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Del was bored. He had no one to hang out with or to call. Alessandri was at a wedding, Kris was spending time with her new boyfriend, and he was left at home with nothing to do. He had tried several unsuccessful attempts at the gym (he was trying to build up some muscles) but had left after 5 minutes, stopping at a pizza place before heading home. Now, 10 minutes and 3 slices later, Del was sitting on a ratty green couch that any self-respecting person would have thrown away. He was surfing through channels, utterly bored of everything he saw.

  He finally settled on a crime show, Criminals on the Loose, and settled back to enjoy watching other people geting screwed over. A commercial came on and Delbert cursed loudly. He hated commercials. He always kept meaning to get that TiVo everyone was on about so he could skip through all that crap. He sighed and picked up another slice; food always made him feel better.

  He stiffened as he heard the front door open and than slam shut. He looked back and saw Alessandri come in, taking off her heels in relief.

 “Whatcha doing?” she asked as she sat down next to him.

 “Nothing much. Just watching TV. What are you doing here?” Del asked. "Wedding over?"
 
 "Yep." Alessandri said, massaging her feet.
 
 "So soon, huh." Del took a bite of his slice.
 
 "Yes, there were ducks." Alessandri replied with an enigmatic smile.

 "Huh?" Del said with a frown. “Are you having another joke at my expense, Lessa?”

 "The park that Beth and Jake had picked for their wedding is apparently very popular with ducks, and since it's early spring, those ducks were everywhere.” Alessandri explained, stretching her arms behind her back. “Even flying overhead, if you get my drift."

 "I do." Del said, snickering at the image. "You get hit?"

 "No, thank God." Alessandri said. "Although I can certainly say it was one of the most interesting weddings I've ever been to. It's certainly memorable enough not to be forgotten anytime soon." She reached for a slice of pizza. "Watcha watching?"

 "Criminals on the Loose." Del said.

  The commercial ended and the show came back on. "This next crime is of a serial bank robber who hit 12 banks over 6 months ago, getting away with $600,000 dollars. A video camera outside one of the banks managed to get a view of the robber for a few seconds. Anyone with any information regarding this man should call this number immediately. There is also a reward for any information that leads to his capture.” The bank robber's face came on the screen for a few seconds.

 "Oh my God. That's Mr. Kowalski." Del exclaimed in amazement, jumping up on the couch.
 
 "Who?” Alessandri asked in surprise. “You know him, Del?”
 
 “Know him? Lessa, that’s my next door neighbor!” Del stared in jaw open amazement at the TV, which had already gone on to another criminal.

 “Are you sure?” Alessandri asked in surprise.

 “*Positive*!” Del exclaimed. “A hundred and ten percent positive.”

 “Wow, Del. You’ve got some interesting neighbors.” Alessandri remarked.

 “I can’t believe Mr. Kowalski’s a bank robber.” Del shook his head in awe. “I guess you really don’t know your neighbors.”

 “What’s your Mr. Kowalski like?” Alessandri asked curiously.

 “He’s a quiet guy, keeps to himself a lot.” Del shrugged. “I don’t actually know him personally, just from seeing him around.” Del paused before adding, “His wife’s in the hospital.”

 “What’s wrong with her?” Alessandri asked, concerned.

 “Cancer.” Del answered.

 “Since when?”

  Del shrugged. “I don’t know. A few months.”

 “Awwww,” Alessandri said, a hand going to her mouth.

 “What?” Del said, surprised.

 “Don’t you get it? Mr. Kowalski robbed those banks to pay for his wife’s cancer treatments. That’s so sweet.”

 “But- he broke the law. He should be punished!” Del argued. “Sweet or not.”

  Alessandri narrowed her eyes at him. She put her pizza back in the box, and turned to him, glaring. “This is about the reward money, isn’t it?” she accused him and Del nodded hesitantly. “Figures,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Damn it, Del! Don’t you want to be a good person?”

  “Um,”

 “Could you honestly live with yourself, being the one responsible for ruining a man’s life and causing the death of a woman? Could you, Del?”

 “Well, no.” Del replied. “But-”

 “No buts about it. It’s the right thing to do.” Alessandri said confidently.

 “I suppose it is.” Del agreed gloomily.

  Alessandri got up. “I have to go. This dress is suffocating me.”

  Del looked at her appreciatively. “I think you look great in that dress.” He said with a smile.

 “Thanks.” Alessandri returned his smile. “But what you see is a result of two months starvation and dehydration. Damn metabolism,” she muttered under her breath to herself.

  When she left, Del was left to his own thoughts and feelings. He really wanted that reward money but he also wanted to be a good person too. He grimaced. Who knew that being a good person meant you had to consider other peoples’ feelings before your own. After a while, Del decided to damn all good people and made a phone call.

Half an hour later…

  There were red and blue sirens flashing silently in the night when Alessandri returned back to Del’s place, dressed in comfortable jeans and shirt. Kristine was with her.

 “What’s going on here?” Alessandri asked curiously as they go out of the car.

  The two girls spotted Del standing on his stoop, biting his thumbnail in excitement. “What’s going on, Del?” Kris asked as they came up to him. Del jumped in surprise, and turned around so quickly he lost his balance and fell on the steps.

 “Ow, ouch, ooh.” He groaned in pain.

 “Del.” Alessandri said slowly, as 2 cops came out with a handcuffed man out of the building next door. “Tell me you didn’t…”

 “I had to, Sandri.” Del said with a little whine. “If I hadn’t called in, someone else would have and frankly, I deserve that money.”

 “So you called the police on that poor man?” Kris said. “Really, Del.” She shook her head in disappointment. She had been told of Mr. Kowalski and his sick wife by Alessandri on the way over.

 “Yep.” Del stood up and there was a huge grin on his face.

 “What are you smiling about, you smug, self-conceited little bastard?” Alessandri said, cursing.

 “The reward money.” Del replied, unfazed by her anger. He was convinced he would be able to win her over.

 “What about it?” Kris asked, crossing her arms.

 “It’s ten thousand dollars.” Del was practically giggling. “Ten thousand- can you believe it?”

 “Small consolation for your soul.” Alessandri said sarcastically.

 “Yep.” Del agreed, not particularly caring about his soul. “And guess what?”

 “Do we wanna hear it?”

 “Yep.” Del nodded his head eagerly. “I’m taking you guys to Halana.”

  The two girls stared at him, than looked at each other. “Seriously?” Kris asked.

 “Yep.” Del’s smile was so wide his face looked in danger of being consumed by white teeth and pink gums. “Me, you two, even John.” He was referring to Kris’s new boyfriend; he knew she would be reluctant to leave him alone for even a day without seeing him. “For two months. Four first-class tickets. I’ve never been to first-class before.” He giggled again. Kris and Alessandri glanced at each other, both creeped out by his giggles; he sounded and even looked like a deranged psychopath in the flashing police lights.

 “What about Mrs. Kowalski?” Alessandri still sounded hesitant. She glanced at Mr. Kowalski, who was now sitting in the police car. As she watched it drive away she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt- she didn’t want to be responsible for his wife’s death.

 “I’ll leave her a little something for the treatments, if it’ll make you feel better.” Del said carelessly, waving it away. “I’m not a complete monster I’ll have you know.”
 “How kind of you,” Alessandri said dryly, though she still felt a little guilty about how it all turned out.


 "We should be ashamed of ourselves," Kris remarked as they went into the house.

 "You’ll get over it in time, and then it just becomes second nature after a while." Del said with a shrug, and closed the door behind him.
Ducks and a Criminal
I came across this a little while while going through my files. It's something I wrote for a writing game a few years back which was fun. I changed some grammar and spelling but not much else. I gotta say, in the self-absorbed world of Del, not much can guilt him.
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The castle was open from Mondays to Saturdays, 7 am to 7 pm. It was a popular place for tourists, an old haunted castle surrounded by legends, tragic love stories, kings and queens and murder. Theodora Farr didn’t know any of this, though. She was still trying to understand how she ended up here, where here was exactly, and where her friends were in this ridiculously huge place. As she walked down the stone corridor, her heels making hollow clipping sounds against the floor, she felt a tiny bit awkward as a few people turned to look at her. So she was dressed in an evening dress in the middle of the day. That wasn’t anything to gawk at. Or snigger at either. Theo reached into her purse, pulled out her cell phone, and tried for the seven dozenth time to call Briony and Adrian. And again, neither answered. She sighed, returned her phone back into her purse, and continued on her way to wherever.
 
Somehow she ended up in front of the hall of the castle, where a series of intimidating steps led down to the ground floor. Taking a deep breath, Theo prayed silently that she wouldn’t trip in her heels and stepped carefully down one the double staircase that led to a landing, and than a grand staircase that led down to the ground floor. When she reached the landing she stopped and went to the window, latticed with heavy beams with the exception of a narrow slit, which she peered through barely standing on her tiptoes. Through it, she could see what looked like a long deserted town, built out of stone and mud. As she watched out a sudden image came into her mind, of a crowd of people standing below the square she was staring at now. Two people were clearer in her mind, of a man and woman, their faces radiant with happiness and love. Everyone seemed happy; people were jostling each other to be next to them, to wish them joy and happiness, and a long marriage. It seemed so real and vivid that Theo had to blink several times till all she saw was the deserted square again. What did I drink last night? she wondered, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. She turned around, planning to search the ground floor for her two lost friends when she noticed a man staring at her. He was standing at the foot of the stairs, a hand on the railing. She stared back at him, a prickling sense of suspicion going down her spine. She went down the staircase, keeping her eyes on the man. His eyes followed her as she went down the stairs and Theo had never felt so exposed in her dress. She couldn‘t help but feel that he was undressing her with his eyes and she felt annoyed at this. Whatever happened last night that brought her here, someone was certainly going to pay.
 
At the bottom Theo went to her left, leaving the staring man behind, and into a room that, according to a sign, was the ballroom, where parties and dances had been held. For what? she wondered, her disgruntlement growing. She looked around, than went across the hall to the other room, a library. Its books were still in the shelves.
 
“Hey, what’s with the fancy clothes?” A teenage boy asked. “Is there like a party going on or something?”

  “Have you seen others dressed like me?” Theo asked him hopefully. He shrugged.

  “There was a woman in this really short white dress-” Briony she thought- “up on the third floor, where the standing armors are. She was like freaked out and all. And later I saw a guy in a fancy suit down in the dungeons. He was looking for a guy in a wheelchair.”

  “A guy in a wheelchair,” Theo repeated. “Thanks.”

  “Hey.” The teenager called after her as she turned to walk away. Theo looked back at him. He blushed under her questioning gaze. “You, uh, single? Or something?”

   Theo smiled at him. “Sorry,” she said. “Already taken.”

   As she left the library, Theo decided to head up to the third floor, to see Briony. Adrian could wait; she had a feeling that he was the reason why they were here in the first place. As she climbed the stairs she noticed that there were fewer people and by the time she got to the third floor she was alone. She shivered in the damp coldness of the place, wished she had a jacket or shawl with her to cover her bare shoulders. What are you up to, Adrian? And why bring us along?

   The third floor was full of armored knights standing along the corridor. Some were holding swords and axes. Theo walked cautiously past them. No wonder Bri’s so freaked out, she thought. I hope she’s alright. Out loud she called, “Briony? Are you here?” There was silence. Theo checked in rooms, calling out Briony’s name constantly. In one of the rooms she spotted another door, cracked slightly open. She went into the room and opened the door, and saw a curving staircase that went upstairs. A slight draft of wind brushed past her, causing goosebumps to creep up her skin, and she shivered again. “Adrian, I will make you pay for this,” she muttered as she went up the steps. It spiraled up into an empty tower. Theo went to the window, looked out. Ten feet beneath was the square roof of a house. On the spur of the moment she dropped her purse below, took off her heels, threw them after the purse, than she pulled herself onto the ledge of the window. She held onto the edge of the ledge till she was hanging by her fingers. Then she let go and dropped to the roof. She landed on her feet, knees bent to soften the landing but stumbled backwards. Theo straightened up, dusted her dress, and went to put on her heels, and picked up her purse. She looked around, looking for a way to get down from the roof. There was a wooden cover over an opening. She dragged the cover back, glanced down, saw a rather rickety ladder leading down. Theo took a deep breath and gingerly put one foot on the rung. She tested it before fully putting her whole weight on it, than she climbed down carefully. She let out a sigh of relief as she touched solid floor.

  Theo glanced around the dim gloom of the room. There was a stove on one end, a table and chairs on the other. Another door led to what she presumed was the bedroom. Theo had to push open the door that led outside with her shoulder before it would open; it had been stuck for so long in the doorway it seemed to have melded in with the walls.. As she stepped outside, rubbing her bruised shoulder, she heard a shriek behind her. Startled, thinking she was in trouble, Theo turned around.

  “Theo!” Briony cried out, running towards her. “Where have you been?”

  “I was wondering the same about you.” Theo said as Bri threw herself at her and hugged her tightly. “Let go, you’re choking me.”

   Briony held her at arms length. “Where have you been?” she repeated. “Where are we?”

  “Ask Adrian.” Theo said. “I’m presuming he’s the one who brought us here.”

  “I’ll kill him.” Briony said with flashing eyes.

  “I’m sure you will.” Theo said absently. “But you’ll have to find him first.” She looked around the deserted town. “So you don’t know where we are?”

  “Lacklan Castle,” Briony said. “At least that’s what the tour guide, Maryellen, told me.”

  “Where is that?”

   Briony winced as if the question had physically hurt. “Almost eighty miles outside of the city.”

   Theo gasped, her jaw dropped open. “I’m going to kill him!”

   Briony looked around her uneasily. “Come on, let’s go. I want to find Adrian before I change my mind.” Bri dragged Theo away, to the direction of the castle. “Do you remember what happened last night? It’s all a blur, really. If I didn’t know any better I’d think that Adrian drugged us or something.” She narrowed her eyes. “Course, I’ve been known to be wrong.”

  “We all have.” Theo said. They approached the castle through the back. “Do you know anything about a man in a wheelchair?”

  “What?” Briony looked at her friend in puzzlement. “A man in a wheelchair?”

  “Someone who saw Adrian said he was looking for one.” Theo explained.

  “Hmm.” Briony looked thoughtful but she didn’t say anything. The two friends entered through the kitchens and passed from there into the great hall. Ignoring two older women who were openly staring at them, Briony linked her arm through Theo’s and said, “Where do you think he might be?”

  “Probably wherever the man in the wheelchair is,” Theo commented. “Hey, why didn’t you answer your phone?”

  “It’s in my purse.”

  “Where’s your purse?”

  “Don’t know.”

   They were silent, the two walking aimlessly around the great hall. “Where have you looked?” Theo asked.

  “Don’t ask me, I wasn’t paying any attention.” Briony shuddered. “I was trying not to. This place gives me the creeps.” She looked around as she said this. Theo privately agreed with her. “I mean, I woke up in a bed- a bed- with no memory of how I got there. Do you have any idea what was going through my mind?”

  “I can imagine.”

  “And then I get these stares from all these people- as if they haven’t seen anyone in a skimpy dress before- Gods, I wish I’d listened when you told me to wear the red one. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about these perverts trying to sneak a peek at my panties.”

   They were close enough to two of these presumed perverts that they’d heard Briony with startled expressions and walked away rather quickly. Briony stuck her tongue out at their retreating backs.

   Theo frowned and smiled simultaneously. “I said you said you weren’t wearing any panties when we left our place,” she pointed out.

  “Shut up!” Briony muttered, face blushing. “So where did you say you looked for him?”

  “Well, I didn’t check out the dungeons,” Theo suggested just as her phone rang. She dug into her purse, checked the caller ID and saw it was Adrian. She answered. “Where are you?”
 
  “Is that Adrian? Let me talk to him.” Briony said, trying to take the phone. Theo had to beat her hands off. “Shh!”

   “Is Bri with you?” Adrian said distantly. Static crackled from her phone.
 “
Yes. Where are you?”

  “Uh, somewhere high up. Not exactly sure which floor.” Adrian replied. He said something else but there was too much static to hear anything.

  “What’s he saying?” Bri demanded to know.

  “I don’t know, there’s too much static.” Theo said irritably. “Hey Adrian, can you-” The line cut off. “He’s gone.”

  “Gone where?” Briony asked angrily.

  “I don’t think the connection here is good.” Theo looked up. “He said he was somewhere up in the castle.”

   Bri sighed. “I swear, when I find that man…” she muttered, letting the sentence trail off.

  “Would you rather stay here while I go get him?” Theo asked her. Bri shook her head and she tightened her hold on Theo’s arm.

  “No, I’d rather not,” she said, glancing around. “Let’s go see what he’s up to now, shall we?”

  “Let’s try the fourth floor,” Theo suggested.

  “As long as there aren’t any knights in shining armor,” Briony murmured and Theo smiled. There weren’t any knights on the fourth floor but it was still dark and creepy.

  “Adrian!” Bri yelled. “Where are you are?” Silence. “This is like a creepy, cheap horror movie,” she murmured, moving closer to Theo. She glanced around uneasily. “Where’s a flashlight when you need one?”

   Even Theo was a little jumpy. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, looking for any signs of Adrian. She figured that splitting up would give them greater ground to find him but Briony refused the idea, citing off plenty of movies where the characters would split up and one of them would end up dead.

  “You watch too much TV,” Theo muttered.

  “You don’t watch enough,” Briony retorted rebelliously.

   The corridor branched off in two. After muttering with each other for a bit the two friends headed down the left. The clicking of their heels on the worn stones sounded ominously in the air, which seemed stifled in the smothering darkness. As they walked Theo had to look back several times; she couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being watched. She looked up at the ceiling but could see nothing in the gloom.

  “What are you looking at?” Briony whispered in her ear.

  “Why are you whispering?” Theo said in her normal voice. “Afraid of waking up the dead?”

  “Don’t!” Briony said in shock. “You’ll- you’ll jinx us!”

  “That’s a first,” Theo said in amusement. “How exactly am I going to jinx us?”

   Briony glared at her. “Just- refrain from saying anything else, will you?” she said. “You might turn out to be bad luck.”

  “Thanks for the-” Theo began wryly but there was a commotion ahead of them. Theo trotted ahead as fast as she could in her heels with Bri hanging onto her arm.

  “Are you sure we want to do this?” she panted behind her. “I mean, running into danger-”

   Theo stopped suddenly and pushed Bri against the wall, flattening herself next to her. Something came rushing past them. It was a man in a wheelchair.

  “Wait up, dammit! I’m on your side.” Adrian’s familiar voiced yelled and he ran past them after the wheelchair-bound man.

  “Adrian!” Bri yelled and chased after him. Theo was still leaning against the wall when something else went past her. Fragments of something odious filled her nostrils and bile rose up her throat. She swallowed hard and slowly went down the direction everyone had gone. As she went she wondered what that thing had been. And who the man in the wheelchair was.

   Theo caught up to everyone soon enough, on a large, round platform out in the open air, hanging unpromisingly over a cliff. Briony, Adrian, and the unknown man were standing at the edge of the platform, with the creature standing threateningly in front of them. It was growling. Theo’s first impression was of a severely overgrown dog, one that towered over her. It had short, matted black hair, and a very short tail, which it swished around. There was something attached to the end of its tail but Theo couldn’t make it out. She looked past it at Adrian, who met her eyes. He mouthed something to her. Go. Away. She shook her head, slowly walked to the left of the creature. She opened her purse, looked for her gun. She pulled it out.

  “That won’t work.” Adrian said dully.

  “Do you have a better idea?” she said irritably.

  “Well, no,” he admitted.

  The doglike thing turned its head in her direction. Theo aimed her gun at it.

  “Put it down.” The creature ordered. Theo was surprised.

  “You can talk,” she said.

  “I’m not a dumb animal.” It growled.

  “Presumptuous of me, I know,” Theo agreed. “What do you want?”

  “You’re having a bloody conversation with something that wants to kill us,” Adrian murmured. “Is the irony lost on anyone else?”

  “The man.” The dog nodded its head in the direction of the three people.

  “You can’t have him,” Adrian said, stepping in front of the wheel bound man.

  “Not him.” The dog said. It took Adrian a moment to realize what it meant.

  “Oh,” he said. “Well.” He glanced at Briony, who hit his shoulder.

  “What have you gotten yourself into, Adrian?” she yelled angrily.

  “Nothing, dammit, nothing!” Adrian said, wincing as he rubbed his shoulder. Neither of the women believed him.

   Theo slowly stepped in front of them, her gun still pointed at the creature’s head.“Why do you want Adrian?” she asked, keeping her eyes fixed on its very black eyes. In its depths, she could see a gleam of red.
 
“Yeah, why me?” he said. “Ouch!”

   Briony had hit him again. “Shut up!” she hissed. “Don’t draw attention to yourself!”

  “Kind of late for that, don’t you think?” he said sarcastically.

   The creature took a step forward.

  “Please.” Theo said as she cocked her gun. “Don’t.” The two stared at each other for a long time, her gun pointed directly at its forehead, inches separating it.

  “Foolish,” it said. “You aren’t afraid.”

  “Of what?” Theo responded. “I don’t know what you are.”

  “I am a hellhound.”

   Even Theo couldn’t think of anything to say to this.

  “Adrian,” Briony said in hushed tones. “Why is a hellhound chasing after you?”

  “Um. Well.” Adrian was trying to come up with a lie.

  “And don’t lie.” Briony warned him.

  “Doesn’t matter,” Theo said. “It won’t stop the hellhound from getting him.”

  “True.” The hellhound agreed.

  “And a gun certainly won’t work on you.”

  “No, it won’t.”

  “So we’re in a bit of a dilemma here,” Theo continued. “I can’t allow you to take Adrian or anyone else. And you can’t leave without taking his soul.”

  “Agreed.” The hellhound said. “Also, you have nothing to stop me. No spells, no protection rites, and certainly no sorcerer or wizard nearby to save you.”

  “Yes. I hadn’t overlooked that,” Theo agreed.

  “Not much of a standoff.” The hellhound drawled lazily.

  “Not much,” she agreed and pulled the trigger. Adrian was ready; he pushed Briony away to safety, turned to the man in the wheelchair and pushed him towards Briony. Something grabbed his arm. He stiffened, turned around, and saw with relief that it was Theo.

  “It’s-” he began but she pulled him along at a run. “Stay with him,” he yelled back to Briony.

  “But-” Briony began to protest.

   Theo and Adrian managed to reach the opening of the platform before the hellhound jumped in front of them. Adrian bumped into Theo when he couldn’t stop in time, pushing her forward. Her forehead bumped into the hound’s chin. A sudden pain seared through her body, like she was being burned from the inside and she screamed in pain as it filled her senses.

  “Theo!’ Adrian said anxiously as she crumbled to the ground, clutching her head. She was panting heavily, sweat beading her face. “Dammit!” he yelled, looking up at the hellhound. “Not her! She doesn’t have anything to do with this!”

  “She’ll be alright…eventually.” The hellhound said. “If the madness doesn’t take hold.”

   Theo’s body trembled under Adrian’s arms. He looked into the hellhound’s dark eyes. He could see his soul being doomed to eternity and his very life seemed to pass through his eyes, some moments going by so fast and others slowing down, like when he was a kid and he and his childhood friend Sam had played together, or specific moments he spent with Briony. All his brilliant moments, all his worst mistakes (and there were more of these then he cared to remember), they all flashed through his memories like they were being rifled by someone else. The hellhound bent its head, its jaws open, ready to take his life and his soul in the process…

   Afterwards no one knew quite what happened. Both Briony and the man in the wheelchair claimed to have seen a blue light hurtling towards them from one of the windows in the castle. Adrian and Theo both remembered seeing a blue light though afterwards was a blur, especially to Theo who was still suffering from the effects of whatever it was the hellhound had done to her. When the light had disappeared and Adrian was able to see again, the hellhound was gone. There were burnt bricks where it had stood. He looked around bewildered, than jumped when he heard a howling sound, like a dog in pain, or anger, or both. It seemed to come from somewhere inside the castle.

  “Adrian?” Briony said in fright as she came over to them, pushing the wheelchair forward.

  “We have to get out of here, fast.” Adrian stood up, shouldering Theo.

  “Theo?” Briony said. “What’s wrong with her?”

  “Thirsty,” was all she managed to say.

  “I’ll have to carry you.” Adrian picked her up in his arms. “You’re heavier than you look,” he grunted, managing to elicit a wan smile from Theo.

  “Where are we going?” Briony asked as she followed Adrian. “And who the hell is this?” She was referring to the man she was pushing along.

  “My car is parked outside, next to the bus,” Adrian answered. “And this is Federico Booth. Dr. Booth, this is my girlfriend Briony Anderson. I’m Adrian Stephens, and this is Theo Farr. She’s usually standing, I assure you,” he joked.

  “Shut up, Adrian,” Briony said crossly. “What’s this all about? And what’s wrong with Theo?”

  “Not now, Bri,” Adrian panted. “Later. I promise.”

   As they reached the first floor, Adrian stopped. “Hey Theo? Can you walk?” he asked her. He didn’t want to cause any attention to them by showing up with Theo in his arms.

  “Yeah.” Theo gingerly stood up. She wobbled a little but she managed to walk with Adrian’s help. They made it all the way downstairs. There was a group of tourists crowding outside when they got out, all presumably scared out by the howling. Adrian’s car was parked in front of the bus. He unlocked it, helped Theo to the front of the car. Then he helped Briony with Dr. Booth, helping the heavyset man into the backseat and folding up his wheelchair with considerable trouble.

  “How the hell do you fold this thing up?” he grumbled, repeatedly kicking the wheel.

  “You’ll break it like that.” Dr. Booth said in outrage.

  “Here, let me do it.” Briony said.

  “No, I can do it!” Adrian said stubbornly.

  “Give it to me!” Briony shoved him away, folded the wheelchair up with help from Dr. Booth’s directions, and stowed it away in the trunk. She settled in next to the doctor while Adrian started the car. To her relief she found her purse on the floor of the car and she picked it up. At least that was one question answered in all this madness. Briony held it tightly as she looked out the window. Somehow, being out of the castle was less comforting than she’d thought.
   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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