The Balcony Scene


elias_icon.gif wu-long_icon.gif

And expendable NPCs.

Scene Title The Balcony Scene
Synopsis Elias takes Wu-Long to Sweden to find out whether or not his wife is dead. The answer is surprising, and though there's no particular solution to the conundrum that remains, two more of Kazimir's Vanguard come that much closer to mutiny. And yes, that is a Romeo and Juliet reference. Elias proves as mouthy as Mercutio, anyway.
Date January 2, 2008

Uppsala, Sweden

It isn't as cold as fucking Antarctica, but it's closer than Manhattan ever gets to be.

Uppsala, Sweden stretches out below the museum balcony in crystalized white and fluffy drifts, buildings done in varying colors of stone with most of their windows done with the bottom half rectangled and the upper rounded, dark blue steeples and quiescent, frozen canals, the dignity of architecture whose original designers have long since been forgotten, never mind the names of those who had wrought the foundations with their hands. There is a cathedral tall enough to qualify as some sort of landmark protruding in the East, and the hospital's shape sits in stately red brick toward the West, trees and cobblestoned streets veining the distance between. It's a beautiful city in that polite sort of way.

There are a lot of neatly coiffed blondes in the streets, small from the distance. Adjusting the knife sheathe inside his leather sleeve, Wu-Long stares down on them from over the marble railing. The statue room behind them remains silent, unoccupied, behind windowed doors slightly ajar. It may not have been the most obvious location to teleport into, an art exhibit for which neither man had purchased tickets, but that was the idea: it isn't obvious. "Thank you," he remarks, abruptly, looking up at Elias.

It may well be the case that Wu-Long is ready for whatever action comes his way. Elias, by contrast, is focusing a large amount of his concentration into sitting upright, back against the very railing that Wu-Long loks down over; in the last day and a half, he's taken himself and his partner halfway around the world with nothing more than sheer willpower. "No problem," he stammers in reply to the Chinaman's thanks.

If nothing else, Elias knows he's not going to throw up or otherwise be sick. He's gotten far past that happening, and the more frequently he teleports, the easier it becomes to move long distances. He just needs to sit down for a bit and he'll be fine. "You know where we're going?" he asks. If there's running, rappeling or more jumping involved, he'll need to get ready for it.

Combat boots scuff closer and Wu-Long raises a long arm close enough to the teleporter for Elias to be able to the hospital's shape, a simple one amid the spires and curly carvings, though no less stately than its innumerable neighbours, two blocks' worth of walking. It may not be Manhattan, but for Sweden, Uppsala has its kerchief of metropolis. "I will ask them where my wife is. I can go alone," he adds after a moment, without renewing his gaze on the younger man; he's perfectly capable of gauging a man's health out of his peripheral, even if he doesn't normally think to do so with any degree of subtlety. Gratitude inspires him to do so now. Elias has done enough. Wu-Long can ask them where his wife is by himself.

Elias doesn't give a verbal reply to Wu-Long's assurance, but only raises his fist up with the thumb extended towards the sky. For an American, it's one way of saying, 'Cool'. But with a deep breath in, he does think to add, "I'll be down in a minute." Once his vision stops shaking, he'll be down. It shouldn't be much more than a minute, hopefully. "Try not to get into trouble before then, okay?"

The older man's eyes go scimitar-shaped with good cheer and assent. "Sure. Mei wenti. I will start in the lobby. Her room was on the second floor." Wu-Long steps back, retracting his arm. Lets his torso dip almost lazily into a shallow bow, either of farewell or gratitude. He doesn't even straighten before shifting forms, done as quick as the whisper of displaced atmosphere that tends to signal his comrade's ability. An eye-blink, and the man's off-bronze tan and leather garb have pooled into vaporous darkness, a ghost in negative and inverse, a shadow that then turns away and casts itself into the floor vent of the museum's heating channel.

The first time Elias saw this, it was strange. Weird, even. But compared to everything else he's seen and been through, it's really nothing. He casually watches as the floating pool of coalesced shadow makes its move. And then he watches the wall when he is alone. But only for a few moments.

Confident that he can stand up, Elias pulls himself to his feet and looks out at the hospital, shortly drawing his telescopic monocle and taking a closer look at the building. The lobby first, and then the second floor. If anything happens, he wants to be able to quickly come to his partner's aid. If Kazimir is supposed to have people everywhere, why not here? And if things really are getting to be as bleak as they look, then why wouldn't they be lying in wait, should someone show up unannounced? It's not paranoia if any of it is true.

For a protracted moment, the windows of the hospital remain quiescent squares of reflected skyline, glossy and pleasantly blank, the stately neighbourhood depicted in reverse and miniature.

The peace is further underscored by the illusion of nearness granted by the magnification of Elias' monocle and the harmless drone of the wind in lieu of any sound. Can't hear a damn thing. Maybe — knowing Wu-Long, there may well indeed be nothing to hear. In due time, however, there's a twitch of movement in the teleporter's spectacle. A little at first, like the initial stones of an avalanche: a ripple of the uniformed security guard jolting with a startle, turning, vanishing into the hallway with a dervish of reaching arms.

The first man out of the clinic's waiting line comes bolting shortly afterward, his snow coat hanging off his arm, bald head catching the glow of the sun. Without pausing to determine whether to go left or right, he goes left. A woman comes out shortly behind him, a four-year-old still zipped up in his marshmallow jacket protruding from her arms like the spokes of a starfish. More flee, in twos or threes. Long seconds, and then the second floor window blocks out. Utterly: not the translucent shade of the lights flipped off or a curtain drawn, but the complete obliteration of even daylight's timid intrusion.

"Wu-Long, you idiot," Elias mutters. When he'd said he'd ask where his wife was, the teleporter was expecting something much more subtle. Maybe that's his own fault, since nothing in the time he's known the shade should have convinced him that 'subtle' was in the Chinaman's vocabulary. Doesn't matter now.

Elias waits a short time, until the swarm running out of the hospital has thinned to the point where he's certain that no one is left. A glance at the street to ensure that the local constabulary has not come calling yet and, shoving the monocle into his pocket, Elias closes his eyes, focuses and then opens them again, finding the city skyline replaced with the hospital lobby. He's not worried about his sudden appearance being noticed; if those in line were so eager to make their exit, then the staff are probably hiding or otherwise preoccupied. What occupies Elias' mind is getting up to the second floor, confident that something has gone horrifically wrong on Wu-Long's end (possibly his brain). Cameras aren't much of a concern, either. If he shows up to them at all, it won't be for more than a few moments at a time. The concern is what he'll find on the next level up. For all he knows, blood will be everywhere.

Not everywhere. In truth of fact, there's more in the lobby, a small pond opening up underneath one security guard, where Wu-Long split his femoral arteries in half with a knife, bisecting his thighs, leaving liters of crimson pumping out faster than even the facility's most talented staff incapable of aid. There is also a secretary with an extra hole in her face and a few rounds of ammunition in the walls, one ceiling light strip broken, sparking, plastic exploded and wires hanging out of the gaping hole. Two other guards lie jumbled on the floor between white-faced orderlies trying to resuscitate them, other staff scattered, hidden, one babbling on the phone.

Which she drops the instant Elias appears, backing toward the wall, her hands up and tears sticky down features nearly as bright and damp as the snow accumulated outside.

Upstairs, there is very little light. Which makes sense, given that Wu-Long is Wu-Long. The windows are blanked in brutal black bites, the ceiling seething with shadowy eddies, an uneasy fog — not his best work. It's as if the frame negatives of a bad horror film were slapped over the context of reality in little Uppsala. Through the windows that line the hallway, Elias is privvy to a walking exhibit of the hospital's inpatients. An aged car crash victim, comatose, looks perfectly unbothered; one sickly woman struggling out of bed with nothing to support her weight but the squeaking steel of an IV stand; another coma patient; a comatose child.

The next room divulges Wu-Long, finally. Turned profile, his attention tipped downward to study the woman assigned to this room, hooked up to a pulse monitor. At his feet, there is a nurse with a broken arm, her head hanging from his hand by a twisted fingerful of strands. The door is propped open by a dead man. Interestingly, that corpse is dressed in a rough brown jacket, no sign of a badge, uniform, or scrubs in sight. "They fired first," the ex-soldier states, matter-of-factly, without looking up. The woman in the bed does not look Asian.

It's not the worst that Elias has seen. As an assassin, he's done things at least as bad as what he sees on his way up. In his time as a "special" problem solver, he's seen stranger things than what he greets him on the second level. The struggling woman gets only a passing glance from him; it's not his concern.

The mess he finds in Wu-Long's presence is more of a concern. "Nice work," Elias comments, "Maybe next time we can kick in the door and throw bags of shit at everyone." His criticism is short-lived, and he can't really blame the military man. He was trained to kill, not to be sneaky. "This her?" Is this, in fact, the object of their quest? The reason they went galavanting halfway around the world in somewhere north of 80 minutes?

"No." Wu-Long's eyes scale the face of the prone figure before them, her wilted limbs seemingly sunken in the blankets — all but one, amputated perhaps from bed rot once — her breath scarcely a disturbance in the tubes plugged into her nostrils, red eyelashes and hair in vivid relief to the pillow that supports her skull. Blood of the Vikings, none of the Orient. The man's features are still, indifferent to the minor bit of chaos he had left behind. There could have been more casualties, certainly. He hadn't lied; they had fired first. Which had made sense on various levels.

Volken has people everywhere.

"This," he nods at the patient on the bed, "was one of her regular nurses, I think. I remember her hair." A particularly vivid redhead, like someone had grafted a phoenix's plumage to her scalp — though there is no indication that this woman will be rising from her ashes anytime soon. "Her injuries are the same as Mu-Qian's." He lifts his head, finally, ponytail curling black against the nape of his neck. With a heft of one lean shoulder, he drags the other nurse to her feet, the kneeling one.

Without particular ceremony, he shoves her out to the full extension of her arm, showing her bruised and sticky face to Elias with an expectant sort of air. Should Elias wish to play leader, this would be the time.

Elias does take the opportunity to play leader, and when the nurse is sent at him, he's careful to catch her and, quickly extracating her from Wu-Long's grip, gives her a nudge out the door and away from the chaos. "He lied to you, is what you're saying," Elias says as if to clarify, "Used her to get to you, make you his little dancing monkey." Enjoying your cymbals, monkey?

Elias had doubts before, about a lot of things, but in his mind, this cements a lot of things. If Kazimir only needed Wu-Long until he stopped being useful, apparently, then what about the rest of them?

"Wo zao yijing — I know he lied to me," comes the reply, apparently unmoved by Elias' theatrical metaphor, though Wu-Long does spare an instant to shunt him a glance that might be a glare. The turn of his head transitions seamlessly into a long stride toward the door, a brush of leather against the teleporter's knee as the ex-soldier makes his way out of the sick room. He raises the naked 9mm in his hand and buries a bullet in the fleeing nurse's calf. The discharge rolls like thunder down the hallway, jostled with the audible clatter of the one patient stumbling with her IV. "Of course he lies.

"I want to know whether or not she is dead." Wu-Long gestures along the linoleum floor at the nurse, now downed, gripping her leg, the ketchup blot there.

Elias watches Wu-Long make his exit and, after hearing the gunshot, asks, "And how do you do that?" He wonders, as he makes his own exit, if anyone in the enclosed hallway can still hear at all. "Throwing out as much lead as you can in one sitting? You use a gun instead of a crystal ball? Or maybe you just crash your cymbals together and do a little jig, leaving the world around you in total chaos. Just like the big boss wants his good little monkey to do." Perhaps wisely, Elias decides to keep his distance before he tosses out these barbs. He knows that Wu-Long is foul-tempered, and the only thing worse than a foul-tempered dog is a foul-tempered dog without a master; the teleporter strongly doubts that his partner will continue to answer to Kazimir after this.

Black-on-black eyes turn on Elias, narrowed, wintry cold. Though Elias is keeping his distance, the bullets from Wu-Long's Glock could probably close it fairly quickly. Fortunately for the teleporter involved, the foul-tempered dog's a little too well-trained to take his eyes off the prize. "I do that by asking you to ask her," a gesture of the 9mm's nozzle, "what happened here. Otherwise I'll shoot her head. You seem nicer than me right now." Or so says the monkey, despite having suffered ample verbal abuse at his comrade's hand. It doesn't seem to surprise him in the slightest, that rebellion has already seeded in de Luca's heart, nor that he's being rallied to a different cause. He cares about his wife.

Elias isn't sure his partner meant 'what happened here', but the message gets across. He approaches the woman on the floor, quietly advising Wu-Long to 'put his toy away'. Two things appear once he's close enough to kneel down next to her. The first is a clean handkerchief he keeps around for situations like these. The second is a simple question. "English?" If she doesn't speak it, his ability to glean information will be hampered.

"Y—yes." The syllable comes out strangled. The woman takes the hankerchief, probably more because she is afraid of what might occur if she rejects it rather than any sincere interest in using it. The cloth is crushed in a shaking hand, twisted between thin fingers; she daubs at her face with mechanical coordination, sopping up salt, ruined eye-makeup, new sweat and its stink, discernible despite the bitter tang of antiseptic that perpetuates through Swedish hospitals the same way it does those of Manhattan.

Behind Elias, Wu-long has done as requested. The 9mm is safely out of sight, leaving the Chinaman idling in his trenchcoat, his head turning to guide pockets through the artificial darkness he has creatd here. Scouting the street below with a weather eye, the sound barrier rippling open that he might listen.

"Good," Elias replies, his lips spreading into a thin smile, just the way his old boss' used to. "This man" A gesture towards Wu-Long "Is looking for his wife. She was supposed to be in that room, but she isn't. The woman who is in that room used to be her nurse. Do you know where she is?" It's the most direct way to find out. Either the nurse knows or she doesn't. Cake.

There's nothing to hold the woman upright. She's plastered unevenly on the floor like a fish without water to support its contours, kerchief gone from her face and squashed instead to her leg, her spine an uncomfortable squiggle against the linoleum. Were Elias a man of a different character, Wu-Long's view from this angle would lead him to think rape was about to happen. He can hear the woman panting from here, pain and panic that have nothing to do with a weakness for the sight of blood. This isn't her life. "S-she isn't— here. Not here, no more." Her accent erodes in over the course of the longer sentence, vowels rounded with the cadence of her native language.

"Where," Elias begins slowly, "Is she? Think hard. Who knows where she is?" If there was no other reason for him to come along, the one reason would simply be that Elias knows when to use words instead of weapons. Regardless of this, however, there is an edge of urgency in his voice, a subtle note that whatever answer the nurse has to give, she had better give it in a hurry. As much as Elias would like to leave and go home, he's more concerned about Wu-Long losing what patience he has left.

Of course, Wu-Long himself wouldn't be especially worried about his patience — or about Elias', for that matter. Despite that the line that demarcates comrade from foe might be a little blurry from recent exercises in betrayal, his major concern remains the Swedish the Polisen. The angle of his head, eyes, tweaks gently as antennae as he shifts the curtain of sensory darkness, peeks through this uneasy fog. It looks worse than it is, of course.

To the helpless nurse, it seems the building is oozing evil out of its pores. Her country has only been secular for so long; her generation is one that remembers their demons well. "Think, think," a staccato whisper from bloodless lips, a litany to try and force herself to do that. Oh, God, her leg hurts. A spate of agony and she cries out something, briefly in Swedish, bites her tongue. "N-not here. Not here anymore. Ran. She r-ran away from here. S-she is Evolved. She almost killed Tindra," a jerky finger pointed at the comatose nurse. "Th-then she run away.

"Polisen. Polisen were supposed to f-find… No, n—" she swallows her next word and twists like a worm on the hook, trying to block out the sight of Wu-Long's approach with Elias' hunkered down. Wu-Long is frowning.

That's good enough for Elias. Even as Wu-Long approaches, the teleporter gives the nurse a firm pat on her shoulder and a friendly smile before he stands up. But when he's on his feet again, he approaches Wu-Long, gesturing for him to come closer. "Well, she's alive," he says, but even so, he continues to indicate that Wu-Long should come closer, as if he had more to say and wanted to keep it a secret.

Either that, or Wu-Long is about to get Uppsala yanked out from underneath him like so much of a carpet. His comrade's less wantonly violent proclivities are known to him, by now. His mouth has flattened, distrustful, even as he remains silent for a protracted moment. The nurse flinched back from Elias' touch, cracked the back of her head on the floor. Wu-Long kind of wants to stand on the bullet hole on her leg for a few minutes to verify the facts, but he can smell a little bit of the truth, even as he can hear the incipient wail of hounds. His hands are relaxed and his shoulders are stiff. He measures long strides to Elias' side, and looks at the younger man's face out of a hollow stare.

One hand goes to Wu-Long's shoulder, pulling his face close enough to Elias' so that whispering is practical. "She's alive," he repeats lowly, "And she ran away. That means Volken doesn't have her. Not worth the chase if you thought she was still here." Elias applies logic whenever he can, although it's probably true that his partner would do the same were his emotions more in check. "And as far as anyone is concerned, you do still think she's here. If we're quick and careful, we can deal with the big boss and he'll never lie to you again." It's an unspoken promise that Wu-Long will be reunited with his wife. It's implied that for that to happen, Kazimir will need to be dealt with. Promises can get people into trouble when they come from the wrong people. But when they come from the right people…

"Can I count on you, shadow dragon?"

The things Eli doesn't know about the man he's speaking to. The creature that peers out from between Wu-Long's eyelids might not be a man at all, as little recognizable heat or light that emerges. He's the closest to angry as any member of the Vanguard has ever seen him, but if this emotion had a sound, it would be the cracking, splitting of parched paper, not of flames. He misses her. With reason to believe that Kazimir doesn't have her, that he has even less to do with her disappearance engenders no hate for the old man; indifference begins to crystallize there, slowed only be residual irritation. He doesn't have to be here. He could go and find his wife.

He would have, months ago. But there's just that. It has been months. She found him in a dungeon off the Tigris River once, broken, dust-riddled, abandoned by his troops, among enemy terrorists and nameless peasants. She hasn't come for him since.

It makes sense. Their last exchange put her in a coma.

And he knows where his other debts are due, though it wouldn't pain him to ignore them. Altogether, this introspection requires six seconds, and then Wu-Long remembers to blink, turn the corners of his mouth up into a smile. "Hao ba." There's something too deliberate about the off-handedness of that agreement to be entirely casual. He nods his head once, militarily sharp. "You may have my cymbals."

"Just for a little bit," Elias says with a smile, "And after that, if you need help with anything, just ask." If there's anyone alive to ask, at the very least. The teleporter claps his other hand on Wu-Long's shoulder. "We're in business now. And also, we need to get out of here." No talk of sandwiches or lingering for lunch as Elias is prone to do. If they're gone too long, somebody is going to get suspicious, and that would be bad for everyone. Squeezing his eyes shut, Elias thinks of another place, far away from where they stand, and they vanish from the hospital as if they were never there. If they aren't back in New York by the next sunrise, only Kazimir knows what will happen…

January 2nd: So We Fight
January 2nd: Half the Villain
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