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   They had been walking for quite a while and Jason was exhausted. Alexis kept a steady pace, seemingly unperturbed by the physical strenuosity of walking five miles without a break. Occasionally she would cast sideways looks at him and though she never said anything, he had a feeling that she was laughing at him. He gritted his teeth, tried to keep his ragged breathing to a minimum, and continued trotting to keep up with her.

   The landscape began to change. The short, verdant grass gave way to hilly land, covered in rocks and weeds. It was around here that Alexis stopped and Jason sat down on one of the huge rocks jutting out of the ground with relief.

  "We haven't even gone ten miles and you're already beat." Alexis remarked, followed by a tsk-tsk-tsking of her tongue as she shook her head. He scowled at her.

  "Whatever," he managed to say. He rubbed a hand across his forehead. He was dressed in a collarless, sleeveless shirt and knee-length pants he had traded in with one of the village boys made out of a light material he wasn't used to. Jason tugged at his shirt, feeling the sweat down his back, under his armpits, causing the shirt to stick to his skin. He also wasn't used to being this sweaty and dirty either. "Hey, I never asked," he said as he had time to think about his situation. "Why are you going to the mountains?"

   Alexis had uncapped a canteen and taken a swig from it. She offered it to Jason, who shook his head and took out a canteen of his own from his backpack. "I've got my own, thanks."

   She shrugged and returned the canteen back in her bag. "I'm looking for someone."

  "Someone?" Jason said in surprise, wiping his mouth. "You mean there are people who live up there?"

  "People can live anywhere if they can make a living out of it," she told him. "But if it happens to be in a place where bandits and the like can't get easily to, then so much the better."

   Jason looked up at the mountain with wonder on his face. "That must be so cool." This elicited a laugh from Alexis.

  "Only if you don't mind working from sunup till sundown trying to feed your family and provide a roof over their heads." She sat down on a rock opposite Jason, searching for something in her bag. "I like you, kid," she began distractedly. "Maybe it's cause I can sort of relate, both of us being runaways and all, and I guess it's kind of admirable you leaving a comfy lifestyle to chase your dreams. But, you're kind of naive. You really are. Don't get me wrong," she added as Jason frowned, opened his mouth to retort something back, "I'm not saying you're stupid. Just-" she racked her brain for a word that wasn't offensive- "sheltered."

  "And you know this after only an hour of talking to me?" Jason said hotly.

  "I know this after only an hour of listening to you talk," she responded with her usual cool mockery. "Are you really going to try to deny it?"

   Jason pursed his lips tightly and scowled. He couldn't, of course, no matter how much he wanted to.

  "Here." Alexis held something out for him. Jason took it gingerly. It was something wrapped in brown paper which contained a short rectangular bar, brown with bits of something in it.

  "What is it?" he asked, turning it around in his hands.

  "Choco bar," she said, holding one of her own. "They give you a boost, energy wise. You're gonna need it," she added knowingly, taking a big bite of her own. Jason sniffed it tentatively, still not convinced it was something edible. He took a cautious bite, made a face that caused Alexis to laugh out loud. "Your dainty tongue not used to such coarse tastes?”

  "That's not it," Jason muttered rebelliously. "I'm just not- used to it." Conscious of her amused gaze, Jason took a larger bite and chewed. He couldn't help making a face as the taste assailed his tastebuds. It wasn't really that bad, he realized as he finally swallowed. It was a little bitter, a little too strong. There was something in it, an aftertaste that coated his mouth. "What's in it?" he managed to ask.

  "It's made from choco- obviously- and cameen and those green bits in it are shiki herbs."

  "Shiki?" Jason picked at one of the green bits. He put it in his mouth. It was bland.

  "They're herbs that grow somewhere, dunno where. It's supposed to be good for a whole lot of things like headaches and fever."

  "Sorta weird they'd mix it in with cameen," Jason murmured, taking another bite. Cameen, he knew, was a stimulant; it also came in liquid form, which his father often drank several times a day. Jason had sneaked in a sip once, when his father hadn't been looking, though he didn't remember it being so bitter. Maybe it was the combination of the chocolate and shiki that made it so. Jason managed to down the rest of the choco bar down, followed by water, though the taste still remained.

   After their little break, they resumed their course, with Alexis cautioning him against throwing the brown wrapping away. "Why?" he'd asked, baffled.

  "Cause it's plain rude to litter." Her tone was serious when she said this and Jason knew, from her expression, that she really meant it. So he wrapped the brown wrapping and tucked it into a pocket to throw away later. Since Alexis seemed to know their destination Jason followed behind. He was beginning to realize what she had meant earlier when she'd given him the choco bar. Their climb was turning out to be a steep one. Straggling behind,  Jason struggled to keep up.

~~~  
   When they finally reached the top Jason fell to his knees, then spread himself face-forward on the ground. "Agghh." He managed to let out, a weak, ragged yell drawn from the little strength he had left. He had never, in his life, been through anything so physical. His legs were aching, muscles groaning against this unaccustomed activity. After a while he managed to bring himself to a sitting position. His heart was still beating as if he'd been running for his life, trying to jump out of his chest. His throat was sore but Jason had already finished his canteen. As he looked over at Alexis, he could only take a small mean delight as he saw that the exertion had gotten to her as well though she was still standing.

  "W-water," he croaked as she uncapped her canteen and took a swig. She threw it to him, which he caught clumsily and took a grateful gulp of the warm water. There was only enough for one swallow, however, not enough to slake his thirst.

  "Hurry up," Alexis said, recovering her composure quickly enough. Jason didn't move though, still exhausted. "There's a stream further along if you're really thirsty," she told him. As she'd thought that had motivated the young teen. He got up, wearily, and followed along at a slow pace. Jason heard the stream before he saw it, a gurgling welcome sound. The water was cold as he leaned over and dunked his head in. Even Alexis washed her grimy face, rubbing the back of her neck and running her fingers through her hair, which she tied back. As she refilled her canteen Jason was rummaging through his pack, pulling out something wrapped in a blanket.

  "Now this," he said, untying the knot, "is real food."

   His real food consisted of goat meat wrapped in bread and the smell wafting to her nostrils made Alexis' mouth water. When he offered her one she accepted. They munched in silence, savoring the food.

  "Say," Jason said, licking his fingers, proper manners forgotten. "You never said who you were going to meet up here."

   Alexis was washing her hands in the stream again, drying them against her shirt. "Someone," she said vaguely.

  "That's helpful," Jason said sarcastically, though he stopped when she pulled out one of the swords at her waist. He eyed her warily but she took out a piece of cloth and began to rub it along the length of the blade. He watched her for a while, thinking of his own training. He had never been a good swordsman- decent yes, but his older brother could always beat him. Jason’s interests ran more to the tech side of things. Madakis was the growing center of technology and its promise was what lured him to it.
   
   Alexis noticed him watching her. “You fight?” she asked.

  “Not as well as I probably should,” he said ruefully. “No. I’m more into tech.”

  “That’s nice,” she said with disinterest.

  “Yeah. I’m going to become a techno-mage.” He couldn’t help bragging.
 
“What’s that?”

  “Techno-mages can use magic in correspondence with the technological parts of, well, whatever they make. Like the airships, for example. You know what those are, right?”

   The look she gave him could have withered a flower. “Yeah. I’ve been on quite a few.”

  “I-I didn’t mean it like that…” he stammered, feeling his face blushing.

  “So you have magic, then?” Alexis had pulled out her second sword as well, rubbing its blade with the same cloth.

  “A little,” Jason admitted. “It’s not really that much, but-”

  “Show me.”

   Jason hesitated, then reached for his bag, pulling out a bulky cloth carefully folded over. He laid it on the grass, pulled back the cloth to reveal a single gauntlet. Alexis watched as he pulled it onto his left hand, nearly covering his entire elbow.

  “Looks heavy,” she remarked, noting how the weight of his body shifted.

  “A little,” he admitted. “But this is still a work in progress. The next one should be lighter.”

  “So what is it supposed to do?”

   Her curiosity made Jason feel a little more important and he threw back his shoulders a little, unconsciously adopting his father’s stance. He held out the gauntleted hand, palm facing up, and moved his fingers, one after another. It really was very heavy, but with the amount of circuitry he had built into it that couldn’t be helped. After a moment the gauntlet began to feel warm, as the magic he had relocated from his hand to the gauntlet began to move through the circuits, reaching the tips of the fingertips. Gold yellow light began to glow from the tips, concentrating tot he center of the glove where a brass circle had been sown into it. As Alexis watched, the yellow light grew until it became a golden ball floating above Jason’s hand; then he brought his arm back and threw it, the golden ball aimed straight at a boulder some ten feet away.

   Sweat beaded Jason’s brow and he was breathing heavily again. He had to drop his arm, release the gauntlet from his arm which felt slightly numb, and flex his rubbery fingers trying in vain to regain some feeling into them. Alexis, meanwhile, had gone to the boulder to examine the damage done to it. Despite first glance, the damage itself wasn’t as extensive as she’d thought. The golden ball had hit it with enough power to make a deep dent in it but not enough to create any serious damage. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but be a little impressed.

  “Nice,” she said, turning back to him. “If you put a little more power in it, then it would be something to see.”

   Despite his exhaustion, Jason smiled. “Thanks,” he said breathlessly.

  “But when I asked to see your power, I meant your actual magic. Not your techno-magery or whatever it’s called.”

  “I don’t think techno-magery is an actual word,” Jason said heatedly. “And after that, I don’t have the energy for another one.”

  “Too bad.”

   Jason’s brother’s words flew around in his head just than. Women are fickle creatures. Nothing ever pleases them

   He sure knew what he was talking about, he thought sourly as Alexis went back to cleaning her swords.
   She knew she was a little drunk- okay, maybe more than just a little. Her head felt light, like it was detached from the rest of her body, ready to float off into thin air. A small laugh escaped her lips, prompted by absolutely nothing but her own drunken stupidity. Scout knew that this was a bad idea as she climbed the thick stone wall, fingers and toes finding the little niches that allowed her to sneak back in without her grandfather’s noticing she had ever been gone in the first place.
 
Scout heaved herself over the top of the wall, thankful there weren’t any spikes at the top like some of the others on this street. She sat, turned herself around, prepared to jump down the eight feet (technically ten but she had never been good with height or distance) but her vision blurred at the edges and doubled and she lost her balance. The fall cleared her head and gave her an instant clarity, which was stained with the pain of the fall as it blossomed throughout her whole body.

  “Son of a-” she exclaimed painfully, grabbing her arm and clutching it to her chest. She let out a string of curse words as the sharp knife of the pain began to become dull but it still hurt like hell, the shooting pains going up and down her arm. “Do not be broken,” she muttered fervently, tentatively feeling her arm as she checked for broken bones. She didn’t get very far in her diagnosis. Scout heard running feet, someone calling out,

   “Here!”

   Scout glanced up to find herself staring at a very long, very thick leg enwrapped in a dark pants suit. Craning her neck backwards, she saw the leg was attached to a very large man, wearing dark shades (which registered somewhere in the back of her mind as odd; how was he going to see anything in the middle of the night with those things on?) and pointing a gun right at her face. Scout stared at it, uncomprehending at first.

  “Shit,” she said, as she became aware of more men appearing out of the shadows, like ghosts. “I didn’t sneak into the wrong house, did I? Aw, man. Now Grandpa is definitely going to know I was out.”


~~  

   She wasn’t in the wrong house. That fact was confirmed when her grandfather came striding out of the balcony doors, a grim look on his face which soon turned into surprise as he saw his granddaughter hobbling self-consciously between two armed men, still grabbing her arm as she rubbed it. It wasn’t broken after all; it just hurt.

  “Scout?” he said, unable to believe his eyes.

  “What are you doing here?” Scout replied in surprise.

  “What am I-? I live here!” Her grandfather exclaimed.

  “Oh.” Scout glanced at the men. “I was a little confused, see, cause last time I checked there weren’t any armed men around unless I seriously need glasses. Or this some sort of midnight curfew thing you put into place for my benefit? If so, I can’t say much for their abilities.” She laughed at the last part, the drunkenness taking over again.

   Her grandfather stared at her, disbelief and growing suspicion etched on his face. “It’s four in the morning, Scout. Have you been out?”

   Scout opened her mouth, closed it, and wondered what lie could possibly work in this situation. With her father it was easy. He yelled, he demanded to know where she’d been and with who- and then his steam usually ran out. Her grandfather, though, was not like that. At all. Clean-cut, well dressed and well-mannered, he was a lawyer right to the very core of his soul. The total opposite of her father, with his wild temper and loose upbringing.

  “Scout!” He prodded sharply, snapping her back to attention.

  “I was taking a walk,” she said, the first thing to pop into her head. Somehow, she managed not to wince at the absurdity that sentence made even through her drunken haze. Her grandfather’s eyebrows went up.

  “At this time of night?” His tone was obviously disbelieving. Scout shrugged, glanced to her side. The pain in her arm was hurting again and the alcohol was affecting her brain, making it so hard to think clearly. Last time she’d drink so much on an empty stomach.

  “I, um, couldn’t sleep. Insomniac- I mean, insomnia,” she corrected, shaking her head slightly as though that would shake the haze away. Her grandfather frowned down at her, eyes narrowing suspiciously. He took a step forward, sniffing the air, than brought his head down towards her. Scout leaned as far from him as she could without taking a step back.

  “Are you drunk?!” he exclaimed, straightening up and staring down at her with a shocked expression. “Scout, you’re only fourteen!”

  “I was not drinking,” Scout said hotly, a cross look on her face at his discovery. He was definitely going to tell her mom about this, and she would call and yell at her dad convinced he was to blame for her behavior…and however indulgent her father was, this was certainly not going to be one of them.

  “I can smell the alcohol on you,” he said coldly.

  “That’s cause someone spilled their drink all over me,” she said with perfect reasonableness; now how could he doubt that?

   He doubted every word. “What.” he said through gritted teeth. “Were you really doing out at this time of night, Scout? And if you lie to me I will make sure you spend every day you’re here locked in your room with no phone, no computer, and no company.”

   He was in his lawyer mode now, all serious business and calculated moves. His cold eyes bored into hers in what she supposed was supposed to be an intimidating manner, meant to make her nervous and spill her guts. As if Scout were ever that easy to break.

  “Fine,” she sighed, glancing down at her sneakers. She remembered what Tripp had told her once, about telling lies. It was easy to tell a lie based on some truth rather than making up a story and tripping over the details later. Tripp. Tripping. Despite herself, she smiled. Damn, she was drunk.

  “A friend of mine was having some trouble,” Scout said, thinking of the closest friend she had- Leonie- and wondering what sort of trouble she’d get into that sounded plausible. What am I saying? she thought. Grandpa doesn’t even know Lee.

  “What friend? What trouble?”

   Scout literally felt as though her mind had been frozen. What sort of trouble could Lee get into? Then, as though lightning had struck, cracking through the ice and putting the gears in her mind to work- albeit slowly- she had it. “Boy trouble,” she said and then, still loud though in a lower voice which everyone could hear regardless, “yeah, boy trouble. That works.”

   Belatedly she realized she’d spoken out loud. Shit, I am an idiot she thought with a mental kick to her head. Scout chanced a peek at her grandfather’s face. Inscrutable. Ah well. May as well resign herself to the next four weeks of nothing. Or not.

  “You know how it is, Gramps,” she said with a shrug. “You meet a guy, you think you’re in love and then- bam!” She punched a fist into her palm to illustrate the destructive power of that tricky thing called love. “Except, you know, put yourself as the girl and her as the guy and you’ll know what I mean.”

   It was a wonder she could still stand on her feet with all this idiocy she was spouting out. Unconsciously, nervously, she was playing with her fingers, moving them in the air as she talked. Her grandfather was silent for a long while, just staring at her as though he’d never seen anything like her before. Scout stared back, a smile on her face, her eyes somewhat glassy, out of it.

  “You,” he finally said, “are a terrible liar.”

   Scout pursed her lips to the side, scowling. “I’m working on it,” she muttered sullenly.

  “Family trouble, Floren?”

   The voice was male, sounding amused. Scout glanced past her grandfather’s shoulder. Leaning against the balcony doors was a strange man. In her befuddled mind, Scout didn’t wonder what a man was doing at her grandfather’s place so late at night. She only wondered who he was.

  “Who are you?” she asked. He met her eyes and she thought they looked dark-blue from the dim light of the room behind him- or maybe it was green?

  “He’s a client, Scout. Don’t pry.” Floren said acidly. “I want you to go to your room. I will deal with you later.”

   Scout opened her mouth, to protest perhaps? Though no words came out, even before the dark-suited men started to move, like one being it seemed. She didn’t think anything of it until her grandfather, frowning, demanded to know,

  “What’s going on?”

  “Intruder on the west end of the grounds,” one of the men said, a hand pressed to an ear as he listened to something over his headset. Floren and the man exchanged looks, the latter straightening up.

  “I’ll get Ismagail,” he said tensely. His eyes flickered to Scout and a sardonic smile briefly crossed his face, and then he was gone, back inside. The shaded, dark-dressed men were gone as well, leaving Scout and her grandfather alone for the moment. She didn’t know what was going on but even through her haze she knew it was something that made her uneasy.

  “Uh, Grandpa?” she began tentatively.

  “Get inside the house now.” He ordered. Scout blinked, then nodded slowly and headed inside, her grandfather following close behind. She headed in the direction of the stairs but her grandfather grabbed her shoulders tightly and steered her to his office on the ground floor. He pushed her inside, closing the door behind him and locking it. Scout stared at him, blinking, wondering what the hell was going on. Was he going to punish her?

  “Who’s this?”

   She turned around in surprise, her mind always two steps behind everything that was going on. Standing in the spacious study were two men, the one she had seen earlier and another man, dressed like the others in a dark suit and with dark shades covering his face. Scout stared at this man.

  “Why are you wearing sunglasses at night?” she asked, the nagging question finally breaking through the haze.

  “Don’t pry, Scout.” Her grandfather said agitatedly. He went to the bookcase and, to her astonishment, when he pulled out a thick book at one of the lower shelves there was a grinding sort of noise and the bookcase started to move aside. She didn’t realize her jaw had dropped until the man from earlier said, rather amusedly,

  “You may want to put that jaw up, unless you want to look like a fish.”

   Scout stared up in surprise; he had sidled up to her, hands in his pockets and a wide grin on his face. Now that she was close to him, and under the bright light of the study, she could see that his eyes were a brilliant, vibrant blue. He seemed young, dark-brown hair swept untidily to the side of his head, his face clear, and his nose sharp and straight with the exception of the slight bump in the center.

  “Who are you?” she said.

  “Davin,” he answered. “Davin Alisir. And I know you’re Floren’s granddaughter, Danielle’s kid.”

  “Yeah,” Scout said slowly. “I guess you know my mom too, huh?”

  “Only from around,” Davin said with a shrug.

   Scout glanced toward her grandfather, the strange situation clearing away some of the haze, the gears in her mind starting to pick up speed. To her disquiet she saw the dark-shaded man staring at her, scrutinizing her from behind his hidden stare.

  “Get inside, Scout.” Her grandfather said urgently, holding an arm out towards her. She hesitated for a second before taking a step forward, suddenly conscious of the attention being directed towards her. Scout hunched her shoulders forward as her grandfather wrapped his arm around her and pushed her gently towards the room beyond the bookcase.

   It was a smaller room than the study, equipped with a sparse bed in the corner, a refrigerator on the opposite side, a small table and two chairs. She also noted, with a raised eyebrow, a set of shelves tacked to the wall, full of books. “What is this, your private fortress?” she couldn’t help asking sarcastically, staring at the metallic walls. She turned around, to face her grandfather but her eyes were instantly drawn to the man who entered after Davin. She must have missed him earlier- she hadn’t been paying close attention to her surroundings although how she could have missed this was beyond her. The man- she could tell from his physique it was a man- had a mask over his face. It was a scary-looking mask, designed to be grotesque, with a bared mouth, horns jutting from the sides. The eyes within the holes were alive, a bright brown that met her eyes for an instant before turning away. Scout watched as he went straight for the bed and sat down, hunching his shoulders forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he settled for staring down at the floor. Scout frowned, scratched the back of her head.

  “I think I may have hit my head harder than I thought,” she murmured, turning to look at her grandfather. He had locked the way out and now she could see what she hadn’t seen before- a computer screen set against the wall, next to the door. It showed her grandfather’s study and Scout’s frown deepened.

  “Seriously, what is going on?” she asked, looking at her grandfather. Her eyes wandered back to Davin, to the other man, and rested for some seconds on the man in the mask before settling back on her grandfather. His face was set in a grim expression.

  “Why did you bring her?”

   It was the dark-shaded man who spoke, staring at her grandfather. Scout presumed he was glaring at him, though she couldn’t really say with his sunglasses on. Maybe that was why he wore them, so that no one could tell what he was thinking.

  “What did you want me to do, leave her out there?” Her grandfather snapped at him. “She’s my granddaughter, Colfax.”

  “What is she doing here?” Colfax wanted to know irritably, glancing her way. Scout felt her anger flaring- who the hell was he, making her seem like an intruder?

  “What are you doing here?” she demanded hotly, her annoyance getting the better of her.

  “Scout,” her grandfather began.

  “I’m spending the weekend, like I do sometimes- he is my grandfather after all, I get to do that. What’s your excuse?”

   From the corner of her eye she could see Davin’s gleeful grin.

  “You still haven’t explained what you were doing out.” Her grandfather’s stern tone broke through her temporary victory and she winced.

  “We’re still on that?” she said, turning to him with a charming smile.

  “We were never off it,” he told her coldly. Scout’s smile disappeared and she sighed wearily; the events of the night were catching up to her and now her brain was beginning to fuzz out.

  “I told you,” she said petulantly.

  “Why are you wet?” he asked suddenly, catching her off track.

  “Huh?”

  “When I grabbed you earlier- your jacket was damp.”

   Scout was silent, rubbing her lower lip nervously. That had been over an hour ago, she figured she would have been dry by now. Scout rubbed the hem of her jacket, then her t-shirt- it was still wet. Not much now, but still damp enough to be felt. Shit.

  “My friend Lee and I- I told you about her, remember- went for a little swim.”

  “In your clothes?”

   She shrugged. “I didn’t have a bathing suit.”

   Davin laughed.

   Floren frowned at him, as did Scout and Colfax. The man in the mask, she noticed, hadn’t moved from his position at all.

  “I thought you said she had boy troubles,” her grandfather pointed out.

  “I did,” Scout said slowly, brain rushing furiously for another lie- why were they so hard? “But you know how it is. Can’t spend the whole night swooning over a guy. As a friend, I had to get her mind off him.”

  “So you went swimming?” he scoffed. “In the middle of the night?”

  “Why? Is that not allowed?”

   This elicited another laugh from Davin. This time Colfax scowled at him. “Shut up,” he growled.

  “But this is such an entertaining little family scene, Colfax.” Davin said, grinning. “How can I not be-?”

   His words were cut short as Colfax held up his hand, the other going to the headset at his ear. The silence in the room seemed deafening as Scout watched Colfax listening to what was being transmitted to his ear. She glanced at her grandfather and Davin, who both seemed intent on staring at him as though they were trying to overhear what was being said at the other end. She turned her attention to the masked man and saw that he had cocked his head as well, looking at Colfax like everyone else. An intense curiosity burned within her- who was this guy and why was he wearing that hideous mask? Scout sensed something was not right with these people- and what was her grandfather doing with them so late at night? They had to be clients; that was the only logical choice. But why so late, and why that mask? And this place…

   Scout scanned the secret room. This was a safe room, similar to the bunker her father had built beneath their home, but on a much lesser scale. And her grandfather was interrogating her, she thought huffily.

  “Shots have been fired,” Colfax said, bringing Scout back to the present. “Two of ours have been hit, they’re still searching for the intruder.”

  “Just one person?” Davin said with a frown. Colfax glanced at him, face impassive behind those sunglasses.

  “Let’s not start until we’re alone,” he said, and his face pointedly turned in Scout’s direction. She bristled and scowled, and turned to her grandfather.

  “What’s going on, Grandpa?” she asked, a frown furrowing her brow. “Late night visitors, men with guns, a guy in a mask…” she glanced quickly at the man in question but he had resumed his position of staring down at the floor, fingers laced together. “Not to mention this secret room behind your bookcase. A suspicious mind would think that you were into something illegal or, uh, something,” she finished lamely, giving another mental kick to her head. She could hear Davin’s snicker and felt her face growing hot with some embarrassment but she kept her eyes on her grandfather’s, determined to get some answers as to what was going on.

   He met her eyes impassively. “Don’t ask so many questions, Scout,” he said in a voice she knew would brook no more argument from her. It didn’t deter her at all.

  “Fine,” she said, seeing a light in the dark. “I’ll make you a deal. You stop prying into what I was doing tonight and I won’t pry into this- well, whatever this is turning out to be.”

   This educed a raised eyebrow. “I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your wits,” her grandfather said, and Scout sensed a hint of wry amusement in his voice, bolstering her confidence.

  “I can take that as a…?” she prompted, smiling winningly, just about ready to breathe a sigh of relief.

  “You were drunk, Scout.” Her grandfather pointed out, the amusement wiped from his voice, his gaze hardening. She made a face and just barely stopped herself from stamping her foot in disappointment.

  “I told you,” she said petulantly. “Someone spilled their drink on me-”

  “I don’t believe that,” he said tersely. “You sneaked out, Scout, heavens’ knows for what-”

  “I told you,” she repeated hotly, this time stamping her foot.

  “I want to know who you were with, what you were doing,” Floren cut in, ignoring her. “And I know your mother would be keen to know as well.”

   The mention of her mother caused butterflies in her stomach and she swallowed, trying to keep the beating of her heart down. Scout knew if her mother was brought into this, she would bring her father in as well and that would start another bitter argument between them, with Scout and her brothers brought into the middle. The last thing she wanted was to be the one responsible for that.

   Scout crossed her arms, brought her posture up in an attempt to seem confident, undisturbed, cool and in control, but really though all she felt was tired and thirsty and her head ached like something awful. She wanted to go to sleep.

  “Fine,” she said, deciding to call his bluff. “Tell her. We’ll explain how we had this heart to heart conversation in your safe room, with some weird men-”

  “Weird?” Davin murmured with a frown.

  “-and some guys running around the house with guns pulled out and someone shooting whoever moves in sight. I’m sure she’ll want to know every detail. Don’t you think?”

   Scout stared at her grandfather, letting her implied threat hang between them, settling down upon the room like an unwanted presence.

  “Scout,” Floren began, pausing as he searched for the right words to say and that was when she knew she had him over a barrel, in a manner of speaking.

  “I can’t allow that.”

   Colfax stepped forward and his manner changed, suddenly becoming threatening within the small room. Scout didn’t move as he stopped some three feet from her. He was tall, towering over her with broad shoulders, menacing in every sense of the word. The atmosphere in the room became tense, uncomfortable, and Scout’s grandfather took a step forward.

  “What are you doing?” he demanded sharply, eyes flickering from him to his granddaughter who seemed small and fragile compared to him.

  “I can’t have anyone knowing we were here tonight, Floren.” Colfax said.

  “No one will,” Floren said. “Will they, Scout? You won’t say anything about what’s happened tonight. About any of this.” He glared at her, his eyes boring into hers. She met them with a contemplative gaze of her own- Scout had heard the worry in his voice and that was enough to alert her that this guy, Colfax, meant serious business.

  “Scout!”

   She shrugged. “If we keep to our deal then yeah. I won’t say anything.”

   Floren grimaced and ran a hand through his thick cropping of gray hair. The gesture reminded her of her father when she had him at his wits’ end. The similarity almost tugged a smile from her mouth.

  “Don’t you have a lot of confidence,” Colfax said acidly and this time, Scout couldn’t help but smile. She just shrugged, her eyes quickly passing over Davin and the masked man. They were both interested in the exchange and as her gaze flickered over the masked man’s gaze, their eyes met. This time he didn’t turn away, meeting her scrutiny head on.

  “What are you going to do?” she said to Colfax, still keeping her eyes fixed on the man in the mask. “Are you going to hit me? Kill me to keep my silence?” She tore her gaze away from the mysterious man and back to Colfax. She really wished he would take those sunglasses off, it made it hard to tell what he was thinking.

  “Scout,” her grandfather said agitatedly.

  “What, Grandpa? I’m sure he’s not going to do anything.”

   Hopefully.

  “I mean, if he’s your client then it wouldn’t be in his best interest to hurt me.”

   Don’t call my bluff on that.

  “Of course…” her eyes traveled across to Davin and the masked man speculatively and she was unconsciously rubbing her chin. “I don’t think you’d be a client. You look more like a bodyguard. Maybe you-” she addressed a startled Davin, “or maybe it’s the guy in the mask,” she ended sarcastically.

   The silence in the room grew, like the wings of a bird spreading out to take flight, except this one had nowhere to go. Scout kept her gaze on each of the four men: her grandfather was agitated and angry; Colfax, about as easy to read as a piece of chalk; Davin looking both troubled and bemused, the easy, carefree persona he had presented earlier now replaced with a regardful look which made the already apprehensive feeling churning in the pit of her stomach grow a little more; and the masked man, no different than before except for the probing of his sharp brown eyes.

  “Tell me Floren,” Davin said, his mischievous, playful self returning to the forefront. “Is she anything like her father? Because if so, then I can’t for the life of me see why you wouldn’t like him.”

   Scout bridled at this. “Hey,” she said, her temper getting the best of her.

  “I’m just saying,” he drawled, shrugging his shoulders, smiling in such an infuriating way that she could have kicked him. Instead she settled for giving him her most scorching glare and turned her head, greatly vexed. Scout heard a laugh, a short loud one like the sudden yapping of a small dog. Thinking it was Davin laughing at her, she turned, mouth open to castigate him but was stopped short when she saw that it wasn’t Davin- he looked just as surprised, staring to his right where the masked man was sitting. Scout followed his gaze and saw the masked man in the middle of taking off his mask. He ran a hand through his dark hair and looked up, the mask laid haphazardly on his lap. Scout stared, and stared.

   One side of the man’s face was a grueling mess. The skin looked like it had been melted, and then pitted and scarred over. It was a stark contrast to the other half of his face, smooth and untouched. It was the profile of a man who could have been very good-looking as a whole but now had to settle for a sort of gory captivation that enthralled and shocked at once. Scout found herself mostly fascinated; her eyes trailed over every surface of his mutilated face like she was committing it to memory. With a sudden start she realized everyone was staring at her intently and she met the eyes of the man whose disfigured face she had been staring so raptly at. A bitter smile was twisting one side of his mouth, his eyes filled with sarcastic emotion and she understood that he was waiting for her to react- with disgust? Repulsion? No wonder he wore the mask, though she didn’t understand why he would choose one as ugly as the one he had.

  “So I guess this is what happens when you mess around with fireworks, huh.”

   The sentence just popped out of her mouth, apparently the only thing she could think of that didn’t sound stupid. At least not inside her head. There were very few moments when Scout just wanted to disappear into thin air with embarrassment. This was one of those moments. She could feel her face turning red and she fidgeted uncomfortably.

  “Sorry?” The man said, a cold note to his voice. Scout smiled sheepishly, still blushing.

  “Uh, I didn’t mean it-” but stopped, the words jumbling behind each other into a mess. She licked her lips, tried to think of something appropriate to say and came up with nothing. She shrugged and decided to plunge for it. Perhaps Colfax would do her a favor and kill her quickly anyways. “There’s a friend of my Dad’s, my uncle Calis but he’s not my real uncle- anyways, his whole face is all burned up, kind of like yours. It’s because he kept messing with fireworks and one day it just blew up in his face…” her voice trailed off. Where was she going with this? How many mental kicks would she have to give herself before she would learn to just shut up?

   The man stared at her and she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. She averted her eyes, studying the expressions of those she could read. To her irritation Davin had a wry smirk on his face- did everything seem to amuse this guy? Colfax, as impenetrable as ever- her grandfather, worried, weary, looking haggard and old.

  “So, uh…” It was on the tip of Scout’s tongue to continue that remark about fireworks but she stopped herself in time. Instead she rubbed the back of her neck. “I guess we have our deal than?”

   It was more of a question but the bravado from earlier had left her; a good night’s sleep would restore some of it, she was sure.

  “You were drunk, Scout.”

  “Why are you so stuck on that?” she griped impatiently.

  “It’s the middle of the night and you were out, and I want to know where you were.”

  “No,” she said stubbornly. “You want to tell me what’s going on here?”

  “Oh, enough already.” It was Davin. “This was amusing at first but now it’s going to be tedious.”

  “Mind your own business, Davin,” her grandfather began coldly.

  “Hard to do when we’re all stuck in this small, very cramped room,” Davin pointed out. “And besides, she’s a teenage girl, Floren. What do you think girls her age are up to?”

   Scout frowned at this. As if that would make things better. “What is that supposed to mean, girls my age?” she demanded.

  “Boys, makeup, clothes,” Davin said casually, ticking them off. Scout stared at him, as if he were some sort of alien creature.

  “What are you, stupid?” she demanded.

  “Scout,” Floren reproached.

  “Boys and makeup,” Scout continued, scowling. “Is that what you think girls think about?”

   Davin flashed a smile that held none of the charm she had seen earlier. “Only the ones who come home in the middle of the night drunk.”

  “And what are boys up to when they come home in the middle of the night drunk, yeah?” she demanded.

  “Sports and frogs. Obviously.” Davin answered with a laugh

  “You’re an idiot!” Scout said furiously. Floren seemed as if he would rebuke her once again but changed his mind; it wouldn’t do any good the mood she was in.

  “Fine,” he said reluctantly. “You win, Scout. I won’t tell your mother about your sneaking out in the middle of the night and coming back drunk but only-” he emphasized the word to let her know he was serious- “if you don’t tell anyone about what happened tonight, or about any of the men you met. Not your mother, your father, your brothers, or any of your friends. Understood?”

   Scout nodded, relieved. “Understood,” she said though she knew she was going to tell Lee about all of this when she had the chance.

  “Do you swear it?” Floren insisted.

  “I swear it,” Scout lied, annoyed.

  “And if you don’t, you’ll answer to me.” Colfax threatened. Scout just stared at him with an expression close to disdain.

  “Yeah, I got it.” She said.

  “And while I may- let this incident go, you’re still grounded.” Floren added.

  “Of course.”

  “And as for the matter of your friend- Lee, was it- I don’t recall you ever mentioning her at all before. I’d like to meet her.”

  “Well, you’d like her. She’s a very charming person.” Scout said, thinking of all the possibilities that would go wrong with that scenario.
 
  “I’m sure,” Floren said derisively.


~~~ ~~~
Originally, I planned in participating in NaNoWriMo this year- especially since I haven't done it in a while and, as every November comes by, I always promise myself I'm going to do it this time and key myself up as I try to figure out what I'm going to write for it. When the first day of November came, though, the eagerness was gone and I just didn't feel like writing at all especially with work and some personal problems that dampens the eagerness and willingness to want to write. So I resigned myself to another Novemeber coming and going and a half-hearted promise to try again next year. Anyways, earlier today, I was thinking about another story I had been working on a while back, a bit of sci-fi and fantasy and following different characters with different stories set in the same universe. As I was thinking of one of the characters, bits and pieces of different scenes started playing in my head and for some reason, I just started writing in my computer the first thing that popped into my mind and started going with that. So I guess I am starting NaNoWriMo after all, about 3 days too late and only 1763 words in. This should be fun

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weaveroffantasy
jasmin
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:iconsoubixloveless:
SoubixLoveless Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2013
Thank you for the fave :)
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OrokSzerelem Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2012  Student Photographer
Thanks for the :+fav: :)
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rubbaduckart Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks for the fav!
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SierraRange Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thanks for looking at mu photos and picking a favorite! Keep up the great writing on your web page!
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weaveroffantasy Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2012
Aww, your welcome :) And thanks!
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sheorun Featured By Owner May 23, 2012  Student General Artist
Thanks a lot for faving!! :huggle:
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cupcake-rufflebutt Featured By Owner May 11, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks for the fave on my Terra costume! <3
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weaveroffantasy Featured By Owner May 11, 2012
Totally worth the fave!
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Marine-chan Featured By Owner May 4, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for faving! :heart:
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DarthSlatis Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2011  Student General Artist
If you're interested, the next section for the Teahouse fanfic, 'Virgin Heart' is up. [link] :la:
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