Halloween Gala Exhibit Hall


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Scene Title Halloween Gala, Exhibit Hall
Synopsis A motley crew of masqueraders talk about costumes, history, politics, and violence — until real violence causes them to disperse.
Date October 31, 2020

Brooklyn Museum, Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall holds the Museum's most prized collections. Bits of the ancient world, separated by time and location, showcasing lives lived long before. This hall is quiet, inviting the party to pass through with their drinks and their companions and admire the pieces found here. Conversations have grown up around the more fascinating works here, but it's mostly kept at a polite volume punctuated with a too-loud laugh now and then. The wait staff are here, too, offering small delights— not to worry, the art is all covered by protective cases. As a precaution.

Perhaps the noise of the hall was too much, or perhaps the one lonely soul wandering among the display cases is simply a lover of art. Their mask itself is fashioned after a bit of art, in fact — some may recognize the blue sky with white clouds as a work by Magritte, “Future of Statues,” and the shape of the mask beneath it fashioned from a mold of Napoleon’s death mask. The iconic Napoleon outfit of a blue military coat, a bicorne hat, white riding breeches and boots is made ironic by the man’s height — he must be at least 6’3”.

He leans to examine a strange sculpture of some sort, tipping his head almost comically as he seems to try to make sense of it, before looking for the information placard and reading it. A deep voice intones, “Huh,” as he straightens his long form and moves to the next display.

Huruma fleetingly feels like part of the exhibit when eyes are on her- - and she enjoys it, even if her physical expressions don't change for it. She fits right in with the event as well as the art; a sculpted woman in a fitted dark red, velvet burnout dress, sleeves to wrists and skirt to knee, short but slick heels. Gold at wrist and neck, matching the mask gracing her face; the gold of a feline head surrounded by a crimson disc, with accents of Lapis blue.

Pale eyes shaded by eyelid and mask both, Huruma is able to follow the comings and goings of the party patrons without looking as if she is tearing her gaze from pieces of the displays. She is stopped in consideration in front of a glass window above a deep shadow-box of wooden artefacts. Some masks, even, in a play of coincidence. Huruma holds her hands loose at her back as she lingers, posture practiced.

Another figure moves through the room, with tired confidence carrying him forward and past a few quietly conversing pairs of people. A throaty noise is dragged from him as he looks from one display to the next, eyes half lidded behind a simple, pointedly asymmetrical black mask that looks, by far, on the cheaper end of the spectrum when compared to most others present.

What look Wally Gage is going for, exactly, is a mystery - but it does involve a cape made of sturdy enough material that it does not flutter behind a red vest and poorly colour-coordinated gray dress shirt and brown slacks when he stalks his way over to something that suddenly catches his attention. A few steps later he puts a hand directly on one of the protective cases, palm and fingertips meeting glass with a dull thump as he looks beyond it at an old string of pearls he can't even be bothered to read the specifics of.

"Why are you in here?" He questions it in the world's most obvious smoker's voice. "Not worn, not felt, not…" He waits as his thoughts come to him, hand slipping from glass as it balls into a fist. "Not used up."

The sound of a voice draws up the head of the man in the cloudy-sky mask. “Well, thanks, pal,” booms a deep baritone of a voice. “Same to you.”

It’s said with amusement, before his eyes — hard to tell the color, shadowed as they are by the mask atop his face — slides from the other man to the woman in the exhibit hall. “A commander, a cat, and a caped man walk into a museum… sounds like a joke, but not one I know the punchline for. You two got anything?”

Isaac Faulkner ambles through the Exhibit Hall, and for a wonder he doesn't look nearly as out of place as he feels.

His outfit — a double-breasted jacket and pants in deep violet with a dress shirt striped in violet and lilac and a lilac kerchief in the breast pocket, accompanied tonight by a decent-looking Phantom of the Opera mask he'd picked up from Red Hook — is somewhat more ostentatious than he usually wears, but he wears it well. His manner doesn't mark him as being particularly out of place, either — he's quite good at affecting nonchalance by now.

But the tickets to an event like this normally cost more than he can reasonably afford, even if he were so inclined. Still… someone had thought it was worth springing for a ticket for him, and it's not like he's doing anything better this year — especially not without his ability. So, for now, he ambles about, looking at the exhibits. Art history's never really been a strong point of his, but, hey, might as well since he's here.

One hand gripping the other wrist behind her spine, Huruma absorbs the room and the faint dissonances of the spaces beyond it. There are a great many people here, yet she seems perfectly comfortable soaking in the psychic pool of emotions. Some, she even recognizes. The jewelry in the shadowbox beside the lone string of pearls is much, much older, and much more used. Millennia worth. Huruma's inspection of it carries her idly along.

The one thing which finally does pull her eyes from the display are the words from the mouth of another guest. With the arch of her mask to swivel along with it, Huruma's turn of the head seems almost mechanical. Another moment passes—

"You do look like a stray tom to me." Congratulations? Her deep voice hangs in the air as she looks back to the beads and carvings behind glass, then up past her shoulder to where one more little phantom comes along. Fine, she thinks, she'll at least entertain. "…Ask him?"

Wally's head comes up when he earns himself an unexpected response. He offers a cursory look up and down the mystery man, before letting his attention slide right back where it was. Only then does he breathe something that sounds halfway between a groan and chuckle — appreciation for wit, even if not for the specific words.

He has no answer for the question, looking content to loiter as he is. "The 'caped man' only mimics," he mumbles in thought, then glances toward Isaac and asks with more familiarity than he should have in his pockets to spend, "Treat some old folk to a joke, will ya."

Napoleon’s chuckle is deep. “Watch who you’re calling old, pal,” booms that baritone voice which is a little weathered if not what one might call elderly. “And surely this feline femme fatale, while no kitten, isn’t an old folk.” The voice is still jovial enough, no offense truly taken despite the words.

The cloudy sky mask turns to face the newcomer, and his head inclines in a nod. “I like your style. Quite the ensemble. How many Phantoms of the Opera are here tonight? I know I’ve seen at least one more, but it’s a classic. I know I’ve seen at least a few more Guy Fawkes masks, but ’tis the season. Remember, remember, the fifth of November, as they say.”

Isaac drifts by, hearing the conversation going on but not really paying much attention to it — it's none of his business — right up until the man in the black mask looks his way. He pauses, glancing over in surprise… but he recovers quickly, inclining his head. A joke? Alright. What was it that Napoleon XL had said?

"A cat, a commander, a mimic, and a phantom walk into a museum. The staff, not quite sure they're not in a 'walks into a bar' joke, bring drinks." Happily, a waiter does appear to be drifting by, a tray of small party drinks in hand; Isaac takes a step to the side and plucks one in a single smooth motion. He raises an eyebrow at the black masked man; he'd asked for a joke. He hadn't specified it needed to be a good one… which is fortunate, because improv comedy is not Isaac's strong suit.

The man in the cloudy sky mask's comment draws Isaac's attention. "Thank you," he says, inclining his head in turn. "It doesn't surprise me to hear that there's another Phantom about, but it is a classic, after all." Isaac lets out a single chuckle at the 5th of November comment. "Hopefully this year's November 5th is rather less explosive than that one," he says dryly… though the way this year's been going, he isn't going to bet any large sums of money on that.

A bad joke is as good as a good one, sometimes. The cat scoffs, amused regardless of Isaac's lack of talent.

"More a kitten than a Grizabella." Huruma allows her scoff to linger still, angling the lines of her mask towards Napoleon; the crown lends her a derisive sort of aura, even though her talk seems …polite, at least. Crown turning away again, her eyes turn over to the pearls, and even in the shade of the mask, the glint of her eyes seems to mimic them.

"The original was not explosive, so I think we are fine on that front." The towering woman glances up to Isaac, idle in her recital and with a velvet depth in her voice, "Threescore barrels of powder below, to prove old England's overthrow… but, by God's providence, him they catch, with a dark lantern, lighting a match…"

"Mmm, could be swapped to the eighth of November, if one is feeling modern. And explosive." The amusement is somewhat palpable, despite the reference; distance allows her that much. "It's really too bad they failed. Imagine the world without colonizers, just blissful and without mass thefts of culturally important artifacts."

All this talking, but Wally doesn't look like he thinks there's much being said. After offering Isaac an expression of what looks like pity upon hearing his attempt at a joke, the older man turns from the display he was looking at, to stroll lazily toward a case by the opposite wall.

He looks like he might have disengaged from the conversation entirely, at least until he clicks his tongue at what Huruma's said. "You're not wrong," he drawls thoughtfully, planting a hand on the glass of the case over a large hunk of stone with nearly completely faded carvings in it. "But there's something very funny about complaining about the greed of man, considering…"

His free hand goes gesturing freely to his side. Considering where they are.

The “Extra Large” Napoleon stares at the “joke” offered by Isaac, but he too steps over to the waiter to liberate one of the drinks from the tray. “Well, at least there are adult beverages,” he opines, because clearly comedy isn’t going to happen.

“I’m afraid that allusion is lost on me, my dear,” his deep voice says in regards to Huruma’s talk of kittens and CATS. “Do you know, when I was younger, and I didn’t quite have the appreciation for history I do now, I asked an English classmate of mine in college if November 5th was meant to be a celebration of Guy Fawkes. He stared at me like I was an idiot — a bloody idiot, to use his words.”

He punctuates the anecdote with a hearty laugh. “I think he misunderstands that Americans really like things that go boom, and also that maybe the English government deserved overthrowing.” He lifts his glass to Huruma on that shared opinion, then turns to include each of the men in the toast, before taking a long drink from the glass. “These days, I’d say they could do with a good coup — maybe one that succeeds.”

Faulkner raises an eyebrow, offering an incline of his head to cat-mask. "I don't think I've ever actually heard the second part of that. Either that or it didn't stick with me like the first part did."

"Then again… as you say. It is certainly close to the eighth of November, and that is a day of ill auspice indeed," he says, and he isn't quite as good as she is about letting the tragedy roll off of him. "New York getting blown up — twice. The Cambridge Massacre. And just last year, the Itinerant Dawn…"

Faulkner falls silent at that, shaking his head, and takes a drink to give himself a chance to regain his composure. The mimic's taste for irony provides a good line of thought to stave off his nascent glumness, though; it's enough to draw its smirk to his face.

Napoleon XL's commentary about his take on Guy Fawkes Day draws a chuckle from Faulkner; there's something endearing about being able to admit one's own past follies. Perhaps part of the magic of masks, or perhaps this Napoleon possesses the same sense of confidence the original had had. Either way, it's worth a chuckle and a raise of his glass.

"There's something a bit on the nose about someone dressed as Napoleon hoping for a British coup," Faulkner says, appreciating the irony of it for a moment before becoming more serious. "Though I do hear some troubling things from those quarters, lately. I noticed Harding said something in the debate about daily riots in the UK — immediately before BBC had a sudden attack of technical difficulties," Faulkner says, and the sarcasm on those last two words is thick enough to cut with a knife.

"Americans do love a good revolution. Even if it isn't theirs." Something in Huruma's tone speaks to personal experience, her attention roaming from the trio nearest her to the far end of the exhibit hall. Not so much looking as it is surveying.

"The good old 'technical difficulties'. A well-worn tactic. I've seen plenty of dissent quelling… and that is always a staple." When she looks back it comes with the idle slinking to the next glass frame. "They just smack of fascism. There is some hope left in the underground efforts there… Even for the unexpressive."

“The eighth is certainly nothing to celebrate, it’s true,” the tall man says, deep voice somber. “I do miss that short stretch of time where the UK was a bunch of poncy socialists and not oppressive fascists, but if America is inclined to rebel, revolt, or riot time and time again, as our forefathers did, I guess it’s just as likely that Britain will decide that it’s its God-given right and duty to inflict its social mores on the rest of the world.”

Napoleon takes a long drink from his glass, before looking for somewhere to put the empty. Well, shit. There’s no server in sight and nowhere to rest the dead soldier but on the art cases, and even he knows better to do that.

“Harding’s got my vote. I worked under Praeger, and he’s a good man, so if he says vote for Harding, I’m going to listen. Never thought I’d see the day when the Democrat was more hardnosed than the Independent or Libertarian,” he says wryly.

Oblivious to the political commentary happening in the hall, one of the aforementioned other Phantoms strolls in with Christine Daaé on his arm. But don’t let him hear himself be called other. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the Phantom at this party. After all, he has the girl. The blonde on his arm, dressed in white, head adorned with a crown of dog rose flowers, and wearing a mask covered in musical notation and accented in the color of his vest, walks with a cane. The pommel is set with a small crystal ball, the length of the walking stick itself is polished cherrywood.

“I’m just saying,” she looks unhappy, almost pouty, “I could have stood to have a bit more flash tonight. I haven’t been to one of these in so long, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to properly make an impression.” Ourania’s blue eyes catch the movement of one of the waitstaff and she nudges her partner. “Oh, Harry! Grab us some champagne.” She realizes she needs to relinquish her hold on his arm to facilitate this retrieval, but she’ll need the hand free to hold the glass anyway.

"And believe me, my muse, you look angelic." Harry is adamant in this softly-spoken promise to the woman on his arm, right up until the moment she spies another floating waiter with champagne. He sighs as he takes a moment to wait for her to properly disentangle herself from him, giving her a long look. "Worry not about others when you shine so bright yourself," he warns her.

And then when he turns to intercept them a drink, his step visibly stutters for seeing someone else dressed like him within eyesight. Worse, he's not even—

He's not even in full costume! Just ripping it off.

Whoever the purple-breasted phantom is, Harry shoots him a dark look as he gathers up two flutes of champagne, eyes lingering longer than is necessary— or polite— before he turns back to the woman who completes the other half of his costume. "It could be worse," he informs Ourania, an unintentional completion to the thought he left off on.

"Oh?" Faulkner asks, surprised at the namedrop. Well done, he supposes. "President Praeger was certainly a step in the right direction," Faulkner says, his tone thoughtful; for his part, he pays no mind to the entrance of the other Phantom or his Christine — he's in a conversation.

"For me, it's between Harding and Hesser. I think… I think that I'm more inclined to support Harding," he says after some consideration, offering a slight nod towards Napoleon. "Although Hesser does raise some good points — specifically about restoring infrastructure throughout the country. There is a vast amount of work yet to be done."

Then, after a moment's pause, he chuckles. "I also spent some time in Montana before I came back to New York, so that might also have a bit of influence."

"Once upon a time, as I understand it, the traditional party lines were reversed, a century-and-a-half ago. I'm not up on my American History." Her voice is certainly tinted away from red, white, and blue. Fingertips tap along a forearm as they cross loosely in front, and the woman's voice is more ponderous than before when she reconsiders Napoleon's features, head to toe, inside and out. Worked under Praeger, hm?

"I was hoping to hear potential cabinet choices before now… you can tell much more by the people they would surround themselves with. Hesser, the most. His interests seem… misaligned…" And by extension, the ones who will actually be running things with more discerning eyes. Huruma appears more than game to go further into her calm politicking with these people— until something else grabs her attention, less by sight and more by sensation.

When the haloed lioness mask moves, it follows the track of an invisible string with hawk-like accuracy. Height, relaxed bearing, and passive focus are her outline when shaded eyes affix to the beautifully garbed Christine Daae with her meticulous Phantom.

"…There are places worth emulating." Is the last that Huruma adds to the lingering conversation between herself and her acquaintances.

“FDR is where the swaparoo was complete, more or less,” Napoleon tells the feline with a nod of his head. “Sorta inched that way after the Civil War, what with industrialization and railroads and the like, but that was when there was no going back. Lots of Americans don’t understand it themselves, and will try to tell you that the Grand Old Party is the most tolerant, nodding back to Honest Abe, but, well, they’re a bunch of ignorant chowderheads who think protecting a confederate statue is somehow protecting the, I don’t know, zeitgeist of the western world, like someone’s threatening to bomb the Louvre or something when they talk about taking one down.”

The man might sound like a political science professor if it weren’t for words like chowderhead peppering his speech.

“You have a doppelganger, young friend,” he tells Isaac, Phantom Number One, with a nod to Phantom Number Two. “Does this mean a blood match?” To Huruma and Wally, he adds, “Whom shall we bet on? I’ve got a fiver for Purple Pants here.”

Giving every ounce the impression of someone whose interest in the conversation's topic has slipped past salvaging, Wally angles an unimpressed look back only upon word of a bet. He lazily rounds another transparent case, so he can look the scene over from where his stroll has taken him.

Glancing from face to face, and his eyes land on Ourania and Harry both, he throws his head back and laughs. It's not a nice noise, throaty and unrestrained, with the amusement still fully carrying on and into his answer. "Ohhh, I don't know." He hums a low note in thought, lifting a hand to scratch at his chin. "This new one looks like he might enjoy being challenged. Might have some experience flying off the handle."

With that said - familiarity nor the promise of small bets prove enough to keep him standing where he is. He turns and wanders, leisurely, to be the sore thumb somewhere else.

“How does it feel, darling?” Ourania asks mildly when she accepts the champagne from her date. The mask hides her amusement, save for a light in her eyes. Her drink is brought up to her lips before they can betray her with a smirk.

One that is promptly wiped off her face with the combination of what feels like a ripple against her senses, followed by that laugh and the sound of that voice. Ourania’s stomach drops and she takes another swallow of bubbly, as though it might help wash down the sudden wave of nausea.

With the space far less crowded than the main hall, the blonde empath closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath as she opens her senses again. Curiosity about that nudge has gotten the better of her, and she needs the practice. The taste of a handful of complex emotional profiles had been expected, but it’s like she’s been slammed with twice that amount, and rapidly multiplying. It crashes into her with an effect like feedback from a microphone, the cacophony amplified straight into her brain. The source of the magnification is pinpointed with the same precision displayed by the other. Ourania lifts her head and zeroes in on a woman who is unmistakable to her, even behind the feline façade. Or maybe that only makes it all the more obvious to her.

Huruma,” Ourania hisses under her breath. Her own mask may help to hide her pain, but it’s clear in her voice from where Harry’s standing so near to her. The other empath has years of experience separating others’ emotions from her own, but the fledgling has no such skill. There’s too much to experience at once. Huruma soaks up the composition of the room — including the younger woman’s own notes in the symphony — which Ourania receives it in full and reflects back to Huruma, who bounces it back to Ourania, and so on into a building crescendo that sends Christine into a swoon.

The abrupt unsteadiness is what draws the Phantom at her side to drop his own grievances. "Easy," he warns her as he sees her head bobble, sees her feet shift. Harry places a hand at the center of Ourania's back as a counterbalance, to ground her, before he realizes that touch might go unnoticed. As soon as she doesn't seem like she's on the verge of falling, his hand floats higher than the corset, resting on her upper back instead.

That done, he lets his gaze roam to find the source of the laughter he'd overheard, finding Wally of all people before long. Of course he'd have run into the old man amidst all this art.

How unpleasant.

"Doing all right?" he asks Ourania, looking back to her. He has no idea what she's going through, but the person connected to her by an invisible tether does. Faint echoes of his confusion run under the feedback loop, that shouts to find the down option on the emotional volume he's suddenly onslaught with.

Faulkner nods at Catmask's point, starting to actually enjoy himself despite everything. Napoleon's minilecture draws an amused smile to his face, as well; the colorful language and hyperbole serve well to highlight the material he's covering. Napoleon seems like an effective speaker, which lends credence to his claims of working in the Praeger administration.

"The Republicans certainly have fallen since the days of Lincoln," Isaac agrees. "As I recall, their Presidential hopeful was caught up in that whole 'abducting people for illegal fighting' thing earlier this year," Isaac says thoughtfully, his tone not at all conveying that he had been one of the victims of that particular nightmare. He takes a sip of his champagne flute to make sure his voice can retain that level tone.

"It's interesting that they haven't been able to muster someone to replace her… and not a particularly good omen for them, I would think, to have a Presidential election going on and them without a horse in the show. I wonder if they're going to be able to come back from that, or if the Libertarians are going to replace them on the stage?"

Faulkner is distracted from his political musings by Napoleon's indication of the other Phantom's presence; he glances over to study them for a moment, only to look back when Napoleon brings up blood matches. "Gentlemen, please. This is a gala, not a sequel to Bloodsport," he says. He pauses. "Another sequel to Bloodsport," he corrects himself, sounding pained as he remembers that there had, sadly, already been sequels to Bloodsport. Several of them.

"In any case, of the two of us, he clearly has the better costume; I have the good grace to know when I'm bested," he says, sounding amused. "Besides… I rather like this suit and it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it."

In the moment before Ourania falters, Huruma's head tilts, feline mask unmoved.

This is new.

Resonance comes quickly, like a brass section in a chamber; Huruma's eyes grow heavier as she muffles her own senses, pushing the rest away and absorbing none save for what Ourania gives. No feedback, now. Just Huruma, having twisted the gear at the spicket. The other empath carries a multitude of her own emotions, caged behind psychic bars and unreachable, though visible— a moon in the sky. Broad emotional strokes paint curiosity on the surface, however, free for the daubing.

"No blood feuds in the museum, gentlemen." As security, a good piece of her has to say it. Huruma hasn't taken her eyes from Christine and her Phantom.

“To be frank, I’d be happy for there to be a viable third party or fourth in the system. Praeger of course was a rogue Independent, but that might’ve been a fluke. Looking like it’s not, which suits me dandy,” the deep-voiced Napoleon says. “And, to be blunt, if the Republicans couldn’t do better than Ouisie Noble, they deserve to go extinct.”

When Ourania has her spell, he glances around for one of the waiters, beckoning him over with two flaps of his four fingers. “Some water, please,” he tells the server.

“As for blood sports, well.” He lifts his glass to take another sip. “A little action couldn’t hurt. Everyone looks beautiful, the building is beautiful, the food is beautiful, the art is beautiful, but it’s all so boring.” His deep voice elongates the single word in a sing-song like a child would. He turns to Huruma, a glint in his eyes. The shadows cast by the mask make it hard to tell if they’re green or blue. “I’ve got a fiver here for you if you KO Purple Pants over there.” He’s probably joking.

The hand on her back keeps her steady and the metaphorical shut-off valve thrown by Huruma keeps it from escalating. Ourania’s brow creases, her face having gone very pale and she’s trying rather unsuccessfully to catch her breath, and do so more deeply than her corset currently allows. Still, she nods her head very quickly, swallowing dryly and turning to look at Harry at her side. “Back of the neck, please,” she directs him, lifting the hand clutching the champagne flute to point her thumb in that direction, indicating where she’d like the placement of his hand.

Eyes half-lidded, Harry breathes out a faint laugh under his breath. If she's well enough to be making requests, she'll be fine. Nonetheless, he slips his arm higher, settling her shoulder under his embrace and resting his gloved palm over her bared neck. His mood rights, an unworried thing that might serve as a separate sort of anchor. No— he moves straight onto the next intrigue, the curiosity in the man who finds an event like this boring without a bit of action.

A man after his own heart, really.

Ourania relaxes when he follows her direction, although she flashes him a dark look. “It’s not funny,” she hisses under her breath.” Still, the way he stops worrying allows her to do the same and she sags slightly against his embrace, exhaling heavily as she shuts herself off from her ability, now that she’s no longer the onslaught of much too much. “Thank you,” she doesn’t forget to tell him. Her breathing starts to come easier now, though her hand still trembles when she sips her champagne.

Thanks received, Harry lets his arm fall to a more comfortable height, keeping Ourania close with his hand at a more appropriate height on her back. It's then the green-greys of his eyes flash on to meet Huruma's. She has a keen interest in them both, and a man is daring her to knock someone out, after all. She's of interest, too.

Faulkner's attention is on the other Phantom's Christine for a moment, frowning… but it seems she's recovered from whatever spell it is that had befallen her. Napoleon's comment, though, draws Faulkner's gaze back to him; he gives the man with the cloudy sky mask a look of marked displeasure… though he keeps Catmask in the corner of his eye, too, just in case she doesn't think it's a joke. "How droll," he says blandly.

There's a certain irony in the man condemning Ouisie and then immediately joking about bribing people to start fights for him, and that is not endearing. Not one bit. He shakes his head. "If there's going to be fighting happening, I'd rather it be for a more substantive reason than someone else's amusement," he says dryly. Then he shrugs. "Though Ouisie might not agree with me on that, of course," he says off-handedly.

“If anyone’s keeping track, the only thing Ouisie is agreeing with is a ten-by-ten cell.” The voice comes from over Faulkner’s shoulder, a woman’s voice with a flinty smokiness to it. Ourania and Huruma felt her approaching before anyone else, though. She is not tall, but carries herself with a presence twice what five and a half feet would normally command, a black suede cameo mask covering just the area around her green eyes and the bridge of her nose. “And as for rogue independents…” she says with a growing smile on ruby-tinted lips, “I’d love to hear your thoughts on Governor Harding.”

The new arrival to the conversation is dressed as the famed Russian ruler, Catherine the Great. Adorned in a crushed red velvet dress with commanding presence, sleeveless, though the white fur stole wrapped around her shoulders, decorated in goosefeather and sable trim hides much of her arms. Below the stole a crimson and black brocade cape spills down her back and trails behind her on the floor, a sash of orange silk with three black stripes wrapped around her waist, pinned with a triangular clasp of gold. Her brown hair is wound up high atop her head, a laurel of gold leaf extending across her temples.

Though she wears the likeness of an Empress of Russia, it feels as though there is an air of royalty to her on arrival. There is no mistaking the presence of security that has flooded the room with her, in both the figurative and literal sense of discreetly dressed black-clad men with ear pieces. Secret service. Huruma knows precisely who this is, she is on the VIP list.

She is the potential next Vice President of the United States of America: Christine Dowe.

But Catherine the Great did not come alone. There is a tall man looming in her presence, one that she holds out her short glass of whiskey toward without looking back in his direction. “Ice,” she requests casually.

Special Agent Byrne suppresses a smirk well enough, though there’s a bit left in the slight hitch of an eyebrow. His suit is as forgettable as the uniforms of his fellow special agents, though his brown hair giving way to white sets him apart from his much younger coworkers. He doesn’t wave for a server, just half-steps forward to grip the bottom of his charge’s glass with the fingertips of his left hand, careful not to touch her.

Frost blossoms on the surface of the glass like creeping ivy between Dowe’s fingers. The water suspended in the drink crystalizes, tiny blossoms of ice quickly forming a haze in the drink. A wisp of steam puffs into existence in his right hand before dissipating in the breeze of another guest’s passing. “Your Imperial Majesty,” he says softly, giving a bow short enough to only be read as cheeky. He steps back, blue eyes twinkling as his expression slowly returns to neutral professionality.

Napoleon XL laughs, a deep and booming thing, at Faulkner’s obvious distaste for his jest. “Relax, sport, I was only kidding. I’m sure our feline femme fatale has much better things to do and would demand a much higher price, even if she were to accept payment for her violence.”

The voice from behind draws his attention that way, and the tallest Napoleon’s hearty laughter booms once again. “A contemporary, at last,” he states, before bowing with a formal flourish, deep at the waist. “Vashe Imperatorskoye Velichestvo,” he says; no one will confuse him for a native speaker of the difficult tongue, but perhaps there are some points for trying.

“Harding’s a good man. The parties are in need of large-scale overhauls and kicks in the pants. Not,” he turns to Faulkner, “yours, Purple Pants. I won’t threaten you with any more brawls today. Despite my brutish size and sense of humor, I’m a pacifist — until I’m not.”

"Tempting to spice things up as it is… yes, my rates are much higher than that." Huruma answers Napoleon with a drawl and a smile in her voice if not in her expression. Harry's look in her direction is answered with plainness. There is nothing to see here. Her senses blossom out in a fan away from Ourania's aura, leaving a spot of dark in her illumination of the room.

"You've got him trained, I see." Finally tearing her eyes and mask away from the second Phantom, survey turns to Catherine, in all her casual splendor. Though lacking the decoration— and the manservants— the Hound carries herself similarly, looking down to assess Ms. Dowe, then up to the man at her side. "Even if a shiny stone isn't good for skipping," She asked. "At least it's pretty."

The sudden interjection into the conversation prompts Isaac to turn to regard the speaker. He studies her for a moment… and then Faulkner lets himself consider her words. He thinks about Ouisie Noble's fate, lets himself reflect on that whole miserable situation for the moment to figure out how he feels about it — probing at a bruise, more or less.

Faulkner considers… and, after a moment, he finds his answer. "Good," he says, inclining his head to the woman clad as Catherine the Great; his voice is quiet, but there's no hint of satisfaction or vindictiveness in it, only a sort of… weary catharsis. A relief that an unpleasant episode is over, and the damage being dealt with appropriately. With that decided, his gaze sharpens a bit, studying Catherine as he speculates about her identity; she looks vaguely familiar, and the suddenly more prevalent security guys lurking about suggest that she's probably a VIP of some sort… though try as he might, Isaac can't quite place her.

Napoleon XL's comment is met with a slow exhalation. "My apologies if I was a bit prickly; the subject of Ouisie Noble and her conduct is… something that can put me in a rather uncivil state of mind, if I let it," he says mildly, sounding at least somewhat apologetic. "Governor Harding is a more agreeable topic," he says, smiling a bit as he shifts to include Catherine in his gaze. "From what I've seen, I think him a man of integrity, and someone well qualified to hold this nation's highest office," he says, nodding once.

U nego uzhasnyy russkiy aktsent,” Ourania mutters under her breath against the rim of her glass. She must be starting to recover if she can throw shade again, however quietly. At this point, she’s deliberately avoiding looking at Huruma again. Blue eyes instead study the form of Catherine the Great slowly, taking her in. There’s a pang of jealousy for how well she pulls off the ensemble and the regal bearing.

When one of the waiters arrives with that glass of water requested by Napoleon, Ourania drains the last of her champagne and swaps for it with murmured gratitude. The glass is raised briefly to the one who ordered it for her. As much as she’d rather continue to indulge, it’s not a bad idea to take a moment to recuperate. After all, she promised Harry she’d last through the evening. She’s not about to make herself a liar, no matter how much her head still aches.

The display with Dowe’s glass has Ourania tipping her head with her curiosity, a certain level of appreciation present for someone so willing to show off their power in a public venue such as this. Especially given his attachment. Instead of remarking on that incredibly useful party trick, the blonde asides to her date in a soft voice, “She’s rather pretty, isn’t she?”

Speaking of bloodsport, look at the politician that's entered the room. Harry's darkened eyes shift the way of the face he's seen only on television with more external interest than internal, at least until she executes that regal gesture involving her attendant.

The murmur of Russian out of his Christine dampens the Phantom's mood considerably, but he responds to her in a murmur, "Only if you find every blonde who cleans up well to qualify. Though her prior activities during the war, well— that was beautiful indeed." He qualifies his opinion with the lightest of shrugs before turning his attention back to the question the empress poses the gathering.

He hadn't planned to say anything, but the replies the woman receives lack a certain something. Lifting his glass, Harry reckons with a lifted voice, "One might say he has quite the star shining over his campaign. Such a latecomer, and now he has the explicit approval of the current president behind him. Both activities that may make or break him— along with his selection of a running mate."

But it seems he's a good enough topic to drink to, and so Harry does. "We'll know shortly, won't we?" he observes with a wry smile.

“No problem at all. Trust me, there is no love lost between me and Ig-Noble. I’m glad to be out of a position where I had to keep my mouth shut and look pretty — or I suppose dangerous,” Napoleon asides to poor ‘Purple Pants,’ before tipping his head in the direction of the walking ice machine.

“That was my gig for a long time,” he tells the group. “My only regret in leaving that is it was before I would have had the honor of serving under the up-and-coming Harding administration,” the man says as he offers a hand to Dowe to shake.

“Hampton Dartwell, formerly Secret Service, now Deputy Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is a whole big mouthful of words that translates to bureaucrat who looks nice in a suit and gives out money to the people doing the hard work these days,” Hampton says in that sports announcer voice of his. “We’ve met before, but I don’t expect you to remember, of course.”

He holds out a hand to each of the others already gathered, now that he’s outed himself.

“Hampton,” Catherine the Great says with a meticulously playful smile over the brim of her now-frosted glass. “You look well, hope you didn’t have any trouble finding the venue.”

As demure as she is, Dowe-as-Catherine can’t help but blink her attention over to Huruma after greeting the familiar friend. “He’s self-trained,” she clarifies to Huruma, “like the best of them. I suppose a proper introduction might be in order too.” She motions with her glass from Huruma to her ever-present shadow. “Special Agent Zachariah Byrne, secret service.” Dowe says graciously, then motions to Huruma. “And this is Commander Huruma Dunsimi, of Wolfhound. She also fought in Operation: Apollo against the Vanguard and liberated the nation of Madagascar. Her son,” Dowe says with a raise of one brow, “is actually the head of Madagascar’s SLC-Expressive self-defense force.”

It would seem Dowe is, if nothing else, incredibly well-informed. She levels a smile at Huruma, then looks back to Byrne with one brow raised. “I won’t embarrass Special Agent Byrne with his accolades, I’ll let him do that himself if he’s so inclined.”

When Dowe interjects Agent Byrne directly into conversation with the event’s guests, he can’t help but cast a look to Deputy Director Dartwell as if to say, Oh, so you’re familiar with these egregious breaches of standard practice too, followed with a respectful nod. Their paths brought them into each other’s orbits in the service, but they never did manage to properly meet or speak to one another.

When Dowe wraps up her introduction to Huruma, he doesn’t extend his hand for her to shake, though he does pull it from behind his back, resting it by his hip should she choose to extend hers. “It’s an honor to meet you, Commander,” he says with a warm, honest smile. “I don’t know that my accolades could possibly compete with that resume. I came to the service out of US Marshals Service OPO back in the Petrelli days. Most of my work of note falls into the gap between ‘Went missing during the Mitchell administration’ and ‘testified at Albany’.” He shrugs. Part of the job.

“Truth of the matter, though,” he continues, as much for Dartwell’s benefit as Commander Dunsimi’s, “Mostly these days I’m teaching recruits at the new facilities in KC. Ms. Dowe was kind enough to have me enlisted to active duty when she heard the ice maker at the museum was broken.” There’s definitely some active mistruth in his complaint, though he remains in good humor. While his assignments aren’t predictable, he does still spend much of his time in the field, if only to keep experience in a group otherwise made of rookies.

Sensing a certain amount of bravado from her partner, Ourania decides to take matters into her own hands regarding their introductions, lest his ego write a check that she can't cash. It's long been a conviction of hers that names have power. The concept of true names was one that had been good enough for the Egyptians and Sumerians, after all.

“My name is Ourania Pride,” the blonde adorned with flowers offers as greeting, making sure her hand is dry before she accepts Hampton's to shake. “The gentleman on my arm here,” she turns head to regard her Phantom, gaze sweeping him down and up briefly, “goes by the name of Harry Stoltz.”

She flashes a smile and gives a small shake of her head. “I'm afraid I don't have any personal accolades.” Ourania looks a little sheepish as she admits, “I'm just a singer and pianist in a lounge. Nothing so remarkable as any of you.” Her gaze settles on Dowe and she lifts her glass slightly. “I'm humbled to be in the same room as such greatness.” If that was a pun, she will not be apologizing for it or accepting criticism at this time. “Blowing the whistle on the DoEA must have taken courage. Especially given that you could have kept your head down, the way many of your non-Expressive peers did. I commend you.”

Self-trained, hm? Huruma's mouth in the shadow of her mask curves at the clarification, and her attention at least seems held at the introduction. For the time being she does keep her hands to herself.

"A fair timeframe to have 'work of note'." Huruma amends for Byrne; accolades aside, she can appreciate a veteran as he seems to be. To boot, she raises one brow to Byrne, tone amused, polite in its teasing. "Teaching recruits? Condolences." At least he can get taken for walkies between that, it appears. The exchange between voices and faces gives the elder empath a moment longer to study the swap of emotions from one acquaintance to another— none of which she technically knows.

Huruma studies Ourania as she introduces herself; eyes roaming to Harry by the end. No accolades, just a musician and her man. Amusement trickles from her, though she angles away somewhat to indicate that she is, in fact, still doing her job. The aim of her surveying lets her aside to Dartwell without interrupting Howe's newest meet and greet; "That job description must mean that I have to be nice to you."

Dartwell’s laugh at Dowe’s teasing comment is a booming one. “Well, you try to tell Her First Ladyship she’s wrong and see where that gets you. I learned long ago not to argue with her, even if it means missing the first thirty minutes of most events — or holding everyone else up. I’m happy to take the fall though. I’d walk through fire for that one.” It’s said with fondness that comes from service.

But the introduction to Huruma is met with a deeper bow, and to her reply, his booming laugh sounds again. “Only if you want fed money. Some people would rather not deal with me and handle things from their own accounts, Commander. I do believe I’m penciled in for a sit-in with you and yours soon, though. Tell me,” he leans in, as if about to ask for classified secrets, “do you have decent coffee or should I stop for some on the way in?”

Byrne draws his masked face in that direction, and a hand slides into his military coat to bring out a tiny Altoids tin, one of the mints grasped by white glove and popped into his mouth before he offers the tin to the little cluster. Polite is polite, after all.

“I doubt that’s true,” he tells Ourania, when she says she has no accolades. “And what does Mr. Stoltz do?”

Huruma's impressive introduction — delivered by the (likely) future Vice President, no less! — forestalls Isaac's own, a pensive mood falling over him as he considers the company he finds himself in, and their own accomplishments relative to his own.

He wonders again why he's here, and what he's doing… but then he shakes it off. Someone had wanted him here, and had gone to some trouble to make it happen. He hasn't found them yet, but he has fallen in with a crowd he would definitely not otherwise have met.

"Yes, please," he says at Napoleon's offer of a mint; as he takes it, he glances to the others. "I've neglected my introductions, I realize; my apologies, I was surprised to realize I was in such illustrious company," he says. "Isaac Faulkner; I'm in shipping." He grins wryly. "No accolades to my name either, I'm afraid," he says, nodding to Ourania.

His gaze drifts to Harry next; Dartwell isn't the only one curious as to what the other Phantom does. Something involving costuming, perhaps?

Harry smiles, gesturing humbly with his glass of champagne to indicate he feels he does nothing particularly noteworthy. "I engage in the thankless art of convincing well-to-do individuals like yourself to spend their time and money in New York and nearby while on holiday." With a light chuckle, he's quick to point out, "It's a less difficult task now than it used to be, I assure you. Time was I felt like I was promoting the novelty of Yamagato Park over a restored New York, but the Safe Zone really has shaped up over this last year." His head cants to the side momentarily. "It's wonderful what consistent electric power and the opening of numerous new venues has done to help it sell itself better."

With a gracious gesture of his head toward the woman at his arm, he adds, "In my downtime, I support operations at Rossignol, the wonderfully designed lounge Doctor Pride moonlights at. It's a trip across the river to Staten, but one well-worth it. If not to hear my Christine sing, then to enjoy the atmosphere there." To Hampton, Harry smiles. "Should you have time to drop by while you're in town, I'd be thrilled to buy you a drink."

Of all the times for someone to finally recognize the title she feels like she’s earned. It’s now. Coming from him. “Oh, please, no,” Ourania demures quickly, waving away her partner’s acknowledgement. Her smile renews with a quick shake of her head. “Please do come by and see the venue if you’re given to do so. It’s breathtaking. And the view… It’s wonderful to see the restorations. The view changes constantly as everything builds up. It’s like watching a garden blossom.”

Her enthusiasm is genuine, but she’s quick to tamp that down, too. To force herself to take up less space and discourage the conversation from turning much to her. There’s one last thing she feels compelled to add, however. “Rossignol has a beautiful VIP section. If you do decide to pay us a visit, you tell them Miss Pride sent you, and you’ll be taken care of. There’s not a bad seat in the house, but those are the best seats.”

Self-consciously, Ourania smooths her hand over the hair gathered at the nape of her neck, as if to make sure nothing’s slipped free. Her focus turns not away from the conversation, but to at least seek out another round of champagne. Please.

The comms belonging to both Byrne and Huruma come alive in their respective ears at the same time, with the same information but to different ends: Byrne, to protect Dowe. Huruma, to protect everyone. The gardens are under some sort of attack — smoke bombs, gunfire, and at least one SLC-Expressive assailant with the ability to use concussive force.

Agent Byrne directs one of the younger agents toward the door. Protocol here is simple: secure a route to the exit and get the protectee to a vehicle. His eyes flash over those gathered, calm but leary of potential hostile actors. His look settles on Deputy Director Dartwell, giving him a look that communicates what he didn’t hear over an earpiece. The former special agent is almost certainly armed. And with Commander Dunsimi here to provide security to the guests, there’s no sense waiting around. She gets a short nod of the head.

“We move now, Ma’am,” he tells Christine.

Christine tenses in response, whatever conversational arrows she was lining up to shoot fall to the wayside when Byrne nods at her and adopts that tone. She looks to Huruma to lead, then Dartwell to direct, following her security detail’s instructions with silent deference and tension at her jaws. She’d heard horror stories about pop-up violence in the Safe Zone, but she’d hoped they were just that — stories.

"It's better than it used to be." is the only answer that Dartwell gets out of Huruma, whose eyes are still set on the span of the gallery hall and body language seems to speak of an under-the-skin readiness. Stillness with a side of intensity. An eye of a storm is, perhaps fittingly, much of the group's first impression of her.

"If you'll excuse me." Huruma allows her gaze to sweep over the bodies gathered nearest her before she pivots and moves away, shoes clicking and pace at ease. A calm approach to an inset panel in one of the archways leading away from the exhibit hall.

She hooks her fingers under the mouth of the emergency alarm and jams it upward. No fire inside hits any sensors, so there is no water system that flicks on; the result is flashing lights at the exits and a disruptive intermittent wail.

Huruma is casually presumptive when she removes an antique from its knee-high pedestal and steps up, voice lifted between the pitchy noises of the security system.

"Please exit through the emergency doors in an orderly fashion."

It's an emergency. Just do it.

And things were just getting interesting. Harry smirches his tongue off the roof of his mouth when he perceives the shift begin to happen. He sees the movements, the turns of heads, and he's certain Ourania does too, but he tips his head to her anyway. "Something's happened," he murmurs. When Huruma turns abruptly to leave, he turns his head over his shoulder to see if he can glimpse into the main hall, unflinching when the alarm begins to blare.

Odd choice of tactic for whatever is going on. A bomb, perhaps? He begins to frown.

"For once, I recommend we join the crowd," he voices much more loudly now to the woman with him.

Perceptive as she is — she hasn’t survived this long by not knowing how to spot trouble before it spots her — Ourania is nodding even before he’s asiding to her. Yes, she’s caught on. Given the direction to evacuate, coupled with the klaxons (which send an involuntary shudder through her), her first inclination is also to suspect some kind of explosive.

Ourania grabs Harry’s arm and fixes him with a determined, stern sort of expression. “Go,” she tells him, expecting he’ll understand the implication of the emphasis. “I’m right behind you, but don’t let me slow you down.” If something is about to happen… “Please,” she whispers, already nudging him along, demonstrating her intention to head that way herself, rather than let him think she might try to do something misguided as run toward the danger. Wherever its origin may be.

Harry doubletakes in his reaction to his partner's insistence. "Ourania, please," he hisses to her.

Harry,” Ourania responds tersely, voice pitched low. She’s not accepting arguments from him on this.

Grabbing her arm in return, he begins to walk briskly with her in tow. He seems determined not to leave her. But his arm around hers shifts, his hand coming to rest at her back instead. Harry leaves his champagne glass on an exhibit stand as they pass, and his free hand flexes into fist before slowly coming undone.

"I'm right here," he indicates, his hand at her back pressing her forward. She nods her head and murmurs to him, “Je t’aime,” an edge to the words that speaks to the intensity of her concern for him. The pressure at her back eases after that nudge as he doesn't take a step to follow. In the criss-cross of persons all heading for the exit, he's suddenly not there at all.

For anyone who'd been watching the two of them close enough to see, there had been a blink of a moment where Harry's form blurred slightly as he leaned to the side like he meant to break off in another direction— and by the next, he'd vanished.

Ourania carries forward seemingly alone, moving toward the main hall as briskly as she can manage with her walking stick and the ache in her bones.

Dartwell is spry enough for as large as a man as he is; his cloudy-sky mask pulled off and tucked into his pocket — perhaps to elicit trust or perhaps simply because he’s tired of the damn thing on his face — he heads out of the exhibit hall, ensuring those he’s been chatting with find their way toward the front doors before turning toward the gardens himself.

Doctor Pride? Faulkner's brows furrow at Harry's comment. A lounge singer and a doctor, too? There might be a joke in that — a degree doesn't go as far as it used to, blah blah blah — but it doesn't really strike Faulkner as all that funny. Nor does it seem that Doctor Pride really wants to talk about it.

Well. Fair enough. The next thirty seconds provides a convenient distraction anyway in the form of alarms going off and half of Isaac's little group wandering off in one direction or another… though wandering might not be the right word, considering the speed at which some of them had been moving. He grimaces in frustration; he still doesn't know who the hell had bought him a ticket, or why… although if nothing else, he got to meet some interesting people. Maybe that will prove useful if he goes looking for future employment… and even if it doesn't, it was nice to get a chance to mingle a bit.

But alas, the clock is striking midnight, time for him to flee ere his coach turns into a pumpkin. Faulkner sighs as he lets the flow of the crowd carry him towards the main hall — exit, stage left.

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