Phew, been a while since I posted in here. Whelp, its a longer chapter than usual, so...enjoy.
"I can't wear this over my head forever," Abysmaal complained, tugging at the hood.
"Tough," she retorted tartly. "Dye can be expensive down here, Ymil, so unless you've got a lot of money you'll just have to live with the hood for now."
Abysmaal groaned comedically. She glared at him. She had forced him to hammer down the name somewhat, as Abysmaal was an odd name, and unused as far as she knew in the city. They eventually changed it to Ymil as an acceptable public name. He found it very amusing, and even more so when he got on her nerves. There had already been several times she almost just stomped off and left him.
They reached a battered arch, beyond which houses were visible. Maige sighed in relief. "Sector 4," she said. "It isn't much, but its home."
He glanced around, then nodded softly. "Isn't much' is right." Maige whirled around in fury but was stunned to see a soft, genuine smile on his face. "It reminds me of home...if a little gray. Its nice." and he stepped through the arch.
Maige stared after him, then quickly trotted after him. As they neared the brick houses, she said softly, "I'm not sure you'll want to follow me home." He glanced at her questioningly but she cut off any questions he might have asked. "There's an abandoned house behind where I live. People don't go there anymore, except when the boys are having their 'ritual of bravery' thing, so you should be fine there. I'll meet you there in a few minutes, and then I'll answer whatever questions you have."
"Where do you live?" he asked softly. Maige stared straight ahead and didn't answer.
Eventually, she stopped in front of a gray building that, while not pleasant, was at least not sinister in appearance. She pointed to the place behind it, which despite its run-down exterior had a pleasant face. "You stay there, for now. I'll try and bring you some things in a few minutes."
He eyed the house in front, then the broken one, then her, before responding. "Alright, but if you don't show, I'll come looking for you." and he walked off, not looking back. Maige watched till he was out of sight, then broke into a run, hurrying down the street.
The building she came up to did have a sinister appearance, and there were no windows. Inside, the walls were dark gray with the single picture of a strict old man in a pressed suit. There was a desk, and a woman with a nice face sat there, rimless spectacles balanced on her nose.
Maige glanced in, shuddered, then rushed around the building. Ms. Marris spent her time keeping her face in a pleasant smile, and was pleasant with people passing through and the man she was seeing. With the children she was a demon with a pretty, smiling face. Maige wanted to avoid any contact with her, and hoped the side door was unlocked like it sometimes was.
There were no windows, and the side door was a squat, small thing. Bending over, she reached for the leaden knob. Taking a deep breath, she clutched it and twisted it.
It rattled a little but refused to turn.
Slumping, Maige quietly began preparing herself for the ordeal Ms. Marris would probably put her through when she went in. Ms. Marris knew she would be working at the flower shop until late, and she had a thing against "slackers", even if Search was a problem. She turned away from the door.
"Hey Miage, hold up!"
The wild red-haired boy slid off the roof, grinning as he dropped down beside her. She jumped, backing away quickly. "Loch! Don't do that!"
He grinned at her, saying, "Don't do what? Save your hide from the hag's care?" He held up a small key, smirking. "The appropriate words, now, would be "thank you"." He turned and started working at the lock.
"Thank you," Maige said with feeling. "I'm sorry, I just...can you help me gather some things?"
"Why, what's up?" he asked, pushing the door open, an eyebrow raised cockily as he grinned at her.
Despite herself, Maige smiled at him, his smile contagious. Loch had been one of those kids that got dumped on the orphanage door with nothing to prove his heritage, legacy, or parentage. Ms. Marris, who grouped the kids by age and family rank, had stuck him in the back rooms, which were small, dank and dark. Maige, who had been quite small at the time, snuck him to her room near the front because she felt sorry for him. Seth had helped too. Loch had never forgotten, and had been her stanch ally ever since.
"I...I found a kid, like us, but...I didn't want to bring him here. You know why. That and...he's...nervous around other people. I wanted to bring him some things, help him a little."
He smiled in understanding. "Is he a wild one? You need any help with him?"
"Oh no! I mean, he's really...um, shy," she said quickly, shrugging. She didn't like lying, and felt nauseous as she did it. But she couldn't let anyone meet this strange man, not yet. "It was difficult getting him to come with me. But he's hungry and-"
"Say no more. Come with me." and he slipped inside. She took a deep breath, swallowing heavily, and went in after him.
Inside, it was dark and rather cold. Marris had all the good stuff in her chambers, which was natural. It was every man for himself in this place, even one's job. Maige kepy her flower spot a secret for that reason, because flowers were a rarity in the city and she wanted the spot all to herself. Not only was it peaceful, but the flower shop was her one chance of buying her way out of the orphanage. She wasn't tough enough for the streets, so finding a new place was her best bet.
Several of the kids smiled when she and Lock came in, keeping quiet. They all had reason, as many used that door to evade Ms. Marris's attentions. Lock quickly explained the situation to a few clever ones who instantly set out to collect and steal, if need be. That was how you survived here.
"Take a load off," Lock told Maige, pushing her onto a bunk. "We'll get what you need and enough for you too."
"Me? But I'm not staying!" she protested, surprised.
"Nah, but you should be. There's been talk of abandoning this place." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "They may call this a workhouse, but we'll all orphans and both scientists and traffickers know it. This is a gold mine. Where do you suppose Danny, Kinsy and the others went? Heck, the **** probably sold them out herself."
"Loch!" Maige glared at him. He glared right back.
"I'm not taking it back, its true and our theories are likely true too. Its about time we left for good."
"I...I'll leave when you do!" she replied. "We'll be in this all together. We should stay together. We're all we have."
He stared at her, then sighed. "Fine. I know that look. We'll leave tonight then."
"We're leaving?!" a kid behind him suddenly piped up.
For a second, there was a stunned silence followed by a flurry of action. Lock grinned as the kids rushed about, gathering their meager belongings. Then the kids sent to collect came running back to deliver the goods before running to get their own things. Lock turned to Maige questioningly as she took the ratty blankets and pail of food in her arms. "You want some help with that?"
"No, I'll be fine," she said quickly. "Thank you Lock."
"No sweat. Hey," he added as she turned to leave. "We were thinking of the abandoned mansion behind ol' Cutter's house as a new home. Do you want..."
She froze even as her mouth said, "That would be nice." She realized with a sinking heart she'd have to move Abysmaal to a new place. Smiling at Loch, she hurried away, hoping her unexpected new acquaintance wasn't terrorizing the nice old couple in the house she'd claimed to live in.
The place was quiet when she arrived. Carefully dumping the blankets through the open window, she climbed cautiously in. "Ymil? Its Maige..." A board upstairs creaked and she jumped. but there was no sign of him. Shivering, she called again. "Ymil, if you're in here, please get down here. I brought food..." Still nothing. She stepped further in.
It wasn't a creepy place exactly. All the open spaces allowed the light to come in unhindered, and at the right time of day the dust flying in the air looked like sparkles. However, even with all that, the right sounds can still send chills down your spine.
She moved further in surrounded by those sounds. Despite the odd creaks, however, she was slowly losing her fear. At this point, it seemed so overdone, she knew it had to be him trying to scare her. "Ymil, I know its you. Stop fooling around or I'm leaving!"
Her arms were suddenly jerked upwards behind her back, stretching them painfully. Gasping, she froze in shock. A familiar voice whispered into her ear. "Well well. This is
a surprise." Twisting her head around, she found herself face to face with the man from the tunnel, the one called Frank. Choking out a barely audible shriek she struggled to break loose. He chuckled as he suddenly released her, sending her crashing to the floor.
"Its interesting, our running into each other like this. It must be fate," he said casually as she rolled onto her side, clutching her wrist again. She glared up at him, trying desperately to come up with a defense, as he smirked at her. "Your timing is impeccable, by the way. I was just passing through, thinking about how slow business was today." Smiling sardonically, he extended his hand. "Won't you come with me?"
Her eyes widened, and she scrambled back, trying to reach her feet. He instantly dropped down, both hands landing with her head between them. He was practically on top of her now. Startled, her mouth opened to scream, which he covered quickly with his hand, his balance already adjusted. "Just be good and quiet now," he said softly, smiling. "I'll be gentle."
He suddenly was bodily lifted up and flung into the wall. Maige found Abysmaal standing over her, hands on his hips and grinning as he shook his head.
"You are a full-time job, you know that?" he remarked, crouching. She stared up at him with terrified eyes. His grin softened and he gently patted her head. "There there...you're okay. He's not going to touch you again."
"Ab...Ymil!" she gasped. She started sobbing as she sat up, then flung her arms around him and buried her face into his shoulder. He stiffened, then sighed resignedly and put his arms around her.
"Sheesh, its okay Maige." he glanced up as Frank rose out of the rubble, clearly alright, if perhaps shaken. Abysmaal grinned slowly. "Tell ya what. I'll beat him senseless while you watch. How about that?" She pulled herself off him, not making a positive or negative gesture, but moved behind him, just watching mutely. He grinned, his lip curling back just enough to reveal sharp teeth, like an animal.
Franz studied this with a raised eyebrow. "Jeez, another Labborn? Or are you some female aristocrat's lost pet?"
Abysmaal chuckled, though it had a hard edge. "Aren't you a pleasant character, picking on little girls. Pathetic waste of flesh, that's all you are, the dust mote trying to claim significance against the stars."
"Oh, another poet. How droll. How wonderful." Franz shook his head, reaching into a pocket. "Back off, daydreamer, I want this one."
"Sorry kid, I want her right now."
His eyes narrowed at being called a kid. Pulling a metal glove out of his pocket, he pulled it onto his hand, watching Abysmaal with a vulture's steady eye. "Is that so. Well, with the right buyer, you'd make a pretty penny yourself. Shall we play, pet?" Snapping his wrist, the glove crackled with a strong electrical energy. He held up his over hand, a metal covered fist, and smirked.
"I've killed and tamed many like you."
Abysmaal snorted, crouching down. "Oh, I doubt you've met anyone like me." He radiated such confidence and strength. Maige watched fearfully, suddenly afraid for him. Franz shook his head with a pitying expression, tensing his arm. His gloved hand filled with electricity.
"Ymil, he could kill you," Maige warned, eyes wide.
"If he can hit me," he snorted. "Which I certainly question." He lunged forward suddenly with his arm swinging forward, his fingers taking on the form of a clawed hand. Franz ducked under his swipe, his fist shooting upwards into Abysmaal's diaphragm. Abysmaal grabbed his shoulders and vaulted over him, shoving him to the ground and almost into his own fist. Franz somersaulted and spun around, a huge grin on his face.
"So you are something more than a lady's pet!" he said. His whole face lit up as he crouched again. "Something more indeed...delightful!"
Abysmaal smirked and was about to launch himself forward again when he halted in mid stride, an alarmed look on his face. Franz tilted his head slightly, as though listening. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and he nodded to himself.
"Ah...I'll have to ask for a raincheck on that brawl. I suppose its just as well..." Glancing at Maige, then at Abysmaal, he said seriously, "Take my advice, don't hang around. Whether you're an escapist or not, the Search will definitely be interested in you."
"The Search!" Maige gasped, terrified all over again. She'd completely forgotten! Franz smiled at her.
"No worries love, if you get under cover fast enough. Au revoir!" He rushed past Abysmaal with inhuman speed and vanished out the broken window.
Maige ran to Abysmaal, who stared out the window with a black expression. "Ymil, come on! We have to get out of here! He's right that you're unusual, and that's one of the things the Search is always interested in!"
"You mean, like orphans? I noticed you didn't enter that house you claimed as yours." He gave her a deliberate look, while she fidgeted uncomfortably. "Just what kind of a city is this, that such things are even allowed?" he exclaimed in exasperation.
"I'll explain, everything, if we could please just go!" she begged, almost in tears she was so desperate.
Finally, after a few agonizing seconds, he nodded. "Where do you intend to hide now?"
"Its on the edge, but if we run we might make it. They've never searched there, ever."
"It" is what?"
"An old cathedral," she said softly. "Its where I...collect my flowers." She grimaced, then said, "Come, we need to hurry." Much to her surprise, Abysmaal suddenly lifted her up, cradling her against his chest like a child, and sprinted out the same way Franz took. Taken by surprise, she almost shrieked, and had to bite her lip to keep it from coming out. He seemed amused by her expression.
"So which way?" he asked.
"Um, north," she said, rallying her thoughts. It felt weird not walking it herself. "Till you reach the edge of town, then go northwest." She gasped as he started running again. He was extremely fast, running like the wind was carrying him. Her eyes softened, and she surprisingly found herself relaxing unconsciously. It felt amazing, the wind against her face.
They were nearing the edge of the city when he stopped cold. For a second, she didn't get it, but then, as he pressed into the shadows of the building, she saw the men in uniform crossing between the buildings.
"The Search," she whispered. Abysmaal waited till they were out of sight, then bolted. Someone shouted behind them, and she could see two men changing course to follow them. Whimpering, she buried her face in Abysmaal's shoulder.
He snorted, and just kept running.