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Chosen 03a: "This Is My Life Now"

Dave ST

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Maya Flynn wasn't hard to find but Mel was pretty sure he was going crazy. He'd been tailing this girl for the better part of a week and still didn't have much to go on. On the up side, Mel didn't feel so bad about his life once he got a look at how drab and boring this poor Maya girl was. From the Library to her home she was constantly on the wrong side of either luck, or circumstance. A missed bus or train, someone cutting her off in a line her having to move to the back, her rather simple lunch orders constantly being screwed up... it wasn't that Maya Flynn was in any kind of trouble, it appeared more like the universe had made her it's punching bag.

It was about two days ago when Mel had noticed another person watching Maya. An attractive woman with long dark hair and she seemed fond of faded denim jeans, Doc Martins and a faded leather biker jacket. Mel was about to throw in the towel and hope those weird little, whatever they were, came back and told him something that equaled more than nothing when she came into the picture. He still wasn't sure what her deal was, but she was definitely following Maya and learning her habits and daily routines. So far it seemed as if he'd managed to lay low and avoid detection from either of them, but as the days ticked by, it just seemed more and more eerie. If Maya was in danger, it was most likely arriving on her doorstep very soon.

“No!” Maya's raised tone caught Mel's attention from his place across the street. For a moment he thought she might be in trouble until he realized she was yelling at her phone. She was rolling her bike down the stairs of the apartment building she lived in, gracelessly trying to manage the bike while also juggle her phone on the downward slope. “No! Leticia, I can't! I have plans tonight. Why don't you go do it? Do you have any idea how out of my way that is with my bike?” There were several more moments of arguing until Mel shook his head at the obvious outcome. “Okay! Fine. I only have one night off this week and I'm giving it to you. You had better appreciate this, because no other sister would love you this much. I'll call Mason and tell him I can't make it.”

A furious finger smacked the screen of her phone. She missed and hit it again. And missed again which resulted in an angry barrage of multiple taps along her screen until the bombardment seemed to finally end her call and give her the much needed moment to angrily swear silently to herself and anyone nearby that could hear it. She stuffed her phone in her pocket and rolled her bike a few steps before swinging her leg over it and peddling.

Mel didn't see the other woman who had been following her, not yet, anyway. He knew her habits pretty well and began tailing her. Most people assumed it was hard to tail a bike rider in New York, but it wasn't too difficult unless they were actively trying to evade you. She still had to stop at unusually long intersections or ride around two blocks to avoid them, plus carefully maneuver through people and vehicles. It was faster than walking, yes, but no less complicated than trying to drive some days.

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The universe hated her. That was the only reasonable explanation.

Maya shook her head as she waited at the crosswalk of E 77th and 1st Ave, staring at the light on the opposite side and trying to ignore the sullen faces of the people crowded around her. Next time Colleen, or, hell, any of the kids’ parents from the library tried to do something nice for her, she was just going to politely decline. Especially if it was an invitation to a party, and especially if it seemed like a good chance to get out and enjoy herself for a little bit. Because, apparently, whatever cosmic jerk had written out the plan for her life had decided that having a good time wasn’t allowed.

The day after the creepy dream she’d had about the woman from the gala being in her apartment, she’d lost her debit card. Totally screwed. The absolute best part, though, was that she didn’t find out until she’d gone to lunch that afternoon, and wouldn’t you just know it? Her ex Nate happened to also be getting lunch there. What a coincidence! Sure, he offered to pay for the sandwich she’d ordered (and she let him, obviously, because it was nice to eat once in a while), but then she had to listen to Fuckboy Supreme go on for nearly an hour with his pseudo-intellectual nonsense about Kant’s ideas on race and disability being totally misrepresented as ‘problematic’ when really he was just a man of his time and unfairly held to account for modern sensibilities… And was she free on Friday? ‘Cause, y’know. Kind of a dry spell.

Yeah. She knew. In Nate’s case, she just also didn’t care.

The day after that? Her bike chain had broken in the middle of morning rush, for no discernible reason whatsoever, and she’d ripped the hem of her slacks on the pedal. That was a real delight, a happy little two-for-one bonus. Even after she’d gotten to work, things didn’t get much better; one of the regular kids had been sick upstairs, and came down crying her eyes out because she was so upset. It wasn’t Grace’s fault, obviously, but it was just… one of those things. It took forever to clean up, especially because Lorraine couldn’t seem to keep her narrow ass parked at the circulation desk, so Maya had been forced to keep running downstairs to help the patrons, and it was- she shuddered at the memory- weirdly sludgey.

It had been weeks since she’d been able to hang out with Mason, drink a bottle of something local, and work on storyboards for “Greetings From Black Lake,” so obviously Tisha would call on her one day off to have her pick up the cake for some stupid dinner thing she and Mr. Perfect were hosting. What kind of spoiled brat bullshit was that? They both had cars, and it’s not like Leticia actually worked, so there was no reason she couldn’t-

“You gonna fuckin’ move, or what?” a surly, lumpy woman in an ugly green coat snarled at her, jostling her out of the way. Maya sucked in a sharp breath as a hundred different flavors of vitriol mingled on her tongue- but instead of loosing it, she bit it and lowered her head, pushing her bike through the crowd with the silent, seething fury of a woman who was just. fucking. done.

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Way, way back in basic training, Mel remembered, there was a fellow rainbow named Bradley Roberts. Lanky guy, had a guilty pleasure for romance novels, and seemed to always get into trouble or have the worst luck. Everyone called him 'Hex,' since he was black and came all the way from New Orleans, so obviously someone had laid the voodoo on him. Hex would occasionally complain about stereotyping, but in a good-nature fashion, since even he could not deny the odds of being put on punishment duty for stumbling onto the same pair of DIs fucking twice in the same week beggared reason.

Maya, Mel had concluded, made Hex look like a symbol of auspicious fortune. Every bit of small but constant ill luck added up and up until it became a towering stack bearing down on her. But also simply it sounded like she was surrounded by people who seemed intent on using her. That former boyfriend whose academic-sounding blathering only showed he knew nothing of life. The sister who clearly sounded less of a sibling than his brothers-in-arms back in the Rangers.

At least the kids didn't seem like brats. And he was pretty sure that one kid was crying because she was sick and not suddenly scared by seeing his face. He'd just been sitting there, reading. Nothing for the mother to give him the fish-eye over.

So while nothing seemed to justify Jack and Seth's warnings yet, everything just gave Mel the instinct something was going to happen, right? Perhaps if the watcher in the biker jacket showed up again? Mel took a bite of the hot dog he'd picked up from a vendor along the way, wiping a spot of ketchup off his face with a paper napkin, frowning. After encountering that rude toad, Maya was ready to explode like a C4 bomb.

The former Ranger held no pity for the fool who tripped the detonator.

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"One roast beef on garlic bread, add lettuce and tomato, fries on the side for here, please, with a water, and a dozen mini knishes to go. Thanks."

Ahhh, Pastrami Queen. Twenty bucks for a sandwich wasn't ordinarily within Maya's budget but considering the week she'd had, it was either going to get spent on lunch or boxed wine- and since they didn't make straws big enough for the latter, she'd just go with the roast beef instead. As she waited on her food, the off-duty librarian leaned against the wall, watching people pass on the sidewalk outside and surreptitiously glancing at the few other diners crammed into the tiny deli. Normally there'd be conversation, right? Even just commentary on the tongue or the egg salad or the Matzoh ball soup, all of which were pretty solid here. New Yorkers were notoriously chatty about food- asking someone about their favorite burger or the best place to get soup dumplings was the easiest way to strike up a conversation with a good-looking stranger. But... Nothing. They just sat in solemn silence, mechanically chewing what was arguably some of the best pastrami on the East Side, occasionally poking at their phone screens. In its way, the weirdly subdued atmosphere was even creepier than the haunted books at the library or the freaky/sexy dream she'd had of SoHo Salome.

"Order up!" The clerk at the counter glared pointedly at her, then disappeared back into the kitchen. Oh, well. Good food didn't always mean good service, and at the rate things were going, she should probably just be grateful she'd been served at all. She grabbed the one empty table against the back wall and eagerly started to dig in to the monstrous sandwich- then paused, cautiously checking under the bread for any unpleasant surprises, because it would be just her luck to find half a spider or something after the first bite. Reasonably satisfied there was nothing untoward lurking in the lettuce, Maya set about the serious business of devouring what was likely to be ninety-percent of the sum total of her caloric intake for the day.

Park Avenue was going to be a nightmare, she decided, taking a long pull from her water bottle. She could take 77th over to Madison, and then up to 78th, but it was... What time was it? Swallowing a mouthful of gloriously salty fries, she checked her phone and instantly pulled the face her mother had always warned her would stick if she wasn't careful. Great. So, another 20 minutes or so to Lady M's for the cake, then down to Tribeca to her sister's place, which was almost another hour. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

It was not, of course, absolutely perfect, as Maya's inborn sense of irony had already suggested.

"I'm sorry, it's how much? Did you just say this cake is a hundred dollars?" Half an hour after leaving the deli, the tall, dark-eyed woman stared at a tiny blonde behind the polished counter of the upscale pâtisserie. Between them sat a neat white cake box tied with a crisp blue ribbon. It wasn't even particularly large, from the looks of the packaging. Just your normal, average, could've-bought-it-from-Trader-Joe's-sized cake.

"$103.43 after tax. Yes," the little porcelain princess chirped with saccharine precision. "And how will you be paying for that today?"

"For a cake," Maya repeated.

"No, for our new, limited edition 'Slice of the Best' mille crepes. Now will that be cash, or charge?"

"Let me get this straight. My little sister ordered a hundred dollar stack of pancakes?" she asked, unable to keep the rising note of incredulity out of her voice. She had given up her day off for crepes. Freaking pancakes. She was rearranging her life so that her sister could feed her dinner guests fancy breakfast for dessert. The thin, taut smile of the cashier suggested that she, too, would rather not be having this conversation right now, but propriety dictated that both of them maintain some thin veneer of civility. "...I swear to god, Tisha, you better have cash. in. hand. when I get there," the long-suffering older sister muttered under her breath as she pulled out her debit card.

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Mel had noticed her about three blocks from the little pâtisserie that Maya was currently loosing what was left of her mind in.  The young woman was simply there, was the best way to put it, and after Maya had passed an alleyway, she took one last drag from her cigarette, pressed off the wall and off she went shadowing Maya.  Mel knew she'd broken eye contact more than once, but despite not being able see Maya, she seemed to possess and uncanny ability to just go in the same direction, the woman on the bicycle had taken.  He didn't believe in coincidence, but still, Maya's new pursuer made it easier for him to track them both.

Maya was outside the small shop, lips pursed and fuming to herself as she secured the expensive (that she wasn't going to get to enjoy) dinner breakfast dessert to her bike.  Mel wasn't quite sure what the deal was, but he was certain that he'd never seen anyone so angry at pastries in his life.  If you didn't like the place, or the food, why would you shop there, lady?  The pursuer was may twenty five yards away, blending in between the crowds and the parked vehicles along the roadside.  She rolled her shoulders, obviously antsy about something, and the pulled her leather jacket down, tightening it on back as she seemed to be doing some sort of boredom ritual.  The grissled ranger had seen it a million times, soldiers would alway find some manner of developing a nervous or bored tell that would remind the Senior Enlisted that it was time to start giving people something to do.

His eyes narrowed as they captured the matte black finish of a gun in an underarm holster.  9mm, semi-auto, looked to be a KC9, a custom designed handgun of the incredibly expensive variety... custom enough that she certainly was no cop or private dick.  As his heart began to thunder up and those old instincts began to kick in, he knew, the stakes had just been raised.

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Mel breathed slowly through his nose, as he began to evaluate the woman in leather. Hostile, likely military training. Armed with KC9, Model 1911 variant with 9 round magazines. Objective... scare, assassinate, or kidnap Maya? Truthfully, Mel had no idea who or what had sent the lady, or why. That should teach him for rushing off into situations on the say-so of a talking rabbit and big ogre.

Mel's own equipment: Glock 19 with concealed inside the waistband holster, and a combat knife in an ankle holster. Environment: in the middle of New York City and a whole ton of bystanders. Likely the hostile would wait until a more secluded location presented itself. The important question, did she was she aware of Mel's presence? It didn't look that way, but he couldn't be sure. The temptation existed to pick up speed, but that would likely twig her to his own tailing. Surprise might be his only edge.

Still, as the USMC's famous rules for gunfighting pointed out: 'decide to be aggressive enough, quickly enough.' He rolled his shoulders as well, in his case to loosen up his body.

Half a minute later... "Excuse me," the female stalker found a tall, stern carrot-haired man standing right behind her, "but can we talk?"

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  • 6 months later...

She turned, facing the red-haired man and narrowing her eyes at him judgmental appraisal.  She didn't seem startled so much as bothered, perhaps because he'd managed to sneak up on her silently.  Her lack of being startled told Mel that she knew he was there, but is she didn't hear him, how'd she know?

She took a drag from her cigarette, shrugging her shoulders as her demeanor shifted to one less caring or was it bravado?  Mel didn't have time either, so when she nodded off to the alleyway, he followed her cautiously.  There were enough people around that he knew a gunfight, or a street brawl were not likely, but still, he was cautious.  Finally, the attractive young woman completed her appraisal and spoke.  "You must be Mel."

"Kestrel," she nodded in greeting.  "I'm in Mourne's..." she paused, catching herself.   "I'm one of his People.  The hell are you doing here?  This can't be random."

"Probably not." Mel simply said. He wasn't going to leak Jack or Seth's involvement or warnings. "Mourne, huh?" Yes, it had seemed something was going on between the art-involved businessman and Ravenna D'Sombra, but to have ties to someone like Kestrel? There was something going on beyond the 'good man' surface.

Mel cocked his head. And since she recognized him, it looked like Mourne might also have eyes on him. Or was it simply because he was technically within D'Sombra's employ now? Damn, he needed to review if someone had gotten - or would try - into his apartment. "Can I ask what's his interest in her?"

She kept looking over her shoulder, checking to make sure she hadn't let Maya slip away unnoticed.  "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she chuckled, taking another hit from her cigarette.

"Try me," Mel replied flatly, reminding himself that a obese troll and a bipedal talking rabbit were raiding his refrigerator several days not long ago.

"Wait one," she sighed, letting the smoke trail off mingled with her breath in the chilly air.  Mel recognized the military reference.  She sent a quick text no her phone, enjoying her nicotine while she waited the few seconds it took for her phone to 'boop' a reply.  She looked down and then looked at Mel.  "Mourne says you check out, okay, ready?  Poofy head over there is been plagued by bad luck.  Unnaturally so.  The sort that leads people to be consumed with depression and... well, suicide.  Our friend Ms. Flynn, aside from having an amazing set of glutes with what appears to be absolutely zero effort, has caught herself a case of goblins.  It's not the sort of thing there's a Plan-B or penicillin shot for.  I'm following her to see if one of the little fuckers shows itself."

She folded her arms and narrowed her eyes.  "Now," she cocked her head to one side.  "Why are you here?  I know people who bullshit coincidence like parents tricking their kids into taking medicine.  This isn't chance.  C'mon, spill."

Mel considered what Kestrel said. It sounded like magic, the way she suggested someone could - and was in this case - imposing bad luck on people. Well, considering his willingness to listen to bipedal rabbits and trolls, he could hardly call it outlandish. Should he tell Kestrel or not? Well, the ex-ranger figured, since she was expecting literal goblins, she'd hardly think him crazy.

And right now, she had more knowledge about whatever was going on than he did. Give info to get more intel, then. "I wouldn't call them goblins." Mel told her conversationally. "At least the ones I've met. They told me she's in danger."

"They who?" She crossed one arm, resting her elbow evenly so she could finish her smoke.  "Mel, it's okay, I'm in the know on this stuff, been doing a lot longer than you have.  You got a visit huh?  Horatio said the Others were making their rounds, so... you're one of them, huh?  A Chosen?"

She shook her head and chuckled.  "Wow, what a mindfuck you must be going through.  Look, no bullshit, old man, there's nothing you could tell me that I haven't already seen, except Avengers: Endgame.  So, no spoilers, and trust me, you'd know a goblin if you saw one."

Mel raised an eyebrow. "Jack and Seth. Now, what the hell is a Chosen?" The nightmare, the long-eared words of doom, this game that everyone involved seemed to be in on except him and the girls... The lines on Mel's face tightened. About time for some fucking answers.

"Mmm," she shook her head, exhaling smoke while dropping her cigarette and taping it out with a twist of her boot.  "Don't know 'em.  They're not with us.  Unless you mean ol' Jackie, who works out of O'Malley's, the pub in Hell's Kitchen?  No?"

She shrugged, looking back again to get another bead on Maya's location.  "Look, I've no idea what a 'Chosen' is.  I just know that Enclaves, Orders, Clans, Courts and Tribes are losing their fucking minds over you guys.  The Central Park pack has a serious hard-on for you 'special kids'."  She spoke like he knew what all of the things she was saying meant.  She narrowed her eyes and leaned into him.  "They really haven't told you anything?  So, like, what are you?  A warlock, shifter, a faerie?  I mean," she looked up at the sky then back at him.  "Obviously you're not a leech.  Sorry, I know it's rude to ask, but, I feel like I'm popping a cherry here.  Who's your mentor?  When did you awaken?"

Never mind. Back down the fucking rabbit hole, hippity hop we go. Evidently there were faeries, magicians, shapeshifters - did leech mean vampire? - in the world, apparently unknown to society. A whole variety of sides, and former Sergeant Mel Grimson was right in the crosshairs. Two options then. Tell the truth, or bullshit.

Mel wasn't much of a bullshitter, but if Kestrel was running on the age old 'assumptions'... "D'Sombra. When the dream happened, she knew somehow. And she knew I had to know how she did once she said it." Mel grimaced hard while saying it. Technically all painfully true, if not quite in the way Kestrel probably would take it.

Mel turned his gaze also to keep track of Maya.

"D'Sombra?!" Kestrel said it louder than she intended, looked around with a touch of paranoia, and went back to speaking softly.  "Fuck, you're in bed with that bitch?  I mean, no judgments, but the Shadow Court isn't exactly doing many favors this city.  How the hell she became a Seeker, I have no clue.  It's unprecedented from what I hear."  She fumed, shaking her head in disgust.  "It's not fair."

"Anyway, let's focus.  It's nice to meet you Mel, and it looks like maybe we can help each other out.  Maya Flynn is in it deep and I need to help her, that's my job.  Looks like others asked you to help her, so, why don't we give this a go and I fill you in on shit at O'Malley's sometime, over a beer or six.  You game?"

Mel extended a hand. His instincts were telling him Kestrel seemed to be on the up and up. "Ooorah."

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"Maya, you can't take them back!"

"Fucking watch me. And get your hands off me, Jesus!"

"No! I need them!" The strident sound of angry feminine voices continued to ring throughout the fashionable Tribeca brownstone, echoing off the gleaming faux-Carrara tile and the pristine vaulted ceilings, disrupting the previously inviolate serenity of the well-appointed urban castle. "And, a-anyway, they don't give refunds!" Tisha's tone was, by turns, pleading and defiant as she circled around the enormous granite-topped kitchen island to confront her sister, the box of crepes in Maya's hand dangling by a slim blue ribbon and swaying threateningly as she stormed away. This was her house, after all, her domain, and family or not-

"You need them?" the taller woman hissed through clenched teeth as she wheeled around and reached out suddenly, a length of her sister's beautiful milk-white scarf bunching inelegantly in her fist. It was so soft, so plush and insubstantial, she might as well have been strangling a cloud- which was marginally better than strangling the petite, well-coiffured diva in front of her. Marginally. "What you need, Leticia Meyer-Flynn, is your narrow ass whipped. I, on the other hand, need my hundred and three fucking dollars and forty-three cents!" It was important, the still-rational part of her brain reminded her, to be specific. Details mattered, after all: the exact amount of change due; the precise spelling of an author's name; the positions of the decimals on your income tax forms; the difference between a latte and a flat white; the time-stamp of a text from your mother; the realization that simple assault charges usually only get you a misdemeanor.

The rest of her brain, the part that was currently uninterested in such trivialities, suggested she just forget the petty details and go straight for the felony. Why do something halfway, right?

"I told you I don't have it! Maya, I swear, we don't-" A sharp tug at the ends of the scarf cut off her denial, but Leticia stood firm, the hard onyx of her eyes glittering with fury at being accosted in her own home. "Don't you dare-!"

"You don't what? Hm? Don't have the money ready to pay me back for doing you a favor? For going out of my way to help you? You expect me to believe you can't afford to pay for the fucking pancakes you sent me to-"

"They're crepes!" The indignant, immaculate beauty retorted almost instinctively, her whole body quivering with nerves and suppressed anger.

"I don't give a rat's ass what they are to you, Tisha!" Maya was furious now, near tears at the bitter injustice. Leticia had everything, had always had everything, and she still wanted more, couldn't conceive of a world in which she didn't always get everything. "They're my utilities! They're my groceries! They're my fucking phone bill! If you, way up here on top of Mount Gold-Digger, don't have the money to pay for your own overpriced pancakes then how the fuck do you think I'm gonna just have it lying around, huh?!"

"I just- I didn't-" Leticia stammered, inadvertently taking a step back; they'd argued before, but never like this. "We don't keep cash, Maya, you know that! I thought you could borrow it, and I could just pay you back later!"

"That was a rhetorical question! I swear to-" With an audible growl of frustration, Maya yanked the airy, almost insubstantial wrap from where it lay draped elegantly over her sister's shoulders; bereft of queenly elegance, it drooped limply from between her fingers as she studied it pointedly, eyes narrowing at the impossibly luxe texture of the lightweight fabric.  "How much did you pay for this?" she demanded.

"What?" Tisha blinked, obviously caught off-guard by the sudden change of subject. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"This scarf," her sister repeated tersely, hands trembling as they tightened amid the folds of delicate cloth. "How. Much."

Again Leticia blinked, and then, as if it might explain the value of the scarf, added, "It's cashmere."

Sororicide is a crime, Maya, a tiny voice reminded her. Only if you get caught.

"I didn't ask what it was made of. How much did you pay for it, Tisha?"

"...Three hundred." There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence following the querulous admission

"Three hundred. For a scarf." The word wasn't so much uttered as fired contemptuously, a venomous missile of targeted derision for her sister's covetousness. "A hundred for pancakes. Un-fucking-believable.” She almost laughed then, struck by the complete and total absurdity of the situation. “You know what? Fine. Keep 'em." Casually, Maya tossed the white box onto the gleaming countertop where it slid perilously close to the edge. Leticia squeaked softly in relief. "You have a good time at your dinner party with your friends and your fancy-ass breakfast for dessert. I've got better things to do."

"Okay," the petite, dark-eyed woman agreed, exhaling and composing herself once more now that the drama had apparently passed. Maybe now, she could get on with her preparations for dinner. "Then give me back my pashmina, it goes with the pantsuit I'm wearing tonight."

"You can have it back when you pay me what's owed." Maya paused, head tilted as Tisha opened her mouth to protest. "Oh, I'm sorry," she crooned. "Did you suddenly remember where you had some cash?" Her eyes widened mockingly, cruelly, as she absorbed the stricken expression on her sister's flawless features. "Stuffed inside a naughty first-edition of Lolita in the office, maybe? Behind that ugly little Rothko in the living room?" Her sister's miserable silence was answer enough, and she clucked her tongue softly. "Uh-huh. Thought not. Call me when you have my money, Leticia, or I swear, I will never help you again as long as we live."

"'I could borrow it', she said. What the actual shit is that?" Maya demanded of the evening air as she stalked out of the upscale townhouse, cashmere cloud firmly in hand.

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Kestrel slapped Mel's shoulder as Maya exited the building.  "There she is!"  She didn't notice the way Mel looked at his arm and then rubbed it, more to rub her off than indicate the hit might have hurt.

"And we follow her now, I take it?"  He asked.

"Well, yeah, not so much her though, keep an eye out for a goblin."  While Maya wrestled with her bike, which seemed to hitched up to another bike that someone had carelessly placed next to her and the pedals were stuck.  "They're hard to spot, but there has to be one close to her at all times, that's how the curse works."

He sighed.  "Okay, I'll bite.  What sort of curse?"  He asked while keeping his gaze on everything but Maya.

"It's called the Three Blind Mice curse."  Kestrel kept scanning the area too.

Mel shrugged, his dower expression showing he was not in the mood to play along with stupid games.  "That supposed to make some sort of sense to me?"

"Dude," Kestrel looked at him and smirked.  "It's fae magic.  That shit doesn't make any sense until a fae explains it to you and then you're like 'ooohhh, that kinda makes sense now'.  Get used to it."  She tugged at his sleeve, then pointed.  "There, look!"

Mel looked, following her finger to across the street, not but forty or so feet from where he was standing just moments before.  On the cloth awning that shaded a series of small businesses and apartments loomed a hazy figure.  Blurred and hidden, obscured like light just seemed to bend around it.  The longer he stared however, the clearer it became, an ugly little humanoid creature maybe four to five feet in height, hunched low with a greyish skin and a long face to match it's long nose.  It was dressed in modern streetwear, except it's feet were bare and it had a dirty messenger bag slung over it's shoulder.  It's head jerked in Kestrel's direction as her gesture startled it's awareness to her direction.  IT's eyes widened and it snarled, spinning aoubt face on the cloth awning and climbing up the side of the building with inhuman speed.

"Fuck!" She cursed, retracting her arm and stomping her foot.  "Stupid, stupid... god dammit!  It saw me, now they know we're on to them."

"One always has to stay close, right?"  Mel reasoned.  "It'll have to come back."

"No, I mean, yes.  One needs to stay close, but they aren't stupid, Mel.  They remain close, and hide better.  Now that they know, finding one will be a pain in the ass."  She paced about as Mel watch Maya cuss under her breath and rub her temples in ponderance as to how in God's name pedals could be this jammed up, and who the hell had those buzzsaw, torture device pedals on their bikes anymore?  Apparently this asshole.

"She's still in danger, no matter what at this point, then, right?"  Mel's eyes hadn't left the building where the goblin had scurried his way up.  They both knew it would be hopeless to give chase, and while he agreed her pointing was stupid, what was done was done.

"Yeah, and now we're screwed."  Kestrel grunted in irritation.  "Ugh, a week of work pissed away.  Fuck!  I don't know if she has another week.  These guys'll get bored eventually and just finish her off."

Mel walked away and when Kestrel noticed him she watched for a moment and then caught up.  He approached Maya, still wrestling with her bike and casually bent over, unlatching one pedal from the other where it'd had gotten interlocked on the arm.  Mel wasn't the one cursed and the bike simply fell away, loose and free.  "Ms. Flynn," he greeted her.  "A moment of you time please?  This is Kestrel, she knows Mourne.  A name that keeps popping up in both our lives as of late."

"Yeah, hi," Kestrel offered her a polite wave and a smile.  "So, look... this'll seem hard to swallow... but, you're cursed.  I was asked to help stop it, but... we-"

Mel quickly corrected her.  "You."

"I," she glared at the sullen ginger.  "Just screwed that up."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Maya stared at the grim-looking man and his leather-jacketed companion, her sister's white scarf looped haphazardly around her neck as she tried to remember the guy's name- because, hoo, buddy, it was hard to forget a face like that, one that looked like it'd crack if he ever smiled. The only thing that came to mind, though, was the fact that he'd more or less tried to throw her out of the party she'd been invited to, and Mourne's name wasn't exactly one she had positive associations with, either. Sure, there was definitely some weirdness going on, but none of these people seemed remotely trustworthy.

"Cursed," she stated flatly, looking from one probable nutjob to another. "Right. So, just clarify some things for me, then. First, why is it that the two of you, people I don't know working for someone I've had a single conversation with, are here?" The tall, slim woman glanced up at the townhouses lining the street, and then pointedly back at the unlikely pair. "In Tribeca. Where I don't live, and don't work, and definitely do not willingly spend my idle hours. When I just happened to have to make a trip over to handle some..." Exhaling sharply, Maya checked herself. "Some family business. Because that sounds like stalking to me. Second." After standing her bike up and giving it a cursory once-over for damage, she continued. "Why, exactly, should I believe you?"


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Mel exhaled out briskly. Now he remembered that night, Mourne intimating to Maya that she didn't belong at the gallery, and Mel had been ready to escort her out, only for D'Sombra to intervene. Mel admitted to himself that in Maya's place, he'd be pissed too. No point in pussyfooting around, the Ranger had to handle this straight, honest and clean. "I recognize how it looks and sounds, Ms. Flynn, I'd be skeptical in your position too. But please, let me clarify something. I don't work for Mourne. He was just the client for the night, nothing more."

"Now," the grizzled man met the eyes of the much younger woman levelly, "I was warned you were in danger, by another pair of mutual acquaintances. A rather rabbity fellow named Jack, and his trollish friend Seth. I apologize for following you, but they were short on details, so I had to investigate. In the process, I ran into Kestrel, and figured we should introduce ourselves to you. That is why I'm here."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"I'm sorry, did you say 'mutual acquaintances'?"  If Maya's eyebrows rose any higher, they were in danger of vanishing into the thick black curls swept over her forehead.  "Listen, mister, 'skeptical' doesn't begin to cover it right now. You introduced her."  A slim finger jabbed in Kestrel's direction. "I still don't know who the hell you are, except for the stiff-necked asshole at the party I was invited to. Yes. Invited," she repeated, dark eyes glaring daggers at the stoic former Ranger.  "I don't care who you work for. I don't care what they're paying you. I don't even care who you think these 'mutual acquaintances' are that'd tell you to stalk me," the tall woman all but hissed, her earlier anger at the seeming unfairness of the entirety of life bubbling back up to the surface.  "I've just had the worst week of my life after running into you and your, your client, or whatever, and those crazy people who were at that godforsaken party."

She stood there for a moment, seething quietly as memories of the dreams she'd had- the woman, the monster, and the fall, and then D'Sombra- and the strangeness at the library permeated her thoughts, coloring the simple, straightforward experience of anger with more ominous shades.

"He said your name is Kestrel. You said I'm cursed," she managed finally, one hand gripping the handlebar of her bicycle as she turned to the woman who hadn't yet sparked her ire directly. "Fine. Assuming I'm willing to hear you out, I hope this isn't the part where you tell me to follow you somewhere, because..." She laughed quietly, shaking her head at the audacity of the pair. "Hell no. You already know where I work if you followed me all the way out here, so you can just meet me there. Tomorrow. After 5," she added, not counting on Lorraine staying one minute past her appointed time.

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"Look, Maya, Ms. Flynn," Kestral seemed completely unsure what to actually call Maya, but pressed on, fearing they were losing her.  "I get it, I do.  Frankly, were our roles reversed I'd be throwing hands right about now, so thank you for not doing that."  She chuckled with a bit of levity.

"You said worst week, ever, right?"  Kestral looked around on the street, trying to keep the conversation between them.  "Let me guess, lost your keys?  Spilled your coffee, flat tires, broken bike chains, dead car batter, if you own a car, I-I don't know.  Split pants?  Ruined outfits for work, and every son of a bitch you meet is either screwing you over, or its a once-in-a-lifetime chance meeting with that one person you don't want to talk too?  Co-works acting double douchey to you lately?   Nothing going right?  At.  All."

"I don't blame you for not trusting us, believe me, I wouldn't either," she pleaded as well as she was able, but it was obvious that Kestrel wasn't all that good being comforting.  "Been seeing things?  Weird people in your dreams, lucid, quasi waking nightmares with all kinds of weird people?  Mr. Mourne, that's who I work for, he said the emissaries were looking for you.  A-an animal.  Something about a Mason.  He thinks he's found Mason and asked me to come and help you.  Please, Ms. Flynn.  A cup of coffee.  That's all I'm asking for from you.  Join us for a cup of coffee and give me time to try and help you understand what the hell is happening lately, because... I've been through it too."

No more parties, no more days off, Maya swore silently to herself, even as she got the sense that it likely wouldn't matter. In the past week, she hadn't met or spoken with any of the people she'd come to associate with the strangeness slipping between the city alleyways and wafting up from the streets like vapour, and yet here she was. Here they were, specifically, and she had to admit that this Kestrel woman had guessed more accurately than chance alone should permit. So... Okay.

"Okay," she conceded. "One cup of coffee. One. As long as it's not at The Full Pot."

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"Works for me." Mel agreed simply. "Since I forgot to introduce myself, I'm Mel Grimson." He offered his hand out to shake... but Maya didn't go for it. Between her not-touchy-feely New Yorker spirit, plain distrust for the man, and simply being at the utmost strained limit for the week, she just didn't want to. End of story. Mel withdrew his arm back without comment. He'd take what he'd gotten.

"For what it's worth, Ms. Flynn, I'm going through it too." He gave her a nod. "Two-thirds of this stuff she's going to tell you, I don't really understand any better." More like nearly all, but he wasn't going to disrupt the image Kestrel had of him in her mind. "But I've seen enough to convince me this isn't just crazy nonsense."

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  • 4 weeks later...

It wasn't hard to locate a coffee shop in Manhattan but it didn't make the silent walk any less awkward.  Kestrel could have said something several times along the way but felt as if she was already on thin ice with Maya as it was and didn't want to press her luck.  Maya noticed the way her two guest tag-alongs seemed obsessed with consistently looking up at the tall building that lined the streets of the concrete jungle they lived in.  They were obviously looking for something they either one, could not find, or two, no one could see but them and that didn't make this entire situation seem any less crazy.

None of them had ever been in the little hole-in-the-wall shop before, but Maya sighed when she realized the prices matched the neighborhood, and wondered why (why!) anyone would ever pay eleven bucks for a cup of coffee, but appreciate Kestrel's logic of it being a business meeting, so there was no reason her boss shouldn't be paying for it, and offered the barista her company card.  It wasn't a very popular spot though, at least not at this times of day so, thankfully, it was relatively empty, save for the random hipster guy on the opposite side with his laptop open, trying to be inspired to start/finish/edit the novel that was going to make him famous.  They sat at a table while they waited for their beverages, and Kestrel opened with a sigh as she steepled her and muzzled her face between her hands as she thought of where to begin.

"About a year a go I discovered I was different.  Lengthily origin stories aside,"  She started while she leaned back in the booth and looked out the window to kindle the memories she'd archived.  "Horatio helped me discover who I was and what I could do and how I could help other people like me.  Ms. Flynn, the world you thought you knew is an illusion.  There is so much going on under the streets of this city, in it's alleys, among the shadows... it would take more cups to describe than this place has available."

"Long and the short of it, guys is that magic is real.  From acupuncture, to chakras to psychics, all of it is real, but most people are either complete hacks or they're doing it without realizing they have the potential for something greater.  Alchemy, curses, spells, cantrips... it's all real and the reason you didn't know about it this morning when you woke up is because it is the most carefully guarded secret in the world."  She looked at both Mel, who was sitting next to her, and Maya, who was sitting across from her, and continued.  "Supernatural things exist, always have, and I wish I could teach you all I know but lets focus on the problem at hand and that is, Ms. Flynn, that you've been cursed."  She took a deep breath and decided to just rip the band aid off.  "By goblins.  Dark fae who are mischievous and cruel, and I've been asked to try and protect you and hopefully stop it.  Problem is, our only lead, one of the goblins, I kind of scared off."

Maya had already heard enough and it shown in her eyes.  Before she could get up, Kestrel hail Mary'd a quick, "One cup, remember?  One cup of coffee, that was the deal."

"Ordered scalding hot, I take?"  Maya narrowed her eyes at Kestrel who smiled wryly.  She didn't seem like a bad person, and it didn't take a PhD in psych to see she really wanted Maya to listen to her.  "Clever."

"Look, it sounds batshit crazy, I know.  How do you think I feel?  My boss asked me to follow a complete stranger with nothing more to go on than 'goblins have struck this woman with Oranges and Lemons, you have to get to her before Stepney.  Be careful Kes, she's too important to loose.'  I mean seriously, that's what he said," she swiped her phone and turned the screen to show them both.  There was a text from Mourne with some of Maya's personal info a picture (not a flattering one, either which Maya grumbled internally at) and the bit about Oranges and Lemons.  "Fae are weird, wasn't hard to figure out the old nursery rhyme, and it mentions Stepney... but I don't know what it means, and I can't reach my boss, he's away on business."

She sighed, heavily, as their coffee arrived at the table, as the server left she blew gently into her mug.  "I've been training for this for almost a year, Ms. Flynn.  This is my first gig, and I'm pretty sure I'm blowing it.  Whatever I need to do to convince the two of you that I'm not making this up, I will tell you.  First guy I kissed?  Matt Carter, we were madly in love for three months until Stacy Schantz made out with him at a party.  Worst date?  Shelly Baker, would not get off social media the entire date, it was horrible.  I'm not a lunatic, I swear, I just sound like one Monday thru Friday during normal business hours."

"Process." She said simply as she reached for ripped open a few sugar packets.  "While I add cream and sugar."

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Mel regarded Kestrel, whom was quasi-panicking as she went on, and Maya, who very gingerly sipped her overheated chai, watching Kestrel while she talked. Given her initial reaction, Maya wasn't believing it still, and Kestrel desperately leaking her romantic history wasn't going to help, Mel figured. A moment passed, while he took a small sip of his black coffee, and thought. Mourne had gone down in his estimation, skipping off while giving the inexperienced - by her own description - Kestrel with naught by a nursery rhyme and a very difficult task.

Sure, military intelligence was an oxymoron, but at these those things gave you something to start with, if only to be prepared for the complete opposite.

And it did zilch to persuade Maya. So that begged the question, should he share his story? Obviously, Mel was not exactly comfortable doing so. Furthermore, Kestrel didn't know his story, beyond the carefully chosen (pun unintended, now that he considered it) words he'd given her. Mourne's 'Person' figured him to be closer to her end of the spectrum, rather than Maya's. Telling might well create an extra SNAFU.

Fuck it, he'd rolled the dice enough times going into combat, he could do so once more.

"Here's my story, Ms. Flynn. Not long ago, my wife died, and I haven't dealt well with it. Then one night, I had this dream or... vision of my wife." Mel grimaced, before deciding he didn't really want to go into the specifics. "Suffice to say, I didn't tell anyone about it. Then, I met D'Sombra at one of the security gigs. She wanted me to work for her. I was reluctant, until she described my 'dream' in detail. I changed my mind, if only to get answers."

Which happened the same night as Maya meeting D'Sombra, but Kestrel didn't need to know that.

"Now, after that event where we crossed paths, I was contacted in my dreams. By a hoodie-wearing rabbit-man with a Jersey accent named Jack, and a big guy with horns and teeth like tusks named Seth. They told me you were in danger and you needed my help. After that, I started investigating, I crossed paths with Kestrel, started talking with her and she pointed out one of those goblins - then it saw her and ran."

"That's the sitrep, take it as you will." Mel raised his mug and sipped more coffee.

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  • 2 months later...

A sensation of phantasmal horror, more unnerving than any of the other strangeness in her life for the fact that it was such an incredibly mundane and boring fear- just part of living in a city like New York- trailed icy fingers up the length of her spine as she listened to Mel describe the events of the last several days, from his perspective. "That was a week ago," Maya replied quietly, her eyes dark and unreadable in the hipster-dim lighting as she turned the porcelain mug in her hands. "You've been stalking me... for a week. Not contacting me, not warning me, not approaching me or handling things in any of the ways a normal person would. And now you want me to trust you." Pursing her lips, the willowy woman nodded and took a slow sip of the fragrant, spiced drink, swallowing meditatively. It was too expensive by half, but it was a good dirty chai, she admitted grudgingly, with just the right balance of bitter and sweet to cover up the sharp tang of nervousness on the back of her tongue. "I'm sorry to hear about your wife's passing, Mr. Grimson," she continued, addressing him in the same measured, methodical tone. "That must have been very difficult for you." There was a long, uncomfortable pause, the sounds of the coffee shop more distant than ever.

"As far as how I plan to take your explanation?" Again, she nodded, slowly, aware that despite having had strange experiences of her own, this man was obviously not well. Her gaze drifted back to the woman who'd introduced herself as Kestrel. "With more than a few grains of salt. To be honest, I didn't have a great opinion of Mr. Grimson, here, or your boss, before tonight, and this-" She gestured vaguely at the pair seated across the table. "This hasn't helped. So you've got me for this one drink. Before I finish it, I want to know what, exactly, you're planning to do about this curse you claim I'm under." She paused again, the flicker of a memory surfacing. "And if your boss is after someone called 'Mason,' he might be in a lot of trouble."

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Kestrel rubbed her temples and sighed.  "Mrs. Flynn, no one is stalking you.  We're trying to help you, as ludicrous as it all sounds, I know.  Could I have just told you?  Yes, but those buggers are crafty and I thought I could catch one and make it spill the beans on how this whole curse thing works... I screwed that up.  Now, I had no choice but to tell you what was going on.  My intent was to handle it and hope you'd never be the wiser,"  she rolls her eyes, chastising herself.  "For all the good that did.  I had a plan, it backfired."

"To be honest Ms. Flynn, I don't have much of a plan now that they've seen me," she raised a finger.  "But!  That's why we're having this conversation, because now that they know that I know and now you know, we know.  So, I figured together, maybe we can tackle this together.  Like I said, I'm new at this so I don't have a whole lot of contacts in the supernatural department, but you're a librarian!  You're like, smart and stuff, right?  This Mel guy can hold them down and beat them up until they tell us how to reverse this thing."  She looked at Maya and raised up a credit card.  "At the very least, I've got the company credit card.  You're stressed as hell, I don't even know you and I can tell you that.  My place or yours, we can get a couple boxes of wine, the classy stuff, not the cheap boxed wine, obviously, and just get drunk and you can vent til your heart's content."

She chuckled and sipped her drink.  "And I know, you don't even know me, but we're all strangers until we take the time to get know people.  I just told you about a life ending curse that's going to end you if it's not treated, girlfriend, this is not the weirdest 'friend request' I've done.  I've had to convince a shubei to not kill me long enough to make him understand Howlers were onto his scent.  Boxed wine would be a vacation, trust me."

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Mel took in Maya's indignation - understandable still - and prepared to deliver his response when Kestrel jumped in. Upon hearing the torrent of words she put out, Mel had to strongly clamp down on the urge to groan out loud. That definitely wasn't much of a plan, and trying to offer booze with that kind of pitch wasn't likely to work. So he took a deeper drink of his black coffee, trying to pick his words with care. Of course, that had never been a strength of his.

"Ms. Flynn, I didn't warn or talk to you because when they told me you were in danger, that literally was it. They didn't know more. If I went to you with nothing, I doubt your reception would be that much better than this. So I had to perform reconnaissance so I could find out, and I didn't until I met Kestrel today. And I wouldn't have done all this if I thought this to be mere hallucinations."

Mel took another sip of coffee. "Ultimately, we're talking to you now. If you want nothing more to do with this, then we'll figure out how to resolve your problem without intruding into your life further, now that we know what the problem is." He scowled at Kestrel. "With an actual plan, not this piece of crap with holes you can drive a tank through. Since I am certain that this is the 'weirdest friend request' that Ms. Flynn has gotten, and probably the second-most myself."

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"You know what the problem is?" Maya challenged the grim-faced man seated across from her. "How to plan for it? Because according to what you told me, you're only a couple of hours ahead of me in the info department, and way behind when it comes to my life, and my problems. So while I appreciate the offer to walk away, Mr. Grimson, don't think for a fucking second that I trust a complete stranger to handle anything like a threat to my life without my involvement and input, and so help me, I swear that if either of you get me killed, I will be the most obnoxious ghost since the invention of death to haunt anyone, anywhere." The dull clink of her empty mug being placed on the table added a note of gravitas to the informal oath, and for all the internal screaming going on, the assistant librarian felt reasonably confident her expression didn't immediately betoken murder or hysteria. Or both.

"So here's how this is going to work." Sighing, she draped the scarf she'd taken from her sister across her lap, burying her fingers into the ephemeral softness as she frowned at Kestrel. None of this was a good idea, but if they were right... "You're going to crash on my couch for the next couple days." After a moment's pause, she added, "Bring rosé. In the meantime, I'll see what I can find at the library. I know the place better than either of you, and I have access to some of the restricted collections, as well as the other branches in the city. You," she continued, turning back to Mel. "Honestly, I don't know. Just don't hang out at my place of employment, please. Either of you."


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"But, I like books," Kestrel said and then reconsidered as Maya's hard stare told her she was not playing games.  "Okay, okay," she chuckled.  "No hanging out at your work, but I'll be around.  I'm still keeping an eye on you, regardless."

She turned to Mel, producing a pen from the inside of her jacket she clicked the top with her thumb and began writing on a napkin.  "So, I'll keep an eye on the lovely Ms. Flynn here, I'm a woman of my word after all, and I owe her steeply priced boxed wine.  So, while I stay with our client and foster relations, I need you to check this place out."  She slid the napkin over to him.  The address looked like it was at the western piers, near Pier 57.

"A lead?"  Mel asked.

"It's not a lead so much as it is a guy who might be able to help us."  She explained.  "I got the info form an old Theurge 'reading the bones', so it's hardly reliable, but worth a shot.  All he said was that 'my answers would arrive' at that place not long after I did.  It's gibberish, mostly, but frankly until we do a bit of research, it's all we have.  So, do you mind?"

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"I won't Miss Flynn." Mel assented to her request. That could have gone far worse, so he counted that as a win. Mel observed the napkin address Kestrel passed to him. Obviously, he had no idea what a Theurge was or what she meant by 'reading the bones,' but that was the price of pretending to know more than he did. The ex-Ranger's best guess about that cryptic comment was: 'show up, and something will happen.'

Well, given the general lack of information and Maya Flynn's prickly attitude right now, Mel was good as voluntold, really.

"Hooah. I'm on it." He said, rising from his chair. "Kestrel, Ms. Flynn." He politely nodded to each before pushing his chair in, polishing off his coffee and returning the mug to the tray for used mugs before departing for his assigned destination.

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  • 3 months later...

With Kestrel, the little package of knishes she'd bought at the deli, and her bike in tow, it would have been a very long, very frustrating walk back to Maya's apartment from Tribeca if her strange new acquaintance hadn't helped her haul it into the subway. Despite the relative paucity of passengers, those few who shared the car with them on the awkward ride to her neighborhood kept glaring at her as if personally offended by the (unused) space it was taking up- but after the general misery of the day, she was satisfied just letting someone else do the driving for a while, even if it meant getting side eye from every third person who looked in her direction.

They rode in relative silence to 77th Street Station, and from there it was a short walk back to 542 E 79th, and Maya's apartment. "Living room," she announced, tossing keys, knishes, and cashmere scarf onto the coffee table with equal (dis)regard, gesturing for her guest to enter as she closed and bolted the front door. "Kitchen. Bathroom... Hot water is usually good."

"Okay," Kestrel started, "so where-"

"Couch," came the weary reply as Maya peered speculatively into the fridge. "You'll probably have to fight Sully for it, though. He gets territorial." The massive smoky black and grey shape of the Maine Coon who presided over the Flynn residence emerged from the shadows of the bookcase, as if summoned, regarding first the newcomer, and then his human caretaker, with the grouchy, disdainful mien of someone very important called up on an absurdly trivial matter. "There's... some leftover French onion soup in here if you get hungry. I'm gonna take a shower, and a nap, and hope when I wake up this was all just a seriously messed-up dream."

It wasn't, of course, and when Maya woke a few hours later, Kestrel had gone home for an overnight bag, stopped for a box of not-too-expensive-but-not-cheap rosé, and made herself at home in the living room. She and Suleiman had, apparently, agreed to a tentative truce so long as the 'Opposite Ends of the Couch' treaty was observed. The remainder of the evening passed in relatively uneventful fashion, with no lingerie and pillow fights, no getting white-girl wasted, no hair-pulling or tearful confessions. It was, instead, spent like most nights in America: sullenly scrolling through the options on Hulu and Netflix, wondering where their lives went wrong.

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Pier 57... earlier that day...


There was only one ship currently docked near where Mel was waiting, The Dao Chiang, a run-of-the-mill cargo ship out of China that looked like it had more rust to offer than cargo, unless rust was its export.  Cranes and forklifts were busy at work as Mel stood near the shipping and customs offices, which was nothing more than a long, single story building about the size of three double-wide trailers parked end on end, with three offices in it and all manner of vending machines and loose, stacked cargo surrounding it.

He'd been standing around for the better part of an hour watching the dock workers unload Conex containers from the ship and haul about the cargo all over the place.  At least five or six of the workers at this point had stopped to ask him his business and he felt like a fool having to make something up since 'some weirdo in a coffee shop said she spoke to someone who 'read the bones' and told me to wait here for something to happen', while the truth, sounded insane... and stupid.

He sighed, looked around one more time and grumbled silently to himself.  "Hell with this," she finally resigned to thinking that perhaps this 'Theurge', whatever the hell that was, and their bones, might be just as crazy as this Kestrel girl.  He pivoted with obvious military discipline, preparing to leave just as he noticed someone approaching on a bicycle.  While not uncommon in Manhattan, this far down the pier didn't seem likely, as most workers left theirs at the main office in the morning.  The only ones who really had any business this far down the pier with a bike were bike messengers and when Mel saw who it was he sighed softly and silently cursed his luck.  "Son of a bitch."

As Deacon, his next door neighbor of all people, peddled up on his bike and casually dismounted as it rolled to a stop, the grizzled veteran couldn't accept this new facet of lunacy as mere coincidence.  Out of all the people in Manhattan, it just so happened that his neighbor, the geeky kid who lived in a world of video games and played his weekly game of Morons and Miscreants, loudly, was passing by at this point in time?

"Kid." He approached, and that was about as close to a hello as he'd get from Mel.

Deacon narrowed his eyes, at first astonished at the prospect of meeting his neighbor out here in the middle of Manhattan nowhere.  "Mr. G?"  He chuckled in disbelief.  "This is a bit random.   What're you doing on the pier?"

"Could ask you the same."  Mel retorted, getting a feel for the why of the situation and like a trained professional deflecting and keeping himself in control of the conversation.  "Bit out of the way for you, isn't it?"

The young man shrugged as he kicked down the kickstand and pivoted with the bike so it was turned in a convenient direction for when he left.  "Nah.  It's only once a month or so.  Everything here is mostly digital now, but they still need carbon pads for documentation and receipt spools for their calculators.  Slow season it's about every six weeks or so... busier seasons, still it's only like, once a month or so, so I don't mind making the ride.  Besides, I can save it for last and just go right home afterwards, the apartments aren't far from here."

"So... out of thirty days or so... you picked this day to make the run?"  He wasn't asking Deacon, the question was more for any invisible beings controlling his fate that now, obviously hated him.  "Jesus Christ, kid..."

"What?"  He asked the older gentleman, not really expecting a straight answer, or any answer, really.  "What're you doing here, anyway?  I figured you'd be out reminding children that one day they'll be old enough to have ice cream for breakfast, but never enough time to enjoy it..."

"Very funny," Mel brushed off Deacon's sarcasm as the boy's constant taunts aimed at the older man's projected displeasure in all things was beginning to be a staple greeting for the two of them.  He hated to admit it, but he was beginning to think the old bone reader was on to something.  "Look, kid... what uh, what do you know about curses and goblins and... stuff?"  He couldn't believe he just asked another living person that question.  "you're into that weird shit, right?  I hear you and your friends yelling at all hours every week."

Deacon laughed as he rolled his pack off his shoulder to pull out the the two boxes he had for delivery.  "You're messing with me, right?"  The younger man closed up a bit, his posture slipping into the defensive.  He's always been self-conscious about his gaming hobby and felt a bit insecure talking about it in the open, especially with someone like Mel, who seemed to only find way to mock what he didn't understand.  "Someone put you up to this?  Someone tell you to wait here and then what?  Make jokes or something?"

"Kid, shut up," Mel didn't have time for all that 'school bully' drama.  "I have better things to do than come out here, on my own, or at the behest of another, just make fun of you.  Use you're damn head, you're not in seventh-fuckin'-grade."

"What then?"  Deacon asked plainly.

The older red haired man sighed and dragged his palm down his face as he did so to buy him some time to think of what to say.  It wasn't a long enough stall.  "Kid, I don't even know where to begin.  Eighty percent of what I have to say is un-fuckin'-believable and the other twenty percent, I may as well be lying to you because I don't even know how to explain it."  All he could do was laugh and shrug.  "Gist is this: someone believes someone else is cursed and may die... cursed by goblins, I might add.  I was told if I waited here for awhile, someone who knew about that sort of thing would show up... might show up... and you came rolling up."

"Now I know you're messin' with me," Deacon laughed, somewhat less on his guard as he was a moment ago.  "There's no way-"

"Yeah," Mel raised his hands, surrendering the point to his younger neighbor.  "It's silly, I know, but you know how college-aged women get," he chuckled and walked past Deacon, deciding it best to just let sleeping dogs lie.  "They get it through their heads that they're cursed and freak out, or whatever you millennials do.  Sorry to waste your time, kid.  I'll let them know they're out of luck."

"Wait... college girls?"  Mel smirked slightly, but kept walking so Deacon wouldn't witness the older man's victory.

"College-aged," he repeated, knowing he was only going to hear what he wanted to anyway.  "Not exactly the sort of place they wanted to come to, you know?  So, I did my good deed for the week, thought I'd help them out, but if you don't know, you don't know."

Forgetting his bike and his packages, Deacon let his backpack fall and he raced off to catch his neighbor.  "W-w-woah... hold on... maybe I can help."  He grabbed the soldiers arm to stop him and allowed himself to be caught mid stride.  "I mean... I know a little about that stuff.  Research for my games and whatnot, you know?  Look, they're prolly just hipster chicks who saw a strange TikTok that's been trending.  At the very least... I could put their minds to rest, I'd be willing to try."

"Tell you what," Mel looked at Deacon's hand on his arm and the younger, less adept at close quarters combat, man let go in an awkward hurry.  "I'll bring them by, okay?  They can explain it, you can give them your appraisal and go from there."

"Yeah, okay," he nodded, trying to contain the smile that was forming at the prospect of meeting a couple college girls.  "Oh, and technically, you're a millennial, too, Mr G."

Mel just walked off, shaking his head.  "I'm a soldier kid.  We washed that millennial shit off week two at Fort Benning."

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