Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Pascal
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Pascal

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Advanced Weapon Training- Hans and Ellen

It was a reasonably slow day at Goodnight - as slow as days can be when you’re living in a magical refugee camp, at least - when Hans decided the time was right. When he approached Ellen, still walking a little bit awkwardly with the pain of his injuries from their first meeting, the sun had just crested the natural arc of its passage across the sky, and the air was brisk with the lingering chill of winter - but warmer than it had been at any other point in the day.

“Hallo.” He greeted her with a thin smile, the unique baritone and accent identifying him instantly to Ellen as he approached. “How are you doing?”

Clearly he was going somewhere - he had a rucksack on, a medium sized hiking pack in muted olive drab colours, and was carrying a slightly oddly shaped long black fabric back by the handle in his right hand.

Ellen turned towards the sound of Hans’ voice and greeted him with a smile. “Hey!” She stood up from the makeshift table--aka crate tilted on its side-- and pulled her backpack off her shoulder to tuck her cards inside. “Ugh, I’m so bored!” She dragged her hands down her cheeks, pulling the skin awkwardly to emphasize her opinion.

“We’ve been trying to play Bullshit,but everyone I play with hoards the cards they have. I won a 5 of diamonds today, but that only brings me up to like… a dozen cards, so not terribly close to a full deck.” She explained, and stuck her handful of cards in her bag for safekeeping.

Behind her, Ellen heard a groan. “If you’re going to leave, you could at least let us borrow the cards!”

“Nuh uh!” Ellen replied to the whiny guy. “You’ll disappear and next time I see you, you’ll have lost these cards, too. There’s a reason no one lends you anything, Carl! You bet constantly, and you lose constantly.”

“What are you up to?” Ellen asked, eager to follow Hans to...just about anywhere other than here.

“I was coming to ask if you would like to learn more about shooting.” He nodded, taking in the scene she was leaving. “I have come at a good time, I think.” Hans added on afterwards, with a sly grin, as he started towards the rear of Goodnight, expecting Ellen to follow.

“There is a woods, as you know, outside of the shopping centre. A great deal of rubbish has been left in it over the years by people who pass through or camp there, and the trees are dense enough that the foliage masks most of the sound made by shooting as long as a suppressor is used. I remember you expressed an interest in learning more about firearms - and I have an interest in teaching. Shall we go and build a shooting range?”

It was hard to be excited about something like shooting without coming across like an insane person. It wasn’t like she was eager to become a mass murderer or something-- Ellen just wanted to better handle herself in the situations she was likely to encounter. As of late, those situations involved guns. After a few moments, which Ellen figured was suitable for not coming across like a crazy person, she nodded.

“Yea, I’d like that.” Ellen said as she followed him through the building. “The shooting range is where you set up like...targets to practice on, right?”

“Ja.” He nodded, as they headed out of the main atrium and through one of the abandoned storefronts. “It will be a simple thing, finding bits of rubbish and refuse to shoot at, maybe some cans or bottles, maybe something to stand in for a metal plate. The real challenge is going to be finding somewhere safe, with a good backdrop that will catch all our shots, so we don’t put anyone in danger inappropriately.”

They went behind the counter of the derelict store - itself now used as a meeting room, and for storage - and opened the door into one of the employee access hallways.

“How do you feel about guns, at the moment?”

“On the physical front, not good. I know there is a safety, but I’m not sure where it is on each gun and I keep questioning myself like… is red ‘stop’ as in the gun won’t shoot or is it ‘danger!’ as in you will kill someone if you pull the trigger while it’s red.” Ellen felt like there was a lot she needed to learn about the basics of using a gun. “And I guess loading it would be a good thing to know how to do. How many bullets does it hold, anyway?” She knew that varied based on the gun, from her extensive knowledge of random action movies. But those probably weren’t the most reliable sources of information.

“On the… psychological front, I think…” Ellen paused for a few moments to put her thoughts into words. “I think guns are a tool, and using a gun isn’t much different from using our magic. I don’t like to think of situations as strictly ‘good’ or ‘evil’-- though FOE agents thus far have definitely challenged that mindset-- I just think that when you use a tool like a gun or magic, you can use it conservatively, or recklessly, or selfishly, or to try to protect someone else. I’m not… very clever. I don’t think I can come up with fantastic plans that get us medical supplies and food. But this is something I think I can do.” Ellen didn’t think of herself as a shoot-first and ask questions later kind of person, though she certainly turned to using weapons earlier than many others she had come to know at Goodnight. She just didn’t have any major reservations against defending herself and taking extreme actions, as the case warranted. “What is the saying…If you don’t stand for something, you‘ll fall for anything. I don’t want to fall.”

Hans nodded as she spoke, biting his lip and furrowing his brow in mild confusion when Ellen started talking about parts of each firearm being red, and whether that might indicate danger or safety.

“Red means ready. Ready to fire. Or, ‘red, you’re dead’.” They eventually came to a fire door out of the building, left on a latch to keep it closed as the original lock had broken away. Hans opened it, and they started out into the woods. “Also, not every firearm will have a safety indicator. The guns I am going to show you today do not, and they both have similar safety mechanisms - however, a variety of safeties exist. Later, I can show you some other examples.”

Deeper into the woods they went, away from the broken roofs and gutted frames of Goodnight’s exterior, away from the people and the clamour of it.

“It is good that you don’t want to fall for anything, I like that saying. It’s also good that you see weapons as tools, because like any tool, learning to use it is not as stylish as some people think. I’m also going to teach you the general principles,” he enunciated as he hopped over a ditch, “of firearm maintenance and cleaning, as well as their operation. Ideally, over several lessons perhaps, I will show you how to disassemble and reassemble these guns.”

Some mages went outside Goodnight in order to train their magic without putting anyone in danger. Ellen hadn’t really needed such drastic measures--at least thus far, and she hadn’t been outside properly in days. Ellen followed him, climbing over and around the various detris surrounding the Goodnight. Hans quickly brought up that he would teach her how to maintain the guns as well. It sounded...like a bit of work. But she agreed it was a good idea. “That sounds like a good plan. I only learned the basics of car maintenance, like how to change a tire, and I never even got that far with my helicopter lessons.”

Ellen caught Hans’ glance back at her, and before he could question it, she supplied. “Long story short, I did a few lessons with my dad as a bonding experience. It didn’t work--in terms of the bonding, I mean.”

"You can fly helicopters? That is quite an achievement." He gave her a grin.

“Like I said, I only took a few lessons. I can’t just hover, like they do in action movies sometimes. That is way harder than it looks. But I’ve taken off, flown around a bit, and landed successfully. Haven’t crashed once!” Ellen chuckled lightly. “It’s a lot of multi-tasking. You have to be doing different things with your hands, and your feet… It’s a lot. But please don’t ask me to disassemble and reassemble a helicopter. I only got as far as helping to gas up one, and that was only one time.”

Hans chuckled.

"I have even less experience with helicopters. I jumped out of a few, not much more."

“That takes a lot of balls, though!” Ellen replied. “I always wanted to go skydiving. It was definitely a bucket list thing… just didn’t get the chance.” She shrugged. Ellen seriously doubted she was going to get any opportunity to jump out of a plane in her future, given the circumstances. She could see herself being pushed out--but she wouldn’t likely have a parachute in that scenario.

"Ah they were very close to the ground, we only needed some ropes. Performing a jump out of an aeroplane is quite different, of course, but all it takes is training and discipline." He nodded solemnly, recalling the experience. "Recreationally, civilian skydiving is a lot of fun, quite exciting - but I did it a lot in my job so it wasn't as much of a novelty for me, you know?"

Hans had a point. The helicopter ‘jumps’ tended to be pretty low, and they had ropes. But it still seemed a bit intense. “You did skydiving?! Were you like... an instructor?” She knew there were people who jumped out tandem with skydivers who were new. It was one of the reasons she had postponed skydiving from her list. The idea of being strapped to a stranger was a bit uncomfortable. Could they feel the vibrations if you farted? What if you got sick? “Did anyone ever vomit on you?!”

“I do have the instructor qualification, yes, but no - I was an airborne soldier in the Bundeswehr, a paratrooper. Part of 31st Airborne Brigade, until it was restructured into 31st Paratrooper Regiment. I did quite a lot of things with them.” He scratched his beard for a moment, pausing to survey a patch of garbage next to a ditch, before decided against it as a shooting range site and moving on.

“Nobody ever vomited on me, as far as I can remember. Not in the sky at least, sometimes we would go drinking and that could get messy, naturally.”

“That’s good. It probably sounds silly, but that was my big fear about skydiving. Like, you go for the first time and are harnessed to the instructor and you vomit right as you both jump out of the plane and then you’ve got these chunks falling through the air and it's in your nose and you can smell it. And what if they are a sympathy puker?” Ellen shook her head. “I don’t get motion sickness on, like… boats or jet skis or while skiing. But for some reason I am terrified of puking while jumping from a plane.” Everyone had those sorts of silly fears, right? Similar to having a dream about realizing they were naked partway through their school day.

“We all have to be afraid of something, right?”

Hans stared at Ellen for a moment.

“Of course.” He nodded again after a moment, looking away, trying to take in the emetophobia. “If we ever go skydiving, I will be sure to keep this in mind.”

Ellen noticed the pause, and wondered for a moment if she said something wrong. “Great.” She answered, albeit a bit muted as she returned to following Hans to a good location for their target practice. Maybe he was one of those macho men who didn’t want anyone to know they could get scared sometimes. Or maybe she was reading too much into it, and the pause was more a result of mental translation. English certainly wasn’t either of their first languages.

After a little more walking, and a fair way into the woods, they eventually came to a small almost-clearing in the canopy of the woods. Sunlight was streaming through the gaps in the leaves, casting a lush green glow over the abnormally large dumping site that was left there - a bath, some cabinets, a few boxes of rainwater filled cans and glass bottles, and most crucially a steep hill just to one side of the entire setup.

Hans dumped his bags down, and nodded. This was the place.

“Why is vomit such a problem, though? You know I’m no stranger to fear - I’ve done a lot of things, seen a lot of things, a lot has gone on in my life you know? I was shot twice just a few weeks ago, as you know. A person being sick - even on me - just seems… not very big?”

Ellen took the opportunity to lean against a tree as they stopped. She wasn’t out of shape by any means, but the terrain was quite uneven and she had already done some running around Goodnight earlier in the day. As Hans brought up the vomit again, Ellen laughed.

“It isn’t the vomit itself. And it isn’t big... I guess it’s more the fear of embarrassing myself in that way. Like being physically stuck with a person and becoming so...vulnerable?” Ellen shrugged. “It just seems gross to me, like what if I ate something gross earlier, or he is a sympathy puker…?” Ellen chuckled again. “It’s not a fear in the sense of...being rational. It’s just something I dread the thought of. You don’t have anything like that?” Ellen wasn’t trying to pry into his deepest darkest fears, she was just curious if he… was slightly afraid of clowns, or being chased by ducks. They were real fears! Even if they were a bit silly.

He paused, scratching his beard, producing a canteen from his backpack and taking a sip after a moment of pensive scratching.

“I think I know what you mean. Yes, I am sometimes worried that I will shit myself. Or at least, you know, the thought of it makes me a bit nervous - I do not worry about my… anus control.”

A moment of silence.

They both burst into laughter. Raucous, echoing, glorious laughter - the kind that makes you ache, and then takes the rest of your pain away with it when it goes.

“Oh.” Hans sighed, once the idea of anus control had faded. “I did shit myself once, that’s where the fear comes from. It was in Kosovo, during the war - the worst time to shit one’s self. It was very embarrassing at first, of course, and I was laughed at a great deal…” he trailed off, caught in the reverie.

“At least you’ve already dealt with the...fallout--” Ellen laughed again before apologizing and shaking her head, trying to get rid of the giggles. “Sorry. If it makes you feel better. There was this guy on the boat once-- I was a crab fisher, I’m not sure if you knew that-- and he was pretty new. Well he lost a bet with one of the guys and ate some fish guts or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t there for the bet. But by the time I got there, it was all coming out of both ends.” She vividly remembered seeing (and smelling) the outcome of that bet.

Hans grinned.

“That doesn’t sound so bad. He could get cleaned up. After I ate my bad food and started… leaking, we were attacked. Ended up pinned down for eight hours in a firefight. All the time, gunfire overhead whenever anyone moved, and at the same time, I was running out of toilet paper.”

He stifled a laugh.

“A sticky situation.”

Ellen’s expression softened as Hans revealed that he had come under attack while he was still suffering the repercussions of having defecated himself. That was...certainly worse than being sick on a boat with a bunch of drunk idiots around. None of them liked the clean-up process, but it certainly didn’t stop them from making more stupid bets later. Hans’ last joke lightened the mood though, and Ellen grinned lightly. “That sounds… incredibly stressful and horrible. On the bright side, even if you do shit yourself again, it probably won’t be as bad as the last time.”

“So our plan is to aim for those things?” She gestured towards the debris at the base of the steep incline.Not that Hans had to make a plan for aiming, but the words had already come out before she realized it was really just her who had to plan to aim for things.

Hans nodded.

“Ja, but first I’m going to teach you how to handle this rifle. As for the firefight, while I truly hope you never need to find out for real, an extended firefight is very stressful - but it is also very boring. Eight hours is a long time, but I have known soldiers who went through longer - imagine, you would go through two meals, a bathroom break, sometimes even sleep. Less sleep, but sometimes - in fact, I have tried to sleep through artillery fire before.” He continued explaining as he started the process of producing the rifle.

The AR15 - the same one he had brought with him to rescue Ellen, the same one that had seen action in the outback of Australia, and done who knows how much else by now - was in a couple of different pieces in the case, and the way Hans went about slapping them together was the kind of thing usually seen only in fiction. His movements were quick, efficient, almost violent, and the rifle was in one functional piece in what seemed like seconds, but definitely no longer than a minute.

With the finished weapon in hand, Hans looked up to see Ellen’s reaction.

“You better not ask me to do that next.” Ellen said, arching one eyebrow. There was no way she could replicate that process. Maybe if they color coded the ends that were supposed to meet and had them numbered 1, 2, 3, etc… But that was still a MAYBE. He was impressive, but no doubt he needed to be impressive with weapons like these. People who were less capable wouldn’t be alive today to teach airheads like Ellen how to use the weapons.

He grinned, pleased to see her impressed with his display.

“Not to worry, this isn’t so hard - it takes practice, not brains, I am certainly not a genius.”

“Well good. I’m glad there is hope for me yet. Seriously though, why not just color code the bits that go together?” Maybe no one wanted their guns with color coded stripes on them? She could probably scrounge up some nail-polish and just put matching colors on the pieces that connected. She could just imagine the look on Hans’ face if he saw her taking nail polish to any of his guns. Hah!

“Well, that is a good question. Sometimes these parts rely on being well oiled or greased, so the colour would be potentially covered up with the grease - sometimes the parts need to be very…” he searched for the word, clicking his thumb and finger in frustration as it eluded him.

“... flush? Tight. If you painted on, the paint might simply be rubbed away, or it might interfere with the function of the weapon. It isn’t so hard though, really - just practice, over and over. I do this automatically now, like I was born with it.” He smiled softly as he produced a long, cylindrical object from the gun bag.

Immediately, Ellen recognised it as a suppressor.

Hans’ answer about the color-coding made sense. She imagined there weren’t too many ways to put a weapon like that together wrong anyway. She was much more likely to just have a heap of parts if she failed. Ellen saw him bring out the suppressor, which he mentioned before was to help contain the noise. “So are we using the silency thing so we don’t disturb the animals as much with the noise?” She imagined no one else from Goodnight was near here. “Or is it on more because it adds weight so it is a more realistic practice?” As long as he didn’t say it’s so no one hears me murder you and leave your body out here she was pretty fine with it.

“It’s so nobody hears me shoot you and leave your body out here.” He stared at her, completely deadpan.

After a moment, he cracked a grin.

Ellen stared right back confident, well….mostly confident that he was joking. “Well that would be a perfectly dandy way to ruin a date!”

“Don’t worry, she isn’t loaded. No, it is actually in case there is anyone else living or traveling through this forest - but also, it is for us. An unsuppressed gunshot, especially firing a supersonic cartridge like most 5.56 rounds this sort of gun would fire, is extremely loud, and the sound will not only carry for miles potentially, but also permanently damage our hearing. I have some earplugs for us to use anyway, but they aren’t heavy duty enough to simply shoot anything with. There is also an important lesson to be learned here.”

Hans thrust the rifle into Ellen’s hands as he set about loading a magazine with bullets.

“How much do you know about this kind of rifle?”

Hans’ explanation that the suppressor was because the gun was loud was… a bit on the nose, but definitely better than the murder-alternative. Though, he hadn’t specified murder, just shooting. So in theory he could leave her bleeding out here instead...Why exactly was she focusing on this? Ellen shook off those thoughts as he thrust the weapon in her hands, and she shifted it in her hands until she felt like she had a good hold of it.

Heh.

Ellen cleared her throat and looked up at Hans. “Well… the rifle is bigger than a pistol. Umm… It is loud…”

Focus!

“Yeah, I’ve got nothing.”

He blinked at her, clearly catching on to her distraction.

“Are you alright? Did I say something?”

Shit. Shoot. Heh, Shoot…

“No… I mean, yes, I’m fine. You didn’t say anything wrong. I just don’t really know much about guns. They fire bullets. This kind is bigger than a pistol. I think… it goes farther? But it isn’t like… one of those machine guns that shoots a lot.” Now was not the time to be distracted thinking about innuendos. She actually wanted to learn this. Not like when she took those surfing lessons. Those were absolutely just for the eye candy, aka instructor.

“You seem to be elsewhere, mentally. What’s on your mind? It really is fine to not know so much about the weapons - I was not born with an encyclopaedic knowledge of firearms either, after all.” He produced another pack of bullets from his bag, as well as a little stove and a few tins. “I was also expecting to be out here for some time, so I did bring us some food.”

“First you threaten to shoot me, and now you are offering me food? I don’t know… It’s probably poison.” Ellen chuckled. She sat down cross-legged next to him. “I guess… if you got it from Goodnight it could be poison even unintentionally.” She wasn’t a huge fan of the food...but it kept her alive so far, so it had that going for it.

“We Germans have precious few other means of conducting diplomacy. I do not have any beer, so there is only food for now. Are you sure you are alright?” He continued, as he produced a bullet from the other box.

“Ugh… Beer. I miss alcohol so much.” Ellen replied. She wasn’t a big drinker, but she missed the occasional drink and the fun socializing that came along with it. “But yea, I’m really fine. I just… have a very dirty mind and thinking about the guns and shooting… There’s just a lot of innuendo going on because I have the maturity of a twelve year old boy.” It really wasn’t that big of a deal, so it was better to just tell him the truth… rather than continue acting like she had some big secret she was trying to keep.

“Oh.” He paused for a moment, before producing his other weapon - a boxy handgun with a slim profile and a modern looking design. An incredibly stereotypically German looking piece of weapon. “I suppose it is a… big gun.” he nodded thoughtfully.

He checked the weapon, ejecting the magazine and racking the slide, before gesturing with it.

“This one is smaller.” He added.

Ellen wasn’t sure what to make of the pause at first. He wasn’t exactly a young man, but surely dick jokes weren’t that much less prevalent, right? Then he began to poke a bit of fun with the phrases he used and Ellen grinned. “Well… they say size isn’t everything. It’s all in how you handle it, right?” That could be taken totally non-sexually, too! She just meant that you had to know how to aim and fire a weapon! Cough.

“Mm. I agree. I’ve never failed a weapons handling test in my life. Top marks from every examiner.” He reached for the gas stove, but lingered on it, waiting to judge her reaction.

“Oh really?” He wasn’t just placating her. He would have just accepted her explanation and moved on. And this… this was more than just an agreement. “Well, I don’t know if I should trust a third party examiner. Sometimes it’s better to just be a little hands-on. Don’t you agree?”

He grinned wolfishly back at her.

“I do. We can teach you to fire a real gun later.”
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Pascal
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Pascal

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Ellen did get her lessons--from Audrey and Hans--and by the time they were called in for the next mission briefing, she felt much more prepared for the possibility of armed combat. She didn’t have any intention of seeking out a fight, and Audrey had pounded it into their heads that the best way to resolve a fight was to not get in the fight in the first place.

She looked over the floorplan that was spread out in front of them. Already, it looked to be a better plan than the last pickup had been. At least this time they had a layout. As she saw the Costco logo, Ellen grinned. (It just so happened that she likely grinned just as Audrey announced the pick up was a bit more morally ambiguous.) She hadn’t been to them often--but she was familiar with the massive wholesale store. Everything came in massive quantities, and they had nearly everything you could imagine. If there was an apocalypse, and you could choose one store to make into a fortress, a wholesale store like Costco would be a great choice.

Audrey listed out priorities: namely food, more food, then medical supplies. Ellen knew a lot of other things would be desirable as well. Clothing to replace those that had to be destroyed after the live outbreak. Deodorant, soap, and razors for self-care. Hell, even grabbing a bunch of their basic reading glasses would probably benefit a bunch of people, plus a variety of books. People needed...luxuries. She understood that even from her time on the crabbing boats. You could try to just get by with the basic necessities, but after a few days at sea, you wanted more--a different thing to eat, a book to read, something to idly think about. The same was already happening at Goodnight. People were going stir crazy.

This idea was fantastic. Ellen just didn’t know how to get everything from the Costco to Goodnight.Too bad they couldn’t just magick the whole building. That would be hella convenient.

Audrey explained how they would be scoping it out during the day, and they should avoid confrontation if at all possible. Most importantly, they needed to keep their magic hidden. Regular law enforcement was one thing, but revealing they were mages would bring about a whole new host of problems. Before Audrey told them anything else, she asked them to formulate a plan.

Ellen didn’t bother looking over at Abigail. The girl was probably picking her nose at that very minute. She did glance over at Angeline. During their last serious conversation, Angeline admitted that she didn’t think about these sorts of things--she focused on dance and rehearsals. So Ellen stepped forward again.

“We need to get a lot of things out of there. Can we steal one of their delivery trucks, that way we can really load it up instead of just getting a few bundles in the billy bus?” Ellen asked. “If we could get an idea of what uniform the loaders wear, perhaps we can disguise ourselves in the evening. Confidence can go a long way to getting you ignored. Could even fake some paperwork for a recall on meats, so if we do run into security, we could play it off as having to get the ‘tainted’ meat out of the store.” Ellen began. She barely paused between thoughts to let Audrey interject with feedback.

She looked up at the woman for her next question. “Would you consider setting a fire to another building to redirect some attention from local authorities? A building on the opposite side of the station maybe near some roads with roads so the police need to work on traffic redirecting? It might reduce the chance for a random patrol to be nearby. And if there is a call made, we might buy a bit of extra time for escape.”

After that was answered, Ellen looked back down at the map. “If we do go in through the truck bay, that gives us great access to the fresh meat and bakery items. Perishable, but they will go a long way with morale. The produce is close, too, so assuming these connect, maybe through the chilled produce room, we can have someone go out and grab some of the fruits and vegetables as well.” Ellen paused.

“To get us in at night, I think it makes the most sense to leave someone behind after we scope it out. Abigail is tiny and could hide among some of the giant stacks of food items. Or… I can hide in the freezer. The cold won’t bother me and security won't spend much time looking there for a person.” Ellen didn’t entirely trust Abi to not get caught by security if she got bored and started messing around--though they would probably just toss her out rather than think she was part of a criminal organization. Then again, they could both camp out in different parts, just in case...

“Since the pharmacy is the farthest, I think one of us could split off and head there. It is probably easier for one person to avoid any security rather than all of us. Can we get a list of what kinds of medications are the most important ones to grab? I don’t want to end up with fifteen varieties of laxative instead of what we actually need, and all of those medical names look the same to me.” Ellen didn’t think any of them had enough medical background to handle that task without backup information. “That person should at least have a backpack or duffle. We don’t want to have to make multiple trips through that part of the store. Ellen still thought Angeline might be the best for that part, or maybe Zephyr. He seemed really level-headed.

Obviously, there were some parts of the store they could avoid entirely. They didn’t need automotive care, or furniture. “I know they aren’t priority, but I would suggest if possible, we try to get some books and toiletries as well. Maybe each of us can have our main objective, like the medical supplies, and then our secondary objective, like extra clothing in every size we can.” If they ran short on time, they were more likely to have all of their main objectives if they split them up, and that way one person wasn’t just running around grabbing unimportant junk.

Would they need to get into the main office? There were probably video cameras up in parts of the store. “During the day, we should try to get an idea as to whether there are video cameras. If disabling them needs to be a stop we make at night. Question-- does it matter if they know this was mages in retrospect?” Ellen asked. The types of things they were taking… she figured it would be pretty obvious that this wasn’t a theft for money, and it would draw attention to their weaknesses to the FOE. If this was going to give them too much information, would it be worth it to try to destroy the building after the robbery, to cover up exactly what they were doing? Did they even have the means to destroy the building? Ellen had no idea. Perhaps...she was getting a little ahead of herself.
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As time passed in Goodnight Zephyr found the days starting to blend together. Unlike in his previous life there was seemingly no delineation between what happened on different days. The only real difference was what gruelling training Audrey had planned for the group. At least between the mandatory training and his personal training keeping up his tae-kwon-do knowledge he was in pretty good shape. Zephyr also appreciated that Audrey's belief that the best way to resolve a fight to to just avoid it all together, that kind of thinking really spoke to him. Unfortunately she also insisted that everyone learn to use a gun, and while Zephyr understood the need he still didn't like it. The only thing a gun was good for is killing, and Zephyr really didn't want to be in a situation where it came down to that.

When he wasn't doing mandatory training Zephyr found himself alone in the woods nearby Goodnight. It's not that he didn't appreciate the company of the others, they were all fine, but the reality of his new life had just been hitting him hard lately. This wasn't some fantastical adventure he had been chosen for, he wasn't going to save the world, he was just a guy who got lucky he wasn't taken by the government. These are the kind of thoughts Zephyr had on his treks into the woods. It was also a great chance to train his magic more. The gods may have made some kind of clerical error when giving him these amazing abilities but that wasn't going to stop him from training them to the best of his abilities. The more formal training was nice but nothing beat some alone time to reflect on what he could do.

Zephyr had gotten pretty proficient at turning his abilities on and off quickly, which seemed to be rather important considering the drain they put on his body. The only thing he still hadn't really gotten the hang of was his Time Out ability. It seemed he could only use that one if he really felt the situation was dire, he could never get it to work while in Goodnight.

Eventually the day came when Audrey told the group to meet up for an apparent mission they were getting. After the rather awkward gun training course (where Zephyr stood awkwardly while Ellen and Angie argued before making up) he went and did a bit more personal training before heading to the meeting. The general idea seemed simple enough, and Ellen was the first to speak up with some ideas which Zephyr thought sounded pretty decent. He wasn't a huge fan of stealing but desperate times and all that, plus Costco was a huge corporation so that helped alleviate any guilt he may feel about the whole ordeal.

"I think staying behind after we check out the place is a good idea, the main problem with that is the time between close and when we'd want to go in is probably a lot longer than you think." Zephyr said in response to Ellen's plan, "the rest sounds solid, though if we do the fire thing I'd prefer it's a place where not too many people would get hurt." He turned to Audrey to ask something, "I do have a question about recon though, how many of us will be doing that? I just feel like we'd look strange walking in together considering we don't exactly look like a family going shopping together."
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Jessikka

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Aside from the routine exercises and training that they regularly underwent, Angeline found herself being useful in more… Mundane areas of Goodnight. One time, as people took to the outdoors occasionally for comfort, or training purposes, an idea came to her as she was honing her skills. She quickly took to the kitchen to ask about any sort of garden, to which she was delighted to hear they had a small garden but with very little variety of vegetables, working with what little they had brought to goodnight or scavenged on missions.

Angeline spent most of her free-time from then onwards volunteering in the meagre garden, she sat and grew and experimented with what she could do. At least this way she was helping. She could grow out-of-season plants quicker, although she had to be careful as it made her quite weak. With the toll it took on her, she was only capable of working on one small patch of crops, be it potatoes, carrots, onions, herbs, per day. Each day she cycled to a different patch of crops, slowly improving their rate of growth. After two weeks, she noticed herself feeling weak and feverish. It didn’t sit right with her to take any ‘sick days’, however, since the consequences would affect many others' quality of life. However, after a few more days of continuing to work on the small garden, her condition only worsened. It was then she was able to put two and two together that it was her doing this work that was deteriorating her condition in the first place. After a brief discussion with the kitchen staff, she excused herself from volunteering.

The first few days of her illness, the cold hit her hard. She spent as much time as possible in their sleeping quarters, trying to stay hydrated and had just enough energy to go to the food court daily to keep herself as well-fed as she could possibly be in the current conditions. She had to continue both the magic and the physical training, both of which she found particularly difficult in her condition, though she was eager to put as much effort as possible, she didn’t want to lose any of the strength she had from before. During the recovery periods of magic training sessions she was checked upon by supervisors and medics to see how her recovery was coming along, which it was, slowly but surely. After the first few days the majority of the hard-hitting symptoms had faded off and now she was merely dealing with lingering inconvenient symptoms, a lasting sore throat, headaches, a cough and other small symptoms of the sort. This made training significantly easier and by the time the meeting was called, she was feeling almost totally better, with only the lingering sore throat and the occasional headache.

She stood and listened to people’s contributions to the plan, noting holes in them that she could patch up when it came her turn to speak. Before she spoke she glanced around the room, ensuring no one else had anything to say.

“Alright. So I’ve had a decent look at this floor plan while you guys were talking and Ellen, your idea is pretty good. One thing I want to point out, though, is that if the security is situated anywhere it’ll probably be here-” She pointed at the ‘main office’ section of the layout “-which is the total other side of the store from the truck bay entrance. So I suggest we try to get someone in through the main entrance or exits, or maybe, if we do have someone hiding in the store after hours, they could look along the side wall where the offices are for entry later. I mean one suggestion is having someone open a window in the bathroom if there is one as long as it isn’t locked or anything, you know?” She pointed at the bathrooms which were just above the main office.

“My other suggestion sort of builds on Ellen’s plan, I think everyone should have a planned route in the store we take, and we should have a ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ objective, primary being important stuff, and the secondary is just add-on nice things we could take on the way back to the truck loading bay based on our routes.”

She stared at the map for a while longer, tracing routes with her fingers, with her body arched over the table to read the finer prints. “So… Whoever deals with security in the main office can go to the pharmacy as their primary objective, and then these aisles here-” She points at the aisles 300-319 “Can be scoured as a secondary objective. Maybe prioritise vitamins? Then someone else can have ‘preserved goods’ as their primary, in these similar aisles, 305: jerky and crackers, 307: Nuts- you know what, actually skip 307, scoop the nuts off the aisle caps at 306/307 and 308/309 then dive right in aisle 309 for soup, noodles, rice and then up to the canned goods. Definitely take carts if you can cause this stuff is going to be heavy and we can’t risk being bogged down. As a secondary objective potentially the coolers #1 and #2 depending on what they have when we scope out the store during the day, or cereal, tea or coffee for just general quality of life.”

“For the people going down to get fresh foods down here, going to aisle 105 would be good, dental hygiene n whatnot, we only have one set of teeth and I don’t see many dentists kicking about. Also stopping here at aisle 110 for blankets could be good too. But obviously it should be only if things are going well. I imagine this place is going to be patrolled and we’ll have some resistance, it’s not going to be a smooth ride. The fresh foods, meats etc should be the main gathering, but grabbing one box of toothpaste or floss is better than none at all. I imagine we should have two people on the foods, so maybe if the first person starts from the top going down and the other starts and the fruit and vegetables and go up, once you meet in the middle, if you have time one goes to one aisle and the other goes to the other or something like that?”

“Anyways… My last points are: here right at the entrance to the truck loading area are cleaning items, probably aisle 403. Grabbing a few tubs of bleach could be great for preventing disease spread and keeping things clean and toilet paper here too. Just last minute items we can throw on if needed. Finally, here-” She stabbed her finger at the top right-hand corner of the page. “Gas station. I’m not sure what the need is at the moment for fuel but that’s an option we could consider.”

“How many people is that… 1 on meds, 2 on fresh food, 2 on preserved food.. That’s 5. How many people are coming with us? Uh… Anyways I know my plan is a bit over the top but it’s better to have a defined set of goals you want to achieve and then underachieve them than not know what else to grab if we have more time than we thought we would.” Angeline looked to Audrey for answers, and also tossed her gaze to Ellen, with a sort of ‘I can do this too’ look. She wasn’t stupid, nor totally incapable. Just… In high stress situations she wasn’t going to be very strategy minded as it simply isn’t in her nature to be as such.
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Maybe it was the argument. Maybe it was something to do with her self imposed sleep deprivation... whatever it was, Abigail had changed once she woke up the next morning and wasn't showing any signs of reverting back to her usual self.

Firstly, Abigail had withdrawn from the rest of the group. Gone was the word vomit, the galloping ramble in a southern drawl and the erratic movements around Goodnight; she was around in the evenings to make small talk and oft deflected prying questions by claiming to have had a very dull, average day for every single day during the last few weeks. When she didn't need to be around the others she oftentimes wasn't; rather she existed in the distant peripheries of their lives. Ellen and Hans had passed Abigail on their way out to create a shooting range. Zephyr had noticed Abigail and Brooks disappearing even further into the woods during one of his treks. Angeline had spotted her perched on an old shipping container, crunching through an expired pack of Reese's pieces and watching as the woman tended to her garden. When approached she was evasive and uncomfortable. She doesn't talk much anymore and actively avoided conversation where she can until everyone got the gist that she wanted to be left alone.

From a practical standpoint, Abigail was getting worringly good in her training. Since she kept getting hurt due to her magic, her pain tolerance was gradually increasing. She could run further, faster and hit harder than she was able to when she started, but the improvement was relative to the fact she's still much smaller and lighter than her peers. She slept like the dead whenever they had training that day. Magically, she had a much better control over her fire; jets of sharp violent flames that could reach three metres ahead of her, narrow and white-hot, striking her mark time and time again. But the casting had disfigured her hands into warped masses of scar tissue. Her fingers were stiff and hard to move, and the skin needed to air out in order to avoid sealing together as her body healed itself at a rapid pace. She was constantly, ceaselessly starving. She ate whatever she could get her hands on and still had this gaunt, famished appearance despite getting just as much - more if you included the smuggled sympathy snacks from Billy or Brooks - than everyone else.

Abigail also started reading a lot. That was a weird, left-field development that very few were expecting. Upon finding the remnants of the library it appears Brooks gave her a book and a notepad to write on. She seemed to be researching something, perhaps working on something based on the book. She oftentimes found nooks and crannies to hide in and work on it. She also had a litany of other weird projects going on as well; for example there's an entire claw machine in pieces way off by the sportswear section that Abigail has been fastidiously defending and yelling at anyone who messed with it, to the point that she's firmly established herself as the weird antisocial kid best left alone. Since nobody except the odd bootlegger or two goes through the Sports section, it's been idly glanced at and kept an eye on by a handful of people but whatever it is she's doing is slow progress as she doesn't always work on it. She's collecting old beer bottles under the broken staircase leading to the boutiques. She waters a patch of rock pansies growing out of a cash register every couple of days. She's been watching an ants nest by one of the benches in the food court with due diligence, and wherever there's a broken tile or shelf or something similar that's had its pieces carefully arranged to reform it back into its original shape (without the adhesive to repair it), chances are one was looking at the traces of Abigail's handiwork.

Abigail remained silent throughout the discussion of the plan, looking from face to face and soaking it all in. When there was a lull in the conversation she fidgeted with her mottled fingers and looked at the map. "Y'all forgot about the janitors n' guards n' shit," she eventually mumbled. A far cry from her usual boisterousness. "All I can do is set fire to 'em. 'Cept Audrey said the alarm's activated manually, so somebody's gotta get to the alarm n' set it off before any cops even know we're there. But people have phones n' shit too."

"Before y'all even start stealin' stuff you gotta find and shut up every single feller in and outside the building so's they don't call the cops on us. I don't know how, though."
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Goodnight


The Staff Room with Audrey






Just like many things that the fresh bootleggers were subjected to, this also felt like some sort of examination or test. It’s the way Audrey held herself - quiet, observant. She wasn’t just watching who spoke, she watched everyone; all the little side glances, the shifts in demeanor. Nobody could manage a sniffle without her picking up on it (and, in Angeline’s case, she definitely did). They were being measured, that was certain. What remained shrouded in mystery was the standards to which their behaviour was being compared to.

“We need to get a lot of things out of there. Can we steal one of their delivery trucks, that way we can really load it up instead of just getting a few bundles in the billy bus?” Ellen asked. “If we could get an idea of what uniform the loaders wear, perhaps we can disguise ourselves in the evening. Confidence can go a long way to getting you ignored. Could even fake some paperwork for a recall on meats, so if we do run into security, we could play it off as having to get the ‘tainted’ meat out of the store.” Ellen began. She barely paused between thoughts to let Audrey interject with feedback.

“Long haul vehicles tend to have GPS trackers and black boxes that’ll alert the company if tampered with,” Audrey responded. “It’s been considered, but the risk of being discovered is far too great. We can supply up to three supplementary vehicles if necessary - but we’ll need drivers for each and places to park them. I can get people working on finding some parking zones.”

Ellen looked up at Audrey for her next question. “Would you consider setting a fire to another building to redirect some attention from local authorities? A building on the opposite side of the station maybe near some roads with roads so the police need to work on traffic redirecting? It might reduce the chance for a random patrol to be nearby. And if there is a call made, we might buy a bit of extra time for escape.”

Audrey quirked a brow and said nothing for a moment. “If I gave you a map of the city, would you be capable of choosing a building to set on fire? We haven’t the time to scope out a building in person. There might be people in the one you choose.” She waited a half-beat longer. “If you feel up to accepting the consequences in that decision, I’m more than happy to provide you with a larger map of the area.”

She left the question to hang in the air as her gaze slipped to Abigail, watching her as she watched Audrey.

Ellen looked back down at the map. “If we do go in through the truck bay, that gives us great access to the fresh meat and bakery items. Perishable, but they will go a long way with morale. The produce is close, too, so assuming these connect, maybe through the chilled produce room, we can have someone go out and grab some of the fruits and vegetables as well.” Ellen paused. “To get us in at night, I think it makes the most sense to leave someone behind after we scope it out. Abigail is tiny and could hide among some of the giant stacks of food items. Or… I can hide in the freezer. The cold won’t bother me and security won't spend much time looking there for a person.”

Zephyr also spoke up after a moment. "I think staying behind after we check out the place is a good idea, the main problem with that is the time between close and when we'd want to go in is probably a lot longer than you think." Zephyr said in response to Ellen's plan, "the rest sounds solid, though if we do the fire thing I'd prefer it's a place where not too many people would get hurt." He turned to Audrey to ask something, "I do have a question about recon though, how many of us will be doing that? I just feel like we'd look strange walking in together considering we don't exactly look like a family going shopping together."

Audrey nodded. “Zephyr is right, we’ll have at least a three-hour wait time on our hands. If there’s four different vehicles to shift then people who aren’t doing recon can work on that, then all rendezvous at the bus to wait it out. Ideally I don’t want the bus hanging around in the parking lot for very long, so the addition of a normal car or two waiting near the entrance would be helpful.”

Audrey ran her tongue over her teeth as she considered how best to phrase her next statement. “Well,” she started carefully, “Brooks and Abigail should go together because they’re…” she waved a hand at the general presence of Abigail as if struggling to find the right way to put it.

“We got at least seven folk to our disposal. We can set up two teams of two that go in for recon. Different times, for different reasons. Rest of the three can work on getting us rides. Abigail should be in recon because she can’t drive.” Brooks interrupted Audrey.

“Of course,” Audrey agreed. “You can organise the specifics amongst yourselves.”

Before Angeline spoke she glanced around the room, ensuring no one else had anything to say. “Alright. So I’ve had a decent look at this floor plan while you guys were talking and Ellen, your idea is pretty good. One thing I want to point out, though, is that if the security is situated anywhere it’ll probably be here-” She pointed at the ‘main office’ section of the layout “-which is the total other side of the store from the truck bay entrance. So I suggest we try to get someone in through the main entrance or exits, or maybe, if we do have someone hiding in the store after hours, they could look along the side wall where the offices are for entry later. I mean one suggestion is having someone open a window in the bathroom if there is one as long as it isn’t locked or anything, you know?” She pointed at the bathrooms which were just above the main office.

“My other suggestion sort of builds on Ellen’s plan, I think everyone should have a planned route in the store we take, and we should have a ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ objective, primary being important stuff, and the secondary is just add-on nice things we could take on the way back to the truck loading bay based on our routes.”

“Excellent idea Angeline,” Audrey acknowledged the bootlegger with a split-second smile, “consider how much your team can carry when delegating out who goes where, as well. Goodnight is a big place, so when I say ‘as much as possible’ I truly mean it.”

Angeline then launched into an in-depth description of the possible routes the Bootleggers should take whilst Audrey watched her with intrigue. She glanced at Brooks, but the other man was too busy following Angeline’s finger as it skirted across the map. “Don’t worry,” Audrey reassured Angeline (and most likely the rest of the Bootleggers, especially Abigail who was starting to wear her signature look of utter confusion) “once you’ve figured out a definite route - or routes, in this case - across the store you may plot it out on the map.”

Angeline continued. “Anyways… My last points are: here right at the entrance to the truck loading area are cleaning items, probably aisle 403. Grabbing a few tubs of bleach could be great for preventing disease spread and keeping things clean and toilet paper here too. Just last minute items we can throw on if needed. Finally, here-” She stabbed her finger at the top right-hand corner of the page. “Gas station. I’m not sure what the need is at the moment for fuel but that’s an option we could consider.”

“Given we may be taking out multiple vehicles, it’s definitely something to consider. However, we’ve not got a lot of intel on the gas station as it stands. The trip would carry its own risks and consequences if you don’t get it right...Brooks?” she looked at the other bootlegger. “What are your thoughts on this?”

“We don’t need robbing a gas station too. We can task others to deal with that. We’ll keep our objective focused purely on the store.”

“Mhm. We can organise a separate mission for gasoline - probably the next thing to get after filling those cars with so much stuff. Focus on the store,” Audrey agreed.

“How many people is that… 1 on meds, 2 on fresh food, 2 on preserved food.. That’s 5. How many people are coming with us? Uh… Anyways I know my plan is a bit over the top but it’s better to have a defined set of goals you want to achieve and then underachieve them than not know what else to grab if we have more time than we thought we would,” Angeline said.

“No, you’re right. Having a clear, well-defined goal for everyone going in reduces the amount of time wasted hesitating and gives them something to reorient themselves with once the disruptions start happening,” Audrey agreed with her. “We’ve got seven, as Brooks said, though if Ruby tags along that’ll be eight.”

"Y'all forgot about the janitors n' guards n' shit," Abigail eventually mumbled. A far cry from her usual boisterousness. "All I can do is set fire to 'em. 'Cept Audrey said the alarm's activated manually, so somebody's gotta get to the alarm n' set it off before any cops even know we're there. But people have phones n' shit too. Before y'all even start stealin' stuff you gotta find and shut up every single feller in and outside the building so's they don't call the cops on us. I don't know how, though."

Brooks let out a grunt of acknowledgement at Abigail. “The camera room, assuming it’s not being operated remotely, is the highest priority. We need to make sure everything inside is locked down before we even think of pulling the vans up. That means breaking in and carraling all the workers and guards together.”

Abigail raised her hand a little bit. "I can break the lock," she offered. "Sentex keypads, a lotta Yale locks...but they're prob'ly usin' a keypad."

Brooks looked down at Abigail for a moment before nodding. “Good. Impressive, if true.” he raised and lowered his brows at her exactly twice with a smile. That brief moment of liveliness in the otherwise deadpan Bootlegger caused a significant shift in Abigail's demeanor as she snickered and held herself a little taller than she did before. Her mood lifted.

Audrey took note of that too.

"Okay then, it's time to talk specifics. I want to know who's doing what and going where," Audrey moved the conversation on a little bit. "More intel for you; there's one security camera on each of the exterior walls of the warehouse monitoring the wall it's attached to. There’s also one pointing at the truck bay and the main entrance. After hours we've seen one bodyguard patrolling between the main entrance and the truck entrance, and the number of employees that arrive just after closing varies between two and three, hard to tell what their jobs are from a glance." She leant down and marked some crosses where each security camera was on the exterior of the building using the map.

"Nobody brought up the emergency exits either, so I ought to mention to you now that most fire alarm systems work differently from security systems. Smoke detectors are automated, and opening emergency exits usually triggers an alarm regardless of if there's any danger. Don't set any fires alight in the store," she glanced at Abigail again, "and don't depend on those exits unless the cops are already en route or in the building."
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