Cao Ni


bai-chan_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif gabriel_icon.gif feng_icon.gif

Scene Title Cao Ni
Synopsis Feng tracks down a little girl. It then gets complicated. It's all fun and games until someone (almost) loses an arm.
Date June 20, 2009

Between the Lighthouse and the Garden on Staten Island

Smoke blackens a twilight sky and chokes the air with Viscous smoke and soot made pungent by rain. It mingles with the earthier scent of burnt saplings, wet dirt and the seabreeze blowing in through the saltgrass fields along Staten Island's coast, flooding nostrils and stinging at watery eyes. For Eileen Ruskin, who has lived with asthma since she was three years old, the trek from the Garden to the Lighthouse was tough going — the journey back is even more difficult.

Mud squelches beneath the riding boots she wears on her feet, on loan from Mage, and spatters the ankle-length skirt cinched with tie just below her navel. Hardly the ideal clothes to be dressed in on a day like today, but Eileen took what she was offered when she told the cottage's matron that she needed to pay Brian an emergency visit.

Bundled in her arms, his hair tousled and face smudged with dirt, is a miniature version of Zhang Wu-Long. The jacket Eileen doesn't just serve as protection from the embers carried on the wind — it also guards her ride-along against any unwanted contact that might occur while she carries him with one gloved hand placed on the back of his head, the other somewhere between his shoulder blades and the small of his back.

To the man she asked to accompany her there and back, it's probably a strange sight, and the fact that Eileen hasn't asked Gabriel to hold Bai-Chan for her is a clear indication of just how deeply the little hellion has managed to worm his way into her heart. It isn't that she doesn't trust him — if she didn't, she wouldn't have shoved her pride aside and begged him for his company. An explanation is forthcoming; she promised. All that's left is for the trio to arrive at their final destination for the night, and then they can do that one thing they always seem to pussyfoot around.


Perhaps now would be a good time for the entity living within Gabriel Gray's skull to sneak out and offer his insight on the skinny child currently wrapping arms around Eileen's petite shoulders. Not Kazimir, but the one who occurs to him like some mix between what his power phases him into and the man himself, solid in the rustle of a leather coat and the glint of white teeth, ethereal in the pitch black his shape holds, the silence of his movement.

But Wu-Long has never seen Bai-Chan, and perhaps missed it when his name was mentioned. And so remains as silent and ignorant as Gabriel is as he follows Eileen through muddied terrain, some unappetising concoction of sand and dirt where foreshore mingles with forest terrain. He's not sure how to talk to her, in the presence of the child-stranger. Stilted silence settles between them as they move, and at least the journey back is preoccupied in the difficulty of the terrain, mud pulling at the soles of his boots.

He's not sure what he'd prefer. For Staten Island to stop burning, or for the sky to stop raining. Both. Just wait 'til he catches the news, too. "Odessa's still alive," he offers, presently and abruptly. It's a start.

Much of the offered sentiments seem to fall flat against the drizzling rain, glowing embers and cloudy skies that make this journey back from the Lighthouse an uncomfortable one. So many people are out on the streets, surveying the wreckage of what was possibly the loudest and most disastrous night Staten Island had yet suffered. When the coast meets with a coastal highway, it becomes readily apparant that one of the buildings on the way back from the Lighthouse looks to have been demolished over the course of the violent night. The entire building collapsed inwards on a central point like a deflated cake that failed to rise in the oven. Debris is strewn across what once passed for a four-lane highway between the buildings, now a field of rubble and cracked pavement with sparse tufts of brown grass growing up between them.

A handful of people in the ruins of the building pick through the debris, some people hauling off furniture and appliances that survived the collapse, others digging deeper for things not so material, digging for the remains of loved ones.

On the roadside, a young girl sits with a skinned knee that has since scabbed over, dirt on her cheek and hair matted down in her face from the rain. Matchstick-thin arms are wrapped around herself, and the thin black dress she wears has one sleeve torn off, dried blood down her arm and the side of her face, an open cut on her forehead still looking fresh. She's clearly in shock, stone dust graying her wet hair, making her look older than she is. The track marks in her bare arms and the side of her neck — they don't help much either.

"Excuse me," it starts out as a murmur, then a little more hurried, "e— excuse me?" Hustling footsteps slap wet and hard in puddles where th epavement sags low in muddy brown pools. A young man — easily no older than eighteen — hurries up to the side of Gabriel and Eileen, hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over hair as muddy colored as the water at his feet. "Uh I— I'm supposed to give this to you." He gives Gabriel a wide berth, one hand held up, palm out, to show he's not trying to drag Eileen or the young boy she carries into an alley. His other hand, however, is occupied with a cell phone, one he offers out to Eileen with an awkward expression. "He told me to give this to you."

Whatever Eileen might have had to say on the subject of Dr. Knutson is cut short when the stranger intrudes on their fledgling conversation. Gray eyes move from his face to the proffered phone before shifting uneasily over to Gabriel; she can only hold so much at one time, and her unwillingness to put Bai-Chan down registers in a downward pull at the corners of her mouth and abrupt rigidity in her limbs. Her grip on the boy in her arms tightens, the tips of her fingers tangling in the mop of hair that crowns his head and glistens in the rain like an oil slick.

She's even more hesitant to accept something that might explode in her hand, but that doesn't seem like the style of anyone she knows — not even Daiyu Feng, who Ghost has already warned her about. Regretfully, this is a subject — among so, so many others — that she has yet to broach with Gabriel, so her willingness to ultimately take the phone from the stranger may be as out of place as her stubborn insistence regarding the boy.

The gloved hand previously at the back of Bai-Chan's head reaches out for the phone while the other shifts his weight further up onto her shoulder as she turns toward Gabriel, a soft puff of exertion blown past pursed lips. He's heavy. Maybe not to Gabriel, but to Eileen — he's heavy. "Hnnh— "

Translation: Help, please?

Who is he. Well, there are a lot of possibilities. As evidence by where he found her, Eileen and Gabriel have their own separate worlds. People come and go at the Garden and perhaps they, the Ferrymen, have reached such a clandestine level as mysterious cellphones. Those are the vague neurons his train of thought processes through, and makes no objection, no questions, when Eileen doesn't either.

And she's now offering him a small child. Gabriel gives her a flat look made even more so than the rivulets of rain running down his face, hair, clothes, before looking towards the child whose eyes are even darker chips of glass than Gabriel's.

Fine. His own hands, gloved in wool, reach out to take Bai-Chan, who knows this routine well enough. Any worry about not exactly knowing how to hold a child need not be, as the young boy has plenty of experience when it comes to climbing on adults. Grabbing onto a fistful of Gabriel's coat, the child shifts from the much smaller woman to the much larger man, which is more fun, because he can swing his way around to attach himself onto Gabriel's back instead. Which he does, legs locking and arms monkeying about the esrtwhile serial killer's shoulders, whose hand flies up to make sure the boy's hands and arms don't brush his neck or something so disastrous as to set off Kuhr's ability.

Okay. Accomplished. He tries to look a little less surprised.

Looking just about as awkward as Eileen and Gabriel juggling a young boy, the teen holding the phone seems thankful to finally pass it off. "Hey, yeah— thanks," he notes with a feigned smile, backpedaling over uneven ground, a crack in the pavement causing him to stumble before he backs away entirely. "He said keep it — the phone. Yours now," the young man waves a hand dismissively, "so— yeah, see ya." Shifting an awkward look back to Eileen and Gabriel, then to Bai-Chan, the young man turns to head back down the street in the direction he came from, even as the cell phone begins to ring.

Perhaps with some sense of humor, a number had already been programmed into the phone, one that comes with the identification of "Munin". It's not so much of an identity or a warning, as it is instructions on who should pick up. The phone, unsurprisingly, has a generic and obnoxious beeping ringtone, almost similar to the buzzing ring of old rotary telephones.

Catherine Chesterfield accuses Ethan of playing games. Eileen wonders if she'd say the same of Feng if they ever met; this setup is more elaborate than someone of her worth deserves, and if he means to kill her like Ghost says, then there's something a little sadistic about the time-consuming method he's chosen to go about it.

"Thanks," she says, not to the hastily retreating teenager but to Gabriel. Gratitude lingers in her eyes as she directs her gaze downward, studying the rain-spattered screen with an expression that's more solemn than perplexed.

Of course, she already knows who it is — she's been expecting him to attempt contact for several days now, and the name reflected in the phone's pixelated glow only confirms her suspicions. Flipping the device open to trigger its automatic answering mechanism is an exercise in futility more than anything else. She could toss it away into the mud, but such a gesture would ultimately achieve nothing. He's watching them. Has to be, to have known when to call.

"No," Eileen says into the mouthpiece. "I don't know where Ethan Holden is. You can stop asking."

Gloved hands wrapped around the skinny arms of the boy koala'd onto his back, which are covered in the sleeves of an oversized sweatshirt in any case, Gabriel is following the path of the teenager running off from whence he came. With no further explanation. There's only mild interest written on Gabriel's severe features as he looks back at Eileen when she accepts that call and—

His back stiffens, nothing Bai-Chan can really detect where he's huddled. The circling shark's trajectory becomes tighter and tighter, even if this time, he's making his visit via telecommunications. Still. How the hell he knows— Gabriel throws out a wider gaze around them, as if the backdrop of crumbled, burned buildings, wandering homeless and otherwise murky quasi-rural beach and scrub would yield the figure of the man who had somehow tracked their journey all the way out here.

«That's secondary now, Munin.»

It's been a long time since Eileen's heard Feng's voice, a long time since she's had any indication that he was even still alive. «It's not just Ethan that I am invested in, it's all of you, the dregs — holdovers of a bygone era.» Feng's voice is bitter in its cynicism, that much of him hasn't changed. «You may not know where Ethan is, you may. But I know that he knows where you are, he knows what you are doing, and if he is any part still the man I knew, he knows I'm looking for him. So what I'd like you to do, Munin, is lure him back out into the open for me.»

A sudden, abrupt crash of stone comes from the collapsed building as people scavenging the ruins come stumbling out in advance of a portion of the roof falling down in the rest of the way, sagging concrete slouching down until it can support itself no longer, collapsing into a heap of debris.

«The boy there doesn't bear much of a family resemblance to you.» Suddenly, that terrible feeling of being watched is far more prevailent. «I'll tell you what, Munin. You get them all out of hiding — Holden, DeLuca, Kazimir's little science experiment he called a daughter. I know at least the three of them are still alive. — Oh, Velasquez sends his regards, however. He won't be joining the reunion.» He's goading her.

The tinny voice on the other end of the line has Eileen knitting her brow in quiet consternation. Velasquez is dead. She's not sure how she should feel about that. That Elias is apparently alive sends an electric jolt through her belly that would, under any other circumstances, be followed by a sharp intake of breath and a toothy smile. Instead, her mouth thins out and she presses her lips into carefully neutral line as it occurs to her that Feng might be viewing them through a pair of binoculars or — worse — the scope of a rifle.

She lowers the phone from her ear, using her opposite hand to cover the mouthpiece and the microphone contained therein. Chin lifting, she slants an inquisitive look up at Gabriel's face and searches out his eyes. When she speaks, her voice is very soft, but it's also very fierce.

"How do you tell someone to fuck off in Mandarin?"

His kingdom for a pair of ears that can actually hear to a standard he wants. Upon finding nothing in his scouting around from where he's standing, he gives up, attempts to read Eileen's face as if her expression would translate a detailed account on what's being said. It only gives him abstract impressions instead.

The corner of his mouth curls into something of a bitter smile. "Cao ni," he responds simply, and glances over his shoulder when the boy clinging to him gives a snort of laughter. "We should keep moving." Somewhere else. Somewhere safe. "What is he saying?"

There isn't a verbal reply from the phone, from wherever Feng is positioned, he can clearly see Eileen has tipped it away from herself and covered the mouthpiece. Instead, the reply comes in the form of a soundless eruption of blood from Gabriel's shoulder opposite of the one Bai-Chan is currently resting on. The impact of the shot sends an eight foot cone of blood spraying out the back of Gabriel's body, spinning him around like a top and sending both he and Bai-Chai collapsing to the ground.

When Gabriel hits the ground, managing to cradle Bai-Chan enough to let the young boy's fall be softened by his good shoulder, Gabriel's right arm falls limp to his side, nearly torn clear out of the socket from the calibur of the shot. Blood pulses from a severed artery under his arm, a major route of blood to the hand, each pulse coming with his hastened heartbeat and a blinding wave of pain to intense it turns to cold numbness almost immediately. Fingers on Gabriel's hand twitch and spasm all their own, the arm connected to the shoulder by ligiments and shattered bone.

With blood sprayed across one side of her face and the muffled screams of people fleeing away from the sight of the gore in all directions, Eileen is left with the sound of her own blood rushing in her ears, the warm tickling of rivulets of Gabriel's blood running down the side of his face, Bai-Chan's crying, and a voice trying to get her attention over the phone. «Do I have your attention now?»

Blood oozes down Eileen's face, gathers as ruby red droplets in her hair and darkens the rainsoaked material of her sweater and coat. She can taste it in her mouth, too — sweet and acrid, coppery, hot. Yes, Feng has her attention. Unfortunately, it isn't going to do him very much good now that he lacks an open line of communication. Several feet away, half-sunken in a burbling puddle of mud, the cellphone crackles and spits, the assassin's voice drowned out by the much louder sound of the young woman's panicked screaming.

She's on her knees in the wet earth, clutching wildly at the front of Gabriel's jacket as she shrills his name into his face. One of them, anyway. Between the chaos and confusion whorling into a thunderous morass around them, it's impossible to know what's being said without reading her lips. Gabriel, Sylar, Tavisha—

It hardly matters which.

There's rain in his eyes. This is, somehow, more irritating than his arm hanging off his torso by scraps of meat and broken bone, for just a moment. Gabriel doesn't scream, nothing coming from his mouth as he gapes like a fish and gasps in air and water, nerves on fire, his heart skipping beats. His arm, he can't feel his arm, not even sure if it's there any more. His heart beat is rushing— before slowing back down, steadying, even as blood streams warm, out and out and…

And it stops. The salt grass, mud, and gravel is bright scarlet beneath him, around him, his coat flooded with copper scent red, but nothing more leaks from the impossible wound at the barest flick of a thought. It isn't healing beneath tattered clothing, but it isn't bleeding. His other hand lifting to try and grip onto his arm but Eileen is right there, grasping at his clothing, a blurred face he's not really focusing on.

It hurts.

Bai-Chan crouches not far away, shoes sunk deep into mud and his skinny arms now crowded over his head, spattered with red and dirt while rain sticks his hair to his forehead with an oily kind of quality. The little boy trembles and has his eyes squeezed shut, but he's not rocking back and forth. That's for sissies. One fist is clenched tight around nothing, as if it desired to be holding something, preferably something sharp and pronged.

"'leen," Gabriel chokes out. "Ei— leen, get away— run— 'can take care of— " It has to be an attack, not a message, neurons firing the wrong conclusion through a dazzled mind. Doesn't matter, much, because while blood has stopped leaking, some other substance, black and ashy and gaseous, is seeping from broken skin. The veins stand out on Gabriel's neck in some unknown effort.

Leaning back from his perch on a rooftop three blocks away, Feng Daiyu takes his eyes away from the scope of his sniper rifle, beginning to quietly unscrew the barrel and deposit it in the molded foam of a black case laid open by his side. The dark-haired man detatches the stock of the gun, resting that in a custom-molded space, then reaches for the cell phone he has folded open on the crumbled wall of the tenement railing nearby. He clicks the speakerphone button off, then begins dialing a number from memory, laying the last piece of the collapsible weapon into the case, hugging the phoen to his shoulder with his chin as the case is closed and locked.

"The message has been made," Feng states coldly into the mouthpiece, flipping the case to stand on its side before switching which ear her has the phone on with a swift motion of one hand. "Unidentified male, late twenties to early thirties is accompanying her, along with an unidentified child. I'll upload the data from the rifle camera to you when I return to base."

There's a furrowing of Feng's brows, and he looks with a squint three blocks away where tiny, dark shapes move in frantic motion. "Yes, sir. Constantine Filatov is next on my list…" he rises to a standing position, picking up the black case by its handle. "He's a physician here on Staten Island, word of mouth claims Ruskin was employed by him for an indeterminate period of time. Also— if you could send me any data you have on a facility called 'the lighthouse' that operates here I would appreciate it. She has connections there, but leads turned up dry."

Eileen's intimate familiarity with the shadowy vapour snaking incorporeal from the gaping wound in Gabriel's torso causes her to wrench abruptly back, booted feet sputtering through mud as she scoots backwards hand over fist and makes a desperate lunge for the boy squatting where he fell. Her gloved hands catch in the fabric of Bai-Chan's clothes — a moment later she's hauling him to his feet, arms encircling his waist and pulling him up, up, up.

She can apologize later for bruising his ribs and crushing his body against her chest. Right now they need to get away, and not because of the man on the rooftop three blocks away. Feng isn't the immediate danger anymore.

What's left of Kazimir Volken is.

"Don't look back, don't look back, don't look back," is the snarled mantra Eileen hisses into Bai-Chan's ear as she drags him away from Gabriel's body sprawled out in the sopping dirt. Five feet, ten feet — twenty. For once, the tightness building in her chest has nothing to do with the ability Tyler Case gifted her with. All the pressure bearing down on the cavity that houses her lungs and heart stems from a rapidly constricting airway and a low, wheezing cough.

And she's gone, which is good, because Gabriel can't stop it, his veins standing dark against his skin and drawing in shallow breaths as black leaks out, as the light from the sky seems to dim. With a sharp growl, Gabriel rolls himself onto his side, grasping his injured, useless arm to his torso as he struggles to his knees, mud and blood now plastered as far as his face as he tries to focus on breathing and not the agony that might threaten to take him under.

There's a woman brave enough to come closer, followed by a younger male, with their dirtied clothes plastered to their frames, one watching Eileen's escape with the child with mixed emotions, and the other focused on him, pushing her hair out of her face. Darts hazel eyes around, wary of more bullets.

"Man, you— you're arm is— come on, you gotta get some place safe, okay?"

"Wait, fuck— what the fuck is that? From— look!" The young man points to the smoky, winding shadows that leak unstoppably from Gabriel's kneeling form, and he doesn't have it in him to warn them, just watches hazily as it moves for them. Closes in. Maybe— maybe it'll work.

There's a piercing scream as it attacks her first, her partner yelping and wrapping his arms around the youth as she starts to collapse to the ground, her legs weak beneath sopping denim, a hand clutching to the man's shirt— and becoming thinner and thinner as they remain. "Oh Jesus— what is happen— " Before that snarl can be turned towards Gabriel and the tendrils of shadows, the young man's eyes bulge as the life starts to drain from him in kind, arms weakening around the woman closer to dead than dying.

The current works its way into Gabriel, flows through his veins, targets that scar at his forehead, the wound in his arm— and is drained into nothing as a different kind of degeneration eats at the wound and promptly feeds on regenerative energy, sinkholing it away and leaving the mangled wound in place.

A growl escapes through Gabriel's clenched teeth, trying again to find the veins of Kazimir's insidious ability, to pull it in. It's not working! he tries to snarl into the recesses of his mind. Stop! Eventually, it does, which does nothing for the dead couple tangled in each other's arms, ash falling off their bones, wet and tar-like.

In the shadow of the closest building, Gabriel sees him for just a moment, standing with both hands balanced on his cane, brows lowered, watching as the black tendrils of entropic smoke feed off of the people around him. When a young girl far enough away to escape rushes between Gabriel's field of vision and the half-shadowed specter of Kazimir Volken, he's gone, returned to whatever dark corner of Gabriel's mind his legacy lives on in.

From the roof, Feng Daiyu watches with lips parted and eyes wide. His jaw clenches down, teeth gnashing together as he sees familiar, terrifyingly familiar tendrils of black smoke lashing around blocks away. He doesn't need a scope, he doesn't need to see the detail in that horror to know what it means. It means, for the first time in a very long time, Feng Daiyu is afraid.

Immediately he breaks into a sprint, running to the edge of the building, swinging over the stone railing to land on a fire escape a floor down with a resounding clang. Booted feet thunder down the metal stairs, looking over his shoulder between the buildings at the scene every time he reaches a lower floor.

Finally at the bottom of the fire escape, he drops down over the side, landing in a crouch in the alleyway with his rifle case held in one hand. Breathing fast and heavy, Feng straightens and can hardly pull his eyes away from the sight. There's a hitch to his breathing, backpedaling footsteps, and he prays now that Ethan isn't watching.

Prays that he isn't watching him run.

Feng's retreat goes unnoticed not only by Ethan, wherever he is, but by Eileen as well. Her eyes are riveted on the macabre scene unfolding in front of her mere yards away from where she's stopped to catch her breath, half-shielded by the remains of the collapsed building from which dust and smoke continue to rise in thick plumes. Transfixed, she buries her fingers in Bai-Chan's hair and forces his head into her shoulder, smothering his face, lips, nose and mouth against her coat. He doesn't need to see this. Nobody needs to see this.

There are mummified remains clutching at one another with yawning jaws and empty sockets for eyes. If her experience with Volken's ability has taught her anything, then Gabriel should be staggering to his feet, rolling the tension from muscles and sinew as he acclimatizes his body to his newly-repaired limb.

He isn't.

Eileen gets three guesses as to why, but she only needs one. "Gabriel— "

The breaths he's dragging into his lungs are rusty feeling, strained, shallow. He's felt this before, had a bullet split his shoulder open like rotten fruit only not nearly as bad, not nearly as— bad— Gabriel's head tips forehead as if it weighed too much on his spine, shock setting in, making him shiver, reminding him of painful humanity, more of which he couldn't quite tap from the corpses lying around him—

Needlessly dead. The mirage of Kazimir is gone, and apparently even the entity of Wu-Long doesn't feel he's worth lending that strength to right now, even as his son resolutely does not watch on, clinging to Eileen and trembling.

His name is cried sharp from somewhere in his periphery, but Gabriel doesn't acknowledge it. His kneeling legs only give a little further, one kicking out as he crumples to the side, broken shoulder sky-side and making his arm hang limp, twisted as unconsciousness finally takes him with dragging hands and washing tides. Rain batters down, tries to soothe away the blood that, once again, slowly starts to leak out of him.

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