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Stepping Out

 
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Lirssa Sarengrave
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 11:01 pm    Post subject: Stepping Out Reply with quote

To be sure, when Lirssa received the invitation of dinner and visiting the Little Bavaria Weinachtsmarkt with Nicholas and his family, Ali and Fionna simply did not let her wander off into parts distant and people unknown. Ali escorted her to the house of the Grants. Mr. Grant made his introductions and assured Ali their joy in having Lirssa join their family for dinner. Perhaps the assurance needed to be made for Mr. Grant's own pride. The house was modest among other modest homes with their whitewash and shutters. The family obviously was snug inside and they were not a tenth as well off as the majority of the al Amats usual acquaintances. However, they were all neatly dressed and presented well. Nicholas, however, was seeing to gathering up some more wood for the fire.

So it was that Ali al Amat missed on meeting Nicholas, for his daughter was giving him the you-can-leave-now-I'm-okay-see? look. Lirssa took to Nicholas's little siblings with ease, as she was wont to with young children. The parents made her nervous, but they kept smiles and did not ask her too many questions, only to the point of what she knew of Weinachstmarkts and what to expect.

No matter what they told her, and she was perhaps a little distracted by Nicholas's attentions to her, she had not been fully prepared. The lights, music, dancing, food, and crafts were amazing considering the small community that presented it. The Grants were all greeted by name, and they introduced her, but Nicholas noticed Lirssa kept looking to the dancing and he took her hand. "May I have this dance?"

There was flying, and with her father's help she had done that, but now it was a very different sort of flying. They danced in the chill night air to the lively music of brass and drum. "You look lovely, Lirssa." Nicholas smiled as they took a break for some hot chocolate. "I like the color on you."

Lirssa had worn the same outfit she had worn for the snow play part of her birthday party, except with a skirt and tights to be presentable for the Grants. She was rather sure she had worn her mother out with outfit combinations, but she was never one of fashion. But at Nicholas's compliment, she smiled. "Thank you. You look very dapper, too. Is this new?" She looked over his vest.

Nicholas seemed to blanch and then shrugged. Lirssa found that odd and instead of pressing, she looked back to her mug of hot chocolate. They still walked in silence for a time until Lirssa heard the music start again. "May I have this dance?" She gave him one of her perfected show smiles, because she was not sure the fluttering butterflies inside would allow her to be honest in the smile.

Dante had come to find her at the Grants at the appointed time. Lirssa was still dancing a little, skipping between the steps of new dances she had learned with Nicholas, and she did not see the eyes watching, did not feel them frown as they could not easily slip past her walls and drive her out of Place. She did not see them turn for the alley that ran behind the Grant home.
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Lirssa Sarengrave
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2010 11:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nicholas pulled up the collar of his -- no, his father's -- coat and stepped out of the office. It was an older coat, patches on the elbows and rehemmed by his mother's nimble fingers. He had grown out of his from last year, and they just did not have the money to spare. Blowing hot breath on his fingers, he looked up at the sky. It was clear at least. Cold, true, but the sun was shining and that meant if he stayed away from the shadows he would be a little warmer.

Reaching into the worn satchel, he drew out the letters and checked the next stop. It was a few blocks south and west. It took him closer to High Spires, and that made him think about Lirssa. Then he tried not to think about Lirssa, for it made him hate himself all over. Shoving the letters back into the satchel, he ran fingers through the dark hair and set off down the street, avoiding the busy coming and goings of afternoon in the city.

What a big cat that was. Biggest tom Nicholas had ever seen, surely, lolling in a patch of sun on the porch of the locksmith's shop. A fat black tail twitched and thumped on the stones. Tufted black ears swiveled this way and that. Had to be twenty kilograms, or close to it. Lazy yellow-green eyes blinked open as Nicholas stepped out onto the street; then the cat yawned, showing a full set of remarkably sharp, white teeth. Getting its hindquarters under itself, it licked a big blunt paw and washed one ear. Then it stepped down off the porch and started after him as if it had been waiting for him all along.

There was not a bit or menace or threat in its demeanor, beyond that which all cats naturally possess as mighty hunters. No, it walked after him, tail switching, as if it were a loyal dog waiting for its master.

With a busy street, Nicholas normally would have kept his eyes ahead, noticing the oddities of the world, but staying to task. However, he was noticing that people were looking at him and smiling then looking past him. He surreptitiously checked his backside to make sure nothing was hanging from him that should not be. When he felt nothing out of the ordinary, he tried a subtle look over his shoulder. Still nothing except others walking. Well, others walking and looking slightly down behind him. When he did the same, looking around his side, he saw that tomcat, the large one that he had passed by, following just behind him. "I've got to tell me mother to stop packing fish sandwiches for my lunch." He muttered, then gave a shooing motion of his hand. "Go on, now grosse katz."

The cat dodged the hand, gave the boy a supercilious look, and continued to walk to his left and just behind him. Every footstep was a dance, a minor bit of sly and slinking poetry. It evinced a magnificent lack of concern for the attention it was drawing, both to him and to itself. A single-minded creature, clearly.

Nicholas was not enjoying the attention, but he tried to smile and laugh it off as he passed by others finding the tom-foolery of the cat entertaining in the cold day. Still, he certainly could not have the cat following him into a place of business. There had to be a way to lose its interest before he got there. A cut through alleyway to the next street over would add a few minutes to his trip, but if he planned his course change correctly, the cat might find his hoped for meal more trouble than it was worth.

Watching the pedestrians, Nicholas darted just at the last minute across and into that alleyway, and hoping that the cat finds a meal somewhere. He knew what it was like to be hungry some days.

The animal drew abreast with him eventually, slanting the occasional glance up at him as if weighing his reaction to the absurdity which had been thrust upon his afternoon. Those triangular ears went tick-tock atop its head, tracking the passing of a carriage, turning to face forward at a guard dog's sudden interest. And it must have been just that moment when the poor boy's luck turned, for it was as the cat heard the dog and froze, one paw uplifted in mid-step, that Nicholas turned and zipped across the sidewalk and into the alley. And his ploy appeared to work. There was no more cat dogging his heels.

A moment later, settled into a comfortable crouch atop the flat roof of the cafe whose shared alley the boy had just run down, well enough back to be out of sight of anyone who happened to glance up, Ali tented his fingertips on the graveled tarpaper and considered. The boy, it appeared, was either not overfond of cats in particular or strays in general. Well. That was one strike against him.

Given that it could be argued that their daughter had herself been a stray brought home to love, it did not sit well with the Egyptian at all, no.

Turning down the street, Nicholas increased his step to make up for the time detour. Something in the tempo brought back to mind one of the melodies from the market the other night. He smiled remembering the dance, and he even hopped once or twice as the tune began to whistle from his lips. He nodded to those who smiled at his tuneful passing by, keeping the pace with the memory.

He followed along for this portion of the trip as well, moving from rooftop to rooftop, stepping through shortcuts in the Veil as needed. He'd pay for it in weariness later, but it was better than shadowing the boy in public. During the day, he was just unusual-looking enough to stand out, and it made him both easy to spot by Nicholas, should he pay any attention to his surroundings at all; and easily noticed by those who might wonder why a man in combat fatigues, larded with weapons, would be traipsing along after a young boy.

At the next delivery, he stopped the whistling as he pulled open the door. "Good day, Mrs. Tompkins. Mail from the Middleton Road offices." The stack of letters removed, he rifled through them to be sure all were for the address. There was one that did not belong. It did not belong in the satchel at all, and yet he could not put it in his coat pocket right there in front of the receptionist, so he simply slipped it back in the satchel and handed over the other letters.

When he stepped back out of the office, he paused and took in a deep breath. That had been close. Drawing out the letter from the satchel again, he checked up and down the quieter street. No one was paying attention, and he folded up the letter and stuck it in his pocket before he started on his way again.

Hm. Hm hm hm. Ali suddenly and quite desperately wanted to pick that pocket. Time to get in close. He sundered the real and plunged in through the Veil, into the Dreaming that was his birthright. When he stepped out again, it was down at street level, out of the shadow of an overhang, from just behind an outdoor rack at the bookseller's. He looked up, a bit ostentatiously; blinked, then turned and fell into step with the boy, hands slid deep into the pockets of his trenchcoat. "Ah! Nicholas, is it?"

The trenchcoat which was standing open to reveal the guns strapped to each side, the extra clips of ammunition attached to his belt, the knife on one hip and the other on one thigh.

Nicholas skittered a few steps to the side, startled by the man. He felt the draining of the blood from his face. The man had so many weapons on him, Nicholas looked around to see if he had suddenly traveled to a part of town he had not intended. A muted nod of his head was swiftly followed by, "Yes, sir. Nicholas, sir." Was he from the Society? He did not have the look of their people, but in this city that did not mean anything. They may have hired him. He looked familiar, though.

Oh, shisse. It was Lirssa's father.
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"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven
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Lirssa Sarengrave
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2010 11:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I am Ali al-Amat," he said, and smiled a very wide smile. What handsome white teeth he had. "Lirssa's father," he added, as if mindreading were also one of his many talents. "I have seen you at a distance, but I don't believe we've met." He turned, withdrawing both hands from his pockets and extending the right first.

"Yes, sir. I recall now." He took the hand and shook it. Any hope the man would not realize the cold sweat of his hands due to the chill was completely crushed when he felt the warmth of the man's skin. "I am glad you are recovered from your illness, sir." He had to drag the information from Lirssa about her father's extended illness, but the man certainly looked very healthy to him. Healthy and armed to the teeth.

A long black brow arched, and there was something of the cat Nicholas had seen earlier in the supercilious look on the tall man's face: as if to say, do I look as if I have ever been ill? But what Ali said aloud was perfectly friendly. "Yes, thank you. It was a difficult time for us all, and I appreciate the well-wishes." He studied the boy's face for a moment, and at last released that clammy little hand.

Nicholas stuffed his hands in his coat pocket, feeling the crunch of the letter stopped his breath just a moment. But he recovered. "Are you," how does one make conversation with a man who can smile like that, "having a good day? It is nice weather we are having for the season. Lirssa must be happy. She said she intended to perform in the square today if it was sunny." And that made him think of something. "I am sorry I did not have the chance to meet you the other evening, but thank you for letting Lirssa come to dinner and the Weihnachtsmarkt with my family. They really like her."

"Of course," he drawled, "she was tremendously excited to go." The boy was babbling. It was all he could do not to laugh aloud at it. And yes, I'm having a delightful day. I was looking for a volume of Rumi for my wife in French. Sadly, they haven't anything. Have you time for tea?" He tipped his head toward the pastry shop across the street. A group of Watchmen on horseback trotting past stirred the breeze sufficiently to ruffle his hair; he dashed it out of his eyes with a brief impatience, watched the men on their horses clop past before returning his attention to the boy. "I should be delighted to spend a few minutes with you."

Even with the last messages to deliver, Nicholas knew there was no way he could gracefully get out of it. At least not without hearing about it for the first solid five minutes the next time he saw Lirssa. He knew how protective and proud of her family she was. Any slight and she would be out of sorts with him for weeks. So, tea it was. "Yes, thank you sir."

"Capital," exclaimed the tall man drily, and dropped a hand on his shoulder to guide him that way.

The hand on his shoulder was congenial, friendly, and would have been perceived so by likely any other person. Nicholas gave a smile to the man and started in the the direction he was guided. It had to happen, he reasoned. Eventually he had to meet Lirssa's father and mother. At least it was one at a time. The father was intimidating enough. They did not know, though, and as long as he did not think about it, there would be no reason for them to suspect. Relax, he told himself; just meeting the parents of a girl you, unfortunately, really like.

One long step across the sidewalk, crowding the boy just a bit. A second step caught the edge of the sidewalk in just the wrong way; Ali stumbled and just barely caught himself. Why, thank you, Nicholas! There was a brief tug on the boy's coat as Ali "caught" himself, attempting to snatch that oddly pocketed envelope with the near-fall as a cover.

For a further distraction, he swore practically in the boy's ear, a particularly ripe and rich Arabic oath.

"Are you all right, sir? The streets here tend to shift the cobbles more than they should." He smiled, oblivious of the deft removal of the folded letter. Something about the strange language, the break in the formality, eased the tension. Nicholas finally relaxed.

"Perhaps," he said, folding that hand up into his sleeve before jamming it into his pocket, "I am not quite as recovered as I thought." He straightened, very manfully shook it off. "Have you a particular sort of biscuit you're fond of?"

"I will admit I tend to lean toward the cinnamon scones. Lirssa does try to get me to try new things, but I have to say I cannot eat as much raspberry as she does." A rueful grin up at the man. Maybe it was laying it on too thick to prove how well he knew Lirssa and paid attention.

"Maybe. She does have a taste for them." The boy earned a thoughtful glance, as if he were gradually winning the man over. "I much prefer cinnamon in my coffee, to be honest, and cardamom. Fionna and I go through a box of croissants a day." And they really did. It wasn't his fault his nature doomed him to eternal hunger. "But it's a fine afternoon, and tea will suit. Your accent. Austrian?"

"Bavarian, sir. My family, the people we traveled with, we came from Bavaria, but it is not far from Austria. There is much similar to our people." He suddenly got a little worried. "Does Lirssa never talk about me?" He realized how anxious that sounded, but there was no taking it back.

"I am not often home for her to talk to, sadly. Business commitments have kept me away, of late." Pause, let us listen for the badly disguised sigh of relief.

Nicholas nodded with a sigh -- was it a sigh of relief or understanding? Knowing how Lirssa covered up how much she missed her father, he tried to not be too grateful. Still, for his own part, it was to his advantage for Ali to be out of town a great deal. Meeting him personally, that feeling was only confirmed. The man was intimidating even when being nice. It was the eyes. Nicholas was sure he could read down into his thoughts. Which only made him try to clear those thoughts with a smile. "Are you still kept out of town for long periods of time?" Nicholas felt he sounded only interested in the family welfare.

"Simply ages," said the man in his cultured baritone so at odds with the creepy eyes, and echoed Nicholas' sigh, as if he had not asked for a meeting with Alain, and had not settled back into his home for the foreseeable future barring a sudden movement on Shade's part. "Sometimes I fear they might forget what I looks like," he said, and smiled that impossibly wide smile again.

Nicholas tried to think of something sad, like his father being gone for ages, before he spoke so he sounded more sympathetic and less relieved. "I am sorry. But your business means security for the family. Lirssa understands that. We all have to do what is best for our families." That Nicholas could speak with all depth of honesty. It was for his family, he reminded himself. They would understand that.

His cheeks were beginning to hurt. "Very true, and quite astute an appraisal of the world from such a young gentleman," he said, and ducked his head as they stepped inside. The bell overhead rang, and look at all those baked goods on display behind the curved glass. He filled his hand with silver, passed it over to the boy. The mention of family had managed to dispel his painfully false smile. "Two croissants and strawberry jam for me, and a cup of Earl Grey. I'm afraid I need to step out for just a moment." He tipped his head toward the back of the store, where the water closet doors hid behind a coy screen of pierced brick.

Taken aback by the money, Nicholas almost missed the order, but he gave a nod and went up to the counter. The amount of money in his hand at one time .... But this was not the time nor place. He made the order adding his own request for cinnamon scone and a cup of coffee, black. He hoped Mr. al Amat would not begrudge the replacement of coffee for tea in his own beverage.

With a shoulder against the door Ali opened the envelope, read the note inside. The boy had picked the letter out of the pile and returned it to his satchel, then had looked about himself before transferring it to his pocket. "Grant" was the boy's last name. It could have referred to the father, or an elder brother. But that careful look around himself that Nicholas had taken before pocketing it. Puzzling. T.S. Who was T.S.? The vagueness smacked of secrecy also. Ali tended to sign personal notes with his first initial, but official correspondence received his full name and always had.

It was all a damn sight more troublesome than the boy's avoidance of strays. He refolded the fine paper...then paused, and lifted it to his nose. Eyes closing, he breathed in deep, seeking any lingering hint of scent.

As Nicholas waited there, he suddenly found himself more worried out of the man's sight than in it. What if he was watching him? Nicholas stood up straight, brushed down his coat sleeves, frowning at the patches, but then folded his hands and tried to wait with patience.

Nicholas paid the amount, plus a small tip for the tray of food. There was change remaining, and that he left on the tray for Mr. al Amat to collect when he returned. Carefully he took the tray to a table and served out the dishes and setting the change by the Earl Grey tea before he returned the tray to the counter.

The second breath Ali took with his mouth open, drawing the scent over a Jacobssen's organ no human should have. A touch of a woman's perfume. The must and age of books. Leather over the lingering sweat-smell of a human. Frowning at the letter, he replaced it in the envelope, tucked it into his sleeve and went out.

Over by the counter where the boy ordered and paid on his way to the chosen table, he paused, then dropped to one knee and produced the letter as if swiping it up off the floor. "Nicholas, my dear boy, I believe I just saw this fall out of your pocket."

Nicholas turned to see what it could have been and his mouth dropped open. Well, there was no use hiding his concern and dismay now, so he thought of a convincing lie while he reached for the letter. "Oh, thank you, sir. My father needs this information. It was mixed up with the other letters I was to deliver, and if I had lost it, there would have been trouble." It was not so far off the truth, so it came out rather smoothly. He managed to not even stumble across saying "my father". The letter was moved to an inside pocket, and he gave a grin. Now there was true relief on his face.

Hm. Ali nodded, indicated the table with a hand. "I'm glad I noticed it, then. And thank you for this. I confess I am starving." Pulling a chair out, he sat without ceremony, shucking his coat and oh, look, there were a pair of throwing knives strapped to each of his upper arms over the fitted black shirt, as well.

The son, the father or both, he decided, were mixed up in something dicey. Well, he had a bit more free time for the nonce. He would investigate.

Clearing his throat as he sat as well, he took a sip of coffee first to get his courage up. Then he asked, "Sir, are you part of the Watch? I thought Lirssa said you were a dealer of antiques."

"I was in my previous home, and I find that when seeking antiquities in faraway places it often serves me well to look menacing. How do your parents occupy themselves, young sir?" He sliced open one of the croissants, smeared it liberally with spoonfuls of jam and bit in, eyes half-closed with pleasure.

It almost popped right out of his mouth, complimenting Mr. al Amat on his success in looking very menacing. Nicholas was saved from such a gaffe by the question. "My mother looks after my younger brother and sisters and does some mending and washing. My father is a carpenter, sir."

"You have more than one sister?" Up went the brows. "I was an only child, and the vast majority of my cousins were male." Which, although Nicholas did not know it, was one of the reasons why Ali was so drawn to women in his adulthood. One of the reasons. "How lucky you are."

Nicholas had never really considered if he was lucky or not. "I suppose so, sir. I mean, yes, I am lucky to have my family. I have three younger sisters. They can be okay to have around, I guess." He hated how that sounded. He knew he would do anything for them. He was doing anything for them. "I am lucky." He repeated and started on the scone that was practically devoured.

He was kind enough to allow the boy a moment to eat; it was mere coincidence that it allowed him to do the same.

((With thanks to Ali al Amat's player for being "big bad daddy-o"))
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Cirque du Soliel contortionist -- skills similar to Lirssa's

"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven
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Lirssa Sarengrave
Ancient Wyrm
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The weather was not exactly perfect for it. The light snow was all well and good, but the wind was caressing chilly fingers along Lirssa's cheeks. She was not about to wear a scarf over her face. That would be just asking for it to be blown into her vision while she skated.

With two new pairs of skates, it was simply a shame to let the opportunity to use them go amiss. Maman had promised they would go in the middle of the week, and she saved her blue fluffy lined skates for then. This day, however, she had sent a short note by way of Jeb to Nicholas's house. It was an invitation to ice skate.

As she sat by the park pond, lacing up her skates and alternately patting Dante's head, Lirssa began to fret. A glance over her shoulder told her he still had not arrived. She was not alone at the park, though. In spite of the wind and intermittent mist mixed with the snow, others had come to have a day of snow and skating. There was laughter and smiles beneath reddened -- or in the case of one orc couple, severely greened -- noses.

With a deep breath to squish down the squirrely feeling in her stomach, Lirssa stood to her skate clad feet. "Doesn't matter if he comes or not, Dante. I am going to enjoy myself. Let me know if you get too cold." The dog gave a snow flurrying fwap of his tail, and then went bounding off to nose through the snow and make chase with the bold red birds. Lirssa was glad Maman had made her put the coat on Dante.

"He's going to need a nice warm fire to snooze in front of when this outting is done." Nicholas chuckled stepping up to her through the snow.

His thick coat was a little too big around the shoulders and patches had been patched again along elbows and hems. The leather of the skates had worn to a soft tan from the polished brown still seen around the stiff sides of the foot. Lirssa looked down at her shiny new white skates and pressed her lips together. She had wanted to show them off. Instead, she drew them a little under the bench.

"I thought you would be working today." He started as he took off his gloves to lace up his skates.

"Not today." Lirssa shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "I wasn't sure you'd be able to come though."

"Me? Sure! My parents nearly shoved me out of the door. The only thing standing in my way was the one who brought the message. He wouldn't even give me his name, but he sure was giving me the evil eye." He spat over his shoulder.

A sigh, Lirssa was really going to have to talk with her friends. "Oh nevermind him. He's just an old pal of mine. He gets that way." Jeb had gotten that way a lot more since Rue died.

With a sharp shake of her head, Lirssa stopped that path of thought before it began, it only led to places that made her tremble inside. "Are you ready?" She stood and started tromping through the crunch of the snow.

"Hey, wait up!" Nicholas drew on his gloves again as he trotted after her.

His hand closed around hers and her lungs froze. He smiled and nodded to the ice. It took his leading her to get the feet moving again. Lirssa suddenly felt very clumsy and awkward. Nothing was wrong with her, and yet she still felt all flighty and bewildered.

Nicholas smirked, "I thought you said you had skated before? Or were you telling one of your tales."

That broke the mysterious spell on her, and Lirssa tilted up her chin at the singe to her honor. "Mister Alain himself gave me lessons. There's nothing wrong with me. You just be sure you can keep up."

"Oh, I will keep up. You can be sure of that. I have been skating all my life. I used to play skating games in the iced rivers and creeks in Bavaria. But don't worry, I won't let you fall." He grinned, his hand squeezing hers, and off they went, speeding along the pond, each trying to just push the other one a little more.

The first two turns were wild and full of laughter. People they passed by cheered and jeered the teenagers in their antics, but they paid no mind. They were careful, both very aware of just how far to lean, just when to slow down, and how to use the momentum and weight to make their turns and avoid others.

Lirssa feared her legs would start to tingle soon and warn they would stop doing her bidding, but they did not. Even as they slowed to skate hand in hand, her legs felt fine, almost like that Shade had never hurt her. The memory was there, but it could not even creep up to threaten the moment as if afraid.

"Nicholas, I asked Maman if you could come over for dinner."

She saw him frown a moment, and then smile. "When?"

Not about to let that go, she asked, "Do you not want to meet my family? I've met yours. It seems only right."

Nicholas tugged on his cap and then brushed some of the dark hair from his eyes. "Lirssa, I meant to tell you, but then thought your Pap would. I met him the other day."

It was her turn to frown. She thought about being mad, but it just sat there a disgruntled little feeling. Papa was busy these days. Of course he did not mention it. It was likely in passing. He probably did not even think of it. "Well, then you have to meet Maman. Do you want to come to dinner or not?"

"I said I would, bossy," he laughed, "so when?"

Bumping a hip against his, she answered. "Mittwoch?"

"Ah-ha!" He grinned the brighter. "I will have you speaking fluently to my parents in no time."

"My understanding of the days of the week is not conversational." Lirssa poked at his belly.

Nicholas twisted out of the way of the poke and turned to start skating backwards. "Mittwoch -- Wednesday it is." He pulled her hands hard, drawing her in fast and he kissed her.

And Lirssa was very glad it was cold and misty and snowy and windy, for she might have melted right there without it.
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"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven
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Lirssa Sarengrave
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2011 3:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Don't tell me," Nicholas grinned as he sat down next to Lirssa on the couch at Teas 'n' Tomes, "rope burn."

Lirssa blinked and looked down at her gauze wrapped hands. "Oh, umm, no," she answered. She was not going to go into the breaking of the sunglasses. It led to too many things. She had never explained about her legs more than an accident, and had avoided him much of that recovery time. The recovery was done. Glasses were gone, and she had not seen them in her dreams the night before.

Picking up her hot chocolate--with raspberry--once more, she looked to the windows. "It's snowing a lot more this year."

"So what happened?" Nicholas prodded.

The diversion to the weather not working, she shrugged and smiled to him. "Just rough housing." Rough housing with sunglasses might not be on the top of someone's list, but lies of omission at her soul less. "How's your family?"

Nicholas's dark eyes narrowed a moment. She knew he was thinking of sticking to it until she came clean, so she tried the silent questioning thing, lifting her brows, smiling just a little softer. He then looked down to his mug. "Fine. Cold year, as you said."

The conversation had just started and it already felt uncomfortable. Lirssa looked over the books around them, and then latched upon an idea. "We should go to a flicker show sometime. Dawn Patrol is playing at the multiplex."

There was a brief wince on the young man's face, and he shook his head. "I'm not allowed." The words hung softly between them, like a cover to veil a truer meaning.

It ate at her middle. She was hiding things from him, and she was nearly certain he was hiding something from her. It came to her then, of course, the money. "Well, we don't have to see flicker shows there. You can come over to my house. We can watch flickr shows or play music or Sumar can show you stuff."

"Sumar?"

"My wysebox. He's killer awesome. I use him a lot for school."

There it was again. She felt the blush flood her cheeks when he looked to his drink once more. Another subject that brought uncomfortableness. "Are you making friends?" He asked without turning his gaze.

Lirssa was not quite sure how to answer that. She drank some to give her time to think. "I have met lots of people, but I wouldn't say friends exactly. Nicholas," she leaned her head against his shoulder and pouted up at him, trying to coax out a smile.

And the smile came, reluctant at first, and then he brushed a quick kiss to her pout. "So, let's finish our drinks and you can confuse me with the magic devices at your house."

A different kind of heat tickled across her shoulders and fluttered in her belly with that kiss. "Magic, pfft." She grinned and lifted her head again.

"Are your parents there?" If he wanted to sound nonchalant, it did not pass with Lirssa. She caught the hitch of tone in his words. There was uncertainty there.

Instead of questioning him, because they had enough uncomfortableness for one meeting, she just answered, "Well, Maman is probably in the building somewhere, and Papa might be, too, but they don't hover, ya know."

Nicholas shrugged and then gave her that smile like when they first met, and she knew a net of butterflies had been released in her chest. She felt stupid for feeling that way and tried to wrestle it all back down again. He leaned back against the couch, and she followed suit. They held hands between them, and drank their hot chocolates a lot faster than they should.

It had been a long time since Lirssa felt truly whole. Her father still had some troubles, but she was confident they would find a way for him as they had for her. She had a family, school, dreams, a future, and one really sweet boyfriend. She gave up on trying not to feel silly, and just smiled.
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"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven
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Lirssa Sarengrave
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nicholas thought his shoulders might crack and send a shattering up into his brain. The tension never really went away. The Society's letter crumpled in his coat pocket and each touch of it tightened anxiousness in his head. The city clamored on around him as he walked its streets. The sweet fragrance of hearth cooked dinners were too often undermined by the drifting rank of the city turning from winter chill into mush mud streets.

He followed his feet. They knew they way home. Streets turned from busy to bare as Little Bavaria with its families all ready to gather around their own dinner tables drew up around him. Nicholas stopped and looked at his family's house. It looked so neat and tidy. His carpenter father made sure of that. No one would see from the outside how poor they were. It was in their well stitched clothes, the aching thinness of his parents, sisters, and brother.

The Society had paid. They had paid with each month he had gotten closer to Lirssa. The pay had stopped, and it would not continue until he finished the job. Finish the job, the letter said. He could see the words in his mind's eye. The paper was not necessary, and still he held on to it. He should burn it as soon as he was inside.

Inside where his family waited, hoping his pay would bring more bread to the table. He turned his face to the cold wall at his side and pressed his forehead there.

"Troubles, lad?" The voice approached him from behind, and Nicholas knew the man's without even looking. The Society was hounding his heels.

"You know what troubles."

"Solve them all if you turn over the girl. Finish out the bargain."

"I still don't understand why you needed me at all."

The man grabbed at his shoulder, fingers digging deep. "I don't need to explain to you." And yet he did. "Stupid boy, can't see how well protected she is now? Not the waif she once was. Not that easy of a catch anymore, and she's dangerous. She killed a man, you know."

Every time. Every time one of The Society talked to him, they reminded him of that. Lirssa was dangerous. Lirssa had killed a man. Nicholas jerked his shoulder out of the man's grasp and rubbed where it was sore twice over.

"You made a bargain, lad. We have kept our end of the deal and we will pay the rest owed you. No more dallying. Next Saturday. See it done." The man turned and walked.

See it done. Nicholas choked down the breath he had been holding and turned for his home. The door opened and out ran his youngest sister with her sallow cheeks and hopeful smile. "Nicholas! Mama fixed my dollie!" She held up the battered old doll with button eyes and musty yarn hair.

Nicholas picked her up and took her back in the house. He had to do it for his family. Just one life, he convinced himself, for five. Lirssa would understand.
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"Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against." - David Niven
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Lirssa Sarengrave
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2011 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lirssa checked her cap on her head again, pushing back a curl and then pulling it forward again. Of course, the wind was going to do what it wanted, but at least she could say she looked decent before she left.

The note had arrived at noon. Nicholas wanted a skating date. Lirssa had debated just which skates to use and finally decided on the ones lined with fluffy blue. It had gotten cold again and there was a light snow falling. She bundled up with scarf, mittens, and coat. "Erg," she said twisting one way and then the other in the mirror. "I think the coat is bulky. Well, better puffy than frozen to death, right Dante?"

The greyhound's whip tail brushed along the floor in his excitement. "Too cold for you though, fella. I'm sorry." She bent over to to kiss the top of his head and then give a pat. "But look, I got the talking machine thingy," she pulled out the device Miss Kate called a phone from one pocket, "and I got my key," she showed the greyhound the key Mister Lucky had given her and then pocketed it. "Besides, Nicholas will be there."

The dog gave a mighty whap of his tail and then trotted out of her room with his nose in the air. Dante had gotten very peculiar of late, but she couldn't help it that the weather had changed to cold again. "I'll bring you back something from our after skating treat." She promised him, and she was sure she heard something of a low growl from the hallway in reply.

Another check and she slung her skates over her shoulder. She could hear Maman cleaning up the kitchen from dinner. A jaunty French tune could be heard which meant Raza was likely in his high chair in the kitchen, too. A happy squeal verified that, and Lirssa laughed in her calling out. "I'm going out now! I'll be back in about three hours!"

The giddy anticipation tugged her out the door and down the flight of stairs. She found herself humming that jaunty tune from her mother in her trot down the street. Though the little park where she and Nicholas were to meet was closer to Little Bavaria near the east side of town than the West End, Lirssa was not winded when she drew near.

Nicholas stood just inside the gate of the park. His hat was in his hands, the gloves worn at the seams. The smile was tight, and his eyes kept looking back into the park. Lirssa slowed down. "Something wrong, Nicholas?"

"What? No," his voice cracked and his laugh barely scraped out. "No, just a long day, but I didn't want to miss out on meeting you."

Lirssa shrugged at her skates, feeling disappointed even as she offered, "If you're too tired, we can skate another night."

"Nein, I mean, no. Just, come on in." He opened the gate for her brushing close by her as she passed inside.

Lirssa felt the strange tingling along her skin. She looked down at her legs, daring them to fail her now but then realized it had been all her body that felt the tingle not just the legs. When she looked up, Nicholas was on the other side of the gate and there was a figure coming from the shadows. Nicholas offered up a phone -- her phone to the man.

When the man turned to smile at her around a tangy scented cigar it was very familiar snarling grin. "Good evening," Maudry, the old minstrel man and foot soldier of The Society stood there.

Lirssa did not hesitate but tried to grab for the key in her pocket. Nicholas was forgotten as she stared at the face, smiling and ready to escape it. But the key didn't work. She tried to activate it again. Her heart began to race, and Maudry tapped ash from his cigar on the iron gate. "Clever, hmm? One of our new men managed it. Had to get you here of course without your new friends. Little bit of a magic null you're trapped in. Now, you come along nice and proper." As he got closer, she tried to run back into the park. She could climb the walls. But there was another man and another coming in close, cutting off her exits. Her legs tingled again and she fumbled.

If Maudry said anything else, Lirssa did not know. A sudden sting in her neck and things became very blurry and sounds rose and fell in a cacophonous wash of nothing. The world came to her in brief glimpses, like still photos. She was somewhere, then somewhere else, and only her thoughts and a self loathing kept reason in her mind.
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