Some stories begin long before they are written. They are part of something bigger than the characters and the roles that they are destined to play––divinities already know how the pieces fall; mere actors are their only form of entertainment.
Just centuries ago, magic had still flourished. It had wrapped the Earth in its veil and graced nearly every creature. Since humans came into existence they were gifted the ability to communicate with this force and command it with simple asks––or spells if you rather. Of course, this magic, being a force of its own (living in some abstract way) had a will of its own and could decide accordingly how it would respond to requests. Those who were weak-willed were easy to ignore while those with more grit were harder to shut out. So while every human had the potential to command this force, few had mastered the language and their own will to effectively manipulate its power. Those who did choose to form a relationship with magic were held in high-esteem––often invited to advise leaders.
And for centuries, humans used magic with care––understanding the relationship was sacred and not something to be abused. But jealousy, envy, greed, often drive humans to an insatiable lust for power. Some believed there was more to magic than using it cast spells and petty charms. Some wanted to push the known boundaries without consulting with Consequence.
These fringe, occult groups existed at first in unconcerning numbers. They started as bands of rogue magicians who hadn’t been successful advisors or particularly good healers but felt there was more to magic than what was being explored. Sorcerers laughed at these failed wizards and called them desperate, delusional frauds who needed to understand they just weren’t suited for magic.
Maybe if the sorcerers hadn’t laughed, maybe then they would have seen the blooming threat in front of them—because these groups were serious regardless of wether or not they were being taken seriously. Their beliefs were stronger than the hegemony that demanded sameness and since they had been left unchecked, their influence grew and with it so did their numbers. More than that––they were right. Magic had more properties than was being taught in ivory schools and they were determined to find its limits.
One of these occult groups, overzealous, almost succeeded in finding this maximum and with it, ending the world as it was known. This particular group realized that magic could do more than just create simple objects, project pathways of possibilities, cure ailments––it could be used to bring forth the cruelest monsters the human mind could imagine...
...blah blah blah prophecy... dun dun dun...
- Occult group forms; desires power and tries to awaken an eldritch monster to do their bidding (have nations bow to their power, you know the deal)
- Two lower level members of the group discover what is happening and are like "this is pretty fucked up..."
- Coincidentally, they're the two meant to stop the occult group––according to the prophecies
- Though despite close connection, one senses betrayal and kills the other
- As a result, they only put a half stop to the apocalypse; they do enough to sabotage the plans but not enough to stop the group from reforming
- And prophecies, while true, seem to have a way of playing out the way the way they want to, not the way they're expected
- So it's years later, centuries have passed and the occult group, what remains, has pieced itself back together and rebranded as mafia
- Now they're preparing to attempt to awaken the beast again and the same heroes are back!
- Er, well, sort of... They're reincarnated with no memory of their first life together (and maybe that's for the better)
- And perhaps to mirror the paths of their old souls, they find themselves working in the belly of beast...
It should have been a simple job. When distilled to their bare essentials, all of them were, really-- it was always either 'kill some poor fucker,' 'take someone's stuff' or some combination of both. Monothematical? Maybe so, but Inna liked it that way, dammit. Like, not everyone was interested in 'dynamic workplaces' or 'expanding one's horizons,' or whatever the fuck the newest corporate catchphrase was. No, thanks. Everyone knew those were just fancy euphemisms for doing literally everything for subpar pay, and she wasn't about that life. Nah, Inna was a professional. You know, a person with a semblance of self-respect? Someone who had done the same thing over and over, until they had reached the point of perfection? Yeah, exactly that. So, theoretically, she should have earned the privilege of not being blindsided by nasty surprises anymore. As in, nothing could possibly shock her now, right? Right? ...or so she had thought, anyway. Until, like, five seconds ago.
"Uhh... Could you repeat that?" Inna quirked her eyebrow. She and her companion were sitting in some anonymous, shady-looking bar (because, of fucking course they were) and the expression she wore was one of utter disgust. "...'cause I'm pretty damn sure I must have misheard, Chett." Why did they keep meeting in places like that again? The music sucked, the alcohol was way too expensive for the pisswater it was, and, most importantly, she could only understand about every other word the man said. Honestly, fuck this bullshit. Could they not afford a nice conference room or something? Given that the boss enjoyed an exotic vacation, like, every month, Inna was reasonably sure that they could. That would have gone against the image they were trying to cultivate, though, so tough luck. Jesus Christ, how she hated that sort of posturing!
"Clean your ears, Inna," Chett rolled his eyes. "You're way too young for these excuses. But anyway," he took a sip from his glass, "you're to retrieve a certain something. The security is going to be top-notch, so..."
"Yeah, yeah," the woman waved her hand dismissively. "I heard that, loud and clear. That's not what I'm asking about, though." Blah, blah, break into a snobby mansion, blah, blah, take some stupid artifact, blah, blah, don't let anyone see you and kill those who do. Nah, nothing surprising there.
"Oh," he grinned. "I see. Well, if it's about Liora, then you're shit out of luck, mate. You're working with her this time."
"But why?!" Inna exploded. She, uh, also may have spilled her drink in the process, but that was the last thing on her mind. No, the prospect of having to work with the bitch overshadowed everything else quite effectively! "Chett, you can't be fucking serious. I've never once caused you trouble in my entire life--" (the man looked doubtful at that assertion, though he said nothing of it) "--and this is how you repay me? Do you want us to kill each other, huh? Because I guarantee you that's exactly what will happen." Since, yeah, to say that the women didn't get along would have been the understatement of the century. They mixed together about as well as bleach and ammonia, and one everyone had kind of respected the old adage about not putting those two substances together, but apparently common sense just wasn't fashionable anymore. Ugh. "No, really, it'll be such a shitshow. You can't-- ouch!" Inna looked at him in disbelief. "Did you just fucking kick me under the table? Real mature, Chett. Real mature!"
"Not as mature as refusing to do your job," he snapped. "Look, these are direct orders, so you're going to swallow whatever petty grudge you have and work with her. She's good, okay? And what you're stealing this time is important, so we absolutely can't have anything go wrong. Heads will roll, Inna. Want yours to be the first one?"
Ah, so they were back to threats now? Classy. Inna stared at him, and for a moment, it looked as if she was ready to spit in his face-- and honestly, she was just inches away from doing so. Then she remembered that she kind of enjoyed, being alive, though, and so she didn't. Fuck. Why did shit have to suck so fucking much? Clearly, gods were out to get her.
"Fiiiine," she finally said, royally annoyed. "Fine, I'll do it. Just this one job, though. And when things do go to hell, remember I warned you!"
Not even alcohol seemed appealing after that sort of revelation, so Inna left some cash on the table and excused herself. Eh. No point in postponing the inevitable, is there? And so, the second she emerged outside and could actually hear her own thoughts, Inna pulled out her phone. Had she even saved Liora's number? ...oh, she had. Shit. Not having it would have been a damn fine excuse not to contact her, but too bad. Taking a deep breath, the blonde dialed her number.
"Hey, love!" Inna greeted her with the fake cheer she only reserved for the people she hated the most. You know, the kind of sweetness that rotted your teeth. "I assume you heard the news? You must be so overjoyed to finally be working with me-- I can even give you an autograph later, if you're nice enough. So, wanna meet up and discuss the strategy?" Since, yeah, this was a job, as much as she hated it. On some level, Inna did intend to take it seriously.
Liora had received the news only hours prior and had been about as pleased as her assigned partner when she heard––though she had handled it with less theatrics than were currently being displayed at some dive-bar at the edge of the city. Which was impressive given her hostility towards that woman was infamous and on more than one occasion the two had gone for each other’s throats (figuratively... literally).
Actually, when the impact of her new circumstances settled, Liora had been momentarily fearful it was a set up and that her cover had been blown. She was right to be cautious, because at any moment she could be discovered; she knew better than to feel any semblance of security while working on her own––she knew she could never be too careful. But the more she thought about it, she realized she didn’t actually have reason to suspect they had caught her. It had mainly been a hope; at least in that scenario she wouldn’t actually have to put her trust into someone she found so suspicious (and that was saying something considering the line of work). So she accepted the legitimacy of the mission and the new torture of having to work with someone who she despised.
Though unlike Inna, she was in no rush to get started. While just as diligent with her work (both working for the Falcone crime family and her reconnaissance), she didn’t think it would make a difference whether they started tonight or in the morning. So if she could put it off, why wouldn’t she?
With no plans to go out, she settled for the evening in the same way she had everyday since infiltrating the Falcone crime family: by documenting as many details of her day that she could remember.
Her involvement with the crime organization was for personal gain and not in the way one might assume. It was her personal mission to prove to her mother that it had been a mistake to blacklist her application to the spy agency. After all, what was the point of having a mother near the damn top of the ladder if she was going to consistently punch you down? Liora had apparently been foolish to think she had her mother's nepotism working on her side.
Scorned, resentful, Liora had long since cut contact with her mother and even went so far as to create a new identity that her mother wouldn't be able to find. The rejection though never got in the way of her ambition. It only added more fuel. Now she couldn’t just prove herself in any small way––she had to do something noteworthy like single-handedly take down a powerful crime family like the Falcones. Through the years, she'd managed to gain valuable insight while also earning the respect of other members and had become as legitimate (seeming) a member as any other––like Inna.
Just as she finished writing out the last details of her conversation with Chett, her phone started to buzz and an unsaved number lit up her screen. She sighed. The number might not have been saved, but that didn’t mean Liora had not committed it to memory (as she had done with other members of the organization). She debated ignoring the call and even going the extra mile to forward the call to voicemail, but ultimately decided it was best to just rip off this bandaid.
The regret was immediate, the disgust palpable even through the phone.
“Cut the bullshit, Inna,” She said the other’s name like it were poison. “You don't need to be such an insufferable twat.”
Honestly, the last thing Liora wanted to do was strategize, but she also didn't want to seem negligent and give Inna more fuel against her. There was a short pause before she conceded in a grumble, “Don’t let the neighbors see you come up; the building code is 5308... Let’s just get this fucking over with, I guess.”
If Inna was going to protest or try to change the plans, Liora was too quick on ending the call to hear anymore of the woman than she absolutely had to. And while it did occur to her that she hadn’t given the other her address, it also occurred to the her that she didn’t care. If Inna were smart she would figure it out and whether or not she would ever say it aloud, she didn’t think Inna was completely useless.
And it was probably that being not completely useless that had the don pairing them together. Again, whether or not she would let on that she thought this, she knew Inna could be trusted to do a job well. They both could be and clearly their combined competence was more important to the don than their mutual disgust. Fine. Besides, Liora wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to learn more about just what this organization was doing––at least she could get something out of this.
While waiting for the other to arrive, she started a small single serving pot of coffee and locked away her journal, making sure nothing else was out that could blow her cover. Perhaps it wasn't wise to invite Inna over, but Liora figured it beat one of the dive-bars she was all too familiar with. Besides, her apartment was relatively unassuming and it wasn't hard to avoid being spotted. She really only needed to worry about the blonde trying something.
So when she heard the other at her door, she slipped a knife into her pocket.
Without pause, the motion of opening the door and starting the conversation blurred into a single action, “This could have waited until the morning,” she stepped aside to let the other in, not wanting to turn her back on the blonde. She continued, “But I guess you aren’t too keen on beauty sleep.”
She took a sip of her coffee, not bothering to offer Inna any because, well, there wasn’t any for her. Liora did not plan on being hospitable or making this easy. Why should she? Perhaps, for the duration of this assignment she could make a nice home underneath Inna’s skin.
“I already had Benes pull some schematics of the place. Have you seen them yet?”
Ugh. As pleasant as ever, really! Didn't she ever get tired of this attitude? Because Inna sure as hell was getting tired, and the conversation had barely begun. (Couldn't have Chett, like, arranged for her to work with a poisonous snake or something instead? That prospect seemed much more appealing in comparison.) "Bullshit? But baby, I'm just being nice," Inna continued, speaking with all the sincerity of a telemarketer who had been trying to sell one fucking knife for the past six hours. A weird analogy, maybe, but she felt similarly dead inside, so, you know. It fit. "Since we're supposed to be burying the hatchet and everything. Why so antagonistic, honey?" ...which may have come off as way more honest had she actually used Liora's name-- except that Inna had never done that. Not in front of the woman herself, anyway. It just... felt too intimate for some reason, okay? And she definitely wasn't interested in ever being intimate with her, aside from maybe holding her hair as she bashed her skull against some wall. Until then, though? Nicknames it was!
"Sure thing, ma'am. See you in about... fifteen minutes, I guess." Because, yeah, Inna already knew where Liora lived. She, uh, may have researched it in advance, for reasons. You know that adage about keeping your friends close, but enemies closer? Liora was both, kind of, and so she had felt it necessary to gather some intel about her. Not because she was interested in her, of course-- pffft, what an absurd notion. Just in case! And that paranoia paid off, too, since now she didn't have to waste time asking around. (It also meant that she had no fucking excuse to postpone the visit, though. Damn. You win some, you lose some, Inna guessed. Oh well. At least they could get this over with quickly? Unless they got into a knife fight ot something, which was always a distinct possibility with Liora.)
At any rate, the journey wasn't too eventful, and soon enough, Inna found herself standing exactly where she wanted to be the least-- at Liora's doorstep. Here we fucking go, the blonde thought. And, as always, Liora didn't disappoint. (In a way, it was almost impressive. Like, how did one person manage to be this uptight 24/7? Did she have a ruler instead of a spine? Inna would have loved to find out, but for some backwards reason, cutting a bitch open wasn't considered to be an appropriate behavior among coworkers. Oh well! Maybe later, once one of them inevitably switched allegiances. Something about patience being a virtue and shit.)
"Uhh, and why would I be? I am beautiful already," Inna pointed out. She didn't even have the decency to blush-- it was true, and she knew it. Only insecure dumbasses denied the obvious, probably in hopes of extracting compliments from their unlucky conversation partners. "Being even prettier would only draw undue attention to me. Not good for our cause, eh?"
Liora, ever the picture of hospitality, didn't bother to invite her inside, but she didn't have to-- nah, Inna invited herself. She sat on the closest couch, too, and put her feet on the table. What? Liora hadn't explicitly forbidden that kind of thing, so obviously, this was okay. (And maybe, maybe she also enjoyed riling her up. Heh.)
"I have," Inna nodded. "Seems like a pretty standard job to me, to be honest. Not sure why both of us need to be involved, but here we fucking are." At this point, it wouldn't surprise her if it was just Chett's sadism-- some type of 'hurr, durr, dance for me, my puppets!' power trip. Maybe he even had hidden cameras set up and shit. "Anyway," the blonde reached after her device and projected the building plan into the air holographically, "that balcony here looks pretty fucking promising to me. You could probably reach it comfortably from that one neighboring house, which has no security whatsoever. You and... your team, I guess," somehow, the rather neutral word 'team' sounded more like 'a bunch of useless idiots' from her lips, "can watch my back while I do the heavy lifting. Wouldn't want you to get hurt, love." ...what? She was being incredibly diplomatic here! Expressing concern for one's coworker's well-being was just good manners, really.
“Gods, you sure are full of yourself––do you ever topple over when you run?”
If Inna were already getting tired of Liora’s attitude (re: personality), then she should have imagined how the raven haired woman felt. It was like an impossible combination of kneeling on glass and swallowing water when drowning. She wanted it to end, but something told her there was no escaping Inna.
While the blonde made herself at home, she took a private moment as she closed the door to take a sharp, albeit deep breath. When she turned around she was not pleased that there were feet on the table––even if Liora did not particularly care about her living space (which showed itself in its rather barren appearance; the walls were the same white they had been when she first signed the lease and the furniture was minimal. It wasn’t even minimal in an aesthetic minimalist kind of way––it was plain bleak, lacking any sense of personality. The place really only had the bare essentials. The TV was probably the only decoration she had and it was, in fact, decoration since she had never connected it to power. Sometimes, Liora made it too easy for others to forget that she was not, actually, an alien masquerading as what they thought a human was.)
With another deep breath she walked over to the hologram (taking care to kick the coffee table from under Inna’s feet in the process). At least the blonde was taking this assignment seriously. Though it did annoy Liora that they clearly had been devising a similar plan––it would have been nice to make Inna look stupid (obviously, she assumed if she had had a different plan in mind that it would have been better by virtue of her touch).
“Wait a goddamn minute,” she said as she listened to the rest of what the blonde had in mind. It would be over Liora’s dead body (or perhaps Inna’s, given her upcycled soul’s track record) that she would let Inna of all people take all the credit for this assignment. “If you think I’m going to sit on the sidelines and watch you play robber, you clearly must be feeling ill and should be taken off the assignment.”
Do not smack her, Liora. Do not. Do that.
It’s not even worth it.
She clenched her jaw, coal eyes burning––it was obvious that the insults were coming out of her eyes even if she wouldn’t say them. For the sake of teamwork. Or whatever.
“Like it or not, if you were good enough to be doing this job on your own you wouldn’t be working with me.” It was an insult that went both ways––which is to say, it was the closest thing to nice Inna would ever bear witness to. “If you could do us both a favor and get that through your dense skull, that would be great. I’d personally like to finish this job before working with you kills me.” (A bold statement coming from someone who had, once upon a time, killed Inna).
With that, she set her coffee down on the table and squinted over the hologram; she was still standing because the only other option would have been to sit next to Inna and that was out of the question. Also, she was not particularly tall, only a few inches over five foot, and standing gave her a better vantage point anyway. It was a good excuse.
“The balcony is the only viable entry point,” she admitted. “We can enter through there… But if your plan is to just waltz through the house looking for the artifact––” (Why didn’t anyone tell them what this artifact was? Why wasn’t there a picture of it? Why was Chett so useless when he said ‘You’ll know it what you see it.’) “––then you clearly did not look closely.”
She waved her hand through the hologram, watched as it pulled up the details of the security inside. Typical lasers on the floor, at waist level, pretty much covering the interior. Though… Liora wouldn’t necessarily have said it was the most difficult security to get through. Actually, though it was certainly top-notch security it was still relatively standard. Naturally, she assumed there was more than meets the eye to this––but if she found out this was some banal test to prove that she and Inna were capable of working together she would turn them all in the very next morning. “It won’t be an issue for Mel to cut the laser show, but we still don’t know what we’re even looking for specifically and…” She paused.
“There’s something else we’re not seeing.” She would never ask Inna for her opinion, but this was as close as she would get to extending that invitation.
"Wow, aggressive much?" Inna raised her eyebrow when the other woman kicked the table from under her feet. Just, what fuck, man. Not cool. Not cool at all! (And that her actions had specifically been taken to annoy the hell out of Liora? Irrelevant. Little Miss 'Always-Better-Than-You' obviously should have been the bigger person here-- that was, like, her entire shtick. 'Oooh, look at how special I am! My name is Liora and I don't get blackout drunk before a job,' Inna impersonated her in her head. ...which, yeah, not the most mature thing to do, but she had to entertain herself somehow, and clearly Liora wasn't going to help with that. Ugh, people these days! So unbelievably rude.) "Have you considered anger management therapy? I can't really recommend a therapist to you since, uhhh, I'm actually a stable person, but I can pray for you!" the blonde beamed at her, about as genuine as the average motivational quote.
That smile of hers soured pretty fast, though, when Liora delivered the (spot-on) evaluation of her abilities. Like??? Had anyone asked her for feedback? Inna also didn't go around offering her opinions on, say, the dreadful state of her home decor. Besides, since when did they have to drag reality into this? How fucking trite. Everyone knew that facts only got in the way of fun, and this world was too bleak even without people actively undermining her, uh, improved narratives. (Some called them 'delusions', but guess what? Those people could go fuck themselves. A bunch of morons with no imagination!)
"Well," she pursed her lips, clearly offended, "did you ask them for the reason? Maybe they just wanted you to watch an actual professional at work. You know, so that you may learn something." It was a weak attempt and Inna knew it, but convincing Liora of her truth had never been the point here anyway. Nah, the point was to annoy her, and that should work out just fine. In fact, the stupider her comment, the more explosive her reaction! The best system in the world, really. She'd just turn her brain off, and watch Liora destroy herself. How long till she burst a blood vessel or something? Not too long, hopefully. If Inna got lucky enough, she'd die of heart attack, and then she could actually work with normal people again! Ah, sweet dreams.
Still, when Liora started talking about their plans, Inna's expression did grow somewhat more serious-- this was a job, after all. "Well," she shrugged, "I dunno what you're envisioning here. It's a robbery, not a chess tournament. Of course we're going to waltz in there, take their stuff and leave. That's the fucking point, isn't it? The security stuff is just a detail." Yeah, that Chett had refused to provide some actual info as opposed to mysterious hints did suck, but Inna saw no real advantage in trying to decipher his nonsense. Since, you know, they would literally be reduced to guessing? It could be anything, too, so their probability of success would be abysmally low.
Anyway, yeah, there were lasers. So what? Inna had dealt with lasers countless times before, and she still had all of her limbs. Big deal! Hmm... Maybe it wouldn't hurt to think about this more in-depth, though. Wasn't that why she had come in the first place? Like, yeah, antagonizing Liora was a large part of the appeal, but still. Perhaps actually working for a second wouldn't hurt!
"You cannot see it because you're looking for all the wrong things," the blonde said. "The asshole is living in a pretentious mansion. Do you think he's in love with modern technology? Nah, he's fetishizing the past, I'm telling you. That's why the sensors aren't picking up on anything-- you can't detect what doesn't exist. It's a shock he even bothered to install the lasers, really. No, I think we need to look for something more old-fashioned. Something... something..." Inna trailed off, apparently deeply immersed in thought. If she was a wannabe pyramid architect, what kind of trap would she use? False floors with spikes? Nah, the sensors would detect that shit within five seconds. Okay, let's go for a different approach here. What would fly past them?
And then, as she stared both at the hologram and various photographs floating around it in a slideshow, it hit her. "Look here. Do you see the terrarium with the frogs? Those are pretty fucking poisonous, and I bet he's not keeping them around just 'cause they're cute. Nah, love. He's utilizing them somehow."
It occurred to Liora that at any moment, she could just stab Inna. At any moment. Though she wouldn’t act on it (at least not yet), the thought was comforting and seemed to sooth whatever agitation she was currently feeling. Simply knowing it was an option gave her some ease. Technically, this would not even be the first time Liora had thought about killing the other; there had been other occurrences––dreams even (but those usually had her waking up in cold sweat)–– and she found it was an effective coping strategy against actually acting on the impulse. Inna should thank her really.
She ignored the blonde’s anger management suggestion. She didn’t (think she) need(ed) it. She was in complete charge of her emotions––a captain of her soul.
Anyway, it was all worth it when she realized she had successfully struck a nerve and offended the other––her smile, which only just pulled at the corner of her lips, was unlike the blonde’s in that it was genuine. Unfortunately, not for the right reasons. Double unfortunate was this sort of behavior was not reserved solely for the blonde; she wore this mask at all times. It certainly had earned her the rightful reputation as a bitch, but her work ethic and success at least promoted her to efficient bitch. So the boss couldn’t complain.
“When I want to become a high-functioning alcoholic, I will let you know.” The woman rolled her eyes at the suggestion she was the one who needed the extra professional development. It did amaze her that one person could be filled with such arrogance (as if she herself weren’t cut from that same cloth).
“I’m beginning to think, if this is how you always strategize your assignments, maybe it isn’t me that they want taking notes from the professional.” It was hard for her to resist giving into the childish bickering. There had always been something about the other that caused her to care so much she actively hated the other and rooted for her demise. It would have been easier to be indifferent, but no. Liora was bent on spending this energy on fruitless fighting.
When Inna actually did start to say things that were intelligent and relevant to their mission, Liora’s demeanor shifted into a veneer of absolute professionalism (versus the prior, petty professionalism). While she was committed to making this mission as difficult as possible for Inna, specifically, she was still committed to completing it and seeing it through. After all, she was curious what they were getting and what it would be used for––if it had a use beyond being mysterious and highly valuable.
As she followed where Inna was leading on the floating diagrams, her brows knitted together. Archaic tech to slip through their modern scanners? That was not something she had considered and, in her defense, maybe she would have if someone had waited to start strategizing until the morning… But that was beside the point now. If the security was supposed to be undetectable to their scanners then it would be something seemingly innocuous like a terrarium of poison frogs to defend the house. Liora hoped frogs were the only thing they had to be concerned about––her mind may have jumped to a scenario involving bullet ants or hornets.
“Poison gas.” She wasn’t 100 percent certain, but it made more sense that this fanatic would turn the poison on the frogs into a gas––more so than unleashing an army of tiny frogs through a super-sized mansion. Gas would spread faster; sure the owner could have slipped in some poison tipped arrows but the arrows would have shown up on the scan. In any case, if she was correct, it didn’t so much matter how the gas could escape or be triggered, but it was useful to know how to prepare. At least they would not be dying via gas as Inna’s brash plan would have certainly ensured. “I’ll get some filters tomorrow.”
She took another look over the pictures, the blueprints of the mansion, and the security intel they had gathered. “Okay. So the team and I,” (it’s implied that Inna falls under the ‘team’ category) “will enter through the balcony; once inside Mel can cut the lasers––the rest of the security system should go down with it. We’ll use the filters in case there is gas and keep an eye out for anything else we should be concerned with.” She paused the hologram back on the 3-D blueprint.
“The mansion is pretty fucking huge and I think that at least gives us the liberty to split the team––I’ll take the basement and west wing, you can take the east wing. We’ll use our comms to stay in touch. Whoever finds the item can shoot Chett in the leg for allowing this shitshow to happen.” The last sentence was a joke, but Liora’s jokes were never that funny and she was not known for having a solid delivery.
"Pfft," Inna shrugged. "Sure, feel free to pretend that plans don't fucking fall apart the second the average job starts. Improvisation is where it's at, love." Excessive planning was also for cowards, and while Inna was many things, she certainly wasn't that. Like??? What was the goddamn point of working for the mafia when you were going to sit down before every single assignment and calculate the odds like some fucking investor, anyway? Nah, mate. Not happening. Clearly, a general outline was needed, but if Liora thought she was going to submit a detailed presentation covering every second of the job from the moment they entered till their glorious exit, she was sorely mistaken. Inna still had some pride left, thank you very much! (Not much of it considering who she was stuck with, but, you know. Just more reasons to protect it vigorously!)
"I guess it can be gas," she nodded. "But I mean, it's not necessarily only that. The fuckers produce a pretty powerful neurotoxin, and just touching it can ruin your day. So, if I were you, I'd wear some hardcore protection-- not just gloves, but goggles, too. A lot of layers in general." In moment like these, when she was too distracted to come up with new insults, it almost, almost looked like they could get along-- except that Inna tended to recover from that state pretty fast. Couldn't destroy her reputation by behaving like a reasonable human being, right? That was so last century. "Keep it in mind, buttercup. Wouldn't want your pretty face to get damaged in the process, huh?" she raised her eyebrow, her lips spreading into her signature smirk. "With it being the one good thing about you and everything." ...had she just complimented her in an incredibly roundabout way? Damn, Inna really was losing her touch. If she wasn't more careful, this would end in a fucking wedding! (Which, awkward. White really wasn't her color, so the photos would look terrible, plus she assumed that stabbing her bride on her wedding day would kind of displease the guests. How closed-minded, right?)
As Liora continued to describe her plan, though, Inna had to admit it was actually... fairly solid. Solid for something Liora had come up with, anyway-- not too convoluted, but also not aimless. Plus, they would be separated for most of the job that way, and that suited her agenda of fucking staying away from the bitch. (What could she say? She was a simple woman, with simple needs. Like, not spending more time than she necessarily had to with someone she hated was pretty mainstream. One would have said it was also pretty reasonable, but nooo, not good enough for Chett! Fucking Chett and his idiotic schemes-- one of these days, she'd break his nose. When she was, uh, less busy. Less busy and way more suicidal.)
"I approve," Inna said. "I mean, you won't really learn much from me that way, but if you're willing to miss out on that... Your call, really." See how considerate she was? Ha, in your face, Chett! 'Not being able to work with other people' her ass. (Clearly, being unwilling to do something and being incapable of it were two very different things. People who weren't complete fucking morons generally understood that, but poor Chett just didn't have that privilege.)
"Oh?" Inna smiled when, perhaps for the first time in her life, she found herself on the same wavelength with Liora-- specifically, when it came to hating Chett. (Had this been some inane plan of his all along? Like, some corny shit about uniting them through giving them a shared enemy? Jeez, man. That only ever worked in cheap action flicks!) "Tempting," she said nonetheless. "But also unrealistic. Posturing aside, we both know that's not fucking happening. Although..." Inna's eyes sparkled, and everyone who knew the first thing about her would recognize that as the giant red flag it was, "we could make it more interesting, if you want. The one who finds it gets to... hmmm, I don't know. Use the other as a slave for one day? That could be fun." It would also promote them trying to sabotage one another over actually looking for the artifact, but so what? Stupid bets were the spice of life! Moreover, if they fucked up spectacularly enough, maybe Chett would actually learn that, duh, pouring oil into fire just wasn't a good way to get things done. Not unless you wanted third-degree burns, anyway. "Unless you're scared," Inna added with a smirk. "Which, understandable. With your skillset, it would make sense." There, that should do it!
Where the blonde was correct that over planning never served anyone, Liora refused to dive head first into a situation without some understanding of what she was stepping into; she felt that was just being practical. Apparently, and not all that surprising, Inna would have rather left everything up to chance; how she had survived as long as she had was beyond her. It was one thing to be adaptable and excel under pressure, it was a complete other thing to be reckless and rely on dumb luck. That was at least the woman’s assessment of her partner’s abilities. Which was a shame, because she could admit (to herself) that the other was smart and she had been decently pleased with the other’s analysis of their mission (after she filtered out the blonde’s snide comments)––imagine how far she could get if she actually applied herself. Like Liora.
Of course, Liora lived in a world where she believed if everyone were more like her there would be no issues or societal ills (one of the sillier lies she had fed herself).
“If you want to show up and just die––fine by me!” She huffed, clearly having reached her limits with Inna. “I would be happy to report to Chett that your incompetence ended up being your own demise; I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised.” Her arms crossed over her chest, hip jutted out to one side like a teenager as she attempted to vaporize the other with her gaze alone; why the fuck was Inna even at her apartment to ‘strategize’ if all she was going to be was unhelpful (ignore the parts where Liora was equally snide and antagonistic). And the compliment didn’t really land with the woman as she knew not to trust Inna and assumed it was disingenuous anyway––in any case, what did she care about her opinion? She didn’t. Not really anyway.
The second the other agreed to her plan, Liora was ready to kick her out of her apartment and was already moving to shove Inna’s device back to her so she would get off her couch and be on her way! But her actions were cut short when she heard the next bit––brow quirked, clearly intrigued and not at all detecting the obvious red flag warning. This was not the direction she had been expecting when she had suggested shooting Chett in the leg––it was supposed to be a joke wager anyway. She had half a mind to tell Inna off, but when she challenged her own talent… Well, Liora couldn’t not accept this ridiculous challenge. The thought of publicly humiliating Inna when she inevitably lost her own bet was a savory image Liora wanted to make reality. (If she had stopped to think beyond her impulses, she might have realized that Inna was successfully manipulating her and if that had occurred to her she would have resisted––but Liora was not as impervious to influence as she liked to think. Inna especially could get away with more than others as Liora was more or less bent on proving that the blonde should be universally despised).
“Fine, whatever––now get the fuck out of my apartment.”
Between the time they had met to strategize and the night they were actually supposed to execute their mission, Liora had admittedly been pouring over the schematics of the house until she had it memorized. There was no way she was going to let Inna win their bet, so yes, she studied as if this were some exam she could ace with preparedness alone.
She had also debated cheating––like showing up earlier and doing the mission solo. Ultimately, though, she decided against it if only because there was a (slim) chance she could fail, proving that Chett was right and Inna was necessary for this assignment…Not to mention her screwing up wouldn’t go over well with Chett or the boss, she was sure of that. That would more or less guarantee her demise and she could only imagine the satisfaction it would give Inna to see Liora in trouble for being reckless. Besides, cheating might have also insinuated she didn’t trust her own skill to beat Inna fairly, and that wouldn’t sit well with the dark haired woman.
At any rate, she had arrived early to the designated meet-up location, which wasn’t out of the ordinary. And while she was going to play this out mostly fairly, she still had some tricks up her sleeve (she was a planner, after all)––one such trick was that she ended up changing the location of the start point. She may have also, conveniently, left the blonde out of that group message. That asshole could figure it out herself if she was so great.
So while Liora didn’t technically start the mission before Inna, she was already on the balcony and the rest of the team (Mel, some guy, and another face she didn’t know or care about) shortly followed. Since she had the team there, she figured she would brief them on the mission again and distribute the comm units as well as “shields.” The shields were merely small button-sized pieces of tech that attached to the user’s clothing and created a lightweight forcefield around the user that was mainly useful against toxins/chemicals.
Now, it was just a matter of waiting for the blonde to figure out Liora had changed the plans.
Meanwhile, Inna had very little reason to care about things such as group chats and changed starting points-- mostly because she also had no intention to actually go along with Liora's dumb plan. Like, why would she risk the possibility of losing when she could, uhhh, not do that? (...what? She worked for the mafia, not fucking girl scouts. If Liora didn't expect at least some creativity from her when it came to interpreting the rules, then she was clearly begging to lose. A subconscious desire to be her slave, maybe? Heh. In that case, Inna would gladly play the genie for her-- you know, since she was so generous and everything. A fucking Messiah figure right there!)
So, in other words, she and her team were standing in front of the mansion a full hour before the agreed time. Not everyone appreciated such innovative methods, though.
"Ummm, you sure this is a good idea, Inna?" Sandra shot her a doubtful glance. "I-- I don't really like this. If this was such a simple job, why would Chett insist on both of you being there? Isn't he always trying to reduce the costs? And now he apparently wants to pay both of you."
...which was a surprisingly sound argument, actually. Not that logic had ever managed to stop Inna, but still! Gotta give the woman her credit. "Now you're gonna base your judgment on Chett's paranoia? C'mon, Sunny, get a grip. But well, I mean, it's not like I'm forcing you to tag along," she shrugged. "You're free to go and forget about your cut."
"Jeez, I was just asking," Sandra rolled her eyes. "You know I wouldn't abandon you like that." That she really did know, though Inna guessed she was more emotionally attached to the idea of all that money rather than, you know, her. Not that she resented her for this, of course-- nah, a girl had to earn her bread somehow. (Or her diamond necklaces, or her new gaming PC, or whatever her heart desired. The same deal, really! Besides, unlike those annoying types who kept goig on and on about honor and brotherhood and higher purpose, Sandra at least was predictable. Promise her a juicy enough paycheck, and boom! She'd kill her own grandmother without batting an eye. Pretty much an ideal employee-- unless, of course, some offered them more.)
After that display, nobody else dared to question her-- which, good. If she had wanted to argue, Inna would have founded a debate club, and while certain members of her little group may not have noticed, that it very much wasn't. And you know what they also weren't? A state based on democractic principles! Nah, this was a dictatorship, which meant that her word was the fucking law. If they didn't like it, they could go, found their little utopia and dance naked in the moonlight, or whatever hippies did these days. Anyway, not under her watch! "Okay, so we're going in," she announced nonchalantly. "Put on your masks, all of you. If I see anyone remove it before we leave the building, I'll shoot you personally, so keep that in mind. No fucking selfies!" Ah, her kindness truly knew no bounds. No, really-- neurotoxins were a giant pain in the ass, to put it mildly, and a bullet between your eyes would be a far more pleasant way to go. This was euthanasia, basically.
Getting to the balcony proved as easy as she had anticipated; it only took a few minutes, really. Andrew then proceed to disable the laser show, and Inna and co. entered the mansion itself. It was, uh, impressive, probably, as long as you cared for old crap. (To think that such people unironically existed! Like, did they miss the times when flu had been a deadly disease? Because that did NOT look like a fun prospect to Inna.)
Anyway, Liora was planning to take the west wing, so obviously that was where they'd go first. It couldn't be too hard to blitzkrieg through it, right? Except that, yeah, it turned out it could. Especially when they had no damn idea what they were looking for! Fuck Chett and his idiotic instructions, really. 'Hurr durr, you'll know it when you see it!' Yeah, right. Maybe she could sneak a bomb somewhere into his obscenely large house and tell him he'd also know where it was when he saw it? Since the explosion would be kind of noticeable. The idea was rather soothing, and probably the only thing that would get her through this miserable, miserable night.
The time sure flew quickly-- way too quickly for her tastes, in truth, given that they had only managed to trigger a couple traps and find exactly nothing of value. (The man seemed to love strange little statouettes, but that couldn't be it, right? Like, Chett wouldn't shell out so much money for something that looked as if a fucking kindergartener had made it.)
Oookay. Maybe it was time for plan B? As in, for strategic retreat? Since if Liora caught her red-handed while trying to cheat, this could turn real embarrassing-- for some reason, people didn't tend to appreciate that sort of thing.
"Alright, so at least we know it's not here? Anyway, let's hightail it out of here before the suckers show up and realize they've been had."
The issue with that was, though, that when she turned around, the other woman was already there. Probably had been there for a while, in fact. Fuck.
"Ooh, fancy meeting you here, love!" Inna beamed despite wanting to die on the inside. (That was her usual state of mind, anyway, so what difference did it make? Haha!) "I was, uh, just trying to clear the path for you. Since it's really fucking dangerous! Not saying you should thank me, but maybe you should."
It did not take Liora long to figure out Inna was already inside. If only because Mel had decided to get a head start on taking down the security system since there was a possibility it could take a while––not that they were necessarily on a time crunch (whoever owned the mansion was supposed to be out for a few more days) but their lead was anal about efficiency. In any case, it was only a few seconds later that Mel discovered the system had already been disarmed; but it took her another five minutes to figure out how to tell Liora.
Who, as anyone could imagine, was not pleased. She was livid as her intuition instantly informed her what had happened. Perched on the rail of the balcony, she immediately and wordlessly hopped down and made a beeline into the mansion, with little regard for the traps she had been so worried about a few nights prior. Her team scrambled to follow behind her, though they were not exactly sure what the new plan was and were more or less in for whatever ride was to come. They hoped it would at least be entertaining––'Liora blowouts' could be quite legendary and when they involved a certain blonde? Well, make sure to bring more than popcorn.
While she may not have known where Inna was (the mansion was huge), and her storming through the place might have been aimless, that asshole was not difficult to find. Just follow the sound of your hopes and dreams dying. When she rounded the corner, team hightailing behind her to keep up, she made no attempt to hide her anger (which begs the question: had she ever? No). Liora drew her gun from its holster and aimed at the blonde––the safety, of course, was on as she was not actually planning on shooting the other but she the visual was playing in her head.
Her team stood behind her, unsure of what to do––unsure of whether or not this was going to turn into shoot out and equally unsure if they should follow their lead or defend their own. Mel had her hand tentatively on her own weapon while the other two stood awkwardly to the side.
"Shut the fuck up, you little bitch," Liora said through gritted teeth, the waves of her rage seemed to waft off her body and suffocate the rest of the room. If she had caught on to the fact that Inna had not been successful in retrieving the item she might have said something with more bite. "Exactly what kind of fucking death wish do you have, Inna?" Where the other did not make a habit of addressing Liora by her given name, Liora only used hers to punctuate her own malice.
There was more she was going to say, but something behind the blonde caught her eye. Her mood, and with it, her posture shifted as her eyes followed a strange formless apparition. Maybe she would have ignored it and continued on, except that the screech that came next was either from a banshee herself or was something aiming to put all banshees to shame.
As Liora drew her weapon, a chill ran down Inna's spine-- this strange, but familiar coldness. A half-forgotten dream, maybe, or that moment when you realized you had seen this movie you were watching already and the ending fucking sucked. In a split second, the her face contorted in what appeared to be... pain? Wow. It was rare enough to see Inna without her signature smirk, but that she actually seemed genuiely upset now? Pigs may as well have started to fly! Still, that moment of vulnerability didn't last long-- with her, they never did. Immediately, Inna's hand fell to her gun as well.
"You sure you don't wanna consider those anger management courses, love? Because someone, somewhere, might be less kind than me and blow your fucking head off for this bullshit." And frankly? One wrong move and Inna wouldn't hesitate, either. Not for a heartbeat. If Liora thought guns to be some props to her badass speeches, then-- well, then she could continue thinking that, Inna supposed. You know, since they lived in a free country at all. At the same time, though, maybe she should realize the world didn't fucking work like a cheap action flick, and that when someone pointed their gun at you, they intended to kill. Like??? Technically, she could have shot her right here and now, and it would have been entirely justified. Those were the rules! The equivalent of 'talk shit, get hit', except that slightly more lethal. Not that Inna considered Liora to be an, uh, intellectual, but given that they had like three goddamn rules in total, surely she could have remembered those! Did she also forget to put on her shirt in the morning before heading outside? Because this was on a similar level, really.
Of course, none of that exasperation showed on her face. Sure, that brief moment of weakness that confused even her had been a thing, but you know what that also meant? That she had ran out of truly emotional reactions for the next three years! So, from now on, she'd just be cool, suave and shit-- the Inna that everyone loved, really. (Or hated, but you couldn't escape the haters in this climate, anyway. Not when some of them, like a certain dark-haired bitch, couldn't forgive you for the crime of having an actual personality. ...plus, some of them were angry about all those relatives she'd killed, but like, details.)
"Since you're asking, though," Inna smiled sweetly, "I'd like to drown in whiskey. Not in any cheap bullshit, either, so if you want to arrange the death of my dreams, you'll have to pay up. Sorry, love! I'm not cheap."
And, yeah, that line was good-- just like all the lines she had ever uttered, so no surprises there. Nobody cared, though, because the fucking ghost lady kind of claimed everyone's attention.
What the--? Inna's eyebrows rose somewhere to her hairline, but that shock didn't last long-- instead of just standing there, she emptied the clip into the apparition, like, immediately. Sadly, it worked about as well as anyone could expect. ...which was to say, not at all! The bullets just passed through the thing harmlessly, as if they were made of water. (There went the only solution to problems she knew, Inna supposed. Ugh. How was she supposed to know she should have learned how to perform fucking exorcism?!)
"Oookay, strategic retreat!" she shouted. "Don't just stand there. Go, go, go!" Because, yeah, Chett could go fuck himself with this fucking assignment. He wasn't paying her nearly enough for this. What was next, dealing with the fucking Godzilla?! (And no, she wasn't overusing the word 'fuck'. It was the exact amount of fucks needed for this fucking situation!)
Anyway, Inna had no desire to find out what the ghost was capable of-- except that the creature had other plans. Wailing loudly, it grabbed her, and... oh. It was like death itself touched her, and she couldn't breathe, and then there was a blinding white flash--
Words. Words she didn't understand, but knew, somehow. They echoed in her mind, and set the world on fire.
When Inna opened her eyes, she no longer felt cold. She felt okay, actually-- sorta invigorated, as if she had just stepped out of a sauna. The apparition was gone, which was a pleasant bonus. The same couldn't be said about all the dead bodies of her friends on the ground, though.
If Liora had been granted the opportunity to process the look on Inna's face, she may have been able to identify the equally confusing emotion that contorted within herself. While she didn't have a name for the feeling, she knew it lived in her chest (and sank to her stomach) and that told her it was powerful, resonant––after all, wasn't that where all charged emotions lived? The ones Liora typically distanced herself from and avoided. (The ones that she associated with danger.)
In any case, there was not much time to process let alone retain what she had seen, because her attention was more or less focused on figuring out just what the fuck was going on; she had half a mind to think this was something Inna had plotted as a way to distract her but then it occurred to her, that may have been giving the blonde too much credit. It wasn't like she had a standing reputation as a planner. She was more spontaneous than Liora could ever care to be and she doubted something of this caliber would have been something the other would care to orchestrate.
Her gun discharged a round, but the shriek proved to be more than she was capable of handling and instead of shooting off more rounds her hands went to cover her ears. At that point, she was not even concerned with the mission––fight or flight immediately overtook all semblance of reason as she pushed to move their teams out of the mansion. It did not take Inna's genius order to figure out they needed to get the fuck out as Liora was not exactly interested in dying.
When she turned to look back, she saw Inna get taken by the invisible opponent and felt something in her scream––she wasn't sure if she was actually screaming or if it was someone, far away yet close to her soul, who was screaming. It really was the least of her concerns, because the next thing she knew bright hot flames seemed to expel from Inna's body and engulf everything in the immediate radius. Frozen, she looked away with the hope she wouldn't get burned.
Miraculously, she went unharmed (and since she had looked away, she missed seeing the glowing spirit that protected her body from Inna's fire). When she looked up again, coughing as the smoke cleared, the ghost was gone along with their teams. But again, there was too much happening for Liora to be processing or focusing on anything more than what was physically in front of her––such as, an unharmed Inna which was oddly relieving. Maybe because it meant she was not alone in this mansion; maybe because there was something, like with Inna, awakening inside her. Like a piece of her that she had exiled long ago was returning to the table.
"What the fuck..." She whispered, followed by a few more curses as she looked around at the charred bodies of their former colleagues. Her eyes were wide as she smoothed her hands over her head––while it wasn't as if she had never seen people die, let alone get burned to a crisp, she had never (1) seen a... ghost? (did she even believe that was what it was? or was she still trying to rationalize another explanation?) and (2) had never seen fire manifest out of thin air (or out of Inna for that matter).
Pull it together, Liora!
There would be time for questions later, her primary focus was on getting out of this mansion (which was getting creepier and creepier by the second); she was not focused on the mission anymore. Even if she were, she was still under the assumption that Inna had the artifact. Without bothering to check on the other, she instead made for the nearest exit. Under normal circumstances, that would have been a sound strategy except that, if a malevolent spirit was not enough defense for this mansion, a new horror was now herding her back into the house. This one, thankfully, did not come with a scream but it was terrifying in that the mansion seemed to sick, what Liora could have only described as a hellhounds on the intruders (fair). There were at least three of them stampeding towards her, eyes glowing a deadly shade of red while their maws seemed to froth at the prospect of tearing into whoever was threatening their treasure.
Fuck. Without a second thought she turned around, nearly tripping over her own legs as she scrambled back to where she had left Inna and their fallen teams. As soon as she saw her counterpart, she screamed, "RUN!" (How considerate... Would Inna have done the same?)
Having memorized the layout of the mansion, she knew where all of the exit points were and yet she was not running towards any of them––something told her it would be fruitless. Instead she found herself taking directions from a disembodied voice––and she wasn't sure if she was the only one who could hear it.
As she ran passed the blonde, another, albeit familiar, voice seemed to speak from her mouth, "Follow me!"
Then to herself only, 'Go to the library.'
Liora could not figure out why she trusted this voice but when running from gargantuan flaming hounds sometimes logic and reason were not invited to the advisory council. She made her way to the library in short time and once there felt herself beckoned towards the back shelf where she pulled on a large, decrepit text. As she did so, the shelf groaned and revealed a passage that had not been detected by their scanners; (un)fortunately, the dark haired woman did not have much time to question such inconsistencies. Again, without reason, she knew she could trust this voice; she knew it was leading her somewhere. Not just away from the hellhounds, but towards something.
She looked behind her to see if Inna had followed or if she had decided to be stubborn about listening to her adversary. Normally she would not have cared what the blonde chose to do, but whatever was speaking to her and taking over would not let her go through the passage without the other. Liora was going to be pissed if she had to go back out there and grab that shit-head.
It didn't happen to Inna often that she found herself agreeing with Liora, but in this case? Yeah, 'what the fuck' was more than appropriate as a reaction. Why the hell was everyone dead?! (Everyone aside from the resident killjoy, of course. Sheesh. Obviously, she wasn't mad at her for surviving or anything unhinged like that, but why her of all people? There were few situations in which Inna preferred Liora as her company, and being stuck in a survival horror scenario sure as fuck wasn't one of them. Like??? With her there, the supernatural bullshit was wholly unnecessary. Sooner or later, they'd fucking kill each other on their own!) Needless to say, though, the mansion was trying its hardest to prevent that particular outcome, and not by arranging a group counseling for them. No, it just sent more fucking monsters their way! (Typical, really-- that sort of shit was exactly the reason demonic entities got such bad rap. Like, Inna would love to believe they were more than just bloodthirsty caricatures, but they weren't really giving her a lot of incentives here. They could at least try to be more friendly, dammit!)
"Jesus Christ," Inna muttered under her breath when freaking hellhounds emerged from behing one of the corners. Liora didn't need to tell her to run-- normally, she would have tried to shoot them, but the ghost incident had taught her just how useless weapons were in this context. So, uh. Strategic retreat? Strategic retreat!
Shockingly enough, Liora... continued to prove herself useful? As in, she actually talked to her. Talked to her and provided useful info instead of, you know, insulting her for existing. Wow. And to think it only took one demonic apocalypse for this miracle to happen! (Briefly, Inna considered the option of this not being Liora at all-- like, since the world had apparently decided to abandon all of its previously established laws, this very well could have been a doppelganger that pretended to be her colleague, for, uh, reasons. Reasons like planning to eat her face in private, maybe. Still, one doppelfanger versus three hellhounds? Inna would take her chances with Liora, thank you very much. Plus, if she really turned out to be some monster in disguise, then she could finally fill her with bullets! A win-win situation if she'd ever seen one. Sure, explaining this to Chett would be a pain in the ass and everything, but still. The truth would be on her side for once!)
Anyway, Inna followed her. She had no idea where they were heading, but Liora looked like someone who did-- and, for once, she didn't question her judgment. (At least, when they inevitably got caught because they ran into a dead end of something, it wouldn't be her fault. That last 'I fucking told you' would be so sweet! ...priorities, right? Oh yeah, Inna was an expert on having hers in order. Fucking ten out of ten!) It turned out, though, that Liora had some, uh, surprising knowledge on the building's layout. What the...? (Inna may not have done her homework as diligently as Liora had, but she was pretty sure she would have noticed any secret passages-- since, you know, that shit was kinda noticeable. Nah, mate, this just wasn't on the map! It wasn't on the map, and yet Liora knew. Somehow, she'd survived that weird-ass incident, too. Hmm. Suspicious!)
A more well-adjusted person might have focused on other things at the moment-- things such as, for example, getting the hell out of the ghost-infested mansion. Sadly, though, Inna wasn't exactly notorious for her stability. She followed her, of course; not without dragging some shelves in front of the door to slow down any pursuers first, but ultimately, Inna did enter the passage. After that, however, she proceeded to press Liora against the wall. (...which, uh. They had never been so close to one another, had they? Not the time, Inna!)
"What the fuck did you do?" the blonde hissed, her eyes blazing. "First you survive, somehow, after everyone else kicks the bucket, and then you miraculously know precisely where to go? Fucking suspicious, if you ask me," she spat out. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shoot you right here and now, love."
While Liora had been initially relieved to see that Inna had chosen to follow her into the library, it did not last long. There was no world that Liora lived in where she would have been able to predict that she would end up sweaty, chest heaving, pinned under Inna's body. There were, in fact, no circumstances where she wanted to be anywhere near this intimate with the other. Her face reflected this as it contorted into disgust; she even dared to meet Inna's fiery gaze with her own heat because––what the Hell was she doing?
The disbelief only grew when she heard the accusations pouring out of the other's mouth.
"Don't start with me, Inna," she growled. Somewhere she knew she should have been wiser with her words––given their current positioning; given that she knew Inna wouldn't waste her time on empty threats. But what did she care of all that when there were impossibly real monsters just outside the door? At least she knew bullets could be quick; who knows how long hellhounds would take.
"Did you fry your fucking brain in the process of burning the team alive? Or is that just a detail you're conveniently choosing to leave out?" She spat back––because if Inna thought she was going to pin all of the suspicious, unexplainable activity on Liora, she was sorely mistaken. There was no way the woman could forget the image of her colleague erupting into flames. "Maybe you should ask yourself why I'm still alive and not charred. Fucking. Remains. Since it was, oh yeah, your fire that killed everyone!"
While Inna was right to question how Liora knew about the passage, given a scanner should have been able to detect such things, the dark haired woman was not sure that she could give a rational explanation of what had happened. It wouldn't sound good if she just said 'Oh, well this weird voice that I think only I can hear told me about it!' Still, she had to come up with something to get the other to back off.
"And what kind of mansion doesn't have a secret fucking passage in the library?" She figured this lie would be better than the unbelievable truth (although why she was still clinging to a normalcy that could no longer exist given all that she had seen was unknown; she was, after all, talking to a woman who doubled as a human molotov cocktail, apparently). "I took a wild guess, because I like to use my brain." There were definite holes in her reasoning––gaping in fact––but it was the best she could come up with when the alternative involved incriminating herself as losing her goddamn mind (which, honestly, she felt like she was!).
Finally, she shoved the blonde off of her.
"I don't fucking know what's going on, but you're sure as shit not going to blame this all on me when most of this is your fault." She brushed off her clothes and started walking backwards, further into the hidden tunnel. "I don't know about you, but a good guess at finding this place? Not the most incriminating thing to have occurred tonight." In this rare instance, Liora figured it would be better to not fight with her opponent and instead make a temporary peace––they could kill each other later but first they had to survive the mansion. And if it wasn't obvious, her making peace with Inna was in her distinct lack of returned threats––which she felt would have been totally deserved.
Burning the team alive? ...what? Inna was pretty convinced that wasn't what had happened. (Admittedly, she had no fucking idea what had actually happened in the brief moment between being grabbed by that ghost thing and everyone dying, but it sure as hell hadn't been that! As in, surely she'd remember this minor detail? Because, you know, burning someone alive was a memorable occasion even for her. Only absolute psychos used fire as a weapon-- the smell alone was enough for the average person to become, uh, intimately familiar with the remains of their own breakfast, plus it was the opposite of stealthy. So, only really worth it in a few select cases. And you know what? Attacking your colleagues for funsies was not one of them!) "Oh, my fire?" Inna raised her eyebrow. "You know damn well I had nothing to do with that, love. Or do you think I have a flamethrower lodged in my ass? Well, spoiler alert-- I fucking don't!" No, the whole accusation was just absurd. So absurd, in fact, that even acknowledging it gave it far more attention than it deserved! Like, yeah, she was a woman of many talents, but breathing fire wasn't really her forte. Clearly, Liora was just trying to flip the narrative here-- to invent some bullshit excuse in order to obsfucate that it was actually her who had orchestrated everything, somehow. (And the strange, sinking feeling in her gut? The feeling that told her that the blonde was right, despite everything? Or the knowledge that blaming her didn't really make sense, either? Pffft, as if that could stop Inna! Self-awareness was for dimwits too cowardly to follow their dreams, dammit.)
"Yeah, which is why you knew exactly which book to push," the blonde nodded. Just how stupid did Liora think she was? Inna didn't remember ever feeling so insulted! ...which was quite an accomplishement, really, considering just how many people tried to get under her skin on the regular. Not that she'd ever tell Liora that, though-- knowing her, she'd probably treat it like a fucking videogame trophy. 'The Greatest Pain in Inna's Ass' or something. "Since every mansion in existence obviously uses the same fucking book. I guess they were all designed by the same architect? A popular guy, apparently. Anyway, I bow before the power of your reasoning! Please, teach me your superior ways." And, yeah, sarcasm was practically dripping from her words, but Inna felt like she had earned going on that little tangent. Since she was, you know, a) unambiguously right, b) probably about to die pretty soon? Gotta treat herself while it was still feasible. Once the fucking hellhounds ripped her apart, smartass comments would be the last thing on her mind!
...speaking of the hellhounds, though, Liora's presence was still a more welcome one. Not by much, but it was, and Inna guessed she could let this go until they got the fuck out of there. "Hmpf. Yeah, you keep pretending any of that makes sense, honey. Must be nice living in your head-- like a fucking circus 24/7. I suppose we can talk about this later, though. At some point when mythological creatures aren't trying to kill us, maybe?" Because, really, the prospect of Inna just swallowing those bullshit excuses was about as plausible as Chett suddenly donating all of his money to charity. Like, no, sugar. There absolutely would be consequences-- but not now. "Let's see where this passage leads, then."
Judging by the amount of dust and spider webs, nobody had bothered to find out for years-- which, oooh, lucky! If one was interested in archeology and similar crap, which Inna distinctly wasn't. Well, at least the place was monster-free? So far, she reminded herself darkly. Don't jinx it. "You think Chett knew about this clusterfuck?" she asked as she walked forward carefully, mindful of any traps. "Because if he did... ah, actually, fuck this. I don't care if he knew or not, really-- I'm still breaking his stupid face this time. He's had it coming for years now. Making me deal with fucking ghosts of all things, the bastard. Do I look like a priest? 'Cause, surprise, I'm not!"
The passage, as it turned out, led to... a smaller library. Wow, groundbreaking. Why the hell invest so much energy and resources into bulding a secret tunnel only for it to hide something so mundane? Like, stop being pretentious and put all of your books in one place! Siiigh. (Had it led to some demonic sanctuary, it would have at least been interesting. Cringey, but interesting!) "I sure as fuck hope that there's an emergency exit," Inna rolled her eyes. She planned to search for it, too, except that then she noticed a book that glowed faintly-- and called out to her, as silly as it sounded. Alright. Alright, no harm in inspecting it, right? It wasn't like anything was chasing them at the moment, anyway.
Drawn to the book like a moth to the fire, Inna opened it-- and, immediately, her mind was flooded with images. Fire, consuming everything. The sky being torn apart. Shadowy entities pouring out of a gate, sinking their claws into the sun. And, strangely enough, also Liora. Liora, who was... braiding her hair? "What the fuck," Inna recoiled in terror. "I'd never let you touch my fucking hair!"
It was frustrating (or, perhaps if she weren't so exhausted from the night's prior events, she would have found that it was actually infuriating) that she could not punch holes in Inna's argument. Truthfully, nothing either of them had been saying made sense. None of this made sense and there was no reality that Liora could ground herself in to make Inna realize that what she had seen was real! Even she could admit that what she had accused the blonde of sounded fabricated––she had reasonable assurance that it would not have held up in a court of law.
So she dropped the argument; in and of itself, that could have qualified itself as yet another supernatural occurrence given she always tried to have the last word. But at this point, in this strange night, continuing this fight would only result in her head spinning. There was too much she just did not understand and bickering about nonsense would certainly escalate to fisticuffs or worse.
"Whatever, I would be happy to kick your delusional ass later," she said, eyes rolling out of her skull as she turned to walk forwards through the passage. There was nothing particularly exciting about it and nothing of note stood out. Oddly enough, for the time being, Liora felt safer in this dark enclosed space with Inna than she had felt out there with every monster from her childhood books coming to life.
It would have been a lie to say that Liora had not been amused by Inna's comment about breaking Chett's face––the spark it lit in her eyes seemed to brighten the hidden corridor. "Chett wouldn't know his own head from his ass," she remarked, in a surprisingly... normal tone, lacking its signature hostility. Though, to be fair, it wasn't that Liora was suddenly losing her edge it was just hard to be hostile, come down from an adrenaline high, and process new sensory information all at once––something had to go. "He didn't even know what we were looking for––hard to say what he knew," she shrugged, following the steps Inna was taking to further avoid setting off anymore demonic traps. "Maybe you could beat his face in with the artifact––how ironic would that be," she smirked at the thought.
As they reached the end of the tunnel, Liora would have been remiss if she did not also admit her own disappointment seeing that it only took them to a smaller, secret library. (Still, at least it hadn't led them to another monster.) While Inna, Liora assumed, searched for an exit, the dark haired woman didn't see a reason to rush. It seemed important to at least browse what kind of books someone––someone who lived in a haunted mansion, no less––would collect just to hide them away in some putrid library. She doubted this would be some ordinary collection of, say, Holy Bibles.
At random, she plucked one of the leather bound books off the shelf and opened it; her eyes narrowed and she picked out another, then another, and after the fourth? Well, it didn't take a linguist to know that whatever language was in these books was, decidedly, not of this world. Stranger was that while she could recognize its foreignness, it was also familiar (which was interesting, because last Liora checked she only knew English and up to high school level French 3––so really, just English).
Just as she the symbols on the page were starting to come together and make sense to the dark haired woman, she was pulled away from the text as Inna prattled on about Liora... touching her hair? (Did she hear that correctly?) "What are you talking about? I'm not even fucking near you." Annoyed, she whipped around to look at whatever the blonde had gotten herself into; if she were lucky, maybe Inna was starting to lose her mind and if she were––well, that was a reasonable excuse as any to shoot her colleague, she felt.
She pocketed the last book she had been flipping through into the backpack she had brought and then walked over to the blonde, "What are you even looking at?" Liora did not wait for a response and instead took the liberty of snatching the book from Inna's hands.
Similarly, as soon as she opened the text, flashing images of the world crumbling and being over taken by demons, monsters, things that go bump in the night filled her mind––it was almost like she was there living in whatever world was being presented to her (intuitively, she knew it to be her world; but was this premonition? Because it sure as fuck was not covered in her history classes). And then, in the bursts of bright chaos, brief moments of two women, two women who she knew were herself and Inna, even if they did not look like themselves, were intermixed. One disturbing image showed her crying and being cradled, comforted by Inna. She snapped the book shut.
Though she would not say it, it was clear that she was shaken by what she had seen––all of it, not just the the parallel universe where she let Inna see her come undone. Her lips pursed together and she took a deep breath, trying to collect her thoughts and make sense of it all. Though, since she could not make sense of any of it and stuff of magic were not things Liora knew to exist in her world, she reacted in a way she thought would offer a predictable reaction from the blonde––it was a grounding practice; maybe not one a therapist would recommend, but she was desperate for the return of normal.
So she shoved the book into the blonde's chest, pushing her against the shelf with the force, "What the hell was that? What kind of twisted joke is this?"
"Well, you aren't right now," Inna admitted, "but you were!" Because while the woman hadn't looked like Liora, there was no doubt in her mind that it had been her. They, uh, gave off the same vibe! A rose by any other name, or some shit. Or, as it turned out, by any other... face? Look, it was complicated. Complicated enough that most other people would likely start to question the validity of their own perceptions, but not Inna. Never Inna! Nah, she saw things quite clearly-- it was the world itself that was fucked here, thank you very much. The world and its mysterious tomes and demons and... and all the Lioras that inhabited it. (As if the one she knew already wasn't a large enough pain in the ass! Now, to top it off, the blonde also had to deal with a Liora whose touch felt... nice. Soothing. Fucking hell, what was next? Enjoying a wasp's sting? Since that was the closest goddamn equivalent here!)
Anyway, this probably wasn't the best time to have a fucking existential crisis, so maybe she should put the book down and... oh, okay, now Liora got to experience her visit to the crazy town. Because, the vacant stare that followed immediately after she had grabbed the stupid thing? Yeah, it wasn't hard to put two and two together. Clearly, she was seeing some bullshit as well! (Was the book, like, designed to drive you mad? That would explain a lot-- Inna saw no other reason behind being shown a Liora whose continued existence wasn't an insult to the concept of humanity in general. The shock of that ought to be enough to shatter just about anyone's psyche!)
So, even if Inna didn't see whatever it was that Liora saw, she guessed it wasn't too pleasant. No unicorns and rainbows, probably-- since, you know, they couldn't actually have nice things. Not in the Mysterious Mansion of Doom and Gloom! That particular hypothesis of hers got confirmed, too, when Liora fucking pushed her against the shelf and blamed her for everything. Geez. Had she never heard about the notion of 'personal space'? Hint: it wasn't called 'personal' because you wanted to shove as many persons in there as possible! "Oh, fuck off, love," Inna rolled her eyes. "Why not also accuse me of causing the global warming while you're at it? Like, I exist on the same planet it's happening to, so obviously it's my fault. That's the logic here, isn't it?" And she was using the word 'logic' very generously here, mind you. The conclusion Liora had come to only held together thanks to duct tape and feverish dreams!
"Let me guess," she smirked as she pushed the other woman away, "you saw something and didn't like it. What was it? Demons? Us getting married? A combination of both?" Because, uh, her own vision kinda could be described like that. There hadn't been a wedding specifically, but it had been intimate-- way more intimate than Inna was comfortable with, anyway. Like, the only type of touching she wanted to experience with Liora were fucking punches! ...so, naturally, exaggerating things to the point of caricature was her go-to approach here. That made her look cool and uninvolved, and not at all shaken. (Which Inna very much wasn't! She had transcended such petty, useless feelings long ago. No, spite was her life blood, and she liked it that way, goddammit.)
"Have no fear, honey-- I can assure you that's not our future," Inna stretched out her lips in an arrogant smile. You know, the kind of smile that made you want to punch her? Yeah, exactly that one. "I can't rule out the demons appearing out of nowhere, but as for you? Nah, don't worry. You're not my type at all. Unless you, I don't know, tried real hard. Brought me flowers and shit like that-- I suppose I could give you a chance then, maybe. Not promising anything, though."
Okay, technically, Liora was the one who was escalating their current circumstances, but that was beside the point when Inna seemed to be more than willing to play her own part in this mess. So she would at least partially (mostly) blame her mounting irritation on the other. In a way, this was the exact comfort she needed; she did not need to be addled with worries that she would ever let Inna be the consoling confidant her life, admittedly, lacked. (But what did that matter when the woman could not even remember the last time she cried? That obviously meant she didn't need one.) So the other's words land right where they are meant to––piling onto the buttons that would set off her fuse.
The (glowing) book dropped to the floor as Liora was pushed away from the current cause of all her life's stress––though the book was the least of her concerns (for now). Instead, she was focused on turning all of her confusion into fuel for her temper––and thanks to her exasperating partner, it was not a hard task.
"Really? That's what you're going to focus on?" Her tone suggested disbelief, but truthfully she deeply understood why Inna would choose to focus on the less important details of the vision they both seemed to have just shared. That was, of course, the reason Liora had been so irritated after touching the cursed text. "Trust me, in the world where the human race is subject to demonic take over, you are the last person I would be trying to get close to." Seriously, it was confusing enough to see the apocalypse, but to suggest that she would spend that time lollygagging with the person she hated most... Well, that seemed like an absurd waste of time.
Of course, that did not explain that the two women she had seen were about as familiar looking as the strangers that appeared in her dreams, and yet both herself and Inna seemed to have picked up on the vision's deeper meaning...
Too bad Liora was decidedly not unpacking that (yet). She was, however, unpacking what it would feel like to wipe that shit-eating grin off the blonde's face. She even felt her fists clench at her sides; she turned, briefly, to look away from the world's most insufferable partner in crime––a feeble attempt at getting a grip. It was taking up most of her energy to remember that she hadn't wanted to fight Inna (at least not while they were still trapped in a house of horrors), but, ultimately, the Universe seemed to have other plans.
When she turned back around, she came back swinging. Depending on Inna's own reaction time, Liora was aiming to wipe (punch) the smirk off of the blonde's face.
"Well, I mean. Yes? 'Cause I don't have much to say about the whole demonic invasion thing," Inna shrugged. "Like, I guess it can happen. That's the extent of my analysis, though." Because, duh, she had learned a few minutes ago that such creatures weren't just the product of some psycho's drug-induced trip! Like, what did Liora expect? That she'd start quoting the fucking Necronomicon at the drop of a hat? Uhhh, no. Knowing that shit sure as hell hadn't been a job requirement when they'd hired her, so if it was suddenly needed now-- well, Chett should have sent her on a fucking requalification course or something! Stupid employers and their ever-increasing expectations, really. What was next, huh? Would he also want her to perform heart surgery with a toothpick? Since that seemed about as reasonable. "Unlike some people," the blonde smirked, "I don't run my mouth when I don't know shit. Which brings me to my previous topic-- since I do know for sure you aren't my type, love. Sorry!"
And Liora? Well, Liora took the statement about as well as could be expected-- meaning, with the level-headedness of a bull who had just seen a red flag. Inna sort of anticipated it, though. Like, this wasn't her first rodeo. Bullying Liora was one of the few guilty pleasures she had allowed herself to indulge in over the years, and so she could practically hear the pitiful remainders of her self-control snapping. Which, yay! Finally, finally the god smiled upon her and gave her a chance to beat the shit out of the other woman. A few more miracles like that, and Inna would seriously consider abandoning her atheism. (...which might be a good idea, actually. As in, if demons unironically roamed the earth, who was she to say that all the other biblical bullshit wasn't true? And since god seemed like a petty asshole in the Bible-- well, better safe than sorry. Wouldn't want to provoke him into triggering yet another giant-ass flood! Not when Inna couldn't swim, dammit.)
Anyway, maybe she should focus on the actual fight now? Yeah, that would probably be helpful. (Inna may have been a contrarian when it came to many, many things, but she didn't really enjoy the prospect of having her nose broken, you see? In that, her tastes were entirely mainstream!)
And so she caught Liora's punch before it could land and, taking advantage of the surprise, twisted her arm painfully. "Enjoying yourself?" she practically purred in her ear. "If you wanted me to touch you that much, you could have just said so, love. Had you asked nicely, maybe I would have gotten over my hang ups. You know, since we're colleagues and shit." Damn, did this feel nice-- kind of like second Christmas! (In a way, it made the whole clusterfuck worth it. Ghosts, hellhounds and mysterious, vision-inducing tomes? Bring it on, baby. Inna could handle a small-scale apocalypse if it resulted in this!)
The blonde proceeded to kick Liora's feet from under her and both of them ended up on the ground, with her on top. (...which, wow. What a position! And on their first date, too? Scandalous.) "So, gonna talk to me now, or would you rather I blow your head off? Your choice, really." And considering that Liora hadn't even prefaced her attack with a warning, this was a pretty generous offer. Like, ending her right away would have been justified. You couldn't ask people to follow the rules when you yourself disregarded them, dammit!
Liora lived her life quite simply when it all boiled down to it. While she had certainly gone to great lengths to understand rules, regulations, hidden expectations and the like she, herself, only lived by three simple rules: (1) trust no bitch, (2) always be prepared, and (3) know the rules, so that you can break the rules. How successful she actually was at following her own code of conduct was an entirely different story. The second rule seemed to be the one that was hardest to follow––especially in these situations where her reliably unpredictable opponent made it impossible to prepare.
Where Liora was, so to speak, classically trained in martial arts there was an important difference between the classroom and the streets––and she wasn't exactly as practiced in hand-to-hand fighting despite her fiery temper/personality (she typically didn't resort to using her fists to resolve conflict, but Inna was a special case). Still, that would not stop her from trying to overpower the blonde––especially since she was under the impression that she was, overall, much more well-rounded than Inna. So when Inna did catch her punch and twisted her arm, one could only imagine her surprise.
Her eyes went wide, tears threatening to sting at the corners, as she clamped her jaw shut to prevent the yelp that was pressing against her teeth from escaping (that would have been all the more embarrassing and she did have some dignity left... not much now though). And when she ended up on her back, once again, under Inna her breath was forced from her in a sharp gasp (okay what was the blonde's deal with pinning Liora down? Inna was not the femme top of her dreams so this was not in any way pleasant even if there were, objectively, worse people to be under). She really was considering taking Inna up on her offer to blow her brains out, but knew that was more out of some dramatic attempt at self-preservation than an actual death wish.
She didn't exactly answer Inna's question, but there was enough evidence in her grimace that showed she was not going to be trying anything else (at least not tonight... No, she had enough for the night and had certainly learned a powerful lesson in underestimating the blonde and overestimating herself). "Just get off me," she muttered, already wriggling out from beneath Inna. This just was not her night.
Once out from under the other, she sat herself against the bookshelf and leaned her head back trying not to think about her own fuck up. After a moment she returned, mentally, to the library and, with that, reality: being stuck in a magical murder mansion with Inna.
"Let's just figure out how we're going to get out of this fucking place and tell Chett this was a fucking disaster." Though despite what she said, she made no move to get up and solve this problem. Instead, she picked up the tome once more and examined it. Even if it did not have a radioactive glow or provided weird visions, it was a strange book. It seemed to be living in a way. She wasn't sure how to describe it, but she did feel an odd connection to it like it should be scared. Still, it was a major source of her current annoyance and since she could not take that out on Inna (she already failed at that), she took it out on the text by throwing it across the room (librarians everywhere were screaming).
The tome hit the wall and fell open, releasing its ghastliness into the room rather than into their minds. Oops.
The library, now, echoed with the disembodied voice of a long forgotten teacher. She seemed to spew more warnings:
"Soothsayers reveal the return of dark magics from the days of old.
Occult powers grow under a false mask––veiling true, insidious intention.
Prior prophets hoped for saviors to thwart such evil, lifetimes ago,
Yet failed to see the treacherous downfall of would-be heroines.
Between the world of magic and the world of mortals,
Balance is now held together by a single fraying thread.
One misstep and this world yields itself to horror.
Second chances rarely happen twice.
Discord will only sow chaos."
When the voice stopped speaking, a bright flash of light swallowed the entire room and when the brightness cleared, the library and mansion were behind the two women––who seemed to have been teleported, along with their belongings and the cursed book, from the strange library to the lawn outside the haunted house.
Liora fell next to the tome, which was now shut and seemed to have lost its signature glow, though she was not going to chance interacting with it again. "Well," she said, taking a pause as she looked over at Inna in complete bewilderment (likely the first time she had not looked at the blonde with utter disdain), "That was fucking bizarre." She was still processing what had happened and admittedly, was trying to figure out how they got from the mansion to the lawn––clearly, ignoring the revelation of magic. It would take at least a few more hours of deep thought to convince the dark haired woman that any of that was real and not a highly elaborate illusion.
That delicious, delicious look on Liora's face? Oh, Inna lived for it. The brat finally got some comeuppance, dammit, and that meant everything was fine and good. A moment of true justice in this harsh, corrupted world! And the hint of regret that sparked in her stomach? That, uh, wasn't a thing. It just wasn't. (If Inna ignored it hard enough, then it would disappear on its own, and it would have no bearing on literally anything. That was how this shit worked, right? Things like 'suppressing one's feelings being unhealthy' and 'emotional traumas' were clearly just a scam. Like, Inna had never spoken about the fucked up aspects of her life to anyone, and she was perfectly fine. No emotional instability here, nuh-huh. The blonde was the definition of a well-adjusted adult-- if you looked in the fucking dictionary, her picture would be right under the entry!)
Which was, by the way, illustrated by her generous decision to get up and not seize the chance to beat the shit out of her even more before that. (And she would have been justified in doing so, too! Because, uh, spoils of war or something. Not that this was a war, but the general concept applied to pretty much any conflict-- like, the one who lost had to be humiliated in some way. Why else risk the possibility of getting your ass handed to you? Certainly not for a fucking participation trophy!) "Anything for my princess," Inna smirked. "Just a piece of advice, though-- next time you jump someone, make sure you can actually win. Like, not everyone is as forgiving as yours truly. Someone might break that pretty face of yours, and that would be real shame."
There were a few more comments in the back of her mind, each more scathing than the one before it, but Inna kept them to herself now-- no point in wasting all of her ammo here, after all. Nah, that wasn't how you savored your revenge properly. The real pro would bring it up over and over, in different iterations, over the course of fucking years. So, in summary? Liora had a lot to look forward to-- provided they didn't die here, of course. (...which, incidentally, made for a fine motivation to actually survive. Returning to Chett and his bullshit missions didn't seem all that appealing, but bullying Liora? Bullying her with something that was bound to hurt her precious ego, too? Yes, please. More of that!)
"Well, I mean, there has to be some sort of exit, don't you think?" Inna asked. "And if not, we can always return to the main part of the mansion after a while. Maybe the hounds will have gotten bored by that point and started chasing their own tails or something." That analysis screamed wishful thinking, but so what? It wasn't like they had a plethora of alternative options to choose from here. Either there was an exit in the secret library, or there wasn't; and if there wasn't, they could either die from starvation here or risk becoming dog food. Lovely fucking choices to be sure, but like, it boiled down to certain death and probable death. So, what was the dilemma here? (Plus, Inna had always wanted to die in an interesting way and being eaten by hellhounds seemed fucking metal. As in, what a VIP way to go! Not necessarily the most pleasant thing she could imagine, but you had to suffer for glory, dammit.)
Thankfully, they didn't actually have to search for the exit for long-- mostly because the fucking book provided it on its own. And it came with a lesson attached, too! Was this, like, a trial version or something? A few key words mashed together that would start making sense once Inna shelled out enough cash? Well, too bad, because she wasn't nearly interested enough to do that. Inna didn't even care about legitimate sciences, so what made the voice think that she wished to learn more about some occult bullshit? Did it expect her to buy a fucking crystal ball and stare into its depths to reveal what kind of lunch she'd have tomorrow or something? Uhh, no, thanks. (Descent into insanity was pretty much guaranteed for her considering the life she had led, but letting it happen like this just seemed straight up stupid. Falling for the famous Nigerian prince emails level of stupid, even!)
"Kind of, yeah," the blonde nodded. ...did she just fucking agree with Liora again? Perhaps that advertised descent into insanity had begun already! Inna at least hoped it would be a wild ride. "At least we're outside, I guess. Anyway, you think that this," she kicked the book, because she sure as hell wasn't touching it with her bare hand again, "is what Chett wanted? 'Cause it does strike me as kind of attention-grabbing." 'You'll know it when you see it,' he had said, hadn't he? This would fucking fit the bill, alright.
It was surprising to hear Inna agree with her––even if Liora knew that, objectively, she was right: that had been bizarre. Still, she half expected the blonde to say something snide in response, regardless of how she felt about their night. On some level, Liora was glad that they could agree on this; she didn't feel so alone in having to process what this all meant. Even if she never processed it with the other, she at least knew there was one other person who knew what had happened; who knew this world was more than what they had been taught. She curled her knees into her chest, chin rested on top, as she stared off and listened to Inna's wondering––which did cause a brow to raise.
So she didn't get the artifact after all...
That was a comforting thought for a myriad of reasons, but none of them settled the unrest rattling through her body. In fact, if what the blonde was saying were true? Well, then, Liora intended to figure out why the mafia wanted this particular item. Chett had already alluded to the importance of the assignment and the value of the object in question when he had briefed her––even if he had not been explicit or even helpful there was enough context, especially with the events of the night, that told Liora this was bad news. That it was somehow connected to the visions both her and Inna had seen; even if she hadn't spent any time deciphering the riddle (yet) it did not take a genius to connect the dots. It only took someone who was willing to question the facts as they were displayed before her.
The next question, then, was how to convince the blonde that perhaps they should hold off on reporting back to Chett––and there was already going to be a lot they would have to explain (she wondered, hopefully, if the magic palace also had ghouls that cleaned up messes because leaving behind charred bodies was not exactly a clean job for either of two women; but she sure as Hell was not going to sneak back in to cover their tracks... eh, she was pretty sure the bodies were burned enough that nothing was identifiable anyway).
"No," she answered, finally, after a long pause. "I don't think it's this." She wondered if Inna would buy that. It was hard to deny that this book did fit the vague description: You'll know it when you see it. It was even harder to ignore the tether that led them to the hidden library in the first place. Her gaze shifted back to the other and for a moment, she felt like she could trust her (what happened to her precious rules?!)––that notion went against every instinct she had, but there was something untenable about it; a deep truth she had always known that was finally taking to the surface. At least for now––until she could rip up that weed and never think about trusting the blonde (or anyone, for that matter).
"Even if it were..." Was she really going to say this? Was she really going to say this to Inna? She might as well write a suicide note now. "How could we hand it over to Chett?"
She sucked in a breath and reached for the text, careful to make sure she didn't touch it with bare skin by covering her hands with the sleeves of her shirt, and put it into her backpack––alongside the smaller book she had stolen. "After what we saw... This shit doesn't sit right with me," she wasn't even sure if she believed what she had seen, but she felt it was better to be safe than sorry; besides, the only people they would be hurting by sabotaging this assignment would be the mafia (and maybe themselves, but those were concerns reserved for the future). "Personally, I am not looking to be responsible for Armageddon."
The woman stood up with the backpack slung over one shoulder. She wasn't sure how Inna was going to react––and to be honest, she was already regretting her decision to tell her how she felt (it would have been easier to kill her and run––incredibly logical, actually, but for once killing Inna was an option that hadn't crossed her mind). "We're not giving this to Chett," she decided. She had decided for both of them, actually. If she had to get her ass handed to her (again), at least it would be for a good cause this time.
While one hand secured the strap on her backpack, the other hung at her side, near her weapon though she was not touching it. However, there was enough stiffness in her posture to suggest she was readying herself for the worst. This was Inna, after all. Her opinion of the blonde was still not very high.
"Not... this?" Inna repeated, disbelief written all over her features. Just, what??? Was Liora fucking with her? 'Cause there was no better explanation for this obvious fucking nonsense! Well, either that, or the real Liora had been turned into dog food ages ago and she was actually talking to a doppelganger hellbent on protecting the mansion's secrets now. What a fitting end for the biggest pain in the ass she knew! ...except that Inna was, like, ninety percent sure that wasn't what was happening here. Not to underestimate doppelgangers, of course, but could any of them possibly hope to reach the level of obnoxiousness the other woman operated on? Inna had her doubts regarding that. (Credit where credit is due, man. Hating Liora absolutely didn't prevent her from acknowledging that she was the undisputed master of her craft-- of annoying the shit out of her, to be precise. Maybe, if she wanted to go for a honest career at some point, she could found a fucking dojo to pass that wisdom on to the next generations! Because that was exactly what she needed-- more Lioras. Wonderful news for her mental stability, really.)
"Well," Inna inhaled sharply, "it's the only thing we have, so we're still giving it to Chett. I'm not returning empty-handed to him after-- after all that! Like, I don't know about you, but I enjoy being paid. Plus, even if it's not what he's looking for, he can't very well complain about it with the bullshit instructions he gave us." That was what you got for being vague and mysterious, really. Karmic justice! Perhaps this incident would help him realize that all healthy relationships stemmed from communication, which would, in turn, pave the way to a better tomorrow-- haha, right? Zero chance of that ever happening with fucking Chett, man. Not when he considered self-awareness to be a slur, anyway. "So, we should take advantage of that. Unless you want to play Miss Goody Two Shoes and go back to the mansion to get the 'real' artifact? 'Cause I'm not gonna stop you in that case. Just know that I'm not feeling nearly suicidal enough, so you'd be on your own. Wanna risk it all for Chett's ugly mug, love?" That was where this should have ended-- because, obviously, the answer should have been no. (Like, who would do anything for Chett's face? The world was an ugly enough place already, yet Chett's continued existence only made it uglier. Really, there should be some kind of law that would force him specifically to wear a potato sack over his head. Him not doing so must have been a violation of some human right, Inna was sure.) Sadly, nothing followed logic in any way today, and so it did not end here. Instead, it seemed like... Liora had suddenly grown conscience? What? Alright, maybe that doppelganger theory wasn't as far-fetched after all.
"Jesus fucking Christ," Inna rolled her eyes. "You really believe that?" Granted, it was rather convincing with all the ghosts, hellhounds and magical flames, but maybe that voice had lied! Her mom had always taught her not to trust strangers, after all, and she sure as fuck didn't remember it actually introducing itself. Nah, it had gone straight to ominous warnings. There hadn't even been a handshake, and fuck, how could you trust someone whose handshake quality you were unsure about? Utter madness! (And yes, Inna may have been trying to make the narrative fit her needs-- namely, the need to get paid. Better not think of it too much, really. If she did, she might have come to the conclusion that Liora was right, and the last thing she wanted was to exist in a reality where such travesty was possible, dammit.)
"This is nonsense. Nonsense, I say! We can't even be sure that what we saw there was real. Remember the fucking frogs? They produce neurotoxins, so maybe all of that was just an elaborate hallucination." ...what? It certainly made more sense than magic being fucking real! "And I don't know about you, but I don't wanna lose my money because of my brain malfunctioning for a second. I mean, magic? If that is a thing, why haven't we received our letters from Hogwarts? Checkmate, athe--" 'ists,' Inna wanted to say, except that then a fucking flame erupted from her hand. (It was white and blinding and terrible, and yet soothing, somehow-- kind of like returning home.) "Whoa. Did you see that?"
She was exhausted, tired, and the last thing she wanted to be doing was to argue with Inna. Her bitchiness was now mixing with her thinly veiled petulance the longer she stayed out and the more Inna tried to convince her to change her mind. Did the blonde really think Liora was going to value her opinion? Did she somehow misinterpret 'We’re not giving this to Chett' as an invitation for feedback? No, Liora had firmly shut down any future arguments about the fate of the book––or so she thought; Inna just had to have an opinion on everything, apparently.
"This is not up for debate, Inna. Forget about the money." Of course, that was an easy statement for Liora to make. She may not have been living the same way she had growing up, but she had grown up around wealth and because of that, she was able to believe that money came in abundance. It was not something she had to fret over often and she usually, always had some level of assurance things would work in her favor. Even now, knowing she was walking away from a lofty pay-out, she was not concerned about the financial strain that it would put on her resources. "Of course, I don't believe what we saw, but I'm also not saying that I don't think we should give this away thoughtlessly; remember, I like using my brain and thinking about consequences." It was quite impressive that Liora was able to fill so much contradiction into a single breath––because it would have been easy to argue that Liora did not think things through (re: almost every single interaction of the night); it was even more impressive that she never defined herself as contradictory. It all made perfect sense to her––if one just compartmentalized everything she had said into their appropriate compartments; she didn't think it was rocket science.
Just as she was about to leave another scathing review of her partner's latest attempt at logic and reasoning, she found herself cut short by the flame that leapt from Inna's hand. Even as small as it was, she could feel its white, star-like heat and still had to turn away from staring at it directly. Though, frankly, it wasn't nearly as grandiose as the previous display so while Liora was shocked, it was not as novel as it had been the first time.
"So it looks like there is a fucking flamethrower lodged up your ass." Yes, she was going to toss that zinger right back at Inna, in the most cunty way that she could, since the other had made her feel so completely ridiculous for suggesting Inna had such abilities. "––I was fucking right." She technically should not have been smirking over that unsavory truth, but she couldn't help it since the other had been so unreasonable earlier. "You fucking burned the team alive and now you want to watch the world burn so you can collect a paycheck?" She scoffed, easily taking the opportunity to gloat and guilt trip the blonde.
"For once in your fucking life I think you should think about something greater than yourself." Like Liora did! Except that Liora was not thinking about people other than herself, usually. Even her reconnaissance was not for the common good but to fuel her own vendetta against her mother––it just so happened to be serving, what many would consider, a just cause. In truth, Liora really only defined herself as good, really only played on the 'right' side, because she felt it was something she should do. It was not necessarily out of her own virtue as much as she pretended it was and as much as it looked that way at the surface. (This was also not to say Liora would be evil if she did not have this strong should––just that her sense of justice did not come from a place of justice; it had been prescribed to her). "I know you're not a hero, you're barely more than a henchman, but even henchmen can make a difference."
Liora would have to work on her persuasion, because insulting the person she was trying to convince to lie to Chett, de facto asking her to stick her neck out for Liora's hunch that this was a bad idea, was not exactly the most effective way to get things done. "Could you at least fucking sleep on it? It's late anyway––Chett's probably not expecting a report back at this hour. He's a dinosaur."