Saturday, December 4, 2010

Episode Seventeen: Inclinations


Episode Seventeen 

Inclinations

It takes all the running you can do, to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that.
~Lewis Carroll

   Simon held the door open to the field house.
   "And Karu is of course completely amazing. So district will be in the bag," Ro said, edging passed him. 

   “Umm hmm…” Esther followed, digging in her bag for her class schedule. "What time is it?" 

   "You have art next," Ro supplied as they moved into the small stair access way. 

   "Oh. Right." Esther glanced up, scanning the lawn beyond the front doors, propped open now as students passed back and forth. The rain had stopped and the way seemed clear, but...She bit her lip, unconsciously backing towards the stairwell.

   Ro’s voice burst her concentration. "Tell me Sinclair isn't taking art. That's just too bizarre." 

   "He isn't but...Holon is." Esther zipped her bag closed and straightened the flap.

   Leaning in, Ro's hand went to her hip. "Is he in every class with you?"

   "Not...every class. No,” Esther said, carefully avoiding Ro’s gaze.
Ro sighed in exasperation. "Lunch isn't a class, Es." 

   Esther felt her face warm. “It’s not just lunch. And I don’t need you walking me everywhere. It won’t stop anything anyway and—”

   “He’ll certainly think twice if I’m there, and you know it.” 

   A hesitant voice interrupted their debate."I'll walk you."

   Startled, Esther turned; her satchel swinging into Ro in the tight corridor. Simon. I...I actually forgot he was there. He wasn't look directly at her again; as if looking just to the left of someone's ear while speaking was so ingrained he couldn't turn it off. 

   "Isn't that the opposite way you're going, Si?" asked Ro, with a sly grin.
Simon shook his head. "No, I--"

   "Hey Simon!"

   All three turned. Four boys and a girl in underclassmen uniform stood beside the pool doors. One of the boys, dark hair slicked back, waved. "Come on, man. We're been waiting."

   "Just a sec." Simon glanced back at Esther. "JV team..." he muttered, shoulders sagging.

   "Don't you usually walk with them?" Ro teased.

   "Yeah, but..."

   "Dude." The boy looked expectant. "We'll be late for Latin."

   Esther looked from Simon to the boy, then back. Simon’s gaze dropped. "Later." He shoved his hands in his pockets and headed towards the underclassmen. 

   The dark haired boy clapped Simon on the back and they continued down the hall; the girl throwing a rather nasty look over her shoulder. 

   "Es?” Ro nudged her arm. “Esther." 

   "Hmm? Oh, sorry. What?"

   "I can still--"

   The warning bell sounded. 

   "Crap. Okay, never mind." Ro hiked her bag higher on her shoulder. "I'll see ya after school, k?"
   Running across the English Building's lawn and into the Art Garden, Esther dodged around tall metal sculptures and hanging plants. She slipped on the damp grass just outside the doors and grabbed the ornate iron railing by the entrance, her foot skidding out from under her, barely managing not to fall. Pulling herself up, she hurried through the door and took the steps two at the time, arriving at room 4B just as the tardy bell rang. 

   Mrs. Aulder, waiting at the door with an attendance sheet on a clipboard, raised her eye brows. "Very nearly late, Miss St. Claire."

   "Yes, Miss. Sorry, Miss."

   "Mrs. Aulder, if you please. I am not something you failed to hit. Take your seat." 

   Esther hurried to the long table at the back. Holon sat across from her seat; his chair turned to the front, scarf wound tightly around his neck, hair holding a wet shine. Esther tried not to stare at the strands of blue as she settled in her seat. 

   Mrs. Aulder set the clipboard on her desk. "Today we practice sketching. I will place something on your table. Whatever angle you have with it is the angle you draw. Do not touch the object. Do not pick it up or re-arrange it in anyway." She took a large basket from the supply shelf under the bank of arched windows, rummaging in it without looking at the contents as she came to the first table of students. "Draw what you see directly in front of you." She pulled something out of the basket, set it on the table, and moved to the next set of artists. 

   Meagan Eloine’s red curls shook as she flopped back in her chair; arms crossed in a pout at the object set on the table between her and Jessica Kidd. "A rock. Really?"

   "Find the inner beauty, Miss Eloine." Mrs. Aulder reached into the basket again, this time placing a handful of blue feathers in front of Martin and Holly. "Find the lines. The angles. Find the beauty in the chaos."

   The artists tittered.

   "Or at least find your charcoals Mr. Trevarten before I find a detention slip."
A few students guiltily dipped into their supplies, quickly bring up sketch pads and tins. 

   Holon spun his chair around, hands clasping in front of him on the table. Esther, her interest ebbing from the mysterious artifacts, couldn't help staring at the bandages over his knuckles. The blood was darker now, old and dried.
Holon cleared his throat.

   Esther glanced up and met his eyes. 

   A strange purple flower plopped onto the desk between them, making her start. A few starry petals scattered, a leaf drooped. Mrs. Aulder gave her a curt smile then moved onto the next table. 

   Esther frowned at the flower; the curve of its thin stem like a branch with three dividing limbs; flowers protruding from the end of each set with purple petals pointed and ridged yet delicately curved back towards the stem.
With a whisper of paper Holon propped his sketch book against the table, and placed a tin of charcoals at his side.






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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Episode Sixteen


Episode Sixteen

Vector


Anticipation has a habit to set you up
For disappointment in evening entertainment but
Tonight there'll be some love
Tonight there'll be a ruckus yeah
Regardless of what's gone before
-Arctic Monkeys 

   Lucas frantically scanned the walls, the shelves, racks, and then the floor. "More activity, Mar. Recent. Summoning circles...And a...Vector...Alignment...Marie!"

   She lurched to a halt, but the toe of her boot hit the edge of the curved runic circles she could not see. Rust colored powder skittered out from under her. Red vector lines shot into the air, arched, bled into deep black and dove down. She crouched, glaring up at the incoming darkness--barbed, and shiny with spikes. 

   A blur of motion ignited the air in front of her. Lucas materialized, grabbing her about the waist. 

   They vanished. 

   Reappearing on the cross beams of the rafters, Lucas stood panting while Marie stared down at the spirit below. It crashed onto the floor where she'd been moments before. The darkness split and shattered, writhing on the ground like a headless snake. 

   Lucas' grip on her deepened. "When I tell you to wait--"

   Marie slapped his hand away. "Open Second tier constructs."

    "Fine." Lucas held his right hand over his left. His fingertips arched down, brushing the top of his hand, held out straight in front of him. "Construction." A white hot glow rose just beyond his fingertips, revolving and solidifying. A dial of white runic letters, with three distinct and counter rotating lamina, churned under his fingers. "Unit 0 Resonance. Acknowledge Third Level Order. Compliance." The white mist turned gilded. "Second Tier Release."

   The darkness rattled, re-gathering, reconstructing into an undulating mass. Marie stood, her right arm encased in gold light. "Stay back."

   Lucas let her walk out in front of him. Out on thin air; as if it were glass. Her eyes narrowed at the reforming spirit, the light pulsing and dancing out from her body in a long line that split and arched in both directions over her head. A huge golden war axe, ornate and shimmering even in the dim warehouse, formed between her fingers.

"Where's the child."

   The Shadow Spirit hissed with the sound of a tier's fast leak and a foul smell jetted upwards. A glob of darkness shifted into an elongated mouth. "Chi-auld?" A long sticky tongue, dripping oily darkness, slid from the mouth and wrapped around its solidifying, then disintegrating head. "Wha-uat chi-auld?" 

   Lucas let his right hand drop to his side, his jaw tightening. "Corrupted? Or just messing with us?"

   "That thing look like normal yōkai to you?"

   The creature oozed forward and lapped at the brace bars from the floor, as if to sniff them out. The mouth opened and shut, the vile black tongue lolling.

   "Uh...no..."

   "Transport denied." 

   "Right."

   "Containment."

   The outlines of Lucas' body blurred. He vanished from the rafter, appearing less than a second later on the ground floor. He raised his right hand, the gold mist paling to white, the runic compass turning. "Order Acknowledged. Containment. Level 4."

   "You have clearly lost your innocence and become a Wraith." Marie lowered the axe, pointing the aureate spiked top at the corrupted creature. "For illegal use of local Ley Lines and crimes against humanity, I, Marie Selutera Factory Clasp of the Third Order sentence you to Oblivion."
Lucas' hands shot forward. The glow surrounded the Wraith, fanned out, split in a million ways and became a net. He pulled his hands in. The net shrank, sticking to the ground, contorting the Wraith and forcing it to flatten against the floor.

   It screamed.

   The sound was multi-tonal, alien yet disturbingly familiar. It blasted the warehouse in fetid streams of echoing air. Lucas started. The net jumped in time with his surprise. A blob of darkness pulsed against the white lines, causing a few to shuttered and rise.

    "Focus!" Marie darted forward, the gold axe filling his vision. "Keep it still."

   Darkness boiled and throbbed. A bubble formed in between the net's fibers. It grew.
   Maria swung the axe, slicing the top of the bubble.
   Another pulsed. The Wraith screamed. The net shuddered as the creature threw its form against it, writhing and tossing solidified shadows.
   Maria spun the blade over the top, slicing blobs of oily black as they puffed up through the net. The blobs twisted then evaporated in the air. With each slice, the scream grew louder, the smell fouler, and Lucas' hold began to slip.

   A length of shadow shot from the net with a hiss of steam. The barrier weakened. Another broke through a hole. Maria skipped backwards as long arms of darkness jetted towards her. One snapped around her ankle and pulled backwards, towards Lucas. She was jerked forward, but forced herself to twist and got a glimpse of the elongated blob break off and head for Lucas before she spun the axe under her, slicing the cord to the Wraith, and then hurled her weapon.

   Her body hit the ground in time with a crunch of metal embedding itself into concrete. Lucas glanced down at her from behind the golden axe, the remaining strands of the Wraith denigrating from hitting the blade.

   Pressure snapped around Marie's wrist, her waist and her throat. Her free hand tore at it, finding it eerily soft and wet under her nails; but it would not be shirred away. Her jeans ripped along the side as she threw her weight forward, fighting the pull of the Wraith as it slowly retracted its arms, mouth wide, tongue lapping.
   "O-open...L-Luc...Ack!" The darkness tightened on her throat, squeezing hard enough to make her vision swim and extinguish the order in her mouth. She leaned forward, clawing at the cement for any kind of purchase. She looked up, desperately trying to form the words to get Lucas to help her.

   He was standing, the hand embedded with the runic compass out, the other's fingers above. Gold washed over the white runes. Gold rushed down the lines connecting him to the net making the whole warehouse glow blinding bright. The axe vanished.

   Light encased Marie. She felt its resonance, felt the bonds of restraint snap. As did the Wraith's hold.
   The light receded. Lucas fell to a knee, but kept the spirit trapped. Gold flashed behind him. He smiled, wearily. "Batter up..."

   Marie, a blur of illumination in full armor, swung the reforming axe, the blade an arc of radiance, into the middle of the Wraith. Light collided with shadow. A burst of otherworldly energy rocked the warehouse.

   Lucas stared down at the reddened dirt outside the warehouse with a frown. He rubbed the top of his hand distractedly and turned as the golden image of Marie appeared in the doorway. A blood red cape flowed from her shoulders and the dim sunlight played on the delicate etching in her breastplate, the war axe balanced casually on her shoulder.

   She glanced at him, then quickly at the dirt at his feet. "Thanks."

   "My job." He shrugged. "Saving pretty ladies in distress is what I do."

   Her gaze returned to him, eyes narrowed. "There a reason you acted like a frightened rookie in there?"

   Lucas kicked the dispersing rune sand. He knelt, batting more aside and sighed, picking up a small yellow rain boot, covered in mud. 

   "We'll check with the farmers. See if any of the children really are missing."

   Lucas gripped the shoe and took a deep breath, then slid it into his coat pocket, his free hand idly squeezing a silver cuff at his right ear between finger and thumb.

   "You wanna warn the kitten."

   Lucas shrugged airily, fingers jerking away from the cuff. "I just think he'd enjoy it here." He pulled his cigarettes and lighter from his coat, packing them against the side of his hand. "I think he's bored."

   "So he's picked up whining from you."

   Lucas smirked at his cigarettes. "Wouldn't be the only thing."

   Marie shifted the axe across her shoulders, wrists draping over its hilt. "We'll head back when you're done."

   Lucas tilted his head towards the sky, took a long drag, then blew it out slowly towards the thin wisps of clouds.
     In the cafeteria lunch line, Tobie flinched as he reached out for cup of orange jello. The cup jolted and spun, nearly falling between his tray and the metal rungs. Gus grabbed it.

   "Okay man?" he asked, taking it for himself. 

   "Yeah. Sides were wet." Tobie slid his tray to the check out, resisting the urge to rub the at the top of his ear as he pulled his student ID from his wallet.






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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Episode Fifteen: There

Episode Fifteen

The Factory


"A dozen more questions occurred to me. Not to mention twenty-two possible solutions to each one, sixteen resulting hypotheses and counter-theorems, eight abstract speculations, a quadrilateral equation, two axioms, and a limerick. That's raw intelligence for you."
-The Djinni Bartimaeus



   Ice cold wind tore down from the northern mountains, ripped through the abandoned fields and jerked open Lucas' coat. He grimaced and bent into his stomach.

   "Lovely weather, eh?" Marie smirked over the top of her binoculars.

   "Not one bit." Lucas suppressed a shiver. "Man, this is unbelievable. I'm freezing!"

   "Stop whining. Let's you know you're alive."
   "Oh, I know I'm alive." Lucas crouched lower against the crumbling rock wall outside the facility. "Just not so sure about my feet...Or nose..." He glanced up at Marie with a sniff. "How are you standing this?"

   "I have a turtle neck.”

   "That’s thinner than an under shirt."

   Marie rested her elbows on the stones of the old rock wall that circled the area and eclipsed them from anyone, or anything that might be looking, and pointed the lenses back at the smaller storehouses below. "Always been a hot blooded gal. Now shush."

   Lucas wrapped the coat tighter around him and stared down at his shiny leather shoes; made more so with the ice laden northern countryside, and counted to ten. He gazed over at Marie. "Still nothing?"

   "Not nothing," she hissed, scanning the small cluster of abandoned warehouses below them. "It's never nothing."

   "Right." Lucas pulled a crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights out of his coat's inside pocket. "If it weren't for bad luck we'd have no luck at all."

   Marie lowered the binoculars with a frown. "I'm not picking up any movements. And you aren’t getting anything either?"

   "Nada." He stuck a cigarette in his mouth then fished in his pocket for the lighter.

   Marie sat back on her heels, binoculars in her lap. "Maybe it was a fluke after all..."

   "Even The Factory can make mistakes. They’re only human." He chuckled, finding his lighter and cupping the cigarette. "The people around here are pretty easily spooked." The lighter stuttered, not catching. "Probably just a runaway or overly superstitious farm--"

   Marie gasped, jolting upright and leaning over the stones. Lucas joined her. A jagged shadow leapt from one end of the largest warehouse, where a pile of old machinery stood rusting, and flipped into a smashed out window. Before it vanished, Lucas was certain he caught, in the veils of swirling darkness, the pink fleshy tones of a small foot.

   Beyond the window, in the shocked silence that followed, came a soft wail; like that of a frightened child.

   Lucas was on his feet, cigarette discarded.

   Marie grabbed his arm and yanked him down; or tried too. The sleeve of his coat slipped off his shoulder. "Sit down."

   "But you heard..."

   "I heard what could be a False Sense. Now sit. That's an order."

   "It sounded like a..."

   "I know exactly what it sounded like."

   "Don't give me that! That was an act of...." he racked his brain. "Of something that allows us to investigate further, Marie!" He snapped his fingers. "Of defiance and daring if it was a False Sense. It was a challenge!"

   She leveled him with an icy stare, much colder there the surrounding mountains. "Really? Don't quote text to me, Alt--no matter how badly. We are here to observe and report."

   "But we just..."

   "Observe and re--"

   "Yeah, yeah. I heard ya." Lucas sat heavily, straightening his coat as Marie set a small receiver in her ear and dialed her cell phone. He squirmed, feeling something under him. Reaching down he pulled up his cigarette. Snapped in two.

   "That's odd."

   "What's up?" Lucas tossed the useless stick into the wind.

   "I'm not getting through..."

   "Busy day at command I guess."

   "It's not a busy signal you idiot. All I'm getting is static." She pulled the receiver from her ear and picked up her binoculars.

   Lucas sighed. "When's Bert outta the Hospital?"

   "Robert will be released when the medics release him."

   "Bet The Factory is the only place that deems illness a crime. Usually patients are discharged, aren't they?"

   Marie's focus on the warehouse seemed to increase, creasing her forehead with worry.

   "What's he got any---?"

   She stood, clipping the binoculars to her belt. "We’re going in."

   "Huh?" She was already over the wall when Lucas looked up. "Marie! Wait a sec, will ya?" Jogging, he caught up with her near the entrance to the main building. He grasped her arm. "Don't just charge down in not even half open!"

   Marie glared at him. His hand drooped from her arm. Hers slid to the door knob. “Do your job, Alt.”

   Lucas edged closer, pulled off a glove and closed his eyes a moment, laying a hand on the wall beside the door, fingertips scarping the metal surface.

   "It's quiet. But..." He opened his eyes. "There is movement. It’s so muted it could just be rats or an alley cat…Or something suppressing its presence.”

   Marie nodded. Her hand twisted the door knob. Lucas pressed in behind her. Marie shoved the door open and in one quick movement vanished inside to the left. Lucia followed just as fast, heading right. They stood a few feet apart in what looked like a gloomy but ordinary warehouse, if not disused and abandoned. Lucas stood very still, his gaze taking in the empty pallet racks and rows of dusty shelves. A few large crates littered the floor and rose out of the gloom in the back where his eye sight failed and turn everything to muddy shadows.

   "Dark in here."

   "Yeah," Lucas grinned at her. "Too dark."

   "Cut it out, Luc and turn on your eyes."

   Lucas' fingers touched his forelock. "Roger, Roger."

   "Keep formation and move quietly."

   The shadows shimmered as the second construct fell away at Lucas’ inward command. The warehouse sharpened. Soft silvery lines wafted in the air a few feet back towards the large crates he could barely make out before.

   "Confirming a recently used Line," he said, pointing.

   "Amplify."

   "Not yet."

   Marie pushed passed him. "How old?"

   "A few hours, but wait a sec! Let me check--"

   "Check faster," Marie said, glaring over her shoulder.








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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Convention and Postponed


Hey guys!

Well we were at AnimeFest in Dallas this past weekend. Went super well and had a ball! A big THANK YOU for those that ran by the booth and picked up a CW postcard or bookmark. :D

I've been getting some odd server error messages from this thing every time I tried to post, especially at the con. So next ep will be in October!

In the meantime, see one the wonderful postcards that Juliet made for me!? Shes the best <333

Also! If you would like updates and emails when I actually DO post (reminders and what not) feel free to email me at ebclockwork@gmail.com and I will add you to the list!


Love and Inspirations, e.



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Friday, August 6, 2010

Episode Fourteen: Here





All the people like us are We, and everyone else is They.
~Rudyard Kipling



Esther slid the door open to 12B, releasing a throng of noise. Shutting the door, she hurried to her row.

Tobie sat on top of his desk, feet on his seat, talking with Gus and idly flipping a pen between his fingers. Jacob reclined against Sadie's desk, as she and Rebeca huddled together by the pencil sharpener at the back of the room. They giggled, stealing glances at the boys as Esther shoved her bag under her desk. Snippets of conversation rose out of the din.

"...no reason why coach can't put me at forward," Gus muttered, his algebra book open and pen scribbling to finish the homework.

Jacob laughed. "Except that he has Tobie."

Tobie grinned. "What can I say." He tapped Gus on the head with his pen. "I'm just better then you."

Gus glared at him, viciously flipping a page.

"You can't out-run or out-handle him, Gus. Sorry man." Jacob stretched, eyes on the girls at the back. "But don't feel bad." He clapped a hand on Gus' shoulder. "No one else can either." With a grin to Rebeca he made his way up the row.

"Yeah, well maybe if he shared the freakn ball every once in a while..."

Tobie spun on the desk top, feet hitting the floor. "If I had anyone to trust with it, I would." He raised his eye brows, waiting.

Gus grunted and went back to his book as the classroom door slid back.

"Morning class. Take your seats." Lampman took up the dry-board eraser, rubbed the homework assignment away and wrote: POP QUIZ in its place. "Based on the math assignment from last night," he said over the groans. "Take your seat Mr. Lenburt, class has officially started." He wrote out four algebraic equations of varying degrees of difficulty, caped the marker with satisfaction and picked up the apple timer from his desk. "You have 20 minuets. Begin." He sat in his chair, pulling out a beat up paperback from the top drawer.

Esther dutifully copied down the problems, but after getting half way through the second one, her gaze darted to Holon's desk. Holon's empty desk.

Where is he? Is he sick? He looked fine yesterday... She shook her head to banish the thoughts and forced her eyes back to her paper. You don't care. X... focus on finding X. In front of her, Gus shifted his paper and lifted up the corner to peek at the homework. The rustle of Lampman's book made him cringe and the paper dropped.

Esther solved the last problem and lifted her paper up slightly to check her work. Feeling someone watching her, she glanced to her right. Tobie's gaze lifted from her paper, to her, and then snapped back to his own work. Esther quickly set the paper down on her desk.

Lampman stood, swiping the timer off his desk and slowly walking towards the middle of the room.

"Annnnd...Time! Pass up your quiz behind your homework. I said TIME, Mr. Robles."

Esther flipped open her homework folder for her assignment as the row over handed up their papers. Rebeca playfully smacked Teddy with her's.

"Pass it up, pass it up. Class rep, collect them please."

Eddie stood. "Yes, sir."

As he got to the second row the classroom door opened and Holon stepped through, red and gold scarf tied over his coat, books in his hand.

"Nice of you to join us Mr. Huges," Lampman said. "Late pass?"

"No, sir."

"You missed a quiz. Homework?"

Holon slid a piece of paper from his books and handed it to Lampman.

"Take your seat."

Sadie and Rebeca were ensconced in whispers even before Holon got to the row. Esther passed her papers up, trying not to let her gaze wander. As Holon passed her, her eyes acted on their own accord; gaze skirting the edge of her desk. The hand holding the books was wrapped in gauze; under which was a small splatter of blood. She gasped.

"Miss St. Claire? Is there a problem?"

Esther jerked her head around. "No! No problem, sir. Sorry."

Holon placed his books on the desk and sat, pulling the sleeve of his coat over his hand.
"Do I have everyone's quiz and homework? This will count as your attendance as well so be sure you handed up both. Eddie, mark a tardy for Mr. Huges. Alright." Lampman erased the equations from the board. "Moving on."

Taking out her notebook, Esther glanced over at Holon. He sat low in his seat, nearly hunched over the top of it as if freezing, his hair dripping with rain. As he brushed it back from his face Esther noticed dark the circles under his eyes.

***


Ro and Simon were outside the field house, waiting for her as the first lunch bell rang.

"Thought you weren't coming," Ro said, grinning at Esther as she hurried up the hall.

"Sorry. The hall was a mess.”

“Mum made sandwiches." Ro held up a blue fabric lunch cooler. "And Si grabbed some drinks. Where you wanna eat?"

Esther's mouth twisted as she thought.

"Roof?" Ro suggested.

Esther frowned. "We can't get up there. Plus, its raining."

"Sure we can. There's doors. Come on, let’s see." Ro headed towards the maintenance stairs, Simon right behind her. "Oh come on, Esther," she called over her shoulder.


***


"Told ya," Ro quipped as the roof access door opened with a whine. Water pattered and pooled all around the empty roof.

"Told you," Esther retorted, gesturing at the rain.

"We can sit here." Ro pointed along the wall beside the roof access shed; which had a good sized over hang. "It’s not even wet," she added, meaningfully.

"Whatever..." Esther held her bag close to her chest and edged along the wall. Ro followed, leaving the door open for Simon.

"Ro, hold the door open a second."

"Huh?"

"Hold the door."

When she propped it open with a toe, Simon darted out into the rain. He returned with half a wet brick which he jammed against the door frame. "Ok."

Ro steeped back and the door started to close, stopping when it hit the brick. She nodded in approval. "That's why we keep you around." She sat against the wall that housed the stairs then opened the cooler. "Alrighty. We got peanut butter, chicken salad, uh... I think that’s egg..." She pulled out a wheat bread sandwich with a bright yellow filling and gave it a sniff. "Yep, egg. Esther?"

"Peanut butter."

Ro handed her the sandwich and a bag of chips from the cooler. "Si?"

"Chicken."

"Leaving the egg for me I see..." Ro said as she handed him the sandwich.

"Your mom always make so many sandwiches?"

"Pfft," Ro dismissed, unwrapping the plastic from hers. "Told her I feed Es a while ago. Mum thinks she's too skinny. You should come by and say hi soon," she added at Esther, taking a bite.

Esther nodded. "Hows Maci?"

"Had her kittens. They’re mewing all the time right now. You want a kitten?"

"I'll ask Monica."

"Want a kitten, Si?" Ro asked, nudging him playfully.

He shook his head. "Allergic." He eyed Ro's arm.

"Oh, I invest heavily in those rolly pet hair things." Ro grinned. "I hate having fur all over me. So how’s class, Es?"

Esther picked at her sandwich, watching the rain trickle off the overhang and splash into puddles just beyond her oxfords. "Holon...was late today..."

"Yeah, so?" Ro said, around a mouth full of sandwich.

"He was bleeding..."

"From where?"

"His hand. It was bandaged but...It was still bleeding. I think he was in a fight or something."

"Huh. Wouldn't think anyone from Tobie's gang was scrappy. Figured they'd just hire thugs when push came to shove. He's a big boy," Ro dismissed Esther's worried look. "Don't worry, I'm sure whoever it was got his arse handed to him."

"That's not the point."

"Then what is?"

Esther glanced at Ro, then Simon. Her gaze returned to her sandwich.

"Would you stop worrying about every little thing?" Ro said, handing Esther a soda from the cooler. "One isolated tardy and a bit of blood is hardly something to get worked up about. Or did you just miss him that much?" she added with an evil grin.

Esther snatched the soda as her checks flared.




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