(This entry was written a while ago by Neb, Flag, Joe, and Dr. Roux.)
Neb had maintained a hint of a smile as the plane gained altitude.
She had little doubt of Flag’s assessment that she'd been poisoned, and knowing Bran, it was probably a fatal. She wasn’t ready to go by any stretch of the imagination, but at least she’d gone down in a blaze. She was leaving this world amongst friends, and she’d managed to steal something from fuuking Brychanson before she did, even if she never got to enjoy her prizes.
With the last of her strength she curled her fingers around a fold in Flag’s pant leg. Always thought you’d be the one to take me out of this world, she thought as she drifted away. Guess I was wrong…
- - -
And then she woke up again.
She wasn't entirely sure. All around was swirling black, and when she tried move within it, nothing happened.
Am I dead? Is this what dead is?
The pain of the arrow buried in her shoulder arrived at the edge of her consciousness, followed by the scent of blood, wet earth, and...antiseptic. The steady beep of a heart monitor, an IV line in her arm-
No no no nonono….Where am I? Who has me? What did you do to me?! She shouted, but nothing came out, and the heart monitor’s staccato increased as she scrambled to remember how she got here.
Pain in shoulder, arrow, Bran. Was she with Bran? No, Flag got her. She was with VILE then, unless something else happened after she blacked out. There was no way to tell, and in desperation she turned to the mantra that had gotten her through the roughest patches of the past nine years:
What would Flag do?
He’d probably just lie here, being very angry.
That wasn't much of a plan, but it was better than nothing.
Fuuk this... she thought tentatively as she kicked an imaginary rock in her mind. Fuck this shit. Fuck this shit right here! Fuck all this, and fuuk you, yeh fuuking Bran! With yer fecking bow, like some goddamn bloody wazzock-
- - -
The unearthly, almost hypnotic, hum of medical devices filled the air, accented by the percussion of soft breathing and the occasional clunk of a tool. The room, simply dubbed ‘Medical’, made most VILE Agents uneasy for some reason or the other; standing in the doorway, Joseph Kerr was inclined to agree with them.
On the rare occasions that VILE agents caught a nasty bug or simply suffered the odd cut/fracture, they were usually referred to the local physician for treatment; heavier injuries or more curious ailments however, required a trip to the refurbished underground chamber that served as VILE’s private medical center.
Similar in size to the chamber that served as Dr Bellum’s laboratory, ‘Medical’ was furnished much like a miniature hospital, complete with an X-Ray room and a fully stocked surgery; the ‘iconic’ hospital bouquet of Bleach, Formaldehyde and the occasional touch of Eau De Vomit adorned the room, adding to the grim, disconcerting atmosphere of the place.
Joseph Kerr watched uneasily as his comrade lay haplessly in one of the beds, hooked up to various monitors and IV drips; his dour mood was summed up perfectly by the melancholy’ mew’ that drew his attention.
“I know Carmine, I’m worried about her too.”
Kneeling down to give her some affectionate rubs, the Jester smiled briefly as he observed the feline’s antics;
“Sorry. You know the rules, Carmine. You’re not allowed in Medical. Go and play somewhere else, I’ll come update you later.”
Letting out a mournful ‘meow’, Carmine gave Joseph an affectionate rub before running off back to the main area of the theatre.
Stone Harbor could arguably be VILE's nicest base to date. The town had a culture of its own to assimilate into, there were plenty of abandoned structures to move into, and an abundance of necessary resources on hand. Flag wanted to like it, but he just couldn't.
At first his discomfort with the place seemed completely irrational, but as Carmen had once pointed out, it was loud. The ocean waves battered the island from all directions and the wind whistled pretty much everywhere. While it could be tuned out, it took effort.
The subterranean levels were easier for him to handle on a noise level. However, what they lacked in white noise, they made up for in atmosphere. The science labs smelled acrid with ozone and the "medical room" smelled like a hospital. Both consisted of the weird and experimental.
Between the two, Flag preferred the wonder and enthusiasm of the science-side, but he more often found himself in the weird tension of the medical side. This time the sense of lingering worry and tension came from the Jester sitting not far away from the foot of the runt's bed.
Flag had occupied that seat, reading through the books that Neb stole, before he had had to answer a call of nature. It frustrated him now that he would not be able to continue his reading, but he didn't let this show. Instead he nodded a greeting, turned, and leaned against the wall.
Time seemed to stand still as Joseph and Flag watched over their comrade; stoic silence serving as the backdrop for uncertainty, regret, curiosity and frustration. The occasional exchange of subtle glances served as the only reprieve for the duo who seemed otherwise intent on willing Neb to fight through her incapacitation.
Since returning from their mission, Joseph knew that he would have to hash things out with his counterparts; given that one was currently indisposed, he had wanted to wait till a more suitable time. Now, with the tension palpable in the room, he was reminded of the volatility of its occupants; perhaps it would be more prudent to deal with one at a time.
Finally, the Jester broke the stalemate and signaled the silver-haired enigma to follow him outside Medical.
Looking Flag in the eye as best he could, Joseph addressed him in a deceptively calm voice.
“You clearly have something to say to me, so let’s hear it.”
Flag quirked an eyebrow and narrowed his slitted eyes on the jester before him. While he could comment on the evening, he really didn't feel that there was much of a point to it outside of a debriefing. The Sivoan simply wanted it to be over with; to have all the ends wrapped up. This was impossible so long as the runt was incapacitated... and now apparently without a confrontation.
"What do you want to hear?"
Keeping his tone neutral, Joseph began pulling the band-aid off.
“For starters, what was up with the electrocution attempts? I’m pretty sure we have a “no killing” policy around here.”
"I didn't kill him. I took away his vantage point." Flag responded coldly.
Joseph retorted with a roll of his eyes, “Only because you missed.”
Doing his best to keep his tone even, the Jester looked Flag square in the eyes.
“Look, I’m not an idiot. I know you’ve got some sort of powers; I don’t really care to know the full details, nor do I need to know if the rumours of your origin are true. What I do need to know is that you won’t pull stunts like that as long as you’re working with us; if you’re gonna stick around with VILE, then you need to play by our rules. I won’t have your careless disregard for life send hapless ACME agents to an early grave.”
Flag didn't move as he continued to stare Joe down. "I honor what Carmen requests of me, but I owe no special favors to ACME. So long as they continue to excessively arm their detectives, I will prepare accordingly.”
“That’s the problem right there, you combat brawn with brawn; we combat brawns with brains. We’re thieves, not soldiers; we take pride in outwitting our opponents at every turn of the game.”
A mirthless "heh" left Flag before he could rein it in and he crossed his arms as he nodded toward Neb in the bed. "That worked so well."
He dropped his hands again and hooked his thumbs into his pockets. "Answer me this. When was the last time you dealt with an archer?"
“Back when I had a stint in the circus.” Noticing the deadpan look, Joseph was quick to append his statement.
“I wasn’t kidding. My first stint as a thief was with a circus of performers who also moonlighted as thieves. Back then, I knew a guy who entertained using archery tricks.”
"Then you should be aware that arrows arc and a good archer can control how. Even hidden, we were dead as long as he knew which stones we were behind." Flag lifted his eyes to look over the Jester and into the room beyond. "I didn't miss. With him on the ground, all we had to do was make sure he didn't know where we were until Ki—Neb brought the plane in."
Flag cast his eyes downward. "He loosed his arrow at you despite your wit. If it weren't for her, you'd be in that bed."
Looking at the bed, Joseph exhaled before replying calmly.
“Believe me, I’m grateful for her actions. I went out in the open because I was trying to stall him, confuse him; no self-respecting hunter/warrior takes out a surrendered target.
Also, in case you didn’t notice, he had me and Neb dead to rights very early on but didn’t fire on either of us; he was looking for you. I read his eyes; he was assessing the situation, being extremely cautious. As long as we had appeared passive, I should have been able to stall him out till the plane came.”
Turning to Flag, he continued.
“Look, I get that you were trying to solve the issue the way that you saw fit but that’s the issue right there, the way you see fit differs from what the rest of us see fit. You could have killed the archer, if not for the bolt then from the fall; he was damn lucky to survive that.
You were thinking of us, and I appreciate that, but good VILE agents know to assess the situation and figure a way that everyone can get out unscathed, ACME and VILE.”
Self-respecting hunter? Flag went to mock the notion by pointing out that the man had a death maze under his house and a ready means of hiding bodies; that he also sent killer robots after them and followed up with an intentionally poisoned arrow after all of that had failed, but was cut off by the jester's continuance.
"You knew what he was thinking? Your gift of telepathy is astounding." Flag said as he rolled his eyes. "So what would you be saying now if the previous owner of the books had not been ACME, as you've so clearly emphasized, and were say... mafia?" The sorcerer took a step forward. "I'd be justified then, right? At this point, your words are hypocrisy. I explained my actions. Whatever organization he belonged to was not a factor in my decision to protect us and it is concerning that it is such a weight on you."
Seeing as the message was clearly not getting through, Joseph’s frustration started to boil over.
“Funny you should mention the Mafia. Let’s also add the Irish Mob, the Russian Mob, the Chinese Triads and the Mexican Cartels while we’re at it. Just like them, VILE is a criminal organisation with an enormous network and vast resources and just like them, we face off with ACME all the time. But you know what sets us apart from all of them?
Our wits. Everything they are famous for, we could easily pull off, and arguably outshine them, but we don’t; however, can they steal the Eiffel Tower without damaging it? I think not. Can they make Angkor Wat magically disappear? No. We can. That’s what we do. That’s who we are.
We don’t need firepower and might to secure our standing; We don’t run on fear; we run on respect. We pride ourselves on our ability to outthink and outwit any opponent, no matter how tough.
ACME doesn’t fear us, and they shouldn’t have to; Despite the fact that we have arguably more resources and capability than all the mobs combined, they know they’re safe no matter what our schemes, because they understand that we’re not like everyone else.
We’re above killing, we’re above drugs and guns and human trafficking and all that other crap; we’re not in this for money or for ourselves.
VILE has always and will always be in this for the love of the game, nothing more and nothing less. No matter how dangerous our foe, the rules of the game never change - no killing. Against bloodthirsty foes I might resort to non-lethal force in order to incapacitate but I will never kill.
The day that I break that oath in order to survive, is the day I turn myself into ACME and ask them to throw away the key, because I’m no longer fit to play the game.”
Pausing, Joseph lowered his voice and looked Flag square in the eye before continuing slowly
“No opponent of ours, ACME or otherwise should have to die for this game…”
Joseph turned back to look at Neb through the glass as he finished in almost a whisper,,
“...that’s our burden to bear.”
Flag had to stifle a laugh as the jester got himself worked up. It wasn't that the Sivoan didn't understand what was being said, he just didn’t agree with it, preferring efficiency over style and finding that violence was often very efficient in his dealings.
But, perhaps for the first time, he could see why Carmen brought Joe into the team. He could be a decent faceman.
They both failed tonight, however. Efficiency would have been doing more reconnaissance on the mansion; discovering the cave that lead directly to the study from the graveyard and entering the labyrinth from there. Showmanship would have been better executed with a planned distraction that would have made a grab-and-run heist go unnoticed.
They all should have asked for help beforehand, but they all had been to proud to do so.
He had contemplated this at length while he had been flipping through their loot and came to terms with it as best as he could. It finally seemed that Joe was done throwing blame via rhetoric and was accepting the situation as well.
Flag sighed, acknowledging only the last bit of the jester's tirade. "Yeah."
Alone in his laboratory, VILE’s lead doctor looked at samples from the patient and established the toxin to be a derivative of coniine. This was common enough for arrows, but the doctor was not in the habit of questioning attackers. His job was to restore life, wherever possible. When he was done with analysis, Acton Roux sealed his face with the now famous mask and goggles, and proceeded to his patient.
Upon entry, he nodded a greeting to both men before him.
“It is hemlock, plain and simple,” he stated, “she is likely fully conscious. We keep the young lady hydrated and breathing, she should be able to battle this on her own.”
He proceeded to check her status. Symptoms were consistent with hemlock poisoning. With time, she should wake on her own. Perhaps as quickly as the next few hours.
“I will monitor her until she wakes, you both may remain, of course.”
‘He would use hemlock, fucking nob,’ Neb thought dryly as she tried to speak again. Brychanson was a chronological paradox in all ways; with ancient castle filled with high tech dungeon traps, armed with a longbow and modern arrow, tipped with an old poison that she had little doubt was synthetic, just to keep the pattern.
If she could have heard Flag’s conclusion that the job had been botched, she would have vehemently disagreed. She’d done as much reconnaissance possible for a private household as bizarre as the Welshman’s, and prior experience taught her that there was no surefire distraction that would worked on him. The man seemed to have his own illogical brand of magical timing and intuition, something she wouldn’t put past him actually having considering that she and Flag could claim the same.
And then, of course, there was the fact that Brychanson was crazy. There was no reason for him to come after them with, of all things, a longbow, especially after Joe declared himself unarmed. They’d gotten into the castle, stolen the treasure, and got out alive. That was all you could ask for from an attack on Castle Branula and they’d done it. In her eyes, the mission was a success.
Except for one thing.
She had warned both her colleagues thoroughly that they were going up against a madman, but only one of them seemed to understand. It wasn’t Joe’s code of nonviolence that troubled her, but his seeming lack of survival instinct. Even now the Jester tempted fate by poking at an already irritated Flag, and she was dearly grateful that the silver-haired man wasn’t reacting as he could have.
Neb frowned inwardly. She should never have allowed Joe into something so dangerous. He was a sweet man, meant for more playful, honor-bound, intellectually-driven environments with a more level-headed opposition like ACME.
Bran’s temple of doom was no place to bring a man like that. Even if Bran was ACME, (and of that she wasn’t so sure), that didn’t count for much. Lee Jordan was ACME too, and he was clearly a psychopath.
At least the punishment landed on the right person, Neb thought grimly as she pushed at the poison’s grip. Fuuking Bran. Stupid fuuking Bran with his fuuking arrow. Was probably showing off for his girlfriend, what a big man he is, with his big ass bow and his big ass poison arrow. Ooh look at me, shooting these unarmed thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvessss I’m so brave, standing out it the open like a twat when these thieves is so dangerous goddam-
“...fucking Bran!” she muttered aloud, at last.
TO BE CONTINUED!
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