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  1. 10 points
    Seventeen. I hadn’t planned anything in advance. We had to stop off at Madison’s house to get the movie she wanted me to watch - Aristocats, it was called. I told her to grab a few more movies too, just in case we wanted to watch another. After all, we had quite an uneventful afternoon planned. “Do you want to bring your Polly Pocket?” I asked. She gave me a strange look, curious and uncertain. “Why?” “You’ve seen these movies, that’s all. If you got bored you could play with her.” I guess that was the right answer, because Madison went back upstairs to get her Polly Pocket. I couldn’t possibly understand the appeal of playing with a small plastic doll for as long as she did. I’d catch her mumbling to it sometimes, but nothing above an inaudible whisper. I wondered if she had any stuffed animals; I’d never seen her bedroom before. Our next stop: the gas station. I actually needed gas, but it was a great place to pick up snacks too. Madison went straight to the candy aisle and I tried to find a bag of chips that wouldn’t eat up what little spending money I had. I wasn’t sure how Madison felt about off-brand chips, but they would have to do. “Which one are you going to get?” she asked me. She was holding a bag of M&Ms, three sticks of Sweetarts, and a Ring Pop. “I have chips, see?” I held them up. “But don’t you want some candy, too?” “One more candy for me is one less candy for you, isn’t it?” Madison stopped to think about that for a minute. Almost everywhere we went, Madison paid. This was a very rare exception, and she wasn’t used to making such arbitrary decisions regarding money. “I’ll share with you,” she finally said, nodding her head with absolute certainty. I had to stifle a laugh. “You do that. Now what do you want to drink?” “Pepsi. Or Mountain Dew. Orrr…” I followed Madison to the wall of fridges, watching her pour over the colored labels. She was sure in a good mood today, wasn’t she? I thought again about Polly, the swing sets, the rabbit hole… “Why don’t you get some juice instead?” Madison was just pulling a Pepsi out of the cooler when I made the suggestion. A very weird suggestion, a suggestion one teenager doesn’t make to another teenager. It felt awkward; it felt wrong on my lips. But I’d gotten the words out already. The hard part was over. “Juice is good for you,” I went on, “and you have enough sugar there for ten Madisons. Right?” She just stood there, staring at me, bewildered… had I done something wrong? Had I overstepped? I wished I could read her mind, but not even the brightness in her eyes gave away what she was thinking. Whatever I’d done — whether good or bad — had clearly caught her off guard. “I… uh.” She looked down at the bottle of Pepsi, then at the pile of candy in her arms. Standing there in silence, hanging on a syllable… she reminded me of a watch that stuttered on the second hand. Tick. Tick. Tick. But she didn’t move forward, not until she did. Tick. “Alright.” She put the Pepsi back in the fridge and went down the aisle to find a bottle of juice instead. I finally let out a breath; I hadn’t even noticed I was holding it in. Why was I so nervous over this? Why was this so difficult? Madison and I met in the first grade: we were both six years old. She was a very quiet girl back then, but she was always a good student. She didn’t make a lot of friends until middle school. Her color blindness bought her a lot of interest, and after some attention her disposition was radiant. By the time high school started, everyone knew about Madison Bell in one way or another. Everyone liked her. Except me. Maybe I just liked to buck the trends. But now, here I was, a sixteen year old high school girl babysitting that same six year old from ten years back. She’d grown into a beautiful young woman, and at the same time, hadn’t changed a day. Maybe this was too weird for me. Maybe it wasn’t worth it. But when she turned around and her eyes met mine, when I saw that shimmer of excitement burning her up in the best, brightest way… well, what really isn’t worth that? “Is this okay?” The bottle she came back with was topped with Winnie the Pooh and a spout for her to drink from. She pointed to the label. “It’s apple.” “That’s perfect,” I said with a smile I swear could rival hers if someone wasn’t paying enough attention. But wow, her juice bottle was expensive. After paying, I could only put six dollars in my gas tank. I took the bag in one hand and, without asking, used my other to take hers. I felt a small twitch in her fingers as I led the way out of the gas station, but she didn’t pull away. Was that progress? My house was remarkably cold when we got there, but the heat kicked into gear pretty damn fast. I unpacked all the groceries and got the DVD player set up in my bedroom. It was just after four in the afternoon and the sun was still up. It seemed silly to suggest changing into pajamas so soon. Aristocats was a very fun movie! Madison talked through the whole damn thing, popping candy in her mouth like her life depended on it. She went through her cup of juice faster than anything, but absolutely refused to pause the movie to get more. When the credits started to roll, Madison had finished two packs of Sweetarts and her bag of M&Ms. “Whatcha wanna do now?” she asked with the energy of Madison Bell plus two sticks of solid sugar. The house was warm and comfortable. The sun was still up, but with my blinds drawn and the way my window faced, it felt like late evening. I checked my phone. Almost six. “Let’s change into pajamas and we can watch another movie.” “Have you seen The Emperor’s New Groove?” she asked me. “Isn’t that about the guy who wore invisible clothes?” “…no?” “Then I don’t think I’ve seen it,” I admitted. “Oh it’s amazing, we are doing that one next.” She got up from my bed and fished her backpack up off the floor. Madison had spent a lot of time in my bed; it was more comfortable to hang out in my room than in the living room. “I’ll go change and I’ll be right back,” she told me. “I’ll get you more juice,” I said, and followed her out of bed. I changed into my pajamas first: I had some plaid pants and a tank top I slept in most nights. That would do. Then I picked up her Winnie the Pooh cup and brought it with me to the kitchen. Mom always kept apple juice in the house, though she so rarely drank it. I checked the expiration date. Looked fine. When I finished filling up Madison’s juice bottle, I screwed on the lid and held it up to get a closer look. It really did feel like babysitting, huh? Getting her drinks, watching kids’ movies. And this bottle didn’t help either, did it? I wondered if Madison liked sippy cups… Madison was waiting in my room dressed in her yellow pajama set from Walmart, with You Are My SUNSHINE written across her top. The fabric hung loosely - maybe half a size too big - around her form, airy and light, gentle… personifying her. I almost dropped her cup. I’d never seen Madison Bell so informally before. I’d never seen her without her hair curled or without her socks or without her cardigan. I’d never even imagined… no imagination could. I knew her top was sleeveless, but she was wearing a gray zip-up jacket I had never seen before. Her hands were in the pockets, but when she noticed me in the door she spread her arms wide. “Cute, huh? I’m glad you told me to get them.” “Very. Very. Cute.” Each word was its own breath — each word had to be. “So, Emperor’s New Groove is amazing. Just wait.” But I wasn’t sure anything could amaze me more today. I had hardly waited for the movie to start before suggesting it. Madison had already started on her last stick of Sweetarts. “Could I do your hair?” “Huh?” “Like. Brush it or put it up or something.” I expected bewilderment, like at the gas station. I expected curiosity, like when I mentioned bringing her Polly Pocket. What I didn’t expect was her mouth to hang open and her cheeks to fill up with a pinkness I had never seen in her skin. But that was what happened. She immediately lowered her eyes to the bedsheets and nodded her head. Okay… “Sit over here, I’ll get a hairbrush.” She didn’t talk. Had I said something wrong? Or was she shy? I didn’t know what was so embarrassing about doing hair — Polly and I did it all the time. And it wasn’t like we were doing anything else anyway, just watching the movie… “Oh my god, your hair is so soft.” Did she not use hairspray? How the hell did she get it to stay like that? I ran my fingers through the tips like water, twirling her curls, and letting them spring back into place. This close, she smelled like strawberries and cream… I couldn’t explain the difference, not in actual words, but this was nothing like brushing Polly’s hair. This was… overwhelming. “Sorry,” I muttered when the hairbrush got caught on one of the tangles. She raised her juice to her lips and sipped softly while the movie played. We didn’t talk, but I could feel her breathing whenever my hands would stray below her neck. Was the movie almost over? I had completely lost track of time. “I was going to do a braid, but your hair is a little shorter than mine. Can I do pigtails?” She nodded. The disparity between this movie and the one before it was astounding. By the time I had finished pulling her hair up in two symmetrical pigtails, fluffed out at the end by her curls, I was sure she had slipped out of the happiness and into the dull quiet. I’d done something horribly wrong, and I had no idea what it was. But when she turned to me, her eyes were glossy and bright, like she might cry, but I knew it wasn’t like that at all. She smiled, the smallest smile, the most insignificant thing I had ever seen on her lips, but it felt anything but insignificant. “Thank you,” her lips said, but no words came out. That was the first time I wanted to kiss Madison Bell.
  2. 9 points
    Twenty-four. “No,” Madison answered with more certainty than I’d ever heard in her voice. That’s how I knew… “You’re lying.” “I’m fine.” “You aren’t convincing.” Finally, Madison sat up. She was upset. Wait, no, was she… angry? “Leave me alone, Jamie! I didn’t ask you to come here!” Before she could stop me, I shoved her arm, right where I’d tried to hug her only seconds before. She winced; actually, she recoiled. She actually looked sick. Dizzy, like she was going to throw up. “Madison.” It was my turn to be upset. I didn’t raise my voice but fuck if I didn’t sharpen it. My words could have cut glass. She froze in place. “I will work around all of the silly, specific idiosyncrasies that make you who you are, and I love you for them. But if you are hurt, there is nothing you can say to keep me from making sure you’re okay. Do you understand me?” “Love me…?” Madison blinked. “…what?” “You said… you love me?” she stared, wide-eyed and bewildered, oblivious to the tears dripping down her cheeks. Like everything else I said meant nothing. Like everything about her being hurt, and making sure she was okay… “Of course,” I mumbled, unable to meet her ever-present stare. Like she’d never again take her eyes off me, and I’d never again get to peek beyond her glasses without embarrassment washing over me. What the fuck was I thinking? “Now will you take off your damn jacket?” And to both of our surprise, she actually did. I didn’t know what to expect. Her dad always struck me as the kind of guy I shouldn’t trust. A loud, boisterous man, perhaps quick to anger the way he was quick to criticize his daughter over every little detail. It wasn’t unreasonable to think he would hit her, even if he didn’t mean it. A few bruises, here or there. Purple blotches infecting her otherwise beautiful, frail skin. Then again, her mom never struck me as a dumb woman either. She wasn’t the kind of person who wouldn’t notice. Maybe she was afraid of being hit. Or maybe her and Madison shared a mutual affection for make believe. Maybe she was content enough to bury herself in social obligations, party dinners, and charity fundraisers, so much so that letting a thought or two slip her mind - like why her daughter wears a hoodie to bed - was okay. Maybe she could turn a blind eye to other things too. When Madison took off her jacket, I saw her arms for the first time since grade school. No cardigan, no sweater, no coat. But it wasn’t bruises that decorated her arms above the elbow. They were cuts. Small, precise, parallel cuts. Intentional, practiced, polished cuts. And I realized all at once who the villain of the story was. “Oh, no…” She didn’t say anything. I had to say something. I had to do something. But what was I supposed to do? Splotches of dried blood decorated her left arm. Like a painting. My stomach spun in circles in the worst possible way. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” I told her, gently and leaving no room for argument. “Come on.” I took her hand in mine and walked her out of her bedroom and into the bathroom across the hall. I soaked a washcloth under warm water and found antiseptic and bandages behind the mirror. Madison sat down on the lid of the toilet, looking at anything but her arms. Well, her arms, and me. “It’s okay,” I told her, thought it wasn’t. It wasn’t okay. Fuck, was this not okay. But it would be. Right? I should say that. “It will be okay. Just relax.” Here, in the bright bathroom lights, I could get a better look. There was only one cut that was bleeding, or had been bleeding. Once I washed away the blood with the warm washcloth, it looked a lot better. A thin, jagged line, red and bright and sore. I put antiseptic on it all the same. The rest of the lines were pink or white, long since healed. I counted eleven. “It’s going to be okay,” I told her, but I wasn’t able to manage a convincing smile. I went to her other arm - the right side - but there wasn’t anything I could do. This side only had five lines. One was hard and red, recent. Last night, maybe? I rinsed the rag in the bathroom sink, and tried not to think about it. About how, if I’d stayed last night, or if I’d come over sooner… “Jamie?” “Hmm? Yeah?” I turned back to her with another fake smile. Fuck. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.” Of course she’d say something like that. “I just don’t like seeing you hurt.” "I didn't want you to see." "That's not what I meant," I said with a touch of irritation, but I quickly let that ebb away into gentle concern. "I want you to be safe. This? This isn't safe." "It's fine," she shrugged. "It's not fine. It's not okay. And... and I just. Don't. Understand." That was the truth of the matter. An exasperated, undeniable, lack of understanding. "Why? Why would you..." She shrugged. How could she be so annoying and so beautiful at the same time? "Tell me how you feel. Even if it's stupid. Just try to help me understand here. Please." "It makes the bad things go away," she mumbled. "The dark things." “The ones that fill you up?” She nodded. I sighed softly and sat down on the bathroom floor, in front of the toilet, so I could look up at her. I tried to keep my stare from glossing over her arms, but when our eyes met… well it wasn’t so hard anymore. “Go on.” “They just shut up after I do it. Like… I got what was coming to me.” “You don’t deserve this, though. It’s not fair on you.” She shrugged again. Did she… really think she deserved it? “Madison. You don’t deserve it. No matter what those thoughts tell you, they aren’t real. They are just terrible, terrible things. They aren’t yours. They aren’t true.” Wait… “Madison… what was today’s thought? What has you so upset?” “My birthday is tomorrow,” she mumbled. “I hate my birthday.” “…because you’re getting older,” I guessed correctly. “I’ll never be as little as I am now, ever again… never be as cute. Never be… closer to…” “Oh…” This thought wasn’t like her other ones. The others were exaggerations. They were tricks her mind played on her. But this one was a statement of reality, fighting against her preference to ignore it. This thought was real and true and irrefutable. And that was what made this thought so dangerous, so scary, and it was what made me so useless. But there was one thing she was wrong about. “I’ve known you for ten years, Madison Bell, and honestly, sincerely, with all my heart, every single day, you only get cuter. And tomorrow, when you turn seventeen, you’ll be cuter still.” She faked a smile, but stifled a laugh. Maybe because I had gotten flowery with my words, or maybe because she thought it was a joke. Or maybe she was relieved that someone actually thought she was cute at her age. But it was progress. A step in the right direction. “Talk to me next time,” I said with a smile, a real one, because I honestly believed she might listen. I learned a lot of things about Madison that Sunday evening. I learned about her jackets and I learned about her scars. I learned about her fears and I learned another bad thought. I learned how important this little stuff was to her. But more remarkable, more surprising, more unbelievable than anything else: I learned Madison Bell was actually two and a half weeks older than me.
  3. 9 points
    Twenty-two. I slammed my palms on the glass, but they didn’t leave any smudges or prints. The me on the other side didn’t raise a finger. She smiled, that warm, fake, sickly smile. I was cold all over. I could see my breath in front of me. Everything was so dark… “Stay put,” she mouthed, words absent and lost on the other side of the mirror. But I knew them well. She always said those words. I balled my hands into fists and hit the glass with the full swing of my arms. It rumbled and failed to crack. Tears dripped down my cheeks. I watched her walk away, the Jamie behind the mirror, free on the other side. Straight in front of me, across the hallway, was another mirror, staring back at me. But there was no girl in this reflection. I dragged my fingernails along the glass, but it made no sound. I screamed, but no one could hear it. For the first time in a long time, I threw up. I hovered my head over the rim of the toilet, still lost in a senseless, sleeping delirium. Everything felt like the dream was only a tug away. At any point, it could pull me back in. I threw up again. “Jay?” “Mmm…” “You okay?” I heard from the other side of the bathroom door. “Mmm. Yeah.” “Want breakfast?” “No thanks,” I mumbled, fighting to keep my eyes open. Was it morning? Had I fallen asleep again? I flushed the toilet and pulled myself to my feet. On my way to the sink, I avoided looking in the mirror. I splashed water on my face. It wasn’t helping. “You sick?” Mom asked when I got out of the bathroom. “Seems so,” I sighed and fell into my chair at the kitchen table. “Want to stay home?” I shook my head. “You sure?” “I’ll feel better when I get to school,” I told her. I’d feel better when I got to Biology. Sure enough, the second I saw that bright smile, those beautiful milky brown eyes, it was like last night had never happened. Madison Bell was a dream herself, one that beat out the badness of even the worst nightmares. She was reality’s reciprocal to the imaginary. She was serenity. “Okay, so,” Madison started, “I have this paper due on Wednesday, and I thought instead of writing up a draft and messing it up a hundred times, I’d just come to you right away! So here I am. I was thinking, dinner tonight? We can go over an outline. And we can go anywhere you want - my treat - to pay you back. Sounds good, right? I thought so.” “Yeah, yeah. Whatever excuse you need to buy me more food, right?” She was in a good mood today, wasn’t she? Madison had taken to sitting at the desk right beside mine. Ellen’s desk, to be specific, which irritated her to no end. But that was the thing about Madison: you just couldn’t stay mad at her. I knew firsthand. So Ellen started sitting in the seat in front of her old one - an empty one - and Madison permanently moved in. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Madison tried to hide a smile. I rolled my eyes. “What about lunch?” she went on. “You gonna be in the Writing Workshop?” “Probably.” “Okay I’ll see you there too, and I’ll bring some M&Ms or something.” Ever the child. But since my Christmas money had started to dwindle, lunch had become an ‘every once in a while’ thing, rather than an ‘everyday’ thing. I hated to think of myself as taking advantage of Madison, but with how much money she spent on me… well, it was hard not to draw a comparison. At lunch, Madison brought candy bars and M&Ms. I wondered if, left to her own devices, she would eat nothing but junk food. I opted out of her M&Ms. “You aren’t going to eat?” she asked. “You didn’t have breakfast, did you?” I shrugged, reading over one of the papers I was editing for an author on the east coast. He published a book last year. I loved editing his drafts. “What’s up? Everything okay?” When I didn’t answer, Madison poured the whole pack of M&Ms over the paper I was reading. They clattered together and distracted me away from the print. I sighed. “You buy me too much stuff.” “That’s what you’re worried about?” she asked. “I don’t buy you anything. My parents do. And you don’t even like them, do you?” “Not exceptionally,” I admitted. “So let’s just spend all their money together.” Together. I liked that. So I ate an M&M. “There we go!” Madison smiled like an angel, like she looked wrong without a halo. After a minute of quiet admiration, I decided to turn the tables on her line of questioning. If we were going to get personal… “So why can’t I come over during your Little Days?” “We are at school,” she said with a sour tone, but I watched color filling up her cheeks. “Can’t we talk about this later?” “We’re alone.” No one ever came into the Writing Workshop during lunch. Well, with the exception of present company. “And I want to talk about it. I’ve babied you before.” “Jamie!” She gave me a hard look. That was something entirely new. Madison never used to show frustration, not unless she was pushed to it. I was finally seeing all these new sides to her, all these new angles, new corners, new colors. It was starting to paint a fuller picture of the honest truth: I was absolutely smitten with this girl. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” “Like hell,” she said flatly, coloring herself with a darker shade of pink. Wow, Madison blushing… “We talked about this,” I reminded her. “It makes you happy. It helps you when your thoughts are all over the place. And it’s cute!” “I think you are mixing up the definition of cute with weird.” She stuffed her face with a Snicker’s bar. How is that not cute?! How could she even deny it? “It’s weird, but in a cute Madison-esque way. Like. Uniquely you. And I liked it. Taking care of you. Isn’t that what being little is all about? Being safe and cared for?” Madison didn’t have an answer for me, but I didn’t need one. I already had an answer. She just stared at the table between us, drawing with her index finger in some imaginary coloring book. “So you like it. I like it. What’s the problem then?” And then Madison said something I really didn’t expect. Her tone was quiet, nearly a whisper, and her eyes wouldn’t look up at me. “It’s not your job to take care of me.” Well, she had a point, didn’t she? It wasn’t my job to take care of her. It was her mom’s job, or her dad’s job. But they weren’t doing a very good job at all. Was I just filling in? No, that wasn’t it. I liked to see her lips turn up the right way. I liked to watch the shimmer in her eyes reflect off the insides of her glasses. I liked to make her heart fill up all warm and soft. I loved it. I loved making her feel exactly the same way she made me feel every single day. “It’s not my job,” I admitted. “It’s my pleasure.”
  4. 9 points
    It took Tahc a few days to get back to the lands of the Duke of Threes. She could not just go straight back to him, not if subtlety was required. And even when she returned to his kingdom, it was not as if she could go right into his office. She was an ‘off the books’ asset. In the city, she paid the owner of a large inn to fly a bright blue flag over his building and then waited at the arranged meeting place, often in the form of a small, black cat that disappeared in the shadows. It was about two days before the Duke of Threes came to the out of the way section of his castle. He paused and asked, “What do you have for me Tahc?” Tahc jumped down, flowing from the form of cat to woman between the ledge and the floor. She bowed respectfully. “My Lord, I am sorry that I cannot tell you where Gorgeous is. However, I believe that the sixth Nursery Knight you are seeking is in the Magical Realm.” He stared at her for a few seconds without saying anything. She wondered what was going on behind his eyes. He maintained a deadpan look so often when they spoke. The emotions, if they appeared on his face, were schooled to show Tahc what we wanted her to see. “And how did you come to that conclusion?” “Gorgeous pulled in a Liason named Gwens to help her with something. She, Gwens, was recently wounded. I suspect during the events on Mountain Seven.” He did not say anything. Tahc continued. “Gwens was one of the Liaisons for the Nursery Knights, for Betty. It is not impossible that Gorgeous just wanted to know more about that project, but it is possible that she brought Gwens along because she, Gorgeous, was dealing with one of the Nursery Knights.” “So the Magical Girl with Gorgeous is one of the Nursery Knights?” “I believe so.” “Which means she may come right to me,” he said, and for a moment Tahc thought she saw something in his eyes. Something not schooled, something he may not have wanted her to see. Desire, lust, hunger. It was gone before she could be certain. “Assuming you are correct.” “I believe I am.” “I do not think a single Nursery Knight could defeat a War Titan. Pretty things, they are not particularly strong nor bright.” It was an unfair assessment, though not an unjustified one. Tahc nodded. “Yes my Lord.” “So, you still do not know where Gorgeous is, and you really don’t know who the Magical Girl with Gorgeous is.” Tahc nodded. “I am certain that she is travelling with a Nursery Knight my Lord.” He smiled. “Well then, if you turn out to be right I will commend you then on your analytical skills.” Tahc did not ask what he might do if she were wrong. “Should I continue to seek out Gorgeous?” He looked at her for a moment, then shook his head. “I think not. You have not found her yet, I take that is an indication of her skill at travelling unseen. We will wait for her to come here, as it seems certain she must.” “Yes my Lord.” “Watch those ways in which Gorgeous might try to enter my lands. Inform me immediately of anything important you might learn.” She nodded. He said nothing else to her and left her. Tahc stepped back into the shadows and wondered how Gorgeous might enter the Duke of Threes’ land unseen. The Ebony Zephyr was a strange train or train like thing. The stations it stopped at were often out of the way, not really hidden, but more forgotten. Except by those that had the desire to ride the train. In the lands of the Duke of Threes, the station was found beneath a mountain. A long set of stairs led up from the station into a small forest village at the base of the mountain. Kristine, Tac and Gorgeous left the train, a few other passengers disembarking at the same time, a handful boarding. Kristine looked around at the darkly elegant station, with walls of polished black stone and checkerboard floor tiles. It was starkly clear and empty. There was a small ticket kiosk with a single bench, both looking tiny in the cathedral-like space. This was not a place where people were supposed to spend any time. Already the passengers who had disembarked were climbing the stairs, and the Black Zephyr’s engine was beginning to tremble and hum. Surely it would leave soon. “Well, we’re here,” Tac said, hands shoved into her pockets as she looked around. “What now great leader?” Gorgeous seemed thoughtful. “I suppose we’ll need to head up top, try to keep a low profile, start a search for Umon.” “Or we could have Kristine search for him magically,” Tac said. “What?” Gorgeous asked as Kristine said, “I can do that?” Tac, hands still in pockets answered Kristine, “Probably. Let’s give it a try.” “She has access to Clairvoyant magics?” Gorgeous asked. Tac only shrugged her shoulders as she took her hands from her pockets. “Okay Kristine, like everything, it is all about visualisation. So, I need you to think about multiple things, assuming you can keep more than two different thoughts together in that small head of yours.” “Thut up Tac.” Tac smiled as she stepped close to Kristine. “Okay, think about the magical energies all around you leading off to cameras.” “Camerath?” “Like security cameras. You tune into them and peek through.” “Okay,” Kristine said as the idea began to form in her mind. "So you look through those cameras and try to find Umon. And you got to let the magic handle things, it’s like,” Tac thought for a few seconds, “software, that does it for you. You’ve heard of that?” Kristine blew out an exasperated breath. “Facial recognition thoftware. Of courthe, I know it.” “No one likes a smart ass little girl Kristine. So keep those ideas in your head and add this one. You can’t let anyone know you are doing this. So you got to hide as you do this. You can’t let anyone know that you are watching them. That will give away the game.” “I underthtand,” Kristine said as the different ideas began to gel in her head. “Okay, so you want to find Umon, who is probably being shielded in some way, so you’ll need to look around those shields without disturbing them.” Kristine nodded again. “Umon is middle management, middle-aged type, all full of himself.” “He is probably scared right now, uncertain,” Gorgeous added. Tac and Gorgeous followed with a detailed description of the man, sometimes arguing over details. Kristine listened and after about ten minutes said, “Okay, let me try thith.” She walked over to the bench and took a seat. Closing her eyes, she let the magic form. She spread her hands. “Nurthery Camera Peek a Boo,” she said, felt her cheeks heat up at the words. She added the next part of the spell, “Blanket Fort Hide Away.” There, she was hidden. “Gentle Chwistmath Pwethent Shake.” “This is the baby crap I have to put up with,” Tac said. “Shut up Tac,” Gorgeous told her. Kristine kept her eyes closed as the multiple magical creations wove together into a single spell. She gasped softly, information overload like a stabbing headache. She wet her diaper a little, hardly aware of it. Ignoring the sharp pain, Kristine focused on filtering out what she did not need. The description of Umon, the fact that he was warded in some manner, that allowed her to start ‘shutting off’ different Nursery Cameras. The more she did it, the faster it went. The pain receded. The condition of her diaper made itself felt. She sighed and continued. Gently she bypassed the wards she found, not really giving what was behind them much attention unless they were Umon shaped. How long she was at it, Kristine was not sure. She heard Tac and Gorgeous talking but had no time to focus on what they were saying. She opened her eyes. “I found him,” she said. “Really?” Gorgeous asked. She sounded surprised. Kristine wondered if she and Tac had been talking about her ability to find Umon. “Really,” Kristine said, more bite in her tone that she intended. “He’th in a castle, but he ith protected, like I am theeing his reflection, but through many mirrorth.” “Redirect wards, pretty common,” Tac said. “That you can see through them means you can get him.” She nodded. “It will take theveral teleports.” “Tic Toc,” Tac said. “Faster you grab him faster we leave.” Tac was hopeless. “She is right,” Gorgeous said. “The longer we stay, the more likely we will be found out.” “I underthtand,” Kristine said, trying not to sound angry. She was the one doing all the work. No point in arguing. Kristine stood, ignored the crinkling of her diaper, brushed her hands down her skirt, felt the damp diaper beneath her fingers, and then visualised the first point on the path of the redirect wards. She teleported. After Kristine had left Gorgeous said, “I am amazed that she could scry like that. And see through the wards.” “Sure you are.” Tac’s tone was thick with sarcasm. “What?” “Don’t play dumb with me Gorgeous, I got it figured out.” “Got what figured out?” Tac stared at her for several seconds and then nearly shouted, “By all the powers. You really are stupid. You don’t know.” “Don’t know what?” Gorgeous said with a growl as she stepped up towards Tac. Tac took a step back. “Just cool it Gorgeous. I figured you had put this all in motion.” “Put what in motion? Your riddles are making me cranky Tac.” “Chaos, primal magic, doesn’t follow the rules, but does have an internal logic and consistency.” “I am aware,” Gorgeous said in a snippy tone. “Well then Miss Aware, what do you think happens if you contract a magical girl and none of the other magical girls, potential or contracted, are around?” Gorgeous opened her mouth, to say what she did not know, but she closed it as Tac’s question sunk in. “It would assume, as much as it could, that the other team members were gone.” Tac smiled and nodded. “Gone, defeated, but either way, the one magical girl…” “Would have to be as powerful as the entire team all by herself.” “Oh Fuck.” “You really didn’t know?” Tac asked. “This really was not your plan all along?” She shook her head. “Well, aren’t you just lucky. Team class Magical Girl. That’s you in the,” Tac smiled and laughed, “dog house.” “This is not funny Tac.” “You see, that is where you are wrong. It is funny to me.” “You contracted with Kristine.” “On your orders.” Tac continued to smile. Like the fucking cat that swallowed the canary, Gorgeous thought. “When did you know?” “Figured it out when Kristine took out that War Titan. I mean, she was pretty damn good and all before that. Figured she was a prodigy, but taking out the Titan was something you’d need a team for. So, stands to reason.” “I can’t believe this. And we…” “What do you mean we?” Gorgeous narrowed her eyes, locked her gaze on Tac. “We,” she said firmly, “dumped her in the primal chaos.” Tac did not reply to that. “What am I going to do?” It was a rhetorical question, but Tac answered, “Get a job in a hostess bar? I mean you’re not my type, but I’m sure someone would find you attractive.” Gorgeous sighed, pinched the bridge of her nose as if in pain. “Tac, let me point out that if this goes pear-shaped, you are going to be caught up in it, no matter what, seeing as you did not do your gods and goddess damned job twenty years ago. And even if you are not, a new broom sweeps clean, as they say. If you somehow manage to avoid all that, no one new is going to let you get away with the shit I have let slide.” “When you put it that way I suddenly have an opinion on this,” Tac said. “Oh? You do, do you? Pray tell, what is it?” “That we cover this up. Sell Kristine to the Duke of Threes for money and the Duke’s help in making Umon go away too.” Gorgeous stared at Tac for several seconds and then shook her head. “You are evil.” “I am self-centred and amoral.” “You sound proud of that.” “Good. So, how do we sell Kristine? I’m still her kill switch, so I want the lion’s share of whatever we get.” “Tac, you are going to shut the hell up. We are not selling Kristine out. We are going to find a way to deal with this within the system, and when it is all done, I’m going to oaky your expense account and pretend you don’t exist for a few decades in the hope that you will drink yourself to death during that time.” “Deal!” Tac said happily. Elsewhere in the Duke of Threes’ land Umon Derrypiz wandered the private, enclosed garden of the Duke’s castle. Part of the water that came off the mountains was diverted to flow through the glassed-in hall. It was as cold as the water that exited the base, and the air within the garden was frigid. Small pine trees grew among frost covered ground, and the hoarfrost on the glass walls gave the light that passed through a glacial feel. It was beautiful as it was cold. Umon did not care much for the beauty or the cold, but it was often the closest he got to being outside. He was not alone in the room. There were two ‘assistants’, a man and a woman, who trailed him wherever he went. They were guards, more so to keep him from leaving than to protect him. He paused near a glass wall, looking at the opaque, frosted glass. Blinking he thought he saw his reflection in the dull frost. Then, as if she had stepped from the glass, a small girl appeared in front of him. In her pale blue dress, and with her pale skin, he thought she might be an ice nymph. Leave it to the Duke to have something like that in his garden. He did not feel any alarm until the girl reached out and grabbed him. There was a crinkling sound, and a sour smell, like piss. He felt his stomach twist as he was carried away. It was rare that anyone disturbed the Duke of Threes when he was working. It did happen when something important happened. An invasion, or news of an attempt on his life, that kind of thing warranted such a disturbance. A guest slash prisoner being spirited away in the middle of his castle, that rated as well. He ordered the guards to begin searching for Umon and then cleared his office. The summons he then sent was answered in less than a minute. A small cat appeared outside his office, on the window sill. He opened the window, and Tahc leapt in, her form changing to that of a slim woman. “My Lord?” “Someone grabbed Derrypiz. The guards said it was like she came out of the glass and then pulled Derrypiz in.” “Teleportation,” Tahc said. “The Magical Girl.” The Duke nodded. “Yes. Of course. Where could she go? Where could she have come from?” Tahc looked thoughtful. “If it is a place that she knows, a Magical Girl of average strength can cross thousands of miles, but I don’t think she could have known your castle. She probably had to come here, somewhere close to make the attempt. However, she could be far away now.” “She could be, but she isn’t.” He turned and looked out his windows. “If she came here than she came here with Gorgeous, and perhaps others. The Magical Girl would have taken him to them. There will be questions. They will think they are somewhere safe. We have minutes. How did they enter my lands?” As he turned his gaze on Tahc, she took a step away, eyes wide, going pale for a moment. She trembled, and her form grew indistinct as if she were about to shift back to her cat form. Then, with a gasp, she said, “The Ebony Zephyr.” For a few seconds he did not know what she was talking about, then he remembered. “Damn that train,” he hissed. “Where is the station?” She asked him. “In the mountains, nearly on the other side of my kingdom.” He looked out the windows. “I will have a gate created. You will come with me.” He turned and strode from the room, calling for his guards. Tahc ran after him. Kristine appeared in the nearly deserted station. The single station employee in the ticket booth ignored her as she pushed Umon, so he ended up sprawled at Gorgeous’ feet. Gorgeous knelt down, looking down at the prostate Umon. “Well, hello there Mr Derrypiz. I think you have a lot to explain about your misuse and misappropriation of the organisation’s resources.” Umon pushed himself to his knees or tried to. Tac put a heeled shoe between his shoulder blades and pushed him back to the floor. “Bit miffed about you lying to me, pretending not to know what I was talking about, being rude.” “What do you think you are doing,” Umon grunted. For a moment Kristine thought he was angry, but she realised he was scared. She knelt down beside Gorgeous, trying to pull the short skirt of her dress down so it would cover her diaper. It was a pretty fruitless endeavour. Gorgeous looked at Tac, still standing on Umon, shook her head, then looked back to the man. “I’ll need you to tell me just how the Duke of Threes has influenced the organisation.” Umon stopped struggling to get up. He started making a sound. It took Kristine a moment to realise he was laughing. “You idiot. You think the Duke did something you can prove. He has arranged things so he can honestly say he did nothing wrong. It's all been set up, so he was never in any danger.” The laughter was bitter and sounded near tears. “Tac, get off him,” Gorgeous said. Tac frowned but took her foot from him. Umon pushed himself once more to his knees, hunching his shoulders as if expecting another kick. “What are you talking about?” Gorgeous demanded. Umon knelt there, gaze on the floor. “I didn’t notice, whenever we talked, whatever the communication, he never once acknowledged that what we were doing was wrong. Never used the word bribe, never asked if I was breaking rules. He can state clearly under the influence of a truth spell that he did nothing wrong.” Umon laughed bitterly. “All wordplay, but he will walk away guilty of nothing.” “What are you talking about?” Gorgeous demanded. “That the Duke of Threes is not stupid. He used me. I thought we were in it together, but I was really just the sacrificial lamb from the start.” Gorgeous frowned. Kristine shook her head. “That thort of thing would never work in a real court of law.” Her voice was soft, a complaint meant for only her ears. “Can’t we just ask him if he knew it was wrong? Nail him down to a yes or no answer?” That she asked louder. Gorgeous looked over at her, an expression of surprise. “You don’t get to ask a Duke yes or no answers,” Tac said. She said it as if it was the simplest thing in the world. “That’s thtupid.” “Is this the Nursery Knight?” Umon asked, looking at Kristine. “Shut up,” Gorgeous told him. “You are not the one asking questions here.” “That is her, in all her infantile glory,” Tac said. Gorgeous looked crossly at Tac. Tac only smiled with a shrug of her shoulders. Umon said, “Give her up to the Duke.” “We’re not giving her up.” “Not unless there is a suitable economic compensation.” “Tac shut up.” Kristine was not joining in the conversation. Something else had caught her attention. “We’re not alone,” she said. Tac became a cat and jumped up onto Kristine’s shoulder. “What?” “Coming down the stairth, trying to be quiet I think.” “The Duke of Threes' people,” Umon told them. “Give them the girl, make a deal.” “Be quiet,” Gorgeous told him, her tone sharper. Kristine had her mace in her hand, the huge, rattle shaped weapon ready. “There are a lot of them.” “Hey Kristine,” Tac said softly into her ear, “I’ll split any reward with you if you let me hand you over.” “Do you ever lithten to yourself?” “Not really.” “It explainth so much.” Umon continued to counsel surrender while Gorgeous kept telling him to stop talking. “Big Baby Thilence,” Kristine chanted. A pacifier gag suddenly appeared in Umon’s mouth. “Thank you,” Gorgeous said. “Pervert,” Tac accused. “Too bad I can’t gag you,” Kristine said to Tac as she stood ready. Looming figures, twice the size of a man, came lumbering down the stairs. They were made bulkier by the heavy armour they wore, and they all carried strange weapons that looked to Kristine like cannons. “Ogres,” Gorgeous said. “Dangerouth?” Kristine asked. “More so than Redcaps, not even close to a War Titan.” Kristine nodded. The ogres reached the bottom of the stairs, formed out in a line, weapons held out, pointed towards Kristine and the others. More soldiers followed the ogres, tall, slim people who marched down the stairs in suits of armour that shone like polished silver, muted in the shadow of the platform. They each carried a long, curving sword. Among them walked a tall man, dressed in white and gold, carrying a sword likely as long as he was tall. Even at a distance, Kristine got the feeling he was beautiful and powerful. She knew that he was the Duke of Threes. The Duke and his honour guard reached the platform, the ogres moved slightly to the side, providing a space for the Duke and those with him. The Duke’s voice filled the cathedral-like space when he spoke. “Free your prisoner and surrender to me.” Kristine was about to shout an angry denial, but Gorgeous spoke fire, her voice unnaturally loud. “Derrypiz is under arrest for misuse of organisational resources. I am taking him with me.” The Duke did not answer for a few seconds. Kristine was not sure, but she felt as if he was staring at her. It was a hungry presence, and it made her shiver slightly. Her diaper felt wet, but she was not sure if they were related. She hoped not. “Do you have a warrant to that effect?” The Duke called. He sounded bored. “I don’t need a warrant. I am the Senior Supervisor of Magical Liaisons and have the authority to make an arrest as part of any investigation.” “And if I don’t recognise your authority?” The ogres shifted their cannons to a ready position. “I don’t give a damn what you recognise,” Gorgeous snapped angrily. “He’s trying to distract us.” Tac’s soft voice was a tickle in Kristine’s ear. Kristine did not ask what and did not look about. A soft whisper, “Nurthery Camera Peek a Boo.” Scrying the area around them Kristine sought out any other threat. She found them. A small group coming up the mismatched tracks behind them. Gorgeous and the Duke of Threes continued to argue jurisdiction as the stealth attack closed on them. Kristine took a breath, then called out, “What did you do with the other Nurthery Knightth?” It was almost as if Gorgeous and the Duke had forgotten that Kristine was there, but Kristine knew that the Duke was only making a pretence. He had never forgotten her. After a few seconds, the Duke said, “The other girls are my guests and wards, under my care, as you should be as well, my dear Kristine.” Kristine bit down on an angry outburst and just said, “I am not interested in being your guetht.” “Poor Kristine, don’t you realise your ability to take care of yourself is failing? I accept responsibility for this, though of course, I had no idea that my musings would lead to this. You can lay that at the feet of Umon Derrypiz there.” Umon tried, unsuccessfully, to speak around the pacifier gag. She supposed the Duke was making a truthful statement. He could not have been one hundred percent sure that Umon would follow through on his ‘musings’. Behind them the stealth group crept onto the platform, sticking to the shadows at the edge of the room. “Why would you even want thith? The Nurthery Knightth are ridiculous!” “I find your helplessness endearing.” Kristine felt as if she should be furious, but there was something there that pushed anger down. It was like when a witness was being cross-examined. She knew that with the right question she could catch him in a lie, though as to what he was lying about she did not know. But there was no time. The stealth group was almost one them. Kristine swept out her mace, casting her spell of protection, putting a wall of crib bars between the soldiers and her. Then she spun and brought her mace crashing down on the head of something that looked like a scarecrow covered in oil, its shape uncertain and liquid. Gorgeous shouted out in surprise, seeing the new attackers. The ogres charged forward and tried to break Kristine’s shield. Kristine drove the scarecrow-like creatures around, smashing two more. Tac on her shoulder said, “We should…” Then something small flashed by Kristine’s shoulder and carried Tac off to the floor several feet away. Kristine drove more of the attackers back with her mace. She looked away from them for a moment to where a ball of hissing and yowling fur resolved itself into two black cats fighting. “Tahc,” Gorgeous called out. One of the scarecrows was trying to grab Umon. Kristine stepped close and pounded the thing into the ground. Standing over Umon, she called to Gorgeous, “Let’s go. There are more of them coming.” What was more she felt the Duke of Threes working his own magic against her barrier, working at bringing it down. Gorgeous reached into the fighting cats, earning several scratches on her arm for her effort. Yanking Tac free she then kicked the other cat, Tahc apparently, away. Carrying a still yowling Tac close to Kristine, she reached out and put her hand on Kristine’s shoulder. Kristine looked across at the Duke of Threes. The hunger had grown. She did not understand the mad desire she felt rolling off him. But there was no time to figure it out. As the barrier began to fracture and a small army of the scarecrows poured out of the tunnel onto the platform, she teleported away. Tahc rubbed at sore ribs from Gorgeous' kick as she limped back towards where the Duke stood, “She can’t have teleported far. We should search…” “Are you sure of that?” The Duke asked, interrupting her. Tahc blinked at the question. “The Nursery Knights were not that powerful, I would doubt she could jump more than…” The Duke interrupted her again. “I am the Regent of this land, my power here is nearly unassailable, and yet I had to work at breaking her barrier.” He paused and looked around, then lowered his voice and said, “And she was not even focusing on maintaining it.” Tahc had to think over what the Duke had said twice before she was certain she had heard it clearly. “She could not be that powerful. Magical Girls that powerful are almost unheard of.” “Then how would you explain that barrier?” Tahc chewed at her lip for a moment. “I can’t.” The Duke looked around the station platform, the bodies of his slaugh, smashed on the floor, and his ogres who had been useless against the barrier. “I do not think we will find her close, but we will find her.” Tahc took a step back, surprised by the vehemence in the Duke’s words. “I will have that girl, I must.” Tahc held her breath. The Duke’s whisper was not for her, and she did not want to remind him that she stood close, that she had heard him. The four of them appeared on the high tower station of the Mountain Seven. Gorgeous dropped the still hissing Tac to the ground. Tac looked around, then, after several seconds, began to groom herself as if nothing was the matter. Her still fluffed up fur made the nonchalant behaviour a lie. Gorgeous knelt down and pulled the pacifier gag out of Umon’s mouth. “Where are we?” Umon asked. “Mountain Theven,” Kristine said. “That’s impossible.” His eyes were wide. Kristine ignored him. While Gorgeous continued her interrogation of the man, heedless of the people who looked on, Kristine walked to the railing around the platform, looked out at the mountain. Why did the Duke want her? Tac jumped up onto the rail. Her fur was smooth again, though damp in places from blood. “Who is Tahc?” “My little sister,” Tac said. “Used to be a Liaison herself. Stupid little bitch quit.” Tac lifted a paw and gave the pads a lick with her raspy tongue. “Little sister? And her name is Tahc?” “Mom had no imagination,” Tac said. Kristine had to rush out of the room or mess her diaper. The questioning of Umon had not been really going anywhere, but leaving like that felt so wrong to her. As am inspiring lawyer, she would have never left such a session. But as a Nursery Knight, her bladder and bowels had different opinions. When she came back, a fresh diaper on, she found the room empty. “What the hell?” she asked aloud. “There you are,” Tac said, coming out of another room further down the hallway. She was holding a tumbler and a bottle of whisky. “Where ith Umon?” “They took him away,” Tac said as she drank back the contents of her glass. “Where? Why?” Tac filled the glass from her bottle. “Truth spell, punishment, you know, bout what you’d expect. Well, maybe not you.” “But, what about the Duke.” Tac knocked back her whisky. “What about him?” “Oh, Kristine,” Gorgeous said as she walked out of door different from the one Tac had exited from. “Where’th Umon.” Gorgeous shook her head. “Sorry, they just showed up.” “Who?” “Gorgeous’ boss, gonna sweep all this under the rug,” Tac said, pouring herself yet another glass of whisky. “They are not going to sweep it all under the rug.” Gorgeous walked to Kristine. “Umon is going to be dealt with for what he did.” “What about the Duke of Threeth?” Gorgeous did not meet Kristine’s gaze. “He’ll be asked a few questions, under a truth spell of course.” Kristine shifted to the side, so she could look up into Gorgeous’ face. “Yeth or no quethtions?” Gorgeous swallowed. Tac drank again and then asked with a laugh, “What do you think?” “I don’t think so,” Gorgeous said. She was flushed, with red in her cheeks. “How does thith thtop him from hunting me? How does it punith him?” Tac burped. “We’ll find another way to deal with him,” Gorgeous assured her. Kristine took a step back from Gorgeous. She shook her head. “I’m going to have to deal with this mythelf.” “What do you mean.” “Who cares what she means.” “I mean that if you can’t deal with the Duke of Threeth I will.” She teleported away leaving Tac and Gorgeous behind. Kristine appeared in the enclosed glass garden, where she had captured Umon. It was deserted. Well, she could change that. There were warding alarms all over. She had avoided them in teleporting in. Now she reached out and tripped them all. Kristine was certain she would not be alone for long.
  5. 9 points
    Pick Your Battles: Episode 4 (Or: Kimmy turned everyone against me!) By Sophie Work had been a little more eventful than I had anticipated. One minute I was doing my job - albeit, a very easy job of answering phones - and the next I’d dropped so far into Littlespace that I couldn’t spell the clients’ names correctly. That’s what I get for talking to Kimmy all day, I thought. She’s an evil mastermind… Chloe picked me up from work like every other Monday. But this time, the back door was open. I checked the passenger seat through her window to see who she had brought along for the ride, but it was empty. Huh? “Get in,” Chloe told me. “I can’t sit in the front?” I asked. “I heard from a reputable source that you aren’t big enough to sit in the front today.” My cheeks went crimson. Kimmy. “Well too bad, I’m sitting up front anyway.” “Good luck,” Chloe chimed. “The door is locked.” I took a moment to consider my options. But it had been a long day. I just wanted to get home. So with a begrudging sigh, I climbed into the back seat and closed the door behind me. I took out my phone. This was so stupid… Sophie: …Chloe put me in the back seat. Sophie: You’re a monster. Kimmy: Me? Kimmy: I didn’t do anything! Sophie: I do not believe you at all!!! Kimmy: Is it hard to think from the backseat, cute little Sophie? Kimmy: Do you feel all blushy? Chloe’s voice drew me away from my phone. “Aww look at you! You’re blushing!” Her eyes peeked up at me through the rearview mirror. I shrunk into my seat. Kimmy: Did Chloe see you blush? How the hell did she know that…? Sophie: You turned everyone against me! Kimmy: I know, it’s like a fantasy for you Kimmy: Like something out of one of your stories My pinkness in my cheeks deepened. One of my stories… my thoughts went to Luzy, to Wendy, to Madison. They just needed strong hands to guide them from the real world into littlehood. Helpless, serene littlehood… I was slipping. Sophie: People are supposed to listen to me, Kimmy. Kimmy: Oh but you don’t want them to, Sophie Kimmy: You want them to MAKE you be the baby Only an hour ago, she had done this to me. I knew how effective she could be when she tried. Now, she had swayed Chloe to her side. She could enact her virtual threats in reality. She only had more power. Then a thought struck me. Last night, I’d given her Mommy’s contact information. My heart sank. No… she wouldn’t. Right? Sophie: Don’t start with me, Kimmy! Sophie: I am the center of the universe. Sophie: I’m in charge. Kimmy: Once upon a time …oh no… Kimmy: There was a little girl named Sophie Kimmy: Who convinced everyone she was big A trigger. Something I didn’t even know I had. Storytime. Little girl named Sophie. Logic fogged over. The rational, mature side of me slipped away. No, she was tugged away. Tugged away by stupid Kimmy and her stupid words… Kimmy: But then she met Kimmy Kimmy: Who showed alllllllll her friends just how little she was Kimmy: And how she REALLY wanted to be treated Sophie: I… that’s not… Kimmy: And then it was back seats and spankings Kimmy: And poor little Sophie never got to be big again! I looked up from my phone at the rearview mirror. It seemed so far away now. The car seemed so much bigger. Chloe said something to me, something about how cute I was, and I blushed and kicked my feet. “You’ve been such a good girl this car ride,” Chloe said as we drew closer to the house. I was struggling to figure out exactly where we were - she must have taken a different route home. “How about we get you some ice cream?” “Yeah?” I asked, an upward inflection at the end of the question. My eyes lit up. I asked Kimmy what flavor I should get. Cookie dough or sprinkles. In the end, I got both. I sent her a pretty picture of my ice cream and offered to share with her. The moment was serene, pure, simple. And even though I ate too much and got a tummy ache, I was nothing but smiles until we got back to the house. That’s how the story should have ended. I had picked my battle. I had lost. But that was only stage one of Kimmy’s devious plot. I should never have trusted her. “Oh look at my little girl,” Mommy said as I walked in the door. Instinctively, immediately, she knew I had fallen out of adulthood. Or had she been told? “Not little,” I muttered, trying to muster some degree of maturity. But my voice was soft and high, slurring consonants at the ends. My world was so vastly different to this one. Brighter. Bigger. The simple, obvious, tedium held so much hidden interest, hiding behind the corners. My cheeks were warm. My smile was ever-present. “Really?” Mommy asked, rhetorically. “How about we talk about it in our room?” It seemed that question was rhetorical too, since she grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me down the hallway without a moment to respond. She closed the door behind us and led me to the bed. I knew what came next. A diaper. Teasing. Cementing my fall from adulthood. I started to argue, but was caught by surprise. Rather than pushing me down on my back, she pulled me hard across her lap. I was so weak, so vulnerable, that I never thought for a second that I could stop her. “HEY! No, wait!” “I heard that you were a very bad girl for your babysitter today,” Mommy said, as her hand rubbed the seat of my work pants. Babysitter? Kimmy? I puffed out my cheeks in defiance. “Kimmy is not my babysitter!” I hollered, kicking my feet as her hand came down hard on my backside. She had learned so much in such a short time. It stung, even through my pants. I whimpered. “Not Kimmy, silly. What you call your co-workers. But we all know you don’t actually ‘work’. It’s just a glorified daycare.” I was stunned. I fumbled for words, but nothing came out. Nothing concrete, at least. Nothing that made any sense. She spanked my ass again and I buried my face in the bedsheets. “Count.” Ugh, she’d picked that up from Pudding… another spanking and another yelp. “Count,” she said again. “I hate repeating myself.” I fought. I thought I could win. I thought she would give in long before Pudding did. Her hand would get tired or she would get bored. She would ask if I’d learned my lesson and I would say yes, even though I hadn’t. There was no lesson here. Another five spankings and my bottom was sore. Another five after that and I was out of breath. And Mommy showed no signs of stopping. She had no hesitance to her spankings. “Start counting whenever you’d like. I’ll keep going until you do.” Why did this always happen? Why did I always pick the battles I had no hope of winning? I kicked my feet and curled up tight on her lap, with my bottom high in the air. And I whispered: “One.” I had to count to ten, just like with Pudding. At least this time I had my pants on, I thought. But then she did something I didn’t expect. It seemed to be a day for that: unexpected actions. “Green?” she asked. A codeword. Was I okay for her to continue. More spankings?! But though my bottom was sore, my curiosity got the better of me. More spankings… she’d never spanked me like this before. “Green,” I muttered, and was dealt ten more. When all was said and done, she pulled me into her breasts and played with my hair. Her voice was quiet and calm, sweet and sugary. My reward. Good girl. Best girl. Always listening to Mommy. Won’t act up again. A beautiful princess. Not a brat. My head swam with warm words. I could have stayed there forever. But Mommy knew better. “You’re dry for now,” she whispered in my ear, “but after such a long day, I can’t trust you.” I knew what that meant. I didn’t want a diaper! I was a big girl, and… and this wasn’t fair. But I knew better than to argue. I’d learned the lesson she had intended to teach me: that any battle I started would only lead me further into babyhood. Cooperation and acceptance was the only way out. She undressed me in one swift motion. Pants, undies, and socks fell to the floor. I only had a few diapers left - some thick, crinkly white ones that had persisted through the months of printed baby designs. We would have to order new ones soon. She would decide what was best. She touched my nose with the baby powder and I melted into the bed. A trigger. The inescapable scent of Littles. The overpowering crinkling of the diaper. The soft, thick padding between my legs. The loud tear of the tapes. Standing up and almost falling over. My knees pushed apart. I looked up at Mommy with glossy, bright eyes. I was under her spell. She dressed me in a onesie. She helped me into bed. She took off my glasses and whispered soft words into my ear. Then she had to do something - use the restroom like an adult or maybe make herself some dinner. I didn’t know. I fished around for my phone. Sophie: how u Kimmy: Yeah, I super okay Kimmy: Kachan kind of came down and dominated me like 2 min ago Sophie: Cuz u were bad today!! Sophie: Tattling and such!! Kimmy: I might get little too if Chloe keeps pushing my buttons Chloe? They were still talking? I grinned. That gave me an idea! Sophie: Yeeee I can tattle 2 Chloe on u Kimmy: nuuuuuu Sophie: 2 l8 Chloe was always a good caregiver. In our years together as friends, she had learned a lot about me. And Kimmy was basically just a more evil version of me, so Chloe could totally handle her. Mommy came back into the room in the middle of my text message to Chloe. She crawled into bed with me, holding me against her chest as I typed out the message. She read along silently. Sophie: Kimmy says u r a bb and can’t bb her “Did she actually say that?” Mommy asked me. I ignored her. Sophie: She is being very mean to me “You wouldn’t be lying, would you?” I started typing out a third message when Mommy took my phone out of my hands. “Hey!” “Didn’t I just spank you for misbehaving?” Before I could think of something to defend myself, Chloe came into the room and crossed her arms. “What’s this?” She held out her phone, with our text log open. “The truth!” I lied. “Yeah?” Chloe asked, and turned her attention to a fresh message from Kimmy. “Because she sent me exactly what you said to her, and it sounds like you’re just trying to get her in trouble.” …damnit. I looked up at Chloe. She was usually so much smaller than me, but today she seemed so… imposing. I looked over at Mommy for an answer, but she had that look on her face: ‘You got yourself into this mess’. My chest ached with anxiety. I… I didn’t do anything wrong! “This is all her fault!” I screamed, puffing out my cheeks. “She turned everybody against me! She told everybody I’m a baby, and I’m a not! I’m a big girl!” “A big girl in a diaper?” Mommy countered. “A big girl in a onesie?” But she put me in this! She dressed me up, and that didn’t mean I was a baby! And this wasn’t fair! And no matter how much I rationalized the situation, their ever-present stares of judgement had made flustered and nervous. I couldn’t vocalize what I was feeling. All the pressure built up in my stomach and I boiled over. I kicked and screamed and pounded on the bed. Chloe and Mommy let my fit go on for a few minutes, until Mommy was done with it. She took me by the wrist and pulled me into her chest, pushing her thigh against the thick padding between my legs. I struggled in her arms, but she wrapped me up tight and propped my puffy bottom in the air for Chloe to see. My cheeks burned in embarrassment. “THIS IS KIMMY’S FAULT!” I went on in a fit. “I’M A BIG GIRL AND THIS ISN’T FAIR! IT’S NOT FAIRRR!” “Big girls do not throw tantrums like this,” Chloe said sternly. “Kimmy didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know - that you are just a little girl deep down.” “NO SHE TURNED EVERYBODY AGAINST ME!” I kicked my feet so hard against the mattress that the momentum bounced them back up. I pounded my fists against the blankets and squirmed in Mommy’s arms. “IT’S HER FAULT!!” Chloe’s hand came down hard on my padded butt. I hardly felt it, but the shock and surprise forced me into silence. Mommy spoke, but she didn’t sound angry or upset. She sounded… resigned. Like this was inevitable. Like this was normal. “This is quite the tantrum, huh? You sure are cranky today.” That voice was so much worse than stern, sharp tones. I fell into complete embarrassment. My actions had been so… so immature. So childish. No, they had been outright infantile. I… I couldn’t come back from that. I’d always hold in my heart how I’d acted in that moment. I was Little, through and through. Chloe popped a pacifier in my mouth. “I think you need a nap,” Mommy told me, playing with my hair. “Maybe when you wake up, you’ll be a little less cranky.” I didn’t want to nap. I wanted to play video games. It was only six in the evening and I hadn’t done anything wrong. But all the while, as I argued in my head, as I sucked on the pacifier, as the thickness of my diaper crinkled against Mommy’s thigh… I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
  6. 8 points
    Nineteen. << Hey I was wondering if we could talk. Are you free? >> No not today I’m sorry I was afraid of that. I sighed and turned my phone over in my hands. Damnit… << It’s important >> How important? Oh… I hadn’t expected that. << It would mean a lot to me if we could talk face to face >> Come over in an hour but you can’t stay long A No Day had never been overturned so quickly and so easily. Maybe things were getting better? But I was asking the wrong questions. I was too optimistic. “Hey, uh, is Madison here?” I had never met the woman who answered the door. She was short and young and beautiful in an adult way. Her hair was fluffy and short, her face was round and warm, and her clothes were tight and on point. Not a hair was out of place. “You must be Jamie! It’s soooo nice to finally meet you! I’m Bethany, Madison’s mom.” …well, that’s where Madison gets her personality. “It’s nice to meet you too,” I said with a courtesy smile. How was she a mom? She must have had Madison when she was sixteen or seventeen. Then I noticed, all of a sudden, that I had no idea what her parents looked like before I met them! They had no pictures up on their walls, just decorations and art hangings. “Well come in, come in. I didn’t know we were expecting you. Would you like some water? We have juice?” “No, I’m okay, thank you.” I followed her into the house. Madison wasn’t in the living room. “She’s upstairs,” her mom told me. “You can go on up if you’d like.” I’d never been upstairs before. I’d never been in Madison’s room before. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d braced myself all the same. After all, if she liked to act like a child… But her bedroom was oddly ordinary. The walls were a pale eggshell, lined with only few posters, drawings, and photographs. She had high shelves - too high for her to reach, I was sure - with dolls and plastic cases that looked older than Madison herself. Her dark-stained oak dresser matched perfectly with her vanity table on the other wall, down to the handles. And on the far wall, under a window with drawn purple curtains, sat a thick, oak bed frame donned in floral sheets and a comforter twice the size of the bed itself. The blanket was so thick, so huge, that I hadn’t even noticed Madison tucked under it until I walked around the room. “Hey,” I said, careful not to let the sound of my voice hurt the simple quiet of the room. “Hi,” she said, and sat up. She was wearing the same pajamas from Monday, the yellow ones with the sunshine lyric. She was also wearing the same gray jacket. The curls in her hair had obviously fallen out in her sleep and she looked paler than usual. Worse yet, her eyes were quiet. She didn’t look at me with those eyes; they only went up as far as my nose, or my lips, and then back down to her bedsheets. “You alright?” I asked. She shot me a look of frustration, or annoyance, or something… something I remembered from before Christmas. “Don’t worry?” I guessed. She nodded. I took a seat next to her on the bed and immediately realized what a mistake it was. I had never in my life sat on anything so comfortable. There was no way I could ever bring myself to leave this bed. “You needed to talk about something?” she asked me. Her words sounded heavy, like she was half-asleep. I was starting to think that maybe my coming here was a mistake… “Is this what you do on days when you don’t want to hang out? Just stay in bed?” She was quiet. “I mean, I can see why. It’s like a cloud had a baby with morphine.” “Did you need something?” she asked again. Fine. “Come over,” I demanded. “Let’s get out of here. We can go to Walmart.” “I can’t today.” “Why not?” “I just can’t.” “Madison.” She put her head back down on the pillow and I put my forehead in my hands. Why was she so irritating today? “You always do this. You say no to things for no reason. But things can’t get better if you just stay in your room all day.” “Leave me alone,” she said under her breath, just loud enough for me to hear. “Why won’t you listen to me? Are you afraid I’m right?” She turned away from me. “Madison!” I put my hand on her arm, just below her shoulder, and like a crack of thunder, she kicked me straight out of her bed and onto the floor. I hit the ground on my elbow, but the carpet was soft and gentle. When I looked up again, she was peering over the edge of the bed, down at me, and water filled up the underside of her eyes. In a flurry of blankets, she disappeared into them. What. The. Fuck. “Leave me alone,” she repeated, but I could hear the regret in her words. I could hear her crying… I got up from the carpet and made my way onto the bed once again, careful to avoid her, wherever she was. When I finally found a safe place I could lay down without disrupting any suspicious lumps of blankets, I put my head on one of her pillows. I swear, if I wasn’t so worried in that moment, I could have fallen asleep at the snap of fingers. “I’m sorry I did that,” I said quietly, but hopefully loud enough that she could hear me. Honestly, I didn’t think my voice would go any louder. I was dizzy and my shoulders ached. How could I still understand so little about Madison Bell, after all this time? “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I went on. “I won’t do it again. But I’m not leaving either. I’m going to stay all weekend if I have to, until you’re over this… whatever this is. Until you feel better.” She didn’t say anything back. To me, that was a resigned acceptance. “I’m not going anywhere.”
  7. 8 points
    Chapter Fourteen Sasha had tossed and turned all night. She'd sent a couple of junior detectives out to the site to see if any of them had found anything else after Tristan's report had come in but all came up with bupkis. This wouldn't be an issue but the Mayor was breathing down the Captain's neck and since Tristan had the morning off - lucky bastard - she was sitting in the hot seat in his stead. Typing up the zillionth report and making plans to return to the crater that had once housed the second most powerful coven of Witches in the city and the strongest mob boss in the northeast, Sasha barely noticed when the newb at the counter had to get off her stool. The academy graduates did their best but law enforcement was a dying career, especially in a town like this one, and when cutting your teeth in the system required alternately riding stool all day or tromping through the hellishly hot streets as a meter maid, most of the baby cops quit within a year or two. Still, if you paid your dues, you could get moved up, get your own beat. Hell, even sitting at the edge of the city in a squad car hefting a radar gun was better than riding the stool. However, the ones who didn't move up were either stupid, arrogant, or had been blinded by the rhetoric at the Academy, the kind who'd never been corrupt a day in their lives and weren't likely to grasp the ins and outs of the brotherhood of cops in a Witch-run city. Every cop worth their salt had to look the other way when a Witch was involved if they wanted a career or to, you know, keep breathing. "I said," enunciated the Witch standing at the front desk to the bullpen, "that I want to talk to whoever deals with the lost and found." She grimaced. "The missing persons report. Missing humans, anyway, they don't particularly count as people. I need to look it over." "Uh, well, we don't just give that information out?" the new-girl hesitated and Sasha twisted, watching the way the new-girl's head kept angling downward. Either the Witch had a weapon - unlikely - or she was holding something weird. Sasha couldn't see what it was from where she sat though, so she slowly, casually rose and sauntered over toward the counter with the coffee and the decimated box of crullers. It was a cruel stereotype, but not exactly untrue. Pouring herself a cup of foul black sludge - whose turn was it to dump and refill today anyway? - Sasha tipped in a packet of sugar and unabashedly listened in. Anything was better than cramping hands and an aching back from hours hunched over the keyboard again. "I. Am. A. Witch." the woman growled out. "Surely you're not so stupid as to not see that?" "Yes, ma'am," the new-girl agreed, "you are most certainly a Witch. But we still can't give that information out. Especially to-" she cut herself off and flushed and the Witch straightened, eyes narrowing. The shift revealed a pair of gloves. In this sweltering heat. Thanatos. Sasha set down her cup and immediately twisted to make for the front desk before this went sideways and fast. "I am Aurora Gennova, of the Ivory Tower!" snarled the Witch and Sasha, stunned, slammed her hip into a filing cabinet. Jory, thankfully, wasn't at his desk though the framed picture of his poodle toppled over. Making a mental note to set it to rights before the end of the day, Sasha kept moving. "Look, ma'am, I don't care if you're the White Witch herself," the new-girl was saying, with a stunningly patronizing tone - oh shit, she was one of those who thought that Witches actually had to follow the fucking law. "I can't let you see the-" "I can," Sasha said sharply, pointedly jostling the new-girl on her stool as she reached the desk. "Sasha Anderson," she said, jutting her hand out. "Did I just hear you say that you're one of the White Witches?" "Was," the woman, Aurora, said distinctly, clicking her teeth. Her eyes were red-rimmed. "I'm looking for a missing human." "Lose a Familiar or a pet?" Sasha asked, putting as much faux sympathy in her voice as she could. "I know there weren't too many of those in the Ivory Tower, but I'd imagine in the chaos at least one or two made it out." It was both the right and wrong thing to say. The Witch's eyes narrowed but then her lower lip trembled. "Yes," she whispered after a moment. "Something like that." "Follow me, please," Sasha invited her, and led the way back to her own pristine workstation. She switched their chairs - her moderately comfortable office chair for the rather uncomfortable visitor's chair - and began typing rapidly. "You're actually in luck," she said as the Witch, grimacing in distaste, settled into her seat. "I am one of the detectives assigned to investigate last night's... incident. So. You coming in here? It's like kismet. We help each other. I interview you, and as soon as I've got your report, we'll go and get you every missing person's report in the city and last night's reports of who came into the ERs and whatnot. If the person you're looking for is hurt, we'll be able to locate them for you, get them home nice and easy." It was painful to offer this, to be this obsequious, but she had to give the Witch something or else she'd get a lot of hemming and hawing during the interview. "Now then," she said, hitting send on her message to Tristan, warning him about the Witch in the station and why she was there, and grabbing her recorder, "let's step into the interview room and see if you can help us catch the bastards who did this." She didn't miss the way that the new-girl frowned at them as Sasha guided the Witch away. Or how the second the Witch vanished into the interview room the new-girl was suddenly texting rapidly on her phone. Her very, very expensive phone. Fuck, Sasha thought dismally. Aurora would be safe so long as she stayed in the building but the second she stepped out of it, she'd bet there'd be another Witch waiting for her. Possibly more than one. Great. Just great. * * * It was a warm morning already; Tristan, very aware of being an older man alone in a park, waited until he spotted Rachel limp her way to their meeting bench. She was on crutches and her expression was neutral. What the hell happened last night? The sounds of children playing on the playground - few as there were, they were a noisy bunch today - covered the sound of his footsteps. Casually sliding onto the bench beside her, he gently dropped the laptop in the bag between his legs beneath the bench. She didn't turn her face toward him but he knew from the twitch of her left hand that she'd seen the drop. "Lovely day, right?" he began. Hello. Are we okay to talk? "Yeah, it really is. Not hot at all," she replied. We're fine to talk, I scanned the area and no one followed me. If she'd responded with a negative, or claimed the weather was stifling, he'd know they weren't safe and to leave immediately. Slouching further down on the bench, Tristan crossed one leg over the other and waved at the playground. "I find the fact summer's nearly over hard to imagine. One day the kids are all, 'No more teachers! No more books!' and the next they're tearing up the playgrounds." What the hell happened? You were supposed to kill Sarah, not knock down an entire building! She grimaced. "Well, people are like that. They'll look back later and wonder where all the time went." It's difficult to explain. He chuckled. "Everyone grows up, I suppose. Doesn't mean they shouldn't recognize what they have at the moment." Try me. He didn't want to move until she'd given him some kind of explanation or he wasn't going to stick his neck out again, no matter how amazing he thought this woman was, no matter how much moxie she had. Clicking her tongue against her teeth, Rachel leaned over and grabbed a leaf on the ground, stripping off a branch and set it on the bench between them. Then she moved it over an inch. Not here. Someplace safer. He knocked the leaf off the bench. Fine. When you're ready to talk, contact me in the usual way. She nodded and then frowned, glancing at her phone. "Oh, crap! I'm gonna be late for my shift at the vet. We're IDing stray pets today." I will. I rescued a Familiar. I need to find out who she was. Tristan felt the blood drain from his face. Not five minutes before he'd gotten a text from Sasha - one of the Witches had survived the Ivory Tower's collapse and she was very interested in the Missing Person's report. Apparently, she'd had a shit night. Which meant he'd have to pick up food on his way to the station. Extra bloody for the Witch. "Take care," he whispered, not bothering with code. "Good luck finding the pets new homes." She nodded. "Thanks." Leaning over, Rachel grabbed the backpack and her crutches, slinging the bag over her shoulders and limping away. * * * Claire, Oscar, Sal, and Ollie sat around their "war table", an old poker table they had scavenged with a faded green velvet top. The mood was serious in the room, despite poor Faye sleeping in a basket of laundry off to one side of the table, her legs dangling over the edge. Claire hoped the girl didn't leak on the clean laundry, that pull-up wasn't the best under ideal circumstances. "Shouldn't Rachel be here for this?" Claire asked, still eyeing Faye. "Probably," Ollie shrugged, "but she isn't and we've got an opportunity here. The Winchesters are down, the other covens are going to be scrambling for everything they can get - the Winchester people, assets, businesses. They had their hands in a lot of things, restaurants, retail stores... and politics. Everyone is going to be trying to take their piece of the Winchester power base, and that means they're going to be spread thin." "So who are we targeting?" Sal asked, cocking her head. "Jade Mask? Talon?" "Apex," Ollie answered, causing everyone to sit bolt upright. "Apex?" Oscar asked uncertainly, "Is that a good idea, boss? We never go after Apex directly. If any coven is going to bring the hammer down on us, it's... " "The Blue Witch is going to be spreading his people even thinner than the other covens - not only will Apex be going after the Winchester resources, they'll be actively trying to keep everyone else from getting any of them first. Hard to play defense and offense at the same time unless you overcommit." "Usual play then?" Claire inquired. "Oscar and I go out and recon a target, I play the innocent Familiar being walked by a bodyguard and we find our in?" "I don't think so," Ollie smirked. "I found the location of an Apex thinktank - some of their best and brightest. We're going to blow it the fuck up." "What?" Claire screeched, jolting forward. "You're kidding, right? That's not how we work, Ollie! One target at a time! Why don't we pick one of these brainiacs to lure and do it the usual way? Low risk- " "Low reward," Oliver countered. "Apex will be vulnerable and Apex is never vulnerable, Claire. This could be our one shot. For all we know, this is the very place that they developed the Transformation spell originally." Claire felt the grip on her heart. That was a low blow. She hated Apex more than anyone, more than any coven, but crossing them was a bad idea. "Think about it," Oliver continued, "What if this is how we stop whatever their next human-altering spell is? What if we can save someone from what happened to you and Faye." "Fine," Claire snapped. "Fine. How do we do it?" "We're going to need Andrew," Oliver sighed. "Every hand. Rachel too. Sal's going to get into their security and put the building on lockdown, you are on lookout. Oscar and Andrew are wheelmen, Rachel and I are going to plant the explosives." "What explosives?" Oscar asked, idly rubbing a horn. "We've got the bombs that we got from that Talon hit way ba- " "You're crazy!" Clare stood in the chair, throwing her arms up. "We aren't Witches, Ollie! You're the only one who's going to be able to trigger the spell on those!" "And Faye," he replied quietly. "What?" Claire asked defensively, looking over to the passed out Familiar. "You're kidding, right? She can't do a mission. She got rescued yesterday, she's got to come down from- " "She blew up the Ivory Tower, Claire," Oliver snapped. "For all we know she could blow this place up by herself. I can feel the magic in her, she'll be able to trigger the damned bomb." They sat silently around the table, all their faces ashen and drawn, when the entrance taps came at the basement. Three long, two short, three long, one short today. Oliver rose slowly, his hand crossed over his chest to his shoulder holster, fingers barely brushing the butt of his gun, and peered through the crack in the wall - across the hallway there was a security mirror angled just so to give a hint who exactly was outside the basement door. "Rachel," he said softly and dropped his hand off his gun before jogging out the sub-basement door, up the flight of stairs, to the enchanted and enhanced basement door where he quickly unbolted the locks and drew the chains. "This shit's heavy." Rachel's voice carried down the stairs. "You carry it." "Of course, highness," came Oliver's amused drawl as Rachel limped down the stairs. She paused in the doorway, face sliding into a careful blankness at the sight of them all. Claire felt her heart sink. They'd forgotten: Rachel's leg was broken. She wasn't breaking into anywhere in that condition. The tense figure of Oliver slipped past Rachel and she realized that Ollie had just realized the same thing. They were all used to Rachel being, well, Rachel. Unbreakable. Uncatchable. Untouchable. But she was just a human. "Fuck," Oscar said succinctly, joining the other two in the realization. "Hello to you too," Rachel drawled. "It's hotter outside than Pompeii after Vesuvius blew. Why are you all huddled right next to the damn dryer?" Claire grimaced. "Come on, Rach." "What? Too soon?" her sister teased with a grin, limping into the room and settling down in Oliver's abandoned spot. "I figured shit that happened during the Roman Empire was fair game." "We’re planning a job, but… your leg's broke," Oscar groaned, burying his face in his hands. Rachel raised eyebrow. "Seeing as you were the one who, ya know, drove me to see Doc earlier, I figured you would've noticed by now. What the hell is going on, guys?" Oliver dropped the backpack he'd been carrying - obviously whatever Rachel had him carry down the stairs - and she yelped. "Hey now! Careful with that!" "What is it?" he asked dully. "Did you scan it before you brought it in?" "I did, actually," she replied, pursing her lips and examining him thoughtfully. "It's why I'm late. But your friend and mine, our friendly neighborhood contact, left a message saying this was the Ivory Tower Underboss' laptop. Stolen from her apartment." Rachel dug into her pocket and came up with a slip of yellow sticky paper, dropping it on the nubby velvet tabletop. Claire glanced at it but the note just looked like a grocery list to her. Oliver picked it up, made a moue of disgust, and dropped the crumpled paper back on the table. "I'll get right on it," Sal said with a grimace, reaching out and snagging a strap, reeling it toward her. "Make sure Ollie looks over it again when you pop the case," Rachel reminded her. "Just because the sniffers say it's clean, that doesn't mean that there aren't any other nasties hidden in the laptop itself." "Gotcha, thanks," Sal said and bundled the backpack in her arms, hurrying off. Claire couldn't help herself. "Ollie wanted to blow up an Apex think-tank," she tattled. "Wants," Oliver said. "Oliver wants to set a bomb off in an Apex think-tank."
  8. 8 points
    Chapter Thirteen Elena Romano, Underboss of the Winchester coven and right hand to the White Witch, watched the television in her hotel room in horror. The entire tower was gone. She had been avoiding work for a week, expecting disaster, expecting someone to come knocking on the door of her condo... it was suspicious enough that she even had a place away from the Ivory Tower. When she felt Sarah Trippoli die... she ran. Without packing a single thing, she fled her condo and rode the wind until she found a hotel suitably far away and paid with cash. She sealed herself away and slept, magically hiding her signature and energy in a forced slumber - it was risky, she knew she would be vulnerable while she slept, but it was her best bet. Everyone would be looking for her the moment Sarah went down. But now, the next morning, she watched the smoldering ruins of the Ivory Tower on the news, a petrified imp delivering the report of mass death to the Winchester Witches. I never should have given her that spell, she lamented. It wasn't ready, it was a half-baked thing from Apex... Her current lover - Sophie - was a tech in the R&D department of Apex, their equivalent of a Lieutenant, and she had convinced him to tell her about the research... and when she, unlike most other people in the Apex woman's life, had shown true interest in the inner workings of the spell, Sophie had shared a prototype, making Elena promise not to share it with another Witch. So she hadn't. She had written the spell down, the formulation and theory, and handed to a Troll who gave it of his own free will to the White Witch. And the damned thing worked. They hadn't started with a valuable target, just some waitress that her boss found interesting while they were out one night... And now Winchester Tower was gone, her sisters were dead, and she knew that Familiar had something to do with it. And that Apex would be coming to kill her. Paranoid thoughts danced through her head as she watched the report, watched the imp somberly give the death toll and talk about the wonderful services the Winchester coven provided for the world... when she realized one of her tripwire spells had gone off during the night. Someone had broken into her condo. "Fuck," she moaned as she rushed to the sink, stoppering it and running a couple of inches of water. She blew on it, mumbling her incantation... and watched as an older man, obviously Witch-blooded crept through her apartment wearing spellshades. "Fuck... " she complained again as she watched the man pick up the laptop off of her table and tuck it under his arm, taking nothing else and leaving... "It's encrypted," she assured herself. "It's encrypted and it's bespelled. He's Witch-blooded, he won't be able to get in... Fuck." If Apex got a hold of that laptop, she was dead... there was a copy of the prototype spell on the laptop, among other small things that she had gleaned from Sophie. She had to get that laptop back before the old man gave it to Apex - well, sold was most likely. The Winchesters were extinct unless Elena herself decided to rally the few field agents and surviving Witches together and declared their continuation... but she wouldn't. It was too dangerous. She needed that laptop. And the Witch-blooded bastard had already had it for hours. * * * Aurora sat in the darkened safehouse - all of the windows had been covered with heavy curtains - and thought long and hard about the Black Witch's offer. Thanatos had seemed like the best move, the safest... life was not pretty for the Anomic. There was a reason Witches organized into covens - the ties of blood were valuable, the protection real. If she slighted another coven now, there would be no one to protect her. The law might do a great job keeping the Witches separate from the filthy humans, but there was no protection against another Witch... except one's coven. But the idea of "serving humans" disgusted her. Humans were cattle, worthless shells until you stuffed something of value into them and filled them with a Troll, or an Imp, or any of the other lesser souls waiting to be bound in the Other Place, waiting for a chance to ride a human and escape the monotony that was their eternal war. Humans were worthless and weak, a plague upon the world that the Witches had finally corralled after countless centuries. The Witches had been in power - openly - for almost two hundred years now, and the idea of "serving" the small, pathetic creatures that were human bothered her. She sat in the leather chair - she honestly would have preferred humanskin like the one in the White Witch's penthouse, but those had been outlawed for a while - a "show of good faith" to the humans, they called it, after the brutality of the Witches' overthrow of the human society and the glorious times that followed... no, the only other thing the humans were good for were pets. Knowing it was a terrible idea, Aurora walked to the "nursery" where she had kept her Familiar... And her heart broke. Tears of blood fell to the floor as the pain all came rushing back. If Apex hired that woman, if they were behind the explosion that cost her everything... she'd kill the Blue Witch herself or die trying. But first she'd discover the identity of that Familiar, which would hopefully lead her right to the saboteur. She had to find out what she could, she only had a matter of hours before she needed to make her final decision. Thanatos or the life on an Anomic. Serving humans or living as a hermit, alone, unsafe. She stepped out to her balcony and called the winds, flying for the human law enforcement agency. * * * "Hey there little Faye," Sal cooed, holding the overwhelmed Familiar close. The Whisper was so much louder here, away from her Owner... I don't have an Owner, she reminded herself, but it felt wrong... the Whisper didn't like that thought. Sal was different - she sounded different inside. The horned-man had a Whisper, but he was the only one. There was something in Sal, but it wasn't a Whisper, it was quiet, like a murmur, barely there. Rachel didn't, she was the quietest inside. The other girl, Rachel's favorite sister, Faye kept listening for her Whisper, thinking that they were the same - they smelled the same - but she couldn't hear it. It didn't make sense. She felt calmer after Rachel talked to her, she said the words the Whisper liked to hear, the words that her Owner would say when she was Mommy. "Pretty pet," Faye whispered to herself, snuggling deeper into Sal's arms. "Pretty pet." She closed her eyes, relaxing, listening to Sal's slow breathing, rattly and raspy, like she had tiny rocks in her chest. The words made her feel nice, made her feel tingly. But the Whisper wanted her to get closer to the half-Witch. She couldn't right now though, Sal was making her sleepy. Something about being in Sal's arms made her so sleepy, like sleep was just radiating off of the woman, like she was drawing the sleepy right out of her and absorbing it. It felt nice - it made her feel like Sal seemed lighter inside somehow. And she liked Sal. Faye stretched and yawned, whispering to herself as her thumb slowly found its way into her mouth. The other Little suddenly banged past Sal and Faye, striding into her room and yanking open the accordion doors on her closet with excess force. "Come on, Faye," she said. "Let's go for a walk." "She's not even fully dressed! She needs to rest." Sal protested. "Rachel said- " "Rachel just left, she has a couple errands to run," Claire retorted. "And we're not going to go far, Sal, she needs fresh air and I just want to-" "No," ordered a voice, clear and quiet. Claire colored as Oliver, the Witch-man that the Whisper liked, leaned in the doorway. "She's not leaving. Not until Rachel gets back at the very least. Andrew's gone, Oscar's gone, it's just me here and I can't protect the three of you on my own. So we're holding down the fort until your sister gets back." Claire pressed her lips together and exhaled sharply through her nose before sagging. "Fine," she muttered. "Come on, Faye, let's get you to the toilet then, and into those pull-ups that are one-hundred-percent going to be too big are going to need duct tape to keep them up... but heavens fucking forfend that I try to exchange the damn things!" "We'll make do," Oliver said quietly. His voice was like silk to Faye’s ears, she wanted to be closer. "We always do." Claire clicked her teeth together but said nothing more, simply tugging Faye down the hall down the bathroom possessively and loudly shutting the door behind the pair of small women. Oliver raised an eyebrow and looked Sal up and down. "You look like you got your second wind." "Happens sometimes," Sal said with a shrug, "but you're not wrong. I was ready to drop earlier but I'm feeling better now." Gathering up the sheets Claire had stripped off the bed and dumped in the hamper, Sal edged past her boss and made for the small laundry room she'd managed to cobble together. The dryer crapped out half the time, but the washer was nearly new, it'd been tossed for just a circuit-board malfunction. A bit of solder and some patience and Sal'd been able to resurrect it. Considering the six-month continence estimate Rachel had just given her, that was probably a bit of a blessing. Ollie followed at her heels, patient and silent as always. He waited until she'd dumped the scoop of handmade detergent she made into the tub and had the water nice and sudsy before helping her feed the soiled sheets into the washer. Then he reached past her and grabbed the lid, closing it slowly until it clicked shut quietly. "I think," Ollie said, "that now is a good time to discuss going on the attack." * * * Lyra had changed so much in the past few months. Instead of a t-shirt and jeans, she was wearing Nieman Marcus and alligator-skin boots. She half-expected the woman to start filing her teeth the way some of the more twisted sycophants did, trying desperately to fit in with Witch culture, as if they could ever be anything other than human. Zoë had introduced her friend Lyra to her boss, Mr. Marcel Dubois - the Blue Witch of Apex himself - hoping to get her friend a cushy job, like she had lucked into. They both came from a poorer part of town, born to blue-collar parents who worked hard for every dollar they earned and Zoë considered herself very, very lucky to sleep in the penthouse of the Apex building, serving as nanny for His Grace’s Familiar. She had never expected Mr. Dubois to take Lyra as a lover. She lived in a condo he provided, drove a car he provided, wore the clothes he provided. And now she was putting it all in danger, like an idiot. "I really don't think sleeping with Sebastian is a good idea," Zoë said softly, not wanting to wake the Familiar in the carrier. The girl had been a bit of a terror today, temper tantrums and whining, but she was just tired. Marcel had been really hard on her during the week, draining her dry daily until she was a sobbing husk. "Why not?" Lyra asked too loudly, flicking her long brown hair over her shoulder. Zoë winced, glancing into the carrier under the table. She had picked up the Blue Witch's dry cleaning and had been stopping to eat when Lyra messaged her, inviting her to lunch at Bavette's in Marcel's private balcony. She expected that the Blue Witch would be there, but it was just the two of them. Apparently, Lyra got access to even more that Zoë realized. "Because you're crossing His Grace," the nanny said to her friend gravely. "It's really not a good idea to cross him, Lyra. I've worked for him for five years, he's very, very particular about what he considers betrayal. If you do this... " "It's done," Lyra shrugged. "He was a good lay, better than Marcel, honestly." She laughed as Zoë's eyes flew wide. "What?" "You... you really shouldn't talk like that, Lyra. He's a Witch, he... " the nanny looked around for eavesdroppers. They were alone, but that didn't mean anything. The wall itself could be listening - nothing could be taken for granted where a Witch was involved, especially the most powerful Witch in the world. "Oh boy, do I know he's a Witch," Lyra grinned. "Have you ever had sex with a Witch, they're- " Lyra's face went from excited and emphatic to bothered as Elise woke, sitting up. "Nanny?" the Familiar yawned, rubbing her eye with the back of one hand. Zoë stifled a sigh, narrowing her eyes slightly at Marcel's mistress. The nap had been far too short, but now it would be impossible to get Elise back to sleep. "I'm still tired... " "I know, sweet girl," Zoë cooed, leaning down and pulling the Familiar into her lap. She loved Elise, in a way. She pitied the other woman, of course - but Elise had been the catalyst for her rise from the gutter. She had simply smiled at the Familiar one day while she was serving coffee to Mr. Dubois, not even realizing who he was, and the Familiar had asked to keep her. And Marcel had. She lived with them, Marcel, his human wife, and Elise, in the Apex building, towering over the city. "Can you believe that Familiar used to be human?" Lyra scoffed. "It's so crazy that she was a real person once." "Holy Hecate, Lyra - are you hearing yourself?" Zoë scolded, using the Witch-swear without thinking. "She has feelings." Sure enough, tears were welling up in Elise's eyes. Shit. Zoë scrambled to unbutton her blouse, but she wasn't fast enough. A wail erupted from Elise and the Familiar began tugging fitfully at the designer tartan romper she was in. The nanny guided the Familiar's mouth to her nipple as quickly as she could, wincing as Elise nipped her accidentally. She felt her milk drop quickly and her charge was suckling, the crisis averted. "She doesn't have feelings," Lyra smirked. "She's a battery." "I don't even know you anymore," Zoë said, not even trying to mask the pain in her voice. "What's to know?" Lyra shrugged, draining her glass of wine before standing. "I'm hot, I'm sexy, and Witches want me. I'm on top of the world... and here's my chauffeur for the day. Hello Margot, you were right, the veal was divine." The color drained from Zoë's face as Margot strode over. She knew the Witch, she answered to His Grace directly. She shrank back, holding Elise tightly. "Your Radiance," Zoë bowed as best she could, hoping it was good enough. "What? Margot's just driving me today, why are you- " Lyra's voice cut off mid-sentence as Margot raised a hand and placed it on Lyra's face... and then with a burst of violet energy, Lyra's brains were all over the balcony wall. The Witch leaned over and picked up a large hunk of veal with her clawed fingers and lowered it into that mouth full of terrifyingly pointed teeth. Zoë bit back tears as her once-friend's body slumped to the floor, but she didn't dare disturb Elise. "You're a good kid. Sorry you had to see that," Margot said to her without a smile, walking out as steadily as she had entered.
  9. 8 points
    "You think you're so much better than me," Kimmy laughed as she listened to the audio recording stolen from Sophie's phone. The other Little didn't realize that she was always listening. Always hearing every embarrassing moment. "Well, who's better now, Sophie?" The blonde girl laughed at the sound of Sophie being spanked, of being dominated by people she had been bossing around only a week before. She would have been content just beating Sophie on the story board, content with wresting that coveted top spot away from her on the Leaderboard... but Sophie had redoubled. Her stories got darker - kidnapping, electrocution... her climb was ridiculous, she was getting twice the points Kimmy was on any given day. She actually broke twenty points a couple of times. And that had to stop. She grinned as she loaded up "Pick Your Battles" and re-read episode 4, how powerful, confident Sophie was slowly losing control over her friends and roommates. Kimmy had done her homework, had researched the cadre of Littles before deciding on the proper course of action, the best way to put Sophie in her place once and for all... "Ladybug", "Pudding", "Chloe", and "Sophie"... and Sophie was the ringleader, the boss, despite the fact that Kimmy knew in Sophie's heart of hearts that she wanted that power gone. That was the best way to win. Eliminate the competition. And it was working gloriously. Every day, Kimmy pushed Sophie deeper and deeper into Littlespace - when they had begun, Sophie regressed to somewhere around six years old, still functional, still able to write her stories. But Kimberly had sent the other writer a very special file now that they were "friends" - it had all been a ruse, their friendship. She knew what Sophie had said about her, how the brat had wished harm on her over imaginary forum points. That had sealed the deal. But a friend was so much easier to trust than a competitor. Now the hypnotic triggers were planted, Sophie was regressing further and further every time Kimmy pushed her into Littlespace. She had actually gotten the other girl to go non-verbal by using some of the trigger phrases. And Sophie had been at work. Each of the four had gotten a slightly different file... different flavors of subtle encouragement to dominate someone - specifically, a person who was saying some key phrases. Sophie's file, of course, encouraged her to say those phrases while she was regressed, and encouraged her to regress deeper and more completely. But Kimmy knew that they had all listened - she had gotten several compliments on her taste in music. The first trigger had been subtle - Sophie had gotten a spanking from her girlfriend and ended up in a diaper. The second had been less subtle - all three of the others had dominated Sophie in some small way to go with the spanking. The third time had begun to cement the idea that Sophie wasn't REALLY the leader of their little group, that she was just a baby. And Sophie had regressed so far she had to ride in the back seat of the car... and the ice cream treat she had been given had only regressed her further, rewarding her for regressing, reinforcing the desire to be Little. And Kimmy knew that Sophie was thinking about it more and more... it should be a silent mantra in Sophie's head by this point. As if on cue, Kimmy got a new message. SOPHIE: Kimmy! Kimmy! They bought more diapers. I told them not to but they're not listening. They always listen to me! KIMMY: I thought you liked diapers? SOPHIE: I DO! But I like to choose when I get put in them! They said I have to wear one all the time now! The blonde Little grinned and leaned back in her chair - if her suspicions were correct, Sophie had hit the fourth trigger faster than expected. There were only four more after that and then... KIMMY: Why? Did something happen? She knew it had. It had to be the fourth trigger. SOPHIE: no A lie. KIMMY: They just want you in them for no reason? Maybe you should just wear them, it'll be fun. SOPHIE: YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. THEY BOUGHT 100 DIAPERS. KIMMY: Well, it's not like you're having accidents for real or anything, that'll last you a good long time. She laughed aloud at the long pause. "I knew it," she cackled, swinging her feet under the chair. "I knew it! She hit the fourth trigger so fast!" KIMMY: Sophie-chan? Sophie-chaaaaan! I bet 100 diapers made you super blushy! Think about it... you're going to be wearing them all the time at home now. I do too, it's great. It was a lie on her part - she didn't wear every day, it was once a week at most. Her partner was vanilla and only had so much interest in playing Little games. SOPHIE: yeah? ok KIMMY: I bet you like them thick, don't you? I bet you like the thickest, puffiest diapers, don't you Sophie? That was the path to the fifth trigger. Thicker diapers. She would crave them... but complain about them. Complain that they were too thick, that she was waddling, that it was too obvious under her pants. And the complaints about the thickness would trigger the other three... to put her in thicker diapers. SOPHIE: Maybe... Kimmy could almost FEEL Sophie blushing. And the more Sophie blushed, the Littler she felt. She'd passed the fourth trigger, she would start regressing down to two years old more easily. She'd get there quicker, she'd stay there longer. KIMMY: I bet you can't wait to try them. Oh I'm so jealous of you! I wanna be in thick diapers all the time, I wish Kachan had bought ME a full case... The next incoming message made her grin more. CHLOE: You were right about the back seat. She was so cute! I bought her ice cream and it was adorable! KIMMY: I bet she was super blushy! CHLOE: She was! KIMMY: Just make sure to tell her she needs thicker diapers tonight, it'll make her soooooo blushy and Little. Little Sophie is sooooo cute! CHLOE: It's true! She tabbed back to Sophie's message, her smile never fading. SOPHIE: I gotta go... they're making me put on the diaper, but it looks too thick! KIMMY: You like them thick, Sophie-chan. And if you don't want it right now, just tell them that the diaper is too thick and they'll fix you up. "They'll fix you up good," Kimmy laughed. The fourth trigger was where the real acceleration began. After this it was a downhill ride. The fifth trigger would be the obsession with thicker diapers, then a need to wear them all the time. Then uncontrollable wetting, which would only cause the other three to baby her more. No more forks, bibs at dinner, being spoonfed and baby-talked. By then Sophie would be regressing down to one year old. But the eighth trigger, that was where it became permanent. When Sophie hit that final trigger, she'd never return to her adult self. Ever. She'd go back to maybe four or five at most, and wetting herself - which would be frequent - would push her back down to one. And her friends would dominate her mercilessly. And she'd never win another day on the Leaderboard. And then Kimmy would rule. She leaned back and smiled her satisfaction. "Kimberly," Kachan called from across the house. "Have you heard this song? One of your new friends sent it to me, Sophie's mommy." "What song?" Kimmy asked, concerned. Her blood ran cold when the song started playing. It was the file Kimmy had sent to Ladybug, Sophie's girlfriend. "Wait, turn it off," Kimmy pleaded, rushing to Kachan and reaching for the phone. "Not that one... I... I don't like that one." But she found herself sat on the bed in a flash, Kachan's finger on her lips. "Don't interrupt," she said sternly. As long as she didn't say... "If you can't lend an ear when I'm talking, then I'll use your tongue instead." The first trigger. She had picked a very distinct phrase - Sophie wouldn't be able to resist it and she'd share it no matter what the circumstances had been... "No wait," Kimmy protested. It had already been tripped... it was all downhill from here.
  10. 7 points
    Special thanks to my twin @bbykimmy who has vigilantly kept me afloat through my emotional storm of posting Madison's Code. Thank you for listening. Pin 3: Touch Twenty-one. << Free today? >> No not really << Dark Day? >> Little day! No Days had really fallen out of my lingo; over the past few weeks, it was clear that they could be broken up into two more specific, polarizing categories. Dark Days were the ones to worry about. Those were the days when the heavy feelings would weigh her down, when bad ideas would pop into her head and she’d exhaust herself trying to keep them under control. Sometimes it was because of something her parents had said or something she saw on TV. Sometimes it wasn’t because of anything at all. She either wouldn’t sleep or would do nothing but sleep. She took forever to answer her phone. These were the days with soft, quiet eyes, when she had nothing to say or no energy to say it. These were the days she worked so tirelessly to hide from everyone. Everyone but me. Little Days were another thing entirely. When she had the house to herself, when she was feeling up to it, she would make believe she was a little girl. Little was her word, something she used to describe all the kid stuff. As I understood it, her Little Days made the rest of the days easier: it made things light and sunny again. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t allowed to be around on those days. I think she was embarrassed. I locked my phone and put it down on my bed. Finally, it was warm enough that Polly had started coming over again. Of course, there was even less to do at my house. “No Sunshine today?” Polly asked. “Nope.” “You don’t need to go rushing over there to take care of her like last time we hung out?” “Is that jealousy I detect, Polly?” She rolled her eyes. “How are you and Tom?” She groaned. “That good, huh?” She muted the television; it was distracting her. Polly never was good at multitasking. “It’s not that I don’t like him. I do. But we don’t… click.” She pushed her fingers together, like that meant something. “It feels like a chore sometimes, spending time with him. But I want to spend time with him! I just want the time to be better.” “Like go on dates?” I offered. “Not even that much. Just…” And then she rolled over on my bed so she was looking me right in the eye. “I want us to be more like you and Madison.” “…uh. Well, Madison and I aren’t dating.” “No, but whenever you guys are around I feel like such a third wheel! Like, you stare at her and smile when she’s not looking. And you have all these inside jokes. And you guys have entire conversations without even saying anything. I swear, when we went to Andy’s diner, you guys played with salt packets for ten minutes!” “So you want Tom to play with salt more?” “Jamie,” Polly said in a tone I was very familiar with. It was the “take this seriously now” tone. So I sighed and motioned for her to continue. “You two just feel so connected all the time. Even when you’re not trying to be. And with Tom, even when I try to be, it only works half the time.” “I don’t think you can really compare us like that.” Madison and I weren’t a couple. We didn’t have couple problems. If friendship was making break-and-bake cookies, couples had to make them from scratch. Of course we had it easier. It was also much less rewarding. Didn’t she see that? And just as Polly had been jealous of me a moment before, I was now very jealous of her. “How do you do it?” she asked. “Sunshine was literally the most annoying thing in the world to you, and now you’re head over heels. And not just sometimes, but all the time. Like, you never even doubt it. What’s your secret?” “There’s no secret. I just like her.” “All the time?” “Yeah?” “Doesn’t she annoy you, or frustrate you, or do things you don’t like?” “Sure. Like, every day. But just because she says and does stuff I don’t like doesn’t mean I like her any less.” “That makes no sense,” Polly said with frustration. “I don’t think it’s supposed to,” I admitted. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I just didn’t have an answer for her question, not a real answer anyway. Not one I could quantify or put into words. I only had feelings. Polly took the TV off mute for a few minutes, and then muted it again. “I should break up with Tom.” “You shouldn’t chase some arbitrary fantasy,” I told her. “I don’t think it’s a fantasy to want what you have.” “Unrequited feelings?” I joked. “Unconditional ones.”
  11. 7 points
    Fifteen. Night and day were not powerful enough to describe this. Night in the country, where stars pepper the sky, where trees are invisible in the darkness and everything is a constant absence. Day in the city, a big city like New York or Los Angeles, when literally everything moves and all the sound feels heavy and the sun could fry you like a pancake on the sidewalk. Night and day in the most literal, polarizing way. That was Madison Bell at home and at Walmart. “I have never even seen this one before! You know they stopped making Polly Pocket? I think because the parts are too small and kids keep eating them, but I don’t see why that should ruin it for everyone else.” I remembered the word I most used to describe Madison and it was surely apt now. Annoying. “Oh, okay, look at this one. They are more like dolls now, with different clothes. But I remember when I was a kid. I had one that closed up, so you can take it to a friend’s house. Of course, I didn’t really have any friends, so I didn’t take it anywhere. And I don’t have it anymore. Actually, maybe I did take it somewhere, maybe to my grandmas? Maybe that’s how I lost it.” But that was the weird thing, maybe. This may have been the most annoying I had ever seen Madison in my ten years of knowing her. This singular moment was the most annoying I expected Madison could ever be. And… well… I wasn’t annoyed. Not at all. “Buy it,” I told her. Wow, she got quiet fast. “What? You want it. So buy it.” “It’s for kids,” she said flatly, like that was an excuse. “So?” “I’m not a kid?” She tried to elaborate but it came out like a question. “Again, so?” If I was ever so dense, I’d want someone to kill me. “You watch cartoons, and that’s for kids. And I buy Legos still and those are for kids. I play video games with Polly all the time. Aren’t those for kids?” “Right, but…” “But it makes you happy. And it reminds you of something you loved when you were younger, something you don’t have anymore. Isn’t that enough?” She looked at the shelf again, little plastic dolls with their little rubber outfits, and I watched her eyes sparkle with possibility. I wondered if she ever noticed me staring. No, she was far too dense. “You think it’s alright?” she asked. “I think it’s alright,” I told her, and walked her to the checkout. She couldn’t take her eyes off the package in her hands. Seriously, she was really… “Hey, Jamie?” I had never loved my name so much as when I heard it in her voice. She held up her toy for me to see. “Now we both have best friends named Polly.” She laughed at her joke. That’s all it was, an innocent joke. But maybe it struck a cord in me somewhere, in the place between my stomach and my heart. For some reason, it sounded like the saddest thing I’d ever heard. “She’ll have to settle for second place,” I said and wrapped my arm around Madison’s shoulder. “I was here first.” The whole way home, Madison played with her Polly Pocket. I swear, the entire way. She knew the names of the characters and she’d hold up the different outfits for me to see. I told her that I liked the dress with the flowers on it. She dressed Polly up in the flower dress after that. When we got back to her house, Madison’s dad’s car wasn’t in the driveway anymore. The sun had gone down early as it often does in late January. The clock on my dashboard read 7:03. But if no one was home… “Can I come in?” I asked. “Yes,” she said with certainty. “Absolutely!” The house was quiet and still again; this was a stasis I had grown used to at Madison’s place. I wasn’t sure where her parents were all the time, but Madison had assured me that both her mom and dad were busy people. To me, that seemed like a shitty excuse, but Madison didn’t seem perturbed by their absence. If anything, maybe she preferred it. “Want to watch a movie?” she asked me. “Sure, what do you have?” “Tons of stuff, lemme find something. Have you seen Frozen?” “Uh, yeah, once.” “Oh, what about Matilda?” “Probably when I was younger.” She paused and pursed her lips, thinking, maybe. Polly Pocket was still in her hands. I had a weird thought… “Let’s watch Matilda, then,” I told her. “But you’ve seen it,” she sighed, still lost in thought. “Forever ago. I don’t remember it.” I was lying. I did remember it. But it seemed to do the trick. “Okay, let me get my DVD!” She ran up the stairs and I sat back on the sofa with my arms crossed. This felt like… babysitting. We were only halfway through the movie when Madison put her head on my shoulder. I didn’t say anything, not right away, but I started to watch her more than the movie. She still had that doll in her hands. “Madison?” “Hm?” “You sort of act like a kid sometimes.” “I never noticed,” she said flatly, without looking away from the television. But she was close to me, her cheek to my shoulder, her head to my ear. Her hands were tight around her doll and my hands were loose and not around anything. And I can’t really explain it, I really can’t, but for some reason I didn’t believe her. “You aren’t convincing.”
  12. 6 points
    Twenty-five. I didn’t go home that night. It wasn’t safe to leave Madison on her own, but that wasn’t to say she was a burden. If it was up to me, I would have spent the night with her months ago. But this wasn’t like I’d imagined. She didn’t sleep very much, not at first. She sat with her blanket pulled up to her neck and watched the little TV in the corner of her room with very little interest. I was starting to believe the TV was only on for my benefit, but I was paying attention to Madison. The television would glisten off her glasses, but her eyes wouldn’t respond to the light. Her thoughts had led her elsewhere, away from the TV, away from her room, away from me. I didn’t like that. After a few hours, I went downstairs to get some water. Madison had to come with me, much to her displeasure. That’s when I realized her parents weren’t home. I checked my phone. 11:25. The night before their daughter’s birthday? Assholes. “Hungry?” I asked. She shook her head. Great… When we got back to Madison’s room, I knew that I had to take a stronger approach to this. With me at her side, I knew Madison was safe. But she needed to sleep. She needed to eat. “Where are your sippy cups?” I asked. “Huh?” “I know you have some, so where are they?” Madison stared at me with parted lips, like she was ready to argue. Like she had something to say. But whatever words she was trying to push past her tongue were just too heavy. Exhausted, she gave up. She pointed at her dresser. Bottom drawer. I spent a lot of time online looking up little stuff over the past few weeks, so I was prepared for what I found. The websites left me with a ton of questions, but one look in Madison’s dresser drawer answered most of them. I fully expected Madison to be blushing when I turned back around, but she wasn’t. She was sitting on the end of the bed again, pretending to watch the TV. She didn’t seem to care at all, actually. Well, that’s not a good sign. “Come on, we’re going back downstairs.” I led her around by the wrist, down the stairs, to the kitchen, until I filled her cup with chocolate milk. Then I pulled her right back up toward her room. The clock on her beside said 11:40. I had to get this girl to sleep before midnight. If this was how she acted in preparation for her birthday, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like tomorrow. With the sippy cup in hand, I tried to pull Madison down into my lap. She stubbornly refused. “I can do it myself,” she said flatly, almost annoyed, like if annoyed had less energy. “I’m sure you can, Maddie.” The nickname was new. I had come up with it on the spot, and it tasted strange in my mouth. But Madison seemed to have opted out of arguing. I helped her down on my lap, so her head was against the waistband of my jeans, and put the sippy cup between her lips. At first, it seemed like she wasn’t interested at all. She sipped at the spout until a quarter of the milk was gone. I ran my fingers across her forehead, in her hair, and I watched her eyes slip shut. “Shh… it’ll be okay. Everything’s okay.” I couldn’t be sure, but it felt like her sipping had gotten softer. I curled my fingers in the tips of her hair. When she opened her eyes again, they found their way to the TV. Her eyes seemed to focus through her glasses, up at the flashing screen. She was paying attention to the television, or at least trying to. I tilted the cup a little so she could see better. The milk was gone a lot faster than I expected, but I kept her head on my lap all the same. I hummed a quiet song, a song I knew Madison probably wouldn’t know the words to. It was 12:15 when Madison Bell fell asleep on my lap. I didn’t dare move. Finally, the weight of the day could come crashing down over me. Exhaustion built up in my shoulders and in my temples. I had to close my eyes. We had school in six hours, but sleep took me in less than six minutes. “Rise and shine sleepyhead!” Madison pulled the covers off the bed. I groaned. “You’re going to be late for school.” Why was she so damn chipper? Wasn’t it her birthday or something? I sat upright and pushed my palms into my eyes. Everything about this day told me to go back to sleep. “Let’s stay home,” I said, reaching out to grab Madison’s hand to pull her back into bed with me. She was a half-step too far away. “Let’s not.” “You can’t honestly want to go to school today,” I mumbled, searching around for a blanket. I’d slept in my jeans. It would have been uncomfortable if I hadn’t of crashed so quickly. “I do, actually.” She smiled, but it wasn’t one of her real smiles. “I could use some distraction.” I couldn’t argue with that, could I? I looked her up and down - a sundress and a warm cardigan. She was already dressed. “You’re not hurt, right?” As in, she hadn’t hurt herself since she’d woken up. But she shook her head. “I’m okay. I just need to act normal to feel normal.” I sighed. “Alright, I’m up.” We were in the car on the way to school. I had never driven Madison to school before; I’d only driven her home. I thought a morning with Madison would be great: a sunny start to the dreary tedium of academia. But today I was worried. “You’ll text me if you need anything?” I asked her. “I don’t like leaving you alone right now.” “You’re worrying too much,” she dismissed. “But you will, right? Text me? And you’ll eat lunch with me, too?” “Sure,” she said. “And you’ll be safe?” “I’ll be safe.” We had parked in the school lot before she said: “Don’t tell anyone, okay?” “About your arms?” She shook her head; she wasn’t worried about that. She was more worried about the day of the year. “I won’t tell anyone,” I promised. “Thanks.” I wanted to wish Madison a happy birthday. I wanted to tell her she was just as cute as she was yesterday. I wanted to tell her that tomorrow and for another three hundred sixty four days she’d be seventeen. Stopped in time. But I thought, maybe, telling her those things counted as telling somebody. She just wanted to get through school without anyone saying the word birthday. I texted Madison in every class and passed her notes in Biology. I asked if she was okay so much I swear I was annoying her. But she didn’t act like it. She wasn’t acting like much of anything, actually. But whenever she had to talk to someone, I got a fresh glimpse of the past. Madison, before I got to know her. Madison, chipper and bright and radiant. Madison, false. How had I been so oblivious before? How were her friends - my peers - so oblivious now? At lunch, Madison and I ate in the Writing Workshop. I liked the privacy. I wasn’t a huge fan of other people in a general sense. Other than with Polly, I think I could only be described as amicable. That didn’t mean Polly and Madison were my only friends - they weren’t - but they were the only important ones. “I wanted to buy you a gift,” I told Madison as she picked the wrapper off a Starburst. She hadn’t been eating them, just playing with the wrappers. “I don’t want a gift.” Her answer was sharp and quiet. Bored. Uninterested. “Friends get other friends gifts on—” “Don’t say it.” I sighed and pulled out my phone. It was something I’d been looking into for a couple days now. I never thought about Madison’s birthday or when it could be, but I was falling for some of the clothes I found online. I turned the phone around and slid it across the table to Madison. “That one.” “Oh.” That was the first time I’d heard an honest inflection out of her all day! Her cheeks took on a touch of color and the corners of her lips a hint of a smile. She reached out and turned the phone over so the screen was facing down and ate one of her Starbursts. “I can’t buy it yet,” I told her. “But I’ll have some money in a few weeks.” After my birthday. Then I could afford it. “You don’t have to—” “How old are you anyway?” She stared at me, bewildered, and I could see the anxiety and frustration rising in her chest. It puffed her out like a balloon and sucked her in like a crushed paper cup. Damnit, why was she so cute? “When you’re little, I mean.” I watched the stress pour out of her body. It was like watching bathwater swirl down the drain rather than spill over the rim. But her cheeks were still red with frustration. She started to unwrap another Starburst. “Five,” she answered. Huh. I expected younger after getting a glimpse of her Little Drawer. “Well I’m going to buy you that,” I told her, tapping the top of my phone. “Happy fifth birthday.” I wasn’t sure if I was making things better or worse, not really. I knew how much she hated her birthday. I knew how it made her feel. And I knew that she would rather hurt herself than deal with that reality. But maybe I could drag this day - like every other day - away from reality. Maybe her birthday didn’t have to be a bad thing next year, or the year after. Maybe she could turn five for the rest of her life, and maybe she’d start loving it again. Maybe she’d even let me celebrate those days with her, from now until she turned six. That was, from now until the end of time.
  13. 6 points
    Twenty. I fell asleep for a while; it really is hard not to when a bed is so comfortable. I woke up to Madison climbing out from under her covers. I heard her leave the room, and a minute later, I heard her come back. She got back into bed. I opened my eyes. The sun was still out, but it was considerably later in the evening now — even that much was obvious with what little sunlight made it past Madison’s curtains. When she crawled under the blanket again, she left her head out. She faced away from me. I stirred and I watched her shoulders tense. When I relaxed into the bed again, so did she. I moved closer to her, gently, so much so that I could smell her shampoo. Strawberries. “Madison?” “Mm.” “Can I put my arm around you?” She didn’t say anything. I didn’t know if that was a yes or a no. I thought maybe she was just taking her time to answer, but as time went on it was made more and more clear that she wasn’t going to answer at all. Did she fall asleep? “Madison?” “Mm.” “I’m going to put my arm around you now.” So I put my arm around Madison Bell. But with my arm over the comforter, it felt less like I was holding a girl and more like I was holding a pile of clothes. “I’m going to put my arm under the blanket,” I told her, and then did just that. I tried to wrap my arm overtop of Madison’s arm, but the second I touched her jacket she twitched and pushed my hand out of the way. “Sorry,” I sighed. Maybe this was a bad idea… Madison, without prompting, took my hand in hers and pulled it across her stomach, wrapping herself up in me. She rested her own arm on top of mine and didn’t say a word. I pushed my face into her soft hair and squeezed her around the middle, under her breast. She was soft and squishy and warm and smelled like dessert. I wanted to have her forever and eat her all up at the same time. The next time I woke up, it was the middle of the night. I had the loveliest dream… Madison’s eyes were open. I could see the moonlight glisten off their surface. She was lying on her back and my arm was still tight around her stomach. I watched her for a moment, adjusting to the darkness of Madison’s room, but she didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular. Her eyes though… they wouldn’t shine like that, no matter what light she was under, if she wasn’t starting to feel better. “Hi,” I whispered, so softly that it didn’t disturb anything, anyone, anywhere. Her eyes flickered to the side, at me, and then at the ceiling again. “I’m sorry,” she said just as softly. “Tell me what’s going on, Madison. Please?” Maybe it was the please that won her over. “It just happens,” she muttered under her breath. “It comes out of nowhere, and it feels heavy and dark, and I can’t make it go away until it wants to.” “Nothing makes it happen?” “Sometimes things make it happen. Sometimes it just happens.” “Like, loud sounds?” It wasn’t really a wild guess at this point. I’d been paying a lot of attention to Madison Bell. “Yeah, like loud sounds.” “Your parents?” “Sometimes.” “Me?” This time she turned her head to look at me, properly, eye to eye, for the first time that day. She wanted me to know she was serious. “Not you.” She was having trouble with even her fake smile. I couldn’t even imagine what she must be thinking… “You know, I always thought you were the happiest person in the world. Everybody sort of thinks that way about you. Seeing you like this, now… it barely makes sense to me.” “I don’t want anybody—” “To worry,” I finished for her. “I know.” “Mom always worried about me, growing up. I never made any friends. I wasn’t good at talking to people. I didn’t know what to say or how to be interesting. And one day…” She trailed off. She closed her eyes. Silence started to fill the gap between us, but I didn’t want anything between us. I want it to be her, then me, and nothing in the way. “Go on,” I whispered. “One day,” she went on, “in fifth grade, I was doing one of those worksheets where you solve the math problems and color in the block, and it’s supposed to make a picture. But when I was done, the colors were wrong. I mean, the picture was there, but not in the right colors. I misread the instructions. And everyone thought…” It clicked. “They thought you were colorblind.” “I was interesting after that. People wanted to talk to me. So I played along. I lied to everybody, and…” She closed her eyes tight and I saw tears sparkling down her cheeks. I raised my hand off her stomach and wiped them away. When my skin touched hers, her eyes tightened and sent another battalion of tears to fend me off. They failed. “I think you’re very interesting,” I said softly, into her ear. “You’re the most interesting person I know.” She rolled over, but not to face away. She rolled into me and pushed her forehead into my neck and I felt her tears on my chest as they dripped off her chin. I pulled her as close as I could and ran my fingers along her back. Every part of me ached with sensation, like it was the first true moment I’d been awake my whole life. And all the parts inside me hurt for her. “When the bad things started,” she muttered, exhausted, into my chest. If she was still crying, I couldn’t feel it anymore. “I couldn’t let anybody know. If they knew, if they worried, or if they stopped liking me… I’d be alone again. I had to hide it. I got good at it. Nobody worries now… Mom doesn’t worry now…” “I worry,” I told her, playing with her hair. It seemed to help her. “You were…” Madison was quiet, searching the darkness for the word. “Unexpected.” It was just dawning on me that this was the first time Madison Bell had said any of these words, even to herself. They poured automatically out of her, like they’d been swirling and pushing and turning themselves into a storm for years. And now, finally, they’d broken down the walls. Or rather, I’d broken those walls for them. I hoped I had done the right thing… “I want to help,” I told her. “I want to make it better.” “Nothing makes it better,” she said with a laugh. A hollow, fake, broken laugh. “Your kid stuff makes it better, doesn’t it?” Again, this was no guess. This was fact. This was observed, like gravity and thermodynamics. She was quiet again. Had I said the wrong thing? No, I had to stop thinking like that. This needed to be about her. “I know you like acting like a kid, that it makes you feel brighter. I see it every day. It fixes you, doesn’t it?” Still, silence. “Madison, you don’t have to be embarrassed about it. If it helps you, that’s all that matters. At least we know something that does.” “It doesn’t always,” she finally admitted, rubbing her eyes on my shoulder. Her fingers were tied in my shirt. “Only sometimes.” “Sometimes is better than never.” Finally, I felt like I’d found the solution I’d been searching for, but it was an answer I didn’t want. It was a problem that shouldn’t exist. It was more hardship than she deserved. I wasn’t tired of solving Madison Bell - I never would be - but she was so tired of solving herself. “I’ll take care of you,” I told her with so much certainty she couldn’t in good conscience doubt me. Until then, she had no reason to. Forever after, I wouldn’t give her one.
  14. 6 points
    Chapter Eleven Claire woke slowly but sat bolt upright the moment she felt the wetness in her bed. "No," she gasped, peeling the blankets back. "No!" The bed was soaked, her own nightgown was soaked, she'd had a nighttime accident, the first one in months. Then she remembered Faye... who was missing. Her bladder ached - if she’d had an accident, she wouldn't need to go now. "Oh thank goodness," she breathed, climbing out of bed and stripping off her nightgown with a grimace. She wrapped a robe around herself and ran to the bathroom, past Sal sitting at the table with the new girl. "You're not going to make it," Andrew called after her. "Fuck off," she snarled, slamming the bathroom door behind her and throwing her robe down, rushing for the toilet. Ugh, she groaned, why is Andrew even here, he's such an asshole. She made it, that's what mattered. She flushed and washed her hands, letting out a huge sigh of relief. She pulled the robe back on and began the trudge back to her room - she had sheets to change. "I'm surprised you didn't just go in your bed," Andrew was looming over her when she opened the door. "You already woke up in a puddle of piss from your little friend, why bother running for the toilet?" "Fuck off," Claire growled, trying to push past him. He stepped in front of her, blocking her path. "Oh sweet pet," he cooed, his voice soft and comforting. "Be a good girl and sit down." Claire felt the trigger, felt her body obey as she sat down in the middle of the hallway. Her eyes widened and the tears began to spill over. "It's okay to cry," Andrew said soothingly, "You're just a baby, after all." Claire broke down sobbing at that, unable to even stand, held in the throes of the conditioning she was still trying to erase from her mind. Out of nowhere, Andrew was slammed into the wall, Oliver's forearm pressed to the swarthy man's throat. "I don't know what the fuck you think you're doing, Andrew," Oliver growled, towering over the pureblood human. "But it is not acceptable." "Sorry," Andrew choked, "Sorry boss - it was just a joke." "If you're the only one laughing," Oliver said in a low tone, "it's not a joke. It's cruelty." He increased the pressure for just a moment before releasing his Armorer. Oliver, with his close cropped blonde hair smelling faintly of cloves, his ice blue eyes kind as he leaned down and lifted Claire, holding her close. "Shh," he soothed. "I'm sorry that happened to you. You're an adult, you're free, you're not a Familiar." "Put me down," Claire croaked, wiping furiously at her eyes. "Put me down!" Oliver set her on her feet gently, looking down at her sadly. "Sorry Claire," he whispered, "Just trying to help." "Cuddling me like a fucking Familiar isn't helping, Ollie," she snapped, blushing. "That's what she always did. But... thanks for the save. Andrew... " she glared at the man's back as he retreated down the hall, "stay the fuck away from me. And Faye!" "Faye?" Oliver asked, puzzled. "The new girl - the one Rachel rescued." "Where is our resident badass?" Oliver asked. "I need to find out exactly what happened at the Tower. I love her for what happened, but the heat is on up there. I need everything she has." "Oscar took her for a ride - she came back with a broken leg," Claire said as she headed back for her room. "Tell her I'm looking for her. Tell her it's important." "Sure thing, boss." * * * Aurora felt like she had stepped through some kind of time travel portal. One moment she was standing in the middle of a dreary, frightening hallway and the next it was as if she'd appeared seventy years in the past. The door closed behind her and Aurora desperately tried not to boggle at the pristine ‘50s living room she now stood in. The walls were a pale yellow and decorated with art deco diamonds; the television in the corner was a console model, rounded corners and all; the floors were painted linoleum; the angle-legged, mid-century modern teal furniture was like something out of an old magazine, all the fabric covered in clear plastic; and even the curtains were pleasantly busy, hanging around a mural of a window painted on the wall, depicting a pleasant outdoor barbecue scene, complete with lush, perfectly mown grass. Aurora swallowed thickly. There was no one in sight. "Hello dear," murmured a voice at her shoulder and it took everything Aurora had not to yelp and jump away. Where in the hell had she come from?! Aurora was less than a foot into the room, how had anyone gotten behind her? There was a light step and the Witch - the Black Witch of Thanatos - slipped fully into the room. Aurora did her best not to gape. The Black Witch was a woman - well, appeared to be a woman - in her early forties. Her honey-colored coiffe was streaked with a few strands of white, barely noticeable against the warm blonde, and her eyes held a few soft crows feet in the corners, a few smile lines in the corners of her mouth. She looked - like her apartment - as if she'd stepped out of a portal to the past. She wore a blue-and-white polka dotted dress caught around her waist with a small, ruffled apron, a lovely strand of pearls around hung her neck, and when she walked her low heels clicked confidently across the linoleum. "Sit here, dear," she ordered, passing the couch and gently tapping the back. "I'll bring the tea." Aurora, unnerved, did as the Black Witch ordered. The plastic squeaked unpleasantly as she sat, the sweat on the back of her thighs sliding across the cold covering. The Black Witch returned a few minutes later, a melamine tray gripped in her hands. Neatly centered on a large, lacy doily sat two bone-china cups upside down on their saucers, two small plates along with a small platter of finger sandwiches, a bowl of sugar cubes, two spoons, and a minuscule pitcher of cream. The Black Witch worked efficiently, flipping cups, asking how Aurora preferred her tea (she didn't, but she'd be damned if she told the Black Fucking Witch that), and expertly served the tea and the finger foods before settling elegantly on the couch beside the younger witch. Her cool blue eyes regarded Aurora evenly. I can't see a single black mark on her, Aurora realized suddenly, wondering if she'd fallen into some kind of trap. Not one. "I, of course, offer my condolences regarding your coven and Mistress. I assume," the Black Witch began after they'd sipped their tea in silence a moment, "that you are here about resurrecting your Familiar?" Aurora's blood ran cold in her veins. How does she know? "I wouldn't want my beloved Mia to be reanimated," she smiled sadly, "No offense," she nodded at the obviously reanimated cat that laid on the floor in the corner. "I tried to save her", she stared at the Deathmark on her hand before taking a long sip of the tea, "but I failed." "Shame," the Black Witch said, "she was a lovely Familiar. The very best genetics; I have a cousin who monitors Little bloodlines - your Familiar's line is exquisite." She took a sip of her tea. "Well then, if you're not here for us to bring back your Familiar - we can repair most of the damage to her flesh, I assure you - then to what do I owe the pleasure?" "I was surprised to learn that your people are looking into what happened," Aurora answered, with a casualness she didn't feel. "I am Anomic now, Your Grace. I seek asylum, to join your coven. I need help... I need vengeance on the one who did this, and I may yet have pull with the Winchester survivors." Her heart pounded. This was everything. If the Black Witch turned her away, she had nothing. She didn't have the resources to pursue the saboteur who had cost her everything. She needed Thanatos for her vendetta. The Black Witch raised an eyebrow. "You don't wish to resurrect your pet but you wish to join my clan? Doesn't that seem... a poor fit to you?" "Her body is gone," Aurora said sadly, clenching her Deathmarked hand. "I don't know how to be delicate with the lifeforce... the spell didn't end well." She sighed. How do I tell the Black Witch that she's my only hope without insulting her? No other coven will take me now... how did she get rid of her Deathmark? "I do not wish to be Anomic, Your Grace... I will never get revenge alone. It may not be the best fit, but I can learn your ways and... " she swallowed hard, this was a big gamble. "I can share the spells of the Winchester." It was unheard of. One did not share the secrets of their coven, it was a death sentence. No coven would protect a spell-traitor. But a coven hadn't gone extinct in living memory... she just hoped that the Winchester coven stayed dead. "Tempting," the Black Witch murmured, apparently turning over Aurora’s treasonous offer to hand over the blood-magic of generations, an act that would make her the instant enemy of every living Winchester. "To offer to turn spell-traitor for simple revenge... that is a most unusual offer indeed." Slowly she set down her cup and regarded Aurora steadily, lips pursing. "You will begin at the bottom," she said at last. "At the very bottom." "I have information," Aurora said, hating the idea of starting at the bottom again. She had been only a few steps from the top of Winchester. "Winchester Tower exploded from unknown magics, and I got a look at the culprit and a borrowed Familiar." "Is that so?" the Black Witch asked softly. "Please, do continue." Sarah Trippoli had been an intense woman. Terrifying, powerful, magic crackling in her every word and movement. The Winchester elite had been terrified of her, they obeyed as much out of fear as they did loyalty to their bloodline. But Aurora would gladly trade the powerful intimidation of the White Witch of Winchester for the eerie presence of the Black Witch of Thanatos. No one knew how old the leader of the coven was, no one knew how often the leadership changed hands... she could have been ruling for a year or a century, the Thanatos were so insular, shunned. A chill went down Aurora's spine - the Black Witch's power was subtle, not like Sarah's. She understood now why people got nervous when the Black Witch was interested in something. The woman was unreadable... Aurora was ready to deal with some skull-wearing necromantic maniac, not this overtly kind fifties housewife who was hiding who-knew-what evil behind those eyes. "Winchester Tower was invaded last night, a lone intruder. My people had an ambush set up for her at the exit... I was on the twelfth floor when the magic detonated. Several floors were simply disintegrated, the entire structure collapsed. My Familiar was thrown from the building. As I rushed her to help - worthless human medics who couldn't save her, I spied a woman, red-haired, human height, carrying a blonde Familiar covered in Witch blood and ash from the wreckage. Our intruder was likely a Witch-blooded minion of another coven, I don't know which - but there was a magic about that Familiar that was... different. She was likely carrying some relic or enchantment for the saboteur. Either way, those two cost me my beloved pet, my position, my sisters... everything. Your Grace, I humbly request resources to hunt them." Which I can't do from the very bottom. Aurora needed the freedom afforded to her as a Lieutenant of the Winchester coven and the protection of the Thanatos. She would find that Hunter… and she would make the bitch eat her own intestines. "Patience is the primary virtue prized in my family," the Black Witch said. "In our family. Along with, as I'm sure you've realized, a strong constitution in regards to morbidity. You have made your desires quite clear, dear." Dusting her hands together, she rose, and picked up the tray. "I will give you a day to reconsider. Five pm tomorrow night, should you still wish to join the Thanatos, present yourself upstairs. Your initiation into my clan will begin precisely at six. Do not be late. I abhor tardiness. It is rude." She clicked into the kitchenette past the living room and Aurora nervously rose and followed her. There she found even more fifties-style decorating - a round, metal table, diner-type chairs, and even a tiny transistor radio in another fake windowsill. This one looked out onto a painted front yard, complete with an older rag-top convertible. "Pass me the cup, dear, please," the Black Witch murmured, stoppering the sink, squirting some yellow dish soap into the basin, and sliding on a pair of bright pink dishwashing gloves. "I assume that all your belongings were in the Ivory Tower?" "No, Your Grace," Aurora answered, passing the requested cup... Is she going to wash her own dishes? Why doesn't she have a minion for this? A skeleton? Something? She wondered with horror. The White Witch would never be seen doing her own menial chores. She exuded luxury, she reveled in it. The humility from this woman, this powerhouse, one of the five... four... four most important people in the entire world, it was too much for Aurora to take. "Please, Your Grace, may I do this chore for you?" Debasing herself was far preferable to seeing the Black Witch do something so mundane. Aurora was no stranger to luxury herself, there were many perks that came with being a Lieutenant in the Winchester coven... she hadn't done simple chores like this.. well, ever. That's what subordinates were for, and the lowest Witch was still above the highest minion. A very, very long pause as the Black Witch lightly scrubbed the cups, the saucers, the plate, and spoons. She rinsed them in the cool water and said, simply, "Please dry them." Aurora, flushing, did so and when she was done the Black Witch picked up one of the spoons and held it up to the light, examining it critically. "You have missed a spot, here," she said, indicating the tiny watermark in the inside curve of the decorative swirl on the handle. "Please buff it." Confused, Aurora accepted the spoon and did so, wondering what in the hell was going on. "You'll find," the Black Witch said, "that our particular skill set is very demanding. It requires an exceptional attention to detail, Aurora. Do you believe yourself capable of such detail? We all begin at the bottom, for we all begin blind. It takes time and energy and effort to be able to truly see." She plucked the spoon from Aurora's hand and then, smiling, breathed on it, whispering a word. After a moment an image appeared in the curve of the silver. It was a jagged image - narrow - and oddly colored. It was Aurora, standing bloodied outside the wreck of the ambulance, staring at her black hand and crying. "Rodent nerve clusters, for example," the Black Witch explained very seriously, "require a delicate touch to reconnect. Especially the optic nerves. However, we live in a city. Filled with rats, mice, and more. And dead rodentia can't be killed with rat poison, now can they?" She plucked the spoon from Aurora's lax fingers and wiped it with a tea towel that had been neatly folded beside the sink. "We all start from the beginning, dear," she repeated, slipping open a drawer and putting away the spoons one at a time. "There is no hubris in my family, for there is no pride. We all end up in the ground eventually, you see. Are you capable of accepting that?" She paused. "If you are, we will work on your observational skills. 'A blonde Familiar'. 'A red-haired woman'. These are descriptors but they are insufficient for our needs. You do see that, correct? When you can see - truly see - you will be able to trace the lines of her sinews and bone with your power, would know that no two bodies are alike. The killer of your Mia would never be able to hide from you again." "You knew," Aurora gasped, staring at the spoon even as the Black Witch put it away. Her information was worthless. The Black Witch knew it all and more... undead rodent spies? Why aren't they on top? she wondered, Information is power and the Black Witch has it all... why is Apex the top coven? Why was Winchester second... everyone should be bowing to Thanatos. "If you already knew... " why did you see me? Why are you bothering with me? She stopped the question midstream and asked the more important one: "Who is she?" "We're not psychic, dear, just well-informed," the Black Witch said gently. "When you're reviled among even the others of your own kind, it pays to be... observant. Patient. Careful." She smiled warmly. "In more ways than one. "I couldn't tell you who the Familiar is,” the Black with continued, gently tapping her chin. “that's something you'll have to ascertain for yourself, seeing as she was in your building and a member of your coven. However, I can tell you that occasionally - very occasionally - we get a glimpse of the other one. She's exquisitely talented in her art, this woman. Careful, canny, and takes very, very few risks. As impeccable as she is, she must be exceptionally expensive. Likely a hitwoman for Apex as, when she shows up, inevitably an enemy of the Apex falls - either immediately through assassination, or later, through a domino effect. Of course, at this point this is merely conjecture. Nothing that would hold up to exactitude and scrutiny." There was a long, steady moment at the Black Witch regarded Aurora. "I feel that I must make myself perfectly clear: you will be accepted into my family if you so wish, but you must follow our rules. There is little decadence here, Aurora. From the top down, we work hard and study harder. Our studies come first and foremost, our devotion to our art and skillset. We are the clan that works the most closely with humanity and we rarely abuse the privilege. We serve them and they serve us in turn. If a Witch shows promise and a willingness to work, she is accepted on a trial basis. If a family brings us our dead, we purchase the bodies but we also grieve with them. Even if they're human. Especially if they're human. They are the ultimate source, our tools, and a master craftsman does not abuse their tools unless they want their turns to turn in their hand. I hope I am making myself understood? Your revenge will be allowed on the understanding that your studies come first. In return you will eventually be able to exact such perfect vengeance that the Other Place itself will tremble and quake." She smiled thinly. "Revenge is, as they say, a dish best served cold." "I know every Familiar in the Winchester coven," Aurora objected. "Familiars aren't particularly well liked in Winchester, I know the few that are kept very well... that girl is not a Winchester." The Black Witch patted her coiffed hair, smoothing imaginary flyaways, and smiled brilliantly at her. "Then it appears that you have your first clue, doesn't it? A Familiar smuggled into the Winchester building without anyone at all knowing, who was carried out on the wings of an explosion. And oh dear - she doesn’t resemble any of the pedigree bloodlines... where do they come from?" Aurora's eyes widened. "She was taken?" "Such a shame there isn't a place where missing persons can be reported," the Black Witch said sadly, shaking her head. "Where humans trained in the art of solving mysteries reside or work."
  15. 6 points
    Sixteen. When I solved the mystery of Madison Bell’s smile, it was an easy riddle made hard by the riddler. Any time I came close to figuring it out, she would pull away. She would get angry or apathetic. She would stop texting me. She would hide the clues so I could never solve it. But I did anyway. This was different. The mystery of Madison’s eyes was a hard riddle made easier. I thought after I mentioned her childishness that evening on her sofa that she would retreat from it, but it was the opposite. She fed into my toy store trips. She recommended kids’ movies all the time, in case there was one I hadn’t seen. When I’d tease her, she would smile a smile so warm it would color her cheeks. She was giving me literally every clue I could ask for, and still, I didn’t understand. “So she just likes to act like a kid?” Polly asked. “It feels like more than that,” I said. “It feels intimate.” “Sexy intimate?” “No,” I sighed. “It’s like when you’re playing hide-and-seek, and you pick the same hiding spot as somebody else, but the seeker finished counting and you both have to cram into the back of a closet together. It’s quiet, you can see each other perfectly, and neither of you says anything. Your fates are intertwined, and one wrong word or one wrong movement means you both get caught. It’s a secret. A silent, quiet, absent secret, so desperate and so important that neither of you can bring yourselves to even mention that it exists. But that light in her eyes… you know she won’t let you down…” Polly grabbed my wrist and it drew me out of my uncharacteristic stint of introspection. I looked up at the playground - there was one by Polly’s house and it was the first nice day of February. It seemed a waste not to sit on the swings. “Jamie. What is going on?” “What do you mean?” “I’ve never heard you talk like that. Ever.” I shrugged and kicked the wood chips under my feet. “Why is Sunshine so important to you?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “But she is. I just feel like… I need to figure this out. Like I need to understand her.” “Why?” “Because I don't think anyone else does.” Polly spun around in her swing, tightening the chains around one another. Then she uncoiled and snapped back into place. “Well,” she finally said, “how can I help?” “This kid stuff.” “Ask her about it.” “I don’t want to scare her away,” I said under my breath. “I feel like she’s warming up to me or something.” “Then just test the waters. Treat her like a kid.” “I already do,” I sighed. “Push the envelope. Transcend the typical ‘childish teen’ trope and push into the ‘childish child’ one.” “I don’t know what that means.” “Look here,” Polly said, getting off the swing, “she likes this kid stuff. And you don’t think it’s weird, right?” “I don’t think it’s that weird.” “Then see how deep the rabbit hole goes. And when you have enough proof, so much that she can’t run away from it, talk to her.” Well, I hadn’t come up with any better ideas myself, had I? “Thanks.” “Yeah,” Polly dismissed. “That’s what friends are for.” The next Monday at school, the temperature was in the fifties. If I turned the heat on when I got home from school, the house would still be warm well into the night. Mom worked a late shift too, until eight. If there was any other time perfect for a night alone with Madison Bell, I wouldn’t know it. “Tonight. You. Me. We’re watching that movie with the cats you keep talking about.” “I don’t know if I can,” she said with a tiny smile. No Days had become slightly more pliable after that first break from the norm. Some days were still confident ‘No’s, and others, less certain. Today was a less certain one. It wasn’t that she “couldn’t” come over, but rather that she “didn’t know”. So I decided to sway the decision in my favor. “We could wear pajamas. I watched my neighbor’s dog over the weekend, so I’ve got snack money. What do you think? Junk food, chocolate, pajamas, and Disney movies?” You could see the brightness burning in the backs of her eyes. I’d won this battle. “I can’t stay the night,” she said. “I’ll take you home at ten. The pajamas are just for comfort.” “I have to call my mom and ask.” “Keep me posted.” Her mom always said yes. From what I understood of it, Madison cared more about asking to come over than her mom did. And sure enough, after lunch, I got a text message: >> Mom says its fine!! See you after school~ I waited by the side-doors to the parking lot, looking up at the warm blue sky. The sun was bright today. All the snow had melted. I thought about what Polly had said on Friday - about how deep the rabbit hole went - and as strange as it seemed, I was really excited to find the answer.
  16. 5 points
    They see me rollin', they hatin', patrollin' and tryin' to catch me riding dirty.
  17. 5 points
    [87] You wait, watching. "I'll cover the both of you if you agree to three films," he says with a smile. "Deal, but I'm the dominant. She's a Portal Little, it'll look genuine." Your eyes widen as you get the gist of the deal that's going down - the two of you are going to be in some kind of porno!? It's too late to object, Claudia is your only hope. She looks back at you and you nod. Filming was bizarre. This was your eighth film, for some reason you were very popular in this particular industry. Claudia explained to you that it was risky - that you were creating subversive films... diapering Amazons against their will, forcing them into dreadful scenarios... but you had been around long enough to see them doing the same things to Littles day in and day out in public. The Amazons were always masked, they never got to speak - you had no idea if they were volunteers or not and honestly - after seeing their oppression first hand, you didn't really care anymore. The money from the films offset the risk you were taking and you and Claudia had only shared that tiny apartment for about a month before you could afford a better one, in a more Little-friendly neighborhood. Diapering your lover never seemed to get any less strange, but you understood the reasons much better now. Your own diaper had saved you more than once. You said your mommy's name was Claudia, she said her mommy's name was Barbara... and together, you managed to stay out of trouble. You had secret comm signals and a modulator that made you sound Amazon and in a pinch, one would call the other. You had been stuck in the dimension for almost a year but honestly... it wasn't that bad. You had Claudia, and you were getting along, the two of you free - for the most part - in this land of giants. "Come to bed," Claudia called from the bedroom. When you had upgraded to a one bedroom it had been heavenly. Sometimes you think of trying to find a way back home, but no one was sure what would happen to a Native Little crossing the Portal and you loved her - it wasn't worth the risk. You switch off the Little-safe TV, an import from Gaule that made sure you didn't risk getting accidentally hypnotized and join Claudia in the bedroom. It isn't the life you imagined, but it's not all bad. [END - Good End #5]
  18. 5 points
    Twenty-three. Madison Bell hadn’t had a Dark Day in over a week. I liked to think I was the reason, but there was no evidence of that. Spring felt like it was coming early, with all the snow having melted long ago and the dandelions popping up in the school’s baseball field. But it was barely March. Conference season was over - I’d have to wait until June to get more material. Of course, these days, I didn’t have much time for editing anyway. One Friday, Madison let me sit in on her Little Day. We had a lot of fun watching movies and coloring in her coloring books. She wore a soft sweater that came down over her hands and covered most of her pajama shorts. The question of sippy cups was quickly answered. I made us pasta for dinner. It was strange sometimes, because Madison would act genuinely unlike a sixteen year old girl. Her words happened faster than her thoughts and every so often she’d get stuck in the middle of a sentence. She always held something against her chest in a hug, whether it was a pillow or a blanket or a stuffed animal. After only a few minutes of watching the movie, she slipped off the sofa onto the floor and would hit my leg whenever she wanted me to pay particular attention. And other times, she was as Madison as ever. She talked constantly about every thought that came into her head. She had really articulate, insightful ideas. She colored in the lines with pinpoint precision and shaded the edges where there would be shadows. It was like when Madison went into little girl mode, she didn’t lose anything that made her Madison Bell. I thought it would feel like babysitting, but it didn’t. It wasn’t very different to any other day. Madison was a little more forward, more decisive, more demanding. She knew what she wanted; it actually made her easier to handle! She wasn’t afraid to tell me things. She wasn’t encumbered with embarrassment or anxiety. There was no right or wrong choice, only hers and not hers. I would do things like make dinner and refill her juice, but Madison didn’t ask much of me. The biggest thing she wanted was my attention. But the most radical change in Madison was one I had taken for granted the first time I treated her like a kid: she absolutely adored being touched. Usually I couldn’t so much as brush Madison’s arm without her pulling away, but when she was little it was a completely different story. She played with my fingers and held onto my shirt, just to feel connected to me. She took my hand and put it on her head or in her hair or against her cheek. She shuffled into me and leaned against me. Sometime late in the evening, when she was curled up against my chest and my finger drew circles on her back, I took the initiative to push my lips against her forehead. My lips, her skin. Everything radiated warmth and all the colors bled brightness. Madison exhaled and melted into me, but by then I had melted into everything about her. For a second, just one, we were a puddle of person, rather than people ourselves. Together, the word rang in my head. Two days later, inevitability struck like lightning in a storm. << Polly wants to go to the mall. Thoughts? << I have a huge umbrella so the rain isn’t a big deal. << We don't have to go obviously. << You alright? << Madison? << Dark Day? << Madison Elizabeth you answer me right now young lady!! That usually worked… << It’s been three hours, I’m coming over. I pounded on her door. I was still holding the umbrella open, even though the roof covered the front porch. It was Sunday - her parents should be home, right? I’d only met her dad a few times, but her mom was sometimes here on the weekends. I kept knocking. There was no answer. << I am downstairs. << I’m not going home until someone opens this door. << I am going to catch a cold in this rain. << Madison… please talk to me Fuck. I kept knocking. No one answered. I went around to the side of the house, holding the umbrella up over my head to shelter myself from the rain. Of course, as I trudged along the grass, my shoes started to soak through. I finally found the window facing the back fence - Madison’s window. I picked up a pebble from the dirt at my feet and threw it at the glass. I heard a light ‘tink’. Lightning cracked and I almost jumped out of my skin. My heart was racing when I tossed the second pebble at the window, and another crack of lightning came as I tossed the third. I don’t know how many rocks I threw, but every time I escalated the size of the rock I was afraid it would smash right through the glass. Finally, I saw a flicker in the window and the curtains were pulled open. Madison. I waved the umbrella and she disappeared from the window. I ran round the house to the front door just as Madison opened it and I pushed myself inside. Madison looked at me blankly, with quiet eyes, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you here?” she asked. “Why aren’t you answering your phone?” I countered. “It’s off.” “Dark Day?” She shrugged. “Why didn’t you call me?” She shrugged again. “I’m supposed to be helping you through these days, you know,” I said softly, trying to steady my anxiety. Honestly, she had scared me… “Nothing to be done.” She turned and walked back up the stairs. I reached for her wrist, but she pulled it back so hard she actually fell backwards onto the staircase. I hesitated, three steps down from where she fell. “Sorry,” I muttered, but she didn’t say anything. She got back to her feet and went up the stairs again. She was wearing pajama pants and that gray zip-up. Her hair wasn’t curled. Was she like this last night? I took off my shoes and followed her up to her room, but by the time I got there, Madison had already crawled back into bed. Great… “Why won’t you talk to me about this? You told me last time.” Last time had been about her mom. Madison would get thoughts that filled her up with bad feelings and poured out all the good ones. “You’re bothering everyone.” “No one cares what you have to say.” “You’re a bad person.” “You can’t do anything right.” One, persisting, constant sentence, sucking the color out of everything. But which one was it this time? I crawled into Madison’s bed. “You know you aren’t bothering me, right?” I reminded her. “I want to help. I like helping.” She didn’t answer. She was facing away from me, at the wall. “Did you do something wrong? Nobody’s perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes.” No response. Not even a shrug, not even a twitch. I didn’t understand… “Madison? Please. I can help.” “No,” she said quietly, harshly, like the drop of a marble on a table. “You can’t.” “Let me try.” Madison returned to silence and I put my back against the headboard. What was the right thing to do? “We can watch a Disney movie? I’ll get you some juice and you can show me one of your nice dresses you keep talking about.” The quiet in the room was deafening. “Do you have other little things you don’t show me? I looked up a lot of stuff online about it, so I was just wondering. I’d love to know more about it. And I can make us some cookies or pick up a Happy Meal from McDonalds. I know they have My Little Pony toys right now, or Avengers ones, I think? It’s not Polly Pocket but—” “Stop.” Her voice was unmistakable, quiet and desperate. She was crying. Damnit… “I’m sorry, I—” “Please just stop, please stop… I cant do this…” I hesitated at another word, at talking again, but I couldn’t sit here and watch her tremble like that. I couldn’t leave her be when I knew she was crying… “I’m going to hug you,” I told her, and did just that. I scooted in next to her, under her blanket, until my body was right up against hers. I set my arm down on top of hers, but her shoulder twitched. She shoved me away, putting a foot of space between us, and almost fell out of the bed. Then I remembered the last time she did that. I remembered something else, too… “Madison,” I muttered, quieter than I think I had ever spoken to anyone. She didn’t answer. I didn’t want her to answer, because I knew the answer already. I didn’t even want to ask. “Madison, are you hurt?”
  19. 5 points
    POST 24 Gloena frowns at Neeka's harsher tones, feeling immensely concerned. Is the pin still hurting her, perhaps. She reaches out and strokes a knuckle down the side of Neeka's face and then turns her gently around so she can examine the jack a little more closely. There's no sign of bruising or swelling, no flinching from the Earthling when she prods the area, so with a sigh of relief, she deems her okay. "Good girl, Neeka," she praises before offering up the remaining wedge of pastry. "Treat? Neeka, treat? Good girl." "What's it like being you, I wonder," Jen mused as sat munching the leftover bits of breakfast. "Do you even have a job? Or is this just your weekend? Ugh, it's insanity to think that you abducted me only 2 days ago. Damn this thing is good - what do you put in your baked goods? I swear I get high from those cookies - I generally avoid mind-altering drugs, but there's no real point in passing on them here, is there? I've got the universe's best designated driver - hell, it doesn't even matter if I trip balls and shit myself, does it?" She looked sourly at Ona, "I've already done that, after all." Dusting crumbs off her hands, she looked to Ona and pointed to the spot on the harness where the alien had previously clipped her Kem scale. She made a low whine in her throat and tried to look pitiful. She'd do what she had to in order to get it back. Gloena reaches out and strokes Neeka's back. She knows what her pet wants, but she's not going to give it back. Not yet. Though Neeka has been doing much better today with listening, and Gloena begins to wonder if perhaps her little pet has an issue getting along with her own kind. "Neeka, lay," she instructs gently but firmly, curious to see if her pet will remember and listen this time. Jen felt her cheeks redden at the command. She had a pretty good idea what Ona wanted, it sounded similar to the humiliating command from before breakfast. What do I do? she wondered. Maybe I should just play dumb, pretend that I don't understand. I don't want to lay down on the ground whenever she says to... Her only frame of reference, however, was Laura - who seemed to enjoy being Blue's pet. And look what it got her - a diet of tasteless gelatin, wandering around naked all the time... Laura might have some freedom of movement, but her quality of life was crap. Kem said she shouldn't resist... but maybe being stupid would get her far enough. She stared up at Ona and cocked her head to one side, raising an eyebrow. Gloena chuckles at her pet's expression. It seems a lot more like selective hearing over actual confusion. but she's too amused to be angry. Instead, she gives the Earthling a gentle push to knock her over onto the mattress. Then Gloena grins and proceeds to tickle her little pet's tummy, at one point grabbing her ankle to tickle her toes, and finding seeral over ticklish spots on the tiny body. "Oh god," Jen cried. "Not the tickling! No!" She squirmed and wiggled, kicking her feet helplessly. "Stop! I'm very ticklish!" She howled with laughter, writhing... and managed to slip away. She sprinted and dove, wiggling under the blankets and hiding under a pillow. Gloena's smile is massive as she plays with Neeka, enjoying her pet's laughter immensely. When the Earthling makes a dash for it and squirms under Gloena's blankets and pillows, she can't help but laugh. Neeka is being so sweet and silly right now, and she's loving it. "Neeka, silly girl," she chuckles as she lifts a pillow out of the way and begins to rub the little bump in her blankets, stroking her pet through the covers. "Does Neeka want a bath?" she inquires. "Bath, Neeka?" "I have no idea what you're saying," Jen called loudly from under the blanket, "but I'm not coming out so you can tickle me!" She really didn't understand what the alien was saying this time, she heard her pet-name a couple of times, but couldn't puzzle out the rest. The previous sound had been very musical, intentionless. Was it laughter? Was she amusing the giant? She wasn't sure she had heard the sound before - if the alien had been laughing, Jen figured she probably hadn't been in a place to hear it. But even she had to admit that hiding under a pillow from a tickling giant blue alien was a little funny. Gloena chuckles again and gives the little bump a nudge before gently peeling the blanket back to stroke down Neeka's spine. "Such a good girl," she purrs. "Neeka come," she instructs gently, laying her palm flat. She knows her pet is aware of this command, and she hopes that the Earthling will listen, she really doesn't want to punish her. Jen smirked at Ona peeking in on her. She had mixed emotions about the praise-word she said. She was being praised for what, exactly? Hiding? Laughing at being tickled? Being playful? But the come command was unmistakable, and Ona wouldn't buy that she didn't understand that one. "Okay, Big O," Jen sighed as she crawled out from under the blanket and sat down in Ona's hand. "What the hell do you have planned for me now?" Gloena smiles at runs a fingernail down Neeka's spine. "Good girl," she praises as she lifts her pet up, bringing her hand level with her shoulder and securing the Eathling's safety tether. "Neeka go for a ride?" she coos. "A ride. Ride, Neeka. Ride," she repeats the word several times in hopes that her pet will grasp the meaning. "Ride." She wants her to know the meaning. Perhaps in time, she'll be as skilled at climbing as Sheshi is, and that's all Gloena will have to say to encourage her up to the perch. "Good girl" Jen felt a shiver go down her spine at Ona's touch... and she felt mad at herself for enjoying it. The blue alien lifted Jen to her shoulder, which she climbed back on to the shoulder pad and felt Ona attach the lead. She listened carefully, hearing the new word-song over and over. Write, she repeated. Wight. Wide. Damn, this one was hard. She couldn't seem to get the trill in the right place. Gloena chuckles, but nods and ruffles Neeka's fur. "Good girl," she praises. Once she's certain that Neeka is properly balanced and settled atop her shoulder, she makes her way back out into the galley where she left Neeka's bath cube. Her pet seems to enjoy the dust and Gloena wants this evening to be nothing but praise. She was warned that the sedatives might greatly reduce Neeka's appetite, so she's not expecting her pet to want to be fed much, but she can still enjoy a bath and a treat, perhaps. Raising her hand back up to her pet, she helps her down and sets her on the table before tapping on the dust bath cube. "Bath," she says slowly. "Bath. Bath. Would Neeka like a bath?" "Why do you want me to play in the sand so often?" Jen asked. "I mean, it feels good, but I'm gonna need a bath at some point, y'know?" Baaath, she repeated, touching the glass cube. This was apparently the word for the dust playtime? It did make her hair feel good, at least. Well, it made all of her feel good and she needed to try what Laura had done in burying herself completely. Gloena smiles and nods. She removes the lid and then lifts her pet up into the cube before sealing it once more. Leaving her pet to her devices, Gloena sets about preparing her pet's evening meal. Gloena herself has already eaten, so it's just Neeka's tummy that needs to be filled. And it's time to start her on her new kibble. Scooping some out of the box, she pours it into Neeka's pet dish. The kibble bits are a compressed mix of meat jerky and dehydrated plant matter. Stuffed full of nutrients in a crunchy pellet, each about as long as one of Neeka's fingers. It should be more flavorful than what Nakil gives Sheshi, Gloena feels no need to put her pet on a strict diet, and she hopes her pet will enjoy it more. Still, as an added incentive to eat it, Gloena chops up a berry into fine slivers to mix in with the pellets, and crushes a cookie bit over the top as well. Neeka will be eating her kibble from now on, so she'll have to get used to it, but Gloena doesn't want it to be seen as a punishment. She sets the bowl aside, still out of Neeka's sight, and turns back to check on the earthling. Jen was glad to have freedom of movement in her arms this time, and buried herself completely in the sand, letting it cover every inch of her at once. She had taken a deep breath before burrowing in and held it, luxuriating in the was the sand seemed to get literally everywhere... except inside the diaper, strangely. She felt like a kid in a ballpit or at the beach, being buried like that, and when her lungs started burning, she burst forth from the dust in a shower of tiny particles, throwing it everywhere and gasping for breath. She couldn't help but laugh, it felt amazing, and it was fun. Gloena smiles brightly as she watches the earthling play in the dust for a few minutes longer before she gently taps on the glass and opens the lid to lift Neeka back out onto the table. Giving her pet another gentle scratch up her spine, Gloena then holds her food bowl aloft, though she doesn't allow the creature to see the contents. "Neeka, food?" she inquires. "Neeka, sit. Neeka, lay," she instructs, wondering if now that she has more of her pet's attention, the word might jog her little memory and encourage her to obey. She suspects that Neeka knows the command and is executing selective hearing for the command. Regardless, the creature won't be eating until she obeys. Jen stared up at the giant, holding the pet food dish above her head and frowned. She heard Ona ask if she wanted to eat. She gave the sit command and Jen complied - one generally sat down to eat, but when she gave the lay command, the woman's eyes narrowed. "Oh no," she grumbled. "I saw how Blue treated Laura. He made her perform for everything. No, you picked up too many bad habits from him. I'm not encouraging this crap." Jen just cocked her head to one side. "I'm stupid, big O. I'm just a dumb squirrel or some shit. I have no fucking clue what you want." Gloena refuses to let up. She's been sure to buy a kibble both healthy and packed with enough flavor to keep even her spoiled pet content, and training Neeka has been easy, getting her to obey those learned commands has been another matter. Deciding one final time to indulge her, Gloena extends her finger to guide Neeka back down. She doubts the earthling will hesitate to obey with Gloena's finger so close to her nose. "Neeka, lay. Lay. Neeka, laaaay. Lay," she says slowly, drilling the word in over and over. Next time, refusal will mean consequences. "Neeka sit. Good girl. Neeka lay." Jen realized the flaw in her plan too late - Ona reached her finger down slowly and her heart started pounding, ready to dodge the incoming blow, but she did what she had done previously and guided her by the nose, drawing forth that deep blush again. Being "trained" this way was incredibly humiliating. She heard the sit command again... Ona wanted her to sit back up, probably just to tell her to lay down again, and she was feeling terribly conflicted. She didn't want to give in, but she didn't think the stupid act was going to work. Ona knew she could learn words in her stupidly complicated language reasonably quickly and lay down, while she didn't think she could say the words, weren't that complicated. But she really didn't want to lay down on command. She wondered if Ona's arm was getting tired. She sat up as commanded, but when the lay down command came again, as expected, she flopped onto her back, flinging her hair out around her in a halo and holding her arms and legs up in the air. "How about this? If I'm cute can I get away with it?" She was ready, however, every muscle tensed and prepared to avoid a punishment strike. She'd flip over if Ona looked like she was going to hit. Gloena bursts out laughing at her pet's antics. "What are you doing, silly Neeka," she coos, reaching out and poking a raised leg, still chuckling with deep amusement. It does spart an idea, however, and Gloena knows that 'play dead' is definitely the next trick she's going to aim for, since Neeka can clearly already go into an adorable pose for it. "Play dead," she says. "Play dead. Good, Neeka, play dead." Still, one command at a time, so she gently pushes Neeka to be laying on her side. Gloena doesn't quite care if the girl obeys lay on her side or tummy. "Lay. Good girl, Neeka. Good girl. Lay." Jen grinned as it seemed to work - Ona's voice made not-word sounds, pleasant music, which Jen was pretty sure was laughter. She didn't resist as Ona nudged her over and she lay on her side, staring up at the blue creature. "There, I'm laying down, does this count? I'm not going to make this easy on you, big O. I will figure out how to make it clear that I'm sentient." Dogs that did math and birds that painted were going to make that much harder, though. She had to figure out how Ona's race defined sentience so she could demonstrate it. Laura had tried communicating through pictures... but then again, the pompous bitch might have just been terrible at drawing. Not that Jen was much better. "What now?" Gloena smiles down at her pet once more and strokes Neeka's spine a few times before finally relinquishing the food bowl. She sets it down on the table a few paces in front of Neeka. "Good girl, Neeka, come eat," she says. She moves her hands away so that Neeka can't possibly feel threatened. "Good girl." Jen looked in at the bowl full of jerky-cereal. "You're kidding, right? You're switching me to dogfood? What about fruits and nuts and all that? What about the grilled steak?" she sighed deeply, taking one of the finger-long bits and crunching on it. It tasted good, at least. Very meaty, but crispy, like a meat-flavored cheeto or something. It was actually pretty good... and some of them tasted like they had cookie dust on it. Sure enough, there were crumbly cookie chunks here and there, which she ate first. She picked through, grabbing those before moving back to the meat-sticks. They tasted really good with the fruit as well. "It needs cheese," she informed Ona, not expecting a response. "But it's a whole hell of a lot better than those squishy pellets and I can eat them without getting gross. So, good enough, I guess?" Gloena had been expecting more of a fuss from her pet, but watching Neeka eat without complaint brings a smile to her face. It seems she's finally getting through to the little creature. Once Neeka has finished her food, Gloena carries her pet back into the bedroom and curls up on her bed, setting the earthling down on the mattress. Neeka has had a very well behaved day and she decides to reward that. She produces the charis scale that her pet loves so much and shows it to Neeka. "Good girl," she praises, but there's a slight warning in her tone. She expects good behavior if Neeka is going to get to keep the scale. She then clips it to her pet's harness before patting the mattress closer to her. "Neeka come, lay down. Sleep time." Jen was overjoyed to get her scale back, and she hugged it close, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Ona laid down on the giant, squishy mattress and beckoned her... Jen shrugged and laid down next to her. "You do realize you could very easily crush me, right? I'm like the size of a Yorkshire to you," she felt a hint of panic grip her as Ona's tail snaked up and coiled around her and she vaguely remembered that happening before. "Well fuck, this is my choice? Held by a snake or sleeping in a cage?" She sighed. "Ever hear the saying, 'damned if you do'? I didn't think so." She shifted as Ona stroked her hair again, settling into the loose but still omnipresent coil of the blue tail. "What the fuck is this life, even?" Ona seemed to fall to sleep very quickly - Jen guessed that giant blue aliens with apparently no job had not much to worry about, so they could drift off easily. Jen wasn't so lucky, she had a long habit of getting lost in her own thoughts instead of sleeping, about cases, about transportation routes and scheduling. And she felt a little sad that those stressors were gone now. It was just her and a giant blue alien. And life as a pet.
  20. 4 points
    I wrote a story for @bbykimmy and she wrote one for me! (Mine is campy and hers is sexy af) Make sure to give all your likes to hers first! Enjoy! --------------------------------------------------- For Kimmy By Sophie It was the summer of 1982. The height of the Cold War had everyone in a panic. Paranoia was as common then as anxiety is now. Causation? Probably. At first, it was just about the bombs. Then spies. Secret code words that activated sleeper agents to dismantle the government from within. In an idiotic fit, we turned to drugs and super powers. LSD. Untested chemical compounds. When we realized they couldn’t alter a developed mind, we turned to infants. Then to pregnant women. Damn the consequences. “The Greater Good” was uttered every few steps. It was a dark time in American history. It was the kind of thing I used to roll my eyes at. Now? Well… My codename is Ladybug. I have a story to tell you. “Who is this girl?” I asked her. Sophie. My girlfriend of two years. She was pulling a party dress on over her head. Twenty-seven years old, and she still dressed like a toddler. “Someone I met online,” she told me. “On the forum.” The forum. Her baby thing. As long as I’d known Sophie, she always had an affinity for childish clothes and mannerisms. She wore diapers to bed every night, “just in case”. It was unnatural, but it was cute. I never thought more about it than that. I never thought it meant something. “Tell me about her,” I asked, folding Sophie’s onesies into her suitcase. Today was the first day of the Little convention. Sophie was dressed to the nines. Nine months old, maybe. “We are basically twins. We’re both into the same stuff. We like the same ice cream. We are both total brats. And she is a writer! Oh my gosh, I have to show you this story she wrote. Actually, we’ve been talking for weeks and she wrote me a story once and…” She went on and on. If I was a dumb girl, I would think Sophie had a crush on her. But I could tell the difference between a big girl crush and a little girl crush. Sophie had wanted a friend like this for so long. “…anyway, I’m so excited to meet her. I had a dream about her the other night, where we played hide and seek. She’s super easy to find.” “What’s her name?” I thought to ask. “Kimmy.” “Well I’m sure she’s adorable.” I packed her some spare diapers in the top of the suitcase and led Sophie to the car, crinkling with every step. It was a long drive to the convention. Thirty six years before this particular convention, two girls were born. Summer of 1982. Their mother had been pumped full of drugs for months. These two children were to be the saviors of America. Two weeks later, the facility was ablaze. Foreign chemicals filled the air. The smell of burning flesh. No one knew the source of the fire. No one knew how eighty-two people had died that day, but two young infants survived. But I knew. I’d done my research. “I planned it all out in my head,” Sophie told me as I curled her hair in our hotel room. The drive had been long and her diaper needed changing. But Sophie wanted to look her best for her friend Kimmy. “I’m gonna run up and hug her super tight and we might fall down, but whatever.” “That sounds like a wonderful plan. Are you talking to her now?” Sophie looked up from her phone. “Yeah. She’s downstairs.” “Nervous?” I asked. She nodded shyly. I kissed her on the forehead. “Don’t be nervous. You’re beautiful.” “But what if she doesn’t like me?” She pouted. Aww… “Well, there are plenty of other Littles in the sea.” “Yeah, but… she’s special…” I didn’t know how right Sophie was. December 1982. A man spoke on the phone as he held an infant girl in his arms. “You found her a place to live?” … “Adoptive parents are better than no parents at all.” … “I’m taking this one as far away as I can. If they ever meet again—” … “I know. Good luck.” The man hung up the phone and held the baby up to his face. “Such a small child, causing so many problems…” He set her down in the small capsule and closed the door. Cold air leaked into the chamber. The baby cried, but soon she would be quiet and still. They thought nine years could keep them apart. “I’ll be back for you when the war is over.” I thought when Sophie met Kimmy, she would hug her. That was the plan, wasn’t it? But she didn’t. She stood there, bewildered. Her eyes were wide. She stared at Kimmy and Kimmy stared back. “Um… anyway,” I said, trying to break the silence. “Aren’t you excited to meet your friend?” Kimmy’s partner asked her charge, playing with the tips of her hair. Kimmy didn’t say anything. Her partner and I exchanged weary glances. “Littles, am I right?” I asked. “Yeah, absolutely.” I stepped in front of Sophie and put my hands on her shoulders. “You okay, bunny?” I whispered. She blinked. She nodded. She blushed. This time, Sophie put out her hand to take Kimmy’s. Kimmy took it. Neither of them had spoken, but they seemed so… at ease. Calm. Then, the storm. Crying babies. Lots of them. All over the room, the Littles had taken to kicking and screaming and begging for their caregivers. But the ratio of Bigs to Littles swayed in their favor. There was so much noise… I took Sophie’s free hand to lead her away. The moment my skin touched hers, I felt fuzzy. The room grew around me. I teetered side to side, forgetting how to stay balanced, and fell flat on my bottom. The shock brought tears to my eyes and I started to wail. I juss wanted someone to help me up… I juss wanted someone to take care of me… I felt the wetness spread across my crotch, through my panties, soaking my pretty blue jeans. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to help it! It wasn’t my responsibility! I wanted my diapers… I sat up so fast I almost pulled out the IV. My head was spinning. Kimmy’s partner - Kachan - was hovering over my bedside in a hospital gown. “What… just…” “You’ve been out of it for a while,” she said forlornly. Like something was wrong. What was wrong? And where was Sophie? “Where am I? What happened?” “I don’t know… the hospital? It’s been almost a day, since…” A blush came over her cheeks. “Since…” I remembered touching Sophie. I remembered the feelings overwhelming me. I remembered feeling so small… so lonely… “Is that what they feel?” she asked me, under her breath. “Where are they?” Kachan nodded toward the television. The news. And there on the screen was my Sophie. She held Kimmy’s hand, talking, smiling, so happy… but the camera caught the clip from a distance. All around them, the city had fallen apart. Buildings levitated in the air. The street was torn open. Grown men and women sat in the grass, sucking their thumbs or crying with huge wet spots on their pants. I… I didn’t understand… “Look how happy they are,” Kachan smiled. Then, her smile faded and she looked me right in the eye. “But Littles can’t have fun forever. Let’s go get them.” I nodded. “Let’s.” The news crews filled the streets. A visible bubble of debris and crying adults filled the air. The police put up barricades, but they couldn’t keep out all the pedestrians. Some pushed their way through, into the bubble, and some hesitated outside it. No one took more than two steps before succumbing to the little feelings and wetting themselves on the spot. Once inside, no one made it out of the bubble. “Let us through,” Kachan said with authority. An officer stood in our way. “Ma’am you can’t go in there. Look at them!” He pointed at the growing crowd of infantile adults playing with their shoes just inside the bubble. “It happens to everyone.” I looked up at Kachan with concern, but she stood so confidently. She had to be there for Kimmy. I had to be there for Sophie. I looked up at the floating buildings, high in the air, casting shadows over the audience. With a deep breath, I steeled myself. Together, with our hands in one another’s, Kachan and I stepped into the bubble. Immediately, the feelings trickled over us, like water on the surface our skin. Warm. Comforting. Begging to draw us in. I had felt this before. The security and calm that came with littleness. The protection. The safety. But I knew the other side of the coin, something I didn’t understand until I last touched Sophie. There was no safety without someone there, holding your hand. Without Kimmy’s hand in Sophie’s, she was a scared, lonely little girl. Without mine in Kachan’s, I was no different. Hand in hand, we walked up to our little girls. They seemed almost entranced with one another. Their mouths moved, but no words came out. They smiled. They laughed. It was like they didn’t see us at all. Like the world around them had vanished. I looked at Kachan. We both nodded. “SOPHIE MADISON!” “KIMBERLY DANIELLE!” The girls’ nearly jumped out of their skin and their hands slipped apart. The buildings overhead started to sag and crash down to the streets below. The adults in soaked clothes stood up with confusion and shame. But nothing compared to the shock and embarrassment on our little girls’ faces. I let go of Kachan and took Sophie’s hand. Kachan took Kimmy’s. “You have been very bad girls,” we each said to our charges, “and it’s time to go home.” Sophie and Kimmy looked at each other with fear and panic. “But!” “No!” “Please!” “We just wanna play!” “We’ll be good!” Puppy dog eyes. Kachan sighed. “I think you’ve had enough playing for one day…” “But maybe,” I smiled, “we can set up a play date for next week.” Sophie’s eyes lit up with joy and hugged me as tight as she could. This was the joy in being a caregiver: the honest happiness I could bring someone else. Someone I loved. [End]
  21. 4 points
    Eighteen. Madison Bell had her ring pop in her mouth for exactly fifteen seconds before she fell asleep on my shoulder. I played with the fluffy ends of her pigtails and listened to her soft, even breathing. That’s what happens when you fill up on sugar, I supposed. The movie ended. I’d have to watch it again, because honestly, I had no idea what was going on. There was a llama that could talk, and some fat guy, and what I assumed was a witch. I didn’t move. I didn’t wake up Madison. I just wanted to let the night settle in around us. I wanted everything and anything to be jealous of how comfortable we were. I wanted it to last a lifetime. I heard the front door open. Damnit. “Jay?” I shuffled out from under Madison’s cheek. She toppled sideways onto my bed and sat up even faster. Even through her half closed eyes, I could see her confusion. I patted the top of her head and whispered, “Lay back down, I’ll be right back.” I shut my bedroom door behind me as quietly as I could. Mom noticed. “Got a boy in there?” she asked. “Madison fell asleep.” “She’s not staying the night, is she?” “No, Mom. I’m taking her home at ten.” “She should drive herself around sometimes.” “She gives me gas money. I don’t mind.” “Don’t be taking too many handouts from that girl.” “I don’t,” I lied. She checked the thermostat even before she took off her work coat. I preempted her question. “I turned it on when I got home for a few minutes to heat the place up. It hasn’t gone back down yet.” “Lucky us,” my mom said, and went off to her room. I snuck back into my bed with the lights out. Madison had taken my advice. I approached the bed so softly, so slowly, so afraid I would wake her up. Each muscle of my body ached as I lowered myself into the sheets beside her. I found a pillow and balled it up under my head, inching closer to the sleeping girl every minute or two. An eternity later, every bit of me was only a pencil’s width from every bit of her. Our knees almost touched, our elbows, our foreheads… I could feel the heat fill up the space between us. This is what I needed: not a heater, but a girl. Madison. I closed my eyes and prayed for the first time since I was a kid. I prayed for time to stop. “I have a problem,” I told Polly. “With Sunshine?” “Uh, yes. With Sunshine.” February had grown very cold very quickly. I was spending weekends at Polly’s again just so I could get some real sleep. Madison and I had been out of touch for a few days - things kept coming up. No Days for her. Snow shoveling for me. Most of my gas money came from shoveling snow, raking leaves, or mowing lawns. Every now and again I’d luck into house-sitting a dog or a cat or a plant. “Was it weird?” Polly asked. “The kid stuff?” “Well. Sort of.” I mean, weird as in: certainly not normal. Not weird as in: I wouldn’t do it again. “But that’s not the problem.” “Okay, then what’s the problem?” “I like her.” Polly turned her head away from the TV and I watched my race car shoot past hers. That was the first time I beat Polly at that game. “You like her? Like her, like her?” “What is this, middle school? Yes. Like her, like her.” Polly turned back to the TV, then back to me. I’d won first place. The victory music was playing. “I mean. Obviously. But. When? How?” “On Monday.” I put the controller down. Polly’s was still firmly in her hands. “Monday?! You waited all week to tell me this?!” “I wasn’t sure.” “But you’re sure now?” she asked. I looked down at the bracelet she made me for Christmas. It had been a month, and still, I hadn’t taken it off. God help me… “Yes, I’m sure.” “Tell me everything!” So I told Polly everything. I told her about the trip to the gas station and about the movie. I told her about her pajamas and the juice bottle. I told her about the way her hair felt in my fingers and how warm she was when we weren’t even touching. I told her about wanting to kiss her. “Am I crazy or something?” I asked, exhausted from the long-winded recount. I felt crazy. “No, you aren’t crazy,” Polly assured me. “Is she crazy?” “Probably, but in a good way.” I fell back on the sofa and covered my head with my arms. Everything felt uncertain and scary. It made me warm in a way I didn’t like feeling. So I admitted: “I don’t know what to do…” “Tell her how you feel?” But even before I could say anything, Polly already amended herself: “No, never mind, that’s a terrible idea.” “How can I like her? She’s so annoying! She acts like a kid half the time and a zombie the other half! I don’t understand anything she does, most of the things she says… is this just a silly crush? Am I just lonely? What the hell?!” “Hey, I called this months ago!” I gave Polly a sour look. Was this real, then? Did I actually like Madison Bell? Ugh, I didn’t even know when I started tolerating her, let alone liking her! This was a disaster… “What are you going to do?” Polly asked. “Nothing,” I sighed. “There’s nothing to do. I’m still missing so many pieces to this puzzle, and maybe… maybe I’m seeing an incomplete picture. Maybe I’m feeling an incomplete feeling.” “Maybe.” But Polly didn’t agree with me at all, that much was clear in her tone. Honestly, I barely agreed with me. “I have to talk to her about this kid stuff,” I said. “I can’t put it together on my own anymore. I need her to help me.” “Do you think she will?” “She has to.” She just has to.
  22. 4 points
    Oh my days, I wish I could make a sitcom of my life. Little Days with Sophie and Pudding. Starring, Chloe! Guest appearance from, Kimmy! *Ladybug walks into the room* "Ugh, what's that smell?!" *all four littles point at each other*
  23. 4 points
    Chapter Ten A six A.M. board meeting was almost unheard of, and yet here they were. The Blue Witch of Apex was addressing them directly, in person. To say he was intimidating would be an understatement. "Last night at eleven p.m.," their CEO was saying, hands behind his back as he walked around the assembled Witches - this was all information they knew, but no one was going to interrupt His Grace, Marcel Dubois, the most powerful Witch in the world. "The Ivory Tower of Winchester collapsed. This is bad for us." He paused, resting his hands on Margot’s shoulders, leaning slightly on his Chief Security Officer. Marcel's skin was alabaster white, his fingernails black, and his eyes the deepest, darkest sapphire blue. In his jet black suit, his figure was striking, powerful. His silver hair was slicked back against his skull, his face deceptively youthful. Margot, by contrast, was dark-skinned with distressingly common brown-colored eyes. All of that was offset by her shock-white hair… which didn’t fit in with the Apex, but no one was going to give her trouble for it, no one would even mention it. "We have several objectives in dealing with this situation, our Q4 goals are going to be disrupted by this - this is okay. One, we need to find any survivors - Witch, Possessed, Familiar, anyone with Winchester ties - and kill them. If they regroup, they could be absorbed by another coven whole, if they scatter then several covens could have access to their magics. Neither of these is acceptable." "Sir," Sebastian, the Chief Financial Officer interjected, "Why not absorb those assets ourselves?" Marcel's eyes narrowed and everyone turned to Sebastian, waiting. "Apex is pure," Marcel countered. "Our line is pure and we don't need the Winchesters muddying it up. We're not the top coven because we whore out our bloodline to anyone who wants to join." "Their wind magic is-" "Trash," Marcel cut him off coldly, "Their wind magic is trash, let it be lost. Let it die. Our first goal is to hunt and kill every last Winchester, wherever they might run. I have gotten word that Elena Romano, their 'Underboss'," he said the word with distaste - his opinion that the "family" structure of the Winchester coven was absurd and stupid was well known, "was not at the Tower that night, and they have many field operatives. Find them and kill them." "Yes sir," Margot answered sharply. "Our second goal - which should be taken into account when executing the first - is to discover the source of the explosion. If the Winchesters were working on a new artifact, I want it. If anyone is going to have the kind of destructive magic that went off last night, it should be Apex. Our third goal is simply to continue with our Q3 objectives - I expect to see progress on the Transformation magic, we've almost got it so that Familiars can accept more powerful souls from the Other Place. We're close. But we have to deal with the Winchester problem first. "Any questions?" No one said a word - if there were questions not one of them was stupid enough to present them to Marcel himself. That's what his underlings were for. The Board filed out, leaving one young woman in an impeccable suit still sitting. Her lips were cherry-red, her eyes nearly as bright blue as Marcel's, and her expression was bland. "Cerise," Marcel said. "Do you have a question?" She blinked slowly at him, thick black lashes sliding down over that brilliant blue and then back up again. Her lips pursed. "I feel," she said seriously, "that you are in error." Her fingertips danced across the tabletop for a moment before dipping down, past the edge of the table and into the bag at her side. There she unerringly reached deep into her pack, her gaze not once leaving Marcel's, and she pulled out a file. "For you. As requested. From the greenies." So much drama. Marcel bared his teeth in a smile. "The prophecy reports are already in? This should be interesting." She didn't smile but, then again, Cerise never did. "They are," she assured him, setting it on the table and sliding it halfway between them. He picked up the file but kept moving forward, stopping at her side and resting a hip on the walnut table edge. "And how is your mother doing?" he asked, smirking. "Still into yoga and tantric chanting?" "She says her hellos and wants me to pass along that your mistress is screwing Sebastian. Or will be screwing Sebastian. You know how it is." Cerise slowly rose and presented her cheek. He kissed it gently. His daughter looked so much like her mother it was still disconcerting some days. "Have a productive day, Father." "I'll need your own Q3 estimates in by the end of the day," he reminded her. "It's August, we're going into the fourth quarter very soon. Don't disappoint me." There was a long pause and she nodded once. "I never do." Then, like a gazelle, she gracefully slipped from the room, leaving the scent of expensive perfume and incense behind. It was true, Cerise never disappointed. She was an exemplar of Apex virtues... as well as those of the Jade Mask. It was an open secret that Cerise was his... the identity of her mother was the real secret. Jana was a Seer in the Jade Mask coven, only a few steps down from the Green Witch herself. He knew their love was wrong, that's why it was secret - Witches didn't mate with each other, they always used humans to carry or sire their offspring. The child of two Witches often came out... wrong. He and Jana were beyond lucky that Cerise was relatively normal. A little emotionally stunted, a little unstable magically, but a brilliant child, and cunning. Just as Jana had seen it. Marcel sat in the chair at the head of the conference table, choosing to read the prophecy reports right there - this was not data he was supposed to have, it could mean war between the Jade Mask and Apex, which would be disastrous for both. But he wouldn't give up his forbidden love for anything... which is why he was especially wary of his Chief Officers. Any one of them could make a move against him, use his love against him... so he kept a tight rein on them. Marcel ruled the Apex coven with an iron fist and was personally responsible for their present day glory. And he didn't like what he read in the report. On a moonless night, the stolen child of the seven winged, the fruits of the labor of the zenith, will bring doom to the house of Blue. The rest of the report was the usual financial predictions, translated into tidy charts by his daughter, but this cryptic message had no figures, no use case... it was a warning. Their Transformation project was going to fail on the new moon. He had to postpone the testing. Shame, he was looking forward to a new Familiar. His own was beautiful, she was obedient and quiet, content to sit and play and look cute until he needed her... but she was a normal, unenhanced Familiar. It seemed a crime that Apex was the forefront of Familiar research and his own was so... plain. He tucked the folder under his arm and strode to his office. He had to hold his calls until he could talk with R&D and postpone the Transformation research - if Jana said it was going to bring doom, he wasn't going to tempt fate - she was rarely wrong, but she hadn't predicted the fall of Winchester Tower either. He needed to set up a meeting with her, something romantic. He needed to make sure his nanny picked up the dry cleaning. Then he had to have his mistress killed. Then perhaps lunch. After that, he had a call with the Mayor to hear the latest on the Winchester investigation from the public side. * * * Aurora stood at the entrance to the Thanatos Funeral Home - the Thanatos coven didn't bother to hide their shame, their necromancy. She looked down at her gloved hands, as obvious in this heat as if she weren't wearing them at all, any Witch would be able to tell she was Deathmarked. And she still hadn't been able to save her Familiar. Sleep had not been kind to Aurora the night before, Mia's mewling and coughs had haunted her dreams. Her precious Little, her beloved Familiar. She had only had the beautiful girl for a few years, it wasn't fair that she had been taken from her so soon. The Witch focused on the memory, the stolen glance in the firelight as she rushed toward the human medical vehicles... a woman, all in black, limping away from the wreckage of Winchester Tower with an unconscious Familiar on her back. She hadn't seen the woman, but Aurora knew every Familiar in the coven - she was very selective regarding who Mia got to play with - and she hadn't ever seen that blonde girl before, she was sure of it. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the tall, heavy door open and stepped into the funeral home's lobby. The Witch at the counter smiled at her, a cruel smile. Her light green hair fell over one eye in an unkempt style and the Deathmark was crawling up her neck and encroaching onto her face. This one had worked with a lot of life energy. "Well hello sister," the smiling Thanatos witch greeted her, beckoning her into the dimly lit room. She sat at a small desk, an array of bones laid before her. "We don't see many Witches in here. Mostly humans come to sell their dead." "I seek an audience with the Black Witch of Thanatos," Aurora thought she'd get straight to the point, sitting in a chair on the other side of the desk. The other Witch grinned her amusement. "And why would Her Grace want to see you? What coven are you here on behalf of?" "I am Anomic," the word stuck in Aurora's throat - the word for a coven-less Witch, an outcast. It was a shameful thing, that she had abandoned the ways of her people. She stripped off her gloves as she spoke, showing her own Deathmark. "Winchester coven is likely no more. The Ivory Tower is gone." "I heard," the Witch's smile was gone. "Her Grace is very concerned. Please sister, come with me. I will see if the Black Witch is taking visitors." She rose, a skeletal mouse scurrying from her lap up to her shoulder, perching there. Its pointed skull looked at her. Aurora hesitated, wondering if she was making the right decision. Maybe it would be better to be Anomic, after all. The Thanatos weren't known to keep Familiars, they made their own pets... and she missed Mia desperately. She wanted another Familiar to fill that hole. But she had information - she could have gone to Apex, but they wouldn't take her now, not with the Deathmark. It would have been worth it if the spell had worked, if Mia had been revived, but now she had nothing. No coven, no Familiar, no hope. No, Thanatos was her best bet. She rose, following the other Witch deeper into the Thanatos sanctum, down a long hall lit not with electric lights, but with candles held in severed human hands. This was their way - death dealers, life takers. Maybe it would be nice, to avoid the politics of the covens altogether... Thanatos lived on the fringe, content to study the magics that were forbidden, the ways of the lifeforce. "I am called Irina," the other Witch offered as she led Aurora down a flight of spiral stairs, to a basement made of rough hewn stone, blocks stacked atop one another like some medieval castle. "I am Aurora," she replied. "Well met, Irina." "Well met, Aurora," Irina echoed, smirking. Aurora knew her name would stand out here, it was a Winchester name, an old one, a proud one. She wouldn't be giving it up regardless. She looked at the tapestries as they walked, a zombie human dusting the old things depicting the Wars long ago. Thanatos had done well in the larger conflicts - the fallen became their troops, after all. The dead were everywhere down here, skeletons and zombies, ghouls and ghasts. Thanatos was a disturbing coven, and Aurora was unsettled as she was offered a chair in an antechamber, two Troll skeletons wielding ancient looking blades flanking the door. "Wait here, sister," Irina said, walking for the guarded door. She turned to Aurora again, pausing. "Were you at the Tower when it fell?" "I was," Aurora said gravely. Irina nodded, slipping through the door. Alone, in this place of death, Aurora waited, her heart aching. Mia should be in her arms right now, purring, pleased just to exist with her. She missed feeding the girl this morning, missed pulling her out of her crib, missed holding her close. The fleeing woman had something to do with the tower collapsing - a Witch-blooded servant from another coven, most likely. War was brewing and Winchester was the first casualty. Aurora wouldn't give in to despair - not while that woman ran free. She wanted vengeance. Her thoughts were interrupted by Irina, tapping her on the shoulder with her Deathmarked hands. Aurora's head snapped up - she hadn't even heard the door open again. "Her Grace, the Black Witch of Thanatos, will see you."
  24. 4 points
    37.) It didn't seem like the kind of place Adele would live, or associate with - from the outside it didn't even look like there was room for an upstairs flat, but after asking at the bar, Bess was pointed to a door in back, barely visible through the smoke of vaping hipsters. A door that opened to a skinny stairwell, more like an attic entry than an upstairs, but at the top of the narrow ascent there was a door and although knocking on the door elicited no response at all, the announcement of who it was that was knocking certainly seemed to cause movement from inside. I checked my phone's GPS at least ten times. We were about half an hour off campus at some low-key bar in the middle of nowhere. The place was crowded, but mellow. Quiet for a bar. I thought I had the wrong place until I asked the bartender. Why was she here of all places? I knocked on the door at the top of the stairs and sighed. "Adele? It's Bess." There was movement, then a long pause. Then movement again, and finally the sound of locks being opened. I cracked the door enough to talk, but didn't let her see me - honestly, I looked awful, with my hair a mess, and wearing jeans and a blouse of all things. "Are you alone?" "Uh. Yeah. And if you try to kidnap me again, let it be known. I already have Marnie and my parents on standby. If I don't text in an hour, they'll call the police." Was that excessive? Probably. But I was taking precautions this time. I wasn't falling for any tricks. "Do you often come to peoples homes and then warn them about kidnapping you?" My tone was dry and humorless, because despite the fact I missed that stupid girl, I'd spent the intervening time trying to convince myself not to. "Listen, I don't have to stay. You don't even have to open the goddamn door. I'm just here to tell you that you're being a fucking baby about this. Look at me. I was the one that got electrocuted and had to shit herself, but I'm still going to school. And you leave your club all alone, that you care so damn much about?" Actually, I didn't give a damn about the Sweet Lolita Club. The whole place could burn down for all I cared. So why was I here? "They'll be fine without me, Bess. So will you. So just... go home, okay? Go back to school and enjoy your best friend. You won, alright? You got what you wanted." I went to push the door closed, but she wedged her foot into the opening to stop me. Ugh. So dramatic.. Ow. "Fuck you, you don't know anything okay!" I was emotional. I wasn't supposed to get emotional. I was angry and I just wanted to yell at her. But... this... wasn't what I expected. Honestly, I'd imagined this scenario every which way. And this didn't even cross my mind. So I removed my foot from the door and shook my head. "Fine. I'll go. 'Cause this is just pathetic. You're pathetic. At least when you were being a total psycho, you actually faced your problems. Now you're just hiding away?" Why did I even come here? And why was I so... disappointed. "I never knew you were so boring." And I walked back down the stairs. "Don't you speak to me that way." I'd opened the door, and stepped out of the little flat, my hand grabbing her shoulder at the top of the stairs and pinning her against the wall. I didn't look my best, no, but something she said sparked something in me and I held her there, hands on her hips. But not forceful... more... playful, like kittens wrestling. "I said don't you speak to me that way, Bessie." I looked up at her, two steps above me, so she towered over me in even more unrealistic proportions. And my stomach... well, it didn't feel bad. It sure didn't. "You look terrible," I told her, pulling myself away from the wall and almost tripping down the stairs. Her hand caught mine at the last second, pulling me back into balance. Welp. That was weird... "I've seen you look worse." I reminded her and held her there.... and then one hand touched her hair, and I scolded her playfully. "Your hair feels like straw - are you still using that awful combination shampoo conditioner I found in your bathroom?" "How are you lecturing me right now? Fuck, you're weird." Whatever it was that was missing since I ran from the Sweet Lolita Clubroom, it had come back. And I knew Adele had something to do with it. "Listen. I know you wanna do your whole Phantom the Opera hide-away-in-a-skeezy-bar side-story bullshit, but... I think like... Kanna sort of needs you? And maybe other people. Probably." "Yes, it's definitely altruism, that's why you're here, right?" It was weird, because I'd had absolute power over her for almost a week, I could do anything I wanted with her, and yet this moment of spontaneous contact, this...unpredictability... my heart was racing. And I could feel that hers was, too. "Hey, I just wanted to come and yell at you. You deserve it." She nodded her head. At least we agreed on that. "So like... get over yourself." Was I saying I wanted Adele back at school? Honestly, the whole campus was probably safer without her. She could have pulled away by now, but she didn't. She talked in one direction, but her body stayed against the wall. "You can come in for half an hour, but then you have to go, or else your little pep squad will get worried about you." I put my finger to her lips and shushed her, then touched her cheek. "I have no power over you but what you give." "I... I really can't. I've got studying to do and stuff..." And to be really honest, I couldn't be alone with Adele. Even now, alone in this staircase, with dozens of people downstairs, I was anxious. I was... scared. I turned and went down two stairs before Adele called after me: "It wasn't supposed to go like that! I got carried away..." I sighed and crossed my arms, looking up at her from the bottom of the steps. "We can talk about it later," I muttered, maybe too quietly for her to hear. "Bring your binky. And sushi," I said back, although she was at the bottom of the stairs and I was at the top, "next time you come over." I didn't know why I thought she'd come back, but it felt like it was okay to give her a direction for when she did, like we had some unwritten dynamic that neither of us really understood. I didn't let her answer, I maintained my authority, and went back into the flat, closing the door. Two goddamn minutes with her and she was already on my nerves again. How did anyone piss me off so... perfectly? ----------- Thank you for reading! Please Like or Comment to show support! We also have a Patreon!
  25. 4 points
    The five of them were all sitting together when Lady Oro arrived to announce dinner. Miyuki was still with that maniacal bitch, Surra, and Rain had been fretting over what Surra was possibly doing to her. The others wouldn't answer when she asked, so she eventually gave up. As the team walked to the only building in the camp, Rocco decided to test their host, who had yet to acknowledge his presence. Lady Oro moved at a rather slow pace, so Rocco positioned himself so that he was walking on front of her. “Hey granny! How do you like this, you old fossil?!” He cried, smacking his butt in front of her over and over. “Yeah, you like that don't you? I bet you haven’t seen this type of action since before the bombs fell.” It was a funny display, but to her amazement, the old woman showed not a single sign that she noticed. She just kept walking, seemingly oblivious. A number of the clan were out in the courtyard watching, some looking angry and insulted, others laughing in amusement. “Kiss my ass, old lady, kiss my ass!” Arax came out of the building to see the scene, instantly breaking into a smile. It was clear that this wasn’t the first time Rocco has done something like this. It was also clear that the rest of the tribe had no trouble in seeing Rocco, evil spirit or not. So it went for the whole walk to dinner. They followed the aged leader, who went right on ignoring the ghoul slapping his ass in front of her. The building was bigger inside than it looked from the outside. They moved to a side room that served as the dining hall. The entire tribe was there, so it was pretty packed. They sat at a large rectangular table. Lady Oro sat at the head, with Miles, Tali, Arax, and Hanno to the left. To her right sat Surra, Miyuki, and Gabe. Rocco sat further down, content to keep a distance between him and Lady Oro. Whatever they were cooking smelled amazing. She wasn’t surprised that the menu consisted mostly of meat, and while the smell alone made her mouth water, she couldn’t help but look at the food suspiciously. The Oro were known cannibals after all. The others dug in without any fuss, but Rain was paralyzed with indecision. The meat that had been put before her looked and smelled delicious, but the idea that she might be eating….someone else, made her sick. “It’s deathclaw, girl.” Lady Oro said, looking amused. “We have a special relationship with the creatures if you hadn’t noticed. Like us, they are tightly knit animals. Living in matriarchal packs. Not to mention how deadly they are.” Arax chuckled, still chewing. “She thinks it's a person. Don't worry so much, kid. That type of game is only for the tribe, and only for special occasions.” “What are you afraid of? The human heart is a delicious organ.” Surra smiled maliciously. “Perfect with the right seasoning.” Rain ignored the comment and focused on her meal. The meat was surprisingly flavorful, and more tender than she would have thought. It did have more of what she called a “radiation aftertaste”. Most food did, but it was stronger in some types of foods. For example, you could hardly taste it in Mirelurk meat or corn. In something like Sugar Bombs, it actually made the cereal taste better. Miles cleared his throat. “Lady Oro, how is your health? You look well.” She laughed ruefully. “I'm old, Miles. I'm alive today, and one day I'll be dead, and my granddaughter will lead the tribe. In the meantime, I know you're not happy to be here, so spare me your false concern.” Geez. So maybe that's where Surra’s fiery attitude came from. “So who leads if Surra dies? Do you have a daughter?” Rain asked before she could help herself. Miyuki winced. That was the first sign of trouble. The air had changed in some unsubtle way. “I hate kids.” Surra said. “I’m not interested in anchoring myself like that. I like my freedom.” Lady Oro shot her granddaughter a dark glare. “You have a responsibility, Surra. You will lead one day and like it or not, you need an heir. I told you the day your mother passed away, you are not free to do whatever you wish. The tribe comes first.” “Well…..I mean it's not for lack of trying.” Arax said smugly. “I mean, she spreads her legs for just about anyone willing.” Surra had leapt onto the table in an instant and before her brother could move, she had delivered a foot to his face. He fell backwards, laying prone for a moment before jumping onto the table himself. He dabbed at the blood coming from his nose, as his face got more and more red. “You dumb bitch!” He slugged her. Right in the face. She responded with another kick to his stomach. A wild smile was on her lips now. The two traded blows for a while. The others from the tribe cheered them on, while their grandmother continued eating impassively. Plates of food were sent flying as the fight continued, but aside from Rocco angrily rolling his eyes when his meal was lost, no one seemed to care. But Arax was fighting a losing battle. Surra was faster and more aggressive. Her blows rained down mercilessly, before an uppercut sent her brother flying off the table. Surra hopped down, still smiling wildly, ready to continue, but Hanno stepped in between them, raising a hand, his eyes pleading for understanding. “Baby bro, I love you to death, but if you don’t move, I'll make you sorry.” When he only shook his head, a softness slowly seemed to appear on her face. She touched his face gently. “Oh, alright. You win. Again.” Hanno smiled happily, that same goofy smile that seemed so infectious. He helped his brother off the floor, who glared at his sister but left well enough alone. “If you two are finished fooling around, maybe we can go ahead and fill our guests in on why we called them here.” Lady Oro said in a bored tone. She didn’t wait for an answer. “People have been disappearing. Slowly, over the last few months, but more are going missing every day.” “Any idea what’s causing it?” Tali asked. “I have suspicions, but I need someone to confirm it. That's why you're here. The beginning of all this seems to coincide with the arrival of a mysterious man known as the Good Priest. He arrived about six months ago and began preaching his strange religion. The number of his followers grew exponentially in a short time. They call themselves the Disciples.” “We don’t involve ourselves in religious fights.” Miles said gently. “You know that.” “We have never forced anyone to believe as we do. This seems more insidious. People who have spent their whole lives with a tribe, just got up and left to follow this man. Some were seen amongst his followers, but many were never seen again. This concerns not only the Oro, but all who look to us for protection.” “Have you sent anyone to check it out? Gabriel asked. “Just out of curiosity.” “We sent two scouts. Only one returned.” Surra said, having gone back to eating. Miyuki still sat close to her, head down meekly. “Would you like to meet him?” Lady Oro asked. “This is something better seen than explained.” They followed the royal family, as Rain called them, down a flight of stairs, into a darkened and narrow hallway. Rain could hear a muffled yelling from further down the hall, echoing endlessly as they approached. Arax pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked a large, heavy looking, steel door. The room was small, and had what looked like couch cushions taped over the walls. A single man was bound inside, his arms trapped in a straitjacket, his mouth taped over several times with duct tape. He had a wild look in his eyes, as he struggled to his feet, still screaming through his gag. Miles looked disgusted, his eyes narrowing. “What is this?” “Why is he gagged?” Rain asked angrily. The man brought back unpleasant memories of her own bondage, so long ago. “He tried to bite off his own tongue, that's why.” Surra said, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed. “Ungag him. Let's hear what he has to say.” Arax cut the tape off and backed away. The scout began speaking as though he had never been impeded. “The Good Priest has the key! Only he can open the gate! The gate that's not a gate! The mist is the darkness, the darkness is the mist…..The Good Priest can open the gate! He has the key. Stay away from the mist!” “That's enough, Arax.” Lady Oro commanded. Arax gagged him again, but he was still trying to speak. Then he got to his feet and began running his head into the padded wall. It took both Arax and Hanno to force him back down. “How long has he been like this?” Miles asked. Lady Oro hesitated briefly. “Two weeks, give or take. This is serious Miles. I need to know if the rumors about this… Good Priest are true, if he really is up to something nefarious. If I sent Surra, there would be a bloodbath and heads would be taken. Since they are a religious group as you pointed out, I need to be sure before I incite violence. Many smaller tribes resent our authority, and I would not give them more reason to do so.” Miles was quiet for a time, his eyes focused on the deranged man bound before him. Finally, he let out a sigh and looked to the leader of the Oro. “Point us in the right direction. We'll leave first thing in the morning.” When they finally left the building, it was dark outside, and Rain was trying to subtly check her diaper for leaks. Tali nudged her and she looked up to see that Lady Oro was looking at her intently, seemingly amused. She blushed before a gnarled hand was extended to her. “Would you mind helping an old woman to her home? Walking gets tougher for me every day it seems. I know you're a…..battle hardened mercenary, surely this would be an easy task for you.” Rain didn’t know why she accepted, but she let the old woman lean on her arm. After a nod of farewell to the others they began walking. Rain knew the old woman was lying. She didn’t need any help getting around, but she was curious as to what she was after. Due to her unique insight, most people were pretty transparent, at least on a surface level. She knew when they felt angry, or scared, or happy. Aside from Rocco, Lady Oro was the only other person she couldn’t get a clear read on. There was a mystery to her, like she was more than what she seemed. A fragile old woman was but a façade that she wanted people to see. “Would it be rude to ask what a young girl like yourself is doing with Miles and his crew?” Ah, so that was it. She was curious too. “They uh….helped me out of a bad situation. After that I just sorta….stuck around. It's good to have a group to travel with.” “Miles was okay with that?” Lady Oro asked. “It’s a dangerous line of work to thrust upon a child.” Rain bit back her irritation. “I'm not a child. I've been trained and blooded just like anyone else. I'm not just some orphaned waste rat.” The words mirrored what Miyuki had called her back then, but she meant it. The old woman's eyes narrowed on her. “Orphan? Were your parents killed in this….bad situation you talked about?” “I….I don’t know. I lost my memory. I don’t remember anything about my childhood, or my parents. Nothing.” “I see. Very interesting. You're a mystery even to yourself. For what it's worth, I hope you find what you're looking for. You remind me of Surra, when she was younger. Tough, maybe not so wild, but certainly strong-willed.” Rain saw Hanno wandering around the camp as they walked. He didn’t seem to know exactly where he was going, nor did it seem like he cared. His eyes wandered vacantly as he shuffled along. Eventually, she saw him head for the front gate. “What about him? Rain asked. “He's…..different.” Lady Oro chuckled, her whole small frame shaking. “Hanno is different. He's suffered for it too. Let’s find a place to sit, and I'll tell you more. My home is close, and I need to rest these old bones.” * They reached the small hut and sat down in the cramped, but comfortable confines. There was little in way of decorations. Some colorful cloth hung from the rafters, and the were a few mementos laying around, but little else. “Would you care for some tea?” “Ummm…..sure. That sounds good.” Rain said, still aware of her perilous diapered state. The pink diapers were comfortable, but they held far less.” “Ah, excellent. You can make it then.” She pointed to the small fire in the center of the tent, before laying out the tea and two cups. “In the meantime, what were we discussing?” She was lying again. She knew what they had been talking about. Rain ignored it as she began stoking the fire. “Hanno. And why he's so weird.” “Ah, yes. Sweet natured Hanno. He was born four and a half minutes after Arax. It became apparent fairly quickly that he was different from other children. Surra was three years older and already wild for her age. Most children played pretty aggressive games, we're an aggressive people. Hanno…..He didn’t like to be touched. He seemed a bit slower as well, not just in the speech department. The other children could tell he was different. He was picked on rather mercilessly.” Rain took a deep breath, inhaling the aroma of the cooking tea. “No one did anything? He's practically royalty right? I can’t see Surra letting someone pick on her little brother.” Lady Oro’s feelings became clear for a moment, and there was a brief moment of sadness in her eyes. “My daughter, Lana, was a huge influence on her children, Surra especially. Lana knew her son was different….She hated that boy, and she made it no secret. He wasnt wild and reckless like Surra, or headstrong like Arax. Surra was young and impressionable, so she hated him too. Even I…..didn't treat him as I should have. He simply didn’t interest me.” “The boy was alone. Except for Arax. I don’t know if it's because they were twins, but Arax saw something more and protected his brother. Later, he would painstakingly train Hanno to defend himself, but it wasn’t easy. Teaching Hanno anything is taxing. They were hardly ever apart, and even though everyone else looked down on him, at least Hanno had his brother.” Rain had served the tea, but she had froze during the tale. She couldn’t imagine a mother hating her own child. Despite being odd, Hanno seemed nice enough, and capable. To face such hatred and contempt for being different. How horrible. “Lana was wounded in battle. Hanno and Arax were about eight if I remember correctly. Surra was eleven. Despite our best efforts, my daughter was dying. There was no hope for her. Such a time of weakness is shunned here, so she was placed in a room with a few attendants to wait for her end. I had been nearly retired when suddenly I needed to lead again, and more importantly, I needed to get Surra ready to lead.” “So she died alone?” Rain asked, drinking more of the tea. It was warm and tasted very good, although she couldn’t put her finger on the flavor. Lady Oro gulped her tea down before continuing. “As new responsibility was thrust on Surra, she had little time to visit her mother. Arax was uncomfortable seeing Lana so weak and avoided her. So in the end she only had Hanno, the child she scorned. That boy stayed with his mother to the very end, despite her curses and her anger. He brought cold rags when she was feverish, brought her food, anything else he could do. I passed by the door once before the end. He was laying next to her. I don’t know what she was saying to him, but he was smiling that silly smile of his, and she was crying. They had finally embraced each other. It's just a shame they didn't have more time." Rain was crying too, but she had turned away to hide it. Her tea had gone cold, and suddenly she wanted out of the tent. She wanted to be in the cool night air, away from all this. She also sorta wanted to give Hanno a hug. Lady Oro continued, her eyes glancing at nothing in particular. “That's when I saw what Arax had seen. Hanno was special, he was more than what I had seen before, be cause i never bothered to look past his flaws." She paused. “Look at this. The tea has gone cold. You should…..you should get some rest, young lady. I worry that tomorrow will be rough for everyone. I am....very tired now." Rain didn't need to be told twice. She thanked her for the tea and made a hasty retreat. She was eager to get back to Tali and the others. She felt her diaper again, grimacing at the wetness she felt on the plastic covering. She was leaking. She stopped at the gate before going to her tent, but Hanno wasn’t there. Once she was back in her own tent, she quickly laid down, grabbing her supplies and one of her regular diapers. After cleaning herself, she put some powder on herself before pulling the diaper up and taping in place. The extra thickness was both reassuring and annoying. She thought about searching for the others, but decided against it. She was tired from the journey and didn’t really feel like talking anymore, regardless of who it was. She fell asleep rather quickly once her head hit the pillow. * The morning came too soon as usual as the team busied themselves with preparations to leave. Rain was checking her weapons, while Tali was checking her medical supplies. She head Gabe outside, regaling some of the tribe with how he lost his eye. This time he claimed a Mirelurk had plucked it out when he was asleep. Miles stopped by, looking eager to leave and they followed him to the gate. Rocco and Happy were already there waiting. Miyuki was there too, looking happy to be leaving. However, Surra and her brothers were there too. Hanno smiled at her and Rain smiled sweetly back. “What's this?” Miles asked. “You're not gonna like it, captain.” Rocco said glumly. They turned as a cackling laugh sounded behind them. Lady Oro had come to see them off. “I told you I couldn’t send Surra on her own, but I never said she wouldn’t accompany you. This is Oro business, of course my grandchildren will go too, if only to ensure our interests.” Miyuki paled at the news. Rain once again spoke without thinking. “You can’t trust her on her own, so we have to babysit her?” Everyone turned to her, including Surra. The look in her eyes chilled Rain’s blood instantly. Surra strolled up, grabbing her hands in an iron grip, before tripping her to the ground. He’s skirt flew up, revealing her diaper. Arax had the decency to turn around, and Tali quickly helped her up. “A little girl in pretty pink diapers should really watch her words don’t you think? Children should be seen rather than heard.” Rain blushed, but couldn’t being herself to say anything, despite her anger. Happy was laughing merrily, from her humiliation or the fact that Surra and her brothers were coming too, she couldn’t say. “Surra, Arax, Hanno. You are to assist Miles and his crew in bringing this trouble to a close. Find this Good Priest and find out his intentions. If he means us harm, kill him.” Gabriel stepped up warily. “If they are coming with us, they need to be able to follow orders.” Arax grunted. Surra gave her best innocent look. “I'll be good….as long as it suites me.” She pulled Miyuki close to her, her hand reaching low and grasping the Asian’s bottom. Miyuki was blushing again, but didn’t fight the contact. Miles stared at the elderly leader, but he knew he had no choice. “Fine. If this man is innocent, just some religious leader, he will not be harmed. It's important that's agreed upon. We've had differences in opinion with employers before.” Lady Oro smiled widely. “We are in agreement. I don’t wish for blood unless it's needed. Surra will be the judge of that.” She paused, staring at Rain again. “Safe travels to you.” With that, their group of nine pulled up their bags and marched out the gate, heading east, where the mysterious Good Priest was supposed to be.