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Be Ware

 
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Lirssa Sarengrave
Ancient Wyrm
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Joined: 29 Jul 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:21 am    Post subject: Be Ware Reply with quote

Nicholas ran. His lungs burned and his eyes stung. There wasn't enough breath in his lungs, and still he ran. His father's words rang strong in his ears. The German words full of outrage and disappointment muffled the clatter of passing horses and carriages. No cries of alarmed passersby penetrated the thick blanket of shame and fear suffocating him. And he ran.

The world changed from simple to grand to mottled and run down. Streets of West End twisted away from him, and he looked for the Eye. He prayed unlike he had ever prayed since arriving in the bizarre world of Rhydin. He prayed he could find them, and get there in time.

It was after dinner. Normally Ali would go and hide in his study for a few hours--poring over some just-discovered old tome, taking notes on a new course of study, writing notes and letters for work. It had become, after his physical recovery, his time to go and bask in his aloneness. However, tonight was different. A restless urge drew him down to the third floor, where he gazed at the ropes for a long time before shaking out a mat and going to work. The forms were familiar; he drew comfort from the strain and welcome each pose asked of and gave to his body.

Veins stood out in his arms and neck, and his upper body was flushed with effort as he settled himself into the Vrschikasana, the Scorpion Pose. Nevertheless, his breathing was even and deep, and he was not yet sweating. He closed his eyes as his toes touched the top of his own head.

The eye beckoned to Nicholas. It taunted and scolded him, too. The great dark eye that seared into his soul and condemned him. He stumbled to a halt, gasping in cool air and nearly vomiting on the street. He could turn back. He could pretend he didn't know what he had done.

Idiot. He couldn't. His family had their own eyes on him, digging into his conscience and spurring him forward. Finally he came to the door, and he punched at the buzzer. He banged his hand against the door and punched the buzzer again.

Beside the mat, the intercom buzzed. Ali opened one eye and peered at it. It buzzed again. He sighed at that, and slowly unwound himself until he was forearms and shins flat on the floor, before reaching for it and thumbing it on. "Yes?" It was after hours in the WestEnd, and someone was interrupting his meditation. He was entitled to a moment's rudeness.

Nicholas gagged a moment, his words a jumble blocking his throat. "Sir." He managed and then sucked in more air. "Sir,---" what should he say? He finally just managed, "It's Nicholas. Is Lirssa here?” Maybe-- maybe she had gotten away and home?

He settled back onto his heels, his back achingly straight, and frowned at the intercom. "No. She left...about an hour ago. To meet you, was my understanding. Is something wrong?"

"Yes," he groaned, "please let me in. Or come down, or...we have to stop them."

The words rolled over Ali in a wave of fine hairs rippling to attention. "Stop...who." Each syllable was precise, razor-cut with Oxford and Cairo, and cold as the grave. Snatching up the intercom, Ali rocked back onto his heels and rose, limping toward the hall door.

Having no notion of a portable intercom, Nicholas imagined a doubtful man standing at a wall. He growled. "Please, sir. I'll--" he choked again, words coming out hoarse, "--I'll explain. Just let me in. I don't know where The Society will go now they have her."

The next step Ali took was into death. His will forced the way, and his fingers tore a hole in the Veil. Adrenaline cranked up his blood pressure, sending his skin stinging and his blood roaring in his ears. The next step was only partially into life, one bare foot out into the alley beside the Eye, behind a boy standing in front of Ali's own front door. He knotted his free hand into the boy's collar, and yanked him backward without a moment's warning into a long cold black tunnel that seemed to stretch for eternity.

In reality, it only led out into the library on the fourth floor. Ali dropped Nicholas, not caring whether he landed on his feet or his knees, and snarled at him, "Stay there." Then he turned and headed for the bedroom at a dead run, shouting Fionna's name.

What air Nicholas had was obliterated when he was pulled through, and only in his mind was he able to keep the prayer going. Und ob ich schon wanderte im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Unglück And when he found the world again, or it found him, he landed roughly, head cast against the wall, crumpled on a floor. And no, he dare not move.

((Adapted from live play with Ali al Amat with thanks))
_________________
Cirque du Soliel contortionist -- skills similar to Lirssa's

"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven


Last edited by Lirssa Sarengrave on Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Lirssa Sarengrave
Ancient Wyrm
Ancient Wyrm


Joined: 29 Jul 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her mind took what her eyes were seeing in the briefest of images. Lirssa knew she walked. There was never a glimpse in that series of memories that she had been carried or even ridden somewhere. She walked. There were people with her and an arm on her side. She must have leaned against someone. The skin of her face remembers the feeling of wool tenderly scratching.

When the series began to flow more, the world around her more than a broken flicker show, she was in a room sitting in a prim chair with worn velveteen cushions. It was not a room she knew from its shape or the exact things inside, but she knew the feeling of it. The same sort of sugar coated cage that she had been kept in while staying at the Society’s Brownstone. That building had been damaged, perhaps repaired by someone else. This was a different place, but the same thing.

“Not again,” Lirssa groaned and flung her head back against the chair, smacking it against the carved wood frame. A sharper pain lanced across her scalp. Reaching back to feel, she remembered a sharp tug of her hair on the journey here. What her fingers found though was a tiny button of metal. It felt rough across its small surface as if someone had pressed a coin into her head. “You tagged me?” She screamed at the door as if it were responsible.

The door did not open. “I’m beginning to hate this time of year. Two years in a row. Yeegads, what a mess.” Lirssa stood up and started to look for a way out. The tag was something she would deal with later.

She went to the window, twisting at the latch, but it would not open. With one more tug, she accepted it was sealed and the door was the only other option. She was not so small as to get through the air ducts any more.

To her surprise the door swung open, crashing against the wall with the force of her yank. She had thought at least there would be some sort of struggle. But the only barrier at the door was the person of Maudry sitting in a chair just outside. “Get back in there.”

“Or just what?”

Maudry stood, towering over her, and tugged at her hair. “You’ve shown you can survive painful things, child, without breaking. So the question is, do you want to feel that pain or just go back in your room?”

Pain was something Lirssa had no desire to encourage for herself. She took one step back into the room, toes just at the line and crossed her arms. The sound of footsteps on the stairs drew her gaze just down the hallway where the curve of the stairs met the landing.

The familiar face of Fitzhugh, with an array of tiny scars along his cheek, approached. He smiled at her. “Lirssa, so glad you could join us. You have become something of a difficult artifact to gain.”

It goaded her, made her sick, that she had been trapped—duped. Nicholas. The sickness intensified, and she felt the burn of tears at the corners of her eyes. She would not cry here, not in front of them. Setting her jaw, she turned up her chin in defiance.

Fitzhugh simpered into a sigh. “You look well for what you have survived this past year. Yes, we have kept track of you this time, as you know, we had to get someone very close to get past your new found family. Family. It is amazing what one is inclined to do to help protect and provide for a family. Nicholas was quite willing to assist us to regain you.” Fitzhugh’s smile held none of the goading, sneering triumph of Maudry. The facts, like reading off the ledger of time, rolled smoothly out of his mouth.

“Besides, you belong here. Here, you can do the world good by helping us in our mission. There, you only bring them problems, difficulties. You wouldn’t want them to have to suffer more, would you? Your family?”

“Threaten my family?” Lirssa felt the surge of worry and doubt, the prodding to comply. Her fingers crept up to neck and the envelope locket there. She couldn’t let them be hurt. They’d been through so much, and this would threaten even Raza.

And there she stopped, the fear taking a turn into a tremulous giddy panic, and she smiled. Threaten Raza, would they? They would see the world fall into a new kind of hell if they tried that. Lirssa imagined even the cousins would take exception to that. Her delight sent a shiver through her body. “You don’t want to do that, you know.”

Fitzhugh sneered. “We will do what we must. Maudry, go fetch Warren. We may need to encourage Lirssa to see things our way.”

As Maudry chuckled his way down the stairs, Fitzhugh turned back to Lirssa, standing so he closed the gap to the door. Getting past him would get her nowhere. She had to buy time. “I suggest you comply with our wishes. Is it so bad to help others reaching their goals? And you, of course, would be compensated allowing you to help those in need as you have before. The Society only wishes to gather the most comprehensive magical archive in the multiverse.”

“You don’t want to gather it—you want to control it. You want to control and use me. I won’t be controlled. You see,” she laughed. Nervousness had nothing to do with it, and she laughed again fighting the desire to just crow. “You see, I am a very lucky girl.” She had been all her life, but now more so. “I have a family.” The power of that word, not the heartbreak of it, held the weight of a tolling bell.

“A family that will suffer greatly if you do not simply aid us in our quest.” Fitzhugh sighed and shook his head. He looked at her as if she were a wild colt and might have to be subdued with crueler measures. There were steps on the stairs once again, but lighter and the first gleam of a blond head rose with those steps. Fitzhugh did not look away, but kept his eyes and his warning on Lirssa.

Lirssa opened her mouth to dare him. She almost dared him to try it. In her mind she saw the full fury of the cousins and her father brought down on The Society if they tried to harm one hair of Raza’s head or her mother’s who had brought Raza into the world.

But no, no she would not go that far to actually goad them. Her family had been through too much. She just needed to delay. She believed in them, and they would know to find her when she did not get home in time. Wouldn’t they? A lump rose in her throat that she swallowed down. Of course they would. Even Miss Eless had said once no matter how horrible Lirssa behaved, she would love her. Surely Lirssa could take her punishment for being caught again, oh how that made her sick, but they would come for her. She just needed time.

What time was it? She looked to her wrist but her watch was not there. The talking device was also gone. So was her key. There was no way to know how much time she needed. “I would like my things back now.”

Fitzhugh’s contempt grew. “No, you now belong in The Society. Lirssa, this is Warren. Our newest member who contrived that little dampening field in the park. All we had to do was get you there without your dogs, get you to go to someone you trusted.”

Trust. No, her family was not like Nicholas. Buy them time. “I am not going to help you trap others. You have a choice to let me go. You don’t have to do this.”

Disappointed, Fitzhugh scratched at the scars on his cheek and sighed. “O’Malley’s memory won’t be honored by letting his greatest finding, or his murderer go.”

Murderer. Lirssa had never been called a murderer before. But she was one, and she felt her breath catch and her shame grow. She had killed someone, even if she had not meant to. Now she knew for certain that memory of Fitzhugh holding O’Malley was the last seen of that man.

“No,” Fitzhugh continued as he stepped away to make room for Warren, “you will repay us his loss by doing your part. Warren, encourage her, please.”

Warren’s skin was sallow, his cheeks sunken. It was as if they had found a man chained to a wall, clothed him in finery, brushed his hair, and then set him loose to seek his revenge. He was a wolf on a strained leash, and Lirssa pitied him. “How much encouragement?” The wan man asked.

Lirssa had pitied him, but at that moment, she started to focus on her walls, remembering everything Miss Kyrie and her father had taught her, every test and every trick.

“Even masterpieces with damage are still masterpieces. Don’t break her.” Fitzhugh walked away with a smile on his lips and a light confidence in his step.

Warren’s dark eyes turned to Lirssa before he turned his entire body to face her. “Well, little soul, let’s see if what they say about you is true.”

The assault was not subtle, beautiful, or in any way like what she had encountered before. Her hands went up instinctively, as if she could make a better wall inside if she mimed one in front of her. The walls of her mind, keeping her in Place, trembled. An earthquake of her spirit shook the room of safety she had created, tossing her mind about, but still she stood. She just had to buy time.
_________________
Cirque du Soliel contortionist -- skills similar to Lirssa's

"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven
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Ali al Amat
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ali plunged out of the Nothing and into his living room, Nicholas’ shirt knotted in his fist. Elsewhere in the house, he heard Dante’s piteous whining, heard Fionna’s saying crossly to the faerie hound, “I’ll let you out in a minute. Hang on!” He dropped the boy, thrusting Nicholas toward the floor as if he had no more strength or agency than a rag doll. Dante’s claws scrabbled on hardwood; the dog met him in the hallway as Ali ran toward the rear of the house, shouting Fionna’s name.

She was in the nursery, attending to their son. He caught a flash of her red-brown hair as her head jerked up, a swirl of pale skin as she turned, Raza’s scent as the baby drew breath. “In here,” she said. “What is it?”

He skidded to a stop in the bedroom across the hall. "The boy," he panted as if he’d run miles, and yanked his shirt over his head and off. "Nicholas. He says someone's taken Lirssa." Not again. Not again. His nature was a vortex, a whirlwind drawing him inexorably into its dark heart as mingled Rage and bloodlust rose in his throat to choke him. Never again.

His control slipped, and his perception of the warm afternoon light in the bedroom changed with the Change in his eyes as his pupils elongated into slits. They fixed on the bedroom door for an instant before he left his pants behind on the way to the closet. Kill them. "Find out what he knows." The last word ended on a rippling growl that echoed through the empty spaces between them, as he fought with the need to rend, tear, shred. Hair that had been cropped close now tumbled down his back.

Fionna slapped the rail on the baby’s crib into place and laid him in it, turning to dash down the hall toward the living room. “Nicholas!” she cried as she ran. "Nicholas, tell me—tell me everything!"

"They took her," he heard the boy respond, and, "I took her to them. The Society." The rest was lost as he tore through the closet looking for clothing, weapons, some purpose that was not kill them all.

Ali tugged on the combat fatigue pants he'd been looking for, jammed his feet into socks, into boots. He had to wrestle with the belt, with the laces; his fingers wouldn't obey, the claws that had burst from his fingers hampering him. He pulled the shirt over his head, shoved it into the waistband. He shrugged into the double shoulder holsters and fought with the buckles. Three knives. Four clips of spare ammunition. One thing at a time. He labored to breathe, to clear his head. His earlier meditation seemed a lifetime ago.

Dressed, he stalked out into the hall, into the nursery. Pulling a radio from his belt, he flipped a switch and snarled into it. "Treemma. We need you upstairs, now." Raza heard that note in his voice—the dissonance, the fury—and began to wail.

One thing at a time. A bag. A bottle, full of the milk Fionna had been warming. Deep breaths. He finished tying off the baby's diaper. Extra diapers in the bag. A change of clothing. His head swam. Towels and the drops she'd been using to clean him with. He wrapped Raza in a blanket and scooped the baby up. He, the boy, and the bag headed for the living room. Raza's furious choking sobs went with them.

"There are three or four of them. One is called Maudry. He took her to meet them at the park near his home—Little Bavaria," Fionna told Ali tersely above the sounds of her son's wails. "He doesn't know anything else, and he wasn't lying." She’d just begun to reach for Raza when the lift dinged and spilled Treemma into their home, the drow bristling with drawn weapons.

Ali crossed the room toward the drow, gold-green cat’s eyes fixing on him. "Someone has taken Lirssa. Take Raza to the safehouse," he told Treemma, and held the bag out to him. "Assume you're under watch and being threatened. Warn her." Nissa. Nissa’s house. She would watch over Raza. If his family was responsible, he was going to kill every one of them himself. "Get your guns," he said to Fionna. Whiskers tangled in his Change-grown hair as he looked over his shoulder at her.

"What about him?" She nodded toward Nicholas, who had tried to scuttle backward at the sight of the drow and now stood trembling and whimpering, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"He goes with us."

Treemma took the bag from Ali and reached for Raza without a single argument, then sent a slice of a wicked grimace toward Nicholas. "I can dispose of him on the way, if you'd prefer."

"No." Nicholas had taken Lirssa to them. Ali needed to know where to begin the search. The boy's life would last at least that long. "Stay with Raza." One of the lessons he'd learned well during Michael's reign was never to send everyone off on a chase while leaving the weakest unprotected.

"I will protect him with my life," the drow growled before he and the still-sobbing Raza disappeared back into the lift.

Fionna returned a moment later. She had changed out of the long dress she'd been wearing into a pair of low-slung cargo pants, boots and a dark knit shirt like those he used for yoga. In addition to the holster and ammo case she had belted on, she was stuffing some of the throwing darts Treemma had gifted to Lirssa as a birthday present into her pockets. Her hair still swung in a thick rope of a braid at her back.

Ali double-checked the action on the pair of .45s, ensured that a round was chambered in each. Then he focused on Nicholas, the guns in his hands. "Why." Why did you do this to us? How could you know her and do this to her?

Wiping sweat from his brow with the back of that damp sleeve, Nicholas coughed as if he were fending off an urge to vomit. "My family. They helped my family. I didn't know her, just...a kid. One kid so my family could have what they needed." The boy’s eyes shifted sideways. Guilt and terror warred in his tone. "I...I wanted to stop, but they wouldn't let me." He sucked in a breath. "Please...I can take you to the park...that's all I know."

"Listen to me." Rage pounded gleefully in place of Ali’s beating heart. Short sentences, small words. It helped him focus. "We are going to your house. You will take us to this park and show us the place where you gave her to them." His fingers trembled minutely. He had to focus. If he lost control now, once he was done Changing he would kill the boy outright and they’d lose their best chance for finding Lirssa.

"Yessir," Nicholas gulped, took a few uncertain steps towards the lift.

Fionna reached for his shoulder and stopped him. "You're just one kid," she whispered like a nightmare into his ears. "Think about that, the next time you see your mother."

"Hold him," Ali told Fionna, and tore a hole through the Veil separating between now and forever. She clutched the boy to her breast: the most tender of vises, stronger than any slender, delicate woman had a right to be. Nicholas clenched his eyes shut, his lips still moving. Ali caught his wife's arm, and pulled them all into death.

There was time for an endless scream down that long dark tunnel, but only a second passed before they were stepping out onto the picturesque street in front of Nicholas’ home. In the small enclave of Little Bavaria the houses were well-kept half-timbered structures with empty flower boxes at each window, painted in the buttery yellow of lamps, candlelight, and lit fires past lawn curtains. Cobblestone streets wet from snowmelt reflected those lights.

Which way?" Fionna murmured into the boy's ear. She loosed her arm from around his chest, but kept a hand clamped on his shoulder.

"This way. It isn't far," the boy gasped, and nodded south toward the area where Little Bavaria melded with the rest of the city.

Ali spun out a moment's reconnaissance over the quiet evening street. Then he shot a sharp glance at Fionna. At once she urged the boy into a stumbling jog, visibly scenting the air around them as they ran. Ali fell in line behind them.

The park was a simple one: wedge shaped, with two high walls protecting from it the nearby houses and businesses, and a small frozen pond where people still were skating under the glow of lamps and moonlight. The gate at the front was iron. Nicholas stopped a few short feet from it. "There." He pointed into the park.

Ali reached the gate and pulled it open, his senses tingling with awareness in the chilly evening. Footprints marked the slush. The scents of strangers were loud as shouts in the cold air. Past the sound of the gate’s high, thin whine, he told Fionna, "Keep him here. Thirty seconds." Then he ducked back into the shadow of the wall and walked through death once more—now that he knew where to meet them, he could return to their house for one last thing.

Those seconds ticked off, one after the other. Then he was back, dragging a panicky dog after himself. Dante shook himself several times from snout to tail. Catching sight of Nicholas, he snapped and snarled at the boy. They’d never tested the faerie hound’s intelligence, but it wasn’t the first time the dog had shown an awareness of a situation greater than any mere dog should have had.

"Dante." Ali dropped to one knee, soothed the hound. It kept him focused, kept his thoughts from circling around the violence his blood demanded, distracted him from his fury. "Find Lirssa." He let the leash out to its full length and rose.

The dog turned to a nearby patch of grass and snuffled at it, trailed his way slowly out into the street. A whimper and a shake later, Dante tugged at the leash. He’d found familiar scents: cardamom coffee, paint thinner, chalk, baby powder. Ali looked back at Fionna and Nicholas, then wound the leash around his left hand to keep his right free and gave the dog his head.

Nicholas stepped back, apparently believing his job was done, but Fionna's grip tightened on his shoulder. "Please let me go. I can't..." The boy clearly had no idea what was in store for him.

"Coward," Fionna murmured, dragging him forward after Ali and the dog despite his protest. Compelled to go along, Nicholas lapsed into a sulking silence.

Ali followed Dante, his eyes constantly casting up and down the street, from pavement level to rooftop. Dante circled an area near a sewer drain; searched one direction and then the other before being sure of his path down a left hand street. He whimpered at a corner two blocks from the last, again checking each direction before angling further into the New Haven area. They eventually drew to a stop before a simple house with a small fenced front garden. Beyond its gate the steps rose by four to reach a black door with a brass handle. There were three stories’ worth of windows, with attic windows gabled above.

"Good dog," Ali breathed and fell silent for a moment while he thought. Beside him, Fionna held the still-sulky Nicholas and stared intently at the building. A simple home. A small front garden. Ali wanted to charge in, take her out and burn the place down. But there was no guarantee someone had not installed a Nexus gate within, or that someone in his family had not merely used it as a stepping stone to their compound. This wasn't that far from the Bubasti House. He didn’t know what they were walking into. And they couldn’t take Nicholas with them.

His eyes moved over the face of the house, as Dante whined and danced beside him. It gave away nothing of the happenings inside. No one looked out the windows, there were no visible signs of life save for a few dimly lit windows. "Guard him," he told Dante, and unclipped the leash. Dante took his duty perhaps too far. He pounced against Nicholas’s chest, knocking the boy down, and sat on him. In any other situation, Ali might have laughed at the dog’s eagerness. But not now.

"Five inside," Fionna said beside him, still staring with all of her concentration at the place. "Two are... something is happening. Very rapid." Heartbeats. She was counting heartbeats. His own seized for a breath. Her voice was tense with an edge that had not been there before. "There," she pointed toward the second floor row of windows. "Another there, nearby..." Her eyes ticked over the house. "One—no, two below ground."

"Can you tell whether any of them are hers?"

"It's hard to be that certain. But I think, maybe…" She pointed to the second floor. "It's so fast."

He decided. "I'm going up the side of the house,” he told Fionna. “If anyone comes out, don't hesitate. If he tries to leave," a glance at Nicholas, before he repeated himself, "don't hesitate. If I am more than—" he judged the size of the house, "—four minutes, come in through one of the ground floor windows. Knock him out before you come, tie him with the leash and leave Dante to guard him." The leash came back out of his pocket, was handed off to her.

He listened. No traffic sounds, no voices anywhere on the street. Everyone was shut in for the night, and the houses nearest this one were fully dark. There was a chance he might be seen…there was always a chance. Better to go up the side. Turning, he vaulted the fence. A moment later he was swarming free-handed up the side of the house, relying on his height and claws that sunk into wood and stone as if they were cloth to support him, as he headed for that second-floor window.

A glance back at the street showed no other people visible in the slice of it that he could see. It also showed him that Fionna wasn't waiting to tie Nicholas up, just as Dante hadn't waited to leap. Using positioning and expert knotting she immobilized him, making it look as though he’d gone for a walk with his dog, tired, and decided to rest against that fence for a little while.

Ali braced himself, claws hooked into the meat of the windowsill, and peered around the edge of it; but the room had shutters closed and heavy curtains drawn over the windows. Damnation. Working his way to the second window, he squinted in to see a hallway stretching away from him. The back of a man standing in a doorway was clearly visible through gauzy curtains.

Unhooking one hand, he supported his weight on his toes and the other hand as he tested the window to see whether it was locked. Locked it was, but the house was old; force and desperation wiggled it free with only some slight coaxing of pressure. He braced himself, his fingers shouting at him, and shoved it open. In the next instant he rolled inside.

(Adapted from live play with Fio Helston and Lirssa Sarengrave, with thanks.)
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Ali al Amat
Adult Wyrm
Adult Wyrm


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The first thing he heard was a man’s voice, echoing down a hallway or stairwell. “Warren? I do hope there is some progress in the matter.”

The second thing he heard, as Ali finished the roll and gained his feet, was the voice of the man whose back he’d seen from the window. “Damn! Guests!” Guests, as if Ali had been invited to tea, but the tone was that of a man spying a sewer rat. Not that he’d had any great hope for surprise to begin with, not when time was of the essence; still, losing even the chance of it was further infuriating to the Bubasti. Gathering up all his Rage, he lunged at the man, drawing one of the knives at his belt.

“Maudry!” the first man’s voice called from behind Ali; and he heard a door open, the sound of footsteps somewhere behind him. But that was further down the hall. There was a flicker of motion there in the flare of a woman’s dress.

Then the man—Warren—staggered backward into the room, his hands moving in ritualistic patterns. A sorcerer of some kind. Behind him was Lirssa, crouched down small and tight, teeth bared in a feral snarl that called up her street-rat roots. Warren’s legs hit the girl. He tripped and went down. Lirssa grunted and scooted away, toward Ali, and began to climb to her feet.

“Down!” he barked at her as he landed in a crouch. When she dropped, he leaped over her at the man, claws extended and murder in his heart. There was a crash of breaking glass downstairs. Fionna, probably. It hadn’t been four minutes, but he couldn’t blame her. He wouldn’t have waited, either—not that he was thinking about that now. The man’s throat crunched under his claws.

His daughter watched wide-eyed from her place on the floor as Warren choked on the blood pouring from the ruin of his throat. Those bright green eyes of hers shifted to the door behind him and narrowed as the first man called, “So, Lirssa.” There was a patter of footsteps in the hall.

Ali rose, twisting to face outward into the hallway. Five, Fionna had said. He'd heard three voices. He swiped the spray of Warren's blood out of his eyes. “Stay here,” he told the girl on the floor. She nodded, silent. Dragging the still-twitching corpse by an arm out into the hallway, he dropped it and slammed the door.

“Arabella, do something!” the first man shouted from the stair.

Turning, Ali confronted the woman, Arabella, in the hall. Behind her was the man on the stair, a redhead in Victorian garb who looked impatient rather than truly concerned, despite the corpse at Ali’s feet. Well. That would change. He started forward, toward the woman.

“Fitzhugh?” Arabella said uncertainly. And three things happened simultaneously, at that point: first, the woman’s fingers moved in the same way as Warren’s had; second, all the air in the hallway seemed to bleed out through the walls, leaving him with nothing to breathe; third, the man, Fitzhugh, drew a single-shot pistol and fired it at him.

The pistol’s ball shot licked hot against his arm as he opened a rent into the penumbral house on the other side of the Veil. He paused, gasping once for breath that wouldn’t come and in pain that was quite happy to see him, then passed through it and vanished.

In the ruin of the trim little house on the other side of the Veil, the cantrip popped like a soap bubble and air rushed in. He breathed its stale deadness gratefully, then looked up and down the leaning hall. He had to move quickly. Arabella had been positioned…here. He took two long strides and stepped back through the Veil, winking into place in the real behind her, reaching for her pretty white neck.

“Damned if I know!” Fitzhugh was yelling at her. “Go get the girl!” At the sight of Ali’s reappeared hands closing over Arabella’s throat, he changed his plans in a flicker of visible calculation. “Do you know what that girl is?” he asked, pretending that his hands weren’t visibly reloading the pistol. “She is dangerous, and a murderer. She will kill you as she has killed others,” he warned.

Arabella clawed at Ali’s face, struggling for freedom. He held her in place, squeezing and waiting past the sudden cold-water shock of her nails scoring his cheek. And then Fionna came up the stairs behind the man, and the bloody knife in her hand cut through jacket and waistcoat to open his belly in a deadly grin.

“Trade?” she asked Ali over Fitzhugh's shoulder, dropping the blade to try and wrest his pistol away. Shock collapsed the man onto the hallway landing, and the pistol was given up as he fell.

Tipping his head back, Ali said, “I need one of them alive.” In his hands, Arabella stopped struggling and fainted.

“It'll take him a while,” Fionna said. Blood spattered her face and clothes. “But if you don't want him, I can make it quicker. There’s still one downstairs.” Dark eyes flicked past him. “Inside,” she snapped, and Ali heard the door down at the other end of the hall re-close with a click.

“You'll want...me.” Fitzhugh winced. “I know things.” Yes, the man was bargaining for his life, even as he was holding his own intestines in place with trembling hands. He was also clearly throwing Arabella onto the proverbial chopping block. Ali had to admire the man’s gall.

“Not Anne, Maman,” Lirssa called through the closed door. “Don’t hurt her.”

Fitzhugh laughed and groaned, a twitchy rasp of air. “Anne can't tell you anything. You want me alive.”

Ali thrust the woman at Fionna and stalked over to the man with his belly opened on the floor. Drawing one of his own knives, he dropped to one knee beside Fitzhugh. “Talk.” Fionna caught Arabella, whose limp body twisted in hers almost like a dancer being, trading sides of the hallway with Ali. Fionna kissed her closed eyelids before sinking down in a crouch with the woman in her lap to feed.

“And what would you have me tell you? That she killed one of our members? That she's dangerous, and a weapon that cannot be controlled? That the Society has a place for those like her, we can help her, keep others and her s—” he choked and his lips were red after, “safe. Get me to a hospital.” The pain lanced through his body and he cried out in despair and agony. When he had regained enough breath, Fitzhugh hissed out in his effort to save his life, “The Society is meant to help bring artifacts of power into study and purpose. Surely you, a man who buys and sells artifacts, can understand that mission.”

It was chilling to know that they’d been studied. “Who did she kill?” Ali did not leap up to rush poor Master Fitzhugh to the hospital.

“O'Malley.” Past the pain, that calculation appeared in Fitzhugh’s eyes. He was bartering answers for time and the hope of survival, plainly.

Ali felt not the slightest urge to tell the man of his mistaken notion. “Were you there? What happened?” He slanted a look over at Fionna, watching her feed.

“Of course I was there.” His grin was a grim thing of blood upon teeth. “Gave me the scars.” The ones on Fitzhugh’s cheek, Ali supposed, the skin pocked with tiny pinpricks of white. “She had a ring. Ring meant to null magic, only she fed it. Fed it too much.”

“How long ago?”

“Nearly—year and a half ago. It does not matter how long ago, as we lost her for a time. Found her. She belongs with us,” the man gasped, then frowned. His smile afterward was a terrible thing. “Come, get me to a hospital. I will tell you the whole tale.”

Ali paused, tilted his head. The blade in his hand was matte, and no light spilled down it as he shifted his grip. “Have you other members? We should let them know where you are.”

“I will contact them when I am well. It would take—some doing to reach them. I will not trouble you.” His eyes closed and he fought to open them again. “Please…help me.”

Ah. Cunning at last. He nodded, and laid his hand in the puddle of blood beside the man. Glancing up at Fionna, he asked, “Do you want him?”

Fionna set Arabella’s corpse aside and rose in one long, fluid motion. “No.” There was a washroom across the hall. She took herself thence for a moment to sluice water over her face and hands.

Ali nodded, and down came the knife. Whatever last ditch effort Fitzhugh had prepared to save his Bast-rotted corpse was lost in the barricade of the blade across his windpipe. Fitzhugh stared solemnly at the ceiling as Ali rose and with his bloodied hands painted a single word on the wall above the bodies.

Fionna returned, still dabbing at her face with one of their towels. “Go get him,” he told her. Nicholas. “I'll meet you out front.” He wiped the blade on Fitzhugh's shirt, then frisked the corpse. From the jacket a pipe, a simple set of calling cards with Fitzhugh’s name and The Society on it. The key to the house, a key on a chain that he instantly knew was Lirssa’s.

“The woman in the basement?” Fionna asked him.

“A messenger.”

She stooped down to pick up the knife she'd dropped. “I'll leave her to you, then. You want me to take Lir with me, or do you want to talk to her, first?”

“Take her with you.” He'd thought about pulling her through the Veil, avoiding the sight of the corpses. But she was Rhydinian, and she'd seen him take lives before. Turning, he searched Arabella. Arabella had a small book, little more than the size of a dance card, with notations of various spell workings. A key to the house as well, and a locket about her neck that was empty.

“Lirssa,” she called, stepping over to the door to rap on it lightly. “Come, étoile. Let us leave.”

The door clicked open. “I gotta find my key first. I betcha they put it in the study. It won't take long.” Lirssa’s face, as she surveyed the bloody masterpiece of her parents' darker arts, was thoughtful—even a little guilty—but not pale.

“I have it,” Ali told her, and held it out with one hand even as he went on filling his own pockets with the bodies' effects.

She stepped over to accept it, whispered, “Thank you, Papa,” then put the chain over her head to rest around her neck again. As he strode down the hallway to frisk Warren, he heard behind him a second whisper, “Thank you, Maman,” and the gentle answering, “Tch. Come along.”

There was nothing on Warren worth keeping. Upstairs, he found Fitzhugh’s study. There were books within it, artifacts, items of ritual; the room at once engaged the seductive hunger for knowledge that he and all Bubasti possessed, and it was a plain effort of will to force his mind back to the task at hand. On the corner of the well-kept desk he found a leather folder full of lists: people, places, items to be searched for within the realm and claimed.

He found another man in the downstairs hall. The missing Maudry, he supposed. Quite dead, another of Fionna’s victims. As with Warren, there was nothing useful on the body save a matchbook. He pocketed it, glanced at the stairs down and up. Anne was down there somewhere in the basement, cowering. Lirssa had wanted her left unharmed. Well enough; she would be the one to carry his message. As he slid out of the house, a bead of bright red trailed a slow path downward from the letter R in the word RUN that he’d painted on the wall in Fitzhugh's blood.

Outside at the gate, Nicholas was climbing to his feet, his eyes closed, chancing a step backward as if he thought he was free to go, or as if he thought flight might be an option. Fionna was handing Lirssa the end to Dante’s leash, clipping the other end to the dog’s collar. Lirssa took it, obdurately ignoring the boy.

“We’re taking him back to the Eye,” he told them both. “Pressing charges is not an option.” Not until the house was cleaned. Anne might rush to the Watch, once she’d gathered up her courage to do so; it would avail her nothing. They’d find an empty building. “We need to shower and return him to his parents to discuss the issue with them. Do you want to go with us, or to stay with Raza?” That last question was asked of Lirssa.

Lirssa patted Dante's back and then opened her mouth as if to argue; after clamping it shut again, she answered, “I’ll stay with Raza, please.” When she looked around, her eyes made a jump past Nicholas.

With a sigh, Nicholas did argue. “My father has enough to say to me about this, sir. I know...I know I can't make things right, but please don't shame my father for my mistake.”

The bloody cheek of it practically stopped Ali’s heart with shock before all that pent-up Rage came roaring back. He’d sold their daughter, their daughter, and now the boy dared to attempt to dictate terms? Ali pivoted, swinging a backhanded blow at the boy's face. As Lirssa flinched and Nicholas blinked suddenly tear-filled eyes up at him, he said coldly, “You will be quiet until you are told to speak. And be glad that you are still alive.” As pale as a corpse except for that bright sting of the strike at the cheek he cradled, Nicholas had the good sense not to say another word.

Turning away against the urge to slap him again, Ali tested the radio. “Ilythiiri.” There were too many of them for him to drag them all through the Veil, and a cab was out of the question with the way they looked.

The radio crackled, and Treemma's voice answered. “Here.”

Little Bavaria he'd never been to before, in all his peregrinations through the city; but New Haven he knew well. Craning his head, he looked around, placed himself, and said, “We need transportation for four and the dog, six blocks south of the Carlton. We're a mess.”

“Five minutes.”

He split his attention between Lirssa and Nicholas, and the houses up and down the street. The girl stood with her back to the boy, her posture stiff, her arms knotted, unmoving. Such a display of stillness was remarkable. Beyond the pair, none of the houses displayed any signs that anyone noticed their strange little group, or had heard the shouts, gunfire or breaking glass. Perhaps it was the hour, and people were out or in their own dens of solitude; but there seemed to be no overt observation of the goings on, or the family, of which Nicholas looked closer to a relationship with the adults than the strawberry blond girl. Behind him, he felt Fionna’s watchful silence. The blood on his face, shirt and hands dried to stickiness as he waited, adrenaline fatigue warring with the crisp pain of the slowly healing wound in his arm.

Then Treemma came back on the radio with, “Black carriage, driver is Asaad. Four out.”

“Roger that,” he murmured and the radio crackled off.

Three minutes and thirty tense seconds later, the sound of carriage wheels and the clop of hooves came around the corner, followed by the coach itself. As it drew to a halt before them, the driver called down to Ali with a jerk of his chin. “Assalam-alaikum.

Adiniz?” Ali asked the man: your name?

“I am Asaad,” came the reply. He raised a hand to flash something metallic in his palm: the clasp from Treemma's piwafwi. Either the coach made astonishingly good time, or Treemma had used his services more than once.

“In.” The single word was curt. As Fionna ushered Lirssa in and settled them, Dante crowding close to the girl, Ali told the driver, “To the Eye, in the WestEnd.” Then he simply picked the boy up as if he were so much dead weight and carried him in, dropping him on the bench facing Fionna. Closing the door behind himself, he sat and rapped twice on the carriage roof.

The carriage lurched off and rattled its way west.

(From live play with Fio Helston and Lirssa Sarengrave, with thanks.)
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Ali al Amat
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Are you quite sure you want to stay?" Ali asked Lirssa thirty-five minutes later. He'd washed away the blood and broken glass, and changed into silk slacks. He knotted his tie into place, checked the straps on the holsters for the guns. He wasn't bothering with a jacket to hide the guns. He wanted them to be seen. Glimmering yellow-green eyes caught her reflection in the mirror of his and Fionna's bedroom, as he glanced her way. "I'm certain Nissa will be overjoyed to see you, étoile, but it was you who were trespassed against, and your voice would speak with greatest authority in this matter." He tightened the knot on the tie.

She looked…worn down. Fionna had spoken with her when they’d arrived home, and there were no striking physical marks. Her knees were a little bruised, but nothing really scarred the flesh. He could only imagine what she was feeling at that moment, though. He wanted, truly and sincerely, to simply murder the boy. "Yessir. I'm..." she rubbed at her chest and then closed her eyes as if summoning courage or inner reserves. His own heart ached when she opened them again and nodded at him. "Okay. If you think it best."

"I think it best that you be certain of your course of action, whatever that course may be," he replied carefully. He wanted to hug her. He wanted to go to her and wrap her up tight and never let her go. But he was as certain as he was currently abjuring her to be that if he did, he would lose the righteous and absolute fury still swimming in his veins and causing the fine tremors in his hands.

Lirssa let her fingers creep across the familiar walls, brushing skin against paint. "It would be easier to face it all now then wonder what was said or what happened. It would be better to know it as it is." She spoke with resolve and a more confident nod.

"Then come with us. What are the possibilities that Nicholas was telling the truth, that his parents were uninvolved? This, especially given his other lies?" Ali looked from one to the other, maintaining his control over himself. Difficult as it was, it was better than destroying the furniture and tearing the boy's head off for what he'd done. He could still feel Nicholas' cheekbone laid livid across the back of his hand. It felt inadequate.

Fionna wore the sort of dress she might don to go to dinner with the other family, meeting them for the first time. Her hair was smoothly plaited, and she was just putting the finishing swipe of lipstick on her lower lip. Tucking the lipstick and a gun into the little handbag dangling from her arm, she snapped it shut and nodded at Lirssa’s response. "If his mother is any kind of a woman, I cannot believe she would knowingly let him sell our daughter to those people. But I never would have suspected that he would do such a thing, either," she added grimly.

Lirssa flinched and rubbed harder at her chest. "He might be telling the truth on that. The Grants seemed to still worry about money at times. If they knew, I don't think they would have so much." She looked to both of them with their thoughts on that.

"That they wouldn't have worried so much?" he asked her.

"Yeah. I mean, they knew they'd be getting some money, right? Takes a lot of practice to keep up a show like that. Most adults don't have a good enough imagination to pretend anymore, not like kids. So, they wouldn't have worried about money so much."

Fionna rolled her lips one last time and plucked a tissue from the counter box to blot it. "There is only one way to be certain."

His focus skipped to Fionna. A black brow climbed his forehead. "And that is?"

"Talk to them."

He shrugged, a roll of his shoulders that shifted the guns in their holsters. "We shall see. When you both are ready," he said, and turning away from the mirror, passed out into the hallway, headed for the boy and his watchman.

Nicholas sat where they had set him those thirty-five minutes before, just at the entryway under the baleful eye of one greyhound and the more disturbing and almost more threatening eyes of a cat who was taking particular pleasure in flexing her paws to reveal the claws. At Ali's return, Siva stretched to stand and twitched her tail in her turn away from the large prey.

"Truly you are mighty in this house and in Bast's sight," Ali rumbled to the cat in Kheuar, "and long shall they sing your praises under the light of the waxing moon." His fingers smoothed over the fairy hound's long narrow head. He met Nicholas' gaze. "We are taking you home. Do not look at Lirssa. Do not speak to Lirssa. Do not speak at all unless you are spoken to. If I find that you are telling lies to your parents about your involvement in what happened to my daughter, or attempting to signal them, it will go very badly for both you and them. Do you understand me?" His voice was cold and crisp as a cemetery in October.

The boy ducked his head, accepting the instruction with a nod and a mumbled, "Ja—yes." He kept his eyes down as he climbed to his feet.

Ali looked over his own shoulder down the hallway, clamped a hand on Nicholas’ shoulder; then, trusting that they were following after, and unwilling to subject Lirssa to any more of the boy's presence than absolutely necessary, he led Nicholas to the stair and down to the carriage still waiting outside. He set the boy into the carriage just as Fionna’s heels click-clicked on the sidewalk outside it, and moments later they were on their way.

The carriage rattled off to the house in Little Bavaria, giving them a fine view of the less savory elements of the WestEnd before giving way to New Haven and the kinder, gentler vistas of the city north of the river. The sound of their arrival was met with a door jerked open at the Grants’ house, spilling its light out around two figures.

Ali read tension in their shoulders, worry in faces distorted by half shadows. As soon as the carriage drew to a stop, he threw the door open and called—quietly due to the late hour—"Herr Grants, Frau Grants." And he stepped down out of the carriage, helping Nicholas along the steps with a hand on his arm. Lirssa stepped down behind him. Fionna brought up the rear, navigating the steps carefully in her skirt and heels.

"Oh, Nicholas," breathed out Helena Grants, one hand going to her throat and the other reaching out to him with a washcloth untwisting from her fingers. "Wo bist du gewesen?" Her tone hovering between worry and chastising as she questioned her son where he had been.

Georg Grants, however, stood as a tired and beaten wood carving. When he spoke, his accent was thick. "Hallo, sir. You are Lirssa's father, ja?" When he sighted Fionna, he added, "And mother."

"Indeed. If we might go in with you? There are things we very urgently must discuss." Ali kept his hand on the boy's arm, rather than relinquishing him into their keeping. His free hand gestured toward the rectangle of light awaiting.

"Georg?" Helena looked to her husband. She was obviously confused at her husband's manner as well as those of the visitors.

"Go inside," Georg murmured to her, a pat to her wiry shoulder. When he turned back his thick, callused hand gestured them inside. "Ja, there is, as you say, much we must discuss. Come in, bitte." He stepped aside to let them in.

The small, low-ceilinged room held a narrow table, well-constructed; four chairs and a high chair clustered about it. Just beyond sat two tired wingback chairs around a fireplace and a nearby old iron stove. A narrow stairway in the back left of the room led to the three rooms upstairs. Handmade toys clustered in a corner, mostly carved wooden items. It was the home of a working man and his family. Their lives were visible in unfinished sewing in a basket, pots set aside to dry near a pump sink, brooms of yew and thatch resting by a closed pantry door. But for all that, the room was light, bright, and clean.

Ali eased Nicholas in past his parents, through the door and over to that narrow table. He pulled out one of the chairs at the table for him and waited. Nicholas took the seat and kept his eyes downcast. When Lirssa passed by Herr Grants, she glanced up at him only for an instant before shuffling inside to stand next to the nearest wall. In contrast, Fionna did not look aside from the man as she stepped into their house. Her gaze held so that she had to turn her head to maintain it after she passed him, came to rest beside Lirssa long the wall. She did not say a word.

The weight of Fionna's gaze slumped the man’s shoulders a little more. Georg closed the door to seal out the world before pulling out a seat for Helena and standing behind her. After looking closely at Nicholas his gaze lifted to Ali, and for all his apparent exhaustion and shame did not turn or cower from the green eyes. "I am sorry for what my son has done, but I am glad to see no harm has come to Lirssa."

Confirmation. Ali faced the man across the table, poised as he was behind Nicholas' seat. "Explain." That was all.

"And just what is it you wish me to explain?" Incredulous, Georg’s face grew red up from his throat. "I know little more, I think, than you. Nicholas comes to me, tells me the money he earns not all from running errands. Tells me he made mistake. Mistake." Georg scoffed through a scowl. "He does it for family, but never—never one trades life for money." The last aimed sharply at Nicholas, who dropped his head onto the table, his shoulders shaking. "But what you want me to explain?" The anger had stripped his language of its fluency, and he took a deep breath.

"When did he come to you? And did he tell you of the nature of his 'mistake'?" Ali’s hands were on the back of the chair, flexing and relaxing.

From Helena’s expression, it was clear she understood only parts of the conversation; her frown was perplexed and frightened. Georg drew breath and answered more slowly, clearly attempting to preserve some shred of his dignity. "This afternoon. He said he had bargained a trade for Lirssa for a sum of money. I did not learn more; it was more important that he get to you." His eyes went to Fionna. "It was important to stop before it went too far."

Her gaze dropped from Georg Grants to fall heavily upon the bowed head of his son, then back. She considered what she heard beyond his words, and glanced toward Ali with a small, tight nod. Not lying, that nod meant.

"And you did not call the Watch," Ali continued, "or choose any other method to inform us that our daughter had been taken—beyond sending your son, who had himself been the one to sell her."

Georg shook his head. "The Watch. No, I did not. These people, to buy a child? What would they do if they saw the Watch coming? I have no other way to tell you of it." He looked around his house as if searching for some other method Ali saw that he could not. "My boy runs fast. He knew his fault, he knew it when he spoke to me. It was his to make right."

"And what do you intend to do now?"

Georg rubbed his hands together like a man straining to keep back a flood inside. "Has Nicholas made things right with you? Then we go on. We live on, and he must live with what he has done, as we all have. But what would you have me do? He is my son."

As Nicholas lifted his head and looked at his parents for the first time, Lirssa looked up to Fionna, frowning in silent question before shifting closer. Fionna wrapped an arm around her shoulder, gave it a squeeze of reassurance. And her gaze finally strayed back to Frau Grants. Mother to mother, a hard look. "Did you know?"

Helena's breath was unsteady. "I did not know. I heard things, but did not know what Nicholas was doing. He brought money home. He said he got a raise. This world, people pay large amounts times for simple things, ja? As if they are made of coin. I did not think it was so...my son!" Her hands balled up into fists at her temples.

"You have daughters, yes?"

"Ja, three." The woman glanced upward as if looking at those daughters; then she focused on Lirssa, her face full of disillusionment, eyes reddening with unshed tears.

"Your son told me tonight that he told himself that Lirssa was 'just another kid.'" Fionna was none too gentle. "I hope no one ever looks at your daughters like that."

Nicholas cringed as he heard his words spoken out loud to his parents, but made no denials. His tears started again, and Helena's jaw clenched as she watched her son weep. "No, not my Nicholas. Not my boy. Just another child? Just another? No." But at each refusing shake of her head, it was clear she knew.

Ali had, all this time, been standing behind Nicholas' chair with his hands wrapped round the top rail. Georg said what he said, a flat denial of reparations of any sort. Helena and Fionna exchanged words. Lirssa looked at her mother. And the whole time, his fingers tightened on the wood, which creaked alarmingly. When Helena gave her weak denials and Nicholas began to cry, as if he had the bloody right, Lirssa's father went up in a blaze of absolute fury.

"You tell me something," he spat at both of them. "Your miserable arse-pimple of a brat gained our daughter's trust for the express purpose of selling her to people who fully intended to cut her apart until they found out what they wanted to know. And you took the money, and did not investigate, and when he came to you and told you at last what he'd done, you did nothing." He wanted to pick up the chair with Nicholas in it and throw it at them. "And you dare to tell us that he was somehow not responsible, and that there is nothing you could have done to prevent it or warn us, and that this—this sulky little f**k—should not be punished? That you should not be punished? Tell me why we should not press charges against the lot of you for slavery without a license, for kidnapping, for assault and battery, for complicity in the attempt to murder my daughter!" His voice rose up into a shout.

Georg's expression changed, a flash of fire, of temper. "I sent him to you when I found out. To you, who know better what this place is and how it works. What would you have done if the roles were reversed?" Helena's hand reached for his, relaxing the fist he’d made.

"I would have called the Watch, I would have called upon you myself instead of leaving it to the person responsible for his abduction, and I would have moved heaven and earth to get your child back!"

Georg scoffed and shook his head. "Of course, you pretentious prig of a man, you with your fine home and all your fine things. Your guns," he gestured to the holstered arms, "and skills to use them, no doubt. You'd have me do what? Take an awl to threaten such people? You want me to condemn my family to starvation? Would you do that to your family?"

Helena spoke up. "What do you want? Apologies are not enough, we have no money to give you, want our home, or children's lives? Our lives?"

"We want you to be sorry!" Fionna burst out. "We want you to take responsibility for what you all did! You would have left us to bury our daughter!"

As Georg watched him mistrustfully, splotches of red standing in the man’s cheeks, Helena nodded. "We are sorry. We are ill with—" she was obviously hunting for the translated word "—regrets for this." She looked to Lirssa. "We are sorry."

Somehow, Ali managed to master his temper long enough to respond. "Apologies tendered when you're frightened into them aren't enough. I do want your son's life. For the next year, he belongs to me." He picked the chair up a few inches, then dropped it. Bang! And shot a look at Fionna.

He got the reaction he wanted. At last, they were paying attention to him: the parents were wide-eyed, Helena's hand inching to her throat again, and Nicholas was stone still, not a whimper or a gasp.

"Papa?" Lirssa whispered, confused. She hadn’t been privy to his and Fionna’s conversation in the shower. Her eyes shifted to her mother.

Fionna gave a small grim nod, her lips thin and her expression hard as she looked between the Grants. Her fingers on Lirssa's shoulder tightened. "My husband has contacts with both the Watch, and with some of the hospitals and clinics in the city." Her eyes cut between them. "We know that you need his income, and we would not sentence your other children," a subtle stress there, "to empty bellies.

"So this is what Nicholas will do." Her tone brooked no argument. "Ali will arrange for him to work half of his week with the Watch, assisting them with clerical tasks or whatever other assistance they think he can reasonably provide, while they work on missing persons cases. There, he will see the grief of families who have lost their own. He will watch the officers when they tell mothers that their child has been found dead at the hands of another. He will listen to every shriek and wail in this city." And oh, her voice was tight, quavered with anger that she did not show. "The other three days will be spent working in the trauma unit at whatever hospital or clinic we can find that will take him to do it. And he will see every horror inflicted by men upon others, and he will think about what might have been done to Lirssa.

"He will be paid for his work. And he will learn to be useful. And perhaps, if you are very, very fortunate, he will learn at their hands what he did not learn at yours: how to be a decent human being. If his work is not satisfactory, then we will press charges against the three of you. If he makes it through the year without incident, perhaps he will have other options available to him with the Watch or the clinics, and will not have to deliver letters for the rest of his life."

Lirssa sat taut as a wire beneath Fionna's touch, one hand drifting to rub at her twitching thigh. Georg flushed red at the accusation, but he did not argue the point. The defeat had taken over him and he nodded. "He will do so." Nicholas looked around to listen intently with red eyes on Fionna, nodding once and sitting up straighter.

"See that he does," Ali said icily, and finally stepped back from Nicholas' chair. "Have him report to the nearest precinct house tomorrow, when his schooling is over for the day. If you have questions, I trust you will contact me directly. He is not to contact my house. He is not to come anywhere near my daughter ever again. Is that clear?"

"Ja, yes, that I can promise you. He will never have contact with your home, your family, or your daughter ever again." His eyes went to Nicholas, warning to his son in a low, crisp tone.

When Lirssa finally spoke, her fingers already reaching behind Fionna to the door, the words were soft and directed to the parents. "I can forgive...someday, but I can't ever forget. Not ever. I'm sorry." She turned for the door.

(Adapted from live play with Fio Helston and Lirssa Sarengrave, with thanks.)
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