Notes: For background information, common terms, notes, warnings, and disclaimer, please see my livejournal post here: http:/ dream-edge. livejournal. com/ .

7 Steps from Humanity

Part One: The Beginning

Chapter 1

Summer Landsdown buried her hands in the rich soil of her garden at the family manor, smiling warmly when the steady pulse of the earth filled her mind. It was time to plant the new row of flowers, adding to the already immense garden. Her family had maintained a primary Witch bloodline for the past seven generations and each one had added to this garden at least once in their lifetime. Then again, her predecessors had all had a strong connection to earth magic; Summer, though, had only a minor connection to the earth. Her talents lent themselves more towards the psychic branch of magic, specifically empathy.

It had been a struggle to learn as the psychic gifts were rare, even among the Fae, and Andrews, who had been with the family long enough to have taught her mother, was as firmly grounded in earth magic as the rest of her family. However, years of struggling had eventually allowed her to maintain a strong control over her empathy.

She lifted her head when Andrews' psychic scent washed over her, telling her of his approach. The man was getting very old, requiring a tonic at each meal to sooth his bones, but he had been her faithful companion and almost-parent for all her life, had taught her more about magic and the careful etiquette required among the races than her parents ever had. "Good morning, young miss." He said with a smile as he knelled next to her. He paid little mind to the fresh soil now coating his pressed dress pants. But then, those with a primary Witch bloodline rarely cared if they were covered in dirt. "I have managed to receive word of your parents."

Summer stilled as she reached for a spade to help with the turning of the earth. Her family had been considered the masters of their craft for the past five generations and every slightly magical crisis required their attention. VENJIX was hardly a slight problem. Her parents had been in conference in Washington for months before heading south to help with the erection of rune-wards on the United State's safe cities. "How goes their mission?" she asked in quiet, formal tones as she finally continued her work.

"They have finished the conjuring of the rune-wards in Corinth and should now be heading west to Albyon." Andrews informed her.

"That's good." She said pleasantly. Andrews watched her for a minute before reaching for a tool himself. "If I may, young miss?" he asked. At her nod, he set to.

Barely half an hour later, Gabriella, the woman in charge of keeping the household running smoothly, ran out of the house. Her normally orderly brown curls were mussed and her blue eyes were over-bright with terror. Gabriella was the only member of the household that wasn't one of the woodland kin; instead, she was Human. Despite the fact that on a purely physiological basis, everyone in the manor was stronger than her, Gabriella was rarely intimidated- actually most of the household would admit to being a little afraid of the woman. Summer stood up quickly, heart in her throat, as the normally composed woman rushed towards her.

"Miss Summer! It's started!" Gabriella shouted half-way to them. Summer froze, the world going still around her for a second, before she forced herself to cross the last few steps between herself and Gabriella and gently grasped the woman's shoulders. "Be calm, Gabriella." She said, her voice heavy with authority and power.

Gabriella paused, her eyes glazing over as her emotions were forced into order. "Are you calm, Gabriella?" Summer asked. Gabriella nodded. "Alright, good." Summer said with a slight smile, maintaining a constant wave of calm over Gabriella's rocky emotions. "What's happened?"

Gabriella visibly braced herself; Summer grimaced as she struggled to force back the sudden spike of fear. "It's VENJIX, miss. He's attacked; full-out invasion of Washington."

While Summer stilled, turning white, Andrews stepped in. "Thank you Gabriella. Stay quite calm; we've planned for this, remember? Alert the staff, stay calm, stick to the plan." He ordered smoothly.

Gabriella nodded shakily and quickly headed back inside. The two watched Gabriella go before Andrews turned to her. "Center yourself quickly, Miss Summer. We need to move without hysterics." He encouraged before following in Gabriella's wake.

Summer take a deep breath, struggling to do as Andrews recommended before glancing up at the sky with trepidation. The wind carried an odd taint from the north. She shivered, took another second to calm down, then walked into a house gone half-mad.

Within the hour, the household was packed and shuffled into vehicles and following the carefully planned route to Corinth. Summer was packed into a Hummer with Andrews, Gabriella, and a younger man she though worked in the kitchen who had been given control of the wheel. "We're nearly two days from Corinth, Miss Summer."

"Government should have evacuated people earlier." Gabriella complained, leaned forward in her seat as she scanned the radio for news. Not that it mattered; VENJIX was managing to block most radio signals, had been for days. They had been lucky to have gotten any warning at all.

Summer sighed heavily, leaning her head against the door. "There was too much chance of alerting VENJIX that Corinth was important. If we'd evacuated, It would be heading to Corinth instead of Washington. You know that."

Gabriella huffed, trying to mask her fear with irritation; it wasn't working very well, she was pale white and Summer was honestly waiting for her to drop into shock. The matron's fumbling fingers continued to play with the radio, producing only static, until a voice suddenly blared through the speakers. They all started in surprise; the signal was oddly clear and the voice so terribly young.

"That's the voice that warned VENJIX had attacked." Gabriella said and frowned at the numbers that voice was listing. "What is that?"

"The coordinates of Albyon." Summer said.

"Please hurry. We don't have much time." The voice said before there was dull silence. After a moment, it came back. "Please listen. It's started. The VENJIX army is marching on Washington. You need to head now to Corinth on the East Coast or Albyon on the West."

"It's just a recording." Andrews said, leaning back in his seat. Summer frowned at the road before them, at the growing population of cars.

"Change route." She ordered, making them look at her in surprise. "Screw the plan. We need to get off this road before we get jammed in."

The driver hesitated briefly before swinging onto a side road as suggested. It took longer but eventually they were free of the city; Summer glanced back to find the main road at near stand-still. A few cars had followed their new route and she was pleased to recognize two of them as from her household. With a relieved sigh, she leaned back in her seat again and let herself relax.

At some point, she fell into a deep sleep, lulled by the steady motion of the Hummer. She dreamed of fire and chaos, of the world disappearing beneath her feet. She woke to a world gone upside down, with the sky blood-red and the taint of VENJIX hanging heavy in the air. She coughed, her mouth dry with dust, grimacing when fire shot up her collarbone. She weakly raised her head and found it was not the world that had flipped, but the car.

"Andrews?" she called, coughing again and blindly reaching for the release button for her seatbelt. "Gabriella?" Abruptly, the seatbelt released, sending her crashing to the roof of the car. She whimpered with pain, opening her eyes to see the kitchen boy hanging in his seat as she had. She muffled a scream that was quickly replaced by a sob. The left side of his face was one long, open gash peppered through with glass, and his psychic scent was already fading into the feel of the dead. She closed her eyes, forced herself to ground her emotions, and pushed her gaze to the other passenger seats. It was empty, though Andrews's psychic scent hung heavily upon the upholstery still.

A soft, whimpering groan drew her attention to the front. "Gabriella!" she called, forcing herself up and to the door. All the windows had been blown in and pieces were scattered everywhere, biting through clothes and denim the whole way to the door. By the time she managed to force the heavily dented door open, her arms were bleeding sluggishly and a bruise was slowly forming across her collarbone and down her chest.

She tumbled out of the Hummer, whimpering in pain and horror as her hands landed on the ground and VENJIX taint bled across her senses, making her stomach roll unpleasantly. She laid on the ground in a crumbled heap, her breathe sobbing out of her, before she forced herself to move. Her hands were shaking by the time she managed to get the passenger side door open and it took careful maneuvering before she was able to unbuckle Gabriella without risking hurting her further.

By the time she pulled Gabriella out, she could hear feet shifting over the ground. She nearly sobbed in relief when Michael's-the witch-boy whose father did her parents' finances- psychic scent washed over her. She tried to call out, but her tongue felt heavy in her mouth and her throat was tight and dry.

The foot steps turned towards her. "Miss Summer?" Michael called, approaching her quickly. He knelled in front of her, his expression going slack with relief when he saw her. "Miss, I am so glad you're okay." He breathed, resting a careful hand on her shoulder. "You're alright now. It's okay." he said, turning to shout over his shoulder for the others.

She blinked heavily, tears slipping down her cheeks, and managed to ask, "Ha-have you seen An-Andrews?"

Michael smiled weakly, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Yes, but he's in bad condition." He said as other members of her household appeared and carefully took Gabriella from her and helped her stand.

She was escorted to another car quickly, all but shoved into the space between two seats because there wasn't anymore room. All of the seats were filled with the injured and barely lucid. The seat she was sitting in front of held Andrews. He really was in a horrid state; his left eye was swollen shut, his forehead was gashed open, his lips were cracked and bloody, and his clothes were torn and stained with blood.

"We think he's bleeding into his brain." Michael said solemnly. "Amelia's car was attacked, same as yours, so we lost our Healer."

Summer held in her whimper, leaned her forehead against the seat, and tried not to break down. Her household had once been 30 strong; now it all fit in two cars. "I see." She finally said blankly.

There was a moment of silence behind her before Michael's hand reappeared on her shoulder. "Miss," he said gently, "I should clean your wounds before they become infected."

She agreed dully. Michael sat himself in front of her and set to the cleaning of her wounds, sometimes forced to dig out pieces of glass. She all but ignored him, gazing around at her household sluggishly. "We need a bigger car." She mumbled.

"Should we hijack a bus?" someone from the front asked. Summer couldn't tell if they were trying to be sarcastic or not.

"Yes." She said anyways. There was a long moment of silence before a mutter of agreement reached her. Satisfied, she leaned her head back and tried to relax.

They must have drove for hours- though they were still somehow behind enemy lines- before fingers started to brush through her hair, weak and shaking slightly. She didn't quite jerk, though it was a close thing, and looked behind her. Andrews was staring at her with one eye, red and already watering, while the other remained firmly swollen shut. "How are you doing old friend?" she asked quietly, grasping one of the old man's flailing hands in hers.

"Poor, witch-child." He answered. "All of me aches and I am very old."

"You'll be alright." She told him "It'll be alright."

He gave her a weak smile. "No, Miss Summer. It won't."

"Miss Summer!" The driver called before she could respond. "We've found a bus. Should we hijack it?"

Andrews gave a weak grasp of her hand. "Go take care of them." He breathed. She blinked back heavy tears and nodded, patted his hand gently, and stood up. "Let's go." She ordered, stepping out of the car and hurrying across to where an old school bus was sitting half-off the road. It was in one piece, which was more than could be said for the other cars. It took only a few minutes before everyone and the few supplies they still had were loaded into the bus and got the engine running.

When she turned around to their old Hummer where Andrews still laid, Michael grabbed her arm and held her in place. "Miss Summer, I don't think you should." He told her in his gentle way. She turned to stare at him when the feel of death crept over her. "No." She whispered, "He's fine."

"No, Miss Summer. He's not."

She closed her eyes tightly to ward off the tears and pressed a hand against her mouth. "This isn't happening." She breathed quietly. Michael pulled her towards the bus, urging her in a quiet voice that they had to go. She glanced back at the Hummer where Andrews's body still laid, hating that he wouldn't even get a proper funeral. Finally she took a deep breath and walked away, trying not to crumble before everyone. "Get us out of here." She ordered the driver in a blank tone.

"Go take care of them."

-0-0-

They were barely an hour from Corinth and the taint of Venjix was still washed into the land. It was obvious where the machines had been forced to use magic against the human army because that magic had sunk back into the earth and changed it. The sky looked less blue and more gray; the grass was withered and ugly yellow. Summer was glad that she had only a minor connection with the earth branch; those of her household who had that connection were ill with fever and hallucinations that got steadily worse as they got closer to Corinth and the true battlefield.

Summer stared out the window at the desolate wasteland her world was becoming with a heavy heart. Her mental shields were raised as best as she could manage but the emotions of the others still leaked through, making her feel off center. As the world passed her by in a blur of gray and yellow, an odd psychic scent washed over her. She jerked upright as the rich, dark psychic scent of the demon kind brushed against her senses. Her gaze sharpened as she tried to pinpoint where it was coming from; it was definitely one of the demon kind, masculine, and with a slight oddness that marked his minor bloodline as something other than one of the demon kind. It was weak but alive. She stood up quickly. "Survivor!" she shouted, making some of the more lucid people jerk. "Pull over!"

Within seconds, the bus had pulled to a stop and Summer all but leaped through the opening doors as Gabriella, now thankfully awake, tried to call her back. The older witch was ignored in favor of the dull blue clad figure laying face down in the ground. She knelled next to him, taking a moment to run her eyes over the man's uniform jumpsuit. Pilot, she decided, eying the wings on the uniform. Finally, she rolled him over and reached for the helmet latches.

The man was black, dark curls held back in a military style cut. His eyes fluttered open briefly, revealing the blood red irises common among the demon kind. He gazed up at her dazedly, blinking slowly as he struggled to focus. His psychic scent was bitter with hunger. Summer nearly drew back when she realized which of the demon breeds laid before her. She spun around to yell at those still lingering nervously in the bus. "I need a knife!" She shouted. While they scrambled to obey, she turned back to the man. "It's going to be alright." She assured.

"No, it's not." Andrews's voice whispered through her head. She bit her lip harshly, shaking her head briefly to will away the memory. Don't think about it.

Finally, Michael scrambled over to her with a kitchen knife. She grimaced but took it, eying the dull blade apprehensively. Demons were unique in that, unlike the other races, the only food that could sustain them had to come from another person. Each race required something different but the demon before her was easy to accommodate. She took a deep breath and quickly sliced through her palm, blood immediately pooling into her hand. The Vampire before her twitched and focused his red eyes on her palm with greed; however, his expression twisted rather quickly and he turned away from her. "No." He moaned pathetically, trying to slither away from her, even in his injured state.

She frowned tightly, clamping down on her annoyance before it could bleed through her mental walls. "Freely offered, freely taken." She said soothingly, the ritual words to offer to the demon kind without becoming prey. Those words had been used since the demon kind had emerged and by now were well ingrained in their instincts. The red eyes focused on her, centuries of trained instincts trying to respond to those words, though something in him still resisted.

That, of course, was when she placed the oddness in his psychic scent. By this point, the races were so intermingled that there were no pure-bloods; it wasn't unusual for an oddness to appear in a psychic scent as minor bloodlines slipped to the surface. The oddness in the man before her was from the Human race. Although the humans had eased remarkably in the last few decades, they still had their prejudices. Especially against the needs of the demon kind. Most demons that grew up around Humans ended up with a twisted shame about their needs. She grit her teeth, annoyance flaring into something almost like rage, and said as calmly as she could manage. "Freely offered."

There was a brief hesitation before the man carefully reached up and grasped her hand and quickly drank the cooling blood from her palm. Summer grimaced as the teeth scrapped across her palm but otherwise ignored it as best she could. After a minute, the man let go of her wrist and collapsed back on the ground, eyes going hazy and distant. She turned to Michael. "Help me get him into the bus." Michael looked uneasy about it but did help.

The bus was soon moving again as they settled the man in the back. The Vampire was trying to assist but he was still weak and it was an obvious struggle for him to even support his own weight. Once Summer was sure the man wasn't going to tumble off the seat, she knelled next to him. "What's your name?" she asked gently.

He gazed up at her with glazed eyes, half-asleep, but managed to answer. "Scott, Lady."

She offered him a reassuring smile. "Hello Scott. I'm Summer." She said pleasantly. "What happened to you?"

"I… I think I crashed." He said. "Got turned around and walked in the wrong direction."

She gently placed one hand against his forehead, rubbing circles in his skin. "Sleep now Scott." She whispered, even as she carefully manipulated his emotions until they were woven around him like a cloak. His eyes fluttered before finally falling fully shut. Soon, Scott was so deeply asleep Summer doubted anything could wake him.

-0-0-

The group hadn't gotten much farther when two more survivors were found. Unlike Scott, these two were in remarkable condition, a little torn and definitely dirty but overall in good health. One was a little Fae girl, blonde and beautiful, wearing a sweet periwinkle dress, and maybe only 8 years old. The second was a Human, early 20s with a Scottish accent the girl delighted in. The Human was remarkably sweet-tempered and quietly brilliant; his psychic scent was accented with the feel of magic. Summer suspected he had a Witch or Fae bloodline in there somewhere.

"We need to slow down, Lady." The Human man advised. "VENJIX drones are everywhere around Corinth. It's a miracle me an' the lass didn' get caugh'."

He didn't need to say it really; by this point, the taint of VENJIX was so thick one could almost choke on it. The driver was already slowing without any input; Summer was considering ordering a complete stop until a better assessment could be obtained. "Do you know what's happening?" she asked.

He drew a weary hand over his face. "No' really." He admitted. "They came ou' of nowhere. It was chaos. Everyone was fighting."

Summer sighed heavily. "Do you know if the wards held?" she asked; the man merely shook his head.

"Is she yours?" she asked, looking over at the little girl curled asleep on a seat. The man looked briefly confused before laughing heartily and shaking his head. "No, Lady. Aye don' know who the child is." He smiled abashed and blushed slightly. "I have something of a hero complex."

She smiled warmly. "There is nothing wrong with that." She assured, earning herself a winning smile.

Eventually, they did stop and, when they nearly got discovered by a VENJIX patrol, retreated. "We should wait for nightfall." Summer advised, leaning against the driver's chair. The Human, Flynn, had taken over driving so the Fae who had been doing so could rest. He glanced up at her with blue eyes laced through with woodland green. "Good idea Lady." He agreed, eyes returning to the front to search for a safe place to hide. When Summer sighed and leaned even more heavily against the seat, Flynn said, in a voice oddly heavy with magic, "We'll make it through."

Summer blinked as she felt weaved magic settle over her and looked at the man next to her. "You're a luck granter?" she asked in surprise, though she knew she shouldn't be. Those with a minor magic bloodline didn't have the power to connect to one of the Branches so the magic developed in odd ways. One of the rarer ways that happened was the luck granter- or ill-wisher, if you upset them- who could change fortune with only a few words. It was impossible to tell a luck granter from their psychic scent, making them even more dangerous.

Flynn nodded and almost said something when a muffled groan interrupted them. Most of the household had fallen into an uneasy sleep, unable to stay awake after the two day drive; though a few, like Michael, remained stubbornly awake, moving little. The dark figure in the back was moving restlessly now, slowly struggling out of her sleep spell. She stood up and patted Flynn on the shoulder. "Drive us true."

"Always." He agreed with a smile.

Summer returned the smile and walked down towards her first straggler, motioning Michael away when he rose shakily to assist her. She knelt down next to Scott and banished the sleep spell with a touch to his forehead. Scott rose easily out of his nap. "Easy now." She cautioned when he glanced around anxiouly. "Do you remember where you are?"

Scott blinked up at her and licked his lips nervously. "With your household, Lady Summer." He said in a scratchy voice that made her wince in sympathy for his throat.

She nodded. "That's right. Would you like some water?" she asked. Scott sat up slowly, grimacing and holding his left arm close. "Yeah. That'd be nice." He said, looking relieved until she reached for the knife she'd placed on the seat across from Scott.

"Blood first." She said.

"You don't need to do that." Scott said hurriedly, reaching for the knife before she could reopen the wound on her hand.

Flynn called back to them before she could snap something about his bull-headedness. "If anyone's bleeding for 'em, Lady, it should be me. Of everyone here, Ay'm the one in the best condition."

"No one is bleeding." Scott said stubbornly, managing to wrest the knife away from her. "My Vampire bloodline is recessive; I can go much longer without blood than a Vampire born from other Vampires. None of us can afford the blood loss." He stopped, looking tired. "Can I just have some water?" he asked plaintively.

Summer sighed heavily but agreed and stood up to get it. "How close are we to Corinth?" Scott asked, gladly accepting the half-full water bottle Summer had found in a stray bag.

"Abou' half an hour." Flynn called back. "We had to pull back. Place was swarming with drones."

Scott nodded and stood up shakily. Summer tried to push him back but he ignored her, using the backs of seats for support as he shuffled to the front. Summer glared at the back of his head, huffing irritably. Stubborn males, she thought as she followed him. Scott sat down when he was even with the driver's seat, leaning back against the console. "If I may make a suggestion, Lady?" When she nodded, he continued. "We should run VENJIX's line at twilight."

"Tha' sounds dangerous." Flynn said before she could. "There's too much chance they'll see us."

Scott nodded. "I know." He agreed with a smirk. "They'll never see it coming." He looked back at her. "You run at full dark, they'll be waiting."

"Ye're crazy." Flynn said before sighing heavily. "Bu', ye're right."

Scott's smirk widened briefly before he looked up at her and the smile fell away completely. "Your household lady. Your decision." He said quietly. She watched him for a long minute. "Alright. Twilight it is." She agreed. She paused than sat down in front of him. "Do you know how the attack was going?"

Scott's expression shut down. "Venjix hit the Russian safe city first; learned about the rune-wards and turned his armies towards the other safe cities. The last I heard, New Berlin, Stone Hedge, and the Vatican were holding strong; however, what was left of Russia is gone, along with France, Spain, and most of Italy. We lost contact with most of South-eastern Asia around midnight on the first day. Around 9 A.M. on day 2, Japan's Honshu island was sunk; fucking drones used magic to call up the sea. About an hour before I crashed, we received word China had been nuked." He paused, looking at them sadly before he sighed and told them. "Albyon fell."

-0-0-

Scott eyed the setting sun apprehensively. "Time to go." He said to the man next to him. Flynn made a sound of noncommitance in the back of his throat, looking at the sickly expanse of gray and yellow before them. "We can do this." Flynn said; it wasn't the first time he had said it and Scott found it immensely comforting each time.

He glanced back at the Witch who was assisting them. Lady Summer was shaking her household awake for the run. Scott would admit to being very relieved to have that much magical firepower behind him during this run. Most Witches had been kept behind the battlefield to power the rune-wards and so few Fae had managed to reach Corinth before their lines had been forced to retreat, so they'd had little magical support in the battle before he'd crashed.

"Ready, Lady?" he called back. Summer looked at him, woodland eyes surrounded by sleep bruises. Her hair might have once been blonde but now it was an ugly brown-gray and was slowly falling out of it's messy bun. A fine layer of dust had settled over her skin, her arms were covered in angry red scratches, her collar was purpling, and she couldn't close her hand from the scabbing wound there. She might have been pretty under normal circumstances, but as she was Scott was surprised she was still standing.

The Witch sighed heavily but nodded and headed towards them. "Grulla is trying to call in a storm but it's fighting her." She reported. "All the earth branches are out of commission; this taint is really playing havoc with their senses."

"We'll make do." Scott said. Summer nodded and turned away to give out further directions to those who were still well enough to defend them. Scott glanced at the man next to him and silently hoped this one, who so far had seemed blessedly level-headed, would not have the typical Human pride that refused to admit that Humans were considered a Passive race. He couldn't deal with that argument right now.

He settled a hand on the back of the driver's seat, right behind Flynn's shoulder. The Scotsman glanced up at him briefly. "I should drive." Scott said calmly.

"I can handle it." Flynn said, jaw clenching and hands going white-knuckled on the wheel. Scott resisted the urge to sigh; stubborn Human pride. Why did he always have to deal with it?

"I'm not saying you can't." He soothed. "However, of the two of us, I'm the one with the faster reflexes." He dropped his hand onto Flynn's shoulder and squeezed, cutting off whatever the man was going to say. "And, of the two of us, you're the one with the magic." Flynn looked up at him for a minute as his hands loosened on the wheel. Finally, he stood up and let Scott settle in.

Flynn clamped a hand on his shoulder. "Fair skies and well days." He wished, the spell settling around Scott like a warm cloak. Scott smiled slightly and nodded to him as those with a Fire Branch came to his side. "Everyone ready?" he asked as an odd wave of calm came over him. He glanced back, finding Summer sitting on the floor in a meditative pose, woodland eyes glazed over and staring blankly ahead.

"Right." He said when several affirmatives came back to him. "Let's ride, then."

There was no describing the chaos that chased them to Corinth's walls. The walls themselves rose before them, pale white and covered in glittering runes. Those walls had just appeared when the drones emerged and the world went to hell. Scott cursed as he was once again forced to swerve around another ruined truck suddenly then yelped as a blast from one of the drones following them knocked off the bus's driver side mirror. One of the witch-boys next to him went tumbling with the motion, making Scott wince.

It was a relief when one of Corinth's gates appeared and slowly opened for them. Once the gate was open far enough, soldiers poured out, quickly established a defense line, and sent a few soldiers out further to help. Scott stifled another curse when a Harpy glided quickly over the hood to land on the roof. In the far mirror, he could just make out one of the drones going down, chest exploding with bullets. The Harpy let loose a chilling battle-cry, half-wild and full of blood lust, before continuing.

Scott was only too happy to pass through the defense line and finally into the city. He turned around in the seat to watch the gate close behind him, meeting the Lady Summer's eyes on the way. She offered him a wan smile, looking dazed as all the strength that had held her household together slowly fell away now that they were safe. He nodded to her and reached for the control that would open the door.

His hand paused on the handle as his senses went out and he noticed the psychic scent coming their way. He gulped thickly but opened the door for the Witches waiting to leave. Settling his head on the wheel, he tried to steel himself for the meeting he'd have to face. And then the formal military debriefing. He grimaced, unsure if he was more worried about the debriefing or the dinner that would follow. He wondered if Flynn's luck spell would last that long.

"Scott?"

He looked up to see Flynn standing on the stairs, the Fae girl he'd saved clutching at his fingers and swinging their arms. Flynn was watching him curiously. "Ye comin', lad?" he asked cheerfully.

Scott nodded and stood slowly, watching Flynn step off the bus and make a beeline for one of the soldiers to hand off the girl. He stood at the top of the stairs for a minute before slowly descending into the city. He took a brief moment to admire how the ruin-wards kept out the virus so the sky was still a sweet periwinkle and the grass on the sides of the road was still healthy. Then his gaze turned from landscape to people and locked with the eyes of the one person he'd been hoping to avoid. So much for the luck spell.

Ah, fuck. He thought as Colonel Mason Truman, one of the most accomplished military leaders despite being from the passive Human races, approached him. Scott held in his sigh and forced his weary body to straighten, saluting.

"Airman." The Colonel greeted.

Scott hid his resentment and nodded. "Colonel." Not even a hey, happy your alive, Dad? He thought bitterly, though he couldn't say he was honestly surprised.

Colonel Truman gave him a searching look. "Report to the command center for a debriefing." Scott blinked as his father turned away, ready to protest the brisk treatment and the order. The quiet flap of wings and a long shadow falling over him stopped him. The Harpy from the roof landed in front of his father, large, dark tawny wings still held aloft; the woman's slightly avian facial features were lit with fury.

Scott went tense all over, carefully eying the woman who was using her wings to tower over his father. While Harpies weren't considered the most dangerous Predator race- that honor belonged solely to the Dea al Mon- but they had the most vicious temper and claws that were more like talons. "Colonel." The Harpy said in a terrifying croon that put a shiver up his spine. "Take a look at the child. He needs rest." The Harpy turned a sharp smile onto Scott, eyes still full of battle-lust, and he decided he wasn't going to protest being called a child if it got her on his side. "Surely the debriefing can wait until tomorrow."

His father glared at her but, unable to disagree, changed the time. Mason glanced at him, dark eyes guarded,and nodded at him. "See you tonight." He said as he turned to leave. The Harpy's wings lowered as she stepped to the side.

Scott sighed heavily. "Yes father."

-0-0-

It was cold.

Her parents had been in Albyon. Albyon had fallen and her parents had been there. No word on survivors, barely a jumbled message as the city was overrun.

Her household was down to nine members. Half were still recovering from the poisoning they had received outside the walls. Of the nine, only Gabriella and Rohan had held senior staff positions.

Andrews was dead.

Summer huddled in the bathroom of the house her parents had bought last month. She should be glad that her parents had thought ahead, that, unlike most of the refugees, she wasn't stuck in a tent until the government could find housing for her. But the house felt empty without the generations worth of psychic scents seeped into the walls or the plants climbing up the stairwells. The house felt dead.

"No, Miss Summer, it's not."

She felt cold.