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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.
It started just like any other training session; a long run to start off with, then a makeshift obstacle course, some jumping jacks, push-ups...the distance and number changed each session to push everyone to their limits. This brought the group sweating, shaking and panting back to the car park where Audrey was stood waiting for them with a duffle bag at her feet and a row of old cardboard boxes lined up at the far end.

"Welcome back. Line up here for me." Audrey grabbed the duffle bag, her expression impassive. "We're going to start teaching you about gun safety and gun usage." She went down the line, handing over a simple 9mm pistol to Zephyr then hesitating and staring at Abigail before reluctantly passing a gun to her. "The safety is on and they aren't load-ed…" she hesitated only slightly as she sharply pushed Abigail's pistol at the floor after the kid tried to aim it forward - towards Audrey. "...don't point it at anything you don't want to kill," she warned her. Her tone was like ice.

Angie was next in the line, Audrey handed her a gun.

Overall, Ellen had been enjoying the grueling exercises Audrey put them through. She liked being physically active, and the harder she pushed her body, the less time she spent thinking about… things. It was a good distraction. She couldn’t help but still feel tense around Angeline, though. Their last conversation hadn’t exactly been productive. They hadn’t worked through any of the things that were bothering them. Well, maybe Angie felt like things were worked out, but Ellen certainly didn’t. She just knew that the second things got difficult again, Angie would sit there doing nothing and Ellen would have to make the hard decisions.

Thus, when she saw Audrey give Angie a gun, she could no longer hold back the feelings. Well, she probably could have, but she didn’t.

“Don’t bother giving one to her. She won’t use it.” Ellen snapped. She doubted Angie would ever get out of the van long enough to do anything else Audrey was training them to do, like run around obstacles. Maybe Audrey should show Angie how to lock the van door. That might be a better lesson for the ballerina.

Angeline was used to this kind of training, but was certainly rusty as she breathed heavily as the gun was handed to her. Perhaps it was the sheen of sweat and the tiredness from the exercise, but she looked sickly as she held it. She shot Ellen a venomous glare “Very mature of you.” she snapped back, voice dripping with sharp sarcasm. She turned to Audrey “I assume this is supposed to be compulsory.” She asked, though it was obvious from her face she wanted the answer to be ‘no’, she’s heard plenty of lectures around Goodnight about people being unwilling to do things to save their lives. Generally the consensus was, you do it, or die.

"The FOE won't hesitate to shoot you if they see you, so yes. This is compulsory." Audrey stepped back. "Everyone here is expected to know how to use this weapon safely and effectively. You may never need to click the safety off for the rest of your life, but you need to know."

"Maybe you should try bringing some value to this situation." Ellen shot back, throwing Angie's words back in her face. Maybe it was immature and a bit petty to hold the grudge. But wasn't Angie supposed to be the adult, here?

Ellen looked over the safety of the pistol and held the gun's handle with her index finger resting outside of the trigger area, barrel pointed at the ground. Jab accomplished, she turned her attention to the instructor.

“I’ll keep your criticism in mind next time you’re hurt and you need my help.”

Despite the snappy response Angeline was only looking more and more worse off and the gun appeared to be shaking in her grip. Aside from her effort to play it off and check her own gun, after having mimicked Ellen’s actions, her breath was still coming in shallow breaths as she tried her best to calm herself down, her mind racing with vivid memories too ingrained to shake off. She closed her eyes to try and focus on one thing but it wasn’t helping much.

Audrey just turned her head slightly from Ellen to Angeline depending on who was talking. Abigail had started watching too, but she just looked confused and a little annoyed - which, to be fair, was an increasingly common expression for her to take.

Ellen glared at Angeline, though she seriously doubted the woman would withhold her healing skills because of a petty fight. At the end of the day, though, Ellen knew it was best to rely on herself and no one else.

Ellen actively ignored Angeline for a minute, but it grew difficult to pretend she didn't notice that Angeline was having some sort of panic attack just from holding an empty gun. Did… the gun really bother her that much?

Ellen had assumed that Angeline didn't want to use a gun because she felt like it was beneath her. Or like Ellen was barbaric for feeling like it was a tool that could be helpful. But what she saw… wasn't "uppity." She looked like she was going to throw up.

"Are you…. Okay?" Ellen asked, her brows furrowing in confusion.

"Is Angie gonna cry?" Abigail asked.

"What th-... Abigail, shut the fuck up. In fact, give me your gun," Audrey said - softly, and without malice, as her thoughts were elsewhere. Abigail had enough sense to pass the gun back as if it was loaded and Audrey took it from her as she strode back to Angeline's position in the line. "You should also give me your gun," Audrey asked of Angeline, holding her hand out, "and come with me. I'll get you some water. The rest of you - don't shoot anyone. Don't let Abigail shoot anyone either."

"C'mon. I ain't smart, but I'm not a dumbass," Abigail protested.

"Precisely," Audrey responded, her hand still outstretched for Angeline's pistol.

Angeline ignored Ellen’s question, with her eyes locked firmly on the ground in front of her with her brows furrowed, surely all Ellen had to say was more petty jabs and that wasn’t something she had any time for. Wordlessly, she relinquished the gun into Audreys hands. MyAs the heavy weight lifted from her fingers she clenched them into a fist as if to force herself to forget what it felt like, or to focus on anything except the images flashing behind her eyes. She continued to force in ragged breaths, keeping her head bowed out of embarrassment perhaps, and opted to follow Audrey. This is so embarrassing! It was akin to being kicked out of dance class to shame you for poor performance and she could feel people’s eyes on her, undoubtedly either judging, or with questions she didn’t want to answer.

Audrey had the presence of mind to put both pistols into the duffle bag, zip it shut and carry it with her as she briskly walked Angeline away from the others and to a small maintenance shed where one of the rusty, nonfunctional generators for the mall sat. Taking her behind the wall of the shed she put the bag down and reached to squeeze Angeline's hand. Already it was a far cry from her usual demeanor. "Breathe in," she told her, "hold it," she said, "and breathe out," she finished, loosening her grip. "Breathe in," she tightened her grip again, "hold it," still tight, "breathe out." Grip loosened. She stopped talking and breathed with Angeline, tightening and loosening her hold on the woman's hand to guide her out of a budding panic attack.

Angeline’s hand shook beneath Audrey’s hands as she closed her eyes and followed the woman’s instructions, forcing her breathing to steady. Her palms were sweaty and cold and her face pallid. If she were more sound of mind she would question the otherwise brutish seeming woman’s sudden gentleness. Eventually her shaken breaths came out smoother and she eventually opened her eyes and focused on their hands.

"Nope, not down there. Look at me. Thoughts get weird when you're looking at your hands." Audrey was watching her closely. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Angeline lifted her gaze to look at Audrey and she looked a little sheepish “Um - well there’s not much to say…” She mumbled. “Someone got shot in front of me and it didn’t sit right with me.” Although she sounded calmer, tears pricked at her eyes and before she noticed, some droplets rolled down her cheeks. “And I can’t forget his face and he died right in front of me. And- “ She cut off, as her throat tightened on her. “And knowing what I can do now- I feel like I could have- or.. Should have done something about it.”

"Since you seem relatively well adjusted I'm gonna assume it was either the man that was shot during your previous mission, or something that happened during your extraction. I'd understand if you feel that way from your mission - at the time, you probably felt like you were ready, or more ready than you had been when you left your own life behind. The truth of the matter is that the government spends months, years dehumanising recruits for war and even they aren't ready for death." Audrey still held her hand - a small comfort. "But what could you have done, Angeline? You feel the burden more than anyone else because of your powers but do you even know how to use them now? Did you know, at the time, how to stop the killer from pulling the trigger? These things-... sometimes, they just happen. They happen out of nowhere to all sorts of people, and being a mage is the insurmountable task of coming to terms with that. And it will take you a long time to do that, and an even longer time to stop seeing his face."

Audrey crouched just a little so she was eye level with Angeline. "I'm not Dr Cassar. I can't give you the right words to make you feel better. But I acknowledge that what you're going through is something that took me, and many other people in Goodnight, a very long time to tolerate. I know what watching people die feels like." Her gaze was cold and it was unyielding but most of all, it was understanding in a way that perhaps nobody else had managed before. "There truly isn't any way to stop a bullet once it's left the chamber, and to catch a man before he pulls the trigger is like trying to catch a grain of sand on the wind. You could not have done anything. You did not know."

Audrey straightened again. "The fastest and most effective way to stop someone from killing someone else, in open combat, is to kill them first. Why do you think I have been so thoroughly ingraining into you all that initiating the fight is the worst way to protect yourselves when you are out in the field? I am trying my best to give you the skills to avoid combat altogether. But if you can't - and sometimes, you truly can’t -" she lifted the duffle bag slightly, "- then you must know how to use these to end the fight as quickly and as painlessly as you can. Not just for you, but for everyone around you. That is why these lessons are compulsory. It won't make the pain of death or killing any easier, but by God I have picked that pain over the emptiness of losing a friend a thousand times over and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life."

Angeline sighed and looked down again “I know you’re right… But if I can’t forget-... That moment, then how can I bring myself to- '' She grimaced at the idea of using the term ‘shoot’ so she danced around the word, “Do what I have to… I can’t even hold the thing without feeling sick.” she protested. “And-” she sighed deeply,” - I know everyone thinks I’m useless because of it, the people in my group probably feel as if they can't rely on me… I don’t think I can do it though.” Eventually she looked back at Audrey, gathering a sliver of strength to do so “I mean, I can learn how it works if I have to but I don’t think if the moment came to it I could do it…”

"Not everyone out here needs to be able to pull the trigger to make themselves useful. Least of all you, with your powers. You need to be able to do it, yes - but it will not define your worth here." Audrey craned her neck to check the line of people across the parking lot. "There's a lot of people in Goodnight who aren't even Bootleggers. They're cleaning. Cooking. Looking after the sick. When you're out in the field you need to be prepared for death and find ways to stop it, but that isn't only achieved by a gun. It's just the fastest and most effective method."

Angeline looked more defeated than anything “I can learn… I just can’t make promises…” she left the end of that sentence hanging for now, maybe one day she can find it in her to help in that way but for now… No, she cannot bring herself to do it now. “Sorry- I’ve interrupted training for a long time.” Though as she followed Audrey’s gaze back to the line of people, it settled onto Ellen… Now the sick feeling in her stomach writhed around and felt a bit more like anxiety. She didn’t really fancy returning.

"I mean, you both did. Anything to stop the kid from putting a bullet in my knee for a little longer. Can you please go and resolve whatever…disruption you're having with Ellen so I can start to talk about how to use a gun without accidentally injuring yourself and everyone else?" Audrey's sympathy only seemed to stretch so far; she didn't seem too fussed about Angeline's moroseness, simply guiding her back towards the assembled mages.

Angeline trudged towards the group again, following Audrey’s guidance, slotting into the line of people. Resolve..? there was not much Angeline could do to change Ellen’s opinion of her and she loathed the idea of trying. She still didn’t look keen on the guns but at least they weren’t loaded. The thoughts lingered in her mind, maintaining the nervous scowl etched into her face. At the very least she was in a better position to continue.

Audrey motioned to Ellen. "Ellen, with me. I'm not proceeding with the lesson whilst you and Angeline have something between you."

“What? Why do I have to go? I actually want to learn this!” Ellen protested.

Abigail, who had wandered off to sit and watch a line of ants, looked up with exasperation. "Can we please quit fuckin' about n' start shootin' stuff?" She drawled irritably.

"This group of mages is your group of mages. If there's something disrupting the group dynamic, it'll directly affect you - because they'll put everyone else in danger by trying to piss each other off." Audrey was glaring at Abigail but didn't try to hide her disdain for the entire ordeal as her own patience started to run thin. "I'm clever enough not to arm angry women. Especially not starved, tired, sweaty angry women." She turned to look at both Ellen and Angeline. "Either you resolve your differences enough to work together now, or your position as bootleggers is getting reviewed. You've both got ten minutes to smooth out whatever issue this is, then I need to finish the lesson and bring in the next team."

Ellen did not like the threat. Make nice with Angeline or she wouldn’t be able to do their missions? She would go crazy without having something to look forward to. Ellen wasn’t going to let Angeline take this away from her. Maybe she could just convince Angie to quit. That would work… Then again, Angeline was the healer, and given the rest of the people on their team’s...penchant for getting injured. cough Abigail cough. It was probably better to keep her.

Ellen paced around in a bit of a circle as she composed her thoughts. “About Abigail, I’ll drop it and stop trying to give her life advice. She can be your problem, since that’s what you want. Deal?”

“That’s obviously not what I want. I’m just saying she’s old enough to not be talked down to. Everyone is deserving of respect, even those younger than us. The ‘deal’ is you stop talking down to someone who’s in the same predicament as you.” Angeline shook her head disappointedly. How could the girl not see that Abigail deserved to be treated just as well as anyone else. “But if you want to relinquish all responsibility you may feel you have over her to me, then fine.” Angeline rolled her shoulders as the lack of movement or activity started to settle in the realisation of all the work she had just done. She took a moment to rub her neck, feeling the pain in response. “What’s your deal anyways. I thought we were nice and friendly then suddenly after the first mission you hate me all of a sudden. We had some nice conversations in the van on the way there.”

“I wasn’t talking down to her. I was just being straight with her. Tell her the truth and to the point.” Ellen huffed. Maybe she came across rude because she was being blunt and direct. Maybe because English wasn’t her first language and she couldn’t be quite as flowery and soft. Maybe that was another difference in how they all were raised. Maybe Ellen was just used to hearing the truth about things and Angeline was not. And most likely, neither thing was exactly what Abigail was used to in terms of guidance and education.

“I don’t hate you. But I think you preach being respectful when you feel perfectly content treating me like shit and acting like you are better than me. Why? Because you are too good to stoop down to my level and use a gun? Because you are too pure and innocent to help us figure out a plan to get medical supplies to innocent people? Does it help you sleep better at night to know you didn’t choose any of those things?... I don’t get it.”

Ellen could have rambled more, but it was circular. She had made her point-- the same one as nearly a month before, though. She didn’t like how Angie acted judgemental when she hadn’t actually contributed to the plan at all. Angie had replied before that she just didn’t want to murder people. Did she think Ellen actually enjoyed it? Was that what Angie had gotten out of listening to Ellen talk at the session with Dr. Cassar? What was the point in ‘debriefing’ with her ‘team’ when everyone, including the eye doctor, was just going to think she was a heartless killer?

Angeline stared at Ellen incredulously “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but that’s not me.” She laughed coldly “You say I’ve ‘treated you like shit’ but I’ve barely even ‘treated’ you. We have barely spoken and the only time I’ve been anything but polite was over that Abigail treatment where I felt you were coming across condescending. Maybe you weren’t trying to belittle her but that’s how it sounded so I asked you to stop.” She shook her head “I mean. It’s like you’ve invented an entire relationship with me that I’m not even part of? How many of these claims are based on things I’ve actually said and not just you interpreting how I’m acting? I mean, just how accurate do you think your image of me is going to be when you’re trying to interpret my actions without actually knowing who I am. Do you even know what I did as a job? Or what I was learning at university? You don’t know a damn thing about me and yet you’re making assumptions that I’m - what - too good for you?”

Angeline was right about how they had barely spoken. Ellen had tried. They had talked during the first mission and it had been... decent. Angeline had explained she was a ballerina and unused to these types of situations. Ellen was more than a little annoyed that Angeline didn’t seem to even remember telling her these things, and accused her of not knowing anything about her, but she didn’t interrupt her--which was a pretty big deal for her.

Angeline was getting flustered and red in the face but she soldiered on stubbornly. “Why is it that you immediately assume that I think I’m too good for ‘stooping as low as you’ to use guns, or make plans or whatever, instead of the more obvious choice?” She stared at Ellen, but guessing Ellen would jump to conclusions she decided to spell it out for her instead: “I’m a normal, boring person. I wake up, I work out, I either went to dance practice or I stayed in and did my lectures, I prepared for-.. For DANCE shows! Not fucking- fucking AMBUSHES! I don’t know how to make a plan of attack, I don’t know how to fucking use a gun and even if I did know I can’t bring myself to do it because I-” Angeline’s voice broke and tears erupted suddenly, both from the frustration of the argument and also from the sharp recollection of her extraction “- Because…” her voice quivered and she took many deep breaths “I’m sorry- I need a moment to compose myself..” she managed to force out despite the tightening of her throat and the shallowness of her breaths.

After a few moments she took a deep breath in, though her voice was not as frantic as it was before, it was measured and calm and very calculated, as if any wrong word would send her into a panic. “I watched a man… Maybe even another mage like me… He- he got shot… Right in front of me… On some random morning when I was supposed to be sleeping in my comfy bed and getting ready for my day of university work and dance rehearsals. And I watched his face drain of life. And I felt the blood hit my face from the bullet wound, and I watched it pool into the streets around my hands and knees and I couldn’t do anything about it. It made me sick, I might have even feinted. I can’t even touch the damn things without-” she clenched her eyes shut, feeling the panic rising again, forcing her breathing to slow “Without whatever that was happening back there.” Angeline’s head was hung deeply, shame, either from admitting that she was useless or from the pain of the memory, clouded her eyes. Eventually, she looked up and stared at Ellen “Don’t pretend you know me.”

Ellen knew Angeline didn’t have experience with the gun. She did not know about that woman’s trauma with the weapon. Ellen stood silently as Angeline explained how she watched a man shot and bleed out--she assumed it occured the night they all awoke. Ellen waited a few beats after Angeline spoke, despite her usual desire to jump right on the end of the sentence with her retorts and arguments. Ellen was a cynic, and it was easy to see the worst-case scenario. But Ellen had explained all of that already.

“I... “ Ellen took another breath, forcing herself to slow down. “You’re right. I don’t know you. I’m sorry for...making assumptions.” It hadn’t been the words. It had been the body language, the actions, the lack of...comfort. After the mission, Ellen had desperately wanted to process what she had done, but the others weren’t ready. She filled the air with idle chatter, but it didn’t fill the hole inside of her. At the therapy session, Ellen had poured out intimate details of her life--her childhood, her awakening, and the things she had done on the mission. But she hadn’t really been saying all of those things for herself. She had been saying them to get...approval. And it didn’t happen. So she took it out on Angeline. Why her? Because she was older than Abigail and seemed to have it together. But none of them really had their shit together, did they?

It was big for Ellen to admit she was wrong, and to not retort with why she thought Angeline was at fault for some reason or another. But Angeline wouldn’t give her a sticker for controlling her own emotions for once. Ellen was beginning to understand that, now. She was the one who had to accept her past and her actions--not anyone else.

“About the gun, thing. Knowing how to use one doesn’t mean you have to use one to kill someone. I’m not...an expert. But…I think of it like a tool. You… you are damn strong, especially your legs. I bet a well-placed kick could knock a person out or seriously injure them. Please don’t test my theory, though-” Ellen held up a hand as if to stop her, but let out a chuckle to show she was trying to poke a bit of fun. “But you know how to use your body, how to control your limbs and balance and all… of that ballerina stuff.” Ellen had seen her do yoga. She knew that the woman had crazy good control of her body. “It doesn’t mean you have to use your body for all of those things all of the time. But you know how and you can if you need.”

“To me, a gun is the same. It’s a tool. Knowing how to use it means that if I need to, I can. Maybe for you it means firing a shot into the air to let us know you are in danger, or to scare off someone. Maybe it means firing into an old broken window to redirect someone’s attention when you see that one of us might be in danger. Knowing how to use a gun means if you find a pistol and don’t want bad guys to get it, you can unload it and leave it empty, pocketing the ammunition. It doesn’t mean you have to shoot someone. You still have a choice in what you do with it. But your choices go down a lot if you don’t know how to use it….Does that...make sense?”

Ellen didn’t think Angeline would agree with the mentality. They didn’t seem to agree on much. But if Angeline could think of other ways to use a gun, perhaps she could break the association of a gun and the death she witnessed.

Angeline sighed, both exhausted from the fight and the tension in general, Ellen seemed to back off a bit, trying to lighten the mood, which she was endlessly grateful for as the tight line between them was cut and she could relax her shoulders. She rubbed her face with her hands, feeling the ache in her bones. “I appreciate you being vulnerable enough to apologise. I’m sorry, too, for trying to tell you what to do. If you think you can deal with-” she nodded her head in Abigail’s general direction “Whatever is going on over there then be my guest, but I was just saying I tried that approach and it did not go down well.” she warned good naturedly. Now onto that topic… “As for the guns well, Audrey basically gave me the same lecture… I’m not saying I will refuse to learn how to use one, I mean… I’m at the lesson, even if I’m disrupting basically all of it. I just mean that well, it’ll take me more time to get used to it than you lot and even then I can’t say I’d ever bring myself to do it… Or at least, I can’t make any promises. I can find other ways like you suggested but, like, if it’s me and I’m staring someone down the ‘barrel of the gun’ as they say… What if I see him instead? I don’t think I could do it.” she explained. “I mean I agree with you about as much as I can do.” she re-worded her sentence, trying not to sound like she was arguing with the woman too much.

“You don’t need to make promises. And… if you do find yourself in a position where you might need to use the gun--you’ll decide that when the time comes. No one can tell you whether it was the right or wrong decision but you.” Maybe Ellen was talking more to herself at this point than to Angeline. But at least they weren’t yelling anymore. “So… we good?”

“Yeah, we good.” Angie replied with a sigh of relief.

Angeline returned the polite nod to Brooks, retreating to a corner to get changed. She, too used to getting stuffed into outfits in overcrowded dressing rooms, also didn’t mind getting changed in the open room, she was just sure to turn her back so as to not expose herself too much. Naturally, as she opened her gym bag, her pyjamas were folded neatly on top, she retrieved them, she had two sets it seemed, a warm looking fleecy set for cooler nights and a set of a t-shirt and shorts for warmer evenings, she opted for the warmer one, and tugged on some fluffy socks to boot. It’s not like the heating was working. She then took to quietly brushing her still damp hair, listening quietly to the conversation going on behind her. She loosely braids her hair into two french braids, to protect it while she sleeps.

Angeline turned around just as Ellen was trying to explain to Abigail how to act, she stepped over to the group and tossed her gaze between Ellen and Abigail. “There’s no need to treat her like a child, she’ll never respond well to being talked down to like that.” she pointed out. Abigail was much too stubborn and prideful to take that kind of tone well. She put on a stern gaze and fixed Abigail with it “But Ellen is right, that was rude.” she softens her gaze and turns to Ellen “What kind of things do you support?” may as well make it an open discussion, perhaps Abigail will see the diversity in the group and learn from it. “I, personally, am agnostic. As a budding scientist I don’t see much evidence of a deity, but should there be some undeniable proof, I’m not about to reject it.” She then set her gaze on Abigail, “Like you said, we’re all ‘godless rejects’ here, the least we can do is ‘help thy neighbour’ as it were and support each other through this mess.”

Lastly, as if she were nearly ignoring Zephyr, she finally sets her attention to him, curiosity piqued. “So, if you’re in the belief of many deities, have you got any religious theory for why we’re like this?” She gestures around, “The whole supernatural powers thing? Is there any secret explanation that might be the key to understanding it all? Or… Is that wishful thinking?” Angie added the last bit on, sheepishly. She highly doubted that there was some secret ancient tome foretelling the violet dawn, but it would be interesting if there were.
"Hey Angie, how come ladies get changed in the latrines? There's piss on the tiles," Abigail pointed out as she got her allocated speck of toothpaste from one of the faculty members and started brushing her teeth by a tarnished mirror in the ladies' washroom. Behind her, the aforementioned women were both using the cubicles for their intended purpose and flinging clothes to hang on the stall door as they changed. No surprises there; Abigail is one of the handful of people who had no quarrels getting dressed in the bunkhouse. "They got summin' they tryin' to hide?" She asked conspiratorially.

Angeline peered at the occupied cubicles and shrugged nonchalantly “Maybe, it’s their own choice if they feel comfortable changing in front of others or not. For me, I’ve had to do it for my career, so I’m not as fussed, but maybe Jenny down the road doesn’t like people seeing her ti-uh boobs.” Remember… She’s a child… Watch your mouth. Angeline was also brushing her teeth, moving on to swishing around some water from the bottled water to clear out the toothpaste. She poured a little in her palm and rubbed her face with it and also pulled her hair down and rubbed some water into her scalp, scrubbing it. It wasn’t as good or effective as a shower but it made her look considerably more presentable on a day-to-day basis. “Maybe you’ll feel differently someday yourself. It’s not uncommon for women to feel uncomfortable with themselves.” Little did she know Abigail felt very uncomfortable about herself, just not so much the way she looked.

"I used to know a guy, back in one of the trailer parks we'd stop off at, who had a third nipple. Called him Three Tit Terry. 'Cept it wasn't a nipple, it was just a really big skin tag." Abigail nodded solemnly. "He'd let us draw tattoos around it with a Sharpie." She stopped long enough to spit. She didn't really seem to know how to brush her teeth effectively. "I get it's cause fellas might want to go n' jump ya with yer panties down but I'm less concerned about that possibility now I can set folk on fire."

“Well just because you can set people on fire doesn’t mean you should.” She nodded back. “As they said in the chapel we shouldn’t default to violence just because we’re in a tough situation.” Which wasn't really what was said but it was close enough. “Just shout really loud, we’re in such a populated place that I’m sure at least one person will care.” She deftly ignores three tit Terry, there was absolutely nothing she could even conceptually comment on that. Three tit Terry is so far removed from her own life experience that he could basically be a unicorn. “You should brush your tongue, too, you know. Can’t exactly go to a dentist nowadays.” She commented, wisely.

"I should what my what." Abigail looked at Angeline like she just told her to shove her toothbrush in some other orifice - for health benefits, no doubt, but with the same sort of bewilderment someone who hasn't even begun to think about tooth brushing technique would have upon hearing this new stratagem. "Awright...if yer sure…" Abigail mused and went about it in a gun-ho manner, gagging loudly several times and spitting up the saliva pooling in her mouth. By the end of several loud, uncomfortable seconds she looked up at Angeline with betrayal. "That was awful. People do that? Why in the fresh hell would anyone do that?!"

Angeline watched Abigail do everything very wrong, with gusto. “I mean there was no need to be as aggressive, or brush as far back as to make yourself gag, it’s just good to be thorough, especially now, or you’ll be without teeth by the time you’re my age.” she started packing up her things, when it came to dental hygiene she was sure Abigail was lacking considerably but one step at a time. Knowing the girl’s disposition to push back considerably about many things, she thought she’d ensure she keeps advising her, only, very slowly.

Abigail adjusted her technique and then inspected her tongue in the mirror. She quickly grew bored of the sight and put her things away too, hurrying to keep up with Angeline. "That'd be pretty cool. I think I just want one tooth. Maybe it'll grow really long." She scampered after Angeline as they exited the washroom together. "Did you enjoy that group discussion thing they did fer us?" She asked.

Angeline glanced back as Abigail hurried to match step with her, slowing a little for the girl to catch up. “One really long tooth won’t be very useful.. Also I don’t think that’s how teeth work.” As she headed to where they were going to spend the night, which was now a little more private. It felt a little uncomfortable, getting privileges for working for them in the field. She could feel a few eyes following herself and the girl, privileges means imbalance, imbalance could mean trouble in such a tense living situation. She kept her eyes forward as she walked through the abandoned shopping centre. “Did I enjoy it? No, but maybe it’s useful.” She shook out her damp hair, encouraging it to dry. “I mean it’s a very artificial form of opening up, it probably didn’t feel very natural to anyone there. I also fear it may end up causing friction in the group. I mean I’ve had a very different life compared to many people I’ve been grouped with, I don’t really think I can relate to anyone, so I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my story where I could be judged. It’s a double-edged sword, I think.” She drew a long breath, holding it for a second as she thought about the session before letting it out in a sharp puff of air. “What did you think about it?”

Abigail stared at Angeline. "Less than you, apparently," she pointed out. She furrowed her brows as she made a concerted effort to play through the group therapy step by step. "I didn't like it," she decided at last, " 'cause it felt like I was trapped." The tiredness - that unsteady gait, the strange flitting gaze as she looked around, became more prominent as she spoke about heavier topics. At least when she was recounting her time with Three Tit Terry she seemed to briefly forget about her utter sleep deprivation, but now it was starting to seep back in and she got nervous. "Like one of those things where you can leave any time but they're gonna hold it against ya if you do," she added on.

Angeline did not seem surprised by any of Abigails comments, certainly not the first one. It seemed Abigail thought a lot, about very unimportant things in order to not have to think about the important things. Nor was she surprised the girl didn’t enjoy the therapy considering she looked like a bug on the wall about to be squished, all flitty and ready to fly. In fact, she looked like that right now. “I mean they certainly won’t hold it against you but there is, I suppose, a social expectation for you to stay.” she didn’t want to say especially you but that certainly was the case. If anyone in the room had issues they needed to work out, Abigail seemed like one of them. “These things only really work when you want them to work and it didn’t seem like you wanted to be there, so it probably won’t work. It’ll just make you feel poked at and examined.” She shrugged, therapy was always a tough one, sure, some people certainly need it, but in order for it to be at all effective they need to want to change and Abigail seemed a little… Stuck in her ways.

"I think they're doing that to us either way," Abigail sighed. "Since we're useful for 'em now. "Not like I care much 'cause I knew what was comin' but I expected a lil' more uh, I dunno. Something more aggressive."

They rounded the corner and reached the bunkhouse. Brooks only gave a passing glance to Abigail but nodded to Angeline politely. "Home sweet home," Abigail remarked with a little grin.
Angeline had almost entirely forgotten being elbow deep in someone’s guts and as she looked down at her lap at her hands it was as if she could still feel the pulsing veins and arteries beneath her fingertips as he slowly slipped away. At the time she wasn’t scared, she could tell she just had one thing to do which was do her best to save him. As she thought about how she felt it was difficult to understand. About the whole situation, she just felt… Weird? Uncomfortable? It was hard to comprehend what those emotions meant and for the most part, it just made her feel frustrated that she didn’t know how to decipher her own emotions. She shifted her focus to listen to Ellen as she spoke, she went through the mission rather factually but she didn’t know about the last bit. She wasn’t sure if she should pity Ellen, at this point, it was probably a decision that saved her life. It was certainly a complicated area to tread. Ellen didn’t seem overly affected although emotions and vulnerability are difficult in a room full of people who don’t know you very well.

It almost feels like being interviewed, like there’s a right and wrong thing to say. She spared a glance to Brooks and the stern-looking lady. They were the interviewers. If you were too weak in this session would you get backseated? They were certainly… Emotionally reserved shall we say? It made her rather uncomfortable, it was rather obvious they weren’t here to talk about their feelings.

After a brief silence, she decided it was her turn to speak up.

“In the mission… Well, I had to save that guy. And I don’t really know if I understand how I felt about it, to be honest. At the time I wasn’t scared I just kind of had a feeling like… Like I was the only one who could help this guy and if I couldn’t… Well, that wasn’t an option, I was the only hope and I had a job to do and I tried my best… I’m no doctor, I know stuff about biology but it’s nowhere near close to a medical degree or anything like that. But I guess it’s a good springboard for avoiding infection, applying pressure, and that kind of stuff.”

She glanced at her hands and furrowed her brows. “I’m not sure if it’s a signal of anything mental problems or whatever but I can still feel so vividly what it was like to feel his heart pumping right underneath my hands. It’s not scary or bad it’s just stuck there… In fact I was so focused on saving this guy I totally forgot there was someone else.” She laughed but tears had started to make her eyes shine, she was getting frustrated with her incapability to understand what she was feeling and that frustration just made her even more flustered. “Isn’t that just so awful... As soon as I knew they were dead they just got written off in my mind.” She took a deep, strained breath, her throat was tight and sore. She took a moment to gather herself “Sorry,” she mumbled, “This is a little embarrassing.” She nearly looked at the two gruff people by the door but stopped herself before she got caught, if this was an interview, she’d be failing.

Angeline took another breath and continued “Um… After everything, I just stayed in the van for the other part… But some guy came and attacked me… I think I nearly died but someone shot him first. Oh, I mean I wasn’t hurt he was just trying to hurt me first. But didn’t…” The words came out patchy and confused but that was pretty much how she’d felt about it.
Angeline just sat in her seat and laid her hands on her lap, although her pose appeared relaxed her muscles were tense, the whole environment in this room was very prickly and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable stories about those whose living situations were worse than hers, traumatic memories and tumultuous childhoods. Even the person running the session had his own traumas to lay on the table. None of which were things she could relate to. She aptly kept quiet during this conversation, worried her talking about her life would be rude, or as if she were flaunting her pedigree above the rest. Frankly throughout the conversation she mumbled quiet sympathies with the stories but otherwise tried to be as unassuming as possible. If this were a therapy session, like it seemed, she would have had no reason to bring up her upbringing anyways, it was soft and uneventful. She did take a little interest in Zephyr’s story. They’d not spoken much and it was a curious but opportune situation to learn more about another person in the group.

Eventually the stories shifted, the doctor suggested talking about the awakening and if she could have sat any stiffer than she was sitting, she probably would have. If anything the tension made her realise the dull ache in her abdomen from tensing for so long and she forced herself to relax, quietly taking in a deep breath as if she were just about to perform and had to unwork her nerves. Abigail’s story was very… Sparse. You don’t need to be a detective to figure out there was plenty missing from that story but she’d already seen how talking to Abigail was. Frustrating to say the least. Although listening to Ellen’s story had brought back her nerves. Ellen’s awakening sounded rough, she even had to take someone’s life. It chilled her to the bones and she didn’t really want to talk next but the silence was stretching out and she was one of the few present who hadn’t said anything yet.

“Erm…” She started to signal that she was going to speak next. “I don’t really remember a lot of it… I panicked, packed as much comforts as I could, ran out and just wandered for ages.” Her eyebrows furrowed, were the memories she were recalling really how the evening played. “I think someone got shot in front of me and then the rest of it I don’t really remember it was so hectic and I was just scared and confused. I think a lot of people died that night actually...” she shook her head. There were few details about the night she could remember so well, although the sights of the corpse, and being dragged around by dangerous strangers were a few details that stuck firm. “I don’t think I personally killed anyone, but it was still scary.” she mumbled, a bit embarrassed that she was so affected.

Angie wandered through the corridor, she’d left lunch a little after Ellen, so she had fallen behind a little but she could still hear people walking somewhere in the hallways as their footsteps bounced around. She was following the vague directions that floated somewhere in her headspace though mostly she just let her legs do the walking and her brain do the real wandering.

When she came upon the ‘chapel’ it wasn’t exactly as she expected. She supposed it shouldn’t surprise her but calling it a chapel was a little misleading. At the most it was a quiet place of… She examined the room, a place of worship, she supposed. Since it was an old office there was no regalia of whatever deity this office was dedicated to but considering the diversity of those stuck in this same situation, they couldn’t afford to have separate rooms for each religion. Before Angeline could finish her train of thought she was brought about by the voice of, what only she could assume was the head of this session. She offered a demure nod in greeting and a quiet “Hello.”

Angie surveyed the room, she noticed the closest-to-the door seats were taken by that scary man and scary woman. She didn’t want to interrupt Ellen either so she just took any old seat. It didn’t matter anyway. Her eyes drew themselves to the door, she couldn’t help but be tempted to just leave. She didn’t know her own feelings on the matter, it was all just knotted up in there anyways. She didn’t feel either bad or good, just confused, although she supposed talking it out would help unknot it.
Angeline could feel the tension crackling in the air as she sat opposite Ellen, she was still shaken from everything that happened to her, it seemed every new act of violence she could stack up on her plate of experiences would weigh on her, they weren’t easy to get used to, even with the small rations Angeline struggled to convince herself she was hungry. As she tried largely to ignore the commotion, though did watch with curiosity as it got broken up, she forced herself to eat, many people would dive on the opportunity to eat her portion but she was sure she would need it herself. The poor diet is having effects on her energy levels, she can’t work out as vigorously as before, she can practically feel her strength slowly slipping away from her, along with her focus.

She enjoyed talking with Ellen, she didn’t know her well enough to pour out her heart but Ellen would talk with her anyways, and never about the serious stuff. It was good because while Angeline found the hard stuff difficult to forget, the distraction was welcome. Plus it was nice to have a girl around her age around, though weird, she thought, that she was relying on someone who was younger. In the grand scheme of things, Angeline pondered if Ellen ended up with more life experience than even herself, despite the age gap. How much of her life did she simply spend dieting, exercising, practicing, stretching, or even later in life, recovering and studying? Now that life got difficult, Angeline cursed the fact she had chosen such a one-track life. It left her vastly unprepared for her current situation. Her mind slipped from the conversation to how much she missed performing, and training, and even drills, mindless, easy, repetitive work compared to today where nothing stays the same and it’s all difficult.

It was only when Billy spoke up beside her that she broke out of her train of thought. Immediately she was washed over by a heavy feeling of guilt that she’d partially zoned out, hopefully Ellen understood. “A chapel?” She wasn’t very religious but she supposed that isn’t likely to be what this was about. She hesitated until hearing Ellen’s answer, too nervous one would suppose to go alone. “Oh - Um yeah I can come along too.” she added. At Ellen’s comment about the child she mentally agreed. That child was… At best, difficult to talk to, at worst dealing with whatever it was whirling around in that head of hers. She couldn’t help but feel a sting of sadness that such a child has so many difficulties to concern herself with.
Angeline, with the heat and hours travelled increasing, eventually just drifted off to sleep after suitable amounts of conversation at the start. She wasn’t sure exactly when she drifted off, somewhere around the third or fourth hour, but was woken when there was a hustle and bustle of a discovery. She gently rubbed her eyes and followed the others out of the van.

Stepping out of the van, although it was like a little hot-people oven with the smell to boot, Angeline was faced with the direct Australian heat and didn’t like it. Her mind flicked to her air-conditioned dance studio for a second, or the always-too-cold lecture theatres, and regretted ever taking them for granted.

After a quick pass of the campsite, she stepped away from the crest of the hill so as to not get spotted. She watched as Ellen hatched a little plan, she wasn’t so strategic-minded but it sounded logical. She especially liked the part where she wasn’t involved. She decided to contribute her thoughts to the little brainstorm session: “Not much in the way of cover… Wasn’t there someone who could turn to stone or something? Maybe have them at the front to draw fire for a little bit just to give you guys a head start?” She suggested though it was dangerous to just send someone inexperienced out just to get hit.

“Or uh have him flank and go first, drawing the attention away from the direction you guys will come in? Maybe send like someone with him so his ‘attack’ doesn’t seem so meager?”

She really wasn’t a strategist but ideally, this ends up with the fewest amount of injuries she’ll have to patch up...
Angeline looked stunned as Mark stepped out of the basement, with someone else she didn’t know and sighed “Man they really only have like 10 guys back at base huh? Can’t catch a break.” She almost seemed sorry for Mark even though she had seen first hand he could handle himself… Very well… She peered curiously at the foreign-sounding Hans but at the order, she obliged and helped Brooks take the man into the basement, and subsequently follow the both of them out of the house and to the van. Feeling too awkward to step in front of them while they doled out orders she hovered behind until they stopped talking to go stand by the van with the others.

After the ‘briefing’ she climbed inside and sat down, kicking up dust. She could hear Ellen talking away with Hans, but Mark didn’t seem the talkative type and well... Thinking back to their introduction… Perhaps the passed-out woman covered in vomit wasn’t his go-to conversation partner so she settled in quietly, trying to not-so-obviously listen to the conversation happening a few metres away from her. A lot of theorising about things she wasn’t really sure she understood. Brooks’ arrival was a blessing and a curse.

Frankly, the sight of a gun made her sick, it all brought on rather bitter memories and she didn’t really want to be involved. Especially considering there were still traces of blood in the cracks and crevices of her skin from being elbow deep in some poor man’s wounds just a few minutes earlier. “I… Don’t have any experience.” Though she was almost positive that excuse won’t last much longer. She’ll need to learn in this life, surely. There were not many ways to weasel out of it. “But-... I could learn?” She didn’t want to look useless and well while she may be pretty strong, as far as she was aware none of the magics she encountered would be any good in combat, and from what she’s heard about the others… Well, let’s say she felt a bit like a rabbit surrounded by wolves at the moment.

She watched Ellen climb into the van and decided to try and make conversation while everyone else readied up. “I’m afraid I won’t be much help uh- you know - ’out there’” She started, before promptly adding “Well, aside from patching everyone up afterward… Not sure if I have seen all that I can do but so far not much that sounds useful in a situation like this.” She laughed, though it seemed a little tense as she peered around the group “Can’t help but feel a little underqualified, you know? Like I lied on my CV, or uh, resume or something to get here.” despite that, she was still smiling “I guess I better wait and see what they want us to do, first, maybe I can do a lil’ somethin’ somethin’”, She flexed her legs, though her musculature was more on the lean side, it wasn’t like she was particularly ‘weak’, though her fighting experience is next to none. She smoothed her hair back, it was currently in a ponytail but she started re-affixing it into a bun, she had a feeling she wouldn’t want anything easily “grabbable”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what did you do… Like.. Before all this?” Angeline asked, unprompted “It’s just- well if I’ve been keeping track of the days today was the date of my first ever real big performance - I was a ballerina” She explained as if the way she walked and held herself didn’t make it massively obvious. “Just got me thinking about everything I guess I’m missing out on… And now I’m in the back of this dusty sm-” she peered out the van at Billy “...Lovely and perfectly functional van about to drive off into the Australian outback on some crazy mission like out of a film or something..” She again smoothed her hair down, it was starting to look like a nervous tic or something. “It’s all so different.” She commented.

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