"Ensure that all of your luggage transported correctly through the portal. Thank you for taking our transportation services today, passengers!" As the muffled beat of the pre-recorded message echoed out through the train station, a young woman stepped across the threshold, a bag slung across her shoulders as she eyed the checkpoint employee.
"Thank you for choosing Renvolt Interplanetary Travel Services today. Please present your passport." A dull and unenthused youth, he had the look of someone who had been stuck in a thankless job for far too long. He wordlessly took the small card that held her information, glancing at it briefly before returning it and typing at his computer. "Please state your last name, then your first name, and your business in Edge City."
"Albrecht, Rose." Her voice was calm and collected, and she swept her pink hair back as she studied the employee. "I'm here to visit my grandparents; they retired on Halcyon a few years ago."
The boy typed her response in, nonreactive to anything she'd spoken. It was to be expected, Rose knew. RITS employees typically were altered in some form, magically or otherwise, to ensure loyalty and hard work.
"You're cleared for entry, Miss Albrecht. Have a good stay in Edge City, jewel of Halcyon." With a tap of his keyboard, the gate opened to allow her entry, and the boy gave a brief nod. "Have a wonderful evening."
Returning his gesture, Rose travelled through the station, climbing up the steps until, at last, she found herself on the cold streets, surrounded by pedestrians on their way to and from work.
"So this is Edge City? Smells worse than I'd have thought." Taking in the evening air, Rose pulled out the small sheaf of paper that the Bishops had given her, the names of her contacts written neatly in a column. "I guess we'll start with the easy one. Dana Rayder, owner of the Silver Star. Let's hope this gets done soon, I already don't like the looks of this city."
"Say, Lena, do you remember that mission on Meres?"
"How could I forget?" Helena chuckled, shaking her head as she watched Dana slide the last of the clean shot glasses into a neat row. "The rest of us hated it, but you loved it the whole time we were there, never once failed to tell us just how lucky we were to get that assignment."
"Hey, what can I say? I'm a hunter at heart, and where's better than a jungle to be one?"
Dana's usual customers were less present tonight, Helena noticed, with many having taken home early out of fear of recent events, opting to beat the new mandatory curfew by several hours. She couldn't blame them; an entire ironworks blown up, gang shootouts, and the downtown ECPD building bombed with most of its employees inside. The situation had everyone on edge, even the people who still came in to drink.
She herself had decided on laying low with their activities for the time being, but Helena had found herself constantly tapping her fingers, slowing her breathing, reacting to new arrivals and sounds in the bar like they were enemy combatants, something that Dana had clearly picked up on, as she was now keeping up a constant conversation whenever possible.
"You know what I remember from Meres?" She murmured, with Dana glancing at her curiously. "I remember all that green. Trees, bushes, all sorts of damn plants that Hayes loved to point out and list a bunch of facts about. I remember when the demons came. Those big, four-legged bastards, the ones that climbed the trees, hid under rocks, camouflage themselves in every way they could."
"I remember. Hayes, uh, she nearly got herself eaten alive." Dana smiled at the memory, leaning against the counter. "That woman could sneak her way through any castle in the Four Kingdoms, the Nexus, and Strongheim itself, but the moment we got dropped in a jungle, she was demon food."
"We all were. Except you." Helena remarked soberly, quieting her friend. "Every footstep we took, every time we would stop to check our surroundings, was us gambling our lives, hoping we didn't miss one of those lizards. But you, heh, you I remember. You never once hesitated, never second-guessed your recon…and you were never wrong. I never asked how you did it, guess maybe it was some superstition in my head, thinking that it'd ruin the magic if I knew, that the next day we'd all get torn apart."
Dana stood silent for a moment, eventually pulling out two glasses and pouring a drink for herself and Helena.
"I wish I could say it was harder than you think, that I had some secret technique they trained me. But the truth is, I never thought twice about it." Downing the whiskey, she wiped her mouth across her sleeve, ignoring the looks of some of her regular customers. "It was easy, like putting on my boots in the morning and checking my gun."
"You have no idea?" Helena accepted hers as well, smoothing out her uniform before taking a long sip.
"Oh, I have an idea." Dana's violet eyes darted towards the bar doors as they creaked open, a change in her expression briefly flashing across her face as she narrowed her eyes, with Helena giving her a meaningful stare, her back turned to the entrance. "You want to know how I saw everything? Never missed a shot and all that?"
A pink haired girl, several years their junior, casually dressed in a hoodie and long pants for the winter, had come into the bar. Though she was new and out of place, she was clearly trying to blend in as she slowly made her way towards the bar, her own eyes meeting Dana's.
"I never blinked." The bartender smiled, winking at Helena.