Hannah is.. really fed up! [2.11]

ourIceMain.jpg Sometimes it feels like one person can make your world view spin on a dime..

Events unfold including but not limited to:
Sarah whining for Hannah to 'make them stop'
(while using her as an improvised footstool)
And Hannah gets some questions answered, but maybe not the ones she wanted.


“Hi mum.”

Her eyebrow popped up suspiciously.
..So THAT’s where I get it from..

“Hi Ari, having fun visiting the Martials?”
Her sarcastic tone didn’t do anything but support the suspicious eyebrow.

She glanced over my shoulder and sucked in a shocked breath.

For a moment I had so many different possibilities flash through my mind.
..Did we leave something blatantly magical out?
..Is John standing right behind me doing something rude?
..Has Sarah spontaneously transformed into a dwarf-squirrel?
..Could Trudy possibly have.. have.. nope, I’m out of ideas..

Before I could turn around to find out what was wrong, mum answered the question for me.
“Sarah! Honestly, you have a day off with your sister and you use it as an excuse to get your hair done?.. are those extensions?”

Oh.. oh yeah, we did that magical hair growth thing this morning didn’t we?..
..I feel kind of silly now..

“I know Ari’s hair is gorgeous but copying your little sister’s style?.. Really?..”
Ohhh.. Sarah is NOT going to like that one.

I cautiously turned to glance over at her.
Her hand was frozen half way through nervously patting her now longer hair.
A smile was still on her face at least, although it seemed a bit strained all of a sudden.

“Mum..”

For a moment she seemed to stare a bit harder at Sarah before turning back to me with a thoughtful frown on her face.
Her eyes flicked from my hair to Sarah’s a few more times until she finally settled on staring at me intensely.
It was kind of unnerving honestly..

“Ari.. did you use magic on your sister?”

I nearly choked on my tongue in surprise.
Judging by the hissed cough from Sarah she did the same thing.

“What?.. MUM, what are you going on ab-”
I couldn’t even get a flimsy excuse off before mum waved for silence.

“I thought Gladstone’s would have told you from the start to not use magic so openly Ari. What if someone notices, huh?”

My mouth flapped uncertainly.
Vaguely I noticed Sarah come up to my side with an awed look on her face but I was a bit busy doing my ‘deer in a car headlights’ impersonation to properly look at her.

“Magic isn’t a toy young lady. I’m glad you get to be part of that world but your actions have consequences.”
She frowned at Sarah for a moment and shot me an annoyed look.
“We’re going to have to take your sister in for an induction now, those are never pleasant and you’ve put her in serious danger by exposing her to that world.”

For a moment I almost instinctively bowed my head in shame just from her tone of voice but my brain was slowly started to untangle itself from the mess of questions I’d just gained.

What the HELL!

Mum knows about magic?!
She knows that ‘Gladstones’ is a cover story for magic?!
She knows about INDUCTIONS of all things!

Sarah seemed to be gathering her bearings a bit faster than I was.
To be fair, I’ve had a LONG day.

“Mum.. you know about magic?”
Her voice almost seemed to be shaking with worry, I can understand why..

Even before all this mess with the memory modification we’ve had to tiptoe around the subject of magic with mum.
As far as mum’s concerned Sarah’s job is what it outwardly appears to be, a TV host on an exploration show that has the big gimmick of using CGI to pretend magic’s involved.

Since the start it’s killed Sarah to not be able to tell mum about magic!
To not be able to tell her when something interesting, good or bad, happens to her at work.. she didn’t like that at all!

I had it relatively easy.
For the last few years, pretty much since I started getting more deeply involved in magic, I’ve not really spoken to mum in general.
Let alone had to hold open conversations with her.

Mum shot a suspicious look between us and huffed to herself.
“Of course I know about magic, it’s in the family.”

..what?..

“We thought at least some of our kids would be mages but when Sarah and Al never showed any signs of it I gave up hope.. I should have known your rat-bastard of a father wouldn’t take Ari with him unless she was a mage too..”

..What!?..

“I don’t want to upset you Sarah but a big part of the reason we’re going to the farm this weekend is that your Grandmother and the rest want to see Ari. She’s the third girl of your generation to be born with magic and your Grandmother was VERY surprised that she’d shown her magic so late, even more so when she found out that Gladstones had taken her on as a ‘Student’ already..”

There was a moments silence between us all.
Even my brain was silent as I tried to process everything.

This can’t be happening.
I’m dreaming, that’s it!
Before my brain could catch up with itself and tell me it was a bad idea my hand flew up to slap my cheek hard.

..oww..

Sarah and mum both looked at me with surprise on their faces.
I tried to nervously laugh it off as me just messing around but they both just stared at me in confusion.

“How did you know I could do magic mum?”
It was a desperate attempt to change the topic away from my weirdness but I think at least Sarah saw it for what it was; a distraction.

“You’ve not exactly been subtle Ari.. I checked on you when you took so long in the shower remember? The moment I got near the door my body went numb and a slight haze started forming up around me.. I had no idea what you were doing in there obviously but I trust you and you sounded fine when I called out.”

Oh.. well..
..crap..

I guess I should have checked the range on my shower runes?
With the amount of magic I’m putting into things lately even a simple rune activation must be enough to extend the range of them beyond the confines of the bathtub?
I didn’t even factor that into my calculations.. stupid, rookie mistake!

“Then you did that hair spell on yourself.”

I choked a little.
Damn it, she caught that too?

“You can’t honestly think that belatedly picking up an old brush from the sink would have covered the masterpiece of hair styling you achieved, can you?”
My shoulders sunk a little.

I had actually.
With her being so out of it from the memory modification I just wrote it off as lucky and moved on without a thought.

“..Then there are all the times you’ve started randomly glowing or exploding in golden light lately..”

REALLY?!
What the hell DIDN’T she notice!

“You should probably get that looked at by the way, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but you explode with golden light pretty regularly in your sleep.. the first night it started happening I spent most of the night worriedly watching over you but you seemed okay afterwards..”

I explode in my sleep??
.. well.. crap..

Double crap!
That must be how the handy man and his people managed to track me down and be set up ready to come crashing in so quickly!

If I’ve been casually venting magic in my sleep, the whole area must be nearly saturated with my magic at this point!

Even under the ward stone it wouldn’t be hard for someone to track me to this general area if they have some kind of sample of my magic to follow.
Even a basic non-awakened mage knows how to get a magic sample.
It’s like when police swab saliva off of a coffee cup in the movies.
Pretty much anything I come into contact with has a trace of my magic left on it.

“There’s THAT too.”
My head jolted up out of my thoughts to look at mum again.
She seemed slightly amused.

“It’s not normal to space out like that.”

I cringed a little this time.
I don’t like being abnormal.. it’s too close to ‘weird’ for my liking.

“I only know one other person who does that and it’s your Aunt Kennedy, she’s a seer..”
Her face fell a little.
“The poor woman can’t go five minutes without drifting off. Her husband is now listed as her ‘Carer’ after the state took away her driving licence and registered her as mentally disabled.. terrible situation that..”

..we have an Aunt?.. called ‘Kennedy’..
..poor woman indeed..

“How did you do all the enchantments on the doors and windows by the way?”

My shoulders sunk in defeat, slowly I shrugged a little.
She’s not going to stop is she?..

I thought I was being SO clever and she’s just been humouring me this WHOLE time!

“I went to sleep after the Martials left and the next morning every entrance to the house had those gibberish rune patterns lightly etched into them, I suppose that’s why you were so tired the next morning too?”

Sarah shot me an odd look.
I didn’t mention doing all the blood runes on the house to her when I explained everything before.
She’s probably going to be annoyed about that later.

“At least your Gran’s herbal mix helped.”

Despite myself my eyebrow popped up.
What ‘herbal mix’?

Mum seemed amused by the confused expression on my face for some reason.
“You honestly didn’t notice?.. I guess you were more out of it then I thought..”

My eyebrow stayed in its popped position.
Honestly what IS she going on about?

“The orange juice you ‘desperately’ wanted, I put the last of my mother’s herbal mix into it. It’s always amazing to see how quickly it can energize people; it even helps with healing too.”

She drugged me!

I remember it now.
When I woke up after casting the blood runes, feeling so drained and ill, she gave me some weird orange juice. I didn’t even think about it at the time but it tasted really good and I felt a lot better after drinking it!

DAMN IT!

Have I slipped THIS much?
Even my MUM can get things past me?!

..I’ve let my guard down FAR too much lately..

“What did you do to the house today?”
My stomach dropped, all thoughts of being annoyed drifting away when faced again with today’s events.

I was kidnapped! That’s what I did to the house today!

I don’t like this.. she’s got me on the ropes, just throwing fact after fact at me..
I don’t think she even realises what she’s doing or how unsettling it all is!

She seems amused more than anything.

“I pulled into the driveway earlier and the house lit up with a truly HUGE one of your golden flashes, right before my eyes this giant hole in the wall faded away into nothing.. Even the paint on the panelling looks brand new now, is that normal?”

I wanted to growl at her.
Yes, it’s normal!

Normal for me.. lately at least.

Did she miss ANYTHING at all?!?
Hell! At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if she was completely aware of the memory modification too..

Maybe.. maybe she knows that I’m Al underneath all these changes and she’s just been playing dumb to watch me squirm?
No.. deep breaths.
It’s okay.
She doesn’t know about that.

Despite everything that’s changed with her lately, the one thing I’m sure of is that if she thought I was still ‘Al’ she wouldn’t have let me in the front door to start with.
A lot of things may have changed with her but her rage and dislike for my male-self isn’t one of them.

“I believe that would be my fault.”
We all jumped in surprise at the sudden male voice.

“JOHN!”
I whipped around to glare at him.
Vaguely I picked up Sarah echoing my annoyed yell and mum following a moment later with a more confused sounding ‘Max?’

John’s face had a smirk on it.
Not his ‘Maxarimus’ sharp grin but a more openly amused smile.

I’m still not used to him doing stuff like that.
It feels weird to not see that annoying sharp grin honestly..

“I may have had a bit of an accident and broken the wall.”

He shot me a look that told me all I needed to know.
He’s been listening from the start.
He knows that I don’t want mum to know about the kidnapping attempt and he’s covering for me.

“Wha-”

Before Sarah could voice her confusion mum cut across her with a slightly louder point.
“You’re a mage?!”

Oh sure.. when JOHN turns out to be a mage it’s a surprise!
When I do it, I get told off for being too obvious!

..that’s so not fair..

John brushed his hand through his hair arrogantly and posed his body like some kind of male model.
It almost made me laugh.
The look was completely fake, so silly and over the top in a way I didn’t think I’d ever get to see him act again.

“Of course I’m a mage, I go to Gladstones with Hannah. We even have one of their staff pretending to not be eavesdropping from the kitchen at the moment.”

Mum frowned a little at him calling me ‘Hannah’ but didn’t argue the point.
She shot a curious look towards the kitchen instead.

While she wasn’t looking John’s smile got a little brighter and he winked at me.
The little devious twinkle in his eye made me have to quickly cover a snort of amusement.
He completely derailed the whole conversation just by mentioning Trudy and he knew it would happen too.

Way to go John! Keep this up and I may even have to forgive you for breaking our front wall.

..who am I kidding?..
He did it to help Sarah!

I can’t exactly be angry at him when he did it for such a valid reason can I?

Mum unconsciously started making her way towards the kitchen.
She stalled a little before leaving the hall to give us all a slightly suspicious look.
It’s weird how anything ‘Gladstones’ in general seems to have such a powerful effect on her.

I watched her eyes scanning between the three of us cautiously, I honestly have no idea what’s going through her head at the moment.
Finally she settled on John and frowned a little.

“Do Lily and Jim know?”
John shrugged and seemed slightly amused.

“They know I do university courses in town, not where or what for though.”
Mum nodded to herself, glancing back over at the kitchen doorway again.

“Does anyone want a coffee? I could do with one.”
We could all tell that she really just wanted to go in and meet Trudy but we didn’t say it out loud.

If she’s focused on Trudy, she’s not focused on us!

At this point, as mean as it is to pass her off onto Trudy, I think we all could do with a break from mum’s attention.

I’m still trying to process everything she’s just admitted to knowing about.
..My mum knows about magic..

For some reason I don’t feel as shocked as I probably should?
It’s like when she started talking about a ‘Gran’ we’d never heard of.

I don’t know why but for some reason it feels like she’s told me about it before or something..
It’s so vague though, I must have REALLY not been paying attention when she did say about it, if she even did?

This all changes a lot of things though.. doesn’t it?.. maybe..
I dunno honestly.

My mum knows about magic.. it feels like that should be a big thing, right?

======

“So then she just.. BOOM!”
Trudy threw her hands forward from her chest with a laugh.

We all sat on the other side of the Martials kitchen watching in equal degrees of shock.

Mum.. and Trudy..
They’re getting along surprisingly well..

They started off talking about ‘Gladstones’ but at this point it feels like they’ve just devolved into sharing stories about embarrassing things I’VE done.
Trudy’s trying to explain to mum just how ‘awe inspiring’ my ice magic was when I turned her training room into an ice cave.

I shot a pained look at John.

He seems entirely too smug.
I’d like to think it’s from hearing stories about the stupid stuff mum thinks I did as a kid or Trudy knows I did at the Hub, but sadly I know EXACTLY what has him so amused.

Trudy brought up the school uniform..

From the moment she explained to mum just how ‘darling’ and ‘sweet’ I looked in it, along with several other unnecessarily cute descriptive words, I’ve felt his eyes shooting over at me and his magic is practically bubbling with restrained laughter.

I KNEW that uniform was going to come back to haunt me!
I managed to keep him from seeing it, but I just KNEW he’d find out about it at some point.

Reluctantly my eyes caught his for a second.
He made a little ‘snerk’ noise which was obviously a suppressed laugh.
I tried to glare him into silence.. it didn’t work too well.

If anything, my glare just made him smirk a bit wider.

We all jumped a little when something on the side table started making a lot of noise.
Some kind of angry scream-y ‘heavy metal’ music was coming out of it.
John made his way over there quickly and stopped the noise.

Turns out it was his phone.
He must have set an alarm on it.

What a horrible sound to put as an alarm!

John seemed suddenly nervous.
He shifted his eyes around the room and sighed loudly.

“I hate to break things up but you all need to go back over to your house now.”
I wasn’t the only one to give him a raised eyebrow and curious look; although I was the one he directed his response to when he continued.
“Lily and Jim are coming home soon. I have NO idea how I could explain having even one of you here without them getting the wrong idea, let alone all of you..”

He seemed relieved when everyone looked at each other and nodded back at him in understanding.

“Right, come on girl’s time to go home. Do you want to come over for dinner Trudy?”
Trudy seemed to consider it for a moment but in the end she nodded and smiled.

Everyone started working their way down the hall to the Martials front door.

Mum seems really happy talking to Trudy.
I honestly wouldn’t have pegged them to be friends so quickly.
It seems like having me in common to talk about helped them break the ice surprisingly well.

Sarah shot me a curious look as I hung back slightly, but after shooting John a warning look she nodded and followed the others out into the street.

“Thanks for your help today John.”
His smirk slipped into a more casual smile.
That still feels weird to see on his face again after so long..

“Don’t worry about it. What kind of heartless bastard would I have to be to not rescue a helpless little school girl in need?”
I felt my cheeks puff up indignantly while they also decided to burn with an embarrassed blush.
It felt like the blush spread all the way up to my ears in seconds.

“You’re not going to let that go are you?”

He held it in for a moment longer but I already knew he wouldn’t last.
After a few odd little noises he let off a choked laugh that rolled into a full on laughing fit.

Every time he glanced at me it set him off again.
I’d let him have his moment, just to get it out of his system quickly, but I have NO idea how long he could be laughing over this honestly..

..Stupid school uniform..

“It’s not like I CHOSE to wear it or anything..”
He tried to give me a sympathetic look but it was ruined when he made another ‘snerk’ noise.

A moment later he started laughing again.

My lips twitched reluctantly in return.
I can see why he’s laughing.

If it had happened to someone that wasn’t ME I may have even found it funny too, but it DID happen to me and I hated every SECOND of it!

He settled into breathing slightly heavily and smiled warmly at me.

“I’ve not laughed like that in ages.”
My lips twitched again.
It’s nice to know he can still laugh.
I don’t think I heard him laugh a real, happy laugh even ONCE when he was being ‘Max’.

“I’ve got to go, thanks again for today John. I don’t.. I’m not quite ready to really trust you again yet but today helped a lot, if you keep being a good boy I might even talk to you by choice sometimes..”
His smile dipped for a moment but as he stared into my eyes it lit up again.

He knows me too well.

I CAN’T trust him at the moment.
He did too many things to me while acting as ‘Max’ and despite the separation I’m making in my head between them he still IS Max deep down.
He’s just doesn’t think I’m ‘Arista’ anymore, he’s not chasing me.

He knows that I WANT to trust him though..

He was my best friend since pre-school!
I hate to admit it but I’ve missed him.

I don’t exactly have many friends, even less of them who know me so well or have any form of meaningful history with me.

Yes, I know a lot of our history is now tainted by everything he’s done.. but that’s LOGIC speaking.
My head is telling me to stay so clear of him it’s not even funny.. but my heart?..

He was my friend.
For a long time he was my ONLY friend.

I.. I kind of want to have that back in some way.
Sometimes you just need a friend, ya know?

I broke the stare-off we’d been unconsciously holding for far too long and laughed nervously under my breath.

Without another word I turned to walk out the door.
After stepping onto the Martials front step I glanced back over my shoulder at him.
He was watching me with this strangely warm, amused look in his eyes.

“Did I mention that, while I was wearing the school uniform, I had pigtails too?”

I turned and quickly made my way across the street to our house but I could hear the almost painfully loud howl of laughter that comment got.
My eyes rolled automatically.
I’m not sure where the thought came from but I couldn’t help agreeing with its huffy tone.

Honestly.. Boys!

======

“Make them stop..”

I shot Sarah a confused look and turned back to the TV.
She sighed loudly and flopped down on sofa flicking her long legs up into my lap as if I was little more than a pillow.

“Dinner was two hours ago, they’re still talking! At this rate we’re going to run out of coffee in the house..”
I tried to focus on the TV but Sarah was in full ‘whining’ mode and I’ve learnt from experience that when she wants attention like that she’ll get it eventually.

“Hannah..”
Her foot shifted and she dug it into my rib a little.
It didn’t hurt but it WAS annoying.
“Hannahhh..”

After holding it in for far longer than I thought I could I ended up snapping anyway.

“WHAT?”
She seemed a bit surprised by the agitation in my voice for a moment but recovered quickly in true Sarah style.

“Mum’s still talking with Trudy.. fix it.”

I grumbled under my breath for a second and shot her an unhappy look.
What the hell does she expect me to do about it?
It’s not like I’m particularly happy about it either.

Mum knows about magic and she never told us!

Now she’s spending all this time talking to the one person that both works for the Hub and should realistically have access to my file, to Arista’s file too.
Considering how Mum’s developed some weird ideas about the name ‘Arista’ and it’s connections to this extended family that’s been ‘missing in action’ for all of our lives but SUDDENLY seem interested in meeting us again.. because of me..

I don’t like it.
I don’t like how everything seems so.. connected.
Real life doesn’t work like that!

Stuff just doesn’t start a chain reaction of conversations where everything you think you know about the people around you starts changing overnight!

I.. I don’t like that I don’t understand what’s going on so much lately..
It feels like everyone knows things relevant to my life before I do!

“Han?”
Sarah finally dropped her annoying whine, replacing it with more of a confused huff.

“I’ll sort it out.”
She gave a yelp when I pushed her legs off my lap and seemed more than a little stunned as I made my way out to the kitchen.

I need some answers.
Trudy won’t be very useful there but considering Mum’s noticed practically every attempt I’ve made at being ‘subtle’ about magic over the last few days I doubt subtlety is the right way to go about things.

What’s the point if she will just see through it all?

“Mum?”
She trailed off her light laughter from whatever funny thing Trudy must have just said and fixed me with a slightly worried look.
I think it’s probably from the severe look I’m sporting at the moment.

This new face seems really good at looking severe.

I guess Arista has the whole ‘resting bitch-face’ thing you hear about online.
I tend to be a lot more of a happy person in general so it’s not really been a problem so far, but I can see it getting annoying as time goes on.
I’d hate to give someone the wrong impression just because I forgot to put a mild smile on my lips to counter the ‘bitch-face’..

“What’s up Ari?”

At least mum seems willing to talk.
I wonder if she’ll still be so willing once I start asking uncomfortable questions?

“I need to know what’s going on with you.”
Mum’s eyes went a little wider and she seemed a bit confused.
Cautiously she shot Trudy a questioning look but Trudy seemed to be too busy watching me instead.
“A few days ago you were ranting at me about ‘being a lady’ while seemingly convinced I should become the girliest-girl possible, now I’m eating second helpings while talking with my mouthful and all you did was smile about it.”

She opened her mouth to answer but I wasn’t done.
Now I’ve started I have to just get it all out!

“You never bring up your side of the family, aside from Uncle Joe, yet now your happily talking away about a Grandmother we’ve never heard of and Seer Aunt’s with messed up legal status’s.”
She didn’t try to interrupt me this time, her face settled into a pained wince instead.
“You know about magic, from the sound of it you’ve known about it for a long time, but you never said anything!.. Sarah WORKS for the Hub, how can you know so much about magic but not recognise the signs of THAT?”

Mum’s mouth actually dropped open at that one.

She shot Trudy a questioning look and Trudy nodded back at her.
It annoyed me slightly that she needed confirmation from Trudy before she would believe me about Sarah’s job but I tried to ignore it to focus on the conversations instead.

I can’t handle all these unanswered questions!

Not knowing things, not following up on things when my instincts tell me that there’s more going on than I can see, that’s SLOPPY!
..I can’t afford to be sloppy anymore, not after today..

Al, the demon hunting bad-ass awakened mage, who thought he worked for the Hub, wouldn’t leave potentially important questions open like that!
I know that I’m not technically ‘Al’ anymore.
Hell, I’m barely Hannah anymore!.. but I’m still ME.. and I know when people are trying to hide things from me.

..Speaking of which..

I swivelled my eyes to pin Trudy expectantly.
“Also, who the hell are ‘they’? and why did they have you and John so freaked out earlier?”

Mum seemed a bit stalled in thought at the moment.
Her face showed signs of guilt and some other emotions I couldn’t quite make out but overall she didn’t react to my questions.

Trudy didn’t seem as conflicted as Mum, but she didn’t seem completely comfortable either.

“I..”
Trudy stalled for a moment but seemed to build herself up to whatever she had to say relatively quickly.
“The people John and I were talking about are.. h’oh boy, this is awkward..”
She shot me a thoughtful look and glanced at mum as well, finally she huffed self-consciously.

“Your.. past-incarnation..”
She sent a meaningful look at me and nodded slightly at Mum.

After a moment I worked out what she meant, she’s worked out Mum’s a bit weird about ‘Arista’.
I appreciate the effort she gave to keep that bit of information quiet at least but Mum seems a bit too deep in thought at the moment to actually notice, even if she DID talk about it openly.

“A lot of mages have some.. controversial.. ideas about her, the awakened mages especially.”
She winced a little.
I get the impression ‘controversial’ may be an understatement for some reason.
“Okay.. there’s a worryingly large group of awakened mages who are convinced that your past-incarnation is their ‘original’ mother..”

..What?!..

“There’s some loose historical evidence to back up the idea in most cases but in general it just seems to be a weird idea they all have and cling to.”
Trudy shot Mum another considering look and shifted closer to me as if she wanted to share a secret of some kind.
“They even call her ‘Mother Arista’.. I’ve never had direct contact with any of them personally but stories get around.. some of them have been worryingly possessive of your past-incarnations, to the point of starting open wars with other mages and even whole groups of normal people who they deemed to have ‘offended’ you in some way.”

This.. why don’t I remember any of this?..

I should, right?
If Arista or her incarnations really were ‘Mother’ to so many mages or even had war’s fought over them.. I SHOULD remember..

I need to talk to Ellie the next time I get the chance to meditate.

If anyone is likely to have any idea why I can’t remember some past memories that SHOULD be there it would be the personification of myself that I split off to keep an eye on most of those sort of memories for me after all?

“There’s also the rivals, and suitors.. and possibly a Cult calling themselves ‘the Children of Arista’ to deal with, they always tend to crop up when ‘the family’ comes to find you.”

Trudy seemed really nervous now.
It’s kind of funny seeing a woman with her, larger than life Amazonian warrior looks, acting so flustered.

“The ‘children’.. of Arista..?”
I almost didn’t want to ask but I need to get everything possible out in the open while I can.
The last thing I need is to get caught up in things that I don’t even know are a potential danger to begin with!

Trudy winced and shot me an almost apologetic look.

“They’re a group of un-awakened mages that say they are following some secret, ancient writings they call ‘The teachings of Arista’.. it’s all very.. cult-y?”

Cult-y.. she actually used that as a word..
How very helpful and informative, why was I ever worried to begin with?!

A cult that does cult-y things.. seems logical to me!

“They tend to turn up whenever everyone else does and throw themselves into the middle of whatever is going on, apparently to protect the current incarnation of Arista.. although that’s not really been confirmed as fact yet because things tend to get messy when they get involved.”

Oh.. lovely..

A cult dedicated to me which, may or may not, try to protect me but in the process will make things ‘messy’ either way.
Just what I need on top of everything else!

Trudy trailed off and watched me uncertainly.
I guess that’s it for her secrets.

As an afterthought I shot a look over at Mum.
She seemed content to stare off into space with a strangely blank look on her f-

CRAP!

“Mum.. Mum can you hear me?”
I moved quickly to her side and gripped her arms to give her a little shake.
Her head turned slowly to look at me but her eyes were still pretty blank.

What the HELL set her off?!

I was so busy talking to Trudy I didn’t even think about it!
It feels like so long since the last time she triggered because of the dodgy memory modification Storyteller did to her, I’d almost forgotten that it might be a problem!

“Mum..”

Her eyes slowly started to clear and after a moment of indecision her face settled on a warm smile, just for me.
“..my little mage..”
She pulled me into a tight hug for seemingly no reason and sighed loudly.
“What were we talking about Ari?”

I shot a worried look over at Trudy.
Her eyes were wide in shock.

Thinking about it, I’m not sure if the whole ‘Storyteller memory modification on mum’ thing came up when I was explaining things to her earlier.
It seemed more important at the time to explain what happened today with the kidnapping, rather than going into everything else that’s been going on lately.

I have no idea where to even START with all of that stuff!
How much does she even need to know?

She’s meant to be the magical equivalent of my social worker, in all but title.
The fact that she’s nice and helpful doesn’t change the fact that her job is to judge if I’m a threat to people so the Hub can keep a better eye on me!

“I was just telling Ha- Ari.. that I need to make a move home, it’s getting late.”
Trudy shot me a look to stall any argument to the contrary I could come up with and talked directly to me this time.
“I’ll see you at Gladstones tomorrow Ari, we can talk more then, okay?”
Her deep hazel eyes practically begged me to agree with her.

She’s worried.
I can feel that from her magic as well as see it on her face but she’s trying to keep it quiet for Mum’s sake.

“Sure, I need to drop in anyway.”
My smile felt a bit strained, not that Mum seemed to notice.

Without another word to me Trudy turned back to Mum and they started walking out of the kitchen towards front door.
I let out a harsh breath when they left.

How could I be so stupid as to forget about Mum’s memory problems?!
That could have been a disaster!

My shoulders slumped and I made my way back into the TV room.
Naturally, Sarah had not only changed the channel but taken my favourite seat too.

I slid onto the sofa next to her and huddled up tightly into her side.
Her hand slipped down onto my shoulders to give me a squeeze.

“Thanks for getting them to stop, how’d you manage it?”
She sounded amused more than anything else.

She can’t have heard any of what went on, to be so calm right now.

For a moment I almost told her about it all but held back at the last second.
My old voice echoed slightly in my head as a vague memory butted its way forward slightly.
The scene felt vague and blurred but the words were clear enough.

‘You don’t win wars by sharing secrets.’

It seems ironic that I said that to some nameless Argentinian bureaucrat only a few months ago.
At the time I’d suspected his department had a traitor in their midst.
It turned out I was right in the end.

..It was him..

I never found out his name.. and I’m kind of glad about that now.
It’s always harder to deal with having casually killed someone when you know their name.
It makes it more personal for some reason..

Sometimes I just want to let it go, forget all the blood that’s on my hands and settle back into the nice comforting mind set I’ve been in since my second awakening.. but now’s not the time for comfort.
I can’t afford to be complacent for the sake of my battered sense of morals right now!

The situation’s different but the sentiment’s the same.

For Sarah’s sake I can’t give her all the details.
If I do she’ll be worried, and even worse someone might think to take her away to get the information and use it against me.

My head ducked down and I settled in, tightly tucked under her arm.
She squeezed me a little more and giggled to herself.

“You’re really cuddly these day’s Han.. I like it, feels nice..”

I managed an agreeing grunt but didn’t answer her properly.
My head pushed a bit harder into her side for a moment before I pulled back again.

I like it too.
I’ve never been a touchy-feely type of person but lately it DOES feel good.

I can’t tell Sarah everything.. not now, not while the threats seem so close and I don’t know what to do about them..
That doesn’t lessen how nice it is to be close with her again though.

My free hand moved down to her belly and I slowly tapped out a twin-speak code on it.
Four taps, a pause, and two more taps with a swing of the finger to make a curve.

Sarah tensed at my touch for a moment but I could feel her pleased little laugh rumble in her chest when she realised what I was doing.

“Love you too Han.”

That’s good to hear.. I needed that.
I need the hug too.

I’m not sure of a lot of things at the moment; things I’ve thought were stated fact for SO long.
It’s nice to know that one thing hasn’t changed at least.
..One of the most important things in life..

My eyes started to slowly close and I let my body relax properly, shifting my full weight onto Sarah.
She’ll keep me safe if I sleep.
She’ll protect me until I can protect her again too.

My hand started moving again.
Four taps, a pause, and two more taps with a swing of the finger to make a curve.

..Love you Sarah..

======

“GAH!”

I rolled away from the sudden light and threw myself across the bed, back into the nice shade.
Only the tangle of sheets around my legs kept me from falling completely out of bed and hitting the floor painfully.

“Wakey, wakey time Han. I have to go into work and if you want a lift to the Hub you need to get up.”
I groaned, rolling back over to bury my face in a nice soft pillow.

“I’ll warp there later.”
I wasn’t sure if she understood me because my face refused to move away from the pillow but she made an understanding sound before moving out of the room at least.

After some amount of time, I’m not sure how much, I heard the door go and her surprisingly loud car rev a few times.
It sounds like Betty is about as unfairly perky this morning as her owner.

With one more groan, just for myself, I rolled over again and tried to get back to sleep.

======

A knock at the front door woke me up easily.
I’m still a light sleeper and honestly, judging by how bright it seems to be outside, I probably should be getting up for my meeting with Trudy at the Hub.

The knock came again so I took the hint and rolled out of bed with a necessary groan.

For a moment it threw me off to find that I was wearing my pyjamas.
Last thing I remember was drifting off, fully dressed, in the TV room with Sarah.

She must have carried me up to bed and changed my clothes too?
..kind of embarrassing..

I’m not particularly body consciousness or anything, better she has to look at my new body then I have to do it, but just.. being carried up to bed and dressed in your pyjama’s .. it feels very ‘childish’?

I get that I’m lighter with this new body; I notice that difference a lot.
I understand Sarah’s probable logic behind doing it too.
Knowing her she probably found it a bit amusing to do as well.. but it still seems like the sort of thing you do to a six year old, not a twenty-four year old!

Well.. sixteen year old I guess.. if you want to get technical.

Shaking away the annoying thoughts about my situation I paced out of my room and down the hall to the front door.
The person on the other side had just started their next set of knocks when I pulled the door open.
For a moment his hand shook in the air as he tried to hit a door that was no longer there.

It took him a second to realise his mistake at which point he gave me an awkward, slightly apologetic look.

“Morning, I was just going into town and happened to notice you hadn’t left for the Hub yet.”
My sceptical eyebrow decided to have an early morning workout.
John didn’t seem to appreciate it for some reason.
“Honestly, no trick.. just thought you might appreciate a lift into town..”

It still feels weird to hear him say stuff like that.
Especially when I can FEEL his magic stating plainly that he’s not lying.

“I’m not dressed or anything..”
He gave me a glance over and his lips twitched a little.

Yes, I’m wearing men’s pyjamas.
Are you going to make a big deal about it John?

If you do I swear the first words out of my mouth will be that it’s your damned fault they don’t fit me anymore!

With obvious effort he bit back the urge to say something about my pyjamas.
It’s bad I feel a bit more annoyed that he didn’t actually make a snarky comment, isn’t it?

Bit of a shame really, I would have enjoyed the chance to have a go at him again..

“I was planning to just warp there instead.”
He shot me an amused look, the kind that says he knows something I don’t.

“The waypoint is down for maintenance today, you’d have to line of sight it across a metropolitan area or do something crazy like shadow warp there.”

I KNEW he was going to say something like that!

“Why would they have to do maintenance to the waypoint? What’s to maintain, it’s a sub-dimensional beacon not some kind of machine..”

He seemed to hesitate a moment before opening his mouth again.
“Trudy pulled some strings, it’s part of the project she’s got going to stop them from finding you.. for the next week or so, while the decoy convoys travel to New Avalon, Klamath Falls is going dark.”

He seemed to consider his words for a moment and flexed his hand slightly awkwardly.
“Some people grumbled about it but the higher-ups at the Hub know all too well what happens when they turn up all at once, so it’s more them covering their own asses then saving yours sadly.”
His shoulders shrugged a little and he shot me a happy smile that annoyed me a bit more than his usual smirks would have right now.

“..Charming..”
He could at least have pretended that they were trying to help me instead of being so blunt about it.

I’m not deluded enough to think I’m THAT important or anything but it would have been nice to know my safety wasn’t an afterthought to them at least.
“I’ll just have to take my chances warping; I’m nowhere near ready to leave yet.”

“I’m in no rush to leave, take your time.”
He leaned back against the little ridge of wall outside, carefully avoiding the doorframe for fear of my blood wards, and gave me another pleasant smile.

DAMN IT JOHN!
Take the hint; I don’t want to get a lift with you!

My emotions must be pretty obvious on my face.
I’d say they would be obvious looking at my magic too but as far as I know reading other people’s magic has never been a strong skill for Max, so I doubt John can do it.

Either way he seemed to find my annoyance funny.

At least he’s not showing the cruel, borderline psychotic, kind of humor Max used to ooze.
If anything I think he’s just enjoying himself by teasing me.

Childish, yes.
Evil, no.

..I suppose.. it’s probably a good idea for me to get a lift honestly..

What if handy man is still hanging around with some friends, just waiting to catch me alone?
What if ‘they’ somehow get here before Trudy and John think they can?
What if these strange Cult people find me?

..Too many ‘what if’s’ for comfort..

The only other option is warping.
If anything, without the waypoint working, that’s more dangerous than anything else I can imagine trying.

I’m good at magic.
My reserves are pretty much bottomless and I can throw a hell of a lot of power into anything I try doing at the moment.. but my body.. that’s another story.

There are limits in magic, a lot of people call them ‘The Golden Rules’ or some version of that name.

One of the biggest known limits in magic is the human body.
The reason the fae are considered so powerful, even the weaker ones like the imps, is that their physiology is just BUILT for magic.

Us humans on the other hand.. we have to work with what we’ve got..

The relevant golden rule to my current situation is ‘conservation of mass’.
When you warp, you break your body down in one way or another and move it in a slipstream of magic to your destination.

No matter what type of warp you use, conservation of mass comes into it in some way.

In the forms of warping that I know, shadow warping aside, you’re limited by how many warps you can do at any one time.
Your body needs time to recover after a warp.
The more consecutive warps you do, the higher the risk that you will start losing mass in transit as your magic floods your body’s cells too much to continue sending them along.

The highest number of consecutive warps that I know of, where the person doing them actually survived it all, is three.
Any more than that and people tend to reform at their destination missing vital organs.. or limbs.. or in one rather nasty case their head.

Needless to say, if the waypoint is down I’m not warping to the Hub!

My only REAL, logical, safe option is to take the lift from John.. but still..
He seems to be casually ignoring me at the moment but I can TELL it’s an act.

He can’t hide much from me!

“I suppose I don’t have a choice..”
His face twitched into a grimace for a moment.
I don’t think he likes the idea that I’m going with him against my will.

It’s not like I mind THAT much.. I guess..

I DID kinda say I’d give him a chance yesterday didn’t I?
The minute he does anything wrong I’m warping out of there though!

It’s always nice to have an escape plan in situations like this, even if it’s not a particularly good one.

“Come in. I’ll go get ready and you can watch some TV or something.”
John glanced over to me with surprise obvious on his face.

Why would he give me that kind of look?
Maybe..
..Did I..

Oh!
I completely forgot about the blood wards!

With a casual twitch of my hand I used my reinforced nails to slit a tiny cut on my arm, just enough to get a bead of blood on my fingertip.
A bonus from having so much magic flowing around my body at the moment is that I can waste a bit of it on simple but wasteful things, like reinforcing my skin, nails and hair.

The nails are an old trick I used when I first started out with blood magic to get quick access to blood but the rest of it is just something I’m trying out on the side to see if it could work.

So far I’m not really noticing any noticeable drain from maintaining the reinforcement but the gains aren’t exactly huge either.
I’m a bit worried about pumping more power into it all without researching what could happen as a side-effect honestly..

======

“Hannah?”

I gave a full body jolt of surprise at his voice.
He was staring at me curiously.

Damn it!
I need to get a handle on this drifting thing.
I CAN’T be this easily distracted; it’s bloody dangerous for a start!

“Sorry John, two seconds.”

The blood on my fingertip seems fine, still wet at least.
Tracking the runes around the doorway from memory I located the discreet control rune tucked down in the bottom right corner.
Each rune set has one in a different place for each door and window, but they all do the same thing.
There’s no point in doing a rune system that’s THIS powerful without having some failsafe way to turn it off when needed after all..

I swiped some blood across the rune cluster and pushed just a touch of magic along the line to my fingertip.
Anything but my blood and it wouldn’t work, anything but my magic and it would fail in a lot more.. explosive way.

“Okay, come on through. You have temporary access until the blood dries.”
He shot me a cautious look.

It’s almost like he doesn’t trust me!
I feel like I should be in some way offended.. although, I guess I DID kind of trick him with this door last time by casually inviting him in..

When he didn’t move for a full five seconds I huffed and took a hold of his sleeve.
With a yank I managed to make him stumble across the threshold, past the door.

For a moment he froze as if he expected to hear the gong go off again and send him flying into the street but eventually he relaxed.

Slowly a look of awe slipped onto his face.
His mouth flapped a little but he couldn’t seem to form words for some reason.

“How the hell did you do that? I’ve never heard of a rune cluster with a manual override built into it?”

I couldn’t help the proud little smile that played across my lips.
It’s nice to know someone can appreciate my genius for once!

“It was pretty simple, making it only react to my blood and magic, without leaving behind a sample of both of them for the runes to compare to, THAT’s the hard part.”
He looked at me with, honest to powers, wonder in his eyes.

“..Your brilliant..”

Despite myself my cheeks flushed.
Before he could say anything else I shot off for my room and slammed the door shut tightly behind me.

“..Down girl, it’s JOHN.. so what if he complemented you?”
My arms came up to hug my elbows unconsciously.
I could feel a smile playing on my lips.

Quick as lightning my hand came up to slap my face hard.

“No. Enough of that.. stupid girl body..”
After a huff to center myself I turned to glance at the bathroom with a grimace.
“..damn it.. one of these days shower-monster..”

Carefully I gathered the tiniest amount of magic I could and pushed it out like I used to do to make a small flame.
The rest of my magic bubbled hard, attempting to surge out like it has lately to make a bright golden ‘fix-everything’ dome, but I clamped down on it with all the control I could.

The magic I let out finally dissipated with a faint golden glow leaving me feeling a little warm and happy, while also healing the cut on my arm and refreshing me as if I’d just had a full shower.
With a sniff of my armpit, just to make sure, I let out a happy sigh and embraced the warm feelings rolling through me.

“Yesss.. I love it when something works right for once!”
I hadn’t been sure I could keep back the magic long enough to pull off just a minor refresher like that.

It makes sense that I could control it to some degree.
When I had my diversion on my fire magic I could consciously control what I turned orange if I tried, it just took some time and effort to learn how to do it.

“I’ll regain control yet!”

Feeling rather proud of myself I quickly slipped out of my pyjama’s and into some fresh undies.
With only a moments indecision I settled on the light orange, knee-length, white flower patterned halter-neck summer dress Mum got me the other day.
Today feels kind of warm and I’m in a ‘dress-y’ mood for some reason.
It has nothing to do with the warm giggly feeling rolling through me in the slightest.. honest!

After a glance in the mirror to fluff my hair and add just a touch of mascara to my eyes I made my way out to find John.

I feel good!
Good enough that the idea of driving into town with him doesn’t seem TOO bad a prospect at least.

“Ready to go John?”

======

For the fourth time in the last minute John shot a cautious glance at me before swinging his eyes back to the road.

I don’t know why he’s bothering to even pretend that he’s watching the road, it’s not exactly busy at this time of day.
It’s about ten o’clock now so almost everyone’s either already in town, at work or in school.

“What?”
His hands tightened on the steering wheel but he didn’t look back at me again.
“Seriously John, what is it? Your constant glances are putting me on edge.”

He stayed focused on the road and let out a long sigh.

“It’s weird, we used to be able to drive around for hours talking about everything and nothing, now we’re in the car again but it’s different.. awkward..”
I shot him an incredulous look.
He glanced over at me and winced when he saw my face.

“What did you think was going to happen John?”
I turned away from him for a moment.
I’m not sure what thoughts may be showing on his face right now but I’m also not sure if I want to see them.
“Things have changed, you’ve changed, I’ve changed.. you turned me into a bloody girl if you hadn’t noticed?”

“Sorry about that..”

My head swung back around to glare at him.
Is he serious?.. he’s serious!

“Screw you John, you don’t know what the hell I’m going through because of this, sorry isn’t good enough.”
My tone was calm, almost conversational, but my magic was bubbling angrily under my skin.

“It can’t be that bad?.. you seem pretty comfortable with it at least..”

REALLY?!
You’re going there John?
You’re seriously going to try and play the whole thing off as being ‘no big deal’?

“I can’t look at myself in the shower!”
He flinched hard enough to swerve the car a little.
“My NIGHTMARES for SO many years have involved waking up one day and finding that Arista has taken over me!”
He flinched again, he wouldn’t look at me for some reason and it pissed me off even more!

“You.. YOU RUINED MY LIFE!”
Without conscious thought my hand came up in a fist and I started hitting his shoulder.
He pulled the car over quickly, wincing every time I hit him, but didn’t react otherwise.

I didn’t care though
HE RUINED MY LIFE DAMN IT!

Why did I even try to give him a chance?!?
He ruined my life and he doesn’t even get how bad it all is!

“You’re an asshole!”
My fist kept hitting him with a satisfying smack each time but his lack of reaction was so annoying!

Fight back!

Fight back you bastard!
YOU did this to me!
You were my best friend and you ruined everything!

“DAMN IT JOHN! FIGHT BACK!”

Before I could even realise what was going on he had my arms pinned to my chest, his body weight was pushing me back into the car seat hard.
I was too stunned to move but I don’t think it would have made much of a difference even if I did try to.

“DO YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT?!”
His face was red with anger and his whole body felt tense pushing down on mine across the center console.

“Do you think I don’t know that I RUINED my best friends LIFE?!”
His eyes seemed a little bright, if I didn’t know any better I’d swear he was holding back tears.
“..do you think that I can EVER forgive myself for it?!”

His shoulders suddenly went slack.
I almost fell forward when the pressure on me disappeared.

“You’re not the only one who has problems with their awakening Al..”
He pushed himself away from me and sunk down in his seat, his face tight with suppressed emotion.

He can try to hide it from his face but he can’t block his magic from me.

His emotions are all over the place.
He was relatively calm before but I must have struck a nerve because now he’s so mixed up and conflicted it’s hard to work out just what I’m sensing.

Anger is there, self-loathing and the dark feeling of depression.

I think even he didn’t realise all this was sitting there, he’s been suppressing it.
..I know how that goes..
Hell, the reason I just snapped is probably because I’ve not been dealing with my emotions over my unwanted gender change!
It’s so much easier to just suppress it, to shift it over to a section of my mind and just wall it off so I can get on with my new life..

Damn it John..
We’re both SO messed up in the head!

I hate this, I hate that everything’s so complicated and we can’t just be ourselves!

I know that John didn’t mean to hurt me.
I understand what he told me yesterday about how he thought I was, for all intents and purposes, dead.
I KNOW he wasn’t lying about it all.. but he still did it to me!

I don’t know what changed for him though.
You don’t just have a ‘realisation’ about something like he said and perform a mental one-eighty about everything you’ve done for the last few years out of nowhere..

He sighed loudly, flexing his fingers out of the tight balls he’d squeezed them into.

With smooth movements he turned the wheel and pulled us back onto the road.
I watched him worriedly as he focused on the road with an expression that seemed a bit too calm to match his body language, not to mention his magic, which hadn’t calmed down in the slightest.

“John?”
He didn’t even twitch.
“John..”

He’s ignoring me!

His magic spiked a little with anger when I tried to get his attention, that’s not a good sign.
I opened my mouth to say something.. say anything?

I couldn’t think of anything to say though, we’re both just such a mess..
Slowly I sunk down in my seat a little and turned to stare out the side window instead.

..damn it John..

======

John pulled the car up outside the Hub entrance.
He didn’t bother to park, just pulled up and waited for me to get out.

I shot one more careful look in his direction but he just stayed looking straight ahead while his magic swirled uncertainly.

“..sorry John..”

He didn’t react physically but I could feel his magic shift a little in recognition.
That’s something at least.

The moment I got clear of the car he pulled off at speed.
I watched him go for a second, feeling a little lost, before turning back to face the Hub with a sigh.

We are SUCH a mess..

The moment I stepped through the entrance way, I came face to face with several ‘worried’ looks, people practically running away from me and a very frightened looking Felicia.

I don’t need this right now.. damn it John..

“Felix?”
With a flash of flame and a pop the imp appeared hovering in front of me, an eager look on his little sharp toothed face.
He started talking instantly but I focused on the strange echo-translation that started happening just before he left the last time I saw him.

‘Are-you okay Lady-death? You-seem upset?’

I had to resist the urge to hug him.
After a moment I gave in and did it anyway.

He let out a little high pitched yelp of surprise when I scooped him out of the air but didn’t seem upset by it.
It took him no time at all to settle himself comfortably while hugged tightly to my chest.

I brought a hand up and gently scratched his head.
He practically purred under my touch and seemed to go slightly limp as I carried on scratching.

I could feel my lips pulling into a smile despite everything that’s been going on.

I love imps.
They are SO adorable sometimes, especially Felix.

On top of that, not many PEOPLE would have helped me out in a dire situation as bad as the kidnapping yesterday.. but he did..

The fae tend to find humans amusing at best, the fact that he helped me is amazing and completely worth several head scratches per day for the rest of his life at least if that’s what he wants!

My hand paused slightly for a moment, mid-scratch.
Felix whined like a little red puppy, his head tryed to nudge my hand back into action.

After a moment I obliged but my eyes rolled up to scan the room.

I could feel the eyes intensely focused on me, it caught me off guard for a second when I saw so many people watching us.
Considering we’re in the middle of reception.. most of them consider me to be the next ‘Arista’.. and I’m cuddling an imp.. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that we’ve attracted attention?

Scanning the room of stunned people watching me one more time I blushed and paced out of the reception area into the nearest hallway I could find.
People parted out of my way as I walked, but the looks on their faces didn’t help me feel any better.

I hate being weird!

Felix seemed to have noticed what was going on because he started waving his hand towards corridors as if directing me where to go next.
After the second corridor I took we turned onto a completely empty hallway that was almost eerily quiet.

Usually you can hear at least some activity from the hallways nearby but this time there was nothing.
..Felix must have taken me to an isolated area, away from all the people..

I sunk to the floor and huddled against the wall with a deep sigh.
My arms tightened a bit around Felix’s warm little body.
He seemed to understand what I needed because his arms moved to give me the closest thing to a ‘hug’ he could offer.

We both sat there in the silent hallway and he let me hug him for a while to calm down.

“Thanks Felix.”
The words were little more than a mumble but he heard me clearly, judging by the bright smile on his face.

..I love imp’s sometimes..



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