Damaged Goods Part Two

From the Story Arc: Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Previous Story in the Arc: Damaged Goods by Victoria Victrix (Monday, May 23, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Damaged Goods---Part 3 by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, May 26, 2005)

(posted Wednesday, May 25, 2005)

This was harder than she had thought.

For one moment, putting on the Llewellco-designed armour ("We don't make heroes, we make heroes safer," a direct advertising jab at Crey) she had felt like her old self. Well, except for the places where the nerves were dead. Third-degree burns did that; killed the nerve-endings. Since there wasn't an inch of skin from the neck down that hadn't been burned, lacerated, or both, she was a patchwork of places where she couldn't feel anything and places that were almost normal. No, she'd looked in the mirror and seen something of the old VickieVee, there, and had given Bella a quick call.

"Getting back on the horse, girlfriend. Wish me luck." Presumably this would go to that communicator thing you got once you hooked up with a group or got out of "lowest of the parking-lot-crawling low" status. At least, she didn't have one yet. Not that having one would do her any good here. Who did she know? No one--

Well, ok, she did have some people she'd help sort out their dossiers who said they'd put her on their friend-list. Like any of them were going to be able to stop what they were doing to hold the hand of a wreck like her. People up in Security level territory where they were taking on stuff that might give even the Morrigan a moment's pause--

You used to be there, you know. Prove to the Sidhe and the mortals both you've learned your lesson in responsibility and you will be again.

Well, at least she had circumvented Bella's good-hearted promise to "get some people to help her"--like they wouldn't resent having to haul her around like a sack of cats and nursemaid her even without all the current twitches. Then on top of that, when the inevitable attack happened--

No. I'll do this my way. She stepped out into the sun--

Only to get hit with a panic-attack right on the doorstep.

Fine, she'd used it. Her transportation, until the restrictors came off, was foot. So she'd used that adrenaline-fueled panic to run, run all the way from the apartment complex to Atlas Park. And used it to be hyper-alert to the lurkers, the trouble-waiting, all the way there. Picked out the potential ambushes and avoided them. And it worked, the attack faded as she ran, to the point where she was able to make herself stop a couple of times to help out another couple of lowbies in trouble with a quick healing spell. She thought she'd be all right then, right until she got into the Park proper and ran up the steps into Atlas Plaza--

--into the crowds, the crowds in their costume and masks, some of them actually looking like Unseleighe, all of them, if they knew what she looked like under the armour who would pull back in horror--all of them too close, too close--

--hordes of them, lining up for a "costume contest," and part of her, the tiny part still sane, thinking "A costume contest? What are they, nuts? I must have passed three hundred muggers getting here and they want critiques on their spandex?"

Too many of them, though, too many, and the collar of her suit felt too tight and her pulse pounded in her ears, her legs started to tremble, and she staggered up the stairs and into the courthouse wondering if she was going to pass out.

There were fewer people here, a lot fewer, and with relief she staggered down the stairs and into the M.A.G.I. office.

Azuria was spaced out as usual; Vic frankly couldn't tell at this point if it was because she was always half in a trance or if she had a little "habit" on the side. If the latter, it might explain why she kept losing the artifacts she sent people out to retrieve...maybe Vic hadn't been here since her first--and last--visit, but she kept her ear to the ground, and she knew Azuria's rep was not good these days.

And there was no one in the office but Suzy Space-Chick, who ignored (or simply didn't see) the white-faced, trembling arrival.

Vic moved into the back of the office to pretend to look at the artifacts and recover.

Recover! Right now she would have turned over her bank account to any taxibot who promised to tp her back to her apartment. And she would nail the door shut, take deliveries through the window, and never come out again.

Good gods. If I can't pass a stupid costume contest without having an attack, how the hell am I going to cope with real baddies?

She stood there, shaking, eyes closed. Costume contest...the last time she had seen a gathering like that, it hadn't been a costume contest. It had been a Mage-duel in the Court of the Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of Blood, Death and Battle. Her opponent had been The Morrigan's hand-picked champion, and before long she had belatedly realized it wasn't her lover's release that was at stake, it was her life. All those face, wierd and beautiful, ugly and malformed, all surrounding the Combat Circle, all watching with hungry avidity, waiting for her to fall--

She was shaking so hard she had to hold onto the wall to keep her knees from buckling. Holding to the wall she moved one careful step at a time, while her heart pounded as if it was going to come right through her chest, her mouth was a dry with fear as old leather, and it was all she could do to keep from breaking down and bawling like a lost child right there. Finally she got to the corner with the bookcases. With hands that shook so hard she thought she was going to drop it, she picked out a book at random and began to read.

Cá fhad é ó
Cá fhad é ó

Siúil trí na stoirmeacha.
Tar trí na stoirmeacha.

Cá fhad é ó
na néalta dubh'.
Cá fhad é ó
an tús go deireadh.

Tóg do chroí.
Siúil trí na stoirmeacha.
Tóg do chroíse.
Tar trí na stoirmeacha.

Turas fada.
Tar trí na stoirmeacha.*

Her mind translated the Gaelic automatically. How far is it, how far is it? Walk through the storms. Come through the storms. How far is it from the black clouds? How far is it from the beginning to an end? Lift your heart. Walk through the storms. Lift your heart! Come through the storms. A long journey. Come through the storms.

It hit her like a pail of cold water; it seemed like an omen--she kept reading.

Codladh fada,
Codladh domhain.
Éirigh! Amharc síos

Siúil liom tríd an réalta dearg.
Deireadh, deireadh an turas.
Réaltóg, réaltóg dearg.**

Long sleep, Deep sleep. Rise! Look down Aldebaran. Walk with me through the red star. The end, end of the journey. Star, red star.

She turned, the book in her hands. There was no title page, nothing on the spine--she had to know what it was, where it can come from! She cleared her throat uneasily, not used to speaking aloud to anyone but Bella and Greymalkin.

"Hey Azuria--"

But someone else was there, speaking at the same time. "Azuria! Hey, talk to me, lady!"

Her mouth dried again. Tall, muscular, dressed in some kind of red costume, scarf covering the bottom half of his face, head, and neck. Eyes glowing red, like stars--

The end of the journey. Star, red star.

(to be continued......)

*Roma Ryan, "Storms in Africa." ** Roma Ryan, "Aldebaran"