He awoke to a distant moaning, pain and the stench of bile. After a few minutes of trying to ignore it all and go back to the dream he decided to open his eyes. Sight gave way to sound as he found that it was he was moaning. He noticed the lantern off to his side. It had landed upright and was still burning. He tried to lift himself off the wet floor. A wave of pain dizzied him as he found he couldn’t move his arm. He plopped his head back down with a splash, that’s when he remembered the headache.
Moments later he was being prodded in the back with something really hard. It didn’t help the pain at all. The prodding apparently came with a voice “Will you stop moaning, I’m trying to sleep. And you’re being loud enough to wake the Street Vultures.” said the annoyed female voice.
“Sure...just knock me out again.” He responded, instantly regretting his poor choice of words. One thing to remember, get to know a person before you make snide remarks. She granted his request with a hard thump to the back of the head.
If there was a dream this time, he didn’t remember. There was no way he could remember a dream through that kind of pain. It felt like being yanked awake by a tiger mauling his shoulder. He could barely hear his scream over his battered and hungover headache. He began opening his eyes slowly, fearing that any light would cause his head to explode.
His eyes began to focus on the opened doorway to the bedroom. There was a small head poking around the corner, watching him. As soon as it noticed him staring it disappeared.
While he was trying to figure out if it was just his imagination the female from earlier spoke “What Cloud are you with? You’re too high up for the Street Vultures, not the Wired either….”
He paused before answering. Clouds, or factions, were all over the place. They claimed territory from the underground to tops of the highest buildings. Some, like the Street Vultures, were to be feared. Others, like the Wired, were just a nuisance that were too far gone to do matter. Then there were others, like the Night Shields, that helped protect smaller Clouds from the more dangerous ones.
He glanced toward the voice. The butchered jet black hair would have been all he needed to see to bolt for the door. But it was the missing ear that caught his eye long enough for him to speak.
Surprised, he asked “How’d you get out alive?” Then a realization hit him. “SHIT! Are they still chasing you?” He winced at the pain as he jerked forward ready to run.
“How do you know about that? Who the fuck are you?” Before he could act she was upon him, knife out, holding him roughly by the hair. Regardless, it didn’t take much strength to keep him in place.
He hesitated a moment, then answered “I’m with the IAP.” She eased up a little, but kept her knife drawn, demanding “Show me your signal”.
The Independent Antique Providers weren’t large enough to be a Cloud. They were a small group of individuals that worked for all the other Clouds, collecting odd items that were hard to find. The items that were sought weren’t allowed to be taken from other factions. That trust kept them from the dangers of any group. There were known IAP officers that broke the rules, but everyone finds out. That would usually end badly.
He pulled out the small metal chip chiseled with his with his code and colors. The signal was etched, grayish and purple, it read ‘io9’.
“Independent Officer 9, I’ve heard that number before. You’ve done work with the Street Vultures, right?” She clenched the knife a bit harder.
“I’ve worked for many Clouds. But it’s kind of a moot point, isn’t it? You know I couldn’t take the job collecting you, I’d be going against the Shields.” She started to pull the knife away. “Besides, you know how much they enjoy hunting, even if it does involve flying.” He saw the fear overwhelm that ‘I’m in charge’ look in her eye as his words threw the truth, she refused to face, right at her.
She got up, putting the blade away, knowing her problems didn’t lie with him. “Since you can’t tell them where we are I’d like you to get the hell out now.” The shock of her own words rang through her head and she looked away.
He didn’t miss it “Who is we? Shit! You mean that’s why they marked you?” He shook his head “Fuck Science! I thought I was just imagining the kid...” He was going to leave her to figure out her own problems, but kids were the easiest way to corner his conscience. Sure, none of the other Clouds liked the Street Vultures, but if an IAP crossed anyone then what was to stop them from crossing everyone? He was going to become a Zombid. His only chance was the Night Shields.
“Thanks for ruining my life, you got a name?” He was pissed but he knew there wasn’t a way for him to walk away now. He couldn’t leave a child to those creatures.
She looked at him as if trying to apologize. She realized what he was talking about and was truly sorry he was getting involved. “My name’s Amaya, and you?”
He offered his hand “I’m Reavyn, thanks for the help.” He winced as he rolled his shoulder. Not knowing if it was too soon to ask “Is it yours?”
Her smile was gentle and thankful “Hina, come here.” As if the child had been waiting just outside the doorway, she blasted into the room jumping into Amaya’s lap.
She couldn’t have been more than four years old. Her hair was brown and curled everywhere. She looked too happy to be in a world like this. Staring at him, she backed farther into her the woman’s arms. The small whimper that came broke Reavyn’s heart. It was the sound of a child that knew to be scared of certain things.
He looked from the child to Amaya “She hasn’t....”
The woman shook her head fast. Thinking it a game, the child shook her head and looked to Amaya for approval. She patted the child on the head and nodded. Amaya looked up at him, “No, she hasn’t been feathered. And, yes, she is my daughter.” With a look of ‘Please don’t ask it’, she turned away. He seemed to take the hint.
Looking from mother to daughter, he offered the little girl his hand “Hello, I’m Reavyn. What’s your name?”
The little girl looked up as if asking for approval from her mother. Amaya smiled causing the girl to turn and take two of his fingers in her hand, shaking them “I’m Hina, nice to meet you mister.”