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Elke’s arrival in Moscow was on a day just like any other day. The train station linked up with the main Moscow terminal, which Elke wandered lost for quite a while. The trains all looked alike and the symbols and boards were confusing. Eventually, she was deposited at a station that someone said was good for tourists. She smiled and thanked. them for the advice. There was a big lake in the distance that drew her fancy for a while, but when someone bumped into her, it pushed her attention to the view ahead.

The bridge leading to a cookie cutter outline of buildings was full of people. Some had packages tucked under their arms. Others were distracted by devices. A girl was currently videoing herself posing in front of the pretty buildings.

They were all pointy and painted with designs that reminded Elke of the quaint buildings of the Alps. She smiled to herself and followed the flow of the crowd into the interior. It was an open-air market and Elke smiled broadly as she wandered the stalls. She paused in front of a display of hand-painted nesting dolls and picked one up to examine it.

She offered to buy the doll, and pulled out a cheap, single-use wallet to make the payment. It took her half way traveling across Europe before she learned that money only worked on these devices. She picked one up at a local corner pharmacy store. It was all beat up and cracked. The battery was almost dead. But she held it out for the worker to scan when someone bumped into her.

She fell down with an oof, realizing that the assailant had grabbed her bag and ducked into the crowd.

“Hey!” Stop!"
Imailovsky was an easy tout for tourists, and tourists were easy fodder. Though it was not why Ezekiel was here this day. He wandered with native ease, watching the crowds, hands slunk into his pockets. Dark clothing draped his shoulders, a marked contrast against golden skin. Setting up games like the one he planned for Cruz Vega took time and a vast network, but that business was dealt with for now (and perhaps accounted for the vague smirk sharpening his lips). He was here for information as mercurial as the changing weather. Rumour was always useful.

He paused to watch a girl purchasing a souvenir, but only because he discerned the mark she had made of herself in carelessness. Ezekiel observed the flashing eyes of opportunity without interfering. Hands grasped. She tumbled in the process, her bag lost in the mindless market sea.

The mugger was long gone, and Ezekiel was not inclined to the chase. He did offer a tattooed hand though, to help her to her feet. “That was unlucky,” he said. Or stupid, but people rarely took kindly to that kind of honesty.
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 
Elke's brooding made a seat in the path. The pathway made her butt hurt after she'd fallen on her rump in the tug of war that was lost. She didn't even see which way the person had ran. So she furrowed down her brows frustrated. She had a blueberry muffin wrapped up in that bag that she was hoping to enjoy for lunch today. 

She picked up the wallet from where it clattered to the ground. A few additional cracks marred its surface, but it powered up with her touch. She was scanning the apps when a hand was thrust in front of her face.

"That was unlucky," the man attached to the hand said.

She nodded. "Yah. I had a muffin in that bag," she explained. There was a lip gloss as well in the perfect shade that made her lips feel all moist and happy that she would also miss. 

She snaked her hand into his and was promptly on her feet. He was kind looking, and his mess of hair sprayed like black sunshine from his face. She couldn't help but smile.

"Thanks," she offered. Her accent was quite pleasant and distinctive. Her consonants slurred compared to his, and she must have appeared quite simple in comparison. 

"Luckily, I have enough money to buy another muffin, but unsolucky because I was rather fond of that bag." She looked around as if a bakery might suddenly appear behind her. When it didn't, she tipped a shoulder into a shrug and rather without direction began to wander in search of the next thing. 

She ended up not buying the nesting doll. Since now she had to use that money on a muffin instead.
The day couldn't decide what it wanted to be. The sky was a brilliant happy cerulean blue and the sun shone bright and clear- and weakly. Some of the clouds that scudded the sky were white and billowy, puffy cotton balls hanging lazily, while others were dark brown and gray, angrily stretched flat and ripped apart by ferocious winds. 

Liv paused at the entrance of the market, gathering her strength, before deciding to plunge in. It wasn't bravery. Not really. She just wanted...distraction. Life was busy, what with school and work. She felt at home with Mom and Dad and Grigor, but she was starting to feel cramped. She wasn't ready to leave again. Not yet. Not after last time. That would take more courage than she had.

But this, this was nice. Other things would have been nice too. Or even this, if Nika was with her. Oh, she knew the racing rules. It seemed pretty draconian, but then again she didn't race around the track at ungodly speeds with her face a meter from the ground. No phones allowed before or during a race. She got it. No distraction. She would have gone, maybe. If she'd been asked. But she had to imagine that her being there would sort of make the phone rule pointless.

Which meant she missed Nika and didn't know how she was. Just a few days, she'd said. A week at most. It had only been those few days and already it made her antsy.

Which she didn't like. It was too soon. She wasn't ready to be here after...

...and she was thinking about it again. She didn't want to get caught up in a loop, over analyzing every thing, second guessing and replaying. She couldn't handle that. Building to a frenzy of hope and fear.

She took a breath and shifted her focus, concentrating on something else. A wind, with a sharp bite, blew past her and that decided things. Something hot to drink. There was a small shop just around the corner and she went in. The smell of coffee and pastries engulfed her, but it was a warm and comforting one. She worked in one, after all.

Between her job and her school, she stayed busy- busy enough to keep her from going down too many dangerous paths. She was still working on her Microbiology degree- to mom's delight. It was interesting, sure. Between the math, the information theory and biology itself, it was a struggle, though. But that wasn't bad.

One thing had changed. She was taking an art class again. Well, one art class. And not even one where she created anything. Art History of Indigenous Peoples. Which she liked. And it was safe. It satiated her without any risk. She wasn't ready to be judged again, even if for just a grade. It was more than a year now, but still the memory of Laila ripping her work apart- figuratively and literally. Liv touched her healed wrist subconsciously. Yeah, she'd had a temper. 

But Nika had loved her sketches. That had given her the motivation to at least do something. 

And of course, it happened again. She let the hot tea burn her throat as she looked about the market for something. A vintage clothing shop caught her eye, and she did smile then. She loved those places. You never knew what treasures you'd find.

Which was why, an hour later, she was walking out with a bag in hand, smiling in contentment. She couldn't believe she had found 3 slip dresses. Light and thin and down to just above the knee, one was blueberry blue with a pattern of small bright white and yellow flowers, the other light mauve with dark paisley swirls. The third was a simple black, with a touch of lace at the hem. With a white T shirt and some ripped tights when it was cold, or just with a choker, her oversize leather jacket and and Doc Martin's, they would look great.

And now, she was hungry. She should have gotten a pastry or something. But it was a good feeling. She started forward. She'd find another place to get food.

At that moment, something bowled her over, her bag flying up. Or someone. Thankfully, her backpack softened her fall. From her position she saw scrambling and as she tried to get up- a kind woman helping her- she saw a man looking about for something while also watching behind her. After a moment, he took off at a run.

She reached for her bag and the woman bent down and retrieved a purse, handing it to her. Liv was going to tell the woman it wasn't hers and then let the words die on her lips. She knew what had happened. 

She took the purse, thanking the woman, and turned in the direction she had been going- the direction the mugger had come from- and after only a moment, noted a man talking to a woman. She wasn't sure why, but somehow she had the feeling this was the owner of the purse. Maybe.

She walked the 50 meters to the couple and asked, "Excuse me, did you lose this?", holding out the purse.
Pretty soon another girl came up. Elke smiled happily when she saw what was being carried. She quickly gobbled the purse up. There was a tear near one of the straps, but it hung on. She’d probably be able to sew it back together just fine. “Oh thank you so much!” she squee’d and hugged her heroine. Then she opened the bag and rifled through its innards. Soon, she pulled out a squished muffin. Its crumbs were all falling out of the plastic wrapper. She frowned to herself then, casting a glare off in the distance the snatcher had run.

“Oh well.” she tossed the muffin in a trash bin and came back. “Know any bakeries around here? Or someplace to get a good snack?” she laid her palm on her stomach and pat it hungrily.
The girl seemed overjoyed to get her purse back. Liv understood completely. Truly. Losing a wallet was a pain. Sure, everything on it was stored in the cloud. Nothing would be lost. Not really. All your pictures and videos, messages and financial account were safe.

And yet just the thought of having to replace it spiked her stress. You had to get a new one. And until then, you couldn't call or message anyone. You couldn't get help if you needed. During all that time, you were completely alone- no money or freedom or anything.

It was terrifying. 

Her mind flashed to when she had to replace hers. Laila. Something Liv had said set her off. Or done. She couldn't  remember the details. Any of how it started. The screen was supposed to be indestructible. But the hand that slapped it away from her was strong and the blow hard. She remembered that. Clearyly. It had been near her ear, as if she had been making a call- or trying to- when it was struck and the aim was precise at all. No it wasn't.

Laila had later helped put some ointment on her cheek to treat the abrasions from her nails. It had been tender and Laila gentle as she apologized about losing her temper. As she promised to be better. As she told her she loved her, that her passion ruled her.

It had still been early in their relationship and Liv had thought she might change, that she could change. That if she just tried harder and was more careful-

- Liv shoved away the memory that had flooded her. It hadn't hit like that in a long while. It wasn't always like this, little things bringing the past back. The last time had been just after she started school again. Before she'd met Nika, actually. But when it did, it had the could set her in a downward spiral that sometimes took days to pull herself back up from And so she had to catch it before it got too far- a car rolling down a hill and then push it back to a good place.

Distraction. She needed distraction. And a push in a different direction. The flattend muffin wrapped in plastic was beyond saving. The girl was noticably disappointed, though not overly so.  She was hungry. Liv was too. Baba Yaga's Concoctions was just on the other side of the square. It took a moment, but she decided. "There's a pastry shop  nearby. I was headed over there. I can show you where it is." She smiled in a friendly manner. "I'm Liv."

The car was heavy and she wanted it to move back where had been.
When the girl wandered aimlessly away from him, Zeke did not follow, though he did observe for a moment longer. When another retrieved the purse, though, he melted away back into the busy market crowds.
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 

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