The Aurora Skies Museum of Art and Cultural History is the pride and joy of Aurora Skies’ growing art scene. It had recently been renovated thanks to a ballot initiative, and its collection had been significantly increased. Art lovers from all around the island flock to the museum, taking in the beauty of creativity of its exhibits.
But not all of its visitors are so pure-hearted. On this particular day, Nikolas is casing the museum with Lark’s modest assistance. It’s a simple ruse: they two lovebirds visit the museum under the guise of a date, and take their time examining all of the exhibits. This gives Nikolas plenty of time to note the security measures, and it gives Lark a (safe) sense of adventure. It’s actually quite fun, and the couple is enjoying the time spent together.
“This one’s nice,” Lark says as she examines a cubist painting, “could you steal it for me?”
Nikolas stifles a laugh, “not so loud, okay? And no, you couldn’t afford my services.”
“So I don’t get a discount for sleeping with you?”
“No, that’s just charity on your part.”
“Unfair,” Lark pouts.
“C’mon,” Nikolas slips his arm around her waist, “let’s check the next exhibit.”
The next room houses Aurora Skies’ impressive Egyptian exhibit, its existence owed to a generous donation from an eccentric explorer. The pieces seem out of place--the lush island is, after all, the opposite their desert origin--and gaudy. Lark can hardly believe they’re real artifacts rather than set dressing for a particularly ostentatious TV show.
“I like these, too,” Lark points to a series of Canopic jars, “and they’re small. You wouldn’t have to do much stealing to bring one home.”
“Lark,” he laughs, “for the last time, this isn’t a shopping trip. I’m not stealing a Canopic jar for you.”
“But this one reminds me of Sheba,” she frowns.
“Where would you put it?”
“I dunno--on the side table in the dining room?”
“Oh, perfect! So the next time your cop brother comes to visit, he’ll find evidence in plain sight and then he can arrest me.”
“Well when you put it that way…”
The couple moves through the museum at a leisurely pace, stopping occasionally to admire something. Most of the pieces are nondescript, though Lark finds herself enthralled and perplexed by the modern exhibit, which includes a series of colorful toilets on pedestals.
“Why toilets?” Lark furrows her brow.
“I don’t know,” Nikolas says, “maybe they represent the purgative excess of Simnation’s consumer society?”
“Probably,” Nikolas agrees.
Lark lowers her voice, “there’s a lot of cameras. One in every corner. Are you sure it’s safe for you to do this?”
“Yeah, it’s not serious security. They’re panopticons.”
“Look--they’re pointed at the most valuable pieces in the room. They probably work, but they’re here to deter vandals more than anything else because people behave differently when they know they’re being watched. The outside of the museum, however, doesn’t have any cameras. They’re not worried about people breaking in. They just want to keep people from touching the art.”
“Oh. Okay. I knew that.”
Finally, they make it to the last display: a traveling exhibit on the occult, currently on loan from the Simsonian. The exhibit includes statues of mythical creatures, mythological and folkloric paintings, and the set of wands Nikolas has been tasked with procuring.
“Hey, is that Karl?” Lark gestures to a man who is sitting in front of the statues and sketching.
“Hmm. I never pegged him for the artsy type.”
“Art students come here a lot to practice sketching the artwork,” Nikolas explains, “so Karl uses that as an opportunity to observe for long periods of time without being noticed. And he writes down when the security guard makes rounds, so we can figure out their schedule.”
“That’s surprisingly smart,” Lark says.
“Don’t give him that much credit--it was my idea.”
The wands themselves are underwhelming: four different wands, each made of wood, metal, or gemstone. They are placed on pedestals, flanking a bust in the center of the display. Visitors are milling around the exhibit--it seems to be the most popular part of the museum.
“What’s so special about these,” Lark frowns, “they’re just a bunch of fancy sticks.” Of course she remembers her brush with the magical, and the fact that Dom used a wand. She doesn’t doubt the existance of magic and mages. But these wands seem too tacky to be the real deal.
Nikolas reads the placard above the wands, “they were donated to the Simsonian by the estate of someone named Beatrice Trémaux. This says the oldest wand is several hundred years old, and is ‘evidence of pagan cults that used to be spread across Simnation.’ That’s kind of neat. I should join a pagan cult. I bet I’d look awesome in ceremonial robes.”
“That’s--That’s--” Lark wants to say something snotty, but she feels something overtaking her sass. She kneels to the ground and begins wretching. Soon enough, her breakfast is covering the floor in front of her.
“Are you okay?” Nikolas kneels down next to her and puts his hand on her back. Lark coughs but doesn’t answer--she’s afraid to speak lest something else come out instead.
The security guard, drawn by the gasps of nearby patrons, presses a button on his walkie talkie and speaks into it, “We need a janitor over near the occult exhibit. Hey, miss, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Lark chokes, “I’m--I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, miss. Stuff like this happens all the time, but usually only when we get field trips from the elementary school.” She can barely hear him--her head is pounding, and the room is spinning around her.
“I--I need fresh air. Excuse me,” Lark briskly departs, Nikolas slinking along behind her.
Lark throws open the doors and breathes in deeply. The air feels clean and crisp, and her head begins to clear.
“Are you okay?” Nikolas frowns and puts his arm around her, “do we need to go to the doctor?”
“I’m fine. I just--I fucked up, right? There was a security guard right there and he saw you with me. That’s, like...bad, right?”
“I don’t think he even noticed me, honestly.”
“He’s right,” Karl’s voice startles the couple, “everyone was watching you.” He takes off his glasses and puts them in his back pocket, his eyes gleaming.
“Karl,” Nikolas’ voice is half-warning, half-greeting.
“Oh, it’s you,” Lark wrinkles her nose at him, “You don’t need those for, um, seeing?”
“No, they’re my disguise.”
Lark snorts, “wow, great disguise.”
“It works for Clark Kent,” Karl retorts.
“Oh right--it works for a cartoon, so it must work in real life.”
“He’s a comic book character, not a cartoon. And at least I’m trying to blend in. All you did was barf all over our target.”
“Hey,” Nikolas puts his hands up like a referee, “Let’s just stop. And Karl is exaggerating--none of your vomit got on the goods. Um, not that we couldn’t just wash it off or whatever if it had.”
“Can we please stop talking about vomit,” Lark holds her stomach, “just thinking about it makes me feel sick.”
Nikolas frowns, “You probably have flu or something. We’ll get you home and in bed.”
Karl sniffs at the air around her; Lark leans back and shrugs her shoulders in response to the hot breath on her neck, “Um, what are you doing, Karl?”
He takes in a deep breath and then exhales, his eyes closed. “It’s not the flu--you’re pregnant,” he says.
“Excuse me,” Lark wrinkles her nose, “what are you, Karl, a human pregnancy test?”
“Yeah, man, don’t be weird. Not right now,” Nikolas says.
“Okay,” Karl shrugs, “I’m right, though.”
The subsequent walk back to Nikolas’ house is awkward. No one speaks, but the body language speaks volumes: Nikolas holds Lark tightly around the waist and walks between her and Karl, a buffer between the two sims. Karl, meanwhile, watches Lark out of the corner of his eye. She pretends not to notice.
When they arrive home, Nikolas squeezes Lark around the waist and kisses her cheek. “Why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest, okay? Karl and I need to makes some plans.”
“Fine, mom,” Lark rolls her eyes and bounds upstairs. Karl watches her unblinkingly, his eyes tracking her.
“I know she’s kind of a bitch, but she smells really nice,” he remarks.
Nikolas stares at him, his mouth agape, “what the fuck, man?”
Karl just shrugs. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to explain himself.
Karl is the always the one who disables the cameras. Nikolas doesn’t know how he does it: at the beginning of every heist, he simply melts into the darkness and returns a few minutes later having disabled every camera. Even the fanciest private collections with the fanciest security setups are no match for Karl.
He just seems to have a gift.
A few minutes after entering the building, Karl returns and nods wordlessly towards the entrance. Nikolas follows him back into the museum. There’s no sign of the security guard as they sneak through up the stairs towards their mark. If the night guard’s schedule is anything like the day guard’s, he won’t pass by the occult exhibit for forty-five minutes. That’s more than enough time.
Some museums lock up small, easily pocketed artifacts during the night. This museum, however, does not: the wands sit on their pedestals, open and vulnerable.
“Hey,” Nikolas whispers, “are these paintings different from last time?” He eyes the paintings above the wands cautiously--the scenes seem similar, but distinctly different.
“I don’t know,” Karl shrugs, “I wasn’t watching the paintings.”
“Whatever. You want to do the honors?”
Karl nods, his eyes focused on the first wand. He enjoys this part the most, Nikolas can tell--the theatrics. Even though they know there’s no motion sensors or laser grids or anything ridiculous like that, Karl dramatically cracks his knuckles then reaches out for the wand, picking it up gently and deliberately. It’s like this with every heist: Karl pretends he’s Indiana Jones while Nikolas rolls his eyes.
“Just pick up the damn wand,” Nikolas snaps, “no need for the drama.”
But when Karl finally lifts the wand from the pillow, Nikolas feels his ears pop. He shakes his head, and notices Karl doing the same.
“Did you feel that?” Nikolas says, but no sound comes out. In fact, the whole museum feels eerily quiet, even quieter than before. “Shit, am I deaf?” Again, there’s not sound.
Karl mouths something, his brows furrowed in confusion, but Nikolas can’t hear it. Karl gestures to his ears, then shrugs--if Nikolas is deaf, so is he. This puts a damper on the situation, but the heist is still doable. Nikolas shrugs and grabs the next wand--they can go to a doctor and figure this out after they finish the job.
But going to a doctor might be difficult. Nikolas is suddenly lifted in the air by a powerful force.
“What the fuck,” he grunts, trying to resist. His own words ring in his ears--it seems he can hear again, but apparently gravity has stopped working in exchange.
“I can’t--” Karl says, but trails off as he struggles to resist the same force.
Nikolas kicks his feet in the air, and manages to make contact with the wall. His feet adhere to it, and suddenly his point of reference changes. He’s standing straight up, the wall below him is now his floor and the adjacent wall is now his ceiling. It’s enough to give a person vertigo. Karl, following his friend’s lead, reaches his feet out and touches the ceiling. He now stands 90 degrees above Nikolas.
“Whoa,” Karl breathes out, “I don’t like this. I don’t like being up.”
Nikolas cautiously moves his left foot forward--it seems he could walk along the wall if he wanted to. Instead, he crouches down. The lower he is to the ground, the less strange he feels.
“This is odd,” he mutters, “what could be causing this?”
“I dunno, Magic maybe? It feels like magic,” Karl nods.
Nikolas scoffs, “don’t be ridiculous. There must be some sort of tech in these, something rare--that’s why Gallus is willing to pay so much for some stupid sticks. I think we undercharged him.”
“Or it’s magic, and they’re actually legit wands,” Karl suggests, “I mean, is that any crazier than touch activated technology?”
Nikolas rolls his eyes, “Yes, it is. Anyway, the first wand made it silent in here. It must be some sound dampener thing. This one makes gravity all wonky. Wanna find out what the next one does?”
“I’d like to get paid, so yeah,” Karl says.
Nikolas takes a few steps forward and jumps, grabbing the next wand from it’s pillow. He doesn’t hit the ground again--rather, he finds himself suspended in the air, which now feels resistant, like water. Nikolas instinctively kicks his feet, keeping himself afloat.
“This is...waterless water, I guess?” Nikolas furrows his brows. His voice sounds distorted and muffled, but otherwise he can breath and hear.
“I like this,” Karl pants as he doggy paddles, “this feels like swimming. I love swimming.”
“Just one more,” Nikolas swims toward the final wand, “hopefully this one isn’t as annoying.”
“But I like this one!”
Nikolas ignores his friend and grabs the wand. The air around them thins, and the two men fall to the floor. Nikolas looks around, but nothing seems to be different.
“Well that wasn’t bad,” Karl whispers, but his voice is amplified. It echoes through the museum: wasn’t bad, wasn’t bad, wasn’t bad… “Holy shit,” he mutters, “am I Black Bolt?” Black Bolt, Black Bolt, Black Bolt…
“Shut the fuck up,” Nikolas says as he shoves the last wand into his pocket. His voice, of course, echoes as well: fuck up, fuck up, fuck up. “Run,” he orders. Run, run, run…
Their feet sound thunderous as they pound against the floor. Nikolas throws open the doors to the outside, and the wind--despite being nothing more than a gentle breeze--roars. A car drives by, monstrously loud. In the distance, he can hear an owl, its hoots deafening.
What the fuck is going on, Nikolas thinks to himself. He swears he hears the words form in the air around him, barely audible but still there.
Nikolas will never know the exact reason for why his quarry caused such commotion. But with some ingenuity, he solves the problem temporarily: when he gets to the warehouse--the clichéd base of his criminal operation, of course--he wraps the final wand in foam bubble wrap, then wraps heavy cloth around that, then throws the bundle in a wooden crate. This seems to dampen the noise. And when he gets about twenty yards from the warehouse, sound levels seem to return to normal. It must have an area of effect, then.
Thank the maker this wand will be leaving the island soon.
Since the heist, the museum has been on lockdown while the police collect evidence. The doors are locked and cordoned by police barriers, and a patrol car passes by the museum every fifteen minutes. But a determined person could still make their way into the building, of course. And such is the case tonight.
The air in the museum crackles, and a clap of thunder accompanies a bright flash of light--in an instance, a young man stands in front of the burgled exhibit. He already knows the basics of the case: four wands stolen, with no leads. The security cameras were sabotaged, there were no witnesses, and the grossly incompetent security guard on duty that night had been so absorbed in listening to his headphones that he failed to notice anything. Thus, the Aurora Skies Police Department is at a loss for how to investigate.
So it’s up to Dominic Trémaux. He sighs as he examines the empty pedestals.
His father is going to be so pissed.