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Rune dropped her backpack at her feet and sank upon the bench. The lights of far-away Izmailovsky market were doused about then, drenching her surroundings in darkness. Her calves ached and her fingers throbbed. Fatigue pulled her eyes low, but she stopped herself from stretching out on the slats in mid-move. A dry splotch of bird poop was splattered where she was going to put her head. The hesitation didn't last. A moment later, she stretched out, thrust her hands over her head and yawned. She was already covered in grosser stuff than bird poop.

Thirty minutes later she was awakened by a thrust to the ribs. 
"Ow- hey! Whats the matter with you? I'm sleepin' here." She growled from the depths of her hoodie hood. Flecks of hair stuck out around her face like hay cinched with string. The pink and purple stripes were long ago faded. Lines sank the planes of her face.

"No sleeping on park benches." A deep voice responded. "City ordinance." 

"Where do you suggest I sleep then?" She pushed up, rubbing her eyes. 

"I don't care, but not here. Now go on about your way." 

Rune rolled her eyes, grabbed her bag and pushed to her feet. The guy was dressed in a gray police uniform, she recognized some of the markings of his assignment, but not all of them. 

She grumbled as she hefted the straps onto her shoulders. The weight of her backpack dug into tense traps. She felt beat up, but Rune gave as good a beating as she got and only one of the two of them walked away. Part of the oni was what decorated her clothes right now. It was also responsible for most of the odor too. Most of it, anyway. Ever since Uncle Seth died, and all of her connections with the Atharim were severed, it had been a little difficult to pay the rent.

She parted ways with the cop and went in search of the next nearest bench. The undercity was warmer, but she wasn't interested in going back there for at least a few nights. Maybe under a bridge? God her stomach rumbled.

Shots punched the air like thunder. Rune's eyes flared wide and all of her remaining energy (plus a little extra adrenaline) was pumped to her legs. She ran back the way she came and found a pool of blood near the abandoned bench. The cop was no where to be found. Two spent cartridges glinted in the dark nearby.

Hunger and fatigue drained away. The heat of a hunt was enough fuel for now.

But she wouldn't turn down a cheeseburger right then either.

From her backpack she retrieved her baby. She laughed to this day when the store owner practically fell out of his chair when Rune said she was there to buy the .45 ACP then proceeded to load and cock the beast of a gun while barely batting an eyelash. She paid the guy and had Uncle Seth's blessing to punch him in the face for the names he called her. 

She chuckled even now. This gun was her baby. She even had a name for it.  

Rune closed her eyes and drew a deep, satisfying breath. The stench of bloodlust and fear told her which way to go even as her nose wrinkled up doing it.
The smell of rotten eggs curled her nose hairs and lodged in her throat. Rune was forced to yank a band up over the lower half of her face. It was black with one of those skull-mandibles printed on the front like bikers wore. She would know, she bought it at a biker-store. It muffled the smell to tolerable levels. She was close. Ears tuned, eyes sharp, and heart pounding, all of Rune's senses were on edge. The smell led her off the park's main path down a slope toward a ditch. She winced and made herself look, flashlight streaming a white column into the darkness.

Then her shoulders slumped when she saw the body. It was all twisted around and face planted downward. Damn. She was too late. The light swung a wider swath, but the thing that killed him was gone. She'd have to toe the periphery a little to find the direction the killer went. It was a violent slaughter, that much she could tell by smell alone. 

She knelt down by the body of the dead cop. His gun was missing, but unfortunately the extra cartridge of ammo wouldn't do her any good. She could sell it, but it was risky to sell anything belonging to a dead cop. 

She did poke around a little, careful to avoid any dark, wet looking spots. And SCORE! Cash. HOT DAMN! I'll just take that. She stuffed it into a pocket. Probably should go look for the thing that killed him before it got someone else.

She shoved up to her feet and started sniffing around, thinking about what hamburger joint was closest this time of night.
Gunshots were loud, and Rune wasn’t the only one that heard. For one thing, the weapon would signal police HQ upon discharge. Sirens wailed in the distance, and Rune was far too close to the crime scene than was comfortable. She pulled her hoodie up over her head and hurried onward.

The scent carried her to a drainage ditch. Like a long, dark crevice in the earth, she peered over the edge cautiously. Even with all her senses, the bottom of the ditch was cloaked in shadows. Anything could be squatting down there.

She pulled a flashlight, shining its white column of light into the darkness. It was probably a good 8 feet down. No ladders in and out nearby, but the scent wafted down the cliff-edge and if she didn’t hurry to follow, would begin to fade soon, something that made her job way harder.

With a grumble, she shimmied over the edge, knees scraping on the edge of the concrete slab wall until she was only dangling by the crooks of her fingers.

Then dropped.

Rune landed with a thud, whipped the flashlight as quick as she could and peered left and right. Nothing was waiting in ambush. So her nose led her onward. Right.

I’m comin’ for yah. Whatever it was.
From Chained to the Rhythm

She knew Ten didn't want to go. Or maybe the music wasn't her thing. But it was that or her books and that skin or whatever. And Jacinda was betting it was getting old. For growing up in a monastery all meditating and stuff, even quiet Ten betrayed irritation.

So maybe she had made her feel a bit guilty. Maybe a little teensy bit. But come on! That safe house was gettin stale. And she knew she wasn't the only one feelin the cabin fever kick in. I mean right? Ten was her partner. And they'd done a few hunts, it was true.

But Regus was gone. The order was gone. Yeah, a stab to the gut for her personally. Something she didn't think would happen. After years of the wild, there was something about the...structure that appealed. Of there being a mind and heart. Vision. Far deeper than she'd even expected. 

She wasn't a moron. She knew what it was.

And fuck, it pissed her off, big time. She was fucking 45! 45!!!! Would she never grow up?!? He was gone. He'd been dead for 25 years!

Grow up, woman! Seriously!!! So no. She wasn't gonna whine and moan now. Fuck that.

So you know what? She and her friend were gonna go to a concert and fuck any Atharim mission! For tonight at least.

And Ten said 'ok' but her eyes had said "oy vey." (Ha ha! Regan was always quick with the joke. And the more racist the better he liked it. Yeah, yeah. She never got why either.)

The stadium was on the other side of the park. The Ass-candy- god she loved that name. Not sure who came up with it but it was brilliant. Whoever it was deserved an award, that's for sure. Brandon deserved every bit of mockery- had had his little shindig and now it was the diva's turn.

And Jacinda was 20 again.

Tonight would be memorable.
Amelia Pond all but skipped down the street.  Short green tendrils of hair splayed outward and up from underneath her floppy striped watch cap to hover an inch above her shoulders.  Her puffy but not too puffy jacket was a brilliant blue number that brought out the color of her eyes. Well, fake eyes. Blue was Pond's color.  The jacket also served to conceal a little insurance she could make do without but would rather not in her current physical state.  That state being less than 100%.  Tree-climbing pants were comfortable in cut but not thuggishly so and her flashing-light, retro high-tops completed her youthful ensemble.  She was but a kid again.  

Nika’d been dutifully attending her PT sessions and laser therapy and and; following orders and receiving treatment from the very best doctors and specialists Ducati threw at her.  All to get back to top form.  So her shoulder hadn’t needed surgery after all which was awesome but it was still a little sore and tender from that afternoon’s manipulations so she wore her satchel off the other side.  It was really her wrist that was the problem.  A fairly technical procedure had been necessary to knit the bones back together and another operation had seen to the damaged nerves in her fingers.   As this was all recent she sported a cortex exoskeleton cast which encased her forearm all the way up to include the two littlest fingers that had nearly been rubbed into extinction by the asphalt.  Thankfully the digits were covered with biowrap because they were still nasty-looking.  All that to say she was a little protective of that arm and carried it resting atop the bag slung across her body.  People were always walking with their eyes glued to their wallets and not looking where they were going.  Then there was the fact that she looked as if she’d gone a few rounds with someone beefy and lost.  So no improvement to her looks there.  But whatever, at least she still had all her teeth.
It was nearly closing time for the stand vendors but she’d needed to get out and breathe air that wasn’t sterile and laced with pretension.  At her first stop she'd picked up the new Army of T.W.O.: Days of Yore video game and the latest edition of her favorite comic book.  Really though, she’d been staring at her orchard wall and had had a craving for apples.  And peanut butter.  Mmm.  There was a place she frequented, more of a little alley really, that had the best green apples known to man.  Or to her.  Who really cared about man?  The place she preferred was owned by a grandmother who’d lost her daughter and was left with her grandkid, a spunky little imp called Anna.  Pond heard the kid crying before she even got to the alley and was right on top of things.  Good moods should be shared, right?  Plus the kid reminded her of the girl from Annie...the first one.  

She grabbed a tawny butternut squash in her good hand, came up behind the screaming child and began singing to it in a deep voice; “Reindeers are better than people...Sven don’t you think that’s true?”  Then Pond changed pitch to something goofier and out of the side of her mouth she sang, moving the gord as though the lines came from it.  “Yeah, people will beat you and curse you and cheat you.  Every one of them’s bad...except you.”  The girl’s crying diminished after a few parting sobs and a hiccup or two.  Excited but watery eyes turned toward her.  Amelia smiled brightly at the girl.  “Oh, thanks buddy.”  She continued in the deeper voice.  “But people smell better than reindeers.”  She sniffed the thing in her hand and made a face, the girl giggled. “Sven, don’t you think I’m right?”  The goofy retort: “That’s once again true, for all except you!”  The girl giggled.  “You got me, let’s call it a night.”  Amelia looked at the child expectantly.  The girl remembered her line and nailed it.  ‘Good night.’  Behind the girl the stand’s elder occupant mimed hanging herself.  Pond winked at her.  “Don’t let the frostbite bite.”  

Pond knelt and held out the squash, stem-first like it was the reindeer’s nose.  “Sven missed you.”  The girl, who was about five, clutched the gord before abruptly catapulting herself forward for a hug.  'AMY!'  Nika barely got her arm out of the way in time.  Scrawny arms and legs latched onto her.  “Easy string bean, ugh.  What mutant toxins have you been drinking?”  The silver-haired vendor interjected.  “She drank all of my coffee and then demanded more, that’s what.  You were a party to the aftereffect of her least-favorite word.”  Amelia stood and hefted the girl onto her hip, tilting her head to better regard her charge.  “Have you anything to say in your defense?”  Anna’s eyes widened as though caught with her hand in the cookie jar.  Nika raised an expectant brow.  ‘I’m sorry?’  Nika’s expression said she was less than convinced.  “Either you’re sorry or you aren’t.”  The girl grew serious.  ‘I am!’  “Well don’t tell me.”  The little thing turned her head to face her grandmother.  ‘I’m sorry, Nana.’  The woman smiled.  “I forgive you, button.”  Ha, button.  That was intolerably cute.  Wait.  “What kind of button?” the assassin inquired.  The elder smiled mischievously.  'Depends on the hour.'  Nika laughed.    

The girl interjected, 'What happened to your face?'  It was Pond’s turn to look spotlit.  Err...“Took a bit of a tumble.”  She waited to see if that would stick.  The girl peered at her for a long moment.  'It was your shoelaces, huh?  I’m always tripping over mine.  You have to tie them into knots or ask a grownup to help.'  Whew.  “I will take that under advisement.”  The kid motored on. ‘Where have you been?’  Nika shrugged, forgetting.  Ow.  Damn it.  “I still had apples.”  The girl peered at the bruises.  ‘Now you’re back?’  Nika looked at her.  “I ran out of apples.”  A satisfactory answer, apparently.  'Does it hurt?'  She frowned briefly.  “A little.”  The girl huffed.  'Are you taking your medicines?'  Pond made a dismissive face and scoffed.  “No.”  Behind the kid’s back her grandmother’s eyes all but popped from of her head and she threw her hands up in an -are-you-kidding-me?!- gesture.  Catching it immediately, Amelia retracted her answer almost as fast; “Of course I’m taking my medicine!”  AH!  ‘You just said no,’ the girl responded flatly.  “I was thinking about something else,” Nika evaded.  Wee girl played with her jacket zipper.  ‘I do that too.’  The assassin grinned.   

‘Oh hey!’ Anna pointed to the bit of cast she could see. ‘What’s that?’  “Wanna see?  I’ll need to put you down.”  The girl agreed and Nika knelt down again, pulling up her coat sleeve.  “It’s an exo-cast.”  Anna’s eyes were wide.  “It’s so pretty. Can i touch it?”  Her grandmother peered over the display, eyes widening at the still-pink lines from surgery and chimed in quickly.  “Anna, be careful.  Amy’s hurt.”  The kid’s face morphed into concern, eyes as big as saucers.  'Does it hurt bad?'  Nika looked at the girl, briefly wondering what it would feel like to have someone in her life that cared about her again.  Thought dismissed just as quickly, her answer was honest enough.  “It’ll get better.”  She held out her arm for inspection.  The girl traced a finger along the interlocking honeycomb-shapes that formed the skeletal structure.  ‘It’s very clean.  If I had one it would be dirty already.’  Nika laughed.  “You can wash it if it gets dirty.”  The little girl was excited about that.  ‘Do they make colors?’  She frowned.  “I dunno, all the ones I’ve had so far have been white.”  Anna ran a hand gently back and forth over the cast.  ‘Are you getting another one?  You could ask for blue.’  Amelia nodded.  “I’ll ask. Blue?”  The kid nodded.  ‘It’s the best color.’  Pond just agreed as she personally did not have a favorite color.  “I gotta go.”  She caught the vendor’s eye and held up thumb, index and middle fingers.  Nana selected three apples.  ‘No!’ The whine started.  “Princesses don’t whine,” Amelia said matter-of-factly.  ‘You said we’d sing!’  Amelia raised her brow.  “Have you been practicing?”  The grandmother snorted loudly and piped up.  'It’s all she does day and night any time she’s home; play that infernal video.  I’m at the point where it’s headphones only now and I haven’t gotten to watch the news in a month!'  The woman flailed her arms.  Nika tried very hard to keep a straight face but an errant giggle escaped her tightly compressed lips.  Nana was hardly amused.  ‘She sings’  The woman’s eyes bugged out and her whisper morphed into a hiss as the girl twirled and hummed to herself in the alley.  ‘I broke her music streamer on purpose!’  Amelia shook with silent laughter.  ‘So you will sing with her or so help me...’ the woman shook her finger.  ‘...I’ll have you killed.’  That threat did elicit outright laughter.  “Oh fine.”  Amelia called out to the kid.  “What do you want to sing, porkchop?”  The girl squealed her answer and the other vendors, who had been hiding smirks and snickers at Nana’s ranting, quieted their sweeping and stacking and nightly duties to listen.  Nika had a great voice and was no stranger to this little alley as it had fantastic acoustics.  The kid was...more of a yeller.  Still it was a great show and yeah, she could hit the high note just fine.

‘Let it Go’ was still swirling around in her mind as she crunched on an apple.  Pond’s stroll toward home took her beyond the market from lamp halo to lamp halo and through a sprawling but quaint park where it was not uncommon to occasionally hear gunshots or yelling or other sounds of the city at night.  She was pretty well covered unless a lucky shot found her head and then it wouldn’t matter really, being dead and all.  The weapon discharged near enough that she stopped in a patch of shadow and listened for either a breathy retreat of the guilty or the righteous puffs of pursuit.  Sirens keyed up in the distance.  Her path meandered over a footbridge cleverly constructed to hide the eyesore of a cement drainage runoff.  There were faint sounds off to her right.  Below?  2 o’clock.  One one-thousand.  Scraping.  Barely there.  Two one-thousand.  Nika cast a glance around and through a chance gap in the foliage...a light bobbed from the ditch.  Why?  Who cares?  Not your job.  Ugh!  FINE.  Someday stupid shit like this is going to get you killed.  

A silent call through the waves diverted BB from standby. She padded over to the grass, flashy shoes off since the market, and disappeared into the darkness.  Goggles for seeing at night were donned.  The drop negotiated lithely.  What’s up, buttercup?  
Whew. Nothing there except the murky splash splash of water underfoot. Luckily, Rune's boots were waterproof. The laces cinched up tight above the ankles. Uncle Seth always said it was of paramount importance to take care of your feet and nothing rotted your toes off faster than sock-rot. Yummy. So, waterproof shoes it was. These bad boys slapped their way through worse than a water run-off ditch. Rune wasn't worried.

Then again, she was a little disappointed that she'd have to track this killer a little bit farther. The dead cop's money was burning a hole in her pocket and she was absolutely HANGRY. Seriously. Dying for a cheeseburger.  With bacon. Mmmm bacon.. There was one silver lining to this terrible cloud. That was the fact that a STANCH like a mix of a moldy fruit and fish left in a trash can on a hot day chipped away at her appetite. 

A hand pressed to the flat of her stomach, she adjusted the mask over her nose and readied herself. Baby was aimed in one hand as she proceeded crossed with the mini-flash beam in the other so that they pointed in the same direction. She was on the way, curious as to what she'd discover at the end of the trench when a little plop thudded ever so softly behind her.

Now it was a bad idea to sneak up in the dark on someone holding a gun. More so when that someone was bloody HANGRY. Luckily, Rune was pretty well fixated on the moldy fish stink and nothing like that barged in on her senses from the newcomer.
Rune whipped about, beam of light drenching a figure in light. 
She didn't look threatening. Rune wasn't a trigger happy Atharim, nor did she really spook easily, but she wasn't lowering her aim any time soon either.
"I think you might be lost." She'd not be able to tell Rune was grinning except for the sounds of humor twisting the sound of her voice.
Jacinda fizzed, the earthy scent of her emotions like the loam of spring. Tenzin patiently awaited her sister's recovery. Small hunts marked the path. Daily runs in Moscow's various parks maintained the balance and lent her curious attention enough concentration to dig through dusty books. A pastime she enjoyed, despite ridicule, but could not always tolerate when the wolf in her needed to roam wild. Particularly with the dearth of answers growling frustration in her chest. Sometimes those books slammed shut.

A flat expression first met the invitation of a "concert", a cautious blink of dark eyes, a questioning shrug. The music Jacinda shared made her ears bleed, but pack tolerated such inconveniences in pursuit of happiness. The promised press of humans and their lack of manners did little to entice her either. Men pandered to different rules, especially here, and respect was in woefully short supply. Ten was apt to snap a hand off, but promised herself to behave. Fun. This was supposed to be fun.

The walk was nice at least.
A person-of-interest was ahead: presumably the owner of the light Nika’d seen from the bridge.  No one else seemed to be around at the moment so the theory fit until something better knocked it loose.  The assassin caught sight of a gun in profile, thanks to her goggles, just before the other woman turned and spotlit her.  Thank god for anti-flare features but a light in the face was still a light in the face.  Amelia Pond went with a squinty-eyed expression and raised her honeycomb-casted hand to shield the glare.  See?  Just a wee injured teen here...not a hostile.  The jury was still out on the other woman’s threat level.  So far there were no blaring alarm bells sounding.  Things could change though.  Pond didn’t want to show she’d seen the gun quite yet.  She was the patient sort and opted to see where this was going first.  Sure, it was a risk but what the hey.  Normally she was right about these things and if she wasn’t?  Well, quick draw.  That was always fun.

Pond took a loud, crunchy bite of her apple just as the other woman spoke.  Wyatt Earp didn’t sound like she was getting ready to empty a mag in her direction…  “Lost?” Pond spoke a near-drawl around her snack.  “Naw man, I take this shortcut all the time.”  Another bite of the apple.  “Would you mind shining that elsewhere?  I’m a little light sensitive at the mo’.”  Which was actually the truth given the epic concussion she’d gotten a week ago.  Nika’s bruised face and cut nose would immediately corroborate that request should the other woman care to connect the dots.  Why was it black eyes always looked progressively worse well after the spawning event?  Stupid Hargrave, what a fucking idiot! 
Ten had come....dutifully. Jacinda had laughed at her flat look and playfully hugged her. "Oh come on! It's not that bad. It'll be fun. I promise. And then I'll go with you. Anywhere. You can take me to Tibetan throat singers or whatever." And then she winced. What did I just agree to? She'd heard that music recently and was amazed at how....boring it was. All monotone and stuff. Just an endless BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH with no stops for breaths Prolly was doing the circular breathing she could never master. Impressive. But definitely nothing fun and light.

Well, she'd owe Ten and so she'd go. That's what sisters did, she guessed. Not that she'd had any growing up. Still, a friend was a friend.

So she'd dolled herself up with a light application of makeup, put her hair in a jaunty ponytail held by a scrunchy. Not bad for an old lady, she thought as she checked herself out in the mirror. Especially in tight black jeans, soft cream v neck t shirt, her dark silver leather jacket, and the black laceup boots that went to her knees.

Special made, those, soft leather with silver buckles and eyelets. The heel was normal. Running was always a possibility and she needed to be able to do it. Oh, and of course the best part. Slots in the sides where her staves could go. Carbon nano fibers that would telescope out with a flick. And break a bone. Plus a small battery that let them deliver a nice shock or ten.

It was a concert, but you never knew. Violence could spring up anywhere.

Like for instance right now. The sound of gunshots cut the quiet of the park. Damn it! She scanned the night, looking for movement. The moment stretched out and sirens blaired in the night. Far against the blackness a darker shape moved and then disappeared. Tiny. Maybe it was the distance.

Or someone really small. Hard to tell. The movement was a bit off too. Injured? Not their business....unless it was a naga or something. They'd been sighted.

She looked at Ten. She wanted to go to the concert but she was pretty sure Ten would jump at the delay. She rollled her eyes and shrugged. "Alright. Let's check it out."
She'd pawed the hug off playfully, murmuring something in her own language. Sometimes the English swept like wind over rocks in her mind and she wished for the simplicity of another language. The wolves did not understand the distraction of music, and so Tenzin's interest in it was also fleeting. If she yearned for some lost sound in her ears, it was the quiet of the mountains, the pad of paws, the beauty of a howl. It built up in her chest and turned her gaze starward. Sometimes knowing her pack ran under the same sky was a comfort. Sometimes it only made her feel lonely.

Jacinda painted cosmetics on her face, a process Tenzin had watched with open curiosity and a faint frown. In contrast she'd shrugged into her usual clothing; dark and plain. Hair woven into a thick braid. Flat boots. The tug of a smile meeting any disapproval before they were swiftly out the door.

Her ears perked to the distant sounds, not immediately concerned. Moscow had not been her home for any huge length of time, but she already understood its many violences -- most of them not of Athari concern. Sharp eyes picked out the figure Jacinda scrutinised. Tenzin's head tilted, testing the scents on the air. "If sure? Know you love the Katy Perry."

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