Everyone sat in their place absorbing the revelations of the evening. Each, in their own way was staggered and each was processing the newly acquired information at different rates of speed. Milly had a look that teetered between sheer awed joy and compassionate sorrow for Mera and her daughter. She looked off into a distance trying to make sense of what she had learned so far. As for Rinnah, lost in thought, she stared unseeing into her mug, shoulders hunched as she mindlessly swirled the dregs of her drink around in the bottom of the cup. The only sound she made was a soft grunt now and then when Vash unknowingly gripped too hard as his mind raced to comprehend the meaning behind the disclosures of the evening.
When compared to the rest of the group, Wolfwood was the least affected, although his thoughts were whirling too as he sought to digest the new input. He polished off his drink, made a satisfied noise with his lips that didn’t penetrate anyone’s dazed thoughts, and set his mug down with a soft thud. His eyes roamed over the girls, Rinnah first and then his favorite. His eyes landed on her and he drank in the sight of her. Even though she was off in her own land of thought, Wolfwood couldn’t help but thinking how lovely her eyes were and the sweep of her hair as it fell across her face and over her shoulders. Lovely? That didn’t begin to cover the way he felt about her.
He let out a whistling breath. What was the old man trying to do to them? Wolfwood had forgotten how easily the old priest could strip one’s unwavering and self-assured pretenses off if he had a mind to, as easily as if a person were standing out in a skin-searing sandstorm. He, of course, knew what the old man was like and was used to his ways, but the gunman had to admit that even he was taken aback by the revelations. Yet, if he was staggered by the information, then there was someone else who should be more disturbed by the news.
Wolfwood looked over to see how Vash was taking it. Out of all of them, it would have to effect him the most but still he expected Vash to absorb and digest the old man’s revelations with the quick recovery like he did everything else. So it was with surprise when he observed Vash sitting there glassy-eyed with a ‘kicked in the gut by a rampaging thomas’ look written all over his face. Wolfwood wondered if that same dumb expression was on his face as well. Self-consciously he rubbed a calloused hand over his cheeks and chin. Right now, he wouldn‘t bet against it.
The old priest ran a thumb and finger over his mustache smoothing it down and then moved his fingertips over to his cheek to scrape at the itch caused by the growth of new beard coming in. After a few rasping scratches he lowered his hand and looked over the tired and stunned bunch. Deciding it was time to bring the evening to a close he stood up, placed his mug on the table and yawned, accompanied it with a great stretch. The others watched sluggishly as he extended his arms over his head as far as he could go only to lower them with a groan once a sharp popping sound was heard. Lowering them with a sigh of relief he reached up and slid the suspenders off his shoulders. He was tired and it had nothing to do with age, but if he was weary then these poor wee bairns had to be ready to drop. The eldest of them, the red-eyed plant, was over a century old, but to him that just a child really. He smiled as the thought crossed his mind that young’uns did need their sleep.
“This story is just so sad. I think I am going to cry.” Milly’s eyes glistened. Wolfwood began to panic, he couldn’t take it when she cried. In a rush to distract her he pointed to the window and shouted, “Look! A flock of migrating wingless turtles!”
Milly’s head jerked over to look and then returned to face him. Shaking a finger under his nose she informed him. “You almost tricked me.” He gave her a lopsided grin. “It’s too dark to see a flock and besides, they wouldn’t be traveling at night. You owe me a pudding!“ He grabbed her finger and kissed the tip of it. She never ceased to amaze him, he couldn‘t wait to grow old with her to see what would happen next.
Vash couldn’t take any more news. His mind was reeling from this latest information. He let go of Rinnah, who reached a hand around to rub her aching ribs. She was pretty sure there were going to be bruises there in the morning.
Placing his elbows on the table Vash gripped either side of his head while twisting his fingers into his hair and then began pulling. That disturbed Rinnah but she wasn’t sure what to do about it. Every crazy person she had seen pulled their hair like that, which granted, weren’t that many, okay, none at all, just ones she had seen in the movies, but still. Pulling one’s hair out? This couldn’t be a good sign. She looked up helplessly at Eleazar who was the nearest. He didn’t look like he was worried. He never looked worried, he was as calm and unflappable as a summer day at the beach. He approached Vash and laid a light hand on his shoulder.
“Lad, ye need to rest. This seems like too much right now but it won’t seem so overwhelming in the morning. It been a mighty shocking evening for ye, no doubt. Off ta bed with ye.” The priest-smith waited for Vash to notice him standing there. Finally his presence made itself felt through the layers of emotional upheaval and Vash lifted his head and they all saw the torment etched upon his face.
Eleazar said gently, “Go to bed lad. Me and the lass will help ye.”
Obediently Vash stood up, albeit with knees visibly shaking. Rinnah rose with him, her hand on his arm helping to steady him. From the lack of reaction she was getting it was obvious he wasn’t aware of what was going on around him, but at least he wasn’t mindlessly pulling his hair out by the roots.
Slowly the two turned the outlaw towards the hall. Taking only a few steps he stopped and he came to himself. Realizing he was being helped like a invalid he shook off their supporting hands and shot a glare at them. Straightening his shoulders Vash continued down the hall with them following a few steps behind him. Despite shrugging off their help, Vash had to admit he exhausted. At this moment he wanted nothing more than to feel a soft pillow beneath his head. But more, he felt the need for comfort.
Milly and Wolfwood watched them leave. They too were a little numb from the evening. Wolfwood couldn’t begin to imagine how it was affecting Vash. Milly stood up slowly, her eyes followed Vash down the hall with a slight frown between her brows. With a wide yawn and a deep stretch Wolfwood stood up too. He searched Milly’s face anxiously. As she automatically turned to face him, he noticed that she was looking a little dazed herself.
“Come on Honey. You’re tired, I’m tired, let’s go to bed.” With a nod to indicate she understood even though her thoughts were in another time and place, she let Nicholas lead her to their room.
Eleazar followed Vash into the room and stopped just inside the door. Rinnah stepped around the old man to enter a few more steps in. Both watched as Vash collapsed onto the bed and rolled over on his back to throw an arm over his eyes. It made Rinnah ache in sympathy when he uttered a bone-weary sigh. The female half-plant looked over at Eleazar who caught her eye with a small grin and winked at her. Men winking. What was it with the winking already? She didn’t think it was funny at all. To let him know that she frowned back at him but the old priest only chuckled and turned his face so that all she could see was his eye patch. She could have ground her teeth in frustration. What was with all the males in this household today? Obnoxious, each and every one of them.
Bringing their focus back to the lone occupant of the bed was a voice cut through the silent interplay between the two. “I won’t be able to get any sleep with you standing there like that staring at me all night! Go away.”
With a smile and twinkling eye Eleazar turned and left the room.
Doesn’t take much too make him happy. Mused Rinnah as she turned to follow him out. She didn’t feel that tired yet and besides, there was someplace she needed to be later.
“Where are you going?” Came the question a sharp accusatory tone.
Surprised, Rinnah looked over her shoulder at Vash. He had lifted his arm an inch and from underneath it she could see a shard of burgundy peering out at her. His eyes were doing that thing again that froze her in her tracks. She made a vague gesture at the door. “Uhhhh.” Oh way to go, lull him into a false sense of security with your exceptionally quick wit. Kicking herself into gear she said, “Er, you told me to leave.”
“You imbecile, I meant him.” He lifted his arm all the way off his eyes to pin her with eyes a churning red, a storm rising over the rim of the horizon and bearing down hard, on her. Oh dear. She remembered this feeling and didn’t like it in the least. Star holes! Her feet were rooted in place as if nailed to the floor! Wait a minute, what had he just called her? Imbecile? The nerve. Rinnah wondered if she could pummel him without getting all worked up into a blue rage over it. Pushing any justifiable hostility down within acceptable limits, the hybrid restrained herself and chose to be forgiving, for the moment. The previous episode of the evening lurked nearby reminding her that losing her temper could have dangerous consequences. Still, if he was going to be calling her names,... she balled a fist at her side.
Vash ignored her facial expression along with the eyebrow beginning to twitch ominously. “I didn’t want him here, he’s just not normal...”
“... says the plant with the glowing red eyes.” Rinnah placed her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. “Way to call it coach!”
Vash sat up and swung his legs off the bed but didn’t stand, instead, held her captive in a glare of smoldering red. She was pinned to the spot and couldn‘t move a muscle. Then he raised and pointed an imperious finger at her. He opened his mouth to say something but she interrupted him.
“No need to point. We are the only ones in the room so I know I’m the one you’re talking to!” The half-breed looked away to show her disdain.
How had she managed to go this far in life without getting her neck snapped in two was beyond him. It as a suspicion of his that she tested the limits of other’s endurance just for the fun of seeing them grind their teeth in exasperation. Not this time. With finger extended and intent look on his face, he said, “You! Come here!”
“Like I’m about to...” In utter shock she stopped short as her feet began, of their own accord, to walk towards him. She stared down at them, working against her on her on and then looked up at him to see the smirk forming on his lips. What a jerk! With a ominous predatory grin she urged her feet on with one thought racing through her mind: just get me close enough... a little closer... almost there.... Rinnah Blackfire, half-human, half-plant, showed white teeth in a perfectly normal looking smile, a smile for those who knew her well, promising much and, all of it, relating to pain. A certain plant was just asking to be clobbered when she got within range.
Vash was well aware of what was going on behind the piercing blue of those eyes. Even so, he wasn’t fast enough as she lashed out sooner than he had expected and a stinging blow caught him alongside the ear making his head ring. Well, he deserved it and accepted it as due punishment. Then faster than a human eye could follow, he snatched at the rearing arm and wrapped long fingers around her wrist before she could wind up for another strike. Giving her wrist a quick jerk, he pulled her off balance and she fell towards him with a surprised sound. They both had a bad habit of forgetting how quick the other one was. With an expert and lightening fast twist he flipped her around and hauled her in until her back was flush against his chest and with a sigh, pulled her down with him while holding onto both wrists. He knew she could hit hard when she wanted to. He was also keeping a wary eye on those elbows.
Whispering softly into her ear, which was quite the trick with her squirming like she was trying to twist around to punch him, he said, “I want you here with me while I fall asleep. I need you here.” Abruptly all movement on her part ceased. She craned her head back to try and get a glimpse of him but was only able to see one red eye gazing back at her. What was his game now? Was he serious? If he wanted to befuddle her that was the perfect one liner.
“I will let you go if you want to leave.” He said softly and let go of her wrists to prove his sincerity.
She let out a huff of air as she thought and quickly came to a decision.
“Fat lot you know! It just so happens I wanted to take a nap so shut up and let me sleep already.” She humphed at him and flipped back, lifting her head up a bit so she could pummel her pillow into a desirable state of fluffiness.
“Ah, I see. Well, as long as you stay here with me I don‘t care what you do.” The last few words were said in a mumble, without any tones of mockery or scorn.
Taken by surprise, she paused in act of pillow fluffing wondering for brief second who could possibly be speaking. Maybe she should scan the room for a ventriloquist because this couldn’t be the Vash she knew. She plumped the pillow by hitting it a couple more times before nestling her head into it. When she accepted that it was Vash’s voice she considered what he had said.
Then, out of the blue reaching out to her through the connection between them, was a wash of gratitude so humble and unassuming it was heartrending in its pureness. Her eyes began to sting and was forced to blink rapidly to clear the haze covering her eyes. The hybrid cautiously eased her hand up and wiped away a rebellious tear sliding down her cheek before she could catch it. She failed miserably at trying to prevent fresh tears from escaping until she admitted defeat and grabbed the edge of her pillow case and used it to mop the wetness from her eyes. Finally getting herself under control, she listened to his breathing as it started to slow. Telling herself that It shouldn’t be too much longer before he fell asleep she rubbed her eyes and cheeks again making sure that the evidence of every tear track was erased away.
“So why just a nap?” He asked, the words coming out in a low rumble in his chest catching her unawares. He allowed himself a small grin as she jerked in surprise. He could easily believe she would have come levitated an inch off the bed if his arms weren’t already tightly wrapped around her anchoring her down. Knowing her as he did he knew she would now try to be casual and deny any reaction whatsoever. Forcing one eye open was a near impossibility but he had to admit he would be drilling her for answers if he wasn’t so darn tired. His words were slurring with impending sleep and of it’s own accord the eyelid was drifting shut.
“You.... were..... saying...”
He hoped she answered soon, he didn’t know if he could stay awake long enough to hear her reply.
She tensed before willing her muscles to loosen. Oh crap. She didn’t think about what word slipped out of her mouth. Okay, don’t panic, he can sense panic. Think calm thoughts. No need to alert him to anything, although she suspected he would be more suspicious if he weren’t already slipping over the edge of exhaustion into the land of nod, snore, and drool. A snod snooler... a helpless chuckle escaped her as she realized how tired she must be if she thought that was funny.
She threw out an answer as she felt him trying to wake up enough to listen. “So I will be rested enough to sleep later.” He’ll never buy that! She was mentally kicking herself when she felt his breathing begin to even out. Or, maybe he will! Hope springs eternal and right then Rinnah was doing internal springs of hope that she would be able to get away without incident. The Incident she was trying to avoid was the one where someone’s volatile nature and tricky temper erupted. Really, he needed to work on that.
Then, remembering what he had whispered into her ear, Rinnah forced herself to relax with a sigh. He was actually admitting to needing someone, to being weak. She was flabbergasted by the admission and wasn’t going to argue with him even if he didn’t have a tight grip around her waist. Besides arguing would just wake him up and that was exactly what she wanted to avoid right now. Right? Right. And, could she admit it? She flexed her thoughts around it and decided she could be honest with herself.... she was feeling.... compassion for him. What a bum wrap for the Humanoid Typhoon, and what was that other title? Stampeding Disaster? Localized Disaster? Or maybe it was, Everyone-Dumps-On-Me Disaster? She couldn’t remember.
However, putting aside feeling tender and nurturing to concentrate on a rib complaining at full volume about the metal arm jabbing into it. She sincerely hoped he would fall into a deep sleep, and do it soon. He may be comfortable, but she was far from it with his artificial arm digging up into her as it was. There was no chance of him moving it because of it getting squished. In a battle of ‘squishablity‘, metal wins over flesh every time. She shifted. It was like being draped over a metal tube. She squeezed her eyes shut with a grimace. Maybe it feels like a metal tube because that’s exactly what it is, a freaking metal tube! Sometimes I can be such a dim bulb! His arm was a pain in the side, her side. She slapped a hand firmly over her mouth just as the thought popped into her head, figures, thankfully she was able to muffle any sounds but her body shook with silent laughter before she was able to control it. Holy Hybrid but I am tired. It wasn’t funny at all but she still wanted to let out a braying undignified guffaw over it in the worst way. She kept a tight hold over her mouth and bit the inside of one cheek hard enough to bring back those unruly tears. Over a matter of minutes she was able to restrain herself and dropped her hand with a grateful sigh.
She tried to maneuver into new position but it didn’t help, instead the outlaw tightened his hold forcing a whoosh of air out of her. Fallalseepfallasleepfallasleep! she directed at him with desperate force, she had no idea if it was being communicated to him at all. One could only hope though; internal springs and all that.
Rinnah twitched when his chin come to rest on the crook of her shoulder which turned into a gasp of surprise when she felt lips lightly touch down, starting a tingling sensation across her skin. Trying to look over her shoulder at him was not easy, but the quick glance told her that his eyes were shut and he was slowly drifting off to sleep with his head tucked into the back of her neck. She puffed her cheeks out in relief.
The hybrid started again when she felt something warm tickle the top of her shoulder and slide down across her neck. She realized tears were trailing off of his cheek and falling on her. She felt him twitch and jerk in his sleep and murmur a few times. A couple of those times she thought she heard him mutter ‘run‘ or was it a name? It came again and this time it sounded like ‘Ren’ but even when she strained her ears she wasn’t for sure what it was he was saying. There, the word came out in a whispery breath... That time it sounded like ‘Rem‘. She her brow wrinkled in thought. Who the heck was Rem? Finally twisting her head to peek at him from the corner of her eye and saw his face slowly smoothing into a deeper state of sleep.
Her neck was starting to complain of the abuse so she turned back wondered what this new name could mean, if anything. Rem? Rinnah could have pounded her head against a wall in frustration. Just when she thought she had it all carefully figured out, when all she needed to do was to find one chick and now there was another name to throw into the mix. No, it just can‘t be easy, why would anything in my life by easy, it would go against the flow of nature if I ever had anything come to me easy. The cosmos would come to a screeching halt it I had it anything but difficult, oh why the stinking star hole not....
Well, first things first. Find the first girl on the list and then go looking for the second. Of course with all these old girlfriends, maybe they didn’t want to be found. Rinnah felt slumber nipping at her heels and let herself relax into the bed even with his metal arm digging into her side. A yawn bubble broke the surface.
As the tears dried on the back of her neck and shoulder she watched the moons through the window with heavy eyelids. Even after all this time she still thought it was ridiculous for a planet to have as many moons as this one did. An incredible waste of moons, that‘s what it was. Another yawn crept up on her and she snuggled deeper into her pillow. She was looking forward to a good night’s.... her eyes popped open. “Oh crap!” she exclaimed softly, although it sounded abnormally loud in the quiet of the room. Two plants wanted her tonight. I’m getting too blasted popular for my own good. She groaned quietly to herself.
Just then Vash murmured again in his sleep and shifted. Rinnah looked down in time to watch as his arm slipped off of her waist. Then with another incoherent phrase, he rolled over onto his back and Rinnah was free. Victory! All she needed to do was lift herself nice and easy off of his metal arm, surely it couldn’t sense things like a real arm. Holy Hybrid she hoped not!
The half-breed sat up slowly, wincing at each squeak the springs made. She looked over her shoulder at him, noticing how the moon made his skin seem to shine with an otherworldly glow. His hair looked like shards of molten glass shimmering silver under the beams of the rays falling across him. In this ethereal light he didn’t look like he even belonged to this world. Shifting her weight slowly, carefully to the edge of the bed, she cursed the fact that she couldn’t escape without each movement causing a teeth-grinding, rusty-sounding squeak. Next time I’m sleeping on the bloody floor!
It took an age but at long last she was up and moving across the room with barely a light whisper of a step to betray her departure. Unlike the bed, the floor didn’t make one groan or squeak at her passing, for which she was extremely thankful. Only when she was out in the hall and closed the door softly behind her did she let out a melodramatic sigh of relief. Rinnah hurriedly down the hall into the main room. From there on out she didn’t worry about making any noise as she remembered to shut the door to the hallway. With two shut doors between her and the sleepers, she was sure they wouldn’t be bothered by any noise she made. The only person she was concerned about was Eleazar, but he claimed he snored loud enough to wake the dead. If that were true, any noises she made would be masked by the dead waking up, which couldn’t possibly be a silent undertaking. Star holes! Who thought being so tired would make me punch-drunk funny in my own mind! She snickered softly to herself as she gathered up the bag she hid in the corner of the room by the door.
Rinnah shrugged into the massive overcoat Eleazar had provided her with earlier that morning. Then, with her foot, she nudged the bag filled with clothes, along with rags and water for cleaning the angel over next to her as she worked the last of the buttons. A clean angel is a happy angel. Besides, I don‘t want plant goo all over me this time. Stopping to consider, she glanced around the room wondering what else she was likely to need. She was shoving a wide-brimmed hat down on her head when her eyes landed on a familiar object. With a start, she realized almost left the house with her gun belt hanging from a hook. Reaching for it, she chastised herself for almost leaving it behind. With a grumble she unbuttoned the coat she had just finished buttoning, so she could reach her waist. Flipping the coat flaps back, she strapped it on and buckled it while the weight settled reassuringly around her waist and hips. While absently belting the thigh straps she took a last look around the room. Reaching for the bag ready to throw it over a shoulder, something caught her eye. It was Milly’s duster. On impulse she reached for it and took it off the hook and shoved it in the bag with the rest of the supplies. Throwing it over her shoulder she couldn’t hold in a grunt when it landed with a thud on her backside, nearly knocking her knees out from under her. What do you know, I am my own worse enemy, she thought with a wry grin.
She tried to look out the window but it was too difficult to see what the weather was doing in the hours they had been talking. However, she did remember the old priest saying something about a storm brewing. Rinnah opened up the door and stepped out into the windy night. Could be? It darn near swept her off her feet! With an oath she grabbed the frame of the door to steady herself and then reached behind her to pull the door closed. Getting her bearings she leaned into the wind with a determined set of her chin and started off in the direction of the plant facility. The duster flapped around her as the wind tore at it with greedy fingers.
It took longer to get to the plant facility this time even though this was a second visit. The previous visit had been during daylight hours and without a howling wind whipping her in the face. Ah yes, adversity, it just didn’t get any better than this.
When an unbelievably strong gust of wind, along with her own overly enthusiastic approach to penetrating a locked door, shot Rinnah through the entrance at a breakneck speed, she gave up any thoughts she had of a sneaky and devious entrance. The doors slammed back into the walls with a banging crash as Rinnah stumbled into the room. The bag she had been carrying flew from her hand as she tripped and launched through the air to land in a belly-smacking spinning slide across the newly waxed floor with arms and legs splayed out around her. The dazed half-breed’s twirling slowed to a lazy spin before she slapped her hands down to bring herself to a complete halt. It wasn’t in her plans to do an imitation of a horizontal windmill for her opening act.
So much for the silent, sneaking in bit like someone who is supposed to know what they are doing. Pushing herself to hands and knees, she took a quick look around but thankfully no one was in the immediate area. Meaning of course, that no one witnessed her hurling through the doors to land in a perfect swan dive and zip across the floor trying to break the land speed record if not her neck.
Muttering a curse at the person who diligently had polished and buffed recently she lifted herself up on her arms for another quick look around but no one was within eye scan. That was definitely not your most dignified entrance Blackfire! In case he had forgotten, Rinnah took a moment to remind the divine one that she was supposed his favorite.
She shot a look at the doors slowly being pulled shut on their hydraulic hinges. Apparently someone had forgotten to lock the doors before they left for the night. Her plans didn‘t take into account that the doors might be unlocked. Didn’t people in this town care about their valuables, especially their precious plant angels? Who left doors unlocked even in this tiny burg? If her plans didn’t include burglarizing the place, she would have made an appointment with the head of security and given that person a piece of her mind. Then again, how ironic since she was in the illegal process of breaking and entering. She made a small face, it seemed a prudent idea to chalk up this little mishap as a learning experience. Despite the unintentional and clumsy entry, no one should complain when things fall in one’s favor. It looked suspiciously like good luck, but since she wasn’t well acquainted with that concept, she opted for coincidence. Besides, she was inside, the plan was coming together, what could go wrong? She would have snickered and rubbed her hands together in glee, but that would look too much like gloating, which would have the affect of revoking the luck and she didn‘t want that to happen. She looked up at the ceiling and whispered a thanks. Best to cover all the bases.
The black-haired hybrid stood up and slapped at the grit clinging to her coat. That in turn sent up small clouds of dust to puff up all around her making her sneeze. She quickly ceased the slapping and shed the duster. In between sneezes she pitched the coat so it landed in a heap by the door. “Sit! Stay!” She commanded it.
Rinnah scanned the room again and again, there was no evidence that someone was there. Someone could have been there, but they sure had plenty of warning and time to hide when she came bursting through the doors like that.
The dust still hanging about in the air was making her sinuses itch and she felt another sneeze attack coming on. Trying to stave it off, she grabbed her nose with both hands, clamping it shut. Waiting until she thought the need to sneeze had passed, she cautiously let go of her nose, only to sneeze three times in quick succession. “DammitallIhatesneezing!“ All that dust was being stirred up by the contrary weather and it didn’t look to be settling down anytime soon. After another couple of violent shudders, she sniffed and threw an ill-tempered glance through the door window at an equally ill-tempered wind which she took as mocking her every time it beat against the panes of glass.
Retrieving the bag from where it had flown out of her hand, she bent over to pull out Milly’s duster and toss it over by hers. She ordered, “Heel!” to the crumpled pile. So far so good. With a few more perfunctory slaps at her clothes she grabbed the now lighter bag and headed for the stairs to let her plant angel know she had arrived.
When she got close to the globe that was home and prison to the plant angel, she ‘pathed a welcome to her. “Ready to limbo?”
“ ?? ” Came the mental query.
Instead of explaining, Rinnah continued, “No worries, girlfriend, but we don’t have a lot of time tonight. I gotta get you home before the coach turns into a pumpkin. Hey, I hope you didn’t think I forgot about you!” Not adding of course how close she had come to doing just that. There was an enthusiastic greeting welcoming Rinnah with such an eagerness that she couldn’t help but smile at it.
“Now then, what do we need? Oh, here we go... got my safecracking tools right here and all I need to do is find the combination to the safe and we will be home free!”
“ ?? ” Came another puzzled mental query. Maybe trusting this particular human was not such a good idea after all.
With a mental image of rolling up of her sleeves, Rinnah closed her eyes and deepened the telepathic link between the two, mentally sending as well as speaking out loud, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get used to me... or have an overwhelming urge to shoot me. I seem to have that effect on people.”
Not much later, especially when compared to the first angel extraction, Rinnah was helping the freed angel to stand and balance. Amazing Rinnah to no end was the fact that this angel wasn’t in the least bit tired or spent from the arduous task of being extracted. Instead, she was standing upright without wobbling and curiously looking about the room with an air of expectancy and growing excitement. With surprise, she noted that this angel had much more energy, but she hadn’t taken into consideration that this one wasn’t close to death like Twila had been. This one’s hair was a solid healthy-looking white so maybe it was the reason this freed angel was acting so perky. Rinnah glanced around the room along with the angel. She wondered what the immediate surroundings looked like when seen from the other side of the glass but then shrugged off the thought as unimportant. She wouldn’t know, didn’t really want to know, nor would she ever have the opportunity to find out.
Rinnah had a cupped hand under the angel’s elbow, but she doubted the freed plant needed even that and balance didn’t seem to be a problem for her. A wide grin began stretching across the female plant’s face as she began showing outward signs of delight at the new circumstances she found herself in. Again wide eyes traveled around the room trying to take in everything at once. As she did so, the intensity of emotion washed off her in thick waves, “*I am free!*” Rinnah could feel the joy of the emotion as it flooded the link between them. If nothing else, she knew then she had done the right thing.
Rinnah herself was mildly tired but not fatigued to the point of near-exhaustion. When it had come to removing the cherub bonds from her back, the angel started out by watching what Rinnah was doing through the courtesy of the link, then joined in helping her. By the end of the process, the plant angel knew what needed to be done and finished it herself. The hybrid acted as midwife, teacher and supervisor as the female plant supplied most of the work and nearly all of the energy.
Piece of cake. Rinnah grinned with satisfaction. At least one thing went well tonight. I was due for a break, so I guess I can have my cake and eat it too. More than satisfied with the operation, she nodded to herself in approval. Things were looking up indeed. Now all she needed to do was get the newly freed plant clean, dressed and then they could be on their way.
The half-breed began cleaning the angel, showing her how to wipe herself off and then stood back to watch as she took over the job. Rinnah was preoccupied with thoughts of their return and the uproar that was sure to greet them in the morning when folks found out about the surprise company, when her thoughts were interrupted by a raspy voice speaking right next to her. Jumping near out of her skin with the suddenness of it, she whirled her head around looking for the owner of the voice before turning back to stare at the angel.
“Wha.... You can talk!” Rinnah was stunned. Leaning a supporting hand against the rail and with a hand over her chest she felt her heart thumping away like a jackhammer. “Geez, warn me next time you’re gonna do that!”
“*Easier to talk this way*” ‘pathed the angel since the hybrid hadn’t bothered to close the link. She knew it was the only way to communicate until she could teach the freed female how to speak. Well, she could cross that little task off the list now.
“*I practiced,*” The angel said to Rinnah who could hear the pride in her mental voice. Then, painstakingly she tried her voice again, ”I need talking make like human, so I talk am them too like.”
The hybrid’s eyes glazed over a moment and then seeing the angel was expecting a reply, hurriedly nodded back to her. They could work on grammar later.
“Uh, good job, sounds real... human.”
“Lips move, human talk?”
“Well yes, you could say that.”
The angel beamed at what she construed as praise.
When it came to putting on the clothes they ran into a snag. Or Rinnah did. The angel expressed her desire to leave the building without wearing clothes. The hybrid blew out an exasperated puff of air. She didn’t remember Twila being this stubborn, in fact, the first freed angel had been a good deal more cooperative than this one was being.
After patiently explaining to this plant angel why clothes were needed if one were to go traipsing about in human society, besides the fact for personal protection, she was certain the newly freed plant would agree to wear the clothes. Such was not the case. She tried again coming at it from a different angle. After a third try, Rinnah was finished with being patient and ended up shouting, “Because I said so, that’s why!” while the angel gave her a look which could not be misconstrued in any other way except as rude and sullen, but she complied with the request even if reluctantly. The freed angel snatched the first piece of clothing out of Rinnah’s hands with ill grace.
Gotta write myself a memo, no more raising angels. Get ‘em out, pass ‘em on to someone else for the hard part while I grab a bus leaving town. I don’t do prissy angel rearing well at all! How do real parents do this? She’s acting like a pouting eleven-year-old!
A headache gripped Rinnah across her brow like a tight band. Mindful of her aching head, Rinnah carefully went on to describe the use of snaps, zippers and buttons whether the angel wanted to hear it or not. She was also ready to slap the attitude right off the plant’s face if she stuck that lip out any further. Except for that, it didn’t take any time at all to get the plant angel dressed and ready for travel. Piece of cake..... yeah, right.
Other than that, Rinnah had to give the plant species points in being the quick learners they were as she watched the freed female play with each little thing on her clothes. Now that she was fully dressed, Rinnah felt relief go through her. One less thing on the list. Just when she thought all that needed to be done was shove the angel into Milly’s duster and they could be going, the angel spoke again in that raspy voice.
“People named. I now named.” The plant angel turned huge eyes without pupils upon Rinnah and ‘pathed with an obstinate demand, “*I want a name now.*” Rinnah noted with a wry thought that she was much better with her grammar when using her mental speech.
Rinnah looked into those inky fixed orbs and even without a pupil or iris, she could sense the resolution of the plant. “*People have names. I am a people now too. I want a name.*”
She gently turned the angel, aiming her toward the head of the stairs. “Sure, why not. When we get back we’ll ask around and see if we can borrow someone’s baby name book. Then you...” she amended that quickly as she remembered that the plant angel, however intelligent her species was, still couldn’t read, “Then we can look through it and see what name you like.” Her good humor was starting to return as she wondered what kind of name the angel would pick for herself. She took a step but halted when the angel didn’t make a move to follow her.
Rinnah blinked once, twice and then asked, U? What kind of a stupid name was that? Had she heard that right?
“You. Name me.”
Rinnah blinked again. Name... her...
Right. No freaking way. Suddenly a wave of tiredness washed over her and she lifted eyes beginning to get heavy with the need for sleep. It was the perfect time to start whining but she restrained herself.
“Are you sure...”
"It’s not that....”
“All right then.... Star holes! It’s not like I do this for a living you know!” Rinnah grumbled back at her. Gazing at the stubborn plant she hooked a finger over the middle of her nose as she thought.
“Let’s see.... I bet Hortense is right out, as is Petunia.” She muttered to herself while running a long thing finger up and down the side of her nose in the not likely hopes that inspiration would come to her. Whatever name occurred to her it definitely couldn’t be too cute or too weird. Something dignified and easy on the tongue, causing envy in many... like ’Rinnah’, too bad it was already taken.
“Gah! Ouwwch! Star poop!” She slapped a hand over her watering eye where she had inadvertently slipped and poked herself in the course of rubbing her nose. Covering the stinging eye with one hand she looked at the expectant angel with the other.
“Okay, how about Sheila?”
No? Rinnah stared. A veto? Did she get to do that?
She tried again, “Natasha?”
“What! C’mon, give me a break! How about Becky? Daisy? Susan? Mina? Richelle? Joy? Mabel? Danielle? Catherine? Heather?” Each name was followed by a brusque negative shake of the head that threw feathery white hair to float about her in an utterly entrancing way which Rinnah would have thought cute at any other time. Right now the urge to throttle the female plant was quickly overriding any leftover sympathy she had felt for the angel to begin with. Another urge, which was getting harder to ignore, was the desire to yank on that fluffy white hair. At this precise moment in time it would be done with enthusiasm, but Rinnah was able to restrain herself and again, explained to the divine exactly how well she was doing and did she get extra credit for this? Good thing for her she is so weirdly beautiful because she’s not going to get any points for being Miss Congeniality!
“Listen you, I’m not going to stand around all night....”
“I’M TRYING TO!!” Shouted Rinnah, throwing up her hands in frustration. A muscle near her eye was beginning to twitch in an uncontrollable manner and she was having second thoughts about freeing this plant angel. Maybe Knives knew what he was thinking when he wanted to absorb this one. Piece of cake! Ha! Waiter! Check please, party of one is ready to leave!
With a twinge of guilt for thinking that Knives could have the female plant, even as exasperating as she was, the hybrid gathered the remnants of what little patience remained to her and tried again. She took a calming breath and breathed slowly in and out again when a name occurred to her.
“How about Ember?”
Rinnah watched the angel’s face light up with delight. The she-plant liked it! She felt limp with relief and muttered a very heartfelt, “I owe you one, but I hope you aren‘t keeping score!”
Now that the new-to-this-atmosphere angel was dressed, and named, they could depart. Rinnah was thinking fond thoughts of her bed and pillow. Placing a hand under Ember’s elbow she cautioned for the angel to take slow, easy steps.
The black-haired female was amazed at how fast the angel was learning to balance and walk. They moved together toward the stairs. Rinnah glanced back and forth between the upcoming steps and the angel. Walking on a flat surface was relatively easy when compared to the trick of going downstairs. Or they could just fall down them, it would get them there faster even if they were covered with bruises the next day. Not funny, I really need to sleep. To prove her point, she yawned and noticed on the tail end Ember staring at her fascinated by the action. She quirked a half-smile and explained, “Tired.” The angel just nodded even if she didn’t understand. Maybe she didn’t know what tired was since she wasn’t called upon to do much work in this town, what with the alternate power source they had available to them here.
Rinnah was beginning to think she might end up carrying the angel down the stairs if she couldn‘t manage them. She glanced at the walking plant out of the corner of her eye. She wouldn’t be surprised if the newborn threw a tantrum and ended up carrying the half-breed instead. Rinnah puffed at a lock of hair that was falling down into her eye. At this point in time, she would let her if it meant getting them home that much quicker.
At the top of the stairs they stopped so the newly freed angel could study the steps. She considered the descent for a moment and then reached over and grabbed the rail. Things must look very strange, indeed, on this side of the globe. While letting her have as much time as she needed to adjust, Rinnah caught something out of the corner of her eye.
Meryl looked up from the baby outfit she was sewing to glance at the door with rising irritation.
“Ouch!” she muttered. Looking back down at her work she saw the needle still jammed in her thumb. That would teach her to be more careful. Pulling out the needle, she stuck the tip of her thumb in her mouth and gently sucked at the sore spot before resuming the careful stitches on the hem of the baby dress. She didn’t know why she was bothering. The baby would only wear it for a week or two at the most. They just might as well dress the child in a sack with the bottom cut out to allow for the rapid growth of a plant infant. There was something to be said about the slower growth of a human infant, for one thing, they could wear a cute outfit a few times at least before outgrowing it. Meryl pulled her thumb out of her mouth to study the wound. Just a spot of red showed where she had poked herself.
A prickly fear was crawling up the back of her throat and she cast a now worried look at the door. Where was he anyway? This wasn’t like him. This was the first time she could recall that he had ever been late. He was as punctual as, well, as she was. Something must have happened for him to be delayed.
They always spent the last hours of the day in the joint living room space between their separate suites. Usually they talked about the day, books they were reading, philosophy, the stupidity of humans, no need to guess who would bring that subject up, or even arguing at times when she forgot who it was she was starting to yell at.
The other time she thought of as ‘their time’ together were the mornings. Meryl made it a habit to watch the rise of the parent sun when Knives finally gave his permission and allowed her to go out again. Surprising her though was his insistence that he be the one to accompany her. She couldn’t understand him wanting to spend the time with her that could be doing something productive or useful rather than wasting time watching the dawning of the first sun. Yet, he humored her and didn’t assign the task to anyone else. She still wondered why as the behavior went against everything she knew about him
Meryl wasn‘t aware when she had started looking forward to their evenings together, no matter how it was spent, but her favorite times was just sitting quietly each in of them in their favorite chairs enjoying the fireplace. Meryl only asked once where the wood had come from. It was a complete and utter shock to her to see precious wood being burned in such an offhand and careless manner. He had glared at her when she had mentioned it and decided to drop the subject. “Having wood to burn” was a better description of someone’s wealth than saying, “they have money to burn.” By this token, Knives was the wealthiest being on the planet. It still bothered her though even as she soaked in the circle of warmth and watched the cheerful crackle of dancing flames forcing back the night chill . She felt guilty for looking forward to the nights he would start one for them. She bit her lip, conflict waging war and finally the faction siding for warm toes won out. After all, if Knives had ’wood to burn’ then that was his business. She wasn’t the one doing his bookkeeping, but she was still curious as to where he got it.
Her eyes darted to the clock on the wall even though she had just checked it only a couple of minutes earlier.
Why was he keeping her waiting and worrying like this? Wait a minute. Worrying? With a start Meryl realized she was doing what would indeed be construed as worrying... about him. It seemed insane, almost laughable that she was concerned about an arrogant, prideful, self-centered, smug and totally murderous plant set on the extermination of the human race. She gave a sharp cry as the needle went into her thumb again. Winching she shook her hand and then looked at the place where the needle had poked in. It hurt worse but it wasn’t bleeding as badly as the first time. She sucked at the sore spot anyway as she reminded her that Knives was thoroughly capable of taking care of himself. He didn’t need her to worry about him.
With firm resolve she pulled her thumb out, gave it a inquiring look and then decided she wasn’t going to think about him anymore. It was ridiculous to be focusing on that Plant so much. Where was he!
Her shoulders sagged. She couldn‘t help it, she was worried. Meryl knew better than most how dangerous this planet could be. As a representative for an insurance company, she had traveled all over to many different places and knew the many mishaps and disasters that could happen, accidental or maliciously performed by human agents. Anything could be happening to him out there and she was in no position to help.
Meryl bit her lip, knowing she was working up into a state. If she didn’t stop she would be crying hysterical tears soon and since she didn’t want that to happen she began looking around the room for something to break the downward spiral.
She knew that she was most likely being influenced by her rapidly shifting hormones and the fact that she didn’t have anything else to focus on. Before this she was raising a child and that took all of her attention. With a listless sigh she contemplated her half-finished sewing project and distractedly fingered the lace on the collar. So quickly. The child was out on her own now and only came back every once in a while for a visit.
Meryl reached up to rub her forehead. While Tessla and Knives had the same goal, that Plants should rule the planet, they had different ideas of how that goal was to be reached and the arguments were getting more pronounced and sharp. One time Knives even accused the Plant child of being too soft-hearted like Vash. Meryl shook her head. If Knives thought that of Tessla then he truly didn’t know her. The child, Meryl snorted softly, not such a child anymore, was headstrong with a sly streak of ruthless that, amazing Meryl to no end, apparently Knives was too blind to see. Meryl smiled, it was almost the setting of a real family, mother, daughter, and father with Tessla finally turning to Meryl with an exasperated “Mother! Say something!”
Meryl knew, even if Knives was oblivious to the fact that if the child listened to anyone, it was her mother. That time though, it had infuriated Knives when Tessla had turned to Meryl. In that cold, clipped voice he informed Tessla that Meryl had no input in the Grand Scheme of Things Plant Wise. She wondered if it was lost on Knives just how protective of her mother Tessla was. Things could have gone badly right then as Tessla’s eyes began to glow in anger. Meryl was certain that something bad would have happened if she hadn’t stepped in and laid a calming hand on her daughter and spoke softly to her. Tessla had turned her head to face her mother and the glow had faded.
Before storming off, her child had shot an accusing glance at the Plant who was her father figure, and lashed out, “I don’t like the way he treats you!” That had been a wake up call for Knives. He didn’t think anything of the way he treated Meryl, which was the problem. With a slightly baffled expression he turned to Meryl, an unformed question stalling on his lips. She merely shrugged her shoulders as if to signify, “Kids, go figure.” Still, he had spent the rest of the day holed up in his office not even coming out for meals.
Meryl allowed herself a small grin as she thought about her daughter, of course, not a true daughter as Knives was quick to remind her. Meryl should not forget that she was only needed as a host body for the child. Yet it was not lost on her that Knives let her raise the baby. Such arrogance would be his undoing. He thought because he held such a low opinion of the human female that the plant angel child would simply incorporate that attitude into her development. Meryl didn’t bother to set Knives straight on the importance of a mother in a child’s life, especially a loving, nurturing, caring mother. Knives did not truly know Tessla. He saw her one way, a younger version of himself, but Tessla didn’t want to kill, she wanted to dominate and rule. She would not be content to be a mere lesser power to revolve around the suns. Tessla wanted to be a sun. So young and yet so consumed with a single-minded notion that she wanted to rule the world, but without the mess.
Meryl wondered if the astonishingly quick growth of Plant children is what caused them to be the way they were. Maybe that is what contributed to Knives being so filled with a hostility that was beyond reason. It was hard to tell though, he never talked about his past so she had no idea what his background was like. He knew everything about hers from that creature Legato and then with his own unending and persistent questions. He wanted to know everything about her past, her family, her friends, and old boyfriends too, which he seemed to have developed a morbid interest in of late. He even quizzed her closely on her days when she and Milly were traveling with Vash the Stampede until he seemed satisfied in her calm, indifferent tone of voice when she talked about Vash. But would he share anything with her? No, and when she would ask the shutters over his soul would slam shut and his face would show only that impenetrable aloofness he was so expert at utilizing.
Meryl laid aside the sewing project and slowly struggled out of the chair to stand upright. Getting her balance she made a few sluggish circles around the room. She had been having contractions but they were only the false ones and went away when she would get up and walk around. After a few circuits she was feeling better but also getting winded with the baby’s feet pushing up into her lungs like she was.
She made her way across the suite’s living space, good gravy, who really needed all this room? One would need to bellow in order for the person at the other end to even hear them. Yes, the size of it was a little intimidating and Meryl rationalized that to be the reason she was feeling his absence so acutely. Finally in front of the chair she wanted, she turned and began the laborious process of lowering her bulk down into the chair gently, slowly and accompanied with a great deal of self-pitying groans.
Panting, she looked down at the mound in front of her with a grimace, she was as huge as a bloated sandworm belly up to the sun. She shifted but it didn’t provide the relief she sought. No position she got in was comfortable for long. The skin of her abdomen stretched as the baby rotated under it. Smiling, she placed a hand tenderly over it and rubbed in a soothing circular motion.
Whispering softly, she said, “Soon little one, and Momma will be able to hold you and see your beautiful face.” As if in understanding, the baby placed a well-timed kick directly beneath Meryl’s hand. She chuckled at the response. “So, you do want out. I thought so.” Then in a sad murmur she added, “Are you so eager to enter this world? I would stay put where I was if I was you.” Realizing what that meant for her, she amended, “Well, maybe just for another week, and then you can come out, how about that?”
As if on cue the baby kicked again as if in agreement. A small laugh escaped Meryl’s lips.
Just at that moment the door opened and someone entered. Giving a little jump as his abrupt entry Meryl looked up even though she had been expecting him all evening. Even without looking she would have known it was him as no one else would have the nerve to enter without knocking and Knives certainly did not believe in asking permission when it came to his property.
He caught her staring at him, which she had been doing more often of late, and berated herself. Hastily looking over to the sewing she had left to the side, she picked it up and bent her head over it as if in complete absorption with the dress. She heard him walk over, his tread barely made a whisper as he crossed over the carpet, which she had recently found out that only their quarters was furnished with this luxury. When she saw his feet come within her range of vision, they stopped and she felt his blue wintery gaze resting on the top of her head. Finally, Meryl noted with relief, he sat down in the chair next to her with a heavy sigh.
“Bad day?” She ventured, eyes following her needle as it dipped and rose.
“You have no idea. Humans are so trying to govern at times.”
“Occupational hazard. You can’t possibly presume that humankind will cooperate with you... the normal ones anyway.”
He just humphed. Meryl glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He did look exhausted slumped into the chair with elbow propped up and hand supporting his head.
Meryl’s lip twitched upward and looked back down to her sewing. Except for the ‘kill all humans’ content of his remarks she would easily envision them as a normal couple with the wife asking the husband how his day went. She froze, needle midair in the realization of what she had just thought. A fierce blush rose to her cheeks and she could only hope that her bent head hid it from him. She didn’t want to have to explain the thought that flashed through her head right then.
With head still bent she turned her face slightly so she could look at him out of the corner of her eyes and found weary eyes directed her way.
“I want to hear those songs.” Only this voice softened to make the demand more of a request. She appreciated how hard that was for him.
He nodded, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
This wasn’t an unusual request. She had sung lullabies over the first baby and even sung them over this one positive the child could hear and secretly, she wanted the baby to know her mother’s voice. She had only quit singing them when Tessla, had requested with a firm voice, “Please Mother, I am much too old for baby songs.” Meryl had given her child a sad smile but honored her daughter’s request. She missed it though and that was the first time she wished Tessla was human so she could sing over her for a few more years yet. At least she had another one on the way to croon over every night.
The surprise came several nights later. Meryl said goodnight to Tessla as she headed off for bed but continued to sit in her chair, heart aching and eyes watering. Tessla may be ready to let go of her mother’s hand, but Meryl was not yet ready for her daughter to be acting so grown up. Still it was important to Tessla to be treated like the adult she almost was and Meryl wanted to respect her daughter‘s decision.
She had been trying to read a book, going over and over the same paragraph until all the words started blurring together. Meryl finally admitted defeat and put the book down with a heartfelt sigh. She had looked up to see Knives staring at her intently and she lifted an eyebrow at him in question. Meryl knew when Knives had something on his mind and she was giving him a nonverbal that she was interested in what he had to say. Crossing his arms over his chest Knives had, in that calm authoritative way of his, ordered her to sing. He appeared to be so indifferent that it made the order seem more for her sake than his. In the early days of knowing him, that would have made her angry but she was getting to know the touchy Plant and knew that it was almost impossible for him to just come out and ask for something he wanted. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who missed the lullabies at bed time.
Meryl put her sewing aside and started to sing. Knives opened his eyes just a crack to watch her face before they slowly drifted shut again. Meryl absently caressed her stomach as she sang one lilting lullaby after another.
When she was done she heard in a voice so soft she wondered if she was hearing things, “That was well done Meryl.”
She had to smile. That was the closest he ever got to a ‘thank you’. Her smile dropped a notch upon noticing the lines of weariness in his face and wryly thought to herself that if must be a very taxing job to try and exterminate an entire species. Either that or he was worrying about Vash again. She couldn’t understand the obsession and struggle he had over the fact that Vash wouldn’t agree with him about the human plague. Meryl almost let a sigh slip out. She had told him from the first that she wouldn’t cooperate with his agenda. He never saw her as a threat, she reasoned it was her small stature and how weak she was in comparison to him.
She chanced a quick look at him. What was he doing that was causing him to be this exhausted? Poor misguided thing. She really did feel sorry for him. Yet, even as compassion tugged at her heartstrings, she knew she was doing a good job of subtly working against his goals and hoped he didn’t figure out what she was doing. Meryl gave him a tender look, eyes going soft, and if, right then, she could have seen her face she would have been appalled at the blatant emotion registered there. Since she couldn’t, she studied Knives face and long, slender form a little longer, allowing her eyes to rest on shoulders and arms and those, long, lean legs and slim waist. Meryl gave her head a quick shake and patted her cheeks to reprimand herself and cool the flame she felt warming them. Waiting a moment to catch her breath and gather her thoughts, she forced herself to watch the clock’s minute hand until she felt in control of herself again.
Then she thought about his comment about governing humans. With a silent chuckle she wondered if he had given any thought as to who was going to do all the little chores that were beneath him or any Plant for that matter, such as cleaning, cooking, and maintenance, all the work he loathed and the humans did now. What about that Mr. Superior Plant? It’s hard to exude domination, power, and supremacy when one is scrubbing out the toilet, she thought smugly and allowed a tiny grin to tug at her lips.
She doubted that Knives even realized what kind of an Eden he was building. To her knowledge Eden’s tended to attract snakes. An image of Knives being chased up a tree by a slithering snake made her chuckle out loud. Catching herself, she covered her mouth while shooting a quick look at Knives wondering if he had heard that. She watched but his eyes didn’t open. She was safe, but was starting to get sleepy.
Yawning, she stretched and then contemplated the napping Plant. Poor man. He just had it so rough, she could almost feel sorry for him. On the heels of that thought, she decided to emerge from the chair and go to bed. Going through the hard work of levering and hauling herself out of her a chair that was just as determined to make it as difficult as possible for her to leave, she was winded by the time she finally made it up and almost forgot why she wanted up in the first place. It came back to her when she looked at Knives, bed, that was it. He was asleep and she was tired too. Before leaving, she picked up a blanket from the back of the couch and returned to cover him with it, tucking it around him with a tender smile playing about her lips.
“Good night you difficult man, may you dream sweet dreams for a change.”
Then with a quick motion that didn‘t give her time to think about what she was doing, she brushed her lips on his forehead before straightening with a quiet groan, hand going to the small of her back before turning and toddling for her room.
As she walked away, one blue eye opened and watched her until the door shut behind her.
Rinnah stared down at the stranger at the foot of the stairs before her scattered wits returned to her and she remembered to ask, “Who are you?”
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