Family is.. a very broad term these days [4.18]

ourIceMain.jpg Never let your guard down!
As a possibly wise, possibly insane, possibly fictional wizard once said 'CONSTANT VIGILANCE!'

I'm tempted to tack on something about 'always bringing a towel' to that statement as well, even though it's not quite relevant here and really it goes without saying, doesn't it?

Events unfold including but not limited to:
John giving a three-year-old's guide to 'politics' to an un-amused audience of one.. meanwhile the halls are silent
(until they aren't)
and Hannah accidentally gives herself a wedgie!


 

“Is she going to be okay? Should I call for a healer?”

..urrggg..
What the hell just happened?

“Don’t bother, I think she’s coming around. It’s probably just another vision, she has fainting spells all the time so it’s no big deal really..”

Fainting spells?.. a vision?.. I don’t..
What the HELL just happened?!

“Oh.. I never realised how taxing the gift could be? All power must come with a price though I suppose..”
Yeah, that’s true enough I guess?
Visions can be a bitch in my experience!

“Hannah, can you open your eyes?”
..stupid John..

I squinted my eyes open and fixed him with my best ‘only slightly’ annoyed glare.
His face brightened instantly which really didn’t help my mood at all.

I can’t believe I FAINTED?
Talk about embarrassing!

“Don’t worry, you were barely out for ten-seconds, it was probably just the day and your visions catching up with you my Lady.”
Luckily John took the chance my ‘waking up’ had offered him to turn away from Holister, enough that he could offer me a surprisingly honest looking apologetic smile before he carried on.

Apparently we’re running with this whole ‘Hannah is a seer’ thing for some reason I guess?
He’d better explain it all to me when Holister leaves or I swear to the powers I’ll turn his hair pink or something until he does!
..I’m getting PRETTY tired of John doing things today without consulting me first..

“I believe your business today is concluded Mr Holister. On the behalf of Lady Garnier and her clan, I thank you for your quick work and efforts in helping us to finally establish a true home we can call our own.”
Holister flushed uncertainly at John’s praise, pushing his new sunglasses up his nose a little awkwardly as he tried to not be too obvious in his surprise.
John didn’t exactly warm to the poor guy to start with after the whole ‘accidental seduction-eyes’ thing hanging over us.
I’m kind of surprised that he bothered to thank him after that mess to be honest.
“Lady Garnier and I would appreciate the continued use of this room for a few minutes, so that we may discuss events and any visions she may have had in the duration of this meeting, you understand of course?”

Even I felt a little off-put by the almost dismissive tone to John’s voice but, despite the way it appears, there’s actually no real malice to him at the moment.. although I’m probably one of, if not THE, only person who would be able to tell without ‘looking’ at his magic, I guess?

“Thank you for all of your help Mr Holister, I appreciate all of your hard work immensely.”
If he flushed before then I’m not sure what to call the bright red color that reached his cheeks when I smiled at him.

Without another word Holister offered me an awkward sort of half-bow and rushed out of the room with his paperwork tucked under his arm.
..poor guy, for the grandchild of an incubus he’s apparently far too easy to embarrass..

The moment the door had shut behind him my shoulders slumped in relief.
It almost surprised me when my heavy sigh was matched by Johns own.

My eyes cut over to him thoughtfully and he offered me a slightly tired but overall smug smirk.
Instead of speaking I rolled my eyes at him, leaning my head back hard into the chair to get my point across but apparently that’s not enough to get him talking sadly.

“What were you thinking John-boy?”
He took the chance to roll his eyes at me in response but after a few seconds he sighed again and kicked his legs a little to show that he was thinking instead.

“If you want to protect something, you need the power to protect it.. if you need ‘power’ then what you REALLY need is both political influence AND fear on your side these days.. people are getting too smart to rely solely on outrageous displays of magical might to get a point across sadly.”
He shifted just enough that he could stare at my face as he continued.
“If you need fear then you’ve got to INSPIRE fear.. which, let’s be honest.. you’re terrible at?”

Despite myself I flushed a little at that one.
I’m not THAT bad at it?!
..Grace seemed plenty scared when I stuck her to the ceiling earlier..

While I never really used to get much ‘respect’ from the bad guys I was facing on missions, I kind of let my victories over them do the talking, ya know?

Also, that reminds me, I need to apologise to Grace later and make sure there are no hard feelings or anything?
It WAS all just business after all.. family business, yes.. but still business and I kinda DID go over the top a bit against her as well..

“If you need political influence then you need to have already shown that you potentially have a lot of raw power and numbers to work with at your fingertips as well, or else you’re just making a lot of easily ignored noise to these people.. so now you’ve covered both angles of things, politically speaking of course..”

I’d guessed as much earlier but it’s still kind of annoying to have him spell it all out for me like he’s talking to a three-year-old or something!
..I’m calm right now..
It’s all okay, somehow he didn’t manage to make everything blow up in our faces, that’s something at least.

Thing’s didn’t quite follow my script but things definitely went to plan if nothing else.. BETTER then to plan in all honesty!

Would it be easier for me personally in the long run if John hadn’t painted a brand-new target on my back just minutes after I finally got the one I already had by being ‘Arista’ taken off?
..maybe..
Would it be harder for me to protect everyone else in the long run without this stupid little game John played that’s made ‘Hannah Cooper’ seem a lot more imposing and important for people then I think I’d ever have managed to pull off on my own?
..definitely..

Overall I can’t exactly be mad at him for what he did.. I mean, I can be UPSET with him for how he did it of course?.. but not mad sadly.
At the end of the day he was doing what he could to help me in his own stupid-John way, right?

“Is this for real John?”
His eyes lit up with pride instantly and an almost painful amount of joy spread across his face for a moment.

“Sure is, don’t worry so much, I’ll be there to help you all the way I promise.”
He smiled widely at me and I struggled to not mirror the look back at him for some reason.
..well that’s something at least..

“Next time you come up with some ‘great’ new idea on the fly, run it by me first okay?”
He winced a little at my resigned tone of voice but didn’t hesitate to nod along despite that.

I think we both know he’s not REALLY going to actually listen to me when the time comes again but I just HAD to make sure my stance on it all was clear so I could be righteously angry at him next time if nothing else.
Whatever happens in life, John will be John and that includes running off with stupid ideas without consulting the only other person who understands how his brain works to see if they are good ones first!

It’s annoying but I kinda DID set myself up for this sort of thing when I decided that being friends with him was worth giving him another chance again, in all honesty?
..stupid John..

“What’s the plan now then? How about I fake a seer vision and you rush me out the front door in a panic before anyone can detain us or recognise me as the new ‘Arista’, thus putting everything we’ve just achieved into the toilet bowl in seconds?..”
..I’m not exactly enthusiastic over our chances on that one..

Judging by the wince he gave off John isn’t feeling very generous in the optimism department right now either.. although that could have just been an instinctive reaction to my ‘fake seer vision’ comment, now that I think about it?

“You use one of the other disguise function’s built into you’re suppressors to change your appearance while switching back into your normal clothes in here, then I slip out the door and check the coast is clear before we both head our separate ways?”
Huh.. okay, that’s actually a much better thought out option then I’d expected..
“I’ll grab the truck, park it around the back of the court house up the street and you meet me there when you make it outside?”

He stared at me for a moment as if expecting me to decry his plan for its flaws somehow.
I’m not sure why?.. as his plan’s go, it’s actually quite a good one for once!

“Sounds good, you still have my clothes on you?”
He brightened instantly and dived his hand into his back pocket.
..I wondered where they disappeared to!..

I have no idea HOW he managed it but a second later he pulled his hand back up with a pile of cloth clutched inside his grip as if he’d literally pulled them from thin air, although logically speaking they probably came from those annoyingly weird, seemingly-bottomless, back pockets of his I guess?

“Good”
My frustrated frown wouldn’t quite leave my face as I made that simple statement but it would have to do sadly.
“Pass them over and then go stand guard over the door.. and NO peeking John-boy!”

For the first time since we started this whole act for the Hub staff’s sake he cracked a real smile and laughed to himself as he walked over to the door without another word.

I felt almost offended for a moment, it kinda felt like his laughter was suggesting ‘why would I WANT to look at you changing?’ but that stupid thought was easy enough to shake off and moments later I’d set the pile of clothes on the table so I could get to work taking these slightly too-loose red heels off at last.

He’d better NOT peek anyway though, or he’ll be in SO much trouble, so THERE!

======

“Done yet?”

I huffed heavily to myself while hopping slightly to get my jeans on properly.
Now I remember why I wanted to borrow some of John’s old clothes in the first place!

Stu-pid Tig-ht Jea-ns!!
THERE!

By the powers, either I need to shop for the next size up or I’ve got to do something about this fat ass of Arista’s I’ve inherited!
How do normal women cope with this sort of thing?

It feels like I’ve got a cushion stapled to my butt most of the time and that’s not even counting how my too-wide hips make me walk differently too!

“Hurry up Han, we’ve already taken longer than I’d have liked before leaving. If we’re not careful we’ll step outside into a crowd waiting for us; which is going to be really awkward for me because I’ll have no choice but to send them all to sleep as a group so you can slip past them.”

OKAY! I GET it John, no need to keep going on!
It’s not my fault these stupid jeans are skin-tight?!

I kept the bloody tights on as well, I thought they’d help in sliding the jeans up, but if anything all they’ve done is left me with a slightly uncomfortable ‘wedgie’!

Being short on time I slid my feet back into my sneakers, yet another item mysteriously recovered from John’s back-pockets, and quickly bundling my new dress up into a ball that he can hide wherever it is that he hid my clothes in the first place.

Let’s just get OUT of here so we can go home at last!

Tomorrow’s going to be busy enough as it is trying to set up a wardstone for the newly extended-beyond-belief boundary to our ‘lands’, without wasting even more time here when I could be at home sorting out the Golden Palace of Excess.. or just sorting out Grace, bundle of joy that she is in general, with whatever inevitable fallout will come from THAT little problem..

I came to a stop at John’s side and after a long pause where he didn’t react for some reason he finally sighed to himself in a way that I’ve come to understand means he thinks I’m doing something stupid?

“..the disguise glamor Han?..”
Oh, right!

It took everything I had to not physically react or let him see that I really had forgotten to apply the glamor effect from my suppressors before trying to leave.
..I doubt it worked but every little helps when it comes to John..

My fingers went up to the ‘collar’ around my neck and after a bit of blind searching with a tiny amount of magic being used through my fingers to ‘feel’ the runes underneath them I finally managed to get the ones I wanted.
..I’m gonna have to practice activating these things at some point?!..

With barely a push of magic the control runes activated and a weird, almost tingly feeling settled over my face and hair.

I REALLY hate glamors!
They feel so awkward and the tingle gets really irritating, REALLY fast in my experience!

We didn’t need to say anything much more from there.
I turned slightly and shot John a curious eyebrow which he found somewhat amusing for some reason.

“Any particular reason you chose Sarah’s face to use?”
His own eyebrow perked up in interest but I shrugged in response.

“I’m good at being Sarah in general?”
Her presence within the Hub at this time of day isn’t TOO suspicious or likely to raise any questions on my way out too, it’s not THAT important though, just personal preference in the end, I guess?

“Whatever, I’ll go out there first. Give me to the count of ten then follow behind me okay?”
I nodded and he slid the door open while clutching my dress/shoes bundle awkwardly at his side.
Before I could start counting properly the door had already snapped shut tight behind him with a little more force than strictly necessary.

“One”
..I’m not really going to count am I?..

“Two”
..oh FINE!..

“Three”

======

The door slid open easily and I came face to face with an empty hallway.

Not even John was standing there waiting for me?
Either he had to leave with someone to get them out the way or he got bored of waiting a full ten-seconds for me to come out?.. he’d better HOPE for his sake it’s the former and not the latter or there will be TROUBLE later!

I allowed myself one more slightly offended huff before getting back to business and taking a random right turn down the hallway.
We’re in the Hub after all, if I wander long enough with the reception area as my goal it shouldn’t be too hard to find, even if it does mean a bit of walking.

I could warp out of course but then there’d be an official record taken to show that I was here today.
So far nothing but the paperwork we signed shows any kind of ‘proof’ that someone whose magical signature now apparently reads clearly as ‘Arista’ has been inside the Hub at all.

If I can, I’d like to keep it that way.. going through a Hub controlled waypoint where my magical signature would be recorded automatically by the beacon is a pretty stupid way of trying to go ‘under the radar’ at all, wouldn’t it?

======

“Where the hell IS everybody?”

This is the seventh corridor I’ve turned down and I’ve not seen a soul in all that time?
Hell, I can’t even HEAR anyone in the other halls at this point!

It kind of reminds me of the time Felix lead me around through whatever empty back-corridors he could find on my way to my first AMS appointment honestly.. oh well, not much choice at this point but to keep walki- WAIT!

Gah! I’m such an idiot!

“Felix?”
For a moment I felt a little silly calling out to thin air but I felt a bit better a second later when a flash of fire that smelt suspiciously of sulphur appeared in front of me.

It took me a moment to recognise him at first.
He’s obviously an Imp so it’s not like I thought he was a person or something of course but.. when did Felix get so BIG?!

“Hey buddy! How’ve you been? Looks like you’ve been hitting the gym or something, huh?”
Felix spent a few moments looking around in what I think was mild disorientation for some reason but that passed quickly as he turned to look at me with an odd look of fear and worry on his, still cute but now surprisingly chiselled looking, little red face.

“Bii San-ya?”
‘Lady death?’

It took me a moment to get used to the odd echoing effect of his voice speaking both in his own language and repeating inside my head again, after a slight wince though I got it sorted enough that I could at least smile for him in response if nothing else.
He let out a little imp-y gasp and clamped his clawed hand around my wrist a second later though, which really wasn’t the reaction I was going for to be honest?

“Lady death?! You-must leave-here! Maven will-not-like your-presence at-all, she will-see-it as-an-attack on-her powerbase, quickly we-must-find other-humans before she-can-do anything t-”

Before he could finish his almost frantic words and tug me forward again with the surprisingly tight grip he’d managed to get on my wrist there was a flash of yellow light ahead of us.
Without any warning at all a golden dome of powerful magic that felt oddly familiar to my sense’s flared to life around him and a moment later his little grip was ripped from me as he flew off down the hallway with a startled cry of rage.

My eyes trailed after him in bemusement at first, he looked like some kind of flying oversized bouncy ball with the golden magic surrounding him like that, my confused gaze was cut short a moment later though by a low female voice speaking in front of me.

“You would DARE enter my realm again Death!”

It wasn’t hard to work out where the voice came from, especially when I turned around and found myself facing a higher-fae with an easily recognisable, annoyingly perfect white motif going from the tips of her hair down to her delicate little toes.

It’s the same fae that passed me in the halls all those years ago, the same fae who tried unsuccessfully to harm Felix in one of my visions too.. Maven, Queen of the Fae herself!

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, I was only here to conduct some business and I’m actually trying to leave at this very moment.. although you knew that already didn’t you ‘Maven’?”
Slowly the connections were being made in my head as I stared at her perfectly carved, unnaturally white face.

The moment I was out of sight range with John he suddenly disappeared.. since that moment I’ve not seen or even heard a single other human-being at all for some reason?
My bet is, she’s the cause of that little inconvenience.

..she’s isolated me!..
From what Felix was trying to say she NEEDED me to be isolated too?

She needed me on my own.. probably because there’s some kind of law or rule in place stopping her from confronting a human openly within the Hubs?..
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the people who first helped barter for space to live in here from her slipped something like THAT into things at some point, mages are annoying little assholes like that usually.

“You speak lies Death! You have befouled my realm with your taint again!”
To my surprise she actually tried to stamp her pure white, almost ethereal looking foot down on the floor in obvious frustration but it didn’t seem to actually make contact.. a fact that she didn’t seem to even notice strangely.
“You DARE to invade my realm and seduce MY subjects?!”

Despite the inhumanly ‘perfect’ smoothness of her pure-white skin, her artistically formed face still managed to scrunch up in obvious anger somehow.
I couldn’t help but let off a nervous laugh and take a step away from her as her magic spiked wildly to match her sudden rage; the raw power coming off of her was enough to actually distort the air around her for powers sake!
For one brief moment I could SWEAR the walls of the hallway around her bowed outwards as if even THEY wanted to escape her power?!

“..I think you need to calm down Maven?..”
She growled and took a step towards me in response.
Almost instinctively I threw my hands up in ‘surrender’ with the vague hope of calming her down somehow.
“Seriously you’ve got the wrong idea here, I’m just Sarah Cooper.. I came in to check on my little sister who’s getting herself regi-”

“YOU THINK SUCH A BASIC DISGUISE COULD FOOL ME DEATH?!”

Well.. it was worth a shot right?
I don’t get why she’s so angry!
I haven’t.. I haven’t..

“I haven’t DONE anything wrong damn it?!”

If anything that really WAS the wrong thing to say.
Her magic hit me like a physical wave as it spiked yet again to mind-boggling levels!

Despite the crushing power coming off of her, apparently unconsciously, the thing that really scared me at that exact moment was the horrible glare she was sending me with those lifeless black-hole like eyes of hers..

“You’re DISGUSTING magic has been flooding MY realm since the moment you stepped foot inside the doorway today, yet you claim INNOCENCE?! It’s bad enough you have the Imps in revolt but the Faunus? The wood nymphs?!”

I don’t know if she actually needs to breath, being a fae and all, but apparently she can breathe enough to pant heavily in frustration if nothing else.

..more importantly she said my magic is flooding her realm?..
My magic?..why would my m-
Oh crap! The suppressors!

I’m constantly venting a tiny amount of magic through my foot I keep myself stable at the moment!
I collect most of it back up milliseconds later through my other foot, it’s barely noticeable in fact not even enough to track me by usually.. but in the magically rich environment of the Hub?..

The amount of magic I’m pulling IN to start with through my skin must have increased dramatically just from an ambient bias if nothing else.

..I’m a locus point, remember?..
Kind of hard to forget really, it tends to be pretty much the SOURCE of my magic troubles in general sadly.

If there’s magic around then my body draws it in, more powerful the magic, more powerful the drawing is.. and the suppressors are likely having to work quite a bit harder to keep themselves regulated at the moment as a result.
The minute I stepped inside here I must have started coating the place in my magic without even realising it?!

“Look, this is all just a big misunderstanding really an-”

“Do NOT twist your pretty words upon me Death! Never again!”
Maven is apparently REALLY not in the mood for explanations and excuses at the moment?
“This is MY realm! I claimed it, I rule it and you’re NOT having it back!!”

For a long moment I stalled in surprise as the implications of what she’d just said sunk in.
I’m not having it ‘BACK’?.. as in she thinks I OWNED her realm to start with?!

Before I could even manage to give off an indignant grunt at how unfairly complicated my life is sometimes, Maven apparently ran out of patience.
Moving at lightning fast speeds she practically dived towards me, her hand outstretched with worryingly sharp looking nails ready to gouge me with a familiar looking ‘diseased’ yellow glow in her palm becoming brighter by the second.

It was more a reflexive flinch making my knee’s buckle that saved me from having a face-first meeting with either her dangerous nails or her sulphuric magic then any kind of planned action.
Even then she didn’t hesitate to follow me, lashing out with her glowing hand as I frantically shuffled my way backwards across the floor of the hallway.

After a few seconds with this horrifyingly repetitive little dance going on Maven finally got lucky with a sideways sweep that caught me off guard by breaking her ‘rhythm’.
There wasn’t much more I could do then throw my hands up and yelp in fear as her claw-like hand flew towards my unprotected face!

At the last possible second I flinched my eyes shut anticipating pain but moments later I forced them open again in surprise as I felt my magic rebel, forcing its way out of me in one of my now expected ‘golden domes’.. followed closely by a vicious jerk backwards and an enraged scream of pain from Maven?!

“..oh crap..”
Despite my panting breath and hammering heart I didn’t hesitate to move in the slightest, even if I am running mostly on honed survival instinct at this point.

While Maven was recovering from whatever my magic did to her, I forced my legs to move and managed to stagger to my feet in a broken sprint down the hall.
The no doubt fruitless hope of getting lost somewhere FAR away from her and her evil yellow magic fingers front and center on my mind.

“Why can’t you just DIE?!”

Apparently my magic was enough to stun her but not enough to keep her stunned?
I practically felt her come swinging in at my back just from her magic alone and reacted instinctively to roll away just in time to save my spine from being either melted or outright torn from my body by her enraged grasp.

Without another thought I consciously let off another blast of magic, bigger and about as focused as I can manage with just my diversion to hold the power together!

Judging by her bone-jarring SCREAM of utter agony behind me it must have done something to slow her down if nothing else?
I didn’t really have time to check though, in a frantic sliding sprint I threw myself around the right-hand corner of the hallway junction in front of me I’d previously been aiming for and set off as best I could to put as much distance between us as physically possible.

“Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!”
Behind me an enraged yell that sounded almost more ‘animal’ then human echoed through the halls making me shudder as I slammed my way around the next corner I could reach.

“YOU CANNOT ESCAPE ME IN MY OWN REALM DEATH!!”
..oh crap!..

======

I tried everything to stop them but with a horrible inevitability my legs finally gave out from fatigue.

Even my golden domes would probably struggle to help me at this point with how exhausted I am, from all the near constant running I’ve been doing and that’s only if I could actually USE them.. which is a pretty bad idea at this point!

At first I did the same little trick I used in my race against John to constantly ‘heal’ my fatigue as I moved through the halls but it seems that, even though it’s apparently very good at keeping her away from me at short range, my magic is also very good at advertising my exact location to her at the same time.

It was only after I stopped letting off the micro-bursts that I finally managed to put some distance between us at all, even then she’s still barely a hallway or two behind me at this point!

I need time to think!
I need a plan!
I need.. I need..

DAMN IT, I NEED HELP!

..no helps coming though, she’s made sure of that already?..
Even if I call for Felix it’s not going to help anything with how casually she managed to launch him away when this all started.

If only I could find some PEOPLE?!
I’ve not seen anyone at all in the last half an hour of frantic running, which is highly suspicious in itself, but lends credence to my original idea that she separated me from other humans for a REASON, if I could just find some people in this powers-forsaken place then I’d have at least a CHANCE of escaping her!

..wishful thinking isn’t going to help me at this point though..
I can practically FEEL her pulsing, enraged magic coming closer by the second and my legs refuse to move at this point?!

With little to no warning Maven came barrelling around the far end of the hallway ahead of me and let loose possibly the closest thing to a ‘feral grin’ that her ivory ‘skin’ can offer.
As a last ditch effort I summoned up as much of my almost EAGER feeling, roiling magic as I could manage and forced it outwards as a simple vented fine mist.

It’s obviously not going to have as much impact as my usual ‘domes’ do but, if I’ve learnt nothing else so far, I know for a fact that just coming into contact with my magic is enough to force her back in pain.

I don’t need power right now, I need coverage and longevity.. the two things expanding my natural aura by venting more magic into the air around me should hopefully provide while I recover inside it all!

Maven slowed her pace as she came closer to me.
It felt almost unfair to see that she wasn’t even out of breath from our deadly game of chase?
I KNEW she didn’t need to breathe!
..stupid fae and their stupid magically enhanced biology..

“You can’t hide in there forever Death.. you’ll run out of power eventually and I’ll be waiting..”

FINALLY she’s willing to talk?!
Maybe we can straighten this all out like civilised people at last!

“You-you’ve got th-the wrong girl Maven..”
I really wanted those words to have some force to them but honestly I’m amazed I managed to even get them out in the first place with how poorly my lungs seem to be handling their basic task of ‘breathing’ right about now!

“You cannot hide from me Death, all fae know you, all fae can FEEL you.”
DAMN IT!

“Why do you keep c-calling me ‘death’? I’m HUMAN damn it!”
I’m mostly stalling for time and trying to get her talking, but any information I can get at this point could be invaluable to my survival.

You’d be amazed how much the bad guy’s tend to actually TELL you if you just take the time to LISTEN to them normally!

“The scrolls speak of you, magic calls out in celebration of your return.. I’ve been watching this ‘human’ shell of yours since the moment you first stepped within my realm, allowing you entry when I found you lacking in both power and sense..”
She almost seemed to grimace for a moment before carrying on.
“..but then you left and the message was sent.. I knew the second you stepped through my doorway again that you had truly returned; I didn’t even need your little imp’s words to confirm it.”

Well.. crap?..
What the hell am I meant to say to that?!

From the sound of it she’s known, or at least suspected, that I’m this ‘death’ character in a new form practically FOREVER.. it’s probably why she bothered to cross me in the halls so ‘innocently’ all those years ago, now that I think about it?!

I’ll go out on a limb and say that she probably means ‘Lady Death’ when she calls me ‘death’ too?
It’s too big a coincidence that a Fae Queen would use a similar moniker for me to every other fae I’ve spoken to, an admittedly small sample size of one, for that assumption to not be correct sadly.

From the sound of it Felix has already given his speech from my vision too.. the one where he was protected by ‘my’ magic and trying to incite a revolution in my name!

..No wonder she’s pissed off?..
She denied the existence of a ‘Lady Death’ to all of her ‘subjects’ as just a myth.. and then I came strolling in the door with whatever’s happened to apparently change the way my magic feels enough that she now think’s I’ve awoken some latent ‘Lady Death’ powers or something and come back to claim the realm she apparently took from ‘me’ at some point in the past!

“Just for the sake of argument.. let’s suppose I have no idea what you’re talking about and as far as I’m concerned you’ve gone off the deep-end randomly while I’ve had to run for my life?”
Her face seemed to almost twitch in suppressed rage as she started pacing just out of reach from the rough area I’d suspect my ‘cloud’ of vented magic should be reaching at the moment.
“How about you tell me what exactly I’ve done to piss you off so much and we sort this out in some way that lets us both walk away from this whole thing alive, huh?”

This time her face really DID shift into a deep glare of utter contempt, as if she thought I was somehow trying to mess with her or something?!

“You will not take my subjects away from me Mother.. I’d see them all DEAD before I let you rule over my lands again!”
With that simple statement of fact my stomach dropped completely.

Mother?.. why did it have to be ‘Mother’?..
Arista, it’s always about BLOODY Arista eventually isn’t it?!

“I’m not you’re ‘mother’ Maven.. I’m not her, I may look like her and my magic may feel a bit like hers but I’m truly NOT her..”
Her eyes shifted manically for a moment as she scanned my face but apparently the truth wasn’t enough for her?

“Lies.. always lies with you Death!.. the scrolls foretell you’re return, the seer’s cried out in ecstasy as a wave of your disgusting magic swept across the lay-lines and my subjects have started to turn away from me to your side already!”
She paused slightly in her pacing but continued on with her frantic prowl moments later.
“You come to my realm, leaving a trail of your insidious magic in your wake that I have to force back with everything I have to stop it’s corruption spreading, and you claim that this is not by your design?!.. do not mock me Mother, I know an invasion when I see one!”

DAMN IT!

Why can’t she just LISTEN?!
I’m not Arista!

I’m not this ‘Lady death’, no matter what anyone says!
..I’m just me?..

This is all just a big mistake that’s gotten completely out of hand..
Damn it, I need a way out of here and FAST before she finds some way to get past my magic ‘mist’ to REALLY hurt me!

With that thought in mind I dipped into my lines and set up the needed spell matrix to start warping, while casting my mind out in search of the familiar beacon ‘flavor’ for the waypoint at the motel outside the Hub.

Just as I’d finally gotten a hold on it, that hold was abruptly shattered by a sudden pulse of magic crashing down around us so heavily that it left me mentally shaken and fighting off the beginning signs of a powerful headache?
My body jolted slightly as I sank painfully back into the real world and I couldn’t help but cringe when my eyes settled on the now grinning features of Mavens unnatural looking face.

“No-one escapes my realm without my permission Death, you’re trapped in here and soon you’ll wear yourself out enough that I can reach in and reclaim my throne without opposition once more!”

Well.. crap.. so much for Plan B, I guess?
..do I even HAVE a Plan C yet?..

After a long pause where I honestly ended up drawing a complete blank for once, I took in a deep breath and tried to settle my thoughts into some sort of ‘calm’.
I need more time to sort myself out and think without interruption.. lucky it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere, huh?

Surrounded as we are by the almost entirely magical confines of the Hub; I’ll starve before I run out of magic to protect myself at this point, not that THAT is much of a relief of course!

“Better settle in tight then Maven, I’m good at the waiting game, ya know?”
She glared at me and once more paused in her pacing for a moment before going back to it with a contemptuous sniff.
I offered her my own annoyed glare in return before shifting myself into meditation stance on the floor and settling in for the long haul.

..this is going to be one LONG afternoon at this rate..

======

“Sixty-three bottles of beer on the wall, Sixty-three bottles of BEER! You take one down, pass it around, Sixty-two bottles of beer on the wall!”

“Will you stop that infernal chanting?!”
ohh.. is someone getting annoyed?

All it took was me singing myself hoarse for half a BLOODY hour!
..I should have tried singing sooner..

“Hey Maven, guess what?”
She cut her eyes over to me in anger but with just a touch of hesitation which was all I needed to continue with my fledgling plan.
“If you drink one and I drink one there’d be SIXTY bottles of BEER on the WALLLL-”

I didn’t even get to finish my held note before she let off a frustrated cry and blasted my protective magical-mist with her sickly yellow magic again.
All around me the walls of the hallway started to practically melt under her onslaught but I sat comfortably inside the mist, completely unharmed, much to her continued frustration.

As I discovered when she started taking pot-shots at me when we ran through the halls earlier, my diversion magic is some kind of trump card against hers somehow?
I have no idea of the logistics to it but I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth considering it’s saved my life multiple times over since this whole thing started if nothing else!

“Hey Maven, if you keep blasting away at the walls like that you’ll hit a bottle at some point.. and you know what THAT means, don’t you?”
She actually growled low in her throat with warning but I wasn’t to be deterred at this point!

The first rule of real combat, both physical and verbal, is to find a weakness no matter how small it may be and exploit the CRAP out of it until you win!

“There’d be.. FIFTY-NINE bottles of beer on the wall!”
I didn’t even try to hide my amused smirk as she yelled in rage and threw yet more of that horrible corrosive yellow magic around like a child having a hissy fit.

It’s true that I’ll probably starve before I run out of the magic protecting me at this point..
..but what’s the bet that she’ll run out of sanity before we reach that point if I keep this up?..

======

“Hey Maven?”
She didn’t even answer me this time.
..she’s learning apparently..
“HEY! Maven?”

She twitched ever so slightly!
That’s a good sign that I’m still getting at her, even if she’s getting annoyingly good at hiding it better?

“Guess what Maven, guess how many bottles are left on th-”

“I WILL TEAR YOUR INTESTINES OUT AND FEED THEM TO YOU IF YOU DO NOT STOP YOUR INFERNAL PRATTLING!!”
..Whoa..
Awesome!

The ‘Great’ Fae Queen Maven taken down to the point of crying out insults and death threats uselessly against a human hiding in a fog of uncontrolled healing magic?
She’s gonna pop soon if I keep this up, I can just TELL!

“Pfft! You could have just SAID you didn’t know Maven.. it’s Twenty-three bottles by the way, just if you’re still curious..”
Rather than respond she let out an inarticulate shout of rage and blasted the wall by my head again with her yellow magic as if it would do something new that it hadn’t managed so many times before.
“Let’s face it Maven, we’re at a stalemate. You can’t hurt me and I don’t particularly want to hurt you either..”

To my surprise she seemed to actually have heard my words at last?
Her rage seemed to almost subside for a moment as she considered what I’d said and despite myself a flash of hope briefly rose in my chest.. before crashing down to the ground again when her lips twitched up into a worryingly dark grin.

“You cannot be harmed within your.. Miasma.. but others can?”
..uh oh..
“Shall I call a minion and kill them before you? Maybe that little wood nymph you charmed earlier?”

Uh oh..

I tried, I REALLY tried not to react to her words but obviously something slipped through because her grin became somehow even sharper then before all the same!

“I will rip the wings from your Imps! Steal the legs from your Faunas and trim the branches of all the wood nymphs you have corrupted!!”
Yet again she must have seen the momentary blanch that crossed my face, I could feel it happen, even as I desperately tried to hold the instinct back somehow.
“I will BURN your taint from my realm and there is NOTHING you can do about it while you lay safely within your disgusting shield like the true coward you are!”

..nothing I can do?..
She's the bloody Queen of the Fae!
She's practically a goddess incarnate?!

Of COURSE there’s nothing I can do!
..I’m kinda shocked I’m still alive at this point to be honest..

Why does she think I’ve taken to hiding in the mist to start with, for powers sake?!

She OWNS this realm, she can shape the world around us to gain an advantage at any moment!
I have no delusions that she wouldn’t have had a hand in all the dead-ends or wrong turns I came to while I was running from her either by now..

Even while enraged beyond reason she CONTROLS this realm in a way I could only dream of controlling the Golden Palace of Excess?!
I'm at a disadvantage so high at the moment it would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody TERRIFYING!

For some reason she hates me for something I can only assume one of my past-incarnations did to her millennia ago and she wants to see me SUFFER for it.. judging by the amount of killing intent present in the waves of angry magic she’s been tossing around, it’s probably even worse than that in reality..

She wants me DEAD, no if’s-and’s-or-but’s about it!
..it’s kind of like old times honestly?..

Wait?.. wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT!

A slow smirk bloomed on my face as I shifted my feet slightly and shot a cautious look along the hallways surrounding us to measure the distances involved, all to back up the frankly stupid idea that just came to my obviously defective mind.

She's trying to intimidate me?.. She's tried over and over again to wrong-foot me?
That’s a pattern!

An almost annoyingly familiar pattern!
Just like practically every ‘bad-guy’ I ever came up against while on missions, she wants me dead BUT she’s putting so much effort into playing psychological games with me at the same time..

She’s pushing my buttons and trying to see if anything, from gruesome threats to idle talk of slaughtering her own people unless I drop my protection, will shake my resolve enough to make me sloppy!

..do you know what that means?..
It means she's scared I could actually WIN against her somehow!

In a fight between someone so obviously strong, in a perfect position of power with the home field advantage as well, it should have been easy for her to kill me outright while my back was turned hours ago.. but she hesitated?..

She NEEDED to confront me in person, not for power or some kind of ‘gain’ but for her own EGO!
She needs to break me psychologically before going in for the kill.. it’s practically cheating in a fight like this!
..I should know, it’s my normal tactic if I can manage it?..

You don't cheat in a fight that you know you'll WIN or in one you don't CARE about!

She NEEDS to ‘defeat’ me for some reason and she honestly doesn't think she can do it without cheating as well?!
Oh Maven.. Oh Maven, Maven, MAVEN!

You don't have ANY idea who you’re messing with bitch?!

I’m HANNAH powers-damned COOPER!
People don’t even bother TRYING to play mind-games with me anymore if they know what’s good for them!

You may have raw power on your side and a grossly unfair home-field advantage right now but you have NO idea how to fight subtly.. how to drive your opponent to distraction and then take them out while you have the chance!

That’s MY home-field advantage you weird porcelain-skinned wannabe-monarch and there isn’t ANYBODY who can abuse it better than me!

She needs me to lose, to die by her hands while I'm isolated and she can cover it all up or write her own ticket on how things played out without anyone to argue the point with her, I’d assume?
My goal is still exactly the same as it’s been from the start!
..all I need to do is find some PEOPLE and I’m safe?..
She wouldn't go to all the effort of separating me from other humans for no reason otherwise!

My grin became almost painfully wide as I shifted mental gears and started building up for some fun.
The type of fun I've not had since I stopped doing missions, the dangerous but irreplaceable high you can only get from a well-played life or death situation..

I may have changed in body and to some degree in mind too but one thing will always be true about me, whether I'm ‘Alistor’ or ‘Hannah’ Cooper to the World in general.
..I LIVE for this shit!..

Maven stared at me with almost confusion evident on her annoyingly pale face when I raised my eyes high enough to meet her gaze and flashed her a smile full of renewed confidence, with a fresh sense of hope burning bright in my eyes.

Careful to not leave the protection of my lingering ‘bubble’ of vented ‘magical-mist’, I eased my way back to my feet by sliding my back up the now scarred wall behind me.

With as much casual, almost subdued, care as I was able to offer I started brushing imaginary dust from my jeans and in the process just about managed to reach down to activate the runes on my ankle suppressors that control the ‘velox ped’ enchantments stored on them, hopefully without her notice?

It took every bit of trained experience I’ve earned over the years with the ‘velox ped’ spell to not sway slightly as my feet both drifted ever so slightly off the ground to float on a pillow of trapped air.

..she needs to fight me for some reason but all I need to do is run..
She’s cheating, trying to taunt me into open combat.. who says I can’t cheat too?

She only managed to corner me like this because I got exhausted by ACTUALLY running!
..have you ever watched any old cartoons at all?..
Tom and Jerry will always be classic to me because nothings more fun than watching the little mouse outsmart the big brutish cat..

..or to put it another way?..

"Meep Meep?"
Maven actually stalled for a moment in surprise as I gave a slightly hesitant version of my best roadrunner impersonation, using its famous ‘catchphrase’.
I followed that stupidity up quickly by giving an excited grin and a wink to her for good measure.

Just for the sake of it I stuck my tongue out and blew a raspberry too which made her face darken in a way that, on a human, I think would be easily defined as an angry flush.
Human or fae.. it turns out people will still be PEOPLE apparently?

Before she could react past her confusion and anger I rose onto my toes and tilted my body slightly, disrupting the balance I’d maintained with the ‘velox ped’ enchantment enough to send me flying sideways down the hallway at breakneck speed.

"Catch me if you can doll-face!"

Her magic surged in rage suddenly but I didn't have time to enjoy it too much because with a hop and almost a pirouette I changed directions on a dime and shot off down the nearest empty hallway to my right, losing sight of her in seconds as I sped onwards and focused exclusively on the idea of putting as much distance between us as possible right now!

You had your fun playing ‘hunt the scared little rabbit’ Maven.
Now it’s MY turn to have fun!

======

"FELIX! I NEED A WING-MAN BUDDY! "

It barely took a moment for him to appear but by the time he did I was already half a hallway ahead of him, never let it be said the little guy is slow on the uptake though, in moments he was up and flying down the hall, chasing me as fast as his muscular little wings could manage.

I'm sure the almost crushing waves of Maven’s angry magic following behind us from, I’d guess at best a few halls away, had nothing to do with his haste of course!

'Lady-death is-perhaps a-bit TOO good-at annoying her-enemy's.. '
I barely heard his actual words at the speed we’re now going but his translated ones rang through my head loud and clear, with all the sarcasm and disbelief you could want obvious to my ears even through the translation.

"Love you too buddy! Let's focus on the raging lump of toilet-white fine-china chasing us first though, yeah?"

He didn't outright respond to that suggestion vocally but with some force he managed to fly slightly faster for a few seconds until we were practically 'running' side by side at last.

'What is-the plan Lady-death? '
Good question! Great question actually?!

"Think you can find a way back to the halls where humans are from here?”

That's the end goal at the moment; people mean safety as far as I can tell for some reason?
He winced slightly at that but didn't voice whatever was on his mind.
Instead he actually seemed to space out for a moment before wincing again as if he suddenly had a pretty bad headache.

'Maven-is-angry, the-halls are-in-chaos.. this may-take-some-time'
I couldn't resist grinning proudly at him for that one.

I've got time, WE’VE got time now!
He said it will take time, not that it's IMPOSSIBLE, and at this exact moment I LIKE those odds!

"Lead on, oh Great Fae navigator of mine!"
He perked up a little at the sight of my silly grin and even the jokingly stated idea of him being ‘great’ at something seemed to please him too, but it's still pretty obvious from what I can see of his little facial expressions that he has his reservations about my current 'plan' in general.

I don't have any though!
Running for my life against a stupidly over-powered being that wants me dead and has the home field advantage?.. nothing like it to get the adrenaline pumping!

..it must be a Thursday, all the fun stuff like this happens on Thursdays..

Felix took a sharp right at the next intersection and I had to force my heels down so hard to make the turn that I probably left gouge marks in the floor behind me.
If anything though all it did was make me smile wider.

..I’ve. missed. this. Shit!..

======

..So much for our epic chase for life and limb?..
I can’t even FEEL Maven’s magic now.. is she even chasing us at all at this point?!

Having a full on, good old fashioned ‘chase scene’ worthy of any old movie involving nice cars, is one thing.. but without the actual chaser it’s just kind of..
..boring?..

"Felix.. how much longer?"
The little guy almost growled in annoyance as we took another sharp left.
Apparently Maven’s loss of control has made the already unstable connections between the Hub’s hallways even LESS stable, as nonsensical as that idea seems to be?

It’s almost like the whole Hub only exists upon her whims and now that she’s so worked up all the little important things like ‘gravity’ or ‘anything you would expect to work because of logic in general’ are unravelling at the seams?!

Apparently it’s getting so bad that even a full-blooded imp like Felix, a fae born and raised in this insane quasi-dimension, is struggling not to get lost as everything moves around us in an almost constant state of flux!

..I think it's time we start work on Plan D honestly?..
I don't think Felix can keep this up for much longer from the look of him.

On a sudden inspiration I pushed forward slightly to bring myself level with him and carefully reached out to snag him from the air.. which is admittedly hard to do when you’re going over eighty in hallways that are barely designed for people going up to ten miles-per-hour at best.. but I managed it with only a confused chittering sound from Felix for my troubles anyway because I’ve just got MAD skills at imp-nabbing apparently!

"Catch your breath Felix, just shout out directions and let me do the driving for now, okay?"

He didn't seem very pleased at his sudden 'demotion' from pilot of our little convoy to essentially a red-furred sat-nav device but he also didn't resist sinking against me with a heavy sigh as I wrapped some of my magic around him protectively.
..poor little guy..

Imps aren’t exactly built for drawn out flights or battle in general sadly?
I'm kinda amazed he lasted as long as he did to be honest!

We settled into an easy rhythm after a few false starts.
The translation delay from imp to English in my head meant that him just shouting directions was basically pointless in the end but we quickly reached a compromise where he took a hold of the sleeves on my shirt and gave a tug to whichever direction he wanted me to turn next.

As a method for communication, it sucks.. obviously.. but you can’t argue with results and I’m PRETTY sure I can actually hear some raised, very HUMAN sounding, voices from somewhere ahead of us at this point too.
So we must be getting nearer to freedom if nothing else, right?

It definitely was by no means perfect as a system though and I got more than one, ever so enjoyable, blast of swearing from the little guy when I’d reacted either too fast or too slow in taking a turning he’d commanded, forcing us to take yet MORE detours, much to his apparent annoyance.

..why does ‘Feckma’ translate into ‘slow-minded-low-hanging-hairless-ground-ape’ in English?..
That’s one of many annoyingly long-winded ‘swears’ he’s thrown at me over the last twenty minutes or so and it’s getting pretty annoying that he can say a simple one-word phrase but flood my head with his ‘voice’ for far longer, not to mention it being horribly distracting, which really doesn’t help things at all either..

A tug to my left sleeve had me skidding wide to take a sharp turn onto the next left-hand hallway with almost practiced ease at this point.
I’ve gone around so many corners lately it’s like I’ve taken a crash course in.. how not to crash I gue-
OH CRAP! WALL!

There was barely any time to react as we turned the corner going close to a hundred miles-per-hour and came practically face to face with a solid looking blank wall from out of nowhere!

My magic surged forth but all I really managed to do under my own power was turn myself sharply to the right with a jerk of my feet so that I’d hit the wall back-first instead of on my front and potentially crush Felix.

The magic mist around us solidified with the incoming wave of diversion magic I’d instinctively released and, much to my surprise, we practically bounced off of the wall unharmed?
The impact seemed to drain nearly all of our forward momentum somehow because in seconds we’d rolled to a stop in an awkward curled up position together; surrounded by a solid looking golden ball that looks suspiciously like the shield I saw protecting Felix both in my vision and against Maven’s initial strike against him earlier too.

‘Lady-death has-magic stronger then-even I-knew?’

I couldn’t help the relieved laugh that tore itself from my lips at his slightly awed little grumble.
It’s a relief to know he’s okay, I really DID think I was going to crush his little body for a second there!

“Death is always full of surprises.. although she is apparently also predictable as well?”
..Ah Crap, SERIOUSLY?!..

“..Hey Maven..”
It might just be my imagination but I swear the ghost of a smirk crossed her lips for a moment there as I grumbled the disbelieving words past my tightly clenched teeth.

“How about them bottles huh?.. how about we start afresh from three thousand and see how far we get this time?”
THAT took the practically invisible smug look off her face quickly!

HA! Everyone underestimates the power of my singing skills until it’s too late for them to EVER forget them!

“I did not think you would get this far Death, even with your little imp-pet guiding you.. but the games end here!”
I tried to hide my grimace as her magic washed through the far too short dead-end hallway we were now stuck in along with that declaration.

“Really?.. I was going to suggest we play Monopoly next.. or Charades.. Felix is AMAZING at Charades aren’t you little guy?”
Slowly his diminutive red-head turned from gaping in horror at Maven to give me a completely flat look of disbelief that would be hard for anyone to misread in the slightest.
..yes Felix, I AM acting like an idiot, and yes, she IS falling for it, isn’t it marvellous?..

Say what you like about the insanely powerful or the powerfully insane, but they make a GREAT audience if you want to try out improv skills and stall for time while struggling to work out Plan’s D-through-M on the ‘how the hell are we going to survive NOW?’ scoreboard..

“Maven! How about we let bygones be bygones? It’s been fun, really, but I’m just not in the mood anymore, ya know?”
If anything Felix’s disbelieving look went up a notch at that one and it didn’t really help that he was joined almost simultaneously by the Queen of misshapen toilet porcelain herself either!

“I’m warning you Maven this is your last chance, leave now or bear the consequences..”
Please buy it, please buy it, PLEASE buy it!

One almost elegant white eyebrow on her pure white face went up slightly and she leaned forward until she hovered just above our protective ‘bubble’ shield to stare hard into my eyes.
“You are laying on the floor within MY realm, without any hope of escape when I have you truly cornered.. what possible plan could you have that I should fear NOW of all times?”

Damn it!
..why do they always have to call when I bluff?! I bet John doesn’t have to put up with this crap..

My eyes fixed on hers with an angry glare that she seemed to find somewhat amusing.
Ever so slowly I opened my reluctant mouth and drew in a deep breath for what I had to do next.

“..HEEELLLLPPPPP!!..”

I just know I’m going to regret this.. powers damn me and my inability to not fall back on old techniques that have actually worked before!
Maven leaned away from me in surprise, more from the volume I’d produced than anything else but the shock faded quickly as amusement visibly fought past it.
At her incredulous look I found myself blushing and shrugging self-consciously in reply.

I know it was stupid.. no need to rub it in?
It’s just.. well, it worked LAST TIME didn’t it?!..

Can you really blame me for trying when my options are either die, give up and die, wait patiently and die or go insane and probably die too!
I honestly don’t know what I was expecting to happen just because I yelled out for-

“MAU!”

A pit of dread formed in my stomach at that unmistakeable sound but a moment later the area around us was plunged into darkness as any and all shadows that could, converged on a spot just in front of my lap.
..distracting everyone nicely from my stupidity at least, I guess?..

The pool of moving shadows crested and peaked upwards suddenly before falling away with an almost water-like splash leaving in its place the unmistakable shape of-
“Eris?”

“Mom?”
Something tucked to her chest shook slightly and managed to force itself free to land patiently at her feet where it suddenly decided to lick its paws almost nonchalantly for some unfathomable reason.

“..Mau..”
‘You called?’ my ASS!

Power’s DAMN it, I’m getting a bloody headache now and I can’t even blame anyone for it but myself!.. THIS is why I don’t work with animals OR children!

I am NEVER calling for ‘help’ in desperation EVER again, I SWEAR!



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