Prompt: Daily chores / jobs. Protag's friend.
Technique: Mention events that happened off-stage.
Ritzi tiptoed into the square white room and the door slid shut behind her. Her interrogee, pale and sweaty like they always were was Neil, thirty three years old, co-founder of a respectable company. A family man. Oh, and he didn't believe in ghosts or magic, nothing like that. It sure helped that she was basically a floating voice at the moment.
Should she drop her Ghost guise? Chaos would've told him nothing, not about her magic or his punishment for messing with a District. He'd fear her, which was exactly what Chaos wanted. Fear bred obedience and confession and all that good stuff.
She almost didn't hear him; it was barely a mumble to himself. He didn't know he was sharing the room. Yet. She walked around him in the hardback chair mounted to the floor. He needed two for a butt his size. Anyway, she wasn't here to admire his body fat.
"I'm happening," she said at his left ear.
As expected he jerked away hard, rattling the steel wrist cuffs. His eyes bulged. "Wh-what the hell! What-"
"Chaos isn't too pleased with you. Don't spout anymore nonsense than you need to." Blunt usually did the trick. They came around faster.
And that he did. "I've done nothing." His quavering voice said otherwise, gaze darting around as if he might pick her from all the air particles.
"Hm." She was behind him now. "'Nothing' is plotting to stab a higher up and take his title?"
The higher up had known it of course. The Chaos District had eyes and ears in places where eyes and ears shouldn't be. She was just passing the knowledge along. Neil had stopped breathing. His jaw muscle jumped. She could've sworn the hairs on his balding head stood a millimetre.
"Was Larry a big part of it?" she pressed in a friendly tone.
At the mention of his brother, Neil paled two shades.
"What about Clarice and Noah? Were you planning to hide them soon?"
His wife and child. Chaos knew every detail that could be used to tie a person down, herself included. Strong interrogees lasted as far as personal torture. Neil wasn't strong.
After naming grandmother and reminding him of her upcoming birthday, he caved. Yes, he'd been several weeks into planning murder so his brother, Larry, could hold power over their company and he, Neil, could hold part of the District. But wait, Larry had been the more insistent on the scheme and he, Neil, hadn't even been into the reckless plan from the start.
Shifting blame was another thing interrogees did.
Ritzi told Neil that the higher up had let it happen. Mr higher up had even gone out of his way to prepare a rumour mill through a handful of taskers, with the exact location, date and time of a very important, non-existent conference.
'A clever little trap to catch clever mice,' she quoted. Mice, not mouse. The higher up knew all of it.
"Please." Neil strained against the cuffs. "O-only Larry and I were involved. Please." He stared straight past her and into the open doorway.
She was at the threshold, rocking back and forth on her heels. To leave or not to leave. Well. There wasn't a choice. "I don't make decisions here, Neil." The door slid shut behind her.
She sighed and released her Sense magic, her body dripping ink-like into view.
"Epic stuff, midget." Supervisor Miles clapped her on the back with too much force. He always forgot that he was a giant.
She scowled though she knew it wasn't fair to fault him. "Screw you. I hate threatening family." And stalked off. When she'd rounded enough passage corners she slowed, trailing her hands along the smooth walls. What a hypocrite she was. This didn't make her good or compassionate. She was only trying to save herself.
White bled into grey and the walls grew more narrow and suffocating, twisting every which way. The first few times, she'd been intimidated. It was plain annoying now.
One would think that after exploring the whole apartment, all twenty nine little floors, its secrets would be laid bare for the picking. But no. A year and a bit and she'd found twelve secret entries that would lead to ten other godforsaken rooms, multiplied by ten. Multiplied by ten - or was it eleven? It was ridiculous.
Actually. More ridiculous was the time it was taking this lift to reach the fifteenth floor. It was only six flights up. But meetings with Mask, the District informant, were much like finding a cockroach in your soup after you'd reached the bottom. If she had to go, which she did, she'd do it at a stroll.
Still. The display had stayed on 2 for twenty minutes.
She tapped a rhythm on the up button for something to do, looking around. Couldn't even talk up a storm since everyone was holed up in their rooms or out on a task or something. Curses. She went up the stairs.
Floor 21 stank of gunpowder. It was really only a whiff, but more than needed. The passage stretched, almost black, which made her think the District had had the ingenious idea of mixing the stuff into the paint. Of course, now that she'd walked six flights, the lift was moving up. The world was conspiring against her.
Sickly lamplight framed by a doorway at the far end beckoned her. She marched towards it, an unwilling moth to flame.
Stupid Mask was ever the statue at his desk, his head tipped to one side as if politely curious, his informant's mask scribbled black. "You aren't pleased to see me," he said. That smirk his voice as usual.
"Is there a task or did I come here for a nice chat?"
He shrugged. "Both wouldn't hurt." When she didn't reply, he went on. "It's been a week, Dear Ghost. How's Haze by the way?"
"Better. He hasn't seen you in days see," she said sweetly.
Mask gave a short laugh and shifted, resting his chin to palm. She tensed. The moment rippled outward, a stone skipped over water. In this time he could knife her or strangle her, then sit back down and straighten wrinkles from his coat. Fudge cakes. Mask liked to play and she'd counted on that.
"Good to know," he said at last. He didn't care. He never cared, just asked.
Ritzi mentally chided her loose tongue. "Task?"
"The target is Hawthorne, a deserter. No known relations except for a close friend Julius, nickname Lius. Two years ago the target was found injured and treated by this friend without question. The District has sent a route with points of interception should you fail the first time. Bring the target back or give the signal." The signal, meaning a shooter. "And take Raven with you. You'll need eyes in the sky for this."
She perked up at that last bit. It wasn't another solo. Yay.
The informant magicked a palm-sized photo from his hand and slid it across the table. She approached. Reached out then snatched her hand back, a blur of gold stabbing where her fingers had been.
"Ah, so close. Good reflexes." Mask's favourite pen stuck upright in the wood. Its tip bit deep, a tool to nail fingers and hands.
She knew. She'd seen. He held up the photo between thumb and forefinger.
Heart thudding, Ritzi took it in a steady hand on the verge of flinching. Keeping a stony face wasn't as hard. Any show of weakness and there was no telling what might happen.
Mask liked to play. "I expect decent results since they're from you."
Creepy. He'd do well without encouraging others. With a curt nod, she left the meeting room.
She looked over Thorne's mugshot. It was recently taken; she could tell by his hollow stare. Hard to sleep when wolves could be at your door dawn to dusk. Greasy flat hair past his ears perched above the look of a fiend clawing its way from a hungry abyss.
But it was him that was hungry, for freedom and the sweet promises of redemption if he escaped. If. It was a hair thin chance but he clung to hope.
Was he so desperate as to gamble his only friend?
Ironically, the picture had been taken while he'd been on some roof scanning for tails and would-be assassins. Five, no, one minute would've been enough for the District's eyes. The fool. The highest point had the clearest view for both sides. That was the District for you; they could stay put and Princess paranoia would tighten her noose.
The lift came this time. She stepped in and while the doors shut, poked her tongue out in Mask's direction. Stupid.
Raven found Thorne after a half hour chase. It'd lead to him falling to his knees in an empty gym. Ritzi hadn't even needed to use the knowledge Mask had spouted - it turned out Thorne was the type to spurn child murder. The moment he'd heard her he'd lowered his curved blade, face crumpled, strength sucked from his legs. He couldn't do it. No wonder Chaos had sent her, a child.
Fuming at how they'd used her, she'd walked the wretched ex-deserter back to a District facility. There would be a price but he'd keep his life at least.
She sat on a high wall now, invisible, as herds of primary schoolers swarmed the gates. She caught talk of the latest movies, of invitations to friend's houses, everything Ritzi had once had when she'd been just a girl. No magic, no Districts, no taskers or targets. Just normal. She watched until the gateman came whistling across the empty yard.
She stood on the narrow stone ledge. Tiny claws of longing raked deep in her bones. When the gate had been chained and bolted, she hopped down to the street side.
Once a ghost, forever Ghost.
The journey through the city was so well worn a path that her brain switched off. She found herself standing before the rotating doors of the apartment.
The receptionist smiled as she entered. "Afternoon. Done well at school, love?"
"Yep." Ritzi smiled back. She went round the corner to ride the lift.
Miss receptionist would never know tasker from civilian, and Chaos was content at keeping it that way. It made the building's purpose more convincing.
Ritzi arrived on the eleventh floor. She marched down the mellow corridor with a bounce in her step. Then knocked thrice on the left door and ducked under the peephole. But why did she bother? She was a ghost. Chill crept over her face and arms as she wore her magic.
When Arzaire opened the door, he didn't see her. But he smiled his half smile and waved her in. "What did you do today?"
"Oh, nothing much."