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 Reality Nexus: Broken Mirrors

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Kenzia Lamwald
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Concept: Aquamancer/Soothsayer
Race/Origin: Tuatha de Danaan (Fae)

PostSubject: Reality Nexus: Broken Mirrors   Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:21 pm

INTRODUCTION
I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now? - John Lennon


What if.

Two very powerful words. What if she says yes? What if she says no? What if I lose my job? What if I take the risk? What if I had made a different choice? What if no one had gotten hurt? What if I hadn’t already been in love with someone else? Everyone has those what ifs. But here’s one that most people can laugh off.

What if it’s all real?

The monsters in the night, the things that frighten us? What if they were real? What if the things of myth, legend and fairy tales were true? What if monsters live among us? What if my next door neighbor is descended from angels and the reporter with a nose for trouble is really a werewolf? What if the gorgeous guy in the club really is descended from gods? What if? Two words and suddenly everything is different. Everyone looks different. The girl in the elevator, the man on the corner, who are they really. What are they?

It is, you know. All of it. Vampires and werewolves, fairies and demons. God and fallen angels. All of it. They live beside us, mostly just wanting the same things we do: happy lives, a good job, no one to hunt them down in an angry mob. They look like us mostly. The Dhamphir wear extra heavy sunblock, the Tuatha don’t wear silver jewelry, and the mages ….well, they look like the geeks they often are.

We even have a secret police force. Sanctioned by the government and everything. It’s called the Washington Defensive Corps. They take these Paranormal Americans and train them to police our little community. They hide their agents in special teams within other organizations. The entire alphabet soup: ATF, DEA (you‘d be surprised how many drugs are really magic potions), CIA, NSA, Local LEOs, and the FBI. Even a few in Fish and Game, USDA, the CDC and local heath departments. To keep us from killing the Normals, yes, but more often to keep them from killing us.

Afraid yet? You will be. The more you know, the more real the nightmares. I ought to know. I’m a Program Agent. My nightmares aren’t limited to when I’m asleep.

I hunt nightmares for a living.

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Last edited by Ronnie Dolan on Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:15 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Kenzia Lamwald
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Character sheet
Concept: Aquamancer/Soothsayer
Race/Origin: Tuatha de Danaan (Fae)

PostSubject: PROLOGUE   Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:24 pm

PROLOGUE
The betrayal of trust carries a heavy taboo – Aldrich Ames


It was their anniversary. Sort of. He’d taken her to dinner for the first time three months ago. But he already knew; Jackie was special. Jackie was THE ONE. Not like all those other girls. Tonight he’d surprise her. He’d made arrangements with the landlady to get in to cook her dinner. The sweet old lady was a romantic at heart and had let him borrow her key.

Thomas opened the door and set the groceries on the counter. He put the champagne in the fridge to chill and puttered around the kitchen for a moment before a noise caught his attention. It was coming from her bedroom. Thomas ignored it as he got out the red wine. Reds need to breathe before serving. There it was again.

He walked down the hall to her room and looked through the door that was always slightly open. He saw Jackie in the throes of ecstasy with…someone who was not him. He wore the same face, but it wasn’t him. And then Jackie called out a name. But the name she moaned wasn’t Thomas, it was Stephan.

Stephan, his twin. She knew exactly who she was with. She was making love to his twin. The thought just wouldn’t process for a second. But the second passed, and with it all that was good and worthy in Thomas’s life. All Thomas could feel was rage and betrayal.

He threw the bottle at the tableau in front of him. And the shocked faces blended into one as the mirror shattered

* * * * *

September 14, 2009

The sun, the warmth, and the wide open desert. It should have been perfect. It should have been everything that made life acceptable to her now. Kayleigh Valencia Tos was normally a woman of average height and weight. Currently, she was a coyote. Being a 'thrope was a useful attribute in her daily life. It allowed her to reach places in the desert most humans couldn’t. It’s a particularly useful skill for a photographer that’s known for her images of desert wilderness. Normally she loved to run in her ‘thrope form, but normally she wasn’t running for her life.

She had been shooting out in the desert, and on her way back to her Jeep she had heard him. It had just been a small sound the shifting of stones when there shouldn’t have been any. Then a strange scent reached her on the light breeze. It was the scent of man with a strange accent of sulfur in it. She changed direction suddenly to go check it out, when she heard something strike where she had been only seconds before. It sent chips flying as the dart bounced off the rock, sending small chips flying. Someone was shooting at her!

She veered quickly and ran for her Jeep. It wasn’t that far. The camera that was normally tied to her fore leg had broken off early in the chase, and she hadn’t even slowed down. If anything, she only ran faster. She could go back for it later, if there was a later. Whoever was shooting at her wasn’t just a rancher scaring off an annoying predator. This man was hunting her. And Kayleigh was terrified.

She was getting close; she had to be getting close. Even in her ‘thrope form, her lungs and legs were burning from the strain of running flat out through the rock and scrub brush around her. It grabbed at her fur, and the thorns left her scratched and bleeding. She had to make it to the Jeep. It had a radio. It had her clothes and her pistol. If only she could get to it.

There! She thought in frantic relief. There it is! Suddenly there was a crack and a ricochet and another shower of shards and rock chips. NO! She mentally cried. I’m almost there! With a thought she was woman again, on her feet and sprinting the last couple of feet. She was wrenching her door open in a desperate attempt to get her gun, when she felt something bite sharply into her naked shoulder. She cried out in pain.

Whatever was on the dart was fast acting and was helped along by the rushing of her blood. She was already sliding down the side her Jeep fighting to remain conscious. Not even the adrenaline was helping. She fell to the ground and felt the rocky soil cut into her exposed skin even as her weight pushed the dart further into her shoulder. She heard him approaching and a shadow crossed over her face. With the last of her strength she turned her face and looked into the face of…a shadow.

“Oh, God,” was all she could croak before she lost her fight and the darkness consumed her.

“Hello, Little Kayleigh,” Thomas chuckled softly as he stood over her, his tranquilizer rifle held comfortably down beside him. He slung his rifle over one shoulder, as he bent to pick her up and sling her naked, bleeding body over his other shoulder.

He carried her to the rental car he had parked a few yards away and dumped her into the trunk. He opened the back door and took out a used wine bottle and a gas can. After filling the bottle with the gas, he stuffed a rag he had torn from Kayleigh’s clothes into the mouth. He began whistling a jaunty tune as he coated her Jeep, her clothes, her camera and everything else in the vehicle with the remaining gas from the can. He tossed the empty can into the back. He lit the rag and threw the bottle in just hard enough to break the bottle and sent the Jeep up in an impressive fireball. Since he had removed the VIN tags before tracking her into the desert, it should detain the authorities enough for him to get to the small private airport and get her on the plane.

Hunting this one had been fun. The last one, he had simply grabbed off the street as she came out of the club where she was performing. This was much more satisfying. Kayleigh had tried to live. He wondered if she would fight him when the time came. He hoped so. That would make it more fun.

* * * * *

Somewhere in the Fae Realms

"Are you certain, my love?" A beautiful woman asked her husband.

"I am certain, My Titiania," The Oberon said. "But we must all agree. It cannot be a partial agreement. If any does not agree it will not work."

"This is an extreme measure, Young Oberon." An older man with face that spoke of a secret and adventurous life said gravely.

"He knows, Grandfather. We all know. It will fall hardest on the Knights. I say they should have a voice here. They will actually have to perform the rite itself such powerful magics take their toll. What say you, good knights?" A young woman with an apparent age of no more than twenty-five asked.

"I see no alternative. If we do not do this terrible thing, many more terrible things may occur because she is not strong enough. I do not like it, but I am in agreement. It must be done. Her magic is too rich. Her lines to pure. Her power will find a way around it and it will grow with the challenge," was the opinion of a sun bronzed man in comfortable work-a-day clothes.

"Are you all agreed?" asked a woman who might be mistaken as fluffy if not for the indefinable something in her eyes. This was a woman who bent dangerous men to her will.

"Yes, we are all agreed. None of us are happy, if for no other reason because we will be vulnerable for some days. It will take so much energy to bind so carefully as to leave specific loops in it, it will require concentration and preperation. It will drain us all for several days. Even Your Majesties." A woman with vibrant red hair said.

"And you, Lord Chancellor, You are our trusted friend. Your voice is yours my friend. Speak." The Oberon said.

"It is a terrible risk. It is a deadly risk. I fear for her life. It will take her a long time to recover. More than just a few days. Can it be risked? What happens if we do this and she is lost to us?"

"Your advice and question are valuable to us. As we have seen through the Nexus, many more dangers will come to her. This is only the beginning. And if we do not do this she will certainly be lost, even if she survives this monster hunting our people."

"It will make her very powerful," Said a young man.

"She would rival even us in power when her binding is released," the Oberon agreed

"Is that such a good idea? A mortal with such power?" asked the handsome young man.

"Do not forget, Child, once we were as she is. This was a choice for us. Besides, her line belongs to us. It is your sister's own descendent. She could one day choose to join us here in Faery."

"Or like many others she could choose her mortal life," the Titania said.

The Oberon of the Fae Realms leaned back and looked up at the shimmering representation of the Nexus, the meeting point of all realities, as is sat suspended before them and sighed.

"I put it to a vote. You all know the risks. For Both decisions. It is time to make your voices heard." And the voices of the Complete Court of the Fae Realms rang as they cast their votes for the fate of an unsuspecting young woman.

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Race/Origin: Tuatha de Danaan (Fae)

PostSubject: Chapter 2   Sat Apr 21, 2012 4:08 pm

CHAPTER 1: MEETING THE TEAM
Courage is found in unlikely places. -- J. R. R. Tolkien

September 21, 2009


Darkness.

Silence.

Cold.

Pain. I hurt everywhere.

Enjoyment.

Violation.

Exultation.

Shame.

Punishment.

Grief.

Anger.

Horror.

Satisfaction.

Fear.

Sulfur and Hate.

The sense of another mind, another presence.

Pleasure at my pain, and the glee at forcing himself on me.


Ronnie Dolan sat bolt upright in her bed drenched in cold sweat with the coppery tang of blood in her mouth. Her throat was raw. She wondered if she had been screaming again, or was it just her body remembering the screams in her dream. It was the same old nightmare. “Traumatic Flashbacks” the shrink had called it. Most nights, the memory of the nightmare is enough to send Ronnie scrambling for the bathroom in time to empty her stomach of the night’s dinner. But tonight it was only the cold sweat, the terror, and the shakes. It could have been much worse.
The alarm on the nightstand said four. Too early, Ronnie thought as she untangled herself from the sweat soaked sheets and went to brush her teeth. Too wired to sleep after the nightmare, she looked at herself in the mirror. Auburn hair, gray eyes, freckles and a healthy figure made for an attractive woman, but the permanent bags under her eyes and the pallor of her skin hinted at the demons she carried with her.

Face it, girl, Ronnie thought to her reflection, this is who you are now: damaged and damned. Good thing you’re so good at glamours. Waving her hand before her, she felt the tingle of her magic as it flowed across her skin to hide the pale complexion and the grand tour baggage under her eyes. Anyone who didn’t know would think she was as beautiful as any other Fae woman. Of course, they would also think she had brown hair and blue eyes. Frowning, she dropped the glamour and turned on the shower. She didn’t need to report for her new assignment until 8:30. She should sleep, but experience had taught her that sleep was impossible after the nightmares.

May as well get ready. Or at the very least get clean, Ronnie decided as she turned the shower on as hot as it would go. She stepped into the all but scalding water and scrubbed her skin. Even awake, she could still feel hands ghosting across her skin. It didn’t register that she had scrubbed her skin to the point of bleeding in spots, until she got out and started to dry off.
“Well, if that doesn’t just make my morning even better,” Ronnie groused to herself.

After getting the bleeding to stop and making sure the areas that bled were covered in gauze, Ronnie got dressed and wandered to the kitchen mumbling under her breath about tea and coffee. Not really much of a coffee drinker, preferring tea as her morning routine, Ronnie fumbled with the filter packs she kept in the freezer for just such an occasion. Finally getting the coffee going, she lost some of her tunnel vision. Good thing too, because there was a note on the fridge from her roommate:


Did you get the blood? I’ll need it bad by the end of my next shift.
Did I just miss it?
-A


“Crap.” Grabbing a pen, she scribbled a quick note saying she’d get some blood for Allison on the way home. In other words, just in time for her roommate to make it in for her next shift. “Oh, the joys of rooming with a dhamphir. I ought to be used to it by now,” Ronnie muttered and grumbled to herself. It has not been an auspicious start to her first day at SCI. If only she had known it was going to get worse

* * * * *

Ronnie was not having a good morning. I-85 was a parking lot. Which was nothing new. It had taken thirty minutes to get Igor started. Again, nothing new. She’d stopped for breakfast and gotten egg, when she’s told them not to, and spilled her third cup of coffee in the parking lot. All in all, not an auspicious start to a new job. It was one of those days that you wish you’d spent in bed with a trashy novel.

She had finally made it through security, gotten her building credentials, parking pass, and other annoying, but necessary, bits. It was now 9:30, and she was an hour late. On the upside she could blame security for half an hour of that. You can blame security for anything these days. She was pretty sure this day couldn’t get worse.

Once again, Ronnie was wrong.

First there was the Supervisory Special Agent sent to escort her to her new boss. SSA Amici was a walking libido that exuded sex and masculinity from every pore. It was like frankincense, spicy and alluring. Although what do you expect from a Celestial? He’d had two thoughts about her before he’d mentally dismissed her and went on to think about the case they had just finished and the paperwork he needed to round up. The first thought was: Hottie, nice legs. The second was: I wonder who her ladyship’s daddy is? At least there will be someone to get the coffee.

The Jerk had assumed that she had gotten this assignment because she was Somebody’s daughter and “Daddy” had pulled strings to get her this assignment. All the poor little princess was going to do was cause more work. Grinding her teeth, Ronnie squashed her sudden spike of temper. It still surprised her sometimes how much sharper her own emotions were after tasting someone else’s.

Marc tugged at his collar as though it had suddenly gotten hotter in the elevator. This cooled her down some. To be fair to him, she was “Somebody’s Daughter”. Lord Eamon Brian Seamus Dolan, Keeper of Justice of the American Fae Council, was Ronnie’s father, and he had pulled every single string he could get his hands on. Only he’d been trying to keep her off the SCRT roster. Only Lady Moira, The Keeper of the Law, had been able to convince Ronnie’s father that she was capable, and, more to the point, required to serve the United States. Did he prefer her to join the military? While after that, Lord Eamon had stopped trying to keep her off the SCRT roster, he point blank refused to help her get on the roster. If she couldn’t do it herself, then she had no business doing it at all.

The second thing that proved to Ronnie that the day could get worse was the name on her new boss’s door: SSA Alex Ulfsson.

Alex Ulfsson? Ronnie thought in horror. I have to work for ALEX?!?!?!?! Oh, great. Like this day wasn't bad enough.

"Roadie?" Alex questioned. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm your new agent," Ronnie answered him stiffly. Alex's responding grin made Ronnie want to cringe, but she held it in. His glee was like a searchlight turning on, while pointed directly at your eyes. Bright and painful.

"You're my new Probie?" Alex said. "Oh, goody. Just in time. I need a fresh cuppa."

Ronnie raised her eyebrow, crossed her arms and said nothing.

"Something wrong, Roadie?"

Apart from the SNAFUBAR this day has been from the word go? Ronnie thought as images of being tormented by Alex as children flitted through her head. What she said, however, was, "You need to sign the paperwork first. Until then, I'm not your probie, and you can get your own tea. And why don't you drink coffee?"

"I never developed a taste for the stuff. I never understood how something that smells so good can taste so foul."

"I tend to drink a splash of it with my cream and sugar on bad mornings. I think this is my fourth cup."

"It's only 9:30!" Consternation finally turned off the bright light that was Alex's glee.

"That should tell you something about my morning."

"Okay," Alex began as he waved Ronnie into a seat across from him, "we've got to go through some of this paperwork and info so I can sign off. Let's see what they have to say about you. Good with a pistol, huh? Ronnie with a pistol, that's scary...fantastic scores on your driving instruction...Interrogation training, level three empath helped, I bet...Didn't hurt with advanced deception detection either, but apparently, according to your instructors, can't lie to save your life. Geasa can suck that way. Elemental channel. Nice. Water, fire, air...Evocation, glamours, no thaumaturgy, that's fine...we have Kika for that. Now, when I look at your Psych Eval what am I going to see?" he asked casually.

Throughout his overview of her file, he'd been radiating the warmth of interest and curiosity; it was a soothing, comfortable feeling. But his last question was tainted with the gray edges of worry and concern, and it wasn't necessarily directed towards her.

The silence stretched for a moment as Ronnie decided how to word her answer. Eventually she decided that she couldn't lie, because geasa suck and Alex knew most of it anyway.

"A conditional pass," Ronnie said a brief answer that said as much as it didn't.

"What conditions?" The gray-edged worry was clawing at Ronnie's senses.

"Continued training with Agent Jensen for control of the Empathic power. It went haywire. All my shields and defenses were gone. And seeing Dr. Stavros for counseling, as assignments allow, twice a week."

The gray edges began to fade from Ronnie's vision as Alex visibly reined in his emotions and began erecting his own defenses. Alex looked at Ronnie for a moment. The swirling colors of indecision leaked from behind his shields. Suddenly the colors stopped swirling on the edges of Ronnie’s vision when Alex came to a decision.

"I never really got the whole story. Your twin dying is traumatic, but it doesn't cause traumatic flashes and the utter destruction of your mental shielding. I know you, Ronnie. You've been working on that shielding since your abilities were discovered. You were ten."

Ronnie turned her mental air a deep indigo blue. Only two people knew the answer to that question, and one was dead.

“It’s not a fun story, Alex. I don’t want to tell it.”

“Want really has nothing to do with it at the moment, Ronnie.”

“You know you only call me Ronnie when you want something,” she observed in an attempt to rid herself of the iron tang of his determination to figure out what was wrong with this picture. The man was like a dog with a bone, kind of appropriate that his Fae heritage was part wolf form.

“Veronica.”

“Once I start, do not interrupt me, or I won’t be able to finish.”

“Let me close the door.” Turning word into action Alex stood, closed his door, locked it and touched a knick-knack sitting on his desk. It held a touch-activated privacy ward. “A gift from, Mom.”

Ronnie took a deep breath and began.

“I went looking for her mind. I’ll tell you how the Agent in charge of the investigation found out what happened. It was late, and it was cool in the morgue. I told Momma and Jesse I would go and officially identify Annie. I think it was my way of protecting them. As the Agent and I walked into the morgue, I could have sworn I saw the Medical Examiner squeeze the shoulder of her body and say, ‘Don’t worry. I won’t tell them.’

We walked up to the table, Agent Hayden slightly behind me. I was calm and collected, professional. It was the first time since I had mentally gone looking for Annie that I wasn’t a mass of hysterics and random emotions. I was grateful for the lack of people in the morgue. I think I might have collapsed had anyone else been there to identify their loved ones. Too many emotions. Agent Hayden asked the doctor to pull the sheet back from Annie’s face.

I said, “Yes, that’s my sister.” The doctor began to pull the sheet up gain and I stopped him. Looking a little closer I commented, “I expected her to look like she’d gone fifteen rounds. Why didn’t you expose any of her shoulders or neck? What did he do to her after he killed her? You were very careful.”

At first, he didn’t answer me. I looked up after a few moments. He was staring at me, weighing me. Finally he sighed, glanced at Hayden, who gave a barely perceptible shrug, and asked me a question in return, “Are you sure you want to know, Miss Dolan?”

I told him I didn’t want to know, but I needed to know. He told me there was some post-mortem mutilation, but that he wouldn’t be more specific.

As Agent Hayden and I walked away I asked a question that I knew I wasn’t going to like the answer to, “Is the mutilation what makes this a case for the FBI? Is that why you are here?”

She told me it was part of a specific signature. And then I asked about her lapel pin. It was a replica of George Washington’s 1789 campaign button.

“Yes, a few of us in the office have them.” It was conversation in code for the sake of any camera or listening devices, of course. I knew that pin, only worn when dealing with mixed groups of Normals and Paranormals, identified Agent Hayden as a member of The Washington Defensive Corps.

I asked if it was specific to the paranormal community. She said yes. She was so frustrated and angry that the emotions leaked passed her shields. I asked her to lie to my mother and Jesse. I asked her not to tell them what he’d done to her. I also asked for more information about the killer.

Once again I was on the other end of a measuring stare. It seemed that she would stare at me forever. I knew her answer before she even opened her mouth. She told me no. I knew better than to argue, the subject was closed. I left the morgue, went to the hotel, took a powerful sleeping pill and slept the dreamless sleep of the drugged for several hours.

The next day we met with the FBI, again in my case. Agent Hayden had someone sit down with Jesse and Momma. She talked to me herself. She began with some basics, my name, my address, where I had gone to school, when I had last spoken to Annie. She looked at me for a moment after she had finished the basics as though she was measuring out her thoughts or trying to come to a decision. I remember the spiraling colors of her indecision spun on the edges of my vision.

“You asked me yesterday,” she began when she finally spoke, “to tell you about the man that killed your sister. At the time, I refused. I spoke to the ME about something to make sure it wasn’t my imagination, and then I spoke to my superior. I’ll tell you about this man, but I need you to answer a few questions for me. “

I asked her what questions. She began asking about my reader abilities, saying something about being a Level 3 reader.

“I never realized I’d been tested, but, yes, I’m a reader.”

“You and your sister are twins aren’t you?”

“That isn’t in your file?” I remarked a little snidely.

“I’m asking more for confirmation than information at this point.”

“Yes.”

“Now I want information. Why didn’t you ask what he had done before he had killed her?”

I froze.

“Does it matter?” I whispered horrified that I might have to relive those moments.

“It might. I have a theory. I want to know if I’m right.” A surge of Desperation and despair shot through the room like lightning, but somehow it was tinted with the soft pearly fog of hope.

I drew a deep breath and pulled myself together. I had to answer her. Because after what had been said last night, I knew that who ever had done this to Annie would do it again. And again. And again. I might be able to help stop him. Knowledge is power. There was nothing I wanted more at that moment than the power to get revenge. So I organized my thoughts and began. I told her that I function as a Level 1 reader most of the time and almost never stretch beyond that. I have a hard enough time sorting my emotions from everyone else’s, adding images and experiences to that is more than I want to deal with. Tests are hell.

Agent Hayden nodded but kept silent as I explained I had never really tried much at a level two difficulty; I can get flashes from my parents. I think it has to do with familiarity with the other mind. I functioned on a high level three with Annie. I could find her anywhere. Her mind was never closed to me neither were her emotions. I never built any defenses against her mind. It was never necessary. I discovered how powerful the link was when I mentally went looking for her on prom night to tell her she and Jesse needed to come home because Da was oiling up the shot guns. I found her and Jesse doing what a lot of teenagers do on prom night. And I got a little caught up.

That particular story got Agent Hayden to grin.

“You can imagine, I couldn’t look Jesse in the eye for a week.” Suddenly something occurred to me. “I can’t keep thinking of you as Agent Hayden, what’s your name?”

“Kris.”

“When Annie and I first went to college I asked her permission and then used our link to see if I could find her, see how powerful it was from that distance. Her mind was as open to me there as it was when she was standing in the same room. Does that answer your questions about your theory?”

“Mostly, I know the next questions I ask will be difficult and even painful, but I’m afraid I have to ask them.”

“I know.” I was shaking but her iron control on her emotions was keeping me from going to pieces.

“You say her mind was open to you, were her senses, too?”

“Yes and no. How much do you know about Reader abilities and limits?”

“Almost nothing. The Program has very few Readers.”

“Okay, let me explain a few things then. Because if I don’t you won’t understand why I know some things and not others. Certain sights, smells and sounds trigger deep emotional and mental reactions. Certain things stick with you: seeing a beautiful sunset or hearing a talented singer perform a particular song or the smell of your favorite flower. Because I knew Annie’s mind so well, I could tell what she was hearing, smelling, or seeing. I knew what she was physically feeling because touch is the sense that, more than any other, is tied to emotion and the mind.”

“Okay, with you so far. But why is touch so much closer to the mind?”

“Most of it has to do with what people in general learn, a caress is affectionate, a slap to the face is an insult, a hug is comforting. We learn that and so the body’s nerves are to an extent extensions of the mind. I’m explaining it badly. Okay, start over. I can’t always hear what another person hears because people who can hear naturally learn to filter what they hear from what they actually listen to. They don’t process the sounds they aren’t paying attention to. I can’t always see what’s in front of them because they can shut their eyes and sometimes do to enhance other senses. I can almost always smell because, unless that person has a cold or has plugged their nose, they don’t usually filter that sense they way they do hearing or sight. I mean, you don’t plug your nose to make your sight sharper the way you close your eyes to make your hearing sharper, do you? But all those senses take time to use. Sound and light waves have to travel, smells have to drift. What you feel against your skin is occurring simultaneously.”

“So far so good.”

“Because touch is more immediate, so is the emotional response. Because the response is immediate so is the understanding.”

“Okay, so because of your connection to her, you heard, smelled and saw what she did?” A stab of hope jolted through her as she asked the question. I knew what she was hoping for. I also knew I couldn’t give it.

“No.”

“No?” The disappointment was sharp.

“Like I was trying to explain. You can block certain senses. I think Annie closed her eyes or was blindfolded. I don’t remember any sounds. So either he didn’t say anything or he covered her ears or maybe ear plugs, but I don’t know why. He knew he was going to kill her. I can tell you what he smelled like. I can tell you what he was feeling as he raped my sister,” My voice cracked and I began crying, ”I can tell you what his hands felt like on her skin, but I never saw his face or heard his voice. Nothing that can help you.”

“I never asked the readers in the office, but how do you keep from going insane from everything you feel?”

“I guess it’s like background noise.” I said, pulling myself back together some. “You learn to tune certain things out. But I went looking for Annie. I opened myself up to her and what she was feeling was so strong that I lost myself in it. It was like he was doing all those things to me. If she hadn’t realized what was about to happen and kicked me out, the psychic backlash of being in her mind when she died would have killed me, too.”

Agent Hayden nodded and said that was enough for today, and that she would speak to me tomorrow. Pity oozed across the room like a swamp fog, acrid and bitter. In that moment I learned to hate that emotion.

The next day I spoke to Kris again. We met in the morgue. She said she remembered Readers in the office saying that less people made it easier to control your own emotions. I told her it helped to have less ‘noise’, for lack of a better word. Kris nodded. She did a lot of nodding.

“What do you know about the man that did this?”

“Please understand, Miss Dolan -”

“Ronnie. Please call me Ronnie.” I interrupted

“Ronnie. We don’t know much. We weren’t even called in until now. Your sister was his third victim. The other two deaths were registered in the NCIC and we were looking to see if there were other cases when we got the call about Mrs. Armstrong. We weren’t sure about several things about him until she was killed.”

“Such as?”

“He has a type. Young, dark haired, and so far all have been some form of Fae descent.”

“With only two you weren’t sure if it was a type or a coincidence.”

“Exactly. We learned that it’s Fae types in general and not specifically ‘Thropes . His first two victims were ‘Thropes.”

“Okay. But why choose Annie, I mean she doesn’t exactly scream victim. We were taught evocation from the time we were ten. She could fight back. Trust me, I was her sparring partner.”

“I don’t know. We haven’t figured out how he chooses his victims. He jumps around a lot, too. So far, apart form being a twin, brunette and Fae, we don’t know what it is about these particular women that’s setting him off. If it had been you rather than your sister I’d even tentatively say he was looking for the younger twin, but…

“What do you mean?” I interrupted.

“The previous two victims had been the younger half of the set.”

“And you assume because Annie was the heir, she was the older twin. I see. But, you’d be wrong. I am the older twin. We laughed that we were born in the wrong order. Annie acted more together than I did, but I was older. Two whole minutes.”

Suddenly, I was struggling to breathe. Loneliness crashed down on me as I unconsciously reached for the link to my twin, and found the nothingness instead. I had done it a dozen times a day without realizing I was checking up on her. I hadn’t realized I check on her so often. It was like the feeling of a security blanket when you’re small and afraid, and now I was so very alone and lost. And I can’t honestly say it’s changed all that much in the last three years.”

“Damn,” Alex said quietly when Ronnie finished. “Kris took all evidence of it out of her notes. She never told anyone. It’s not part of the case file. And then he killed her and only you knew.”

“I don’t think what little I knew even helped her.”

“You know better than that Ronnie. Everything helps. Every piece of information gets us closer. Just so you know, I am the lead on that case now. I was brought on the team when I first joined the Program, right after I came home. Then he killed Kris, most of the others left the case for various reasons, eventually it landed in my lap. If you stay here, you’re likely to end up working this case. If I find that you can’t work it. I will pull you off so fast your head will spin.”

* * * * *

“Okay, that’s the last of the forms and paperwork,” Alex said as he signed off on the transfer and duty paperwork, clarifying many things in them along the way. “It’s eleven now, so you have two options. You can take an early lunch, and meet the rest of the team later or you can meet them now and let them take you to lunch.

“You seem awfully sure someone will offer,” Ronnie smiled, glad to be on a more comfortable footing and not talking about Annie and her murder anymore.

“Kika will offer. Kika likes people. Besides she’ll be thrilled to have another girl on the team.”

“Well, I’m not really starving right now anyway.”

“Let’s start with Ty,” Alex said as he stood up, brushing his fingers across the privacy ward.

“Ok, who’s Ty and why are you so incredibly amused at me meeting him?”

“Ty is Marcus Aurelius Amici, and Marc likes women, especially pretty ones like you,” Alex stated with a conviction like granite.

“I see. We met. He’s the celestial that led me through the rabbit warren to get here once I cleared security. He wasn’t impressed. He admired my legs and then dismissed me as a secretary.”

Alex laughed. “Hey, Ty!” He called across the room, mostly empty as the SCRT was a very new and only a few people were even assigned to the fledgling units. “I want you to meet someone.”

“Her Ladyship?” he asked absently, he was extremely uninterested in meeting the person he had already classified and dismissed. He was trying to avoid his paperwork and he needed to pretend to be busy.

“Yep, meet our new probie! Ronnie Dolan. Ronnie, meet Ty. We served on the teams together. Ty, I’ve known Ronnie all her life. Be nice. On second thought, don’t be nice. I’d hate to have to explain to her father that I had to arrest his daughter for murdering one of my agents.” There was that glee again. Ronnie needed more coffee.

“Huh?” Marc’s head shot up in surprise at that statement. Somehow this man made her think of strawberries, chocolate and citrus fruit. “What makes you think she’d kill me for being nice? What makes you think she could?” Bewilderment and glee are not a good mix. It can make you dizzy. And it did not improve Ronnie’s mood.

“One,” Alex began ticking off on his fingers as he went, “when you’re nice to a woman it usually means you want something. And that something is usually in her pants. Two, I taught Ronnie a couple of moves when she went off to college and she got good enough at one or two that she even put me on my butt a couple of times. And three, she’s been training in combat arts since she was ten.”

“It would never get that far anyway,” Ronnie interjected.

“Oh, really? And why not, Princess?” Marc said derisively, annoyed that his male prowess has been dinged by the idea that this puffball would turn him down or kill him.

“Because,” Ronnie said equally annoyed at his contempt of her, her eyes began glowing a ruby red as the temperature dropped suddenly in the room until their breath frosted in front of them, “I’m an aquamancer, among other things, and I could either draw all the water in your body to me and instantly mummify you or I could freeze all the liquid in your lungs. Either way you wouldn’t get very far.”

“You seem awfully sure about that,” Marc retorted with a challenge in his voice.

“I could prove it to you,” she said as she released her hold on the temperature and it normalized, “but I doubt you’d enjoy the experience. Death can be so uncomfortable.”


“Behave, you two,” Alex interjected before it got any farther. An odd spike of satisfaction coated with concern flicked off Alex. “Don’t bait her, Ty. She’s never been one to back down from a challenge.”

“By the way, why do you call him Ty if his name is Marcus?”

“Old habit,” Alex shrugged, “his call sign on the teams was Titan, so I’m just used to calling him Ty. Kika and Mac both call him Marc.”

“Okayfine, Marc it is.”

“Okay, Roadie,” Alex said, recognizing Ronnie’s desire to walk away from Marc, “Let’s move on. Don’t forget I need your report by two, Ty. I’m tired of getting chewed out because you can’t be bothered to do your paperwork on time. Read me?”

“Yeah, yeah, five by five,” Marc waved away his growling.

“Two o’clock! C’mon, Roadie. As low man on the totem pole, probie, and all around noob –“

“Noob? Seriously? Are you trying to sound like a forty-something trying to be cool or are you just trying to be funny?”

“I’m amused. Anyway as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, as an FNG (since you object to the term noob), you will sit here and act as our small office’s admin-slash-secretary. I want to see you in some workouts and evals of my own before I put you in the field. Your father would kill me. And I don’t even want to think about what your mother would do. Or mine, now that I think about it.”

“Fine. Let me ditch my stuff,” Ronnie said. She put her purse neatly in her desk and secured her work area taking the small key with her. Having a firearm had made her slightly paranoid about security in personal spaces. Well, firearms and Annie. “Also, I need to know where two places are before we go any farther in this tour.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“The ladies room and the coffee pot. One is immediately necessary, the other is not.”

“Need the Ladies?” Alex asked, intending to give her a hard time. His mischief fizzed in Ronnie’s brain like coke.

“No,” Ronnie said as she tossed her empty take away cup in the trash, “I need more coffee. Knowing where the ladies room is located is academic at the moment.”

Disappointment had never tasted sweeter. Usually it was bitter and harsh, but thwarting Alex’s jokes had been too much fun. What made it even better was the comic way his face fell when she thwarted his “big-brother-you-never-wanted” syndrome.

“Coffee pot’s over there,” he grumbled good naturedly as he led her over. “We keep mugs for visitors, but I’d suggest bringing your own and keeping it at your desk.”

“Check,” Ronnie said as she grabbed a mug and doctored the cup of liquid caffeine.

“Right. Kika’s lab is right there,” Alex said indicating the door across from the coffee station marked Lab. Alex opened the door and Ronnie looked around. Personally maintained rooms are often an indicator of the personality of the keeper. It was meticulously organized and labeled. It smelled faintly of some cleaner guaranteed to leave no residue, have no streaks, and not harm the environment.

“Kika?” Alex said to the back of a woman in a white lab coat. All Ronnie could see was the shapeless coat, and masses of dark hair carefully trained into a neat bun. Ronnie felt the iron hard determination that lay at the core of this woman’s soul, over it laid a shimmering layer of concentration. Kika was in “the zone”, but something spicy like saffron and curry hung in the air around her.

“Busy, Alex. Go away,” came the reply. She didn’t even look up from the microscope.

“Alright, but I brought the new girl for you to meet,” Alex said teasingly stressing the word girl and pretending to shut the door.

“I told you to go away, not her.” The response came with the sweet tang of mango and hot peppers.

“I never win against you,” Alex whined. He left quickly, leaving Ronnie leaning against the counter watching the woman.

“Is he gone?” She asked still not looking up from her work.

“Yes, although he’s listening at the door to see what you say about him, because he’s just that insecure and childish.”

A muffled, but indignant, “I am not!” came through the door. Ronnie opened the door to see Alex leaning against the wall next to the door, she raised an eyebrow and just gave him a look.

“What?” He said in a defensive attempt at innocence. “I’m just waiting for you.”


“No, you’re eavesdropping. You can wait for me somewhere else. I know for a fact two things. One, you are dying to snoop and you just can’t help yourself. Two, Marc is done with his paperwork and you now have work to do.”

“How do you know he’s done, you aren’t a mind reader.”

“No. I’m an empath and he’s feeling way too triumphant and carefree. People with paperwork always have a little niggling feeling with them. It tickles.”

No sooner had Ronnie finished her statement then Marc walked up with a coffee cup and a stack of paper.


“There. Complete, detailed, brain numbing reports in triplicate, signed, DNA sample, my first born child and so on. Don’t say I never gave you anything.” He snarked as he dropped the offending stack of paper in Alex’s hand. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and walked away whistling.

“Go away and do your paperwork, Alex. You’re distracting.”

“You know you love me.”

“I also know your mother’s phone number.”

“I’m going. I’m going.” Alex said as he held up his hands in surrender. And he suited word to action and went to his office.

“Is that how you do it?” came the slightly accented of Kika from across the room. “I’m Laukika Apsaras. Call me Kika. I do the crime scene bit. Mostly I do secondary testing. The stuff the original CSIs is good, but dealing with our kind we can do a certain amount of extra testing things that look like contamination can just be magic or certain DNA markers normally associated with harmless mutation are really indicators of someone’s paranormal heritage. I’m part of a project to find markers that specify what paranormal race and sub-race a person is. I do a bit of thaumaturgy, but not a lot.” She crossed the lab and shook hands with Ronnie.

“Nice to meet you.”

“So how does that work? Just threaten him with his mom?”

“Sorry. It won’t work for you.”

“Why not?”

“Fae Politics, and you just don’t have the flavor of a Fae.”

“Flavor?”

“Yeah. I’m a reader. But I’m an empathic reader and read mostly the emotions people don’t bother to control. Every paranormal group has a particular kind of flavor or texture to all their emotions. Those that are hopelessly intermixed just taste like plain vanilla humans. I’ve never tasted someone like you before. And because of the aforementioned Fae politics, I have met someone from every possible group and sub-group of Fae.”

“Really?” Kika asked. Her curiosity was obvious and exciting, like eating a new food for the first time and loving it. “You could identify each person’s grouping by their emotions?”

“Mostly. It only really works if they know it. I have a friend who has no idea what his heritage is. He feels 100% human.”

“Hmm…..” Kika had that clear white light feeling of a scientist looking for an answer just to have it. “So what do I ‘taste’ like?”

“Exotic spices, like saffron and turmeric, and tropical fruits.”

“What does Alex taste like?”

“Alex is a hybrid so he has a couple different things. When he’s tapping his Aesir side, it’s salty and metallic. And shiny, all celestial groups I’ve met are shiny. Just like all infernal groups have a matte coloration. --” At this point Kika was furiously scribbling notes. Her mind was a swirl of rainbow colors like a fireworks display and Ronnie realized that what had been throwing her off in her understanding of this woman. She glowed. “You’re a Deva.”

“Yes, so do I shine?”

“Yes, you glow. I didn’t notice because some emotions and mental process have the same effect as being one group or another. Discovery or focus makes everyone glow or shimmer to some extent. Just like depressed people have the grainy matte film that infernals have. “

“Could you give me a list of traits and which groups they belong to? It would be interesting to see if I can identify the traits that make a person identifiable to both scientists and psychics –“

“Can I have lunch first?”

Kika threw back her head and laughed. It was a rich sound and made Ronnie see rose petals swirling and dancing around on an invisible wind. “I needed that. Thanks. I’ll buy, where do want to go?”

“I’m not sure what’s in this area of town. But I need something with plenty of long lasting protein energy. I’ll trust you.”

“I know a great place. You won’t be sorry. Alright, have you met our ME yet? If not, have Alex take you to meet him and then we feast. Alex and Marc can fend for themselves. They always leave me to fend for myself. It’s nice to take a small amount of petty revenge.”

“Ok I’ll go rescue Alex and meet the ME.” Ronnie smiled. It wasn’t as difficult as it might have been. Laughter and lightness can be as infectious as any disease. Life and laughter have a special kind of magic. They create hope, that most magical of all things in life.

Ronnie left the lab and walked the few feet to Alex’s office. His door was open. So she walked right in.

“I’ve come to rescue you from the dreaded paperwork you detest so much.”

“Bless you, child,” he said with overly fervent relief.

“By the way, I know that with this door open you could hear.”

For one moment he looked as though he was going to attempt an innocent façade. He decided better of it and shrugged. “I can’t help it.”

“You could have closed the door. You could have still eavesdropped without being so obvious.”

“It’s only obvious to you, Roadie.”

“Let me guess. No one knows what the Fae half of your heritage is?”

“Not true!” he defended. “Ty knows and Mac knows.”

“Who’s Mac?”

“Our M.E., the person you were coming to get me to introduce you to.”

“Introduce away, Lord Alexander.”

“Careful, Lady Veronica.”

“No one here knows how the council works do they?”

“Above their pay grade” Alex shrugged as he got up. “And honestly they don’t want to know. Saying politics to Ty is going to get a very unhappy reaction. Kika is a scientist. It doesn’t affect her research, so she doesn’t care. And Mac…well, has his own issues.”

The SCRT office wasn’t big. It was essentially four or five desks, Alex’s office, a short hallway with a small alcove on the right and three doors. One door was marked Lab, one was marked Autopsy, and one wasn’t marked at all. Ronnie made a mental note to ask Alex about that door later.

Autopsy was a cool, clean, well-lit room, all white tile and gleaming stainless steel. It was alarmingly impersonal. The sterility of the lab had somehow still had Kika’s emotional finger prints on it. This room was…uninhabited. It struck Ronnie as odd and somehow, very wrong. It had the typical wall of refrigerated units for maintaining corpses to be autopsied, as well as two autopsy tables, a counter that obviously doubled as desk of some type, a lightbox and other medical gizmos. And yet, it was totally unused and inhumanly untouched.

“Hey, Mac?” Alex called as soon as they walked in. “I want you to meet the poor girl replacing you as new guy!” A muffled and unidentifiable response came out of the depths of room of filing cabinets whose door was on the far side of the room.

“He’s new, too?”

“Yeah, he’s been here about a week. He’s worked in the local branches of the Program, but I poached him when we started setting up teams. He’s a Mageborn with a really rare skill.”

“What’s so rare that you’d poach him?”

“Necroscopy.”

“Huh?”

“He can …see? I guess that’s the best word... through the eyes of the person on his table. It’s creepy. He’s also a fully trained medico though, so he can do all the forensic cutting, too. Plus he’s cross trained as a field medic, so score one for us.”

“Hm,” Ronnie murmured vaguely as she walked to the counter/desk thing against the wall. There were small pinpoints of personality: a paperweight here, a pencil cup that had started out life as a coffee mug over there, but most obvious was the almost obsessive level of organization. Everything was necessary to work and this was obviously just where notes were taken or files maintained. The battered knickknacks and handle less mug spoke of someone who never threw anything away. There was probably a desk, somewhere else. It was probably covered in junk, too.

“Ronnie?” Alex called her attention away from the desk to its owner, who was coming out of the file room. “I’d like you to meet Mac.”

As Ronnie turned she froze. Her fingers went numb and her coffee cup slipped out of her fingers and fell to the floor. It shattered in a spray of hit coffee and ceramic shards. She just stared him. She knew his name. Dr. Jason MacKenzie.

“I…”

“How are you, Ronnie?” He asked. He was truly interested, truly concerned. He’d been that way before when she’s seen him squeeze her sister’s dead shoulder and promise not to tell. He had calmly walked up and collected her coffee cup and was blotting the spilled coffee as Ronnie did her fish impression.

“I…”

“You’ve met?” Alex asked in confusion and concern which wasn’t helping Ronnie’s equilibrium. His confusion made sense. She was raised for life in the Fae Council and schools of sharks took copius notes from that particular body.

“I was on loan to the local branch in Pennsylvania the summer of 2006.” Mac said diplomatically.

“What does that…oh.” You could almost feel the world come to a screeching halt when he realized what Mac had meant.

“How have you been, Dr MacKenzie?” Ronnie finally managed to croak out. She had managed to get some semblance of control when Alex stopped being confused. He had a strong mind and, when unguarded, a strong mind is very distracting to a reader.

“I’m alright at the moment. I imagine that won’t necessarily last considering the cases we’re likely to get. But I’ve dealt with them before.”

“Yes, you have. Alex said that you’re a Necroscope. Is that why you promised Annie you wouldn’t tell?”

“Yes.” Mac said simply. Ronnie could tell he was uncomfortable with her questioning. It felt like wool on her skin, just a little itchy.

“What didn’t she want us to know?”

“I find out intensely personal things in the course of an autopsy,” Mac hedged. “I don’t put things that aren’t medically or legally pertinent in the files. But if it is pertinent and painful to survivors I simply don’t tell them.”

“Is it…I mean do you….”

“Just Ask.” He laughed.

“Do you live it, or is it more like watching a movie?” Ronnie’s heart twisted over this question. She hated the idea that this kind man, who had treated her sister with such kindness and respect, had lived through it like she had.

“Something in the middle. I don’t live it directly, It’s more like being in virtual reality or one of those first person shooter games. I am…piggybacking I guess is a good term. I cannot sense emotions. I can hear their thoughts. I can see what happened to them through their eyes like watching a movie.”

Relief flooded Ronnie. He’d not felt the violation. Then another thought occurred to her.

“Did you hear me?”

“Only when you first arrived, after that you disappeared until she kicked you out.”

“I have a problem,” Alex interrupted.

“You have a problem?” Ronnie asked a little hysterically.

“I need to know that you can handle this. You’re a probationary agent with a conditional pass on a psych eval. This will add more stress to you. Can you deal with it?” Alex asked a little brutally. He’d been hopeful that she would work out, but this reminder of what she had told him might be too much.

Can I live and work every day with a reminder that I survived being raped, and brutalized? That’s the question he’s really asking. Am I tough enough? Ronnie reflected to herself. She looked at Mac. He and his morgue had been an oasis of calm and safety in those first few days. His face was impassive and all she got from his mind were tropical bays with untouched beaches and …sea shanties? Suddenly she let out a laugh.

“Yo ho! Yo Ho! A pirate’s life for me.” She sang as she smiled wanly at Mac. I am Lady Síle Veronica Cassandra Dolan, Heir to Keeper of Justice of The American Fae Council. I may be damned and I may be damaged, but I am not broken. Besides, it’s not Mac’s fault he reminds me of… that.

“I wasn’t sure it would work!” Mac laughed in response.

“How did I get lost again?” Alex groused quietly to himself. “I guessing that means yes.”

“Yeah,” Ronnie nodded as she gathered even more strands of her dignity together, “We’re good. I worked hard, and worked against Da to get this slot. I’m not going to give up so easily.”

“Good, I didn’t want to have to explain to the director why you weren’t going to work out.”

“Be honest. You didn’t want to explain to your mother.”

“That either.”

“Why does his mother frighten him?” Mac asked in genuine curiosity.

“She doesn’t frighten him. He just has an incredibly healthy amount of respect for the damage he can do to his personage. She’s an incredibly powerful woman, both magically and politically. I don’t like explaining things to my Da for much the same reasons. And my mother is worse.”

“If we’re done dissecting me, I believe Kika invited you to lunch.”

“Yeah, I believe the word feast was part of the invitation and that you and that walking hormone in the office were on your own.”

“Roadie….”

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Just be nice.”

“Fine. Mac, do you want anything while Kika and I are out?”

“I’m fine. I brought my lunch.”

“See you later,” Ronnie tossed over her shoulder as she left.

“So, Mac,” Alex began, “what was it you were doing?”

“I was focusing on Caribbean Islands and relaxing beaches. It reminded me that I was going to watch Pirates of the Caribbean tonight.”

“Explains the sea shanty. By the way, what weren’t you supposed to tell Ronnie and family?”

“Mrs. Armstrong was pregnant,” Mac sighed. He’d wanted to cry remembering that. What broke his heart was the fact that after Annie pushed her sister out of her mind she had only enough time to be grateful she hadn’t told her husband about the baby yet. “It’s in the file, but I didn’t do more than mark the boxes. No pomp, and most people read over it.”

“This just gets better and better,” Alex groaned, feeling about 100 years older than he really was. “Did the files get transferred?”

“Yes, all the original reports and evidence. Kika and I are looking over it. We also got the evidence from Arizona and Nebraska.”

“Funeral is today. They’ll bury her next to her sister. No other kids.”Alex shook his head in helpless sympathy for the girls’ parents. No one should have to bury a child, much less two.

“She worried for her mother at the end. She was afraid it would kill her,” Mac sighed.

“Jesus,” Alex whispered under his breath. He had been raised in the kind of household that was in church every time the doors were open, partly because his dad had been the preacher. His whisper was half swear and half prayer. It was hard sometimes for him to tell where his family’s lifestyle left off and his own faith began.

* * * * *

“So….?” Came Ally’s voice the minute Ronnie made it up the stairs.

“So what?”

“What do you mean ‘SO WHAT’? You’ve worked hard to get this job, even going against your dad. So how was your first day?” Ally said in exasperation. She recognized the bag Ronnie was carrying as being from the local butcher, who was very nice and never made comments about his customers’ orders. She took it from Ronnie and poured herself a mug of blood.

“Let’s see. I woke up at an ungodly hour after another nightmare. Between traffic, Igor and trying to get my credentials I was late for work. But that’s ok because I was met by a walking hormone who dismissed me immediately, found out my boss is Alex Ulfsson, and discovered I’m going to be working with the ME that did Annie’s autopsy. Then I had lunch. Sleep well?”

As soon as she had heard the name “Alex Ulfsson” Allison Rebecca Wilson climbed onto the counter to reach that cabinet over the sink that only NBA players can reach without a step stool, grabbed the Jameson and began assembling the ingredients for a whiskey sour. She quickly blended the drink and handed it to Ronnie.

“All that before lunch? Now, I feel even more guilty about sleeping in.”

“So glad I can help. Thanks, by the way.” Ronnie said and waved the glass she was holding in her roommate’s direction.

“You sounded like you could use it. Slaínte.”

“Isn’t that how I’m supposed to toast? Aren’t you supposed to say something like, I don’t know ‘Cheers’?” Ronnie asked after kicking off her shoes and dropping into the ridiculously comfortable chair-and-a-half in the living room. And thanks to Ronnie’s generous father, the girls had a very nice flat screen over the fireplace that was showing the weather.

“Racist,” Ally joked. Ally was as white as Ronnie, with dark hair and full smiling lips. “I can toast in Irish and stopping me makes you a racist.”

Ronnie snorted in her drink and leaned her head back as the alcohol started to pool in her lower abdomen, releasing the tensions of a truly horrendous day. “Did she really say something to you about being elitist? Surely, your boss isn’t that stupid. I mean if anyone would know about having people misunderstand you it’d be a living vampire.”

“She really said it. I just let it go. Statements like that only go to prove how ignorant and narrow minded people are, particularly when there is real racism in the world.”

“So you have your blood. I have a drink. And I’m very tempted to go to bed without dinner.”

“Don’t. Eat the leftovers. I think there’s Chinese in the fridge.”

“Which should go perfect with my Irish whiskey. You on third tour?”

“Yep. Eleven to seven. Vampire hours.”

“Stop. I’m too tired and if you get me laughing I might be forced to snort.”

“Oohh…A challenge.”

“No. A plea for mercy.”

“Alright, but you are officially no fun. Will you make it upstairs?”

“Yeah, I just need to get the food. I’ll eat in the loft. Read a book and go to bed early.”

“Take a pill.”

“I hate the pills,” Ronnie whined at her friend.

“Let me put it this way: which do you hate worse? The pills or the nightmares?”

“Cheater.”

“I’ve got to hit the library before my shift. See you later, dearest.”

“Night. See you tomorrow. Good luck with the paper.”

Ronnie sat there for a few minutes leaning her head back against the cushion as she let go of the day. She stood quietly put her empty drink in the dishwasher, reheated the leftovers from the fridge and climbed the stairs. She hit play on the stereo and Gershwin started filtering through the speakers. She sat down and balanced the leftovers on her lap as she looked at the pictures on the bookshelves. The Loft was hers, and she paid the lion’s share of the rent after all. So she had made it her escape. Her music – an eclectic mix of everything from Audio Adrenaline to Wagner, her books – Agatha Christie sat cheek by jowl with Anatomy textbooks and paperback classics, and framed photos of her family filled the flat pack bookshelves. It was her. All jumbled and unique. The chair was perfect for curling up with a book and a big bowl of popcorn.

“I wish I could talk to you, Annie. It’s so hard to remember I can’t pick up the phone and call and tell you about my day.” She started eating. She waved her fork at the picture of the two girls together smiling and happy in their high school cap and gowns. “You’d have laughed so hard today. Particularly when I met SSA Amici….”

The conversation went on. Ronnie talked to Annie while she ate her dinner and the loneliness was held at bay just a little longer.

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Kenzia Lamwald
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Posts : 382
Join date : 2009-12-30
Age : 36
Location : Covington, GA

Character sheet
Concept: Aquamancer/Soothsayer
Race/Origin: Tuatha de Danaan (Fae)

PostSubject: Re: Reality Nexus: Broken Mirrors   Sat Jul 28, 2012 11:34 am

CHAPTER 2: THE SLOW PATH
THE BEST WAY TO FIND OUT IF YOU CAN TRUST SOMEBODY IS TO TRUST THEM. -- ERNEST HEMINGWAY
October 5, 2009

“Good morning, Roadie. Guess what today is!”

Oh good, more painfully bright glee from the Peter Pan wannabe. More torture this morning? Coffee it is then…was all Ronnie could think in response to the open-ended statement from Alex. It was a dangerous, dangerous statement from him and could mean anything -- from more errands endlessly run, to spending all day at the firing range, proving that she could shoot the paper target no matter how many he put in front of her. In all fairness, though, the firing range thing had stopped after she’d put Alex’s face on one of the targets and mutilated the lower anatomy. He’d gotten the point. Alex in the mood to be playful usually resulted in Ronnie throwing up illusions and running away for dear sanity while Alex was distracted.

“I don’t know, Alex, Monday?”

“Well, yes, but no.”

“8:45 on a Monday morning is no time for riddles.”

“I think it’s the perfect time for riddles!”

“Alexander,” Ronnie asked in consternation, “are you high?”

Now, while this was not an unusual scene between the two old…frenemies, it would have horrified those that were actually in the FBI. Luckily for Alex and Ronnie, the SCRT were only nominally under the auspices of that venerated organization. Special Circumstance Response Teams, in reality, were answerable only to the Head of the Washington Defensive Corps and the President. In the flow of alphabet soup, Corps teams were everywhere, from the all Paranormal SEAL team Alex and Marc had served on (NTWS happens everywhere), to the individually talented people that were set up in health departments and DMVs. In recent years, hiding the teams had become easier. They were all reorganized under Homeland Security, and then teams and such were “loaned” to other agencies. Some people said that the WDC had simply changed its name and started doing its job a little more openly. In the Law Enforcement sector, they were right to some extent. It had become much easier to keep other agencies from thinking that the WDC agents belonged to them. It was now much more clearly understood that they were “on loan” and carried the badge of that agency for simplicity’s sake.

“What’s wrong with you this morning?” Alex asked, a little damped by her use of his full first name.

“Every time you say things like that, I remember you pulling my hair, pushing me in the pond and otherwise just being a bully.”

“That was fifteen years ago! I thought we were over this.”

“We are, but I still remember the tone of voice you used, and it makes me nervous. Every time you use it, I just know it’s not going to turn out well for me.”

“Enh, fair enough. Today, I introduce you to the Danger Room,” Alex announced with a broad grin and a “ta-da” gesture, as he held up a sign for the previously unmarked door in the hall.

Ronnie spit her coffee all over him.

“Danger Room??????” Ronnie cackled. “I’d forgotten what a Marvel geek you were! Who are you, Professor X???” Ronnie was all but rolling on the floor laughing. Alex’s response was to huff.

“What in the world is wrong with you, Princess?” came the unconsciously arrogant voice of Marc as he walked over to see what all the commotion was about.

“He’s named something the DANGER ROOM!!! I’d suppressed the fact he was a huge X-Men fan,” Ronnie managed as her laughter subsided into giggles. To be fair, she’d had a bit of a shock and Alex did look pretty funny with coffee all over his face and his arms crossed like a seven-year-old in a pout.

“Let me guess, he never shared his call sign from the teams?”

“Ooh, this sounds promising,” Ronnie said as she controlled herself.

“Ty!” Alex said alarmed, so alarmed his face and his thoughts were turning a lovely shade of pastel pink. The last thing he need was for Ronnie to hear that story. He’d never hear the end of it, particularly since he couldn’t redeem it her eyes the way he had with his SEAL buddies.

“Well, it started the day after we graduated SQT, and we were due to get our team assignments,” Marc began as he joined Ronnie in leaning against her desk. She was trying to not to fall down laughing, and he just wanted a better look at Alex’s face when he told the story of how he came by the call sign “Beast.”

“And if I know you squids, you went drinking,” Ronnie laughed, watching the blush on Alex’s face and the pink-white color she associated with embarrassment that swirled around him.

“Squid? Really?” Marc looked at her in annoyance.

“What can I say; my family usually joined the Marines,” Ronnie shrugged dismissing his annoyance as unimportant.

“Why does you being from a line of jarheads not surprise me?”

“Because you’re smarter than you look, for all you’re getting distracted from the real point here, namely the story?” Ronnie offered with a shrug as she shifted slightly away from Marc. She was still very uncomfortable with any male being that close to her. She noticed the red pinprick of light that she always saw when a tease scored a hit. Somewhat sensitive about being so pretty, people assume he’s stupid. I must remember that.

“Right,” Marc said. “We did go drinking. Of course not all of the graduation class were ‘one of us’ if you know what I mean. So we had pretty much kept all the extras need-to-know. Of course by the end of SQT you knew who and what everyone was.”

“Should I say ‘Ooh-la-la’ here, sailor?” Ronnie interrupted, refusing not to make one more tease.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” was Marc’s smooth reply. He was far too confident in his preferences and sexuality to be bothered by that particular tease. “I thought you wanted to hear this story? We were very drunk, and you know with Alex’s metabolism, it takes some effort to get him truly drunk. We did manage it. I still don’t really remember how. After about fifteen, twenty rounds with Jose Cuervo it gets a little but hazy, but how we did it isn’t important. The important part comes the next morning. No one could find Alex.”

“What do you mean you couldn’t find him?”

“I mean we all woke up, more or less on the floor of the motel rooms we rented for the night. No Alex. At first we thought he might’ve gotten lucky, but due to his fairyness we discounted that one pretty quick.

“I’m sorry,” Ronnie interjected trying desperately not to laugh, “his ‘FAIRYNESS’?”

“Isn’t he Fae descent like you?”

“Yes, but—“

“Aren’t Fae peoples and creatures what Fairies are based on? So he’s a fairy. Just not like most people think that word is used,” Marc shrugged. He was enjoying seeing the new kid laugh. She was just far too serious. He’d seen it before, though. One of his teammates had come back from Afghanistan like that -- broken and trying to figure out how to make the pieces fit again. Wonder what broke the Princess? “We called the bar we had been at the night before. No Alex, but we found out he’d left with us. More or less upright.”

“How is a person ‘more or less upright’?”

“Are you telling me you’ve never been drunk, Princess?” Suddenly the fizz of mischief tickled her mind and coupled with the sound of an old-fashioned alarm clock that suddenly erupted from Alex. It was a very disconcerting few seconds.

“No. And you will never try to get her drunk.” Alex said, very forcefully. It was a command; the words even sort of clanged like steel weapons.

“Whoa, calm down,” Marc said his hands moving to the surrender position and he shifted slightly away from Ronnie. He knew what happened to people who got between a ‘thrope and someone they were trying to protect. He could take a lot of damage, but still he would rather not have to regenerate all that. “No getting the princess drunk. Got it. What’s the big deal?”

“I would die. It eliminates all my natural mental defenses. I’d either stroke out from the mental overload, or be driven insane and kill myself from the effect of feeling everything everyone around me was feeling.”

“Ok, No alcohol.”

“Ok so, you were looking for Alex…” Ronnie said trying to steer the conversation back on track. She heard a muffled curse from Alex, he’d been hoping they had been distracted enough to forget the original conversation.

“Right, so we called the hospitals and police, thinking maybe he was hurt or got caught wandering around drunk. Hell, I even called the pound. No joy. Finally we wound up calling the CO of the team we were expecting to be assigned to, just to see if he had heard from Alex and also to see if he could help us find him. It just so happens that while he’s talking to us, he looks out his back window.”

“Oh please, please, please, tell me he was naked.”

“As the day he was born,” the mirth in Marc’s voice almost covered up the groan from Alex. “When we got there, Alex was actually curled up in the CO’s kennel. He had apparently dug under the fence in doggy form the night before,” Marc ignored Alex’s mumblings about how it was a wolf form, not a doggy form, and continued, “Now Cmdr. Barnhill had the sweetest little Rottweiler bitch I’d ever seen. Alex was found snuggled up to her. Head to toe in some kind of berry juice that wouldn’t come off his skin for a week afterward and covered in fur. Alex was starting to wake up and wish he’d never been born. When he realized he had his nose buried in her fur, he jerked back like he’d gotten an electrical shock. He regretted this. He wiped his face only to realize he’s blue and covered in fur. That’s when the cursing started; apparently, the berry juice was very sticky. All the fur that had stuck to him was blue, he’s sleeping with a dog, and he’s hung over. Now, we all knew the bitch was due to be in heat because Barnhill had been talking about getting a stud so he could breed her, ‘cause well-bred Rott pups are worth some money. All of a sudden, the laughter starts. Peters is laughing so hard, he falls down. Between gasps, he points out that Alex appears to have committed bestiality. Jenson just looks at him a minute and says -- perfectly straight-faced – ‘I wonder if she said “You Beast.”’ That was it. We were done. Even the commander was on the ground laughing.”

Ronnie was laughing so hard she had tears running down her face. She could picture not only the scene, but the feeling of all that mirth. And at the moment Alex was putting off almost as disgruntled and air as he must have that day. There was something behind it that she could only catch glimpses of, ticking like a clock and some kind of peppermint tea scent.

“After a few months Fiona, the CO’s dog, had pups. They looked like perfect, purebred Rottweiler pups. The only thing was, these pups were almost human smart. Just way too smart. So we all teased him about being a deadbeat dad. The first time someone said something to him he turned so white I thought he was going to faint. I didn’t know much about his family, but after the team spent liberty together at his mom’s, we all figured out exactly what he was afraid of -- his mama. Cmdr. Barnhill didn’t sell that litter. Every team member that wanted one, got one as a gift. Alex got the pick of the litter. His mom did some kind of test or something, and she says that they are pureblood Rotts, but the magical exposure from the juice on Alex was what made them smart.”

“I’ve heard of that before. If you breed two such dogs, the trait breeds true and becomes a genetic trait, but if you don’t, it immediately breeds out. Did you get one?” Ronnie asked Marc as he finished up his story.

“Yep. Andromeda.”

“You would name a dog after a mythical beauty,” She shook her head in amusement. It was nice to laugh. It was still hard some days to get over the trauma and even smile. And she could take the antidepressants all she wanted; they only did so much to curb the horror and fear and loss.

* * * * *

Alex Ulfsson is often accused of being about as smart as a box of rocks. It’s a role he carefully cultivates with strangers. It’s easier to get the upper hand if people think you are too stupid to get the undercurrents. Unfortunately for those that buy in to his dumb grunt act, Lord Alexander Gabriel Stuart Ulfsson is anything but stupid. The Navy rarely decorates stupid officers; it’s a bad example to the others.

Ronnie had known Alex all her life. She knew exactly how intelligent Alex really was. So it really shouldn’t have surprised her that he had designed and implemented a magical recreation of the X-men’s Danger Room. And yet it did surprise her. Crazy smart and capable of genius-level tactical planning, sure. Engineering a magical construction like the room she was standing in, however, was beyond his ability. He had no channeling or thaumaturgy ability. None, bupkis, zip, zilch, zero, nada. No magical talent whatsoever. And yet Ronnie was standing in the magical equivalent of the Taj Mahal, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Eiffel Tower all rolled into one.

“Ok, this is as far beyond you as the moon is from the sun. I totally believe you capable of creating it and it being your brain child -- it is just geeky enough -- but no way you did the actual construction. None whatsoever,” Ronnie declared as she examined the runes and sigils surrounding the doorway. It was a completely empty institutional room. But, if Ronnie was reading the runes correctly, this room was capable of conjuring anything necessary for training. It was even theoretically capable of producing an effect similar to a magical black hole which would leave channellers like her unable to use their power. It wouldn’t cut them off from the source, that’s incredibly dangerous for the channeller, but it was a good way to practice fighting in a weakened state.

Alex looked like he was about to bust in glee. “It’s my baby, all right. It took seven chanellers, a conjurer, three thaumaturges, and an engineer to figure out how to actually make it work. Took two years to get all the magical kinks out. I made sure they warded this thing twelve ways from Sunday, too. Here’s the control panel,” Alex said as he indicated a large dry-erase white board on one wall. “Write out the parameters, set the number of enemies, their abilities, race and so on, and then you come touch this rune. It seals the door and the simulation begins. I’ve been told it has a record and playback function, so you can walk around and see what went on from multiple angles. I haven’t gotten that far in the user’s guide.”

“How far have you gotten?”

“I just finished the section on the wards. It was extensive. I am currently the keystone to the wards. I basically have to create you as a user for the room, or you can walk around and look at the pretty runes all you want, but you won’t be able to make them function. One of the extensive wards that the magical-type people put on is that under siege conditions, or in case of a threat in the bullpen, it has a panic room feature. It will set up different parameters for different users. For example, if Kika is here alone, her parameters include sealing all exits, and “zapping” (her word not mine) anyone who isn’t supposed to be here. Mac’s are simple. He’s protected, the files are protected. Ty’s, I don’t know about.”

“What about yours?”

“I wolf out. It will seal the bad guys in this room so I can’t kill them.”

“What if they come armed with tranquilizer guns and darts?”

“That brings me to the next thing,” Alex said. Something about that question niggled in the back of his mind. “I had these made up. It’s a twist on the standard Identifyer pins that all Agents wear. They are basically locating beacons. If you are hurt, or need immediate backup, these will tell us where to go. I’m trying to get a talented ‘porter to sign on, which will mean the cavalry arrives faster, but I’m afraid it isn’t going well.”

“How did you even find a teleporter and what do you mean it isn’t going well? And how does this answer my question?”

“Patience, young grasshopper. In the event that they have tranquilizer guns and I go down, mine acts like a portkey, á la Harry Potter. I get transported to the room which shuts out all enemies. As for why it isn’t going well, I’ll tell you another time. You might be very helpful in recruiting this kid.”

“Okay…”Ronnie said uncertainly before shrugging and getting back to the room she was in. “How do I register as a user and set my panic parameters?”

“Nothing too involved,” Alex assured her as he walked over to the white board picked up the marker and wrote “Create new user.” He put the marker down and touched the rune next to the board that started glowing. A tall man with an eye patch and a comfortable-looking sitting room appeared.

“Hi. I’m Xavier. I am the Room’s AI Avatar.”

“He just couldn’t stop himself, could he?” Ronnie asked as she stared, dumbfounded.

“I actually wasn’t in the original plan,” Xavier shrugged. “In order to prevent the magics from working against each other, there had to be a guiding intelligence. So I was created. I’m based off a couple different working forms of AI. Ok, let’s get started. You really will be more comfortable if you sit. This may take a little while.”

“Right. I don’t suppose you can let Alex out while we do this?”

“Nope,” Alex piped up. “Mainly because I’m setting you as the secondary ward key.”

“Wha-huh?” Ronnie knew that listening to Marc’s story was going to mean that Alex was going to be more irritating than ever. It was worth it. She was imagining his reaction the first time she created an illusion of blue Rottweiler pups all calling him dad.

“I’m tying you in as the secondary keystone to the wards. Because Xavier is a sentient being, the keystones to the wards can be, too. It gives us some flexibility. The wards are tied geographically to certain runes that can’t be seen. But, their magical integrity has to be keyed to a living being with magical blood.”

“How are you a qualified candidate, then?”

“Because even if he can’t access magic, he has a lot of magic due to his being a Therienthrope. So it’s tied to something in him he can’t even access,” Xavier answered.

“So, basically, all the paranormal members of the Program can be keystones for the system?”

“Theoretically, yes,” answered Xavier

“Okay, so why me? Why not Marc?”

“Because Ty wasn’t raised to make the hard call. He’s a sailor. He takes orders, and he can take command, but he’s used to the idea of ‘There’s always someone higher up where you can pass the buck’. You, on the other hand, knew when you were barely in double digits that, just by being born, you might have to defend every Fae in the country by taking a life. You were raised to know the ins and outs of Fae politics. And to make the right decisions. Not just the easy ones. Besides, Ty can be lied to, and can be led astray by his hormones. No one can lie to you. You’d never release the wards to anyone else unless you were certain of everything. And as a unpleasant bonus, you have the power to stop anyone in this office.”

“Stop?” Ronnie questioned, really hoping Alex didn’t mean what she thought.

“Kill.” It was a simple enough statement, but behind its simplicity was a raging storm of things he didn’t want to ask or say to her.

Ronnie stared at him for a second in shock, before the sharp edge of her own personal anger sliced through it like a good housewife’s broom goes through cobwebs. There was no shock left. It was totally obliterated. There was only anger at being used. The curses she threw at Alex would have put an aircraft carrier full of Marines and sailors to pathetic shame. Alex just stood there, face impassive and emotions hidden behind thick mental shields.

“I just can’t get away from it, can I? I’ll always be the executioner’s daughter to you, won’t I?”

“That’s not fair,” Alex finally snapped back at her, an edge of salty steel in his anger. “I have to think about everyone on this team, not just you. I also have to think about the kind of things we deal with, and it goes way beyond a few rogue pixies that won’t back off. If some of these things get loose in here, the damage they could do is phenomenal. I need someone I can trust to know a shifter from the real person. You, of all people, should know how easy it is to make someone believe you’re something you’re not. I mean look at you! I know you aren’t sleeping well. I know you are taking meds for the depression. I can smell the fear on you every time a man comes within five feet of you. But you look like you just came home from a relaxing week at the spa! You control it, and yourself, because you’ve been trained to do it. You’ve been trained for the most horrible job I can think of, and you‘ve known it since childhood. What’s worse, you’ve known that whatever children you have would likely end up with the same job, and you show up and do your job every day.”

“I could resign,” Ronnie all but whispered as she absently rubbed a bracelet on her left wrist. She had totally deflated in the face of his truly righteous indignation. “It’s been done before.”

“Could you really? Could you really leave someone else to face the job that you face, when your father dies or steps down?”
“No. No, I couldn’t do that anymore than I could quit this job. Even if you haven’t let me out in the field. If someone tried to expose the Paranormals, it would be a bloodbath. Even though there are so few of us by comparison. The rural enclaves would be okay, I think. Most of the Normals in the area are related by marriage. And the enclaves are usually pretty isolated. In the cities where there are some real concentrations? I think it would put Hitler to shame. It’s the job of council members and their families to protect the Paranormals; granted, we are only specifically tasked with Fae creatures, but still, it’s all I know how to do.”

“Now that you’ve calmed down, would you like to hear the other reason I picked you?”

“Sure,” Ronnie sighed.

“Your roommate.”

Ronnie looked up at him in surprise and asked, “I thought you hated her?”

“No. It took some time, but you were right when you stood up for her.”

“She was so starved for blood, she didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t even start to really exhibit until she was in college. Most dhamphir don’t grow up in normal families that have forgotten great-great Dracula dearest.”

“Part of me still can’t believe you stood before the courts and traded on your family name to save her. For crying out loud she was about to stand trial for your attempted murder!”

“She didn’t attempt to murder me. She was so far gone, anything living would have received the same attack. And, of course, Judge Amero decided that if I was going to save her, I was going to be the one stuck with her. The only way she can ever not live with me is if one of us gets married, and even then we have to go back to the court and repetition. Crazy old woman.”

“Smart old woman. She knew living with you would be good for Allison. It would remind her of what almost happened. It also served as a deterrent for other dhamphir who thought about skipping their doses. Not everyone gets lucky enough to have someone like you stand up for them.”

“Yeah. Maybe you’re right.”

“I can’t believe Ronnie Dolan actually said I was right!”

“Don’t get so excited, I only said maybe.”

“Am I really needed here for this?” Xavier asked absently as he whittled at a piece of wood.

“Yeah,” Alex laughed. “Let’s get started.”

“Right,” Xavier said as the piece of wood disappeared. “First off, here are your forms, the unedited versions. Fill these out, then list your username and password here and –“

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait. One, I can see the need for some of these expanded forms for the WDC files, racial abilities, magical allergies and so on, but why am I filling out a durable power of attorney for a Xavier Ericson, and I am NOT giving out my username and password!”

“He already has it,” Alex said with a shrug. “This is really more of a formality. I should have brought you before we got you set up on the computer system.”

“What, is he the tech analyst, too?”

“Yep,” Xavier said. “There was an Ethernet port from when they originally built the room and did the rewiring of the building with various upgrades. So voila I am an Artificially Intelligent Technical Analyst.”

“I have no words to describe how much I think I’ve entered hell right now.”

“C’mon, Ronnie, it’s not that bad. It also helps slim down on the personnel we need to really get up and running. You’ll like Xavier.”

“I’m still not giving an intelligent computer Power of Attorney. I saw I, Robot.”

Alex’s jaw dropped. Ronnie saw a scifi flick?

“Yes, Alex. I saw the movie. No, I have not yet read the Asimov original.”

“I told you she wouldn’t fall for it. She may not be military, but she knows OpSec,” Xavier shrugged.

“Explain.” It was a command and Xavier’s computer brain processed it as such and answered her.

“It’s a test to see who would just sign something given them or would they actually read the paperwork and think about it. If they don’t pay attention they are excluded from anything other than analyst work. Field work is too dangerous for people who can’t be bothered with OpSec.”

“I suppose that makes sense.”

“I do want you to have a Durable Power of Attorney on file though, and a legitimate will. We hunt some dangerous things, Roadie, and sometimes they get their licks in. You aren’t quite as durable as Ty and I. If you want out in the field, I want you to think long and hard about what happens if you are incapacitated long term or even killed.”

“Once you get it set up, just come and talk to me,” Xavier said as he took the rest of the forms Ronnie had been filling out. “The command to speak to me personally is simply to write my name on the board and touch the activate rune.”

“Let me guess, Alex wanted the commands as simple as possible?”

“Yes, he did. And it makes some kind of logical sense. But his logic is not our Earth logic.”

“Couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Ronnie asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Sorry.”

“It makes sense to me, too. I can’t believe I’m admitting Alex Ulffson might be right twice in the same day, but apparently I am. AIs are pretty unknown to most people. So keeping it simple prevents damage to the system itself because people who are not computer geniuses are less likely to enter a faulty or damaging command. And I’m not sure I could have sounded more like a textbook if I had tried.”

“A very pretty textbook, though,” Xavier said with a charming smile.

“I don’t know how to respond to that,” Ronnie said as she looked at the avatar in confusion. Do AIs have concepts of beauty?

“Try ‘Thank you”,” Alex offered.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Xavier responded.

“So,” Ronnie said shaking her head at the odd conversation, “what do I have to do to become his secondary keystone?”

“Simple. It’s all about the blood,” Xavier said with a shrug. “More specifically, your blood.”

“Why do you need my blood?” Ronnie was suddenly on guard.

“Because every possible way of identifying you accurately exists within even a tiny drop of blood. From DNA to anti-body sets, it’s all there. Even your magical potential and race are within your DNA, because it comes from a magical ancestor it’s there in your blood at all times.”

“So you just need a drop, like a prick my finger for a diabetic blood glucose reading drop?”

“That’s all.”

“Wait a minute, what about ‘gangers and shifters? When they shift into looking like another person, don’t their DNA strands shift too?”

“Yes and no,” said the AI.

“Explain, Xavier.”

“It only alters certain parts of their DNA or they could never shift out of the form they take. They have to retain the gene that allows them to shift forms. One you do not possess. You could never be truly imitated on a genetic level by a Doppelganger or Shapeshifter.”

“Ok, gotta pin?”

“Please step over to the highlighted wall. You will find a lancet and what appear to be glucose test strips and a blood sugar monitor. I assume you have some experience with their use since that was the illustration you gave me.”

“Grandma uses one. I’ve seen it enough to use it if it’s already put together.”

“It is. Since it’s in my room, I will have all the data I need if you will do the test properly.”

It was a simple, relatively painless process. Once Xavier had the blood drop in his banks he nodded and thanked them and vanished.

“Well, that was anti-climactic,” Ronnie said.

“What did you expect?”

“I don’t know. A shower of dust?”

* * * * *

October 14, 2009

“Don’t you love fall in Georgia?” Kika gushed happily as she and Ronnie sat eating lunch at an outdoor table.

“Yeah,” Ronnie scoffed good naturedly, “all two weeks of it. And it’s only even really pretty north of the city.”

“Buzz kill,” Kika responded in kind. “I’ll never understand you. You know you could get a transfer to any other office if you really were miserable here, so why do you stay?”

“For your sparkling personality.”

“I’m serious.”

“What do you want me to say?” Ronnie shrugged. “I went to school here. I was given a couple of options, and all of them revolved around a Fae sanctuary. So I picked Atlanta. At least here I could be independent. I had to attend a few formal affairs because of my standing, but nothing too onerous.”

“Now you’ve mentioned ‘your status’ a few times, so what does that mean? We’ve talked around it, but never really talked about it.”

“Unh, for good reason. I like to pretend I have some say over my future. To explain me and my ever-lovin’ status, I have to explain the Fae courts and councils, and I’d rather not go over things I don’t need to. So let’s start by you telling me what you know about the Fae Court, and the American Council.”

“Mmm,” Kika hummed before beginning and took a bite of her sandwich; Ronnie could see a swirl of colors coalesce into a clear rainbow formation. “I don’t know much and I got the feeling that was the way the Council and Court wanted it. I know they were very accepting of the genetic testing and even provided several samples from each of the sub-races for testing. The Council even went to far as to send two of each kind of registered ‘thrope to see if the form taken made a difference in the genetic structure of how to identify…”Kika looked up to see the amused look on Ronnie’s face, “I went all science-y again didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. So you get the feeling they don’t want the general public to know much about them, what else?”

“I know that every developed country that has Fae creatures living in it has a council that liaises with The Court, but I don’t know anything about structures or styles. I know that apart from a few seats the majority of the American Council seats are democratically elected. That’s it, that’s all I know.”

“Why do I think there should be something about Fig Newtons there? Never mind. Well there are some things I can’t tell you. Umm….Do you know what geasa are?”

“Not really.”

“It’s sort of like a taboo, except it’s bound magically to the source of a Fae’s power. My best guess is that there is a gene that is present in all Fae that allow us to control the natural forces we do and the geas are tied to it, but that’s just my guess. Some geas are mild, like you can’t eat certain foods and if you break it you have mild consequences like being sick if you eat the forbidden food. Being mainly an aquamancer, my godmother said I was not allowed to eat any creature of the sea. It presents like being allergic to all forms of seafood. Other geasa are less mild and some cannot be broken. The mild ones only require enough will to break it. The unbreakable geas are pretty standard. You must abide by the will of the Court and usually there is one about respecting the Council. The one unbreakable one that no one to my knowledge has even attempted to break is the one that says we cannot name the Sanctuaries to outsiders, now if you marry a non-Fae you may request permission to tell your spouse the location of the nearest sanctuary and how to get entrance, but it’s pretty rare and the sanctuaries haven’t been used as true sanctuaries since the Civil War, so most Fae don’t bother to tell.”

“So what are Sanctuaries?”

“I’ll get to those in a minute,” Ronnie said as she stuck a forkful of salad in her mouth and chewed, “First I need to explain the Court and the Council and their structures.”

“Should I take notes?”

“Maybe, it can be ridiculously complicated with all the political cloak and dagger crap. First off is the Court. It is the overlord of all Fae councils. They can overrule any given council decision, but only if it causes danger to other councils or Fae creatures. There are three tiers of power in the court: Their Majesties, The Chancellor and Knights, and the Supplicants. The ruling body of the Court consists of six people collectively referred to as Their Majesties. The easiest way to describe them is as the manifestations of maiden-mother-crone in both male and female forms. In order of power and influence, next come the Chancellor and the Knights. The chancellor is basically the Voice of Their Majesties. If he speaks it’s as if they have spoken. It’s a very powerful position, but like all things Fae there must be a trade off; there must be balance. The Chancellor speaks for Their Majesties, but has no political will of his own. He can never speak something against the will of Their Majesties. The Knights are the dispensers of Justice for the Court. One for each season and each season is tied to an element.”

“How does that work?”

“Summer is tied to fire for example. Winter to water. Both the summer and winter Knights are women at the moment. And, in another example of all must balance; The Spring and Autumn Knights are men. The next and final level of Court power, called the Supplicants, belongs to the Ambassadors. Every chartered council sends its “head” to Court once a season. They get things worked out and everyone goes home.”

“So three tiers of power, everything in balance, sounds simple enough.”

Ronnie snorted tea up her nose at the thought of the Ruling Court of the Fae Realms being simple. “Don’t do that!”

“Sorry,” Kika said sounding anything but contrite.

“The Structure is simple. But add Fae to anything and the jockeying for position and political backbiting makes Di Medici and Borgia intrigues look like a game of Candy Land! It’s pathetic. I don’t know much about the structures of the other councils and even if I did I wouldn’t tell you much of anything. But I can tell you about the American Council of Fae. There are three kinds of seats: hereditary, racial, and geographic. Hereditary seats are exactly what they sound like. You’re either born to the seat or you’re not.

The three hereditary seats are the Keeper of Records, The Keeper of Law, and the Keeper of Justice. The Keeper of Records is also called the Western Governor. Regional disputes that don’t need to be solved before the Council are brought the regional governors. The Western region covers everything west of the Rockies. The Keeper of Law is the Eastern Governor as well as the head of the Council and therefore the Ambassador to the Court. Her Region goes from the Mississippi to the Atlantic. The Keeper of Justice is the Central Governor covering the area from the Mississippi to the Rockies. Each Region contains at least one sanctuary. A Sanctuary is one of two things. It is either an entrance to the Faery Realms or a stronghold of one of the Keepers. In this region there are three. An entrance to the Realms in Maine, A fortified enclave that is administered by Lady Moira’s Heir, and her own family stronghold, Belle Arbor. Hereditary seat holders and their families are ineligible to run for any other seat.

Racial seats are all ‘at large’ seats, meaning they aren’t tied to a specific area. They represent the needs of a specific group of Fae, for example Anasazi, Tuatha, and Therienthropes all have a racial representative. They are elected for a four year term, which coincide with presidential elections. There are term limits for racial seats. It’s a total of 20 years in office. And that’s cumulative, not consecutive.

Geographic seats are again exactly what they sound like. There is one seat per state. Most states have smaller state councils that have one representative for every Fae population. Most of the time we gather in groups, usually by race, however it’s not a hard and fast rule. We do a lot of mixing in the cities, and believe it or not the higher up in Fae rank the more likely hood there is of any Fae you meet being a hybrid of Fae types as opposed to purely one or another. My sister was Tuatha, but she married a ‘thrope. The more educated or experienced are the ones that intermarry.”

“Huh. Ok now what does the council do about hybrids that aren’t within the Fae race, like Alex. You said he was a Fae-Celestial hybrid.”

“There has been some talk recently about that. As it stands now they have the basic rights of any other Fae creature, but they haven’t so far held any seats. It is becoming more common as more and more people go off to college and marry people outside their race. The Keepers have suggested adding a racial seat for each hybrid type. It’s under consideration. The real concern is with the hereditary seats. The Keepers of Law and Records both have children by interracial marriages and there is some worry over whether the seats will eventually be held by those with little or no Fae blood. There are those who think the hereditary seats should be held only by pure Fae. Others think the seats should reflect the changing face of the country.”

“What do you think?” Kika asked. She wondered at her friend’s blunt attitude if this was the style of life she grew up in. But on the other hand she had seen Alex defer to her more than once and maybe she was more highly placed than Kika had realized. Kika wondered if she was getting an official position from someone in power.

“I think it ought to be brought up to the population as a whole. They have a stake in how their country is represented to the Court. Of course the Court makes the whole thing even more complicated. You have to have a certain amount of Fae blood to appear before them, so the Keeper of Law can never allow the blood line to be too diluted. Right now it’s fine. Her heir just got married to a nice jaguar form thrope. Sweet guy. But down the line it may not be so fine. Who knows. Problems for another day.”

“Procrastinator,” Kika teased.

“‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ Matthew 6:34” Came Ronnie’s pious rejoinder.

“Ok, So what does all that have to do with you? I can guess that you’re pretty highly placed. I’ve seen Alex give into you when he didn’t have to.”

“Actually he really doesn’t have to. It’s tradition more than magic that makes him defer to me in certain areas. He’s the son of the Keeper of Law, Lady Moira. He is not however her heir. Which means once his sister has a baby, he can marry anyone he wants, and within the law of the land do anything he wants. Three years ago we were equals, now I’m elevated to the exalted rank of Heir.”

“Which heir?”

“I’m the Heir to the Keeper of Justice, The Hand of the American Council of Fae.”

“So what do the different Keepers do?”

“The Keeper of Records, Lady Jane, can tell you any decision made by the council since its formation, the names of the representatives, the final tally, and exactly how everyone voted. She’s basically our data bank. It’s a family genetic trait. Magic is funny, you generally get certain traits with certain races, but every so often a few families will show special traits. Alex’s family has an innate sense of right and wrong and can parse law and meaning, but it shows up more in the women of that line. SO his Family became the Keepers of the Law. They prevent the law of the Fae being twisted and mangled for the personal gain (political or financial) of a few.”

“And the Keeper of Justice?”

“The Keeper of Justice,” Ronnie began reluctantly “is complicated. To put it bluntly, we are the executioners. If someone breaks a bad enough law, we are the ones that separate soul from physical form. It takes someone very magically powerful to kill another with magic and not be destroyed. It takes a serious toll on the mind and soul. Luckily in the last few decades the need for execution has been rare. I was at first considered unfit for the position so they named Annie as Da’s heir. Now I’m all that’s left. No one can lie to a member of my family. Every Justice since the beginning of the Council has been soothsayer or clairvoyant of some kind. Some can be taught to do it, reading micro expressions, but my family we just know that someone is lying and even what they’re lying about, depending on how powerful the trait is in that particular person. So we have never executed an innocent person. Maybe it’s good I’m not like most Justices. Maybe I should be feeling what they feel as they pay for their crimes. But I’m still terrified.”

Kika just stared in horror at Ronnie. Her friend had just confessed that she was going to be an executioner. Add to that the fact that she was just now figuring out that something really bad had happened to Ronnie’s sister there years ago that she was still trying to recover from and Kika was at a complete loss as how to make it better. She just reached across the table and squeezed her hand in silent support and sympathy. It was a soft, calming glow, like a nightlight to a frightened child.

“So,” Kika said as she released Ronnie’s hand and returned to her lunch, “you never told me if you wanted to go to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs with me this weekend. Did you ever decide?”

“Sure,” Ronnie smiled gratefully, “I’ll go. What time?”

Maybe the innocuous chatter of life was the best way to make it better after all. At least for the moment.

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