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Gathering
by stasiskiss (stasiskiss)
at March 25th, 2006 (02:42 pm)

It takes some time for the world to pull itself together again.

Jaygo is gone, long gone. And everything hurts.

After days of not being able to let anything go something in that thought makes her smile. She's been hurting a lot lately, why should now be any different? At least this is a pain she can understand.

Standing up seems like way too much effort. Just as easy to prop herself up against a convenient wall, digging her boot heels into the ground. Once accomplished she finds herself just staring at her hands as they dangle limp at the end of her wrists. She's torn the knuckles raw but they're already healing.

She attacked Jaygo. He didn't even defend himself.

Why didn't he defend himself?

Out of the corners of her eyes people are walking away. Nobody comes to talk to her, nobody meets her eyes.

She's been so angry. At him. At everything. At herself.

Discovers then that she's laughing out loud, soft but real. Jaygo. It hurts but it's not so bad, not now. Things are clearer than they were. She feels like a fever has finally broken, leaving her weak. Unsure, unsteady, but breathing.

Alive.

She sits there for a long time, thinking about nothing and everything while the sun rises. Then the comm softly clicks to signal an incoming message. With unthinking haste she pulls the transceiver up, tucking it over her ear. Jade.

"Stasis," says the voice, quick and hurried, "I hope they haven't found a way to tap this but I will have to be brief." His voice over the comm lacks any force at all, tinny with distance. "She is here, but we are being tracked. I will keep her safe for you as long as I can, but I cannot take her out of the Isles by myself. Come quickly. There isn't much time."

No. She's too late though, unable to pick up the line before he disconnects. She grinds her teeth with frustration but what is she going to do, call him back? She ignores the tight feeling in the pit of her stomach. If he's running, the last thing she needs to do is distract him. She considers it anyways.

She is waking up. She can feel it in the air she breathes, in the careful, so careful stretching of her mind. Her focus... has been all over the place. She hasn't been focused at all. Too wrapped up in the things that hurt and not in the things that matter.

There is only one thing that matters. She clenches her fists rhythmically, thinking. His voice warned her, admonished her. Kris. She has to get Kris back, whatever it takes. The thought sinks, permeating her aching body. If Karl is the link, she will find Karl. That is all there is to it.

So much easier said than done. She has only the vaguest notion of the Rogue Islands and there is no time to start a course of study on them. Kris.. well, Kris is not here to help or even to suggest where to find a decent map. She laughs under her breath, folding herself awkwardly into a loose lotus. She locks her fingers behind her neck, ignoring the instant spikes of pain radiating through her shoulders.

If she doesn't know what to do, what does she do?

They tried already to find Kris, and got nowhere. Lycia's contact, whoever he was, is out of reach. The name trips off her mind without stutter for the first time in days. The videotape from the station didn't yield anything they didn't already know. Even Kris' things didn't tell them anything they could use. Blocked at all angles.

Stasis laughs under her breath, looking up at the sky. How do you find somebody that hasn't told you where they are?

The answer finally rises out of exhausted sleep, pain and memory.

You track them.

She has his cel phone number. No matter where he goes, he always seems to have it, calling her from the places he has moved to. That is his tether, the line she can use to reach him. So far it's the only weakness she knows.

Stasis shakes her head at that, uneasy. He is helping Kris, helping her. Why is she thinking like this? So they aren't friends; that doesn't matter for this. In her mind's eye his fox eyes smile at her.

So how does she find him? Why doesn't he just tell her where they are? It makes no sense.

The meaning is there but she can't seem to reach it. The urge to just punch his number and demand coordinates is nigh overwhelming. She stands finally, bones shifting in her ribcage but the pain is just another focus for thought. She chews on her lip and starts to walk.

Maybe... maybe the means are beyond her. But not beyond the means of all of them. Motion helps, the jigsaw puzzle starting to assemble itself out of the air. She even starts to see the faces that belong to the things she will need.

The sun is fully over the school wall and starting to pick up strength when she finally finishes laying it out in her mind. It's a desperate plan and it depends on so much. So many pieces, all shaky, herself most of all. Can she do this? Does she even have the right to ask the others?

Yet.. isn't that taught here, along with law, along with trigonometry? That friends help friends.

She has to save Kris. It doesn't matter what anybody else is doing, she is the one that has the most need because Kris needs her to come. That is all there is to it.

She still has the comm reciever on her ear, delicately balanced. Slim fingers touch the earpiece, pushing it tight against the bone. The pressure triggers the rough adhesive patches to activate and she shakes her head experimentally until she's sure it's not going to come off. The odd feeling of weight fades after a moment. Before she can talk herself out of it she twitches the vibrational mike from her collar, lining the filament along her jaw until it sits against the side of her throat.

One call she makes quickly, easily, leaving a terse message for Detective to call her back. The second is almost as quick; Arrow Wraith. Her message is brief but to the point. I'm going for Kris. Call me. The third takes the longest because she doesn't actually know the private code. She thinks about what she needs to say, tries to find convincing arguments in her head. Finally she just bites her lip and taps the code for the system wide channel. She'll think of something that'll work.

"Free Range this is Mother Hen. Free Range this is Mother Hen, come in, Free Range, over."

The silly words bolster her courage, deja vu of a time when things weren't so desperate. She waits silently but there's no answer. She can tell its much too early in the morning because nobody replies, not even to ask what's going on. She repeats the message again, hoping. A third time, a fourth; the comm still does not crackle to life with an almost familiar voice.

She rubs the space between her eyes. She has no idea where Barrier is.

"Free Range, it's Mother Hen. Wherever you're roaming, I need you to get your hard gluts back here. I got a lead on Chicken Little, but I need your help. You know, just like last time."

"Last time I ended up face down and sick to my stomach."

Stasis closes her eyes as the gravel voice pours into her ear. "Yeah. Your point?"

"No point. I'm in. Where do you need me?"

Sticky, overwhelming relief floods her mouth, making it hard to breathe. So many answers to that question, none of them suitable for an open channel. "Huh," she finally stumbles out. "Not sure. Can I meet you?"

"Sure. Where?"

So much to do. "The basketball court?" It's on the far side of the school, away from everything. She rubs her hands against her thighs, her stride getting longer.

"Bad idea, there'll be gym classes starting up soon. What about the cafeteria? Nobody goes there if they can avoid it."

"Done. See you in a minute." She hesitates before adding, "Thanks, Barrier."

"Nah. Don't mention it. My morning run wasn't doing much for me anyways."

The comm goes dead. That is one. She has calls in to the others. If not Detective, then Sage. If not Arrow, then Lucas. Stasis lengthens her legs until she is runnning, smooth and clean. The cafeteria is halfway across the grounds but she's long since past the point of being lost here. The thought doesn't give her the sense of accomplishment it once did.

Only an overriding sense of purpose.

_________

"Stasi, I came as quick as I could! How do I help?"

She jerks her head up, startled even though she shouldn't be. He's quiet on his feet for such a big guy and not for the first time she didn't hear him coming. Quiet, that is, until he starts talking.

"Heyla, Detective." She smiles up at him, because she always smiles at him. If she had had a brother, she thinks he might have been something like her gregarious friend. "Glad you could make it."

"I was worried about you. What's this about Kris?" He slides onto the bench next to her, his hair falling in his eyes again. He looks cheerfully awake.

She looks across the table at the other two. Barrier is leaning back, her heels hooked into something underneath the table to support the gentle incline. In contrast Arrow is hunched forward, his fingers laced and tight. She opens her mouth to explain again all the reasons and thoughts that have led her here but then realises... this is Detective. She abbreviates her argument to its salient point.

"We're going to get her."

"About time!"

Barrier flashes her a discreet thumbs up and Stasis ducks her head, running a hand through her hair. "Yeah, I know. Glad you could make it, D. I knew... I could count on you."

"Alright Stasis, I'm on my part." Barrier stands up with no more warning than that. "I shouldn't be more than a couple of hours, tops. I'll stay on comm in case something else comes up or if anybody else gets any other bright ideas for me."

"You know it. Hold on, take this." She plucks her credstick from its small pocket and passes it over. "Just in case."

Barrier looks at the thing, her fingernail automatically impressing on the touchkey to look at the balance. Her expression doesn't change.

"Yeah. Just in case." With that cryptic acknowledgement and a wave Barrier stomps away leaving Detective frowning after her. Stasis can feel the waves of confusion coming off him as he turns to ask a question that's going to take too long to explain.

Arrow chooses that moment to straighten up though, squaring his shoulders. She glances at him and can't help feeling a gnawing pit of anxiety. His is one of the most important links in this patchwork web of a plan and she doesn't even know that much about him really. Just that Kris trusts him. It has to be enough.

"Arrow?" she starts tentatively, holding up a hand to forestall Detective. "How long before you can get an answer?"

"I'll know in an hour." He nods his head abruptly. "Maybe less. Take longer to get the hardware though."

"Time is something we don't have much of," she feels she has to point out.

"Leave it to me. I'll make it happen." He shoots her a look and his soft eyes are anything but. "I won't let her down."

What can she say to that? Thank you is not enough. "Ayuh. Check in, Arrow, stay on comm. If you can't make the deal, come back right away. We'll figure something else out."

He doesn't even say goodbye, just stands and walks away, already putting the comm to his ear. She watches his straight back retreat and sorrow is a spear through her heart. Something in the set of his shoulders reminds her of... well.

"Stasi! What's going on? I don't get any of this. What am I supposed to do?"

She smiles then, because she has to. Turns to face Detective, blowing the hair out of her eyes.

This is going to be a long conversation. Afterwards, she has something she needs to do as well.
_________

She hates it in here.

There is no day, no night, no world outside the forever windows. Walking across the open floor always gives her the vertigo that standing on the tallest towers doesn't. She knows not to look down anymore.

It's quiet enough at the moment, a lull between the waves that rise and fall in this place. She skirts the knotted clumps, listening to her heels click on the invisible surface. A few people look, one even smiles but she isn't here for that. She mounts the central stairs two at a time, a hand to the rail.

DJ Zero floats in the center of his power. He claps as he sees her walk onto the central platform and beckons her over without hesitation. A couple of syncophants in too much leather and not enough modesty sneer as she walks by.

As soon as she steps across the threshold the force bubble snaps up, enclosing her in a pearlescent curve. She swallows the feeling of intense claustrophobia, rubbing her hands on her thighs.

"Stasis Kiss! One cat that really know how to get down! Now what can I be doing for you today?” His hands move in graceful, restless motions. "Got your system check, tapped you into the queue. I hear you have a special request? Need to set up another dance here in my cosmos of groove?”

"Zero... I need access to the Rogue Isles. Today."

She's never been good at saying things from sixteen different directions to cover sixteen different agendas. Still, it's blunt even for her. Zero laughs at her, a warm sound.

”Say, woah!! You know I love you girl, I really do! You're always aces in my book! But come on; the Isles of Rogues? The Land of Recluse?! I got a reputation to keep, you know. I’ve got a hard enough time explaining to Longbow where most of your hero-in-training friends get their drinks!” He starts counting on his fingers, before giving her a slick smile. "You've got to know my dance card is always full.”

”You expect me to believe that? You were awfully willing to send me in when it was your floating threads on the line.” Her only card; Snaptooth. He'd been desperate then. He owes her for that.

”Hey, if I had time to plan this little party, maybe run a few things past my event coordinators..”

"There's no time." She runs a hand through her hair, tangling the short silk. "Zero, I need this favor."

He leans forward which is an odd motion for a man without his feet on the floor. A part of her wonders how he does it. “Favors are asking if I’ll have the sound techs change the night’s playlist! What you’re asking me to do is remix all the rules, to remaster my harmony! You can’t just expect me to risk it all, even for one as beautiful as you.” He kisses his fingers and she grits her teeth.

”I’m not asking you to.. remaster anything, Zero." She remembers now why she hates talking to him. It's like wading through technicolor sewage. "There must be something I can do to make it worth your...remix."

It's not her imagination that his eyes sharpen. Interest flickers across his mobile face like a shadow.

”As I said, I love you! You always seem to bring such tricked out tales with you when you come in! And for Pocket D to be the place to be, I am going to need to do more…. but who has time these days!”

"Today, Zero. As soon as you can arrange it, I need a portal to the Isles. Tell what what it's going to take.”

Zero shakes his head. “I’m not trying to play hard to get, but I can’t just dance to every tune that one of my patrons want to play! You got to see it from my angle, not every one can get their request granted.”

"But you grant them. You love having people owe you things."

Suddenly he smiles, like she's passed some sort of test. “You’ve got me. But before I can consider your songlist,” he holds up one slim finger and winks, “maybe we need to talk retail.”

Yes. "Name it already."

”But what would make it all worth while?" She's about ready to cry with frustration as Zero inspects his fingernails. "What could I gain? I can already dance with both angels and demons, what more is there? Do I dream the impossible dream, go for broke, and quote other tired old clichés? Or do I look right in the eyes of those buzzkills in Arachnos and Longbow and say ‘nyah!’?”

She can feel her shoulders tensing. "My opinion? Go for 'nyah'. You know you want to."

More laughter is her response. “Well, it seems you know me better than you think!” the man says. Without warning he claps his hands again, leaning forward again with an eager expression. "So. Stasis Kiss would owe me a favor. So young, but not so many like you, yes? I can think of..." He waves a hand as if to brush a fly away. "No matter. I am sure something will occur. Yes, yes. Young but rising. Let me think. Passage for one..."

"Five." She thinks. She hopes.

That finally earns them an expression of surprise. “Whoa, ho! FIVE?!! What, am I booking island cruises now?”

”Zero, if this were a vacation, I’d have my suimsuit on.”

He crows. “Aww, Stasis! I guess those witty banter classes really are paying off! Why not, then! Five passages for five favors! That should do nicely!”

"Not going to happen." She rocks back on her heels, takes a deep breath. "I'm worth more than you're offering."

Zero smiles and capitulates without argument. More than anything else that makes her uneasy. “I guess you’re right; too much tempo, not enough bass! Since you can’t be held to my beck and call for that much, I suppose I should ask for something with more volume! Something more... tangible!”

Okay. That really doesn't sound good at all. She eyes him warily, floating there.

"What kind of tangible did you have in mind?"

The magician brings a knee up, locks his fingers around it. She really doesn't like the expression of avarice in his eyes. She likes even less the next words out of his mouth.

__________

Hours later she can feel the delayed echo in her body as she finally heads back to school. It matches the static in her head; too little sleep, too much confusion, too many decisons made on too little information. She ought to be afraid but she's not, and she can't even be scared about that either. Jaygo took it all, all the anger pouring out of her to paint itself in the blood on his face.

It has to be enough. She's done what she needs to do, as much as she can do. Zero will grant them passage. That is what counts.

Barrier has already checked in, should already be back at school. She has purchased the party costumes, enough plus more for all of them. Lauren was more than accomodating apparently after checking in with Serge and the credstick carried the rest. They have Isle clothing now, enough that they shouldn't stick out on the streets, at least on casual inspection. She doesn't intend for them to be there long enough for it to be a problem.

Arrow has left a terse message. No confirmation, but hopeful. She can only pray that he can pull it off.

There is just one last thing remaining.

She fixates on the largest shadow on the school grounds, clears the wall in an easy rush. For this she needs height, as far into the ever blue as she can get. For this conversation she has to be able to see how far she can fall.

_______

The empty warehouse spins, a blur of queasy movement in his eyes.

He has survived yet another attack of her warriors, defeated them, repelled her. He will continue to do so for as long as he can stand, for as long as he bring all that he is to bear, forcing power into mind and body.

He is not sure anymore of how long its been. Days? A week? Longer? No food, no sleep. Just the flickering memory of fighting, training, running. The dust circles in a vortex in front of him, trapping his eyes into following the hypnotic motion. The concrete is cold beneath his shoulderblades, stealing heat from the fan of his hair against the rough surface.

No qi now, no movement. The sorceress' minions are no longer. He lets it go and waits for the next wave, unconsciousness lapping against his mind like a black tide.

So silent here. So quiet, a small death in all this black and gray and shadow so that his breathing seems the anomaly.

Yet, not entirely empty. Against his ear static sings a lullaby. One open song, one whisper back to who he was and a voice he can barely remember. He lays on the cold ground and dreams with his eyes wide open.

_______

"Jade."

His eyes snap open. Dragon visions wash over his mind, drowning everything else. His name echoes in his ears.

How long? He cannot say, everything is still muted steel and exhaustion. The ceiling is somewhere out of vision, the ground is still cold.

Then the doubt and confusion shatter as the comm signals again.

"Jade. Please, can you hear me?"

No dream, no vision. Her plea pulls him upright with adrenalin a sick thud under his heartbeat. "Sta-sis?" His throat is raspy and hoarse even as he grasps at the thin plastic cylinder extending to his mouth. "What's wrong?" Waking nightmare made real again.

"Nothing. Everything." Her voice is faint through the noise of static, surreal. "Jade, you have to come back."

"Can't. Not ready yet." The lash of it bites in, tears into his weakness, his pain. Not ready, he'll never be ready. His penance for what he'd allowed to happen. He has to make sure she knows he's sorry, that he suffers for what the monster had done. To her. Lycia.

Her voice is strained with an echo of old laughter. "Doesn't matter. I have to get Kris. Jade, I have to leave and I need you." He doesn't understand. "Please... please. At least say goodbye."

Her voice is all spikes. Upset, hurt. The thought alone gives him the energy to get up, find his feet, look for an exit. He won't fail again. "Okay," he swallows. "Just.. just give me time. I'm coming."

There must have been energy on that silent floor, enough at least to give him what he needs to bound and spin, leap carefully across the rooftops. He aims for the stark needle, a school landmark that defies the rising bustle of the campus around it. Teeth snapping together with effort he throws himself up towards its crown. She is always at the highest places.

Stasis Kiss is sitting with her knees pulled close to her body, staring at the eastern sky. She whirls as his feet hit the roof apex in a clumsy landing that turns into an awkward roll. He can't disguise it as anything but what it is. Picking himself up slowly he cracks a ghost of a grin.

"Hey, stranger."

She's up on one knee, facing him. He sees her gaze run over him like hands. "...Jade." He turns his head to the side so he doesn't have to see himself in the mirror of her eyes, the long rents in his uniform, all the bruises that show and the ones that don't. "Are you... okay?"

So soft, so quiet. It nearly undoes him.

"Yeah, I'm fine." It's a lie and he knows she knows. He runs a hand through his hair. "What's the plan?" He doesn't look at the frown that crosses her face. He tries to wipe the exhaustion away, squaring his shoulders.

"I've got a line on Kris; she's with the Bloodvine kid, Karl." She holds up a slender hand for forestall him, sinking back against the bricks behind her. "I know. I have no idea either. But I have his number, and we're going to track where he's at with it."

"We?" Something lodges in his throat, clenches his fists.

She gives him a ghost of her old grin and taps the comm on her ear. "Arrow just called me. He has an in with someone in the Crey Corporation and he's just coming back with a GPS tracker. If we can get Karl on the phone we can find his location. He's been sort of moving around I guess, but I can't wait until he finally settles down. I want Kris back here, tonight." Her voice is quiet but queerly determined.

"Karl." He looks at the sky, trying not to let the concern show. "How did he get involved?

"I told you, I have no idea." She dismisses the question with a shake of her head.

"So, whether it's because he rescued her or took her in the first place, the fruity Bloodvine kid has Kris." He's having a hard time grasping it.

"Yeah, seems that way. We're heading out as soon as everyone checks in." She gives him a tired smile of encouragement. He can see her hands clenching. "We should be in the Isles in a couple of hours. Detective is going to come with us, cause the biggest ruckus he can. Barrier will hold the door open as long as she can while I go get Kris."

Jade swallows hard, letting his eyes drop to the ground stories below them. "Solo mission, huh?" Something stirs in his gut. Something alien. "You can take care of yourself, right?" It's as though the words have their own agenda, spurred on by the answering nod she offers in reply. It's twisting to life again, clawing at the edges of his skin, grasping at every spark of his essence that it could. He forces it into silence, but even then it gives a harsh edge to his speech. "How far will you let me come?"

She looks at him then, pale brows drawing together. The look in her eyes is centuries old. "This far, Jade." Her voice is barely more than a whisper. "I just couldn't go... without saying goodbye."

"No." He can't keep the frustration from his voice, can't mask the rising anger or fear. This was too close to last time and the alien feeling won't let him forget. His channeled force carries itself through his speech instead of his limbs, each word impacting the air between them. "I want an answer. I'm done being unsure. Do I have a place there with you or not?" His traitor body shakes then, beaten by fatigue and emotion.

With an odd ferocity rising in her eyes Stasis stands in reply, lifting her chin in an old, arrogant motion. "There is always a place for you. Always. I'll take you into hell if you're stupid enough to follow." He hears the words but it's her eyes that show the fractured truth. He swallows that too, letting it pull strength into his body. She has said these words before. He needed to hear them again.

"Then no more of this 'going in alone' crap, okay? I think," Jade coughs before beginning again, "I think I'm done letting people pull stuff like that with me." Something tight eases around his heart, the frustration washes away. His old smile creeps on his features.

Stasis is the first to look way, awiping an angry hand across her eyes. "I don't even know what he wants," she says. He doesn't understand for a moment but then he does.

When she looks back, he catches her eyes. "It doesn't matter what he wants. If he's on our side, he's giving Kris to us. If he's not, we're taking her back." His words echo firmly betweem them, a declaration of fact. There is silence then, the wind here blowing through their hair, lifting strands of white and black.

Finally, he speaks again. "It's good to see you, Stasis."

She closes her eyes. "S'good to see you too." Another whisper, but it's her voice again, the one that used to laugh. "C'mon."

She turns then, kneels before launching herself in a massive leap that sends her sailing towards the dorms. He can't help but smile as he does the same, taking a small running start before bounding down from the tower after her.

Into hell, if he has to.

Comments

Posted by: Karlof VonMandrake (vonmandrake)
Posted at: March 26th, 2006 07:21 pm (UTC)

Ahh, good. The message has made it's way into the plot. I first ask appologies for not being around last night; my friends surprised me with a few late night places in Chicago during our road trip, and didn't get back until 6:30 this morning. They claimed it was all for my own good.

Now, I see a ". . ." on this post, so am I correct in thinking that that is a portion that needs to be filled in?

Posted by: stasiskiss (stasiskiss)
Posted at: March 26th, 2006 10:00 pm (UTC)

wakey wakey ...

yes. for me, when i am writing, when i know that pieces are missing but i want to mark the space, i add . . . . as a placeholder.

when writing something like this, i often skip around back to front and it helps me keep track of things i haven't written yet.

Posted by: Karlof VonMandrake (vonmandrake)
Posted at: March 26th, 2006 11:07 pm (UTC)

OK, good. I use some similar methods in my writing, but am too self consious to let people see when I do it (in RL, I'm actually quite neurotic and am NOTHING like Karlof).

Posted by: stasiskiss (stasiskiss)
Posted at: March 26th, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)

huh. my writing process is pretty straightforward in its chaos. i am not one to thinks in linear motion, like a skipping stone from point to point.

i have this story in my head and i write the pieces as they assemble themselves out of the air. displaying it for public view is not that great a step, since it is sort of like watching a painting magically appear.

Karl! speak, my adversary. we are going through the portal, to land in Mercy (it is Mercy, right?). what greets us on the other sise?

Posted by: Karlof VonMandrake (vonmandrake)
Posted at: March 27th, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)

So, as you have seen, I have written the first part of your unique insertion into the Isles. I encourage questions, comments, and suggestions, and remind you all that that portion of this tale is not done yet.

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