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Da Capo (Manifesto)
“Dearest Natalie, you won’t even know I’m here.” Dark eyes glittered in the face of the woman opposite, deep as onyx stones. Shadows swathed her features, claiming all but the sharpness of a smile gleaming by the lights smeared beyond the windows. The car wove slowly through city centre traffic, and Natalie’s gaze slid to watch the progress of their lazy crawl. Toma was her family’s investment, and she supposed she didn’t begrudge the assurance in order to keep her mother happy. As far as bodyguards went, it could have been worse.

“If you were not informed of my recent history, I’m sure you’ve already done your homework,” she said eventually. A smirk touched her lips, but did not much soften the arid tone. “I don’t promise to behave.” 

Toma only laughed.

Manifesto’s rolling beats vibrated through her chest the moment she passed security into its halls of obscene wealth and decadence. Moscow’s business heart beat its lifeblood in such places, and it was business that drew her. An afternoon’s research was all she’d allowed herself before plunging straight to the fire, confidant enough in her silver tongue to smooth the gateway she desired. Natalie’s pale eyes passed over dozens of faces as she made her way through the crush. A woman alone was too often interpreted as an open invitation -- for true to her word, Toma peeled away like smoke into the shadows -- but Natalie coyly extricated herself from unwanted attention. Maybe those cool smirks proved a lure. The pale gold waterfall of hair over one shoulder. A dress that draped curves. If Moscow was to be the new battlefield, she could not fight every war having alienated the city’s brightest stars. She was not cold, but her attention was nonetheless dismissive.

Her path took her to the iron-studded walls of Block 1 before she set eyes on the woman she had come to find, surrounded like the most exquisite flower by the hum of bees. Diamonds hugged a delicate throat, black hair swept up from her fine-boned face, and she leaned attentive to her companions. None of that mattered, though; just the hum of sisterly resonance on which Natalie had been gambling. A good start, at least. She did not pause to compose herself before slipping boldly among them.
A joyous fluttering against her senses drew Zhenya’s attention like warm Spring sunshine to the woman who joined them. She knew the name offered, but had never before had the pleasure of a face to pair with the girl Sören had once helped survive the Sickness back in London. Surprise blossomed for such an unanticipated connection to an old life, but generous welcome too. Sören had always been so cagey about his work with channelers that it felt somewhat like an unlooked for victory to discover one landed in her lap. Certainly, she was curious.

Natalie Northbrook was angelic of colouring; hair spun like butter and cream, and possessed of the most whimsically pale blue eyes, but there was a sharpness to her beauty Zhenya imagined many to cut themselves upon in thinking she might be so easily held like a jewel in one’s palm. In so considering, a curl of seiðr unravelled to brush against the girl’s nose in innocent tease. She wondered if Natalie might be such a protégé as to frown, much as Sören himself always had at playful overtures, but the weave cut and swirled away like smoke -- much to Zhenya’s delight for the finesse of such an unexpected repartee. 

Natalie’s lips smoothed into the most sardonic smirk. When her gaze met Zhenya’s, one of her pale brows arched, and Zhenya laughed.  

“I have not seen you here before, Natalie. Are you newly arrived to the fair city?” Then, for the benefit of her gathered companions, who might not recognise such unusual Custody aristocracy: “To what do we owe the honour of a Patron’s granddaughter?”
Cruz opened up his closet to his mundane friends. Felix who was much broader in the shoulder stretched his clothes to the seams but he looked like he might fit into an American mobster movies of the late 1980s and early 90s. He even donned the gold chain with think rings around his neck. One of thsoe things Cruz had purchased for a Halloween Costume a few years back.

Gordie on the other hand was smaller, and the clothes were a little too bit. With a belt the pants looked wrong, and the legs were too long, but Cruz lent the short man a pair of platforms from the same gaudy costume he'd purchased for the 70s decade theme he'd been going for. He didn't look bad.

Cruz only differentiated by adding a pull over button down with long sleeves and a suit jacket of a name the men at the door would recognize. Everything but the shirt he kept on that was Nox's was top of the name brands and none of it was off the rack. All of it tailored to fit him, though some of it was a little tight, working out having done a bit to change the fit of his clothes. But he didn't complain.

The man at the door didn't look at them twice when they approached. Now if only he could keep his two friends in check. When he got inside the first thing he did was open a thousand dollar tab. Anything they ordered under that he'd pay for, Everything else they wanted well they'd soon learn that Manifesto was well above their price range. Cruz ordered himself a dark Russian ale while the others went for the more exorbitant things like vodka on the rocks or some thing Cruz couldn't even pronounce. The price tags taking off a hefty chunk of their stipend.

Felix and Gordie were all a flutter whispering and point out things. Cruz could only roll his eyes.
Adrian was dropped off at the front entrance to Manifesto in a luxurious town car. He never drove himself when he could help it; his license lapsed years ago. If per chance some strange emergency required him to drive, a court payoff was far easier than the hassle of renewals.

He buttoned his jacket and smirked at the line of people waiting to enter the club. His jacket and waistcoat were classically tailored across his shoulders, a deep blue with a charcoal shirt worn open at the neck. Even as he climbed the steps a woman in a brilliant green dress wearing dangerously high heels was turned away. Amidst her disappointment, she watched with open awe as the door was held open for Adrian. He did not look back.

He was a regular in Block 1, having sealed many a deal in the posh scene. He was less known in the club proper, where strobing lights and the glistening press of skin made him feel like he was buried alive. The decadence of Block 1 was like settling in the feather boa of a tempting mistress. Block 2 was the venue for celebrations, should the deal warrant a proper sealing. Perhaps he would find himself entrenched in its charms by the end of the night.

His table was ready, a reserved nook capable of holding conversation without seclusion from the wider scene, but he took a turn about the room first. Familiar faces filled some corners. The newness of fresh bait prowled the rest.
His friends were chatting up anyone who would give them the time of day. Most of the girls turned their noses at their awestruck innuendo. Cruz remembered why he didn't like coming to places like this. It was worse than a dinner party, here there was no feigning interest.

Gordie and Felix were sucking up to a pair of women -- buying them drinks they normally couldn't afford. They'd soon find themselves on the bottoms edge if they weren't careful, but Cruz tired of the scene and sought refuge in the darker places. The walk to the restrooms was crowded. And he bumped into several people who were wildly expressing themselves and offered no apology, not that Cruz expected one.

The line to the woman's restroom snaked around the corner and Cruz smirked to himself as he found his way easily into the near empty restroom. The silence was deafening. There was no loud pumping music, and thankfully no sounds of other personal bodily functions from either end. He was virtually alone.

Cruz rested the back of his head against the cool wall behind him and stared up at the ceiling drowning in the silence of the room. Near the top edge of the far wall above the mirror was a crack. Not so much a crack, as a hole in the adjoining seams. Curiously Cruz tried to focus on the darkness with in. A glint caught his eye. How strange.

Cruz looked around and no one was with him. He pulled upon the power as he'd been taught and pried the reflecting peice from the crack and it floated to him with easy. A simple task, he grinned to himself.

The coin glinted black in an old yet modern way. It wasn't real money at least not any that Cruz had ever seen modern or historical. The skull in the center and the raised edges made the coin look old, but it wasn't. It was made out of some light weight material that was fashioned to be old. The things they could do with technology.

Cruz continued his leisure stance and flipped the coin over and over in his hands pondering who had stuck the coin there, and why?
Some recognition had flickered Zhenya Disir’s expression, which likely spoke of nothing complimentary to Natalie’s reputation, but the warmth of her smile was nonetheless a magnanimous welcome into the coterie of her gathered admirers. She knew little about this woman beyond her cursory research -- which was to say, Natalie had been seeking for someone with both social influence, wealth, and certain rumours about her person. Too flimsy a lure to bother with the formality of approaching Pervaya Liniya directly, but worth the gamble of a chance meeting. 

Wary interest flared as Zhenya lulled in the power’s glow, only to flick air like a child’s tease. The only other woman with any degree of control over the power she had met was Evelyn, who would have been unlikely to use it for such playfulness. Natalie cut the threads before they met their mark, but it earned a smirk.

The woman’s laugh was charmed.

“Newly returned, it’s probably fairer to say.” Someone slid a glass into Natalie’s hand, and she accepted it with a brief glance at the gift-giver, but did not drink. Her skin prickled with memory she did not particularly care to indulge. Zhenya’s head inclined, picking the answer apart curiously. Then a lovely smile lit her face, and perhaps a hint of mischief, as she excused herself momentarily from the gathering, and fell smoothly alongside a tall, dark-haired man. Her arm slipped companionably through his.

“Mister Kane, you are looking grievously lonely,” she laughed, steering his direction. “Join us?”
The petite CEO of a powerful company found her way into his arm. Adrian’s smile down at her was the kind that conflated amusement with genuine pleasure. He’d not seen her, hidden as she usually is by the hive, a queen bee nestled comfortably for the dams to drip honey.

“It’s been a while. You’re not tempting me into renegotiating our arrangement?” he said as he allowed her to tug him along. One of Kane’s companies was on-call for her when her contractors made a fucking mess of things and needed it cleaned up. In return, Pervaya provided their services now and then. Adrian was a legitimate businessman after all, and sometimes even he had to disassociate from the dirty work.

He was introduced to a bubble of beautiful people. Adrian fell easily into their ranks. He wore stylish clothing, hand-made leather shoes and a notable timepiece. An employee provided a drink, but the bubbling concoction was only a soda and lime. To the normal eye, it was vodka tonic, and Block 1 was familiar with Adrian’s habits. Indulgences came later.

It was with a small measure of surprise that he recognized one of Zhenya’s associates. Not merely because of her pseudo-political-celebrity status, but because they were from the same place. Now what was a Northbrook doing cavorting with Pervaya? He shared the same smile with her as he had Zhenya.
The rest room became occupied by more than pampered rich kid. Cruz was like them -- until he fell into the mundane crowd. He had no idea when that happened. He left the comfort of the restroom and entrenched himself in the loud obnoxious noise of the club. He clutched the coin in his hand. He wondered what it meant. Cruz caught sight of Gordie and Felix dancing with women who were trying to ignore them. They didn't see him. Thankfully. Cruz sighed to himself and slipped past the bouncers into Block 1.

The noise diminished and instead of pompous kids dancing and making merry, this was more suited for buisines. The quiet of block 1 was entirely different. And he recognized more faces here than he had in the club proper. His grandfather had him schmoozing with the big wigs lately, under his careful guise of course, but Emilio Vega was not here. And he hadn't been in Moscow for a few weeks. He was heir to Jivana's legacy and current VP of R&D. His grandfather liked his vision, and that Cruz was thankful for. He however did not like his new friends. But he said nothing. At least for now.

Cruz took up residence near a group of people and refilled his drink while he flipped the coin in his hand.

A commotion at the door drew his attention. "Let us in. Our friend is in there." shouted Gordie. Felix with the bouncers were trying to convince Gordie he didn't need to come inside Block 1. "Cruz! Dude, come on man, help a guy out." Gordie shouted. Cruz hung his head and tried to hide. How fucking embarrassing! This had been a bad fucking idea.
Adrian fell into an easy step beside her, not that she particularly expected otherwise of him. Zhenya wrapped companionably close, her palm smoothing the expensive sleeve of his suit, warm from the body within. He wore deepest blue, like the promise of an evening sky darkening to the charcoal night of his shirt, and he smelled divine. Good business didn’t have to be wrapped up in a pretty package, of course; Zhenya’s vanities were not so frivolous, just her preferences. But it certainly didn’t hinder. Adrian Kane made a rather beautiful accessory.
“If it’s been a while it’s because you are always so busy, Adrian. One would think you had forgotten the dearest of your friends.” The admonishment had no bite, just the tease of long acquaintance. In business Zhenya was known to be as ruthless as a warrior queen, but in social niceties she was genuinely warm, and her favourites inevitably met at that crossroads. She leaned closer for a conspiratorial whisper. “Now that would depend, no? Are you tempted?” Her eyes upturned, all darkened tease. She was flirtatious without being salacious, and her smile twitched with fond humour. Her attention held all the warmth of the sun, but she was a married woman, after all.

He fell amongst them with practised ease. Zhenya watched the drink delivered to his hand with a trifling suspicion for its content. It was her habit to come to know the small routines of a person. She could be relied upon for discretion, of course, but it did not mean she would not tease him with an amused and knowing look for the presumption of such staid restraint.

Meanwhile the conversation flowed unobstructed by the commotion from the door, dutifully ignored whilst security handled the intrusion. Jivana's heir hovered nearby, enthralled by whatever it was he flipped methodically in his hand. Such a delightful boy. But she rather doubted Emilio would approve of the young men currently creating quite the boisterous scene in an effort to garner his attention. Cruz Vega was very young, perhaps not even out of his teens, and he might not find much to amuse him in Block 1, but he was welcome to hide amongst them whilst he recovered from his clear mortification.

A curl of seidr arced the object high the next time it left his hand. It glinted like metal as it spun, its onward journey intended to bring him a little closer.

As for Natalie, by the manner of Adrian’s smile she suspected he recognised her. England was such a quaint little place, or so it seemed to her. She had wondered curiously if they might know each other. Little in Natalie's reaction suggested it to be the case, though it was difficult to tell. She was unruffled as a breeze upon a frozen lake. 

“Natalie was about to regale us with stories of her most recent trip outside Moscow. I so rarely get to travel these days that I am forced to live vicariously instead through the adventures of others.”
Adrian’s look was one of a willing accomplice. Zhenya’s charms were well-practiced, but for all her silken sheen, beneath was a bed of knives. He had no desire to be on the receiving end should she decide to fling one in his general direction. When he played along it was for as much his own amusement as it was dodging something more sinister. The game itself was the thrill, the cat and mouse, not the temporary credo of victory.
“I am always tempted,” he replied with a sly smile that promised to give as much as gotten, should she desire to take the game a step further. True to Zhenya’s insightful character, she pried apart the bars and found truth buried behind. Adrian’s personal attachments were few. Work was his life. Acquaintances were plenty. Relationships were shallow. If her intuition slashed a sting, it was hardly more than a superficial wound.

The intensity of Zhenya’s tilted gaze finally connected the invisible line between Adrian and their mutual company. Natalie’s name was dangled like bait, but Adrian selected the morsels at his own pace. Tonight, his appetite was small, but interested, even if the bait was striking.

He offered her his hand by way of introduction, “Adrian Kane,” he said, curious as to how she would accept the intrusion. And even more curiouser as to how the connection between the two women.

He’d find out eventually.

He always did.

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