Monday, November 30, 2009

What family is for

Still no Dante. Still no Avalon. I guess they’re having trouble reporting a former city missing.

“Where were they going?” Maria asks.

“I guess they went to find a city guardian.” I rub my ear. “Not sure who else you’d report a former city missing to.”

“These guardians are like Enforcers?”

“In a way.”

I suppose we could have involved my brother instead of the guardians, but I’ve got a feeling that’s what Not-Stellina wants. She—whoever she actually is—is obviously keeping us distracted. Probably from something she’s doing in you world.

It’s risky going to her people about what she’s done. Draws attention to what we’ve done. We could all be in a world of trouble. But that’s exactly what Not-Stellina is counting on. Us being afraid of trouble. Handling this on our own to avoid it. She obviously doesn’t know Avalon very well.

“A Guardian would be the fastest and safest way to get a message to the Far Reaches,” I tell Maria. “That’s where Andy’s from.”

“That’s seriously what it’s called?” She giggles. “The ‘far reaches’?”

I shrug. “It’s what we call it.”

“And these people in the Far Reaches can do something to help us?”


Dante’s people have been here longer than mine. But there’s no love between our two territories. One of their people posing as one of ours wouldn’t be enough to raise an alarm. London would have to invade Over There. Or they’d have to feel threatened by the idea of one of your former cities roaming the Twilight Lands.

But telling the Far Reaches what happened isn’t about getting help. It’s about scaring Not-Stellina. Doing something she thinks we won’t. Making her reevaluate how to predict us now that Avalon’s involved. We can work silence to our advantage, too.

“Hmm.” Maria stands. “I think this is the first time you’ve sounded unsure.”

Sounds right. Even when your people have learned not to trust I’m telling the truth, they still believe that I am completely certain of what I’m doing.

I shrug. It’s safest. “I’m not really myself right now.”

“I noticed.” She dusts herself off. “You’re actually talking to me.”

She smiles as she says it, but it’s one meant to keep you from seeing how serious her eyes are.

I choose to see the smile instead and wonder if there’s anything to the theory that being connected to Creation makes me chatty. Matt isn’t overly talkative. Neither is Stellina. I don’t remember my father being verbose. I remember him laughing a lot. He was a good Twilight King. Would have never let us go to war among ourselves. Would have found a way to resolve things without violence.

Matt knows he isn’t the king our father was. I’m not sure my brother even thinks it’s worth trying to be.

“And now you’re staring off into space again,” Maria says.

“I’m not.” I blink. “I’m remembering.”

“Is that way your eyes are such a sad blue?”

“Must be.” I force a smile. It’s easy. I’ve had a lot of practice. “We should get you some shoes.”

“And clothes.” She works at the tangles in her curls. “And a shower. Do they have showers here?”

“Probably not. It’s a museum.”

She looks like she might push me or punch me lightly the way Girl Val does. Fondness expressed through mild violence. Odd. Maria’s not a Valor fragment.

She puts her hands on her hips instead. “You know what I mean, Ethan.”

“Are you bothering the young lady, cousin?”

I almost fall down the steps. Not telling you this to be funny. Telling you to fully express how WTF it was to hear that voice.

Maria turns. Squeaks a little. From surprise. Not a need for lubricants. It’s a natural response when it seems like someone’s father has sneaked up on you.

This someone’s father is tall. Not as tall as Avalon. Not even as tall as me. (Dante’s shorter than us, too.) But way taller than Maria. Height is not what makes our visitor frightening. Crazy hair is. Those of you who know Val are aware that he can get some decent height on the fauxhawk. Well, just imagine if that hair was curly. It can’t be directed. It just does whatever it wants. Unaccountable hair. Super irritating to someone who’s an accountant.

“Oh, hey Neill,” I say. Real causal-like. Like I didn’t almost fall down the steps a few heartbeats ago.

His black jacket is zipped up tight, but I know beneath it he’s wearing a highly saturated shade of something. Probably turquoise. A love of bright colors is how you know we’re related. My cousin and I don’t share much of a family resemblance. As I said, he looks like someone’s dad. I don’t.

Did I neglect to mention that Dante’s Dad and I are cousins? We are. Removed a few degrees, but still related. He’s much older than I am. Which takes a little bit of doing. I have, after all, sort of been around for a while. (More or less of a while depending on when you’re reading this.) Sometimes, to reinforce how old he is, I call him Uncle Neill. He doesn’t seem to mind.

“Do you know everyone, Ethan?” Maria asks, careful to stay behind me.

Neill has scared her. He doesn’t even have his scythe with him. Seeing someone who looks so much like one of your people must be spooky after she’d finally just gotten used to me. Or she’s decided his hair means he’s a mad scientist.

“Not everyone,” I tell her. “I didn’t know the barista. If you’re looking for Andy—”

“No, I’m looking for Avalon.” Neill doesn’t comment on Maria. “He claimed he wished to speak with me, then he didn’t show. It’s a wee bit irritating.”

“He’s with Andy,” I say. “They’re reporting the former city of London missing.”

“London’s been missing for some time, and—did you say former city?”

I nod. “It’s not one anymore.”

“Dare I ask?” Neill asks, which means that he does dare. He’s just leaving himself an exit strategy.

“It’s probably best if you don’t.”

“Then I must.” He climbs the steps. “What is it now?”

“The master of talking pancakes and exploding scones sent to torment me out of the mistaken belief that its transformation is the fault of the Twilight King.”

Neill raises both eyebrows. “Are you having me on?”

I can see Maria’s puzzled look.

They all talk like that in the Far Reaches. You probably thought Avalon had the accent from being human. You’d be wrong. We’re not really sure where Val and Chio got theirs. I suspect it’s put on for the sake of convincing girls to make kissy faces with them.

Go on. Laugh. You haven’t witnessed the power Val’s accent has on females. He can say anything and they seem to think he’s being charming and clever.

“No, Sir,” Maria says. “It’s true. I was there when the scone exploded.”

Neill finally looks at her. Gives her a gentle smile. “That was rather unkind of it. Most fortunately, you appear unharmed.”

Her tension eases. He must be using the Hope on her. He’s better at directing it, even though his connection to it is less than Dante’s.

“So.” Neill looks at me. I can see trouble glinting in his violet eyes. “Would this lass be your girlfriend?”

“No,” she says. “He and Andy are just finding me a place. To, um, stay.”

He clicks his tongue. “That’s unusually kind of you, cousin.”

“What do you want, cousin?” I say it so it sounds more like get bent, Neill.

“As I previously mentioned, I’m looking for my brother. You tend to know where to find him when he’s gone a-wandering.”

“As I previously mentioned—” I am very good at mocking Neill’s accent— “I don’t know where he is. Just what he’s supposed to be a-doing.”

Maria grins. Win goes to me.

Neill takes the steps between us in quick, smooth strides and smacks me upside the head. The world spins a little, despite that I’m sure both of my feet are safely planted on cement. Music pounces. Loud and overlapping. Every song of power invading my ears. I wobble.

“There.” Neill snaps my headphones over my ears. “Better?”

Music muffles to a volume where I can filter through individual harmonies and measures. The universe ceases to feel like such a lonely place.

“Thanks,” I mumble.

“Don’t mention it, cousin.” He clamps an arm around my shoulders. “Knocking the sense back into you is a service I’m more than happy to provide. I trust you’ve finished moping and we can get on with finding those missing from your party?”

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