[Pre-Episode Three] Unionize

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Pancakei

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Bivona
Northern Wastes
5 Hours following the events of Reprise


The icy wind of the Northern Wastes howled like a banshee, cutting through the frozen trees as three figures trod slowly through the thick snow- laden with the frustration of defeat. Though the sun had risen to its highest point, it was entirely missing from the sky in this specially frozen hell- its effects null.

The youngest of the three pulled down on their black hood with greenish hands, stubby claws poking into the silver lining of the ill-equipped garment. “First those schmucks, now this,” Clef bewailed, “this cold is not helping my damned shoulder ya know.”

The oldest of the three, who had at least thought to bring a scarf, scowled. “It was a minor setback, we know who Romulus Aurum is affiliating himself with- for now.” Her voice was tired and clearly annoyed.

Clef threw his chill-bitten hands out, wishing he could spit right now. MINOR setback?? We got our asses handed to us on a silver platter!” The normally speedy member of the group trudged through the snow, the exposed hole in his left boot leaving it ineffective against the cold. Agatha grunted, adjusting her silvery scarf with half a mind to slap Clef. “Maybe you should have focused on your job, because now your shoulder is the least of your worries. Instead you got served by a child.

Clef was outraged. “You didn’t even SEE the feral brat! I’m telling you they had some kind of weird mambo jumbo going on in that place. What about that ‘keybot’ and the toothpick that laid you out?” Agatha turned her head away as Clef grumbled harshly. His entirely yellow eyes looked ahead at the so far silent member of the trio. The goblinesque man threw a hand out. “Are you going to back me up here or what??”

The third completely ignored the request, gazing up as they strode forth with their scanner in hand. Despite being the least-clad of the three, the reflective bodysuit they wore was insulated for extremes the others could only imagine. Gallo poked a finger up, motioning at the icicle-like trees. “These trees, they’re not made for this kind of weather. Not even moderate ice. It looks like deciduous trees that have been… placed here.”

Clef growled. “I’m not built for this weather either.” Agatha huffed as she glanced at the frozen canopy, like a valley of spikes among the heavy weather. “What do the trees have with our mission?”

Gallo peered at the narrowing mountain trail ahead, spotting the derelict remnants of something livable ahead. He turned to the other two, peering at the radiation monitor. “It means we’re on the right track.”

The three fell under silence, partly due to being too chilled to even bicker as they trudged towards a large set of black doors bored directly into the mountainside. They had an ornate nature, with impressive masonry and wrought iron handles. “The intense signatures are focused around this point,” Gallo commented as he rattled the locked door, “If we cannot bring our superiors Romulus, we can certainly bring them whatever he’s been up to here.”

Gallo pressed an ear against the door. "I hear something."

Peering at Gallo as he fiddled with the lock, Agatha huffed and brought forth her heavy gauntlet. “Stand down.”


---

Alipier Observatory
Nave


Situated at the end of the warmly-lit observatory stood a one-winged figure, gazing out into the frosty abyss that clung to the recently repaired windows surrounding a piece of astronomical equipment that had been hastily covered with yellow tape. Hanging overhead was a cascade of blue and yellow flags signifying a land the likes of which the woman had hardly seen. The signs of the Downriders intrusion and arson had been mostly concealed, or in some way played to their advantage, but there were still some things that couldn’t be completed in time. That was just the way the work of-

“Hey heeey!” came a cheery voice from across the Nave in an alien tongue. Captain Bryce Arvero of the Arcandum Union in the flesh strode towards the woman, prying away a white and teal mask from his face. He wore a heavy black coat not unlike that found on a priest, adorned with teal ribbons used throughout the formal side of the Arcandum Union. More prominently, two large tawny wings were folded behind the man's back. “I tell you what it was a close call with those fixes, but they bought it!” The Captain exclaimed in triumph as he wagged a finger at the woman. "Who would have thought surviving a fire would make this dump more of a big deal."

The woman rolled her one good eye in response, turning to face Bryce who had continued on. “You play the cards right and sometimes things turn out! Thanks for making it on such short notice, couldn’t bother rounding up more locals.” The captain caught himself, giving a small clap as he pointed his metal gauntlet towards the balcony. “You too, Sat. Good work dispatching that hindrance.” From the balcony, the heavy-set sentinel of a robot gave a short wrist flick of a salute, a standard protocol of acceptance among their model.

Alioth still didn’t seem all that interested in this bureaucracy. The marred woman turned to look back at the piece of decrepit machinery. “How exactly does this- help us?”

Arvero clapped. “It’s not about the location, it’s about the image! The court likes what they see, and we’ve got more funding for our little operation here.” The tall man swung to the side, pointing out to the distant sky a s he raised a hand behind Alioth’s back. A swift burning sensation was all the note he needed to drop it. “Out there, there are hundreds of locations just like this- lost and waiting to be brought to the light- our own light! We'll be able to find help for the both of us out there.” As he babbled on, Alioth gazed back in the direction of the Nave entry. Something was brewing. “So this is the other half of the Union… Just some cover play?”

Arvero scrunched his brows as he flopped his organic hand back and forth. “Eeeeeh, it pays the bills and keeps us in good standing while we pivot the narrative towards our next move.” The man turned, looking at Alioth, who kept her gaze fixed on the other side of the nave. “On that note, how goes cracking the big one?”

“I didn’t get far before that call. They're stubborn to their core.” Arvero rubbed his chin, gazing upward. “I imagine. ‘Ferrus’ though, what a legend,” Bryce explained “from what I could dig up between here and the libraries, he was somewhat of a renaissance icon.”

Alioth turned slowly to face the doorway, nodding absentmindedly at Bryce. “But we can go bigger! If these photos Satori took are accurate, you won’t be-lieve what kind of fish barrel of possibility those dolts are walking around with. Quite possibly New Incipere’s most infamous Ba-”

A crash boomed through the hall as the Nave doors were punched wide open, causing Bryce to shriek next to his completely unfazed colleague. He quickly corrected from his one-legged stance, raising his gauntlet. “WHAH??”


At the end of the hall stood three individuals clad in black and silver armor, being projected from devices giving off high levels of Echyllis activity. Clef, Gallo, and Agatha stood in their entry formation, before looking around briefly to gather their bearings. The Hag spoke up, stepping forward in their heavy armor. “WE COME IN SEARCH OF ROMULUS AURUM.”

Bryce let his gaze and chin drop just a bit in mixed frustration and confusion as he glanced at Alioth, who had a flatly annoyed expression. She was still working on understanding this language. It was familiar, but just beyond her grasp. The Captain looked back at the intruders, speaking up in their language. “This is the Arcandum Union, and who in the starless flats are you?”

Agatha raised a fist, speaking with a strained voice. “We are the guardians that stand between two sanctums, two worlds. Those who walk-” Clef rudely interrupted her, speeding up the rest of this diatribe. Looking for the truth, and the great power that shall enable us to transcend these mortal bonds yada yada yada most true firestorm. The Biechelon Collective. If we can make this any faster, we know this guy’s been snooping around here.” Agatha slapped the man into a near faceplant, as Satori descended the staircase behind them quietly.

Arvero spoke up in a burst of anger. “Look pal, I don’t know a Romulus Aurum, and you’re trespassing on a newly-registered heritage site so I suggest you apologize, and wipe your feet.”

Agatha boomed. “If you shall not willingly give us information on his whereabouts here, then we shall be forced to take it from you.” Gallo leaned over and whispered some things to the Hag, which were mostly ignored. After a momentary pause, Bryce Arvero broke out in a laugh that was a mix of genuine humor and slight nerve. “What EVEN IS this?? The Bi-what? Are you more lost kids from Bivona looking for trouble or?”

“So you have seen them!” the Hag commanded. “You are a Fool and a Freak to bear down the name of the Biechelon Collective. Our grasp is beyond your comprehension.”

The Hag stepped forward, looking at the other two. “Apprehend them, then we search.” Bryce quickly glanced back and forth between them and Alioth, formulating a plan of what exactly to do here. He relayed some details, quickly whispering something alien into what remained of her ear. She glanced at the three and their strange devices, nodding as Bryce took a step back. For once today, she smiled off-ly at something. “Lunatics.”


Agatha and Clef both unleashed a battle cry, ready to blow off some steam from their last encounter- even if it may be on some bystanders as Gallo had stated. Clef rushed forth at hand speed, his broken boot clattering against the ground as the other tried to keep up the work.

The fast one jumped, raising a gauntlet-covered fist back to strike Alioth as she equally lunged forward. A purple mesmer enveloped her deformed arm as she raised a hand towards Clef’s neck. The veil tore away at the armor in a split second, allowing the woman to grip Clef’s throat without interference. The speedster choked with a loud 'HYAK' as the momentum of his attack was absorbed by a growing carapace of pink crystal blooming from the Freaks arm and face like a sickly flower. The crystalline growth spread up the arm and around Clef’s neck as he was slung over Alioth’s shoulder.

Clef was slammed against the Nave floor headfirst, the crystal arm shattering as he bounced gracelessly among a shower of sparks and glass shards. Alioth shook off the force of the interaction, twisting her deformed arm back into its vaguely pepper shape. The shield of cracked crystal decayed from her face as she spat out a glob of viscous liquid an unhealthily dark color. Across the Nave, Agatha burrowed her gauntlet into the ground through a rift of orange light, bringing forth a formation of echyllis as she approached. The device on her arm quickly morphed the mass into a spear-like hunk with the appearance of hot steel, sending it twirling downrange at the aggressor.


Alioth stood, turning just enough for the purple growth of an eye to see the incoming projectile. The hunk of steel slowed and began spinning turbulently, coming to a stop a meter away from the Fool and the Freak. The hunk of steel shook violently, twisting and ripping apart as it was reverted to a massless vortex of pink energy. The Freak raised a hand ahead of the mass as it congealed into a ball, thrusting it forward with a swipe. A distorted crack echoed through the hall as the ball rushed forward, taking the shape of a spinning disc spinning towards the Hag at thrice the speed it left.

The blade sliced the top of the Hag’s shoulder armor clean off, barely nicking the elderly witch’s skin as it passed. Agatha screamed something in rage as she shifted to the side, enough to catch a glimpse of the large android behind her. Satori punched their hand forward, grasping the entirety of the Hag’s helmet in its grasp as it continued its path. The formed glass of the helmet cracked lightly as the heaviest of the trio was sent to the ground in a brawl, striking back against the Arcadian machine.

The punch bent Satori’s neck around, prompting the machine to dislocate its entire shoulder in a spinning maneuver. The spin manifested in a high-velocity punch, the metal fist crumpling the side of Hag's armor as she was knocked to the ground. “Useless bolts,” the Hag scowled as they tried to rise to their feet. Satori’s rotation stopped as they laid their first against the opponent's chest. A released railgun pointed straight into the Hag’s chestplate, loaded with a black metal slab that could easily split the woman in two.


Clef scrambled to his senses, grasping his exposed throat in panic. He coughed violently, not realizing until he spat up a chunk of bloody purple glass that half his helmet was missing too. “F-fuck this.” It was happening again.

Clef rose to a defensive stance, drawing a small machine pistol to point at the Freak. The Fool intercepted with their own firearm pointed at his exposed head, a hefty black hammerless revolver chambered with what appeared to be shotgun slugs.Ah-ah. It’s rude to draw a gun in a church, you know.”

The yellow-eyed man looked at the gun and the man behind it, slowly lowering his own. RUDE?? You-” Before he was given a chance to finish the statement, Alioth grabbed the bottom corner of his chestplate. With a single heave, the angular plate was cleaved from the rest of the armor, knocking Clef in the chin on its way up. The disarmed Clef hit the floor, a trail of blood and a dislodged tooth following him.

Alioth stopped for a moment to look briefly upon the blood. She rose, feeling a sensation crawl in her neck. The Freak turned, staring into a particularly empty side of the Nave. Alioth clenched her gloved hand into a claw, raising it into the air. The motion was mirrored down the Nave, a curved pillar of crystalline echyllis thrusting into the air. With a clang, a veiled polearm was knocked away and sent rolling down the hall. Moments later, the user of the polearm revealed themselves willingly, trapped in place by the crystal not far from the others. The expression on Gallo's face reflected something of genuine horror, like he had witnessed something the others couldn’t.

Clef was bleeding, armor dissipating quickly as he tried to find a missing tooth. The Hag had been overpowered and was in custody. The entire plan had gone south in about fourty seconds, hardly enough time to plan a power move. Gallo stood straight, deactivating what armor he had as he extended a hand. “Perhaps we should reconsider our negotiations.”

Alioth stared blankly at Gallo’s gloved hand, looking briefly back at Bryce. “Sounds like a deal,” the Captain said confidently. Alioth accepted the truce stiffly, the blood of Clef and a dark black liquid squeezed between the two hands.


---


The trio of intruders were left in a pitiful pile, now enforced by Satori and a pair of Gargoyles. The Hag, who’s Driver had been disabled in the drag over, made a spiteful comment towards the other two.”Morons.” “Hag." "Calm, you two." The three had been damasked proper, revealing a rowdy looking black-haired man with greenish-grey skin, four yellow eyes, and a slightly sharp underbite, an older lady with a fit body but sagging eyes and grey hair, and a middle-aged man with dark skin and well-kept stubble of ever so slightly greyed hair.

Bryce Arvero walked in front of the intruders-turned-hostages, clapping his hands together. “Alright, let's start from the beginning. What is it you’re breaking into places looking for?”

The Hag began to speak, but Gallo promptly cut her off with a sharp gaze. It was a time for level-headedness. “We are searching for a man named Romulus Aurum, middle-aged, blonde hair, tanned skin and green eyes. He is wanted for many crimes against both our organization and local authorities. We last encountered him south of this place where he resisted arrest.”

Bryce rubbed his hands, leaving Alioth to stare confusedly at the blood on her arm. “It’s true that I do deal with convicts from time to time, they’re easy labor. I’ve never heard of this golden man though. Sounds like a swell guy.”

Gallo nodded shallowly, thinking for a moment. “He was last seen a few hours ago, tailing with a group proclaiming themselves as the Downrider Expedition. His alliance with them is likely shaky, but we have reason to believe he may have been here with them."

Bryce’s face lit up upon hearing those familiar words. Opportunity. Bryce swung around, his face paled with concern. “The Downriders? He’s riding with them?Gallo gazed up at the winged man. “Yes. Do you know anything about them?”

Bryce pointed at the three wearily. “I know too much and too little. Those heathens came in here uninvited hours ago, this sanctum of religion, and tried to burn it to the ground!” He pumped up the drama, pointing down the hall to the scorched black staircase. “You can see the mess they made back there! We nearly lost this place trying to fight the flame.”

The three looked back at the damage with varying levels of concern. Clef rolled all four of his eyes, Gallo at the very least was sympathetic towards the cause, but Agatha seemed almost taken aback by the statement. “Burning a church…”

Gallo tried to steer the conversation back on track. “I am… sorry, for your losses. Do you know anything of their whereabouts?”

Bryce Arvero laid the back of his hand against his absolutely tearless eye. “Unfortunately no. Satori last captured video of them leaving southbound from the mountain, where I guess he met you all.”

Gallo nodded, frustrated at the lack of leads but thankful to not be equally beaten to a pulp by the captors. Bryce Arvero rubbed his chin. “But I tell you what, I am a friend of authorities everywhere.”

The winged man turned to face the now-acting leader of the group. “And I see no reason why that shouldn’t include you.” The Captain stretched out a hand. “We got off to a bad start. I am willing to abandon our past indiscretions if you are, but I need some names.”

Gallo looked briefly at the other two, seeing the Hag waving her hand in frustration and Clef too busy staunching his bloody nose. The man of science gripped the hand, giving it a firm shake. “Very well. I am Gallo, this is Agatha and Clef.”

Bryce smiled, satisfied with the shake. “Right then, my name is Captain Bryce Avero,” he turned to motion at the indifferent woman behind him, “this is Alioth,” and then back to the hulking machine standing at attention behind the trio, “and that is Satori, all of the Arcandum Union.” Alioth glanced at the man, still trying to put together why her blood was not the same color as… theirs. "Ai ca."

Gallo nodded. “I’ve heard vague rumors about the Union from our research in Bivona. If you don’t mind me asking, you seem a little… heavily armed for a restoration committee.”

Bryce chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “You meet a lot of danger digging around the places we have to, and we do a lot more than just restore. I’m sure you’ve heard things about a place called… Arcadia. What’s the deal with this Biwhatchet Collective?”

Agatha spoke up, Gallo permitting. “We have heard the legends. We are a small part of something much larger, searching the universe for the ultimate source of power left behind by our founders. Romulus is a part of that search.” Bryce rubbed his chin accordingly. “Riiiight. Well, I believe our motives may be slightly intertwined. Those Downrider folk are up to no good, I tell you. Got a lot of high profile fugitives running with them, and they’re chasing a little more than just legends.” Arvero rolled out a sheet of glassy material slickly from his sleeve, upon which photographs taken from the prior nights encounter rolled.

The man clapped, turning to face the three. “But so are we. Tell you what- I have resources, you have resources, we can work this out together.” Gallo briefly looked out the window at the blizzard, and then back to the offer on the table. “Our… higher ups usually do not approve of outside connections.”

Bryce chuckled, flopping his hand down. “Don’t worry about it! We can keep it between us for now, and I’ve been told I’m very persuasive. Consider it a little olive branch for now.”

Gallo, Agatha, and Clef talked amongst themselves for a moment, eventually coming to an agreement. Agatha spoke, calmed slightly. “Your offer seems fair, given these circumstances.” Clef broke in, trying to get used to talking with a freshly missing tooth. “Whah’s the catsh, man?”

Bryce Arvero pointed at Clef with a sly look, chuckling. “I have only one request.”

Gallo looked at the man, squinting. “What is it?”

Bryce tapped his metal gauntlet prospectively. “I want to get a hold on of one of those little devices you’re toting around. In exchange we keep communication and tabs with one another. I let you know what I see, you let me know what you see. Deal?

The Trio looked at one another, then at Bryce, Alioth, Satori, and back to themselves. In unison, “Deal.”
 
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