Dear Readers (if anyone is so bold),

This story is not finished, turn away now if this is problematic. It is 25,054 words of my attempt at 'nanowrimo' (I recommend looking it up if you do not know what this is). I did not complete the task, but I wanted to post it to give anyone a chance to read it, if they are curious.

The second part of this will be the plot outline of what was going to follow, including the snippets of story I had managed to write. They will count as the second 'chapter', so its easier to distinguish the proper writing from plot summery.

This is a first draft, completely unedited, no spell check. It is effectively the worst I can do at this point in time. If you choose to read it, god speed.

Kimra

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Spirit Phase

The world ended, like many had predicted, with an explosion. Fire and wind and heat thrown across the land to wrought distruction on all in its path. Aiyana had witnessed it and Aiyana had died in it.

Death didn't have the same lingering effects it had once had after that day. And Aiyana had been one of the first to experience the Spirit Phase. It was not a phase everyone was privy too, so on that first day, when over five billion people had been seered from the surface of the world in a purge of fire there would have been less than ten million who's souls resisted their exit.

Aiyana did not know why this was, nor did she know how it came about, all she knew was that she continued to exist in a transiant, hollow kind of way, and that she was no more safe like that then she would have been if alive. So it was with axious indecission that Aiyana watched the small Holding Centre she had followed the armed troop too.

Five hundred years ago she wouldn't have allowed the troop to get to the Holding Centre before she intercepted it. But the troop had taken them by surprise, and once the cuffs had been secured around Tracys forearms and her body rendered unconcious Aiyana was no use. So she had followed them at a safe distance, watching for signs of Tracys welfare and trying to think up a plan that didn't involve more risk than was acceptable.

Now she was here, she had limited time to work before the prisoners where transported. She had never found out what happened to the prisoners once they where taken, only heard vague rumours and guess work, but one thing was certain. Once they where transported they never came back.

Aiyana crouched against the embankment overlooking the Holding Centre, watching the red pulse of probe lights as they illuminated the outer walls. The probe lights were easy, a sequence to be memorised and avoided as she had done so many times before in her early years as a Spirit Phase. But after that first step of security the task of breaking into one of their holdings would not be as simple. Unlike humans, who rarely notived a Spirit Phase, the Lashs had particular security measures specificcally aimed against Spirit Phases. It ment she had to be careful. It meant she could be caught.

It had once been a comfort for her, in a way, that she could encounter the solid walls of their instalations, even when she ahd known the danger of what the solid meant to her. That had been in her earlier days, before she had been able to reconcil with her new insubstantial existance. Days when she risked that existance simply to feel the contact of rough metel and cold reality. Now it only increased the danger she would put herself in and she wondered again if she was willing to risk her not only her existance but the knowledge she had aquired with it for the life of one woman.

----

Tracy only had one name. She had been born hundreds of years after the great distruction of the human population and was a relic of that tenacious species as much as Aiyana was, perhaps more so because she could affect the world around her. After the world had been purged with fire, folded and torn and remade, the Lashs had appeared and once they had begun to appear nothing seemed to make them disapear. No-one alive remembered where they had come from, and Aiyana had never known despite her curiosity. But she did know Lashs where not human, nor had they ever been human. The humans who survived the Fire had called them a hundred different things when they had first emerged, Pests, Infection, Aliens, Monsters, but it was Lashs, in the end, that had lingered over the centuries.

She had seen many differet types of their kind, and had relied, like all humans on guessing each types purpose and name. Generic terms had sprung up, Warriors, Speakers, Fighters, Gatherers, titles they could understand and partially explained the purpose of each kind. She had been unlucky enough to encounter ones that didn't have names, at least not names that where uttered outside their fortresses walls. Questioners, Spirit-Guards, Pain-givers, Key-holders, and the one that made her body clench in fear and a cold sweat break out across her body late at nights when she let her mind remember; Extractors.

They all had similar physical traits, the blue grey skin, smooth and taught across a human-esc skeleton. Some of them where taller, some shorter, others where fater and some definatly thinner. Overall the structure was similar, but the amount of variation between the creatures was vast, and the physical differences between each type was striking. The shorter ones tended to be Questioners, or Watches. The tallest tended to be Warriors or Fighters. But for they had four fingers on one hand, five on the other, toes and legs longer than nessisary, but arms strangely shorter. Their faces where the greatest differentiation from the humans, their eyes where larger, their pupils in the shape of sideways eight, their noses almost flat, ears a little larger and more circular and their crainum appeared flat at the top. When they had been new, some humans marveled at the similarities, now it was hard to percieve them without being away of the differences.

These where the creatures who controled the world when Tracy was born, they continued to try and erradicate humans, and humans continued to perservere like coacroaches, impossible to completely destroy. The analogy always made Aiyana smile because she was proud of her species and its unwillingness to die.

Aiyana had encountered Tracy nearly ten years earlier in a different part of the land, one that had survived the blast better than others. It had been a suburb and little houses still lined the streets, burnt patchs here and there, but overall still whole.

----

Aiyana had woken with a crick in her neck that spasmed pain down through her body and into her toes. Most days she woke with the same crick and she hated it, so with a deft thoughtless movement she twisted her neck to the side and clicked all the right things back into their right places. She smiled fuzzily at the satifying sound and let a sigh slip past her dry lips. Then, like a well trained cat turned back over and tried to slip back into sleep, quite happy to stay unconcious a little longer on such a dreary morning.

There was rain against the window, a pitter of inconstant rhythem and no sunlight to bring the room to life. It was the kind of day to snuggle under blankets and drink hot chocolate. The kind of day where the world ceased to exist when you here nestled in the bedroom of a well groomed home.

A noise penetrated the patter of rain, a clang of metel sounding from the lower level of the house and Aiyana, still curled comfortably, considered it thoughtfully. There had been no signs of any animal infestations in the house, at least no signs that indicated recent activity. That left a couple of different options to explain away the sound. Two particular options where at the front though, it was human or it was inhuman.

She hoped for human, because although she liked her solitude and had come to this area for that solitude, she would willingly surrende it to avoid the alternative. Inhuman was an unpleasent idea that left a thick black taste at the back of her throat and made the adrenaline begin a steady pump into her blood stream.

Another noise sounded, and she stretched her neck in the oposit direction before rising from the thread worn matriss silently. Noise was not her problem in most cases, but it was best to be careful if it was a Lash there could be a Warrior among them. With that in mind she pulled a knife into her hand, it was rough and quick, but she was optamistic that this wasn't a real problem to worry about. She walked softly along the carpeted hallway, pausing on the stairs until she had heard the noise again, and then carefully heading down them.

Her attention was sharp, but it was unnessisary, the noise was coming from the kitchen and it was clear she had been unnoticed so far. It sounded like the rattling of items, pillaging through the cupboards, sorting through human belongings and Aiyana let out a huff of relief. No Lash worth their armour would bother with a human kichen, let alone human belongings. But it still lead to the question, what kind of creature had stumbled into her most recent home. There was always the posibility of a cat or dog or a very large rat, but it was safest to assume the most troublesome outcomes rather than being caught unprepared.

Aiyana unsurpiringly found a human when she stepped into the Kitchen from the lounge room. She was expecting it to be a half starved gangly creature when she noticed that it wasn't very old. What she wasn't expecting was a slightly plump, fierce looking child. It standing on the tips of its toes looking into one of the higher cupboards, shuffling through the items that had already been pillaged years before, seeking out the few crumbs that might have been overlooked by previous ransackers. It was a common enough sight, one Aiyana had seen more often than she could be bothered to remember over the years since the Fire, but the child was simply too well fed to have been relying on these tacktics for so long. Afterall anything worth the time had probably been taken in that first hundred years.

The second thing Aiyana did not expect was the reaction that occurred when those blue eyes in a nervous habbit flicked about the room and then in her direction. The usual response to her presence was oblivious disreguard. The occasional human would frown for a moment, double check the spot then continue on, sensing something amiss but unsure of what it actually was. It was one of the outcomes of being insubstantial.

The child screamed. The next thing the child did was throw the largest and nearest kitchen pot at Aiyana, and Aiyana was so surprised that she didn't even blink as the heavy metal pot swished towards and then through her. The child screamed again, stumbled with flailing arms and escaped the room backwards.

That had been their first encounter, and it had not taken Aiyana long to find the girl again. But it had taken Tracy a long time before she forgave Aiyana for scaring her so completely. It had, in fact, taken a much greater scare for the girl to forget the fright she had experianced that day in the kitchen.

----

It had been in that way that they had begun their time together, and over the next ten years they had spent very little time away from each others company. Despite ten years of freindship, however rocky it may have been at times, Aiyana still hesitated to save Tracy's life. She wasn't an inately selfish person, though she had spent time in her life being so, it was simply that she didn't think either of them would survive if she went in there.

The exterior probe lights weren't a problem, but what if some of the Lashs inside where Warriors? Nothing would keep her hidden then. She had never encounted a Lash who could see her, without the lights, who wasn't a Warrior and no Warriror who couldn't see her as clearly as she could them. And she simply did not want to be caught. Death would be preferable, she knew, to being caught by the Lashs again.

But despite all her misgivings, although she considered and reconsidered every few seconds she still waited by the embankment, prepared for the first opening, the first Lash to move past that might take a few seconds than nessisary to pass the security barriers. No matter her hesitation it was something she would have to risk, because she had made a promise to the woman and it was far too soon to break it. And more selfishly, Tracy was a rare find, something Aiyana hadn't encountered for a long time, and she was unwilling to let go of so soon.

She prepared her defenses as she considered all the things that could go wrong. Battle had to be prepared for, even if she hoped to avoid it. She used the forms of archaic human weapons. Easy, simple defenses that didn't over tax her system, a short sword and a dagger. Things that could be kept close, and moved with ease. She sculpted them carefully, making the edges sharp and the folds of power in them solid with multiple overlapping layers. Once complete she slipped them in the belt shethes and crouched by the road leading into the Holding Centre. Waiting for the right prey.

----

The right prey was a slightly round Lash with a high brow and small eyes. She catalogued him as a possible Talker, one of the Lashs who had learnt the human tongue so that extraction of information was easier. He carried himself confidently, but more importantly, slowly and he was the most likely target to take his time at the gates. Aiyana followed him from the embarkment, aproaching the compound and ready to run at the first sign of awareness from those around her.

The probe light was bright as she drew nearer, keeping low from habbit and tracking the Talker with caution. The embarkment ran out with a good hundred meters of clearing between the road and the Holding Center. It was set up so nothing could approach without warning, and it was efficent with the guards at the gates and those on the higher walls, hidden behind a substance that reminded Aiyana of the mirrors in police interogation room, solid on one side, transparent from the other. She was accutely aware of those watching eyes, even thought she was certain none of them could see her.

The probe light began to fade, the only gap she would be afforded, and she tensed herself counting the seconds before it would be safe to run. Too soon and she'd reveal herself, too late and she wouldn't have enough time before the lights returned. Twenty five seconds and she had to risk it so she ran. Her calf muscles propelled her forward with a jolt and the rest of her body followed the command, pumping adrenaline into her system as she breched the distance between safety and danger.

The Lashs where looking at the Talkers key, asking him questions in that language she had learnt to hate. They seemed relaxed, eyes barely skimming the surroundings, going over her without a pause and then back to the Talker. He seemed just as at ease. She felt almost confident that they would let him in easily, straight through the gates and if she had judged him right he would hesitate to pass a few plesentries with them before going in himself.

She would run right though him if she had to, but that was best to be avoided. Moving through Lashs and Humans alike gave them an awareness of her presense. It was the Lashs who usually acted on that awareness. She was just getting to the gate when she saw one of the guards reached for his own Probe torch, and she threw herself to the side, caught the ground and twisted away from the lights glow as it clicked on. Her body froze, pressed against the hard metal walls of the compound, the Lashs a meter away, the red light of the Probe illuminating the area around the Talker as they continued to twitter away at each other. Her heart pounded deep in her chest, trying to escape as she once more came to terms with how suicidal this idea was.

But there wasn't even time to escape now. The Centers probe lights would complete their circuit soon and be shining on her escape. There was no way now but in. Frozen in place she watched the light out of the corner of her eye, until it clicked off, the red light disapearing and again she was moving, this time fear propelling her faster than any adrenelin could.

The gate was opening, so she risked her luck one more time and instead of waiting for the chance to squeeze past him, she ran through his right arm and through the open passage. She heard talking, a grumble, and saw the flash of red behind her as she turned a corner and came face to face with a very large, very unhappy Lash.

----

Aiyana slid to the side as silently as she could and pressed against the wall as the guard Lash walked through the space she ahd just occupied. And once he had moved further on she allowed herself to move all too aware of the slight clipping sound her booted feet made each time they came into contact with the floor. She wasn't sure what they built with, or at least how they built, but it was certain that their boundries where solid and responded to her presence just as things had back when she had been alive.

Making noise was strange for her and she was determined to draw no more attention to herself then she may already have, so she walked slowly, always careful of each footfall as she searched out whereever Tracy may be.

She had never been in a Holding Centre before, but she had heard enough about them from the rare suvirours to know what she was looking for. So she kept her attention sharp as she walked through the corridors, seeking a sign that she may be close to her destinaiton.

The first four mottled grey corridors proved useless, a series of solid repeatitve doors and nothing moer, but in the firth one she found a larger door, one that had no lock and, hopefully, lead to the middle of the complex where the prisoners would be held.

The solid door worried her, unable to see what lay on the other side, but like any part of this task it was somehting she would have to do. So with caution, ready for whatever may lay ahead of her she touched the door, feeling a jolt of irrational surprise when her fingers stopped pressed against the surface (despite already experiancing this as she walked through the facility) and she pushed the giddy part of her reaction aside, trying to remember that touching was bad, because when you could touch it, it could touch you.

She managed to control most of those feelings and pushed the door and under her weight it shifted back an inch and opened. Aiyana watched the other side as it appeared, but nothing sinister or surprising appeared, merely a path into the dirt floors of the countyardesc area in the middle of the Holding Center. She moved through with haste once sure that her actions had not been spotted and then began her search.

Holding Centre's, she had been told, kept their prisoners in the middle. What else happened in these Center's was a mystery, but that the humans where kept in dug in pens was something that had become knowledge as the centuries went by since the Lash invasion. Aiyana had no trouble finding these pens, dug down into the earth with hard metal covers crisscrossed to keep the humans in, and was quick to begin her search.

She ignored children who cried in hunger and desperation as easily as she ignored the other humans making those noises. Some where silent, tucked into corners with wide rabbit eyes and seekin salvation from anything that might pass. Aiyana was more terrified of the humans than of the Lashs. It was something she had't thought through before entering. Lashs where specific, Warrirors could see her, none of the others ever had. Humans though, the ability to see a Spirit Phase was as random and unpredicatable as a weed. It jumped up into children unexpectedly and it nestled in and stayed. With so few Spirit Phase's left it often occurred that the human became disorientated when first encountering a Spirit Phase, and the disocrentation is was often loud. Tracy had been like that.

So it was with each move past a human that Aiyana feared an interjeciton, shaking at the thought that any single human could suddenly spot her, and her presence would have an effect. Unchained, unguarded, like a strange saviour who wasn't there to save anyone but her friend. She felt the eys move over her, human and Lash, none stopping to rest and register her presence, but that didn't stop the fear. Instead with each pass of eyes across her position she worked faster, looking through the bars below her trying to see Tracy's familiar body.

It was in the thrid cage she found Tracy, small and tucked into a corner. A adult, but barely, and terrified of the situaiton. Her face was hidden in her legs, her arms like a canopy over her head. It was a conditioning Aiyana had see Tracy display before, but never to this extreme. Tracy knew how to hide, and had spent a long life doing just that even if it was useless it was intrinsic and unavidable in this case.

Aiyana couched onto the rouch metal grates just above her friend and took a stediying breath.

"Tracy." She whispered once, then louder "Tracy." She saw the shoulder of her friend stiffen momentarily and relax. "Idiot. I'm up here." Aiyana hissed and was rewarded with those musles stiffening again, but this time they didn't relax.

"How?" Tracy's voice was below a whisper, the other people in her cell close but not invading her space. Aiyana did not have to worry as much as her friend.

"Where are the keys?" Aiyana demanded, disregarding the question of 'how' because it was too hard to explain in such a short time.

"A big Lash, pot belly and a belt tucked in below it. Short arms too. And a bag, it'd hold one of your big books." Some of the prisoners near Tracy had glanced at her once, but looked away now, distrubed by the muttering. Aiyana didn't care, as long as they stayed quiet about it.

"I'm coming back Trace-" She assured and promised as sincerely as she could.

"Please do." Was her only reply.

Each cage had a metal trap door guarded by two Lashs, and each trap door had a key, Aiyana had seen the key slot and Tracy had supplied the nessisary information to find the key it was now just a matter of identifying the Lash who had the key and finding the oportunity to take the key off him.

"Easier said than done." Aiyana grumbled to herself as she stood apart from the movement in the courtyard and watched the Lashs moving about on their business. There where several pot bellied Lashs, beurocrats or something equally exciting, but not one of them had a bag of any description. Lash fashion was something Aiyana had no grasp on. Unlike the materials they had used ot build all their facilities, their fashion had been influenced by the humans of the planet. They where as likely to wear the clothes they had appeared in many years before as they where to wear something that was entierly human and entierly strange to witness. Aiyana had seen few humans embark in the fashion escapades of the Lashs, but there had been one or two very memorable people who had tried it. That all meant that finding a specific bag, large as it may be, was difficult, because she was looking through a field of mottled unco-ordinated clothes and every item had to be assessed as quickly a she could.

When she did find her bag holding, key weilding Lash he was moving about the cages. She ahdn't seen him get close to them, but he had apparently slipped past her awereness. His belt was almost enterily hidden under roles of fat, and the bag hanginf rom his shoulder was a bright red colour that contrasted with his blueish skin. Seeing him walking about the cages Aiyana realised two things; one he was assessing the prisoners for transport, and two, this might be her best chance to get Tracy out of there.

She did something she hated, but was nessisary as she made her quick way back to Tracy's cell: she began to sink. One step at a time, forcing herself to shift through the earth and below the alien metal top of Tracy's cell. Going through the ground was no more difficult than walking through a wall – though that had taken it's own amount of training and bargining. But Aiyana had discovered that the process of going down tended to mark her feel queasy and weak. As if she had been spun in a tumble machine for an hour and then released. She and Sweetpea had decided, with no evidence to support it, that it was the minds way of coping with intansiance. The mind decided that floor had to be solid, so instead of sinking through it, as they logically should, they encountered ground. Never touching, never felt it, but suspended about it. Sweetpea had been convinced that by logical extension that would mean they can fly, since it was the brain making the decissions not gravity or anything like that, but Sweetpea never managed even the slightest hover, and Aiyana decided if the Lashs didn't treat it as feasable then there was probably something inhibiting in the brain or the somewhere else that prevented it from happening. They, after all, where the ones who had mastered Spirit Phase, and used it to their own ends.

----

Tracy was waiting for her when she walked through the final wall of dirt into the cell. Hardly noticable to those who didn't know her, but Tracy had taken up a different stance and was looking bright eyed again. She didn't speak again, aware that her muttering might take on a different meaning now she wasn't hiding like a squiral in the corner.

"His doing rounds." Aiyana informed her, with a glance around the cell. There where too many people in here, seven not counting Tracy, spreed out, but still interfearing. Aiyana checked them with a superficial glance for weapons of use, but knew that her best bet would be her own weapons. She fingered her dagger and turned her attention to above where the Lashs moved.

"Are you ready for this?"

Without hesitation Tracy answered, "Yes."

"We could die."

"Yes." Again with no hesitation.

Aiyana nodded, they both knew what the outcome would be if they didn't try but it was part of their arangement and Aiyana had to respect it or loose it. Perhaps in this circumstance it didn't count, but if there was time to ask, she felt it had ot be done.

"It's going to hurt." Aiyana warned one last time, and she felt Tracy withdrawl into herself, but the answer came clear none-the-less. A 'Yes' to go with all the others.

Aiyana checked Tracys position and the people in the cell once more. Then jumped high, catching the bars and raised herself to try and see a bit further out beyond the cell. Nobody called her into order as they would the prisoners if they had made such a move. Aiyana was glad about that. She held herself up, muscles strained against the pull and watched at the pot bellied Lash came closer.

"Over to the far east corner." She instructed, and Tracy began to pace, shifting her position left then right, before she made it to the corner –close the the trap door which was good. It was calculated movements to keep herself inconspicious, but the guards weren't watching and the other prisoners didn't care.

"Crouch down." Aiyana instructed as she dropped to the ground, now seeing those feet stepping over Tracy disregardingly. The two guards above began to talk to him and he stopped, there, in perfect reach.

It wouldn't get any easier than this.

She threw herself into Tracy, feeling her body disapear and the sensations of the living world assult her. She pushed those aside, checked to make sure Tracy was still at the surface where she needed to be, and moved. Her first action was to grab her dager up, feeling it as solid in Tracys hand as it had been in her own, then to spring. The smooth orange blade slid into the Lashs achilies tendon (or wahtever it was called on an alien being of similar anatomy) and he fell before he was aware he was moving.

Aiyana swung Tracy's body up, feet catching into the bars and holding her up while her free hand grabbed at his bag.

One of the guards was trying to drag the injurged away, another was shoving a spear down at her, she dodged it, but felt a seering pain in her shoulder which means her dodge wasn't as effective as she assumed.

She seccured the bag just as the guards reaised what she was doing. Shouts went out from them, and she guessed they had noticed her weapon at last. It wasn't good for them to know so quickly, but she had no time to care. She ripped the bag open and the contents fell through the metal mesh. The other prisoners where in shock, watching, one was already going through the Lashs things though, throwing things aside and then he had the key.

"Get the gate." She ordered, and like anyone desperate for escape, he did what the only person with a plan ordered. She caught the spear that came down next time, and although it burnt into her hand she ripped it from the guards hold. It fell to the cell floor when she let it go, and she followed it down.

"It's open!" He shouted, as he pushed it up and out, and Aiyana was quick to move, feeling the humans behind her rallying now that they knew freedom might be possible. She let him go first as he hoisted himself through the exit, leting him use her shoulder as extra support, and was surprised when his hand came down to help her.

She thought 'idiot' but didn't say it. Instead used his help and was outside. Her first strike was to the guard behind the male prisoner, taking his shoulder with a swing of her larger blade. It shrieked and backed away, curing a word she knew but couldn't relipcate. It was naming her for what she was, a dead ghost inhabiting a humans body. She called their kind Warriors when they did the same thing.

Her next strike was at the closest aproaching guard.

"Leave them." She ordered him when he reached for another prisoner to help them out. None of them remained to help him and he ignored her. She let it go, she couldn't save everyone, if she saved Tracy it would be enough, more than expected and more than she had a right to hope for.

Tracy's voice tried to interupt, a soft 'Can't we help them?' and Aiyana did what she knew she could do. She left him to his fate. Tracy's worry and discontent was obvious, a thick solid feeling trying to choke out Aiyana's adrenaline and fear, but she did not let it. He had to be left, if he followed she would let him, but she could not go out of her way for anyone else today.

His actions though, helped her unexpectedly, because suddenly instead of focusing on one human with a Spirit Phase, they faced a multitude of desperate humans trying to escape. There was no way to tell, without a Warrior, which was the most dangerous.

Aiyana used it to her advantage, ducked into shadows and moved with stealth. Movements that hadn't been nessisary to enter suddenly made the difference between life and death. She got into the complex again, not a hundred persent sure tha she was going the right way, but unable to stop and double check. It had been north that she had come from so she was aiming for that. Without the sun though it was hard to tell. If only Tracy had been caught in the day light, but perahps the Center would have had Warriros and more guards at that time of day.

Three Lashs got in her way, she cut the firsts shoulder, the second behind the knee and the third got her short sword across his face. He would probably even live, when he recovered from the shock. None of them made her hesitate. She was doing well, avoiding the killing blows as she made her way through the corridors, wishing she had picked up the key when the trapdoor had bene open, until the large Lash she had enountered before blocked her path. Small cuts to his arms when he reached for her. A shoulder to his nose when he got to close. Then the burning pain as something cut into her arm and Aiyana paniced, because it wasn't her body to die in. Her blade went stright through his throat with a roar, and the backlash was instant.

It flooded through the blade nad into her, a lifes worth of untapped and fetted energy and it slammed into her in a single breath. She reeled from the shock as he fell to the ground, her short sword broke in the surprise and disapeared. She didn't have time to care.

She stumbled into the wall and gasped, her chest screaming.

'Nearly there, Aiyana, keep moving, nearly there.' Tracy's voice encouraged from within, begging and pleading and demanding with each word.

It felt like she was moving with increments, tiny little increments that barely counted as movement, but she was standing by the time she was concious of deciding to try and she was at the gate that left the Holding Center, ignogin the red probe lights that burnt on full beam throughout the centre now. She forced the white from her eyes, forced focus to waver back in, even though it continued to slip away from her, and she managed to keep it long enough block the first swing from the smaller of the gates guards. The second swing landed against her lower ribs, and winded her. She hit the wall with a shock, and white threatened to invade her senses again. Too much stimulation, too much and she was using everything in her just to stay concious.

She reached for her weapons and realised her concentration had wavered too much and they where gone. She blocked the next blow and caught the weapon aiming for her skull between clapped palms, curled her fingers around and wrenched it out of the second guards hold. With moves memorised rather than concious she swung the weapon back at them, aiming for ones head. He blocked and she lunged him, throwing him down against the ground with her weight, then caught the key on his belt unhooking it as another blow landed against her lower back. She arched into the Lash below her before being thrown aside her fingers clunging tenacously to the keys all the while.

They took a moment to recoup, and she desperatly wanted to, but instead she fumbled, for the key slot, shaking even as she slotted it into place. One of them grabbed her hair so she hit down against the key, snapping it into place even as she was pulled back from the console. She elbowed back into his tiny nose and with whatever was left in her body, Tracy's body, she ran.

Ran through the opening gate, ran through the red pulsing lights of the probes and kept on going as far as she could. Tracy's words encourging, begging, doing the only thing she could in that recess of awareness she was pushed too when inhabited. Tracy's voice, though, was becoming weaker and softer with each foot fall, and Aiyana knew she wasn't running anymore, just moving, limping across the rugged grounds, trying to put space between them and the Lashs while she still could.

When things started to feel soft and pliable, when her feet didn't quite hit the ground, when her breaths stopped pulling in and filling her lungs with flavoured air, and when, finally, Tracy fell forwards but Aiyana remained standing she knew the seperation had occurred.

As instantly as her body calmed, Tracy's errupted. It seemed Tracy hadn't realised she'd been stabbed. A scream rent the air and Aiyana could hardly realise it was Tracy's as her mind shut down to white again. Her hand pressed hard against her brow, trying to push it back for a little while longer, knowing they where not far enough away.

Tracy didn't make another noise after the first scream and Aiyana took too long to open her eyes and find out why. Her friend was on the ground still, one hand clutched around the opposite arm as blood seeped through her fingers. Her shoulder was burnt, and her face was steadily becoming whiter.

"Up." Aiyana managed to squeak out. "Up!" She demanded with more power.

"Oh god." Tracy cried out, but Aiyana couldn't offer her sympathy.

"Tracy get up!" She shouted, wanting to shake the woman until the point was made, "They'll be coming, they'll be here soon. We need to hide." They where in the open, so exposed to anything that came. At least if they made it somewhere else.

"Up?" Tracy echoed.

"Up." Aiyana encouraged, letting her voice become soothing, coaxing a reaction which came slowly. Tracy released her arm to push her body into a sitting opsition.

"Up." Tracy tried again, face white and turning a little blue in places. They needed to tornicay the wound, but Aiyana didn't think Tracy could manage it. Besides it was bleeding but not despeartly so she could only hope the physical response was from shock, because there was nothing she could do until she regained some control of her own shocked system.

Tracy stood slowly, wobbly, and began to move with Aiyana by her side, encourging, and whispering.

Left foot, right foot. Keep moving.

Breath deep.

Hold the arm tighter.

It's okay, we're going to be safe soon. You're doing well, we're nearly there.

Right foot.

Take a breath. It's okay, your okay. Just stand up again.

Stand up Tracy, stand up.

But in the end it didn't matter what she said, or how she encouraged, because there was only so much a body could handle before it shut down, and Tracy's had hit it's limit. So without meaning to ignore Aiyana, Tracy didn't get up a second time, and instead her muscles gave up, and her body slumped down against the floor.

It was the first time Aiyana noticed the sieryns roaring from the Holding Centre.

----

"Do you fancy them that much, that your waiting for them to come get you?"

That had been the question the stranger had asked before reaching down to pick Tracy up. Even in the midst of her desperate confussion she had noticed the question had been aimed at her, but it hadn't occurred to her until some time later when he had put Tracy down, tended to her wounds with a jittery energy and then turned around to face her again.

"You need to rest too, don't you?" He had demanded, and she had been so surprised he had laughed at her, and he had laughed so much it had taken him some time to recover. If she hadn't been so tired she might have been just as amused as he was, but in her current state all she could do was stare at him in a mix of horror and curiosity. In the end he had smiled at her kindly and left the room. She didn't know where he went, but she had taken the chance to recover herself as best she could and check on Tracy.

Tracy's wounds had been wraped neatly and a slather of cream spread across them all. She was still pale, and a sheen of sweet had built across her brow but tended to as she was Aiyana could believe she would recover. Perhaps not today, or tomorrow, but within the week Tracy would be ready to move. And move they would, because Aiyana did not feel safe in this new environment. She would pick it over the Lashs, but that wasn't the highest compliment ever paid.

She had two options to consider regarding the young man who had appeared out of nowhere before them. The first, less unsettling, was that he could see her, but had not yet noticed that she was anything but a normal, living, human. The second made her skin prickle with distaste, he knew what she was because this wasn't the first time he had encountered her kind.

In the extended time of her existance Aiyana had encountered many people who could see her. In those early years inparticular she had encountered hundreds of them. But just like the rest of humanity, their numbers had deminished with time. Aiyana could not help remembering that not all of them ahd been good, not all of them had honourable intentions. Some wanted to use, some wanted to abuse and some wanted to destroy. Aiyana had learnt to recognise them back in those days, but with each year they became a little craftier, and a little harder to handle. She had had her share of friends, like Tracy, and she had trusted many of them, but it had always been important to be guarded and ready. This new man, barely twenty if she had to guess, could just as easily turn her over to the Lashs as want to have a quite conversation about the colour of the sky (which was blue). But so long as Tracy was imobalised Aiyana had no choice but to let fate play out as it would.

----

He came back some hours later, looking flushed and excited. Aiyana watched him bounce across the room clutching a bag to his chest. She tensed when he crouched over Tracy, eyeing him weirily and wondering if he was compatible. She was tired, her system overwrought from the rescue, but she might be able to do enough damage to him if it turned out he was out to harm.

The man, though, did nothing of harm, instead he changed the bindings on Tracy, wiped down the visible sweet on her face, arms and legs, and then pulled out a large jar.

"It's juice." He told Aiyana before setting it aside. "She needs to eat something right?" He reached under Tracy and raised her into a sitting position, but she did not respond. "What's her name?"

"Who are you?" Aiyana demanded. He looked over at her for a second, the happy expression dampened by hard intelligence, and he smiled gently.

"Nick." His smile quirked up on the right side. "The names Nick, and I'm trying to keep your friend alive, alright? So what's her name?"

"Tracy." She felt helpless as she watched him cojour Tracy into conciousness, feeding her small cap fulls of juice until Tracy refused to take anymore, then settling her back down on the ground to rest more. Tracy could remember her youth, however long ago it was, she could remember touching and feeling and being part of the moving world. She could remember tending to her family in the same way Nick was able to tend to Tracy. It made her jealous, so extreamly jealous of his power.

When he finished tending to Tracy he moved away and took a seat against the wall near Aiyana. Then reverntly he drew a piece of fruit from his bag and began eating. Aiyana hadn't seen fruit for six months, at least, but she couldn't bring herself to question him. Still trapped down in her emtoins and that overwhelming feeling of uselessness.

"I think you overdid it." He spoke between a mouthfull of peach. She frowned at the words, glaring at the floor. From the corner of her eye she saw him jesture towards Tracy. "She's half dead, more than half dead. Your lucky I was there."

"Why where you there?" Aiyana hissed out, reflecting guilt with anger.

He raised his hand to his face, and scratched. "Just having a look. I don't usually get close enough to Lash places to know much about them, so they're kind of fasinating."

The right place at the right time? Aiyana had trouble beliving that, because nothing seemed to happen at the right place or the right time in her life.

"Isn't it dangerous?" She questioned out of habbit, "just to sate curiosity?"

"I wasn't going to get that close." He grumbled back. "But then I saw you two – well her anyway and I made a decission." His shoulder raised and fell quickly, "It's just the sort of thing I always get in trouble for."

Aiyana considered asking who got him in trouble, wondering if he belonged to a proper family collective that grew their food and tilled land hidden from the Lashs, but she was too tired to care and she needed to stay awake. No matter how trustworthy he seemed, she would not let her guard slip.

Besides she was still uncertain of his sincerity no matter how easy it felt to trust him. It was possible that everything he had said was honest and true, curiosity being such a powerful motivator. Although her situation had been different she could understand afterall she could still remember her young habbit of bypassing security just to touch those walls.

----

She'd done it so many times before that she knew the signals, knew the timing, but it didn't' stop the excitement and adrenaline pumping through her. Jittery she counted each gap between the lights pulse, letting the cucle run three times before she wet her lips and commited to the act.

Her body tensed when the probing red illuminated the outer wall of the holding center, on the balls of her feet, ready to push off. Then they dimmed, a slow fade that made her anxious. She counted to ten: one thousand, two thousand. Then flung herself forward sharp and taught, like a snapping elastic.

The debri was insubstantial, mapped in her head while she waited, so nothing could slow her down until with a soft thud she came in contact with the outer wall.

Little jolts of electricity shuffled through her nerves. Cold metal. She wanted to run her tongue over it and see if it had a taste but it was too vile to consider what that falvour would be. Instead she marveled in her chance not letting the litterny of numbers slow or wane in her head.

Thirteen, fourteen.

She pressed herself harder against the surface, scratching her check against the rough graineual like texture. Metal cement, that's what it felt like.

Twenty.

A deep breath and she relaxed against it, letting her body slump into its first real support in years.

Twenty-seven, Twenty-eight.

She began to tense again, knowing it would come, the numbers all too clear.

Twenty-nine.

"Thirty." She reminded herself with a whisper.

She frowned at her disobedient body. "Thrity." She ordered and again it didn't move. The alarm in her sesnses was going off, a reminder that the lights would be on again soon and the weakest part of her didn't' care because it needed this. Needed the reality of the solid, a reality she could find no-where else. Her world was too small and broken.

----

Nick had finished feeding Tracy again, including a struggling walk to get her outside to releave herself. Aiyana had followed to make sure her friend was safe, but, as Nick had, averted her eyes and given the woman as much privacy as could be afforded. Nick was doing a good job of tending to the wounds, wrapping them tight and smothering them in some sort of herbal cream he had on hand. But Tracy's wounds needed proper medical attention, attention that he was clearly not capable of supplying. Aiyana had learnt a lot, stuck in an almost sleepless form for so many hundreds of years, and one of those things had been stritchs. It had surprised her when the knowledge had almost fadded from the human mind when it was such a simple (though painful) task and had many benefits. These days the injured had to rely on their own power to recover.

As it was, however, Aiyana would have to wait for Tracy to be stronger before she put her through that kind of ordeal. She knew from her time with Tracy that the girl had a low pain tolerance threshold, so sewing her own arm together would prove impossible. Aiyana would have to do it, as she had before, and that meant Tracy had to be stronger still.

"You don't talk much." Nick grumbled from across the room, and she smiled at the childish antic.

"You just have to find the right topic." She teased lightly. He was an affable man, light and excitable, like a young boy who never quite grew up and she enjoyed the jovality of his personality, it had been rare before the destruction, it was rarer still.

His eyes raked over her thoughtfully. "How about telling me about your clothes."

"My-?" She looked down and stopped the question before it could escape. A sudden feeling of desolation washing over her and pulling her under. Of course, she had forgotten she was tired. The pleated grey skirt, knee high socks and bleeched white shirt where things she hated to see. She felt bile rise in her throat at the reminder and turned her attention back to the man across the room. "I found them." She bit out, and knew from the look in his eyes that her expression hid nothing.

If he asked, she would walk away, even if it meant leaving Tracy for a time. There where some things she could not handle.

He raised himself against the wall at his back, slow and deliberate movements, then with the sense of someone approching an injured animal he came towards her. She watched each movement with measured caution, aware of the wall behind her own back, at ready to slip through it if she needed to. When he had reached her he lowered himself into a crouch before her and his hand began to reach out. She tensed but did not run.

"I know what you are, you know?" He whispered as the hand pressed through her upper arm. As if he would have tried to touch her comfortingly if he had been able to.

"Get away from me." She growled in defense, but he just smiled a sad little smile.

"It's what you died in, isn't it?"

She wanted to hit him, to throw him away, to run away, anything but sit through this moment as it was panning out, but instead she forced herself to remain still, to deal with it, because running away would only hurt more. But because he knew, and she didn't have to wonder anymore, she focused on changing, the first thing she needed was to fix her clothes, so she shifted them, imagining something less like the school uniform she had been wearing, and instead on something her sister might have worn. Three quarter length pants and a loose soft blouse. She knew she still looked foreign, but that was hardly ever her concern. In the past hundred years she had encountered only twelve people who could see her.

"You look older like that."

Aiyana met Nicks curious eyes for only a moment before looking away. There where some stories of her life she wasn't wiling to share, and that was the main one. The time before her death was a constant reminder of everything she should have treasured and hadn't properly appreciated. It was a bitter reminder of what she was now and what she had been and she did not share it with anyone, because there was no need. They couldn't offer condolences, or fix what had been so she would rather pretend that her life had only ever been as it was now.

"You look like an idiot." She defended, her voice more aggressive than she wanted it to be. She wanted to pretend it was a joke mostly because he looked anything but.

His smile broke the dimples on his checks into sharp releif. "Maybe I am."

"You must be." Aiyana countered "because why else would you be that close to a Lash infestation."

"I was looking-"

"So was I." She deadpaned, making sure he understood that her doubt was second only to her disbeleif. He hesitated scratching at her check bone and watching her, she changed the topic before he had to make the decision swirling below the surface of gentle brown eyes. "Where do you get the fruit?"

His grin broke again, so easy to conjur and she wondered how quick it would fade as well.

"Theres a little stall that travels these parts. Lots of humans hiding in the town less than an hour from here. Not sure where they get the fruit, but I know it's worth the price."

"We'll pay you back." Aiyana stated quickly, thinking of money for the first time.

"No need." He dismissed far too easily. She bit into her check to keep the argument at bay, even if Tracy was unwell they would have to make a stop at the squat they had been in and retreieve their bags. There was no way Aiyana was leaving any ambigious depts behind when they left. He hadn't risked his life and he his time had barely been infinged upon. If he proved difficult she would simply leave nothing for him and disapear. She and Tracy had a lot of practice disapearing and excelled at it.

She knew she couldn't lie and pretend she was happy about his dismisal of her offer, and he seemed to sense that she was discontent, so conversation, once more, tettered off into silence as they both waiting for Tracy to recover.

"Go to sleep." He instructed after a long silence.

"Not on her life." Aiyana refuted and he let the topic drop once more.

----

Aiyana's first proof that Nick wasn't as harmless as he wanted her to think came when Tracy had awoken on the seventh day in their temporary home and had managed to sit up. Aiyana had breathed a sigh of relief.

"Your awake."

"I feel sore." Tracy grumbled, leaning herself against the nearest wall. Fortunatly the room was small so it wasn't far for the woman to travel. Aiyana moved across the room to her side and tok a seat.

"Shaking?" She quested, and despite years of this life she wanted to check with contact, it was a useless desire.

Tracy raised her hand into the air and they both watched the slight tremors.

"Hows your focus?" And Tracy glanced across the room.

"All I see is an ugly dirty room."

"Then your seeing just fine." Aiyana grumbled. Apparently this part of the country hadn't faired very well after the wall of fire. It was possible a lot of people had survived, and as such there had been more people to vandalise and squat over the years. The other posibility was that the Lashs hadn't been very active here, and the humans had flocked to the area. Either way the back room of the warehouse was full of broken boards and the walls once a dark blue where now a grimy waste. Personally Aiyana would have found a better place to stay, but she hadn't had the chance to place her vote in the situation. Anywhere had been an improvement.

"I can't believe you got me stabbed, twice." Tracy grumbled.

"I was aiming for three, but he died too quickly." Aiyana offered in apology.

"You could have gone back to find another one. I'm sure one of the others would have obliged."

"Next time Trace –"

"Yeah yeah, you make all these promises but we both know your no good for them." It wasn't meant as a reprimand, but Aiyana felt it reverberate with history, her own history of broken lives and forgotten souls. They both felt the mood change and suddenly the light banter was broken into by a heavy silence.

Tracy broke it, "Thank you for getting me out of there." She whispered at last, and she reached her hand up, hovering it near Aiyana's shoulder and neck. Aiyana smiled at the gesture and felt within her the first honest gladness that she had rescued this life before her.

"We have a deal, Trace."

And Tracys hand fell back to her own side. "I would have left you." Tracy admited.

"Your not supposed to endanger yourself, it's not part of the deal."

"I turn book pages for you Aiyana, even I didn't expect you to come and get me."

Aiyana reached forward, her hand sliding into Tracys listless one and with the contact she forced a brief connection.

"A life for a life." Aiyana broke contact and smiled. "I'm supposed to take care of you and I'm pretty sure leaving you there wouldn't had covered that." Aiyana smiled awkwardly at the woman in her care. "But that's the end of that. I choose to do it and I did, now we have to focus on getting you better."

"Did I imagine a boy?" Tracy asked suddenly and Aiyana grinned at the easy change of topic. They hadn't known each other for ten years for no reason, and it was one of the things that Aiyana aprecaited the most about her young friend, Tracy didn't linger on a topic when Aiyana wanted to move on.

"His names Nick, and his been looking after you. He found us just outside the Holding Centre and carried you here."

"Does he know?"

"Hmm…. it seems so, but how much he knows is yet to be seen."

"Do we need to-" Tracy was cut off by the door opening, and Aiyana could see the averted eyes of the man entering, as if he was trying not to interupt but with a guilty air of someone who had been listening. Aiyana wasn't sure though, she had seem genuine people in her time, and then the people who pretended to be genuine, it was ahrd to tell them apart.

She moved away from Tracy as he aproached. "Are you feeling rested?"

"Not particularily. I still feel like I've bee stabed in the arm and shoulder."

"Well, considering the damage you took, your bodies recovering quickly."

"Good."

"What did they use?" Nick asked suddenly, his expression intently curious.

"Pardon?" Tracy parotted her expression stuck between shock and incredulity.

"Their weapons, what did they look like?"

"A pulse blade and a soldering spear." Aiyana interupted, not comfortable with Tracy divulging that she wasn't perfectly aware, because although she hadn't been pushed to the recesses of her mind, her perception had still been limited.

"A what?" The man looked like he was taking notes in his mind, and Aiyana set that information aside to answer his question. There was no harm in arming others against the common enemy.

"A pulse blade-" she began checking that it was the information he ahd wanted, and being greeted by a listening expresison "-is sort of like an electric current filtered through a sheet of hard metal. It can be any size larger than your forearm."

"How big was this one?"

"About the minimum size. It was only a holding cell."

"How do they lock the electricity in there?"

"I don't know, a circuit maybe. It's not like I had time to stare at it." She wondered why she hadn't bothered with that piece of knowledge, usually when she thought of something she put a great deal of effort into studying it, but there was something too dangerous about taking their weapons and examining them in detail. At least that was the best guess she could come up with for her failing.

He took time to digest the information, turning it about in his head before he turned to the next question.

"And the soldering spear?"

"It's made of something, I'm not quite sure what, something from their world maybe, and it holds heat but keeps it's form. So it burns, like a soldering iron."

"A what?" His puzzled explained to her that she had overstepped her assumed knowledge.

"It's-" She shrugged the question away as smoothly as she could, "I don't know, just something I've heard of. But the weapon, it burns right through."

"Which explains the hole where my shoulder used to be." Tracy interupted with a grump.

"It's better to be hit with that then their other weapons, no blood loss so you can still get away." Aiyana explained, because if she had had her choice it would have been the only weapon the Lashs had.

"So-" Nick interupted their half hearted glareing contest, "you've seen these before, these weapons?"

"Once or twice." She gestured out of hand. "Patrols carry them sometimes, you know." As if that would make her knowledge any less strange, but he knew she was dead – or at least different, and he probably knew that she ahd been around for a while. Perhaps he wouldn't realise how long she had been around, but new Spirit Phases came about when people died still – which is why the Lashs where so careful when killing humans, and although the new ones didn't always last long they still existed.

"Could you draw them for me?" He asked thoughtfully but it was a quesiton she didn't like so her response was quick and sharp;

"With what?"

Silence stretched for a long time, as he struggled to reword his quesiton and Aiyana glared him down. It was Tracy who broke the silence when a cackle snuck through her clenched lips.

"Trace." Aiyana admonished, feeling her own lips twitch in response.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but I've seen you so touchy before."

"It's not funny." She tried to grump, but the smile in her eyes and the twitching corner of her lips betrayed the pout.

----

Aiyana discovered Nick's habbits that night, because although she had begun to see that keen intelligence in his eyes and was all too aware of the facsinaiton he had shown when she described the Lashs she hadn't passed the actions off as anything more than interest. But when Tracy was sitting up, wide awake and bored, Aiyana had made her first tri out of the room they inhabited.

The warehouse was very large, and cluttered with machinery of some kind or another, most of it ransacked, all of it broken. Aiyana passed it with little interest, only bothering to note that it had not been a food processing or wrapping plant, those factories where always worth more investigation on the chance of remainders.

Aiyana wasn't looking for anything inparticular, but she was bored. It didn't matter if she had been concious for over a thousand years, or that she was dead, she had still been sitting in a room watching a mostly unconcious person for the past seven days.

So she explored the warehouse, not the equipment, but all the spare rooms. She would have moved on to, to whatever buildings this town had supported but she was stopped when she found his nest. She wanted to call it a nest because it was a haphazzard pile of junk at first glance. She could see a pile of blankets where he had clearly been sleeping and a collection of food stuff that might still be edible, if one was desperate.

It was obvious from the amount of living that had been done in the room that he had been there for some time. That would explain why he knew where to buy freash fruit, but not why it had been his first time going near the Holding Centre.

Aiyana was more curious when her foot struck one of the items on the floor and an electric jolt of pain shot up her leg. She stepped back and reapraised the pile of junk noticing an scattering of Lash technology amidst it.

Curious, she noted, and studying.

He was learning about the Lashs. She physically moved the sheet of metal she had kicked, pleased with the strain of her muslces as they encountered a real obsticle. Seven days in good company and she was feeling better than she wanted him to notice, but a sheet of the Lash like metal was hardly any more hindrance for her then it would be for a living breathing human.

Under the sheet she found the bombs. That kind of technology she had learnt about and she recognised the rudemetry combination of checmicals, wires and other bomb like bits. She put the sheet back where it had been, and then reconsidered her presence in the room. It didn't take more than a moment to decide she didn't care why he had them, or what he was doing with them, so long as the danger wasn't aimed at Tracy or herself.

So she left the room the same way she had come in, quickly and silently, and she turned her attention on the rest of the warehouse, but didn't go beyond. Instead she returned to find Tracy half asleep but attentive. At her arrival Tracy relaxed, and Aiyana watched as the girl curled back onto her bed and fell asleep.

----

When Tracy woke that night Aiyana was sitting beside her, and Tracy remained silent as Aiyana motioned to the man asleep not to far from either of them. Tracy pointed to the exit questioning and Aiyana nodded quickly, she had made her decission and although he seemed harmless it was no use surviving what they had only to die because of his ambitions and curiosities.

Tracy seemed to consider it, her tired recovery clear and Aiyana felt a bit bad. When Tracy reached out to beckong Aiyana to merge Aiyana refused the option. It would be easier for Tracy, perhas, but she wasn't that recovered and Tracy certainly wasn't recovered enough – there where limits to energy and strength and neither had the right to try those out just now.

Tracy made a vallient attempt at a smile as she forced herself up and with as little noise as possible, something most humans who didn't live amongst their own kind had become good at, she raised herself from the hard wooden floor. Aiyana kept her eyes on Nick too as her friend began her exit and once Tracy had been gone for some minutes Aiyana left as well. Keeping company was too dangerous, solitary humans had a greater chance of survival – that's what she and Tracy had learnt in their life times.

Tracy didn't wait for her, but she didn't have to. Instead Aiyana quickly caught up with the woman, cutting through walls and machinery to reach the exit at the same time.

"What's first?" Tracy asked quietly.

"We find the Holding Centre and work backwards from there." Aiyana supplied. They wouldn't linger, but their bags where too valuable to leave behind if they didn't have to.

"Bag?" Tracy double checked and Aiyana nodded absently as she sought out signs of the Lash Holding Centre or the best location to find it from.

In the end she chose a five story building three blocks from them that had an unobscured view of the town around it. There where higher buildings but it was a good start and it would see them on their way, at least the beginning of it.

"Over there." Tracy motioned, and they both, went, sticking to the shadows cast by moonlight and listening for intrusion or the enemy. It was no more nerve wracking than any of their usual journeys, but with the thread of Nick following them they treated it with extra care.

At the building Tracy waiting outside, all the doors baracadded with something or another, and Aiyana ran the gauntlet, through walls and up stairs, seeking the highest ground possible. She was on the fourth floor, aiming for the roof when she glanced out the western window and saw the illuminated red of the Holding Centre. Apparently they where still on high alert, which wasn't good for them, but still worth the risk, so long as they didn't get close.

She had to admit she couldn't remember which direcition they had come from, they had been scouting so hey where out of their known grounds, and she had been so distracted by her friends capture that she hadn't paided more attention then to remember left, right, left, left and a few distinguishing marks on the land scape. That meant they would have to find the embankment by the main entrance before she could start retracing their steps. Tracy may even remember some of it, the girl was a natural surviver so it would be possible – unless she had lost her faith and thought the effort useless.

Aiyana resolved herself to the task, as long as they didn't get close they where fine. At least, so long as they watched out for patrols as well. It couldn't be any harder than most of their life, and with what stored energy they both had Aiyana could get them out the hold of at least three Lashs.

----

"Do you think we where being rude?" Tracy huffed as she laboured up the last incline on their journey to the small town they had been inhabiting. Aiyana glanced back a sheen of sweat on her own brow and her concentration devided.

"Rude?" That was a novel idea, and one she hadn't considered for a long time, except in the rare occasions when she and Tracy had altercations. It was inevitable living with someone through their adolesence that there would be altercatoins.

"Yeah, to that Nick guy."

"He had bombs." Aiyana hoped that was explenation enough and bit back the mocking thoughts that only Tracy would waste her time worrying about what was rude or not in this day and age. It was nice to have someone with manners on occasions, annoying on others.

"But-" Tracy slipped down the shale surface and even as Aiyana started in surprise the girl caught and rightened herself. "But maybe he was killing Lashs, or something."

Aiyana waited while Tracy caught up and as they continued their journey she made sure Tracy was in front of her, it was little help, but it made her feel better. "That makes it better does it?"

"Of course!"

Tracy glanced over her shoulder. "Focus on what your doing Trace!" Aiyana admonished as the girls back foot slipped out of place. She waited again until Tracy was showing progress before continuing the conversation. "Blowing up people or Lashs or just buildings for fun, it doesn't matter. Bomb makers are statistically more likely to die from explosions, did you know that?"

Despite the warnings Tracy threw another expression over her shoulder at Aiyana, this one Aiyana knew meant to remind her that often she spoke in a manner that beffuddled Tracy beyond words. "What does that matter anyway?"

"It means that being near him increases your chances of dying."

"Your being unfair." Tracy informed as she reached the precipace they had been aiming for. Aiyana wasn't sure what the building had been, but it was tucked in the midst of a broken and torn mountain. The building itself was small, and they had hoped that it was hidden well enough with no access roads. It was always possible they hadn't noticed one but the Lashs had taken the hard path as well, so it was entierly possible that it had only been a scouting party and not a hunting group that had found them.

"No. We where never going to stay, now we're just not going back to give him a reward because I will not risk it no matter how nice he was."

"You liked talking to him." Was the leveled accusaion made as they both straightened their clothes and dusted off the fine filament of rock that had crept into their clothes.

Aiyana brushed it off as well, agitated by it's existance at all. She couldn't even really feel the rock, but it clung to her – there where things that made no sense in this life of hers and things she could not even begin to fathom. The rock, she knew from experience, would be as intangable as she was if seen, and if she forgot about it, it often went away on it's own. She was left wit the only real option that it was all in her mind again, but with no way to overcome it.

"I like talking to people, it doesn't mean they aren't dangerous." Aiyana decided it was a pointless conversation, something she should have known when they had started it some kilometers before, once safely past the Holding Centre. "Wait here, I'll check for drones."

There wasn't much chance of a drone, both knew that, otherwise they would have been quiet on their aproach, but even the small safety precautions where worthwhile. There was always the posibility the Lashs had realised which human had gone missing, as they where bound to have been trying to do, and come back to retrace. If that was the case they where probably dead – Aiyana realised as she passed through the corrigated iron walls into the small cubical like building. It was a relisaiton that made her panic and hesitate for a second, until her body relaxed. She hadn't lived this long by panicing at every possiblit that suggested itself. Besides the room was clear.

"We're good Trace." She called back as she moved further into the complex of poorly made temporary offices. She had seen these before, portable offices moved on the backs of trucks and dumped wherever the work was being done. They where hot, unstable and mostly unpleasent, which meant they where a good place to hide, because no-one else bothered with them. Not with so many avaiable buildings that where better insulted and located.

She heard Tracy making her way into the first room, cautious in her own way, but also undeiably trusting.

"Clear." Aiyana called from the next room, keeping alert for anything that might imply interfearance. She had managed to see the cursry damage the Lashs ahd made after grabbing Tracy, but nothing else seemed unsettled. At least, though, they had been soughting through the offices posiessions rather than deeper in where their own belongings had been left. The mosst insulated of the buildings, so therefore the warmest in the winter months.

Tracy followed her in and Aiyana moved on, like a game of tag they kept moving, room to room, keeping their eyes and ears open, but after the first five rooms it was clear that the Lashs had no penetrated. The dusty floor remained unmarred but for Tracys small footprints. Or unmarred for many years in the least.

"I think we're good from here on." Unless there's a hunter. But Aiyana would never say that to Tracy. It was a trade off she had been forced to make when she allowed the human into her life, she couldn't cringe at shadows, she could not treat each move as if the enemy would spot it. Her parnoia remained, but it was stiffled by her desire to remain unaffected. Tracy sometimes noticed, but she never seemed to delve into it, which was a blessing in itself.

Both agreeed it was safe enough, so together they moved on through the complex, waving the relatively small path to their own hideout and both where releaved to find it untouched.

Tracy rolled her bedding up quickly, firming it into a single small shape before strapping it to the side of the very large backpack. Aiyana always felt guilty that she couldn't carry anything but it was, again, something she had learnt to live with.

"So the school?" Tracy questioned as she clipped things into place, making herself as comfortable as possible in the heavy contaptoin. Aiyana didn't think they could handle much more weight in the pack (and on Tracys back) but schools had so much potential it was hard to-

"Where's the book?" Interupted her thoughts, and Aiyana looked to where her book had been. She must have remembered it wrong, so she glanced around the room once before settling on Tracys ashen face. Aiyana wet her lips and then they both moved, silently and carefully back through the woven pathway, Aiyana keeping herself close to Tracy and repeating the sequence to remove and release the pack that Tracy always wore. They both knew that it must be abandoned if nessisary, and this time perhaps they should have abandonded it.

If the book was missing, someone had been there, human or Lash it was a threat and they where both unwilling to meet with it.

When they made their way out into the light of day Aiyana felt exposed, and she ushered them into the shadows of the mountain side. Instead of taking the path they had come up with she found a new path, and although it was dangerous and they slipped often on the shale surface they both felt better for using it.

The young forest stand at the bottom of the hills made them feel safer and although tracy sat to rest Aiyana did not stop moving, instead she took up sentuary, moving through the trees restlessly seeking out any onlookers, any followers. She considered re-creating her blades, but still did not have the energy for it. Sleep she could live without but the strain on her psyche, the ability to remember and continue to hold the blades meant that it would be a useless endevour. Instead she would have to deal with whatever she could think up at the spare of the moment.

She returned to Tracy. "Hunting knife?" She tested, not sure if Tracy had been wearing it when caught. If that was the case it was gone and they would have to rely on one of the spares in their homestead. But Tracy patted her thigh where the blade had been afixed. "Hows your arm?" She tested next, remembing she hadn't done the stiches yet.

"It stings like a bitch." But she smiled and moved it tentatively to show her ability. Aiyana accepted that explention and moved on.

"I think the school first." She suggested, and although Tracy was surprised by the change of topic she took it in stide.

"Incase?"

Yes that was a dangerous admitance, but Aiyana nodded. If one of them died the other still needed their safety and if they lead a threat to another place that left their home. There was probably enough food and information in the building they inhabited to last Tracy a lifetime. She would be alone but she would live. Aiyana didn't know what the point would be for the girl if she didn't have some form of company, but knowing that she could live, if she wanted to, in security, was the most important thing.

Tracy fiddled with the maps nad compass for a while until settling on a path and Aiyana followed her, vigilent, oh so vigilent.

----

"These places are always so big." Tracy murmered in quite awe. Aiyana glanced around the room and decided that, yes the school cafeteria did look big when there weren't students cluttering up every surface and gossiping about the days trivial events.

"They used to have to hold a lot of children."

"What was this room for?"

"Food. We'd all sit around and eat our lunchs in here." Aiyana pushed those memories aside as quickly as they tried to rise. She would deal with them later, when they weren't seeking out things of value. Aiyana nodded to the kitchen doors. "If there's anything good in here it'll be in there." So Tracy went that way, and Aiyana only took a little longer to breath in the rooms atmosphere before following. Her life before dying had revolved around those precious hours of the day when she and her friends would sit around aimlessly in a room just like this.

They searched the kitchen, mostly ransacked and the food that remained wasn't worth carrying back when their bag was already full so they picked up a flimsy cutting knife and a few other odds and ends of no great value. School kitchens didn't exude high quailty equipment after all.

The next room they came to was a class room, and it was half gone, more charred remains than actual room. They passed it without pausing and skipped the next seven rooms which where in the same condition. Aiyana didn't know why some places survived and others didn't. Some buildings seemed to have staved off the purging flames better than others though, there was no doubt, and some parts of buildings had done the same. But others had been engulfed, and devestated.

"So, you came to a place like this every day?"

"Except Saturday and Sunday." Aiyana replied as she looked about the room trying to find anything interesting enough for investigation. Tracy was going through a teachers desk, but overall the classrooms where useless. It had been some hours after school had let out when the fire had come, nobody had left anything worthwhile to ransack.

"Satur- Ah, Batteries! Double-A batteries." Tracy held them victorious and Aiyana was suitably impressed so without any more comment on it Tracy shoved them into her belt bag and zipped it closed. Tracy was dressed in some of the best accessories Aiyana had ever seen. They had combinded their knowledge of practicle and nessisary and Tracy had taught herself to sew. It had been an interesting year when Tracy was teaching herself from the books available on the topic and pure experimintaiton. Aiyana hadn't known the first thing about sewing, instead focusing on pillaging what could be found and living with that. But in the end they had divised the method for sterdy reliable clothes and Tracy had sewn most of her outfit. Aiyana was always impressed with it, because sewing was still something she was no good at, the few chances she had had to try, and she had to settle with the knowledge that excelling at it would never happen.

The next room to have anything of value in it was the sick bay. Aiyana never expected them to have much on their shelves, but was pleasently surprised to find only a handful of the medications had been taken, and the rest remained perfectly intact.

"Anything good?" Tracy was touching one of the folded blankets in the cupboards, but quickly closed it again uninterested.

"Yeah, you better go get a bag for it though, then we'll head back." Head back meant, back to the room they had chosen as their accomidation. It was on the second floor, and down at the end of a long corridor.

"We can use the blankets." Tracy decided and proceeded to grab a handful of the rough fabriced blue squares, then folded them in a mockery of a picknic satchel before aproaching her. When asked Aiyana began to point to the desired drugs, drawing on information she had made herself learn while watching the rest of humanity forget. Words like psydoefodrine, and asprin had slipped out of use quicker than most other knowledge and Aiyana had decided that it was important information, so she had retained it.

They piled the drugs into the rucksack and then Tracy carried it back to their room where the bag was waiting. Once back in the room, the doors closed and lightly barracaded Aiyana lay down on the floor and Tracy spread out the rough blankets. Tracy began to jam the new items into her already full pack mindful of the fragile items. Then, with nothing else to do Aiyana found herself staring at the rusty ceiling fan above them, unhinged and hanging dangerously.

----

The fan in her classroom had been smoothed with white metal, and unlike room 308d this one hadn't started to chip away. Aiyana was proud of the ceiling fan, but wished it was a little more interesting, maybe a few purple flowers painted on it would give it a bit more life. She wasn't that daring though, knowing Mr Casino would happyily give her detention for defacing school property. It made her annoyed that he was such a stick in the mud, but she didn't let it bother her for long.

Her friend, all long curly red hair and a small pixie face tapped her fingers against the white plastic desks in bordem. Everything was white plastic, and Tracy liked it, because it was clean and it felt fresh. She glanced at her friend and felt that envy she often smothered down inside rise again. If she had been born with stunning red hair like that she would be the beauty of the school rather than fifth best. They had even done a pole. Hating the reminder she jabbed her friend in the arm with the erraser end of her pencil and got a pertubed expression.

"Lets cut Math today."

"No." Was the quick reply, and Aiyana shrugged it off wondering who else she could convince to cut class with her. She wouldn't do it on her own, there was no point in that. "We have a test, you remember that right Aiya?" The red head pestered, and Aiyana cringed at the reminder. Yes they had a test, that was why she didn't want to go.

It's not htat she was bad at maths, in fact she was in the top five of her school year for the subject, but she hated tests, they made her freak out and worry so it was best to avoid them, even if she'd have to do it tomorrow instad.

"Oh." She replied vaguely and smiled at her friend, "I'd forgotten all about htat." She didn't let room for doubt apear in her friends expression, just forged on. "What's it on again?" It was on calculating the angles of triangles using the cos rule, and she knew that because she had studied it the night before in desperate fear that she would fail the test.

"I don't know. Ask Nelly." Nelly was a horse faced girl, all limbs and awkward actions. Aiyana was certain she'd grow to be stunning, but right now she was the but of every joke imaginable. Aiyana even had her share of them, because really it always made her feel better.

"What about after school? You going?" There was going to be a party, a huge party if she judged the waves of anticipation from the student body right. She wouldn't go, becaue Jerry Callingham had asked to talk to her after school and since he had cornered three kisses out of her and a touch or two she hadn't expected, she knew he would probably want time alone. If he decided to go to the party though, she was harldy going to say no. She'd been crushing on him for the last year and a half as it was.

They finished home room and moved to the next class, everyone going their separate ways and Aiyana wasn't even aware she hadn't answered her friend. But they'd talk about it at lunch, where they always caught up on the important information. The morning was for trying to wake up, and gods she needed it. Two coffee's wasn't enough anymore, which was a shame.

A teacher stopped her in the hall, and she realised with annoyance it was Miss Grettle, the math teacher. She couldn't skip out now.

"Morning miss." She chimmed as required and the teacher smiled and greeted back, then asked an unexpected question.

"Now, Aiyana, remember how we discussed tutoring?"

Aiyana perked up at the topic. She had been trying to get some extra credits from the school and tutoring had been the best option. Her mum thought she was crazy for putting the effor tin, but Aiyana wanted to make money in the future, and that required good reports, results nad references. Extra credit would do wonders.

"Yes miss."

"I've got a student, his not the worst student, but he want's to get into vetrinary science and they require a much higher mark than his getting." The teacher smiled absently, sorting through her profile of papers and tucking a string of hair back behind her ear.

"Did he ask for a specific time?" She hated to rush the conversaiton but she had economyics and being late for that often got detentions.

"Ah, he wants to catch up quickly, so every afternoon your free. You can use our classroom and I'll lock it up after your done."

"After class?"

"If that's okay."

"Absolutly." There was no way she would give up this chance even if it meant she would be home late most afternoons. "Can you sort out which days? I'm free every afternoon."

"We where wondering if you could start this afternoon?"

Aiyana hesitated on that, remembering Jerrys expression and knowing she could not give that up for anything, even extra credit. But she was reasonable so she compramised as quickly as she could. "That's great, but I might be a little late, can you tell him that?" Jerry would wait once she explained, and then they could go out for the night.

"Of course."

"I'm gonna be late miss, sorry see ya!" And with that Aiyana trotted off, happy with the new development and pleased with how her life was turning out. It was a good week.

----

The sound of her name being spoken gently woke her and Aiyana stretched her body out, letting the tight muscles relax. She felt lax and weak and all together comfortable. Again her name was spoken followed by a bark of laughter and Aiyana reached to throw her pillow only to have her hand pass through the wooden floor she had been laying on.

"Damn." She hissed, and turned her head to glare at Tracy, who was finding the reaction amusing from all appearances. "What time is it?"

"Late afternoon." There was apology in her voice and Aiyana let it slide, she shouldn't have been sleeping anyway, it wasn't a pyscial need except when she was exaughtest, but sometimes it happened, when she allowed her mind to shut off.

"We should fix your arm." She suggested, she might have been tired, but she felt safe for now and it had to be done.

Tracy looked like she was going to protest, as she had done many times in the past when the operation had to be preformed, but instead she pulled herself over the to bag and sorted through its contents, eventually pulling out the small metal box that held their emergency medical supplies.

"Stiching?" Tracy quried even as she pulled out the required items, a small bottle of vodka, a hook needle and a strong thread. Aiyana had her lay everything out, aranging it so that the time they spent merged would be as short as possible. Then when it was ready she reached out and her spirit fell into Tracy's body filling it slowly and comfortably.

It took a moment to overcome the bliss of sensation, even the pain in Tracys arm making her feel alive and part of the world, and then she did her task. Picking the needle up out of the strelising alcohol already threaded and brought it to Tracy's arm wound.

She pulled the thread tight and watched the flesh seal back together. The pain was managable, but that might have been from the amount of drugs she had gotten Tracy to take. It wasn't excessive, but it would do the trick and Tracy shouldn't be able to feel the pain when she was back in control. The important thing was to get the stiches finished a fast as possible.

The wound was relatively healthy, a little red on the edges but they would put cream on it to fight off that infection. She could only hope for the best though, even if she learnt how to operate on someone she didn't have the spare body to do it with. Tracy was pretty much on her own when it came to looking after herself.

She pulled the striches tight and pierced the skin again, dragging it through. The pain made her a little dizzy but it was a result of the werry feelings in her limbs, both from too much merging with Tracy over the last few weeks, and the drugs that where quickly taking over. She tied the thread and knotted it before cutting the needle free. Everything she had used she dumped back in the glass of alcohol and watched the liquid swirl around the implements.

Then she pulled back out of Tracy, hoping the drugs would be effective enough to take the bite out of the pain but not able to hold on for any longer given their current circumstances. Tracy however didn't' show pain, instead she pushed the stiching implements aside haphazzardly and looked at Aiyana with a tired pleading expression.

"Go to sleep." Aiyana instructed, fighting her own desire to rest. They had delayed long enough, tomorrow they would leave the school and set out for the nearest human settlement. They wheren't constant and had a habbit of being destroyed when people remained too long, but some of the settlements had become perminate, simply relying on sheer numbers to keep the Lashs at bay, and so far it had worked.

She moved over to the maps Tracy had lay out for her and looked over them carefully. She could identify three settlements within two days journey. One was too small for them to blend into easily, the other was back in the direction they had left Nick. So it left only the third option Banks for them, and it would be large nad busy so no one would notice if Tracy whispered a word or two to an invisible companion.

Aiyana hated the crowds but knew their place in her life, so she settled herself down, going through the protocals for town visits they had already gone through, and when that became boring she focused instead on the things that had to be done when they returned home. It would be nice to return home after such a long and eventful absense.

----

Becoming Tracys friend had been an arduous task because after their first encounter it had been hard to convince her that there was no harm intended. Aiyana had delt with the shock of meeting the girl well, frozen as she had been by the sudden recogntion directed at her. The emotions had mixed together heavily in her brain beffudling thoughts, until she had realised the most important one; the girl was actually escaping. So with determination Aiyana had set off after her ignoring doorways and other such unnessisary things and ran straight through the wall ready to pursue for as long as it took to get the girl to stop.

It had been years, more than years! It had been decades since she had last been seen and this girl had definatly seen her.

Despite having no trouble with walls or doors Aiyana had a difficult time keeping the girl in her sights as she chased after the thing. She wove the complicated pattern the girl lay out, perhaps to confuse her or dislodge her. It didn't matter to Aiyana as long as the girl was in her sights, and as long as the girl was near Aiyana would be able to keep her pace far longer than any living breathing creature could.

She dove through abandoned houses, up dusty streets filled with rotting wood and rusting metal. The girl was fast and quick despite her stocky build and she darted like a rabbit, someone used to escaping. Aiyana just kept following, determined and still shocked.

The shock didn't wear out, until she had the idea to call out to the girl, ask her to stop. It surprised her how long the idea took to form, but she was so unused to being heard that speaking was not her primary function anymore.

"Wait!" She called against the strain in her lungs that had nothing to do with reality. "I- I just want to talk!" It was a lie, she wanted to exist, and if that girl was the only one who could manage it then she would be damned if she let the opportunity pass.

"Freak!" The girl called back, her breath heavy and it was clear she was running out of strength. Aiyana kept moving.

"I wont hurt you. I can't hurt you!" She pleaded, knowing it was essential to get the girl to stop on her own, but the girl didn't slow, and it wasn't until some time later that Aiyana found the girl hidding in a rusted dumpster behind an old bar.

She didn't invade, knowing what a cornered animal was like, so instead she leant agianst the wall oposit it, keeping it in her sights.

"I really wont hurt you." Aiyana began, her voice calm and soothing, ready to pursade.

"They all say that!" The stubborn reply could have been disturbing but there wasn't a broken tone to it, so Aiyana assumed the girl was working of heresay. Nine years old, maybe ten at the most, scavanging for survival, but with the appearnace of one who had never done it before. Aiyana wondered how long the girls guardian had been dead, a week at most.

"Yeah, well I can't lie." Aiyana countered with as much honesty as she could. "In fact I can't even touch things – didn't you see me walking through those things?"

A set of eyes peaked over the rim of the bin at her and Aiyana made a show of stepping back through the wall behind her and then returning. The eyes where wider now, but still not raised.

"Your bluffing."

Aiyana responded to the challenge with a smile. "No. I can't touch anything, do you know why?" She waited for a moment incase the child wanted to answer then forged on. "Because-" she leant closer, ready to divulve the secret "-I'm dead."

The child gasped and threw herself back into the bin. A series of clatters followed the action, then after silence had reigned for a while those eyes peaked back up.

"Are you really dead?"

"Yeah, I've been dead for a long time now."

"Why can I see you then?"

"Your special, no-one else can see me."

"What can you do?"

Aiyana wondered what this child valued the most, ready to blackmail her, but no quite sure what to use. In the end she settled for the obvious. "I can get you food."

----

It had taken weeks to calm the girl down so that she didn't jump every time Aiyana walked through a wall or door or anyother solid surface. But during those weeks she managed to feed the child and keep her healthy. There had been one day when Tracy had decided that food wasn't so hard to find and had disapeared, Aiyana had decided against the initative knowing the girl wasn't afraid of her now and had been right when the next day Tracy had returned hungry and stubbornly unapologetic. Aiyana mad enothing of it.

But it had taken weeks, and for the whole time Aiyana was watching shadows, over worried and cautious and not even sure if it was all worth it. Untill the girl had touched her, small hand sliding through her face in a rather rude and thoughtless gesture. The contact was nothing, it was the feeling that went with it, and Aiyana knew that not only had she found someone who could see her, but the pull of connection she experianced even when she girl had muttered her awe still lingered. Tracy was compatable, Tracy could house her soul and for the first time in many years Aiyana could touch things if she needed to.

There was nothing more frustrating then watching the world occur and having no influence over it. Watcing someone die and not being able to stem the flow of blood, or carry them to safety.

Aiyana knew it was unfair, knew she was being selfish and cruel, but there was nothing that would persuade her to let this girl leave her life now.

----

"This is Banks?" Tracy scratched her right eyebrow in annoyance, looking around the delapitated buildings and the empty streets.

"It's below ground." Aiyana checked their surroundings, not sure when the senterys began but almost positive they ahd passed the first posts already. They where not here to cause trouble so they had taken the largest most open road and walked in casually. Tracy had abandoned the large pack in a secure building less than twenty minutes away and filled a smaller pack with things of use. No baggage would be too suspeicious so they always had the small pack to blend in.

"Isn't it stuffy down there?"

"In summer, probably." Aiyana hadn't been to Banks many times, and the few times she could remember it had been winter. In which case the close knit group of humans had been benefited by the small underground struture.

Some time passed as they continued on their path until Tracy, bored with no hint of their destination interupted the silence, "Are we close?"

Aiyana rolled her eyes at the question, dismissing that image of little children in the back of a car, repeating, asking, annoying. They where nearly there, Aiyana could already feel the energy of people near by.

"Depends what your looking for little miss." He asked from off the side of the road they both turned to see him detach from the shadows where he had been well hiden.

"Very close." Aiyana assured Tracy with a quirk on her lips. She watched the womans frown tighten and her own smile got bigger.

"Banks. I'm looking for the town of Banks." Tracy clarified for him, even though he would already know what she was doing.

He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, eyeing Tracy carefully. He was a tall man, lithe but fit and covered in tattooes and jewellery. The piercng through his lip was particularily ornate, but she had learnt in her times that although he might look intimidating (the reason for his posting she was sure) it was very possible he was not. She did, however, remind herself that this was not the same society that she had been raised in and that he might very likely slit their throats if he didn't like them. She missed the days of self expression without violence.

"Never heard of it." He dismissed. "Boys?" Unsurprisingly a group of people emerged from the buildings around them, women and men alike and all looked ready to fight.

"Oh." Tracy's expression twisted, unsure of how to aproach the topic but unwilling to back away. They both needed a break. "Are you sure? I was told it was around here somewhere."

"Look little miss, why don't you go back to your own town?" He didn't come close to intimidate and maybe that was because of the blade strapped to Tracys thigh still, or just common sense in these parts.

"I'm a traveler." Which meant she didn't have a town. Aiyana saw a few curious looks. Most travelers wheren't very strong and rarely spoke to strangers.

"Well, little miss traveler. Banks don't have anything for you, so move on." He motioned his hand to the path they had travelled, but his men already knew she wasn't leaving so easily. Even he knew it, but behaved as if he didn't.

"I just want to get into Banks."

"It's full, we can't take anyone else. You'll just have to wait for someone to leave, die, or move along or we can't let you in." His crossed arms where as set as his expression, Aiyana could see this going nowhere so she intervented, touching at Tracys shoulder and receving the slightest nod before she slid into place.

The third time in less than two weeks of merging so it was easy and smooth and she wasn't distracted by the feel of a cold morning breeze across Tracys cheek.

"I don't intend to stay." She reasoned.

"They all say that little miss. Move along before we make you move on."

"No need for that, we're talking aren't we? Not fighting." She smiled as well as she could, trying to take the sting from her words because hse knew how easy it was to hold a grudge. "All I need are a few supplies and a good meal. Then I'll be on my way." He wasn't convinced so she kept pushing. "I'm happy to leave my bags and weapons at the gateway, excepting the items I want to trade of course. And I'll be gone before sun set tomorrow."

He was considering, as he was bound to do eventually, the towns didn't survive without some trade. "That's more than a day." He argued.

"I need to rest. I don't have to do it in Banks, but it's safer for all of us if I stay out of sight before I'm ready to make a full days journey away from here."

"You don't need that long to rest. It's mid afternoon already. You can have until mid day tomorrow. Any later than that and you will be removed by force. If you cause troubles the guards will kill you. It's not for them to care about your life."

"Deal." She shook his hand quickly before he could reconsider and once the business was concluded he had one of the men lead them away, towards Banks.

----

Tracy felt Aiyana pull out of her body and pulled in her first real breath. That first breath after seperation always felt the best, maybe it was because while Aiyana had control she simply existed. She was scared to consider that the way she felt for those brief moments was how Aiyana always felt, the implications where overwhelming and horrifying.

The gate guard motioned her over and Tracy unshouldered her pack, laying it before them for inspection. They would probably let her keep it, not her weapons though. Another guard began to search her for weapons, taking the obvious one off her and find no others. They where on high alert around her, which annoyed her because she'd done nothing to warrant it, but she acted as calmly as she could, because that was the best way to behave in new environments – or so Aiyana always said.

Thoughtfully she rubbed at the centre of her chest, between her breats. She never understood why, but whenever Aiyana took over for a time, when she left there was always a lingering pain there. She wondered how Aiyana had died and if it was something to do with that, but that was a question she would never be brave enough to ask.

"I've taken two knives out of your bag and a red cross box." They ment the medical kit, but Tracy understood, she'd been speaking their language far longer than she had been speaking Aiyana's.

"That's fine." She forced a smile at them as she took the bag back, people in their towns annoyed her. Too focused on themselves to care about anyone else, and she couldn't understand it. She turned back to the inner gate and watched as Aiyana walked through them, not through her in usual 'ignore the solid barrier' kind of way, instead she carefully stepped around the protruding metal and made her way inside. As if she was normal. Tracy had asked about it once and only been assured that it was nessisary to pretend, incase someone was watching. She always wondered who would be watching that could cause a problem but never got an answer for the question. The woman was stuborn to a T when she wanted to be.

"Don't forget, midday tomorrow." Her escort reminded and she nodded to reasure him. They never lingered, never gave anyone a chance to get angry at them, so they would be gone long before that. For now though she needed accomidation and food. The aim was to be ready for their return home, and that meant a good meal and a good rest. Tracy loved these days, because they where the easiest tasks she ever had.

Still rubbing at the flat bone below her skin Tracy moved in through the gates as well, noticing that Aiyana was gone from sight already and then moving on her own. She didn't bother with directions, the place was relatively small and it didn't take her long to find a swap shop.

The owner was a portly woman, apron wearing and severa looking. She eyed Tracy with disdain, as if she had nothing to offer.

"You open?"

"What you think?" The woman grunted back, and Tracy decided that pleasentries where useless here. Aiyana would scold her, but Aiyana was off recharging her energy – or whatever it was she needed to do.

"I think maybe your not." She arched her brow at the woman and waited a moment before going to turn.

"Show me what you got and we'll see if I am open." The woman patted the bench beside her and Tracy nodded getting to work.

It was a quick sale, a few useless items they had decided they didn't need, mostly pretty trinket jewellery, and everything those settled down in towns felt they needed. The woman was pleased and offered a far lower price then the thigns where worth. Tracy bartered the price only a little higher before notcing the woman was staring at her. She made a quick retreat from the store with some money that could be used in this town.

Just then, this dude showed up and said, hey there, I'm Gustav P. Studmuffin. I'm going to be playing a major role in the events of the near future.

Finding food was easy too. She followed the scent of it through the air. It smelt like broiled cabbage and burnt sundry. People ate what they could find, and what they could afford. Tracy was right there with them, and got a bowl of stew, more water than food, but was thankful for it. She followed it quickly with a hard biscuit like loaf of bread which she ate slowly and watched the passerbyers like each was a potential theif. She did not share food, no-one shared food.

Once full she moved on from the small seating area, finding the stalls that sold raw goods and selecting one or two pieces of fruit which she stalled in her bag before looking at the next stall.

Most towns where similar, an abundence of poorly grown food, more people than any sane person felt comfortable with (Tracy did not like to be in groups of more than three, four if nessisary), and a stench of unwashed humanity. Tracy didn't dislike the smell, but she could easily distinguish it after being away from it.

Accomidation was harder to find, apparently Banks liked having visitors, so there was competition for rooms and Tracy ended up taking accomidation in someones house and paying too much for the lack of privacy. She slept well though, extreamly well, and ate the fruit for breakfast.

----

The second day in Banks seemed less adventurous, and Tracy passed it by looking through the shops in the main quarter of the town. There was only one time when she found something other than food worth buying, but hesitated on even looking at it. Books where rare because very few could read. She had been taught by Aiyana, but she was an exception. Aiyana knew from before the genocide, but had never explained why she had learnt. Buying books was like throwing a flag around and saying you had knowledge others didn't.

She passed it restlessly, not even daring to peak at it's spine and read the topic. For all she knew it could be some of that 'fiction' that was more abundent than any other kind of book.

It wasn't until she was eating her breakfast, half a raw cabbage, that things began to be difficult. She had been wondering where Aiyana was, and reasoning that it was about time for her to leave when not two meters away from her crouched form a man walked through the wall at her side.

She relaxed and eyed him cautiously, eatting slowly as he looked about the street he had walked into. He was at least a twenty centermeters taller than her, a dusty blonde mop of hair, and hazel eyes. And those eyes where scanning intently.

Worried he would notice her she took her time finishing off the cabage and dusted her hands on her pant legs. Then as casually as she could she stood up, leaning against the wall as she did so, her back to him, but as she stood to move he began to talk.

"You." He demanded, and she ignored the noise, moving forwards and hoping he was not talking to her. She was a good ten meters away before she felt his hand pass through her shoulder.

"You tensed you know. It wasn't very hard to see." His voice was light but there was something to the tone she didn't like. Even if she had liked it, she wouldn't have stopped, she just kept moving. Not towards th exit, because he would see Aiyana, but to another part of the town.

He stepped before her, and she walked through him, that's when he spoke properly, when his words made her stop; "If you don't turn around right now, I'll go back and make that boy kill himself."

At first she didn't turn, processing the words and wondering what the chances where, wondering if he was talking about Nick, and if he could someone. Her hesitation was enough, and his bark of laughter was proof enough of the fact. With a glare she spun on him.

"Good. I have your attention." And his smirk made her stomach sink and fill with tight knots.

----

Aiyana had left Tracy at the entrance as the girl's bags where sorted through by the gate guards. Entering the crowd and weaving through it with a skill she sometimes forgot she had. She had been careful, being quick to find herself in the lightest throngs of people so she could move freely and although her hand had occasionally passed through another person, or they had shouldered through her side she was certain that she was being as careful as was possible given the situation.

She had fed of the energy of the people around her, feeling herself recharge and become stronger again. All of the work she had done over the last few weeks. Crowds recharged, she wasn't sure why, but human contact enhanced her strength and gave her more energy. So she soaked it all in, allowed her reserves to fill and relished the human interaction however divorced she was to it all.

When the night came she had been able to explore properly rather than focus on remaining inconspicious. It was nice to see what the towns had done with themselves over the years, and although she often saw the deteroration of society she could see some improvements as well. The amount of food had increased over time, and there was a better quality of living now.

When the sun had risen Aiyana had moved to the exit and waited for Tracy. They would leave before midday, and it was best to be earlier than Tracy rather than have the woman waiting for her. She waited longer than expected for Tracy to arrive, almost considering finding the girl incase something had happened when she poped upto the gate looking frazzled.

"What's wrong?" Aiyana demanded imediately, but Tracy only shook her head slightly in reply. Aiyana was feeling charged and was ready to take over but when she aproached against Tracy shook her head so she stepped back. She would have to trust Tracy to know what to do right now, because only Tracy knew what was happening.

Tracy was just about to pick up her bag when her hand stopped and she seemed to consider what she was doing. A deep breath and she took her hand back. "I forgot something, I wont be a minute." And she turned away without her bag and walked back through the inner gate. Aiyana did not hesitate to follow and was unsurprised when she was lead down a small ally not far from the entrance.

"What is it?" She asked again, bracing herself. If Tracy had been attacked she couldn't wreck vengence on the place, but she needed to know. It seemed strange then, that Tracy would come back into the town if that was the case.

"I was… I was eating breakfast. I didn't do anything though, I don't know how he knew!"

Aiyana was more on guard with those words, checking the alley around them for any extra ears but finding none.

"What did he know?"

She looked to the ground, and whispered, "That I could see him."

Aiyana's heart thumped with fear and once, twice then it settled for a steady thrum which she allowed because this situation required the adrenaline that was building in her.

"What did he want?"

"His… he wants to talk, to you."

Aiyana sneered. She had learnt not deal with other Spirits, they where intrusive and annoying and when they decided to follow you, almost imposible to loose.

"Fine. We'll get this over with, where is he?"

"Outside, he's waiting outside the exit, he says his here with Nick."

A growl of annoyance escaped her and Aiyana glared at the wall trying to think of a way around the meeting. Of course he was with Nick, of course it wasn't some random encounter. Nick had noticed them gone and told him, whoever he was, and like all the other Spirit Phases he wanted contact, rasurance, wahtever it was he wanted he would not get from her.

"Find out if there's another exit." Aiyana finally ordered. There would be, but they wouldn't tell them about it, they had no need to tell them about it. Traverlers where not privy to the secrets of the town.

Tracy asked anyway, taking her bag from them and cautiously asking for a town secret. The response was simple and blatent denial and neither Aiyana or Tracy felt there was purpose in persuing it further.

"Fine." Aiyana conceeded. "Let's meet our fate." And she followed Tracy out, letting her lead the way and, as always, but with more attentoin than usual, she stayed close to the girl. If she had to fight kill him for their safety she would do it without hesitation.

----

The sun had barely risen when they made their way back to the surface, but there was a glow of light that illuminated every surface. He was waiting for them as comfortable as you please, watching the entrace to the town and looking bored.

She noticed that he disregarded Tracy entierly and turned his attention to her instead. She underwent the rare and strange sensation of someone examining her, and although she wanted to, she did not glance down to make sure that she was wearing something presentable. She hated being judged, but was always unable to resist trying to apease. The good thing about Tracy was she didn't care what people looked like, most the time she didn't even seem to notice.

"I thought you had gone another way." His voice was almost void of emotion, and that when Aiyana noticed that his expression wasn't bored, it was empty. She wondered what that meant for them, but was unable to put much time into the thought, instead she merely smiled rudely at him.

"Just keep walking till we're out of here." She told Tracy, although it was probably not nessisary because the woman was doing everything she could to pretend neither of them existed in her world. Under the eyes of the town guards it was hardly surprising.

"My friend is to the west." The Spirit Phase informed them, making a motion in a slightly different direction to the one they where traveling. Tracy paused for instructions and Aiyana let out a sigh.

"West then." She amended much to her dislike and Tracy paused, rubbed her eyes and turned in that direction without much effort. All three walked silently after that and Aiyana had time to take in the apearance of this man-spirit. He was a good head taller than her, loose dusty blonde hair, and clothes of a fashion that did little to reveal his age. Black jeans, a black singlet top and a loose unbuttoned black top over that. All she could really tell was that he had an idea of fashion from before the distater, but could have picked it up anywhere, and that his light hair stood out against the clothes he chose to wear.

Besides that he gave nothing away, and she was left with little option but to glare at him, her fingers occasionally, compulsively checking on her bracelets to make sure they remained where she wanted them.

The young man she had gotten to know while Tracy lay ill waited for them not far beyond the town sentrys. Nick waved cheerfully at them, a smile on his lips and no accusation about their departure in his expression. Compelled by the kind emotion Aiyana couldn't help but smile and nod back at him.

"Are you feeling better then?" He asked when they where closer his eyes on Tracys concealed arm.

"Much better, thanks."

"Oh. There's thanks now?" The other man asked, his voice full of mockery.

"If your boy hadn't been about making bombs perhaps we would have stayed longer to express it." Aiyana snaped back at him, and then there was an awkward silence while Nick and Tracy both looked sheepish and the two spirits glared at each other.

"I suppose trying to break into Holding Centres is a better use of his time?" He snapped back, and she was ready for the fight, itching for a fight with him so she was disapointed when Nick stepped between them looking apologetic (though she wasn't sure whom too).

"Will, Aiyana, this isn't the place, if you have to fight lets do is somewhere else." Was the effective plea he made to each of them.

Aiyana averted her eyes but managed to see the new man, Will's, expression empty of emtion again.

"Where are your bags?" Will asked calmly.

"We don't have any more." Tracy replied quickly and with ease, motioning to the bag on her back.

"Fine." He muttered, glanced at the both of them and then over their shoulders. "Where did you put your bags?"

Aiyana could see the questiong coming up more than once, and supposed it would be obvious if you knew the habbits of Spiriti Phases tyring to keep a human alive that there would be bags. Besides he couldn't do anything with them, and Nick, although his hobbies where dangerous, probably wouldn't care for anythign in them.

"Secure," she saw Tracys started expression "and not far. We can spend the night there, and 'discuss' things there." And then Aiyana motioned for Tracy to begin and followed, keeping her eyes on the other two men, spirit and human alike.

----

The journey was relatively painless, although Aiyana kept her guard up for the entire process, always watching for any potential danger from the two interlopers. She didn't expect any, not seriously, because in the end there didn't seem to be any profit for them in harming them. But Aiyana also knew that some humans didn't work on rationale and so she remained prepared.

Nick did not seem at all affected by the slight they had caused him by leaving without a word, in fact he had bounced up into a chatty sort of excitement that Aiyana found endering. She found herself talking back as readily as he spoke and although she skirted some topics he allowed it and moved on with ease. Her particular favourite moment was when he began reciting all the jokes he knew, and she was able to recall a few from her own childhood which she threw right back at him. It was a little hard to believe he wasn't younger.

"How old are you?" She asked, sounding more rude then intended, but he either ignored it or didn't notice.

"Ah, nineteen? Twenty?" He scratched the back of his neck. "I could be Twenty-three, but no older than that!" He smiled. "It never really mattered, but Will tried to figure it out."

"That's the best you could do?" She asked, not unkindly. In such a small struggling society age was irrellivent. If you could work, you worked, if you could be left alone, you where left alone. Tracy was a rare exception, too rare to overlook. Her mother had sheltered her, hidden her away from society in a locked underground bunker, and one day her mother hadn't come home. It had been shortly after that that they had met.

"Well, I was born sometime around the last purge in the White, but since Will wasn't there we just had to guess it between the first and last time he'd been there." So he had hadn't been in the town for a good three years, which was hardly relevent so she let that information go as fast as it occurred to her.

"I lived not far from there at the time." The rough voice was unexpected.

"I didn't ask." She snapped back at Will faster than anyone expected. She felt instantly tense, all the guards that had been let down will exchanging light banter with Nick had sprung up at the intrussion of the other mans voice.

Tracy, throughout it all, remained unusually quite, listening and assessing. Aiyana understood it as part of her personality, even when they visited the towns she never spoke to others. Being raised alone for nine years, and then keeping company only with an insubstantial being did nothing for social skills, or social bravity.

----

When they arrived at the park Aiyana did not go ahead, refusing, still, to trust these stranger men. Nick had been pleasant, but that was no garrenttee of anything, and he could cause real damage to her the kind Tracy would probably not understand.

So they crossed the park together and when they reached the overgrown back of it Aiyana walked through and Tracy pushed her way. One thing Tracy was brilliant at was winding her way through paths and tunnels. Aiyana put it down to practice, because that was how she had passed most of her childhood.

"You live through here?" Nick grumped as he was struck in the face by another snickered.

"No. We stored our bags here." Aiyana offered back as she slipped in through the hard metal walls to check the small room they had chosen as shealter. It wasn't their usual choice, normally they liked multiple exists and lots of space, but with the overgrowth around it, there was little chance of anyone finding the shed.

"Couldn't you find somewhere easier to get to?"

Tracy arrived looking flushed and happy, the expresison made Aiyana smile, so with amusement she replied, "That would make sense, I'm sure."

Will, it seemed, was keeping Nick company so for a moment Aiyana and Tracy where alone. Aiyana took the time to give Tracy a fleeting smile, to assure her that there wasn't a problem and that they would sort out their current delimma.

Tracy made contact then, just the brush of a finger tip through her cheek and Aiyana's fleeting smile became a proper smile, because the care was touching and she was being over concerned about things. It was possible both Nick and his friend only wanted company.

Almost as soon as they where through Tracy led them into the shed like building.

"It's a substation." The caution in Will's voice made Aiyana defend.

"It's inopperational. It's been inopperational for hundreds of years. If there's anything to worry about in here it's going to be the spiders."

Nick, who was about to walk in through the doors stopped. "Spiders?"

"Are you-" Tracy began, surprised "-afraid of spiders?" Her expression cracked and instead of surprise there was pure amusement. A snort escaped her.

"Hey! They can kill you, you know." He shouted in fevour.

"Sure they can, if you let them bite you." Tracy dismissed with an arogent wave. Aiyana liked Tracy so she didn't trample her down by telling everyone that when they had chosen this place Tracy had checked every corner carefully before settling in comfortably.

"Don't let…" Nick grumbled, and continued to grumble, but Aiyana could pick out the word as he picked a corner of the room to dump his backpack. Tracy was already perched by her things, and had settled down for the time being.

Will took up a place next to Nick on the floor and Aiyana sat as well. She noticed that it felt strikingly like a mexican stand off, but didn't feel amicable enough to try and break it. They where the invaders, they could make the situation more comfortable if they wanted to. Tracy riffled through the bag and withdrew pen and paper, but when she began to use them, it was obvious her attention wasn't focused, because instead of a picture or even words she had began to doodle the smallest and most insignificant swirls and lines. Aiyana shifted her weight and lent agianst the wall, or imagined she was leaning against it at least and then put her attention to reciting the names of drugs she could remember and their effects. It passed the time in a boring menotonous way, and was useful information she had trouble remembering most of the time.

Nick hated the silence the most, it seemed. "So, you always find places like this to hang out in?" He threw a smile at the two female faces watching him. "I mean, it's a bit gloomy, not to mention really hard to find."

"Aiyana's good at finding places like this," Tracy complimented. "A substation, was it?" Tracy questioned and Will lifted a half smile at her with a head nod. "What's that used for?" That she turned to Aiyana.

"Electricity." Was the concise reply and that explained it all. To Tracy electricity had become a strange sort of mythical function, something that she couldn't fathom but held uncountable promise. Aiyana had explained it to her on many occasions, even pointing out that the batteries created electricity, but Tracy treated it much in the same way Aiyana treated the idea of magic. Things that weren't understood often got relegated to such catergories. Funny that they both accepted her existance so easily. But then again, they had proof of it, they had been part of it and they had had time to adjust to it.

"You know a lot, don't you?" Will quested, looking at Aiyana as well and she felt out of place.

She also didn't have an answer that wasn't telling so instead she grimmaced at him and turned her head away, no longer willing to participate in the conversation. That left her with listening but for now that would have to distract her, her medical recitation had comletely fallen through within minutes.

"We're always moving around." Tracy replied after the silence had stretched and Aiyana, her head turned, still managed to see Tracys uncertain expression. She had to ignore it this time, unwilling to give anything before the strangers.

"We are too." Nick bounced in. "I can barely remember the name of the town's we've been to in the last three years. I swear we never stop." His tone implied pride in the fact but neither woman could understand it. They had worked hard to make their home secure.

"What do you do, moving around all the time like that?" Tracy was curious, she was always curious.

"I collect things, fiddle." He gave a little laugh, softer than his others. "I like learning."

"You make bombs?" Tracy tested.

"Sometimes." Nick admited.

"Only when I'm not there." Will grumbled, as if he disagreed entirely with the task. Oh yes Aiyana understood that, the rare compatiable humans became the more overprotected some spirits became. She tried to let Tracy make her own decission, but knew she had influenced her more than she should have.

"He doesn't get it. I think his been sitting around too long. But we have to kill them-the Lash. They don't belong here so we have to kill them." His voice had the certainty of an evangelical surmon.

"You blow them up?" Tracy wasn't repulsed by the idea, more curious than Aiyana was comfortable with.

"And everyone else with them, I'm sure." Aiyana grumped unintentionally. She had been meaning to keep her mouth shut.

"No!" The boy defended horrified. "I blow up their buildings. Break the walls. Anything that slows them down. Because they're getting stronger, every year, and eventually they'll out number us and that'll be the end."

"Is that what you where doing?" Tracy asked, that curiosity thick in her voice again. She was at full attention.

"When?"

"When you found us. When you saved my life."

Again he scratched the back of his neck and Aiyana only noticed because she glanced in her own curiosity. She really was terrible at holding a grudge when angry.

"I was just having a look." He admited. "But when those alarms went off" the expression he wore became fierce, "I had to find out what was happening."

"Suicidal." Aiyana condoned. It didn't matter that it had been good luck on their behalf, she was being encrouched upon and that would show itself before anything else.

The next question from the two living beings in the room surprised her; "What's that mean?" and she wondered what it was called now, if it even had a name.

"It doesn't matter." She refuted, sad that she had thought of the word and brought it into their world. It was clear from Will's expression that he knew what it meant, and he too wasn't sharing.

"She'll never tell now." Tracy stage whispered across the room. "She's as stubborn as a blood stain."

Aiyana rubbed her eyes in frustation, glad that Tracy was handling the guests well, but annoyed at herself as well. She had to get rid of them though, she could not stand to have them in her company. Nick, she could probably tollerate, but the spirit, she would not accept him, no matter what, she had far too many reasons not to.

----

Nick returned nearly five hours after he left, hefting huge clanging bags with things tied and strapped to ever inch of them. Aiyana considered leaving because there was no way he ahd been quiet, but with two spirit phases and two vessals it was unlikely that they would have trouble they couldn't handle this close to a town.

"Ta da." He hefted as he dropped the rickety bag on the floor. The comparison between he and Tracy was so much more obvious now. Tracys bag was always set at a certain weight, if they found something better they disregarded something else. It was the only way to travel at any speed. If it was impossible to choose between something they would merely come back for the second item when they next had a chance. Mark it on the map and return. It was often enough that they had a protocal for it.

"There beter not be any bombs in that."

His face became blank. "Of course not." And she knew there was. He wasn't even trying to pretend.

"If you kill her," she flicked her eyes at Will, "I'll kill him." Just like eveyrone else in the room she wasn't sure if she could, not to mention she wouldn't bother, if Tracy died nothing would stop her leaving him behind. From the looks of it he wasn't as physically strong as her, she would be tempted to say weak, and she was sure that she could loose him if he followed her, given enough time. Besides he would stay with his human, if he didn't die as well, and there was no way a human could keep up with her.

"Can you do that?" Nick asked then, very curious.

"I'd like to see her try." Will mocked in his turn.

"There are ways." She warned, not because she thought she could kill him easily, but because she knew there where ways. Ways to rip the spirit to shreds, to abuse it and force it to obey. There where far too many ways.

----

It was near midnight when Tracy fell asleep, too wired by company to fall into slumber easily, but she ate some canned beans and managed to rest eventually. Nick wasn't far behind her, eatting something from his own bag before leaning against the wall and closeing his eyes.

Aiyana checked Tracys curled body on the floor, putting herself between the strangers and her. She kept herself close, and lay on the floor herself.

"Your very protective of someone you want dead."

She frowned and turned that frown onto the man sitting across the room from her, looking bored. The tone, though, had been synical. It took a moment to turn her head away and ignore him, the same moment it took her to realise he was waiting for her reply.

"Of course, I can see why, she does seem kind of useless."

"How so?" Aiyana bit back softly.

"Well she's soft,"

"She's a girl." She was losing her temper that the stupidity of this man.

"No hard edges, I'm not sure she could hold her own in a fight."

"The aim," she informed carefully, "is to avoid fights."

"Well you sure did that well," was the scathing reply. "Tell me, what could possibly have been so important you where willing to risk her life to get it?"

She sat up then, pulling her body up slowly before turning her attention to him fully the hissed; "I don't think I understand you."

"You walked that girl into a death trap, it must have been for something."

Aiyana considered his words, but she was awake and refreshed from her time in Banks, so it didn't take much to put it together.

"You want to know what was so important that I had to get it out of the Holding Centre?" She tested, insulted by his audacity and angry all over again. She didn't bother waiting for his reply instead she snapped, "She was!"

He showed confussion and she pounced on it angrily.

"They had her, they got her. You idiot. Of course I wasn't going to walk her into a Holding Centre! I wouldn't walk into a Holding Centre."

"They caught her?"

"Yes."

"And you… you got her out?"

She glared again.

"You could have died."

"So many times." She admited, and not just talking about that one moment. She could have died the day of the pruge, the day the fire had wipped the world clean. She could have died in the body of one of the living beings she had partnered with in her long life. She could have died, and should have died perhaps. But she hadn't, and even if she had considered leaving Tracy behind she would not admit it now she was being challenged for callousness.

"When Nick told me, I assumed you'd gone in there by choice."

"We always have a choice." But that was too telling, so she turned away from him, her glare turning into a frown and she decided that this time, if he spoke to her, she would ignore him properly.

"I can't go near them," it sounded like a confession, she tried to ignore it, "the probes. Not after the first time-"

"Shut up." She ordered, forgetting her promise, and he surprised her by falling silence. The silence stretched throughout the night, and she was left with nothing but Nicks quiet snoring and her memories to keep her company.

----

The first time she encountered a probe light she had been very young. Barely dead and still crying about it. She hadn't even found survivors who could see her at that stage, just the dotted lonely individuals still too shocked to realise that they where living and moving and responding. Those who managed to survive on autopilot, some would never break out of it, never wake up to the reality of the new world, some would take days, some weeks and others, the lucky ones, years before they broke and realised what had happened. Then there would be tears there as well.

Aiyana had thought the first one was broken, too gone to realise she was there, she had moved on. And even though she ahd fallen, even though she had touched and not felt she didn't realise anything was wrong, because shock can do that to you, and hse knew that from school.

By the tenth person she realised something was wrong but hadn't been able to understand what. It wasn't until she fell over backwards and through a wall she hadn't realised was there that things started to come dangerously close to knowledge.

She tried another three people before one of them walked through her. Then she had realised, and it had broken her down. She had hardly stopped crying, she didn't sleep, didn't eat, didn't drink, she merely cried.

When she encountered the first Lash she had thought the fire had done something to a human, she had been terrified, but not cautious. It had walked through her side, and a moment later there had been a read beam in her face, light that burnt at her being and made her feel like she was being stitched together when she was meant to be in pieces.

Then he'd spoken, and hse knew it wasn't human, and had never been human. But the searing pain, the first thing she had felt in months, it had been real and it had sent her back. Focused on the small blade that he had, the same blade they all carried around, incase.

He hadn't been alone and more had come. She'd been forced to run. And so she had. With everything she had been worth she had run, and then she had encountered a Warrior. Her first encounter, and he had hurt her. He had been all to adapt at stiking blows and darining her down.

She met her first other Spirit Phase that day, his name had been Lars, and he had taken the weapon from the Warrior and knocked him down. The weapon had disapeared, something neither of them understood, but they had not waited, they had run.

She had kept crying after that, confused and Lars had told her what he knew, told her about the Spirits who survived. He had been from the city, more people had survived there, more Spirits had come about. Then he told her about the Lash, although they had no real name then, and how they had come and begun to kill all who remained.

He had let her cry though, always let her do what she wanted to do. And then one day a Warriror had found him, and killed him. She had been too scared to do anymore than run. In retrospect she knew she could have done little at that time to save him, but she always hated herself for the cowdice.

----

Aiyana wasn't just angry the next day when Tracy woke, she was also strained. Physically she was fine, but being unable to shake a memory from her mind bothered her. Memories festered forever in her eternity, and she could do nothing but break with each of them, or try to. But they never left her, and instead she was forced to relive the bitter moments of her past, the terrible things that she had witnessed, as if the near destruction of her entire spieces hadn't been enough.

The shed had settled into a routine for the day, Nick fiddling with the multitude of gadgets he had stored in his bag (some of them quite alien in design) while Tracy distracted herself with a book. It was hot in the room, and Aiyana distracted herself by reading over Tracys shoulder, an action that had annoyed the her when she was young, but had becomehabit between them.

Will was sitting beside Nick, hardly paying attention to anything happening in the room. Aiyana suspected he was sleeping, and wondered what that meant for them, she wouldn't sleep for some weeks unless something occurred to use her energy. Like merging with Tracy for a long period of time.

The silence was comfortable and Aiyana was pleased for the comfort, because it would not last. Eventually she would have to think of a statergy for dealing with them. For now they would just have to see what happened.

"What are you doing?" Nick asked, and they where both started to find his attention on the book not his belongings.

"I'm reading." Tracy turned the book to him so he could see the pages, but it was clear he didn't know what it was.

"Is that… good?"

Tracy replied by explaining what the book was about, his confused expression prompted more explenations and eventually Tracy gave up on explaining because it didn't seem to make a great difference to Nick's knowledge.

"It's good." She told him at last. "You can learn anything from books." He seemed unconvinced so Aiyana interupted.

"Like how to make bombs." Though it was often hidden in chemical formulas because it had been illeigal in her time to straight out tell people how to make bombs.

"You can learn that in a book?"

"If you have the right book." Tracy replied.

"Do you have it?"

Tracy looked to Aiyana for that answer and she shrugged a little unsure. She had never wanted to read about bombs, they where useless in her way of thinking, but it was likely they had the chemical books that would have useful information.

"But you can't read, so it's kind of useless to you."

"How can see do it?" He motioned to Tracy and looked at Aiyana.

"I taught her, it's a good way to learn things."

"I just take things apart and figure them out that way." He motioned to the remains of something in front of him. "It's amazing what you can get out of things like this." He was kind of proud of himself again, and Aiyana could understand why. If he had taught himself everything he knew (which was likely) then he had done amazingly well.

"You taught her to be a book worm, congratulations." Will interupted, proving that he wasn't asleep (or at least not any more).

"I taught her how to find information for herself."

"Nick didn't need that." He was boasting, and she wasn't sure why, because it wasn't a battle, but she defended just as easily.

"No? Well good for him. Since I'm pretty sure your shinning example wouldn't have help him with anything." She turned from him to Tracy who was watching her carefully, and she couldn't even force a smile onto her face. "I'm sick of this place."

"Lets go then." Tracy soothed, making quick work of putting her book back in the large bag and pulling it on. They didn't consult with the other two, but Will left with them, and Nick caught up not long afterwards, all his belongings in tow.

Aiyana wondered again if Nick was compatible to her, if she could take over him and distract Will. But another thought, more disturbing occurred to her as they walked, what if Tracy was compatable with Will, there was no telling what could happen then.

----

The safe house they arrived at Aiyana had only set up in the recent years. It was a house that Tracy and she had chosen based on it's isolation. Normally Aiyana avoided the dead zones, but Tracy had felt comfortable, mostly because she had spent the first half of her life in a bunker in a dead zone.

Dead zones, where, as far as anyone had pieced together, the epicenters of the Fire Purge. There existed in each epicenter (she ahd only seen six in her entire travels, and they where far apart) a collection of buildings that ahd usually survived the initial blast. She wasn't sure of the mechanics of it, but the stronger buildings had remained, but further out they had been demolished, burnt in the flames as much as tumbled by the power of the blast. People avoided the epicentres out of supersitious fear, but few Lash ever entered the parts.

Aiyana remembered hearing about something called radiaton from nuclear bombs, but no human had ever shown signs of that kind of reaction so she deemed it safe enough. Will seemed less convinced, which made her happier for the choice, his flinching reactions to everything where by far the highlight of his company so far.

Nick was fascinated.

"I've never been here. Can you tell where the blast started?" He checked, watching out the lower windows as if something would magicly present itself.

"You can guess based on the way the distruction spreads out, but there is no indicator that I have seen." Aiyana had never bothered to learn, it was hardly a factor in her life. It had become apparent that another such blast wasn't going to happen again (for whatever reason the Lash had yet to demonstrate the desire or skill to reenact their first attack) so it was useless information.

"It's amazing that things can still grow here." Nick was staring at a tree, half bent away from the blast but sheltered by the house itself. It hadn't died, and around it green had sprung out. 'Dead Zone' was a misnomer, at least now it was, it hadn't always been without merit.

"You've never been into the forests have you?" Will asked, sounded soft and thoughtful.

"Unlike you." Nick quipped back, teasing and light but it had the wrong effect on Will, because the thoughtfullness fell away to be replaced by a blank expression.

Aiyana told herself she didn't care. Terrible things happened, the time and place varried, but they still happened. She didn't need another story to store in her memory.

Tracy was a brash girl when in trusted company, so she had been particularily docile around the men since their arrival, but as they got closer to the house that docile attitude began to slip away, and instead she was walking with a bounce in her step and bright eyes.

Aiyana counted the seconds, but Tracy showed great restraint and didn't bolt until they had made it through the door. Then with out any warning to the men she had dropped her bag and taken off up the stairs. The sound of doors opening and closing, things being moved, windows checked, and then complete silence only bemused Aiyana. Will was frowning, Nick looking insatiably curious.

"The second floor." Aiyana dirrected as she began her own assent leaving the bag behind. Tracy would calm down and come and get it in her own time.

...