amadhay: (Default)
 It was a nice feeling to stargaze with Scott and Michael.

It was a different feeling to be stargazing with their families, the pack, and a handful of mostly unidentifiable Collective and Gathering people. While there wasn’t exactly a hostile energy, it was an active emotion bouncing around, between trepidation, intrigue, arousal, and eagerness. I was willing to bet my oboe that the arousal was primarily from my boys and somewhat from Ariadne and Lil Asha. The trepidation was 100% from the witches I didn’t really know, who seemed to be important to the Collective. Intrigue was strong from one Gathering man, the same one who had been staring at me non-stop when the Gathering important people talked to us and he was staring almost as much tonight. Eagerness was, well, from everyone.

I didn’t really understand why, though there had been lots of explaining. Something about a special comet, blah blah blah. I didn’t really care, other than to know that it would be kickstarting some extra strong energy and magic and bouncing it around for a month or so. And, also, it was all that Scott wanted to do for his birthday, which I thought was weird, but hey, it was better than going to a Murder House to have a murder mystery birthday right after being attacked by vampires, women who looked like Samara’s cousins, and a porcupine shadow. So I was all for it.

In any case, all of their families were there, the entire pack, a handful of people I didn’t know, and most importantly—to me, anyway—the witches. Ariadne, my witchy mentor and the Maiden of the Gathering’s Triumvirate was there with her twin brother, Theseus. The two of them comfortably melded with Michael’s family, which was expected, considering Ariadne was dating Michael’s aunt, Lil Asha. The rest of the witches, like the rest of the people not directly involved with our group, were further off, keeping to themselves.

On the edge of that group was my godmother, Violet. She kept glancing to me, worriedly, and away when I caught her. We hadn’t talked face to face, unless forced, for the past four weeks. I had been screening her calls, only answering her once or twice, and not since she’d laughed about the potion and amulet fiasco. Ariadne had been doing a good job of holding her at bay, but I knew I’d have to talk to her soon, or else she would go crazy.

“Not your problem,” Scott muttered, not looking down from the sky.

It took a moment to realize he was commenting on my worries about Violet. If it hadn’t been his birthday, I would have punched him. He knew how I felt about the link the three of us had, which gave us almost literally no privacy, including in our own minds. I liked it shut down as far as it could go, which was still far too open for my liking.

So instead, I gave him a sickly sweet smile and in the poison candy voice I’d perfected over the past few weeks said, “Thanks for the opinion, baby.”

He rolled his eyes and Michael pinched me, mentally reminding me to ‘Be nice,’ because it was still Scott’s birthday.

I cut a look at Michael that quite clearly said I was being nice.

“Can you three stop thinking so loud?” Ariadne called. “I can hear you all the way over here. Plus, that image is definitely not nice and if I can see it, so can he.”

I flushed, knocking away the less than sweet images I had about duct tape and my boys mouths. “Sorry,” I muttered, more to Scott than Ariadne, since she could easily stop reading my mind whereas he could not.

“Used to it. I’m dating a scary, violent, curly haired creeper. And you too.”

I swallowed my laugh, but knew it echoed in both of their heads, since Michael sputtered and Scott smirked in that self-satisfied way he did when he knew he’d been amusing.

“I’ll show you violent,” Michael growled pouncing on top of Scott to pin him down. I rolled away, well aware of how they got when the play wrestling came about. I wasn’t nearly durable enough for all the elbows and legs that would be coming my way.

So while they did that, I scooted over to the pack and leaned onto Vanessa’s shoulder. She was reading some smutty book, and completely unashamedly. She was so into it that she jerked at my movement.

“Oh,” she glanced past me to my boys, who were still wrestling in some play at finding the dominant, even though there was never a question about that. “I see your number one and two are busy.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh shove off it, Nestle. I still think you’re the prettiest,” I teased.

Vanessa had become increasingly jealous of the time I spent with Michael and Scott, even though I still tried to spend a goodly amount of time with her, like whenever they were working and she was free. It wasn’t as often as I’d like, but they did take up a lot of my time, considering there were two of them. And, you know, we were supposed to spend our lives together. Still, considering my schedule was pretty empty aside from a babysitting gig here and there, I wasn’t the one with scheduling conflicts.

“Oh?” she questioned, tucking her book away. “I was sure I came somewhere after Scott and Stef.”

Sometimes, when she was frustrated, she stirred shit. Saying the name ‘Stef’ around my boyfriends was stirring a colossal pot of shit that I’d been avoiding since the beginning of the month, when Stef had gone home. I felt the tension coming from them, but neither one jumped on the opportunity to talk about my relationship with my ex, which I thanked the audience around us for.

Anyway,” I stressed, pushing her side lightly so that she knew I wasn’t blind to her attempts. “Anything new on Seer vision?” I asked, really hoping she would say no. Everything had been clear for her, aside from a ghost here and there since we’d destroyed porcupine-headed-shadow Piney and I’d made a deal with my personal shadow so that he’d leave us all alone. No creepy reflections doing their own thing, no strange shadows, no Scratchers, no uninvited vampires. We’d been in the clear.

She shrugged, which I knew meant something was up. I opened my mouth to ask her about it, but she jerked, her eyes wide and staring up at the sky. I followed her gaze and sure enough, there was a meteor shower. I mean, it didn’t warrant her reaction, but it was amazing. Tons of fiery balls of sky debris shot through the sky unlike I had ever seen. They went in all different directions, but most…most seemed to be coming straight for us.

I started to get up, but five hands pushed me back down before I could. Scott and Michael pulled me to them, helped by Ariadne gently pushing me their way while Lee took Vanessa’s hand away from me.

“Don’t interfere,” Ariadne ordered gently, but firmly. She gave a knowing look to my boyfriends before joining the other witches, who were slowly standing in a circle.

Michael wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled both me and Scott into him until we were both between his legs, leaning back into him. “Watch,” he said softly and I couldn’t help but to glance back. His eyes were gleaming gold. A glance at Scott showed his were doing the same.

“Happy birthday, Scout,” Michael and I thought at the same time, staring at our beautiful boyfriend as he shed his human skin and became his true shapeshifter canvas. It was an explosive reaction that came down. All of the weres turned into their truest creature. The shapeshifters shifted to their true selves. The vampires, succubi, banshees, furies, muses, and incubi let go of their cloak of humanity. The witches began to glow in their glittery auras. Even Vanessa changed, and I was sure she wasn’t doing it intentionally.

The closer the comets came, the brighter my boyfriends’ eyes became. And more than that, everyone’s magic and energy seemed saturated. The gold Gathering energy hung heavy in the air because there were so many of them. The scents of violets, honeysuckle, roses, scents I didn’t recognize became stronger and stronger, and when I looked to the witches again, they were holding hands in a circle.

They were floating off of the ground, all six of them. Magic lit up the air around them, twisting and twirling to meet the comets and inviting it in. A part of me opened up and I was starving, starving for their magic, for the energy, for everything that I could take. I reached out, both magically and physically, but instead of touching the magic, I was held back. Scott took my hand and Michael pulled me back. I felt locked in placed, shackled to the ground and it was torturous. I needed to get to the power before me. I needed to fill myself with it.

But I couldn’t.

By the time the witches stopped floating and the Gathering stopped glowing, I was squished between my boyfriends as inconspicuously as they could manage. Eyes turned to us and Scott turned to kiss me. I stole from him, not as much as I wanted, not as much as I needed, because it didn’t do anything for me. His was mine and mine was his. I could steal energy from him for days and it would never satisfy the urge I had, the pit of nothingness I needed to fill that had come from nowhere.

“You’re alright,” Michael whispered into my ear, or perhaps he thought it to me. “You don’t need anything, I promise.”

He was wrong. So very, very wrong.

“Charlize?” Violet’s voice rang across the field. Just her words were full of power. I wanted to steal it from her.

“You don’t need it,” Michael reminded me again as Scott let go of me. The smaller man studied my eyes.

“She needs something,” Scott muttered.

“Charlize?” Violet called again, but this time, she was closer. The pack was cutting her off from me.

“Let the witch to her mix,” the Ranger ordered.

Even he was soaked in the magic. It wasn’t fair. Why were they all allowed it and I wasn’t? That wasn’t right. I deserved some too.

Reluctantly, the pack backed away, though not without looking to Scott, and then me, to make sure they didn’t want to ignore the order. They didn’t. I’d seen the punishment they’d received for hunting rogue vampires in the Unruined Lands without the Ranger’s permission. I could only assume disobeying his direct order here would be worse.

Violet rushed forward with Ariadne at her tail, moving clumsily—which was highly atypical for her—but still quickly enough to catch up before Violet could touch me.

“She’s fine,” Ariadne announced with a peal of laughter, grabbing Violet’s hands and attempting to spin the older woman away from me in a silly dance. “Charlize is fine,” she said a little more firmly, which was made less affective by her ensuing peal of laughter. “Gods. I forgot how this feels,” she moaned, falling into her brother’s arms, not that it did her much good because both of them fell in a heap to the grass.

Violet paused, looking back to them and then to me, as if trying to determine which of us was in more dire need. She chose me, throwing a “Thorn, see to the child,” over her shoulder when Theseus and Ariadne started giggling again.

She stopped about a foot away, eyeing me. “You’re still too open,” she stated softly. “Still too torn open from the Others. You’re too sensitive to the changing flows. Here,” she reached out to me, and I could taste the power, wanted to pull it to me.

A hand caught her wrist, pulling it back. “You will not share our bounty with the mix-breed.” A man said. I didn’t recognize him, had never seen him before, but the way he spoke to Violet made it clear that he knew her very well, and the way he spoke about me made it clear that he knew about me.

“I am sharing my power with my charge,” she spat.

“What you hold now is the Collective’s power,” he corrected. “And if I’m not mistaken, it has chosen the Gathering life.”

She hasn’t chosen anything,” Ariadne and Violet said at the same time, Ariadne sounding strained.

“I took too much,” the golden witch murmured. Instantly, it was as if I’d been forgotten, because Violet and the man went to her side. I watched closely, recognizing the act of transferal of energy. It was different from my way, since that was my ability. But I’d seen it done before, when I’d been drained by Piney and needed witch magic. And it was easy enough to alter to steal.

Which I did.

And all hell broke loose.
 

It was like a slap in the face. The magic, not the literal slap in the face I received, which was much more shocking, which led to a lot of growling and threatening and all that nonsense. The magic brought me out of that weird pit and into a more comfortable place.

The, uh, slap, on the other hand.

I blinked a few times, trying to push the pain out of my face to focus on Violet, who’d just slapped me across the face. Scott and Michael were between us. The pack had risen. The witches were all at her back, as if keeping her safe. I knew for a fact that if she’d felt threatened, she wouldn’t have needed their help to get my pack back.

She wasn’t nervous. She was pissed. “What was that?” she demanded, stepping forward. Ariadne tried to step in front of her, but she was apparently still weak, because Violet easily just pushed her away and the man witch (Thor?) caught Ariadne and pushed her and Theseus back. As if they were in danger. As if anyone would dare hurt the two of them.

“I, I’m sorry. It just happened,” I tried to explain.

Scott snarled at Violet. “What was that?” he countered. “You assaulted my mate.”

I put pressure on his shoulder and Michael followed my suit, but still stayed in front of me, so I had to look over his shoulder.

“Snatching rebirth magic doesn’t just happen,” Violet exclaimed and right then, I saw the crack in her fury. She was scared. Scared shitless.

“Who taught you that and where did it go?” my long-time friend, Mogra, demanded. She had that same look of disgust I always received, only this time it was accompanied by the kind of fury I normally expected from a scorned lover.

“No one?” I asked, glancing at Michael when he looked back to me in question. “I just, I felt faint so I grabbed some energy.” Not strictly true. Scott and Michael knew that, but we had been working on keeping a united front, so they didn’t call me out on it. Not aloud, anyway.

You were jonesing. What have you had today? Michael corrected.

Did anyone eat from you? Did you give out anything? Scott wondered at the same time.

Since I still had pretty limited control over giving out energy, especially when I was as content as I always was with them, I had no earthly idea about the second question. And since I was a long time practitioner of fake it ‘til you make it with differentiating energy, I couldn’t answer the first question either.

“So you just somehow managed to divert magic no singular entity can hold and ingested it so well that it’s gone?” another just super friendly male witch snarled at me. He looked older than dirt and sounded about the same.

I blinked owlishly.

“Or is it more likely that the mongrel is stealing from us to give to them,” the Violet-age male witch suggested, gesturing to the group of Gathering who were off from the entire situation, talking amongst themselves. I was insulted in several different ways. Apparently, so were they, because at that point they joined in.

I stopped understanding words, aside from mutt, crossbreed, mix, half-breed. Everyone was loud and angry and yelling and then…

There was quiet. The Gathering were pushed back on the clearing, just as the Collective were, in the opposite direction. Then I was standing there in the center with the Ranger. That made me nervous, because, you see, he’d never really forgiven me for punching him. Or for existing as far as I could tell. He seemed to blame me for just about everything wrong that had happened in the past month.

Handful of others? Charlize’s fault. Strange vampire camarilla running around? Charlize’s fault. Unusually cold? Charlize’s fault. Animals acting up? Charlize’s fault.

“Explain what you did,” he ordered in a voice that was much farther past his irritated voice than I was comfortable with. So I did as he said. And quickly.

“I needed energy, so I redirected some that was in the air and took it in. Now I feel better.”

He cut off angry mutterings with a single look. “And did the ‘energy’ feel strange to you?”

“No different than I usually get from in here,” I lied. A sharp look had me backtracking. “I mean, sort of. It felt a little stronger, and it was calling, like it wanted me. So I took it. I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was too much for Ariadne and Theseus and I’m, like, limitless or something, so I figured it would be okay?”

“Give it back,” the Ranger ordered.

I frowned. “I don’t know how.”

“Yes, you do,” he stated, as if he knew what he was saying was completely true.

What bothered me was that it was.

“I would, but then I might hurt someone,” I attempted, glancing to my boyfriends, who were straining against whatever hold the Ranger had on them. Even though I knew he was stronger than both of them, by far, I still appreciated the attempt.

Ranger levelled me with his Alphing glare and I took a deep breath to try to fight it. Of course I lost, since his power was so strong I didn’t even realize what I was doing wasn’t my idea most of the time. Looking away, I pulled at the magic. It was easy to toss it away. Bouncy, firm and yet still malleable, it was willing to go wherever I put pressure. Still, I didn't want to let it go, so I let it flow back to the witches, but reluctantly and slowly.

And still I received looks of terror when it was all gone.

Ariadne was the only one looking at me as if I were a puzzle, rather than a monster. "What do you think you just gave me?"

Well, first of all, I didn't give you anything, I thought but didn't say. "What I took?" I replied as if it were obvious. Because it was obvious. I gave back exactly what I took.

They all looked a little more comfortable with that answer, though there was still some hesitation and mistrust I didn’t understand from not only the witches but the Gathering.

"Your student's ignorance is a problem," the old man shot at Ariadne. "Which, of course may simply be because of her unfortunate bloodline."

"Her unfortunate mixture, you mean," Thor snapped, as if he were personally offended by the slight at my ancestry.

"She's not ignorant," Violet jumped in.

"Are we done here?" the Ranger asked as politely as he could when almost snarling.

"We are," the same man who'd been creepily watching me all night stated. "Now if the witches might finish? Some of us have things to do, people to meet." He glanced to me at that and instinctively, I shifted toward my boyfriends, but the Ranger had me in place with a hand holding light pressure to the back on my neck.

"We are also finished," Thor stated, looking pointedly to first Violet and then Ariadne. Both women moved toward me, but the Ranger cleared his throat.

"Then, as signs of goodwill, as always, both groups will leave the Unruined Lands for the 36 hours required, by law, for my unbiased defenders to use unclaimed starburst to replenish the lands."

There were far too many eyes on me.

"Meaning the Leegion Pack stays here, including its witch and mix."

Oh. I glanced to Lee, who looked self-satisfied as all get out. The pack had relaxed, though the Gathering man, my godmother, and my mentor looked irritated, to say the least.  I smiled at everyone.

"Nice seeing you all, let's do this again sometime? Maybe minus the insults, yeah?"

Apparently renewing the land mostly meant picking up litter, cleaning firepits, and making sure that there were no stragglers. I mean, the Ranger did some strange energy shit and instructed Morgan and Michael in it. But for me, the wolves, and Vanessa, it was just cleaning up. And when I offered my help, the Ranger used a strangely gentle voice to suggest that I keep myself "from stealing any more energy and fucking things up any more for the next 24 hours, if that isn't too hard."

So I stuck with Scott, who stayed near Lee, who stayed close to Vanessa who was inseparable from Tyler. They had started not-dating a few days after Halloween, something about YOLO, since being around me made life expectancy pretty low, or something equally as insulting. Not-dating included being strong with PDA, not having sex, not labeling the relationship, going out to "hang" every week, and giving me and my boys shit about the time we spent together instead of with the pack.

Tyler squeezed Vanessa's side when he passed her, doing the heavy lifting with one hand while she and I sat there, watching him with impressed looks. Scott and Lee had gone off, chasing a squatter off the land, so it was just the three of us.

"Charmander," Vanessa spoke once he was out of sight, taking a large rock to its 'proper place'.

"Hmm?" I asked, squinting at the shiny dust all over the place. It looked a lot like magic, but as far as I knew, magic wasn't actually a solid.

"How have you been?" she asked, making me focus on her. She was edging around saying something. While on one hand, I didn't want to hear her complain about my time with my boys, she sounded like she had something important that she needed to share.

"I've been okay," I said. She still didn't say anything. "Having a blast with the guys," I added, looking for a reaction. There wasn't one. She kept avoiding eye contact, which meant it probably wasn't about how much time I spent with them. "I've been playing again. The oboe. I forgot how much I miss playing when I don't. So far, none of the neighbors have complained. I, uh, saw Spectre the other day. It wasn't all that great."

Still, nothing. I squinted at her. "How about you? How've you been?" I prodded.

"Good. Fine. I'm good," she said, giving me a fake smile. I wanted to push it, but at that moment, Tyler came back. Fortunately, I was pretty sure whatever was bothering her wasn't about him, because she looked relieved when he came back and all-but launched herself at him.

"Okay, good talk," I muttered to myself, walking away so that I didn't have to watch them make out. The first few times had been amusing because of the height difference between them, but they'd perfected the art of him lifting her up so that he wouldn't have back pain. Now it was just unnecessary sucking noises, sloppy technique, and awkwardness.

I wandered a few feet pretty aimlessly until I started to hear voices. It sounded vaguely like Michael, so I started to announce my presence, but a gnawing fear stopped me. I took a step back and looked around. There was nothing around me. It was night time. I was alone in an ever changing terrain. I took another step back.

"Charlize?" Michael's voice called. Only it wasn't Michael's voice. Every time Michael spoke, I felt a rush of his energy. If he'd called my name, I would have felt like I was wading in a pool. I didn't. I felt nothing but an emptiness.

"Come here," the voice called again. There was a draw to it, something that made me want to obey the command. It wasn't quite the same as Alphing but a more familiar, personal appeal. I wanted to go to it because it felt like a part of me.

"Who's there?" I asked in reply, turning in a circle. It could be a shapeshifter or a vampire, I decided, though that didn't seem right. Even though the dominance power that Morgan and Scott had was in some ways different from Alphing, it was still, in the end, just a different version of the same thing.

This was more like having time and distance from my oboe and wanting it because it was a part of me. It was like seeing it and knowing that if I picked it up, I would play the most beautiful music, and all I had to do was get it. It was a tempered longing, similar to what I'd felt earlier, during the meteor shower. Only if I opened up, I knew I wouldn't get what I wanted. I had to go to it.

"I want to show you something," it had melded Scott and Michael's voices together. I took a step toward it, but stumbled over a sapling. I fell forward and landed on the ground, my torso hitting hard. The strange, glittery sand covered my hands and forearms as well as part of my shoulders.

And then it sunk into my skin. And I was on fire.

amadhay: (Default)

“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” a harried voice called, shaking Croy-li.

Groaning, he cracked open one eye to see slanted, golden eyes on a pale olive, oval face framed by straight, strawberry kissed auburn hair. The feline ears placed near the top of her head twitched in irritation. “Why won’t you lemme sleep, Blu?” he whined.

“Because you aren’t supposed to be in here!” the girl hissed in a hushed whisper. “You’re going to get Amaya into trouble.”

“Who’s gonna know?”

“Amaya’s aunts! They’re coming right now!”

“Arche Loralyn doesn’t care,” Croy-li muttered, turning onto his stomach so that he could try to ignore the cat girl.

“But Arne Riffle does and Lady Peru will tell him!”

  “They’re not gonna come in.”

  “You’re awake enough to argue, you’re awake enough to move to the next room,” Blu stated matter-of-factly, pulling him up.

  Croy-li groaned, but allowed her to pull him to his feet, not that he had much choice considering she was more toned than he and far more stubborn. She steered him by his shoulders, practically using her thick legs to move his gangly ones.

  They almost made it to the attached guest bedroom, but three quick knocks preceded the main door being pushed open before they could. In walked three women, two of which were of obvious relation to Amaya, with similar, dark complexions and dark hair. The third was blonde, with a lighter complexion and more athletic build than the other two as well as having a few inches on them. She wore a thin circlet on her head, and immediately grinned, raising an eyebrow at the two.

“What is happening here?” the less attractive of the two remaining women asked. She had a permanently pinched face and her scowl was unfortunate.

The remaining woman, who was beautiful despite her sickly thin, frail looking body, hid a smile and arched her brow questioningly.

“Um,” Croy-li started, glancing to Blu, whose lips were pursed to give an explanation, but no words came out.

“I asked Cole to wake me up. Blu was trying to keep him out,” Amaya said, not moving from under her covers. “He stayed the night again.”

The blonde smiled knowingly. “Your brother was looking for you, Croy-li,” she said, looking expectant. “You should perhaps contact him so that he doesn’t send his watchers out looking for you again?”

“Oh, right, of course,” Croy-li responded, stumbling back from the room. He paused before exiting, remembering his manners and nodded in acknowledgement to the older women and gave a short bow to the blonde. “Princess Anne.” The blonde rolled her eyes at him and waved him on.

Croy-li closed the door behind him, but stood at it, listening in on the conversation on the other side.

“Now’s as good a time to ask as any, Loralyn,” the pinched face woman, Lady Peru, said to the beautiful one.

Arche Loralyn sighed heavily. “Of course, but considering other news, perhaps it could wait?”

“I think Riff would agree that it is important to know now.”

Arche Loralyn sighed again, but it was Princess Anne who voiced the question. “Are you and Croy-li entwining or just blunderlusting together?”

Croy-li flushed, but noted that Amaya didn’t respond for a few clicks, undoubtedly staring at her cousin-by-binding. “What?” she asked incredulously, but her irritable aunt seemed to think she didn’t understand the question.

“Are you in a romantic engagement with the Prince du Kay, or is it just blunderlust rutting?”

Croy-li felt even more embarrassed, though he had no reason to. He knew, logically, that given their closeness and how often he had to sneak out of her bed to keep those kinds of rumors at bay, that it was a good question. Still, he wished that he didn’t have to be there when it was asked, especially when Blu and Amaya began giggling, as though there were no chance.

“Me and Cole? No, of course not,” Amaya said, humor still in her voice. “He’s my friend is all. No one’s asking if me and Blu are entwining. Or Jazz, even. I could be her thrall.”

She was finding the entire situation too amusing. And while it hurt Croy-li a bit to know that she didn’t consider him as any more of a romantic interest than Blu or Jazz, both of whom the duo regarded almost as sisters, the humor did take away from his embarrassment.

“Well, I would hope that you would have better sense to choose a princeling over your servant or a disowned valev.”

She could have pointed out that Heralds were legally not allowed to become involved with each other for fear of them banding together against the rest of the world in the best case or the horrifying children they were known to have with each other. Instead, she chose to make it about status, which was a bad idea, given Amaya was hardly going to start caring about their statuses now. Surprisingly, the girl didn’t explode. She didn’t say anything, though the tension was thick.

“That’s not what we came in here about. You went to sleep early last night, so you missed the news,” Arche Loralyn said, ignoring the tension. “Hynnkel is—”

“Is he okay?” Amaya asked immediately. “Does he need help? Is he lost?”

“He’s home. He got in this morning, and you missed him at breakfast.”

The sounds of her getting out of bed quickly, followed by her jumping to the floor were followed by shuffling. He could only assume that she was getting dressed. “Where is he? Is he in his rooms? With Arne Riff?  Croy-li! Stop eavesdropping and get dressed, Hynnkel’s back!”

“What do I care about Hynnkel?” Croy-li joked, opening the door and leaning against the doorframe.

Amaya gave him a murderous look, her blue eyes narrowed, and he remembered just how strongly she felt for this cousin. He held his hands up and she turned to Blu, gesturing to her hair. “Anything?” she asked, undoubtedly wanting to look pretty for the cousin she all but hero worshipped.

Blu sighed. “Sit down. Let me brush it some and you can wear it down.”

Amaya made a face. “Just braid it,” she said instead. She hated brushing her hair, which was why it was always in a state of messy, wildly curling disarray.

The other women exchanged glances and when Lady Peru started to say something, likely a snide comment on the girl’s appearance, both Princess Anne and Arche Loralyn raised a hand to silence her. Fuming, the woman simply left.

“Hynnkel is resting right now,” Arche Loralyn said gently. “It was a long trip, so it wouldn’t hurt to take a little more time.”

Princess Anne was much more blunt. “You’ve been doing that weird grooming thing. I get it, aelfe, cat share, whatever. But your hair looks like you could have baby sparrows playing hide and seek in it and, honestly, you smell bad.”

Blu turned her face away to keep from laughing, while Croy-li had to keep a straight face when Amaya threw an affronted look his way.

“I don’t smell bad, do I?” she asked.

Croy-li glanced to the older women, who gave him expectant looks. Blu went so far as to kick him and he sighed. “You smell very...natural?” he suggested. He was used to her scent, and it didn’t bother him, though he had no doubt that it was getting to her family of cat-aelfe and their sensitive noses. “Maybe Feral is the word I’m looking for.”

Amaya stared at him aghast. “I do not smell Feral.”

“A bit,” he returned.

“So that settles it,” Princess Anne broke in. “Amaya will bathe and brush her hair. Croy-li will call Khale, before he thinks you’ve been kidnapped again.”

“And Blu, sweetheart,” Arche Loralyn added in while Princess Anne gave Croy-li a serious look and mouthed ‘Now.’ “Would you be willing to help Hynnkel for the time being? His servants were all sent away and can’t come back for another day at least. I think I remember that he liked you?”

Blu nodded quickly, always glad to be of help, though Croy-li noticed the flush at the mention that Hynnkel had liked her. He started to tease her, but after another look from Princess Anne, Croy-li crossed the room and reached under Amaya’s bed for his DS.

“I’m going, I’m going,” he said when she looked ready to say something. He glanced back at Amaya before leaving the room. Standing there, with her wild hair, half-dressed in baggy pants and her thin sleeping top, she looked beautiful.

“Come get me when you’re ready,” he told her before leaving the room. He waited to hear her agreement before closing the door. Crossing further into the guest room that, for all intents and purposes, was really just his room, he sat down on the bed. He still wore his working gloves, so those were the first things he changed. Dreading calling his brother, he then looked through the closet and drawer space for spare clothes. Unsurprisingly, there was quite a bit to choose from, so he chose to take a quick shower.

Exiting the shower in just a towel, he was in no way surprised to see Amaya sitting on his bed with Blu behind her, brushing her hair out. By the faces Amaya made every time her hair got caught, he’d have thought Blu was killing her if he hadn’t known how whiny she was about her hair. Neither girl watched him as he put on underwear, but once it was on, Amaya looked to his side, where there was a pretty ugly cut he had forgotten to take care of the previous night.

“Is Squirrel around?” Amaya asked Blu, watching as Croy-li gently patted the wound dry and wrapped it up.

“She’s back in Rattigattan for the week. What about your family healer?” she suggested, giving Croy-li a disappointed look.

“What did I do? She wanted me to go with her. She would’ve gone alone. Tell Blu you would’ve gone alone without me.”

“I would’ve taken Soda,” Amaya said instead. “But I dunno. Bart asks a lot of questions when I have to go to him. And you know Cole’s a nervous blabber mouth.”

“Hi, accused blabber mouth right here.”

“Then we’ll go with him and keep him distracted from the blabbering,” Blu suggested. “But that needs to be looked at sooner than later.”

Amaya and Croy-li both sighed at their friend’s mother henning. She had only taken to doing it once they’d been freed of Thief Lord, and only for them. Brave was barely a year older than them and she didn’t get nearly the same treatment.

“Yeah, yeah,” Croy-li said, pulling on a light, long-sleeved shirt, followed by a sweater. While it wasn’t snowing, like up north, it was still an unusually cold spring and Hartin’s temperature charms were set for someone with far warmer blood than he. Donning his normal cargo pants, he checked his pockets to be sure what he wanted was in there.

“I have to call Khale first though,” he weakly protested, wanting an excuse not to.

“Call him while you’re getting fixed up. That way your stories will be the same,” Blu suggested and Amaya agreed.

“Remember the time you told Nolando we were going to the beach, told Arche Loralyn we were checking out some witch shops and told Khale we were going to eat?”

“Can’t forget. Soda keeps reminding me of sand-witches.”

Blu was so good at ushering the duo that Croy-li didn’t even notice they were moving until they were out of the rooms.

“I really think I can wait until Squirrel comes back,” Croy-li complained, remembering his last and only visit to his own family’s healers. The trio was so old that he had to yell for them to hear and they had steadfastly ignored his suggestions for newer equipment, saying that if what they had worked for his brother, parents, and grandparents before him, that they would work for him too. And he hadn’t honestly been doubting them—though, to be fair, with only him, his brother, his uncle, and his cousins Fallora and Chun-ti still alive of their families out of the twelve that had been there only a decade before, he had a right to—he was only suggesting that it would be faster and more efficient than using old blood elf traditional healing magic, especially for simple check-ups.

“That’s three days from now. That looks like it might be infected. Squirrel would murder you if she came back and you had a four-day-old, infected wound waiting for her.”

He had to concede to that point. Squirrel would heal him, hurt him, heal him, and hurt him again just to heal him one last time. Then she wouldn’t talk to him for weeks on end and then, when she did, make him explain to her all the reasons he shouldn’t have waited. Missing out on one uncomfortable encounter with an official healer wasn’t worth the trouble.

“I know,” he whined, giving Blu his saddest eyes. “I just—”

“Hate dealing with healers who aren’t Squirrel, I know,” Blu reassured him, “But Bart isn’t like the others.”

Amaya nodded. “Yeah, he’s nosier,” she said with a grin. “But also,” she added once Blu gave her a warning look, “He’s got all the machines you like and doubles as a doctor and healer.”

Croy-li raised his eyebrows hopefully. “You promise?” he asked.

“Yup. He’s not even old. Nolando’s age, I think. You’ll like him. He talks genius-ese.”

Blu snorted at the term, guiding her friends through the Hakinato estate until they reached the medical wing. She stopped outside of the doors and allowed them to continue forward. “Bart doesn’t like it when we stomp in together,” she stated when Croy-li and Amaya looked at her questioningly.

Amaya rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t like it when we’re loud and distracting and only in here to steal his stuff,” she corrected. “He doesn’t care if we’re quiet.”

“Either way,” Blu said, the downturn of her mouth saying that she disagreed, “I have other work to do. Find me when you’re done here.”

“What other work?” Amaya called after her. “You’re my servant! What’ve you got to do? Clean my room? Please don’t clean my room. I’ll feel bad forever.”

“Duties that don’t involve you!”

“But she’s my servant,” Amaya said again, this time in confusion as she turned to Croy-li, who was apprehensively eyeing the open doors. “What duties could she have that don’t involve me?”

“Arche Loralyn did just ask her to take care of Hynnkel.”

Amaya made a disbelieving face. “I think she’s hiding something,” she stated flatly, walking forward.

He followed her after a click. “Why?” he asked.

“Have you noticed that she’s been gone a lot lately? She’s here when I wake up and when I go to sleep. But between that? Anyone’s guess. We have Lessons together and she’s been absent, but when I ask, Pride says that she’s making up for them at other times.”

“What times?” Croy-li asked. “Because Brave has been running off too. I thought she was with Jazz and Squirrel down in Rattigattan, but they say she isn’t.”

“Then again, they could be lying and they’re all doing something together.”

Croy-li frowned. “Think Soda would trail them for us?”

“If she isn’t in on it with them,” Amaya replied sullenly. At a bark of male laughter, the duo paused.

“I thought you said he liked it quiet?” Croy-li asked uneasily. There was more loud laughter and this time they could hear the rumblings of a deep, male voice talking.

“He does,” Amaya replied uncertainly, and the two found themselves holding hands as they approached where the sound had come from. Before Croy-li could discern anything other than an examination room full of state of the art machines and simple yet nice furnishing, Amaya had launched herself across the room.

“Hynnkel!” she exclaimed, hugging a tall man with black hair and a similar, sandy complexion. He laughed and hugged her back. “I just heard you were back, but Arche Loralyn told me that you were sleeping and to wait to come see you. Where have you been? Where did you go? What happened?”

Hynnkel patted the top of her head, effectively mussing up her hair when entire tufts of it clung to his rings. “Nice to see you too, Amaya,” he said, before nodding to Croy-li. “Prince du Kay.”

Croy-li wasn’t sure, because he’d never really spent much time one-on-one with Amaya’s cousin before, but he thought he detected a frosty tone when the man said his name. He took a step back and avoided his mahogany eyes.

“Hold on now,” another voice spoke up. Croy-li turned his head to see another man, even taller than Hynnkel, and much, much paler. “I sincerely doubt these two came here to see you. What is it you need?”

Amaya seemed to either not hear the man or not care, because she kept chattering on to Hynnkel, demanding to know where he’d been, what he’d seen, why he left, what had made him decide to come home. Croy-li, on the other hand, stared at the man in absolute awe. Obviously an elf by his height and elongated ears, the man wore a white lab coat over his clothes, which held almost no contrast to his snowy complexion, silver hair, and pale grey eyes.

It was a face Croy-li recognized better than his own brother’s. Standing there, looking at him expectantly, was Sir Barthew Base, the main inventor and owner of Base Inventions. He was Croy-li’s hero, an elf killed in the 2300’s and raised as a phantom to fight at Empress Kellinara’s side against the Earthlings. He was to thank for almost all of their current electronics, was the main brain behind the intergalactic network and the Roadesian/Resorian datastream.

In the face of his greatest idol, Croy-li was struck dumb. Unfortunately, he was not struck mute. “I build stuff.”

Those three words stopped Amaya’s flow of words. She looked from Croy-li, to Barthew Base, and back again. “Did you break him?” she asked accusingly, moving from her cousin. Touching his shoulder and receiving no response, she poked her best friend, who was hiding his face in his hands, feeling absolutely embarrassed for the second time that day. “Hey, what does that mean?”

Barthew Base, on the other hand, laughed. “I take it you’re the technopath Amaya talks about?”

“Have you not met?” Amaya asked, looking from Croy-li and Barthew Base again.

Hynnkel coughed into his hand. “That’s when you introduce them,” he suggested.

“Oh. Right. Bart, Prince Croy-li du Kay. I really can’t believe you’ve never met him before.”

“I tend to stay to my warehouse when I’m not needed,” Barthew Base said, still smiling at Croy-li, who was looking at him between his fingers.

“Croy-li, Sir Barthew Base.”

“I know,” Croy-li blurted before he could stop himself. “I mean, not that I stalk you or anything. I don’t. I just, I’m a fan of your work. And I like to tinker. And sometimes I invent, but mostly I tinker, no way in league with what you do, but I do build things. Like I was recently working on a nanite cloaking cloud, but for some reason it doesn’t work as well as I thought it would. The vision is barely passable and it goes down when scanned, I think, but I don’t know because I haven’t checked it out. I mean we used it last night but—”

Amaya covered Croy-li’s mouth with her hand and he silently thanked her. Once he got started nervously talking, he couldn’t stop himself.

“Croy-li got cut. We went out last night, to a, uh, place to do something and he got cut. We forgot about it and now it looks gross. Fix him.”

“Sorry Hynnkel,” Barthew Base said, gesturing for Croy-li to come over to him and the examination table he had been sitting on. “Duty calls. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Hynnkel nodded. “I need to go talk with my mother anyway.”

“I’ll come with!” Amaya invited herself after pushing Croy-li all the way over to Barthew Base.

Hynnkel smirked. “Don’t you want to stick with your princeling and make sure he doesn’t implode from Bart excitement?”

Amaya waved it off. “He doesn’t need me.” She glanced to Croy-li, who was shyly lifting his shirt for Barthew Base to see the wound. “Do you?”

Yes, he thought, but shook his head because he didn’t trust what would come out of his mouth. And even though he knew she had to know better, Amaya linked arms with Hynnkel and walked with him.

“I can’t actually see anything through the wrapping,” Barthew Base said gently, and Croy-li forced himself to stop watching after Amaya and to instead focus on the phantom. “So I’m going to cut them off. Anything I should know?”

Croy-li shook his head, unsure what the man meant by that. It wasn’t like his wound was going to gush blood or let loose an angry astral. It was just a little, well alright, a big cut. It barely bled, just hurt and oozed a little.

“Is your brother aware that I am treating you?” Barthew Base asked, and Croy-li was glad that he wasn’t trying to make small talk. He shook his head. “I am required to call him and ask permission before I do anything other than look at it. Do you understand that?”

Croy-li nodded. There was no more talking as Barthew Base cut the bandages off of Croy-li, though the boy recognized his ‘wrong-hypothesis’ perplexed look. He wanted to ask what had perplexed Barthew Base, what he had hypothesized, but didn’t, unsure what else would come out of his mouth if he did. It could be anything from ‘You look different from the poster in my room,’ which would be embarrassing, to ‘I got cut by glass jumping out of a window at an RA archive to steal some chip for the Thief Lord last night,’ which would just be stupid to say aloud.

“This is a surprisingly bad cut, Prince Croy-li,” Barthew Base stated, moving away from him, to a moveable screen. “How did you get it?” he asked before tapping a few times on the screen. “King Khale du Kay,” the phantom spoke into the screen before Croy-li could think up a good excuse.

He really should have come up with an excuse before coming. What had Amaya said? Oh, right. I got cut when we were somewhere, doing something. She usually lied better than that.

“For the last time, Bart, I didn’t bother your warehouse,” Croy-li’s brother snarled, his face appearing on the screen. “And I am busy, so I would appreciate if you would continue blaming me some other time.”

Croy-li’s eyes widened at the tone Khale took with the inventor and he looked to the phantom, whose mouth turned down in irritation. “And while I maintain that, as they are technically on your and Fallora’s lands, one of you had to have had them moved without my consultation and the damage done is on you, that is not what I called for. I have your princeling here and need to know if I have your permission to heal him. He has a rather bad cut received last night.”

What? Croy-li? Are you alright?” Khale’s tone went immediately from angry and defensive to worried and he seemed to be trying to see his brother over Barthew Base, which was nearly impossible, given the gangly teenager wasn’t as wide as the elf and at an awkward angle from the screen.

Barthew Base turned it so that Khale could see Croy-li before speaking. “I was just asking him where he could have received such a cut.”

With both men looking at him expectantly, Croy-li avoided looking at either of them until he could come up with a good excuse. “Um. Well. Uh. Could we maybe talk after?” He met Barthew Base’s eyes and held them unblinkingly, “It really hurts a lot,” he lied.

Barthew Base looked to the screen for Khale’ permission.

“Of course you can heal him. Why wouldn’t I let you heal him?”

Barthew Base shrugged, turning his back to the screen in order to get a suction tool, which made Croy-li grimace. While he tended to prefer scientific healing, especially with infection, he absolutely hated the tools used to get the gross bits of the liquid proof of infection out. They felt horrible, and as someone who regularly hurt himself and forgot to get the wounds looked at until there was an infection, he was on the receiving end of one at least once a month.

“Your family has had a history of not wanting any of the direct royal line healed by anyone other than your healers,” Barthew Base pointed out. “I had no reason to believe that tradition had changed.”

That comment made Croy-li mildly suspicious about the strange drop in living members of his family. His generation only held four children, only two being direct du Kay First Family. The previous one had been also been four but all First Family, each had bound and all but one had died so far. His grandparent’s generation had been with sixteen members and before that, sixteen. It had continued in that vein six generations further. And all only healed by their personal healers, elves who had lived through eight generations.

It was suspicious, but he wouldn’t say anything yet, until he had decided what to do about that, if there was something that needed to be done.

How long have you been at the Verseins Fortress?” Khale asked, forcing Croy-li away from his thoughts.

“Uh, all week,” he lied, keeping eye contact with his brother through the screen. Barthew Base was finished sucking the infection out and was now coating it in a salve that would expedite the healing process on the inside. If he had wanted, he could have watched the muscle and skin stitch itself together, but he had lost interest in that a few years back.

“But I’ve asked—”

“I told them not to tell you,” Croy-li lied, not blinking. “You’ve been smothering me and I needed some air, so I got some with Amaya and Blu.” It could have been a good lie if not for the fact that Khale had been ridiculously lenient. He only checked up on Croy-li once a day, he didn’t sit in on his Lessons any longer, he didn’t force him to spend any time with him or to learn about his duties as prince of Kayden any more than he learned in Lessons, though Croy-li knew there was much more to it.

Either way, the lie hit home with Khale, who looked away, as if ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, and Croy-li had to look away to keep from feeling guilty. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. What can I do?

“Nothing. It’s fine. It’s not too bad,” Croy-li recanted, rolling his miniature electric fuser between his fingers. He wasn’t sure when he’d taken it out, but was glad he had something in his hands. “You’re fine.”

Barthew Base patted the regrown skin lightly. “Feel better?” he asked. Croy-li nodded, watching his tool to keep from making eye contact, being forced to acknowledge that he was in the same room as Sir Barthew Base and getting nervous.

“I should probably go find Amaya and--”

“Hold on,” Barthew Base said, holding his hand to Croy-li’s chest to keep the boy from jumping off the table. “How did you get that? It’s important for me to know that I couldn’t have missed anything.”

“I, well, Amaya and I. We, not I, really. We, uh, went out last night because we, um. We needed to do something because we were bored and needed to do something. So we went out. Last night. To go, uh, sledding?” Finally grasping at a truth, he felt comfortable rambling about his own brilliance. “We tried out my new sled and it works well. It works really well, better than I expected. We tried out a new speed alteration and we made a thirty minute trip in ten. On a sled!”

Remembering who he was talking to, his eyes widened and he looked to Barthew Base, whose eyebrow was raised. “I mean, it’s not like your hoverboards, because I’m nowhere nearly as talented as you and couldn’t come up with the technology to get it to hover, much less move as fast as it does or with the network. I mean my sled is pretty simple in comparison, so I shouldn’t really talk like it’s special. Because it isn’t. It’s just a sled.”

“Croy-li,” Khale cut in. “I get that you’re excited to meet Bart and all, but you never really answered the question.”

“Oh. Right.” He pulled out a small toy he’d been working on and tinkered with it nervously.

“Right,” Barthew Base added with a knowing grin. “So while sledding with Amaya, how did you get a cut that deep and nothing else?”

Clearing his throat, Croy-li set the toy down and tried to channel Soda. She could make the most ridiculous thing sound true. “We ran into a tree.”

“A tree? That left no splinters and didn’t impale you.”

“I mean a house. We ran into an old cottage and I got cut by the broken window?”

“Where was this cottage?” Barthew Base asked, looking like he was enjoying himself. A glance at Khale showed the king to have a similarly amused look to the phantom.

“Uh, I don’t know. We weren’t really paying attention.”

“And when did you try the nanite cloud you mentioned?”

Croy-li choked on air, completely having forgotten he brought it up. “Um. Just. We were testing the cloaking cloud and sled at the same time,” he said, looking away, but still not blinking. His eyes were dry, but he couldn’t blink until he was done. He didn’t want to be like Brave, who blinked a million times when she lied.

“So, to get this completely straight, you and Amaya went somewhere north with enough snow to go sledding in a cloaked joyride and ran into a tree or cottage, where you were cut deeply.” Croy-li nodded. Barthew Base’s mouth twitched and he looked ready to laugh, but he didn’t. He did, however look to Khale, who was smiling widely. “Alright then.”

“Sounds plausible,” Khale stated.

“I’d like to go find Amaya now,” Croy-li said, staring at the floor.

“Of course,” Barthew Base said, waving for him to go.

“Please tell me if you plan to stay at Verseins for longer,” Khale called after him before he could rush off.

“Okay,” Croy-li squeaked out before rushing away.

 

I think I understand why you enjoyed when we tried lying to you,” Croy-li heard Khale say to Barthew Base before he was out of hearing range.



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Once they were almost at their hideout, Amelie clutched her stomach and doubled over, losing all the contents of her stomach from the past few hours. She closed her eyes to avoid seeing the chunky liquid falling from her lips, but the simple feel of it against her lips, falling from and sticking to her lips made her head feel even dizzier. Making the mistake of opening her eyes to ground herself, the sight of the vomit made her stomach churn harder and before she could stop herself, she pitched forward. 

“Nyah! Amelie!” Tanith exclaimed, catching her partner before the other girl could fall into her own mess. Worriedly, she felt at Amelie’s cheeks and forehead to gauge her temperature and, once she decided the other girl was in fact clammy and cold, checked for a pulse. It was steady and a relieved breath left Tanith before the girl even realized she had been scared for her friend’s life.

“Wake, ‘fore I’m forced to carry you in a way that will be both embarrassing and uncomfortable for both of us,” she threatened, not really expecting a response and not giving enough time for the other to respond even if she had been conscious. With strength that belied her rather slender frame, Tanith easily heaved Amelie up onto her shoulders. As if to some joke that no one else could appreciate, Tanith smiled to herself as she bent her knees and swung Amelie’s dead weight over her head, less than gently arranging her so that she wouldn’t fall.

With a quick glance around, Tanith continued to their hideout. It was merely a few dozen footsteps away from where Amelie had collapsed, though its appearance was rather disguised even as in plain sight as it were. They had rounded back almost to where they’d run into Azzie before, but to the other side of the slats, in the alley behind the pit restaurant. Between the gates and the backdoor to the kitchen was a small dugout. It had three stairs that seemed to lead nowhere, a common spot for backhanded deals and lewd activities. What most overlooked was the covering that seemed to block off entrance to the Lasts Place.

Tanith set Amelie down to push the covering into the wall. Checking once again that no one was watching, she pushed her partner through the hole first before climbing in after, keeping a good hold on the covering so that she could pull it closed before sliding down the piping that led down the steep decline to their nest. With Amelie out of commission, if she hadn’t been able to close it, she would have had to go out of one of the exits and rush back to the opening to close it. They’d been lucky before, lucky to have found this place abandoned after they’d been forced to leave their old nest, lucky that no one had found this place but the one that they’d taken care of back when they hadn’t realized the opening wouldn’t close on its own, lucky that they were still alive given the person who was so interested in them. And while neither of them particularly believed in karma or a god, they believed in luck and, more importantly, that luck can change.

So Tanith was going to go out of her way to make sure that it was their own actions that kept them alive and safe, not luck. Especially now, when they had just been reunited and Amelie was sickly. Especially now, when it was exactly a year since their last run in with the one person who truly wished them ill. He wasn’t one to stay silent for so long, not when they had something he wanted.

Apologizing to her unconscious partner when she rushed into her at the end of the pole slide, Tanith rolled to her side and did a quick glance around their relatively spacious area. While it wasn’t exactly small, the pair tended to stick to their nest in the center. At one time, or at least Amelie thought, this place was one of the secret labs where the genetic manipulation that was now prevalent in their lives had secretly been advanced. Tanith didn’t really care one way or another, since it didn’t much matter. What did matter was that it came with strange refrigerator units built into the ground, waste holes with pipes leading to the main waste recycling plant and a clean water source—almost a pond with pipes that they assumed connected it to the city’s water supply—to one side of their nest. There were various exits, all implementing a clear tube and pressurized air to transport them to the ground level, which most likely meant that they were actually in some hidden chamber in the Lasts Place.

Tanith dropped Amelie onto the spot that could be considered their bed—a relatively soft pile of blankets, rugs and clothes in the center of their nest on the hardened ground, surrounded by short but thriving plants—and collapsed right beside her, feeling like a siesta after the large consumption of sweets and the exertion of energy. She yawned, stretched, and sprawled out to make up for the room Amelie wasn’t taking, a habit she’d been used to in the past month she’d been without Amelie. Seeming to come to the slightest bit, Amelie curled into her, making Tanith smile and awaken a bit, preparing to wait out the hurt of her friend.

It wasn’t too long after that, perhaps a few hours, that Amelie sat upright, her arms crossed in front of her face to deflect a blow. Not receiving one, she looked around with a small yawn before a sour feeling came back over her. She fell back, watching the gauzy, starry material they used as a make-shift roof for their nest to give the illusion of smaller space. It swirled lazily, reminding her of nights at their first nest, on the abandoned miniature carousel and calming her as she came to terms with the memory that she’d been released from the cell and was back on the streets with her better half.

When it finally became steady, she sat up once more, “...Tanith?” she called cautiously, wondering if her friend was there or out. And although she received no response, when she turned, she spotted Tanith nearby, but not nearly as close as they had been initially. Unaware that Tanith had ever been lying right beside her, curled into her, Amelie watched her breathe, and found herself worrying even without recognition of the worry. She started to stand, but then Tanith made a soft, unintelligible sound before muttering softly. Curious, Amelie leaned forward until she could make out what her friend was saying.

“Watch out for…octopus eyes…like weird bugs…killed the cousins…then stop running…” 

Amelie snorted. “Sounds like a fun dream,” she teased her unconscious partner before crawling over to her soundlessly. She looked her friend over, noting a healing bruise on her cheek, before mercilessly dumping her entire body onto the other girls sleeping form. 

Tanith jerked awake, gasping in surprise, but not acting to defend herself. She was sure that the hideout had given and collapsed on everything she knew and loved. She could see the rock crumbling, feel the dust on her skin, hear the explosion that had taken it down. Her arm was trapped, but still she reached for Amelie. That is, until the scent of vomit and cell soap brought her back down to reality, her vision cleared, and she realized she was actually being smothered by a warm body, not cold and sturdy metal and stone.

“Lungs aren’t indestructible,” she forced out. Amelie wasn’t that heavy, but she needed her off of her so that she could focus on the present, not her far-too-real dream of horror, death, and torture. 

Amelie didn’t move for a moment, unsure of the other girls reaction. They both knew that Tanith could easily have shoved her off. She could have rolled them over. But, maybe she’s worried because I’m sick, Amelie realized. If Tanith had been as sick as she remembered being, she wouldn’t have been too rough with her either. With that, she rolled off of Tanith to lay beside her, on her back. 

Tanith dragged in a large, dramatic breath and let it out. “Ah, life-giving pollutants! What would I do without you?” she cried, turning on her side to look at Amelie. She looked better, but there was still a sheen to her skin that worried Tanith. 

“Die,” Amelie stated simply before giving her a gentle smile to reassure Tanith that she was feeling much better. 

Tanith grinned widely. “Feelin’ better?” she asked. 

Amelie nodded slowly, “Much better now. I don’t know what was up, but I’m sure glad it’s over.” 

“Good,” Tanith said with relief written in her relaxed facial expression. “I was almost worried about you. Almost.” 

Amelie pouted, mimicking a face they knew too well, “Only almost?” she simpered. 

Tanith gave a short laugh before giving Amelie a genuine look of sincerity. “‘tween Cell and sick, I was scared you ‘ere gone forever.”

Amelie nodded before laying a brief kiss on Tanith’s shoulder, well aware of how much she stank. “You know anywhere I’m goin’ forever I’m takin’ you.”

Tanith nodded and a strange relief went through both girls as they continued to lay side-by-side. “Thank you,” she said and between the two of them, nothing else needed to be said.

 They could have stayed like that for the rest of the day, but Amelie’s stomach made a loud noise, demanding sustenance to make up for what she’d lost earlier. Tanith hugged the complaining section of her torso. “Ugh, we forgot to restock, didn’t we?” she asked. 

Amelie pulled a small wallet from her inner vest pocket, “Loads in there. We can buy ‘nough for maybe a few months.”

Tanith gasped. “For me?” she teased, picking it up gingerly and holding it as if it were a sacred object. She sat up as she opened the wallet a little to peek inside. The paper money she saw made her squeal, hugging the wallet tightly. “Everything I’ve always wanted!” she shouted loudly, happily. This was quickly followed by her chanting the names of all kinds of foods.

Even though they both knew that Tanith’s ability to not waste all the money on sweets made her a poor choice to go running off with all of their money, Amelie didn’t get up when Tanith did. Tanith glanced curiously back at her, only to see Amelie closing her eyes.

 

“I think I’ll go back to sleep,” Amelie suggested. And even though Tanith wanted her to go with her, she didn’t argue. Amelie looked too exhausted and she was sure that she could manage not to spend all of the credits just yet. Just enough to get them food to eat until Amelie was back on her feet again and able to go out with her.



Next part of Chapter Two: Lasts Place

Next part of Street: Chapter Three

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Gary tried very hard to figure out why Rose would have lied to him. While talking to the girl, Aster, he’d been in a great position to see behind the stand. There was no candy, not even a tiny gumdrop. Instead, there were weapons, lots of guns, a partly open hatch to the Old City, and a few closed cases. He wasn’t sure what was going on there, but it wasn’t a candy stall and he knew that Rose knew that.

But he didn’t ask. It wasn’t that he trusted Rose to be making the right call, in fact, there were few people he trusted less than Rose to make a good call. No, he didn’t ask because he was observant and he didn’t miss that they were being trailed by Aster. The girl was deeply under the influence of some drug, but it wasn’t Nightshade. Gary knew what Nightshade looked like, and while the color of her eyes was right, there was a lack of hysteria, a definition of her blue veins. She didn’t look high, she looked focused. And she looked focused on them.

Out of the corner of his eye, Gary watched the girl as she stalked them. She didn’t even try to be sneaky about it, and it was as if she wanted them to know she was watching.

“We should stop here for today,” Rose decided, sounding a bit distracted. He patted Gary on the back. “I have business I need to attend to and you have to get back to the station. Captain Hartsteele had some tests she wanted you to get done a week ago.”

“What?!” Gary exclaimed. While one part of him suspected Rose of simply attempting to get rid of him, he was also incredibly aware that forgetting to tell him about tests for a week was exactly the kind of thing Rose would do. “What tests?” he asked worriedly. He wasn’t aware of any tests once out of basic training in the academy. None of his friends had gone through any tests, that was for sure.

“Something about being a probationary,” Rose said with an air of nonchalance, but secretly he enjoyed the excited look his greenie got at the news.

“She wants to make me a probationary?” Gary was so excited that everything else dropped from his mind. While, sure, a Probationary Officer was still less than a junior officer, it was better than being a sprout. It had the word officer in it! Better yet, a probationary was on the track to being a Special Officer, which was higher than a standard. More than that, with a Special Officer career track, he would never find himself stuck with the rest of his family, on the council or in a position of power. He never wanted that.

“Yeah,” Rose answered, looking past Gary, to their second tail. Whereas the lightning tattooed girl was obvious, the boy following them stuck to the rooftops and alleyways. If he hadn’t been expecting to see him, Rose would have completely overlooked him. Gary had.

“Wh—I—Do I need anything? When was I supposed to be tested? Am I too late? I—She—The Captain won’t think that I was avoiding her, will she? What if she thinks I don’t want to be promoted? Or that I don’t want that promotion? I do!”

“Then go over to the station. I’ll tell her you’re coming. Explain that I forgot,” Rose assured Gary, turning him back the way of the COPS rail. The younger man stumbled toward the rail before looking back to Rose suspiciously.

“Call her first,” he demanded, knowing that it might slip his superior officer’s mind otherwise.

Rose gave a small laugh, but connected his social implant to the network. Pressing the soft skin behind his ear, a soft buzzing entered his ear to let him know that he was, indeed, connected. Waving his hand at the impatient Gary, he allowed himself a moment to sync with his missed notifications and unsurprisingly, there was a message waiting from his captain. Rather than listening to it, he tapped the prominent vein on his wrist to connect to the line for a work related call. Closing his eyes, he saw the images of Gary, Brick, a few other workmates. Mentally scrolling past them, he then saw his higher ups, and focusing on Captain Hartsteele’s image, he tapped his wrist again.

The call connected almost immediately. “You had better have a good excuse for why I’ve not heard from you, Conrad.”

“Oh, did I have something to report on?” he asked casually, smiling at Gary, who stared at him in horror.

Please tell me you did the follow up on the Mongeese run. You told me you would and I didn’t do it. Please,” Gary whined as Captain Hartsteele reamed into Rose for the same reason.

“And the next time you want to go out with just a Greenie and bust a handful of Mongeese, DON’T.”

“How about if I do it with a Probie?” Rose suggested, grinning at Gary, who was still fuming. Even though the boy couldn’t hear their captain’s side of the conversation, it wasn’t too difficult for him to follow along with the conversation.

The anger left Captain Hartsteele’s voice and was, instead replaced by a perplexed curiosity. “Are you agreeing to sign for him to test for probationary status?” She asked after a moment of silence. “As I recall, you told me that you wouldn’t sign over for any increase for at least another three months unless I forced the matter.”

“Yeah, he’s ready,” Rose said, waving Gary toward the line. “I just forgot to mention it to him. It’s what he wants and he’ll be there immediately.” When Gary didn’t move, Rose nodded at him. “Go. The rail leaves in three minutes.”

“You didn’t answer me, Conrad.”

Rose waited until Gary had rushed off to respond to the captain, his Electronut stalker right behind him. “There’s something happening and I need to upgrade him to keep from being suspicious as I investigate. Besides, if I’m honest he’s been doing well enough.”

“Good. Now I’ll have the Councilman off of my back.”

“I knew there had to be a reason you were so interested in promoting him.”

“But what’s this about tests?”

Rose grinned, heading to Broke-Deal alley. He heard trepidation in her voice, and could tell that she was wondering more what he was investigating with Gary not around than what tests he’d convinced the Greenie he had to pass. “Eh, I dunno. The ominous tests. It got rid of him.”

“I partnered him with you so that you wouldn’t go off on your own,” she lectured, but rose was in the alley and didn’t have any more time t talk.

“I’ll take that into consideration later,” he agreed before cutting off their conversation by disconnecting himself from the network. He hated the buzzing sound and so, to the ire of everyone who had ever worked with him, rarely had the communications implant on.

A soft thud behind him told Rose that his shadow was joining him, but he didn’t turn to greet him. Instead, he took a deep breath and was reassured by the smell of black licorice that he had, in fact, been joined by his informant. The young man liked to stay in the shadows because, though what he did was sanctioned by the leader of his gang, he preferred to have an air of mystique. Or perhaps it was because he didn’t want to be fingered if things went sour. It was probably a mixture of the two.

“Do you have anything new?” Rose asked, staring at the dents in the metal of the sliding ladders that led to the rooftop. “Anything about the Electronuts, perhaps?”

“I’m not here to give up any, pal. Taipan’s not happy. Your credit ran out last week, yooky. So either you hand up some good creds today to pay off your tab and we negoshate fer more, or…well, you’ve found the people who upset Taipan.”

Rose frowned, trying to figure out how he could pay off his tab. It was quite a bit higher than he had in his own account at that moment. “Can’t we come up with some kind of payment plan?” he attempted.

“Is that you saying you can’t pay?”

“No!” he exclaimed, knowing that he didn’t want that to get back to Heather. She was likely to cut him open and string his body on the data holo at the station as a warning to anyone else who couldn’t pay up. Or something worse, since she’d already done that to one of his fellow officers a year or two ago. She wasn’t one to repeat a lesson.

“Good. We’ll be expecting you by four.”

 

“It’s noon already,” he complained, but got no response other than the sound of footsteps leading away from him.



Next part of Chapter Two: Street

Next part of COPS: Chapter Three

Next part with Rose: Chapter Three Street

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Ortzi cracked open his eyes. He couldn’t stand the taste of sleep and vomit in his mouth any longer. While the taste in his mouth was horrible and he wanted to fix it, he found that moving was hard to do. So instead, he lay where he was and stared at the ceiling of the cell, trying to gather enough strength to go to the sink to rinse his mouth out. His muscles were working against him and he let his breath out in an elongated sigh. To top it all off, he wasn’t thinking well because his mind was sleep-hazey. “Life sucks,” he said, though it came out as a hoarse whisper.  

Cane, who had settled himself on the floor directly to the side of the “bed”, started from his near sleep when he heard Ortzi speak. “I’m hoping that’s a good message,” he said, standing up and stretching out his back muscles, which had become taut during his uncomfortably short rest. “Feeling better?” he asked.  

Ortzi opened his eyes wider and looked at Cane, trying to remember who the new face was. “Urgh, how long have I been out?” he asked, rubbing his eyes and sitting up.  

Cane looked from the other boy to the wall embedded with a clock. It took him a few seconds for his groggy eyes to make sense of what the digital numbers were telling him. When he did, he shrugged at Ortzi, “Maybe about three hours,” he replied, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands. He frowned, remembering that he had been going to call the Medic had the other boy slept for more than an hour. However, since Ortzi seemed better, he figured it was alright that he hadn’t.

Ortzi swung his legs over and let his feet touch the ground before he shook off the numb feeling that had pervaded his body. He rubbed the back of his head and glanced at Cane from the corner of his eyes. “I’m real sorry, but what was your name again?” he asked, genuinely sounding apologetic.  

Cane smiled, “Don’t be sorry. I only told you once and then you were out. I didn’t expect you to remember. I’m Cane Gin,” he said.    

 “Oh, yes of course. I remember now. But just to make it even, I’m Purple, er, I mean, Ortzi. Well, you can call me whatever, I guess. Um…Yeah.” Ortzi stared at his feet, feeling like he had just botched something up. He clasped his hands together in front of him and bit his lip.  

Cane nodded with his normal smile. “Good, so we both know each others’ names now. But...just because I’m curious, do they call you Purple because of the hair and eyes?” he asked, not yet asking if it was all natural. He figured he’d get to that later rather than sooner. 

Ortzi laughed nervously. “Oh, ah ha ha, yeah. That’s mostly where the name came from. Really, it’s just one big’n’long story, but it’s basically ‘cause of the hair,” he said and ran a finger through the mentioned hair, examining it, then letting it fall back. 

“And you never answered my first question. Are you feeling better?”    

 “Honestly, I’ve been much better, but I usually feel like crap when I’m in this place. It kind of comes with the territory, I guess.”  

Cane nodded, and let go of his smile, “You do know you’ll be stuck here for a while, cuz of how you just beat those boys, correct?”  

Ortzi looked slyly to the right, where the other boys were still in  corner, sleeping. “Who’s going to tell? They were messed up when they got in here, right? They’ll be messed up when they leave. You never know with virals. They do what they please, no concern for the law. ‘Sides, self defense hardly counts as beating.” He stood up and stretched his hands towards the ceiling making his back crack before leaning forward and touching his toes. “These benches will be the death of me yet,” he mumbled to himself and plopped back down onto the bench.    

Cane coughed out a laugh, but didn’t argue, because he wasn’t sure that that wasn’t how it worked. As far as he’d seen, the justice in this place was questionable at best and completely absent in others. He was here without a trial, without any evidence linking him to the murders. He could only imagine what the true criminals got away with. Not that he considered Ortzi a true criminal. He liked to depend on his instincts, and his instincts told him without any hesitation that he could trust Ortzi. And there was no way that he would trust a criminal.

Glancing up at the ceiling, Cane made a face upon seeing dried blood and other, less easily determined stains. He had never been anywhere as unclean. No wonder the other man had been sick. “This place is disgusting,” he muttered. 

“They only clean the cells when no one is in them,” Ortzi stated, letting Cane know how often this particular cell was occupied.  “Better than that, no one was in here when I was dropped off,” Ortzi said with a bright smile.  

Cane glanced up at the stains, then over at the disgusting toilet before looking at Ortzi again, “How long have you been here?”  

Ortzi hummed, thinking. “Probably about three days, by now.” He stood and shrugged. “But I’m awful with time, so you can’t really trust what I say in that respect.”  

Cane looked at him, “Either they didn’t clean it before you got here, or it’s been a while,” he said before turning his attention to the thick wall holding them in. He had to figure a way out, because he had no hopes of his team managing to break him out. It was his duty to lead them and covert rescue missions wasn’t their forte even with him. A glance at the purple boy walking the length of the cell kept his attention for a few moments. Cane recognized that he could be of some use if he was as familiar with this place as he seemed to be. Besides that, he was curious about who the small man really was, aside from his cell-mate.

“What got you here?”

“Are you talking about in this cell or in the Cells in general?” Ortzi asked, pausing with a lopsided grin, remembering both incidents.    

Cane tilted his head, wondering what could bring such an amused grin to the other’s lips. “Both.” he said.  

Ortzi dropped down onto Cane’s bench and rolled up his sleeve to show his black, permanent branding. He grinned at Cane, expecting the other man to recognize the markings, but instead he got a question.

“What’s the different color mean?”

Cane knew that brandings were a way for those in charge to recognize different Celleds. Where he was from, they used similar brandings, though he couldn’t discern between the different markings because he was rarely up close to them. His team was generally just information and medical.

“You’re new to Cells, aren’t you?” Ortzi asked instead of answering. “What’d you do to get in here? Piss off a taloppy?”

“What’s that?” Cane asked curiously. Tanith had used that word in disdain and he’d heard it quite a few times, but never in a context where he would understand it.

“Where are you from?” Ortzi asked jokingly. “Don’t know taloppies, don’t know the Cell marks, helpful, weird peace-y. Are you an alien?”

“No,” was all Cane replied, looking away from Ortzi. He didn’t know him well enough to really go into the whole situation. And even if he had, he wasn’t really sure where he was. He might be an alien. All he knew was that he’d awakened in a pod inside of a larger pod, surrounded by his team. When they’d managed to get out, they had found themselves underground, barely managed to get to the top, and then they’d been separated. The pink haired woman had helped him, there’d been the manhunt, he’d found Tanith, he’d been framed for the murders, and then he’d ended up here.

“Well,” Ortzi spoke when it was obvious that Cane wouldn’t. “I was disturbing the peace, street fighting, vandalizing private property, destroying government property, assaulting an officer, and assaulting another human being with the intention to kill. Then, when I got in here, I met up with an old friend and started a food fight with fresh, three-week-old bread and cussed out several ‘A’-dolts.

“The Warden didn’t take too kindly to his scare tactics not working, so I got perm-branded and then they stuffed me in here to wait for permanent placement,” Ortzi stated. He rubbed his chin, trying to remember any events that he missed. When he couldn’t, he shrugged and said, “Yep, well, that’s what they put me in here for. At least, that’s what they probably have written down. I still consider it all self-defense. And for the record, a taloppy is a Rich and the black means it’s permanent.”  

 

 
Next part in Chapter Two: COPS

Next part in Cell: Chapter Three
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The museum was a large building, one of the largest in the City, which was to be expected because it held all of the City’s most prized possessions, both those on exhibit and those hidden within the vaults. In their entire lives, the two girls had been there, with their Educator fifteen times—once for each year they were old—and for their own personal pleasure, never. Both supposed it would be a new experience without an Educator describing everything there with the lesson blurb.

 Lav glanced at Are when they made it to the doors, “I still want to know what you’re hiding from me,” she muttered as they were screened for entrance. Seeing their credit information on the door pad, both girls pressed their hands onto it to gain access. After a blue light shone to indicate their identities had been verified, the door slid open to allow them entrance.

“I’m selling you into a marriage, along with the gift,” Are stated calmly with a simple smile for her friend. She glanced around the place and quickly took note of all of the cameras and other security features. The information she had been fed was correct and they were precisely where she’d expected. There were a surprisingly few visible, however, which definitely meant there had to be some in hiding.  Those were the ones she still had to find on her own.

Lav laughed, and seemed to shake her head at her friend. What she was really doing was checking for weapons, people with cameras and for any other recording device. She checked over each person quickly, coming to conclusions about most of the groups. She counted forty-two people, which she was positive meant the museum was more populous than on average. Most of them had the cheekbone shimmer of an old bog plug and a few had the left eye glint of a flash plug, but those seemed to be the only recording devices—aside from the surveillance domes.

She leaned forward as if to whisper a joke into Are’s ear, “A few COPS, but I don’t think any of them are here to intercept anything, more likely for a little extra as security since they’re out of uniform. There are a lot of artists, old Rich and a few young Rich so we don’t stand out too much. There are three weird, though. They look like Rich but I don’t recognize them. New money? Maybe meebs dressing up as plebes to feel good. I can’t tell why so many people are here, though. It doesn’t seem to be a Lesson,” she whispered. “Maybe we should come back when there are less people around?”

Are smiled and coughed slightly, to give herself time to examine the people. She followed this with a roll of her eyes and a short, barking laugh. “Don’t say something like that in public,” she whispered loudly. “Someone might hear you.” She playfully shoved Lav and walked up to a piece of art on a wall. 

Lav scoffed, “Right.” But she was wary. Her friend was acting out of character, almost as though she knew something that made her skittish. Lav shook the thought away and followed Are to the piece, staring at the lines of the painting. She squinted and turned her head, trying to see the appeal, but coming up with nothing. It looked like something a child would toss together while still trying to understand their motor functions. “What is the point of something so disastrous?” she asked loudly. She wasn’t a big fan of abstract art. She wasn’t really much on any art, but abstract art was definitely her least favorite—possibly because it was Gregor’s favorite.

Are elbowed her buddy in the side. “Dangerous words, friend,” she warned under her breath. Dangerous words, indeed, for several heads had turned sharply, accusing the strange child of blasphemies far beyond her years. The last thing they needed or wanted was to cause a scene and gain attention. It would cause questions about them being there, and neither had a good explanation for their trip—not one that would be believed.

Lav pulled the band from her hair to let it fall around her face, but didn’t stop speaking. “Maybe, but I don’t see the point in cacophony. Whether it be in the form of drawn, written, or sounded art.” She chose not to make any direct eye contact with those around her, because she felt the artistics around her readying to intrude. Eye contact would be the opening they needed to school her on the art.

Are sighed, not sure why her friend was acting as she was. Looking around, she used Lav’s comments as an excuse to drag her further into the museum, past the abstract and concept art, to the more realistic, which was closer to where the rock would be placed. “Hush your complaints if you want to live. I’ve heard nasty stories about art fanatics,” she said, trying to keep them off of any guard’s watch list. 

Lav giggled, “Well you and I both know that I just cut our expected time in here by half,” she whispered into her friends ear before passing her, to stand next to a man she knew to be a COPS. Are smiled after her, as ever glad that she’d underestimated her friend’s cunning. Both girls tilted their heads at the sculpture the man was looking at. Lav tried to look at it from all angles, but for the life of her, she couldn’t understand what was holding his attention to it. In fact, the way he was looking at it told her that he was pointedly not looking somewhere else and she wanted to know where that somewhere was.

Seeing that her chatty friend was about to say something, Are grabbed Lav’s arm and swung her to look at a painting up on the wall. “You see that? That tiny little figure in the distance over behind that pathetic shack-like building? How much do you want to bet that it’s an authority figure?” she asked, her voice bland as she tried to determine if her other half realized that she had been about to converse with a COPS. That was a horrible idea, considering that any COPS worth his or her grain recognized members of the Adela family.

Lav smiled innocently, “And why would you think that?” The way she said it told Are that she had missed something, that her friend had noticed something she hadn’t.

Are raised an eyebrow. “Who else would be sneaking around the buildings like that with children playing in the foreground, eh?” 

“An assassin, a politician, a parent, a thief, a murderer, a kidnapper, or you. No one knows why you’d do it, but you would.” Lav turned away from Are when she was done talking, ignoring when Are gave her the driest look that she could, only to see the COPS had moved away to another part of the building. She squinted after him, but he kept moving. She started to head after him, but a metal conceptual piece caught both girls before they could keep moving further in, to the main exhibit room.

They walked to the strange metal sculpture, something that looked like it was reaching towards the sky, but falling into a very dark place. Tapping her implant, Are listened to the information on the piece. It was a recent contribution from a small-time artist that seemed to strike a resounding emotion in the Seer. It was made of twelve separate parts, each simultaneously lifting but falling, and all different. Listening, they were told that the structure was made of plastic, metal, gems, gold, wood, and clay, and then painted the silver of metal before being splashed with black paint. It kept their attention far longer than any other piece.

“Huh, how peculiar,” Are stated once the voice finished its explanation.

“It, it symbolizes our life, in a way,” Lav said softly, trying not to let anyone overhear her. That was definitely a statement that would stick in other’s minds, given this statue was clearly striving to leave what it knew, what was holding it down. No Rich child should have been saying anything like that.

A smile played on Are’s lips as she thought about what her friend said. She could find no fault in the statement and she kind of liked the comparison. “Definitely,” she mumbled. As she stared at the statue, she noticed a tiny discoloration in a shadow. She quickly pretended to sneeze, which came very naturally to her, relaying a message to Lav through it. “Hidd’n cam’ra,” she let out in her real-sounding sneeze. “Uh-oh, I think there may be a little dust in this place. Or maybe I’m allergic to peculiar,” she said and laughed lightly. 

Lav looked skeptically at the art for a moment, looking for the camera. Once she spotted it, she nodded. It was a standard fare, though much less ubiquitous than the ceiling domes. “I’d go with the second. Let’s look at something less clangy.”

Are’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t use that word,” she snapped and walked to another piece several feet away. 

Lav grinned. Whether on a job or not, she couldn’t help but take the time to tease her friend with street slang, particularly the rude ones, “What word? You mean,” she looked slyly at her friend, “Clangy?” she asked before shouldering Are, “What about drongs?”

Are quickly covered her ears and hummed to herself, trying to keep the words from reaching her sensitive eardrums. “Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew,” she said until Lav walked away. She shuddered and glared at her friend, though she was noting that there seemed to be an increase in people in the main exhibit section.

Bugger,” Lav muttered when the two stopped outside of the main exhibit hall to stare at the sign. The rock exhibit was three days early. “Wasn’t it supposed to be here Friday?”

Are nodded, scanning over the people around them. Seeing the trio she was searching for, she nudged Lav. “Go on in,” she said loudly before whispering “And find the cameras.” She giggled and twirled her hair on one finger, attempting to seem far emptier in the head than she was. “I wanna look around here first.” She didn’t have to say the implied ‘for exits and to change strategy.’ 

Lav paused for a moment before nodding and entering the enclosed space, allowing Are to walk towards a huge painting on her own. In front of said painting were three older people, the ones that Lav had pointed out to Are.

 “Wow,” she said, awestruck enough to almost run into one of them. “This is so huge and pretty,” she said quietly. “Can you see the stars?” she asked one of them, one who held himself very tall and contemptibly. The man nodded slightly and walked away, followed by those around him. In passing by her, he handed her a small computer chip, which she immediately palmed into her locket. Everything seemed to be happening too quickly ad she couldn’t help but wonder if they’d planned that.

Feeling a bit disoriented, she turned on her heel and started into the main exhibit hall to find her friend. She was side-tracked, however, by the sight of what looked like a side deal between a guard and a plainclothes COPS, who handed he guard a small, fluorescent vial. When both glanced up and around, Are quickly moved into the exhibit to hide. This entire situation was problematic, she decided, and it was time to pull out. She had what she came for. She could try for the stone some other day, when everything hadn’t been changed. Little did she know that the situation was becoming even more problematic as she tried to look as unobtrusive as possible.

Lav had gone through the exhibit, searching for the telltale signs of hidden cameras: spaces that seemed purposely left clear, strange shadows, off-colored walls, gleaming from flashes. Getting into the security system would be easy, she could tell. The locket she wore, a twin to Are’s in appearance, was already working into it and the light shock she got every time it made it past a firewall had stopped a few minutes previous. That either meant that it was stuck or it was in, and she would bet on the latter. The physical security was a bit more of a problem. The date change of the exhibit as well as the number of plainclothes COPS told her that they had somehow been tipped off that the stone was in danger of being redistributed.

Unable to take the suspense anymore, Lav leaned against a wall, where Are had left her, and opened the locket. To any watching, it would appear she was checking the entertainment feed, but the secret coding in her optical implants showed that the locket had been stopped by a firewall. It wasn’t a particularly difficult one, because she could see a way around it simply looking at the coding, but it was one her locket was incapable of executing on its own. A new shock from the locket made her frown as she watched the code change into a repeated string of words “You’ve been caught.”

Hastily closing her locket, she looked around for her friend. Not seeing her on her level, she turned her attention upwards. It was there that she spotted that same COPS from before looking down at her, then his attention shifted and she followed it to Are, who was staring at an old painting of indigenous people with the rock. He was watching them, and not with the eyes of someone making sure they didn’t break anything or annoy too many people, but seriously watching them. She twitched slightly, and as his eyes turned back in her direction, she immediately turned her head away, well aware that her hair flying would let him know that she had seen him. She shoved herself off of the wall and calmly walked over to Are, although her heart was pounding with fear and she wanted to run to her friend.

Are was frowning at the painting, oblivious to anything, as she was actually interested in the art. There was something strange in the painting, something familiar. Double blinking took a picture of the painting so that she could look at it later. She felt someone coming near her and feared it was one of the COPS from the deal, but she didn’t move.

Lav almost reached her side, but a hand enclosed around her wrist, and a palm covered her mouth. No sound of the scuffle was heard as she was lifted off of her feet and away from her friend quickly and silently while Are stood still for a minute, listening intently to what was happening around her. She heard normal noises, people talking quietly, rustling of clothes, the wheezing of an old man, the steps of classy shoes on the faux marble tiles heading in her direction. 

Lav’s heel kicked into the shin of the man holding her, causing him to give a muted groan, but she wasn’t able to hit hard enough to make him let go of her. Keeping her mouth covered and her arms to her sides, he managed to get them through a side door and took her down an abandoned hall that seemed to be used for maintenance. He reached another door and this time she kicked against the reinforced glass paneling to keep him from gaining authorization to use it, pushing him back against the wall. Caught unawares, he dropped her and Lav fell hard, landing against the door, which shone red for unauthorized entry.

“Bugger,” she muttered under her breath, turning to confront the man, only to see empty air where he had hit the wall. Somehow, he had managed to disappear without making a sound. And worse yet, he’d left her in this part of the museum. Making quick work of the panel with her locket, she managed to shut off the alarms as well as open the side door she’d been brought through. Hurrying back to where she’d last seen Are, she checked to see that the COPS was missing from up top, leading her to conclude it had been that man who had attempted to kidnap her.

Luckily, Lav’s entire encounter had taken less than three minutes, and Are had yet to move. “Someone is watching us,” she whispered into her friend’s ear, holding her right shoulder up as if her left arm were a sling.

Are laughed softly. “Fine, you’re right. I’m bored. Can we leave?” she asked, directing her nervousness into a small, twitching hand muscle. They needed to get out of there, and fast. 

“Fine. With. Me,” Lav bit out through clenched teeth, still trying to hold her shoulder blade in place, in hopes of not having to have a sling at best, or at worst, a cast.

 

Are clutched Lav’s and helped her move quickly out of the museum, making their escape with a perfectly amused face. Lav glanced back over her shoulder only once, to see the COPS watching them from the door. He grinned and waved after them, his eyes silver and a small rock in his hand. She turned her attention back to Are quickly, and pretended she hadn’t seen it. 

 

Next part of Chapter Two: Cell

Next part of Rich: Chapter Three

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Green woke with a start, his hand tightly clenched in his shirt and sweat soaking his forehead. The dream he’d had was so bizarre that he didn’t even want to try remembering it. Not hearing the comforting whir of Ari’s sanitation tiles made him aware that he wasn’t at home. He sat up in the bed and tried to remember where he was

Annalise was sitting on a chaise, waiting for Green to wake, “Feeling better?” she asked the boy, scrutinizing him closely. Although she had been around him a lot less in the last few years than their previous ones, she still knew to be wary when he awoke with a start and not to pry too much. So even though she wondered what had jerked him awake, she didn’t ask, knowing he would tell her if it was of importance.

 Green dropped his head into his hands, feeling very hazy. “I’m fine, it’s jus’ the usual post-split reactions,” he mumbled, feeling a bad headache coming on. He glanced up at Annalise, then did a double-take. “Are you alright?” he asked with a shocked tone. “You don’t quite seem... your usual self,” he said, referring to her position.

She had her arms around her knees and was hugging them to her body closely, almost as if she were afraid. She clearly didn’t realize that was what her position conveyed, or she would have immediately changed positions to one that conveyed a great sense of self and power. No one, not even Green, was allowed to know how much she really was scared of since their Dreams had taken a dark turn.

Annalise tilted her head, “What do you mean?” she asked him, before catching a glimpse of herself in a nearby mirror. Not breaking eye contact with the man, she immediately changed her position to cross-legged, sitting straight up, in a position that showed the world that she needed no help from others. 

Silently daring Green to comment, she pretended that moment of vulnerability never happened as she tilted her head back to stare at the ceiling, “So, should we be getting along, or is there anything we need to converse about?’ 

“ ‘Getting along’ sounds great, actually,” Green replied, crawling off of the bed and stretching. He acted as if he hadn’t seen any vulnerability at all, knowing bad things could happen if he did.  

Annalise nodded, leaping to her feet and stretching her back in an arch. “See you ‘round then,” she said, as if she didn’t live with him, before walking towards the door to leave.

Green reached out in half an attempt to stop her. “W-wait up there a moment, Annalise, we need to discuss a couple of details about the party, right? We can’t go putting that off for too long.” 

Annalise jerked away when his hand was too close to her. He knew better than to touch her unless he wanted them to have a quick sync. Considering she had only just lost her own headache, she didn’t want to share his or any of his thoughts on the party until she absolutely had to. That was his job.

“Fine. Start talking,” she said, sitting back down on the chaise with a sigh. “I have somewhere to be.”

Green hesitated, wondering if she really had another engagement or if she was still avoiding him because of their fight over the Dreams. “W-well, we have to agree on several food choices, pick some sort of theme to put the minds of the construction workers to rest and, um, other stuff,” he said and rubbed the back of his head. 

Annalise laughed, “Wow, and stuff,” she said in a mocking tone. She shook her head and glanced towards the only window, outwardly a one-way mirror. She watched the few stragglers walking around, aimlessly. She frowned, wondering for a moment how long they had been sleeping. She shook the thought from her mind and turned her attention back to the man who stood with her. Seeing how flustered he looked, and feeling bad about it, she tried to be a bit more accommodating. “Um...I dunno...just regular food, ya know? Maybe things that people would enjoy eating but don’t, I guess.” 

Green thought for a moment. “Squid? I heard it chews like rubber. Um, alligator meat, ostrich eggs, cow brains, stuff like that,” he asked with a totally straight face. 

Annalise stared at Green in horror, “Have you ever eaten those things before?” she asked, then shook her head, “Not that it matters, but if you haven’t, I’m convincing Ari to give you a big plate of just those things. But NO. I was thinking more along the lines of fresh fruit, salad,” she made a face as she said the next food item, “Chicken. Things like that from the Agro-building that they can’t afford too much of.” 

“I haven’t tried those things, no. I was trying to think of things that people would enjoy eating but don’t. However, finger sandwiches, salad, and chicken sound just lovely!” Green exclaimed, slapping his hands together. “Now, onto the theme. I guess, with your food choices, it should probably be a more Victorian era sort of theme, fancy, but not ridiculous. Any other suggestions, comments or input?”  

“You aren’t being serious, are you?” she asked, staring at the man in bemusement. He raised his eyebrows questioningly in response. “No. Not fancy, definitely not ridiculous. More of a normal casual thing. It’ll ease the people’s fear and tension and make it easier to persuade them.”

Green slumped and crossed his arms. “That isn’t a lot of fun. If we constantly stick with ‘normal’ and ‘casual’ things, the people might not give us the due respect that we, well, I deserve in the Party-Throwing Department. They’ll think we’re lame, unimaginative shlubs,” he whined, adding the perfect pout at the end.  

Annalise threw her head back in one of her very few true laughs, not of spite, but humor.  “And your point is?” she asked before she looked at him, “We want them comfortable. When we have a party with directors of whatever, then you can plan it whatever way you want. We want the constructors to see that we’re like them, although we aren’t. We have to gain their trust and feeding them cow brains, ostrich eggs, alligator meat and squid is not going to do that. Let’s keep that for the Rich people who enjoy the spectacle.”

Green groaned, though he knew what she said was the truth. “Fine, have it your way,” he mumbled and hit the side of his head. “I’ll hang out in a corner moping and whimpering as our image doesn’t improve.”

Annalise laughed again and almost reached out to hug Green, before getting herself back in check. The touch would only sync them and while they used to do that when they were kids, they weren’t anymore. It had been both of them who’d decided to cut back their syncing to only when they were fusing. They liked the modicum of privacy it gave them. She would be rude to touch him and sync now, right after they’d de-fused.

“Yes, okay. Laugh all you want, but scoot on out of here before we’re seen together. Who knows what kind of rumors might crop up if people see us,” he said, making a little shooing motion with his hands as he also headed towards the door. 

“Your point being?” She asked, looking at Green through her curtain of cyan hair. He gave her a look she knew too well. They both knew she was the one most worried about what others thought about them being seen together. Only her paranoia led to the conclusion that seeing the two of them together at the broadcast building would lead to people finding out that they were the Seer and an ultimate crumbling of society creating an anarchy movement. Nevermind that no one aside from Ari and the previous, dead, Seers knew that the Seer was created by a syncing of two people. Nevermind that no one would look twice at the Seer’s assistant’s children being there.

She sighed, knowing how little he worried about the possibility. Moving towards a different exit that only she ever used, she gave him a mock salute. “I guess seeya sometime,” she said, slipping through the exit and out of the room. 

 

Green grinned as Annalise departed. “Later,” he corrected even though she couldn’t hear him, and then walked right out of the main exit.

 
Next part of Chapter Two: Rich

Next part of Seer: Chapter Three
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I stayed too long in one place.

It wasn’t really my fault, because I was exhausted and too scared to stop at any water hole, since there might be more of those mermaid-things. I was really, really, really wanting to either wake up or get to some kind of action—preferably one where I wasn’t being attacked—so that I knew what was going on. Or, honestly, I would’ve just been happy with getting a bottle of water. Nonetheless, I had stopped under a pretty tree—after making sure none of my normal nightmare monkeys were there, which is a story for another time—and was sitting there, trying to catch my breath and hide when movement caught my eye.

Of course, it wasn’t a far away movement, which I should have caught given the light colors that didn’t blend in with the woods. Or maybe I should have heard something, but I didn’t. Instead, the first hint I had of someone else coming toward me was the white of a long-faced, long-legged creature that was, almost as soon as I noticed it, in my face. I scrambled to the side, so that my back wasn’t against the tree and stood up. The not-quite-a-horse moved up with me and, even standing at my full height, its head was higher than my own. By quite a lot.

It had the body of a horse, for the most part, with scales on its side that I could have ignored if it weren’t for the reptilian face mixed with a horsey snout. Or, you know, the teeth that were sharp and not horsey at all. In fact, the creature was a weird mixture of crocodile and horse with the height of an elephant (and I wasn’t exaggerating). After I got over the shock of the giant, trampling not-horse creature standing above me, I was able to focus on the human figure perched upon its back. So, to avoid looking anymore into the creature’s far too intelligent eyes, I looked to him.

The man was sitting calmly on the back of the sharp-toothed creature, watching me with a bemused air. As if having waited for me to acknowledge him, he tilted his head to one side and gave me an amused smile. “Hello there, little one. Are you lost?”

I kept staring. The man was beautiful. He had long, silver-white hair that fell past his hips, tumbling over the sides of his steed, which was a gentle contrast to his pale, snowy complexion. He was dressed impeccably with a light blue tunic grandiosely embellished with some silver thread and a long, pale violet coat over it. His silver trousers were fitted tightly to his form and embellished with purple and blue similar to his tunic and coat.

He also happened to have very pointy ears sticking out from his hair and practically glowing golden eyes. “Little one?” he questioned again, making me stare at him even more. If I was a ‘little one,’ how big were the normal people in this weird dream world with flower goblin things, homicidal mermaid things and a possible elf?

“Are you lost?” he asked again. “You are very far from home.”

“Yes,” I finally convinced myself to say. “I am super lost. Can you tell me where I am?”

He raised a single eyebrow when I said ‘super lost,’ making me wonder what I had said to cause his interest. “Tell me, little one, where are you from?”

“Um,” I paused, frowning when I noticed a few things I had missed about him. There was a crown on his head, a golden crown absolutely covered in glittering diamonds that kept catching the light and shining different colors on his hair. There was a sword casually placed in its sheath at his hip, very openly visible, and a few smaller blades on the same belt. There was something red on the muzzle of the horse-thing that definitely wasn’t part of its natural coloring.

Holy shit. I was talking to an Elf King who had just killed someone.

I clammed up.

“I’ve never seen you before, little one, so I am curious how you could have escaped my attention, looking so much like my queen.”

It was like he was wanting some kind of recognition from me. I clearly couldn’t give it to him, considering I had no idea what I was supposed to say. This was usually the point in the dream where I suddenly had all kinds of knowledge about who he was and what I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t. I was still drawing a blank.

“Are you of Still wind’s court?”

“I don’t know what a Still wind is,” I admitted when he looked less than amused by my silence. He had a sword and a none-too-nice-looking-sharp-toothed-horse-thing. It was probably in my best interest to answer him.

He eyed me for a moment, as if unsure whether I was joking or telling the truth, before narrowing his eyes slightly and tilting his head. “Sil-wen,” he enunciated. “Are you soft minded?”

It didn’t take more than a moment for me to understand that he’d just asked me if I was stupid. I responded with righteous fury, “No, I’m not ‘soft minded’! I just don’t know what that is, you jerk!”

His beast seemed to take umbrage with my tone because it snorted threateningly, stomping the ground as if ready to trample me. I swallowed and took a step back, glancing behind me. I could run, but what was the point? I was lost and on foot. He’d catch up to me immediately.

The elf king swung down from his creature and approached me. With every step, I realized just how tall he really was. At nearly six feet, I was used to being eye level or higher to most people. I wasn’t to him. While he had seemed tall on the creature, I had put that to him being on a horse, but when he stood directly in front of me, I was looking up to his face, my eyes only being level with his chest, and not even the top of his chest. I’d never had a dream where I was short before. I didn’t like it.

His expression was still amused, but there was something strange reflected in his eyes when he spoke this time. “Tell me, little one, what is your name?”

I wish he would stop calling me that. “Fae,” I answered quickly, finding that my back was against a tree again. “Fae Kissinger.”

He raised an eyebrow. “What sort of name is that?” he demanded, making me flinch. Immediately, he smiled, as if to comfort me. It didn’t. “And whose are you?”

“What does that mean?” I asked. Even though I had a vague feeling that this man wasn’t the type of person to ask questions of, I’d asked mermaids who wanted to drown me. He was no more dangerous than them. I didn’t think. “I’m my own.”

He raised both eyebrows. “Soft minded indeed,” he stated before reaching forward and grasping my hand even though I tried to push him away. He didn’t so much as budge. His eyes shifted from gleaming gold to shifting, molten lava and when he looked to my face, for the briefest of moments, he seemed to falter. He blinked once, twice, thrice, before squinting his eyes slightly and seemed to follow something from my face, away.

And then he dropped my hand. “Unbelievable.” He turned his back on me and paced a few steps. While he did that, I attempted to move away. I got away from the tree and was walking backwards, away, keeping my eyes on him.

When he laughed aloud, I ran. I ran as fast as I could, paying no particular attention to where I was going until I almost ran over the edge of an overhang and into a deep looking, greenish pool of water. Barely stopping in time, I found that I didn’t stop moving, because instead of forward, I was rising in the air and then dropped onto the back of that creature, in front of the elf king.

“Let’s go have a talk with Phaewen, shall we?” he suggested.

I didn’t respond. I supposed that the action of the dream was starting.




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 Amadhay yelped in pain as she landed her and Christein in her bed, in her home. She heard him gasp, but the searing pain in her back preoccupied her for the moment. She tried to remove the arrow from her back, but only succeeded in breaking the shaft.

“Fuzz!” she cursed, her breathing harsh as she stripped off her jacket. She looked down at Christein in time to see his head fall and eyes roll back in silence. He went limp and her eyes widened, entirely forgetting about the arrow still partially in her back. Her pain didn’t matter anymore.

She straddled him, ripping his shirt open. The buttons on his black button down shirt flew across the room as she ripped it wider. She tugged his belt off and unbuttoned the top button of his pants to reveal the full wound. Finally, her scrambling got her through to feel the bare skin of her cousin’s chest. She muttered incantation words quickly before placing her hands right above his gaping wound, coating her hands in his blood. For a moment she faltered, Indigo’s image flashing before her eyes.

She took a deep, unnecessary breath before continuing. She had failed Indigo, but she wasn’t going to fail Christein. She would never fail again. No one she loved would die in her arms. Never again.

When the words were done and a sheet of red, black, and purple energy hung off of her, she placed her lips to the base of his neck. The purple of her magic mingled with the brown of his, swirling between the two of them while the black of the ancient spell and red of healing magic coated their skin. She couldn’t see anything but Christein. It was only the two of them, just her skin to his, his wounds to her body.

Through that position, she transferred healing energy between their bodies so that it would work on them both. She felt the pain of his wound and knew that, had he been awake, he would be feeling the wound on her back. The pain throbbed harder and harder even as it was healing. She passed out atop him.


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 In which amadhay is rude

 

 

Atlas was suddenly very aware of Amadhay’s presence in the room.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been napping or even how long the girl had been there, watching him, but he knew she was getting antsy when he heard her circle the table. Instead of acknowledging her, he kept his head balanced on the edge of the table, Mayday tucked firmly on his lap despite the kittens complaining yowls, and his muscles as relaxed as he could.

He would swear that he heard her mutter, “Well I have to save him,” right before she shoved him back in his seat, startling him even though he had expected something drastic from her. When he focused on her, he noted that Mayday was in her hands. For a moment he wondered if she meant to torture the kitten to get information from him, but seeing the way she cradled the kitten, he let that go from his mind. The kitten was even purring at her for having saved him from the prison that had been Atlas’ lap.

Amadhay seated herself on the edge of the table before wiggling back. Atlas easily saw through her ploy this time, recognizing that her wiggling was attractive but not nearly as distracting as she might think. He had seen a woman’s chest bounce from movement before. 

“Hello there. It seems I need more information, lover,” she said, finally settling where she was on the table and sitting cross-legged. She set Mayday on her lap and petted the kitten, visibly making an effort not to make eye contact with Atlas.

He gave her a blank, critical look, before he snapped, “I said I’m not talking to you.”

She pouted, giving a soft sigh before letting Mayday crawl around the table. Once the kitten was again in front of him, she slowly looked up at him from under her lashes, giving him a look that made his blood boil. “Please don’t be this way,” she crooned.

“Look, you fairy, I said no!” he snarled irritably. He caught a flash of sky blue in Amadhay’s eyes and immediately regretted his loss of control. She was good at doing that to him. He took a deep breath, before slowly saying, “I’m sorry. That wasn’t needed.” He caught the quick smirk that Amadhay tried to hide and almost scowled, recognizing that he had actually allowed her enough leeway to get under his skin yet again, and worse, that she knew it. “Now look, I’ll only give out information if I get something in return.”

Amadhay looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding slowly, “What do you want?” she asked curiously.

“Bring me Darach Devalier from your Information Department.”

Amadhay paused for a moment, though Atlas wasn’t able to tell what had given her pause before she nodded. “I can do that.”

“Good,” was all he muttered before she left the room.


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