Being back in the water was totally ace. Pho was right, I was feeling dry. There's nothing like diving under the waves and staying there for hours on end. I'd already been swimming for a good ten minutes and Mom's place was still a ways to go. I could have slipped into a current, but where was the fun in that? No, I'd rather swim there and enjoy the trip. More time to cool off from him.
I hate when my dad shows up. He should know by now that neither of us want him around! And to have the nerve to try and order us around like that! I was still pissed, regardless of what I'd told my sister. I have no clue as to how she still thinks he's an okay guy. I mean, come on, whenever he's near her she gets a crippling headache. I guess I've got to admit that that's one big reason why I hate him showing up. I hate seeing my sister weak like that. Pho's a strong person. She's had my back over the years and I've done likewise for her, but she's managed to get us out of scrapes more often than I'd care to count... Of course, she's the one who got us into most of those scrapes, but still.
I don't like seeing the one person who's always been strong, no matter what, be crippled like that. Those headaches of hers are going to be a huge hindrance if we ever have to fight him... which might be soon. I hadn't told her this, but dad's visit hadn't been only his usual spiel. He'd said that the Fallen - what he insists on calling himself and the others - the Fallen were making a stand. That things had been set into motion.
"I expect you and Pho to stand at my side in the coming battle. It's only right that you follow your duty as my children and follow my orders." I couldn't believe he had the nerve to say that to my face! Had Pho been in the room, he wouldn't have been so much of an ass-hole, but he always was to me. Of course I'd told him no. There's no way we'd follow any orders of his. We may be demons but we're not evil. He is. I always feel totally hammered after he leaves. Going to see my mom is the best way to get over one of his "visits". This one might have been different though. He'd acted different this time, more... confident that we'd cave. That worries me. I shook my head. It's no use getting myself worked up, I just need to forget it and go with the flow.
"Hi, Finn." The sing-song voice came from behind me, immediately followed by a giggle. I turned my head to find a trio of mermaids - teens by the looks of them - following in my wake.
"Hey, girls." I flashed them my smile and all three of them immediately giggled. Mentally I rolled my eyes. The mermaids, especially the teens, fawned over me any time I dropped by. I swear between them and the teen Patupairehe, I never get a moment's peace. But hey, at least I humor them. "What's up?"
The brunette in the middle spoke to me, it wasn't hard to guess that she was the leader of the trio. "Oh, nothing. We just saw you coming and thought we'd accompany you to your mother's."
"If that's alright with you of course." The blonde to her right interrupted. I had a feeling that she was the sidekick.
I shrugged. "It's fine with me."
They squealed at my response. Again, I mentally rolled my eyes. Good news was, I was almost to Arroyo's, then they'd have to leave me alone. The last of the trio was staring at me. She was a little familiar, so I knew I'd met her before. She was more fish-like than her friends, with her scales covering most of her body and no hair whatsoever. Her bright green eyes were trained on my arms as I swam onwards. She noticed that I'd noticed her staring and averted her gaze, rather than voice the question on her mind. I knew what it would have been.
People have been asking me the same thing for as long as I can remember. It didn't matter if they were IMs or not. Everyone wants to know how you got your scars. The bigger they are, the more people want to know. Mine were plenty big, covering the outer edge of both my forearms and a little onto my right hand. Most people aren't stupid enough to ask in public, but those that do, when Pho's around, well... Lets just say that they're out cold for a while. It's not even because she's protective of me, it's because she doesn't like remembering how they happened. I've told people before, so I really don't care. If Pho's around... yeah, just don't.
If the fish-girl had plucked up the courage to ask, I might have told her. Since she shied away, she get's left in the dark. I have no problem with sharing information, but only if you outright ask me for it. I'm not going to go blabbing my personal business to the world. I'm not stupid.
The other two girls were blabbing away about stupid stuff they thought I cared about. Superficial complements about me that I was almost insulted by. You know, general ditz talk. I almost wished that the fish girl would ask about my scars just to shut the other two up. Finally Arroyo's house came into sight and I breathed a sigh of relief. Figuratively of course.
Nestled within the coral reefs crisscrossing the span between the islands of Molokai, Lanai and Maui was my mother's home. In fact, the reefs we're her home. The insides of most of them were somewhat hollow, just thick enough that the IMs wouldn't realize that they weren't. The entrance was well hidden, no IM would ever find it in a million years, trust me. I've brought buddies here to go diving, gone so far as to bring them right up to the place, not one of them found it. It makes me loose a little faith in the human race.
I swam down to the entrance with the girls in tow. I turned to face them waving as I did. "Well, this is where we part. Goodbye ladies." I flashed them my smile. The lead brunette looked like she was trying her hardest not to pout as she said goodbye. Her blonde friend couldn't even make herself say anything, she just desolately looked away. Inside I was urging them to just leave. The two with hair began swimming away, while the other one lingered. "Something on your mind?" She was staring at my arms again. She opened her mouth to say something before psyching herself out and flashing an apologetic smile. "Hey, what's your name anyway? I've seen you before, haven't I?"
She nodded. "A few years ago." Her voice was soft and melodic, like you'd think a mermaid's would be. Her friends had sounded like teenage humans. "You came to visit Arroyo. I'd stopped by with my older sister. I was only a guppy at the time." I remembered the visit vaguely. Her sister had been fishlike like her, scales bright green and eyes a violet color. She'd had a sail erupting from her back that she had pierced, and I remembered commenting on it. If I recalled correctly, the girl had been hovering behind her older sister like a lost puppy.
I nodded. "I remember. Green scales?" She nodded in confirmation. Her eyes slid back to my scars. Just ask already if you're gonna! "What?" Like I don't already know.
She opened and closed her mouth again. She shook her head. "Nothing." She turned to leave, swimming after her friends.
After she was out of earshot, I said, under my breath, "Suit yourself." I turned and dove through the entrance and found myself in my mom's antechamber. "Mom?" The current rushed past me and a woman came gliding around the bend. Small and skinny with eyes taking up most of her face, she looked a little like an alien.
"Finn! There's my boy!" She swam up to me and hugged me. Were we standing on solid ground, she'd have come up to my chest, she was so small. As it was, buoyed by the water, she was able to come up to my eye level. She kissed my cheek before releasing me. "How've you been doing?"
"I've been fine." She turned and started drifting down the hall, I followed, riding the current now.
She glanced over at me. "You're lying." When I didn't respond she took that as a que to continue speaking. "Your father dropped by didn't he?"
I grimaced, reminded of him. "Eugh, I hate when he drops by."
She smiled reassuringly at me, reaching her arm around my shoulders as she did. "I know. Did he just ask the usual?"
"Yeah, sort of." She raised her eyebrows questionably. "He was more confident this time, and he said that they were starting things."
Her eyebrows scrunched together in concern. "That's not good news." She stared off in the distance, in her own little world for a moment. "You said no?"
She nodded again. "Good. What did Pho think?"
I looked away, wincing. "I hadn't told her that part yet. I just told her that he said the usual."
She looked at me in a patronizing way. "Finn." I don't mind when my mom does this, she's actually been there enough to have earned the right. "You need to tell your sister. If only so she knows all the details." My mom glanced towards the main island. "Vuur is going to be pissed at me when she finds out I knew before her."
"Don't worry about Vuur. Pho can handle her mom." I hate our moms' rivalry. It's stupid. If Pho and I can get along fine, then they should be able to as well.
She smiled at me again. "I know." She leaned over and kissed my forehead. My mom was the real mushy, lovey type. I don't mind... when we're in private that is. Whenever she ventures out with me it's embarrassing as all get out!
"So how have you been doing since my last visit?" Changing the subject from my dad was fairly easy with my mom, she didn't like talking about him either.
"You mean a month ago? Well, I pranced around on Maui for a little while, bought a few new bathing suits." Bathing suits were almost exclusively what my mom wore. Living in the water like she did, it's not unexpected. Some I prefer not to see her in though... I mean, come on, she's my mom. "I met a few tourists that were eager to take surfing lessons." My mom, when she was on land, masqueraded as a surf shop owner, complete with lessons. It's how she payed for her thousands of bathing suits. "And some of the Mermaids and Nereids dropped by."
"I saw three on my way here. Mermaids."
"Oh? Did any of them interest you?"
I rolled my eyes. "Mom, you don't need to play matchmaker for me. And no, none of them did. The two leads were just as superficial as most of the teen tourists we get tromping around, and the other one was too shy and soft spoken." I was a little biased. Hanging out with Pho all the time made quiet girls look boring.
My mom shrugged. "Well, what're you going to do?"
"So what happened with the tourists?"
After flying towards the sunset for a while, the lights of New York started showing up. I quickly landed us at the strip and hopped out. After we landed Sam just sat there for a minute staring straight ahead. "We're on the ground now." She blinked, like she was just waking up, and looked around before prying her hands off the sides of the cockpit. Damn, the girl left dents! She haltingly climbed out, unsteady on her feet. She glanced around at the city for a minute in silence before abruptly dropping to the ground. She had her ear to the pavement and her eyes closed, looking like she was trying to hug the damn thing. I rolled my eyes. "Why is flying in a plane so much different than flying with your wings?"
Without moving and with her eyes still closed she responded in an irritated tone. "I have control with my wings, I was meant to fly, as are all things born with wings. Man was not meant to fly, so they have no wings. Their creations only give me unease."
"Technically, I gave them the designs for the first planes, so."
She looked up at me without moving. "You also told Ben to fly his kite in the middle of a storm, setting a bad example as always."
I smiled smugly. That was one of my favorite memories, the day Ben came out into the rain with me. We had a blast! Literally. "And look how much the IMs appreciate it." She rolled her eyes at me and finally stood up, having reconnected with the ground long enough. "Would you like to fly from here, or are you good with riding in a car?"
"Haven't you tortured me enough with the plane? I'm not getting in a car, thank you very much." She berated me with her hands on her hips and her eyebrow cocked. This is one of the reasons I like her. Arguing with spirit is electrifying.
I shrugged. "Have it your way." I glanced around, making sure the strip was empty for the moment before throwing out my wings. Sam did likewise. I've always loved her wings, the way light catches them, man. For a girl that stubborn and so plain in looks to have wings that beautiful... Oh great, now I sound like a sap. "You're gonna have to hover over me, or your wings will draw too much attention."
"They will not, it's sunset, they'll blend right in." Without another word she took off, rocketing into the sky.
I launched after her, climbing with every down-stroke. I came alongside her matching her speed and smiling at her. "You have no clue where you're going, do you?"
"Then why are you in the lead?"
"Because you're too slow."
I laughed and shook my head. "Follow me." I darted forward, towards Cal's block. About two minutes later we landed nearby in an alley. We strode out onto the sidewalk, me in the lead. Though she wouldn't admit it, I knew she was as amazed by the lights lining the street as any tourist. I caught her gazing around in awe when she thought I wasn't looking. "A bit different from mud huts isn't it?"
She sneered at me. "There's noting wrong with mud huts, I seem to recall you living in them too a few eons ago."
I raised my hands defensively. "Alright, alright. I concede!" She laughed along with me as we came up to Cal's building. We went past the front desk with a passing wave. I was a regular enough visitor that we weren't questioned. However, due to Sam's complete inability to trust anything relying on electricity, we had to take the stairs. I groaned in protest, but she started up anyway. "But Cal lives on the 20th floor!"
"I don't care. You got me in a plane, which is something I thought I'd never do. You're not getting me in an elevator in the same day." I sighed.
"Why are you always so difficult?"
"I prefer to rely on my own power than become a lazy slob like most IMs who rely on electricity."
I shook my head again. "You realize that statement is highly offensive to me."
"Like I said, I don't care." I rolled my eyes at her again, but smiled.
"I'm not in as good shape as you are, slow down!" I was out of breath already, and we were only on the eighth floor. Maybe she had a point about relying on electronics.
"Suck it up, buttercup!" I picked up the speed, sprinting up the stairs now. Nim was puffing away behind me, barely keeping up. It's not very ladylike, but I was enjoying this! I laughed at him. "What's the matter? I thought the great Mr. Epps can do anything?" I called back over my shoulder at him while I was still running up the stairs. I was a bit out of breath too, but that was only because I'd been used to two story houses at the most. Not nearly as bad as Nim though.
"I... can." He panted out his words. "But... I don't... go to... the... gym!" He stopped on the landing for the 17th floor. "Okay, okay. Wait up a second!" He doubled over, resting his hands on his knees, panting for breath.
I lightly hopped back down the steps I'd already covered to stand on the landing with him. "Man, you really need to start exercising." I crossed my arms at him, shaking my head in minor disappointment.
He glared up at me from where crouched. "Yeah, well. You need to stop living in the dark ages." He reached out his right arm and grasped the handrail, straightening up a little. "Can we at least walk the rest of the way?"
"Alright." We slowly started climbing the stairs again, only three floors to go. "So what've you been doing these past few years?"
"Few meaning the past five decades since I saw you last?" I nodded. He shrugged. "Well, that company I started is a multi-million-dollar organization now. I've officially got most of the patents for my designs under my name now."
"Even the one's Edison stole?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I got the ones that were Tesla's put under his name too." He shook his head. "Tom really screwed up things. I can't believe it's taken me this long to get it all sorted out. You know, I've got my guys working on re-creating Nik's ball-lightning experiment?"
"That was the one time I enjoyed seeing a science experiment."
"Yeah, well, if they can pull it off, any funds generated, I'm gonna use to build his tower."
"You miss him don't you?" Nikola had been one of Nim's good friends back when he'd been alive.
He shrugged again. "A little, I mean I've had almost a hundred years to get over him."
"Yeah, but you're not over him. The way you're trying so hard to see all of his theories proven?"
"So what? He was my friend. I can't help him out?"
"You did that with Leo too."
He laughed once. "Leo made his own shit happen, he didn't need any help. I seem to remember you helping Raph out often enough."
"That's another point entirely." We've all played favorites over the years.
"Is it? Is it really?" We reached the 20th floor and exited the stairwell.
"Which way?" I looked up and down the hallway. The cream and gold wallpaper and wood chair-rail were obviously expensive. And if the lights were any indication, I'd say that no one who lived in this building made minimum wage.
"Right." We turned to the right and Nim knocked on Cal's door.
"Knocking are we? Nice to know you have manners."
"For your information, I usually knock. And Maricel's here, so of course I'm gonna knock."
"Ha, ha." The doorknob turned and our conversation was cut off.
The door opened to reveal a slightly haggard light angel who I hadn't seen in seventy years. "Hey, Cal. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
He smiled at me. "Sam, it's good to see you." He moved aside and Nim and I stepped into his living room.
I let out a low whistle. "Nice place you've got here." He just shrugged as a response. He moved over to his couch where I finally noticed the shadow sitting on it, staring out the window like her soul was missing. I went and sat on the other side of her, setting my hand on her shoulder. "Hey there, girly." She slowly turned her head to look at me. Poor girl. Her cheeks were tearstained, her eyes bloodshot behind her glasses. I offered her a weak smile. "Nightmare?"
She nodded. I gave her a hug, god knows she needed one. I looked over her head at Cal. "You and Nim go work on strategy, I got her."
"Thanks." He got up off of the couch and retreated with Nim to the other side of the apartment.
Their whispered debate floated over us, just soft enough to be abstract. We sat how we were for a minute or so before Maricel spoke. "Sam." She mumbled it into my shoulder. "What are you doing here? I'm happy and all, but why?"
"Maricel, you've never been the best at keeping secrets. We know your dad's come up." She stiffened against me. Whether from fear of her father or from being caught, I didn't know. "From what I can guess, he gave you an order to not tell anyone about it." She pulled back to look me in the eye. "It's a good thing that Cal knows you so well. We're calling in the cavalry now, I was just the first one flown in." I shuddered involuntarily as I remembered the flight over.
"What's the matter?"
"Don't ask me how, but Nim got me in a plane. That's how we got here."
Her eyes widened. "You rode in a plane! Sam you hate planes!"
"I know." I shuddered again. "I'm not keen on reliving the experience any time soon."
The lights dimmed in the auditorium and the spotlights kicked on. "I suppose that means it's starting then."
"I suppose that you suppose right." Alex and I were near the back of the auditorium, behind the other listeners. Alex leaned over to me. "20 bucks says they quit after ten minutes."
"30 says they last the whole time."
A woman in her early to mid thirties walked onto the stage, clutching a stack of papers, no doubt her notes and speech. She stepped to the podium and stared out at the few assembled listeners. Before she began speaking she cleared her throat. "Thank you all for coming. By the fact that you are here, I am going to assume that most of you, if not all, are Christians. If any of you aren't, I would like to ask you now, to please hold all religious arguments until the seminar has concluded." She took a moment to glance at her notes. "With that out of the way, I would like to welcome you all. My name is Dr. Angelique Bennett."
Alex leaned towards me again. "Well, what do you know. An angel's giving a talk about angels." I snickered.
Dr. Bennett glanced towards us before returning to her notes again. "One thing I wish to point out before we begin, to prove that I am as unbiased as possible. I, myself, am agnostic. Meaning I do not believe any religion holds more merit over another, nor do I believe that there is nothing. This being the case, I can look at our data and results scientifically, as opposed to religiously." There were a few murmurs and outraged looks at her declaration. None from my sister and I, but they were there just the same.
Alex leaned over again. "Well, this just got interesting." She leaned back in her chair, getting comfortable, and brought her left hand up to her mouth, something she did when she was intent on something. I realized she was actually enjoying this so far. Nearly every one of these talks we'd been to had been done by Christians. She was right, this was interesting.
Dr. Bennett picked up a small remote, or clicker by the looks of it, and gestured to someone in the control booth. A projector screen lowered itself behind her and we could hear the projector itself kick on. She pushed the button on her clicker and an image appeared of what you'd expect an angel to look like. White feathered wings, blonde hair, blue eyes, glowing, wrapped in a toga and a halo to top it off. "This is the popular depiction of an angel, and has been since the first mention of them. Though of late they've been depicted as females more often than males." She clicked it again and the image changed to an ordinary person, albeit well dressed. "My associates and I have come to believe that they generally appear more like this. As ordinary humans, and only return to this more divine form when need calls."
Alex sat up straighter. I knew what was going through her mind. This lady was on to something. Another click and the image changed again to show a picture of the Gutenberg Bible. "Though agnostic, I have read the bible. And it says that angels are beings that aren't and never have been humans. This means our departed loved ones have not been given wings." I smirked. Finally someone bothers to get their facts straight. Alex did the same beside me. "My team has done extensive research to find, not only possible, but probable evidence that angels have, in fact, visited the earth."
Another image appeared and Alex sat forward, looking like she wanted to stand up. I put my hand on her shoulder to calm her down, but I was feeling the same. The image was of a woodblock carving of a winged woman with flaming hair. We'd seen the carving in person when it was new. I looked at Alex. The woman in the carving was me. Dr. Bennett shuffled her papers. "This carving was done by a little known artist in the middle ages from what is now Hungary. It is titled 'Alisa', and we can only assume that this Alisa is the winged woman here."
The next slide was even worse. This one was a sketch from an amateur French artist who never amounted to anything. Alex and I had made sure of that. It was a drawing of a gallows with two winged, flame haired women, bearing horns. It was Alex and me, at an event that I prefer to forget, to be completely honest. "This slide shows a small-town French courtroom artist. It is of a would be execution of a convicted witch. In the notes we found accompanying the drawing it states that one of these two women, presumably the one on the left, was accused of witchcraft and was judged and sentenced all at once. As her execution was beginning, her sister drew attention to the rear of the crowd where she had transformed into the creature we see here. She then flew to the platform and 'incinerated' the rope. The accused sister then transformed as well. The two then reportedly destroyed the gallows and flew off."
I felt the blood drain from my face. I couldn't stop looking at the picture, even though I wasn't seeing it anymore. I was seeing the noose around my next, Alex standing at the back of the crowd, transforming. I'd called out to her, I didn't want her being hurt too, but she just flew next to me and looked me in the eye. I knew that it was okay, then, to show myself. So I had, and we'd left. We hadn't been back to France since. I don't think I was breathing in that moment. "How... how did she find these?"
Next to me, Alex had a determined look on her face. "I don't know, but I'm gonna find out." Alex stood up and addressed Dr. Bennett. "How do we know these aren't any more than the works of superstitious zealots? This last piece could simply be the church trying to back up their claims. Besides, you said so yourself, the documents say that these were witches, not angels. How does this fit your research?" Thank you Alex. I don't know what I'd do without my sister, I really don't. She always figures a way out of tough situations.
"Miss Deuce. You should have let me continue. My team believes that the townsfolk had discovered an angel living among them, and falsely accused them of witchcraft. The 'sister' was obviously another angel, who was helping their fellow being escape persecution. Now, please sit and hold all further questions until the appropriated time." She stared Alex down until my sister finally sat stiffly. Dr. Bennett pressed her button again. This time I almost fainted. It was a carving of a battle scene. There were mythical creatures everywhere, both on the ground and in the air. Also in the air were ten winged people.
"Alex... we - we buried that."
I couldn't deal with this. If I saw one more picture of either of us or our friends, I wasn't going to be conscious anymore. "I gotta get out of here, Alex. I'll be in the hallway." I got up and walked out of the auditorium without waiting for an answer, I couldn't. I'd started to cry, and I didn't want her to see.