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trollthumper

Espresso That Can Wake the Dead (IC)

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The Black Petal Cafe was one of the hidden gems of Riverside. It was situated in a back alley off of Brook Street, the kind of back alley that probably could not be intimidating even if you were being mugged in it. Unlike other corners of Riverside, the alley was not kept warm by the sheer flow of gentrification effort cash, but by the sense of being well-loved and well-tended. Even the graffiti took on the tone of a children's mural or an ad-hoc art project.

It was one of Eric LaCroix's favorite places in Freedom, by dint of both atmosphere and experience. He'd been slinging coffee at the Black Petal for a year and a half before he went to college, and even after he left, Mara had always made sure to keep him on call if there was a need for a seasonal position. Before setting out for his return to Freedom, he'd given a call to Mara, and was both surprised and flattered to find there was still a position waiting for him behind the espresso machine. Maybe it wasn't the highest calling in town, but in his mind, it was the kind of thing that kept the machinery of the city flowing, and he was happy to find a place where he could be himself.

The air conditioning was blowing in at somewhere around the front gates of Nilfheim as Eric worked behind the counter. The east coast heat waves were starting up again, and with it, the muggy weather. The vast majority of orders he got were for iced drinks, mainly because it would be suicide for anyone to try drinking hot coffee in such humidity. Clarissa was on her smoke break, so Eric was juggling the register and the espresso machine at the same time. It wasn't a burden for him; he was glad to be in the rhythm of things.

"Welcome to the Black Petal," he said, turning to the next customer. "How can I help you today?"

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"Hi!" An attractive looking blond greeted him from across the counter. She wore her hair in a long ponytail to keep it away from her neck in the heat. She wore a baby blue tank top and a red plaid skirt. Despite the heat, her legs were covered with a pair of thin black spandex tights. They did well to show off her long legs. On her feet, she sported a pair of low top blue converse all stars that matched her top. The bag that dangled from her shoulder at her side was made of leather with small amounts of fur trim, though the fur looked fake. All in all, Vivian was quite the sight.

Without missing a beat, she placed her order. "I'll have a half-caf soy no foam latte, not too hot, with a shot of vanilla and a dusting of nutmeg, fresh-ground only, please. Make it a medium, but put it in a large to-go cup, please." A wide smile lit up her face. Some times she really enjoyed being a pain in the ass.

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Eric nodded; he was no stranger to complexities. He still remembered the customer from his sophomore year who wanted the coffee dusted with cayenne powder and toffee bits. "No problem, miss," he said, grinding the beans and sliding the filters into the machine. As the espresso tamped out into the pitchers, he prepped the glass with two shots of vanilla and began to steam the milk.

"Don't think I've seen you around before," Eric said, scooping the excess foam off into the sink. "First time in, or new regular?"

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"First time," She answered. "Popping my Black Petal cherry, I guess." She winked, almost imperceptibly at the man making her coffee. "And I guess that would really depend on how my coffee comes out. I figure if you can handle that order, you can make just about everything. Might be worth coming back."

Now now, V, don't make him too eager to ask for your number, she scolded herself.

As his hands flew through the ingredients expertly, she remarked, "Wow, you are pretty good. How long have you been making coffee?"

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"Oh, a couple of years," Eric said as he topped off the latte and sprinkled in the nutmeg. "Started it in high school, carried it on in college, and, well, here I am. It's just become one of those things, like riding a bike or swimming. You put me behind an espresso machine, and it's like I'm at home."

Eric slipped a lid onto the latte and placed it down on the counter before Vivian. "Here you go," he said. "Let's see if it works."

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Vivian lifted the coffee cup, "Let's," then she cracked open the top of the lid, and pressed the cup to her lips. She took a quick sip of the steaming liquid. "Mmmm-MMm" She smiled. "That's good coffee. You might just be seeing me again." She put the cup back down on the counter and opened her bag. She pulled out a small purse and looked inside. "How much did you say it was?"

Don't forget to tip the man.

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Eric swiftly turned from the drinks counter to the register. "Should be $3.75," Eric said. "But seeing as you're a first timer, I can knock it down to $3. No big deal. Always helps to make the new customers welcome."

And not just the good-looking ones. Though that's a nice bonus.

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"Ok, um..." She rooted through the purse for a second, then slid a $5 bill across the table. "Here you go." she chirped. "Keep the change."

Vivian looked around the room. There were a few tables and chairs scattered around. "You guys don't mind if I sit and read, do you? I was going to go to the park, but it's really hot." Putting that kind of emphasis on words really did take some effort.

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"Hey, not a problem," Eric said, gesturing to a table in the corner, seated right beneath the vents. "On a day like this, I can't blame you."

As Vivian took her seat, Eric was buffeted by the feeling of a chill. And it wasn't just because the AC had chosen that moment to enter its next phase of activity -- no, this was the greasy chill that came with the essence of death. Sure enough, a few seconds later, the sound of police sirens split the air. Great, Eric thought. Has to be on this shift, too.

Luckily, at that moment, Clarissa had just entered from the alley. As she approached the counter, Eric said, "Hey, Clarissa. Taking my twenty." With that, he ducked out of the coffee shop and into the alley. After making sure that no one else was entering, he found a door frame that provided some measure of cover and drew the shadows over. Before they had even faded, Nick Cimitiere was running down the alleyway, trying to find the source of distress.

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Vivian heard the sirens pass by the coffee shop and lowered her book in a huff. Ugh! It never ends! She laid the ribbon on the page that she was reading, and quickly rose from her chair and went into the bathroom.

A few moments later, poor overworked Clarissa thought she heard a loud crash come from the bathroom. But when she went to investigate, she didn't find anything inside. With a shrug of indifference, she returned to her shift.

With a flash of lightning, Valkyrie appeared atop a nearby building. Her eyes followed the police cars as they sped along the road. Can't pass up a chance to prove myself.

Another flash of lightning and she vanished once more, reappearing nearby, closer to the destination of the police cruisers.

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Valkyrie found herself on the roof of a brownstone three blocks over, her arrival heralded by a din -- the crack of thunder, the wail of police sirens, and the rapport of bullets blending together. As she gained her bearings, however, one sound cut through the chaos -- an inhuman bellowing. Looking downward, she could easily see the source of the roar.

Three men were gathered at the steps leading up to one of the brownstones. No, she couldn't call them "men"; all they bore was the rough shape. They were taller and thicker than even the mightiest warrior, but the mass was not entirely natural -- they had their share of muscle, yes, but the rest seemed bloated, even swollen. They were clad in ruined leather and rotted cloth, and whatever bare skin they had was the color and texture of shriveled oak bark.

The police cruiser lay still and wailing, its engine appearing almost smashed in. One police officer lay against the side of his cruiser, his gun resting on the ground and nonsense bubbling forth from his lips. The other was being held against the dented hood of the car, with two of the raving warriors holding him down. To Valkyrie's surprise, the men reached down and bit into the sides of the officer's neck. As blood splashed out over their lips, their skin evened out, with the brown receding and the texture becoming smooth. Even as they became something more human, they were still utterly unnatural -- one had skin the color of spoiled milk, and the other skin as black as a festering wound. As they feasted, their companion let out a boastful howl.

--------

Running down a back alley, Nick heard the ear-splitting howl. He rushed forward as fast as he could, and when he came to rest, he had a front row seat for the carnage.

Great, he thought. Okay, obviously undead, thirst for blood... but vampires don't usually get to do stuff like this during the daytime... wait... are they...?

That was when the lone warrior perked up, his nose sniffing the air. Suddenly, his eyes locked on the mouth of the alley. He pointed his figure and shrieked, and Nick didn't need to be an expert in the habits of the undead to know what it was.

A warning cry.

All right, then. Let's dance.

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Lightning flashed once more. Suddenly Valkyrie stood in the center of what had become a battlefield. Holding her hammer in front of her, she faced the two that were attacking the police officer. "Ho, beasts! Unhand him! If thou desires a true fight, face me. But be warned, the rage of the gods is fierce! Valkyrie could tell that they were unnatural creatures at the least. Possibly the walking dead? Odin only knew. "The servants of Niflheim are bound there as is there punishment. Thou woulds't do well to return there with haste." Valkyrie's grip on the hammer tightened, and the head crackled with electricity, threateningly.

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The freaks would be easy to take down... but Nick was more worried about the cop. Even at this distance, Nick could watch the man's blood spurting out. Unlike vampires, these guys didn't have a coagulating effect. Which means that if I don't act fast, that cop's gonna bleed out...

Nick drew together his will and tried to fling the rampaging warriors to the ground... only to feel his concentration snap in two. "Damnit!" he shouted, unable to help himself. Without any other option, Nick barged forward, bracing for the storm of blows.

They came at him from all sides. Nick drew his jacket tight, preparing for the brace of blows. Surprisingly, Nick felt no connection; either he'd gotten really, really good at this, or these guys were still woozy and confused. He felt the claws of one of them rake across the back of his jacket, but it was treated for tougher things than this. He made his way to the wounded cop when the crack of a thunderbolt knocked him askew. He turned, and saw a valkyrie standing amongst the gathered beasts.

Valkyrie... angry undead... hey, worth a go... With that, Nick shouted out to the chooser of the slain:

"Draugr! They're draugr!"

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"Draugr? Foul beasts!" The creatures seemed to be pointedly ignoring her. They crowded around the young man who'd offered her the warning as to the nature of the creatures. That simply wouldn't do.

"Thou woulds't ignore a challenge issued by a servant of thine own gods?" Valkyrie pointed her hammer at the nearest Draugr, the shriveled one. "Nay, such actions cannot stand!" With another thunderous crack of lightning, Valkyrie appeared behind the shriveled creature. "Bow to Odin's might! Kneel before his wrath!" She swung her mighty hammer in an upward arc, and connected with the creature just underneath the jaw. "HRRrrraaAHHH!" As the Divine tool made contact, a bolt of white hot lightning struck the creature in the same place the hammer had.

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Valkyrie's blow took the shriveled warrior right under the chin, and the snap of bones was drowned out by the roar of thunder. The walking corpse seemed to fight the strength of the blow... at least, until he collapsed into a pile at the feet of the Chooser of the Slain.

"Nilfheim just doesn't make 'em like they used to!" Nick said, focusing his effort on the cop. He could feel something calling to the man, the draw of thanatos...

Call back later, will you? Nick stuck his hands on the cop's chest. The cop's body arched as Nick could feel the tie to the other side lessen. He could feel ectoplasm suffusing the cop's body, stimulated by the vital sympathy, knitting together tissue. Soon, the wound was stopped, with just a small scar to indicate where it had been.

Nick's moment of rest was interrupted by a roar from the other draugr. He felt fists the size of Thanksgiving hams driving into the back of his jacket, pushing him onto the hood of the cop car. Aside from being a little stirred, however, he was fine; the jacket had done its job. "Do you mind?" yelled Nick. "I'm working here!"

The other draugr ran to the side of its fallen colleague and leapt upon Valkyrie, his claws scraping to find purchase beneath her armor. She felt the claws of the beast touch home...

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Fortunately for Valkyrie, the Orb of Fate proved to be protection enough from the fell claws. Though the creature scrabbled at her armor, it was repelled time and again. Finally, she managed to use her free hand to push it slightly away from her. At which point she tried to bring her hammer crashing down on it's head. "Haaaa!"

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The Hammer of the Gods came down on the head of the luckless draugr with a sound like dynamite hitting a rack of ribs. Bone shatterd as the rampaging corpse collapsed to the ground, an almost cartoonish dent gouged in its forehead.

On the hood of the police car, Nick willed the ectoplasm that flowed through him outward. He felt the familiar chill as it congealed and hardened on his hands; when he drew them up from the hood, they were shaped in the familiar barbarous talons he'd learned how to craft after his trip to Irkalla. "Guess what?" he said as he reared around to his attacker. "You're not the only one who knows how to play caveman."

Nick drove his talons right into the chest of the draugr, aiming right for the heart. Okay, so it's not a vampire, but the heart works on a lot of things. The splintering of bone and the shredding of tissue told Nick he'd found his mark, and the beast tried to keep its footing as Nick drew out the claws, which were covered in a thick, muddy ichor.

Note to self: Wash hands before returning to work.

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"Finally, thou deigns to join the fight." Valkyrie spoke to Nick even while his hands were still embedded in the Draugr. "And with a fine blow indeed." Valkyrie began a slow, purposeful walk towards the two combatants locked in their dual. "However, thou must be fair." She lifted the hammer level with her waist, and crossed the last few feet between them. "Give to Odin that which is his..." She performed a small hop in the last few feet between them, raising the hammer and swinging it sideways at the creature's head. She connected hard, once more. Beneath the might of the gods, flesh was pulverized, and bone splintered. The Draugr was swept aside by the attack, leaving Valkyrie face to face with Nick.

Even beneath the armor, which admittedly didn't cover her whole body, and left just enough to the imagination, Valkyrie was a stunning beauty.

"...The praise for this victory." She continued. A smile spread across her face.

In battle, she had a sort of reckless grace about her. Somewhere within the torrent of divine fury was the sapphire blue gemstone that was Valkyrie. Her confidence and sheer power only added to her presence and appeal. Valkyrie stood before Nick, holding her hammer across her waist. "Thou art well met. But tell me, who doest thou serve? Surely, not Loki?"

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Why does she sound vaguely Shakespearean?

"Nope," he said, "don't serve Loki. Don't really serve anyone. I've got friends amongst the psychopomps and death gods, but it's not like I plant my flag in any one camp. If I serve anything, I guess it's the idea of peace, in life and in death."

He kicked the draugr at his feet. "Which is why I'm not exactly a huge fan of these things," Nick said. "We may want to find some way to take care of the bodies; don't remember all the details of the lore, but I think draugr have a tendency to come back."

He then looked up to the broken door on the brownstone. "We may also want to figure out what they were doing here," he said.

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"Forgive me," Valkyrie intoned. "But mine own knowledge on the subject is lacking. Though this truly is a subject I should know, and will become more familiar with." Valkyrie turned to face the brownstone. "For mine own part, I shall lead the way into the dwelling, should there be any more remaining within." She looked over his shoulder at the policeman lying on the hood of his car. "Have your measures insured his survival?"

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"Yeah," Nick said. "One of the benefits of power over death -- you know when to shut it off."

Valkyrie led the way into the brownstone. One of the first things that caught her attention was the relative lack of furnishings; barring a front office in what might have been a living room once upon a time, the rest of the house was filled with filing cabinets and crates. Some of the crates were half-open, revealing antiquities of various stripes.

"I think I read about this in the paper," Nick said. "The History Museum bought out a house to serve as a second processing center for exhibits."

In one of the back rooms, Nick and Valkyrie found three crates that appeared smashed open. Blood smeared large fragments that lay scattered across the floor. After a few minutes of searching, Nick found a clipboard hidden under one of the larger chunks. "Here we go," he said. "According to this, the museum got in a shipment of three 'bog bodies' dug up outside of Ostelm, Sweden. The bodies were on loan from a museum in Stockholm." Nick set the clipboard down. "They must have been laying inert until they were exposed to some blood."

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"Great Odin's Beard!" Valkyrie exclaimed, "How long hath they been stored? Were these foul creatures sent elsewhere? We must find answers, lest this cease to be an isolated incident!"

Though she worked in a library, and was a history student. She had never actually been much good at doing all the research involved. She had always been more a of "hands on" kind of girl. Left staring at the scattered remains of the shipping documentation, Vivian began to feel helpless. Though she knew it had to be inevitable, she'd finally run into a problem she couldn't hit with her hammer. Not good.

Valkyrie stood, stunned, scanning the room for any remaining signs of life. "Surely there must be some left living..." Another idea occured to her, and she calmed significantly, her brain finally having something to process other than the feeling of helplessness. "A curious point, friend: If this truly is the place that spawned the Draugr, why then would they attempt reentry?" She set the head of the hammer on the ground and cradled her chin in her left hand, "Perhaps there was some other goal they attempted to attain here?"

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"I don't think they did attempt reentry," said Nick. "And I didn't see any bodies on the way in. Place must have been empty." He paused. "Most obvious chain of events here would be: worker cuts his hand. Draugr wake up. Worker gets away or is torn to shreds. But I don't think a simple paper cut would wake them up -- it'd have to be something arterial, and even if he hit one of the minor veins, he'd probably be too woozy to escape."

Nick turned back to Valkyrie. "I think someone broke in just to wake them up."

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"A blood sacrifice, purposed to wake the dead?" Valkyrie considered the ridiculous notion, not ready to reject it yet, "Who? Pray, who would be so foul minded to attempt such a heinous ritual?" Valkyrie looked around the room, then sighed, "Alright, look," she dropped her accent. "I only really talk like that when there are others around to see. But right now, it's just getting in the way of communication. So don't tell anyone, yea?" Her tone was frank, "So your saying someone broke in, woke up the zombies and then split. In order to have enough blood to do that and not die, they'd need another source. I don't see any lamb carcasses, so I'm thinking hospital blood bank?" Valkyrie kicked around the wreckage, looking for one of the blood packets used by the hospital.

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Nick smiled. "Trust me, I know a thing or two about tradecraft," he said. "As for the blood, there are a few ways it could've happened. Blood packets, or ritual sacrifice, or..." Worry crept over Nick's face. "Or someone decided to share a drink with some very old friends."

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