War on Souls: Raison D'etre

By Adrian Brooks

Raison d'être is a phrase borrowed from French where it means simply "reason for being"; in English use it also comes to suggest a degree of rationalization, as "The claimed reason for the existence of something or someone".

Book One: Keeper of Souls I am very old this day, I was living before my birth, I remember yonder oak An acorn in the earth -- The Llanfabon Changeling

Prologue: Dot was weeping. That was the first thing that anyone entering the room at the moment would have noticed. The small girl huddled in a corner of the room keening into her arms, two boys the same age on either side of her watching, not her, but rather the panicked activity in the darkened chambers. All three children jumped as that same darkness that cocooned them was lit up from the outside by yet another explosion. For an instant the world was awash in a blood soaked light and the image burned itself into Dot's retinas so that she lowered her head once more into her arms and began to tremble, too drained, all of a sudden, to cry. Screams and the rapid report of gunfire decorated the air rather than the gentle splash of ocean waves and late night calls from shop owners. Those were the sounds that Dot was used to hearing, not the sounds of the dying. She was used to the smell of sea salt and flowers, of cooking bread. She was used to the smell of life. Not burning and death. Remy too was used to such things which is partly why the sounds from the war going on outside gave him strength rather than weakened him. His wife and young son stood at the door to the chamber and the gleam from their eyes as they watched him, their silent trust in him, strengthened his resolve even further. Turning to the bedside table he opened the small box he'd brought with him and from it's depths drew forth the obsidian collar that had been hidden inside. It had taken him years to make it. Years more to come up with the concept for it. His wife had been a help of course, without her it wouldn't have been able to function at all. Now he only hoped that when the time came to test it's strength, and that time would be soon, it would not fail him. If it did the chaos outside would seem like nothing more impressive than a child's tantrum. The sharp scent of gunpowder teased his nose and he braced himself as yet another explosion rocked the castle. The woman on the bed began to stir, her brows drawing down in a frown and her wide mouth tightening in irritation. Fear tightened Remy's heart and from behind him his wife hissed at him to hurry. Speaking a short word, more prayer than spell, he touched the edge of the throat of the woman who lay before him. Rage briefly contorted her features before, like hot wax the collar melted around her throat and reformed itself. Hardening like steel and glittering dangerously under the light from the flames that burned outside. He watched anxiously as the Princess's back arched and her fingers tightened and lengthened into claws on the deep purple damsack of her bedspread. She bared her teeth and for a heart stopping moment her eyes opened and met his before the collar flared and the spells encased in it began to take effect. Then right before his eyes the woman on the bed began to change. The silver white of her hair shortened. Her face shrunk and rounded and that lithe body that ad caused so much destruction these last few months seemed to collapse on itself. When the change was completed Remy gazed down at a gurgling baby. The white fuzz on it's small head soft and curling like that of a birds and her eyes, dark as night, shining like marbles in a delicate face. Releasing a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding he looked over his shoulder at the now silent Dot. "You and the boys go down and find Octavius. Tell him that the Princess has been killed." Dot's eyes widened and her small hands searched for and found her brothers beside her.

"They won't believe Dot. If Dot says that the the Princess is dead they will know she lies. There isn't anyone who's strong enough to kill the Princess. Except..." And here her voice faded off and her eyes darkened in thought. Remy nodded though he knew what would happen if what they were now doing was ever found out. "Yes. Except him. Now go. Make sure the entire here's of what's happened by morning. You understand?" The small girl nodded and pulling her siblings along behind her she ran towards the chamber door and pass Remy's wife and son. Once beyond the threshold she took a deep breath and began to scream. Her brothers took off running and with a final glance at Remy she followed in their wake. "HELP! SOMEONE HELP! IT'S THE PRINCESS, THE FALLEN HAS MURDERED OUR PRINCESS!" Moving quickly now, Remy grabbed the child from the bed as she began to set up a tight fisted howling in response to the sudden excitement and noise. He rocked the squirming baby girl on one shoulder and met his wife's eyes. His heart clutched in his chest. "You know we won't be able to come back after this?" She nodded, solemn and sad but achingly beautiful. At her hip his son clutched at her skit and popped a finely trembling thumb in his mouth. "Is the Zebulian ready?" She nodded once more and after taking once last regretful look at the royal chambers he looked outside the only window and down to the burning city beyond it. The child was a warm weight on his chest, the collar at her throat the only source of cold. Tiny fists clenched in his tunic and her tiny mouth moved against the muscled column of his neck as she murmured in her sleep. From what seemed like a great distance away e could hear Dot and the boys screaming for help, the pounding of soldiers as they rushed through the castle. the screams and cursing of fighting and dying citizens.And finally, rising above the black smoke and the rumble of cannon and gunfire, the agonized scream of the Fallen. Remy's arms tightened around the babe in his arms as she whimpered and began to squirm irritably. He turned away from the window. "Let's go." § Az'rail had been working when the they came for him. Even in his trance, he could hear the mix of exuberant cheering and helpless weeping that rose from the streets. The sound of a people who were unsure whether or not they should grieve or celebrate. He remembered thinking in a vague sort of way that only one person would create this sort of havoc and confusion. Only one. He'd heard the signs, he'd sensed them coming but he'd ignored them for one simple reason. He had not felt her die so therefore she was not dead. So Octavius could burst through the double doors of his home and demand he surrender himself, soldiers and grieving peasants could swarm him and beat him. Throw stones, food, put him in chains and drag him naked through the streets. They could whip him and lock him away

for what felt like an eternity and he would let them do so. Not because he couldn't stop them, or because he was guilty of the crimes they say he committed but because he was waiting. Waiting for that brief spark of her that told him that she was alive and well. That she waited for him just as he waited for her. Then one day as he hung from the hooked chains that suspended him inside of the pit, his wings broken and bleeding at his back, he heard the rumble of a familiar voice say, "I want to tell you a story." Then that long awaited voice answered, "What kind of story papa?" And just like, that he'd found her. § Very far away, an amount of distance that could easily feel like another time and place a man gazed down at the downy curls of the little girl beside him and finished his story off in a voice gone hoarse from use. “And that’s the story of how Life and Death, met and fell in love. They were never separated. They grew old together and though they argued on many things, Death kept his word and stayed by her side. When the actions of a group of rebels threw the Princess’s world into Civil War, they fought side by side.” Sometime during the story his daughter had sat up and away from him. Her back was ramrod straight, her shoulders hunched. He could feel her trembling and his eyes narrowed on her as he continued his story. “Death even stood by his Princess when the betrayal of the rebels and the weight of so many deaths sent the Princess spiraling into madness. He was there when she lost control of her power and souls flew freely through the worlds, as crazed as their keeper. Killing and destroying as they saw fit. He stayed with her when her world turned on her, when everyone else had abandoned her to the rebels and left her to die.” “What of Remy papa?” Her voice was ragged and thick with tears and he felt a moments panic that he had gone too far. “What of her first in command. Was he too a traitor?” On the word traitor, the man felt the crawl of heat run lightly over his skin, as if testing. Searching. The spell was weakening. Not only was some memory seeping through, but her power was beginning to come back as well. He’d have to warn Leila so she could take precautions. For now though it would be best if he could make it through the next few minutes without being burned alive. He spoke quickly. “No pet. No. Remy was no traitor. Neither was his wife Leila. They created something special for the Princess, to keep her safe. A collar. In this collar they weaved spells that would weaken the Princess, make her less than she was so that no one from the worlds would be able to sense and find her.” “And she allowed such a thing to be done to her?” He couldn’t blame her if she sounded disbelieving. “No. Not exactly. As I said before the Princess had been driven insane. She was volatile, dangerous to everyone and everything. So the collar was slipped on her one night as she slept. Remy and Leila took her from her bed and together they all left the world of Japrimilia. They went to a new world. One that had no ruler and only minor Supernaturals. One that was almost completely overrun by humans. Remy and his wife felt that they could hide the Princess well there.

Keep her safe from the world and from herself. So Leila spelled the Princess and they lived a happy life in this new world together for many years.” The heat against his skin increased, what had once been a gentle probing, becoming brutal and deliberate. He met his daughter’s eyes as she looked over her shoulder at him. The dark pools drew at him, lulled him into a state of security that he new was false and deadly. She tsked sadly and shook her head. “Oh papa. What a sad story that is. Whatever happened to the Fallen? Why did he allow his Princess to be taken from him.” “He didn’t.” The man’s voice came out strangled. “He didn’t allow it. He searched for her but he…he was imprisoned by the rebels.” The smell of burning flesh suddenly filled the room and from down the hall, a woman once known as Leila raised her head in alarm as she heard her husband begin to scream.

Part One: The Genuine Truth behind Truths

Chapter One: You can and you can’t, you will and you won’t; you’ll be damn’d if you do, you’ll be damn’d if you don’t. ---Lorenzo Dow My name is Gabriale. I prefer being called Gabby though all my life people have referred to me as Ale: The forbidden liquid, the teasing mistress, the dark Madame. I was never really sure where all the drama came from, after all Ale is only a liquor, just a cheap tavern drink. My papa used to love my name though, every night before bed he would press his nose against mine and stare into my eyes and say, “What a pretty Ale I’ve brewed. The most productive five minutes of my life, eh Marian?” And chuckling, he’d turned to kiss me, while, standing in the doorway to my room, mamma’s face turned beat red. I’d hear them laughing and talking softly among themselves as they left me. I remember thinking to myself of how jealous of the two of them I was. How lonely I felt once my papa left me to go be with mama. My brother Robbie laughed at me for it, called me selfish. And in a way I suppose I was. He was my papa and I shouldn’t have had to share him with anyone. Not his mistresses, not his gambling buddies, not Robert, and most especially not my mother. Papa knew, he understood because he saw the greed in my eyes when I looked at him across the breakfast table every morning as servants passed out food. He understood and he delighted in it. Nothing pleased me more than the days he would set aside his paper after he had finished his scones and coffee and take me riding. We would go into London and he’d buy me sweet treats from the vendors we passed and new ribbons to adorn my silver hair. “What a pretty Ale I’ve brewed.” …My papa understood my greed for him; because he had the same greed for me…at least he did up until the night he died. You have to understand my mother in order to appreciate her. She is not a thrifty woman, she is not a patient woman, and she's especially not a very inventive woman. Couple this with the fact that my father was a gambler, a man who saw the turn of a bad card as a challenge from the gods themselves, and it’s not hard to understand that my mother, brother, and I soon found ourselves in debt. No, that’s really too mild a way to phrase what happened, so let me begin again. Couple this with the fact that my father was a gambler and it’s not hard to understand that my mother, brother, and I soon found ourselves in massive debt, crippling, gut wrenching, jaw dropping debt. I was never sure on all the details; I just know that one day I walked into our home to see my brother standing in the hallway outside of our study where our mother was having a fit. I’d gone to stand beside him and he’d clutched my hand. Together we watched mamma as she wept and cursed, throwing a small statue of the Goddess Aphrodite, whom I’ve always rather fancied,

against the wall, along with anything else she could get her hands on. She cried a lot that day, exhausted herself with grief and fear. Our estates, both in London and in Edinburgh were confiscated, along with our various townhouses and shops. Mamma sent Robbie away to be a manservant for some Duke once he turned sixteen. As the only two left, we shared a small hole in the wall down by the southward end of Cheapside. She would sell fruit at the corner every day, or at least try to, while I learned what any respectable eight year old would do. I stole, I begged, and I stole some more when mankind was feeling unsympathetic towards London’s less fortunate. The women, especially the young newly married ones, were keen on me. The sight of my big black eyes and silver hair had their eyes lighting up. To them I was a doll, a pretty toy that had been dropped in the dirt one too many times. No, the women were easy targets; it was the men and little boys who gave me problems. Boys called me moon kissed, and ash baby while men would look at me in a way that made my skin itch. Anyway, remember when I told you that you have to understand my mother in order to appreciate her? Well on this particular day, even though I understood her, I sure as hell didn’t appreciate anything about her. Don’t get me wrong, she kept me until she couldn’t keep me anymore. Then she left. Poof, gone, disappeared without a trace one day when she was supposed to be selling her fruits. I looked for her, screamed for her until I was hoarse but she didn’t come back. Stealing is only lucrative until you get caught, and a couple of days after mamma left me I got caught. Puffy eyed and by then weak and sore from hunger and life, the fat man who’d been selling his ‘rare’ meat pies managed to catch me easily. To make up for the money I’d cost him he’d sold me to the owner of the Devil’s Playground for a handful of shillings. The odd thing is, the prostitutes took better care of me than my mother ever had. § I suppose I should start things off right. Though not with a generic ‘once upon a time’. That type of story has always seemed a little impersonal. But rather I want to start from the middle of everything. Not to be difficult but because I don’t know the beginning. I never did, and the only person who I truly believe might still know it is Sin and I refuse to ask simply because he wouldn’t answer me. He can be difficult sometimes. So the middle it is, because that is the only start that I know. What I remember best, before even the memory of mamma and papa, was the fire, the ocean of black flames. My world was made of flame and undying light. Life was something that I could breathe in and roll around on my tongue like candy. Sometimes I missed that place to the point of pain though the memory of it faded over time as memories are want to do. After a while it seemed nothing more than a half remembered dream, something unreal and so best left forgotten. I was thinking of that place while I scrubbed the floor of one of the Playground’s upstairs bedrooms. The lye in the bucket of water beside me stung the cuts on my hands that I’d gotten from the wire brush that I’d been cleaning with all day. Sitting back on my heels I let the brush

fall out of my hands. Letting my head fall back I closed my eyes and stretched, groaning as my back arched and sore muscles woke up and complained. And that’s how Russell found me, kneeling on the floor and making little pleasure filled sounds as I worked out the kinks that had tightened me up. “What do we have here? Still scrubbing floors Kahna, I’d thought they’d have you earning your keep on your back by now.” In my lap my fingers clenched and I had to grit my teeth to calm the instant violent reaction that rocked through me at the sound of his voice. I forced a tight smile and looked at him over my shoulder. “Russell, what brings you here so early in the morning. You’d think with all the drinking and whoring around that you do at night you’d want to get as much sleep as you could during the day.” Russell, co-manager of the Devil’s Playground (meaning he only paid the bills and popped in every now and then instead of actually helping run the place) arched his eyebrows at me and pushed away from the doorframe he’d been leaning against to walk further into the room. The knee high leather boots that encased his legs were covered with dirt and grime from the London streets and my jaw tightened as he proceeded to track the mess further into the room. To me it seemed he took particular pleasure in my annoyance because he would pause and grind the heel of his shoe into the floorboards for extra measure. I spoke through clenched teeth. “What do you want?” He grinned and I ignored the mostly handsome face, getting once again on my hands and knees and picking up my brush. I’d have to clean the entire floor all over again thanks to him. I could feel his eyes on me and my skin began to itch from the scrutiny. “I came to speak with Amalee.” I paused and held my breath. “And?” “Annnnd…” He drawled, “I’ve decided, and Amalee has agreed with me that it’s time you began to earn your keep just like the rest of the girls.” My head dropped and my mouth went dry. I’d known it would come to this, Amalee had held it off as long as she could because she was fond of me. The truth was that I was costing her money. As much as I tried to help out around the brothel, there were others who did my job just as well. My time was up and I was out of options. With shaking hands I pushed my hair out of my eyes and looked up at him. “So that’s it then?” He nodded, enormously pleased with himself. “Sure is.” He tugged at the sleeves of his white button down shirt, “After you finish up in here head on downstairs and Amalee and the girls will get you ready for tonight. Try to think of something original for your theme, all those school girls are getting tiring.” He bowed, slow and mocking, his eyes still trained on my face before he turned on his heel and left. I sat there for a long time after he was gone, simply staring into nothing. Then, sighing, I got back to work. § When I headed downstairs later that morning I met Amalee almost immediately. She was standing in the parlor and talking softly to some of the other women. Each of whom was already dressed in their respective themes. The Devil’s Playground was a unique establishment in that we

catered to fantasies. Other establishments might do the same but they did it in an entirely different way. Role playing was kept in the bedroom and cost more. Here we made a huge production of it. Each woman chose a theme or a personality when she got here. Her wardrobe for when the customers began to come in centered on it, her rooms reflected it accordingly, and every Friday night a girl was chosen to perform a skit on stage. Add that to the clean, classy feel of the place and it wasn’t hard to figure out how the Devil’s Playground had been steadily gaining popularity in London. Business had boomed tremendously in just the five years I had lived here. Now three schoolgirls, one debutante, an actress, and an Arabian Princess chattered enthusiastically with their Madame. Deborah, one of the schoolgirls, looked over Amalee’s shoulder and saw me. Her light blue eyes lit up and she waved frantically for me to come closer. I rubbed the back of my neck as I made my way over to the group of chattering women. “I think she should be a schoolgirl.” Said Vivian, a thirty something year old dirty blond who was the first of the schoolgirls here at the Playground. Selma, the actress, tossed her black mop of curls out of her face and sneered. “You want everyone to be a schoolgirl. You’d think that at your age you’d have given it up by now.” Vivian planted her fists on her hips and her brown eyes narrowed. “What is that supposed to mean?” “What do you think it means you old bat? It means you’ve been whoring since the second coming of Christ. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a cobweb for a pu—“ “Ladies! Please spare me the vulgarities so early in the morning.” Amalee’s voice was a little panicked and I forced the grin from my face as both women subsided, shooting each other nasty looks when Amalee turned away from them to face me. When she saw me she sighed and shook her head. She was a tall woman, her limbs slim and graceful. Her hair had turned a solid steel gray color long ago and she wore the heavy mass of it in a topknot at the back of her head. Her face did little to tell her age, only the light wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth giving a clue to the fact that she was not a young woman. Her blue gray eyes were twinkling as she beckoned me forward and into her arms. “Good morning pet. I see Russell gave you my message.” Her arms tightened briefly and she pressed her lips against the shell of my ear. “I apologize for him if he upset you love.” I nodded and stepped back. Rolling my shoulders to relieve the tension that suddenly tightened my neck. “It’s alright Mee Mee. I understand. And I can handle Russell.” I inclined my head toward the group of women that were now fidgeting, impatient, but dutifully silent right behind her. “What’s all this?” Amalee rolled her eyes. “They heard Russell and I talking this morning about you and they’ve been trying to give me ideas for your persona.” Her gaze turned shrewd. “The final decision is of course your own, but do take in their suggestions. They’re more experienced so they should know what they’re talking about.” There was an excited murmur from the women and Amalee raised a hand for silence. “My only limitation is that there will be no more schoolgirls.” She looked directly at Vivian when she said this and Vivian, along with her two devoted followers Tally and Deborah, looked crestfallen. Selma grinned at stuck out her tongue and I tried not to breathe out a sigh of relief. I hadn’t wanted to be a schoolgirl either. Amalee continued. “Kahna is very dear to my heart. I want her to stand out, to be unique yet classy. I expect her to take over for me one day and she needs a guise that will reflect the future of the

Playground. Am I understood?” Everyone nodded. “Now, I’m heading to my office to do some paperwork. You girls have until tonight to have her ready.” There was a chorus of ‘yes mistress’s as Amalee bent to kiss my cheek in farewell. I took a deep breath of her perfume, before she straightened and glided from the room. I turned my attention back to my housemates and they grinned at me. Deborah bounded forward, pigtails and ribboned bodice both bouncing with happiness. She grabbed my hands and began to spin me about with her, bouncing all the while as she spoke in short energetic bursts. “Oh Kanny isn’t wonderful. You get to stay on the same floor as us now instead of downstairs with the help. You can share my room and I can teach you everything I know and won’t we just be the two most darling things.” I giggled and Deborah spun us faster and faster until we were both dizzy and weaving. We collapsed on the floor, breathing heavily. She threw her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek, mirroring Amalee’s gesture from just moments before. “Look at the two of you. Playing about like a pair of pups. Up on your feet. We’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it in.” I looked up at Rosalie, our Arabian princess, from my place on the floor and pulled a face at her. Deborah snuggled against my neck murmuring happily to herself. “Oh come now Rosalie. Do I really need that much work done?” She gave me a slow once over and the smile I’d forced on my face slowly died as her eyes narrowed. She shuddered delicately. “Yes.” Fluffing up the ruffles adorning her white ball gown, Mellissa wrinkled her pert little nose at me. “I’m sorry to say so dear, but she’s exactly right.” She paused and tugged at one perfectly curled golden ringlet so that it adorned her face just so. “You have absolutely no idea how much work goes into this sort of thing.” “Yes, no idea at all.” Deborah murmured against my neck, she purred a little against my skin and I felt her hips move against my thigh. I flushed and she giggled against my ear. “No worries though dear Kahna, we’ll teach you everything you need to know.” § As she had been doing since I had arrived so long ago, Deborah helped me bathe. She scrubbed my back, her fingers long and graceful against my skin. The only difference between now and so many of the other times that she had done so was that we now had a room full of women all fluttering around trying to prepare. Vivian, as the most experienced took it upon herself to inform me of any…sexual acts that, at thirteen years of age, I might have been unaware of while Deborah scrubbed my hair. She explained how to prevent pregnancy and how best to please a man and how to confuse a man into thinking that he’d been pleased when I wasn’t in the mood to actually accommodate him. I was taught about positions, about words, and about toys. It was amazing really, all of the things I’d never realized while living here. I’d heard the girls talk of course, the men as well, but I’d never really thought about it. When I did I could never understand exactly what they meant by certain things. While Vivian talked I sat in stunned silence, my jaw slack until Deborah grabbed a fistful of my soapy head to dunk me under the water.

After Selma dragged me out and forced the water out of my stomach they sat me on a high stool in front of one of the dressing table mirrors. I was in the powder room. A room where the women went to freshen up, even change if necessary, before actually taking her guest away from the card tables downstairs and up into her rooms. The towel they wrapped my in engulfed my completely so that only the top of my head and my eyes peeked out over the top of it. Deborah looked over at me from where she sat wringing water out of her skirts and grinned. She clapped her hands together and purred, “Oh Kahna you are so adorable. I could just eat you up.” “Down tiger. Behave yourself for a few more minutes and come help me pick out an outfit for our Kahna.” Tally’s voice was edged with laughter and I watched in fascination as Deborah’s face flushed red and she rose sheepishly to her feet to comply. I was suddenly blinded when another towel was thrown over my head. “Oh sweet,” Selma chided, “You are a clueless one aren’t you? Dry your hair so I can style it for you.” I frowned at her but did as I was told. When I was finished she took the towel away from me and took a fine toothed comb to the tangles in my silver white hair. She wasn’t gentle and I hissed through clenched teeth every time she yanked out a snag. With a sudden grunt Selma ripped out the comb from my hair and I yowled, falling from my seat on the stool. We both watched silently as a handful of silver strands drifted down after me. I looked up at her with narrowed eyes. “Bitch! You pulled out my hair.” Selma threw down the comb in frustration and kicked me. “Fine you ungrateful child. Comb your own goddamned hair.” Wary I snatched up the comb before she could change her mind. Selma huffed and stalked away from me and I sighed. I loved Selma, but she wasn’t the most patient person on the face of the earth. I finished my hair, with a hell of a lot less fuss I might add, and went over to watch Tally and Deborah pull out costume after costume only to dismiss them. Curious I made myself comfortable on the floor and stared up at them wide eyed as dress after expensive dress was taken from the closet, scrutinized and thrown to the side as if it were garbage. I was busy glancing up as a saffron mass of lace flew over my head when Tally finally found what she was looking for. She shrieked and alarmed I glanced at her sharply. When I saw what she held in her hands, what made her eyes gleam with what I considered to be an unholy light, I felt myself pale. A ballerina dress. I began shaking my head and scooting backwards across the floor. “You can’t be serious.” I hated ballerinas. In my opinion anyone who spun around like that couldn't possibly be human. Plus they twisted their feet into odd angles. Add to that the fluffy skirt and lace up ribboned shoes and you had a living, breathing, pink nightmare in tights. I was still trying to escape when my back came up against an unmovable, unforgivable, obstacle. Shaking a little I let my head fall back and glanced at the now upside down man who stood over me. I watched the grin spread across his face and my stomach churned. “It’s perfect.” Russell practically purred. Stifling a cry of either denial or rage, I wasn’t sure, I turned away from him. From across the room I caught Vivian’s eye and for one heart stopping moment I thought she looked afraid, terrified even, before she turned away and I was able to convince myself that what I’d seen had been nothing but a trick of the light. §

The person staring back at me in the mirror wasn’t me. I know it makes no sense, it confuses me as well but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the truth. Gabriale Trenton, the girl that whores referred to as Kahna, was a girl who made a habit of dressing in boys clothing. Knee britches, boots, loose cotton shirt, and black sailors cap was the norm for me. It was a defense mechanism as much as it was personal style. I was a girl working in a whorehouse and what better way not to draw attention to that fact than to dress as drably as possible. It would have worked out fine that way except that my loose tongue brought me all the attention that my clothes had not. In effect, I had sabotaged myself. Which is how I ended up with this stranger, this Kahna. I was dressed in a shimmering see through veil of blood red, black, and gray. It wasn’t tight but it was form fitting. The top of the outfit curved around my bosom to my back, leaving my stomach bare until it curved back around my hips to fall into a skirt. The hem, which was designed to look like tongues of flame, ended at mid thigh. My legs and feet were bare in keeping with the costume. The material was mostly sheer and the only thing saving me from complete indecency seemed to be the lighting, which changed the tone of the colors of the cloth at random. A black band made of glass curled snakelike around my upper arm. The inspiration behind it came from a thin collar of obsidian glass with small bursts of what looked like stars’ exploding across its surface that was my only memento from my former life. I had worn it for as long as I could remember because it was a gift from papa. I refused to remove it and by now I doubt if I’d even be able to. My hair had been trimmed and curled, so that the heavy mass of it flowed down my back to my waist and around my face and shoulders. Selma had gotten over her mood long enough to line my eyes with coal, and smear my wide mouth with rouge. I watched in the mirror as my normally big black eyes, now even more dominating in my oval shaped face, widened in amazement. “I wasn’t expecting them to find that dress.” I looked over my shoulder at Amalee and scowled. “Well they did. They were even so kind as to make some changes to it.” Amalee’s lips twitched. “I thought the hem looked shorter, and the midriff is missing isn’ t it?” “Yes it is.” Amalee finally laughed out loud. She turned me around and kissed the tip of my nose. “Ah Kahna, pet. You look marvelous, like an ember that’s jumped out of the fireplace. “ I glanced back at the mirror, my eyes roving over my body self consciously. From this angle I could see the dip of my back and the gentle upthrust of my breasts against the soft material of the cloth. I shifted my weight to one leg and watched as the curve of one hip suddenly became visible through the red and black haze of my clothes. I turned back to Amalee in a panic and gripped her hands. “I can’t do it Mee Mee I’m scared. All those men will be looking at me and tonight I’ll have to let one of them…” My voice trailed off as my throat closed up. I could feel myself shaking and I forced myself to keep eye contact with her as Amalee searched my face. Her gaze hardened as it dipped down to my neck and settled on my collar. Her smile, when it came, was tight and a little cruel.

“You’ll do what I tell you to do pet. There will be no backing out of this now. So let me give you a little truth, a little knowledge. You’re not daddy’s little girl anymore, you’re not Gabriale. I know how much you want that life back but it’s over and you’re in the real world now. And in the real world people need money to live and nobody gets anything for free.” I tried pulling my hands from hers, but she gripped me tight. “You owe me.” She stared hard into my eyes, business woman to the hilt and none of my Mee Mee, until I nodded in understanding. She smiled then and her grip slackened so that I could pull my hands from hers. Amalee bent her head and gave me a kiss on one cheek. “You’ll do wonderfully tonight dear. There will be nothing to worry about. We’ll put you on stage and the men will bid. Put on a show and they’ll bid higher. That’s what we want.” She smiled down at me and turned back towards the door leading out of my small room. She spoke without turning around. “You have an hour to get downstairs before the men begin arriving. Try to add some color to your cheeks before then.” “Yes’mam.” I mumbled, but I spoke to an empty room. § Deborah was panicked. I sat cross legged on the prop table off-stage. Makeup and pieces of cloth for emergencies were scattered around me and I pretended to examine them as I watched Deborah out of the corner of my eye. She was wringing her hands in agitation and kept peeking through the curtains, before jerking her gaze to look over at me. Her voice was choppy and breathless when she finally worked up the nerve to speak. “Are you scared pet? Because you know if you’re scared we can always put this off until another day.” She bit her lip and came over to stand in front of me, placing her hands on the table on either side of my legs. I cocked my head at her. “I don’t think Amalee would agree to something like that.” Deborah shook her head. Her eyes were earnest, and pleading, and oh so sweet. “I know about the money Kahna. I know they think you’re not doing your share. I can talk to Amalee for you. I can work to pay for you and I both, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.” I turned my head as the sounds of revelry suddenly increased. The deep baritones of men were softened by the seductive laughter of the women who entertained them. Amalee’s words still haunted me. Not the words themselves but the truth behind them. I did owe her. She and Russell both. They had taken me in when my own mother had abandoned me on the street. I would have died if I hadn’t had a home here. Either that or I would have ended up thieving or whoring just to put bread in my mouth. I’d had it easy so far and now it was time to pay my debts. I understood that, and now I had to make Deborah understand it as well. I let a small smile stretch across my face as I looked at Deborah. “All those people are expecting to see a new girl introduced tonight.” The money from my auction tonight would all go to Amalee and the Playground. Some would be used to make repairs and buy necessities while the rest would pay off my room and board. Any money I received after tonight would help pay for all the new clothes that Amalee would have made for me, along with any perfumes, cosmetics, and jewelry she deemed necessary. Just thinking about the expense of it all had my head pounding. I shrugged it off to consider later.

“Besides, I’m doing this for Mee Mee. If I’m going to inherit the Playground one day then it would be best that I understand every aspect of it right?” Deborah’s pretty face fell and she turned away as she considered what I’d said. I pushed my point home. “How do you suppose Mee Mee supported herself before the Playground anyway Bo?” As expected, my childhood name for her had Deborah softening. She smiled at me and nodded. “You’re right of course darling. I don’t know what came over me. I suppose I’m just ….” “Nervous?” I supplied and she nodded again, pushing back from the table and walking a few feet away from me. “Yes. It’s weird you know? I wasn’t even nervous like this when I had my opening night.” The old bounce came back into her step as she paced in front of me. “I mean it was no big deal and all. It’s just a man, what can they really do that’s all that impressive? That’s what I was thinking back then and I still think it now. My first customer was an old gent who owned a shipping company. Real nice man but he liked to have his toes licked, which was really disgusting.” She paused and looked over at me. My wide eyes must have amused her because she giggled and came over to sit on the table beside me, pushing a wig out of her way as she did so. “I’m sure nothing like that will happen to you. You’re our baby, our Kahna. We’ll work the room and keep the oddballs and the beaters out of the bid. So no worries okay?” She tapped my nose and I couldn’t keep the grin from my face. “Okay.” “Just remember, you’ll mostly have the older ones bidding for you. Something about a sweet young virgin just turns men’s heads. It’s the younger boys who go for the more experienced girls. They don’t have the patience for anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.” She thrust her hips violently, threw back her head and moaned. The table rocked back and forth, thumping against the wall rhythmically for about ten seconds before Deborah howled in apparent ecstasy and slumped against me laughing. “That’s about as long as the young ones last. No endurance.” Her glee was infectious and I laughed along with her, though I really had no idea what the hell she was talking about. I looked up to see Vivian burst through the curtains from the room beyond. She found me and gestured madly. “Come along Kahna. It’s time.” § The bright overhead lights were trained on me from where I stood center stage. Because of this I couldn’t make out the individual faces in the crowd and that was a blessing that I was grateful for. I flinched as another voice rang out over the shouting of the audience. In the back of my mind I realized that I could just faintly make out the voices of Tally and Deborah as they worked the room and discouraged bidders who they thought were bad for me. Amalee’s voice was the most prominent and at this point the most hateful. More than once she would expound on the fact that I had never been touched and how young and pretty I was. I stood at as tall as I could, which really wasn’t all that much, and stared straight ahead, hands folded demurely behind my back to hide their trembling. And then there were two.

“Five hundred.” “Eight.” There was a brief hesitation and then, “One thousand.” My throat closed and my eyes damn near bugged out of my head. He was a toe licker, I just knew it. Who else would pay that much for me unless they were planning on doing something unbelievably disgusting? Amalee must have thought so as well because she hesitated before asking, “Mr. Warsted would you like to continue bidding?” I held my breath along with everyone else as this Mr. Warsted considered. I could hear the careless shrug in his voice even if I couldn’t see it. “No. I’d rather not spend a fortune on a piece of ass when I can always get it for free somewhere else.” My jaw dropped and the room erupted in a blend of laughter and offended cries. I think it was right then that I decided that I didn’t like Mr. Warsted. Amalee handled the double edged insult graciously. “Well if that’s the way you feel my lord I certainly can’t change your mind. The Duke on the other hand appreciates the prize he’s found this night.” The Dukes voice was gracious as he accepted Amalee’s compliments and I fidgeted from where I stood onstage. “Kahna!” I jumped and looked around to see Selma poking her head through the curtains and beckoning for me. I sagged in relief and hurried over to her. She jerked me behind the curtains with a bit more violence than was completely warranted. “You idiot! What did you do?” I stared at her for a split second too long before I snapped. “What did I do? Are you blind? I stood there like a lamb waiting for the slaughter the entire time. I was too worried about pissing myself to have time to do anything.” Selma blinked at me. “No need to get so worked up darling. I only ask because…well…” She looked around us and when she was satisfied that no one was standing by she leaned in towards me. Caught up in her sudden intensity I leaned in with her. “That’s Eric Wallace, the Duke of Erington out there. He comes here every now and then but that’s only because he has business dealings with Amalee. This is the first time he’s ever come to just…you know.” She made a lewd gesture with her fingers just in case I didn’t know and I slapped her hands away. “So what is he doing here tonight?” She shook her head. “I have no idea. Which is why I was asking you what you’d done. Either Amalee is giving you away as a present or you’re being punished.” I blinked at her. “Amalee usually doesn’t let customers we’ve never had before in the auction. It’s to make sure that we know what’s going on with which girl and that no one inexperienced gets a violent customer. “ My eyes widened in horror, and my face twisted in what I could only assume was absolute terror. “So he’s going to beat me and make me lick his toes?” I clutched at my chest and leaned on Selma for support as my knees went weak. She shook her head at me and tugged my hair.

“What on earth has Deborah been telling you?” Before I could answer she pushed me away and searched my face. “Now listen up. I don’t care if that Duke wants you to lick the crack of his arse, you’ll do what you’re told. Now take the servants staircase up to the second floor. We’ve made up the third room down the hall as yours.” “But—“ “No buts girl, just go.” She shoved me, and shooting her a nasty look to let her know that I was neither happy with her nor her advice, I went.

Chapter Two: “I have a right to my anger, and I don’t want anybody telling me I shouldn’t be, that it’s not nice to be, and that something is wrong with me because I get angry.” --Maxin Water, in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World, 1989 The Duke of Erington. What can I say about him really? He has wavy blond hair that he keeps secured in a queue at the back of his neck, his eyes are brown and thickly lashed, and his smile is cruel. His hands are strong, his words are harsh. Everything about him hurts me, from the sound of his voice to the smell of his cologne. I fought. Maybe that was my first mistake. Pain and darkness, that’s how I would describe Eric Wallace, though the description hardly does him justice. Eric and I, our story starts at the beginning. I know the whole of it. Indeed it is one of the only ones that I can tell from beginning to end without leaving anything out. Though the telling of it is still hard for me, even today. “Strip.” That was the first word he’d said to me. The command was given as he sat with a sigh on the edge of the large four poster bed that dominated what were supposed to be my new quarters. The room was yet unfurnished, though the sheets and curtains both had the same red and silver theme as my clothes. I cocked my head at him and raised one eyebrow. “Excuse me?” I suppose I sounded like an idiot, but I was new at this. Wasn’t there supposed to be…oh I don’t know. But something else was involved surely. Eric apparently didn’t think that his command needed much explaining because he didn’t bother saying anything else before he pushed to his feet and walked over to me. He grabbed my chin and tilted my face up to his. He smiled, and though I didn’t like the warning bells that were beginning to go off in my head I smiled shyly back at him. When he bent his head to nibble at my bottom lip I started as if he’d shocked me. He laughed into my mouth and moving faster than I could track he grabbed the front of my dress and ripped it down the middle. I jerked back away from him. Because it was mostly separated in the front anyway, he only managed to rip off the part that covered my breasts. I folded my arms across my chest and stared down in horror at the part of the dress that still wrapped around my waist. I glared up at him. “What the hell did you do that for? That’s all I have to wear until someone brings me extra clothes in here. Have you lost your mind?” Muttering over the stupidity of men in general I

grabbed the tattered edges of the top from where they’d fallen around my hips and tried to tie them back together again. I’d given him my back so it came as a surprise to me when he grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked me back up against his chest. He was tall, really tall; I got to see how tall when, using my hair like a leash, he craned my neck back so that I had to look at him from upside down. “I think I should clear up any misconceptions you may have Kahna.” My jaw tightened and my hands curled into fists from where they kept the remains of my dress together over my body. “I will not tolerate a whore, especially a young one, disrespecting me. The next time I tell you to do something I expect obedience.” His grip tightened painfully in my hair. “Is that clear?” I nodded stiffly, my arms shaking now from the need to lash out. He grunted and pushed me away from him. I stumbled and nearly ran headfirst into the doorknob. Recovering I placed my hands against the smooth wood and tried to ease the tension from my shoulders. Eric ruined any hopes I had of accomplishing this when he spoke again. “Now turn around and strip. If you can’t do it yourself then I’ll have to help you along.” Quickly, before I gave him another excuse to grab me, I shimmied out of rest of the dress and let it pool in a shimmering heap at my feet. My breathing was quick and panicked and I curled my fingers into my palms, nails biting deep into skin, as I tried to will myself to turn and face him. ‘Do it.’ I said to myself, but myself said no. “Kahna.” The warning came through loud and clear, and taking a deep breath I turned around. He was standing a lot closer than I had expected him to be. When I turned my nipples brushed against the material of his shirt and I jumped back, my bare back hitting the door, and the doorknob digging into my spine. He walked into me and pressed his hips against mine. My eyes searched his face before I turned my gaze to focus somewhere over his shoulder. He chuckled, his hand lifting so that he could trail his fingers over my face and down the curve of my neck. I shivered despite myself as he took a step closer. His chest was flush against mine and with each breath I took the material of his clothes rasped against my sensitized skin. I panicked a little. Lifting my eyes to his, I shook my head and pressed my hands against his chest. “You don’t have to play with me first. Just get it over with.” My own voice sounded strained, a little breathless. I felt nauseous. He leaned in until his lips brushed against mine, I felt the slide of his teeth across my bottom lip and my body started to tremble. “Oh no little Kahna. You won’t be getting out of it that easily. I paid a thousand pounds for you and I plan to get my money’s worth. ” He moved his face along my skin until his lips brushed against the shell of my ear. He growled. Actually growled. At me. So I bit him. Things pretty much went downhill from there. § “I want to tell you a story.”

“What kind of story papa?” The man, known in this time and place only as papa, fell silent as he gave the question serious thought. “A love story.” His daughter wrinkled her nose in distaste, something, he was told , which was odd for young lady to do when confronted with the prospect of a love story. He tapped her nose and stared at her sternly. “None of that now pet. This happens to be a very good story.” I blinked blood from my eyes. I lay on my back on the floor of my unfurnished room, my body ached, my heart ached, and my soul ached. It was hard to drag air in through the restriction that seemed to bind my chest. Every time I took in a lungful of air, stabbing pains radiated from my ribs to spread out through my body. My lips parted in a silent scream as I tried rolling over onto my side. I was trembling, crying, and mumbling beneath my breath as I placed first one and then another hand against the hardwood floor. Slowly, inch by careful inch I pushed myself into a mostly upright position. When the heel of his foot hit my back I could only grunt and collapse once again on my side, my breathing once again heavy and labored. I heard the sharp crack of leather against leather as he snapped his belt, and I screamed, scrambling away from him much faster than my wounds thought was wise. He caught me easily and I bucked against him, fighting to get away, ignoring the screaming pains in my back and chest. I drove my head back and he grunted as I made contact with his face. He dropped me to my feet, but before I could scramble away he placed his hand against the back of my head and drove my face into the wall. I stood there, gasping, the edges of my vision going black in pain or panic I wasn’t sure. “Oh pet,” His voice was crooning and soft, a voice I could almost trust if I hadn’t remembered him using that same tone when he--“Is something wrong Gabriale?” His voice intruded on my thoughts, broke them up, scattered them like leaves on the wind. For some reason hearing that name coming from him had my hackles rising. Mee Mee had told him my name. His hands fell down, caressing across the silk of my hair and I turned my face so that my cheek could rest against the coolness of the wall. When his fingers reached my neck, curling just under my collar, his grip tightened. I made a noise, like a panicked animal and satisfied he continued. “I asked what was wrong Kahna. You’ve been out of it for a long time. It almost makes me think that you don’t want to play with me anymore.” I could hear the pout in his voice even if I couldn’t see it and for a split second my vision disappeared completely under a wash of red hazed hatred. Before I could stop it, that red haze turned into an ocean and placing both hands on the wall on either side of my body, nails tearing against the wood, I pushed back against him. “I don’t.” The words were snarled through clenched teeth. “I don’t want to play anymore.” When his fingers slackened in preparation to slam me forward again, I twisted my body to one side and lifted my leg. I drove my bare foot as hard as I could into that still blood covered part of him that had caused me so much trouble. The scream that came from him echoed my earlier ones and I felt a moment of grim satisfaction as I slipped away from him and darted naked towards the door. The pain in my body almost disappeared under a surge of adrenaline as I heard him cursing from behind me. Desperation made my hands slick, panic made me clumsy. I kept feeling as if any second he would grab me by my hair again and yank me back. When I finally managed to

claw the door open I let out a sob of relief and practically threw myself out of the room. I slammed the door shut behind me, honestly, like that would do me a hell of a lot of good, and took off down the dimly lit hallway of the Playground. When I was halfway down the hall and hurtling towards the stairs that would lead to the main lobby and then outside to freedom I heard a bellow and a creak of hinges as Eric opened the door and came after me. I glanced over my shoulder and screamed when I saw Eric’s enraged face slowly closing in. Fright made me quick. I took the stairs down so fast, my feet tripping over themselves that I had to leap the last four or else I would have fallen down them. I had been staring at my feet instead of ahead of me so it came as a shock when I landed in the solid arms of a stranger. My own large frightened eyes met his curious green ones. I heard Eric begin his own stumbling progress down the stairs and I jerked and whimpered. The stranger must have heard him as well because he transferred me to one arm, my bottom cradled in the crook of his forearm as he moved to stand against the wall at the side of the steps and therefore placing us out of sight to anyone coming down. Softly he counted. “Three…” Against my will my head cocked to one side and he winked at me. “Two…” Eric sounded closer now, his breathing harsh in the close confines of the staircase. “One.” And with that the stranger stuck out one well muscled arm just as Eric Wallace hurtled from the last step. Still at full enraged momentum, Eric’s throat collided with the stranger’s wrist. The rest of his body kept trying to move forward, but Eric’s head slammed backwards. He crashed to the floor hard enough that I felt the ground shake. The top of his head collided with the edge of one step and I got one last glimpse at the rage in his brown eyes, before they fluttered closed and he passed out. Amazed, my mouth in a soft ‘O’ of surprise I turned to meet the eyes of a stranger (who in my mind was no longer a stranger but a god) and he turned to look at me. “Hi.” His voice sounded familiar, and when recognition came my eyes widened. “You’re Warsted!” The accusation and anger in my voice had him sighing and rolling his eyes as he stepped over Eric and carried me into the now empty main room. “I was wondering how long the hero worship was going to last. Ungrateful brat aren’t you?” As he spoke he dumped me into a chair that hadn’t been pushed into the card table and my jaw tightened. “Ungrateful? If you’d have just bought me instead of that…that…” my eyes clouded as the rage took over and Warsted tsked softly under his breath as he hunkered down in front of me. “Yes. Eric Wallace certainly is a ‘that dot dot dot’, which if interpreted by someone with more sense than you have at the moment, means ‘a pile of steaming dog shit’.” Anger was momentarily pushed aside under a wash of annoyance and I looked down at Warsted with narrowed eyes to let him know that I did not find him funny, nor did I forgive him. For the first time I noticed that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. My eyes traveled along the leanly muscled planes of his chest. “Tilt your face towards me.” Still distracted I did as I was told and looked up in time to watch his eyes harden. Something deadly in his gaze made the bright shimmering emerald darken to black and I shrank away from him. He was silent for a long moment and with my heart beating a sick tattoo somewhere in my throat I watched as he lowered his head to shield his face under a fall of curly jet black hair. He shuddered once, and when he glanced up he was completely different. He gave a long drawn out whistle as he looked at my face.

“You’re going to look like a rainbow in the morning.” I scowled, my muscles pulling at split and bruised skin and he laughed. I had the uncomfortable feeling that this Warsted, the man smiling up at me in careless sympathy wasn’t the real one. I felt as if I dealt with two different people, the stronger more deadly one hiding behind a more easygoing persona. Instead of relaxing as he had expected me to, I drew my legs up to my chest to cover myself and wrapped my arms around them. I placed my chin on my knees and watched Warsted with wary, heavy-lidded eyes. He considered me, smile dying a quick death on his face to be replaced by a smirk that spoke of careless confidence. The emotion behind it seemed more sincere, more real. Full of deviltry, slightly mocking, a little angry, and a little irritated. The tension in my shoulders eased and the smirk widened into a grin. I jumped as Deborah voice, thick with sleep and soft with satisfaction called down the steps. “Sinclair, pet, do you have the oils yet?” His eyes flashed black again, a swimming deadly pool, before he turned away from me and called gaily over his shoulder in a voice full of affection, “Not yet love. I was wondering which scent you liked better. Coconut or Jasmine?” From his tone even I wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was wrong, Deborah most likely couldn’t see the unconscious figure of Eric at the bottom of the steps because the stairwell was unlit. The only light came from the still burning tapers in the main room. Deborah giggled, “Oh Sinclair, you are a naughty one.” Her voice deepened to a purr I had heard her use on more than one customer, “Bring both and we’ll see which one works best.” Sinclair chuckled loudly enough for Deborah to be able to hear the promise in it and I frowned. Both of them were lying. And lying hard from what I could see of it. Deborah was obviously catering to a customer, as we were meant to do, but him, this Sinclair, what reason did he have to lie. He didn’t have to be here if he didn’t want to be. Seeming to feel the press of my thoughts Sinclair turned and met my eyes once again. Wrapping his long fingered hands around my ankles to keep his balance he leaned forward. I would have bolted at the sudden contact but his voice held me there, calmed me. “I’ll take care of the bastard Wallace. You go on upstairs and get Deborah to look out for you.” He hesitated, “Tell her my brother just left you and demanded that I take him home so I won’t be back tonight.” I could feel the blood drain from my face and his fingers tightened around my ankles, jerking me forward to make sure that I listened to his harshly whispered words. “I’m nothing like that…that…” Words failed him. “Dot Dot Dot?” I supplied, trying to be helpful. His lips twitched in amusement and he nodded, quickly and decisively. “Precisely. So wipe that look off your face and get upstairs. “ I nodded and watched silently as he leaned over me as he got to his feet. “And call me Sin, never Sinclair. And most certainly never ‘pet’.” Still muttering in disgust at the unmanning powers of the female race, Sinclair turned smoothly on his heel and walked away. I saw him grab his brother by the ankle with one hand and drag him effortlessly out of sight. And then the front door to the Playground slammed shut and I was left alone. I wondered what stories would be floating around London about my green eyed god. Shirtless, barefoot and angry, and dragging an unconscious man behind him. Then I shook off the thought and the smile

that followed it and made my slow painful way upstairs and to Deborah. It was only when I found myself keening as I crawled on hands and knees the rest of the way up the staircase that I realized that Sin had helped me stave off the black ocean of despair, and shame, and still lingering panic that suddenly reared its ugly head and devoured me. I didn’t get a chance to thank him for it because after that night I never saw him again and anyway, it was much too late. For both of us. Chapter Three: A young lady is a female child who has just done something dreadful. --Judith Martin “Gabriale Trenton!” I jumped at the sound of my name. No one called me Gabriale anymore. No one knew me by that name. Well, except for Amalee. Deborah, who hadn’t let me out of her sight these past two days, along with Tally, Medora (a new girl who arrived not a week ago) and Selma all glanced up from their knitting as Amalee stalked into the room. I could almost feel the weight of her anger in the air. It brushed along my skin and made the sensitive nerves tighten up. I cringed and huddled against Deborah as Amalee’s eyes lit on me. I hadn’t seen her since the day of my auction. I hadn’t told her what had happened, I hadn’t told anyone. She didn’t seem surprised or sympathetic when her gaze flickered over my bruised and swollen face and the decoration of red, oranges, browns, and yellows, which danced along my neck and chest to disappear out of sight down the neck of my shirt. Selma had found my old clothes for me after she had glimpsed Deborah washing the blood from my body yesterday morning. She’d guessed, correctly, that I wouldn’t be comfortable wearing a dress again for a while. Though it would take longer before I even felt comfortable in my own skin again. Deborah’s eyes were dark with confusion as she looked at me, the obvious target of Amalee’s wrath. “Gabriale?” her voice was soft and I looked up at her in surprise when I heard the fear in her voice. Before I could question it Amalee had fisted the collar of my shirt in her fingers and jerked me to my feet. I heard the material tear and I pushed down a spurt of anger that she would ruin my clothes without a second thought. Our noses touched before she deemed me close enough to appreciate the full level of her fury. “What the hell did you do to the Duke of Erington?” My mouth went dry and I couldn’t keep the guilt off of my face, even if Deborah was constantly telling me it was unwarranted. “I didn’t…” I was still shaking my head when she shook me like a rag doll. “You didn’t? Don’t lie Gabriale. You must have done something because the Duke is threatening to not only take his funding back but cease any further business dealings with the Playground. “ It was Selma who voiced the question on my mind. “But mistress, the Playground is doing pretty well for itself. Surely if one gent decides not to get his rocks off here—“ Amalee’s panicked shriek cut her off and we all stared at her in horror. “ONE GENT! You stupid whore! Who the hell do you think gave me the Playground in the first place? Wallace owns this entire building and everyone and everything in it. And this slut...” She shook me for extra emphases so no one would be confused as to which slut she was referring

to. “Offended him so badly on the only night he’s ever stayed here that he now wants to remove his support and toss us all on the street.” She pushed me away in disgust. I was too shocked by what she’d said to catch my balance and Selma grabbed me before I could stumble onto the floor. Moving still shot pain through my ribs and back, as well as everywhere else, but I gritted my teeth against it and sat gingerly back down onto my seat. “I didn’t do anything Amalee.” Except kick him between the legs, but that wasn’t nearly as bad as what Sin had done to him. Amalee caught my sidelong look at Deborah and her eyes narrowed. Her hair was beginning to spring out of the neat coil she usually kept it in. As if her hair was as agitated as she was and was trying to express itself. She looked like an enraged porcupine. “If you didn’t do anything to him then why do you have bruises all over your face?” Her voice was as cold as I’ve ever heard it and my mouth opened and closed. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t say what had happened; the words stuck in my throat and the thought of forcing them out into the open air, to be speculated over and sneered at had my heart fluttering in helpless panic. Amalee looked down her nose at me, her suspicions apparently confirmed. “That’s what I thought. You think you’re too good for this life Gabriale? You think you’re better than the rest of us just because you won’t spread your legs? Well let me tell you something little girl.” She leaned over me and hissed, “Without your money, without your precious Papa around to prove any different, that’s all your good for now. Laying on your back and spreading your legs. Though from the looks of it you can’t even manage to do that right.” “That’s enough Amalee.” It wasn’t Deborah who spoke, though her face was flushed with rising anger, it was Selma. Her eyes were narrowed on Amalee and as she slowly got to her feet to stand in front of me I saw that her hands were clenched into fists at her sides. And instead of rebuking her and reasserting her status as head in the house, Amalee backed down. Her movements were careful and slow as if she dealt with a wild animal and from where I peeked at her from behind Selma’s skirts; I saw that she had started to shake. I had never seen this reaction from her before…but then I had never seen her face off with Selma either. Now that I thought about it the two of them went to great pains never to argue with one another. At least not in front of the rest of us. My hands fisted into the material of Selma’s clothes and she reached behind her back to pat me on the head. Hard. I winced. Tally and Medora were both watching the proceedings with wide, hungry eyes. As if they were starving for entertainment. And maybe they were. Neither woman was very good at needlework and the fact that they had been forced to seek out activity with Deborah, Selma, and I in the relative quiet of Selma’s bedroom, showed the level of their desperation. Light spilled through the panes of Selma’s window. The activity on the streets seemed far away as Amalee and Selma assessed each other. Finally Amalee straightened her shoulders, the old steel in her spine trying to straighten itself out. She looked at me. “You have an invitation.” I blinked at her. “The Duke was kind enough to give us one more chance. He’s holding a ball tonight and he sent a letter requesting that you be at his home afterwards in order to…make amends. “ I pretended to consider the matter before I shook my head, almost sadly. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to accommodate the Duke tonight. Please send him my

regards.” The words turned to ash in my mouth and I almost spit trying to get rid of the taste. Amalee’s face hardened and I could almost hear the ring as the steel straightened itself back up to its full length. “Fine, he isn’t requesting, he’s ordering. Either you go willingly or he comes to get you himself.” I stood up on suddenly weak knees, my grip tight on Selma’s arms as I tried to keep from passing out from pain. My stomach rolled with nausea and my vision swam. “I won’t go. I never want to see that man again.” Instead of the anger I expected, Amalee smiled. “Yes, he thought you’d say something like that. Warren?” My brow furrowed in confusion as Amalee called the name again, her voice, lilting and suddenly sweet. Understanding dawned when a man entered. He was a largely built man, with small framed glasses perched on his long hawk like nose. Heavy brows winged light blue eyes. His face was lean, with a strong jaw. He was clean cut, expensively dressed, and exuded an attitude that clearly said, ‘I won’t tolerate nonsense’. Amalee nodded her head politely in his direction, “This is Warren Hill, the Duke’s man of affairs. Warren, this is Miss Trenton.” His face, which up until that point had been nothing but a polite mask suddenly changed. He glanced at Amalee as if for confirmation and they shared what I thought was a very significant glance. Beside me in her seat, I felt Deborah stiffen. Suddenly the air around me thickened and charged, and my skin tightened. It felt as if a thousand needles were dancing along my arms and legs and I hissed from the pain. I looked up in time to notice Warren grinning at me, his smile nasty and cold, before my vision clouded to black and I collapsed. § “Once upon a time,” he said, “there lived a beautiful princess.” The snort that came from the little girl let him know what she thought of such a clichéd beginning. He ignored her. “The princess lived in a world that was very different from this one. A world called Japrimilia. Though she was a princess, she ruled her kingdom with an iron fist.” “Where was her papa?” queried his audience. “Her papa was busy. You see he had many kingdoms, five in fact, and all of them in a different world. He left his most trusted followers in charge of these kingdoms so that he could focus on what is only known now as the big picture.” § I stirred for a brief moment, my heart pounding painfully. A soft rustling sound let me know that I wasn’t alone just yet, and I forced my self back down. Down into the pit black ocean of stars, that hid fear and had no time for pain…at least for a little while longer. §

I dreamt that I danced. Dressed in a glittering white gown with a slashed skirt and a button up bodice I was held in the arms of a man with golden hair and dark red eyes. His hair fell in waves down his back and his face was soft, like that of a child. A girl to be more specific. His smile was sharp, mischief ruled his face, and when I looked into his eyes I saw the devil. There was a beauty mark beneath his left eye that fascinated me and in this dream I reached out to touch it as he spun me faster and faster around the dance floor. Then in the dream... he started to cry. A river a honey fell from his eyes like rain and dripped from his nose to land between the push of my breasts. It glittered on my skin like dull metallic gold and when I looked back up from it, the man's eyes sparked red like liquid garnets. I found myself entranced. In the dream... In the dream I leaned forward, for this man for all his strength and power was no taller than me, and licked the golden honey away so that it swam and sunk into my tongue, drowned me. I licked his tears away and he opened his mouth and kissed me. The almost cruel pressure of tongue and teeth forcing my own lips open so that the sticky sweet residue still coating my mouth was washed away under the gentle slide of milk. Honey and milk, honey and milk, I fed and drunk and tasted of him until I was trembling and throbbing. Until my hips pressed against his on their own volition. In the dream his eyes were blood, his fingers cruelty, the knife, when it came, bliss. Pain was pleasure and pleasure was pain and I danced and bled and screamed for him. In the dream...I met the Devil and he turned my world into blood soaked honey.

§ I have very few fond memories. The ones that I do posses center mostly around my Papa, however when he was taken from me those memories took on a bittersweet cast. Now I only have one truly happy one left. One that gets me through the day and keeps the demons from ripping into my mind at night. It’s of Sinclair Warsted leaning over me and telling me to call him Sin, not Sinclair, and certainly never ‘pet’. I can still feel his breath against my cheek; still hear the disgust and annoyance in his voice at the title, as if Deborah had mortally wounded him instead of only pricking his pride. I didn’t like him of course, he could be a little irritable at times, but I did love him. My other memories, my memories of the night I spent in Eric’s home, are lost to me. I don’t know if I’m grateful for that or not.

Part Two: Boys

Chapter Four: What is memory but punishment for past deeds that are done and better left buried? --unknown (Three years later) There is blood. Everywhere there is blood. Warren has run out of the room where my mother lies dead on the floor not ten feet away from her lover. There is pounding… pounding… pounding and my vision blurs. Someone screams and the sound bounces, ricochets off the inside of my skull. Another screams splits the air, then another, and another until the whole world is screaming and ripping along the walls of my mind with blood soaked claws. Without any conscious thought, I push myself to a sitting position and grab up the papers that have scattered around. Some of them are blood stained, dripping with it, so that I double over retching from the sight and smell. The same nameless obedience that forced me to my knees had me crawling over to the side of the room where the fireplace stood. I stuffed the documents, fingers sweaty and trembling, into the thin space between the stone of the fireplace and the wood paneling of the wall. The space was tight and I had to take them out again, breathe, calm down, roll them up into a thin tube and slide them back in. There. See now? Much easier this way. The rough marble scrapped along my knuckles as I pushed the last of the files out of sight with the tips of my fingers, and exhausted I sat back on my heels. When I was finished, exhausted

now, I sat back on my heels. That overpowering compulsion abandoned me quickly, leaving me weak and trembling. I was numb when the alarms began to ring out through the London streets. Numb when I saw the people standing in the doorway, all talking at once as they exclaimed over first me and then the bodies. I was even numb when the shackles were clamped around my wrists and ankles and they had to pick me up to carry me out. As I was lifted up, feet dangling uselessly over the ground, my eyes fell on my mother’s face and I stared into those open sightless eyes. I believed, deeply, that somehow they would find a way to blame this all on me. And it wasn’t my fault, not entirely. It never really was. § I awoke screaming. Thrashing violently against the restraints that encircled my wrists, waist and ankles. The attendant that stood over me merely rolled her eyes before she grabbed my jaw and squeezed until my mouth opened. She slipped my medication into my mouth and held my mouth closed. Her free hand she placed over my nose until I was forced to swallow or suffocate. While I was still chocking on the pill she pulled a needle from the pocket on the side of her dress and injected me with the drug inside of it. My eyes rolled in the back of my head and I jerked. Satisfied she patted my hair. “Ah lass, you shouldn’t be so ungrateful. If ya were in anyplace other than Bedlam they’d treat ya poorly. At least here ya git to see my smiling face every day.” I spit at her and she danced away, laughing as she closed the heavy metal door behind her. In the darkness I whimpered as the dream once again took over. § They had chained my arms and legs with heavy manacles. They were quick as they attached those chains to another longer set that hooked to the back of the carriage. I had to run, even with my cracked ribs, head injury, and bleeding legs. When I couldn’t keep up and fell, I was dragged along the cobblestones and through the filth and stink of city. People came out to watch me, throwing fruit and stones, most of which made contact, cursing me to the devil and pinching whatever part of me they could reach. My face was tear-streaked by the time we reached Newgate prison. Because of the crowd I was so excited to be there that I limped in ahead of my guards and they used the length of my chains to jerk me back behind them. The two burley guards led me to a small office on the first floor. It was a cold, dank smelling place and the man sitting behind his scarred desk was no better. Exhaustion and pain made my mind wander and blank, and I missed the conversation that passed between them. So it was a shock when the larger of the two guards caught my wrist in his large, rawboned hand and led me on a twisting, winding path through the jail. Finally, when I was so weak the guard was practically carrying me; we reached a locked door with bars over the only window so that anyone on the outside could see in and check the

circumstances on the inside without any of the prisoners reaching them. When he had judged it safe, the guard pulled a key ring from his belt loop and inserted one into the lock. With a smooth flick of his wrist he unlocked the door and shoved me inside. Slamming it shut behind me as I stumbled to the rough stone floor on my hands and knees. I heard laughter and looked up only long enough to notice that I had been thrown into a cell with six other women. Then my strength seeped from me all at once and my world went dark. § That night one of the women was beaten. I began to fight my way towards consciousness when I heard her scream. By the time I managed to pry my eyelids open the largest of the three shadows that swarmed around the cell had struck her in the back of the head. Something cracked and without making another sound the woman collapsed onto the floor. I only realized that these were men and not fellow prisoners when one of them spoke. “Bring her over here and let’s get this done.” When the shadows moved towards me one of the braver women who huddled in a corner with the rest called out a warning to me. I tried to move but my muscles had seized up and refused to cooperate. I was grabbed by rough, familiar hands and dragged over to the unconscious women. The only light in the cell came from a lantern that one of the men held aloft and by its soft glow I could see that the woman’s face had been beaten in until it was nothing but an unrecognizable mass of blood. I pulled my wide eyed gaze from her only when the clink of steel rang out in the dank room. I didn’t understand what they were doing until two of them held me down while the third loomed over my head with a pair of shears. “I suggest you hold very still girl. Otherwise my hand just might slip.” “Oh quit your yammering Jasper and get it done then.” His companion groused. I wanted to struggle as they cut my hair off, I wanted to scream, but the man Jasper’s hands were none too steady to begin with and I didn’t want to push my luck. I almost cried as my heavy mass of hair drifted to the floor. When they were finally finished with me they let me up and with trembling fingers I ran my hand over my now smooth skull. Smooth except for the nicks Jasper had made with his ham-fisted cutting. They moved on to the unconscious woman next as I tried to get used to the naked feel of my bare head. When they were done cutting her hair they put all the curly brown strands in a pile and set them on fire. That was all that was left of her, all that anyone would remember her for anyway. The fact that she had beautiful curly brown hair. The next morning she disappeared and some people I didn’t recognize came to cart me off to Bedlam. § I fought against the now familiar pull of opium. I was aware, vaguely, of the weight between my legs, of the heavy breathing in my ear. This was an old custom, a familiar one. I tried pushing the body away and out of me but found that whoever it was this time had kept my hands bound. My ankles had been released and that fact let me know without a doubt that it was Clyde pounding away to his heart’s content.

Clyde was another one of the attendants, the man who was supposed to check up on the patients and make sure that their medication was keeping them as zoned out as possible so the doctors and nurses wouldn’t have so much work to do. Clyde was also the man who said he liked the way my thighs felt wrapped around his waist, so if my legs were free and my hands were tied it was almost a given as to who it was. When the drug left me clear minded enough so that I could glance at the man through heavy lidded eyes, I saw that I had guessed right. Clyde’s bottom lip was caught between his teeth and his straight blond hair hung over his eyes as he looked down at me. His hands gripped my hips, fingers digging in, clenching tight as his tempo increased and he begin to swear beneath his breath. When he tugged the front of my dress down and ran his tongue over my nipple, like a cat lapping up cream, I shuddered. Hard. Apparently mistaking my shame for excitement Clyde forced himself to slow down. His thrusts were fierce to the point of violence, but he took his time. In a way this hurt more than what he had been doing before and I wanted to tell him no, tell him to stop, make him listen to me, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak, not anymore, I was a mute. I had been since the night people tell me I shot and killed Eric Wallace, an incident I have no memory of. Clyde leaned over me, his chest like an immovable wall when added with the restraints securing my hips and wrists. Restraints that pulled and chafed at my skin as I struggled against them. Clyde grinned at me, his eyes cloudy and distracted. The look in his eyes told me one thing. He was close. Deborah’s words from so long ago ran through my head and the memory of them had me choking on laughter. Clyde wasn’t at all offended that I was giggling while he fucked me. I was crazy after all. When he leaned in to kiss me I snarled at him, baring my teeth and narrowing my eyes to dangerous slits. He was willing to push his luck but thankfully I wasn’t forced to sink my teeth into Clyde Ross. “Is this what you meant when you said she was taking her medication Warden? I must say, if my doctor had ever proposed treating me in this particular way I would be a little offended.” The familiar voice had me seizing up, every muscle in my body clenching in remembered anger and fear. Clyde, who was still inside me felt my body tighten and he groaned harshly before the Warden marched over and pulled him away from me. I ignored the cuffing the Warden gave Clyde and instead sent my gaze to the man still standing in the open doorway. Warren smiled tightly and tipped his hat in my direction. “Miss….” He hesitated at my name, his eyes darting to the Warden before he finished politely, “Hutchison. You’re looking particularly lively today.” I growled at him and thrashed on the table. Warren ignored me long enough to turn back to the Warden. “If I could have a word alone with my… cousin Mr. Osmen? It would be the least you could do considering…” Warren sent a look full of regret and upper crust disgust towards Clyde who flushed with shame. The Warden nodded curtly, his mouth still tight with rage as he grabbed Clyde by the scruff of his neck and practically drug him from the room. After they had gone, closing the door behind them Warren stared at me until flushing, I pressed my knees together and tried to wiggle my hospital gown back into place. His lips pursed in annoyance before he finally gave in and came over to me. He pulled my dress down over my hips and drew the collar of my dress back over my chest. He did this all

with the tips of two fingers, as if he was afraid of catching something if he touched me. I couldn’t really blame him. I’d feel the exact same way if I were him. I felt filthy and still a little sick from the opium. Warren even went so far as to undo the straps on my wrists and around my waist so that for the first time in three days (punishment for not eating again) I was allowed to sit up. I didn’t bother thanking him, he wanted something. When he finally lowered himself to noticing the question on my face he only shook his head in disgust. I thought I heard him mutter what sounded like, “Well at least it worked” but I could have been wrong. “So tell me Miss Trenton, how has life been treating you these days?” Though my glare was his only response, he nodded his head as if I had said something. “Yes, I’d hoped that was the case. But enough about you dear, though you are a rather fascinating creature, I really came to ask for your assistance in something.” I looked down at my lap and pulled a shining curl of hair into my mouth. My hair wasn’t as long as it once was, but it was past my shoulders now at least. Just as long as no one came back in the middle of the night to chop it all off again. That happens more than you would think. Warren blew out an irritated breath. “I know you might feel some bitterness towards me after what happened.” I shot him a look and he held up both hands as if in surrender. “Alright, justifiable bitterness true. But that isn’t why I’m here. “ I’d thought as much. I was insane not stupid. Seemingly sensing the words if not actively hearing them Warren’s lips tightened and he continued speaking through clenched teeth. “I came to see if you’d be willing to make a deal with me.” I let my hair slip from out of my mouth to show that I was listening. “Before your mother…died,” I bared my teeth at him in a snarl and he took a well measured step back. “Fine, before she was murdered, your mother revealed some very interesting information regarding a man by the name of Sinclair Warsted.” My spine straightened almost instantly and I gave him suddenly wide and attentive eyes. His mouth twisted in obvious distaste. “Yes, I’d thought you’d remember him at least. That’s good because over the years Warsted has caused my colleges and superiors no small amount of problems. “ He must have noticed the hero worship that was practically stamped on my face because he shook his head at me. “I swear, all you women seem to think about is sex.” I snorted but he ignored the interruption. “What I need, what we need, is for you to dispose of Warsted as quickly as possible.” Any animation that had filled me suddenly drained away under a tide of disbelief. “Don’t look at me like that. You do this for me and I’ll get you out of this hellhole and on the first ship to America.” I weighed the possibilities, the ups and downs of the thing. While I thought Warren pushed, “If you don’t do it Gabriale then we’ll just have to get someone else to. Someone with a lot less scruples than you. “ I hesitated, pulling my bottom lip between my teeth in thought. Warren noted the motion and I watched his irritation rise. “He’s not who you think he is Miss Trenton.” He came forward until he stood not a foot away from me. “What I suggest you do is ask yourself exactly how and why your father died.” I could feel my eyes flash and I jerked back as if he had slapped me. He smiled at the look on my face.

“That’s right. You can blame Sinclair for your father’s death. If you doubt it you could always ask around and people will---“ He stopped and a look of false surprise and embarrassment crossed his face. “That’s right. You can’t ask anyone can you? You can’t remember what happened that night.” He tapped his chin with one finger in deep thought and I begin to tremble with the urge to reach up and strangle the life out of him. His eyes were sly when they met mine. “Let’s sweeten things up a bit then. You kill Warsted, and not only will I get you out of the country with enough money to make it on your own, but I’ll give you your memories and your voice back. Add to that the fact that I won’t tell the Warden who you really are so you can avoid that nasty business of being hanged for murder like you should have been three years ago, and I think it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement don’t you?” So it had been him. His orders that had me shaved and carted off to an insane asylum while some other women took my place at the Gallows. With my hair, a color that most people remembered well after first meeting me, and her face beaten as it was no one would have been able to say that the women who had been killed hadn’t been me. If Warren told the Warden who I was now, they would believe him and I’d still be strung up and left to swing. Besides that, what did I really know about Sinclair, other than the fact that he was sweet, and kind, and strong, and had a really nasty temper and…I shook my head and tried to focus. If this man was really responsible for the death of my papa, then he deserved to die didn’t he? I couldn’t keep the trembling from my fingers as I grabbed the lapels of Warren’s coat and pulled him close to me. I breathed in the scent of him, the smell of sanity and freedom, clean air and the faint scent of horse, and bowed my head. My hair fell in a fall of silver across my face. I needed to get out of this place. I was tired of having medication forced down my throat; I was tired of being so dependent on opium that I went into convulsions if I didn’t get it. I was exhausted from the beatings, I was exhausted from the men, doctors and attendants both that came into my room at night and strapped me down so that they could do as they wished with me. Most of all I was tired of the dark abyss of madness I could feel growing ever wider in my own mind. I couldn’t fight it for much longer and one day it would take over. When that happened I would no longer be Gabriale Trenton, my daddy’s pretty Ale. I wanted that freedom. I wanted that sanity, and most of all I wanted my memories and my voice back. If Warren could give me those things, then I would take them, no questions asked, and Sinclair Warsted be damned. “Well?” I heard the triumph in his voice, the fierce satisfaction, but couldn’t find it in me to care. I looked up at him and nodded.

Chapter Five: My mother always told me, “Seize the moment of excited curiosity.” In other words go for it. --Unknown (Four months later) “Are you nervous?”

I was staring down at my hands resting in my lap. When I looked up at Warren who sat across from me inside of the carriage I gifted him with an indifferent shrug. After releasing me from Bedlam four months before, Warren and I had been forced to spend an inordinately large amount of time together. He had moved me into his townhouse just on the outskirts of London and because of our rather strained companionship; he had learned to interpret my silences better than I was comfortable with. He clucked his tongue and my hands formed claws when I heard the laughter in his voice. “No worries dear, you make a rather fine looking boy. The hair especially was a nice touch if I do say so myself.” My hand rose to shift through my hair in a self conscious gesture I couldn’t stop. My hair had been chopped until the longest strands of it only brushed the back of my neck. Warren had had his maid Sally dye it with henna and ink. I think he had been hoping for a black color but because my hair was so pale, it was now a dark auburn that I wasn’t sure I liked. My shoulders slumped as Warren’s laughter rang out through the coach. If I had known that I would have to impersonate a boy and attend an academy in order to get close enough to kill Sinclair, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to do it. An all boy’s school. The horror of it made me shiver in distaste. Warren had set everything up immediately and I had to be impressed with the speed at which he managed to accomplish it all in. He had gotten me an entire wardrobe for my stay at Parrington University for Young Gentlemen, complete with an assortment of silk undergarments and fitted sleeveless leather vests that would flatten me out. He’d had me tested so it could be decided which house I belonged in and just the day before we’d had our first meeting with the headmaster (“call me Sir.”) to pay for tuition, books, boarding, and any other costs I might have. Warren had explained the situation to Sir and after a moment of silence the man had nodded his head. “Must have been a real shock, seeing his parents dying in that fire. You’re a good man Hill, taking in your nephew like this.” Warren tried his best to look modest and I tried my best not to gag at the almost visible hallo he placed over his head. “I do try. After all it was the only Christian thing to do.” Sir nodded his head, “Quite right.” I’d managed to let the men finish their meeting and afterwards Sir took us both on a tour of the grounds. The property surrounding Parrington stretched out as far as the eye could see. The dorms where most of the boys were assigned according to their individual strengths were as big as or bigger than some estates owned by the Ton. “Here at Parrington we have four houses. The Deadwoods, or Woods as they prefer, are for our more creative students. Artists, actors, singers, dancers and the like. Atridge, deals mainly with sports, fencing, equestrian, falconry, boxing, etc, etc.” at this point I’d had to bite my lip in order to stay awake. And when that didn’t work, I strained my eyes to see as far as I could down the cobbled paths leading through the trees. “Hawkeye students have studies that center around religion. These are the future priests and clerics of England. Last but not least are the Dresdens.” I drug my eyes away from the sconces that were embedded in the trunks of the trees on either side of the path we were walking along, and finally managed to give Sir my whole attention instead of only half. Just in time too because he turned to me with a smile on his large face. It softened the orange haired giant into someone slightly more approachable. But only slightly. “The Dresdens are our more…academically inclined young men. That’s where the Council and I have decided to place Alexander here.” Warren saw my sharp look and after a well placed

elbow in his ribs he reluctantly asked, “Council?” Sir turned back to facing the road just as we broke out of the forest and into a clearing that held the main building. “This is Olympus.” I smiled a little. The mountain where the gods lived in ancient mythology. I liked it. “This is where Alex will be taking all of his meals, where we will have assembly’s and plays and anything else that would involve the entire student body.” We continued on past the old, large one story building. As we past the large double doors that led inside of it I noticed a symbol etched into the wood frame. I felt a jolt, a spike of remembrance that almost had me doubling over in pain. A flash of blood, the glint of a knife, and finally, thankfully the sound of Sir’s deep rumble of a voice pulling me back. When I blinked my vision cleared I saw that they were already a good way away from me. I hurried to catch up and as I neared I realized that Sir was explaining about the council. “The Council is made up of seven members. Four of them are the head students from each house, while the other three are students chosen by the majority of the school. When a decision needs to be made regarding anything, be it teachers or students, it falls to the council members and I to come up with a solution. In this way things are kept fair and no one can grumble about the outcome.” Warren seemed impressed but I simply felt that the entire business was a way to spread out the guilt in case they had to make a difficult choice. He showed me the infirmary, a comfortable cottage looking building that in no way reminded me of Bedlam as I had been afraid it would. He pointed out the trail leading over a large hill in the distance that would take us to the music hall. “I’m sure the boy will be able to play an instrument at the very least.” After that he hurried us on and we saw the stables, sports field, and art gallery. “Every Friday morning the Woods will request a student from one of the other houses to come pose for their art class. The Woods have produced so many well known artists that the chance to participate has become a grand honor.” After another digging jab to his ribs with my elbow, a blow that I enjoyed more than I should have, Warren gritted out, “His schedule?” “Ah yes, that along with his house key will be given to him tomorrow morning when he arrives. Just come by my office boy and I’ll give you what you need. I want you to have in mind that each student must take at least five courses that doesn’t center on his strengths. We want our boys to be diverse, well rounded. So in addition to your regular classes each month you’ll have activities that you’ll need to participate in with the other three houses. Do you remember where you’ll be able to find the Dresden dorms?” I thought about it, closing my eyes as I pictured the small mansion in the clearing not far from Olympus. I opened my eyes and nodded. Pleased, Sir had rubbed his hands together. “Splendid. Then I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.” And that, as they say, had been that. Now as we pulled down the long winding driveway that led to the Dresden dorms I tried to keep myself from fidgeting once again. We had just met with Sir in his office to get my key and schedule and after Warren dropped me off at my room and had my things brought up I wouldn’t be seeing him again until the job was done. We pulled to a halt at the front steps in a clattering of hooves and muttered curses from our driver. “Go on up, he said you’d be on the third floor, second room on the right. We’ll be right up

with your luggage.” I hesitated a moment longer before with a jerky flick of my wrist I threw open the carriage door and jumped out. I straightened the wrinkles from my school issued Dresden uniform. The uniform consisted of a pair of black britches, the legs of which were stuffed into leather boots that came to points over my knees and dipped down around my calves. The tunic that I wore was dyed black as well and sleeveless. This had presented a problem considering my vest until Warren had had them retailored. Now the tunic was made out of leather, with hidden restraints around my chest and back so that I could wear it without a vest on. Now I could save those for when I wore them under my everyday shirts on weekends when students weren’t required to wear the uniform. The collar of it came up on either side of my neck before dipping down to form a soft V right below my throat. I was grateful that my collar was black because it matched and I wouldn’t have to find some way to pry it from around my neck. Over my left breast and sewn in silver thread was the impression of a man riding a stallion at full hilt. It was my favorite aspect of the uniform so far. My hands traced the design as I made my way up the steps and through the front doors. Because it was morning most of the boys were already at Olympus eating breakfast. So it was less stressful than I thought it would be to walk through the common room of the Dresden dorms. I jogged up the stairs, reaching up to pull a curl into my mouth before I remembered that my hair wasn’t that long anymore. I was still fuming about that when I reached the landing and ran smack into someone. I stumbled back and would have gone down the stairs but the man grabbed my shoulders and as we twisted I caught a flash of emerald eyes before we lost our balance and fell. § I was still staring in horror at Sin’s seemingly lifeless body when Warren finally stepped on the second floor landing and looked down at us. “Well you certainly don’t waste any time do you?” I threw myself Sin’s chest and burst into great wracking sobs. § When Warren had calmed me to the point where I could release Sinclair without bawling, he had the rest of my things carted to my room. “I think it’s best that I leave now Alex. It wouldn’t go well if Sinclair awoke to my shining face staring down at him.” He hesitated at the top of the steps. “And just for future reference, when you do kill him, you can’t start crying afterwards.” He frowned as if in thought, “It might help to…oh I don’t know…hide the body?” And on that scathing note Warren turned and disappeared muttering under his breath about the trials men went through in a world full of hysterical females. Deciding that it would be rude to leave him lying on the floor since it had been my fault he’d fallen in the first place, I hurried over to the first door I came to and knocked. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to answer so late in the morning, so when the door was thrown open I jumped.

A young man, perhaps two years older than me, was slumped against his door for support, as if his legs were too weak from exhaustion to support him anymore. His blond hair stuck up in matted, angry spikes all over his head. When his head nodded forward, hair falling forward to shield his rapidly closing eyes I kicked the door to wake him back up. As if I were a general and he a soldier, the boy snapped a smart salute, clicking his heels together, his eyes, an odd though beautiful mix between gold and brown, blinking rapidly as he tried to focus. When he saw that I was the only one standing in the hall outside of his room, he not only woke up completely, but his mood soured almost instantly. “Listen kid, you’re sweet and everything but I’m just not ready for a relationship right now. It would never work between us. You’re awake, I’m not. You’re a red head, I’m a blond. You have a wide eyed puppy dog look to you, while I have been known to beat small wide eyed animals with a stick. Especially of the puppy dog variety. There’s already a gulf of differences between us. Plus I don’t like boys, so get the hell away from my door.” My mouth was still hanging open when he slammed the door in my face. I didn’t so much knock the next time as punch the door. When he threw it open I almost caught him in the nose. “What! I know that my body is irresistible to the weak willed but please try and control yourself.” I would have laughed at the exasperated desperation in his voice if I hadn’t thought it would only encourage him. Instead I grabbed him by his arm and tugged him into the hallway. He resisted up until he caught sight of Sin lying on the ground. His lips pursed and he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “So why’d you kill him?” In dismay, and beginning to panic a little I glanced between first him and then Sin, gesturing that I needed his help. Almost sadly he folded his arms across his bare chest and leaned back against the frame of his door. “I’m not helping you move a body. It’s too early in the morning for that sort of thing.” I gave him a look that clearly asked what time of morning did he consider ideal for moving dead bodies. He scratched the faint stubble on his chin before he answered. “I’d say around noon. Before lunch is good because you get to work up an appetite but afterwards could work to I guess.” I marveled over his audacity while he pondered the merits of eating before or after one performed extraneous activity. We were both brought around when Sin groaned and began to sit up. I abandoned my newfound curiosity and hurried over to kneel beside Sinclair. He looked different. That was to be expected I supposed. After three years he should look different. Over the years what had been an already handsome face, had matured and leaned into the smooth planes of adulthood. He slapped my hands away and made his way to his feet, and as I stood with him, my eyes still trained on his face, I realized that he had gotten taller. My head was on level with his chest and I had to tilt my head back in order to get a good look at him. The same green eyes, the same wide mouth, the same strong brows arching like black wings across his face. He was a vision. “Sinclair, is this your new puppy? He’s so cute. I hope you taught him to piss outside.” I spared the blond a look of irritation. But when Sin looked at me I could almost feel my tail wag and my eyes reach little lost puppy proportions. Startled at the open adoration he no doubt saw, Sin sent the boy a pleading look over my shoulder. “Not now Cameron.” I could hear Cameron’s bare feet striking the floor as he padded over. “I’m just saying he looks like a pisser.” My hackles rose and Sin sent him a narrow eyed glare.

“Not now Cameron. The boy is obviously a little touched in the head.” Unfazed, Cameron came up behind me and patted my hair, ruffling my cap of curls and irritating the bloody hell out of me. With a grunt I stepped back and ground my booted heel into Cameron’s bare foot. He howled and snatched his foot back, grabbing the offended appendage with two hands and hopping up and down. I turned back to Sinclair, who seemed only mildly interested in Cameron’s injury. “Are you lost?” Mutely I shook my head. The shame that was constantly with me began to gather back. I was going to make a fool of myself. “Are you the new Dresden?” I nodded and watched in fascination as Sin’s irritation with me began to show on his face. “What do you want?” The question was almost shouted and I opened my mouth to answer him, hesitating when I remembered that I couldn’t. I grunted softly in the back of my throat and my collar gave a painful, almost warning like, twinge. I paused and he must have read the confusion and hurt on my face because he made a visible effort to have patience with me. Cameron’s voice floated over, still aggrieved though he was trying to be helpful. I guessed. “Ah, Sinclair. You’ve hurt his feelings. I think he’s afraid of you now.” I rolled my eyes in exasperation and Sin’s lips twitched. I mimed writing on my palm and Sinclair blinked at me. Cameron meanwhile sucked in a sharp exited breath. “I love this game. Wait here.” He darted into his room and was back almost immediately. He shoved the pen and paper in my hand. I twisted one finger in the air and obediently he turned so that I could use his back as a table. Sin read aloud over my shoulder as I wrote in a fluid graceful lines. It was only as I did it that I realized I wrote like a woman. “I can’t speak. I’m sorry.” Sin didn’t seem to notice my handwriting. Instead he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Why in the hell can’t you talk?” “Don’t be so insensitive you moron.” Cameron said over his shoulder, his face suddenly radiating innocence. I almost laughed as he fluttered his lashes as me. “The boy has obviously been struck dumb by my greatness. It happens to the best of us.” Sin scowled at him, as if suddenly struck dumb by how idiotic his friend was. I tapped the side of his head with the pen to drag his attention back to me. “Cameron isn’t great enough to strike a dung beetle dumb, let alone me. “ Sin laughed and I glowed a little inside. Offended, Cameron made to remove himself from under me but I jabbed him in the back with the pen tip in warning. After the wide eyed puppy comment, I felt more than a little smug when he yelped and stayed where he was. “So why can’t you speak boy?” I chewed on my bottom lip, eyes rising to the ceiling as I thought on how to answer. Finally I wrote. “My name is Ale, short for Alexander. Don’t call me boy. Ever. ” Unimpressed Sin rolled his eyes and this time Cameron laughed. I continued. “I can’t speak because...” I hesitated again and the weight of Sin’s gaze was a pressure that I ignored. I decided to mix in a bit of the truth. It made me feel better about the actual act of lying to them both. “My mother and father died. They were burned alive. I haven’t spoken since the night my mother was taken from me.” Both boys were silent for a long time. Then Cameron slowly straightened. I grabbed my

paper before it could flutter to the ground. “Sorry about your loss kid.” I held the paper up to his face and pointed fiercely at my name. He rolled his eyes in my direction and grinned. “Whatever you say. Though why you’d want to be named after some cheap tavern drink is beyond me.” I scowled at him and grinning he reached out to ruffle my hair. I ducked away from his hand. No matter how nice he was, or how funny, he was still a boy, a man practically, and I had learned my lesson regarding this particularly species. He read the distrust in my eyes, and some understanding lit his face. Confusion quickly followed and I watched, silent of course, as his eyes met Sin’s. Abruptly Sin covered the awkward silence. “Where’s your roommate, why hasn’t he taken you to Olympus for breakfast yet?” I shrugged to indicate that I was clueless on both counts and frowning down at me as if wondering if I was worth all the trouble I had caused him already Sin jerked his head towards the piece of paper in my hand. Apparently he had grown weary of standing in the middle of the hallway. “Put that away. I’ll ask around and see if I can’t get you a journal or something to use on a regular basis.” He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, long strands curling lovingly around his fingers. “Right now just take me to your room so I can find out who’s been neglecting you this morning.” Cameron snickered at his choice of words and Sin shot him a glare. “I’m not sure what you got from that. But you’re a sick sick man.” Pride lit Cameron’s face. Like a holy light shining from heaven. “Yes, yes I am.” Sin made a sound that was part disgust and part amusement as I led him upstairs. I turned the corner and went to the second room on the right and pulled out my room key from my pocket. When I turned to see if Sinclair followed I saw that he stood staring at me, a look of slow horror dawning on his face. “Why do you have a key to my room?” When my eyes widened he closed his own. “Damnit.” In the pit of my stomach I felt a surge of fierce satisfaction and I grinned at him. § All three of us headed down to Olympus, Sin and I having waited for Cameron to throw on a shirt that I thought was filthy but after a quick sniff to the underarms of it and only a mild grimace of distaste, Cameron declared summer fresh. When we arrived at the building I tried my best to ignore the insignia on the door but I couldn’t keep my gaze from darting to it. Almost immediately I found myself pulled in and down into a swirling dance of pain. I was on my back, wanting to scream but unable to. A hand covered my mouth and words were chanted in my ear. I trembled and bucked, my nails scraping bloody furrows into the hands that held me down with easy strength. When I felt my legs forced apart, felt the cool air on my skin as my skirt was pushed up past my waist, and saw the wicked gleam of metal in the candlelight, my terror crested into something wild, something dark and dangerous. I felt my vision darken, my world spin sickeningly on its axis as the blade bit deep and blood flowed and flowed and flowed. The grip on my arm tightened and I turned wide,

frightened eyes to see Cameron staring at me in concern. Sin stood in the entrance of Olympus, his eyes curious and a little worried as Cameron held me upright. He was supporting all my weight and I raised my eyes to meet his so I could convey my thanks. When my gaze caught and held his, the golden brown of his eyes seemed to fill my vision. Like an ocean of promise, they beckoned to me. And I followed. I stood in an Alley, rain falling, punishing and clean, over and around me. My skin was soaked, my body trembling, hair matted to my face. My breath came in quick panicked bursts, exploding into white mist as it left my mouth and met with the cold night air. My head was pounding horribly, slicing pains that shot through my brain like bolts of electricity. Bright, vicious, and leaving my skin humming in the aftermath. I ached, I throbbed, and I bled. It seemed as if my body had become the very definition of pain. But I was alive, somehow, I was alive, and for that I wouldn’t question the series of events that had led me to this place. So I let my body still, let peace claim me for just a moment, rain beating my skin, cleansing. The harsh wind that the dirty old buildings surrounding me just couldn’t block, froze the droplets where they rested on my body. The constant pitter, patter reached a deep well of quietness inside of me, and softly I began to hum, not really noticing or caring when my eyes drifted shut and I began to rock gently from side to side. A harsh clattering rent the peace that had engulfed me. Probably a cat knocking over a pile of trash was my first guess. Then I felt something stir the air in front of me. I could sense its size by the heat it gave off, the power, the absolute fury. Not a cat then. If it was a cat then it was a very pissed off little kitty. What had once been a gentle caress of water, turned punishing as the wind shifted and slowly I opened my eyes. Forcing down the scream as I met the shimmering gold gaze of an enormous wolf. My mind revolted. There were no wolves in London, especially wild ones as this one so obviously was. It shifted, all easy grace, and powerful, lithe muscle. I fought back terror as I shrunk from it. Even blind with panic, I couldn’t ignore the sheer beauty of him. The golden blond of his coat was vivid even in the dreary light. The tip of his tail was stained black, as if he’d dipped it in ink. His body was lean and strong, corded with muscle under his glossy coat. Standing as he was, his snout came up to my chest, and his head, ears perked towards me inquisitively, was bigger than my own. He was like a small pony, and even I, who had never seen a wolf before but for pictures in children’s books, was awed by his size. I didn’t know if his size was normal for his species or not, but I did know that wolves did not have golden eyes and blond hair. My pulse, poor frantic thing that it was, had begun to calm as he stared at me, muzzle nearly touching the top of my head. No. Definitely not a cat. Suddenly, he bared his fangs and growled so low in his throat that the sound sent shivers down my spine. I almost pissed my pants. But because I had some pride left, and because he seemed to be waiting for a suitable reaction and I didn’t want to disappoint him, I screamed. High pitched and panicked, like a little piglet. I screamed again, a panicked pig, when he lunged for me, teeth gleaming, and I kept on screaming even as I threw myself to one side and took off. Behind me I heard the dull thud as his head collided with the wall where I’d been. I made the best of my split second head start and ran as if my life depended on it. Which it did.

From behind me I heard a crash, and not daring to look, I turned a corner too sharply, my feet slipping on the wet cobblestones and bringing me crashing to knees. It was a good thing, because just as I fell and slid the wolf flew over my head, the fur of his underbelly brushing my face as I looked up at him. He must have launched himself just as I went down, and unable to stop his momentum he landed and rolled into another wall in the narrow alley. I almost laughed at the irritation on his face, but decided not to antagonize just yet. I could hear him growling and snarling in frustration and I whimpered as I struggled to, and finally succeeded at finding purchase on the wet ground and lunging to my feet. Water flew up around me, rain and wet hair working together to blind me. I could just make out the outline that meant the opening of the alley. I would be safe there. If for no other reason than that the wolf would get distracted by all the potential dinner running screaming from the sight of him. I felt a rush of air and heard the sharp clack as the wolf’s teeth snapped at my legs. A burst of hope and fear, had me practically flying down the alley. I was three feet from freedom when... Cameron’s voice jerked me back to reality. “Jesus, Ale, are you alright. You scared the hell out of me.” Scowling down at me from where I lay on the cold ground, Sin muttered, “Yeah well. How do you think I feel? I have to live with him.” My breath escaped in a burst of laughter and Cameron turned his glare from Sin to grin at me. His eyes were wary as he reached out to me and I couldn’t help the flinch that sent me rocking back. His eyes clouded with that same look of understanding and confusion that I had seen in them before. “You have to learn to trust us Ale. If we’re going to be friends you have to learn that Sin and I won’t hurt you.” His voice was grave and as I looked at his upturned palm I hesitated. I glanced up through my lashes and saw that Sinclair was standing guard, arms folded, and scowling at any students walking in and out of Olympus who stared too long or too hard. Finally, biting my lip, I took a chance and grasped Cameron’s hand.

Chapter Six: When my love swears to me that she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies. --William Shakespeare The three of us sat side by side, shoulders brushing because of all the boys crowding the benches and tables. There hadn’t been any room for us at first but Sin had huffed an irritated sigh and went over to drag three boys from their seats. They complained at first until they looked up to see who held them. After that they allowed themselves to be dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. Cameron nudged me with his arm. “It’s great being friends with a jerk like him.” I laughed and Sin turned enough to glare at us before he sat down. There was a brief lull in the excited chatter as Cameron and I sat beside him, but talk resumed quickly. The curious glances people shot me though? Those kept coming. I didn’t appreciate them, and Sinclair apparently, was not used to having people stare in his direction while he ate because after about five minutes of it he gently sat down his fork and

looked up. He spoke loudly enough for our table to hear and pass the warning on to everyone else. “I’m not a patient man. But I do like to accommodate the persistent. So the next one who glances over here is going to find their eyeballs sitting on my bedroom table.” he smiled, false kindness making the threat that much deadlier. “That way you can stare at us all day and not have to crane your necks so far.” The offer sounded fair to me and everyone else must have thought so as well because after that they didn’t look our way anymore. I followed the majority’s lead and got my food from the array of trays situated in the middle of the table. I was chewing on a scone, pleased with myself for grabbing the last one, when I had a thought. Pulling out the paper and pen I hadn’t bothered to return to Cameron and most likely never would, I wrote a quick note and passed it to Cameron. He took a big hunk out of his own breakfast, teeth sharp and gleaming as they tore into the jam covered bread. He answered me with his mouth still full, jam smeared along his chin. “Fencing is my first class, so you have it with me. Don’t worry, I’ll take you there.” He looked across me to Sin. “Warsted. Do you plan on coming to class this time or are you going to skip out on us again?” Sin shot him an exasperated glance. “I have better things to do than stand around getting yelled at just because some wet behind the ears first year doesn’t know how to duck when steel is coming towards his head.” The disgust in Sin’s voice had Cameron laughing like a loon. “The boy is out of the infirmary now Sin. The blood finally came out of floorboards and Harry forgave you. Besides, he says if you skip out again he’ll have Deacon assign you to mucking out the horse stalls…again.” I watched the battle on Sin’s strong face, the thought of trekking around in horse manure for a day obviously an unpleasant one. Finally his mouth tightened in anger and his shoulders slumped. Cameron practically cackled. I wrote, ‘So you’ll stay with me this morning?’ I sent him the paper and watched his brow furrow in confusion. Then he looked at me and shrugged. “Sure does look that way doesn’t it?” I beamed.

§ “Where is she?” Warren shrugged his shoulders, the picture of innocence. “Whatever do you mean?” The Alchemist almost struck out, almost snapped the man’s neck with his bare hands, but he stopped himself. Took a deep breath. “Warren. You promised me that she would be in the next shipment. You swore that she would come. My patience is beginning to run thin.” Warren’s lips twisted. “You never had much patience to begin with.” A moment of awkward silence descended. Finally, “Warren.” “Yes?” “I know you’ve hidden her from me. The only thing keeping you alive right now is the fact

that you’re going to tell me where she is.” Warren’s eyebrows rose. Surprise and amusement making him cockier than was wise. “Am I? I don’t recall saying that I would.” The alchemist grinned at him. “You forget yourself Warren. Eric isn’t here anymore to keep you safe from me. Whatever I need to learn from you, you’ll tell me and you’ll do it gladly or die screaming.” § “Here kitty kitty kitty.” I sat huddled up in a tree, arms wrapped around the trunk and my face pressed into the rough bark. When the boys surrounding the bottom of it reached grasping fingers for my ankles I pulled them on the limb with me and tried to keep from screaming. They had come for me, the five of them, after witnessing what had happened that morning. Shame had driven me from the lawn, but fear had kept me going. “Here kit, kit kit. What’s the matter? You afraid of us or something?” The boys laughed and I turned my head so the bark of the tree would press against my mouth, stemming back a flow of words that would have only made the situation worse. The memory of what had happened to lead me up to this had my face flaming in embarrassment. § That morning after Cameron had introduced me to Harry, the Fencing instructor, and sent me to the locker room to change into an extra uniform, I had felt the old hunger gnawing at me. Over the past few months whenever I’d had a craving for it, Warren would send someone out to fetch me a new batch to tide me over. I knew I shouldn’t crave the opium as I did, I knew my body shouldn’t react so violently whenever I didn’t get it…but I couldn’t help myself. Warren had seen no problem with it. “Everyone has to have a hobby.” he’d said. Right that instant, standing there in the empty locker room and struggling to zip myself into the cream colored vest that would protect me from rapier points (the pants and boots were a matching white, though the pants were tight at the waist and looser down the leg for easy movement.) I wished I could have a normal hobby. Like knitting. Or hunting even, though the thought of butchering an animal for sport made me gag a little. When my hands begin to tremble so badly I couldn’t do my clothes up the rest of the way, I heaved a sigh of defeat and let the vest fall open, laces still undone. My stomach churned sickly as I lifted one booted foot and slipped my hand down the side of it. When my fingers touched the vial of liquid, I couldn’t hold back a moan of relief. I didn’t have the needle Warren had gotten for me, I’d left it with my things in my room, so as a result I’d have to drink the stuff. Opium had become my dearest companion while in Bedlam. The first time they’d given it to me, (at the age of fourteen as I lay panting and crying, face pressed against the padded wall of my room, a fisted hand holding me still) I’d been so grateful for the numbness. So grateful when the will to care just floated from me. It was my salvation, better than religion and with much quicker results. “And a much deadlier end.” I jumped, my heart beating in my throat as Sin’s voice

rumbled from behind me. I hadn’t heard the locker room doors open for the roaring in my ears. I almost spun around to face him until I glanced down and saw how much skin I had yet to cover up. I cursed, and stuffed the vial down out of sight between the curve of my hip and the waistband of my pants, before tugging savagely at my vest laces. I fumbled in my haste to get them tied as Sin’s steps got closer and closer to me. “Now what were you saying Mr. Hamilton? Something being better than religion? Whatever could that be I wonder. Do go on. I find myself fascinated.” his words had my hands stilling, heart faltering under the onslaught of fear, need, and confusion. I hadn’t said anything out loud, I knew that. So how had he…my eyes widened an I glanced over my shoulder at him. He stood so close that his chest brushed my back. His eyes too bright, glimmering in his face and throwing shadows over his cheekbones and around his mouth that suddenly made him look a lot more dangerous than I think he let most see. I made a move to step back from him just as he grabbed my upper arm. He spun me around to face him and pushed me back. I stumbled, tripping over my pile of clothes on the floor and landing with a soft ’oomph’ of pain. Sinclair stalked me, looming over me momentarily before I had enough sense to scramble back from him. In my fear, a memory of Eric surfaced. He’d stalked me much the same way while he’d snapped the leather against itself. The crack had filled the room, drowned out everything else and for a moment, in the here and now, my vision swam black and my breathing increased. Sin snarled and the sound jerked my gaze back to him as he grabbed me by the neck and physically lifted me to my feet, pushing me back again so that my back hit the wall. I tried darting away but one well muscled arm was suddenly boxing me in. I looked up at him, my face pale as he leaned his body into me. I had to tilt my head back to keep eye contact, but keep it I did. From where he stood, bending over me, our noses brushed. I felt the heat of his breath on my face, and couldn’t help but draw in the scent of him. He smelled like something thick, hot, and just sweet enough to make you sweat. He sniffed me, nose and mouth running just above my skin as he ran his face across mine. Scenting, with eyes closed until he’d caught what he wanted. “Opium.” The word came out so softly that I barely felt his breath stir my hair. He sniffed again, more carefully this time. “Opium and woman.” I bit my lip and pressed back against the wall, disbelief and wariness briefly pushing aside every other thought in my head. He opened his eyes, gazing at me through his lashes. He trailed long fingers across my face and down to my neck. Hooking a finger into the curve of my collar he pulled me up on my tip toes until we were close enough to kiss. “Woman.” the words were growled into my mouth. “I love the scent of woman.” my eyes widened and my mouth went dry. For the first time I felt my knees begin to shake with something other than fear. He was way too close. He took another deep breath of me before he spoke, and his voice was soft, caressing feather light over my skin like a lover‘s hand. I drooled a little bit. “I don’t like the inside of Cameron’s head, so I usually keep myself closed off. Which is why I didn’t get a chance to get a good reading on you beforehand. I apologize for that.” I nodded to show that I’d forgiven him for neglecting me. Which was the only part of that sentence that I really understood. He grinned, and I caught the dangerous gleam of his teeth. Which were a little too sharp now that I thought about it.

“While I have you here I wanted to clear up a few things, alright?” Alright, I thought happily, practically glowing under his attention. Willpower is a talent that I do not have. When his gaze turned hard and his mouth cruel, I almost wished that I did. “I don’t want a roommate, I never have, and never will. I especially never wanted one who has an addiction to Opium. I. Will. Not. Tolerate. It.” Each word was carefully spaced, carefully spoken, so that I could grasp the depth of his sincerity. “The fact that you’re a woman can be forgiven, though I do expect some sort of entertainment if I have to share a room with you. But this…” Still keeping a hold on my collar he used his other hand to slide down my belly and into the waistband of my pants, his eyes trained on me the entire time. His fingers were scorching, burning hot against my skin and I sucked in a sharp breath as his nails grazed across my lower abdomen. My muscles contracted violently and my vision went dark so I completely missed it when he grasped the vial of opium with two fingers and slid it free. He was good. Very good. The sneaky bastard. His lips twitched in amusement, but the expression was fleeting. He shook the vial in front of my face, and my eyes flickered to it once, twice, and then skittered away. My heart hammered and my hands clenched into helpless fists at my sides. I wasn’t sure which need was pushing me, I only knew that I could find them both with the man in front of me. I felt guilty lusting after someone I was supposed to kill but I pushed that thought away before it could form fully. “This, “ he said, “is not allowed anywhere around me. So since I plan on keeping you close by I suggest you get rid of any vials that you have left before I find them. “ The threat was left unsaid but I heard it clearly and my eyes widened before I nodded in understanding and false agreement. Like he would be able to find them all anyway. I jumped, eyes jerking from the bottle in alarm when he used my collar to pull me up higher. He pressed his stubbled cheek against mine. His breath fanned my inner ear and my eyes crossed and my mind went completely blank before I managed to pull it together and focus. “Whoever you are, and for whatever reason you came here know this. You belong to me now. You’re my new pet. Imagine an invisible leash running from this collar and into my hand. You so much as step one foot out of line, or irritate me in any way, and believe me the list of possibilities is a long one, then I will wrap that leash around your neck and choke you with it. “ His voice was a low intense growl that completely distracted the female part of me and made the part still possessing common sense want to wet my pants. Lip curled in disgust he shoved me away and I hit the wall with a grunt. Shaking my head I blinked, trying desperately to clear my thoughts. Sin spoke as he strode towards the locker room doors, not bothering to look over his shoulder at me. “Hurry up and get your skinny ass dressed and outside. You’ll be partnering with me today and I’ll help Harry decide which division you should be placed in.” Then he was gone. Not gone as in poof, vanished. Gone as in he’d walked away from me and left me there gaping after him like a fish out of water. I shivered a little in the cold air and looked down at the hands that trembled in my lap. I grinned. It was obvious now. He was in love with me. Either that or he was in love with the thought of strangling the life out of me. I chewed on

my lip, considering the evidence before I nodded, pleased with myself. Nope, he definitely loved me. § I fell flat on my ass, grunting in pain and trying to relearn how to breathe past the pressure that suddenly pressed down on my chest. The rapier point dug in cruelly and from above me Sin’s eyes narrowed in annoyance and his mouth twisted. “I said parry. Not fall. Get up and let’s try it again.” I bit my tongue, tasting hot copper in the back of my throat. The rage I felt couldn’t be expressed in my usual way, which a couple of years ago would have been yelling and cursing, so I had to find another outlet for it. Growling low in my throat I pushed the sword point away with one hand and scrambled to my feet. I didn’t bother falling back into the familiar pose again, instead throwing myself at him in a series of sharp, quick blows.In addition to the three hours of class, Sin had kept me for two and a half hours afterwards to practice. As a result I was able to push him back a step or two before he twisted under the flashing arc of steel that was aimed at his head. Suddenly his chest pressed tight against mine and his breath fanned my ear. “Don’t let yourself get distracted so easily.” By the time I realized that I’d let myself do just that, he had grabbed the hilt of the sword in my hand and kicked me backwards with one booted foot. I stumbled and fell, the impact bruising more than just my backside this time. I looked up at him with hatred blazing in my eyes. I could almost feel the heat of my dislike and amazingly enough I felt the fine hairs on the back of my neck lift under a rush of hot air. Sin grinned down at me. He hadn’t even broken a sweat. “I suppose today was good enough for a beginner. Do better next time or don’t bother wasting my time.” When I would have lunged back to my feet to attack him, he placed one hand on the top of my head, his fingers firm in my sweat soaked hair. The warmth of him sinking into my scalp and forcing tense muscles to relax. “Go change back into your clothes and get to class. Tell them you were with me and no one should hound you about being late.” I nodded, pleasure spreading through me even though I tried to fight it back. Seemingly against his will Sin ruffled my hair before he turned and left. § I changed my clothes after my hot shower in the locker rooms (an invention that still amazed me to no end and was only available to the wealthy). But instead of going straight to my next class, which was history, as I was supposed to, I ran out of the fencing hall and out across the open field that separated it from the dorm, not bothering to take the paths since I was in a hurry. I had forgotten my history books in my room. The excitement from the morning had had me rushing out before getting my supplies for my classes. I clambered up the steps of Dresden house, my breath huffing from exertion. When I reached my room door, and burst inside the sight that greeted me had my eyes widening in shock and the slow burn of anger rising in my belly.

§ He had her bent at the waist. They hadn’t bothered to wait until they made it to the bed, instead Sin took her there on the floor. His bare, golden back glistened with sweat and his eyes seemed to burn in the strong planes of his face, flashing like emeralds. He had a hold of the woman’s long brown hair with one hand while his other gripped her hip and held her still as he pounded into her. He growled low in his throat and his teeth glinted in the light slanting through our windows. The sound of flesh against flesh was loud in the room as his pace increased, the muscled globes of his ass flexing with the effort as he gritted his teeth. He was rough but he was also obviously very good because the curvy chambermaid beneath him gripped the floor with ragged nails and screamed, her breath escaping in excited bursts. I must have moved, or else he somehow heard the outraged shriek that ran through my mind, because suddenly he looked over at me. His eyes darkened. Green fading under a wash of liquid black for a split second before he released the woman’s hip, leaving behind crescent shaped wounds in her skin as he raked his nails down her back and along her spine. She gasped, back arching in response and rolling her hips in little circles that had Sin closing his eyes and letting his head fall back from the pleasure of it. When she began to shove herself back onto him, as hard and fast as she could, hips jerking in rising desperation, I snapped. With a snarl I lunged forward and grabbed the chambermaid by the hair, ripping her from Sin’s grip so that she cried out from pain, brown eyes watering. Using her hair like a leash I dragged her off of him and across the room. She scrambled on her knees after me, both hands wrapped in her hair as she tried to pry herself loose. I twisted her hair viciously and threw her face forward across the threshold of the doorway. She lay there dazed for a moment, her lily white ass still sticking up in the air before I planted my foot in the middle of it and shoved her the rest of the way out. I slammed the door. When the red haze had faded from my vision I just stood there, staring hard at the closed door as I tried to get my breathing under control. I realized that my fingers were clenched into fists at my sides and I made a conscious effort to relax them as I looked over my shoulder at Sinclair. He hadn’t made a sound during the entire exchange, his green eyes still intense but not blazing with heat as they had been. His head was cocked to one side as he regarded me, face expressionless, and dark hair clinging to his forehead and neck with sweat. He hadn’t bothered to pull his pants back up, indeed he hadn’t even bothered trying to get on his feet. I was dazzled by the sight of him kneeling there, all golden skin and lean muscle, a thin trail of hair running lightly over the planes of his stomach, going down…down…down…down. My breath hitched in my throat as I stared at him. He ducked his head in mock embarrassment and looked up at me through his lashes. “Yes. Trisha found me…impressive as well.” He licked is lower lip and his eyes glittered with sudden intent. “She couldn’t handle me. I’m sure with a little practice though, you’d be good enough to teach her a few new things.” I nearly missed it. The mockery lacing his words. But I was listening for it. I gritted my teeth as I jerked my gaze away from him. All men were the same. How I could

even entertain thoughts about being with another one made me sick. Didn’t I ever learn? Sin could hurt me just as easily as all the others had. I wouldn’t allow it. As I stood in front of him, his mouth almost touching my abdomen, his breath burning a brand through my clothes, the anger came back. I hauled off and slapped him. The sound it made split through the air like a gunshot and I felt a moment of regret before I remembered the chambermaid and hit him again. When my hand reared back to hit him a third time he grabbed my wrist and yanked me forward. I struggled, my breath coming hard and fast as I tried not to cry. I wanted to ask him, scream really, ‘How could you? You promised, how could you?’ but had no real basis for such a response. I had no basis for any type of response actually. The fact that I felt so betrayed, so hurt, so unbelievably enraged scared me deep inside. When I went still against him he wrapped one arm around my waist and held me tight against his body. His eyes were intense on my face, utterly focused on me. I turned my head away so I wouldn’t have to look at him. When I felt his lips brush my neck, body tensing as his skin touch my collar I jerked. Fear came, quick and sharp and stabbed me in the stomach. I gasped and my knee jerked up. I caught him between the legs and when his lips parted in a curse, I balled up my fist and punched him in the face.

Chapter Seven: You’re his, shivering and sighing and he swears his passion is Infinite…undying. Lady make a note of this: One of you is lying. --Dorothy Parker Sin didn’t bother putting on clothes as he chased me from the room. In his haste he stumbled in his britches, which were now tangled around his legs. I heard him cursing as he kicked his pants off but by this time I had thrown open the door and leapt over the still weeping chambermaid as I made my way down the hall. From somewhere behind me I heard the maid gasp and a rush of air as Sin took off full speed behind me. I looked over my shoulder and squealed at the sight of him. I stumbled down the steps, feet barely touching as I dodged past boys going about their own individual business. The chatter from them had been low and comfortable but once they caught sight of Sinclair at the top of the steps their voices died. I had thought that the press of bodies would have bought me some time but the students here had more sense than I did and they parted like the Red Sea before the ball of rage that was Sinclair. I bit my lip as I looked up at him from the bottom of the steps. His eyes narrowed and I took that as I sign that I should take off again. So I did just that, bursting through the doors of Dresden screaming. I felt fingers brush my hair and a burst of panic had me throwing myself forward and onto the grass of the lawn, rolling out of Sin’s reach and coming back onto my feet in one smooth motion. When I felt him make a grab for me I dodged to one side and screamed.

Though the words couldn’t be spoken aloud, that didn’t keep me from screaming them as loud as I could inside my head as Sin chased me in ever widening circles around the front lawn. “DON’T TOUCH! DON’T TOUCH ME! NO TOUCHING!” Hysterical screaming, which all could appreciate, and then… “SORRYSORRYSORRYSORRYSORRYSORRY SORRY!” Hysterical scream. Hysterical scream. Excetera, excetera, excetera. Ten minutes later I was breathing hard, doubled over with my hair in my eyes and trying to decide if it was normal for my heart to be beating that fast. Everyone who’d heard the commotion had rushed over and stood circling both Sin and I on the lawn, talking and shouting encouragement. I looked up through bleary eyes at Sinclair. He was clutching his side, body soaked in sweat from the weight of the sun and his chase with me. His face was twisted with a mixture of disgust and exhaustion and I could see a flash of irritation when he looked over at me and saw that I was still basically…well alive. I stuck out my tongue at him and had turned to saunter away, rather pleased with myself, when Sin tackled me from behind and threw me face first into the dirt. I spit grass out of my mouth. He was really fast. I’d have to remember that for future reference. I rolled onto my back, kicking at him with both feet as he held my arms over my head. He straddled my waist, effectively placing any of his manly parts out of harms way and holding me immobile all in one smooth move. He grinned down at me and blood dripped on my face from his split lip. The grin wasn’t the least bit pleasant. I heard talking and laughter and my face flamed, though I wasn’t sure why I should be embarrassed when Sin was the one naked. “I’m going to tell you a little story.” He began conversationally as he settled more comfortably on top of me. “It’s about a little pussy…cat,” The pause was implicit. The boys around us snickered and nudged each other. They made a few lewd comments but I ignored them for the more pressing thought that had entered my mind. He was threatening to tell. About the whole girl thing. Not about the knee to the groin incident. That would have been embarrassing. “This pussycat,” He continued, “wasn’t very bright. In fact this pretty puss had a habit of doing rather stupid things without once considering the consequences.” I bared my teeth at him to let him know what I thought of him and his consequences. He rolled his hips and ground himself against my legs. He spoke in a whisper, his voice suddenly intimate and personal. Only then did I really realize that this story was for the boys gathering around us to stare as much as it was for me. “Do it again, only this time lick your lips and purr for me like you like it.” I bucked under him and let out an inarticulate sound of rage. He chuckled and settled back on his knees. His head fell back as he looked into the sky and considered his next words. His voice was fascinating, with just the right mixture of sadness and dark warning to make the story effective. “Now where was I? Ah yes. Now because of his temper and his inability to consider the cost, he and his master had an argument. The foolish cat’s pride was wounded by what his master had said to him and so he ran away from home to teach him a lesson.“ The crowd snickered and

booed good naturedly and Sin smiled a little sadly as if to drive home the point that this was a tragic story. “Well the little kitten didn’t know how to handle the cruel city all by himself. He’d never realized that his master had protected him from all the monsters that stalked the streets. In his depression and fear the cat didn’t notice the creatures watching him from the shadows. Didn’t feel so much as a twinge of warning when they reached for him. And by the time he noticed anything was wrong, the monsters had gotten the little cat in their claws and eaten him all up." Sin’s voice had dropped to a whisper as he spoke these last words and I shivered. He looked around at his audience, which had grown to a pretty impressive size, with clouded eyes. “They picked their teeth with the kitten’s bones while his master wandered the dark streets searching for him.” he looked down at me and I stared at him with my eyes darkening in fear and confusion. What the hell was all this about? Eyes still trained on me he leaned forward until his mouth touched the side of my face. I was speechless, frozen in shock when he licked the side of my face, tongue running in a long clean line over my jaw and down to the hallow of my throat, right above my collar. He spoke with his mouth an inch above my skin and his eyes trained on what seemed like someone in particular in a crowd of dozens, though I could have been wrong. “This is my new pussy…cat. I expect that this one will have a much more...fortunate ending than his predecessor.“ My mouth had dropped open. I realized that the others must have been just as shocked as I was because what had once been the excited chatter and laughter of young boys, had died down to nearly complete silence. Then one of the younger students spoke. I could see his round little face, flushed with confusion as he turned to his friend, from the corner of my eye. “Did he just…?” I answered silently. He had. Sinclair Warsted had just licked my face. While I panicked under him, Sin managed to ignore me and instead raked is eyes over the assembled crowd, suddenly making his nudity and the fact that he still had a grip on me seem much more significant than it once had. He had staked some claim on me and I felt the atmosphere around us change as some of the boys watching acknowledged this and wondered at it. Pleased that he had done as much damage as he could in such a small space of time, Sin got to his feet. Running his fingers through is hair and shaking the loose tendrils from his temple and forehead. He whispered down to me. “I warned you didn’t I? About irritating me I mean. Remember the leash Ale, because it’s tightening around your pretty neck as we speak. If you’d excuse me?“ Without really waiting for a response, Sin flashed me a quick, dark grin, turned and sauntered back into the dormitory. It was only after the main doors had slammed shut behind him that my classmates found the courage to start laughing. “So he’s a Fairy?” “He’s a dandy.” “He’s a fucking dick lover.” The barely controlled fury in those words had my body tightening up in fear and bells ringing out in my head. Cautiously I began to make my way to my feet. Sin had done a number on me all right. He hadn’t been warning the other boys away, he had been daring them.

Some men, as a general rule, don’t like men who like other men. It makes them uncomfortable, and from what I had seen, lying dead in the back of an alleyway. The last speaker, the one who seemed so enraged with me turned out to be wearing what I now knew to be the dark blue livery of a Hawkeye. Flanking him were another Hawk, a Wood and a two Ridges, of whom I recognized by their forest green and dark purple clothing (Cam had explained it all to me that morning during lunch). The other students looked at one another and then the small group slowly making their way towards me before they dispersed. Some cast me looks I couldn’t quite get while one or two looked at me in sympathy. One boy actually winked at me and I decided not to spare too much of my already limited thinking power on what he had meant by that. I had turned away from that potential annoyance in disgust when my eyes fell on him. A redhead stood on the outskirts of Dresden dormitories, near the tree line not so far away. He was dressed in the green tunic that proclaimed him a Wood and his red hair blazed under the sunlight that fell through the leaves hanging above his head. His hands were in his pockets and he regarded me with lazy interest as he leaned against the bark of a tree. I turned away from him. I didn’t like the hungry look on his face, and for some reason, I felt in my gut that this was the one Sin had been talking to. This was the boy for whom the story was for. He was one of the monsters that gobbled the kitten all up and picked his teeth with her bones… I meant…it’s bones. Picked his teeth with it’s bones. Or maybe I was simply overreacting. I managed to shake off that disturbing thought before the Wood and his friends had reached me. He didn’t stop moving when he deemed us close enough, instead he began to circle me, his cronies falling into step behind him. My hands clenched into fists at my sides and the taste of hot copper was suddenly thick in my mouth. I swallowed down the nausea and tried to keep all of them in my sight at once, and when that didn’t work, simply trying to make sure that none of them stayed at my back for too long. “A fucking dick lover.” The Hawk repeated. I almost gagged. I could feel eyes on me and I turned in time to see one of the Ridges looking me up and down. “A fairy.” “A dandy.” “No…a kitten. Or weren’t the four of you paying attention?” the Wood asked. The taste of copper was so thick in my mouth now I was almost choking on it. I bit my tongue and the pain combined with the sweet metallic taste of my own blood made a dizzying combination. The path made by Sin’s tongue blazed with heat. I felt as if I were sick or if I were going to…to…and then I did it. I dropped to my knees and threw up all over the shiny black boots of the Hawk. He looked down at the mess with shocked eyes. Slowly, his face darkened and he looked up at me from under a fall of stringy, dirty blond hair. I grinned shakily up at him and when I spoke, my voice throaty and hoarse from years of disuse, I was as shocked as anyone else at the only words that could come out of my mouth. “Oops.” §

I could talk. How amazing is that? I could talk. As in, not just inside my own head but aloud where other people could hear me. I could stop having conversations on paper and worrying if I had misspelled something and therefore came across as an idiot. But even though being able to speak again was a truly beautiful thing…it didn’t really help me right then. For instance, when kicked in the gut and face by three fairly larger, and most definitely stronger young men, what would words really accomplish? Other than making them really, really angry? Spiting blood out of my mouth I felt around with my tongue to see if any of my teeth were loose. After the throwing up incident ,the brothers grim were not at all pleased with me. I could understand that. But when the tallest one, the Wood named Michael, had grabbed me by the hair, hauled me to my feet, and punched me in the stomach, I wasn’t so understanding any more. I don’t like to be hit. I’m just odd that way I guess. I had collapsed against the Hawk’s chest, my breathing labored as I clutched my stomach, before the shock of his head striking mine sent me reeling. I had landed hard and that was around the time the fear started to creep in on me. I stared up at them as they had surrounded me with wide eyes. Then I had turned my gaze beyond them and let all the fear I felt inside of me show on my face. The hand that I’d lifted shook as I pointed at an invisible horror. “Wh--wha--?” My voice had been breathless and weak with fear. When they’d actually turned to look, my face had went slack in shock before I’d remembered to struggle to my feet and take off. Pushing past the two who’d been behind me before they could think to grab me again. I had made it past the tree line and was halfway down the path through the woods before they caught up with me again. Arms wrapped around my waist and my world spun upside down as I was tackled for the second time that morning and the ground suddenly rushed up to meet me. The fear I felt then was different than what I’d felt with Sinclair. Darker I suppose. Something primal and screaming had risen up inside of me and I’d twisted under my assailant and swung my fist out at him. I’d connected with the Ridge’s nose as he’d struggled to keep his place on top of me. I’d bucked violently under him and had managed to throw him off. “Hold still damnit.” He’d snarled. “Like hell.” I’d snarled right back at him. It had felt good. The snarling part, not the getting hit part. Annoyed with the fact that I wasn’t just laying back and taking my ‘punishment’ as other boys must have done, the Ridge backhanded me across the face so hard I nearly swallowed my tongue. He’d hit me again, and then again before one of his companions had urged him away from me so that they could kick me in the side with one booted foot. Another blow had connected with my ribs and my breath had exploded from my lungs in a pained rush. The next breath cost me because the next foot that flew caught me in the face. Now I struggled to roll over onto my back. Closing my eyes against the pain shooting through my skull as I tried to figure out if all this effort was really worth it. Should I just lay down and play dead? Or would they just piss on me to mark territory successfully gained? I’d seen animals do it. The wild dogs that stalked the alleyways and streets of London. They would eat what they could and to make sure no other scavenger took their prize they’d mark their territory so they could come back to it later if they needed to. So how did boys react in these situations? They were certainly like wild animals.I didn’t think they cried…though I was definitely tempted to do just that, which would have successfully blown my cover all to hell. I licked my bottom lip and swallowed down the blood that had coated my mouth. No point in giving them any more

satisfaction than they needed. Someone leaned over me and I felt breath stir my hair. I would have looked at them, but my eyes were nearly swollen shut. So it was hard to see anything but a flash of dirty blond hair before a voice hissed in my ear. “We’re going to drive the demon out of you boy.” Demon? I had a demon in me? When had that happened? “You’ll thank us for this when the good lord accepts you into heaven.” Before I could question the dubious wisdom of this I felt hands wrap around my throat and my air was cut off. My eyes popped as wide as they were willing to go and I struggled. Legs kicking out desperately as my nails clawed at the fingers crushing against my windpipe. I made a sound, a deep guttural noise in the back of my throat and brought both of my knees up, hard. Thankfully enough this man wasn’t as smart as Sin had been because he hadn’t sat so far up my body that my legs couldn’t reach him and I used that hindsight to my advantage. When I felt the grip around my neck slacken, I brought my knees up again, grunting with the effort. I knew I’d struck gold when the Hawk I had emptied my guts all over groaned and rolled off of me. From the corner of my eye I caught a flash of purple as a Ridge made his way towards me and screaming I threw myself backwards. “Bastards! Keep your bloody hands off of me!” I was more than a little hysterical, so when another one ran toward me as if to rush me, I fell on my back and using his momentum against him I planted both feet into his gut, grabbed him by the front of his tunic and with a curse (to show how very hard I was working) I threw him over my body to land flat on his back in the grass. Point one for me. I scrambled to my feet, tears gathering and falling within the space of heartbeats as my control slipped. Taking off at a stumbling jog, I held my ribs with one hand and tried not to black out from the throbbing pain in my face. Sobbing openly now, I looked up and could make out enough to know that with my face swelling as it was and blood clotting my lashes, I wasn’t going to be able to find my way out of the woods again and to one of the main buildings. I closed my eyes and tried to ease my panicked heartbeat. The other boys had stayed behind to see to their friends. The fifth had been on look out but if one of the others went back to get him then he would be yet another problem in an increasingly long list of them. Add that factor to the fact that the injured would only stay injured for so long until they became angry instead and came for me. Then my respite would be up. So what to do? Find a safe place, somewhere they couldn’t get to me easily. I huffed out an irritated breath as my knees began to weaken. Where the hell was I supposed to find a place like that in the woods. Oh. Right. I slapped myself on the forehead with the palm of my hand and then had to take a few minutes to steady myself so I wouldn’t black out. Trees. A forest had trees. I’d climb one and get out of their sight long enough for them to leave me alone. Committed now, I bit my lip and hunching a little in on myself I made my way to the trunk of the tree. The sound of bodies crashing through the undergrowth of the forest reached my ears

just as my hands gripped the tree limb hanging over my head. I didn’t bother looking around me as I placed my feet against the trunk of the tree and used it as lever to pull myself up. The muscles in my shoulders and arms strained and the bark dug into the palms of my hands. Black dots danced at the edge of my vision but I ignored them, my teeth stabbing painfully into my bottom lip as I forced myself to concentrate past the pain and exhaustion that wrapped cocoon like around me. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity I found my self hanging upside down from the tree limb, my legs and arms wrapped around the width of it. The breeze that brushed my sweaty face now that my hair wasn’t blocking it had my eyes drifting shut in relief. I nearly fell asleep right there had it not have been for three little words. “There he is!” I gasped, my heart skipping a much needed beat and my eyes snapping open. I struggled onto the top of the branch, placing my hands on the bark of the tree so I could keep my balance as I made my careful way to my feet. I stretched as I as I could, my shirt lifting off the skin of my belly. My fingers brushed the next limb just as I lost my footing. I jumped at the last minute and grabbed the wood with both hands. Scrambling up the trunk with my feet much as I had the first time. Grunting when the limb dug into my stomach as I pulled myself up to perch on the limb. I crouched on the balls of my feet, my clothes sticking to my skin in odd places with sweat. My vision grayed again and I swallowed down the taste of hot copper. Shaking my head in an effort to clear it I continued on my way. As I moved, my body buzzed with adrenaline and some of the pain began to move to the back of my mind. Instead of feeling heavier, more exhausted, my body felt lighter, nearly bursting with excitement by the time I reached the tallest limb of the tree. It took me a few seconds to actually realize that I was having fun. Breathing hard, I stood and balanced on the rough uneven bark, feet planted firmly as I had seen the sailors do and my palm placed against the trunk. I ran my fingers through my hair, dragging wind tossed curls from my face as I looked down on the forest floor. The five of them glanced back up at me and my eyes searched out and found those of the Hawk‘s. I grinned at him. “Hey Hawk!” I called, turning enough to give him my back and bending over a little so my ass was clearly visible from where he stood. I released my hair and patted my behind. “You see this?” More patting. “You can kiss this. Because this is as close as you’ll ever get to driving anything out of me.” That’s when one of the Ridge’s threw a rock at my head. I would have been impressed by their aim if I hadn’t been so busy falling. I flipped past branches and leaves, hitting limbs gut first before flipping off of them to continue my descent. I was going down faster than I had went up. Almost seemed like a waste of time. My fingers, scrambled, caught and held onto a tree limb not far up from the ground. I screamed when one of the boys reached for my ankle and jerked. I almost lost my balance but I pulled violently away. When the next rock flew threw the air I ducked against the tree and hid my face. “Here kitty kitty kitty.” I rubbed my cheek against the rough bark and glared down at the lot of them through the shaggy curtain of my bangs. When the boys surrounding the bottom of my perch reached grasping fingers for my ankles I pulled them on the limb with me and tried to keep from screaming. “Here kit, kit kit. What’s the matter? You afraid of us or something?” The boys laughed and I turned my head so the bark of the tree would press against my mouth, stemming back a flow of words that would have only made the situation worse. This was all Sinclair’s fault.

All of it. I hoped he swallows poison, or gets run over by a runaway carriage. Attacked by the wild wolf that is apparently running rampant through London and picking on poor innocent waifs such as myself. I hoped he got called a dick lover while some strange boy straddled him and… I shook my head. My thought processes were going downhill fast. Best to keep the message short and simple so I’d be sure to understand it when I looked back over it later. I despised him. I loathed him. I wished to god that he was here. I huffed out a disgusted breath. I was pathetic. Chapter Eight: “Whoever made the saying, ‘there is no rest for the wicked’ famous was a fucking moron. I mean, I’m an asshole and I sleep just fine.” --Cameron Their aim improved dramatically. I would have been proud of them had my attention not have been taken up with trying not to slip and fall from my precarious perch in the tree. Suffice is to say I was not at all pleased. Actually I was a lot more than simply displeased, but since I am a lady at heart, I refrained from thinking too deeply on such things. Instead I decided to act. Steadying myself with one hand I struggled to unlace and then remove one of my boots. Then I chucked it at the Wood who was closest to me and caught him in the face. “Stop throwing rocks at me! Stop it right now, or I’m going to be very displeased with the lot of you.” I made my voice as stern and menacing as I possibly could but it must not have been very effective because after staring at me in stunned silence for a long time, the five of them laughed at me. This made me angry…I mean displeased. So displeased in fact that I could feel the blood in my head rising to dangerous heights. I was so displeased just then my head was close to exploding. That was a new level, even for me. I hadn’t really noticed the boy I’d hit with my boot until he leaped up and grabbed my now bare foot in his hands and jerked down hard. I yelped, my spine scraping along the limb before I hit the ground with a thud, lost my balance and crashed to the forest floor. I hit the ground face first and my world exploded into all sorts of interesting colors. Pain blossomed, and blood pooled in my mouth. I could feel the warm liquid heat of it making trailing a path from my hairline and down the side of my face. I tried rising up, but the world tilted on its side and I tilted with it. Sky and ground switched places in a dizzying dance and I had to swallow back the need to throw up. After a few, deep shallow breaths I was finally able to push the pain away, ignore it and lift myself with arms that trembled up to my hands and knees. Do you know what a purple furball with fangs and bat wings looks like? Do you realize what the reaction of an emotionally unstable young girl will be when confronted with the sight of said furball hiding beneath a bush not three feet from her? No? Well neither did anyone else. But they sure as hell found out.

“Demon? DEMON! ” It took me a split second of sick surprise to realize that that panicked squealing was actually being produced by me. But by the time the realization struck my body had reacted without conscious effort from the rest of me. I scrambled to my feet, grabbing my head and whimpering when the world turned upside down and nearly falling again. When one of the men made a move towards me, a deep rumbling growl filled the air. § They saved me. By they, I mean instead of only one demon there had been three. They had watched the Hawk take a step towards me and all three of them had burst from the woods like tiny, flea bitten saviors sent down from heaven. Their bat like wings, uneven in size sprouted from their purple furred bodies and fluttered lazily with their every movement. They didn’t use these wings for much, as they were able to bounce to amazing heights. Their eyes stretched from their bodies in two long elongated eye stalks. I remembered seeing this when one of the creatures widened his eyes in response to my sudden and instantaneous fear. I must have been giving off some sort of smell for them to be able to notice. Because they had no arms or legs they used the stalks of their eyes to grab and lift things. Which is how they managed to throw one of the Hawks so far into the air that he flew over my head in an arc to crash into the trunk of a tree behind me. I watched this flight with no small amount of amazement. Because of that I missed most of the rest of the exchange. Only turning back to face the small battle when I heard one of my tormenters gasp. One of the fluff balls and wrapped itself around his face. Only the boy's eyes, wide and frightened, were visible from above the mass of purple fur that blocked his nose and mouth. We stared into each others eyes for a long moment. The temptation was there, to just let him fall, to stop breathing, and walk away, but I couldn’t let myself do it. “Stop it. Stop it please.” My voice was a hoarse whisper but the furball seemed to hear me. He unwrapped one of his eyes from around his victims head so he could turn it to look at me. Memory probed at me then, a dark glimpse that sent shivers racing up and down my spine. I shook it off, pushed the image that suddenly filled my mind, of the shiny barrel of a pistol and the sharp crack of gunshots, as far away from my conscious as I could. Suddenly I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want to remember anything. Pain and fear drove me to my knees. I placed my hands against the ground, nails digging in as I fought off the black tide. Forced myself to forget. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t kill Sinclair. I couldn’t stay in this place. I didn’t even like boys (at least not everyday), so why was I really here anyway? When I felt the gentle brush of fur against my cheek and the soft thud of a little body bouncing to sit beside me I nearly burst into tears. In some back recess of my mind, I recognized these three. I knew them. They had saved me before. I opened my eyes and met those of the purple demon. Distantly I could hear the boys that were still conscious, just two of them now, scrambling to their feet and beating a hasty retreat back to the school. The demon chirped, catching my attention again. I smiled down at it and pleased it hopped up onto my thigh, using its eyestalks and wings to crawl its way up my body so that it could perch on my shoulder. I turned my head to look at the fluff ball that had been rubbing against my face from where he sat on my shoulder. I patted his little head with one finger.

“ It’s alright pet. I’m alright.” The third demon nudged my other hand with his head and I petted him as well. Pleased with the attention, he purred. § “I have to keep them.” I stretched my arms out across the frame of the door and planted my feet. Sinclair, it seemed had no appreciation for my determination. “No.” Annoyance made my temper spike. “No? What the hell do you mean no? You can’t tell me no.” “I just did. Christ, your daddy spoiled you rotten.” I stared at him, anger momentarily forgotten as my father’s face floated up to my consciousness. His silver hair, much like my own, tousled by the wind as he bent down to kiss me cheek, rubbing his nose along mine before he’d pull away again. I smiled then, a little sadly, a little lost, and nodded. “Yes. Yes he did spoil me.” Sin snorted and ran a hand through his hair, eyeing me as if considering the best way to move me out from in front of our room door with the minimum amount of effort. When Sin had learned that I’d been chased off by the Hawk and his friends, he’d come searching for me. He’d found me picking my way out of the forest after what seemed an eternity of being lost. The furballs, whom I really needed to name, had taken refuge under my clothes so Sin didn’t see them at first. After he had drug me (unnecessarily) to our room, he had finally noticed that I was a little lumpier and a lot squeakier than he had at first thought. Narrowing his eyes, he’d poked me in the chest and the furballs squealed. When one eyeball peeked over the neck of my tunic to take a look at him and chirped a shy greeting, Sin had slapped himself on the forehead hard enough to leave a bruise. The sharp crack had sent the furballs launching out of my clothes like rockets. They landed in a bouncing heap on the floor at our feet and, once realizing that they had an audience, proceeded to bat their eyes and ruffle their fur. I for one had been impressed by the display, but Sinclair’s face had tightened and he’d glared at me as if he blamed me for the entire mess. I’d gotten offended and told him it wasn’t my fault that I’d been rescued by dust bunnies because of some stupid act of revenge that he’d instigated. He’d gotten angry and had told me I wasn’t keeping them. I’d gotten mad and stated that yes the hell I was. Then Sin had promptly ended that portion of the argument by grabbing the three demons by their eye stalks and striding towards the door as if to toss them out. That had been twenty minutes ago. Now I stamped my foot and poked one finger in his chest. “Put them down right now. They’re my protectors. My avengers. I need them. Look at them Sin. See how precious they are?” From where all six of their eyeballs sprouted over the top of Sin’s fist like daises, tears first filled and then overflowed. The demons chirped pitifully and their wings lifted valiantly before they apparently lost all will and collapsed in a dismal heap once more. Completely moved, I sniffed and ran a hand under my nose, ignoring Sin’s grunt of disgust. Instead I looked at him from under my lashes and gave him my own pitiful waif look,

trying not to giggle when one of the furballs started humming one of Mozart’s sadder pieces in it‘s squeaky little voice. Sin looked between the four of us, and I could tell when he‘d given in when his eye started to twitch. “Alright.” He growled, “Alright.” He released the furballs and, chirping loudly, they swarmed around my legs. Bouncing so high in their excitement that they reached my chest. I looked at Sin. Not willing just yet to get my hopes up. After all. Sinclair was sort of sneaky. “I can keep them?” He rolled his eyes. “More like they can keep you.” He must have meant this statement as he directed is next words to the dust bunnies personally, bending a little at the waist so that they wouldn’t have to jump so far up to meet his eyes. They listened closely. I saw first Sin’s and then the puffs eyes dart towards me as they conversed in low tones and when I leaned forward to hear better they only glared at me and snickered. For some reason my face flamed. When I heard Sin solemnly order, “She isn’t allowed to play with any of the other boys unless they’re approved by me first.” My outraged, “CHAMBERMAID!” was all the say I got concerning that little rule before one of the puffs turned around and pressed his eye against his mouth in a signal for me to keep my mouth shut. I pouted a little, but I kept my mouth shut. I caught the gleam of amusement in his eyes before Sinclair regarded the boys (I was guessing they were boys anyway) once more. “She isn’t allowed out of this room past nightfall. If she gets in any more trouble two of you are to stay behind to help her while the third comes to get either me or Cameron.” The puffs chirped in unison, sticking their little chests out and growling low to show that they meant business. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Folding my arms over my chest, I leaned back against the door, enjoying the sight of the four of them entirely too much. I was still angry at Sin, but the more I considered it the more I realized that he hadn’t planned on my getting hurt today. Embarrassed, humiliated, and looked down upon maybe, but never beat on. The anger on his face when he’d seen me had been too sharp, too real to be something that he’d expected to happen. That more than anything is what convinced him to let me keep the fluff balls. I shook off these thoughts and continued to listen as Sin spoke in an undertone to the boys. I couldn’t really understand exactly what he said but I assumed he was advising them on the best way to raise a pet. Namely me. Finally, Sin sighed and straightened to his full height. He looked down at me for a full minute before he ducked his head in a small bow. “I apologize.” My brows shot up. Annoyed with the reaction he was getting, Sin reached out and closed my mouth with the knuckles of his hand. “You’re apolog-” I didn’t finish because by then Sin’s patience had already run out. He grabbed me by my shoulders, lifting my entire body out of his way, and set me to one side. The puffballs growled a warning and Sin bared his teeth in a quick feral smile. Alarmed, they hopped away to hide behind my beside table. I interrupted this very manly display and punched Sinclair in the arm. He cocked his head to one side as he turned to regard me. For a long moment his eyes searched my face. For a split second I thought I saw confusion, and then recognition cross his expression. Then he grinned, bright and false and ruffled my hair. “What a pretty Ale you are.” And on that rather disturbing note he leaned down and kissed

me on the cheek. Then he was gone, the door slamming shut behind him. I found myself staring at it, dazed. From behind me I heard a high pitched giggle and I looked over my shoulder to frown at the puffs. “Oh, just shut up.” § “You need names.” I stated this solemnly to the eyeball that was regarding me. Its owner was perched on the top of my head, its wings shifting gently and stirring strands of my hair. I could feel my hair tug as the demon sucked my curls into its mouth and chewed. “And food. Names and food.” The two others, who were swimming through the bubbles of my bath hiccupped. Soap bubbles floated from their open mouths and ecstatic they flew up just enough to catch them in their mouths and drop back down with a splash that soaked me. I wiped suds from my eyes, only listening with one ear as the puff on top of my head grumbled in annoyance. Shaking my head at them I leaned back against the porcelain side of the tub and ran my hands through the now lukewarm water. Cupping my palms to catch some water so I could dribble it along my chest and neck. The tub had been a treat. When I’d gone down to Dresden’s common room on the bottom floor to ask some of the boys where the bathhouse was located, they’d informed me that because Sinclair was apart of the council he didn’t have to take public baths like the rest of the boys. He was allowed a private tub of his own, which servants were sent up to fill. As his roommate I decided to take full advantage of this stroke of luck and had ordered one. Now nearly an hour later the bruises, cuts, and tightened muscles had been soothed and relaxed by the hot water. I was pruned, as comfortable as I could be, and trying to find the strength to pull myself out of the water. But for now…. “How about Yasmen, Roland, and…Lenny?” All movement in the tub stopped. An eyestalk rose out of the water to regard me. I shook my head in silent agreement and felt the three of them relax. The splashing and chewing resumed. “Rebecca, Freddy, and Harold?” That got a no. “Fifi, muffin, and Perry?” “Richard, Wallace, and snuggle bunny?” Panic. I wrung water from my hair and sneezed. Bubbles actually came out of my nose and I eyed the puffs warily. In a last ditch effort I said, rather hesitantly, “Hughie, Wacko, and Mo?” All three of them, now balancing on the edge of the tub looked at one another. Then they chirped once, twice, and again. Bouncing suddenly in the water one by one, they rocked the tub so badly that water sloshed over the sides to soak the floor. I’m assuming that in puff language, that meant yes.

Chapter Nine:

“Are you going to Scarborough fair? Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme. Remember me to bonny lass there, For once she was a true love of mine.” “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Remember me to one who lives there. For once he was a true love of mine.” -unknown I’ve never had a pet before. I kind of liked it. It soothed a part of me I didn’t know I possessed to be able to cuddle and comfort. Because I didn’t want to stay cooped up in the room the entire day I decided to go on ahead tend my third class of the day. In the excitement of the day I’d skipped out on the second and I almost regretted it. Growing up as I had I hadn’t been sent to a proper school and I thought it best to take advantage of it while I still could. Especially since the all holy Sinclair inspired bath had done such wonders on my aches and pains. The hot water had even reduced the swelling in my face so that I could see out of my eyes. Almost like a normal person. Imagine that. While the four of us were making our way down the path and on towards the chorus building, I found that Hughie, Wacko and Mo preferred to travel perched on my head and shoulders. They didn’t like hopping along beside me on the ground, though if they got excited enough they’d tumble off of me and dart ahead to investigate whatever had caught their interest. From Sir’s tour the other day I remembered that the music hall was located somewhere off into the woods. At the time Sir hadn’t wanted to go trampling off down there to show it to me so I had yet to see what the building looked like. As I picked my way through the forest, the boys chirped and chattered happily in my ear. Once or twice I had to shush them and pause when I thought I’d heard something behind me. Every time I glanced over my shoulder the wind caught my hair, shifting through the strands like a lovers fingers before sliding down the back of my skull and tracing along my neck, light and cool. It made me uncomfortable, that touch. I shook off the unease that gripped me suddenly, turned and hurried further down the path.

Soon we stepped from the leafy coverage of the forest and into the bright light of a clearing. The sudden light was enough of a shock that the boys grumbled and one of them slipped and tumbled off of my shoulder. Obviously their eyes didn’t handle change very well. I picked Mo up and shushed him. Cuddling down in the palm of my hand he wrapped his eye stalks around my fingers and held on as tight as he possibly could. I would have complained at the circulation cut off but he was cute enough that I didn’t really have the heart. I shifted my attention from Mo and finally took the time to look around at where I was. There was a lake. With clean water in it and everything. Nothing like the disgusting mess that the Thames was turning into. Not far from the lake stood a building. Dome shaped and made of clear glass.

From where I stood I could just make out the figures of students as they moved through the building. The searching fingers that spread across my skin had me yelping and jerking around so hard that Hughie and Wacko had to clamp my hair between their teeth so they wouldn’t be thrown. It hurt but I ignored the pain so I could narrow my eyes and focus. Searching for the source of my unease but unable to find it. Finally, irritated and a little flustered I turned and made my way down the side of the hill I stood on and on towards the lakeside. As I came closer I could see the blue gray water shimmering in the sun. The light reflected off the mirror like surface and bounced away, playing with the mist that rose in lazy furls from the surface and surrounding grass. It was a few seconds before I realized that what I was seeing wasn’t just a trick of the light. This wasn’t a lake, it was a small sea. Water stretching as the eye could see and curving around a distant bank to disappear from my line of sight. Distant outlines of green identified themselves as trees after a moment of scrutiny. It was an amazing sight, especially with the mist and light bouncing around the surface of the music hall. Hughie, Wacko and Mo oooed their appreciation and I nodded in silent agreement. The haunting strands of music pulled us out of our reverie and back to the present. Wildflowers washed the surrounding land in vibrant color and a river that broke off from the lake split the land almost in half. I wrinkled my nose and tried not to sneeze as I made my way through the flowers. If I sneezed now, with my head and face still as sore as they were I think my brain might explode. I pressed Mo against my nose and apparently thinking this was some sort of game he fluttered his wings and turned to sniff my face. I wasn’t sure how he managed it because as far as I could tell Mo didn’t have a nose. But maybe it was hidden beneath all that fur? Anyway, I was too completely absorbed in the mystery that was Mo’s face to pay attention to much else. Wildflowers and grabby winds aside. Finally I reached the building and Mo slipped away. Bouncing along my arm until he could perch on my shoulder, snuggling down against the side of my neck. I slipped inside. Boys formed a semicircle around the perimeter of the building, standing in some arrangement known only to them; they had their hands folded neatly at the small of their backs and their spines as straight as could be. There was no standard issued uniform here, indeed it seemed as if the dress code was relaxed in this room. Boys stood with collars unbuttoned in preparation for the coming heat and boots tossed to one side. Occupying the other side in a matching semicircle stood instruments. They gleamed, gold and liquid silver under the lighting and Hughie growled a warning, little body quivering irritably from on top of my head. I rolled my eyes. “They aren’t alive Hughie.” It was scary. The fact that I understood them this well already. I wondered what it said about me. I glanced over the assembled and saw that they were all staring straight ahead. Giving the little, gnarled, old man in the center of the room their full and undivided attention. “Wonderful my dear boys, absolutely wonderful. I’m sure this years show will be a huge success. Speaking of which, Sir has expressed his desire to hold a special performance for the this year’s Spring Ball. Something to impress potential benefactors and parents when they attend the festivities. I’m thinking a duet. Yes? You agree? Excellent. You…and you. Yes you. You’re new here are you not? Wonderful, simply wonderful. Welcome to Parrington, hope you have a nice stay. No…oh no dear boy you can’t slink away just yet. Come to the front and stand by me. Henri! Didn’t I tell you to come forward as well? Do so forthwith. With utmost haste. That means move faster Henri. Goodness, what an old man goes through.”

This was all said and done without the old man once taking a breath. Suitably impressed I did as I was told and stood beside him with bowed head. Praying he wouldn’t keel over and die from lack of oxygen to his brain. As time passed and more orders were barked out as he rearranged the boys still standing. I watched them curiously as I stood beside the old man, who I later learned was called Mr. Little, and Henri. I could feel Henri’s annoyance at being paired with the new boy when he was trying to look good in front of the music teacher, a man Dresden house (the only house currently taking music) obviously looked up to. I felt sympathy for him of course, but not enough to make myself look bad so he wouldn’t be stuck with me. So we sang together. And while his voice was pleasant, a resounding tenor that echoed throughout the music hall, it wasn’t amazing. When we were through and I made a move to go and stand with the rest of the boys as Henri was doing, Mr. Little held me back with one pudgy hand. “No. No my dear boy. Stay where you are. Let me see…let me try…ah yes - you. Come on now. Hurry up we don’t have all day.” It was times like this that made me want to just drop dead. At least for a little while. And if the look I was getting was any indication then my new partner was feeling the same way. As Sinclair had warned me earlier, I couldn’t exactly afford all of this new attention, and if I got cast for a solo part who knew what sorts of trouble I would manage to get myself into. With my track record thus far, this was a rather disturbing train of thought. I bit my lip and turned away to see that Mr. little was grinning at me, revealing small crooked teeth, and I couldn’t help but smile back at him. Then he tapped the stick thing he held in his hands against his podium and begin humming the toon. The piece chosen for the duet was “Scarborough Fair“. A song that I’d been able to hear, dreamlike and faint, on the nights the acting troupe performed at Drury Lane. I was familiar with the song…I’d just never heard it sung quite this way before. Usually it was just performed by a woman singing solo. Scarborough fair was as old a song as I could remember and I wondered briefly why it had been chosen rather than something more…modern. Mr. Little tapped his stick thing (one day I’d learn the name for it.) against the podium again. More impatiently this time and I and my partner both stopped singing. Mr. Little had his hand pressed against his forehead. He looked pained. “Do any of you know the history behind Scarborough Fair?” We all looked a each other, and I found that because of my mutual cluelessness, I was a part of the ‘inner group’. At least for now. After a moment of awkward silence a boy in the back row, from what I assumed were the higher tenors, raised his hand. “Scarborough fair is a love song composed by an unknown source. The song has been around since Henry the third’s time and over the years has undergone extensive interpretations as well as revisions.” “That’s correct Georgie.“ Mr. Little nodded his head towards the sickly looking boy who’d spoken as if he were pleased, his little bald plate gleaming under the sunlight that spilled in through the ceiling. When he turned to look my way however, he rolled his eyes and I had to stifle a snort. Hughie, Wacko, and Mo, who up until this point had been amusing themselves with the masses of shiny instruments in one corner, snickered. I had been waiting for a reaction. Some sort of acknowledgment of their presence but so far had received none. I was beginning to feel like one of those storybook characters. Maybe no one could see the boys except me. And Sinclair of course, but he hardly counted. This theory was confirmed when Wacko tumbled headfirst into a horn type instrument and Hughie and Mo begin weeping pitifully as they stretched to get him

back out. The only sign that the scene had been noticed whatsoever was when Sinclair turned his eyes up to the heavens, collapsed against the glass wall at his back and ran a weary hand over his face. He was doing his best to ignore the entire mess, hence the “Sinclair doesn’t count” comment. “Repeat the chorus if you please.” I went to stand at the end of the line of boys as they all begin to repeat dutifully: “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, Remember me to one who lives there, For once she was a true love of mine.” “Very good.” He gave us all suddenly fierce little old man eyes. “Now how many of you just sang that with absolutely no clue as to what it meant or the history behind it?” We all looked at each other again and Mr. Little let out a heavy sigh as if pained. From the corner of my eye I saw the boy, Georgie, start to raise his hand again until Cameron elbowed him in the ribs. When the breathless curse had Mr. Little turning unsurprised eyes in their direction, Cameron flashed him a blinding smile. He practically glowed he was so unbelievably sincere. Emphasis on the unbelievable. Mr. Little’s eyes narrowed and Cam’s face flushed bright red. “Uh…the meaning Sir?” My voice drug Mr. Little’s attention away from his intended target almost instantly. He straightened to his full, rather unimpressive height and straightened his clothes. “Yes. Thank you boy. As I was saying. Scarborough Fair is not simply some old love song that has been forgotten over the years. Do you realize how significant that is. That this song has so much history attached to its name that it’s origins and composer have both been completely forgotten? No? Well imagine if you will the number of years that will have to pass before Shakespeare or even Mozart will fade into obscurity. Memories half remembered. Do you understand my point now?” When he saw that we did he nodded, looking pleased with himself. “It’s not simply a love song. It’s a message. A secret shared between two lovers. A promise. A young man and a young woman are telling a tale. They once loved and now have met again after what has been many years.” As he spoke Mr. Little moved restlessly, walking towards us and then turning his back to return to his place in the center of the room. His hands gestured erratically, his eyes were brighter, but his voice…as a true performer, his voice was hypnotic, lulling as he weaved his story. “This young man is telling his former lover that if she wishes him back she must perform a series of unattainable tasks. Making a shirt without a seam? Surely the lot of you aren’t so dense as to believe that such a thing is possible.” We laughed at that and he paused long enough to grin happily at us before he continued. “Exactly. He tells this mystery woman that if she can do these amazing things then she can be his lover again. I don’t know about you boys, but once you get to be my age, you’re simply happy if you can smell a woman heading in your direction. Never mind giving her ultimatums for being allowed in your bed. These days women will charge you for such things…” Mr. Little’s voice trailed off and he had to wait a few minutes for the laughter to die down before he could continue. The look on his face, blankly clueless, had the snickers dragging on for a few seconds longer than they would have normally. He frowned at us. “Now, because we’re doing this song as a duet, the woman now has a chance to have her say in the matter. She responds to her lovers demands by making a few of her own, equally

impossible. Now all this bickering between the two of them is well and good, but what we all seem to ignore, the part of the song that is the most significant is the refrain. ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme’. “ Mr. Little looked at us expectantly and almost as one we all turned to look at Georgie. Nervous under the scrutiny, the poor boy spread his hands wide and shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I don’t know anything about herbs.” Cameron looked at him in disgust. “Well you’ve finally done it. You’ve finally proven yourself to be completely and utterly useless. You can go and kill yourself now, I have no further use for you.” The class snorted and Sin took the time to cuff Cameron in the back of the head. Mr. Little, very tactfully I thought, turned away from the ensuing argument. “Alright then. As I was saying before…” he considered with a small frown on his face before he brightened as a thought so obviously occurred to him. “The pertinent line in the song. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. Mildness, strength, faithfulness, and courage. Remember me to bonny lass there for once she was a true love of mine.” Mr. Little looked around the now silent room, his face thoughtful and his smile soft and a little sad. He folded his gnarled hands behind his back and rocked back on his heels. “Don’t let bitterness stand between us my love, have strength in us. Believe in us. Be faithful to me through everything. Come back to me and only me, love me, never forget. And most of all…have courage. My dear boys, as you grow older you will learn that in this life…a man’s hardest task is to have courage. To be afraid and yet not let that fear rule him and his actions. Mildness, strength, faithfulness, and courage.” He grinned at us, “Seems a lot to ask of one who is simply mortal, does it not?” I wasn’t sure of my classmates reaction, but if their silence was in any way caused by the awe that I myself suddenly felt towards Mr. Little, it was understood. When the old man strode over to stand behind his podium once again we all stood at attention. Suddenly more dedicated towards this simple ballad than we had been a few seconds before. “Another song will be chosen to be performed at the ball in addition to this one. That means that there are three spots available. Scarborough Fair will be the hardest to cast because I need…magic. The song cannot be performed without that special something to drive it along. I wouldn’t allow it. I’ve explained it to you, now it’s your job to bring that magic to life. You are dismissed.” § The rest of my classes passed uneventfully. Well…almost anyway. I had a math class that I couldn’t help but sleep through until I was expected to wake up so that I could spend the last hour and a half of my day in chemistry, learning the different properties of this chemical and that. I learned what made up what and I learned that having Cameron as a lab partner was not the safest thing in the world. The boy was flammable. After Professor Douglass had finished putting out Cameron’s clothes and sent him on to the infirmary to get some salve for his arm, I was assigned a different partner. Since it was Georgie, and he seemed to have more sense than to try and pat out a little chemical fire with his hands, I didn’t complain. As Sin walked beside me on our way back to Dresden house, I gave him a wary look from the corner of my eye. For the most part the boys had behaved themselves. They’d slept when I’d

slept during math class and once we’d reached Chemistry, Sinclair had grabbed a vial of clear liquid and soaked his handkerchief with it. He’d crouched down beside my seat where the boys were bouncing excitedly on my shoulders and head and held out the bit of clothe. Because they were curious they’d gone to it, sniffing enthusiastically before promptly passing out. I admit that I’d screamed. But only once, and it was a little scream. Sinclair had hushed me before it could get any longer, scooping up the boys as he got to his feet. “They aren’t dead, but they’ll be out of it until the end of class at least. I’m keeping them with me.” When I’d opened my mouth to protest he’d given me a stern look. “There are too many things in this room that they could get into. And knowing your luck I’d think you’d care about them enough to keep them out of harms way.” I hadn’t been able to argue with that logic, and I’d probably never be able to do so after the Cameron incident. Now, ducking my head and biting my lip, I asked. “Are they awake yet?” Sinclair gave me a look. “They’ve been awake for the past ten minutes. Right now they’re sniffing me.” Since he seemed a little pained to be put in such a position I prodded. “And why would they do that Sinclair?” “So they can recognize my scent, even if they can’t see me.” I was about to ask him why such an ability would even be necessary, but by then we’d reached our room. As he unlocked the door, Sinclair lifted one leg and shook it. With a muffled thump a furball rolled out of his pants leg and I bent to pick up Hughie before he could start crying. Sinclair strode across the room, heading towards his bed as I headed towards mine.. He reached underneath his shirt and extracted another ball of fur, this time Wacko. He pulled the shirt over his head without pausing and Wacko darted away to come and bounce up onto my mattress. I kept my eyes averted as he sat on his bed to undo his pants, therefore, I didn’t see where Mo popped out from but the fluff ball looked extremely pleased with himself. In the back of my mind I could make out the faint rustling of clothing as Sin went about getting ready for bed the slide of cloth against skin. I was too busy marveling at a new piece of information to pay this much mind. “Hey dude?” I tried the word experimentally, rolling it off my tongue to release into the air. Hughie, Wacko, and Mo, who were sitting on my chest as I lay back against my pillows, chirped their approval. I looked up in time to find Sin staring wide eyed at me. “What did you just say?” I grinned, extremely pleased. “I said ’hey dude.’” Sin sat heavily on his mattress, pressing his face into his hands. He struggled with himself, but eventually he lost the battle and was forced to ask. “Who did you here that from.” Unbelievably proud of me, Mo jumped up and down on my chest, her weight a comfort rather than a burden, the scent of lilacs drifting up to my nose each time she landed. She spoke to Sin in a series of chirps and sharp yaps and he peeked at her from between his fingers, eyes dark and hooded. I translated. “Mo taught me. He says that…” I listened intently to the beeps and whirs that suddenly flew in and out my head. I closed my eyes and concentrated so that I could separate their individual voices from their combined babbling. “They say that in their world, young men and women refer to one another as ’dude’. Dude

is essentially a male’s title but is used more often than not for both male and females.” I opened my eyes to look at Sin and he blinked slowly at me. “You can understand them?” My brow furrowed, “I suppose that I can…dude.” He winced. “Please don’t call me that again.” Wacko giggled, the clear, bell like sound cutting off with a grunt when Hughie drove his eye into his belly. “So dude,” I said, ignoring Sin’s wishes completely. “What do the fluffs mean when they say, ’their world?’ And why can’t anyone see them but us?” Sin lay back across his bed, feet still planted firmly on the floor as he folded his arms behind his head. “Do you know what a water rat is Ale?” I grunted to let him know that no, I didn’t know what a water rat was. My best guess would be a rat that hadn’t been drowned properly. Sin shook his head at my train of thought, obviously tuning in again now that there weren’t so many other heads around to interfere. “They’re protectors. Guardians.” “Well that’s good.’ I said. I felt more than saw Sin shake his head. “It depends on whom their guarding. They don’t know the difference between good or evil. Right or wrong. They simply know who or what they protect. They understand the concept of enemy, and ally. They can‘t be sensed by…certain…people.” I noticed the hesitation, as if he’d meant to say something else, but I let it go. “And only very special…people can actually see them. These rats have the ability to travel very far because their sense of time and space is very different from the rest of the worlds.” “Sin, what does that have to do with anything.” His voice when it came again was quiet and thoughtful. “Everything and nothing. It all depends on whose side you’re on. You see, I wonder to myself why any guardian, let alone three of them, would waste their time around a seemingly useless little girl. It’s occurred to Cameron as well.” “You mean he can see them?” I sat up on my elbows and looked over at him. “No. I mean he can smell them on you.” I frowned. That made no sense. But then neither did mind readers, pink dust balls, and 'dude’. “Rest tonight Ale. We won’t ask you to explain yourself unless we begin to think that you’re a threat. If that time comes I hope you’re prepared to face the consequences.” His words sent a chill running down my spine, no matter how gently they were uttered. Mo’s worried crooning caught my attention and I looked down to where the boys now rested on my stomach. Wacko jerked his eye in Sin’s direction and nudged me with his body. I listened intently, my eyes widening as they chirped and beeped at me. Finally I grinned. “Whatever dude.” I told Sinclair and watched gleefully when his entire body tightened in loathing. I looked at the boys. “What an odd place the three of you come from.”

Chapter Ten:

To me dear friend, you never can be old. For as you were when first your eye I eyed, such seems your beauty still. - William Shakespeare A few days later, I once again found myself sitting between Cam and Sin. This had become the norm between us, Sin finding that though he was found of Cameron, he was easily annoyed. And because Cameron was a very annoying person, this combination usually escalated into arguments by the time breakfast was up. Hence me, the human buffer. I had my chin placed on the table and was staring intently at the furballs. They stared back. I narrowed my eyes and Hughie chirped guiltily. Then, because they‘d held it off as long as they could, Wacko burped and a chunk of sausage flew from his mouth to hit me in the face. Hughie and Mo collapsed into miserable heaps beside my plate and started groaning as if they were dying a slow and painful death. I closed my eyes and slumped on the table in defeat, my head thunking hollowly against the wood. Sinclair sighed. “I doubt they eat meat. It was a stupid idea to give them sausage anyway.” I kicked at him sideways from under the table and he kicked me back. Only with more force. “Have you seen their teeth?” I asked, after careful consideration on whether I should make him feel bad for excessive use of force and then deciding against it as too complicated so early in the morning. Sin bit into his own sausage and rolled his eyes, speaking through a full mouth. “Yes, Ale. I’m familiar with their teeth.” “I’m not so sure that you are.” I said and Cameron snickered. After he had complained about smelling something he couldn’t see I’d had to explain to him about the puffs. He was delighted, which worried me, because every now and then he’d stab forward with whatever was in his hand in an attempt to catch one of them. As this was usually a fork, he had considerably cut down on the puffs chances for survival. He scared the hell out of them, and now they flinched whenever he moved too suddenly. I’m sure all of this stabbing and feeding of invisible beings must have seemed odd to the boys around us…but we had stopped caring about appearances a long time ago. As in Cam had never given a damn, Sin was too mean for anyone to criticize him to his face, and I was just too lazy. “Their teeth.” I explained slowly to Sin, ignoring the boy who shot us a look before hastily scooting away. “Cut through metal Sin,” I’d checked. “And they're roughly the size and shape of my hand when they open their mouths.” “Like that’s so big.” I slapped Cam in the chest without bothering to look his way. “How in the world can those little buggers not eat meat. they should be inhaling cattle like it’s air.” Sin swallowed his food and eyed me a bit warily. “It’s…commendable that you’ve given this so much thought.” I didn’t believe he thought it was commendable at all. “but they eat almost everything else.” I’d checked that too. “And they seem fine. So why are you making such a big deal out of it?” I glared at the boys, who seemed to have recovered fairly well from their brush with death and were sliding cautiously toward Cameron’s plate and his remaining piece of toast. Since Cam was currently distracted with trying to prove to the boy next to him that he could stuff the most

food into his mouth at once, I had little worries that they’d get caught. A hand landed on my shoulder, and I turned away from Sin, looking up to meet the eyes of… “Uh oh.” Cameron looked over and grinned, “Well look who it is. Lock the Hawk.” His smile turned nasty. “So where’d you get the shiner?” The Hawk by the name of Lock flushed red and glared and me. I bit my tongue, my eyes widening in recognition. “You’re the one who got thrown into the tree.” I said wonderingly. Like me his face was still a colorful mass of bruises. Unlike me, his face was wrapped in bandages from his nose down to his mouth and wrapped beneath his chin. Both eyes were black, and there was a huge lump on his temple that looked shiny and purple. I giggled and had to bite my tongue again. The boys snickered, hiding quickly behind a pitcher of coffee when Sin turned to glare at them. From behind tree boy there came two more from the group who’d attacked me in the woods. I recognized one of the faces as the boy who Mo had nearly killed. He still had a wide eyed look to him, and I wondered briefly if when they’d been attacked, had the boys seen Hughie, Wacko, and Mo or had it been as if they were being attacked by ghosts. Lock placed both hands on the table between Sin and I and leaned down over me. “We know what you did out there in the woods witch. Next time you won’t have time to call your spirits. We’ll drive the demon out of you yet.” Well, I thought, a little alarmed, that answered that question. They hadn’t seen the boys. They’d simply thought that I’d conjured vengeful spirits out of thin air to teach them a lesson. I placed my head in my hands on the table and snickered some more. I could hear the puffs muffled giggles cut off abruptly when Lock grabbed my hair and jerked my head back. His voice was nasally and not all that threatening but still. He had a grip on my hair. Which was unacceptable. Especially since I was trying to grow it back out. Three things happened at once. I pushed my chair back suddenly into the Hawks gut and jerked my head backwards into his already smashed nose. Cameron and Sin both stood on either side of me and grabbed Lock's buddies as they moved to grab for me. The struggle was violent enough that platters of food and drinks were scattered from the table to crash to the floor. Students scrambled to their feet and surrounded us from a safe distance. Grunting, Lock stumbled forward and wrapped his arms around me, locking my arms at my sides so that I couldn’t do anything but buck against him like a wild thing. The next thing I knew both Lock and I were falling backwards He landed with an oomph that sent my hair flying up around my face. I let my head fly back once more to smash against his face and he cried out. I had a split seconds worry about blood in my hair before I was pulled off of him and tossed to the side. I stumbled when my feet hit the ground again. And I had to catch myself before I ran into the circle of boys still cheering and egging us all on. I turned back to see that the red haired boy I’d seen on the edge of the woods earlier had been the one to grab me. Impatient and still revved up, I brushed my hair from my face and grabbed a handful of pudding from an already overturned bowl. Then I threw it at reds face. He looked like a mud baby for minute as he processed what had happened to him. Then he wiped the pudding from his face with one hand and started towards me. Cameron, who’d glimpsed the last of what had happened, hopped off of his own opponent,

leaving the boy unconscious and face down on the now filthy floor. He grabbed a piece of sausage from the ground as he passed by it and drew his arm back as far as it would go. He used his other arm as a point of reference I suppose because when he launched the sausage across the room, it flipped end over end to strike the red head right in the back of the neck. The room went quiet and the boy stopped in his tracks and turned around. Cameron stood straight and gave him wide innocent eyes. Then he pointed at Sin, and whistling, sauntered away to hide in the crowd. Sin looked up from where he was busy slamming the third boys head into the edge of the table. When he saw the redhead’s face he snorted with laughter and let his victim go, getting to his feet and wiping his hands down the sides of his pants as if he’d touched something dirty. “That’s a good look for you Jinx.” The red head, Jinx turned to look at him through the pudding that coated everything but his eyes. “Real cute Warsted.” He walked up to Sin, and I opened my mouth to warn my roommate, but thought better of it. Instead dropping to my knees to crawl under the table where the boys now cowered. Jinx wiped the hand still covered in pudding down Sin’s face. Then he licked his fingers and grinned widely, eyes twinkling. “Just like I said. Real cute Warsted.” Long story short, Cameron and Sin both got stable duty, while Jinx and I were given the rather dubious honor of cleaning Olympus for the next two months. All by ourselves. Oh joy. § I snuck into the stables after class the next day to try and kill Sinclair. Just to see if I could, just to say that I tried if and when Warren lost patience with me. Then he smiled at me. I ended up helping mucking out horse stalls and bringing in fresh hay for the colts. Sometimes I was so pathetic I made myself sick. § “Where is she Warren?” The man, a man who once might have responded to the quietly uttered name simply sank lower in the chains that suspended his body above the ground. The metal dug into his wrists and he would have complained had he the will to do so anymore. “Warren, Warren, Warren. Don’t you see? There’s no point in fighting it anymore. Just tell me where she is. Tell me how you’ve managed to keep her from me for so very long.” Warren’s mouth opened and closed on a curse. He could feel the spell that bitch had put on him tightening around his throat and that boiled blood that had before been frozen in fear. Instead he shook his head and collapsed in his chains, his shoulder blades twisting painfully in their sockets as they strained under the pressure of his weight. He couldn’t find the energy to care.

“Not fighting. Can’t tell.” The alchemist regarded him steadily from where he stood. Finally, he sighed and shook his head sadly as he paced away from the blood that dripped in steady streams from his captive. “Warren. Just tell me. We can smell her you know. We can sense her out there. Whatever little spell you placed on her is weakening and soon we’ll find her. Everyone will find her.” He stopped suddenly, and turned to face Warren once more. His eyes fierce and deadly in an already stern face. “There can be no ‘we’ where she is concerned. I have too much at stake. I must find her first. I must have her. Do you understand what I’m saying Warren?” Warren only kept himself from rolling his eyes because he knew it would probably hurt. He was tired of being asked if he ’understood’. He was a braggart and a man but not an idiot. Apparently the distinction between the two was lost to some people. But, because he was a fairly decent person at heart ( with the added threat of additional abuse) Warren nodded to show that he did indeed understand. The alchemist looked pleased, but only for a split second before he remembered that Warren had yet to tell him what he so desperately wanted to know. He was across the room in a blur of blood red robes and the cruel snap of silk against empty air. Warren shouldn’t have been surprised by the speed in which he moved, and he wasn’t. But a spasm of fear had him jerking back all the same when the alchemist suddenly appeared in front of him. Because he was suspended and the alchemist was on foot, the other man’s nose only reached Warren’s blood soaked chest. Leaning forward on his heels the alchemist drew in a deep breath, running his nose along the surface of Warren’s skin and growling with a dark kind of pleasure. Warren’s stomach twisted and his mouth dried. He wished he could tell. Wished he could let the information slip somehow without going against the confines of the spell. Just the thought of doing so had a familiar flare of pain tightening around his throat like a noose. He remembered the night they’d killed Trenton’s wife. How he’d wandered into the room where both mother and daughter should have been locked in . When he’d stepped over the threshold he remembered how his nose had wrinkled at the familiar tang of poison, blood, and offal. He’d seen the older one, the mother lying on her stomach on the carpet, the blood seeping from her mouth to stain what he was positive was a rather expensive rug. He’d gone over to the body, noting the dark blond hair that spread like a golden fan around the woman’s head. Framing a pale face and sightless staring eyes. He’d crouched down, stretching out a hand to check for a pulse, because though she looked and smelled dead, witches in general were a tricky lot and it took a good amount to kill them. His caution was warranted apparently because the next thing he knew, what had seemed like a corpse had launched herself at him with a blood curdling screech. He’d fallen back large hands pushing and striking. The Trenton witch still managed to get her boney claw like fingers around his windpipe. He kicked her in the stomach but she simply grunted and tightened her fingers on him. When she grinned down at him he’d cringed, his insides twisting. The poison had eaten at her teeth and flesh until there was nearly nothing left. Her face was fast turning into that of a half rotted corpse. He could see the gleam of bone through the flesh of her cheek and a bit of skin fell to land on his forehead. The poison, Dreull, was designed to eat away a person’s body from the inside out. Killing healthy cells, and rotting them in a matter f minutes. The Druell that they’d slipped into her wine had been a particularly strong batch. She was Gabriel’s mother after all, William Trenton’s wife,

and a witch from the world of Japrimilia. She was deadly enough and extra precautions had been taken to account for that. “The Keeper. You must protect the Keeper. My baby. My Ale.” For a second he’d had no idea what she’d been talking about. Then realization dawned and had his heart speeding up painfully. He and Eric had heard no mention of the Soul Keeper having been brought to their world. He’d remembered the time of course, when entire supernatural factions had scattered in panic at the release of the Keeper. After her death, and the magical binding of souls (a practice that had become mandatory after the Keeper’s death so that a dead super’s soul wouldn’t run amok) the memory of the Keeper had faded into a half remembered fantasy. A fairytale. He and Eric had simply assumed that like her father, Gabriale had been another rebel Salamander. Those were rare enough, but if they could get their hands on the Keeper of Souls… She’d laid the gias on him then. The curse. Her foul dead breath floating around his face to choke him. From that moment on he’d been charged with one duty and one duty only. Keep Gabriale Elena Trenton, Keeper of Souls from the alchemist. Let no one know she was alive and well in this world, and no matter what never allow the Fallen to know that she still lived. For the most part he’d kept to the gias, and putting the little bitch into the asylum had given him time to come up with a way to get around it. Sending her to that ’school’ had been a good move on his part. Away from the city where he lived, his influence on her was waning and without either of the Trenton‘s around to keep the damned collar working properly, it was starting to fail. As the Alchemist had said, they could smell her now, and pretty soon everyone would find her. Everyone. The Alchemist, patience worn thin, gave up any pretense of civility and howled, a bone chilling, skin tightening sound. Frustrated and enraged at what he most likely suspected to be blind stupidity or defiance or both, he shifted, grunting with the effort. This power was not his own, was not something he had been born with, but something he had stolen. So it hurt him, a man who was born human, more than it would have the body of the supernatural in whom the power belonged. It made the Alchemist bitter, and he gazed down at the talons that sprouted from his fingers with eyes that were filled with something very close to lust. “One day Warren. One day humans will be the ruling power in this world. Supernaturals will bow down before us and tremble at our strength.” Warren’s lip twisted. He knew what was coming. “Stolen power.” The alchemist smiled stiffly at him, revealing a row of crooked jagged fangs in what had once been a relatively normal mouth. He inclined his head as if conceding a point. “Even so, Warren. Power calls to power.” Then he drew back his arm and drove his hand through Warren's chest. Razor sharp talons ripping through flesh and muscle. Tearing until the warm rise of blood flowed over and down the alchemists arm like a river. Something to drink in and get drunk off of. His voice, sing song, mocking, and a little crazed rang out as he slowly extracted his hand. “Power calls to power.”

Chapter Eleven: To press kisses on her skin is to taste the lotus The deep cave of her navel hides a store of spices What pleasure lies beyond, the tongue knows, But cannot speak of it. --Srngarakarika, Kumaradadatta, 12th century I dreamt that I was dancing. I dreamt that someone pressed the handle of a knife into my shaking hands and I in turn pressed the blade of it into the soft column of Sin's throat. I could feel him beneath me, feel the warmth of him between my legs. Smell the scent of him. My Sin. My Fallen. My death. When I looked down my skin was translucent. Almost glowing, and beneath this ghostly like body I could see Sinclair and my heart clenched in denial. I threw the nearly invisible weapon from me with a cry of distress and it was this sound, accompanied by Sin's restless movement beneath me that had me struggling awake in my own bed. I sat up, my heart in my throat and brought my hands to my face. They were solid, they were real. I looked over at Sin and when I saw that he was alright I began to tremble. Tears threatened but I shoved them ruthlessly back. Then I turned over on my side and forced myself back to sleep. It was dream. Only a dream, only a nightmare. I just had to make sure that it stayed that way. § It was a few days later that I found myself staring in disgust at the underside of one of the dining tables in mount Olympus. It had taken a great show of strength for me to lay on my back on the disgusting floor but I had done it. This was our first day carrying out a punishment that had been decided by Sir after he’d heard what had happened. It was a hard blow honestly, I’d thought I’d finally had enough of cleaning up for other people. I stretched my legs out comfortably from where they stuck out from under the table. The windows of Olympus ad been thrown open to give the room a chance to air out. The wind and the sun both caressed my bare legs and I shifted. Enjoying the cool slide of ethereal fingers sliding up and along my skin. I had been given a pair of too short britches from one of the younger students. The britches were so short on me in fact, that they only came up to my knees. The boy, Tray, had long ago grown out the ratty things and after witnessing what had happened that morning in Olympus, he‘d decided to help out any way he could. He didn‘t like the group that Lock hung around with, and he didn‘t think I should have to ruin my perfectly good clothes cleaning up because of him. I was still a bit fuzzy about why things had gone so violently that day, and because it bothered me so much, Cam and Sin finally gave in and explained it to me.

Apparently, since Lock and his friends had already challenged me once and lost, they’d felt the need to prove themselves. After all, I was smaller and softer looking than any of them and they couldn’t stand the thought that they had been humiliated by me. “It was good that you fought back this time.” Sin said as he was laying face down on his bed reading. Cameron, who was sitting on the floor and sketching something on a loose piece of parchment nodded absently. I had liked seeing the look of concentration on his face, the look of seriousness. It made him look older, more dependable. “Now he knows you won’t let him push you around. He also knows that you have friends that will back you up.” “Yes, friends that can be seen at least.” Cameron had cracked up. I sighed, feeling less put out as I used the knife in my hand to scrape the dirt and filth from the bottom of the table. Footsteps echoed throughout the room as someone entered through the front door. “What took you so long?” I asked irritably. Jinx sighed as he got to his knees beside the table and looked under it at me. He had went out to get a bucket of hot water and soap from the maids. He was supposed to have been right back. That had been nearly an hour ago, so I was justifiably irritated with Jinx. He tugged at my ankle and I jerked my leg away. I slid from under the table, snatching the scrub brush from his large hands and getting on my hands and knees so I could start scrubbing the floor. It was amazing the amount of filth that the suds managed to pull up. This floor was filthier than any of the floors at the Devils’ Playground and that said something very interesting either about boys in general or the servants here in particular. Of course, if Chambermaids were busy getting down and dirty with students then of course they wouldn’t have time or energy to do their jobs. Not that I was bitter. “Do you always talk to yourself?” I slapped the brush against the floor with more force that was necessary. “I talk to myself,” I said, “When there isn’t anyone else I want to talk to.” Jinx sucked in a breath. “Ouch. I think that hurt a little.” I didn’t bother giving that a verbal response, though he must have read the look of satisfaction on my face correctly, because his own face hardened. “Fine.” He said stiffly. “I won’t bother trying to make friendly conversation anymore.” “Thank you.” We didn’t speak for a long time after that. Working silently beside each other for the next few hours. When I next glanced up from wiping down what felt like my hundredth dining table, but which was in reality only my fifth, I glanced up to find Jinx staring intently at my face. Because the tables were so wide, we’d each had to take a side. Jinx had made it midway down the table and since I was only a little ways off from him, I knew Jinx had been staring at me for a few good seconds at least. I slapped my rag down on the table and planted my fists on my hips so I could glare at him without looking like I wanted to strangle him. Which I did. Badly. Believe it or not I didn’t like Jinx. I wasn’t sure why, I just knew that his mere presence bothered me. Irritated me beyond belief in fact. That fact more than anything is what had made me so very angry when he’d pulled me from Lock on that day of the fight. “What?” If I sounded belligerent, then it couldn’t be helped, and I was tired of pretending otherwise. Jinx’s eyes narrowed suddenly on my face and my stomach flipped. I didn’t like the look

that came over his face suddenly and my weight shifted from one foot to the other as my mood changed from irritation to wariness. When he leaped easily onto the tabletop and strode across it towards me, my eyes widened in alarm. When he hopped down so that he stood not an inch from me I was too stunned to do much of anything but gape at him a little stupidly. Well alright, a lot stupidly. He gazed down into my face and involuntarily, my fingers clenched, nails digging into my hips. Then he kissed me. Just like that. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it to tell the truth. I was deciding between outraged and painfully confused when his tongue slipped between my lips and his hips nudged mine. I felt the heavy proof of his desire pressing through his britches to brush against my leg just as Sinclair’s voice floated, soft and dangerous through the room. “And you got on my case about a fucking chambermaid?” I jerked back from Jinx, my face flushing with embarrassment and anger and my mind a sick mass of confusion. I still had enough presence of mind to snap, “You happened to be fucking the fucking chambermaid.” Jinx chuckled, obviously amused by the exchange. When I saw the look that Sinclair leveled on him I took one large step back so as to distance myself from any association with the victim in question. This proved to be a wise move on my part because Sinclair apparently forgot about my existence for a brief moment and instead leveled all of his rage on the red haired man standing beside me. “Oh come now Sinclair. Surely it can’t be as serious as all--” “Shut up Jinx.” Sin’s voice was a low growl that had the hair at the back of my neck rising. Expressing clearly how very seriously he thought it all was. He closed the front door as he stepped further into my room, and I had a brief worry about the lack of witnesses before I pushed that train of thought away. “I always knew you were a bit of a loose cannon Jinx. I understood it. I accepted it. But I never, not in a million years, would have thought you were a fool.” I decided to take another carefully measured step back. I watched as Jinx’s body stiffened as I moved away. He shifted as if to pull me closer and Sin nearly lost it. “Don’t touch her. Don’t you ever touch her again.” The growl from before was nothing compared to this one. It more closely resembled the sound a wild animal would make if it felt it’s territory was being threatened. Warning, snarling, and rage filled. Sin’s face had tightened and his head had lowered as if he were preparing himself to attack. His body was so tense in that moment that it was painful to see and his eyes…his eyes shot green sparks. Sparks. That bounced along my clean floor and scorched the hell out of it. From his eyes. HIS EYES! I decided then and there that Sinclair was obviously a by-blow of the devil. There was no question in my mind. Of course as soon as I realized this undeniable fact, I also decided to accept it. I mean, I was a murderess who was still technically supposed to be hanged, a former inmate of an insane asylum, and a liar, cheater, thief, and whore. Sin and I were pretty much running even,

and I wasn't even as attractive as him, which of course made up for a lot of his various vices. Besides. If he was so jealous that sparks shot from his eyeballs, how much must he like me? The self satisfied little grin that crossed my face just then would have alarmed Sinclair had he been paying enough attention to me to notice it. Jinx’s next words however, jerked me from whatever satisfaction I might have felt all too quickly and back into the cold depths of reality. “Her? Don’t touch her?” Dark delight crossed his face and had him smiling, wide and cruel. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and tsked. “Surprise after surprise, deceit after deceit. Oh what fun you’re going to be.” Let’s pause briefly, and consider for a moment the passage of time. Life is passed in a fairly simple sequence of seconds, minutes, hours, and days. These days people are always saying that you have to take life by the horns, stop and smell the roses, get out and live because time waits for no man and if you hesitate life will pass you by. Blink…and you could miss it. I blinked and missed it. The blur of enraged movement that was Sinclair Warsted. The glorious epitome of life, and energy, and vibrant, healthy man. He shot across the length of the room and drove Jinx backward, forcing the slightly taller boy to stumble and fall backward onto the table. Sin wrapped his hands around Jinx’s throat and his fingers flexed. As if he had been about to squeeze and kill, before he‘d stopped himself. Though Jinx’s legs were still planted on the floor, Sinclair had him bent at such an awkward angle that they were pressed together as intimately as lovers. Though the charge in the air wasn’t something I thought would be healthy for anyone’s bedchamber unless someone was getting paid handsomely for it. “Let’s get one thing straight Jinx,” Sin made the word sound more like a curse than a name. “The girl belongs to me. If I hear anything about this floating around school it’ll be your head.” Jinx, breathing heavily, from fear or anger I wasn’t sure, sneered up at Sinclair. “Oh, I’m so scared now.” Sin bared his teeth, so angry, so painfully angry, that it sent a dull throbbing pain shooting through my body like a knife. I felt him, the heat of his rage like a bright burning light and it confused me. Scared me something terrible. “I don’t make ideal threats Jinx. If I have to come for you, expect to find your head, skinned and mounted above my fireplace. “What’s this?” Jinx sounded much more amused than I thought it healthy for him to. “The almighty Sinclair is angry. Oh what, oh what could have you so upset? Or who? Yes, that‘s a very good question. Who on earth has gotten you so wound up.” His bright blue eyes slid to me and I shivered at the look in them. The mix of hunger and fierce hatred. My gut clenched so hard and so painfully that I pressed my fists against my stomach as if I could hold myself together. I opened my mouth to gasp from the pain of it and it felt as if some large, clumsy, meaty hand had punched its way down my throat to grip my ribs and hold them in place. When I tried to inhale pain shot through my chest as well, blinding and nearly crippling. I couldn’t breathe. My vision began to fade at the edges, I doubled over. Added to this agony I felt an odd tug. Not painful just odd, something foreign inside my own body. I glanced up through shadowed eyes to see Sin’s entire body jerk. For a split second I had the wild idea that he could feel it to, the pain that ripped through me, the desperation. Then his hands

tightened around Jinx’s throat and he shook him until the boy’s eyes rolled in the back of his head. Only then did the pain ease and finally disappear completely. I collapsed gasping, fingers clawing desperately at the floor for something to grip, something solid to hang on to. “Sin.” I breathed his name like a blessing, like a hope, like a prayer. Say it again and take a deep sobbing breath. “Sinclair.” When he appeared at my side I didn’t bother looking up at him before I wrapped shaking arms around his legs and leaned against him. I felt his hand brush across my hair and I pressed my face against the material of his pants. “I don’t think I like him Sin.” Sinclair sighed. “I don’t think I like him either Pet. Come on, let’s go.” § “Sinclair?” I was breathless by the time we were halfway back to Dresden. Sinclair had a tight grip on my hand, and though I liked it and I also couldn’t keep up with him and therefore felt it necessary to sacrifice the small pleasure of his hand in mine. Selfless of me I know. “Sinclair?” my voice was a bit sharper this time. Sin looked back at me as a group of boys passed us by. I heard them snickering to each other and watched as Sin considered letting my hand go. Instead of releasing me, as I half hoped and half feared he would, his grip tightened and his pace increased. “What?” he finally said. I blinked. “Can you tell me what all that was about back there?” Since he didn’t really want to Sin tried walking a bit faster. Obviously with the intention of getting me so tired that I passed out and he could skip talking all together. He must have felt sorry for me, I was wheezing pretty damn bad to tell the truth and even I felt bad for me, because he stopped under a overhang of branches and turned to look at me. “Stay away from Jinx Demount.” The name that rolled off his tongue sounded French and I frowned a little because it sounded familiar. “Why-” “Just stay away from him. I mean it. He’ll hurt you if you give him the chance. He’s done it dozens of times before.” “You mean…because you and me…?” Sin nodded, once, sharply. “I…I knew him a long long time ago when I was going through a rough period. I thought he was my friend at the time but he turned traitor.” Sin’s voice took on a hint of bitterness, “They all turned traitor.” I looked u at him , my hand rising on it’s own to brush against his chest. His eyes followed the movement of my arm and I watched his jaw tighten. “What happened Sin? What were you going through when you met Jinx.” I hadn’t liked the undercurrent of pain I’d sensed in him. I also didn’t like the pain that blossomed in my chest at the sound of it. This caring business was getting annoying. Sin frowned down at me, green eyes darkening before he shook his head and turned away.

“I lost her is all. I was supposed to protect her. Keep her safe. But one day I woke up and she was gone.” His shoulders hunched as if he were preparing himself for a blow. “Then…then I ended up somewhere. Somewhere not so good. And in that place it was just best not to think about anything at all.” Though I was worried about the answer, I asked the question anyway. “You didn’t think about her either?” Sin shrugged and grabbed my hand. “I tried my best not to,” came his grim reply as he again began to tug me along after him. “But most of the time it didn’t work out that way.” I wondered what had happened to him in this mysterious place. I wondered where this girl was and why she had left. I wondered if she was as bouncy as the chambermaid. “Stop it Ale.” I pouted a little, but still couldn’t keep the last little thought from wriggling through my mind. Like a maggot gnawing it’s way through a black and rotting apple. I hoped, wished, prayed, that whoever this woman had been to Sin that she was dead now. I wished she was dead and rotting in her own personal hell like the little pieces of my mind and soul that I had managed to hide away so well for so very long. Because whoever she was, she had lost him already. At some point, without my even being aware of it, I had claimed Sinclair and he was mine now. No one would take him from me.

Part Three: Fairytales

Chapter Twelve: “And the rain is brain colored, and the thunder sounds like something remembering something. -- Stan Rice (two weeks later) “I want to tell you a story.” “What kind of story papa?” The man, known in this time and place only as papa, fell silent as he gave the question serious thought. “A love story.” His daughter wrinkled her nose in distaste, something he was told was odd for young lady to do when confronted with the prospect of a love story. He tapped her nose and stared at her sternly. “None of that now pet. This happens to be a very good story.” “Is there kissing in it?” He laughed at the hushed horror in her voice and shook his head, leaning back against the ocean of pillows that made up her bed and throwing an arm across her shoulders. She snuggled into him, resting her head against his chest with only the smallest huff of satisfaction. “Fine. Go on and tell your dumb old love story.” He bit his lip to keep from grinning. As he stared down at the top of her head he felt something well up inside of his chest, something fierce and protective. It shook him, that feeling, had him blinking in shock down at the little girl curled against his side. He hadn’t expected to feel anything for her but what he’d always felt. Companionship, respect, and affection. Not protective and never love. He had never expected love. She jerked his attention back to the situation at hand by jamming her bony little elbow into his gut. “Papa, start now so I can get to bed. I’m tired.” Not feeling as appreciated as he thought he should be, he complied. “Once upon a time,” he said, “there lived a beautiful princess.” The snort that came from the little girl let him know what she thought of such a clichéd beginning. He ignored her. “The princess lived in a world that was very different from this one. A world called Japrimilia. Though she was a princess, she ruled her kingdom with an iron fist.” “Where was her papa?” queried his audience. “Her papa was busy. You see he had many kingdoms, five in fact, and all of them in a different world. He left his most trusted followers in charge of these kingdoms so that he could focus on what is only known as the big picture.” “So the princess had brothers and sisters?” “…She had a brother, but no sisters. Out of all the kings and queens of the worlds, she was the only one directly descended from the king.” His daughter frowned at him as if she couldn’t quite believe this. “Anyway, on the Princesse’s sixth birthday-”

She sat straight up and turned on him with narrowed eyes. “SIX! Bloody hell papa, how can you expect me to believe---” “Are you going to let me finish the story or not?” Giving him what he supposed she thought was her most withering glare she lay back against his chest with a grunt of disgust. Rolling his eyes, he continued. “In Japrimilia, years are not measured in the same way as they are here, and the people there live centuries longer than we do. The princess had been alive in her world for six of her worlds years.” “Was she littlier than me?” He understood the importance of this question, because at seven years of age there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot in this world that was ‘littlier’ than his daughter. “Yes. She was smaller than you. She looked like a mortal six year old girl, but she had lived eons longer than that. As I was saying, on her sixth birthday the princess held a party and invited all of the other kingdoms and their people to her world to celebrate with her.” He felt more than saw the smile that curved the girls mouth. “She wanted presents.” Laughing, he nodded and bent to kiss the crown of her head. “Yes pet. She wanted presents.” § The Princess slumped on her throne. Restless and growing bored with the constant stream of supplicants and sycophants, she began to kick her feet, which because of her height dangled at least a foot from the ground. The laces of her slippers and flying around madly with each swing of her legs. The sight was distracting for those who had to kneel before her dias as they made their speeches and presented her with their gifts. At guest number 4354, the Princess had seen just about all there was to see when it came to birthday presents. Thanks to the residents of the world of Gliona, she now had a zoo of animals running loose in one of her ballrooms. Her nose wrinkled as she considered what a mess the elephants would make on her gold encrusted floors. Though not the biggest, nor the oddest of her newly acquired pets, elephants were the worst to clean up after as far as she was concerned, but since she did none of the cleaning she really had no basis for comparison other than smell. So in her estimation, elephants were the worst because they smelled the worst. One of the delegates from Deflor strode up to her throne, taking the place of one of her own peasants who had just gifted her with a rather charming set of water rats. Where the women had found them were a mystery, since over the years the little buggers had been disappearing from the shores Japrimilia, or Jap as the Princess was fond of saying. Before dealing with the delegate before her, who irritated if for no other reason than that his soul grated on her nerve endings, she gave a small nod to her first in command. She told him, with thought and emotions, rather than any spoken words that she wanted him to reward the peasant handsomely for the gift and he nodded and slipped away to take care of it. She turned to the delegate with a tight smile. The rats, obviously sensing her agitation hopped along her arms to take place on her shoulders and on the crown of her head. She heard her nurse maid Lillian suck in a sharp breath

as the one who’d taken refuge on top of her head picked up an artfully twisted curl of hair and promptly sucked it into his mouth. She felt the other two sniffing at her neck and ears and did her best to appear as serious as possible. “Delegate Robyn. How very nice of you to come. I assure you that you didn’t have to.” If there was a slight trace of mockery beneath her words, well the princess couldn’t help that, and if she didn’t bother straightening in her throne as she spoke to the delegate…well she couldn’t help that either. She gave him a nasty smile as the grate of his soul against her skin became a burn. Unable to watch this show of blatant disrespect any longer, Lillian buried her face in her hands and turned away. “Tell me Delegate--” When the man interrupted the Princesse's eyes narrowed. Black orbs burning like coals in her small, sharp featured face. “With all due respect Princess. I do have a name.” She pretended to consider this bit of information as if it were new to her. Then she nodded. “Yes. Now Delegate, what have you brought for me today?” From the back of the room she could hear Lillian groan as if she were causing the woman serious injury. The Princess ignored her, though she did take the time to look inside of herself, find her nurse and stroke the bright light that tasted so much like Lillian. She felt her nurse calm, and from the back of the throne room, the groaning quieted. She gave Robyn her undivided attention once more and noticed how hungry his eyes looked as he regarded her. She felt his greed, his lust and it frightened her. Made her sick and a little dizzy. Since the Princess was not one to handle stress all that well, She stuck her thumb into her mouth and swung her feet more vigorously. She really should stop the thumb sucking, but it was something she had picked up from one of her younger human souls. Humans were such new creatures, such oddities. She liked them. Other rulers cold not say the same. Obviously wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible now, Delegate Robyn swept out an extravagant arm and bowed low. “In honor of the Princess of Japrimilia’s sixth year, the King of Deflor, who could not be here himself this faithful day, presents you with this.” As he spoke the ceiling high double doors that led into the throne room were slowly pushed open. The crowd of spectators all parted so that the Princess could see what was outlined against the entranceway. Her eyes widened when she saw that it was a person. A boy. He looked to be about eight or nine years of age compared to her six and he had dark curly hair that fell down past his shoulders in an inky wave. Even from where she sat the Princess could feel the weight of his eyes, shinning like green sunbeams in his face even from so very far away. She looked at Delegate Robyn with wide, eager eyes. “He is mine?” The delegate nodded, pleased with her reaction. He’d be able to give his king a good report when he headed home tomorrow. “What is he?” Her voice had dropped to a whisper and Robyn straightened his clothes nervously. “ He’s a boy.” Her face hardened as she pulled her eyes away from the boy long enough to look at Robyn.

“What is he delegate?” the power in her voice had Robyn’s throat drying and he felt his heart stutter and stall. Not from fear but as if something had slipped inside of his chest and wrapped long cruel fingers around it and squeezed. He grabbed his chest and stumbled forward. He looked up long enough that he caught her eye. Saw that the whites had been swallowed almost completely by the inky blackness of her eyes. Her mouth pursed and the grip on his heart tightened until Robyn’s vision went black and he collapsed to his knees before her. “What is he?” It was a shock when the pressure released, a blessing answered and he found himself bent over and coughing as he tried to realign himself. He gasped out. “An angel. Fallen. He’s a fallen.” Her excitement sent a pulse of heat spreading throughout the room and some of the women gasped. Abruptly the Princess stood. She gestured imperiously with one hand, her voice echoing loudly throughout the cavernous room. “Leave us.” One of the other guests, he was unsure who, helped him get to his feet so that Robyn could hurry along with everyone else from the room as the Princess stepped from her dias to confront her new fallen. § They stood facing each other. He was taller than her, which wasn’t that much of a surprise as a lot of things were taller than her. As was the way with any new fallen, once he’d been thrown from heaven he’d had to experience a normal life cycle. Angels weren't created fully grown but they grew faster than humans. Since he looked about nine or ten it had most likely been just a decade since he’d fallen. He was rare, she’d never seen one so new before. “What’s you’re name fallen?” he didn’t meet her eyes, so she felt free to stare as his mouth, strong and wide, tightened in what looked like annoyance. She was delighted. “Don’t have one.” She cocked her head to one side as she looked up at him, then tapping her lip thoughtfully she began to circle him. When he made a move to follow her movement instead of staying still as she wished him to she growled low in warning. The boy stood straight again and made no further effort to move as she continued her perusal of him. “I shall give you a name then.” “Thank you but that isn’t necessary.” she peeked around his arm and angled her head so she could look up at his face. She stuck out her tongue and watched in fascination as his jaw tightened. That told her two very important things. First that he was watching her from the corner of his eye and two that someone had told him to behave…no matter how annoying she was. The Princess grinned and hopped from behind him so she could stand in front of him once more. “Why don’t you have a name? In my world the only creatures who don’t have names are farm beasts. Do you know why that is?” When he didn’t answer, though she waited politely for him to do so, she shook her head. “We don’t name farm animals because their just dumb beasts.” she cringed on the inside at the insult and sent a mental apology to every farm animal in proximity to the castle. “Dumb beasts don’t understand the purpose of a name. They don’t understand how

important a name is. That it shapes who and what you are for ever and ever amen. Are you a dumb beasts? Is that why no one bothered to name you?” his eyes flickered to meet hers and for a split second she was swallowed by the rage in him. With just that one slip of his, that split second of lost control, she was able to catch the taste of him. Search for and find him inside of herself. She was surprised because his light was so far back from the others, so dull, and lonely in the sea of blackness that held all souls. She felt her eyes darken as she looked at his light more closely, from all angles. Circling it in her mind, much the same way she had circled him in real life. His voice pulled her back with a force that had her gasping. “Stop that. Stop it right now.” She blinked up at him. “Stop what stupid boy.” “Stop looking at me. I can feel you looking at me. Quite it.” She considered this new bit of information as she chewed on her lower lip. She shifted her weight to one foot. “How strange you are boy. No one has ever felt me before.” She scratched her chin and her voice became musing. “I think I shall keep you, though you are a stupid boy.” His rage spiked again and she felt his light flare along with it, bright and burning. It filled her momentarily, turning the dark ocean into a pool of molten gold. How amazing he was. “Don’t call me that.” She was deliberately clueless. “Call you what oh stupid one?” He took a step toward her, and the Princess widened her stance, balancing her weight much the same way a sailor would in the midst of a storm. “Stop calling me that.” She cocked her head to one side and fisted her hands on her hips, glancing up into his face with amused eyes. “What offends you so much stupid boy? The fact that I’m calling you stupid…or the fact that I’m calling you boy?” He bent at the waist and stared into her eyes from an inch away. Their noses brushed. “The next time you call me stupid I’m going to smack you a good one right in the face.” The Princess smirked, perhaps more confident than she should have been. “You can’t hit me boy. No one is allowed to touch me ever. If you had listened to your keeper a bit better before you were brought here you might have learned that. You. Stu-pid. Boy.” When his hand shot out, quicker than even she could follow she screamed. The sound was shrill, and so upset the entire world of Japrimilia with its mixture of surprise and fear that the ground trembled beneath their feet even as lightening shot from the heavens and thunder growled. The Water rats, who had been handed into Lillian’s care and sent away with the rest of the guests shivered from where they huddled in the nurses arms, purple fur standing on end and their teeth gleaming deadly and sharp from their round little faces. § “Look at what you did.” The voice came from all around him, floating in the darkness to wrap around his body and sink beneath his skin. He blinked carefully as his vision stopped

swimming and tried to keep his stomach from flipping at what he saw. “Where are we?” As his fingers had brushed against the skin of her cheek (he hadn’t meant to actually hit her, just scare the bejeezus out of her. He didn’t hit girls after all.) he’d felt something tug at is heart, pulling and ripping when he resisted until with a flash of blinding light and pain he’d stumbled into…wherever he was now. Everything was blackness. Not empty blackness, but something with weight and intelligence and a warm thickness behind it. It felt as if he were inside the belly of some large, hungry beast. He could feel its hunger all around him, just as he could feel its loneliness. The fallen without a name, looked down at his feet and saw that he stood on what looked like an outcropping overlooking a vast pool. No, not a pool, he mentally corrected, an ocean. An ocean that glowed and shimmered with billions upon billions of individual balls of light that looked like stars. As the waves crashed against the outcropping on which he stood and the inky water flew up in a mist to coat his face he began to realize that he could hear voices. Male, female, old and young, they expressed an entire scope of emotions. Sadness, hope, fear, and happiness and everything in between and beyond. As he watched he realized that the lights beneath the water darted around like fish. One of the stars jumped from the ocean and the world of darkness was suddenly flooded with light, blinding and pure in it’s intensity, before it was extinguished once again when the star dropped back into the water. “Where are we?” The question was filled with a lot more awe than had been in it a split second before. This time he received an answer. “You must really be a stupid boy. I warned you. I told you not to touch me. ‘Where are we?’” she mocked with a sneer as she materialized from the darkness, ribbons of shadows clinging to her cheeks and fingers as she moved away from the dark to come and stand beside him on the outcrop. “You’re inside of me. This is my soul.” though her voice was filled with dislike for him, he saw the look in her eye as she surveyed her ocean and it’ inhabitants. The soft look of wonder and awe and unconditional devotion that he had glimpsed only in the eyes of mothers. Her silver white hair had come down from the intricate pile of curls it had been in back in the throne room. Instead it fell down her back in waves, moving and shifting in a wind that he could not feel. She turned to look up at him and he almost took a step back. Up until that point the had only seen her in profile so when she turned the full force of her face on him it startled him badly. She still had the small face of a child, her mouth was still the same, wide and soft to contrast with the sharp cut of her cheekbones. It was her eyes that had changed so dramatically. They blazed from her face, all traces of whites and pupils disappearing under the ocean of black. If he looked closely he could see the stars dancing beneath the weight of all that darkness. When he took a step toward her for a closer look, her face twisted and she snarled revealing pointed little teeth. Her hair erupted in a mass of flames and slapped at him in warning. When he jerked back, the flames died down to faintly glowing embers, laying down once more so that they fell around her shoulders and face much in the same way normal hair would. He cleared his throat and angled himself so that he stood closer to her. He couldn’t help himself. Her heat was new to him. He’d been cold for most of his existence, most heat irritated him, grated on his body and against his mind until he felt as if he would go insane. This was

different though, she drew him like a moth to a flame. Her heat didn’t grate on him, it made him hungry for more of it. “What are they?” She seemed to understand what he meant because she bit her lip as she turned back to look out over the ocean. “They’re souls.” “Souls.” “Yes. The souls of the lived and the yet to be born. I don't see the dead ones anymore. They were taken away.” There was another flash of light as another soul shot from the depths for a split second before diving back beneath the surface. “Of the lived huh? What of the still living? What of the ones that have lost their souls? Where are they?” He was afraid of the answer she would give, but it was a question that he’d had to ask. He felt it as she turned her attention back to him, his skin flushed with the heat she gave off and muscles he hadn’t realized were tense, relaxed. “No one loses their souls.” She said. “They just hide. I keep them safe until they can be found again. As for the still living…if I can remember what their souls feel like when they were under my care…I can find them. I can take them back.” They were both silent for a moment, and then… “I found yours you know. I know who you are.” The fallen felt hope stir in his chest, a feeling that was sluggish in it’s arrival from lack of use. He had forgotten his own name when he fell, forgot who and what he was. There was no existence for him, he was nothing, much like the blackness that enveloped them both but without the weight. He looked at the girl who stood beside him and said simply. “My name. What am I now? Who am I? Who was I?” She grinned and her hair snapped once again, this time in greeting rather than warning. The ocean thrummed and waves crashed dangerously close. “Death.” At her softly whispered words a sphere of light shot from the ocean. It’s glow wasn’t white as the others had been, but golden. A dark, pure gold that blinded and caressed, but nevertheless consumed wholly. It turned the black water into a shimmering gem, the sight of which had the girl wrapping her arms around herself and smiling as if receiving a gift she had been searching for for years. “Yes. My death. My angel. My fallen.” She turned to him with earnest and deeply frightened eyes, the golden light softening her face as nothing else could have. “Stay with me. Promise to always stay.” When her face crumbled and she began to cry, he felt something in him tighten and snap. He grabbed her, falling to his knees on the rocky outcrop and wrapping his arms around her tiny waist, nails biting deep into fragile skin so that her blood flowed and exploded into bright bursts of flame as they fell towards the ground. Her heat consumed, burned, and punished. But it also forgave and cherished. He buried his face against her stomach, and breathed in the scent of her. His promise was muffled, though heartfelt. “Yes. Yes I will stay.” § “There he is.”

“Grab him.’ “Keep the rats back. Someone keep those beasts under control.” “How dare you Robyn of Deflor? How dare you and your king bring such a one to our Princess. The boy has not only upset her, but he has touched the Keeper. No one touches her, or does your world not teach such simple things in your history books any longer?” The Princess sucked on her thumb, her small hand gripping that of her Fallen’s with a quiet, but determined strength. When armored guards stepped forward to grab him, their grip on each other tightened and the Princess bared her teeth in a snarl that had her still glowing hair, crackling dangerously. The open windows of the throne room let in the sudden sharp tang of ozone that thickened the air outside of the castle. The water rats had shifted as they’d raced to the throne room searching for their mistress, along with everyone else who’d felt the disturbance. They were no longer balls of purple fluff that could be fit in the palm of one’s hand, they now stood on all fours, their enormous bulk stretching to at least seven feet. They looked like a mix between a wolf and a bull. Their bodies were thick with muscles beneath their still purple fur, and horns curved from either side of their heads. They lunged and growled at the boy who stood so closely to their mistress, snapping their jaws in frustration as the princess’s first in command spelled them to stillness. He turned the spell over to his wife, who had more experience with such things than he did, and turned to his Princess. He ran a hand through his silvery hair and gave her questioning blue eyes. “We must take him Princess. If he is so unruly that he disobeyed our worlds most important law then he cannot be trusted.” His Princess shook her head. When guards stepped forward anyway her temper spiked to dangerous heights. Flames sparked beneath the soles of her dainty feet and grew until she stood in the center of a deadly column of fire. The Fallen standing beside her seemed unharmed by the intensity of the flames, indeed he leaned into it as if drunk. Though, when a guard lunged forward, the fire caught at him, wrapped around his throat like a noose and jerked him to the ground. Like a lunging viper, the lick of flame reared back and struck, again and again while the soldier wreathed screaming on the ground. The Princess never took her eyes from her first in command, the expression on her face never altered as her soldier died, his skin now black and smoking. “He is mine. No one will take him from me Remy. No one, not even you.” § “And that’s the story of how Life and Death, met and fell in love. They were never separated. They grew old together and though they argued on many things, Death kept his word and stayed by her side. When the actions of a group of rebels threw the Princess’s world into Civil War, they fought side by side.” Sometime during the story his daughter had sat up and away from him. Her back was ramrod straight, her shoulders hunched. He could feel her trembling and his eyes narrowed on her as he continued his story. “Death even stood by his Princess when the betrayal of the rebels and the weight of so many deaths sent the Princess spiraling into madness. He was there when she lost control of her power and souls flew freely through the worlds, as crazed as their keeper. Killing and destroying as they saw fit. He stayed with her when her world turned on her, when everyone else had

abandoned her to the rebels and left her to die.” “What of Remy papa?” Her voice was ragged and thick with tears and he felt a moments panic that he had gone too far. “What of her first in command. Was he too a traitor?” On the word traitor, the man felt the crawl of heat run lightly over his skin, as if testing. Searching. The spell was weakening. Not only was some memory seeping through, but her power was beginning to come back as well. He’d have to warn Leila so she could take precautions. For now though it would be best if he could make it through the next few minutes without being burned alive. He spoke quickly. “No pet. No. Remy was no traitor. Neither was his wife Leila. They created something special for the Princess, to keep her safe. A collar. In this collar they weaved spells that would weaken the Princess, make her less than she was so that no one from the worlds would be able to sense and find her.” “And she allowed such a thing to be done to her?” He couldn’t blame her if she sounded disbelieving. “No. Not exactly. As I said before the Princess had been driven insane. She was volatile, dangerous to everyone and everything. So the collar was slipped on her one night as she slept. Remy and Leila took her from her bed and together they all left the world of Japrimilia. They went to a new world. One that had no ruler and only minor Supernaturals. One that was almost completely overrun by humans. Remy and his wife felt that they could hide the Princess well there. Keep her safe from the world and from herself. So Leila spelled the Princess and they lived a happy life in this new world together for many years.” The heat against his skin increased, what had once been a gentle probing, becoming brutal and deliberate. He met his daughter’s eyes as she looked over her shoulder at him. The dark pools drew at him, lulled him into a state of security that he new was false and deadly. She tsked sadly and shook her head. “Oh papa. What a sad story that is. Whatever happened to the Fallen? Why did he allow his Princess to be taken from him.” “He didn’t.” The man’s voice came out strangled. “He didn’t allow it. He searched for her but he…he was imprisoned by the rebels.” The smell of burning flesh suddenly filled the room and from down the hall, a woman once known as Leila raised her head in alarm as she heard her husband begin to scream.

Part Four: When demons play

Chapter Thirteen: “Wake up. Demons have walking the road to hell. They’ve been following you. Wake up.” - Sinclair I jerked awake. A scream was birthed, considered over, and then killed swiftly as I finally realized where I was. When I was. Who I was. Still disoriented I rolled and fell to the hardwood floor on hands and knees, gagging and trying to breathe around the taste of hot copper in my mouth. A bare foot appeared in the corner of my vision and my eyes traveled over it and up the length of leg encased in soft flannel. The owner of said appendages was looking down at me with barely concealed concern. His green eyes intense despite the lateness of the night. ‘stay with me.’ ‘I will.’ The words drifted, echoing and hollow. Scraping sharp edged nails along the inside of my head so that I cringed and whimpered, pressing my hands against my skull, my fingers gripping cruelly at my hair. But still the voices came, echoing and deadly, thick with promises made in ignorance that could never be kept. False promises. Dead dreams, like ghosts whispering in my ear. That hadn’t really happened. Nothing like that had ever happened while I’d been growing up. Papa had sat with me sometimes and told me fairytales but never… I never… My papa hadn’t died that way. He hadn’t. He couldn’t have. But how had he died? I couldn’t remember anymore. I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. When I began to cry Sin bent and pulled me to my feet, hands wide and strong as they gripped my shoulders. He set me on my bed and pushed me back until I lay on my pillow, weeping hard and curling in on myself, a pain I was unused to blooming from behind my

breastbone and traveling down to my stomach. I felt the mattress dip as Sin climbed in beside me. His arm wrapped around my waist and I felt the sheets shift as he pulled me back against him. From the floor where they’d been throne when I’d woken up, I heard the furballs chirp questioningly. I was about to open my mouth to answer when Sin’s deep voice beat me to it. “Sleep in my bed. There’s not enough room up here for five.” which essentially meant, ’my patience isn’t good enough to handle sleeping with you three.’ Only slightly offended the fluffs bounced over to Sin’s bed and settled down beneath his sheets. I shifted around enough so that I could look at him. My heart still beat sickly in my chest, but the pain had weakened. “Sin?” I couldn’t form the question that I was looking for properly, and Sin apparently wasn’t so sure he wanted me to. He bent over me, lips brushing against mine. “Go to sleep Ale. We’ll talk about it soon.” As I drifted off, another voice from my dream floated through my head and had my grip on Sin tightening. ‘No one will take him from me…Not even you’ § “Well, well well. What do we have here?” Cameron’s voice had my eyes flying open. He stood in the open doorway, blond hair sticking up in crazed spikes all over his head, shirtless and barefoot. His grin was wide and feral as he looked at both Sin and I in the bed together. My face flamed as Sin rose up from behind me to glare at is friend. “What are you staring at mutt?” Cameron snickered and covered his eyes with one hand. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s not like two men sleeping in the same bed is worth a look or two. Or that, as your very best friend I am properly shocked and appalled to see you in such a compromising situation.” Sin grunted and threw the coverlet back as he made his way out of the bed. I hid my face in my pillow and tried to suffocate myself. When Cameron, in high spirits now, bounded across the room and threw himself in bed with me, I screamed. He grabbed me in his arms and snuggled against my back. I kicked backwards and caught him in the shin and he cursed. Sinclair meanwhile, rolled his eyes and went over to his beside table. Rumbling through the drawers he pulled out some soap and a rag. “I’m going down to the public baths today. You two have fun.” I threw pillows out of my way and scrambled to my feet, breathing hard. “No!” my voice was panicked. “Don’t leave me here with him. Please Sin.” But my roommate simply raised one hand in salute and left the room. I turned and kicked Cameron in the stomach. “What do you want so early in the morning.” He grabbed my legs and jerked them out from under me and I landed on the mattress with a bounce that nearly sent me flying off the other side. Cameron, his grip still firm on both of my ankles yanked me underneath him. When I made a move to strike him he held my arms over my head with an easy strength. When he grinned down at me, triumphant and oh so pleased with himself I gave serious thought to kneeing him so hard that he’d never be able to reproduce.

“I came to see you.” he said happily. I snorted. “I can see that. Now get off of me.” He shook his head and settled his weight more heavily on top of me. I wheezed and struggled under him. “What the hell is the matter with you? Get off of me. You weigh a ton.” Cameron, offended by the comment on his weight, snapped. “ I do not weigh a ton. And besides I can’t let you go until you promise to say yes.” “Say yes to what?” His face took on a stubborn caste. “Say yes first and I’ll tell you.” “Tell me first and maybe I’ll say yes.” We did some mutual glaring. Since I was more than a little uncomfortable with Cameron laying on top of me I gave in first. I spoke through gritted teeth. “What?” “Is that a yes?” It took a Herculean effort not to strangle the life out of him just then. “Yes.” “Yes it’s a yes?” “Yes! Yes it’s a yes.” Cameron smiled down at my flushed face. “That’s good. Hurry up and get dressed. It’s Sunday so we can spend all day together.” And with that he bounded from the bed and strode from the room. The pillow I threw after him hit the door just as it slammed shut and I fell back with a growl of frustration. The furballs snickered and I turned to look at them. “I don’t know what you three are so happy about. You get to spend all day with Sinclair.” They groaned in unison and for the first time that morning I managed a smile. § “Cameron. Where are we going?” My companion just looked back at me and grabbed my wrist. He jerked me along so suddenly and with such force that for the first time in my life I could actually fly. “Will you hurry up. If we don’t get there soon we’ll miss the beginning.” My feet barely touched the ground he was moving so fast, and since I was fighting for breath as it was I decided not to waste any on Cameron. The street he was currently hurrying us along winded through the west side of London. As we’d left school grounds, I’d had the presence of mind to ask Cam why we just didn’t take the school’s carriage instead of going wherever we were going on foot. When he’d stopped in his tracks and given me guilty, pleading eyes I’d guessed that we weren’t really allowed to leave school grounds, weekends or not, and Cam wanted us to draw as little attention as possible. I hadn’t had the heart to tell him no. Oddly enough the time I’d spent with Cameron had weakened me to his charms rather than strengthened. I suppose it had something to do with the fact that though he and Sinclair both must be suspicious of me, neither one had made a move to question me about my purpose or my real background. They couldn’t still believe the parents dying in a fire nonsense. Not after I’d regained my voice so soon, the why of which I could guess fairly well had something to do with Sinclair. So

while they knew more of my secrets than Warren would likely think wise, I trusted them more than I had trusted anyone since Warren had taken me from Devil’s Playground. Speaking of which…Warren would not be at all pleased with me. I was supposed to report my progress to him every three weeks for as long as Sinclair was alive. The problem was I wasn’t making any progress and Sinclair was anything but dead. Over the past handful of days I’d become attached to him. More so than I thought healthy. I mean, he was a dead man walking. Essentially a walking corpse. A zombie for christsakes. Or at least, that would have been the case if I’d still had any intention of hurting him. Which I didn’t. I’d given it up. In my heart I’d never believed that Sin had had anything to do with my father’s death. I’d realized this the first few weeks after Warren had fetched me from Bedlam and was busing teaching me the fine art of behaving like a gentleman. A lesson in which I’d done…well I hadn’t really paid any attention to be completely honest. The lessons wouldn’t have really applied here at Parrington anyway. These were such an eclectic group of boys that they amazed and fascinated everyday. In just the last week, Mr. Little had managed to send at least three boys weeping from his class. The fencing instructor Harry had removed Sin as my partner and instead paired me with a boy, Tray, who was much much younger than me (at least twelve) and still a hell of a lot better at swordplay. This was all done to ease my day to day embarrassment though personally I only thought it made it worse. It was for that reason plus the ever increasing threat of tears during class. From me…not Sin, though he did look as if he looked close to tears himself some days. Though that could have been a nervous tic type of thing. “I mean it. Either you move those stubby little legs of yours faster or I carry you.” Since I was pretty sure he meat it I picked up the pace. Tripping several times over the uneven cobbles before Cameron grunted in disgust, tuned and tossed me over his shoulder. I squealed and punched him in the back, my hair falling forward over my face so that a breeze caressed the back of my neck. “Oh stop your screaming you fairy. We’re almost there.” I could feel the blood rushing to my head. “Then why the hell did we have to hurry.” He shrugged, shoulder digging into my stomach painfully. “I was trying to get you excited.” “What on earth for?” “So you’d feel better stupid.” His voice turned quiet. “You smelled sick this morning. That’s why I came.” It hadn’t taken me long to get used to Cameron’s odd gift. He had a great sense of smell. Amazing in fact. I’d learned that not only could he identify different people by their individual smell, but he could also smell emotion. He had warned his classmates of an incensed professor on more than one occasion. It was the simple fact that I had grown to like him that I had even given in to following him today. Though I was regretting that decision every time my head bounced off his back, or his shoulder dug into my stomach, or some stranger passing by smacked me on the ass. It was a relief when we finally stopped though it made me nervous seeing so many people milling around us. From behind me I could hear the sound of cheering and grunts of effort and my eyes narrowed. From my angle I wasn’t able to kick him in the face like I wanted to, so instead I simply kneed him in the chest. “Cameron!”

“What!” “Are we there yet!” “Yes!” I waited a beat. “Then can you be s kind as to put me down now?” He hesitated. “Yes…of course I could do that.” More hesitation. “Cameron?” “Yes?” “Now.” I heard him sigh as if I was the most difficult person he’d ever met in his life. “If you insist.” When my feet touched ground again it was a shock, and I weaved from side to side as the blood drained from my head. Cameron steadied me with one hand on my arm and gestured widely with the other. “Behold. London’s first boxing match of the spring.” I blinked at the hundreds of people milling around us. Cameron had somehow managed to break through enough people that we now stood in the middle of a crowd of spectators. The crowd was surrounding what looked like a small, square, stage with rope stretched around the perimeter of it. Already there were two men standing in the ring. One was an old grizzled giant of man, who had what looked like hams instead of fists. The second boy was…the second boy… my eyes widened. The second boy was Henri. I glanced around through the crowd and realized that many of the boys that I’d seen around school and walking the grounds were present here in the crowd. Everyone wore their civilian clothes in order to fit in with the already eclectic group of upper classmen, traders, store owners and so on. Class and in some cases, gender, apparently made no difference in this place. The air was thick with erratic roar of excitement. Men strode through the crowd with pen and papers and took down bets while nimble fingers slipped into unsuspecting pockets. I grinned when I saw a small boy relieve a a banker of his pocket watch and dart away. Handing the trinket to his waiting cohort in case the banker noticed its theft and came after him. I’d used much of the same technique so I applauded him his skill before I turned back to the spectacle in front of me. A bell rang. Henri was quick with his fists, smooth with his movements. He fought more like a dancer than boxer. This would have been all well and good had he been up against anyone else. The giant with gray hair was obviously a seasoned athlete. When Henri ducked under one fist he simply gave him another one in the gut that had the much younger man falling back with a painful expulsion of air. The crowd went wild and I saw money exchange hands. I felt a tug on my arm and I glanced up as Cameron began to pull me through the crowd. When someone turned around as to complain Cameron gave them a look that I couldn’t see. Since it shut whoever had a problem with us up pretty fast, I was glad of that small favor. By the time the next boy from Parrington had clambered up on stage, this time a wiry, rat faced boy who I recognized as a Hawkeye. I’d found that Hawkeye’s usually had two looks about them. They were either focused to the point of being scary or they possessed a calm that only the truly devote can achieve. This boy was clearly apart of the former.

The bell rang, and despite myself my heartbeat picked up. I leaned forward along with everyone else as the Hawk lunged forward, eyes intense and focused. I flinched when the old boxer reared back, ready to deliver a blow that I was sure would be as powerful as the ones he’d leveled on poor Henri. I fist landed alright, just not by the person I’d expected. Just as the old boxer had raised his arm the Hawk had dropped to his knees on the mat. His fist shot out, too quick to follow as it drove into the other man’s gut. When he doubled over the Hawk followed up with uppercut and a right hook that sent the man crashing backwards onto the mat. The roar of the crowd at that point was painful to hear. My heart was racing painfully and I could hear my blood rushing. Adrenaline was a slick drug, much better than the opium. I jumped and screamed and cheered right along with everyone else. At one point Cameron wrapped an arm around my neck and pulled me to him so he could kiss the top of my head. Laughing, I shoved him off. “I‘m glad your friend won and everything but you‘re going to end up crushing me one day if you keep that up.” Since he couldn’t hear me over the voices of the people around us he had to bend low. I repeated myself directly into his ear. After I’d finished he looked at me with shocked eyes. “Me! Friends with that Hawk bastard!?” He turned and spit as if simply uttering the houses name left a foul taste in his mouth. Then he threw his head back and laughed so hard that several ladies, decked out in all their finery and lace as if this were some ball, looked over at us and begin to whisper to one another behind the silk of their fans. I ignored them to frown up at Cameron. “You stop that right now. People are staring.” When he made as if he would turn to look at who I grabbed him by the collar of his shoulder and jerked him back around. “Don’t look.” I hissed. I expected him to ignore my request completely, but instead he did one better and compromised. Glancing furtively over one shoulder as if he expected to find some hideous beasts behind him. He stared a minute, and then giving up on the covert he turned and swept both women a low bow. The strawberry blond, clamped a hand at her throat and blushed hotly, her friend tittering in what I considered to be an irritating fashion, but which confuses some men into believing it to be endearing. Cameron was obviously confused and I shook my head at him as he winked at both women, sending them into gales of delighted laughter and madly fluttering fans. I looked at Cameron with narrowed, considering eyes. Hair shining blond and perfect in the sunlight, strong chiseled face. Good mouth, amazing eyes. I stared. “Oh my god.” Cameron turned to look at me when he heard the alarm in my voice. “What’s wrong?” I couldn’t help but sound a little accusatory. “You’re cute.” He blinked and I applauded him for not seeming the least offended by my sudden revelation. “Well yes.” he said rather carefully. “I’ve always thought so myself.” I angled my chin towards the two women who were still staring at him with greedy eyes. “I think they think so too Cam.” Cam, delighted with this assessment, proceeded to wow the women with his various sexual facial expressions. I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the ring. A man was standing on stage beside the new champion, eyes scanning the crowd as he

looked for a new contestant to take the place of the old boxer (who was being carried from the ring). When his eyes landed on Cam, I elbowed him in the side to get his attention. “Don’t look now handsome.” I pointed to the ring and the man that was now gesturing wildly for Cameron to come forward. “Hm. That’s unfortunate isn’t it.” “What do you mean?” “Well I have bets going. I certainly can’t bet on myself. Wouldn’t be gentlemanly like.” I huffed out an irritated breath. “You’re an idiot.” Cameron fell into deep Cam-like thought. “You know what we could do?” I was suspicious at his use of ‘we’ but I folded my arms across my chest to show him that I was willing to listen. “We-” “As in me and you?” I interrupted, just so there wouldn’t be any confusion. “Yes. We…as in you and I,” He stressed the word to prove he had been listening in class this past week and my lips curved. “should be business partners. You collect the money and I’ll win the fight. We’ll split it down the middle and we can eat dinner together afterwards.” I considered this seriously, but honestly he’d had me convinced when he’d mentioned food. I shrugged. “Alright.” § “Ladies and Gentleman come one come all. Place your bets. Watch as Cameron, two hundred pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal, smash Rat Boy Parrington’s face in. Really folks, it’s an unfair fight. I’m ashamed to even be profiting from it.” I nodded and smiled good naturedly with the men and women who wandered over to place their bets with me. I went on and on about Cameron’s various attributes until it was a wonder I didn’t make myself sick. Some believed that the Hawk’s stunt from earlier had been a fluke and placed their money on Cameron. While everyone else, the majority at least didn’t like the mischief in his eye and couldn’t take him seriously. This was good for Cameron and me as long as he won. I was torn. On the one hand I had great confidence in Cameron’s skill, not much on his focus though. Because that’s what he’d need to beat this boy. Focus. I jumped when the bell rang to signal the beginning of the fight. Snatching the money from the man in front of me before he could change his mind. “Thanks so much sir. I’ll meet up with you after the fight and you can either collect your winnings-” I winced as I heard the sound of flesh striking flesh. “Or not.” § “CAMERON! YOU STUPID, LAZY, TIT FOR BRAINS BASTARD! GET UP! GET UP

RIGHT NOW!“ “What in the HELL do you think I’m trying to do. Despite evidence to the contrary, I don‘t like tonguing the floor Alex.” I screamed and hid my face against the ropes as the Hawk drove his foot into the middle of Cameron’s back, sending him crashing face first into the mat once again. Outraged I turned to the boy standing beside me. “Is that allowed? That isn’t allowed!” The boy took a step from me, most likely because he’d caught a glimpse of his death in my eyes and I turned away from him in disgust. My eyes widened when I saw the Hawk grab Cameron around the throat and press his knee into his back. Forcing the larger boy against his whip thin arms so that Cameron had to gasp for air. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion after that. Cameron reached for me, and choked out. “ALE!” I reached for him and sobbed, “CAM!” Then I threw myself under the ropes separating us, ran across the mat, and jumped on the Hawk’s back. Since I was small I was able to wrap most of my body around his upper torso and head. When he twisted trying to throw me off, I slid and my leg ended up blocking his nose and mouth. He panicked. Then one of the betters from the crowd thought I was cheating and came up on the mat as well and grabbed me by the hair. Cameron kicked the Hawk in the balls, the Hawk did some crying, and the bell to signal the end of the match rang out over the roar of the crowd. § Boxing, from what I was sternly told, is different from wrestling. You still hit the other person but apparently that’s where the similarities end. Point one: Outsiders are not allowed to assist a fighter. Point two: If this assisting goes on, fighter is disqualified. Point three: Cameron lost. Badly. I was still staring at him as we made our way from the boxing ring. He looked down at me and flushed guiltily. “I thought I had him alright. Who knew he could hit that hard. Those scrawny little arms.” He held out his own arms to demonstrate the freakishness that was the Hawks appendages. I continued to stare, except this time I threw in some good old fashioned disapproval to make the humiliation more painful. “I’m sorry alright. I didn’t mean to lose everything.” Of course you didn’t. I thought silently. No one means to lose everything. “What do you want from me.” Since he sounded a little plaintive, a little dejected, I patted him on the shoulder. “You promised me food.” Cameron brightened considerably. “Yes. Of course. Food.” He grabbed my hand and cut through an alley instead of keeping to the main road that would take us back to school.

“Um, Cam?” I said, stepping carefully over and around the broken glass and black filth that littered the alley floor, my nose wrinkling at the sour, thick smell of it. “Why don’t we just eat when we get back to school. Isn’t that free?” “Yes it’s free.” He nodded politely to a toothless woman mumbling to herself in one corner, steering me closer to his side and away from her even as he did so. “It’s free and it’s also no bloody fun.” “What does fun have to do with anything.” “Fun has to do with everything.” he paused just as we stood in the mouth of the alley. “It has to do with everything.” he said again. “Because you’re with me now. And having fun is important. People tend to forget that.” Since I rarely if ever got to see such a serious side to Cameron, I conceded. “Fine. Where are you taking me and how are we paying for it?” He pointed across the busy street at a shabby little building set between some more shabby little buildings. Outside of the pub hung a sign that read, ‘The Devil’s Kitchen.’ I raised eyebrows at Cameron and tried to keep the sense of doom from running icy fingers down my back. “They make the best sandwiches and broth.” As we waited for a carriage to make it’s lumbering way past us, it horses iron clod shoes ringing out as they struck the cobblestones, I realized that Cameron had yet to tell me how he planned on paying for our meal. As he tugged me across the street and into the pub, I thought. 'Well, this should be interesting.' Chapter Fourteen: “It is always good to speak the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar.” --Jerome K. Jerome “It’s obvious to me now. He cheated.” “Cameron.” I said absently as I stared down into my nearly empty tankard. My third so far, which was really having an amazing effect on my outlook of things. To be funny Cameron had ordered us both Ales…which were actually pretty good. “I doubt that he cheated. He didn’t look like he had to. Besides,” I looked up at him through my lashes. “have you ever considered that maybe he’s just a better fighter than you?” Cameron’s face tightened and his eyes narrowed. He hit the table with a clenched fist and I jumped, along with our empty plates and jugs. “No. He isn’t a better fighter. He’s a no good, dirty, rotten, gutter rat Hawk. The only thing to do now is challenge him to a rematch. I have to. Or the shame will stay with me till my dying day. I will be shunned from all activities male and from here on out will be known only as girlysissy-fairy man.” As he spoke, his head fell lower and lower over his food. Grief ate at him and I shook my head at the unfairness of it all. “Damn pity.” I slapped my hand on the table so that I could express my agreement in a more active way. It stung. “You’re right. It’s the only sensible thing to do. I‘ll be there with you Cam, and this time I won‘t kick him in the head.” “Or bite him.”

“Or bite him.” I agreed readily and Cameron grinned at me. Since we’d used up all of our considerable intelligence coming up with those rather dubious plans for the future, I rewarded us both and spent the next twenty minutes explaining to Cameron the complexities of ’dude’ as they had been taught to me by the fluffs. He seemed honestly delighted to be able to add a new word to his arsenal and after I told him how much it irritated Sinclair, he almost kissed me. While I was slapping his hands away and he was making noisy kissing sounds with his puckered lips the door to the tavern opened. Cameron froze, then sat back in his seat and buried his face over his mug of remaining ale. I looked behind me, since my back was facing the door and went very still. Sir and a strange man had walked into the tavern together. When they sat not two table over from us I leaned over and hissed. “How much trouble can we get in for being here?” Cameron took a swig of Ale and swished it around with his tongue as if he was cleaning his mouth with it. I was bouncing with impatience by the time he swallowed and decided to answer me. “Enough trouble that they’ll most likely kick us both out.” I squeaked so loud that sir and his companion, who were busy placing their orders with the tavern wench, glanced over at us. Cam hooked a foot around my ankle and jerked me toward him so that I slid down low in my seat. He buried his face back in his mug and after what seemed like a long time, Sir shrugged and turned back around. I felt the air tighten, the hair on my arms standing on in and my skin prickling, I felt something cool and fresh brush against the nap of my neck and shivered. My breathing quickened in fear. “The other man, what is he doing?” I whispered. Cameron peeked at the two men from beneath the heavy fall of his hair. His teeth glinted briefly under the soft lights of the tap room. “He’s searching.” “Searching?” Cam turned his eyes to me and smiled grimly. “He smells something he doesn’t like. He’s searching.” I bit my lip and considered. Then I pressed my finger against my lips and gestured sharply in a signal for Cam to be quiet. The Tavern was mostly empty for it to be so late in the day, but I suppose that after the heavy losses taken at the ring this morning, no one could really afford it right now. Except Cameron apparently. Because of the lack of customers, Cam and I could make out most of what Sir and his friend were talking about. Since it looked like we would be here for a while I figured we might as well take full advantage of that. Cameron was in full agreement apparently because he settled more comfortably in his seat and gestured for the tavern maid to bring over another tankard of ale. § Sir, or Kestrel St. Claire, rested his elbows on the rough surface of his table with a vague look of disgust. He could feel stray bits of wood snagging in the material of his shirtsleeves. Impatient, he tugged his arm free, lifting the cup of water he’d ordered to his lips so that he could take a long deep drink of it. He didn’t like seeing his brother on regular circumstances, and since these circumstances were less than normal this particular meeting was especially unpleasant. He looked up long enough that he saw that his brother was already staring at him, waiting rather

patiently considering his lack of said virtue. “Why the hell are we here Ty?” Kestrel asked. He wasn’t being rude, per say. He just honestly wanted to know. He’d just glimpsed the edge of a slim pink tail as it darted through the doors leading back into the kitchens. St. Claire made a note to mention the incident to the owner. His brother shrugged nonchalantly, his eyes sliding from Kestrel’s face to take a slow lazy survey of the gloomy room. “Well Kest, my superior seems to have a vested interest in a few of your students. I mean, do you really think it was wise mixing normals and Supernaturals in the same location.” Kestrel’s jaw tightened. He’d been through this same argument dozens of times before. As a result, his voice only reflected the exhaustion in him rather than the boiling anger. “Parrington is a safe house. One of the best in the country. My Supernaturals are able to live a relatively normal life without the fear of being kidnaped and murdered in their sleeps. The reason that they’re able to do this is because I’ve mixed them with the Normals and therefore made them harder to track down.” Tyler waved an impatient hand to cut him off. “Yes. Yes. I know all of that. You’ve explained your brilliance to me many times before. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are putting the children who have no stake in this war in very serious danger. Especially if someone working for Fredrick were to find out Parrington’s true purpose.” Kestrel gave his brother a look that had two of his students cringing in their seats. “And why would one of Fredrick’s minions do such a stupid thing?” Tyler winced at the word minion. Not because it wasn’t true but because such a term offended his pride. “Spare me the theatrics brother. It’s only business. You should know that by now.” The man who preferred that his students call him Sir, because of his military background, slammed his meaty fist down on the table. Water sloshed over from his mug and the barmaid was too scared to come over and clean it up. Through the gloom, Kestrel watched as one of the other patrons jumped in their seat. His eyes narrowed and his sniffed very carefully at the air. Searching…His brother’s voice jerked his attention back. “What are you doing here Tyler? What do you want? We made a deal when we chose what sides we were to fight in this thing that we wouldn’t be seeing each other again until it’s all over. Are you breaking that simply to warn me that you’re going to turn me in? Thank you for the sentiment but it’s unnecessary. We can handle anything that that bastard Fred-” “Oh shut the hell up Kest. If I’ve heard one of your rants I’ve heard them all.” He leaned across the table an spoke in a low intense whisper. “So what if I wanted to warn my brother? Is that a crime?” He stopped and considered. ”Well for me it is. But that’s beside the point. I can’t keep what I know a secret anymore Kest. Parrington is on the list now and it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s taken down, along with all of its students.” Kestrel’s mouth tightened and he spoke stiffly, large hands clenching on the table’s edge. “What do you want?” Tyler leaned back in his seat, pleased. Pulling out a small can of snuff he inhaled some and offered a taste to his brother. When Kestrel declined he sighed, deciding to finally get to the point. “You’re aware that Fredrick has created a rather…interesting method for winning disputes?”

Kestrel snorted. “I’m aware that he’s been stealing souls from Supernaturals and giving them to the fucking normals. He’s killed thousands of our young and a good bit of our women. It’d be a miracle if some of different factions will even be able to repopulate themselves after this--” Tyler waved an impatient hand. Obviously it wasn’t such a good idea to ask any questions during this little explanation. “Alright. Fine. If you want to put it that way then yes it would sound worse than it actually is.” He ignore the glare that was settled on him. “What I’m trying to explain to you is this. Fredrick never wanted a full blown war. He never wanted so many of both sides to die. He just wanted to create something that would allow the Normals, the ones who should be the true rulers of this world by the way, the chance to be equal with the Supernaturals. Fredrick is all about equal rights.” “And his killing us is considered to be equal?” “Not killing.” Ty’s voice was hard. He couldn’t help it if he and his brother were on such opposing sides. It was only natural. He was a normal who had benefited well from Fredrick’s little experiments. He didn’t know what sort of supernatural shared the inside of his body with him but he enjoyed the slow burn of power it gave him. The feeling of invincibility. Kestrel simply didn’t understand because his mother had been a Supernatural. And though their father claimed he had loved both of his wives the same, Tyler knew which one had been closest to his heart. Kestrel stared into his brother’s feverish face with rising concern. He searched the familiar features for any sign of insanity, but found none. He sighed in disappointment. It looked like he owed his father those fifty pounds after all. “Not killing.” Tyler said again. More calmly this time. He turned admonishing. “Supernaturals don’t have souls Kestrel. We both know that. So Fredrick isn’t really taking anything.” “So what are people buying for eighty thousand pounds a bottle Ty? I know it isn’t water in those little vials being shipped all over the place. You can say whatever you want about your precious superior. That doesn‘t change what he‘s been doing, which I stealing the souls of Supernaturals and binding them to the souls of humans. He‘s killing innocents and giving their natural born strengths to greedy, selfish men with too much time and money on their hands.” “Look.” Ty was impatient now, “I didn’t ask you here so we could argue semantics again.” “Then why did you ask me here Tyler? You haven’t graced me with an answer yet.” Tyler decided that the sarcasm was unnecessary and therefore didn‘t grace it with a response. “I came to tell you that Fredrick is willing to leave Parrington alone.” Kestrel’s eyebrows rose at that. “For how much?” Tyler grinned a little. “Not for money. For the safe delivery of someone we’ve been hearing rumors about.” “Ah.” Kestrel leaned back in his chair, big hands folded over his belly. An unconscious mirroring of his brother’s posture. “The Salamander.” “You’ve heard of it?” “Of course. Who hasn’t these days. Rumors started up about eight or nine years ago. Died down a little. They’ve gotten really bad in the past couple of weeks however.” His smile was mocking. “Is that who you think I have hiding in my school?” Tyler ignored this last question in favor of another. “What do you know of him. The

Salamander?” Kestrel shrugged and reached for his mug, frowning down into the nearly empty depths and wondering what had happened to the rest of his drink. “Kest.” “Oh. Right. Your demon.” He sighed. “Well. From the talk that’s been going around on my end the creature comes from Japrimilia. The Salamanders were direct descendants from the Princess.” “You mean the Keeper?” “Yes, her. Anyway, during their civil war, which was started by the Salamanders in the first place, it came to light that the Princess couldn’t kill any of them.” Genuine curiosity had him asking, “Why the hell not? From what I’ve heard the Keeper kills indiscriminately. She has no conscious about such things.” Kestrel nodded, “That’s what I heard as well. But apparently because the Salamanders were born from her she couldn’t kill them. It was physically impossible for her to harm them in any way.” “Which is why the rebellion went so well.” “Exactly. Out of all of her subjects they were the closest in her heart. Their turning on her messed twisted her. She went-” he made a hand motion by the side of his own head with the index finger of one hand. “Insane.” Tyler finished. “Yes. The Keeper lost her mind and souls went rampant.” Kestrel shuddered hard, “The things I’ve heard…it was really bad Ty.” Tyler blinked. It was a rare day that he saw his brother this nervous and he filed the experience away to be picked at and examined over later. “The Salamander.” He prompted, and his brother jerked. Coming out of his reverie. “Right. Long story short the Keeper was murdered--“ “Wait a minute. What?“ Together, almost with conscious thought that revealed a closer bond than either man was willing to admit to, they inclined their heads close together and continued their conversation in hushed tones that had their listeners straining to hear. “The Keeper of Souls was killed by the Angel of Death. He murdered her in her sleep.“ “What!?“ “Shhh.“ They glanced around and Tyler again noticed the patron not too far off from them slumping low in their seat. He ignored it and focused on his brother. He hadn’t heard all of this, as far as he knew none of the normals had this much information about the other side and it was a heady thing that he could hear it first. “How did he kill her?” “I have no idea. However he did it though it must have been bloody because there was no body left.” At his brother’s look of confusion he explained further. “Her blood. The Keeper’s blood ignites on contact with the air. It’s a defense mechanism. If she gets hurt, so does whoever did the hurting. That’s where the Salamanders get the gift from, though from what I’ve heard the effect isn’t nearly as devastating. So however she died she died violently enough that the flames took out the body.” “Interesting. Continue.” “Your side might not have heard of this but the Fallen and the Keeper were pretty…” he

paused significantly, “close. Inseparable. A lot of people died trying to prove otherwise.” “So it must have been something when it turned out that he’d killed her.” Kestrel raised his eyebrows as if to say, ’you think?’ “Japrimilia fell to the rebels. The rebels pushed for the Japrimilian government to imprison him. Which was hard to do, I can assure you, which is probably why they hesitated. At first anyway. After a while they were forced to give in and the Fallen was chained and buried beneath the main city which is the only place that might have been able to hold him.” “This is all very interesting but what does it have to do with--” “I’m getting there. With both the Keeper and her Consort out of the picture the rebels were able to take the main city and work their way out from there.” “So they’ve taken over completely?” “They have a new Queen and Consort but no. They haven’t taken over all of that world.” “Why not? Haven’t they had the time to--” “The Fallen escaped. Broke through the very core of the city and killed as many of the rebel leaders as he could find. Then he disappeared. Left the world entirely.” Tyler’s eyes widened. “For what?” “No one knows. But he’s been sighted on a number of different worlds over the years. They say he’s looking for something. The new monarchs of Japrimilia wanted him back so they sent some of their best soldiers out to find and kill him once and for all.” Understanding dawned and had Tyler nodding his head as he leaned his elbows on the tabletop. “So that’s why there’s a Salamander in this world in the first place. It’s searching for this man. This Fallen.” “That’s right. I doubt he’ll succeed though. If the Fallen doesn’t want to be found he won’t be.” Tyler reached over and grabbed his brother's tankard. Taking a long swig of its contents before sitting it back down on the table with a satisfied air. Kestrel glared down into the empty tankard with a look of disgust. Tyler straightened and stretched aching muscles, from out of the gloom came a sound. Like a muffled yelp and his expression hardened as his gaze fell on the table with the two figures seated at it. Later. He thought to Himself. He’d deal with whoever it was later. “My superior.” He began, getting back to his original point, thinking that whoever they were they had already heard the worst of it. “thinks that this Salamander is housed at Parrington. If you give him to us, we’ll leave your safe house alone and you won’t have to worry about seeing me again until this mess is over and done with.” Kestrel spoke without turning his eyes from the barmaid. He was trying to will her to the table and bring him something a bit stronger than water, but apparently the look on his face was more of a deterrent than anything else because she stayed put. “Why does he want him. What will he do with him? I won’t send one of my own kind to be slaughtered Tyler.” Tyler’s gaze slid away guiltily and he shifted in his seat. He recognized that tone from childhood. The tone that said that his older brother was not at all happy with him. Much as he would have done back then, he lied to ease the steel in that voice. “Of course not. We only want to use him as a bargaining chip. Our ace up the sleeve as it were.” “You still haven’t explained to me why I should turn on my people and give you this man, whoever he is. I’ve heard the same talk you have. That this Salamander could change the tide of

the war if he‘d only pick a side. Why should I help my side lose Tyler?” “Well... When you say it like that it does sound worse than it actually is.” Kestrel threw his hands up in exasperation. “But, you obviously haven’t been looking at all the angles Kest.” “I haven’t? How neglectful of me.” “Quite right. Now, if you would, look at it this way. Right now you have a rebel soldier in a school full of young boys. Both supernatural and normal. He’s a trained killer, a seasoned warrior. He’s been alive for hundreds of years. Out of all the worlds there is no other like him and none stronger. He’s proven to be ruthless, because he turned on his ruler, his maker. He’ll kill those boys Kest. If only from frustration. And consider the possibility, a slim one I’m sure, that he finds the Fallen. You’re precious kids will be hurt in the aftermath regardless. Then there’s the added threat that if you don’t turn this man over Fredrick will bring this war right to your doorstep.” He fell silent, letting his brother absorb what he’d just said. When he felt that his words had sunk in, he pressed.“If you have him give him to us Kest. Do this and Fredrick will assure Parrington’s immunity before and after the war.” “So even if you do win this thing, my students and I will be left alone?” Tyler’s smile was bright, and for those that knew him a bit better, false. “That’s right.” They were both quiet for a long time. Then Kestrel asked. “Is this thing really that much of a threat?” “Yes.” the answer came quickly, no hesitation. “The only reason that we have any hope of controlling it if we do get our hands on it is because of the collars.” “Collars?” “They’re glass collars, slim little things. They change to match the color of the wearers soul. That way Fredrick can tell which…” his voice trailed off and he cleared his throat abruptly. “They control Supernaturals powers. Keeps them muffled so that they can be handled just as easily as any human.” Kestrel’s voice was bitter. “And where did you find these little trinkets?” “We didn’t. Find them I mean. Fredrick had an old friend that died a few years back. Originally the man and his wife created the collar to help their daughter control her powers. She was a nuisance from what I hear. A time bomb.” “And?” “Fredrick asked the man to explain the process of the collar and once he did Fredrick understood enough that he could create his own.” “This friend of his had no idea what he would be using them for did he?” “I suppose not.” Silence reigned again, before frowning Kestrel looked at his brother. “This collar…what does it look like?” “I told you. It changes according to the wearer. But essentially it’s a seamless piece of glass. No openings, no latches. Thin, almost dainty looking. Once it’s put on it’s impossible to remove unless the person removing it owns the one wearing it.” “So essentially it’s a slave collar?” “I suppose you could say that. Why do you ask?” “Kestrel shook his head, palming his still empty tankard in thought. “No reason. I just

thought…I could have sworn that I saw…” Tyler waved his brothers words away. “They were most likely one of ours. Now are you going to do it? Will you give us the Salamander?” “No. But I won’t stop you from getting him either. I have no way of recognizing such a creature but I’m sure that you do. If you want him, you, and only you, can come to the school and search for him yourself. You’ll have to check with me when you believe you’ve found him, otherwise I won’t allow him off school grounds. If anyone else tries coming into Parrington I’ll have them dealt with. Is that understood little brother?” Tyler nodded stiffly. “Of course.“ Kestrel came to his feet with a grown. Reaching into his pockets he pulled forth a few shillings and tossed them onto the table. “In the meantime I need some food. The service here is atrocious. Care to join me before you head off?” Tyler hesitated, his eyes darting towards a one of the tables and hesitating, his nose wrinkling as he took in the scent. Parrington. He turned to Kestrel and nodded. He would find out who it was later. He had time. “Of course.” Chapter Fifteen: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” --Hunter S. Thompson (1939 - 2005) Cameron and I stared wide-eyed at each other. “Did you just hear what I heard?” “No. I didn’t hear anything.” “Cam-” “No.” His voice was as sharp as I’d ever heard it and it scared me. Worse than what I’d just heard had. “No, Ale. We didn’t her anything. Not a damn word. Understand?” He stared at me until I nodded hesitantly. “Look.” He said, running a shaking hand threw his blond hair. “I don’t know what you are exactly, and honestly I don’t care. You’ve obviously went trough something that’s fucked up your memory otherwise you wouldn’t be as surprised as you are right now. The point is this. Sin and I like you. We’ve grown fond of you. So for whatever reason you showed up at Parrington, it’s best that you stay there now. It’s the safest place you can be right now.” I kept my voice level with an effort. “So…all of what we didn’t just hear was true?” Cameron considered me very carefully, running his fingers in idle circles along the surface of the wood. “Yes. And before you ask, you’re like me, otherwise you wouldn’t be wearing a slave collar.” His eyes narrowed and the fingers that had been gentle on the wood turned punishing, nails

extending until the cruel tips punctured the surface and sent long jagged cracks flowering out from the holes he’d just made. “Unless of course. You’re working for Fredrick and you’re just one of his little…pets.” The words were sneered and my heart beat a little faster when his body tensed as my silence stretched on. “Cat got your tongue again Ale? Got nothing to say?” “My papa gave it to me.” My reply was forced past suddenly bloodless lips. My own hands clenched on the tables edge and anger had my vision fading to black around the edges. “You’re father?” he went quiet as the same train of thought that had occurred to me hit him broadside. “Your father gave it to you. How long ago?” “I’ve always had it.” Cameron cocked his head to one side. “Then your father must have been…” “Yes. Fredrick’s friend.” Papa. Oh pap you are just full of surprises. Full of a lot of things now that I really stopped to consider it. “Then that would mean that you…” I gave him a stern look from the corner of my eye. My mouth tightening in annoyance when the smile that had made a shy appearance on his face blossomed to full, vibrant, Cameron life. “A girl?” “Shut up.” “So…a girl?” “Cameron. I mean it.” “What?” he spread his hands wide and softened his face to show that he was innocent of any and all wrong doings. I almost bought it. Knowing him even as I did I almost bought it. Then I saw the devil in his eyes and I picked up a chicken bone from my plate and tossed it at his head. He fell to the floor laughing and clutching his stomach. “Oh god. This is just too priceless. Wait till Sin…” He stopped and sat up, his face draining of all emotion and his eyes wide on my face. “Sin knows doesn’t he? He’s been stuck in the same room as you for…” He chocked. “The chambermaids…the assistant nurse, the cook.” Childish wonder lit his face and kept me from lunging at him. “No wonder things have been so clean. Cruel mistress thy name is Ale.” It took him a few more minutes of helpless laughter before he calmed down enough to notice that I was praying for divine guidance. Alcohol was a terrible, terrible thing and best left out of the hands of Cameron. And me for that matter. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. When I felt something poke me between the legs from under the table however I yelped and flew back in my chair. I came to my feet in a rush, my face flushed an angry red. He gave me wide eyes from where he sat cross-legged in front of me. “Dude.” He began, as if imparting some great bit of knowledge. “You don’t have a penis.” He was so solemn and so suddenly devastated as the full truth sunk in, that I answered him in kind. “No Cam, I don’t.” I spread my hands, suddenly helpless and feeling ridiculously close to tears. “Sorry.” He sighed, his head hanging low in dejection and I went over to pat his hair, letting the wild curls shift through my fingers. He grabbed my wrist, his touch gentle and looked up at me.

“He most likely didn’t know. Your father I mean. About Fredrick being a bastard and all.” I looked down at Cameron and wiped an arm under my nose, nodding my head quickly to fight off the tears as much as to reassure him. “Yeah.” “Hey.” We both jumped, turning to see the barmaid glaring at us with her fists planted on her ample hips. Her frizzy blond hair stuck out from beneath the edges of her white cap and she was so angry that even the freckles across the bridge of her nose looked irritated. “You blokes ‘ave been ‘ere forever. Pay what you owe and be on your way.” Cameron looked at her as if she’d just lost her mind. The look, plus the clean, expensive cut of his clothes was enough to have the young women paling. “What the hell did you just say to us?” I stared at him, a little stunned. He wouldn’t. Would he? “Do you have any idea who we are?” The barmaid, a little nervous now from the tone of his voice and how much bigger he looked as he got to his feet, shook her head. “U..uh. No sir. Can’t say as I do.” “Good.” Then Cameron grabbed my arm and hauled me after him as he took off running as fast as he could go. § “You.” I stated breathlessly. “Are a horrible, horrible person.” Cameron waved me off as he straightened to his full height and rubbed at the constriction in his chest. “Yes, yes I’ve heard it all before.” His voice rose to a false soprano, “ ‘Cameron, you’re so mean!’ ‘Cameron you’re going to hell.’ ‘Cameron, don’t stick that there.’ “ Against my will my lips twitched and I turned away from him so he wouldn’t see the smile on my face. He must have sensed it anyway, because as he leaned over my shoulder and spoke in my ear, the mockery in his tone was still thick. “I’m a horrible person Ale, I’m going to burn in hell. I know that.” He leaned in closer and I felt the heat of his body against my back, a solid, steady weight. “But you had fun anyway right?” I thought about that and decided that yes, after dodging through the streets for the past twenty minutes, most of which I knew was completely unnecessary as the barmaid hadn’t bothered trying to catch up with us once we’d stepped over the threshold, the complete freedom of running had taken over. The night wind had been cool against my face, we’d spent more time in the Tavern than I’d thought, and my breath had pierced my lungs like knives. Running with Cameron had relieved some of the pressure building up in my head, some of the pain and confusion, and I was grateful for that. I looked over my shoulder and up into his face with a wide grin. “Yes. I did have fun. Thank you for taking me out today.” Cameron clutched his heart. Stumbling back so that I had to grab him to keep him from falling. He threw his arm around my shoulders and leaned in close to my face. The look on his

face just then reminded me suspiciously of the one he’d dealt the women at the boxing match this morning. He wiggled his eyebrows and I groaned. “You keep that up and one of these days you’re going to catch something.” I warned. He winked at me. “For you baby, I’d catch anything.” He hesitated. “Well…some things anyway. Like…” He leaned in and whispered something in my ear that had me jerking back from him in alarm and disbelief. “YOU’RE DISGUSTING!” He chuckled, unbelievably pleased with himself and I had to punch him in the stomach just to wipe the self satisfied look from his face. “Ho there!” Cameron blinked and straightened. “Did someone just call you a Ho?” I stared at him. “What’s a ho?” Cameron considered this, “From what I’ve heard it’s slang for whore. Kind of like Dude.” I pondered this new information with a frown as I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. Cam and I had stopped in the center of Hyde Park. Something I had been ecstatic about because I hadn’t seen the place in a very long time. Now, whatever enjoyment I might have had from the place was forever ruined by the sight of two bonneted heads bobbing in our direction from across the length of the carefully tended lawn. My lip curled. “They followed you?” “Sure looks that way.” As the women approached, curls bouncing and the edges of their skirts teasing the dew soaked grass, there was a flash of light and thunder rent the air. Cameron tilted his head back and closed is eyes, taking a deep breath as if the entire world had fallen away in that brief flash of light. “Storms coming.” My eyes slid away from the slightly distracting sight that was Cameron and focused once again on the women. Something irritated me, and not just the fact that they had followed us. There was an element in the air, a smell, a hint of wrongness, that burned my nose and had my skin itching something fierce. I rubbed the palm of my hand across the bare length of my arm, over and over again. My skin was crawling, seemingly burning the closer the two women came to us and I stumbled against Cameron. “Cameron.” I nudged him, desperation making my voice hoarse. “Cameron.” He wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t open his eyes. It was if he were lost in a cloud, a dream that I had no hope of waking him from and the sudden stillness scared me. I shook him, my nails digging into his arms as my skin seemed to burn, but he just kept sucking in that first hint of rain and ozone and…and sulfur? “Cam?” I ran a quick irritated hand beneath my nose and turned back to the women. They were laughing, tittering in much the same way as they had done earlier except that now, rather than exuding girlish innocence they reeked of malice. The leader of the two, the strawberry blond, grinned at me and quickened her step, her companion following her lead. They moved faster and faster, eating up the distance between us until I caught the blaze of red that shimmered in their eyes. “Cameron?” I whispered hoarsely. “You have the very worst taste in women.” That’s when they changed, shifting between one step and the next. Their clothes ripped apart and their snarling screaming voices were lost under a clap of thunder.

I screamed when from out of the darkness emerged two of the largest wolves I’d ever seen. Bigger even than the wolf I’d come in contact with in that alley so very long ago. Their eyes glowed red, and their fur shimmered blinding and white through the heavy sheet of mist that began to rise up from the ground. Where the wolf from before had seemed wild, these seemed purposefully malevolent. From beside me, Cameron’s body trembled and he growled. I felt a tug on my insides, like a string pulling and I gasped because unlike the other times I’d since this tug, it burned me. One of the strange wolves shook and a piece of torn lace fell from its body to drift to the ground. I stared. Which was a mistake on my part. A really stupid one in fact. The wolves took advantage of my lack of attention and lunged for Cam and me. I was quick enough that I managed to sidestep the one that came for me, but Cameron, still lost in his trace was taken down by the larger of the two. I saw the spray of blood as the wolf clamped its teeth around Cameron’s neck and drug him down to the ground. I screamed and darted to the two of them, leaping clear over the wolf that crouched before me, preparing to lunge again. I landed on top of the bitch just as she was tightening her jaws around Cam’s neck. Since I was on her back I wrapped my legs around her, squeezing tight and dug my fingers into her eyes. The wolf howled and bucked under me, her jaws releasing long enough that Cameron’s body slid from her to hit the ground with a thud that made my heart stop. I had only a seconds warning before the second wolf drove into my side. My thighs tightened around the first wolf, unwilling to let her go, when I could see Cameron writhing in what looked like tremendous pain on the ground not a few feet from us. Teeth clamped around my shoulder and I cried out. Releasing the wolf between my legs, I drove my feet into her spine. That stunned her long enough to let me twist and backhand the wolf who had my arm clamped between its teeth. More force went into the strike than I thought possible because the wolf’s teeth clenched involuntarily around my shoulder before she fell back, her teeth tearing long jagged lines in my arm as she fell. Quickly I got to my feet, my arm falling uselessly to my side. It had gone numb and extremely cold after the teeth had pierced through skin, to grind sickeningly against bone. From the corner of my eye I caught movement and with a snarl of my own I lashed out, my boot connecting solidly with the side of the bigger wolf’s head. When the animal jerked I kicked her again. How dare she. How dare she hurt what was mine. SHE HAD NO RIGHT! I didn’t pay to much attention to the smoke that had begun to curl lazily from my arm as my blood finally made its so slow appearance. That only meant that the wound was deep, especially if it was taking this long to bleed. These thoughts ran through my head almost too quickly to process. My vision was too clouded with rage to take the pain and fear into consideration. The wolf that I’d struck in the face was circling me, wary at the pained sounds emitting from her companion. Her hackles were raised, and though she made no sound her upper lip was pulled back from her teeth, revealing the stain of my blood on her teeth. For some reason I found this funny and I burst out laughing just as my arm exploded in flames. The wolf squealed, sounding a lot like a mouse caught in a trap as the blood on her teeth first sparked, and then ignited. The fire took her head quickly and she ran around in panicked circles, yipping horribly and beating her face against the ground to try and extinguish a fire that wouldn’t go out. The pain reached a point that the wolf lost her concentration and changed back to a women. She collapsed on her back in the grass, screaming and twisting. Naked as the day she was born as the fire ate away at hair and

skull and finally tissue. When she lay still, the night still rang out, not from screams but from the absence of them. My head cocked to one side and I stuck my thumb between my lips as I considered her. I grinned. I felt wild, I felt hot, I felt good. The fire that still licked at my arm didn’t burn me. It didn’t move from my wound. It calmed the cold numbness that had took me. Licked the cold away with a gentle mouth that had me sighing from the pleasure of it. Other than the far off lamplights and the light from my arm, the night was dark. I heard a sound from behind me and rage sparked again, sending out another pulse of blood with the increased beating of my heart. The fire intensified, roaring angrily as it took my entire arm, from the fingertips and to the shoulder. My clothes began to smolder as I turned my attention to Cameron and the last wolf. Cameron was on his knees in the grass, watching me with bright golden eyes. I laughed and clapped my hands in delight as memory took and held. “Cameron. Cameron. Cameron. My wolf. My pet. We’ve met once before.” I took a step towards him and he fell back from me with a snarl. The wolf beside him whimpered and squirmed. I had hurt her badly. Worse than what I thought. For some reason the knowledge pleased me. It wasn’t enough though. Not nearly enough. She had tried to kill Cam. Tried to kill him. I strode toward her but before I could reach her Cameron grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and hauled her into his lap. With a smooth easy movement that spoke of much practice he broke her neck. “Don’t. I‘ve smelled you before. Three years ago. You smelled like you do now.” He shook his head. “You don’t have a soul, things without souls should be dead.“ I took a step towards him and he growled low, eyes blazing. “Don’t come near me. Unnatural filth.“ A small part of me cringed in guilt and shame and hurt. A small part of me despaired and died. But only a small part mind you. “Dictating to me now?” I asked, my fingers playing with the ball of fire that danced down along my palm as I considered whether or not to use it. “You show mercy to her? After what she did?” My words were mild, my tone calm. The fire distracted me, enchanted. I was enthralled by it as well as the heat that was slowly spreading trough my veins. I heard something crack and my neck arched, trying to ease the discomfort of the jagged edges of the collar still clinging to me. Though the collar was cracked, it still held on to me, refusing to let go completely and I bristled, muttering angrily to myself as my hands clawed at it. “Ale.” My body froze, the name ringing familiar bells. I glanced up and saw a man kneeling in the grass before me. He had a women in his lap. A dead women. I wondered if she were mine. I searched for her and found her soul, hovering and terrified standing beside her corpse. From her soul to the body ran a chain of light and I frowned. That wasn’t right. That wasn’t right at all. “Ale.” The name jerked me back and I looked at the man again. With the blond hair and the beautiful golden eyes, a smile, ghastly and bloody stretched across the skin of a neck drenched black with blood. It was already healing so I didn‘t bother expending energy on it. I took a step towards him, suddenly hungry. Unbelievably hungry. He pulsed with light. I could see it pouring off of him in waves that sent shivers down my spine. I could see his soul in his eyes, and curious, I reached out and licked it. Testing and tasting. The man arched, coming up to his knees as his mouth opened in a silent scream, from pain or pleasure I wasn’t sure. “Ale.” I released him and turned. Behind me stood another man and my breath hissed out

in an outraged cry. “Salamander. Traitor.” Traitor. Traitor. ALL TRAITORS! Kill the traitors and the rebellion will fall. But no. Can’t kill, can’t kill. Can’t kill my babies, can’t kill my heart. Frustration sent a pulse of heat through my body and I growled, gripping my hair in my fingers and bowing my head. Screaming and screaming until my voice cracked. Can’t kill the traitors. A voice cried, despair thick and heavy. Drowning. From far off a black ocean of shimmering souls crashed against an outcrop as it began to fall apart, breaking off in jagged pieces to plunge into the dark depths below. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t kill the traitors. But I would teach them a lesson. Then I would find the Fallen. Find my Death, and teach him a lesson as well. He’d betrayed me just as all the others had. My mouth twisted and I moved to take a step towards him. The line I felt leading from him to me twisted into a cruel knot that ripped my body apart. Wracked me with a pain so intense that white spots danced in my vision. “Princess.” Whispered the traitor as he knelt before me. His fingers brushed along my neck and I sighed, pleased as the pressure of the collar relaxed and was finally released and the pain in my gut lessened and died.. “There now Princess, isn’t that better?” Slowly I nodded. Some part of me knew something was wrong, horribly wrong, but that small part was too distant from what I was now to make much of a difference. “We’ve been waiting for you. Waiting a long time. That boy over there? He’s the traitor, not me. I’ve always been loyal to you, even when your Fallen left you,” Pain “I was there with you wasn’t I? I apologize for the girls. Their lazy slackful things, but help is so hard to find isn’t it?” I nodded dreamily and my body slumped. He caught me and I leaned into him. His smell was familiar, his heat, and his light. All of it familiar and dear. This was my Salamander, one of my most precious treasures. I trusted him. His voice came low and whispering and I leaned into him, breasts pressing tight against his chest and purring with delight. I drug my nails down his chest, pleased when he didn’t complain as they shifted and grew and broke skin. The flames rose slowly as his blood came, lazily. As it sensed me, it grew brighter and burned hotter and I laughed, pressing my body against his once again and reveling in it. As clothes melted away, madness beckoned, entranced, seduced, and I fell into its arms willingly. § Cameron stared hard at the women standing a short distance from him. She looked nothing like the boy he remembered. Her body was on fire for one thing, which would make anyone look different. But the silver hair that fell in soft curls around her face and back was a new commodity as well. She was small, but well proportioned, plump and curved where she needed to be, as he got to see when the last burning rag fell from her skin. Skin that glowed a burnished gold, like metal that ad been heated in preparation for the blacksmiths hammer and anvil. The man she clutched was someone he hadn’t expected to see in this place. Someone he hadn’t even suspected was a Supernatural. His head was bent low as he whispered in her ear, words Cam couldn’t hear and didn’t want to. They both smelled odd. An odd mix of fire, salt water and wind. Like a campfire on the shore of an ocean.

“Shit, this is bad.” He said under his breath. They must have heard him because all of a sudden the woman’s head turned. She looked at him with eyes that glittered like sharply chiseled obsidian. ‘Wolf.” She spoke the word on a sigh, smoke drifting in lazy tendrils from her mouth. She grinned, revealing a row of sharp little teeth. Pulling away from the man who held her in his arms she took a step towards him. Her steps faltered the further she moved from the man. Her eyes clearer, the flames calmer. “Cam..Cameron?” Her voice broke and she looked around with wild frightened eyes. Confused, and wary he hesitated mid balk. He didn’t like the smell of her still, his instincts told him to run. Or to kill. But he stayed where he was. This was Ale. Still the same person. Still the boy he had become so fond of these last few days. So he hesitated. “Cameron. Help me.” She raised her arms to him and flames dripped like tears to rain upon the ground. He saw the man behind her take a step forward as he realized that things were going wrong. Saw the sudden flash of fear in him, tasted it sharp and bitter like ashes on his tongue. “Princess.” Jinx said slowly. “Princess please, come back to me now.” Ale’s face flushed red and hate blazed from her eyes. Her fists clenched and her jaw tightened as she forced herself to hold very still. “Cameron.” His name was growled now. “Get him. Bring my Fallen.” Her face crumbled and tears filled her eyes and spilled over. “Please bring him. I need him. I need my Sin, my Death, my Fallen.” He considered her for what seemed like a long time. When Jinx began to move closer and closer to her and her eye began to darken once more, Cameron decided he didn’t really have all that much time before she snapped again and then who knew who she’d burn alive. He scrambled to his feet and took off. His body shifting between one step and the next so that by the time he tore out of Hyde Park he was on all fours. A rush of heat seared past his tail and he yelped, putting on a panicked burst of speed. If she wanted her Death so badly, he’d just go and get him for her.

Book Two: Angel of Death If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it was necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? --Alexander Solehentsyn - The Gulog Archipelogo

Prologue: Although I conquer all the earth, Yet for me there is only one city. In that city there is for me only one house; And in that house, one room only; And in that room, a bed. And one woman sleeps there, The shining joy and jewel of all my kingdom. -- From the Sanskrit “Sinclair?” “…What?” I bit my lip as I regarded him across the length of the small table where we were sitting in the castle gardens. The breeze caressed my face and neck and I took in a deep breath of the salty tang of the Japrimilian oceans before I pulled on the nerve I needed to ask my question. “Do you think I’m pretty?” I felt the sudden stillness in the air as Sin glanced up from the book he’d been reading long enough to look at me. His face was carefully blank but for the gentle raising of one black winged eyebrow. My eyes narrowed and I squirmed in my seat, suddenly feeling like the worst kind of idiot. That didn’t stop me though. “Well?” I demanded when he’d been silent for way to long. “Well what?” “Am I ?” “A pain in the ass? Yes.” My temper flared and my hair curled. I hit the table with the palm of my hand and dishes jumped along with the servants standing at attention a discreet distance away. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. Now stop being such a jackass and answer the question.”

Sin sighed and marked his place in the book before setting it to the side. He folded his hands carefully on the tabletop and looked across at me. “Let’s try this again Princess. Without the little temper tantrum if you please.” All the anger and defiance left me in a rush, and properly chastised I shrugged my shoulders and looked away. My gaze lowering away from his as how much his answer truly meant to me began to sink in. “I just wanted to know if you thought I was pretty. I’ve been hearing some of the other rulers talking you know, about marriages and alliances and such and about how it’ll be pretty hard to get me a husband. And one of the duchesses made a comment about my odd looks and my temperament at the ball the other night and I just wondered…” My voice trailed off and I ducked my head in embarrassment. “No one ever really looks at me Sin. They only see the Keeper. The Princess. I’m not a real person to them.” I looked up at him through my lashes, “I was just curious about what you thought of me is all. It’s no big deal or anything.” Sinclair considered me steadily for a long lazy moment before he sighed and got to his feet, the legs of his chair scrapping sharply across the polished cobblestones. He walked around the table until he stood at my side and looked down at me. Gripping my chin in one strong hand he angled my face up, turning me this way and that so that he could scrutinize each feature carefully. My face flamed. He snorted. “No. You’re not pretty.” It was amazing the amount of hurt that punched its way through me at those simple words. “Your face is too angular. Your cheeks too sharp. Eyes too wide and dark when compared with the color of your hair. Your mouth is wide, your chin is stubborn.” By this time I was beginning to give serious thought to the amount of damage that could be done to the grounds if I reached over and slit my wrists with my butter knife just then. I would have been able to resist a bit longer had Sinclair not decided to continue. “You’re too short for a girl your age, your hair is too wild,” he caught the curl that lashed out at him with an easy grace before giving me an arch look as if to say ’I told you so’. My bottom lip trembled and I began to work myself up in preparation for a full blown tantrum. “You could have been saved from all of those things,” Sinclair said musingly as he rubbed my curl between thumb and finger, “if your body had been a bit more impressive, but honestly I’ve seen better.” I made a small sound of pain and my entire body, including my hair slumped in defeat. When Sin hunkered down in front of me and wrapped long, warm fingers around the curve of my neck and jaw I would have melted against his touch had I not been fighting so hard not to cry. “You’re not pretty.” he stated solemnly. As if I hadn’t fucking heard him the first time. “Your face is too angular, your cheeks too sharp.” he murmured, leaning in so that he could run his bristled cheek along mine. His fingers slid along my neck to curve around the back of my skull, his hands sliding along my scalp and through the heavy weight of my hair. He nudged his nose against mine when he said once again, “Your eyes are too wide and dark compared with the lightness of your hair.” His lips brushed mine and I pressed forward, suddenly hungry as the heat and breadth of him surrounded me. His tongue glided along the fullness of my bottom lip. “Your mouth is too wide, your chin too stubborn. You’re short and your hair is a menace. I’ve seen bigger breasts on twelve year olds…but…” He leaned his forehead against mine and stared at

me, green eyes blazing like stars. “You’re not pretty. But you are wildness, and heat and light. To me you are more than simply pretty. You’re a pain in the ass yes, but in my eyes you blaze like a star and for you Gabriale, my Princess, my light, my life, I would fall from Grace all over again.” I stared up at him, wide eyed and slack jawed as he rose back to his feet and went back over to his side of the table to finish his bowl of cereal. Well, I thought, not quite able to keep the goofy smile from my face, that was the last time I asked Sinclair anything. I didn’t think my blood pressure would be able to take the strain of any more compliments.

Part One: The Beginning

Chapter one: The road to hell is paved in Gold, Sugarcane...and Mistletoe. -- Gabriale “Come back to me Princess. Come touch me again.” I glanced over my shoulder at Jinx, my hand falling to my side as a pale flash of fur disappeared around a far off corner. The smell of ashes tickled my nose and I looked up into the sky, letting my head fall back as rain began to beat at my body. It was comforting, the rain. This storm. The wildness of it made me feel small, feel safe. Which made no sense I suppose. All sorts of bad things could happen in a storm, all sorts of wicked horrible things. But as the thunder boomed and lightening lit up the world I couldn’t find it in me to care. If I could die in the wildness of storm nothing would please me more. Strong arms slipped around my naked waist and I purred, pressing my body against the wall of heat at my back and resting my head back on his chest. The same sense of rightness, of belonging and utter trust that had swept over me the last time he’d touched me drugged me again. Made me melt into his embrace as I wouldn’t have otherwise. “Princess.” he murmured in my ear and something inside me twitched. “My Princess. My Ale.” I frowned a little. His Ale? No. That wasn’t right at all was it? Gabby, baby tell me where you are. “Let me touch you.” Jinx continued and I began to shake. “I don’t want to kill you Princess. I don’t want Fredrick to kill you. Let me take you back home. Away from this place and we can rule Japrimilia together.”

My eyes flew open and I shuddered as his hands slid along my stomach and then lower, cupping me with strong bold fingers that lifted me up to my toes and had my breath coming in quick hard pants. Pleased with me and my reaction Jinx pressed his hips against my backside. My stomach clenched and I nearly threw up. I was afraid. Suddenly and fiercely afraid. A picture had came into my head when Jinx had touched me, of a man, as handsome as he was cruel as he held me down and… “NO!” Flames exploded from my skin and lifted me off of my feet. Jinx tried to block them, his arms coming up to ward his face as the force of the explosion threw him. He flipped through the air end over end like a rag doll, until he landed with a curse on the opposite side of Hyde park. I floated in the air for a split second, fear still making my heart beat a sick tattoo on the inside of my chest. My hair whipped out and I caught a flash of silver and red before the curl pulled back out of my sight and I was lowered gently back onto the ground. I held my hands against my chest, clenching and unclenching them as I watched Jinx get to his feet. “No.” I said again, whispered it. As if simply saying it would make the vision of Eric stop. Would make the pain of it go away. I curled in on myself as my stomach rippled in pain. I wanted Sinclair. “You’re going to regret that Princess.” I glanced up to see Jinx hovering before me, his skin glowing with light and power and rage, so iridescent and perfect that he looked as if he‘d been carved from glass. His teeth were bared and they looked sharper than what I remembered. Even his red hair had changed, falling down his back and whipping around his face in an invisible current of heat. He smelled like ashes. He smelled like home. “You smell like traitor.” I snarled, right before he backhanded me. I fell to the ground and his foot lashed out, catching me in the stomach. He sent a burst of power with the kick so that I flew further away than I would have had he struck me normally. I lay on my back for a full minute, simply staring up into the storm clouds building in the night sky and seriously considering the benefits of leaving the country as increasingly heavy raindrop fell and struck my face. From what I’d heard America was nice this time of year. A quick flash in the darkness had me stiffening. Pain flared once, and grew and my back arched, the mud slick in my hair and against my bare skin. I screamed and then there was only the sharp slap of flesh striking flesh and the soft patter of rain.

Ü The sight of the pale wolf making it’s way through school grounds shocked only half of Parrington’s students. The other half greeted the wolf with broad smiles and waves though the animal paid them no mind. For those that recognized him in this form, he was unusually focused, unusually intense, and he slowed for no one. Not the servants that scattered screaming out of his way as he burst through the doors of Dresden, nor the teachers strolling

ideally through the halls. One teacher, a male, a normal, tried to stop him and he slid to a stop on the smooth floor, claws scraping for purchase as he bared his teeth and snarled at the man. When the baring of teeth failed to produce the desired effect he lunged forward, snapping his teeth in warning until the man stumbled in panic and fell. Cameron ignored the sharp tang of human fear that suddenly soaked the air. It was the scent of prey and he couldn’t afford to go hunting right now. Maybe later he’d have time to play with the human. With an irritated huff, Cameron was off again, long legs stretching and muscles working as he practically flew up the steps. Running, running, running, lost in the excitement of the chase until finally he came to the door of the man he’d been searching for. He knew better than to barge in on this one, and he wouldn’t have been able to do so anyway. Not without thumbs. So instead he pawed at the door, howling in short erratic bursts until it was opened for him and he was admitted inside. It wasn’t Sinclair who’d opened the door but one of the puffs. In this form he could glimpse the little furball as it hopped from the doorknob and onto the floor, chirping nervously as it edged its way past him. His eyes narrowed and his tongue lolled out as he watched it. He’d have to make time to play with these little buggers as well. Had to make sure not to get caught though. He felt him then, the cold dark presence in the room that slowly made it’s way over to him. His hackles raised and he had to fight with himself to keep from growling. If he hadn’t liked Ale’s scent, he most certainly didn’t like his best friends. If only for the fact that he didn’t posses one. Sinclair didn’t smell like anything. He smelled of emptiness, if emptiness could have a smell. This bothered the Were more than he let on in his human form, but he knew that Sinclair didn’t enjoy being inside his head, so they ended up pretty even in Cam’s opinion. He tore his gaze from the fluff to look up at Sin. His friend hunkered down in front of him, his fingers shifting through his fur. An act that wouldn’t have been tolerated in his human form, but which he enjoyed wholeheartedly at this moment. “Something happened.” It was a statement more than a question but Cameron bobbed his head in agreement anyway. “Jinx…” More bobbing. “Take me to her.” Ü He could hear her in his head, calling for him, always calling. Her voice was a constant thing. At one point in his existence he may have taken its presence for granted. May have simply looked at it as one of those things that simply was. Unchangeable. He knew better now. He knew that though she could not be taken from him, he could be blocked from her and the loss of it…that was a pain that he was unfamiliar with. He would never allow it to happen again. As he followed Cameron through Dresden‘s common room he halted as he felt a flash of pain, a wave of sick, helpless fear, the likes of which he‘d never felt in his life, courtesy of being

a man and a fairly dangerous one at that. He felt the boys around him, Supernatural and Normal both turn their attention to him. Felt them like a weight in his head. Felt Cameron trying to nudge him along with his head. He almost moved, almost shook the feeling off and continued when the voice in his head, the one that had been dead for so very long until tonight, screamed. His body stiffened and his eyes glittered dangerously from the hard planes of his face. He felt the skin of his back ripple, the old instincts rising up. When the first feather floated lazily to the ground from beneath the edge of Sinclair‘s loose shirt, the Supernaturals in the room edged the Normals back a safe distance. They would have to explain later. Make sure that what the Normals saw tonight would be confined and locked inside of the ever growing box of Dresden’s secrets. Though confused and a little annoyed with being pushed from a room they considered as their home base, the Normals complied quickly enough when the wings, black as night and just as deadly, burst from the skin of Sin’s back and filled the room nearly from wall to wall. Sin took a step, then one more, the tips of his wings brushing almost painfully against the walls and furniture in the room. Then gathering himself he used a power he hadn’t used in so long it had his breath hitching from the pleasure of it. The room shuddered and the shimmered and unbelievably…bent as if under some great pressure. Sin gritted his teeth, and outstretched his hands. Then with a grunt he jerked them far apart, as if a opening a curtain. The air screamed and the being who’d once been the most feared of God’s angels smiled to himself. Ü I was crying. I tried to stop doing it, honest I did, but the tears kept coming. Kept falling, drowning me until I wished it would simply end and I could die in peace. Here is what I’ve learned. The collar kept most of my memories away. Which is most likely why I almost never have nightmares of the time I’ve spent in Eric’s company. I pushed those memories, those feelings to the furthest reaches of my mind and locked them there. Sure I was a little neurotic, sure I was a bit paranoid, sure I was a teeny tiny bit of a bitch but I was able to sleep at night which I considered a fair trade off. Jinx ruined all of it. All of that hard work thrown away in the blink of an eye. With just one touch, one harsh push, he broke down the barrier I’d hidden behind for the past three years, my whole life really if I were being honest and memories flooded out like demons bursting snarling and howling from the gates of hell. And I fell down Down D O W N The last conscious thought I had before blackness smothered me was simple and achingly sincere. Come get me.

Ü Her voice came softly, wind whispering along the shell of his ear through the curtain of hair that had fallen out of the cue he’d pulled it in. He could hear the panicked desperation in the words if not the tone. “Sinclair come get me.” “Where are you?” “Come get me.” “TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE!” “…I’m at the beginning.” “The beginning? Where the fuck is that?” A burst of mindless panic from her had his heart tripping and he had to pause mid flight, coasting on the surprisingly comforting breeze that drifted in such a desolate soulless place. Come get me come get me come get me. “Gabby, baby focus for me.” He ordered sharply, working hard to keep the rage from his voice, he didn’t need her more panicked. He needed her to focus. Focus was important. “Where is the beginning?” Where the Devil plays. Where the demons sleep. Come get me come get me come get me…Sinclair please don’t leave me alone again. Please stay. PleasepleasepleaseHe pushed some of his awareness of her away as he concentrated. Where the Devil plays and demons sleep. The beginning. Ü “Shit.” The curse was drowned beneath a clash of thunder and Jinx spared the sky a quick glance before turning back to look at the Princess. Swiping damp red hair from his forehead he tightened the grip he had on her wrists. She wasn’t whimpering anymore, which was a relief. It had surprised him to hear the hoarse sounds of pain coming from her, bothered at him more than he wanted to admit. He wasn’t one of the original Salamanders, wasn’t as strong as the first generation that had come from the Keeper. He shouldn’t feel this…loyalty towards her, nor this guilt. Jinx arched his neck as he straightened up, tensed muscles relaxed slowly under the increasingly fierce patter of rain. He heard a breathless gasp erupt from the girl in front of him but he ignored it. He had things to do and he couldn’t afford her interference. Cracking his knuckles he leaned forward once more and wrapped large hands around her throat. The easiest way to keep her occupied was to distract her with more…pressing concerns. “Sorry Princess.”

Chapter Two: This life's dim windows of the soul

Distorts the heavens from pole to pole And leads you to believe a lie When you see with, not through, the eye. --William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel This is the night my mother dies. I remember this. After so long I can finally..I can finally see it. I don't want to. Ü "Gabby?" The sound of that sweet voice uttering my name made my blood run cold. I thought about making a run for it, but I knew I wouldn't. I turned around reluctantly, some of the glittering white blond hair around my face drifting softly with the movement to land on my cheeks. "Momma." Ü No! NO! I WON'T DO IT! I WON'T HAVE HER DIE AGAIN! I won't live through it again. I won't. I won't. Ü “Strip.” “Excuse me?” The scene was an eerily familiar one. The dialogue was the same, as well as the setting. The feeling of sick, helpless fear though…that was something new to the memory. Something different and painfully sharp. Why? Because I knew what was going to happen. I knew, and in the beginning I’d had no idea what was in store for me. So the fear felt new, even if I’d already played this particular game and lost. His mouth was on me now, his hands sliding along my body. When I felt the shock of cool air against my skin as the front of my dress was ripped away, I couldn‘t keep myself from keening and jerking back. I almost pulled back from this memory as well, almost fought it. But I wouldn't risk going back to momma. I wouldn't do it.

So here I was. It was happening again. All over again, and I was as trapped now as I was then. I was in hell, and Eric Wallace was my devil. I tried to keep myself from reacting as I had before, tried to stave off the helpless animal fear that so seemed to please him, but was unable to. I was aware of what was happening, but it was if I were trapped inside of a prison made of my mind. I beat and screamed through the iron bars as long and as hard as I could but it made no difference. He kept coming, kept pushing. Kept tearing, and grunting and hurting. On and on until I feared It would never stop. Call me a bitch, a slut, a whore. He calls me that and it’s what I am. Call me worthless, loveless, helpless, and alone. Name it this and it becomes truth. Call me dead. Dying. Done. Say the words and give them life. Give them power. Give them purpose and permanence. These words would scar me, shape me into something and someone less than who I am, because words, names have power. I hadn’t remembered that at the time. I did now, and because of this newly recovered knowledge I’ve realized two staggeringly important things. That Eric Wallace had known enough back then to do this worried me. That Eric Wallace had possessed the power back then to actually pull it off terrified me beyond reason. It was in the midst of this blind panic at the consequences, as I reshaped past events in my head that I heard her. Smelled her. The very touch of her sent shivers racing up and down my spine and I felt her life spark with an intensity and brightness that was almost stunning. The feel of this woman, the brief honey like taste of her brought me back from a seemingly endless nightmare. The human woman caught me, the human…the woman…Amelia. Yes, say the name again, let it throb and pulse and heal, for this one…yes this one was one of mine. Amelia. Ü Millie was a prostitute. She was a good prostitute in that she didn’t have the clamp or any of those other nasty diseases and she still had most of her teeth. Though for some gents this was a hindrance more than a blessing, especially when all they needed was an extra hole. And Millie never complained, cause what had she to complain about when such things cost extra? And extra shilling were one thing that Millie would never turn down. You see Millie had dreams, she had aspiritions or however you bloody well said it, but had them she did. These dreams consisted of three things, find a wealthy bloke, fuck that wealthy bloke, and make sure said bloke took care of her until she died and went to meet the almighty lord and savior Jesus Christ may god have mercy on her soul amen. And of course, doing it all

from the luxury of the infamous Devil’s Playground. She’d heard on the street just the other day that they had added some new girls and some new personas to their already extensive arsenal of fantasy. Angels and demons of all things, though is some chap wanted to fuck a whore with wings and a halo then he could go at it, but Millie figured she was on too thin ice with his holiness to be risking such nonsense. It was these thoughts that occupied her mind as she strolled down the street, putting more swing into her hips than was humanly possible to keep up for long unless one was used to the strain on ones hips and pelvic area. The Playground was one of the hardest places to get into these days. For one, ever since the death of it’s owner, Eric Wallace by that bitch Gabriale Trenton may the lord have mercy on her evil soul, the Playground had been even more exacting in it’s requirements for new girls. No one wanted a repetition of what had happened three years ago. Especially the Playground since the murder of the Duke by one of it’s girls wasn’t exactly good for business. Because of this not only had the requirements gone up but security had been increased. There were guards now who didn’t just protect the women from the men but the men from the women. This wasn’t a willing choice so much as an order of the court if the Madame, Amalee (who had been granted the Playground after Eric’s death as per his Will) expected to be allowed to continue running the place. Millie admired Amalee. Amalee had made something of herself, she’d gotten better from life and proved herself. Millie knew this because when she was little she remembered Amalee working right next to her mother on the street corners and down by the wharfs where the sailors would dock. Her own mother hadn’t made it, died not a year after Erington had come to her with the proposal for the Playground. Rubbing her hands together briskly to try ad stave off a bit of the chill in the air, Millie picked up her pace a bit, her urgency to see the Playground at least once before she began work tonight spurring her on. She needed the inspiration, needed something to work for. As she neared the street that housed the brothel her steps began to slow and her vision clouded. Frowning Millie shook her head and halted in her tracks where she stood on the side of the street. From a ways off a gent called a greeting to her but she ignored him as her brows pulled together in a fierce scowl. She felt the heat of the city now, the throb of many hearts and the press of thousands upon thousands of minds. She felt the shift in power as if the very earth beneath her feet had shrugged it’s massive shoulders and trembled. Millie felt the burning, the breaking and she feared it. Millie had always been…sensitive to things. But her mama, a proper god fearing woman had said that what Millie went through was the product of the devil and that prayer was needed to drive the devil out. It was this belief that had been drilled in her from a very young age that had her making the sign of the cross over her bosom and squeezing her eyes shut in the hopes that the feeling would go away, that the press would disappear and that the breath of heat that suddenly slid along the back of her neck would blow away under a wash of cold, Thames scented air. None of this happened. The heat on her neck increased just as the press of the city pounded at her and Millie screamed as she dropped to her knees on the rough cobblestones. Her hands rising to cover her ears as the voices in her head began to scream and thrash.

She fought for breath. Something was happening, something momentous, something Millie the prostitute didn’t understand but nonetheless could appreciate. She would have struggled to her feet but she felt something…something there. It turned its attention on Millie and though Millie couldn’t see it she shivered nonetheless as what felt like a giant hand stroked down her body. Fingers probed her insides. Her memories, her secrets, her thoughts, her very self was picked at and scrutinized over. Millie’s mouth dropped open and she let her head fall back. The feeling was more invasive, more personal, than anything that any gent had ever done to her. When the hand stroked her and she felt words explode in her mind, a mushroom of white behind her closed eyelids, Millie whimpered and collapsed on her side, her frizzy brown hair spreading out around her head and face in a cloud. Millie didn’t like the feel of not being the only one inside her own head. Amelia Thompson Helplessly Millie nodded, whimpering a little in fright. Run Millie. I can’t keep you safe if you stay here much longer. Understand? Millie nodded, and sobbing she scrambled to her feet, gathering her ragged skirts in her shaking and calloused hands. She gave one last glance down the street and sent a mental apology to her mother as the familiar dizziness took her. Her vision narrowed and she swallowed a gasp at the scene that suddenly filled her mind. She was staring at what looked like a female shaped pillar of flame who faced off against another inferno in the shape of a large four legged animal, it’s tail spiked and whipping angrily through the rainfall that slicked the streets. The two of them were back dropped by the burning and destroyed ruins of businesses and homes on either side of the street. The creature with the tail was frightening, enough so that Millie had to make the sign of the cross (Again. Lord protect her from bad mojo). But the other one. The other one was…Millie took a step closer, her hands shaking as she pressed them against her stomach. She made a move to reach out, to let go and denial exploded in her mind in a crimson burst of pain, shattering Millie’s vision of the future as if it were as insubstantial as leaves on a windy day. GO! With a squeak Millie took off, running as quickly as her stubby legs could carry her. She wouldn’t look back again. To look back was to court weakness. Because though the hand was invasive, the feeling of being watched absolute, she craved a bit more of the touch. She new that were she to turn around and dart towards that pillar of light she would be consumed wholly, burned alive, her flesh melted right off her bones…but it would be like going home, and though that was just one aspiration that Millie had long given up on, she figured it wouldn’t do much harm to entertain it once again. After all, that’s what everyone wanted sooner or later wasn’t it? To go home. Chapter Three: Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the Brutes: and thanks to words we have often sunk to the level of Demons. --Aldous Huxley

“What the hell are you doing back here? You’re supposed to be dead.” Jinx shifted through the memories that occupied the girls mind. It was hard, like trying to swim through tar. He widened the Keeper‘s eyes and let her bottom lip tremble in hurt as he searched desperately for her name. After all the woman seemed to know Gabriale, well if the look of rage in her eyes was any indication. Her name had to be somewhere, had to be. He searched, his body tensing with the effort and his brow furrowing in irritation. Fucking tar. Fucking mental blocks. He stuttered as he finally grasped it. “Mee Mee, I--I--” Shit. Why was she supposed to be dead? How to explain the sudden, very naked appearance here? He searched and searched through the mind he currently occupied as his own body lay prone on the wet grass of Hyde Park. He had figured if he drew enough of a spectacle to the Playground, especially with them still on thin ice with Parliament and all (Eric Wallace had been a junior member), that the guards would haul him straight to Russell and whoever it was he worked with these days. He gritted his teeth as the tar around him thickened and solidified. The Keeper would allow him no more access and he was weakening fast and didn’t have the time to force her. He decided to be blunt. “I’m looking for a man by the name of Russell as well as his partner.” The women looked at me with narrowed eyes, the gray in her hair lighting under the glare of the gaslights around the place. She looked over the crowd of gawking and cheering men (a situation in which Jinx was highly uncomfortable with, but honestly it was his own fault.) and jerked her chin. He turned the Keeper’s head so he could watch the progress of one of the whores she summoned forth. Just then he lost control of her (his?) right eye and the lid drifted shut. He shook his (her?) head violently and slapped the side of his head. “Behave.” he muttered and looked up in time to catch the gray haired woman’s wary look at him. “Go with Deborah to my office. She’ll bring you some clothing and after I’ve finished some business I’ll get right with you.” He nodded his understanding and made to follow the bouncy, grinning Deborah (a nice little piece I’d have to come back for later) but the woman gripped his arm again and jerked him back to hiss in his ear, her nails biting deep into the flesh of his forearm. “Stay put Kahna. If you step one foot out of that room it’ll be the last mistake you ever make. You understand me girl.” Jinx’s yes narrowed and he felt an anger that was not entirely all of his own well up in his chest. He nodded jerkily though, since strong emotion on his part would cause his concentration to slip and he’d lose his hold on the Keeper. He’d just have to come back for the Mee Mee bitch later as well. Deep down he felt a surge of agreement and fierce animal satisfaction and his steps quickened. Ü

Thirty minutes passed before the woman returned with the man he had come to see. The other woman, Deborah still stood in a corner of the room where she had retreated, hands folded behind her back as she regarded him with bright, curious eyes. Since her initial enthusiastic greeting after she had handed him a loose fitting mans shirt and trousers, she had quieted. His response, cold and impersonal had had the woman’s eyes clouding with first hurt and then confusion and she had made no further attempts to speak to him. Though she watched. Carefully, and it made him fidget in his seat. He shook his head o clear it of all thoughts of the female Deborah and turned towards the other one, Mee Mee who actually happened to be named Amalee (he sent a mental stream of annoyance back to the Keeper but only received a mixed jumble of fear and anger in return). A man stood beside her, whom he recognized vaguely from his years of working with Fredrick the Alchemist. Russell Wallace possessed the trademark good looks that his father and uncle had been renowned for. Or in Sinclair’s case, Jinx thought in mild annoyance, was still being renowned for it. The fact that Russell’s father had been killed a few years back, (a man whom had been one of Fredrick’s most avid and dedicated supporters) didn’t seem to have affected him much. In fact the boy looked improved since the last time Jinx had set eyes on him. Of course, he thought, anyone who had just helped kidnap and murder thousands of innocent supernatural beings was allowed to look a little peeked every once in awhile. But who was he to pass judgment really? He was here after all to ask for those precise talents that he had before regaled as deplorable. While his brethren had been sent forward to search the worlds for the Fallen, Jinx, who possessed a different set of skills all together, had been sent to Earth in hopes of recruiting an army to aid the continued rebellion in Japrimilia. Everyone had heard of the human who’d had enough impudence to steal the souls from Supernaturals and sell them to the highest bidders. Some worlds were angry and busy making plans to aid the Supernaturals in this world in their war to stop the Alchemist before he moved on to new, more fertile lands. Some were indifferent, and others like Japrimilia were simply realistic. Unlike humans who had to find an outside source for their power if they even had any, a Supernatural’s soul was the source of their gifts. Ever since humans had been invented not that long ago, they had found ways to integrate into other gene pools. They were contaminating the oldest of supernatural races and as a result weakening them. This had been one of the reasons for the rebellion in Japrimilia. Most believed that the Princess, as the Keeper of Souls should simply take back the souls of the humans and refuse to release them for rebirth, killing out the species entirely and solving a whole mass of problems. Most rulers hated humans with a passion that was dizzying and rallied behind the cries for their extermination but the Princess had said no. Jinx still recalled her words and the look of disdain on her face as she had gazed around at all of her councillors and guards. ‘I am the Keeper. Not of Supers, not of Normals, but of Souls. Favorites will not be played here no matter how outraged you all claim to be. In my world there is no difference between the light of a Normal and that of a Super. And I believe that my father had his reasons for this. I will not go against his wishes and anyone who goes against mine won’t live long enough to regret it. Am I clear? Good? You are all dismissed.’ Though nearly four thousand years ago by earth reckonings, Jinx still remembered the rage that had pounded in is head at the injustice of it all, the nerve. As if the Princess, a child practically, should have any sway over the general consensus of billions. She had no right to

dictate to them about souls and the will of her father. She was a women after all. The Keeper who had been examining these thoughts and memories carefully as he ran them through his mind jerked him. He nearly lost his grip on her mind and he had to use every bit of energy he had to keep her under his temporary control. He really should hurry. “What do you want Ale?” “Lets cut to the chase.” Jinx said, leaning forward in his chair and resting his elbows on his knees as he regarded the trio. He had a moment to appreciate the look of surprise on their faces before a silver sheet of hair blocked his view. With a irritated huff of breath he tossed his head as he had seen women do to shift it out of his way. He continued. “This is Jinx Dumont. I come as a Delegate from Japrimilia. I hear you and your master have been searching for the Keeper of Souls?” Jinx realized that news that the Princess wasn’t so much dead as…still alive would cause a bit of an uproar back home. He anticipated it and he’d figured on things like this. After all, he hadn’t been sent to find the Fallen for two reasons. One, he wasn’t nearly strong enough to kill him should they come face to face, a claim which Jinx had been tempted to disprove on more than one occasion, especially considering Sinclair’s smart mouth. His bad luck in being the first to find him. And two…he wasn’t strong enough to beat the Fallen, a point that in Jinx‘s mind couldn‘t be expounded on enough. So he had been sent out on a mission to help increase Jap’s allies as well as militia so that not only would the civil war finally be put to rest and the new king and queen appointed, but the other worlds that had been resistant as well could be brought under control. Those worlds that agreed with the Salamanders way of thinking would have a share of the profits and goods gained through the conquering of the other worlds. “What the hell is going on Russell.” His thoughts were interrupted by Amalee’s strident voice and he scowled at her. She took a step towards him in warning but Russell waved her off. “I’ve heard of this type of thing. Apparently people from his world have the ability to talk through others. Someone who is strong in mental magic can jump into another’s body and ride their mind to deliver messages through whoever is closer to the person they’re trying to speak to.” Russell bowed accordingly, “What you heard was correct delegate Dumont. Can I assume that you have some information for us?” Jinx nodded as he picked ideally at the cuff of his man’s shirt. “You can assume anything you want. But you won’t know anything until I get a few insurances first.” “Oh,” Russell asked, leaning back until he sat on the edge of the desk that dominated the small room, his arms folding across his chest. “And what sort of…insurances were you thinking of?” “I need an army. A massive army. And as much of Fredrick’s concoction as I can get my hands on.” Russell laughed. “Are you daft? Not to be offensive delegate, but we’re in the middle of

our own war here. Things have been getting pretty out of hand. Men are reacting badly to the foreign souls residing in their bodies and for the last few weeks our collars have been malfunctioning.” “I’m aware of all of this.” “And yet you still ask for favors of this magnitude? You have the balls to back it up?” Jinx grinned, “I do.” “Tell me.” “No.” “I mean it delegate. Tell me now. Since my fathers death I’ve been Fredrick’s right hand man. If he learns anything it comes through me and no one gets to him without handling me first. So tell me, what’s so good I’d be willing to give up manpower and profit?” “How about the chance for more profit and more manpower and the chance to win this war of yours once and for all.” “Explain yourself.” Amalee said, as Deborah pressed her back against the wall and shuddered. “What if I told you that not only could I hand over the woman who killed your father, but I could also give you the Keeper of Souls and by extension a way to find each and every Supernatural soul in this city and anywhere else you want. Is that good enough for you?” Russell stared at him for a long silent time, his face white and his eyes glowing feverishly. “I think,” he began slowly, as an easy grin spread across his face. “that we have a deal.” Ü Deborah led him from the room once the meeting was over and as they maneuvered through the crowded rooms if the Playground, they were joined by another woman. She had a cap of curly black hair. Her eyes were as dark as her hair and they assessed him with a shrewd curiosity that made his skin crawl. After watching him for a bit longer, stepping easily around the guests and women in her way without really paying that much attention to doing so. She exchanged a look with Deborah who nodded her head sharply and stuck the end of one pigtail in her mouth. A name whispered through his thoughts, the tone one of respect and genuine affection. Selma. When she reached him, the whore, Selma, nudged him with one arm, “Who are you anyway?” He cleared his throat, uncomfortable under the sudden attention. “My name is Gabriale.” “Bullshit.” her response was quick and a little sharp. She grabbed his arm, nails digging in hard until he flinched. Damn females and their claws. “I’ll ask you again mate, who are you? I don’t tolerate lies too well so remember that the next time you decide to answer.” Jinx considered this information in relative silence. He dodged the groping hands of one of the customers, feeling a little violated by it all, and hitched up his britches with one hand. He scratched himself and Deborah ducked her head and giggled. “Names Jinx. Nice to meet you.” he jerked his arm from her grip and quickened his step.

“Why are you here anyway?” Selma demanded from behind him as she hurried to catch up, long legs covering the distance separating them easily. “That’s really none of your concern.” Deborah snorted as she slipped her arm through his, blond curls and schoolgirl ribbons bouncing happily. “Oh none of that now. Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to be rude to a lady? That’s no way to get under their skirts now is it?” He was startled when Selma appeared on his opposite side and copied the gesture, matching her gait to Deborah’s so that he had too bouncing women on either side of him leading him not towards the entrance but towards a set of steps. It was all very tempting. All very distracting. He’d never done it with a woman’s body before. And two women… Inside his head the Keeper growled and he felt his control slip a bit more. Jinx shook his head in true regret. “I’m sure you’re correct Miss but I have other business to attend to and I’d rather not risk either my bits nor my…” He glanced down at the breasts that thrust against the material of the shirt and frowned. “companion’s with you two lovely ladies. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He pulled away from them both and began to head back towards the doors. “One second love.” Deborah called gaily and he hesitated. Selma echoed her, the icy warning in her voice clear. “Oh yes love, one second of your time if you refuse to give us more.” Deborah snickered and Jinx’s face flushed red. He looked over his shoulder at them. They stood side by side, Deborah a bit shorter than Selma. Light and dark curls shinning under the power of the lights. He saw more than one man’s eyes dart from whatever companion occupied them and strayed to the two women and Jinx couldn’t blame them. As he waited their fingers brushed and interlaced and almost as one they both cocked their heads to one side. Though the sight was almost endearing, any charm that it might have held was ruined by look in their eyes. Calculating, dark, and deadly. He’d seen eyes like these on more than one occasion. They had the steady gaze of killers. Jinx stiffened. “What do you want?” “Only one thing.” Selma replied. “Yes. A little thing. Easily asked, easily given.” “And what would that be?” “We were wondering if you happened to know where the owner of that body of yours is now?” Jinx’s eyes narrowed. “I do.” Deborah grinned at him, and began to shift her weight back and forth, unable to keep still suddenly. “That’s wonderful. Quiet wonderful.” Selma’s grip on Deborah’s hand tightened and Deborah yelped. “I mean. Terrible. Horrible news. Quiet unsatisfactory I must say.” Jinx turned fully on them now, hitching up his pants once more. “Why do you want to know.” Though he had sniffed carefully he had only sensed the briefest flash of magic from either one of them. If they did have power it was weak and so Jinx

wasn’t too concerned as to what they could do to him. “No reason.” Selma stated primly, her disdain for him clear, as if she were offended that he would question her about anything. “She worked with us a while ago and then disappeared. We were simply wondering where she had gotten on to.” Jinx nodded, accepting this explanation readily as the only one that made any sense. He turned and began to make his way out again. He spoke over his shoulder. “Well your friend is as fine as she can be. She’s going to school now if you can believe it.” “Oh really? How wonderful. Which one?” Came Deborah’s bright inquiry. Jinx shrugged, his mind wondering as he tried to increase his hold on the Keeper’s mind. He wasn’t quiet ready to let her go yet. “Parrington.” He spoke dismissively. As he made his way out of the Playground he thought he heard the two women mutter something that sounded suspiciously like, “A boy’s school?” “Figures as much.” But he could have been wrong. Ü Get out ‘Can’t do that just yet Princess’ Don’t you Princess me you piece of shit Jinx rolled his eyes as he made his way down the street, heading deeper and deeper into the seedier parts of London and further away from the bright lights of civilization. ‘That’s no way to speak to a subject Princess. Especially one as devoted as I am.’ Devoted? her voice floated through his thoughts like curling black smoke. Drifting lazily until with a cry of eternal rage she lashed out at him. YOU CALL YOURSELF DEVOTED! FUCKING TRAITOR! An amazing thing happened then. His hair, well her hair, burst into flames and Jinx’s eyes widened and he screamed. It was the most embarrassing sound that he had ever made in his life but he didn’t wait long enough to cringe at the shrill sound before he dove to the ground and rolled around, beating at his head in an attempt to douse the flames that only flared higher and higher, the heat of it consuming his head and face. Stop that. Stop that right now! You stupid stupid boy, stop messing up my hair. He rolled in something particularly slimy and foul smelling but he was too panicked to stop. The shriek that echoed through his ears though was enough to shock him back to reality. STOP IT! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST GET IN MY HAIR! Oh my god. Oh my god is that…is that…oh eww it is! The voice in his head went on in this vain for a few more minutes and Jinx tuned the nagging out, his eyes clouding in inattention as he got slowly to his feet and brushed his clothes off, hitching his pants back up around his hips. His nose wrinkled at the foul smell that clung to his hair and clothes. Maybe he sort of understood her irritation. But still, talk about overreacting.

"Turn the fire off’ He interrupted. She went quiet for a moment. ‘Why should I? Does it bother you?’ She asked slyly. ‘What do you mean does it bother me? How can you not see how this would bother me? My head is on FIRE!’ 'No. MY head is on fire. And I don’t mind it at all. I think it makes a statement.' Jinx’s jaw tightened and he tried to fight back another scream as a tendril of fire whipped before his face and hovered before his eyes. ‘Turn it off Princess. Right now or I’ll dive headfirst into the muck again. We’ll see how much you like it when you end up smelling like shit and garbage for a week.’ ‘And cabbage juice.’ She added morosely and Jinx nodded. ‘And cabbage juice.’ The flames died and his hair fell in a wet disgusting mass around his face. Jinx gagged. With his enhanced sense of smell he caught every juicy detail that made up the gunk that currently clung to him. Alright, it truly was disgusting. But it wasn’t his body so why should he care right? Besides, he didn’t have time to waste on how offensive he had made himself. With a quick sweep he found that he had even less time than he’d originally thought. While he had been trying his damndest to ignore her whining, the Princess had taken the time to weaken his hold on her a bit more. Instead of having twenty minutes tops, he now had five before he lost his grip on her completely and he doubt he’d be able to get it back. Then there was no time to get to the rendezvous point. He’d have to do it now if he hoped to give Fredrick any information whatsoever. ‘Alright Princess. Time to earn your keep.’ What the hell are you talking about? ‘I need to find the location of all the Supernaturals living in London, and I need them right now.’ Oh my, must be hard on you. “You don’t get it.” He was so exasperated that he spoke aloud and a few people shuffling back and forth down the dilapidated streets looked at him from the corner of their eyes. He edged off the street and into the archway of an abandoned building, not wanting to draw attention to himself in a place like this. If he was hurt in her body then his body would receive the same injury. Their healing powers contradicted each other too strongly for him to heal whatever damage they received. His voice lowered. “You don’t get it Princess. I need those Supers and you’re going to help me find them.” Oh you need help alright my dear, dear Jinx, but I won’t be giving it to you. Jinx’s eyes narrowed at the sudden sense of darkness he felt breathing through his brain. The sense of impending doom and panic rightfully felt. He stiffened perceptibly at the warning in her voice, a tone she had yet to use on him. He had been around during the last years of her reign and though she was often harsh and unyielding when it came to getting her way, he had only heard this particular tone in her voice on two occasions. Once when the Rulers from the other worlds had declared war on Jap, and again the night that her husband was killed and the Fallen was tried for his murder. So it was self preservation, instinctive and well learned that had Jinx’s body tensing in

preparation for battle and his (the Keeper’s?) power rising in a slow burn through his veins. “What do you see Princess?” He felt her hesitate, felt her think. Hell, Demons and hell. Confusion had his brow furrowing, but the adrenaline still pumped fast and hard throughout his body. “What do you mean?” The Devil’s Playground Jinx. “What about it?” It’s amazing how stupid you are. The Devil’s Playground is called the Devil’s Playground for a reason. It’s a gateway to hell and the prostitutes there are the creations of demons. Jinx’s breath escaped him in a rush and he turned back the way he had come in a panic. “WHAT! Why didn‘t you say anything s-” PAY ATTENTION FOR ONCE! If you weren’t so busy always trying to block me out I could have warned you back at the club. My powers and my memory have only just come back and with you throwing my past in my face my mind wasn’t exactly in the best place. Going in there with me still as power struck as I am was not a good idea. I was waiting to see if they would and they did. They felt me Jinx. And they felt you. The demons are coming now, and they’re hungry.”

Chapter Four: There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and some of its inconceivable mystery. — Joseph Conrad “The Priests say that Hell is a hot place, full of fire and the screams of tortured souls. Is it true Princess?” The excited glee on the little boy’s face as he stared up at her from where he sat among a host of other children, had the Princess smiling a little to herself in amusement. Though the topic under discussion was in no way funny. “The Priests,” She began hesitantly, as she was aware vaguely of some moral restriction in regards to talking down a man of the cloth. “The Priests teach what they have been taught to teach. It’s not that they’re wrong it’s simply that the idea of a fiery hell has been around for so long that men know no other way it could be.” “Do you know what it’s like mistress?” asked a small, whimsical child; all brown curling hair, smooth dark skin and a wispy smile with two missing front teeth. The Princess gazed into that small round face for a good second before biting her lip and nodding. She wasn’t one to lie…well yes she was, only not to children. For some reason she could never lie to a child. “Yes. I know what hell is like.” “Tell us.”

“Yes, tell us-” Sighing and running a weary hand through her hair the Princess stated, rather calmly she thought, “It’s rather cold there. Everything is very harsh and brutal. There is no heat in Hell, but rather a chill so deep that it burns.” The children looked at her with wide, hungry eyes. Christ, pixies were such a bloodthirsty lot. “Why were you in hell Princess?” “Yes, how did you get there?” Scratching her chin and squirming a bit nervously in her seat at what Sin would most likely do to her if he caught her teaching children about the devil, The Princess leaned forward and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “The Devil came and got me.” Collective gasps and horror struck eyes had pulses of pleasure darting through her body. What a wonderful audience. Far more entertaining than her stuffy old Councillors. “What?” “Why?” “Did he try to eat you?” “Did he poke ya in tha butt with his pitchfork?” “Was he kidnaping you so that you would marry him and be his queen to rule beside him in the underworld until the end of time?” The girl who spoke, an obvious romantic, received a long look from all present that had her ducking her head and blushing. The Princess cleared her throat. “Actually no to all of those things. The Devil wants me you see, because he needs my fire.” “Your fire?” She nodded, almost sadly. “Yes. My fire…and my souls. Everyone seems to want the souls.” Anxiously, the boy who had spoken in the beginning leaned up and placed a small chubby hand on her knee. “You won’t let him have them will you Princess. You’ll keep them safe?” She felt the tug of him, the excited splash of life and spice that made him him, and the Princess smiled despite herself. He had a good soul, a good heart. The Princess leaned forward in her seat and cupped his face against the palm of her hand. “Of course I will.” Ü Angels, Demons, Devils and Gods. To Sinclair, in the end, they all turned out to be the same thing. Angels and demons have always been the servants, messengers, and guardians of entities far greater than themselves. For Sinclair, who had been both in his long, long lifetime, he knew that the chains that held each side were equally short, and equally demanding.

He would complain of exhaustion had he not been having so much fun. Currently, he was hunkered down on the edge of a cliff, a ragged, dirty, slimy perch that was covered in a thick oily black substance that he easily recognized as being demon’s blood. The stuff was currently trying to climb up his bare feet and over his pants leg. Had he not been paying attention to it, it would have encased his entire body and hardened into a deadly coffin, the likes of which even he couldn’t have escaped. As it was though he turned his gaze on it every few seconds and pushed it off of him with only the minimum amount of magic. A quick burn, a quick warning, and most of the mindless evils that made up this everyday world backed off, at least temporarily. Sinclair had to remind himself of this fact in a half hearted attempt to control his temper when a decayed, maggot ridden hand reached pleading fingers for him. He spread his wings in warning and snarled and the pitiful thing screeched, lipless mouth pulling back to reveal blackened husks of teeth in the decrepit skull. When it saw that he would not relent, would not reach for it, it drew back hissing. The chain of light that ran through its body flashed an angry black before it was yanked back into the bowels in which it had crawled from. ‘No one loses their souls. They just hide.’ Sinclair scowled at the old memory and tightened his shoulders, wings ruffling angrily. Well too many had gone into hiding lately and been found by the wrong person. Now that the Ale was back, he’d need her to help him set things right. But he wasn’t here on business. Rather he had come for a social call…if one could call the feelings he felt for his brother to be in anyway social. When he straightened to his feet he let his head fall back to look at the hairline crack in the blackened sky above him. A thin, golden ray of light could just be made out and even as he watched the earth beneath his feet seemed to breathe, forcing the crack to become ever wider, ever more permanent. “Samuel.” The viciously sharp pain stabbing through his temples reminded of him of where he needed to be, where he wanted to be. Gabriale haHe shook his head and mentally corrected himself. The Princess had needed him. She still needed him, only not as desperately as before. He’d felt the attack that had swamped her, even if he wasn’t sure completely what it had been. He’d been racing through space so quickly it would have made him a bit airsick if he’d been the type to succumb to such things. It had been a shock, a sudden one when the pressure behind his eyes, the restriction around his chest, in his heart, had eased. He’d stopped quickly, unwilling to break anymore laws of physics when the emergency was being abated. He had almost left the void then. Almost stepped out into the shimmering gray world that he recognized vaguely as London; Hyde Park to be specific, but since the hold that GabriNo. Not Gabby, not Ale. Not anymore, it was no longer his place to take such liberties. Since the hold the Princess had had on him had weakened, he’d finally been able to hear the faint, persistent call that now rode his entire being like a beast in heat. He hadn’t thought she’d be able to compete with an instinct that had been instilled him since the very beginning of his existence, but she had. The fact that she’d accomplished such a thing without even trying wasn’t what angered him. No, It was the fact that he had let her do so that enraged him so deeply. He had spent years, centuries, pounding it into that stubborn girl’s head that his duty as a fallen, as a demon, as an angel, as Death, would not and could not be influenced by her. He stayed with her as guardian by choice and nothing more. He owed her

nothing, and his allegiance was to himself and God and no one else. He had spent a long time trying to convince her of these facts, but she had never really believed him. Hell, he’d never really believed it himself. So he would be weak, he would go to her instead of staying behind at Parrington to protect the Supernaturals as he had sworn he would do. He would go to her… But his duty? His duty came first, and right now it was telling him that if he didn’t scope out the situation below ground now before that damned crack grew any wider, he wouldn’t get another chance to do so later on. With an almost lazy push of wings and muscles, Sinclair lifted himself from the surface of the cliff, coasting more from his own power than with any help from the dead, still air around him. Tucking the tips of his wings in a bit he angled his body forward and went in search of the one responsible for the breaking. Ü Amelia Thomson lay huddled on her side in the dim, dank alleyway. Her skirts were bunched at the waist and she held them against her stomach in a futile attempt to ease the pain in her gut. The shift. It rocked her, dizzied her in its strength. The burning. She felt it, she smelt it. It was coming. The breaking. One more crack, one more push with claws, and hooves, wings, and jaws. Rip the gate open. It's already weakened with so many coming through. Tear it open. Make it bleed. Just one more piece, one more rip, one more chink in the armor and... There. Yes. It's done now. They were here. Millie screamed. Ü 'We have to go back.' Jinx shook his head and kept walking, the ground kept shaking beneath his feet, the quails coming closer and closer together. If he looked over his shoulder he would be able to see the eerie green and blue glow emitting from cracks that bisected the ground. But he wouldn't be looking over his shoulder. And he wouldn't be going back to the Playground either. 'Oh yes you are.' 'Really now. And why would you think that? You can't fight a demon, you're not at full power for that and I doubt you want the type of attention that would come from losing." 'Of course not. I would never attempt to fight a demon. It's against the rules for me to do so."

He ignored that last bit, "So why do you want to head back to that hellhole? I'd advise against risking your neck trying to close that crack in the ground-" 'Of course not.' she sounded indignant, 'I have no training with that sort of thing. I'd only make it worse if I tampered with it. I want to check on Deborah and-' "The demon whores?" Jinx's voice rose in incredulity and he braced himself against the wall of a nearby building as the ground beneath him rocked. "You want to check on them? I'm pretty sure they can take care of themselves don't you think?" He felt her draw back and Jinx grinned to himself. Once again setting off towards the park and back to his body. 'There's no reason for us to head back and put ourselves at risk for a bunch of whores?' There was silence from her and Jinx would have gloated over it had he not lost control over every muscle in his (her) body at just that moment. He tried to move his hands, his fingers, toes, anything. But though he was still the primary operator in terms of her mind, it seemed as if the Keeper had finally gained full control over her faculties again. At least for now. They headed back the way they had come with Jinx cursing the entire way and the Keeper ominously silent inside of his head.

Chapter Five: A sad tale's best for winter. I have one of spirits and goblins. --William Shakespeare They came for the Playground, a fact that surprised neither Gabriale nor Jinx. No one had expected the strike to come so quickly though. However when it did the whores were more resigned than frightened at the increasingly violent convulsions of the Playground's floor. When Gabby and Jinx came to the building the first vibrations had already started and were beginning to shake the building's foundations. They pushed through the entrance at the precise moment that one of the newer girls (Jinx sensed no recognition of her in Ale's thoughts) came forward and bolted the door. Blocking it with her slim body and staring out over the still calm crowd with cool eyes. He saw as more women slowly began to ease away from partners and make their way throughout the building, presumably to block the other exits. The rest of the woman had gathered the men and even some ladies in the center of the room on the pretense of playing some game. The humans were laughing and pleasantly intoxicated enough that the shuddering ground produced only playful glee and awe. "My god," Jinx murmured breathlessly, "It's going to be a massacre." 'Yes, when demons feed it usually is.' The whores surrounded the humans, laughing and teasing, waving ribbons and tossing their hair. More than one creamy breast or thigh was revealed and shaken enticingly but Jinx noticed with rising alarm that the space separating the whores from the humans widened with each second that passed. When it happened the whores were in a circle that encompassed a room, Jinx somewhere in the middle because he had moved forward without his realizing it. Apparently

he and the Keeper had agreed on one thing, but by then it was too late to call or warning or drag some of them back. Jinx/Gabriale stood staring wide eyed as the ground shook once again and a wave of demons burst through the wooden floors of the Playground as if it were nothing but wet parchment. Humans fell screaming and thrashing under deadly claws, and cruel hooves, and Jinx was thrown off his feet, his body tightening, nerves jumping in what felt like welcome as a host of spirits burst from the ground behind the demons. Every single soul had a chain bisecting it's body to lead back to a demon. The sight must had displeased the Princess greatly, because he felt her power flare like a lightening flash, so bright and sure that the burn soon became punishing and Jinx could feel his body still lying back at the park jerk and spasm. The spirits also seemed to sense the power of her because they paused as they began to sink beneath the kin of their respective demons. Instead they swarmed him. He felt them like a cold, peppermint scented breath against his skin, more curious than angry. They pushed, experimenting, trying to find a chink in the armor the Keeper no doubt had up just for them. One particularly spitefully one lunged forward on a flash of light and tried to drive beneath his skin and heat flared a warning. The spirits retreated. Dissapearing from sight, along with the chains that anchored them, inside of the demons. As he made his shaky way back to his feet, Jinx had to swallow back the taste of ashes that coated the back of his throat before he disgraced himself and vomited. When he could open his eyes again, he had a brief moment of disorientation. The world was awash in a red haze, it took a bracing moment of stillness, plus the smell of old hamburger and feces, for Jinx to realize that the red haze wasn't a problem with his vision but rather a fine mist of blood that had risen up to soak into the air. Whatever the demons had done while he'd been immobile beneath the ghosts, had been unnaturally quick and brutal. There were bodies strewn in heaps around the exits from when a few patrons had tried to escape and were brought down. The walls were coated in the thick red liquid, the air pulsing with the violence of it. He heard the distant screams, the yelling, from a distance. The slice of talons and teeth through flesh and bone though...that came through loud and clear. Along with the gurgling cough that said someone in one of the other rooms was choking on their own blood. "Gabby?" 'We can't, I can't, this isn't why we've come. He'll smell me. And I doubt you want him to notice your presence now do you?' He didn't bother asking who He was, and it wasn't until years later that Jinx realized that voicing such a simple question would have saved him a lot of grief. 'People are dying! After all the shit you spout, you're just gonna let them drop dead like this?' His desperate ranting stuck in his throat when one of the demons drove a male human to the ground at his feet, it's talons embedded deep into the mans flesh as he dug into muscle and sinew. Jinx screamed and stumbled back, his breath coming hard until his eyes met those of the demon's victim and he forced himself to do something, to move, to help. It was a shock to reach for the once familiar reserves of his own power and encounter a wall, so he did the only thing he could think of. He reached for Ale's and grabbed a chunk of the heavy weight, wrapping it around his metaphysical fists. He reared back with it and once again struck against an obstruction, not a wall this time but quicksand that sunk around his mind and that stolen power and tightened. The force of the restraint rang like a gong in his head, and he growled low in his throat. Jinx struggled to pull free but she had a grip of him now and held him still. Outwardly as well as inwardly, he stood there, frozen in place as the man died at his feet, the blood from his

eviscerated stomach and now smiling neck soaking the ground and the legs of the trousers Jinx wore. 'You bitch.' The sound she made then was filled with infinite sadness, infinite regret. 'People always die Jinx. It's what they were meant to do and what they'll do until the end of time. It's their purpose. It's not my place to stop that and the only one who'd be able to is-' 'Sinclair.' he couldn't keep the bitterness from his voice and in his mind he heard the Keeper hesitate before she agreed. 'Yes. Sinclair could stop them from dying but I doubt he would.' Jinx had to refrain from any other questions he might have asked when the demon still feasting at his feet, raised it's pig like head and stared at him with sightless blue eyes. His initial reaction would have been to stumble back but the Keeper held him. 'Don't, it's already got us. If you panic, if you run, it'll kill you.' 'You mean us?' He asked with some weak attempt at humor. 'No. I meant you.' Without taking his eyes off of the monster who was slowly edging up the body of its dead prey and sniffing at the air with inquisitive little puffs, Jinx searched for the tie that still linked him to his body where his soul currently resided. It surprised him to see the amount of demons and spirits sniffing around his prone form but he pushed the concern away. Demons liked their food kicking and screaming after all. Concentrating every bit of his will he reached into the glowing recesses of his body, rambling around clumsily until he found his soul, the source of any supernaturals power. He gathered as much of that power as he could. And though it wasn't the heavy cement like weight of the Keeper's, it was still difficult dragging it back to the Playground. Holding it in one piece and cushioning it with his awareness as he drug it back was enough to strain his concentration to the breaking point. When his conciseness made it back into the Keeper's body, he had to brace himself quickly before she realized what he was doing. Then he shaped the power into a sharp edged spear and mentally drove it into the steel walls surrounding him. Inside of his head he heard her screaming and he had to fight her body to keep it jerking from reaction to the pain. The distraction worked well enough that Jinx was able to take back control of her body and stumble away from the pig snouted, bull bodied monster that was currently licking at his toes. He turned, pushing and leaping over screaming men and women as he struggled to escape the Playground before he caught something else's eye. What happened next had Ale gloating in his head for only a split second before she realized she was in trouble too. Jinx's legs were yanked out from under him and the sick feeling of shock this caused made him light headed. Or maybe it was just the fall that caused the woozy sensation. Either way it was anything but a welcoming experience to feel himself being slowly dragged back through the crowd on his stomach by the ankles. He struggled, clawing at his legs, bucking his hips, but for some reason he could neither see nor feel how the creature had a hold of him. When he grabbed the leg of one of the card tables, the pig demon grunted, a sound that to Jinx sounded suspiciously like laughter and reared back on its hind legs. Tounges of flame seemed to tighten around his ankle and calves and he screamed as the support he clutched with such desperate fingers groaned before giving a with a hallow snap. He could see them now, when fear had opened not just his eyes but his mind and heart as well. The whipping, snakelike cords that stretched from the demons body to tangle around his

legs. The creature must have had a hold on him for a good long while before he'd even tried to run and now those once invisible tentacles were burning holes through first his clothes and then his skin. The pain was excruciating, blinding in its intensity, it felt as if someone were digging through the meat and muscle of his legs to reach bone and Jinx struggled and bucked like a wild thing while in his head the Keeper lay quiet and watchful. His first reaction would have been to jump away, to abandon her body to zip back to his own but when he tried to leave it was if he'd run face first against a steel wall. 'LET ME OUT! LEMME OUT LEMME OUT!' 'Can't do that.' His anger was quick and oddly refreshing. 'You spiteful bitch, you let me out this instant or... ' 'Or what? Or WHAT! hmm Jinx? Let me ask you a question, what the hell do you think is going to happen when you zip through that mess outside without a body anchoring you? Don't know, well that's alright, I'd be happy to tell you. You'd scrape up every bit of filth and evil squirming around out there and pull them right into your body. Or better yet you'll give a demon a good whiff of you as you pass him and then he'll be hunting for your soul. So you want to call me spiteful, fine do it. But let me remind you of something little boy, I am still ruler here, which still makes you my subject, and you will follow my orders or so help me you will suffer because of it.' Jinx thought of his quick excursion earlier to gather power and wondered if and when the evils outside would track him back to Gabriale. He considered telling her but decided instead to wait and see if the incident would play to his advantage in the long run. So instead Jinx allowed himself to settle down enough so that the Princess had almost full control. The feeling of power that had surrounded his mind, ever tightening the push of steel that suddenly imprisoned him in the Princess's power had apparently grown visible because the skin that he was currently occupying took on a soft glow. The Keeper's anger had always been a hot thing, a visible thing, and the reminder was none more welcome than in that second. A slow burn began to rise from the pit of his belly, crawling through his veins and heating the air around him so quickly that the tentacles around his legs began to sizzle and pop and the smell of burnt bacon suddenly tickled Jinx's nose. The pig demon squealed, its snout convulsing as it tossed its head and jerked its extra bits away, some of its melted flesh peeling away and sticking against the growing bruises that encircled Ale's calves and ankles like macabre bracelets. 'Ouch. That's gonna leave a pretty mark.' 'Pretty?' Jinx thought back in a kind of stunned amazement as he scrambled to his feet as fast as his weakened legs would allow. 'Are you serious?' The voice in his head didn't bother answering, instead choosing to pull back to once more allow him control of the body. He wondered why for a brief moment, but the question was answered as something furry and vaguely snakelike side-swiped him on it's way to sink its fangs in the throat of the man standing behind him. Jinx clutched his waist and wheezed. Apparently one of the main things the Keeper was allowing him to keep control of were her never endings. The bitch couldn't feel anything. She giggled. "Real mature Princess." 'Think of it as payment for coming by to visit uninvited.' Since all humor had drained

from her voice at the words Jinx decided to change the subject as he dodged another squirming body and snatched his arm back from grasping black talons. It was eerie, how quickly he was getting used to making his way through the room without interacting with another demon. 'It's because I used to work here. The...stain of it is still a part of me so they're not sure if I'm like the other girls or if I'm like one of the patrons. Piggy could sniff it out and see the difference which is why it's a good thing he didn't live long enough to tell his friends. Otherwise we'd end up like-" A woman's body collapsed at their feet. She was screaming, or at least trying to, it was difficult since the black worms that were bursting out of her skin to eat away at her had made it inside of her mouth. '-that.' Jinx averted his eyes from the woman, knowing already what would happen if he made another poor attempt at heroism. Besides, humans weren't his concern and he should be glad to see them dying off like vermin. In fact a small part of him felt pleased, justified even. The war was a necessary evil. If the humans died this easily then what use were they really? 'Are we conveniently forgetting that you, almighty supernatural that you are, almost got yourself killed back there?' Impatient with her continued disregard, angry that she KEPT listening to every thought that came into his head, and yes afraid and nauseous and the smell and sight of so many evils feasting on still living people, he snapped at her out loud. "Why the hell do you keep saying that? This is your body sweetheart, if there's any permanent damage done, it's going to be you who suffers for it in the long run." There was a beat of silence, then....laughter. She was laughing at him. Great gales of mirth that had her body shaking with it even though he struggled to stay perfectly still. 'YOU'RE SO STUPID!' the words burst forth between one breath and the next. He could feel her struggling to continue, just as he could feel it when she finally succumbed fully to hilarity and he was left with full possession of the body once more. Since it was the first bit of full quiet he'd had since he'd 'come visiting' as she'd put it, Jinx decided to take full advantage. He moved swiftly from the center of the room to the side where a few whore sat or stood in small clusters, watching the massacre and rasing the hems of their gowns off the floor when the blood coating the floor threatened the lace. He ignored the fact that the dominant expressions on the women's faces as they watched the proceedings weren't those of shock or horror or disgust, but rather of hunger, boredom, and a vague, distant kind of pity. That, more than the fact that the whores hadn't been the targets of the attack, drove home to Jinx how far the women of the Playground were from the humanity that they mimicked so well. Though he was reluctant to bing her attention to him once more, he had to ask the question that had been burning brightly in his mind, but which she had steadfastly ignored. "Princess why did we come back here." Inside of his head the laughter finally died, but no other sounds, whether they be an answer or otherwise, broke the now oppressive silence. "Princess?" alarmed now he would have called for her again, but it was just then that he felt a gentle tug on his arm. He screamed, couldn't really help it and when he turned his head to meet this new threat, his heart thudding painfully and his stomach roiling in nausea that he had to fight and swallow back, he saw not a monster...or at least not one of the ones he'd been

expecting. Instead he found himself looking up into the flushed face of Deborah. Her pig-tails had come undone and her ribbons were tangled in the weight of hair. Jinx could see a spot of blood staining the trailing edge of one ribbon that hung over one shoulder. For some reason the sight of it made his heart ache. He was shocked by the sensation until he recognized the feeling as one not his own. "Thank God you've come back." Deborah's eyes flickered briefly over the scene in front of them before a spark of humor had her lips twitching. "Not that he has much to do with any of this." Disgust had Jinx jerking his arm free of her grip. He had been a good student during his school days and he'd learned about the way of the Heavens at the Keeper's knee just as everyone in Japrimilia had at one point. The other demons were bad enough, they were low enough on the scale of things that though they were powerful they were also painfully stupid and were ruled more by blind animal instinct and the need to hurt than anything else. They were peones plain and simple. So while the demons who'd burst into the world today disgusted and horrified him they were nothing, nothing compared to Deborah and the rest of the whores. If these woman were indeed demonic, then that meant that they were some of the third level Demons since the first and second levels couldn't survive on the surface of certain worlds, earth being one of them. After his fall, Lucifer and his host of rebel angels had created the first level of demons out of their image. These were the generals, and counselors, ambassadors and trainers of hell. This first rung in turn created a second. A weaker bunch, but still formidable, one of the powers that this group lacked however was the ability to create others like itself. So the first and second generations mated and from them was born the third level. A group that was one part Fallen angel and two parts demon, a group who possessed the power of nightmares and the beauty of gods. If the pig demon and his ilk were minions then the whores were their masters. He pressed his spine against the wall at his back and snarled a warning into the whore's face, "Filthy halfbreed! Don't touch me!" 'Oooo, Jinx. Hit and miss. Right when I think you have all your wheels going full steam ahead you go and toss a monkey wrench in them." As he was puzzling over the exact purpose of a wrenching monkey, Deborah took a hesitant step back from him. Hurt flashed across the woman's pretty features, and then her lower lip stuck out in a pout as realization dawned. "Oh it's you." she sounded disgusted but resigned and Jinx flexed his jaw, his skin tightening painfully in hatred when she sighed and made a grab for him once more. He dodged it but her arm shot out so fast it was nothing but a pale blur, and then her fingers were on him. A crushing power bearing down on his arm so that even though he struggled to pull away from her she still managed to pull him towards the set of stairs that she and Selma had tried to lead him to earlier. He balked, dragging his feet and hitching up his pants least they abandon him completely. "Fucking bitch. Let me go right now or I swear when I get my body back I'm going to come here and kick your ass." Deborah giggled and sent him a fond look from over her shoulder. "Silly bit. No more playing now. You scoot on out of here and let me have my Kahna." Jinx bristled. It had been a number of years since a woman had spoken to him that way. Before he could move to correct her the Princess chose to speak.

"He's sort of stuck with me for the moment Bo. We need to talk." It felt odd to her her words in her voice coming out of what he was getting used to thinking of as his mouth. Deborah, who was standing on the third step leading upstairs, gazed down at Jinx/Gabriale and cocked her head to one side. The expression in her face drained away, leaving her eyes pale and dead looking in the suddenly doll-like face. Her pupils began to dilate and contract, slowly at first and then faster and faster, growing progressively bigger and smaller with each session so that Jinx had to force himself not to take a cautious step away from her. The contractions began to slow, and finally they stopped altogether. She took a deep cleansing breath, and it wasn't until that moment that Jinx realized that during this little episode she had not been breathing. She grinned down at them and tugged at Gabriale's arm. "Lovely, no more scavengers should be coming through tonight. Come dear heart and I will tell you what I can." Ü "Well," Deborah began as she bustled ahead of them into the room that had been assigned to her that eternity ago. She hesitated at the threshold, holding the instinctive stink of fear and old memories back with an iron grip. She would not visit those memories again. Not ever. She'd hunkered down as if preparing for an attack and she could sense with a kind of distant awareness that Jinx was wondering at the sudden tightening of her wards.It was obvious that Jinx had been chosen for his assignment for his brains rather than his brawn since in all her years she'd only met a handful of her other 'children' who possessed the same level of mental capabilities. Let alone the balls to exercise them and she found that she respected Jinx for his ball size more than anything else. She was catching a sense of the difficulty of his quest and it lit a small flame of pride in her that one of her descendants was so very strong and resilient. Shame that she couldn't let him succeed. It would have been fun to see how he went about it all. But no, no time for pleasant imaginings, she had to focus on Bo and the room where it had all started spiraling out of control. It wasn't that the room was all that impressive, it was rather very boring. Proof, unbelievable as it was, that it had not been occupied since she'd left. "You left a room for me?" Deborah turned, walking backwards till the back of her thighs hit the edge of the bed. She bit her lip and her eyes shifted around the room nervously. "We don't reassign a room unless a girl dies." She shrugged helplessly and sat on the mattress. Selma's voice floated from behind the dressing screen in one corner. "You should be pleased dear. It means you'll always have a place to come to." She came from around the screen, her arms full of clothes and other fripperies. She continued, "Not many people are fortunate enough to claim the same thing." "But," My voice weakened as Selma drifted over to plant a kiss on my cheek, her lips warm and moist against my skin, before she gripped my arm and began to lead me toward a chair

that had been pulled up by the end of the bed. I cleared my throat as I sank into the embroidered cushion. "I remember that rule from when I was here, but I figured...I figured after what happened with Eric--" Selma hooted, going over to the closet and pulling out an oilskin bag in which she stuffed the clothes and other assorted items in. She came back over to where I sat and sat the bag near my feet, a smile still on her face. Deborah ducked her head and gazed back up at me from beneath her lashes. "Oh Amalee was angry with you." she said in a chiding tone. "Enraged more like." "Yes, enraged works better. She would have been happy to erase your name from the books and assign the room to someone else but Selma told her no." "Selma?" my eyes went to the woman in question and she flushed a becoming peach. It wasn't embarrassment that brought the color to her face, but pride. "I'm older than Amalee, which means my source of power is greater. I outrank her." A slow grin spread across my face and I could hear Jinx's dry amusement ringing like bells in my mind. Apparently for now he was content to simply watch and wait for which I was grateful. "You pulled rank on her." I shook my head in silent amazement and leaned back in the chair. "If you outrank her why is Amalee running the Playground and not you? For that matter why are any of you here to begin with? And the crack bisecting London? What's that about? It tore down the buildings in it's way and Roark lost his tavern when it fell through the space entirely. I saw him and his family just standing at the edge of it and staring. His wife was crying. I've never seen Fiona cry in all the years I've known-" "Can you please shut your mouth for one minute?" Selma groaned and collapsed n the mattress beside Deborah making both women bounce momentarily from the movement. She buried her face in the blankets and screwed them up in her fists. "Christ save us, it's like I'm living with you again." I waited, patiently I thought, for Deborah to stop laughing and Selma to raise her face from the blankets and look at me. My raised eyebrow, accompanied by the next gentle shake beneath the earth that had the Playground swaying, seemed to drive home the point that I was here for information and she needed to give it to me soon. Selma sighed and her eyes met those of Deborah's long enough that the other woman scooted further down the bed so that they both reclined at the edge closest to me. "First off, before we begin, tell us how much you know." I leaned forward and placed my arms on the bed in front of where they lay on their stomachs so all of our faces were no more than a few inches apart. Deborah's nose wrinkled and my heart sunk. "You stink." "I know." "You smell like cabbages and cat urine." My face crumbled in grief and I tried not to cry as I nodded my head, "I know." Selma waved this conversation away as being unimportant. And though her mouth was pinched neither she nor Deborah pulled away from me. "You were telling us--" she prompted. "Oh yes, you were asking me how much I know. Which means you want to know what I remember."

She nodded. "Well I know about Japrimilia. I know I ruled there. I know about the souls of course. It seems as if every minute that passes without the collar I'm gaining more and more knowledge about the souls and what I can do with them." I shifted uncomfortably and avoided the hunger in Deborah's gaze. I didn't want to explain about what I was slowly but surely beginning to suspect about the souls that inhabited my body and the scope of their power. So though I loved them I knew better than to tell third level demons about my suspicions. "I know intellectually about the rebellion in Jap but my experiences there are coming back in disjointed bits and pieces. I remember all of my life here. Our home and lands, the poverty, Leila and Remy's son Robbie whom they raised as my older brother. I know he's supposed to be a manservant for some Duke or other but I don't know if he would still hold that position. I want to find him and I trust you two will help me do so?" They nodded and I had a brief moment of disbelief where it seemed as if I were sitting in a huge chamber at the head of a table as I spoke and discussed issues of state with gray haired men. I felt as if I were talking to the delegates of my world and it shook me up to find how much I missed doing just that. "Anyway, as I was saying. I remember most of everything up until the night Eric brought me to his house and he and my mother-" I shook my head and pushed the dull pain away. "I mean he and Leila were murdered." I looked down at my hands on the bed and flexed my fingers, amazed suddenly by the easy grace and strength of them. "I remember that I grew to love Remy, Leila, and even Robbie and the life they'd made together for me here. I know that the details of Remy's death are...sketchy." I sniffed and met Deborah's eyes. "I know and remember that they are supposed to simply be a first in command and his wife who went above the call of duty and stepped dangerously close to Treason but..." What I wouldn't say, but what hung in the air nonetheless was that I had honestly grown to view Remy and Leila as my Mamma and Papa. We had never been very close in Jap but after the uprising when it was just us and their son Robbie, whom I realized must have been only a small boy when we came to earth, we had all just seemed to...click. They were my family, the only one I'd ever had and I missed them. Deborah cooed at me and would have gotten up to sit in my lap so she could pet and comfort as she saw fit but then she seemed to remember my stench and instead contented herself with patting the back of my hand. Selma's head was turned and she was looking through the window with an expression I could only describe as brooding. Finally she turned back to me, "We'll find the boy Robbie for you sweets. No problem. Now is that everything you've remembered so far?" I nodded. "Yes. Now I need you and Deborah to fill in the blanks for me. Or at least the ones you can." "We'd be happy to. But first tell me about this school." Deborah looked worried, "You do know it's just for boys don't you?" I laughed, I couldn't help it. "Yes I know. I got a free pass out of Bedlam by a man who worked for Eric if I would do a job for him." I shifted uncomfortably. Selma's brows rose, "Bedlam? Is that where they're putting convicted murderers now?" I flushed guiltily and Deborah tasked sympathetically. "No. I was originally sent to Newgate and scheduled to hang-" They gasped, "But the one night I was there, another prisoner and I were attacked. They cut our hair and switched our clothes and she was executed in my place." Deborah leaned forward, her eyes bright with excitement and wonder. She always did

love a good story. "No! Whatever for?" I shrugged, I still wasn't sure, "When I find Sinclair I'm going to get him to help me find the man who put me there so I can ask him." What I didn't say though was that I had a very strong suspicion that Warren was no longer alive. I didn't sense him, there was no familiar tug leading me to what I remembered as a man of sardonic wit and a wry personality. Another reason I'd need Sin. If I had charge of the souls of the living and not yet born, then he would have the ones of the dead and he would be able to find Warren where I could not. "What was the job this man wanted you to do?" I shook these musings off and looked back at Selma and Deborah. "Hmm?" "This job?" Selma repeated, "What was so important that he wanted you to do that he was willing to release you from Bedlam for and send you into Parrington?" I opened my mouth to tell her that he'd wanted me to kill Sin but then I remembered something and decided against it. Sinclair had been here the night I'd been raped by his brother Eric and had come to my rescue when Eric would have continued in his game. Sin had been in Deborah's chambers, most likely in her bed, and earlier that night he'd been in the bidding for me. Whether I wanted to think about it or not Selma and Bo had helped in tonights massacre. Their loyalties were not mine and their master not my own and I decided that I needed to talk to Sin before I told Selma and Bo anything that might endanger him. I shrugged and looked away. "He just wanted me to find someone for him, it was no big deal. A whim of a man with too much money and too much time." The explanation sounded weak but I didn't bother trying to make it more believable. Selma's eyes narrowed on my face and Deborah's face flickered between her normal animated expression to the scary doll like pallor of before. She was listening to something, to someone and the message she got seemed to come through loud and clear because she frowned at me. They knew I wasn't telling them everything but they would let it go for now. "You were going to fill in some blanks for me?" I prompted gently and they watched me with alien eyes for a tense moment before they shook the otherness off of themselves as if they were tossing away off a cloak. Selma began to speak, her voice lyrical and sweeter than she usually allowed in the otherwise silent room. "Well you understand the hierarchy of demons for the most part correct?" I nodded and felt a flare of brief agreement from Jinx. "Good. Then it'll be easier for you to understand the purpose of the Playground." "Which is basically what it is. A playground. See, it isn't so very complicated." "I know the Playground is owned and run by demons. I know what all of you are and I know that the chances are that every woman who works here is third level or of third level descent at least. What I want to know is why you're working here. In a whorehouse. Servicing human men." For the first time in a long time, Deborah looked at me as if I were an idiot. "What better way to corrupt a good soul? A bad person is fine and dandy yes, but to turn a good person wicked is worth all the criminals in Newgate." for a second her face collapsed into ecstasy at the very thought, and I was reminded of a child receiving a much coveted treat. "And there are only so many things that all men would need in which our side could influence." "I see. Everyone has an itch and they need it scratched. And since it's against the rules to intervene with a humans free will you have to have them come to you. Very sneaky."

"Yes, we thought so too." "But what about you and Amalee, Selma? Why does she run this place if you're so much stronger than her?" Selma frowned. "It's a mark of honor to work at the Playground. Not many of us are allowed above the surface. The simple fact is that the owner of the Playground has a lot of responsibilities, the least of which is choosing victims for the Demon's ball for the higher level demons and hosting raids like the one from tonight for the scavengers. I wanted to come above ground yes but I sure as hell didn't want Lucifer's eye to be so heavily focused on what I do and how I do it. So though Amalee runs the place as she sees fit, if she steps too far out of bounds with me I'm within my rights according to our laws to punish her." "So tonights attack was a raid. As in a normal occurance?" I couldn't keep the shock from my voice and Selma grimaced. "More or less. Each of the establishments aboveground are obligated to hold a raid at least twice a year. The thing is though that we've already held our two raids so we shouldn't have been scheduled for another one." "Then why the attack tonight?" I asked it though I already suspected. Selma's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits, "Because someone decided it was a good idea to waltz in here with no magical barrier's at all. You got those poor beasts so worked up they had to see what was going on topside. You know how curious they are." I shuddered and hoped Jinx was feeling as guilty as I was. I couldn't tell though, because for some reason his presence seemed muffled. Odd. "These scavengers are the weakest of your kind." Selma nodded and grinned, "Yes, they aren't too bright either poor bastards. They do have an amazing sense of smell though, I'll give them that. It's why they were the first to sense you." "How they're able to come above ground? Tonight and during these other raids how are they able to survive here when the only ones who should be able to do that are the third level and a few strong first and second levels?" Deborah's face brightened in glee and her hand shot up into the air. She moaned in distress as I considered both her and Selma and I finally had to nod my head to show that I was willing to hear her explanation. "We do it." She said brightly. "You saw the circle that we made before they began the attack correct? Well it's one of our gifts. Each of us can create a type of spell for any visiting demon when he comes topside. In the case of the raids and the scavengers we limit the spell to an area rather than an individual so they can't go running wild through the streets. The spell is designed to last long enough for them to perform what they came to the surface for." Selma took the reigns, "Because the attack was so sudden though we didn't have the time we'd need to make the spell stronger. The scavengers won't be able to stay aboveground much longer before they'll have to go back home." That made since, but- "What about the crack and the souls I saw attached to the scavengers? Those can't be normal." Deborah and Selma exchanged a quick glance and almost as one the cocked their heads prettily to one side and gave a graceful one armed shrug, the palms of their hands facing out and their shoulders lifting only slightly. They were the picture of coy innocence and soft feminity and I hated it. I scowled. "Don't try pulling that with me. I'm not a customer, I'm not a stranger, and I'm not an idiot." my voice softened and I gave them large imploring eyes. If they could play with me

I'd return the favor. "I'm your friend aren't I? If you know something tell me." I could see it clearly when Deborah cracked, her lashes fluttered low over eyes suddenly at half mast and she gave me a cheeky grin that would have had me blushing if I hadn't been used to her by then. She opened her mouth to speak and Selma struck her. She hadn't turned to face Deborah, nor had her expression changed in any way to signal that she was displeased. The blow was so fast I only caught a faint whiff of the exotic scent that clung to Selma's skin, and as I watched an errant curl at her brow drift back down from the updraft of her movements I was left with a feeling of...pride. Pride that this woman that I loved so well was so fast and strong and fierce. Deborah hadn't made a sound during the attack, though she rolled her eyes before glaring at Selma with a look of consternation. As I watched blood welled from the long slice across the side of her face and her tongue darted out to lick the trailing end that coated the edge of her mouth. My eyes darted first to the razor like talons that protruded from the tips of Selma's fingers, to her face. "Was there a point you were trying to make." Selma shrugged and crossed arms so she could lay her chin on them as she regarded me. "You've forgotten yourself sweets. You seem to think that Deborah and I owe you something...Princess." My jaw clenched. "Don't call me that Selma. You know me." "That's right," She said with an acid calm, "I know you. But you don't know me. You don't know me nor my kind and you never will. You were brought to the Playground because something was sensed in you, something powerful that we planned on using for our own gain. And still do. Amalee coddled you with pretty words and soft touches and suddenly you were gazing at her as if she were your fucking mommy." Deborah's eyes widened and I pressed back against my seat, my hands clenching on the arms and a dangerous heat beginning to flicker in the pit of my belly. Selma continued seemly aware that she was stoking a fire, and by the feverish light in her dark eyes enjoying it. "You didn't see all the little slights and cruelties, you couldn't see that she was never anything but a conniving bitch. A snake that was just waiting to gobble you all up." "Selma-" Deborah began, but Selma was having none of it and she glared the other woman down before rising to her hands and knees and leaning forward so she could speak directly into my face, her breath hissing and icy cold against my mouth. "You were never anything to us but a pet. Everyone knew what was going to happen. Everyone. Even your darling Bo. Why do you think you were painted up so nice and pretty the very night that Eric was due back into town? Why do you think no one was surprised when you ended up beaten and bruised in the hallway. Why-" She asked, and this time she leaned forward enough so that her lips brushed mine. A kiss on a sigh, soft and sweet and oh so deceitful. "do you think he got you the night after that, and the night after that?" "I only spent one night-" "No." Selma tsked and angled her head so she looked up at me through an artful curtain of dark curls. "You spent three days in his house. In his bed. You tell us we know you as if we can trust you with our secrets. You tell us that lie when I can sense it. I can feel the heat in you, the life, the...madness and hatred. It's like lava beneath your skin. You're fire sweets, and I'd rather not get burned simply on the whims and curiosities of a child." If I had been angry before, that one word enraged me beyond reason and for a scary moment my vision hazed a dull red. "Child?"

My voice was soft as I rose to my feet and I had to keep myself from reaching out and gripping a mass of Selma's pretty hair and using it as the leverage I needed to hold her down and strangle her. Selma was wrong about one thing at least. Though I had been curious enough to never really consider the consequences of my curiosity, I was not a child. I had never been. Nor, as I had warned her earlier, was I an idiot. "Child." I said again as I looked down at her. She sat back on her heels and it please me to see the sudden wariness at the edge of her gaze. I knew Selma just as she knew me and I knew she became aggressive and spiteful when she was hiding something. Whatever she was keeping from me now was big enough to make her lash out not only at me but at Deborah as well. If she was as highly ranked as she and Bo claimed then my darling Selma was never completely out of Lucifer's reach. I knew that because I ran my country and it's people much the same way. A powerful man, or in this case woman, without ambition could never truly be trusted because that meant that there was something else driving them. And it was never certain whether or not their motives were something beneficial to any plans I might have had. So it wasn't inconceivable to believe that Selma was being watched. It wasn't inconceivable to believe that though she was my friend, some secrets her superiors would not appreciate her sharing with the ruler of another world. Especially me. She was protecting herself and the rest of the woman here and I understood that. Even applauded it. That didn't make me any less angry however. Or any less hurt. Deborah had gotten up and now stood with her back pressed against the wall hosting the bed. Her eyes were downcast and I could tell she was shaking by the fine trembling that shook her hair and clothes. A heady mixture of confusion and pain banked the remainder of the flames that understanding had been unable to and I couldn't stop myself from asking, "Is it true Bo? Did you know what he was going to do that night?" I remembered the panic in her gaze right before the auctioning of my virginity, her pale face and shaking hands. I remembered her saying to me, 'You're our baby. Our Kahna. So no worries Kay?' "No worries Bo?" The trembling in her body stopped and she seemed to freeze up. "How could you?" I saw her brow furrow. Saw her lashes flicker as she fought back tears. Finally she looked up at me and shrugged that dainty shrug. "I love you Kahna." A broken laugh escaped my lips and I stumbled away from the chair, away from that damned bed and away from two women who held a good portion of my heart. "You love me? That's all you can say?" A band constricted around my chest and my hand clutched at the material of my shirt, balling it up as if I could reach into my skin and crush the pain before it could crush me. "That's all I can say. I mean, I could tell you of course about how Amalee planned on having you as a sacrifice for the Demon's ball rather than as Eric's companion. I could tell you how I didn't want to see you die even if at the time I had thought you simply a gifted human. I could tell you how I made the choice-" Her voice rose to a hoarse shout that broke of on a sob on the last word and I saw that Bo was curled in on herself and clutching her chest just as I was. She whispered the next words and I took an involuntary step forward at the pain in her voice. It seemed as if guilt had been eating at Deborah for a long long time.

"I made the choice to see you hurt instead of having you taken away from me. I would do it again. You're my Kahna, my baby." She shook her head at me and slid down the wall until she sat on the floor, her knees up against her chest and her head bowed. Blond curls for once lacking the luster that usually lit her up like a beacon in the dark. "I love you. That's all I can say." I saw now that Selma was watching Bo with guilt laden eyes and I remembered the night of the auction again, my eyes closing briefly. I saw Deborah as she offered to work extra hours to pay my way so I wouldn't have to be sold, I saw her pacing and awkward and scared. I saw her as she sat on the table beside me and told me about her first time with a man who liked having his toes licked and finally I saw her humping erratically on that same table and moaning at the top of her lungs so that I could laugh and not be so very afraid of what I hadn't then understood. I found that I couldn't be angry with Deborah for what she had or hadn't known. I didn't really want to be. I walked over to her and hunkered down, balancing on the balls of my feet and resting my forearms on my thighs. "Hey Bo?" She sniffed and looked up at me, I cocked my head so that I could meet her eyes a bit better. She croaked out a shaky, "Yeah?" "I love you too." Her face crumbled. Alarmed, I calmed only after I saw her watery grin and the way her head began to bob up and down in a nod she couldn't seem to stop. "That's wonderful. Quite satisfactory I must say." Ü Jinx hated girl moments. That's what this was of course, there was no denying it. A girl moment usually did one of two things for Jinx. They either made him uncomfortable or severely nauseous and this particular moment was on the high end of the long list that made Jinx uncomfortable. It was a good thing for him then that he'd found something to occupy himself with. It was slow, tedious work chipping away at the walls of the Keeper's mind. It was layers and layers of reinforced steel that tightened at the least amount of pressure from him. He knew she was doing it unconsciously, otherwise it would have been harder for him to get through, but as it turned out the whores were doing a fairly decent job of distracting her from all else, including him and what he was or wasn't doing. He wouldn't have succeeded anyway had he been in his own body, but because he was in hers he confused the wards enough that he was able to wear them down with the continued suggestion that he was familiar and dear. It exhausted him and more than once he lost his concentration when he heard a particularly interesting bit of information from the outside conversation. It played particular hell on his mind when the Selma woman kissed him but it boosted his flagging spirits and he attacked the barriers with a renewed vigor afterwards. When he finally cleared a space big enough for his consciousness to slip through, he decided that it had been a good idea for the Keeper to come and check on her friends, if he'd been thinking he would have played them against each other from the beginning but as it was, things seemed to be working out well enough this way too.

If things continued to go his way, he might even be able to get what he needed without the Keeper noticing him rambling around. Then he could zip back to his body astrally since the whore Deborah had said that the streets should be demon free soon enough. Ü I felt my knees weaken on our way down the stairs and I grabbed hold of Selma's arm for support. I shook my head to try and clear the sudden nausea but that didn't help. Groaning I sank down to sit on the step I'd been standing on and hunched over my rolling stomach. I felt cold, panicked almost, and a chill swept over me, leaving an unhealthy sheen of sweat to coat my skin. "What's wrong pet?" Deborah's worried tones drug me out of the fog enough that I managed to look at her from where she stood a few steps down. Selma had gathered my hair in an untidy pile at the top of my head and she pushed me so that my face rested between my knees. "What does it look like is wrong? She's about to lose her lunch." Selma's voice lowered, "I bet she's pregnant." Deborah gasped in outrage, "Boys school indeed. Nothing good could have come out of it." "Did I hear someone say they were pregnant by the owner of a boy's school?" I recognized Vivian's voice coming from behind us on the landing, her voice sent pain stabbing through the base of my skull and I gasped as the world behind my closed lids burst into a sea of white stars. Deborah's anxious voice echoed hollowly in my head and the stars began to pounce and throb. "Yes. Kahna had some torrid affair with some older gentleman at the school she's attending." Selma took up the tale, "He was a professor so I imagine the scoundrel took dreadful advantage of her." Surprised pleasure shot through Vivian, a feeling that spiced the air now that I knew what to look for. I wanted to open my mouth, tell them to stop talking, to stop feeling and moving and being, but by then Rosalie and Tally were making their way up the steps so that I was suddenly surrounded on both sides by women. I lay on the step and curled up in a ball, trying to ignore the red haze that was coating my vision as well as the driving pain in my head long enough to see how far they would take this version of the truth. "Oh dear, is that Kahna?" "Her name is Gabriale Tally, don't be so stupid." "Well I'm sorry but I only ever knew her as Kahna. Why is she on the ground like that?" Vivian's piping, cultured voice, "She's having a miscarriage." "What?" Rosalie snapped. I felt something sharp poke my exposed back and I hissed out a breath when it caused a low nasty throb to start up in the center of my head. "What's going on? What do you mean miscarriage?" "Oh Vivy how could you tell? Selma and I only just found out she was pregnant." "Women's intuition darling. I've been around for a long time so I know these sorts of things." "Oh here we go again, the high and mighty crone spouting off more nonsense." "Selma!" "No Deborah, she's being ridiculous. A miscarriage indeed. How dare you. Our Kahna is

a strong healthy girl and I know that her twins will be born just fine." "She is not having twins." "She is too." "Who says so though." "Well why shouldn't she have twins? Maybe there will be one boy and one girl and we could keep one." "Oh yes that'd be wonderful. I've always wanted a pet." "You've never had one?" "Well I'm sure you were living a life of luxury in purgatory but it's hard on a pomeranian in the lower depths of hell let me tell you. They have delicate constitutions and weak bladders." "What does a weak bladder have to do with anything?" "Well you know how cold it is down there, the little dear would go on out to tinkle and before you knew it his little doggy balls were frozen to the ground. He lost one of them by the second week when I had to scrape them off the ice so he could move again." "Wasn't he house trained?" "You know how my husband feels about earth pets." "Still eats them huh?" "Well....yes." "Oh Tally I remember that dog now." "Wait a minute. Xavier had on these atrocious fur slippers when I saw him last. That wouldn't be-?" "Yes. It was my poor sweet baby." "That's horrid dear." "You have no idea, when I saw those damned shoes the right one still had the tail attached and wagging." I gave a shaky laugh but had to stop when the movement brought more agony. The taste of hot copper coated my tongue and I had to fight not to vomit, swallowing the acid that rose in the back of my throat. "Oh we're horrible! We completely forgot about Kahna and the twins!" I felt gentle hands come down on me, my nose was assaulted by a plethora of perfumes and my world was a cloud of lace and chiffon. I closed my eyes again and tried to disappear. "Who's the father?" Someone whispered. "Fathers you mean." "What?!" Shocked glee for that juicy tidbit. "Oh yes, more than one. That's how you get twins you know. If you sleep with a large group of men at one time and don't take precautions then you'll end up popping out babies left and right." "But...but there's only two babies now? I couldn't dare handle it if she gave birth to more than two." "How do you think she feels? She's no bigger than a minute. Two will be hard enough." "You shut your stupid mouth grave bait." "Selma! I'm sorry Vivy." "So you're saying she slept with all of them and didn't do anything to prevent a pregnancy?" "Well she must have if she's only having these two and not a full litter. Right? so maybe she tried something but it only worked a little bit."

"That's stupid. They either pull out or they stay in. There's not a whole hell of a lot of room for compromise." "Should we move her?" "No. She doesn't seem to like when we touch her. We'll wait a few minutes to see if it passes and if it doesn't we'll take her back to Parrington where the doctor there can take care of her." "Why can't we take her somewhere closer by-" "Because there are people looking for her, including Him now that he knows for sure that she's back. She's safest at Parrington for now." "Should she really go back there?" "Yeah, what if one of those perverts up there messes around with her some more? Then we'll have triplets." "We have no choice. They'll just have to control themselves until these babies are born. Then they can go at it like bunnies and we can all get pets." "Splendid idea." "We'll have to warn those human boys off then, the young ones lack common sense once they catch a whiff of a female in heat." "That's...a disgusting way to put it but yes I see your point." "I'd like to point out ahead of time that I'm not changing any swaddling clothes." "Poor pet. I do wish she'd stop hurting." My mouth formed the words before my mind had made a conscious decision to do so. "Something is wrong." Blackness replaced the red haze as well as the circle of worried female faces. I'd thought I'd protected it so well, hidden it so deeply, especially since none had fallen into the Well since the incident with Sinclair so long ago. He'd taught me to build the walls necessary to protect the souls in my care and the walls had held strong. I'd thought there was no way for someone to get in unless I allowed it. I'd been wrong. It was no surprise to me to feel the wooden step beneath me dissolve away and my body flicker. Though it was a distant pleasure to hear the shocked gasps of the other women, because after all it wasn't every day one could shock a prostitute let alone a demon. Before I could gloat over it, blackness encompassed my world, consumed it. Consumed me so that I was snatched away from the warmth of the Playground and thrown... And the world fell down Down D O W N to burst through the lightning ridden night and into a churning ocean of stars.

Chapter six: And when the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh shattered into a thousand pieces and those pieces became the fairies.

--unknown Jinx stood on rocky out cropping, the black water at his feet churning angrily. The souls beneath the waves darted here and there in agitated circles, so angry in fact that they glowed nearly red. Lighting cracked in the heavy blackness that surrounded him and the blood red waves rose to dizzying height before crashing back down. The spray from the water burned him, the weight of the darkness pressed on him, and he grinned. He heard a cry from behind him and he turned to see his...creator for lack of a better word, standing a few feet off and staring at him in horror. He felt the light brush of her mind against his own and he couldn't help but cringe at the heat behind it. The Princess's gaze darkened and rage consumed her face, twisting the pretty features into something cruel and harsh. Her face was dark, as if she glowed from the inside with a light that wasn't white but pitch black, and the teeth she bared at him were sharp and deadly. Jinx smiled. Though he hated her, the sight of her still pleased him, still enthralled him if only a little. "Make a wrong turn somewhere Jinx? " "Hello my dear, fancy seeing you again. And here of all places. I have to admit, I like the view much better from this perspective don't you.?" the smile fell from his face by slow degrees. He'd played long enough now, it was time to remember what he'd come here for. "Teach me how to find where the souls are Princess." Her head lowered and her white hair exploded in a mass of reaching flames, she took a carefully measured step towards him and the out cropping began to shift beneath his feet. He took a step back, though he regretted showing the weakness as soon as it had happened. He shook a finger at her and tsked. "Now now, none of that mother dearest, if you came much closer I'd fall in and we wouldn't want that would we? No telling what would happen to your precious charges then." The Well of Souls as well as its Keeper both proved this assessment correct. The ocean stilled almost instantly and began to pull away from the out cropping. He looked over his shoulder and watched as the heavy waves struggled away from the jagged rock on which he stood. Pretty soon it would separate itself completely until the only thing separating it from the outcrop was a endless abyss. He'd have to move quickly before that happened. His eyes flickered to the Keeper, his Princess, who held herself oh so still as she watched him. Her eyes, already swallowed by blackness and swimming with pinpricks of light, followed his every movement with deliberate intensity. He took a step closer towards the edge and the world trembled around him. He felt the pressure in the air building as if the place had sucked in a giant breath and sweat began to collect along his spine. Then an amazing thing happened. The Keeper doubled over as if in pain, her eyes widening in alarm. He watched as a small glowing light began to glow in the center of Ale's belly, growing larger and larger, its light pulsing sweetly from beneath her skin. Because she was naked (nothing is to contaminate the souls after all) he could watch in rising fascination as the light moved beneath her skin, rising higher and higher. When the light shone from the base of her throat the flames of her hair died and her hair once again fell in silver, though smoking, tendrils around her shoulders and down her back. Her eyes closed and her face began to brighten. Her hair shifted in the ozone thick air and her head fell back. The tension that had gripped her entire body suddenly eased and she laughed, a bright joyful sound that had the heavy press of rage that Jinx had felt chocking him

lightening. Behind him the ocean swirled and the angry dash of lights slowed in curiosity. Jinx knew, intellectually where all the souls had come from but to see it happening was a different thing. The laughter that drifted and flitted throughout the darkness was a sound full of innocence, and happiness.The clean joy of being alive and knowing it. And as she laughed the light that pulsed at the base of her throat shot up and out of her mouth. The lights, twins by the looks of them, hovered in front of Ale's face and darted in to brush along her skin. As he watched her eyes opened and her entire face brightened, not with power now but with happiness. As the three of them regarded each other, Jinx felt that Ale and her two new souls were discussing something but he couldn't hear anything under the sound of crashing waves. Waves. Mountainous waves. Oops, serves him right for not paying attention. The water had come closer, in honor of the twins, to greet and claim them and Jinx took full advantage of the lapse of judgment. As the two souls darted past him to fall into the ocean, he reached out and snatched one. The scream that rent the air was horrible to hear and before he knew it Jinx felt himself thrown back, his head striking painfully against the jagged rock as the Keeper landed on top of him and wrapped flaming hands around his neck. Lightening struck the out cropping and rock flew, striking his face so that the hot flow of blood suddenly grabbed and held his notice. Ale's fingers tightened around his neck and he struggled. Bucking his entire body under her because he honestly believed he'd be able to throw her off. That wasn't the case. The more he fought the more the weight of her crushed him and the tighter her fingers clenched around his neck. He could literally feel the constriction, feel the bubbling and tearing of the skin around his neck and face as she strangled him. He thought the pain, his fading vision, the fear as he struggled was simply an illusion. A trick on his mind. He shouldn't have been able to feel any pain when he lacked a physical body. He searched his memory for the tricks he knew to break such enchantments but nothing worked. The spells the Keeper must surely be spinning on him responded not at all to his ministrations and he began to scream as he felt her fingers sink through his skin to scrape along his windpipe. The muscle vibrated against the pad of her thumbs and his eyes rolled in the back of his head and his body convulsed. He felt blood flood his throat and he began to choke from two sources rather than just one. "Let him go." You can't hurt me. The thought was a desperate one that burst through his mind even as he tried to force the words past numb lips. Blood spouted out of his mouth instead and he watched through his black edged vision as it splattered on the Keeper's face and in her hair. The liquid sizzled against her skin a began to sink into the porcelain mask of her face. She began to tremble beneath him and thunder lit the night, casting a luminous shine to her skin. She literally vibrated with power and Jinx felt the alarming heat of his blood as it began to boil in his throat and lungs. "LET HIM GO!" She can't, she can't hurt me. It wasn't lost on Jinx that the thought lacked his earlier conviction. He was swamped by the simple knowledge that yes, she could hurt him. Even kill him. He had entered into a place where none were welcome. This wasn't simply her minds wild imaginings, it was another world,

a sixth, and the only rules that applied here were hers. He felt the grip on his neck slacken and he sucked in a burning lungful of much needed air through his nose since he still had to swallow down blood. Something salty stung his lips and caught on the tip of his tongue, the taste a shock to the fresh burns that danced up the underside of his chin and up along his face. She was crying. "I don't want to kill you. Let him go. Let him go and I'll allow you to live Jinx." He hadn't expected her to strike a bargain with him, not when she held all the chips. He was honestly surprised that she hadn't just taken the damn light from him. As he arched his neck and tried to calm his breathing, his skin and torn muscles tearing as they reknit themselves. Then an idea struck him, impossible as it was it made since and was simply another puzzle piece to add to an already jumbled mess of them. "You," He cleared his throat, "You can't interact with them can you? You can't touch them." Her voice turned icy and again her weight became a crushing thing against his ribs and stomach. "I can interact with them fine, but no. I won't touch them, never again. So I need you to let him go, you've done enough damage as it is." Jinx's fingers clenching around the frantically pulsing light in his hands and he could see now that it's twin was darting in anxious circles above where he and Gabriale lay. As his nails bit into the light, a warm, oddly liquid substance, like hot quicksilver, the Keeper flinched and arched her back. Her eyes closed briefly and he saw her jaw tighten in pain. "I want something more." "More than your life?" She spoke through gritted teeth without opening her eyes. He ignored the less than subtle threat. "Yes more. If I were to live without having anything to show for my efforts it won't be for very long anyway once my superiors get a hold of me. More than that Princess I believe in the cause I'm fighting for. I'm going to need your promise of cooperation before I agree not to crush him." His fingers tightened a delicate inch against the soul and he felt a weight settle under his skin, as if something or someone else was there right beneath the surface and squirming around. It was decidedly uncomfortable. The Keeper sat back on her heels but did not move from above him, as his vision finally cleared fully he could see by the threatening roll of lightening and the bright flash of agitated souls that the Princess's hair had bled from white to black, a few delicate strings and the very tips of her hair were still stained her trademark silverfish white. Her eyes had changed too, from darkest pit, they now glowed white in her face. Instead of flesh and blood they flickered and burn in twin flames from the concaves of her eye sockets. Her skin seemed more like a pretty casing now, a package that hid something dangerous and feral on the inside. Jinx shuddered, fascinated. Reaching out he brushed a knuckle against one sooty curl. She stiffened and the white fire in her eyes blazed briefly before she held still and allowed him the touch. He rubbed the silky strands between his finger and thumb and pulled his hand back to eye the soot that now coated the pads of his fingers. "Holy mother." his voice was whisper soft and the Keeper growled at him, revealing a row of dainty razor sharp teeth that had been hidden behind the barrier of her lips. "What's the matter? Never seen me angry before?" her tone was mocking and Jinx's mouth twisted in wry amusement as he watched the roots of her hair sprout blond.

"I'd thought I had but apparently not. Neat trick by the way." he motioned to the falling ash of her old hair at the new curls that were springing around her cheeks and the back of her neck as it took on more length. Self conscious she reached a hand up to touch her hair and shook her head. Almost imediatly it stopped growing and lay still, the fire in her eyes banked and for an eerie moment that Jinx never wanted to relieve again, her eye sockets were nothing but empty caves in her face. Then she blinked and her familiar, and severely unappreciated, dark eyes appeared once more to gaze at him assessingly. Her skin softened and took on it's former luster, and all but for the half an inch longer hair and the dark circles beneath her eyes that spoke of exhaustion, she once again resembled the boy that Jinx had first thought her to be. Well, except for all that and the breasts of course, and the-She scowled as if she could read his thoughts and snapped, "What do want traitor?" He snapped out of it, "For one I want immunity from your pet dog as well as that psychopath Sinclair." She frowned at him, looking less like a threat and more like an offended wife. "He's not a psychopath." "Well another psychopath isn't exactly the best judge of character now are they? I also want you to teach me how to find the souls." "No can do." "Why not?" "Because." Jinx waited a beat and when she stayed patiently silent he snapped, "Because what?" She sighed, as if weary of him. "Because no one can feel them but me. No one can find them but me and I'm certainly not going to help you and your so called superiors get to them. so request something else, something I can give you." Though he was dissapointed, Jinx had been prepared for such an answer. "Nothing for right now. You'll just have to owe me for later." She cocked her head to one side as he released aching cold fingers from the souls. She watched it zip away, its sibling following in clear joy, and she didn't remove herself from Jinx until both had slipped over the edge of the outcrop and into the welcoming arms of the ocean. Pleased she stood over him and grinned. "I think our business here is done then. Happy hunting Jinx." Before he could protest she lifted one dainty foot and drove it, with considerable force, into his stomach. He heard ribs crack and between that sound and his agonized gasp of pain Jinx found himself curled up in a ball and gagging into the dew wet grass of Hyde park. "Happy hunting huh? Thanks for the sentiments bitch." Ü As I watched Jinx blink out I felt a huge weight lift from my souls. I took a deep breath and cast one longing, telling glance at the slowly calming waves and the still churning sky. Then I steeled myself, hardening my resolves and my walls. It took a bit more effort but finally I was able to take one giant step back from the edge of the outcrop. I couldn't afford to be tempted again. I'd promised Sinclair I wouldn't and I had to make sure I kept my word. The spray from the ocean rose up suddenly and hit me, glittering like obsidian rocks along my skin where it touched. I smiled a bit sadly and turned away, though the need in me rocked through my veins

like a drug. "I've missed you too." I hadn't been here in so long and it felt so...and the sound of the waves drug at me and the lights from the storm ridden sky dazzled and entranced and my souls they beckoned and...no. Going down that path led to destruction and madness and I wouldn't do it again. Not ever. I turned away and winked out, ignoring the roar of distress and panic as I went.

Chapter seven: And yet, as angels in some brighter dreams call to the soul when man doth sleep... --unknown "Azra'il, dear brother. Welcome back." The joy in Eric's voice was designed to produce the maximum amount of irritation, especially when coupled by Sin's old name. The sound of it though did more than irritate... It made him angry. "Don't call me that." Eric's lip curled and he got to his feet from behind the mahogany desk at which he sat. "Ah yes, I almost forgot. You're answering to Sinclair these days isn't that right?" Sinclair felt his face collapse into a mien of disgust that was much the same as his brothers. "I don't begrudge you naming yourself Eric now do I Samael?" "You sound as if you're not happy to see me." "Because I'm not." The other man began to laugh. He moved from behind his desk to come and slap Sin on the back and Sin sidestepped the physical contact, his nose wrinkling as if he smelled something offensive. Eric's arm dropped along with the smile on his face and he took a step back. "Still the same old Azra'il I see." Sin quirked a brow and he let a small smile curve his mouth, "No, Eric not the same. Not the same at all. Now if you could be so kind-" "Of course. How forgetful of me. Please have a seat." Sinclair eyed the blood red chair that sat ideally in front of the desk at which Eric worked and shuddered. He had no desire to partake of anything this place had to offer. Even a something as simple as a seat. "I didn't come here for a social call Samael. I have business with your master and I'd appreciate it if you'd lead me to him." Samael looked at him for a long moment before mirth overtook him again and he began to laugh. He sat down on the edge of his desk, rocking back and forth and howling at the top of his lungs. "And what?" he asked with that overbearing hilarity, "do you suppose my master is going to think if I lead Death into his office by the hand." Sinclair shrugged and leaned back against the frame of the door in which he'd been escorted through. He regretted the action almost imediatly because the numbing, mindless cold that began to creep through his clothes reminded him of a time in which he'd much sooner forget. A time before the heat of the Princess, a time in which no hope lived, no life.

These thoughts had him snapping out, "I really don't give a damn what your boss would say or think Samael. I didn't come here to act as his fucking therapist." Sinclair took a threatening step towards the slightly shorter man and snarled. "I'm sure he's going to be less than pleased if he were to find out that you're trying to keep me from seeing him." Any goodwill drained from Samael's face and his usually violet toned eyes darkened in rage. "What's this then? The almighty Azra'il finally pulling rank. What's the matter? Irritable because you lost that sweet piece that's always tagging behind you like a lost puppy?" He cocked his head to one side as Sin's jaw clenched, his green eyes taking on a a warning glow. "No? Then maybe it's because you've finally realized you've chosen the wrong side of this little game of ours." Sinclair shook his head, "Please don't start that up again. I chose wisely enough." Samael snorted, "Spare me brother. So wise to choose to serve a master whom you have never seen. A master that deems you too dangerous and unpleasant to darken his golden gates. You could have served with me Sinclair, we could have been together again and have grown more powerful than we have ever been before. " Sighing, Sinclair ran a weary hand through his dark hair. He would not argue with Samael - excuse him, Eric - anymore about a decision that they had both made before their creation. It pained him to see them come to this, reduced to petty squabbling and finger pointing, but there was really nothing he could do about it now. "I may be wrong but I seem to be sensing some bitterness." "Of course I'm still bitter." Eric snarled, his face twisted into something ugly and manic, his greenish decayed teeth shinning like diamonds compared to the suddenly disintegrating hue of his skin. Samael, a Fallen Angel whose name meant Poison of God, was a carrier of death and destruction, war and strife. He was an angel, fallen of course, who had been prophesied as bringing about the end of the world, consuming the entire planet in a blazing inferno of hatred and madness. And he was beginning to show his true colors behind that pretty face that he usually wore. Sinclaire's own face must have warned Eric that he was slipping because the cloying smell of death and corpses drifted away on a cold breeze and the decaying flesh of his cheeks and chin reknit and smoothed back into their original perfection. Why Eric spent so much energy on glamour Sinclair would never know, but to each his own he supposed. In the pit of his stomach he felt a brief surge of urgency, of blind panic and need, and his muscles convulsed with the urge to react...to move. A couple of deep breaths and he was able to fight down the emotions that rocked through him and he shook his head in irritation. He wasn't used to feeling much of anything, especially after so long and it annoyed him to have the Keeper's emotions forced on him once again. He'd missed her true, but this particular treat he could have done without. "Look," he snapped out, losing patience with his brother as well as himself. "I don't have time to play with you today Eric. Just take me to Him and we can get out of each other's hair." Eric stared at him for a moment longer, the muscles in his face still dangerously tense, until finally he relaxed with a small, secretive smile and turned on his heel. "Right this way then." Sin fell dutifully into step behind him, vaguely suspicious of this new easygoing attitude. He pushed the feeling away and watched as a door formed out of the once seamless black marble that made up the walls, floor and ceiling of the waiting room. Giving a low whistle that had his sibling chuckling Sinclair watched as Eric placed his

palm gentle against the black stone doorway. For a moment the stone softened, the rock actually humming and undulating in pleasure from the touch of Eric's flesh. Then with a satisfied sigh, one that sounded way too feminine for Sinclair, the stone collapsed in on itself. He had expected this part of the trip, Samael was after all the next to leading authority down here. And even then Lucifer had to go to him for permission for some things. The show of power from Eric was necessary and even admired. However, the way that the melted material of the door stretched and reformed itself to shape the hallway that led beyond only produced in Sinclair only mild irritation. Now, instead of the hungry void that would have made up the entrance to Lucifer's chambers, there now stretched a glittering hallway of black obsidian. Of which was contrasted sharply by the sharp white of the ice that made up it's floor. '"I'd thought we'd moved beyond such petty games." he brushed past Samael who stood unintentionally blocking his way and took his first step onto the ice. The pain was an instant thing, a live thing, but nothing worse than he'd felt before. The ice caught to his bare feet, grabbed at it and gnawed as if a thousand tiny little teeth were trying to eat their way through. The burn of the cold seeped past his skin, past muscle and bone and sinew to wrap tight fingers around his veins and for one timeless moment it froze his lungs and Sinclair forgot to breath. He took a blind step as the ice of hell pushed inside of his veins, his blood, roots searching for his soul even as it froze him. As he lifted a foot to take another step the flesh ripped away and he heard the ice beneath his feet hiss as his blood soaked hot and wet through the force of the punishing chill. It recognized him, in some dark corner of its mind, knew him from another place, and another time and the cold fell from him suddenly. Leaving him shaking and weak-kneed as he sucked in greedy lungfulls of air. His breath fogged the air in front of him as he took first one step, a test in itself really, and then another. His steps growing faster and stronger as his rage fueled him. He was too old, much, much to fucking old to be played around with this way. His wings gave unconscious testament of his anger as they snapped, black feathers swirling around his body. He heard the hissing as th feathers melted into the ice. Heard it and promptly ignored it. The walls that would have moved in on him, crushing his body to a bloody mess trembled and dissolved. The glittering ice of the hall fell away and the door that had been set up as his temptation folded in on itself and dissapeared. He stood surrounded by darkness now, the only illumination coming from the archway of the door he'd first come through. Though he didn't turn around he could see Eric's shadow, a thing of light rather than of darkness as was the norm for most Fallen, stretching out into infinity in the dark. "So I'm assuming that I'm on my own from here?" he asked, and Eric grinned, his shadow lightening in humor for a brief second before he spoke. "There's no reason for me to accompany you beyond this point. After all, you only needed me to open the door...you'll find your way." "Yeah," Sin's voice was soft and carried more exhaustion than he was comfortable showing in a place such as this. Eric was right, he'd always been right. Sinclair would find his way. His wings stretched, the muscles and veins connecting them to his upper back tensing and releasing rhythmically as he flexed, and stretched, and widened them. The chill teased his fingertips and with a snarl he tore at. Darkness bleed into his body like a weight and he ripped into it. Tearing and slashing, using sprouting claws, and talon tipped wings like knives, and even

his teeth when that damn darkness tried to crawl down his throat. He focused the same power he'd used before to rip the fabric of the world apart, and aimed it into the dark. But unlike the fabric of magic that made up earth and held it together the darkness did not scream and part for him but attempted to fight back. It felt good to release the power, the strength that had been in him for so long and kept under control. The wildness was a delight to the senses, a shock to his soul and when he reached out and ripped out a screaming chunk of the dark only to feel it pulse and throb and struggle in his grip, he grinned. And the grin was maniacal and bloodthirsty enough that had he looked in the mirror to see it on his face, he would have understood where Gabriale had come by it. He glanced up, his eyes feral and piercingly green in the Eternal Night that surrounded him so that when he did glance back at the wound he'd made and saw the first tentative rays of dawn peeking around the edges of it, he also saw the face hidden behind the light. As the figure beyond the wound grinned at him in welcome, Sinclair couldn't keep the smile from slipping across his own face. Just as he couldn't prevent the long ago fated words from escaping on a sigh of welcome. "'How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!' "

Part two: Starlight and Fairy-tales

There weren't many who remembered the story. The truth of it was kept from the younger generation of angels, and demons knew of it not at all. It all started during the time Gabriale referred to as 'The Beginning'. To say that he and Samael were siblings was not necessarily a lie but neither was it the truth. Sinclair remembered it like this. In the beginning, before the birth of everything and after the death of nothing, there was the idea of balance. the universe understood the need for it instinctively and strived to accomplish it. Without light there is no darkness, if there is no heat there is no cold, there is no evil without some good, and for every life...there is a death. Stars, suns, entire planets lit up that eternal darkness, burning like beacons and even

they knew that they were not eternal. Though they came damn close. The seven Heavens and seven Hells had been relatively young back then, both sides still searching for their purpose in the grand scheme of things. It was Logos who first felt 'It', as the oldest it wasn't too surprising that he was the one to notice the increasingly violent explosions in the cosmos. Though they eventually got so out of hand that it was a miracle if anyone missed them. The balance that the universe had grown so good at understanding was beginning to fluctuate, stretch its wings and threaten. Black holes were popping up all over the place, swallowing anything in their way with an irrevocable strength that left the Heavens shaking and bleeding. Stars were growing to abnormal proportions and eating their brethren. They burned too hotly, too brightly, and too long. Stealing the heat and life from other sections of the universe so that those places lay dead and lifeless. Both sides, Heavens and Hells alike, were beginning to feel the effect, just as they were able to sense the source behind it all. "It's not malicious in any way." Sandalphon had said, and beside him his twin brother Metatron had nodded in agreement. Akatriel leaned forward in his seat and folded his hands together. "From what we can tell whatever is causing these disturbances is..." he seemed to search for the correct term and Raphael came to his rescue. "I sense mischief and more than a bit of curiosity. Whatever this is it isn't purposefully bringing about the end of the universe." He shrugged and smiled at the assemblage. "It's simply playing and making a great mess of everything." The demon prince Urobach had stamped his hoof in annoyance and snorted. Shaking his great maned head he spoke in a voice that wasn't a voice but rather a feeling that was universal. "Whether it's playing or not, This thing needs to be brought under control. When it was just a mild tremor here and there it wasn't such a big deal but even my kind are suffering from the backlash of all the energy it's pumping out." The other demons present murmured their agreement. At this time it hadn't been an odd thing for the Heavens and Hells to meet on a regular basis to discuss problems and propose treaties and ideas and such. This had all been before the release of souls so there had been nothing for the two sides to fight over. They had still been creating themselves and their environment and neither side wished to do so alone. The meeting place at that time had been set up with twelve large tables stretching across the width of a large metallic disk that occupied the 'In-between'. The disk was paper thin so that if one looked down one could still see the shimmering flicker of stars as they darted from one place to the other. As you went further out however you could see that the edges of the disk melted and bled off into a type of metallic liquid that rained down into the heavens below. The liquid could be formed into anything and everything with nothing but a thought and there was a host of both Angels and Demons whose job it was to constantly Create and then direct what was created to it's proper place. Sin had adored this time in the Heavens. The frenzy and excitement and newness of it all. It had been a treat for the eyes to say the least. Back then Lucifer had been a new cherubim with eyes that were still bright with wonder and devotion and during this particular meeting he had been seated at the end of one of the great tables with Michael. The two of them had been bent close together and speaking in hushed whispers. Occasionally one of them would laugh only to be glared at into silence by one of the others. At Urobach's words Lucifer raised his head and blinked rather owlishly at his elders.

"Why not talk to it?" Astaroth scowled, his decayed teeth flashing a warning in an already frightening face. "Why talk to it when we can just destroy the thing and get it over with?" "No, I agree with Lucifer, I'd like to speak to it." Jaoel said, his voice ringing throughout the room with excitement. Maimon nodded her red head as she ran loving talons through the feathers of the giant black raven that perched on table beside her. Gabriel sent an exasperated look to Camael who shrugged. Turning his attention to Michael he asked, "And what of you dear brother? Destroy it or capture it?" Michael leaned back in his seat and tilted his head. Sinclair could remember the sense of power and assurance that came from him, the deadly strength of an inconceivable force of nature. Sinclair had loved Michael. The respect the others held for him was evident in the pregnant silence that fell over the room as they awaited his answer. Finally, with a lazy shrug and cocky grin, Michael made the decision for them all with just a few simple words. "I find myself curious. I see no harm in learning more about 'It'. It may even be one of our future brethren whose just unlearned in the ways of keeping a form." "Yes and it could also be a spirit whose gotten much too full of itself." Ariel snapped and Michael laughed, leaning forward in his seat to tap the woman underneath her chin with gentle knuckles. She blushed. "Either way, no matter what or who this thing is, I for one think it'd be worth our wild to learn more about it." And so it had been decided. Ü Radueriel, Uriel, Jakar, Anael, Arbatel, And Sam Hii had all been given the task of finding the entity and containing it. This had proven difficult. "It keeps MOVING!" Abraxas who had come to watch the performance stroked his bearded chin as his tail flicked lazily back and forth along the surface of the disk. "Maybe you're going about it the wrong way." Raduriel had rounded on him and hissed out an irritated breath. "I've created a fair number of angels already. I think I know how to pull sentient power together long enough to stuff it into a body." Lucifer laughed out loud at that. He sat at the very edge of the disk, his wings working lazily as they kept him from sinking completely into the metallic liquid that was dripping away into the night. "Maybe this thing was never meant to be an angel." Fascinated with the beauty of him as she ever was Agrat ran delicate fingers through the silky smoothness of Lucifer's wings. He'd looked over his shoulder at her and smirked. She sighed happily and offered, "I think he's right. Maybe the poor dear wants to be a

demon like us." Lucifer tilted his head and still looking at her from the corner of now narrowing eyes he asked. "Us?" Still enchanted Agrat nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. Being an angel isn't so very grand after all. I much prefer..." She seemed to finally hear what was coming out of her mouth because for the first time she glanced up to gauge Lucifer's expression. His face tightened and the legs he'd been swinging a moment before in the waterfall of silver stilled. Agrat hurried to correct herself, "By us I mean me. And of course I meant no offense - it's simply that -." with a small cry of pain she'd jerked her fingers back from the shimmering feathers beneath her hand as if they had suddenly scalded her. Staring down in amazement at her blistering fingers she began to sob. "Oh Agrat come off of it." the annoyance in Gabriel's voice had cut through the awkward silence brought on by her weeping and had had the young demoness flushing. "We all know what you meant. Luc here just enjoys being upset." "That's true." Michael added in a placating tone that brought a hesitant smile to her face. "I think he likes the drama of it all. He's really very childish." And here his words had been aimed very deliberately, "He's surprisingly immature, surprisingly selfish for one of his station. Isn't that right...Luc?" The two men stared at each other before with a blinding smile that was only now starting to hold the beginning traces of cruelty, Lucifer had nodded his head. "Of course. It's one of my many shortcomings Agrat. Forgive me?" Uriel took the free time offered by this little drama to consider the possibilities offered and it was with no small amount of confusion that he asked. "Whatever do we contain it with then if not in the vessels used for the Angels? The other vessels we've been experimenting with can barely contain the weakest of us. Unfortunately Agrat, we have yet to learn the trick of making your kind, as you're born rather than made. So it's not as if this thing has the right to be particularly picky especially considering the fact that it's technically a fugitive." In contrast to Uriel's fluster Jukar had given a serene smile. It showed the unbreakable will and strength that he often hid but which everyone else nonetheless felt. It was that smile, more than his current outward appearance that proclaimed him a Prince among Princes. "Calm yourselves. Bickering wont get it caught now will it?" He'd frowned then and rubbed his temple, "Though it will be nice when we can refer to 'It' as something other than 'It'." "We should give it a code name." Raphael's deep melodious voice came unexpectedly from the entrance of the room and Michael jumped in his seat, cursing rather foully considering he was one of God's chosen. The shimmering white outline of a door flickered out of existence as he stepped further into the room and tucked his wings in. "Code name?" Arbatel frowned, "What on earth is that?" "Yes Raph what on earth is that?" Michael's voice was more than a little nasty and Gabriel exchanged a quick amused glance with Lucifer. Raphael held up a single finger and unconsciously everyone in the room turned to give him their full attention.

"A code name is a name that we call an unknown thing until it's no longer unknown. It'll be a code because we'll be the only ones who'll know what it is so we can talk about it freely with one another in public without anyone becoming suspicious." "That seems a bit extravagant for this particular case." Jukar began and Raphael's broad shoulders slumped in disappointment. "However,'"Jukar amended, "I do agree that until we know concrete information we need to come up with a name to refer to it as. " "Bob." "Um, no. That's stupid." "But it's spelled the same way forward and backwards. It's also easy to remember. It practically hums with harmony." "Lucifer's right Michael. That is a really stupid idea. Not very imaginative now are you?" Galgaliel spoke without any real inflection or interest from where he sat on the floor teaching simple fire tricks to The Quaddisin. A newly born set of twins who were expected to take up their role as supreme judges soon so as to accompany their counterparts The Irin on the council. Their white robes made a vivid contrast to the star spangled night beneath them. The youngest twin, a girl, giggled when she was finally able to produce a tiny flame from the tip of her fingertips and still manage to maintain her physical form. Galgaliel nodded his approval, "Anyway why not try something a bit more..." "Unstupid." Though Gabriel had muttered the words under his breath as he bent over to work on some scrolls in front of him, everyone heard him clearly nonetheless. He glanced up and saw the glare that Michael directed at him and flushed. "What?" "Well why don't we name it after you." "What! No-" "That's a wonderful idea. We can name it Gabriel." Agrat exclaimed, her happiness restored as Lucifer allowed her talons to work along him once more. "That's ridiculous." Gabriel sputtered and his skin began to glow and threaten to split in his agitation. "He's right you know." Jukar said, not quite able to keep the grin from his face. "If we named this thing Gabriel we'd never be able to tell the difference between the two of them." The Angel in questions face tightened in annoyance but as it seemed this would be his only way out of this idiocy he nodded. "That's right." "Oh that's solved easily enough." Galgaliel said distractedly as he danced a rainbow of lights along his palms like marbles. The twins squealed. "We just change the way you pronounce it. So instead of Gabriel it'll be said as Gabriale." "Oh yes I like that." Uriel smiled, "A hint of the exotic, an inflection on the 'Gah' and 'ale' rather than the 'gay' and 'eel'. Very nice." Raduriel scratched his chin, his eyes calculating and narrowed as he ran through the database of names and titles through his head. Finally he nodded. "Yes, that'll work nicely. Gabriel's a model candidate for this sort of thing." "I can't believe this." Gabriel muttered and slid back into his seat, his hands clenching and unclenching around the stylus in his hand as he bent his head over his work. Laughing, Michael slapped him heartily on the back and across the room Lucifer shook his head in obvious amusement.

"Alright then, now that that's decided how do we catch Gabriale?" "Easy." The Quaddisin piped up in unison, their voices clear and surprisingly sweet. Raphael's face softened into a smile, A lace would need to be made for them in the choir, he'd figure out which one later. "How is it easy my dear ones?" The Quaddisin looked up at him and the burning coals in the sockets of eyes that had yet to form flickered and danced. "Raphael, Angel of the Sun," "We need Bait." Ü "I'm not doing it." "Just cooperate." "No! How many times do I have to tell you that I don't wanna do it. I don't want to do this anymore." "Stop being such a baby damnit -" "Michael!Leave Samael alone. And for the last time can you stop damning things. It's irritating when we have to clean up after you. " From out of the blazing inferno of light a curse drifted and all that power sucked in on itself, compressed until it was once again in the shape of a man, a handsome one with gray eyes and auburn hair. Michael grinned sheepishly and ducked his head as if he were a little boy who'd been caught doing something naughty. When he saw who addressed him however the smile on his face died quickly to be replaced by a look of vague dislike. "Oh. It's only you." Though the greeting had been no more than she expected, Lilith couldn't keep the faint hurt from tightening around her chest. "Michael you wound me." "Yes I can only hope." "That's enough both of you. We have a lot of work today and very little time to do it in. Michael we're not using Samael as bait so let him back in." Jukar said as he stepped through the curtain operating the In-between. Rebellious and irritated Michael released his hold on Samael so that the other angel fell gagging and coughing back into his body. He was older than The Quaddisin but not by much. For now his vessel was in what was being referred to as the adolescent stage of development. He was gangly and awkward and though these two things were bad enough, the added fact that he had yet to find his purpose and power as an angel after so much time was simply icing on the cake. Samael was a young man blazing with rage and impatience and the effort it took him to contain himself in his body was visible in the hairline fractures that were constantly spiderwebbing across his body. As he took a deep gasping breath and looked over at Michael his face briefly resembled that of a broken pottery vase glued haphazardly back together, before he was caught himself. Abigar tsked under his breath as he stepped through from behind Jukar. Lailah, Sam Hii,Radueriel, Lucifer, Jaoel, a reluctant Gabriel, and a yawning Raziel followed in quick

succession, chattering quietly among themselves as they walked along the South Districts observation disk, a much smaller one than the ones reserved for meetings. Though the group had been very carefully picked to handle the situation a few had just come to watch. "We're here for emotional support." Michael had stated proudly and Gabriel had grunted agreement. Jukar rolled his eyes and motioned for Radueriel and Jaoel to come forward. They did so after exchanging a brief look. "Between the two of you," Jukar began as he moved towards the edge of the shimmeing disk, his steps sending out rippling waves each time his foot settled on it's surface. ""You should not only be able to catch Gabriale when she decides to take the bait, you should be able to capture her as well. Soqued Hozi will be awaiting in the next district for us to give the signal that Gabriale has been contained so that he may work at restoring the Balance. Abdiel is also on standby in case she proves...difficult." Raziel's face tightened and Abigar's lip curled. "Abdiel? You mean the slaver." "Don't be crude." Jukar snapped. "We don't get many prisoners here but when we do Adiel is who we go to for the restraints. I need to be sure that whether things go bad or ill today that this threat, this Gabriale is removed once and for all. I will especially hear no complaints on my method of doing so either. Are we understood?" Abigar nodded stiffly before turning away. As he walked to the small table set up in the center of the room he paused and glanced down at it. For a moment his brown eyes darkened and lost focus. Then shaking his head he said, "There will be two more coming tonight along with the other." Jukar nodded without comment and motioned Sam Hii over to help scoop up a few handfuls more of the precious metallic liquid while Michael and Gabriel went to fetch two more low tables. They appeared a split second later and set the tables down beside the original. Radueriel and Jaoel stood with closed eyes as the searched for their prey and Jukar made sure to give the two of them a wide berth as he made his way to stand over the tables on the opposite side of Sam Hii. Together they spread the metallic liquid along the length of the table. Once it touched the surface of the liquid seemed to wake up, coalescing into a a seamless ball that glittered like a star. Sam Hii moved over to the remaining tables to repeat the process while Jukar conferred with Abigar as to the sex of the vessels. "Female and two males." Sam Hii nodded to show that he'd heard and motioned Lucifer over to help him mold the shape for the woman. Michael and Gabriale went to the table in the middle to start work on the second male while Jukar and Lilith shaped the first. It didn't take very long before the bodies were finished and it only took a single swipe of his thumb over the indention of the eyes for the still gelatinous liquid to harden into flesh and blood. For now and until the spirits were put into their respective casings the bodies were simply lifeless, though pretty husks. Lilith and Lailah examined the female curiously their fingers dancing along her flesh and sliding along her smooth skull. Lilith opened her eyes and drew back in mild alarm when she saw the blackness of empty sockets. "What's the meaning of this. Is she not finished?" Sam Hii slapped her hands away and scowled. "It's the same for all the newly made bodies. Whatever spirit enters inside of it determines the final appearance." Jukar sighed and ran his hands down the length of his own legs to clean away any

remaining mold. "It's not going to be as easy as this when we change the material. For now we're still trying to get the hang of this whole body thing for when it's time to release the souls." "Oh this is going to be great fun. When is the first one scheduled for release again?" Gabriel smiled at Lilith, "It still needs to be decided where it's home will be. There are so many possibilities and so far none of them are right just yet." "Got something." Jaoel exclaimed, his eyes snapping open in his excitement though he didn't move from his position beside Radueriel. Michael's eyes narrowed and grinning he turned on Samael. "Come-ere butterball." "Stay away from me!" "Michael! Leave Samael alone. He isn't bait." Michael froze and the grin that had lit his face slowly died. He looked over his shoulder and grimaced, "What?" Jukar grimaced right back. "He isn't the bait." "But Gabriel said..." His voice died off and his face darkened in displeasure. "If it's not the shrimp then who is it?" When they all turned as one to look at him his jaw tightened. He turned on Gabriel, "So let me get this straight. You tricked me into coming here with the promise of some entertainment just so you guys could use me as bait to lure some unknown danger to the cosmos out of hiding so it can eat me." His eyes filled with tears and his voice began to shake, "Did you trick me into naming it after you too? I'm ashamed of you." Gabriel made an odd grunting sound in the back of his throat and his face flushed. "You should be ashamed of yourself. You were going to let the same happen to Samael, you even came early so you do it yourself. And furthermore you were the one who insisted on nam-" "That's not the point." "You two settle down. Michael we need you to come over here please." Dragging his bare feet as well as allowing the tips of his wings to slide dejectedly behind him, he whined. "But why do I have to do it?" "Because, " Sam Hii began, "Abigar said that you'd be the one to bring them here." Lailah giggled, "It seems like it likes you." "It's name is Gabriale." "Actually," Abigar said from where he sat watching them from beside the body of the first male, "She's right in part. The woman will like you. Tremendously. In fact..." he cocked his head to one side and his eyes lost focus. He grinned. "In fact it's you who she'll be most like in the end." Gabriel's face lit with false sincerity and he angled his head to one side as his palms came up to meet his cheeks with a resounding slap. "Congratulations. You've upgraded from terror to role model." Michael aped the gesture and said in the same wickedly cheerful voice, "Really?! Shut up." Lailah and Lilith began to laugh so hard that their eyes flashed while Samael sulked in a corner from a safe distance and Raziel shook her head in amusement. "Anyway," Jaoel said rolling his eyes as he positioned Michael between himself and

Radueriel, "We need you to stay focused. Don't pay attention to anything else going on behind us and above all else follow our instructions to the T. Got it?" "Yes, yes I got it. Now let's get this over with." Ü It was a relief to release the body. It had been a while since he'd been able to let go and allow all himself to stretch and breath and simply be as he once had. he knew the importance of the vessels of course, knew the discipline they instilled but that didn't meant that every now and then he didn't yearn to cast it aside and dance among the stars with the same blazing life and joy. Colors were brighter, but nothing burned brighter than him. Planets and stars so huge they could swallow a solar system were no bigger than the palm of his hand. His senses could stretch from one side of the universe to the next and if he were so inclined, break down the barriers of the next to explore there as well. There was nothing secret to him in this playground, nothing that he couldn't see and touch and taste and feel and oh how he missed it. "Michael, I know it's hard but focus for us. We have an objective yes?" He sighed, though the motion was more a vibration, a thought that snuffed the light from the few stars that surround him, than any actual physical movement. he had no body now, nothing to entrap him. He was light and power and life and he rejoiced in it. "Michael!" Shaking himself loose from the sensations that swamped him so strongly, he reluctantly reigned himself back in. It was a wonder that Jaoel and Radueriel had been able to anchor themselves long enough to find this entity. An angels senses were by nature a widely encompassing thing and with so many new things to see and do and explore it was no small feat that they'd manage to ignore all distractions to sift through the mess of it all and find this Gabriale. 'The troublemaker.' "Good boy Michael. Now just keep focusing on her for us." 'But what of the two men? Am I not to lure them as well?' A moment of silence. "Abigar says that if you find the woman, obtaining the other two will not be difficult for they will come for her." 'Alright then. I'm focused on the troublemaker, our little mini Gabriel. What now?' "Give me a moment." ... ... ... "Ah yes. When I tell you to I want you to stretch your wings." ... ... ... ... "Now." Michael did as he had been told and with a low growl of pleasure that shook the heavens

he stretched his wings. The heavens, all seven of them, brightened and swayed towards him and his being ached to meet with them. To merge and become one for an eternity... for a forever and a forever and a day...but he would not. He had made his choice a long time ago to exit that existence, to serve the one on high and he would keep his word. As he was pondering over these things he felt it. The curious tickle along the back of his spine. The innocent excitement and wonder. "She's spotted you." Michael could see that. it surprised him a bit for out of all the beings in the Heavens, angel or demon, unborn or not, he was barely conscious of when they turned their attention to him. But that light brush of consciousness, that small kiss of curious yearning was enough to make him pause and think. "No, Michael. Don't acknowledge her just -" But by then the warning had come much to late. 'Gabriale?' He felt the presence pause and when she responded it wasn't with words but rather a feeling that infused his blood like ink. He had the impression that the words she was using were something she'd picked up from him in their moment of contact rather than something she used very often on her own. 'What is a Gabriale?' 'It's you. It's what my brothers are calling you.' 'Is it necessary for me to be called something?' there was a quiet wonder in the question and Michael forced himself to stay perfectly still as that delicate energy spiraled around him, searching and touching to it's heart content. He had never felt anything like her before though her energy tasted familiar. Like the light of the stars when they burned their brightest, the determination and heat and strength of the demons. The exuberance and warm love of the angels. Gabriale, was a curious future addition to the seventh heaven indeed. He was afraid, correctly so, that were he to move now, to examine this creature as she did him she would bolt. He was reluctant to allow that to happen. 'You haven't answered yet.' 'No it's not necessary, but it's...a privilege to posses a name. You should be happy that we find you worthy enough of giving you one.' 'Names hold no meaning for me. I've never been called anything.' 'Never? I pity you.' 'Pity me!' he liked the sudden blaring temper of her, as hot and bright as the core of a supernova and just as dangerous. 'Why would you pity me Burning One? What's so special in a name?' 'A name gives one their identity. It shows who and what they are. It helps them, in the end to find their souls.' 'Soul?' 'Yes a soul. It's what makes someone individual. Their thoughts and feelings and emotions. Dreams and desires, morals and sense of humor. It's a fabulous creation and I can't wait to test them out.' 'I would much rather have a soul than a name I think. It sounds much more fun. but since

I have no soul that means I can't lose it. Which means I have no need of a name that will find it for me again.' 'That's not the point.' 'Then what is the point Burning One?' 'I'm not sure.' 'Hm, then maybe I should call you not so burning one.' 'I'm going to ignore the implied threat against my intelligence.' 'How big of you...You know you're very pretty.' 'Thank you.' 'All your kind are. I've seen you you know? From the very beginning, after the Voice called me forth I've watched.' 'The voice?' 'Yes the Voice. The one that made me. At first there was only the Darkness and the Voice. I loved the voice so I stayed very close to him for in the darkness it is very lonely and cold. Then one day he created the Heaven and an ugly ball of brown clay. That's when the first Burning Ones came. You were so beautiful and bright and pure. I loved you much better that the brown ball." Michael fought back a laugh and refrained from explaining that that brown ball was one of many known as planets. She continued in a rather wispy tone as she continued to inspect him. Sliding further up his being now that she had overcome some of her initial shyness. 'I would listen to you all talk and eventually it was decided that he would make a companion for the Darkness which was always pulling on me, always nagging. When Light was born she was very much like the Darkness, confused and uncertain. She was a not-so-burningone either and I had to teach her. I led the Light into the depth of the Darkness. I brought it to the earths and into the loneliness of the sea that covered the brown ball. I did this all for the Voice for I loved it dearly. I fed the Light and and spoke kind words to it so that it would grow strong for this seemed to make the Voice happy. As it grew so did I...' That curious energy throbbed for a moment, dimmed and drew back and desperate to hear more Michael asked. 'And then what little one?' 'Then?' confusion swamped her for a moment before she remembered what she had been trying to say. 'Oh yes. After the Light was born, it and the Darkness were forced to coincide. They had to make compromises and it was because of those compromises that Twilight and Dust came into existence. I like them very much though they are still young and stupid.' 'Why stupid.' 'Because for the longest time they would weep. Not all the time but often. They would go below the Heavens to hover above the dirt ball and they would cry and cry and sneeze and beat their fists and make such a racket.' 'That does sound quite stupid of them.' Michael snorted, he was sure the angels and demons in charge of the weather would not appreciate this creatures assessment of their work but he would get to that later. For now he contented himself with simply caressing the length of the energy wrapped around his upper body. The creature stiffened at first but relaxed slowly into him so that for a moment they melded and became one and there again was that golden, golden, light... Michael shook himself. 'Then?'

'I got used to the four of them, after all they were all very pretty. I even grew fond of the dirt ball though after that incident there were dirt balls popping up all over the place. Afterwards some of the sea became angry with the sky and hardened itself so as never to speak to it again. Gree fur sprouted on it. The Voice called forth strange creatures to fly across the sky to talk to Light and Darkness and their children and it sent slippery bottom feeders into the sea to comfort her. There was no help for it though, especially after the hardened sea birthed creatures of it's own to keep it company. These creatures fed on the gree fur that sprouted on it's mother's back. And some of these three creations even ate their own kind or some of the members from the other groups. It was all very disturbing.' 'But interesting.' How had none of them noticed her before this? 'Oh yes.' Gabriale exclaimed and Michael's body jerked from the shock of it, 'It was great fun. I got used to the bottom feeders and the sky riders, and especially the green fur eaters. I gave myself to those creatures because the Voice asked it of me and I would do anything for the Voice. Now though I feel the Voice calling me again. The Voice tells me that there will be another and that I must go into it's body when it tells me. This new creature will live on the solid sea with the green fur eaters and it will be called Man.' 'You sound unsure.' 'Well, not because of the Voice or the man but because of something else.' 'Because of what?' 'I feel something. It is very much like me but it has always lived in the darkness. It has never come for me. Never sought me out. Until now.' The Angels had been taught about emotions. He and his brethren would soon have to deal with them on a daily basis in regards to their many charges. So Angels themselves felt no fear but since this creature was no angel Michael was unsure if it would feel these 'emotions' as the beasts and the soon to be created man would. So he asked her, 'Do you fear it?' 'I don't understand Burning One.' 'Call me Michael.' 'Michael?' 'Yes.' 'If you were given a name does that mean you also have a soul then?' 'Not exactly.' 'What does that mean?' 'It means my kind and I are a bit like you. But whereas you seem to be a concept taking on sentient form, Angels, or Burning Ones, are everything that a soul is but more. We're the individuals that make up the parts of of something much, much greater.' '....sounds exhausting.' He laughed, a great booming, rippling sound that shook the cosmos. 'Yes. Yes you could say that.' He regretted his amusement almost instantly for the sudden noise seemed to shock Gabriale quite badly. She pulled back from him and without thinking Michael lunged out to snatch her back. When his energy touched hers they slid along each other with a liquid gold warmth. The stars that had died on the wake of his sigh flickered back into hesitant life and that curious energy that surrounded him zipped and snapped around in exuberant welcome. Gabriale's excitement seemed to add fuel to the fire and the stars began to grow larger and larger. The

larger they became the more ecstatic the girl until with an outraged huff that winked them out again, Michael's grip on Gabriale tightened. 'So that's how it happened. I thought he was joking but you really have been out here playing and getting worked up and making a mess out of everything.' 'Let me go! LET ME GO RIGHT NOW NOT SO BURNING ONE!' 'Michael! MY NAME IS MICHAEL!' 'I DON'T care! You let me go right now or I'll tell the Voice on you!' 'You'd tattle of me? Yeah real mature.' 'SHUT - UP!' Ü "Well, he actually lasted longer than I thought he would." "Never mind that now. Just bring them both back in before he loses his grip on her." With a nod Jaoel and Radueriel both reach out and grabbed Michael around his metaphysical ankles. With a sharp tug that would have broken a weaker angel they brought him cursing and thrashing from the Heavens. He crashed into the disk hard enough that the entire surface shook in its mooring. There was something trapped in his arms, something that thrashed and writhed like a wild thing while producing an everescent sound so high pitched and irritating that it set up a vibration in the air that had Jukar's eyes crossing. "Shut her UP!" Lilith screamed and slapped her dainty hands against her ears. Michael glared at her through the fall of curly brown hair that fell over his eyes, Gabriale jerked hard against him then and screamed in his ear and his body convulsed. He slapped a hand over where he thought her mouth would be and received a biting shock through his fingers for his trouble. His grip on her slackened for a moment and she took advantage of his lapse to dart forward towards the edge of the edge of the disk. He threw himself on top of her but she dragged forward. It was harder than it looked to keep ahold of light and air. "Gabriel get over here and help me!" Gabriel rushed over to obey and grabbed his ankles, bracing his feet against the surface of the disk. They stopped for a moment and the pulsing gold light in Michael's hands turned to look at them both. Gabriel gave a shy wave and the creature jerked. By this time Michael had made it to his knees and Gabriel released his ankles to wrap his arms around his waist instead. They braced themselves and the once golden light turned a dark brown in its rage. It's struggles became more violent and Michael and Gabriel spent a horrible two minutes of their existence rolling on the ground in an entangled cursing mass of confusion. They could have ended it sooner of course but Michael was oddly reluctant to harm this creature with the flexing of his power, and Gabriel read his intentions through the touch of his skin. So they were both at an impasse. Jukar, the demon Abigar, and Lucifer finally came to their assistance once they realized what the problem was and between the three of them they were able to set a small dome around the creature so that Michael and Gabriel could release it. Michael fell back gasping for air and laughing. As he climbed to his feet he reached for Gabriel and hauled him up as well. The two men stood leaning against one another as they watched the sphere of flashing gold dart in irritated circles on the inside of it's invisible prison.

"That was great." Samael's lips curled as he turned to look at them, "You two really are idiots." "The correct term," Gabriel said as he hunkered down just beyond the barrier, "Is not so Burning Ones." he ran a finger along the side of the dome and for a split second silver ripples danced over the once invisible surface. He whistled, "Not too bad for such quick work." he turned his attention away from the barrier and instead focused on the thing it was barricading. "Hello dear, I'm your namesake." As Michael expected, curiosity got the better of mindless anger and the golden light that was Gabriale edged closer to the walls of her prison to inspect the Angel's face. Again that drifting voice that wasn't really a voice filled the air. "Namesake?" "Yes." Gabriel said as he lowered himself to sit fully on the floor.""It means you were named after me." "Is that a good thing." "I'm not sure. I suppose it depends on how well we get along." Gabriel smiled at the light and Michael felt the change in the air immediately. That mild curiosity turned to flat out greed and the burning gold of the light reshaped and formed itself into the outline of a man. There were no details of the face, but the build and posture was very much like Gabriel's. Lucifer choked on a laugh and Gabriel's eyes widened. "No dear, you have the basic idea of it down but you're shape would look more like..." He glanced around and pointed to the first female his eyes landed on. Lilith stiffened under the attention. "Like her." The lights head cocked to one side in confusion. "Why. I like you much better than I like that one." Gabriel cleared his throat and Michael ducked his head. Served her right. "That's very flattering, but it doesn't rally matter whom you like better." He lost himself in thought for a moment before he said, "Do you remember how you were explaining to Michael about the different creatures the Voice called forth." "Yes." "Well like those creatures there are usually two kinds of every species. Just as the Light had it's Dark you understand." "Yes." "For Angels there are usually two very distinct feels to our power. We each have different abilities but the overall impression of us usually falls within either being what we call male or female. There are some Angels who never feel one way or another so they're essentially sexless." The Gabriel shaped light still managed to look surprisingly sheepish considering it had no discernable facial features. "I'm not sure what this has to do with anything." "Well, to help differentiate there are different shapes that tell whether one is male or female." "And?" "And I'm male." "And?" "And you're female." A long uncomfortable silence followed in which the figure behind the barrier simply

stared at him. It seemed to draw a deep breath and then, "Ohhhhhh. I understand." The light reformed immediately to a more Lilith like shape and Gabriel expressed his pleasure with his pupil with a smile. Gabriale trembled and hunkered down as close to the edge of her cage as she could get without touching it. "Why do you have me locked up?" 'Because you've been causing trouble." Gabriel stated firmly, though Michael could see the subtle signs of a weakening resolve around his eyes and mouth. "I have? What kind of trouble?" "The stars for one." Jukar offered. "The black holes." Abigar added. "Sonic blasts." "Exploding planets." "Space warps." "Dead zones." "Worm holes." "Tearing holes in the barriers between the worlds." "Not to mention the-" "Alright! Alright I get it, I'm sorry." She sent sour vibes towards the other occupants of the disk before turning back to Gabriel with a decidedly more friendly air. "Can you let me go now? If I promise to be good and all?" Gabriel smiled at her and Michael sent a viscous kick his way when he began to nod his head. Gabriel cleared his throat and his voice deepened so as to drive home the level of his determination, "I'm sorry, but we can't allow that. We think it would be best if you were to stay here in the seventh heaven with us." "Live with the Burning ones?" Her voice thickened with hurt, "You mean you won't let me go home?" "Oh no that's not it at all?" Gabriel began, a distinct edge of panic in his voice. Michael saw Sam Hii and Lailah exchange glances and after their thoughts danced around one another's for a few moments, they sent their impressions out to everyone else as well. Everyone except Gabriel as he was the source of the discussion. "Is anyone else sensing an odd connection here?" "Well yes. I mean I saw that we would need him to help calm the girl and get her to cooperate but I didn't expect...this." "Could the creature be brainwashing him?" "I'd like to give Gabriel a bit more credit than that. I believe it's more like there's more to her than we originally thought. After all, until tonight we've never heard of a creature around during the beginning time." "That's true. There are very few older than us." "Oh just go and say it Angel there are none older than you." "Alright fine. That's exactly what I met but you all understand my point don't you?" "Yes, I understand. That doesn't change the fact that she and Gabriel are acting..." They all turned as one to glance at the couple sitting across from each other on the ground. They had stopped talking sense at this point and instead their heads were inclined

towards one another as they whispered back and forth in odd giggling tones. Michael wasn't sure about the girl, but Gabriel's eyes looked dazed and a bit too bright, as if he were about to loose his skin. While the girl swayed back and forth where she sat, every now and then rising a bit off the ground when Gabriel's hushed words brought forth some reaction. "Odd." "Very Odd." When the two of them had been reduced to the point where they simply leaned against the edge of the barrier and giggled drunkenly at each other, Samael snapped. "This is disgusting. Can someone do something about them please?" As their brave and fearless leader, Jukar took up the reigns of control, "Gabriel. If you could please ask our young guest to follow you over to vessels so that we may begin." These words were met with an explosion of rude snickering and Jukar's jaw hardened. He was being ignored. Turning a stiffly patient face on Michael he ushered for him to give it a go. Not really expecting a much better response Michael yelled over to them without moving from where he stood, "Yo. Lovebirds, we need her on the operating table." Just to be polite he added a, "If you would be so kind?" It was as much of a shock to him as it was to everyone else when the laughter abated and Gabriel turned to talk to the girl with a surprising display of still functioning brain cells. "Will you come with me little one, and promise not to run away? I'd like you to stay here with me for awhile. " In response Gabriale raised one golden hand and placed it against the side of the barrier. With a quiet hiss it dissolved and she was almost immediately wrapped around Gabriel, a low hum, almost a purr, sending ripples across her body. Getting to his feet and ignoring the narrowed eyed stares directed he and Michael's way, he carried Gabriale over to the vessel that had been made for her. When Sam Hii made a move to take her from Gabriel so he could slip her into the female body, she growled and tightened so harshly around Gabriel that his face turned an alarming shade of purple. Impatiently Michael stalked over to the three of them and standing in front of Gabriel and the girl he reached around where the girls waist would be and tugged. She fell from Gabriel with a low dejected sort of moan and holding her at arms length as if she were contagious he handed her off to Sam Hii. "Now remember." Sam Hii reminded her sternly when that golden light began to tinge red in warning, "If you misbehave you won't get to stay with your Uncle Gabriel and Auntie Michael." Gabriel snorted and Michael's face flushed when, without further complaint but for a pathetic mewling, she allowed herself to be laid down on top of her soon to be body. She should have sunk into it at that point, like the ground drinking up rainwater, it should have been an easy if slow transition. But she simply lay there, looking a little uncomfortable, and a lot bored. Lucifer cleared his throat, "You're supposed to go inside of it now." Gabriale turned her head in his direction. When she caught sight of him her entire body hardened like stone and lightened to a silver so pure it was almost blinding. Lucifer frowned at first but as Michael watched, he began to look at her, really look at her. Not with his eyes but with the power that burned hot and deep at the center of his being and what he saw there had the blood draining from his face. He made as if to move toward her, to touch her and with a scream full of panic and defiance the spirit jerked away from him, seeking the only escape open to her.

The body. The metallic silver the body had been originally made of softened beneath Gabriale's spirit. It reached up searching tentacles to wrap her newly hardened core in its protective arms and she sunk into the embrace with a sigh. Sam Hii drew back in surprise and from across the room Lilith cursed. It was with a gasping scream that the newly risen body lunged forward off of the table and rolled off of it. Gabriale's eyes snapped open, burning like coals in her pale face as her body shifted into the shape most appropriate for her spirit. From her once smooth skull, a shock of jet black hair sprouted from her scalp. The final version wasn't in anyway like Lilith's but rather that of a very young child. Limbs slender, long and graceful, she lay sprawled on her stomach at Gabriel's feet gasping for breath and trembling life a leaf. The Angel's face softened in sympathy. Lowering himself to his knees, Gabriel gathered her up in his arms. At the touch of her his eyes grew sightless, almost blind in an ocean of pale blue. The obsession that seemed to grip Lucifer had him taking a few steps towards them. Gabriel must have felt him because those sightless eyes narrowed and his lips drew back in a hiss. It was all Michael could do to block Lucifer's way in time and as he met Lucifer's gaze, Michael's face hardened and his eyes glittered in warning and threat. "What's the meaning of this?" Jukar's voice was tight and he angled his head slightly to signal Abigar, Radueriel, and Jaoel to surround the foursome. Jukar raised his hands in a show of surrender and edged himself to the side so that Michael would be able to see that he was harmless from the corner of his eye. "Michael? What's wrong with the two of you? Stand down." He looked at Lucifer and he must have noticed the bright eyed edge of madness that filled his gaze, because he snapped the same order to him as well. "You too. I'm not sure what's gotten into you three but this..."" his lip curled as he jerked his head to the woman trembling in Gabriel's lap, "thing isn't worth you breaking the peace you've established after so many years together. Now Gabriel let her go. Since you can't control her as well as we thought, I'll call in Abdiel." He reached past Michael even though the other Angel's gaze had shifted from Lucifer to rest on him and his body was steadily stiffening in warning. "It seems like our hopes for her have been unfounded. A troublemaker can only ever be a troublemaker." His fingers just barely skimmed the silk of her hair before Michael grabbed him by the wrist and pushed him back with nothing but the strength in his forearms. Jukar resisted but he was forced a step or two back and the shock and rage on his face brought a smile to Lucifer's lips. When Jukar moved to speak, Gabriel's words forced whatever he was about to say to stick in his throat. "You are Prince yes, but you do not dictate to me. This woman, this girl is under my protection. She is mine and I will allow no one to touch her." "Michael-" Jukar chocked out and Michael smiled at him, a cold, cruel raising of his lips that made him more frightening than charming. "You heard him didn't you? The girl is off limits." The muscles around his eyes and mouth tightened and Jukar turned to look at Lucifer who's gaze had not strayed from Gabriale despite the entertainment offered during their brief confrontation. "Gabriel." Lucifer said, his voice eerily quiet and sweet, "May I touch her?"

Gabriel's eyes widened and the girl lunged against him in a panic. Lucifer's hands flexed with obvious greed and Gabriale began to scream. A low, desperate keening began to rise up from behind them and they all turned to see Samael hugging himself even as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. His eyes were rolled up into his skull and his body was trembling visibly as if he were trying to hold himself together. Lilith went to him and laid a gentle, hesitant hand on his shoulder and he flinched. "Sam? What's the matter?" "I can feel it. It's coming. It's coming for her." "What's he talking about?" "I don't know, but I don't like it. Set up a defensive barrier and take the girl to Abdiel. Then call Soqued Hozi. Maybe if we're able to adjust the balance and fix the holes left by her absence before whatever it is gets here, we can hide her location." Samael's head fell back and his face flushed with pleasure. "Too late. Much too late. He's here." Ü Jukar and Radueriel were the one who grabbed Samael when the angel began to convulse. Michael went ahead of the three of them to prepare the Atrium for potential attack. It was the largest holding they had and this threat was an unheard of one so it would be best to engage with it in a larger space where they had more allies. The others blinked out one by one, not bothering with the door anymore but rather splitting the space of time and space in front of them so that they could move freely as they pleased. The rips would have to be repaired later but for now it wasn't a great concern. Whatever was coming was big, almost thick and it shook the floor of the disk and turned it's once clear surface an oily black. Gabriel and his ward were the last to leave and the little girl clutched his arm against his chest and trembled as she stared off into some distance that even Gabriel couldn't see. She looked up at him and blinked wide dark eyes. "Uncle Gabwel," her voice was surprisingly sweet now that she had vocal cords and a throat. Because she was unused to the sensation of tongue and teeth, she lisped her words and Gabriel found his grip tightening around hers. "What is it?" "Shouldn't we weave now before he gets here?" Gabriel tucked her into his side and shook his head. "Not just yet Princess. We need him to chase you you see and if we get to far ahead he won't be able to catch up." She gazed down doubtfully as the disk shook once more and a hairline crack begin to spit along its center. "We want him to catch us?" "Oh yeah. That's one of the best parts." Ü

The spirit Gabriale wasn't sure whether or not getting caught was the best part, but she knew that the chase itself was loads of fun. When she'd watched the angels before they had always been using their doors or rips to move from one place to another as quickly as possible. Not once had she seen those wings of theirs in use. As Gabriel proved they were surprisingly fast. Fast enough to send her newly developed heart racing and her arms tightening around Gabriel's neck. the stars that slid past were blurs of light and fire. Barely discernable impressions that would have been larger than life had the speed of their passage not reduced them to lesser things. Always at their heels though, was him. She wasn't sure how she knew that the thing chasing them was a him, all she knew was that he was her opposite and whatever she wasn't, he would be. She was afraid of telling Uncle Gabriel that the one whom they ran so desperately from was already at their destination. There was no running from him and there never would be. And as for the one who followed them now...he would never grow tired of the race, no matter how fast the wings. The one chasing them now, so thick and powerful in his rage, and the one wiggling around like a worm inside of Samael and had broken the Creations Disk, were two completely different beings. She had heard the demon prophet say that three of them would come. Two male and one female. What he had failed to take into account was the fact that she would be the only one bothering with the carefully sculpted bodies. The other two wouldn't be needing them.

Part Three: Shadows

Chapter eight: Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell. -- William Shakespeare He was a handsome man. It was funny how often people forgot that part. The mark of the Fallen diminished his natural looks and charm none at all. In fact they seemed to have enhanced them as he possessed a certain air, a certain scent of corruption and violence now. Of danger and pure unadulterated lust. Even Sinclair felt the tug of him, the pull, the temptation. The sin. 'He reminded me of you Fallen.' 'Really? That's insulting... How so?' 'It was the way he made me feel. The way he glanced at me. The scent and flavor of him. This is the first time I've come face to face with him since the fall. Back then he tasted the same as any other angel. Angrier, bitterer, meaner yes but nothing I hadn't encountered before.' She had fallen silent then, her eyes growing distant and lost. 'Do you know what Sin is Fallen?' the words had been spoken on a whisper, a broken sigh, 'It's acting deliberately against one's moral or religious code. That's what sin is. And you are what my sins are made of...' At the time the words had meant nothing to him. The Princess was prone to dramatics, and the story of how she'd been snatched by the Devil was the perfect opportunity for her to milk a situation for all it was worth. Sinclair had known her captivity had been difficult but he'd never gotten the full story from her. Whenever he'd push for details she'd eventually bring it all back again to that same question. 'Do you know what Sin is?' For him, at that moment, sin was the man standing in front of him. A man. And that was the problem. He appeared as a man now but Sinclair knew that this was only one of the many forms that Eosphorus (or Lucifer as people were calling him these days) was fond of taking. The four shining wings that sprouted from his back had always been a source of discontent, Sinclair remembered this because it had been such a shock to the other cherubim when Lucifer refused to cloak himself in his wings as his fellows did. The set on his lower back still had a habit of curving inward as if to encase his legs and feet while the set on either side of his spine quivered with the need to encase his face and upper body. Like a cocoon. It had been a mark of supreme shame and even fear that Lucifer had possessed the willpower to force his wings to obey his command and bow to him as it wasn't the cherubs way to force anything. The feathers that made up each wing was crafted of light and power, a swirling pool of color and beauty that highlighted the golden sheen of his skin and the glittering sun bronzed blonde of his hair. His eyes, the most arresting feature about him, the only thing that remained the same no matter the form he took, glowed like beacons in his face. Lucifer's eyes possessed no pupil, rather for each eye he had twelve different irises, and each was of a different color and tint outlined by a solid black ring. The colors pulsed like independent heartbeats back dropped by the

relative calmness of the white that made up the actual eye. Each Angel was different of course, some had four rings, some only two, some had slits down the center of their gaze so that it seemed as if someone had sliced into them with a thinly made blade. same for the Fallen. Only Demons, the creatures who'd lurked here long before any rebels of heaven came to take over, lacked the eye circlets. The demons, and of course, Sinclair. "Az'rail. How is my favorite weapon doing these days? Well I hope?" Sinclair gave a stiff bow and tried to keep himself from softening. It would do no harm to show respect, Sinclair was after all coming here for information as a foreign delegate. "Well met Prince. I'm sure you can guess why I'm here?" "I can." "Then you'll tell me what's going on?" "Maybe. Depends." "On." "On certain factors." Lucifer's eyes twinkled and from behind him a large stone chair materialized from out of the light. As he watched the rest of the room formed out around it like the lapping of waves. No more than a minute passed before Sin found himself standing in an office that would have done his English professor proud. Bookcases, stacked heavily with thick tombs of titleless, arthurless books covered almost every available wall space from stone floor to ceiling. What wasn't covered was decorated with tastefully framed paintings. Every now and then Sinclair glimpsed a wall sconce and busts of small statues dotted the counters and desks. Large, teetering stacks of paper, the writing of which was copiously neat and spider thin, was piled in neat rows on the floor around the desk that took up much of the room. Behind this desk, where Lucifer now sat, rubbing long delicate fingers over the smooth ivory of the skulls that made up the chairs armrest, was a window. It was a huge thing, taking up the whole wall with fragmented glass that glinted under the light sconces like rainbows. Sinclair wondered what use such a a thing served, and his thoughts must have been plain on his face for with a delighted laugh that had Sinclair's ears ringing and his skin tightening in displeasure, Lucifer came back to his feet in one smooth motion and went to the window. Circling around the back of the chair he went to the window and passed a hand just above the surface of the rainbow glass. Blood began to spurt from in between the fragments, hitting the floor and soaking in, flowing faster and faster until the entire window was covered in a red so dark it was black. The blood hardened and then, to Sinclair's amazement a picture began to form on the surface of it. The view of it was shaky at first, indistinct. Then with a small hum, that reminded Sin too much of the door in Samael's office, the picture snapped into focus. "Gods." Sinclair found himself taking an involuntary step forward as Gabriale's face took up the majority of the mirror. He saw her gaze slide to one side, and he saw the quick flinch of hurt that crossed her features before her face smoothed once more. His heart clenched. "What's the meaning of this?" Without turning around Lucifer shrugged his shoulders and ran loving fingers across the face of the woman in the mirror.

"You came here because you wanted answers isn't that right? Did you really think I'd give them to you without getting something in return?" He hadn't but he also hadn't expected Gabriale to be brought into it as well. "What does she have to do with-" "Don't be naive. She has everything to do with everything." the sudden coolness in his voice rent the air like blade and Sin's mouth snapped shut on its own volition. He'd never been referred to as naive before. He kind of liked it. He inclined his head towards the image in the mirror, knowing from the inquisitive dip of his head, the softening of his shoulders, that Lucifer could see him. "What do you want?" "What I want? Hm, what I want." He pondered the question rather seriously for a while before straightening with a cry of delight and turning to face Sinclair once more. "I want to tell you a secret Fallen." Sensing a trick Sin frowned. "A secret?" "Yes, I want to tell you a secret and I want you to listen to it. Truly listen to it. If you can do that for me then I promise to answer any questions you may have." Sin's eyes narrowed though he tried his damndest to stop them from doing so. "Will this secret be a true one?" Lucifer grinned, his face shining with such purity and light that the brilliance of him gave Sinclair a headache. "Yes. The secret will be the truth." "And the questions I put to you, will you tell the truth for them as well?" Lucifer frowned for the first time, and Sin was happy to see that brilliance dim a bit. "I see where this is going. You're going to make me swear to something aren't you? Thinking that my honor exceeds the wickedness of my nature. How very knights of the round table of you my dear boy. I'm dissapointed." Sinclair had been thinking no such thing but now that the idea had been put to him he cursed. "Well fuck. I guess I should have thought of that angle sooner. Just out of curiosity would you keep your word if I had made you swear not to lie?" The other man seemed offended. "Lie? I don't lie. I've never lied. I deceive. There's a difference." "Sooo...that's a no?" Lucifer's lips tightened and the light threatened to dissappear altogether under the weight of his irritation. "I'll answer your questions and you can take the responses I give however you choose." "Alright then." Sin saw no harm is listening to a secret. And any 'response' that Lucifer gave him would be useful in the long run, of this he had no doubt. Whether the answers were deceitful or not made no difference. He was just glad that Lucifer realized how unnecessary it was for him to play his usual mind tricks. Sinclair knew of course of the hardships that he put most humans, supernaturals, and even other demons through. Sin had never had the time, nor the patience for such things and he appreciated the fact that Lucifer had always been able to be as straightforward with him as he was with anyone.

"Good then we're agreed. Now have a seat." He looked doubtfully at the empty space in front of the huge desk but he moved to sit down nonetheless. It was a surprise, but not a particularly great one, to feel the solid weight of the chair beneath him. From the corner of his eye he saw a hint of ivory white and dull grey and the first thought that came to him was, 'bone'. He felt the aching warmth of death, smelled it, but investigated the chair no further. "So spill it." "Spill what exactly?" Lucifer was reclining back in his own seat now and as Sinclair watched he began to rub his hands back and forth across the air just above his lap. It was with a shimmering sigh that the cat materialized, a thick obsidian collar around it's sleekly furred black throat. The end of the chain that ran from this rather unusual looking collar was wrapped around Lucifer's wrist as if he were wearing a bracelet. It was a lovely animal, all smooth lines and lazy green eyes but for all it's appeal it was just a... "Girl." the words escaped his mouth before he could stop them and with those words came the knowledge. Always that damned knowledge. "Fifteen years old, used to live over down by Covent garden. A party one night. A birthday." Sin's fingers began to shake and the back of his skull to burn and he had to fight down nausea. "They took her..." Lucifer's head cocked to one side and Sinclair tried not to notice how the cat in his lap twitched and mewled. "And?" A smile lit Lucifer's face and some of that deadly brightness began to creep back, only this time...this time it burned. "And then what?" "They slit her throat." The words echoed hollowly in the room, more as if they stood in a vast cavern rather than this cozy rendition of a library. "Yes," Lucifer's voice was smooth as velvet, a purring hiss that had the cat in his lap shrinking into itself and her eyes rolling into the back of her skull. And as he looked at her, the knowledge kept coming. "Finish it." the words were hoarse and filled with an intense excitement that Sin had only ever heard used during sex, but the command had been given and he spoke. The pure, sweet note of the bell, the bell that sat at the prow of the Ferryman's boat, danced beneath his words. Intertwined and intoxicated, weaving in and out of each sentence with the sensuous grace of a lover so that the warning was barely discernable in the otherwise quite of Lucifer's office. Sinclair was aware of his own voice above the gentle ring, ring ring. Aware of the heavy, dark timbre, of the concrete finality and assurance. He spoke the knowledge that had been entrusted to him, the knowledge that was running through his mind almost constantly, always intertwining and linking until he had a plan in his mind. Detailed and intricate it was forever imprinted in his brain. "In another ten years, that girls mother, Samantha will die of heart failure. She'll be thinking of her late husband George who was knifed in front of their home after being caught palming cards. She'll die alone but for her dog Max who'll be beaten to death five years later after his new owners tire of him digging holes in their gardens. Samantha's nephew Corey will be thrown from his horse in approximately 148 months and ten days. His daughter Lillian will

die in childbirth. Lillian's son Roger will be shot in the back by the husband of the woman he's sleeping with and their illegitimate child Reagan will be chased into an alleyway on December 2nd by two men, Tiko and Matthew who had made it a game to follow her for the night. They'll rape her and the strangle her because she just won't stop screaming. Her body will be found by a passing couple a few days later. The two men, Tinko and Morvin will find passage on a ship to America where they'll later contract the measles and die together in a windy city the humans call Chicago. And the cycle is repeated." The List of the Dead was a heady thing and the weight of it struck the air, beat at it again and again so that a distant, piercing scream began to rise up from somewhere off in the distance with each continued rise and fall of Sin's voice. "The couple who found Regan's body, Cora and Bill Yancy, die in their sleep from the smoke inhalation caused by the fire that consumes their apartment building on the morning of May 21st 1913. Out of the ten families in the building only one manages to be saved. The Williams and their two daughters, Mrs. Patterson and her parakeet Ned, the Deers, the Mcgomory's, the Forsythe's, the Quincys, Abigale Olsen and her little sister Natalie who's just learned to draw on paper and not the wall are all killed. Their payment for the Ferryman was lost and their Souls are denied passaged. They wander still. And the cycle is repeated." His head hurt. "The woman who does escape has eight children and no means to support them after the fire. She finds employment at a company that sews clothing. One day her long brown hair, which her youngest daughter Marley was always fond of gets stuck in the machine. The other workers are unable to get her out in time and the back of her scalp and most of her face is ripped off. She dies from blood loss before she can be saved. Anna Wilson born January of 1885 dies September 16, 1918. She is thirty-three. " Sin paused momentarily to collect his thoughts and with a laugh Lucifer waved a hand in dismissal. The cat tried to take advantage of his lapse and dart away but the links of the chain around Lucifer's wrist flashed a deep umber and with a cry of pain the cat jerked and fell still. "No need to continue my dear boy. I think I've proved my point." Sin slumped in his seat, whatever dark strength that had kept him up leaving him in a rush that left him weak and shaking. "What point was that exactly." It surprised him to hear how hoarse he sounded. "You could have gone on. You could have told me of all the past and future deaths of everyone remotely related to this girl but instead you forced yourself to go no further than beyond her direct sphere of influence. You can do this for anyone or anything, be it human, supernatural, demon, or angel. Am I correct?" Reluctant to open his mouth again Sin merely nodded his head. He still felt that dark knowledge swimming at the back of his throat and he had no desire to start up the List again for fear that he would be unable to stop. "If I asked you to tell me my end Fallen-" Irritation was his automatic response to this request but just as he opened his mouth he felt her again. Not the cat this time but Gabby. This brief touch of thoughts, this quick kiss and slide of souls was enough to tell him her location and current situation. Jinx was in the Well but she was handling it and there were...there were new babies. The first born since she'd come back to herself. "Fallen?" Lucifer interrupted his suddenly racing thoughts, "Would you tell me?"

"I won't be able to accommodate you there. Sorry." He knew he'd sounded too panicked by the sudden lift of Lucifer's brows and the widening of his eyes. The colors locked within them snapped and he asked, "So you know it?You could tell me how I'll die. Even Samael can't do that and he's your-" "Please. I know perfectly well what Samael is." he couldn't keep his own exhaustion hidden any longer and slumped in his seat. "How sweet. Are you still calling each other brother then? You'd think the two of you would have grown tired of the charade after so many years." Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Sinclair winced. "It suites me better to call him brother rather than mother." "But that was his gift was it not? His duty as an angel. The Bringer of Death." Sinclair didn't like the laughter beneath those words, but he understood that it couldn't be helped. When he'd burst through the Angel known as Samael, it had been because it was the only way he would have been able to become a physical being. Before that he had been much like Gabriale. A thought, an idea, a presence. But where she had stolen energy from the destruction in the heavens in order to bring herself to the physical plane, Sinclair had had to rely on the energy source of an Angel. Not just any Angel either, it had had to be Samael and no one else, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to form. It had been a stroke of luck when, in his panic at Gabriale's absence, he had finally been able to sense Samael and birth himself. To say that calling Samael 'Momma' would have been awkward was an understatement. The Angel had been young then, and painfully proud and in his rage at being used in such a way by Sinclair he had went to the demon Abdiel for help. A deal had been struck and Sinclair had found himself sealed in Samael's weapon of choice, a scythe. During the centuries he'd been enslaved by Samael they had formed a sort of unbreakable bond. They had been meant for each other and had they not met in that way, eventually they would have come together. Especially after the birth of Adam made them a necessary evil for the Earths. Samael was, and would always be the Angel of Death, the Bringer of Death, the Poison of God. While Sinclair, who was the embodiment of death itself, would always be his instrument. This knowledge brought no bitterness, simply a vague sense of desperation, and sadness. The simple fact was that he and Gabriale had never been meant to enter this world, or any world for that matter was something that haunted him. They should have stayed as they once were for an eternity, mindless and devoid of emotion or reason, doing their jobs till the end of time. But somehow.... Somehow things simply weren't working out that way. The Angels and Demons had had no idea what Gabriale was back then and they had captured her thinking she was a threat. She'd been given a physical body and her presence was no longer felt in the Heavens. Soqued Hozi who had been struggling valiantly to correct the imbalance caused by all this had alerted Sinclair to her absence as he'd tried to close the hole in the heavens made by her absence. And Sin had gone after her. No matter how much he resented it, it seemed as if he would always have to go after her. "I want your cooperation in this Sinclair. War is coming, even I can feel that. The simple fact is that your Princess wasn't the first, nor is she the last to wake up. We've been given a respite these past few years but the peace is over. And honestly," His eyes glittered with malice

and he sighed in pleasure, "I can think of nothing more fun than this." "The crack?" "Ah yes, the crack. That was a particularly nice touch, though a bit unexpected." "Lucifer-" Sinclair began in warning and the Angel turned Demon grinned. "I've decided that it's about time for us all to pay the topside a visit." Sinclair's mouth tightened, "But-" "But we aren't supposed to be able to survive on the Earths anymore, is that what you were about to say? Time changes things Sin. It changes people and the promises they make. It's taken a few years but we've finally found a way for my demons and I to gain enough power so that we can go anywhere we please. We'll be visiting you soon, so wait for me won't you?" Sinclair had had enough. He was starting to feel that mindless panic again and he was tired of worrying about what was happening to her. Rising to his feet and ignoring the gentle resistance the chair offered as it was separated from him he inclined his head to Lucifer in a belated show of respect. "I don't suppose you'd tell me what your doing to give your demons this strength?" Lucifer cocked his head to one side and one deadly sharp tooth pierced his bottom lip. Blood welled up to stain his mouth and Sin tried not to jerk in response. "No. I don't think I will tell you how I'm doing it. I will give you a name though, because I like you so very much." "What's the name then?" "Fredrick. Look for an Alchemist by the name of Fredrick." Sinclair nodded and turned on his heel to leave. Lucifer's tsking voice stopped him in his tracks and he tried to keep the annoyance from his face as he turned back. "What?" "We had a deal Sinclair." "Deal." Though it irked him, Sinclair forced himself to hold still as, rising from his own seat, cat clutched almost lovingly in his arms, Lucifer made his slow lazy way over to him. He folded his wings in, encasing them beneath his skin and the excess of trapped power seemed to send his eyes into overdrive. His body began to send up a low hum and his skin rippled like the dance of air on water. "I promised to answer your questions if you would hear my secret." Sinclair scowled at him, no longer bothering to keep the irritation from his from his face and voice. "You've brought up more questions than anything else." "But I did give you a name. And a name is a valuable thing yes?" "Fine. Tell me you damn secret. I have other things to do." Before he could blink the other man was so close that Sinclair could feel the heat of his breath burning a brand into the column of his neck. Lucifer's face turned luminous as he gazed up into Sinclair's eyes. "Bend for me Fallen." Sinclair inclined his head though his muscles tensed with the need to lash out when Lucifer's lips grazed his chin. He knew what was coming, everyone asked for it sooner or later, though it had been many years since he'd had to give it to an Angel. The Kiss of Death. It was a sacred thing, a much coveted thing among supernatural's though mortals tasted its weight every day.

"The secret. You will tell me first." He hissed the words into Lucifer's mouth, and from this range he could see the flaming green of his eyes reflected back to him in Lucifer's own. "The Tree is finished." The words sent a bolt of horror through Sinclair's chest and he gasped from the pain of it just as Lucifer's lips sought and found his own. With the stain of Lucifer's blood soaked lips, and the smooth slide of his tongue the kiss was sealed.

Chapter nine: Everything I've done, I've done for you. I move the stars for no one. -- Jareth the Goblin King I was tired and I was miserable, and for some strange reason my lips stung. The heavy rains that had marked most of the night had finally let up to a light, fog inducing drizzle. So while I was cold and wet, I was also much too weak to pull forth any magic to warm myself and there really was no point until I found shelter. The only good thing about the entire wet mess was that Jinx was no longer renting up the much needed space in my head, having been sent back to his own body. Of course, this was outweighed by the fact that while he would wake up in Hyde Park I was as of yet wandering in an undisclosed location. In layman's terms I was lost. Now would have been a good time to have Cameron by my side, or even Sinclair, though his sense of direction was even worse than my own. We would have wandered aimlessly, but at least we would have been doing it together. Almost like a couple. I sniffed and ran a shaky hand beneath the snot running from my nose. Tears gathered in my eyes and my lip trembled. "Sinclair you idiot." "And here I was trying to be nice." Warmth exploded in the pit of my stomach and I raised my eyes from the view of my rather soggy looking feet to squint down the street. Through the fog that thickened the air, I could just make out the shape of a man. A very familiar shape. "Sinclair." my voice trembled more than I wanted it to but Sinclair didn't seem to mind. As I watched he picked his careful way over the ruined streets, kicking aside stone and ruble here and there, his hands stuffed deep within the pockets of his school uniform pants. When he reached me he looked up through a lock of hair that had fallen into his eyes and gave me a weary grin. One that told me more of what had kept him from my side than he might have wanted. "I was supposed to have been here earlier." "Yeah." I nodded my head, "I know. You're not very good at this knight in shining armor thing are you?" He shrugged his shoulders, his eyes running over me in search of damage. "Not really. I don't particularly like damsels in distress. I figured you could handle it until I came for you."

I nodded, not really surprised at this way of thinking, though a bit dissapointed nonetheless. You'd think he would have rushed to my side no matter what. He did love me after all, it would only be natural. I cursed as his hand connected with the back of my head. "Whatever idiotic thing you're thinking, save it until we get back home." He let his head fall back, and took a deep cleansing breath of the rain scented air, and suddenly the fog didn't seem so depressing anymore. "Well come on." turning away from me he began to make his way back the way he'd come. I frowned. "I'm tired. I don't feel like walking anymore." I watched the muscles in his shoulders and arms tense before with a curse he came back, turned, and hunkered down in front of me. My entire face lit with glee and it was all I could do not to clap and jump up and down. "You mean it?" "Just hurry up." Biting my lip, I hopped onto his back. Wrapping arms and legs around his waist and neck and shuddering when his hands rested beneath my knees to steady me. Together we wandered off down the street, my head resting between Sin's shoulders and his hair dripping onto my face. "Hey Sin?" I could tell he seriously considered ignoring me but finally he gave in. "What?" "Why didn't you recognize me when I first came to Parrington." His steps faltered and I pressed myself into him when I felt the tension began to seep into his muscles. "Come on, tell me." "After you disapeared...I was imprisoned. I was locked up for a long, long time. When I escaped and came to these other worlds I began to see a lot of familiar faces. Too may familiar faces. I thought I was being stalked for a while until someone died in one world and I saw there face again in another right afterwards. I learned that some of the really powerful magic users will leave such an impression on the make-up of things that they'll produce a double. The effect of their magic helps shape an individual in another world so that they mimic their appearance. Usually the double is a human, but sometimes they'll have a spark of magic to them." "So you thought that that's what I was?" "Yes." I fell silent and so did he. We wondered for a while and when I saw the same drunk passed out in the street for the third time I began to grow suspicious. After about twenty minutes I broke down and asked, "Hey Sin. Do you know how to get back to the school from here?" "...no." My laughter was bit off on a yelp when Sinclair pinched the underside of my thigh. Yup, just like a couple. Ü

It was Cameron who eventually found us. Apparently Sin's lack of directional interpretation was the stuff of legend at Parrington, and Cameron had been sent out on a search and rescue mission once Sin and I failed to get back. We'd been walking the streets for most of the night, Sinclair too weak, and also oddly reluctant to travel as he usually did. "I don't want us drawing anymore attention to ourselves." his words had been level, though I'd heard the underlying tension in them. My arms had tightened around his neck and he'd patted my leg in reassurance. It was around the time that the sun was threatening on the horizon that we saw the wolf lopping towards us. Cameron took us through the back alleyways and abandoned streets that would lead us towards the servants entrance of Parrington. It was here that Sinclair seemed to get a sense of things and my eyes narrowed as he took up the responsibility of leading us through the servants quarters and back into the main section of the building. As we were making our way through the main entranceway Cameron's nails clicking hollowly on the marble floor and echoing off the dome ceiling to bounce back to us. Sinclair had yet to let me down so I took the time to focus on the shadows that hunkered in the corners of the room. We were nearly to the south door that would lead us to Dresden's dormitory when I saw something move from the corner of my eye. Sinclair must have felt me stiffen because he paused. "What is it?" I searched the darkness a bit longer but nothing moved. From beside us I heard Cameron's low snarl and quickly I shook my head. "It was nothing. let's just get back to the room." A few minutes later Sinclair opened the door to our room and allowed me to get to my own feet. My knees were weak for a few minutes but I managed to make it to my bed before they gave up on me. It was only when I sunk into the mattress that I heard the frantic chirping. My eyes filled with automatic tears and I flipped through the blankets on my bed. Hughie,Wacko, and Mo were huddled in the center of my bed in a circle. Now that I knew them, and remembered them for what they were I wondered when they'd stop playing innocent and get back to their regular forms. To say that I wasn't particularly fond of cleaning purple hair from my sheets and clothes everyday was an understatement. I let the boys crawl into my lap nonetheless and I listened absently as they told me all about the horror of Cameron and their loneliness from being left alone most of the night. When I looked up it was to see Cameron hunkered down in the space between Sin's bed and mine, his back against the table that held the rooms one lamp. With a sigh he stretched his legs out to get more comfortable. Sin, meanwhile, closed and locked our door. Kicking off his shoes on his way to his own bed. "So what happened?" Cameron's voice was oddly serious and for some reason I found I was unable to meet his eyes. Sinclair sighed and fell back on his pillow, covering his face with his hands he shuddered. "I got kissed by a guy." I gasped and Cameron straightened where he sat. "No way." Sin sat up and glared at us. The greedy avarice on our faces must have amused him because a small grin teased his lips. "Who was it?"

"Did you like it?" "Was there tongue?" I gave Cameron a look and he wrinkled his nose and shrugged at me. Sin folded his hands in his laps and frowned in thought. "It was Lucifer, no I didn't like it, and it was open mouth with no tongue." "Wow." "Dude, that's a little gay." Cameron dodged the foot aimed at his head and scooted closer to me, resting more against my legs now than on the table. Though I wasn't sure how he figured I'd be safer to be around than Sinclair. I was pondering what exactly a 'dude' was when I noticed Sin's eyes on us. His face was oddly hard, a little alien, and his green eyes were too bright. "You two are focusing on the wrong thing. What should be first and foremost in your minds is why he kissed me." Cameron and I looked at one another. "Well," Cameron began, "Why did he kiss you?" I finished. "To prove a point." "What kind of point?" "That he wasn't afraid of me." he turned to me, "How much do you remember?" I shifted uncomfortably. "Almost everything. Memories are coming back." "So you know who and what we are?" Our eyes locked for an indeterminate time. I was the first to look away. "Yes. Yes I know." "So you also know," he said, sliding a bit closer to the edge of his bed, his eyes unblinking and eerily focused. "that we're being hunted." "Well I do now." "Wait a minute. Hunted by what?" Sinclair regarded Cameron as if searching for weak points. And while I'm sure he found many the fact that they were friends and he trusted Cameron weighed heavily in the werewolf's favor. "My real name is Az'rail." I could hear the mental gears working as Cameron cross referenced what he knew with what he'd just been told. I could also hear those same gears malfunction when he came up with zilch. He shrugged. "Nice name, what about it." "You mean you've never heard of me?" Cameron shook his head slowly so Sin couldn't miss it and Sinclair's face darkened. "The all powerful Angel of Death, the one feared above all other's, God's warrior? Ringing any bells?" Cameron shook his head again and the two men glared at one another. I buried my face in Mo's fur to stifle my own laughter but I'm not sure how effective it was. "Alright, let's go about this a different way. What do you know about souls?" "Nothing." Cameron replied, rather happily I thought. Sinclair's eyes rolled into the back of his head. My fingers slid along the top of Cameron's blond head and tightened in warning in his hair. The deviltry in eyes faded under a wash of annoyance and I grinned. Cameron wasn't nearly

as big of an idiot as he made himself out to be. "Alright yes, I know what souls are." "And?" I prompted. "And Az'rail is name of the Islamic Angel of Death." "See," I grinned down at him while Sinclair composed himself, "You have been paying attention in class." "Yeah, whatever. I know who Sin is and I have a pretty good idea who you are." He waited a beat, "Princess." When my jaw tightened he chuckled and made himself more comfortable against my legs. Sinclair ran a weary hand across his face. "Alright then that means we're all pretty much on the same page." "Not really." Cameron began, and I looked at him in confusion. Then I remembered what had happened before the whole Hyde Park incident and gasped. "He's right. There's some stuff we have to tell you." We caught Sinclair up on the conversation we'd heard earlier that night between Sir and his brother. Then Cameron went on to explain about the alchemist Fredrick and his mission to steal souls. "Oh yeah," I said after Cameron had finished relating the details. "Speaking of which Jinx works for the guy. He was sent here to get the location of more souls." "From you?" Cameron confirmed and I nodded. The mention of Jinx started up a whole new explanation on the Devil's Playground and the whores. When I mentioned the crack Snclair held up a hand for silence. During this entire time his eyes had become increasingly clouded. So much so, that the normally green blaze of them was banked to the point where they appeared black. "So let's recap." he said, and my and Cameon's mouths snapped shut. "Gabriale was sent here to kill me. She couldn't do it, a fact that the person who sent her no doubt counted on. Therefore we can only assume that he was hoping she'd die in the attempt." My heart skipped a beat at these words and Sinclair sent me a neutral look that was nonetheless comforting. "Added to this the collar that's been keeping her hidden from the rest of the supernatural community as well as the Heavens and Hells has been broken." "Oh so that's what that was." Cameron said and I shushed him with a finger across my lips. Sin continued, "The breaking of the collar--" "Wait," Cameron interrupted, "How did the collar break anyway?" Sinclair cleared his throat,"Well, that was sort of my fault." "Really now?" Cameron sounded gleeful and really I couldn't blame him. "How is it your fault?" I asked. Sin looked at me and sighed heavily as if the sight of me were a burden. "Well. Let's just say that I've been aware of the soul stealing for some time. Though I wasn't aware of the name of the Alchemist behind it all until you two told me, I did know of the collars. I knew that they are usually reserved for what amounts to as slaves. I was fond of you, so I broke it." My mind sifted through any memories I had in which Sinclair dealt specifically with my collar. When the memory finally surfaced my face flushed red. "You!" I gasped out and waved my arms around, "YOU! NAKED! CHAMBERMAID!"

It said something about my level of trauma that even months later I was unable to form a coherent sentence when speaking of the incident. Cameron's eyes widened at the mention of the time Sinclair, naked as the day he was born, chased me from the dorms after I'd kneed him in the groin after walking in on him fucking one of the schools chambermaids. Somehow everyone had found out what had happened and the fact that Sinclair's roommate was the jealous, possessive type had only made Sinclair look good. The incident had made more of a fool of me than it had of him, a anomaly I had yet to figure out. "You licked my face." "Yes I did." he said patiently, oddly unmoved and Cameron rolled over onto his side, laughing so hard he forgot to breathe. "I also licked the collar." "That was enough to break it?" "Well yes. Usually only the touch of the person who created the collar can crack it. However those types of rules don't apply to me. My DNA is usually enough to unbind most magical restraints. So it was either that or bleed on you and I sure as hell wasn't about to open a vein for you. " "Impressive." I said in approval and the fluff-balls murmured in agreement. "Anyway, once the collar broke everyone was able to sense you again and now," He shrugged as if our current situation spoke for itself and honestly it did. "From what I could gather it seems Fredrick is good friends with Lucifer. I'm assuming he's the one pulling all the strings behind the souls snatching. What I cant figure out is what the souls have to do with allowing the demons topside." "Well that's obvious. " I said, letting the boys wrap their eye stalks around my fingers,"He's attaching the souls to his demons. the supernatural's souls should give the demons enough strength that their able to come topside as much as they want. That's what the collars do isn't it? Once a supernatural dies the collar binds its soul to a physical object. Using alchemy Fredrick pulls the souls from the collars and forms them into whatever potion he's selling on the streets. I would assume that that's how Fredrick is giving his human customers powers. Once they drink the concoction it binds their souls with the supernaturals, and voila, instant mage." I tapped my chin and frowned in concentration, "I would assume though that once the human dies both souls are dragged down to hell together. You know, since their connected and all." I looked at Cameron and Sinclair to find both men slack jawed and a bit dazed. "You," Cameron pointed at me and the puffs growled. "You can think logically?" I frowned at him but it was Sin who came to my defense, kind of. "She's surprisingly bright when it comes to this sort of thing. After all," And here his gaze narrowed on me, "She's spent her own share of years experimenting with new ways to exploit souls. Isn't that right Gabriale?" I looked into my lap and cooed at the boys some more and Sinclair snorted. "Alright, all of that sort of makes sense but what I don't get is why the Satan needs Fredrick and Gabriale to get supernatural's souls. I mean isn't there just as many Supernatural souls in hell as their are mortal?" "First off," Sinclair began, "Lucifer and Satan are two entirely different Fallen Angels." "That's right." I added, "Lucifer fell first and Satan after. Satan is the one their speaking of in church when they mention the Garden and Adam and Eve." "And I'm not surprised that you weren't aware of this, sense as a Were, your soul is essentially humans and your kind follows the same basic rules as mortals. " Sinclair paused long enough to blow a curl from his face and then continued, "What very few outside of the

Supernatural circle are aware of, is that a Supe's soul doesn't go to either heaven or hell." "Their souls go back into fabric of things." Cameron looked between the two of us, "What is the fabric of things?" I blew out a breath as I searched for the correct words. "Well, what some call the spirit of mother earth. Some souls go there. A sort of circle of life kind of thing. Other souls, the really powerful ones go back into the fabric. The fabric is basically the veil that makes up the different worlds, along with the seven Heavens and Hells. It also separates them all from one another while at the same time keeping them bound. If there aren't enough souls to keep to hold up the veils..." "The worlds collapse on themselves." Sin's voice was tired and when I looked at him he grimaced. "This is why there are rulers for each individual Heaven, Earth, and Hell. While the Seven Heavens and Earths are each unique in their own way, the Hells seem to bleed into one another. So while they are still referred to as the seven Hells, in reality there's only three separate hells." "I thought there were only five earths?" Cameron said, "That's what I've always been taught anyway." "That's good." I told him, "That's the way we want it. Two of the worlds are hidden and will hopefully stay that way." "Why?" Sin and I exchanged glances and I shrugged. "Well for one thing," Sin started, "One of the worlds can only be accessed through Gabriale and the second..." "The second is the entryway into Satan's world and also where they keep the Rebel Angels involved in the uprising in Heaven chained until their trial." Cameron seemed unaccustomedly serious. "I've been wondering why Lucifer would go through all this trouble to get his demons topside. You know, other than being the leader of ultimate evil and all. But you're telling me that only three of the Hells are separate from one another?" "Yes." "Well which ones are they?" "Satan's domain, the Rebel's Prison, and Lucifer's kingdom." "So if these three were to become connected...that would be bad right?" "It would be more than bad." I snapped, "It would be catastrophic. Lucifer and Satan have been kept apart for centuries. I don't think they've ever really set eyes on one another. Were they to get together they'd be able to release the other Rebels. And if that happens..." The Hughie puffed out his cheeks and made exploding noises while Wacko and Mo jumped in place and screamed their little hearts out. I nodded in agreement. "Just like that." I stroked them back to silence and across from em Sinclair rolled his eyes. "You sounded as if you had a point Cameron?" Cameron shook himself and nodded, "Yeah. One more thing first. How do you you get to these hells?" I though about that seriously before biting my lip. I could see where he was going with this. "You can only access one of the hells from the world that's above it. And you can only access another world from the ones on either side of it."

Cameron nodded, "Like I thought. That means that if he can get Fredrick to capture enough Supernatural souls then he and his army can pick up Satan on the way. Then they can travel freely to the rebel's prison." "There's a problem with this theory of yours though." Sinclair pointed out. "Only an inhabitant of the sixth earth, Zebul, can travel as they please between the worlds." "Yeah, that's true. But if I remember correctly an agreement was signed by all the Earths stating that chosen residents of Zebul would be assigned in each of the worlds and would act as guide for those looking to travel between them. In this way we could establish trade and it would also make alliances easier. That's how you came to Jap in the first place Sin. Delegate Robyn from Deflor also as an escort and he brought you to me when you landed in his world." "So that's it then." Cameron said, "All he'd need to do was find the Escort assigned to this world and he'd be set right?" "Yes." Sin mused, "Which would most likely explain why they need you so badly Gabby. The Escort could be anywhere in this world. Not only would you make it easier to find the Supes, but you could also find tell them where the Escort is hidden." "Well I won't" I said, all indignant and Sinclair laughed. "Yes I know you won't." "Couldn't they find this Escort some other way though?" "What do you mean Cam?" "Well Ale here claims that the Escorts were assigned to each world to help with trade and everything right? Well wouldn't that mean that there's some way to contact the Escort to let him know he has customers or something?" "Oh that's a good point." Cameron preened under my praise before Sin shot him down. "I would be more concerned about that if this world had kept with the traditional ways. But it's so focused on technology rather than magic that contacting the Escort these days would be damn near impossible. No way exists anymore." "Depressing." "Yeah." I yawned, arching my back and stretching my arms up over my head. When I noticed the faint traces of sunlight filtering from beneath the drapes that covered the rooms window. Making a small sound of denial I curled up on my side and let the fluffs jump around to rest against the curve of my neck and in my hair. "Are we done talking now. I'm tired Sin." He rolled his eyes at me but stretched as he pulled himself to his own feet. "She's right Cam. We can finish this all tomorrow. Don't forget we have class." "What?" Cameron exclaimed. "Are you serious." I turned my head and screamed into my blanket, "Damnit Sin, I don't want to go to school tomorrow." "Be quiet and go to bed. Both of you." He led Cameron from the room and slammed the door on any further protests. I looked at him through the fall of my hair, "Are you going to class tomorrow?" Walking over to my side of the room he stood over my bed and looked down on me, hands fisted on his hips. "Of course I am." When I groaned he leaned down over me and lowered his voice, "Don't complain. You might just enjoy yourself tomorrow." He glanced up at the sunlight turning our drapes a dark burgundy and a small smile lit his lips, "Or today rather."

Chapter ten: "Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic." --Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carrol We were awoken three hours later by a bell. Honestly... a bell. "Why the fuck is a bell ringing?" Sin's muttered words broke the stunned, irritated silence of two people woken abruptly against their will and with a groan I rolled over and out of the bed. I hit the ground with a pained grunt just as Cameron began knocking on our door. Sinclair cursed some more and knowing me well enough to know I wouldn't untangle myself from the sheets anytime soon he stepped around me to go answer the door. Cameron's voice floated to me from across the room, "What the hell are you still doing here. The Council has called everyone down to Olympus. Shouldn't you be with them?" Sin: "I didn't hear anything about a council meeting today." Cam: "Well it's too late now, it starts in about half an hour. They even delayed breakfast for a couple of hours and classes have been suspended for the day. Grab Ale before they start without us." I could hear the beat and excited murmur of voices as the rest of the boys on our floor hustled past Cameron and down the steps. Sin said something to the effect that we would be right there. I wasn't really sure as I was still half asleep. It was only when Sin grabbed the edge of the sheet I was rolled in and pulled it out from under me that I tried to wake up again. My eyes opened to slits and I glared at the blurry outline of Sin standing over me. Lunging forward I grabbed the Sheet again and wrapped it back around me. "I'm not going to that stupid meeting. You can tell me what happened later." "Get your lazy ass up right now." "No." I came up screaming and thrashing when he grabbed a chunk of the too big shirt I hadn't bothered removing last night before I fell into bed. He hauled me to my feet and shook me hard enough that my eyes rolled. Swaying on my feet I clutched his wrists for support. Sin looked deep into my eyes and my toes curled. "You stink." he told me while still managing to look edible and bedridden. I nodded my agreement and grinned a bit drunkenly. "Why yes I do." "Seriously you smell really bad. Like cabbage and cat urine. Your hair is a mess, your clothes don't fit, and I'm pretty sure you're not wearing any underwear. Everything you touched from last night is going to have to be burned. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?" I pouted a little but I nodded nonetheless. "I want you to bathe. Quickly. Put on new clothes. Comb your hair and head straight to Olympus after you're finished. The boys stay here. OK?" he nodded his head in demonstration of what he wanted me to do and I nodded my head right back. "Got it." He pulled me up onto my tiptoes and gave me a quick open-mouthed kiss that sent my poor little brain into overdrive.

"Good girl." Ü I made it to the meeting with about two minutes out of the thirty given me to spare. I burst through the doors of Olympus out of breath and cursing up a storm. This was a bit unfortunate as the rest of the room had started to quiet down. I lucked out though because though my foul mouth carried, since I was the last to come in and short on top of that I was able to hide behind the group of people still standing in front of the entranceway. I waved at the few people I knew by name (I wasn't exactly sociable). Tray, a boy much younger and sweeter than me grinned and waved back. Lock and his crew avoided my gaze while Jinx glared openly at me. Cameron, who was standing next to Tray, winked and I pushed my way through the crowd of students to stand next to him. "Has it started yet?" I asked Tray and he shook his head, his eyes shining with excitement. "Nope. The council's coming out now though." he frowned, "Who's the red head next to Sir?" Cameron and I exchanged looks as we recognized Sir and his brother, Tyler, walking out along the raised platform at the head of the room. From behind him came the rest of the Council members. The Council was made up of seven members. Four of whom were considered to be the head students from each house.The other three were students chosen by the majority of the school. When decisions needed to be made regarding anything it fell to the council members and Sir, as Headmaster of the school, to make the final decision. Sin wasn't the head of Dresden by any means. He didn't like that kind of attention. However, he'd been put on the council anyway because the students had liked him enough to vote him on. He, Sir, and Tyler were the only faces I recognized so it was a treat to finally get a look at the others. The other six members weren't nearly as impressive as my Sinclair, or even Cameron, but I suppose I was being biased about my two favorite boys. Though even I had to admit that they were all...delicious looking. Two of the boys were twins, their hair was cut short and it was a pretty strawberry blond color that brought out the dark gold of their skin. From where I stood I couldn't tell their eye color but I think it must have been gray. Another boy had long silver curls that spiraled into tight ringlets around his shoulders. The edges of that white, white, hair was dipped black. He was taller than the other boys, taller even than Sinclair. His eyes were sharply defined and tilted at the edges like a cats. The third boy to come behind those three was leanly muscled and moved with the grace of an animal. His brown hair was shorter than Sir's strict military cut. From where I stood I could see that his eyes were a frosty blue encircled with black. The next to last boy to come onto the platform had dark, softly curled hair that he'd pulled, incongruously enough, into two short pigtails that curved rather becomingly against his neck and collarbone. The glasses perched on the end of his nose kept sliding down as he surveyed the ledger in his hands and the last member of the Council was the one who pushed them back onto the other boys face. The last member, his bald head and neck gleaming under the lamplight with the dark blue marking of what I remembered to be tribal tattoos, was lean to the point of seeming deadly. His skin was so dark and smooth that it had me drooling with thoughts of chocolate and cocoa. It took a moment for the lust to clear from my eyes before I was able to place the tattoos that danced along the

back of his skull and the sides of his cheeks. When I did my mouth dropped open and I leaned heavily into Cameron for support. "Ale what's the matter?" I pointed weakly at the darkly skinned man and shook my head. We were all so dead. "The last council member. He's from Zebul." I could feel Cameron struggling to place the name and when it finally clicked he swayed into me. "So he's-" "Yeah, technically he's an Escort." "Fuck me." "Shhh." Tray turned on us, his brows drawn in unaccustomed irritation and his finger against his lips. Cameron and I straightened and hushed up. It might have seemed odd that we would be taking orders from one so young, but Tray was second in fencing only to Sinclair. The kid was deadly, and since I was barely passing that class as it was I decided not to push my luck with my mentor. "Everyone please settle down. We have some very important matters to discuss this morning and I'd like to cover everything so that we can get on with the preparations." The room finally quieted completely and Sir nodded his approval. "Now as I'm sure you're all wondering, the Council and I have called this meeting to inform you of a few changes that will be implemented here at the school." I watched Sin and the pigtailed guy confer for a few moments before Sinclair shook his head irritably and took Sir's place at the center of the stage. "Alright, first off I need Supes over on my left and normals on my right." When half of the student body stayed put Sinclair arched an eyebrow. "If you don't know what a Supe and A normal is...that most likely means you're a normal and belong on the right side of the room." After that much needed explanation the students separated themselves accordingly. It surprised me to see Tray stay on the same side as Cameron and I. "So what are you?" I asked him and Cameron punched me in the arm. "Rude." I flushed guiltily and apologized and Tray laughed. Glancing around to make sure that none of the humans could see he lifted his hand and flicked a lock of his hair out of the way. Before my eyes one of his previously normal looking ears elongated and thinned until the tip of his ear folded over on itself like a dogs. It wiggled and I squeaked in alarm. "I'm a pixie." Cameron grunted his approval and I squealed. several boys turned to look in our direction but I was too busy clutching Tray to me and murmuring happily. I grabbed his ear and tugged and he slapped my hands away with a snarl of disgust. I'd forgotten how much I loved pixies. I tried to convince Tray to let me touch his ears again, but by the time his decision was leaning in my favor, the rest of the students had finished separating themselves and Sinclair had commanded silence. "Now, everyone on the right side of the room, if you know what a Supe is please go over to the left. " When I saw only a eleven or twelve of the students come to our side of the room I turned to look up at Sir with admiring eyes. Out of a school that held thousands, only a good twenty of those students were actually supernatural while even less than that knew of our existence. In this

way Sir had buried his charges under pure numbers. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Sin grinned at the assemblage and I cringed in sympathy for the humans. "Alright then." He said, "Thank you for all of your cooperation. Now if everyone left on the right side of the room, would you be so kind as to go back to your respective dorms. Pack your shit, and get out? Thank you, it's been wonderful having you here at Parrington." he turned to leave after dropping this little bomb but one of the twins snarled at him and shoved him back onstage. Brave bastard. I saw the rising confusion in the ocean of normals and I felt a little bad for them. Especially when one of the humans, a boy who looked to be older in this world than Sinclair, challenged the council. "Just hold on one damn minute. Who do you think you are? Do you have any idea who my family is? Who my father is? We've practically paid for this school-" Sir interrupted him, "I wouldn't go as far as that Erin. I don't run that kind of school so don't go making boasts you can't back up." The boy flushed and angry red and ( pleasure of all pleasures) Lock voiced his unhappiness next, his eyes wandering until they found and locked on me. "What makes them so special that they can stay while we have to go? What's this Supe and Norm business about anyway." Sin's eyes narrowed and he glanced over his shoulder at his fellow council members. When they all looked equally clueless Sinclair turned back to the remaining humans and stated. "Basically it means that there's a private organization run in this school that singles out exceptionally gifted students. Supes. We gave the rest of you slackers time to catch up. But you failed. You understand that don't you? You're all failures and so we're kicking you out of school. So that's what you can go home and tell your Daddies." I saw Sir's face slacken in automatic denial but then the white haired council member grabbed his arm and pulled him back. I understood his point. It wasn't nice but what else were they supposed to tell them to explain things? The humans meanwhile were in an uproar. Some were angry, a lot more were confused, while the rest of them simply looked stunned. Sir's jaw tightened and glaring at Sinclair as if contemplating murder, he replaced him at the head of the stage and waved for silence. It took him a few moments but finally the humans calmed down enough that Sir was able to speak. "I'm sorry to say that Warsted is correct. Parrington cannot afford to house and feed students whom aren't doing their very best. We're cleaning house as it were, so teachers and staff are receiving the same treatment." "This is outrageous-" "This is policy." Sir stated coldly, committed now it seemed to what he had to do and say. Sir somehow managed to send the humans from Olympus without calling in the male staff waiting quietly on the sidelines to help. I watched one of the other humans as he dragged his friend from the room as they left to make their way to their dorms to pack their things. I heard sympathetic tsking behind me and being as inconspicuous as possible I turned my head a bit to glance at the source of the sound. "I feel sorry for them." muttered a spiky, black haired youth to his companion. His friend pushed the glasses that covered most of the upper portion of his face further up his nose. His deeply slanted eyes narrowed cruelly and he spit out,

"Filthy, fucking humans. It's about time Sir got rid of the lot of them." "I liked them personally." "You like anything that feeds you." I snorted and when the two boys glared daggers in my direction Cameron cupped the back of my head and pushed my face into his chest. "He's a little emotional right now. Abandonment issues you understand." the boys seemed to accept this, albeit suspiciously and Tray giggled. When everyone on the right side of the room had gone, the door closing behind them Sir sighed and ran weary hands through the stubble of his hair. "As I'm sure you're all ware, there have been problems arising lately." "You mean with that soul stealing leech Fredrick running loose?" Someone called out bitterly and I felt my muscles tighten in reflex. "I understand that there's some hostility-" "Hostility?" I recognized glasses boys indignant voice and used up most of my willpower for that week by not allowing myself to look at him. "You make it sound as if this is some petty dispute Sir. But this bastard is KILLING us!! Destroying our people, our women and children. If the humans could control their damn greed for five minutes--" "You don't think I know all that boy? You aren't the only one who's lost something. If I remember correctly your Amanda was a great supporter of humans and before her death so were you. Some of your best friends, some of my most loyal men are humans. So why don't you do your betrothed's memory proud and try handling this like a man instead of throwing a tantrum like a spoiled child." Th pain these unexpectedly harsh words caused cut long and deep. It pulled a gasp from my throat and from behind me I heard the same breathless cry of despair echoed. The shock of this hurt, which was not mine left me shaking and not only did I reach for Cameron, I clutched at him. The souls were getting stronger. I'd sensed it since I'd woken up that morning. That low burn in the pit of my stomach, that dazzling electricity spiking my skin and curling on the back of my tongue. I knew the feel and taste, and soft whispering laughter of my souls. I knew them, and though I wasn't as used to them as I soon would be, the feel of them slipping back around me was like the feel of a much loved, and much used cloak. So while it hadn't shocked me in the least to feel the boy, it was definitely uncomfortable when his emotions ripped through me as his were the first I'd felt since my powers had started to come back. I buried my face in Cameron's side and listened as Sir droned on about how the teachers and staff were all being replaced and how the Normals weren't being sent away because they weren't trusted but because it was no longer safe for them. The cover that they had offered with their presence was no longer as effective as it had been because apparently, Parrington was now on a list. "From what my sources tell me," here his eyes darted briefly to Taylor, who had been silent for the majority of the meeting thus far, "Fredrick and his spies have compiled a list of as many known safe-houses as they can ferret out. One of them must have gotten enough information on us that we've now been added to this list." "Will they attack Sir?" "That's most likely the case yes." "But wouldn't it be safer to keep hiding beneath the humans?" asked another boy and Sir shook his head.

"For a lesser threat I would have had no problem with that. However times are different. Now that we've made the list the entire school is a target and I will not sacrifice innocent lives." he shrugged, "At least not for a good reason. Which is why some changes will have to be made around here. Starting tomorrow the rest of the Safe Houses will be emptied and closed down. The other establishments are much, much smaller than Parrington and easily taken over. Therefore three schools, us included, have been chosen to hold the refugees from these schools until things blow over. The national council in London has called for soldiers from each of the clans around England to send to Yorkshire for military training. We'll be getting a sizable handful of these soldiers to help train us as well as to assist in guarding the school. In this way whether we're attacked or not we should be able to hold our own long enough so that we aren't overwhelmed. In addition to training most of your regular classes will proceed as usual-" there were collective groans and Sir hid a smile. "Yes I know. But no matter how much you dislike it, don't underestimate these lessons boys. Knowledge is power after all and we have a whole new set of teachers coming in to school you. So try to take this seriously would you. The move will take a few weeks and the relocation of the students and dorms will take a few weeks more. We'll have to bring in supplies, new materials, equipment, and weapons. Some of the buildings will need to be remodeled for various purposes." He waited for the excited chatter to calm before he clapped his hands together and straightened. It was only when he did that that I realized how much he had been bent from exhaustion and stress. "A little good news to help raise your spirits. As it turns there isn't enough room to keep the houses single sex. Which means that by this time next month you boys will most likely have some female classmates." My outraged, "WHAT!?" was drowned out under the enthusiastic cheers that broke out and I slapped myself hard in the head. Damnit. This wasn't good. I liked girls and all but I had grown accustomed to being surrounded by boys. I even liked it. The only thing that made this situation even better for me was that I got to have Sinclair all to myself, especially since he'd promised to leave the maids alone. But Sir was talking about competition. Active, possibly beautiful-possibly powerful-most definitely bigger breasted-competition. I made a weird groaning sound in the back of my throat that I'd usually only ever heard from dying animals and dug my nails into Cameron's chest. Beneath the sounds of cheering, happy, boys he leaned in and whispered lovingly in my ear, his fingers tight around my wrist to prevent further damage to himself. "Don't worry about it Ale baby. Personally I'll always love you best." He said this as if it would make me feel better. As if I cared whether or not he loved me. Best or otherwise. And oddly enough...he was right. Ü When we left Olympus, filing out in groups of twos and threes since there were so few of us now, we could see wave after wave of students congregating towards Parrington's main entranceway. In the few short minutes it had taken to finish up the meeting some of the boys who

lived closer to the school were able to send for carriages to come and pick up their belongings. Everyone who wasn't so lucky had at least sent letters t their families stating the situation and if my guess was right in the next three or four days, all of them would be gone. Cameron pulled me to the edge of the building and together we slid down the cold gray mortar of Olympus's walls to rest in the grass and watch as the students moved about. Tray, who'd been walking behind me looked lost for a second before he came to sit beside us as well, drawing his knees up against his bony chest. We sat that way for a long time, basking under the heat of the sun and breathing in the fresh, clean scent that heralded winter. "You think Mr. Little is one of the teachers who'll be sent away?" Cameron shrugged and we were close enough that my shoulder moved with him. "So..." I tried again, "If he leaves you think we'll still be able to hold the Spring Ball in the next few months?" Cameron grunted. It was Tray's excited words that filled in the blanks for me. "Mr. Little is one of us. His grandmother was was a gnome. He and Sir have been friends for a long time so you don't have to worry about him going anywhere. And with him here, there's no way he'd let the school miss the annual ball." I grinned at him and asked, "Do you know what other teachers will be able to stay?" He considered this request rather seriously before brightening, "Young, the science teacher and Winston the horse master. Harry is a human but he knows all about us so he'll be aloud to stay." My eyes widened despite themselves and I clutched his arm. "Are you serious? Out of over thirty instructors only three of them will stay?" Tray nodded, rather pleased and from beside me Cameron made a rude sound of disgust. "If I miss my guess Doc will stay too." I'm assumed from the tittle that he was referring to the schools nurse. Glad to know we had medical support for the days ahead. We couldn't see the drive's entrance from where we sat but we could hear the creak of carriages and the impatient neighing of the horses through the stand of trees. "Hey Ale?' "Hm?" I said lazily, my eyes drifting shut and my head resting against the warm stone at my back. Breakfast would be served soon so there was no point heading anywhere. But then by this time it should really be lunch. so instead of breakfast I would be eating brunch. I hadn't had brunch in forever. I like brunch. I wondered what they would serve and I was having rather pleasant, slightly erotic, fantasies of waffles and scones dancing through my head when Cameron pinched me. "Pay attention." I rubbed at my arm and tried to kill the sting left behind. "Sorry. What were you saying?" "I asked you if you could take me back home." I stilled in guilt. Then forcing a smile I turned my face to him and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about Cameron my dear." We stared at each other, eyes unwavering and unblinking. Then Cameron began to laugh, a slow chuckle that worked up from deep in his chest and then grew in strength. Pretending to be tickled by him and his antics, but in reality growing dangerously close to bolting, I began to laugh with him. We stared at each other and laughed and it was during a desperate drag for oxygen that Cameron said, a smile still fixed firmly on his face, "I'm going to fucking kill you."

I chuckled fondly at him and slapped him, hard, on the arm. "Silly mutt. You'll have to catch me first." His head canted to a deliberate angle. The movement was similar and yet different from the motions I'd seen in others, including myself. It held a more deadly, predatory edge than it should have and his smile was stiff, his teeth gleaming. "What makes you think I won't catch you?" I shrugged and my eyes darted to the shadow that rose up behind him. "Just instinct." "Well you two seem uncommonly serious." The sound of Sin's voice didn't seem to surprise Cameron. I suppose it wouldn't since he probably smelled him coming. I folded my arms across my chest and stubbornly closed my eyes. I tried to curb the nerves that shook me but I'm not sure of how well I did. It'd been a while since I'd dealt with a wolf of the were persuasion so I wasn't as used to hiding my emotions from their senses as I once had been. So I changed the subject. Subtly "Hey let's go into town." "Town?" Sin's fingers wrapped around the nape of my neck and he hauled me to me feet. "What do you need to go into town for?" "I uh...I uh wanted to go to see the boats, and um...to visit the shops...and go and thank the girls at the Playground for last night. Is that so wrong?" I could tell from the look in Sin's eyes that he didn't believe me. That he was suspicious. "Are you judging me?" "What?" "DON'T YOU JUDGE ME AND MY WAY OF LIFE SINCLAIR!" "You're not all there right now are you? Not like I didn't see it coming but-" I glanced past Sinclair to see Cameron's gaze narrowing dangerously on me and with a manic laugh I latched onto Sinclair's forearm and tried to tug him away. He was a surprisingly stubborn bastard and hopping up I planted both feet into his chest, my arms locking tight around his biceps. I jumped up and down sideways for a bit in the hopes that my momentum would drive him into action. Sinclair shook his arm to make me stop and my hair swung out above me and the world turned upside down. My eyes crossed. "Why is she hanging off of you like a spider monkey?" Sinclair shrugged and my body bounced, I had a sick moment of vertigo when he stopped holding his arm extended out for me. I wrapped my legs around his arm, feet locking at his shoulder and tried not to die from the gallons of blood pooling in my head. "What's wrong with her?" Tray sounded worried. "She's being subtle." He was obviously far more astute than I gave him credit for. "Subtle?" The disbelief in Cam's voice was understood but not approved of. "She gets like this when she's trying to change the subject." Sinclair explained kindly and my head angled as I contemplated his various body parts and decided among the which of them Sin could do without that neither he nor I would miss that much. Since it was so close, literally right there, I had centered in and readied myself for the taste of man thigh. "Don't you dare." his snarled warning reached me just as I opened my mouth, "Cameron. Can you get her off of me please?" Cameron obliged happily enough, though I somehow ended up tucked under one arm like

a sack of potatoes. It was an improvement but not a huge one. Sin sighed in relief and walked behind Cameron so he could look me in the face. "Now that your diversions have failed, you still want to head into town for the day?" I considered his offer before giving him a solid nod. Sin grinned at me and motioned to Tray. "You want to come to? I doubt you'll have anything better to do around here." The little boys entire face lit up and he jumped to his feet and dusted his pants. "Yeah, I'd love to come." "Sin." Cameron began tightly, "Don't let her off the hook for this please. I need to talk to her." I would have panicked a bit more if I'd heard Cam use the word 'she' in front of any other student, but ever since I'd learned of Tray's Pixie status I'd already figured out he would have been the first to recognize me for who I was. Part of a Pixie's gift was to be able to tell the true nature of a thing or person. I knew Tray wouldn't rat me out so I wasn't worried. As I watched, Sin patted Cam on the shoulder as he started past him to begin to make his way toward the stand of trees not far off. "No worries my friend, we'll get her to talk. We'll have to take the scenic route into London today anyway, what with all the traffic to and from the school." he looked over his shoulder as he neared the canopied edge of the forest. Raising an eyebrow he asked, "You are capable of talking and walking at the same time aren't you? Cameron gave a growling chuckle that had me squirming uneasily under his arm. He set off after Sin and Tray fell in behind me, his face at level with mine. It was Tray's bright, excited, loyal, pixiness that I would be counting on to save me in these woods once I told Cameron I would be unable to return him back home. Especially since the wolf had managed to catch me before I'd even been given a chance to run. Ü "I'm not exactly sure how your mind works. Are you delusional most of the time? Is there any sort of reasoning or restraint present when you decide on a course of action? Or do you simply allow the smoke from the hot-wiring circuits in your head to blind you to any sort of clear thinking?" "Cameron." though he tried to sound stern I heard the amusement and my ass tightened in reflex just as Sinclair reached over and smacked me hard on my right butt cheek. Cameron's arm tightened around my waist to anchor me for the force of the blow. It stung just like the other ones and I bit back a yelp. Apparently Sinclair believed deeply in multitasking. Not only could he walk and talk at the same time. He could also, walk, talk, and deliver brutal and unnecessary punishment. Tray qas a bit ahead of the three of us now, his ears completely unfurled and faint traces of pixie dust sifting from his skin in his amusement and glee. I'd said it before and I'll say it again. Pixies were a bloodthirsty lot. Thank god he wasn't any younger or who knows what would have happened to me by now. "Can you put me down now? Aren't you tired?"

"Nope. I could do this all day." Cam returned brightly. "Not that I haven't enjoyed these last few minutes Cam, but senseless punishment and mindless entertainment seems more my style than yours. And honestly I can spank her just fine all by myself." "Which means what Sin." "I've let you have your fun with her but until you explain to me what she did you'll be putting her down now." Sin's voice was mild and from around Cameron's back I could see his face turned up to the light breaking through the trees and branches above us to bathe his face. He wasn't threatening Cameron right now, he was warning him. Something Sinclair rarely if ever did and Cameron must have appreciated the gesture because he paused to set me gently back to my feet. I swayed, trying to get used to the feel of soft earth beneath my boots. Who knew that once you've spent five minutes of your life bent over in the presence of two sadistic boys and a pumped up Pixie you would appreciate the feel of solid ground so very much. Placing my hands against my butt for cover I angled away from Cameron to edge closer to Sin. True he'd been smacking me just a second before but it had been Cameron who'd taken the first lick. Sin had just gotten into was all. No shame in that. When I reached him he wrapped an arm around my shoulders and I flinched instinctively. "Tell me what she did." "Can I hear as well Fallen?" Sinclair blinked at Tray before shaking himself. "Of course be my guest." He looked around for a bit before leading us all over to sit on the rotting corpse of a tree's trunk. I wrinkled my nose but sat when he brought me down beside him. Tray settled on my other side while Cam plopped down on the ground in front of us. Giving no mind to the mud from the still wet earth staining his school uniform. "Cam?" Sin asked, the edge of his patience showing and Cam snapped to the point right away. "She kidnaped me." Silence. I bit my lip and crossed my fingers behind my back. Damn if this wouldn't get me in trouble. Unless... "Gabby baby, did you kidnap Cameron?" I shrugged and gave him innocent eyes though after hearing that endearment I felt a little guilty about lying. "Sorry. I don't remember all the way just yet." "BullSHIT!" Cameron yelled, "Stop playing around with me and just get me back where I belong. I want to go home." "Calm down and tell me what's going on." "She-" he pointed me out to add flair to his accusation, "That she-devil right there kidnaped me." "Did not." I snapped. "Did too. When I met Gabriale I was at a club in downtown L.A. It was spring, 2009 and my girlfriend at the time had finally agreed to give me a blowjob." He stared at me with wide, wounded eyes and for some reason I felt guilty. Though for the life of me I couldn't figure out what a blowjob was. "Do you know how long I've been working on that blowjob? Huh? I gave up on the threesome when my birthday came up and she bought me a damn watch instead of her friend Tina of the huge knockers. It was going to be a blowjob of epic proportions. The fruit of all my

struggles, of taking that judgmental bitch to meet my mother, who doesn't like her by the way. Of buying her jewelery and eating her cooking and putting up with her GODDAMN tampons under MY bathroom sink. Do I look like I'm on my fucking period? No. But I put up with it, I survived it all because I knew I was working for a higher power, a greater good-" "Alright." I snapped, finally having had enough. "Fine. If you want a blowjob so badly I'll give you one." I said just to shut him up and ended up jumping when with a pained groan Sinclair slapped his hand over my mouth. He turned me to face him and shook his head. "You. Don't talk anymore." Cameron looked shell shocked. Then very slowly, glee brightened his face while in response, Sin's countenance grew increasingly darker. Knockers, tampons, blowjobs, Elle-Ayes. It was all so confusing. My only solace was that Tray seemed to share my ignorance. "Cameron. If you don't get to point very soon I'll make sure that you're never able to have another blowjob in this life or the next." Sinclair massaged the bridge of his nose with blunt fingers and closed his eyes. I could see a vein throbbing in his temple and I scooted closer to Tray, though I couldn't help from patting Sin in a a weak show of comfort. This was warning two. Cameron was running out of time. Hopefully Sin would snap and kill him before Cam managed to tell on me. "Explain to me why you decided t o bring this up now. Why all of a sudden?" "Because I recognized her smell last night. I've been searching for the bitch that brought me here forever but I figured she must have stayed back in L.A and that's why I could never locate her. With the collar off Ale's smell changes and I know, I know that she's the one." His voice vibrated with the conviction of a true believer. With heavy lidded eyes and an unsmiling mouth Sinclair turned his head to look at me and gripped my wrist. "Talk." I looked from him to Cameron, and finally to Tray. I could have outrun Cameron and Tray using the magical means at my disposal but Sinclair was another story. Added to that the fact that I would have to spill the beans eventually, now seemed like the best time to do it. Sin had probably never intended to take me into town today and had drug us outside because he knew the woods calmed me. Either that or he planned on dumping a body depending on angry he was at the things I told him. He'd brought Tray as reassurance because he was aware of my weakness for all things pixie. I honestly had wanted to avoid talking about it for as long as possible but i think that there were some things that Sinclair needed to know. That I wanted to know, and though Cameron hadn't come right out and said it I could feel the hurt, desperation, and crushing loneliness coming from him in waves. He deserved an explanation. So with Tray rubbing my back in steady, soothing circles and with Sinclair gripping my wrists I made a decision. "Cameron I need you to touch me." He startled, "What?" "Touch my leg or my face or something but I need contact with you." "Why?" I was growing impatient, "Because, despite what you may believe some of what happened that night are still rather fuzzy in detail and showing it will be simpler than trying to sort through the confusion in my head. Plus," and here I swallowed and tried to fight back tears, "Plus some of the story is a bit painful for me and I still can't say it out loud yet."

Taking a deep, steadying breath Cameron nodded and rose up to his knees to grip my bare face between his hands. With the three boys anchored to me, I closed my eyes and proceeded to show them the story of the night when I was at my very worst and calling for help the Heavens sent me to a man with blond hair and a ready smile in the mystical land of L.A.

Part Four: And so she met him

Three years ago... I dreamt that I danced. Dressed in a glittering white gown with a slashed skirt and a button up bodice I was held in the arms of a man with golden hair and dark red eyes. His hair fell in waves down his back and his face was soft, like that of a child. A girl to be more specific. His smile was sharp, mischief ruled his face, and when I looked into his eyes I saw the devil. There was a beauty mark beneath his left eye that fascinated me and in this dream I reached out to touch it as he spun me faster and faster around the dance floor. Then in the dream... he started to cry. A river a honey fell from his eyes like rain and dripped from his nose to land between the push of my breasts. It glittered on my skin like dull metallic gold and when I looked back up from it, the man's eyes sparked red like liquid garnets. I found myself entranced. In the dream... In the dream I leaned forward, for this man for all his strength and power was no taller than me, and licked the golden honey away so that it swam and sunk into my tongue, drowned me. I licked his tears away and he opened his mouth and kissed me. The almost cruel pressure of tongue and teeth forcing my own lips open so that the sticky sweet residue still coating my mouth was washed away under the gentle slide of milk. Honey and milk, honey and milk, I fed and drunk and tasted of him until I was trembling and throbbing. Until my hips pressed against his on their own volition. In the dream his eyes were blood, his fingers cruelty, the knife, when it came, bliss. Pain was pleasure and pleasure was pain and I danced and bled and screamed for him. In the dream...I met the Devil and he turned my world into blood soaked honey.

Ü She called herself Dot. That's it, simply Dot. She was small, no more than nine or ten and her hair was stuffed beneath a ratty brown cap. Purple curls still managed to escape though and it was while I was tucking these back into the girls cap that she finally worked up the courage to acknowledge me. She had been attending my mother and I since the day before and she had yet to speak a word to either of us. I assumed that this had something to do with Eric's orders and I restrained myself from pushing the girl. When I'd finally managed to awaken from whatever spell Warren had cast on me to make me pass out like that at the Playground, it had been with a splitting headache. The pain was eased somewhat because while it turned out that I was being held prisoner in some room or other in Eric's mansion, I was being held prisoner with my mother who said that because of circumstances, she'd been recruited as a guest for the ball the same as I'd been. So company made up for lack of accommodations. It had been nice to catch up with Momma though circumstances could have been better. I wasn't sure if it was because she was trapped, or because she'd missed me that she burst into gasping sobs each time she looked into my face, but the constant weeping worried me nonetheless. So did the dreams. I'd been having them for the past two days or so and every time I woke up, which was less and less, I would feel nauseous. Self loathing would be thick on my tongue and when I managed to bathe, sometimes with Dots help, sometimes with mamma's, it would be a struggle just to bring myself to touch my own skin. Each awakening introduced me to a new cut, a new scar, a new bruise, or piece missing. By the third day I was so decorated with them that it hurt to move my body even a little bit. My body was weak with fatigue and pain and I lost my appetite. I wanted to sleep, needed to, but at the same time I dreaded the darkness waiting for me when I closed my eyes and the increasingly suffocating scent of honey. To make things worse, each time I had the dream it became harder and harder for me to open my mouth and speak. As if each time the taste of honey and milk slid past my lips it worked at trapping my words beneath it's deadly weight forever. ...But back to the girl Dot. Dot had been introduced by Rat Bastard Warren as our helper. The first time I noticed the purple hair sticking out from beneath the edges of her cap I was amazed. The first time I saw the cap off and got the full effect of both purple hair and eyes, I was in love. It had become a habit of mine to touch her whenever she got within range as she went about her duties, so my casual touch today wasn't any different than any other time. Except this time...she reacted. "Oh Miss, I've missed you." The girl threw her arms around my neck and though she was smaller than me she was more solidly built than I expected. Her grip was something else and after about three minutes of enthusiastic strangling I was turning blue in the face. It was my mother who saved me. "Dot? What the hell are you doing here?" it surprised me to see that my mother and Dot knew each other. If I really thought about this is the first time they'd been in the same room. Whenever Dot had come in before my mother had been asleep, in the washroom, or in Eric's bed. I jerked Dot off of me and watched as she gave my mother suddenly shy eyes.

"Sorry. But we've been searching for you guys everywhere." Dot turned to me with a grin and turned a escaping curl around her forefinger. "You see we knew you weren't dead. Oh how pleased the Fallen will be-" "DOT!" my mother's voice was strained and tight with warning and Dot did a complete 180 change. Dot shuffled her feet and tugged at her curls now instead of twirled. She sent a nervous glance to my mother and stepped into my side. Tsking and shaking her head she wrapped slim arms around me and said petulantly, "Mistress is scary. Dot doesn't like Mistress at all." Mamma's face tightened and she took a threatening step towards the girl. "Listen you little brat-" Whatever she'd been about to say was interrupted by the sound of a knock on the door. Momma froze and against me I could feel Dots entire body tighten up. I got the feeling that she wasn't supposed to be engaging in any conversation with us and I grabbed her arm and hauled her off to hide behind the changing screen just as Warren strode into the room. I hopped up onto the mattress and kicking at Dot so that she'd scramble under the bed faster I smiled brightly at Warren. Warren's eyes narrowed on me and I couldn't stop mine from narrowing in return. My mother looked between the two of us before forcing a nervous laugh. "Warren. You brought us wine? How sweet." I smiled nastily, "I don't like wine. Seems like a waste of time and effort to me. But then not everyone has time to waste on molesting little girls like you do Warren." "Gabriale." My mothers voice held a tone of warning and I subsided with a pout. Though after shoving the bottle of wine into Mamma's arms, I couldn't help but mutter, "Rat bastard Warren." at his retreating back. He stiffened momentarily and then with a resounding crash the door was slammed shut. Mamma's shoulders slumped and clutching the wine against her chest she came over to me. "Dot?" The little girl's head appeared from under the bed instantly. She saluted. "Yes mistress. Dot knows. Dot is to take the Princess and run away. Dot understands very well." Mamma smiled, and crouched down to run a shaking hand over the little girl's face. "Dot's a good girl. Now you two hurry. Today is the only day you'll be able to get out. After this the ball starts up again." "Ball?" I asked as Dot scrambled from beneath the bed and straightened her clothes. "Yes the Ball Princess. Dot has seen. They wipe your memory each night after the dance is over so you don't know. But Dot...Dot has seen." Dot didn't need Mamma's warning glare to know she should stop speaking. Her voice trailed off on it's own and for a moment she seemed defeated. Then she shook herself and grabbed my arm. "But no worries Princess. Mistress will stay here. Mistress will stay and stall them while we help you leave." My head was spinning but I didn't resist to much as Dot drug me behind her to the rooms door. From her pocket she pulled forth a key and unlocked the door. My heart skipped a beat as the door opened a crack and I turned toward Momma with wide eyes. "Will you be alright here?" I suppose I should have offered to stay with her but I remembered that dream and for some reason...for some reason I felt compelled to go. The

compulsion was even more noticeable when I looked up into my mother's eyes. I swayed and from the doorway Dot tsked. "Shame on mistress. Shame, Shame. Using your powers on the Princess." "Dot! Be Silent. You are not here to judge my methods simply to help carry them out. Now are the boys ready?" "Yes. Their in the servants wings now and their part of the spell is already complete. All that's needed now is the Princess and Dot." "Good." Momma turned to me and I grinned lazily at her. She shook her head and reached out to brush her fingers against the front of the collar I wore. "Listen closely Gabriale. Once you step out of this room the seal won't apply anymore. Dot will be able to send you someplace safe until the Ball is over. They won't be able to summon you back." "Mamma?" "I know it's confusing right now but don't worry. We'll take care of everything on this end and things will work out fine. Now you go alright." She ran her fingers lovingly over my face and my eyes drifted shut in pleasure. Warmth tightened my chest and my eyes burned. Mamma's voice seemed to be coming from very far away and I swayed as i listened to its rise and fall. "I want you to imagine a safe place Gabriale. Somewhere where no one can touch you, where no one can do you any harm." I felt myself frowning. I didn't know of a place like that. Dot's small hand clenched in mine as she pulled me through the doorway and it felt as if a bucket of cold water had been poured over my head. I gasped. "Dot knows Princess. It's painful. But picture your safe place and hold on tight alright? This sort of thing makes most people very sick. " I didn't have a safe place. I couldn't picture one. All I could feel was that damn cold, that ice slipping down my spine and what I wanted, more than anything else was to be warm again. My head began to pound, the cold seeming to seep into my mind now and my eyes rolled into the back of my skull. Then the explosions came. Speeding past my sight with the speed of light, sparkling, humming, throbbing, masses of stars. They stuck in my throat, filled my mind to the brim and with each push against my mind I heard the echo of voices. Laughter, tears, screams, they clawed at me until my face went numb and sharp pains shot throughout my chest. I convulsed. In the distance I could hear Dot screaming at me and I thought to myself, "I need to concentrate. I have to do this right." So I concentrated. I thought of what I wanted most in this world and in the back of my mind the memory of strong arms and the scent of male drifted past my senses. What I wanted most. Somewhere safe. One light, one star among the billions of others began to shine. Red and white flashed like a beacon in the chaos. Caught my eyes, held them and tugged at me. Ah yes, there it is. Ü

He was fired. After almost three months, his longest record to holding a job to date, the manager had finally had enough of him and fired him. And honestly...Cameron was ecstatic. He'd hated his job. It had taken a few tries but Cameron had gotten used to the casual touches of the customers, the crinkle of paper as someone slipped their number into the pocket of his jeans, the smell of perfume and the sight of an expansive amount of cleavage as some patron bent before him in an extravagant show of pointing out what they wanted from the menu. He'd gotten used to it, and that was part of the problem. He was tired of strange women grabbing him, he was tired of his his male workers giving him a hard time, and he was sick and tired of whispers. Everyone whispered, it was all they did. Quiet little rumors and sly insinuations that raised his blood pressure and sent his temper spiking. So when the games started he wasn't too surprised because the whispers had sort of prepared him for them. First it was the tables. He was double booked on not one occasion but six, sometimes in as short a period as a week. His extra uniform which he kept in his locker in the back turned up shredded, the tires of his car was slashed, his stuff stolen. He was even attacked one night when he went out back for a smoke during his break. He couldn't quite. Now that he and his mother were living by themselves they needed to bring in as much cash as they could to keep their place and pay the bills and most of the time his mothers nursing job just didn't cut it. What he wanted more than anything was to get fired. That way he could get out of the job and his mother wouldn't be all, 'Oh Cam how could you?' again. And he hated that. Really hated it. Add to that the fact that Cameron worked hard in anything and everything he did, then it wasn't surprising to understand his rising despair at his continued chances of employment. So when someone from his shift gave some of his female, and even a few male, admirers his home address it was equal parts blessing and curse. Curse because they'd come by his home one night with not so noble intentions towards his naked body, and blessing because the incident was used as the evidence needed to get him fired. Someone at work had told the manager that he was using his job as a way to pick up women who'd be willing to pay him for sex. The only reason he'd avoided jail time was because he'd promised to bring his manager and the restaurant down with him if things went any further. Extreme yes but Cam had never claimed to be well liked. It wasn't that he wasn't a good person either, but rather it was because of what kind of person he was. That animal magnetism that people so often mention in regards to werewolves and the like worked both ways. After all, full humans were essentially animalistic things and they remembered their instincts deep down. Women were drawn to him, and some men if they swung that way, but males snarled and snapped at him just as much as most household dogs did. And just like household dogs, the humans' wolfish counterparts were much, much worse. He was patting himself on the back and preparing his 'I regret to inform you' face for his mother, when he came to a crosswalk. It was a strangely cold night, especially in L.A, and

Cameron hadn't bothered to bring a coat to work that day. It was then, while he was stamping his feet and blowing into cupped palms, that he saw her. With all the blood, logically he should have smelled her her first but she didn't register on his senses at all. At first it looked as if she'd been hit by a car. Crumpled in the middle of the road as she was, her face was turned away from him so he didn't see the damage right off. However, under the power from the lights of the city he was able to push his own night vision to its limits so that he could see the minute details that spoke of old scars and still healing bruises and cuts beneath this new damage. It was that that convinced him that it hadn't been a car that had done this to her but a person. The girl had been beaten and thrown in the road like a piece of trash and the injustice of it pissed Cameron off to no end. Instincts had him going for the body before his mind had really caught up and again it was a shock when he didn't smell her until he was nearly right on top of her. He checked her pulse first since that's what people usually did on movies and such. It felt strange to feel the thump thump of her pulse against his fingertips and yet not hear it. He was relieved nonetheless though. The bodice of the once dark cream colored gown she wore was torn badly enough that he could see the purple and black bruising that danced up the side of her hip, up her stomach and onto her rib-cage. It was bad enough that Cam could guess that whomever had beat her had cracked a few ribs. Bending over her mouth, he sniffed at the breath coming from her parted lips and since he didn't detect the tell-tale scent of blood he guessed that her lungs were alright. It was late enough in the night that luckily not many cars came by. So Cam took his time picking the girl up in his arms and carrying her out of the street. He couldn't take her to the hospital. As a were it was against the law for him to enter most hospitals, and once they ran his ID so that they could even examine her, they'd know he was a were and chances are he'd end up in jail for the night under suspicion for hurting her in the first place. Cam hadn't liked Juvie the last time he'd been there and he doubted he'd like it any better now. So he took her home. Stupid of him he knew but the only option really open to him. He planned on having his mother, Carol, check her out when she got off of work that morning. Then if she really was in as bad a shape as she looked Carol would be able to take her to see some professional help without suffering any repercussions for it. He was sort of an enigma, not only in the Packs but in the human world as well. He'd neither been bitten, nor had he been born a werewolf. None of his family had any of the strains that held the virus and when his mother had checked him out they'd found that his chemical make-up didn't carry any sort of indicator that he was in fact a werewolf. It simply happened that one day he woke up and he was different. He'd learned through observation and questions that he shifted faster than Weres. His senses were keener, his reflexes sharper. To the Packs in L.A he was essentially a freak or a god depending on how they decided to look at him on any given day. The reminder of all of this was a boost to Cameron's pride and his newly inflated ego gave him enough energy to carry the unconscious girl up the three flights of stairs to his apartment. When he finally managed to shove open his front door he let loose a sound of relief and felt th girl stir groggily in his arms. He moved through the small apartment quickly without bothering to flick on any lights, moving down the hallway to he reached his bedroom door. Once

he lowered her successfully onto his bed he bent for a moment and ran a soothing hand over her brow. The body that had been tensing by slow degrees relaxed at his touch and once he guessed that she was reasonably calm he got to his feet and hurried to the kitchen. Cam was grateful that he handled most of the cooking. Otherwise he would have wasted precious time looking for the pots if his mother had any say in the matter. The women changed an items location almost as often as she changed her underwear and Cameron was strict about keeping her out of the kitchen. Putting a pot of water to boil on the stove he turned the heat up on high and moved to the hall closet where they kept their clean towels. Next was the bathroom. He spent an irritable five minutes beneath the bathroom sink looking for anything he could use to treat the girl's wounds. You'd think a nurse would have more of this stuff on hand. Cameron supposed with her only son being a Were she figured any injury he received that could be treated with neosporin and an aspirin wasn't worth the fuss. In the end he only got a few sesame street band-aids and some antiseptic for his efforts. When the water was through boiling he brought the pan into his room and sat it on a towel he'd folded up on the floor beside his bed. He dipped the smallest of the rags he'd collected into the still bubbling water and proceeded to clean the blood from the girls face. The left side of her face was beginning to swell and though there were a lot of slices on her face there were only one or two bruises. It seemed as if someone had clocked her once in the jaw and then taken a knife to her face. And not only to her face if further examination was any indication. His eyes darted guiltily to her face and when he saw her still slack and unresponsive in unconsciousness he whispered a heartfelt, "Sorry." Then he lay the rag in his lap and put his bare hands against the skin of her neck. Closing his eyes he ran his hands down the column of her throat and over her collarbone. There was a brief instant of hesitation when the bodice of her gown intruded with his examination and he cursed. His body felt hot and strangely uncomfortable, and he averted his eyes as he unbuttoned the ivory buttons that closed up the front of her gown. He wasn't a doctor, but he could sense how far damage went and he at least wanted to make sure she wouldn't die on him before his mother got to her. He was able to unbutton the tattered, lace dress until about her navel before his nerves got the best of him and he stopped. "Jeez, I feel like such a pervert. But it's not as if I'm doing this for fun you know?" he told the unconscious girl. "It's just that I'm trying to help. I want to help. It would be wrong otherwise..." his voice trailed off as his gaze strayed over her. It was the same as her face. It didn't look as if she'd been beaten so much as if she'd been held down and sliced up. Her skin was deathly pale beneath the jagged cuts and when Cameron finally fought down the rage enough to touch her again he noticed how very cold she was. So cold that the feel of her stung he hands. Persistent if nothing else Cameron closed his eyes and placed his hands over her neck once more. Begin again. Slide his hands down the throat, over collarbone and across the upper chest. Skim turgid nipples and the slightly warmer underside of her breasts, go lower. Take a deep breath, press his hands deep into the softness of her belly and push deep. Deeper, and deeper still until he felt her stir and gasp beneath his hold.

There was a split second when he opened his eyes and met those of the girls when he felt a brief flash of pity. The he shoved the feeling away and pushed some of the heat, some of the fire that was essential to his life as a were deep into the woman's gut. She screamed and arched for him, her body becoming as stiff as a board before she collapsed in a boneless heap back onto the bed. No longer cold the girls body now pulsed pink with warmth and there was a faint sheen of sweat coating her skin. Clearing his throat Cameron began to button her dress back up while at the same time trying not to see anything. Though why he bothered since he'd already touched was beyond him. Maybe he was a shy guy at heart. Now that he had a chance to examine her under natural lighting he could see that the dark had played a few tricks on him. Before he'd thought she was a brunette but he saw now that that was due to blood and dirt. Abandoning the buttons momentarily as curiosity overtook him, he picked back up the abandoned rag. Ran it gently over her eyes and down her cheeks so that he could finally see the delicately made features. The wide eyes and high cheekbones. It was as he was running the now cooling rag back and forth over the split in the center of her bottom lip that she opened her eyes and looked at him with the first bit of clarity she'd shown thus far. Screaming, struggling, crying, all of these were reactions Cam was prepared for. He'd pumped himself up for them in fact, so much so that once her gaze cleared and she met his eyes he raised his hands into the air as proof of his harmlessness. "Cam." he said, his voice indicating on a slight rise and fall who he was. "I found you in the road and brought you home. You don't have to be afraid of me I won't try anything." He tried to make his words as light and as un-threatening as possible but the effort seemed wasted. She neither flinched nor cried out at the sight of him, but rather the longer she looked at him the wider her eyes grew. And damn if they weren't such pretty eyes. Thickly lashed and as black as night they were round as saucers as they surveyed his features. But Cam recognized the deadness in the gaze, the numb hope and barely banked fear. He'd seen the same look often enough in the hospital when he was small and with his mother at work. And just as he'd been doing since he was small, since he'd learned of the gift, he reached for her to offer comfort, to offer the heat, and peace once more. As his fingertips neared her face she began to tremble. Her face didn't change expression, she didn't attempt to pull back from his touch, she didn't speak. She just shook, and shook, and shook. Trembling that wracked her entire body from head to foot and grew steadily stronger until she looked as if she were having a seizure. "Whoa," he sounded panicked. Couldn't help that. "Whoa sweetheart calm down. I'm not gonna hurt you alright?" As his hands brushed her skin she let go a low moan and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. He pushed that addictive heat into her through the tips of his fingers and she stilled. The lack of movement was sudden enough that it scared Cameron more than the shaking. He snatched his hands back. "Shit. Sorry." Her eyes rolled back to normal and she stared at him. Cameron felt his blood pressure rise. "Hey look, I'll leave you alone now so-" he began to rise slowly to his feet and with a gasp the girl reached out and grabbed his wrist. She tugged at him and Cameron felt his eyes widen as his balance wavered.

"Hey look-" his voice was shaky with nervous laughter and for the first time he saw her flinch. "Do you have anyone I can call for you? Your parents maybe?" This question stumped her for a moment and she frowned. The distraction was enough that Cam was almost able to extract himself from her grip but she noticed what he was trying to do and her hands tightened. The girl tugged at his arm again, more insistent this time so that Cam had to either sink into the mattress beside her or risk hurting her by snatching away. He was closer now and her hands crawled from his wrist and up his forearm, always pulling, always tugging, and the closer he came to her the more desperate and afraid her face became. She was terrified, almost to the point of paralyzation, of him touching her, and yet she wouldn't let him go. Cameron was too stunned by the anomaly to speak and by the time he figured that refusing her would be for her own good she'd thrown her arms around his neck and pulled him down on top of her. She gave a gasping sob and clutched him to her, her nails digging into his back and her tiny body convulsing beneath his. Her skin was growing cold again, and slick with sweat. His nose was buried in the curve of her neck and only now did the sharp scent of blood and fear greet him. Resting his hands on either side of her head on the mattress so that he wouldn't be resting all of his weight on top of her, he tried to shove off and away but she clung to him. The sharp stab of teeth pierced his collarbone and for a mindless moment Cameron thought, 'Oh shit. I brought a vampire home.' She didn't draw blood though and after the initial shock Cameron realized that her teeth didn't hurt. Experimenting he moved back and had to bite back a hiss when he teeth sunk deeper. Apparently he wasn't supposed to move. So he didn't. It wasn't long before he felt the gentle rise and fall of her chest beneath him and the warm honey scent of her breath brushing his chest. He could feel the warmth of her body through the thin dress and his eyes drifted shut on their own volition. A werewolf that had the power to share his strength. If he hadn't also been a fifteen year old boy he would have been a paragon of virtue and that fact was driven home by the fact that though he should, he didn't want to get off of her. Five minutes later it seemed as if sleep had finally taken full control. On a sigh of relief Cameron pulled away. His arms were aching from holding himself above her and the his chest had grown numb under her teeth. He was nearly free of her when he made the mistake of looking into her face. Calmness had replaced the fear that had tightened her features and her mouth was lightly parted in repose. As he watched she snored and murmured something rude in her sleep and Cameron couldn't help but smile. When she whimpered and reached for him he fell into her without further hesitation, settling himself against her and burying his face against the column of her throat. Even in sleep her arms tightened around his shoulders and the touch was oddly...nice. Slipping his own arms around her waist, he inhaled the intoxicating scent of blood soaked honey and closed his eyes. Ü "OH MY GOD! My Son. My only son. My baby lost his virginity! What am I gonna do!? I'm not ready for this type of responsibility!" The panicked screaming of his mother is what woke him up the next morning. He lifted his head and peered at her through groggy eyes to see her blond head bent as she clutched at the

doorframe of his room and sobbed. Cursing he lay back down and snuggled tight against the heated weight at his side. The sobbing rose in volume and intensity and when he only continued to ignore her it stopped almost instantly. There was a moment of irritated silence and then his mother's face appeared over his head. She scowled at him. "Cameron." "Yes." "Would you mind introducing me to your friend?" He thought about it and finally shook his head. "Can't. Don't know her name." Carol's lip trembled and Cameron narrowed his eyes on her. "You mean you didn't even bother to learn her name?" Before he could speak she began to keen and her face disappeared from his field of vision. He heard her stumbling down the hallway. "MY SON! My only son! He's a pervert! A heartless pervert! Just like his father..that horny little bastard." Her voice drifted away and Cameron chuckled. From the corner of his eye he caught a trace of movement and he looked down to see the girl staring up at him. Cameron tensed, ready to pounce from the bed at a moments notice even as he smiled tightly down at her. She frowned and for a moment her eyes clouded. Then reaching up she ran her fingers down his face. Cameron held himself very still as she rose up and sniffed at his face. The first whiff seemed to satisfy something in her because she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against his chest. Taking deep gasping breaths as if she'd been suffocating and Cameron's scent was the first whiff of clean air she'd had in a while. "Smell." These weren't exactly the first words he'd expected to come out of her mouth but when she looked up at him imploringly he found himself reclining on his back as she sniffed and purred against his chest. "Smell?" The huskiness of her voice distracted him before he pulled himself together. "You mean what do I smell like?" She nodded the affirmative and Cameron shrugged. "Cigarettes most likely." "Cigarettes?" Cameron felt himself pale and the girl on top of him stilled in response to his tension. Cameron laughed gaily as he turned to look at his mother. While she'd been making a lot of noise doing it he knew she'd seen the damage of his so called guest right away. So he wasn't surprised to see her carrying her medical bag over one shoulder. The anger on her face though snuffed any pride he might have felt for his mama the nurse. "Cameron." "Yes." "You told me you'd quite smoking." "I totally did." he agreed readily. "Then why would you smell like cigarettes?" "Because this world is full of sin mama and as much as I'd like to I can't control the nicotine addictions of my less health conscious friends and coworkers." and since he figured he

was already deep enough that a little deeper wouldn't matter, he finished up with, "Oh and speaking of coworkers...I was fired last night. Sorry" She stared at him a moment longer and he stared back. She gave in first, the sight of the girls' injuries seemingly being her breaking point. "Don't you have school?" He didn't but Cameron could take a hint. He left. Ü His nose told him that there was blood. A lot of it. Hidden beneath the tattered rags of that damn white dress were wounds Cameron had neither sensed nor seen and the depth of them turned the air thick with the scent of hot copper and an indefinable scent that screamed woman. It was, to say the least the most erotic thing he'd ever smelled. The thought brought immediate guilt and when he heard his mother leading the girl down the hallway to the bathroom, followed by the sound of running water, he decided to make himself useful. It was a two for one deal because this way he could help out and clear his head. With good intentions in mind Cameron moved about the kitchen. Pulling out pots and pans. Bacon, eggs, orange juice was good right? Oh hell, he couldn't forget the waffles. What else was that damn mini waffle maker for if they never got a chance to use it. He was trying to decide between low fat cheese and regular to melt into the scrambled eggs, not sure if the whole low fat thing would offend anyone when the scent of baby powder struck his nose. He paused, a deadly thing to do when cooking, and turned to look over his shoulder. In the doorway to the kitchen stood the girl and dressed in his old slacks and sweatshirt that hung to big on her, she looked even younger than she had when he'd first seen her. Carol stalked into the small space behind her and cursing pushed Cameron out of the way of the stove as the bacon began to burn. "Go sit. I swear you're just as absent minded as your father." Her words came out huskier than usual and Cameron gave her narrowed eyes as he saw the cigarette tucked in the corner of her mouth. She saw the look and flashed her human teeth at him. "Calm down dear. It's unlit. Mama just has an oral fetish." "Aw shit." Cameron slapped his hands over his ears and dropped the argument go before she could go any further. Making his way over to the kitchen table, he noted the pale faced girl sitting opposite him as he pulled up a chair and straddled it. Reaching over, he picked up a piece of jam smeared toast, the only thing he hadn't burned, and handed it to her. When she took it he was happy to see that her hands didn't shake and the eyes that met his were clear and as calm as he'd ever seen them. "You look nice." He said. The girl raised an eyebrow at him and he shrugged. "Well a hell of a lot nicer than you did last night." That earned him a smile and a snort from the direction of the stove. "So tell me," he popped a piece of toast into his own mouth, "Can you speak or is the whole trauma thing too much?" His mothers enraged, "You inconsiderate piece of-" was interrupted by the girl's answer. "My name is Gabby." Cameron believed that he hid his shaking hands and madly beating heart pretty well. He

could smell his mothers quiet relief as she turned back to cooking, the scent of dew soaked grass, and he flashed a grin to his companion. "My name is Cameron." "Yes, I gathered as much." Oh, sarcasm. Cam could appreciate that. "Cameron I have an early shift this morning. Will you be able to entertain Gabby here?" Carol spoke as she tossed the now completely burnt bacon in the trash and went over to the sink to wash her hands of the smell of burned pig. Neither of them was much of a cook but at least they tried every now and then. Cameron grabbed another piece of toast and nodded with his mouth full. "Yeah. I need to run a few errands around town and then head to the club tonight." "Club?" a hint of fear intruded on the peace that had until that point reigned over her face. Cameron noted the change, and ignored it. "Yeah. I'm playing a show tonight. It's a short set but I don't get a chance to play much so it's pretty important to me." He licked jam from his fingers and watched as her gaze followed the movement with all the hunger of Were. "Ma should be back by then so if your not up to it you can stay here with her." Obviously disappointed Gabby opened her mouth and shook her head. "Oh I feel much better than I did last night. I'd be happy to go." "Well," Carol said with a smile as she walked over to the table. "Now that that's all settled, Cam can I talk to you for a minute?" In the living room Carol sat on the couch and slid the cig between her lips again. She rolled her eyes up to his and frowned. "Your girl's been beat up pretty bad." "How bad." Carol went silent, rolling the cigarette around between her lips while her hands clenched and unclenched between her knees. Finally she sighed. "You saw some of the knife wounds right?" at his nod she continued, "Well some of them were on the inside if you catch my drift. There are burn marks on the back of her neck beneath her hair. I can't remove that damn collar off of her neck and she doesn't really want me to so no telling what that story is about. A couple of her ribs have been cracked and one or two fingers were crushed. Bruising all over, bite marks, swelling. The bones in her wrists and ankles are fractured. Something or someone held her down. Without a more thorough check up I can't tell you anymore than that." Her eyes narrowed as Cameron's jaw clenched. "Don't get any ideas boy. I know your attached. Out of all the girls you have sniffing after you I haven't seen you bring one to this house before. Nor have you ever tried to make breakfast for anyone but yourself. Despite what you feel about this girl I don't want you doing anything. Don't search after the ones who did it and don't send any of your lackeys to do it for you." When he opened his mouth to protest Carol bit the cig nearly in half. "I mean it Cameron. Whatever Gabby is into it's over our heads. She can stay here for a few more days but after that she needs to leave." "Shit Carol-" "Don't start with me Cam. I'm pushing it for this girl as it is. She says she doesn't have family here and she doesn't want me calling the police. Either she stays for a few days and then leaves or she doesn't stay at all." Cameron turned away from her to stalk back into the kitchen. "Whatever. Don't you have

work?" Ü The day he spent with Gabriale, her full name, was one of the most...interesting in his life. And that was saying something. She had no understanding of any sort of modern technology, though it fascinated her. Especially toasters and radios. Televisions he was told rather solemnly, were byproducts of the devil and her opinion of that wasn't changed until he introduced her to to the WB, Cartoon Network and his dvd of the Three Stooges. She loved the Animaniacs, the siblings Yacko, Wacko, and Dot cracked her up. Hughie, Dewie, and lewie received equal praise though their uncle scrooge had her frowning in irritation. Out of all the stooges Mo deserved the most respect and they spent a good twenty minutes arguing over the differing merits of the trio. After that he took her by bus out to eat at Mcdonalds, and since she was receiving more than her share of looks he also took her to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy her some clothes. Up until that day the women's lingerie section had been a forbidden oasis that he passed by but gazed at with admiration and respect. Gabriale gave him the excuse he needed to enter that domain and the experience was made that much better by the fact that she modeled for him without a trace of embarrassment. "Women actually wear so little clothing?" She'd asked at one point, running curious fingers across her green lace panties and bra. Cameron had taken to wearing a slight frown on his face to make it look as if he were annoyed, because his grinning face of earlier had almost had the desk clerk in charge of that section to call security. Especially after the first set of underwear Gabby tried on had revealed the cuts decorating her arms and legs. The sight of Gabby bending over in front of the full length mirror as she peered at her own face from the space between her legs had Cameron laughing out loud. Gabby frowned at him and the other women who'd been searching near their area sidled away. "Yeah. They even wear less." Gabby pressed her ass against the mirror and shook it back and forth. Apparently the coolness of the glass felt good against the giant bruises that colored her back black and blue from neck to ankle. She straightened and pressed the entire length of her back against the glass, her face slackening in pleasure. "Why?" Cameron jumped. He was such a pervert. "Oh. Because there's no need. Especially in L.A where it's so hot, less clothes are better. Makes it easier to move around. That sort of thing." Gabby nodded and Cameron watched in amusement as her face screwed up tight in agitation. Sticking small hands beneath the bottom cup of her bra and down the back end of her underwear, Gabby scratched herself. Cameron doubled over laughing, "What the hell are you doing?" Offended she cried out, "This material itches." It took him a minute to catch his breath but he finally managed it. In the end they ended up with a six pack of cotton panties for $3.99, and a matching front hook bra. Hanes checkered underwear, l00% cotton, size 5.

She had a nice ass. There next attack was the mall, they had to walk a bit to get to the right bus stop but eventually they did. When they arrived, he went from store to store for a while asking for applications. At one point he walked into the Gap, opened his mouth and from behind him heard an earsplitting scream when Gabby tried to hug one of the Maniquens and the things head rolled off. So instead of asking for a jib, he gave the clerk a smile, turned, grabbed her by the arm, and left. Cameron decided holding off on the search for employment would be best, and from then on focused all of his attention on Gabby. He got her ice cream, then a giant cookie at the bakery. He took her to the Border at the second level of the store and to the Gamestop. When they ended up in Hot Topic he exchanged her neutral blue hello kitty shirt for a black Invader Zim t-shirt that went well with her dark blue jeans. The alien fit her personality better than the cat and the sight of it had her face flushing with pride. The chatted ideally as they went through the mall, Cameron walking behind her as he plaited that long white blond hair into a braid to hang down her back. Cameron knew he was spending a good chunk of change on this girl but he couldn't bring himself to stop. In his mind he kept hearing his mothers emotionless voice explaining about the cuts inside of her, and he kept seeing the bruising that covered her entire back. If he couldn't eat someone's entrails for her, or offer her a place to stay, the least he could do was blow a pay check. He sensed them around the outside of the Macey's. Someone was following them. Were, most likely from the local pack. He felt their attention zoom in on him and he grabbed Gabriale's hand and positioned himself in front of her. Thickening his power in the air around them he surrounded her with his essence as if it were a cloud. It would hide her presence but not for long. He was supposed to be making a blood pact with one of the Bitches in the surrounding packs. They would not take kindly to seeing him walking around with some unknown human. "Hey, let's go back to the apartment for a while." She complained but followed him docilely enough. For the next five hours they plaid Assassins Creed and some of the new ones he'd bought at the game store. Once she got the gist of it Cameron found that she had a filthy mouth and after she blew up for the fourteenth time in Crash Bandicoot he had to snatch the controller out of her mouth when she began to gnaw on it in her rage. By this time it was around 7:00 in the evening and Cameron helped her to her feet from the living room floor. "Go grab something to eat, I need to get ready. We'll need to head down to the club in a minute." When he turned to leave she gripped his hand and tugged him back. "At this club," she began, her eyes bright with excitement, 'You'll be performing?" "Yeah." "Like singing music?" "More like playing music. We have a singer already. I wrote the sing through so I guess that counts." She began to bounce on the balls of her feet and Zim bounced with her, all perky and plump. Cameron shook his head. "Am I dressed properly for such an event? Will I embarrass you as I am now?" He looked into that openly smiling face, that soft mouth and graceful neck and fought off the urge to kiss

her. "You look fine. Plus I doubt you could embarrass me any more today than when you flipped out at the elevators at the mall and told everyone they were Satan's chariots. You nearly got committed." she flushed and ducked her head in embarrassment and Cameron cupped her face in his hands, angling her chin so that she was forced to look back up at him. "The club we're going to doesn't have a dress code. In fact it's full of eccentrics just like you. My friends will keep an eye out for you when I'm on stage and you'll dance, drink, pass out and puke because that's the natural order of things. You'll have fun." He chucked her under the chin and she grinned, "No worries alright?" Something flickered across her face, some memory that had the blood draining from her face, though her smile itself refused to dim. "Yes...Yes, no worries." Ü By the time they made it to the club Cameron was in serious danger of being late. They bypassed the line that was clogging the main entrance and with a bright smile for the bouncer that manned the door he dragged Gabriale behind him into the building. The noise wasn't defeaning so much as it was drugging. Genesis was one of the few Were/human clubs still up and running in L.A. It was famous for the fact that it was a fine line to find things that appealed to both species, but Genesis managed it well. The scent of human and lycanthrope alike tickled Cameron's nose and more excited than he had been in a long time he pushed and fought his way through the gyrating crowd, dragging Gabby along with him. He made his way to a table set up in the corner, near the stage that he and his friends always met at, and at the sight of him four familiar faces lit up. The lot of them came up from their respective seats in a rush, their voices blending and molding in and out with the music that filled the room so that it was hard for Cam to understand fully what they were saying. The gist of it all though was that he was missed and his life on earth in general was an appreciated thing. "Hey everybody I want to introduce you to Gabriale." Kit gave the girl a sharp once over, His short spiked green hair glittering harshly under the club lights. "New girlfriend?" "Don't be stupid Kit." Fiona took up the reigns easily, sending Cameron a wink full of promise and mischief. "You know Cam's one and only love is you." "Though you do give Kit a run for his money." He bent and gave Fiona an affection kiss on the lips and since he looked a bit left out he did the same for Kit. Ignoring the mans red face he waved at his companions as he started off towards the door leading back stage. "Sorry Gab's but I gotta go. We're about to go on. You assholes take care of her and make sure she doesn't get into any trouble." He felt a little guilty for running off like that but he had confidence that Kit, Fiona, Rei, and Marcus would be able to take care of her until he came back. If there was one thing his small pack of friends was, it was reliable. Besides, in the twenty or so minutes that he'd be on stage, what was the worst thing that could happen?

Ü It was surprisingly easy to pull the information I needed from the ones around me. The night I'd spent pressed against Cameron's skin had taught me some things, and what useful things they were. Like the feeling of having power pushed into my body had seemed to open some sort of door. Now I simply had to recreate the pushing sensation and I could turn that feeling onto someone else, push my consciousness against theirs and get all sort so f information in the contact. It had taken most of that first night and the following day to get used to it, but I almost had it perfected now and instead of simple impressions here and there I could now receive full thoughts. For instance. I knew that though Cameron's mother liked me well enough she didn't trust me. She didn't want whatever problems I was having to backfire on her son, something I understood completely. She was harsh, ruthless, almost bitter, but she was strong because she had to be. It was hard to raising a wolf to live in a world of wolves when she herself was human. But she'd managed, and I respected her for it. The man named Kit disliked me on sight, not because he preferred men, but because he preferred Cameron in particular and for now I was simply considered another obstacle in his way. The girl Fiona was actually a transvestite, a new word for me but one that popped up as her description of herself. She loved her friends but there was a core of coldness to her. A cold that the brief brush of Cameron's kiss briefly warmed. Rei was exactly as he seemed, a bright, honest young man who admitted to an unhealthy love for anime girls. Marcus I was unable to read at all though the steady look in his eyes as he talked with e made my skin crawl. Not from anything he'd done but because It made me uncomfortable still to have a man look at me that way. Now that I thought about it, it had been a while since I was comfortable with anyone looking at me. A condition that had grown steadily worse since the beginning of the Demons Ball. "So how'd you and Cam meet?" Fiona asked, taking a sip through a purple bendy straw of her diet coke. I stared into the cup offered me into the bubbling black liquid and the first thought that popped into my head was, 'poison.' "He found me." "Found you?" There was an edge of excitement in Rei's voice. One I'd heard often, what with living in a brothel. Rei liked gossip, not only hearing it but spreading it as well. Since I was feeling nostalgic I took a sip of the black poison and decided to oblige him. Instant electricity shot through my mouth and with a demented giggle that sounded distinctly unhealthy I took another healthy swig of this stuff called coke before answering their question. "I'm a time traveler from the past. I was raped at a party and Cameron found me lying in the road not far from his house." Well that made an impact. I'd found that nothing made such a good story as the truth and there was a good chance that once the truth was told no one would believe it. So, pleased with the pale faces and shocked eyes of my audience I stuck my tongue into my drunk and hummed happily as the stuff tingled pleasantly against my pallet. Marcus and Kit exchanged looks and I bit back a laugh as Kit turned back to me with a small frown on his face. "You don't seem to upset over the whole..." he waved an arm to encompass my already spoken words.

"Of course not." "What do you mean of course not?" Fiona's eyes were a bit to wide and it took just a small glance to encompass the stiffness of her body and her tight mouth. Apparently I'd hit a soft spot with miss Fiona. Yum. "It just doesn't bother me is all." I shifted in my seat and took another long drink of the Coke. Th bubbled tickled my nose, the drink burned my throat and fluttered like a butterfly in my chest. It felt good, much better than the sharp pains in my chest each time I took a breath, or the burning on my back, or the screaming icy pain between my legs. "But why not?" her voice was tight. "Because." "Because why?!" "I have a guardian angel. He doesn't let anything touch me." The oddest thing began to happen as these words left my mouth, the collar around my throat began to burn and I bucked from the shock. The sudden movement sent stabbing pains through my womb and I doubled over over my drink with a dry heave. I took another sip of coke and thought ideally that one could get addicted to this drugging sweetness. When I giggled, Fiona's face darkened in rage. "Why wouldn't something like that bother you unless you're lying about it. Girls like you piss me off-" I held up a hand and shook my head, my blood beginning to thrum as the drugging beat of the music that pumped through the club began to call to me. "Let's not start off on the wrong foot Miss Fee-on-a. I happen to be unable to lie to children." "I'm not a child!" Her voice had risen in indignation and my brain pulsed. I shook my head, the taste of plums and rainwater replacing the sickly sweet remains of coke. The taste of children. "I beg to differ. From the taste of you can't be any older than eleven...twelve maybe?" Marcus burst out laughing, "That's where you're wrong. Fion will be twenty-two this year" Thinking of Cameron and what he'd done for me the night before, I reached for the bubbling warmth in the pit of my stomach and let it shoot throughout my body until it reached my hands. Then I leaned across table and tapped a knuckle against Fiona's chest. "In here, she's eleven." I felt my eyes burn and I met Fiona's steadily closing expression with them. "If you don't let go of what happened you'll never progress. There will be no next level for you." My voice was low enough that none but Fiona would have been able to hear it over the commotion of the crowd. Fiona watched me for a moment and then with a sniff she rose to her feet and pushed back from the table so hard that her cup wobbled dangerously. I saved it only barely. "Excuse me I have to go to the bathroom." She hurried off without further word and the remaining three watched after her with troubled eyes. Kit turned on me first. "What the hell did you say to her?" I blinked owlishly at him and sat back in my seat, pulling the diet coke along with me as hostage. I shrugged, "She just didn't like what I had to say." "You're just another easy lay for Cameron. I hope you know that. No matter what you

came here hoping to accomplish, in the end you won't mean jack shit to him." Marcus placed a calming hand on his shoulder before he could go any further. "Look man just let it go. Haven't you been listening to her? She's obviously insane. See look." He turned to me with a polite smile on his face and I tried not to snort coke through my nose. "Where ya from?" I cocked my head to one side and rolled the straw between my lips around on my tongue. "I'm from the seventh earth." Marcus blinked and the collar gave a warning twinge. "And where's the seventh earth?" his voice was low and careful. It was nice to know that he'd be this sweet to a crazy person, to bad that his effort was wasted on me though. Testing this brand across my throat I said, "The seventh earth is beneath the seventh heaven. You get to it by-" The collar sent a bold of electricity and I nearly chocked on my own tongue as my eyes rolled in my head. "You can get to it by," I panted, "going to the first star on the right and flying straight on till morning." Marcus turned to Kit and patted his arm reassuringly. "See. Insane. She obviously doesn't know any better." It wasn't the first star on the right, it was the left. Stupid humans, serves them right. The words seemed to calm Kit. He even worked up a smile for me and I grinned at him in return before the thought of how I knew all these things began to seep in. The suspicion that was in my mind combined with the knowledge I found at my disposal was enough to help me piece something together. Being so far away from momma, both distance and time wise was not good for the collar. If I didn't return home soon it would break and I had the distinct feeling that that would be a very bad thing. "Well that's alright. I like crazy girls." Rei said loyally and as a reward I slid him my stolen diet coke. A new rhythm began to replace the savage drumming of before. Something soft and thrilling that called to me even more than the music of before. I found I liked Cameron's quiet thrumming of the thing the boys were thinking of as the electric guitar and the steady, seductive flow of the drums. A woman began to croon into the mike in her hands and Kit's face instantly collapsed. "Hey check it out. This is Cam's new song." "He wrote this?" I asked, rather impressed, cause I liked it. I really liked it. "Yeah. Every now and then he'll write something for the lead vocalist of this group, Maria. They ask them to play with them every now and then since his stuff is so popular." Marcus explained. Kit turned and hushed us and I subsided obediently. My lover says to me that he is made of poison. That he is made of hate and despair, "I like this new bluesy feel." Rei said quietly as we watched the couples on the dance floor sway almost blindly to the rhythm of the music. "Yeah." Kit agreed. That he is the creation of pain. It is the threat, it is the promise,

It is the assurance of shame At my back I felt the heat of someone familiar and I took a deep breath of Fiona's childlike scent. She didn't sit and because she didn't, I didn't bother alerting the other's to her presence. I have seen it in his eyes. The poison, Felt it sting against the skin of my neck As I wrap my thighs around his waist. I close my eyes to the knowledge on his face. Shut my ears to the truth that whispers along my spine. Mummer and Chant, "He is mine, he is mine." "This one is good." Fiona murmured and I nodded my head. Her prescense seemed more at ease somehow. The scent and taste of child not as strong as it had been before she'd left. I smiled. I watched Cameron on stage as his eyes drifted shut, his fingers moving with graceful confidence over the strings of the guitar. He seemed so handsome there, under the lights of the stage, a lock of his blond hair falling over his eyes as he silently mouthed the words to his own song. Cameron was, in a word, amazing. He is my lover. It was here that the tempo of the song began to increase and my heart sped up along with it. My heart. My poison and my despair. With a kiss of his lips, a soft touch of my hair, The guitar gave a low, rumbling growl that had my skin breaking out in goose-bumps. The lead singer opened her mouth and with a hoarse scream that was somehow still music, sung the next words. I - WILL - DROOOOOWN! Almost as one everyone in the club began to do this odd head banging, bouncing on the balls of their feet dance. The music was no longer soft and seductive, but wild. Violent while still staying beautiful. The women poured her heart out into the song, turning this way and that, banging her head so that her hair rose and fell in the air in swirling intervals. She was beautiful and eye catching yes, but she wasn't the one whom my eyes sought. My gaze found Cameron once again just as his eyes opened. He grinned and those

devilish fingers teased his guitar again so that that rolling scream burst forth once more. It with the steady beat of the drums was enough to widen my eyes and send heat pooling between my legs. I turned to look at Fiona and she must have recognized the gleam in my eyes because she threw back her head and laughed. "Darlin that's what's known as bad boy sex appeal." she reached around and grabbed my hand and for a blindingly clear moment, as our skins touched, the taste and smell of a terrified child was completely gone and the scent of cherry blossoms hung heavy around her. Her face was bright with excitement and I fought off the urge to tell her that she was growing a five 0' clock shadow. "Dance with me." I didn't put up much of a fight as she pulled me onto the dance floor, though I did regret the loss of my drink. We burst through the writhing, screaming mass until we stood dead center and there we dance. It wasn't so much dancing as throwing your entire body into movement, into a beat that reached past your ears to brush against your soul, to strive for it with breasts and thighs and hips. To tease away from it with hair and hands. It was much like making love to an invisible partner. My eyes drifted shut. I felt the shift in power and sound as the guitar changed hands but I didn't think too much about it until a few moments later when the Fiona's pleasant heat was replaced by a scorching inferno. I didn't bother opening my eyes as Cameron's hands gripped my waist. I simply leaned into him, pushed against him so that that invisible partner now had a feel and scent. Cameron rocked and danced with me until the world fell away under the power of the music that grew ever wilder. Until my ears grew deaf to the sound of humans and focused only on the woman's voice, until the pain in my body was pushed down. Drowned, ignored under a kind of wild freedom I'd never had before. Until there was only Cameron's hands, his hips, his breath, his lips, and finally...his tongue. I decided right then that I would take him and before I could stop myself...I had.

Part Five: Regrets

Chapter eleven: "That's the effect of living backwards,"the Queen said kindly: ""it always makes one a little giddy at first..." ---Alice through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll

"You kissed her so it's your fault." The sound of Sinclaire's voice was a shock, but a pleasant one to hear after being

immersed in that old memory. "Well it wasn't completely his fault. Because of the time difference the collar was weakened and since it's timeless space in both heaven and hell the demons were able to sense my location and pull me back to the ball. They weren't expecting Cameron to get jerked along for the ride though and by the time they tried to stop it we were in an alleyway and Cameron was doing his doggy impression." Cameron snatched away from me and snarled and my heart clutched with nostalgia. "You think I should have been happy! Do you know how much that shit hurt? And to suddenly be surrounded by so many strange scents..." he shivered for effect, "All I know is that when I woke up you didn't smell like the Gabby I'd met but like something else...something off. So yes I was pissed. Yes I was confused-" "And yes you would have ripped her throat out. Correct?" Sin's voice was cold, his eyes steady and blankly curious and the look on his face had Cameron subsiding. "Anyway," Tray said as he snuggled tighter against my side. "What happened next?" I thought about that, "Well if I recall correctly when I ran from Cameron I tried to escape through the mouth of the alleyway we were in. By the time I burst through it though the demons had snatched me up again and I was back at the ball." I fell silent, absentmindedly chewing my lip as I sorted through the mess in my head. "I never remember the actual events of the Ball and that last night was no different. By the time I regained consciousness back in the room they'd put me in my mother was dead. And she'd been that way for a least a day in a half." "So she must have been killed the day you left then." Cameron mused and I nodded because my throat was too tight to speak. "Anyway, I was in that room with her for a few hours and I managed to find a gun hidden in a dresser drawer along with a few files concerning Eris and the smuggling of supers. That was around the time Eric and Warren walked in. They started on about how they were going to make it look as I'd murdered mama, and all this other nonsense. Then Eric reached for me and kissed." My voice grew distant and I raised my arms, hands cupped around an invisible gun. I made two soft explosions with my mouth and met Sin's eyes. "So I pulled the trigger." he looked back at me just as steadily and sighed. "Well you didn't pull it enough times. Eric's alive and well the last time I laid eyes on him." I felt myself go very still and I clutched Tray to me like a lifeline. "And when was this?" "Last night." I thought about sin's story and what that meant in regards to Eric and my face fell. "Ah. So he's a demon." "An Angel." "A fallen angel." I snapped, "What's the difference." "The difference," he said calmly, "Is that Samael, or Eric as you know him, never fell from Heaven. He descended willingly into hell to work for the higher ups. It's part of his job to play as a sort of watchdog and both sides know it. He's sort of like neutral territory." Cameron snorted. "That's all well and good and everything but even if this guy wasn't evil at first, the fact still remains that once he's been around evil long enough-" "It starts to rub off on him." Tray finished. Sinclair looked between both boys and shook his head, "Yeah, I don't feel like talking

about Samael anymore so lets drop it. Cameron weren't you trying to get home?" Cameron dropped the discussion as asked, though reluctantly and I turned away from Sinclair all together. "Cameron I can't send you home." That got a response, "What! Why the hell not!" I gave him an arch look, "Because I don't do time travel. It's not in my bag of tricks." I paused, "Yet." "So get that purple haired chick...what's her name? Pot to send me back." "Her name is Dot. Not pot. And she won't do it." "Why the fuck not?" "Because she doesn't like you." "I've never even met the girl." Cameron's eyes were beginning to take on a dangerous gleam and his words were growled. I began to swing my feet as I tried to fight back a smile. "Yes you have. Dot and her two brother interact with you almost everyday." Because he could see that I was serious confusion began to replace the anger on Cam's face and he scratched his head. "Who are you talking about." Sin got it first and began to laugh, "The puffballs? That's too rich." Cameron's face paled considerably and I bit my lip as Sinclair's booming laughter sounded in my ears. "The puff-the puffballs? Hughie, Wacko, and Mo?" "Actually it's Chesey, Pippen, and Dot but I like these new names too." With a growled yelp of frustration Cameron lunged forward and gripped my ankles to still the erratic movement of my legs. "They listen to you. Can't you just tell them to send me back home?" All urges to smile died on my face and my chest began to feel tight. I felt my eyes widen and Tray's arms tightened around me as the scent of sugar and strawberry's assaulted my nose. Pixies always smelled so good. "I won't ask them to send you back Cameron. I can't." "Yes you can. Just-" "I CAN'T! I don't want you to go back home. I don't want you to leave me ever." If he was shocked by these words he hid it well. Actually that was a lie. He didn't hide it well at all, nor did he hide the panic that was quickly working it's way through his body to his skin to perfume the air. It hurt him and his pain pained me...but I was resolute and I would not be moved on this. He gave a nervous laugh and beside me I felt Sin's attention sharpen. "Gabby, darlin. Haven't you ever heard of that saying that goes the tighter you try to hold onto something the quicker it'll fly away from you?" The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them, "Yes. I've heard of that. But it's my belief that if you crush it fast and hard enough you can break it's neck before it ever has the chance to fly away. I won't help you go back. If you want to so badly you'll have to find the way on your own." The smile that stretched my lips then was cruel, but not completely devoid of affection. "That is...if you can." Ü

"That bitch is insane." Cameron's words were bitter and the echoed hollowly through the trees of the now darkening forest. A cloud had moved over the surface of the sun and Sinclair found himself closing his eyes as he let the wind caress his face and neck. Tray had taken Gabriale to play at some football game being held on the sports field so now only he and Cam sat ideally on the rotting tree stump. "Yes. Yes she is but she has her reasons." Sinclair replied ideally. "Sinclair she listens to you can't you make her-" "No. I can't." He interrupted, His eyes snapping open and the familiar burn of rage twisting his insides. He turned to Cameron and felt his face grow cold. "Gabriale has been the queen of the seventh earth of Japrimilia for a very long time. In that time she has only kept a few by her side and even then she has never trusted any of them overly much except for me. The man and woman she calls her parents are subordinates that she punishes just as harshly as she would any stranger. She loves them yes but her love of them does not weaken her." "Where are you going with this Sin my man. I'm sure you had a point somewhere." The rage twisted deeper and became a sharp pain behind his eyes. His spine ached and he had to fight not to release his wings. "I'll say this once, and the only reason I will is because we're friends Cam. Gabriale and I are not human. We have never been human, nor will we ever be human. We are not supernaturals, we are not Angels, or demons, or gods." he regarded the now solemn boy and asked, "Do you know who she loves most in this world or any other?" Cameron chucked and the unwavering hesitation as he pointed at him was almost painful. "Don't be stupid. It's obviously you." "That's where you'd be wrong. Gabby loves me, she would move the world for me but I don't hold the number one place in her heart." a fact that should make him happy right? "I am not her opposite so much as I am her other half. The opposite of Life is not Death and many people don't realize this fact until the moment I've taken them. The opposite of life is a creature that Gabriale holds above all else. Around the Salamanders she's like a drunken idiot. That's understandable, it's some weird maternal instinct thing. With her opposite, lets call him anti-life-" "Like anti-matter?" Cameron interrupted. Sin nodded after a quick cross reference of the phrase. "Yes exactly like that. With this guy she's sane and at her full potential but she doesn't deny him anything. He could consume her, break her, erase her entire existence and all that she knows and she would let him do it without a fight. I've seen it happen. The harsh reality is that if he asked her too Gabriale would destroy me." "What does this have to do with me and her letting me return home?" "I'm getting there. So while he is first and I am second you have taken the place of third." "What?" What an idiot. Sin couldn't believe he was actually talking about something like this, but Cameron needed to understand his position and the danger it put him in. Sin sighed and ran a weary hand over his face. "The Keeper of Souls is Life embodied. She stole energy from the destruction of the universe to create physical body. She was captured before that and put on heavenly trial. It was

during this trial that the souls sought her out and claimed her. Before, they had simply been kept in a container beneath the Throne of God called the Well of Souls. All of them, Stars, planets, angels, demons, and everything in between were cramped together in a small wooden box. Human, animal, plant, elemental, and Supernatural souls were added to the Well before the creation of the earths and it was during the trial that they felt her." He paused at the memory before he shook himself and continued, forcing his words to be as nonchalant as possible. "The first to break forth from the box were the pixies and they called forth the others until the entire Well was empty. They forced themselves inside of her body, inside of her mind, integrated themselves so deeply that they made up her spirit. Until they became her soul." Sin fell silent and looked up into the canopy of trees, watching as the clouds swirled in a dizzying mass of gray and white. He really hated remembering this story. "Anyway, the scientists or whatever you want to call them tried their best to separate the souls from her but they wouldn't leave. They wanted no other vessel but Gabriale, no other vessel was good enough, and it was this fact that saved her. In exchange for keeping the souls safe she would have a place in the heavens, a place of honor. A permanent home in which she could play and learn with her Uncle Gabriel and Auntie Michael." He felt Cameron's glance and shook his head. "Don't ask. It's another long story. Anyway, it was a few days into the final creations of the Earths that the rebellion started. At the time Lucifer had been growing increasingly...antsy. I won't go into his reasoning but suffice is to say that he was pissed off all the time. The creation of Adam was the last straw. When the Angels were asked to serve man and bow down to him Lucifer completely snapped. He didn't believe that someone as great and all powerful as he was would have to bow down to a creature that was so fragile and easily broken." Sinclair chuckled at the memory of it all, "What an asshole right? He led a full scale revolt and a lot of the angels followed behind him because they felt the same way. He figured with the aid of the some of the demons as well as the strength he could gain from possessing the Keeper of Souls, he'd be able to put enough power together that he could take heaven by force. At the time the other six heavens had been formed as well and everything was a chaotic mess what with reassignments and treaties. No one caught on to what he was doing until it was all too late." "To make a long story short he and Michael got into it and the Archangel was eventually able to drive him down into hell. His radical ideas of change and anarchy had taken root though. Satan who loved God deeply began to grow jealous of the attention and favor he showered on the humans. So he wanted to test them, I suppose to prove how weak and unworthy they were of Gods love. In the end the humans failed the test and were driven from the Garden." "Not that this isn't fascinating." Cam said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "But you were going to tell me the point of this little history lesson." "Of course I was. I still might if you shut up long enough. I'm telling you all this so you can fully understand how royally fucked you are. Gabby has thrown Heaven into chaos more times than I can count. It was her who rode on the tongue of God as he breathed into the clay mouth of Adam. She holds the souls of every sentient being in this universe or the next and Lucifer himself plans on using her as a weapon in his fight against Heaven. That's who she is. It's who she will always be and I will always be by her side because that is the way of things. I cannot exist without her and she cannot exist without me. She has no choice but to love me and I know that because I feel the same way. The love we have for each other is forced, is false." He

ignored the sharp stab of pain these words brought because he knew in his heart that it was superficial. Fake. Just like this devotion he felt. "She is drawn to Gabriel and Michael because they hold something that calls to her. All of the people she holds dear are with her because they are as tied to her as I am. All of them, except for you. Gabby doesn't come to you because she has to. She doesn't trust you and laugh with you and kidnap you because you're anything special. She does it because she chose to love you. She chose you and that makes you not only a threat but a target." "Are you sure you're not confusing friendship and hero worship with love?" Sin was growing impatient. As if he hadn't be around long enough to tell the difference. "I've never seen her react that way when anyone was in danger unless it was me. She broke that wolf's neck when it attacked you and not only that but that collar fell completely apart during that incident as well right?" "Well yeah but she would have protected anyone that w-" "No she wouldn't have. Gabriale doesn't concern herself with the loss of anyone because she knows that once they're taken from her they come to me. I'm trusted to keep them safe and to assure their passage on to wherever it is they're meant to go. But she didn't want to give you to me. She didn't want me to have you because she's already decided to keep you by her side. You were supposed to die yesterday. You were supposed to pass the threshold. It was written. It was meant. I won't fight her on this. I believe that if one escapes me when their time has already been recorded then they deserve their second chance. They all come eventually after all." "She doesn't love me." seemed to be the only response Cameron was capable of. The poor boys face looked slack with shock and Sin smirked. Or at least he tried to but his lip curled up in a snarl against his will. Damn he was pissed. But he shouldn't be. He shouldn't. "If you don't believe me you don't have to. I'm sure I can find a way to prove it to you. But even if you don't believe you need to listen and take into account that I tried to warn you. If I'm this," his voice came out as a growl before he could stop it and the sound shocked him, "Fucking, angry and you're my friend, how do you think her number one heartthrob is going to feel when he finds out about you?" "Sin I think you have this all wrong. I know how much she thinks of you. Everyone can see it. IF she'd get rid of you just because this unknown guy asked her to then what makes you think he would have to worry about me?" Sin's head began to pound and he wished desperately for a drink, or a woman, or a shot of valium. Anything. "You really are an idiot. Forced love and a love your heart chooses are two entirely different things. Right now he and I may be at the head of the pack but there may come a day when were it to come down to it...Gabby would choose you over all of us. And then who knows what I'd do to you." Ü When I looked up from kicking the ball across the field I saw Cameron standing not so far off watching. I felt my entire face light up and rushed over to greet him, ignoring the rude sounds my abrupt departure caused.

I came to his side breathless with excitement, "It's good you're here. Come play with us." Without waiting for confirmation or permission I clutched his arm and began to lead him onto the field. A place that was fast becoming my most favorite spot at Parrington. It was a wide open space as wide as the eye could see and the sky shone almost painfully blue above us. Nothing like the usual fog and gloom London was known for. So I was more lighthearted than usual as I dragged Cameron behind me, the sound of the boys at their game growing louder the closer we came to the center of the field. Cameron tugged at me and I turned to him with an easy grin. "What is it? You don't want to play? Well that's too bad because-" "That's not it." He interrupted. For the first time I noted the shyness of his eyes and I cocked my head to one side in curiosity. "Then what is it?" "I need to ask you something." "HEY ALE! GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE ALREADY!" "HEY!" I screamed back at Daniel, a rather competitive boy who was in my fencing class,"KEEP YOUR BALLS ON YA PANSY! I'LL BE THERE TO BEAT YOU SOON ENOUGH!" I turned back to Cam all smiles and fluttering lashes. Instant sugar, the power of feminine charm and all that, "What did you want to ask me?" He regarded me and tugged me a bit closer to him and I shivered as his heat invaded my space. "Do you love me?" My smile turned a bit wooden but I kept it at full force. I squeezed his arm and tried to take a step away with an airy laugh. "What's gotten into you all of a sudden?" He jerked me back and I nearly stumbled. He looked down at me and I was momentarily fascinated by the sunlight glinting against that golden hair and turning his eyes into flawless disks. "You love me?" the smile he gave me was so charming that not only did I decide to tell him the truth, but I decided to give him a present as well. I stretched on my tip toes and gave him a quick opened mouthed kiss. My tongue brushed across his and there was instant heat between my legs. Instant pleasure. Pulling back from him and grinned into his shocked face as I jerked out of his grip. "Of course I love you. Stupid mutt." When he opened his mouth I reared my foot back and kicked him as hard as I could in the shin. "Now come play with me!" He growled something offensive and with a squeal I ran off towards my teammates, Cameron not to far behind. Honestly it was the most fun I'd had that day. Ü That afternoon the twelve of us burst through the doors of Olympus, sweaty, muddy, and chattering happily among ourselves. I saw Sin's dark head over the crowd of the remaining students. He was bent over something,and scribbling so busily that he ignored the food on his

plates. I broke off from Cam, Tray and Eddie (a short but good kid) and hurried over to Sin. The absence of the all the other students lightened something inside of me though I felt a bit guilty admitting that I was glad that they were gone. With the only ones left being ones who knew of my world I felt an odd sense of peace. Couple that with the fact that I had my Sinclair back, most of my memories, and wasn't currently suffering any injuries (unlike Jinx, the dumb bastard) and I was happier than I'd been since before Pappa had died. Because I knew he would try to toss me off if he knew I was coming I didn't yell for him like I wanted to. Instead I threw my arms around his neck from behind and snuggled close. I caught a brief glance of the book he wrote in and the words marking the page from top to bottom made my eyes blur and darken for a moment. Book of the Dead. I recognized the feeling just as Sin slammed the book closed with one hand and reached over his shoulder to press his hand across my eyes with the other. "What are you doing?" His voice was stiff but I could hear the worry beneath it and because I knew how sweet he forced himself to be towards me, I decided to ease his fears with teasing. "I actually came to eat dinner with you." "I don't want to eat with you." Pressing myself into Sin's back I let my arms slide lazily over the width of Sin's shoulders and down the front of his chest. The devil was on me now and I ignored the increasingly curious exclamations of our audience. I pressed my face against the side of Sin's and ran my tongue along the outside of the shell of his ear. It delighted me when he shivered and gripped my wrist before my hands could travel any lower. "But what if I want to eat with you?" He sighed and his fingers tightened around my wrist. He angled his head to glance over his shoulder at me and for a breathless moment our noses brushed. I purred happily and met those bright green eyes. "Don't play with me today Gabby. Just because you're in a freakishly good mood. Remember," His voice lowered to a seductive growl and my eyes widened, "We sleep in the same room every night and I can always finish what you start." I gasped and tried to pull away but his hands slid up my arms and held me immobile. My face flushed and my heart fluttered and I had to keep myself from bursting out of my skin I was so damn happy. Obviously my shy maiden act up until this point hadn't been cutting it for Sin. If I wanted him to stop fighting his eternal, unadulterated love for me I would have to be more aggressive. Plan B was now in effect. I had the feeling though, correctly based I thought, that maybe sin was was a bit better at all this than me. After all, he was a lover not a fighter while I was more of a runner than a fighter or a lover. Oh the complications of young love. Deliberately I snuggled tighter against him and felt his lips curve in a reluctant grin against my temple. Someone was reading my thoughts again. 'I like it when he was naughty' I thought that loud and clear, or...silent and clear as the case may be. I even added graphics. "You're cute. If you want it so bad though," he angled his face down and nipped at the inside crook of my arm. I jerked. "I'll be sure to oblige you." He reached over and flicked his finger against my forehead. It stung and I cursed as I finally released him. "Later on of course. You can't do that kind of thing at the dinner table." He glanced at his untouched plate with more than a little wistfulness, "Especially when I haven't eaten yet."

I was working up a pretty good pout for his one sided decision when someone at the table cleared their throat. It didn't do my stress level any good to look up and find myself eye to eye with the six council members I'd seen on stage before. Unconsciously I found myself hiding behind Sinclair and one of the twins laughed at me. "Sin, don't be so rude. Invite your little friends to eat with us." His tone could have been playful, even friendly, but it wasn't. It was snide and faintly disapproving and I took immediate offense. Cameron and Tray who'd just then caught up with me must have felt the same because their scents turned bitter and I felt the angry tug of them beneath my skin. This so called Council member had never bothered trying to sit with Sinclair before. From what I gathered, before I arrived the only person Sin associated with outside of classes was Cameron and I didn't like the insinuation that Sin needed to be chided on manners in anyway. "It would have been nice if someone had invited you." I said rudely to the one who had spoken, the man with the black tipped hair. "Yeah, who the hell do you think you are anyway?" Tray walked over to to the twin who'd been laughing at me and tugged at his sleeve. Giving him big puppy dog eyes he said, "You're in my seat." The older boy looked flustered for a moment and then got up to move to the empty seat beside next to him. "That's my seat too." Tray informed him kindly and when his brother made to protest Tray frowned and turned on him. "And you're in Pooka's seat." "Who's pooka?" this was asked by the second twin as the first boy was trying to convince a student two seats down to let him sit there. "Pooka's my imaginary friend. He eats people's faces-" "Stop that." Tray glared at Sin and Sin glared back and finally the little boy gave in and went over to his regular seat three rows of tables over. "Now sit down and eat. You're being a nuisance." Since we were playing the rude game and all hyped up on the manly game of football and stinking of sweat as we were, Cameron and I obliged these orders by squeezing in between the council members seated on either side of Sin. In the end it happened that the Zebulian sat by me while I was seated on Sin's left side and the man with the white hair was stuck with sitting with Cameron. The twins and the boy with the pretty blue eyes sat opposite us and we all grinned stiffly at each other as the silence began to grow awkward. This is what was known as family bonding, I thought at Sin and he snorted before catching himself and elbowing me in the side. "Now as you were saying?" "Is it really appropriate to be talking about these matters in front of..." his eyes ran over me and Cam and my face screwed up in dislike. Sin's voice was cool, "Don't be a prick. We can talk about anything in front of them. Unlike you Clesios, these two don't make a habit of spreading around confidential information. And while I doubt that our deciding which buildings will be converted into girls dormitories and which teachers will come in to replace our human professors is top secret information, if you're so uncomfortable with speaking about the matter out loud I'm sure you're capable of leaving." Clesios was instantly apologetic, "That wasn't my intention-" "Then there won't be a problem now will there?" He asked the others and they nodded. A

he continued with the discussion he once again flipped open his small leather bound book and began to write. He was no longer bent so close over it, and now that Cameron and I were seated beside him he didn't bother turning his eyes on what he was writing either. This showed how much he trusted us though it may not have seemed that way to anyone else. Sin didn't need to look at what he wrote inside the Book of the Dead, but if and when he did he did so because once the knowledge was put to paper his gaze acted as a type of trigger. Anyone looking on the book at the same time he did lost their sight. Since the book was always in his possession, was always a part of him, much like his wings, there was no threat of someone stealing it and looking at it behind his back. And as extra security once it was out of his hands the writing became invisible. The only way one could read the names and dates printed was if they watched him as he wrote and the fact that he aloud Cam and I the chance to view the names without causing us to lose our sight spoke volumes. Important volumes. I looked at Cam from behind Sin's back and he nodded in understanding. He would read and I would do what I did best. Make a pest of myself. Ü "Was that really necessary?" We were back in our rooms now and I lay on my back, my head hanging off the side of the bed so that the puffs could sit on the floor and braid it. It fascinated me to no end how they could braid my hair with the stalks of their eyes and manage to be so surprisingly proficient at it to, though every now and then Hughey would entangle himself and need to call for help. "Was what necessary?" I asked as Sin came back from the bathroom, his hair slicked back and gleaming from his bath. "That little stunt you pulled today." he sat down on the edge of his bed and placed his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward to regard me. I gave him wide, innocent eyes though I wasn't sure how effective the look was upside down. "I was just doing my part. What did you want to show is in that thing anyway." "I wanted you guys to memorize a couple of names and find those people later on. Something doesn't feel right. And anyway, how is asking which one of them are virgins doing your part?" I took instant offense, "That one guy was mighty suspicious. He seemed awfully excited about the proposal of having both girls and boys having not only one dorm but one bath area as well." Sin snorted, "I don't think that has anything to do with sexual experience. Even someone who's done it before wouldn't mind living with a bunch of girls if up until now he's been stuck with guys." "What about you?" His lips curved in a small smile and his grew smokey. I felt the blood rush to my head, "I think you're more than enough woman for me. You're all I ever need." He shrugged and wrung some of the water from the still curling ends of his hair. "Besides. If all women are as ulcer inducing as you are I don't think I can handle any others."

My eyes narrowed. I wasn't as familiar with human afflictions as well as Sin was. But unless an Ulcer was an intense feeling of touchy-feely-warm-and-fuzzy-Ale you complete melovin (and by his tone I didn't think it was), then I'd just been insulted. Wacko made a rude groaning sound and I slapped at him because I think he'd reached the same conclusion I had. Sin snickered under his breath. "Anyway," I said loudly in an attempt to quiet the two of them, "Why don't you just admit that I did a good job distracting everyone. If the conversation had been anything like your regular meetings then someone's eyes would have wandered and who knows what would have happened then." "You caught on to that huh?" he seemed proud, "That's good. And yes you were an excellent distraction though I didn't expect you and Clesios to get along so badly." Since I didn't really want to talk about him I changed the subject, "The Zebulian," "You mean Andrew." "Yes. Why didn't you tell me about him?" "To tell you the truth I honestly didn't think about him. There's been so much going on these past few days that he slipped my....mind." Sinclair fell silent and he seemed confused. Almost lost. Worry had me straitening on the bed so I could look at him better. The puffs complained loudly but I ignored them. "Sin that isn't like you. You usually consider all the angles on any situation. Are you sick?" Sin shook his head and the confusion that had darkened his eyes cleared. He smirked and some of the tension in my chest eased. "I'm fine. Like I said, a lot has happened is all. Everyone makes mistakes right?" Yeah, everyone else did. Not Sin. "Speaking of which," he began as he came to his feet to pull back the coverlet of his bed. "You may be having some nightmares soon." "Nightmares?" I didn't really like the sound of that. "Yeah," he still had his back to me and the muscles in his neck and shoulders seemed unusually tight. "It's probably nothing but I don't think I can protect you from them anymore." I frowned and would have questioned him further on that but by this time he had gotten back into bed and reached over to flick off the lamp on his side of the room. Our eyes met briefly and there was something hidden and unfamiliar in his gaze. Something that scared me for the split second it took Sinclair to douse the light and roll over into sleep.

Ü Sin was right about the nightmares. As long as I'd been around I'd never ever had a nightmare, at least not while I was sleeping. So the source of this one had me jerking awake screaming. The dream wasn't a picture, or a situation as much as it was an indescribable feeling. A sense of a presence. A sense of fear trapped within a vast, cold darkness. The fear made me immobile, stilled my breathing, sucked at every last bit sanity by reaching past my throat, my eyes, ears, nose

everything was invaded by that clogging darkness. My screams fell off into gurgled cries and it was these sounds that made me realize I was asleep. When I opened bleary eyes it was only to see Sin's throat not an inch away from my face as he rocked me against his chest. I felt the weight of him beside me, the heat of him and deep down I knew that though he might not love me as much, he felt something for me and whatever that something was eased me enough so that my breathing calmed and my limbs relaxed. I pressed my face into Sin's collarbone and it was only until I felt the gentle press of his lips on the crown of my head and his hoarsely whispered, "Sorry." that I felt relaxed enough to drift back into sleep. Ü Sinclair never lied. Unlike Gabriale who enjoyed telling a lie to all and sundry it pained Sinclair to have a falsehood pass his lips. It wasn't morals so much as it was a part of who he was. A man who lied with his heart could not be trusted to the task of separating a soul from it's body and taking on to the next stage. Just as Gabby refused anyone contact with the Well of Souls, so did he not allow himself to lie. At least not directly. The fact that he stayed silent on this matter was almost as bad in his mind but in this instance it was better. His power to protect Gabriale had been denied him. It was at the trial that they'd assigned him his duty. To watch the Keeper, protect and nurture her. Not for her sake but for the souls she carried. Gabriale had known of it and she had exploited it shamelessly when he'd finally been released from Samael care after the birth of more agents of death made his assistance redundant. What she hadn't known and would never know until it was too late, was that Sinclair had also been given another task. Sam Hii, Jeliel, Elemiah,Sofiel, and Gabriel had summoned him once more to speak with him alone. "She can't keep the souls." "She isn't fit." "She isn't worthy." Sinclair and Gabriel had shared an uneasy look. "I don't think she'd that bad." Sin told them sheepishly and they looked at him as if he were a cockroach. "The truth is," Sam Hii explained, "Is that we weren't expecting the souls to choose her rather than their original container beneath the throne." "What am I supposed to do about it if they picked her over some stuffy old box." Sinclair had asked crossly. "I'd watched that tone boy." "What Elemiah means to say is that until we can come up with another vessel that will appeal to the souls more than her, we'll need you to keep a watch over her. When the time comes we'll need you to bring her to us so that we may start the process." "What process." "The souls will be presented with their new Keeper." "And if they happen to choose to stay with Gabby instead?" "They she will be unmade and the souls will be removed forcefully. She was never meant

to come into existence in the first place and unmaking her will solve two of our problems at once." At the time Sinclair had had no problem with this plan of action. He honestly hadn't cared one way or another. So when he'd been sent down to watch her and await instructions he hadn't really expected to much. They had ended up spending billions of years together and when Gabriale had started to abuse the souls in her care and been driven insane, the call to bring her back early had been sent out. It had taken him years after he broke from the prison in Jap to convince his superiors that Gabby was safe now, harmless and that they would no longer need to bring her back prematurely. They had warned him however that were the situation to change in any way then someone would be sent down not only to capture Gabby but him as well. They would both be unmade, their consciousness, their hopes and dreams, thoughts and emotions erased from the worlds as if they had never been. As if they had never mattered. Sin had never wanted that to happen but with the breaking of the collar and Lucifer's hint of the day before he'd gotten the impression that things would start going downhill soon. And tonight was proof of that. Never had he allowed any outside negativity to touch her. The insanity from so many years ago had been brought on by herself and he couldn't have stopped that if he'd tried. Simple things that would make her happy he was able to do almost unconsciously no matter how far away she was from him. If she dreamed of unpleasant memories that was her own fault but anything too damaging he refused to allow to touch her. She didn't dream about the night she'd been raped, or the horrific days of the Demon Ball. After their first war back home he'd kept the memory of those kills and the steaming battleground from haunting her, and when she'd come here it had been instinct to quell her urge for opium. They were simple things but they made her happy. The fact that his ability to do this, his easiest bit of magic, was proof that the higher ups had found a way to shut down some of his power. To weaken him in preparation for when they came for them. This was all the warning he would get and all he'd need. The Tree was completed, Lucifer had said. The Tree of Life had been born, and it was that birth that marked the beginning of he and Gabby's end. "Sorry." he muttered against the softness of her hair, his arms tightening around that delicate frame. As he breathed in the scent of her he didn't mind that the love he felt for her might be false. He didn't mind that he'd spent most of his existence bound to her. In that moment he honestly didn't mind that he loved her and he vowed right then that if he had any say, she would not be taken from him. Now or ever. What Sin didn't find out until much later was that by then, the decision had already been taken out of his hands. Chapter twelve: There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul,

and some of its inconceivable mystery. — Joseph Conrad That next morning it was difficult for both Sin and I to wake up. When we finally did we simply lay there staring at each other our breaths mingling and the heat from his body sinking even deeper into my body so that I couldn't help but snuggle tighter against him. "Was it bad?" I nodded and pressed my face against the front of his throat. "Sorry." "Not your fault." I muttered. "You can make it up to me though by letting me sleep in today. No class." He chuckled and the sound vibrated through his skin and against my face. "No can do Gabby baby. Today is the day that we start prepping this place for our new arrivals." "Welcome party for the new kids." "If you want to think of it that way then yes." They lay silent for a moment before Sin nudged down into the bed and pressed his nose against mine. "Can I ask you something?" I had to force myself from the power in those eyes. "You're going to ask me anyway." "Yeah. Figured I'd get permission though just for a change of pace." "Good of you." "Do you like it here?" My mouth screwed up in thought and I blinked long and lazy at him. "It rains a lot and the smell from the river is pretty bad during the summer but-" "No, not London in particular idiot. This place in general." "You mean earth?" "Wider than that even. All of it, the heavens, the hells, all of the earths. If you could go back to how you were before Michael and you first spoke would you?" "No." The reply was instant. "Why not?" My eyes widened at his tone but I smiled anyway as I heard the curious chirps of the puffs from the other side of the room. I ran my fingers down the planes of his face, "Because that would mean that I couldn't have met you." I felt Sin tense beneath my fingers and watched in fascination as his mouth twisted in bitterness. Goosebumps broke out over my skin as he grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand away from his face. "That's your excuse then?" "What the hell is wrong with you?" "What's wrong with me is that I'm not in the mood for your bullshit today." And with that he rolled away from me and got out of the bed. Straightening the loose pants that rode low on his waist as I lay in the bed and stared up at him. Looking at me over his shoulder he curled his lip and I felt something thick and uncomfortable began to throb in my head. "Get up. It's time to go."

Ü "He's possessed." I informed Cameron as I shoved my hips hard enough to force the desk forward. Cameron whistled in appreciation of my hip thrusting power. "I just think he's naturally mean like that." "Not like that." I said resolutely and the puffs squeaked agreement from my shoulder. They liked being in open site now that we no longer had to hide them. And the boys I passed as we worked even seemed relieved to see them here. "Why do you say he's possessed? Do you have any proof or is another one of your bouts of with delusion?" That hurt and suddenly stubborn I closed my work and got back to work. We were rearranging the rooms in two of the dorm so that more people could live there. The girls when they came would have the Dresden and Woods buildings. Since we were so few the rest of Parrington's original students would be moved to Atridge since it was th largest building. The new male students would live here as well so all together it was expected to be a bit cramped but not by much. It was just that now there would have to be three people to a room instead of two. The last dorm, Hawkeye would be reserved for the soldiers who were supposed to be showing up at the school in the next day or two. The workload was almost double what it should have been but because the other students had finally managed to move out there weren't a lot of room that needed to be moved to Atridge. They just had to get rid of unnecessary furniture and move it to the dorms reserved for the girls. The council met again and again over the day to further decide which building would be converted over for a bathhouse for the girls. When it was decided that music room would be the prime candidate, Mr. Little was the one who showed us our first bit of public magic. He rushed into the courtyard between the dorms flushed and angry and Sin, who was carrying a box of his things as he walked out of Dresden, raised an eyebrow at the tiny old man. Then without further ado Mr. Little raised his arms and the ground beneath him began to rise up as well. At first a formless blob it was soon recognizable as a sizable building with windows and doors and a ceiling made of flowers. The students all thought this was incredible we'd ooed and awed over the pool like bath of steaming water that took up the middle of the building, surrounded by several smaller pools for personal bathing. Sin slapped Mr. Little on the back in approval and the old man flushed in pleasure. After that the work went a lot more smoothly as everyone began to use their own abilities to lighten the workload. It seemed that up until Mr. Little we had all been in a kind of hiatus where years of habit had just stuck with us, even though the reason for that very habit was now gone. We no longer had to hide who we were and what we could do and rearranging Parringiton after that became a game. By the time we were through, the roof of Atridge had taken on the design of what Cameron explained was an intergalactic spaceship equipped with lazer guns and an engine that would allow it to travel at the speed of light. "Like on star trek." It was made of roses so I assumed that he had somehow roped Tray into helping him and I couldn't bring myself to complain about it since it took up the entire buildings roof and was so eye catching that we were all a little proud of it. Sinclair had somehow moved Dresden to sit

right beside the woods building and connected the two so instead of two buildings they were now one. He had simply grabbed Dresden's door and between one blink of the eye and the next the building had been moved nearly half a mile and the only sign that it had every stood there was a dust cloud of dirt. Olympus and the infirmary were both enlarged, food was made or appeared from thin air to help stock the kitchens. The Gargoyles that sat on the roof of our chapel flew away to guard the densest part of the forests and for some reason a giant gold embossed birdcage, it's bars entwined with vines, appeared appeared at th north end of Parringotn's property. A good five miles from the main part of the school it sat on a hill and overlooked the wider, more turbulent side of the river. We out the classrooms that wouldn't be used anymore, cleaned the ones that would be, and prepared the rest for their new subjects. The professors did the same thing to their dorm as we were doing to ours and after we finished the hard labor with the classrooms we didn't see them anymore as they were finishing up the final touches on the classrooms. It was late afternoon by the time we finished a job that would have taken more than a week or so to do. Everybody was excited and starving and a lot of the boys were talking in excited groups on the steps of Olympus about the soldier who were do and if they could learn anything from them. It was during this carefree time that Sir came to stand at the open entrance of the building and stare down at us. "What are you all doing?" "We were planning on eating." Cameron informed him after waving me away as I tried to once again explain to him the severity of a demonic possession. Sir smiled down at us all and my mouth snapped shut in dread. "There's one more little thing that we have to do." Ü "You want us to make a wall?" "Not a wall. A barrier." Sir replied sharply. Cameron's lip curled and he folded his arms cross his chest. "Why don't you nd the teachers do it?" "Because they're a bunch of lazy bastards." Sinclair muttered as he pushed through the crowd of now shivering students in gathering twilight. Sir's face turned red and standing beside him his brother Kestrel flushed red and ducked his head to muffle laughter. "Now look here boy-" "It's alright Sir." Tray piped up as he came to stand t the head of the crowd, the boys parting around him like the sea. In his arms he held a stuffed brown bear, and his eyes were heavy lidded with exhaustion. He gave Sir a gentle pat on the arm and the older man instantly calmed. "I don't think you're too lazy to make it. You're just to weak." And with a maniacal laugh that had Sir's blood pressure rising visibly he turned and skipped back to Olympus, presumably to eat. A few others made to follow after them until Mr. Little, Tyler, and the Biology teacher, Mr. Fairview, followed after him muttering all the while. The Stable-master was busy talking in low tones with the school's doctor Yin. He was Chinese and apparently his name meant silver in his country. He was aptly named because the silver slits marking his pupils, like cuts, were his most

eye catching features along with that long black hair he kept tied up in a high ponytail at the crown of his head. Sir was busy explaining to the other students how he needed them to cut the palms of their hands and hold onto each other so that their blood and power commingled and they muttered some nonsense words. It was ridiculous. Only witches used spells like this though I could understand Sir's reasoning. All of the students at Parrington were used to their abilities having un-lasting effects. They neither had the training or the power by themselves to pull off a barrier strong enough and large enough to encircle the school. And for some reason the teachers weren't touching this particular project with a ten foot pole. I sighed, loudly and my eyes met Sinclair's. The others may not have the power or the training but Sin and I did. So while it would have been nice to show off, or even stay out of it completely and not draw attention to myself, three important factors needed my immediate attention. I had to eat (feeding the puffs by default of course). I had to sleep. And I had to exorcize the demon out of Sin before he stabbed me in the eye one night when I'd let my guard down. Sin and I walked up to Sir almost simultaneously, the closer Sin came to me the more irritable he grew. "We can make the wall." "Don't you think you two are being a bit too cocky? This isn't a game, our lives depend on this barrier." "We know that Sir but-" Impatient Sin grabbed my arm and yanked me away from the headmaster before I could finish explaining. His moo was dark and fierce and he apparently lacked the patience that it would take for me to convince Sir that we could do this. Sin's punishing hands moved from my upper arm down to my hand. "Act first answer questions later." My mouth tightened in irritation. "Fine." Turning from him I closed my eyes and clasped my hands together, fingers squeezing and releasing, squeezing and releasing as I concentrated. If it was one they my maid servant had pushed me to learn it was how not to make any unnecessary movements when working magic. "It gives whoever is watching an advantage because an experienced magical user would be able to tell what you're planning to do. And if you're using that sort of power then chances are you need all of the advantages you can get." Those words whispered through me now as I took a deep breath of the wind that suddenly began to whip against my face. The air was thick with the scent of darkness rising on the distant coolness of a city lights and life. I let my head fall back and let the power struggling in my belly burst forth. Clenching my teeth so that it couldn't escape that way it instead began to throb beneath my skin. Slipping from my pores in fits and bursts until a gate seemed to open and it left me in a knee weakening rush. It was like being drained dry. Once the fire was on the outside it was if it were being dragged from m e, as if the land itself were hungry for it and I had to pull a tight reign on it's rebellion. A lightness settled in my chest and traveled through my head to the crown of my head and I followed it. My spirit rose from body and kept rising with always the leash of heat tying me to myself. I rose and roe until I could look down on the 200 acres of Parringotn, it's buildings now no larger than ants and the lake and river a pale strand of hair

stretching across it's surface. I would have laughed but I had no voice instead the air around me tightened and heated, rising so high so fast that the natural coolness was forced down and the atmosphere trimmer. I slapped a hand over my mouth and went back to work. This was no time to get giddy and forget why I was there. I waited a beat but when nothing happened as I expected it too I sighed and turned my attention the string that seemed to be attaching me to my mortal body. I began to pull on it, the heat followed obediently, even eager once it realized that it wasn't to be hidden away again. I glanced down at the school stretched out below me and grinned at the light that began to grow ever brighter, ever larger the closer it came. It rushed me like a pack of wild horses, the flames whipping and dancing so that if I concentrated on those individually dancing shapes figures appeared overjoyed and chaotic. The burning mass was right beneath my feet when I opened my clasped hands, fingers still intertwined and held them over it. Then I pushed with something deep and indefinable inside of me so that the the ball began to widen and thicken. I was still pulling it towards me but I was also blocking it's way. The cold air beneath my feet grew larger and larger and the flames more desperate until it began to shape itself. I widened that spot of icy cold power until it was like a dome on a snow-globe. The sides of it stretched my point above the center of the grounds and out in all directions until the entire school was covered. I pulled at the familiar heat, pled with it until it settled to the shape the cold had made. I stilled the magic, petted it calm and pleased I settled on the dark red of the barrier with only a slight hiss of sound. The dome shivered beneath my feat and taking a deep breath I bent to touch the punishing cold of the Shaper with my spiritual fingers. The backlash was just as bad as I thought it would be. The once invisibility of the first dome snapped back to it source with all the driving force of lightening. In fact it came back at me so fast, pulled the air so tightly once I'd taken it all back, that lightening did strike and for one glorious moment my body was crystallized in pain, and shock, and a cell deep pleasure. The lightning was blinding, so brilliant and pure that I was briefly reminded of Michael and my beloved Gabriel. They were the ones who occupied my mind as I fell sobbing back into my body and Tyler who caught me as I swayed. I didn't hear what happened next, nor did I see it. Still deaf and blind from the shock the backlash and the weather. I did feel it though and I could guess that Sin was tampering now. Turning my unpredictable lava into cold hard stone. We'd done this trick so many times that I didn't have to see in order to know that he tightened the power. Forcing it further and further until the barrier blocked out the lights of the moon and the distant glow of the city. We were momentarily in the icy grip of an airless, lifeless, tomb and the students were in an uproar before with a groan Sin took the backlash and the dome disappeared from view. The air was suddenly alive with the brief flash of lightening and a tremor went down Sin's spine as he came back to himself. The panicked voices calmed and I closed my eyes and once again took a deep breath of that cool night air. It would look as if there was nothing else there and when I could finally see again and managed to pull myself from the too curious hands of Tyler I saw that some boys were hoping back and forth between where the barrier should be and schoolyard. Since we were a good two hundred feet from the nearest edge of school property this was some pretty impressive jumping indeed. They made a game out of it. The boys who could fight the pull of gravity and travel the longest caring the other boys as they hopped this way and that. The younger children were especially impressed and they begged fro rides like some children begged for food. I looked over to where Sir was conferring with Sinclair and Cameron and wondered silently to myself about Sinclair.

Never had a barrier creation taken so long. This one had been five minutes at the most but even that was pushing it. Usually these sorts of things were used in battle or times of war to protect cities and villages from raids. In battle sin and I had had to perfect this skill of our to the point where it could happen in the blink of an eye. He would always fight by my side so that when neither of us could block, or dodge an instant wall would be thrown up to keep us from our opponents magic and arrows long enough for us to recover and counter. His job was not only to pull the power from me as I mapped the needed space, he was supposed to send it to me and help shape it and then as I was taking the backlash he would be finishing it up and making it invisible. Once his backlash hit I would take over in the battle until he recovered, which was fairly quick, no more than a minute or two. But he hadn't helped me tonight. I'd had to do all the work myself and if things were going to go in as serious a direction as I believed them to be I would have to learn how to do it quicker on my own. Especially since it didn't seem as if Sinclair would become un-possessed any time soon. Ü After a belated dinner and a meeting that explained what would be expected of us when the first contingent of soldiers arrived that next day we were sent to our new rooms. Due to some stroke of luck, or maybe simply nagging Cameron now shared a room with Sinclair and I. He occupied the bed in the middle while Sin had the one by the door and I took the one closest to the window and wall. It turned out that Ridge was a nicer building than Dresden so really we'd gotten an upgrade. The rooms were bigger, more spacious, and the privy's were more spacious and a lot more clean. Cameron had collaborated with Bhuta and Kali about something he called indoor plumbing and with the wolfs instructions and a good bit of pixie magic, particularly a stone-smith and a water-smith, they were able to recreate it successfully. So while they hadn't touched the baths, as too many of them were used to and fond of bathing in a public bath, the privies had been converted over without a sound of protest. The sounds of laughter and flushing toilets filled the air late into the night but eventually it was these same sounds that drove me to sleep. That night a dreamed again. It wasn't about anything familiar though. None of the nightmares I'd mentally prepared myself for. haunted me that night. Instead I dreamed of a women I'd never seen before but whom I nevertheless recognized. Frizzy brown hair and grass green eyes dominated a heart shaped face. She was crying and wandering hurt and blind through dark alleyways. When she passed under a streetlight I was able to make out the dark bruising on her skin. At one point the woman stopped and seemed to collapse in on herself. She pressed shaking hands against either side of her head and keened before she collapsed fully on the ground. I found myself drifting around her as she convulsed on the dirty street and when she fell still I moved to touch her. My touch seemed to send a shock through her and with a pained gasp she pulled herself to her hands and knees and began to crawl until she got enough energy to get to her feet. I watched her stumbling through the streets for a bit longer. I watched her fall and cry and keen. I watched her speak with people who weren't there and clinch from invisible threats. Lost soul. Not a severe case of it but the first I'd seen sense I'd come back to myself that I could help. Now that I thought back on it there had been literally hundreds in bedlam and dozens more on the streets. Sin had been like that when he'd first fallen and i remembered what I'd told him then just as clearly as I did now.

No one truly ever lost their souls, they just hid away. And maybe i could help this girl, Millie, find hers. I opened my eyes. Ü It had been a while since Sin had been called personally to handle a job. Why this girl was any different he wasn't sure. But something about Amelia Thompson who was scheduled to die tonight at 12:45 woke him up out of his sleep. For some reason it was the summons to Millie's side that pushed that clouds in his head away. he'd been feeling odd since that morning, out of it as if he were seeing the world through a fogged glass. But this death momentarily cleared the fog and there was really only one explanation. To work for both sides, both life and death was at once a blessing and a curse but Amelia and her ancestors had done the best the could. Eventually though the strain had been too much and they had been wiped out. Or at least sin thought they had been. When he blinked bleary eyes to look across the room for Gabriale and saw her empty bed instead his heart clutched in his chest and he cursed. Groaning he rolled from beneath his sheets and, moving as quietly as possible so as not to awaken those damn rats, he got dressed and left the room. Chapter thirteen: We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls. --Anais Nin Despair, it was a heady thing. Strong and silent as the grave when it needed to be while still able to make your heart clutch in your chest and your breath stall. Millie had often heard that is was idle hands that were the products of th devil. But as she stood teetering on the edge of the wooden seat beneath her feet, the hemp rope digging into her windpipe with every move she made, she figured that idle hands may have been what created this noose, but despair was the reasoning behind it and the goal it stood for. And though it should have frightened her the thought of death was a strangely comforting one. Not at all the dark monster she;d grown up believing it to be. So while death itself wasn't frightening, the actual process was a heady thing. Her mama though... Millie sniffed as she imagined the disapproval in the late Mrs. Thompson's eyes if she could see her daughter now. Then she had to stifle a hoarse scream as the uneven legs of the chair beneath her jerked her dangerously off balance. "Shit. What's wrong with me." a shaky laugh escaped and her eyes flooded with tears she couldn't stop. "Come on Millie girl. You can do this. You have to do this." She shouldn't be screaming Millie thought as her weight and panic had her shifting again and then again, each sudden jerk sending a bolt of fear that was almost debilitating through her chest and down into her stomach. No screaming, she had no right, and besides at this point it was too late for that wasn't it? A scream was a primitive thing, a cry that was instinctive and bone deep. So Millie supposed that

no matter how much the heart and mind craved for the release the body would always have other plans to protect itself. But this is what she wanted. Wasn't it? What she'd planned? So why was that old animal instinct rearing it's head and digging iron clad claws into her gut each time she tried to force herself to take that last step. To walk over the edge and into oblivion. Why, Why, Why? Millie wasn't aware that she was speaking the words aloud, wasn't aware that she was shaking her head back and forth as tears fought their way past the gentle curve of the lashes from her tightly closed eyes. If she could have looked in a mirror just then she would have seen the blotched redness of her face, the lips that were once modest by themselves now swollen with grief and the salty sting of tears. It was those same tears that grasped loose tendrils of her hair against her wet cheeks and held tight. As f even they searched for comfort, a hand in the darkness. The scent of fear induced sweat and desperation thickened the room and blocked Millie's senses of all else. And again that bare foot dangled over empty space, dancing on the broken hearted notes of"Why, why, why?" In Millie's mind the question was a rhetorical one, she expected no answer to come now at this crucial moment when it had refused to come in the years before she'd reached this point. In Millie's mind there was no answer good enough to satisfy her anymore. Which is why it was such a shock when she heard a voice say, "What exactly are you trying to figure out Amelia Thompson? Is this a cosmic why or a personal one?" Millie's eyes snapped open and she gasped. Where before there had been nothing but empty space, the wooden frame of a door now stood now stood staring her in the face. Along the length and width of the weathered wood were engravings. Dark, gold, liquidly sensual things that danced and changed as her eyes struggled to comprehend them with all the grace of exotic snakes. For all it's beauty and mystery though, it was the man who stood beyond the threshold that held her attention. His expression was solemn, blankly polite as he surveyed her from head to foot and then back again. When she sniffed more tears back, he quirked an eyebrow at her and angled that handsome had of his to one side so that his mass of dark curls shifted with the slight movement. Millie might have been on the threshold of death but she wasn't dead yet and she could appreciate a good looking man even now. A giggle burst through the room and startled at the sudden sound Millie wobbled dangerously before catching her balance once more. Too afraid to turn her head she angled her head to look for the source of the sound and met the dark gaze of a woman and for a crazed moment she thought, 'I'm not even dead yet and that damn ass of a landlord's already found new tenants for my room.' But of course that wasn't the case,not that she'd put it past him. It was just that she didn't want to give him the credit for being able to find such a pair of characters as these. For one thing she'd never seen anyone with hair quite that light nor had she ever seen man with eyes that green.

"Why what Amelia? It's running on 12:35 now. You're almost out of time. I need an answer." "You're going to need to be a bit more forceful with her Sin. I've tried the passive tactics and she keeps talking herself out of them. Millie wants to die, don't you Millie? This late in the game a reason no longer matters." "But she's stuck in between. She will neither step forward nor back. If she doesn't find an answer soon she will no longer have the luxiury of a choice." As the man spoke those green eyes seemed to burn her, peel back the layers until they saw straight through her. she felt the banked fury there, the reined cruelness and it had her trembling. It wasn't until the woman began to speak once more and Millie calmed that the girl realized that she had heard her voice before. Earlier that same week in fact. This voice was safe, it would protect Millie. Millie understood that, believed it with all her heart and the coldness that beckoned her from beyond the threshold lost some of its sharpness. "So what's your question Millie? What do you need answered so that you can choose?" "Why," Millie's voice wavered and broke and she tried again. "Why? The visions. The screaming. The breaking...so much of it. It's drowning me, ripping me apart, day after day now I hear it and it doesn't end. Day after day I-I see it and the world is washed in blood and the sky rains with it." Millie's sobs grew in force and she let some of the strength seep from her knees so that the noose around her neck tightened and spots danced and laughed in her vision. "I can't take it - I CAN"T TAKE IT ANYMORE! Every night, ever minute, every second I dream of hell. And I can't help but think that mama was right. That I'm cursed to suffer like this for ever-an-ever amen." She began to cry in earnest now and some of her weight jerked her chair to sharply to one side so that she wobbled and keened. This time she didn't bother to save herself, instead it was the woman from the bed who was suddenly at her side. Not just at her side but standing at her back on the chair. How she'd gotten there without Millie noticing and so quickly was a mystery, but it was this strangers hands that caught her around the waist and jerked her back from the ever looming doorway. Frustration and fear made a heady combination in her head and Millie screamed into those pitiless green orbs, "I don't understand! I DON'T GET IT! I don't fucking get it. Can you explain it to me? Can you tell me why? Can you make it stop?" "No." The answer was emotionless and said without so much as a blink. Millie felt something break inside of her and when she turned her head to meet the eyes of the woman whose chin now rested on her shoulder and asked, "Can you?" She felt it crumble entirely when the girl smiled gently and shook her head. Her knees lost a bit more of their strength and the rope turned from almost embracing, almost comfortable, to punishing. The man beyond the doorway nodded slightly as if he had reached some decision and a small smile teased his lips. That small warmth was like the sun bursting through the clouds on a rainy day and Millie felt that terrible pain in her ease a bit. "I'd figured it would come to this. It's now 12:44 Millie Thompson. Come." He held out a hand for her and Millie drew back against the comforting heat at her back, sunk into those caring arms and for a breathless moment found peace. Those green orbs began to glow. The light string enough to cast a shadow over the planes and hollows of his face so that his features were now sharper, crueler, and that much more tempting for all that. A blazing compulsion beneath a waving cap of ink black curls. "Come." he said again and the arms around Millie's waist hesitated before loosening

completely. His fingertips, strong and blunt, did not reach beyond the threshold, but rather hovered just inside of it. For the first time Millie noticed the necklace wrapped around his wrist, a small silver key hanging from the chain. Millie wanted that key, she needed it. The fire to get it burned it her so hot and fiercely all of a sudden that it made her ill. She reached for it and the man drew back. Millie's eyes widened and once more she found herself hesitating. If she wanted the key, if she wanted him, she'd have to go the rest of the way. she'd have to take that step into the abyss. And Millie sobbed, and the green eyes glowed, and entranced and promised as he whispered in a low hypnotic voice, "Come." And then the clock struck 12:45 and the hands that had once soothed and protected were at her back and pushing. Pushing her off the chair and through the doorway, and the choice was no longer hers to make. Ü The first impression Millie got as she passed the threshold was of vastness. Of unconceivable space and time and patience. Such patience. Such quiet in the eternal twilight beyond the door and above it all a weightless timelessness. She held her key in trembling fingers, the man and woman, hell, even the room nowhere to be found. Her throat ached and burned from the grip of the rope and she had to cough more than once to clear an imagined obstruction. She stood in darkness. She felt that this night was alive somehow, breathing around her, though t neither threatened nor acknowledged her. She was head deep in night though from somewhere, from somewhere there came light. Then she saw it. Millions upon millions of doors scattered through the air around, above, below, and beside her. They opened and closed at indeterminate times, the snake like symbols always twisting, always seducing, always glowing with that ethereal light. Some were led through the doorways, hand in hand with some dark shadow whose face and gender Millie was unable to determine. Some fell through, some were even pushed through as she had been. There were those who came in groups from as small as two or three to as great as thousands. And then there were those who came alone, empty eyed and confused. Whether they were by themselves or not they were never alone once they passed across the threshold. She saw them all, a blurring ocean of faces of all ages, shapes and sizes. And always, always, the doors closed only to open once again. An endless process in this false golden twilight that had been going on for centuries and would go on until the end of time and beyond it. "There will always be something that needs to pass through the doorway." The words seemed to act as some sort of a trigger because the next things the doors were replaced by shining globes of light no bigger than the palm of her hand and the darkness suddenly became a liquid monster that swallowed her and pulled her down to its depths. Her world was awash in liquid darkness that sparkled like the night sky. In the darkness winked millions and millions of stars, shimmering in and out of focus through the dark water and shining like rainbows when she glanced up to the surface. She propelled herself forward, the humming of life as the stars shot past her and danced around her filling her head and making her dizzy. For a moment it was strong enough that she grew blind, struggled for air and lost her way. As she sunk deeper into that black, black water a hand grasped hers and it was warm and dry, untouched from the elements around it. The hand tightened in hers and pulled her forward. And she followed where it led blindly. Her lungs burning as she she swam along behind, lids turning briefly red

each time light shone against her face. Then the brief flashes became a consistent one and when she thought her lungs would explode and her eyes would burn, even closed as they were, the hand in her stopped them both and they floated there. Millie opened her eyes and before them lay a star. It didn't dart and play as the others did. The notice of the difference had Millie looking around for the other spheres and she didn't find them until she glanced up, up, and up. The faceless helper had brought her deeper rather than higher. It was even darker down here but in the light from the spiraling star, Millie was able to see the figure in front of her pointing at the key clutched in her free hand and then pointing towards the sphere. Desperate now Millie lunged forward and pressed the key into the light and watched in fascination as the light pulled on the key and kept pulling until she was arm deep inside of it. She struggled briefly but was shoved from behind and she felt her body fall into the star is if she'd been thrown down a long, deep well. She landed in soft sweet smelling grass and wasted no time in sucking in a greedy lungful of air. Blinking water from her eyes, Millie stood shivering hand in hand with the blond from the room. She was taller than the other girl, a fact she hadn't noticed before and for some reason looking down into those steady black eyes made her feel as if she held the hand of not a child, but a very old woman. It was seeing the girls hair whip back behind her that had Millie realizing that they now stood on an endless grassland. They were dry now and the sunlight that bathed their skin came from four suns rather than one. Millie glanced around in awe and beside her the girl let her head fall back and a grin split her face. "Where are we?" "Your soul." "My what?!" Her voice came out panicked and Millie tried to stumble away but at her movement the girl's smile fell away and she jerked Millie back beside her. "Don't move. You shouldn't be here but this is special this is you." She waved impatiently to encompass all of what they saw and as Millie watched the woman's irritation faded away as quickly as it had come. Millie turned to look, trying to see what the other woman saw and found it surprisingly easy to do. The waist high grasses waved in the wind for miles and miles. In the center of it all stood a tower, made of brick. Tall and strong and the spiral steps that led up to it's one window at its head floated independently in the air. They shone clear and pure and as Millie watched the sunlight from one of the many suns struck it and set up a bonfire of color that illuminated the entire world. Millie laughed out load and reached out grasping hands to touch the thick, tornados of color that struck her skin and tangled in her hair. Millie had never thought of colors and smells as tangible, physical things but in this world they were and with each lightened beat of her heart a piece of that precious color burrowed itself in the ground at her feet and from the place where it burrowed, there grew...flowers. Millie's slipped to her knees and the woman let her fingers slacken as she released her. Millie's hand brushed across the soft as butter petals and they shifted and reformed until in her hands at bunnies no larger than her fingernails. She snuggled the creatures and wings suddenly tickled her nose. Squealing Millie watched fascinated as the butterflies took flight and filled the air. Fading like smoke until they sat as clouds above her head. Millie turned to look at the woman, who had stood during this entire time watching her. A mix of sad pride sat on her face and she shrugged as if helpless. "You asked why. This your your why. Every soul, every spirit is different, is dear and rare. Once you're gone there will be none like this ever again because there will never again be one like you." Her eyes drifted shut and she let her head fall back once more and unconsciously Millie mimicked her. They took a deep breath and a been deep peace settled over Millie.

"So have you found the answer you're looking for here?" Millie's smile just then lit the world, "Yeah. Yeah I found it." "Then lets go back now." Ü Millie the prostitute died on a Thursday night at 12:45. She was reborn again Friday morning at 5:30am where a man with cool green eyes told her to follow the procession of students that would come through the city on their way to a place called Parrington. It was late fall. That same day a man with those tell-tale green eyes, erased the name Amelia Thompson from a small black book and with a smile snapped it shut again.

Chapter fourteen: He disappeared in the dead of winter. -- W.H Auden By the time I fell into bed again it was nearly time to wake up. The only good thing about all of it was that my usual bedmates, the furballs, were curled up on Cameron's snoring face. I was so tired I couldn't even enjoy the sight before I drifted into sleep. Ü I woke up with Cameron licking the side of my face and humping my leg, and that pissed me off badly enough that we got into it for a good twenty minutes before Sinclair came back up from the public baths on the first floor and pulled us apart. That he could hold the both of us clear off the ground by the scruffs of our necks didn't impress me as much as how normal he was today did. He wasn't stiff, he wasn't angry, and when questioned about his behavior the day before he seemed confused. "I had a headache yesterday that's all." I was relieved though not totally convinced. Something was wrong with Sinclair. Last night he'd scared the woman Millie, and when they worked together he'd never frightened anyone. To ease the uneasiness in my mind I stayed close to Sin that day. He was kinder to me than he had been in a long time and I took full advantage of him. I sensed the change had something to do with the work from last night and I think that he enjoyed manning the thresholds once again. They were always working in him, through him so that very seldom did he ever have to go personally for a spirit. Unless the spirit was a special case, and a banshee who was about to commit suicide was as special as they got. We spoke with the council about preparations that would be made for the arriving soldiers. I helped in the kitchen, me and the puffs ate more food than we actually helped make, as the

servants put together a feast to welcome our newest arrivals. Everyone was working up for tonight to be some sort of party and we were all in good spirits. Even Sin stopped in and ate some of the chocolate eclaires the kitchen serfs cooked and his praise had them giggling long after he left. I couldn't really blame them for it because as he left he winked at me, and that had me giggling along with them. Afterwards, pleasantly full I sat swinging my legs as Cameron and Mr. Little discussed choices for music. I listened for awhile before I left to take a quick bath before the nights festivities and then a quick nap. The sleep was good for me and when I next woke up I could hear the excited babble of deep males voices drifting through my window. I could hear the boys still in the Ridge building moving around below stairs along with the thick, soothing pulse of music. Cameron's influence was seen in the final selection of music. Mr. Little wasn't comfortable allowing songs with words being sung to be played at such an event and Cameron had compromised. They'd finally agreed on playing something wit a strong, thick beat that was made that much sweeter from the strings of violins and piano that accompanied it. I rolled over yawning, the lazy motion breaking off in a scream when I looked over to see Sin staring at me from less than a foot away. "You left by yourself this morning. Why?" Clutching my heart I straightened and got out of the bed. He came to his feet as I did and moved to block my escape to the door. Bending slightly he raised his brows at me and I huffed out an irritated breath. "Leave me alone." "It's not safe for you to be wandering around by yourself anymore. So why did you leave without me?" How many times I had to say that Sin was possessed before someone would believe me I didn't know. But I wouldn't be saying it again, not without more proof. Right now though Sin seemed more worried than anything and that had doubts surfacing in my mind. Sin had been surprisingly sweet to me today. He'd let the puffballs braid his hair during lunch and he'd helped me catch up on some studying that I needed for when classes started up. He didn't even bother smacking me when I'd made him hold my hand as he patrolled the school after his meeting with the council. So while he'd been the picture of patience and virtue he hadn't once spoken about what had happened that morning. Apparently he'd wanted to wait until we were alone to handle the matter and I least appreciated him for that. “Sinclair-” “Don’t ever do that again. Don’t ever leave me again.” “Me! Leave you?" After he had done his best bedlam patient impression the morning before? "Are you out of your mind? Are you blind? Are you stupid!? I isn't that big of a dea--” My words were cut off in a strangled gasp as he pressed his body tighter against mine and pushed me back against the wall beside my bed. The wall was a solid thing, and I knew it trapped me as surely as the man standing in front of me. I could feel him pressed through his clothes, his body heavy and hot and hard. I licked my lips and squirmed, tugging at the grip he had on my wrists. He leaned into me, pressing his mouth against the long clean curve of my neck. "It is that big of a deal. Having you taken away is a very big deal to me. Do you understand that? Can you comprehend it?” The movement of his mouth had my body jerking and I whimpered. Teeth scraped along my skin and my heart jumped. The heat that pooled low in my belly was a shock, an almost painful one that had my eyes widening in surprise. “Are you afraid?” He asked again, his face rubbing along my neck and up to my chin and

cheek as he drew in the scent of me, marking me much the same way as a cat would. With a jolt I realized that I wasn’t. I wasn’t afraid of Sinclair. If I asked him to stop, he would and he wouldn’t make me hurt for it. I shook my head. “No. I’m not afraid of you.” He raised his head enough so that he could look down at me, his eyes intense through the fall of inky hair that fell across his face. His smile was a brilliant flash through all that hair. “Well aren't you the brave one.” Then he used the grip he had on my arms to raise me up just as he lowered his head to my breast. His teeth scraped across my nipple, and my breath caught. My thighs clenched and I arched my back, wrapping my legs around his waist and letting my head fall back. His mouth was hot, his tongue and teeth determined and thorough. He sucked me into his mouth as if he couldn’t get enough of the taste of me and I bit my lip, hips moving restlessly. Searching… searching… I let out an exasperated cry, and Sin let go of one of my arms, his fingers sliding over my body. Down my stomach so that muscles clenched and jerked. I lifted my hips for him, body aching in a way that I was unused to. “Please…please Sin please.” he must have heard the desperation in my voice because he obliged me, fingers dipping between my legs and sliding along the wetness there. He stroked me like a cat and I purred for him, moving my hips in time with his fingers until suddenly, with a gasp on my part and a groan on his, one of those long fingers slipped inside of me and drove deep. I froze. This was the first time that I could ever remember having a man touch me like this and I didn't feel fear. It was...it was nice. It was really nice. The hand that I’d placed against his shoulder clenched once, twice, and let go. I collapsed back against the wall, staring up at Sin with wide eyes, my legs still wrapped around his waist and my remaining arm still held immobile over my head by his hand. His eyes narrowed, and he moved the hand between my legs experimentally. His finger slid from me in slow degrees and I regretted its loss. Regretted it so much in fact that my inner muscles clenched tight around him as I tried to draw him back in, keep him. Sinclair stiffened and his eyes drifted closed. I missed the intensity of his gaze on my face, but the concentration that I saw in him fascinated me almost as much. When he pushed his finger back inside of me, rotating it slowly and curling it at the knuckle I gasped and cried out. Sinclair grinned, eyes still closed. Then he did something that had my mouth drying up and every intelligent thought that I’d ever had in my life shriveling up and dying. He slid his finger from me and raised his hand to his mouth, licking his fingers clean and growling low in his throat in satisfaction. My heart damn near stopped when our room door burst open. Cameron and Tray’s voice rang out and broke the tense silence like it was glass. “Hey! What are you doing up here? The party’s at Olympus.” a moment of quiet as both boys noted the legs wrapped around Sin’s waist and the slender arm he held. I realized that they most likely couldn’t see me from around Sinclair’s back and my suspicion was confirmed at Tray’s solemnly spoken words. “Oooooh Sinclair. Ale‘s gonna be maaaaad at you.” My eyes met Sin’s and I gave him a shaky laugh. His voice was sardonic as he replied.

“It’s alright boy. I don’t think she’d mind overmuch.” He leaned over me and his next words were for me and only me. “We’ll finish this later.” I could only nod. Ü Sin left before I did after sending both boys back to the party. By the time I changed into a clean uniform I had pulled myself together enough to make my way downstairs and out of Atridge. I skipped down the path leading to Olympus and managed to ignored the puffs and their nauseous moaning until one of them nearly lost their lunch on me.While Wacko was throwing up in a nearby bush and Hughie held his eyes out of it, Mo told me to go on ahead and that they would catch up with me later on that night. I ran grateful fingers across her fur and did as she said, running full out now as the strains from the music and laughter drifted ever closer. Hurrying up the steps I ignored the boys sitting and drinking and cracking dirty jokes with the soldiers. Inside Olympus there was chaos. The Soldiers had come in hungry and tired but the enthusiasm of the young pushed them to gamble and smoke and dance the night away. The servants were even allowed to participate and Mr. Little twirled past me with a buxom Hawkeye maid named Betty clinging to his arm. To my surprise some of the bright, gharish costumes that marked the girls of the Playground scattered throughout the room. With a feeling of numb disbelief, I waved at a smiling Deborah as she and Tilly sat giggling in Sir's lap. Cameron was arguing heatedly with some of the art school students and Tray was flirting with one of the Nanny's who worked in the children's ward. She seemed amused but oddly entranced by the much younger boy and I decided not to warn her away since Tray seemed to be having so much fun. Then I caught a flash of green and my heart skipped a beat. I pushed through the crowd to throw my arms around Sin's neck, ignoring the council members he'd been conferring with completely. I fully expected to be scolded but Sinclair waved goodbye to his comrades and with a gratified laugh that only I could hear the relief in, he swung me into a dance. The tables had been cleared away so that there was a large enough space in the center of the room for us all to dance if we felt like it. Some of what the other boys came up with could hardly be considered dancing, more like standing seizures, but whether danced by themselves, in pairs, or in groups, they poured their hearts into it and their excitement filled the room. Mr. little's star pupils, including Georgie and Henri, were working so hard that their bodies were slick wit sweat. So hard in fact that their glamour kept flickering and I got momentary glances of too long noses, green hued skin, and red caps sitting jauntingly on their heads. Sin struck his forehead against mine, and the brief pain was enough for me to bring my attention back to him. I laughed and he grinned back at me. I was so pleased with everything in that moment I decided to do something I had never done. I decided to confess. Taking a deep breath and ignoring Sinclair as he bit his lip to keep from laughing at me, I tightened my arms around his neck. "Sinclair. I have something to tell you." "Oh really?" "Yes really."

He dipped me and I was momentarily dizzy. "So what is it?" It took another minute to get my thoughts together but when I did I gave him a gentle smile full of all the love in my heart. "You make me want to pretend to be a better person." Not sure how much more direct I could get. "Is that supposed to be some sort of declaration of undying loyalty and devotion. I.E the emotion known as 'Love'" "Well yeah, you don't like it?" "Eh." "Eh?" "Eh." "Eh what?" "Eh nothing. Just Eh." I stopped moving and he quirked that damn eyebrow at me. "It can't just be eh. That's not even a word." Suddenly angry I pulled away from him and rushed over to drag Deborah from Sir's lap. The red haired giant was laughing merrily now, Tilly bouncing on his lap each time he let loose another rolling laugh so he didn't notice Deborah's absence. Using that uncanny ability of her's, Selma soon joined us and together we huddled behind the table with the food spread over it and conversed in hissed voices. I told them immediately what had happened and when I finished, Deborah's sweet face was a study of offended pride. "That's it? that's all he said?" "Yes. that's it. All that he had to say after I practically bared my heart in front of him was...Eh." I fought back tears as Deborah asked shyly, "That's... not a word. Is it?" "No that's not a word. That's a grunt. And not even a full grunt. It's a partial grunt. It's a baby grunt. It's a 'eh' type grunt." "Holy mother, he baby grunted me. What do baby grunts mean? That means he feels the same way right? Otherwise I would have received a flat out denial right?" "I don't know hun." "Me neither." "What? Why not?" "You forget, we mostly do the fucking end of a full fledged relationship." Selma nodded absently in agreement as she reached abover her head to snag a sweet roll. "That's right. Men don't have to whisper sweet eh's in our ears to get up our skirts. They get to skip that part. That's why I charge extra." She stated sagely, her mouth full and icing smearing her cheeks. "Yeah. But I do have to admit that even after all that I get more from a man than 'eh' " "True. You know what this means don't you?" "No, what." "That means this is all your fault. You're obviously doing something wrong." "But I didn-" "That's just the problem. You didn't. Now you need to did. Did?" She'd confused herself with that one and she looked to Selma for assistance.

"Do." "Yes. Do." "...oh" We stared at each other silently for a full fledged minute and simultaneously we nodded and dispersed. I hurried back to Sinclair who seemed bored standing in the middle of all that gyrating madness, while Deborah went to tease a soldier and Selma pulled up a chair at a nearby table to gamble. "Alright." I said, deadly serious as I grabbed Sinclair's hands and placed them around my waist. "Alright what?" He seemed amused as hell by the whole development but I had resolved with myself not to let him upset me. I had decided to do. "I love you." "Well that's good. I was worried up until just this moment." I stepped on his foot as hard as I could and watched and watched his eyes cross. He stepped back and I barely made it out of the way in time. "Hey, you're heavier than me, Stop being so childish." "Me!" To avoid further attempts at retaliation I stepped on the tops of his boots so that he had to tighten his grip around my waist so I wouldn't teeter as he continued to twirl me around the room. I looked up at him and saw his eyes already searching my face. This time when he asked, it was without the trace of sarcasm. "So you love me?" "Well yes." I wasn't sure why he hadn't figured that out already. I waited expectantly, my face a blank mask so when he finally said the words I could successfully look surprised and touched all at the same time. I might even throw in a few tears for comforting purposes. I waited and waited but the words didn't come. The only 'I love you,' I heard were my previously spoken words as they echoed in the air between us. "Well?" "Well what?" "It's your turn." He sighed, obviously annoyed at this new turn of events. "We're taking turns now?" I felt my brain began to melt and I tried desperately to hold my temper together. I was seriously worried though, that smoke escaped from my ears anyway. In fact I was sure it had because I could see the white trails from the corner of my eye. "Sin this is how it works. I say, 'I love you.' And you say, 'I love you too.' Then we kiss and if we're lucky we do a bit more. And if we're even luckier we do 'this'. If we're luckier still we do 'that'. And then if we even more lucky we do 'this' and 'that', except we do it backwards." I took a deep breath to continue and he silenced me by putting his hand over my mouth. "I get it." I allowed his hands to stay in place and this time I was braced for when he dipped me again. When he saw I wasn't distracted like last time he shook his head and sighed. He seemed lost in thought and since this was crucial to our future I let him think. It was on our third turn of the room and when I felt as if I couldn't get any more miserable with his hesitation that I saw it happen. The sudden dark change in him. My gut twisted and clearing my throat I tried to discreetly pull away from him. My arms lowered from m y sides, but when I tried to step off of his feet he only began to move faster, tightening his arms

around me almost to the point of cruelty so that I was stuck against him. "Sin?" my voice was frightened and I had to close my eyes because the swirling mix of the dance made me ill. "I don't you know. I don't love you. I don't think I ever have. I used to confuse this feeling for love, but I know now that that isn't the truth." This brought a stab of pain so sharp it was crippling. I knew something was wrong yes, but there was a ring of truth to his words that struck a painful chord in me. "So what is the truth." I was proud of myself for keeping my voice steady, though my throat ached with the effort not to cry. "The truth?" his voice was ideal as he spun me, his fingers against my back curious, and his smile bright for those that looked our way. "The truth is that I hate you. I despise you. The very thought of you, your scent, your taste, your touch it tightens my skin with loathing." He stopped moving and I could feel him gazing down at the crown of my head as I pressed my face against his chest and clutched at his back. He lifted my chin with one hand, his fingers and smile gentle as they caressed my face and those green eyes dead. As if someone had come and snuffed out a great light that would never flicker again. "I look at you," he said, running his fingers along the underside of my chin. "I look at you and I think to myself,'If I had just killed her. If I had just broken her beyond repair. Smashed that pretty faces into pieces..." his voice was thick with something, tears maybe. I thought that because his eyes shimmered with them. "I think, if I could have simply erased you from the memory of the world, from my memory maybe I wouldn't be so...lost." I could have hated him myself from this speech alone but his words frightened me more than anything else. Because they weren't spoken with anger or even his usual sarcasm but rather sadness. Grief. As if he had lost something precious and dear to him. There would be no hidden compliment in these words. There would be no sardonic smile and quick kiss. Something had taken Sinclair from me, or rather...he had never been with me to begin with. "What's your purpose Fallen?" "To destroy the traitor to the blood. To restore the souls to the garden of milk and honey." Something left me then and I felt my throat tighten. My mind darken. "And the one who gave you your orders?" The name he spoke broke the air on a sigh and I watched as it passed his lips to cut into me with the smoothness of a blade. The world paused, wary and beneath my feet, trembled. The scent of blood soaked honey filled my mind, clouded it so that it weighed me down. Kept me down. The taste of milk drowned me. The world was awash in brightness and through the roaring that filled my mind I could hear the distant sounds of revelry. I wanted to call for help, wanted to scream and fight and cry but with that one word Sin had taken those choices from me. When I had been sent to Japrimilia the Angels had taken precautions and they were nothing if not effective. Sin's hands were around my throat, the pads pressing deep indention in my windpipe and against the rapid beat of my pulse. The sound of my own blood had never sounded so loud. The beat of my heart never so fierce and strong. His hands tightened and he shook me like a rag doll and my eyes rolled. The pressure in my throat, the lack of air made the taste of milk that much sweeter, the tang of honey that much sharper, and Sin's lips as he kissed my gasping mouth one last time that much more dear. I caught a flash of familiar silver blond hair over Sin's shoulders and my heart gave a

desperate beat that shook me. My arm came up on it's own accord and I reached grasping fingers for that dear face and breathed one word into Sinclair's mouth. "Papa." Ü Not far away a man named Fredrick was watching the scene play out in the small mirror he held in his lap. Across the room from him a viscously mutilated corpse was still hanging from its chains but Fredrick neither saw, nor smelled him. All of his attention was focused on the pair in the mirror and, as he recognized the trademark silver hair and no nonsense eyes, he couldn't help but smile. "Now that all the players are here we can finally begin." He ran his fingers over the surface of the mirror and began to dance in place as Jinx watched him with wary eyes from his place by the potions table. The scene in the mirror rippled and Fredrick began to laugh and for some reason couldn't seem to stop. "Remy, back from the dead. Welcome my old friend, welcome. How I've missed you."

Epilogue: Gabriel turned shadowed eyes on Michael and together the two of them winced. They had been watching the going ons on earth for a few hours now. Hours that translated into years to the planet beneath them. They were not at all pleased by what they saw and they were even less pleased by what they didn't. The crack that was slowly spreading around the circumference of the earth was not only ripping up the material world but the spiritual one as well. Though for now the other rips were invisible to the naked eye, soon they would become visible with each soul that was taken. The barriers were weakening, breaking. Not only was Lucifer working towards getting to the Satan, but Satan was clawing his way towards Luc as well, and with their combined efforts they were succeeding at an alarming rate. It was a good thing the people of Zebul were a spiritual lot otherwise they would have fallen for the demons and their tricks a long time ago. However it seemed as though their cooperation would soon become obsolete. The walls that separated the worlds and the heavens would break down completely and they would no longer need a Zebulian to travel as they pleased. "You would think Az'rail would know better." Gabriel nodded at Michael's assessment but couldn't help defending the other man. "When he was under Samael's care he was used as a sort of rite of passage. His kiss was given to many and whether their souls separated from their bodies was a mark of their spiritual strength. When Luc asked for it I guess Az'rail just figured it was a way for Luc to test himself." "Then he was a fool. Now because of what he's done she's in danger." Both Michael and Gabriel had watched as Lucifer had bitten his own lip before he'd offered the Fallen his tongue. They had watched and they had protested loudly, unheard of course since they weren't supposed to be looking into hell anyway, when the two men had kissed. The Devil's blood had slithered into Az'rail's body like a poison. Gabriale's anxious claims of possession had been correct. Not only was Az'rail possessed he was possessed by Lucifer himself. He was a weapon, a dangerous one that was going to end up causing Gabriale to do something that she would later regret. Even now as Az'rail's fingers tightened around her neck Soldiers were preparing. Suiting up in armor and calling forth weapons that had not seen the light for many an eon. The blood that squatted inside of Az'rail like a toad had been waiting for this moment. No one was able to touch her without consequences, no one was able to get past those barriers that kept the sixth world hidden. No one except Az'rail and with the help of his calling the name of binding, along with the added touch of Az'rail and Gabby's kiss, Lucifer now had access to the Well of Souls. He could and would get inside of the Keeper and whether or not he took full control of the Well depended entirely on how fiercely she defended it.

"She's going to pull out all the stops isn't she?" Gabriel's voice was low and grim as he prepared his own armor. In contrast pride had Michael grinning abit fondly as he tossed Gabriel his spear. "Of course she is. We taught our girl well." "That isn't exactly a good thing." Gabriel reminded him as he snapped the buckles of his chest plate in place. "Either way this is going to end badly. When he reaches the Well, if he defeats her, the council will declare her an unfit vessel and unmake her. It'll be just the excuse they'll need." Gabriel's voice was bitter and Michael took up the musing as he bent to tighten the straps of his boots. "And if she defeats him, then she'll need to use that to do so." "And using that is not only proof that she's an unfit guardian but a dangerous one and we won't just have to unmake her." "We'll have to kill her." The two Archs looked at each other once again. Michael frowned and ran a hand through his hair. "Our orders are clear. We are not to interfere with her retrieval. We're just supposed to help fight should things get out of hand, protect the mortals, and help try and strengthen the broken barriers." Gabriel cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes on his old friend. They had been together for so long that he knew that the other man could feel the thoughts that now drove him. "We won't be interfering with anything if we get to her first now will we? They'll be interfering with us." Michael bared his teeth in a parody of a smile. "And if that happens we have a right to protect ourselves." "Not our fault if there's a misunderstanding." "Of course not." Michael grinned at Gabriel and Gabriel grinned at Michael and below them the worlds began to tremble.