Friday, February 3, 2017

Chapter 94: The Soul Thief

Acheron whimpers, snatched from his crib in the early morning hours by one stranger who smiles, and another who frowns sternly.

"Well?" the second one demands. "What do you think, Vierzehn? Do we take this one with us?"

"Hmmm... despite the obvious... I'll be honest, I'm having trouble reading his aura," the one with the inescapably firm grip replies. "They'll want us to take him. Could be a human-ish mage."

"Huh!" The snort indicates shock, and annoyance. "Good thing we kept the woman alive for questioning, then."

"Right... they'll definitely want her questioned... that reminds me, Operator sent a message while you were having your little drink."

At first the two looked more or less normal, but Acheron's perceptions slowly adjust to the illusory deceptions. He knows, without remembering how he knows, that the darker-skinned man is a vampire.

"I had to kill him and there was no point letting the blood be wasted. Get to the point."

It is sad to watch the victims cry and scream, but in an unjust universe where Grim quickly steals corpses, fresh blood must be taken from the still-living.

"According to the local school records, there should have been four children here, not two," Vierzehn pauses slightly for emphasis, "and four adults."

This is a dream. Like all the others. Just a dream. Every night. Never changing.

"Is the fourth adult this one's parent?" Vampire asks.

"Yes. My guess is she was at the club where the incident occurred? The little wolf we caged up is the nephew of the one that freaked out, and the one you put down here was the cub's father."

"I wonder what set him off."

"Eh, doesn't matter. Temperamental animals. Could have been anything. Anyway, the other children are two school-aged girls. Possibly also werewolves?"

"That explains the bedroom upstairs. I don't sense anyone else in the house though and it's not worth me giving chase with the sun almost up. Better to wait for them to go to the police or... whatever little orphans do."

"They're not orphans. The mothers are just uninvolved. One thief on the lam and... uh... someone in Monte Vista. Follow-up will make sure she's not important."

"Well, that's a lot of information I don't care about."

"You're a vampire, you have psychic interrogation powers! They just want to help you mindhack people even better."

"Regardless. They'll send someone to the station, tie off the loose ends. We're done here."

"Lazy, lazy," Vierzehn chides.

"We're done here," the vampire repeats.

Acheron squirms, trying to get a better look around, but there's no use. Earlier in this dream Carlos always does a lot of shouting, from outside in the hall somewhere, and Dysen bites and growls when he's taken out of the room, but after this moment nothing exciting happens in the house. Acheron can't figure out where Fairuza and Orazia ran off to, or where these men take Lela, or whether or not they find his mother. It doesn't matter if he stays silent or kicks and screams. He never sees his mother again.

"They don't want you for your spellcasting ability, Acheron!" Twitching fingers. Contorted expression. Exasperation. Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed. "Just tell them you can't fucking get it, and you don't have to deal with anything beyond intel."

Acheron seats himself in one of the room's two chairs. The potions he was experimenting with sit in disarray on the table. "I can fucking get it. You're just a bad teacher." His expression and voice stay flat.

"Listen, small child, you are safe here. They've treated you like a delicate flower because you're useful-"

"I would be more useful if I could stay in the field beyond merely planning extractions. I could adapt to changes if I were there. How is it treating me delicately if they want me to learn to defend myself?"

"Sssigh! You're going to get cocky and you're going to get killed. Don't you understand?"

"It's you caring that confuses me," Acheron says coldly.

"Are you paying attention?" The dream is incongruous. Not every moment fits together properly. "Ugh, you're like an annoying little brother. Look, this is pretty standard. You should be able to follow it."

"Yes. I can. I have. I mean, I will."

"It's not as easy for you to draw power in here of course. Not much is living in here." He glances at the fake plants under the table. Part of the display.

"Yeah," Acheron responds, automatic, noncommittal.

A rough breeze plays at the curtain in a colorful hallway. There is a seashore nearby. Acheron has not smelled something similar in a very long time.

A witch coven lives here, selling its not-quite-snake-oil to a foolish populace... putting them under spells... nasty business. The witches only care for their own kind. They believe they are special, touched by destiny in a way no outsider could understand. Acheron knows this, and he hates them, even more than he has been taught to hate them he hates them, as if they've done things to him personally, though that makes no sense to him, since this is the first time he seen witches in the wild.

He is not alone in facing them, but at some point, he has a chance to flee.

It's poison. Surrender and we might- no, the elder witch did not say that this time. It was something else. Acheron manages to get Vierzehn outside while the other agents, and the witches, or whoever was there... he can't... quite... it's fuzzy... while they are distracted... he... escapes... and...

"Just take it easy. We'll make the arrests and patch you up. Stay here..." the teen keeps his voice even, but  'reassuring' is not a tone he has any practice with.

"Be careful," Vierzehn gasps out. The last twitches his body makes are almost violent.

"I'm sorry I couldn't stop them from killing you," Acheron whispers, when he brings himself to understand the elemental creature is going to die. He feels something like sadness, which surprises him. A version of this always happens, so all this time, he was certain he would not feel anything. He tried to keep his emotions distant not because he was angry about being yanked out of a "normal" childhood and forced to serve "the greater good", or anything silly like that – as if he could possibly relate to outsiders or remember or miss his family anyway but because he didn't want to feel sad about stuff like this.

You will see many bad things happen, a cat told him, once, but you may only choose one.

Vierzehn can't be helped, and is too paralyzed to stop Acheron when he chooses to run. He isn't sure which group he's running from, but he knows this is when he runs.

The girl. The witch girl is a teenager, like him. She adjusts her piratey eyepatch technically just another magical artifact – and lunges for him. "Hold it!"

"You don't have to go back with them!" she growls. "Come with me, and my sisters..."

"I was sent to kill you," Acheron reminds her.

"W-well you failed!" The stutter in her voice betrays their losses. "W-we got wise to that they had a precog! I'm not letting my grandmother down, so whether you like it or not you're coming with me!"

"Am I?" He wrests his arm out of her grip.

"Don't... you want to be rescued?"

Rescued? Is that what she thinks she's doing?

I was sent to kill you.

Don't you want to be rescued?

Don't you want to be rescued?

A more meaningful question might be whether or not he has a choice.

Or if this outcome was always his plan.

She is different from the other witches. His feelings about her are different. Her name is Claire.

She hasn't told him this, but it's the last thing he remembers as the vision shifts....

...erasing his life, and his thoughts on it...

The first thing he sees is his mother. He nearly chokes. Isn't she gone? Didn't that door close?

 No, he realizes, from experience he does not have, from logic that only makes sense in the context of its own dream. The future without his mother is what has become an impossibility.

Milo never left the house that night. Acheron talked him out of it.

It worked. It worked.

Wait. What worked? He can barely remember it now. The breeze toys with his fluffy hair, as if mocking him, with its scent that is both familiar and distant.

"Sweetie, I'd love to talk more about this," Ceth is saying, "but I have to get to the concert."

"Bye," he hears himself murmur.

What were they even talking about?

Feeling uneasy, he takes a walk along the shore.

And around town.

The fountain at the graveyard.

At some point he remembers he has homework to do.

He never saw it coming.

At least, the first time, he didn't.

He spins around and snatches her arm.

"You're here to kill me," he says.

For a moment Claire stands frozen, her resolve gone, her eyes growing wider. She needed no weapon to hurt him, and he does not use spells against her now. He has done nothing but surprise her. If she could gather her courage, she could follow through with her intention to steal his soul.

"What makes you think a thing like that?" she asks.

His fingers tighten against her wrist, between the enchanted bangles she wears. There must be something he can say to make her talk, something he hasn't said before.

"Hey, you want to sleep right through breakfast?" Carlos threatens playfully.

"Hi." Acheron yawns, shaking off sleep and all its half-remembered colors and feelings.

"My Dad had me up for breakfast before the sun was up you know. You're totally spoiled."

"Kay kay." Acheron snuggles against his shoulder and smiles. As always, he is relieved to wake up and find nothing has changed.

Carlos smiles too. "Yeah, you don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?"

Etc.: Special thanks to Owly for really cool CC I had to use. And to Melissa for half the sims in my bin that I repurpose for situations like these. And that super colorful house was from this blog; I'm considering using it for Layla's home in her own legacy, but I haven't had any time to play with that. The house probably won't be infested with witches in that story.