Tatiana had been doing her best to ask soft questions to this young woman, Adrea, when this pompous ass had sidled up. Although she hadn’t seen the girl in a while, she knew of her; it was the girl who had raised a stink about her brother’s disappearance in one of the Eastern cities a few weeks ago.
To see her now wearing a habit of one of Father Foster’s followers made Tatiana extremely frosty. Truly, that fucking cult would use any weakness to worm their way into the lives of innocent people. Initially, Tatiana hadn’t seen them for what they were, and thoughtlessly attended a few of their services…
Even remembering it now, her eyes flashed dangerously. That Father Foster…
But this girl had stubbornly refused to follow any of the soft outs that Tatiana offered her. Instead, she steadfastly defended the organization and continued to try and spread a pamphlet for a church that would be opening up between the factory village and the city proper. But all steelworkers and their families were encouraged to attend.
Tatiana was considering her next move when the man showed up.
“Please, give us some space,” The man said simply, his eyes sliding up and down Tatiana’s body like an ooze. “We have… some history.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” Adrea said bluntly, crossing her arms. Even though she was now a member of the religious organization, Tatiana could tell that it hadn’t been long because she was still alive with life and fire. Tatiana knew from experience that they had ways of getting feisty women to walk around with dead eyes.
Likely she was chosen due to her knowledge of the area, and not because she had gone through enough of their training seminars.
Tatiana turned back to the man, her eyes narrowed into slits. Her grin was vicious, like a shark waiting for a wounded creature to stick its toe into the water. The man seemed to realize the implied threat because he took a loud, audible gulp.
“I… I suppose you may remain.” The man said, his voice shrill. “Look, I just wanted to apologize.”
“I think you’d better leave,” Tatiana said simply, lowering the overt threat in her features. Men generally act defensively when threatened. If they feel in control, they are much more likely to accept a slight. But as she spoke, she sensed movement over the man’s shoulder and looked sharply up. If he had brought friends…
Tatiana blinked. It was that man Baloo, the steelworker with plasma-proof hands. She instantly saw the recognition in his eyes as well, and then his gaze flicked to the other two. His face split into a frown. Instantly, Tatiana’s guard was back up.
Did he know this man…?
Seeing that Tatiana was distracted, the man in the military uniform said quickly. “It was my fault, and I misled you earlier. But I’ve seen the error of my ways. If you again give me $100, this time I will actually-”
“You want MORE money?!?” Adrea screeched, taking a step forward with fists clenched.
The man raised his hands, shaking his head slowly. “Look, there really is a process. I already spent the previous money you gave me, but this time-”
Baloo at one point during the talking took several steps forward and reached out to grab the military man’s shoulder when a sharp crack cut the sky. A bolt of plasma flew out of a nearby window towards the back of the military man’s head.
Tatiana’s eyes widened, and she watched as Baloo’s head snapped around to lock on the plasma bolt with such speed that it left her gasping. In fact, the only reason that she had been able to pinpoint the source of the noise so quickly was he looked at the projectile immediately. His hand landed on the military man’s back and pulled him a half step backward.
The man flailed but moved backward, unable to resist Baloo. The plasma bolt whizzed by his head and buried itself in the dirt.
“You never fail to surprise me.” A short man with golden hair stepped out of the nearby building, holding a plasma rifle. The rest of the street went very still. Another figure stepped out, covered in a thick cloak that Tatiana recognized as marking the figure as one of Father Foster’s enforcers.
For a second, seeing the lack of movement on the street, Tatiana had a small hope that someone would contact the authorities. But then her hopes instantly deflated. She had been staying in this place for a few days now with her girls and knew that wasn’t the case. Unless someone of authority showed up, the people wouldn’t move to help. This town was still too new, too competitive.
“Uh…” The military man was just looking at the short blonde man with wide eyes. But before he could speak further, a yell cut him off.
“Ethan! You can’t just kill him-”
“Of course,” the blonde man, Ethan, said with a smile. “But I knew the man who could resist my attack wouldn’t die from a petty ambush such as that. You sir, please step aside. I have business with this man.”
Ethan was talking to Baloo. Shrugging, Baloo just patted the military man on the back, and then took several steps back. But when he touched the man’s back, Tatiana would have sworn that she saw a flash of green, like a small snake, slither out and down the man’s collar.
Tatiana would have likely caught more of it, had she not noticed that Baloo was barefoot. Was he always barefoot? Her eyes widened. Did he smelt metal barefoot? That would be… incredibly dumb!
“Uh… um… unfortunately… I have another appointment… so I must bid-” The military man began, but Ethan cut him off.
“Not so fast! Let me see if you aren’t just all talk then, eh?” Ethan started forward, quickly speeding up to a dead sprint. As he arrived in front of the military man, his right fist flashed forward to smash into his jaw.
The military man took a step back, arms flailing. But as she watched, one of those arms abruptly contorted and came down tight to the man’s face. It flicked out, knocking the punch aside, and then shot forward in a jab. The jab smashed into Ethan’s face.
Blood sprayed out of Ethan’s broken nose, likely done in by Ethan’s own forward momentum as much as everything else. As the military man straightened, looking down at his hand in confusion, the cloaked man rushed forward.
“Brother Ethan! You scoundrel, how dare you strike a man of God!”
Finally, the military man seemed to decide that the emotion he should feel is arrogance. He put his hands on his hips and snorted. Tatiana almost wanted to roll her eyes. It was obvious that this wasn’t a character that could so expertly execute an attack like that. Tatiana would be surprised if he had a single Skill above Lvl 50. She glanced at Baloo, curiously.
Did that mean that Baloo was assisting somehow…? But why?
“Did you not see him run into my fist? I was only stretching. Or did you want to fight? Let it never be said that Derek Lundain, Commissary Officer, refused a challenge of an honest duel.”
Tatiana’s eyebrow twitched. Commissary Officer…? Was this man a cook?
“We are from the United Church of God,” the masked individual said, glaring over at Derek. Ethan was on the ground, rolling back and forth and holding his nose. “Do you know the hornet’s nest you just kicked? If you think we don’t have connections to the Federal Police, you’ve got another thing coming. I assume you are in Fretarch’s District? We can make a call within an hour that will have you out of a job.”
The arrogance was truly short-lived and disappeared like a popped bubble. “I… I… grrrrk!”
Derek grunted as his body contorted again, making him lean abruptly backward. A plasma slug from a pistol shot up, missing his head by inches. Slowly, he turned his head and looked down at Ethan, who was looking up at him with a face that was glee rapidly turning to shock and horror.
Derek and Ethan’s gazes locked. Derek seemed mostly puzzled, but Tatiana didn’t really have the angle to see the full expression on his face. But Ethan’s quickly became flooded with dread.
Finally, with surprising abruptness, Derek turned and power walked quickly away, not glancing back. The robed figure stepped forward to Ethan, checked on him, then seemed to be intending to follow Derek when Baloo stepped forward.
“Probably enough violence for today, right?” Baloo said, his voice soft. But instantly, the posture of the robed figures stopped in their tracks. Perhaps, whoever that was, they heard it too. That below that innocuous question was a threat.
And especially after so recently being foiled by the random cook, the robed man hesitated.
Then Baloo turned to Adrea. “For someone who doesn’t want to kill, your friend sure fires a lot of guns.”
And then he turned and walked away. After a brief hesitation, as she watched Adrea going to Ethan’s side to dab at his bloody nose, Tatiana followed after Baloo.