Splintered Spirits


corbin_icon.gif dumortier_icon.gif

Scene Title Splintered Spirits
Synopsis Dumortier gets to see the curse behind the case.
Date December 13, 2019

Jackson Heights

Jackson Heights is the redistricted northern-most territory of the NYC Safe Zone. The last neighborhood incorporated into the Safe Zone, it suffers from the most structural damage and is in the least secure state of repair. The population in Jackson Heights is sparse and limited to its southern-most and western-most regions. The area is constantly crawling with construction crews, digging teams, surveyors, and a military security presence. Many buildings within Jackson Heights are still in states of severe disrepair from the war. Large stands of fledgling trees grow up from ruined cellarholes, and the cracked and broken streets are riddled with grass and weeds. Greenery and foliage covers many of the buildings as invasive crawling ivy spreads unchecked. Feral dogs and an abundance of rats are a constant nuisance in this region of the Safe Zone, and crime is rampant.

“Thank you for coming out here with me,” Corbin Ayers says quietly as they move through corded off areas of Jackson Heights. There’s a large trailer nearby with lights on it, pointed at the tree, and he’d already signed in his guest before they approached, vouching for him so he would not be checked. Except he didn’t use his real name, or his purpose. He’s supposed to be a photographer taking pictures of the scene. Not what he’s actually brought out for.

What he was doing wasn’t entirely on the up and up, but he had to attempt something.

“Once we found out what might actually be going on, that the victims inside really were alive, I knew I had to attempt to undo the damage that we did to… her,” he gestures ahead of them, where a large tree stands. A few limbs have been cut off, the lowest limbs, what looks like sap drying over the wounds. It’s not sap.

There’s also a large gash in the trunk, as if someone had taken a chainsaw to it and begun to cut through the bark. It’s still leaking dark red juices as if this dragon blood’s tree and not a normal looking American Elm in winter. No leaves remain on it’s branches, reaching toward the sky like a skeleton.

Looking back toward the man he brought all the way out here at his personal request, the Agent says, “If you don’t think you can do anything to fix her, then don’t attempt to do anything that might hurt you. But this will be a secret, because— this definitely isn’t going to be by the book.”

The agent's tendency for thank yous isn't lost on his companion; it's a subtle appreciation Corbin gets in return for his manners all around. Dumortier is not nearly as brusque this time, and there's less thorniness. Apparently the way to his heart is acknowledgement. Of a sort. On the way in he absolutely treats his sling bag as a camera bag. That Ayers is keeping things on the down low isn't lost on him either. There's obviously a sense of necessity in the guy, so the least Rene can do is play along. He's very convincing.

This is Dumortier's first adventure into actually seeing the issue SESA has been dealing with. Hearing them talk about it is one thing, but coming up on the sight of it- -

"Mere de Dieu." The blonde pauses in his tracks for a few long seconds, Corbin's reality nudging the wind out of him and any lingering sense of play he may have had. It is a very real, very confusing situation SESA has found themselves in. But… one can argue that this is precisely the thing they exist for.

"Hn? Oh…" Difficult to take his eyes off of it. Her. Everything. Corbin doesn't need to know the specifics of Dumortier's ability, but somehow he skirts pretty close. Rene looks up to him with a tentative smile, polite rather than giddy. "I won't." Probably not. "See? I knew you could escape the pages just a little…"

Bag set aside and overcoat shed, the agrokinetic does not wait to be motioned onward; Rene approaches the site on his own, hands at his sides, jaw tight and eyes up. Any disturbed earth or cracked stone in his wake grows the soft fuzz of sown grass, trailing along after his heels.

“It’s my fault she got hurt even more than was necessary,” Corbin confesses quietly. He had given the order to even cut her down, but the techs had decided they couldn’t finish cause it just kept bleeding so they just took samples and set up the trailer to do the testing onsite. He’d personally thanked both the techs for doing that privately, but that didn’t assuage the guilt of having maimed the poor thing, especially knowing what they knew how.

He probably could have gotten an authorization to utilize him, if he were registered, but knowing the reluctance the other had shown, reasonable reluctance, he decided to just go off-book on it.

“Just don’t tell on me,” he adds after a moment with a hint of a smile. He didn’t think any of the other agents on the case would have said anything either, but his bosses higher up probably would have had words. It was easier to go behind their back a little on this.

The way the grass grows around him fascinates Corbin, drawing his eyes with a small thoughtful hum under his breath before he stands back and watches, glancing back every so often. He knew how much time they had, as long as no one popped in unexpected. This site was a little more out of the way, though, so that was an advantage.

The tree felt… different, but parts of it were definitely still tree. It was the parts that weren’t plant that might have made things difficult, like someone might expect of a tree with parasites, perhaps, blank spaces throughout it, but also… part of it still. The tree itself was some kind of amalgam of human cells and plant cells, altered to co-exist, but requiring both to live. It shouldn’t be. It wasn’t supposed to be. While he couldn’t reverse what had happened to make it the way it was, there were places that immediately responded to his presence, the plant cells regenerating, healing.

No worry about getting tattled on. Dumortier knows when to keep on someone's good side. Right now, however, it's not something on the fore of his mind. The closer he gets to the tree, the further those problems slide back. Once he is standing in front of the Elm, a slip of paleness contrasted against it, he's stopped thinking about the situation literally behind him.

Whatever it was that Rene had expected- - judging by his stillness, it was not what he's found. It's so much worse. Parts of him had wondered, exactly, the logistics, and others thought 'surely, it's not like they think'.

"Une insulte à Dieu." The agrokinetic breathes out in a slight shake, brows low and hands up to run fingers against bark. He stays like this for a time, quiet as a mouse. The sensation of silence lingers there, and Corbin knows it to be the kind which comes with concentration. Focus. One of Dumortier's hands lifts from the Elm's hide, flexing once before moving to his own frame. "…Bienheureux Saint Raphaël, viens dans ma vie et aide-moi dans ce moment d'épreuve." The sign of the cross, a subconscious reaction; His amen is barely a breath as both hands find a solid purchase against the tree, followed by a cautious press of temple to bark, eyes hooded as if listening.

He is, in a way.

That grassy step which had sprouted in his wake vanishes into mud as quickly as it appeared. Other plants here and there wither too, the hardiest ones- - the ones muscling to the surface- - going first. Pulling from elsewhere in these first steps is a decision made of one more precaution; better to use something outside of himself first. There is not much time to reconsider the possibilities that come with this succeeding before it begins to do just that.

Rene shifts, throat pulsing in a small swallow; he slides his way closer to the biggest scores, the biggest cleaves, fingers against the scabs of sticky, coagulated sap.

Sometimes Corbin wishes he’d taken a foreign language for real, but he doesn’t need to know what the man might be saying to understand a prayer when he hears one. For a moment, while he listens, he closes his eyes, as if praying himself, or repeating what he hears back in his head, even if he doesn’t understand the words. The amen causes him to open his eyes again.

The tree, too, was listening.

The immediate effect would be the ends of the branches beginning to bud, ever so slowly, like a tree in the late of winter rather than the beginning. The sap starts to loosen, dampen, run free, like a wound cleaning itself by bleeding once again, the poisons getting pushed out. It’s a slow process, and it might take longer than they have to be complete, but it takes on a healthier-feeling, like a sigh of breath whispered in the depth of the bark. More and more of the parts that are tree heal up, flowing fresh life and energy into the parts of the tree that aren’t quite plant. For a moment, Rene feels connected to those parts as well, feeling the heart of the tree, the human heart.

It could just be his imagination, but he can almost hear the solid thumping, the pulse, through the damp sap that stains his fingers, warm, despite the chill in the air.

As he feels the yearning of new buds, Dumortier's eyes close entirely as he settles into a crouch against the tree, hands coming to a stop amidst the now free-flowing lifeblood. It courses over his fingers as it weeps and cracks, staining his open hands red. A darker feeling in him stirs when he feels it there, and blue eyes open with a glimmer of wetness and something else; what light they have seems to mirror from his gaze, brief but stark, like a flashlight casting into forest.

"Oh," Rene's breath pulls in and out with a shaky sound, mind's eye travelling somewhere else entirely while he watches the blood on his hands and the mending cuts beneath them, sprouting with tiny, new shoots through bark. The agrokinetic's gentle press of temple to bark turns to a lean for support.

It's just as Hokuto told him.

There is far more hurt on the inside than the anger he shows on the outside.

"Je peux t'entendre, mon amour." A few of his words are more universal than fluency, and they bring the stubborn, sad grit of tears spilling over. Light, yet meaningful, the same as his voice whispering against wood. "Tu iras mieux bientôt. Nous aiderons.."

Don’t attempt to do anything that might hurt you, Ayers said.

Dumortier was never very good at listening.

The strain of the use of the ability is recognizable to Corbin. Part of Company training had always been to watch for signs of too much ability use in your other half when the agent was the us. One always had to watch out for the them. They had to keep them from hurting themselves if they could— but at the same time, they had to let them push to complete the tasks at hand, if they had one. This was one of those situations where his training told him to grit his teeth and wait it out. A girl’s life was at stake, one whose file he spent way too much time looking over the last few days.

Too much time, probably.

After a few moments, he bends down to place a hand on the man’s shoulder, as if he could offer support just by doing this, but he keeps his eye on the tree, watching the wound slowly heal over, renewed life closing up the wounds and inspiring new growth.

Dumortier can feel it under everything, the pieces that he should not be able to fully feel, the parts that both are and are not plant all at the same time. It’s a symbiosis, in a way, a combination of two lifeforms that depend on each other. Healing one allows the other to heal. The delicate cells that had been torn to pieces regrow. It’s a draining process, but rewarding. He can feel the pulse of life returning.

He knows he shouldn't see it there, with whatever sense his ability gives him; it's like second nature, with plants. But people- - never before, and possibly never again. It's right and wrong at the same time, a foreign object in the periphery of cellular regrowth. Nobody deserved this. Even he, in his worse moments, hurting people with his ability, those plants never became them too. Just became pain and coercion. A weapon, not a sentence.

Part of him wonders if one day he might be able to do this too, but the thought turns his stomach and passes quickly away.

Dumortier's slim shoulder sags under the agent's hand; Corbin's fingertips prickle, like a hand he's slept on wrong. The agrokinetic's body heat is high, a gloss at his hairline and mixed under his eyes. Even still, narrow brow is furrowed and eyes open, breathing becoming laboured.

As the tree regains its healthy aura, Rene loses his own and lets go of Her, slumping down against the rise and arch of roots on the ground.

“Oy.” Corbin stresses as he kneels down to catch him somewhat, or at least offer more than a hand of support in case he slips further. “You’re done enough. More than I could have hoped.” There’s actual signs of regeneration of the bark and wood, the leaves greening with new life despite the weather and time of year. The leaves will probably color and fall once again, but some of the guilt washes away as he looks back up at the tree he had caused to get maimed like this.

She had not deserved what happened to her. He was sure of that. And she had not deserved what they’d done to her either.

“Her name is Courtney,” he adds after a moment, in case he wanted to know. “We’re hoping to find a way to reverse this, but for the moment she’s at least not hurting as much, anymore. You’ve done more than I honestly expected. Thank you.”

Has he? Done enough? A moment passes where Dumortier isn't certain if it's his inner dialogue or not- - at least until his head stops swimming and Agent Ayers comes back into focus. His skull still pounds, sure and sudden.

"Courtney." Rene wets his lips with the name, giving the tree one more look before more or less using Corbin to stand back up. Be a sport. Blue eyes are a little muddied by those brief tears of earlier, fading in the cool air. "I wasn't even sure…" Neither of them were, though. It's okay now, it's been done. All that remains is making sure the agrokinetic hasn't overdone it.

"What she is now… Dieu. I would say that I wish you could see it… But I'd not want anyone to." Little is he aware, a friend of his already has. One arm holds onto Ayers. "It's beautiful and terrible…. Seamless."

"Gotta find what did this." Corbin doesn't need confirmation that Rene is disturbed, despite being a bit of a punk.

“That’s the plan,” Corbin responds, trying to keep from sounding doubtful. “I’ve never seen an ability like it, and I’ve seen a lot. It could even be two people combining their abilities to do something this horrible, but either way— we’re not announcing the search to the public in hopes that whoever is doing it will be caught alive, without fleeing the city.” Part of him wanted to warn people, to at least warn anyone who might be cutting down trees, but what he’s most afraid of is… “They might be the only one who can undo this.”

Cause that’s how abilities sometimes work. Only the one who did it, or someone with a complimentary ability, might be able to turn these young women back into women. “Now that you’ve seen it, you might have an idea of what to look for, so you can message me about it. Courtney was the first we found, but there’s already others.” And who knew how many, probably whoever had done it. “We’re tracking the sites to see if anyone gets close, to check it out. Since criminals often like to remind themselves of their victories. So far…”

They haven’t managed to spot anyone, and while this is one of the only times the place isn’t under heavy survelience, due to him going by the book adjacent, it usually has at least a small staff watching the cameras. “If you’re okay, I can help you to the car and then get the crew who I dismissed back on duty. I’ll still give you a reward for your work, a cash gift.”

Since he can’t really explain why or file it as a business expense.

Rene has no doubts that the other man has seen a lot, because so has he; there's still something that gives Dumortier the impression of experience from Corbin. He can't quite pin down what it is. Or why. It's just there. Maybe it's just that he seems to actually know what he's doing.

Corbin's explanation of the plan so far, and what comes next, cements that notion. Rather than answer the question of his okayness in words, Dumortier takes a few exhausted steps away from the tree with Corbin, not moving too far away from the other man. Just in case. His knees feel a bit like rubber, yet.

"What to look for…" Murmured in echo, boots finding a better, sturdier step. "Are the places related, at all? I… to do something like this… it means something. Trees mean things. Places mean things…" A weird thing to have convictions about, yet there it is. Dumortier's voice steadies as they head out of the site, an easing lightness despite physical ails.

There’s a hrm under his breath as Corbin considers, glancing toward the trailer that was usually manned by at least one staff member. “We have an Agent who’s investigating whether the trees mean anything, but I can certainly have her cross-reference the locations so far, see if there’s a pattern.” Sometimes criminals who thought they were smart made patterns that were traceable. Sometimes they didn’t. This was almost a case of a serial killer, which he could never claim to be an expert in.

Even though he had someone who might be considered one to others living in his head half the time. He didn’t consider Hokuto a serial killer, though, or at least he thought she had suffered enough for what she had done by being murdered in her own storefront.

“The only connection I can think of off-hand is that they were all in mostly unpopulated areas.” But they only had a few to base the pattern off of. Maybe there was more to it. Maybe the locations had a sentimental value to whoever was doing it.

He would have to put Liza on it, probably. See if she could come up with anything while searching for the meanings of the trees themselves. “It’s a great thought. You ever think of going into law enforcement?”

It’s a joke. Mostly.

Dumortier is considering patterns and places as Corbin escorts him back to the car. His breath and gait even out, only enough to get him there. As he is about to mention something along the lines of drawing all over a paper map, comes That Question. The blonde turns his head, clearly baffled, faltering in his step- - then a spell of laughter, eyes sparking with delight.

Is it a joke? He doesn't care. Wow.

"Oh, god," Dumortier can only look at Corbin with disbelief. A bit of pity, for some reason. "My juvenile records were cleared," A clarification next, Rene's eyes looking the agent over, a weary smile flickering over his face. "But I was first arrested when I was eleven. I don't think I'm a fit for law."

One last look moves past Ayers to where they have left behind the swell of life in the damaged tree.

"At least I was a fit for something, though…"

“You’d be surprised how many law enforcement professionals got their start on the wrong side of the law,” Corbin responds with a wry grin, but yes— he was actually joking. Mostly. If the Company had still been around, though, Dumortier would have been a prime recruit. Experience with others with abilities, a useful ability of their own, especially considering the current case.

“For now, we can consider you one of my off-the-book CIs,” he adds on in an aside.

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