Well, many, many thanks to Jason X, who helped me through this. And helped me start off. He was an awesome co-writer, and I'm mostly pleased with how this turned out. The clunkers are ones I can live with, so to speak.

And, you know, you're inevitably made stronger.

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What Doesn't Kill You

Nagia and Jason X

Chapter One

1

Ashley's breath frosted in the air, making a puff of white smoke, though it did so only in his vision. A man walked right past him, never even looking at him even though he was six feet tall. The illusion of invisibility was leaking slowly away at his remaining energy, but putting on another would do little. What he really wanted was sleep, and a good deal of it.

He stared at the Cathedral before him, his eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed, a truly ferocious scowl on his face. The hideous looks he'd tossed casually at Grissom and Sydney's cultists did not compare to his current expression. Had any mortal seen him, they wisely would have run and not because of his reputation as a murderer.

((tell me why you have come)) The voice reaching into his soul was feminine, and while not loud, neither was it inaudible.

((out)) He replied forcefully, pushing the too-familiar presence in the desired direction and slamming the entry to his mind and soul shut.

((WHERE WERE YOU))

This contact made him wince; being this loud and invasive was unusual for Callo, but he supposed that she was upset at him for something. Couldn't for the life of him guess why, however. Women could be such mysteries.

((Another time Merlose... I am busy)) He replied, now focusing on activity within the Cathedral.

When no response came, he assumed she had accepted his words.

Hmmm. The Cardinal seals his chambers well. Why can't I scry to that aide, though? I always could before.

The movements of magick in the Cathedral had always been odd, but now they shifted to a downright bizarre flow.

Then, suddenly, the aide's mind was laid open before him, like a gruesome tapestry that he'd been trying to see.

He knew a trap when he saw one, and turned to go— he'd been here too long, surely a Church-trained Mage had sensed him by now.

He mentally cursed himself for an idiot when he saw her, standing there with her arms folded across her chest and her lips pursed.

And to think, he hadn't sensed her. She'd grown in her power since he last saw her.

The noonday sun contrasted the dark figure before him with the light gray cobblestone, the array of light cast by the Cathedral painting the center colors.

((time has not been kind to you Agent Riot)) She said, still using his VKP title, even after all this time.

((what mean you)) He replied, frowning at her odd statement. He was immortal now— he neither died nor aged.

((that scowl)) There lay a smile in her voice.

He raised his eyebrows, confused for a moment. Then he remembered the Mage. The frustration at his difficulty in making contact with him. He relaxed his face muscles, letting his expression return to its normal, stone cold blank slate.

((you came not to shoot th' breeze)) He said, anxious to return to his work. ((what business brings you to me this day))

She sighed in exasperation. ((always to the point eh Riskbreaker? some things never change))

He sighed as well. Time, as they said, was money, and she was wasting his. ((as you say)), he pressed. ((to the point...))

She placed her hands on her hips. ((the point is a riot. two of them))

He raised an eyebrow quizzically. ((I have sensed no such disturbance...))

She laughed. It was quite a sight. Actually, not one at all. Not a soul could see either of them in the middle of the busy street, and he felt that it was almost a shame. She was rather beautiful when she laughed. ((you have grown senile as well these past years,)) she mused. ((two riots)), she continued. ((ones with names))

The scowl returned to his face. ((I have no time for this)) he spat. ((My patience for the VKP and its lies has long since worn thin))

Callo's face softened. She had been upset with him at first, but now it was clear that she had not approached him to argue. ((Your family, Ashley. They yet live...))

((You lie!)) He cried, turning away.

She magicked before him. (('Tis neither lie nor aught the VKP would tell you.))

((how would you find such information, even if it were true)) He replied, his eyes dangerously narrowed.

((The Rood you wear about your neck, Riot. The energy of the person connected to it does not stink of death. It lives. And it loves you.))

((we shall speak of this in flesh, Merlose)) He said, and changed his illusion to that of a young VKP cadet.

She nodded, and vanished, knowing it would only antagonize him when he had to pick up her mental trail.

2

Callo gazed down at the man sitting at her kitchen table, fingering the Rood about his neck. Night had long since fallen, and Ashley had not moved from his seat. He seemed so sad, and alone, and small, despite his size.

The vision, as all of them before had, came like lighting, sending jolts down her body and speeding her heart.

(Her eyes oh god her eyes her eyes blood from her mouth jolt up my arm oh god who is this woman she doesnt fit the orders she doesnt fit who the hell oh god her eyes)

And then the images came: a woman, laughing, wandering off— dying in agony as the viewer slaughtered her. A little boy, affectionate and smiling with a wide, bright smile; a crossbow bolt, the arrow piercing his heart. The shock of loss, the jolt of murder, the abandonment and joy of the hunt, all emotions mixed together in the pit of her stomach.

She winced, physically hurt by what she had just seen.

"Merlose?" Ashley asked, suddenly returning to reality and noticing her presence in the room. "Is aught wrong?"

"Nay," She replied, shaking her head sadly. What could she possibly say?

"Lie not, Merlose. What ails thee?" He said sternly, glaring down at her.

She realized that she was in a most un-ladylike position, her knees on the floor and her feet behind her, spread apart.

She managed to stand, and then answered. "I…had a vision, but 'twas not a vision. 'Twas a…burst of emotion, and the sight of a thing I cannot describe, and the voice of a man's mind running through my head."

And the feeling came again, lighting jolting all over her body and her stomach convulsed and her heart throbbed to an alien beat.

(The bright-haired woman falls, slain by a black knight's sword. Rushing to aid her, something by his ear. Turning, blur of grass, blur of a child falling. Collapsing. Head aches. Agony. Retching. Agony. Horror. Horror. Horror. Agony.)

Her hands tore at her head, she couldn't stop the tears, the sobs. She nearly choked. And then she felt so warm, so safe.

"Quiet, now. I know. I've seen it too. 'Tis…mine." His voice was softer, and while not gentle, was not as harsh as it often was.

"What have you…barred from me, Riot? What have you forbidden me from feeling?"

"My memories and ghosts are mine, Merlose. I prefer to be their keeper."

Callo nodded, and frowned as she found that the world still bobbed even though she had ceased moving her head. Her neck ached.

She did not notice the floor as her head fell to greet it.

*INTERLUDE*

"Wake." The word of Command is enough to open her eyes, but not necessarily her mind, apparently.

Ashley watches grimly as Callo rolls over, turning on her side and trying to ignore the world— he notes the tear streaks on her cheeks and pities the lass. Visions in one's sleep are a generally unpleasant business, and for a Heart Seeker will not allow the poor Mage to rest.

"Live." He Commands, touching her shoulder gently.

She moans and opens her eyes.

"How long did I dream?" She asks blearily. "Did the lad manage without me?"

"Bordering on three days. I didn't know you'd grown that strong." Ashley replies wearily.

"Where shall you go next?"

"Home," he says, wary but willing to believe her. "I shall go home."