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A Night to Forget
Negotiating her passage from France to Moscow without Eleanor's interference had been easier than anticipated, but came with unexpected strings. While Natalie had been in Africa the world had turned on its axis. And the Northbrooks turned with it.

The nostalgic holiday retreat of Aubagne became a carefully executed ambush, cushioned by her family's relief at her safe return. Duty quickly caged its walls, for a while shadowing the urgency with which she had planned to leave. They sat her down. Her mother had arranged the paperwork. The discussion was only a formality.

It transpired that the Ascendancy had revealed himself.

Natalie accepted that news quietly, mind skirting carefully around the invitation burning a hole in her heart.Of the scandal that had blown her family apart. Of paper fizzling to ash in her hands. The responsibilities attached to her ancestral name tightened a noose she had always been adamant to avoid. She sensed the shift of her family's intentions before the words came clear. It will affirm our loyalties to the CCD. To Brandon. This is not a secret we can keep, her grandfather had said. She never asked how they knew. That was more or less clear; they had tied affairs with Aaron up so neatly. And the fire. Perhaps they knew more of her father's interests than they ever admitted.

Natalie said little. Had they expected a war? They didn't get it, only tight lipped acceptance of what they asked of her. She wouldn't talk about it. Skimmed the gazes of those around her. The light was far off, imprisoned from her, but it had never made her feel more distant. She couldn't stop them adding her name to the register, and she couldn't countenance the lies it would take to build a defence. The trap closed neatly. With no other recourse, she let it.

Eleanor insisted she could spend some time in Aubagne first to recuperate. She was thin. Pale. Heartsick from the things she must have seen in Africa. But the comforts of their holiday home only made Natalie restless. The sea mocked her. The pale sands where they had run and laughed as children. And she had an appointment to keep in Moscow, one she could not and would not discuss with her mother. Alistair's name was a profanity that would only poison her mother's goodwill, and that she needed to retain for a while longer. She had imagined to sneak away, but as it was the only difficulty was fending off Eleanor's insistence of an escort. For that small freedom, she fought.

And so she was in Moscow, as planned. Numb. Sparks of anger igniting and dying as she contemplated her father's silence being broken after so long, and what it meant. If anything. Her gift no longer secret, but still useless to her. Her responsibilities abandoned in Sierra Leone to pursue her own selfishness. Her freedom hanging in a new balance. Outside the windows, shadows hugged the flash of neon marking Moscow's busy streets. She could see the Ascendancy's Arch.

She should sleep off the travel, but knew she wouldn't. Tired though she was, her mind hummed with too much thought to shut out. Recklessness swept her out into the night. Old habits died hard, after all. Any bar would do. A breath of freedom. A night to forget.
ZARS came in handy they had all sorts of spies and networks for the Ascendancy. But none of them yielded anything more than Aria had. She was meeting a rather smiley informant at a relatively decent dive in the heart of Moscow. It wasn't far from the Red Square, but it was a bar and full of people and emotions. Emotions that were far more intoxicating than the drink around her.

Mikael said that the man's name was Rat... a very bad name for a man who was an informant... very bad name. But that's what he went by so that's what Aria would call him. He was late! Aria hated when people were late. But he said he might have information. He was a sleeze bucket, Mikael said, but he won't meet in a place of his standing - always upscale. Always drinks the most expensive things. "Make it quick", he had told her.

That wouldn't be a problem, though Aria didn't like the idea of touching a scum bag, but it was her job now. She had to find the Regus... it was the only thing to do. She had traded one kind of monster for another.

Aria sat at the bar, sipping at a fruity drink that had no alcohol in it. She'd learned her lesson with the reporter, and she didn't need to get fuzzy, besides, if she wanted to get lost in things she just had to find Dane. He was rather easy to find now that he wasn't exactly avoiding her. He said he'd never leave... Aria didn't believe that but right now he was there, she could almost find his emptiness, but he was too far away.

The bell on the door jingled pulling Aria's attention, it better be her informant with his slicked back hair and fake leather jacket...
Natalie wasn't selective in finding a bar to situate herself. The wine she'd drank while dressing softened the edges of frustration into something tolerable; soon, she intended for thought to be too slippery a thing to bother her at all. Moscow was unfamiliar to her, but she wasn't cautious. Nor even much curious. One city was much like another.

Later she'd look for the beat of music to lose what remained of tomorrow's concerns, but for now the first place her feet took her sufficed. She slipped into a seat by the bar and signalled for service. The woman next to her had looked around at her entrance, as though expecting someone, but it didn't prevent Natalie from claiming the chair obviously meant for company. Pale eyes roamed the glittering optics behind the bar, but she shrugged and asked the barman for whatever he recommended.
Aria could feel the rich and pampered vibe from her bar mate. It wasn't even an emotion but it kinda wafted off her like a stuck pig. Aria grinned over the rim of the drink she'd just about finished. Rat was late and Aria was not going to be happy if he never arrived. Mikael would get an ear full for making her sit there.

At least there were people to "listen" to. The one sitting next to her was full of emotions all jumbled up, anger, anticipation, that feeling of being reckless - not caring. Aria knew that well. To feel all these emotions again made Aria smile. She'd been lost without them. Now she understood that without them, she was nothing. Nothing but a girl with a sword and a gun. With it... well those were thoughts she'd rather not entertain.

Aria set her empty glass on the bar in front of her and ordered a second with a wave of her hand. Aria never looked at the woman, but she asked, "What brings a girl to an empty bar?"
Natalie hadn't expected to be spoken to, aside perhaps from being informed the seat was reserved for someone else. She tilted her head to look at the dark-haired woman, glancing once at the sober refill being prepared by the barman. "What brings a girl to an empty bar if she's not even drinking?"
Her brows rose, a cold smirk lifting her lips for a moment before slipping away. She didn't much care for the answer, but she welcomed the distraction.

Her fingers curled around her own glass. "For me? Forgetting yesterday. Delaying tomorrow."
She raised her drink in a toast to both, then swallowed a fiery mouthful. It carved a stinging path down her throat before flooding a tingling warmth in her stomach. In Africa she'd had duties that prevented her from such stupidity as getting heinously drunk. A small, rational voice warned her against the path she so resolutely followed. Strange, foreign city. Important meeting tomorrow. But she didn't listen.
Aria smirked at the comment about not drinking. Aria's drink was placed in front of her and she 'toasted' "Forgetting yesterday. Delaying tomorrow."
Sounded like a perfectly reasonable excuse for coming out drinking.

She turned her back to the bar and looked out on the other patrons - as if there were any. Looking as if she were looking for her acquaintance. "I'm meeting someone and they are late."
There was a flutter of caution in the woman sitting next to her but it was pushed away as quickly as it had come. Aria smiled.

"If only there was a way to stop time."
There was a philosophical discussion about that in there somewhere, but Aria didn't care to delve further. Aria hunted, and now her informant was late... he better be dead or I'll kill him myself...
Caution flew to the wind. Natalie downed her glass and signalled for another. It softened the sharp edges of her thoughts, which might make them tolerable but no less pleasant. I should have stayed in Africa. At least the distractions there were constructive. St James' blood-soaked walls haunted her as much as that last earnest look Azu had given her. But Ola had urged her home. It hadn't even been the plea to convince her to leave. Selfishness brought her to Russia and probably trapped her here too, at least for now. She wondered how long it'd take for the paperwork to process. Her mother would be disappointed she'd not presented herself straight away, but really that was the last of her concerns. Her father's face flashed amongst her thoughts, but oh - that pain was too sharp, and carried with it a tide of anger. She let it go. Swallowed more drink.

Beside her the woman swivelled to take in the rest of the bar. Natalie only studied the contents of her glass. One day, she would see the school rebuilt. The promise soothed at least some of her guilts. She straightened, searched her pocket for a card to pay for the drinks.

"You've been stood up?"
she suggested mildly. The words were curt enough to be cruel, though she didn't really mean them as such. Her lips quirked at the idea of stopping time, but she didn't agree. Instead she gave a dry, unimpressed laugh. "Maybe there is. Who fucking knows these days."
The rest of the alcohol burned. She stood, warmth coursing the length of her limbs, but she felt steady enough. After a moment anyway. "I need somewhere with music."
That she said anything of her intentions at all was an invitation of sorts, though she only glanced at the other woman briefly before making her way back outside.
(( ooc: I'm gonna let you go do what you need to do... A PM should be waiting for you with some info. ))

Had she been stood up? Aria laughed at the thought of her informant standing her up. Because he wasn't standing her up, but the Ascendancy's ZARS agent who put them in contact. No he was just late... or worse dead. Either way she needed to stay here wait.

Aria called after the woman. "Enjoy your music."
She really didn't have much to do so she sipped at her drink and waited.
It was late by the time she discovered the club. Stairs led down and down and down, funnelling the beat of the music up like a siren call. Industrial pipes ran overhead and the air was thick with human heat and cigarette smoke. Cold concrete walls drifted beneath her fingertips. Strobe lights flashed as she slipped into the crowd below. The acoustics drew her, filled the alcohol-numbness with something more content as she fell into the beat.
Alistair was growing more brazen by the day, and more insane too. Ever since his girlfriend dumped him and his company fired him but didn't fire him, he'd holed up in his lab doing god knows what for his former employer. Dmitry was just a lacky, what did he know of anything. 'Dmitry, go do this.' 'Mr. Zuev, where is that?'

Now it was Dmitry go find me a human who won't be missed. What the fuck did he think I was a slave trader. I couldn't just find any old person. I had to find one that fit his needs, but he was becoming so picky and so persistant that tonight, whoever would sneak away with him was going to be Alistair's new play thing. It was evil work, but the money was extraordinary. Credits were falling out of Dmitry's bank account.

Tonight the underground club pulsed its loud music. The cool stuffy air was purified and cleansed of smoke and refuge that you'd normally find this deep in the underground. Those that came here though, they didn't really understand. They didn't care. The place was filled with bodies - hot sweaty bodies all oblivious to their blight.

One day the monsters would find them - bring them to their knees while they feed on their innards or turned them into one of them. But Alistair wasn't ready for human integration yet. Tonight, the person he found tonight would be the first. No more rats or monsters that lurked in the dredges of the tunnels, tonight Alistair would have his first human subject.

Dmitry was dressed for the part. He was a handsome Russian, with close cut hair, his beard and mustache tastefully groomed. He wore a black fitted jacket over a white t-shirt and a pair of tight black jeans. The gold chair around his neck and the thick gold on his fingers showed the money he possessed - or rather that of the illusion he wanted to portray.

He stood in the shadows surveying the kingdom looking for the right prey. He spotted several would be candidates, but the blood finding her way inside caught his attention and he put on that fabulous smile, downed the shot of vodka he'd been holding and moved towards his prey in the only way he knew how - like he was intent on one thing, and one thing only. Which was what every other club goer here was sending off... sex sold.

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