RP Where They Walk

DATE: 10/14/2022
LOCATION:  Paris, France and Elsewhere
ASSETS: ACF-7823-A, “Dr. Pepper.”
EQUIPMENT: A ticket to a Marina and the Diamonds concert
PURPOSE: Enjoyment of a vacation day

Pepper bounced her way through the Dark Dimension, giddily making her way down the path. Her last vacation day had been some time ago due to the overwhelming workload that they had been seeing at L-14. This time, she had managed to snag tickets to the European tour for Marina and the Diamonds. For anyone else, buying tickets for a concert on an entire other continent would have been a big event, but for Pepper, it was just another Friday. Although she had used her convenient form of transportation almost exclusively for work for the last few years, any chance she got to travel and explore, she took.

Sure, it was to distract her from how miserably every part of her life not related to the Foundation had been going. A concert in Paris meant she didn’t have to think about the horrible dates she had been going on, or how lonely she was becoming as work distanced herself and Dr. Kallie, or about how she couldn’t stop thinking about– no. She had told herself she would stop thinking about that. But could she really ever stop thinking about that? She wasn’t the kind of person to fixate- in fact, she was the kind of person to wonder. So why, oh why, could she not stop thinking about that feeling?

She shook it from her head as she approached the exit doorway. She smiled as she bounded right out of it onto a closed-off alleyway in France. She dusted off her skirt and cardigan, adjusted her hair clips, and prepared to walk out into the city’s night.

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La Ville Lumière is city of art, music, love and, most importantly, magic. Even in its modern form the lights were dazzling, the heat that rose from the streets into the cooling night air heady and thick. Everywhere one looked there was passion, from the quarreling lovers spouting French curses from wrought iron balconies to the tourists on the streets anxiously clutching their paper tickets and anticipating a show.

As a city of Art, Paris always had a show, and in many cases a show before the show, and one before that. Performers crowded around the venue like garishly covered ravens at the hangman’s noose, plying their trade with every gimmick and gizmo, every flourish and flair, and every performance one would expect from such a culturally rich society. Mimes struggled against invisible foes, singers warbled their latest tributes and plucked at their various instruments, statues in golden and silvered paint made subtle and deliberate motions to attract the eyes of those who waited. All of these performances and more vied for the attention of the crowd, but barely an eye graced their works.

Eclectic and inviting as the collection may have been, the art of the street performance had been ruled by a singular figure for some months now, a man known only as The Magician by whisper and rumor. As his name suggested he was a performer of illusions and impossible feats, and as the air of mystery around his name would suggest his true identity was quite unknown. It was never known when he would appear, or where, but even other performers would become enraptured when he did.

So it was tonight, as the lights of the very city itself seemed to bend and break to allow his entrance, a flash of smoke and glitter that suddenly blew over the crowd to announce the man as he walked from it upon thin air. Hovering over the crowd as he was every eye cast skyward, perhaps seeking a glimpse under the velvet mask or maybe entertained by the spectacle. With a cape as dark as the night itself, a cane of apparently solid ebony, and a top hat that added a near foot to his stature the black domino mask added to the mystique of the hovering performer.

Fireworks erupted in the sky, seeming to surround The Magician before he dropped to the cobblestone below, a sizable hole already cleared for his show by the more cognizant onlookers; those who had seen his shows before. With a flash of emerald fire The Magician’s cape swirled as he turned, arms raised high to the rising cheers of those who had come to see. Many held tickets in their hands, though it seemed most had gathered for his show alone. With a few more turns, the crowd’s excitement building with each round, The Magician lowered his hands in a soft, placating motion.

Every throat fell silent, and in that silence a whisper broke through. ”Est-ce que tout le monde est prêt pour un spectacle!” The locals, of course, heard this in their mother tongue and paid little mind to the words in the throes of the massive cheer that rippled through the crowd. Had the masses been less entranced perhaps they would have noted that the tourists, those of many different nationalities, also seemed to understand the words. Before the fervor could die down a torrent of those emerald flames swept before the crowd on the ends of his billowing cape as he walked the perimeter of the people who had gathered. Though they licked at their feet, though the green fires roared in their faces, nothing more than a warm breeze caressed them.

The Magician stopped, framed by the walls of the nearest alleyway, with his hands held palms down at his waist. A hush fell over the masses, an expectation of whisper and awe. Somewhere the soft, mellow sounds of a theatrical score sounded from an unseen piano as The Magician’s hands twitched; as if they commanded the music to rise from the stone streets themselves. ”Ce soir, j’ai un spectacle très spécial pour vous!”

”Tonight, I have a very special show for you!”

The music rose as his hands reached his ribs. Prismatic sparks began to spill from beneath his cape, the emerald of his flames joined by reds and yellows, blues and violets that dazzled the eye. Where the sparks landed roses appeared, their colors dictated by the little motes of fire they were born from. Though no spark touched the people in the crowd, and no person in the crowd made to touch them, the roses were snatched by every available hand without hesitation. Mementos to seeing a local legend live themselves.

”Ce soir, je vais vous montrer un miracle que je ne peux pas accomplir seul.”

”Tonight, I will show you a miracle that I myself cannot perform alone.”

The music hit a crescendo as his hands reached his shoulders and the shower of sparks ended suddenly. Deep echoing booms, like that of a massive bass drum, shook the ground from all directions.

”Sans plus tarder, permettez-moi de vous présenter mon assistant pour la soirée. Un grand coup de main pour La Marcheuse de L’ombre!”

”Without further ado, allow me to introduce my assistant for the evening! A big hand for The Shadow Walker!”
Again it seemed that the instant translation was lost upon the crowd as the drumming stopped, the cape twirled and The Magician stepped away from the face of the alley in a swirl of green flame and black fabric. Raucous cheers flew up with another flurry of fireworks; cheers for The Magician, and for the petite, quite surprised looking Shadow Walker as she stepped from the alleyway to be presented to such a large crowd.

The entire performance, it seemed, had been timed for the moment Pepper walked through her gate.

Usually, Pepper was ready for anything to happen. After all, she worked for the ACF, and being on your toes was kind of part of the job, even as a researcher. So normally, things that took Pepper by surprise didn’t last for long. However, nothing could have prepared her for looking up from dusting off to find dozens of eyes focused on her. Her heart sank, and she looked behind her. This alley was definitely hidden enough for her to have portaled in– it was the same one she always used getting to downtown Paris– so why were they so many people watching her?

This was going to take so many Class-E Amnestics.

That was when she noticed the man standing nearby her. He was gesturing to her like she was the main attraction at a circus. Then, her brain processed the words he had said as she stepped out of the alley. “Without further ado, allow me to introduce my assistant for the evening! A big hand for The Shadow Walker!”

This was definitely unusual. Anomalous even. The simple question of how the man had known she was going to come through here was most prominent. This was followed by questioning who the man was. His top hat and domino mask mostly obscured any identifiable features of his face. Pepper had to think quickly. She had never taken French before, so she had no idea how to speak the language. She couldn’t wave her arms wide and go, “See, it was magic!”

So instead she did the only thing she could under the circumstances. She played along, trying to give the illusion that she was a willing party. Maybe if she played it off well enough, they wouldn’t have to spot-clean an entire crowd of people in Paris. She wound her arm up, tucked it into her waist, and gave a deep bow, skewing one leg forward to really get into it. The crowd around them oohed and awed, clapping their hands.

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If The Magician had noticed her discomfort he hid it well, the same grandiose smile accompanying the applause of the crowd as he took Pepper’s hand. The mask covered the eyes well, making the space seem a blank white as if he had no eyes at all. The smile, however, contained sharp canines that seemed almost unnatural. With a sweep of his hand the hat spun from his head and into Pepper’s hands, the opening aimed toward the sky as he buried his own hand deep into its bowels. White hair blew in the breeze as he began addressing the crowd.

”Vous m’avez vu accomplir de nombreux miracles dans le passé.”

”You have seen me perform many miracles in the past.” He pulled from the hat, impossibly deep, a long and ornate sword covered from tip to hilt in glittering jewels and golden filigree, tossing it into the air as soon at it was free from the much too small space of the hat’s interior.

”Vous m’avez vu créer quelque chose à partir de rien.”

”You have seen me create something from nothing.” The sword hung suspended in the air, defying gravity and time as if neither were applicable to it. The Magician snapped his fingers and it fell into his hand, or would have if it had not disappeared just before reaching that point.

”Vous avez vu que quelque chose ne revient à rien.”

”You have seen that something return to nothing.”

The Magician reached into the hat again, tugging with feigned effort before a long and flowing black cloth issued forth, sheer and light and flapping in the breeze like a tattered wing. He snapped the cloth as it came free, its dimensions seeming to expand as he did so until it obscured the entire crowd. He took that brief moment, mere seconds, to whisper into Pepper’s ear.

”You are not an easy person to track down, Dr. Krasniqi.” The sheet fell to the street and his smile beamed toward the crowd, the moment taken for those whispered words imperceptible to those gathered.

”Hélas, vous n’êtes pas venu voir ces miracles aujourd’hui. Vous êtes venus voir Marina et ses Diamants. Nous sommes simplement là pour garder votre excitation à son apogée!”

”Alas, you did not come to see these miracles today. You have come to see Marina and her Diamonds. We are merely here to keep your excitement at its peak!” The fabric flew into the air, untouched by The Magician and yet performing to his will regardless, as if a giant hand had plucked it from the ground and held it suspended above The Magician and his assistant with a tapered point. A peak, one might say.

”Et donc mon miracle pour vous aujourd’hui, cher public, est l’exaucement d’un vœu. Aujourd’hui, je ne ferai pas apparaître quelque chose, ni rien ne disparaître. Au lieu de cela, je vous emmènerai tous à votre but ultime. Le concert.”

”And so my miracle for you today, dear audience, is the granting of a wish. Today I will not make something appear, or anything disappear. Instead I will be taking you all to your ultimate goal. The concert.”

The fabric began to fall, again seeming to expand as it did so. Its edges reached the edge of the crowd, and fell over the heads of those who watched lightly. Some struggled against its darkness, others gasped as the silky fabric touched them. Most simply held their breath. Darkness engulfed the crowd, obscuring even their vision of each other.

The Magician and Pepper were exempt, visible to each other even as they disappeared from the view of their audience. ”Don’t worry, you do not actually have to do anything.” The Magician whispered into her ear as the dark fabric settled.

”Voyez le pouvoir du La Marcheuse de L’ombre!”

”Behold the power of the Shadow Walker!”

Suddenly there was light, the fabric seeming to disappear completely as if it had never been. Around the crowd a concert hall came to life, and on the stage a band was still setting up their equipment. The crowd let out a collective gasp as they shielded their eyes, echoed by the surprise of the band members on the stage. The Magician wrapped his fingers around Pepper’s elbow, gently pulling her toward the back of the venue.

”Come with me so we can talk privately.” He said as he headed toward a door that lead to the VIP boxes above.

Pepper was deeply confused by the entire performance until the magician pulled out a length of black cloth from the hat and held it in front of them. He whispered to her, and her eyes went a little wide. She wasn’t surprised they knew who she was, not really. She was surprised that the whole performance was apparently a ruse to grab her before she could go to the concert. Then the fabric descended down over the crowd and she stiffened. She definitely couldn’t do what he was asking of her. None of these people had head coverings or face masks of any kind and-

”Don’t worry, you do not actually have to do anything.” A flash of light and they were in the concert hall, much to the surprise of everyone– including the band that was setting up on stage. The man took her elbow and pulled gently, leading her away from the crowd. She allowed it and followed him as he led her up to the VIP box. There, she ducked down and breathed a sigh of relief. She glared up at the man who, it seemed, was possibly kidnapping her.

“I don’t know who you are, but that was– that was– that was ballsy.” The word sounded strangely vulgar as she said it, like a person who wasn’t used to talking with such words. She curled herself into a seat and watched as the security team came through and started to clear the group out. She slumped really low in her seat to try to avoid being seen. “So you know who I am, and obviously what I can do. Do you work for the ACF? You could have just come to L-14 if you wanted to talk to me.”

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The Magician laughed at Pepper’s comment, closing the door behind him as they entered the VIP booth. He remained standing as she found herself a seat, meticulously pulling the white gloves from his hands one finger at a time. A wide grin met her question and grew wider as she hunched down in her seat. With a flourished tug The magician pulled each glove free as a knock sounded at the door.

”Hold that thought for a moment.” He opened the door, still only a few steps away. A man walked in, his nose buried in a clipboard, balding head reflecting the fluorescent lights above.

”You didn’t say there would be this many people.” The man seemed a bit unhappy with the crowd the security team was escorting away.

”Jon, Jonathan. Our agreement was for them to get early access, like a lottery. Your security teams seem to be breaching our contract.” The Magician seemed nonplussed, even amused by the situation. He flashed a grin toward Pepper as the manager looked up.

”They are only being taken to the lobby. You didn’t say you were bringing them into the stands. They will still have their front row seats as we arranged. As for your end?” The man seemed to ignore Pepper.

”All taken care of, expect a call by the end of the show.” The Magician returned his focus to the balding man. If you would, see that this young lady gets to meet Marina, to compensate for our misunderstanding.” The Magician flashed a winning smile that seemed to charm the manager.

”Fine, fine.” The man made his way back through the door, stopping for a moment to look back at The Magician. ”Any chance you will tell me how you did it?”

”Old clichés. Not on your life.” The door swung shut and The Magician heaved a big sigh, slumping his shoulders as he shuffled over to the seat next to Pepper and flopped into it. Wearily he craned his neck toward her, grinning despite his acts of exhaustion.

”If I worked for the Foundation I would have just violated about a dozen rules just now, wouldn’t I?” He sat up, straightening his cape and his vest as he did so. ”No, I apologize but this had to be done away from the prying eyes of your organization. I can only match their secrecy if I hope to maintain my autonomy from them, you see.” The Magician laughed, the sound of it hollow and sardonic.

”I want you to tell me about that other place. The one you use to travel.”

Pepper watched the interaction between the man and the one named Jonathan. It only took a few seconds for them to sort everything out– including Pepper getting to meet Marina after the show, apparently– and then the newcomer left. The Magician turned back to her and seemed to deflate. It wasn’t really like a balloon deflating, no, it was more like a stuffed animal that had been propped up by a child slumping over. She watched the change in his demeanor with interest. So this was the real person she was to talk to.

Then, he asked his question, and she raised an eyebrow. This was, at the very least, not going well. She sat up in her seat and eyed the man up and down. She had no idea who this guy was, but he seemed to know enough about her. “I’ll answer your questions if you answer mine. I want to know who you are or how you know what I can do. One of those two.”

She crossed her arms, tilting her head slightly as she looked up at the man sitting next to him. The man knew about the ACF, but he wasn’t fully associated with it. He knew about Pepper, but he didn’t have access to the reports on the Dark Dimension. There was a series of inconsistencies with this situation, and it made Pepper uncomfortable, a sensation she didn’t like.

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The Magician’s hidden eyes seemed to remain fixed upon her for several moments; the thoughts behind them even more obscure. When the gaze bordered upon discomfort he looked away toward the stage. In the silence he ran a finger over the rim of his hat, retrieved at some point between the transportation from the street and the VIP balcony.

”Questions are the foundation of a researcher, aren’t they?” He sounded almost exasperated. ”Have you ever wondered if the classification and containment of all of the miracles in the world might be ruining the magic of it for those who don’t know or can’t remember?”

He twirled the hat in his hands and it disappeared, spinning into itself until there was nothing left. With his left hand he pulled two files with the A.C.F. logo embossed on the front. The first was labeled “U-3473,” and the second, “ACF-7823.”

”It is nice to have a little mystery, a little wonder in your life. So many people seek it out; just look at the crowds that gather when I perform. For those small moments they let the possibility of miracles expand their minds,” The Magician spoke with a controlled passion, though he was becoming The Magician less and less with every word. The short cropped, dark hair that had been hidden under the hat grew longer, and paler until it brushed his shoulders in startling and luminescent white. The finely pressed tuxedo shifted to something more comfortable, though for some inexplicable reason the cape remained.

Finally he removed his mask with his right hand, holding the files out to Pepper as his shifting irises were revealed. ”I had hoped to keep our mystery up for just a moment longer, but you are who you are. And a file is as much an explanation as a photo. I am familiar with shadow dimensions, and I would like to know more from someone more experienced with the place before I venture into your Dark Dimension.” Catian smiled; though perhaps a bit thin the warmth was genuine. His intent was nothing but pure, though he suspected Dr. Krasniqi might suspect otherwise.

“I’ve never thought of it like that before, but no. I don’t. The Foundation protects people from things that could hurt them, or drive them insane, or– or something.” She flushed a little as she cut herself off. She didn’t like being put on the spot, but this was a little more than that. She felt ambushed. That’s what the uncomfortable feeling was. She felt taken aback, caught off guard, and ambushed.

She looked at the files in the man’s hands and took them. One was her file, completely with the appendix for the Dark Dimension. The other was… his file. An Unknown Entity. “Catian Valor”. Well, that answered a lot of her questions but raised so many more. She handed the files back to him, giving him a once over. She bit her lower lip and nibbled on it as she thought. Then, she nodded and smiled.

“Okay. You’ve given me proof of who you are and how you know about me. I’ll answer as many of your questions as I can.” It might not have been the smartest choice, but it was the choice she was going to make. So far he had been straightforward, if unusual and extreme. Her eyes couldn’t quite make sense of what she was seeing as his form shifted, but then it stopped, and she found herself face to face with the Catian from the file.

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Catian returned to his seat, flourishing the cape so it draped over the back and he consequently had to sit in a more presentable posture. The Magician act was almost fully dissipated, though there were perhaps traces of that performer in his fanged grin. He leaned over conspiratorially toward Pepper, shielding his mouth from eyes that weren’t watching.

”When dealing with some Deity-Class entities you will need to be careful of statements like those.” He leaned back a bit more comfortably though, grin shifting to an almost paternal smile. ”Luckily for you I do not like to play those kinds of games with mortals. I do not see you as simple little playthings, as many gods do. I rose into this position from mortality myself, a few times if I am being honesty about it.” Catian tapped his chin with a pointed nail and seemed to focus on some middle distance between the rafters above and himself.

”Ah, yes, I was saying. Gods are almost blind to their creations, its truly a pity in some realities. They will wage wars amongst themselves, greedily hold territories and souls and cast the scales aside and destroy everything they once nurtured. They turn especially violent when those they create achieve power to rival theirs.” Catian turned his eyes back to the ACF researcher next to him, shimmering blue shifting to dazzling greens and flashing golds in seamless and endless color. ”Have you ever met the God of the Dark Dimension?”

He asked the question softer than he had spoken, perhaps cautious of the answer, or the reaction his words might cause. There was probably little he could do if the Walker decided he was a threat and fled. It was too early to venture across the bounds she walked. The balance had to be kept, above all else.

Pepper sat back, a little less stiff, and listened to Catian talk. So the claims that he was a god were still his current claims. She made a mental note of that and decided to be more specific about her statements from that point onward. She nodded as she thought about his question, before saying, “No, I haven’t. The Goddess there is dangerous for me. I’m not supposed to go near her. The denizens who speak to me say she wants something from me, and she’d kill me to have it. And I trust them, so I’ve never gone out of my way to meet her.”

She paused for a moment. He had said God, though. Did he mean the Dead God? Or was he just uncertain of what kind of God the world had? She coughed and continued, “Well, I have met pieces of the other God, if that counts. But he’s technically dead.”

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Catian’s head tilted in an almost comical way as he listened to Pepper’s reply, not entirely unexpected but enlightening nonetheless. His suspicions were confirmed in those few lines, though his curiosity only heightened.

”Is she dangerous to you because you’re one of Hers, or are you one of His?” He couldn’t be sure if he was using the proper words to define these other gods, such things were mutable in his experience, though he tried his best to frame the question so that Pepper would understand the meaning. There was no question of where she belonged, he could see that in her Order as clearly as she could see his shifting irises.

”You see, there is something on the horizon, a point of change that I believe is tied directly with you and a few others within the Foundation. As curious as I am to Walk with you I have to investigate this thoroughly, lest I tip the scales of your world and lead it to ruin.” Something about the casual atmosphere within the VIP box loosened his tongue, or perhaps something of the secrets that Dr. Krasniqi still held from her employer made his own secrets more comfortable in her hands. ”Unfortunately there are few resources to inform me of what that place is like. You are the sole link, currently. As much I dislike taking away from your time off I need what you can provide to me before I begin making my move.” From another’s lips the words might have sounded like a war plan, but from Catian they sounded more like a date.

“I– I think it’s because I’m attached to him in some way. They call me his Heraldess. I’m still trying to figure out what that means.” She looked down at the floor, her face scrunching into a thoughtful frown. “That’s a strange way to phrase it. You make it sound like I belong there more than I belong here.”

She looked back up, her face set as she listened to the rest of his speech. She had a lot of questions about what he was planning to do, about what he meant, and about why he felt it the Dark Dimension was involved.

“Well, we still have about an hour and a half before the concert starts. We can talk, we can go for a Walk down the Path– just tell me what you want from me.”

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A light chuckled passed his lips unbidden, the nervous energy his companion exuded striking a chord of humor within him. Catain folded his hands into his lap politely, turning his attention to the men and women working upon the stage far below for a moment as he let the silence permeate the VIP box. Whether there was some tension in that silence relied upon Pepper’s own feeling, but for himself he let it be a calm in the storm he had ferried her into.

”I imagine that this was a bit of whirlwind, even for members of the ACF.” He broke the calm with soft words of understanding. ”If you would like to talk, perhaps grab a bite to eat, I would be appreciative. No need for us to take a walk today, especially given you are already at your destination.” He leveled a pointed, swirling gaze on her before continuing.

”Perhaps it would be best if you told me yourself what the Containment File did not mention. Whatever information you might feel is pertinent, but no pressure. As you say, we have some time before the show begins, and you’re taking a well deserved break from this sort of thing, are you not?” Catian raised a cup of tea to his lips, the floral aroma filling the air as it simply happened into existence.

”Anything you could tell me holds some value, Ms. Krasniqi. The taste of the air, the feel of the Path. Existence is about the sum of the pieces of experience, and that existence is what I find myself curious about. Even the small things, the weird and the strange and the mundane, they’re all parts of my curiosity. That extends to the deities there, sure, but no more so than it covers the smallest and meekest of grains of sand. Let us speak on matters you are comfortable with.” Catian afforded Pepper a soft smile as he produced a crisp cookie from his lap as well, crunching into it as a sort of punctuation to his words.

“Talking. We can definitely talk.” Pepper thought for a minute before she asked, “I don’t suppose you can narrow down where you’d like me to start? There’s a lot that isn’t included in that file at this point. As far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been officially updated in, uhm, years. My primary researcher left it in my hands, and so we’ve just been adding field reports to the file.”

She adjusted a hair clip that was slipping while she talked, running her fingers through her hair as she did. It was a nervous habit that she thought she had stopped when she was young. But then, today had been unusually stressful, so maybe she was allowed a nervous habit.