Fool Me Twice


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Scene Title Fool Me Twice
Synopsis Dantes takes a trip to Chinatown to have a family heirloom repaired, and comes into a confrontation with an antique of an entirely different design.
Date January 8, 2009

Canal Street Market, Jittetsu Arms


There's something to be said for the comfort of aged goods, be they people, drinks, or antiques. Deep within the bowry of Chinatown, in the narrow and cramped marketplace of Canal Street, there exists once such outlet for aged goods. An outlet for things that have seen the test of time, and have come out better for it. Of things old, and things new.

Dust settles from a slatted bamboo blind hanging from the front door as it swings open, a tiny chiming sound comes from the chain of bells dangling in the door's path. What little sunlight filters in through the dingy windows of this old, musty shop is tinged a red-gold color, the hues of a setting sun cast down the length of Canal Street. Footsteps clunk and thump across the old hardwood floor as one lonely patron breaks the silence of the business. From the entryway, narrow walkways around racks of antiquities serve as uncomfortably cramped paths thorugh the store, each shelf filled with a variety of asian-themeed odds and ends; from glass cases filled with elaborately decorated swords, to tiny bamboo cages hanging from exposed rafters, each chirping with the sound of a confined cricket.

At the far end of the shop, beneath a string of paper lanterns with flickering and yellowed lightbulbs in them, a grizzled old man leans against the counter, nearly bald save for wisps of gray hair and mottled brown liver-spots on his temples and forehead. He looks up from a rolled up newspaper, furrowing his brows incredulously as he pers at the dapper dressed man entering the establishment.

"Ain't often I see new faces 'round here…" His words have a begrudging and yet gentle tone to them, like a codgerly old man who refuses to admit he's a little lonely. Behind him hang several masterpieces of swordcraft, each resting on individual lacquered wooden stands, with a long white banner hanging between them, bearing a strange symbol on it in black ink resembling an S and an F merged together.

Somehow, to Edward Dantes, the symbol looks familiar.

"Welcome t'Jittetsu Arms." The old man grumbles, leaning forward to rest his chin on the palm of his hand, fingers stroking into his ragged white beard. For all of the asian theme of this place, you'd think the owner wouldn't be an American.

The cricket sound….it's totally enough to recall Dantes to Russian summer nights, twenty five years ago, just west of the Urals. His grandfather's dacha. It has the former Fed pausing in the doorway with an odd expression. Deja vu, perhaps. But it's only a heartbeat, before he continues on in, bringing a cardboard tube with him under one arm. Like one you'd ship a poster in. Just the most expedient way of getting a fairly sizable sword through New York without getting arrested, or frightening the pedestrians.

Dantes himself is in his black overcoat over white shirt, black slacks. No tie. "Evening," he says, in that low rasp. "I'm sorry to bother you - I know it's not long before closing time. I've got an antique here, and I understand you're one of the few in the city with the expertise to repair it, even though it's not an Asian weapon." He eels his way along the narrow aisles to where the proprietor sits, and proffers the tube in both hands.

One bushy and white eyebrow raises, and the old man grimaces to himself slightly as he seettles down on a stool behind the counter. "I ain't no stranger to other blades," and with that comment his had motions towards a glass case across the room with a pair of crossed sabers and a rapier laid between them. "Show me what you've got, an' it's no worry. I got a customer in the back puttin' a shine on one a his anyway. Real nice piece."

There's a bit of a pause, and the aging man leans forward, resting one elbow on the countertop before offering up a hand towards Dantes with a wry smile, "You can call me Claremont." Despite the sight hat comes with his words, it's clear the old swordsmith is happy for the company. "Just lay 'er out on the countertop here, le's see what'cha got."

"I am Dantes," says the Russian, with a faint, feline smile. Here, at least and at last, is someone who may get that joke. Because what conoisseur of the sword hasn't got at least a passing acquaintance with Dumas? "Pleased to meet you." He rests the tube on the counter, and draws the scabbarded blade from it. A sabre - specifically, a shashka, with steel fingerguard, wire-wrapped leather grip, and heavy, slightly curved blade. "This is afamily heirloom." Three hundred years of service in the Army, and the last of this particular branch of the Ivanov family walks away with little more than an icon, a watch, a few medals, and a sword. "The grip needs rewiring, the leather replacing," he says. And indeed, despite the marks of assiduous care, the leather is cracked and peeling away, barely more than flakes of dust.

There's a long whistle that comes from Claremont as he surveys the sword, reaching downto carefully heft the blade up on his palms, getting a closer look at the craftsmanship of the sword itself, following the edge down to the fingerguard, then the weathered handle. "Mmnh, it's in better condition than I thought when you said repaired." There's a crooked grimace as Claremont looks up to Dantes from the sword, "Had a fellow come in here with a rapier concealed in a cane, blade was split right in half. Ain't got a clue how he could've done that, and there was no way I could fix it. This, though — Ain't gonna be a problem. Might take a couple weeks, so I can call in for the right materials for the handle, try to match the original leather."

As Claremont talks, there is a creaking of the floorboards not far from the counter, and hard-soled footsteps approaching a rickety old wooden door that leads into a back room. The handle rattles, and as the door slowly swings open, hazy light spills forth from a well-lit and more spacious area in the rear of the shop. But the backlit silhouette standing in the doorway is a phantom from a dead man's past.

Ice blue eyes settle immediately on Dantes, tired and old to match the weathered and rocky countenance of this grim looking figure. But there is no recognition in the old man's eyes, only silent serenity as he steps out of the back room and closes the door. A weary looking old man easily in his late fiftis, with a cane tucked under his arm bearing a steel wolf's head, perpetually snarling. "Thank you for the use of your facilities, Mister Claremont." The voice is unmistakable to the man at the core of Edward Dantes, to the soul of Felix Ivanov.

"Please?" There is a low, haggard tone to the voice beyond the shadows. Amato's breath catches in his throat, a sensation of suffocation mixed with tingling pricks of pain hedging into his body. Then, it only grows worse as the footsteps grow closer, prickling pain turning into shooting discomfort and a feeling of scalding heat beneath skin, "A bird shows me my way here, gossamer wings leading me to what?". Veins blacken at the exposure to what looks like rolling waves of black fog that seem to churn and boil around the dark silhouette of a tall man. The cane thumps on the floor, and as painful as the sensation is, it passes as the man does, walking up to the gun-toting agent who falters under the loss of blood.

"This?" The shadowed man comes to a stop not but paces in front of Felix, and that same wracking sensation of pain in his body that Amato had just felt grows, this close the shadows only conceal portions of the tall man's body. The Agent can see weathered and old skin, wavy gray hair, and a tailored black suit. The cane is lifted, pressed under the Agent's chin to lift his head up. Eyes that look to be nothing more that dark, hollow sockets peer back. "I am disappointed." The comment is not directed to Felix, "You will find mercy in this, in my disappointment."

He pushes with the cane against the Agent's throat, sending him backwards with just a nudge onto his rear, gun clattering against the floor. The veiled visage of the man turns, peering at Amato through the haze of darkness. "Enough has been done wrong in my name this night." He adds in a grim tone of voice, and Felix can hear the sounds of metal hitting the floor, even as his vision begins to blur from the burning sensation under his skin. Bullets, forcing their way from within Kazimir's skin fall to the hardwood floor. "Let this second life I afford you, be one well lived." The cane is raised, motioning to Amato, then to the door, "Go."

"Any time Mister Volken." Volken. "I'll see you next month for its next cleeaning." What a tangled web we weave, Felix Ivanov.

Cats have nine lives, the legends say. And Felix, well, he's come to the end of those lives. He looks down to the sword with evident fondness. He's used to living his life more or less out of a suitcase. Material things don't generally mean much to him, but this is one of the exceptions. "It's about two hundred and fifty," he explains, though surely Claremont would've known at a glance. "I've done my best to take care of it, but…."

And then he looks up, and nearly strangles on his own tongue. There's a whooping intake of breath, which he does his best to disguise as a dust-inspired cough, pounding his chest with a hand and ducking his head. Not that Kazimir would know this face, surely. It's like Luke Skywalker going out to pick up his drycleaning and finding Vader in line before him. He doesn't dare bolt. Not with the most valuable thing he owns not to be left behind. "There's no hurry," he says, humbly, demurely lowering his gaze.

"She's a beauty." Claremont says in quiet agreement, nodding his head as he carefully lays the sword down again, "Leave me your contact information and I'll give ya a call when she's all done up and prettied for ya." As the old Mr. Claremont speaks, Kazimir gives the sword merchant a passing nod, circling around the counterspare to walk along one of the adjacent aisles surrounded by racks of weapons, keeping Dantes in his peripheral vision as he walks, peering through the slatted bars of the hanging cricket cages.

When he finally reaches the door, one gloved hand movs out to touch the doorknob, but hesitates in sudden stillness. "I apologize, Mister Claremont." The words come with no clarification as to what he apologizes for, and even as the question starts to spill forth from the merchant's lips, Edward Dantes can feel a familiar sensation prickling at his fingertips.

"By the pricking of my thumbs…

It was the first words he ever heard Kazimir Volken say, echoing in his mind as a hollow and distant memory of an unfavorable past life.

"Something wicked, this way comes."

The words do not come this time, only a tensing of the old man as an uncomfortable tingle surges through Dantes, up his spine like an electrical tingle that leaves skin numb and cool. Those blue eyes settle on Dantes from across the room, seperated by a fifteen foot length of narrow hallway. "Your face may have changed, Mister Ivanov," The eyes begin to narrow slowly, "But you cannot hide the taste of your soul." Turning fully now, Kazimir rests the tip of his cane down on the floor, gripping it by the wolf's head. "You took my words literally," A crooked smile flits across the ancient man's lips, "How appropriate."

With an apology to the soul of his grandfather and all the Ivanov officer ancestors preceding him, the last and least of the line simply snatches up the blade from where it rests on the counter, and draws it in a smooth slither of steel. Over his shoulder, he gives Claremont a numb aside. "Run. Call the police,"

He doesn't go for the pistol under his coat. It didn't work before, nothing makes him think that'd've changed. But what can survive having its head removed? "I only wish I had a stake on me. It'd make this quicker," he says, trying for insouciance, though he's wide-eyed, poised on the balls of his feet.

"Jesus Christ on a Camel!" Claremont hisses as he sees Dantes whip up the blade, falling backwards from his stool with a loud clatter. "Hey Hey! You two better not fuck up anything in here or Mister Nakamura will have my — " Words fail Claremont as he watches a visible shift in Kazimir's presence, a hazy aura of black smoke rising up from bneath his clothing; these serpentine and probing tendrils of umbral fog that roll and shift on unfelt winds. "Fuck, son of a god damn I wasn't even supposed to be here today!" The old man growls as he scrambles across the floor, crawling beneath a curtained divided to another portion of the back room.

Watching the blade be drawn, Kazimir's eyes settle on the yard of curved steel, brows furrowing togethr as something strange happens. His lips move, pursing together before drawing back into a closed smile. "You would not be the first to make the association, Mistr Ivanov." Kazimir's hazy black aura sinks back down closed to his body, now merely waves of darkness that follow the motion of his arms as he raises his cane up, twisting the wolf's head around the neck, to withdraw a gleaming length of thin steel still wet with polishing oils from the black scabbard of the cane.

"But this is an honor I have not been afforded, in generations." Holding the cane sheath back-handed, Kazimir narrows his profile and points the rapier-like blade of the sword out towards Ivanov, palm grippd up and blade drooping down subtly; A classical European fencing stance. "En Garde, Mister Ivanov."

And Kazimir no doubt remembers when such things were taught in earnest, a matter of life and death, rather than mere sport. But it's Felix who discards all the courtesies engrained from years of training. No polite salute, no settling into en garde himself, beyond what he already has. His teeth are slightly bared in what's really a snarl, rather than a smile. His only reply, before he comes in as fast and hard as he can, trying for the other man's blade hand in a stop cut is simply, "Woe betide thee, Nag."

He's not interested in elegant phrasing, the long wordless conversations that two fencers can have with each other. Not for play, but in deadly earnest and with the abandon of a man who's already determined that he won't be walking away from this contest alive and has thus decided that it remains to sell his life dearly. Kazimir's destruction is worth his genuine death, after all.

There is a difference of style and training here, fast footwork and superhuman speed competing against seasoned experience and the clarity of age. Kazimir's blade raises up with hilt pointed towards ceiling, the length of oiled steel colliding with Dantes' sword, causing a resounding crash sound to echo through the shop. He moves to the side, but bumps into a stack of wooden chests with a clattering ruckus, unable to fully sidestep away as Dantes' aged sword drivs down into Kazimir's shoulder, slicing thorugh black fabric and weathered flesh.

But it is not blood that seeps forth from th wound, but rather a gout of black smoke and tendrils of some ephemeral dark fiber. Ash spills forth from the gash, as if Kazimir Volken were not made of flesh and blood at all, but dust, ash and bones.

No words are spared, only the glimmering of steel and a forced grunt as Kazimir shifts his weight forward, pushing his girth against Dantes to shove him back, his sword slipping down along the curved length of Dantes, striking his cross-guard will full force, attempting to drive the Russian sword awkwardly back, but the former Agent is far fastr than his weary and dust-stuffed counterpart. With a twist of his body, weight bearing down on the heel of his right foot, Dantes is able to spin away from the cane-sword, causing Kazimir to over-extend himself as the Russian sweeps around behind him with graceful, dancer-like motions.

No matter what Buffy would have you believe, it's not easy to take off a vertebrate's head off. But nothing less than decapitation will do. He can't hope to win, trying strength against strength. Once the blades scrape and lock, he withdraws to try again for another opening, sweeping in from the side. "What are you?" he asks, quietly, conversationally, voice unstrained.

Kazimir turns towards the sound of Dantes' voice, into the oncoming arc of his sword, leaving a greivous gash across the old man's face, a deep slice that crossed from cheek to cheek and splits the bridge of his nose. Gaping as it is, the flesh revealed within is flaky like old parchment, and writhing tendrils of black smoke issue forth from the cut as Kazimir lets loose with a low growl, "I am death." And truly, the wake of dead left in his presence gives credence to his posturing as the physical manifestation of a deeply-rooted human fear, "Yours, in particular, Mister Ivanov."

Having taken the slash across his face, Kazimir moves in with a hopping step forward, lunging with his blade towards Dantes' shoulder, but again the lightning-quick reflexes of Agent Ivanov knock the whisper-thin sword aside, following up with his own lunging strike that drives straight through the middle of Kazimir's throat. There's a choking gurgle, and Dantes twists the blade, swiping out across the side of the ancient man's throat, splitting his neck wide open along what should be an artery.

All that is revealed within, is the charred black edges of dessicated flesh that more resemble burned wood than living tissue. Kazimir chokes as that black fog spills forth from the cut, partially concealing something else hidden within, tattered and flapping length of what looks like some ghostly black-gray flames.

Retreating back, Kazimir stumbles away from Felix, snarling as his back is pressed up against the countertop where Claremont once was. He looks to the side, darting away from Dantes even as the Russian moves in with an upwards cleave of his sword, the tip of the blade nicking the wooden floor from the width of the arc.

Crashing into the door to the back room, Kazimir stares intently at the man he knows as Felix Ivanov, and when backed into a corner the pretenses of honor and nobility fail Lord Volken.

He does what any villain would do when faced with a more skilled opponent — Cheat.

"Observe, Mister Ivanov." His voice has a haunting and otherworldly quality, and with his throat slashed open he should be incapable of speech, but that horrible and echoing howl that rises up in his throat sounds like some fel wind blowing through dead trees. With his taunt, the black aura rises back up, and lunging vipers of shadowy smoke set forth from Kazimir, plunging through Dantes like several incorporeal serpents. Where each one impacts his body, flesh immediately darkens and bruises beneath his clothing. But the clothing itself remains unharmed, "Behold the answer to your curiosity." As those tendrils of black permeate Dantes, the wounds on Kazimir's body slowly begin to seal shut, siphoning the life force of the agent to weld the affected areas shut, the tattered and jagged gashes in his skin glowing orange like burned paper as thy start to seal closed.

How's the cliche go? Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill. And it certainly does here. He's settles his weight back for the killing blow, determined to take Volken's head off. But before he can explode into the lunge, Kazimir….transforms. Or reveals. Like the monster in a Miyazaki movie.

Each coil of smoke that battens on him. lamprey-fashion, has him jerking like a puppet with its strings being cut, one by one. By the time the third one's struck, he's dropped the sabre. It clatters to the floor, tip of the blade carving a pale swath in the stain of the wood. A breath or two, increasingly labored, and he's on his knees.

The moment the man once known as Felix Ivanov falls to his knees, the black serpents recoil from the former agent's body, snaking back through the air and into Kazimir's ashen husk — It is an echo of their first encounter, one that left Felix broken and ragged to the edges. Kazimir peers down at Dantes, through narrowed eyes that reveal slits of ice blue. With each slow, ponderous step forward, Kazimir seems pleased with the result of his ultimate confrontation, th heavy footfalls of his black shoes sounding like the slow beat of his own black heart. "It is inevitable, Mister Ivanov." His voice slowly returns to normal as his throat seals shut again, coming to stop and arm's length away from the fallen swordsman, moving to rest the tip of his sword-cane at the side of Dantes' neck. "The world will fall, and all things in it dust and ash, and from the cataclysm it will be reborn anew."

The haughty smile that creeps up on Kazimir's face is a sinister mockery of his normally stoic countenance, a smile reveling Cheshire-white teeth and the creases of wrinkles on his face. But cheating is not the only thing that villains fall into the trap of, for when their confidence of victory is assured, they gloat. It is in this confident basking, that Kazimir fails to witness the Edward Dantes' hand, precariously close to his downed sword.

It's as if all his years of smoking had caught up to him at once. Fel's breath rattles in his lungs, and he half-collapses forward to hack blood on the dusty floor. But he turns his face up to Kazimir's, as if to fix his enemy's face in his fading sight, hands scrabbling with apparent nervelessness against the floorboards. The edge of the swordcane nicks the skin, and the runnel of blood slides down, pooling in the hollow of the collarbone before staining the white cotton of the shirt.

And then he gambles it all on a last throw of the dice, snatching up the blade again and coming up in a smooth, unfaltering lunge, trying to carve Kazimir's head off from the jawline up. "Nothing is written," he insists in a whisper, as he does.

Really, it's fine. Every supervillain is supposed to monologue.

The steel of Dantes' family blade sweeps up through the air, catching both Kazimir unaware, and catching the soft flesh of his throat. Once more the blade meets home, tearing through his neck with greater ease than Dantes would have imagined; the burned-paper consistency of Kazimir's skin and the dried wood-like texture of his muscles cleaves far easier than living muscle, bone and sinew. A gout of ash sprays forth from the old man's throat, followed by a blossoming explosion of black flames and ephemeral motes of umbral fog. Kazimir's sword-cane clatters to the ground as one hand moves up to the gaping division between chin and neck, a span so deep it resembles some void to nothingness, an eternally black wound leading to the truth of Kazimir's hollow existance.

There is a sound, a horrible and unearthly sound of a wailing scream that rises up from Kazimir's body as shimmering tongues of black flame-like smoke issue forth from the wound in his throat. The blackened aura aura around Volken's body grows and throbs, causing the lights in thee shop to flicker and dim as if the electricity were being drawn from them. The wailing howl continues as the hazy aura expands outwards, growing into a negative corona of darkness and writhing tendrils of black smoke, partly concealing a vague silhouette of a human form that drifts up from Kazimir's body like the mythic spectre of death itself, a hazy and indistinct silhouette of darkness with a pained human visage, one that does not look like the body if came out of.

"Ivaaaanooov!" It's languid and droning wail sounds like a cacophony of voices, some male and some female all crying out at once. With the distance that Kazimir had staggered from the wound to his neck, the black haze has yet to reach Dantes, but even at this distance, he can feel his nerves tingling, his heart skipping a beat.

It hungers.

Run, indeed. Fel spares no thought for anything but escape - resolve to sacrifice himself eroded by the spectacle of something that was never, in any meaningful sense of the word, human. And that monstrous thing is between him and the front door. Let's pray there's a back door.

He's up on his feet, and fleeting for the workroom and beyond as fast as he can, though he will pause to snatch up Claremont, if the bladesmith is to be found - still with his saber in hand, though the scabbard lies forgotten on the countertop.

By the time Dantes hurtles the counterspace and barrels thorugh the hanging curtain dividing up the back room, there's no sign of Mister Claremont, save for an open door leading out from the supply room to an alley adjacent to a Szechuan restaurant. That moment of hesitation as he scans for Claremont is rewarded with the sounds of something screaming in the front office of the shop, and a further darkening of the adjacent room.

Faltering for but a moment longer, Dantes charges out the back door that Claremont hopefully had the sense too as well, exiting out onto a main street even as the sounds of rustling cloth begins to move towards the back room, and then circles around into the front of the store again, followed by a dry choking and gurgling sound.

Superhuman acceleration does not fail Dantes, affording him a measure of distance between himself and the monster he unleashed from within Volken's withered form.

The sky has darkened now, bereft of stare from the glow of the city.

And Felix the Cat, is down to two of his nine lives.

January 8th: Fool Me Once
January 8th: Say it Like You Mean It
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