Lovely reviewers ~ Same as usual: virtual hugs.

Author's Note ~ Expect some action coming up. I have a raw idea.

Copyright ~ Me take money if you take words.

Chapter 6 ~ Defining Breath Kamin Austas

Zalter's plan had flaws that she had not seen or purposely saw over so I would have the difficult task of mending them later. Later was now, and I had the responsibility to blend into the part, which Zalter had not trained me for – and I wasn't doing a very good job of it, it seemed. Marlow was most definitely suspicious about my sudden appearance, and Elisias was slowly getting there. Trow was somewhat skeptical, but if there was any more to it, she kept it to herself… as she did with most things.

But thinking of Trow brought other questions to mind. Why was she so sudden to accept me? Being a strayer probably meant that she was expected to be welcoming to anyone she found crawling around in the mud, but the way she hauled me to her secretive hideout without second thought raised red flags.

Once Trow had disappeared to the second floor, I had continued to eavesdrop on the housers. The conversation quickly deflated from the subject of the stray to more normal matters, such as food supplies and neighboring Crims.

I wandered away and found myself sitting on a moth-eaten couch, digesting the words. In a little rocking chair across the room, the little redhead girl named Olavere sat, staring at me with big, blue eyes.

I raised a hand limply in greeting, and mumbled, "Hi."

Olavere just stared, rocking back and forth.

I burrowed into my own thoughts and nestled there, like a caterpillar in its cocoon. I was finally getting to important subjects when a voice interrupted me.

"You're not from around here, are you?"

I glanced up, to see that Olavere's blank face had turned into one of intense curiosity - brows furrowed and lips scrunched to the side. In most occasions, I would've been sweating out my hair, but Olavere didn't look much older than six. A suspicious six year old couldn't ruin my entire reputation.

"Aye, I'm from the northern city, actually," I lied. Why not? There was no need to be mute in front of this child. The housers were a different story.

"I thought the north side was all upper class," Olavere stated flatly, "Timekeepers and the likes."

I began to get a little nervous at her prying, but I knew if I wasn't going to get better at concealing my identity, it would kill the mission … or me. This was simple practice, for when I got to the big ones – like Trow – I would need much more than red cheeks and tight lips to pull off my character. My mind raced to scrape up a back story, but strangely, I found I enjoyed the rush of adrenaline this role playing brought on.

"I wandered after my parents died," I said. "They knew some people who snuck around in the upper city, and stayed with them for awhile when family in the south cooled off. When my mother got married to my father, her family became sort of hotheaded. Not all of them, of course, but enough to drive her away. At least long enough for her to have me."

I stopped abruptly, realizing that must have been an extreme change from who I acted at the dinner table to who I was while I talked to Olavere. I didn't know anything about her except her name, and yet I blabbered on about my life in front of her.

But she seemed the least bit fazed. "Yes, I realized you had a bit of a northy accent. Proper and sharp. We Crims drawl. I sort of like how the classies talk, though. Don't tell Trow … she'd have my head roasted on a spit."

"Does she really hate Timekeepers that much?" I asked, pushing away the cold feeling in my stomach.

"Yeah, she can't stand them," said Olavere, "to the point of begging the housers to let her train to be a redhand. When they refused, she spent a few weeks hiding some secret surprises for them to eat away her anger. None of them were very clever, but that made it worse, because she made them more disgusting in place of it."

Olavere went on to tell tales of termites in the laundry, cabinets that spilled rotted trash all over when you opened them, rooms covered with hundreds of spiders, among other horrid things. Through the stories, I learned scattered bits of information about Trow, and her family.

Trow didn't have a temper you could see, only one that came back to bite you later. She wasn't very clever, and acted usually on physical instinct. Elisias was quicker to blow her top than Marlow, but both could become fierce if provoked into anger. Skit didn't mind bugs or snakes, but was scared of all dogs. Pansa was bossy but creative, and weaseled her way out of most sticky situations. The twins, Robi and Sarker, were a sort of troublemaking team, and worked together to create usual bursts of mayhem. Lareel was gentle and honest, but it usually backfired on her.

But, most importantly, Lareel's last name was McCrae.

By the time Olavere was finished, I assumed her mouth was extremely parched. The house was eerily quiet, and completely dark. It would be impossible to see if it weren't for the bright moonlight streaming through the windows.

"Well," I concluded, "that was quite a tale."

Olavere nodded, and silently stood from her chair. Without another word, she slipped out of the room and up the stairs, leaving me to wallow in my own confusing mind. The silence poked me from every direction, and I quickly grabbed the blanket Olavere had left on the chair and curled up on the couch. A single fly buzzing around the room was my only company.

Olavere's last name was McRae, I suddenly remembered.

My hand instinctively stretched into my pocket, grasping the familiar ridges of Nolbee's recorder device. I didn't know Lareel very well, but from Olavere's storytelling, she was kind and caring. Lareel was always the conclusion to the tale, helping the one who was hurt alongside Elisias.

The more I thought, the harder it was to find the courage to speak. I held the recorder in front of my face, willing it to disappear, so I would have an excuse to postpone my job. In a sudden flurry of frightened thoughts, my thumb squeezed the button, and the device was ready for me to say the name.

One name. That was all. One name and it was over. The Timekeepers were probably poised, waiting for the sound, eager to rid the world of the Crim. But the Crim was a mere girl. A helping girl, who lived to fix wounds and hug you when you cried. It was so much different from what I was told of Crims. So much different from the ones I killed.

But was it? Have the names on the screen been snotty, backstabbing robbers, or innocent little girls lending a hand? Were they bloody murderers, or smiling babies, in the arms of mothers who know with aching hearts that their children will die? Die before they can feel the grass beneath their feet, the sun on their face, the pride of learning to ride a bike or drive a car? Before they have children of their own, to continue they cycle of sharing the burden?

But I was a Timekeeper. It was my work, my life, my place in the world. To create a perfect land. To rid the world of those who broke the law and stopped that perfect world from coming true. To rid the world of those who killed my father.

My father. Whom I never mentioned to any soul. Who had died just as abruptly as my mother. Who was never there for me, but loved me in his own sort of way. Who was murdered by a redhand.

And with a final, defining breath, I uttered into the device, "Lareel McRae."