"You know, Annie, tht's so Fi. Skip the logical and go straight for the impossible."
Annie looked up from the board, her eyes stinging. Not from tears, but but she had been staring intently at the surface of the board. Jack sat across from her, eyes narrowed, poised to leap to his feet and storm out of the room. A moment later, when she didn't answer, he did just that.
Annie rubbed her eyes, somewhat confused by what had just happened. She actually couldn't remember hearing any of Jack's preceding tirade, but saw, looking down at the Talking Board, just what had distracted her.
The lens in the pointer rested firmly over the word DANGER, and the block letters on their orange oval looked warped through the lens.
A chill tickled Annie's spine. Thinking suddenly that the dire prediction might have to do with her suddenly-departed almost-brother, she set her fingers on the pointer. As it slid across the board, she watched it paintakingly select ten letters, spelling out a word she had never seen before.
C-R-Y-S-T-A-L-L-I-S. Annie stared, trying to fit the letters together and form some recognisable word that she could express as sounds.
"What is..." she began to muse to herself, but was suddenly interrupted by a loud crash from down the hall - more specifically, from Jack's room. She leapt to her feet, heart pounding, afraid that perhaps her prediction had brought about some terrible event...
There had been a brush of moving air, a stirring of power that she couldn't quite explain. A sound in Jack's room, following the crash. Voices. Jack's voice, shouting, and one other, quieter. As Annie neared the door, she could make out words.
"...dare you just blip in here, out of nowhere, like you had a right to be here. Mom was right about you people."
Annie paused outside the door, holding her breath. Jack was shouting at someone. But who?
"And precisely what was she right about, Jack?" That was a girl's voice. A girl?
Jack's furious silence practically oozed out from under the door. Annie cringed.
"I did not kill your father, Jack. Nor did I lead him to his death. He went of his own free will. Chose that path. He knew the risks when he chose it, just as your sister did. Your mother, Jack. What was she right about? Denying you and Fiona your birthright? Nearly forcing your father to choose between duty and family? In laying the blame on a friend, when the far more dangerous culprit is still at large, watching you?"
Jack made no reply.
"I asked nothing of you, Jack. I merely offer. I can't force you to do anything against your will. Fiona had good intentions, Jack, but little scope in this. I'm only saying that you should know what you're giving up before you turn your back on us completely. Your father--"
"I'm not my father."
Annie felt an involontary shudder. Jack's voice was low, and deadly, and quite obviously threatening. The stranger seemed to notice too, and changed her tactics, as if she'd known what to expect.
"You're not your mother, either."
Annie bent down and looked through the keyhole. Standing in the middle of the room was Jack, and two or three feet facing him was a short, dark-haired woman. She looked scarcely older than Annie herself, but her words and her stance showed that she was a good deal older - ten years, at least. Jack topped her by at least two feet.
Jack presently turned away from her, his arms crossed. Annie only now thought to wonder how she had gotten there. The window was closed and the blinds drawn. She hadn't come in by the door. It was as if she had materialised in the room from nowhere.
As that thought occured to Annie, the woman suddenly looked sharply at the door. She seemed to meet Annie's eye. Annie was sudenly absolutley certain that she could see her, as easily as if the door wasn't there at all.
Annie gasped and stumbled backwards, falling to her rear. She was still sitting in the middle of the hallway when the door flew suddenly open. The woman stood framed by the door, looking at Annie, the expression on her face a mixture of surprise and annoyance.
"I... I..." Annie stuttered, trying to think of something to say that wouldn't sound too utterly inadequate in the face of this strange woman's totally unreadable mood.
The woman placed her hands on her hips, and raised one eyebrow.
"You... were eavesdropping?" she suggested.
Annie shut her mouth, and slowly, nodded.
The woman, still unreadable, looked Annie up and down as Jack appeared at her shoulder.
"Annie! What are you doing?"
Annie stared helplessly at Jack as she squirmed under the stranger's gaze.
"This is Annie?" The woman's posture relaxed, and she offered Annie a hand up. "Damn," she swore. "We weren't supposed to come for you yet..."
"What? Come for me...?" Annie stared in confusion as Jack heard the words and turned on the woman in anger.
"No," he said firmly. "No. Leave her out of it. She's got nothing to do with this..."
The woman uttered a long-suffering sigh. "Actually, Jack, she s, or would have been , eventually. She's in teh line as well. She just wasn't supposed to be brought in this soon, but now that she's seen me..."
"No!" Jack's voice was angry, and stubborn. "You can't drag everyone into this fantasy world of yours! Some people need to live normal lives!"
Annie's plea was quiet, but the woman's own words were not.
"By the gods, Jack, stop." She actualy sounded somewhat angry, now, and on a deep-down level, Annie was just a little frightened, somehow cetain that angering this woman was not omething she ought to be doing, nor was alienating her, as Jack seemed so set on doing.
"This is not something that can just be ignored, Jack." Her voice was annoyed, but earnest. "We're following our own rules, ones established millennia ago. Those, of course, change over time, as the world changes, but the basis remains the same." She turned her gaze on Annie. "We must continue to try, because we believe our mission is noble, and worth our sacrifices to its end. But we can't force others to take up that mission, to follow it, or fight for it. That must be a choice made willingly, and always has been; anything else would corrupt us, and render us villains in our own right."
Under any other circumstances, Annie would have laughed at the deflated expression Jack wore. At the moment, he looked neither pompous nor threatening, just afraid, and conflicted.
She looked sideways over her shoulder at Jack, and said tiredly, "I'll come back." she then, quite abruptly, *wasn't there* anymore. There was an odd shifting of shadows, as if the angle of the light had momentarily changed, but an instant later, there was no sign that she had ever even been there, save for the open door. Annie blinked for a moment, then stared in shock at Jack.
"Who was that? What was she --"
The hurt and hateful look on Jack's face stopped her short.
"That's the woman who killed my father."
He nearly knocked Annie down in his haste to storm out of the room.
When Annie woke up the next morning, rain was falling heavily outside, beating on the windowpanes and turning them to blurry rivulets. She sat up in bed, brushing bits of hair out of her face, and blinked sleepily at the laptop on her desk, which was making alarmed bleeping noises.
After a moment, when the significance of the sounds registered, and Annie leapt out of bed, sitting down at the desk, and called up the chat program she had left open all night. Fi was online.
(Rockerbaby): Hey Annie, I'm here now; what's up?
(Catseyes): I had a question that I think only you can answer.
(Rockerbaby): *raises eyebrows* Fire away.
(Catseyes): It's gonna sound weird.
(Rockerbaby): *laughs* You're kidding me, right? This is me. Just ask.
(Catseyes): Okay, if you say so.
(Catseyes): Do you know anyone named Areahannah?
Several minutes elapsed.
(Catseyes): Fi? You still there?
(Rockerbaby): Sorry; you just caught me by surprise. How did you know about Areahannah?
(Catseyes): Then you do know her?
(Rockerbaby): Yeah, I do.
(Catseyes): She was here yesterday. Talking to Jack - he got really angry. He said some things about her, and now I don't know what to think.
(Rockerbaby): What did he say?
(Catseyes): He said she killed your dad.
(Catseyes): Is that true?
(Rockerbaby): *scowls* No; that's not true. Jack's an idiot. Just like Mom. Typical.
(Catseyes): So who is she?
(Rockerbaby): Annie, have you ever heard of the Guardians?
(Catseyes): *rolls eyes* You'll have to be more specific.
(Rockerbaby): They're sort of... I don't know how to explain it, really. They protect people. They've been around for centuries - and Areahannah was a friend of my parents' when I was really little.
(Catseyes): Why do I get the impression she's not a friend now?
(Rockerbaby): *sighs* Mom hates her - she thinks it's Arrah's fault, what happened to dad. And Jack feels the same way. Even though he really has no idea of the facts.
(Catseyes): So what *are* the facts?
(Rockerbaby): It's complicated - but basically, our family was one of their allies for a long, long time - Mom and Dad were their friends, and helped them. But there was this thing - a - a monster, I guess. A spirit. And it was after us. Me and Jack. Our family was special, and whatever they were fighting wanted Mom and Dad and the other ally families out of the way. It killed Dad. And...
(Catseyes): And Molly blamed Areahannah?
(Rockerbaby): *sigh* Yeah. Exactly. And it was stupid, because it wasn't her fault. She was just doing her job, just like Dad did. But they haven't spoken since.
(Rockerbaby): Why was she there?
(Catseyes): She said something about you.
(Rockerbaby): ...oh. Damn. I guess I should've seen that coming.
(Catseyes): Seen what coming?
(Rockerbaby): It doesn't matter much - just that I sort of took myself out of the game. I didn't really think about the Guardians at the time, I guess. That was stupid of me, huh?
(Catseyes): So there's no one in your family, now, helping them?
(Rockerbaby): No; I guess not. The word they use is Delegate. The last one from our family was me - but I guess... maybe she came to ask Jack.
(Catseyes): I think she's got her work cut out for her.
(Rockerbaby): No kidding.
(Rockerbaby): Don't let Jack scare you, when he gets all towering and blustery like that - he's just scared, himself.
(Catseyes): I know.
(Rockerbaby): And be careful - she doesn't mean to, but Arrah sort of brings trouble with her. If she's around now, it's because they *need* help. And if they need help, it's got to be big. And dangerous.
(Catseyes): I'll be careful, Fi. And thanks.
(Rockerbaby): No prob, Annie. Good luck. And keep in touch.
And then the chat program closed - Fi had gone offline.