Seven New Characters Are Introduced
rating: +29+x

It happened after the fourth or fifth lesson with Legler. Laufer climbed on a stool just before anyone managed to leave and announced that there will be a meeting at the Coastal nightclub at nine and if anyone wanted to come and chat a bit, they are free to do so.

Which was, in Taman's opinion, a good initiative, but Laufer could've done it a bit less overtly as well. Legler raised an eyebrow but said nothing, and Yang politely covered her face behind papers to hide a smile.

Some students didn't even raise their heads to pretend they paid attention to Laufer, but some looked pensive. That was enough to reassure Taman that going on a meeting late in the evening to meet a girl who was a bit of a knife-nut wasn't a terrible idea.

Before she managed to pack up her pastels (an artist-class set she got for her birthday and preferred to supplies offered by Legler), she got approached by Delacroix, a short guy that always smelled like distillery.

"You're new too, right?" he asked. Taman tried not to wince at the stench. Something about this guy made her automatically not trust him, though his tone was friendly.

"It's my fourth lesson," she said. "And you've been here since the third one. Is that what you mean?"

"No. What I mean is that you are new to magic around you," he grinned apologetically. "I sure as hell am."

She paused and stared at him. Yang led her patiently few night ago through the warehouse but in the end she felt as lost as always. As much as Legler guided her with patience veiled behind insults and annoyed encouragements, she still felt new, a river fish suddenly finding there is an ocean out there. She suspected before that Delacroix was new but she didn't want to ask. Being the only one here that was the first to touch that unknown world around her would be too good, and she risked a guess there were more.

"I'm Delacroix." he grinned at her and extended a hand towards her. "Maybe we can help each other out."

"Taman." She nodded, but didn't shake his hand. "That makes the two of us new in this business of…" she made a gesture in the air and he shook his head.

"No, there are few other guys, but they are not planning on going to Coastal, so I left them alone." A shrug. "That Laufer girl sure as hell behaves like a witch and I think some guys more wexed in that new world could help us out, maybe." he paused and grinned. "That is, if you're going."

"Maybe, yeah." She finished packing and shut her bag. His eagerness made her uneasy. "See you there then?"

"At nine, or… maybe we could meet earlier?"

"At nine."

Coastal was less of a nightclub and more of a bar with a bit of space for dancing. Taman arrived at 20:50 and was happy to see that Laufer, now staring intently at line of shots in front of her, wasn't the only one in the booth.

On the right to her was the tall guy that spent his last two lessons on inking something tirelessly on A3. Taman wasn't entirely sure if a glass in front of him contained water. On the left was Richter, a guy that helped her a bit when she tried her hand at sculpting, and his beer. He noticed her before she made a move and waved at her, grinning.

"You're late, Taman." He said, greeting her. The guy next to him chuckled.

"Actually, we still have ten minutes, James, it is your brain that is late."

Richter made a shocked face and Laufer elbowed him before moving her attention to Taman.

"You're the pastels girl? I'm Laufer. This is Richter and this is Pull," She nodded at each man. "That's a pseudonym, not his name. You?"

"I'm Taman and yeah, I do mostly pastels," She sat next to Richter. "I don't quite know anyone here, really, you're all Legler's students?"

"Richter and Laufer are, I am not," Pull said. "I have been invited to his lessons by Laufer, she knows how eager I am to dwell on the topic of this type of art."

"Old dick did encourage getting friends, after all. On that note, anyone else we should be waiting for?"

Richter pointed at Delacroix and some girl that arrived at Coastal at that precise moment. He waved at them and the girl waved back.

"I'm Chryse." She introduced herself with a grin when she sat in the booth. Taman noted it wasn't a very natural smile. "How is everyone?"

"I'm Liam. Liam Delacroix," he smiled at Taman, she nodded at him, "I see a lot of us arrived, huh?"

"Wait wait wait, I have a question," Richter raised his hand and then pointed it at Delacroix. "You one of those sick fucks that steal names of dead artists to look more cool?"

Delacroix stared blankly at him and raised an eyebrow. "No." He said slowly. "My grandfather was French."

"Ah, fair enough then. My bad."

"What, there are guys that do it?" Taman asked and Laufer let out a short cackle before downing the first shot.

"Some. There are guys who go a bit extreme with being artsy. You know, the types that get all," here Chryse slicked her hair back and made a duck face. "I am an artist so I am so amazing and misunderstood and I can only suck dicks of old masters."

"Ah, this type." Pull stared into his glass pensively. "Only heard about those, but maybe it is for the best I never met any."

"They're the worst." Said Laufer. "By the way, anyone tried to contact Aloe?"

"I called them a few times, but no sign of life." Richter sighed deeply. "Again."

"No surprise here. Well, let's go order shit."

Agent Alex Cobalt carefully watched her colleagues while sipping a black lilac cocktail, watching and listening and waiting. One could always be fashionably late.

"You are this new?" Delacroix and Taman nodded and Pull smiled politely. "No wonder then that Legler berates you two so often. I do suspect everybody that you met today has at least some basic knowledge about anomalous world."

"Basic, it means there is more to that than 'anart'?"

They were left alone in the booth, Laufer left to get more alcohol and Richter and Chryse set off to the dancefloor to flirt with the rest of the bar. Before this moment, the topic of anart or Legler was naturally avoided, though Delacroix noticed that Pull was quiet - that is, until he casually asked them what anomalous pieces they have finished so far.

"It is not something to talk about in the public." Pull said after covertly looking around. "I do not want to hide all of this from you but I also wish for your safety. If there will be a chance, I will reveal more to you in a more safe environment."

"…that sounds like a line from a movie or something." Delacroix commented. Taman couldn't help but agree. Pull only sighed.

"I do realize that. But, truly, after what Legler showed you, do you still think normal rules apply to this world? What you witnessed was nothing but a small glimpse. But there are much more people invested in this sort of thing than just artists, and those people won't hesitate to harm you."

"Like, what, some sort of secret institution? A government thing? Some cult?" To Taman's surprise, Pull laughed.

"All of them, Taman, and so much more." Pull grinned. "As much as I wish to answer your questions now, let us do it this way: next week, after Legler's lesson, I will give you all an address of the safe spot we can meet at. In fact…" He glanced at a bar, where Laufer was busy pouring more deadly mixes into her throat, and winced. "Laufer has plans for us to meet in safer environment. For now she wanted just to get in touch, but we shall meet anyway, even if she deems you not worthy of her trust."

"She's more drunk than I get on a bad day, how is she supposed to check how… trustworthy we are?" Delacroix pointedly downed another shot and Pull shrugged.

"She will for sure try to get more people into our circle and I trust her judgement." Pull finished his glass of what turned out to be water.

Cobalt calmly sat next to Laufer at the bar and grinned to her as a greeting.

"Fancy seeing you here- Olcha, am I right?"

It took Laufer few seconds to recognize Cobalt's face, before she nodded.

"More or less," she said. "You pronounce it with a hard h."

"Ah, sorry. Olcha." Cobalt repeated, this time correctly and Laufer nodded, pleased. "I was supposed to meet a guy here and didn't see him so far. Since you're here, I thought maybe you would be better company."

Laufer regarded her empty glass thoughtfully. Cobalt for a second thought she wasn't listening to her at all.

"I think there is someone left in the booth," she turned to check and pointed at it. Cobalt glanced in this direction. "Yeah, Pull's here with the kids. Go bother them. Now fuck off."

Cobalt raised an eyebrow but in the end she opted on getting another cocktail and retreating to meet the rest. She decided for not to not worry whether Laufer was suspicious or if she was simply this unpleasant.

"What's up?" she greeted them and all three almost jumped at the sound of her voice. Beforehand all three were deep in a discussion but Cobalt wasn't worried about that. She recorded everything anyway, any piece of missed conversation will be waiting for her on her laptop.

"Uh, hi?" The girl waved, as if unsure.

"If you are here for our meeting, you are around an hour and a half late." Said the tall guy. "But I suppose it would be too nice if someone was not late."

The blonde guy only grinned.

"I was supposed to have a date but the guy never came. So I thought instead of moping I would meet you guys." She sat in the booth next to the blonde guy and put her cocktail down on the table. "I wanted to chat with Olcha but she told me to fuck off, she's always like this?"

"She tends to have her moments." The tall guy shrugged. "I found that it is better to respect her wishes."

Cobalt introduced herself and the rest of the evening went relatively smoothly. She couldn't move the conversation onto the subject of anomalies in any way that would be natural, as most of the time references she threw were met with blank stares. Pull kind of retreated from the conversation anyway and either watched the dancefloor, where apparently two others went, or stared at Laufer's back.

Though Cobalt was fairly sure that at least Taman and Delacroix started to like her, and that's a start.

In the end Delacroix and Laufer got completely wasted and Pull offered to take care of them as he tried to break through the password on Delacroix's phone to find his address. Richter disappeared somewhere, according to Chryse he most likely ended up with a couple he danced with earlier. Taman did get a bit intoxicated, she wasn't used to drinking, and Cobalt suggested to drive her and Chryse back to the campus.

Chryse did try to talk with her, bless her heart, but Taman was still a bit too fuzzy around the edges to pay attention to her ramblings about the spot she found with old newspapers and half-rotten books.

She arrived in her apartment around three in the morning, stumbled around a bit trying to undress as quietly as possible so as not to wake her roommate, and in the end just fell onto the bed, not bothering with pajamas. A few clay butterflies sat on her shoulders and she allowed herself to smile before falling into deep sleep.

Next lesson was more or less similar to previous one, with minor exceptions. For starters, Legler and Yang were slightly busy at first, trying to find space for pipes. Chryse was trying her best to not giggle at absurdity of their situation, as Yang looked equally as puzzled as Taman felt, and Legler kept on failing at trying to find space for them.

Another thing, slightly less minor, was the fact that it was late afternoon. The light filling the room shifted accordingly to the hour, now sharply orange. Legler explained change of the usual hour with something about change of perspective, but Taman found her job that much more difficult, the contrast between colours dramatically dropping, blues shifting into violets and greens turning muddy. She tried to just sketch but later Legler sent her a derisive grimace, commenting that she was going the easy way.

Laufer was much more quiet. She spent entirety of the lesson cutting with knives into a chunk of black wood she brought with herself, the light making all the edges much sharper. Usually she stuck with Pull, but he was absent, for once. Without him around, Laufer seemed to almost block out everyone else.

Taman noticed that almost everyone that came to Coastal were glancing at Laufer, more and more often as hours passed by. Just before they left, though, Laufer's eyes crossed with Chryse. She winked, and then, slowly, almost theatrically, put her hand into her skirt pocket. Winked again. Taman looked around, and buried her hand into pocket of her jeans, and found something indeed. She looked around, ensured that no one was watching, and put the object on her sketch.

The origami turtle was small and simple, made of a sheet of gorgeous origami paper. The patterns were geometrical and yet intricate in their simplicty, colour was difficult to determine thanks to the sunset, but the most surprising part was that it was still moving. Taman resorted to ignore this part, and started to unfold it. On reverse side of paper she found an address - she didn't knew where exactly it was, but the name rang a bell - and annotation to come there in exactly twenty-four hours.

She glanced again at Chryse, but she was too busy with applying glass glitter to wooden panel to pay attention. When Taman looked up, she saw that Yang, now sitting behind Legler's desk, was staring straight at her.

Pull's apartment - as this is what the address led her to - was humongous in comparison to her own little spot. Delacroix later murmured something about how the small amount of furniture contributed to that feeling, and indeed, Pull's place looked almost empty. They had not a lot of space to sit down, so Laufer pulled out pillows from his bed and threw them next to his lone sofa.

The only thing that seemed completely out of place was something that looked like a… bronze altar, of sorts.

"So, it's, like, a game thing?" Seeing Pull's mildly surprised face, she pushed on. "Like, the entire clockwork aesthetics you have going, is it, uh… a fanboy thing? Seems a bit too consistent for generic steampunk…"

The room fell nearly perfectly quiet and Taman felt anxiety creep in. Pull seemed as if he was trying to stitch up a response but was completely at loss where to start.

"Same question here, but I like the stylistics, to be clear." Delacroix said between one sip and the other from his hip-flask.

"They're new, remember." Chryse murmured.

"No one is this new." Laufer eyed Delacroix in disbelief but seeing Delacroix shaking his head, she only sighed.

"Ok so you know how no one knows what anart is unless you are into it?" Richter started and Taman nodded. "Well, it ain't the only thing hidden from eyes of, you know, 'normal' people," he drew quotation marks in the air. "There are also organisations and religions that are invested in anomalous stuff, also hidden and secret. Technically we are all sort of pushing each other into secrecy."

"I told you two about this." Pull smiled. "I happen to belong to one of those religions. You see-"

"And to not get into preachy mode, he believes in clockwork god." Laufer ignored Pull's almost offended stare. "If you feel like listening up about some of that, you can always meet up later because I genuinely don't feel like hearing about all that stuff." She glanced pointedly at Pull. "Again. Not that it's not interesting, Pull, but I came here to talk about shit I want to talk about. Without any mics and cameras."

Cobalt allowed herself to let out a chuckle.

"Not too paranoid?"

"In this day and age you can never be too paranoid." Laufer pulled out her phone, turned it off and put it on a table. "Even social apps pick up on every word I say, just to keep capitalistic machine turning." She patted her palm against a table. "Now, if I can ask you to put your stuff here and turn it off."

Something about her tone of voice suggested it would be better to do as she said. All pulled out their phones (Delacroix put his tablet on the table too) and turned them off. Pull gently put his old Nokia at the top of the pile. Laufer nodded her head, pleased.

"Fantastic. Now first question. Anyone had contact with Aloe?" She looked around but everybody were quiet. Taman, Delacroix, Cobalt and Pull didn't know the person, but noted the shift in atmosphere.

"I tried to call them, but nothing." Richter finally said. "I don't even know if the phone number is the same. Never had their address though, but I'm fairly sure they live somewhere on the campus." He looked around, rubbing his hands nervously. "Anyone knows where they could be living?"

"Once they mentioned they have a roommate, that's all I know."

In following silence, Chryse was the first one that noticed not everybody were showing the obvious worry over the missing person.

"Aloe is another anomalous artist." She started explaining. "A sculptor, extremely skilled, they could do wonders with their pieces, really. Stuff Legler tries to teach us? Aloe got it naturally. Creating was like breathing for them, damn, I never saw them being stuck on anything they did, and they were just so good at what they did… But around a month or two ago, something just happened and they disappeared. Just like that. All contacts cut, didn't attend classes, nothing. As if they vanished from existence. We've been trying to reach them ever since, but nothing."

"We suspected activity from one of the organisations that kept track on anomalies, but even if it was them, we don't know shit. We don't even know Aloe's name, so we can't even check records on uni, anything." Laufer sighed. "Our hands are tied and all we can do is hope someone has contact with them."

"How could you know them and not know their name?" Delacroix looked mildly amused. "I mean, did you even know them?"

"Let's rephrase that." Laufer moved her (carefully manicured and very long) nails closer to his tablet. "We don't know their deadname. It could be staring straight into our face, but we don't know it, and it's not something you ask someone anyway."

"Ah." Delacroix's voice was an octave higher. "Fair enough."

"Mind you, none of you know my name." Pull noted. "And somehow I do not see how that makes any friendships in any way difficult. And-" Pull stared straight at Delacroix. "I am not willing to share."

"What was their name then?" Cobalt sat up. "Maybe I could ask around in my circles too."

"Sam Adams."

"Shit!" Delacroix slammed his hands against the table. Pull's Nokia fell on the floor but nobody made the move to pick it up. "I know the guy- the gal- uh, them!" His hands trembled, so he hid them under the table. "Ginger, neat clothes but always filthy? Never said a word to them but wow…"

"I asked Legler once, though," Richter threw in, after Delacroix finished rambling. "He, well, he seemed for once to give rat's shit about something and asked me to tell him if I knew something."

"The old bastard caring about anything?" Laufer let out a chuckle. Cobalt shivered. "Sooner Hell freezes over and melts again."

"Dunno, he seems pretty chummy with that Yang girl, if anybody asked me." Richter noted. "But jokes aside, I think he was worried about Aloe."

"He liked them a lot." Delacroix finally found Pull's Nokia and put it back on table again. "Generally, liked their stuff, even praised them a few times."

"That's a lot, coming from old prick." Laufer glanced at Pull. "You have anything to drink?"

Pull left and brought some mugs and cups and put a bottle of water on the table, all next to the pile of phones. Delacroix sighed and resorted to hip-flask, Laufer snatched one of mugs.

"I am not used to having guests." Pull murmured. "And when it comes to Yang… Something about her irks me. I find myself unable to trust her."

"How is that? She's rather cool, I think."

As if on cue, everybody stared at her and Taman regretted opening her mouth.

"Be careful with that word." Chryse finally broke the silence. "Cool. Without getting into details, some people are sensitive about it."

"I think she is nice and has no bad intentions?" Taman tried again and Chryse nodded.

"She treats us rather impersonally, really." Richter noted. "Hard to say what she thinks."

"Well, she took me on a bit of a trip to the abandoned warehouses, with all the graffiti and art. She… created art out of someone's art, helped me realize some things about my own art too. I couldn't do anything today, but I managed to actually do something magical at home, so I think I can trust her. She helped me, all in all, I like her."

"Wow." Delacroix let out a cackle. "Pretty girls always get best stuff first, what can I do."

"Well, if you say she helped you I can guess she's ok." Chryse nodded.

"I still think she and the old prick are fucking." Laufer sipped a bit of her water to the sound of scandalized gasps from Taman, Chryse and Cobalt. "What, that sort of stuff happens, and if James says they are chummy," here she drew quotation marks in the air "Then I guess we can consider that."

"Even if, then what?" Delacroix shrugged. "None of my business. I just want to do nice clothes."

"Clothes?" Laufer laughed, but then she noticed that Delacroix was serious. "What sort of art is that?"

"I design. Maybe if you would look up once in a while from your knives, maybe you'd notice what I'm doing."

"That's not art." Her fingers were back to Delacroix's tablet, but his hip-flask was too empty for him to care.

"It is, because you ain't the one to decide what's art and what's not. I'm not the knife-nut here."

"Ladies, ladies." Richter raised his hands. "Let's not argue, alright? We all do stuff that we enjoy, right?"

Laufer was digging her nails into tablet's alluminium cover, Delacroix's knuckles were almost white on his hip-flask. Richter tried his best to look relaxed but he was nervously looking between the two. Cobalt, next to Taman, looked ready to get between the two if something were to happen.

Taman had no idea what this something could be, and she prefered to not know.

"I'm still surprised you didn't go for painting, Delacroix."

"I do whatever the hell I want to, and if I were to decide one day I want to write bloody non-fiction about dick sucking or copy old paintings stroke to stroke - I would still be an artist."

"And whom you'd influence like this?"

Delacroix straightened up, bewildered.

"This is what art is, noob," Laufer pressed on. "I'm a living person and I'm here to shove my thoughts into your brain. Dead cunts are dead, they no longer matter, they don't think anymore. And me? I will cut into your nervous system until you see what I see."

Silence fell. As Delacroix struggled with his response, Cobalt raised her hand in the air.

"Then what, are you saying everything that dead artists ever did is no longer worth it? What, does death mean what we left behind doesn't matter anymore?"

"Exactly. If you die, you are dead, you stay dead. What does it matter to you?"

"It matters for others."

"And that's how old art doesn't matter to me."

Cobalt clicked her tounge, but in the end fell quiet, visibly pissed off.

"Is this why you gathered us here?" Richter asked. "To piss us off or to enforce yourself on us?"

"Not really. I just wanted to know if it was possible to find as many skilled and varied people as possible." She grinned. "You all have your own points of view, but you struggle to defend them. You can't define art, which is quite cute. I like you all."

"To the point, if you could?"

"Becoming cool is a bit difficult on your own."

"Where did Yang take you?"

Taman turned to see Cobalt, going in same direction after leaving Pull's house.

"Warehouses, they're on the east of the city." Taman waited for Cobalt to zip her coat and more or less get her things together. "I think a lot of local urban explorers like this spot, really. A lot of graffiti. Though Yang said it was all about changing environment, not the place itself."

"Interesting." Cobalt grinned. "Explains a lot why she took you, not Delacroix. He never managed to do a thing when he's just…" Cobalt here squinted her eyes and made a movement with a hand, parodying Delacroix working on his brocade. "I'm guessing it's kinda hard to change environment for a piece if all you are doing is working on one piece all the time."

"That's true. I still try to vary between mediums, I like pastels but sculpting is also fun and I just…" Taman sighed, trailing off.

"Same here. I was always more of an art history person, really, but turns out that according to some, this way of thinking is somehow wrong."

"Swap surnames with Delacroix, then? One step close to that."

Cobalt laughed.

"Never. I like blue too much."

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