"Subject displays an irrational anger towards all around her, frequently blaming them for unrelated events and the affliction she suffers from. Throughout the first 'experiment'--"
Elise's voice cracked derisively as she pronounced the word. She scowled beneath her goggles, flipping the page. More of the Sociologist's diagnosis was on the other side. "--she has frequently resorted to violence," She didn't bother to finish the sentence, skimming through a scathing paragraph itemizing the aforementioned violence. "It is, therefore, my conclusion that the subject suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as potentially borderline personality disord-- godsdamn how can you write this tripe?"
The alchemist crumpled the page. Her wrist almost flicked the ball into the fireplace of her makeshift camp, until she thought otherwise. She withdrew a vial of acid, uncorking it with an audible pop. The lime-green liquid ate through the page-- ink first, then the pulped fibers, until nothing remained. More permanent, Elise thought. Nothing left to recover. She scowled as the paper was devoured. Two days had been wasted gathering her bearings. She stood up, grabbing her most important items-- the crossbow and bolts, some alchemical flasks, a laundry list of items to scavenge, six doses of medicine. She needed to get moving again.
Boots scuffed against wood as she walked, pacing through the building she had hid in. When the city was alive, it might have been the sort of middle-class tenement she was used to, but with the city's death it was just another mausoleum. No one had bothered to loot its tomb-like rooms, not when there were mansions left unplundered. Was the Sociologist mocking her? Every step reminded her of the city she'd been stolen from-- the tomb apartments, the nobles quarantined in their mansions and waiting for the disease to run its course, the technological wonders left to rust. She pushed the thoughts of home away, focusing again on the immediate again as she set out.
Thick chemical ash still hung in the air as Elise stepped out onto the street. A clockwork carriage moved between the wreckage, gears clicking and steam hissing as it drove to a stop. The alchemist blinked. No one had been present in this quarter of the city. By the time her reflexes caught up and she had leveled her crossbow, three men had disembarked from the vehicle-- two guards, based on the uniforms and helmets and industrial steel swords. Their master moved in between them, an aristocrat adorned in pitch-black finery.
"Forgive me, my lady, but are you, ah, lost? There's only dead in this section of Ryburg." His almost-conversational tone carried the implication that Elise wasn't supposed to be here. He casually moved forward, examining the alchemist like she were some curiosity at an antique shop-- the weapon she wielded and the prospect of death it bore seemed to not perturb him. If anything, a hint of amusement crossed his face.
"The fuck do you want," Elise snapped back. She stopped shifting her aim, settling it between the noble's eyes. A half-mask covered part of her target's face-- she assumed it was a stylistic rendition of a skull, based on the jaw-like articulation and teeth on the lower portion.
"Now now, there's no need for hostilities," The aristocrat chided. He opened his hands out, in a mock display of surrender. The two guards advanced further, drawing their blades. "My name is Giscard du Lârillon. I am merely curious what someone might be doing in this part of the city."
Elise's grip tightened, stopping just short of squeezing the trigger.
"After all, we're so very far from anyone living."
Fuck this. Elise momentarily thought, as she resorted to violence.
"That wasn't very smart of you, was it?"
Elise wasn't bleeding, she had that much-- the noble had very clearly enunciated to his guards that they were to not use the bladed part of their swords. She was, however, heavily bruised, on her knees, suffering a broken eyepiece for her mask, and had both arms restrained behind her back by Giscard's escort. In retrospect, she should have expected they were disguised corpse golems, considering the black attire and the deliberate skull motif on the noble's accoutrements, but the thought hadn't crossed her mind. The alchemist forced herself to look up, to stare at the noble as he knelt and reveled in his victory.
Giscard examined her critically, eying each part of her ensemble now that she posed no threat. "Most individuals who act as, ah, rashly as you did last a minute against my guards, you know," He began. "It took them five to subdue you. I wonder why that is?"
"Fuck you," Elise swore. "Fuck you, you necr--"
"I prefer the term thanatologist," Giscard interrupted. "It's more, ah, modern, I would say. In the spirit of the times, perhaps." In a single motion he grabbed the alchemist's mask and tugged it off, somehow effortlessly. Leather straps snapped off, and for a moment the makeshift respirator's air-circulation hissed as its tubing was strained and abruptly disconnected.
Giscard surreptitiously loosened his collar as he took in what was now before him.
The alchemist was too shocked to release another stream of invective. Her gaze dropped, and she shifted uncomfortably in the hope that was somehow enough to escape notice. Even if she hadn't seen her face in however long it had been, she knew it was marred by the half-rotten skin and countless wounds her affliction had left unhealed. "Give it back," She mumbled, almost to herself.
Giscard waved his hand to the pair of corpse golems, who obediently released the alchemist and stepped back. He stood up, watching her scramble to re-attach the mask. "My lady, I must, ah, apologize, for my conduct." He finally offered, after a moment had passed and she had stood up and recollected herself. "Had I known of your beauty--"
He likes rutting corpses, Elise thought, assembling enough foresight to not outright accuse him of such.
"--I would never acted as I did. May I, ah, perhaps make it up to you? This night, at my mansion, perhaps?"
The alchemist looked away, but nodded a terse agreement-- she could renege on it later, she reasoned.
Giscard cracked a half-smile at the positive response, no matter how subdued. "Splendid! I'm having a function tonight among the surviving nobility, and it would be my delight to see you in attendance. My estate is the Chateau de Skullfucker, I doubt you will be unable to find it."
And, with a wave of his hand, he left-- his security and himself filed back into their carriage, and it steamed off across the rubble-strewn streets of Ryburg.
Elise stared at the ground, before picking up her crossbow once again. She was as stupid as the Sociologist's writing had not so subtly implied, she realized. She had repeatedly blundered into situations where violence was not a solution, or an adequate one. She had let her mind rot and deteriorate with every instance of anger and impatience. She needed allies, more than anything, now. Trying to take on the Sociologist-- and Giscard, and possibly even Nemo and Alberich, she needed to reevaluate her stance on them-- would require more than just a crossbow and whatever flimsy alchemy she could concoct.
The alchemist set off into the dead metropolis, away from the safe scavenging locales she had already plundered. It was time to accomplish something more than just survival.
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