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Freedom's Finest #7: Butterfly in the Sky


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April 1, 2017


It wasn't that Winifred Wei wasn't allowed into the city by herself, per se, rather everyone involved agreed that given her condition it would have been monumentally unwise. Still, prudence had never ranked high among her gifts and the restriction chafed. Browsing the breathtaking wealth of information available via the Academy's computer lab kept her reasonably occupied but while picking through the bibliography of references on a poorly maintained page the displaced Victorian was surprised to come across the title of a long out-of-print book written by one Heinrich Schreiber.


What Winifred knew which the site's amateur scholar could not have was the Schreiber was the pen name of one Nika Azadeh Sharifi, one of London's famous 'rogue scientists' - famous, at least, in her own day. Old Madar Nika had been wizened by the time Winifred had met her, only half coherent, though that had still placed her among the more reliable in that community of peers. She'd never heard of the older woman having had any of her work published in earnest, only the occasional pamphlet but as she began researching in earnest she learned that 'Properties of Humours and Tinctures Thereof' had been complied well after its author had passed away, complied from recovered notebooks as an oddity more than serious research.


She had known, of course, that in the century and a half she'd spent transmuted into a statue anyone she had ever known had surely passed away but it was still a sobering thought. Further digging and several phone calls later the young alchemist had learned that against all odds a shop in Freedom City's West End had a copy of the book on its shelves. The sensible thing to do would have been to explain the situation to one of her friends and plan a day out; the book was unlikely to disappear within the week, after all. Instead she called upon skills learned from watching the cagier of her circle to slip away in the early hours of the weekend, intent on holding Madar Nika's work in her own hands without delay.

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Navigating the bus routes with the aplomb of someone who had grown up on much less orderly city streets, Winifred soon found the shop as promised on the corner of Pratt and Frederick. It was always difficult for her to tell based on architectural styles but the building looked older than much of the others she'd seen in the city, older than any of the other store fronts down either of the intersecting streets. She considered the sign proclaiming it 'SILBERMAN'S BOOKS' for a moment before tugging her coat into place and making her way inside.


A bell on the door jingled as the teenager stepped inside. Her long white coat immediately stood out, looking a bit too large for her and suggesting a lab coat though patterned a bit more for everyday use. Beneath it she wore a green blouse presumably chosen to match her inquisitive eyes and dark jeans tucked into leather riding boots. Her black hair was pinned up and out of the way and a messenger bag hung across her shoulder. The hand not holding open the door as she looked about held a walking stick carved from some rich, dark wood, underlining that the entire ensemble would have been more fitting on a woman twenty or more years older. Sussing out the shop's layout she made her way toward the counter with sure steps. A muffled clink of glass-on-glass came from her bag as she moved. When she spoke it was with a crisp English accent. "Good morning. I called ahead last night...?"

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It had not been a good April Fool's Day for Leon. He had suffered through his sisters each pranking him first thing in the morning, had been caught on the crossfire of them pranking each other, and had carpooled to work, only to discover that Lynn and Gretchen had worked out a fantastically well-choreographed routine in which it appeared that they had switched personalities. After begging Gretchen to please stop smiling like that, he had discovered that he was in fact the subject of one last prank, this being that Lance, on the one day in which they shared a time-slot, the one day in which many heavy boxes full to the brim with new books for sorting were left out behind the shop, had called in sick.


He had bitterly planned his revenge as his toothpick muscles were forced to work harder than they had in months. Perhaps he would, surprise his sisters with a dog? No, no, they'd like that. Maybe he would get a moha-yeah, never-mind that. Oh, oh, maybe he wouldn't wipe his feat when he got back to the apartment! Oh yes, he was truly an evil genius.


Now, revenge planned, he had stood behind the cashier counter at the bookstore half of the building, silently catching his breath. He was the only living soul in Silberman's, Gretchen and Lynn having had to leave for a bit for 'personal business.'  The twilight of the day was approaching quickly, he was feeling just a bit tired, no one was going to ask him for coffee, and...the girl who had made a reservation for that alchemy book was here.


Leon smiled behind the counter, his breath still not fully caught. "Y-yes, uh, you..." He leaned over the counter, face slightly red.  "...Wanted that, Tinctures book, right?" 


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The way the corners of the teenager's mouth tightened at the fumbling response said she'd just readjusted her expectations for the shop as a whole down a few notches but she was evidently too polite to say anything of the sort out loud. "'Properties of Humours and Tinctures Thereof' by Schreiber, yes. It may have been catalogued as simply 'Humours and Tinctures'?" Winifred offered helpfully, concerned about asking too much of the obviously flustered clerk. She realized that a survivalist like Smith was an outlier for more than one reason but she'd gotten used to interacting with young men like Matthew or Faretti who at least gave the impression of being able to take care of themselves. This blond youth looked to be composed primarily of too many elbows. Perhaps he was a relative of the shop's owner, learning a trade.


"I requested it be held under Winifred Wei?" she added, the statement coming out as more of a question in response to the clerk's own uncertainty. "I have identification if you like?" The woman she'd spoken to the night before had agreed that a school identification card would be sufficient; she'd seemed familiar with the Academy as a reputable institution.

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Leon flinched momentarily at the way the girl appraised him, like she had judged him unworthy. He spoke up once more, voice a little quieter "I-I was aware of the request, yeah. You don't need to worry about me scrambling around back there for the book-" He thumbed over to the quickly darkening shelves to his right."-we actually have a little system in place for reserves." 


His breath finally caught and a small amount of his composure restored, Leon gingerly plucked the ID from the girl's hand before reaching down behind the counter, pulling open a small box marked 'Reserves'. As he shuffled inside the box for the girl's request, he spoke. "See, we have this box here that Lynn, t-that's the women you probably talked to yesterday-actually, gonna guess you don't care..." He had found the book, a ruby red affair that was in slight tatters.


"Alright, one musty old alchemy tome for devious experiments, Ms.-" He took a moment to look the ID over as he pulled upward once more, eyebrows raising as he took note of where it was from. "-Third Year Claremont Student Winifred Wei." He turned to the girl as he placed he book on the counter for her to look over.


"W-well, Ms. Wei, it's your lucky day. As it clearly states right here on this Post-it Note taped to my register, right under the one about firemen, 'Claremont Students get 15% discounts on all purchases, do not forget this Leon/Lance, if you make an, curse word, of yourself I will frown even harder than normal -Gretchen.' " He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Gretchen is the uh, troll that lives at the coffee counter, annddd I'm just gonna check you out now if the book is to your liking?"

Edited by Droideka
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Winifred regarded the 'Reserves' box impassively. "Yes, your 'system' is very impressive," she noted with a touch of the exaggerated sincerity one might use while reassuring a child. "And please let your evidently ill-tempered supervisor know the discount is much appreciated." The Academy student produced a money clip from within her white coat and quickly counted out enough bills to cover the cost of the tome before retrieving her ID card and tucking both away. "You needn't worry about any actual deviousness, of course." She could understand the concern; the fringes of rogue science had always been regarded with at least some suspicion and the 'mad scientist' villains she'd learned about in class justified considerably more alarm than those of her day. "It's largely sentimental. The author was a friend."

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Internally, Leon felt his temper flair a small bit as the girl in front of him (younger than he was!) condescended to him like a three year old. But she would be gone in like one minute, and besides that it just wasn't worth getting annoyed over. Let her be smarmy somewhere else.


"Oh, I was just joking, Miss Wei. I don't actually think you're a, a mad scientist or anything." Outwardly, Leon chuckled sheepishly as he took the money from the girl's hand, shuffling quickly through the check out process.


As the girl stated her friendship with the book's author, however, he halted and blinked. "That's, uh, really cool, Miss Wei, but the time scale seems a bit..." He gnawed on his lip and resumed placing the money in the register, hoping she hadn't noticed his muttering.

Edited by Droideka
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Although she didn't catch all of his mumbling Winifred noted the pause and quickly reviewed the interaction in her head, hitting upon the obvious sticking point. "Ah. Yes." She'd gotten used to her history being common knowledge among the student body of Claremont but wasn't about to get into explaining the whole affair to an overtaxed clerk. "Friend of the family, naturally. Going back quite a ways! Mmh." Her attempt at a reassuring smile case across as awkward and forced more than anything else but the explanation certainly seemed more plausible than the alternative. "In any case, thank you for your assistance! Have a good afternoon."


With their transaction complete and excuses made the young woman hastily headed back out the way she'd come with the book tucked away in her bag. Quiet returned to Silberman's, leaving Leon to his own devices for nearly a full minute before a sudden commotion outside drew his attention, a shouted conversation he couldn't quite make out. The next thing he knew the petite brunette with whom he'd just been speaking had been sent hurtling through the air to crash into the shop's front window, not quite hard enough to shatter the glass but with enough force to make a terrible noise. From the other side of the window Leon could see her left arm had been pinned in place with web-like strands that had cocooned most of her forearm!

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