eyes narrowed, manner a meld of satisfaction and consideration. Shortly after, Nathalie feels the buoying loft of vindication cut off as well — and with it a subtler coil of disquiet from deep in the gut, indistinguishable from her native feelings until it was gone.

The pale woman's hands move, then stop in mid-gesture. "You hold them both," she says aloud instead; even with the absent affect of artificial voice, it's not a question.

As soon as Yvette pulls away, the healing cuts off. Nathalie lets out a shaky breath as the woman's influence leaves her in turn. But a moment later, she draws herself up, straightening shoulders and meeting that gaze steadily. She's been in hiding so long, both her name and her power, she has to fight the kneejerk reaction to lie. Because it's pointless to do so now.

"And I've been holding them all back," she says, hands running back through her hair in a way that looks more like clutching her head, "for years." Her hands move to help her pull herself back up to her feet, where they dust off grass and dirt from her skin. "If you're trying to draw Volken out, you're gonna have to do more than just pain. And you need to understand that he's not the only one in here. He may have held it the longest, but it existed before him. It isn't him. I am not him." Planting her hands on her hips, she levels a flat look over at Yvette.

"I think you should go."

Rising as Nathalie does, Yvette watches her as she speaks, demeanor smoothed into cool confidence. To the other woman's assurances, she makes a gesture that isn't codified sign, its dismissive nature inherent and unmistakable.

Pale brows lift when Nathalie concludes, hinting at what might have been a flavor of smile on someone else. In the ensuing quiet, Yvette sketches a curtsey just as mocking as it is sincere, before turning and stepping away with neither protest nor fanfare, seeming obedient to instruction — or perhaps simply completed of her own objectives. Except — she halts just three paces along, glancing back over one shoulder, sunlight limning the ivory skin and violet cloth of her profile.

"It may please you to know Njord has found his messiah in another," she says; distance and angle and proxy speaker all conspire to mask any nuance, any emotional subtlety or underlying second meaning, that those words might otherwise hold. "He will not follow your trail to its end. At least for now."

Circumstances change, of course, and the options and opportunities of others with them. But now is all that exists between these two — a now that passes as windows in time are wont to do, the ghostly daughter of Kazimir Volken departing down the selfsame path that brought her hence, discarded gloves and fraught memory soon the only relics of her presence. Beyond them, summer's reign continues, undisturbed by and indeed wholly uncaring of the trials and tribulation in the lives that play out below.

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