"Are you sure about this, lad? Once it's done, you can't decide to undo it," the older Undine, Zachary's Uncle, stated as he looked at the boy.
The ice mage nodded his head and took a deep breath. "I'm sure. I need to do this. It was my weakness that messed everything up... she wouldn't have had to... if I... If my powers had been enough to defeat that woman, if I weren't filled with powers that can't help me... I'd..."
The older man laughed as the other three elemental beings entered. Zachary's uncle held up an orb and smiled. "Well, since you helped move us from our old home into the Dome, we've made a niche for ourselves. We haven't found the Elemental of Spirit yet, but I'm sure he'll turn up eventually. Or was it a she... been so long, I can't say I recall," the blue-haired man said with a hearty chuckle as he set down the orb. "The Undine's present this gift to our own: An Ocean Orb."
The sprite floated up and smiled as it placed a seed on the table. Water magic flowed into the seed by the hands of the Undine and caused the seed to sprout and form a twisting branch that wrapped around the Ocean Orb. "We Sprite present the gift of a Seed of the Sylvan tree. May its branches and bark shield you."
The tree continued to grow as the orb fed more water into it. Zachary smiled as it ceased growing at about four-and-a-half feet long. At this point, the female Gnome and the Salamander appeared. "We of the Gnome offer you this Oricalcum, a special metal of our people. It will make a very hard, very durable blade for this staff."
Zachary smiled and nodded. "Appreciated."
The Salamander's eyes glanced at the boy as she hissed out a laugh. "My lad, we Salamander's offer you our forge. IT has been many generations, but we and the Gnomes shall combine our efforts to forge you a blade worthy of your new nature."
Zachary sat down and watched as the Gnomes and Salamanders heated and folded and cooled the blade of the weapon. Although the blade being crafted was slow, it was finally finished. A double-edged sword-like blade of about a foot-and-a-half in length that was set upon the shaft of the staff.
Magical energy surged from the bladed staff as Zachary stared at it. "Now then, Zachary. Give it all that you have worked towards."
Zachary nodded as he held his hands out and grabbed the weapon. As he held the blade and the shaft of the staff, his magical energy, the energy he had gained from MObius to recreate weapons, was soaked into the staff. Power began to overflow as the weapon took on all of the many elements and properties of the weapons Zachary had created over the years.
Zachary's eyes began to glow teal for his right eye and white for his right eye as his dual-nature began to also flow into the staff. In a bright flash, snow spun around Zachary as he spun the staff and smiled. "Excellent..." he said as a chunk of something hit the ground.
"What is that?" the Gnome asked as he knelt down and picked the chunk up.
Zachary took it and looked at the chunk. "It was given to me by Cadenza. Her bow is made of it..." he said as he looked at the part of the staff holding the orb and placed the chunk against it. With a bright flash, the non-bladed part of the staff transformed into a long bow and he drew the blade of the staff like an Arrow. "Impressive..." Zachary said as the weapon flashed and returned to normal. "I love it. THank you all!" Zachary said as he bowed and smiled.
0=)--------------- Elsewhere ---------------(=0
Elsewhere, Monroe quietly stitched in the last of the snow-flakes and tattoo designs Zachary had shown him. The scientist had taken up tailoring as a side-task and job once in a while. He had made a great many interesting thing, but this had been his most trying task. The ice mage had inlaid the base of the robe with Metalloid Ice he could control, but the embroidery had taken a long while.
"I hope he appreciates this!" Monroe mumbled to himself as he spit a needle from between his teeth and set down the robe as he returned to the detail intensive part of it. This was the part that made him want to beat Zachary sometimes.
OoC: Now, it's time to go rewrite these two. Let's rock! ^_^
Meanwhile, at the imperial palace in Citta, Cernilia, Dr. Dorian opened his door to find Cadenza Madrigal standing before it, holding a gel ice pack wrapped in a paper towel over her left eye and looking to be in a sour mood. A little redness and swelling could already be seen around the ice pack, but the whole area was sure to be purple in a while.
“I got punched in the eye,” she said flatly when he’d taken the scene in, her eyes daring him, just daring him to chuckle about the situation.
“Oh good Lord,” the doctor replied instead, unable to help a small smile, “are you inventing reasons to see me, Mage Madrigal?”
“His Imperial Majesty’s personal trainer," she began, voice full of rich sarcasm, adopting a faux-aristocratic tone for those words before she went on, "has a big fat ego. I bruised it and got this. But don’t worry. His Imperial Juicehead will be right behind me as soon as they heft him onto the stretcher,” it was then her turn to smile, and quite a smile it was; a wolfish, satisfied little smile.
Dorian might have chuckled that time—he knew that particular trainer well just by the description of the bloated sack of ego he walked around with, one the doctor had unsuccessfully suggested removing to him once--but if the doctor did laugh, he cautiously hid it behind a hand as he turned his back to walk into the room, “Come, we’ll get you some ibuprofen and I’ll have a look at that eye.”
The shake of his shoulders, however, had given him away. Cadenza’s smile brightened—she’d finally won a laugh from the cool, professional doc. The warm feeling that rose in her helped her forget a little bit about her throbbing bruise.
“Normally I’d just give you two pills, but I’m feeling generous, so I may just slip a third in by accident…” he told her, shaking the medicine out of the bottle. The pills clinked against something metallic and she looked to see the cause.
A wedding band on his left ring finger. Platinum, engraved. Of course. She instantly felt like a camel’s ass. For Gaia’s sake, of COURSE he’s married. He’s a freaking doctor. Godsdamnit, Cadenza, you sure do know how to pick them. What’s next, a monk?
Dorian caught her frown and furrowed his eyebrows, practically a dramatic reaction for such a usually even-keeled, stoic man. “Is something the matter…?”
“No, no… I, ah…” she forced her face into a neutral expression, years of acting and playing false roles coming in very handy, “…I just remembered that I had been wondering why you looked so familiar last time. You were going to say it… wasn’t unlikely that you had relatives in Rubato, something like that?”
“That’s correct…” he came over with a fresh ice pack, a more pliant one, and exchanged it to her for her nearly warm one, “My brother married a Rubatoian woman, I believe…”
There was something cautious, deliberate about the way he said that, the way he looked at her so slowly, that made the hairs on the back of the gypsy’s neck rise for a moment. Their gazes locked and for that brief second she felt as she could see years of his life revealed to her in those striking gray eyes. He seemed just as transfixed on her.
“Your…” she swallowed, even though her throat felt as dry as sandpaper, “…brother, you said?”
He merely eyed her, as if he could see the gears in her head turning through the same revolutions his had.
“He married a… Rubatoian woman… and… you look… familiar to me, but not enough that I can easily place it… like you resemble someone I… rarely saw…” her speech continued to come out stilted, her mind several trains of thought ahead of her lips.
Then in a flurry of action and violence, she swung her arm back, grasped the metal pan that held the medical instruments beside the examination table, and swung it towards the doctor’s head. He only managed to fall to a knee and evade it striking the crown of his head by mere inches because he had suspected it was coming. Her reaction time and the strength of her swing would have given him no chance had he been a fraction of a second slower in his thinking.
“You’re a ♥♥♥♥♥ing Dionne!”
“Cadenza, Cadenza, please calm down! We have to talk about this!”
“Oh we’ll talk after I’ve put your head through a wall!” the woman yelled, pouncing down from the table onto the panicked doctor. He gave a strangled cry and crawled for dear life towards the cabinet at the end of the room, hoping it might give him some cover. But the woman snatched his right leg and he knew from the vise grip she held on it with that he would not be going anywhere unless she willed it so.
Shadow magic seethed from her fingertips and burned into his skin, even through his trousers. He chanced a look back and caught a glimpse of nightmarish blue eyes he felt certain he would never forget—it was the look of a ferocious tiger who has just found some little rodent swiping food from its den.
“P-please,” Dorian managed to croak out, “Cadenza, I-I know what my family has done, but I’ve never been a part of that!”
“Boludez!” she roared, and with one pull, hoisted him towards her like he was nothing but a baby trout. As she stood, she hauled him up by his shirt collar until he was dangling off the ground, and he quickly realized she was far stronger than any woman her size had a right to be.
“I… I swear to you, I never allowed them to involve me in a-any of that!”
“If you are telling the truth, then why are you wriggling like a worm?”
“B-because…” he stammered, coughing, feeling the blood continue to rush to his head as she nearly squeezed off all his air in her grasp, “y… you’re hurting me!”
Something deep within her being roared to be let out. It would be so easy, it said, to tear him apart with the shadow’s claws. Rip open the little liar and let his lying guts pour out. Then he could squirm all he wanted. Squirm while they spilled out on the office floor.
Dorian could watch her eyes darken as that side spoke to her. Fear and violence only brought it out more, hatred and rage. The history between the Dionnes and the Madrigals was almost as hostile as that between Cernilia and Rubato—but there had been the one union that had set the whole war between their families off. Anton Dionne and Vivace Madrigal’s marriage. His younger, middle brother and her oldest sister. And suddenly what he had recognized in her from their first meeting became so much more clear—that ruthless, lethal look in her eyes? It was the look that had stuck with him the one time he had ever been in Vivace Madrigal’s company for more than a minute or so in the past.
He could only stare back, terrified, his vision blurred, his glasses lost somewhere on the floor, and count down possibly the last seconds he had. But as his skin grew clammier and his face pale, he watched an expression he never would have seen on Vivace’s face slowly set in over her younger sister’s now.
Cadenza looked guilty—and horrified at herself, for what she had reduced him to.
“O-oh gods… if… if you’re… then you’re the only family the girls have left of him… the only link Alex has to… to her pai, even if I’ll never understand why she liked him so much…” Her hands that grasped him shook, but eased.
Dorian’s mouth fell open, but he could find no words. He was too overwhelmed with the relief that he wasn’t about to die a very untimely death. He expected a lot of bad things to happen to him while working at the palace, but he never had a clue his workday could turn so dark quite so fast.
“T-the others… when they came to take Alex, to hurt her, I-I… but you haven’t tried any of that… you’ve only done your job and tried to help me… and here I’ve… nossa Madre de Vida, Dorian… lo siento… lo siento muito…” slowly, with quavering arms, she set him down, very gingerly, almost as if he had been an egg. Then she bent down and retrieved his glasses from where they’d skidded near the wall, and lightly placed them in his hands, shaking, overly-gentle, as if terrified that a single touch from her hands might harm him more than he’d been hurt already.
“G-gods, I… I just never expected to find another D…Dionne… and a grown one, too… one that was around back then…”
“I…” he cleared his throat, finding his own hand was trembling as he put his glasses on, despite all his attempts to regain his professional cool. His nerves had just been shot. His hands still sweated. “I-I understand… I was shocked too when I… I began to recognize you before… Your sister was a very… a very forbidding woman.”
“Mm… I know…” Cadenza stepped back from him, remembering the throbbing pain around her eye and holding her hand back up to it. It hurt even worse now with the tension that had built in her temples. She’d lost the ice pack in the scuffle, and as she hunted around for it, couldn’t spot it. It seemed she was doing all she could not to look at him, or speak on the subject any more. If she had been a tigress before, now she was a turtle, withdrawn in on herself, guarded, wary, evading all contact she could.
“…Is she how you got the scars on your hands and arms? …Sometimes my brother would have a few, some he wouldn’t explain to me, even when he wanted me to treat them…” he kept his voice pitched as gentle and as steady as he could manage—as if he had shifted into the mode of a psychologist dealing with an abuse victim. And that wasn’t far off. “I noticed after a while that many of his were burns, and gathered that perhaps the causes weren’t as natural or accidental as they at first seemed.”
As he spoke, the woman’s deep blue eyes roved, left, and then right, in slowly wandering arcs over the floor tiles. Left, where humans generally looked to invent things, lie, make things up; right, where they looked to recall, to summon up memories, check facts from their pasts. He got the sense that normally she was not so easily readable, so obvious when she was considering a lie. But she had been shaken, and she wasn’t paying him much mind now, didn’t think about him observing her. She was in a battle of the mind, full of memories and pain and the lies she had told to herself to get through those times.
“He worried… sometimes… that she might lose her temper with the children. That they would ‘fail’ her, as she put it, or upset her somehow, and that she might hurt them too… so he would purposely draw her ire towards him… if one of the children had a spill on the rug, he would make a bigger mistake, keep her attention on him… always, Anton would take the blow for them…”
“Th… the daughter he got to keep…” Cadenza’s voice came out in a tearful murmur, words barely enunciated at first, her accent thicker, “s-she loved him so much… loves him still, every day she misses him, thinks of him… b-both hijas are… healthy and safe now… happy… t-they have… no real idea of how he died in the war… the mix-up… with my first husband…”
“Nn…” Dorian could only think of nodding to that. “I… I know he… did wrong by your father… by your family… caused you all a lot of pain, but… my brother was not an entirely bad man… he lived under our mother’s thumb, as we all did. I was fortunate enough to get away, but he and Enrico…”
“…There are certain grudges between our families that may never be buried…” she nodded now, gazing up from the floor for the first time to glance at him, but only for a moment, “but… if you can forgive me for… for my reaction… maybe we could be… the first generation of… of friends, or allies, or whatever between our families that there has been… since that conflict… since our mafia days…”
The doctor flashed her a very small, very white smile. It gleamed almost as bright as his eyes. “…So long as you never tackle me again. Maybe you should take up Cordelian football?”
Cadenza couldn’t quite manage the same, but warmth did begin to return to her eyes. “I’ll stick to the real sport—futeball. The beautiful game. But I think I can make that promise…”
Dorian held out a hand. “…Shake on it?”
Without needing another word, the gypsy grasped his hand and shook once, firm, but not trying to pulverize his bones into a powder or anything. The doctor felt immensely grateful for that, given her earlier show of strength.
“Let me get you a new ice pack and check your eye…” he said.
Knock, knock. The men with the physical trainer on the stretcher had finally shown up at the door.
After sunset, Cadenza left the palace with some new ice packs and a bottle of ibuprofen in her purse, her left eye checked out and diagnosed as A-okay in a day or so when the swelling would go down. No health or vision problems to be worried about. At least she could chalk that up to the good news column. Even better would have been not getting punched at all, but hey, it was worth shutting up Juicehead. Until the swelling around her eye went down, she had been given a simple, white, medical eyepatch to wear to keep the bruises from getting aggravated. It earned her a couple of weird looks, but in the big city, there were stranger things.
The gypsy was considering grabbing some food from a local place or maybe a stand, if anywhere good was still operating. Street food in Citta was surprisingly good and not as fatty or otherwise unhealthy as one might worry. They had all the vegetables and fruits Rubato mostly lacked. Shish-kebabs with maybe some roasted tomato and zucchini, a little chicken, maybe an few pieces of onion… yeah, that sounds good right about now.
With that decided, she turned down one of the side streets leading away from the palace and started heading for the shop district. Nothing but fancy restaurants near the emperor’s home. She was hungry, but she wasn’t looking to break the bank to fill her stomach that night. Simple was better. And walking after being cooped in the palace all day reinforcing wards felt great. Thinking about something other than her outburst with Dorian earlier felt even better. Food was a good--and worthwhile--distraction.
As Cadenza approached a stand, she caught sight of an odd thing... a man with peculiar red-hair wearing an apron and cooking Shish kebob. "Wow, I'm impressed how fast you catch on. Only three burnt later and you're already getting the hang of it."
Zachary turned to look at the man and sighed. "Yes, yes, here's the next order," he said, passing the food off to the man he was currently working for.
"If I had known you'd be this useful, I wouldn't have made such a huge deal. STill, you really should remember to carry money. You don't look like no beggar," the man said, keeping an eye on Zachary as he started on his next thing of kebobs.
Zachary sighed as he shifted his gaze, remembering to remove the food from the grill this time so it didn't get burned, and smiled. "'denza!" he yelled, waving his hands at her. "Hi 'denza!" Zachary yelled louder as he tried to get her attention.
The owner of the establishment looked at her and covered his mouth in shock. "Por el nombre de dios!" he muttered as looked at her. "That woman... she is... the replacement for our Imperial Mage, no?" he asked, a bit shaken as he looked at Zachary. The red-haired boy simply nodded. "My word! You were telling the truth! So you really were just waiting for this woman?" he asked, his head spinning.
Zachary shrugged. "It's okay. I wasn't sure when she would get done, so this worked out. Plus, I got to learn to make kebob! I can show my fiance when I get home," Zachary said as he returned to cooking the kebob quietly. "'denza! Come have some kebob! I'm sure signor here won't mind," Zachary stated with a bright smile towards his soon-to-be sister-in-law.
"...Zach, I'm not sure what's been weirder today," the woman began, unable to help an amused smile as she came up to him, "my day at the palace or finding you here." She shook her head once and suppressed a laugh--it would only make the muscles around her eye hurt. People sometimes forgot how much of a smile or a chuckle was in the eyes. "What're you doing? Spreading food poisoning far and wide around Citta?"
The vendor tried to hide a sneer at this, and only stiffened more when he got a brief glare from the gypsy. The eyepatch over her left eye only seemed to help the effect, rather than hurt it. It made her look like someone who was willing to risk a fight, no matter what happened to her.
"...You owe this guy money?" she went on, arching an eyebrow. Even though she was speaking to Zach, her glare at the vendor did not subside. The man looked like he wanted to just melt away into a puddle somewhere safe. Maybe the gutter nearby.
"Um... I don't know. Hey, Mister, do I still owe you money?" Zach asked, genuinely unsure.
For an instant, the vendor looked like he'd swallowed a poisonous frog--his cheeks puffed up, his ears colored red, his eyes went bug-wide, and he dared not swallow a breath. "N-no no!" he burst out all at once, waving his hands wildly in dismissive and placating gestures, "Of course not, o-of course not, any friend of the Mage eats on the house!"
"Really...?" the young man went on.
The terrified vendor pushed the staff he'd kept from Zach as collateral, the item still bound in its light golden cloth, back towards the redheaded young man and began trying to hurry him away. "Yes, yes really, Senhor! Please, please just go! Knowing the new Imperial Mage..." he dared not look directly at Cadenza, instead shooting more of a brief glance towards her feet, "actually knowing her... I'm sorry for not believing you!"
Zach smiled at the man and nodded as he slung the staff onto his back. "Thanks, Mister. Have a good day!"
As they left, Cadenza held her glare on the vendor long enough to make him fear she might return for him, out of the shadows of some dark and dangerous alley, if he ever screwed up again someday. She enjoyed giving that glare. It was one of her best.
Zach went on, as happy and oblivious as ever. "So, is it time to head home?"
"Soon," she said, catching up and soon matching his stride, as the vendor was left with shaking knees and wishes of melting into the safety of the gutter again. "I have to get my kebabs from a guy I know who runs an honest, clean stand around here. He's close by. Then we can go."
They continued along, until the gypsy bought her food and began chowing down on roasted vegetables and chicken. Ahh... worth the wait, she thought, savoring each bite. She ate slowly and neatly but with deep appreciation, catching the juices of the tomatoes on a napkin before they could drip onto the ground or her clothes. Once she was finished, she washed it down with a bottle of spring water, wiped her mouth with one of the napkins, and then turned to Zach, her hunger for dinner satisfied for the night. She felt much better with some good, hot food in her stomach. The little ones seemed to, too. She rubbed her tummy, not yet showing a baby bump, and took a more relaxed pace as they walked.
Wasn't that good, kids...? Yeah, sometimes Mamae has good taste.
"So, Zach," she started after a minute, "dígame, what brings you to Cernilia? Not that I mind a visit, but I'd think you'd be having dinner at home right now." Before them, she'd opened a Dome door, but she did not go through yet. She wanted his answer first. Did he have more business in the city besides being fooled by street vendors? He must have.
"dígame" = '"tell me/talk to me"
Zachary blinked at her. "I had today off from work, so I visited my Uncle and he and the other elemental beings helped me create a staff that I poured my old powers into. Now it's my Soul Weapon! It's a spear... staff... thingy!" Zachary said with a smile as he spun the bound staff with a smile. I'm in the process of retraining myself with my ice magic so that I can become a true mage and not a false one anymore. I'm happy," Zachary said as he patted Cadenza on the back and looked at her eye.
"Plus, we ate early dinner, since I told Ari I wanted to visit you. I hope that's okay," he told her, looking a bit shaken. "So what happened with your eye? Looks like someone tried to hurt you... but I get the feeling you probably beat them up!" he told her, smiling widely as he spun around quickly. "So, will you tell me?"
"Soul weapon...?" Cadenza was still caught on that part of the conversation, all those important sounding events the young man spouted off so quickly and casually in his excitement. A little like the weapons the Spirits could manifest... but that doesn't sound exactly good. Like gambling with part of your soul, if you harness it as a weapon. If it got broken, would that damage you? Eh, maybe I'm reading too much into the name.
"So, will you tell me?" Zach was asking about her black eye, still with all the eagerness of an overgrown child.
Cadenza shrugged in a 'why not' kind of gesture and began, "The emperor employs a juiced-up baboon as a personal trainer--wait no, that's a pretty bad insult to baboons. But you get the picture. This is one of those hombres who shotguns protein shakes and walks around the gym grunting and staring at his bulging veins and fake tan in the mirror. Anyway, he didn't like the way I ignored his poor advice on form on one of the weight machines and got into it with me. Like most people with the IQ of a dish rag, the actual meaning of any sarcasm flew right over his head but still managed to make him madder," she paused, taking a sip of her water. Cool was best after a long day.
"Eventually," she resumed, "he got so red in the face and tired of me that he hit me a sucker punch when I was talking to someone later. You can guess what I did next. The good doc is probably resuscitating him now. Just another great day at la casa del culos."
Zachary laughed as he looked at her and listened to her story. "That's funny. So that guy got what he deserved, right?!" Zachary asked excitedly as he stood there. "Still, it's a good thing you showed him what for! I've heard that people like that can't be reasoned with. You need to beat them up a little for them to understand who's in charge," the ice mage said as he scratched his cheek. He wasn't sure if that was true, but it WAS what he had heard.
"Anyway, I'm gonna take Fabi and Ari to get ice cream when I get home! You wanna come? I thought some desert would be nice, and I want some ice cream. Oooh! Twist with a cherry dip coating! Yum!" Zachary said as he continued thinking. "Oooh! And maybe some hot fudge on top! That'd be amazing!" he stated, bouncing from foot to foot as he thought about it. "So, do you wanna come?" he asked as his eyes became huge.
Still, as he waited, his face sunk as he recalled why he had REALLY come. "Oh yeah... I remember now... I got so excited... I forgot... I wanted to tell you that... I'm sorry you're in this position. If I hadn't been so weak, you wouldn't have to do this whole Imperial Mage thingamabobber. I can't do anything now, but I'm gonna get so strong, I'll never have to worry about failing to protect you again! Of this I promise!" Zachary said, clenching his fist tightly and looking very proud. "So, how about Ice Cream?" he asked her, his eyes becoming big and bright and hopeful again.
Cadenza just smiled as he went on and on. There were so many things wrong with what he was saying. That he thought it was his job to protect her. That could have been a macho thing or just a family thing. Or maybe just a Zach thing. That he felt he needed to apologize. She had known full well what she was doing when she put that bullet into Rosario Rocha's head and she had made that choice prepared to live with the consequences. For him to apologize simply because he did not have the kind of monstrous strength to fight off that woman was absurd--that was, by all accounts, probably a good thing. Power like that corrupted far too easily...
Possibly the silliest of all, though, was that he thought it was a good idea to bring along a bruised woman to see her worrywart sister and highly innocent and impressionable niece. What was she supposed to tell them--that she walked into a doorknob? There was no hiding a black eye from Ari and the eyepatch didn't help matters. Who knows what Fabi might think. That girl's imagination could leap to anywhere if she saw. Or the sight might just hurt her.
Would they try to apologize to her for the situation too? Would Ari feel guilty for having asked her to go there to Maximilia on her behalf, would she consider that request to have led to all of this? Would Fabi be old enough to make that connection, to think because she got in trouble and her tia had to save her, that she was somehow responsible?
No, I can't bear that from them. I can't let those thoughts get into their heads. I don't want to be a reminder of guilt they shouldn't even be having, like I seem to be for Zach. I don't want them to apologize to me. I fought for them so that they could be peaceful and happy. Not regretful.
"It's a nice offer, Zach, but... I should really be getting home to Kate. Raincheck maybe? Just send Ari and Fabi my love... and hey, congratulations again. I haven't said that enough. I'm really happy you guys are finally getting hitched--you had me half worried you and Vossler were gonna be the ones tying the knot, with the way you go on about him so much," the woman chuckled and her bruise throbbed. She mentally told it to sod off and smiled through the pain. What the hell, she thought, she needed the laughs when she could get them today. "I'll have to get together our other irmas and Ari's friends and put together a bridal shower soon, okay? But don't ruin the surprise."
Zach blinked a few times at her statements. "Why would I marry Monroe? He's already got a girlfriend, and the only person I wanna marry is Arietta," Zachary stated as he scratched his cheek. He'd never really understood things like this. Perhaps it was that 'Sarcasm' thing that he still couldn't fully grasp... or use effectively. One never truly knew, but still, Zach felt it was probably not worth worrying about too much.
"Anyway, you're right. I forgot that Kate's waiting for you! Get home already!" he told her, smiling widely at her as he spun around and thought for a moment. "But you shouldn't give me secrets. You know how awful I am at keeping those. I always get so uptight around the person that I have to almost keep from talking," Zachary said as his eyes began to spin in his head before he finally stopped and sighed. "ANyway, bye!" Zachary said as he spun about once more to look at her before he burst into snowflakes and seemed to vanish away. He would head home for now.
"Bye, you big dumb goofball..." Cadenza smiled at where he had vanished as the snowflakes pattered down onto the sidewalk, left behind in his wake, "Go and be happy."
Back at Zach's home, Arietta and Fabi were watching Aladdin in their PJs. It was a Friday, and so the girl had been allowed to stay up later than usual. She her attention was glued to the television set by the time her dad's footsteps sounded in the foyer, and by then, all thoughts of monkeys and magic lamps and genies disappeared for an instant, shoved aside for the pure joy of her daddy being home.
"Daddy, you're back, you're back!" she cried, jumping up from the couch. Ari laughed and tried to keep up with her. "How was Tia? Is the palace biiig...?"
Zachary patted his daughter on the head and laughed. It was weird how family like they were now, moreso than before, in comparison to how disjointed Alex's family was. "Your Tia is doing as good as she can. She's teaching those people what's what in her general fashion... but nothing too over the top. Just general her stuff," Zachary said as he picked Fabi up and spun her around. He was always at a loss for how to actually explain how 'denza did things to his daughter. Most of the time, he didn't even know how to explain them to himself.
"But she's proudly striding as always. Sadly, I didn't get to see the castle. The guards wouldn't let me in, and I figured I didn't want to cause an... international incident I think it's called, by me showing 'em what's what. Knights aren't supposed to cause trouble if they can avoid it, right?" Zachary asked as he patted Fabi on the head.
He shifted his head towards Ari and strutted over, awkwardly, and kissed her on the cheek. "Evening love!" he said, glowing brightly. "Aside from 'denza, I also saw my uncle today. He and the other Fae Spirit leaders helped me with something important, but I don't wanna bore you with the pointless details," Zachary stated with a smile as he spun around once more with Fabi.
"I know it's a bit late, but how about we go out and get Ice Cream? I've been feeling like that for a bit, and 'denza wanted to get home to Kate so she can't come! Can we PLEASE go?!" Zachary asked Ari, glowing even more than a few seconds earlier.
Ari chuckled, "Love, you're such a kid sometimes! Fine, fine, we'll go, but Fabi and I have to change out of our jammies first. Fabi," she said, turning to the girl for a moment, "go run ahead and change, I won't be long."
"Okay Mommy!" the girl replied, running for the stairs, "wheee, ice creeam!"
The woman laughed and watched her go, before returning her gaze to her boyfriend. "Zach..." she said, a little more seriously, "can I ask something...? Did what your uncle and the others do have anything to do with the fact that you're glowing?"
She let that question hang in the air, the worry evident in her patient green eyes.
Zachary looked at his right hand as the tattoos began to glow. "No, that glow means there's a full moon out tonight," Zachary stated as he removed a glove from his pocket and placed it over his hand. "My Undine blood responds to the phases of the moon. At full moon, I possess unique qualities, but it also causes my people's tribal tattoos to glow. I can easily hide the ones on my face, but the ones on my arm aren't so easily hidden," he told her, smiling as he began to bounce slightly back and forth, filled with energy.
"Anyway, don't worry, Ari, I'm fine. My magic and bloodlines are busy relining, so a small glow is somewhat natural, right?" he asked her, smiling. "But, how much glowing are we talking? I can't see myself glowing, you know?" he said with a profound chuckle as he moved closer to her.
"Too much, Zach..." Ari fretted, taking his face in her hands, framing his cheeks with gentle fingers, "enough that people would stare on the street when we go out for ice cream... are you sure you're all right...?"
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Cadenza sat outside in her own backyard with her dragons, perched atop Avello's great head, nestled between the horns. They could make good backrests, if you could keep your balance. Laurana had already fallen asleep beside her new, big purple brother.
"There's something tense in the air tonight..." the gypsy murmured, "can ya feel it, 'vello? Something's coming... I have to wonder if the emperor had me reinforcing wards for a bigger reason than just plain maintenance. Rosario hasn't been dead for long. There's no reason to think her wards on the palace should have been fading."
The dragon merely rumbled something quiet in reply and looked out at the moon with his mother, letting her think aloud.
"They felt intact... which means he's building up defense for something else. The currents of energy are changing. Not just in Cernilia... but here too. We're gonna have to be on the lookout. Maybe I should talk to Carla... hell, I feel like Batman."
She chuckled and the violet dragon whimpered, looking up as much as he could to see her. She was weary and bruised, with the white eyepatch stark against her dark hair and tan skin, especially in the moonlight. He didn't understand everything his mother was saying, word for word, but he knew she was hurting and tired. He didn't like this place she had to go off to nearly every day now. And whether he could understand her words or not, he could feel that something else was wrong.
"It is nice to have Carla to talk to about it, at least... go to for advice. I've never really had an older mage to speak to like that... least not a reasonable one. No one but that crazy old Ren in Zhenghe... no one since..."
No one since my mae...
Cadenza sat outside, watching the moon and the stars until slumber approached, and she slunk through shadows back to the comforts of her bed before sinking into restful, empty blackness.
"A little glow can't be bad, I'm sure of it!" Zachary said as he continued to glow for a few more seconds before it faded again slightly. "My body is just overflowing with magical energy flowing through it more rapidly than ever. It'll fade as time goes on, I'm sure of it," Zachary stated with a smile at Arietta as he spun around. "Plus, most people won't be able to perceive or ponder it easily. Still, if you're worried, we can stay in," Zachary said as he hugged her. "After all, I wouldn't want you to be worried for me."
Monroe sat on the roof, the visor system deployed from his headphones as he began to scan around again. "Hmm... It's been too quiet of late. Far too quiet. Zachary asked me to make him a robe and 'denza's been heading to that country for odd hours of the day... Something is clearly going on that I haven't been made privy too. Annoying as hell," the dark clad man stated as he stood up and cracked his neck. "To make matters worse, Tracey still isn't home. I know she's got good reason to be busy, but I miss her."
Monroe stepped forwards as a door into the attic of the roof opened and the Quincy headed into his home. "I'll just have to surveillance them more closely then. If they're not gonna kindly share why everyone is being so strange, I need to find out myself. It's all a matter of time, I guess."
A few weeks later, and the morning was a quiet one at the palace in Citta, Cernilia. Cadenza had been left to work on some further defensive spells and research. The Venus case had made no progress. The woman didn't even seem to exist. The gypsy kept an ear out, but mostly it had been cast aside for now, filed away until her sources could get her some information.
There was a banquet scheduled for later in the day, and most of the staff was out, shopping, making preparations, mailing last-minute invitations. The palace felt mostly empty. But there was this nagging feeling, like a bird or something was watching, watching more closely than such an animal should...
Cadenza glanced at the window, and just barely caught a glimpse of a man in black and gray, who panicked and twitched away from the barred window just in time to avoid the lashing out of her will.
"Para!" the gypsy ordered as she rocketed up from her chair and knocked it over in a mad rush for the window. The man, face gone pale, leapt from the wall of the building and a hang-glider opened up from the pack on his back, just managing to catch the strong northern wind.
Mierda, I can't just let him get away! But to go down all six floors and then pursue on the ground... that's never going to work. And I can't track him in the air from the shadows.
She glanced down from the window, out at the drop, and then at the fleeing figure in the air. Unpleasant options presented themselves to her.
Alright… she thought, taking a few steps back, just like Augusta, or like diving onto Avello from the air… you just have to time it right…
--Then why is my heart racing so fast? I’ve never been afraid of doing this before. Of taking a leap, when I know there will be something to stop my fall.
That's right... okay... you just have to catch yourself with the shadows. The less he sees of what you can do, the more room you’ll have to surprise him later, and the less info he can take back to whoever he’s spying for. Remember that. This’ll be mostly natural, with a little crucial help from the shadows.
Okay then… here.. goes!
She charged forward, her mage cloak aswirl behind her, and dove into the shadows at the base of the mesh-covered, bulletproof glass window, emerging out, into the air, gaining altitude, distance, speed, wind rushing beneath her, into her ears and eyes. Gaia will protect the babies… she swore to… they’ll be defended through this…
“Oh no, Mamae, we’re gonna help you too!” came a young girl's voice, and the rushing weightlessness, the buffeting of the wind before she began her descent, seemed to ease away into a comfortable, steady, controlled glide.
She suddenly felt the presence of two little cherubs on either side of her, flying, holding her aloft and safe above the ground. Cherubs, but instead of fair skin and golden hair, they had tan complexions and locks the color of raven’s feathers, like her. Their little wings were as black as their father’s. Her heart soared when she realized who they were, My babies… my babies, they’re here and they’re looking out for me… helping me…
“We got you, Mamae!” the other girl giggled, hoisting her up by the dark fabric of her cloak.
“W…wait… how are you lifting me so easily…? You’re both so small… so young still…” she tried to peer at their sweet faces, but they were too radiant to look at directly—or were they too vague? Their faces never clear, dreamlike, almost like…
The screaming voices below her finally hit her like a wave of reality, reasserting itself. She was falling, and there was no one there holding her up, no loving children gliding with her to safety, or towards her targeted spy. Some policemen had grabbed a tarp and were rushing over to spread it out for her, but they were going to be too late, she could see it, she was plummeting far too fast for them to make it in time, and she couldn't be sure the tarp would even hold her. Everything was happening too fast, too far ahead of her, and she was still too dazed for even her reflexes to kick in.
"Cadenza... Cadenza, you must listen to me--this is Gaia! You must dive into the shadows, child, dive now, hurry!"
Why do I keep hearing... voices, I--
Then everything became blackness, and she was blanketed by some immaterial softness, fluid and cool and beyond the reach of the material world and its physical laws. The screaming had stopped, it was so far away now. There was only the darkness, and her heart could finally stop beating so fast, her breathing could relax.
She had emerged into the Realm of Shadow.
Why the... why the hell did that sound like a good idea…? she thought, panting hard, resting on her back in the blackness. Every moment she spent here, her target was getting further and further away. But her body and above all, her mind, needed this rest. That was idiotic, insane! What might have happened to the babies...? Yeah I’d done that once before, but not while pregnant! So then why did it sound so reasonable at the time…? Not wanting the spy to see what I could do, take that info back… why did it seem worth it?
Not to mention… what I saw… gliding with the little ones… all in my head… I could have died. I could have fallen and cracked my neck, or my spine, or at least my pelvis and lost the kids...
Her cloak had slipped from her shoulders in the fall, and now lay under her like a bedspread, foreign amidst all the shadow magic in the realm. Shadows moved and undulated under her, drawing the cloak away, wanting to purge the object out from the realm's purity.
Hang on... don't get rid of that thing, I need to take it back when I go back... I've gotta wear it... and with as messed up as I am, I might need its magic defenses... if I can even catch up to este hombre...
"OOOH!" Zachary stated as he looked at the robe. It was immaculate. Monroe had, through painstaking work, crafted the perfect robe for Zachary. There had been a great deal of problems, however. The ice mage had sewn into the robes with Metalloid Ice he could expand into armor over it. Normally, that wouldn't have been so problematic, but the control and transformation had, multiple times, destroyed the robe. The Quincy had simply sighed and returned to work.
"Stupid... God dammit, Zach. It took me WEEKS to make this. I'm happy for your help with the magic inlay so that it would be more defensive and self-repairing, but I didn't appreciate you destroying it three times," the dark-clad man stated as he sighed and crossed his arms.
The ice mage sighed and spun around before putting the robe on. "Honestly, I find it very, very awesome!" Zachary stated. He had needed something to take his mind off of things. Things had been pretty good. There was no doubt that his life had been happier... but a magical glow had come and gone every few weeks. With some attention, he'd noticed the intensity of the glow linked to the temperature and phases of the moon, but couldn't explain more than that.
The scientist, however, had been hard at work on other things. The man moved his hand over his micro-Super computer on his wrist as a number of panels appeared and he began dialing in different commands and other actions for the computer to perform. "Hmm... So, I was partially right," the man said as he shifted his eyes back to Zachary.
Without another word, Monroe started back towards his house.
Zachary shifted nervously. "Monroe... uh... bye!" Zachary yelled as he started to run back towards his house. He had stuff to do, and needed to spend more time with Ari anyway.
Elsewhere, Monroe entered into his Laboratory, leaving the door open as he had become accustomed to do when Tracey wasn't home so Alex could get his attention, and activated everything with his arm computer. "TETRIS, what are we dealing with?" MOnroe asked as a number of screens appeared and began to decrypt data. "I can see... this'll take a while. Perhaps I should bring Alex to visit 'denza today?" Monroe asked as he headed upstairs and sealed his lab again. "But is Alex even still home?" he asked himself, looking around.
Emergency responders and police swarmed around her the moment she returned to the surface, insisting she should come along with them and go to the hospital, or at least allow them to take her to whoever her regular doctor was. She waved them away and assured them she'd see the palace's own. The attention subsided a little at this.
Some, rather understandably, still wanted to hang around and find out just exactly how she'd managed not to die or even be apparently injured from the fall. The police wanted to know what had caused the accident, but all they got out of her was that there was a stranger around the palace, and nothing more. Police had never done anything but make most of her problems worse throughout her life, and Cadenza so no reason to believe that would change now.
She staggered away from the scene, away from reporters that swarmed around and had to be held off by cops and palace guards, and slipped back into the palace, dabbing at her forehead with her cloak, still held in her arms. She hadn't realized she'd broken out into an anxious sweat before. Her skin felt cool to her touch and she gave a little shiver, but set her jaw. There was no relaxing yet. There was still the issue of the spy.
Damn it... damn it, why didn't I just pull him through the shadows before he'd even gotten the chance to take off? Or, failing that, why didn't I just give his glider a nudge off balance or a tear and let him plummet, catch him up? It's like I didn't even stop to think about the other options... He could be anywhere in the city now, and I've got nothing on him. No sense of what his shade is like. None of his hair or blood to track with. I barely even saw his face, he had that black mask on... I couldn't even pick him out in a crowd if I saw him. There's nothing to go on... unless...?
The gypsy glanced back toward the doorway, gears turning in her head, Unless he left any kind of scent behind near the window that hasn't already been ruined by the wind... fat chance but... if anyone's nose could pick it up... plus, hey, he'd probably scare all the people outside away and back to their own bloody business. Why not call the big purple lug in?
A faint smile came to her lips as she dug in her pocket for the familiar whistle, and then held it to her lips, giving it one blow. A shrill, high-pitched call rang out, too high for human ears, cutting across the city and carrying far beyond, through the aid of magic. In Santa Mariela, Rubato, a certain dragon's ear fins started to twitch at the call.
"Grogh...?" Avello perked his head up, and gave his wings a stretch. His mother needed him.
Meanwhile, Cadenza went to Dorian's office, where she could watch from the window to see when her dragon arrived.
"I heard about your incident..." the doctor said as she came in, "you do realize there are probably easier ways to get out of this job, right?" he teased her. Good ol' Dorian.
"Daaad!" Alex called, running from the living room, "Dad, Dad, there was a lady on the news who jumped outta a window, and it was Tia!" she told him, like it was the coolest thing she'd ever heard. "And she made it! Dad, can you believe it? I didn't know she could do stuff like that!"
Monroe sighed. "Really? At least if she's gonna do something crazy, she could do it where normal folks... mostly normal folks... can't see it. I know she can't help but do things the less thought through way but... I need to check my camera feeds. If she had a good reason, I might forgive her," the Quincy said as he sighed. "As for you, Alex, until you can dive into the borders between an elemental plane and the material plane of existence... DON'T EVEN CONSIDER IT OR I WILL HAVE TRACEY LET HER PEOPLE SPY ON YOU!" he said in complete seriousness as he looked at Alex. "Now that you understand that what 'denza did was not only incredibly dangerous and stupid, but if you attempt it or anything like it, Tracey will be keeping tabs on EVERYTHING YOU DO, I hope you understand that I love you and respect Cadenza, but making the news for attempted suicide isn't a good thing," the man said very plainly and fatherly sounding. THis was one of those rare moments he HAD to put his foot down.
"Now then, if you need me, I'll be in my lab," he told her, walking over and kissing Alex on the head before heading underground.
"My ear's kinda itching... which one is it again that's supposed to mean someone's talking bad about you? Left?"
"Cadenza..." Dorian sighed, "You're sound, physically, unless you want to count the fact that your head has been stuck looking out the window at the same spot now for five minutes. But something is clearly bothering you--so talk. What happened out there?"
The woman finally looked at her friend, a brief, sharp glance, and shifted a little uneasily on the examination table. Her ankles were crossed together and her hands fidgeted in her lap as she seemed to debate how much to tell. "Dorian, I…" she began with difficulty, "...I’ve been a few cards short of playing with a full deck ever since I really came into my powers—or maybe it’s more accurate to say, those missing cards have been replaced with joker cards and mousetraps to catch your fingers. You've seen a little of this. My temper… but that irrational side has always been… been tied to my anger, mostly. Survival, revenge, outrage,” she shook her head, trailing off for a moment as she sighed and looked back at the window.
“Yes… yes I can’t imagine living with that much dark energy in you can be easy…”
“It’s not… but I’ve always had a kind of controlled instability, if that makes any damn sense. It’s not that I never would have jumped out of that window after that man—it’s that if I’d do it, it would have to be the last resort, and I’d have to be pissed to do it, like livid, fuming, burn down a building pissed. But I didn’t even have time to get that angry at him, Dorian,” she gazed back at the doctor, and found he was looking back at her with a mix of concern and thought. He was really listening, as if he hoped he could somehow cure this problem too.
She waited for him to say something, but he only nodded intently, waiting for her to go on. As if he didn’t dare interrupt her at this point, when she was close to something.
“I was annoyed, yes... but there was no time to start feeling angry before he was already gone. From there I’d… the emotions would normally run colder. I’d save the anger for when I caught him, and start analyzing, assessing, acting. How best to bring him down. How to catch him. Putting those plans into motion as I thought. Instead…” she fidgeted more, “instead I… I just locked onto that idiotic idea of the window, of giving chase once I’d landed on the ground, and explained the weirdness of latching onto one idea like that away for myself. I… I’ve never done that. I’ve never brushed away all the other options for one as blatantly stupid as that. And what’s more… I felt afraid. Afraid to jump. Whenever I’ve settled on a decision before… yeah, the fear might be there, biting my belly, but it was far outweighed by resolve and planning and experience… but I was nervous. Practically shaking. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t me…”
By this time, Dorian’s brows had furrowed deep and he had drawn out a pad to make notes. His pencil scribbled furiously as she spoke.
“That’s not controlled instability, Dorian… that’s just instability,” it was her turn to furrow her brows, making little wrinkles in her nose as her lips drew into a troubled little frown. “Wh… what’s more is… I saw something. I heard something after I made that dumb leap. I saw something and I wanted to believe it so bad… maybe I did believe it for a second… and it nearly killed me. Those lost seconds of time could have been crucial to my surviving the leap. If the screams of all the people watching on the street hadn’t snapped me out of it…”
“…You say you saw something? And it spoke to you? But the… the people did not see it?”
“If they’d seen it…” she shook her head again, “if it had been real, I wouldn’t have been in danger. I thought I was being carried by someone. Even though it was impossible. I knew, intellectually, rationally, all of that, that it was impossible. But I still wanted it to be true, so much…”
Dorian was leaning forward in his chair now, peering at her over his glasses, “And what did you see, Cadenza…?”
The sweet, cherubic, hazy faces… the little black wings, the sparkling eyes, the little childish hands holding her up… The gypsy rubbed her temples and turned away, as if suffering from flashes of a migraine. “I… I don’t…”
“Tell me, Cadenza… it may help us get closer to an explanation… please, let me help you.”
“We got you, Mamae!” one of the girls had cried out, giggling.
“N… no. No, make it stop…” Cadenza murmured, shutting her eyes. The visions wouldn’t go away—it was not light that cast them, and shutting her eyes against the light would not work. It was all in her mind--and that she could not escape.
“Cadenza,” Dorian urged, rising from his seat to grasp her shoulders. Worry flooded his features.
“I-I,” her voice came out thready and strained, “I can’t, it hurts to think about them, I… I can’t…”
“…Them? Cadenza… Cadenza, please…”
“No…” she whispered, thrashing at something unseen with her hand. Her loose cloak beside her got caught on her arm and knocked some bottles by the table onto the floor, before it fell as well.
“Cadenza, stop, before you hurt yourself!” Dorian cried, grasping her by the wrist. He held on with all the strength he could muster and pushed her back onto the examination table. She resisted, but her strength was drained and her heart was not in the struggle. She let him push her the last few inches to lie flat on her back, and stayed there, rubbing at her temples with her fingers, her expression one of strain.
“Meu Deus…” Dorian sighed, collecting up what was spilled in the incident. He then hurried off to get her some pain meds and water and ice, feeling better for having a bit of busy work to occupy himself with. The worry waited behind that wall of busywork, heavier than ever.
“G…gods… I’m sorry, doc… I’m sorry…” the woman was murmuring when he came back. He touched the back of his hand to her forehead and held it there, soothingly brushing it over her brow and cheekbone a few times. She felt a little feverish.
“Shhh… no… we will find out what’s wrong with you, my friend… something is very wrong… but we will find it…”