Mission: Chapter 9: Steam City
The shack was a bordered up one room hovel where the commercial sector ended and the industrial one began. It was filled with spider webs, dust, and the occasional rat. Melisande walked out of the closet fiddling with the cuff on her blouse. The floorboards creaked with each step as she got closer to Shanen. She and Azzo had been watching over him for hours keeping vigil. They got there around midnight and now the sun was setting. Half consciously she held one of her sword hilts as she turned to Azzo, "A former Steamhawke member and a friend of Chago's. I always found the saying about the world being small to be nonsense. Perhaps I shall have to reevaluate that. Azzo was it? Has Shanen awoken? I have to admit I am a bit worried."
"When you run in the same circles long enough, you start seeing the same faces," Azzo agreed. He leaned over Shanen. "He took quite the knock to the head and," he sniffed. There was something there, a lingering cloying sweetness under the smells of smoke and sweat. To Azzo it smelled of battlefield hospitals and the army infirmary. "I wouldn't be surprised if she dosed him too."
"She? You never did reveal who you were following. Ana I take it?" Melisande kneeled down next to Shanen and smelled that familiar smell of alchemical anesthesia. She was instantly flashed back to being on an exam table back in Lekly being prepared for surgery. Then she saw herself transported back to the Steamhawke ship, drinking a similar liquid in front of that masked doctor. That lead back to seeing Carol's twisted face as her sword shattered into both of their faces, only to find herself in that low embankment convulsing from that mystery weapon. Her eyes bulged as phantom pains from the memories assaulted her and caused her to fall backwards.
She grimaced when she saw Azzo's look of concern, "Bad memory. It happens to me sometimes. Just tell me what you know. It is Ana, is it not?"
Azzo nodded. Whatever inner turmoil the woman was going through, it was her own business. Enough people carried something like with them that he wasn't about to pry into her. "She seems the most likely. I saw them together. I saw her leave. I found him on the tracks. Perhaps we'll know more when he wakes."
Once again Shanen felt himself forcing his way out of the surrounding blackness, his vision swam as the blur of his vision began to take shape, two figures looking down at him. He started for a moment almost uncomprehending before recognition set in. "Mel?" He asked groggily, unsure what either of them were doing in this strange place. "What's going on?"
"Shanen, how are you feeling right now?" She cracked a smile as she self consciously rubbed the bridge of her nose, checking for any residue glue. Sighing gently as she found none, she continued, "This kind man and I found you lying on the train tracks behind the vaudeville theater hall. Can you tell us who did this and what brought you there?"
"A girl in the theatre. Ana Maria she said her name was. Tried to play me and steal my watch, I-" Shanen stopped in mid sentence, noticing the expensive timepiece was missing from his wrist. "My watch!" He shouted, practically jumping out of the bed. "That no good, rotten, deceitful bitch!"
Melisande covered her mouth to hide the mixed expression of shock, disgust, and amusement at Shanen's curse. She cupped a hand to her chin and thought deeply, debating what to tell both men, before she responded, "It seems we are all after the same woman. I have reason to believe she is somehow involved in the murders and framing Chago. Azzo, you were investigating the area before I arrived, do you know anything more about her or any of her associates?"
"She travels," Azzo answered. "She picks up a different name and a different story in every town she lands in, stays for a while, and moves on. Her manager moves with her. They stay in separate lodgings, she's never missed a show or a rehearsal, and she's good at what she does. Until tonight I'd thought it was mad to watch her as closely as I'd been. The new name, I took it as a gimmick, or maybe a cover for smuggling at most. She didn't strike me as a petty thief. Sorry, friend," he added to Shanen, looking at the robbed man sympathetically. "What did she hit you with, anyway?"
"Her hand, far as I can remember. Seemed to know her stuff anyway, took only one shot to knock me cold." He thought of the small woman and his stung pride mixed with his anger at being robbed.
She nodded to Shanen, "I am sorry you were dragged into this. My underground contact told me Ana is dangerous. She has an associate who comes here often. I need to get closer to him. While she slipped here, I have not gotten anywhere regarding evidence. I suspect they are both involved in a murder ring...and maybe..."
She looked down at her hands and glanced up looking at both men, her face turning into a determined expression. Noticing a little phoenix crest resting against the cupboard that wasn't there before, Melisande's lips curled up in a slight smile. "Maybe I should join."
Azzo stared at her. "That woman just proved herself to be a viper, and you'd put yourself into the nest of them?" He shook his head, pushing his shock of sooty hair back into place absently as he did so. "There's heroism and then there's madness," he observed. "Besides, do you think they simply hold auditions?"
Glaring at Azzo she continued, "Do I seem like the pirate type to either of you? This is what I do. If it wasn't for Chago, I would have already completed my task and be taking a train back home. How long are we to wait before she, they, slip up and give us evidence, if ever? Meanwhile they continue to murder and someone else can be framed tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have the skills. I am not playing hero, I am being a pragmatic."
Melisande walked over to the cupboard, grasping the phoenix, showing it to both men, "Besides, my contact will help me. If you are both worried, I have a tool to keep us in contact with each other. Unless either of you have any better idea, neither of you can talk me out of this. It has to be done."
From the corner of the room, in the darkness, a figure emerged. When taking a closer look, they would see the face of the blonde First Mate; Maraea Morgan. Topless, the woman's upper body was a mix of flesh and machine; organic and mechanical fusing together in an almost beautiful yet horrifying fashion. Finally, her face was shown. She wore an expression that spoke of a rage comparable to the heat of the Phoenix. Bloodied, the former Sky Captain limped towards the group.
"A dead contact. Almost dead. Melisande, Shanen, Azzo." Her words were sharp, her once charming manner of speech transformed into that of ice. "Look around. This place is cesspool that is ripping each from another--destroying which we hold dear." She walked over to them, her eyes looking on Melisande. "My apologies, I had been conducting my own investigation into these bastards. What began as a simple investigation had just become very personal--in more ways than one. They have tempted my wrath, as well as yours. Go undercover, Melisande. I will watch from the shadows; as I always do. As I always did."
Maraea started putting on the clothes that she had hidden away in her corner.
"Shanen, showing your face to Ana would not be the smartest of choices. I want you with me." She turned to Azzo. "You will be helping, I hope." The First Mate smiled at Azzo. It was the type of smile that was both loving and born from amusement. Yet, at the root of it, was an eeriness that lingered subtly in the her tone of voice. "Melisande will perform well." Maraea turned towards Melisande, giving her a knowing smile.
"Maraea!" Melisande stared at her in horror. She was going to ask her what happened, but knew she wasn't going to get an answer. At least not here. Instead, she began to help the blonde get dressed. She felt her stomach turn wondering what she just proposed to get herself into. She coughed slightly, "Right, so it is settled then?"
The First Mate nodded at Melisande, lifting her arms to allow for the help the sailor offered. As Maraea's jacket came on, she replied to Mel. "Do not worry, my dear. I will be watching your every move. But, I warn you; they will try to brainwash you should they discover your true identity. That is why I have to give you this." She motions to her mechanical hand, a vial protruding from the centre of her hand. Filling up as they spoke, a green liquid danced around in the container. With her palm faced downwards, the vial dropped into her other hand, sealed with a brown cap. "I used this to keep my mind from breaking during the transformation. It, quite literally, allows you to control your mind despite external variables."
Maraea frowned, remembering the former doctor on her ship. With his death happening just recently, she wasn't able to cover her new form up with artificial skin; this made her look like a mechanical nightmare. With his serum, she was able to survive the whole procedure. Now, his mansion, and by extension, his lab, was found by her brother's men. And while she murdered every last one of them, the location of her deceased doctor's place of work was known by her enemy. Maraea had to chose what to bring to her private quarters in Kanesville.
"If you think that taking this will drive your mind to a self-induced insanity; don't take it. You need a strong mind to drink this, let alone resist brainwashing. If you believe that you can handle this on your own, without the aid of drugs, then do so."
Maraea put the vial down next to Melisande, sighing as she finally slipped on her gloves. Melisande stared at the vial as she held it. The green liquid had a strange sickly glow to it. She was reminded of an a certain potion, but this one was different, more powerful. Putting it in her pocket, she quickly went over to her knapsack, holding the metal canary. She turned to Azzo and Shanen, the latter looked like a white sheet from the mix of the anesthetic Ana gave him and seeing the now partially mechanical woman. The former was faring better, but his jaw still hung open as he watched the tableau of the mechanical woman and her ally.
"Humena, humena...I..." The paler man muttered under his breath as he stared at Maraea.
"Are you okay, Shanen?" Melisande looked at him until he turned directly to her.
He coughed slightly before putting on an obvious forced smile, "Yeah, I'm good."
Seeing Azzo's mouth still agape, Melisande knew this was the only action to take and if she waited for his response he would surely talk her out of it. She turned on the canary, its eyes turning to the now familiar foggy blue glow.