A/N: One quick note for readers - make sure you check the date and location headings at the beginning of each chapter. Otherwise, you might get more than a little confused. Happy reading.
Date and Location: 3/11/2157 in Luxor (known in the Clergy as the "City of Sin")
I'm busy helping Misty May into what has to be the fifteenth dress she's tried on. Personally, I don't understand why going out for pizza and a movie (although if I know Misty May, she won't eat the pizza and she'll have two pieces of popcorn) requires the perfect wardrobe, but Misty May is adamant. She's not leaving the house until everything, down to the last curl in her red hair, is perfect.
I wonder if I used to be like her. Even if I was - which I doubt - there wasn't much cause to get dressed up in Cathedral City, and I lived in Arial Township for barely three months. Not much time to get to know anyone.
"What do you think, Trinity?" Misty May says, stretching out the full skirt between her hands. "Is this too retro?"
Retro for what? I think. In Luxor, almost everything is retro, because there's always someone wearing a newer style. The Clergy calls it the "City of Sin", but I think they should replace the word sin with the word 'excess'. "No," I say idly.
Misty May stops examining herself in the mirror and turns to look at me, hands poised on her hips. "Are you paying attention, Trinity?"
"No," I say truthfully. "Honestly, Misty May, I don't understand why this is such a big deal."
"It's a big deal because I've liked him for ages," Misty May says. "And he's finally asking me out. On a date!"
"Does it still count as a date if there are five other people there?" I say pointedly. Misty May chooses to ignore my attempt to bring her back to earth, and continues on.
"Seriously, Trinity, I'm seventeen," she says. "I'm the only one of my friends who hasn't had a boyfriend. And it's not like I think he's the one or anything -" I smirk, as the moonstruck expression on Misty May's face contradicts her words "- it's just a little romance. It can't cause any problems."
"Sure it can," I say, picking up one of the rejected dresses and putting it back on its hanger. "Look where 'a little romance' got Romeo and Juliet."
Misty May ignores this as well. "It's about time someone asked me out. I was beginning to think the boys were scared of me."
Likely it's Misty May's father the boys are scared of, but I don't say this aloud. Misty May is a master of ignoring distasteful facts, and the one she ignores the most is that her father is one of the biggest crime lords in Luxor. His feud with another kingpin cost Misty May's mother her life, but I'm not judging - if Leah hadn't died, I wouldn't have gotten this job.
After Arial Township was destroyed, I walked east through the desert for two years. It wasn't always easy - I have the scars to prove it - but I eventually made it to Luxor. Luxor is the only city outside the Clergy's control, and as such, I'd spent my life hearing wild stories about how Luxor's streets were filled with drunkards, rapists, and prostitutes.
They weren't kidding about the prostitutes, although just about everything else was a lie. I wandered through the city, wondering how the hell I was going to feed myself, and then I found a newspaper. I huddled up in the corner of a filthy bar and went through the classified section, ad by ad, until I found one that looked promising. Seeking caretaker for two children, aged 2 and 18 months. Experience is preferred. Inquire with Maximilian Aster.
I didn't know anything, so I thought I'd give it a try. It wasn't until I asked the bartender where I could find this Maximilian Aster that I learned that he was one of the city's crime lords, and that his wife had recently been murdered by his rivals. Still, I was hungry and I needed work, and I went for an interview.
Maximilian Aster thought I was a joke, at first. He asked me how old I was. Eighteen, I said. What was my experience with children? Raised my brother because my Mama was sick, sir, I said. Had I always lived in Luxor? No, sir, I said. I'm new here.
Then he leaned forward in his chair. Can you - will you - protect my children?
With my life, sir, I said.
He laughed. You're barely grown yourself. How can I expect you to protect my children?
I'm stronger than I look, I said.
I don't think so, Maximilian Aster said.
I took a risk at this point. A stupid risk, but it was necessary. I grabbed the gun from one of his bodyguards and shot myself in the chest. It hurt like hell - it always does, when I injure myself - but I got the satisfaction of watching Maximilian Aster's eyes widen in shock as the gaping, bloody hole in my chest sealed over as though it had never been there in the first place. Needless to say, I got the job, and I've been taking care of Misty May and her younger brother Eli ever since. A combination of nursemaid and bodyguard.
"Come on, Trinity," Misty May says. "When was the last time you went on a date?"
"Let me think about it," I say. "Oh, I remember - never!"
Dating is frowned upon in Cathedral City. Good girls don't kiss until they're married, or if they do, they do it secretly - so that they don't get the word Jezebel branded on their foreheads. Once, I felt as though I really connected with someone. But it wouldn't have ever worked out, and after eighteen years I'm starting to think the whole thing was a combination of shell shock and adrenaline.
"Trinity," Misty May says, sitting down on the end of her bed and swinging her legs, "would you die to protect me and Eli?"
"Of course," I say without hesitation. "If it's possible for me to die, that is. Don't worry yourself about it, Misty May. I will protect you for as long as you need me to."
"Why can you do those things?" Misty May says. "Heal yourself, and punch through walls?"
"I don't know," I say, trying not to roll my eyes. I swear I've had this conversation with Misty May a thousand times before. "I was told that my abilities were a gift from God. Anyway, there are plenty of gifted people in Luxor. Ask one of them."
"None of them can do what you do," Misty May says. "They're just really strong and fast. I've never met someone who could heal themselves before, or do…what do you call it when you make your whole body as hard as iron, but you still look normal?"
"Armoring," I say. "Maybe my gift is rarer. Stop fussing with your hair, or I'll have to redo it."
And just like that, the conversation is back to Misty May's date night. She's refreshingly easy to redirect.
"I think I look okay like this," Misty May says. "I'm just gonna turn on the TV until it's time to go, all right?"
"Sure," I say, and I start hanging up the dresses, tuning out the babble of the TV.
After a few moments, having flipped past the music channel and onto the news, Misty May snickers. "Looks like the Clergy are eating their young again."
"They don't have young, they're all celibate," I say.
"No, seriously," Misty May says. "You know the warrior priests? Of course you do, you lived in the cities. Anyways, one of them broke ranks to go rescue his niece from the vampires, and now they've sent other priests after him to bring him back. Dead or alive."
"Lovely," I say. News of the cities always makes me sad. But then something registers, and I say, "Vampires?"
"Yeah, apparently there's a rogue hive," Misty May says. Like all Luxorians, Misty May doesn't much care about vampires eating people. Luxor has a longstanding treaty with the Vampire Queen - one of the stipulations being that the Luxorians don't get involved with the Clergy's war against the vampires. "You should check out this priest guy. He's kinda hot."
I give the TV a cursory glance and immediately drop all the dresses in my arms into a messy heap on the floor.
"It can't be," I say, walking closer and staring at the picture. He's older, obviously - eighteen years older. But it's undeniably the same priest who coaxed me out of the wreckage of my family's home in Arial. The one I gave the picture of my family to. I told him to hang onto it. In case we met again someday.
"Can't be what?" Misty May says. She glances from the TV screen to me and back again, genuinely confused.
My mind is racing. A rogue hive of vampires - that can't be right, because all the vampires still in the Clergy's territory are locked onto reservations. The Vampire Queen clearly has intentions of starting the war again. And I have a decision to make; am I going to stand by and watch the vampires rampage through my old homeland, watch other families torn apart with their violence, see other villages massacred? Or am I going to go back home and do something about it?
You were given this gift for a reason, my mother told me, ages ago. So you can protect those who cannot protect themselves.
That's what clinches it for me. "I have to go," I say, and I leave Misty May's room.
Misty May chases after me. "What? Go? Go where? Trinity, wait! What are you doing?"
Eli, fifteen and incredibly misanthropic, is roused by the noise. "What the hell, Misty?"
"Trinity's leaving," Misty May says. She's standing in the doorway to my room as I pack my meager belongings in a bag. Sixteen years here. And in all that time I've gathered almost no possessions. It's like I was always ready to leave.
Eli ponders this, poking his head in the door. "Really? Where you going?"
"West," I say.
Misty May is starting to tear up. "You're leaving us! You said you wouldn't leave! You said you'd be here to protect us for as long as we needed you!"
"I did say that," I admit, "but you don't need me anymore. You're a big girl now, Misty May. You can take care of yourself."
"But I d-d-don't w-want to!" Misty May howls, and the sound brings Maximilian Astor out of his study.
"What is this, Trinity?" he says. "Where do you think you're going?"
Most people in Luxor would cower to hear that tone of voice from him. Not me. I stand straight and tall, and I say, "I ask you to remember back to when you hired me, sir. The only condition of my employment was that when it was time for me to leave, you would let me go."
He nods. "Where do you go?"
"Home," I say. "It's time."
Maximilian Astor nods again, brusquely. I turn to the children, Misty May and Eli. I've raised them like they're my own, and it tears my heart to leave them behind. But letting them see my sadness won't do, and so I slip back behind the no-nonsense veneer I've learned to keep up.
"Stand up straight, Eli," I say, poking him in the stomach and forcing him to lengthen his spine. "No girl's going to want to date someone who slouches. And don't forget to feed your mouse. It's all on you now. I'm not here to feed him anymore, so if you don't do it, your mouse is going to die."
Eli, emotionless Eli, looks like he's about to cry. "Okay," he sniffs, and then he turns his back so that I won't see his tears.
Misty May has dissolved into a soggy mess at this point. I wipe away smeared mascara from under her eyes and say, "Misty May, stop crying. When your date asks you why you're crying, what're you going to say? You going to say you're crying because your maid left? He's going to think you're insane."
"You're not a maid," Misty May manages. "You're our mother."
I nearly lose it at that, but I cover it by reaching out and drawing Misty May and Eli into a hug.
"This isn't forever," I soothe, patting their backs like I used to do when they were small. "I'm going to be at your wedding, Misty May, and at yours, Eli. This is just something I've got to do. But I'll be back."
"Promise?" Eli says.
"Promise," I say. I let go of them and dispense one last piece of advice. "Don't forget about that mouse, Eli. If I come back and find out that it died of starvation, you're going to be in trouble."
Eli nods. I lift my bag and turn to leave, only to find my way blocked by Maximilian Astor.
"It took you two years walking to get here," he says to me. "Were you planning to walk back?"
To be honest, I wasn't thinking about how I was going to get back into the Clergy's territory. I was a bit preoccupied with getting out of the house. But as always, Maximilian has an answer, and he drops a set of keys into my hand.
"Take the bike," he says. "It'll get you there faster."
Oddly enough, it's this gesture of kindness from the most vicious crime lord in the city that sends tears running down my cheeks.
"You've served and protected my family well these past years," Maximilian says. "Thank you."
They follow me out to the garage where the bike is parked, and watch as I climb aboard and start the engine.
"Godspeed, Trinity," Maximilian says, and I put the bike into gear. The engine roars, and I shoot out of the garage and onto the street. All the way through the city and out the main gate and into the desert, I don't look back. I can't look back.
You fool, Trinity, I tell myself savagely as the desert blurs past me. You give your heart away without a thought. To someone you knew you'd never see again, to another woman's children…it's like you're a masochist.
The force of the wind against my face dries my tears, and like I did once before, I force myself to let go of this life in Luxor. I have two things in my mind; the outlying towns that I must now protect, and the picture of my family in the hands of the priest.