"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 20"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG

A Plant Temper is a Tricky Thing

        Waiting. Patience. Serenity. Endurance. Good words. Strong words. Admirable words, words with meaning. All words he was supposed to be well acquainted with. Wolfwood snorted softly to himself. He hated them. He enjoyed movement, motion, and activity. He was rarely at peace with himself or with others, except when he was living at his beloved orphanage. When away from it his was not a soul that was overly familiar with either peace, tranquility, or calm. Mulling it over, the irony was not lost on him that the orphanage was a small oasis of turbulent peace. Really, only the hopelessly naive would say an unruly mob of yelling children evoked idyllic images of lazy afternoons and dinner bells ringing in the evening. These same people would be shocked at the boisterous, rowdy, and a constant uproar of the small-sized horde with the volume set on ‘way too loud’. But God, he loved that unruly mob with a passion that at times scared even him. He loved the mess, the fights, the tumbles, the questions children came up with, and their easy giving of affection, trust, and love. The noise didn’t bother him at all. Life was all about noise and Wolfwood was all about life. His eyes softened in fond remembrance. He couldn’t wait to take Milly there. She would love it and them and they, in turn, would return her affection, nurturing love, and merry temperament. Again, it implied action and movement.

        Nicholas D. Wolfwood. Priest, gunman, and married man. Yet, here he sat, the antithesis of composed stillness and contemplative quiet. Waiting... silently. He would rather be on the ground wrestling with the boys or hurriedly tucking the stuffing back in a doll before the next set of tears rolled down little cheeks. However, this, waiting, if that’s what you wanted to call it, was shredding his nerves all to pieces. Wolfwood didn’t think he could last much longer. He tapped his finger on the table. How long had it been? Mere minutes or hours? Days even? No, more like the grinding drag of years. He frowned and made a small growling sound.

        Hearing the low sound, Milly looked up and saw the tension in her husband. She laid a slender hand over his larger tanned one, startling him. He looked up into soft blue eyes and saw the all the things he knew he wasn’t. Serenity, peace, and patience.

        “I hope Mr. Vash is okay too but it has only been a few minutes.” She said, affection shining in her eyes.

        “Oh God...” He returned in a groan while squeezing eyes shut and wearily rubbing his free hand over his face. “Is that all? It feels like they have been in there forever, give or take ten minutes.” He opened his eyes to look at his wife. So calm. So composed. So patient. It really irritated him. How could she not be all twisted up in knots on the inside? It wasn’t natural.

        Milly and Wolfwood were sitting at the table with the juice Milly poured for them forgotten as they stared helplessly at each other. Wolfwood hated this powerless weak feeling. Yet, somehow, somewhere in the time they had been sitting at the table, his beautiful wife had found a faith that everything would be all right. Her world was definitely rocked earlier when finding out how Vash had acted. But in spite of that she had that madonna, earth-mother thing going for her again. He sighed. He really didn’t know how she did it. Looking at her though, he saw with clarity what she knew and what he was slowly beginning to figure out, Vash wouldn’t harm a child. He let out a sigh before shooting an impatient look at the door. What were they doing in there, playing a board game?

        For the first time Wolfwood understood the old saying of ‘time crawled by’. Time for him, however, wasn’t only not crawling; it was also not even showing faint signs of life. It had to have given up the ghost. Time was no more and he was stuck in this moment, forever, and ever, and ever! Or, worse yet, time was going backwards and replaying this same minute over and over again! Yes, that was more like it. A hallow groan rumbled in his chest. This was a never-ending moment of hell. Hell wasn’t about flames and sulfur; it was the complete lack of forward movement of the clock’s hand. Hell was timeless. Would this never end?

        At first Milly listened to the sound of the wind rattling the windows, and then tiring of that, listened to her heart thudding a rhythm that faintly rocked her in her seat before moving on to the rat-a-tat-tat of Nicholas’s nervous fingers of his other hand drumming a beat on the table. Then something different in the cacophony of small busy noises that accompany the living... silence, an unbroken stretch of silence. She looked up to find Nicholas’ long fingers resting quietly on the table. He opened his mouth to say something but promptly stopped as they heard the light step of a nimble and lively tread coming down the hall. Both of their heads jerked toward the door, staring hard in anticipation. Straightening in their chairs, they watched with impatience for someone to appear in the doorframe.

        Rinnah’s willowy figure flew into the room, anger giving wings to her feet so that she seemed to be moving across the floor without touching down. She came to rest next to the stove grumbling about mad scientists and the danger of experiments going horribly awry. The agitated half-plant opened the cabinet doors and began scrounging around looking for the beans and all the other important implements needed to make the essence of life, the liquid nirvana simply known to the common layman as ‘coffee’. She couldn’t find it. Shoving aside other bags, tins, and cans, she scoured the cabinet’s shelves in search of the fixings. Upon coming up empty-handed a low growl rose out of her throat.

        Slamming a fist into the wall next to her, the growl grew into stifled yell of a frustrated rage. Not one item was where, this morning she had so carefully noted the old geezer putting them back on the shelf. What was his game anyway? He was going to drive her straight into a straight jacket at this rate. Slamming the door shut so hard it nearly flew off its hinges; she left fly a mother lode of foul curses to thicken the air around her.

        Noticing a stool, she made for it and once there, sat on it and tipped it back to lean against the wall. Crossing her arms in front of her she added a few more inventive expletives she made up on the spot to join the ones already floating overhead. It was then she noticed Milly and Nicholas looked at her bug-eyed. Her frown sharpened. What were they staring at? She knew she was acting oddly but couldn’t seem to stop herself.

        Rinnah couldn’t deny that she was in a peculiarly bad mood but the reason why eluded her. It wasn’t that time of month, she had eaten recently so it wasn’t low-blood sugar, she even got to eat donuts, and on top of all that, she had gone through the whole day without anyone trying to kill her. So, no matter how you sliced it, she was at the end of a rather pleasant day. Snapping her jaw tight, she hunched her shoulders, and let out a frustrated puff of air. Right at the moment, her skin felt like it was being drawn too tightly around her, shrinking and pinching her. Rinnah was also torn between the need to rant and rage at something or this strangely curious need to cry at the drop of a hat. Milly glanced at Nicholas and he at her with eyebrows raised. Meeting her eyes he did the only sensible thing he could think of to do in this situation, he shrugged. I have keenly honed instincts and said instincts are screaming “don’t poke the out-of-sorts sandcat.”

        Finally realizing that there was a fierce and forbidding expression on her face the hybrid made an attempt to lower her shoulders while lifting the frown to replace it with a cheery smile. Nothing happened. Then she tried for an everyday run-of-the-mill smile. Okay, that wasn’t working either. How about an ordinary grin? Or maybe just a simple relieved look would do. Again, she made an effort but even as she stretched her lips to convey a smile, it was a wasted attempt; all she was doing was baring her fangs at people. She dropped her head in defeat.

New Problems, Old Memories

        Milly watched all this in puzzlement and then started to ask about how Vash was doing. It was unusual that Rinnah forgot to tell them when she first entered the room. However, Milly paused as she heard more footsteps coming down the hall, only slower and heavier than Rinnah’s earlier agile tread. Eleazar appeared at the door supporting Vash who was looking rather pale. The priest-smith escorted the unsteady outlaw to an empty chair and assisted him as he carefully lowered his lanky form into it.

        Surprising herself Rinnah asked before she was aware of her lips moving, “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”

        “Thanks for the proposition but I am not feeling up it right now.”

        Rinnah thought about leaping off the stool and beaming him with it but since it was obvious that he still wasn’t his normal self, aside from his mouthy comment, she decided to give him a chance to recover first. Then pop him over the head with a stool. Ignoring Vash she looked over to Eleazar.

        “Should he even be up?” She could feel the heat from the frown Vash was directing at her. Sometimes one had to circle around an ass to get to the horses’ head.

        “Heh, that one, he be fine. Just a normal night’s sleep for him and he will be right as rain. He been overextended but now the thorn is out of the lion’s paw he can be healing.”

        “Sooooo, what was that thing you took out of Vash?” Asked Rinnah still perched on the stool although she was sitting upright now. The question had everyone’s attention, especially Vash’s. Expectantly they looked at the old priest.

        He ran a hand down his mouth and stopped at his chin to give it a thoughtful scratch.

        “I am not sure where they got it but it is a piece of old technology changed a wee bit. It was meant to help in the growing process of plants and altering them in small increments at a time. But this, this be by a someone who knew a smidgen of what they were doing and used it for harm.”

        Vash stared at the old man hard enough to put holes through him. In a quiet voice he asked, “Lost technology was put in me?” Rage flared up in his eyes causing them to glow a fire red before he asked, anger evident in the rigid way he held himself, “What did you say it was?”

        “Eh, someone who don’t like ye much put it in. By the looks of it I would say it was tweaked a bit. Someone wanted to see ye go through some changes lad. Ye were someone’s experiment laddie.” Eleazar continued speaking even as he headed for the stove and pulled out a pot from a lower cabinet and place it on the burner with a metallic clang. “They be experimenting on ye by placing in ye a slow-acting gene accelerator/manipulator. What they were trying to achieve, that I don’t know. So I be thinking that ye need to hear this as they may know more about the Plants than ye do and where they came from. Other than that, anything of late been a little odd about ye?”

        All four stared at him dumbfounded. Then the other three turned to stare at Vash for a moment before turning back to look at the priest-smith with blank expressions. Odd of late? That was an understatement. Could he be more specific? As in, what wasn’t odd of late?

        Milly closed her dropped jaw with an audible click as she processed the past through the new filter of this information. So much made sense now. She looked over at Vash seeing him process and soak in the same news. A myriad of expressions chased across his face running the gamut of amazement, anger, surprise, fear, and even relief to find out there was actually something that had been actively working against him all this time. When he pulled anger about him like a cloak as the emotion of choice, she leaned forward unleashing her questions at him, “Mr. Vash are you okay? Did it hurt? Could you tell it was in before this? Who put it there? What was that? How are you feeling? Do you need some pudding?”

        Then, unable to contain the worry any longer, she sprang from her seat and launched herself around the table to where Vash sat blinking under the rain of her questions. Milly came at him from the side and threw her arms around his shoulders, leaning her cheek against the back of his head. For all her exuberance and energy she wrapped him up in a tender hug. Vash, recovered from the surprise of her loving assault, reached up to comfortingly pat her on the arm.

        “I was so worried about you Mr. Vash! I am so glad you are not dead! I don‘t want to lose you too!“ She began to cry and Vash patted her arm faster, eyes going wide with alarm.

        Milly was crying; this was bad. Vash turned to Wolfwood with beseeching eyes. Wolfwood smiled and lazily stretched his arms straight up in the air and then laced fingers together behind his head. Vash frowned a glare as bright as a laser beam at him before narrowing them in warning. Only then did the priest rise to his feet. Chuckling, Wolfwood came around the table and gently unwrapped a sniffling Milly from around Vash’s neck. He gave her a quick hug before guiding her back to his chair. Taking a seat first, he reached up to pull her down onto his lap where she leaned into him as he wrapped strong arms around her. He looked at Vash over her shoulder noting the now perplexed look as the outlaw brooded over the information they were just given. He wondered if Vash even knew what he felt right at the moment.

        As for himself, the heavy weight that earlier had been hanging around his neck, lifted off of him, leaving him feeling lighter than he had all day. He knew Vash was okay since he still was able to give Wolfwood a scathing look for his levity of a moment ago.

        Looking at Vash, but speaking to Milly, he said, “Honey, he just gave me the death glare so I‘d say he‘s gonna pull through.”

        Vash shook his faintly head as in disbelief at Wolfwood‘s words but then chanced to look up at Milly who was still gazing at him with concern.

        It was an easy smile that came to his lips as he said, “Thank you for your concern Milly, but I feel fiiiii... “ He stopped short when he noticed the mischievous shine in Wolfwood’s eyes.

        Vash quickly amended his statement. “What I mean to say is, ’I feel wonderful.’” One corner of Vash’s twitched as the impish sparkle in Wolfwood’s eye was joined by a slightly crooked grin.

        “Well, good thing Needle Noggin, otherwise I would be stuck with doing all the driving,” Wolfwood tried to make the griping sound casual, flippant even, as he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out Vash’s sunglasses with zigzag arms. But he couldn’t hide the undisguised relief in his voice which was in stark contrast to his words as he held up the folded glasses and gave them a small shake. “Not to mention this little sissy glasses of yours.” With a crooked smile he slid them back where the belonged and gave Vash a smirk, his dark eyes daring Vash to respond.

        Vash returned the priest’s gaze and held it, pausing a moment before speaking, but not in the way Wolfwood was expecting. Instead, in a solemn tone he said, “Thanks for helping that kid.... And me too. And uh,” Now Vash seemed slightly bewildered, “How did we get home?” His eyes were changing from a light red to a darker wine color as he looked straight into Wolfwood‘s eyes.

        Wolfwood broke the gaze first to stare off into the corner of the ceiling and waved a hand in a nonchalant and detached manner. “Don’t mention it, after all, that’s why I get paid the big double dollars. And ‘your welcome‘ because I carried you home instead of dragging you by your feet like you deserved. And oh, next time someone offers you a donut, pass it up, you could stand to lose a few pounds.”

        Vash saw past the surface of the humor to the worry the priest was trying to hide even now but he would not be waved off. Not this time.

        “No Wolfwood,” and keeping his eyes on the priest, he willed him to look at him and was rewarded when those dark gray eyes came back to return his gaze, “I mean it, thank you.” Here he broke the eye contact and looked down at the tabletop, as the shame overwhelmed him, “I really don’t know what I would have done if...”

        “You’d have done nothing!” Wolfwood insisted vehemently. He had time to think about the events of the evening and had come to a decision. “You wouldn’t have hurt that boy. I know that and I think you do too.”

        “Do I?” Asked Vash in a strangled voice. He looked up with those tormented crimson eyes holding more anguish than Wolfwood would have thought possible in any living being.

        “Yes you do.” Wolfwood repeated stubbornly. Sometimes a person just had to go on faith. And his faith said that Vash would not have pulled the trigger. He may have had his doubts earlier but that was the wonderful thing about faith, for something so small it was mighty powerful stuff. Vash wouldn’t kill a child and this was a rock-solid certainty. He knew that for a truth and he refused to bow down and to give in to Vash‘s heart-ripping despair. “If you were going to shoot that boy you would have done it when you first hauled iron.”

        Vash didn’t respond but the hunch of his shoulders relaxed and let out a soul-weary sigh. He skipped a quick glance around the room. No one seemed to be displaying the disgust he believed himself to deserve. It was then that he realized that it mattered a great deal to him what these humans in particular, his friends, thought of him.

Once Upon a Time...

        “Ach now my wee ones,” Interrupted Eleazar standing next to the stove. “Now that yen have all mended fences there be a story to tell. And I am sure ye be wanting to hear the long and short of it all.“

        Everyone stopped what they were doing and leveled surprised stares at the older priest. He had a story to tell? What could he possibly tell them?

        The priest-smith ran a stern eye over the group well aware of the skepticism certain parties in the room were feeling.

        “It be a story, aye that. It may make a bit of a difference in what ye do at the end of the struggle with yon one’s brother.” Eyebrows lifted as surprise ran across more than one face.

        Wolfwood was the first to recover and gave himself a shake and announced to all, “Told you he was a little on the uncanny side.”

        “Ya think?” Vash was not at all happy. Maybe he should rent a billboard and just announce his intentions, as apparently there was no such thing as a secret where it concerned him. The outlaw was beginning to think it would be harder to find someone on the planet that didn’t know who or what he was.

        Eleazar gave the outlaw an understanding smile and went back to fixing hot drinks for the group. Rinnah took a suspicious sniff and after ascertaining it wasn’t her favorite drink stared off toward the window and promptly got lost in her own thoughts. Who would have placed that accelerator do-hickey in Vash and when could it have happened? It couldn’t be since she had come on board. She searched her memory, no, there was never a long enough time span where he was alone for any extended length for someone to subdue him and place that in him. It had to have been from before.

        When the liquid was hot enough, Eleazar poured liquid into any empty mugs on the table and those mugs with drinks gone cold were given a replacement mug. He set one in front of Nicholas and filled Milly’s empty one up while she watched with approval from Wolfwood’s lap. He poured more the steaming liquid into Vash’s who spared it a quick glance before returning to the privacy of his own thoughts. Last, a new mug was set at the empty spot at the table.

        Rinnah hopped down from her stool and came to join the others. She didn’t have high hopes, but when a steaming mug of cocoa was set in front of her something suddenly and unexpectedly snapped within her and saw everything through a haze of blue. Before she could recognize her own actions and before it was even clear to her that she was angry, she was on her feet yelling, shaking a lifted fist at the older priest.

        “Listen here you sneaky low-life, scum-sucking, disease-riddled, star-rusted, void-touched, inverted muck-slimed stasis coil licker, addle-pated, spore excreting....”

        “Rinnah!” Milly admonished after a few seconds of her mouth swinging open in shock, “Watch your mouth, you are yelling at an old man!”

        “Oh I’m watching it and believe me, I am reining in my temper but I have had it, hear me you old geezer! Had It!” The hybrid was shaking with rage and didn’t care that it was coming out in one vile onslaught.

        “...And furthermore, I have my doubts about this whole ‘old man’ business. No, I’m thinking you are not an old man at all, you are probably just some slime-secreting alien screech worm oozed into an old man costume!”

        Milly watched in horror. Rinnah wasn’t even slowing down to take a breath. Impressed, Wolfwood’s eyebrows shot up at the flow of invective, she hadn’t even trotted out the profanity yet.

        “I don’t know who you are but you are done! Hear me? Done with mucking about in my business and if you so much as breathe wrong in my direction ever again I will take....”

        Right then was when the shift happened and they all saw the eyes of the stiff-with-rage half-plant starting to glitter and swirl with an eerie blue intensity.

        “.... and I don’t have to stay here and I won’t... not if you think you are going to dictate to me what I will or will not be drinking, you sneaky, conniving coffee-hating sh...”

        “Rinnah!” Shouted Milly, now starting to struggle to rise against the grip Wolfwood had around her waist. He was just as shocked as she was but already was thinking ahead to what could happen. His eyes shifted around the room measuring the distance to each doorway.

        Slowly growing brighter in the half-breed’s sockets was an unnatural, glow-in-the-dark blue obscuring her pupils, and the whites of her eyes. The luminous and incandescent blue began to blaze forth from her eyes, and when it did, her hair floated up about her head in an obsidian nimbus. An ominous crackling noise echoed around the room with a series of pops and crackles. The resulting ozone and static made everyone’s hair on their arms stand up on end.

        “Oh dear.“ Milly murmured, her hand covering her mouth in dismay. Rinnah was on the verge of losing what little restraint she had left and Milly, for one, wasn’t in a hurry to see the outcome. Gunsmoke may have more moons than a person could shake a stick at but really; one moon with a hole was enough.

        For all the mounting anger and hostility pouring out of furious female half-plant, Eleazar didn‘t appear to be bothered by the lightening display arching about them. Instead, he smiled and gestured to the mug waiting in front of her as if she were a child needing a reminder to drink her milk.

        Milly caught and held her breath as Rinnah’s eyes radiated a glowing azure, increasing in brightness to totally eclipse the upper part of her face. She was sure that Mr. Eleazar was going to be burnt toast any second now. That was when Milly felt herself being lifted to her feet and carried off to the side.

        Wolfwood didn’t know how far they needed to be away from Rinnah to be out of the danger zone but one thing he knew, it sure couldn’t be safe to be standing right there in front of her when and if she exploded. He had the dubious privilege of being on hand for the incident when Vash’s angel arm made the hole in the moon. Thankfully the plant was pointing his arm upward when it went off. Still, the damage was unbelievable, whole buildings were reduced to unrecognizable crumbled piles of stone. He didn’t want to know what a half-breed could even if it wasn‘t as devastating as showering them with moon dust. Send him a photograph; it was safer and not likely to cause ulcers... or recurring nightmares.

        Milly looked up to see Nicholas watching the tableau before them with a tight frown while he clasped her firmly against him in a confining grip keeping her from moving an inch either way. Wolfwood watched the scene with wary eyes, at the first sign of energy build up he was ready tuck Milly under his arm and make a run for it.

        One small sane corner in Rinnah’s brain was screaming at her to pull herself back together again before she erupted all over the place like a insane PMS-ing volcano ready to spew lava in all directions.

        Then, in a blurring flash, Vash was beside Rinnah wrapping his arms around her, lifting her up with the intent to break her focus on the priest-smith. She wiggled against his hold, trying on breaking it while intent on keeping her glowing gaze locked onto the old priest. The threatened priest-smith had a soft smile playing about his lips and seemed totally unfazed by the impending threat of being reduced to a scattering of ashes on the floor.

        The bright glow from the hybrid’s eyes began spinning as miniature bolts of lightening shot through the air as she kept struggling to turn and face the older priest head on. Snarling and panting she arched back trying to get a glimpse of the old man. Without any real coherent thought some strange instinct told her that if she could just see him and keep him in her sights, she could hurt him. Yet a more forceful power was forcing her to turn away from the source of her frustration. Twisting to confront this new obstacle she found herself face to face with Vash who fiercely matched and challenged her willful determination with his one of his own.

        Grunting with effort, Vash slowly rotated the out-of-control female until she was facing him, keeping her gaze off of Eleazar. However, a few well-thrown elbows into his midriff were challenging his own ability to keep a firm hold on her. Damn, but she’s got sharp little elbows! What does she do, file them before she goes to bed each night?

        He rearranged the grip he had on her to keep arms and elbows pinned to her sides. As he did so he heard a sound between a whimper and a soft growl as she tried to twist back around without success. His lips turned down as he applied more pressure holding her in place and making it impossible for her to move. He turned his body so that her face was pointed completely away from the older man.

        Once the priest was out of her vision Vash noticed that Rinnah calmed somewhat although her eyes were steadfast blue. He kept the metal arm around her and firmly lifted her chin with the other so that she had no choice but to look up at him head on. Still she tried to arch and twist away, and Vash found he had to again use some considerable strength to hold her steady. He tried to catch her gaze with his as he bent down to look into luminous blue eyes too bright to be merely human. Going on what he felt to be the right thing to do he knew touching her was helping but he still needed to figure out a way to break through the red haze of rage. He tried speaking also with “Stop this.” But it wasn’t enough.

        Realizing with a start that he could use the bond he had previously only used to listen in on, except for the one time he urged her to rest so he knew it could work, he ’pathed with everything he had to make a small fracture in the wall of hostility within her. Some part of her responded, that part that cringed and was afraid at what was storming through her. It was that part he grasped and partnered with to turn against the turbulent emotions and power threatening to spew out in an uncontrolled fury in Eleazar‘s direction. With her in league with him and their two powers merged together, he was able to surround the wild power gone crazy and capture it. Instantaneously the power all of them could feel building up in the room was cut off as if someone had flipped a switch. Vash was surprised. He was not even sure what happened and what he had just done brought about this result. Rinnah was not struggling anymore, instead sagging in his arms while the glow in her eyes faded away leaving her usual vivid blue. At the moment they were looking a little less vibrant than usual and rather dazed.

        One thing the outlaw did know as the tension drained out of her as he thought at her, “*You can stop this now. You are with friends. We won‘t let anything hurt you.*” Judging from the vacant look in her eyes, he wasn’t sure if she understood what he was saying until awareness flooded back into them and she gave a quick nod to show she did. He released his grip a little, placed her on her feet and waited for her to catch her balance.

        Watching closely for any recurring signs of an imminent blue flare up, he guided the female half-plant her chair where she collapsed as quickly as a puppet when the strings are cut. If Vash had let go of his hold on her arm she would have kept going and pitched right off the side. Steadying the half-breed in her chair he reached over for his own and pulled close to hers and sat down next to her all without lifting his hand off of her arm.

        “What’s wrong with Rinnah?” Milly asked as quietly as she could. She started to go over but felt Wolfwood’s restraining hand on her arm. Looking up she saw him give a sharp shake of his head.

        Vash was puzzled. No, more than puzzled. He studied Rinnah’s face. There was a dazed look like she had been smashed on the head with a rock and her eyes were slightly unfocused and confused. Nor was the half-breed able to keep still in her chair, first swaying one way and then the other. He scooted until his chair was touching hers and put an arm around her waist and pulled her close until she was leaning on him. All of this without any sign she as aware of what was going on around her. Only one small groan came out of her. He leaned forward in order to get another good look at her face. She was still out of it. With a frown he looked up at the priest-smith.

        “Do you know what‘s wrong with her?”

        “She will be fine lad, jest give her a minute. That’s the problem with ye powerful ones. Ye think ye ken jest flare up all over the place without consequence.” A twinkling gray eye met Vash’s mystified red ones.

        “Pulled the rug out from under the wee thing’s feet, that‘s what ye did lad. ”

        “How? I am not even sure what I did.” Vash looked at Rinnah who was blinking and giving her head a little shake trying to clear it.

        “Ah lad, ye be clueless then? Ye two are a rare kind of dense, I give ye that. But what happened was ye were able to stop the wild fluctuation and growing instability that was activated here. And it were in reaction to what is going on in her own body and the echoes of what ye were experiencing. Resonating off one another. How long as this been going on?”

        “I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Resonating? The two of us? How? Why?” Vash asked, looking confused.

        “There be things ye need knowing now, and things ye be not needing to know.”

        “Oh great, going all mystical on us again!” Growled Wolfwood as he moved back toward the table with Milly since it seemed that the light show was over with for now. He heard a small noise and looked down to notice that he was squeezing his wife a little on the tight side. Smiling in apology to her, he went on to mutter, “I hate it when he gets like this.”

        Milly was still confused by everything that had just happened in the last few minutes but managed to give Nicholas a small, if still puzzled, smile in return. Wolfwood grabbed the chair that they were sitting on before he leaped up and hauled Milly away from the table.

        The obvious question came to Vash and with a hint of accusation asked, “Then I should be able to do the same thing with Knives, right?”


        “Why. Not!?” He enunciated each word with exasperation wondering why the old man couldn’t just come out with a simple explanation for a simple question. No wonder the half-plant blew up at him.

        “Well there ye have it lad, there be differences between the two races.” He gave a rueful smile and shake of the head as everyone turned to stare at him, even Rinnah who was now recovering her senses. How did he know?

        “Na need to look at me like that, of course I can tell the difference. But then wee ones, like I was bout to say before the wee bonnie lass here had a tantrum... By the way lassie, that is good hot cocoa, I wouldn’t let it go to waste, ye should drink it up, it will make ye feel much better. Na, where was I... ah, right.”

        Rocking back and forth on his heels he asked, “Plant-kind. What do ye all know about them? I wager not as much as you think you do. Well then, here is the way of it, it all began centuries ago when they knew Earth wasn‘t going to be able to sustain life anymore...”

Those Who Sow Seed In Winter, and How Many Candles on Your Cake?

        The old priest-smith stopped to look at the four faces staring at him with a stunned expressions, yet so focused as if to be mesmerized while waiting for the next words to come out of his mouth.

        Plants? Secrets? They hardly dared to take a breath lest it distract him from what he was going to say, except for one.

        “Wait a minute,” challenged Rinnah, although her voice sounded a little forlorn in light of her recent behavior, “what about all the ‘ye this’ and ‘ye that’ stuff? You know, the accent you use and lose at the drop of a hat.”

        “Well that,” Eleazar began with a chuckle, “I came by honestly being raised on the experimental colony of...”

        “Hold it right there old man!” Rinnah pointed a finger at him, blue eyes bright in accusation. “There ARE no more experimental colonies, I should know, we studied that in grade school and the last one went independent-status in... ” Her eyes went wide with realization. “No way! That would make you.... no freaking way!” She stopped there, eyes staring off into the distance as she began doing the math. Arriving at a number that just couldn’t be right, she started calculating all over again.

        The priest-smith chuckled as he watched her face. “Yes, lassie. Ye have the right of it. I am over four hundred years old, not counting any time/space anomalies.”

        “Are you plant-kind?” Vash asked, red eyes glinting menacingly from under lowered brows. Eleazar paid it no more attention than he had Rinnah’s eruption of earlier. Vash was finding this old man quite the riddle and it made him uneasy, especially where it concerned plants.

        “Nah lad. If yon lassie will stop breaking in I’ll tell the tale.” He turned a mild eye on her but Rinnah’s eyes were glazed over showing she was in another place for the time being.

        “I was raised on the experimental colony of A.V.L.N.-12.”

        “A. V... Avalon?” Whispered Rinnah to herself as she recognized the letters. It was the sister colony to Jammer’s. No wonder the accent sounded familiar.

        “Mayhap so. Not when I was born and raised there though,” he acknowledged her with a nod before continuing with his story.

        “I was sent to Earth for my college years and there earned several degrees and there I met a lovely scientist with a dream. And t’were there lassie that I had to learn to drop my speech habits of my birth home so people could understand me. Ah yes, the age thing, well, being a genuine mutant I have a long life span.” Eleazar acted like he didn’t see the sharp glances passed back and forth between the younger folk. “Didn’t know it then of course. And no, before you ask, I can’t levitate, burst into flame, turn invisible, read minds, shoot ice particles from my fingers, or anything like that.”

        “Shucks.” Milly sat back and closed her mouth looking mildly disappointed, she was going to ask that very question.

        “Sorry lass, but all I have is strength and a long-life span.” Upon seeing the downcast look on her face he gave her a rueful smile in apology. “Na then, I am neither plant, nor am I an alien ‘this or that‘, I am but a child of a human pairing gone a little odd.”

        He gave them a moment to mull things over before proceeding.

        “To make a long story short, I began working with a scientist who came up with the idea of a new method of obtaining energy that wouldn’t damage the environment. She was able to sell the idea to the New Alliance of Earth Council who agreed to fund the project. It were clear even then we only had a few generations or so left and already ships were being built at a feverish rate.”

        Rinnah nodded silently as did Vash. Both were familiar with this part of the story as it was history they were taught as children, although Milly and Nicholas were hanging on every word since it was new territory for them.

        “Ah now, she had a dream, she did. A dream to solve the crisis with an energy available that wouldn’t harm or destroy any more environments. No more losses to our own selfishness and greed. Of course it was an idea that gained popularity in leaps and bounds seeing as we only had but a short time left, who knows how many generations.”

        A hush fell over the group as they process that bit of information. Eleazar paused and looked up without seeing the room or the people around him. They were quiet, not wanting to disturb the old man or interrupt his reverie.

        The old priest-smith was reliving a time long past. Looking down at the mug in his hand, he said softly, “She had all the groundwork in place, the theories,” here he waved the other hand in front of him, “Papers, detailed proofs, a working hypothesis, the results of her research, the expected outcome along with the actual development of certain plant specimens ready to show. And this is the stage where she needed my knowledge.” Rinnah noticed he omitted what exactly his field of expertise was and wondered if he was leaving that out on purpose. She narrowed eyes at him in suspicion, but he was looking at Milly and giving her a soft smile, explained, She had... er, all her thomas’ lined up in a row.”

        Milly’s face lit up with understanding.

        “Her peers were doubting but when she brought in a small orb with a plant bud inside of it, that t’were the day she convinced them. Used it to operate the Bent-space radio that needs a grand battle ship‘s engines to power up. Aye, it were as if she had been born for that time and place, for this work. She was able to gather the most brilliant minds and formed a multitude of sub teams under them. It were a grand scheme for such a wee slip of a lass. But she did it.”

        Milly shifted in her chair and it squeaked loudly drawing all eyes to her. With a shy smile she said, “Sorry.”

        Eleazar chuckled, “All’s well wee lass. Let’s see, what to skip over as I am sure you don’t want to hear about the years of setbacks, arguments, back stabbings, the couple o’ murders, and politics involved...”

        “Murders!” Exclaimed Milly, much puzzled by this piece of news. “Why?”

        “Ah lass, even for such a change of heart, yet there is control and power involved and everyone wants to be the one with it rather than the one without it,”

        Eleazar again looked back over the lost days as the memories rolled over him. “Then there were groups with the mistaken belief that the whole human race should suicide and worked nonstop for that end.” Eleazar’s shoulders dropped under the weight of that particular memory. Giving his gray head a shake, he went on.

        “Well, near the end of it all, we were getting close, everything was starting to come together from the new tiny computers invented, na seen with the naked eye, bits of mixed plant-technology and biotechnology within, to the programming, nutrient supplies, waste disposal, power flux feedback inhibitors, not to mention the backups and redundant systems we had installed, well, I could go and on.” He pulled at the end of a mustache in thought before continuing, “Well, near the end of it all when the homes were ready for them we could continue to the next stage of working on the plant form itself.”

        “Ooooo, plant angels!” Milly clapped her hands in delight. “I’ve been waiting for this part.”

        “Itself?” Questioned Vash. That had not gone past him unnoticed.

        “They were not meant to be sentient or intelligent, just a different, more complicated form of a plant. Intelligence, dreams, creativity, reasoning, and emotions never were intended for them.” He said as he spread out his hands in a remorseful gesture. Vash just glowered at him from under dark eyebrows.

        “Yes now,” Eleazar harumphed, “ye know that the form they have now was not in the original plans?”

        Milly, Wolfwood shook their heads. Rinnah tilted her head in wonder while Vash’s face went tight as he examined the old priest with a flat gaze from hard crimson eyes. He felt an elbow poke in his ribs and looked over to see Rinnah staring down at his hands. His prosthetic arm was leaving dents where his hand was gripping the edge of the table. He forced it to relax.

        “All along the form decided upon was meant to be like that of a bud before the flower opens...” Eleazar fell silent again and looked down at his gnarled knuckles.

        Then he walked over to the stove and reached for the teakettle, filled it and turned the flame on underneath it. The crew sitting at the table shifted impatiently in their seats as they waited. All they heard was the sound of water gurgling out of the spout into a cup and then a spoon clinking against its sides.

        “GAH!” Burst out of Rinnah’s mouth, “don’t leave us hanging like this! What happened next you old geezer! What a cliffhanger! Geez! You don’t just stop in the middle! “

        She began gesturing with a hand, waving it about in the air to emphasize her point. “Haven’t you ever told a story before? It starts off like this: ‘Once upon a time‘, and then you keep going until you get to the end. There aren’t supposed to be any commercial breaks!”

        Rinnah’s brandished her hand about again until Vash seized it, brought it down to her lap and held onto it with a tight grasp. No one wanted a repeat of earlier as once was enough for the evening. Surprised she looked down at the powerful fingers curled around hers in an unyielding grip. Looking up she found, with growing sense of discomfort, that she was the center of attention again. She reached for her mug with her free hand and took a sip.

        “Hmmmm, this is really great cocoa, yessir, wonderful stuff. Just love it, could I have another cup please?” Rinnah tried her wide-eyed innocent look.

        Milly and Nicholas were cautiously watching her eyes for any sign of glowing blue. Seeing their faces, made Rinnah realize how her earlier episode had shaken them. She dropped her eyes in shame as she saw them visibly relax when it was evident there wasn’t any danger of her going ‘code blue‘ on them. Yet she was still the focus of the moment and it was unnerving her. She squirmed in her chair wondering what to say. Something needed to be said.

        She muttered gloomily, “Ah crap. Okay, guilty as charged! Now could I just have another cup of this wonderful beverage?!” The last part came out in a near hiss of frustration and growing agitation. If they didn’t stop staring at her she was going to leave, not just the room or the house, but the town as well. She would find some sand dune to sleep on tonight because, quite frankly, anything was better than being stared at as if she were a ticking bomb ready to go off. Experimenting, the hybrid tried to tug her wrist out of Vash’s imprisoning clasp but found his grip unbreakable. Fuming, she yanked and he resisted, even tightening his hold and pulling her wrist back to her lap.

        Vash ‘pathed to her, “*You will stay. You have frightened your friends and you need to deal with that fact.*” She shot him a dark look accompanied with her reply, “*And you should know, right?*“

        He didn’t deny it, instead saying, “*Yes, I should and I do.*“ Flipping star holes! She hated it when he was right!

        Eleazar calmly poured more cocoa into her mug while her friends watched her. Rinnah lowered her eyes in flushing in shame, but then looked up to meet their gazes and said, “Sorry. I don’t know what it was. You certainly have permission to beat me over the head with a brick if this should ever happen again.” She rolled her eyes in acknowledgement of her bizarre behavior ”Oh hell, if it happens again just shoot me, the way I feel now is worse than any bullet hole, of that I can assure you.“ She added morosely.

        Holy Hybrid, please don’t ever let this happen again! She mouthed to the ceiling, not caring if they saw her lips moving or not.

        When she felt a wave of reassuring comfort flow over her Rinnah realized with surprise that it was coming from Vash. “*I understand. You are not alone.*“ Looking up she saw him give her a wink and ducked her head back down again flushing with embarrassment. What a crazy day. From all appearances it looked like the plants were going loco. Must be something in the water.

        Rinnah could finally understand why Vash was reluctant to not let people get very close to him, usually an emotional distance. From what Milly had told her previous to this, Vash loved people, especially children, but not any one individual more than any other making sure to keep his soul guarded. If this was the kind of thing he was afraid of happening, she could see why he tried to make his heart an impenetrable fortress. She made a face, or put up a mask of being a dense bumbling idiot that Milly had described. Always to make sure others were kept at a safe distance. Maybe she had been a little harsh in her initial impression and needed to rethink her original opinion of the outlaw. But star holes, this was a first for her! Was this a one time thing or was she going to go careening out of control like this again? If it did happen again it was possible she may cause harm to some one or even kill them. It made her blood run cold just thinking about it. “*Well, then, stop thinking about it or else it will drive you crazy. And, again, I should know.*”

        For the first time she was able to feel this bond-link. It as so much like her link with her twin, in that it was as if it was meant to be there. Oh yeah, and look where that got me and Rellyn. It was something to think about though, maybe that was why it had gone unnoticed by her. She chanced a quick glance at him and saw his eyes, those eerie blood dark eyes gone soft with understanding. Rinnah tried to lean away from what she was seeing in his eyes. Oh great! Holy Hybrid, why didn’t he just take a knife and stab her in the arm? It would hurt a whole lot less than this compassion and understanding he was lavishing on her. And speaking of which, what happened to the cold, angry, snot that she was used to?

        A whispered, “C’mere you,” as Vash reached her arm around her shoulders and pulled her close again as if the two of them were the only ones in the room.

        “*Okay, but just so you know that this does not mean we are a couple even if you are giving certain people in this room that impression.*” She turned to Milly and Nicholas and smiled disarmingly as she passed that thought to him. Rinnah felt him chuckle and slide his arm lower until it circled her waist. “*And the hand better stop right there buddy unless you want to lose it!*” His embrace tightened in a quick hug before loosening again.

        She looked over in time to see him give Wolfwood a half-smile and then, the odious vermin had the nerve and audacity to give the priest a sly wink! He was enjoying this way too much! With eyes narrowed at him she sped across the link a deeply heartfelt: “*I hate you!*”

        The interaction gave Eleazar time to compose his thoughts and take a few sips of his tea. Milly shifted on her chair but was unable to wait any longer. Adding her plea to Rinnah’s outburst she said, “Please don’t stop Mr. Priest. How did the plant angels become plant angels?”

        Eleazar walked over to a stool and reached down and pulled it away from the wall and sat down on it with a heavy sigh. He looked down at the steaming mug in his hand, taking a moment to gather his thoughts.

        “Mera. That’s what happened.” He spoke slowly.

        “Come again?” Rinnah leaned forward as far as she could in the encircling grip Vash had her in. She shot him a look somewhere between concern and annoyance which he returned with an intent, if inscrutable, one of his own. She just could not figure him out. He was certainly not acting like his usual self. Well, not to worry, she already had proven she had a sharp elbows and she knew how to use them if need be.

        “Mera?” breathed out Milly, instantly taken with the mysterious name. Images of floating feathers and swaying blossoms in a spring wind came to her and she was uneasy for these things were unfamiliar to her and yet, somehow, she knew them.

        “Aye,” responded Eleazar, finally looking up at them. “It’s the nickname I called my dear friend. It be short for Miriam Estelle Rene Ashgrove, the woman who gave Project Seeds the hope, ability, and power to reach for the stars and keep going. Mera. The mother of all plant angels.”

        “Why?” questioned Vash softly, yet his eyes were hard and changing to a burgundy color pinning the older man with a rapt gaze. “Why was she the mother?”

        Eleazar returned Vash’s gaze and gave him a sad smile for he knew how this might affect the outlaw.

The Seed of a Woman

        “Mera had a young daughter who was killed by a drunk driver which also killed her husband. Mera was..... inconsolably for months. The grief about killed her, it did. The plant project didn’t stop but it slowed down considerably during that time. She was the guiding hand, driving force, brains, creative spark, and the catalyst behind it all.”

        Here Eleazar stopped to gauge Vash’s reaction but it was unreadable as blank stone while Wolfwood’s head lowered in sympathy, Rinnah frowned looking away, and Milly had a stricken look on her face.

        “Oh that’s so sad Mr. Eleazar. However did she cope? Whatever happened to her? Did she... did she die?” Milly started to sniffle. Wolfwood put an arm around her and gave her a comforting squeeze. He hated it when she cried.

        “Ah lass, ye have a heart of gold, that ye do. But no, she didn‘t die then though I know she wished she could at the time, such was her deep sorrow at the loss of her husband and only child.”

        “Well, get on with it! This is nerve-wracking!” Snapped out the hybrid.

        “Ever the patient one, aren’t ye now lass?” Teased the elder as he watched Rinnah wiggle on her seat. A thought sped through her mind, this was supposed to be my vacation. Rum drinks in hollowed out pineapples with cute little umbrellas sticking out of the top, remember? Some vacation. The whole planet is one big beach minus the water. She let out a sigh as she mentally waved farewell to a hope that would never materialize. I probably wouldn’t like little umbrella drinks anyway, she thought glumly.

        “Ah now.” Eleazar started and stopped to clear his throat. Then he looked down into his cup as if the next thing he was going to tell them held in it’s depths. Looking up he noticed four intent faces waiting for him. “This be the part that no one knows except yours truly.” Curiosity spot wielded their eyes to him.

        “All in the all of it, Mera took her daughter’s DNA and merged it with the plant’s we had growing in the gene reconstructor assembler. She created a new little gizmo, what yon lad had in his arm, except hers was the original version. It were like a seed that dissolved to combine into the plant over a long period of time. She had no idea what would happen from this meddling.”

        Eleazar swallowed over a lump forming in his throat. Many years upon years it had been since he even allowed himself to think of this part of his past.

        “The plants within the glass have a very complicated and controlled environment. If even one little thing should be introduced into the mix it could change and upset the whole precarious balance. I tried to talk her out of it, but she was not one for listening.” He raised his eyebrows at Rinnah before going on. “Well at first nothing seemed to be affected. Indeed, nothing showed up during Mera’s lifetime.”

        Eleazar gave them a moment before continuing his story. “The plants looked like what they were designed to look like, unopened buds. Who knew that at the edge of the unknown were angels abiding. Maybe...“ His eyes went misty, “maybe she did know. She were always a bit on the fey side, she were.”

        Eleazar looked at the sad faces arrayed in front of him, then with a slight shrug he took another sip out of his mug oblivious to the mounting tension in the room.

        “Now, of course it was discovered on down the line. We are not dealing with stupid people here. They just weren’t looking for something that wasn’t supposed to be there. My, my. The furor it caused when they did find out, oh yes, fixed to be tied they were. By then they didn’t know how the change was implemented or by whose hand it was done and they were afraid to try and undo it as they didn‘t know if that would cause worse damage. However, they soon lost interest in the who, why, and how although I was a prime suspect at the time. What was of interest t’ere more of a ethical question. What and when is a being a sentient individual? Was this a new species? Could they be called humans, were they a type of human or less than human? Should they be given same privileges of making choices for their own lives such as we have? Did we have the right to enslave them for our own survival? In the end they couldn’t but decide that they did not have rights and were only a type of servant. I were against it, knowing what I knew, they be Mera‘s children, but back then, they couldn’t survive outside their bulbs. At least that was the going thought of the time and no one wanted to risk one to find out for sure.”

        “What happened next? What happened to Mera and what was her daughter‘s name?” Milly asked with soulful eyes.

        “She died after the first dozen plants were given a birth of sorts. Watched them grow to the proper size. I was there with her and we were both overjoyed. What a joyous day that was to see our dreambaby come to life. For her, it was the dream along with the belief that it were her own sweet bairn come to life in some small way. That night we did the town right and celebrated with wine bottled in the year of her daughter’s birth. Tweren’t the best, but that was not what mattered. Afterwards, I took her home and saw her to her door. She thanked me for standing by her all those years and me, I waved it off, gave her a kiss goodnight on the cheek and told her I would see her in the morning.“

        There was a loud sniffing sound.

        “Aw please don’t cry, it’s not that sad!” Wolfwood pleaded with his wife. Go ahead and come at him with guns blazing and he could keep a cool head, but even one tear dripping down her face and he was done for. Milly wiped at her eyes and sniffed again. The only sign she gave that she hear him was to lean her head on his shoulder.

        Eleazar stopped for a moment as his gray eye wandered around the room before coming back to them. “She laid her sweet head down that night and in the morning, woke up with the angels.” He looked up at Milly who had silent tears sliding down her face. “And her daughter’s name was a sweet one. It be Lehtessa.”

        Vash sucked in an involuntary breath. It was too close.

        “Mr. Vash!” Exclaimed Milly in astonishment even as tear tracks glittered in the light as she moved her head, “That means Mera is your grandmother...” She gazed up at the ceiling, tapping her finger on her chin in thought, “Or something like that.”

        “Yes,” Vash gazed at the tabletop without seeing it and murmured, “Something like that.”

        “That be the right of it lad. The plants be not all plant or they wouldn’t have humanoid shape. Ye basic foundation is a mixture of the two. Such an inheritance as the rest of the us have, creative glory and corruptible impulses. In short lad, anything can happen.”

        “Human!” Vash gasped out.

        “Not quite but not fully plant either. Ye may be a whole new type of human or type of plant, to my way of thinking.”

        “So what happened?” Demanded Vash. He was near on fire with a deep consuming need to know the answer. He heard a quiet gasp next to him and realized he was squeezing someone’s torso a little too tightly. He loosened his grip without turning his gaze away from the priest-smith.

        “Ach, well, this I didn’t see for myself, but what I have is pieced together after traveling all over the planet to different crash sites. I have sifted through days and weeks of science. They be scientists, not secret agents and the codes were still the same as before the odyssey began. Were a simple matter to get into the top secret lab documents, diaries, data sheets and journals. Also, I unscrambled and examined over and over again the automatic transmissions between the ships leading up to the crash. Weren’t no malfunction or computer error that brought down the great cradle ships. Na. A sharp mind rewrote commands and knew exactly what to write, where and when to insert the code changes. It were a deliberate act of sabotage.” The old man stopped and ran a calloused finger over his mustache with deep sadness.

        Vash felt sick. In his mind’s eye he relieved the memory. He remembered the panic and fear as he, Knives and Rem raced for the lifeboats. There was Knives in front of him diving in before the door fully opened and with him following right on his twin’s heels. He could even hear the child’s tenor in Knives’ voice as he was urged on by his brother, “Come on Vash! Hurry up! Get in here!” He squeezed his eyes closed so tight it was giving him a headache. Why did it still have to hurt as bad as this even after all these years?

        In his memory, Vash saw himself as a child fallen through the hatch door to his knees. Knives was instantly beside him, lifting Vash to his feet. It then, in that horrible moment when fear gripped him as he realized Rem wasn’t following behind them. Turning, he saw her silhouetted in the doorframe, looking back the way they had come. Even as Vash hurled himself at the closing door and fought to keep it open, he gazed up at her and saw a calm resolution fill her face. She was at peace. Turning, she smiled reassuringly at him and spoke to him for the last time. He saw it then, the shining essence filled with love for others and also with determination and courage that he tried to emulate for so many years. The look that said something could still be done and she was the only one who could do it even if it meant sacrifice on her part. Then her eyes lifted to glaze over Vash‘s shoulder, for a brief second, filled with such unbelievable sorrow. He didn’t realize it then, but now, decades later, Vash knew she was looking at Knives. He wondered if Rem knew then that Knives was responsible for the computer malfunction. If she did, she was in that instant, already forgiving him. How could you Rem? He didn’t deserve it! He doesn’t deserve it even now! He doesn’t want it! Suddenly he was gripped by wave upon wave of grief, loss, and loneliness. He could hardly breathe for the pain choking him. Rem! Rem, come back Rem.... And then... the only family left to him was Knives. The brother who promised him Eden in consolation for Rem.

        “How... how... did we... me and Knives... us... how?” Vash couldn’t seem to get the words out. Eleazar seemed to understand what he was asking.

        “Some wee precious plant lass emerged and became friends with a human. I don’t know who, don’t even know if it were a man or woman. She wanted to bring forth life like a female human would, with her own body. And she did, but what a price. In bringing forth two lovely little babes she used all her energy and in, what as supposed to be unlimited energy, ripped a hole it by tapping and using her sister’s power as well. It were the beginning but it weren’t seen as they were all working together and covered for the one. Plant ladies were not meant to procreate like humans, especially not in a bulb environment. ” The old man stopped and smiled a secret smile and then shared this thought with them. “They do have the capability, but they were meant to produce like a plant. She didn‘t want to wait, she wanted what she wanted without a thought or care of what the consequences were, poor lass.” He glanced at Rinnah. This was getting old. She glared back at him and then remembering, quickly dropped her eyes.

        “It were the thing that allowed in the disease of the Hair Darkening Effect which ye kind is plagued with now.”

        “You mean to say...” Vash was having a hard time getting his thoughts to shape into a coherent form. “Are you saying... that human overuse of plant energy... is not causing them to go black?” Vash’s world was tipping underneath him to the point he was feeling dizzy.

        Eleazar snorted. “Overuse! Pah! Think lad! Use the gift of the brain ye was given! Plants were designed to power starships into the voids of space. Their energy were designed to last for hundreds of years at a time. They were created to be the power source of newly formed colonies so humans wouldn’t be forced to kill another planet. Ye be thinking that a wee bit of flipping on a light switch be draining the mighty power of a plant? Not likely lad. And me, I be knowing!” This was the first time any of them had seen the old priest scornful and indignant.

        Milly and Wolfwood turned to look at Vash like he was the kid in school being scolded for not doing his homework. Rinnah just looked uncomfortable in Vash’s tight hold. He kept forgetting himself in the course of the revelations he was learning and would clasp her in too tight of a grip. Usually a soft ‘oof’ noise would remind him and he would loosen his hold again so she could breathe without constraint.

        “The rip is what causes the hair to darken but no one has the technology or the power to fix it, and it would take some power to do that. No, if I could have done it, I would have fixed the rip a long time ago.”

        Vash was staring off at a scene only he could see. “Me... Knives... Us... Our birth. That’s what caused the Hair Darkening Effect to begin with?! All because of us?! We are the serpents in the our own garden of Eden...”

        “Not quite lad. She were misguided but not intentionally evil. She didn’t realize what would happen. Poor, poor lassie.” The old priest shook his head. “Just like any untaught child.”

        At that moment, Eleazar looked out the window and went still and silent as he let Vash consider that piece of information. Rinnah watched as he continued to stare with an intensity as if he could actually pierce the darkness and see what lay underneath the shadows of the night. As if, he was really something out there to see. She glanced out the window wondering what he was looking at before giving a shake of her head. If she wasn’t careful, he would spook her into a good case of the willies. She directed her attention back to Vash who definitely had a stunned look in his eyes.

        Vash so rarely thought of his birth mother. Rem would forever and always be fixed in his mind and heart as his mother. Knives is going to shit a brick when he hears this.

Watching Eyes

        In the shadows a cloaked silhouette silently stood as it had all evening, peering with an intensity begat of disciplined passion into the windows of the house. Watching the drama within, the concealed figure never shifted from foot to foot or side to side but stood motionless throughout. Yet, there was a prickling as if the watcher was being watched. Ah, that was why. The old man was staring out the window, looking straight through the dark of the night, parting the shadowy recess where cloaked figure stood... and.... winked. No, that couldn’t be right. It was unnerving but the hooded shadow knew the old man couldn’t possibly see this far at night. However, the feeling persisted and the watcher was only able to shake the feeling when the old priest finally turned his back on the window while blocking the view of what was going on inside. With a flash of anger the figure’s lips turned down in displeasure. The old man couldn’t possibly know there was someone out here.

        Another reason to stand in the deep recesses between the shed and the house next to it was the fact that the stinging wind was blowing. It wasn’t too bad if one stayed in the shelter, but the figure knew it would make getting back a little more difficult. The watcher was not new to the changeable and unpredictable weather of Towering Rock and knew the signs that an imminent storm was brewing. Looking up, the cloaked and hooded figure gauged the signs in the sky. Soon it would time to leave.

        The watcher hidden in the deep shadows had been there the night before but learned nothing then as all the shades had been drawn. Tonight though, things were going in a radically unpredictable manner and were vastly entertaining to watch. Since the moment the younger priest had shown up with the other Twin and the door had been thrown open, much had happened. The shadowy form was deeply engrossed in what was going on in the house, and also wished to be present to hear what was being said. With a mental shrug the cloaked figure let it go. Wishes that couldn’t be fulfilled were irrelevant. At least the fools had left the shades up this time. They were all far too caught up with the incidents of the evening to remember to pull them down. .

        Obviously some news of import was shared but most noteworthy to the one blending with the shadows of the night, was the brief moment of blue that had flared within the small house and then died down again. It was not lost on the watcher that the black-haired female was building up a power surge before it was dampened by the white-haired man. That could be useful.

        At one point though, a thrill ran through the hooded shadow when only moments earlier, the younger priest had pointed to the window. Thinking discovery was imminent the shadowy form held a breath, waiting. For a few brief seconds it seemed as if the younger man was pointing straight to the place where the watcher had been stood in vigilant watch all evening. The anticipation of discovery quickly died and the figure almost let out a laugh when it became apparent that neither the black-haired man or the woman sitting with him had seen anything. A cold smile touched thin lips. Now, it was time to leave this place for a more comfortable one.

Chapter 21
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