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The Age of AVA

 
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Addie MacKenzie
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:36 pm    Post subject: The Age of AVA Reply with quote

Prologue: Praedivinus

The day that the sun turns dark, the sacrifice of the Chosen child shall bring forth the rise of the forgotten and with them, a new age of faith. It shall be then, when the dead walk once more, that the Order will herald the rise of the new god and a blessed dawn.
--The Prophet Elisheva
, The Book of Prophetic Dark, Elishevan 870


Imbolc (2nd Vapniyno)
Elishevan 989
The House of the Lady of the New Coming
Umbral Eden

“Our Dark Grace, blessed be thy Lady’s name, time is wearing thin. Please reveal to us your Chosen. Show us the sunderer of worlds, we implore you,” Dralak Wraegrim said just moments after stepping through the great stone doorway. The words cut through the dim chamber, drowning out the growing rattle of death that surrounded the shriveled prophetess. The speaker was a willowy man whose ill fitting robes wrapped him in a shade of purple so dark it could have been mistaken for black. Fresh from the House of Elisheva’s monastic styled library and another dead end in their search for answers, his brazen approach reeked of desperation. Their puzzle was one they had struggled to piece together over the decades but fast their time was running out. The very prophet who had given them the framework of their entire belief system was dying. Thankfully it was a slow, albeit painful, death, but it gave them as much time as possible to squeeze what they could from her.

“My Lord, now is not the time. She is much too weak for your interrogations,” spoke a feminine voice from beside the prophetess’s bed. At twenty-four, for an attendant, Koviah Malum Timeri was young, especially for one tasked with such an important charge. She was a light contrast to the otherwise dark room, clad in white robes to denote her station. Her blonde hair was plaited and drawn over her right shoulder, secured at the end with a plum ribbon that stood out like a bruise against the crisp perfection of her robes. In her lap set a heavy, leather bound tome full of yellowed pages and obscure script. How she could read any of it with so little light was beyond Dralak’s comprehension, or better his consideration. The girl was but a babysitter for the aged prophet, an overseer tasked with such mundane things as feeding and bathing the frail woman.

“There is a never an ideal time, Keeper. Rouse her.” The High Priest stepped closer and set his lantern on the bedside table, washing the immediate vicinity in a flickering orange glow that stretched out their shadows on the far wall into twisted distortions of the truth. In the pallid light, the withered woman in the bed resembled less a living soul and more a husk of a thing, tucked beneath a heavy comforter that swallowed her up and made her look even tinier. Once, so very long ago, the woman’s hair had been a rich shade of brown that fell in a loose waves around her bronzed face. Now it had faded to an ashen grey, frizzy and sparse against the pillow’s backdrop. Her face was ashen too, her pale skin torn between the deep canyons of centuries old wrinkles and the taut planes of her forehead and cheekbones, the latter of which Koviah offered a tender stroke of the backs of her fingers before cupping her neck. Her skin was dry and paper thin, blue-black veins spidering their way beneath its semi-transparent surface.

“My Lady, awaken… if only for a little while.” Koviah murmured beside a deaf ear. It wasn’t the words that stirred the prophet but rather the Power offered in her attendant’s touch. Slow going at first, the motion was minimal until at last she gave a great rattling gasp and opened her eyes. A press of Koviah’s hands to her shoulders kept her from rising too far and with a pitiful groan, Elisheva sank back against the plush comfort of her pillow. Her eyes, once a brilliant shade of emerald, were faded to a pale jade and clouded over by cataracts. Unseeing, they darted left and right as if seeking out the source of her rude awakening and once more, Koviah gave her a gentle touch of a few fingers to her cheek.

“Dralak,” the old woman hissed, calling the High Priest near with a weak lift of her hand. He inched closer until his robed knees bumped her bedside. Elisheva’s skeletal fingers sought his until he at last offered his hand out. Despite walking the line of death, the prophet had a remarkably strong grip and held fast to his fingers with her own.

“Our Lady of the New Coming, please, I beg of thee. We need but the last piece of your telling to bring it to fruition. The child, the Chosen Bringer, who are they?” He asked, stooping to kneel at her bedside, his hand in hers.

She. Who is she.” Elisheva corrected, her voice like gravel and broken glass. It was an ugly sound, grating on the ears, but Dralak leaned closer to better hear it just the same.

“So the child is a girl?” He followed up. It was an obvious question with an even more obvious answer, and from the corner of his vision he was certain he saw Koviah roll her eyes. Infuriating little girl, he thought. Believes herself to be important because she changes the Lady’s soiled bedpans.

“Aye… a girl. Our Ava will deliver us unto salvation.” The prophet murmured, straining through each labored breath. Her chest swelled then collapsed as she set into a fit of barking coughs that rattled her from head to toe. Koviah sprang into action, slipping her hands beneath Elisheva’s head and shoulders to ease her upright carefully until the coughing subsided.

“Ava… Ava… is this the name of the child you See?” Dralak asked, having sat back just long enough for the attendant to do what was needed. When she eased the prophet back into bed, he too leaned forward once more, tightening his grip on her bony, gnarled hand. Elisheva didn’t immediately answer, her breathing slowing further as she relaxed. As a lingering silence stretched between them, Dralak gave the fragile hand in his grasp a squeeze as if to prompt her to speak. The rattling in the prophet’s chest briefly deepened before she exhaled in slow, drawn out sigh. When the air finally emptied from her lungs, she didn’t inhale again, the light leaving her cloudy eyes until they were left to stare blankly ahead. “My Lady?”

“No… no, no, no,” Koviah whispered, shaking her head and sending her braid into a whipping frenzy. She gave the little prophet a careful shake followed by a harder one. Elisheva’s limp form ragdolled in the Keeper’s grasp, her head lolling forward and then to the side when Koviah finally let her go. It was then that she whirled on Dralak, furious fire in her arctic shaded eyes. “No! Look what you did! You’ve killed her!”

“I did no such thing…,” Dralak looked stricken, still grasping the dead prophet’s hand as he stood. The sun had at last set on the long life of the ancient prophetess and with her death, they were left with no way to know for certain just how to fulfill her Word. He looked troubled. Not because Koviah was staring him down with the flames of a thousand suns in her eyes but rather because he wasn’t sure just how to break this news to the Council. It seemed every breakthrough they had was set back at every turn and this? This was the greatest of all setbacks. Without the Lady of the New Coming to guide them, how would they fulfill the destiny of the land?

“You! You did this! You pushed and you pushed and you took her from me!” Koviah pointed a thin finger at the High Priest. With it, he felt an unbearable weight crush against his chest and back, pinning him to the spot in which he stood. The Keeper’s eyes glowed with a preternatural light, an eerie green glow that chilled him to his core. Tears streaked down the patrician planes of her high cheekbones, dripping to the delicate line of her jaw before falling away to splash against her collar. She advanced on the High Priest, who was still unable to move no matter how he struggled and tried. His hand dropped Elisheva’s and lifted as if to fend off the young attendant but the moment that he did, he found it pinned to his side with its pair. The closer she got, the harder he found it to breathe.

“Please,” he gasped, feeling the constriction spread to his throat. His head spun and he could taste the bitter tang of blood on his tongue. The already dark chamber was getting darker and he wasn’t sure if that was tunnel vision or a deeper shadow settling over them. Koviah’s own shadow seemed to stretch and grow, pooling around her and swelling with her rage. Shadowmancers weren’t uncommon amongst the mage ranks of the Omega Order but to see the signs in a woman of a lesser station was a rarity.

“No. I told you now was not a good time and you refused to listen, you impotent fool.” Koviah hissed, jabbing her finger against his sternum. It seemed to spread an underlying fire through his flesh, searing the nerve endings one by one after lighting them up to excruciating heights. He pitched and struggled but found no way to free himself from her invisible hold, his pained screams echoing through Elisheva’s bedchamber. The guard would come before long, and with it, news of the prophet’s death would assuredly spread through the ranks. A cruel smile stretched across Koviah’s otherwise pretty mouth, baring teeth that glinted in the dim lantern light.

It was with those same sharp teeth that she tore out his throat less than a minute later.
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Addie MacKenzie
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter One: Beginnings

3rd November

My name is Adelaide Victoria Allen and this is the story of how I died. Well, not exactly, but I definitely got you going there for a second, didn’t I?

So, now that you all think I’m the biggest jerk ever, let’s try that again. Now, where was I? Right, introductions. I’m Addie, it’s short for Adelaide but nobody really calls me that unless I’m in trouble. Sometimes Ro calls me Adelaide teasingly but that gets him called Romeo in trade so it’s not like he does it often. He doesn’t really like being called Romeo too much, says that it gives him unreasonable expectations to live up to. Ro’s my boyfriend. You’re probably going to get sick of hearing about him when all of this is said and done, but as sure as the sky is blue, he has been there for me through it all. This will just have to be one of those hashtag deal with it sort of moments.

You know, back where my mom comes from, this place called Amberhelm, the Weavers have all kinds of storytellers that would relish in retelling everything up to this point. Me? I’ve always been more of a healer than a lorekeeper, so I guess I’ll just have to get through it little by little. Should we do that tl;dr thing or really dive in deep to things? Or maybe a super sweet 80’s montage with epic music would do the trick. Or I can settle for boring old words. Yeah, let’s settle for words. I don’t want to ever forget any of this.

They say the beginning is a good place to start but finding the beginning is a bit easier said than done. The beginning, I guess, started long before I was born and the end? Well it ends with me. Here’s some funny math for you. I was born February fifteenth of 2014. It is now November of 2017. You’d think that would only make me a few years old, and that is definitely the case for a little girl bearing my same name currently sleeping across town in New Haven. Me, I’m not from this time. Here a couple years back, I left my time, 2031 or so and ended up in, what was it, 2014 Rhydin? I was seventeen and accompanied by my bodyguard, Kane. Why, you might ask?

That’s honestly a question I asked myself nearly every day for three years straight. At first I thought we were sent back to change the future, to keep my homeland from being destroyed. But the more I learned about just what happened back home, the more I realized that they didn’t send us back here to fix things. Things weren’t even fixable, I don’t think. Rather, I was sent here to protect me. To keep me away from the very thing that would have ruined far more than home. Now, I know what you’re thinking, this can’t be another cliche Chosen story, can it?

And I’m here to tell you that yes, yes it is. Kind of. Sorta. But not in any sort of way anyone ever wants to be chosen. I wasn’t destined from some great triumph over evil. I wasn’t in line to kill Voldemort. I wasn’t foretold to save the world. Nothing cool like that. It’s a whole lot more in depth than that though and to understand it, I think, takes an understanding of where I came from. Eventually the pieces will fall together, so let’s get back to the meat and potatoes instead of my aimless rambling. Let me instead tell you about what all has happened since I came to Rhydin three summers ago.

At first it was just Kane and I. He looked out for me, I looked out for… oh who am I kidding, I mostly just got into trouble. A few months after coming here, I met a boy named Sandy. He was the closest thing I had to a best friend for awhile and then… then he died. He died and I was absolutely devastated but then I found a way to bring him back. It was some pretty dark ****, not going to lie, but I did it. I brought him back, gave him a life renewed, ****ed up the balance of life in the process and everything. I spent a year and a half paying for those choices in a pretty rough way. I couldn’t sleep, had trouble eating too. The times I did sleep, I had horrible fever dreams that terrified me to the core of my soul. It ended up easier to just stay awake but even I’m not that strong to go without sleep constantly.

I ended up using some pretty wicked **** to get myself to sleep. See, if I wore myself out enough or got ****ed up enough to not know which way was up, I could sleep for a few hours uninterrupted. At least until things wore off. But if I set an alarm, I could pre-emptively get up and go back to the haze of my day. That worked for awhile. But I graduated from weed and sleep aids to harder stuff. Uppers, downers, pills, potions, powders, everything in between. If I could smoke it, snort it, or swallow it, I was game. Between the nightmares and the incessant fever that settled in after I brought Sandy back, I was a hot mess. Quite literally. But I still somehow managed to make it worse the day I trusted the wrong person for a fix I didn’t need. Yuri nearly killed me that day, almost did other stuff too, but the crux of the issue is my addiction nearly killed me.

All in all, it was a pretty epic **** up.

Live and learn, you know?

Between my overdose and bringing Sandy back from the dead, I set off a whole other chain of events that ultimately culminated here last year when my best friend from my home time came to find me. He wasn’t from my homeworld, but rather from Rhydin instead, which made it easier for him to get to me if only because it wasn’t cut off from the Nexus like home was. It got his dad killed in the process… which, I’m not too sure I could ever forgive myself for. But it gets worse from there. When the way was opened to get from there to here, with it came those assholes that ruined everything back home.

Remember how I said I upset the balance of things? Well Nick helped me correct it. It may very well be one of the worst nights of my life and trust me, I’ve had some pretty bad ones. Just a few days prior, we were celebrating his twenty-first birthday. Little did I know what he was plotting. On Devil’s Night, I found him on the roof of my mom’s brownstone in New Haven. Remember that little girl with my name that I mentioned? He had me convinced he might be going after his younger equivalent who happened to be staying there with them. Instead it was a ploy to draw me out, to get me to do the unthinkable. It had to be my hand but why did it have to be him. I brought a life back but in turn, a life had to end.

He kissed me. It was just to confuse me, since he and I were never like that. But it gave him the opening he needed. He had given me his knife and I thought that was the end of it, but he grabbed me by the wrist and before I could react, he forced my hand forward. Nikolai was standing right in front of me. The angle of the blade was too perfect. He knew exactly what he was doing. My best friend bled out on that rooftop and died in my arms, disappearing to who knows what kind of time displaced afterlife before I could do anything to help. I couldn’t bring him back, not without upsetting the balance even more. So, I let him go and let my life crumble around me.

I very nearly relapsed that night. After almost three months of sobriety, I almost went right back to what killed me earlier in the summer. But Ro… bless his wayward soul, he will always be my anchor. Between him and my girls, that’s Michi and Misery, I made it through. I survived the unthinkable. I was getting kind of good at that whole… losing everything thing. Not a habit I recommend anyone get into.

Still, I was lucky enough that the year following seemed to pass without incidence. Somehow, the Orionites that had come looking for me when Nick showed up also seemed to be gone. I don’t know if that has anything to do with Nick’s death, but whatever did it, I’m grateful for. It really sucked running into them at every turn. I couldn’t go out without constantly worrying about being attacked or those I was with being hurt because of me. If there is one thing about all of this that I regret the most, it’s that others have had to suffer because of me. I think that if it really came down to it, I could bear just about anything thrown at me so long as it doesn’t mean others have to do it for me. Instead my friends and family have all been hurt because of me.

I did my best to try and keep them away from it all, to smile and pretend like I wasn’t scared ****less. But things have a way of catching up to you and those closest always know us better than we even know ourselves. They know when something is wrong and if they love you, if they really truly care about you, you can do exactly nothing to stop them from trying to help. It’s a blessing and a curse, I suppose. Now, with that said, it’s one I will bear most willingly. There are far worse problems in life than having people that love you. It’s something I have come to learn. You can dwell on who doesn’t love you but it doesn’t matter. It’s all about who does.

I’m off on a tangent now though, so let’s get back on track. I lost Nick, but I also got to see who all was there for me. It brought Kruger and I closer together too. After I came to this time, things were pretty rough… being a teenager in Rhydin is neither safe nor easy. And though I had both parents in this time, only one seemed to care in any sort of way that I was here. So… I traded out a dad for a mom and got to mourn that loss too. Not for long though. Kruger stepped up in ways I didn’t expect and now I’ve got another dad and a little brother to boot.

Rhydin’s so freaking weird. We all end up a mish mash of time and space and realms but nobody seems to really bat an eye because for as worried as some might be about things like temporal integrity and other such nonsense, nothing ever really seems to happen. Sometimes, but it’s usually short lived. So there’s that. It’s the only way you can squeeze people together from old times and new, this realm and that, and likely a bajillion different iterations of Earth. Earth is terrible, it has to be. It keeps kicking its people into the Nexus for them to end up in Rhydin. Talk about a total jerk. Some can go back but most can’t or don’t. Sure it has cool stuff like Disney World and they invented punk rock and it’s where pizza came from, but surely that’s about it for the good.

But like I said, after Nick’s death, life was nice enough to grant me about a year of peace. I made music, I signed contracts, I modeled, I started growing my own business. Life was good. I had friends, family, a boy I was crazy about. It was only inevitable that everything would go awry, right? That’s my luck. Winter, Spring, Summer, they all came and passed without incident. Fall came and with it the golds and reds of shorter days and dying leaves, crisp winds and the impending bite of winter. It made me wary at best even when I could get absorbed in things like Halloween parties and birthday shindigs for little Nikolai. Maybe if I made things awesome for him, it would make up for what his older counterpart had to go through for me.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe I can never make up for what Nick went through for me. What Kruger in another time went through for me. The pain that my god-siblings went through for me. Everything that my home world went through. Man, that’s enough to weigh a girl down. I try not to let it though. If I let it, it’ll drown me and then I’ll go back to those dark places again and all of this will be for naught. That would make it even worse, I think. So I’m not allowed to **** it up. Not anymore at least. I may be pretty good at it, but I am also getting pretty good at the whole… thinking before I act thing. So here’s hoping for the best.

But all in all, that’s my big long rambling summary of everything that has happened up until now. I know I’m certainly likely missing big chunks and pieces of things and the lorekeepers in Amberhelm would shake their heads at me, but c’est la vie, you know. Autumn was upon us and that meant the holidays and winter and ice skating and everything I loved about November and December. It shouldn’t have gone this way. It really shouldn’t have. You’re probably curious about just what I mean and I’m sorry to be cryptic but this part? This next bit? It’s going to take me a whole lot more to sort through if I’m going to do it right. So sit tight, buckle up, and enjoy this wild ride.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 8:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Two: Remember, Remember

5th November

Sleeping is getting difficult again. I’m not sure if it’s autumn or if I’m doing something to run myself thin. Or perhaps I’m not running hard enough. The anniversary of Nick’s death was just a few days ago and I did my best not to think about it. But Ro and my girls knew something was off. They did really well at trying to keep me distracted at the very least. We hit up Ego Trip down in Dockside for their Halloween thing. Fright Night was a few nights before that. Ro and I did the gross couples thing and had matchy matchy costumes for both of them. Fright Night was a little more impressive, I think, if only because I got Romeo to wear elf ears for his Link costume. You know, like from the Zelda games. He wanted me to go as Princess Zelda but I made a pretty compelling argument that as far as female protagonists go, Midna from Twilight Princess was a far better lead. So that was my costume for that. There was a lot of body paint involved. It took hours to put on and far less time to take off. Admittedly, taking it off was a whole lot more fun than putting it on.

I’m rambling so I don’t have to think about what’s on my mind. I do that a lot. Divert. It’s a talent of mine, I’m told. It’s easier to think about costumes and Halloween parties than to think about the dreams that have been creeping back in. I used to dream about Sandy or about my mom… my real mom, not the one here. The one here gets to live. My mom died when I was eleven. The same people that have been following me here killed her when I was just a little girl. I didn’t even know it until recently that they were responsible. When the balance of things was all off, I dreamt of her often. They were not particularly pleasant dreams.

When Nick died, they went away for the most part. I could sleep again for the first real time in like a year and a half, at least without taking anything. I know I said it before, but Nick’s death truly saved my life. Still… they’re coming back. I dream of him and I dream of home and I dream of a lot of other things. Usually I barely remember it in the morning because it’s so brief or convoluted or whatever. This morning was different. This morning was… well, I’m still laying here in bed trying to sort it out. Ro had to go to work for the day already and I think Michi might be down in the living room.

Just before I overdosed, she and I bought this place. Before that, she was living out of an abandoned railcar on the edge of town and me, I was living in this tiny one bedroom apartment with my ex… bodyguard. Once he and I split, Michi and I thought it would be a good idea to get a place together. We had money from our first big tour and our first real contract so we figured, hey why not. Add to it the money I was making off of delivering cookies for a few big names and it was definitely easy to do. Being a homeowner at nineteen was pretty surreal, not going to lie. But we did it, this place is ours. She’s a good roommate too, better than family for sure. Michi’s time displaced too. I think that’s what makes us such good friends. She gets me, understands the struggle, knows when to push and when to leave it. I should probably tell her about this. But I won’t. Not yet.

I was standing on the edge of a cliff in my dream. It was windy but warm, late spring, almost summer. They were the cliffs just south of town where they held Beltane and for a minute, I thought maybe that’s what I was dreaming about. Through the trees I could hear the drums, the wild faerie drums thrumming with the call of the wyld. Mama always said don’t **** with the fair folk. They’ll talk you into deals you’re not prepared for. So largely, I stay away from them. Beltane is usually fun though. It was double fun this year. I went for a bit to hang with Michi and her date before going to meet Ro for some… alone time. It’s a religious holiday for him and his people get really, really into it.

Back to the dream. I could hear the drums, hear them calling to me and I answered it. But I got lost in the forest and it kept getting darker and darker until all I had to guide me was a single wisp of light. That’s usually a bad sign but this was a dream and what else was I supposed to do. It took me further into the woods until all at once the light came back, reds and oranges, crackling and popping all around me. A veritable circle of flame eating its way through the forest and heading right toward me from all sides. I tried to run but there was no way through it and soon the fire was bearing down on me, choking me with heat and smoke. The elements wouldn’t come to me either so try as I might to smother or douse the flames, I couldn’t and soon they licked at my skin, burning my hair and my clothes and turning my flesh black.

Then just before it seemed like all hope was lost and I was going to have one of those freaky death dreams where you wake up with a jolt, a sudden wash of green light snuffed the flames all at once. I was barely conscious and likely near death but I remember opening my eyes to see a man standing over me. Most of the forest had burned so there was no canopy over our heads and instead I saw a sea of stars and all of the colors of the universe. Before it was this man, with hard lines in his forehead and the sort of wrinkles that said he scowled a lot. His eyes though, they were blue. A familiar blue, like I should know him. He offered me his hand and after a few moments I took it. I remember it being rough and worn but warm, inviting almost despite the fact his aura said bad, bad things about him. He got me back up to my feet and he said something that stuck with me even after I woke up.

“I’m glad I found you at last, Adelaide,” he said. He knew my name though I don’t know how. I suppose considering it’s a dream and my dream at that, that it’s not a stretch for my subconscious to give that away. Stupid subconscious anyways. He dusted me off and each touch was like a soothing balm, easing my pain and healing my burns bit by bit. Of course that did nothing for my literally fried hair, but I guess I’ve always wanted to try a pixie cut. Good thing it was just a dream, right? Ro would be so sad if I chopped all of my hair off. I remember looking up at this man… he was tall, even compared to me, and I asked him who he was. He smiled. It looked odd on him, like he didn’t do it very often. I recall his mouth opening to answer but then I woke up before he could tell me.

Who is the man with the blue eyes and why was he looking for me? And better yet… why do I get the feeling that maybe he might be looking for me for real?
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 10:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Three: Marked Woman

8th November

A long off night of restless sleep made for an even longer Wednesday, stretching each minute into an eternity no matter how much caffeine I pumped into my veins. In another life (or really just last year), I would have supplemented my day with more stimulating substances but for now, I would have to settle for coffee and energy drinks. But as business wrapped and another set of proofs were in to the higher ups at Renegade Regalia for their winter and spring lines, I could finally go home for the day. Early November meant the days were getting shorter and the shadows longer and deftly I avoided them as I moved between the pools of light radiating from the streetlights along the wide cobbled road that the studio sat on. From the oversized tote bag on my arm, I withdrew my phone, checked it for new messages, and then tapped out a quick one off message to my one and only.

Text to Ro <3 <3 <3 : You off work yet? I finished late but Michi's not at home and I wouldn't mind a night in with you.

Romeo MacKenzie was something special, no matter how one tried to spin it. A lot of people write him off, something I don’t quite understand, but those that matter understand. He’s a lot like many who come to this city with nothing but the clothes on their back. He’s smart and cunning, tenacious and resourceful. Beyond that, he’s a sweet soul and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely smitten with him. He and I have been together for almost a year and a half. It feels like longer and honestly, I would be perfectly fine if it turned out to be a forever thing. Awhile back I sort of stopped believing in the “forever” thing, you know. But Ro? Ro is a game changer.

More often than not, he doubled down between the Team Dirty gym and Delia’s Diner, though with the busy season, the former seemed to take more and more of his time and the latter less and less to his chagrin. He enjoyed Delia’s and I couldn’t really blame him. Every time I’ve met the eponymous Delia, she was always motherly and so very sweet. She looked out for Ro and by proxy those that Ro looked out for in turn. But the gym was demanding of his time and energy and increasingly, he went home exhausted and usually bruised. The response came through a few moments later, lighting my screen up with its blue-light glow with a subtle thrumming hum to back the notification.

Text from Ro <3 <3 <3 : Out the door now. I'll pick up a couple things from the store and we can cook together. Preference?

In the dying light, I lit up as the response came through. His offer was a strangely domestic endeavor, all things considered, but one I cherished more than I was willing to admit. It was a taste of normalcy, something quite difficult to find in a place like this. I was going to soak it up if I could. The holiday season was fraught with stress and annoyance, jam packed with busy work and this event and that. If I could steal him away for a quiet night at home, away from the diner and gym, away from the cameras and stage, that was heaven incarnate. My fingers flew across the smooth glass of the screen for a rapid fire response.

Text to Ro <3 <3 <3 : I would kill for teriyaki stir fry. Extra zucchini before it goes out of season. If you grab me the stuff for it, I'll make you rangoons too.

With that I hurried home. The place Michi and I shared in Seaside was nice but not, like, beachside nice. It was set a few blocks back from the beach, on a quiet tree lined cul de sac, though if we went upstairs to the second level or the attic, we could see the sea in the distance on clear days.

Text from Ro <3 <3 <3 : Flavor 'splosion. Grabbing steak, chicken, and shrimp for it then. See you soon.

Having his own wheels likely made the trip quicker than it would have otherwise been after a quick stop at the Rhymark Fresh Market yielded everything we’d need, plus a bottle of pinot blanc from our usual grocery store. With no other vehicles owned in our little collective of upstarts save Michi’s van, Romeo had the driveway to himself since my blue haired roommate was out.

By virtue of having a car versus going on foot, he beat me there by at least a handful of minutes and I was certain I could see his tail lights from a few blocks back when I turned the corner. The sun was fast sinking on the western horizon, beyond white capped waves shimmering with the pinks and oranges of the last glimpses of daylight. It left Seaside in a wash of indigo and plum and had my steps quickening in a bid to get home sooner rather than later. With the blonde haired not-so-delinquent within view but heading inside at any moment with his bagged bounty, I adjusted the tote bag on my arm to bump it up to my shoulder before setting off at a jog that I would have regretted on the rough sidewalks of less affluent neighborhoods. Here, it was golden and I covered the stretch of pavement in just a few minutes, turning up the front walk with an ever growing grin. After all, there was stir fry and a cute boy on the agenda.

Upon hearing me coming (it wouldn't be the first time after all), Romeo stepped sideways to open up the path to the front door and at the same time turned to fix me with his smile. That smile, let me tell you. It’s enough to do things to a girl. He wetted his lips with a quick pass of his tongue and greeted me with a cat call, both arms too occupied to make a play for me.

"Look what gorgeous blew in on an autumn wind." With no hands for the grabbing, he leaned in, likely expecting a kiss for his troubles.

"Autumn better not be blowing anyone around here or we're gonna have a problem." I leered at him, before breaking into a cheeky grin and rocking up onto my toes to kiss him. It likely dragged on a bit longer than was necessary but when you're young and grossly in love, was anything truly excessive? When I rocked back on my heels, I glanced over my shoulder then over to the Highlander parked in the driveway. "Got everything or need any help?"

"Unless Autumn's your new nickname?" He winked and leaned into my mouth, even as the kiss was broken and I pulled away. It was hard to resist. "We're good. Stir-fry, fried rice, and rangoons tonight, enough to do up some bento boxes for Miz and Mich too. Then omelettes and brioche french toast in the mornin'. Sound good?"

"I've always been more of a winter girl, but whatever floats your boat, babe." I laughed and stepped past him for the sake of getting the door. Two locks and a disengagement of subtly woven warding spells allowed their entry a few moments later. Leaning aside, I held the door for him and locked it up tight in our wake once he was inside. "I'm pretty sure you know exactly the way to a girl's heart. Enough avocado for me to basic-white-girl over for the omelettes?"

"That's cool, mo chroi," he laughed and pressed another kiss to the side of my head as I passed. "Winter blows harder, longer. Win-win?"

His burden was light, so he seemed in no hurry as I deftly dealt with the wards and let us within. Passing me by, he made immediately for the kitchen, listening with a tipped ear before finally setting the bags on the counter. "And pumpkin spice and pumpkin butter for the french toast. I'll take you shoppin' for some Ugg boots in the mornin' if you're a really good girl."

So, liberated of the bags, he turned to lean his back against the counter and lifted his palms to fan his fingers in a 'come hither' gesture.

"I'm pretty sure that I already have a pair of Uggs in my closet upstairs. If you really insist, I can go look and make sure." I said with a good natured roll of my eyes. My teeth nibbled into my bottom lip, pulling my ever broad grin into a crooked slash of white framed by whatever remnants of lip coloring I last wore for the shoot earlier. Leaned against the counter as he was, he was a terribly tempting thing that made the groceries on the other counter drastically less interesting. It was almost all going to be cooked fairly quickly though so I veered away from my course for the fridge and instead went to the blonde, stepping into the gap between his feet to thoroughly invade his personal space. "Hi. I missed you today."

"Best Basic White Girl Ever." He stuck his tongue out at me and crossed his eyes, but only until my slender frame was leaned into his broader one, his arms slipping around my waist to hug me tight. The kiss he gave me a moment later was warm, tender, and way longer than the first before my murmured words drew him back. "Missed you too, Pizza Girl. How was the shoot?"

"Uneventful, pretty par for the course. Smile pretty, put on these shiny things, pose this way and that." I gestured for emphasis, exaggerated motions miming a caricature of what the modeling job had entailed before making a face and reaching a hand over my shoulder to scratch between my shoulderblades. It had been a vague twinge, uncomfortable more than anything. "I think it'll be nice when this contract is done, you know?"

"Your smile is always pretty." It was sickeningly sweet to say, such an ironic contrast to the way our friendship began. He kissed me again just beneath the line of my jaw before withdrawing and letting go to see to the groceries. "Think so? What's the next piece of the grand plan, then?"

"You're biased." I said with a snicker but the resulting flush in my cheeks was undeniable just the same. He knew how to get to me in the worst ways, by words and by touch and for a few moments I savored the touch of his mouth against my skin before I exhaled and let him go with utmost reluctance. "I dunno... I suppose see where things are going with the band. They've been talking about a Christmas album and maybe a tour in Neo-Rhyasia across the sea. Not quite sure how I feel about that one, but it could be big. They evidently really like us over there..."

"Oh, ***," Romeo chuckled and slapped one big palm onto the counter. "If you guys are doing a Christmas album, let me pick the playlist. Please."

The breakfast items were put away and he started to go through the dinner items. In over a year, we had cooked enough meals together (it was a couples activity all on its own) for one of us to direct the other's efforts with very little words, which he did while we talked about my plans. "If you wanna do Neo-Rhyasia, you should. You never know when there's gonna be another opportunity and, if it means somethin' to you, you should do it. I'll miss you, o' course, but that's pretty much a given."

"I'm sure I could make the case for whatever you might pick within reason." I said with an indulgent smile. If it made him happy, I would certainly at least try. The give and take between us was an easy thing, half unspoken and mostly body language. Comfortable. I liked it. Before long, stir fry was in the wok and I was assembling a dozen rangoons to ready them for frying. "I'd say you should come with... like as... road crew or something, you know? Is that selfish of me?"

"There's some good punk songs that would fit," he offered. "We can look it up on your phone later and we'll see what you think Miz and Mich would go for." As they worked, he randomly bumped his hip against mine when he wasn't absently copping feels and stealing chaste kisses. "And I would... but I dunno how it'd fly with the bosses. I'm startin' to feel bad for Delia. Claire's been askin' for more of my time with IFL and everything goin' on there that I'd had to give up more of my shifts at the diner. I dunno how either of them would feel about be packin' up and shippin' off with you ladies, though I know I'd have fun with it."

"Yeah... it'd be for at least a month too..." I said regretfully, my mouth pursing and twisting to one side. Of course it would have been selfish of me to ask such a thing. But still, I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the mention of my godmother's demands. "Though I'm sure if you told Claire it was for me, she'd let you drop it all to go with. It'd be fun, but I don't want you leaving Delia high and dry. I like her."

"When would the tour be?" That he was asking meant that he was giving serious consideration to the idea, his mouth screwed up to one side in through even as he was popping a fresh piece of zucchini into my mouth. He turned away with a playful whip of the kitchen towel at my hip, moving further down to check on the frying rice. "Delia's good people. I'm sure she could find someone else to sling grub for her but... yeah, I like her too. She gave me a chance at honest work when not a lot of other folks would. And I do love the diner."

Wisely, he didn't mention Claire, knowing full well how I felt about my godmother despite Ro's situation at the gym.

"Spring of next year, early Spring at that." I watched him for a few moments while I chewed, my futile grabbing for the towel failing to keep the whipcrack snap of material from connecting with a soft pop against my denim clad hip. While he moved down the counter to work on the rice, I set about easing the rangoons carefully into the heated oil until they popped and sizzled rapidly. Quietly, a yawn was stifled with a turn of my mouth toward my shoulder. "It's still not a for sure thing anyways. Fun hypotheticals, that's all. A month in Neo Tokyo and Neo Seoul? That'd be rad."

"With all of the adorable little fast-talkin' fangirls and fanboys." He cut a grin back my way and began stirring in the eggs. "You'll be a giant over there, Pizza Girl. Misery and Michi'd have a blast with it. I say, Ro or no Ro, if you can do it, you should."

"Man, I think Michi might be the only one that would be able to understand them." I said with a laugh, wielding a slotted spoon to carefully free the rangoons from the oil once they were crisp and golden. They were set on a paper towel to settle while he finished up the rice. "It's a cool opportunity... I'd have a hard time saying no. Doesn't mean that I can't hesitate at the thought of leaving you that long. Who's gonna keep your ass in line otherwise?"

"In before Michi goes over there and becomes a solo rock god." The rice was stirred while it cooked, until the little bits of egg fluffed up nice and yellow. Another dash of pepper was added and then a quick splash of soy sauce before Ro was doing the final round of stirring and killing the heat to the pan. Upon hearing me, he glanced my way, the smile fading in the moment before the big blonde man was reaching over to pull me close again. "Don't hesitate. I won't be goin' nowhere, mo chroi. I'll look after the house for you and Mich and I'll be here waitin' when you get back. We can even video chat everyday, 'til you pass out and drool on your phone."

"Wouldn't that be hilarious?" I said with a quirk of a grin. Not entirely opposed to such a thing, I cocked a hip against the counter and kept him company while he finished up. He drew me near and I tipped into it, bumping into him intentionally with a private smile for the bruiser. "I know you're not going anywhere but you're my home, muja. For some reason, vid chats and phone drool just can't quite compare."

There was that smile again and another roll of my shoulders to ward off the annoying itch between them before I drew back for the sake of grabbing plates and utensils. "But, like I said, hypothetical for now."

"Her and Miz would make a pretty bad ass duo," he agreed in his own way, leaning in to nuzzle his nose against my temple and inhale the scent of my hair. A series of soft, chaste kisses trailed down the side of my face and ended at my neck before he patted me lightly on the backside. "Tell you what. Let's play with the Christmas album idea. See what the others gotta say. The rest we'll worry about when the time comes. For now, let's eat, then lay on the couch and watch somethin' mindless for a while."

It didn't take long after that for us to work our way through the stir-fry, rangoons, and some of the wine, sitting adjacent to one another at the small breakfast table in the dimmed kitchen light. Then it was rinsing dishes and loading the dishwasher before he was shoeless and changing into sweats while I worked on wiggling out of tight denim and into soft cotton for the night.

Though he didn't technically live there, Ro had at least two drawers to himself in my room along with a narrow space in my closet to boot. It made such wardrobe changes easy things, whether it was for a night in or after a long overnight. By now I was so used to it that changing in the same room as him was an easy thing, comfortable much like so many other things had become with him. I peeled off my jeans first, trading them out for cotton athletic shorts before working my way out of my shirt to swap it for the racerback tank top sitting atop my dresser. "We thinking Netflix or are we breaking the Christmas movies out early?"

"No Christmas movies before December," he scowled over at me, slipping into his own tank top before crossing the short distance between them. His broad frame eased in behind my slender form, one arm slipping around me so that the fingers of his hand could tease across my belly. His other hand rose to sweep my hair to one side, so that the descent of his mouth could ply the flesh from my shoulder to my slim neck with kisses that were far less chaste. It was how he noticed the slightly reddened, irritated patch of skin high on my back.

"Uh, darlin' mine," he mumbled, drawing back. "Were you allergic to anything they were puttin' you in at the shoot today?"

"How about starting Black Friday?" That was fair, right? Thanksgiving was technically over so that meant Christmas could reign supreme from then until Yule ended. Tossing the day's outfit into the hamper, I reached for the shirt on the dresser only to lean back into the tease of his mouth. When he stopped and posed his question, I reached a hand over my shoulder to touch the junction of my neck and shoulders, my fingers easily finding the spot with the curl of nails to graze gently over it. "Right here? Must have. It's been itching like crazy all day."

"Or a bug bite." His fingers joined mine in a tentative stroke over the irritated patch of flesh. "You got anything we can put on it or are you okay?"

It was only mildly concerning and it had the added benefit of avoiding the topic of Christmas movies, if only for a little while.

"I've got an anti-inflammatory salve in the bathroom I think. Aloe and neem oil." Draping my shirt over my arm, I withdrew from the space between him and the dresser with a sashayed side step. The bathroom wasn't far, just around the corner from my bedroom, so that's where I headed with a beckoning finger over my shoulder. "Come help me put it on? Then I'll let you pick the movie."

"Loaded question." Romeo snorted a laugh but was quick to follow along in my wake. His smile persisted, but there was some small niggling doubt, just the faint scratch of something at the back of his mind. It tickled his sense in an unpleasant way, but considering I was topless and beckoning him so sweetly, whatever discipline he might have had to listen to that intuition melted away. "You sure it's just that one spot?"

20-something boys were terrible.

"It wasn't meant to be loaded for what it's worth." I said with the quirk of a grin. Stepping into the bathroom with the slap of bare feet on tile, I flipped the light on and swung open the medicine cabinet door. It was an odd mish mash of mundane and mystical remedies for everything from coughs and colds to superficial wounds and pain relief. The bottle I was searching for was an opaque blue bottle labeled "Itchy Stuff" since labeling what it was used for saved me from numerous questions from Michi about what to use for this and that. Popping the stopper, I set that aside and offered it out to the man when he joined me. "I got some other spots for you to take care of too but not with this stuff."

"Well, well, well," he teased at the cheeky rebuttal, painting on a smarmy smile and reaching out to give me a pinch. The bottle was taken right after with another, lighter kiss to my shoulder before he was spilling some of the herbal cream onto the tips of his fingers. "Move your hair."

See, 20-year-old girls could be just as terrible. Almost twenty-one even, in a little over three months. With the bottle out of my hands, I swept them back through my hair and gathered it all together to pull it over my right shoulder. Shutting the cabinet, I eyed him in the mirror and tried my best not to smile. That was always difficult with him. "Don't need to use a whole lot of it."

"Yeah, I know." I was given a nod and a wink over my shoulder. "Too much lube ruins good friction." That said, Ro was gently spreading the small amount of ointment over the irritated area, swabbing the affected skin in slow circles with the pads of his fingers. "Let me know if this hurts at all..."

"I really wouldn't advise using this stuff for lube." I said with a laugh. The laugh ceased abruptly for a clenching of my teeth, a hiss, and an arch away from the touch of his fingers. That stung like a bitch, though it wasn't supposed to. Cringing, I looked at him first in the mirror and then turned slightly to double check the bottle I had handed him. "Okay, maybe it's not a bug bite."

The hiss caused him to immediately flinch and jerk his hand away. The look towards the bottle prompted Romeo to hand it to me and quickly slip his arm beneath mine to reach for a washcloth. "Run the tap over it and I'll get this wiped off. Any idea what'd cause a reaction like that?"

Taking the bottle from him, I brought it up to my nose for a sniff. I was no slouch when it came to my natural remedies. It was the right stuff. Still I stoppered it and set it aside, flipping one of the tap handles to get the cold water going. Once it was nice and frigid, a soaked washcloth would assuredly help take the edge off so I kept my hair out of the way to let him work his magic. "Chemical irritant maybe? Something that reacted poorly with the salve, I guess? I'll just let it breathe."

"You'd be the one to know." Fighting to suppress a frown, Ro took the cloth and dabbed it gently across my irritated skin to start, wary after his first attempt at helping. "We'll just wipe it away and let it breathe for a bit. See what it does."

"That's just my best guess, babe. I only dabble in this stuff." I said with a twist of a matching frown and a shrug. One hand settled against the counter and my head bowed forward while he dabbed my back clear. A soft sigh of relief issued as he swept away the salve's remnants, leaving only the vague itch of before behind. "That's better already. Lemme grab something a little looser and then we can go settle, aye?"

"More the expert than me. My ma could have explained this stuff but I didn't exactly get the herbalism gene." His smile was wry and a smacking kiss was placed to one side of my neck before he was retreating from my personal space, departing with a last pinch to my hip before exiting the bathroom. Some moments later he was sagging down onto the couch comfortably, though one eye remained cast curiously towards the stairs.

"I think my mom would like your mom." I said with a gentle curl of my mouth. The kiss was a welcome relief too before I left the bathroom behind a few steps after him. Dragging my tank top back to my bedroom, I tossed it on top of my dresser in favor of snagging one of his shirts from his drawer. Loose, white, several sizes too big. Perfect. Plus it smelled like him, even better. Tugging it on over my head, I came traipsing out of the bedroom and back down to the living room. "Alright. What're we watching?"

"Is it cold in here?" He tried not to smile when asking the question and ended up chewing on the inside of his cheek to stop from laughing at the implications. He reached out for me as I approached, tugging me into a boneless sprawl across his lap and combing his fingers through my hair. "Let's see what Netflix has, huh? We'll find somethin' we can agree on."

"Like diamonds in an ice storm." I cut him a smarmy smirk and fell into the wanted sprawl with a quiet yawn. His fingers in my hair were like kryptonite and soon I relaxed like a languid cat across him. "If you let me pick, I'm picking Christmas stuff, so you better hold onto the remote."

"Then pick something!" I said with a laugh, twisting and squirming against him before settling into a drape over his legs to peer up at him. "I don't care what. I'd even watch Die Hard."

"Die Hard it is." Smiling down at me, he slipped a hand beneath the hem of my (or his) shirt to place warm fingers on my stomach. "The choice had been made."

Reaching for the remote, he flipped over to Netflix and began surfing through it for the movie.

"Yippee-ki-yay, mother****er." I quipped and settled in, only to doze off in his lap thirty minutes into the movie. Fifteen minutes after he noticed my slumber, the big blonde youth scooped me up into his arms and took me to bed.
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Addie MacKenzie
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Four: The Blue Eyed Man

10th November

The burnt forest was long since behind us and instead we walked through a dark meadow beneath a new moon. With no moonlight, only the stars lit our way, he and I. The blue eyed man once more came to visit me in my dreams. The tatters of whatever I had been wearing when the fire caught up to me had been replaced with sheer white in the form of a camisole and a flowing skirt that swished around my ankles and tickled the bridges of my bare feet. He had wrapped a black cloak around my shoulders, securing it with a jeweled clasp that felt heavy against my chest. Not a bad or uncomfortable sort of heavy, just excessively secure.

“It took me so long to find you… even longer to find a way to reach out to you. It’s so good to finally meet you, Adelaide.” He said as we walked. His voice was a rich baritone, warmer than I initially thought it had been. Around us, the meadow was preparing for the coming winter. Where it had once been full of greens and yellows, it was now amber and deep brown. Though the field seemed to emanate death and decay, there was nothing unnatural about it, simply an example of the cycle of the seasons and of life and death. The sun rises and sets. Spring becomes Summer which becomes Autumn and soon that becomes Winter. So to do all living things eventually die.

“It’s Addie. Just Addie, please. Adelaide makes me feel like I’m in trouble.” I told him as we walked. Strangely, our steps were silent but behind us, we left a pair of footprints behind, mine bare and his booted. In contrast to my black wrapped white, he wore just black from neck to toe, a sturdy tunic and riding breeches tucked into calf height boots. It seemed a little outdated but still practical. He wore a heavy belt laden with pouches and at least two sheathed daggers. I had, well, not much of anything. He looked aside at me for a moment, his smile indulgent as he chuffed a soft laugh.

“Addie then. Your great grandmother, whom you take your name from, went by Addie rather than Adelaide too,” he remarked. Wait a second, this guy knew my great grandmother? He himself looked to be in his late forties or early fifties and my great grandmother died well before I was ever born. Not that my mom ever really talked about her side of the family.

“How do you know that?” I asked him. I could have played coy, could have danced around the subject for awhile. But answers, I wanted them. We continued walking, seemingly with no destination in mind and an endless expanse of field before us. He was quiet for a few long moments, his gaze straight ahead and his hands hooked casually into the front pockets of his pants, his thumbs curving over the top edge.

“You don’t know who I am?” He countered finally. Diversion and deflection. That’s exactly what that was when someone answered a question with another question. He still didn’t look at me and we still kept walking and my eyes remained on him. He could have very well walked me right over the edge of a cliff and I likely would have been none the wiser. We seemed to be heading for a darker night, onward and onward as the shadows deepened and the stars seemed less dense, their twinkling getting more and more sparse overhead. Hadn’t I done something similar in the woods and hadn’t that only led me to my doom? Surely I knew better than the head for the dark instead of the light. I shook my head to answer him.

“You’re not real. I’ve never met you and this is just a dream… so you’re someone my subconscious made up, likely based on random faces I’ve seen in passing in the past. What are you supposed to epitomize though? The ghost of Christmas past or something?” I asked with a cheeky smile. It was enough for him to stop walking and I nearly tripped over my own feet to stop in time with him rather than overshooting where he stood. Turning back, I blinked a few times and looked up at him as he turned toward me. Those eyes. Even in the dark they were bright and so very blue. Like sapphires fresh cut from the earth and polished to a sheen then cranked up to eleven for preternatural brightness. They reminded me of… “Mama…”

“Certainly not your mother, child.” The man said with a chuckle. Those eyes were my mother’s eyes and the very same eyes that I saw every time I looked into a mirror, save for the pupils of course. Mine were elongated slits compared to his circular ones. Hooray for dragon blood, right? That came from my father’s side rather than my mother’s but the color was all my mom. I looked up at the black clad man, imploring him to go on and elaborate. Word games had never been my sort of thing, I was clever but not that clever. He didn’t say more and simply stared at me and waited. After a few moments, I shook my head, coming up short for answers for anything that made sense. I knew nobody from my mother’s side by face because in the city, she was the only one. I had been back to Amberhelm twice since coming to this time and both times, I avoided any association with the family names just to help maintain her anonymity. She left home when she was sixteen or seventeen to get away from things back home and ever since, she had prided herself on her ability to keep herself hidden away.

Before I could ask him aloud just what he meant, he reached out to touch his fingertips to my forehead. They were cold and rough but really that was an afterthought compared to what happened next. I don’t know exactly what he did to me but do you remember that scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 where Kurt Russell’s character touches Star-Lord and his eyes go all starry and spacy? I think it was something like that. What I saw though… that I have no words for.

A sea of sapphire, deep blue and glittering with the light of stars and silvery moonlight. Fire on the shore. People gathered around the fire. No other light for miles upon miles around. No cities, no signs of electricity. No cars on the roads, no planes in the skies. The people around the fire were speaking, chanting, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It was an old tongue that they used. Try as I might to comprehend it and figure it out, I couldn’t. It wasn’t Latin, which seemed to be a go to for chanting things. I still understood the message, could still feel the power they took. They praised the stars and made offerings to gods seldom worshipped anymore. Before I could make a more proper study of the scene laid out before me, it all faded away into a blur of light and sound and information. From then until now, everything that I am, everything they were, everything in between. Everything I could be. Everything I will be.

He showed all of it to me. Witches, worshippers of goddesses from long, long ago. Weavers of webs, those who so adeptly plucked the strands of life and death like strings on a guitar. Those who held death at bay and those who embraced it open arms. Old, powerful magic that had a way of brimming in the blood, prickling in the veins with untapped potential, just waiting for the right conduit. The original coven split off into branches, families that mixed and mingled and intermarried for the sake of keeping the power between the right types. Each generation became stronger than the one before it, a collective gathering of power that encompassed not only their own gifts but those of every mage in their line before them. Overwhelmingly their gifts were used for life and light and good. The coven-lands prospered more and more with every new addition to their people.

He showed me a boy and a girl, no more than eight or nine years old, in a field just like the one we stood in at the moment. Only they weren’t beneath a night sky but rather a warm sun that spread golden beams through wispy clouds. Springtime had the meadow filled with wildflowers in brilliant shades of pink and yellow and orange, swaying in the breeze. The pair laid together, hand in hand in the grass, their palms stained red from where they had sliced their hands open to join their blood in a bond that not even death could break. He looked up at the sky with eyes so blue that the canvas above couldn’t hope to compete. In turn, the raven haired girl beside him looked at him with adoration. The sun caught her hair just right to make it look like it was shot through with gold, a dazzling effect when paired with the pretty smile on her fine features.

It cut to the same pair close to ten years later. She had grown into a gorgeous young woman and he was handsome in his own right, rugged, maybe roguish. From the wooded hills that I recognized to be near Amberhelm, the pair ran hand in hand, laughing and breathless and starry eyed. I knew the look they had in their eyes if only because I myself have worn it so often when looking at Ro. He loved her and she loved him. I watched their hands bound with earthen toned cords, the same adoration in their eyes that I saw the first time. They had a daughter not long after, a pretty thing with her mother’s hair and her father’s eyes and she grew into a precocious child.

But their familial bliss wasn’t meant to be, at least not permanently. The allure of power, particularly the power that ran in their veins, was too much for him to resist. He sought it at every turn, going so far as to put his wife and daughter in harm’s way to attain it. What he didn’t realize is that it would ultimately cost him everything. I watched next as his wife was bound to a rough oaken post, a pyre of wood beneath her feet lifting her high against it. They tied her with thick ropes etched in old, old runes, and accused her of heresy. She was defiant to the end, even as they lit the flames beneath her and the smoke choked her lungs. Her husband was nowhere to be found, not until it was all said and done. He cut her free of the post, her charred husk of a body nothing more than that save for the rings on her curled fingers and the pendant around her neck.

They were supposed to protect her.

We see how well that went.

I’ve never watched someone be burned alive and if I’m being frank, I hope I never see it again. It left the man with no wife and with a daughter that hated him for what he had caused. He held what was left of her until the sun rose once more. That day made him a hard man, a cruel man. It made him the man that stood before me in the field, drawing his hand back from his forehead. My legs felt weak and I thought my stomach was going to leap up through my throat and out my mouth. He must have seen me sway because he steadied me out with his hands to my shoulders.

“Does that answer all of your questions to your satisfaction?” He asked with a tilt of his head. My head ached, filled with a fog that I couldn’t quite shake no matter how I tried to focus on him. I think I was still processing, trying to figure out just where all of the pieces fit and how that compared to the way I understood the world as it currently was. My mother was a woman of many, many secrets and try as I may, I knew only a narrow sliver of them. Where I came from, my mother died when I was much too young. I never got the opportunity to reach the age of maturity where parents could finally reveal things like family secrets to their kids. Instead, I was kept in the dark. Even when she died, I was forced to forget much of the trauma associated with her death. They locked it away, kept me from thinking about it, and I think in a way, they made it more difficult for me to deal with it in the long run. I knew my mother had problems with her father and most of them came after her mother died. She left home when she was a teenager to get away from him and never looked back. But it was undeniable, the man standing before me was most definitely my grandfather.

“How do I know you’re not lying?” I asked him, wrapping my arms around myself as I tried to steady myself independent of his touch. It felt like my entire world was set off kilter, like walking in a crooked funhouse while drunk off your ass, like I was liable to fall over at any moment. Let’s be real, that’s a likely outcome even on a normal day, so this whole feeling was particularly unsettling. I took a deep breath, my cheeks puffing up as I held it and stared at him, our eyes mirror images in their shade of blue. So this was what he looked like, sounded like, dressed like. Maybe my mind was being indulgent.

“A healthy amount of skepticism, even subconsciously. Smart girl. I suppose though, if I were lying that I would try to convince you that I am not a liar. Or perhaps I would even feign insult at such an implication.” He said, fanning a hand over his heart for emphasis. Still, he looked amused. I wasn’t sure what to think of it so I stayed quiet for the time being and waited for whatever might resemble a real answer from the black clad, blue eyed man. Finally his smile softened a bit and he relented. As his hand came away from his chest, his wrist rolled and he turned his hand up to me, palm up, fingers curled. “Come here, Adel--Addie.”

“And what? Come with you if I want to live? I’m not sure what my subconscious is getting at here.” I said with a scoff, looking between his face and his hand a few times. The amusement bled steadily from his expression until that hard look settled in once more.

“This may be a dream but just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean I’m not real. Did you not pay attention to a single thing I showed you, child? You are the end of our line, a conduit for two of the strongest lines of Asterians ever to exist and you, my dear, are in grave danger. I am here to protect you but you need to trust me.” He said, opening his hand to produce one of the rings worn by the woman who had burned. It looked like it was made of slate steel, rough rather than smooth. The band was doubled up to support its bulk, which was formed into a pair of open crescents in opposite directions from one another while the center was set with a stone that seemed to shift and change like the moon behind clouds in little flickers. Beneath this sky it should have been black, but I recognized that it actually reflected the moon as it was when I had gone to bed tonight.

“That’s the exact sort of thing I would expect someone to say when I shouldn’t trust them. You know, there are very good reasons for why I didn’t recognize you. Very good reasons for why I shouldn’t trust you. Very good reasons for why I shouldn’t even take this dream seriously.” I told him frankly, my arms uncrossing and recrossing. It was getting cold and even the weight of the black cloak didn’t seem to keep it at bay.

“Very good reasons? My petulant daughter left her birthright behind for the sake of squandering her gifts and diluting our bloodline with her little fit.” He said with a roll of his eyes. Oh, hells no. He didn’t get to talk crap, not about my mother. A raised a hand and flung a heavy handed slap for his cheek but came up short when I found my hand immobilized mere inches from his face. He didn’t touch me but I could feel the influence of his power holding me still. I tried to fight it, pushing and pulling against it but found no give in either direction. “Petulance just like that. You are still a child, you know nothing of this world or your place in it. Now come.”

He grabbed me by the wrist and turned to keep walking, dragging me into a stumble to the point I nearly tripped over my own feet. Fighting to keep up, I skipped a few steps and still failed to catch up, instead feeling my arm ache with the strain of the extension.

“W-wait! Please wait? You’re hurting me!” I protested, tugging back against his hold.

“Fine.” He said curtly and let go. All at once it gave and I was falling, falling, falling. The meadow and the stars and the dark sky faded away into blackness. How long I fell, I’m not quite sure, but it felt like an eternity. When I landed, it was to awaken in the plush comfort of my bed amidst a thick tangle of sheets and blankets, knotted around my legs as if I had been thrashing in my sleep. Ro was awake and sitting up, staring at me in the dark with a narrow eyed squint that put a concerned crease in his forehead.

“That…” I tried to begin, panting as I caught my breath. I was drenched in sweat, my clothes clinging to my clammy skin. My hands shook as I pushed them back through my dark hair. Oh, my long, beautiful hair, it was all still there. It hadn’t burned off as it had in the forest in my dream. “...Dear gods…”

"I didn't hurt you..." The words sounded almost pained coming from the big blonde haired youth, who was reaching out tentatively to take me into his arms. He drew me in. "I never wou--... it's a bad dream, mo chroi. Just a nightmare..."

A big hand smoothed over my hair, pulling it over one shoulder so that he could press reassuring kisses to the side of my neck. He pulled and I went more than willingly. My body ached with the exertion of... what? It wasn't as though I had actually gone running through the forest or the subsequent meadow. But Romeo was good at grounding me and I breathed in the scent of him, my hands grasping at his chest and my face nestling against the junction of where his neck met his shoulder.

"I... gods, Ro, I know. It was... yeah. Just a dream. Surreal, but just a dream..." I exhaled the words against his skin, muffled but in all the right ways. "Pinch me? Just to make sure I'm awake?"

"Just a dream, babe." He smothered the growing frown in another kiss buried against my skin, both big arms encircling me tightly. Before I knew it, he was rocking me gently, a side to side sway meant to sooth. It definitely did the trick. When I made my request, he tried to smile but did as I asked and slipped a hand beneath the swell of my butt to give it a quick, hard pinch. "Do you wanna talk about it?"

I yelped and let out a laugh when he did the obvious Ro thing with the butt pinch. I had nobody to blame but myself for that one. The breathless laugh trailed off to a soft sigh and a shake of my head as I leaned into him. "Maybe in the morning. Cuddles and back rubs til I fall asleep again? Then I promise to tell you about it in the mornin'."

"C' mere, mo chroi." Without argument, Ro sat up a little straighter and leaned his back against the wall, the pillows supporting the his lower back. He dragged and jostled me until I was positioned between his open legs, hands slipping beneath the hem of my shirt to drag it up and off. His hands connected with warm skin after that, giving my shoulders the first experimental squeeze before he proceeded to give a more thorough rubdown. "I'll make breakfast before I head into the gym. You can tell me then or in the shower. I'll listen."

He went above and beyond with a legitimate backrub and I loved him for it. I would have settled but the gentle passes of his hand along my back while I cuddled against his side but Ro wasn't one to do something half assed and soon I was positioned between his legs, half stripped and slowly sinking into a growing puddle of relaxation as his hands worked over my body. "Mm, okay. I love you, Ro. You know that, yeah?"

"I know," he murmured softly against my temple before kissing it. "But if you're really worried about that, you can show me in the shower tomorrow. I won't mind."

"Maybe." I agreed, my smile returning. "Just in case."

It took little convincing for me to go back to sleep and thankfully, I did so without dreaming for the rest of the night. The morning following was nice even as I relived my strange dreams for my boyfriend’s benefit over a breakfast of the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted. A shower after that made him assuredly late for work and as he hurried out the door, his hair still wet, I returned to the bedroom to see about getting dressed. Instead I came to a dead stop in the doorway.

On my bedside table sat my grandmother’s slate steel ring, its moon phase stone still flickering with ethereal light.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2017 1:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Five: The Watcher

11th November

Thanks, Claire.

Across town, those words had punctuated Romeo's quick exodus from the Caelum Training Center and on the day of its grand reopening, no less. In truth, there had been so much hubbub about the new facilities, there hadn't really been very much for him to do. The blonde youth was a sparring partner, not a towel folder (though he never minded doing anything, so long as it kept him busy). Even with the concern of my nightmares behind them, the whole situation still gnawed at him, so when it appeared he was nothing more than a warm body, he quickly and quietly went to the boss lady and begged off. He cited 'concerns on the homefront' and let her think what she wanted.

Her assent was met with a quick smile and his thanks before he was off. Having the Highlander meant it would be a quick trip, which made stopping at the local flower shop even easier, and before long he was pulling into the driveway.

The moment that I realized my dream may have been more than just that, I had wanted to tell Ro. But he needed to work and texting him in a panic would only make it difficult for him to do so. The gym paid him well for his troubles and the last thing I wanted to do was jeopardize that in any way. So instead I stewed, turning the ring over and over in my grasp. When the Highlander pulled up in the front driveway, I still hadn't got dressed, sitting wrapped in a towel on the bed I so often shared with him.

He hadn't brought food with him, as the intent had been to liberate me from the solitude of the house and take me to lunch. There was a single red rose clasped between the fingers of one hand as he searched the house, finally finding me in the very same place he had left me before departing for work.

"Mo chroi?" Ro paused in the doorway, holding the flower up in half an offering.

My hair had mostly dried and it had done so without me having brushed it. That left it a wild mess of purple-black, the random threads of gold particularly bright in the early afternoon light that shone through my bedroom window. One leg was curled beneath me, my attention on my hands in my lap to the point that I hadn't even heard him until he spoke up. That was a rarity. I jumped and very nearly dropped the ring but caught it with a last minute bumble. I looked up, my eyes doe wide as I blinked at him slowly. A quiver of a smile tried to stake a claim on my mouth but fell just a few seconds after. "You're home early..."

It didn't take more than a quick look for Ro to realize something was wrong.

"You needed me," was all he could managed to say before closing the distance to my spot on the bed. No questions were asked as he kneeled next to me at the edge of the bed, one hand sliding over the both of mine to squeeze. His chin lifted so that he could peer up into my troubled face. "So I came."

"You did that this morning in the shower." I pointed out with a weak smile. Still, there was relief in the tug of my expression as I looked at him. Beneath his touch, my fingers fiddled with one of the ring's pointy edges, its pressure making it a real, tangible thing in my grasp. "Pretty flower... I like it. What did you have to tell Claire to get her to let you leave?"

"Second breakfast made it easy," he countered and leaned up to press a kiss to the underside of my chin and nuzzle my neck in a gentle show of affection. "I could have told her anything or nothin'. Truth is, with the grand openin', she didn't have a whole lot of need for me today. With that and Cooper fightin' tonight in IFL, an extra punchin' bag is the farthest thing from her mind. Still, I told her the truth. That I had 'concerns on the homefront'. That's all the detail she had any right to, if that."

"You needed me," he added a moment later. "That's all the mattered."

"I'm glad you came home..." I admitted quietly, turning one hand over beneath his to cup their palms for a gentle squeeze. Truthfully I wasn't sure what to say or do or think so for a few moments, I simply let him center me once more with his presence. "I'm kind of trying hard not to freak out, but I think that things last night were more than just... dreams."

"I wondered." It was a confession without committing to an idea. Amongst the people he was raised, the power of dreams and portent were well understood and, even a decade removed from his own world, Ro still had a fundamental respect for what it could mean. Setting the flower aside, he got both hands on mine and lifted them to his mouth to kiss my knuckles. "I'm here, mo chroi. Tell me what you need."

"I'm not really sure...," I said softly. As his mouth pulled away from my knuckles, I turned my right hand over and uncurled my fingers. Within my grasp, a little ring made of rough slate steel and a little gem in the center that seemed fixed on the current moon phase. Easily recognized as three-moon shape with the pair of crescents flanking a full moon in the center, it sat in the center of my hand, inconsequential and seemingly mundane, but definitely the source of my concern. "This was sitting on my bedside table. I saw it last night in my dream."

"You think he left it for you?" His mouth suddenly dry, Romeo took a slow look around the room as if he expected to see someone lurking in one of the shaded corners. He knew better, of course, but there was an instinctual level of paranoia he had grown accustomed to after so many years living in the Hollows. He looked back to me, down to the ring. "I can take some time off from the gym. I could stick around here more..."

"The wards haven't been touched... so I don't know how." Chewing at my bottom lip, I looked back down at the ring again. At periodic intervals around the two story beach house, points of power thrummed with subtle protective energies tied to well practiced rune work done by the raven haired songbird herself. That’d be me, ya know? With his offer, I looked up and shook my head. "No... no, that's not needed. He said... he said he was here to protect me."

"That's my job," he rumbled, his hackles up for the briefest of moments before be caught himself. "Sorry. I'm oversteppin'. I... yeah." Slowly, he slipped his arms under me and scooped me up, moving me further onto the bed and coming with me, until I was bundled up against his broad frame. "You tell me what you need and I'll get it. Or do it. Or whatever. I dunno as much about the mystic was as I should... but I'll find books or whatever. Just... yeah."

Romeo was way out of his element.

My brows lifted with his rumbling, one hand reaching for his as if to soothe the savage beast within. It didn't take much for him to haul me up but as he tugged me against him, I winced with discomfort, shifting slightly to bow my shoulders back and ease the pressure against the irritated skin on my back. It still hadn't faded and if I didn't know any better, I thought it might have felt worse than before. "That's the thing... I'm not a Diviner and Weavers don't typically keep Diviner channels open for that kind of communication. I don't know what to do... I... maybe I need to talk to my mom..."

Gently, he jostled me until I was comfortable again, slowly pulling me in close to let me talk my way through the situation. Romeo knew a little about a lot of things but they were quickly ranging far afield from the things he could have touched upon. So the big blonde youth settled for offering me the comfort of his presence, turning me around slowly in his arms until we were spooning, little kisses plied to my bare shoulder until... what was that?

"Uh, Addie..." Ro's brow furrowed, an intense look fixed to the spot between my shoulders that had recently become so irritated. It had... changed, until it resembled something more like a symbol. A sigil. These things were familiar to him and, the more he stared, the more intensely he focused, the more it felt like they were being watched. "Your back. There's some sorta sigil where your skin was all red before. I think, maybe, talkin' to your mom's not such a bad idea..."

"A sigil?" I asked, twisting in place and pawing at my shoulder as if I could see it. Of course I couldn't, not from that angle, but still, the abruptness of the announcement was more than enough to cause me irrational concern. When I couldn't get a look at it, I grabbed for my phone from the bedside table and unlocked it, opening the camera app and passing it to my boyfriend. With that I wriggled forward from where I had been sitting up against him and tugged all of my hair out of the way. Wriggling the top edge of my towel downwards, I hunched forward slightly and glanced back at him. "Could you take a picture of it for me? I wanna see it and maybe send it to her to see what she thinks."

"A sigil," he confirmed, almost dumbly. Quick to catch on to what I was doing, he peeled himself away from my form to take the offered phone. Moving opposite of me and trying to catch the new addition to my skin in the best light he could, half a dozen pictures were snapped off from varying distances and angles before he offered the phone over my shoulder to me. "That should do it."

Chewing at my bottom lip, she took the phone back from him and flipped through the images on by one. As plain as day, the defined lines and smooth whorls of the mark were most definitely not a random happenstance caused by my incessant itching. Unfortunately I didn't recognize it though the sheer sight of it on my skin made my blood run cold and my flesh crawl. Taking the best of the pictures, I fired off a quick message to this time's version of my mother and set the phone aside. "Ro? I'm... I'm kinda scared."

"It's gonna be okay." He said it a little too quickly and followed it up even quicker by hugging me back to him. Towel he damned, he bundled me up against his chest and squeezed me tight. "Me and your mom, we're not gonna let anything happen to you. Everything's gonna be okay. I'm always gonna be there to catch you, mo chroi."

You know something? Despite the overwhelming and steadily creeping feeling of dread, I couldn’t help but believe him.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2017 6:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Six: Answers on Astoria Lane

11th November

If you did not know how to find Number 6 on Astoria Lane, you never would. But for those of us that know just what we are looking for, it was a cinch. It happened to be the home of my mom. Or at least this time’s version of my mom since my mom is kinda dead. But anyways. Back to Number 6. It sat (obviously) between 5 and 7 and if you weren’t pre-invited, the block of brownstones seemed to skip right over the one in between without so much as a shimmer of the magical power that kept it concealed. It was set in a row of single family brownstones, upscale without being gaudy, all recently remodeled within the past five years or so. With four floors, plus a cellar, it was a slightly imposing row of structures but they all emanated a pleasant hominess that took the edge off. The street was lined with trees, big oaks with crimson and gold leaves that rained down on our heads as Ro and I walked up the sidewalk from where he had parked. Their crunching under the steady cadence of our feet was a vague comfort for some reason, likely because it filled the silence that had settled between us. Normally silence didn’t bother me, especially with someone like Romeo, but this was tense as best. I could tell he was worried, he didn’t do a very good job hiding it. But truth be told, I was worried too so I couldn’t offer a whole lot in the way of comfort to him.

Among the upper crust of New Haven, I always felt out of place. Between Ro and I, we wore dark colors, loose or distressed materials, black and denim. With his hood and my beanie, I wouldn’t have been surprised had someone called the Watch to report us for suspicious activity. They didn’t, thankfully. Maybe it was the emblazoned logo on his hoodie that read Caelum Training Center at New Haven. We made it to the front stoop without incident while the rest of New Haven went about their day, unconcerned about whatever it was we may have been doing. It was a short jaunt up the steps from there but I paused at the bottom, looking up at the looming brownstone until Ro set his hand to the small of my back. He was always such a grounding comfort even in the worst of times.

“I’m okay,” I said softly. His hand lingered anyways, even as I started up the stairs, his heavy footfalls just one step behind me. We made it halfway up the flight when the front door opened. In the doorway stood a younger version of my mother as I remembered her. Her hair was darker than mine, as black as the birds for which she was named. But I definitely got her eye color, as blue as the most radiant of gems. Or maybe it was my grandfather’s eye color, ugh, I didn’t want to think about that. She was just a few weeks away from marrying her current beau, Henry… who wasn’t my father but who seemed to treat my younger counterpart like the most precious thing in the world. A pilot or engineer of some sort, he was a tall, broad, dark haired guy with a whole lot of ink. In some ways he might have been intimidating, if only because he had a palpable presence that commanded an air of authority. But in others, he was personable and amiable and easy to get along with. He and Raven had been seeing each other for a little over a year. He had proposed on their anniversary and they decided to have their wedding just a few months later. I think it may have been related to the fact that in this time, she and my dad were engaged for almost two years without getting married before they finally split up. Everything was so different here, I still have trouble grasping it sometimes. Still, he made her happy and he did his best to do the same for younger Adelaide. Plus, eventually some day he’ll be the father of my little sister, but of course I haven’t told them that. They still didn’t know Clara was here and I didn’t intend to ruin it for her any time soon.

I like Henry, even if I have trouble admitting it. See, I’m supposed to be intrinsically opposed to any pairing other than my biological parents. But you know? After all this time, after the way I’ve seen people cast aside so easily? It has become a whole lot easier to separate biology from the meaning of family. It isn’t necessarily blood but rather who you choose to love and who loves you in return. Michi and Misery and Ro were my family. Kruger and Nikolai and even this time’s Raven were my family too. Not blood. Blood doesn’t mean jack **** in the grand scope of things. Back to the present though. I could see that Raven looked worried as she waited for us to scale the steps. She glanced left and right, up and down the street before stepping to one side to allow us to enter.

“I’m sorry it’s such short notice,” I said sheepishly once we were inside. With the three of us gathered in the narrow entryway, Raven shut the door behind us. A brush of her fingertips along the edge of the door frame lit up a series of protective runes that thrummed with benevolent energy. It was like being home. My gaze went first toward the stairs as I listened for the pitter patter of little feet. Raven must have caught me looking.

“It’s no worry. And she’s out with Sophia. They went to get ice cream and walk around the park for a bit. I’d estimate we’ve got… maybe an hour.” Gesturing away from the stairs, she waited for Ro and I to get moving first before following us into the parlor. Or, the front parlor at least. The so aptly named “parlor floor” of the brownstone technically had like… three parlor spaces. The front acted as a formal living room while the rear parlor was informal. We stood in the informal just as long as it took Raven to head into the middle section, a den that had been converted into a cozy library. There were no doors to divide one room from the others but it at least took us away from a direct view of the front door in the event Adelaide and Sophia came back sooner than expected.

“I don’t think it will take a full hour, but if she gets back, we can always save the rest for another time…” I said, hesitant if only because I was worried about putting it off any longer than necessary. It wasn’t every day that I received seemingly prophetic dreams and random marks on my body. Ever intuitive, the look my mother gave me said more than words ever could.

“Don’t be silly. We’ll get it sorted out one way or the other. Go ahead and sit. Henry’s grabbing drinks.” Raven said while reaching up on her tiptoes to snag a book from one of the higher shelves. While Ro and I sat, she dropped the book onto a growing stack on one of the side tables. They were a mix of old and new, the books, varying sizes and thicknesses and teetering together in a precarious tower. I couldn’t see their spines from where I sat but the top book seemed to be the final book. Raven took a seat and glanced toward the rear of the house as if waiting for something or someone. A few moments later, Henry emerged from the archway with an armful of bottled water and beer. They were set out on the table, free for the taking. Ro staked his claim on a beer and I grabbed a water but I didn’t open it if only because my stomach was flipping so hardcore that I thought I may very well puke if I tried to drink. Tugging a leg up beneath her and leaning into her newly seated fiance, Raven turned her gaze back to me with a ghost of a smile. “Let’s start from the beginning.”

“I’m not really sure exactly where the beginning truly is… but I suppose maybe the dreams. A few nights ago, I started having odd dreams. The sorts of things that made it difficult to stay asleep for any length of time. You know, like the ones that gave me… problems before.” I said with a tick of a look askance first to Ro then over to Henry before looking back at Raven. Ro knew the entirety of what had happened with me but I wasn’t sure just how much of it Henry knew. He and Raven hadn’t met until a few months after my overdose. She gave me a subtle nod to go on. I suppose anything I could say in front of her could be said in front of him, especially if they were going to be getting married in a few weeks. I took a deep breath and continued. “Sometimes they were fairly benevolent and innocuous but other times they were full blown nightmares that would wake me… and usually Ro too, from a dead sleep. It was easy enough to ignore them at first, you know? But… last night…”

As I trailed off, Ro set his hand on my leg, palm turned up in silent offering. He looked tired. I hated myself for that. Gently I set my hand in his larger one and as soon as I did, his fingers curled around mine protectively. Romeo MacKenzie, my ever present savior. What would I ever do without him? I really hope I never have to find out.

“Last night?” Raven prompted, her gaze studious and intent.

“I had a dream that I think was… not exactly a dream.” I said with a weak shrug. Vague, well done Addie.

“Not exactly a dream in what way?” A roll of Raven’s wrist gestured for me to keep going. After all, we only had about an hour to go through all of this information before younger Adelaide got back with her nanny and we had to try and pretend things were perfectly fine.

“You know the Diviners… and how they can speak through dreams?” I asked her, my teeth working into my bottom lip until it was in danger of splitting open. She nodded once but any lingering hint of a smile was nowhere to be found on her expression. I held her gaze for a few moments before looking down at the union of my hand with Romeo’s. Had it not been for him, I may very well have floated away or at least maybe gotten up to leave as quickly as possible. I wanted to squirm in my seat rather than saying all of this. “I was visited by someone I have never met before. I thought my subconscious was messing with me at first but the more he said, the harder it was to deny what he was telling me.”

“Well, who was it?” She asked.

“My grandfather. Your father.” I said. There was a flicker of almost imperceptible surprise that ghosted across her expression. It was there and gone, morphed into an unreadable mask the next moment. My soft, warm mother had gone cold. I couldn’t recall another time I had ever seen such a thing.

“That’s… that shouldn’t be possible. Addie, I need you to take me through your dream from the beginning. Don’t leave anything out.” She said firmly. So I didn’t. I took her through from start to finish, reliving each moment of the strange dream all the way up to the point that I woke up. The forest, the fire, the field. The man, the things he showed me, the ring he had with him. By the time I finished, I was breathless and exhausted, as if I had walked through that entire field all over again.

“The killing field… It can’t be.” She murmured. Across from me, Raven looked as though she had seen a ghost. Her face was ashen and pale, drawn tight into a lingering frown that looked terribly out of place on her lips. She had taken Henry’s hand in hers and judging by the tightness of her grip, he was an incredibly strong man to keep such a straight face. I forced myself to slowly relax my hold on my unopened water bottle. Under my touch I could feel the plastic straining, the label crinkling and crumpling with the tension.

“There’s more.” I said softly, breaking the tense silence that had settled in the wake of my story’s completion. Raven arched a brow as I dipped a hand into the pocket of my jacket for the rough steel ring. Extracting it, I ran my thumb along the edge, clasped it tightly for a moment then unfurled my fingers. I leaned forward in my seat to offer it out to her or at least show it a bit closer. She too leaned, reaching tentatively for it. When she realized just what it was, she hesitated before taking a breath and taking it from my grasp.

“Where did you get this?” She exhaled the words as if it might mask the fact that they were quivering as they left her tongue. I hadn’t wanted to upset her. In fact it was one of the very last things I wanted to do by coming here. If there was one thing I had decided by now it was that my mom, this mom, deserved every shot at happiness that she could get. I chewed at my bottom lip and tried to decide whether to tell her the truth or not.

“It was left on her bedside table.” Ro piped up after a moment, solving the conundrum of truth or lie for me. I glanced back at him, torn between gratitude and concern. But when I saw the worried look on his face, I relented. He wanted to protect me. Random family heirloom artifacts showing up in a supposedly safe space where such a thing shouldn’t have been possible had to have been more than a little unsettling. Raven looked between he and I for a few long moments.

“And these dreams… did they coincide with the appearance of this mark on your back? This… sigil?” She asked. I exchanged a brief but furtive look with Romeo before looking back to Raven with a reluctant nod. She sat back in her seat, still holding onto the ring. She was always so calm and composed so to see her so visibly flustered was a little off putting. After a few moments of thought, she pushed a hand back through her hair then leaned to grab the top two most books from the stack on the side table. “I wasn’t able to recall a mark akin to it, so I started pulling a few tomes I’ve… borrowed over the years. Can I see it one more time, up close?”

It was a slightly awkward request but one I was prepared for. I slipped out of my jacket and offered it over to Ro. Beneath it, I had worn a halter top to leave my upper back bare so I rose from my seat, crossed the narrow distance to where Raven sat, then turned and knelt down in front of her, my knees sinking into the plush rug beneath me. She carefully swept my hair out of the way and let out a quiet little hiss at the sight of the sigil on my flesh. Her fingers traced it, feeling it out with a subtle thrum of probing energy. It ached and I wanted to tell her to stop but if anyone could help me figure out what all of this was about, it was her. When I was little, my parents had been mercenaries but as I got a bit older, my mom returned to what she was meant to be; a healer. At least until she died. This version had returned to the trade earlier than she had in my time and, I know it sounds biased, but she was one of the best. The Elders of Amberhelm had tried more than once to get her to return home to serve the people there but she decided to stay here with my younger self, well away from the man she had run so far from.

And here we were, trying to figure out just how he had found me, in my dreams nonetheless, and how that might tie into the mark marring my back. Damnit, I had a nice back too. This better not leave a scar or I was going to be livid. Of course, that was barring something more catastrophic happening like… I don’t know, dying or something. I set my hands to the tops of my thighs, my fingers curling and pressing against the tight denim as Raven continued to poke and prod and feel the mark out. The prickling sensations it caused made my head swim. I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, rocking forward slightly before leaning back into her touch.

“Addie? She’s not lookin’ so hot...” I heard Ro say but he sounded so very far away, like he was calling to me through a tunnel. I swallowed hard and looked up at him. His eyes were wide and intent on me but I didn’t watch him too terribly long. Rather, the floor was fast rising to meet me. Ro made it there just in time to keep me from face-planting, a fact I’m eternally grateful for. Raven pulled her hands away from my back and the relief was instantaneous. She and Ro conversed in garbled voices as he jostled to get me sitting up properly. If I didn’t know better, he sounded angry. But my mother, ever calm, offered soft, soothing words to the blonde bruiser and in turn he settled, holding me close while brushing my hair out of my face. There I lingered for a few moments, half aware while they talked over me. Soon though, my mom was wafting a small, opaque bottle beneath my nose. It was the clarity I needed to focus my eyes and push away the daze.

“What… the **** was that?” I mumbled, reaching one hand over the opposite shoulder to try and touch the mark on my back. Raven caught my wrist and drew it away with a gentle sound.

“Easy there. It’s going to be okay, my girl. I didn’t mean to push so hard. Are you okay?” She asked, her fingertips touching my cheek and forehead in succession. I felt like I was burning up, making her fingers feel like ice against my skin. Add in the fact that my head may as well have been full of lead for how heavy it was and honestly, I felt like royal crap in a can. Leaning away, Raven snagged my bottle of water from the table and opened it. The cracking of the seal made my head twinge but she brought it up to my lips for a slight sip. It was the first drink after a trek through the Sahara for all that it wet my tongue and for a moment I was half tempted to steal it and chug the rest. But the sudden flip of my stomach said such a thing was a bad idea.

“What happened? Other than me trying to faceplant on the floor here, of course.” I asked with a soft little groan. My back still hurt though not nearly as much as before. Small favor, I suppose. Lifting my chin, I looked from my mother to Ro and back again. Their expressions were grave.

“As best as I can discern, it’s a watcher’s mark. It isn’t anything Asterian though. Moreover, it didn’t come from him.” Judging by the look on her face, that seemed to be a relief for Raven. But if the mark hadn’t come from my grandfather, then where had it originated? Quiet stretched between us, tense and heavy with concern. Some naive part of me, an ignorant part that wanted to remain oblivious to all of the signs, wanted to ask where it came from if not from my grandfather. Instead, I swallowed to combat the dryness in my mouth and met my mother’s gaze, blue for blue.

“Then it’s the Order. He… he said I was in danger… that he was here to protect me. With the other dreams I’ve had lately, like the ones I had before Nick died… what if they’re coming back again? What if they’re coming for me again?” I asked, the low whisper of my voice cracking and breaking periodically. Neither Raven nor Romeo had an immediate response but rather traded knowing looks. That must have been what they were talking about when I passed out but before I woke up again. “If they’re coming for me then they’re likely coming for her too… you need to get her back here now. Please.”

Henry was evidently already on it, exchanging texts with Sophia to see where she and Adelaide were and how long it would be until they got back. Previously I had been assured that Sophia was more than just a nanny. She had been recommended by Seirichi, Michi’s mom, as someone who could act as both nanny and bodyguard in one. Raven had hired her when she started getting more hours at work and after… everything with Nick. But mostly she pretended it was just because of work. I’m not stupid though. With a quiet groan, I extracted myself from Ro’s grasp and pushed myself to my feet. The mark on my back made me feel incredibly self conscious, so I snagged my jacket and tugged it on, jerking the zipper up to a stop at the top of my sternum. When I turned back, Raven and Ro were both on their feet. I gave the latter a look but reached for the former’s hands. Catching them, I drew close to her. She was just an inch shorter than me but barefoot which made her seem smaller than she was.

“I’ll… I will take care of things on my side… but… don’t let her out of your sight. She needs to be with someone trusted and capable of protecting her. I’m… she’s… she’s just a kid. And if it’s them… if it’s really the Order again, they won’t give a **** that she’s practically a baby.” I implored Raven. She knew the stakes. After all, she had already died for them once. She surely knew that the Order would stop at nothing to get their hands on either me or my younger self.

“You’re not fighting this alone though, you know that right?” She asked me, her voice low but carrying that authoritative air of someone in a parental position. It was an odd dynamic, she and I. Simultaneously my mother and not, we were still trying to navigate the strangeness of our time displaced bond. “I’m going to look out for you both. I promise.”

“But she is the priority. I’m old enough to handle myself, I’ve dealt with them before. So swear it. Swear it on your Name that you’ll do everything in your Power to keep her safe, no matter the cost.” I knew what I was asking of her but that was just how important this was. Ro would get upset with me for it later, but if it came down to her or I, I would choose my younger self every time. That little girl still had a chance, she still had a shot at growing up without the Order breathing down her neck. Without any sort of foretold destiny. She could be something more than I would ever be. Raven’s hands tightened in mine but after a pregnant moment, she swallowed and nodded.

“I swear on my Name.”
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Addie MacKenzie
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Old Wyrm
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2017 12:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Seven: We’re All a Little Mad Here

25th November

I don’t really know where the last two weeks had gone but surely enough, my mom’s big day was here. She had asked me to be her maid of honor while my younger counterpart had been tapped to play the part of flowergirl. My godmother and one of the girls my mom worked with rounded out the bridesmaid side while several of Henry’s friends would be standing on his side when the time came. I tried my best not to go through the day in a daze but man… the last week or two had been a **** show. After we left my mom’s house in New Haven, I endured an excruciatingly silent drive back to Seaside with Romeo at the wheel. When we got there, he was particularly tender in how he handled me, both before and after we went to bed. I tried to assure him that this was temporary, just a minor hiccup as were so many things in my life these days. It would pass, just like everything would. Still he worried over me.

The next day, he asked me if I wanted him to stay home from work the following day. In the thick of the Iron Fists League, the last thing his pink haired boss would allow was for him to be absent from the gym, especially right after their grand opening to the public. Delia at her eponymous diner might have been a little more lenient, if only because that woman was far too soft for her own good. But no, I told him that this was business as usual. The Order had already ****ed up my life a handful of times before, I refused to allow them to dictate how I and those I loved lived their day to day lives. If they wanted me, it was going to take a whole hell of a lot more than a stupid mark on my back and bad dreams at night. So I sent Ro to work with all the reassurance I could offer. Everything would be fine. Everything was fine.

At least until it wasn’t. It was Wednesday… or maybe it was Thursday. Just as I had on prior mornings, I kissed Romeo goodbye and sent him on his way with a firm smack to that fine ass of his. Shortly after, I cleaned up the remnants of breakfast, got the dishwasher running, and got myself dressed for the day. When I came back down the stairs, I came not into the living room but rather a dark, dank chamber that reeked of mold and must. There were no windows or any signs of light save for the faint flicker of a sole torch stuck into a holder in the wall. Now, see, this is odd because our house was built only a few years ago and to the best of my recollection, definitely didn’t feature any sort of macabre torch holding system nor any stone walls. The brick that I could see had been worn smooth with time and was spotted here and there with creeping patches of nasty mildew and black mold.

I stepped off of the last stair and felt crunching beneath my foot. A glance down confirmed my worst fear. Tiny bones, likely those of a small animal of some sort. Rat, rabbit, squirrel, something like that. They snapped and crackled as I tried to ease back but when I tried to step back up onto the stairs, I found the staircase no longer there. What in the literal ****, right? Surely by now I should have been freaking out. Instead, I calmly pressed forward since I couldn’t go backwards and stepped further into the dark room. The flicker of torchlight was just barely enough to light my way but my eyes thankfully made up for the rest. One of the upsides of draconic blood, you know? The floor was slick, streaked here and there with dark trails that, I realized after a cursory inspection of my bare soles, was blood. Mostly dried but not quite, more than enough to stain the skin. More troubling was the way the streaks were fashioned.

First it marked out a wide sweeping circle that almost touched each of the four walls of the seemingly square room. Within that larger one, more precise lines and whorls etched a ring of symbols that I couldn’t understand or make any sort of sense of. Wary of the circle itself, I stood wide of it, tucking myself right into the very edge to avoid crossing the line. Circles like this were typically used for one of three things. Summoning, containment, or rituals typically. Truthfully, I did not particularly want to be involved in any of them. Not here. Still I felt as if I needed to get a better look at what it was for and why the hell I was seeing it instead of my living room. So carefully I paced to one side, toeing the edge of the circle as I rounded it.

I couldn’t make out the marks ringing the rim but a smaller circle inside seemed to bear a trio of letters that came into focus in the dim light as I rounded to the far side. There I stopped, staring at the bold, bloody letters spelling out AVA inside of the inner circle. Well, that couldn’t be a good sign. I hadn’t seen such a mark since before I was sent back to this time. To my left, I heard the sound of a door unlocking and turned a quick look, blinking into the depths of the shadows to see who was there.

When my eyes reopened from what had been only a lightning fast blink, the dark room was gone and I was staring at Ro as he came through the front door. With my body wedged between the couch and the wall, I had evidently pushed it out away and scrunched up the rug beneath it. It was no wonder he was looking at me funny. Glancing down, I looked at the floor and found no sign of the circle of blood or the letters inside of it. So there, I had two choices; I could tell him what I saw or I could downplay it. If I told him, I would only increase his worry and stress and pretty much prove that he was right about being his needing to be away from work more. I really hated admitting I was wrong. Moreover, I really vehemently despised admitting that maybe I was in over my head.

So what did I do? I smiled sheepishly and said something about thinking my hair ties that had been going missing were ending up under the couch thanks to some pet or another around here. Not Fred, of course. The runty Cerberus was an outdoor only pet. It was obviously Marley or something, blame Misery. He didn’t look like he believed me but still helped me move the couch back before stealing me away for lunch outside of the house for a few hours.

That was the start, really. It got worse from there, seeing things that weren’t there. Sometimes they made sense and were legitimately plausible but by and large, they made no sense and left me even more confused than before. The worst part was the fact that every time it happened, I was left feeling tired and drained afterwards. Even if I got a full, uninterrupted night of sleep, these little… fits took it right out of me. I knew the feeling all too well. After having spent a solid year and a half getting little to no sleep every night after the whole Sandy debacle, the hallucinations and delusions I had suffered then had absolutely wiped me out. That this round was progressing so rapidly was cause for concern and fast I think I was drowning in it all.

A few days before the wedding, the night before the day of thanks, I found myself alone at the grocery store. With a shopping cart full of various accoutrements for the upcoming holiday, I was in the thoroughly picked over baking aisle when it happened again. Standing in front of the premade cake frosting was a man wrapped in a tattered cloak. I saw him only in profile at first but as soon as I neared, he lifted his head and turned a look toward me. He had a mouthful of sharp, crooked teeth and beady birdlike eyes of a dark enough shade of brown that they passed for black in most lights. The only reason I knew they were brown was because I had seen them up close so many times I wished I could forget.

I came to a dead stop, my eyes locked on his. I was only ten steps away with only my cart between myself and the man who had tormented me while I was locked away in a cage while my home burned all around me. The rest of the store seemed to have gone dead quiet and somewhere above my head, the fluorescent lights flickered. Neither of us seemed willing to move first. What was the likelihood that this man had simply come to the grocery store for cake frosting? Pretty slim considering he wasn’t from this time or this place.

“What do you want?” I asked. My voice sounded small, weak and afraid as I spoke up. I rolled my shoulders and fixed him with my meanest thuglife stare, posturing more than I felt that I could back up. Back when the Order had been around every corner, I had taken to carrying a pistol with me at all times but as they seemed to disappear, I had become complacent and switched back to just using my switchblade on me instead and leaving the gun at the bottom of my purse somewhere. Totally responsible, I know. To my credit, the safety was on. His smile twisted into an ugly sneer and he said something to me in a guttural language that I couldn’t understand but still recognized. I shook my head at him. “Nuh uh, brosef. You don’t get to come here and **** with my head and then go talking in a language I don’t understand. If you have got a message for me, you better spit it out.”

He laughed. Oh how he laughed at me. It was a hoarse, rough thing, like glass and gravel put through a blender. It hurt my ears and made some other part of me shudder internally if only for the familiarity of it all. The shake of his head furthered my annoyance and I ventured a look over my shoulder for any sign of anyone else. It seemed they had all disappeared. A quick listen beyond the high walls of our aisle didn’t seem to bear any signs of life either. No quiet voices, no indistinguishable elevator music, no squeaking cart wheels on linoleum, no hum of refrigerated aisles and coolers, no beep beep beep of the checkout scanners up front. Well fine, then I guess we’ll do this live.

“I’m serious. Tell me what you need to tell me and then go away. I have pies to make.” Obviously I wasn’t in the mood for these half real shenanigans. I snapped my fingers as if prompting him to go on. All it did was cause him to turn away from the wall of frosting and take the first tentative steps toward me. I held my hand up, palm out. “Ah, ah, ah. Stop right there. You can talk without being all up in my business.”

“You. You, stupid girl.” He said in broken Common, chuckling as he kept going. Spitting at my feet, his saliva ate into the tile beneath my feet, wearing black holes right through it. I managed to scoot back out of spitting range to fix him with a bewildered look. These little visions weren’t supposed to be real. This only caused him to laugh again, infuriating me all over again. He cleared his throat and continued. “Chosen Child. Time comes, you or her, there is no other. Submit to the Word of the Lady.”

Oh, well that changed things, didn’t it. Not only had he interrupted my last minute Thanksgiving shopping trip, but he did so in order to threaten me in the damned baking aisle. Worse yet, it seemed this guy was threatening my younger counterpart as well, in which case I was of the mind to kill him then and there. This time around I wasn’t held back by the rune marked bars of the cage they had kept me in and I definitely wasn’t the scared and confused and weak little girl that I was back then.

At some point, well before I came back to this time, my home world was an absolute disaster. We thought we were making strides against it but after the fourth or fifth incursion, I got separated from the good guys and ended up with the bad ones. I thought they were going to kill me like they had the others, but rather they tossed me in a cage and took me on their way. There were other girls too, girls they had collected from all over the lands near and far. I still remember their names and faces, gaunt and sallow, ashen despite the deep tans they had from being left beneath the summer sun with nothing but the top bars of their cells to shade them.

We were barely fed but at the very least they didn’t beat us or do worse. I suppose the elements inflicted enough damage without them adding to it. I don’t know how long they kept me there, I lost count of the days after a few weeks, mostly because they started taking us away from the group one by one. It started with the girl that died in her cage of starvation and exposure. They had left her in there for days until the stench of her dead body permeated the entire camp. After that, they started taking the live ones away, never to be seen again. When it came down to just myself and another girl, this man that stood before me was the one to come get her. She begged him not to take her, begged him not to take me either. He ripped her out of the cell by her hair. I can still remember the sound of her hair tearing in his grasp and how she cried out when a clump of it pulled free in his fist. Despite being locked up in a cage for months on end without any sort of a brush, she had had quite the pretty head of dark hair.

I don’t know where they took her to but it wasn’t terribly far away. The drag marks in the dirt turned off abruptly but just beyond that, I could hear her scream. She screamed and cried for hours. I wanted to call to her, to tell her to fight, to tell her to get away, but I was afraid that if I did that, they would come for me next and then it would be my turn to scream and cry endlessly. Shortly before sunrise, when the embers of the fire were still glowing brightly in the dug out pit in the middle of our circle of mostly empty cages, the screaming stopped. I listened for a bit longer to see if it might start again but it never did. Not long after that, they packed up the convoy and moved camps again. I was the only one left at that point. They fed me a little more, likely a share of what they would have given to the other girls. Occasionally they taunted and leered at me with their foreign words and sharp teeth, reveling in my terror when I would try to escape to one corner of the cage only to find another one of their wretched faces waiting for me there.

At the time, he had told me that I was born for this and that it had to be me. I didn’t know what it meant at the time but I didn’t want to be whatever it was he said I was going to be, not if it had killed the other girls. I was just barely seventeen at the time, I still had my whole life ahead of me, so much living left to do. Thankfully before they could show me just what they meant, my family found me and broke me out. We escaped and shortly after, I was sent to this time with nothing but the clothes on my back.

But that brings me back to the present. This guy stood between me and the life I had built for myself here and now. He wasn’t going to take me back, not to that. A quiet schhhhhk at my right drew his gaze to the blade I had flipped open. It was more subtle than reaching for the petite pistol tucked into the purse sitting in the child seat of the cart. For a moment he eyed the switchblade and then looked back at me.

Then he laughed, long and hard.

What an asshole.

He laughed and I tried my best not to let it rattle me. Regardless, when he started my way again, I panicked and shoved the cart at him with a sharp shout to try and draw attention to our aisle. Perhaps he would give it up if more people came running. As I pushed the cart, I turned on my heel and made a dash for the end of the aisle. Behind me, the cart crashed and I heard things falling from the shelves. There I skidded to a stop and ran into a stock person as he rounded the corner in search of the cause of the ruckus. Grasping at his arm and jibbering about the man after me, I turned back around to point at where the collision had occurred.

The man was gone without a trace. My cart had crashed into the shelf and knocked at least a hundred containers of frosting and other baking sundries off onto the floor below. They painted the white floor in creams and powders and sprinkles, a sugary mess of epic proportions. The flickering overhead had stopped and rather than a knife in my hand, I held the pen I had been using to cross things off of my shopping list. The stock boy stared at me, the mess behind me, and back at me again. When I realized just what had happened, I turned back to him sheepishly.

“Um… I think we need clean up on aisle six?”

So all of that had been a little embarrassing to say the least. Hurriedly, I finished my shopping and took my leave, paying for my groceries and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible. I think Ro knew something was wrong when I got home but it was easily brushed off as more of the same. I was tired, that was all, I promised him. He reluctantly took me at my word but I could tell he was still worried. He always was lately. Thankfully (hah, see what I did there?), Thanksgiving passed without incident. We made more than enough food to feed an entire army. Between the band, some of the less fortunate at the Hollows (who am I kidding, they’re all less fortunate), and others like my parents (adopted and otherwise) and their respective families, we pretty much had to account for an army when all was said and done. But I like feeding people, it makes me happy when they have stomachs full of home cooked food. Some day, after the band isn’t a thing anymore and I’m looking to have a more permanent career, I would like to have a restaurant of my own. Maybe a bakery, I don’t know. Bakeries are a dime a dozen around here. But a nice pizzeria with a bakery case? I like the whole idea of it, I always have. Maybe someday, I hoped.

Black Friday came and went as well, full of sports on the television and leftover food from the day before. Later in the evening, Ro and I got dressed up and went down to Hangman Distillery for Raven and Henry’s rehearsal dinner. It was Claire and Cooper’s latest venture into the food and drink business though it was more Cooper’s baby than anything. Set on the north side of Old Temple, it sat right on the river and was made up of several buildings, the biggest of which was the taproom. They had closed it down early tonight for the rehearsal even though it was a pretty small affair. But I guess it’s easy to do that when your bridesmaid owns the place. The food was delicious, the whiskey doubly so. I avoided getting utterly trashed so that I could actually function the next day. We rehearsed all the things then left with a nice buzz and full stomachs.

“Did you see that?” I asked Ro on the way out, stopping to squint into the dark. Romeo looked in the same direction, his brows furrowing when he evidently see whatever I was looking for. I huffed a little sound and set off into the darker shadows in search of what I had seen. “Purple robes, I saw them.”

Before I could get too far, I felt fingers catch around my wrist, tugging me back into the protective wrap of burly arms. Vaguely aware that I let out a squeak of protest, it was lost to the soothing murmurs that Romeo let tickle the shell of my ear. I wanted to try and see if I was hallucinating… again. Or if maybe, just maybe this time it was real. But Ro? Ro had other ideas. He held me tightly until I stopped struggling and with a huff I looked up at him. I don’t remember exactly what he said but something along the lines of being too pretty to let go and that we had a busy day tomorrow. We should get home, he said. He’d make it worth my while. Normally I was the one making promises like that so it was a strange dynamic change if only for the short term. He drove us home and all the while I watched each passing street and alleyway with intent interest as if I might be able to catch a glimpse of plum once more.

At one point those bastards had stalked me the city over and then when Nick died, they all just seemed to disappear. Side of effect of his death or crazy random happenstance, I don’t know. But it had been nice for awhile. Even if the nagging doubt in the back of my mind lingered all the while. I wasn’t so lucky that they would just up and disappear for good, not when they were so gung ho for me before. But we made it to Seaside without so much as a sliver of trouble and as Ro threw the Highlander into park in the driveway, I let out a quiet sigh of equal parts disappointment and relief. I know Ro was looking at me funny for it, but if it bothered him, he didn’t say so. He even gave me a piggyback ride all the way to the front door and even up the stairs once we made it inside. Just as he had promised, my relenting in my search earlier was rewarded handsomely by my boyfriend and I slept like a rock, too tired to do anything but. Just because I broke my addiction to drugs and alcohol doesn’t mean I wasn’t still an addict and oh, was that boy intoxicating.

Thank the gods for Romeo MacKenzie.

This morning when I got up, there was no strange feeling of dread, no worry about what was going to happen today. It drizzled a little in the morning, something I was sure made Raven plenty happy since it’s supposedly lucky to get rain on the day you get married. After that, the skies cleared though it was still chilly. That’s pretty much a given if you get married in late November. I spent the morning getting ready at some trendy salon in New Haven with Raven, Aunt Claire, and Elle, my mom’s other bridesmaid. I kinda like her. She’s got the badass vibe going on, lots of ink but super chill. She works at St. Luke’s with my mom. There’s more to her story than that but it’s a barrel of rabid monkeys so I’m not going to get into it, I don’t think. After that, a convoy of stretch SUV limousines took us out to where they are holding the ceremony today.

Set between the city and Stars End, I think this place is owned by Henry’s boss or something like that. Honestly, it looks like it belongs in the South of France rather than a place like Rhydin. It was hidden amongst the foothills, overlooking a rather picturesque little town in the valley below. You know the village from Beauty and the Beast? Yeah, kind of like that. It was supposed to be a small affair, only a couple dozen people between both the bride’s side and the groom’s side. Henry had pretty much given Raven carte blanche (or would it be carte noire for that black RHYEX? See what I did there?) when it came to wedding preparations. He, on the other hand, will be in charge of their honeymoon and from what I hear, he plans a pretty decent vacation. The two of them are going to go away for a week or two and then they’re going to come back and get my younger counterpart for a family vacation after that. At first I was kind of worried about them leaving Adelaide here without them but Raven assured me that she would be staying with Claire and Cooper which I suppose, despite how I might feel about my godmother, was a good thing. She would be safe there, no matter what may come.

The chateau where this whole shindig is going down is kind of gorgeous. There’s this stone arch to get there that goes over this shallow moat. The doors are at least fifteen feet tall, I swear. From there, it’s all gorgeous stonework and priceless pieces from this place and that. You’d almost never know it belongs to some big tech magnate who likely made his millions from the industrial war machine. Regardless, it was gorgeous. They had decorated in midnight blues and muted metallics, mostly silver but a few touches of bronze here and there too. I got to wear this snazzy silver dress that did a remarkably good job of keeping me warm despite the chill. The courtyard where the ceremony was set up doubled as the reception area and I think I counted no less than fifteen people waiting in the wings to change things up as soon as the ceremony was over. My mother was nothing, if not meticulous when it came to such preparations. I had no doubt that the day would go off with a hitch. As I watched them scurry to and fro, I heard someone call my name and I turned quickly to see Claire waving me down.

Since coming here, I had always had something of a contentious relationship with her, try as she might to be everything I wanted her to be. It wasn’t really her fault, I think she meant well. But sometimes she had a habit of overstepping and imposing herself upon people that would rather live their lives without her influence. Money and stubbornness did not solve everything, contrary to how she might believe otherwise. Still, I wasn’t going to cause drama, not today. She came huffing to a stop and thumbed over her shoulder. “Ro’s looking for you.”

Dressing up hadn't ever been Romeo's forte. It wasn't that he didn't like it, he was mostly indifferent in a good sorta way, but growing up where and when he had, then being an orphan on the streets of Rhy'din, there hadn't been many opportunities. He cleaned up good in the black rental tux that almost appeared tailored, though his discomfort showed in more moments he would have liked. Not having me within sight made it worse typically. With everything that was going on, it was becoming more difficult to accept leaving me alone. I was stressed and strained, worried. Not being able to help in any tangible way bothered the Hell out of Ro. Evidently out of fear of getting lost, he asked Claire to check in on me and he had taken up a lean on a low set stone wall, arms folded over his chest as he looked out over everything.

Everything he wished he could give me. Maybe some day.

"Left then a right and another right... mmkay." I repeated to myself as I got further and further away from where Claire had found me. It was her turn to play overseer of all the things while Raven finished getting ready in some swanky guest bedroom in the main part of the chateau's grand domicile. I took a left, then a right, heels click-clacking on the old stone beneath my feet. When I made the final right, I couldn't help but grin when I spotted him. Sweetly I crooned, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?"

"Only you," he replied with a slow smile. He didn't need to finish it. Only two people ever called him by his full name. Me and Delia. He reached a hand out to me, palm up. "C' mere and let me mess up your make-up?"

"This place could kinda pass for Verona, couldn't it?" I asked with a cheeky grin, a little less rockstar and a little more pizza girl. Ro's favorite or something. My steps slowed when I reached him, setting a recently manicured hand within his enough to lift them up so I could twirl beneath it. Without getting caught on the dress's hem, I spun to a stop and smiled. "Always, but not too much, I'm pretty sure it probably cost my mom her first born to pay for all of this."

There was irony in that. I grinned again.

"Fair Verona, yeah. But not as fair as my Adelaide." He helped me in my graceful spin and when I was close, his free arm slipped around my waist to trap me against his chest. Ro's face dipped in, his nose nuzzling along mine so that he could breathe his words against my lips. "Seems like Henry's good for it. Dude must be crazy in love with your mom to drop this kinda coin. I'd have to rob the First National Bank of Rhy'din to top it."

There he went, being intoxicating and all of that like I said before. Damn that boy. He was good for crumbling resolve and making me forget how long this hair and makeup had taken. My fingers traced the lines of his tux as I gave him a soft little shake of my head. "Give me a cliff over the sea, bare feet and a full moon to dance under, and I'd be the happiest broad this side of the cosmos."

His mouth was gentle on mine, careful not to mess up my lipstick. "I'd give you anything I could, mo chroi. I love you as sure as the sun shines in the sky at noon."

"I've got what I need right here, I promise." I let my lips linger there for a few moments longer, breathing him in beneath a tall arch that would twinkle with fairy light later tonight. It was a sweet moment, until it was broken by the faint trickle of music from the courtyard and a call for me by name. First and middle name. 'Adelaide Victoria' at the top of the steps, my mother laughing as she called for me. I sighed softly against Ro's lips and touched my brow to his for a few last moments of quiet. "That's my cue. Wait for me after the ceremony?"

He grinned against my mouth briefly and gave my behind a firm squeeze. "I'll be as close as you need me to be. Go. Help your mother have her day."

"I love you, Ro." I told him and reluctantly freed him from my grasp with a smirk and a heatless swat for his groping. In this dress I didn't really blame him. "See you soon."

Scurrying off up the stairs, I left Ro behind and traded him out for my absolutely breathtaking pseudo-mother. The lines of her dress hugged all the curves that I wished I had inherited myself. Her midnight black hair had been left in loose, dreamy waves around her face and shoulders. She had elected to go fairly neutral in her makeup save for a blood red pout with a faint hint of gloss to it. Already plenty tall, she had chosen to go barefoot, kind of like I had mentioned to Ro, though it looked like she had a pair of flats on standby for the reception. A silver circlet crowned head head, dipping a curved ‘v’ against her forehead with a faint sparkle of diamond dust and crushed sapphire. It made her eyes pop. For a moment I stared at her in all of her bridal glory, taking her in as if I absolutely had to commit her image to my memory.

“You look… absolutely stunning.” I managed after a few moments of reverent silence. So this is what my mother looked like at her very happiest. I had lost her when I was so young that sometimes I had forgotten the way her voice sounded or the way her smile made her eyes crinkle at the corners. This, this was something else. She beamed one of those very smiles and stepped closer to hug me once I made it into the suite she had commandeered for the sake of wriggling into her dress.

“You don’t think it’s… too much? Not enough? I don’t know…” Raven asked, turning a slow circle to show off the whole ensemble. That a woman like her could be anything but exceptionally confident just blew my mind and quickly reminded me of the damage done when her engagement to my biological father had fallen apart and she was left to pick up the pieces. I smiled and hugged her again.

“It’s exactly right. Here.” I said gently, reaching up to straighten out the sparkling circlet that had gotten slightly mussed in the process of hugging me. With that I leaned back to admire her once more. “You are absolutely, unequivocally beautiful. Henry is one lucky son of a bitch.”

Raven laughed, I grinned.

“I’m glad you’re a part of this, sweetheart. I know we had a bit of an odd start but it really means a lot to me. So… I wanted to give you something. To say thank you.” With that, Raven turned to a delicate looking table to scoop a petite gift bag up by the handles. The bag itself was sapphire blue and it had silver metallic paper poking out of the top. She handed it over and I took it quite gladly to see what it held. There was a minor touch of apprehension etched across my mother’s face that I couldn’t ignore even as I dipped a hand into the paper to dig out whatever was inside. Wrapped in softer tissue paper was a small bundle. I set the bag aside and peeled the paper away. Hung from a silver chain was a pendant made up of two circles, one set within the other. In the smaller circle was a pentacle and holding the smaller circle in place with the larger circle were eight solid circles, each depicting a different phase of the moon. At the top the new moon was as black as night while at the bottom, the full moon was a slightly off white color. It didn’t quite have the same shine that new silver would, rather it was somewhat tarnished and felt, well, old. It also looked familiar. I looked up at Raven with an arch of my brow. She met my confusion with a smile. “It was my mother’s, your grandmother’s. I brought it with me when I left home and now… I think I would like you to have it. It served me well over the years and I do believe now it deserves a new home.”

“Are… are you sure?” I asked her hesitantly, grazing my thumb over the delicate filigree that made up the outer circle. Only a few weeks prior I had woken up to another of my grandmother’s heirlooms just sitting on my bedside table, so to have a second fall into my proverbial lap less than a month later felt curious at best. At least this one had an explanation and wasn’t just a random surprise.

“Of course I’m sure, Adelaide. You’re just a few months from your Choice. I had to make mine without the support of anyone from Amberhelm… but that… that helped guide my way.” She said with a soft nod to the pendant. It was a warm weight in my palm, gentle and comforting. I couldn’t help but believe her. After all she had yet to lead me astray. Fixing on a smile, I looked back up at her, the pendant clasped tightly in my grasp.

“Thank you… my present for you is already downstairs on the gift table. Had I known, I would’ve brought it up with me.” I said with a wry smile. It got Raven laughing again. She shook her head, her inkspill of jet black waves rolling over her shoulders like the tide.

“Don’t worry about it, really. This is from me to you… as… as your mom, of sorts. I know you’re all grown up and I didn’t get to be the one… specifically, to help raise you. But you’re my blood, no matter what time you came from. You will always be mine, I promise.” Her arms wrapped me up for another tight squeeze and for a few moments, I basked in her warmth. For a brief second, just a flicker in time, it was almost as if things were perfectly normal. Or at least as normal as it can be when a daughter only looks a decade younger than her so called mother.

Man, if she kept that up, she was going to make me cry. Thankfully, soon after, I managed to escape with my pretty little trinket and most of my makeup intact. The ceremony would be starting soon and we needed to get everyone into place. I passed the little blue and silver bag off to Ro, though it was empty since I had taken the pendant and tucked it into the shelf of my bra. Classy, right? The guests had filtered into their seats in the open air courtyard, wrapped in warming charms to keep the autumn chill at bay. As the day began to die, it gave way to night with its blues and purples that stretched overhead, opening wide inky expanses of pinprick starlit sky. Faerie lights dotted the high stone walls and danced along a canopy of mundane twinkle lights that crisscrossed above the square. The string quartet had already begun playing, there was only a handful of moments before it would be time to head in. In the outer hall, Raven looked like the picture of placid composure. This was right, this was everything she wanted and everything she needed, she had no reason to be nervous. Maybe someday I would get the pretty white dress and the glimmering gems and the picture perfect wedding day. Peeking around the corner, I looked for Ro and found him sitting near the back in front of a young couple dressed in subtle low key outfits.

Clara and Jake. Neither of them should have been here but on the former’s birthday earlier in the month, she had quietly asked me if I thought she might be able to sneak in, if only for a little bit. See, Clara’s my sister, or at least half sister. If all goes according to plan in this time, Henry and Raven should have her, I don’t know, sometime next year or the year after. Math is hard, you know? I’m still not totally clear on just how she ended up back in time, but she has been here since late April. Jake, he came after when she went missing from their time, along with two of their friends. Jake’s another one that really shouldn’t be here considering his mother would be walking down that aisle shortly before I do, and his father was sitting just half a dozen rows ahead of them with a little bundle of adorable chunkiness wrapped in a tiny baby suit, complete with a bow tie beneath his chubby chin. That baby? Yeah, that’s Jake too.

Time is so weird and confusing. I have tried not to ask too many questions of just how time is in the future. Of course there is plenty that I have questions about, like whether Ro and I end up together, how well the band does, whether the Order ever truly goes away. Those sorts of things. The temptation is there though. Thankfully Clara knows better than to say too much. Still, the thought that my younger self will get to grow up with a sister is pretty exciting. I had always wanted a younger sibling but my mom and dad couldn’t have any more and then when my mom died when I was eleven, my dad never remarried. Not because of my mother or anything but rather because the woman he was in love with was still technically married to her husband. They still saw each other on the side plenty. It was one of those super blatant secrets that everyone knew but nobody talked about. So lame. Anyways. The fact that younger Adelaide would get a sister? Not lame at all. Especially if she grew up to be this girl here. She was pretty and smart, like brilliant levels of smart. Kind and caring too, she definitely reminded me of our mother in that way. Clara and Jake were kind of cute together too. Part of me hopes they end up together in the long run. He looks at her like he thinks the world of her, like she is the center of his universe and the point around which everything else revolves. That’s saying something for an eighteen year old boy. Here’s hoping, right? She was seeing some guy that she met here for a little bit but I think he was too old for her and too much drama.

I think it’s a family trait, our penchant for drama and trouble. Poor Ro has surely had more than his fair share. There was some part of me that worried that some day he may get sick of it and leave. I wouldn’t really blame him if he did. But for some reason, that boy is so stupidly in love with me in every way that I don’t ever deserve. I hope someday I might prove to him that I’m worthy of everything he has to give.

The music changed, queuing up the march for the wedding party. Since neither Raven nor Henry had their parents here, there was no escorting of the mothers. So, first went Elle with one of Henry’s groomsmen. Aunt Claire went next with another groomsman. Once they made it down the aisle, it was my turn. From the far side of the back hall stepped Duncan, Henry’s Best Man and younger brother. He offered me a dashing smile and his arm, which I took without tripping over my dress. This guy was a bit too old for me, but he was easy on the eyes. He never made things awkward during the rehearsal and even offered me a quiet little quip of encouragement as we started down the aisle. Something along the lines of picturing everyone in their underwear and how it would make it less nerve racking. It was good for a laugh at the very least and so we headed down the aisle to the end where Henry waited. He looked positively nervous as hell. It was kind of adorable, especially compared to how composed my mom was back in the hall. Duncan and I parted ways at the end and took our places on our respective sides. I gave Henry an encouraging smile and turned my eyes back toward the aisle. Next came a veritable quartet of cuteness in the form of the ring bearers and flower girls.

Adelaide the Younger and Averia, Claire’s daughter, were resplendent in their little silver dresses, belted around the middle with sashes in a shade of blue that matched Claire and Elle’s dresses and the notes in my bouquet. Alexander, Claire’s son and Averia’s twin brother, along with Nikolai, Kruger’s son and technically my little brother now, looked absolutely dashing in their tuxes. Their ties matched the girls’ sashes perfectly. The sight of them all together made me want to cry, mostly out of joy and a little out of bittersweet nostalgia. Where I came from, I had been quite close with Niko, Alex, and Avy. In fact, they made up my core group of friends. I suppose it was nice to see that some things were not going to change even if everything else did. Once they reached the end of the aisle, the four of them split off to various spots amongst the bridal party and with that, the quartet changed paces, striking up a classic wedding march. Everyone got to their feet and all eyes turned to the entrance. From beneath the dark arch stepped my mother in all of her glory. She walked alone, needing to escort to give her away. After all, she belonged to no one but herself.

As I watched her make the trek down the aisle, I snuck a glance to Henry, who refused to look at anything but her, and then to my boyfriend in the crowd. He was plenty tall, making it easy to pick his blonde head out with ease. He watched Raven until she got far enough away that he could glance away. I caught his eye for just a few beats and couldn’t help but smile at the look he gave me. That was a look I wouldn’t mind seeing every day for the rest of my life, however long that may be. Raven reached the end of the aisle and Henry was beaming by the time she got there. She handed her bouquet off to me and turned to face him. Their officiant, an Asterian High Priestess, spoke up and everyone settled down.

Ultimately the ceremony itself was a short one, clocking in at only twenty minutes or so including the opening, closing, and the vows. I got a little choked up when they addressed my younger counterpart who seemed wholly uninterested in it all and really would have preferred being able to play with her friends instead of standing up there in that fluffy dress while the grown ups talked. It was a sweet moment, I swear I didn’t cry. Eventually the officiant turned back to the crowd and announced the newly minted Mister and Missus Henry Wyatt to much applause. As the band struck up the exit music, I glanced over the crowd once more and froze when I spotted a familiar set of eyes staring back at me from the very last row.

Raven didn’t notice Quinten standing there until she was halfway down the aisle with her daughter and new husband. I could tell because she faltered when she finally saw him and then quickened her steps to get them past him and into the dark hallway beyond the courtyard. The plan had been for the wedding party to go to get a couple pictures while the venue’s attendants reset the courtyard for the reception. I saw Quinten turn and quickly hurried down the middle aisle to try and catch up. It was there that I nearly ran into Romeo who caught me by the shoulders to steady me when I slammed into him. Yammering something about my grandfather being here, I got him to let me go for the sake of going after my mother.

I made it there just in time to see Raven nudging Addie toward Henry before turning back to the man who had followed them out of the courtyard. Her mouth was moving but I couldn’t hear what she was saying until I got closer.

“You weren’t invited, you have no right to be here.” Raven said in an angry hushed tone. I still had her bouquet and part of me was half tempted to wallop the man with it for having the audacity to come here since it was clearly ruining her day.

“No right? Raven, my star, I am your father. At the very least I am affronted you didn’t even think to tell me that you were getting married. I already had to find out about your child through the grapevine.” He said in return, his voice the same smooth baritone that I remembered from my dream. In person he didn’t seem nearly as big as I recalled but he was still a large man. Raven had to look up at him to meet him eye to eye though when she did, it was with a fire burning in her eyes.

“There’s a lot you have missed, Quint. And you still have no right to any of that knowledge. You stopped having that right the day I left Amberhelm.” Raven said. It was about then that I stepped up behind her shoulder and offered a gentle touch for her benefit. She was tense and jumped slightly when my fingers brushed her arm but settled when she realized it was just me.

“You shouldn’t be here.” I agreed, setting both hands to my mother’s upper arms to steer her away from the man. She resisted at first though a few soothing sounds and a verbal nudge toward her new husband and her daughter proved beneficial. While it was unsettling that he was here on my mom’s wedding day, I worried slightly that he might know Clara was here too and that would cause all kinds of problems. Unfortunately this dress had no pockets so that meant that Ro had my phone. As such, I had no way of easily reaching him in order to get him to nudge them out.

“Adelaide.” He said, almost reverently as he looked me over. I recalled a similar appraising look in my dreams. His gaze flickered over my fingers as if looked for something there. When he looked back up, he looked vaguely disappointed. I figured it was likely because I wasn’t wearing the moonstone ring he had left for me. “As much as I wanted to see my only child married, I actually came to speak to you.”

“You mean coming via my dreams wasn’t good enough?” I deadpanned. At the very least Raven had drawn back though she stayed nearby, likely in case I needed it. For all that the man was imposing though, I didn’t feel as though he was going to hurt me. The rest of the bridal party was coming down the aisle though and soon that back hallway was going to be full of guests not long after that. Emboldened by my annoyance and that this was my mother’s wedding day of all things, I reached for the man’s elbow and once I got my hand on him, turned him away from her to lead him down the corridor away from the wedding festivities. “I’ll give you five minutes to say whatever you need to say and then I am going to politely ask you to leave. If you do not leave, I’m sure there’s at least a handful of people here that would have no problem persuading you.”

“Ever the spitfire, my girl. Precious as it may be to think that any in this hall would be capable of doing so, I assure you it won’t be necessary to find out.” He said, exuding more than his fair share of smugness. It was no wonder my mother had left if he was anything like this when she was growing up. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at him and gestured for him to spit it out. He sighed and set his gaze upon me once more. “Surely you are attuned to the fact that there is a great force seeking you. Should they find you, I cannot imagine it would be particularly to your benefit for them to execute whatever it is they are seeking to accomplish. I need to know that you will be safe.”

“I mean, you’ve picked a lovely time to start caring about my well being and all, but I assure you that I am perfectly fine.” I told him with a glance over his shoulder. Raven and Henry were greeting guests, receiving them in a line as they streamed from the courtyard while beyond that, the attendants moved chairs and brought in tables. Periodically Raven glanced my way and I gave her a reassuring smile in hopes that maybe she would go back to enjoying her day. I hadn’t gone out of view and I was still well within screaming distance, not as though I thought it would be needed. I could see Ro, with Clara and Jake not far behind him. He was looking for me, I think. I looked back to my grandfather expectantly. “Time’s ticking.”

“You are a terrible liar, m’ dear. Now, I can only imagine what terrible things your mother has said about me and likely a good portion of them are true. But the fact remains, you are the next in our line and as such, we must ensure that nothing harmful befalls you.” Quinten said gently. I searched his expression for any tells that might indicate he was being anything but completely forthright with me. He was right at the very least that things were not as peachy as I claimed. Between the nightmares and the mark on my back (which had been a bitch to cover with concealer, mind you), there was serious trouble brewing. His reasons for protecting me seemed a little self serving but from all that Raven had told me, Quinten Youngblood was also an immensely powerful man. Was it such a bad thing to ally myself with that sort of thing if it meant self-preservation? Sweeping my hair away, I twisted around, turning my back to him to give him a view of the concealed mark between my shoulders, near the top of my back.

“Then tell me, did you do this? And if you didn’t, who did?” I pointed to the spot. If he was as powerful and all knowing as he claimed, then a little bit of makeup shouldn’t keep him from figuring it out. Peering over my shoulder at him, I could see a frown settle on his lips and a crease form with the furrowing of his brows.

“A Watcher’s mark. They are looking for you… with as developed as it is, they have likely found you even. But… here… let me help.” He said in low tones, stepping closer with the click-clack of his dress shoes against the stone. I felt the heel of his hand touch my spine followed by his cupped palm over the irritated mark. The incantation on his lips was a tongue I did not recognize but seemed to be a cross between Greek and Celtic hanging on a frame of Latin. When it was done, the sigil on my skin no longer ached. I turned back around to face him.

“What did you do?” I asked, touching the ridge of my shoulder without pressing further.

“Obscured it and you. Do I feel Lylura’s pendant on your person?” He asked in counter, looking me over for any sign of it. I couldn’t exactly stick my hand down my dress to pull it out so instead I gave him a simple nod. Quinten exhaled and gave me a single nod in return. “If you’ll not bear her ring, at the very least keep that. It will guide you even in the darkest of times, never forget that. Adelaide… Addie, I am not asking for the world. I just wish to be… the grandfather that you deserve.”

“I… I appreciate it, but perhaps you should start with being the father that she deserves first… then we can sort out other things like where you fit into the life she has built here away from you.” I said though my words lacked the heat with which I had lashed him earlier. There was a gentle earnesty in his words that had taken the edge off of my tone. I wanted to believe him but I knew Raven wouldn’t. Behind him, I heard someone call my name. Something about pictures. “Time’s up. If you need to speak to me, would you, like, maybe do it via conventional means? No more dreams, no more showing up at major functions. Just, like, call me or something?”

“May I?” He asked, his brows rising with surprise. Awkwardly I shifted my weight from foot to foot and nodded again.

“Well, yeah. Or text. You know, if you’re not one of those old people that is incapable of doing so.” Was that a tease? It may have been a tease. I don’t know. They called my name again and I gestured one moment. Of course I didn’t have any cards on me so instead I rambled off the number once and then twice as he freed a sleek device from the inside of his suit jacket to input it. “There. Now… please go. I want her to enjoy today without any drama.”

“Of course… I will be in touch.” Quinten intoned, bowing his head to me. Such a weird interaction, equal parts formal and informal, ominous and innocent. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it all. We said our goodbyes and when I turned back to him a moment later, he was gone, just like that. Damned mages, some of us had to get from Point A to Point B via mundane methods. But at the very least, he had gone and my mom and her new husband could rest easy knowing that nothing else was going to stand in the way of their big day.

From there it was a whirlwind of smiling and pictures and food and dancing and music. Raven and Henry really knew how to throw a party. I even managed to catch the bouquet during the bouquet toss, not as though that means anything. Other than Quinten’s brief appearance, there was absolutely no drama other than Raven threatening to shove cake in Henry’s face. He gave her a stern look that lacked any sort of heat and the smile she gave him in return could have lit up the darkest night. I spent the rest of the night dancing with Romeo until at last the band died down and the happy couple took their leave amidst the shine of sparklers and a cloud of bubbles. We followed them to the front circle drive of the chateau where they were met by some sort of classic car or another for the drive back to where ever they were staying the night. Raven said they were leaving for their honeymoon tomorrow afternoon. Before they got in, they thanked everyone for coming and then went to leave. Henry held the car door open for her while she gathered up the skirt of her dress. With a grin she kissed him before she got in and idly I wondered if that’s what forever looked like.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Eight: The Return of the Order

6th of December

For a random Wednesday in December, it really wasn’t too bad weather wise. A little drizzly but no snow, mid-forties and overcast. Beneath a grey sky, Old Temple was already lit for Yule. Once more the ice skating rink dominated the landscape on the south side of town, providing a gathering spot for those looking for a little outdoorsy fun before it got too terribly cold. I’ve always loved ice skating. There’s something about the sound of the blades on the ice, the spray of quick turns, and the bite of the wind on your cheeks no matter how much you bundle up. The cold doesn’t really bother me usually. Biologically speaking, my paternal grandmother was an ice dragon (yeah, you know the one), so I’m built with a little bit of a resistance to the colder temperatures during the winter. It doesn’t take a lot to be good at ice skating, I don’t think. It’s just like rollerskating only a little more slippery. There’s plenty of falling down when you first start but the rink has this little push walker things for the little kids so they can skate without falling down. Mostly they just end up looking like tiny old people which is pretty adorable and amusing in one go.

As soon as they set the ice rink up, you can usually find me here at least a couple times a week. Sometimes I come by myself, other times I’ll drag my girls or Ro. Ro doesn’t make fun of me when we come though so usually it ends up being him. That said, by mid afternoon, we were just finishing up. Earlier in the day he mentioned wanting to take me out for a bite to eat and maybe out to the drive in to catch a movie (read also: make out gratuitously in the back of his SUV while only half paying attention to the movie and/or hanging out in the arcade while Ro wrecks face at all the games and cleans them out of tickets). Seated on a wooden bench, I wriggled my feet out of the eggshell white skates and tucked the laces inside for the sake of taking them back to the rental counter. While I worked on getting my sneakers back I, I cut a look up to the blonde. “Maybe we can grab hot chocolate on the way?”

It didn't take much to coax favors out of Ro. Or time. He might have made a gratuitous number of jokes about the sexual favors I would owe him for all of the little things we did together, but the truth was that it only took my smile, the way I bobbed my brows playfully, and a simple request to get what I wanted. For the big blonde boy, it didn't take much. It helped that there were a number of things we liked doing together, even if one little vent might be more important to the other than the next. It had a way of balancing itself out.

So if Pizza Girl wanted to skate? We skated.

He would never match my grace on the ice, but he could at least keep up and when we finally stepped off of the ice to get out of our skates, he was bobbing his head along with my request. "Cocoa for you. Coffee for me. Then games, games, games before I get you in the back seat." He dipped to kiss the side of my temple. "Then maybe a late dinner. We could hit the store and do some late night breakfast or somethin' else."

I was by no means professional caliber when it came to the ice but I could stay up nine times out of ten. Still, there was something soothing about cutting wide ovals around the rink for a few hours. Nothing fancy, just relaxation. Once I had my shoes on, I got to my feet with a stretch that sent a chorus of crackling pops down my spine. That felt like heaven. I stooped to scoop up my skates and put the blade guards on so I could cradle them in my arm. Granted, I had a pair of skates of my own in the garage at home but it had been an impromptu decision to come down so rentals would have to do.

"Salted caramel cocoa, I think. You gonna win me something cute for Christmas?" I asked with the quirk of a grin. With our skates off and shoes on, I led the way to the rental counter to turn them in, handing them off to the bored looking attendant. "How do omelets sound?"

Ro walked along at my side, his skates dangling by their tied together laces from the fingers of one hand, the other arm around my slim waist. His hip bumped mine steadily, purposefully as we went. "I'll win you somethin' cute for bein' cute, mo chroi." He cast a crooked smile my way and squeezed me affectionately. "I'll worry about Christmas closer to Christmas." I was a fan of the holiday. Romeo could have given or taken it.

"Mocha for you, then. And omelets are fine. Meat. Veggie. Or both?"

"You know, after Thanksgiving, it's pretty much Christmas time. Which means, we're in the thick of it right now." I pointed for emphasis. As we left the ice rink behind, I slipped a gloved hand into his and gave our arms a swing. The car wasn't far and it wasn't cold so I took my time getting there.

"Salted caramel is superior to mocha, mind you. But I'll forgive it this time. As to the omelets, both. I'm thinking... bacon, spinach, and tomato. Maybe a little bit of onion but not too much. Topped with avocado, imagine that, and salsa." As we approached the car, I tilted my head a little, my gaze fixed on the Highlander for a few long moments before I blinked back to my boyfriend. I suddenly had a very bad feeling. "What's X need?"

Without the hindrance of the skates to occupy his hand, Romeo had allowed the swinging arms only until he could weasel his way behind me and stuff our hands in my coat pockets together. It wasn't warm and the waddle-walk it produced wasn't the fastest, but he didn't seem to be in a hurry when with me. At the car, he had smeared a warm kiss to my neck and evidently hadn't noticed my spacy gaze.

"Uh, X? For Christmas?" He stopped to consider it. "I dunno... Socks. Music books. Maybe a giftcard to Rhy'Topic? He's always been hard to give gif--"

A very ominous peel of harsh heavy metal music erupted from the padded depths of his jacket, almost as if on cue. The ringtone said it all and, for a moment, Ro appeared stricken before making a mad grab for his phone. It was pushed to his ear immediately. "What's the situation, Dar... No. Calm down. I'm gonna," his tone became sharper, more authoritative as he cut through the interruption on the other end. "Darien. Calm. Down. Details, please."

There was a lot of rushed words on the other end and as the moments ticked by, the blonde headed youth grew paler in contrast to his darkening expression.

"No, not for Christmas, I mean,--" His phone went off and I gestured vaguely toward it. "That." My voice fell as he answered it. My teeth worried into my bottom lip while listening to the one sided exchange and while he was busy with that, I snuck his keys from his pocket and nudged him toward the passenger side before rounding to the driver's side. We weren't terribly far from West End but he looked positively stricken. Likely as much as I felt at the moment. It wasn’t a stretch to think that someone from the Hollows could be calling but why had that correlated to the sinking feeling I had experienced just moments before the call came through? "Get in. Breathe. Tell me where to go."

"Darien," he spoke the words with a lot more confidence than showed on his face in the moment. There would be time for war face soon. "Rally everyone you can to the Alpha barricades. Make sure the ones who can't have at least two beaters locked into their apartments with them. I'll meet you at the Morrigu Gate."

There was a pause. "I'm comin', Darien."

The phone was pushed back into his pocket of his jacket before he shrugged out of it, opening the back door long enough to toss it onto the seat. Romeo girded himself with deep breaths as he slipped into the passenger seat. "Drive fast, mo chroi. When we hit the southwest turn around the building, I'll jump out and you head straight home. Straight home."

I didn't bother with a seatbelt, not if this was going to be a fast trip. The extent of my driving experience prior to coming to this time had been limited to the minor driving lessons my father had given me, but since buying Ro a car for his birthday, I had expanded on that here and there. Add in Michi's van and the driving sims at the arcade and I wasn't too bad. Besides, this was Rhydin. Everyone was a speed demon. Before his door was even shut, I was screeching away from the curb, turning out into traffic with the briefest of glances into my mirrors. I knew the streets like the back of my hand so it took very little time for me to get us from the heart of Old Temple to the derelict edge of West End and beyond that, the Hollows. Before I pulled to a stop, I cut a brief look aside at Ro.

"You need me." It was a statement of fact. I could have said why but I thought it would worry him further. "Tell me where to go to help."

He was quiet for almost all of the quick drive over, his hands across his knees with the fingers hanging over the caps, flexing repeatedly. The continually deep breaths he sucked in and exhaled were audible, almost a quiet mantra as he stared at the streets ahead. It wasn't until I spoke that he finally looked at my face in profile, all matter-of-fact and seemingly ready. I wasn't. I just didn't know it.

Almost a decade later, Romeo MacKenzie still wasn't ready.

"People're gonna be hurt. They're gonna need medical attention. Someone's gonna need to keep the people on the lines upright. I know..." He sighed, scrubbing at his face suddenly. "I know you've got the juice, mo chroi. I know you can do this."

Ahead of us, the massive, decayed sprawl of the Hollows apartment complex loomed. This close, we could already hear the rattle of gunfire from the small number of firearms the resident defenders owned. The Morrigu Gate was the smallest of the entrances through the tattered, makeshift walls of the complex, almost an armored tunnel that led right up to an archway and a double set of doors beyond. Just inside the gate, a face unfamiliar to me waited for us; young, nervous, and he was holding the bow I had once gifted my boyfriend along with a large quiver.

"I'm a healer, Ro. You need me. I can do this. They need me." Badly. I didn't want to say how badly, but it was bad. I knew it, I felt it in my bones. It made me anxious, especially considering Ro had tried so hard to keep me away from the worst of the Hollows for well over a year now. But there was no time like now and I would never forgive myself if I tucked tail and ran solely for the sake of self preservation. The jarring sound of gunfire had my heart leaping, and not in a good way. I swallowed it back down and threw the car into park, tugging my gloves off in the process. Stuffing them into my pockets, I withdrew a small circular pendant instead. A pentacle framed by a second second set in brushed silver, I pressed it into his hand and curled his fingers around it before plucking the keys from the ignition. It would hopefully protect him even if I couldn’t be there to do so. "I love you. Let's go."

Ro took a moment to glance down into his hand. His expression shifted into one of grim resolve and he flicked another look up into my face before he slipped the pendant around his neck. Quickly, he leaned forward and kissed me, a return of my love without giving a verbal response. With that he shoved the passenger door open and lunged out of the Highlander into the first long stride that would propel them down the path to the Morrigu Gate.

He wasn't two dozen paces from the young person when an exchange of curt upnods saw his bow and quiver tossed into the air. They were caught deftly but without flourish, the latter slung diagonally across his broad back where its familiar weight settled perfectly. The bow he stringed as he walked, casting a single glance over his shoulder at me before he took the steps and shoved at the heavy double doors.

For all that I wanted to savor the taste of him on my lips, I could taste too the fear of what was looming before us. I broke away and popped open the center console of the SUV and dipped a hand inside to retrieve the handgun stashed there. Tucking it into my waistband, I tugged the bottom of my jacket over the bump it left at the small of my back. I shut the car door a little harder than intended but at least had the sense of mind to lock it with a press of the remote before stuffing the keys into my jeans. Able to count the number of times I had been to the Hollows in the past year and a half on both of my hands, I stuck close to Ro's flank for the lock of my gaze on his when he looked back to me. "Take care of your people, I'll find where I'm needed."

The doors flew open to sounds of gunfire that grew louder as they progressed, the cries of the enraged and the dying muted like faint echoes by the distance and the walls yet still between us. The massive building that bore the name of the Hollows was one gargantuan rectangle with a hollowed out enter. At one time, the large stretch of space inside of the big building would have been a park or a community garden. Our passage through another set of doors heralded something far worse.

A wall of repurposed junk, wood, and sandbags collapsed just as Romeo sprinted through the doorway, causing defenders to stumble off to the sides. One unlucky soul was buried under a sudden torrent of scrambling bodies, not quick enough to escape. "Breach!" Someone screamed the word and an echoing cry rose along the line. Beyond, a stream of eldritch horrors of every flavor poured from the gaping maw of a hole in the ground, a jagged portal of rock, dried blood, and gore. Shrieking bodies rushed through the breach and for a moment, they threatened to push back and overtake the knot of defenders massed there. Fast as the blink of an eye, the blonde youth that I so loved had pulled an arrow from the quiver and notched it, releasing the shaft through a gap in the defenders and taking a horned, goblinoid creature between the eyes. "Down!" Romeo roared.

And then... he really roared.

Power gathered inside of him, deep within his chest as he sucked in a deep breath, bracing himself as he leaned forward and bellowed with all the lordly rage of a lion. Drawn up through the earth, through his feet, and then out, a ripple of sonic energy burst outward in an unseen wave, leveling thirty solid feet of massed bodies before him. As if expecting it, the defenders suddenly rallied with a roar of their own and jumped on the stunned monstrosities, cutting them down with as much terror as rage. Romeo continued forward, launching himself over the breached barricade and deep into the fray.

I hadn't the slightest clue what I was walking in to save for the ratatat rattle of gunfire and the screams.... they were the worst part. They were sounds of despair, of pain and of death. But I was undaunted and doubly determined to do right by them, to prove to Ro that he wasn't wrong for allowing me to come with him. I could be useful, I could be something other than... a burden.

As the screech of horrific monsters sought to unnerve me, I peeled away from Ro not out of fear but out of purpose. There were more than enough hurt or worse already and they would end up on the dead list if I didn't do something. I wasn't much of a fighter so I left that to the front lines and instead picked through the back, where the tired and the hurt lingered. Minor spells, protective and healing alike were offered this way and that, soothing brushes and touches of hands tinged pale blue offered some relief from the worst of it. A kingly roar at my flank though spun her on her heel to stare just as Ro leveled the masses and then threw himself into the proverbial abyss. Addie hesitated, she wanted to call to him, to draw him back to her where he would be safe. But these were his people and just like her own, she knew he wouldn't let them suffer for the sake of his own self-preservation. With that reminder and so many suffering around her, she sucked in a deep breath and called to a nearby youth wielding a rifle with what looked like an improvised bayonet blade fashioned to it. He fired off another barrage of shots and then once he realized what she was doing, jogged over to help her tug one of the fallen back toward the doors they had come through.

"Bring me the worst of your injured, I'll take care of them." She told him and caught the hand off for the sake of getting started on the first of what she expected would be far too many hurt. As far as I was concerned, nobody was going to die on my watch. I ticked a quick look toward the unseen stars far, far over our heads and made a quick offering to the lady of fallen stars herself in hopes of guiding my hands through the worst of the battle. Alright, Power (with a capital P), don’t fail me now.

In mere moments, Romeo MacKenzie had become the spirit of the fray itself, moving like a whirlwind amongst the masses. It was as if the beefy blonde bruiser had stepped across a threshold and become something different; he was an adept, slightly better than average fighter when he was standing across from someone in the ring, tough as nails but not spectacular. Here, it was as if he had some consummate awareness of his surroundings almost all of the time. His arrows rarely missed their mark and, when the hellspawn drew to close, they were as likely to be stabbed with the arrows as shot, save for the few times he was forced to improvise. Once, it was a fallen pipe that crushed a trio of skulls. Another time, he had ripped a chunk of bare earth from the ground, willing it to solidify in his hand until it was a bare of stone knuckles that he crushed a rigid windpipe with. Thrice more he unleashed his devastating roar, rallying the ragged defenders back from the brink and creating opportunities for them.

One by one I tended to the very worst of the fallen before working my way through the lesser injured. They were battered and bruised, their spirits wounded but not broken. Among them, they spoke of Ro in the highest esteem, as if without him they would have been lost. It had my focus wavering in favor of intermittent drags back toward the thick of the incursion where my boyfriend lived up to every word they said. Elbow deep in injured people as I may have been, nobody that far back knew who I was. Nobody cared for that matter. I wasn't Addie the Rockstar or Addie the Model or even Addie, Ro's girl. Simply, I was one of them. Despite the fact that there were quite literally monsters only a stone's throw away, I still smiled as I worked, humming as I tied off a strip of torn t-shirt to stymie the flow of blood from a shallow scratch wound in the leg of a girl who had to be at least a year or two younger than myself. It left me unaware of the vaguely arachnid horror that crept up on me from above, skittering across the overhang that kept me shielded from the worst of it.

Minute by minute, the flow from the mouth of the crevice ebbed, fewer of the monstrosities rising from its shadowy depths, great and small. Romeo had continued to fight, seemingly tireless as he sought to put himself between the horrors and anyone else they might have sought to overtake. He bled from a dozen cuts or more and limped when he ran, but refused to let it hinder him as he led the defenders of the Hollows. Something vaguely zombie-like but quick of foot tried to dash past him towards the flow of wounded directing themselves towards me and my company. A shot from his pow pinned a gnarly foot to the ground and mere moment later, scooping up a nearby shovel, the burly blonde youth had leveled a swing that lopped of its head at the neck. The follow-through gave him a glimpse of what was above my unsuspecting self, moments before it dropped down behind me just as I turned to catch another glimpse of him.

Once I caught up on the sheer number of those that needed medical attention, the throng of people left had slowed to a trickle though I expected more would need help when all was said and done. Those remaining were largely ambulatory or at least supported by their war torn comrades or propped up enough to be conscious. I finished with one cut up girl to turn back toward another. It was a good chance to sneak a glance at Ro though I found my view blocked by a blur of black chitin and click-clacking pincers.

"***!" I squeaked, skittering back with a protective spread of my arm across the younger girl behind me. Try as I might to fumble free the firearm I had tucked into my waistband, the form fitting coat I had worn over top slowed my progress and left me to kick a sneaker clad foot at the advancing creature. When I failed to get the gun free, I sucked in a deep breath, stumbled through a cantrip and flung the first spell to come to mind, an arctic chill spreading from my fingertips with a fury toward the creature until its progress began to slow as it tried to fight against the ice spreading through its flesh and beneath its feet.

"Nooooooooo!" It was less a cry than a long, painful wail of pure rage that left Romeo's mouth like a warning horn from a lighthouse trying to ward a ship away from the shore. Without so much as stopping to breathe, he stepped forward, drawing two of his remaining three arrows from the quiver and knocking them at once. One deep pull and quick release later, the arrows passed passed on either side of my head close enough for the fletching to be felt against my hair, before burying themselves to the feathers in the monster's thorax. A third, his last, followed with near impossible alacrity, burying itself in the gaping maw that had been intent on my head. The arachnid creature reared back with a piercing cry, staggered and gravely wounded.

Ro didn't waste any time. No sooner had his last arrow been spent, he was sprinting toward me and the creature, picking up a fallen, makeshift spear with the scoop of a hand as he ran. A low barrier made for a more than adequate springboard, leaving the blonde boy to launch himself over me to bury the spear deep with a two-handed lunge. His weight and momentum did the rest, carrying him over in a half-circular arc that pinned the beast in place and landed him hard on his back with bone-jarring force. It took the air right out of him.

One moment I was staring wide eyed into the lethal abyss, the next, my savior came by way of true struck arrows. I turned just enough to shield the injured girl I had been helping to begin with and twisted back just as Ro came barreling at us. His momentum even stole the air from [i]my[i] lungs as I gasped his name amidst a squeal. The pincers and teeth were no longer a threat and acidic ichor spilled from the monster's wounds, eating deep divots into the cement as it died a slow, painful death. I didn't care about it though, not with Ro on his back so suddenly. I pushed off with a renewed vigor and scrambled less than cautiously over the still twitching corpse of the spidery hellspawn.

"Ro!" I called his name, hitting my knees roughly beside him. He was cut, bleeding, bruised, how badly I couldn't tell with just a cursory look. My hands ran over him, checking for the worst of it before coming up to cup his cheeks. "You good baby?"

He sucked at the air, trying to fill his lungs with it for a few moments, before his body finally remembered how to breathe. Then he was suddenly coughing. "*** me," he groaned with what might have been a laugh. A humorous, sad laugh. "I... are they retreatin'?"

They were. Slowly, grudgingly, the monsters died where they stood or were sinking back towards the crevice which was slowly sealing itself up with each passing moment.

"Right here? But people are watchin'." I asked with a weak smile and leaned down to kiss his forehead. His question prompted me to sit up and I cut a glance over my shoulder then panned my gaze around the inner courtyard area. That was a good sign. It was like the sun had come out from behind the clouds or something. I bobbed a nod and looked back down at him. "Yeah, you did it, babe. Where are you hurt?"

"A little bit o' everywhere," he sighed and curled an arm around me, wincing as he tried slowly to get up. "We need to coordinate efforts. Get the injured move and start rovin' bands. These things get into the halls and start makin' nests or tryin' to pick out stragglers off. We gotta get ahead of it fast..."

Before he got halfway up, I got my arm around him to help him up the rest of the way. Deceptively strong, I eased him up into a sitting position first so I could give him a more thorough once over. The shallowest of injuries were just a matter of minute healing spells, tiny touches of the power stored in my veins. It should at the very least take the edge off the worst of 'em too. Once I was certain he wasn't critical, I rocked up onto my feet to draw him up with me, my hand around his waist and caught at his belt until I was sure he was steady. "We got the less injured patched up fine and the worst stabilized. I had a few of the guys... uh, I didn't catch their names, help take 'em... that way, maybe," I gestured vaguely. Unfortunately I wasn't really sure. "I've got enough in me to help whoever's left."

"You are amazin'," he murmured the words against my temple when he was upright, wrapping his arms tight around my slender frame. He took that moment of solace, clinging to me like a lifeline, refusing to survey the damage around him for the time it took to speak softly to me. "And I'm so lucky to have you in my life."

The arm around his hip squeezed him against me as I ducked my head into the movement of his mouth. He smelled like sweat and blood, earth and brimstone and for a moment I simply breathed him in deeply before exhaling a soft smile against his collarbone. "Ditto darlin'. You're a hell of a shot, you know that?"

"I was highly motivated." He smiled into my hair and kissed me one more time before stretching. Ro started to move under his own power so I let him go. "Okay, mo chroi, most precious thing I have. We have work to do. These people need us."

"Let's roll." I said after a pat to his backside. Once more it meant parting ways but only for as long as it took for me to gather the rest of the injured and herd them like weary cats to the makeshift med ward set up by the others. The numbers were great but not unmanageable and I took to the task like a duck to water while Ro rallied the troops to divvy out orders. It was obvious who was in charge around here and I couldn't lie, I was beginning to see him in a new light. He had always done so well at passing in the middle of the pack, never excelling, never falling behind. Of course, I knew he was more than that but this? This was a whole new chapter of Things I Didn't Know About Ro. When the last warriors were on the mend and I was utterly drained, I took one last look at my handy work and then stepped out into the hallway to take a lean against the derelict but sturdy wall.

It was a good three or four hours before Ro felt comfortable tearing himself away from the Hollows' defenders and residence, but when he did it was with a long hanging head and a somber expression. They had been quick and lucky, but they had found more bodies of their own than he had expected. Not that he would have been comfortable with any number. When he finally found me, he silently slipped his arms around me and hugged me hard enough to hurt.

The unfortunate reality of war was that you could not always save everyone. It was a lesson I had learned even before I came to Rhydin and it was a lesson re-impressed when Nick had died and again today. These were not my people. I didn't know their names or faces or stories but I mourned them just the same. Without a word, I slid my arms around him in trade and let him crush me against him as hard as he needed. My hand passed up and down his back in soft, soothing strokes as if doing such a thing would take the edge off of the bitter taste of such loss. For a long time we stood there, wrapped up not in an amorous embrace but rather something far more consolatory, my hips rocking them in a gentle sway until he felt okay to move again. Without peeling away from him fully, I offered him my hand.

When he eventually spoke, the words were soft and muffled into my thick hair. "I want," he told me, his voice growing hoarse. "I just want a hot shower. Warm bed. You. I... can we have that? Please?"

"A hot shower and a warm bed. Can call in tomorrow and blame me, if you want." I murmured soothingly before turning to position myself at his side instead of his front. My hand slipped into his though he would have to lead the way out. I honestly didn't know which way was up in this place anymore.

"My place or yours?" In that moment, he didn't want to have to be the one to chose, his fingers curling around mine to cling.

"Mine." I said. Well away from here. Away from the carnage and horror and stench. My free hand patted my pocket to confirm I still had the car keys. "Want me to drive?"

"Yeah." He nodded, finally pushing them away from the wall to lead us out. With a single, final look back, he took me away from the Hollows.

Once we made it back outside and through the narrow gate to where the Highlander was parked, I made sure he was in before rounding the front end to get into the driver's seat. My pistol was tucked into the center console and I let it fall shut as I buckled up. Pulling away at a far more sedate speed than we had left the ice rink, the trek back to Seaside was a quiet one. Hot chocolate and omelets were no longer on my mind, I couldn't eat after that. As we crossed the bridge from the south side of town to the north into the Old Market, I glanced aside at him in profile. "Is it always like that?"

He was quiet for the beginning of the drive, his hands worrying over the seats he was now making dirty as I drove them through the city. At the question, he tipped his chin to one side and glanced at me. "Not always. That was a medium-sized incursion. We've had... worse."

"Why do people live there if that happens so much?" I asked quietly without accusation. Surely even the streets of this godforsaken hellhole had to be better than living in such a wretched place. It was likely my privilege talking though, other than the war that had torn my homeland apart (which was really my fault, let's be real) I had never known what it was to not know where my next meal was coming from or if I would have a roof over my head from day to day. "I just... I wish I could do something more."

"And go where?" Ro asked in return. "Rhy'din... have you ever noticed how there's no special charities or handouts until someone calls out one of the special people? One of the popular faces? And how often do you hear 'bout those charities after their little hosted events? There's an ugly side to this city, mo chroi. There's people no one wants. I was one o' them. I was barely fifteen when I ended up here. No one wanted to help some brutish lookin' scrub who only knew about televisions and phones and cars from the stories his parents used to tell. There's plenty of people here who just... we slip between the cracks. We're the unwanted. The forgotten. Some of us... we just band together. Like at the Hollows. It may be like Hell sometimes, or worse, but... it's theirs."

"Oh." I winced and quieted, sufficiently admonished by his response. My hands tightened slightly on the steering wheel and I turned my attention forward once more. At that hour, traffic was light, giving me a decently clear shot for the wall that divided the Market district from Seaside. The last light before the gap turned red and I eased us to a stop, my thumb tapping out a frenetic little pattern against the steering wheel. After a moment the pattern slowed to a stop and my gaze slid to an unfocused glaze on a point ahead of us. The red light turned green but I didn't go. Just like at the ice rink, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

"It's just the reality of things," he said quietly. "Some help. Some don't. Some only when people are watchin'. Some when it really counts. Some of us just didn't get to be the fortunate ones. Not without workin' for it." He let things lapse into a long silence then, an occasional glance flicker my way as I drove but it wasn't until the stop carried on for too long that his brows furrowed. "Addie?"

"We can't go this way." I said abruptly, glancing up just as the light turned from green to yellow. Flicking on my turn signal, I made a last moment right hand turn to head further north instead of taking the far shorter way home. Whatever color I had in my cheeks had drained away in the time I had been spacing out until I was sheet white.

"What? Why not?" It was easy to lose focus on the previous topic with my sudden and unexpected change in behavior. "What's up? Did I miss somethin'?"

"I asked you earlier what X needed. Not for Christmas but because a few moments before you got the call, I had this... this... feeling that your people needed you." I said quickly and quietly, hanging another right to swing wide around a looping path that would take us through the northern edge of Seaside, closer to Battlefield Park. "And now I have a feeling that if we go that way home that something bad is going to happen."

"...so, wow." What did someone say to something like that? One of his grimy hands fell to my knee, squeezing gently and allowing me to feel my way through the moment as I drove. "I'm gonna trust your instincts."

"It's just a flicker, just a moment. But..." I shook my head and took the left that would take them through the far side of Seaside. They crossed the border between districts without incident though excessively alert, my gaze ticked left, right, rear (by way of mirror) and front at regular intervals to make sure it stayed that way. "I don't want to chance it."

"Seems like a moment's enough," he murmured, giving my leg a squeeze. It was hard, trading looks between my face in profile and the world outside of the Highlander's window. I had put him on high alert, as worried now as he had been at the Hollows.

We made the final turn up the winding street that led to the house I shared with Michi without incident. With one last glance over my shoulder, I pulled into the driveway and threw it into park but didn't kill the engine immediately. The doors were still locked too, giving me time to take the lay of the land in the dark. Our street was well lit and nothing seemed amiss so reluctantly I twisted the keys in the ignition. The thought of a shower and a warm bed was enough to get me to open the door and get out. Not a single thing all the way up to the door either. The wards were fine, perfectly undisturbed and intact. I frowned but opened the door to a perfectly normal living room beyond. "How about that shower?"

Maybe I had been wrong after all.

The rest of the night passed without a hitch, though I couldn’t quite shake the ever present feeling that I was being watched. Maybe it was the mark on my back, perhaps it was something else. Either way, I was uneasy. Ro and I stood in the shower until we ran out of hot water and then without bothering with dinner, crashed together in my room. I kept him close through the night, soothing him when he became unsettled, but mostly I stared at the ceiling in the dark. When morning came and Ro still slept, I snuck out of bed and dressed quietly, slipping into my sneakers and creeping out of the bedroom on tip toes. We had talked about breakfast the day before, omelets and all of their delightful accoutrements but with everything that had happened at the Hollows, we never stopped off at the store. In the kitchen I scribbled a quick little note in my girly, loopy handwriting, sticking it to the fridge beneath a magnet I had picked up at this no name island Ro had taken me to for my birthday last year.

That had been the best birthday ever. It took forever to get there but once we did, it was so worth it. He had rented out this little villa with a stretch of its own private beach. We spent half a week soaking up rays, writing songs in the sand, and doing all sorts of unspeakable things to each other on every surface in that condo. Like I said, best birthday ever. Anyways. My note said I would be back in a few and that I had gone to grab breakfast. The corner market was only a few blocks away so I left Ro’s keys on the entryway table and set off on foot. It was brisk, typical for early December, but by the time the sun came up more, it would hopefully warm up just a little bit. The nice thing about Seaside was that the little Baron that lived in the manor down the way had a thing about Summer and as such, Winter had trouble reaching our district as well as the others in the city. Man, it would suck when she was gone.

Seaside Suburban paradise gave way to a trickle of commerce right on the edge of the main boardwalk along the coast. At seven on a Thursday morning, the sleepy district was still stretching itself awake. Thankfully Stop-n-Shop was a twenty-four hour gig though, so I pushed through the swinging door amidst a ringing of merry bells and quietly piped Christmas music coming in over the speakers overhead. The drowsy eyed clerk behind the counter lifted only a cursory look my way before I answered it with a polite nod and set off into the store to grab the handful of things I needed. It likely wouldn’t be the full shebang as far as breakfast went but it was easier than loading up in the Highlander and hitting the proper Rhymark further down the road. Eggs, milk, bacon. Check, check, check. Spinach and a decently ripe avocado. Check, check. As a last moment impulse buy, I snagged a bottle of orange juice too. It would go nicely with a bottle of moscato we had chilling in the fridge. Nothing said lazy Thursday like moscato mimosas with breakfast, right?

The clerk rang me out and bagged everything up. With the bags’ plastic loops around my wrists, I set off back the way I came, a quiet sneaker cadence carrying up the winding road toward the little slice of heaven I had carved out of the city to call my own. Even with everything I carried, it should have only been a ten minute walk, quick enough for me to get back home and into the kitchen before Ro ever realized I was gone.

The best laid plans often go awry though don’t they? That’s a quote of some sort, I think. Except there’s something about mice and men in there too. Robert Burns, maybe. That sounds right. Anywho, those plans? Yes, they were about to go terribly awry as I swung around a corner and plowed face first into a bundle of ouch. Two of my three bags dropped, splattering orange juice all over my shoes. Orange juice was the least of my worries though when I realized just who stood before me. Beneath a plum cloak, a wicked sneer met my gaze and as I stumbled backwards, they swung a grab for my shoulders. I managed to slip free of their grasp, only to back into another purple robed acolyte who wrapped his arms around my torso, effectively pinning my arms to my sides. Against my back I could feel the prickle of the bony thorns each zealot had embedded in their armoring and quickly I arched away to keep them from penetrating my skin.

Certainly this had to be another one of my hallucinations, right? This couldn’t be real. They couldn’t be here. I let loose a shriek and thrashed about, swinging the remaining bag on my wrist until it hit the man holding me. Eggs shattered and painted his robes and my jacket in eggy goop. Which is pretty gross but a fair sacrifice considering his grip faltered. I bent my knees and let my weight fall so I could break through his hold the rest of the way. He hadn’t anticipated my sudden dead weight and I fell to the cement, free of his grasp. I could feel the bite of concrete through the thin material of my leggings but it was nothing compared to what they would do if they got their hands on me. I ducked a subsequent grab and rolled to one side where I could aim a kick at the side of the nearest robed figure’s knee (or at least where I thought their knee was) and cheered internally when the leg buckled and the man nearly fell.

Scrambling to my feet, I took off only to be jerked back by my hood. The front of my coat bit into my throat and I let out an audible choking out. Calling upon the numerous hours I had spent sparring with Hope as her mentee, I reached over my head to grasp at my assailant’s wrist and with a quick jerk and forward bend, hauled them over me to toss them to the ground in a mess of plum and strong limbs. Before they could get their hands on me again, I vaulted over the fallen acolyte and tried not to trip on my own feet as I ran away. They were in fast pursuit though, much quicker than I recalled them being. If I ran the way I was going, I would lead them right to my home though and that was the last thing I wanted to do. Not with Ro there, sleeping and unaware. So instead of turning left I turned right, veering off on the path that would eventually lead to Battlefield Park if I went far enough. They followed too until the first trees began to pass us by as we all sprinted through their bare bones limbs, void of leaves and life as they were.

It was then that I caught a blur of white to my right, flying in the opposite direction I was going. I heard a snarl and turned a look over my shoulder in time to see the pale figure leap at the lead zealot. Four legged and furry, it was larger than a regular wolf by far, and far more vicious. I recognized her immediately.

“Freya?!” I gasped. Freya was my direwolf that I had been raised with pretty much from the time I was a baby until she died when I was eleven. She died the same day that my mom had and I never got to see her again except in the nightmares I had of the day I found them both. Here though, Freya was evidently still alive and well. I thought she had been in charge of protecting my younger counterpart but considering the younger Adelaide was off on vacation with her mother and new step-father, I suppose that left Freya with no charge to look after. Snapping teeth chomped at the fallen man’s throat, ripping and tearing until red sprayed the landscape with gore, staining her snow white muzzle with evidence of her kill. The man gasped and thrashed until he bled out, dying a painful albeit quick death.

That left one more that had advanced on me even as his comrade had fallen. I kept running, afraid to look back in the event he gained on me. To one side of me, a tree split with the impact of a spell slung by adept fingers and I screamed again, high pitched and terrified like the worst horror movies out there. How lame was that? At least I wasn’t wearing white, right? The second spell caught me in the back and I pitched forward, tumbling over myself in time for my pursuer to catch up with me. He drove me into the ground harder with his body weight and I could feel the building power of an impending binding spell. I had to fight, I had to do something. Instead I had my breath stolen by the sudden thump of something heavy added to the proverbial dogpile.

There was growling and snarling, human and canine both. We three were caught in a tangle of limbs and robes and claws, a violent mess that smelled vaguely of orange juice and the metallic tang of blood. I felt the sting of sharp nails, or maybe those were thorns, as they cut across my forearm, splitting the flesh wide. I punched and kicked where I could, fumbling through my jacket pockets for a heavy set of knuckles that Michi had bought me a long time ago. They had pretty little iron spikes on the ridge and I had inadvertently knocked myself with them more than a time or two in the past. But I got them onto my hand and swung hard for the side of the man’s face. I felt the spikes stick in his flesh when I pulled my hand back and punched again. Blood speckled my skin each time I punched him after that but eventually he was dazed enough for me to shove him off of me. Freya was still growling though there was a pained whine in her voice and as soon as I was free of the man’s weight, I looked for her. She had a deep gouge in her shoulder that left her favoring her right front leg over her left.

“Come here, girl. We have got to get outta here…” I said, patting my thigh until the great white direwolf padded away from the still form of the jerk that had chased me down and tried to bind me. What would have come after that, I don’t think I want to know. With one last glance over my shoulder, Freya and I limped away from the edge of the woods, leaving the man in a pool of blood. I should have felt bad. I should have felt something in general. Instead I felt nothing at all save for fatigue and a general annoyance that my grocery shopping had been for naught. With Freya at my side and my attention on high alert, we made our way back into the heart of Seaside and up the winding road to the blue house on the hill that I called home. Wary as I approached, my pup and I rounded the side of the house, intent on the back door and the garage where I could help the wolf get cleaned up. She whimpered and headbutted my hip as I opened the door to the garage and let her in. Behind the house I heard Fred perk up, a low growl rumbling threefold in his throats.

“Hush back there, Freddy. This is my girl.” I called out, deeming the wolf with me a safe companion. Fred quieted and flopped back down hard enough to rumble the ground beneath our feet. I sort of felt bad for our neighbors if only because the Cerberus was getting so big that even his normal steps caused little tremors. In the garage I pulled out the emergency first aid kit kept amidst the handful of arcade cabinets that Ro had amassed over the year and a half we had been dating. With scissors I trimmed away the blood matted fur around Freya’s wound and then felt it out to see just how bad it was. On the upside, it was a clean cut, it would be easy to stitch back together so long as she didn’t try to take my arm off for doing it. In the dim garage, I sewed one of my dearest companions back together and she did nothing more than whimper and whine and nip at my leg when I hit a particularly sore spot. When all was said and done, I sat on the floor with her and buried my face in her fur, breathing in a smell I never thought I would experience again. There I cried for a good ten minutes until I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I must have been taking too long.

“Come on, pretty girl, let’s go meet Fred. He will watch out for you until you feel better.” Giving the dire wolf a gentle pat on her flank and led the way out of the garage. My arm had stopped bleeding at the very least but it still ached something fierce. Once I was certain that Freya had settled in with her much larger counterpart and Fred wasn’t going to do anything mean or rude, I sighed and nudged the back door open to step inside. Ro was waiting for me in the kitchen, looking concerned and then alarmed when he saw me. I had no groceries and I was a blood spattered mess. I can’t exactly blame him for being upset by it. Still he got me cleaned up and out of my tattered clothes and we ate cinnamon brown sugar pop tarts in bed while I recounted just what happened on my way home. That bad feeling I had last night had finally boiled over. The Order had returned.
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Addie MacKenzie
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Old Wyrm
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 12:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Nine: An Ultimatum

15th of December

I spent the next week and a half torn between anger and despair. Just how was it possible that the Order’s acolytes could just up and disappear for over a year only to turn up now at the most inopportune of times? Maybe Nick’s death had been for nothing. Wouldn’t that have been a kick in the dick. With Freya down for the count (but on the mend at the very least), my protector in the shadows was put out of commission. It meant the streets weren’t safe for roaming and thusly, I spent the entirety of my time at home, where the wards and Fred the Cerberus would hold off the worst of things that could come my way. I pleaded with Michi to be careful when she came and went and did the same with Romeo as well. They both had lives to live though so it wasn’t as though I could lock them up with me. Besides, the Order had made it pretty clear that they gave exactly zero ****s about anyone I was associated with so long as they didn’t try to get in the way of their grabs for me. The moment that changed, all bets were off.

So I became a prisoner in my own home. The extent of my solo ventures outside were restricted to brisk walks to the mailbox and back, done as quickly as possible. More often than not, Michi or Ro would save me the trip by grabbing it on their way in or out. Even though the people at the Hollows were still recovering from their latest demonic incursion, Romeo spent most of his time with me if he wasn’t at work. I could see the fatigue and concern that constantly limned his expressions when he thought I wasn’t looking. For all that he had to worry about on a day to day basis, I was supposed to be his break from it all. Instead I had only heaped onto his mountain of burdens once more. It wasn’t supposed to work that way. I said goodbye at the front door and lingered there to watch him drive away, locking the door up tight as soon as the Highlander had coasted around the curve and out of view. The wards I had etched into the door frame lit up a pale blue, thrumming with subtly protective power. My mom had helped me with the specific combination and though they weren’t as strong as the ones she had on her own home, damn near anyone would be hard pressed to get past them.

For the eighth time that week, I cleaned the house from top to bottom. My bedroom, the bathrooms, the living room, the kitchen, all spotless. By the time that was done, it wasn’t even noon yet. I had approximately four hours until Ro would be home and until then I was alone unless Michi came home early. I could have called her, asked her to break away from the busy life she had been building, but I didn’t feel right doing that. They shouldn’t have to suffer for me. Stripping the elbow length rubber gloves from each of my hands, I tossed them into the bucket I had just emptied of murky mopping water. The rest of my cleaning supplies were dropped in with them and I put the whole shebang into the closet. When I turned back to shut the door behind me, I was overwhelmed by one of those feelings.

You know the ones. The one that told me that the Hollows needed Ro. The one that told me it wasn’t safe to take my normal way home. They had cropped up increasingly over the past few weeks. Just a feeling at first and then there were flashes. It started with a flicker but this time around it overwhelmed all of my senses. I could taste the crisp winter air and feel it nip at my cheeks, curling through my hair with little whipping gusts. A dusting of snow earlier in the week had melted into slush, leaving the pavement slick and slippery underfoot. New Haven was aglow with the first hints of Yule, lighting the bare trees with white twinkle lights. I could feel Astoria Lane come into view, the tall row of brownstones on my right reaching high for the sky. If it were anyone else, the numbers should have skipped from number five to number seven without even a flicker. But I could see the wavering haze of the wards. I could hear the swishing of robes. A glance down confirmed the worst of my suspicions. Purple laid over chainmail armor lined with hooked thorns. Whoever I was watching turned up the steps at Number Six and I felt my blood turn to ice.

Henry and Raven were still away on their honeymoon though for the third week they had taken Adelaide the Younger with them. It was their first vacation as an official family. It meant that Addie would miss the last two weeks of school before winter break but at the very least she was safe and well away from here. Still standing in my front hallway before the still open closet, I kept watching as they reached the top step and paused at the front door. They touched first the door handle and quickly withdrew with a hiss of annoyance. I could feel the veritable power of the protective wards that staved off their unwelcome intrusion. What the wards couldn’t prevent though was the swipe of fingers over the front door’s glossy stained wood. Red, dark red, they smeared it around in a circle and then with more subtle motions of their fingers traced lines and whorls in a clockwise pattern around it. A quick dunk to re-wet their chosen writing utensil in what I hoped was just dark paint instead of blood before they etched the final marks on the door. With a step back, I could see it all. AVA, the letters and the circle around them were identical to the one I saw on my very own living room floor a few weeks ago when I was seeing things. The letters dripped rolling beads of scarlet down the contours of the door, slowing steadily as it dried. The scene before me faded and left me alone with my panic in my entryway.

My first instinct was to put on my shoes and run across town to see if it was real. But if they could find my mother’s home, they would assuredly be watching it to see if I showed up. Worse yet, they would be watching to see when my younger self showed up. I couldn’t let them get their hands on her. Me, I could defend myself. I could fight. Or at least I thought I could if only I could catch my breath. Instead, I sat in the entryway hyperventilating for what must have been close to an hour. It was there I sat with my phone and waited for Ro to come home. The moment he came through the front door, I accosted him with a jibbering explanation of what I had seen and a begged plea for him to take me over there so we could check. I had to see it for myself with my own eyes. I had to repeat it twice more, slower each time so that he could actually understand me. The change in his expression was subtle but chilling. He wrapped me up tight in his arms and held me until it didn’t feel like my heart was going to leap out of my chest. When I could breathe again, he led me out to the car and made sure I got buckled before pulling out of the driveway to make the trek across town to New Haven. Normally it would be just a ten to fifteen minute drive but it seemed to take an eternity, the anticipation of what I might find proving to slow each secondhand tick of the clock to a crawl.

From Seaside to Old Market. From Old Market to Dragon’s Gate. From Dragon’s Gate to New Haven. From the main boutique drag of New Haven, Ro turned off at the center fountain then swung a left onto Astoria. I watched the brownstones as they ticked by slowly. Ro looked out with an intent gaze for anyone that might be lingering suspiciously nearby. Number One, Number Two, nothing so far. Number Three, Number Four, still not a peep. Number Five, nothing at all. Number Six, Ro rolled to a stop and idled at the curb. I could see it even from the street, garrish and red and hideous. I wanted to leap from the car and scrub it clean until there wasn’t a single hint of a stain on my mother’s abode. This was supposed to be her safe haven, untouchable by those who sought to interrupt the tiny slice of heaven she had claimed here. Of course, I had nothing to clean it up with, but still. It was the thought that counted. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I looked over my shoulder at my boyfriend.

“Cover me. I’ll be quick, I promise.” Leaning back, I pecked a kiss to his cheek and hopped out of the SUV before he could argue with me. Like a shot, I ran up the steps, skipping half of them along the way. At the door I could feel the ever present energy of the home’s wards. It was likely what had reacted when they touched the door in my little… vision. I guess, that’s what it was. Ugh, crazy people have visions. I’m not crazy. I swear it. With a glance, it looked like it had dried but I found a heavier smear that was still just a little bit damp. Dragging my fingers through it, I brought them up to my nose and sniffed. Blood. ****. I gave it another sniff, calling on the latent senses given by the draconic touch I had in my blood. Lamb’s blood. Oh that was rich. Moreover, there was an underlying feeling to the entire symbol. I took a step back to look at it, my head tilting left and right as I tried to make sense of the symbols and lines. WIth a huff, I shook my head and pressed both hands to the symbol, just within the outer boundary of the circle. The reaction was instantaneous.

A warning.

It promised the death of the child that lived there should I not comply with their wishes. I saw little flashes, glimpses of a raven haired three year old playing on the playground at St. Mary’s Preschool, walking home from school with her nanny, heading into her dance and tumbling classes at Fire & Ice and the RCCA respectively. They were watching, they had been for so long. But they needed me more than they needed her. In order to use her, they would need to wait until she was older, or at least old enough to recite their lines. The message was clear, me or her. They wouldn’t settle for anything less. The Pluvia Eterna would stop at nothing to fulfill their prophecy and the Order of Orion wasn’t the only one that would come for us if the Orionites failed. I shuddered and jerked my hands back from the door. They came away red, my handprints having smudged the mostly dry bloody artwork. With a shake of my head, I tried to smear it as much as I could until it was just a fraction of what it had been. It wasn’t quite enough but it would have to do for the time being. Doing my best not to trip, I stumbled down the stairs and back to the Highlander, getting in gingerly while touching as little as possible.

“I… I need to get this stuff off my hands… please. We need to go. Anywhere but here.” I whispered, my hands turned palm up to show Ro the streaks of dark red across my skin. He was already decently fair skinned, especially this far removed from summer, but I could have sworn he went pale. I had told him a number of times just how the wards on Raven and Henry’s house worked so perhaps he understood the gravity of a gesture like this.

Romeo was silent for the unfolding scene, what he saw on the door far beyond his reach and the ruddy red staining my fair hands upon my return. My plea was met with instant compliance and he wasted no time in pulling the Highlander from out in front of the Wyatt residence. One good hand was steady atop one of my thighs, an attempt at reassurance through contact and the slim hope that it was worth something. He didn't gun the engine, but there was an urgency to his driving; sharper cornering and too many rolling stops, as he put distance between us and the incident and sped me back to my place in Seaside. Short of calling my godmother, it was the safest place he could think to go.

With my hands stained as they were, I didn't reach for my seatbelt, instead sitting back and looking at anything but the red, red, red marks. There was one last glance back at the marked door before the row of brownstones faded behind us with a short turn around the next corner. His hand was an anchoring comfort though I didn't dare touch it like I wanted to. I couldn't bear the thought of marking him with this same garrish warpaint. The trip back to Seaside seemed to fly by compared to the initial drive to New Haven and before I knew it, we were in the driveway. "Will... will you help me unlock the garage so I can wash my hands in there? Please?"

All things considered, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Romeo pulled right up to the garage, opened the door, and then pulled the car inside, before shutting it behind them. He got the door for me after, still silent, before leading me to the sink within by the elbow and turning the water on for me. When it was hot, he pushed my hands under the stream and began helping me to scrub at them. He wasn't going to make me do this alone and attacked the grime with a gentle but persistent resolve. With the level of consideration that Romeo had so often shown me, it didn't surprise me in the least. In a bit of a daze, I eased out of the SUV and bumped the door shut with my hip as he led me to the sink. What I hadn't expected was that he would stick with me even as I tried desperately to scrub my hands clean of the dried lamb's blood. The industrial styled sink drained the pink tinted water quickly, leaving just clear water and floral scented suds from the copious amounts of hand soap we had used. When my hands were finally clean, I twisted the knob to turn the water off and leaned to reach for a towel. "They're coming home on Sunday... I... I need to find a way to get it cleaned up before then."

"I can do it," he offered quietly. "You can hang here and I get it cleaned up." Romeo toweled my hands off gently, warming them up further inside the fluffy fabric with a rub of his hands on mine. Gently, he set his forehead against mine, staring down into my blue eyes.

"No." I shook my head and slipped my arms around him. My eyes closed for a long moment as I tried to sort through the string of thoughts bouncing around in my head. "I don't want you going. I want... someone else to go. I need, um, I don't know. I need you not to go there."

"Why? I'll be alright, mo chroi. It'll be okay." A soft kiss touched down on my forehead. "I'm pretty sure I can handle it."

"Because I'm afraid they'll do something to you." I said softly, my eyes opening with the touch of his lips to my skin. Feverish in comparison, his lips were cool, a calming salve to my nerves.

"That, I think, would be a big mistake." The smile he offered me was crooked but wan. I offered a compelling point, but his need to look after me far outweighed any concern about danger to himself. "If not me, then who?"

"It would." I agreed. If they touched Romeo MacKenzie, I would find a way to kill every last one of them with my bare hands if I had to. Leaning back from the touch of his forehead, I pushed my hair out of my face and exhaled. "I don't know... maybe... I don't know. One of Claire's people. Nobody close."

See Also: Nobody that could get hurt and make me feel worse about things.

"That means gettin' Claire involved," he pointed out. Ro wasn't opposed to it, all things considered, but given my feelings towards my godmother, he had been loathe to make the suggestion. "And she's gonna have questions, mo chroi. And you're gonna need to give her answers."

"Not necessarily..." I said softly, thoughtfully. Sucking at my bottom lip, I lifted a look to meet his gaze. "Call in a favor with one of the guys at the gym maybe? Bribe 'em with brownies?"

"No." The response was firm. One of his hands slipped along my jaw in a light caress, keeping my chin tilted up and our gazes locked. "If you're gonna put one of her people in danger, she has the right to know what's goin' on, babe. She doesn't have to like it. She needs to learn to respect your decisions, but the both of you are gonna have to come to an understandin' about your world sooner or later. I'm not sayin' you owe it to her, mo chroi, but it is the right thing to do."

"I'm not putting them in danger when they don't know anything about anyone involved. It's better that less people know because the more people that know, the more that can get hurt." I said with a hard look, my jaw tightening beneath the touch of his fingers. Didn't he understand? The Order didn't care about the peripheral people but those closest to things? They were constantly in danger.

"Your point is taken well enough," he conceded without giving ground. "But if you're wrong? And what if whoever from the gym does what you want, but mentions it to Claire? Or Gio? You'll end up in the soup with them anyway. I'm not arguin' your logic or your reasons, but we live in the land of Murphy's Law gone wild. I'm just tryin' to hedge every bet we take to the bookie."

"Fine. Then I'll do it myself. I'm not putting anyone else at risk then." I said, my tone sharper than intended. Every man in the history of mankind knew that when a woman said 'Fine' it very seldom meant 'Fine'.

"Or I can hire someone to do it and we can just keep an eye on things while it's gettin' cleaned up." He didn't wither beneath my sharp tongue. "There's some pretty wily folks from over my way who could use the coin and are good to make a run for it if **** gets dicey. Compromise?"

Romeo MacKenzie, a steadfast rock even in the worst of my weather. He didn't wither but I did, the tension in my shoulders deflating as I nodded slowly. "Yeah... that... that works. I, uh, do you think it'd be better if I stayed here?"

"I do," he leaned in to smear a kiss to my forehead, his arms tight around my hips. "But if you want to put eyes on it, you'll do it with me present. Or me and some other folks. You're the one we need to worry about, Addie. Little Adelaide is ten times safer than you on any given day. What if this is just meant to rattle you? To make you not think things through and make a mistake?"

"I'm safe here." I said quietly with a glance to the side door that would take us to the backyard. Fred was back there, a steadfast protector of those deemed my allies. Tara Rynieyn had given me the Cerberus when he was just a puppy and to this day he remained one of the most thoughtful gifts I had ever received. I didn't want to tell him how the message on the door had shown me all the times they had been watching the younger Adelaide. Safe sure, but how much of that was false confidence? Smearing my hand over my mouth, for just a flicker I could have sworn it came away red but a second glance proved me wrong. I exhaled a shaky breath. "I think this is the first time in awhile I've been thinking clearly on things. I shouldn't be there unless I'm absolutely needed."

"Okay." Romeo nodded and smoothed his hands down along my neck, over my shoulders. "Let's go into the house and get you settled. I'll start makin' some calls and get a small crew of runners over there to get after the mess. They'll clean it up and we'll start worryin' about what the next move is."

Savoring his touch, I lingered there beneath it for a few long moments before nodding slowly. "Okay. I don't want Raven and Henry knowing about this until after they get back. Let them enjoy what they have left of their vacation. Right?"

"Makes sense. They'd rush back with Little Addie in tow and we don't want that." Using his grip on my arms, he pulled me up and into a slow, gentle kiss. "We'll get through this."

"Right, the longer they keep her away, the better." I nodded, tipping my chin up for lingering, drawn out kiss. It bled with desperation and an innate need for him to understand just how much he meant to me. I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to truly explain to him but still I tried. "I love you."

"I love you." He nuzzled his nose against mine and kissed me again, a little longer this time, before finally drawing back to slip an arm around me. "I'm with you, Pizza Girl. No matter what, I'm with you."

"Okay." I nodded and leaned into the draw of his arm before angling us both toward the side door. We couldn't stay in the garage forever after all. "When you come back, do you want to get a few things for the weekend?"

"You just tell me what you want, mo chroi, and I'll make it happen. I will cook you a feast for a smile." His hands smoothed down over my hips as he guided me to and then through the door ahead of him. "For a booty shake, I'll... well, you know what I'll do."

"Your pancakes." They were a hands down favorite and oh what I wouldn't do to get them one more time. Slipping free of the garage, I led to the way back to the house and through the back door much to my relief, as if the short distance of exposure was almost too much. "It's like a Klondike Bar but so much better."

"It's good to be reminded what a bargaining chip that is." Romeo grinned at my back and reached out to goose me. "Pancakes it is. And bad movies. And your lips on mine. We'll see where it goes from there."

"I have an admitted weakness for them, I can't help it." I said with a ghost of a wry smile, grabbing for his hand with the goose. No swatting, I wanted to lace my fingers with his as I led him through the kitchen to the living room. There I turned around and slid my arms around his torso, laying my head against his chest in abrupt hug.

He was quick to wrap me up and squeeze me tightly, burying his face in the dark mess of my hair and kiss the crown of my pretty head. Ro didn't say anything. He didn't have to. Instead, he soaked up the moments that passed with me in his arms and tried to convey as much love as he could in that firm grip.

Just how much time passed there in the middle of the living room, wrapped up in his arms as I was, I didn't know. But it was what I needed desperately. Finally I exhaled a soft sound against his chest and drew back. "I'll be okay. It'll all be okay."

"We'll get through this," he promised me quietly. "Together."

I leaned up and touched her lips to the edge of his mouth, my head moving just enough to pass for a nod. "Don't forget whipped cream." Beat. "For the pancakes."

"For the pancakes." He nodded sagely. "Definitely for for the pancakes."

"I'll make you a list while you make calls?" I tipped my head and unwound from the tangle our bodies had made.

"Consider it done." He kissed me one final time before peeling away reluctantly.

In a house with a pair of songwriters, notebooks were never in short supply and I easily scrounged one up from the breakfast bar, taking it along with a pen to the couch to work on a list between little notations made on the page underneath it, done only when he wasn't looking my way.

It took three calls and one minor argument for Ro to set things into motion and by the time everything was in order, he was easing back in to grab the list and smear a lingering kiss to my mouth. "I'll get stuff for a long weekend. Better pull somethin' sexy out of the closet. Love you."

With a heartening smile and a lingering look, he finally slipped out of the house.

“I’m so sorry…” I said softly once he was gone. The page that remained in the notebook beneath the freshly torn away grocery list was filled halfway with my somewhat girly script. I couldn’t believe I was actually considering this. With a tilt of my head, I listened for the Highlander to pull out of the garage and back out of the driveway. The sun was getting ready to set for the day so there was no telltale flicker flash of headlights across the front windows to tell me he had pulled away. So I waited a few moments longer before hunkering down to finish what I was writing. Contrary to the numerous pages prior, these were no lyrics or tabs, no song or album ideas. But I poured my heart out nonetheless, line after line flowing from pen to paper until I reached the very end.

Ro,

You are going to be upset with me for what I am about to do. Justifiably so. It’s a gamble that I may not win but it is one I have to make regardless of that fact. This won’t stop, no matter what I do, and if I hide, it is only going to end with someone else getting hurt. I could never forgive myself if that someone was you or one of the girls. I could never live with myself if that someone happens to be the younger me. She has so much ahead of her to live for. That isn’t to say that I don’t. I do. Gods do I. But I have had a chance, she hasn’t. This gives her the opportunity to have everything I didn’t. She will grow up in a house with a mom and a step-father that love her with everything they have, with friends and family and even a sister someday. Happy and healthy in a city that she never has to worry about burning to the ground because of her. I need to give her this chance.

If you are angry and hurt, I am sorry. **** am I sorry. Of all the people in this world, you are one of the very last that I would ever want to hurt this way. I’m so afraid that you are going to hate me, to resent me for this decision. I hope you don’t. But I understand if you do. Some part of me, a very, very selfish part at that, wants nothing more than to run away with you, just you and I, to go far, far from here to somewhere they can’t find us. But baby, they have already come through seventeen years to find me. They will not stop, no matter what I do and no matter where I go. So this has to end and unfortunately, it will end with me. I’m scared of what is going to happen but if it means getting everyone out of harm’s way finally, then I can be brave. You were right, I shouldn’t put other people into danger knowingly or otherwise. This isn’t just about cleaning vandalized doors. This is… so much bigger than that.

My journal is in my bedside table drawer. I think it may have some insights into a lot of this stuff, things I haven’t had a chance to tell you about all of it. There’s so much… it goes so far back after all. I give you my permission to read it if I’m not back home within twenty-four hours. I don’t think I will be. By then, my mom and Henry and little Addie will be on their way home from vacation. Give them until they get back before saying anything. They deserve their peace, if at least for a little bit longer. And by the gods, please make sure that little girl stays safe no matter what. You were right, like usual. She’s very well protected, but they were watching her too. I saw it, them following her when nobody realized it. They aren’t all ominous purple robes and creepy glowy hand marks and if we can’t pick them out of a crowd with ease, how can we expect to stay safe in a city like this?

I’m so sorry, baby. I’m not asking you to agree with my decision. I’m not asking you not to hate me for it. But I am asking that you at least understand why I did it. I absolutely cannot let another Nick happen. I will not let another person suffer for me while I hide behind the supposedly safe doors of this house. Not you, not her, not anyone. I am going to put a stop to this. I might not come home from it and if I don’t, know you will always be my greatest love, the best decision I have ever made. Which is saying something considering I am really good at making bad decisions. You are not one of those bad decisions. I love you with absolutely everything in my heart and I always will, no matter what.

Take care of Fred for me and make sure Michi and Miz know I love them too. I love all of you, thank you for being my chosen family.

Love,

Addie


Signing my name with a little heart, I set the pen aside and carefully tore the page from the notebook. In an unnecessary show of lacking urgency, I picked at the frayed edge until the perforation came away clean and I was left with only a single piece of crisp notebook paper. The notebook itself and the pen mattered little now, left to the coffee table. With a deep breath, I got to the my feet and headed into the kitchen to pin the note to the fridge with the same magnet I had used for my note the morning Freya had saved me from the Order’s acolytes. That note was long since gone, crumpled and tossed in the trash after I had finally made it back home after that fateful morning. But if anything, it had only been a supporting point to everything I had to say in what I expected would be my final love letter to my boyfriend. He’s going to hate me, I just know it.

With the note stuck to the fridge, I headed upstairs long enough to take one last look at the entirety of my worldly possessions while I grabbed one of Ro’s hoodies to take with me. Perhaps it would be a small comfort wherever I ended up. Once I had it in hand, I buried my face in it for a few moments to simply breathe in the smell of him, committing it to every last bit of memory that I could. When I was gone, would he eventually stand here and do the same with my clothes? I had so many questions. Would Michi leave my room as it was, memorializing me until she left this house behind? Or would she pack it all up, stash it away or sell it so that she didn’t have to be reminded of the way I had left? Would the girls miss me? Would the band go on without me? Would Ro move on and forget me eventually? I turned away, closing the door behind me so that I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

Padding down the stairs, I took the back door instead of the front, just in case for some reason Romeo came back early. There I was met by Fred’s three heads, eyeing me curiously as if he knew something was amiss. I sucked in a deep breath and sidestepped over a great paw to reach up and scrub my fingers behind one of his six ears.

“You’ll look after Michi and Miz and Ro, right? Promise me you’ll protect them? Don’t let Ro overfeed you either. You don’t want to get fat...ter than you already are. I love you, pupper.” In turn I bumped my forehead to each of Fred’s three heads. For one great beast, they each seemed to have a personality of their own and I loved every part of him. I was going to miss this big lightpost eating dummy. Rather than venture through the garage and down the driveway, I headed to the back of the little back yard that had hosted numerous Trash parties. There was a gate there, waist high and made of sun bleached picket fencing, that led to a dirt path behind our row of houses. Ro and I sometimes walked back here when we just wanted some quiet. If I followed it to the north, it took us to the forest of Battlefield Park. To the south, eventually it would merge with the boardwalk on the shore.

I turned left and headed south at a brisk pace, Ro’s hood up over my head and my hands in the hoodie’s pockets. Just where I was going, I wasn’t quite sure, but I did my best to focus my mind, opening it to the vision moments that had been happening increasingly more frequently as of late.

“Show me something… show me where to go.” I begged, quickly making tracks to leave my house behind for what would likely be the last time. There’s something to be said about the phrase ‘Ask and ye shall receive’, because it hit me a moment later. A flicker, then a flash. Cliffs, high above the water. Whipping wind and thrumming drums. A sun sinking behind the horizon, painting the sky and sea both with fire. The treeline reflecting the oranges and reds of the dying day. The siren’s call within the forest. The trees weren’t on fire but it was just as I had dreamt. I knew where I had to go. It wouldn’t be a short walk, not if I had to go all the way from Seaside to the cliffs south of town. I didn’t know how long it would take Ro and his hired help to clean up Raven and Henry’s front door so more than likely, I had less time than I would have liked before he got home, found my note, and inevitably freaked out.

A quick walk turned into a jog and then a sprint, down the dirt path and along the boardwalk, winding through the crowds with all of the unassuming casualness of someone not heading to their likely death. I even smiled apologetically when someone recognized me and called out for an autograph and a picture. I had somewhere to be, unfortunately the fans would have to wait. Dodging the last of them, I hopped the river by way of footbridge, and did my damnedest to make it through Dockside without being accosted. That meant pushing myself harder than before and when I finally scaled the southern wall to hop it instead of taking the far gate to the east, I was positively breathless. I paused on the wall’s top and turned a look back across the city.

My city, this was supposed to be my home now. Beautiful and dark and bright and vibrant, it was an ever changing organism with a life of its own. It would never fall like Nosgoth did. It would never burn for me. For longer than I probably should have, I stood there and drank it in. Distantly, somewhere in the marketplace, I was certain I heard the pop of a small explosion and the subsequent smoke that followed. See, it was Rhy’Din City, in all of its dirty, ugly, gorgeous glory.

Resolved in my decision, I turned and jumped from the walltop and onto the bed of fallen leaves below. I knew the path from here, a final march to the great beyond. They had held Beltane out here, beyond the trees and near the clearings by the cliffs. The wind whistled beautifully that night as we danced around the bonfires with friends and strangers both, singing us a song of the wyld around us. That night was one I keep ever close to my heart, the way Ro and I worshipped beneath Rhydin’s twin moons, each other, ourselves, the world around us. ****, why did I have to leave that all behind.

This wasn’t fair. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Except. It was. ****ing prophecies, you know? Sometimes you fight destiny and other times, the Fates lay the smackdown and remind you just how small you are in the grand scheme of things. The sounds of the city faded behind me, leaving only the sound of my shoes as I tromped through dead and dying leaves, over hills and little gullies before making the climb to the cliffs I knew were ahead. From the little glimpses of what I had seen, I still wasn’t sure just what I would find when I got there but I knew it was right, whatever it was. I broke through the treeline and the most beautiful view opened up in front of me. The sea was red and gold, dancing with the glimmer of half of a sun. The clouds were the thin sort of lazy wisps found more in spring and summer than this close to winter. I could see my breath with each exhale, reminding me that we were less than a week from the solstice despite the picturesque colors before me. I stood there for what must have been the shortest eternity ever when I felt the presence of someone behind me before I heard them.

“It’s time, Adelaide.” Thickly accented, I didn’t recognize the voice. Masculine, a deep baritone that was pleasant despite the ominous feeling sinking its way into my stomach. I lifted my chin and stole just a few more moments to take in the view before slowly turning around. Half of me expected something from my nightmares to stand before me, the other half told me not to be ridiculous. The worst things in life were seldom monstrous looking but rather beautiful in the most painful ways. The man standing there wasn’t necessarily beautiful but he was by no means a monster. Scarred across one side of his face and with a chin dotted with black and grey stubble, it gave him a roguish cut to his features. He was wrapped in a heavy traveling cloak but beneath it, I could see what looked like armor in a shade of grey so dark it didn’t seem like it could have been regular iron or steel. There was a blade strapped over his back, aged well beyond its wielder even was. Behind him, the dormant trees looked aflame with the sun’s last rays, fulfilling my dream with far less dread than I recalled. Swallowing back my fear, I gave him a single nod.

“I’m ready.”
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Addie MacKenzie
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Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2017 12:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

((Content Warning: The following post is definitely rated M/18+/NSFW for violence and other themes.))

Chapter Ten: Putting the ‘Fun’ in Ritualistic Torture… Wait, That Doesn’t Work

19th of December

“Wake up.” Commanded an unfamiliar feminine voice. It definitely wasn’t the man that had collected me at the cliffs. He had led me through a flickering portal in the forest and to a cold and dank room only gods knew where. It had been outfitted with a short cot that was surely meant for someone much shorter than me, a threadbare blanket, and what had to be a brick in a pillowcase. For the first twenty-four hours, nobody said a word to me. Or, I’m guessing it was twenty-four hours. My only hint of passing time was the changing of what I assumed to be a guard outside of the room. The guard had changed six times at what felt like four hour intervals. I could have been wrong. Maybe it had been more, maybe it had been less. I don’t know. What I assumed was the next day, they finally fed me. It was scraps at first but I was so hungry I didn’t care. The second time, it was a fuller tray, and the third it could have passed for a legitimate meal. Still nobody talked to me. I sat with my back to the door and talked to the guard on the other side though they never talked back. I could hear them shuffling and making quiet sounds outside. Breathing, coughing, sneezing. That sort of thing. Sometimes I sang, sometimes I slept, sometimes I talked my way through the flickering little visions that still seemed to plague me. You know, I really thought those would go away if I handed myself over. Is that silly? The next day, a notebook and pen had been slipped beneath the door. They must have been tired of listening to me or something. I moved away from the door that day and spent the rest of the time on my poor excuse for a better, scribbling song lyrics and notes and love letters to the boyfriend that I was probably never going to see again. That was pretty much the extent of my interactions with my keepers until the two words jarred me from the incoherent daze I called sleep these days. How many days it had been at that point, I wasn’t quite sure.

“Huh wha?” I slurred, lurching with a start as I sat up. The door was open and a figure stood silhouetted against the light behind them. Definitely feminine, they wore form fitting garments that defined the curvature of her bust, waist, and hip. The light behind her was just bright enough to illuminate a sheet of white blonde hair that fell to her lower back.

“Wake up, child.” She repeated, this time a little more gently. I was dizzy and I didn’t know why, so I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and gave the shadow shrouded figure a bobbling head nod. She stepped into my dark room, bringing the light with her until it began to spread and fill the room entirely. It was a dingy thing, stone walled and drafty, ugly especially when lit up by her golden glow. As she drew near, I could finally see her face. She was pretty, if a bit delicate looking, wrapped in white robes belted around the midsection in the same plum shade as the robes of the acolytes that had followed me for so long. Though she smiled, it didn’t quite reach her eyes, which were a pale shade of blue, like a washed out, cloudless summer sky.

“I’m awake,” I mumbled, swinging my legs over the side of my cot and leaning back against the cold wall. A shiver ran down my feverish skin and I drew my blanket over my lap as if it would offer me a buffer against the chill. In the moment I desperately missed Ro. He was always so good at keeping me warm and secure. The woman came to a stop in front of me, casting her shadow over my lower legs. I swear it had a chill of its own so I fought the urge to pull my legs back up on the bed. She leaned down, her thumb and forefinger catching my chin. Her fingernails had been filed into sharp points that grazed my skin with their edges. I pulled back but she held tight, turning my head left and right then up to meet her gaze.

“You’re a pretty one, aren’t you?” She mused and let me go, straightening up. I rubbed at my chin a little and watched as she drew back from me. Pretty as the woman may have been, she gave me a bad feeling despite being the first person I had actually seen in days. From beneath the edge of my pillow she snagged the notebook I had been given and began idly flipping through the pages with only a vague look of cursory interest. I gave her a little frown for it but didn’t argue in case she was the dangerous sort. Pretty sure she was, just a guess, you know. When she ran out of pages, she shrugged and tossed the notebook back onto my pillow and looked back to me. “I offered you a compliment. The least you could do is be gracious.”

“Uh… my mom always taught me not to talk to strangers. Even if they’re nice and give me compliments.” I said dryly, my voice rough considering how little I had had to drink over the past handful of days. The woman gave me another smile, the same one that seemed a little too forced to be genuine.

“Then let’s not be strangers, aye. I’m Koviah and you are Addie, yes?” She asked with a tilt of her head. It spilled a platinum waterfall over one shoulder, a shimmering sheet of white-blonde that seemed preternaturally luminescent in the otherwise lacking light. The name wasn’t familiar to me but I also wasn’t exactly thinking particularly clearly. I eyed her for a few moments as if trying to decide whether or not to play into her hand.

“Yeah, but it’s not that simple and you know it.” I said, flopping back against the wall and folding my arms across my chest. Koviah arched a brow and blinked slowly a few times.

“Well, of course it isn’t, but that’s no reason to be rude with one another. Surely your parents or guardians taught you some semblance of manners growing up, did they not?” She followed up with another question. I sighed and stared her down, torn between vitriol and sarcasm.

“You mean the parent you killed twice or the parent whose homeland you ruined from top to bottom?” Maybe it had come out somewhere in between the two. But if this woman was a part of the Order, then she deserved no courtesy as far as I was concerned. I saw Koviah’s expression harden before she leaned down to grab me by the wrist. Deceptively strong, she jerked me to my feet until we were toe to toe and eye to eye. She may have been a few inches shorter than me but still she managed to look down her nose at me. Should I have been worried? Probably. But mostly I was just tired and hungry and cold. And I really needed a shower. Up close she smelled like copper and jasmine, an odd combination if ever there was one. It was vaguely unsettling.

“You are making it incredibly difficult to pretend to be nice to you here. Now you can mind your manners or I can make the next handful of days immensely uncomfortable for you.” She hissed through her teeth. The more she spoke, the more I realized the metallic tang in the air was coming from her breath. Still it did little to stifle my smartassery.

“You mean like the back of a Volkswagen?” I asked dryly. The words were no sooner out of my mouth before I felt a harsh crack against my cheek. It was hard enough to jolt my face to one side but as far as I knew, she hadn’t touched me with her hands. I could feel the flush of warmth from all of the blood rushing to my stinging flesh and with my free hand, reached up to touch my cheek. “What the *** was that for?!”

“Your insolence. Now come, before I show you the meaning of pain.” She jerked me by the wrist and sent me stumbling along with her as she pulled me toward the open door. The bit of light she had brought with her was fading quickly and the hallway beyond my room was hardly better off than the cell-like room had been. The guards outside quickly sidestepped to allow her to pass and awkwardly down the narrow hall she tugged me along. I tripped twice and both times, I was met with a painful twist of my wrist, elbow, and shoulder until I couldn’t help but bark out a cry. This seemed to please Koviah more than should have been socially acceptable and her grip tightened until I felt the bite of her pointy nails into my skin. I bit down on my tongue, pinning it in place so that I wouldn’t whimper as she dragged me further and further from my room. We turned a sharp corner followed immediately by another before she was shoving me through an open doorway and across slick stone. “Clean her up, she smells disgusting.”

On the upside, Koviah had let me go. On the downside, I was left in a wet room with two androgynous attendants sporting some rather unsettling quirks. Their mouths had been sewn shut and strips of white muslin cloth had been wrapped around their eyes, which seemed abnormally sunken beneath the crisp creases of the fabric. Despite the fact that they could not see, they had no problem cornering me and despite my best attempts otherwise, they stripped Ro’s sweatshirt off over my head and pulled my shirt and jeans away in shreds, torn by the razorlike tips of her fingers. Leaving me in just my underthings, I was at the very least grateful for that. Not for long though as I was met with the icy blast of what I could only assume had to be an industrial strength fire hose. You know, like the ones they use on rioters and stuff like that. The arctic water needled my exposed flesh as one attendant hosed me down. I tried to curl up in the corner, ducking my head against the harsh spray. It gave the other attendant an in for the sake of stepping closer to me. I didn’t even realize it until I felt rough hands in my hair. Though I wanted to pull away, with how easily they had ripped my clothes away, I worried that if I did, my hair would suffer. So I held still as the talon fingered thing lathered me up. All the while we were pelted by the freezing spray. I didn’t think it was ever going to end but abruptly, the hands stopped touching me and the water stopped drowning me.

For a few minutes I sat curled up in the fetal position in the corner, my teeth chattering and my entire body shaking violently as I tried to warm up. Normally the cold didn’t bother me this badly but something about this place I was in seemed to sap my natural inclinations almost entirely. I couldn’t call on the magic I so easily wielded before and even connecting with the draconic blood in my veins was a trial in and of itself. After a long period of silence broken only by my rattling teeth, I jerked upright with the first contrasting touch of something warm and soft. A towel. It was a god damned towel. Two pairs of hands worked a pair of plush towels over my hair and body before I felt the slip of hands under my arms to haul me to my feet. They were neither rough or gentle but they seemed mindful of not inadvertently hurting me more than I already felt. The water’s chill had permeated my flesh to the bone though so even as they wrapped me in white silks, I couldn’t help the lingering shivers. One of the two worked a wide toothed comb through my wet hair, carefully unsnarling the mess of black that my hair had become over the past however many days. When it was untangled and setting straight down my back, they urged me toward the shower room’s entrance. No shoes, that was the one pitfall. I don’t know where my clothes had gone and briefly I panicked at the fact that I no longer had Romeo’s hoodie. The pair nudged me out the door but didn’t follow and I nearly ran right into the man who had been there to bring me in to begin with. That was only mildly creepy if he had been watching. I was particularly glad that they hadn’t stripped me entirely even if it meant I was wearing wet underthings beneath the soft silk they had wrapped me in afterwards.

“Hello.” He said pleasantly enough, looking down at me without taking a step back. In the dim hallway I peered up at him and made distance with a short slide to my left. Where I was going to go, I didn’t know, but I assumed he was here to show me just as he had before.

“Hi.” I answered tersely, glancing back toward the open arch of the shower room and the two attendants within. They had gone stock still, their unseeing eyes turned toward the door I had left through.

“Do you feel a little bit better now?” He asked, following my gaze toward the door and back. I did nothing to mute the frown on my lips and gave him a shrug.

“They took my hoodie.” I said, as if that answered it. The man’s brows lifted but before I could say more, he stepped around me and through the doorway. There was a quiet intonation, one sided considering the two inside couldn’t speak, but a moment later, he stepped out holding the black sweatshirt.

“They were going to launder it. Would you like them to do so?” He asked, lingering between me and the shower. On one hand, it probably wasn’t a bad idea and I was mildly surprised that despite the fact they had shredded my other clothing, they were showing such consideration to my remaining garment. On the other hand, it still smelled of Romeo and I wasn’t keen on giving that up anytime soon. I shook my head and held my hands out for it. He shrugged and brought it to me, depositing it gently into my grasp. Pulling it to my face, I inhaled deeply. Several days later and it still smelled like him; soap, a little earthy musk, and a faint whiff of cologne. Gods, I missed him terribly. “Does it smell alright?”

“What?” I asked, startled by the question. The man, who I still didn’t have a name for, was watching me sniff the sweatshirt like some sort of weirdo. I felt my cheeks flush and slowly I lowered my hands to clutch it to my chest instead. It was the last comfort I had left. “Oh. Yeah, it’s fine. I don’t need it washed yet. Thank you though.”

“Then we should be on our way,” he said with a gesture of his hand. At first I thought he might be taking me back to my room but instead we turned the opposite direction, once more through the twisting and winding halls of this labyrinthine hell. He made sure I was moving before turning to walk beside me, his hands tucked halfway into the pockets of a heavy leather trench styled jacket. For a handful of minutes we walked in silence, the sound of his boots and my bare feet against the stone walkway the only sound to break the monotony. With nothing else to do, I tried to take in as many details as my foggy brain would let me. I could see a glimmer of glowing red on the back of his hand nearest me, similar to the ones worn by the assholes that had spent the last four years trying to get their hands on me. I still can’t believe I just handed myself over to them finally. What an idiot. The man wasn’t the stereotypical monster sort and like the woman who had come to fetch me from my room, he wasn’t terrible looking. From the side I walked on, I couldn’t see the scar that marked the other side of his face. He had a strong jaw and the same five o’clock shadow as before. Likely he was in his late thirties or early forties. If he was anything more than that, he had to have a pretty impressive workout regimen or the sort of blood that makes it easy to look young when you’re old.

There are a lot of those in Rhydin. Like me. My mom’s human but my biological father was a dragon. Don’t ask about the logistics, I don’t want to think about it. Anyways, the draconic blood is definitely good for looking youthful for a long time. I couldn’t tell what this guy was aside from human so for now I guess we’ll go with that. He glanced over at me and caught me staring. Affording me a small smile, he looked forward again and offered a few quiet words, slightly accented but otherwise crisp and clear in Common. “I am Morelth. Redeemer of Man, Seeker of the Chosen.”

“So… seeker of me then, huh?” I asked sheepishly. What a stupid title that was ‘The Chosen’. Like this was Harry Potter or some such *** and I was destined for some kind of greatness. What he meant by Redeemer of Man, I wasn’t sure, but then again, I’m not really certain I particularly wanted to know anyways. If this guy was the one looking for me, then he was also the one responsible for sending those purple robed freaks after me and my friends for the past handful of years. I wanted to be angry at him but he had been so calm and genial the whole time that it felt, dare I say it, rude. Yeah, Addie, worry about being rude at a time like this. For all that Koviah had tried to lecture me on manners, I still had them.

“Precisely right. I’m glad we have finally found you. Thank you most sincerely for joining us.” He said without irony, turning us around one more corner and through a great stone archway that opened up to a cavernous room. The ceiling peaked in a jagged dome probably thirty feet over our heads. It was cut here and there by triangular breaks in the rock and what looked to be tile and as such, beams of sunlight filtered through the dim light. The floor was painted with a number of indecipherable geometrical patterns and symbols that seemed to correspond with the paths the light rays took as the sun passed overhead, sweeping arcs across the floor and connecting here and there with brilliant interjections of gold and bronze. At the far end of the chamber, a three stair riser lifted to an elevated platform. A stone bench or table, I wasn’t sure which, was accented by a kneeling hassock topped with what looked to be rounded studs set at regularly spaced intervals. That couldn’t be particularly comfortable. On either side of the bench sat a throne like chair. They were far more plush, upholstered with eggplant colored leather and velvet, and gilded with the same golden filigree that marked the floor.

“I would be lying if I said it was a pleasure to join you all. No offense.” I offered in trade softly. Shrugging a shoulder, I crushed Ro’s sweatshirt against my chest when I saw who sat in one of the two thrones. Koviah, in all of her white silk, fake smile, blonde haired glory. My cheek still ached where she had struck me earlier but I resisted the urge to reach a hand up to touch it. As we got closer, Koviah stood from her languid sprawl in the seat, her hands clasped in front of her in a demure gesture that directly contradicted anything I had seen from her thus far. At the bottom of the stairs, Morelth dropped into a kneel.

“My lovely Lady of Light. As requested.” He told her, his head bowed as she came down the steps in a swish of lightweight silks. I stood awkwardly a few steps behind Morelth, definitely not kneeling. Koviah stopped in front of Morelth and leaned just enough to touch her fingers beneath his chin. He looked up and she gave him a fond smile, the closest thing to a genuine one that I had seen out of her in my time here.

“Thank you, my love.” She cooed, curling her fingers upwards to get him to rise. He got back to his feet and glanced back at me. A little tilt of his head seemed to indicate I should go to her but for the time being I played dumb and stayed where I was standing on the edge of one of the slats of light that cut over the floor. After a moment, Koviah turned toward me and arched a brow. “Feeling more compliant after cleaning up?”

Now… typically this would be the point at which I would shoot off some snarky, cheeky comment and likely get bitch slapped again. Normally I’m not opposed to taking a little bit of punishment for the sake of a quality sarcastic comment, but my stomach was churning with the first hints of anxiety and try as I might to not let it rise, I could feel bile burning in the back of my throat. Instead I gave her a blank look and shrugged. Passive aggressive, maybe, but it was better than opening my mouth and regretting it. Koviah sighed but seemed to let it slide before looking back to Morelth. The way he looked at her made me want to barf. There was an unequivocal look of worship in his gaze, as if the very ground she walked upon was holy to him. Someone once told me Ro looked at me a little bit like that. I wondered if this guy thought the same of this evil bitch standing in front of us. Before I could ponder more on it, she offered a languid command to the man. “Go ahead and secure her. It is time for her test.”

“I’ve never been very good at tests…” I mumbled. Morelth turned toward me and I came to life, reeling back and away from him, shaking my head all the way. But I was weak and tired and cold and he was so much faster than I was. Before I knew it, his strong hands had locked around my wrists and he was pulling me up the short set of steps to the stone bench between the two thrones. What I hadn’t been able to see from further away was now disgustingly clear. The stone top was stained with a thin layer of reddish-brown, centered in a pool near the center but splattered outwards from there. There were stone latches at differing intervals around the bench including one wide to either side of where the hassock sat fixed to the ground. It was upon the kneeler that Morelth wrestled me into place. The rounded studs rubbed against my bony knees and shins, making them ache in a dull way that I was sure would be excruciating in time. Try as I might to twist and pull away, one by one he spread my arms wide to pin them beneath the half moon shackles that bolted into latches. Click-click, with finality. Ro’s sweatshirt had fallen somewhere my right, a lumpy pile on the floor. Before me stretched the table-bench and beyond that, a wide crystalline panel that seemed somewhere between glass and liquid.

“And now my canvas?” Koviah asked behind me. What in the nine hells did that mean? I couldn’t turn my head far enough to see, but Morelth was still behind me. I soon found out just what Koviah meant when I felt the pull of silk against my back, spread apart straight down my spine to expose my back from shoulder to hip. He pushed it forward until it bunched at my shoulders and the awkward splay of my arms. Gathering my hair, he tugged it over the front of one of my shoulders as well. I swallowed hard, trying to turn to see what they were going to do. Morelth touched his fingers to my cheek to straighten my head out and leaned down toward me.

“You aren’t going to want to watch this.” He said gently and straightened up, drawing away from me as I heard Koviah step up the stairs. That damned silk made soft little swish-swish sounds and grated on all of my nerves. Of course, that didn’t compare to the literal grating on my nerves that came with the first touch of what felt like white hot fire against my skin. Those geometric patterns on the floor would soon have a new home on my back. Someone was screaming, long and loud, high pitched and full of agony. Only when the pain relented did I realize that someone was me. I blacked out soon after and when I woke up, it was back in my room, alone, sprawled on my stomach on that dinky little cot in the dark. Ro’s sweatshirt had been neatly folded and tucked beneath my arm, my only comfort in the wake of the aching of my back. I couldn’t move without feeling the marks tug and pull with the threat of breaking open. Tugging the hoodie up beneath my face, I stained the soft fabric of the hoodie with my tears through the remainder of the night.

I woke the next day to the creaking of the door as it swung open. Bleary eyed and still in excruciating pain, I let out a quiet little whimper and squirmed away from the black clad figure looming over my bedside. Of course I didn’t have very far I could go and so it was no surprise when a callused hand touched gently to my shoulder. I flinched and the hand settled a little more firmly against the curve of my upper arm.

“You passed,” Morelth said softly, the newly familiar voice serving to still my panic. Granted, the last time he had come to retrieve me, it had been for the sake of taking me to the bitch who had inflicted this to begin with, but still. Outright, he hadn’t done anything to harm me. Yet. With a light grip on my arm, he turned me onto my side and eased my legs off the bed so that he could tug me up into a sitting position. My hair, crusted with dry blood, grated against the wounds on my back, sending a whole new wave of pain down my spine. My knees were bruised from kneeling upon the hassock, little circular spots of black and blue marking my knee caps and shins. The flesh around my wrists was an ugly purple shade and every slight movement of my fingers sent sharp pains up through my forearms.

“What did I pass?” I asked softly. My voice was rough and squeaky. At some point during Koviah’s so called test, I had screamed so hard and long that I felt something in my throat give out. It hurt to talk, it hurt to move, it hurt to breathe. If that was passing a test, I wish I would have failed. I wish I would have died. He was gentle as he gathered my hair and pulled it over the front of my shoulder again so that it wouldn’t irritate my back. That done, he caught me at the elbow and eased me up to my feet. The motion made my head spin, as if the entire world had gone topsy-turvy but he kept ahold of me until I steadied once more.

“The first Trial of the Chosen. Few have passed the first. None have passed the second.” He informed me, much to my horror. If that was the first, there was no way in the nine hells I would make it through another one. Idly I wondered if that was why the girls always screamed after being taken from their cages before I came to this time. Then I couldn’t help but wonder what time I was in now. Morelth had taken me through that portal after all, and they had come here from the future when Nick did. Maybe they took me back. So even if I survived this, I may still never see my friends and new family again. My shoulders sank with the thought, making my back light up with a whole new chorus of protest.

“I think I’m ready to bow out.” I rasped, working through the words little by little as I tried not to throw up from the pain. I didn’t think Morelth would take too kindly to me puking on his shoes. He reached a gloved hand for my chin, tilting it up so I had to look at him. The shadows of my dim room made his features harsh.

“There’s no bowing out now, luv. But come with me, I have something for you.” Rather than wait for me to get to my feet, he slipped his hands around my elbows and eased me upwards, holding on even as I swayed unsteadily. I gave him a choked little whimper and shook my head. No, no, no, don’t take me back to her. I didn’t want to go. He shushed soft, soothing sounds beside my ear and led me to the door. Despite my weak protest, we pressed on little by little, my steps uneven and wobbly like a baby deer just learning how to walk. Morelth was patient though, never forcing me to go faster than I could handle. I was only semi-lucid so I wasn’t quite sure if we were going the same way or a different way from where Koviah had led me and try as I might, I couldn’t commit the turns to memory fast enough to keep up. We seemed to be going on a downhill grade, a circular hall winding deeper and deeper into the earth.

I didn’t like it. Bad things happen in basements.

Eventually the sound of water met my ears and I instinctively shied away in case Morelth was taking me for another hose down. The powerful spray they had subjected me to before would have surely ripped my wounds open again. I wasn’t going back for another round. Morelth was stronger though, gently tugging me along until the hall opened to a dark cavern flickering with preternatural light. Set in the center was a silvery pool that seemed to give off a light al lof its own that reflected off of the bumpy ceiling in pretty little wisps and beams. The air rolling off of the gently sloshing waters was pleasantly warm, a far cry from the cold drafts of the halls that had brought us here. It was all quite serene. So what was the catch?

“Elysian waters,” Morelth explained, evidently catching the scrutiny in my gaze. “Should soothe your aches. You have an hour, then we’ll come fetch you.”

With that he nudged me a little closer to the water’s edge and took his leave. I could hear his boot steps echoing up the long winding hall before they faded into silence. A slow pan of my gaze around the chamber found no other exit save the one I had entered through. Damn. There were no windows or any sort of light save for that which came from the water itself. It was no wonder he had left me down here, there was no way out. An hour, I had an hour. I could either try to sneak up the hall and see if the way was clear or I could see what these waters were about. Surely Morelth wasn’t dumb enough to leave the hallway unguarded. Some part of me said I couldn’t make it up the hall alone to begin with. So instead, I turned back to the gently moving water. Clear to the bottom of the pool, they had a silvery tinge that made it look like watered down mercury or maybe moonlight. Yeah, moonlight was a better description. There was a short series of steps that descended into the pool and carefully, I hiked up the hem of the silken robe they had wrapped me in to dip a toe in. It was warm, pleasantly so.

Just that little bit of contact was a soothing balm all of its own. I eased out of my robes, bloodstained as they were, and left them in a heap at the edge of the stairs before taking the steps one at a time into the water. I was cautious when I felt the water tickle my hips, worried that if I let it lap any higher it would hurt the wounds but already the pool’s healing effects were seeping into my body, easing my pain and repairing the worst of the damage. With a groan, I sank into the depths all the way up to my shoulders. I sat there like that for a few long moments before pushing off from the edge to paddle a slow lap across the pool and back. Each time the water lapped across my back, I felt first a twinge of pain followed by immediate relief. What had that sadistic bitch done to me? This was ridiculous.

“Feeling better?” A voice asked from the room’s arched entrance. I jumped and very nearly sank face first into the water. Though slightly translucent, the liquid wasn’t enough to cover me up and quickly I wrapped an arm across my chest and settled down in the water until it was up to my shoulders. Morelth stood in the doorway, white silk neatly folded in his arms. I gave him a tiny little nod. Had an hour really gone that quickly? He stooped near the pool’s edge and set the silks down along with a vial of opaque milky liquid. “I’ll step out, go ahead and dress and take this. It will soothe the rest of your pain.”

I waited until Morelth had stepped outside of the room before wading over to the pool’s edge. With a cursory examination of the vial, I set it aside and eased the silken robes on, belting them around the middle with the white sash that had been included in the pile. Excess water was squeezed from my hair before I leaned down to retrieve the fluid filled vial for another look. Uncorking it, I gave it a sniff. Hints of ginger and valerian met my nose first and foremost. Beneath that there may have been a touch of white willow bark. All three had perfectly natural pain relieving properties. With a deep breath, I brought it to my lips and tipped it back, swallowing the thick liquid with a fair amount of effort and a grimace. I swallowed it without issue and tightened my fist around the empty vessel before clearing my throat loud enough that I hoped Morelth would hear.

“Done?” He asked without stepping back in.

“Unfortunately.” I told him. With a click of his boots, he stepped around the corner and gave me a once over.

“You look better.” His nod said he was satisfied with that result. A gloved hand gestured toward the ramp that led back up the winding circular hallway to the main part of the keep. With a sigh and without argument, I went with him. We reached the top and turned a different direction than we had originally come from. My steps slowed a little, hesitant to let Morelth lead me to another torturous session with Koviah. What I didn’t realize is actually I had come to a complete stop, overwhelmed by one of those feelings. I thought they had gone away since turning myself over to the Order but I guess not. Instead I was treated to the sounds of the city, a high rise hotel, maybe in New Haven. It was new and modern and I couldn’t hear the sea, so it had to be. A dark haired woman in a penthouse, her expression twisted into a look of focused consternation. I couldn’t make out what she was saying but she seemed vaguely familiar. I watched as she seemed to summon from nowhere a large black raven. Tell him, I could read her lips, Go. Next came a pack of hellish hounds. They reminded me a bit of Fred but much smaller, more muscular and obviously they only had one head a piece. Find her, go.

“Adelaide?” Morelth asked, snapping me from my reverie. I blinked a few times and looked down at his hands around my upper arms. He must have been shaking me. “Find who?”

“I… I don’t know.” I said, unaware that I had repeated the words aloud. My tongue felt thick in my mouth, like cold molasses. I smacked my lips a few times to see if I could relieve myself of the feeling but it only made my head spin. The walls seemed to be moving on either side of us and the ground felt pliable and squishy beneath my feet. Breathing felt odd, like I couldn’t quite force my lungs to inflate fully and before I knew it, the floor was rising to meet me. Morelth caught me before I made it there, slipping an arm beneath my knees and one beneath my back to hoist me up. He said something but I didn’t quite make it out. Instead we were moving again and every step he took felt like an earthquake, jarring me in and out of the daze I had fallen into. My head lolled against his shoulder as he turned the corner into the cavernous room he had brought me to the day before. My lips moved in a silent protest, begging him not to bring me back to her but it only came out as a quiet whine.

“Is she conscious?” Koviah asked. Her voice felt far away, distorted and garbled… kind of like the adults on Peanuts. I couldn’t quite manage a snicker at the thought but instead grasped at Morelth’s clothing as if it could persuade him not to put me down. My cheeks felt hot and wet and it was only then that I became aware of the fact I was crying. Morelth answered in the affirmative and once more I felt the world go topsy turvy as he eased me down from his hold in front of the stone table. With a press of his hands atop my shoulders, my knees buckled and I was sent into a kneeling position on the studded hassock. For all that the elysian pool had soothed my pain, this lit up all of the bruises in my knees and shins. Before I knew it, my arms were strapped in to the cuffs, spread wide until the wounds on my back felt like they might break open.

“Open your eyes, Dove.” Koviah’s sickly sweet voice met my ears at much the same time her fingers touched the underside of my chin. I flinched and she curled her fingers until the pointed tips of her fingernails began to prick at my skin. My eyes opened and my bottom lip quivered. Everything was blurry, Koviah included. Her hand drew away with a little pat to my cheek. “Very good. Now for our next task, dig deep and tell me what you See.”

The crystalline panel behind her seemed to shift and change as she moved out of the way. It had seemed vaguely solid before but now it was a pure liquid, a wall of shimmering light and color that seemed as unfocused as my gaze was. I had always been raised to be a Weaver, one who worked the threads of life and death into a cohesive balance. Weavers didn’t See. They could, of course, if they really tried, but the gift of the Sight was usually for those who became Diviners instead. I stared at the wall before me and tried to make out the shapes that formed.

“Umbral Eden…” I murmured. The less I focused, the more I Saw. Koviah and Morelth both seemed intent upon my words, watching with bated breath as I spoke. “The firewinds… everything burns…”

“Yes… yes, keep going.” Koviah encouraged.

“I see… death in the black lands… there’s… so much blood…” For a flicker of a moment I saw my mother’s face, alarmed and furious all in one. I saw Ro, the picture of grief and despair. I couldn’t tell Koviah that, she couldn’t know about them. I exhaled a shuddered breath and pressed on past the faces of those I loved. “The pillars fell… home… is gone. So many deaths…”

“What else do you See?” Koviah prompted when I trailed off, urging me to continue. I shook my head and tried to look away from the wall in front of me. Instead I felt a hand snatch me by the hair, jerking my face back toward the crystalline panel. Could they see this too? The death and destruction? It seemed not.

“It’s getting dark… winter is coming. The fields are full of the forgotten… given no burial and left instead to the elements. I… I… the sun… or is it the clouds. Black… they’re blotting out the sun. There’s… darkness. It’s so dark…” An involuntary shudder racked my frame, bile rising in my throat. I tried to choke it back. As I swallowed, I could see my grandfather, a raven upon his outstretched arm. He looked troubled as he sent it away. The darkness came again, foreboding and full of dread. I could feel something in the dark, could feel the way the power in my veins prickled in response. “I… I can’t.”

“You can and you will.” The woman insisted. I was crying again, tears spilling down my cheeks and splashing against the soft silk against my chest. Everything hurt but none of it compared to the panic welling up inside of me. If I continued to See this, something bad was going to happen, I just knew it. Breathing in, I looked once more.

“Eyes… it’s… it’s looking at me… I… no… please don’t make me do this. Please don’t make me look…” I begged and pleaded with everything I had, my wrists jerking and pulling at my restraints. Koviah held tight to my hair, keeping my face forward.

“Look, child. Look.” She snarled. A sob racked my body. The looming darkness was going to overtake me if I didn’t look away. Even the flickering interruptions of Ro and Raven, Michi and Misery, Kruger and Nikolai couldn’t stop it. My muscles cried out in agony as I did everything I could to pull away but there was no going back, no turning away.

“It’s… old… powerful… but it’s so dark… unnatural. It isn’t right. We can’t… we can’t do this… please… she’s going to kill us all…” I pulled so hard that I felt something in my shoulder give out. Pain lanced down my arm and through my torso. Undeterred I kept pulling until I felt a second set of hands on me. Morelth’s grip was firm, his fingers digging into my flesh as he tried to force me to settle. I was on the verge of hyperventilating. Even when I closed my eyes I could see it, her, whatever it was. It was a being as old as time immemorial and it wanted me. It wanted me to bring it back to power. A hand reached out for me from the dark and wrapped itself around my imagined throat. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel anything but pain.

A bark cut through the air, loud and booming. My entire body jolted and all at once the pressure on my windpipe disappeared. Rather than the malevolent force in the dark, I saw silver eyes in the blackness, blazing with righteous fury. Another bark broke the silence followed by several others before the dogs came into view. The same hellish hounds I recalled from my vision in the hallway. I looked and they looked back at me and in the moment, I knew everything was going to be okay. A moment later, it all went black and I slumped forward against the table.

I awoke to something cool against my lips. Gentle fingers lifted my chin and liquid splashed against my mouth. I groaned and opened my mouth to let the water pass, spilling over my dry tongue. It was a slow pour, likely so I didn’t choke on it, but I drank it down until it was drawn away. I gave a weak grunt of protest and a moment later, something else touched my lips. Glass, curved and cool, smaller than the cup I had been drinking from. Soon I tasted ginger and valerian and tried to turn my mouth away from it. The vial was dumped into my mouth and as I opened my eyes, I felt a leather clad hand clamp down on my mouth to keep me from spitting it out.

“Swallow.” Morelth commanded me, gritting his teeth until I reluctantly did as he asked. I wasn’t back in my bed but rather still secured to the kneeling post. My knees hurt and my shoulder burned something fierce. It didn’t take long for the potent concoction to work its magic on me again. Koviah was relentless this time around, pushing me to look harder and harder into the dark. There were numbers and words and rituals, terrifying consequences of what would come now that I had handed myself over to them. There was no coming back from this, it would ultimately result in my death regardless of whether or not I was compliant. So we pressed on and on. Every time the visions began to fade, they forced more of that liquid down my throat until I could no longer discern the line between vision and reality.

On the upside, I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

On the downside, the darkness would be here soon.
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Addie MacKenzie
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Old Wyrm
Old Wyrm


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2017 3:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Eleven: Fall

3 Days Earlier

Three weeks. Three beautiful weeks of European bliss. Italy, Greece, Scandinavia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria. Henry had really outdone himself in planning their honeymoon and subsequent family trip. Addie had raved about it all the way home, just before passing out as they were heading through the portal to go home. Stars End welcomed the Wyatts and their luggage with all of the neon glow the spaceport had to offer. The ride back to the city was a quiet one thanks to the little girl's impromptu nap and Raven savored it. Family, her little family. This was bliss.

It was a bliss that was bound to be broken. Romeo couldn't have confessed to how long he had been camped out on the steps of the Wyatt home; he really didn't know. He couldn't have put a finger on the last time he slept or ate. The blonde haired youth had called in nearly every favored he was owed, had made offers that caused his skin to crawl, and for even the slightest hint of where his Addie had been taken away to. It had made him sick with grief and after days of fruitless searching, investigating, he had been left with no choice. The choice had landed him where he was now. Bleary eyes lifted when he heard the car in the drive, causing his breath to catch in his throat. In rumpled clothing that he'd been wearing for days, he looked a disheveled mess as he watched their approach. What was he going to say?

Raven saw Romeo before they even pulled into the drive and immediately looked for her daughter. Or, some older version of her daughter. When she failed to pin down the dark haired woman, a frown settled on Raven's lips. With everything that had been going on prior to the wedding, she had worried about going away for 3 weeks but Addie had assured her that everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about. "Mind snagging Addie, pretty please? I'm gonna see what this is about." She glanced aside to Henry as the car stopped and with a deep breath, she unbuckled and got out. Nudging the door shut gently so as not to wake the girl in the back seat, she tugged her jacket zipper up and neared the front steps. "Ro? What's up?"

"She's gone," he said, the words a ragged sound on his tongue. A hand rose to scrub through his hand and down the back of his neck. In that moment, he wanted to look anywhere but at Raven, and though his body language said as much, he lifted his chin to meet her gaze. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. "I failed. She... she sent me to the grocery store and then..." He couldn't finish without getting angry or even more defeated, so he handed Raven the crumpled up letter instead.

"She's gone? Where?" She asked, immediate concern pulling her mouth into a tight purse to go with the knitting of her brows. The boy was a mess, pale and drawn, haggard and not in a good way. There was a glance back to the car where Henry was carefully easing the younger Adelaide from her booster seat as if she were made of fine china. When she looked back, there was a piece of paper in Ro's hand, crumpled and crinkled as if it had been read a thousand times over. In the dying light she looked it over, reading it once then twice. "Oh merciful mother... Addie, what've you done..."

"Love?" She turned back to Henry. Her expression said more than her words could. "We have... a problem. Can you get Sophia over here as soon as possible?"

Henry cocked a dark brow but merely nodded before easing past Ro, sparing the young man a thoughtful glance as he took the toddler inside. Romeo, for his part, was intent upon Raven and whatever pending Hell she might rain down on him for letting her daughter slip through his fingers. "I've been lookin' for days. Called in almost every favor I'm owed... I dunno what else to do."

Raven pushed one hand back through her hair, settling it on the back of her head as she exhaled. This was a mother's nightmare, everything she had died for once upon a time. The Order had her daughter. Her gaze followed Henry as he took the younger girl inside before she slipped an arm around Ro's broad shoulders and turned him toward the stairs. "C'mon inside. I've got a 20 year scotch with our name on it while you tell me about this. Everything, start to finish."

"Okay." Moving along with her, he stepped into the house, pausing long enough to hold the door for her before allowing her to guide him to wherever she intended them to end up. He was quiet for the time it took them to get settled, pensive under the circumstances, and flicking protective looks towards where Henry had disappeared with Addie. When he finally had her undivided attention, Ro told Raven everything, from the bad dreams and the mark, to the visions and... "She agreed to let me deal with the mark on your door and then asked me to pick up stuff to cook for her. She loves it when I cook for her. I left... I thought she'd be safe for a short while. And when I got back... all that was there was the note."

As soon as they were inside, she turned back to the door and engaged every level of warding she had ever put on the brownstone. The flicker of blue was bright enough to light up the entire entryway before fading away. From there she led him to the middle den and disappeared into the kitchen long enough to retrieve a trio of glasses and a bottle that had been gathering dust on a shelf. She took a seat across from him and poured all three glasses with a few fingers worth while he explained everything. "They found us then. I thought they might when Addie came over here with that mark on her back..." She brought her glass up for a drink that emptied its contents all in one go without so much as a grimace for the burn on the way down. "She's trying to do the right thing but... goddess, she's gotta know nothing good'll come from this. Did you find anything out at all while you were looking?"

"One of my contacts saw her leavin' town," he said in reply, downing the contents of his glass as fast as Raven had, before setting it on the coffee table. "But she vanished after that. Not even the few mystics I know could locate her. Nothin'. She's nowhere I can think to get to her. Stupid, beautiful, noble idiot." Romeo sighed.

"Out of town..." She repeated, refilling their glasses one by one with a glance toward the stairs. Little Addie would assuredly be out like a light, but Raven couldn't help but worry about her too. If the Order had found them, neither of the girls was safe until this was over. "Stupid nobility is a running trend in this family... but... when she was just a baby, they called me away. Away from Provance, where Addie was born, and then... we disappeared from Nosgoth completely. Claire said she found us in, I don't know, some sort of Void between realms. Have you told her this yet?"

He stared at the glass for a long time before answering, but when he finally swallowed the scotch down , it was with a shake of his head. "No. I... I wanted to. I know I'm gonna eat *** with her when she finds out I didn't immediately come to her. Addie didn't want her involved. I know there's hard feelings there and.... Claire's been good to me, even if it's just a way to dote on Addie. I wanted to try to go after her on my own. When I came up with nothin', you're the first person I turned to."

"She'll be pissed but don't worry about that." Raven shook her head and fixed the young man with a look. Of course it was a parent's job to feel like nobody was good enough for their child but Romeo? He was a good man, hard working and caring. Maybe he cared too much, but she would never fault him for such a thing. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm gonna shake that girl when we find her. Not wanting to interrupt our honeymoon, hnnngh. You should've called, the longer she's gone, the harder it's going to be to find her. I'll... I'll make the call to Claire. I'd like you to stick with me until we locate her, you've had the most experience with what she was dealing with. I'm going to need you."

"She's gonna get shaken a lot," he agreed. "Part of me wants to strangle her pretty little neck, but she would..." Wisely, he left the rest unsaid and dipped his head into another long swallow from the glass. Raven spoke and Ro listened, bobbing his head slowly and refraining on commenting on what Claire might or might not do when she found out. "I'll do whatever you need me to, Raven. I'll do whatever it takes to bring her home safe. Anything. Just tell me what you need."

"Stop." She cut him off with a look. The older Addie may not have technically be this Raven's daughter, but she still considered the girl pretty much her own. He stopped, smart boy, and instead took a drink. Raven took the opportunity to do the same before once more glancing to the stairs. "I need a few things of hers. An article of clothing, a prized possession, and her hair brush. Well, a hair or two, but the hair brush is easiest. I need you to get those things for me and come right back here. Then you're going to get some food in you and at least a few hours of shut eye while I work. Understood?"

"I'm already ahead of you." Romeo's chin lifted at the request. "Like I said. Talked to some mystics. I've got Addie's hair brush, some of her clothes, and her stuffed lion in the car. I... well, I tried to remember what little I knew about divination and wanted to keep my bases covered. I dunno about sleep," he shook his head. "I can't imagine getting any rest while she's out there alone."

"Very good. Go grab it for me, please?" She nodded and got to her feet. The wards would allow his passage both in and out with nobody any wiser about their presence. While he was out, she stepped into the kitchen once more and gathered a few things from the cabinets, set a kettle on the stove, and returned to the den with her bounty. A box of dried herbs and roots, linen cheesecloth, twine, and a mortar and pestle. She picked through the box, found a handful of unlabeled clear plastic packets and set them aside to work them one by one into the stone bowl set between her knees. "You need to sleep if we're going anywhere near where ever they have her." In the kitchen the kettle whistled and once more she disappeared, returning a moment later with a steaming mug of hot water. It was set on the table while she finished mixing before dumping the concoction into the porous linen cloth. Forming it into a pouch, she tied it off with a bit of twine and dropped the packet into the hot water to steep. "This'll help. Chamomile, bergamot, tryptophan, and passion flower. Drink it slowly. If it'll make you feel better, you can sleep there on the couch, I'll be here the whole time."

Not needing to be told twice, Romeo was quickly to depart and quicker to return with the bag bearing Addie's things, offering them over to Raven without a sliver of hesitation. He sat there in pensive silence when she worked, pale eyes flickering to each movement and then finally lifting his gaze to her face. To the woman Addie would someday become. He took the mug when it was offered to him. "She could've done better than me," he confessed to his girlfriend's mother suddenly, quietly. "I'm not the best person in the world. We didn't have the most auspicious start. I didn't like who she was becoming and she wasn't impressed with who I was. We just... we got to see what was underneath. What was worth fightin' for. She brings out the best in me. I... Sweet Lady of Earth, do I love her so ***' much. I was..." He fixed Raven with a nervous look. "...I saved up for a ring." With that said, he finished the tea quicker than he should have, murmuring a quiet thanks as he rose. She didn't need him hovering and fretting while she worked, asking silly questions and muddling her concentration with him impatience. It wasn't long before the big blond youth was curling up on her couch, his eyes downcast towards the floor as he was sucked deep into thought. And, eventually, sleep.

"You were who she needed when she needed it, that's what matters." Raven said gently with just a flicker of a look toward the boy. Once she had Addie's possessions, she could get to work, seeing if she could scry the girl's location. Of course Ro had assuredly already had that tried, but Raven had a few more insights into the power she shared with the girl so hopefully she would find something new. Keyword: hopefully. The grinding of the pestle stopped and she turned a look up to meet the young man's gaze. "We can talk more about rings and such when we get her back. And we will get her back. Alive. I don't care if I have to tear down the sky to do it. But for now, rest. You'll need it soon enough." With that she went back to work and let Ro drift off into what she only hoped would be a restful sleep.

Ro slept. Raven worked. Henry checked in on her from time to time to make sure she was doing alright. By morning there was plenty of frustration to go with breakfast and Raven stewed her way through another book set alongside a plate of untouched eggs and toast. The first round of scrying had taken her on a visualized path from Addie and Michi's Seaside home, along a path to the south side of town and over the city wall. From there it got dicey in the woods but eventually made it to the cliffs where the Beltane celebrations had taken place. But when the trail doubled back and abruptly went cold, Raven hit a roadblock of sorts. Eventually she pushed the plate away and set her head in her hand. "Where in the nine hells did that girl go..."

Ro slept (due mostly in part to Raven's concoction). Then he paced. Then he ate (when both of the Wyatts gave him no choice). And, in the end, he prayed. Prayer had been a beloved and simple thing in his homeland. Something free and liberating, as opposed to strict and nearly oppressive, like others. It was a practice that had died for for him mostly when he came to Rhy'din a wayward orphan, a result of too many unanswered prayers. Still, the respect was there and in this time of need, he found a quiet place in the back to make an offering and talk to the Gods and Goddesses. All he wanted was Addie's safe return. Eventually he returned to Raven, taking up a silent lean out of her way, trying to add his hope to her efforts.

So rarely had Raven ever felt this helpless. Some part of her lamented the fact she had let so much of her training go unused over the years until her scrying and divining were clunky and awkward every step of the way. There were others she could have asked but they were far, far away in Amberhelm and to go that route would be to open doors she had long shut and sealed away. If Monday was a fruitless thing of frustration, Tuesday was a brick wall maze of unconventional means and dwindling returns. Late Tuesday, Raven finally considered calling in the big guns. For two hours she stared at her phone, its screen lit dimly with her father's contact card while she tried to persuade herself into hitting call.

Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.

The sound came from the front window, a clicking tap at sporadic intervals.

Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.

Raven looked up, then to Ro. "Don't open the door... peek through the window. Tell me what you see?"

Patience was a virtue and the big blonde youth was struggling to remain virtuous. Wisely, he remained silent through it all, watching Raven like a hawk and only speaking when addressed, or when Henry pulled him away for some small merciful level of distraction. When the woman finally did acknowledge him more fully, he perked up and was quick to nod, acquiescing to the request. He slipped to the window's edge and stole a glance from between the curtains, eyes searching. There! "A **** off big raven and a trio of black, angry lookin' dogs with mean eyes."

Looks like her phone call wouldn't be needed at all. With Romeo's report, Raven shot to her feet and nearly tripped over the coffee table to join him at the window. A shaking hand caught the curtains and tugged them to the side. On the window's ledge sat the massive raven, its black eyes shining with the sort of avian wisdom found in fairy tales. At various intervals, the three dogs sat on their back haunches, staring at the window in much the same fashion. The color drained away from Raven's cheeks.

"Hekate Panopaia, please don't bring me bad news..." She breathed the plea and pushed away from the window, sidestepping around a plush armchair to head for the front door. With a firm jerk, she threw open the door but didn't have to go far for there was a woman standing at the threshold. Midnight haired and silver eyed, she couldn't have been a day over eighteen and bore a striking resemblance to Addie and Clara both. Her hair had been swept back behind the jagged spikes of a black diadem but her clothes weren't suited for the sort of nobility the crown suggested. Rather she wore black on black, stygian iron chainmail over what looked to be thick leathers. Raven stared at the woman for a few long moments before the woman finally spoke.

"Will you invite me in?"

First there was the heat of Raven's urgency and then the cool reception of the woman at the door. It was enough to lift Romeo's brows, but he remained silent as he watched to see what Raven would do. In small increments, he moved closer to the door and the pending conversation.

"...Please. Come in... and please tell me you bring good news..." Raven said, stepping to one side to let the dark haired woman pass. The brownstone's wards shuddered as she crossed the threshold, their very makeup tested by her mere presence. Raven shut the door behind her and tried her best to reinforce them before leading the woman to the parlor where she had been working on things. The silver eyed woman's gaze panned over Ro from head to toe to head, drinking him in with a curious cant of her head. After an uncomfortably long moment in which she seemed to weigh his worth right then and there, she turned back to Raven.

"I do." She said, her chin lowering with the nod she gave. There was an unspoken but, as if any good news would assuredly be given with some less pleasant revelations. "I've found her. It's... outside of my typical reach but not completely outside of the physical altogether. A massive amount of power is converging there and I don't think she has much time."

Romeo didn't know he had been clenching his fists together until his knuckles popped loud enough for both of the women to hear. Slowly, he had been inching towards then, until he was more or less apart of the little try and listening intently to the information shared. "Where do we go?"

Because there wouldn't be any doubt that he was going to wait here.

"We?" The woman arched a dark brow at the young man, turning to face him once more. Off to the side, Raven sighed.

"He's capable." She said gently, her attention ticking over to the young man.

"I know what he is." The black clad woman took a step closer to the blonde bruiser and peered up at him. A head shorter than Addie or Raven, she could have almost passed for diminutive. But there was a savage fierceness in the turn of her gaze up at him. A single finger lifted and hovered a few inches from his sternum. "Touched by the Lady, you'll need to embrace your gifts if you think you'll make it anywhere close to her."

"What're we dealing with, Hekate?" Raven finally said tersely. Word games at a time like this weren't within the limits of her patience. Abruptly Kate turned away from Ro to fix Raven with an annoyed look.

"We'll go to the point where they opened the doorway between here and there. I can reopen it and you can go through. My dogs will go with you, trust in them. Bring her home."

At a time like this, he could have been modest. He could have been boastful, full of forced bravado. Instead, when Ro spoke, it was with a soft, steady conviction that struck straight to the heart. Any heart. He let the new woman size him up calmly, unflinching.

"I won't fail Addie. I. Will. Not."

"I know." Kate said to Romeo softly, still regarding Raven with a level look. "We leave an hour before sunrise. Rest and ready yourselves. Trust me when I say this hell they've taken her to is incomparable."

"How many can we take with us?" Raven asked, already running numbers in her head to see how many favors she could call in. Kate shook her head slowly.

"Two. Only as many as went through originally. Their defenses are sensitive. Too many and I'm afraid they'll try to expedite whatever it is they're doing." The silver eyed woman said with a frown. It displeased her greatly to say the least but there was little she could do about it here. "An hour before sunrise. I'll be back."

Romeo lingered for the remainder of the conversation, but as soon as it was wrapping up, he was slipping out the door and to the Highlander. He returned minutes later with his bow case, quiver, and a large duffle back, stepping back into the living room and laying it all carefully on the couch. Meticulously, he began to prep the things he would need for their journey.

"We'll look back on this day and grimace awkwardly," he said softly, mostly to himself. "As a fading nightmare, a sad piece of history inside all of the laughter and the love and the good memories. We'll turn them into a footnote to somethin' greater." The finely crafted recurve bow was slipped from its case and stroked gently. "Once upon a time, they didn't think I'd be fit for the First Levy. If only they knew..."

Kate left not long after, giving Raven time to sit and process things. Ro left around the same time and she used that time to do absolutely nothing. The house's wards went back to normal and everything was secured by the time Ro came back, allowing his passage before it sealed up. When he came back, she was sitting with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. She looked up, panning over what he carried with a cursory glance. The wind had been stolen from her sails but she put on a brave face when she straightened up. "You're fit for anything you want in life, Ro. My daughter included."

Beat. "No dirty comments, please. Not right now."

He gave Raven her space for as long as she wanted it and when she final addressed his minute rambling, he turned a wan smile over one broad shoulder. He used the time to study the beautiful woman, the more filled out version of what his girlfriend would become. They had the same laugh lines. "I could spend an eternity tryin' to make myself worthy o' your daughter, but always fall short of the mark. When she let go of most of her demons, it was like seein' the girl I had crushed so hard on for a long time. Gettin' to see her bloom? It's a privilege. I was... I've been savin' money. In a few months, I was gonna buy the ring and, well... I want forever with her."

"That's what good men say. But us women? Us Youngblood women in particular? We're odd birds. It takes a special sort to stick it out with us." She managed a tired smile for him and laced her fingers together to crack her knuckles. There was a talk to be had with Henry, he would inevitably be displeased by the state of things. "But I've got to go speak with the hubby. Get whatever you need and try to rest for a little bit, if you can. And... she wears a size six." Raven wriggled her left hand fingers at him and headed for the stairs to go see a man about an arrangement.

"Yeah, well, I'm more screwed up than some. It's a good fit." He cracked another weak smile, but nodded when she made her request and subsequent plans. It left him there to check the fletching on his arrows and see to the service of his bow. Sleep wasn't going to come easy.

The dead of night layered a blanket of false dark over a city that never slept. Streetlights, both gas and electric, broke up the illusion with their pools of yellow and white light, through which skipped the denizens of the realm, unaware of just what the Wyatt household in New Haven was preparing for. To be so oblivious, Raven could only dream of such days. Instead she had spent time with Henry, explaining just what had to happen and asking him to stay here with their daughter. He agreed, albeit begrudgingly, if only because he hated to see her go with such a small party. After that, the remainder of the night was used to prepare. Guns and blades and belts and pouches. Everything she could think of to bring, she did, going so far as to break out the lightweight kevlar armoring she had stashed away in the closet. A few calls offered similar provisions for Romeo and when the Caelum Enterprises unmarked vehicle left, she returned to the living room with an armful of gear for him as well. Daybreak was approaching, diluting black into purple like an ugly bruise hanging over the city, the only hope of healing coming from the first hint of fire on the eastern horizon. Kate would be back soon. "I never wanted to ask this of you but at the same time I wouldn't ask anyone else for her. She'll want you there even if she thinks otherwise. How's the armor feel? Anything else you need?"

Romeo normally wasn't one to be the strong, silent brooder. Jokes and sass were more his style, much to the enjoyment or the chagrin of others. But in the hours leading up to their departure, the large young man had nothing to say. Not unless spoken to. There had been a companionable silent between himself and Raven, a sharing of concern and sorrow for the situation and it was natural that, no matter what the outcome, it had drawn them closer together in the appropriate manner. The final moments before their departure saw him lingering a respectful distance away with a cigarette pursed between his lips, barely a balm to soothe his frayed nerves. But it was something.

When Raven spoke to him again, she received a curt smile and a nod. "Not even your divine friend could keep me away. The armor's fine. I've still got plenty of mobility. My bow and blade will be fine. I never developed the taste for guns."

"Eh, don't put it past her." Raven said with a scrunch of her nose. Deities were fickle beings and the Chthonic ones especially so. Still. Divine help was help just the same. Her gaze skimmed over the young man, not even a decade younger than she was. He smoked and she stepped closer one hand turned up in request for his. "May I, just for a moment? Just for my peace of mind. If you get the opportunity to get her out of there, take it. I can handle my own and I'll be right behind you. Okay?"

"Yeah." He handed her his hand without hesitation, the one he wasn't using to ash his cigarette. She wrote out a series of unseen marks on the back of his hand with her index finger, her lips moving with unspoken cantrips to reinforce the subtle protections for mind, body, and soul. His gaze shifted between her face and the spellwork she was doing on his upturned palm. "Everyone goes home," Ro told her with no small amount of conviction. "You know her well enough. If either one o' us didn't come back through with her, she'd spend the rest of her life tearin' herself apart in blame for herself. No one's gettin' left behind. To believe anything less is just gonna cripple us. We all go home."

"I know." When she was done adding to Ro's natural inclinations, she gave his hand a squeeze and let him go. "Everyone will come home. But you're physically stronger and we don't know what kind of state she'll be in, so if you get your hands on her, go, and I will cover your back. Bring my girl home so I can get back to the other one."

"You'll get to hold both your girls for Christmas." He had almost said the word 'all' but wisely caught himself before letting it slip. Raven in this time didn't know about Clara and it was an entire new level of emotion and anxiety that Romeo didn't want to add to an already tense situation. "I promise."

"It's time." Announced a feminine voice from the sidewalk. Where there had been no one a moment before instead stood the black clad Hekate, resplendently furious and bringing with her a light of her own to the dwindling dark. Raven turned one last look over her shoulder, the brownstone shut up as tightly as possible against anything that could come for the precious pieces of her life inside. With a deep breath, she stepped off the stoop to join Kate on the pavement. Rather than walk or drive, she instead opened a portal then and there. Through it appeared to be a forested area, south of town. Once through, it shut behind them and left New Haven far, far away. Kate marched them to the very spot where Addie's trail had run cold. "Twenty-four hours or less. Return to the spot you arrive on and you'll be brought back accordingly. Any questions before you go?"

From there it was silent march for the armored bruiser, through the portal and into the forest. Something old and primal inside of him knew what to do almost immediately and, with his bow drawn and a single shaft nocked, Ro began to stalk the area. He left the questions for Raven.

Kate's argent gaze tracked after the blonde man for a few moments before it returned to Raven. There the two women discussed the logistics of what Hekate knew of the place they had taken Addie and what she knew of the power converging there. The situation was dire to say the least but if anything, it furthered Raven's resolve and finally she nodded her readiness to the shorter woman and called Romeo back. Tracing over the imprint of Addie's exit from Rhydin, a new portal swirled to life, a pale shade of blue and hazy, preventing them from seeing what was on the other side.

"Twenty-four hours." Kate reminded them just before they went through. It took them to a dark, foreboding land and shut firmly in their wake. Where Rhydin was just saying good morning, this place was drenched in the deepening shades of twilight that came with the dying of a day. They arrived in a dead forest, the trees scorched black like the ground under their feet. It was a place void of life, bearing the acrid smell of decay in the air. Beyond the patchy woods towered a tall but not horrifically wide stone keep set behind a black wall.

Raven sighed and glanced aside to Ro. "Ready to storm the castle?"
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Addie MacKenzie
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Old Wyrm
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2017 4:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[cont]

"Twenty-four hours," his words echoed hers in the affirmative, before they stepped through swirling blue door made of divine energy. He dropped to a knee almost instantly, drawing the string of the bow to his cheek and aiming down the length of the shaft, panning his steely gaze across the desolate landscape in search of any threats. It wasn't until he was sure the immediate area was free of enemies that Romeo rose into a wary stance, glancing aside at Raven's sigh. "Seems like a far cry from fighting monsters out of a pit or tossing a drug dealer out of a window, but whatever comes, we're goin' to make them hurt, Máthair chéile."

"Worse than that, these are mere humans who have lost any sense of their humanity." Raven said softly, the twist of a fond smile gracing the curve of her mouth for a trio of beats and a glance back to the blonde before she took the first steps forward. Their footfalls were near silent thanks to the charms she had placed upon them and their gear, sending them through the dead woods with all of the quiet caution they could muster. It wasn't a long walk to a more open viewpoint of the keep, taking them shy of the dirt road that led to the front gate. It was manned by a pair of purple robed acolytes each bearing a gnarled staff. "Remember to avoid their thorns at all costs, they're usually poisoned. If we're separated, call my name and I'll hear you no matter what. They'll be light on modern surveillance methods but heavy on the mystical, keep your spidey senses sharp. There should be an entrance beneath the footbridge there," she gestured, "that we can get through, barring any interception beforehand. With me so far?"

"There are men like that where I came from," Ro said in a mixture of disgust and sadness. "But it has been a long, long time." Hidden at the edge of the forest as they were, he reached out to gently touch Raven's wrist, prompting her to shift her attention back to him. There was a thoughtful look that caused him to chew on the inside of his cheek before he finally spoke again. "If you're willin' to trust that I can do this, I might have a temporary answer to the poison. I... well, I have Gifts of my own from our Lady Mother. I just need to touch some of your exposed skin."

His fingers found purchase against the spidersilk weave of her long sleeves. While not completely impenetrable, it would hold of most sharp objects along with a good variety of ammunition. Still, with his request, she pushed the sleeve up a bit to afford him a few inches of skin between sleeve and glove. "I wouldn't have brought you along if I didn't trust you could, Romeo. Gifts or not, please be wary just the same. But go ahead, show me what you've got."

"I wanted to be a warrior," he confessed with a frown. "Not a mystic or priest. But I have the Touch and now I'm wishin' I had done more with it before now." Romeo set the bow and arrow carefully on the ground before him before reaching out to place the tips of his fingers on her exposed skin. It was then that he began to murmur a soft prayer in the Gaelic tongue, beseeching the gods and goddesses to give both himself and the woman before him protection in the coming confrontation, likening their skin to the hard bark of the ironwood tree. A tingle sensation washed over them both, the surface of their flesh hardening but remaining flexible enough to not hinder them in anyway. A quiet breath was exhaled a moment later and then he smiled up at her. "Let's see what that does for us."

"I wanted to be a Diviner growing up. Like my father rather than a Weaver like my mother. But when I lost her and I left home, I fell back on what I had to be. Life has a way of catching up with us like that." Raven said with a wry twist of her mouth. She quieted with his prayer, her head bowed slightly until it had concluded. The welcome tingle was taken with a flex of her fingers before she tugged her sleeve back down into place.

"Perhaps when we get back, you can tell me more about where you come from. I'd like to hear about it." Raven told him, slipping one of her guns free. "Stick close... I can manage a veil to get us to the entrance but it doesn't extend super far."

"It'd be an interestin' spin on things some folks think they know about Earth." Romeo offered up a tight smile. "But I 'd like that."

He nodded and retrieved his weapons again, affecting a hunter's posture as he drew close to her again. "If I can get a clean shot on lone targets, we might be able to eliminate some o' the sentries on our way in. Cuts down on who we'd have to deal with on the way out." Naturally, the big blonde bruiser assumed that once they reached Addie, all hell would break loose.

"With the number of earths, that's only inevitable." Her smile was wan and her voice was low, her gaze sweeping over the lay of the land for the landmarks Kate had told her about. It was hard to see everything beyond the wall, but eventually spotted the stony dome she had been instructed to look for. A point of her first two fingers indicated it. "We're headed there, I think."

Raven panned a look back to him, quiet and contemplative for the handful of beats it took to deliberate his proposition. "What's the ideal range to get that kind of accuracy?"

"You pick the target and I'll hit it." He didn't give her a range. It might have been boastful, but there was a resolute expression on Ro's face. There was ample corded muscle beneath the less defined flesh of his arms and shoulders, his arms flexing as he sought to limber up in the quiet moments leading up to their approach.

It would be quieter than her gun by far, silencer or not. No matter what the movies tried to claim, they weren't absolutely quiet. At least not as much as a well placed arrow could be. She took a deep breath and muttered a seldom used cantrip to warp the air around them into an illusory veil. "The two on the gate, as quickly as possible to keep them from raising the alarm?"

"Wind's down," he murmured softly, clutching the arrow in the same hand he held the bow with so that he could draw another. "The humidity won't cause much problems thanks to the cool air." The second shaft was knocked and from where they stood, Romeo drew and tracked the path of the unfired shaft up and along some invisible lines the perhaps only he could see. The armor breaked as muscle bulge, the string pulled back to its apex. When the shaft was loosed, it arched far higher into the air than one might have thought it should, but there was precious little time to waste. Quick as a mongoose, he nocked the second arrow and loosed it at a lower trajectory, adjusting the angle of the fly. The result was both broadhead tipped arrows impacting the two guards almost simultaneously, one through the face and the other through the heart. Both bodies crumpled lifelessly to the ground. "Quick enough?"

While Ro made his adjustments and readied himself, Raven kept them hidden behind the veil. Even if his shots missed, they would at least be close to undetectable. From the distance, she wasn't likely to be nearly as accurate, so hopefully she wouldn't have to try for clean up duty. She sucked in a deep breath and held it when the first arrow was let loose, immediately followed by the second. The delay (or lack thereof) between the two was enough for a faltering blink and a low impressed hiss through her teeth. A hopeful look followed, peeking just enough to confirm that both at the gate had dropped. A grin flashed across her expression and she gave him a nod. "That was perfect. Likely to be watch sentries on the wall. Keep an eye out for them as we approach? While I think we may manage getting out through the front, I don't think we'll be able to just waltz in."

A low, hissed exhale was expelled for the breath he had been holding, before another arrow was pulled from the quiver over his shoulder and nocked. He offered a curt nod and a small smile for Raven before they started forward. "I'll keep my eyes high, you look to what's before us. We can do this."

With the front guards downed, she pressed forward, clearing the way with cautious steps and ever sharp sweeping looks. More than just what she could see, she tried to feel out what she could See as well. The keep emanated negative, malevolent energy. It was a veritable cauldron of it, stewing and bubbling with the threat of boiling over. It made her stomach churn and the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Still she shook the feeling off and diverted them down a dusty dirt path that led beneath the stone footbridge. Despite the building moisture in the air, it didn't seem as if the lands had experienced a single drop of rain in months, if not years. What had once been a shallow moat was now a dry, cracked bed. Beneath the bridge, a storm grate sat long unused. Plenty wide, it was just tall enough that hunching over slightly would have allowed both of them to enter it.

"Straight, left, straight, right." She whispered, repeating the tunnel turns she had been instructed to take. With a deep breath, she jerked the grate free and paused when it squeaked, her ear tipped for any sign of alert on high. When nothing came, she exhaled and took the first cautious step into the rounded tunnel. "Keep an ear out, just in case..."

"This place is full o' darkness." Nowhere near as attuned so such things as Raven, he could still feel the evil rolling off of the place in waves, roiling like an invisible thick smoke. Romeo lingered behind her and over her right shoulder, panning his aim in a wide arc over their heads to watch for visible sentries until the tunnel surrounded them. It was then that he began switching looks from their front to their back, alert but wary. He remained steady despite the anxiety his worry for Addie was causing.

"Would you believe me if I told you they once called this place Eden?" She said quietly with a weak smile. Just as they had before, her charms held up in keeping their steps near silent, helpful for preventing echoes. At the first junction she pressed straight. At the second, left. Third, straight. Fourth, right. There seemed to be an exit to the tunnel ahead but it wasn't particularly light. "Not like that Eden of course, but it had taken the name in earnest. Then it became Umbral Eden when the darkness came. Exit upcoming, be ready..."

"It takes all kinds," he murmured quietly. The emotion in her soft voice was enough to evoke a sympathetic imagining of what it must have been like in better days, the small quirk of a half-smile tugged at one crooked corner of his mouth. Like her shadow, he lingered close, following her mostly in silence until they arrived at the exit. Their next challenge. Maybe the only one that mattered. Romeo drew a deep breath in and then exhaled. "I'm ready. Let's go get our girl."

Twenty feet shy of the tunnel's mouth, Raven paused. She held up her free hand to have him stop too and then Listened to the room beyond. It wasn't so much a room as it was a drainage chamber. Despite the tunnel being dry as a bone, it smelled damp ahead, like musty copper mixed with the telltale scent of decay. Despite that, it Felt void of life. So she inched forward and took a cautious look. A quiet sound issued from her lips and for a moment she held back to offer an even softer prayer. For strength, for constitutional fortitude, for everything they might need once they stepped free of the tunnel. Unlike the entrance, there was no grate covering their exit. What lay beyond that was the stuff of horrors. Corpses in varying states of decay, tossed into haphazard piles without regard or respect for the dead. The bottom most layer consisted of nothing more than sticky bones, bent and broken beneath the weight of everything atop them. Raven swallowed back anything she could possibly say and instead led Ro to the room's sole exit, pausing at the open archway to Listen again. "One... about twenty yards down the hall and up a slight incline... ready?"

Having lived all of his time in Rhy'din in the Hollows, what lay before them wasn't something entirely new to Ro. People in his home died. Rarely did they die any way but horribly. The smell didn't turn his stomach nearly as much as thinking of Addie subjected to their surroundings did. His eyes darkened when roving over the corpses and scattered remains, his mouth pursing with the softest of prayers for the dead on his lips, before Raven's intelligence prompted a nod. He stepped forward and past her with a lift of the bow, took a barely a moment to sight down the shaft, and then loosed it. It struck with a wet thump from behind, buried into the throat.

"Good."

At the rate they were going, she wouldn't have to fire a single shot. Of course, she doubted their luck would hold once they got closer to the dome. With every nerve on edge, she tried to feel for any sign of Addie but came up short in those regards. So instead she reinforced their veil and kept going. When they made it to the dying acolyte, Raven wrenched the arrow in his throat to finish the job.

"This is going to sound like a bad movie, but we've got a ways to go and my veil won't hold the whole way." Nevermind if they crossed anyone with a strong enough Sight to see through it. "So help me get this one out of his robe. He looks about your size. We'll try to nab another one for me."

The MacKenzies were supposed to be great lovers of life but, watching Raven finish the acolyte, he found no remorse welling up within his heart. Instead, the big blonde bruiser shouldered his bow and started to jostle the body around in an effort to help. "Without knowin' the full layout and defenses, this is as good a plan as any. Stealth is our ally."

Eventually Romeo was sheathed in the ugly robes, exchanging his bow for a long knife hidden within the folds and easily accessible. The hooded head nodded. "I'll lead. You direct."

"There's a central hall that we're aiming for. Hekate said that where Adelaide's signature was strongest." That didn't guarantee Addie would be there when they made it there but it was their best bet. Between Ro's plum robes and Raven's veil trickery, they worked their way through the lower levels of the keep with minimal incident. The pair even notched a solid enough takedown of another acolyte, from whom they stole a set of robes for Raven. A spiraling staircase took them up a level though again Raven paused to feel out the layout.

"She's here... somewhere..." Raven murmured and turned the corner. The hallway was otherwise empty and seemingly void of life. Thusly she led him down it, passing an open arch with a quick glance. They made it ten feet past when a wet thump drew her attention back. Behind them, a single write wrapped thing had stumbled from the previously empty room, clipping the arch on the way out. Its limbs were twisted unnaturally, ending in dagger like fingers that flexed and curled in little twitching motions. White linen had been wrapped around where its eyes should have been, stayed a ruddy brown like long dried blood. The nose was a serpentine pair was slits and the mouth... had been sewn shut with thick black thread. Still, that didn't keep its lips from stretching until the threads began to strain and from its mouth it let out a horrifying shriek.

It wasn't difficult to stash the next body in an out of the way nook, allowing a disguise for Raven and another piece in place for their infiltration. He moved along with her guidance, casting wary looks one way and then another, until their disguised skulking was suddenly interrupted by the shambling figure. Romen went deathly still when the creature looked at them and unleashed it's terrible keening, careful not to react immediately. When he did, it was to cast a look Raven's way.

Something like this was sure to call attention and simply offing it like the others wouldn't do. They had nowhere viable to hide its body once it fell and that was if they even managed to take it down easily. So instead, Raven backtracked toward the creature, sneaking as slowly as possible en route. Taking care to stay out of reach of the devilish fingers she gestured and wove a soothing web of calm over the thing. The shrieking stopped and it relaxed, staring at her with its bandage wrapped eyes. So it can See without seeing... great. Unfortunately though, there were footsteps incoming and she grabbed for Ro to draw him through archway into the otherwise empty room. The stone floor was slick and wet and in the center was a rusty drain. Thankfully the one white horror was the only one in there and she quickly shoved the younger man back behind her toward the corner and out of view. It made it easier to reinforce her veil when she only had to project it in front of them and so she held her breath as the footsteps came closer. One, two, three pairs that she could count. Their voices were heavily accented but in a familiar way that sent a cold chill washing down her spine.

"There's nothing here." A rumbling masculine voice said.

"Another false call. Lady Bane said they get antsy when the solstice approaches." A second voice, higher than the first but still definitively male, spoke.

"Thank the gods it'll be the last time we deal with it," said the first.

"They said that last time." The second countered. After a cursory check that included peeking into the wet room but seeing nothing amiss, the trio started back down the hall, their voices fading little by little.

"Last time they had the wrong One." Said a third voice finally. "This One has passed both tests so far. Our time comes, praise Elisheva."

"Praise Elisheva." Echoed the other two before they got too far away to hear.

When Raven finally reminded herself to breathe, she exhaled with a whoosh and tried not to let her head spin too much. Her hands shook with anger and dread and it took everything she had to not chase them down for the sake of getting more information out of them. Instead she could only look back to Ro and shake her head.

Within the folds of his robe, Romeo's fists clenched until Raven could hear the soft pop of his whitening knuckles. His lip curled and it was all the blonde man could do to not growl at the discussion going on between the passing acolytes. For a moment, it seemed as if he was going to lurch out of the cover provided by their hiding place, but for a few long seconds he allowed himself to focus on Raven's face and the shake of her head, before he settled back with a scowl. For the moment, it was still the lady's show.

"No humanity." She repeated an earlier sentiment in a quiet whisper before stepping toward the archway for a peek out. A gesture indicated Ro should follow, sticking close to squeeze by the still sedate thing that had nearly sold them out. Maybe those three assholes could show them where they needed to go. Once more wrapping them in the cloak like veil, they pushed down the side hall until they ran into the main corridor. The foot traffic was a little heavier but they seemed to be going in the same direction, a wide set of double doors at the very end. Raven exhaled and tried to feel for any sign of Addie. When it hit her like a truck, she very nearly made an audible sound. She caught herself at the last moment and pointed instead, two fingers at the doors and a sign language letter "A".

A soft grunt was his response, some small measure of agreement. She beckoned and Ro followed, moving on silent feet into the main thoroughfare and upwards to the great set of doors that marked something important. While he lacked his companion's means of determining Addie's location, the eventual but sudden flinch of her body spoke volumes, confirmed then moments later by the little bit of sign. His head snapped towards the doors, his broad body leaning in the direction of the entrance almost involuntarily.

"My Pizza Girl," the words mouthed more than spoken. Desperation and anger welled up within him.

The closer they got, the more heightened the energy, as if the very convergence of malevolence focused on the room beyond the doors. Raven's stomach turned and she swallowed back the bile rising in her throat. Whatever they were doing there was not good. Beneath her robes, she readied her weaponry, palming blades into her sleeves and checking the safety on each of her guns. There was a tug on her veil, a resistance that came as they neared. Accordingly she stepped off to one side and took a deep breath, offering a few low words to Ro. "She's in there, I know it. But we'll have to try and sneak in as we are, no veil."

There was little he could reasonably tote in their deception outside of his long knife, the robes hanging as they were, so Romeo kept it close and then offered the woman beside him a slow nod. "We'll get as close as the disguises allow and, whatever happens then, we'll deal with it. We'll get our girl. Do they..." He paused. "Any mannerisms I should adopt?"

"Keep your head down and repeat their little affirmations, I suppose." It was the only one she had picked up on, their repetition of certain praise like phrases amongst one another. So in the shadow of the side nook, she dropped the veil and bowed her head, stepping out as if she belonged there. It made it easy for them to fall in with the throng of acolytes slipping by ones and twos through the doorway, the doors swinging open and shut behind each of them. Just beyond the doors, it seemed to open up into a taller chamber that Raven assumed was the dome capped hall that Hekate had told her to seek out. That close to the others, it took everything she had to not bristle. These things had tried to ruin her life over and over and now here they were, shuffling in to go see whatever lay inside that room. Her daughter. Older as she may have been, Addie was still hers. With only a handful of robed figures ahead of them in line to get through the door, a broken scream cut through the low buzzing din of quiet mutterings. It cut Raven to the core and she just barely resisted reaching for Ro to keep him from reacting too blatantly.

"So, 'the night time is de right time'?" It was the smallest sliver of levity stole in the moment. And just like that, it was over and he was bowing his head and matching the strides of the other acolytes. Taking a page from his time at the gym, Ro evened out his breathing and rolled his shoulders, before lowering his chin and joining in the chanting. He matched it as best he could and faked with mumbles where he couldn't. They were doing well, making progress, and then that scream broke the monotony if their forward momentum and, for a split second, it almost broke him. He tensed up but didn't stop, a credit to whatever discipline he had, but his lip curled in a rictus snarl, the expression a dire promise for what he was going to do...

Snerk. "Something like that." She muttered under her breath. Thankfully Ro's reaction was far more muted than she had expected, a blessing in and of itself. Still, the shrill cry seemed to be enough to stir the lingering acolytes into a borderline frenzy and a surge of motion pushed them toward the doorway which had been thrown open completely. Twilight filtered through gaps in the domed ceiling, giving the room a hazy glow. Or maybe that was the far wall which flickered and swirled with a miasma of preternatural light. There were perhaps two dozen robed figures inside when the doors finally closed behind them and they had all shifted to stand in a semi circle outside of a series of geometric etchings on the floor. The circle opened up a trio of stairs up to a dais where a pair of uncomfortable looking seats sat. In between the throne like chairs was a stone bench like table. Kneeling in front of it on an elevated hassock was...

"Addie..." Raven mouthed her name beneath the shadow of her hood. They were so close. The girl's back was exposed and raw, her arms pulled wide and locked into shackles built into the stone bench. Blood had dripped and pooled beneath her, the likely result of the circular wounds in her back. They glimmered with what looked like gold and after a closer examination, appeared to match the lines in the floor. Her head was bowed but the trembling of her shoulders seemed to indicate she was at least conscious.

"No..." Romeo began to tremble at the sight of her from where he stood in the gathering. The anticipation had been one thing, the patience required to navigate the path that led them to this point. He had managed all of that admirably but when he settled those eyes upon Adelaide, what had been done to her laid out before him with something akin to fanatical pride. She had been tortured. They had hurt her...

Something inside of him broke.

It wasn't obvious at first. The blonde bruiser didn't move. Not right away. It was a special sort of sacrilege, the prayer that danced on his tongue in near silence. He beseeched the the gods, called to them through the bones of the earth, begging them for Addie's justice. For his vengeance. Behind the acolytes the earth shifted, pebbling up slowly and taking shape in near silence. They were a matched pair, moss-maned lions of one stone, the scrape of their claws on the floor the first overt sign of their arrival. Romeo vibrated with rage, focusing into that calling.

So much attention was focused upon the dais that the slow summoning of the stone lions went wholly unnoticed. A woman had stepped onto the riser with Addie and had come to stand to one side. A flicker of motion drew Raven's eye to the edge of the stage where a man in black stood with his hands clasped. The woman, by contrast, wore pure white much like Adelaide. Her blonde hair was left loose down her back, pushed out of her face by a shimmering gold circlet. For as beautiful as she was, she had a cruel smile that sparked malice in her gaze. She looked down on the kneeling girl and reached a hand to tip her chin up. For what it was worth, Addie tried to turn her head away but a tight clasp of fingers straightened her out. When she forced the girl to look at the colorful crystalline wall ahead of her, the light filtering through the cracks in the ceiling darkened. Accordingly, the pretty colors shifted too, from reds and oranges to blues and purples, getting darker and darker until inky black seemed to spread across the entire wall.

"The time has come." The blonde woman announced, her voice echoing through the chamber. There was a swishing of robes, potent energy stirring amongst the gathered Orionites. "The day turns dark, our Chosen will deliver us unto a new age."

There was a roar of approval from the gathered crowd that seemed to renew Addie's struggle. She pulled and twisted against her restraints, whimpering as each shift broke open the wounds on her back from a fresh trickling drip of vitae. Raven held her breath, watching in wide eyed horror as she tried to figure out just what to do. They had to act, soon. The coming darkness that seemed to coalesce in and around the domed hall was no ordinary dark. Something old and foreboding lurked within, waiting for its opportunity to rise once more. She shifted ever so slightly nearer to Ro for the breath of a few whispered words. "Count of three, whatever it takes. One... two... three."

All hell broke loose.

"Excuse me!" Ro had cleared his throat, even as the long knife flashed from beneath the folds of his robes, buried to the hilt at the base of skull of the acolyte nearest him. His robe fell to the floor along with the fresh corpse, his chin lifting to give the blonde woman a hard stare and a '*** you' smile. "You've got somethin' of mine."

The lions behind him, lacking the vocal chords to roar, pounced heavily on the nearest robed bodies and began to tear flesh asunder. Romeo himself drew his long blade and advanced on the riser, murder written plain on his face.

A whirl of lead and steel came from Ro's dark haired counterpart. She shot and slashed her way through the throng nearest her with all of the deft ability of the most adept warriors. Healer she may have been, but that was her child and nothing short of death would stand between them. Romeo was met midway by a clash of plum robed acolytes bearing blades and staffs. One brandished a spiked mace that was quickly swung for the boy's head. A boom of energy sounded when a push of Raven's palm sent a forceful wave into their backs, sending several flying in hopes of diverting them from Ro's path.

On the dais, Koviah went from shocked to panicked to furious and from the side of the stage, the black clad man had moved to take point near the blonde and her captive, a blade at the ready. With no time for pomp and pageantry, Koviah moved in front of the stone table, directly across from Addie. Closer examination would show the stone had been cut in similar fashion to the floor and Addie's back, its channels filled with her blood. The center of it was a runic eye similar to the one that had marked Addie's spine weeks ago. Behind them, the black wall seemed to shift and pulse, roiling with the very energy that had been converging on the keep. The gold filled marks on Addie's back shimmered in response, echoing a ripple that slid along the gold in the floor. Out of the corner of Raven's eye, the light caught the blade of a black handled athame in Koviah's hand, level with Addie's throat. Raven spun in place, blowing through a pair of acolytes with two heavy handed shots. Her goal was to clear the way for Ro to get up there. "Ro! Go!"

The next blade was buried in a robed chest, where it stuck, leaving Romeo temporarily without a weapon. It didn't slow him. What Raven's attacks didn't handle, his fists did, hardened with a murmured prayer and used to devastating effect. With that blade too close to Addie's throat and not enough time to reach her before it was used, he freed up his bow and another shaft on the move, with only enough time for the single shot. "Lady be with me..." He loosed. Tipped with a fowling blunt, the shaft wobbled in flight but flew true and strunk the hand that held the blade, striking at an angle meant to knock the blade away from his beleaguered girlfriend. His own weapon fell right after, in favor of a flat out sprint that saw him flinging himself onto dais in a maddened bull's rush.

“Say the words.” Koviah hissed down at Addie, grabbing for the girl’s hair to jerk her face up and back until her neck strained with the motion. This is it… this is where I die…, Addie thought. Certain she was hallucinating Ro’s voice in her ear, the commotion behind her was nothing compared the pinprick of steel against the edge of her neck. At least until she felt the displaced air and subtle whoosh of an arrow blow by her cheek, its fletching tickling her ear before it struck Koviah’s hand with pinpoint accuracy. With the barest graze against Addie’s throat, the athame went skittering out of Koviah’s grip, flung across the dais toward the roiling black wall. The blonde looked up, furious annoyance in her burning gaze as it locked onto the boy barreling through the throng toward the stage. Morelth met him there with a blade at the ready. He was no brainwashed acolyte but rather an experienced warrior with a full legion at his beck and call. His sword versus Romeo’s fists should have been no contest.

On the main floor, Raven called to her the remaining acolytes, surrounding herself with purple without losing sight of Ro. It was a calculated ploy, one that came to fruition when they closed in on her. She called on the strength of the very Titans that granted her her power, drawing their touch to her empty hand until it flickered and pulsed with kinetic strength. But rather than drive it outwards, she let out a growl of exertion, dropped to a knee and punched her fist into the floor beneath her. As if a miniature bomb had gone off, the robbed figures were flung to the far reaches of the hall amidst a rain of rock and dust and the mist of those who had been closest to the point of impact. Sickening crunches and wet snaps sounded out their testaments to the spell’s devastation but Raven wasn’t done there. She rose, albeit shakily, and flexed her fingers. Titan’s Touch took so much out of the caster but she had retained enough for a little bit more.

While Ro contended with Morelth, Raven aimed a frigid spell in duplicate at each of Addie’s wrists. It caught the metal shackles full on with a little blowback against Addie’s exposed skin. Thankfully the girl had a heightened resistance to the chill and it hardly compared to the innumerable wounds across her bare flesh. Her struggling began to crack the bindings until they shattered completely, falling away with a clattering to the floor. Addie tumbled back from the stone table, off the hassock and onto her ass. Free as she may have been, the impending darkness still seemed to be approached, filtering through the previously solid wall little by little. It’s too late… it’s too late, it’s here…

“Fly, baby, go!” Raven cried out. She was too far away and Ro was still faced with a man bearing a wickedly sharp weapon. With her own way clear, Raven dashed toward the dais. Along the way she kicked up Ro’s bow into her grasp. A moment later, her words seemed to finally register with the fallen girl. Addie locked eyes with her mom and drew on every ounce of latent power in her sluggish veins. With no clothing on her back to restrict the motion, the eruption of draconic wings from the young woman’s back came unimpeded. They were enough to draw her up to her feet just in time for Koviah to reclaim the athame from where it had fallen. Clutching silk to her chest, Adelaide kicked off from the dais with an awkward flap of the seldom used wings. Higher and higher she rose, well out of Koviah or Morelth’s reach. What she hadn’t accounted for was the flying glint of thrown steel, tossed by a second black wrapped man that had just stepped through a glowing portal onto the stage. He wore a cruel sneer as he watched the sword fly end over end toward the flying woman. She twisted in the air in a bid to dodge it but instead was treated to the searing pain of it cleaving clean through the point at which one wing met her back.

Just like that, Adelaide was falling.
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Addie MacKenzie
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2017 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter Twelve: A King Amongst Ravens

21st of December

I knew nothing but pain. Pain and freefall. This was it, I was going to die. My lone wing wasn’t enough to keep me aloft and so I sank like a stone, falling, falling, falling.

"Morrigu! Morrigu!" Romeo snarled the battle cry as he closed the distance to Morelth, evoking the Goddess of Battle and Death with all the venom of a vile curse being loosed from his tongue like an arrow. As if the divine answered, jagged pieces of rubble rattled and lept from the floor, coalescing around his fists and forearms like a pair of wicked, primitive gauntlets. They were used with terrible effect against those who thought to come between him and I; my tormentors. The first was struck so hard across the side of his head that his neck broke with a sickening snap, the other caught on the backswing and falling with a throat laid open with jagged stone knuckles. He met the black clad man with the blade without slowing, his elemental weapons serving as defense as much as the opposite, however much unintended.

Morelth was clearly the better combatant, having years of training and experience on the younger blonde man, landing several more strikes than the latter could avoid. The armor bore the brunt of most of it, his protective spell a little more, but several ugly cuts were still opened on mortal flesh. But what Romeo lacked in the other's experience, he made up for in a gross, berserk tenacity and the ferocity that accompanied it. When his blows landed, they did so with a savage strength that rent flesh. It was a war of terrible attrition, a contest of endurance of wills. When I launched myself into the air, Ro let out a triumphant growl and almost immediately became an unearthly wail of dismay when the flying blade struck me, sheering away my salvation and knocking me from the proverbial sky.

"Nooo!" Rage and terror overwhelmed him in a sudden surge power, ignoring a stab from Morelth's blade into his side that cut through both spell and armor, allowing for a wild haymaker that struck the swordsman under the chin at an angle. The result was the grotesque backwards snap of the black clad man's head that left it hanging by a large flap of skin down along his back. In another place and time, the blonde bruiser would have stared at the spectacle in some measure of shock, but he moved without another thought for the death. With a speed that defied his size, he leapt from the dais towards me; with barely a touch of consideration, the stone lions responded to his plight and moved, becoming an only half-expected pair of stepping stones that preceded a powerful launch. Need drove him, carried him to me where burly arms wrapped around my slender form, the rest of his body molding to and around mine as they descended rapidly together. When they struck the hard stone floor finally, it was Romeo's body that paid the price, hitting with a bone-cracking force that produced a strangled cry from his lips.

"I got you, baby," he murmured breathlessly. "Igotyou-Igotyou-Igotyou..."

”If ever a frigid cell did love me in that withered heart of yours, you will take me there now. You will take us there and we will bring them home.” A voice. A familiar voice at that, my grandfather’s. He spoke to a woman I had seen in my dreams, the silver eyed woman who had sent the dogs to find me. They stood in the forest south of Rhydin City, the point at which we were supposed to return to if all went well. She looked stricken by his words, as if they had cut her to the core of her soul but as quickly as a passing cloud, the expression disappeared in favor of a hard mask of neutrality. Her fingers bent and flexed, emanating potent energy. She turned away from him and slashed her fingers through reality itself, shredding it into ribbons and opening a new Way for them to get there without affecting Raven and Romeo’s return route.

“Show them no mercy.” She said to him before they both stepped through the tattered edge between here and there. A moment later a massive CRACK-BOOM of displaced air and broken stone sounded from on high. The ceiling split, raining down slabs of stone upon the fallen bodies of the purple robed acolytes. A funnel of what seemed to be pure starlight shot down with the collapsing roof, pummeling the center of the floor and shattering the last of the ritualistic markings in the marble. When the starlight faded, there stood a man and a woman, Quinten and the silver eyed woman who had brought him here.

By then, reinforcements had filtered through the portal behind the man who had knocked me from the sky. They surrounded Koviah, who was stalking toward Romeo and I with murderous intent. Raven was quicker though, vaulting fallen stone and bodies alike enroute to where we had landed. Everything hurt, but it felt as though an unbearable burden had been lifted from my shoulders. And I don’t just mean my wing. My so called mother went sliding across a slab of ceiling, Dukes of Hazzard style before rolling to meet us, doing what she could to get both of us back up on our feet. “Can you get up and walk? We’ve got our window, let’s go…”

"I..." Romeo huffed, struggling to breathe. "Take her," he ordered Raven, groaning as he used his grip on me to thrust me gently (but quickly) up at Raven. "I'm..." He coughed. "I'll cover you." His hands free, the blonde man drove his fingers down into stone, his face paling in concentration. A half dozen more stone lions rose from the floor in a wave of silent ferocity, creating a further distract. True to his word, Ro rolled over with a gasp, still struggling for breath as he forced himself to his feet to follow us.

"Everyone goes home, Romeo." My mother reminded him. Raven wrapped her arms around me, careful not to cause further trauma to my poor back. The floor beneath our feet rumbled even before Ro summoned his stone lions and Raven cut a look back at Quinten and Kate just in time for a brilliant flash of white hot fire lit up the dais, engulfing their enemies upon it. Quinten yelled something to us but amidst the chaos, I couldn't make it out, instead leaning into Raven's steadfast grasp as we began to work our way toward the broken double doors of the hall. The hallway beyond was desolate but quaking much like the rest of the keep, causing stones to tumble and fall bit by bit around us.

Still struggling to breathe anything more than short, shallow breaths, Romeo forced himself forward and put both arms around us, doing his best to play the part of our shield and increase our speed towards safety. Soft, breathless murmurs could be heard, gentle encouragement and professions of love for me, sweet promises of the future.

We pressed through the double doors just in time for another boom to resonate through the chamber. A wave of heat met our backs but the flames never reached us. Between the three of us, we were able to make it thirty feet down the main hall unhindered. The front door of the keep was dead ahead and beyond that, our hopeful salvation. But an enraged cry cut through the chaos behind us and Raven snapped a look back in time to see Koviah emerge from the wall of flame. Her luxurious mane had been reduced to charred wisps and clumps against her scalp and her white silks had been scorched brown and black. But she still clutched the black handled athame in her right hand and advanced upon us. Wrapping all three of us in a protective buffer, Raven slipped the line of Ro's arm to put he and I behind her. She had spent several magazines in the hall and quickly ejected an empty one in favor of a quick reload.

Before she could get the gun up to bear, Koviah faltered, her arctic eyes wide and bulging. The priestess took one step and then two before the dagger slipped from her hand. She clutched at her chest and let out a strangled wail. The front of her chest burst outward in a violent display of splintered bone and pink mist. She collapsed face first on the stone floor, leaving Quinten standing behind her, his hand lifted and his fingers curled into a tight fist. He glared at the fallen woman, or at least what was left of her, then quickly strode past her toward us, still stunned as we were.

"It's over. Let's go." Before the keep crumbled completely.

Little by little, Romeo could feel his strength draining away, the increased blood loss and injured ribs. What transpired before them was almost surreal through the haze of his pain, but in those moments, the most important thing in the world to him was my safety. He saw me in a moment of weakness, my body faltering beneath fatigue and my wounds, and without hesitating, the big blonde youth scooped me up into his arms. No matter the agony, he carried me, step for step to the portal that awaited us. There was a few moments pause there, a look back to the destruction as the keep collapsed beneath its own weight. His words were gentle against her ear, soft and soothing. "Let's go home, Pizza Girl. We're goin' home."

Once free of the keep's confines, the sickly air outside was a practical godsend. Acrid as it may have been, it meant they had survived and for a few long moments, I simply tried to breathe it all in. Trying too hard to do just that likely contributed to the buckling of my knees but before Raven or Quinten could catch me, Ro had gathered me up. Raven touched a few fingers to the boy's back, the first hints of healing energy trickling little by little through us both as we approached the clearing in the dead woods. Blue flickered and danced, awaiting our return but first I grazed a hand against his chest, bidding him pause. Lifting my head from where it had come to rest against his chest, I turned my eyes toward the keep for one last time as it fell, imploding inwards with a brilliant burst of warring starlight and darkness. The latter seemed to clear, its malevolence dissipating into the atmosphere like an evaporating cloud until all that remained was the clear night sky over the smoldering ruins of the keep in the valley.

It was done.

It was really, truly done.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 28, 2017 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Epilogue

28th of December

You take care of the things that are important to you. It was a piece of advice that Romeo MacKenzie had taken to heart long before recent events, but it was the same recent events that had punctuated the notion.

The big blonde bruiser hadn't gone to work since their return from the temple, in fact, he had hardly left Addie's side since the rescue, sparing only an hour or so randomly when he needed to leave the house to get her something or when she was asleep and he needed a moment. Even then, help wasn't too far off, discreet as it was. But this was his girl. His Adelaide. Things had been tense since they had brought her home, since the trip to the hospital and the subsequent fight to bring her to some place she'd be more comfortable. It had been tense but not not disheartening. The comfort of his arms and his words had been there as much or as little as the dark-haired beauty had needed it, from the hugs and the kisses, to the movies and the meals (lots of pancakes), Romeo had all but bled attentiveness to remind her how much she was cherished. His Pizza Girl was hurt inside but not broken. Never broken. Every day had become a reminder of just how much she meant to him.

Whenever he thought she might need him the most, he invaded her personal space like he was her second skin.

It was a deep into the night when one of those little intuitions roused him from his slumber to find her gone from the bed. It hadn't taken much to find her and after following the sound of running water, he slipped his brought frame into the shower to find her leaning with her forehead against the shower. It was a private moment and he let her have it for a short time, before he joined her amongst the hot water and steam. "Shhh," the soft sound hissed gently near her ear when the touch of his hands gave her a start, settling against her hips in familiar fashion. "You don't have to move, mo chroi. Just enjoy the water. I've got you."

And he did. He did have her.

With a tender touch, Ro took control. His mouth worked dual wonders for her, from each gentle kiss that touched her skin to the soft words of encouragement he spoke to her ear and her neck. He didn't patronize her. Instead, he talked about things that anyone else would have found mundane or unimportant. The first time he laid eyes on her. Little details about the unsure girl she had been, expounded upon by what he had seen beneath the surface. Random nights out, together, or with Miz and Michi, trips to the arcade or to get pizza. He talked about Christmas and the awesome shoes. He talked about all of the things they could do in the spring since they had the Highlander. All the while, his hands roved over her body. Hands full of her favorite shampoo, he washed her hair, making a silly little up-do atop her head before combing it down with his fingers to rinse the suds free. They then lathered up the soft netted surface of a loofah, after gentle taking her hands and placing them above her head on the wall. He lathered her up as the minutes passed covering every soft inch of skin where the loufa passed and kissing the spots where the water washed it away clean. He tried to be a gentleman, as best he could, even when the lathered fabric passed over her breasts, over her hips and belly and then below, where he lowered to his knees and washed her from the feet up, ending with a trail of soft kisses to her belly as he lathered and cleaned her up with loofah and razor.

When he had finally finished, big arms wrapped around her slender frame, holding her like that for a time. The soft talking had never stopped. Neither had the promises of things to come. Romeo meant every one of them. He finally hushed when the water was shut off and he had moved to towel her body dry, silencing himself with small, chaste kisses to her shoulder.

The first few days after coming back to Rhydin had been rough to say the least. From the immediate rush to St. Luke's and the yelling that she barely recalled when Ro had nearly laid a doctor out for trying to separate them to the argument a few days later over whether to keep there or discharge her back home. Even then, Raven had considered asking Adelaide to stay with her until she was truly feeling better but everything Romeo had displayed in the days leading up to their trip to Umbral Eden and the steps he had taken while there to save the girl he fought so hard for had Raven relenting in the end, conceding custody of the healing girl to the blonde youth. Of course she had set the expectation that if he needed anything, anything at all, that he was to let her know immediately. Whether he would take advantage, she wasn't sure, but the last thing she wanted was for him to isolate himself away from support.

In turn, Addie and Ro had gone home to Seaside, to the familiarity and comfort of the home she shared with Michi. It meant peace and quiet and her own bed to recuperate in. Recovery would... take time, even with the best modern and mystical medicine. There was no saving her wings. One had been sheared cleanly through while the other had nearly gone the same way. Even the best draconic surgeon in the city couldn't undo the damage. Broken bones were mended easily enough, soft tissue damage less so, but still manageable. The challenge had been the marks made on her back, the wounds filled with a metallic alloy that had a way of sticking and binding to the flesh around it. They said it would take several (likely painful) visits to remove it all but it was the best way to do so without causing more damage by removing the skin around it.

So that was her life now, at least for the time being, doctor's visits and time at home. She didn't want to go out unless she absolutely had to, though she spent plenty of time looking out the windows, watching the world pass them by little by little. Jittery and nervous when they did go out, the psychiatrist had thrown around words like Post Traumatic Stress and Dissociative Amnesia, the latter in reference to her refusal or outright inability to recall the events within the Keep. Had anyone considered maybe she didn't want to remember it?

Ro considered it. Ro understood and he didn't push. Instead he distracted her. He was companionable during the good times and supportive during the bad ones, steadfast like a lighthouse in a storm, calling her back to him when she began to drift.

That night she had drifted far, far away, to thoughts of white silk and cold stone and the smell of blood. It was all she could do to wash it down the drain beneath the hot, hot water of the shower. The water needled her flesh, turning it pink and then red beneath the heat until it woke her enough for her to turn it down to something less scalding but still plenty hot. She heard the shower door open and went still for a moment, her mind warring with itself for a few moments as she tried to calm the inevitable fight or flight instinct that kicked in immediately. Rational thought and Ro's hands won out, stilling her thoughts and calling her back to him with a quiet shushing sound.

The water did a good job of washing away her tears and Romeo did a stellar job of washing everything else, cleaning her up from head to toe with meticulous attention. Sure she was more than capable of doing it herself but that he would do so without her even asking was just the anchor she needed. Eventually they ran out of hot water and it was only then that she turned it off, washing the bathroom in quiet save for the soft drip-drip-drip of the faucet and the soft rustling of the sheet-like bath towel as Ro moved it over her wet flesh. When she was wrapped in warm fluff, she turned around with a shuffle of steps and buried her face against his chest for a few moments.

"Didn't mean to wake you."

"It brought me to where I needed to be." Craning his neck, Romeo dipped his chin and smeared a soft kiss to one side of her neck. "Besides, I got to touch and kiss you in all your fun places. Or almost all o' them." Still naked and dripping, he tightened his grip on her without touching the wounds on her shoulders, kissing her skin again and again. "It's okay, mo chroi. Everything is okay."

"Well... thank you." She said softly, grabbing blindly for another towel. Sure it was pink and fluffy but still she smeared it against his side then fumbled it around his waist, wrapping him up and tucking the edge in so that it stayed in place. It was a bit of a half assed job but it was the thought that counted, right? "I think you did a better job than I do shaving..."

"Does that mean I get the job?" A small smile curved his mouth. He helped her where he could, drying off as best he could while still combing his fingers through her damp hair. The act caused him to tip her chin slowly upwards until their eyes met. A gentle kiss touched down on her lips. "I think it was the only time I've made somethin' that looks that delicious without sampling it."

"A girl could get used to that..." She admitted, grateful that her cheeks were likely still red from the shower or else she would have been a lovely shade of strawberry for him. Once they were both thoroughly toweled, she laid her head against him again, her hair dripping little droplets down his broad chest. "Maybe, um, next time. I just wanna make sure my head's in a better place, you know?"

"Shh." He kissed her forehead. "I was bein' cheeky, babe. I'm not in any rush. Everything I need, I get when you're in my arms." Slowly, in no real rush, he waddle-walked her to the bathroom door and back into the bedroom. It took a little wiggling and positioning, but it wasn't long before the pair of them were tucked back beneath multiple layers of covers, his forehead pressed gently against hers. "We'll do whatever we have to, you and me."

"Show you bein' cheeky." She faux-grumbled at him, reaching around to pinch his backside, barely connecting before he was guiding her back to bed. Bed was good, bed was safe and warm and comfortable. It wasn't a cold room or a short cot without a blanket with only Ro's hoodie for anything soft. Ro's hoodie... she nearly cried every time she thought about it, lost to a future in which the Order's stronghold had crumbled in upon itself. There was no going back for it, of course, even if her early hysterics had tried to insist upon it. Thankfully between Ro and Raven, they had calmed her down and reminded her of the state of things. They were good reminders. Safety, security, salvation. Other good 's' words. Once they were back in bed, she tangled her legs with his and slid one arm around his torso. "Do... do we want to do anything for New Year's?"

"I've got somethin' important to do durin' the day, but I thought maybe you and me, we could cook together in the kitchen, maybe do a little dancin' in the dark, and then I could kiss you to sleep on the couch while somethin' stupid plays on the teevee." He nuzzled his nose along hers and kissed her gently on the mouth for emphasis. Then again. And again. "We can stay in. Maybe we can swing by Claire's to bring somethin' to get kids for their birthday. So, long as I'm with you, I don't care."

"Oh." She said softly to go with the momentary skip of her heart. It'll be okay without him for a little bit, she reminded herself, soothing the flutter-bang heart rate that ensued for just a few moments after his declaration. His kisses helped, they always did. Eventually she managed more words than that, a muted nod and an even quieter admission. "I don't think I want to go out. Maybe for a bit for the twins' birthday party, yeah, but otherwise I think I wanna stay in... is that lame?"

"You could help me with my somethin' important. " He kissed her chin. "Your feng shui skills are far superior to mine."

"My mom was always good at that sort of thing... but uh," she paused long enough to lean back and fix him with a curious look. "What're we doing?"

"Movin' me in." He bit his lower lip. Not so subtle.

"Wait..." One blink, two blink. Then she stared, long and hard. Give her a few moments, he may have very well killed the hamsters that keep the wheels turning in her head. "...what? Here?"

"I wouldn't ask you to move to the Hollows." He shook his head and tugged her chest to his. "But... I'm ready for this. I want this. I've wanted it for a long time now. It's just... they needed me. It was hard to let go. Still is. Now? I need you. Us. Together. I can't fathom bein' anywhere else than spendin' every night in bed with you. This is where I belong."

If he had asked, she would have considered it. She had witnessed first hand how the people there looked up to him and how they needed the sort of leadership he provided. Addie wouldn't have asked him to leave them, even if she had wanted to from time to time. She chewed at her bottom lip and mulled over his explanation. "I want you here but... who's gonna watch over things there?"

"I'll still do my best for them," he promised solemnly. "But this is my life too. You, Adelaide, are my life. I love them but there's nothin' in the cosmos, this world or any other, that I'll ever love more than I love you."

"I'd be glad to help then. We can even wrangle Michi to help bring stuff in and set it all up right." Beneath the covers her hand found his, her fingers curling save for her pinky which ended up intertwined with his via a little looping hook. A silent promise, childish as the gesture may have been. "I love you, Ro, with everything I've got. For always too."

"The dust is settlin', mo chroi." It was a loving promise against one corner of her mouth. "And we're still here. You're still here. You are so strong, a warrior in ways that I could never even comprehend. I'm a flickerin' candle to your roarin' fire. I don't want you to forget that. You're gonna be okay, baby, and I'll be here every step of the way."

He said so much, those things and similar ones over the past week that it should have been easier to believe. Addie wanted to believe it, really she did. Instead she felt the levee break and the tears fall even as she nodded. Some semblance of agreement, it was supposed to be. But all she could do was cry and bury herself against him, wrapped in the security of layers of blankets and his arms. "Okay. I love you. It's going to be okay."

"It will be," he soothed her, kissing her forehead and temple. Her slender body was gathered closer to his and he rocked her gently. "Everything's gonna be okay. Just let it out, mo chroi. Let it all out. Goddess, I love you so much..."

Adelaide cried for a few long moments that seemed to stretch on and on but at last she reined it in little by little. Still tucked tightly against him, her shoulders trembled subtly in time with the shuddering sobs that caught her here and there. When she could finally find the words again, she whispered. "I'm free finally... we're free."

"You have an amazin' life ahead of you, Addie." One hand rose and stroked back through her hair repeatedly. The kisses never ceased and he spoke softly between them. "No more lookin' over your shoulder. No more wonderin' about the future. It's gonna be bright, babe. We can look forward to great things."



THE END
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