Chapter 3

Dusk fell on the American California Ashford Manor; one of the many mansions Alexia and her brother owned worldwide. This one was every bit as spacious and elegant as the one at Rockfort had been, and it's design was much the same with the exception of more balconies overlooking a beautiful bay. The large expanse of forest and land surrounding the place for over a mile was theirs alone, and they made good use of it with several smaller research centers and a smorgasbord of captive animals occupying the premises.

This particular evening found Alfred searching the many rooms of the manor for his sister. Dressed in only the finest designer clothes--he would never settle for anything less than the best; today he was outfitted in a fancy green shirt with complimentary beige pants--he strode into one of the many family rooms.

There he was greeted by the sight of Ash lounging on the couch, munching mouthfuls of what looked like chocolate-covered raisins while watching a big screen TV. The volume was up quite loud.

" Ash? " Alfred tried.

His son didn't even notice him, and instead continued watching the tube. It was some program about a surfer.

Alfred took a moment to notice his choice of attire: an expensive uniform consisting of a blue and gold top with white pants. It much mirrored the red and gold uniform Alfred sometimes wore, minus the red.

Ash seemed abnormally infatuated with the color blue. He chose it over any other color.

Though Alfred had to admit he had good taste, at the moment he was feeling rather impatient. He needed to find Alexia.

Without another moment's hesitation, the older Ashford marched right over to the coffee table, snatched the remote, and pressed the 'off ' button.

Now Ash noticed. " What did you do that for? " He complained, giving his father a disapproving glare.

Alfred was not in the mood. " Have you seen your mother? "

Ash's response was quick and sarcastic. " Yes, many times." He reached into the yellow box he was holding, scooped out another handful of chocolaty goodness, and tossed them into his mouth.

Alfred frowned. At nineteen years old, his son was a disrespectful, disobedient delinquent, especially towards him. That in itself would've qualified most people for the guillotine, but Ash was family. Not only that, he practically worshiped the ground Alexia walked on. If it weren't for this fact--and for the fact that Alexia was quite fond of her son--Alfred would've disowned him years ago.

He thinks he's such a hotshot. Alfred thought bitterly. He had been used to having his twin all to himself. Now he had Ash to compete with for her affections. And of all things, Ash was quite good at pleasing Alexia. It's almost like…almost like he's replacing me.

The thought both frightened and saddened him.

Alfred loved his sister very much. A little too much, actually. He would do anything for her. He would die for her. After all they'd been through together--he'd thought nothing would ever be able to come between them.

But lately, Ash seemed to be doing just that. Alexia seemed to spend more time with him than Alfred, and it seemed to him that she was a little more lenient where Ash was concerned. In fact, she even allowed Ash to disrespect him in her presence.

One the flip side, Alfred still loved his son, and would never wish to see any harm come to him; but nowadays father and son were more like rivals than family.

" No, I mean have you…where is she? " Alfred demanded, tone equally as rude as Ash's had been.

Ash shrugged. " What do I look like, a radar? She's probably down in the labs hiding from you." He continued eating his treats and reached for the remote; considering the discussion over.

Alfred was enraged. " Give me those! " He ripped the yellow box out of Ash's hands and started reading the label.

" Hey! " Ash complained.

" Tasty Critters…chocolate covered ants? " Alfred made a most disgusted face, " You eat ants?! "

" Oh. So that's what they are. " Ash shrugged, not at all upset by the concept, " I thought they tasted a bit crunchier than the usual chocolate covered raisins. It would seem the servants goofed up. Can I have them back now? " He reached for the box.

Alfred backed up and held it beyond his reach. " Your mother would be most displeased to learn you have been eating these. Does her work with the T-Veronica virus mean nothing to you? Ants are a scientific marvel--a wonder of nature. They are respected in this family."

Ash rolled his eyes. " Whatever. Those aren't Mother's anyway, and they're already dead, therefore making them useless to her studies. They're really quite tasty. I want them back."

Alfred could not believe his ears. " Ashfords do not eat ants! "

" Says you! " Ash got up and started for the box.

Alfred backed away, narrowing his eyes on the younger Ashford, " And when I find your mother I'll be sure to tell her what you think of the subject."

" Oh yeah? " Catching up with Alfred, Ash grabbed the box with both hands and pulled very hard.

Equally as determined, Alfred held on. He also was pulling very hard.

A door opened to the left, and Alexia entered just in time to see the box tear in half and Ash and Alfred fall on their butts in a rain of chocolate covered ants.

They were everywhere--on the floor, on the sofa, in her family's hair and clothes.

Both Ashfords looked up quickly at her arrival.

" Alexia! I was just looking for you! " Alfred greeted, rising and brushing the chocolate ants off his clothes in an attempt to look more regal in the presence of his sister.

Alexia knew he'd been fighting with Ash again.

On one side, she was flattered that they both cared so much for her--they were loyal in the extreme. She knew that she would always be able to count on them.

On the other side, their childish fights and arguments were a real tax on her patience.

Ash rose, shaking the ants off. He smiled when he saw his mother. " Hi Mom."

Alexia frowned. " What are those? " She pointed to the chocolate ants littering the floor.

" Those? Well, they…they're…um…" Ash stammered, afraid to tell her the truth. Dad was right…Mom won't like the idea of me snacking on chocolate covered ants in this household. She practically worships them…oh boy, I'm in trouble! His eyes fell to the floor.

Alfred had no qualms with finishing the answer. " They're chocolate covered ants! " He announced proudly, glad that Ash would finally be getting in trouble with Alexia for a change.

What Alfred did not realize was that the air with which he said that suggested to Alexia that he, too, had been eating the ants.

Alexia was far from amused. " I don't think I need to explain why this embarrasses me. An insult to the family name."

" I thought you said Alexis was the insult to the family name." Ash brought up. Alfred wanted to slap him. Ash, my boy, you really don't know when to keep your mouth shut!

Alexia glared at her son, annoyed.

Ash swallowed nervously. He could tell he was heading up Danger Creek…Alexia did not liked to be mocked.

Why oh why did I go and say that? Ash thought, regretting his words. His problem was that sometimes his lips moved when he had thoughts.

" I mean…nevermind. Sorry, Mother." He redeemed.

Alexia rolled her eyes, but seemed to accept the apology.

" Come with me, Alfred. I have something to discuss with you."

Alfred was electrified. She actually wants to talk to me alone! It was almost too good to be true.

Alexia held open the door and gestured for him to follow.

Ash knew better than to press his luck by asking to join. " I'll just stay here and take care of this mess." He announced, watching his parents leave the room.

But his mind was buzzing with the question: I wonder what she wants to talk to him about?

With a sigh, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small cell phone. It was time to call in a maid to clean up this mess so he could finish watching TV.

*************************************

Walking down the halls with her, Alfred couldn't help but to feel a certain excitement radiating from his twin. Even her stride seemed quickened, as if she could not wait to get to wherever they were going.

Wherever it was, she was dressed for the occasion in a fanciful red evening gown with white cotton gloves extending just past her elbows. The gown itself seemed to shimmer--as if there were a magical spell placed upon it.

Alexia lead him without a word through the corridors, past the servants and maids' quarters, down the stairs, and into the lower levels of the establishment. She stopped in front of an ironclad door.

" Please say the password." The computer voice prompted once she pressed a button off to the door's right.

" Stroganoff fifty-five." Alexia blurted, surprising Alfred.

The computer took a moment to process that.

" Stroganoff fifty-five? " Alfred repeated, eyebrows raised in question, " Does that hold some significance to you? "

Alexia laughed. " Of course not! That's what makes it the perfect password. "

" Access granted." The computer announced in it's robotic put-me-to-sleep voice. There was a sharp 'click' as the door unlocked.

Alexia pushed it open with ease.

" Aren't you worried you might forget such an…unusual password? " Alfred brought up.

" No," his twin replied, " Not likely. That's what makes my passwords tricky. Father was such a fool…anyone with half a brain could figure out that 'Veronica' was the code to almost all his major systems."

" I concur." Alfred agreed, " After all, Veronica's picture was hanging in practically every room in every place we ever lived. And those twits say I'm obsessed."

He was shocked at what he found waiting on the other side of the ironclad door. A generous-sized room lay before him with plush red carpeting, a small but exquisite coffee table complimenting a violet-red velvet couch, a roaring fire in a fireplace, and a small TV overlooking a lavish queen-sized bed. A radio was off in the corner, playing classical music on low. There were no windows anywhere.

Alfred inhaled the scent of rich chocolate incense.

" Go to the couch." Alexia instructed.

Alfred did as he was told, and heard the click of the heavy iron door being locked.

Needless to say, that made him just a tad nervous. Had she locked the doors to keep the others out, or to keep him in?

Alfred loved his sister dearly, but even he had to admit she had a history of turning on family members. Not like he didn't, but now he was completely at Alexia's mercy.

He shook the thought aside. Nah, Alexia'd never turn on me. What reason would she have? He had never done anything but please her his entire life. She would have no reason to be upset with me. Besides, she puts up with a heck of a lot from Ash.

Alexia drifted over and sat next to him. Their eyes met.

" What do you wish to discuss, Alexia? " He couldn't take his eyes off her. She's so beautiful.

A smile played at the edges of Alexia's ruby-red lips. She ran a hand through her straw-blonde hair, as if playing with the idea of what to say to him.

Just as she'd expected, her brother became very curious--she could see it in his eyes, the way they kept flitting around quizzically, taking in the new environment.

Peeling off one of her expensive white gloves, Alexia touched a bare finger to the wick of a candle sitting on the coffee table--setting it ablaze instantly. She repeated the process for Alfred's candle, then leaned back and replaced her glove.

Alfred didn't know what to think. His sister was usually a very cold, serious woman, but this room had a very romantic feel to it.

" I wish to try an experiment," Alexia said simply, " One to which I am sure you will agree to."

Alfred's original worry multiplied. " What kind of an experiment? " He tried to make it sound like a calm, casual question.

Alexia smiled wickedly. " Oh, don't worry: I do not wish to experiment on you. As you know, I have been continuously researching my virus; discovering my strengths and weaknesses. You know, besides Redfields with linear launchers. Anyway, to make this sweet and simple, I have concluded that if I were to become pregnant again, my next offspring would possess amazing powers and intellect. Another queen ant in the grand scheme of things."

Alfred could barely believe his ears. Being fairly intelligent himself, he understood what Alexia was hinting at.

And he wanted it. The thought of being with her in that way again was elating.

Still, he had to be sure this was what Alexia really wanted. " But I thought you wanted to be the one and only Queen." He almost whispered.

Scooting closer, Alexia leaned over and whispered in his ear, " It gets lonely being here at the top. Even a queen must have a worthy heir." Her voice was a seductive purr, and it was simply too much to resist.

Turning to face her, Alfred met her lips in a tender kiss. There was a flare of wild excitement in her eyes as she reached up to stroke his hair.

" I want another child. A child of pureblood. Will you do me the honor of being the sire? "

" Yes." Alfred purred, giving into the lust, " When shall we start? "

Alexia gestured all around the room with her hand. " This whole area is sound-proof and completely secure. Even if someone figures out the password is stroganoff fifty-five, they still have to possess my voice. That just isn't going to happen. There's a bed over there…now would be a good time to place our order with the stork, if you know what I mean."

Alfred knew exactly what she meant. With a curt nod, he followed her to the bed……

***********************************************

Just over three months later….

Alexia's newest daughter awoke, surrounded by blankets. She wriggled about for a second in them, enjoying their soft touch. They weren't as warm as the place she'd just been, and they weren't what she was used to, but it was a nice change. Nice to feel the dryness of air. Nice to take her first actual breaths.

She just wanted to rest, to be warm….movement.

Something was touching her, rubbing all over her skin. She cried out in surprise and fear.

What was this new thing? Was it going to hurt her?

By reflex, she opened her eyes…and the entire world was transformed.

Colors! Images! Not just darkness anymore…this was new. This was good.

She saw a large form in front of her, putting some soft, colorful things over her skin. Instantly, she knew that this was her mother and that she was safe.

Satisfied in that certainty, she wiggled her arms and legs, getting used to their movement and the way they functioned.

" Alexandra! Will you hold still? " A voice boomed, sounding as loud as a 747 jumbo-jet to her tender ears.

She realized the voice had come from her mother, and she did not sound happy.

Alexandra…is that me? The baby wondered. She had no idea how she knew this, and she did not understand the rest of her mother's words, but she knew her mother had called her Alexandra. She just knew it to be fact, as real as the warm fuzzies around her.

Alexandra opened her mouth to say 'I'm here, please hold me!', but all that came out was " Gaa."

Her mother did not seem to understand this. Instead of holding her, she started walking away!

" Awaahh! " Alexandra called, Come back!

Alexia did return, holding something small and shiny. She reached down and…a sharp prick! A sting! Alexandra cried out in pain. The shiny thing was hurting her!

She tried to struggle away, but Alexia held her still. Alexandra caught a glimpse of the shiny thing filling up with something red. After a horrible moment, the thing pulled away and her mother put something sticky on her arm where it had bitten.

Then she started leaving…Alexandra was about to cry out again when another form appeared. It looked like her mother only…different somehow. This 'Other' picked her up and held her to him closely, rocking gently.

This is nice. I like this. Alexandra thought. She closed her eyes.

" Just as I thought," She heard her mother say, " There is an extremely high concentration of T-Veronica in her cells. I believe it's woven into the very structure of her DNA: a mutation, if you will."

" Makes sense…she did grow abnormally fast…six months earlier than normal. Yet here she is, perfectly the right size and perfectly healthy. I believe you have set a new world record, Sister." This voice was different than her mother's. It belonged to The Other.

Of course, Alexandra had no idea what they were talking about, only that they sounded happy and she was warm and safe.

And that was all that mattered.

*******************************************

Alexandra grew strong and supernaturally fast. At two years she already had both the physical body and mentality of any five year old. I addition, she was exceptionally strong. Her mother had been teaching her tone hone her powers to make the most use of her skills.

On this fine day, Alexandra was appreciating the outdoors of her family's Oregon home. She enjoyed life; the bright colors, the pretty flowers, the animals…all of it. Though her family had forbade her to go near them, Alexandra had not been able to resist the lure of the woods a quarter mile out back of the family's house and just across a grassy field.

She was there now; watching the wildlife, resting with her back against a boulder next to a creek. It was so peaceful.

This is nice, She thought, just me and the animals. No servants or parents, no mean big brother telling me what I can and can't do.

The laughing waters of the creek seemed to gurgle their agreement.

Alexandra looked up, locking her ice-blue eyes onto the cerulean sky. Overhead, the clouds seemed to dance in the wind, forming funny shapes every now and then. The sun shone warmly.

She inhaled deeply, savoring the crisp scent of the wind and the way it all made her feel. Without a doubt, this was the life.

************************************************

Ash woke with a start. Immediately, his eyes fell upon the TV. The end credits to one of Alexandra's favorite cartoon movies were playing.

How long did I doze off? He wondered, leaping off the sofa and scanning the room for the one thing he hoped he had not lost.

The room was empty, save himself and a few of Alexandra's toys. His little sister was nowhere to be found. Oh man, don't tell me she's gone!

" Alexandra? " He called, getting more worried by the second. Oh God…I have to find her…I was supposed to be watching her! There was no reply.

He gazed up at the clocked hanging on the wall. Ten till Five…Mom and Dad are going to be home any minute now. If they find out I've lost Alexandra, they'll kill me! Stupid kids' show--if it wasn't so boring maybe I could've stayed awake. Thanks a lot, Disney.

Why couldn't the servants watch her every once in a while? Ash had suggested it before, but for some strange reason his parents were dead-set against it.

Well, standing around and wishing things were different wasn't solving anything.

With a frustrated sigh, he turned and was about to enlist the aid of the servants and employees to help him search for her when a door opened.

This was not Ash's lucky day. Naturally, it was his less-than-benevolent parents standing in the threshold. They frowned when they saw Ash was alone.

" Where's your sister? " Alexia demanded with all the sweetness of a crocodile with a toothache.

Ash felt the color starting to drain from his face. He gave a nervous laugh. " You know, a funny thing happened while we were watching TV…"

Alexia raised an eyebrow. " Really? I'd love to hear it."

Alfred crossed his arms and remained silent, waiting for Ash's explanation.

Ash wilted under their scrutiny. " The hard core truth? I fell asleep during Bambi and when I woke up just a minute ago Alexandra was gone. I apologize for my incompetence, I will make sure it doesn't happen again."

Alexia slapped a hand over her eyes in frustration, shaking her head. Why me? Why them? Removing her hand, she said, " We will look for her then. Alfred, you check the west wing; Ash, the east. Involve as many people as you can. I'll search outside. We can't allow her to get very far--if she says too much to the wrong people it could spell trouble. And I don't like trouble."

*************************************************

Alexandra's peaceful skygazing was cut short by the sound of something falling through the branches in the trees. Getting up, she walked on over to the clump of grass underneath a tree where she'd seen the something fall.

The grass moved. Curious, she leaned over and peered in.

A fledgling bird looked back at her, ducking down and trying to hide itself from view. It wasn't fully feathered yet, but the feathers it did have were black and stubby. In Alexandra's opinion, it's bulging innocent eyes and out-of-proportion oversize beak only added to it's cuteness.

Probably a crow, She thought, there's a lot of them around here. " Hey there, baby bird." She cooed softly, " You fell out of your nest, didn't you? "

The little chick just stared at her. Alexandra smiled. " Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you." She lowered her hand down, and the chick started hopping away--clumsy on it's big feet.

Alexandra pounced on it, taking extreme care not to hurt it. The terrified chick thrashed and kicked in her hands. " Sorry, but if I just let you go some mean old cat might get you."

When it realized it wasn't being hurt, the chick calmed down a bit. Alexandra put her pointer finger by it's feet, and the little bird gripped on tightly the way it would a twig. Now it was perched on her finger.

" Let's see…where do you belong? " Her eyes trailed up the trunk of the very large, very thick pine tree the chick had fallen from. She could just make out a nest high amongst the branches.

Alexandra frowned. That tree's lowest branches were well above her reach, even with her enhanced jumping ability. She would never be able to reach the nest. As it was, the chick had probably sifted down slowly through the branches and the soft grass had cushioned it's fall.

" Gee…that's a long way up…" She thought aloud. She shook her head and stared at the chick.

It looked very much like it wanted back in it's nest.

Alexandra thought a moment, trying to decide what to do. She jerked in surprise when a hand fell over her shoulder. Turning around, she saw her mother standing over her, looking slightly miffed.

" Hi Mommy! " Alexandra chirped.

Alexia's frown deepened. " What did your father and I tell you about going off all alone? Especially to the woods. You're in big trouble, young lady."

Alexandra cast her eyes to the ground. " I'm sorry, Mommy. Look, I found a baby bird! " She held the perched chick up proudly, showing it off to her mother.

Alexia shook her head. " Leave it here. We must be getting home. Everyone's looking for you."

" But we can't just leave him! " Alexandra protested, " He fell out of his nest and I can't reach it. Something will get him if I just leave him on the ground! "

" So? Put him in a bush or something." Alexia suggested, agitated.

Alexandra was horrified by the thought. " But what about nighttime…he'll be cold. How will he get food? Can't I please take him home? He could be my pet! I promise to clean up after him."

Alexia was not convinced. " No. The last thing we need is some ugly fledgling in the house. He stays here."

" But Mommy…he can't even fly yet! " Alexandra grabbed one of the chick's stubby wings and stretched it out. The partially developed feathers barely came close to being suitable for flight.

This gave Alexia an idea. She was always looking for new things to teach her daughter, and now arose the perfect opportunity for a lesson in biology.

The chick retracted it's wing.

Alexia's harsh expression softened some. " Would you like to learn how birds fly? "

Alexandra nodded, the eager little learner her mother had predicted. " Yes."

" Alright then," Alexia held out her hand, " give me the chick."

Alexandra did as she was told and set the chick into her mother's hand.

The bird tried to leap out, but Alexia stopped it with a firm hold on it's feet. She fiddled with the little chick until she was holding it by it's back in one palm with it's face and belly facing up. She took the long thumbnail of her other hand and plunged it into the little creature's chest, slicing downwards. Because of her virus, Alexia's fingernails were extraordinarily strong and sharp, like a letter opener. Red blood gushed out of the wound in a long, dripping line. The chick squawked in agony.

Alexandra couldn't take it. " Stop! Stop you're hurting him! " She reached over to try and grab the chick away from her heartless mom, but Alexia simply smacked her hand away. " Please don't do that! Let him go! Please! "

Alexandra's polite request was just as politely ignored.

" The first thing you need to know is that birds have hollow bones. See? " Alexia pulled a bloody bone up from the spasming body of the dying chick.

She fondly remembered doing this same lesson as a child, showing Alfred the mechanics of a robin. Ripping the bird apart with a scalpel, she had given him an in-depth and visual of what went on inside it's body. Alfred had been fascinated and eager to learn. She had assumed Alexandra would have much the same reaction.

She was wrong.

Alexandra was appalled. It's all my fault…I should never haven given it to her! I should never have come out here. That poor little bird. Overwhelmed with guilt, and deeply upset, Alexandra turned and started running into the woods.

Alexia was getting angry. " Get back here! " Her voice was stern and unwavering.

Alexandra froze in her tracks.

" Come on! Don't make me repeat myself or else you shall profoundly regret it."

Sadly, Alexandra turned back and obeyed, knowing better than to provoke her mother's wrath.

Alexia's stare could melt lead. " You really must get over this aversion to death. Death is a part of life. It is a natural process."

Alexandra made a face. " I don't like death. And I don't like hurting things."

That was not at all what Alexia wanted to hear. Now she was really starting to get angry. " You have much to learn about the order of the world, child! " Dropping the dead chick, she seized Alexandra's arm. Her sharp nails pierced her daughter's flesh, and blood dripped from the wound.

Every place a drop of Alexandra's blood touched the ground a roaring flame of fire sprang.

Alexia released her hold, reminded that Alexandra shared her virus. She shares my virus, but not my ideals. She thought bitterly, We're going to have to work her into shape before she ends up a useless failure like Father and Alexis. That's fine, I enjoy a challenge.

" Come." She ordered, " We shall start your new lessons today."

Alexandra knew better than to argue. With much sorrow in her heart, she followed her mother back home. She had an idea of what 'lessons' her mother had planned for her.

But I don't like hurting things. She thought, casting one last backwards glance at the dead chick, And it doesn't matter what they do or say--they're never going to be able to change that.

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Well, that does it for this story. Let me know if you would like to see more Ashford stories like this in the future. =^-^=

For the new readers out there, Alexandra also appears in my other fic "Crimson Africa".