Author's Notes: This story is set in Erigineeaverse, about four years post current Avelyon High RP continuty. All the characters belong to me, though future chapters may have mentions of other people's characters, depending on where the story decides it wants to go. If you're curious about Avelyon High, there's the avelyonhigh community on LiveJournal for reference. In addition, Roxeen has a journal, set roughly in RP continuty, on , username silvergriffon.

Last edited on Jan 6 2005.

I. All's Not Well In Avelyon

The noise from the club, music, whistles, catcalls and all, did reach past the massive wooden door that separated the floor from the staff-only area with changing rooms for the strippers, a break room only the strippers, bouncers and kitchen staff ever got the opportunity to use and the owners' offices, but it was muffled. That well-blended noise-smoothie wouldn't have satisfied an eavesdropper, but it gave the corridor behind the door a distinct feel that most of the employees had grown to enjoy. In that corridor stood a waiter, still in uniform, and one of the security guards, a woman resembling a bipedal dog, talking as they were getting ready to leave after their shifts. The Rabbit Hole wouldn't close its doors until it was no longer late night but early morning, after supplying breakfast for a half-dozen or so of truckers on their way past the capital.

"Thanks a lot, Roxeen." The five-foot-four black and tan hillside sheepdog smiled at her companion as he pulled off a headband crowned by two very stylized rabbit ears. "It's great of you to walk me home like this, you know you don't have to. Especially not after you found your stepdaughter down on Dragonbird Lane."

"Don't worry about it, Sinee, wasn't you that put her there, and I'm glad I found her before she got herself in trouble." The platinum-blonde young man smiled back at the bipedal dog, and unstuck a fluffy white cotton tail from the back of his pants before tossing it and the headband in a duffel bag and throwing on a light pseudo-waterproof jacket. "And besides... If I hadn't found her then, who knows how long it would've taken Ravathinne to decide I deserved to be her dad, after all? Before that mess, all she'd see me as was her father's fucktoy."

"That's a bit... Harsh." The sheepdog's triangular ears splayed slightly to the sides, and she checked the gun in her belt for at least the third time.

"I'm what, six, seven years older than she is? The differencein age between us is about the same as the difference between Raven and Gail. Of course it'd feel strange for her to call me 'dad'." Roxeen glanced at the weapon with something akin to longing in his eyes, then quickly looked up, grinning at the canine bouncer. "You've already checked that, hon. The more you fiddle with the gun, the more you're making me wish I had mine. Let's go, so I'm actually home before I have to wake the kids up for school, eh?"

"I sure hope you plan on catching some sleep between now and then."

"Was the idea. Small blessing I have tomorrow night off, I haven't finished the last of my games, and the reviews are due before the first next week. How did I ever impress myself working three jobs at once was a good idea?"

"This from you, who was contemplating talking to the people at some 'Fanimation' magazine to take him back as a reviewer. That'd eat even more of your time."

"That was before I magically managed to pick up about twenty hours extra I'd specifically asked not to get, at Gamers' Haven. That's some two hours and change a day, and will put me at sixteen days between days off. If they decide to be decent and not change the schedules again on the sixteenth day. Plus we have a clueless new trainee that Roxeen of course will take care of, Roxeen just loves teaching pre-freshmen in High School how to work the almost foolproof computer system."

"Watch the sarcasm, it's dripping all over the floor. Someone might slip."

The blonde glared at his coworker and punched her lightly on the arm, before they snuck out from the Rabbit Hole through the back door that technically was only meant for deliveries. There wasn't a single employee who didn't ignore that part whenever it fit them, so it hardly mattered. Without so much as blinking, the rather skinny blonde shouldered the heavy metal door open, and then lifted a hand encased in white plaster to keep it that way. Before he had time to catch it, someone else did, and looking up he found himself staring into a pair of green eyes in a freckle-speckled face.

"Thanks, Van," he muttered, rising on his toes to kiss the slightly taller stripper. "How come you're out here, Taharro doesn't work tonight..."

"New girl throwing a temper tauntrum in the break room. Danil might like watching people getting chewed out, but whether Ace or Erica gets to her first, it's not going to be pretty." Vanor, the club's resident redheaded flirt, ran a hand through the off-duty waiter's bluish white hair, smiling. "At least when I pull you out of trouble, there's something very pretty to look at... Even if I have to drive him to the hospital to get his broken knuckles patched up."

"Thanks for reminding me." The cast tapped the side of Vanor's head, the blonde's eyebrows pinched together in feigned anger. "I didn't know the wall would be that hard."

"I guess bricks are made out of goosedown in Saghas, then?" the redhead responded, sticking his tongue out in a childish gesture that he somehow managed to make look very becoming. Roxeen didn't bother to try and match that feat.

"Nah, we prefer raev pelts, that's why the house market down there is so nasty." He shook his head and waved goodbye to the dancer, crossing an expanse of gravel and pushing through a row of young willows that to him looked more like a bunch of half-dead sticks in the ground. There he waited for his companion, and when she caught up, continued walking at a brisk pace, side by side with the sheepdog that had fallen into a comfortable jog.

The streets were dark, that far from central Avelyon the street lights were spaced out too sparsely to do much good, and even if they hadn't been, several of them were broken, forcing the pair to walk in complete darkness between their little islands of light. Since she had started working at the Rabbit Hole, he'd walked that way quite often, rather than attempt to catch a bus back to his end of the city that sprawled like a content tomcat below the hill where old Tragash Stronghold still stood, now housing some two thousand high school students within its intimidating, cold stone walls. The bitch was a quite pleasant conversation partner, and as good company as he could really wish for. And she was one of the few people he ever got to talk to outside of work anymore, it felt like.

He had been doing reviews for a game magazine as well as working two jobs for a long time, more or less since he graduated from Avelyon High and moved in with the club's head bouncer and his rather large family, granted, but it wasn't until after he'd moved out from the relative security of sharing living space with Ace and his spouses, all of them employees at the Rabbit Hole, that it had even started to get stressful. He'd met the man of his life, cut down on hours in his Gamers' Haven day job, and moved into an apartment together with a love interest almost twice his own age. That had probably been his first mistake. Just shortly thereafter, his boyfriend's two daughters had moved in with them, and things had been, if not perfect, so rather good, for a while. He had still been able to catch the occassional afternoon or night out with a coworker or high school friend, and it had been enough. Then, by the time the youngest of the two girls, the blonde-curled angel he'd nicknamed Gail since her full name was insultingly complicated, had started calling him 'daddy', the dream had dropped and shattered like a spun-glass New Year's decoration.

His boyfriend had left, not even bothering to so much as leave him a note. No explanation, nothing, one afternoon he'd gotten a call at Haven from Gail's school, asking why the girl hadn't yet been picked up. It had taken some schedule-juggling for the next few days, but he'd somehow managed to pull through, all the while convinced something awful had happened to that man that had whispered sweet words into his ear only half a day prior to that phone call. When the police found the man, after Roxeen's anxious report, all the blonde boy had gotten out of it was a message to quit bothering the father of the two girls still living in the apartment they'd shared.

Roxeen sighed.

"Something wrong?"

He turned his head to the sheepdog, slightly startled as she rocked him out of his rather depressing thoughts. Her black-muzzled head was cocked to the side, black ears perked and facing him, dark brown eyes showing concern.

"Just got thinking about him again. Don't I feel stupid for falling for his long-term sex tourist act. At least if I'd sent him down to Dragonbird to get some ass, he'd have been paying for it."

"Just don't get thinking about it enough to break your other hand," his coworker advised, with a hint of a smile pulling at her lips. "Sure, Zaskia and Vanor would probably fight over the opportunity to get to be your nurse..."

"Oh, shut up, you!" He playfully swatted the back of her head with his good hand, and she barked out what he'd come to recognize as laughter.

"What I'm saying is, it's not your fault he up and left with no warning. Stop beating yourself up about it, it won't change things, and the only thing it'll really affect is your therapy bill."

"Which I, or at least my wallet, could do without, true."

He sighed again, and the two of them turned onto a better-lit street that would take them all the way to central Avelyon, if they'd been planning on walking that far. They weren't, at least not directly. Sinee lived in a run-down apartment building on a short strip of nameless street that connected to the end of Dragonbird Lane, the street that by tradition as much as anything else remained the Avelyon red light district. The street, named after the gaudy, bright, noisy birds that for some reason resembled most of the people working on it, intersected with the much larger road they were on about five blocks down, a nice and reasonable walking distance. Once he'd dropped his coworker off, of course, Roxeen would continue to the denser, better-kept parts of the city, and from there to the apartment complex where he had somehow managed to keep a very attractive set of four rooms plus common living areas even after the man who had landed the contract had moved out.

The redlight district really was decorated with red lights, that night, someone had taken pains to attach red tissue paper to the lights above the door alcoves where more or less run-down women practised one of the oldest female trades in the country, together with a few male colleagues. It blocked enough light to give the street that even under normal circumstances wasn't too well lit a distinctly eerie gloom. It unsettled Roxeen, and he had to force himself to give his canine companion a smile and a nervous chuckle as she reached out and grasped his shoulder, slowing him down to a more sane walking pace.

"They're just people, Silver," she muttered, ruffling the long hair that had earned him that particular nickname. "Not that bad people, either, a few of them live in my building."

"It's not that. I just have a bad feeling. The dark alley and everything."

"Aww, shame on you!" It was obvious that the dog's scolding wasn't wholly serious. "It may not look much, but this is one of the safer low-class areas of Avelyon. Not everyone can afford to live near the heart of the beast where the white-washed walls remain white, you know." He winced, the comment had stung, and his friend quickly added a disclaimer to her statement. "I know you work hard for it, I didn't mean to suggest anything else. Still, nobody's going to mug you on Dragonbird Lane, the ladies and gentlemen who work here would be very upset if someone tried."

"I guess you're right."

They reached the end of the street, where it branched out some dozen steps each way into what might with a lot of generosity be called another, smaller street, and bid their farewells, Sinee disappearing through a heavy door decorated with youngsters' scrawled signatures and vulgar phrases. Still somewhat uneasy, Roxeen hoisted his bag higher on his shoulder and turned to walk back up to the main street, ignoring the prostitutes without being pointed or rude about it. They'd seen him walk his coworker home enough that they knew there was no point in soliciting him. A black van slowly rolled up the street, towards him, and he shielded his eyes from the headlights and walked closer to the wall in an attempt to get out of the driver's way. The car stopped next to him, however, and he heard the driver's window being rolled down.

"Sorry, sir, don't work here, I was just walking my friend home," he said without looking up.

"What a shame," the driver's voice purred, sending a chill through his spine as he recognized it. "I'm sure you'll make an exception for me. Right, Spot?"

With a snarl, he snapped his head up to stare at the jet-black, white-striped raev leaning out the window, leering at him. The bag slid off his shoulder and thudded down on the ground as he took a step back, steely grey eyes turned yellow in anger. The magically gifted vulpine just continued to look at him with a falsely sweet smile on his muzzle, and Roxeen didn't quite notice the sound of the van's passenger side door opening and closing, too focused on what he deemed the immediate danger.

Too late did he see the shadow approaching him around the front of the car, and when he tried to run, his feet were tangled up in the duffel bag's handles, sending him sprawling on the cobbled street, only barely managing to get his hands out in front of him to prevent him from hitting the hard ground face first. Pain shot through his right arm from his already-abused hand, cast cracking with a dry snapping sound at the impact, and he was only vaguely aware as the sliding door next to him was opened, and someone lifted him up and without further ceremony tossed him in one of the vehicle's middle-row seats.

His bag stood forgotten on the side of the street as the van backed up all the way out on the main street and sped off.