The Better Man? Part 2
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Last time on Nexus:
The Better Man? Part 1

If somebody asked for a description of Fernand Petit, then the answer was short in most cases. To be precise, it consisted only of the words "He's an asshole". With that, everything was said for all intents and purposes. He was unshaven, only rarely washed his clothes, and all in all made a decrepit impression. His character was mirrored by his appearance.
He normally hung around in the 1st Arrondissement of Paris and made a living as a thief. Today, the loot was relatively meager because many people walked around in groups and as an advocate of fast robberies and pickpocketing, he preferred lone targets. But luck was finally on his side.
A nobleman rushed through the streets, in his hands a weird but, and this was a very important but, also very valuable looking object. It remotely resembled a compass.
Fernand followed the man for a while until he had a free part of the street in front of himself. No witnesses, good.
He was a good sprinter and accelerated rather fast until he reached the nobleman and simply snatched the device from his hand without getting slower. He could keep this speed up for 200 meters, and even then he was still capable of jogging. At this pace, he ran into the maze of side alleys to shake off the rich toff that had set himself into motion behind him. Ha, what a los-
Something hit him with the force of a sledgehammer at the side of his head and rammed him against the house wall. Despite this, he kept his loot firmly in his hands, causing the nobleman, who apparently had given him a resounding knuckle sandwich, to grab him at his collar and lift him from the ground without visible effort. The robber himself hit back but he could as well have punched the city walls. Only then he became aware of how angry the man actually was, who had caught up to him without getting out of breath. With helplessly struggling feet he tentatively tried to give his loot back but that did not change the fact that two enraged eyes stared at him and that a single powerful squeeze crushed his neck.

Elli had seen many faces, many of them not even human. Well, the face of the boy that threatened Elli with a knife was human and Elli had also seen this kind of face before.
It was just that the owners had been either dead or zombies.
The eyes had sunken in a bit and where bloodshot and pale skin stretched itself over the skull in an unnatural way. Despite this appearance, the boy, he could not have been older than fifteen years when he died, wore an expensive but also very worn looking black coat, beneath it a formerly white shirt and brown pants.
"A living dead?", Elli commented. "Even intelligent this time around. This is a first…"
That explained why the AAT didn't work on him. The dead perceived the world differently from the living…
The obvious undead tilted his head. However, his mimic did not change.
"What do you mean, this time around?", he asked confused.
"You are not the first reanimated one I have seen, although you are the first one I am conversing with…"
Elli felt how the grip loosened a bit. Interesting…
"Wha- You have experience with this?"
"Indeed, do you not?"
Elli got released. The sudden change of her center of mass backed up by the considerable amounts of alcohol in her body caused her to fall to the ground. However, she managed with a certain elegance to absorb the fall with her face.
"Oh, sorry."
Elli got up again and dusted the dirt off.
Then she raised her frying pan..
"So, why did you release me just now?"
The undead put away his knife and raised his hands to appease.
"I am sorry for what happened just now. I am trying to get out of this town, but maybe you can help me."
Elli raised an eyebrow.
"Leaving the town? What have you been up to? Assaulting Napoleon?"
"Wha- N-No, I am not on the run from the law but from the one who… Made me into this…"
Elli lowered her frying pan.
"Oh great. Now I am curious…"

After the interlude with the robber De la Croix now gradually got out of breath until his soul energy detector suddenly froze and stubbornly pointed in one single direction. That was good. That meant he was only a few meters away from his target.
But, where was it?
Meanwhile it had gotten quite dark but lucky for him the detector pointed towards Pont National1. There were only two people, a large man and a little girl.
The detector pointed towards the girl…
But why did he have such trouble to keep her in view?
It doesn't matter. Throwing the guy from the bridge would be child's play. He needed something he could present. With her, he could tinker something good, he was sure of that. Something he would be able to form and work with without it breaking apart, thanks to this extremely strong soul. Due to the time pressure, he didn't care anymore if anyone would miss her…
As silent as possible, de la Croix took a run-up and aimed with the fist for the face of his victim once it turned half around.
Of course, he had applied his research findings on himself to live up to his expectations from the Better Man. Now he had the power and endurance of several men. Such a punch from him could break bones.
It felt as if he had hit a brick.
His opponent might have gotten pushed back by the punch but he used this momentum to wind up on his own for an upper-cut. De la Croix could not evade because of the momentum he himself still had and got the full force to his chin, causing him to stagger backwards.
What was this? As a matter of fact, those punches shouldn't affect him very much! Why did he feel like he'd just been kicked by a horse?
Meanwhile, his adversary planted himself in front of the girl, who was seemingly paralyzed with fear.
"You know, you are amazing", the Gentleman said while regaining his balance. "Not many can take that."
His opponent didn't say a thing, instead he stood there like a rock. Attentive between him and his daughter, so de la Croix assumed. He probably assumed that the Gentleman would go away now.
No way! De la Croix had a reputation to uphold.
De la Croix simply rammed then man head-on and pushed him a few meters towards the edge of the bridge. Something was weird. His body felt strange. Had to have muscles made from bronze. Or…
Whatever it was, the collision did not even make the man gasp. And after some sliding he brought the Gentleman to a standstill.
De la Croix did everything in his power, but the man grabbed his left arm and forced open his grasp with relentless force.
Well, then like this…
De la Croix let his left arm become limp, turned towards the right and grabbed the right arm of his adversary. While he still worked on regaining his balance, the Gentleman pulled him over his shoulder and straight over the bridge railing.
Then he let go.
And realized to late, that the left hand of his opponent had during the shoulder throw grabbed the backside of his neck. And he was way too heavy for de la Croix to stop him.
As a result, he and his adversary fell from the bridge together and landed into the streams of the Seine.

"So, how does this work exactly?", Elli asked while she was on her way to the Louvre together with Pierre, so the boy was called. They could have taken a short-cut through the Nexus but she preferred to not reveal that ability to too many people. They kept to the backstreets, because Pierre already attracted negative attention through the way he walked. He shuffled.
The most dangerous part came as they passed over a bridge over the Seine. Fortunately, her companion seemed to have no problems with crossing over flowing water. Nobody saw them.
"What exactly do you mean?", the undead asked aster a brief confusion.
"You're obviously dead. You don't have a pulse, you're completely pale and ice-cold. So, how are you still moving?", Elli specified and took a sip from her flask.
"Err, my master explained it to me like this. In a way, I am not inside my body anymore but instead I control it from the outside like a marionette. Well, with my soul, I mean."
"Hm, then rigor mortis should have started to get you already and that since a while ago, shouldn't it?"
"Well, not if I pump blood occasionally and do not fully forget to breathe."
Elli raised an eyebrow.
"You have to keep it in mind?"
"Yes, also such things like digestion or sweating and stuff. You do not know by any chance how healing works, do you?"
To put emphasis on his question, the boy pulled back his right sleeve and revealed a lower arm with several darkened spots and wounds that seemed like they had been laying open for a long time. They had fitting amounts of puss inside them. Fortunately, Elli had drunk too much as to show any sort of hurtful reaction and limited herself to a brief "Ough…".
Pierre pulled his sleeve straight again.
"Usually you press blood until scab forms but you are way past that…", Elli explained. "So, do I understand correctly? Your soul was torn from your body and now controls it from the outside like a puppeteer?"
"Uh, yes, exactly. The result is not perfect for now, at least that's what my master says."
Elli tilted her head.
"How did you become undead anyway? Through your "master"?"
"Through master de la Croix, yes. He is very adept at handling souls. He believes one can create the Better Man by manipulation of the soul and its link to the body alone. "
"The Better Man?", Elli echoed with surprise. "That de la Croix is not by chance a Humanist Gentleman, is he?"
Pierre pricked up his ears.
"Yes, how do you know that?"
"I have heard of this society a few times", was the short explanation before the topic was changed promptly. "Why do you let something like this happen to you?"
The undead became bashed.
"See, my family died, so I landed on the street. De la Croix took me in. I owed him one, I think…"
"That guy has a weird way of collecting his favors," Elli noted dryly. "But why did you escape?"
"Well, de la Croix undertook many test batteries with me. Performance tests, tests regarding the healing of wounds, everything you can think of. During the breaks between tests it became boring, so I started to poke around the house. And there I discovered the others…"
Elli raised her eyebrows in anticipation.
"What others?"
"Those upon which he had carried out his experiments before. They were… Ugh, I'll spare you the description. Anyway, afterwards I decided to go."
Elli nodded.
"I see… But what will you do once you get out of the town? I mean, no offense, nobody in France will let a living corpse into his house."
"I wanted to search for someone who can heal me", was the answer. "And you seem to know about this. Can you help me?"
"I have one or two ideas for this", Elli explained. "But before I do any sort of favors I want to find my bunch again first."
Apropos finding again, Elli realized that they had reached the Louvre. This was their emergency plan in case they got separated. Gather at the landmark nearest to the last Nexus entry-point. Chloe and Dean certainly waited already.
Weirdly enough, she couldn't see them anywhere…
That changed, when a perceived artillery projectile bore into her pit of the stomach.
"ELLI!", Chloe cried, while apparently being determined to crush the waist of the one spoken to with a hug.
Her face was covered in tears, and she had occasional hiccups.
Elli, completely surprised by this development, believed it to be a good first impulse to pull a handkerchief out of her pocket.
"Hey, Chloe, calm down already. I was only gone for two hours" she requested while cleaning Chloe up. "Where is Dean?"
The question lead to a new crying fit from Chloe, causing Elli to conclude that something had gone horribly wrong…
"Chloe, what happened?"
"Dean- The man- Bridge-", was everything Chloe got out in between.
Elli decided to drink a sip for the time being until Chloe calmed down.
"So, now repeat that more slowly", Elli then asked. "What happened on what bridge?"
"Some man has attacked us and threw Dean into the river, together with himself. I believe he was after me… I hid in the bushes over there until you came."
Elli frowned. Dean was nobody who let himself get pushed down somewhere, He rather pushed other people…
"Chloe, how did the man look like?"
"He was very well dressed and had a square-edged face. And a big nose."
"Did he have a beaked nose?", Pierre asked.
Chloe seemed to notice him only now and, due to the view that was before her, immediately started to scream.
"Chloe, calm down!", Elli demanded. "He will not eat you."
The screaming stopped after a short delay when Chloe snapped her mouth shut.
"We should get moving, you probably attracted the street wardens. Let's see if they got up somewhere. Pierre, why the question?"
"Because de la Croix looks like that. He has searched for me, I presume, but then he found you. Is there something special about this girl?"
Elli and Chloe exchanged a look a brief look while the trio walked along the Seine.
"Uh yes, but that's for another time. Maybe we are confusing him with some obscure robber.
"That isn't that big of a difference, really ", murmured the undead.
It took a while but then the three arrived at the Pont de la Concorde. As everywhere in the town, the Seine flowed through a riverbed trapped in place by bricks, although some staves where build into the wall to board or leave watercraft. In front of one of these ladders, a puddle had formed from which a trail lead up to the Place de la Concorde. Elli looked briefly at the whole thing before she felt that another sip from her flask was appropriate. Judging from the trails a man had walked by. And he had carried something heavy…
"Do tell, is that de la Croix by any chance super strong?", she asked the undead.
"Uh yes, approximately as strong as me, why?"
"Then he is indeed our suspect.", Elli concluded and suddenly made the request: "Lead us to his house. Or to wherever he imprisons his victims."
Pierre's face became numb.
"Are you crazy? I want to get away from him!"
"And I want to him. Either you help me with that, or I will go and search for myself and you can say goodbye to my help with your little mortality crisis."
Elli pierced Pierre with a look that would have gotten a volcano to think twice about his wish of erupting. The boy ducked himself slightly away under it.
"Alright, alright. But that won't be easy. The Humanist Assembly is tomorrow. De la Croix will probably be up all night."
"Then I have to send back Chloe first I am back in a few hours… Or days…"
"Send back? Back home?", Chloe asked.
"Indeed", Elli confirmed.
"Why do you need that long for that? With the Nex- mmh!"
Elli put her hand on Chloe's mouth before deactivating her translation sticker.
"The Nexus is not so practical, Chloe. I have to synchronize its time with the universe I wish to enter, otherwise we get shredded while exiting. Therefore, the Nexus can never lead into two different universes or times. It's easier with universes like yours, which I visit fairly often but here my repeat accuracy amounts to half a day at best."
Chloe was silent for a moment before she also deactivated her translator sticker.
"Then I'll stay here", she sad determined.
"Are you mad? ", Elli exclaimed.
She sounded less angry and more baffled.
"This is not a simple adventure anymore. Your life could be put at risk… again."
"Elli, Dean risked his life for me, I just can't leave him alone as if nothing had happened!"
There was something in Chloe's eyes Elli could not read entirely. Something that disturbed her, even though she could not say why. Something told her that it was an extremely bad idea to dump her in her home universe now… She had swallowed a god after all. That tended to have unforeseen consequences.
"Very well, come with me. But if it gets dangerous somewhere I'll push you into the Nexus through the first door I find, is that clear?"
Chloe nodded after a brief hesitation.
Both reactivated their stickers again.
"Pierre", Elli roared. "Let's go."
"Wait, so she is coming along now?", Pierre asked confused.
"Yes, Pierre. Fewer questions, more directions!"
The undead shrugged and signed the others to follow him to where his master resided.

De la Croix leaned on the wall of the basement chamber he was in. He gasped for air. Boy, that guy was heavy.
After pulling him from the bridge with himself, that Gentleman had to realize that he also didn't let go in the water. So none of the two had been able to resurface. At least not until de la Croix proved to be the one with the longer breathing. With tremendous physical exertion he had managed to drift along the waterside of the Seine until he grasped the staves of a ladder. He had briefly pondered about letting the man sink down into the wet torrents but then he bethought himself. He did not now if he would find the girl in time again so it was probably better to take him here. He could simply make him his new presentation specimen. Was actually better for several reasons. Firstly, he was not as damaged as his prior creations and secondly he looked more like the Better Man his colleagues envisioned. In these few hours he would only be able to fulfill the basic requirements, meaning that he would generate the undead state and maybe teach him how to walk. De la Croix had now reached a state of panic where he told himself that he could make his victim subservient by promising to make it normal again.
One could see his growing madness. De la Croix's clothes and hair were still full with water from the Seine, his eyes were bloodshot and he made an altogether very shabby impression. He was aware of his appearance, but would address that later.
Work came first, which was laid out in front of him on a table. On the walls and on further tables, tools and devices were lined up, that were essential for his work of the manipulation of the soul. Better start now rather than later…
Hold on!
What if the girl somehow found out about him and called for reinforcements? The street wardens would not believe her, de la Croix was too highly respected of a man despite his stance with the Humanist Gentlemen. But there was enough riff-raff she could turn to. Maybe he should take some precautions… Yes, that was necessary. His house was completely locked and he would not notice a break-in while he worked.
But they would…

There were silent glugs while Elli took a sip from her flask. She, Chloe, and Pierre stood before what the Undead had told him was the abode of de la Croix. It was a typical baroque mansion with vanilla-yellow paint and several small towerlets.
And windows installed at considerable height…
With a leg-up they could be reached, but Chloe was probably not strong enough for that and Elli did not want to leave Pierre here. He was the only one who knew his way around in there.
The door, reachable via a wide staircase made from granite seemed like a good alternative. They could simply open the Nexus in its frame and then let all of them out on the other side. She just had to keep Pierre's eyes closed…
"Pierre, turn away please", bat Elli.
Pierre frowned, an activity that looked especially disgusting on him, and did what he was told.
Following that, Elli opened the Nexus.
That means, she tried it.
The area in front of her was determined to remain portal-free.
With furled eyebrows, Elli pulled a small, cuboid device from her purse and read what was shown on the display.
Then she rolled her eyes.
"Of course, this guys works with ontokinetics!"
"What? ", Chloe asked.
Elli deactivated her translation sticker.
"That de la Croix is working with powers that change reality. Apparently, this caused a locally more dense reality around here. I can't open the Nexus like this."
Chloe understood only half of it.
"Does that mean this place is more real than other places?", she asked after she also had deactivated her sticker.
"Yes", was the heated answer.
"And that hinders you why? "
"Wrong place, wrong time, Chloe", Elli responded while walking the stairs down again. "At the moment, imagine that the universe here at this place is strong enough to keep the door closed I try to pry open."
"Ah…", Chloe said.
She wasn't any wiser than before…
Elli meanwhile activated her sticker and tipped Pierre on the shoulder. Then she waved in front of his face, because he didn't react.
"Can we get in there with relative silence?", she asked.
"Weren't you going to- Meh, whatever. We can try the basement windows", Pierre suggested. "They are grilled but the grating of the washing chamber is rusted through. We should be able to break them out."

It took only a brief time until they stood in front of the window. Brief in this case describes a time period in which Elli stumbled through a neglected garden. Chloe, who walked behind her, could evade all traps thanks to her pre-warning. Pierre knew his way through it, anyway and therefore remained unharmed
Then came the next problem.
Breaking out the grating was no big deal but neither Pierre nor Elli could fit through it.
"Oh great", Elli commented. "You did in absolutely no way notice that we cannot possibly fit through there."
"I was in there only once", Pierre defended himself hand-wringing. "The steam in there macerates my skin. Shall I show you what that looks like?"
Elli rose her hands in rejection and shook her head.
"Can we get in through another door?", she suddenly switched the topic.
Pierre shrugged.
"Not without making noise. All doors are locked with bolts from the inside. We would need somebody that opens them for us from within."
Elli pondered briefly.
"Oh, that too. Hmm, can we get on the roof somehow?"
"It is possible", the undead confirmed "Behind the house are ivy vine, so if you are not to heavy- Hey!"
His indignation was aimed at the nudge Elli had given him. It was supposed to hurt more, but Pierre apparently had no pain reception anymore.
"Not one more word about my weight", she hissed. "Well, Chloe, let's see if we- Chloe?"
Elli looked confused for her protégé. Then, while breaking into sweat, she realized that she couldn't be found anywhere.
Her gaze met the basement window…
No answer.
"Pierre, get my on the roof! Get me on the roof RIGHT NOW!"

Chloe turned around for a brief moment. Had a noise come from the washing chamber? Didn't matter, she had to find an entrance she could unlock, so Elli and Pierre could enter. If Elli had known her plan, she probably would have held her back but Chloe did not want that. She alone had brought Dean into this mess, so she would get him out of it again, period.
The mansion laid in complete darkness. Pale light shined through the windows but the bolts where to high up for Chloe to reach. For a moment, she thought about using a chair to circumvent this problem but then the thought crossed her mind, that somebody might not the absence of the furniture if she was unfortunate enough. Sometimes, the entablature cracked and creaked, as if the entire house was an arthritic cat that slowly stretched after a nap. Chloe flinched every time when it happened and instinctively kept to the walls and the shadows.
Finally, she reached the front door. If she managed to loosen the bolt and open the door, she could go searching for Elli outside.
It took a while, during which she scurried with excessive caution from cover to cover towards the door but then the bold was just an arm's length away from her.
Just a little bit mo-
Something behind her took in air in short huffs, causing Chloe to freeze while in motion. Then she slowly turned her head.
And starred at a set of sharp teeth…

Next time on Nexus:
The Better Man? Part 3

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