Dead Man's Party

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Lady Entropy
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 25 Sep 2010 18:43

E porque o Nano 10 está aí a chegar, e ainda tenho olivro do Nano 2009 todo para por aqui...

EDITADO: Capitulo mudado porque me esqueci do interlúdio que devia ir aqui!
:td:

Interlude

Each breath is pain; each motion, exquisite agony.

I am going into shock, betrayed by my body, which contains such immense power, but at the same time was so frail – so… human.

Lying in a broken heap on the floor, I struggle to set my thoughts in order, but for a moment, my mind seemed to shut on itself.


… Get up!

Two words, that I keep repeating again and again, like a mantra. I don’t know why, I just know they are important.


… Get up!

It takes me a few seconds to realize what they mean, to associate meaning to the jumble of sounds, and even then it doesn’t make much sense. I am tired. Why should I get up? It hurts to move, to breathe, to think.

GET UP!!!

My mind somehow manages to kick off the fuzziness and focus, although thought seems like a grindingly hard task. I have to get up because I am dying. I have to get up because, if I stayed there, I would definitely die.

I am 17, it is too soon for me to die. I still have a whole life in front of me. I can’t die just yet. It isn’t… right.

A whimpering sound escapes my lips and somehow, I manage to open my eyes and rise enough to stand on my hands and knees. It hurts. I look around, and I see it. The room is a sea of blood, and it’s spread every where.

Sancte Michael Archangele…

My screams fill the room, hysterical and high pitched.

… defende nos in praelio...

I see it, from the corner of my eye, but the horror is just too much to take.

Contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium…

She is a broken thing. An arm severed lies but a few meters away, and I can only think that she won’t be able of playing the piano again with just one arm.

Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur…

My mind is broken, and I can’t stop screaming, even though I can’t even hear my own voice any more.

Tuque princeps militiae caelestis…

She is dead.

And I’m going to be next.

…Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos...

The Other stares at me with eyes full of red malice.

I hear myself asking, stupidly:
“W-what are you?”

…qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo divina virtute…

It looks at me and smiles, purring obscenely happily, finding a new toy in me. It tosses her body to the side, as if she was nothing but flesh. Nothing but a pile of tissue and hair and bones. But she is not. She is precious, and priceless, and unique. I love her, and nothing in the world can ever replace her.

… in infernum detrude…:


“Why, child… I am whatever you fear most.”

I think I am screaming.

But

I

Might

Just

Be

Dying


… Amén.
Last edited by Lady Entropy on 27 Sep 2010 03:31, edited 1 time in total.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 26 Sep 2010 10:49

E para me redimir da minha preguiça, aqui está, mais um capítulo. Engraçado, agora passado dois anos, já não me parece tão horroroso como me lembrava...

Chapter 10


The first sense that came back to me was, for some strange reason, smell: I could smell sulphur, I could smell concrete dust, and I could smell burning wood and spilt candle wax. Still dizzy from the impact, I tried to figure out which way was up and which way was down, but with limited success. My ears were ringing from the explosion, and my vision was blurry, but I knew better than to groan. My mind adapts quickly, and I was blessed with being capable from going straight from “asleep” to “fully awake” without a middle ground, a trait that has served me very well. A second or so ago, I was out cold; now, I was fully aware of what was going on – even thought my senses were too fuzzy to make out the who and the what, I knew better than to groan or show signs of life. I let myself lie on my side, bidding my time, waiting until my body recovered enough for me to assess my surroundings more effectively.
The radio silence. The explosion. And nowI could sense, rather than hear, footsteps, careful, well-trained –and a lot of them. Someone very with a great amount of experience had just exploded their way into my secure suite. My first thought was: the Wolves. They came to capture me. If the group that had just broke in wanted me dead, I would be dead already, all they had to do was increase the dosage of whatever explosive they had used to blow a hole on the exterior of the room, and I would be going the way of the dodo. Or they could just have shot me in the head while I was out cold. No, this wasn’t an assassination attempt. And this totally smacked of Wolf tactics. Wolves are team players. On their own, they are formidable as is, thanks to their Were genes, but their cunning and skill shone through when they worked together. I recall having already mentioned that many Wolves made bundles of money by going corp. Those who had no inclination for the crunching of numbers usually employed themselves as enforcers for their more cerebral counterparts, giving a new meaning to hostile takeovers. Their “intervention” teams could put (and often did) their official and military counterparts to shame. That was why my first bet was the Wolves. But why now? Why not somewhere else? While I was at home, while I was isolated? Why here, where a lot of people were around, where my own team was close at hand? Why not just call me for another meeting and overtake me there? Taking on a sole magic user is far easier than to take on a bunch of them, which was the case right now. The Weres would know that. They’d isolate me and strike at me as a pack. But this… no, there was something very wrong here.
Sound returned next, and I could hear voices, quiet, subdued, but issuing sharp orders. This was a team of trained professionals.

“Two minutes. Move.”

Two minutes? Was that how long I had been out? They clearly weren’t interested in me, so I risked opening one eye very slowly to have a peek…

… only to find a team of three men staring right back, with their guns very ostentatiously pointing at me, and the faint reddish glow of laser sights seeming to be aiming somewhere to the general region of my upper torso. They had very clearly seen me open my eyes, which meant any attempt at playing dead was now compromised.

"Sir, we have a live one. Secondary objective has not gone down."

Oh, yes, secondary objective was live, and in pain, and starting to be incredibly pissed off. Of course, she was also smart enough to know that moving a lot and threateningly while three guns were being pointed at her was a very bad idea. So, I let myself to be on my side, breathing slowly, trying to figure out what was happening. Keeping calm with three high calibre weapons trained on me, however, was not easy, and I was having trouble overhearing something above the incredible deafening sound of my heart beating in my ears.
Say what you will about magic users, a bullet can still put down as easily as the next man – that is, unless we are ready for it. As an esteemed colleague of mine often said: “The motto of smart mages and boy scouts everywhere; always be prepared.” I felt pretty stupid about now, because I had indeed prepared for every contingency except that of a physical attack.
Things were slowly coming into focus. I wasn’t the main objective. I was the secondary goal – they had said it themselves; which meant that they were there for some other reason. And there was only another person with me in that room.

The Other.

Another background sound came into focus. The Other was roaring, slamming against the containment field of the circle. Something was happening. They wanted him, and he didn’t want to go. At first, I had thought that my worst fears had been confirmed and that the demon wasn’t being particularly worried because he knew he was going to get freed sooner or later. Now? I knew that whoever these people were they weren’t here to help him. I had also begun to suspect they weren’t the Wolves, because the more I watched the soldiers in front of me, the more I saw they lacked the instinct, the pack mentality. These men, whoever they were, had awesome training, and were all clearly extremely experienced, but they didn’t move as one. They needed to inform each other of what they were doing. Little gestures, nods, words – it all gave them away. Wolves don’t need it. A shift in the stance, a motion, a lack of it, was all that they needed to read each other’s intentions and convey messages.
This meant that there was a third player on the table. And right now, to my great frustration, I had no idea who that player was and what they wanted the Other for. Maybe it was the parent of one of the girls in search of revenge? I’d have to check their files. If any of the parents of the girls had enough clout or money to hire a team of pros like this, it should be easy to find out.
Of course, this brought forward a new problem; I couldn’t really let them have him. It. As much as I could sympathize with a need for revenge, if such was the case, I was also certain that they couldn’t handle an Other properly. They would let it close to females, he’d entice them and things would spiral out of control. I could always pray that the hypothetical vengeful father with the deep pockets had also taken care to hire a skilled demonologist, but that would be putting my hopes on a wing and a prayer. And, when Others are involved, that is a very stupid thing to do.

I could feel time trickling away. They were on a tight schedule, and they knew that, soon, my own people would be here with a vengeance and a barrage of spells. I heard the Other roar again, and, fighting my better judgement, I lifted my head, trying to see. As one, the three men watching me put their guns at the ready, very clearly and menacingly sending their message that I should go back to lying on my side. I did manage to notice that they were still trying to figure how to handle the circle – and that one of them had exchanged his issued submachine gun for what I was pretty sure was a tranquilizer rifle. Being a skinwalker meant his human body was, for all purposes, human, even if it was stronger, faster and outright meaner. Hence it could also be affected by a powerful tranquilizer. As things were right now, the circle was keeping the Other contained, but it was also protecting it – they could shoot at the thing and all they’d get were bullets ricocheting all over the room. This circle had been set so that if, by any miraculous event, he got out during my interrogation, I could always step into the circle, close it again, and I would be protected from him until someone came to my aid. Therefore, it would resist any physical or magical attack you could throw at it.
Of course, these were smart men. It was just a matter of time for them to realize that all they needed to do was breach each and every one of the five concentric circumferences. They had probably been expecting a normal circle, and had been surprised to find out that just opening a breach on the outermost circle had done nothing to prevent it from working.
Now, one thing I was certain of. This wasn’t an inside job. If it had, these men would have been far more careful with me. The public in general that was aware of my true line of work thought I wasn’t a magic user, but rather an experienced analyst and Seer. The people who worked with me, however, knew otherwise. They knew I could use the Supreme Art, but that I didn’t for reasons I never cared to explain. And only my few and closest friends knew that in fact, my reasons not to use the Art was because I suffered from a magical affliction that made it using it quite... risky. But they also knew that if pressed, I would use it, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
Which meant, if any of the people closer to me came to hunt me down, the first thing they’d do was to disable me; if not permanently, then at least long enough so I wouldn’t be capable of interfering. This, in turn, meant that these men believed me to be nothing but a pencil pusher, unable to do anything about the three submachine guns now pointing at me. I wasn’t having illusions here, things were tense. And, while I was fairly sure I had moderately good odds of making out of this alive, I also knew they were here to take the Other with them. And that I simply couldn’t allow.
Some scholars defend that there are as many types of magic as there are practitioners. That it’s like any other art, all about personal taste, training and personality. Some use pre-made rituals, other amulets, other artefacts. Others summon the gods or the spirits or their ancestors or even denizens of the other Realms to do their work for them.

Me? I prefer a more direct, albeit more dangerous, approach.

I exhaled softly, keeping the men watching me in my sight, and focused in feeling the energy feeding the circle, a never-ending supply of power keeping it up, to let it affect the physical world as well. It linked directly to a ley-line, a Dragon Vein, and that connection would be my ticket out of here.
With the skill of a master weaver, I shifted the source from the circle and rerouted it into me, as I visualised in my mind a matrix of changes in the reality of this room. If this room, and everyone in it, and every single element of time, space and fate, of matter and living organisms contained in were a computer program, I was now rewriting it, adding some mean code lines. Most wizards of my school of thought could store magical energies into themselves and then measure and use it at will, according to how complex the change in reality (i.e. spell) is.

I didn’t have that option any more.

There was a muffled cry of surprise when the thin reddish bubble that surrounded the Other simply shattered, the very moment that the energies feeding it shifted to me. Obviously, the Other was still trapped in it, contained by the unbreached circle, but it now was vulnerable to physical attacks. However, I could already feel the mighty wave of energy rushing to me, filling me, and being automatically discharged into the spell I had woven into the reality of this room – I winced when I tasted blood in my mouth, and realized I had accidentally bitten my tongue with my effort to keep myself very still and not use my usual words to focus the spell. There was no control, no measure. All I got immediately from the ley-line was discharged, and I could swear the world shifted on its axis, as a massive rumble drew the attention of everyone in the room. There was the sound of twisting metal, and there was so much I could do not to cry out at the sheer might of the wave of energy leaving me and spreading, like a tidal wave, in every direction. I had been aiming for a spell that would knock out everyone around me. Instead, I could hear the rhythmic shattering of windows in every nearby room, as the shockwave hit the walls all around us. The sound of grinding metal grew louder until it became deafening, and I felt the ground beneath me shudder and give in – on the other side of the suite, I heard it collapse into the floor below, as the room danced around us. I had a moment to bless Ben for thoughtfully thinking of clearing the floors above and below.
My heart beat deafeningly in my ears again as I protected my head with my arms, keeping a nervous eye on the main walls – I had timed the connection with the ley-line to the best of my abilities, but there was so much control I could have. If I had powered the spell with enough energy to cause structural damage, then I would have just carved our very literal grave.
The rumbling stopped, and I dared a peek.
Nobody was standing – hardly a surprise. The floor had given in in a smaller area than I expected – possibly a place already weakened by their explosion. I staggered to my feet, and noticed the Other with glowing red eyes, staring back at me. Surprisingly, it looked relieved, immediately restarting to pound against the still raised barriers of the circle. His nature kept him trapped there, even if physically it was no longer active.
I really needed to congratulate whoever had raised that circle. Ground zero for an destructive spell that had caused this kind of damage, without powering from a ley-line, while working only at four fifths of capacity – it had not only held on, but it also was still up, and, moreso, it worked perfectly.
And now I had to release the Other. It twisted my stomach to do so, but I had to pray that it actually meant me no harm. I hesitated for a moment, but I knew time was running out. Our attackers had kindly given me an justification for the massive explosion that had damaged the hotel, with their thoughtful use of plastic explosives. They’d probably need a bit of explaining to do to just how they had managed to demolish an entire room, but it was not my problem. However, I couldn’t be associated with this. At least not directly.
With my foot, I cut the continuity of the four remaining circumferences, holding my breath. The Other immediately jumped out, grabbed my arm hard enough to bruise it and broke into a sprint, dragging me along, stumbling and coughing. At the end of the hall, the stairwell door crashed open, revealing the figure I quickly recognized as Ben, heavily armed and accompanied by several bulky men. He looked relieved, didn’t wait for any explanations, and, instead, grabbed me by the other arm, and started to rush me downstairs.

“We’re all set to go. The police are on their way, but we have a clear exit. I wasn’t expecting this to happen, but I had things ready just in case.”
Nodding and coughing, I continued to run, while trying not to fall down the stairs, as they led me to a lower level garage.

I was now seriously reconsidering my refusal of asking Dee to give Ben his raise.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 27 Sep 2010 03:32

Chapter 11

Adrenaline junkies will tell you that when your blood is pumping at full force through your veins, that when your heart is beating so fast it seems it’s going to explode, that when your system is being shot full of endorphins, it’s when you’re at the peak of your abilities. It’s when you think and react faster; it’s when you enter “the zone”, where the world around you comes down to a slow motion, and you’re acting before everyone else. Having experienced myself such highs frequently, I have to say I do agree, and there is nothing like a few jolts of adrenaline to make you capable of things you’d never think you had in you.
However, what they forget to tell you about is the afterwards. When the adrenaline is gone and it takes your strength with it, to the point that you can no longer stand on your own. The buckling of the knees, and the terror of the “I could have died back there!” The shaking won’t stop for long minutes and you’ll spend the next few moments trying not to weep in front of other people.
As with anything else, handling this was a matter of habit; I had been in enough “life and death” situations to know how the high and the crash felt. I could handle myself moderately well, and so, I had, until this moment, avoided the weeping and whimpering part. I’m fairly sure that everyone in that car would have perfectly understood if I had, and they would gallantly offer kerchiefs, or turn their faces so I could have my privacy. But I had always loathed showing weakness, so I maintained my composure – with great effort, I might add. Instead, I simply pretended to affect a great exhaustion, making a big show of closing my eyes and resting back against the comfortable seats of the car, as it sped away from the hotel. I couldn’t prevent the shaking, however, even thought I was trying not to show too much. The only person who realized it was the Other, who hadn’t let go of me since I had freed it from the circle, and was now embracing me tightly around the waist. Ben had tried to remove it from me, and had nearly lost his nose for his troubles. I didn’t feel comfortable either, but I was just too weary to care right now. If the Other had wanted to eat me or get me pregnant, he had had plenty of chances to do so already, so, I figured that dropping my guard for a few minutes while I gathered my wits wouldn’t doom me.
I trembled and the Other squeezed my waist, as if trying to comfort me. Puzzling, to say the least, because Others aren’t human, and emotions are something completely alien to them. Ben kept looking at the demon with murderous eyes, so, to reassure him, I placed the silver handcuffs, which I had put in my pocket earlier on, on the boy. It didn’t complain, but it would be awkward to walk with him when we got out of the car. It ha absolutely refused to let go of me, so I had to put them on it with its arms around my waist.
I didn’t know where we were heading, but, frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t want to think again on the fact that my magic was out of control, that all my skill had been reduced to praying that I had dosed the energy enough so instead of blowing up an entire building I would only devastate an entire floor. At times like this I felt tired, so very tired. Strangely, feeling the Other with his arms around my waist made me feel somewhat comforted and I wound up resting my hand on his soft golden curls. I liked to believe I wasn’t a whiner, as we all have our crosses to bear and our demons to wrestle, but I was starting to feel weary with my lot in life. Yes, I know, bad things happen to good people, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, etcetera, etcetera. It did little to comfort me or pull me out of my sour mood.
Someone’s cell phone rang, but I was determined not to be pulled out of my little moment of sulking, so I firmly kept myself entrenched in my “not here” moment, unsure of what I actually was going for or hoped to accomplish, but still determined to keep it up. At least, until I managed to stop trembling and regained my composure. Different people handle fear in different ways, I suppose.
Ben answered it, and was talking quietly, when I suddenly realized he was now holding it right under my nose: “It’s for you.”
“Huh?” Which on hindsight was not the most terribly clever thing to answer. I should have also stopped to ask who it was, and why had that person called his cell phone to talk to me. Of course, hindsight has 20\20 vision, and for that reason, I found myself holding the cell phone and talking: “Montenegro here.”

“Your cell phone is off.” The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it just yet. Oh, well, use the ages old technique, keep the other person speaking.

“Yes, it was involved in a minor… happening.”

“Minor happening, you say? Would said ‘minor happening’ be when you blew up your hotel room about 20 minutes ago?”

“Who is this? How did you get this number?”

”Oh, so when you call us to get someone released in your custody, you remember us, but when we want to know what you just got yourself into, it’s ‘who is this?’.”

Ah.

“Look, I don’t know what you were told—”

“Actually, that’s the thing, we weren’t told anything. And we would very much like to know.”

“Is this line secure?”

“…”

“What? I thought I should ask!”

“What. Happened.”

Long story, and I wasn’t sure I wanted them knowing it. I didn’t even know the person I was talking to. It seemed that I had managed to draw the attention of the government with my first call, and now I could expect them to be nosing on my business constantly. “This wasn’t connected to you or your employees.”

“I’m aware of it.”

“But you still want to know.”

“I still want to know.”

“I had an—“ I was going to use the term ‘Other’ when I realized he probably didn’t know what an Other was, so I hastily corrected myself “—a minor demon. I was going to interrogate it and place him a few questions and—“

“He was the person you needed released from custody this morning, right?”

“Yes. Anyway, this was just going to be routine procedure. We decided to run it outside our headquarters for… safety.” Which was actually the truth. Even if not in the sense I was letting out.

“Go on.”

“Well, things were going to start, and we had sealed the entire area with just me and the…subject. Our communications were going offline every ten minutes, for three-minute periods. And during the first radio silence, some commandoes or something blew up a hole on the side of the building and rushed us.”

“And what did they want?”

“Apparently, the demon.”

“What for?”

“Beats me. I do know they didn’t want me; nor did they want me dead.”

“Was it them who caused the damage on the building?”

“I wasn’t packing any explosives, I assure you.” I was, again, dodging the direct truth, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing the secret of my magical affliction.

“Hm. Do you have any idea who might be behind this?”

I admit I could have shared with him my opinions about how this hadn’t been a Wolf job, but the less people connected me with them, the more likely I could keep my own past hidden from prying eyes. Besides, knowing who it hadn’t been behind it wasn’t really helpful. “I have no idea, but I have been wondering if any of the girls, ah, impregnated by the demon had particularly vengeful and wealthy family who would have endorsed this, and hired some mercenaries to capture it, and then taking it to them so they could destroy it, and very likely torture it.”

“That doesn’t sound very likely, now does it?”

“Not at all. However, I couldn’t think of a better hypothesis.”

“Hm. Send me the names of all the girls you retrieved, I’ll run a background check on them and see what I can come up with.”

“Gee, that’s awfully nice of you.”

“Don’t go there. The only reason why am bothering helping you with this is because I don’t want strangers chasing you around with explosives, blowing up houses, or distracting you people when you should be getting ready.”

Getting ready for what? I could almost guess. Someone in the government worried about my well-being, and who had Dee’s assistant phone number. I wasn’t going to luck out on this one. The Red File was coming.

“I don’t even know your name.”

“You don’t need to know my name.”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to know.”

“… Send me the names. And get a new cell phone.”

I knew I should know better than to have juvenile teasing contests with the liaison to the government, but it was stronger than me. I confess that I always had problems with authority (something I had very likely picked up while growing with my father). Of course, there was so much I could do and act childish before I started to hit the tasteless and stupid levels, so I reluctantly reined myself back: “Can I get an email contact to send the names and whatever information we have on the girls?”

A brief hesitation: “Sure. I’ll text message it to your number, so, like I said, I advise you to get a new cell phone fast.”

“Will do. How long you think it will be until you have some results?”

“A few days. I’ll have to run thorough checks. Families with ties to dirty money or with access to the right people usually don’t let it shine in the IRS declarations or their bank statements, so I’ll probably need to dig a little deeper just to make sure there aren’t any secrets.”

“Thanks.”

That seemed to surprise him. Good. Serves him right. “—You’re…. welcome?”

“Talk to you later, then.”

“Later.”

I handed the cell phone back to Ben. “At this very moment, I will settle for a nice bath, and a place to sleep.”

“And at this very moment, I would love to give them to you, but first we need to get you checked by a doctor. You might have a bust eardrum and a cracked rib, so we are getting you patched up first. Food and sleep – later. Mr. Rawling’s orders.”

So The Boss already knew. Swell. Why did I now feel like the little girl caught with her hand on the cookie jar?
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 27 Sep 2010 03:33

Note-se que me esqueci do interlúdio antes do Capítulo 10, por isso tive que andar a editar isto tudo para pôr as coisas no lugar.

Amanhã há mais coisinhas boas!
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Lady Entropy
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Posts: 1094
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 28 Sep 2010 20:26

Chapter 12

Three days in the hospital had been enough to turn my sour mood to outright despair. It’s not that they had treated me badly, and, despite the fame the media gave to it, hospital food is perfectly edible. Its only problem resides in it actually being healthy. Even thought I can be considered a difficult patient, I was pretty sure I hadn’t really needed to spend those three days there. I was slightly banged up, but none too worse for the wear, and the batteries of tests and exams they submitted me to were absolutely unnecessary. I might not be a biomage, but I am fully aware of how healthy my body is, and how much damaged I suffered. I knew I had to thank Ben for this lovely waste of time, although I suspected that he hadn’t acted on his own. Dee had certainly had his hand on it, I was sure. He had wanted to keep me out of sight, and the hospital was the best place to do so.
I did feel slightly betrayed, because he was supposed to be on my side, and he knew how much I hated to stay still whenever I had serious problems in hands – I just wanted to jump into the fray and start setting things right. And, boy, did I have a lot to set right: first of all, an overly affectionate Other was clinging to me, I had Wolves waiting at the door, and someone wanted my aforementioned Other badly enough to stage an attack during broad daylight, in old downtown – with the aid of explosives. Not to mention that I had had the unofficial confirmation that a Red File was coming.
Of course, not all was bad news. Since the police hadn’t dropped by yet, wanting to know what was my involvement in the little matter of the explosion of the Genebra Hotel, I had to assume that either Inês had done a stellar job of covering up (if so, she deserved some kind of award) or someone else had been briefed to take my place in the incident, pretending she had been the involved party.
Fortunately, I was now free and off to pursue my many troubles. And the thing deserving my most immediate attention was the Red File, hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles, just about to fall. Tim was handling the Wolves; my nameless liaison to the US government was trying to figure out who could be behind the attack I had just suffered; and there was nothing I could do about the Other, who was now practically attached to me. He already had made a lasting sensation among the nursing staff, who just couldn’t resist his boyish charms and good looks, and thus allowed him to remain in my room most of the time. I had spent the better half of my forced imprisonment researching and inquiring near experts about my rather unique predicament; most of them were surprised to even hear of an Other binding itself. After checking a bunch of old records, it turned out that our contract could only be dissolved if both parts agreed, willingly and under no duress. My demonic partner didn’t seem willing at all to be parted with me, which meant I was stuck with him until he underwent a change of his little black heart. So, to all purposes, I was now mystically married to a guy who had to follow every single one of my wishes and commands, would die to protect me, and didn’t want to leave me. I had found the perfect husband – and he was a demon with the body of a 16-year-old boy.

Whoever says God has no sense of humour clearly has no idea what they’re talking about.

What I had feared was now happening, and I had started to humanize the Other. I knew his name. Valen. It’s hard not to at least give an identity to the creature who sat next to you for entire days, even when your best friends weren’t there, because they were too busy cleaning up the mess you had done; the same creature who would fetch anything you so much hinted you might desire (I still have to figure out how he managed to scrounge up cherries in wintertime); and would sit outside your window, in the December cold, during the night. I knew I was going to regret it. I knew he had something up his sleeve, which I couldn’t see just yet. Even so, I softened up. I knew I was making a mistake, but right now I couldn’t be arsed with it. I decided to solve my problems as they came along, and waiting time worrying about what could happen would be a fool’s errand. I did make sure to give him orders concerning him hurting, possessing, mangling or seducing anyone while he was bound to me, and he gladly swore anything I’d care to throw at him. It was too comfortable, too convenient and too easy to grow accustomed to.

When things finally went bad, I was going to miss him.

Do note that I said “when”, not “if”. That is because this is an Other, and I knew this little arrangement had not happened because of my amazing personality or adorable self. He had second, third and fourth intentions, and it was just a matter of time until I found out which ones. Until then, I’d just have to endure his company to the best of my abilities, and try not to get too fond of him. Killing someone you care for will make anyone pause and hesitate, and that is a very sure way of being the one wounding up dead instead, especially when said person you’re trying to kill is a demonic denizen.
When I finally got released from the hospital, there were teary and emotional nurses all around us, but I was quite sure it wasn’t me they would be missing. I watched the smug 16-year-old at my side as we walked out, and I wondered if he had somehow managed to circumvent my direct orders and used his powers on the nurses. Still, I had seen enough bespelled females to know how they looked, and these ones just seemed to be suffering from a massive, but still human, crush. The problem with having spent the last few days in a hospital was that free time was running out. I was out of the frying pan into the fire, having to dive head first into the issue of the Red File, without any middle ground or time to set my life in order. The team had already started to gather and set the matter in order and I was the only member of the debriefing team missing.
One thing I had to be grateful for, I thought as I waited for the lift to take us to the appropriate floor, it was that, apparently, this time we wouldn’t be trying to close down a portal to hell. We had been hired to indeed close the damned (no pun intended) thing, but Uncle Sam forgot to tell us that not only was the portal open and active, but it was also belching out imps and other nasty critters with clockwork precision, and which were now infesting the nearby region. Thinking we were going for a purely scholarly pursue, which was what we were ready for, we found ourselves instead fighting for survival and cleaning a mess that had left a mark on the survivors that had lasted to this very day. It had been a massacre, and it was a miracle that so few of us had died. This was the reason why a Red File was news received with dread and expectancy, and despite everything, and the perks and the payment, we also had deep down inside a sort of obligation to set things right. The thing that kept me up at night, when I allowed myself to think of those days, was that knowing how much the military love their secrecy, and their “classified” files, and their “no comments, ma’am”, and the whole “need-to-know-only basis” thing, they must have lost quite a few of their people before they gave in and asked their superiors to bring us into the fray. Each and every one of those people who died before we got to the matter was a human being who was loved by someone, and whose loss left an unfillable void.

Yes, emotional and probably overdramatic to worry so, but it’s these things that let me know that I’m still human.

I left Valen sitting at the door of the meeting room, instructing him to behave and not harass, seduce or otherwise bother any female coming around. I knew leaving him outside wasn’t going to make much of a difference, as he’d wound up knowing what was happening, as we were practically married. As a familiar, he was entitled to be around me at all times, or he’d be weakened and could possibly perish – a breach of the contract from my side. And I hadn’t started to explore the possibility of us having some connection that would allow him to mentally unite himself to me. Until now, I hadn’t felt anything strange about my mind, and I was quite sure that my mental defences were all and working, but I’d have to investigate t further.
No, what led me to leave him outside was first of all, a sense of professionalism, and no matter if he eventually got clued on what was going on from hanging with me or reading my mind, I knew I would have tried to respect the wishes of the employer. Furthermore, it allowed me to feel I still held a measure of power and control, something I was desperate for, with the events of the last few days and everything. After a few more recommendations for him to behave, I closed the heavy doors behind me and faced the rest of the team leaders and heads of section all gathered up. After everyone was assured I was quite healthy, the meeting resumed. The debriefer was Marcus, who, I have to admit, was possibly the most competent and efficient person in that entire company. He was envied by most of us (myself included) because, in the hodgepodge ensemble that is this company, where we were slowly driven insane by our job (if we weren’t so to begin with), he was a sea of calmness, self-control and friendliness. In high school, he probably was loved by the girls and hated or worshiped by the guys, seeing the interminable list of qualities he seemed to have. It always made me wonder how the hell someone like him wound up with a bunch of misfits like us, and why he seemed to be so interested in hooking up with me, one of the greatest misfits around. When everyone was settled and listening, he continued: “As I was saying, I have already taken the liberty of assigning teams, which you’ll find a copy of emailed to you, and organizing a schedule for the journey… In the meantime, and seeing we’re all here, we might as well start with the procedures and open the file.”

The silence grew solemn, pregnant with expectancy. While I was lost in these thoughts, Dee got up from across the table, and let a red folder hit the glass table. The environment subtly but noticeably changed, and tension could be felt in the air, as if everyone in the room collectively held their breaths. Even if we all knew it had been coming the moment the debriefing had been called.

Even if the folder was an ordinary thing, even if the sheets inside it were just as normal, even if it had been one of our staff who had set it up and placed it in one of the red folders we bough as office supplies, it still managed to exude an aura of menace.

We all knew what that red folder meant.

Sleepless nights. Anguish. Fear. Dread. An almost unbearable tension on all of our resources, monetary, material and, more importantly, human.

This was a summons from the government, a Red File, as we had begun to call them. At first, the red was only associated with the urgency of the project. There were a lot of red files, and orange and yellow and blue files. But then, after the first two government-endorsed cases, the red files became Red Files instead, and no other case ever warranted that red-coloured folder. Soon after, and with some morbid humour, we began to hint that the red could also be from all the bloody mess they entailed – and the blood everyone working on the field would be shedding for it.
It was of little comfort knowing that the government hated using our services as much as we hated receiving a Red File: it meant they had run out of options or ideas. Unfortunately, it could also mean that they knew it was an ungodly mess. If things went sour, they couldn’t be anywhere near ground zero, and they needed a fall guy. Deniability and all that jazz. And we all know how the government hates to share secrets. Sending us to a mission involved sharing a lot of those lovely secrets, so, the higher ups were probably quaking in their expensive boots in outrage of having to come clean with us. Which, obviously, they never did.
I’m sure they could find someone else to do the job if pressed for time and need, but they knew, as well as we do, that we are good at this. We are, not to sound immodest, the best people for the job, in a field where capable workers are exceedingly hard to come by. This also put some pressure on us to accept the assignments, as knowing that few others could do the job tugged on our professional pride.
A few more lazy seconds trickled by. Nobody really wanted to reach for the folder, and I couldn’t help but being amused by it. This company had been founded on secrets, far more secrets that one can imagine. While they don’t keep us afloat on their own, they do help, and they can be almost considered the heart of the entire organization. And, if secrets are power, then every man and every woman sitting around that table was incredibly powerful. Hence my amusement at the sight of so many powerful people held at bay by a small stack of sheets and a folder.
It hit me, then, that I was one of them.
That stung my pride, and so I was the first to give in, wordlessly reaching for the folder. It wouldn’t vanish, no matter how much we wished it; so, I might as well start dealing with the fact that, for the next few weeks, our lives were going to be hell. I opened it, read the first sheet, typed neatly, with the brief summary of the job at hand, and handed it to Marcus, who, obviously had already been briefed by Dee about it.

“The US government has charged us with investigating what transpired two weeks ago, in the Ski lodge Aspen Ski. A party of close to 30 guests died with apparently no struggle during the course of a night.” My voice sounded steady, calm, and the more I realized that the job seemed harmless and straightforward, the more I was certain something bad was going to happen. I was starting to feel dizzy with fear, and Marcus must have realized I was on the edge, because he immediately took over:

“There has been yet no clue to the causes of death, although from what I could determine from the latest news, they are making it pass for an avalanche that hit the unsuspecting retreat where they were partying.” News clippings and images of the locale were showing in the large screen at the head of the table – and then being reproduced in our own laptop screens. He took a moment to glance around the room: “Originally, it was believed that only one person escaped the event unscathed. Later, when the coroner’s on the locale were retrieved, it turns out that that person showed up as one of the deceased, and taking into account who it was, two different specialists were asked to confirm the death. How that person is now managing to walk around quite happily is incredibly baffling for those who pronounced him dead, and to the military investigators who are certain that no-one else managed to make it out alive. More so because he claims that he never was on the area – or to know what happened, when there are two photographs that say otherwise. Said photographs were, of course, seized already.”

He looked at us, as the face of a preppy young man showed in screen, as Marcus cleared his throat: “The sole survivor is Jordan Smith-Rhys, son of the president of the United States of America.”
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Lady Entropy
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 30 Sep 2010 10:26

Chapter 13

The room erupted in questions: what could it be? Had he been medically tested? Was the president aware? What where the biometric readings? Could it be a doppelganger? Or was it some plot to introduce a changeling into the midst of the White House? Perhaps the Fae were making a grab for power? Or could it have been a shapeshifter? Could the photos have been tampered with?
Marcus tried to regain control of the room, and, after he finally managed to get some silence, he had to admit reluctantly “At the moment, we’re not allowed to even so much go near to the boy. From what I can read of this situation, probably even the president is not aware, as to avoid panic.” The collective expression in everyone’s faces expressed very clearly what we thought about the whole ‘Need-To-Know-Only” bullshit that the government seemed to be so fond of. The president could have God knows what under the same roof as him, and yet they insisted in keeping him in the dark to avoid causing trouble. Isn’t that grand of them? Control at any price. Personally, I could see where they were coming from, which made me feel guilty because I had pulled stunts like that often before (and then some) – like the way too frequent times I had used people as bait. Of course, if I can say it to attenuate my circumstances, I never placed anyone in a situation that I wouldn’t be ready to place myself in too. Shades of grey and all that. Of course, what I guessed that was really bugging the team was not the unawareness of the public in general (I do believe I have mentioned already we tend to be a less than nice, bordering on the sociopath in some cases, lot). Rather the fact that, the more they hid from us, the more time we would waste on wild goose chases. And the bigger the odds were of us going ill-prepared into a situation, and suffering heavy losses. All of this could be avoided if they so much bothered to warn us about what to expect. Plus, preventing us from talking to the main witness of the entire thing was going to hinder our efforts.

“The president is doing a tour of Europe currently, so him and – whatever his son is right now, being together under the same roof is not an issue for the next few days. However, we really need to not focus on that line of investigation, because they made it plenty clear that it they wouldn’t let us go there, at least not just yet. Instead, we should just rather start focusing on the incident at the ski lodge. If we can figure out what happened there, maybe we’ll also manage to get a clue to what happened to the boy.”

“Any ideas on that front?”

“We have autopsies, analysis, lab results for soil and air studies. Same for food, clothes, anything in that room that could have been used to deliver a biological agent.”

“And let me guess.” Richard chimed in “All inconclusive, no trace of poison, biochemical weapons, or any other thing that could be found in a laboratory.” He smirked “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have called us.”

The conversations resumed, quieter this time, everyone eager to check their copies of the reports, hoping to find a clue that everyone else that maybe missed. Obviously, it was a flimsy hope -- taking into account who was involved in this whole ungodly mess, I was willing to be that those reports had been scourged by the best experts dozens of times, and no matter how many times we tried to check it, we’d still find nothing out of the ordinary. No, our goal was different. We couldn’t think like the chemistry and biology experts (they had us hands down on their fields of expertise); we had to think as supernatural experts, because that was what we were. We could see patterns where no-one else could because we knew what we could find.

“So, the president’s kid – shapeshifter, dopplegän—”I begun.

“Don’t go there.” Marcus cut me mid-sentence. “If we start wondering about that one, we’ll become frustrated and become solely obsessed with the only line of investigation we can’t pursue right now, and very likely disregard obvious clues in front of us. Patience, please.”

I nodded. “Sorry. You’re right. My guess is they’re processing and investigating the guy right now. They are keeping us at an arm’s length until they are done with him. The whole ‘avoid panic’ thing doesn’t sound right, even for them. Eventually, and when they are done with him and manage to find no clues, they’ll let us have a swing at him.” There were a few murmurs of agreement, and it earned me a grateful look from Marcus for not making a fuss. I was furious, but I didn’t want to take this out on him, as it clearly was not his fault.

“Let’s work on what we can pursue right now. So, hypothesis for such a death en masse? What could have caused this?”

“Death spell, maybe? Curse?” Someone suggested.

“Doesn’t explain how the son escaped, but let’s start on that. Although curses might not work that well – targeting about 40 people of different backgrounds and bloodlines, who probably, until that day had had nothing in common? Don’t think so.”

“Magical infection? Or perhaps something in situ?”

“Poltergeist?”

“Could be.”

“A Dream Denizen could have achieved a similar result, if pressed to it?”

“A Denizen? Wow, you’d have to have some dreamer next door to get one to manifest and kill off so many people at the same time.”

“Maybe that’s why the kid escaped, could be that he was the anchor?”

“Hadn’t he shown up dead first…and only then apparently came back to life?”

A dozen voices rose, each trying to throw its idea to the smouldering fire pit that was our minds working together. Most people who hadn’t worked with us yet would probably be confused and a whole lot frustrated, but we had been doing this for so long that we had no problem understanding each other, even amidst what seemed chaos. We used each other’s ideas and suggestions as building blocks and foundations for more ideas, finding possibilities that we probably wouldn’t have achieved on our own. This is why team work (with a very good team) always compensates.
Marcus, god bless his heart, knew us long enough to know when the Mages started to chatter to let us just unload all we have and grab whatever good ideas went in passing. Even though Dee employed many people with many talents, the strength of this little team rested mostly on us; weirdness magnets, supernatural geeks – if something weird was happening, we were bound to have heart of it or of something like it. We were the scholars, the warrior poets, and knowledge was our greatest weapon… except when we went postal and started to line up the fireballs. Okay, so maybe I was throwing a blanket statement here. As time went by, and we grew in power, we started to develop our little quirks, our little habits – our own style. Some of us solved things with fireballs, others by more subtle means. I mean, I would never see Richard going off and starting to burninate someone who had pissed him off. Rather, it would be something long-term and subtle, involving misery and an incredible string of unfortunate events. I suppose our magic does reflect us: some will solve a problem with an immediate roundhouse to the jaw; others will boil your beloved bunny and serve it to you as lunch.
This colourful debate went on for a few hours, until we started to recognize the first signs of “running out of juice”, when we basically began to repeat what we had already stated before, in an attempt to squeeze some more ideas, but clearly not achieving anything else that hadn’t been said already, in shorter sentences and less pedantic wording. The next step would be testing our hypotheses on the field, while those with a fear of flying would stay back and conduct research, to see what things new they could come up with. And in a few days, we’d gather again, share discoveries, throw some more logs of knowledge into the big melting pot and, again, set the world of ideas on fire.
And of course, poor Marcus had to endure it all, patiently, remaining the silent, calm partner, who caught the important ideas and wrote them down, while we flung them at each other like proverbial monkeys and their poo. It’s not as if we minded having non-Art users in those brainstorming meetings, but most of them wound up either confused or absolutely uncomfortable, so, as time went by, the “strategy” board would be comprised usually exclusively by the Mages. Plus someone stable and reliable like Marcus, who managed to take the raw ideas and polish them into veritable gems. Moving with a comfortable grace, he set his hands on the large table, watching the clipboard where he had jotted down all of our ramblings: “So, it seems we have possibilities of a curse being used to affect a great deal of people at the same time. Richard, I will leave this to you and your team. I’m sure you can better than anyone determine if the Fates were summoned to bring misery to all of these people at the same time. Then, we have Death Magic. Who wants to tackle it?”

He was a natural born leader, with a tendency for excess cleanliness and compulsive organization, but it was good to have someone like him around. Even though he was a unit leader (and not a Supervisor, which he could have achieved easily, if he had just to ask), he was possibly the best man Dee had in pay. I distracted myself watching him and thinking, while chores where divided by teams, and I wound up missing my name being called.

“And low-level infestation? Any takers?” I heard Marcus say.

Might as well go for it. If I didn’t, they’d probably figure out that I had been distracted doing something else rather than paying attention, like, say, spending a lot of time admiring our debriefer. “I’ll take it, if no-one else wants it.”

“Hm, Ms. Montenegro…I was actually counting on you to join my team. We’re going for another line of investigation.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Demonic interference.”

Awesome. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

“You think this might have been a contract by someone on the people in the party as a hole?”

“It might very well be.” He nodded “Whatever killed those people, did so without a trace. And that requires a whole lot of power.”

Bastard. He knew how much I hated the Others, and yet, he knew I couldn’t refuse his request. I owed him for many months of cooking and doing the dishes. “Alright. I’ll see what I can do.” I wanted to add ‘even thought I’m pretty sure we have better demonologists on retainer’, but I couldn’t be that disrespectful to someone I liked and was indeed deserving of my respect. I wondered if he actually needed me, or if he just wanted me to be close to him.

“Seems that’s all for now. We can continue this in two days. Thanks for attending.” A cacophony of chattering and chairs dragged across the floor muffled his voice, and as I rose as well, he managed to somehow make himself hear over the noise: “Camila? If I might have a word with you before you go?”

I nodded, and we waited until everyone was gone so we could speak without having to shout at each other. “Yes?”
He didn’t answer, not straight away, anyway, and instead reached for a lock of my hair. It seemed for a moment that he was going to tuck it neatly behind my ear, but instead, he drew it to his lips. “I know I shouldn’t have dragged you to my team. But I feel safer with you under my protection.”
He knew I was a Mage, and yet he wanted to protect me? Yes, he knew that I didn’t use magic much, which possibly meant he thought I couldn’t do it at all. It was sweet, but I kept a severe and detached look. “I understand and thank you for your concern.”

God, if he only knew how much I wanted to hug him right now.
Finally, he released my hair and tucked it behind my ear, as I had thought he would do originally, and he leaned forward to brush his lips against mine. There was so much I could do not to jump him right there and then.
I knew he was attracted, and I was just as much. He respected my wishes to keep this behaviour out of the house. He knew I’d leave if he pursued me there, my little hidey hole. But outside the house, all bets were off, and he was relentless.
Unfazed at my lack of reaction, he ran a thumb over my lips, and murmured. “We should get ready. The helicopter is waiting for us.”

To take us to hell, I grimly considered.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Lady Entropy
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 01 Oct 2010 12:33

Chapter 14

“He wants you.”

These words made me turn around sharply on my heel, half surprised, half offended, and my eyes met Valen’s. It was the first time he said anything that insightful, having kept until then most of his speech to sweet little nothings, relying more on body language to convey tenderness. It dawned on me, then, that it was just a very effective way to soothe me and assuage my fears. And now I had realized just how much of a fool I had been. Valen wasn’t some sweet 16-year old cherub, despite looking so. He was older than I could imagine, and ancient knowledge shone in his eyes.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I sprouted before I realized how foolish I sounded. He was a Breeder. Sex drive was his field of expertise. And I was coming across as being in complete denial.

A blond eyebrow rose, slowly, and I expected a sneer, but he shrugged, looking very much like a normal teenager angel (wait while I try to make sense out of that last statement) and hopped to his feet, the silver handcuffs jingling on his wrists. It was an odd sight, and I wondered how it would look like to normal people outside. “If you say so.” He held one of my hands between his. “Shall we?”
And this is where I got stumped. I had totally forgotten about him. I couldn’t leave him behind, but it felt slightly wrong to bring an Other to an investigation that would target finding out of his kind were behind what had happened. It would be like bringing a mobster to an investigation of corruption charges. But it wasn’t as if I could put him in a closet and hope for the best.

“Why did you bind yourself to me?” I asked, unexpectedly. I had wanted to ask this question for a while now, but, until now, I had yet to have the chance. Not surprising, taking into account the rhythm that my life had taken in the last few days.

Another shrug: “By binding myself to you, you can’t banish me.”

“Oh, come on. You could have put up a fight and get your body killed. Unpleasant, yes, and would keep you away for a few weeks at least… but better than losing your free will.”

“You’re a powerful Weaver, you’re unclaimed and I… have my reasons not to want to be sent back home.”

To think that demons could, like us, have troubles with each other made me smirk. For a moment, I wondered if they also got police officers, or maybe creditors who they had to run from. And overprotective mothers, and clingy girlfriends. Despite everything, I couldn’t avoid getting terribly amused by the notion, and it, possibly, showed in my face, because Valen was staring, and he seemed puzzled. “Have I said something funny?”


“I was just wondering…”

“What?”

“Never mind. Hm. We’re going to the snow… do you get cold?”

He watched me with visible reproach as we walked out, clearly showing he expected me to know better: “My body is, to all purposes, human. Of course, I get cold. It can die, can’t it? And I can also die of exposure, by the way.”

“Well, I know your body is human… I just thought you could choose to use your powers to protect yourself from the cold…”

“I usually use a coat for that.” He seemed mildly offended that I’d suggest him to use his powers for such a mundane purpouse. “Besides…” he emphatically shook his cuffed wrists, clearly indicating he couldn’t actually tap his powers while wearing them. Oops.

I sighed “I suppose we’ll have to do some shopping for you at the airport.”

Together, we walked to the helipad on the top of the building, where Marcus and his team were already waiting for us. I wasn’t surprised he was taking his usual partners, because they did handle most of Other-related problems. They had been the ones in duty when we had come across Valen the first time, less than a week ago – it hit me then how long ago it seemed that it all had started, when but a few days had gone by since. Mathew, John and Luke, lead by Marcus: it hadn’t been long before people remarked how the four bore names of the followers of Christ. Likewise, it hadn’t been long before they earned the nickname that they now couldn’t get rid of – the Apostles. It was slightly amusing to notice that the Apostles normally handled demons too. I didn’t spend much time knowing them because my past encounters with Others left me with little taste to pursue that line of investigation. And, hence, their company. They had an amazing knowledge of the subject, and most of the times, they were the ones the Dee resorted to for specialized opinion on the matter. They also kept mostly to themselves, which I couldn’t fault, because if I had been taking the cases they did, I wouldn’t be feeling like socializing a lot.
The journey to the airport was eventless, but it did let me discover an interesting item I had never even so much as considered. Valen was afraid of flying. During the entire helicopter flight, he hid his face on my shoulder and grabbed my arm so tightly, that I was sure that nothing short of a crowbar would pry him loose. Things were going to get interesting when we got to the airport. Turns out his fear was a blessing in disguise because the handcuffs had to come out before check in, and we would have a lot to explain if we insisted to take a cuffed teenager in the plane with us. As time went by, I started to be almost sure that whatever he had planned would not involve mangling or mauling me or seducing me – at least not as of yet, so maybe the cuffs could come off without me worrying about it. Or perhaps he could wear both in the same wrist. Far easier to disguise.
The journey was uneventful, and midway through it, Valen relaxed enough for me to recover feeling on my arm again. That the hostesses were charmed with him and would drop by our places at any excuse probably helped him. He felt clearly more comfortable when surrounded by females. Very likely, since they’d do anything for him, like an unending line of disposable bodyguards.
Marcus shifted at my side, drawing my attention. I gave him a sidelong glance and noticed his eyes were on the Other sitting quietly at my side, smiling faintly at the air hostess who was trying to draw entice him with offers of coffee, tea or juice. There was something in my roomate’s eyes that seemed akin to distaste, and I couldn’t fault him, even though I had been growing fond of the boy. I would never forget the pain and the blood and the red eyes of Them – and to my anything remotely related to the Others left me with a mix of loathing and a sick feeling to my stomach. I had done my best to avoid that aspect of field work. Being in the field, seeing what they did, the depths of perversity and hatred and the pain they inflicted should be more than enough to keep anyone up at night, and Marcus probably had more reasons than me to feel nothing but hatred for the devilkind. He laced his fingers with mine, in an unexpected display of public affection –Valen’s presence and clinginess clearly annoyed him, judging from the pressure he was applying to my hand. Strangely, I felt comfortable feeling both men holding me tightly, and I allowed myself to relax. I felt supported, protected, a rare commodity these days. I must have fallen asleep, in the meantime, because I was suddenly brought to reality by the captain’s voice informing us we were arriving, even I could have sworn that I had only closed my eyes for a few seconds.
We stepped out in silence. Despite everything, I was a stranger, a glitch in their perfect and smooth functioning as a team, and I could notice it. They held more to themselves, and acted more businesslike, and that unnerved me slightly. In truth, I was used to my own team, and I felt the awkwardness of working with someone who didn’t know me or my habits. But it had been a while since Richard and Inês and I went out as a team. Life and responsibility bogged us down, and while I managed to take to the field every now and then, they actually had far more important to take care of. It always left me feeling that they had grown up, and I hadn’t. At times, I got the feeling I had accepted my job, with all it entailed, because I wanted a challenge, because I wanted a reason to pick up fights – and get cheap thrills. What better way to do it than by bumping back the things that go bump in the night? When compared to the quiet efficiency of the Apostles, I felt somewhat foolish, so, as we were driven to the scene, I told them “If you’re taking the lodge, I’ll be checking the town. I want to ask some questions.”
I could feel Marcus disapproval, especially because it would mean I would be out of his supervision, and on my own with Valen. But I had him trapped: they wouldn’t need me, and spreading efforts like this would help, especially because we weren’t going in for a hostile situation.

“Alright. I’ll keep a channel open.”

I nodded and walked away, with Valen close to me. I had something to check, and maybe that would give us clues to what was happening. It was just a hunch, but my hunches had turned out amazingly accurate in the past.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Lady Entropy
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 03 Oct 2010 22:19

Chapter 15

Animals are extraordinary beings, despite their lack of opposable thumbs and capitalist impulses. They compensate these so very crippling limitations with a danger sense that humans regretfully let stunt throughout their evolution, and that would be so very helpful, especially when impulse purchases and bad dates are involved. For some reason, particularly dogs, pets are dumb enough to love us enough to want to warn us when something is amiss, while the wildlife would simply make itself very scarce. I was counting on that to give me some clues to what might have happened. This situation was well over the reach of science, but we had to make sure. More so, we needed to be pointed in the right direction, or we’d spend a lot of time chasing fake leads and red herrings, while we struggled to narrow down our options. The faster we narrowed down the playfield, the faster we could start working on closing the Red File.
Earlier in my carrier as a professional kicker of supernatural ass, I solved an intriguing affair involving a cursed painted hanging in a nice suburban family’s living room thanks to the reactions of the neighbours’ dog. They noticed that it would start barking like crazy every night around 11 pm. Every night, the neighbours would think there was a prowler outside, and they would call the police. The police would come over and find nothing, and advise the family to take their dog to a canine behaviourist specialist. As it would turn out, the next door neighbours were the descendants of the original owners – and they had just managed to recover an original painting that belonged to the house, auctioned off long ago. Unfortunately, the painting was a ripe source of energy to the psychopathic spirit of a little girl inhabiting the house – the one that had murdered almost its entire family when it was alive. With the return of the painting, she had got enough power to manifest and try to carry out the grisly task she had aimed to do when it was alive, and kill off its entire family. Her own time of death had approximately been a quarter to 11 pm (her father had very literally put an axe on her plans), and it was during that time she managed to gather enough energy to actually be able of interacting with the real world. But the dog next door managed to sense it, and so it tried to go warn the hapless inhabitants of the house, whose children it loved dearly. It took me a while to figure it out, and I didn’t manage to prevent the grisly murder of the father, but I did manage to (narrowly) keep the mother and her children alive. From that point on, I started to realize how useful animals were detecting supernatural threats, and I begun to take notice of animal reaction to the events of my work scenes. With some effort, I started to notice patterns in those same reactions, which lead me to studying animal behaviour for a couple of years, trying to match it to the kind of reactions I had noted during my observation in the field. The rest of my life more or less caught up with me around that time, so I had to put the entire project in the backburner, but every now and then, I still put that knowledge to good use.
Struggling against the heavy winter coat, I made my way to the tiny town that catered to the throng of wealthy and famous who could afford to spend their holidays at the very exclusive resort. It was a fairly rustic place, which added a certain charm to what be otherwise just another gilded cage for the idle rich. With Valen still on tow, I made my way to a small pet shop that sold, to my satisfaction, husky pups. After a quick inquiry, and having presented myself as a governmental agent, I discovered that the animals in the area had been remarkably disquieted, and rather seemed to be in pain, which had warranted a visit from a nearby veterinary – who had wound up never showing up. The pleasant older woman who ran the shop was of the opinion that he probably had gotten tied up handling one of the many farms in the area, because it seemed that the phenomenon had affected a lot of other animals.
Determined to follow that line of investigation, I spent up the rest of the afternoon asking around what few places hosted animals, like the local riding school, to learn that all of them had displayed that same behaviour. Curiously, I frequently got the same indication that the veterinary had been called, but never made it. I could feel a memory struggling to come to the surface – but I didn’t know what right now, despite my efforts, so, I’d just file it on the back of my mind until it dawned on me.
In the meantime, I found a small dinner, just at the exit of the town, and settled myself there to eat with Valen, who displayed the same kind of healthy appetite as a human his age, much to my quiet amusement. Of course, this being a small town, everyone knew by then who I was and what I was up to. It didn’t really surprise anyone, not with the deaths and the other teams of investigators and journalists crawling through the area, but it made all my questions to be swiftly answered, and my welcome to be quit warm– I suppose that my relaxed manner and lack of uniform made me far more endearing than the military and police investigators. As I ate, something drew my attention, an empty small birdcage hung high in a corner of the dinner. It felt something strange to have up there, and out of pure curiosity, I asked one of the waitresses if it was some tradition, or if their bird had escaped.

”Ah, ma’am, the little buggy we were keeping died a few days ago – we reckon it was the cold, even though the temperature was normal when I opened the shop the next morning. With all the confusion here now with the accident – and poor old Mrs. Macready finally going as well, we did not have the chance to pull the cage down – as we were far too shocked….”

And not too surprisingly, the little thing had perished on the evil night. While I sipped on the large mug of tea set in front of me, I noticed the rather limp and yellowish plants lining the window next to where I was sitting. Plants need the sun and the warmth, so it was no surprise that they didn’t look particularly healthy, but this seemed as if the plants were dead as well. I was struck by the most incredible notion. “Excuse me?” I called the waitress again “Where is the house of this Mrs. Macready? And… what did she die of?”

If she was surprised by my question, she didn’t show it. “We think it was heart trouble, the poor old dear. She was almost 80, you know? She lives just a few hundred yards to the north, slightly isolated, but we could always hear her shout if she needed something.” She grinned “She wasn’t much into those new-fangled devices like the phone – except her TV. Oh, how she loved her TV, she never missed a show…” and the waitress immediately started into a particularly uninteresting rant about the dead lady’s taste on soap operas and other romance-laden shows. I wasn’t even hearing her because I had the notion that several huge pieces of the puzzle had fallen into my lap but I couldn’t just fit them yet. The big picture was eluding me, but I would eventually get it. “Stay here.” I said to Valen. “I’ll be just outside to check something, and I’ll be right back.”

Before he could answer, I slipped out of the dinner, and jogged in the direction that the waitress had indicated. It wasn’t long before I spotted the isolated house, and, soon enough I was opening the little iron gate and stepping into the yard. Snow, of course, covered everything in what should be a rather well tended for garden during warmer months. I went around the house to check the back, and I hesitated when I noticed a large doghouse. Animals are usually uncomfortable around me, which just proves my point that they are smarter than humans in certain things, but the dog – if there was a dog, wasn’t reacting. Which meant that either the doghouse was there to intimidate or…

I went closer and peeked in.

… or the dog was dead.

A large German Sheppard was curled up on the back of the doghouse, lying on its side, and very clearly not breathing. With the death of its owner and the town thrown into upheaval because of the deaths it wasn’t a surprise that the poor thing had been disregarded and nobody had noticed that it had very likely died with its mistress. My eyes fell on a little greenhouse, and I slowly opened the door: it contained nothing but dying vegetables, limp and unappetizing – if not dead, then dying already. I closed the door, and glanced at the doghouse, with the distinct feeling that yet another large piece of the puzzle had fallen into my lap, but I still wasn’t managing to fit together.
Can’t see the forest for the trees, as my Magister often said.
I glanced at the woods surrounding the town, majestic pines covered in white, the only thing showing signs of life during the hard months of the year. It struck another memory, again of my Magister, the title of a book that he was inordinately fond of.

“Old Trees Die Standing.”

For a moment, I could do nothing but stand there, gasping, which I’m quite sure it made me very likely resemble a fish, as my mind reeled, working so fast that it took me a moment to realize I had just completed the puzzle. My eyes travelled from the trees to the dinner, noticing as it, together with Old Mrs. Macready’s place, were the only houses between the town and the party house.
And just to prove you that fate does indeed have a finely tuned sense of irony, I managed to remember, right then, what I had been struggling to grasp not long ago. Something I had read in the report, how not far from the property, someone had been found dead as result of a driving accident, after ramming his vehicle against a tree. It was not particularly surprising, as the night had been a harsh one, with a mild snow storm, easy to lose control of your car. The man inside the car, however, was what mattered. He was a veterinary. The veterinary that had never arrived. Because he was in the area between the Red File house and the town. He hadn’t died because his car had crashed. He had crashed because he had died.
I ran the entire mile to the party house, earning some surprised looks from the teams on the field. I recognized a few of the people there, even though the Apostles were nowhere to be seen. I could feel my heart pounding madly in my ears, my chest felt like it was going to explode. It was foolish to be in such a hurry, whatever it happened had been long over, but I could only scream to myself “hurry, hurry, hurry”. There was madness and fear and knowing deep down inside I would be right, that I had figured the puzzle, or at least this part of the puzzle. My thoughts were a pack of wild horses racing inside my mind, reeling, as I stumbled towards the woods behind the house. I stood there for a moment, catching my breath, the sepulchral white silence of the dead of winter surrounding me, almost smothering me. Breath came in ragged gulps, and I felt light-headed. But it didn’t matter. I had to make sure, even though deep down inside I was sure, with a certainty that would shake the pillars of heaven themselves.
Too late did I realize that, in my haste, I had forgotten once again that magic was a risky endeavour to me and that I should have gotten someone with me to cast the spell. But most of the Mages had stayed behind to coordinate their teams from the headquarters. The few who had came were now engaged in rituals, and they would, certainly, not take it too kindly should I interrupt them just to check a wild guess. I dreaded it, but I would have to cast the spell myself. I could feel at least two leylines thundering nearby, but they were considered off-limits for spell casting until they had been checked, as tainted ‘lines are known to cause strange phenomena. I’d have to power the spell myself; but with my little magical limitation, I wasn’t able of storing magical energy in my aura: anything I had, I unleashed immediately. Hence, the not so amusing incident at the Geneva hotel. Hence, I’d have to use something else. And without patience to do all the mumbling and drawing to raise a ritual, I would have to use my own energy to make this spell work. The downside to this was that if anything went wrong, I’d be in a whole lot of pain – and, possibly, a whole lot dead.
With that in mind, I hoped what I was going to do wouldn’t hurt me much. I was planning on dying young, but not this young. Inhaling, I closed my eyes, letting the patterns of reality dance around me. Usually I don’t pay too much attention to them individually. But this time, I needed to focus on them, because they contained the information I was seeking. I spread my consciousness and I felt a stab of pain in my side as I drew information from the building blocks of reality. Time, space, matter, possibility, all was written in them, but it was life I sought – and I found none. I could sense the bright light forces of the investigators close by, shining like the reflection of the sun on water, but their life force was made so much more impressive by the contrast.
There was not even one spec of life around us. No trees, no animals, no plants, no bacteria. Nothing. We were standing in a desert of no life, and I could see it spreading across the property. If I imagined a circle, starting in the party house as centre, it would reach out to the little dinner – where the only living things at night had been the plants and the little bird in its cage – I would get a circle of death. Everything in it was dead. Every animal, every plant, every old lady with a taste for bad soap operas…
But we couldn’t tell it at first, because all wild animals were hidden in their lairs, and nobody had remembered that poor dog, not when his old mistress had passed away from what could only be natural causes. Because on the other side of the circle, there was nothing but the private property of the party house, where everything was dead as well. But we didn’t realize it either, because the snow covered all, and didn’t let us see the dead plants underneath. And because trees die standing.
It hadn’t been an attack on the people at the party.

It had been a sacrifice.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 05 Oct 2010 01:38

Chapter 16

After the long moments seeing reality not through my senses but rather through my True Sight, it felt dizzying to return to my normal sight. My light-headedness had worsened to the point that I had to sit on the snow, and put my head between my knees or risk falling on my face. I had to take a few deep breaths before the world stopped spinning around me, and, when I opened my eyes, I saw red stains on the snow at my feet. It took me a few moments to realize that my nose was bleeding, and, judging from the migraine I could sense was coming, I was going to pay my little trick with some interests. I wheezed for a while, trying to think of those days that seemed so long ago when my own willpower was the only thing I had available to do magic with. It wasn’t so bad back then, it seemed. Could it be that I was, god forbids, getting old? Chuckling, I struggled to myself to my feet, testing my strength, and to my relief, I realized I cold stand on my own. Of course, I had solved a big part of the puzzle, but the answer I had found gave way to a whole lot of new questions: Why hadn’t the governmental biologists noticed the lack of living organisms? What was the sacrifice for? Who had done it? How had it been done?
This sort of thing would have unleashed obscene amounts of necroenergies but nothing in the last few days had so much as even hinted of a usage of so much juice at once – and Dee’s sources were very good – so it meant that amazing amount of power was sitting quietly somewhere. But for what?
It couldn’t be a good thing because energy released from unwilling death was tainted with despair and hatred, and intentions are everything in magic. Forget about that crap of “White Magic” and “Black Magic”, because it doesn’t exist. What exist is “White Intentions” and “Black Intentions”: even nice wizards have had to resort to magic to do something bad – for the greater good, usually. Magic is not a science. Two and two don’t always amount to four: that is why magic is called an Art. It’s flighty and ever-changing, and it was always different from person to person. Each of us made magic in a different way, with different intentions, be it black or white. And brutal, savage and unfair death was as black as it came.
I wiped at my nose again, tilting my head backwards, in hopes of stopping the haemorrhage, and closed my eyes, listening to the wind blow softly among the hundreds of corpses that stood like silent witnesses all around me. It was an eerie, sad sound, and I started to feel uncomfortable in that patch of pure death. I was quite sure that any threat to me was long gone now, the purpose had been fulfilled, but my own vitality seemed almost obscene when compared to the expanse of death beneath my feet. I shuffled away, repressing my first instinct to immediately share my discoveries. I didn’t want to destabilize the other teams, and I really didn’t feel like thinking right now. I wanted to sit down and eat something warm and dripping with syrup. I was feeling chilled to the bones, and I could swear I felt the stench of death clinging to me, so I needed life and humanity all around me. The journey back to the diner felt like it lasted forever, and I was shivering when I finally stepped into the warm interior. Valen watched me, positively white with fury, as he strutted to me and demanded:

“Where were you?!” his voice was trembling with outrage, as if I was a mischievous child, having gone off on her own without her father’s permission. Frankly, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about: he could have gone off to find me, if he wanted. It would be obvious that I would be at the site, and, if he had gone there and asked about me, anyone there would be able of telling him I had just ran by towards the woods on the back of the house. As I looked to his lovely little angry face, I realized it couldn’t be just that upsetting him. It took me a moment to figure it out, but his body language spelt how upset he really was, and it helped me to get it: I had deliberately told him to stay in the diner. I had ordered him not to leave, not noticing I was doing so. He had been forced to stay where he was, unable of coming after me, which seemed to disturb him greatly. I felt almost guilty, and, before I could control myself, I set my hands on his shoulders:

“Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize I was commanding you to stay inside the diner, I really didn’t mean to, all right?”

He seemed to be torn between stomping out or starting to weep (both of which would be incredibly awkward), but he settled for throwing his arms fiercely around me, hugging me tight around the waist. “I was worried.” He declared, emphatically. “And you’re still treating me as a child.” He raised his eyes to me, reproachful. “I could have helped. You brought four men to determine something I could have done in a moment and on my own.”

It took me a moment to figure out what he was trying to say: “You mean you could have determined if there was ….” Feeling self-conscious, I looked around and lowered my tone of voice, even thought the diner was now filling up and people were too busy eating or making comments about the most important topic of the moment (i.e. the deaths) to notice us. “… Other interference?”

He nodded, still looking very much like a surly teenager after being told he couldn’t go out with his friends. “You know what I am.” He said chillily “Don’t you think I could easily tell if my own brethren had been involved or not?”

I tried to justify myself, even though I knew there was not reason to do so: “And how would I be sure you weren’t lying to throw us off scent?”

Again the very human gesture of rolling his eyes, in a perfect textbook interpretation of the typical ‘Aw, mom!’-moment. “I am sworn to you.” He hissed. “The more I lied to you, the faster I’d be unravelled and be sent to the hellish realms. So no, lying would be a very bad idea for me.”

Yes, I kept forgetting that small detail. “And… huh… were They involved?” If I had gotten the lecture already, I might as well get something out of it.

Valen opened his mouth, as if appalled by my nerve. His pout intensified, but he finally conceded: “No. They weren’t. This town reeks, and I don’t like it. It smells of nothing.”

”Death, you mean?” It’s disturbing about seeing a demon feeling uncomfortable about something else that doesn’t involve directly the Christian religion.

“No.” he frowned at my interruption as we returned to our previous booth. “It smells of nothing, the denying of all probability, no life, no death.” Calmly, he watched me, but there was something worrying him, and that did little to reassure me. “We need life to barter, and death is our coin. But nothing? Nothing is… nothing. It’s empty. There are no possibilities, no conquests to be made. It is certainly not to our taste.”

Again, the doubt of whether or not to trust him, but after my own research, I realized that he was very likely speaking the truth. His kind preyed on the weak, and fed on life. An absolute death like this was waste, because it snuffed the soul instead of capturing it and enslaving it as the demonkind was prone to.
If the legions of the Adversary weren’t behind something so foul and so evil, then who was?
I had a few hours more before the rendezvous with the Apostles, so I pondered that I might as well started to do some work. But first, I had to put my thoughts in order: to begin with, whoever had planned this had done so with the goal of amassing magical energy. Energy which hadn’t been used yet. Which meant that this hadn’t been the big bang, more like powering your batteries. I began my research, and among crop circles, and other sorts of strange circles, I had my hands full. Despite the fact that there was a lot to be said about circles and death and magic, none I could find fitted the profile exactly of what I was finding. Usually things like this where used to power something else, and there hadn’t been any rains of frogs or deaths of firstborns to justify it. Where had all that energy gone to? Could we expect something apocalyptic to happen in the next few days? But such an amazing amount of energy could only be stored for so long. And since the only one walking out had been the son’s president, could have he be the one behind it all? Could that energy have been used to resurrect him or to give him powers? If that was the case, I was going to be in trouble because I had no way to get to him. Plus, how had he learned how to do it? Perhaps summoning unspeakable horrors from the beyond was the latest hobby for the ‘in’ crowd.
The world was shutting around me as I focused in my research, but if there was something that could shatter my concentration was the deep basso of my father’s voice. I had to secretly confess that the best memories I had of my childhood were his voice. Of when he tried to keep the predatory menace from it, and it become smooth and velvety and deep; not like a purr, but more like a soft rumbling, like that of a storm as it moves away. Of the very seldom and, therefore, greatly treasured, times when he would sit at my side and read me stories. The stories were unimportant; it was his voice that would sooth me to sleep. The power it contained it was reassuring, a promise of the wall that would always stand between me and danger.
It took me a moment to recover my bearings and free myself from the past, and make me turn my head slightly to see where he was. Accompanied by the man I had pestered to get us lead to the Alpha of the Northern Ridge Pack, my father stood talking to the waitress that had been so helpful before, showing her what seemed to be a picture. What where the Wolves doing here? I looked ahead again quickly, and slid down my seat, trying to act inconspicuous. Apparently, however, my movement drew his attention, because I heard him sniff. I really had no interest to talk to him right now – or at any other time – so, I prayed he just had a mild cold, and wasn’t in fact catching my scent.
No such luck. I heard his heavy footsteps a moment before he left himself fall on the seat in front of me, the tweed of his heavy winter coat rustling against the leather of the booth.

“Camila.”

“Father.”

“How very unexpected to find you here.” I could almost hear the smile in his words.

“I’m working.” I gruffly admitted. I didn’t want to elaborate on it; firstly because he was a civilian; secondly, it was my father, and I immediately got defensive whenever he tried to enter my life and meddle in my affairs. “What about you? Coming to enjoy a spot of ski?”

“Hardly. I’m here on business as well.”

“Business business, or pack business?”

“Perhaps if you took a bigger interest in your heritage, you’d know.”

“I was just being polite.”

“No, you were deliberately trying to pry, knowing it would annoy me, and hopefully drive me to leave in a huff, outraged by your lack of manners.”

One of the reasons why I couldn’t stand my father as I grew up was that he could read me better than anyone, and hit just where it hurt. “Bully for you if you caught all that; did it work?”

“Not really.” He was trying to provoke me now, because I could see the dimple on his left cheek starting to show. I was fairly sure he had never noticed it, but it was a sure tell-tale sign that he was trying not to smile. And he drew an amazing amusement from making me lose my temper, something, which I regret to say, he managed to do with considerable skill. He was going to say something else, when I sensed a change in stance in him. I looked up from my laptop and followed his gaze to Valen, who was trying to make himself look scarce, nested against me. I looked up to my father again, and my heart skipped a beat: I had forgotten that Weres could smell the Others, just like canines, which display an amazing discomfort in Their presence – and he had caught certainly a sniff of the boy’s scent. My father’s eyes were glowing golden, and he had instinctively grasped the edge of the table. Since his talons had ripped through the expensive leather gloves he was wearing, he had just made several impressive dents on the Formica surface. His attitude was truly frightening, and I had seen him lose his temper often enough before; he looked like a cross between a trapped animal and a berserker, and I felt my heartbeat rise. Fear. He could smell fear, and my fear would make things worse.

“Hellspawn.” He hissed it through his now extended fangs, with such dark hatred that I had to swallow nervously.

I realized then exactly what was bothering him.

He was fearing for me.

To his instinct, an Other was holding his cub hostage. Small wonder he was barely controlling himself, just looking for an opening to jump, get me out of danger, and render the demon from head to toe.

“Father!” I rose, staring him in the eyes, cutting his line on sight, and forcing his attention on me. Bad idea. Now I had his undivided attention, and I wasn’t sure he would be able to control his instinct. Immediately, I lowered my eyes, as I spoke. A show of submission. I am not a threat. Please don’t rip my head off. “He is… an ally.”

He blinked, as my words made their way through the fog of rage dulling his human rationality. “I do not approve your choice of allies, daughter.” He finally spat between clenched teeth, as intellect fought against instinct.

That struck a chord, and I was about to tell him I could damn well choose who I wished for an ally, but his concern and protectiveness made me sober up. Furthermore, I did not want to poke him too much when he was barely controlling his temper – let the sleeping dog lie, literally. “It’s complicated. I am not in cahoots with the Others, you know me enough to know that!” I pleaded. “He bound himself willingly to my service.”

”What?!”

“Look, I’ll tell you about it some other day…” I looked around, relieved to noticed that we had kept our voice low enough not to draw attention, and that my father’s companion was distracting the waitress, still talking to her “… but I would rather die than willingly ally myself with Them. I’m in no danger, I assure--”

“And that is why you’re here? To see if one of Them killed everything at the property up north?” My eyes widened at that statement, and I could see in the expression of annoyance from my father that he had allowed anger get the best of him and let that information slip without him wanting.

“What do you know about it? This is impor—” He was getting up, ignoring my question “—hey, you can’t just leave like that!”

He dismissed my rebuke, and threw a card onto the table. “I will not talk in the presence of that creature. If you want to know more, attend to me as your alpha, and search me in my home. I am done here.”

And he walked away, leaving me a shivering mess of nerves and unanswered questions.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 06 Oct 2010 22:30

Chapter 17

The Wolves’ role in this complete mess was the only thing in my mind as I made my way home. After the agonizing hours waiting for the Apostles to be done, I wound up even revealing less about my discoveries than I expected, simply giving a straight up report of the behaviour of the animals in the area, how they seemed to be worried and in pain, but I omitted the rest of the discoveries I had made. I didn’t really deliberately concealed that information, but I was so lost in thought and so impatient to discover just what did the Wolves know that anything else was put down my list of priorities. Marcus frowned, as if he could sense I wasn’t giving him all the information I had, but I suspect he was even more frustrated than I was, for not having been able of finding any indication that would confirm or disprove his theory of Other involvement. I told him that I really had to go back, that I’d return in the morning or the next day, due to family affairs. Marcus seemed relieved that I was pulling out of the field, and he insisted that I shouldn’t need to come back, that they’d be finishing their research by tomorrow, and that they’d join me for the meeting at HQ the day after.
Valen looked positively ill at the notion of flying again so soon, but when I told him that I would leave him behind and that he could return with the rest of the teams, he quickly decided to brave his fear of flying and stick to me, instead.
And so, we found ourselves again on a red-eye flight, having had to break a few traffic laws to get to the airport on time. The anxiety to get to the bottom of this hadn’t allowed me to think straight. Now that I actually managed to get a grip, I was starting to wonder if my abrupt exit hadn’t been in vain. There was no way I could know if my father had already returned home, or if he’d accept to see me. It would be so typical of him to deny seeing me when he knew I wanted information from him. Too many things were happening at the same time, and all hinted to something dark and terrible and that made me feel completely uncomfortable and vulnerable. Not knowing what I was facing made me tense, frightened, and it would eat at me until I managed to uncover exactly what we were dealing with. I needed desperately to talk to the son of the president, but I would bet my two front teeth that they wouldn’t allow me to see him until they decided that nothing more could be drawn from him. But by then, it could be far too late. My eyes fell on the sleeping form of the little blonde Other, and I wondered if perhaps he’d be able to help me with my investigation. He had senses and powers that we could only dream of, and that is why many mages willingly go into Gaeas with Others. So what if you lost your soul in the process? At least you’d know you were ahead of the curve. Eventually, my thoughts drifted back to the sacrifice and the thought of where had all that energy gone to. And the fact that it had been carefully planned, because that had happened in a heavy populated area; if I had to cause a sacrifice that great, I’d sure as hell lure a bunch of people into an isolated property, and when I was done, I’d just set fire to everything and call it a kitchen accident. That it happened here, so close to so many people was unexpected, because whoever did it was clearly interested in keeping quiet about it – otherwise, why the whole care to choose winter so that the death of everything in a one mile radius would not be noticed? The snow wouldn’t be gone until late Spring, and it was very likely that by then the entire affair had been forgotten. Except that the president’s son would be involved – that alone would ensure a never-ending snooping from the media, the police and the secret services. It seemed a rather stupid thing to do if one was trying to hide one’s actions. I pulled a folder containing a printed copy of the reports of the other teams out of my bag, and leafed through it, in the vain hope of getting a clue that would enable to piece together all the information I had. Maybe even steer us in the right direction to learn what had happened and who could be behind it. The ley-lines report was the first thing I checked, and the results were surprising, albeit not in the way I expected them to be: the area had been catalogued as a level 1, judging from the energy levels, which was the only way we could use to determine a ley-line level without taping into it to ascertain the strength of the currents – until there was a total certainty that they weren’t tainted, nobody would dare taping into them. But after the security of the ‘lines had been assured, it turned out that they were actually focal level 3, which meant that the power of the ‘lines was a whooping level 3, and they actually crossed each other in a same focal point, causing a seriously mighty place to be and work magic, because reality was weakened enough in the area to accept our meddling with very little resistance. I was surprised this area hadn’t been documented in any of our charts. It probably meant that this was a natural formation, undiscovered or somehow kept hidden from our scrying. This brought another interest point to the table: what had drained the ley-lines so badly that they were only with a level 1 output? And what happened to that enormous amount of energy? Even if someone stood there and took it all into himself, the ‘lines would be able of replenishing it pretty fast. In the report it mentioned that, while the level was steadily increasing to proper values, it was doing so at an exceedingly slow pace – quite surprising, because they had had over a week to restore themselves. But what made my eyebrows rise was the addendum someone had posted to the report, in closure. It turned out that the ley-lines hadn’t been drained, but rather disrupted. Whatever had happened there, it had pushed the streams of energy off kilter, diverting them like rivers to go around the area, and only now they were slowly trickling back to their original beds. Doing so in a level 3 area was beyond mind-boggling. It was impossible, at least for a single person. I don’t think that even Myrddin himself (and he was half-Other) could have pulled that one off. In the entirety of my rather busy and surprising career, I had never seen anything like this happen, and frankly, it made me even more nervous about this entire Red File.
The rest of the journey just flew by, and I could find nothing else of interest to actually orientate me, except the indications that the house was sitting exactly on top of the focal point. It had to be a seriously freaky place to live on, because unexplained phenomena would be happening there in a frequent basis. The owner was a very rich and very sick old man, who had lent the house to the children of some of his friends, seeing he had trouble to enduring the snow and never used it nowadays. He had actually been hospitalized two days before the incident, and kept uninformed about the happening, for fear of worsening his condition. Despite his privileged position, he hadn’t been in contact with the president or his son, and was quite unaware that he had attended the party. That had me thinking, and, perhaps, that was what had gone wrong, it was possible that the son of the President had wound up there uninvited. Miss Lisa Dawson, one of the female victims, was very likely, according to the tabloids, the current squeeze of young Master Jordan Smith-Rhys. It seemed, then, to confirm, even if vaguely, my theory that he had dropped by without a formal invitation.
After landing, despite my desire to go straight to my father and pull out of him everything he might know about the matter, I forced myself to be reasonable, because I knew that we were in the middle of the night and he was either asleep or out hunting. I had the taxi deliver us to a hotel for a shower, getting into clean clothes, and catch a few hours of sleep. Neither of this I wanted particularly to do, but if I was going to confront the Big Bad Wolf in his lair, I should be at the top of my game. I wasn’t going to take Valen into my house just yet: first, because I still felt uncomfortable with the notion of him knowing where I lived, and, secondly, the defences installed there would make it very hard and very uncomfortable for him to stay inside the house. I’d probably have to set up one of my safe houses, and live there with him until we managed to get our situation sorted out.
So, bright and early in the very next morning, scrubbed fresh and dressed in clean clothes I had acquired at the hotel’s boutique, I made my way to the building where my father was currently residing, very likely one of the Wolf-owned properties. I hadn’t warned him when I was dropping by, but the porter ushered me inside, informing me that I was being waited. I climbed into the elevator, and began my ascent, wondering what the Wolves’ part in all of this mess was. The lift dinged, and the doors opened, letting me inside a luxurious suite, tastefully decorated in earthly tones, with a minimalist theme. My boots click-clacked on the wooden floor, and after a few steps, I could see my father resting against the ledge of the balcony outside, while the Wolf who had accompanied him before sat inside, eyeing me with suspicion. I ignored him and made my way to the balcony. My father nodded to the other man, as if indicating it was alright. Their interaction was slightly puzzling, because the manner that the other man carried himself, his constant attentive looks assessing the surroundings, the careful posture as if waiting for a threat or an attack, made him look like a bodyguard. Something rather surprising, taking into account what my father could do. I was opening my mouth to greet my him, when a soft rustling behind me alerted me, and I turned, instinctively to assess any danger. Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough, and the bodyguard had his massive hand around my throat, yanking me off my feet, and in two or three footsteps, he had me dangling outside the balcony. The surprise cut my breath, which was most regretful, since I was now having a whole lot of trouble breathing. My feet dangled in the air, and I clung to the bodyguard’s forearm for dear life, preferring a good point of support than breathing properly.

“Now, we talk, dorogoi.” my father said calmly, as he poured himself a drink. The fact that he’d use a Russian term for endearment only made the entire scene more surreal. And seeing the dimple in his cheek added another layer to the strangeness. “What were you doing at the Ski Lodge?”

“I… told you… work.” The answer, or maybe the tone, seemed to displease the bodyguard, who released the grip on my throat ever so lightly, drawing a strangled squeal of terror from me.

“Work is not good enough. Try harder. It’s unfortunate I’d have to lose my only heir, but I’m virile still, I’m quite sure I could get myself a new one.”

That actually infuriated me, and I strained to reach the ledge, which made the bodyguard shake me twice and hold me further away to calm me down. My mind was trying to react over the sheer terror of being held in the air 60 stories above street level, but not doing a very good job of it. It wasn’t as if I could hit him with a point-blank fireball, because his instant reaction would be letting go of me. “A lot of people died… the son of the president… had been there… we were hired… to find out…who…”

That drew an interested look from my father: “I see. That explains all the spooks around the area.” He rubbed his chin. “What did you find out? Was it Others?”

“…No…” my lungs were starting to feel as if they were on fire, and I was beginning to see spots at the edges of my field of vision. The notion that my father was ready to kill me filled me with a sorrow that I couldn’t explain, even though our relationship had hardly been cordial before.

“Ah, but you know something – I’m sure. Maybe it was one of your little reality weaver friends? It was, wasn’t it?”

“NO!” I squealed, indignant “…something very wrong happened… it was a sacrifice…but I don’t know what for or how….” I gasped as I used up my last breath.

“I believe you.” He said with apparent disinterest, adding to his bodyguard “Let her go.”

I was going to remark that that was an extremely tasteless thing to say when I was being dangled like that in the air, but when my eyes met my father’s, I realized he had meant it literally. The bulky man removed his hand so fast I couldn’t reach for it, and I was left floating in the air for a half moment, when my body realized that gravity was a-calling.

And with a high-pitched shriek, I plummeted down.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 08 Oct 2010 18:42

Chapter 18

Much to my annoyance, my brain was apparently still human enough to freeze, on the imminent prospect of its demise, and refuse to do anything else than to panic mindlessly. All my training, all my experience – I still took seconds to react. The wind whistled in my ears, and I wasn’t sure I was even actually screaming, because the world around me felt muted and paused, as if everything was happening in slow motion, or as if I was underwater. I should be able to react, I should be able to fight, to weave my magic, I should be able to—
Unexpectedly, I felt something snaking around my waist, and, as suddenly as it had started, my fall was brought to an abrupt stop, as two arms caught me tightly, stopping my fall. The impact was strong enough, however, to knock the both of us out of balance, and send us sprawling to the floor. To my unending surprise, I was unarmed, which, even to my still panicking mind, didn’t make much sense. The fall had been shorter than I expected for 60-plus floors, and a distinct lack of pain was also quite unexpected. Hiccupping in an attempt to catch my breath, I looked up, dazed, trying to position myself in the middle of this madness, Instead, I found my father, still looking down from his balcony. The fact that he was less than 15 feet up, however, did manage to give my brain a metaphorical slap, rousing it from its little hissy fit. Either he had a flying balcony, or I hadn’t just fallen 60 floors to my death. Leaning slightly, he grinned at me as he finished his scotch: “Old mob trick. Swing someone from a balcony without letting them notice that there is another – and wider – balcony underneath. Crude, but very much effective to make sure people are saying the truth.” That being said, he vanished from sight.
And then people get surprised I don’t get along with my father.
My greatest wish at that moment was being capable of grabbing him by the hair and slamming his face against the balcony rail a few, say, hundred times. However, the fright had apparently robbed me of my strength, so, I had to settle for lying weakly on top of my would-be rescuer, panting while my heart felt as if it was about to jump out of my chest through my mouth. I closed my eyes, willing the world to stop spinning and ordering myself with a few choice of strong words not to pass out and faint. I wouldn’t give my father that satisfaction to add to the fact that he had seen me squeal like a little scared girl. So much for the all-might warrior mage, eh?
It took me at least an entire minute to recover enough strength to will myself to sit upright and thank my knight in shinning armour, although it had occurred to me that he was probably one of my father’s flunkies. After all, this had all been planned, so my rescuer’s presence was totally not a coincidence. Regardless, he had prevented me from getting a serious bump on my head or even breaking an arm, so I was quite grateful for his presence, despite the reasons for him being there. He possibly had detected my distress throughout the entire ordeal, because he hadn’t let go of me the entire time, and it felt very soothing. Suddenly, I felt a cold nose in my ear, which drew a squeal and a muted giggle from me, which I struggled to stifle. The scare had high-strung my nerves and I was starting to be slightly giddy. As I sat, my rescuer followed suit, his male frame pressing protectively against me, enveloping me in a circle of strength, reassuring and powerful. I placed my hand over the one he had set on my shoulder, and turned to face him, removing his nose from my ear. “T-Thank you…”

Only after speaking did I actually looked properly to the young man smiling to me, and it took me a while to recognize him, even thought he was quite familiar. This being because by then I had calmed down enough to notice that his other hand was firmly surrounding my left breast, slowly fondling it. Which, I must say, is a mightily strange thing to do when you just chivalrously saved a damsel vaguely in distress. He pressed his cold nose against mine, reinforcing my theory that he was a Wolf, and grinned. “Don’t mention it.” He closed his eyes, and smiled slowly, opening them to lock gazes with me, his eyes dark and magnetic, trapping my gaze. “It’s good to see you again. You still smell the same.” And adding action to his words, he tilted his head, pressing his cold nose against my neck, inhaling deeply. I didn’t need his last words to figure out we had already met: his dark gaze was still as entrancing as it been when I was a gawky teenager hiding behind her glasses, concealing herself under baggy clothes, which he had so deftly released her partially from. I tried to get up, but pulled me back against him, and a soft growl escaped his throat, not threatening, but clearly in protest, as he squeezed my breast again.
I heard footsteps next to me and looked in time to see my father approach us with a glass of orange juice in his hand. Crouching, he handed it to me. “The adrenaline is draining all the vitamin C from your blood, that’s why you’re not managing to get up. Drink this.”

I took the glass with both hands, determined to recover my strength enough so I could defend my dignity and free the oppressed bosom territory from the wolfen invader. My father straightened up, looking thoroughly amused, and his smile widened when, after draining the juice, I managed to croak. “Will you kindly…tell your hired help to stop pawing me? Pun intended.”

“You ran off on him nearly ten years ago. Can’t fault him for having missed you and now being eager to make up for lost time, can you?”

“I very well bloody can!” I stood up, yanking his hand from my breast. The dignified outrage effect was slightly spoilt by my lack of balance, however, which almost caused me to fall again on the younger Wolf’s lap. He let me stand up, but used the chance to grasp the inside of my thigh firmly, and began to place a few light kisses up, towards the hem of my skirt, while his hand perversely slid upwards. I had been my father’s daughter long enough to know what this meant. That the permission he had given the young pup ten years ago to court me still stood and he was claiming it. I had been assigned as his mate – no matter my own feelings about the matter – therefore, he could paw me in front of my father and anyone else without so much as drawing a second look from them. The kisses became bolder, and he had his nose up my skirt, much to my father’s amusement, which only worsened my embarrassment. I bapped him hard on the head and yanked my leg free with very little ceremony, and stared, angered, at my father: “I am not here to play games or to get myself involved on your pack affairs. I’m here because I need information and something really bad happened back in Aspen; I have better things to do than be bullied and groped!”

I shot a dark look at the younger Wolf, who was now getting up with languorous animal grace. I hastily took two quick steps back, in case he was considering pouncing me or humping my leg. My thoughts had obviously transpired into my face, because my father was again trying not to smile. I set my hands on my hips and leaned forward, letting them read my body language to know that I was not at all happy. All Weres function primarily with non-verbal language and maybe because of that they are so good reading other people and knowing when they’re being bullshitted. My discontentment must have come across pretty well, because they relented.

“Let’s talk inside.” He held out his hand to take my empty glass, and I handed it to him, turning to follow. The bodyguard, in the meantime had joined us, and we came to stand around a desk where rested a multitude of photographs of a single tree; far shots, and close-ups, and everything in between. As I leaned down to see what was the interest of the tree, I realized that the close-ups where not of the tree itself, but of something that had been carved into the tree. No, not carved. Clawed. A single word.

Croatoan.

I looked at my father, waiting for an explanation. His evil playful demeanour was gone now, and he looked sombre and menacing. “Two of our own died back in Aspen, in that accursed circle of death you found. One was Gagnier’s brother, and the other was his mate.”

Ah. That explained the Wolves’ interest in the crime scene. It still didn’t explain my father’s presence, however. “You retrieved the corpses?”

“Obviously. They used those woods often for their amorous liaisons, as it apparently held memories for them. When the pack felt them die, they rushed in before the monkeys came and besmirched everything.”

I could have felt offended with the derogatory moniker that the Wolves use to refer to the humans, seeing I’m to all purpose one. But since my father was Wolf, and I had been raised by him, and knew how the Way of the Wolf worked, it made me part of the pack, albeit an estranged member. Blood thicker than water indeed. “And these pictures?”

“This was close to their corpses. Carved by the male.”

Almost everyone has heard of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, where a hundred settlers vanished in less than three years, leaving nothing behind but the word “Croatoan” written behind. Theories had abounded, and most people settled with the explanation that they had ran out of food, and, to survive, had been assimilated with the local tribes, which would justify the Croatoan carved into a tree. I was failing to see the connection, however, so I used the trick I learned from Tim, and I watched my father attentively, letting the silence grow heavy between us, until he felt compelled to continue.
He didn’t disappoint.

“This has not been a first occurrence, and from what I can see, it might have occurred far more often that we believe. And that is why I am here.” He looked me in the eyes, and there was a pause. He hesitated, and I couldn’t fault him. He was revealing something that only the Wolves were aware of. Perhaps he remembered that I had run off on him. Would that make me a rogue? Or was I still part of the pack? After a minute pause that all of us were aware of, he pulled an old, folded piece of paper from his breast pocket, handing it to me. “I saw this happen before, when I was a pup back in Siberia, before I met your mother. And this was left behind.”
I carefully unfolded it, and blinked as what seemed two words in gibberish jumped at me.

Кроа тоан.

It took me a moment to recognize the Russian alphabet. My knowledge of Russian was regretfully limited, but I still managed to recognize most of it. I mouthed the sounds slowly, as I identified each of them: Krooah Tooahn.

Croatoan.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 04 Dec 2010 23:14

E depois de uma grande pausa para o Nanowrimo, voltamos!

Chapter 19

The plot thickened. And the more I found out, the more questions I had. Yesterday, I had nothing but a few hunches about what had happened. Now I had an inkling of what might have happened, but it only made me realize how very little I knew. Was this a conspiracy spawning centuries? Who was behind it, a group of people or a single person? What was the meaning of “Croatoan” if it didn’t refer to the Indian tribe in Virginia? What did it have in common with the Ski Lodge in Aspen? And Siberia? Our databases came out clean, no indications at all concerning the incidents, which left me with my hands mostly tied, with no clue to where to head next.
I realized then that I couldn’t expect to solve this on my own. I was stretching myself thin and I was forgetting the convenient resources I had at my disposal. I stopped the car, and pulled the cellphone out of my pocket, dialling the number for my so very helpful liaison to the US government. The phone rang twice, before his voice answered:

“I don’t have anything for you yet. Still pursuing some leads but—”

“I need something else now. And it’s directly connected to the Red File, which ensures its priority.”

“Tell me.”

I was about to make some humorous statement about his bossiness, but I thought better than to do it. I really could use his cooperation and besides, I was in a grouchy mood. Not feeling like being a wiseass. “I need you to see if you can find anything connecting the Roanoke Lost Colony to the incident at Aspen? Maybe a family, or a name. The word ‘Croatoan’—”

“Wait, what? You’re having me investigating a mystery with centuries because it might have anything to do with the case?”

“Exactly. This isn’t an isolated incident. This could have started at least as far back as Roanoke. Maybe more, I don’t know. What I do know is that this has happened before. I have the indication of something similar having happened in Siberia a few decades ago as well.”

“Mmm, interesting. Have you found out exactly what happened, then?”

“I can’t give you that kind of information over the phone. But I can tell you we have some solid clues. When we have some certainties, you’ll get the proper report.”

“I see. Anything else you need to know?”

“Your name, for starters. It’s slightly disheartening to be talking to you without knowing who I’m talking to.” Yes. That sounded outrageous flirting, but the truth was I wanted to run a background check on him. One’s never too careful about one’s allies – this assuming he wouldn’t give me an alias. But even if he did, behind his fake name, a true name hides, and I had ways to find out a few things through that. “You’re not going to tell me that’s classified information.”

“It’s classified information.”

“You’re teasing me now, aren’t you?”

“That too is classified information.”

Ah, finally I was reaching out and touching him. Humour, the first sign of connection: “I’ll relent. When do you think I can call you again to know what you came up with?”

“As soon as I have something, I’ll let you know.”

“You’re not going to let me hanging, waiting for you to call me and you’ll never will, are you?”

“Woman, you’re trying my patience now… I will call you when I have something to tell you. Until then, wait. Unless you feel like sharing what you discovered already.”

“You’ll be the first to know when the preliminary report is ready.”

“Take care.”

“You too.”

Was it me, or there had been a warming up of his voice?

I opened my cellphone again, and dialled Tim’s number – using outside help was somewhat humbling for me, and I avoided it as much as I could. However, this was unlike anything ever found before and I could not get rid of the nagging feeling that this wouldn’t be the last time in the next few decades happening. The public area was too risky. Come Spring, everyone would notice the lack of life in that area; I could be paranoid, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this heralded something big and very bad. And this “Croatoan”, whatever it was, was a clue too strong to ignore. And something was nagging at me, since I had seen that alternate form of spelling for “Croatoan”: it is a well known fact that the settlers referred to many of the indigenous tribes of the Americans by names the settlers that had nothing to do with their actual names. The settlers would use whatever words they figured were their names, by choosing the ones that they repeated more often? What if “Croatoan” was such a case? If instead of the Natives having called themselves “Croatoans”, they were actually warning the settlers about “Croatoan”? Maybe it was some angry spirit, like the hungry Wendigo. If our database couldn’t find reference to it, it meant it probably outdated the written word. Oral traditions were very hard to keep track of – a pity, because they contained a lot of knowledge that could be used in our line of work.
And that lead me to Tim’s doorstep again. If there was someone who could remember it, it was him. Something connected to his race’s personal time existing outside the normal timelines. From having used Tim’s services only once, I was going to become his best costumer in less than two weeks. I just hoped he didn’t ask me for more of my nights. God knew what he could do during that time – rumour has it that, if I ate any their food or drunk their drinks I would become one of them. And despite immortality being an alluring prize, I had long ago outgrown the phase of thinking living for ever was the best thing that could happen to me. Now, I’d much rather have a human life of wonders than an eternity of stagnation.
I wasn’t sure if Tim would see me with so little warning, and I didn’t even know what he was doing during the daylight hours, when the nightclub was closed. But I had a whole day before the first Red File meeting, and I didn’t intent to waste any time being idle. Should this prove to be a wild goose chase, at least I wouldn’t have spent precious time I could have used doing something actually productive. However, he picked the phone right before the second ring. “I need your help again, Tim.”

“Twice this week? That is something new from you, Lady.”

“I know. Things are …unexpected as of late.”

“You know where to find me.”

“I will be there in ten minutes.”

It took me under seven.

Parking was easy, the surrounding areas were free and available, unlike when I dropped by at night, with the parties going at full swing, and nary a parking spot in sight for a mile. Under the cruel light of day, the club lost most of its magic, like any other. It rather looked like a large, but plain house, not a rundown warehouse, like most other night spots. It looked almost…suburban, if one disregarded the tell tale signs that that was a popular nightclub. I slammed the door of my car and strutted to the open side entrance, very likely to let in staff and deliveries. A large bearded man in sweats was right inside it, moving crates. “Is… the owner in?” I asked “I’m a friend. Camila. Camila Montenegro.”

He didn’t answer so much as grunted and pointed with his thumb towards the inside of the club. I dodged one of his crates and followed his silent indication. The club looked bigger with the lights on, and there was a strange serenity about it, I pondered, while I walked across the dance floor, towards Tim’s VIP area. All of our meetings had happened there, among the plush pillows and comfortable couches, so I reckoned he’d be there. Lifting a leg to go over the heavy silk rope cordoning the area, I walked in, the click-clack of my boots almost offending in the silence.
I did notice someone sitting in his usual couch, but when I approached, opening my mouth to voice a greeting, I realized it was an athletic, stocky man, with a non-nonsense haircut, a rather flagrant contrast to Tim’s usual flowing tresses of blonde hair. He watched me with interest and curiosity, but keeping himself veiled. For some reason, he gave me the impression of a policeman, although his clothes seemed to either belong to an undercover cop, or a retired one. His eyes were intelligent, and attentive. I knew that had had immediately noticed and memorized any important details about me, and, if needed, could present a fairly accurate description of my looks.

“I’m sorry.” I said. “I was looking for the owner, Mr. Timothy Anders Cranfield-Forsberg. I wasn’t aware he had visitors…”

The man gave me a curious look, but nodded “He needed to go pick up a call, and he said he’d be right over.”

It was then that I heard light footsteps behind me. I turned to find Tim standing but a few inches from me – I could have sworn he was father away than that, but no, here he was, brushing my face with his fingers to carefully tilt my head to place a light kiss on my cheek. “You arrived faster than I expected.” His kiss lingered on my skin for a moment longer than I expected possible. Rising his eyes to the man behind me, he gave him an apologetic smile “If you allow me just a moment, Mr. Wilson.” The other man nodded understandingly, looking secretly amused, and Tim pulled me aside, keeping an arm around my shoulders. “How can I help you?” He asked quietly.

I unfolded the photograph I had convinced my father to give me. “I need to know what this is. What this _really_ is, Tim.”

He picked it up, his eyes widening first in surprise, then narrowing. For a moment, he seemed thoughtful. Then, he seemed to come to some sort of decision. “Mr. Wilson?” he raised his head, looking at the other man over his shoulder. “I think that the three of us need to have a little talk.”
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 11 Dec 2010 14:24

Chapter 20

"I must say that this must be a first." Tim said. "Having two interested parties showing up at my doorstep to inquire on the same subject at approximately the same time. Something bad must have happened."

I glanced at ‘Mr. Wilson’ and hesitated. The terms of disclosure in our contract were very clear, and breaching them would bring hefty consequences. Although I knew I had some maneuvering room concerning what I could say or not, I still preferred to err on the side of caution. I decided to play Tim's game and keep my silence, in hopes that the man felt the need to fill in the void of silence.
There was a minute of absolute quietness. Then another. And another.
Surprisingly, Tim was the first one to speak. "I know you're both discreet people, but I do think you should exchange information." He sighed when he saw how unconvinced we looked. "Very well, Mr. Wilson has paid me a visit concerning the word that showed up in the photograph you just showed me."

That drew the man's interest, and I saw him fixate his eyes on me, posing a very obvious, albeit not vocal question. I figured that as long as I avoided the mention of the party and the involvement of the son of the President, I could talk about it. After all, this was a clue that I had unearthed myself. "Yes. Croatoan. Someone carved it into a tree near to a horrid crime scene."

"The party at Aspen. The people who they said died due to a very unfortunate avalanche." His tone dripped with contempt.

I was so surprised I nodded before I realized I was giving away more information than I wanted to. Wilson sighed and leaned back, reaching to pull a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He looked at Tim inquisitively, who nodded his permission. After lighting one, and offering me another, which I declined, he began: "I am looking at this very affair at the behest of a friend. Her daughter was at the party when – whatever happened, happened. This much I know, it wasn't a bloody avalanche, that's for sure."

"And the word?"

"I was getting to that. Turns out, the girl was on the phone with her mother – my friend – right when it happened. While it happened." That drew a shudder from me, as the scene played in my mind, "And during a very normal conversation, the girl suddenly started screaming ‘Croatoan’. At first, her mother thought it was a joke, a nickname perhaps, of someone who was teasing her while she was on the phone. The screams became howls of pain – that's how she described them to me – and her daughter kept repeating it again and again and again. I assume that during the struggle, her phone fell to the ground, because her voice became more distant, but there were other voices screaming the same. Then silence. The silence continued, and any attempt to contact the house or any of the friends who were at the party was fruitless. The next day, she gets the news that there had been an avalanche, but they don’t allow her to see the body when they arrive there.” He exhaled a cloud of smoke. “And that’s when I got a very distressed call from her.”

He fell silent, and there wasn’t much to add to that. Something bad had happened that night, but now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that “Croatoan” was connected to it. What had made people write that word in their throes of death? Scream them at the people they were talking to? Was it a warning, a message?

Who or what was Croatoan?

“It seems we’re working on the same thing.” I said, slowly “Unfortunately, my contract will not manage to allow me to clarify anything I might find on the course of this investigation. However,” I raised my eyes to him, knowing that uncertainty about the fate of their children was the heaviest burden one could place on a parent’s shoulders “as soon as the file is closed, everything I learn about Croatoan or that can shed light about what truly transpired in that house will be conveyed to you.” I shifted my gaze to Tim. “Will you see that such information is duly delivered to Mr. Wilson?”

He nodded, gravely “It will be done as you ask.” It was his turn to look at the other man “Mr. Wilson and I already concluded business. He’ll be on his way, so that you and I can finish our transaction.”

The stocky man rose, thanked me, and gave a nod to Tim, before putting his cigarette out. Interesting, I thought, it seemed he knew better than to thank any of Tim’s kind. And my own surprise at the confirmation that “Croatoan” was involved with the entire thing made me forget that I hadn’t gotten my information yet. A shiver of expectation ran down my back as I realized I could be so close to solving this entire mess, if Tim indeed knew what Croatoan was.

“Everything has a price.” He echoed his words from a few days ago.

“And what is your price?”

“This is a matter in which I cannot interfere.” Almost as if in apology, he reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear, deliberately brushing his fingers against my cheek when he retrieved his hand. Alright, now I was getting pretty sure he was flirting with me. “I can help you, but not interfere.” I would have spent more time wondering on the whys and whats, if it wasn’t for the fact that my heart was too busy sinking to my feet. If Tim said that he couldn’t interfere, it meant that there as a good odd that the fate of the entire human race hung in the balance, which automatically prevented any of the Outsiders to intervene, including Tim’s folk, the Others, and any of the other races non-native to this Realm. Damn. I was too young to save the world. I needed a little more experience and a lot more sense and wisdom before I even tried to tackle that. “And since I can indeed help but not interfere, my payment will be a mere trifle, a trinket.” His fingers danced on my earlobe. “A kiss from your lips is all I ask.”

I blinked. Was he coming on to me? “A kiss? Now?”

That drew a smile from him. “Oh, no. A kiss to be claimed whenever I wish it.”

I knew better than to bargain with his kind in undefined terms, but unless I was going to marry some über-jealous husband and he decided to ask for payment during our wedding, I seriously doubted the timing of the kiss being of his choice would cause me too much trouble. And I was so eager to get that information that I would have done almost anything to get it. “Agreed.”

He released me, and walked to the small counter from where he drew small notebook, and he scribbled something for a few moments. He returned to me and handed me a folded sheet of paper. “Take this, and open it outside my domain. There is a name there, a name of someone who knows about what you want to know. He is one of the few in this city – and the world – who have enough knowledge.”

I nodded and captured the paper between two fingers, knowing better than to question any of Tim’s unusual requests. So I curtsied, kissed his cheek and trotted out, feeling almost as if the paper burnt a hole in my hand, so eager was I to solve this mystery. When I sat down in my car, I unfolded the paper to read, in a rather fancy and loopy handwriting, a name, and a rather bland one at that, of a man. Underneath was written his address. A quick phone call later, and I acquired his number, but no more information, which bothered me slightly. Still, I had other resources to tap, and I was determined to make use of it while I had the chance. And so, I called my governmental friend:

“Talk to me.”

“I need you to find all you can on a man. I have some basic information but nothing that will clear me on who he is.”

“What you’ve got?”

“Nothing much. Name, address, phone number…”

“And who’s he, and why should we care?”

“He might know exactly who was behind this entire mess.” I was loath to admit my discoveries as of yet. Maybe it was some irrational fear of jinxing it, but I actually feared that our esteemed contractors would try to muscle in our territory, as they were prone to do. And I didn’t want any other incidents because they thought they could handle it better than us and turned out they were wrong.

“So you know what happened?”

“Not yet.” Which wasn’t a lie. I didn’t. I knew something bad had happened, something bad enough to wipe out every single living form in a one-mile radius. I knew that something called “Croatoan” was involved in it, but I wasn’t sure of its role yet. Croatoan could be some word in an ancient language. Or a warning, or a solution. It could be party directly responsible for it, or not at all. I wasn’t going to let it slip right now, not until I had more concrete evidence. “This might help, though. This man could very well clarify for me who or what was behind it all.”

“Who? You mean a person could have been behind it all the time?”

“Eh, you’d be surprised at what some small measure of knowledge and a lot of stupidity can achieve. I won’t discard as of yet the possibility this not being a natural phenomenon, but I’m still keeping an open mind to the possibility that someone actually orchestrated it.”

“And how did you get to this man?”

“I have my sources.”

“Hm. And how trustworthy are your… ‘sources’?” Was it me, or there was a twinge of concern in his voice?

“Very trustworthy.”

“Not enough to tell you details about this man, who’s so incredibly important, other than his name and address.” He had me there. And I knew enough psychology to know he was trying to make me slip so I’d give clues about my ‘sources’. For a moment, I did consider sending them to Tim, just to see what he’d do with them, but I thought better. Despite all his apparent tenderness, he was just like any member of his kind, and would take quick offense to things most normal people wouldn’t give a second about. I couldn’t risk him becoming offended from a silly joke.

“I was told that if I wanted to know more about him, I’d have to find out myself. Including how it ties with the event.”

“Alright, give me that name.”

I did so. After a brief goodbye, he hung up, and I called the number I had obtained. A rather unremarkable male voice answered, and I went straight to the point, telling him I had gotten the number from a friend. When I begun uttering Tim’s name, the man immediately interrupted me, and I could almost feel his discomfort. He asked me if I wanted to pay him a visit right now, but I declined. I wanted to give my governmental friends enough time to figure out who this man really was. Instead, I scheduled a visit for tonight. Hopefully I’d have answers to present at the debriefing meeting in the afternoon the following day. I was vaguely aware that I had probably come up with more breakthroughs than anyone else in the project already, but I still wanted to go the whole nine yards. It was a matter of professional pride, damnit.
So I went to wait, and check on my little demonic companion, who was very quietly reading a book at our hotel room. It was something both heartwarming and disturbing to see how much he had been adopting human mannerisms. Most of the time, you managed to tell Others away from normal people because of how very… wrong they acted. They were mimicking human, but it was just that, mimicking, and trained eyes could tell it. But Valen was steadily becoming more natural in human behavior, to the point I had trouble catching the subtle hints of his true nature. Which lent itself to an interesting question: of whether he was becoming more human, his body wiring him to act human (and how did that affect his personality), or if he was just becoming more proficient at pretending. He closed his book, keeping his finger between the pages to mark the spot, another very human gesture. Others have an amazing memory, and are able of accurately remembering anything that happens to them in their many eons of existence. So, knowing what page they were on, or the exact location of that page in a book just from looking at it from the outside would be an easy feat.

“Done investigating?”

I pulled a water bottle from the mini fridge and uncapped it: “No. I never liked relying on one single investigation venue. But I’m sure they won’t allow us to talk to the son yet. And from the look of things, they might not even allow us to do so at all. Call it a hunch.” I perched myself on the arm of the couch where he had been curled up in, and took a long gulp of the water, smiling slightly when Valen came to rest his head on my thigh. “Talking to him, running a few simple tests on him would help… even if it was to eliminate him from the pool of suspects.”

“Can’t you just go to him?”

“Ah, if it only was so easy waltzing into the White House for the good of mankind.”

“Hm, I was under the impression you had your ways.”

“I do, but if I did use them, it wouldn’t be professional.” I started pondering right then if I could get away with doing something like he was suggesting, but that would unearth a whole lot of problems, especially if I had to justify where I had acquired my knowledge.

He gave me a lopsided smile: “You’re afraid to get caught, aren’t you?”

I fought against the urge to blush, and I made a few non-committing sounds, while I took another swig from my water. “Regardless.” I finally said, “I am not going to be able of talking to him without a big mess, so I’ll leave that as a thought, and focus on something else. I’m going to be going out later tonight, and I’m not sure what I’ll be finding, so I better go alone. Will you be alright on your own?”

He nuzzled my thigh with his cheek, nodding “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

This was a relief because I had considered several times bringing him to see Tim. But Tim winds up being my dirty little secret, and I suppose I feel weak when I have to admit I needed him as much as I seemed to need in the last few days. But I am also aware that neither of them is human, and I dreaded any possible unholy union that might be spawned from the two meeting in person. Valen was, possibly, going to sulk slightly, but, in this case, I was glad he wasn’t going to insist on hanging with me.
While waiting for news from my government friend, I went to have a long bath, some food, and, then, spent the better part of the afternoon and evening trying to get at least some of my sleep in order.

I had the feeling things were going to get very interesting soon, so I wanted to look my very best, should the world come to an end soon.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Lady Entropy
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 24 Jan 2011 15:18

Chapter 21

To my surprise, and shortly before my meeting with Tim’s contact, I had not yet received word about the man I was going to meet. On hindsight, I should have been alarmed that, for the first time ever, the liaison to the US government didn’t pick up his phone. Hindsight having 20/20 vision and all that, I suppose that I had figured that I couldn’t expect him to be always there, and that he actually had a job outside babysitting me or playing my secretary. So I went to the address that Tim had given me anyways, determined to return to the hotel with at least an inkling of what might have transpired in the ski lodge.
After a short car drive, I found myself in a slightly rundown but otherwise unremarkable neighbourhood. It looked so plain, so… suburban… that I had to check the address twice to make sure I had the right place. I admit I was torn between expecting some expensive decadence or a slum. Nothing so – normal. After dragging myself from my reveries, I rung the bell to the apartment, wondering if Wilson had already been here, and what had he been told. If the contact wasn’t around, I’d squeeze Wil’s contact out of Tim and ask him what he had been told. But it seemed my fears were unnecessary, because a pleasant man’s voice answered a few moments later, and, after I explained to who had sent me, he buzzed me in. I climbed up three flights of antiquated but clean stairs, and found myself face to face with a gracefully aging Norse Viking. If Vikings wore jeans and flannel shirts, that is. The long blond hair in two braids, the drooping moustache and the exceeding pale skin, the towering 7ft of height, and the broad shoulders had me gaping for a second. Either a Viking or a retired pro-wrestler, I mused, as my brain ordered my mouth to close shut because it was still hanging open. The man gave me a surprisingly warm smile and held out his hand. “I wasn’t expecting you, but I am not surprised to see you.” I must probably let show up in my face how confused I was by that statement, because he added immediately afterwards: “I’ve been visited by someone before you came around, and he hinted a magic user might be dropping by. He didn’t tell me you were so… young.”

One of the perks of being a prodigy of sorts, and actually having no life during your teen years, instead dedicating them to studying magic full time, is that, unlike most of your peers, your aging begins slowing down at an younger age. I don’t know why this happens to most magic users, although I have heard theories ranging from holding greats amount of magical energy in storage in your aura, to being so attuned to the universe that you create your own biologic clock. Still, this was the reason why centuries-old magi looked to be in their fifties or sixties, and why I still looked fresh out of my teens. The generation gap exists in every place, the world of magic included, and it had become aggravated recently due to the steady reduction of average age of the magi. Maybe it’s because we mature younger, as we are raised in a human society of competition, dog-eat-dog, and that reflects in us as well. I suppose the generations before us were expected to settle down, find a job and get a family, live a live of normalcy, and only then dedicate themselves exclusively to the Art, making it their life and end-all be-all. Magic being the measure of your maturity or something like that. I can’t speak for others outside my immediate group, but I remember distinctively saying “screw it” to the whole settling down first and skipped straight to the “dedicate yourself to magic” phase. And, then, break one of the first unspoken rules, and mix business and magic. We’d use our magical skills to find patterns in the stock market evolution, and to root out competition, and, yes, for industrial espionage, as well. Instead of our revered goddess, magic became our everyday lover, working side by side with us, during the good and the bad. We made magic a tool, and that brought us in conflict with our Magisters, our elders. But perhaps what caused the greatest strife was seeing we were not smote for our hubris. Of course, there were limits to where we’d use our magic, such as using it to deliberately control the mind of a business rival, or make his head explode, but there was nothing wrong with catching glimpses of the future and use them to close a business more effectively, or to divine who was the spy in our midst leaking information to our rivals and start feeding that person fake knowledge to misdirect them. Magic stopped being an end, and begun being a means.
And to add insult to injury, we looked still young. Even though the magi are a little world in ourselves, we are still human and we live in a society that puts great emphasis in appearance. Sure, the Elders could easily, if they wanted, to find means to make themselves look younger, but that would be admitting they cared about such trivial matters and show weakness in front of their peers.
Which brought me back to the issue of why I had surprised my host. What was nagging me as well was how Wilson had pegged me for a magic user. He seemed to be a normal human, his aura was too brilliant for a vampire, and not wild enough for a Were, and there was no traces of magic in it. He could be trading with Others, getting powers for servitude, but his aura would be tainted with black if he had. Maybe he was just very experienced, lacking powers but having an impressive knowledge of the occult. “Yes, I finally said. “I just got lucky and aged gracefully.” The giant made me a gesture to follow him and carefully closed the door behind him. The house was decorated spartanly, but with bookshelves cluttered with books on every inch of available wall, and I started to realize why Tim had sent me to him. “If Mr. Wilson was here already, then you know what I am here for. I simply need the same he got.”

He nodded “Yes, I know why you’re here for. But you're not getting what he got.” He smiled mysteriously.

I blinked in answer: “Pardon?”

The man motioned for me to follow him to a smaller room. “He got no answers from me, because he could do nothing with what I had to give him.”

“Because he has no magic?”

“Oh, no. Although it's true he has no magic in him, there were other reasons playing here. Until I saw you, I didn't know if I was going to give you the knowledge you seek.”

“Why is that?”

“You stand at a crossroads.”

That sounded very New Ageish, and made no sense whatsoever: “Doesn't everyone?”

“But not the way you do. Have you taken a look at the thread of your life lately?”

Richard had tried and failed. Was that related to what he was trying to tell me? “Yes, but not been able to. Why? Is it important?”

“Incredibly so. You know how rare that is?”

Oh, no, he wasn't. If he tried to give me any of that ‘Chosen One’ bullshit, I was going to laugh. “So I have an amazing prophecy to fulfil?”

“Not at all, and that's exactly the point. And that's exactly also why you are the only person who can sort this mess. Because you stand outside Fate right now. Your Destiny is an unknown. And thank God for that, otherwise we'd all be pretty screwed.” I gave him a blank stare to let him know I wasn't exactly following him. He caught on pretty quickly. “Whoever is behind the affair you're investigating is either moving outside the normal currents of Fate, which, while very unlikely, might be possible; or said person has been preparing for this event for a long long time, and eliminating any people whose fate could interfere with his plan.”

I didn’t like where this was going, and the fact that my suspicions about this not being an isolated event, rather a step in something much bigger, worried me, as well. As did the fact that this man knew so much about it. “Do you know who is behind this?”

“Not at all, but as soon as I heard the name you both came to me to ask about, I have Seen a lot of things, as I sought answers to give you alone. Because nobody else's fate will allow them to interfere and survive. You, however, stand presently outside the fate lines; therefore, you can do anything. This also means you’re the only one who can do something.”

“What, I won't have a fate any more? How did that happen?”

“I'm not sure, but I'm fairly certain this won't last for long, or not forever. And why it happened I know not. Maybe it's the company you keep, or the way you are, or a thousand tiny incidents that lead to this one. You know, like a full alignment from the planets, takes thousands of years to happen, it happens for a few moments, and it takes a lot of smaller events so it can occur. Or maybe,” he was begging to smile “Destiny isn't so easily thwarted and, like a river, if its path is blocked, it will contour its obstacle and try to find its way back into the original course. They say that when Fate closes a door, it opens a window.”

“So whatever happened to me to make me into being ‘fateless’ was a reaction from the Universe to having been meddled with?” I let a note of irony drip into my tone.

He seemed not to catch it, or if he did, he pretended not to notice “You are a reality worker; I'm pretty sure you have seen stranger things happening.”

“Are you a magic user as well?” His aura was clean, like a human's, but had these specs of golden that flared to life every now and them, indicating an old soul. The edges of his aura had a subdued flare, like the corona of a solar eclipse, which was both disturbing and enticing at the same time, and I had never managed figure out exactly what that meant about its owner. Then again, aura analysis was not my speciality.

He smirked, and didn't seem offended, as most non-mundanes are prone to be if you seem to admit you don't know what they are. “Not at all. I'm an earthbound.”

I struggled not to raise an eyebrow at that, and swiftly change the matter. Earthbound - Outsiders who are forced to remain on this Realm, and can't go back to their original homes. Some of them are here on missions, but the majority was cast out and forced to stay here and grow old, like a normal human. That was an extreme punishment and cause for a great deal of shame; therefore a very bad idea to inquire further upon. He could be a Lord like Tim, but the man's propensity for helping without asking for anything in return said otherwise; and since his aura was so clean, I had to assume he wasn't an Other. He could be a multitude of other things, but I had a hunch he was on the opposite side of the War, and rather than an Other, he was (or, rather, had been) Host. That would explain the glorious light hidden behind his human aura. “Now, you were saying something about how you were going to tell me about the word I came to inquire upon.”

He clearly was not deceived by my bluntness, and realized I was trying to divert the matter, which seemed to please him. “How much do you know about Name Magic?”

“I can divine one without too much effort, but only through five, six at most, layers of false names. However, I have a friend who has drawn a name from a ten-layer. I can call him on-”

“No.” His words were stern and left no room for argument “No one else must be involved. This will be information for you and you alone. But from what you told me, you won't have problems drawing the information you seek from it.”

“So Croatoan is a name? Whose name?”

Shaking his head in refusal, he motioned me to approach and led me through a close by door into a kitchen, where there was a small dinner table with a notepad and a pen set on it. He turned to me, his affable smile gone, and fixated me with intimidating intensity. “I will write a name in this notebook. Memorize it as fast as you can, and then burn the paper.” Normally, I'd ask the reason for such a strange request, but his questioning about my Name Magic abilities had left me wary. Name Magic is powerful and when the Names themselves are powerful, bad things can happen from simply uttering or mentioning them – assuming you were pronouncing them properly and with the correct way in mind. The doorbell rang, and he gave me a sad smile: “If you excuse me, I'll have to leave you now. I was an honour to meet you and I wish you all the best.” There was a feeling of goodbye to his words that puzzled me. He leaned over the table, pulled a sheet loose, picked up the pen and jotted down something quickly. “Stay here. You can let yourself out through the window.” He motioned to the thin kitchen widow, which was open despite the midwinter chill. “The fire escape is old and rusty but it can support your weight easily.”

“Wait, why? What are you going to do?”

Again, the same sad smile: “Die.”

“What?”

The doorbell rang again: “Remember, burn the paper, and let yourself out the window. Good luck.” With a wink, he turned to leave. I heard him stomp away to the door. I was so distracted for a moment that I nearly forgot the sheet of paper on top of the table that had been the reason for me to be there. I snagged it and, feeling my heartbeat rise, I read it.

Kroaht'Tohan.

It sent a chill down my spine; I could feel the power behind those two words. They were a True Name. The True Name of the Croatoan. Croatoan was indeed a name, the real name, but heard by the minds of dying humans, who, of course, had no way of knowing the proper spelling for it. The sound of the door opening brought me back from my reverie, and I realized his insistence in me destroying the paper. I inhaled, and pulling on my life force, I conjured a sudden tiny burst of flames that reduced the flimsy sheet into cinders. That exact moment, I also heard the wet, soft sound of several rounds being shot by a silenced weapon, followed by a dry thud.
As of a dead body hitting the ground. Followed by steps headed to the kitchen.
My reaction was to turn around and prepare to throw all I had at whoever was coming, but I remembered I had no energy stored in my aura. I would be pulling on my own life force, and destructive spells would eventually be doing me almost as much harm as to those who I would be targeting. There was a 'line close-by I could use, however, but I would probably wreck half the building if I pulled another stunt like the one in the Geneva hotel. And unlike there, there were innocent bystanders all around me.
Leaving a trail of floating carbonized paper behind me, I vaulted over the kitchen sink, slipping through the window in one fluid motion, and landing a little louder than I wanted on the metal structure of the old fire escape, which groaned and trembled under my weight, but held on fast. Not even two seconds after I had jumped out of the window, I heard heavy footsteps entering the kitchen, and I pressed myself instinctively against the wall under the window, crouched. I heard voices above me but I couldn’t figure out what they were saying exactly. I think I heard ‘kitchen’ being mentioned, but my blood was pounding so loudly in my ears that I could barely make it. I was torn between self-loathing, and fear, and, for some reason, my instincts had taken over, and I just knew I could not be caught there. I wanted to know why the contact had prepared things to happen like this. He had known he was going to be shot, he hadn’t offered me a place to sit, and he had opened his window before I arrived because he wanted me to do a clean get away, without leaving trace of my presence behind. Even without a ley-line to tap nearby, I could take whoever was there. I would have migraines and probably internal haemorrhages for days, but at least I knew I wouldn’t be helpless. I was almost murmuring that to myself, “I can take them, I can take them, I can take them.” Because, by then, I had already figured that I wasn’t hearing one person, but several. I didn’t dare to peek for fear of betraying myself, and I started to realize that that unusual fear, the overwhelming desire to get myself out of there unseen was indeed not natural. Somehow, he had boosted my “flight” reflex versus my usual “fight” reflex. It dawned to me that the sheet of paper where he had written the True Name had a strange symbol watermarked, which I hadn’t paid attention to, thinking it to be normal decor – he had put a compulsion spell in that sheet to keep myself safe, alive and unseen, and, when I had touched it, I had triggered the spell. Since he had touched the sheet too, he had crafted it for me alone. Or maybe not, I had seen him scribble the name, not necessarily touching the pad or the sheet to do so. I muttered a curse under my breath, remaining there, frozen in place until I heard the footsteps hastily leaving the room.
I waited for a long time, in fear it could be a trap and then slowly began moving from my hiding place, inching towards the ladder down, causing me to turn and notice that the shadows inside the kitchen seemed to be dancing. A closer look, and a desperate struggle against the desire to just run the hell out of there, enabled me to realize that the kitchen was now on fire, and while it wasn’t out of control yet, it would as soon as it spread to the surrounding rooms and the incredible amounts of books and paper. My heart contracted at all the knowledge about to be lost, and I pondered if I should interfere or go back to save some of the books. I felt a stab of panic and realized that the compulsion on me was not going to leave me alone until I was far away. I fought to hold back a whimper, as I struggled against the magical fear filling me, but I finally decided it was not worth it, as the time that I’d need to overcome my fears in order to attempt to quell the fire with magic would be far too much. Instead, as I started my descent down the stairs, I called the fire department, with the indication of the kitchen fire that was now threatening to consume the entire apartment. Hopefully, they’d find the corpse before it was consumed, and they’d discovered who it had been behind it all – whoever it had been, they had clearly wanted to cover up the assassination of the poor earthbound. He had known all along when he was going to die, and god knows why he accepted it so easily; regardless, I wouldn’t let his death avenged. As soon as I would get rid of the stupid compulsion, I would go back to investigate all I could. I finally reached the ground floor, and I broke into a quick jog towards my car, nervously looking around for any possible threats.
Whoever had woven that trigger-spell had been good. Damn.
I had been expecting the spell to run out, but it lasted all the way to the hotel room, reinforcing my theory that the late contact had expected this all along and wanted me away and safe. I slid the key card into the lock, and the door opened with a click. The moment I stepped in, and my eyes fell on Valen, I felt the strength of the compulsion beginning to wane. Apparently, it had been programmed to last until I was close to someone who wanted to protect me… or maybe who had the ability to do so. I didn’t know; it was hard to know without researching more deeply. However, when I was about to tell my Other companion why I was running out again, I noticed that he had been talking to someone sitting on the chair opposite to the one where he had been sitting. They both turned to face me, and I gasped in surprise as I recognized the face that had stared at me from so many file photos.

The son of the president himself, Jordan Smith-Rhys.
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn

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Lady Entropy
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Re: Dead Man's Party

Postby Lady Entropy » 15 Mar 2011 13:43

Chapter 22

“It is good to see that your claims did not turn out to be false.” Jordan looked at Valen, who immediately knelt, deferentially, setting one of his knees on the ground. A rather peculiar gesture for this day and age, even if the person in question was the son of the President of the United States of America.
I had never realized Others felt so strongly towards human public figures.
Not knowing exactly what to say, I closed the door behind me, and approached. Valen was slightly raising his head to look at me, a little smug smile in his face. “Mr. Smith-Rhys, I presume?” I said tentatively.
He gave me an evaluating glance, with a hint of a sneer behind it, and started to walk towards me, throwing back his hair, stylishly cut in a fashionable ‘I just got out of bed’ unkempt style.

“I wouldn’t believe it from looking at her. They’re making them younger and younger at each passing decade, aren’t they?” Jordan again shifted his gaze to Valen, while circling me. “But you have fulfilled your goal. It is her, and congratulations to you for beating all of your brethren. Rise, Lord Valen.”

Valen had gotten a promotion? He was now a full-fledged demon lord and he was bound to me?!
The blonde boy seemed to be capable of reading my expression quite well, and I was seeing the evilly amused grin he was treating me with. What did that meant now? That I’d serve him? That he owned my soul? But I had made no bargain; he had willed himself to me. I confess that, with my mind being fuzzy from the compulsion, plus the fact that I was still quivering from the nerves and adrenaline, I wasn’t being particularly fast on the uptake. But by then, I had already begun putting two and two together, and realize that if there was someone capable of making Valen bow like that, and then name him a “lord”, it had to be someone big on the scale down below. “I thank you, my Prince.”

Holy crap. The son’s president was a high-ranking Daemon?

I found him staring at me attentively, his eyes glowing with unnatural light, and it was then I started to feel very uncomfortable and, may I dare say it, fearful. Even while Valen was nothing but a minor incubus, barely more than an evil spirit with a handful of magical tricks, a human body and a beautiful smile, I didn’t feel that right around him, but I could at least fool myself into believing I could control him easily or dispatch him should I need to do so. But now? Now he was a full demon. With a title.
The only demon I had ever faced had nearly killed me, and only a literal miracle had saved me. And he had been a Marshall at most. I could but hope that whatever oath had bound him to me had not weakened with his promotion – and that his promotion brought no freebies other than a fancy title. Maybe the power was an age thing, not a perk from the job.
Jordan Smith-Rhys seemed to sense my discomfort, and enjoy it mightily. Despite everything, of whatever mission he had to fulfil there, he was what he was, and this sort of thing were what kept him fed and happy. I felt a gentle, at first, but very forceful presence pressing itself against the barriers in my mind. I’m not sure what happened afterwards, I vaguely remember whimpering, before the pain stabbed me. I felt the shields in my mind straining, shields set in place by the mightiest of our order, and I felt them start to give in. I knew what would happen if they quaked – my mind would be destroyed. To ensure that our secrets were never lost, we didn’t bear mere protections. Those could be shattered and rendered useless. So, our mind was turned into the literal vault of our thoughts and memories, and to breach it meant to destroy it whole. Very few things could manage to overpower our reinforced mental defences, but it seemed I had found one. I fought with all I had, sending hectic thoughts, forcing them to shift as fast as I could, even resorting to listing mentally as many animals as I remembered, but he just wouldn’t budge. The pain had driven me to my knees, but my pride be damned, I just didn’t care. Blocking the pain as best as I could, I focused on keeping him out, and it stopped in a stalemate. That seemed to both intrigue him and miff him, and I could see he was no longer playing games and was about to force himself into my mind.
It was then I felt soft arms around my shoulders, and had realized that Valen, with glowing slit eyes locking on mine, was trying to shift my weight into him, so I wouldn’t be crouching, but rather on his lap. My larger frame, however, made it all rather awkward, and, like a wounded animal, I escaped his grasp. I heard him make a huffing noise, and suddenly yank me off my feet with far more strength than I could think him capable of. As he cradled me in his arms, forcing me to look at him, I realized he was changing. His entire body was shifting to one of an adult, a more powerful host, one that could overpower me. His youthful angelic face became handsome, almost unbearably so, and his blonde hair now reached his shoulders, framing his face like a golden halo. How could something so evil be so beautiful?

“Don’t resist him. He will hurt you.” He murmured, almost tenderly. I tried to free myself, but he held me effortlessly, shifting his grip, so he was pinning me on the floor, holding my wrists above my head with one of his large hands. “Sssh… let him see that you are the real thing. That you are not a trick. Open yourself to him.”

I wanted to scream at him that nothing could get in there without destroying it; and that I would not let a demon would get inside my mind. Not now, not ever again. I wanted to call him a traitor, a betrayer, but I couldn’t because his soothing words, even though they enraged me, were distracting me. He ran his free hand over my scalp, closed his eyes, and I felt my thoughts leaving me.

How could I have missed it?

By bounding himself willingly to me, he was mine, my possession, mine to do as I saw fit. Except sending him away. And I nurtured him. The stronger I was, the stronger he’d become. Our minds were one.

He was my familiar.

I had failed to notice that because it was not a common practice – usually smaller, barely intelligent creatures were conned into serving with offers of food and a warm house. I hadn’t even considered this possibility because it would be unheard of. Familiars were a smaller life form, of weak intellect. Not a minor Earthside demon.
Certainly not a Daemon Lord.
Using our connection, he opened my mind to whoever was there wearing the president’s son face, and let him drunk deeply in the knowledge and thoughts and beliefs and fears that made me into who I was. And I was powerless to stop them.
I don’t ever think I could remember feeling so sick before in my life. I had ignored my instincts – I had let Valen’s pretty face and tenderness fool me. I had let myself grow comfortable around him and forget what he was – an Other. Ruthless, cruel, uncaring. He had sacrificed his free will to me, knowing I would not abuse him because I still have a modicum of decency. And in exchange – They now had access to my mind, my thoughts, my most intimate secrets. I didn’t know what for, but they had it.
I remember vaguely screaming with a voice that was too hoarse to be mine, as I struggled to stop the torrent of memories, and I remember Valen’s tender strength pinning me under him, keeping me from hurting myself, as my mind was engulfed by the memories I had fought to supress.

“Why, child,” it says “I am whatever you fear most.”

Those eyes, those damned evil red eyes devour me.

For a moment, I wondered why hotel security wasn’t rushing into the room, because I knew I was howling like a wounded animal.

I scream and I scream and I scream.

The blinding light engulfs me, and I think I am dying. This can’t be heaven, however. There is too much pain.

Tears stung my eyes and I could feel the unbearably soft touch of Valen’s hand, wiping them away, as he murmurs sweet nothings, promises all will be alright, if I just let “him” see it. But I didn’t want him to see it. Those were memories that had left me scarred and almost comatose for weeks. Memories of a loss too great for me to handle, no matter how many years have gone by.

And the blood. So much blood.

My mother is dead.

And I am not.

This is my ultimate betrayal. She dies for my sins, and I have to live on knowing she sacrificed herself for me.

I fought not to let old ghosts scare me. I fought to think that that was the past, and that I had been the innocent victim of a foul trap, who would have had claimed my life if my mother hadn’t bought me enough time to craft a crudely drawn circle, and summon a Host protector, through the despair of the innocent, fuelled by the dying breath of a mother protecting her cub.
But my logical thoughts were like feathers in the midst of hurricane-force winds. Certain wounds run deep, and those cut me deep, to my very core.

And I just couldn’t stop the memories.

I lay very still, hoping that it would end faster that way.

It didn’t.

Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium…

No. No! NO!

I screamed inside my mind and, abruptly, it was over. I shivered, expecting another attack, another invasion, but it never came. I realized I was trembling, and the more I found myself alone in the deep recesses of my mind, the more I recovered my self-control, and after a few more pitiful whimpers, I exhaled forcibly and tensed my jaw so much I could feel it creaking. Then I opened my eyes, and said very calmly. “Get off me, Valen.” My voice didn’t even crack. I was so proud of my little victory.
Surprisingly, he did so, but didn’t allow me to stray from his embrace. I didn’t even react, as I was feeling cold as ice, barren and emotionally exhausted, too tired to care. The son of the president was crouched in front of me, watching me calmly, unashamed or unfazed by his actions. He pulled an envelope from inside his pocket, handing it to me. I didn’t take it.

“I cannot interfere in this matter, but it is not to our interest that things happen as they are fated to happen. And that is why we need you, Fateless One.” The envelope didn’t move.

“Who are you?” I snarled, softly but no less menacingly.

That seemed to amuse him, and he withdrew the envelope “Well, I’m currently the President’s son, it seems.”

“He’s dead.”

“So he is.” He agreed. “He has been since this entire mess started.”

“He’s moving too much for a dead man. You took over his body.” I wasn’t asking a question. I knew, as I was surprisingly lucid, as if the unbearable violence had burned off all the unnecessary extras of tender humanity, leaving only behind the iron will and the coldness of fact.

“I have. I came to him as he died, and I made him mine, and kept him alive until I could meet you and give you this. ” He held the envelope to me again.

“What is this? And why are you giving it to me?” I asked, slowly. Others were experts in finding loopholes in contracts, and possessing a dying human (one who was clearly hell bound for Them to be able of doing it) to meddle indirectly in an affair that They had no dominion over, was so very like Them.

“Because I can’t interfere in this matter. But I can invite you to a ball.” His words were loaded with meaning, and I remembered Tim. They couldn’t interfere, because this was a matter concerning the inhabitants of this Realm. And he was an Other. Like Tim was a Lord – both living here, if they managed to do so, but never really able of making a difference in the long run – that was a privilege only reserved to those who called this their home. Those were the rules.

But like Tim had oriented me towards someone who could tell me the truth, or some of it (a truth he probably knew but couldn’t share), now the Daemon Prince was giving me another piece of the puzzle he could share. An invitation to something that would certainly have a role in whatever was going to happen. I carefully extricated myself from Valen, and took the paper, heavy and rich, with filigree in golden, clearly something very expensive and tasteful. I could feel Valen approaching to embrace me, and I turned abruptly, our eyes meeting. “You have fulfilled your mission. You don’t need to clutter my personal space any more. So stay the hell away from me.”

“I can’t.” he pointed out, softly. “I’m your familiar. Whether you like it or not, we’re bound now.”

“Why did you do it?” I wanted to keep emotion out of my voice, but I didn’t manage to do it that effectively.

He shrugged “We had been looking for you for a while. We needed you to be protected, and I was the first to manage to find you and effectively lure you close to me. The rest of my idiotic brethren was aiming to catch you through your libido. I was the only one—”

“— thinking of catching me through my job.” Smart Valen. I mistrusted romance. He had been the only one realizing how I lived for my work. So this had all been a gambit to get an Other close to me, so they could protect me from the mysterious stranger behind this entire affair, since I possibly could be one of the very last few threats to his nefarious plan, whatever it was.
A guardian demon. The irony was not wasted on me.
I was struggling to get my anger controlled, because I knew I had to think of the bigger picture and the greater good, but old fears had swam back to the surface, stronger than ever. Valen reached for me, but I shirked from his touch. That made him sigh “You know how we are, Camila. When orders were issued to all Earthsiders to try to come close to the Fateless, many tried to cheat in order to be promoted. It’s in our nature. Therefore, your memories had to be checked.” Damn him. As my familiar, he knew my emotions, my stronger memories and thoughts – that was basically how a Master and his familiar communicated. And I could know his, it dawned on me. It was a flimsy revenge, but I took it gladly, and I turned to him, dipping into his consciousness, willing to know his thoughts.
To my unending surprise, I was greeted with concern and tenderness.
Valen cared about me.
He looked at me, darkly, knowing fully well what I was doing but making no move to stop me. I severed our connection hastily, breathless, too stunned. “Stay Earthside for too long” he snarled “and you start becoming human too. It grows on you, like a virus.”

I was about to mutter something, an apology, an excuse, stupidly, because what they had done to me was far worse, that’s me in a nutshell, but then something heavy impacted against the room door, so strongly that I could have sworn I saw dust flying from the hinges. Startled, I instinctively reached for my gun, when I realized someone was desperately banging on the door, screaming something.

“You should let him in, Magi.” Jordan said calmly. “Before he draws too much attention. A worried man in a mission is always a dangerous thing.”

His words would have puzzled me if I hadn’t by then recognized the voice on the other side of the door, although truth be told, I had never heard it laced with such despair.
Marcus.
I opened the door. “Marcus, what is—” he stumbled in, hastily pushing me behind him, facing the two Others. He was dressed for work, in black army fatigues, and bound to have drawn quite some attention if he had made his entrance thought the main door.

“Blessed Father, you’re alright! We’re leaving. Now. And do not listen to anything these liemongers tell you. I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone with him.”

“That is very rude of you…” the smile on Valen’s face was perverse in its sweetness, but I could sense the barely suppressed anger. “…brother.”

“I am not related to any of you, filthy demon scum.”

I couldn’t but help finding this exchange rather curious and intriguing. As if something was being said between the lines that I wasn’t catching.

“I’d beg to disagree, seeing some of us did come from the same place you did… Bene Ha Elohim.”

Marcus froze.

So did I.

Bene Ha Elohim.

Son of God.

“You know, until you insulted me, lowly soldier, I was content in letting you keep your secret. I knew what you were from the first time we met, but it was not my place to speak, and I’d be content to let you be. This is not about the Great Game. And apparently we were both working on the same side, so it was unimportant that she was aware of your nature.” He nodded to me, then his eyes locked on mine and he was talking to me. “You hate us for what we did? For our deception in order to protect you? Then ask the Host what they did to get close to you. To keep you on their side.”

“I don’t care.” I lied. I did care. I was confused and afraid, but this was a matter of power. If I let myself be swayed by Valen’s words, I would turn on a man I very likely loved. A trusted friend and a fellow hunter. And that I didn’t want to happen, no matter if he was Host or had lied on his resume. Because deep down inside, I hoped that, one day, I could overcome my fear of relationships, and we could stay together, because—

“No.” Valen said darkly. “He doesn’t love you.” I lost it and I jumped him, blindly, foolishly, attempting to claw his eyes out, fighting like a girl, years of training lost in face of overpowering emotions. He had been expecting it, and sidestepped me, grabbed my arm, used my momentum to make me twirl over myself and immobilizing me by wrapping my own arm around my throat. “Ask him. Address him by his ranking name and ask him for an oath of truth.”

Rage distorted Marcus’ features, but he was keeping very still, as if thinking Valen was holding me hostage. His scowl faded as he noticed me looking at him, and mouthed a ‘no’, almost as if begging me not to ask him that.
I inhaled, letting my Sight come to focus, and I could See the word that made him, his Name. So I used it to extract the truth from him.

“Do you love me, Chayyliel of the Elohim?” He was about to answer yes, but I cut his words by not letting him wiggle out with such a broad statement “Like a lover would? Or were you just ordered to come close to me?”

He pressed his lips together, and looked down.

My heart skipped a beat.

A lie. It had all been a lie. I didn’t even need to make him swear under an oath to know that Heaven and Hell were indeed very much alike. Except Heaven apparently had managed to seduce me far better than Hell had.

“So you mean all this time—”

“The Host was always far more skilled than us in seeing things to come and working in long term goals.” The demon prince said softly, somewhere behind me and Valen. “They realized you were the solution far before we did.”

The Host had predicted this entire mess and had placed their pawn in place, close to me, using whatever means they could to ensure I would keep him close. Others or Host, they were the same – ruthless, uncaring, cruel. Because despite everything, the War still went on; even if both sides were united to stop this great evil, they still fought to discredit each other, not caring what did that do to me.
They knew it was me who had to stop this entire mess, but now I had to do it filled with repressed memories and a broken heart.

“Marcus, I’m going to ask you to leave.” My voice was neutral. Grey, Dead. I couldn’t afford fear, or emotions, or grief. Or so I said myself. In truth, I just wanted the pain to be alleviated. I would need a few moments to collect myself, and then I’d do what I always did what I always did when my emotions threatened to overwhelm me. I buried myself in work. I had something bad to stop; then, I was going to go the whole nine yards and dive headfirst into it.

He shook his head. “I can’t. I need you to come with me.”

“I have other things to concern myself with. We will talk at a later time.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’m not trying to get you to forgive me, or trying to explain.” His words surprised me. “I need you to come with me because we need to head to Headquarters. The Red File… it was called off!”
"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles."

— Audrey Hepburn


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