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Writing. Cosplay. Musical theater. Smiling. Sunshine. Classic horror.

Give me witty banter or give me death.

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Bottles and empty glasses lay scattered around the training room like the aftermath of some unusually expensive frat party. By this point, every Libertian in the room, with the exception of Heather, were in various states of sloppy-drunk. A disgraceful breadth of liqueurs, whiskey, bourbon, tequilas, and tingly champagnes will do that to people. Nobody had thrown up or passed out yet. It wasn't too late. The shots of 176 proof Balkan vodka had only just gone down.

Canvas was somewhat more composed, but only because he had stopped a few rounds ago. His participation (so he said) had been an object lesson in knowing one's limits. His current state was as much as he could consume while still operating at around 90% efficiency.

90% efficiency apparently looked a little dazed and less than perfectly coordinated.

He conspicuously hadn't participated in the testing himself.

At intervals throughout the rather unorthodox lesson, Canvas had instructed the Agents to assemble a handgun to test fine motor skills, take five shots at a target, and then memorize and recite a brief segment of text.

He now projected each of their scores onto the wall in a graph form. One axis marked how much alcohol they had ingested so that they could see the inevitable descent of their accuracy, mental capacity, and aim.

"So look. Here's you guys before. Here's you after."

Some of the lines on the chart gradually declined. Others seemed to stay somewhat steady before dropping off steeply. By the end, each achieved only a fraction of their usual, sober scores.

"You can push this tolerance over time. But probably not's much as you think you can push it. You can get better 't faking sobriety, for sure. But when it comes to the capability? Your body weight prob'ly matters more than your experience. Bottom line is...we don't have time to really get your tolerance up. So look at this number."

He pointed to the spot on each graph where the scores dropped below a respectable time or accuracy.

"That's each of your numbers. So you calculate how many ounces of any kinda drink you can have before you get too stupid......don't calculate it right now. You're stupid now. Do it later. I'll send you a big...whole list. Anyway. That's how much you can drink at the party thing."

He swept a mess of glasses with his forearm, clearing a space on the desk and hopping up to sit on it. He smiled. "How's everyone feeling?"
"Hey. Hey, bet you feel pretty fucking stupid right now." 

Toby did. Stupid, sore, still giving a weak, periodic convulsion from the electrical shock, generally humiliated, and a bit startled by Nicodemus' speech. "I d--didn't know," was all he managed in reply. Fen's emotions being such a strange tangle, how could he have guessed it was not one set of emotions but two?


Toby lifted his head slightly at the sound of his brother's voice, but he couldn't see Spire through the smoke.  "Yeah."

"You really get your stupid ass caught? Not a trick?"

"Yeah. Um. Not a t-----trick."

Looking pretty unfazed about the whole thing, Spire clicked his teeth together, squinting through the smoke, trying to get a better read on what was going on over there. He knew how to play nice when the situation demanded. But people who made fun of Toby's stutter and threatened to turn his skull into bits of messy shrapnel generally didnt make it into the "negotiate" category. In fact, that would usually earn a ticket that would skip them past "exsanguinate" and sort them right into "eviscerate."

"If you guys can ---get out of here, d--do it. All of you," said Toby in as quick a tumble of words as his stubborn tongue could manage, worried they'd shock him again before he could finish. That seemed like the properly altruistic thing to say at this juncture.

Spire ignored him.

In the remaining fog, the laser points on Spire and Hel could easily be traced to their sources with long, straight threads of light. This would make the enemies easy to shoot, but it also made them easy to count, and upon counting them, shooting didn't exactly seem the best idea.

Suicide missions weren't really his thing. Especially not with Hel at his side, and Toby a press of a button away from losing his head.

"All right, Sweet Johnny," drawled Spire, oiling the name with as much grease as its owner deserved. "Well played. What happens to the kid if I sign up? Can't promise she's going to be a model employee."

Hel wasn't exactly known for cooperating under restrictive circumstances. Spire imagined Johnny's only use for her would probably be the significant reward Erubesco would offer.

And that would be a problem.

Ranch House

"Language. There's a kid present," Spire said sweetly.

Specter's sass almost earned him the honor of becoming Spire's first kill in far too many weeks. The man claimed to be helping, but when it came down to the wire - or in this case, the spinal cord - people would say anything to save themselves. Still, his point about running toward the ranch house with Hel did make him pause to think for just a split second, long enough for Pierrot's response to confirm.

Under the circumstances of what looked like an impending fight, he realized he'd better trust the guy...

He made sure to give the knife a little twist as he yanked it, bloodied, from Specter's back.

...Didn't mean he had to like him.

He pulled Hel to his side, sharply aware that without her abilities, she was even more vulnerable than the rest of them, and began backing up, toward the house, eyes on the numerous figures flooding toward them from the fog.

Toby was as furious as he was confused. He would take the blunt-edged eldritch horror over this simpering traitor any day. He'd already asked 'what are you doing' and that was the wrong question, he realized. Clearly losing his Gift had caused some kind of transformation. This wasn't Fen anymore.

"Who are you?" he asked, his initial efforts to struggle free focused on trying to pick up his gun, which had fallen from his hand when his wrist hit the dirt, but which he could feel just at his fingertips.

He soon changed his tactic. Toby may have felt blind, but he had never had his Gift as a crutch in a fight. Maybe that gave him an advantage, now. If he couldn't handle himself, he would have been killed a long time ago.

From his vulnerable position, he couldn't free his hands; Nicodemus had gravity on his side. But the man had left his legs free. So he used them. Bringing his knees up to Nicodemus' left side, he threw them between himself and his attacker, planting one heel on the man's neck and the other on his shoulder, rolling and forcing him away with as much strength and momentum as he could - not insignificant, despite the awkward angle. Nicodemus would either have to let go and be thrown off, or would have to take Toby's wrists with him as he slammed hard on his side in the dust, reversing the advantage.

Unless Nicodemus just held fast and possessed a tremendous amount more core strength than he appeared to have. Then it would just hurt like hell.
Ranch House

So that was what Eld Fen looked like without his Gift. Seeing a face on the man wasn't entirely surprising considering the nullifier. Hearing him introduce himself by an unfamiliar name and casually agree to the maniac's terms before he even heard them... that was surprising.

"Fen--what are you d--what are you doing?" he asked, his voice cracking in disbelief.

Toby lowered his gun a few inches, but did not put it away as he listened with growing contempt. Perhaps he should have given some real thought to their position and their options, here. But Rei was dead. And he really, really didn't like Sweet Johnny. "Go to hell. How about this counter-offer: --" he started through a clenched jaw.

And then, well. Toby obviously should have kept a tighter grip on Hel.

But it was Specter who seemed to have demolished any possibility of resolving this peacefully.

Whatever the mercenary's intentions, Specter might have just gotten Toby, for one, killed. He already felt blind without his Gift. Now the smoke meant he was actually blind, standing only feet away from Johnny's dangerous ride. Both the young woman Hel had taken a stab at, the man who used to be Eld Fen, and Bellataire himself stood in Toby's path if he headed directly toward the ranch house. Plus the man claimed to have a nuclear weapon and his flippant laughter about the death of Rei seemed to suggest he that despite his "job offer," he didn't value their lives so highly that he wouldn't use it.

Then again...Toby didn't see many Wanderers taking this man up on his deal. So maybe getting straight to a fight was for the best.

...Minus the smoke.
That just wasn't helping Toby right now at all.

His sightless stumble to try to find a less tactically damning position collided him with the sycophant who used to be Eld Fen.

The citrus shell of Johnny's nullification field made Spire feel momentarily pleased for no good reason he could determine, since Mina and Dawn weren't exactly making his day the best with their puppy-guarding the prisoner and declaring her a no-kill zone.

Then he felt strange, the way a headcold makes one's focus muddy.

Dawn's paranoia wasn't unfounded. Among Spire's first thoughts upon hearing that Dawn could not read his mind anymore was a flood of half-concocted violent intentions he generally kept from his surface thoughts unless he knew the little mind-reading freak was sleeping.

How liberating. If this phenomenon was the prelude to a fight of some kind, maybe he should kill her. She didn't make the pedestal for his least favorite Wanderers, but her Gift made her a nuisance, and Spire certainly wouldn't dislike slicing open her throat and holding her face dowm while she squirmed and bled out...

...Damn. He really needed someone appropriate to kill.
No. She was useful at the end of the day.

But there were probably more important issues to worry about.

He experimented. He looked at Oren and tried to force a backlash of her Gift. Previously this had scrambled her brains complete with paychic nosebleed. Now, nothing. If they had all lost their abilities, they were pitifully vulnerable.

Spire's lingering meant he heard Johnny on the loudspeaker on his way up the stairs, and didn't make it outside until the air was thick with smoke.

Hel was not someone who took to unwarranted physical contact very well, even when she was in an entirely even emotional state. She didn't like being grabbed without her approval, and certainly didn't like being scooped up and carried off, even when she was otherwise completely calm.

At that moment, Hel was not calm. She had already passed alarm and into panic, and being snatched up by a stranger was enough to throw her entirely over the edge. The girl screamed and struggled, doing her very best to bite, scratch and hit any surface she was presented with.

"I'm- not going BACK!" she cried, possibly the loudest vocalizing she'd ever done in the presence of the Wanderers.

And that was bound to attract attention.

Spire didn't have enough context to know that the person who grabbed Hel meant to help her. He had no reason not to take her cries of "I'm not going back" at face value. Naturally, given what scraps he had heard through the loudspeaker, he assumed the person who had scooped up his pseudo-daughter wanted to sell her back to Erubesco.

So, naturally, he followed the sound until he could see Specter's silhouette like a--well, like a specter. Circling around behind the man, Spire whipped the tooth of a short guthook blade into the mercenary's back. Unless Specter did something unexpected, the horizontal slash would pare the muscle between ribs, but not deeper, coming to rest with the hook perilously close to the spinal cord. His other hand gripped a tight handful of Specter's collar for leverage.

"Unless you have a strong desire to be a paraplegic, I recommend putting her down, gently, said Spire with a calm smile.

(Collab with @vitofthevoid)
Toby did not associate that the scent might be precursor to a Gift. He always knew if something was Gift related. But not this time.

It happened all at once.

It felt like...nothing. It felt quiet in his head. He couldn't remember a time it felt this quiet. Even before his empathy manifested, he had always sensed something: the flickers of old Gifts lingering like pollution on the ash, Spire nearby, or some distant ashlander. But it felt silent now. He could look at all of the others and see them without any sixth senses getting in the way. It was simple. This was how everyone else experienced his friends.

It was a relief. Yet...
It didn't seem like enough.

The mutilator by the well would have to wait. "Don't do anything stupid," said Toby, running to meet the rumbling in the ground that signified the arrival of the tank.

He rounded the corner just in time to see Rei crumpling, a lifeless sack of meat.


He paled. If his Gift was gone, and so was everyone else's... He saw Drake stumbling outside. At least he had woken up before the nullification, or he might be dead for good. But what did this mean for Montana, Reith - even Larke...? Soren and Clockwork's connection?

They might all be dead. And he couldn't tell. It felt too quiet.

He started toward, Rei, but then he heard a small voice. "Stop it."

Toby wasn't especially fond of Hel, since he felt certain only Spire stood between her tormenting Toby as her demented puppet, but seeing Hel stand up in front of Sweet Johnny and his war machine endeared her to him a bit, and also petrified him - somehow she was sorta almost family. He made toward her, but not before this Johnny buried her in fabric.

As he freed Hel from the coat, tossing it very deliberately into the dirt, he placed hand on her shoulder to try to keep her from attacking Sweet Johnny tooth and nail (as he could very well picture her doing), his other hand raised his handgun to point at the slaver's temple.

A liberated, giddy sort of feeling suddenly erupted inside Toby. He could shoot this man and not feel it. Physically, anyway. And suspension of his empathy Gift was enough to suspend his natural empathy, too. He had not felt so coldly willing to kill for a long time.

"An offer we c--can't refuse, huh? Let's hear it. If you say something cliche like, 'hand it over quietly and you g--get to live,' I'm shooting you right now," said Toby.
@ZB1996 How quickly they can usually put the gun together. C:
Mayday downed it like it was a gag-worthy cherry cough syrup instead of an opulently expensive luxury, but Canvas would pick his battles.

Not a wince from Riza, though. The man, Canvas noted, had clearly used Enrichment Credits on buying out the small amount of mediocre state wine Liberty produced. That, or he had tried something stronger on the black market. Canvas wasn't judging.

Canvas quirked a smile at Beretta's remarks. "All options, Agent Beretta. But what you've all just had is a liqueur. There are other kinds - Schnapps, Curacao, amaretto, bitters, and puckers - but what you've just had is a liqueur trademarked as simply Félicité. If you feel a bit giddy right off the bat, it's supposed to do that. And you had it first because learning is much easier when you're so excited for the rest of the lesson." He half-sat against the desk at the front and added off-handedly, "And because it's very good, and you might be too drunk to enjoy it if we save it for after the shots."

He saw, on occasion, something dangerous: too strong a flame of curiosity in Beretta when it came to Erubescan finery, and Heather was in the room, so Canvas sobered up his expression (no pun intended) and responded to her final question with, "A proper Libertian probably ought not to categorize such frivolities into favorites, and instead understand that one shouldn't get too attached to a particular form of waste." After an appropriate pause, he smiled again. "But Erubescan Knight Canvas Shearwater is a sucker for a classic champagne at a fancy party, amaretto after dinner, and a Manhattan at the bar with his friends."

Canvas hopped up and beckoned the group over to the long desk on which he had been sitting. Several standard issue black Liberty handguns lay neatly disassembled in basic sections - one for each Agent. "How are you all feeling so far?" asked Canvas, picking up a tablet with a spreadsheet and multiple digital timers displayed. "I have your average assembly times listed here. Let's see how you compare now. Begin when you're ready."
Ranch House

Spire, who missed the unusual introductions occurring in front of the ranch house by mere moments, guided Hel by the hand toward the kitchen. Not unexpectedly, the sight that greeted him there consisted of Soren, Clockwork, and Pierrot. The almost respectably tolerable pastry chef, the creepy but tolerable talking doll, and the pain in the ass - but not on Spire's shortlist by association to his family members - circus freak.

"Hang out here for a bit, all right, Hel?" said Spire simply, giving Soren a half nod of greeting but not bothering to ask (or indeed, even think to ask) if the man minded keeping an eye on Hel. Spire wasn't exactly one to feel guilty about taking advantage of someone's good-naturedness. And he had somewhere to be.

Detour from his mission completed, he hurried toward the basement.

As he trotted down the stairs, the wood complained under the brisk descent, but not half as much as Spire was going to complain if he got down there to find Oren with her neck snapped. Interrogation had never been all that satisfying. Torture was like trying to survive by licking the condensation off the outside of a jar of water. If Montana smashed open the metaphorical jar and drank it all without telling him, Spire was going to have words.

"Son of a bitch," groaned Spire with a mix of relief and mild confusion upon seeing no trace of Montana, but instead Dawn, along with Mina, who appeared to be doing a very thorough job of patching up the prisoner. That was new.

"What's this, doc? Making a clean slate for me? You shouldn't have," he said.
Sorry for the holdup, and that my posts are so lean. I wanted to whip something up quickly so I wasn't holding things up.

Canvas would have gone almost as pale as his namesake when Heather seemed to make note of his disorderly entrance if he hadn't had the rosey glow of Erubescan wastefulness in his system.

"Did you know the Crown employs emotion manipulating Gifted whose entire jobs are to spike bits of feelings into liquors with so much alcohol content you can barely tell the difference? Terrible waste," said the field supervisor with only barely enough feigned indignation to keep the comment from sounding flippant.

Canvas gestured to the rows of bottles. "It goes without saying that you shouldn't get stupidly drunk during the mission, but you're going to look suspicious if you refuse every drink you're offered. Today you're all going to be testing your tolerance for the stuff. Pick one from the left, first. Have fun. It's easier than pretending to have fun. In twenty minutes, we'll run a drill and see how you do buzzed."


Ranch House

Toby followed Midas at a short distance, his weapon still drawn, but held low now. The sooner they got rid of this sicko the better, so he didn't want to draw the process along by keeping him hesitant and on guard.

"Dare I ask whose that is?" said Toby, nodding at the blood running into the dirt and trying to keep his lip from curling in disgust.

Toby's attention on Midas flickered a bit with the new arrival - the mercenary. The man seemed to keep his surface feelings in check, but, "He's sincere, far as I c--can tell," called Toby to Eld Fen and Montana, chiming in to assist from afar though his hands were full with their other visitor. He almost wished this Specter was pulling a trick. That would be less worrisome than his warning.
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