Life Update

Mar. 8th, 2015 05:42 pm
scribal_goddess: (scribbles)

So, I got a job just last Thursday: I'm going to be a proper chemist (well, "Contract Formulations Chemist" but yeah, not an internship, actually doing chemistry,) as soon as I start on Monday.

This may mean I'm less social in the immediate future while working on other projects. Speaking of -

- I'm a hair's breadth from finishing the first draft of Switchpoint.
- Progress has been made on the new chapter of the EHL. Granted, large portions of that are written rather than filmed, but I have less than twenty new scenes to film (as of now) and a better plan for the next two chapters, which will include an interlude. This one may even be relatively short - no four-post several hundred picture monsters this time around.
- Despite my better judgement, I made a simblr for those of you interested in that. It updates on a "when I can be assed to import pictures to the laptop" basis. I'm also still working on the graphics for the banner/my new EHL banner in general. Yeah, I'm mouse-drawing trees again.
- I am now almost caught up with Secondhand Reviews, meaning that I ought to finish one of the two books I'm currently reading (Diana Wynne Jones' The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Disposessed.) Especially since I finally ovaried up and reviewed the shitpile that is Lunar Descent, which has been sitting on my "to do" pile for almost three months. It is almost (but not quite) as bad as the Gideon Crew novels, if anybody here besides MM remembers my first attempt at book reviews. ;)
- I made massive amounts of progress cleaning a triceratops braincase/squamosal fragment. (I'm no expert and it's not quite clean enough for diagnostics yet. Whatever undergrad inherits my glorious bone had better be grateful and avoid scraping the edges.)

In other news, I continued to publish fanfiction: I blame Jupiter Ascending for being a terrible trainwreck with bees.

... with no little shame, I present to you Sovreignty: or Space Bees, the Ficlet.

And I'm going to PaleoFest next weekend, which is a formal-dress convention for fossil nerds in Rockford, IL. (It probably means I'm going to hang out with my dino-lab coordinator and the professor that runs the museum while satisfying my curiosity about the Triceratops I've been working on, but the fraternal unit has plans for meeting and greeting the senior paleontologists in 'his field' rather than learning about pollen like me.)

I tried to write something for femmeslash February. It didn't work, it isn't finished, and you guys are just going to have to wait for me to stop trying to get through Switchpoint for pointless Allie and Lindsay fluff. Until then, have something I wrote in December for the 30 day OTP challenge, in which Allie and Lindsay watchThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and thus ensure that they will go to the special hell reserved for people who talk in the theatre.

The Special (Effects) Hell

“It’s such a lovely painted circus tent,” I said to Allie, sotto voce, as we watched the crowd onscreen gather around a stage. She nudged me for silence, though we were the only people in the theater besides the projectionist and a young couple in front who were thoroughly engrossed in each other: the benefit of going to the movies at two on a Tuesday afternoon. “It looks like the walls are made of rubber,” I added a moment later, as two young ladies, their arms around each other’s waists, bought tickets.

The orchestra segued from playing a jaunty tune suited to a carnival, to an odd tense scampering as the magician worked his magic. I couldn’t help but glance over at Allie to see how she took it – she was busy rolling her eyes.

Somnambulism,” she muttered.

“Sleepwalking is a magical experience,” I told her with a grin. She didn’t dignify that with a response until a moment later, when she read the card onscreen. “Look into your future?” she hissed, incredulous, “seriously.”

“Shhh, we’re in the theater,” I told her facetiously. The next title card, which read you die at dawn, seemed to me to be a little overdramatic, but we followed the orchestra along and then saw a young woman in a long shawl walking through a ridiculously crooked “alleyway” with two young men, and I started laughing – trying hard to stifle it to avoid drawing the attention of the young couple in the front row.

“Theater, remember?” Allie murmured.

“The shadows are painted on the walls,” I said, when I could breathe, “I don’t care about the quack magician, this might just be the best movie I’ve ever seen.”

Allie rolled her eyes and slipped her hand into mine. I smiled warmly over at her and settled in, still giggling a little, to watch what I was sure was going to be the funniest horror film in the world. The only thing missing was the popcorn.

~ *** ~

*Popcorn was "invented" well before 1900, but it was popularized in movie theaters until the very late 1920's, which is both a little too late to be equivalent to the world where Allie and Lindsay chose to live most of the time, and waaaaaay too late to be congruent with early silent films. Yes, I did research for a 300 word drabble that isn't canon. Fear Me.

scribal_goddess: (scribbles)
Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

As I listened to the rantings – no, the ravings! – of Montressor, there remained no doubt in my mind that the man had finally gone mad. The fits of pique and passion to which he was subject, the whims that I must needs indulge him or face his wrath, the very mercurial aspects of his personality: these I had patiently borne, knowing my company his only comfort in his decline and considering that, in all other ways, my position in the crumbling manse of the Montressors was an easy one. The old man, perhaps seeing something of his youth in me, preferred my company to that of all others as his health failed and his world narrowed to the scope of his ancestral halls, then finally to his own private rooms, where he pored over the tomes of his forefathers and dreamed of the long faded glory of his progenitors until he was half convinced that he was in fact imbued with the power and the authority of his forefathers, the utmost master of his own domain, untouchable, beyond reproach so long as his honor remained unsullied, and the family motto Nemo Me Impune Lacessit gleamed proud underneath the ancient heraldic crest, a serpent rampant striking, with its last breath, the human foot that crushed it.

For the better part of a year, I had watched the decline of the mind of the last of the Montressors, and smiled in his face as he decayed from a man of unparalleled brilliance to the decrepit wreck that he was now, infected by honor, raving about the imagined slights of other gentlemen of the city, some of whom I was convinced had never existed. I showed my teeth at his purposeless ramblings, feigned a laugh at his imagined triumphs over his neighbors, lied with kind eyes as I explained why men long dead would not visit – not that the living ever haunted our halls! No, I, and I alone, bore the changing of days and the decay of the house around us – I alone, too distant a cousin to bear the old man’s name or any resemblance to the gloomy portraits hung upon the walls, cared enough about the old man to let him die in peace. All other friends and relations had abandoned him; little wonder that it was I who he addressed as one who knew the very nature of his soul. None other still addressed him as anything other than a patient, to be dosed and quieted and sent to bed.

The months had served to all but wipe away my memories of a happier time before the old man’s mind had begun to rot away – I had long since ceased to think of him as anything other than the wreck he was – when I noticed a new turn in his mind. Where before he had told boastful stories of his youth, his prowess at debating, the respect he was afforded by the town, hunting parties, whatsoever else came to mind – a mind previously as quick as a steel trap, which now resembled a selection of lost pieces from a child’s jigsaw puzzle – his tales, (or perhaps some still were memories,) began to take a much more sinister, even grotesque turn. He claimed that he had been a member of any number of secret societies – had overseen arcane rituals to turn lead into gold – had seen one midwinter night the ghost of his father, begging him to dig him up out of his grave and release him from the suffocating earth. I paid these stories as little mind as I possibly could, as he rambled by candlelight in the dank, empty house with the winter wind whistling through the gaps in the shutters.

The story of Fortunato I dismissed almost instantly as pure phantasm. There was no family named Fortunato in the city, nor had Montressor spoken before of such a man – though when he spoke, it was with the deepest and most vehement hatred of him, such that I shuddered to think – for the old man’s mood had been angry and volatile for so long, now – what he should do if he had any such enemy living, and was not kept under constant watch. For in some things, Montressor’s mind was still as cutting and agile as ever: he spoke with the same impassioned fluidity of old, but he knew not to whom he was speaking; each crevice and cranny of the old house was still known to him, yet it had been over half a year since I could trust him outside of its doors; he would in a day remember events from fifty years ago and forget the events of the day before. In time, the preposterous imaginings of the old man grew far more bizarre – ominious, confused, and at times disturbing despite his growing bewilderment and vitrol towards the world – and his story of vengeance in the crypts below the palazzo was all but blotted out of my mind, replaced with more trials and tribulations of the old man’s dwindling life, such as a night spent tending to a detailed delusion that he was dead already, with centipedes crawling about under his skin. After that, I took the advice of the local pharmacist, and Montressor grew quiet at last.

In the bitterest dark of the winter – in fact, just after Carnival – that the old man caught influenza, then pneumonia, and finally died, though not quite peacefully. More people came to his funeral than had come to see him in the last year. They toasted to his memory – to a friendship that they pretended to fondly remember, though all the while I watched, knowing what the late, great Montressor had thought of them in his final months, and saw nothing on their faces but condescension and smirking deceit.

Then they were gone, and I was left alone with the crumbling wreck that was the manse of the Montressors; fit, I thought for a few wild moments, only for burning to the ground. Yet it was mine now, for the old man had no closer kin, and loathe as he was to allow it to pass out of the family proper, he would have been horrified to see it leave his bloodline entirely. How he had thought I would manage to keep the moldering skeleton in one piece was entirely beyond me – had there been money for the necessary repairs, it would already have been spent on them – so I resolved all at once to sell it, crush that last ounce of patrician vanity, the only legacy of a dead man, take whatever I could get, and make a new life far away, in a land where my connection to the Montressors raised no eyebrows and my name carried with it no shame.

And yet, as I lay listening to the rats scratching through the walls of the newly emptied house, alone save for my candles, I could not sleep.

I did not miss the old man’s waking nightmares, his mirages cut from whole cloth, the way he had laughed smugly at the world outside, seemingly unaware that his lot in life had diminished to little but delusions of grandeur – but it had covered the noise of the questing rats and the wind whistling about the house. It had kept the shadowed portraits at bay, and the thousand morbid fantasies that the night bears to a waking brain – and I could not go on in that house, not without knowing the answer to the thought that had begun in that night to gnaw at my soul.

Surely, the old man had only imagined it all – far stranger things had he told me, of a woman buried alive, of guilty murderers who heard the hearts of their victims beating on and on even after death until the drumming drove them insane, of secret signs and symbols, of pirate codes and buried treasure, of portraits that stole the youth of their subjects, of vengeance extracted after years through slow poison, of the tortures of the inquisition, and of impenetrable mystic rites that conferred upon the recipient of a draught of lamb’s blood the ability to read men’s souls and find precious metals in the earth. Next to such fuel for dreadful fantasy, such a thing should have quickly been forgotten.

And yet, I had not forgotten, for the old man’s eyes had flashed so, the spittle had flown from his lips, the cold and unholy light of vengeance had lit up his whole countenance, the words fell from his lips with an inviting surety: he had felt sure, I thought, that I should celebrate with him his great victory over the oafish, the drunken, the bumbling Fortunato! I should feel in the marrow of my bones that the insult to our house by the smug aficionado could not be borne – that Montressor’s course of action was the only which was right, which was just, which would preserve the dignity of those who, no matter how poor and how decayed, should never suffer such impudence against them without swift and terrible retribution. The untold numbers of our ancestors – his, not mine, though at the moment he had extended to me the hand of acknowledgement, perhaps not even remembering who I was – should turn over and over again in their crypts, should have haunted him until he destroyed that serpent, that buffoon, that motley bedecked dunce for daring to –

I had not the least idea what insult Fortunato was supposed to have offered my recently deceased cousin, nor any belief that such a man had ever existed, save as a confused compilation of all Montressor’s most abhorrent acquaintances, a face to attribute every imagined slight of his youth – a face that he had conjured in the absence of his so-called friends during his slow decline, and hung upon the hated visage every bewildered memory of the indignity that he had suffered – old, childless, poor and yet too proud to do aught but rot in it, draining the dregs of the family fortune that my own father’s cowardice had barred me from with each pipe of Amontillado! No, I no longer had to smile and bear the old man’s diatribe with placid blandishments – I was free, free from the long-forgotten heraldry, from the often translated motto – for there was nothing left of the Montressors! I was soon to wash my hands of it all! I resolved to go as far as I could, to Britain or Austria, for the company of millionaires reviled by the rest of the town for their gauche and presumptuous ways was far preferable to the poisoned insincerity of genteel poverty and a slow, agonizing slide into the darkness of ignorance and obscurity, pitied by all and valued by no one! No, I had no sympathy left for the old man – for he knew not what it meant to be truly, and honestly, despised for circumstances he could not change, nor what it was to scrabble for acceptance, to curse his paternity at every sly smile, at every moment of condescension, knowing that it was impossible to gain that which he so desperately sought – for should you please anyone, you are “well mannered, considering your birth,” and should you give offense, you are instantly lowered – for who should truly consider one so misbegotten worthy even of their anger? Even in his old age, when I was willing to aid him in his illness, the old man had always had a self-righteous look about him, as if to say “I give you the crumbs off my meager table only so your mouth may water at what little more I have,” the cruelty of one beggar to another. It was only as his mind had begun to fade and his fair-weather friends, his creditors and his connoisseurs, had abandoned him, that I, my ancestry forgotten, became his bossom companion, his only confidante. But for an accident of birth, I should have shared equally in the name, the reputation of the Montressors – and I should not have drank and gambled myself into poverty and obscurity! Yet he sought to give me his bleakness, his desolation, his macabre mockery of gentility and his obsession with a dead era of nobility and honor! How then, should I believe in his fearful chimeras, why then, should I lay awake near-drowning in the impression of his voice, his boundless arrogance, his certainty of purpose?

Why should I shiver at the thought of a dead man in the crypts below? There were any number of dead men, for the crypts had been used as an ossuary for many years before my cousin had taken possession of the house. Rationality told me that they were naught but bones, that being aware, so suddenly, of where they lay unburied underground, behind perhaps only a few doors, did not change this – for no ill had come of them in the past decades, and no ill would come of them tonight. Yet it seemed I heard, in the voice of Montressor, hushed and yet gleeful, as he was wont to be when he told me of his superstitious exploits or his exaggerated prowess in revenge, the words, “No harm has yet come to a Montressor from the remains of his ancestors.”

I lay awake as the candle guttered: I thought that Fortunato would not have died quickly, even bricked up in the vaults. He first would have exhausted himself, testing his chains and shouting, hoping fiercely that it was all a fit of dark humor on the part of my cousin, that he had now been well and truly humiliated for whatever offense he had given, that any moment now he would be released… as hours passed, that perhaps someone would hear him beyond the catacombs, that he should be rescued by a steward lost in search of some rare wine, that he would miraculously be encountered. If his chains had been long enough, he would have tested the wall – he would have clawed at it until his fingers bled, his nails worn down to stubs – he would have thrown his weight against it, tried to break the shackles, tried to knock the bricks loose before they set – known that the bricks were what would kill him quickest, had they been properly set, for soon he would run out of air –
No! For the last time, there was not – never had been – a man by the name of Fortunato! Therefore, no man had suffocated alone in the vaults of the manse that I now owned, nor starved, nor died of fear and despair and betrayal; therefore there was no body hanging, shackled, behind a wall, mute evidence to the depravity of my line; therefore I must snuff the candle so that I may sleep through the night and wake in the morning to make the preparations to sell the wasting pile as fast as I may. Yet when I reached for the candle, my hand was shaking.
All at once I stormed up from the bedclothes, candle in hand, and was halfway to my chamber door before the freezing stones against my feet became unbearable. I dressed with undue haste in some of my warmest clothes, and then, candle in hand, I descended to the depths of the vaults.
It was indeed as damp and cold as I had thought: nitre hung from the walls and the ceiling like frost stiffened moss, and my breath fanned out in front of my face like a silent shroud. Everywhere there were racks, filled haphazardly with empty bottles of wine stacked one upon the other, and glass fragments of brilliant colors that would have dignified a cathedral glittered on the floor. As I searched amongst the wreckage for a torch, I cursed the biting air and my cousin’s drunken, wastrel heart – then, warming my hands one at a time by the new flame  that threw the lurking shadows of the catacombs into stark relief, I blew out my candle and placed it upon the steps.
The catacombs of the Montressors were vast, descending deep beneath the Palazzo in long, winding passages cut into the rock of the hill beneath – vaults and caverns older by far than the Montressors. It would be far too easy to lose myself amidst the walls of piled bones, the emptied barrels and flagons, which grew only more deeply encrusted with white nitre as I descended yet another stair, passed under another series of low arches, and began to come upon the small bones of rats mixed in with the powdery debris of human existence. The air became oppressive – not yet foul, but heavy with the weight of the earth above me, the dust that stirred at my footsteps, the ever-present smoke of my torch and the silence that, save for my footsteps and the hiss and crackle of my light, reigned inviolate.  Though I knew it to be only a trick of the mind, I fancied myself able to see a deeper weight to the shadows, as if they had passed beyond mere darkness, out of the reach of my torch, and into some life and animation of their own – as if they moved of their own accord, a sort of antithesis to light rather than it’s mere absence. As I stood and the faint, wet echo of my footsteps died away, the silence grew louder, until I felt that my heartbeat must be as loud as a drum, my breath the sound of a whirlwind, the very blood in my veins the roaring of the ocean.

I should be pleased when I was finally quit of this place, and all the morbid fascination that it contained. Let some foolish scholar, some young pomp pleased with his own fortune inherit this gloom, this reproachful silence!

Gripping the torch in fingers that felt raw with cold, I descended once more to the lowest level of the crypts, far below the bed of the river. The air had grown from merely still to actively foul, and the flame of my torch sank low against the wood. Although there seemed no reason for any rational being to enter, these chambers were also filled with bones - in the smallest, they were stacked on three sides and scattered across the floor, surrounding a curious wall, where some bones were clumsily stacked across three feet of space between a pair of rough hewn pillars was sealed with badly mortared stones.

Though I did not remember all that my departed cousin had said on the matter, I knew without a doubt that this was the place. Here were the bones of the quiet dead, thrown down to clear the way for his delusions. There was a dark niche fit only for hiding the most gruesome of secrets – here too was the foul air that would quickly kill a man with a chronic shortness of breath, the oppressive darkness and the silence that might drive him mad with fright when he recognized the onrushing pace of his own death. How must he have gasped, fighting to breathe against the crushing weight of the earth above him, when my own breathing was even now a little labored? How must his heart have beat its way out of his chest as he saw the face of one he counted friend distended by the madness of vengeance for some unforgotten ill? How must he have died, despairing, alone save for the nameless, faceless bones complacent in their tomb, filled with the body and yet empty of the soul of the house of the Montressors –

With a cry I threw down my torch and seized the first object to hand – a trowel thrown down amidst the bones – and I hacked at the wall. I would prove that this was nothing but a phantasm, brought on by the disturbed mind of my mad cousin! I would open the wall and see only a dark passageway, bricked up to stop the foul vapors from rising, the memory of which had prompted Montressor to elaborate upon his invented revenge! I would have peace, would sleep at night in the house I now owned, would, by destroying the very foundations of his delusions,  exorcize the ghost of the last of the Montressors!

The masonry crumbled beneath the tip of my trowel, never having been dry enough to set, and the first block fell almost upon my feet. I could see nothing beyond it in the dim light, so I yanked out first one stone, then another, until they came crashing down in a ragged wave and I jumped back, seized my torch, and thrust it into the opening, already giving a little cry of exultation as the light reached smooth granite, empty of all save a rusty band of what must be metal, no, two, a pair of chains depending from them –

My cry of exultation gave way to a gasp of horror as I saw the truth. The years had not quite mummified him, though the nitre must have to some degree counteracted the damp – in  places the sagging skin peeled back from the bones, and there was no way of knowing , save for the rags of the oversized garb he wore, that the corpse had once been a large and fleshy man. Yet I knew – I knew it with a certainty that to this day shakes my bones, that still causes me to see in my mind the skeletal, half-rotted face with hair that might pass for a living man’s hanging down around it – that this was the mortal remains of Fortunato, bound in chains to the stone wall. His cap bore three bells: it must once have been motley.

Happy (early) Haloween, everyone.

Yes, I wrote a fanfic of The Cask of Amontillado. Blame [ profile] medleymisty for that: she assured me that Zombie Poe would not actually rise from his grave to come snack on my brain for it. I'm crossposting it to my AO3 account (Quill_of_Thoth) just as soon as I figure out how to make that work.

Previously on Poe will rise from his grave and eat my brain: I Was no Annabel Lee.

scribal_goddess: (Default)
In Medias Restitution;
Being an Account of the Noble, Refined and Courtly Love of a Dragon for his Horde

The knight and the princess glanced around the bejeweled cavern and the dragon’s gleaming horde. It looked like a museum, with swords and cups and shiny bits of broken glass lovingly arranged on fire-scarred antique tables, set into alcoves in the rock, or stacked in tottering piles.

To the knight it meant just one thing: treasure.

“Well,” the knight declared, “I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.” He didn’t add and cart away all the gold, because it didn’t do to talk of crude matters like money and treasure in front of a high-born lady, even one who sounded like she’d swallowed several books of etiquette and was still waiting for them to stop blocking her insides. “I mean, if I wasn’t busy saving you from the dragon,” he amended gallantly, because she was after all a princess, and her father was richer than Croseus.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will bee held by anybody else, these pages must show,” the princess declared, rather dramatically given that she was wearing a crooked crown and her skirts were singed to the knee, “For that matter, though I thank you for the attempt, it’s really not worth your while. I am perfectly content here.”

“In a dragon’s den,” the knight replied, incredulous.

“Prejudices,” lectured the princess, “it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones. I do not fault you on your lack of enlightenment, as it is clear by your mode of speech that you have not been fortunate enough to receive a good education, and now make your way by common thievery even from our bescaled brethren.”

The knight rolled his eyes at her, princess or no. “Look, sweetheart,” he said, “I’ll put it to you  this way: there’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours. And that dragon has claws that would go right through your body like a knife through butter, and it doesn’t care for your fancy manners or your pretty face. It’s an animal.”

“The dragon is far better spoken than you, churl!” the princess replied, blushing furiously, “Was that remark intended to be romantic? It came off as rather lewd.”

“Well, excuse me, princess,” said the knight, “and my lack of education. If you’re coming with me, I’m leaving now before the dragon wakes up, so you have two minutes to decide.” He then deliberately turned his back on her and began stuffing his pockets (there was no use facing off against a dragon in plate armor unless you wanted to be a pre-cooked can of spam) with the highest denomination coins he could find. Call it insurance, just in case he wasn’t getting paid for a princess rescue after all.

“Well, I do miss my mother,” said the princess, “and regular baths.”

The knight tuned out her soliloquy on the virtues of personal hygiene as they headed out through the tunnels. In his personal opinion, the princess talked entirely too much and if she expected this to be some sort of romantic entanglement born of a heroic rescue and instant chemistry, he’d take the cash please.

In the heart of the mountain, the dragon awoke, though the knight and princess had all but forgotten him.

It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him. Dragons may not have much real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule, especially after long possession, and Smaug was no exception. In addition, he was possessed of a keen sense of smell and knew that there was an additional human, species Chevalier Errant, in his perfectly climate-controlled catacombs. Except for the Princess, who had been shaping up to be an excellent assistant archivist, it was only logical to assume that humans only had one thing in mind: theft.

That was why, when Smaug came roaring out of the tunnels, he did not flame at the mouth – he’d lost precious renaissance paintings that way in the past, and he still had heart palpitations at the thought of what could have been, were he less careless – but he did smoke enough to give the knight a fright. After all, if the man dropped the treasure Smaug could get his new archivist to polish it (one of the advantages of having opposable thumbs) and then file it away, and not even bother chasing the theif.

The thief fled like a mouse. Smaug pounced like a twenty ton cat.

Author's note: This was produced as a quote-based writing prompt, wherein a love story (in this case, between a dragon and his treasure,) was produced by incorporating randomly selected quotes. The quotes used are, in order:

"I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it." As You Like It, by William Shakespeare.

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will bee held by anybody else, these pages must show." David Copperfeild, by Charles Dickens.

"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones." - Charlotte Bronte

"There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours." The Princess Bride, written by William Goldman.

Well, excuse me, princess." The Legend of Zelda

It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him. Dragons may not have much real use for all their wealth, but they know it to an ounce as a rule, especially after long possession, and Smaug was no exception." The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
scribal_goddess: (scribbles)
Here's a small sample of the completed and currently updating webcomics that I've read in the past year or so, or am still reading. Most of them are fantasy, mystery, or adventure comics - the only rules I gave myself about throwing this list together is that they have to have made it through at least one chapter, updated within the last two months (otherwise you can get some dead comics,) and have to have a central plot, rather than being slice-of-life comics. Then I stirred myself up by deciding to promote the more obscure works, with highly involved art, in preference to popular, monolithic long-runners like Girl Genius, Gunnerkrigg Court, and Order of the Stick.

All links will dump you on the comic's first page on their own website. I've updated some of the descriptions and trigger warnings as of June 2014 so nobody gets taken by surprise.

Pictures, links, and summaries under the cut )
scribal_goddess: (scribbles)
Somehow I got into the habit of doing these things, but today I feel quite lazy.

Last Year's highlights:
January: I put out one chapter (yes, I know... all the blame is mine,) of The Elven Heritage Legacy last year. For those of you who showed up to the journal at some point since last January, The Elven Heritage Legacy is a serial Sims 2 machinomic in a Legacy format, wherein we follow the descendants of a single family... or in this case, because I hate following the rules, four families of Elves who have emigrated from the vaguely medival-ish world of Elphemera to areas in and surrounding the modern, mildly rural community of Riverblossom Hills.

Since I have no clue when I started the EHL anymore (I think it was some time in the summer of 2010 or even earlier... my notes say that the first post was in late August of 2009,) I'm counting this year as the official fifth year of my legacy. New readers be warned - I didn't take the first five or so chapters seriously beyond editing for grammar and consistency. The quality has increased exponentially since then, so it might be best to hop in at The Three Musketeers part two or three. Or if you want the quick version, start with Memoria. Either way, the EHL is by no means required reading, and definitely not dead, despite my extremely awful updating schedule. The next chapter, Sophomoric, will be chapter twelve on my official counter and out soonish. Emphasis on the ish.

June: I went to Israel. I also dug up some stuff. I saw every single Corinthian column in the country, it seems like. I then came home and spent the rest of the summer working on the Thesis which shall not be named, which went badly enough that I had to start over.

August - December: I worked on Thesis, take two. I also researched and wrote Poor Unfortunate Souls, the forty-thousand-odd word novella length spitefic that was born after I got so mad that Fifty Shades of Grey existed that I decided to research the crimes that were actually committed in the book and end it as civilization, human decency, and common sense intended: with Christian Grey's arrest. The fic was primarily intended for members of [ profile] das_sporking, and anyone else who likes mysteries, hates Fifty Shades, or blunders by my journal. As of the new year, I'm cross-posting what chapters I haven't already shamelessly promoted to [ profile] twispitefic.

Longtime browsers over here might sort of recognize the two detectives starring in Poor Unfortunate Souls, probably from snippets of my past attempts at Nanowrimo. Allie Veldon, mage (not wizard or magician, thank you!) and Lindsay Pilot, detective, are in fact part of their own original series, which brings us to my plans for 2014: I'm having a go at writing their first novel, Switchpoint, during spring semester. So I'll probably babble about that at some point without giving you guys anything much to read for it, as I intend at some point to try and get them published. :D

New Year's Resolutions:

1) Finish Thesis and then forget it ever happened. I have to defend the sucker in March. After March, assuming I pass, I can cheerfully kick the monstrosity to the curb, secure in the knowledge that I will never have to do it again and that I hate academia anyway.

2) Graduate. I've been at my college four years - longer than I've known most people who actually come to this blog. While I'm terrified to leave, it's high time for me to go, and Roommate has already expressed her desire to move to the city with me, where we will hopefully have accomplished resolution 3.

3) Get a Job. I'm looking at a lot of chemistry/practical microbiology/water and food safety type of jobs for now. I've been told conflicting things about the job market. I keep hearing of places that supposedly will hire graduates right out of school  because they're so focused that they don't care if you have higher education, they'd have to train you on their instruments regardless of how many degrees you have.

The dream job is one at the state water and food safety lab. The c-string backup option is water management... for those of you not in the know, that's often water reclamation, as in purification of wastewater.


4) Move out. Insofar as I live anywhere, since I am a college gypsy, I live above my parents' garage in a room stacked full of boxes, because the damn things follow me from school to home like needy puppies. Assuming I get a job, somewhere, I'd prefer my own place by this time next year, and I'm sure my parents would prefer it too. (I know this because my mother keeps giving me secondhand furniture and dishes.) I'd prefer to get it with Roommate, and potentially some of the other girls from college, but that all depends on who gets jobs and grad schools where. We've located a suitable rental as a best-case-scenario, and for me the worst case scenario continues to be waking up whenever the garage door opens or closes.

5) Write Switchpoint. It's high time for me to finish something geared towards actual publication. I've had Allie and Lindsay as characters for nearly the same amount of time that I've had everyone from the Elven Heritage Legacy. This won't be appearing on Live Journal (undoubtedly, yelling about the research process will, because there's always something you haven't yet researched,) but it's a major goal nonetheless. I've been writing more or less continuously since I was seven, and though college has done it's best to throw a monkey wrench into that fifteen-year streak, I think I've done my ten thousand words by now.

Switchpoint is a dieselpunk science-fantasy mystery (with a cherry on top) involving smuggling, the mob, sarcastic detectives, take-no-shit police officers, a railway timetable (or several), magic, and lots and lots of trains. You will not believe how many trains there are.

6) Put out the yearly two chapters of The Elven Heritage Legacy. In theory, doing this will keep me more or less sane through research, job hunting, graduation, and the mysterious world of actual adulthood.
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)
Haven't finished reading Poor Unfortunate Souls yet?

That's okay. All but two of Christian Grey's crimes were committed canonically, over the course of Fifty Shades of Grey and the first nine or so chapters of Fifty Shades Darker. This is just the list of ones that I managed to research.
Christan Grey’s crimes according to Washington State Law, and his subsequent sentencing:

Warning: Christian Grey's Crimes include stalking, rape, kidnapping, identity theft, unlawful imprisonment, physical, psychological, and financial abuse, and if I've missed something, let me know. I went for the big ones during the sentencing. Every one of these crimes is supported by evidence within canon.
Rape in the first and second degrees. (In canon, he 1. breaks into Anastasia’s apartment after delivering a threat to rape her, 2. threatens physical harm to her in his parents’ boathouse unless she has sex with him, 3. Just read any chapter with a sex scene in it, there will be coercion involved (second degree), 4. Any of the several times he got Ana drunk (second degree).)  Rape in the first degree is a class A felony and has a minimum sentence of ten years, and in Washington the convicted party has no chance of a reduced or deferred sentence, and cannot be released in the first three years of his imprisonment.

My jury recommended a minimum of ten years for Leila, ten years for Sophia, and ten years for Anastasia. (30+)

Improperly Obtaining Financial Information, Identity theft (He has the bank account numbers and social security numbers of all fourteen of his victims in canon. In the fic he also transferred funds from his victims’ accounts. Welch is canonically an accomplice in the act of obtaining this information and was also charged.)

Since there are fourteen counts, Grey and Welch are repeat offenders, making their identity theft felonious each time even if they hadn’t stolen anything. As we know from canon that he has messed with Anastasia Steele’s bank account to the tune of at least $24,000, (adding it is still a crime, because he got in there illegally - would it have killed him to write a check?) and felony identity theft is a minimum of two years plus restitutions. *Warning, it’s a PDF. My jury went for two years per girl. (28+, for a total of fifty two years so far.)

Kidnapping in the Second Degree (In canon, he attempts to carry Ana away by force. Ana didn’t press charges in this fic, but Sophia did.) Kidnapping in the second degree with sexual intent is a Class A felony and holds a minimum sentence of ten years.

My jury gave him a minimum of ten years for Sophia, ten years for Leila, and three for Anastasia, who didn't speak against him. (23+ or seventy five years so far.)

Unlawful Imprisonment (He had Leila involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital in canon. This is illegal. After the timeline between canon and my fic diverged (June 11) he also had Leila restrained and held within the private practice of his therapist, which is also both awful and illegal.)

Unlawful Imprisonment is a class C felony, and according to Washington state law, knowingly restraining someone is Unlawful Imprisonment. This can, to the best of my knowledge, be added to the kidnapping charges above, so if we say three years each for Leila, Sophia, and Anastasia, our current total is eighty four years in prison.)

Stalking (This is absolutely and completely canon. Instances of stalking in this fic which occurred to Leila or Sophia in this fic are either canon or are legally identical to those experienced by Anastasia Steele to the best of my knowledge.) I did not find a minimum sentence for stalking, mostly because I’d already racked up close to ninety and was more interested in the Unlawful Imprisonment.

My jury recommended a year each for stalking Leila, Sophia, and Ana, but my inner judge would like to give him an additional four for his contribution to Leila’s mental state. Officially, we’re at eighty seven.

Custodial interference in the first degree. (He used Leila’s personal and financial information to control her medical and mental health treatment in canon. He has no legal relationship to her whatsoever, being neither her husband nor her next of kin, and should have no right to dictate her treatment even if Leila was found to be temporarily or permanently incompetent to decide her own treatment.)
Custodial interference is a class C felony, which probably means a minimum of two years or so. Our total is now at eighty nine years.

Perjury and contempt of court. (Grey lies so often in canon with no concern for whether or not Ana or anyone else will discover the truth that adding perjury to his list of charges was pathetically in character. All that I really needed to do was make sure that the judge was female to guarantee that he’d make a misogynistic comment that would get him charged with contempt.) this is the only crime listed in this sporking that he has not outright committed in plain sight in canon.

My jury gave Grey a year for being an unrepentant dickwad and for insulting the judge, bringing the total up to ninety. (Okay, so the words ‘unrepentant dickwad’ probably didn’t feature in the jury’s actual report.)

I don’t know much about sentencing, so I went with the minimum for all that I could pin on him. It's possible that I undercut it, yet it still came out to a lifetime. Your romantic hero being eligible for a lifetime in prison is a sign that you’re writing romance and likeable heroes wrongly.

Many, many thanks to Gehayi and to Ket Makura for sporking Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker as well as helping me find several of Christian’s crimes. If anyone knows of ones that I have missed, feel free to add them here. If anyone has more legal knowledge than me (I’m an environmental science [chemistry/biology/geology] major, after all,) then feel free to correct me here!
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)

In the end, they had to move the trial out of Seattle. It was a preventative measure to keep Grey’s relative fame from influencing the jury – and to keep the jury relatively free of past connection to any of his businesses. Before the trial, however, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc filed for bankruptcy: an infamous CEO is not good for stocks, even when the board of directors is only too eager to fire him in an attempt to save their public image. I lost track of the financial wrangling after a while, but it appears that after the bankruptcy, the company shook off its various investments and emerged more or less in one much smaller piece, under a different name, with different management. It was bought up almost instantly by an electronics company named after a raincoat.

The trial itself took nearly a week. Grey was charged with fourteen counts of felonious identity theft, stalking, unlawful imprisonment, custodial interference, kidnapping, rape in both the first and second degree, and to top it all off, perjury and contempt of court when he lied about each and every one of his charges and screamed across the room that the judge was a filthy whore.

Nobody sitting on the side of the prosecution was surprised in the least. Especially not when the jury took only six hours to find him guilty of all charges, and to recommend a sentence of ninety years or life imprisonment.

Grey’s evidence against Elena Lincoln was not considered admissible by the court after he had already lied on the witness stand. The sudden lack of financial aid from Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc and the lawsuit that her husband brought against her within the month, however, ruined her personal fortune, and would have ruined Esclava if Franco hadn’t bought it right out from under her, at what I’m told was a ridiculously cheap price. He allowed all of the workers to stay with the company if they wanted to, and before long the chain, renamed Liberté, was open again. Nobody ever asked where he’d gotten the money, but rumor had it that he had an older sister who had decided to fund the purchase.

Sawyer and Taylor were tried separately for their involvement in Grey’s crimes, and found to have only been accomplices under extreme duress, so they were each given a year of community service. The last I heard, Sawyer was teaching a practical self-defense class and volunteering at the humane society rehabilitating neglected dogs, and Taylor was working for a nonprofit dedicated to raising money and awareness for a variety of mental health disorders, and driving down to Oregon every weekend to see his daughter Sophie.

Although Leila and Sophia testified against Grey, Anastasia Steele did not. It seemed to me that she still didn’t understand what he’d done wrong, and I wondered how deep you could sink into denial without drowning in it. After the trial, she left Seattle.

It bruised my heart all over again when Kate called us to say that Ana had found out she’d hired us to investigate, and proceeded to blame Kate for everything, before packing her things and moving to Georgia to stay with her mother while she looked for a new job. I told Kate that she’d done all she could, and that it was the right thing, but I’m not certain it sank in.

Some people will always hate you for saving them.

Allie and I took on a few more cases that summer, but by late August we both felt that we’d overstayed our welcome in that world. The days, never terribly warm in Seattle, had already started to loom down to fog and soon the mysterious scent of wet leaves would be in the air. It was time to go home.

With the kind of timing that would do a psychic proud, Officer Rayne turned up for an impromptu visit on the very day that we’d finished packing everything up, donated everything we couldn’t carry, and run out the lease.

“Going somewhere?” she asked in surprise, raising an eyebrow at the sight of our apartment, completely bare except for the furniture that had come with it.

“Home,” I said to her, and didn’t bother explaining further.

“I forgot, you’re not from around here, are you?” Since she was standing in our doorway and wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon skunk on it, the question was unofficial as well as rhetorical. “Business in town not what you expected?”

“Anything we can do for you?” Allie asked her. The hurrying but supposedly casual tone she used never works on cops. They see right through it.

Officer Rayne was not the exception that proved the rule. “Yes, actually,” she said, taking a step forward into the empty apartment, “You used to be a stage magician, right? Now, I know how you saw a lady in half and put her back together, but I’m still curious as to how you break a reinforced security door neatly down the middle and forget to put it back the way you found it.”

I exchanged a glance with Allie. We’d planned to be gone in fifteen minute, and this looked like a long conversation if Officer Rayne got any traction.


She cut me off in the middle of stepping forward. “Ah, yes – I forgot, half the show is really the assistant doing all the work. Why don’t you tell me how you managed to get into the Fairmont – and the Escala building, for that matter?”

“She’s not my assistant,” Allie said, sighing. “And for that matter, I’m not a stage magician and never was.”

Officer Rayne’s eyebrows tried to reunite themselves with her scalp.

“Why don’t you sit down?” I asked her. “The furniture’s still here.”

With a completely unnecessary roll of her eyes, Officer Rayne parked herself in a chair and Allie and I took the fold-out couch. I gave Allie a little prod with my foot, seeing as the explanation here was more of her department.

Allie poked me back and went for the blunt force approach. “I’m not a stage magician, I’m a real mage. I bend the laws of physics, and I can prove it to you.”

For a moment, Officer Rayne just stared at us. Then she frowned. “You’re a wizard?”

“If you need a title, I prefer Mage,” Allie replied.

“Are you for real?” asked Officer Rayne in disbelief.

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t pay any attention to her,” I advised the officer, “There’s an unnecessarily complicated system of titles and responsibilities to go with those two words where she grew up. She keeps getting bent out of shape when people who don’t know any better use the wrong one. The only thing that you really have to remember is not to call her Lady Veldon – that’s her sister.”

Officer Rayne blinked. “You’re what, European nobility? You don’t have an accent.”

Allie smiled. “Further away than that.”

It took a moment – and a few blinks – for Officer Rayne to work her way to the next question. “Okay, then, what does she do?” she asked, tilting her chin at me.

“I see auras,” I explained.

“… Auras,” she repeated, “like… new age medicine and crystals and Ouija boards and dancing around Stonehenge kind of auras?”

“No. I see magic,” I corrected her, “Or, if you want to get really technical, I have a form of synesthesia that allows me to see extra energy leaking into our part of the multiverse as colored lights, noises, smells, and other fun sensations. Some people, like Allie, are able to harness a fair bit of that energy, while other people, like you and me, get only a little of that energy attracted to us.”

She seemed to consider it. “You’re aware of how completely nutty you sound, right?”

“Extremely aware,” I told her, “If it helps, I was still shocked when I found everything out, even though where I grew up everyone knew that magic existed, even if they mostly ignored it.”

“Where you grew up.” Officer Rayne was fast becoming an expert at making a flat, bemused statement and having it interpreted as a question.

“It was a completely different world,” I explained, with more than a little sense of the irony. “To make a very long story extremely short, there are plenty of alternate worlds due to the technical nature of the actual high level laws of physics, and Allie can travel between them: I’m just riding shotgun.” Seeing the officer’s look of blank disbelief, I turned to Allie. “I think you’d better prove to her that we’re not completely crazy,” I said.

Allie sighed. “Pick a piece of furniture -”

“No,” Officer Rayne cut in, “You don’t get to pick the proof – it could be rigged somehow. Here,” she said, pulling a pen out of her bag.

“Turn this into a caterpillar.”

“Transfiguration only happens in fairy tales and fantasy novels,” Allie replied, “pick something that is actually possible in the real world without breaking the laws of physics.”

As she spoke, the pen slowly and smoothly lifted off the table, floating upwards until it came to a rest in front of Officer Rayne’s face. She gaped at it for a second before she snatched it out of the air and felt it all over for wires.

“Right, what else can you do?” she asked quickly. “Because, assuming that you didn’t find a way to rig that, I need to know. Is it just the stuff from Matilda, or do you need a wand?”

“Fire’s always easy,” Allie replied. “Got a post-it?”

Officer Rayne offered her a folded napkin instead, and Allie took the pen back from her and scratched a perfunctory string of symbols. Then she held it in front of her face and we all watched it combust.

“The symbols help, but aren’t always necessary, unless you want to do something specific,” Allie explained, as the flames turned from yellow to blue to green, then to red, “They also keep things from getting out of hand, and once you start the spell, you don’t have to worry as much about getting distracted. Some people still prefer speaking the spell, or tend to get caught short. I can do this in my head and you’d never know it was me, but I’ve been in practice since I was five, so you probably don’t need to worry about meeting anyone else who can.”

The flame went out. Officer Rayne leaned forward and snatched up the charred napkin. “How many of you are there?”

“Usually, about one in every twenty has enough magic to use,” I told her, “But around here, on your world? I’ve got no way to be sure, but I doubt it’s more than one out of a hundred, and most of those would probably go through life never knowing.”

“We don’t mean for you to worry too much about mages,” Allie added, “But you do deserve to know.”

Now the officer’s look was calculating. “If I learn the symbols, then I can tell if magic’s been used -”

She broke off as Allie shook her head. “The words and symbols don’t have any power, really,” Allie said, “They’re more of a means of focus, or a bit like a personal programming language. You train yourself to direct energies according to this or that command, and since you’re the conduit, they’ll keep on behaving that way when your back is turned, rather than, say, starting a forest fire.”

Officer Rayne winced visibly, then seemed to settle into her disappointment. “All right. I’ve seen enough movies to know that playing with the forces of nature isn’t actually a good idea, no matter how much I’d like to be able to use the Force,” she said, “I’ll probably have more questions in a minute, but for now I’ll settle for knowing why both of you took such extra measures against Christian Grey.”

Once again, Allie and I traded a look.

“We were concerned that he might be controlling his victims through magic,” I told Officer Rayne, “as it turns out, he wasn’t, but -”

“You mean that mind control actually exists?” she interrupted, suspiciously.

Beside me, Allie twitched in her seat, and I laid a stilling hand on her knee. “Not precisely,” I said, “It’s more subtle than that – the best scientists have only just been able to start pinning down the possible particle physics behind magic, it’s interactions with the mind are completely unknown -”

“Cut the lecture, I’m here for the evidence,” said Officer Rayne, leaning forward in her seat, “If there’s any possibility that someone’s out there, doing awful things to people with magic -”

“Then you’ll never hear about it,” Allie cut in darkly. “You wouldn’t even know about it if it happened to you. You’d go on seeing what he wanted you to see and the only way you’d ever know is if he made a mistake. And if you ever meet someone with that sort of ability, my only advice is to shoot him dead on sight.” Her eyes were digging holes into Officer Rayne, and I reached over and squeezed her hand.

“The chance of that is about one in four billion, or even less, near as we can tell,” I said, trying to be comforting.

Officer Rayne still looked alarmed. “That means that there’s probably one or two of them out there in the world right now,” she protested.

“Everyone chooses what they do with their gifts,” I replied. “If it’s any comfort, we can’t even be sure that the membrane of this universe is even thin enough to let that amount of energy through. The turbulence when Allie and I arrived was unbelievable.”

It was a poorly timed joke, and earned me a look of utter disbelief from Officer Rayne, but the tightness in Allie’s face and eyes uncoiled.

“Backing up a step,” I continued, “when I observed Christian Grey’s aura, it appeared to consume the auras of women that he interacted with, and it left… traces on some of his victims.” I stumbled over the thought of those twining grey vines, but continued on quickly. “There are some things that can leave a mark on a person’s aura other than magic – the onset of some mental illnesses, traumatic events, travel between worlds done very wrong – so, while I couldn’t rule out the possibility that Grey was a mage, I also couldn’t rule out the possibility that his physical actions were causing those traces.” Especially since I’d heard Sophia’s story before I’d checked her aura, so there had been no way to tell if my brain was incorporating what I already knew, or if the disorganized part of my brain that actually took in and sorted that particular type of energy was even functioning properly at the time.

I was used to second guessing my own brain by that point, but that didn’t mean that I had to like it.

Allie took over. “Of that one in twenty people who are potential mages, four out of five are usually what we call latent mages: people who have a borderline capacity to direct energy, or who have simply never tried it due to lack of knowledge, lack of training, or lack of dedication. People like that can sometimes use their abilities, but they tend to be sort of one-trick ponies. Some are, say, extremely lucky at cards, or very good with animals. In a lot of cases it can be more of a charismatic thing – people are drawn towards that energy, even if you don’t use it and nobody but Lindsay can see what’s going on.”

“But for most people, their latency does nothing unless they’re in a very dangerous situation,” I added, “focused by fear or desperation, really. Then it kicks in and you get things like mothers lifting cars off their children, soldiers dragging wounded comrades impossible distances to treatment, people surviving for amazing amounts of time without food or water, that sort of thing.”

“What she’s trying to say is that we did some extra digging on Christian Grey between his arrest and his trial,” Allie put in helpfully. “His adoptive parents, Carrick Grey and Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey, have been quite public in the past about their middle son’s adoption and -”

“I actually look these things up,” Officer Rayne reminded us, “Clearance, and all that, which neither of you officially has.” She didn’t sound too much like she was scolding us though, just thoughtful. We’d dumped a lot of information on her in the past half hour. “You think that his magic got, um, triggered or something due to child abuse, and it sort of - if this is even possible – takes energy from other people?”

“If it does, this would be the first case we’ve seen,” I said. “But it would explain why his aura seeks out women, and since your magic is part of your mind, it’s entirely possible that when he seeks out a young woman who reminds him of his mother, he’s breaking down her resistance with his aura before any of his other abuses start. There’s a very small field of research starting up a few worlds over that suggests that sudden changes in the amount of extradimensional energy you receive can have a negative impact on your mental health.” I shrugged, not knowing how else to explain it.

“So the abused became the abuser, is that what you’re saying?” Officer Rayne asked, settling back and crossing her arms. “I’d say that if you take out all of the psi-ability mumbo jumbo, that’s hardly an original statement.”

“Well, it’s what I’ve got,” I replied. “If there’s anyone else in the multiverse who sees auras, I’ve missed them in passing, but you’re free to consult them if you like.”

“Linds, knock it off,” Allie said. “She’d be lost even if you’d given her a textbook. And that’s not a comment on your competence,” she added, turning to Officer Rayne, “but it’s just that we might as well ask you to wake up one day and start playing with the Higgs Boson -”

“Oh, so that does exist?” Officer Rayne asked.

“Well, there you go then,” Allie said, waving a distracted hand as she unfolded from the couch. “I know it’s a lot, and if we were planning to stay any longer we’d answer more of your questions, but… it’s how the world is. You’ll get used to it.”

Officer Rayne didn’t look so sure.

“What happens if we do start having problems with mages?” she asked.

Allie just winked at her. “We’ll check in from time to time.” It was only natural for Officer Rayne to worry, but given what we’d seen of this world, she’d never have a problem. Still, checking in wouldn’t hurt.

Once Officer Rayne had left, we locked up the apartment behind us, and nearly tripped over the package that had been left for us by the front mailboxes. There was a brown box about six inches tall, and a foot and a half by about a foot wide, addressed to both of us.

Allie slit the tape with a word and I picked up the postcard that was nestled on top of the wrappings. The writing on the back was tiny.

Allie and Lindsay,
Thank you for everything. It’s not enough, I know, but without you I wouldn’t be out here, or anywhere in particular, really.
I wanted to write earlier, but I just couldn’t find the words. There was too long that I couldn’t say anything, could hardly remember everything. My throat used to close up whenever I talked about anything that reminded me of it, but yesterday I finally talked to my mom. She cried, obviously. So did I. She’s been coming with me to all my doctor’s appointments, for emotional support I guess. Maybe to keep an eye on me? I don’t know though, it’s been kind of weird. I haven’t spent this long at home and actually been happy since I was eighteen.
Mark’s going to be back in a month. He says that if I want to stay separated or get divorced, he’s fine with it, and is behind me all the way. I don’t know, though. I mean, I’ve known Mark half my life, and I’ve always thought of him as something safe and solid, hard to move, just there. Supposedly, he had a crush on me since we were seventeen, but we really haven’t spent much time together since the wedding. He was only home a month before he went back to Iraq, and then I was in the hospital, and now I guess I’ll see. I don’t feel like an army wife, but maybe that’s a good thing. I’m thinking of commuting to school in spring term, depending on how things go.
Until then – see that lighthouse on the front? Yeah, I’m going to paint that.
-- Leila Cooper Williams

“Hey, she returned my coat,” Allie said, and dived into the box, effectively shredding the wrapping. “Got it washed too, I see.”

I smiled and tucked the postcard into my pocket as she shrugged on the trenchcoat, settling it on her shoulders like a superhero’s cape or a medieval cloak. Then she offered me her arm, and, as an afterthought, sent the packaging sailing towards the bins with a flick of her other hand.

“Ready?” she asked.

“For the next great adventure? Yes,” I replied, and we both stepped forward.

The afternoon sun shone merrily down on the square of sidewalk where we’d just been standing.
* Apparently, Lindsay still hasn’t acclimated to our world. You only get one guess as to which electronics company is named after a Scottish raincoat.
** Christian Grey’s multiple class A felonies are what racked up to ninety years. The fact that we as the audience know he has raped fourteen girls should put him well over ninety years alone, but given the amount of information available to my fictional Jury (not all the girls were able or willing to come forward,) he got as much as they could conclusively prove him guilty of, which is still complete removal from civilized society. I’m posting his crimes and my notes on them separately, as a sort of appendix.
*** Taylor and Sawyer’s sentencing might not be 100% realistic, but I think a sympathetic jury (such as the entirety of the readers of this fic) could probably settle on it. Let me know what you think.
**** Having Officer Rayne reference Harry Potter was tempting, but since this book is set in 2011 she’s a bit old for it to have been a sure bet. Matilda is by Roald Dahl, but it’s more likely that Emily Rayne has seen the 1996 movie.
***** The Higgs Boson was discovered on July 4 2012, and Fifty Shades is set in 2011.
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)

The thing about Seattle is that even the police stations are proud of their coffee.

Not that I was in any state to properly enjoy it; the combined forces of fading adrenaline, a long night, and boredom had caused me to take an unscheduled desk nap. A nap which was rudely interrupted by a hand holding a cup of what looked like suspicious station coffee, but tasted like the first step towards forgiveness, maybe mine.

I was really, really out of it.

“Well, well,” said an exasperated voice that I recognized from over the phone, “I should have guessed. What part of ‘do not confront Christian Grey’ didn’t you understand?”

I looked up at a scowl, which matched the uniform. Officer Rayne was in maybe her late thirties, early forties, had short hair, and looked like a particularly strict grade school teacher.

Well, it wasn’t the first time I’d faced the music after throwing the rules away when they kept me from doing the right thing. It was kind of a pity, though – I’d been starting to like Officer Rayne.

“I know you hear this all the time, but it sort of happened on accident.” I smiled at her without any real hope that it would help. After all, she was just doing her job, and I was undeniably in her way.

She snorted, then gestured at the other cop in the room, the one who had firmly cemented his role as good cop when he’d given me the coffee. I hadn’t noticed anything except that his hand held caffeine on the first go – now I saw that his hair was gathering around his ears out of some frantic herd instinct, and that he had the eyes of a long-time officer. Better yet, at least as far as I was concerned, he had a smirk threatening to escape his professional expression.

“Tell him that,” Officer Rayne said. “He’s Officer Cross.” Then she turned to him. “Frank, meet the newest pain in my ass.”

The smirk poked its head out the door. “The private detective?” Cross asked.

“One of two.” Officer Rayne’s exasperated sigh and the subsequent widening of the smirk were good signs.

I decided that was as good of an opening as any.

“Lindsay Pilot,” I put in. “Usually, I’d have come into the station under my own power, but…”

Officer Cross’ smirk was approaching Cheshire proportions. Apparently, word had gotten around the station while I’d been busy taking a desk nap.

“Miss Pilot,” he began, “We need to take your statement regarding the events of last night - well, earlier this morning,” he amended, checking his watch.

To make a very long story extremely short, I told him the essentials. There were holes in the story – usually magic-shaped ones – that I was just too exhausted to try and patch up, but Officer Cross didn’t ask me many questions. By the time I was finished, it was the dog end of the night and my mouth tasted like cold station coffee and a dead hamster. All I really wanted at that moment was to go home and crash on the bed, safe in the knowledge that Christian Grey was currently taking his nap in a cell. Maybe some time in the next century, I’d go boil myself in the shower.

Officer Rayne, who was a good cop with a healthy dose of cynicism, bought approximately fifty percent of it. Officer Cross, who was cast as the sympathetic cop today, just sat and listened and took notes. Lots of notes. Notes that I was too groggy to read upside down, even if he hadn’t been a good enough cop to keep his arm in front of them so an irrepressibly curious and irredeemably nosy witness couldn’t see what he was writing.

It might even have worked if I wasn’t too tired to get nervous, or even to give a damn.

I finished everything with a skull-splitting yawn. The coffee was gone, and it hadn’t even made a dent in my by now monumental caffeine tolerance.

Cross flipped through his notes. “So, in the time since you were last in contact with Officer Rayne, you and miss Aliea Veldon followed Christian Grey to Bellevue in order to observe his actions, have been harboring a fugitive from a mental hospital, followed said fugitive to Christian Grey’s place of residence, somehow came into contact with two members of his security team, discovered that he was staying at the Fairmont, immediately went to the Fairmont, again attempting to find said fugitive, and… entered the hotel room. You neglected to tell me how, by the way.” His voice was quiet and not quite amused any more. The smirk had disappeared some time during my statement.

I decided to cut to the chase. “You know it’s all in how you phrase it,” I told him, “I do actually know my job, and you’ll find that nothing that Allie and I have done in the course of our investigation has been against the law.”

Technically, we’d probably been guilty of trespass in Escala, but trespassing was one of those laws that’s easy for the police to ignore if nobody’s actually complained to them about it. I didn’t think that Taylor was going to complain. Besides, all they had was a vague glow on the security cameras.

“It’s your job to check, of course,” I added.

“Of course,” Officer Rayne replied dryly.

“As far as Leila being supposedly a fugitive from a mental hospital, Allie cleared that with Officer Rayne,” I added, “I’m not a psychologist, but I believe she’s been wrongfully imprisoned. She definitely wasn’t committed voluntarily, and she can’t have been committed here by a family member with power of attorney, because her husband is deployed and her parents are still on the east coast. As far as I know, she’s still listed as a missing person in Massachusetts.”

“She is, actually,” Officer Rayne told Cross, “I looked her up yesterday.”

“If you can get a hold of the records of the hospital in Massachusetts, as well as the one here, I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that you’ll find that Christian Grey or someone who traces directly back to him had her committed at both of them.”

Cross looked at me with subdued interest again, while Rayne seemed not to know whether to perk up or not.

“Did she tell you which hospital?” Cross asked me.

She hadn’t, and I sincerely doubted she was going to want to talk to me now. I realized that I was going to go home to that pile of neatly folded sheets on the pull out couch and the accusing silence that lurks in hollow places, like the inside of emptied soup cans and the extra mug sitting in the sink.

I shook my head. “I’d start from the one closest to Escala, or just the downtown area, and work my way out,” I said. “I think that maybe he’d have tried to keep her close by.” My unprofessional knowledge of psychology had firmly placed Grey in the box of ‘asshole who will milk the most human suffering possible out of any given situation.’ It wasn’t an unbiased assessment, but it was right anyway.

“That your hunch?” Cross asked mildly. I noticed that he’d dropped the whole somehow getting places at three in the morning angle of questions for the time being. The benefits, I supposed grimly, of cooperating with the police.

“We found Leila downtown,” I told him, “unless a twenty three year old woman who currently weighs about ninety pounds soaking wet and has two injured arms managed to walk all the way across Seattle after breaking out of a psychiatric ward, she hasn’t come from very far away.”

This time, Officer Rayne smirked at Officer Cross and he frowned at her.

“If you could tell us once more for the record why you went out hunting for your houseguest at three in the morning,” she continued, using the kind of professional voice that encourages you to fill in the blanks.

That sounded like a wrap-up question if I’d ever heard one. “She left us a note that she was going to confront Christian Grey,” I replied, summarizing quickly, “It was sort of imperative that someone find her and talk her out of it.”

“Did you fear that she would commit suicide?”

I’d known the question was coming and it still stuck sideways in my throat like a fishbone. I tried to explain and couldn’t get that barb of emotions out, so I swallowed quite a bit.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Any particular reason why?” Officer Rayne asked, leaning back and crossing her arms at me. “As you’ve explained to us, you’re not a psychologist. Why did you choose to go and try to help Leila on your own? Why not call in the police, especially if you thought she might force entry somewhere? Why not bring in a professional, someone who actually is qualified to assess the situation and to keep things under control?”

I’d thought I was too tired to be angry. What would have been a flash of irritation at the way that Officer Rayne had detached herself from the situation, the way she picked it all apart after the fact, on a full night’s sleep and in daylight, coiled behind my ribs.

“It’s not that -” I stopped myself before I said too much, forced myself to wait until my eyes no longer burned. “Look, I know the signs,” I told the officers, “you don’t have to be a psychological genius to -” I stopped myself again. It didn’t seem to be working. Anybody who says I have an analytical mind and a sharp tongue hasn’t seen me falling apart in a police station at the first wince of dawn after a difficult case. “She’s got scars from attempts,” I said instead. “Grey was abusive to her in every possible way, and I know that at least two of her attempts were prompted by contact with him. I should have called the police, but I thought we could catch her before she got to Escala, and you’ve already heard – and agreed with – my unprofessional opinion that she’d panic at the first sign that someone wanted to hospitalize her again. I can’t say I blame her.”

I pushed my glasses up and rubbed at my grainy eyes. A strain of music floated past my ear as I saw the dusty, denim blue haze of Officer Rayne’s aura. Something with horns. Bizzarely, I smelled the sweat of horses and had the distinct impression of gravel crunching under my feet. It was gone when I looked at her again through my glasses, and saw the wrinkles forming on her forehead, and the bags under her eyes that only come with living on a diet of coffee and useful work.

It was terribly quiet in the interview room for quite a few minutes. Long enough for my anger and frustration to saddle up and go out prospecting to find my lost adrenaline, and for disappointment to put on its house slippers. I presumed that I’d eventually be let go, and so would Allie. But they were going to put Leila in a tiny box again, at least until they’d contacted her parents and decided whether or not she should have been in a psychiatric ward in the first place.

I couldn’t help the feeling that I’d failed her.

“What’s going to happen to her?” I asked Officer Rayne. Her expression did a brief, bad impression of a smile.

“Special Victims is sorting out a safe place for her,” she said. “Pending an assessment to make sure she’s not still a suicide risk. She’ll contact you if she wants you to know any more, until then -”

“Yeah, I know. Give her some space.”

Officer Rayne walked me out down the halls dimly lit by the pre-dawn greyness coming in through the windows, which had already overpowered the buzzing fluorescents. Allie was sprawled on one of the benches, asleep with her face tucked into her elbow, looking for the entire world like napping on couches in police stations was ordinary and fairly comfortable. Rayne and Cross must have interviewed her first, before they got around to me.

I proceeded to shake her awake.

“What, no coffee?” she said to Officer Rayne as soon as she’d levered herself up from horizontal and was on her way to her feet.

“Only the first cup is free,” Rayne replied, a little sharply. I concentrated on her expression for the first time since I’d left the interview room, and wondered sleepily why she looked so frustrated. Then I wondered if she was angry at us. “If you’d been good little detectives, we might let you visit for a while, but as it is -”

“As what is?” I asked, and then found myself staring cross eyed down my nose at Officer Rayne’s finger.

“I don’t know what you two idiots thought you were doing,” she said in a very angry undertone, “but you came very close to jeopardizing this investigation. Grey is likely to press charges against you both, now that he’s got that expensive lawyer in there with him, and your names are all over our case files. Do you know how that looks to a judge, especially when your ex-military friend went all Die Hard and probably would have shot Grey if we got there a minute later?”

“Taylor’s more of an acquaintance,” said my mouth.

Even Allie glared at me.

“Look, I know your type,” Officer Rayne said to me, “You’re a smartass with an overdeveloped sense of justice who thinks that you can make a difference. In most circumstances, you’re probably even right about it, as long as you stay out from underfoot of official investigations. But when you do stick your fingers into the official pie, it’s not just a millionaire businessman sueing you – it’s days of police time fixing what you’ve screwed up, it’s contaminated crime scenes and crucial evidence that’s suddenly inadmissible, it’s disqualified testimony, it’s you potentially getting hurt or even killed. You think you’re Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Nero Wolfe, Dupin? You’re in the wrong century. After ten years of experience, you should know better than that.” She shook her head, stepped back, and glanced between me and Allie. “Both of you should. Just… go home. Don’t leave town, someone might decide to call you in later.”

With that, she turned and left.

So did we, racing the sun home in a cab. The world was just waking up around us: in half an hour or so, cars would race down the streets like ants down the corridors of an anthill, thoughts and instinct driving forward, building. Everyone in their appointed place, doing their appointed task. At dawn, the city no longer felt empty, but made of numbers and delicate gears, the way the mathematicians dreamed of it. It was a city that breathed the easier, I thought, now that it was no longer playing unwitting host to Christian Grey. It was the poorer for having failed Leila, and despite the early rays of the sun painting the buildings gold, I knew it would be a long while before my conscience let me forget how much better it would be if I could reach back and erase the past. If I stopped arriving just a minute too late.

When I opened the door to the apartment and the comforting hand of the sunlight between my shoulder blades was long gone, the spare sheets were still neatly folded on the couch, and there were still empty cartons of Chinese lying on the floor, collecting silence like dust, echoing with doubts.

I went to bed. Allie was there to chase the silence away.
* It’s not a modern detective drama if nobody banters with some friendly but disapproving officers of the law.
** Again, I owe Gehayi research kudos for figuring out which hospital Grey used to unlawfully imprison Leila. And for doing a damn lot of timelining and other detective work.
*** Officer Rayne may have been borrowing my reading list. Sherlock Holmes should be fairly obvious, but the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries are written by Dorothy Sayers, Nero Wolfe belongs to Rex Stout, and Dupin stars in Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue. Other book recommendations from my years long research project on how to write mysteries includes The Thinking Machine stories by Jaques Futrelle, Lord Darcy Mysteries by Randall Garrett, Inspector Lynley Mysteries (The TV series, not the books,) and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries.
**** Damn. I’d intended this to be much happier… but Lindsay’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility doesn’t necessarily allow for her to be happy when she thinks she could have done more to help someone. And I totally wanted sap but forcing it wouldn't have worked. There’s always the epilogue, though!
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)
Chapter Eleven: War Far From Over

Chapter Warnings: Mild fantasy violence, some regular violence, there are guns, mentions of rape and identity theft, PTSD again, big pile of conflicting goals, don't try this at home at your local hotel.

“What do you mean, you can’t find Leila?” asked Taylor, echoing my alarm. Allie looked like she was struggling to keep her concentration on her spell without actually speaking the words aloud.

Sawyer shot Allie and I a sidelong glance as he replied. “The files she was working on haven’t been copied, she’s not in any of the rooms, and as far as I know, she’s not in the apartment.”

“But where would she go?” I asked.

“I don’t know!” Sawyer almost shouted, turning from me to Taylor, “I leave her alone to do the job, and then she’s just gone - this was always a bad idea -”

“It was necessary,” Taylor said, cutting him off, his voice suddenly much brisker. “Shut up and think, private! If she’s not in the penthouse, she’s gone somewhere, and I want to know where!”

Sawyer was still blinking at being addressed as private, but I had a sneaking suspicion. “When you say you got Ana and Grey out of the apartment, how did you do that, exactly?”

“They went to the Fairmont,” Sawyer replied automatically, before realizing who was asking. “Is there a reason we’re telling them everything?” he said to Taylor in almost the next breath.

The Fairmont… Cleaned up, Leila looked so much like Ana… And she certainly hadn’t left our apartment earlier tonight intending to help two security guards sort papers.

I reached out and grabbed Allie’s hand, ruining her spell for good. “She’s gone to the Fairmont to confront Christian Grey,” I said.

“Stay here,” Taylor ordered us immediately, though we’d already turned for the door.

“Absolutely not,” Allie snapped back, and I was half way out of the room behind her again.

“I’m coming -”

“For God’s sake, stay and finish your job!” Taylor said to Sawyer, and that was the last thing I heard of the two of them before the four-step of Allie racing down the stairs with me drowned out all other sound, but not all other thought. We could get to the Fairmont Hotel on foot almost as fast as Taylor could by car. It was a good thing, I thought, that Allie and I were so used to running.

We settled on a high speed jog down Fourth Street, but when a dark grey car passed us doing about fifty five at Union Street, I knew we’d be walking in on the aftermath. We still ran the last block, dodged the lightweight bistro tables next door, nearly tripped over the shrubberies lurking in our way, and hit the doors at a breathless pace.

There was a minor commotion at the check-in desk, which was probably going to tie Taylor up a few minutes, but we weren’t headed there: Allie had already put her tracking spell to good use. “Upstairs,” she said, and we marched quickly past the front desk before anyone could think to stop us. Then there were even more stairs.

“I think,” I panted at Allie on the fourth floor, “that it was safe to use the elevator.”

She didn’t bother replying to that. “We’re close,” she said, and darted away, upwards and onwards, down the empty halls of the early-morning hotel, casting about for the right room.

Most mages who are more powerful than average, and moderately clever, can get regular, tumbler locks open with sufficient preparation: a spell that mimics a key might rely on changing air pressure, or a spell that detects the tumblers might aid a mage in picking the lock more traditionally. For key card doors, you have fewer options, but melting or destroying the latch is one of them.

Ever-subtle Allie cracked the door in half down the middle and pulled it out of its frame. We weren’t exactly spoiled for time.

It was a good thing that she did, because we were only just in time.

Lelia was standing in the middle of the room, gun pointed at Christian Grey.

I could say that I spent time examining the surroundings and coming to conclusions about the events that had lead up to this, but that would be a lie. I was more concerned that somebody might get shot – and though I wasn’t sure I’d weep tears of grief were Leila to put a bullet in a certain scumbag CEO, an untrained gunwoman running on revenge and almost twenty hours without sleep was not a good scenario.

Allie and I pulled up very short on the inside of the door.

I saw Leila’s hands trembling, Grey smirking at her, and the terrified face of Ana behind him in the second before her gaze flicked over to us, he lunged, and she pulled the trigger.

He was on top of her before the echo of the bang had faded, one hand around her throat while the other twisted her wrist around. The gun hit the ground before I was halfway across the room, knocking over an end table and a lamp that were in my way – and Allie tore Grey off

Leila with all the force of a minor hurricane, blasting him into a couch, which capsized backwards onto the floor with a thump.

“Lindsay, help Leila,” she said tightly, her spell keeping Grey pinned to the furniture.

I went and gently chivvied Leila up and off the floor. She was going to have some bruises on her neck and her wrist – thankfully it hadn’t been the injured one – but for now she was more shaken than damaged, and breathing in ragged little pants.

Unfortunately, miss Anastasia Steele chose that moment to try our patience.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she half-squeaked, half-shrieked, “What did you do to Christian? Who do you think you are?”

I’ve always entertained the thought that I can practically hear Allie’s eye-rolls; this one was a classic for all the senses. “Room service,” she replied, and Ana floundered in the depth of her sarcasm, gaping like a goldfish.

Meanwhile, Lelia had shaken herself together. “Why did you stop me?” she shouted, shoving me away and diving for the gun. I attempted to tackle her gently, which resulted in me getting a very sharp elbow to the face, which knocked my glasses askew for a blurry brightly washed-out moment. I shoved them back on.

“Leila, it’s all right, it’s me, I need you to calm down -”

“Traitor!” Leila screamed at me, “I could have fixed this! I could have won!” she kept screaming at me as she turned on me and started fighting back.

Allie had telekinetically shoved the gun out of the way, but Leila clawed at my arms and I had to practically sit on her. It was too easy – she was too shaky and weak, still – but I ended up with a throbbing eyebrow and scratches across my chin in the minute or so it took to subdue her. Once Leila was sprawled, exhausted on the floor, I registered that Ana was still shrieking at us and that the much lower pitched shouting was Christian Grey.

“SHUT UP!” Allie bellowed at them, and made a gesture that dumped Ana on her ass and pinned the struggling Grey back on the couch.
For a moment, there was blissful silence while I took the opportunity to surreptitiously work my jaw and try to pop my eardrums back into place. If the gunshot hadn’t woken the whole hotel, Allie certainly had.

“The police are on their way,” she informed everyone, and I could see that she was swaying on her feet with exhaustion, “so everyone shut up and sit down so they can arrest us all together, yeah?”

“They’ll take me back and put me away,” Leila said in a small and squashed voice – I was still holding her restrained by leaning on her.

I eased off her, but she didn’t bother moving even when I sat up properly. Instead, she lay there like a puppet with all its strings cut, empty even of anger.

“I never should have trusted you,” she said, and I heard her voice break.

I blinked a lot, and swallowed. I must have gotten dust in my eyes and throat during the fighting. Yeah, right.

Predictably, Grey sneered, looking at us all with cold, predatory eyes. “Do you know who you’ve just assaulted?” he asked, “By the time my lawyers are done with you, you’ll never see daylight again.”

“Christian will hire the most expensive lawyers in the country,” Ana piped up from where she was still sitting on the floor. This time, when she got back up, I saw that she was wearing a very ruffled silky nightgown that was in grave danger of eloping with gravity. “Don’t you understand? They’re going to sue you and put you in jail,” she said with a high, nervous laugh, “There was never any way that you could get away with this! Even if you could delude yourselves into working with this – this psycho,” she spat, pointing at Leila, “who just can’t give up – how did you ever think you could get away with this?”

Surprisingly, the fact that she had seen her asshole boyfriend tossed across the room by someone who hadn’t touched him, and the fact that she’d just been knocked on her ass with no apparent physical cause hadn’t entered her mayfly-sized brain.

“Actually, we’re here to make your boyfriend answer for his crimes,” I informed her, before deciding to ignore her completely in favor of trying to help Leila, who twitched away.

The running footsteps in the corridor had to be Taylor. Strange, how he was only a few brief moments behind us – the cops would be here soon.

“What the hell?” I heard him say when he saw the broken down door and the strange tableau before him.

“Taylor!” Ana cried when she saw him, “Leila attacked us!”

“This is your idea of a secure location, Taylor?” Grey barked at the same time, “Restrain this rabble immediately!”

“Don’t worry, Miss Steele, I’m on it,” Taylor said, not even bothering to acknowledge Grey, whose face was slowly going the color of an apoplectic fit, and crossed the room to Leila’s side right away, reaching for her elbow. “Come on, you’ve gotta get out of here,” he said to her in an undertone, but she flinched away.

Then he turned one of the most chillingly murderous glares I’ve ever seen on me. “What the hell did you do to her?” he growled as he stood up.

Allie had taken half a step towards us, despite needing to focus to keep Grey restrained, and I shook my head at her.

“Mr. Taylor,” I said quickly, “I swear to you that we are still on the same side -”

Shut up, now.”

“What do you think you’re doing, Taylor?” Grey demanded, and Taylor finally looked directly at him, letting an expression of satisfaction cross his face.

“What I should have done years ago, Sir,” he said, drawing his gun and pointing it at Grey. Because we needed this cat’s-cradle standoff to get even more convoluted. The only blessing was that Grey turned white and, miraculously, shut up.

“Drop it!” Ana shrieked, and my head snapped up – she’d picked up Leila’s gun and had it trained, shakily, on Taylor. “I can shoot, you know,” she continued uncertainly. “What do you think you’re doing? Doesn’t Christian deserve your loyalty after he generously used his money to save your daughter?”

Taylor didn’t look at Ana, but he didn’t shoot either.

“Miss Steele,” he said, “Your Christian Grey has ordered me to help him steal the identities of eight young women in the past four years, conduct illegal espionage, sabotage his competitors, and look the other way as he repeatedly beat, raped and persecuted young women such as yourself – all because I was desperate, and he offered to pay for the bone marrow transplants that saved my daughter Sophie’s life.”

Ana’s brain tried to turn over, but failed to gain any traction. “No,” she said, and her gun’s trajectory wandered around the room, “You’re lying, he wouldn’t do that, not my Fifty -”

“Police!” yelled a voice from the hallway, “Drop the guns and put your hands above your heads!"

* I owe Ket and her instructive videos from the sporking of chapter 8 research kudos for showing many ways how Taylor, Allie, and Lindsay could not only get into the Fairmont, but discover the room number and get through the door. I ended up going with magic anyway. :D

** Fairmont Pictures are here (scroll down) and here. I spent some time reconstructing the floor plan from the 360 tour, but it’s not perfect. I’m pretty sure based on that and logic that the hallway door opens on the living-room area with that fireplace, though.

*** … Yeah. Everyone who was rooting for the “rescue Ana” storyline, I stuck to the canon portrayal, where she is several ells deep in the Nile and has the self-preservation instinct of a frog in a saucepan.

**** Meanwhile, I’ve been sitting on my research into Leila’s mental state as suggested by canon, so have some research here. (Most of these are various legal perspectives, but I also have some research on Complex PTSD, which I found pretty valuable as a baseline source of different symptoms in PTSD from domestic violence and psychological abuse that aren’t always recognized in literature that focuses on post-combat PTSD.)

***** The fanwiki says that Grey pays for Sophie Taylor’s schooling (Incidentally, I named Sophia Colonomos before I knew that Sophie Taylor existed,) but Gehayi and Ket mentioned the possibility of a medical procedure in their sporks… and I’ll take them as more authoritative than the Wiki, any day, as the wiki editors don’t appear to have actually read the books. EDIT: Except the one who just dropped in to tell me that they lurk at Das-Sporking and that they've been trying valiantly to raise the overall content, but that they're fighting a lemming army to get shit done. Everyone, bow to the valiant anon who makes our research at least somewhat easier. (By the way, I also stand corrected in that it's never explicitly stated that Grey paid for any medical procedure for Sophia, but my headcanon has already diverged from canon at this point and will not be moved.) :D
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)

The staccato click of shoes grew closer, and a man in a grey suit entered the room.

My first thought was relief – he wasn’t Christian Grey – but he was still definitely armed and professional. I could tell because of the military stance and the earpiece, and decided, from the way that our captor subtly paid attention when he entered, without taking his eyes off of Allie or myself, that he was important.

It took a few seconds for my brain to click into gear beyond registering that I’d probably seen him distantly amongst Grey’s security entourage at the party. I blame the fact that it had to be nearly three in the morning.
The double take that he did upon seeing us was enough to jog my memory.

“Who are you,” asked Jason Taylor, “and why are you here?”

I mentally sighed. “I’m Lindsay Pilot,” I told him, “This is Aliea Veldon, and we’re detectives.” Then, trusting that it was now all right to make more than the minimum amount of movement, I leaned back in my uncomfortable seat. “I don’t suppose the name Lelia Williams means anything to you?”

I could feel the look of fond exasperation that Allie was giving me. More than that, I could feel the tension slowly starting to seep from the room, like air from a leaky balloon.

Taylor opened his mouth to say something, but there were a few soft footfalls that cut him off.

“I told you not to come,” Leila said softly from the doorway.

The spring-tightened corner of my soul relaxed as I looked at her. I could almost hear Allie’s shoulders unwind next to me. Leila looked a bit ruffled, and Allie’s coat hung on her like a deflated circus tent, but she looked calm and was only hunched in on herself a little. Considering where she was, it was almost a planted flag of defiance.

“Lindsay insisted on chasing you down so that she could remind you when your stitches had to come out,” Allie said.

“You know these people, Leila?” Taylor asked, eyeing us suspiciously.

She came half a step into the room, and nodded at him. “They’re working with the police to bring him down,” she said. “They took me in.” Her eyes flickered down to the painfully gleaming tiles, and though her expression didn’t exactly tremble, it flickered a bit.

“This is ridiculous,” I said to Taylor. “I take it you’re no longer holding us at gunpoint?” I stood up and crossed the room to offer Leila a hug. She put her arms around my shoulders and hung on with surprising strength. “Believe me, I know you want to help,” I told her when I let go, “but you don’t have to do any of this alone. You don’t have to work with these guys unless you really want to, and-”

“No, we have a plan,” she said. “And I do want to help. I think – well, this is the least I can do. I found out that he’s been… controlling… her, by telling her how dangerous I am.” Her voice quavered a little. “I shouldn’t have come back.”

There were only two people here who could have told her that, so I split my glare between Taylor and Sawyer. Hadn’t they ever heard of giving people only the information that they actually required?

Taylor was unimpressed, but he’d put his gun away and apparently instructed Sawyer to do the same, which effectively meant that Allie and I now outnumbered them. “And how did you come into this?” he asked, extending his cynicism to Allie as well as me.

“We were hired to investigate Christian Grey, and we have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility,” Allie replied, deploying an equally sardonic eyebrow.

“By who?” Sawyer chimed in.

“You can’t seriously expect us to answer that,” I replied. “Your turn: what’s the plan?”

“Ladies first. How did you come into contact with Leila, and why are you here?” Taylor’s voice was all business. “Sawyer, we need to get back on track before Welch or someone shows up – take Leila and keep making the copies. Leila, are you good to go get what we need?”

“Yessir.” Leila replied, and gave a frankly awful salute.

“Good girl,” Taylor said, giving her his full attention and an almost paternal smile. “We’ll be out of here as soon as we’re done.”
I watched the relief slide over her face before she turned around and disappeared through the door again. Sawyer shot a glance at his boss before following her, giving her a wide margin of space.

That left Allie and I alone with Taylor, which meant one of two things: he trusted us, or he was confident that he could take us. Either way, he gestured for us to sit down with him at the table, and we cooperated.

“Think carefully before you answer,” he said in a low voice. “If you’re only trying to get information out of her, I swear you’ll live to regret it.”
I could feel my indignation bristling up, so I took a deep breath and tried to answer diplomatically. Allie got there before I did. “We bumped into her on the street,” she said, “Like we’ve already told you, we were hired to stop Christian Grey, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

“If you think you can force her to testify, you’re wrong,” Taylor continued, his voice level and somehow painfully earnest. It was the voice of a man who doesn’t need to rely on volume or anger. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to put Grey away, but if you think you’re going to drag her through all that, again -” he shook his head. “I’ll testify myself, give more information than you knew existed – but you have to let her go.”

The indignation settled out of my shoulders. “We’re not exactly officially with the police,” I said. “Private Detectives. I’d just hoped… she left us a note,” I finished lamely, and shrugged. “Said that we should contact you if -” unexpectedly, I felt my throat swelling with the ache that came just before tears, and Allie shifted closer to me. I tried to clear my throat and only partially succeeded. “I thought something awful was going to happen, so we came straight here.” It was all I could still manage to say.

I watched Taylor sag, and scrub at his face.

“What a mess,” he said, and I couldn’t help but agree.

“What about you?” Allie asked, drawing Taylor’s gaze. “We’ll work together better – or at least get in the way less – if we know what you’re up to.”

Somebody had clearly given Taylor pointers on how to drag himself back together. In under a second, he’d gone back to efficiency and command.

“You don’t want to get involved,” he said. “Grey’s dangerous. I’m sure you know that already, but – no offense – you don’t understand what he will do to you. And he’s not the only one who we’re going to take down. I still wish that we didn’t have to get Leila involved, but the truth is, we needed her, to get him to leave the building without us. In a couple hours, we’ll have enough information to go to the police and give them everything, including the evidence against everyone who has been enabling Grey, and they’ll be able to catch them all in the same net.” He glanced between me and Allie and came to a decision. “I’ll let you out the back way with Leila before we do. She’ll need somebody to help her get out of the way.”

It seemed fair enough to me. We’d come to see Leila safe, and we couldn’t push our way into the circle of this heroic conspiracy any more than we could force the police to allow us to investigate alongside them.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” I told Taylor, “but all right. Allie?”

Allie made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “You’re in charge of this investigation,” she said. Her eyes were tired, and my heart swelled painfully when I realized what she was trying to say. Of course she’d want me to keep talking, cover for her while she tried to scrape together some magical protection for Taylor and Sawyer.

She’d keep going until she dropped.

“The girl that… Ana,” I fumbled. “She’ll be okay?”

Taylor nodded, but grimaced. “All right as she can be,” he said, “don’t worry, we’ll take care of it. With any luck, Grey won’t know what’s happened until he’s been arrested. She’s a sweet kid, and she doesn’t deserve anything he’s put her through.”

“Nobody does,” I said, quietly. “If it helps – between your case and ours, there’s almost no way he can walk free. Leila’s testimony could help, but she won’t need to if she doesn’t want to.” And I was fully resolved that after tonight, our couch was hers for as long as she needed and wanted to stay. Home was something I doubted she’d had much experience with in the last few years, and if she didn’t want to go back to her parents in Massachusetts right away, she should have somewhere to stay.

Taylor nodded and stood up. “Please stay in this room and out of our way,” he said, “this will be over far more quickly if I don’t have to stay here and watch over you.”

At that moment, Sawyer stepped back through the door.

“I can’t find Leila,” he said.

* I fixed the medicine fail in Anoxic with the gracious help of dragonclaws, who should know. PSA: keep your bandages clean and dry, and your stitches away from water to prevent infection, and use iodine or chlorhexidine to clean them rather than rubbing alcohol, to prevent scarring. Never use hydrogen peroxide. This has been a public service announcement by Scribbles.

** An overdeveloped sense of responsibility is not the same thing as an overdeveloped sense of vengeance.

*** After so many self-contained chapters containing multiple days, I have to say it’s nice to be able to do proper cliffhangers again.
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)
Chapter Nine: The Sound of Never

By the time we returned to our apartment after a cold bus ride, my phone was well and truly dead and it was almost two in the morning, with a sky full of cold stars.

Our apartment was also empty. Eerily so, in fact, considering that we’d left that evening with Leila comfortably installed on the couch. She wouldn’t have just gone for a walk: not in the middle of the night.

Nothing appeared to have been disturbed; everything was clean and in its proper place, the door and windows were still shut, and the sheets had been pulled off the fold-out couch and neatly folded.

That sight sent my heart diving down into my gut.

I crossed the room towards the phone and the notepad we kept beside it, and I only confirmed my suspicions. My thoughts ran out of my head like water under a bridge when I picked up the note that Leila had left for us.

I’m sorry.
I know what I have to do now. I can still save Ana, and probably some other people too. If I stop him now, nobody else will have to suffer. I won’t be coming back, either way.

Don’t come looking for me.

Thank you for everything. I hope you can prove what he’s done, but not everyone can wait that long. Talk to Jason Taylor; he knows nearly everything and will help you if you tell him I sent you. I’ll put the spare key under the welcome mat when I go. If I win, I’ll find a way to pay you back for everything, if not, IOU.

Don’t worry about me, and don’t blame yourselves. I don’t intend to die tonight, but if I do it will be for a good cause.

- Leila

I stared uncomprehendingly at the spots that had bled from the ballpoint pen for a long moment while Allie read over my shoulder. She’d written almost straight through the paper, in a round, even, girlish handwriting that for some reason surprised me.

Allie made a move to rush right back out the door, and I reached over and grasped her wrist before she could leave.

“It’s no use,” I told her, “she’s been gone for hours.”

She didn’t want to believe me, but I knew. There were, on second glance, neatly rinsed dishes in the sink, a pair of cartons in the trash, and very few other traces of our vanished guest.

Allie kicked the sofa quite hard, but I went into the bathroom and checked the first aid kit. We were out of bandages.

Something in my heart thawed.

In my experience, a woman who suddenly resolved to kill herself didn’t take the time to have leftover Chinese for dinner and change her bandages first. Nor did she take several packets of antiseptic wipes, extra clean bandages, and the bottle of ibuprofen.

“Damn it,” Allie said from the living room, “She took my coat.”

The only question was, where? I doubted that she’d gone to Grey’s parents’ home – for one thing, she’d known that we’d be there – but realistically, she could be nearly anywhere. Even if she’d intended to leave when we’d last seen her, she’d taken the time to eat, change her bandages, clean up after herself… she could have left any time between about six thirty and, say, midnight.

I conjured up my memory of how she’d been when we left. She’d been relaxed, more so than yesterday, and I thought – hoped, really – that I would have noticed if she’d been lying about staying in.

She’d obviously been agitated when she left the note, but she’d written it slowly. She hadn’t been in any hurry.

Allie got quickly out of my way as I bolted from the bathroom and violently tossed the Chinese cartons out of it. She wouldn’t have stuffed it too far down, not with fresh bandages – there.

I fished out the crumpled piece of notepad paper triumphantly, only to be interrupted.

“Lindsay,” Allie said, in a hollow voice, “you’ll want to hear this.”

She held out my cell phone; she’d pulled it out of my purse and plugged it in. I walked over and we put our heads together to listen to a voicemail from only hours before.

 “… a really stupid idea,” Leila’s voice said from the speakers, tinny and quiet. “I thought-” the rush of passing cars obscured whatever else she said. “- broke in at Escala, through the garage. I trashed that awful car, I know he bought it for her, just like the one he bought for me. They saw me-” Another car drowned her out. “I didn’t get to finish. There’s a back entrance. I have to try, but I don’t think I’m going to make it.” She seemed to reach a quieter place, because the level of noise in the recording abruptly went down. “Anyway, I thought you ought to know that -”

The message was cut off in a beep, and Allie was halfway across the room already. She tossed a pair of pants out of the door of our bedroom at me, and had changed out of her dress by the time I’d managed to unhook the catch that held the zipper of my own dress in place. I suspected telekinesis.

“We can be at Escala in thirty minutes if we hurry,” she said as she jammed her bare feet into her shoes without bothering to untie them first. “That message was left at a bit after eleven, but -”

Almost three hours ago. Not that it would stop Allie, I thought, as I finally worked the zipper free and threw on yesterday’s shirt. We were out the door the second I’d snatched my partially-charged phone off the counter and had my shoes on my feet.

Downtown Seattle in the small hours of the morning is like any other major city – dark, chilly, and vaguely eerie, with the red eyes of stoplights glaring balefully at anybody half-jogging down the sidewalks, barely stopping to check for oncoming traffic.

Escala loomed ominously above us, a jagged spike stretching away towards the empty darkness of the sky, loosing itself above the line of streetlights in the clammy night.

There was nobody but us on the street surrounding it, and no signs of life other than the swoosh of a passing car and the burning lights of the lobby across the street from us. We needed to get in, to follow Leila, but we weren’t getting in that way.

“Around back,” I muttered to Allie, and we headed towards the back of the building, searching for the telltale red eye of a fire exit nicely hidden in the shadows. Were there cameras? Probably. I searched the darkness for them, but found nothing.

By unspoken agreement, Allie and I passed the door the first time, pulled up the hoods of our sweatshirts a little further down the road and returned in a haze of bright blue light.

Allie worked quickly, short-circuiting the automatic alarm in the fire door, and telekinetically pushing it outwards just enough that we could slip through. She stopped only for a second on the inside, to throw the cloud of light away from the door and to turn the alarm back on, then she was only a few steps behind me as I found the stairwell and we clattered up it at a slightly winded run. There were far too many floors, and we were headed to the top.

My heart was pounding when we reached the top, and I hardly had the breath to make any smart comments when I turned the corner and found myself face-to-face with a gun for the second time that night.

The person holding the gun was definitely focused on us, this time. I got a good look at him – tallish, age impossible to guess, hair cut so short that it could be brown or blond, standing like a soldier – while I stood as still as possible in the stairwell. He didn’t shoot us, though, which I took to be a very good sign.

He reached up to his earpiece with his free hand. “Intruders apprehended, sir,” he said, and listened for a second. “This way, please,” he told Allie and I, gesturing with that same hand rather than with his gun, never taking his eyes off us.
We walked in through the door. We didn’t exactly have a choice about it.

Even at gunpoint, my mind had to register how white the room that we were ushered into was. It glared in the light of what seemed like a thousand fluorescent bulbs. The click of footsteps on tile gave way to a view of the dull shine of a long glass dining table in the center of a white and grey room.

“Sit, please,” said our captor, and Allie and I traded half a glance as we did so. Behind us, the gloom of the Seattle night at twenty two stories up pressed against the glass, sealing the apartment.

It said something about the direction of our lives, I thought, that this still ranked as one of my most pleasant experiences with being captured and held at gunpoint. So far, at least, our captor showed no interest in killing us or obtaining information – probably waiting for his boss, I thought.

For several long moments, nobody spoke. I could hear, in the distance, the ticking of a clock, but no other noises.

Adrenaline had stopped burning through my body, and it was now drizzling away through the cracks. I was two parts terrified, one part morbidly curious, and three parts exhausted.

I couldn’t help but notice that nobody appeared to have called the cops, and the phrase “deal with it ourselves,” lurked menacingly in my mind. All I had to go on at this point was that Christian Grey was probably not a mage – and that mages weren’t bulletproof.

Then I couldn’t help but sneak a glance at Allie – one which I knew our captor saw – only to find that she was staring at him, waiting patiently. All she needed was a moment of distraction, I knew, and then she would take my hand and we would conveniently disappear, out into another world, where we couldn’t be reached or followed. We could walk the worlds, work our way back to Seattle, pick up the case as if we’d never been gone. The perks of working with an adept were that you could go anywhere, and given the requisite moment, run away from anything.

The price, of course, would be abandoning Leila, assuming that she was still somewhere in this apartment. If we left as soon as our captor’s back was metaphorically turned, we might never find out what had become of her.

I wasn’t going.

There was a second, when I considered how best to let Allie that she needed to form another plan. Then I heard the click of footsteps on a tiled floor, steady, determined and getting closer.

I rallied my stubbornness and my anger together and prepared to meet Christian Grey.

* Leila seems to have a thing for long coats. I don’t blame her. Lindsay does, though – stealing Allie’s coat is her job.
** For the timing on all their arrivals, I checked in Google Maps. A lot. I have a timeline and addresses, if anyone else wants to be that anal about it.
*** These are some of the places that I found the pictures and layout of the Escala penthouses. Yes, houses. And they're not as big as canon claims, either.
**** I would apologize for the cliffhanger, but I’m really not sorry in the least.
scribal_goddess: (scribbles)
No spitefic tonight - editing buffer still not outstripped - so have something from my club's 20 minute prompt session instead.

The Required Raven

Tap, tap, tap – the sound came from underneath my bed.

Damn those deathwatch beetles. They’d been ticking away, night after night, all year – was it any wonder I never got any sleep? They were going to drive me madder than a hatter, beyond bedlam, if they didn’t stop their damn telltale heart ticking.

Not that I could stop them – oh no, I was only the crypt keeper, guardian of the gates between the mortal world and the spirits and their… invertebrate tenants. It wasn’t as if the spirits gave me any respect, so it wasn’t like the beetles would, only being tenants in the shuffled mortal coils and all.

Well, that was enough pretending to sleep for one night – maybe I should just shut myself in a coffin like everyone else. Hell, maybe I should retire. I’d only been doing this for a couple centuries, I probably had a pension coming to me.

I got up, shook the spiders out of my socks, and jabbed a broom under my bed. The beetles scattered to the four winds, away from the light of my single lantern. Maybe they were just roaches. The required raven looked balefully at me as I shuffled away to get my coffee.

“Aren’t you supposed to be the pest control?” I asked it, rhetorically.

“Nevermore.” It croaked, shuffling on it's perch as it fixed its beady eye on me.

“Ah, shut it.” I’d learned a few hundred years back to never make conversation with the required raven – then unlearned it, because nobody else gave me the time of day. Then I took the coffee out of the pot and the great big needle and put another eight hours worth of sludgy brown goo into my veins.

Coffee’s shit at circulating oxygen, but when you’re undead-condition-not-specified, you don’t need to breathe. Or eat, or sleep exactly, but I wasn’t going without my coffee. Best thing they ever invented.

I went to wake the zombies – not a brain between them – and knock on the vampires’ coffins. I rattled the skeletons out of bed, and whistled up the spirits. Then, my job of waking up the mob was over, since it was too wet here for mummies. I headed back to my room by the gate, passing a few instances of nosferatu-like bedhead, and old Grandad Jefferson, who was still looking for his lower jaw.

“All right,” I said, stirring myself up to my nightly little speech, “you all know the rules – no fighting, no biting, no bringing back living pets, and be back by four in the morning.”

“Nevermore!” piped in the required raven. I threw somebody’s anklebone at it.

“Behave yourselves,” I added, ignoring the jaded looks that several of the vampires were giving me, “and don’t eat anything funny!” Honestly, you’d think I was the babysitter.

Then I opened the gates and let my charges out into the midnight world.
scribal_goddess: (A very bad book)
Warnings: Elena Lincoln, child molester, makes an appearance in this chapter. Dr. and Mr. Grey are up a river in Egypt without a paddle. Taylor has PTSD and is still the better man. Panic attack. Mentions of public sex act native to fifty shades canon. Standard warning for all party chapters: Grey's Aura is a creeper in it's own right.

As the first dance auction started up, Allie explained her shiny new plan to me in a low voice. With all of the technical terms stripped from it  and  all of our subsequent discussion removed, it was simple: Allie was going to attach a spell to Anastasia that would protect her and allow us to track Grey so long as he was with her.

That was assuming that we could get her to hold still long enough.

Allie and I managed to approach the stage from the side as the dance auction went on for the first two candidates; people were milling around now, some walking out onto the lawn, others headed for the bathrooms, and a few just table-hopping, talking to people who they hadn’t been sitting near at dinner. Our protracted admiration of melty the swan and his twin brother was hardly noticeable, even if Allie was muttering under her breath in Latin.

The first candidate, whose name started with a J, was bid on and exited the stage, blushing and smiling and waving, then the second. I paid little attention to their unlikely biographies, even though I wasn’t much use during the spell casting process except as a buffer to keep people from knocking Allie into the dripping ice sculpture, and perhaps as moral support.

“Damn it,” Allie said, sometime during the second miniature bidding war, “This would work so much better if we could get closer to her!”

She went right back to casting her spell before I could reply. I couldn’t think of any way that we could approach Ana outside of following her to the bathroom, and I very much doubted that it would end well. I contented myself with glancing around the crowd over my glasses in quick bursts. I saw green and gold and red in one corner, blue and purple and an oily black in another, motion and stillness, sounds and smells, twisting and glowing and pulsing low across the backs of my eyes in a kaleidoscope of humanity, but nowhere did I see magic happening, so long as I didn’t turn towards Allie and risk an instant headache, the kind that you get walking out into a sunny afternoon after sitting all day in a dark room staring at a computer screen. So far as I could tell, Allie’s magic was meeting no resistance whatsoever from any of the guests, including Christian Grey, whose aura lurked slimily around him at the table closest to the stage, pushing away the auras of those around him.

“Beautiful Ana plays six musical instruments, speaks fluent Mandarin -”

I looked up at the stage involuntarily, and saw that Allie’s spell, searingly bright, was busy tearing grey vines off of Anastasia, crunching them into ash, but I had to look away after that fraction of a second’s glance. I pushed my glasses up and closed my eyes, kneading the bridge of my nose.

I missed seeing Grey approach the stage, at least until his ridiculous opening bid of ten thousand dollars.

Possessive bastard, I thought, hoping that the bidding war would take a while, because by the concentrated look on Allie’s face, she wasn’t quite done. What she was attempting to do might take a while to get right, especially without prior preparation. In the meantime, miss Anastasia Steele could do worse than to stand on the stage and look pretty.

Another man, this one rather older than Grey, bid against him, and kept bidding against him, long after the money had crept up from stupidly expensive levels to ludicrous and onwards towards levels where I assumed they had to be bidding with fake money or with arcade tickets. In the end, however, Grey won, and I realized that the other man probably hadn’t intended to win, just to keep driving Grey to bid higher.

It was over too soon – for Allie at least. She swore as Ana and Christian walked away towards the house.

“Didn’t get it?” I asked.

“I didn’t finish,” she snapped, pushing her hair out of her eyes, “I should have started the protective spell first, not the tracking spell -”

I cut her off by offering to get her a glass of water, before she could give me a play-by-play of what she ought to have done, and headed out into the crowd. I thought as I passed that I could sense a bit of discontent, but that could have just been me. The first half of this party had dragged on and on, but there was only about half an hour left in the first dance auction, judging by the rate at which the previous three bidding wars had gone, and I suddenly felt rushed. The maple ice cream and the roast duck were eyeing each other distrustfully in my stomach, and the whole party seemed brighter and faster after I had spent so much time looking at their auras, though not much more relevant.

It took me two tries to find our table, and a waiter to fill the decanter of water. He tried to offer more wine, which I stoutly refused. By the time I made it back to melty the swan, who was starting to sag more than a little, Allie had left for the nearest chair, and was sitting in it with closed eyes, outwardly quite calm.

I bumped her hand with the glass of cold water and she swallowed half of it in one gulp.

“So what is done?” I asked her, as she sipped the remainder and smoothed her dark blue dress back down over her knees.

“The tracking spell,” she said, “I didn’t quite finish the protective spell. It was harder than I thought, with some resistance. Did you see -?”

“Yeah, I saw,” I said. “It was odd – he wasn’t doing anything, at least, his aura didn’t get brighter, but the part of it that was attached to her just kept flowing back into place whenever your magic got a hold of it.” Just like the vines that had covered Sophia. My temples were starting to ache in a distant way; I should have gotten myself a glass of water as well.

Allie nodded. “At this point, I’m not certain I trust myself to tell whether or not he’s a mage,” she said, “but whatever was interfering with me, it was definitely not just lack of preparation and complexity of the spell.”

I mulled this over a moment in my mind. “I’m not certain he’s a mage,” I said, after a moment, “If he is – or if he knew that he was – I think he would have confronted you. He doesn’t seem like…” I realized that I was talking mostly to myself as Allie stared tiredly into her water glass. He hadn’t seemed like the type of person not to attack a potential threat in any way he could, and if he were a mage, there was almost absolutely no way that he wouldn’t have sensed Allie’s interference with whatever his aura or his magic was doing to Anastasia Steele. Allie is many things when it comes to magic, but subtle isn’t one of them, not when she’s pressed for time.

Once you removed all of the therefore, what was left very strongly resembled a hunch.

“Come on, you need to get out of the crowd,” I told Allie, and hauled her towards the nearest empty table, before shamelessly flagging down the next waiter and asking for a whole pitcher of water. In the background, the master of ceremonies’ nattering monologue on the life story of the next girl in the auction wormed its way into my distant headache. Wasn’t this party over yet?

We hadn’t been at the table for long enough for Allie to recover when we were approached by the orchestrators of the whole tacky fiasco, Dr. and Mr. Grey.

Dr. Grey was wearing a dress that could only be described with the word sparkles, and Mr. Grey was still wearing his ludicrous gold mask. It gave his face an eerie, carnival-like quality, especially when he was negotiating a glass of red wine around it. I wouldn’t have recognized them from a distance without it, but I very much doubted that I would ever have been permitted to get a word in edgewise before I found out who they were if I hadn’t.

Dr. Grey greeted me with a stretched, chirpy smile, what was obviously her “hostess” voice, and long road of words that she didn’t wait for a reply for. I was lost for a second, smiling and nodding, until she got to the point.

“And I couldn’t help but notice, you aren’t Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh,” she said.

“Obviously,” her husband put in, and grinned at his own cleverness.

“And I was telling Carrick that they must have sold their tickets to you,” Dr. Grey continued on as if she hadn’t heard him, her arm still threaded through hers and her smile barely moving as she talked, “so I thought we just had to come and meet our new guests, it’s so seldom that we meet friends of the Kavanaughs that we don’t already know! Though, I have to say, you both look a little young to be friends with Roxanna or Alexander, maybe you’re friends with one of their children?” She finally paused for breath, while I debated whether or not to bring Kate into it, then decided that it couldn’t hurt to tell select portions of the truth.
“Kate suggested that we use the tickets,” I told her quickly, “We’re new to the area, and she thought that we could really use this sort of introduction to -”

“Wonderful!” Dr. Grey beamed, “Just wonderful! It’s so seldom that we get young people at these balls, and if either of you are looking to settle in the area, I have a friend who is in the real-estate business – she can find just the spot!”

My smile felt stiff. “Why thank you very much, Dr. Grey,” I said, “I’m sure that would be very helpful.” And then, because I was, deep down in my soul where I couldn’t quite see it, angry enough to tear down empires and stomp on the smoking ruins, I opened my mouth again and took the offensive. “Allie and I are hardly the only young people here,” I said, “there were plenty at your table.”

Mr. Grey laughed loudly, “Oh yes, our children! Christian hardly counts as a young person, though – he’s always so serious.”

“Now, Carrick, that lovely young lady of his is doing him some good,” Dr. Grey said, in a tone that didn’t match her plaster smile. “I’ve never seen him look so satisfied and relaxed.”

“He isn’t doing her any good.”

The Greys blinked at me, and Dr. Grey’s expression flickered from anger, to insecurity, to dismissal, all in a moment.

“I’m sure that it isn’t any of your business,” she said, “but I only want what’s best for my son, and if after all this time he has finally found the love of a good woman, I don’t intend to question it. It will be the best thing for him.” Her voice was decidedly chilly. “For that matter, I hear you were also quite rude to my daughter when she asked if you would help with our little auction, and I’m not sure who you think you are, behaving so awfully as a guest in our home…”

“I’m not certain what you or your daughter know about manners in the first place -”

Allie’s face emerged from the tablecloth. “Linds,” she said distinctly, “leave it alone.”

I remembered that we weren’t here to fight anyone, and shut up. Dr. Grey smiled at me triumphantly.

“Yes,” she said to Allie, and the hostess voice was back, filled with sugar. “Let’s have a pleasant conversation, with none of this silly jealousy.”

Allie gave the Greys a look that was all eyebrows and nostrils and the echo of a family tree with roots so distant that they required a telescope to see.

“What I meant,” she said, “was that everyone here has said all that they really need to say, and since the first dance is over, I intend to find a much more pleasant way to spend my time and Lindsay’s. If you are jealous of us, Doctor, then I suggest that you stop sticking your head in the sand and admit that not all is perfect in your little world, and certainly not with your daughter, who clearly learned her manners from you, or with your son, whose manners you witnessed much more closely than us during the auction. Good evening.”

We left for the dance floor as Dr. Grey turned red as a strawberry.

“You could have just asked me to dance,” I said to her as we started what was most likely a waltz. At least, Allie led and I followed; she was taller, and she knew the steps.

“I don’t like them either,” she replied as we stepped sideways.

“Clearly. Now we know exactly how miss Mia Grey came to be,” I muttered. Then, a thought occurred to me. “You’re feeling better, then?”
Her lip twitched. “I think I can manage a waltz. Besides, we can keep a better eye on the happy couple this way.”

I rolled my eyes at her, but managed to keep an eye on Christian Grey and Anastasia Steel whenever my head was pointed in their direction. We danced at least two dances in a comfortable silence before I thought of something else worth mentioning.

“What did you mean, about Grey’s manners?” I said, “I saw everybody at their table giving him the stink eye, but I don’t know what for.”
Allie’s voice was dry, but not at all amused. “Three words: public hand job.”

Well, that was now firmly number one on my list of all the things at this party that were in bad taste. Allie cracked a small smile at my expression. “Couldn’t it have waited?” I asked as we revolved on the spot.

“Apparently not – wait, she’s making a break for it.” Ana was headed towards the house, and Christian was following her, though several other partygoers kept accosting him.

“Time for me to earn my keep,” I said. “You keep an eye on Grey, I’ll snoop after Ana.”

I wandered off in the direction of the house and presumably the toilets, keeping Ana in sight a good ten or fifteen feet ahead of me, and then made an absolutely stupid-looking turn towards the food tent when she appeared to change her mind halfway there. The tent was empty except for a couple in a back corner and a woman in black checking her phone, and I could see through the side that had been rolled up that Ana was heading for her table and the purse sitting on top of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was missing some cash.

It would be far too obvious if I followed her in, so I stood out of sight in the shadows and pretended to be rummaging through my purse.
The woman in black approached Ana, and though I wasn’t close enough to hear what she said, I was more than close enough to hear the tone of the conversation. If Anastasia Steele had been a porcupine, the woman in black would be surgically removing needles.

They sat down, and I gave up pretending to look through my bag and walked right into the tent and sat down at a table with my phone out. It was nearly out of battery, I noticed, and there was almost no signal, but it meant that nobody would give me a second look, not that the people I was eavesdropping on were particularly observant.

“I’ll be brief, Anastasia. I know what you think of me . . . Christian’s told me.”

The woman in black had at least figured out Ana’s hostility towards her. Maybe if I listened long enough, there would be a clue in there somewhere. I glanced briefly around the tent and noticed two men standing military straight in the middle of the doorway, looking around their surroundings on a wary schedule. Then, I mentally cursed. I hadn’t thought to look for other people who were watching Ana and Christian.

“… be obvious to you that Christian is in love with you. I have never seen him like this, ever.”

I bristled a little, and made a note to investigate the lady in black, because it was just too much of a coincidence that she was walking up to one of Grey’s potential victims and boldly declaring that he loved her.

“He won’t tell you because he probably doesn’t realize it himself, notwithstanding what I’ve said to him, but that’s Christian. He’s not very attuned to any positive feelings and emotions he may have. He dwells far too much on the negative. But then you’ve probably worked that out for yourself. He doesn’t think he’s worthy.”

No shit, I thought. Considering that from all I knew about him, he got off on his own arrogance and his ability to intimidate and terrify women, ‘not attuned to positive emotions’ was the understatement of the year.

Unfortunately, I’d sat down at the wrong table to be able to see Ana’s facial expression, so I had no idea whether or not she believed what she was being told, and I didn’t dare get up now and attract attention. She’d stopped giving off the body language of a porcupine, though, which wasn’t good, considering the situation.

“I’ve never seen him so happy, and it’s obvious that you have feelings for him, too,” The lady in black continued. “That’s great, and I wish you both the best of everything. But what I wanted to say is if you hurt him again, I will find you, lady, and it won’t be pleasant when I do.”
Ana laughed nervously while I tried to puzzle that one out. My best guess was that the “again,” either referred to one of his many exes, or to the brief amount of time that Ana had broken up with Grey.

And if I’d truly been a great detective, I would have known ahead of time that I ought to record that threat for future reference, because it seemed rather more ominous than the mere words that it was made of.

The lady in black got angry. “You think this is funny, Anastasia? You didn’t see him last Saturday.” She was flustered and started the sentence twice, probably spraying the tablecloth at the same time.

Ana rose to the occasion admirably. “I’m laughing at your audacity, Mrs. Lincoln. Christian and I have nothing to do with you. And if I do leave him and you come looking for me, I’ll be waiting—don’t doubt it. And maybe I’ll give you a taste of your own medicine on behalf of the fifteen-year-old child you molested and probably fucked-up even more than he already was. Now if you‘ll excuse me, I have better things to do.”

The first thought that went through my mind was What? which was followed closely by Who? and then, tagging along in the back, the realization that Ana had just gotten up and was marching right past me, leaving the lady in black with her mouth hanging open, and me in the lurch.

She’d made it to the flap of the tent and walked directly up to Christian Grey at the same moment that I noticed that I had forgotten to act like I was quietly texting someone, and hurriedly buried myself in my purse. I had my tube of lipstick and tiny mirror out by the time that the bodyguards glanced at me, and was in a prime spot to gaze directly at the evil scumbag while pretending to carefully apply my makeup.

He was frowning at the lady in black while Ana wisely walked right past him.

They left the tent behind quickly, and I had no hope of catching up with them. I did, however, have a hope of following the lady in black undetected, so when the bodyguards had melted out of sight and she had stalked off towards the house, I followed her.

The dancing was still in full swing as I walked out of the food tent, but the Lady in Black wasn’t headed towards the dance floor. In fact, she was headed towards the house, and I hurried along behind her, staying out of sight. Since it was quite dark by now except for those pink lanterns, it was quite easy to go unremarked, but not very easy to see where I was putting my feet as I cut across the lawn. I could only tell the location of the Lady in Black from the glitter of her gold mask ahead of me, at least until she approached the house, which was lit up like a Christmas tree, and had columns looming portentously over the entrance.

She walked right into the house uninvited – to be fair, the doors were open and there was a decorative little sign affixed to one pointing the way to the bathrooms – and I got to the open door just in time to see her open a door.

I followed her down the hall, past a pair of rooms that were bleached white, aside from eye-assaulting peacock blue and gold curtains, a staircase that very clearly intended to sweep, and a chandelier that dripped crystals. I listened at the door she’d left open a crack, and discovered that it was an empty hallway.

A hallway that was, thankfully, carpeted. My shoes weren’t going to make a sound. I crept down it anyway, being careful about where I stepped, and listening hard.

“… seems so careless,” I heard the voice of the lady in black saying as I approached a door that stood conveniently ajar. “You know, Grace, how much I care for your son. I hesitate to tell you, but I don’t think his girlfriend is really that good for him... I spoke to her only a few moments ago, and I’m afraid to say that I think she’s only after his money.”

Whatever Grace replied, I was at the wrong angle to hear it. Eavesdropping in houses was a lot harder than eavesdropping at a party – though I still had my near-dead phone as an excuse – because I had to be wary of every other noise besides the muffled conversation taking place in the room at the end of the hall, just in case someone snuck up behind me and caught me poking my nose where it didn’t belong.

“I know, it’s just terrible how many conniving women have gone after dear Christian,” the lady in black said, and I heard a rustle as she either got up or shifted positions on her seat. “I assure you, Grace, I will do everything in my power to continue to give him good advice and keep him out of their greedy clutches.”

When I heard Grace speak, I recognized in a moment the voice of Christian Grey’s obnoxious mother. I also wondered if everything around here always revolved around Christian Grey, or if it was only when he was present.

“I… thank you, Elena,” Grace said in a tired voice that didn’t match the one she’d confronted me with at all. “Thank you for looking out for him. I know that he’s headstrong, and he won’t listen to me at all – but I have to believe that he’s going to be all right, that Carrick and I raised him right.”

“Don’t mention it,” Elena - Elena Lincoln, I guessed, the one who owned Esclava and who had her business firmly in Grey’s pocket – said in a tone that seemed a little too smug and condescending for me. “After all, it isn’t our dear Christian’s fault; you and Carrick have done so much for him, raised him above his heritage and given him all he could ever want. He’s done so much, and it’s all thanks to you and not his crack whore birth mother.”

There was some more murmuring, and I snuck back towards the foyer, playing it safe. I had a sinking feeling in my gut as I headed back outside, walked down the long drive lit with its paper lanterns, and went to find Allie. By the dying clock on my phone, it was only about half an hour from midnight, and the party should be breaking up soon.

I found her standing casually next to Melty the Swan, who was now looking positively droopy, and looking warily out at the now-thinned crowd.

“Where were you?” she asked me, “Mr. Egotistical has been ready to blow a gasket since the last dance.”

Even as I watched, Ana’s dance with the elder Mr. Grey was rudely interrupted by his son.

“Eavesdropping,” I replied shortly, “on Mrs. Manners and her seriously creepy co-host.”

Allie made an encouraging noise in the back of her throat, and kept scanning the crowd, “There’s a lot of security around,” she said to me without looking at me. “I wonder what’s up?”

I followed her gaze and saw the two military-stiff outlines that had followed Ana to the food tent earlier. In better light, I could tell that they were both wearing suits that would have made them recognizable as security guards even in a movie.

“No idea, but they’re with Grey,” I told her.

“Want to cut out before the fireworks?” she asked, “I don’t like the look of this lot, and it’s not as if we have an exact mission here... we can’t exactly prevent Ana from going home with him.”

Especially since they had arrived together, I thought. Still, we’d definitely learned something tonight, and I was starting to worry a little about Leila alone in our apartment. It was probably the safest place for her, all things considered, especially since Christian was definitely here, but it wasn’t as if she knew that.

“Yeah,” I said, not relishing the long and decidedly chilly walk down the driveway before we even found the street. We’d have to find a place to catch a cab, and it was looking like it would be well past one o’clock when we got home. “Are you done working magic for one night?”

Allie nodded. “It will take a little bit for it to take – the resistance was a lot higher when she was dancing with him – but yeah. Let’s just stick around for a few more minutes and then cut out the back way – I think that if we cross a few of these golf course lawns, we can cut out some travel time.”

Since we were hardly the only ones who decided that the end of the dancing was a good time to leave, we had to wait several moments until much of the remaining crowd had dispersed, to avoid making it obvious that we hadn’t come in a limo. If I hadn’t been the one to insist on blending in originally, I’d have been even more tempted to just leave. It had gotten awfully cold, in a pervasive, clammy way that made me think longingly of hot cocoa, quilts, and Allie’s ridiculously tent-like greatcoat. We didn’t have any of those on hand, and I was counting down the minutes until we entered a heated cab. We stood there, staring alternately at the badly concealed security guards and the stars in the night sky, until half the party started to head down to the lakeshore to watch the fireworks.

We got swept in that direction by the crowd, away from the road, and I had finally had enough.

“Let’s just sneak out that way,” I said to Allie, pointing northward. Somewhere out there, I knew that there was another road, which led back towards the country club that we’d passed on our way in, which just had to be an acceptable place to obtain a taxi. “Nobody’s looking at us.”

We headed towards the cover of the trees, being careful not to trip over anything ornamental in the dark.

The music burst over Lake Washington with a deafening sound, and the first fireworks screamed up into the air in a metallic wail. We hadn’t gotten far, merely a handful of yards from the small crowd installed on the lawn, but it was quite dark. Even so, I noticed movement by one of the giant oak trees ahead of us, and sped up a couple of steps to have a look. Behind me, I could hear Allie, who attempted to follow my abrupt change of direction and cursed as she tripped over something, but I my attention had been adjusted for me.

The first word that came to my mind was panic attack. The man who was standing with his back pressed flat against the oak tree was clearly one of the security guards, and he was just as clearly trying to keep control of the fact that he was shaking like a leaf. I didn’t want to crowd him, but when the third firework went off he flinched and overcorrected so hard that I was surprised his teeth didn’t rattle in his skull. I could tell that he was trying to take deep breaths and failing.

“Excuse me,” I said as I walked forward, so that I didn’t startle him, “but are you okay?”

He turned to face me and I only saw two definite things in the faint light from the house: the first was that his face was nearly drained of expression, and the second was that yes, he was definitely armed. The gun that he’d whipped out and trained on me was my first clue.

I held my hands up and looked as non-threatening as possible, which is easy when you’re blonde and five four. I prayed quickly that Allie was still out of sight and cursing at an azalea or whatever other shrubbery had gotten in her way.

“I just want to know if you’re all right,” I told him, and gave a very non-threatening smile, which he probably couldn’t see. After a second, he blinked and tucked the gun away.

“I’m sorry,” he said. Another round of fireworks went off, in a series of sharp, stattaco snaps, and his head whipped around towards the lake for a second. “You looked very different in the dark.”

I ran the wars of this world through my head. Afghanistan or Iraq? It didn’t matter, though, because even if this man had just pulled a gun on me, this was no place for him, especially if the next person to walk up on him was just as twitchy.

“We all look strange in the dark,” I told him, and offered him another invisible smile. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Do you need a… glass of water, or anything?” I didn’t actually move, aside from the smile. I just didn’t really know what to do – or rather, I did, but the knowledge had been startled out of me a few seconds before. Who knew I’d end the night feeling sympathy for one of Grey’s security guards?

I heard a step behind me and saw, out of the corner of my eye and around my glasses, a familiar cobalt blue light. More fireworks exploded over the water, but I had all but stopped hearing them. I was seeing them as they battered the poor man in front of me instead.

“Or you could go inside, if you like,” I said after a moment of silence. Allie was right behind me, not saying anything just yet.

That finally got him to respond. “No thank you,” he said, a little roughly. “I’ll be fine.”

I doubted that. “I’m Lindsay Pilot,” I told him, stepping forward slightly and giving him my hand to shake. “This is Aliea Veldon.”

After a second of hesitation, he took the required step forward and shook my hand. “Jason Taylor,” he said.

“Security Guard,” I finished for him before I even thought, as he stepped back.

I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell by the silence that I’d startled him. Then, he seemed to gather himself together a bit.

“We ought to leave, Lindsay,” Allie said behind me as a stream of roman candles echoed into the night. Reluctantly, we walked away and faded like the crackle of gunpowder into the night, beneath a black sky traced with lines of reeking smoke.

* This line is straight from canon: “Beautiful Ana plays six musical instruments, speaks fluent Mandarin -” It is now duly attributed. Likewise, all Ana and Elena Lincoln’s lines are grabbed directly from canon, though the atrociously meyeresque use of the dash may have been corrected to commas. Then, I shot the canon. With a cannon.
**Again, Kate’s parents have no canonical names, so I invented.
*** Dr. Grey is like a snippier version of Esme. Since Carrick doesn’t seem to have a personality, as such, I imagine that most of the denial is coming directly from her.
**** In case you missed the original post, Grey Manor is based on Elvis’ mansion, Graceland. (Which is unintentionally hilarious, because it is so obviously Grace Trelyevan-Grey’s tastes that influence this house.) In any case, I have taken a minor liberty with the floorplan and added a hallway that allows for direct access to the “Jungle Room,” from the main foyer, because I really have no idea how that wing is even connected to the main house. As it stands in the floorplans I found, you’d either have to go outside or up the stairs to get to it.
***** This chapter’s brick reference is to the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet, by sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Cookies for everybody who gets it!

Warning: The editing buffer has been reached and I’ve got thesis presentations next week. New chapters will not be up by next Tuesday.
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Long title and subtitles there, but the point is, I've got one chapter of this done. I've also crossposted to fictionpress, but I'm not making you guys go over there. Also, as of yesterday night, my score on this was 1042. Also, sorry folks, it's not letting me cut.

The rain had been turned up full blast, like someone had a fire hose and was draining an entire city block full of fire hydrants on my window. Why they would do that, I don’t know, but stranger things have been known to happen. In this city, it’s something of a given. You can’t rely on people – not human decency, not common courtesy, not that the guy who sideswiped your car will bother to stick around and do the paperwork – but you can rely on the fact that it will rain a lot without ever washing any of the scum from the streets.

Most people call that Murphy’s law. Me, I call that just my luck.

It was another one of those days – the days where the sun doesn’t shine and you spend the whole afternoon cleaning your revolver and listening to the window leak right by your ear. Days where the constant dripping makes it hard to get a decent nap, or put your feet up and just wait. Days where every little second is shouting at you so that you don’t pass them by. Days that might have gotten more sinister, but generally ended up just getting darker, until the sky is as dark as a coalmine and the pavements gleam with oil beneath flickering streetlamps.

Those are the kind of days that I really wish I could pack it all up and go fishing. It seems less complicated, sometimes, because even if you’re doing essentially the same thing – baiting the hook, casting the line, reeling the slimy sucker in only to have them escape at the last moment because somebody high up interferes – fish aren’t likely to have knives and guns pointed at you. It would be a decent change of pace from needing a drink for the boredom and then a drink for the excitement. They’re also the kind of days when I’m permanently short of work, despite the newspapers screaming out their headlines about every day of every week of every month of every year getting worse. Crime didn’t spike so much as it went skyrocketing up an endless mountain and never came back down. But that’s life. People are scared. People are tired. Mostly, people don’t care, at least until something happens to them, and by then it’s too late.

Finally, a cut )


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