Hope everyone had a fantastic holiday. Enjoy Chapter 3! Comments, questions, sarcasm, *****ing quotes, and desserts can be left by replying to the thread. Thank you in advance.
[CENTER]Chapter 3: Quid Pro Quo[/CENTER]
The car sped down the open highway, the normally long drive out to the small island of the bay taking Annie half the time thanks to the lack of traffic. As her mind continued to reel slightly from the previous day's drinking binge, she lowered the window, the fresh air clearing away the remaining fog. The radio remained silent as Annie preferred to soak up the solitude of the night. As she entered the grounds to the small mansion, she went over a quick check list of how she wanted the conversation to go. Satisfied with her plan, she parked and with the old cap in hand, made her way to the front door. She was greeted by a middle-aged man wearing a simple suit.
"Mrs. Anne, a pleasure to see you as always," his thick germen accent conveying his ancestry. The young woman smiled, one she had spent many hours perfecting, and allowed herself to be ushered into the foyer.
"Mr. Kel'dire will be with you shortly. He is finishing up a late business meeting," Annie nodded and was soon left to admire the expansive entry way. The Kel'dire's were indeed quite prosperous. Since their coming to America, the family seemed to be incapable of doing wrong. Every business went global, any investment turned a profit, and each generation was better off than the last. Each success was chalked up to the Kel'dire's having a keen eye for business or being on the receiving end of a lucky tip. The truth was far simpler: magic.
It would seem, as far as Annie was told, that upon coming to the New World, the Kel'dire family had very little money. The small plot of land they had been able to purchase was mediocre at best. Upon beginning the excavation for a cellar for their new home, the family had come upon a vast array of mystical writings and artifacts. Through many years of deciphering the family was soon able to put the information to good use. Not for some cliché aspect such as world domination, but for the more mundane purpose of simply making their lives more comfortable. Uncertain of whether or not a coal mine or oil well would be prosperous? A vision spell left there little doubt to whether the venture would turn a profit worth investing in.
Not wanting to share this power with the rest of the world, the Kel'dire's rebuilt their first home, the extensive mansion that she now stood in, over the vault of information and kept it as a closely guarded family secret. Upon Twisted Fate and her arrival, quite literally materializing in the middle of the very foyer she stood in, it was made evident that magic in this new world was a strange and precious commodity, very unlike the rich magical world they had departed from. After much talk, it was agreed that if the two Champions would impart some of their knowledge on the mystical arts, the Kel'dire's would be more than happy to compensate them financially. This was her sole purpose in being there that evening.
"My dear sweet Anne," a bald man in gray business suit clapped his hands together, the sound echoing off the marble floor, as he entered. He wrapped her in a gentle hug, sending a visible shudder down the young woman, and stepped back admiring her outfit. "You are most certainly looking the part of a Kel'dire."
"As I was taught," she gave that practiced smile another flourish. Even though his eyes did make a pass over her clothing, those dark green orbs kept landing on the battered hat in her hand. "It would be such a shame to my family if your only daughter couldn't carry herself like a true lady."
"Quite true," he nodded in approval as his fingers smoothed his neatly trimmed dark moustache. In addition to financial compensation, it was agreed that the family should adopt the young girl as their daughter. Apparently it was unusual for people to just appear out of thin air in this world. However, if she were to acquire the last name of Kel'dire, if only on paper, she would have to hold herself up to the name she was gaining. Soon she was Anne Kel'dire, the estranged daughter of the Kel'dire's, who had been sent off to a boarding school and had only just returned. A similar deal was offered to Twisted Fate, but he had opted to find his own way into this new world.
"I trust your wife is doing well?"
"She is doing marvelous. Just got back from a little venture out to Chicago," the two began to walk up one of the winding staircases, making their way to Mr. Kel'dire's study. Annie hated every minute of what she considered pointless banter, but that was one of the prices she had to pay. "I say you must join her one of these days. A little PR wouldn't hurt would it?"
"Not exactly my cup of tea Frank," she had had enough time in the spotlight when she was younger and saw no point in drawing attention to herself. Though the fear of reprisal from the League’s summoners had grown smaller over the years, she still didn't see any need to appear on television for the whole world to see. "I did enjoy seeing TF at that charity event down in Louisiana. Were you able to see it?"
"Not exactly keeping a low profile is he?" Frank rolled his eyes. Something about Twisted Fate had always seemed to bother the older mage. Annie simply shrugged. As far as she was concerned, the card shark was more than welcome to all the publicity he could handle. She had tried tirelessly to tell him to be a bit more reserved, insisting that it would someday come to haunt him. But TF very seldom took the advice of others.
As the pair entered the study, she found herself in a familiar setting as she took her usual sit. Sitting across the large mahogany desk from her, Frank lounged in his high back leather chair, looking like he was the cat that just swallowed the canary.
"So how is your son doing?"
"Ah young William," he nodded as he poured himself a drink from a crystal container, offering one to the younger mage. Though the thought was tempting, the sickness in her stomach was too recent to venture down that road so she declined. Taking a slow sip of what looked like brandy, Frank sighed. "He spends far too much of his time scrying. I swear he spends more time in those worlds then our own."
"Knowledge is power, and I'm sure he has amassed quite a bit."
"Yes, knowledge is power my dear," he smiled and set the empty glass down. "But I'm sure you didn't come here to debate philosophy. What do you have for me today?"
"This," Annie set the object down on the desk. "…is a hat."
Mr. Kel'dire raised an eyebrow inquisitively. The silence seemed to stretch out for a moment, until his impatience won over his resolve. "We have those here."
"Not one like this you don't," she leaned back with only the slightest hint of smugness. "This will increase a magic-user's augmented abilities greatly, but also increase's his base ability by about twenty-five percent." the older mage gazed at the cap with new wonder. Lifting it deftly, almost as though it may vanish if he handled it wrong, he ran a finger over the fabric.
"That is quite an effect. Are its abilities compounded with other artifacts and potions?" the younger mage nodded and watched as wonder enraptured the man. Time passed slowly, it seemed, as Frank examined the object thoroughly. After waiting almost five minutes, Annie cleared her throat, effectively drawing the man out of his reverie.
"Yes. Well," he paused, his eyes never leaving the object as grasped for the familiar words the woman was waiting to hear. "How much?"
"Done. The money will clear by tomorrow." setting the old hat down, he stood up and offered his hand. Shaking it firmly, Annie walked towards the door. "Anything else you require?"
"Nope. Have a good night Frank," she smiled genuinely as she closed the door, catching a glimpse of the older man running a hand over the beaten hat. She made her way down the richly carpeted and lavishly decorated hallway. Just as she came to the landing, the German butler was waiting for her.
"Can I get you anything before you depart Ms. Anne?"
"No thanks Walter," she thanked him again when he opened the front door for her, breathing a sigh of relief as she stepped back into the cool night air. As she entered her car, the neon green glow of the dash told her it was only a little before midnight. A few more minutes and she would be seventy-five thousand dollars richer. Not that she cared too much. Pulling out of the estate and heading back onto the main road, she was really only looking forward to a decent night of sleep.
+ + + +
"You will remember Yorick Mori," a cold voice, almost the voice of death itself, echoed through Annie's mind as her eyes snapped open. A cold sweat covered her forehead, her hand shooting for the half-empty bottle next to her alarm clock. Just as her small hand encircled the brown container, it began to shake. Was she ready to go back down that road already? Could she wait two more days for her angel to come and help push the darkness back?
Images both horrifying and grotesque flashed through her mind, even as she attempted to wrest control back from her past. Seconds felt like hours as she stared down her saboteur and savior until she finally set the bottle back down and slowly got out of bed, taking a deep and calming breath as she did it. Exhaling slowly, her blue eyes registered daylight as well as the hour. "Damn it, late again," she thought as Annie realized she should have left almost three hours earlier to begin registration for the fall semester of school.
A quick shower, change of clothes, and a fifteen minute drive later Annie was seeing her academic adviser. He was a short balding man full of nothing but flattery and smiles for the youngest Kel'dire who still couldn't seem to pin down her major. The truth was that she really didn't care what she majored in. She probably wouldn't have even gone to college if it wasn't expected of a young lady of her 'upbringing'. The fact that the love of her life happened to attend Serenity University was only a bonus. Finally agreeing on another semester of general courses, course work that could fit into almost any major; she left with a handshake and a fake smile. Almost an hour later, Annie found herself parked in front of familiar building: Ross's Liquor.
"Why won't the past just die?" she moaned, clutching her head in a vain attempt to shut out the images. It was going to be another bad couple of days, and she knew of only two ways to silence the past. One was out of reach visiting family, but she hated the alternative. Grabbing her purse, mind made up, the young mage went into the liquor store. It had never been hard for her to obtain alcohol once she started, getting most of it from people her family dealt with. Ross Rodriguez, the proprietor, was once such individual. Apparently the Kel'dire's had been paramount in him getting both his license and the establishment, so when their underage 'daughter' had come in wanting to purchase something to calm her nerves, he had been more than willing to assist.
"Afternoon Ms. Kel'dire," Ross greeted her from behind the counter. Flashing a phony smile, she waded into the aisles, aisles she knew better than the hallways of her home. Biding her time, so as not to seem too eager, she hefted different bottles of wine, pretending to read the labels. She passed row after row of red and whites, until she finally came to her true destination: whiskey. She almost felt the voices in her head quiet as the memorable bottle slid lovingly into her grip. Picking up another bottle, and no longer feeling the need to delay, she walked briskly to the counter and brandished her credit card. With her purchases tucked safely into a brown bag, she made for the door and stepped out into the fading sunlight.
"Well if it isn't little orphan Annie. " a nauseatingly familiar voice resounded in her ears. Even though the sun was in her eyes, it didn't impair her from seeing the painfully blonde woman sitting in the red mustang in front of her, accompanied by her posse. Stacie Lewis was a girl who had filled out early and fully, and had never let anyone forget it. She was, as Annie’s beloved Shawn liked to put it, fashion show pretty. The kind of girl you would see on the front of a magazine, but it was all too apparent that she was all looks and no brains. "Living off the charity of other's still?"
"Never have a day in my life Lewis. Still tormenting the weak and downtrodden," the four occupants of the car smirked. Throughout all of High School, Stacie and her little gang had been known for playing mean spirited pranks. Stashing kids in lockers and trash cans was their usual fair, but they always bragged they could be more creative if inspiration struck. They had become slightly lax since starting college, why they had to attend Serenity the young mage could never fathom, but every now and then a car would suddenly not have tires or someone's belongings would end up on the roof of a dorm.
"Somebody has to keep the trash in the garbage can my little orphan. And who better than us?" she high-fived the two male occupants of the car. "Well if you'll excuse us, we've got to go and see a nerd about answers for this semester."
"You better be careful Lewis. One day you're going to push the wrong person, and they're going to push that pretty little noise of yours into your face," both of the boys whistled as Stacie stood up in the car, easily towering over the shorter girl.
"And you better watch yourself Kel'dire. That giraffe of yours can't always protect you. Buh-buy," she smiled sweetly while trying to seem intimidating. The former Champion was not the least bit daunted, having faced down far more terrifying foes then this stuck-up bimbo. Suddenly, the muscle car roared to life, tires spinning, as it sped down the street and leaving Annie alone with her purchase.
The drive home was silent, her mind going back to that orphan comment Stacie had made. She had been assured by the Kel'dire's that her adoption had been paid up with all the right people and that no one would ever find out the secret. However, Annie was quick to realize that, with the right amount of money, no one's secrets were safe. It seemed that Stacie Lewis's family had enough money and connections of their own to figure it out, and since their sophomore year in high school the blonde couldn't let a conversation pass without bringing it up. No one had ever paid it much mind, but that didn't stop it from reminding Annie that there were all sorts of monsters, even in this new world.
Brown bag cradled in one arm, the young red head waved to her neighbors as she climbed the short flight of stairs to her house. Changing into a pair of sweat pants and tank top, Annie was soon sitting at the foot of her bed, one bottle unopened in front of her.
"This is the last time," she told the bottle as she opened it. The familiar smell wafted up to her noise, causing her to breathe a little bit faster. Memories began to surge through her mind, cold rooms with restraints where dark experiments were performed, screams of burning victims as their flesh was seared from their bodies, an older woman towering over her, and pair of cold blue eyes turning away in neglect.
"This is the last time," she repeated as she drank the deep brown liquid that burned down her throat. It was the same thing she said every time, and both she and the bottle knew it wouldn't be the last.
+ + + +
"Why is mommy always mad at me?" a young girl with red hair asked a dark haired man with piercing blue eyes. The man sighed and took another bite of the meager amount of food on his plate. Blue eyes met blue eyes.
"Quiet and eat your dinner," his response lacking any emotion, as though he were talking to himself. The young girl looked back down at her plate, tears forming in her sad eyes.
"Yes daddy." the image swirled into darkness, slowly replaced by a young girl chained to stone wall, a small stream of blue fire arcing from her hands.
"Come on Annie, you need to do better," an unseen voice spoke, seeming to echo around the room. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps, tears rimming her eyes.
"I can't," she panted. "I just don't can't-" the words were replaced by a scream as electricity was passed through her small frame, her body going limp in the chains. Lifting her head slowly, a dark maniacal look replaced the earlier one of exhaustion. With a savage cry, she extended both her hands and a torrent of blue flames roared to life. The darkness swirled again, and now the young girl was standing before the mercy of a mob. A stone skipped off the girl's face, a deep gash forming as blood flowed down her face.
"How many more indeed?"
+ + + +
"No more!" eyes barely focusing, Annie reached across to the unfinished bottle on her nightstand. Lamp and alarm clock fell as she raised her prize to dry and cracked lips, images still flooding her conscience. The liquid felt like fire as it burned its way to her stomach. The screams of dying villager's, men, women, and children continued to pound in her ears.
"Get out of my head," her frustration boiled over, the brown bottle flying end over end and smashing against the wall. Eyes wide in panic as the realization of her actions, the crumbling woman stumbled over to the broken bottle. Scrapping the broken glass together, her warped mind praying for the bottle to fix itself, tears began to fall unheeded onto her now bleeding fingers. Falling backwards, her head landing heavily against the wooden floor, her world spinning. Already she could feel her fingers growing cold, the blood loss much worse than she realized. Maybe this time she'd die, she thought whimsically. Suddenly she heard a door being thrown open and a familiar voice, the voice of an angel, calling out her name. Moaning loudly in response, her field of vision become black as a pair of strong arms wrapped around her small body, lifting her with ease.
"Annie? Come on baby, say something," the voice was so gentle and caring. Her eyes slowly slipped closed, the bleakness of her past slowly releasing its hold on her mind.
"Your home early," was all she could utter before the darkness rose up over her head, drowning her in its peaceful waves.