Snowbound Blood Transcript: Volume 2

Volume 2 - Of Business and Busywork

A theft has occurred in the Northern Wastes. Stolen? A philter of the Vivifier's blood, said to have supernatural properties. In charge of the investigation? Yourself.

You have your orders, and you have a case to solve. You think you should start close to home. Known quantities. You've got two candidates in mind to interview first. You choose...

RYPITE KOLDAN

RYPITE KOLDAN. A simple enough start, you feel. You're not one for pulling a metaphorical hamstring, and you still have a day before you'll be heading to Eidolic Acres. Can't waste time.

It feels good to be hunting for a squeak beast after so long. You really feel your vicious verminator senses shed turquoise tears of joy.

(What a confusing portmanteau. You're not quite sure if the latter half of verminator's wordology is terminator or exterminator. Perhaps you could claim it's a portmantrio.)

There weren't many particularly interesting details attached to Koldan's name, but regardless, you'll pay him a visit. His ties to Skorpe would potentially give him access to deadly secrets.

Once you arrive, security is perfectly apathetic and nonchalant and allow you inside once you flash your credentials.

You spare half a thought wondering what he thinks you're doing here, but you ignore it in favour of giving Rypite's TROLLODEX CARD another glance as you enter the elevator.

As luck would have it, when the doors open to a chorus of keyboards clacking like mechanical chirpbugs, your eyes drift from the card to the man himself. You examine him from across the room.

He appears to be talking to a coworker. Judging from the frantic motions of his hands, he's explaining something. Something big. This guy has always been one for animated gestures.

>Recall: RYPITE KOLDAN.

This isn't the first time you've seen his face, but it's not really much more than the fourth. You never forget a face, but even if you did, his would be off the table.

He makes a strong impression, especially in the conference room you first saw him in. He had ideas for 'Skorpe themes'. A relatively new concept, especially considering you'd first heard of the app a few days prior.

His arms would move about, not unlike a cartoon character. The glow of the projector made his white teeth blinding. His smile almost looked fake from how real it looked.

There were themes for each department of the company. You remember rolling your eyes as he started with the accountants: LOYAL LOGARITHMS. Or the security guards: OSTENTATIOUS OCCULARS. SERIOUS SASS. SECRETARY SERENADE.

He'd mentioned that that one in particular was for the 'lovely lass at the front desk', who evidently had a habit of doodling hearts onto her work papers when she was bored.

When you looked to your left, you saw that exact secretary, face buried in her hands in mild embarrassment. Not exactly a secret with dire consequences, you'd think, but also you didn't care.

Perhaps the strongest quality he has is his voice. Deep, but not rumbly, like black honey. It demands attention.

You could further recall moments spent in the ablution trap with the "patent pending Inspo Nuggets" intermission of the meeting in your mind's radio, but you try not to layer recalls like that.

...Perhaps you should do your recollection outside of the timed automatic doors next time.

With a mental sigh, you open the doors again.

>Exit.

You step into the office. No time for games, you wait for the first sign of a break in his conversation and approach him.

You clear your throat and give him a curt nod as he turns toward you with a look of surprise on his face.

SECILY: 1.e4 Rypite Koldan. My name is — ...e5
RYPITE: Whoops! Didn't see you there.

The way he reaches over to shake your hand with both of his catches you off guard.

It reminds you uncannily of those old greeting machines used at Corporate Convenienceries that would come to life at the press of a button. Creepy bastards.

Thank goodness they've started using people in costumes for that instead of robots. You appreciate a personal touch.

RYPITE: Guilty As Charged! Rypite Koldan, but it looks like you already knew that. Guess my Rypit-ation precedes me?

He's clearly waiting for something. A laugh, you assume. Unfortunately for him, he "flops," as the chucklebunker regulars say.

SECILY: 2.f3 My name is Secily Iopara, and I'm currently conducting an investigation of grave importance. ...c6
SECILY: 3.d4 I'd appreciate any time you have to spare for some questions. ...exd4

You like getting to the point. Oftentimes "the point" means the point of your blade, and you can never turn down a chance to dance with blades.

(If only the chances ever came.)

Rypite's face seems to be somewhat frozen on a smile. He looks confused, more than anything? Being questioned isn't exactly a difficult concept to wrap your head around, in your opinion.

RYPITE: Wow. You want to Talk to... Me?
SECILY: 4.xd4 It's more believable than me asking this of your colleague over here. The one that I'm not presently engaging in conversation. Yes, you. ...f6

The teal behind him is definitely finding his work very interesting right now. In an instant, his nose is buried in his computer monitor.

He's smart, not looking like he's clearly eavesdropping. Still, you'd prefer some place more private. If you have to spend the conversation counting his nervous tics and fidgets, you'll go mad.

SECILY: 5.c3 Perhaps if we could relocate this somewhere else? I wouldn't wish to disturb anybody's work. I'd hate to make you look bad. ...d6
RYPITE: Of course, I'm happy to get a move on. It's as I Always Say, there's a Time and Place for all of us, don't you know?

You give the worker behind him a curious glance, and his confused expression tells you that he has literally never said that before.

Whatever. Your eye has also caught a nameplate next to a door across the office space, and it's a name that was just used in an awful pun by its owner mere seconds ago.

SECILY: 6.b5 Is that your office over there? I'd say that would be a good place. ...d7
SECILY: 7.O-O If you wouldn't mind, of course. ...e7

RYPITE: Not at all, not at all. Come one come all, it's this way.

He's leading you to the clearly labelled room that you pointed out. Your hero.

You spend the short trek re-examining the evidence, sifting through your mental documents and familiarising yourself with the important facts.

When he lets you in, you're taken aback from how... personalized the room looks. It feels like it could only be his, and you barely even know him.

Your mind works fast to find the theme of the miscellaneous junk spread across the room: you see a joke book, a calendar with every day marked, a miniature ray gun model (arms hoarder?)...

That microphone making itself comfortable on the desk catches your eye. He records something, apparently.

Rypite seems just as surprised as you are, and as he rushes to tidy his desk up, you give a whiteboard nearby a glance. Based on the doodled alien heads spouting inspirational slogans, someone's got space on the mind.

Your least favorite is the three-eyed alien telling you to 'reach for the stars'. A little on the nose.

RYPITE: Sorry! So sorry, I forgot I was having a Synapse Squall in here.
RYPITE: Taking a gander at my design work? We're working on a Brand New Skorpe Theme: Celestial Crossroads.
RYPITE: Did you know that in 'From Repiton to a Moon', the author's Rough Calculations on the requirements for the cannon able to launch three people into space were Remarkably Accurate?
RYPITE: And this was Waaayyy Back When, too, despite the lack of Information in the time period!
RYPITE: Fascinating, isn't it? His cannon still was impractical, but it was quite a Commendable Attempt. Every time I look at CC, I get a little Teary Eyed. What a Marvel that man was.

SECILY: 8.b3 We can talk trivia later. Take a seat, Mr. Koldan. ...O-O

You're not sure why you see Rypite grabbing for his seat, but you can tell that he's doing his best to try and lighten the mood.

RYPITE: Where do you want me to put — ?

Your cold stare pierces through him like a hot knife through buttery cliches. You're not in the market for a lightened mood.

The few inches he'd lifted his seat off the floor are reversed, and he lets out a fake cough before sitting down.

RYPITE: Right, Investigation. I'm not really sure what you need from me, but I'm an Open Book. But first, I have a Question for You, Miss Iopara.
SECILY: 9.b2 For me, you say? I was under the impression that I was questioning you — ...e8

He nods enthusiastically, and doesn't wait for confirmation before he dives right in.

RYPITE: You seem quite Tired! Have you had enough soda? I've got a spare cushion lying around if you wanna take a Snooze Cruise. Your business can wait, I'm sure. Self Care First!

Is he... trying to change the subject?

SECILY: 10.xc6 I've... had a sufficient amount of sustenance, thank you. I'd really like to have the reins to the conversation again, Mr. Koldan. bxc6

He raises his hands a little bashfully, and though he's smiling, there's a slight sorrow to it. Like he knows that was perhaps his last chance for a lighthearted conversation.

RYPITE: Right, all yours. My hands are Off. I'm nudging them in your direction. And, please, call me Rypite. May I call you Secily?
SECILY: 11.h3 No. ...c5

With the investigation properly underway, you retrieve a folder that might help contextualise the situation slightly.

For him, you mean. You've already read this document a significant number of times. Once.

SECILY: 12.de2 Recently, in the Northern Wastes, there was an armored truck that was intercepted en route to deliver some very particular goods back to Corporate. ...c6
SECILY: 13.g3 In particular, a valuable package was stolen. ...f8

You'll spare the details in case he turns out to be a blabbermouth. He doesn't sound like he has much of a filter, even if you could be wrong.

SECILY: 14.f3 It was an unscheduled transport, so the culprit must have ties to Corporate. ...d7
SECILY: 15.d5 Would you happen to know anything of this operation, before or after the fact? Is there talk of any arctic antics in your area of the Corporate ladder? ...e5

The look on Rypite's face is one of slight concern, and while you're trying to figure out whether it's genuine worry or just a cover-up, he gives you his response.

RYPITE: I can't say I've heard of this? But that certainly sounds kind of Dangerous. Is everybody Okay?

Yes, you almost say in the most disappointed voice you could muster, the armored truck full of priceless assets was intercepted and nothing happened.

They had to pay a fee for crossing the bridge. Draw straws to see who'd be stuck being the driver. Sing an obnoxious, repeating song the whole trip home.

SECILY: 16.d1 Three employees died. Two armed guards and the driver. ...xd5

You start to lose faith in the idea that he'll be any help to you because he's getting teary-eyed about three complete and total strangers he didn't know existed until tonight.

RYPITE: Golly, those Poor Souls! They were only doing their Jobs, Protecting that Truck... That Poor Driver, trying so Hard to drive so Far...

It didn't even matter in the end, your mind whispers to itself, but you let him grieve for a few more seconds.

RYPITE: And that truck... Having to endure the Harsh Cold, I hope its driver Loved it and Cherished it...
RYPITE: And that package, it must feel so Scared and Lost, in the hands of who knows who!

SECILY: 17.xd5 Are you absolutely sure there's nothing you know about this truck, Mr. Koldan? I find it difficult to believe that you have zero ties with this incident. ...c6
RYPITE: Gosh, I'd Love to help! I really, really would! But I don't know what ties I could Possibly have...
RYPITE: I mean, I wear a tie, if that's any good? I could maybe toss You one as well, if you'd like. I'm Positive you'd really pull it off!

You're not just unsure of he's the culprit, but you're downright rooting against it. Please. Please let there be a better antagonist to chase.

You have a way to know for sure, and that method is the rest of this interrogation.

SECILY: 18.d2 There is something I'm looking to tie up, and it's all the loose ends of this case. ...c7

Yeah, you think, what a badass comeback. Rypite looks positively stunned at your sense of professionalism.

SECILY: 19.c4 Tell me this: why do you think I'm here? Questioning someone who seems to know nothing about this case? ...ad8
SECILY: 20.ae1 There must be an obvious ti — connection you have, for me to be spending my time here. ...f6

You don't want him to talk about ties again, because he looks like he's about to invite you to the company clothes shopping field trip as a bonding exercise.

Instead, you give a brisk nod of your head to his whiteboard.

SECILY: 21.f4 Consider: you work for Skorpe. It's the only relevant chat client around. Information is your deal, is it not? Especially with a battleground devoid of competitors. ...f7
RYPITE: Sure is! After all, if you've got Information, you've got Victory, as a great man once said. That's been my motto for forever.

He's looking very confident for a solid three seconds before it all crumbles like a house of cards into the endless void of uncertainty.

RYPITE: Or was it, 'you can't spell victory without information'...?
RYPITE: You can't get information without giving victory. That was it. I'm sure of it.

SECILY: 22.d1 Funny you should mention 'giving victory'. I've got some questions to ask you about how this information may have been leaked. ...e6
SECILY: 23.f5 I have reason to believe that you, and this entire company, could be involved. And if you really want to help me out? You'll answer some questions. ...ee8

Though he looks alarmed (either you've made a crack in the case or he's just very paranoid), he doesn't seem to be panicking.

RYPITE: Well, I'd be a bit of a Dummy if I didn't try to clear my company's name, wouldn't I? Please, ask me Anything!

And you're off.

>Press about Skorpe.

It's the most logical question, considering you're dealing with someone, somehow, knowing something. Like all crimes committed by people who were awake.

Skorpe is all about information. You intend to find out how your info was passed to an outside party.

SECILY: 24.h5 Skorpe just... blew up out of nowhere, didn't it? Hadn't heard a thing before it was suddenly swallowing its predecessor with an unhinged jaw. ...e5

Rushing headfirst into new things seems to be a theme around Skorpe. Pouring time and energy into a broken concept? Classic. Textbook, as a matter of fact.

SECILY: 25.f4 I'd imagine you're quite proud of yourself, being so high up the Corporate ladder. ...f7
RYPITE: Last I checked, it ranks #1 on my list of Favorite Things!

Your eyebrows quirk at such a strange notion. You're perfectly capable of keeping up appearances, but #1? That's impressively highly ranked.

If there were a collection of high ranks, that would be the highest. There would be no end to the elevation of that one rank.

SECILY: 26.e6 You're quite fortunate. Not everyone can speak so highly of their jobs. Most people would reserve that spot for loved ones or particularly tasty foods. ...xe6
RYPITE: Weeeeellllll, it's tied with my soulmates too. And my friends. Oh, my lusus too, can't forget him. Also, have you seen Space? That's up there also.
SECILY: 27.fxe6 Not personally, no. ...xe6

Okay. There are a few ways he could have been involved, being the center of the information highway, or likely being close to people like Sestro. You could approach this a few ways.

Really, though, you've wasted enough time, and you would really like to hurry this up.

SECILY: 28.f5 I'm going to have to ask you to show me your Skorpelogs. As someone so closely involved with the inner workings of Skorpe, I have to make sure everybody's clean. ...g6
SECILY: 29.f2 You understand, don't you? If you're clean, you have nothing to worry about. ...g7

The fact that he looks visibly worried almost makes you smile. You're absolutely positive he didn't do the actual deed himself, but it's certainly possible he's had a hand in this.

RYPITE: Sure! Alright. What's Mine is Yours, and what's Yours is Mine. No secrets to between friends.

You waste no time in moving behind his desk as he logs back in. At least he isn't putting up a fight, even if you could easily do this yourself by force.

You can plainly see his password scribbled on a post-it note. It's 'letmein'.

His Skorpe account has a different password, but considering it's 13 characters long, you're willing to bet it's a combination of 'letmein' and 'skorpe'. Yep. That, too, is on the password note.

RYPITE: Alright, here's the ol' Radio Station. Have at it.

You don't bother to take a seat, you're not going to leave yourself that defenseless. You keep a close eye on him in your peripheral vision, like a paranoid vulture. He could jump any time.

He is apparently a big fan of Sirage Feltri, because her name and image is plastered all over his Skorpe theme. There are also many hearts, and lovey-dovey photos of the two together.

You kindly refrain from telling him that you're close to throwing up in your mouth just a little bit.

SECILY: 30.xe5 You did say your soulmates were ranked at #1 as well, didn't you? I can... certainly see that there's some merit to this claim. xe5
RYPITE: Commissioned this little number from the coding department. Those guys are just On The Ball, huh?

The ball seems to be rolling through sludge, because his system lags like it's diseased.

You spend a few minutes snooping around his messages. Checking back on your little lead, it doesn't look like he's too concerned. A lot of it is legitimate talk of deadlines and ideas and encouragement.

...and also him bouncing jokes he clearly got off the internet off of his coworkers.

Priority one, search his contacts. You don't understand why Skorpe doesn't let you see names attached to their trolltags, but you know that Sestro has a very memorable shade of purple.

After a brief search, you've found the heir's trolltag, but...

SECILY: 31.d2 ...Do you and Sestro have any chat history at all? There's nothing but an unaccepted friend request here. ...b8
RYPITE: I wish! Man, what I wouldn't give to meet and befriend him. I'm sure he gives Fantastic Handshakes, can you imagine? I can't not Respect a guy with such Clear Visions.
RYPITE: It's alright. I'm sure it just got lost in the mail or something.

Wow. You're going to move on and try not to snoop too much into the wrong terribly depressing thing. With a lot of power comes a lot of rationality. That's the saying, right?

You keep scrolling through his contacts, but you can't find anybody giving him orders of any kind.

At this rate you guess he couldn't have gotten information from anybody important, because he doesn't know anyone important.

Your search ends at the top of his list, and when you're about to investigate sagaciousMediator, he gets a little antsy.

SECILY: 32.d1 This is... Sirage, I take it? ...f8
RYPITE: The One and Only. The Best and Only Sirage there is and ever should be.

With a click of a mouse, you're in. And boy, do you enjoy the smell of suspicion in the evening. Their latest conversation is particularly interesting.

SECILY: 33.f4 "Rise and shine, sweetie, it's almost go time. Meet me in the break room to go over the details." ...xf4
SECILY: 34.xf4 "Whatever you say, 'smoochie smoosh.' Can't wait to know what you've been dying to tell me." ...g7
SECILY: 35.ff1 "It's a big one, promise. You won't regret this." ...e8

You don't know how to feel about the fact that Rypite wasn't the one to say smoochie smoosh. But more importantly...

SECILY: 36.fe1 Time stamps date this conversation less than 24 hours before the crime. Anything to say, Mr. Koldan? ...e5

You expect to grill him insistently over the course of the next few hours, but he looks ready to burst already.

RYPITE: Okay, okay, you got me, I'll talk.
RYPITE: My Grublette and I... might have been a little Late back from our breaks, recently. I've been giving her...

SECILY: 37.f2 Leaked information? ...a5
RYPITE: Pep Talks.

...That's your big lead. Rypite's a cheerleader. He's giving you a headache, instead of letters though.

RYPITE: Yeah, work's been Stressing Her Out, so we meet up in a Secret Spot and I give her Encouragement. But we only do it during work, because that's when she needs it Most.

You slump back in your seat and try to keep your bitter thoughts to yourself. He's a real piece of work despite doing nothing noteworthy at all.

RYPITE: Am I... in Trouble?
SECILY: 38.e3 I'll look the other way. ...f7

At the notion of being let off the hook, he seems to perk right back up like nothing happened. He's leaving that little episode behind, looks like.

>Question microphone.

You want to dial it back a bit. Make sure he doesn't get too overwhelmed. This is only a baseless assumption regardless, but you leave no stone unturned.

He likely speaks out about things and could easily have blabbed about something. You doubt it's here for show and show alone, considering it takes up a fair amount of limited desk space.

Leaning over, you gently tap the base of his microphone and raise an eyebrow.

SECILY: 39.d3 Last I checked, Skorpe doesn't come with a radio feature. What's this, then? I doubt you have an intercom system rigged up either. ...g7

Before answering, Rypite apparently sees it necessary to grab one of his post-it notes and a pen from his jar of writing utensils.

SECILY: 40.e2 What... are you doing? ...e7
RYPITE: Writing down a Note to Self. Dear Rypite: consider a radio theme. You have the Means, so make some Schemes!

You really doubt it was necessary to include that last sentence, but okay.

He finishes jotting down the idea you'd given him and sticks that on his computer. You get the feeling the front of his screen is covered in many similarly neon-colored notes.

RYPITE: Well, this Excellent Boy right here is my partner in Trying when it comes to my podcast.

That's news to you. Seems rather counterproductive to mix work and hobbies, doesn't it?

RYPITE: Now, I know you may be wondering Why I have my set-up here at work. Fear not! There is a Perfectly Reasonable Explanation.
RYPITE: If I want to rope a Friend in from work as the Wice's Special Guest, all I have to do is open the door!
RYPITE: Actually...

You don't particularly care for the way he's eyeing you like he knows exactly how to ensnare you in a Friend Trap, nor the way he presses a button on his mic and clicks something on his computer.

He says "check check, beam me up, check check" and it sinks in that he's recording. Yippee.

The only reason you don't stop him is so that you can get a feel for his narrator style. How casual he is. See if he'd be the type to let secrets slip.

RYPITE: Goooood evening, lady skies, gentleclouds, and every rain drop in between. It's a healthy number of degrees above freezing and I'm your host, Rypite Koldan.

To your surprise, there is a change in demeanor. Yes, he's still smiling far more than anyone else in the room is, but his voice softens somewhat.

Unfortunately it gives you pretty much no new information, so you're stuck listening to an episode of Rypite dialogue for now.

RYPITE: We've got a real Mind-Tickler that'll leave your imaginations in Knots to start off:
RYPITE: What's what has Four Walk Limbs in the morning, Two in the afternoon, and Three on Corporate-paid vacation?
RYPITE: I'll let you stew on that, but as always, I should introduce this wice's co-pilot. Secily? Care to give us a good old autobio?

He beckons you closer with a hand and tilts the microphone towards you. All the memories of seven-sweep stage fright come flooding back.

This isn't the same as your phone calls with your future employers, though. This is a jokester with a microphone.

SECILY: 41.a3 I would suggest you turn that microphone off before your radio show takes a turn for the uncooperative. I did not agree to this. ...d7
SECILY: 42.b1 We're also not on a first name basis. Let's get that clear while I'm setting the record straight, Mr. Koldan. ...e8

Thankfully this doesn't seem to be a live broadcast, since you'd imagine those take a little more set-up. You'd hate to embarrass this man in front of an audience.

With a nod of understanding, he stops recording, though his keystrokes afterwards concern you.

SECILY: 43.b4 ...Don't tell me you're actually saving that. ...cxb4

RYPITE: Let's just call that a Work In Progress. Revisit that one some other time.

SECILY: 44.axb4 In the meantime, perhaps try saying things with words instead of throwing me into the deep end of the talkshow pool. ...b8

Rypite seems happy enough to plug himself, pulling a rolled up poster out of his desk drawer that has a suspiciously similar composition to one of the science fiction fliers strung up on his wall.

He explains it like he's pitching it to an executive, which you find somewhat entertaining. He's just missing the oversized paper that he pulls back to reveal his storyboard and marketing research.

RYPITE: Weather Or Not It's A Good Day is a podcast I run in my off time. It stars me and a new co-pilot every episode, where we talk about, what else in an empty conversation, the Weather!
RYPITE: We've got a segment for Neato Riddles, we talk about Sci-fi, the occasional Glad Libs, but it's primarily Weather Talk.
RYPITE: (the answer to that riddle was a troll, by the by.)

Looking at the microphone more closely, it appears to just be a tool to record into his computer. Probably couldn't call your device if it wanted to.

It was a stretch, anyway. At least you can add "almost starred on an audio show" to your resume.

Ironic, the blade wielder hits the cutting room floor.

>Wrap it up.

You're wasting your time, you think to yourself. You've gained nothing from this conversation.

He's looking to you, silently asking what the problem seems to be. It's not his business, quite frankly.

He's giving you a gentle look, like he's trying to sedate a frightened animal.

RYPITE: Are you Sure you're doing okay? You don't seem in tip-top shape to me.
SECILY: 45.a2 I'm fine. ...b7

You've only wasted precious time on a false hope, after all. Rypite doesn't look convinced.

RYPITE: I didn't... I didn't let you down, did i?
SECILY: 46.xa5 I didn't think you'd notice. ...c7

Ouch. You see him recoil a little, but he manages to fight through it. You appreciate the resilience, you wouldn't want to draw attention to the bawling boss in his office.

SECILY: 47.b5 ...Sorry. It's just been a rocky start to a very high-stakes investigation. ...cxb5
SECILY: 48.cxb5 How old are you, if I may? ...h6
RYPITE: 12... 12 sweeps. I'll assume you're the same?
SECILY: 49.a6 I'm practically twice your age. I wouldn't say I'm qualified to give you advice for management, but I certainly have some life lessons under my belt. ...f4
SECILY: 50.c4 Here's one, on the house. ...g3
SECILY: 51.c6+ The first pawn you move can spell your downfall from the very start. It doesn't matter how you play the rest of the game if you begin poorly. ...d7
SECILY: 52.d5 The opening gambit sets the scene. You can't rewind that. All you can do is mend the damage before your throat is slit and you bleed to death a regretful husk. ...a7
SECILY: 53.a6 Not everyone can move ahead so blindly without thinking like some companies around here. ...c7

A moment of silence hangs uncomfortably in the air as he tries to figure out what to say. You can see the words buried under his tongue, different ones attempting escape with no luck.

You start to pack your papers and stand up, thoroughly spent from a few hours of learning how much of a goofball a boss can really be.

SECILY: 54.b6 I'll be seeing you. ...c5+
RYPITE: Actually! I'm gonna need you to wait just a second, Miss.

Excuse you?

You see him right now when you turn around to find him marching over to his door, sliding his wheely desk chair in place.

Said place is right in front of the door. He doesn't even prop the chair up to the doorknob to stop anyone else from coming in, or lock the wheels, or anything.

SECILY: 55.d4 You do realise I can easily move that out of the way? ...e5+
SECILY: 56.d3 I have people to talk to. ...d5

Or even just sneak past the gap he'd left behind some very light furniture, because it's not entirely a snug fit. Not a traditional en passant, but practical all the same.

At first he doesn't respond, instead wiping all of his creative mind map from his whiteboard.

RYPITE: You have a Puzzle to solve, and I've got Two Thumbs and Also a puzzle to solve.
RYPITE: I want to help, Secily. I know we can work together and come up with an Answer for these mysteries.
RYPITE: I'm a creative director, and a Creative Director! You wanted me to think, and... I Really, Really want to do Something.
RYPITE: I don't know how I'd feel if I let you walk out of here Without having done Anything.

SECILY: 57.b7 That looked somewhat important. You'd written that the deadline is in two days. ...dxe4+
SECILY: 58.e3 Please tell me you backed that all up somewhere. ...b8

RYPITE: Nope! That was the Only copy that existed. And now it's Gone Forever. Helping you is more Important.
SECILY: 59.xf6 Well, now I've negatively impacted your work schedule. I really should be going. e7
RYPITE: Nonsense, we have a Crook to catch.

And so he gets to scribbling. Scribbling and scrawling and jotting down words and linking them with wavy lines.

RYPITE: Let's just mark the Key Words...

He's underlining every word he writes. You don't figure he's letting you go until he thinks he's helped you.

Oh well, you might as well save the measly two synapses it would take to note this down.

He at least remembers everything you told him. He's a good listener. All the key notes are present. Unfortunately he seems to procrastinate not five seconds after you mentally compliment him.

SECILY: 60.a6 What's with all of these swirly clouds up top? Not an attempt to recreate the scene of the snowy crime, I hope. ...d7

There's a suspicious amount of delight he shows when you ask.

RYPITE: Why, you can't have a Synapse Squall without Clouds. What kind of Storm would it even be without clouds?
RYPITE: It's as we say on Weather Or Not It's A Good Day: sometimes, you Need Clouds.
RYPITE: There isn't much you can count on, but you can always count on Clouds being there, you know?
RYPITE: Imagine it raining without knowing When or Why! There'd just be acid falling with No Warning Whatsoever.

Your eyes focus on the board for a moment. You hear Rypite excitedly trying to inspire you, but...

None of it sticks. You hear everything he says, but it brushes past you like wind in the grass. It's a nice sentiment for sure, but it doesn't give you answers. It's nothing but fluff. Surface-level boon.

Eventually he notices that you're not looking at him and joins you in reviewing the facts.

The silence is clearly making him uncomfortable, but that might also be his sudden urge to make it up to you clawing at his psyche. Nevermind that he's eating into both of your time of his own volition.

SECILY: 61.xe4 I appreciate the assistance, for the record. You don't have to be doing this. Now I'm just cutting into your work time. ...e5+
SECILY: 62.f3 You're allowed to let me handle this. I'm qualified, just off to a rocky start. No investigation is simple from start to finish, not with crimes this drastic. ...f5+
SECILY: 63.e2 ... ...e5+
SECILY: 64.f1 And yet, here you are. ...f5+
SECILY: 65.g1 You try hard, I'll give you that. Just don't leave your employees hanging for too long. ...f4

RYPITE: Ah, don't worry about my job, they'll be fine. There's a Time and Place for all of us, don't you know?

You're getting a strong wave of deja vu.

>Recall: RYPITE'S INSPIRATIONAL SLOGAN.

This happened like half an hour ago, you don't need to bring this up again.

What's next, recalling every time someone says hello to you?

>Move on.

Rypite goes to scribble more possibilities down. You can't see past his body, so you're left waiting in suspense until he pulls away to present his new theories.

SECILY: 66.a3 No, they weren't frozen to death. It was intentional assassination, the cuts on the bodies prove as much. ...c4
SECILY: 67.d3+ Plus, they were driving inside a vehicle, where it snows considerably less. ...c7

RYPITE: Hm. Phooey.

The board squeaks as that notion is erased and replaced with another not ten seconds later.

SECILY: 68.f3 They didn't turn on each other either, who would have run off with the vial if all three were killed? ...a7+

With another tsk, he's putting one more idea on the line, and... that's just the plot of a mystery novel released four sweeps ago.

Yeah, he's talking about the character arc of one of countless Brendan Fraser roles in the film adaptations.

Is he serious? He looks serious. The plot of that book looks even worse scrawled on a whiteboard, but you decide to bite the bullet and pat him on the head.

SECILY: 69.h2 You know what? I'll... let you know if we get a ransom note from a 'man with many skills' from inside Corporate. I sincerely promise. ...b8
RYPITE: Ah-HAH! I knew it, it's Always someone from inside the company. Who else would know What was inside the truck?

You're the one who said that, but whatever.

You bite your tongue as you drag the impromptu blockade he'd set up out of the way. You're eager to find some new leads, and even if it seems anticlimactic, you need some space.

RYPITE: Oh, are... are we done?
SECILY: 70.f8 But of course. I have an infiltrator with many skills to catch, after all. Thanks for your help. ...½-½

You try in earnest not to sound sarcastic, because then you'll probably be subjected to more randomly generated murder mystery plot twists and hurt feelings.

It seems to work, because Rypite catches and shakes your hand goodbye before you can escape, and tosses you his business card while he's at it.

RYPITE: It's good to branch out if you need help! Every branch comes from the same Tree, after all. Don't forget: I've got your...
RYPITE: Back.

You have no idea what the joke he's clearly hinting at is. He's winking and grinning and patting himself on the back, for some reason. You thank him politely yet sternly confirm that you're leaving.

You breathe out a sigh of relief when you finally step out of his office. You could do with a trip to the Monster Boiler yourself, seeing workers by all that energy drink.

But it's time for you to clock out. You've learned... virtually nothing, but you suppose you have some new phone numbers for your bank.

He apparently wrote down his soulmates' numbers on the back of the card, too. In blue pen, his moirail is described as "good at puzzles like this."

You start wondering whether or not it's worth it to reach out to another detective, before the reason his voice had inflected weirdly earlier dawns on you.

RYPITE: (I've got your... Back.)

You flip the card over to its front again and shove it carelessly in your pocket. You're moving on to a new suspect.

END

SIRAGE FELTRI

SIRAGE FELTRI. The obvious choice. According to your intel, she had a shipment of goods coming in on the very same truck that was carrying the Vivifier's blood.

Not only that, but she's a fairly high-ranking middle manager for one of Corporate's social media enterprises, Skorpe. Information is literally her business.

Plus there's something else, something the allegation algorithms picked up which places her even more squarely in the suspect zone. Whispers of a murky past.

You'd planned to meet at her office and deal with this quietly. But earlier today, when you stopped by, the receptionist said that he hadn't seen her since before the wicend.

Feltri hadn't turned up to work, and hadn't buzzed ahead to explain why. Not so much as a sick note. Not answering calls, either.

He offered to leave a message on your behalf, but you were out the door before he could finish the sentence.

Playing hard-to-get, on the day after a heist? Might as well have handed in a confession note there and then.

If the worst comes to the worst, you'll have to organize a search party. At the very least you need to pick up some kind of trail.

So now you've hit the streets, and hit them good and hard. Like, you've tied the streets up for an interrogation and slapped them around a bit. Tell me where she is, you say. But they're not talking.

You cut through one of the parks in the centre of the Stronghold, making for your personal garage while you download some more of Feltri's personal details to your overhead.

You're walking briskly, the pedestrians and plants, wildlife and wayfaring strangers blurring by as you concentrate on the task at hand.

Your long coat starts to do that thing where it like, billows out dramatically behind you and stuff. Not that it would occur to you, of course, but it looks cool as shit and we're all very impressed.

Strolling couples part to let you through. Urban cornfowl skatter squabbling to the winds at your approach. You take a recreational kicksphere to the head and don't even care.

The game. Is on.

You have her trollodex card up on the visor, ready to bounce it through the Regulatory's internal system and sic some grunts on this fugitive. You have orders aplenty, and boy do you love giving them.

But then, as you round a corner, you come to a sudden stop. It takes a moment for you to even realize why, before your eyes refocus, looking past Feltri's card on the screen.

On a park bench, a little ways off, is your suspect.

You can't tell if she's awake or asleep, but either way she's clearly in a rough state.

She's sprawled haphazardly over the seat, face down, arms and legs pointing in random directions and her business attire in utter disarray.

Her hair is a mess of tangled black curls, one shoe is making its absence known, and her briefcase appears to have become lodged in a nearby garbage cylinder.

It's a scene of perfect chaos.

You feel your shoulders slump in disappointment. This has to be the shortest game of purrbeast and squeak rodent you've ever had, in all the long sweeps of your career.

And here you were, getting into the swing of things. The very least she could have done is made an effort.

But maybe... maybe the scene is just a little too perfect. Too pristine in its panic, implausibly inventive in its incongruity. Just seriously and altogether too batshit.

Could it all be part of some elaborate ruse to lull you into a false sense of security?

You've definitely seen weirder strategies for avoiding capture. If she's trying to throw you for a loop, it won't work. You don't jump for chump change.

You approach with caution. No sudden sounds, moves, or anything else. You are the polar opposite of suddenness in every respect.

Your advance is so slow that one of the cornfowl from earlier lazily flies down and, with complete lack of abruptness, perches on your left horn.

Perhaps she mistook you for some unusually fast-moving foliage.

Any glacial attempts to swat the plumed pest away are futile. Your sluggish wafts are a mere caress to the indifferent animal! That's just how unsudden you're being.

Suddenly, a phone rings.

SIRAGE: < mother FUCK!!! >~

The slumped figure immediately springs to life at the noise, flailing wildly for a few moments...

The slumped figure immediately springs to life at the noise, flailing wildly for a few moments... before toppling sideways off the seat with a loud crash.

You brace, ready for her to make a run for it, but instead she stands bolt upright and starts to contort every which way in a desperate hunt for her mobile.

Her hand comes up to her ear, and — oh so THAT'S where her other shoe was.

SIRAGE: < hello? >~
SIRAGE: < HELLO??? >~

She near bellows down smart-casual phone before realizing the mistake, then she throws her hands up in frustration and the boot over her shoulder. It lands in a tar pond a short distance away.

Before she can find the real thing the ringtone stops, in a manner which could only be described as spontaneous.

SIRAGE: < oh you have just GOT to be shitting me >~

She looks all around now, starting to collect her scattered belongings. She picks a few leaves out of her hair, before turning to see her shoe slowly disappear into the black sludge.

SIRAGE: < ... >~
SIRAGE: < fuuuuuuuuuuuu<k >~

She doesn't seem to be in the least bit aware that you're here.

You go to give one of your signature "Ahem"s, tried and tested through sweeps of stoic arrivals. A cough that could announce royalty.

SECILY: 1. e4 A...
SECILY: 1. e4 Ah...
SECILY: 1. e4 ACHOO!!!!
SECILY: ...e5

The plan blows up in your face with remarkable literality. Your allergies are having none of that shit.

It must be thanks to your flighty friend, who took off in all the ruckus. It's not the first time a bird has left you. Go ahead, fly away you feathered fuck!

But just you remember. Secily Iopara never forgets.

>Forget the fowl. Cut to the chase.

Like you just said, you're literally incapable of forgetting anything. And you already DID the chase, if you recall! It's what got you here the first place.

Speaking of recalling, if you haven't already done so then now would be a good time to RECALL some salient facts about the suspect.

You know, the suspect? The woman who's the best lead you have in this case so far?? The one who probably wheeled around in surprise when you honked to high heaven out of nowhere just now???

Quickly, she might get away!

>Recall: SIRAGE FELTRI.

You scour your think pan for anything else you might have on her, something that might give you an advantage. Fortunately you don't have to dig too deep.

There's another reason this girl is so high on your hitlist, besides her direct connection to the scene of the triple murder-burglary. (Murglary? Note to self: try that one out some time.)

You remember, several sweeps ago, that there was a notorious group of vagabonds who made their business breaking into pre-renaissance ruins and plundering them of their treasures.

Mostly they were after religious artefacts, but quite a large number of gems and the like were also made off with. Practically worthless in this day and age, though there are still some who put a price on prettiness.

In any case, this gang was getting to be quite a problem for Corporate, since so many of their interests are also tied up in the antiquarian. But for 'magnanimous' reasons, of course.

You'd been hot on their wag stump for a few wices when the trail went cold. Real cold. Like totally fucking freezing in fact. It was right in the middle of the Northern Wastes when you lost them.

From what you managed to piece together afterwards, something happened to the group that caused them to disband. You never found out why. But whatever the reason, the robberies stopped. And that was good enough.

Sirage ended up on the Corporate payroll a short time afterwards, along with her matesprit. Just some blue guy who you may or may not have talked to already.

>Initiate interrogation. Immediately.

Anyway, that's quite enough tomfoolery for one investigation. You're ready to get this thing back on track, without any more shenanigans.

From here on out, it's only business. You're quite certain that nothing else outlandish and stupid will happen, in fact you'd put money on it. That's just how serious you're being.

After moments, no, MINUTES of searching, the girl you've been hunting down is finally within sight. You're about to blow this case wide open, you can feel it.

You make your way over.

SECILY: 2.Nf3 Sirage Feltri. I presume you know who I am. ...Nc6
SIRAGE: < ... >~

She doesn't respond.

SECILY: 3.d4 I need to ask you a few questions regarding an ongoing investigation. ...exd4
SECILY: 4.Nxd4 Your cooperation is as appreciated as it is mandatory. ...Bc5

SIRAGE: < ... >~
SIRAGE: < ... ... >~

Still nothing. She's staring blankly at you, swaying a bit on her unbalanced feet.

SECILY: 5.Be3 Your silence won't save you, Feltri. I know of your involvement in this case. ...Qf8
SECILY: 6.c3 You may have given us the slip initially, but now I see the boot is on the other foot. You made a rookie mistake when you decided to get some beauty sleep in a public park. ...Qg6
SECILY: 7.Nb5 I'm still not sure what kind of tactic that was supposed to be. ...Bxe3
SECILY: 8.fxe3 Frankly this has been the least engaging pursuit I've ever had the misfortune of undertaking. I didn't even get to order a driver to chase down a cab or anything. ...Kd8
SECILY: 9.Nd2 You have let us all down, Feltri. So start talking. ...Nf6

SIRAGE: < ... >~

Not a peep. Her eyes are almost pointing in opposite directions from how unfocused she is right now. The swaying is getting more apparent.

SIRAGE: < ... ... >~

Her mouth is open a little, but she's making no effort to talk at all. She's... drooling a bit?

SIRAGE: < ... ... ..z >> ~

Yeah she's just asleep at this point. How did she manage to do that in the brief few seconds before you made your way over?

It's also kind of amazing how she's managing to stay upright like that, truth be told. It doesn't last much longer though.

You catch her as she topples over, all semblance of grace lost in the woozy black ichor of sleep. Like a solitary shoe, sinking slowly beneath the waves.

You have GOT to start working on your metaphors. What sort of introspective protagonist are you even supposed to be without a good grasp of this kind of thing? Hardly one worth her seasoning minerals.

SIRAGE: < zzzzdnort.., >~~ ~

The suspect is now cradled in your arms, snoring gently. Despite losing her grip on consciousness, she's still managing to hold on tightly to her soda cup somehow.

She turns her face into your chest a bit, and begins drooling all over your lapel. Just full on rubbing that stuff in, like she's giving your coat a spit and polish with extra spit.

This is just completely unacceptable. This coat was a gift from someone a long time ago. It's irreplaceable, and what's worse, dry clean only. 

You still need to question her, and there's no way she's coming back to your office in this state. There's only one thing for it: her place it is.

In one motion you grab her by the waist, lift her up and sling her over one shoulder. You hook up her briefcase with the end of Proserpina's scabbard and swing that over the other.

Then you start walking.

The receptionist wasn't at all surprised to see you lug his superior in through the front entrance. He just handed you a spare key and waved you upstairs, almost bored.

That was about half an hour ago now. Since then you've been waiting in her office for her to wake up.

SIRAGE: < ... ... >~

You took the chance to get a good look at the place while she dozed.

There's a lot of stuff here. A good amount of it is standard Corporate office fare, but there's still lots of personality about the room.

She's got an old pre-renaissance style television in here, along with an enormous stack of old movies. Most of the films are thrillers, with a good deal of horror splattered here and there. 

A pile of notes balanced precariously on top has a list of star ratings and some scribbled bits of analysis.

There's also a remarkable amount of gems scattered about, along with several of those little eyeglasses people use to look at them. You have a feeling there's a pun to be made there, somehow.

Loupeing back around to look at the other side, you notice a few scale replicas of ancient Repitonian architecture. Nobody really knows what the original buildings were intended for.

Each one is meticulously painted, and constituted of hundreds of small pieces. No doubt about it, these PYRAMID SCHEMA are surely works of dedication and care.

SIRAGE: < ugh >~
SIRAGE: < ow >~

Sounds like she's awake.

Without really paying you any mind, she slowly starts going through some of the files on her desk, wincing with every movement. No rest for the wicked, you guess.

Her arms and hands are moving almost automatically, reaching for pens and papers without looking. She looks very tired, despite having just had two naps, back to back.

She sighs and looks over at you.

SIRAGE: < <an i help you regulator iopara >~
SIRAGE: < or are you and my se<ond best <hair just getting to know ea<h other >~

Oh, so it looks like she did notice you here after all. That's weird. Despite the greeting, she keeps her nose buried in what she's doing. At least introductions won't be necessary.

She's already right where you need her. No need to play games any more.

SECILY: 10.g3 I'll be brief, Feltri. You are currently the most credible suspect in an incident which has shaken the Corporation to its foundations. ...d6
SECILY: 11.Bg2 Three employees have been killed, and an irreplaceable item is missing. Something which in the wrong hands could spell disaster for this entire planet. ...Qg5
SECILY: 12.Qe2 You have a direct connection to the incident, as well as the position and potential to have leaked valuable information to anyone wishing to carry it out. ...Bg4

SIRAGE: < okay >~
SIRAGE: < well >~
SIRAGE: < i don't really have the energy right now to pro<ess the fact that i'm apparently a murder suspe<t or whatever >~
SIRAGE: < or to make a big stink about denying it whi<h would only make my head hurt worse >~
SIRAGE: < so let's just assume i already did that in like a really passionate and overblown but still de<idedly inno<ent fashion and <arry on like two people who know how to be professional >~
SIRAGE: < regarding THE INCIDENT >~
SIRAGE: < ow >~
SIRAGE: < i already heard about it >~
SIRAGE: < don't know anything spe<ifi< of <ourse sin<e they don't really spill that stuff this far down the <hain of <ommand >~
SIRAGE: < i know enough to be sure that it has nothing to do with me at least >~
SIRAGE: < but if you're <ertain you need to talk to me about it anyway then we might as well get it over with >~

>Sirage's shipment.

SECILY: 13.Nf3 I wouldn't be so sure you have nothing to do with this incident, Feltri. ...Bxf3
SECILY: 14.Bxf3 You were expecting a shipment, one that was due to arrive on the same convoy that ended up in the Northern Wastes with three personnelle dead. ...Re8
SECILY: 15.O-O One which had been specifically rescheduled in order to avoid detection by parties with ulterior motives. ...h5
SECILY: 16.Nd4 That's about as direct a connection as it gets. ...Ne5

SIRAGE: < wait >~
SIRAGE: < you think i knew about the <onvoy >~
SIRAGE: < listen all i did was order some new sparkly shit on the internet and pay for the shipping >~
SIRAGE: < an order whi<h INCIDENTALLY >~
SIRAGE: < ow >~
SIRAGE: < has no inkling of arriving any time soon >~
SIRAGE: < i don't have a<<ess to any of that kind of information and even if i did >~
SIRAGE: < i had absolutely not a fu<king <lue about whatever important stuff you higher ups were smuggling around on it >~
SIRAGE: < you telling me that is the first i've heard of it >~
SIRAGE: < so good job keeping that a se<ret >~
SIRAGE: < <hief regulator >~

She says that like an insult. You suppose for certain kinds of people it might as well be one.

SIRAGE: < and while we're at it >~
SIRAGE: < if this thing is really so hells of dangerous then what in all-mother's name were you people thinking transporting it through a <orporate <onvoy >~
SIRAGE: < those things are all kinds of unreliable >~
SIRAGE: < just about the worst way you <ould think of to try and sneak something valuable around >~
SIRAGE: < ... >~
SIRAGE: < anyway that's just my opinion >~

>Wicend whereabouts.

SECILY: 17.Nf5 Let's establish alibi, then, if you even have one. ...Nxf3
SECILY: 18.Rxf3 How do we know that you couldn't have carried this out yourself? I don't have any record of your location since you clocked out at the end of last wice. ...Nxe4
SECILY: 19.Qb5 What's to say that you didn't take a little trip to the Northern Wastes for a few days? ...Rb8

SIRAGE: < i mean >~
SIRAGE: < you understand that the words that you're saying right now are a<tually ridi<ulous right >~
SIRAGE: < first of all how <ould anyone take a trip to the wastes just like that on a whim >~

It didn't stop you, you think to yourself. But then again, if you really suspected her of doing the same it'd require you to think her as competent as you. You don't know that you'd go that far.

SIRAGE: < i mean yeah sure it'd be one thing if you had an organized group or something >~
SIRAGE: < but that place is DANGEROUS >~
SIRAGE: < ow >~
SIRAGE: < you wouldn't <atch me there again in a million sweeps >~

Hm.

SIRAGE: < anyway about the wi<end >~
SIRAGE: < i was just spending some quality time with a friend >~
SIRAGE: < an old 'bibing buddy from way ba<k >~

This lady's barely in her teens, sweepswise, right? Is there even enough of her life for any of it to constitute a "way back when"? Or for that matter, for any of her imbibing friends to be considered "old"?

Just wait until she hits her twenties. Then she'll understand.

SIRAGE: < we were just two good pals hanging out wat<hing dumb <artoons >~
SIRAGE: < ingesting liquids of varying toxi<ities >~
SIRAGE: < y'know >~
SIRAGE: < nothin fan<y >~
SIRAGE: < i remember it must've been the same time as it all went down because i got a <all through from the freight tra<king people >~
SIRAGE: < saying my delivery had been postponed indefinitely >~
SIRAGE: < and then right after that i had the hex breathing down my ne<k about a data leak through skorpe or some bs like that >~
SIRAGE: < worst wi<end in sweeps >~

Your regulatory senses twinge for a moment. Some of the younger Corporate employees have some interesting vernacular for their superiors. "The Hex" refers to a certain jadeblood auxiliatrix.

It's supposed to be a pun on her name, and something else which you don't understand. You haven't managed to find out what they call you when your back is turned, though.

SECILY: 20.Rd1 You mentioned a friend. I presume you're confident that they could reasonably corroborate your story. ...Re6
SIRAGE: < yeah >~
SIRAGE: < he's with te<hnical for the <orporation too so you'll probably be hitting him up later anyway >~
SIRAGE: < although don't like a<tually hit him or i'll kill you >~

Your sword hand twitches. Did she seriously just threaten her chief regulator during an interrogation? Breathtaking insubordination. The temerity of this fucker knows no bounds.

But her gaze softens and she flashes you a tired smile.

SIRAGE: < just kidding >~

>Missing this morning.

SECILY: 21.Qa5 You've got some explaining to do, Feltri. I'm sure you can appreciate that. ...Kc8
SECILY: 22.Qxa7 Absent from the office on such a crucial day as this? A day still stained in Corporate blood, slowly defrosting though it may be? ...Qg4
SECILY: 23.Rff1 If you weren't already directly connected to the scene of the incident, I doubt your credibility could come under any harsher scrutiny. What in Kheparia's name were you doing? ...Re5
SECILY: 24.Qa4 Sleeping during Corporate hours? There could be no worse transgression. If you weren't a triple murglary suspect, that is. ...b5
SECILY: 25.Qa6+ Incidentally I am trying out that word as part of the Corporation's new efficiency drive. Already the contraction has saved a non-zero amount of my time today. ...Kd8

SIRAGE: < was it enough to offset the time you just wasted explaining it to me >~
SIRAGE: < or worth the heada<he it <aused >~

SECILY: 26.Nxd6 ... ...cxd6
SIRAGE: < ugh >~
SIRAGE: < didn't think so >~
SIRAGE: < look >~
SIRAGE: < i just got a bit lost on the way to work today is all >~
SIRAGE: < maybe i just overdid it a little bit over the wi<end >~
SIRAGE: < let things get to me a bit too mu<h and ended up doing something stupid >~
SIRAGE: < again >~
SIRAGE: < ... >~
SIRAGE: < fu<k i have so mu<h work to do >~
SIRAGE: < and enough fires of my own to stamp out to be dealing with you big wigs >~

She takes a big (s)wig of the boiled soda on her desk as she says this.

At least, you presume it's soda, a fact which comes easily enough from the evidence at hand. Namely that it's in a soda cup.

You know, one of those things with the removable plastic lids, and the little sleeves they put around them to stop the hot liquid from scalding you or whatever.

Time was, getting second degree burns from your pre-work pop was considered best praxis for a Corporate hand. None of this soft skinned avoidance of bodily harm and blisters. How things have changed.

While you've been talking, she's continued diligently working through the mound of paperwork strewn about. Like she's used to long hours of blitzing through this stuff, mindless of any distractions.

All the while, she's been taking sips from the soda cup that somehow made it through all the mayhem earlier intact and unspilled. This woman knows how to hold onto a drink, that's for sure.

Hm. This interrogation is not nearly as insightful as you were hoping. Certainly not for someone the allegation algorithms had down as a dead cert.

You never did like having a computer tell you what to think.

She's definitely hiding something, that much is clear. If this were a different kind of sleuthing game, perhaps there would be a potent visual metaphor here that you could grapple with.

Like maybe some giant chains and padlocks or something else to symbolize the fact that yes, this is a character with secrets to keep. That would've been nice.

But no, you've just got your suspicions, as usual.

Well, that's not quite right. You have something else on her, after all. Maybe it's about time you used it.

>Rogue recollections.

SECILY: 27.Rxd6+ Alright, Feltri. I'll play fair, as I always do. ...Ke7
SECILY: 28.Qa7+ There's another reason I'm sitting here talking to you today. Another implication that places you close to the heart of this incident. Another blight on your business credentials. ...Kxd6
SECILY: 29.Qxb8 And something tells me that it's the reason why you're more familiar with the Wastes than you might care to admit, let alone the Corporate logistic detail. ...Kd5

The movement of her pen slows, just a bit. Through weary eyes, she's paying you more attention now than ever before while still affecting an air of disinterest. Trying to hide in plain sight.

SECILY: 30.Qxb5 A few sweeps ago, I was tasked with breaking up a ring of artefact smugglers. People who couldn't let the past lie, so to speak. ...Kd6
SECILY: 31.Qb6+ They were giving our historians quite the headache. I'm sure you can sympathize. There was no telling whether an archaeological site would still be intact from one wice to the next. ...Ke7
SECILY: 32.Qc7+ Many and varied were the particulars of their pilfering. Historical artworks, ancient technology... gems. ...Ke6

She's stopped writing completely now. You've made your move. Now time to press the advantage.

SECILY: 33.Qc6+ It pains me to admit, but that was one case I never managed to take to the endgame. Fortunately the result was still the same: the group disbanded and hasn't made an appearance since. ...Nd6
SECILY: 34.b4 Fortunately for them, I mean. ...Qe2
SECILY: 35.a4 It was around the same time that you joined us here at the Corporation, if I recall correctly. ...Qxe3+

You always recall correctly.

SECILY: 36.Kh1 Now, Sirage Feltri. The game is up. ...Qd3
SECILY: 37.Kg1 Start talking. ...Qe3+

SIRAGE: < ... >~

She's burning holes into the floor with her gaze. Or no, wait. Those might actually be real scorch marks down there from some kind of chemical spill. Your mistake.

SECILY: 38.Kh1 Feltri, maybe I haven't made your position here clear. I am the last chance that you have in this situation. ...Rd5
SECILY: 39.c4 Either you explain yourself to me, as clear as the crystals which you have haphazardly strewn around your office, or you are done here. ...Rd2+
SECILY: 40.Qf3 Done in this company, and done in this Stronghold. What I've seen here today would be enough to have you thrown out for contempt of Corporate alone. ...Qxf3+
SECILY: 41.Rxf3 TALK. NOW. ...Nxc4

You don't like to raise your voice. Usually you settle for just your sword. Sirage curls inwards a bit at the sound, defensively. Avoiding your eyes.

She looks pretty shaken at this point.

SIRAGE: < i uh >~
SIRAGE: < ... >~
SIRAGE: < yeah >~
SIRAGE: < that was us >~
SIRAGE: < nothin mu<h i <an really say about it other than that >~
SIRAGE: < i left that life behind >~
SIRAGE: < left it buried in the snow and sand >~
SIRAGE: < it was getting too mu<h >~
SIRAGE: < i didn't see mu<h of a future in stealin' shit from dead people funnily enough >~
SIRAGE: < at some point i just turned to the guys and said to em >~
SIRAGE: < i <an't do this anymore >~
SIRAGE: < so i stopped >~
SIRAGE: < the worst part was that it was FUN y'know >~
SIRAGE: < going where we pleased and taking what we liked be<ause nobody would miss it at the end of the day >~
SIRAGE: < or so we thought at least >~
SIRAGE: < i was good at it >~

Where have you heard that one before.

SIRAGE: < but yeah >~
SIRAGE: < spending all our time out there it was impossible not to realize what sort of state this planet is in y'know >~
SIRAGE: < to realize that something needed to be done about it and we sure weren't helping matters >~
SIRAGE: < add to that the fa<t that i had people i needed to look after and provide a better life for >~
SIRAGE: < it was just the obvious <hoi<e once i stopped for two se<onds and thought about it >~
SIRAGE: < so >~
SIRAGE: < we ended up at <orporate together >~
SIRAGE: < 'pite and me >~

She clears her throat to hide the fact that voice is cracking a bit. Just a bit.

SIRAGE: < and i worked HARD >~
SIRAGE: < lots of the skills that <ome in handy being a thief transfer pretty well to being a businessperson as it turns out >~
SIRAGE: < so now this is what i'm good at i guess >~
SIRAGE: < but that doesn't make it easy >~
SIRAGE: < if anything it's the opposite >~
SIRAGE: < i'm good at it and so people expe<t good things from me all the FUCKING TIME >~
SIRAGE: < ow >~
SIRAGE: < and i'm <onstantly sifting through everything trying to make sense of it all for others and for myself >~
SIRAGE: < always in the middle of things >~
SIRAGE: < and the better i get the more i find out how a<tually and <ompletely fu<ked we all are >~
SIRAGE: < how little i'm really <apable of doing even in the position that i managed to build up to >~
SIRAGE: < how in<ompetent i really am even if everyone around me is looking to me to sort shit out for them >~
SIRAGE: < at this point i'm just >~
SIRAGE: < tired >~

She slumps down a little ways in her chair.

For someone as perceptive as you, sometimes you struggle a lot with understanding others' expressions. But you don't have to try hard with her face right now.

She's utterly exhausted. Whether it's from your questioning, or the effort of recalling something that clearly takes a lot out of her. You forget that it's not as easy for some people.

While she was talking, despite all the nonsense it took to get you here, you couldn't help but think how familiar her story sounded. How many times have you heard its like in your time here?

You make a judgement call. She's not the one you're looking for.

At this point, you don't really care what your case file says. This isn't someone you should be brutalizing just to get at the truth. Sometimes the truth just isn't that important.

And if we're talking about chequered pasts, then you're nobody to talk. There are things in your lifetime that make her story sound like a walk in the park. Or maybe just a nap on a bench.

Are you really gonna dig up her past, when she walked away from doing the same all those sweeps ago?

So what, maybe she has a few skeletons in her closet. At least they aren't literal. Probably. You know what, you're not going to ask.

She's already back to her paperwork.

SIRAGE: < anyway >~
SIRAGE: < normally i only bring out that story if people <omplete a very spe<ifi< set of requirements >~
SIRAGE: < i don't trust easy regulator and i sure don't want you to think i trust you in that way just <ause you for<ed it out of me when i was feeling down >~
SIRAGE: < it feels kinda <heap to just throw it out there like that >~
SIRAGE: < even if i guess that is the point of an interrogation >~
SIRAGE: < i had a rule back in the day when i organized those <humps >~
SIRAGE: < if ever anyone wanted something out of me with no strings atta<hed i'd give them an offer >~
SIRAGE: < a <hallenge >~

You perk up a bit at this. Your skills haven't really been tested all that much today, truth be told, and you love a challenge. Curiosity gets the better of you.

SECILY: 42.Rb3 And what was that? ...Kd5 ½-½

She smirks, almost wistfully.

SIRAGE: < doubt a soft-stoma<hed strongholder like yourself <ould handle it >~
SIRAGE: < but for old time's sake i guess i <an let you in on it >~

Did she say... stomach?

She stops writing, and then begins to pull a huge assortment of items out of her jacket pockets and off her desk: snacks, sweets, some ticket stubs, stationery...

You watch with mounting horror as, one by one, she tosses them all into the now empty soda cup she's holding, using one of those shitty cardboard stirrers to mash the gruesome slurry together.

This goes on for a full minute at least. At one point she retrieves a near-full bottle of black ink from all-mother knows where and pours the whole thing in.

The stinging scent that hits your nostrils tells you that it wasn't just ink in that bottle, either.

Maybe you're getting too old for this. Whatever happened to drowning your office woes in honest to goodness liquor like a troll with normal, healthy work-life dysfunctions?

She finishes mixing her cursed cocktail and slams it down on the desk. The quasi-gelatinous ooze wobbles dangerously inside the cup, threatening to spill over onto the desk and probably melt right through.

But not through the plastic cup though. They recently started making them out of recycled zip ties. The most durable stuff in the known universe.

SIRAGE: < 'kay here's how it worked >~
SIRAGE: < anyone in our group <ould ask me a question no matter how out there and i'd give them a straight answer >~
SIRAGE: < all they had to do in return was put their money where their mouth is >~
SIRAGE: < or i guess their mouth where their mouth is a<tually >~
SIRAGE: < they had to drink one of my spe<ial brews >~

This. Is just. Insanity. Why would anyone degrade themselves to that extent just to get some palty bits of information? You'd have some pretty stern words to say to any such individuals, that's for sure.

They must have all been out of their own damn think pans.

Or maybe... just very dedicated. Perhaps this is more a test of respect than anything. A way for both parties to demonstrate that they take each other seriously.

Sirage leans forward for a bit, rummaging behind her desk for something.

She pulls out a bottle of bright blue liquid that looks suspiciously like cleaning fluid, along with glass. You catch a glimpse of the label on the container: "Cyan-ide!! The hard surface surfactant of choice!"

SIRAGE: < anyway >~
SIRAGE: < you <an take it or leave it <hief >~

She measures out a tumblerful of the fluorescent blue stuff and lounges back in her chair.

SIRAGE: < i honestly don't <are at this point >~

You look down at the cup in front of you.

You could just walk out of here, right now. Your job is done. You don't really know why you've hung around here this long already. You don't have to go through with this.

But then again... what more could one more bit of ridiculousness hurt, after the nonsense you've got through today. Maybe a little recreational awfulness could do you some good.

It's not like it hasn't worked before.

You gaze into the murky depths of the malodorous monstrosity. It seems to gaze back.

A loud gargling noise comes from somewhere in Feltri's direction.

SIRAGE: < ugh >~
SIRAGE: < this shit tastes fu<kin' awful >~

She pours herself another.

END