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World of Darkness: Attrition - [Fic] Star Light, Star Bright

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Evening, May 1st, 2012

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The sunlight filtered through the thick vines and thorns, still strong enough pierce her eyes with pain nearly as much as the thorns if she strayed from the narrow path and brushed against them. She had to keep running, though, even if it meant stumbling and pricks along her half-bare arms. She couldn't remember how long it had been since the last time since....since someone had gotten close, but she knew she was being chased and she had to keep running. Had she ever done anything other than run? Memories flickered through her mind and a rock scooted onto the path to trip her.

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She tumbled down to the ground, throwing herself as much to the center of the clear line of dark earth winding between the tree-sized vines as she could. The rock snickered nastily and grew to the size of a boulder; she could hear the groan of the ground as it began to roll towards her. She scrambled, crab-like, away from it. She knew if she took the time to stand up, it would roll over her and crush her. It kept growing larger and gaining speed, expanding to fill the entire path and even push on the vines along the edge. Her heart pounding, she covered her face with her arms and rolled towards the vines, wondering if death by impalement was worse than death by crushing.

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Death is death, honey. It's not cruel and it's not fair, it just is. It reminds us to live every moment as happily and fully as we can. That's what your mother would have wanted. Her father's voice had been with her for as long as she could remember, little snippets of conversations around campfires or in a warm bed just before sleep.

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Thorns ripped into her flesh, tracing bright red lines down her arms and legs and setting her entire body on fire as the boulder rumbled past her, grumbling at her escape from it. It was rolling too fast to slow down and turn around on the path quick enough to crash through the vines onto her before she could run, though, and it lazily continued along the path, looking for another bit of prey. She curled up on herself, tears slipping through her arms and watering the ground beneath her, mixing with her blood and the soil. Small iridescent red flowers began blooming beneath her, the petals metal-sharp and keening in a mockery of her own crying.

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I fell down, papa. I broke my knee.

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It's just a scrape, sprout. You're barely even bleeding.

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It hurts!

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It's just a little blood, kiddo. Time to get back up. You're almost there.

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Almost where, papa?

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Can you see the stars, Zoe? Can you see the Swan?

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Swan?

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Something bit at her, a dull half-circle of pain digging into her arm, followed by a loud honking. She opened her arms enough to see a white swan standing over her, honking impatiently. It nipped at her arm again and then spun around, trundling off into the thick of the vines. She pulled herself up as much as she could, stumbling after it through the green foliage. The thorns ripped at her again at first, but the farther she chased after it, the smaller they became, slowly transforming from wicked instruments of torture into soft, pliant leaves. The vines became smaller but denser, taking on a brown, woody texture and eventually forcing her to crawl on her knees after the bird. The light, blinding before, faded from above, but the swan itself gave off a lustrous white glow. After a short eternity, the plants gave way entirely to a green ground of soft grass, rolling gently away towards a building. The swan gave a final honk from the middle of the grass then thrust itself into the air, wheeling up into the sky until it burst into a half-dozen glowing points of light and faded into the Cygnus constellation.

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She laborously pulled herself upright, staring at the night sky. Shouldn't I be up there? An evening breeze wandered by and cooled her skin, goosebumps flushing over her. She blinked and pulled her eyes from the stars, looking at her earth-bound surroundings. Papa, where am I now?

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Zoe's Clothing
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She was standing somewhat unsteadily at the far end of a well-kept yard, light visible through some of the windows of the house before her. The sky above was possessed of that curious beauty sometimes seen over large cities, the purples and indigo of twilight still a clear backdrop for the stars glimmering softly far beyond her reach. A smell of charcoal reached her, drawing Zoe's attention to a grill on the back porch just as the sliding door opened from the inside and a man stepped out carrying a laden plate.

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"Yeah, it'll be hot enough." the guy called back over his shoulder as he paused, obviously talking - well, shouting - to someone inside the house. "I'll get the food started, and you can powder yer face or whatever." Someone inside called something back that Zoe failed to catch, but got a white-toothed grin from the man who was, Zoe noted absently, not wearing a shirt over his jeans. "Din't hear you complainin' ten minutes ago." he retorted, still grinning as he cocked his head. There was no audible noise this time to the travel-wearied woman, but the man who seemed to be her host chuckled before calling "I heard that, ya know." and closing the door.

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Dec was humming good-humoredly as he moved over to the well-heated barbeque grill and, removing the cover, began slapping pieces of marinaded steak, ribs and chicken onto it, pausing to lick his fingers clean as he set the plate aside. Life was pretty good today - a day off, so he had slept in, been woken by August around noon (she'd brought lunch), then they'd spent the rest of the day together sparring, working out, making out, and *ahem* working out. Dinner and a movie - she'd introduced Declan to NetFlix - and then dessert.

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Last night he'd been up till near-dawn, patrolling the boundaries and attending 'werewolf class' with Swara and Sarah, which mainly consisted on his part of trying to pay attention as they taught him about the spirit mumbo-jumbo. He couldn't see them, couldn't smell them, but he'd fought a handful of 'little ones' alongside the two ladies over the last month or so: bitchy-loos or something. He'd written to Lise asking for advice on this whole spirit deal - she was polling the vargr back on the homestead and would get back to him someday. Until then, he had to depend on the Dead Wolf and the Moon-Caller to sniff out the less-obvious threats, but the partnership was working out okay.

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He sniffed appreciatively at the cooking meat, then froze as a different scent reached his inhumanly keen nostrils. The wind had eddied slightly, and a sharp, familiar odor reached him: it smelled like human blood. He looked out into the garden.

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Zoe had watched the man move about his grossly-ordinary task with a sense of bemusement and bewilderment. He seemed normal, if attractively built, but the realness of him radiated from his tanned skin, a solidity that made even the wooden boards his bare feet trod on seem ethereal. But then he stopped and looked out into the garden, and a pair of eyes the colour of freshly-minted silver coins were gleaming lambently from under his dark hair, piercing the darkness of the yard and spotting her without delay. The man narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to one side, plainly as puzzled as he was wary at the sight of a stranger in his garden, yet there was no doubt even in Zoe's befuddled state of mind that the air had turned somehow dangerous, as though the potential for violence was lurking in the unseen corners of her vision.

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She froze at the movement and sound, her heart pounding loudly in her ears. Then he looked up, his silver eyes sending her mind screaming back to memories best left out of mortal minds. Like a spooked deer, the girl sprinted to the nearest tree, hiding from the stranger behind the trunk. Her hands gripped the bark, as if it could magically keep her safe from silver eyes and other evils lurking in the backyard. The wind had sounded loud in her ears when she'd first made it out of the vines, but it had died down and now she could hear the buzz of....cars? yes, that was cars. Traffic. That was the word. Traffic, cars, people, human people driving the cars. And silver eyes. Were silver eyes human?

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She slowly shifted around the tree, twisting so she could peek from the side and see the silver eyes again, to check if they belonged to someone human or someone...Other. The house was there, the light, the grill and the sizzle of the meat on it, but the silver eyes were missing. She blinked and searched the yard again, that creeping feeling of fear and being watched climbing up her spine. She slowly turned back, her heart thumping loudly again. He was crouched on the ground only a few feet away from her, watching her patiently while his silver eyes shone in the moonlight. "So," he asked casually, "s'up?"

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One more thud of heartbeat passed between them and then she screamed.

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Declan winced as she screamed: a mostly-breathless, panicky, trapped-animal sound rather than a full-lung noise assault. Still, it was plenty loud enough. It had been child's play... okay, it had been wolf's play to cross the fifteen or so yards as swift and silent as a hunting cat, duck around the other side of the tree, and take up position about three feet from the girl. And in truth, it hadn't been an action born of thought so much as instinct. She smelled like blood and terror and all things Prey, and even though he wasn't going to actually eat her - or even hurt her come to that - he hadn't been able to resist stalking her either.

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Sometimes instinct could be hard on the ears.

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"Hey!" he said sharply, coming to his feet in one smooth motion and holding up his hands in a 'I come in peace' gesture. "Easy on the eardrums, frail!" The girl had fallen backwards on her well-shaped hiney and was staring at him like her baby-blues would pop out of their sockets, and he could hear her heart thumping so fast it was fit to burst. "Not gonna hurt you, 'kay? Chill." He made vaguely placating motions and squatted on his haunches again. "What're you doin' in my yard, girl?"

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A pretty girl with green eyes and black hair came out of the house, a baseball bat in her hand. She held it like she knew how to use it, too, her hands tight on the wood. She scanned the yard quickly and let the bat lower; Dec didn’t seem to be upset and the newcomer certainly wasn’t being threatening. She looked pretty much the opposite of threatening, actually.

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“I heard screaming. Dec… what’s going on?” August pushed her hair back from her face; it was still wet from her shower and was being a mess today. She scanned the newcomer, internally sighing as she realized that once again her studly boyfriend had attracted a Ren-Faire reject—and a hot one at that. If he gets bored of me, he’ll not suffer from a lack of choices, she groused to herself, not for the first time.

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“Found her in the yard.” Dec offered that as if it explained everything.

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“Are you okay?” August asked the girl as she propped the bat against the house and walked closer. Her eyes trailed over the cuts and she frowned. “Do you need some medical help? We have some stuff you can use, or a phone if you want an ambulance.”

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She started at the dark-haired woman's approach, but this person didn't have sliver eyes or glowing skin or skin made of gems or anything else. She was normal. Human. She lifted up her arm and looked at the cuts as is if seeing them for the first time. "Wha-huh? Uh, I um, n-no, I'm fine. I think. It...it doesn't hurt as much...anymore."

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She glanced nervously at Declan, scooting farther away from him and closer to the woman. "I, um, where am I?" She looked up, staring at the stars through the haze of city lights. "They're...up. They're...they're not changing." She slid down the tree, tears trailing down her cheeks. "I made it back, Papa," she whispered. "I made it back."

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She wrapped her arms around herself, shaking from the rush of emotion and adrenaline through her and only half aware anymore of the two next to her. They'd both seen people traumatized and in shock before - the incoherent babbling was a pretty good indicator that the pretty blonde hadn't just been through something, she was still coming out of it. She blinked widely at August, her mind coming back around to the question. "S-sorry. Where am I? I've been...I was...somewhere. Taken. But I...I escaped...I think. There was....it was dark - no, it was bright. There was a....a bird? A swan. There was a swan...."

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"You were taken then escaped?" Declan glanced around the yard, then at August, then at the weirdly-dressed girl. "Is it me, or is she wearin' something that puts you in mind of the Middle-Earth catwalk?" He sounded somewhat more curious than worried, but he was checking her wounds out (at least, he'd better be checking her wounds out, August mentally filled in), with a practiced eye.

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"Did you have to make a Middle Earth reference?" August grumbled under her breath, knowing the vargr could hear her.

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"Hey, if the elf-chick chic fits..." Dec retorted. "C'mon, let's get her inside and wrapped up. She's talkin' nonsense and trembling."

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"Not surprised, with you glaring at her."

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"I wasn't glarin'." he protested. But he couldn't deny that the woman was more scared of him than of August. "Tell ya what, why don't I go get a blanket?" He stood up and started back to the house. "You ladies can bond."

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“Bond?” August asked, blinking at her boyfriend’s back. He wanted her to bond with the obviously distressed and deranged girl who was going on about being taken somewhere with a bird. She wasn’t sure exactly what he expected from her and he was disappearing into the house. “That’s no help.”

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Nervously, she turned back to the girl. She was just weird enough that she made August nervous. Yeah, she appeared helpless but as August was learning, that didn’t mean anything. “You’re safe now,” she said softly, deciding that reassuring the girl was probably her first step. “You’re in my boyfriend’s back yard, in Los Angeles. How did you get into his bushes?”

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"Bushes? Los Angeles....LA...I remember.....there were vines. And thorns. And the rock....it tried to kill me." She was trembling again and stared wide-eyed up at August. "Please don't make me go back...I can't....I won't....I -won't- go back."

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August held up her hands. “Slow down, no one is making you go back.” The Rock had tried to kill her? August had heard that Dwayne Johnson was a nice guy. “We do need to call the police, but first let’s get you inside and comfortable.”

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She let August pull her up to feet. "I....I need to tell my papa...tell him that I saw the Swan. I...I made it back."

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Yay, more crazy babble. “We can call your dad, too.” August helped her to the back door, covertly eyeing the dress. It was hot, if you were into fantasy-chic. August wouldn’t have looked good in it, in her opinion; it was one of those dresses that required a nigh-perfect body. “Do you know the numbers you need to call?” August blinked as she realized a much better question. “And what’s your name?”

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"Zoe," she said, leaning fairly heavily on August as they made their way towards the house. "My...my name is Zoe. I can't call." She shook her head and flushed. "Sorry, I must sound...crazy. I can't call my father. He's dead. He died a couple of years ago. Before...before...."

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Her brow knit and her eyes searched the grass for the memory. "Before....college!" Her eyes lit up as she found the memory and she smiled at August, one of the those smiles that turned someone from beautiful to just-airbrushed-magazine-cover-beautiful. "Before I went to college. It was senior year....I think." The smile faltered as the fog rolled over her mind again.

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She pulled up short just as the reached the porch. "Dammit," she muttered, "why can't I remember? What's wrong with my head?" She flushed again and gave August a wry grin. "Not the best thing to hear from someone falling into your, sorry, your boyfriend's back yard, huh? Um, what's your name?" She held up her hands, a gesture of helplessness, "Though I get it if you don't want to tell me."

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“It’s okay, I’m August, and Declan is my boyfriend.” She eyed the girl, glad that her crazy talk is subsiding and being replaced with more normal words. “Honestly, Zoe, I think you just went through something pretty bad and memory issues are pretty normal. Don’t fight it; everything will return in time.”

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The backdoor led into a kitchen; Declan was in the doorway with a blanket. “We’re coming inside,” August said, a tad unnecessarily. She took the blanket from him, noting that he was hanging back and giving Zoe plenty of room. August carefully draped it around the girl’s narrow shoulders, letting Zoe arrange it and hold it shut. Then she led their strange guest into the lounge. Declan slipped out the back to take care of the meat.

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Once Zoe was seated comfortably, August asked, “What do you need? We should call the cops.” Though Jesus, that was the last thing August or Declan needed was cops wandering around and knowing where they lived. “Do you need anything? Something to drink? Food?”

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Zoe rubbed her eyes, still trying to sort out the muddled memories in her head. "Water would be nice. And some anacin, if you have it. maybe it'll help clear up my head."

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"Uh, sure," August said, wondering if the conversation had strayed back into 'crazy' territory, "water's easy, but what is Anacin?"

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Zoe blinked at August in surprise, looking taken aback herself. "Anacin, it's a painkiller. Like...um...Advil?"

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"Advil, okay, I think I've got some of that." August grabbed her purse from where she'd left it next to the couch. "Or maybe it's Tylenol. It is. Would Tylenol work?" She held out the small bottle to the dazed girl.

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Zoe frowned, but took it, swallowing down one of the coated pills with the water August grabbed for her from the fridge. She was looking around the lounge now, frowning at the unfamiliar surroundings. It wasn't just that it was a house she'd never been in, it was that everything looked so...weird. These people were rich, that was obvious - or maybe engineers of some sort? They had a whole bunch of electronics in the room, little lights flashing green, blue or red. She didn't know what any of it was, except the strangely flat and wide clock sitting on the shelf under what sort of looked like a television but was too thin for that. Unless it was an oddly sized projector screen with a rigid frame, but that didn't make much sense either. Nothing's really made sense for a while, though, has it?

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"Is...is your boyfriend an engineer?" She asked timidly, motioning to the to gadgets around the room. The weirdness was getting to her, making her jumpy again, and all she really remembered about 'Declan' was his strange silver eyes. Knowing he had a job, a normal job that would explain the weird stuff in the house, too, would go a long way to making her feel a lot better. Normal was good. Normal was what she needed right now.

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"Naw, I'm a gardener." the burly man called from the kitchen as he passed through on his way to the laundry room, probably in search of a shirt, a suspicion that was verified in a couple of moments: "Hey, where's the clean shirts I had here?"

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"In your room." August called, smiling a little at the totally prosaic nature of that exchange. Not all their interaction was exciting and physical and / or about dangerous matters. Some things were entirely normal. "I put them on the dresser. Was that okay?"

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"It's cool." Dec said as he padded emerged from the kitchen and padded across the lounge to the bedroom, August's eyes following him for a moment. He stepped quietly even when relaxed, a fact that was not lost on Zoe as she remembered the way he'd snuck up on her in the garden. There was a predatory ease to the way he moved, subtly dominating the space he passed through, that set off mixed and conflicting signals from different primal areas of Zoe's brain.

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"A gardener?" she asked, directing the question mostly to August and unable to keep a faint note of doubt from her voice.

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"Groundskeeper." the green-eyed brunette smiled reassuringly. "Dec works across the road at UCLA."

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"And doesn't get paid enough." the deep voice called from the direction of, Zoe presumed, the bedroom. She wondered at that: August and she weren't talking very loudly, but that was the second time the strange silver-eyed man had joined in the conversation from another room.

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"And doesn't get paid enough." August agreed, smiling and rolling her eyes fondly.

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Groundskeeper? But...wasn't the groundskeeper Mr. Hooper? All wrinkles and stories about World War II and grumping about women being in college instead of properly married and raising their children? The memory was there, but it was hazy and soft around the edges. Crazy old coot.

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Declan was definitely not Mr. Hooper.

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Zoe frowned and her eyes darted around the room, wondering if she should ask the questions that had sprung to mind and probably sound crazy again or keep quiet. Keeping quiet wasn't one of her strongest traits, something her father had always admired in her. She looked up at August, deciding on a what she considered a relatively safer question and pointed over to the large screen tv and asked, "Then, um, what is that?"

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At August's own confused blink, she decided to press ahead and get all the crazy out at once. They were planning on calling the police anyways, so if she was going to be put under psychological evaluation, well, then it might as well be for a lot of things instead of just one or two. "And what happened to Mr. Hooper? He was the groundskeeper when I was...before I was...taken. Kidnapped?" The headache flared again, ignoring the Tylenol and leaving her wincing in pain.

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"Hooper?" Declan came out again, wearing a grey t-shirt with a UCLA legend on the front. "Never heard of him." He exchanged a look with August, though, at the word 'kidnapped', and came closer, settling onto the large beanbag on the floor a (fairly) non-threatening distance from the two women.

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"When were you kidnapped?" he asked quietly, those bright silver eyes intent on Zoe's face. "And more to the point, frail, who kidnapped you?" Though he was being gentle, certain signals were setting off Declan's hackles. Not at Zoe particularly, but the situation generally was weird enough to rouse his instincts on the matter.

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"We just want to help." August added, casting Declan a warning glance. He blinked and nodded, a little surprised. Of course he wanted to help - hadn't that gone without saying? At times, the vargr wasn't terribly aware of how scary he could be when he got an intent look in his eye. August had learned to read the difference between threat and simple intensity, but for those who weren't used to him Declan always gave the impression of barely concealed and controlled violence.

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"Yeah." he supplied. "It's just a little strange, you showing up here dressed like that, is all."

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She looked down at her clothes and plucked at them. "Yeah, I'm not really sure where they came from." She held an arm up, running her fingers over the silken cloth that hung down. "They're pretty, though."

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"The...the last week in October. I think that's right?" she blinked back to the important question. "I remember I'd just gotten the acceptance letter to intern at the VLA next summer, to help get everything ready for the dedication and get familiar with the equipment." She smiled again, this one a far-away look of the truly impassioned. "Sandra, my roommate, she was going to throw me a star-themed Halloween party, to celebrate." Her brow furrowed and she frowned, "I-I can't remember the party, so it must have been before Halloween?"

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Her shoulders slumped and she massaged her temples again. "I'm sorry, everything's all jumbled up. Fuzzy. I can't remember clearly, but yeah, it must have been October." She glanced up at the sky and did a quick, almost instant calculation in her head. "But it's springtime now, isn't it? April or May? Have I really been gone for half a year?"

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"Do you remember anything about who took you?" August prodded gently. "Or where you were kept?"

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Zoe's frown deepened as she concentrated, a panoply of impossible images and thoughts blazing across her mind in searing pain. She cried out and held her head in her hands. "Ah! I-I can't...it doesn't...I don't understand!" She was trembling again and tears of pain pattered onto the sofa, "S-sorry, it just hurts, trying to remember. Nothing makes any sense. Maybe...maybe I was drugged?"

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“Maybe. Or maybe you don’t want to remember yet.” August smiled at the other woman as she said, “And that’s all right. Your memory will return in time.” Still, she cast a worried look at Declan. This was just weird enough that she didn’t want to call the police—not yet. “How about you have something to drink, and some clean clothing, and we’ll see how you feel after that?”

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“Uh, yes. Okay.” Declan went and got her a glass of milk, which went with her and August into the bathroom. The only spare clothing was August’s, and the girl paused for a second before getting her some clothing. August knew how much Declan was affected my smell, and putting clothing that smelled like August on some hot chick probably wasn’t the best idea. Trust him… you can trust him.

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When Zoe pulled her clothing off, August winced. “Wow, you really got scratched up.” Does Dec’s back yard even have thorns this bad? “Here, let me patch up the worst of these before you get dressed.” August carefully taped over the worst of the wounds before helping Zoe into a spare pair of sweats and a t-shirt she had.

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“Once you’ve had some food, maybe you’ll start to feel human, too.” August noticed Zoe staring at all the cosmetics and hair-care products scattered around the small room. “Yeah, I know it’s a mess, I’m just staying her temporarily until my roommate comes back from her trip to the Pacific Rim.”

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“I don’t recognize any of these products,” Zoe said, her voice soft but with an edge of panic.

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“What do you mean? This is concealer, and this mascara—“

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“I recognize the brand names but I don’t recognize the packaging.” Zoe touched a tube of eyeliner with shaking fingers. “It’s all so… strange.”

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August frowned. “What do you remember them looking like?”

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She picked up the mascara, turning it over and over in her hands. "Not so...sleek, I guess? The casings look different. Different designs, even the logo looks just....different." She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her and panic trying to set in. She took a deep breath, then another, trying to stave off more fits of tears and freaking out.

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"Could we go get that food?" she asked, her voice still trembling. "Maybe things will- maybe it'll make more sense, after I've eaten. Then I should call Sandra first, to let her know I'm okay. She must think...." She trailed off and eventually shook herself out of the dark spiral of thoughts. "I should call her before I call anyone else," she frowned, mostly talking to herself, "well, if she's still in the same dorm. If not...I guess I could call her parents and ask them for the new number."

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She set the mascara back down and tugged at the clothes, trying to set them so they didn't itch or sting her scratches quite so much. "But food first. Everything's always better after food, my father always said."

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"Right, food," August returned the strained smile and led their unexpected guest back out into the greatroom, hoping the meat on the grill was close to done.

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Declan had set several plates on the table and wonder of wonders, he'd also dug out the salad without prompting. Delicious smells accompanied the burly groundskeeper into the room as he came through with two serving plates loaded with that most-uncomplicated of foodstuffs: big lumps 'o meat.

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"Feelin' better?" he asked as he set the dishes down, casting August a concerned glance that Zoe noticed.

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"I'm fine." she said, then paused as natural honesty kicked in. "Well, I'm better, anyway. You two have both been so kind..."

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"De nada," Dec said easily, smiling a little as he waved her to a chair. "Go on and sit, frail. We'll get some food in ya then decide what to do next." Everyone sat, and the normal routine of passing bowls, plates, condiments and so forth took up the next five minutes. "Seems you've been missing awhile." Dec said with his usual bluntness. He'd been thinking out by the grill - the smell of food always helped him to think - and more than a few things seemed off. "Plus, and don't take this the wrong way, I went and had a look at the bottom of my yard there where I saw ya. There's no thornbushes, like I thought, but you were scratched up to hell and gone, girl." He didn't seem accusatory or aggressive, just curious, though the stare of those silver eyes was still as imposing as before, Zoe felt that at least it wasn't threatening.

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"So we might need to call the cops if there's folks kidnapping students. You mentioned going to a dedication for a 'VLA'? What's that?"

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She managed to pull a plate together, mostly greens and the smallest piece of steak. It smelled wonderful and her stomach growled in both appreciation and demand. Her brow furrowed at the mention of the lack of thorns in the backyard; she was certain she remembered thorns, but then she also was pretty sure it'd been daylight bright before she'd stumbled in on August and Declan's life. The darkness outside wasn't dusk or dawn and everything else in her memory was still soft and sketchy or not there at all. She didn't know how to answer that, so she focused on the question she could answer.

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She looked up at Declan, still nervous about the otherness of his eyes, but learning to deal with it. "The VLA is the Very Large Array - creative name, I know - that's being built, well it's really almost finished, out in the desert in New Mexico. It's 27 satellites arranged to work together like one huge satellite, which means we'll be able to look farther into space and what's out there much more clearly." She was smiling again, obviously in her element on the subject. "It's the largest single undertaking of the NRAO, the National Radio Astronomy Organization and one of the largest of the National Science Foundation as a whole. There's speculation that we might be able to get an actual look at the center of the galaxy, well a radio look, at least. I'm going to be-"

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The smile slipped a bit and she laid her fork down, staring at her plate. "Well, I was going to be learning the software they use there and how to...to arrange the satellites, all the history. Stuff so I could give small tours before the dedication and assist astronomers while I was interning there. Maybe....maybe I can still get another internship." She didn't sound very hopeful of that.

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“Wait, the… what?” August blinked at the description. “Linked satellites?”

“Yes, it increases their range and lets us look much further into space,” Zoe said. Her smile was kind, and if she had explained this over and over again before to people who didn’t understand, she didn’t show it. “Basically, it’s in a Y-shape with three arms and so you can have a twenty-two mile satellite.”

“It’s in New Mexico? But I thought that’s why we built the Hubble.” August looked confused, even as she ate another forkful of salad. “You know, putting a satellite up above the atmosphere to cut out all the interference that causes.”

Zoe looked taken aback. “Well, yes, that’s a given. Earth’s atmosphere does cause interference, but we can’t get something like the VLA into space. The cost would be astronomical, and the technology isn’t there… What is that?”

August had paused the consumption of her dinner to whip out her cell phone; she glanced up from her browsing to answer, “This? It’s… a cell phone.” August passed him the phone, showing him the Wikipedia entry on the V.L.A., built in the 1970’s. She and Declan exchanged a glance before August softly said, “Zoe, I don’t think you’ve been gone a few months. I think it’s longer than that. I think it’s been a few… a few decades.”

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Zoe blinked at August, then started to laugh, but choked off the sound at August' serious expression. "That's...that's not possible. I mean....it isn't, is it?" She stared down at her hands, then dropped the cutlery and stood up abruptly. "I-I need to use the restroom....please." The last was a plead for one of them to give her directions.

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August pointed down one of the hallways. "First door on the left."

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Zoe fled, her blood pounding in hear her ears and her heart beating fast enough to make her chest ache. She was gulping for air by the time she made it inside and flipped the light on. From the greatroom, August and Declan heard another scream, this one a full-lunged burst of terror, followed by another and another. By the time the two had made it to the bathroom, their "guest" was pressed against the wall from the mirror, staring wide-eyed into the reflective glass. "What is going on?" she managed to strangle out the words, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks. 'What happened to me? I'm....I can't be...."

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She touched her hair, her lips, near her eyes, obviously disturbed by her looks. "This can't be happening. this can't be real." She took a ragged breath and tried to pull herself together. "This is a dream. Some weird nightmare. It has to be."

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"What? You were a brunette before?" Dec asked with a puzzled glower, faint exasperation in his voice. August gave him a Look. "Well?" he asked her. "Why else is she freakin' out over her reflection like you that time you woke up with pepperoni in your hair?"

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"You." August poked the vargr's broad chest. "Behave." Dec playfully showed her some teeth before raising his hands in mock surrender.

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"Okay, okay. But she's freakin' out over her reflection." he grumbled. "Woman thinks she's from the 70s and now she's spazzing over split ends or somethin'."

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"If you'd stop being a wiseass for a moment, maybe we'll find out why." August hissed.

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"Good idea." Dec nodded, then jerked his head towards Zoe. "You get to ask."

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Zoe managed to pull her eyes from the mirror to stare at Declan. "Split ends? How can you just-?!? What kind of people- Do you just have people wander around like this," she motioned to herself, "all the time?"

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"What are you seeing?" August asked cautiously, her voice soft and soothing. It turned out that she hadn't been crazy while she was in the asylum, but that didn't mean most everyone else there hadn't been hair-trigger loony. If this Zoe girl was really off the deep end, well, there were a lot sharp or breakable things in a normal bathroom.

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"What do you mean, 'what am I seeing'?" She thrust her hand at towards the mirror. "I"m seeing that! I'm some sort of freak! I get kidnapped and then I get turned into some freaky thing!" She looked between the two of them, her head snapping back and forth rapidly. "Can't you see it?"

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She felt a push from her - or was it a pull? - either way, she felt something blaze out from her. For August and Declan, the blond, band-aided pretty girl hysterically yelling at them in their bathroom seemed to burn away as she became a small star in the room. Her hair was made of light and stardust, her skin was nearly translucent and softly glowing. August's shirt and sweatpants looked jarringly out of a place on the unearthly beautiful and obviously not human creature standing before them. She stared at them, looking frightened and lost and exactly as clueless as the two of them about what had just happened.

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Zoe
Her Raiment looks similar to the picture below, which is also reference for Zoe's Changeling appearance, but the dress is not effected by the dropping of the Mask. They'd have to be enscorcelled to see it as it really is. Zoe will lack her Mask for the rest of the scene (the thread, unless we make a large time/place jump, I'd assume) or until she can gain and spend 2 Glamour to reassert the Mask. I believe it ends at the end of the scene, but it may not end until she has Glamour to reassert it. The writing isn't particularly clear to me, so when I get a chance I'll ask the mods. ,,

ZoeFairest_zps5b5ef95a.jpg

,, ,,

She also has committed a Clarity 6 sin and must make a Clarity roll: Malachite *rolls* 2d10: 4+8: 12

I'm actually pretty surprised and little disappointed she didn't slip to Clarity 6 there....

Then again, I'm a bastard to my PCs.... :firedevil:

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Now August was the one screaming. She jerked backwards and propelled herself into Declan and then used his shirt as a fulcrum as she swung herself around him (later August would swear up and down that both of her feet left the ground, while Dec insists that she did a full Matrix flip over his shoulder, complete with slow-motion side effects—the matter remains a lively point of debate to this day). From behind the safety of her man-shaped boyfriend, August shrieked, “Ohmyfuckinggod! What are you?”

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“I don’t know!” Zoe shrieked back.

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“Well how do we find out!?” August’s shout was just as loud and Dec raised both hands.

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I don’t know!” Zoe repeated at the same volume.

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“Pipe down!” he roared, which was enough to calm the loudest of the hysterics. August was still hiding behind him, her fingers curled around his shirt. “Aight, we’re all going back to the table and sittin’ down, and figurin’ out what the fuck is going on, okay?”

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“Okay,” August agreed softly. Zoe nodded softly.

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Declan walked the two ladies back to the table and got them into their seats, though August still looked ready to bolt at the slightest move from Zoe. “Now. Zoe, do you remember anything else?”

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“No.” She sounded close to tears, which seemed to be helping August calm down. It was hard to be scared of anything that sounded so sad and pathetic.

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“Then maybe I should call the Chantry,” August said softly, glancing at Declan for his thoughts on the matter.

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"Mebbe you should" Declan replied. His first reaction to Zoe's transformation had, thankfully for all involved, been repressed. He'd almost shifted, and whilst he might not have actually hurt the girl (?), he would have likely escalated an already-tense situation. And scared the frail even further out of her mind.

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"Wait, chantry? What's a chantry? Why are you calling them?" Zoe asked, tears shining like jewels on her flawless cheeks. Dec tried not to stare and, more so, tried not to be swayed by the very definition of 'a pretty face'. The "help-a-maiden-in-distress" instinct was strong in the vargr, despite his wariness of those of obvious supernatural bent.

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"They're a buncha folks who know about weird stuff like people disappearin' and coming back decades later." he told Zoe. "If they don't know it, then it's fu- uh, damn obscure. They're like a club."

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"Are you part of the club?" she asked him. Declan shrugged as August picked up her phone and stepped away from the table. She watched August for a moment, then looked back at the silver-eyed man. She was feeling pretty adrift at the moment, and if anyone radiated solidity in huge reassuring amounts, it was Declan. He was somehow more real than everything around him to Zoe's currently-fragile state of mind.

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"Nah. I'm a hanger-on. I go and hang out at the barbeques and try not to stick out among all the brainiacs." he shrugged, nodding towards August. "She's kinda sorta part of the club, though."

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The plush library of the Chantry was a nice touch for Gary, with the place as his base and stopping point upon arrival in LA (following the yellow brick word-of-mouth road), and he really did appreciate Peter, Remy, Oneca and company for welcoming him, and for being generous and all. Naturally, he did his best to repay when requested, but in this case, a Grecian vacation would probably be the best thing for the three of them, better than anything he could ever do.

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Ok, so Remy and Oneca were trying to convince Peter to come back, but the last he'd heard they were relaxing and luxuriating first, so vacation Gary would call it.

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At least as long as it wasn't at Crete. He was fairly certain there were minotaurs about. Seriously.

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The cordless phone rang, and Gary groaned, not really inclined to answer it - not when there were such interesting thaumaturgical materials on his lap - but he glanced over just to be safe.

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The caller ID, August's to be be precise, forced him to carefully remove the manual before getting up and answering the phone. "What's up August?"

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August frowned and tried not to sigh when Gary picked up the phone. She was hoping for one of the more senior and knowledgeable members of the Chantry. “Well, I’ve got something odd going on and was looking for some back-up.”

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“Oh, I can be right there—”

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“I was hoping for someone who knows the really bizarre stuff, not just ghost-things,” August explained gently.

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“Oh. What’s going on?” Gary probed.

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“Is one of the bizarre-knowers there?” August pushed him back a little, trying to get to someone who would have a chance of knowing what was going on.

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She heard the phone shift. “Actually not. ‘Fraid it’s just me.”

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Did he even look? August swallowed her irritation, knowing that it was coming from her stressful evening. “Alright, then come over to Dec’s. If you see one of the guys who knows the bizarre stuff, bring them along.”

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"Gotcha. See you soon then." Gary hung up, with a fleeting grin to himself. Ok, pulling her leg might not get the best reception, but hey, they'd get a 'bizarre-knower' anyway, so no harm, no foul. Years of travel and searching for supernatural things made him as good as any.

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A short while later, Gary's car pulled up outside Declan's house, and Gary stepped out, closed the door, and locked it up. And for fortune, he saluted the Horseman of Chance, the little figurine placed on the dashboard. The air smelled of barbeque stuff, and Gary wondered if he could get some food out of the deal as well.

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Several knocks on the door later, it swung open, and Gary smiled, greeting his hosts. "House call. What's up?"

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Zoe was huddled on one end of the couch, still unearthly beautiful and still shivering from shock. She started at the knocks on the door and watched Declan make his way over, tracking the large silver-eyed man like the easily spooked prey she was. August was on the other end of the couch, caught between wanting to comfort someone who looked so lost and scared, and still being freaked out herself.

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Soft light emanated from her, peeking out from under the sweatshirt and pants she was wearing; her hair shimmered like strands of light refracted through diamonds. She was beautiful, even huddled up and her eyes red from crying; smiling and happy, she'd be absolutely breathtaking. Not human, definitely not human, but breathtakingly beautiful. She blinked up at Gary and glanced over to August. "Th-this is the Chantry guy?"

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Eyes like white stars blinked up at him, hopeful, "D-do you know what I am? What happened to me?" She looked down at arm and reached up to pull her hair through her fingers so she could see it. "I-I didn't, I wasn't like this. Before I was taken. I was normal. Just a student. I studied the stars. I was going to the array..." She trailed off, staring at him and trying not to babble anymore so the new person, who looked so normal, like August, could tell her what she was and how she could fix it.

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When Gary closed the door, August got up off the couch so that he could take a seat closer to the subject, if he wished. “Gary, this is Zoe. Zoe, this is the Chantry guy, Gary.” She nodded to him and gave a terse smile before crossed the room to stand by Declan. Her boyfriend lifted his arm and she ducked under it and snuggled in against his side. She felt better closer to him; love and safety were all rolled together with the vargr now.

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Man, I wish he’d found someone who knew more about stuff other than ghosts, she sighed to herself, feeling bad for Zoe. She was lost and confused and answers were not likely to be easy, unless they could find someone who was well-versed in what Zoe was.

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Alright, Declan was clearly fudging about there being no premium dating service in their group. Or maybe August was being more flexible with threesomes. *Scrrrrrratch Skitch* That was about as close to a get your mind out of the gutter comment as the Rotting Scholar would give. Chastened, Gary gave Zoe a far more detached glance... then froze.

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It wasn't the exterior of celestial glimmering and inhuman beauty that held his attention, and somehow, everyone else realized that Gary seemed to be staring at something else. It was the marks of death that every living being and even the dead and ghosts displayed, yet Gary for once felt he had to be on drugs, and probably a cocaine-LSD-heroin-qat cocktail times 1000.

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Most of it was just like any other evidence of the weight of death... but this... Gary stepped back and swallowed. Sheepishly, he cleared his throat. "Just so we're clear, I am quite expert at more than ghost stuff - pulling your leg on the phone August - but this is something else..."

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And familiar, a few snatches of lores and tales, but Gary wasn't sure. "Why don't you start from the beginning? Tell me the whole story, and I'd have more to work."

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"I...I can't remember," she murmured, still fighting back tears. "It was...the last thing I remember clearly, before everything that's...that's strange....it was October." She glanced up at August and added, "October, 1979. I'm...I was a student at UCLA, studying astronomy. I got an internship at the VLA and there was going to be a Halloween party...." She trailed off, her mind trying to go forward in time to what came next.

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She winced and put a hand to her forehead. "Then it...it's just a..a jumble. Weird things. Stars and seeing things from high up and a...a maze? A bright place, but also dark be-because of the...trees? Not trees. Like vines, but large and the thorns..." She shivered and pulled in on herself, the band-aids peppering her body giving some credence to at least having been cut and roughed up recently. "And there was a swan, but it wasn't really a swan. I mean, it was, but it was Cygnus, too. The constellation. It's also called the Swan."

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She looked up at Gary, knowing she sounded crazy and silently asking him if she was. A memory flashed through her of someone else looking at her from the same angle, someone or something, but whoever it was wasn't more than a feeling. She couldn't remember what they actually looked like or what they sounded like, even though she could remember that they'd spoken to her. And it had be terrifying, even more than looking in the mirror and seeing whatever she was now. She trembled deeply on the couch, that terror of the formless presence coiling around the core of her, both from the memory and from the thought of ever being back in its presence. "What happened to me?" she whispered. "How is this possible?"

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1979? Of course, this was always the sort of thing that sounded crazy in any sane society. Too bad the hosts and Gary were more of a crazy secret supernatural society - so what else was new? But her descriptions... thorns, mazes, time out of whack...

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"Well," Gary supposed, trying to meet the upset and bedraggled look on Zoe's face levelly, "I don't have an idea of what it might be. One or two things I CAN tell, but not enough."

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Gary couldn't bring himself to continue looking directly, so he immediately turned - spun on a foot in cartoon fashion, Declan and August would have argued - to them. "Please, grab some beers?" Gary didn't sound so much like requesting as demanding. He let out a more drawn-out sigh. "Really going to need them, I think."

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“They’re in the fridge,” August told him, subconsciously getting her hackles up at being ordered around by a guest in her boyfriend’s ‘territory’. Some aspects of dating Declan were not helping her tactfulness. “You know where they are.” Her expression added, “and your legs work just fine.”

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Gary paused, perhaps to count and calm himself, before requesting, “August, would you mind grabbing us some beers while I sit here and ponder the mystery you called me to solve?”

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August nodded in acceptance since Gary had asked this time, both verbally and with his tone and body language. “Zoe, would you like one?”

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“No.” The glowing golden woman looked slightly incredulous as she answered but the normalness of offer seemed to settle her a little, as if the world couldn’t be quite so weird if people were still treating her like a human. “Thank you.”

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“Hon?” August’s question prompted a quiet nod from Declan. August went and fetched three brown bottles, popping their caps before rejoining the others in the living room. Then she returned to Declan’s side and waited for Gary to prove himself.

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"Thanks," Gary said, accepting the bottle with the temperature lowered. He took a long swig, letting Old Man Alcohol come down his throat a bit. Mentally, part of him recommended, in unison with the scratching suggestions of the Rotting Scholar, to hold onto some of the booze and the bottle for some rituals being experimented with... He let out a drawn sigh before looking at the trio with the expression of a doctor about to recommend his haute cuisine foodie patient go on a strict diet.

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"Look, this is clearly something that won't be solved right away. I'll check around with others who may know, hit the library in the Chantry... but for what's it's worth, I have one thing I can say right now. I can't tell how old you are."

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Everyone blinked, the more experienced August and Declan expecting a perv remark at first, but Gary briskly went on to clarify. "It's a special thing, among others of mine. Don't ask how, the details will only get more creepy, but I can tell someone's age perfectly down to the year and month. Except this time, Zoe, one moment I get 34, next 142, then 87... just food for thought. You said you were from the Seventies. Anyway, you guys have a bigger issue anyway."

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"Which is?" Declan asked, somewhat skeptical.

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"Where's she going to stay?" Another round of blinks, while Gary rolled his eyes. "Oneca is about to return with Peter and Remy. Add that to a spree of out of towners - and we're full up. Either she stays with one of you, or somewhere else entirely, but think about it."

,,

Admittedly, Gary was relishing the mystery as a bit of a worthy intellectual challenge.

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