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04-09-20 06:58 AM

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Mirror of Ice- Chapter Seven
Ellie's life takes an unexpected twist, one of Miss Highwater's fears is realized, and Andrew finds the winter is a time of youthful ardor.
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05-17-14 12:30 AM
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Mirror of Ice- Chapter Seven

 

05-17-14 12:30 AM
Dragonlord Stephi is Offline
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Hi everyone! It's been about a week or two since I uploaded the last chapter of Mirror of Ice (you can find it here: https://www.vizzed.com/boards/thread.php?id=75647). To sum up the plot so far, Ellie has found the records she needs to track her father's sold Memories.

Please enjoy this chapter and comment. Let me know what you thought; several elements of this chapter were particularly hard to write, such as the flashback and Andrew's bit, so I would appreciate it if you could give me feedback. It helps make the next ones better and better, and I always love seeing what people thought. (Even if you hated it, I'd be glad to hear why).

So, without further ado, here is chapter seven. Also, the title was my sister's idea. I'm not sure it quite fits...



Never is life uncomplicated.
That would be too easy.
Instead, it is rather obligated
To be both terribly real and gloriously dreamy.

MANIFEST DOUBT, MANIFEST ‘WUV’

Around three, Damien announced his return with a sing-song call of, “Honey, I’m ho-ome!”

Ellie gave the customary “Welcome back!” and the obligatory kiss on the cheek. Taking his coat, she asked, “How was the trip?”

“This first,” Damien said, handing her a box.

She raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“But I did.”

“Aw, thanks.” It was, it turned out, one of those new-fangled cell phones all the rich kids were getting.

“So we can keep in touch,” Damien said, and winked. Ellie thanked him, and though it looked like he was being nice, she knew he was just being clingy.

“So,” she said. “How was your trip?

Damien immediately launched into a play-by-play account of a dry meeting, and went off a slightly, but only minimally so, more interesting tangent about how his managers in the east were all idiots and they’d be the death of his father’s company. Ellie tried to listen, but it was a bland story to begin with, and halfway through, she realized she had left the records out in plain sight on the table. After that, she was far too occupied trying to think of ways to make sure Damien would:

a) not notice them, or

b) be convinced they were taxes, bills, or some other boring, absolutely killing-the-trees, waste-of-paper pile of legal jargon that was best left to the wife.

Luckily, Ellie was a good actor, and feigning interest was a piece of cake. Which reminded her- wasn’t the cake in the oven, or had she forgotten to put it in?

“Oh, dear. The cake,” Ellie sighed, interrupting Damien’s monologue on why angry employers should never be armed with jumbo staplers.

“What cake?” he asked.

“Just a cake,” she replied, and sure enough, she’d forgotten to even pre-heat the oven. Ellie turned it on, and pushing her luck, pretended to just notice the papers. “Oh! I left the tax forms out. Silly me. You don’t want to come home from a busy trip to find a mess, do you?” She scooped them up, clutching them to her chest a little too tightly, but Damien barely glanced at them.

“It’s fine. You’ve got to mail those soon,” he said. He rolled his neck and groaned. “I’m going to get cleaned up and take a shower.”

“Do you want a bath?” Ellie said. “I could get the water ready, and we do have those bath spices we never use…”

“Nah.” He waved his hand in a ‘No, don’t be ridiculous’ motion. “Just a shower. Those bath salts and spices give me rashes, anyway.” He wrinkled his nose and stifled a sneeze. “Darn it, Ellie. You gave me your bug.”

“Sorry.”

He laughed. “It’s not your fault. Don’t apologize for stuff you didn’t do.”

“I’m sor-“

“Don’t you dare,” he chuckled, “apologize for apologizing!”

Ellie bit her lip, because, naturally, her first reaction was to apologize for apologizing for apologizing. She figured, however, that this would not go well.

An unpleasant silence sprang up between them, and Damien gave voice to it. “Well. This is awkward.”

“Extremely.”

“I’m going to take my shower now,” Damien said, edging away.

“You do that,” she said as he disappeared upstairs, and once she was sure he was gone, she bolted for the gardening shed. Jannston was the only soul to ever come here, and even he didn’t come often. There was no safer place in all the Morvant household.

Hopefully.

Actually, probably not.

Yet, Ellie was nothing if not an optimist, except perhaps someone trying very hard to be one.




The next night, after dinner, Ellie sneaked back to the shed.

The papers were gone.

Ellie kicked a nearby bucket, shouting a word rarely uttered from her mouth that might make a sailor cringe, and returned to the house feeling more fatalistic than the night before her wedding, which said something- the night before her wedding, fourteen-year-old her ardently believed the world was about to end, because such injustice was a sign of the coming Armageddon. To feel worse was nigh impossible, and yet here she was, so upset and nervous and apprehensive that her stomach was beginning to cramp.

Damien sat in the living room, stirring a coffee, as she tried to get past him, but a creak at the stairs gave her away. “Going to bed?” he asked. There was nothing in his tone to suggest that he’d seen something he shouldn’t have.

Maybe Jannston had thrown them out without reading them. Yes, that was most likely.

Who said she wasn’t an optimist? They were right. She was no optimist- she was hopelessly deluded in her hopeful belief in the impossible.

“Um, yeah,” she said. “Going to bed.”

“It’s only eight,” Damien replied. “Really?”

“I’m, uh, really tired,” Ellie fibbed, and faked a yawn. “I’m not feeling well.”

“I see. All right, then.”

Because she’d lied about it, Ellie had no choice but to change into her nightgown and pretend to get ready for bed before she started searching the house for the records. She was in the middle of brushing her teeth when she heard Damien climb the stairs, and when she exited the bathroom, he was waiting at the door to the balcony, a sign he wanted to talk. Early in the marriage, Ellie and Damien had agreed that any talks that might lead to arguments would be conducted on the balcony, so the night air would cool their heads faster and they’d make up more easily, with the moon overhead. This rule was rarely followed, but it was a somewhat romantic sentiment.

It was a cold December night, but Ellie followed him out anyway, lips moving in a silent prayer that this was not what she was pretty sure it was about.

“You been out of the house while I was gone?” Damien asked.

“I did some shopping,” she said, which was true.

“Anywhere else?”

“Mm, not that I can think of right now…”

“Oh, really? Allow me to refresh your memory. Nowhere like an Intangible Pawnshop?” Damien shot.

Ellie winced. So this was about that.

Damien took the wince as a sign of guilt just as poignant as a verbal confirmation. “When were you going to tell me?” he demanded.

“I wasn’t,” she admitted. At this point, there was absolutely no sense in lying. “I was pretty sure you’d react this way.”

“What is wrong with you, Ellie? You don’t have to hide things from me. It’s been four years! You can’t trust me after four years?”

Ellie looked to her feet. “I trust you.”

“Clearly not as much as you should.” Damien scowled. “I care about you, Ellie. He doesn’t.”

Ellie’s face blanched. “But- but- he has to. He’s my father.”

Damien groaned and looked to the sky. “You act like everything’s so cut and dry!” He made eye contact. “Ellie, you have no idea how naïve you sound. Grow up! ‘He’s my father, so he has to love me. It’s just how it works!’ Am I right? That’s what’s going through your head right now as we speak. But that’s not true! That’s not how it works! You have to earn love. If everything’s the way you say, you would love ME because you’re my wife and you’re supposed to. It’s just how it works!”

Ellie didn’t reply, instead turning to grip the balcony railing and looking out over the gardens. If she said no, she didn’t have to love him because he didn’t deserve it, she’d imply that she hadn’t earned her father’s affection either. If she held to her own philosophy of obligation and that love couldn’t, by definition, be earned, she’d admit she was doing wrong by her husband. She lost either way. In such a situation, it was better to remain quiet.

“Don’t turn your back and give me the silent treatment!” Damien growled. “Heaven above knows I try, Ellie. I really do. But you’re impossible!”

Ellie still did not indulge in a response, tightening her grip on the railing. All the comebacks she could think of would only make things worse, as satisfying as they’d be to say. Let Damien fill the tense lull with angry words.

“Why do you insist on clinging to them?” Damien asked. “Why do you insist on making yourself miserable?”

That she just had to respond to. “I insist? I didn’t ask for any of this, Damien! I didn’t ask for my mother to leave me when I was four. I didn’t ask for my father to be a jerk and choose to forget about me, and I most certainly didn’t choose to get married!”

“Well, you’re married now, so you’d better live with it,” he replied.

“Oh, I know. Sometimes, I think things would be better if I ended up developing Stockholm Syndrome!”

It had been the wrong thing to say. Damien’s nose flared, and the next thing she knew, her back slammed against the railing, pain erupting in a hot flash. Her arm was twisted behind her back, so she landed on her fingers. The agony made them feel numb, as if she’d been holding them in cold water for too long.

Damien backed away. “I- I didn’t mean it, Ellie.”

Twice now. She stood carefully, not eyeing him. “I know you didn’t mean it. That’s what you said about a week ago, too.” Her fingers hurt, and her back ached, her stomach threatening to upheave its contents. She stole a furtive look at the railing, where she’d hit it.

It was covered in ice, though barely. Damien probably couldn’t see it from where he was standing.
Had she done that?

“Ellie, I didn’t mean it. Stop staring at the gardens. Look at me, please.” His tone was so pleading, it would usually arouse pity, but she was beginning to find she had little pity left. “I’m sorry.” He held out his hand. “Let me help you up.”

“Don’t touch me!” she said.

“I’m trying to help you!” He had switched to angry again. Oh, his mood swings. They were as tempestuous as weather in the south during the hurricane season.

“I don’t need your help,” Ellie said.

“But I’m trying to give it! Just accept my help, woman!” He raised his hand, as if to strike again, and Ellie whimpered.

The sound, so pathetic and small, must have reached him somewhere, for he drew back and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m just trying to help you.”

Ellie ran past him.

He didn’t try to stop her, just watching her with his eyes wide and sad-looking, like a dying goldfish, which actually would have been quite comical in other circumstances. He reached for her braid and nearly caught it, but then shook his head again and brought his hand back, letting her run. She didn’t let up until she reached a guestroom and slammed the door behind her, locking it and leaning against it, breathing hard. Frost grew like crystals as her fingers left the door knob and she clutched her arms, moving to the edge of the bed. She sat and pondered what to do next. Several courses of action presented themselves, but only one seemed reasonable. Thus, she decided she’d take it at that very moment.

Ellie burst into tears.




Ellie woke up about midmorning. Her head felt like it’d been cracked in half, and she was shivering. A deep chill had nestled in her bones, and she pulled the covers up to her chin, noting her fingertips had the slightest bluish tinge to them. A quick glance in the mirror showed her lips were purplish as well. After a moment of hugging her knees, trying to get warm, she decided getting a sweater, having a warm drink, and sitting in front of a fire would probably be more effective.

Small whorls of ice marked where she touched things as she pulled off her shirt and shivered in her undershirt. She had several bruises on her left arm, the one she’d landed on at the balcony, and lifting a portion of her undershirt revealed a bruise on her lower back as well.

Ellie checked the guestroom closet and found a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans, which she quickly pulled on without complaint, despite the fact that they looked at least ten years out of style. After a moment’s hesitation, she also put on a woolen sweater that was a gift from Damien’s mother. It was, bluntly put, hideous. It was kept in a guestroom so Ellie could honestly say she hadn’t thrown it out, yet never wear it or even have to see it. However, it was thick and insulating, and Ellie needed such clothes at the moment.

She opened the door and nearly tripped over Damien, sprawled asleep in front of the guestroom. Shaking her head, Ellie stepped over him and made her way to the kitchen. She heated a glass of milk and tried to start a fire in the hearth. She must have made a great deal of noise, as Damien, bleary-eyed, stumbled into the living room. “Need help with that?” he asked.

Ellie nodded, and curled up on the couch as Damien got the fire dancing. Both had an unspoken agreement that last night was last night, until, unable to not ask, Ellie said, “What’d you do with the records?”

Damien grunted in response. “I’m not that cold, but there’s ice everywhere. The heat must be broken…”

Way to change the subject. “The records, Damien.”

“I kept them.” He looked at his hands, curled into fists. “I was going to burn them, but I changed my mind.”

“Thank you.”

He blinked several times, a tentative smile shaping his lips. “Uh, you’re welcome.” He patted her hand awkwardly, and took a double-take. “By all that is good, Ellie! Are you okay?” He pressed his hand against her cheek. “I swear, you’ve got hypothermia or something. I’ll call Hans; we can get you to a hospital.”

“I’m fine,” Ellie said, a new set of chills plucking at her skin. If she did go to the hospital, and if they found out what she could do… She didn’t know what was going on herself. Did she really want a bunch of white coats to find out as well?
“Really, I’m fine.”

“You are not,” Damien insisted. “I’m going to call Hans. Don’t move.”

He ran for the kitchen, where the phone was, and Ellie smiled to herself. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, actually glad Damien had bought it now, and dialed a number she rarely called.

“You’ve reached the voice mail of Sariel Highwater, Headmistress of Haven Academy. I’m not able to answer the phone right now. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Ellie groaned as the phone beeped. “Hello, Miss? It’s Ellie. About that cold… I, um, have some of the symptoms you mentioned earlier, and some pretty freaky new ones… Uh, please call me back.” She hung up and just managed to shove it in her pocket when Damien returned.

“He’ll be here in two minutes,” Damien said.

“Really, I’m-“

“Shut it. We have a pretty low deductible anyway.” As soon as Hans shouted that the car was ready, Damien gently carried Ellie in strong arms, now so tender, though they could so easily fall into violence. Ellie was drowsy, probably part of the hypothermia, and as she found it harder to stay awake, a thought popped into her head.
Was Miss Highwater expecting this? Please, tell me she wasn’t…

“Hello, Miss? It’s Ellie. About that cold… I, um, have some of the symptoms you mentioned earlier, and some pretty freaky new ones… Uh, please call me back.”

Miss Highwater cursed as soon as the message finished. Corub squawked disapprovingly. “Language, Sariel! You’re in a school.”

“Drat.” Miss Highwater replied. “I mean, I always thought… how could I not, considering what her mother was? I swear, every time she got a cold I got antsy… but eighteen years, Corub! Eighteen years. And. Not. One. Sign. I thought she’d be fine. I thought, ‘Maybe since it took so long, those traits won’t show up.’ But no!”

“What exactly,” Corub said, “is your problem?”

“I don’t want a repeat of what happened with Julia,” she said, voice small. “You remember that.”

“Yeah, yeah. She was the girl part Djinn, right? It’s not like halflings are rare, Sariel. I commend you on somehow making sure they all attend your Academy at one point or another, though. Most are fine.”

“Yes, Corub. MOST. I’m six-four. Tall, but not inhumanly so. I could pass for an Alti or a human. Ellie could reasonably pass as a human, and Julie lasted sixteen years pretending to be of common blood.” Here, Miss Highwater stopped her speech to compulsively press the stapler like some sort of stress ball, stopping only to remove the metal bits when it jammed before resuming. She kept clicking as she spoke. “Now that those traits have appeared, Sable will be paying attention. Heaven knows Raylin couldn’t care less about Julie until her traits started showing as well…”

“Maybe you’re jealous,” Corub said. “Other than your height, you’ve got nothing Alti going for you.”

”No, Corub. I’m just good at hiding it. Honestly, why do you think I never participate in track and field day? Anyway, this isn’t about me. What am I to do?”

“Tell her the truth,” the bird retorted. “It works wonders.”

“The truth is terrible, though. How am I supposed to break it to her? ‘Hey, Ellie, you’re not exactly human, and the only reason your mother carried you to term was because you might be a good pawn against her sister! Your lifespan might be at least three times that of Damien, but we’re not sure.  You’d made a good lab rat, and you’re more susceptible to insanity because of your race’s genetics!’ Oh, yeah, she’ll take that in absolute stride, without an issue.” Realizing she was out of staples, Miss Highwater threw the stapler at the far wall. It made a satisfying impact before clattering to the floor.

“YOU took the news well,” Corub pointed out. “Stop throwing things; you might miss and hit me.”

“If I hit you,” she griped, “it’s not because I’ve missed. Yes, I took the news well. My circumstances aren’t hers! I’m not a possible heir to a throne of nimrods!”

“Nope. You’re just a general’s daughter born out of wedlock,” Corub acknowledged. “You have such noble origins compared to Ellie’s.”

“Shut. Up.”

“Hey, if the Alti only have an army when they’re at war, which they’re not, how is your father a general?”

“Are you trying to get off topic?”

“I thought the topic was completed,” Corub said, in a tone that would probably be accompanied with shrugging shoulders were he not a bird.

“Clearly not,” Miss Highwater groaned, and flopped into a chair. “First things first, I better call Ellie.”

“Isn’t this the sort of news someone wouldn’t want to hear over the phone?”

“I can’t just show up!” she snapped. “At the least, I have to let her know I’m coming.”

“While you do that, I’m going to find something to eat,” Corub said. “Good luck, Sariel. Don’t screw up this time.”

“Thanks.” She rolled her eyes. “I always love having you around. You absolutely brighten my mood and boost my self-confidence.”

“Don’t mention it. Have you put up the birdfeeders I requested?”

“No.”

“You’re evil.” Corub screeched and flew off, most likely to scavenge for worms.

“Thanks,” she called after him, “but it’s not because of bird feeders.”




“I’m not going to the hospital! You can’t make me!”

“Ellie, let go of the car door before I pry your fingers loose! I’ll cut off your hand if I have to!”

Ellie froze- not literally, though the car was showing signs of frost near her fingers- as she imagined Damien grabbing her hands and accidentally being cryogenically preserved before his heart stopped beating, before he fell into the slumber of death. It was but a second’s faltering, and all Damien needed. He wrenched her away, ignoring her protests.

“Are you going to walk, or do I have to carry you?” Damien asked.

Ellie’s response was to stomp on his foot.

“Yowch! What was that for?” Damien demanded. “You’re going, like it or not!”

“You’re being stubborn,” Ellie pouted.

“So are you,” Damien shot back, picking her up and carrying her under his arm. Ellie tried to keep her hands away from him, so the traditional pounding-at-the-captor-screaming-‘Let-me-go’ would not work. It was a bit difficult to struggle without the use of hands, so all she ended up doing was wriggling like a worm, and she had to quit even this as she found she was getting out of breath, far too quickly to be normal. Who knew hypothermia was so much fun?

“Will you quit that?” Damien said. “Hans, wait here please. Park the car or something.”

They went into the lobby, the subtle smell of sterile sanctum assailing Ellie as soon as the double glass doors swung shut behind them. Through the mass of people milling about, who all looked perfectly healthy, Ellie noted sourly, she saw the desk where they were to check in, and her stomach felt not like it dropped, but had plummeted straight to the center of the earth.

“D-damien,” she tried to say, but found the words weren’t coming easily. “Damien, l-let go of me. I’m fine, so lleet go… lego’me…”

“Isn’t slurring a symptom of hypothermia?” he remarked, as casually as if to the air. “What, you afraid of needles?”

Actually, considering what sort of things her blood might contain, at this point, Ellie was absolutely mortified of needles and of the hospital in general.

“May I help you, sir?” asked the woman at the desk.

“Yes. The name’s Damien Morvant. Er, my wife has hypothermia.”

“Oh, I see. I suppose that means she should go to the ER?”

“Of course,” Damien said.

“No needles,” Ellie murmured, finding everything- her arms, legs, and eyelids especially- felt like they’d been casted over in lead. “No IV.”

“Hopefully, you won’t need one, Madam Morvant,” said the woman, and she continued giving Damien instructions, but Ellie was hearing other voices, seeing the world get far too bright.

“No, my little princess. You can’t come with me. I’ll be back, though. So stay here like a good girl and wait for me, okay? I promise I’ll be back. Just go to sleep, and Mommy will be back in the morning.”

Which had been, of course, a lie.




Ellie remembered little of her mother, the woman called Eleanor Giata, whose name she carried. She recalled that she had her mother’s eyes and blonde hair, and that her mother often called her princess.

And she knew that her mother never, ever touched her.

Not once did Eleanor stroke her hair or hug her. Every time Ellie came running with a skinned knee or some hurt, crying or laughing, Eleanor would reach out as if to embrace her, and then draw back at the last moment, a peculiar expression flitting on her face, half shame and half regret. She was strict, perhaps overly so with a four-year-old girl, and Ellie often had a hard time sleeping because even though her bedtime was quite apt for a girl her age, she heard the arguments. Both her mother and her father had a hard time keeping their voices down when they were in anger’s throes.

“I can’t help what I am, Baxter, any more than you can help what you are! Of course it isn’t fair, not to you, or me, or the children. But what am I to do?”

“Stay.”

“I can’t.” And Ellie understood her mother was leaving. As much of a stranger the woman she’d lived with for four years seemed, the thought of her leaving was unbearable. Ellie slipped out of bed and tiptoed past Gracie’s crib, and ran to her mother and tugged on her skirt.

Eleanor jumped. “Why aren’t you in bed? You should have been sleeping hours ago.”

“Don’t go.”

“I have to, Ellie.”

“Then I’ll come too.”

“No, my little princess.” Eleanor smiled, but even at her age, Ellie could tell it was forced. “I have some family problems, all right? Go back to bed.”

“But-“

“You heard your mother, Ellie,” Baxter growled.

Perhaps that was the only memory she had that viewed her mother in a fond light, especially as that was the one time Eleanor actually hugged her daughter. “I’m sorry, princess,” she said. “I’ll be back. I promise.”

Yet, everyone knows promises are easily broken, and this was no exception. Ellie waited for days to come, until she grew old enough to realize that her mother was not coming back.

End of story.

Eleanor pulled away, and Ellie noticed she was crying. Then Eleanor pushed past both of them and exited the house, slamming the door shut behind her.

“When will Mommy be back?” Ellie asked.

“I don’t know,” said Baxter, though the look in his eyes said he knew very well, and the answer was not one she wanted
to hear.




A mission of stealth could not be comprised by something as ridiculous as a crowd of onlookers- no, that was all the better for his glory. He was a boy on a mission, with one goal in mind, a goal that must be realized at all costs.
This goal was actually just a stepping stone to a much larger goal, which included impressing a certain someone so much that neither radians nor degrees could measure the angle of her love.

As soon as Mr. Sterne-Bryner, affectionately called Mr. Stern by his more ‘lively’ students, left to bother the headmistress or her legion of teachers’ pets about the lack of air conditioning and would she please solve it because how could he ever teach when his room smelled like it was full of monkeys, the boy saw his chance. He crept to the front of the classroom and carefully planted the object of such great importance. The tack was positioned in the dead center of the chair, Andrew swiveled around, and said to the assembled class, “If any of you rat me out, you’ll be hanging from the dodgeball pole by your tighty-whities. Please enjoy the ensuing spectacle, brought to you by Andrew Alexis.” He bowed, a maestro before a concert of hilarity.

“He’ll know you did it anyway,” said a student, bored. “No one else does it. It’s ALWAYS you.”

“Just sit down and get out your homework,” snapped another.

“Didn’t do it!” Andrew declared proudly, taking his seat.

“Don’t puff out your chest like it’s a great accomplishment,” said the girl next to him.

“But, my dear Adrienne, it is,” he said, sounding surprised. “I am passing at a C- with barely any effort on my part.”

“I’d say you put effort into failing,” Adrienne scoffed. “No college is going to accept you, you know.”

“Who said I wanted to go to college? You assume too much of everyone you meet,” Andrew said. “The paper-pusher life is for idiots like the headmistress. I refuse to end up old and unfulfilled like her. She was actually fun before her husband died. She should’ve bought a bunch of cats instead of a raven.”

“You shouldn’t talk like that about her,” Adrienne reprimanded. “She’s done a lot of good for both you and the school.”

“Yeah, true,” Andrew relented. “Those uniforms she makes the girls wear? Cute as babies.” He tugged at Adrienne’s sleeve. “Baby clothes for a baby face.”

“Shut up,” Adrienne chuckled, playfully swapping at his arm.

“Make me,” Andrew retorted.

“Make me make you,” Adrienne replied, leaning a bit closer.

“Guys…” said a student behind them.

“That didn’t make sense,” Andrew told her, ignoring the student.

“Yes, but I thought that women, by definition, don’t make sense to the male population,” Adrienne shot back.

“Guys… Really, guys…”

“Like I’ve ever read a dictionary,” Andrew laughed. “I like it when things make just the right amount of non-sense.”

The space between them closed, Andrew and Adrienne kissed full on the lips, the class’s jaws dropped at this act of audacity and young ardor, and…

“NO SNOGGING IN MY CLASSROOM!” roared Mr. Stern, pulling them apart with enough force to split not just two enamored schoolchildren hyped up on hormones and teenage love, but several boulders as well.

“I tried to tell you,” whined the student.

Adrienne looked like someone had painted pink blush everywhere on her cheeks, while Andrew remained calm, albeit a little pale. “My apologies, sir,” Andrew said. “I thought this was my sister’s classroom, seeing as it is her school. Now, your rules, I must abide, but hers…” He shrugged. “She makes those with the sole intention that someone break them. I mean, bending them just isn’t enough. They have to be ripped and shredded until they’re smaller than your dignity, which isn’t all that much to start wi- yowch!”

Mr. Stern pulled Andrew out of his chair by his ear, motioning for Adrienne to rise with his other hand. Eyes and veins bulging, it was all he could do to growl, “Headmistress- set you straight- git down there- NOW.”

“If you would be so kind as to unhand my ear,” Andrew said, “I shall escort the young lady and myself to pay a visit to dear Miss Highwater.”

Muttering, Mr. Stern let go. Andrew grabbed Adrienne’s hand and pulled her out of the classroom behind him.

“We are in definite trouble now,” Adrienne sighed. “Why am I attracted to bad boys?”

“Why do you ask me like I’m supposed to know?” Andrew asked as they began to walk down the hall, their shoes clacking on the linoleum. “Anyway, I’m not the resident bad boy. I’m just the class clown.”

Large windows created squares of sunlight, beckoning skipping feet the way a chalked rectangle beckons hop scotch. Jumping from one square to the next, Andrew chuckled as Adrienne copied him, and laughed even harder as a bellow from Mr. Stern followed their dancing jumps, a discordant echo of their jovial tones.

“Guess he found your present,” Adrienne said.

“The class must be in stitches.”

“Oh, yeah.” Adrienne rolled her eyes. “Nothing funnier than a man getting sharp metal up his butt.”

Andrew clapped. “Yes! A most marvelous performance by Andrew Alexis, comedian extraordinaire.”

“You’re full of it,” she smirked.

They stopped outside the office, seeing the lights off. “She might be out,” Andrew said, and rattled the door knob. “Yep. Weird. She doesn’t usually leave during the school day- or after, really. I swear, she spends more time in that office than at home…”

“Can I help you?”

Andrew turned around. “Oh, if it isn’t Iris! How’s the teacher’s pet doing these days? Got valedictorian with your sucking up yet? My sister’s fond of apples, you know.”

“Funny,” Iris pursed her lips. “The headmistress said she had a family emergency. She didn’t take you?”

“Probably on her side. They’re all idiots,” Andrew scoffed. “Oh, well, Adri. Seems we’re off the hook.”

“Not quite. She left me a note saying you get to see her as soon as she comes back. She knows you too well.”

“Aw, I see you like crushing people’s hopes and dreams. So, when do I get my personal appointment with my big sissy?”

“No idea. She didn’t say how long she’d be gone,” Iris answered.

“Fat lot of good you are,” Andrew grumbled. “Come on, Adri.”

“Where to?” she asked. “Please tell me that you mean back to class. You might want to fail, but I’m top in our year.”

“Careful,” he whispered. “So was Iris, and look where that got her.”

Iris drew an indignant breath. “Since you seem keen on skipping, I’ll have to escort you myself to avert your blatant act of truancy.”

“Drat. We have been compromised. Run, Adri, and save yourself!” Andrew cried as Iris put a hand on his shoulder and began to steer him towards class. “Do not make my sacrifice be in vain. Be free, Adri, be free!”

“I can’t!” Adrienne said, with just as much melodrama. “Oh, woe is the world I find myself in, between Scylla and Charybdis! What sort of friend deserts their companion in the clutches of the enemy? Do not separate us- take me too, I beg of you!”

Iris tapped her foot. “What a touching speech. Come on.”

“Nice,” Andrew winked. “You and I are a good team. Together, we shall smite the smarticles off their pedestal!”

“I’m a smarticle,” Adrienne said with faux sadness. “I cannot help you, for I am one of the diseased.”

“You are our mole in the ranks,” Andrew said, not missing a beat. “You shall tell me of their weaknesses, and then we shall exploit them.”

“Oh, that’s easy. See, Iris actually has a phobia of-“ Adrienne began.

“That’s enough!” Iris interrupted. “Thank you for revealing your master plan in front of me. I shall have to inform the headmistress.”

“You’re taking this seriously?” Andrew said.

They reached the classroom, and Iris scooted them towards the door. “Go on, you little troublemaker,” she said to Andrew, and to Adrienne, she said, “Don’t let him drag you down.”

“You should be hoping she doesn’t convert me into one of you,” Andrew said before entering.

Mr. Stern glared at the two of them, but didn’t stop his lecture on the conjugation of Latin verbs. After class, during the lunch break, Andrew and Adrienne sat beneath a tree, eating their sandwiches, Andrew’s smothered with hot sauce, and Adrienne’s a delicate and traditional bacon-lettuce-tomato.

“Hey, Adri,” Andrew said. “I’m curious. If I hypothetically asked a hypothetical girl to dinner, what would she hypothetically say?”

“Hypothetically, this hypothetical girl whom you’re hypothetically asking to a hypothetical dinner would hypothetically say yes,” Adrienne replied. “Hypothetically.”

“I see. And would she hypothetically kiss me?”

“No. I think she’d only do that in actuality,” Adrienne responded.

Andrew took the hint and was about to treat her to an encore when a loud, disapproving and shrill squawk sounded above them. Andrew pulled away, definitely red in the face now.

“What is it?” Adrienne asked, startled.

“Nothing. Just my sister’s stupid pet raven. I don’t know why she didn’t take it with her. The thing’s dumber than the worms it eats,” Andrew muttered, then screamed and beat at a white shape as Corub, resolving that Sariel could get someone else to keep an eye on the little nitwit, dive-bombed the boy.
Hi everyone! It's been about a week or two since I uploaded the last chapter of Mirror of Ice (you can find it here: https://www.vizzed.com/boards/thread.php?id=75647). To sum up the plot so far, Ellie has found the records she needs to track her father's sold Memories.

Please enjoy this chapter and comment. Let me know what you thought; several elements of this chapter were particularly hard to write, such as the flashback and Andrew's bit, so I would appreciate it if you could give me feedback. It helps make the next ones better and better, and I always love seeing what people thought. (Even if you hated it, I'd be glad to hear why).

So, without further ado, here is chapter seven. Also, the title was my sister's idea. I'm not sure it quite fits...



Never is life uncomplicated.
That would be too easy.
Instead, it is rather obligated
To be both terribly real and gloriously dreamy.

MANIFEST DOUBT, MANIFEST ‘WUV’

Around three, Damien announced his return with a sing-song call of, “Honey, I’m ho-ome!”

Ellie gave the customary “Welcome back!” and the obligatory kiss on the cheek. Taking his coat, she asked, “How was the trip?”

“This first,” Damien said, handing her a box.

She raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“But I did.”

“Aw, thanks.” It was, it turned out, one of those new-fangled cell phones all the rich kids were getting.

“So we can keep in touch,” Damien said, and winked. Ellie thanked him, and though it looked like he was being nice, she knew he was just being clingy.

“So,” she said. “How was your trip?

Damien immediately launched into a play-by-play account of a dry meeting, and went off a slightly, but only minimally so, more interesting tangent about how his managers in the east were all idiots and they’d be the death of his father’s company. Ellie tried to listen, but it was a bland story to begin with, and halfway through, she realized she had left the records out in plain sight on the table. After that, she was far too occupied trying to think of ways to make sure Damien would:

a) not notice them, or

b) be convinced they were taxes, bills, or some other boring, absolutely killing-the-trees, waste-of-paper pile of legal jargon that was best left to the wife.

Luckily, Ellie was a good actor, and feigning interest was a piece of cake. Which reminded her- wasn’t the cake in the oven, or had she forgotten to put it in?

“Oh, dear. The cake,” Ellie sighed, interrupting Damien’s monologue on why angry employers should never be armed with jumbo staplers.

“What cake?” he asked.

“Just a cake,” she replied, and sure enough, she’d forgotten to even pre-heat the oven. Ellie turned it on, and pushing her luck, pretended to just notice the papers. “Oh! I left the tax forms out. Silly me. You don’t want to come home from a busy trip to find a mess, do you?” She scooped them up, clutching them to her chest a little too tightly, but Damien barely glanced at them.

“It’s fine. You’ve got to mail those soon,” he said. He rolled his neck and groaned. “I’m going to get cleaned up and take a shower.”

“Do you want a bath?” Ellie said. “I could get the water ready, and we do have those bath spices we never use…”

“Nah.” He waved his hand in a ‘No, don’t be ridiculous’ motion. “Just a shower. Those bath salts and spices give me rashes, anyway.” He wrinkled his nose and stifled a sneeze. “Darn it, Ellie. You gave me your bug.”

“Sorry.”

He laughed. “It’s not your fault. Don’t apologize for stuff you didn’t do.”

“I’m sor-“

“Don’t you dare,” he chuckled, “apologize for apologizing!”

Ellie bit her lip, because, naturally, her first reaction was to apologize for apologizing for apologizing. She figured, however, that this would not go well.

An unpleasant silence sprang up between them, and Damien gave voice to it. “Well. This is awkward.”

“Extremely.”

“I’m going to take my shower now,” Damien said, edging away.

“You do that,” she said as he disappeared upstairs, and once she was sure he was gone, she bolted for the gardening shed. Jannston was the only soul to ever come here, and even he didn’t come often. There was no safer place in all the Morvant household.

Hopefully.

Actually, probably not.

Yet, Ellie was nothing if not an optimist, except perhaps someone trying very hard to be one.




The next night, after dinner, Ellie sneaked back to the shed.

The papers were gone.

Ellie kicked a nearby bucket, shouting a word rarely uttered from her mouth that might make a sailor cringe, and returned to the house feeling more fatalistic than the night before her wedding, which said something- the night before her wedding, fourteen-year-old her ardently believed the world was about to end, because such injustice was a sign of the coming Armageddon. To feel worse was nigh impossible, and yet here she was, so upset and nervous and apprehensive that her stomach was beginning to cramp.

Damien sat in the living room, stirring a coffee, as she tried to get past him, but a creak at the stairs gave her away. “Going to bed?” he asked. There was nothing in his tone to suggest that he’d seen something he shouldn’t have.

Maybe Jannston had thrown them out without reading them. Yes, that was most likely.

Who said she wasn’t an optimist? They were right. She was no optimist- she was hopelessly deluded in her hopeful belief in the impossible.

“Um, yeah,” she said. “Going to bed.”

“It’s only eight,” Damien replied. “Really?”

“I’m, uh, really tired,” Ellie fibbed, and faked a yawn. “I’m not feeling well.”

“I see. All right, then.”

Because she’d lied about it, Ellie had no choice but to change into her nightgown and pretend to get ready for bed before she started searching the house for the records. She was in the middle of brushing her teeth when she heard Damien climb the stairs, and when she exited the bathroom, he was waiting at the door to the balcony, a sign he wanted to talk. Early in the marriage, Ellie and Damien had agreed that any talks that might lead to arguments would be conducted on the balcony, so the night air would cool their heads faster and they’d make up more easily, with the moon overhead. This rule was rarely followed, but it was a somewhat romantic sentiment.

It was a cold December night, but Ellie followed him out anyway, lips moving in a silent prayer that this was not what she was pretty sure it was about.

“You been out of the house while I was gone?” Damien asked.

“I did some shopping,” she said, which was true.

“Anywhere else?”

“Mm, not that I can think of right now…”

“Oh, really? Allow me to refresh your memory. Nowhere like an Intangible Pawnshop?” Damien shot.

Ellie winced. So this was about that.

Damien took the wince as a sign of guilt just as poignant as a verbal confirmation. “When were you going to tell me?” he demanded.

“I wasn’t,” she admitted. At this point, there was absolutely no sense in lying. “I was pretty sure you’d react this way.”

“What is wrong with you, Ellie? You don’t have to hide things from me. It’s been four years! You can’t trust me after four years?”

Ellie looked to her feet. “I trust you.”

“Clearly not as much as you should.” Damien scowled. “I care about you, Ellie. He doesn’t.”

Ellie’s face blanched. “But- but- he has to. He’s my father.”

Damien groaned and looked to the sky. “You act like everything’s so cut and dry!” He made eye contact. “Ellie, you have no idea how naïve you sound. Grow up! ‘He’s my father, so he has to love me. It’s just how it works!’ Am I right? That’s what’s going through your head right now as we speak. But that’s not true! That’s not how it works! You have to earn love. If everything’s the way you say, you would love ME because you’re my wife and you’re supposed to. It’s just how it works!”

Ellie didn’t reply, instead turning to grip the balcony railing and looking out over the gardens. If she said no, she didn’t have to love him because he didn’t deserve it, she’d imply that she hadn’t earned her father’s affection either. If she held to her own philosophy of obligation and that love couldn’t, by definition, be earned, she’d admit she was doing wrong by her husband. She lost either way. In such a situation, it was better to remain quiet.

“Don’t turn your back and give me the silent treatment!” Damien growled. “Heaven above knows I try, Ellie. I really do. But you’re impossible!”

Ellie still did not indulge in a response, tightening her grip on the railing. All the comebacks she could think of would only make things worse, as satisfying as they’d be to say. Let Damien fill the tense lull with angry words.

“Why do you insist on clinging to them?” Damien asked. “Why do you insist on making yourself miserable?”

That she just had to respond to. “I insist? I didn’t ask for any of this, Damien! I didn’t ask for my mother to leave me when I was four. I didn’t ask for my father to be a jerk and choose to forget about me, and I most certainly didn’t choose to get married!”

“Well, you’re married now, so you’d better live with it,” he replied.

“Oh, I know. Sometimes, I think things would be better if I ended up developing Stockholm Syndrome!”

It had been the wrong thing to say. Damien’s nose flared, and the next thing she knew, her back slammed against the railing, pain erupting in a hot flash. Her arm was twisted behind her back, so she landed on her fingers. The agony made them feel numb, as if she’d been holding them in cold water for too long.

Damien backed away. “I- I didn’t mean it, Ellie.”

Twice now. She stood carefully, not eyeing him. “I know you didn’t mean it. That’s what you said about a week ago, too.” Her fingers hurt, and her back ached, her stomach threatening to upheave its contents. She stole a furtive look at the railing, where she’d hit it.

It was covered in ice, though barely. Damien probably couldn’t see it from where he was standing.
Had she done that?

“Ellie, I didn’t mean it. Stop staring at the gardens. Look at me, please.” His tone was so pleading, it would usually arouse pity, but she was beginning to find she had little pity left. “I’m sorry.” He held out his hand. “Let me help you up.”

“Don’t touch me!” she said.

“I’m trying to help you!” He had switched to angry again. Oh, his mood swings. They were as tempestuous as weather in the south during the hurricane season.

“I don’t need your help,” Ellie said.

“But I’m trying to give it! Just accept my help, woman!” He raised his hand, as if to strike again, and Ellie whimpered.

The sound, so pathetic and small, must have reached him somewhere, for he drew back and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m just trying to help you.”

Ellie ran past him.

He didn’t try to stop her, just watching her with his eyes wide and sad-looking, like a dying goldfish, which actually would have been quite comical in other circumstances. He reached for her braid and nearly caught it, but then shook his head again and brought his hand back, letting her run. She didn’t let up until she reached a guestroom and slammed the door behind her, locking it and leaning against it, breathing hard. Frost grew like crystals as her fingers left the door knob and she clutched her arms, moving to the edge of the bed. She sat and pondered what to do next. Several courses of action presented themselves, but only one seemed reasonable. Thus, she decided she’d take it at that very moment.

Ellie burst into tears.




Ellie woke up about midmorning. Her head felt like it’d been cracked in half, and she was shivering. A deep chill had nestled in her bones, and she pulled the covers up to her chin, noting her fingertips had the slightest bluish tinge to them. A quick glance in the mirror showed her lips were purplish as well. After a moment of hugging her knees, trying to get warm, she decided getting a sweater, having a warm drink, and sitting in front of a fire would probably be more effective.

Small whorls of ice marked where she touched things as she pulled off her shirt and shivered in her undershirt. She had several bruises on her left arm, the one she’d landed on at the balcony, and lifting a portion of her undershirt revealed a bruise on her lower back as well.

Ellie checked the guestroom closet and found a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans, which she quickly pulled on without complaint, despite the fact that they looked at least ten years out of style. After a moment’s hesitation, she also put on a woolen sweater that was a gift from Damien’s mother. It was, bluntly put, hideous. It was kept in a guestroom so Ellie could honestly say she hadn’t thrown it out, yet never wear it or even have to see it. However, it was thick and insulating, and Ellie needed such clothes at the moment.

She opened the door and nearly tripped over Damien, sprawled asleep in front of the guestroom. Shaking her head, Ellie stepped over him and made her way to the kitchen. She heated a glass of milk and tried to start a fire in the hearth. She must have made a great deal of noise, as Damien, bleary-eyed, stumbled into the living room. “Need help with that?” he asked.

Ellie nodded, and curled up on the couch as Damien got the fire dancing. Both had an unspoken agreement that last night was last night, until, unable to not ask, Ellie said, “What’d you do with the records?”

Damien grunted in response. “I’m not that cold, but there’s ice everywhere. The heat must be broken…”

Way to change the subject. “The records, Damien.”

“I kept them.” He looked at his hands, curled into fists. “I was going to burn them, but I changed my mind.”

“Thank you.”

He blinked several times, a tentative smile shaping his lips. “Uh, you’re welcome.” He patted her hand awkwardly, and took a double-take. “By all that is good, Ellie! Are you okay?” He pressed his hand against her cheek. “I swear, you’ve got hypothermia or something. I’ll call Hans; we can get you to a hospital.”

“I’m fine,” Ellie said, a new set of chills plucking at her skin. If she did go to the hospital, and if they found out what she could do… She didn’t know what was going on herself. Did she really want a bunch of white coats to find out as well?
“Really, I’m fine.”

“You are not,” Damien insisted. “I’m going to call Hans. Don’t move.”

He ran for the kitchen, where the phone was, and Ellie smiled to herself. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, actually glad Damien had bought it now, and dialed a number she rarely called.

“You’ve reached the voice mail of Sariel Highwater, Headmistress of Haven Academy. I’m not able to answer the phone right now. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Ellie groaned as the phone beeped. “Hello, Miss? It’s Ellie. About that cold… I, um, have some of the symptoms you mentioned earlier, and some pretty freaky new ones… Uh, please call me back.” She hung up and just managed to shove it in her pocket when Damien returned.

“He’ll be here in two minutes,” Damien said.

“Really, I’m-“

“Shut it. We have a pretty low deductible anyway.” As soon as Hans shouted that the car was ready, Damien gently carried Ellie in strong arms, now so tender, though they could so easily fall into violence. Ellie was drowsy, probably part of the hypothermia, and as she found it harder to stay awake, a thought popped into her head.
Was Miss Highwater expecting this? Please, tell me she wasn’t…

“Hello, Miss? It’s Ellie. About that cold… I, um, have some of the symptoms you mentioned earlier, and some pretty freaky new ones… Uh, please call me back.”

Miss Highwater cursed as soon as the message finished. Corub squawked disapprovingly. “Language, Sariel! You’re in a school.”

“Drat.” Miss Highwater replied. “I mean, I always thought… how could I not, considering what her mother was? I swear, every time she got a cold I got antsy… but eighteen years, Corub! Eighteen years. And. Not. One. Sign. I thought she’d be fine. I thought, ‘Maybe since it took so long, those traits won’t show up.’ But no!”

“What exactly,” Corub said, “is your problem?”

“I don’t want a repeat of what happened with Julia,” she said, voice small. “You remember that.”

“Yeah, yeah. She was the girl part Djinn, right? It’s not like halflings are rare, Sariel. I commend you on somehow making sure they all attend your Academy at one point or another, though. Most are fine.”

“Yes, Corub. MOST. I’m six-four. Tall, but not inhumanly so. I could pass for an Alti or a human. Ellie could reasonably pass as a human, and Julie lasted sixteen years pretending to be of common blood.” Here, Miss Highwater stopped her speech to compulsively press the stapler like some sort of stress ball, stopping only to remove the metal bits when it jammed before resuming. She kept clicking as she spoke. “Now that those traits have appeared, Sable will be paying attention. Heaven knows Raylin couldn’t care less about Julie until her traits started showing as well…”

“Maybe you’re jealous,” Corub said. “Other than your height, you’ve got nothing Alti going for you.”

”No, Corub. I’m just good at hiding it. Honestly, why do you think I never participate in track and field day? Anyway, this isn’t about me. What am I to do?”

“Tell her the truth,” the bird retorted. “It works wonders.”

“The truth is terrible, though. How am I supposed to break it to her? ‘Hey, Ellie, you’re not exactly human, and the only reason your mother carried you to term was because you might be a good pawn against her sister! Your lifespan might be at least three times that of Damien, but we’re not sure.  You’d made a good lab rat, and you’re more susceptible to insanity because of your race’s genetics!’ Oh, yeah, she’ll take that in absolute stride, without an issue.” Realizing she was out of staples, Miss Highwater threw the stapler at the far wall. It made a satisfying impact before clattering to the floor.

“YOU took the news well,” Corub pointed out. “Stop throwing things; you might miss and hit me.”

“If I hit you,” she griped, “it’s not because I’ve missed. Yes, I took the news well. My circumstances aren’t hers! I’m not a possible heir to a throne of nimrods!”

“Nope. You’re just a general’s daughter born out of wedlock,” Corub acknowledged. “You have such noble origins compared to Ellie’s.”

“Shut. Up.”

“Hey, if the Alti only have an army when they’re at war, which they’re not, how is your father a general?”

“Are you trying to get off topic?”

“I thought the topic was completed,” Corub said, in a tone that would probably be accompanied with shrugging shoulders were he not a bird.

“Clearly not,” Miss Highwater groaned, and flopped into a chair. “First things first, I better call Ellie.”

“Isn’t this the sort of news someone wouldn’t want to hear over the phone?”

“I can’t just show up!” she snapped. “At the least, I have to let her know I’m coming.”

“While you do that, I’m going to find something to eat,” Corub said. “Good luck, Sariel. Don’t screw up this time.”

“Thanks.” She rolled her eyes. “I always love having you around. You absolutely brighten my mood and boost my self-confidence.”

“Don’t mention it. Have you put up the birdfeeders I requested?”

“No.”

“You’re evil.” Corub screeched and flew off, most likely to scavenge for worms.

“Thanks,” she called after him, “but it’s not because of bird feeders.”




“I’m not going to the hospital! You can’t make me!”

“Ellie, let go of the car door before I pry your fingers loose! I’ll cut off your hand if I have to!”

Ellie froze- not literally, though the car was showing signs of frost near her fingers- as she imagined Damien grabbing her hands and accidentally being cryogenically preserved before his heart stopped beating, before he fell into the slumber of death. It was but a second’s faltering, and all Damien needed. He wrenched her away, ignoring her protests.

“Are you going to walk, or do I have to carry you?” Damien asked.

Ellie’s response was to stomp on his foot.

“Yowch! What was that for?” Damien demanded. “You’re going, like it or not!”

“You’re being stubborn,” Ellie pouted.

“So are you,” Damien shot back, picking her up and carrying her under his arm. Ellie tried to keep her hands away from him, so the traditional pounding-at-the-captor-screaming-‘Let-me-go’ would not work. It was a bit difficult to struggle without the use of hands, so all she ended up doing was wriggling like a worm, and she had to quit even this as she found she was getting out of breath, far too quickly to be normal. Who knew hypothermia was so much fun?

“Will you quit that?” Damien said. “Hans, wait here please. Park the car or something.”

They went into the lobby, the subtle smell of sterile sanctum assailing Ellie as soon as the double glass doors swung shut behind them. Through the mass of people milling about, who all looked perfectly healthy, Ellie noted sourly, she saw the desk where they were to check in, and her stomach felt not like it dropped, but had plummeted straight to the center of the earth.

“D-damien,” she tried to say, but found the words weren’t coming easily. “Damien, l-let go of me. I’m fine, so lleet go… lego’me…”

“Isn’t slurring a symptom of hypothermia?” he remarked, as casually as if to the air. “What, you afraid of needles?”

Actually, considering what sort of things her blood might contain, at this point, Ellie was absolutely mortified of needles and of the hospital in general.

“May I help you, sir?” asked the woman at the desk.

“Yes. The name’s Damien Morvant. Er, my wife has hypothermia.”

“Oh, I see. I suppose that means she should go to the ER?”

“Of course,” Damien said.

“No needles,” Ellie murmured, finding everything- her arms, legs, and eyelids especially- felt like they’d been casted over in lead. “No IV.”

“Hopefully, you won’t need one, Madam Morvant,” said the woman, and she continued giving Damien instructions, but Ellie was hearing other voices, seeing the world get far too bright.

“No, my little princess. You can’t come with me. I’ll be back, though. So stay here like a good girl and wait for me, okay? I promise I’ll be back. Just go to sleep, and Mommy will be back in the morning.”

Which had been, of course, a lie.




Ellie remembered little of her mother, the woman called Eleanor Giata, whose name she carried. She recalled that she had her mother’s eyes and blonde hair, and that her mother often called her princess.

And she knew that her mother never, ever touched her.

Not once did Eleanor stroke her hair or hug her. Every time Ellie came running with a skinned knee or some hurt, crying or laughing, Eleanor would reach out as if to embrace her, and then draw back at the last moment, a peculiar expression flitting on her face, half shame and half regret. She was strict, perhaps overly so with a four-year-old girl, and Ellie often had a hard time sleeping because even though her bedtime was quite apt for a girl her age, she heard the arguments. Both her mother and her father had a hard time keeping their voices down when they were in anger’s throes.

“I can’t help what I am, Baxter, any more than you can help what you are! Of course it isn’t fair, not to you, or me, or the children. But what am I to do?”

“Stay.”

“I can’t.” And Ellie understood her mother was leaving. As much of a stranger the woman she’d lived with for four years seemed, the thought of her leaving was unbearable. Ellie slipped out of bed and tiptoed past Gracie’s crib, and ran to her mother and tugged on her skirt.

Eleanor jumped. “Why aren’t you in bed? You should have been sleeping hours ago.”

“Don’t go.”

“I have to, Ellie.”

“Then I’ll come too.”

“No, my little princess.” Eleanor smiled, but even at her age, Ellie could tell it was forced. “I have some family problems, all right? Go back to bed.”

“But-“

“You heard your mother, Ellie,” Baxter growled.

Perhaps that was the only memory she had that viewed her mother in a fond light, especially as that was the one time Eleanor actually hugged her daughter. “I’m sorry, princess,” she said. “I’ll be back. I promise.”

Yet, everyone knows promises are easily broken, and this was no exception. Ellie waited for days to come, until she grew old enough to realize that her mother was not coming back.

End of story.

Eleanor pulled away, and Ellie noticed she was crying. Then Eleanor pushed past both of them and exited the house, slamming the door shut behind her.

“When will Mommy be back?” Ellie asked.

“I don’t know,” said Baxter, though the look in his eyes said he knew very well, and the answer was not one she wanted
to hear.




A mission of stealth could not be comprised by something as ridiculous as a crowd of onlookers- no, that was all the better for his glory. He was a boy on a mission, with one goal in mind, a goal that must be realized at all costs.
This goal was actually just a stepping stone to a much larger goal, which included impressing a certain someone so much that neither radians nor degrees could measure the angle of her love.

As soon as Mr. Sterne-Bryner, affectionately called Mr. Stern by his more ‘lively’ students, left to bother the headmistress or her legion of teachers’ pets about the lack of air conditioning and would she please solve it because how could he ever teach when his room smelled like it was full of monkeys, the boy saw his chance. He crept to the front of the classroom and carefully planted the object of such great importance. The tack was positioned in the dead center of the chair, Andrew swiveled around, and said to the assembled class, “If any of you rat me out, you’ll be hanging from the dodgeball pole by your tighty-whities. Please enjoy the ensuing spectacle, brought to you by Andrew Alexis.” He bowed, a maestro before a concert of hilarity.

“He’ll know you did it anyway,” said a student, bored. “No one else does it. It’s ALWAYS you.”

“Just sit down and get out your homework,” snapped another.

“Didn’t do it!” Andrew declared proudly, taking his seat.

“Don’t puff out your chest like it’s a great accomplishment,” said the girl next to him.

“But, my dear Adrienne, it is,” he said, sounding surprised. “I am passing at a C- with barely any effort on my part.”

“I’d say you put effort into failing,” Adrienne scoffed. “No college is going to accept you, you know.”

“Who said I wanted to go to college? You assume too much of everyone you meet,” Andrew said. “The paper-pusher life is for idiots like the headmistress. I refuse to end up old and unfulfilled like her. She was actually fun before her husband died. She should’ve bought a bunch of cats instead of a raven.”

“You shouldn’t talk like that about her,” Adrienne reprimanded. “She’s done a lot of good for both you and the school.”

“Yeah, true,” Andrew relented. “Those uniforms she makes the girls wear? Cute as babies.” He tugged at Adrienne’s sleeve. “Baby clothes for a baby face.”

“Shut up,” Adrienne chuckled, playfully swapping at his arm.

“Make me,” Andrew retorted.

“Make me make you,” Adrienne replied, leaning a bit closer.

“Guys…” said a student behind them.

“That didn’t make sense,” Andrew told her, ignoring the student.

“Yes, but I thought that women, by definition, don’t make sense to the male population,” Adrienne shot back.

“Guys… Really, guys…”

“Like I’ve ever read a dictionary,” Andrew laughed. “I like it when things make just the right amount of non-sense.”

The space between them closed, Andrew and Adrienne kissed full on the lips, the class’s jaws dropped at this act of audacity and young ardor, and…

“NO SNOGGING IN MY CLASSROOM!” roared Mr. Stern, pulling them apart with enough force to split not just two enamored schoolchildren hyped up on hormones and teenage love, but several boulders as well.

“I tried to tell you,” whined the student.

Adrienne looked like someone had painted pink blush everywhere on her cheeks, while Andrew remained calm, albeit a little pale. “My apologies, sir,” Andrew said. “I thought this was my sister’s classroom, seeing as it is her school. Now, your rules, I must abide, but hers…” He shrugged. “She makes those with the sole intention that someone break them. I mean, bending them just isn’t enough. They have to be ripped and shredded until they’re smaller than your dignity, which isn’t all that much to start wi- yowch!”

Mr. Stern pulled Andrew out of his chair by his ear, motioning for Adrienne to rise with his other hand. Eyes and veins bulging, it was all he could do to growl, “Headmistress- set you straight- git down there- NOW.”

“If you would be so kind as to unhand my ear,” Andrew said, “I shall escort the young lady and myself to pay a visit to dear Miss Highwater.”

Muttering, Mr. Stern let go. Andrew grabbed Adrienne’s hand and pulled her out of the classroom behind him.

“We are in definite trouble now,” Adrienne sighed. “Why am I attracted to bad boys?”

“Why do you ask me like I’m supposed to know?” Andrew asked as they began to walk down the hall, their shoes clacking on the linoleum. “Anyway, I’m not the resident bad boy. I’m just the class clown.”

Large windows created squares of sunlight, beckoning skipping feet the way a chalked rectangle beckons hop scotch. Jumping from one square to the next, Andrew chuckled as Adrienne copied him, and laughed even harder as a bellow from Mr. Stern followed their dancing jumps, a discordant echo of their jovial tones.

“Guess he found your present,” Adrienne said.

“The class must be in stitches.”

“Oh, yeah.” Adrienne rolled her eyes. “Nothing funnier than a man getting sharp metal up his butt.”

Andrew clapped. “Yes! A most marvelous performance by Andrew Alexis, comedian extraordinaire.”

“You’re full of it,” she smirked.

They stopped outside the office, seeing the lights off. “She might be out,” Andrew said, and rattled the door knob. “Yep. Weird. She doesn’t usually leave during the school day- or after, really. I swear, she spends more time in that office than at home…”

“Can I help you?”

Andrew turned around. “Oh, if it isn’t Iris! How’s the teacher’s pet doing these days? Got valedictorian with your sucking up yet? My sister’s fond of apples, you know.”

“Funny,” Iris pursed her lips. “The headmistress said she had a family emergency. She didn’t take you?”

“Probably on her side. They’re all idiots,” Andrew scoffed. “Oh, well, Adri. Seems we’re off the hook.”

“Not quite. She left me a note saying you get to see her as soon as she comes back. She knows you too well.”

“Aw, I see you like crushing people’s hopes and dreams. So, when do I get my personal appointment with my big sissy?”

“No idea. She didn’t say how long she’d be gone,” Iris answered.

“Fat lot of good you are,” Andrew grumbled. “Come on, Adri.”

“Where to?” she asked. “Please tell me that you mean back to class. You might want to fail, but I’m top in our year.”

“Careful,” he whispered. “So was Iris, and look where that got her.”

Iris drew an indignant breath. “Since you seem keen on skipping, I’ll have to escort you myself to avert your blatant act of truancy.”

“Drat. We have been compromised. Run, Adri, and save yourself!” Andrew cried as Iris put a hand on his shoulder and began to steer him towards class. “Do not make my sacrifice be in vain. Be free, Adri, be free!”

“I can’t!” Adrienne said, with just as much melodrama. “Oh, woe is the world I find myself in, between Scylla and Charybdis! What sort of friend deserts their companion in the clutches of the enemy? Do not separate us- take me too, I beg of you!”

Iris tapped her foot. “What a touching speech. Come on.”

“Nice,” Andrew winked. “You and I are a good team. Together, we shall smite the smarticles off their pedestal!”

“I’m a smarticle,” Adrienne said with faux sadness. “I cannot help you, for I am one of the diseased.”

“You are our mole in the ranks,” Andrew said, not missing a beat. “You shall tell me of their weaknesses, and then we shall exploit them.”

“Oh, that’s easy. See, Iris actually has a phobia of-“ Adrienne began.

“That’s enough!” Iris interrupted. “Thank you for revealing your master plan in front of me. I shall have to inform the headmistress.”

“You’re taking this seriously?” Andrew said.

They reached the classroom, and Iris scooted them towards the door. “Go on, you little troublemaker,” she said to Andrew, and to Adrienne, she said, “Don’t let him drag you down.”

“You should be hoping she doesn’t convert me into one of you,” Andrew said before entering.

Mr. Stern glared at the two of them, but didn’t stop his lecture on the conjugation of Latin verbs. After class, during the lunch break, Andrew and Adrienne sat beneath a tree, eating their sandwiches, Andrew’s smothered with hot sauce, and Adrienne’s a delicate and traditional bacon-lettuce-tomato.

“Hey, Adri,” Andrew said. “I’m curious. If I hypothetically asked a hypothetical girl to dinner, what would she hypothetically say?”

“Hypothetically, this hypothetical girl whom you’re hypothetically asking to a hypothetical dinner would hypothetically say yes,” Adrienne replied. “Hypothetically.”

“I see. And would she hypothetically kiss me?”

“No. I think she’d only do that in actuality,” Adrienne responded.

Andrew took the hint and was about to treat her to an encore when a loud, disapproving and shrill squawk sounded above them. Andrew pulled away, definitely red in the face now.

“What is it?” Adrienne asked, startled.

“Nothing. Just my sister’s stupid pet raven. I don’t know why she didn’t take it with her. The thing’s dumber than the worms it eats,” Andrew muttered, then screamed and beat at a white shape as Corub, resolving that Sariel could get someone else to keep an eye on the little nitwit, dive-bombed the boy.
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Good job! The side-stories were pretty interesting. It's a good way to keep people occupied for that cliff hanger. I liked it.
Good job! The side-stories were pretty interesting. It's a good way to keep people occupied for that cliff hanger. I liked it.
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I wonder what the character limit on this thing is.


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