Tracks In The Dust


etienne_icon.gif kaylee_icon.gif

Scene Title Tracks In The Dust
Synopsis Etienne and Kaylee learn that sometimes, the thing you're in search of isn't in the last place you look.
Date July 27, 2018

The Tower, Staten Island

Hidden away in the dense woodland of Staten Island's Greenbelt is an old, derelict observation tower that fell out of use sometime after the first Midtown explosion. At one point, its exterior was painted white, but years of neglect and persistent weather have faded it to a chipped, stony gray. A set of narrow cement steps leads up to a wrought iron door on the ground floor that has since been welded shut, leaving only a rickety staircase attached to the outside of the building as a means of entry — and it does not support very much weight.

Those who come close enough to peer through the tower's elongated windows, made from a dense, impenetrable-looking sort of crystal or heavy glass, might be able to make out a secondary staircase inside the tower that also leads up to the observation room and the floors immediately below it, but there is no sign — at least not t least not from the ground — that anyone is using the building for shelter or for storage.

The damp early summer makes travel through the Greenbelt of Staten Island a borderline tropical experience, and yet doesn't put Etienne Saint James at much ease as he negotiates his way through the dense greenery, Kaylee Sumter at his heels. It's dark and getting lighter, an unconventional pre-dawn venture timed for maximum secrecy and caution. The earliest birds are already awake, twittering through the branches. The whole forest smells of new growth and plant decay, oddly potent in the humidity. The brilliance of the sun's eventual rise is diffused through thick cloud cover, and the onset of sunrise seems to just slowly turn the world from black to indistinct grey.

The structure they come across — the latest in leads in what is becoming a fruitless search — rises from the density of nature like some forgotten temple relic. Etienne gestures for Kaylee to stay back, for a moment, as he roams forward.

His hunting knife is strapped to his belt at his back, but he doesn't retrieve it just yet as he approaches the space where a door once was.

Getting away from her babysitters is tough enough, so Kaylee being able to sneak out when everyone is either on the edge of sleep or waking… it’s proven rather useful for the telepath. It took less effort to convince a sleepy mind that it hears nothing.

To be fair, Kaylee needed the bodyguards and the fact she had to sneak out like a teenager going to a kegger was a good thing. It meant they were doing a great job; but, Luther’s reactions everytime she mentions the pirate, means she tries very hard to keep Etienne out of the man’s crosshairs.

Kaylee won’t say it outloud, but she’s enjoying herself. Not so much, what they are having to do — searching for a little girl — but where they were and the lush scenery around them. The quiet out there, with only one mind humming within her range, it was a rare moment for a telepath who lived in the city, surrounded by other humans. It allowed her to relax a little, listen to the song of the birds, hear the rustle of leaves beneath their feet, which much more clarity.

The tower is quickly noticed as their target, the gesture acknowledged with a small nod; Kaylee hangs back, a hand resting against the rough bark of a small tree. She watches and waits with intense curiosity.

Someone else has been here.


Three distinct sets of footprints disrupt the layer of dust and last year’s leaves that litter the tower’s bottom floor, which is barren except for the spiraling stairwell that leads to its upper level. Two of the tracks are of average size. The third pair appears small, almost demure in its shape and manner of step.

It looks as though it could have been left by an uncertain thirteen or fourteen year old girl.

Etienne’s own feet brush aside debris as he enters the brick and stone structure, stirring up moths and tiny summertime insects with translucent bodies and wings that are visible only when they pass through the first beams of sunlight shining in through windows.

Kaylee will hear his footfalls and the familiar groan of aged, dilapidated metal as he climbs the stairs and it loudly protests beneath his weight.

Upstairs, it’s clear that someone was living here, although it’s difficult for Etienne to determine who or when. A cursory examination of the room, sparsely furnished with utility rather than comfort in mind, reveals little about its previous inhabitant. It isn’t until he moves past the fold-out cot and table that his eyes adjust to the light and he’s able to pick out other details.

There’s empty tins of tea and hard biscuits stacked beneath the table, their once colourful metallic sheen worn down to a dilute nothing. The cot’s mattress sits two inches off-center, as though someone lifted up its corner at one point, searching for anything that might be hidden beneath it.

Valuables, likely. Paperwork. Money. Jewelry.

Sibyl Black, wherever she is, still has that ring.

On the other side of the room, a collage of simplistic charcoal drawings covers the brickwork like a rippled spread of peeling wallpaper.

That Kaylee would have warned Etienne if there were other minds present within the tower, that his own senses don't detect life within its walls, doesn't mean that Etienne does not move with caution. Whether that's for the delicate nature of an abandoned structure, or for some unknown quality in a world where anything is possible, he moves slow and deliberate, intent to have covered most ground before he calls out for Kaylee to join him.

Etienne only looks and doesn't touch, once he enters the private quarters of the upstairs den. Crouches low, to evaluate the confused array of tracks on the dusty ground, head tipped lower to peer beneath the shadows of the bed. The air smells of dust, dampness, and the forest outside.

From this position, he looks up, and spies the pictures papered like fall leaves to the brickwork.

Rather than wait for Kaylee to pick up cues from his mind of whether the coast is clear, he sets two fingers between his teeth and calls out with a sharp whistle.

While she hovers outside, Kaylee’s mind follows after the pirate as he travels up the stairs, head tipping back little by little as he goes; curiosity urging her to pay attention, but sensibility keeps her from doing more then listening to the progress of his humming mind.

The whistle catches her a bit unaware, but it spurs her forward; grit crunches under the soles of her boots as she makes her way into the tower. Kaylee can’t help but pause at the beauty in the natural destruction. “Wow,” she says softly to herself and starts up the stairs, falling silent again. Being much lighter, she doesn’t make as much noise as his bulkier frame did in its passing.

Reaching the top, she notices the grouping of foot prints, clearly not all from Etienne; but, she also doesn’t have the skills to know exactly what she is looking at. Pulling her attention from the footprints she spots the pictures hanging there, curiosity sparks, and Kaylee moves to get a closer look at them.

Gabriel Gray is immediately recognizable. His expression dour, proud. It isn’t the dense black brows that give him away, but rather the depth of the eyes beneath them. If she reaches out to touch it, residual granules of charcoal would smudge and come away on the tips of her fingers.

The artist put a lot of time and a lot of effort, in spite of their only passable skill, into this particular portrait.

There are others, of course. Avi Epstein’s eyepatch gives him away. A sinewy mass of muscle draped over a couch while smoking a cigarette with what looks like a baby raccoon curled up beneath his chin looks like it could be Ethan Holden. Flint Deckard resembles a tall, long-limbed tree, both powerful and wiry at the same time.

Some pictures trend more toward the abstract. A wolf in mid-leap crests New York City’s old cityscape and consumes the moon in a single gulp. Birds swarm a solitary figure more skeletal than flesh, although the mats of long, dark hair captured in their beaks suggest it belongs to Eileen.

As Kaylee’s attention moves between the drawings, there’s one in particular that catches her eye. A portrait, like the others, depicting a tall, broad-shouldered figure with small eyes set a fraction too far apart. It’s less detailed than the rest of the artist’s collection, on account of being only half-finished.

A glance back at Etienne confirms that Kaylee’s present companion is the most likely subject.

Etienne rises out of the slightly animal crouch he'd adopted, and his height and shoulderspan immediately seem like too much in these close quarters. Watching Kaylee look at the pictures, it's like he awaits eye contact for some unbidden cue before he crowds closer, and reaches towards the canvas of images to select one in particular.

It's not the portrait of himself. It's the one of birds, the bones of a figure within their flock, the dark hair snagged between their beaks and pulled like ribbons.

"I saw this," he says, in his customary quiet, gravel-under-bootheel voice. "When I saw her."

Taking a step to the side to give the bigger man a chance to get closer, Kaylee is curious about the choice of imagines. Clearly, one of the more disturbing ones and the one that draws out the most guilt out of the telepath.

How many times had she thought about the ‘what if’s’ of that night?

“I wasn’t there, but I heard about it. My memory is blurry about that night,” Kaylee’s voice is quiet, but it echos lound in the tower room. For a moment, she looks like she might say more, but stops herself with her jaw working to keep the thought to herself. A thought filled with guilt and failure. Instead, she repeats what she’s said before, “She didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Looking at the other images, her expression turns thoughtful. “She told me the memories were fading, maybe this was her way to try and hold on to them.” Kaylee had strengthened the one memory, she held hope she could do the same with what was left of her. Time was ticking away though and everyday, the telepath’s anxiety climbed.

For a moment, Etienne seems not to pay attention to Kaylee's words, until she speaks of Eileen's death directly. Deaths deserved and undeserved. He studies the picture in his hand a moment longer before he offers it out to Kaylee — to study for herself, to put back, to stow away, whatever she likes. He occupies himself with moving towards the cot, at the way its been set down crooked again.

Lifts the corner to check beneath and around it without expectation of finding anything.

"When I saw her," he repeats, picking back up his line of thought, "she was putting herself back together. Turning birds to ash and ribbons."

Where Kaylee looks at the portrait and sees a memory of death, Etienne refers to the strange ghost he'd fled from that night on the shores of Staten Island. He lets the cot mattress drop from his hand. "Someone's been here."

The drawing is taken carefully, as if taking one of her own kids’ drawings. Kaylee does study it thoughtfully. “That was a different Eileen, if I understand things correctly,” she offers while putting the image back on the wall, carefully. The image of Avi and Ethan to looked at with a touch of amusement.

“You want this one?” Kaylee can’t help but ask giving the image of him a little flick of her fingers. “Quite and interesting likeness.” She sends a half smile back his way, before leaving the images be. Though she pauses at the image of the wolf eating the moon, brows furrow a little thoughtfully; but, then shakes her head. Images of wolves always bring back a memories of a dream.

Maybe it’s the mom in her, but she straighten the blanket on the bed once, he drops the mattress. “Think it was her?” Kaylee asks as she straightens. “I saw footprints, but…” She spreads her hands a bit, with a resigned smile. “They just look like footprints.”

It'd be a mistake to assume Etienne particularly skilled in the ways of tracking, even if he exudes a certain air of affinity to survival and wilderness — but he isn't, not anymore than Kaylee might be. That all being said, he has an eye for detail and a talent for hunting at the very least, and had taken the time to observe them well enough so that he can assuredly say, "Two or three others. Different treads."

He moves for the window of the room, where the early dawn is coming in grey through dirty glass. Ducks low enough to peer through it, as if maybe sharing a view that had once belonged to Sibyl might lead them both to where she is now.

At Kaylee's query, he doesn't look back, guessing as to what she prefers. "Should take 'em all for her," he says. "Her den's been made and she shouldn't stay." He tests the latch of the window, and adds, almost idly, "Could leave somethin' behind. A message only she'd figure."

Looking back at the pictures, Kaylee turns thoughtful backtracking to the little gallery “Good idea. Maybe you should leave the message,” Glancing, back at him she gives him a small smile. “It’s been seven years since I’ve been around Eileen and known her as Sibyl even less. I don’t know how much of her earlier memories are clear still. You’ve had her more recently under your care.”
The portrait of Etienne is removed from the wall, “I have noticed you tend to favor knives.” Her tone is conversational and non-chalant. “Would you ever consider training someone?”

Moving to gently extract more of the images from the wall, Kaylee pauses at the image of Ethan, brows furrowing a little. “You know, there was a time, Eileen saw enough potential in me to try and have me trained to be more than a telepath. I rely on my ability too much.” Turning a little bit to show the picture she adds with amusement. “Ethan here was one of those teachers. Raith another. Neither was able to teach me how to use a gun.” There is a grimace. “I’ve always been better at finding the weakest mind in the group and using it to my advantage.”

The picture is studied for a moment and added to the pile. “I’m tired of having to always rely on others.” There is a soft huff of annoyance as she concentrates on her work. “I have enough scars to know that being a telepath is not enough.” Teeth click slightly, as Kaylee realizes she’s babbling on as she often does, plunging them back into silence again.

There's an odd internal dissonance, between the reminder that Sibyl was last under his care, and that he favours knives, Etienne steering a look back over one big shoulder. Hard to read, though Kaylee can sense the easy churn of curiousity and grim amusement edging through his thoughts.

He looks at the picture she shows him, studying it, expression as impassive as ever.

And then back to her, and the silence she plunges them into. "Guns're loud. Knives're quiet," he says, finally, as if to explain the cause of his favour. "Don't need ammo. Easy to hide." Not, certainly, the Bowie knife he wears, but she'll have observed by now the secondary blade he keeps strapped in his boot. "They're frightening," he adds. "Fuck with people's heads. Guns too, but makes things wilder. Complicated."

Etienne moves aside and goes and sits down on that cot with an impressive screech of springs and parts. Ducks a hand inside a pocket to retrieve a pouch of tobacco in which he has also stored the cigarettes he's rolled, slightly dirty twists of paper, one of which he clasps between knuckles as he then goes searching for his matchbook.

Thinking about a message to leave behind, doubtfully eyeing the gallery Kaylee is dismantling.

"Guns will kill a person with a finger twitch," he adds. "Knives take everything you have."

There may be a bit of surprise as Etienne starts in on a bit of a lecture, though she doesn’t turn his way, he won’t even see the smile that sits a bit crooked. What Kaylee does allow herself to do is engage in that conversation. “You are not wrong about the frightening, especially, you with a knife.” Hot might be another way to describe him, too, but she doesn’t go there. Wouldn’t dare. Glancing back at him, brows twitching upward with a bit of a smile, the telepath says. “I burned myself out trying to get in that guy’s head…. You stick a knife in his ear and boom… spitting out everything.” Clearly, she finds it curiously fascinating and impressive.

There is another moment of silence, but soon she is shaking her head at a thought. “A finger twitch,” Kaylee murmurs in amusement. “Y’all make using guns sound so easy.” Taking the last image off the wall , the wolf eating the moon, she adds it to the pile and turns fully to look at the pirate. “Raith’s solution to my issue was stick an automatic weapon in my hands. Rather boring way to go about it, but out of a full clip, I did hit the target a handful of times. He was happy, but I always saw it as a terrible waste of resources we didn’t have much of.”

Tucking the pages close to her, to protect them, Kaylee takes a hesitant step towards the man with a hopeful look. “I know it won’t help if I am staring down a gun, but knowing something, it better then nothing… would you be willing to teach me?” There is a thought, “I guess willing is a bad word, but would you at least consider it?”

Cigarette smoothed straight between his fingertips, it goes between his teeth as he brings a flame up to the end of it. Flicks a look to her as he does so, and points out, at a near-mumble, "Depends on where you put it." The knife, he means.

Or maybe he also means her ability. Delicate and specific application means low effort for great results.

But what does he know.

Etienne puts out the match with a wave of his hand, unsurprised that the conversation should steer towards the request to be taught. He says, instead, "Give me the picture," and then, "Of me." Tucking the matchbook into a pocket, he says, "I'll consider about it," with a show of slightly yellowed teeth between syllables, clamped around cigarette end.

“You could say that about a lot of things,” Kaylee quips softly in response to the first thing. Though it is hard to tell if she is making a joking or not, cause she says it so casually. “I have a long ways to go with my ability; I know that, I’ve seen some insanely powerful telepaths, I haven't even scratched the surface.”

Fingers flip through the pictures, while she continues. “It’s not a no, so I'll take it for now. Not like I'm hard to find when you have an answer.” Extracted from the pile the image is handed over.

“Of course, we find her,” Kaylee looks at the other images left in her arms, as her gears suddenly shift again, “Have to figure out what to do. I mean, I have an idea of how to extract her from that black hole in Sibyl’s mind. I can pull people along when I do things, I—” She trails off a bit going thoughtful, moving to sit next to the pirate. “I figure it wouldn't be too much different,” The telepath gives him a bit of a rueful smile. “Not a lot of chances to practice things like that.”

"Where do you put her?"

Taking the portrait, Etienne folds it over, exposing a blank side, hesitating over it as smoke ribbons up off the smoldering end of the cigarette. Adds, "In your purse?" as a dry aside, before setting blackened match end to white paper after extended indecision. Sketches out a word, and then another longer word, patient, letters like ashy runic symbols.

Once this is done, he lifts his eyes to look for an appropriate place to tuck this message away from immediate view, but somewhere the returning waif might think to look.

There is a soft sigh of patience and an upward roll of her eyes at the purse comment. “Last time I carried anything like a purse, my son was an infant and it was a necessary evil,” Kaylee points out in a flat comment. Not that she thinks someone like Etienne gives a shit about that fact, but she can't help but feel a touch insult by that assumption.

Another sigh escapes, this one a hint to her own uncertainty. “I don't know, a bird maybe?” Wrinkling her nose at the idea of forcing the woman to live as a bird, so she amends, “At least temporarily. I just know every moment she stays in the girl’s head, the more of her we lose to whatever Sibyl is.” Fingers push into her hair, tucking curly lengths behind her ear. “If we need more time, I- I might be able to strengthen what is left. I was able to strengthen and sharpen the one memory she showed me…”

Kaylee is clearly uncertain though. The pirate can see her turning the problem over. “Worth a try at least.” Finally, looking at him, head tilts a bit, “What about you? I am open to suggestions.”

The bristle that the purse comment gains gets a vaguely confused glance, as if Etienne isn't sure what exactly he just implied about purse carrying beyond it's where women keep things, particularly important women, and important things. He's dragged her along through enough Staten Island muck that any belief that he considers her femaleishly incompetent ought to have been dispelled by now.

Sounds like a personal issue.

Doesn't address it, though, as he is wont to do.

Stands, instead, and then ducks down to slip the folded note beneath the corner of the cot, indecisive but seeing no better alternative. He doesn't look to Kaylee as she thinks out loud and then asks him his opinion on matters of psychic imprisonment and liberation. Says, gruffly, "Should ask her what she wants."

When they find her.

A deep breath in and a slow breath out as she nods. “You’re right.” A small smile pulls the one side, because, of course, he is. When Etienne stands, Kaylee pushes herself to her feet, making sure to tuck the pictures close to protect them. “I wasn’t meaning to imply that she does not have a choice in the matter,” is offered as an apology. She really didn’t. “Just thinking ahead…” Brows furrow a little, looking down at the pages in her possession, “I guess. I know she’s been there for what… 6-7 years now? There is probably time, but it still feels urgent.”

There is a shrug of her shoulders, a touch of helplessness there. “Either way, we have to find her first,” Kaylee says bringing it back around to the issue at hand. “Any idea on where to look next? I mean… I hate to admit it; but, we are assuming she is even still on Staten and so far we’ve being finding nothing…”

"She's not here," Etienne agrees, scanning the room one last time, as if its dusty, ransacked interior represented the whole of the island they've searched. She's not here, unless she's disappeared into the hole where people disappear into, these days — that of the trafficking operation that's grown through the Staten Island wilderness like weeds. This, he doesn't voice out loud, but a glance to Kaylee — the glimmer of her telepathy picking up the light of his thoughts — might be enough to communicate the concern.

He shakes his head. "She's not here," he says, again.

But if he has to, he'll look into it and make certain.

His cigarette has dwindled halfway down, burned through mostly by neglected, and has he remembers it pinched between his fingers, he seems to decide he's lost his appetite for it, and drops it on the floor, crushing it into a smear beneath boot heel. By now, the sun has broached the horizon. Lively morning birds twitter in earnest, flitting back and forth through the trees outside.

"C'mon," he says, moving for out. "Should be getting you back to the mainland before it's any later."

Sometimes, you can’t help but hear things. While he doesn't’ say it out loud, it is clear that she has the same concern. A small nod in acknowledgement. “No… I don’t think so either.” A glance at one of the dirty, smudged windows. “If you need help looking into that…” the traffickers that is… Kaylee looks back at him, “you just need to tell me when and where.” She won’t lose sleep digging into their heads.

Etienne might be a bad influence… or it’s always been there huddled below the surface, hard to know.

“But yeah,” Kaylee murmurs moving to follow after the pirate. Luther would probably still be dealing with a hangover, but her own bodyguard was a bit of a snitch… Plus, there was the whole, she’s a mom thing. “I’m not too worried, but no need to push it.”

Etienne spares her an arch look over his shoulder — what it denotes, she'd have to dig into his head for — but he ducks out of the room first, and starts his way down the dark staircase, leaving behind even more tracks to muddy the passage of those that have been and gone.

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