Dusk grinned, "Even the smallest flower contributes to the beauty of the garden." He gestured to her pendant, "Lew said she thought that was like a reservoir, something to help you boost your own magic until you no longer need it. Could be useful in the right situation."
He glanced toward one wall, moving toward it and pressing an ear against it. After a moment though, he moved away with a little shake of his head and a shrug. "Lew should be coming by, she's been a busy bee. You should meet some of the others in a couple of days." Dusk moved to a small dresser in the corner. "Until then.." He patted the wood. "This is one of the coven's magical creations. When you want to change clothes, think about the clothing you want before you open up a drawer, and it will be there in your size."
Dusk gestured toward another doorway, "There's a basic bathroom through there, you can shower too. I've got to check on a few things, so I'll be gone about an hour, maybe two. When I get back, hopefully Lew will be around and give us an update on how Sage is doing with getting some of the others ready."
One hand ran over the side of his jaw, "Now, if anyone else comes to that wall." He gestured to the one he had listened at earlier, "Unless they say the name Sage, you ignore it. Okay? You'll be safe in here." And he hesitated, seeing if Clementine had any questions. Otherwise he'd open up a door in the wall by pressing a ring against a spot to the side, and close it behind him by repeating the motion on the other side.
Roje felt that large chill run up her spine. Hair on the back of her neck standing on ends as Alyce looked at her. The Crazy radiating off of her as a whole No wonder she's in charge. Anyone would want to avoid getting a crazy pissed off. she thought, staring right back at her as she began to talk. Then gave her a sort of 'duh' look, which made her look like she was those young teens who had an attitude with anyone older than her. It didn't take her long to go back to her sister, to which Roje grew tense, her jaw clenching Don't touch my sister you crazy bitch. that sudden want to protect her was strong, but Alyce had no information on their relations. The longer Roje kept quiet, the better that the pair would be. There was no leverage against the Vampire on Alyce's end yet. Yet. That 'yet' is what scared her just a little bit.
They began to talk about Foster, and then someone named "Razial" with some kind of protege. Foster is too important to these people. If I wasn't fuckin' dead on the plane and had more time, I could have talked to him.Things happen for a reason, unfortunately Roje had no idea what that reason had been. Would be nice to know. Her hazel eyes shifted to Indy as she spoke, hearing that attitude that she herself had. It felt nice to hear it coming from someone else. Actually, it lightened the air for her, hopefully, it did the same for Indy. You go girl. Shit, you're more brave than me right now.glancing at the cat on her shoulder, she sighed softly and then turned her attention to Coda, who began to ask who Razial was. It's a good question. Who is he?
Alyce seemed to quietly ponder Indy's answer, when Coda asked about Razial. It drew attention away from Indy at least. "Razial is the one who saved me, found me and rescued me from the place my father.." She spat the word out, as someone abhorrent to her. "..had sent me." Her eyes had flashed a fiery red-orange for just a moment, then she seemed to settle.
"Razial helped establish all of this." She gestured with both hands, palms upward, indicating everything around them. "You'll meet him soon. He's training someone at the moment, she was lost, too. Helping her learn how to use magic." Alyce turned back, once more eyeing Indy. "He helped teach me, I owe him everything."
Her eyes settled on the paper, the contract. "Oh, you're becoming one of us. That's lovely. I love it when the family grows. You, Maylee, so many others. It's exciting." She gestured with one hand, and Key picked up the contract. And then another gesture, and Key held it out for Alyce to see.
"Hmm, I like this one. Even if she's just a shifter. Start her on Silver Flame training. Oh.. and that reminds me. Start the paperwork to promote Phoenix. I want her on the Hallowed Circle, and I'll sponsor her. Thank you." She slapped Key's face, hard. The sound reverberating through the room. "And that is for losing my shifter of tiny forms. Find him. Or I'll find a way to make you a shifter of tiny forms."
Key didn't show any outward reaction, other than straightening his sunglasses. The side of his face had the red imprint from a slap. He just nodded and murmured, "Of course, Miss Alyce." He moved to stand back out of the way, the contract rolled up and held in his hands.
Alyce grinned and gave a soft giggle a moment later. "Good. Now all of that is settled.." She half turned, one hand making a grabbing motion toward Roje. "Kitty kitty. I want my kitty kitty." The clouded leopard's ears flattened a bit, but he gave a chuffing noise, as if it was expected of him.
The floor was cold, cold against the thin fabric separating her bare skin and the solid ground beneath. Annoyed, she got up again, padding back towards the collection of clothing Sage had told them. She grabbed a complete set of clothes, surprised the minotaur would even have something her size.
She changed in the bathroom, thankful it was well maintained. Halfway through putting a pair of black worn trousers she felt the entire room shift, she bit her lip. Finished, she strode out, a hospital gown draped over her arm and finger combed blonde mane hanging loosely on her shoulder.
She noticed two new additions in the room, managing to catch the Bear’s mention of their names. Foster and Rhevens, though Evelyn was unsure which was which. The slightly shorter one, Evelyn decided, was rather uncouth. Understandable given the situation. She continued towards her destination, offering them a curt nod as she passed a white wolf quietly observing the quietly strained conversation, curious. She thought it to be the white wolf Chase, but Chase was still in his human form. In any case, Evelyn held the urge to pat the creature's head, lest she'd lost a hand. These were not the same wolves the Beast master kept for hunts.
"Greetings, White one." She said as she passed.So many things needed to be mulled over. Vehlkasa, she didn’t even know where she was, what day, what time. She worked her jaw, annoyed.
Banks gave what sounded like a snort, and then he was moving to stand near Winnie. His left hand reached out to lightly grasp her wrist, with a small tilt of his head. "It is fine. Do you want me to go find your bag?" It sounded like he believed he'd be able to go find it and bring it back. And maybe he could. Maybe he would.
The look on his face said if she wanted him to get it, he would go through all the life forces in the mountain to find it for her. He did let his hand slide away, breaking the contact with her skin, as he didn't have to maintain it to hear her answer. Just for her to hear him.
Winnie stared up at Banks in alarm. She could tell, from the look in his eyes, that he would indeed go through any trouble necessary to find her bag, and she felt a little shiver creep down her spine. No, no—they had been told to stay in the room; there was no telling what sort of awful punishment Key or one of the other higher-ups might subject Banks to if he broke such a rule. No, she couldn't let him risk himself like that—
"N-no, no, it's okay, Banks," she murmured hurriedly, seizing his hand with both of her own. "Really—! Don't worry, please... I don't even miss it that much, anyway..."
It was true. Whatever sparse few belongings had been in that bag had been nothing more than a few impersonal articles of clothing the coven had allowed her during her imprisonment in Nevada.
(No, not imprisonment, she swiftly corrected herself, rehabilitation.)
Anything that had real value to her was likely still in her little room at the Lady's manor—provided it hadn't been thrown out, of course.
"So... I don't need it." She tried for a cheerful smile and then cautiously approached the wardrobe that stood in the corner of the room. Should she hang up Indy and Roje's clothes? It would at least keep them from getting wrinkled while they waited to be returned to the proper place...
When she pulled the door open, though, Winnie jumped back in surprise, staring in bewilderment at the full array that greeted her: a lineup of puffy dresses trimmed with lace and ribbons and, beside them, a clean shirt, pair of slacks, and fashionably-weathered leather jacket.
"Um..." Puzzled, she turned to look at Banks. "I... it looks like they've already left some things for us."
Banks moved the moment Winnie jumped, worried something was in the wardrobe and she was in danger. He had one arm around her waist and was about to haul her behind him when it was clear there wasn't a danger, just clothes.
He gave a bit of a huff of air, and let the hand slide away as he moved to stand next to Winnie. Banks seemed to be waiting to see what Winnie wanted or needed next.
Winnie looked nervously up at Banks, hoping she hadn't scared him with her display of skittishness—that was just how she functioned. The sound of a pin dropping on the floor could make her jump out of her skin.
"Sorry," she said hurriedly, forcing a cheerful smile to her lips. "It's—it's okay! Everything's fine. I just... I wasn't expecting to see clothes in here already." She frowned thoughtfully, tracing the lengths of fabric that hung spotless in the wardrobe. It would be a wonderful place to hide, she thought distantly. Back in her childhood home, the closets had been too sparsely-stocked to offer much in the way of cover when her mother and brother began straining the walls with the shouts they hurled at each other; here, she could conceal herself so thoroughly within the sea of puffy textiles that she might as well disappear...
Snapping back to focus, Winnie reached up—she had to strain a bit, perched on the very tips of her toes—and grabbed the set of clothing that had clearly been set out for Banks, tucking the pants and shirt under her arm and unfurling the jacket. It all looked to be the perfect size for him, too—how long had the coven had to prepare all of this...?
"Here, Banks," she sang, holding out the jacket for him to examine. "This must be for you. Did you want to go get changed...? I'm, um, I'm sure those clothes must be... worn out by now."
Winnie knew she, personally, wouldn't want to stay in the clothes she had died in, but she wasn't about to make Banks relive that.
Banks took the clothing with his hand, and moved to set it down on a table. It seemed like while he was capable of thought, some things didn't quite connect in his mind. Like how one didn't usually change clothes out in the main room, like he had started to do. Though it was difficult unbuttoning and removing clothing with the one hand.
Winnie smiled patiently, waiting for Banks to head to the bathroom and change, and then—
Oh... oh, no, he wasn't going to the bathroom, was he? As he began to unbutton his shirt, the realization hit her with full force, and she yelped and turned away, blood blossoming in her cheeks. "Oh—! Um! Banks, I—I meant—" Her hands had clapped over her eyes, and she squeezed them into fists, trying to quiet the blood now drumming in her skull in anxiety and embarrassment. "I... I mean... don't you want some privacy?"
Cautiously, she turned around, one hand still shading her eyes in case she needed to escape swiftly into the darkness again. Laying her free hand timidly on his arm, Winnie nodded in the direction of the bathroom. "There, um... you'll have better privacy in there! Un... unless you want me to wait in there. If you're more comfortable in here. I mean... I can do that, too...!" A nervous, almost frantic giggle escaped her throat, and then she let out a little gasp and clamped her mouth shut.
Banks didn't seem to comprehend why privacy mattered. He had managed to get the top button of his pants undone, but that was about it so far. He turned looking at Winnie almost curiously.
"What would you prefer?"
He was acting strangely, Winnie thought, distress rapidly beginning to eat away at her cheerful facade. It was as if the very concept of privacy was altogether alien to him. Had he somehow lost that, along with his ability to speak, during the trauma of his revival?
Then again, maybe that was just the way his brain worked by default? She hadn’t had any opportunities to watch Banks change before, but perhaps he was just an exhibitionist by nature...? No, that seemed like a stretch.
Swallowing thickly and nervously, Winnie took a step closer to Banks. He was clearly having trouble, working with only one hand, and it would be cruel to let him struggle on his own... she would help him with his shirt, at least, she decided. Her brother Cullen used to walk around the house without a shirt during particularly sweltering summer days, so it wasn’t as if she was a stranger to the sight.
Tentatively, Winnie grabbed the hem of Banks’s shirt before lifting it up over his head, though she quickly darted her gaze to the ground to avoid staring at his bare flesh. An embarrassed flush covered her cheeks, and she heard her Lady’s musical voice in her head. That one time, Winnie had brought breakfast to her room, only to find her Lady in bed with a man, both completely nude. She had shrieked, dropping the tray of food in her distress.
It’s like you’re a little girl. Don’t tell me you’re still a virgin, Winifred?
Like a little girl? No. No, she had never had a chance to be a little girl to begin with.
Setting her teeth hard together, Winnie took a step back from Banks and lowered her head, speaking softly: “Do... do you need any more help? I’d, um... prefer not to watch the rest, if that’s okay...” Looking back up at him, she forced a strained, sickly smile.
Banks seemed to be processing the information Winnie gave him. If he was a computer, there'd be the little spinning please wait icon on his forehead. Took a minute, but then he took the clothes and shuffled into the bathroom area. The door clicked once it was shut, and he worked on changing clothes.
Took about ten minutes, mostly because he only had one hand, but he was changed into the new clothes. The material of the right arm just hung loosely, empty by his side. In his left arm he held the other clothing, not sure what to do with it.
Banks looked to Winnie when he was done, only after making sure the door was still closed and they didn't have any new visitors in the time he was gone. He gave a small smile, but otherwise seemed to be waiting for her to tell him what to do.
Winnie gripped her arms around herself, teeth gnawing lightly on her lip, as she waited for Banks to finish up in the bathroom. A sense of guilt tugged at her—two minutes passed, then five; he must be having difficulty getting dressed with only one hand. It was selfish of her, selfish and cowardly, to push him away because of her own juvenile, prudish fears. What had happened in her childhood home... that was decades ago, now. It's time to get over it, she chided herself.
Easier said than done, of course. At the thought of laying hands on someone else's bare flesh, Winnie felt her insides twist up like a bloated snake, and she began to pick furiously at a loose thread on her sweatshirt. At the ten-minute mark, she decided she absolutely must suck up whatever fears were clinging to her brain and help him, but just then the bathroom door opened, and Banks emerged fully dressed.
A shot of relief ran through her, and Winnie couldn't help but smile. "Oh—good job, Banks! Good job, you—" Her gaze dropped to the old clothing now clutched in his arm, and she carefully plucked it away. "Here, I'll take care of that for you, okay? I don't know how they do laundry here... um..."
After she had folded Banks's old clothing into a neat pile, she darted to the closet and picked one of the less flashy dresses—a knee-length, beige number made of stiff fabric, with puffy sleeves and a rounded collar—and turned to the bathroom door.
"I'll just be a moment," she murmured hurriedly. "Sorry—I'll be quick—"
And she was, slipping into the dress in a rush and with as little eye contact with her reflection in the mirror as possible. When she emerged from the bathroom, Winnie felt the urge to fling her old sweatshirt across the room in revulsion, but she forced herself to fold it neatly beside Banks's old clothes.
"Um... would you like to sit down, Banks? Or take a nap, maybe?" She glanced uncertainly at the bed and then at Banks. "Do you, um... do you still need sleep, or...?"
Banks took a moment where he seemed to be taking stock of himself, more or less. There was a little shake of his head, either he didn't need to sit down, or take a nap, or sleep. It was hard to tell which question he was shaking his head at.
What he did do was move to stand facing the door again, back against the wall behind him. He was going to keep watch, keep Winnie safe. This had been his job before he died, and he carried it with him after his death and re-creation.
Winnie's heart pinched in dismay as Banks positioned himself where he had been just a moment prior: standing guard at the door. Any and all attempts to reach him, to find his will in that swirling consciousness, had failed. The friendly cop who liked to play video games was gone: she had killed him, replacing him with a version that lived only to serve her.
Disgusting. She hugged her arms around herself, nails raking into her shoulders. Of all the people in the world, she was perhaps least deserving of Banks's devotion. A pitiful, cowardly thing like her—she, who had abandoned her little sister and ran from what troubled her with her tail between her legs—what made her worthy of having someone to fight for her? If only Banks had been assigned to guard someone else. Then, perhaps, he would be free now.
Winnie retreated to the bed and sat on the edge of it, teeth digging into her lip. Even now, she thought bitterly, you're sitting here, feeling sorry for yourself. This isn't about you.
In her mind, a distant, almost-forgotten voice rang: Grow up, Winifred.
She withdrew her teeth from her lip and clamped them together, her gaze shifting over to Banks. Here he was, suffering for her, fighting for her, and all she could do was sit back and brood uselessly about it. That had been the story of her life: hanging back, running away, ducking under any trouble that came her way. And so she decided: if Banks was so determined to fight for her... she ought to try to fight for him, too.
She wasn't used to fighting, wasn't even quite sure where to begin. But the impossible had already happened once that day—Banks had returned from the dead. Perhaps, impossibly, she could learn to be brave, too.
Chase wuffled and then moved from where he was sitting on the floor. Using his arms, with some movement in his legs to help as much as they could, he started to use the side of the cot to lift himself off the floor. The aim was to get onto the cot as the floor had been growing steadily uncomfortable.
Bug cooed softly now and then, a little distracted by this or that, so when he finally noticed this, Chase was nearly there on his own. "What's wrong with your legs?" Chase had to use his hands to manually get his legs fully on the cot.
"Something about the siphoning process, caused real damage. I'm thinking the pain in that dream thing, was real, and well. I can move them some, but can't lock my knees, so can't put weight on them." Wuffle wuffle. "No running for me, right now." Though based on the underlying tone of his voice, he doubted if ever again.
Bug pouted and threw himself into a hug around Chase's chest. "POOR .." He instantly quieted down when he remembered they weren't supposed to be loud. "Poor puppy!" Caw caw!
Foster was just letting his gaze shift all around, taking in the faces and listening to the conversations, both in the room, and by the many little animals usually vying for his attention. Most of the time he could handle it fine. Just not when he was getting overwhelmed, or stressed out, to name a few. "Okay okay. Shush!" He shook his head. "This is too much for me. Y'all let me know if you need me to do anything."
He then moved to an unoccupied spot along the floor, changing forms on the way. He reverted to the Coatimundi, the raccoon like animal, who curled up against the wall, toying with the end of his tail. Chortling and making other assorted little noises. He had just effectively tapped out of what was going on and sought to center himself with some self imposed solitude.
Rhevens was faring only a little better, and absently reached to scratch Silver behind an ear, mumbling. "Yeah uh.. no clue what's going on but.. whatever people need."
Sage hustled after leaving the secret area, and moved to meet someone at the entrance to the labyrinth. From there, it was about another ten minutes before the minotaur came through the garden door. Ears were a little drooped, but twirled once when he saw Hayley there. There was confusion in his scrunched up expression as he eyed Maylee briefly before looking to Razial.
"You asked for Sage?"
Razial clapped as he moved to stand. "Yes, yes I did. You can talk to stone, yes?" Razial started to nod his head, and his tone of voice sounded like someone talking to a child. His words were slow, slightly drawn out, and ended with the last syllable raised slightly in pitch, as if everything was a question.
Sage's ears twirled, one hand moving to rub at a horn stub. "Yes. Sage can. Yes."
Razial looked pleased. "Excellent. Please.. over here." He touched the wall where the scent just stopped. "Maylee Song has tracked an errant mouse to this wall, but it stopped. Can you ask the rock where it went? Would the rock have intelligence to tell you such?"
Sage glanced to Hayley, then Maylee, and he slowly moved toward the wall Razial was touching. "Maybe. Sage try." He moved and placed a hand flat to the wall, ears twirling as he faced the wall to hide how he was trying to think of what to tell Razial.
A flurry of scents greeted her with a strengthened flare as Silver took her spot at the edge of the group. The fae’s eyes glowed with sentience as she absorbed the ambience of the room as well as the aura of each individual standing within the stone barrack’s walls. The words ‘white wolf’ snapped her attention away from the buzzing in her thoughts, fur bristling up before smoothing when she noted that the bear had spoken to her.
His aura in particular shielded that of another, if her senses were correct; as if the bear was an entirely separate entity like Midnight was to Rhevens. The air seemed to hum around him in particular, as if something invisible enveloped him that didn’t quite want to reveal itself. Magic, perhaps? But more familiar than that of Sage’s or what the structure around them was made of.
“I’m not entirely sure as to how I even got this way.” Silver started, but no sound came from her. Rather, she responded automatically from her thoughts as if he could hear her from the beginning. If the bear was a spirit similar to the one that occupied her mind as a wolf—the one that may have had a part in reflecting the form she now sat in—then maybe he could indeed hear her answer. “Or how to even go about going back to being human.”
Her ears pinned at the mention of a spirit collection, wondering how much this bear knew. The beings she’d confided in without uttering a word about them to her parents or friends that she could meet only in rare dreams.. could he see them?
Silver huffed quietly, tamping down her inner frustration to settle with the fact that all of this would be new to her whether she liked it or not. She instead tuned into the inquiry from the man whom leaned against the walls, his scent carrying an underlying tinge of blood. For someone that smelt like that, he seemed exhausted by a sort of burden—someone that didn’t carry true ill intent.
Movement from the opposite side of the room edging towards them drew her attention away as the woman with the pointy-ears made her way towards them. Porcelain skin clad in casual clothing that didn’t match the lithe gait she strode through the crowd in. She was... captivating.
She paced like a caged tiger; unable to stand in one spot for possible fear that she’d miss an opportunity of some kind. Sage’s answer didn’t seem to quell anyone’s disassociations or encroaching concerns.
Fear and anxiety reeked from a particular corner she’d already grown accustomed to tasting as it hit the roof of her mouth, coming from none other than Foster whom had decided to detach himself entirely from the situation at hand by turning into a somewhat familiar looking animal.
The back of her mind whispered predatory instincts when Foster began playing with his tail, his back turned to her being a trigger despite her having been around his tinier mouse form. Was it because she was sinking further into the comfort of her wolf form and allowing it to take the reins in the midst of an unknown crowd?
Warmth sifted between the fur behind her ear and distracted her from the quiet desire to lunge at the small mammal across the way. Rhevens seemed to be her anchor for now when she forgot to keep herself in check. It would’ve been rather easy for her to simply allow herself to truly lose the thin tether she already had to humanity but for some reason she found herself unable to quite cut the string.
That other human though, the one ‘wuffling’, the cawing human beside him had called him a puppy and the scent that cling to him was remotely familiar so it couldn’t be a coincidence that he was some sort of canine as well. A shifter, perhaps? If they were similar and magic was a thing in this world—then maybe she could help with his legs somehow? Maybe the bear would know.
A cold, heavy dread pervaded her being, hanging down from her shoulders like frost overtaking the eaves of a roof. What happened next—it depended on the minotaur. Maylee clamped her teeth shut behind her lips and swallowed thickly, vowing privately that, no matter what happened, she must do everything in her power to protect Leif—
—even if that power was only a pittance.
Heavy footfalls echoed in the doorway, then, and then a familiar voice lanced through her ears; Maylee's head shot up to get a glimpse of the newcomer. Before she could stop herself, a startled whisper escaped her lips:
Sage was the minotaur? Despite his kind, warming presence, Maylee felt a sting of fear, felt her muscles clench in reflex. She remembered the moment she met Sage, awakening foggily to his soothing voice, only to find herself fastened to a table; then Razial had spoken, introducing her to a new kind of pain, changing her world forever. Yes, that moment in that bed—ever since that moment, her consciousness had been a delirious blur of fear and uncertainty, her being nothing more than a fly encircled in the venomous Razial's web.
But Sage... he was kind, was different from the rest of this place that reeked of evil; she could see it even in the tiny corner of paradise he had carved out for himself: a little garden, a soothing pool of water, the gentle lapping of fish. Phoenix had said that the minotaur was sweet, and now that Maylee saw it was Sage, she knew it to be true.
And so a deep, petrifying guilt began to knead within her as she realized what she had done: in tracing the mouse to this place, in having Sage summoned here, she was putting yet another person in danger who didn't deserve it.
Her face felt suddenly hot, her blood beating in her ears; Maylee glanced frantically around the garden, desperately searching for some sort of miracle elixir to the situation, something to get Sage out of the bind she had consigned him to.
Idiot, she rebuked herself. Think. For once, don't be useless—for once—
But it was too late; Razial had already asked Sage to press his ear to the rock, and Maylee felt her heart plummet to her stomach, splashing and burning in the pool of acid. For a brief moment, Sage glanced at her, and she was seized by the overpowering urge to apologize to him, to take his heavy hand and squeeze it, to promise she would do what she could to fix it—
But what can you do? What can you possibly do to help anyone?
For a moment, she tried to say to Sage with her eyes what she could not with her lips, and then her gaze dropped to the floor in shame. She could only hope her heart was pounding loudly enough to block out the sound of anything moving within the stone.
The broken wolf. What a strange way to word it. So that was what Maylee’s shifting looked like to the Bear, and it actually wasn’t hard to know why. Fuelled by dark magic and dark feelings, it wasn’t natural, and though Leif had never seen her wolf form, it probably didn’t resemble that of born shifters. Blood didn’t lie. Nevertheless, the Bear’s words had been reassuring, and he’d given a small, but true, smile while looking away. Yes, she was strong enough to survive anything, and she'd more than proven it.
Then, after the others arrived, the Bear mentioned a dragon holding Levi captive. That made rescue a lot more worrisome indeed, but that wasn’t what picked Leif’s attention, and instead the question of who said dragon was. Devlin hadn’t mentioned any other dragons, so could it be possible that he was never on their side to begin with?
Clearly, the Bear had access to more knowledge than any of them, and maybe he could find out who the dragon was. At that time, however, speaking would be a strain, and Leif was kind of glad when the Bear addressed the white wolf for the time, allowing him to postpone his questioning a little bit.
Leif nodded when Sage informed them that the walls were soundproof to an extent, and again when he showed them a possible escape route if things went south and he didn’t come back, which sounded like a real possibility given how tense the minotaur seemed to be. That, too, prevented Leif from asking any further questions, and he said a low ‘good luck’ as he watched Sage leave to meet the monster. All he could do.
If the scents and sounds in the room weren’t so overwhelming, he’d have to resist the urge to knock on the door at the end of the newly revealed corridor, but for now he just shut his eyes, back of his head against the rock wall again as he pulled his knees a little closer.
The nearby movement of Chase getting on the cot pulled his mind back to the rock room, just as his senses were slowly starting to accommodate and the smells and sounds started to decrease in intensity and weren’t as assailing, though he still wasn’t comfortable. Shit, maybe he should’ve helped. Maybe not, and Chase would prefer to get around on his own as much as possible. Either way, Bug was quick to notice something was wrong and had moved over. Eyes widened when he yelled again, but this time he thankfully didn’t require shutting up, and hopefully no one had heard them yet.
“That’s not like you.” No, Chase hadn’t said anything that ‘wasn’t like him’ per se, but Leif hadn’t failed to notice the underlying tone he’d used, one that lacked his usual optimism. “We’ll figure something out.” His tone was calm when he looked at Chase, even reassuring, and gave a small nod. No, he wasn’t sure his legs could be fixed, but he had yet to see something that couldn’t be fixed by the right spell (or curse). Even death had been cheated before, dammit. Sure, they had to make it out of there too, and about that the vampire was perhaps not so optimist, so that not so small detail was overlooked for now.
Foster’s little fit drew his attention for a moment, and Leif watched as the man shifted into a weird raccoon to go curl up in a corner. The whole display screamed of ‘finicky useless little bitch’. At least Rhevens seemed to have his shit together in a way, so did the wolf. Though they were as lost as everyone else, if not more. If he needed them to do anything? The offer sounded absurd, as if he knew much more than they did. Since going back to where they came from, taking their bloods with them, wasn’t a possibility, not yelling and not losing their shit would have to do.
Razial was someone who saved this crazy bitch? Maybe there was a big reason why her father put her where she was. One could very well be how fucking insane she was. Sadistic. He even helped with this whole coven shit, that still would never sit well with the vampire. Hearing Indy alone being one of them started to make her blood boil within her veins You're kidding me. She actually signed the paper? Dammit Indy...its a damn death sentence with these guys. Seriously. I would know. then, there was that name "Maylee". Her eyes began to widen as she stared at Harley Quinn here, "Maylee?" she said in a soft tone as the sound of slap seemed to fill the air for just a brief moment.
As much as Roje wanted to be happy that Key got fuckin' clapped, she couldn't. Her pup was here. The girl that came by the club asking for her, asking to be stronger...The same girl that she helped to become more skilled, and bond with as if she was her daughter. Talking on the dock that one morning, watching the sun rise. Telling the pup to become stronger than she was. She has my pup. This crazy bitch has my fucking pup. when Alyce asked about her kitty, her hazel eyes shifted slightly, staring at her and moving just barely to move the cat out of her vision a little bit "Not till you tell me about Maylee. You want your kitty? I want my Pup." Maylee was a girl she kept in her heart. Would protect no matter what "This would explain why I didn't hear from her for a long damn time."
Coda’s eyes and ears were sharp as he listened to Alyce’s explanation of this Razial—he was able to harness the power of magic, given that he was teaching his apparent protégé how to use it, but there was little indication as to what exactly his magical abilities entailed. Far more telling was the dreamy, almost admiring way Alyce referred to him. He had rescued her from a terrible fate she had been consigned to by an uncaring father, and there was little doubt as to where her loyalties now lay. That could only mean one thing—
Razial was loftier in the coven, even, than Alyce. The top of the top, it seemed. Coda felt agitation brewing within him, frustrated that this man existed while he knew so little about him. When would they meet? Would they? They had better. He needed to see the man with his own eyes, scope out his abilities. To Coda, everyone was a threat, and none more so than those stronger than him.
(How bitter it tasted to admit it.)
Before he could fire off any follow-up questions, though, Alyce turned her attention to Indy, who had apparently signed a contract—so that’s why she’s being so uncharacteristically cooperative, he thought dubiously. His charge, the dragon girl, the fearsome being who could snuff out a life in flame in an instant, was celebrating what she viewed as her growing family, and among that family—
As soon as the name passed Alyce’s lips, every cell in Coda’s body came to an abrupt stop. Blood ceased its flow, lungs turned to stone; for a moment, even, his sight failed him, swathing the room in a brief and total darkness. When he surfaced from the depths, his lungs were shuddering, teeth chattering, skin as clammy as if he had just clawed his way out of freezing water.
They knew who she was; he knew that much. They knew where she was. He vividly remembered those images Key had shown him, the images that had burned permanently into his memory—his sister growing from a thin, timid little wisp to a broken, hungry hunter and then a wolf shattered beyond repair. He had recognized the locations of some of those photos; others, after she had departed from his life, he hadn’t, but while he had no doubt the coven knew where she was at the very moment Key showed off those images—
He couldn’t have imagined she would be in the single worst place in the world she possibly could. Close to him.
A sickening dizziness had overcome him, and Coda pressed his hands over his eyes as a film of the last few days began to race by on rapid rewind: the restlessness, the hunger, the anger. Smashing Indy’s hand, stabbing Roje through the heart, tearing Banks’s arm away in his teeth. This time, though, Maylee was there, just out of reach, watching: her eyes were wide, paralyzed, her letterman jacket spattered with the blood he had spilled everywhere, absolutely everywhere. The same girl who had walked into the place they had once both called home and pleaded with him to make some sort of sense out of the mind-numbing tragedy he had created.
In the vision, he lurched towards her, not across the living room of their bloody house but down the halls of the labyrinth, and when he grabbed her by the shoulders and prepared to pluck her heart out with his teeth, he heard Alyce screaming in fury, and Maylee burst into flames in his hands.
Coda’s eyes shot open, his breathing ragged. He was still in that room, still with Roje and Indy and Key. Vaguely, he knew Roje was speaking, but her voice was warped by the ringing in his ears, everyone’s faces distorted except for Alyce’s. Shivering at every inch, Coda clamped a hand over Alyce’s shoulder.
“Maylee,” he said, his voice as tense and as the charcoal-gray sky that preceded a hurricane. “Maylee. You said Maylee.”
The thought that it could be someone else, some other woman with that name, barely entered his mind. There were no accidents here. This coven, the same one that had been watching him every night since childhood, knew what they were doing.
“Where is she? Where—“ Alyce seemed impossibly far away, and so he leaned in closer, his voice rattling violently. “—is—she? I have to find her. I have to find her.”
Find her. Find her. Yes, that was it. He had seen it—how many deaths there were to die in this hellish place, each more agonizing than the last. He had been the facilitator of many of them. Would she die in a column of flames? Gored by the horns of a minotaur? Blasted to bits by a wave of eldritch magic?
He was stiff and taut as he released Alyce’s shoulder and looked around the spinning room. Dazedly, he stumbled in the direction he last thought he had seen the door.
He had already failed her beyond any hope of return. His only choice was to kill her before anyone else could. All he could hope to give her now was a quick, painless end.
Alyce at first was disappointed, then perturbed, when Coda's, whatever she was, dared to not give her the kitty. Her eyes took on a deeper fire, and her expression started to change, but then Coda held onto her shoulder, and the attention was diverted, so there wasn't any flaming bodies yet.
"I just know the name. I don't know anything more about the girl Razial took under his wing." However, when Coda dared to say he had to go find her and moved to actually leave Alyce's side without permission, well. Hell was glimpsed in those eyes.
"Ini iejir oath, wux faestir ve." The red lightning she used in a spell earlier now came to life in her eyes. Dancing, weaving, flashing with her anger.
If Coda reached the door and attempted to leave, his very blood would feel as if it was on fire from the inside out. The blood oath would ensure he remained by Alyce's side as her protector, one way or another.
While Key just calmly, and very slowly, moved backward and away from Alyce and her personal area of effect. Wendy also seemed to take her cue from Key and did the same, pressed back against the display glass where a certain coin continued to sing to Indy.
As Coda's foot met the floor, a shock of pain shot up through his leg, as if he had stepped straight into a vat of acid—and it did not stop there. Dizzying, wrenching pain blackened his vision as it raced up the nerves in his legs, across his lungs, from shoulder to fingertip—it did not spare even his brain, boiling in his skull and rapidly distorting all of his thoughts into a senseless cacophony. In a split second, his body had become a map of anguish, the rivers his veins that frothed with burning blood.
He could not withhold an animal cry of agony—some distant, functioning part of his brain was disgusted at the thought of showing weakness, but it was blotted out by every inch of id swimming in pain. Coda dropped to his knees, doubling over and breathing raggedly, feverishly. A moment ago, there had been purpose in his mind; now, there was only confusion. Where was he? Were those voices around him? Who was here—? Mom never allowed company over—
No, no. Mom was gone. Malik and Adrien, then? They liked to have company—Adrien did, at least—but as Coda's teeth clamped over his tongue and the taste of blood filled his mouth, he remembered that they, too, were gone.
There was only one thought he was capable of hanging onto. Maylee. Maylee. Mayleemayleemaylee.
Where was she? He didn't know. There was only a vague yet certain impression that she was in some kind of horrific, implacable danger, and he needed to get to her or else—or else she would be gone forever, and if Maylee went, everything that had ever been good about him would go with her.
If Maylee died, the half of him that was still clinging to humanity would die, too. There would be nothing left but demon.
His limbs were shaking in violent, erratic spasms, the pain blocking out any sense of direction he may have had, but with another anguished cry, he forced a hand forward and painfully dragged the rest of his body along and began to crawl.
Roje glanced at Coda, picking up the sounds of his rough breathing. Something was going on with him too, though the words that came from his mouth had seemed to make it a little clear as to why. He knows Maylee? she asked herself, watching him as he grasped Alyce's shoulders, catching her attention away from the Vampire. Coda's now acting weird too. What does Maylee have to do with him? the brunette was fully expecting something to go wrong once again at any given moment. It was always one thing after another, and another, and another. One wrong move is all it took to start a domino effect. Watching Coda head for the door, she spoke up "Co-" before his name could leave her lips, Alyce spoke in her odd tongue once again. Hazel eyes shifted between the two, only to watch as the demon in the room crumble to the floor, clearly in pain. The blood rushing through his veins, his heart beating rapidly.
This girl is a spoiled brat. Her way or the highway, people. "Coda." she called, moving slowly away from Alyce and toward him. She crouched down, using one of her arms to support the cat while her other hand reached out and grabbed his that was reaching to pull himself forward "Listen," her voice was softer, trying to keep her words from being heard clear as day "You cant push yourself like this. If you do, you're going to hurt yourself more. I don't know what your connection to Maylee is, but she's just as important to me as she is to you." Roje took a quick look back at the others in the room before returning her attention to him again "Alyce has a leash on you and she's not going to let you just waltz out of here. You've seen what she can do. We need to take this a step at a time."
A voice reached his ears, distant and tinny, and something closed around his hand—something warm. He stiffened, confused—Coda? Why was she calling him Coda? That wasn't even a name—
The word Maylee escaped her lips, and Coda's head jerked up, eyes frantically searching for hers in the blurry fog that was his vision. Finally, a pair of hazel eyes penetrated the cacophony that the pain had turned his senses into, and bit by bit, things began to flood back.
Roje—that was Roje, the vampire whose lips he had tasted for an agonizingly short time. She was calling him Coda because, as far as she knew, that was his name. He was in Ecuador, at the headquarters of a coven he had been working at for a year; he had just been promoted to the position of bodyguard for Alyce—
Alyce. Alyce the dragon. That was her dragonflame shooting through his veins now, boiling him alive. He was supposed to be protecting her, after all.
Coda squeezed Roje's hand in an effort to blot out the pain, clenched his teeth as he struggled to lift himself to a seated position. The pain continued to tear through him, and he couldn't hold back another groan of pain, but he managed to pull himself upright, still clinging to Roje's hand. Staring at her, breath ragged, he tried to summon his voice.
"...Maylee?" he croaked, the only word it seemed his heavy tongue could form. Roje had recognized that name, too, hadn't she? But why—when had they met? How? Stupidly, he felt a sort of primal jealousy gnawing within him at the implication that Roje and Maylee meant more to each other than he did to either.
Coda gritted his teeth. Focus, dumbass. Still trembling, he nodded, indicating that he had heard and understood what Roje had said. "Step... at... a time."
As soon as Coda stopped trying to leave, stopped trying to abandon his position as Alyce's bodyguard, the pain would begin to subside quickly. It would still ache, like an overused muscle, a reminder of the oath he swore and the bond would guarantee he kept.
"What are you saying?" Alyce demanded to know what they were talking about. Also, still highly irritated. "Give. Me. My. Kitty." Eyes still danced with red and orange as she once more focused on Roje and Levi.
Roje kept her face serious, but in her eyes, there was compassion. Despite his past mistakes, he had more of a drive as a human than he did as the demon he has shown multiple times he could be. His hand had squeezed hers, with the strength he possessed, it felt nothing more than like a firm handshake between two businessmen. As he tried to sit up, she helped with the best of her ability and refused to break her look from his. Giving a brief nod when he questioned Maylee being mentioned, and then giving another as he confirmed her words. "There you go." the one corner of her lips -that wasn't exposed to others within the room- had tugged slightly to almost give a smile, but faded quickly as she heard Alyce speak up.
Turning her attention slowly over, she spoke "I'm giving him words of encouragement. Nothing more." she answered, "Also, if you want your Kitty, I would like to have my pup. It sounds like a fair trade, doesn't it?" her hand barely squeezed his hand as she spoke her next words "A pet for a pet. You have your own special pet, and I have mine. I would like mine back." oh it killed her to say these words. Maylee wasn't a pet, she was a girl that she cared so deeply for and would die for. That girl deserved life, life that didn't involve darkness like this one.
The denial only ignited her fury further. Her eyes were more orange and red than anything else. Her skin looked flushed, lightning danced along her fingertips and palms. And if Key and Wendy could get any further away, they would have.
"I'll tell you what a fair trade is. My kitty, or your life. That sounds like a fair trade, doesn't it?" Hell, she very nearly spat fire. The dragon's mouth looked like it could at any moment.
Leviathan was trying to move from Roje's shoulder and go to Alyce, growling a little if he was held back.
The pain, finally, had begun to subside—it wasn’t gone, but he could at least think clearly again. Pup—Roje was calling Maylee her pup. They must have met, then, after she had gone through her werewolf transformation, after she had gone from his life.
But... pet? Coda gritted his teeth, anger flashing hot in his face. Did Roje really think of Maylee as a pet? His heart was beginning to pound in fury when a flash of sense came to his mind—no, idiot, she’s bluffing. That was it. Roje was trying to appeal to Alyce’s nature. He allowed his shoulders to relax, but only slightly. Maylee was still here, somewhere, still in trouble, and Alyce was threatening to kill Roje.
No way, he thought fiercely. Alyce was his charge, but protecting her and protecting Roje didn’t need to be mutually exclusive. He couldn’t let Alyce hurt Roje.
He placed a hand heavily on Roje’s shoulder and stared intently into her eyes, trying to keep his own from melting out of his skull with the panicked heat running through him. If giving the stupid cat back would get him closer to finding where Maylee was, then the cat had to go.
“Let him go,” he said to Roje through teeth clenched in agitated tension. They were wasting time.
Roje opened her mouth to talk back to the spoiled brat, only to feel Coda's hand anchor down on her shoulder while Levi hopped off her and went back to Alyce. She wanted to stop the cat, but if she did, she was gonna be killed for the third time in her life. Pick your battles, Roje. Don't start pulling moves now. looking at her partner in (potential?) crime, his eyes bore into hers, strong, and made it clear to let the cat go. At first, it took her a moment to react, but she did, giving him a brief and small nod. Damn it, next time I wont let him go. Not after what we found out today. "What now, Alyce. Now that you got what you wanted." she said, but refusing to look at her.
When Levi was close enough, Alyce angrily snatched up the leash, and tugged slash pulled the cat into her arms. He wasn't comfortable, but also knew better than to struggle. She hissed more than a cat at the 'what now'.
"You both have been amazingly rude and disobedient. Demanding things when you're in no position to demand anything. Coda has more right here than you, but to try and abandon me when you swore a blood oath not that very long ago? Ridiculous!"
There was a small sound from the cat when Alyce's arms grew tight in her furious tirade. But she did ease up on the hold, letting the cat move to her shoulder while still glaring at Roje and Coda. "I'm wondering now if I made the wrong choice." Now one hand moved to pet the clouded leopard as she debated the 'what now'.
Coda gritted his teeth in frustration and dismay. Fucking hell—he had been working for this promotion for a year, and for what? To throw it all away in a split second? But it wasn't a mere whim—whatever complicated feelings wrestled within him, Maylee was important to him. And he could feel, now, the two dragons within him duking it out again: who was he? What did he want? Power beyond compare or unconditional love?
His fists clenched at his sides. Maylee didn't love him anymore, though. She would never again regard him with anything but hatred—his blood-stained hands had made sure of that.
The voices swirling in his head took it a step further: Poor, dumb schoolboy. You think she ever loved you to begin with?
That one. That girl. I hate her. She's the one you let get away.
So she's here—perfect. You can finish what you started three years ago.
His teeth clenched harder, and Coda fought the urge to clamp his hands over his ears. Everything inside him—it was a confusing, disorienting blur, and he couldn't tell what he was feeling anymore. Did he want to save Maylee or kill her? Did he love her or loathe her?
Whatever he felt, he couldn't allow Alyce to incinerate him and Roje where they stood. A twinge of anger pulled within him—fuck, if only Key had been the one to say Maylee's name, not Alyce. She represented power, was his path to power.
Pain flared up within him again as he shifted from sitting to kneeling on one knee, his head lowered, gaze burning into the floor.
"It was weakness," he said. "Maylee and I were... siblings. When I heard her name, for a moment, I... was weak. I stopped thinking clearly." He took in a breath through his teeth. "I will not try to abandon you again."
Alyce tilted her head, but some of the fury did seem to disappear with Coda's submission and admission. The red orange began to receded, albeit slowly. "Siblings? Oh." She scratched behind the cat's ear.
"I have a brother. Well, adopted really. I can understand how siblings can make you crazy. But.." Her voice grew firm again. "There is a time and place for everything. And if you don't want your... what is she to you, anyway?" She gestured to Roje then.
It would be nice to stuff a sock in her mouth... maybe knock her out with some chemicals. That way, we won’t have to hear her constant bitching. The Vampire thought, a slight smirk tugging her lips You chose wrong thinking I’d be on your side you ungrateful crazy. her thoughts were bitter, laced with venom. The movement of Coda pulled her back to the world of the living as he got to a knee. Almost as if he was bowing to Alyce Coda are you fucking insane? Bowing down to someone like her? it could be possible he was playing the same game that she had just earlier.
However, what escaped his mouth had her eyes widen in surprise. Coda was the brother that Maylee spoke about? The same guy that murdered her parents... well... kinda makes sense now with the whole demon thing but it didn’t stop Roje from being shocked nonetheless. Turning her attention to Alyce, she thought about what she even was to Coda. Was she a love interest? Just a lover? Friends with benefits? The pair never specified and in her mind, she really didn’t think about it. So instead of picking something that could possibly make him explode his own head, she chose something else “An anchor.” She said simply, her expression quickly shifting to that of seriousness. Alyce didn’t deserve any other expressions from her “I’m helpful, to him that is.”
“She’s his emotional support animal,” Indy added, internally wincing at calling her sister an animal. “Keeps his hormones in check. Key almost allowed him to kill me the other day—if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have had the chance to work together, Miss Alyce.” Indy smirked at Key, tapping her fingers on the contract as she prayed for Coda to shut the fuck up and pull the attention away from Roje.
Alyce's eyes widened a bit, when Roje answered. And then Indy, both receiving a bit of a perturbed glare from her. "I did not ask you, or you. And if that were true, you've done a piss poor job of it." She gave Roje a thorough eyeing before focusing back on Coda, the only one who seemed to understand the severity of what transpired.
"Coda. I will ask Razial for more information on your sister. However.. your... pet, is no longer welcomed in my presence. Henceforth, when you are serving as my bodyguard, she is to remain in your room, is that clear?"
She gestured toward Key then, waving him closer without looking in his direction. "Key will walk with you back to your room, and will make sure she is safe and secure. We don't want her getting hurt wandering around on her own. Do we?"
What is she to you, anyway?
Coda glared down at the floor, unable to answer the question even in the privacy of his own mind. What was Roje to him, indeed? A nuisance, to begin with—when they had met, her relentless teasing had gone from pesky irritation to pitiless torment, and oh, how he had hated her for that. And yet, even at the beginning, there were those flashes of a strange, warm bond, the type he hadn't felt in years.
And then the hunger, the heat of his lips trailing down her neck—the type of bond he hadn't felt ever.
He gritted his teeth, confused. Whatever Roje was, she was important to him, but how exactly was he to put it into words? A friend? Maybe, but... it was more complicated than that. A lover? Wishful thinking, and not that simple. Briefly, a memory flashed in his mind: how he had fatally stabbed her and then inexplicably healed her, ensnaring her in his arms and growling only one word:
Before he could decide what to say, Roje spoke up, referring to herself as an anchor—he glanced at her, sharp, surprised—and then Indy, calling her sister his 'emotional support animal' in her typically insufferable sardonic demeanor. He shot a glare at Indy, but then Alyce spoke, drawing his attention.
Maylee—she would ask Razial about Maylee. Meanwhile, Roje was no longer allowed near her. Coda's first response was an instinctive shot of refusal—no; if he was to protect Roje, he had to keep an eye on her—but it occurred to him swiftly that it might be better for her after all. Staying away from Alyce seemed like a far safer option for Roje.
"Understood," he said, nodding at Alyce and then glancing at Roje, hoping to communicate his intent with his eyes: Go. Get away from her. You'll be safer. Then he glanced at Indy, and a thought began to tug at his mind. He gritted his teeth, resisting it for a moment before speaking up.
"My... liege," he said, hoping it sounded vaguely fancy enough to please Alyce, since he didn't have a fucking clue how to address people politely. "You said that you understand the dynamics between siblings. These two..." He looked at Roje, then at Indy. "They're sisters. Separated for a long time. Might you allow them some time together? Indigo has already signed the contract. Proven her loyalty."
He cast a furtive, sour glance at Indy, silently urging her not to open her big mouth and fuck this up because dammit, he was trying to help her and Roje out here.
Roje was appreciative of the help from Indy, her sister. But Alyce made it clear that she wasn't asking either of them. What followed afterward only made her blood boil as she glared over. Put me near that tiny skinny dick Key and I'm going to come for you in your nightmares. "I'm not a child." she said bitterly, slowly getting back onto her feet and dusting off her knees. Her eyes had locked with Codas once again, but it was brief before he addressed Alyce, completely not thinking about the fact that he just threw her only way of having even ground with Alyce. Coda you dumb fuck. Why the hell would you tell her that?! she thought, her jaw clenching while her hands balled into fists He just gave her the upper hand. She could literally hold it against my neck like a blade.
Looking back to Alyce, she waited to see what curve ball she was gonna throw next.
Alyce was torn between being frustrated and just all around irritated. This was now how the tour was supposed to go down. And she still didn't have her shifter of tiny forms. She stomped one foot, and waved Key toward Roje and Indy. "Help Coda escort those two back to his room. They can both stay there while Coda finishes his training with me. Make sure neither of them can open the door. If they start wandering around I will kill them."
She moved to take a seat in the chair at the desk, pulling the cat a bit roughly into her lap where she petted it just as roughly, trying to calm down.
Key nodded his head and moved to the door, where he waited for Coda to lead.
Coda's head jerked up in surprise when Alyce answered in the affirmative, and he nodded in a stiff manner. "Thank you," he muttered, and then he pulled himself to his feet. For a moment, the room swam a little, and his head felt strangely light; for perhaps the first time, Coda noticed, for real, where he was. Deep in the belly of some mountain in Ecuador. Somewhere nearby was his sister, a wolf, perhaps being tortured at this very moment. In front of him, a dragon angrily stroked a leopard; he risked incineration by trying to intercede for some vampire who referred to him as a soft drink and her sister who was also a cat. All of this trouble for some snot-nosed kid who could turn into a mouse, and—
Of course, there was him. Chewing off a cop's arm. Swallowing a still-beating heart whole. He was the biggest freak of the bunch.
For a brief but terrifying moment, Coda was struck by the familiar, choking sensation that he was not real, that he would lift his hands in front of his face and find them translucent, a network of illusory veins pulsing beneath skin that might as well be plastic. His breath began to hitch, and he found himself wishing for Alyce to engulf him in flames where he stood. In that agony, at least, he knew he existed.
But it passed. Gritting his teeth, frustrated with himself, Coda brushed past Indy and Roje and Key and began to lead the way back to his room, grimly silent the whole way. When they arrived, he opened the door with the ring Alyce had given him and stepped inside, crossing immediately over to the cell in the corner of the room and slamming the door decisively shut. Hopefully he had made his point clear: No one goes in the cage.
He wasn't Key.
Coda turned around then, glancing from Indy to Key and finally to Roje, and his tongue felt heavy in his mouth. His head swam with the thought that he should say something, perhaps, but Key was standing right there, and even if he wasn't—
What was he supposed to say? An impassioned declaration of his desire to protect her? What a fucking joke, he thought bitterly. She would laugh in his face.
So he merely brushed past the three, stepping out through the door into the oily-dark hallway.
"Break's over," he muttered. "Back to work." As he turned to make his way down the hall, in a brief flash of madness, he thought this could be his chance to abscond and find Maylee—the only person he knew he could trust, even if he trusted her to loathe him—but his feet wrested control from his mind and began to carry him back to Alyce.
Clementine perked up at Dusk’s mention of Lew. “She said that about my pendant?” She looked down at the small heart enclosed in her fingers. “It does always give some kind of comfort. Maybe you’re right. Mom was an amazing witch.” Clementine smiled and gave the pendant one last squeeze.
After agreeing with his command, she watched Dusk leave. The shower sounded very tempting, especially after all the stress. She made her way to the bathroom and prepared a relaxing shower. Under the hot spray, Clementine felt her sore muscles loosen up.
After what felt like forever she dried herself off and wandered over to the “magical dresser.” The shower left her body relaxed and warm, so the only clothes option she felt suited this moment was her father’s old, baggy sweatshirt, a soft t-shirt, and a comfortable pair of pants. Clementine investigated the door Dusk left out of and ran her fingers over it. It was strange how much she trusted this stranger with how little she knew of him. It made her nervous, but deep
Inside of her she knew he could be trusted. That was a feeling Clementine missed.
She decided to check the other door and put her ear to it. Clementine did not know what she was listening for, but she followed Dusk’s motions. Her thoughts wandered towards Sage and who this person could be. A rush of nervousness and fear rushed through her, but she tried to quell it. If they were friends with Lew, then they were friends with Clementine.
Razial was patient, for the most part. He waited quietly beside the minotaur as he was supposedly talking to the rock. But after a couple of minutes, he had to prod. "Well? Is it talking?" He even tilted his head, attempting to get Sage's attention.
Ears still drooped, still twirling slowly, the minotaur did turn his face to glance toward Razial, but then looked back at the rock. It was easier to lie when you didn't meet someone's eyes. Rumbling softly, Sage answered, "Rock talk. Say no holes in wall. Mouse not get through wall."
Razial sulked a bit, but asked more questions. "Okay, what about any wolves? Or shifter wolf things? One was a human and wolf. Ask it about them. Go on." He grinned, pleased with himself for remembering such lovely clues.
Sage nodded, and again turned more fully to the wall, hands pressed against it as he 'talked' to the rock. Knowing this time he would only have a minute, two tops, he didn't linger, but waited long enough to have had a 'conversation'. Rumble. Snort. "Sage ask. Rock say no wolf or human get through wall."
Razial smacked Sage's arm, but lightly, like they were pals or something. "No no. Ask if it knows where they went. This whole place is stone and rock, they must know where they went."
Sage's ears drooped a bit more, but he soon came back with an answer. "Rock say no have eyes. No know where go."
Razial groaned and pressed his back fully against the wall. "Well.. they didn't just up and disappear." He was pondering things as his eyes fell upon Rune. "Maybe she'll be temporarily happy with another pet. Until we find this mouse. Hmmm."
After a moment's deliberation, he pushed away from the wall, patting Sage's shoulder. "Thank you, Sage. Please return to .. whatever you were doing. Maylee, let's go see what other pet we can find for Miss Alyce before she just burns everyone in this place, hmmm?" He made for the garden door.
Hayley hadn't said much after the conversation had ended. There wasn't much to say and that was perfectly fine as the trio waited for Sage to come in. Soon enough, he was in the room, allowing her to glance over and give the large man a slight smile and allow it to quickly fade away. Letting him get to business with Razial, her eyes shifted over to Maylee, watching as her gaze dropped to the ground I'm not sure what's going on in her mind. Is she guilty? Bad with eye contact? Is there something she isn't telling us? questions that had to be asked, but never came out from her lips. Simply because the boss in the room was far more important. Especially if he was on the prowl for a shifter that managed to escape. Turning her attention away from May, she looked at the pair, listening as they spoke. Watching as Razial tried to be friendly with her son. Her head slightly tilting before straightening up as the dark-haired male leaned on the wall. Soon enough, he was already suggesting to have Hayley hand her precious partner to Alyce.
Luckily his idea didn't stick as he patted Sage and told Maylee to go see what other pets they could get. If they took Rune from me, then things would have gotten worse significantly fast.Looking down at her partner, she scratched his chin with her finger "It was nice meeting you both, I hope to see you both soon." she offered a small smile and glanced at Maylee with more than just that, her smile a little bigger and smaller but it vanished "I have business with the Minotaur," she glanced at Sage "It wont take long, I promise." giving a slight nod, she waited for the pair to head out of the room. Quietly, she waited a little while before fully turning towards Sage and speaking in a soft tone "Sage, there's some things going on in this place. It's far worse than I initially thought." she licked her lips and brought in her lower lip for a moment before speaking "Rune, the animal in my hands, is a shifter. It seems like they're using Shifters as personal pets. From what he and I had kind-of spoken about... This collar stops him from shifting." she gestured to it.
"I have a dinner meeting later, and the only person I could trust him with, is you." the Pyromancer lifted him up a little, showing Sage the small creature. She then realized how much she was speaking and could confuse Sage and she sighed "Uhh... Rune is shifter, but collar stops him from being human." she began "Coven using shifter as pets." when she processed what she said, she nodded in confirmation "Hayley trust Sage to take care of Rune when not around." it felt so weird to talk like this, but it was a obstacle that she had to get over without issue. "Please tell me you can keep him safe? Hidden?" her eyebrows furrowed in worry as she looked at him "Hayley had really bad dream about Rune getting hurt." she looked down at him, kissing his small head.
Maylee kept her eyes trained on the ground, her heart hammering desperately in her ears as she waited for Sage to tell Razial what he heard. She was squeezing her fists together, she realized, in anxiety, and she hurriedly loosened them and then wiped the clammy surface of her palms on the tight, breathable material of her training bodysuit. What she wouldn't give to have her favorite jacket, a heavy, loose drape of clothing she could hide herself in...
After a moment, finally, Sage spoke, indicating that the mouse hadn't gotten through. Her head shot up in surprise, and she tried to search Sage's broad, kind face, but his eyes faced intently forward in some silent conversation with the rock, his hands pressed gently but firmly against it.
Unsurprisingly, Razial pressed for more information, but Sage gave nothing away: not about the mouse, not about the wolves, and not about any vampires that may have been in the area recently. Maylee's hands, pressed awkwardly to her sides, now found each other, her fingers coiling tensely together. There was no way to know for sure what the stone was communicating—only Sage was capable of that. And so Maylee was left to wonder: was it true that the stone hadn't picked up on any trace of the mouse and his companions? Or was Sage lying?
All at once, her chest began to burn with a pained gratitude. What would she have done if Sage hadn't been the one to come? She had very nearly delivered an entire group of what could only be fugitives into Razial's hands. If it weren't for Sage's kindness and quick thinking...
A bitter, dejected feeling squirmed within her as she again felt the immediacy of how inept she was at protecting others. Wherever Leif was, perhaps it was for the best that he was far away from her. Whatever danger he was in, surely she would only make it worse...
Another thought occurred to her swiftly, then, and her blood began to run in panic: did this count as failure? She had tracked the mouse's scent as far as she could, yes, but her orders had been to hunt him down. Had she failed in her mission? Would Cillian now have to pay for her weakness—?
I have to protect him, she thought feverishly. I have to protect him no matter what.
And then another voice in the back of her mind, thin and sinister and sounding a great deal like her mother, icily added: Then you ought never to have met him.
Her eyes were burning, angry tears trying to fight their way through, and she impatiently blinked them away. No matter how weak she was, she could not let it show—not in front of Razial—
Razial dismissed Sage, then, seemingly inconvenienced by this new development but not too perturbed altogether. Maylee tried to take this as a good sign—he didn't seem angry, so perhaps there would be no need to punish Cillian. Wasting little time, Razial then began to head for the exit, advising Maylee that they would be seeking out a temporary replacement for Miss Alyce's mouse.
Reflexively, she began to stumble after him, but then Maylee's feet stuttered a bit; turning quickly, she locked eyes with Sage. Whatever her failure to find the mouse meant for the future, there was one undeniable truth: Leif was, for now, safe, all because of Sage. That grateful warmth danced in her chest again.
"Thank you, Sage," she murmured softly, ostensibly thanking him for his time but hoping he would catch onto her double meaning. Phoenix addressed her, then, offering polite parting words and a strange smile—
Maylee's mind raced as she struggled again to decide what to make of Phoenix. There was a message in that smile, something deliberate, but Maylee had precious little time to figure it out as Razial continued to the door. Phoenix worked at this sinister coven as much as Razial did, and so Maylee was predisposed to be wary of her, but there was a certain softness to her that Razial lacked, and she seemed to value Sage for his kindness.
Is it because she's kind, too? Can I trust her—?
Ultimately, Maylee did not smile back—every muscle in her body, even those in her jaw, was pulled taut with tension—but she gave a small, subtle nod to Phoenix and locked eyes with her, holding her gaze for a brief moment. Then, sensing her time was up, she turned swiftly on her heel and raced to the garden door just as Razial reached it. Hovering warily at his elbow, she began to attentively follow in the direction he lead. They were to be picking a replacement pet for Miss Alyce, he had said, right? Where were they going, then? Was there some sort of sickening zoo on the premises?
No, she decided after a moment. There doesn't need to be.
Razial headed down the corridor and started to make toward the sleeping room. "We have had a few shifters around, though I have heard some rumblings of them being... misplaced. Suppose that's partially my fault. I haven't visited the sleeping room in some time. And.. according to the text I had earlier.. there might be a couple less attendants."
He clicked his tongue a couple of times. "Miss Alyce threw a fit. She's a dragon." He said this so very matter of fact, with a little flippy turn of one wrist. He couldn't recall if he had informed Maylee of Alyce's status or not. "She's very temperamental at times, but quite a dear. As long as she isn't mad at you." He gave a soft laugh.
Razial checked his phone for any updates while they kept walking. His pace wasn't hurried, it was like a casual stroll. "Well, no more fiery deaths, so she must have calmed down for now." He tucked the phone away with a sideways glance to Maylee. "If we find her another pet for now, she'll hopefully remain calm longer, hm?" Fingers straightened the hem of his vest and smoothed down a lock of hair he felt out of place along his forehead.
Razial gestured toward the doors they could see a bit farther along. "The sleeping room is where we keep those who have decided they'd rather work for us than alongside us as a member of the coven. They help power.. everything. Well, almost everything." He opened the door and Maylee would see circles upon circles of bed, most of them occupied, some with just a blanket on top, all with spheres at one end. Oh, and a couple of robed members sweeping ash into a cleaning pan.
"Yes, well. They aren't in pain. They're all having dreams. You were here, too for a time. The dreams help them experience things that generate energy. Energy we then siphon and re-purpose." He moved along, checking on a couple of people with masks on their face, they did look peaceful. Sleeping. Razial gently patted the forehead of one in passing with a little 'hmm' sound.
"Working with us isn't for everyone. Not everyone has the.. strong desire to do whatever it takes to see their goals achieved." Razial glanced to Maylee, turning to face her fully. "But you, Miss Maylee Song, you have it, don't you? Do you have enough desire in your heart to get your hands dirty?"
Razial let that sink in only a moment before he was snapping for one of the coven members over. "What pets do we still have around here? Do we still have that.. what was it. A blind lynx?"
The coven member came over to help. "No, he wasn't producing adequate amounts, so he was sent to the labyrinth for the minotaur to dispose of."
"Damn. Okay, let's go see what we do have. Show me." And they started to move toward a different section of the sleeping room.
Sage stood quietly and silently while Razial and Maylee left. Ears hung down, and he stared at his hands where they were fiddling with the end of his tail. When Hayley approached, his ears lifted, and he listened to make sure they weren't hanging outside, then held up a hand for Hayley to wait a moment.
He made his way to the door and cautiously peered out, before he closed the door. There was a moment's glance back to Hayley, then he also asked the rock to seal the door so it couldn't be opened unexpectedly. Only then did he return to hear the woman's words as he looked to the sea lion.
"Sage understand most of what others say. Don't have to speak like Sage." There were some phrasing that confused him overall, but he had understood what Hayley was saying. "Sage know. Sage hel..." He quieted, ears spinning wildly, as it was clear the minotaur was debating how much he could trust the woman.
"Sage know." The wheels were spinning inside as he found himself asking. "What do you think of what they are doing?" Best to know what sort of ledge he was standing on before he decided to take another step.
Edwin was surprised at how easily he could navigate the world, despite not being able to really see the walls. Perhaps the walls didn't really affect him, perhaps they were all in his head. Whatever the case was, they did block his vision of other spirits, as the wolf suddenly dropped into view after Chase entered the room.
Seeing the wolf, and having it see him, was a bit unnerving. He squatted down, as though dealing with a real dog or small child. "Hey there buddy." He said softly, "How're you doing? Been a while hasn't it?" His attention being focused on the wolf, he missed Bug's entry into the room, along with his new, or more accurately, real spirit companion.
The white wolf whined, looking a bit more bedraggled this time around. Its hind legs were stretched out on the floor, but he wagged his tail a little bit. The wolf wuffled at the same time whenever Chase wuffled. It was difficult to know which one originated the wuffling.
The wolf spirit rested in the same space as Chase, and didn't seem either willing or able to communicate with words, at least not just yet.
Edwin moved closer to the wolf, slowly and comfortingly. "Are you hurt? Your legs bothering you?” As he spoke, he attempted to scratch the wolf behind the ear.
The wolf tilted his head into the scratching, ears flicked when the raven cawed loudly before preening its feathers. The raven seemed fine with talking, indeed, it would prove hard to shut up once it got started, much like the human counterpart.
"Too much running. CaaoAW! Not enough resting. CaAW! Flying best! Even in dream world, flying was best. Always. CoAaaW! Best! Best! CroooAK!"
Edwin jumped at the sudden cawing, and turned to face the bird. He continued scratching the wolf. "Why are you running? Can you not fly?"
The raven puffed up, flapped its wings and hovered for a moment. "Can fly! CAoaw! Always fly! Wolf run. RAoar! Now wolf no run! Caowcaowcaow!" The wolf wuffled, back legs moved slightly when Edwin found the good scratching spot, but his tail was able to wag heartily.
"Oh, I didn't realize you spoke for the wolf. He seems more like a runner to me, and less a flier." After a moment more of scratches, he looked at the bird again. "Who are you anyway? I recognize Chase's wolf, but where are Bug's bugs?"
The raven preened and puffed and put on quite the show. "Caow! Never bugs. Am Eater-of-Bugs! Croaw! Never happy with self as is. Think should be more! CraWK! Would be liked more, if different."
The wolf wuffled, while the raven did a bit of a dance to show off off how great ravens were instead of bugs, or something else. "Always wants to be liked. KacrAW!"
"More, but not bugs. Like a flock then? Or just one big bird?” Edwin wondered aloud. "And more pressingly, have you seen any other spirits around? I saw a snake that wanted to be a bird. Was he a fan of yours?"
"He dreams of being other things. Caowow! Thinks if something else, make others want him. Cawk! It okay." The raven preened again and puffed up, displaying its wings. "Knew when picked him. CaoRW! He needs me."
The raven laughed, a series of short caws and croaks, and rumbling throat sounds in between. "Air dragon! CaAw! Wants to believe it is an avatar of a god!" It laughed again, a bit longer. "Seen around. Think lonely."
"A lonely spirit? That's kind of sad. It asked for my hand. I was worried it was going to hurt me, but maybe it just wanted help."
"Perhaps I can help Bug, help him see how great he is, that he doesn't need to change. The dreams kept telling me to help Chase and Levi, but I can probably work on Bug too." Edwin nodded as he spoke. "Papa bear anyone who needs it."
The raven made a little circle, trying to preen under a wing but it was a hard to reach spot. All while still making little croaks and rumbles. "Levi with dragon lady. Croaawk! Took as pet. No changing. CaWK! Seen others. Many here. Caowk! Some not well."
The white wolf and Chase wuffled just as a small mini horde of little animal spirits came tumbling, sliding into the room. A coatimundi seemed to be the main one in 'charge' of the herd, as the others listened to it chortling and huffing.
"A dragon-?" Edwin started to ask, before being cut off the the stampede of critters. He was taken back by the volume of spirits in this cave, let alone this room. He began feeling the claustrophobia again, and backed into the corner of the room.
"Okay, so this place is packed with spirits. Good to know. Any idea where this dragon lady is?"
The gathering of small animals kept clustered together near wherever Foster went. Only they weren't quiet, one would start to chitter, or another, each one seemingly vying for attention at any given point. The raven seemed to be settling down, the caws and croaks were softer, less frequent. "Moves around. Cawaw. Likes it high. Dragon thing."
"Up high. How low are we? I assumed an air dragon meant we weren't that low. And if you've seen Levi, has Bug, er, Eater-of-Bugs?" Edwin asked, slightly hopeful.
"And what about any of the others from the dream." He took a moment. "Were you in the dream? Since Bug had a different form, was it still you?"
"Volcano! Many levels. Cawaw. Air dragon here long time. Since time of sacrifices. Caow!" The raven found a perch it liked, which was the end of one of the cots. It ruffled its feathers a bit, shifted weight from one foot to the other, and settled down.
"Seen dream. Everyone here. Some good. Some not good. Caw! Bug not see same. Can't move like I can."
"Sacrifices to a volcano? Are we in Hawaii or something?" Edwin was confused. "Wait, Quetzl whatever, that was a Mexico thing wasn't it. I really should have learned some history in school, but what are the odds that this stuff would come up?"
"Bear probably saw more than I did too. He knew so much, but I feel so blind out here... Wait, not good? Who wasn't good in the dream? Everyone seemed so friendly."
The raven grew a little quieter as it clarified, "Not well. Caw. Ecuador."
"Oh." Edwin deflated, understanding finally dawning on him. "How bad? How many?"
"Who's missing?" He asked himself, and started counting off. "Devlin, Shia, Levi, Maylee, Tilly, the girl that was dream within a dream, Clementine I think."
"Eve, Chase, Leif, and you are here. I think that's everyone I met."
The raven tilted its head one way, then the other, moving each time Edwin listed off a name. There were several soft caws here and there, obviously processing the names.
"Dying sounds pretty bad. You know where he is though, is there anything we can do to help him? Is whoever kidnapped us doing it?" Edwin was a bit frantic, stepping back forward, ignoring the press of spirits around.
The raven was mostly still now, with the occasional ruffling of a wing or its tail. "Down. Down, belly of beast. Caw! Was first taken. First magic used. His magic. Coaaw! Make all this."
The bird had to suddenly preen at a feather itch before it said more. "His magic, almost gone. Croawk. When gone, he gone."
Hayley smiled a bit, watching him as he checked to see if the pair left before shutting the door. Listening to his words, she spoke briefly "I just thought it'd be easier for you, Sage." she said before he said he "knew" and would...help? Perhaps? Why did he hesitate? Is he scared that someone is listening? that wouldn't make sense considering they were the only ones in the room now. Double checking, she definitely looked around to find nothing before looking back at him. Sage then asked her what she thought they were doing. Pursing her lips, she looked down at Rune and thought about the nightmare she had "I..." she bit her lip a bit harder before lifting her gaze to him "I think they're sacrificing them." Hayley clenched her jaw, the muscles flexing in her cheeks for just a moment "My nightmare showed me some kind of Altar where there was fur and blood... Other Coven members holding other shifters." drawing a deep breath, she continued "Then I saw graves, four of them. One had Rune's name on it."
Her eyebrows began to furrow "The other names were Devlin, Shia, and... Bug? I'm not some kind of dream reader, but I know for certain there is something going on that I don't know about." and ever since coming here, there was no nightmares, not like this "I might be promoted with Alyce's help. Though, I'm afraid of what I'm going to be shown if I'm pushed higher into the ranks." her hazel gaze looked back down to Rune "This is another reason I'd like you to watch Rune whenever you can. I'm not going to let them hurt him as they did in my nightmare." she pecked the small shifter's head softly and added "I may be overreacting, but both you and Rune are the only two I trust with my life right now. Everyone else is a pawn in whatever game is being played. I refuse to be a pawn. I'm going to be a player and stop whatever the hell is going on." she gave him a firm nod, not sure what else she could really say. Leaving Rune in her own room was something she was so against, just to avoid someone sneaking into her room and taking him away. Bringing him to Sage was her safest bet right now.
Maylee frowned as she fell in step beside Razial, trying to work out the significance of such a bizarre name. She had been in a room, yes, and she had been sleeping, when she had first met Razial. Had that been the sleeping room? Admittedly, she hadn't gotten a good look of the place—terror and pain had stolen her consciousness before she could gather her bearings—but she didn't seem to remember it being particularly large, and the article 'the' before 'sleeping room' seemed to imply some sort of grand importance. But why would they need a room for, of all things, large-scale sleeping?
Before Maylee could reason it out, Razial dropped another bomb: this Alyce they were on their way to select a pet for was a dragon. Maylee's feet nearly stuttered as her brain struggled to process the information, but she clenched her jaw and focused on keeping pace with Razial. A dragon—so there was outright confirmation that Devlin wasn't the only one. Did he and Alyce know each other, perhaps? Or was that as unreasonable as suggesting any two people in the world, randomly selected, might know each other?
Not to mention what else this revelation meant—
Maylee swallowed the lump of bile that had begun to clog up her throat. Alyce was a dragon, and from Razial's comments (how could he speak so casually about someone burning to death?), she operated on a highly-sensitive trigger. If she had no problem with killing innocent people who worked for her, then—
Surely she would have no problem killing a hunter who sought to destroy her. The thought of her mother dying in the agony of flames surfaced in Maylee's mind, and she felt abruptly as if she might vomit.
Don't jump to conclusions, she cautioned herself again. Alyce being a dragon didn't make her the killer any more than it did Devlin. They were only two, and while she admittedly had no population figures for dragons to reference, surely such an ancient, powerful race would have more than two surviving members?
She shifted her focus as they approached a door Razial identified as the sleeping room's; strangely, a foul stench, like rotten eggs, seemed to be trailing from within. His words were unnerving—why the distinction between working for and working with? Were they being forced?—but words were nothing compared to the image that greeted her beyond the doors, a surreal dreamscape tinged with the thick dread of nightmares. 'Sleeping room,' indeed. Maylee felt horror begin to beat within her chest, like a bird throwing itself against the bars of its cage. An eerie spiral of beds, countless people slumbering within, a series of strange, floating orbs. What the hell—? It all resembled some sort of twisted underworld version of a hospital, and Maylee's mind began to race with burgeoning terror. Who were all of these people, and why and how had they ended up here? Why were they asleep? Were they ill or drugged? Could they wake up if they wanted to—?
As if reading her thoughts, Razial explained that the people were not in pain, but that they were generating energy that the coven was siphoning for its own purposes. A shudder trailed down her spine as Maylee stepped closer to one of the slumbering figures, his features loose with the serenity of sleep. Before Sage had woken her up, she had been in this same position, and her dream hadn't been entirely pleasant. After all, she had attacked Leif. Remembering the horror, the guilt, Maylee wondered whether some of these people were suffering in their dreams, too. And the energy being siphoned—they may not be in pain, but that didn't mean they weren't being harmed.
And if she had been in this situation, then the others must have been too. She recalled Leif's scent, vague but undeniably present in the garden, and realized with a rush of relief that this must mean he had woken up. Levi, too, although held captive, was awake. But what about the others? Shia and Evelyn and Edwin and everyone? Were they still trapped within the figurative field of poppies? Were they having their energy taken from them, siphoned away, sucking them dry—? Feverishly, Maylee tried to trace their scents in the room, but that rotten, sulfuric smell, diffused around the room as Leif's had been around the garden, made it difficult to pinpoint anything else.
In a panic, Maylee found her gaze darting around the rows of beds, half-hoping to see a familiar face, half-dreading the same. Before she could spot any familiar features, though, Razial addressed her, and she snapped to attention, turning to meet his gaze as he again unnervingly uttered her full name.
Beneath his probing gaze, Maylee felt as if she had been stripped bare, and her arms crossed over her chest in instinctive defense. Get your hands dirty—what, exactly, did he mean by that? Did he expect her to torment others as he had? Did he want her to kill for him—?
She shuddered inwardly. There was desire in her heart, yes—desire to protect Leif and Cillian, to protect whomever she could, but beneath that, there was something smaller, more selfish. The child who had spent her life hopelessly unseen by her mother had grown, but she still hungered for something she had never received. Was that the desire Razial was referring to?
I won't hurt anyone, she swore again. I won't. But another voice within her whispered:
What if that's what it takes to save Cillian? Would you rather lose him again?
Bile rose up in her throat again, and Maylee swallowed, fixing her gaze firmly on Razial. "Of course," she said with stern determination, concealing her conflict beneath a stony resolve. "I'll do whatever it takes to get stronger. I won't give up."
But Razial had already moved on, waving over one of the nearby coven members—oh, God, was he sweeping up the ashes of his coworker? Was that where that awful stench of sulfur was coming from?—and inquiring about another animal for Miss Alyce, a—
Maylee felt suddenly as if she had been struck by a speeding car; the air was knocked from her lungs, her knees weakening beneath her, an icy sweat breaking out on her forehead. A blind lynx? No, no, no—perhaps it was someone else—but even as she vainly hoped, she knew it wasn't true. Justin—of everyone she knew, the gentle, pure-hearted shifter who shared a singularly precious love with the ogre Angelo was the last who deserved to be here. She remembered the anguish he had gone through after Angelo was taken from him, held captive, and felt her insides twisting painfully: had the same thing, now, happened to him? How frightened he must have been—oh, God, where was Angelo, then? There was no way Justin's partner would have allowed him to be taken away—had they captured Angelo too, then, or worse...?
Her heart hammered furiously in her temples. I have to find him. I have to find him, now, before he—
And then she realized what the coven member had said—that Justin was to be disposed of by the minotaur—and a thrill of hope ran through her. Sage! There was no way the sweet, gentle giant she had met would destroy Justin in the way the coven clearly intended him to—that meant there was still time, right? If only she could find Sage again, have a private moment, tell him about the blind lynx and his dangerous situation—
But how? When? Would there even come a time when she wasn't immediately beneath Razial's probing gaze?
At the thought, Maylee remembered that Razial was watching her now, had probably noticed the signs of distress on her face despite her attempts to rein in her emotions. She couldn't let on that she was worried about the lynx—couldn't put a target on his back—and so she quickly searched her mind, landing upon the worry that seemed likely to be least incriminating from Razial's view.
"Sorry," she murmured, shaking her head as if to shake off unwanted thoughts. "I've been distracted since... since you told me about Miss Alyce." Little pains snaked up her jawline from the tension it currently bore, and Maylee shifted her gaze hesitantly to Razial. "I... I just need to know. Am I looking for a pet for the dragon who killed my mother?"
The minotaur opened a back door to flee through, which was strange given that he'd claimed going through the labyrinth without him was a bad idea. He did also leave so others "wouldn't come looking for him", which meant they weren't completely safe here. If not for the distraction of Edwin talking to the spirits, Bear might have questioned these things before the minotaur left.
The wolf spoke, in tones of the spirit, which caught both Edwin and Bear off guard.
Are you trapped as well? Edwin asked.
"You can speak?" Bear asked aloud, "And through spirits?"
The others seemed to take spaces to relax in, so Bear moved over to sit near the wolf and Rhevens. "I've not met one who speaks as you do. This place holds many strange happenings."
A small orb of light suddenly blinked into existence. It zipped around, as if examining everyone in the room, with a faint tinkling sound. If anyone tried to catch it, the orb darted away with a faint, high pitched giggle. Once it moved to the middle, where there was a bit more space, it whirled like a pixie tornado before finally shifting into her mostly human form with a 'pop' sound.
"Hello, hello! I see you've moved from the grotto!" Her feathered wings shifted slightly, and there was a light aurora of golden dust around her when she moved. "I am Lew. I know you. Sage has helped, and Dusk, too." She giggled and clapped her hands before doing a bit of a small bow. "Busy, busy as a bee. How many we can save, we'll see!"
She turned around, looking at everyone gathered. "This is way too small, why, this won't do at all!" Lew wriggled her eyebrows then, and gave little warning. "Lew knows what to do, and this isn't timbuktoo!" There was a suddenly flurry of golden dust as she spun with her wings and arms out. "One, two, three! Wee little bairns are we!"
The room shifted, or they shfited, something changed. They were no longer in the crowded cavern room, but a glade with a waterfall, lots of trees with pink and purple leaves. There were also small tents, each capable of holding two people, with enough for everyone to have their own space and room for more.
Each tent resembled a small fairy house one might see in the garden, only the size of a tent. And inside would prove to be as spacious as a small home meant for two. They were as colorful and varied as one's imagination could be.
Oh, and there was someone else in their group. "Clem!" Lew zipped over to Clementine, having poofed her from the nearby room into a glade she should be very familiar with. Lew hugged her before turning to introduce her to the others. "This is my friend, Clementine. Now, this will really be fine!"
Chase looked toward Leif when he said that wasn't him. Wuffle wuffle. Blue eyes crinkled at the edges and he gave the man a small sideways grin. A grin that grew when Leif reassured Chase they'd figure something out. And as long as he could move his toes, and move his legs in general, it was good, right? Chase wuffled as he gave a nod and shifted around to a more comfortable position. "Yeah, we'll figure something out."
Chase trusted Leif, Leif the vampire. A lot of shifters would probably chastise him for such foolish trust, but his gut said to trust. So he was. For better or worse, the moment he started really doubting his gut instinct was the moment he needed to stop being a Runner. And Chase really, truly, did not want to be anything else.
It wasn't much longer though when things changed, again. It was a whirlwind of a change, from a light orb, to a fairy, to a glade and no more cot underneath. Instead, Chase found himself sitting in the grass, with a back against the bark of a tree. Granted, he didn't mind this change of scenery, magicked or not.
It made his smile bigger, with the scent of the fresh air, and mist from the waterfall in the breeze. Blue eyes closed with a heck of a lot of wuffling, and Chase just felt the sun on his skin. It felt warm, and it would be easy to believe they were actually in this glade. His fingers were actually touching blades of grass. It felt so real, Chase had a genuine tightening of his chest, as he whimpered. "Dammit.."
The urgency in which the Minotaur moved at was foreign to Silver as she looked back at Sage’s hulking form just as it was swallowed up by the darkness behind the stone. She gave the stone a long glance before turning her attention back to the similarly large mass that was the bear. Even without his face twisting in reaction like that of a humans’s would, the surprise was weaved throughout the tone that echoed. It was the presence of whomever the bear had tucked away.
“Not trapped. More like I don’t know how to change back or if I even should.”She blinked slowly, feeling a dull thudding in the back of her head whenever Rhevens quit scratching her ear. An effect from being in this form, maybe? Or perhaps due to feeling as if she hadn’t closed her eyes in forever? She narrowed her eyes with a bit of suspicion at the bear’s audible discovery, her paws flexing slightly as she clawed at the ground whilst turning the idea of acknowledging his words in her mind in silence.
“I s’pose so. Perhaps it’s because of the form I take on which renders me unable to form words people could understand.” Wariness flooded her as a shimmer of golden light along with faint laughter sounded, brightening the dormant attitude of the room. The light became a girl in the blink of an eye, the aura surrounding her retaining that golden glow from before, complimenting the warm tones of her softly feathered wings and porcelain skin that reminded her of the pointy-eared woman’s. Wait... she had pointy-ears as well. Her giggles and melodic dialogue reached her eyes as she spoke of Sage and someone by the name of Dusk that seemed to be in cohorts with her. Lew.
By the looks of it, her humanoid figure paired with wings and a voice that trilled with riddles, she had to be a fairy of some sort. She spoke of the group being too small? What exactly was she cultivating them for? They’d been rounded up once by some nefarious sounding group only to be herded once again into the arms of another?
Silver had no time to think further as a cascade of gold transpired, the scenery around them no longer the drab stone walls of the barracks Sage had deemed safe but rather some sort of valley-looking area wrought with vibrancy like the garden her and Rhevens had awoken to.
Residences dotted the area close by, grass and soil underfoot replacing rock with a waterfall crashing into a pool somewhere behind. Were they shoved into another dream or was this garden as real as Sage’s? Silver looked to Rhevens then the bear, wondering how they’d react to being taken to this new place. For how nice it felt to be ‘outside’, she wasn’t so sure if this was all real or not. A huff left her chest as she scoured the area further, unable to lower her guard even with Lew’s warm entrance.
Bug was about to pick someone to cuddle with, when the shiny shiny orb came into the room. "Oooooh.. shiny." He cooed it, a soft sound as opposed to how loud he could be otherwise. Bug's eyes grew wide and he was definitely one of those who tried to catch the orb only to have it giggle fit as it flew away.
When it changed from the shiny pretty orb thing to a fairy, he couldn't help but pout with a bit of a caw noise. He liked shinies, but small ones. Couldn't do much with a shiny fairy. Couldn't put it in his pocket the size she was now. Eyes fell to the floor, checking for any shiny dust left behind, that he could totally fit into a pocket and then...
He was staring at a grass covered ground. Blinking, Bug looked up and around, letting out a small squawk of discombobulation. The world had changed and it sent him off balance. There was a thud, as he landed on his ass, hands played into the grass on either side. "What.. where.. huh? How? Oooh, what's that?"
Bug grew completely distracted with the shiny, glitter covered petals of a nearby patch of wild flowers. They were pastel pink and yellow, and the glitter caught the sun just right. He had to have it. So much, that the next couple of moments was filled with him trying to pull it without tearing the petals off. "Shiny, shiny, miney, miney."