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Sept. 24th, 2017

 

The heavy backpack hit the ground in front of the train station with a notable thud.  When Ardal had cooked up this idea and introduced it to Jo he had forgotten how much stuff one had to take with.  Finding a place out in the country, in spite of potential dangers, away from people to work on her abilities simply seemed the smart thing to do.  Since he knew how exhausting such work could be packing up some equipment so they could eat and sleep also seemed prudent.

 

It did not mean however that he had to like hauling a heavy backpack around.  Specially with his leg already starting to ache.  He pondered the bottle of Advil in his pocket but voted against it for now.  So long as Jo wasn't hampered by it he could make due.

 

Ardal considered it luck that he managed to find a train to take them out this far.  While many lines that had existed before the Resonance no longer did there was still a good number functioning so as to haul goods from the farms and ranches around New York into the city to hungry people.  There was also still more than a few isolated spots that they could work in without having to cross into the Wild Lands and dealing with the Border Guard, which he doubted Jo would have been keen on.  He couldn't say he liked the idea of having his time off documented for potential problems with members in the Order either.  Somehow he doubted Salvatore would have been happy about him attempting to teach a rogue magus so she didn't have to go into the Order.

 

Call him strange but he thought people learning to control their abilities so the public was safe was more important than recruitment.  And he didn't trust ARMA to let her just learn and live either.

 

He didn't let his thoughts wander much over his worries for things.  He'd never taught before after all and he was attempting to help someone with a different kind of magic than himself.  He might still be forced to insist she get formalized training from somewhere.  He was just hoping he didn't have to. 

 

On the plus side however, he was going to be taking a relaxing time camping in what was once upstate New York with a pretty lady.  He could think of worse ways to spend a few days off.

 

"You know, before the Resonance I heard this area was lovely.  I think it managed to retain that trait some," he said with a reassuring smile.  He was sure Jo was nervous as a long tailed cat in a room of rocking chairs.  Even with letting her pick where they were going and leading where ever she felt most comfortable.  It was simply something he would have to work with.  She trusted him enough to let him try and teach her and look into what happened to her.  That was more than enough for now.  He would have been lying to say he wasn't concerned about it however, and he was doing everything he could think of to remind Jo that everything was her decision and not his. 

 

"Doing alright?  If you want we can just wait for a train home and try again when you're ready."

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She was late, she was never late.  Being given the time off was a blessing, her new position in the hospital had smoothed things out considerably.  The bitch squad left her alone, the pay was better.  The hours were fantastic, and things had settled to a relative normal.

 

Plus.

 

Bo.

 

Lips were pressed into an ever present smile, the kind that made everyone think she was up to something... or was infectious enough to make the world around her a little brighter.  Her world at least, was a little brighter.  He was fine.  Safe.. and with someone that made her brow quirk a bit.  Seemed her dorky lady killer brother had found himself a nice gentleman.  She wasn't surprised in the slightest.  it was about time.  She was still sorting things out, the secrecy, the need to stay apart.  The desperate need to learn how to control herself.  She'd blown up a damn car trying to find him.  It was time to figure this out.

 

Soft footsteps were quick into the train station.  She knew this could very well be a mistake. A big one.  Either they had sent the best to lie to her, or he really was willing to help her.  Where her brother was concerned, the rogue magus was willing to crush the world- a little more reckless with her own safety.  Recent developments, slip-ups, oddities.  She understood she had to learn control... and before that, what the hell she could even do.

 

She hopped down the steps two at a time, traveling light.  Some of the worst places in the world had found themselves with her in their midst. She needed relatively nothing to be comfortable. Changes of appropriate clothes, basics, and a good sketchpad and pencils made were all she needed to survive.  Finding him and sliding into the seat next to him, the smile was easy.  The Czech was as close to an angel as one could find nowadays.  Kind, compassionate... and always assuming good intentions with precautions. Ardal had not given her a reason not to trust him.  His arguments were sound.  In all walks of life, there was evil and pain... even in those that claimed to be the salvation of the damned.  Until he gave her reason to think otherwise, his help and company were welcomed.

 

"You know, before the Resonance I heard this area was lovely.  I think it managed to retain that trait some,"

 

"It's gorgeous,"  she said quietly.  "Go up there a lot to sketch for some of my sculptures.  Quiet, not too far obscured from the world in case we need anything.  Truly little cabins in the woods."

 

She also was as familiar with the area as she was with New York.  If things went south, it was a defense all in its own right.

 

"Doing alright?  If you want we can just wait for a train home and try again when you're ready."

 

She nodded her head, peachy curls bouncing at her temples from the loose braid.

 

"I can't lie and say I'm not nervous. I've trusted people before, and they hurt me."

 

She fiddled with the straps on her bag, guilt tainting her mood.

 

"I caused a lot of damage the other day.  Accidentally set a car on fire... there's fear in that too.  I'm afraid I might hurt someone. I'm afraid to find out what I really can do... whether or not I'm a freak.  I have to trust someone.  Everyone else, seems to have an agenda.  Except you."

 

Pale eyes focused on him a moment.

 

"...I can't ignore the fact either that whoever came close to killing me, may not be pleased with you.  If you're willing to stick your neck out, I have to be willing to trust you."

 

The easy smile slid over her features again, there was an incredible relief to finally getting some answers... but still worry in the back of her mind.

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Ardal's smile didn't fade as Jo talked about where they were going.  It would be nice to take in a few sights if there was time, after all they couldn't work without rest.  Well Jo might have but Ardal definitely had to have stopping points or he'd end up bleeding everywhere.  It was simply rude to bleed all over a host's floor.

 

"I would be lying if I did not admit a few nerves about things myself," he stated in an apologetic tone as he switched his normal cane for a trekking pole.  He'd learned early that for the outdoors a normal cane was not nearly so useful when a rogue magus had escaped into the wilds out in L.A.  His smile took a teasing note as he extended the collapsible pole and then started tucking his cane into his pack as best he could.  It was still going to stick out but it was better than nothing.  "Besides the teaching part of matters, you could leave me out here and I'd have not a clue how to get home."


 

He was quiet for a moment at the information that she had set a car on fire.  There was a number of scenarios from that statement running through his mind and it took him a moment to remind himself to breath and collect the facts like he had been trained to instead of running on emotions.  "Did you want to tell me what happened that resulted in the car fire?  You were not hurt were you?  Was everyone else all right?"

 

They weren't idle questions, such activity could have put her on the Order and ARMA's radar and he would rather know who to expect ahead of time than to sit waiting.  Still it was obvious that the incident did not sit well with her either.  Ardal started to raise a comforting hand before remember the rule established when they met.  Jo was worried about burning him and he could understand that, after all in his early days he kept giving people gangrene.  Since the physical was off limits he concentrated on putting his comfort into words.

 

"You are no more a freak than I am.  Less so possibly, I'm a bit of a rarity among magus it seems.  People with abilities and magic and such exist, this does not make one a freak anymore than having red hair or being left handed.  Such traits were once regarded as bad after all and everyone had to conform.  Frankly you don't strike me as one that would care to conform to society's whims.  Learning to control things will help though, which is why I am here.  I'm not out to test your limits or make you into anything.  I simply wish to help you learn control so that you can live a productive and happy life without being afraid to burn people.  So I suppose you could say my agenda is public and personal safety if it would make you feel better."

 

The comforting smile he had on his face only widened when Jo said she would have to trust him.  Progress, slow and steady but progress, was a blessing.  He treasured that as he reminded himself not to abuse it and treat it like the fragile thing it was.  "And I thank you for that trust.  I shall do my best to stay worthy of it," he commented with a small bow before shouldering his bag and maneuvering along.  The trekking pole felt strange in his hand since he had been in the city so long but he knew he would get use to it.  Just like he got use to the boots, jeans, and more rugged clothes he had on.  He certainly had not been about to try navigating the woods and practicing control of magic in his expensive and probably more flammable suits.

 

"Lead on Ms. Jo.  We have a world of work ahead of us I think.  Otherwise you might worry yourself out of matters.  I told you before danger comes with the job and I can handle myself well enough."

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"I would be lying if I did not admit a few nerves about things myself,"

 

Seriously?

 

Good lord was she that bad? How much of a fuck-up was she in the hocus pocus department- was there something he wasn't telling her?  Expression didn't betray her worry, smile a bit softer as he admitted he was nervous about her leaving him out in the woods.  Interest was keen on the use of the cane, partially because she was concerned where they were going might be hard on him, and of course she loved canes anyway.

 

"No, I wouldn't leave you out here," laugh was light, pulling the straps of her bag a little tighter.  "Even if you turned out to be a jackass. High road I always say.  Unless you try to kill me, that's a gamechanger I'm afraid."

 

"Did you want to tell me what happened that resulted in the car fire?  You were not hurt were you?  Was everyone else all right?"

 

Pause left her rolling her lower lip through her teeth before answering.  There were things she couldn't tell him, given the situation. 

 

"Well... the car was a casualty," smile warm, she was trying to make light of the horrible situation she'd found herself in.  "Someone close to me was being harassed. I'm... not quite sure what happened.  The heat thing, or it moved. I think I can move things.  Has happened a couple times before, just not at a gas station when someone was fueling up their car."

 

She noticed he tried to reach out to her, worried that he was worried- as weird as that sounded.  She had warned him about touching her after all.  It was different now, she was tepidly cautious, but no longer threatened by him.  They hadn't even discussed who he was with.  She knew, and it was better for now that they didn't outright discuss it.  The rogue was focusing on the man that was helping her, and not the affiliations he may or may not have had.

 

I'm not out to test your limits or make you into anything.  I simply wish to help you learn control so that you can live a productive and happy life without being afraid to burn people.  So I suppose you could say my agenda is public and personal safety if it would make you feel better."

 

Smile was genuine as he thanked her for her trust.  It was a little of trust, and a little of need and desperation.  Nobody had offered to help since she survived the unthinkable years ago.  He'd yet to ask for anything in return.  She would cross that bridge when they came to it.

 

"Maybe I can teach you how to really use that cane while you're up here with me too," she left it vague, the master of Savate always intrigued with canes- quite the collection on her wall at her studio.  It was an odd skill, a fighting art that was rare even before the world went to hell.  It was unexpected, unpredictable, and brutally refined.  That's why she liked it.

 

"Lead on Ms. Jo.  We have a world of work ahead of us I think.  Otherwise you might worry yourself out of matters.  I told you before danger comes with the job and I can handle myself well enough."

 

She nodded and led on.  The path was exceptionally cared for.  She was not the only artist that found the little haven in the woods.  Out this far, which was not relatively far by pre-Event standards, there were more people around than one would think to maintain a relatively safe space. Who knew what lurked past the cities anymore.  Isolated, yet accessible to others that also were out there and out of sight.  Towering maples lined the main trail, others forking off to cabins she knew. Some were permanent residences, others were day trippers and vacationers like her.  At one time it was a place for the affluent to "rough it" with their time shares.  She'd saved up enough money to start renting the thing about a year ago.  It was small, and completely adorable; weather-tight (she hated spiders... long stories about incidents in South America), and even had a little ranch porch that overlooked a lake- link.  It was a good trek, but not overly so.  Maples slowly gave way to birch trees.signalling her "driveway" was coming up.

 

"People touch me all the time. I touch them... nothing happens," voice was quiet.  Might as well get the ball rolling.  "Angry... afraid, that's when things get out of control.  One of my sculptures moved.  Hundreds of pounds.  The car.  it feels like I've stuck my finger in a light socket until I can get it out."

 

She slowed a bit for a moment, making sure he was keeping up.

 

 

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Ardal listened patiently, glad that no one had been injured.  He had to wonder how her magic worked given that the car had blown up but not the gas line.  That meant whatever it was didn't have enough heat to ignite a combustible fuel which was something to note.  It was a trait of the magic as much as Jo's nervousness having her gnawing on her lip. 

 

"Well, we shall be happy about the lack of organic casualties then.  If it is one thing I know well it's that losses of life are the worst," he commented thinking of his own losses as well as the numerous ghosts that showed up at his doorstep needing help with closure for themselves and loved ones.

 

Her comment of teaching him to use his cane had him raising a brow in curiosity.  "I was never aware I didn't know how to use my cane.  It's for stabilizing and helping me when my leg gets to tired.  I can technically walk for a while without it but it would start hurting quickly and I'd slow people down.  Unless you know of some other way to move around quickly I'm pretty sure I have that one figured out," he said with a teasing smile.  He doubted she knew there was a sword in the cane after all, sword sticks were rare and not many people knew how to use one properly anymore.

 

He managed to keep a steady pace, not ranging to far while Jo lead the way.  His walking stick's rubber tip not making much noise as they moved along.  He had to agree that the countryside was lovely and in a way made him miss the old house his family had owned...before he burned it down anyway. 

 

Perhaps that was why her comment about touching hit him like a slap to the face with a reminder of things lost.  While his family had not been the most affectionate of people in the limelight they had still cared for each other, in their own ways.  His father for example had always been somewhat stand offish but his mother had been a warm and caring individual.  Some political ladies only were part of charity circuits to see and been seen but his mother had been one of the few that cared for hers.  He found that he missed her hugs from when he would visit.  Even Annie's pout when she wanted him to do something he was likely to regret before she gave that little squeal of hers and hugged him like she use to...before things.

 

It all served to poke and prod at how he didn't have a family any more, and fewer friends these days it seemed.  The loss of family though was always hardest.

 

The thought of his family scratched at the back of his mind like an old aching wound hurting from overexertion.  The last time he'd seen his sister as his own father dragged her off from the cages he'd had them trapped in.  How he'd reached terrified fingers out for hers as she screamed and fought like a rabid animal to get away.  The last time he'd seen the house, blood smeared and with corpses laying around like discarded toys.  The last time he had seen his mother physically there had been some thing wearing her skin, her spirit trapped inside as her own hands tried to kill him.

 

And his father...

 

He shook himself out of the memories, his mind shying away from remembering to many details of the horrors.  It would be bad to sit on those memories and not just for himself.  Jo was sensitive to such things and he didn't know how much.  He had long since gotten use to putting them out of his mind for work so it was easy enough to do for this as well.  Years of learned behavior and having to be presentable and inoffensive to the public even when he wanted nothing more than to sit at home coming to his rescue.

 

"I shall remember to do my best to keep you happy with me then.  I would hate to have a lady cross with me anyway," he commented as they came up to a cabin like house.  "So this is yours?  Looks to be a cozy little place.  Have to wonder why you bother with the city with a personal slice of heaven out here." As he spoke he took a moment to really stop and appreciate matters.  Simple and rustic were not his usual style but he had to admit there was a certain draw to it.  Was almost a pity he was not actually on vacation.  Speaking of he would have to remember to figure out his sleeping arrangements before to long.  He needed to set up his wards if he was going to get any sleep and that was better done while he was rested than after long hours of working with Jo on her abilities.

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"Well, we shall be happy about the lack of organic casualties then.  If it is one thing I know well it's that losses of life are the worst"

 

She focused on her footsteps.  So many questions percolating.  It had occurred to her before she locked up her warehouse and headed to the train station that she really had no idea what he was capable of.  The deeper into the woods they got, the more she wondered if she was doing the right thing.  Of course she was doing the right thing.  This was on her terms.  She wasn’t naïve anymore of the dangers.

 

“I was never aware I didn't know how to use my cane.  It's for stabilizing and helping me when my leg gets to tired.  I can technically walk for a while without it but it would start hurting quickly and I'd slow people down.  Unless you know of some other way to move around quickly I'm pretty sure I have that one figured out,"

 

She smiled at his tease, she liked his logical humor- he was adorably quirky.  A weight was beginning to settle around her, the breeze picking it up to tickle on her skin like tiny butterflies.  Sorrow.  Fear. Loss.  Was it from Mr. Ardal?  It had to be, there was nobody else around.

 

“I’m sorry,”  she apologized.  “I didn’t mean to bring up something painful.”  It was the beginning of what she knew was going to be a lot of confessions over the next few days.  “I can… feel those things.  Negative is stronger.  Anger, sorrow.  Floats on the air like a scent.”

 

The first view of her cottage brought a soft smile.  It always did.  Her fortress of solitude, an artist’s den of eclectic test projects and fully built pieces that were too large to bring home. Mostly paintings… some sculpture, test colors, sketches.  She was glad she’d organized before leaving the last time.

 

"So this is yours?  Looks to be a cozy little place.  Have to wonder why you bother with the city with a personal slice of heaven out here."

 

Laugh was light,  "..it's a rental.  Have to work to afford it.  It's going toward owning though, so... someday."

 

Moving up the porch stairs, she set her bag down to look for the keys.  After a few seconds, they twinkled in her fingers and unlocked a series on the door to push it open.  Setting her bag inside the door, she moved one of the porch chairs that were just inside the door and moved it outside, then the other.

 

“Welcome to my art studio away from home,” she smiled. 

 

She picked up her bag and stepped in, the expected mustiness of a deep woods cottage not present in the slightest.  Sandalwood. Cedar.  It was cozy, comfortable, and full of blanket covered canvases link.

 

“There’s a small guest room under the library loft, the bed isn’t massive but it’s comfortable.  Bedding is in the cedar chest at the foot, pillows too.  My flop spot is above it.  A lot of snacks in the pantry, help yourself.  Except the pistachios, I’ll fight you for those.”

 

She left him to his own devices, trotting up to the loft to get settled.  It was her heaven, the window and balcony overlooking the sunrise- pausing to take in the view before she unpacked and was ready for whatever tasks he had for her.

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Ardal mentally scowled at his slip up even as he pushed it all down to make himself an emotional blank slate.  One good thing about his upbringing and the training he had received from the Order was learning to control his emotions, but no one was perfect in such a thing. 

 

"It's not your fault, I will apologize for my lack of control for a moment.  The country side simply reminds me of old times.  My family owned a home outside D.C. into Virginia.  Most people do not realize the amount of woods there and places you can hide.  I miss them, but I should remember to be careful about such things around you due to your own abilities.  Considering what happens when you get upset after all.  Do not fret though, we shall be seeing to getting matters under control so you will no longer have to worry about that," he stated by way of reassuring.  He was not about to let her go thinking that it was her fault after all.  She seemed to like blaming herself for things which would cause guilt and simply cause more potential issues.

 

It was good though to hear her laugh when they reached her home.  She had not been in much of a laughing mood the last time they had spoken and he could not blame her.  After all it was difficult to laugh and relax when you were worried about someone potentially being an assassin or reporting you to authorities you did not want finding you.  He took it as another good sign that she was relaxing with him and trusting him more.  He wondered for a moment how much the cabin actually cost, his inner savior thinking to help with it but he immediately caught himself.  He certainly had not remained financially well off by such moves in spite of his generous nature. 

 

He looked around the humble dwelling with a bit of surprise and more than a little delight.  It was a skill in it's own right to have another home and have it be a home instead of some stale feeling place.  His mother had been a master at having their country home be a home in spite of them commonly being in the city or abroad most of the time.  There may have been paid help but small personal touches had always been there and been from her.

 

And he really needed to stop thinking of his family.  If he kept dwelling on them he would not only keep subjecting Jo to his own emotions but he'd end up having nightmares and that was certainly going to cause issues.  Perhaps he should ask about something to help him sleep, then again his internal clock was off as it was and that would throw it off more.

 

Ah well, he would handle matters when it got there.

"I shall resist the temptation of the pistachios as the lady requests then," Ardal told Jo with a grin and a chuckle.  "I was raised a gentleman after all and we differ to such requests."  That part was only part lie as he had been a pest to his sister on occasion and eaten all of a treat she liked just to spite her.  That however was a big brother prerogative since little annoying sisters did not count as ladies...at least until they got older.


 

Jo headed off to unpack her own things and Ardal collapsed his trek rod for now.  It would ruin the floors in here so he traded it for his cane again before moving around to get himself situated.  Long practice in traveling making it quick and easy to set himself up.  He even manage to make his own bed and pondered for a moment taking a nap first before things.  Normally sunrise was when he headed for bed after all but he figured nap time would happen after lessons.  Though before that he needed to put up his wards or they'd potentially have more visitors and he didn't know how Jo felt about spirits.

 

"Would you be offended if I put up a few wards?" he called out, thinking to ask permission before marking up anything.  Not everyone liked chalk lines and bone powder everywhere.  "They do nothing against people or physical things I promise but without them I'll have...no rest when I try to sleep."

 

Alarming her that ghosts might be around did not seem a wise idea to Ardal quite yet.  After all they had never talked about what he could do and he wasn't sure how she would feel about such a thing.  Not everyone liked necromancers after all, they were viewed in poor light thanks to Hollywood before magic had returned to make everyone's nightmares reality.

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"It's not your fault, I will apologize for my lack of control for a moment.  The country side simply reminds me of old times.  My family owned a home outside D.C. into Virginia.  Most people do not realize the amount of woods there and places you can hide.  I miss them, but I should remember to be careful about such things around you due to your own abilities.  Considering what happens when you get upset after all.  Do not fret though, we shall be seeing to getting matters under control so you will no longer have to worry about that,"

 

Everyone had lost in this game, even those that claimed to be in charge.  He was being careful and she appreciated that, but it made her sound like she owned a demolition company, or she could read his mind.

 

"Nobody I care about seems to have a reason to worry.  That's a small positive at least I guess."   She loved the smell of her cottage, of course it had taken a lot of work for it to not be some back woods, moldy venue.  It had been in good shape to start, which always helped, the look of surprise on his features as he looked around, again the sensation of something coating the edge of her thoughts.  "Give me some credit Mr. Ardal, you didn't think I was bringing you to Camp Crystal Lake did you?"

 

Chuckle was amused as she nearly floated up to her loft, stairs taken two at a time.  Raised a gentleman huh? She could see that, he had an old world charm.  Something her family took for granted but in the States seemed to have escaped mostly everyone.  Bo had done a short tour at the CDC for protocol training before they'd gone to L.A.  While she was there, it had renewed her faith in the gentlemanly sort for a time.  An American South thing or so she'd been told.

 

"Would you be offended if I put up a few wards?"

 

Blink was quiet.  Wards?  She knew what they were, but really had no idea at the same time. The cedar dresser where her clothes were now nestled slid closed quietly as she pondered what he meant.  A twinge of concern tightened the back of her throat.  She had to trust him, more from lack of no other option than anything else.

 

"They do nothing against people or physical things I promise but without them I'll have...no rest when I try to sleep."

 

"Sure,"  she answered from upstairs before she had second thoughts. 

 

Pulling carefully packed bedding and pillows from her own chest at the foot of her enormous bed, she made her giant fortress of solitude, a mountain of white down comforters and pillows.  Leaving him to his own preparations, the rogue slipped out the front door and around the side of the cottage, priming and starting the generator.  Water was turned on, moving back into the cabin to turn on all the faucets and let them bleed for a moment while she made sure everything in the bathroom was working properly.  Satisfied, she lit the fireplace after carefully arranging a small stack, also lighting the stove to put on a kettle of water.  She loved her tea.  She loved her cottage, it was one place she didn't have to worry about the world coming to eat her.  As the water warmed, idle hands wiped down all the eating surfaces and double checked the pantry for any signs of intruders.  All good.

 

"There's tea here, if you'd like some,"  she said quietly, steeping her own and leaving it out for him if he wished.  "Going to the front porch."

 

With that, she took her sketchbook and slid into one of her favorite chairs outside.  She loved this. Everything about it.  She had a feeling she was going to need this calm over the next few days, one way or the other.

 

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Ardal simply grinned as Jo asked if he had thought she was bringing him to Crystal Lake.  Masked lunatics with large knives seemed a foolish thing to be afraid of these days given the multitude of other things one was likely to die of.  Though such beings could potentially be around, specially in the Wild Lands outside of more civilized areas.  Ardal had never been into such places and frankly had no intent on going.  His talents didn't lend to roughing it in the wilds like a pioneer of old.  For one thing his leg would have made him dead meat.

 

Thankfully Jo allowed him to do his wards.  He didn't know if there was anyone that had died in the area around, his senses told him there was nothing.  That however did not mean there was not someone close enough to cause issue.  The region had seen enough history like the rest of the world to result in a few ghosts lurking around.  Ardal had long ago come to the conclusion that everywhere had it's ghosts and he just made setting up wards part of the routine when required.  He would rather be safe than sorry he did not get a full night's rest when dealing with potential monsters the next day.

 

Salt, chalk, and bone powder came out of a small box tackle box.  He kept his wards close, making them as neat as possible so that he was less likely to leave a mess.  He would of course clean up after himself before leaving but it always seemed rude to him to make messes a host was uncomfortable with while staying. 

 

It didn't take long but it did take considerable energy to put up enough wards.  They only operated in straight lines so he needed four just to handle the bed.  One of the reasons he had been keen on getting it done before teaching Jo anything.  The combination of the wards and his usual nocturnal habits had him feeling it when he was finally done.  He pondered coffee for a moment but realized he would have to ask Jo to make it since he wasn't sure where everything was and thought she would dislike him raiding her kitchen.

 

Grabbing one of his customary granola bars that he always had on him and crunching away he headed to the porch where she had said she was going.  He saw she was in the middle of one of her drawings and opted to sit and wait.  While art was not surgery and he probably could have interrupted he thought it more polite to wait until she hit a point she was comfortable pausing at.  The tranquility of the setting seeping into his bones and reminding him of home again though he kept that neatly tucked away.

 

"Much as I have learned a good cup of tea is wonderful, I'm afraid I must beg for coffee.  My personal clock is simply set on nocturnal hours so normally I would be going to bed around now," he explained with an apologetic smile as he settled into the comfy chairs that were sitting on the porch.  It was easy to imagine Jo out here in any weather that did not include freezing temperatures.  He wished he had any talent in art that might have made justice of the sight but alas he was just not made for such things.

 

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Large woven blanket was pulled around her shoulders, her heels tucked up on the chair as she cupped her hands around the mug to let the warmth seep into her fingers.  Head leaned back in the chair and she simply listened to the "silence", the mirror of the lake in front of the cottage calm.  After a few moments a buzz on her skin became evident, pattering away like a whisper of a breeze. Was it this mana they had spoken of before?  Something she was using and able to tap into but not necessarily understand?  Fingers found her brother's ring, turning it in a repetitive smooth circle around her middle finger.

 

The tall Spaniard had come to speak with her some time ago, bearing the gift of her own ring obviously given to him by Bo as some sort of peace offering so she didn't kill him.  She'd let him keep it.  He seemed, attached to it.  Not anything he'd said or did, she just knew.  She was happy for him.  Her brother was a beautiful person.  It allowed her to hang onto a piece of Bo, but made her aware that he now had nothing of hers. She was going to remedy that somehow, just hadn't figured out what to do yet.

 

Fingers had started to sketch by the time Ardal emerged.  She wasn't sure what she was sketching, idle hands not something that made her comfortable for very long.

 

"Much as I have learned a good cup of tea is wonderful, I'm afraid I must beg for coffee.  My personal clock is simply set on nocturnal hours so normally I would be going to bed around now,"

 

"Of course,"  she said quietly, sliding easily upward and transferring the pre-warmed blanket to his shoulders before slipping inside and setting her sketchbook on the side table.  It was nice to have someone to share her joys with, even if for such a short time.  There was enough silence and solitude out here for a half dozen friends to find. 

 

She set to work in the kitchen.  Tea was her preferred method of low dose caffeine delivery, but she had enough coffee in the pantry to drop a horse.  Getting inspired also meant sometimes working for days will little sleep to purge what was churning in her muse.  She had some greeeeat coffee.  A small breakfast tray was set on the counter, several coffee cups and a small container of sugar.  He would just have to live without cream, too perishable for this shindig.  She could get some from down the road if he really wanted it later.  Everything was percolated and poured steaming into an exquisitely crafted eclectic metal coffee pot and placed on the tray.  She'd traded a metalsmith on the other side of the lake for one of her paintings.  She always thought she got the better deal.  A small bowl of pistachios for him.  That was all he was getting, he would have to make them last- a smirk to her lips.

 

Soft footsteps swished across the polished wood and throw rugs.  It felt, nice.  She was a caretaker by nature, and she missed it.  When Bo was engulfed in his work, she would make sure he ate, slept. If he fell asleep at his desk she would cover him with a blanket and prop his head with a pillow... and usually have to save his glasses from getting smushed.  If they were in a remote location, she spent a lot of time with the people there.  Learning to cook and helping where she could while absorbing the art and culture.  She loved children, and she loved making sure people had just a little bit more joy in their day.  Door was gently shouldered, putting the tray safely on the railing as she retrieved a small folding tray table from the inside of the door and opened it to set next to him.  Tray was placed on it, and she flipped both cups to pour, leaving him to his own preferences.  Hers was always black, reaching out to make sure she didn't bump his leg as she moved around him.

 

She had a habit of touching people, taking care of them required it... her nature needed it.

 

She was not expecting what came next; flood of air into her lungs as she took a step back from him and clutched the cup to keep from dropping it, the streaking pain up her knee into her thigh unexpected and disconcerting.  Catching her composure, she wished she could say it hadn't happened before.  Working at the hospital ER, she was prime to see injuries.  At the hospice, severe illnesses.  A trauma case was in recent memory, the gurney smacking into the crash room, her presence requested immediately to keep the blood on the floor from becoming a slippery mess while they were working to save the man's life.  His last living action grabbing her arm.

 

She'd gone home early that day.  Every broken bone, laceration, twinge of agony felt as if it had happened to her.

 

It was rare, but it happened, having no way to explain it to him as she fought to steady the coffee cup that was shaking in her fingers before brushing escaped curls behind her ears.  Leg was cramping, closing her eyes a moment to shed whatever darkness had come with it... nauseating before she returned to her chair without a word.

 

"What happened to you,"  she asked quietly, looking incredibly small in the chair as she pulled up her feet.  Mug was cupped between both hands, watching the serene lake to try to calm her nerves, fingers swiping away bubbling hot tears before they were noticed.  She knew she was being nosy... but for her own sanity... "I need to know."

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Ardal blinked with raised brows of confusion for a second when Jo set the blanket on his shoulders before going inside.  He wasn't use to such simple and familiar gestures.  He had hardly thought his childhood deprived but there was a restraint when it came to such kinds of displays.  Limited to when everyone was gone and it was just family. 

 

He missed it he found.  Perhaps it was because of his upbringing he had not let anyone close enough to really offer that kind of physical comfort or just a hand on the shoulder.  He could tell himself he had simply been to busy and perhaps that was true but there was more to it perhaps.  He buried himself in his work of righting what he could of the world because he did not have anything else.  It made for a lonely life but he had not really thought about it or regretted it until just now.

 

He could almost imagine Annette calling him a stick in the mud over that.  It brought a small, bittersweet smile to his face as he smile and settled back for a moment to steal a few minutes of sleep before his coffee and recharge himself after his ward casting.  He was fairly certain that Annette would have liked Jo.  Not that they were alike really but Annette had been a fan of art and would have loved to hear of Jo's travels.  Annette might have traveled because she was a politician's daughter but unlike Ardal she had always chafed at the restrictions inherent.  She would have thought Jo's life one of freedom, at least before the Resonance and insanity there in.

 

He must have dozed a little bit because the next thing he knew there was a gasp of pain that had his eyes snapping open as he looked to Jo with some concern.  Her fingers were white from holding onto her coffee cup and Ardal immediately reached out to take it from her before she burnt herself.  Whatever happened seem to be passing quick enough but it had taken a bite out of her obviously. 



"Are you alright?" he asked in genuine concern as he helped her hold onto her coffee.  He could feel her hands shaking and while one part of his brain told him that was a bad idea he remembered that she said it as alright.

 

He didn't let go until he was sure she could handle her own coffee and then he sat down, still giving concerned looks before getting his own coffee together.  His expression turned to puzzlement when she asked what happened to him and stated that she needed to know.

 

"So what is bothering you has to do with me?" he asked with notable confusion even as he was mildly relieved to see some color returning to her face.  "As in my leg?  I told you that my father crippled me due to insanity.  Was there a reason you needed to know more detail on the subject?"

 

He was trying to understand so that he might help better.  He was not keen on going into the situation but he was not adverse to it if required.  He was simply bemused at how his past and his leg had anything to do with her outside of her abilities and strange senses for the injured.  Perhaps it was something like being a medium for spirits really.  She simply was drawn to the injured instead of the dead.  Even then however his leg had long since been healed to the best of ability.  Short of paying for surgeries that might not do much to help matters there was nothing more to be done.  His leg worked as well as was required for matters he dealt with.

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"Are you alright?"

 

She had to keep her guard up around other people. Too relaxed, too calm.  When she stopped in the presence of others, whatever hocus pocus hiding under her skin seeped into her thoughts.  Of course, when she was pissed off or angry, it went in the other direction and exploded outward; violent and uncontrollable.  In this place, she was always calm; the false sense of security lulling her into a focused snippet in time and the world invaded without her permission.  She touched him on accident.  It stuck with her, pale green moving to his fingers as they steadied the cup... she could get rid of it, not knowing quite what it would do to him or whether or not she could control it.

 

She held onto it instead, the chill coating the inside of her skin like frost as she stole back into her own space, and her own chair.

 

"So what is bothering you has to do with me?"

 

"No,"  answer was quiet.  "It happens with anyone, when I’m calm.” 

 

"As in my leg?  I told you that my father crippled me due to insanity.  Was there a reason you needed to know more detail on the subject?"

 

"To see if I'm right,"  coffee sipped, her eyes focused on a far point until they closed.  Fingers rubbed calmly between her brows, resisting the urge to rub her leg. It was there, throbbing with a deep halo of other things she couldn’t quite place.  Familiar faces not familiar, fear, horror, sadness.  Fingers went up to dismiss the question quietly, a few long breaths to pull herself out of it.  If she wanted to stand at the moment, she probably wouldn’t have been able ‘to- the pain so intense.  “Nevermind, it’s okay.”

 

Silence hung a moment, unable to deny the pain any longer that was just starting to ebb away.  First flinch of pain crossed her forehead, a seethed sigh outward as she massaged the muscles around her knee to finally stretch it out in front of her.

 

“I feel like a door in the wilderness, unlatched and left to swing whatever way it wishes with the wind.  When my world is calm, the wind pushes it open to let itself in, when I’m not it thrusts outward to harm others.  I can feel people,”  she sipped her coffee, “what’s around them, what’s in them.  Sometimes I keep what I feel even though it doesn’t make any sense to me.  If I try to get rid of it, it changes somehow. Some kind of energy push, like a weapon.”

 

It had occurred to her more than once that the reason she had been taken was because she seemed to be able to turn pain and suffering into a weapon. She refused to believe it, that she could have become such a horrible thing.  There had to be another purpose.  From what she knew of others, they all had a “theme”.. or something that effect. Hers was taking and inflicting pain?  There had to be another answer.

 

“How did you figure out what you could do?”

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Ardal frowned a little when Jo backed off from matters.  It wasn't that he was unwilling to speak about matters...at least not to much.  It was more he did not understand how his situation hurt her.  He did not want to tell her if it would cause more pain and misery but from the looks of it she was in more than enough pain already.

 

He listened quietly though as Jo spoke.  It was illuminating to how things seemed to work for her magic.  It sounded exhausting as well but he was starting to see how things had been working and they might be able to come up with ways to handle things...potentially anyway.  There was so many questions in his head now about matters, experiments they could try out if and when she was ready to.  He said nothing of them though as Jo asked how he had figured things out.


"My...abilities and my leg are not unconnected," he admitted looking uncomfortable but resolute.  He was not certain what Jo could gain from his own story but since they kept coming back to it he could only assume it was going to need to be told sooner rather than later.  "While my father did descend into a level of madness from his abilities I thought I had been going crazy.  Back when the Resonance began and the insanity of the times started up I started...hearing things.  Seeing things.  I would sit and say nothing and try to ignore it as best I was able but...I ended up retreating because it was difficult to take it in."

 

He shifted in his seat a bit, getting his own coffee together to help warm himself as he felt his stomach get cold from the memories.  "You seem to be able to take in the emotional status of a person without real effort.  In my case...I can see and hear the dead with no real effort.  They can trail behind people like chains though most seem to be stuck in any given place.  It is...not a pleasant thing to see, someone trapped in the moment they died."

 

He settled back with his coffee, giving himself time to sip the hot black liquid and feel the heat of it seep into his bones while he did his best to block the worst of the memories.  It had been horrible to move through the days and nights with things.  He had not learned of wards yet so sleep had been impossible with ghosts clawing and tugging at him.  During the day they had been missing from his sight but he could hear them here and there like whispers.  Trying to hide all of that from the world while it was going mad had been difficult and he had been sure at the time mental breaking.  In reality he had just been another person being changed in ways he could not have possibly imagined.

 

"My family owed a home not unlike this one, though larger.  It was set back in the country so we had a real home away from society and the political circus we were often in with my father being an involved senator.  I knew he had retreated there with my mother and sister already thinking to distance himself from the chaos of the city.  In an effort to get help for myself I went out to see if maybe he or my family or even our workers who tended things might have some ideas to help.  I was going days without sleep and could barely eat from matters you see.  It...was worse there though and I had not known."

 

He went quiet a moment, setting his coffee down and rubbing at the phantom pain in his leg from memories.  His eyes were distant as he recounted things, seeing them as fresh as the days they happened.  "He had already snapped by that point.  I often wonder if I might have been of more help before then.  If in letting him know and going with them ahead of time he and I might have been able to lean on each other and kept him from crumbling underneath.  I cannot change that though, I hid like a child thinking that would somehow make things better."

 

"He had...been working through the workers, I don't know what for.  Some...twisted thing was hanging around him constantly and I can only assume that it was pulling his strings somehow but I know not for what.  I was thrown in one of the dog kennels we had on the grounds and penned with my mother and sister for...days it felt like.  He dragged my mother off at some point and killed her, with some...thing using her body like clothes.  I managed to get out of my cage one night and went running for help but the next nearest person was a good mile away.  I was caught and dragged back where he managed my leg with a knife before throwing me back in the cage like an animal to be covered with my own filth.  A humbling experience he called it in his madness."

 

He sighed out a breath and rubbed at his leg more before collecting his coffee again to warm his bones.  "Infection set in quick enough I'm sure you can imagine.  My sister tried through our bars to help I think but I was feverish and not very coherent I'm afraid.  I remember waking up at some point to her screaming and apparently it had been her turn to be dragged off to whatever fate.  I remember trying to catch her hand and hold onto it but he dragged her away like he had everyone else."

 

Now he seemed to turn quizzical, analyzing matters with hindsight and a brain that was turned to trying to help Jo handle her own issues.  "Duress does seem to bring things into some kind of focus, like flipping on a light switch.  It was a common happening before people knew what to do about their abilities or had places to turn.  The abilities are natural things but we don't know how to use them.  They are there however so the brain and body when in fight or flight mode will trigger it and use it somehow.  In my case, I had been seeing these ghosts all this time but only after my sister was dragged off, when I was out of options to plan out and I was desperate did I do more than see and have a conversation with them.  I...bent some for lack of a better term.  Made it do what I wanted it to do." 

 

He waited for a few letting his tale sink in some with Jo for a few.  She was likely to have questions after all so he thought it best to let her get them out of the way.

 

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Kind features were a bit sullen, seeing the frown, not knowing what to say or how to fix the situation.  She was travelling into waters that she’d never tread before. She didn’t talk about these things, about anything related to her powers.  It was just too dangerous.  He was trying, she knew he was… nothing seeming to be the right thing to say.

 

"My...abilities and my leg are not unconnected,"

 

She had gathered that, still unfamiliar with how her mind worked.  The rogue couldn’t yet separate what was a guess, from what was a gut feel.  She was also injured because of what she’d done to herself, he apparently had it happen in another way- the emotion from the situation making it really hard to separate what she was feeling from the pain in his leg.

 

"While my father did descend into a level of madness from his abilities I thought I had been going crazy.  Back when the Resonance began and the insanity of the times started up I started...hearing things.  Seeing things.  I would sit and say nothing and try to ignore it as best I was able but...I ended up retreating because it was difficult to take it in."

 

Nod was strong, she was listening, intently… every bit of information, anything he said or shared that could be the key to sorting things out in her muddled abilities.

 

"You seem to be able to take in the emotional status of a person without real effort.  In my case...I can see and hear the dead with no real effort.  They can trail behind people like chains though most seem to be stuck in any given place.  It is...not a pleasant thing to see, someone trapped in the moment they died."

 

A knot was growing tight in the back of her throat.  She could feel it, hovering in the air like a thick fog.  Watching him, she took a sip of her own coffee and settled back comfortably in her place, letting everything sink in as she listened to his own ‘haunts’.  Everyone it seemed, had the world pulled out from under them.  Her struggles were not unique, or binding, or an excuse to find a reason to withdraw.  People had successfully worked through them, he’d offered to help.  Maybe things were actually changing now for the better.

 

"Duress does seem to bring things into some kind of focus, like flipping on a light switch.  It was a common happening before people knew what to do about their abilities or had places to turn.  The abilities are natural things but we don't know how to use them.  They are there however so the brain and body when in fight or flight mode will trigger it and use it somehow.  In my case, I had been seeing these ghosts all this time but only after my sister was dragged off, when I was out of options to plan out and I was desperate did I do more than see and have a conversation with them.  I...bent some for lack of a better term.  Made it do what I wanted it to do." 

 

She was quiet for a long time, the flickers of light on the tips of ripples in the lake incredibly interesting.

 

“I lost my brother.”

 

The words were, excruciating to say out loud.  She’d never admitted it to herself out loud.  Even saying his name brought a sense of pain that ripped up through her spine and made her skin hot.

 

“My parents, family gone long before the first Nevus.  Worst of it, is I don’t know what happened to him.  Went to find him at work when I realized something was very wrong.  Ended up at the bottom of an elevator shaft in a struggle with someone that had been altered right out of the gate. Woke up a day later.  Nothing since.”

 

Sigh was long and pained.  She didn’t know what was worse, seeing your family dragged off to a fate too terrible to witness, or never knowing what had happened to him, the hope every day they still may be alive slowly eating away at your sanity.

 

“I searched hospitals.  Never could find him.  The rest, is as I told you.” 

 

She had vowed never to speak of him, feeling like she owed him for the incredible things he’d shared with her.  Emotions, memories pattering at her skin and dying away as she drank her coffee.

 

How in the world am I supposed to sort this all out without hurting myself and everyone around me?  I’ve seen what it does to me when I get out of control.  I have no training Mr. Ardal, nothing but what was forced on me in that hellhole in Italy.  I saw what I did there.  Burned myself almost to death.”  Head shook, peachy curls moving with the motion, blanket wrapping tighter around her shoulders.  “Maybe it’s best to just leave it alone.”

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"My condolences," Ardal said as Mare spoke of her brother.  He could relate all to well to that after the loss of his sister.  At least he knew her fate though from what the Order had told him.  It was all pathetic comfort though compare to the cold losses they had suffered, both during the Resonance and before it.

 


"We can see about finding him if you would like?" he offered.  He had offered before but he thought that perhaps Mare would be more comfortable with it since she was trusting him a little more.

 

She was afraid though, it was there in her nervous comment about leaving her powers alone.  He could understand that given the destructive nature of her powers but he still thought it was better to have actual control instead of avoiding the issue as it was.  Convincing Mare of that was the question.

 

"Do you really think it's a better plan to leave it alone and hope nothing happens?" he asked simply, inviting Mare to explain her logic.  Logic was something that could be argued after all though there was the emotional part as well.  "Or are you afraid of it?  Those are very different concerns after all.  I can only address one of them I'm afraid.  The other is up to you."

 

He went quiet for the moment, letting that since into Jo's head some.  ​"It's a natural thing to be afraid you know?  History is full of times like this, where people are scared to find out the world is much larger and stranger than they think.  The earth being round, there other strange continents.  Invention, science, different methods of worship.  All things that people consider scary.  If we learn about them, cautiously but carefully, they become far less terrifying but we have to be brave enough to try and understand the world around us and ourselves first."

 

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Her hands seemed incredibly interesting as he offered his sympathies for the loss of her brother. Condolences were for dead people, weren’t they?  He wasn't dead, she had to let the world think that he was.  The first time someone had offered to find her brother had led to merciless torture and awakening of things she had no idea could exist. Now, she was at her cottage taking a second shot at letting someone train her again. Fool her twice? Shame on her. She wanted to presume positive intentions and he’d given her no reason to fear him. It was in her nature to trust… and she was tired of hiding- still the fear was in the back of her throat that this entire thing could be a ruse.

"We can see about finding him if you would like?"

She stayed silent for a while, watching the ripples in her coffee from her breath as she sighed quietly and contemplated. She’d been down this road.

“No, it’s okay,” she wasn’t going to let it get further, or truly wasn’t ready to trust.  There was no way she was telling anyone he was alive.  Not now, not ever.  “It’s been a long time. Think it might just be time to let it go…”

..and that included her powers. There was no plan to back out of this, but the doubts were piling up. Was he sensing her sudden apprehension? She brought him here for a reason, this place calmed her. It was a good place to be when discussing the situation.

"Do you really think it's a better plan to leave it alone and hope nothing happens?"

“I was forced to play with it and almost killed myself,” she answered smoothly.

"Or are you afraid of it? Those are very different concerns after all. I can only address one of them I'm afraid. The other is up to you."

The tip of her finger played with the lip of her mug absently.

​"It's a natural thing to be afraid you know?”

She listened to the rest of his words carefully, the prickle of her spine tapping at her to get her attention, “I’ve accepted that I’m different and nothing will change that. I’m more concerned with intent. The people you trust tortured me, killed others to bring me back. I trust you, I do. But how do you know someone else won’t swoop in when I learn how to blow up the world and take me away from you?”

Blowing up the world was figurative of course, but the point was clear- she would rather take the danger on herself to keep things squelched than become an instrument for someone elses purposes.

“If I can use it to solely help people, then I refuse to be afraid. If not, I think it’s better left alone,” pale jade looked to him, then back to the lake in front of them. "Truth is, I'm more afraid of you than finding out about myself. You are from the same group that tortured me after all..." half small was soft. "I'm either incredibly stupid for trusting that again, or have overcome a major hurdle of fear already and that says volumes about you."

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