saints & sinners
(The Lost Family)
Ariel was stunned. "Yes. I am."
Rosamund stepped forward and picked up Ariel's suitcase. "You're lucky we found you when we did. Skyhawk probably would have made you do something stupid, like try to assassinate a Night Person."
"A gang," said Nyala, rolling her eyes. "They aren't a threat . . . yet. Their main purpose is to look cool and try to kill Night People. They're a bunch of pests."
Rosamund chuckled. "But don't worry, you won't have to deal with them again. Are you hungry? We were going to make some lunch when we got back from the train station. You're welcome to join us."
Ariel paused to consider, then nodded. "Sure. It's not like I have any other place to go."
Rosamund stopped and furrowed her brow, exchanging a look with Nyala. "Don't you have some relatives you can live with?" she asked, turning around. Ariel shook her head.
"Then where are you from?" asked Nyala. Ariel gestured to her uniform.
"Eris," she said. Nyala raised an eyebrow, and she continued, "Maya wanted to rehabilitate me."
"So you don't have anywhere to go?" asked Rosamund, shaking her head. "Right. Well. Nyala, do you think she could stay with us until she finds her footing?"
"Sure. We have lots of space in our apartment."
Rosamund grinned, and they started walking down the street. "Don't worry, kiddo. You'll get used to this place in no time."
Ariel looked at the overgrown buildings and the depressed-looking people milling about in front of the stores. I don't think so, she thought, but didn't say anything.
After a few minutes of walking, they reached a redbrick building with a sign in front of it saying Oakbrook Apartments. Nyala opened the door and they stepped into the lobby.
The lobby had dark wooden floors with pale blue-and-white walls and brick pillars. Nyala led them over to the stairwell—"Our elevator hasn't worked since 2008," she explained—and they went up five flights of stairs. They finally came to a stop in front of Apartment 510. Nyala put a card in front of the scanner. It made a little beep, and the red light above it turned green. Nyala twisted the door and it swung open. "Home sweet home," she announced.
The apartment was an open space with brick pillars and windows everywhere, allowing what little light there was inside. The walls alternated between dark green and white paint, and the floors were hardwood.
On Ariel's immediate right was a kitchen area, consisting of a small fridge, a stove, and island countertops. On the left was an open area with pale green couches and bookshelves. A hallway stretched in front of her and ended with three doors.
Rosamund went over to the kitchen area and put the suitcase on the island counter. "Why don't you go pick your bed—the spare room's the one with the two twin beds—and I'll start making lunch, okay?"
Ariel found the room with the twin beds and deposited her suitcase on one of them. When she came back, Rosamund was whisking something in a bowl, her back to them, and Nyala was sitting on one of the barstools at the island counter. Nyala turned around at Ariel's approach and gave her a small smile. "So, I don't think we've properly introduced ourselves," she said. "You know who we are, but we don't know who you are. What's your name?"
Ariel pursed her lips and sat on one of the barstools. "I'm Ariel Crowley," she said.
Something crashed on the ground, making both Ariel and Nyala start. Rosamund was standing ramrod straight, and the bowl was in pieces at her feet. Nyala cursed and got up. "What happened?"
Rosamund turned around, her eyes wide. "Nothing," she whispered, staring right at Ariel. "It slipped. I'm—I'm sorry."
Nyala bent down and helped her pick up the pieces of broken glass. When the bowl had been deposited in the trashcan, Rosamund got out a new bowl, and Nyala sat back on the barstool and faced Ariel.
"Since you're new here, I'm going to tell you what to expect. The city might seem big, but we have borders. An electric fence topped with barbed wire keeps us in. But as long as you don't provoke the guards or the Night People and you keep your head down, you should be fine.
"Here we have a few restaurants, a park, apartment buildings, a theater, two schools and a hospital, as well as a working bus transportation system. Our facilities are what make this ghetto one of the best places to live in." Nyala paused briefly to smirk. "That's thanks to Rosamund and I, of course. We're the leaders here. We have a few problems—like Skyhawk and the Hunts—but other than that. . . ."
"Oh. Right." Nyala shook her head. "Sometimes, when the ghettos get too crowded, the Night People in charge order a Hunt. Basically, it's a massacre. The Night People gather in the center of the ghetto. The moment the sun goes down, they're free to drink as much blood or eat as much flesh as they want—at least until the sun comes up. Then the Hunt ends, the Night People leave, and the ghetto's survivors are left to pick up the pieces."
A wave of nausea hit Ariel once again. "That's horrific."
Nyala rolled her eyes. "That's Night People. They do things like that."
"Don't worry, though," interjected Rosamund, seeing Ariel's expression. "Salt Lake has only about ten thousand people. We haven't had a Hunt since the ghetto was created. I doubt we're about to have one now. Besides, we have hiding places and weapons in case that happens. Salt Lake's pretty safe."
Ariel swallowed and looked down at the marble countertop. How can I be a Night Person? she thought. I can't be a part of them. They're too cruel.
"Ariel," said Rosamund, softly. Ariel looked up and saw her smiling softly at her. "I know you're probably tired. If you'd like, you can go to bed. We won't disturb you. Make yourself at home, okay?"
There were tears in her eyes, for some reason. Ariel ignored that and smiled back, getting up. "Thanks, Rosamund," she said, turning around. "Goodnight."
The sun had set by the time she changed into her pajamas, and she flicked on a light switch so she could see better. The walls of the room were a teal color, and the carpet was silver. Green and white accents highlighted the room, and there was a white end table between the two beds. A blue dresser was pushed up against the wall next to the door. But what caught Ariel's eye was the outlined rectangle on the ceiling. A single black thread dangled from it.
The attic? I wonder what's up there?
Her adventuring side kicked in before common sense did, and she reached up and tugged on the black string. The rectangle gave out and a narrow staircase fell to the floor with a small crash.
Ariel winced at the noise and waited for someone to open the door and ask what was going on. But no one did. Maybe they were already sleeping. Ariel waited a few more seconds, then started up the stairs into the attic.
The attic was musty and smelled of mothballs, as most attics did. Ariel's eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly, however. She could make out an old lamp sitting on the edge of a termite-eaten desk, and she went over to flick it on. The bulb hummed and flickered, but after a few minutes of wavering, it became a constant, soft light.
Ariel began to look at her surroundings. It was rather sparse; there were only a few boxes pushed at the back. But there was a box in front of the main pile that read, "Memories," and that was the one that got her attention.
She went to the box and opened it. The first thing she saw was a chipped white-and-pink box. She took it out and opened it up. It had dividers that outlined various empty sections, and there was a small mirror on the underside of the lid. But what really grabbed her attention was the small ballerina that stood up in the middle of the box.
Ariel turned it over and saw a small, oval-shaped golden knob. She twisted it, causing the box to make a squeaky sound. She was so surprised that she let go of the knob, and soft music began to play from hidden speakers in the box. Then she looked over the edge of the "Memories" box once more.
The ballerina box had been sitting on an aged book with a red leather cover, its corners worn and parts of the pages torn. It looked like some kind of photo album.
Ariel opened to the first page and stilled. The first picture was a young girl with dark eyes, black hair, and a gentle smile. A young man with pale hair and dark eyes was next to her, his gaze never leaving her face. At the bottom of a corner of the page was Ash & Mare, February '00. By Roz.On the top corner was a picture of the two so that the viewer would be able to see what the people really looked like.
The next page was of the same man, but with a different girl. She had the same dark hair, but her eyes were a lighter color, and she wore a mischievous smirk. The man was smiling slightly, but there were circles under his eyes, and she got the distinct impression of sadness just by looking at him. A picture was taped to the same upper corner, and the caption read Ash & Blaise, November '00. By Roz.
Who is Roz? wondered Ariel, flipping past pages. She saw drawings of people named Jez, Iliana, Thierry and Hannah, Rashel and Selene. While all of the people looked happy in the drawings, none of them were smiling in their photos.
A strange feeling of nostalgia settled in over Ariel, and she stared hard at a portrait of a man named John Quinn. She had seen that vampire before—in Maya's palace at Eris. What was hedoing in Roz's scrapbook?
She frowned and flipped through pages until she stopped at a beautiful watercolor painting. It was of a young woman with dark blonde hair, soft brown eyes, and a bright smile. A white flower was pinned in her hair, and she wore a necklace with a golden ring on a chain. The painting made her look radiant. Ariel's mood was lifted just by looking at it.
She looked in the corner for the caption, which read: "The Angel" — for Eric. From Roz.
The Angel. She flipped back to the page containing a photo of all of the "Daybreakers" (as the picture's title said) and found the woman in the picture. She was number 13. Ariel looked to the corresponding list of numbers and found her name.
"Thea Harman," she mused. "Who's Eric?"
The ballerina music had stopped playing. She took a break to twist the knob again, then returned to the scrapbook. She moved on to the pages near the end of the scrapbook and stopped at a picture.
It was a sketch of a young woman wearing a hospital robe and holding an infant, the widest smile on her face. She had wild black hair and light-colored eyes. A man was sitting next to her, looking down at the baby with equal pride. He had curly hair and darker eyes than the woman. Ariel looked at the caption before she looked at the picture, and her blood ran cold.
Ariel Lynnette Drache. August 1, '01. By Roz.
Aradia sometimes called her Ariel Lynnette when she went out to explore the woods after she'd told her not to, but—no, it was impossible. The Draches had been shapeshifter royalty before the war, Aradia told her. And all of them were dead. No exceptions.
Ariel dropped the scrapbook and hugged herself. She didn't bother to restart the ballerina song when it ended. She just stared at the drawing of a baby named Ariel Lynnette Drache, and the woman who was presumably her mother.
She looked at the picture, then, and carefully pried the tape away and took it out of the photo album. Using it as a bookmark, she flipped back to the page containing the picture of all these Daybreakers.
Her supposed parents—the Draches—were in the very front. Her mother was holding her swollen stomach, and both were smiling. She looked up their names and put her finger on the faded words. "Galen Drache," she whispered into the darkness. The lamplight flickered once, went out, and then sputtered back to life. "Raksha Keller Drache."
Galen and Raksha. Her parents. Her real parents.
Ariel closed the photo album and took the picture of her parents out. The stairs from the attic's entrance creaked, and Rosamund's face popped out of the rectangle in the floor. "Ariel?" she whispered.
Ariel didn't look away from the picture. "Over here."
It took Rosamund a few seconds to reach her side, but when she did, and when she saw what Ariel was looking at, her face crumpled. She knelt beside her and sighed.
"Who are these people?" Ariel muttered.
Rosamund gave her a half-hearted smile. "Those two are Galen and Raksha Drache, the King and Queen of the First House of Shapeshifters. Otherwise known as your parents."
Ariel swallowed. She felt dizzy, and the dust was beginning to mess up her breathing. "How do you know who they are?"
"I was close friends with them. We lived in the same . . . neighborhood, if you will. When the War was heating up, around winter 2001, Keller asked me to take you to Nebraska. I took care of you for a year. Then I was relocated to the Salt Lake, and I gave you to Aradia. She was somewhere safe then."
"So you knew—that I was a shapeshifter? Aradia did, too?"
"Yes. Both of us did."
Ariel didn't say anything. As hard as she tried, the tears wouldn't come. She just sat on the dusty attic floor, holding the picture of her parents, longing for memories she would never have. "I always thought I was a human until—never mind. Aradia never told me. She never told me."
"She had a good reason," said Rosamund. "You inherited your father's ability to choose your shape. Your lack of another form muddled your scent, so you could pass off as a human. If you had a shape, you would have been recognized and killed right away."
Ariel pulled the photo album onto her lap and started flipping through the pages with such a force she almost ripped some of them. "These are the Daybreakers," she said. "Aradia and Iona told me about them. They were resistance fighters and they were against Maya during the War."
Rosamund's eyes widened slightly at the mention of Iona, and she stopped turning the screw on the bottom of the ballerina box. "That's right," she said, setting it down. "You know, this was going to be yours. Back when Keller first discovered she was pregnant, we had a chance of winning. Then San Francisco—anyway, your father bought this for your nursery."
Ariel stared at the chipped ballerina box for a long while. Then she tore her gaze away and opened to the portrait of Thea Harman, staring at that instead. "You're one of them, I bet," she whispered. "A Daybreaker. You're Roz, aren't you?"
Roz watched the ballerina twirl in slow circles. "I am," she said, and then she saw what page Ariel was on. Her eyes became glassy. "That was Thea. My sister-in-law."
"Yes." She bit her lip, and Ariel saw her cheeks glistening in the lamplight. "Eric is my brother. When she died, he wouldn't stop thinking about her. I told him he needed to get on without her. I told him he needed to forget her, so he could move on with his life. He never forgave me." She shook her head. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to make it up to him."
Ariel swallowed. Seeing Roz cry made her own eyes water, and she looked down at the portrait to hide her face. "Could you . . . tell me about my family?"
Roz shook her head and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I'll tell you about your family when you're ready, kiddo," she said, sniffing. Her nose was red, and she wiped it on her other sleeve. "But it's late. We should be going to bed."
Ariel bit her lip and hid her disappointment by resetting the ballerina box when it stopped playing. "Could we at least look at your drawings?" she asked. Rosamund stared at her for a long while, her expression solemn, a slight frown marring her face.
Finally, she scooted closer to her niece and took the book from her hands. "I haven't drawn since I was sixteen," she muttered, flipping through the pages. She finally landed on one of a pretty woman with light-colored hair and equally light eyes, and said, "This is Hannah Snow. . . ."
She told stories of the Daybreakers to Ariel for a long while. But eventually, Ariel's soft, even breathing made her stop and glance down at her niece. Her dark hair was pulled back into a frizzy ponytail, and her eyes were closed. Rosamund smiled and stood up, putting the photo album in her niece's arms, using the picture of Keller and Galen as a bookmark. She went downstairs, got a blanket, and wrapped her in it.
Ariel stirred, but didn't wake up, which made Roz smile. She was still a heavy sleeper. That was good. She bent down, prepared herself, and managed to pick her up bridal-style, before carrying her down the stairs and into her room. She put her on her bed, pried the scrapbook from her hands, and pulled back the covers before throwing them over her. She put the scrapbook on the end table next to the bed and smiled, shaking her head. She'd forgotten all about that thing.
She turned to go, but something made her stop and look back at her. Ariel was sleeping soundly, but Rosamund went toward her anyway. She smoothed her niece's bangs away from her forehead and bent down, her lips hovering over Ariel's forehead.
After a moment's hesitation, she kissed her niece's forehead and straightened, tucking her in. "Goodnight, Ariel," she whispered. As she left, she could have sworn she saw Ariel smile in her sleep.
Ariel, meanwhile, was having a very strange dream.
She was sitting on the edge of a cliff. Someone was sitting next to her. Waves crashed from below, seagulls screamed, and the stars twinkled up in the night sky. However, the horizon across the ocean was orange, signifying that a sunrise would soon occur.
Ariel looked out of the corner of her eye to make out her companion's features. She was a tall, elegant woman, with a chiseled face and the inhuman beauty all Night People seemed to possess.
The woman twisted to face her, revealing shockingly vibrant golden eyes. There was almost something predatory about them—a quality that reminded Ariel of the vampires back at Eris. Recently, she might have shrunk away from the woman. But she had no desire to do so now. She raised an eyebrow at the woman, who smirked.
"Hey, kid," she said.
Ariel stared at her. "Do I know you?"
The woman shook out her dark hair and laughed. "Know me? No. Not yet. But you will."
Ariel furrowed her brow. "I don't think so."
The woman's grin grew wider, and she pulled something out of her pocket. The necklace sparkled gold in the rising sunlight, and Ariel took it from her to examine it more closely. It was a simple necklace, with a gold chain, and a purple stone as the only jewel.
"Keep it," said the woman when Ariel tried to give it back to her. "You're going to need it."
Ariel tilted her head. "Who are you?"
The woman's smile vanished, and she looked out over the sea, into the sunset. "My name is Valencia. I'm here to help you."
Ariel blinked and held the necklace in her lap. "Help me? With what?"
Valencia shook her head. "That vampire. Maya. She's been alive far too long. It's time for the shapeshifters to rule once more." Her golden eyes locked on hers, and she smirked—an expression that made Ariel shiver. "You'll be my successor, of course. You're my closest heir. You're a Drache."
"I didn't even know I was a shapeshifter until yesterday!" complained Ariel, looking down at the necklace. "And what's this thing for, anyway? Why do you want me to have it?"
Valencia stood up and knelt at Ariel's side, squeezing her shoulder. "It's a way to talk to me. Trust me, kiddo, we're going to talk again—and soon. Just put that necklace on whenever you want to talk to me."
The sun was slowly rising, coloring everything orange, gold, pink and scarlet. Sea foam sprayed Ariel's face, and a small breeze started. Valencia's golden eyes gleamed like a cat's at night, and when she smiled, Ariel could see a fang. "The Old Powers have awakened," she said, looking at Ariel as she said it. "The Draches will return."
She stood up and turned to go. "Wait!" cried Ariel, twisting around. Valencia half-turned, a strange half-smile on her face. "None of this is real, right? Because I am definitely dreaming."
Valencia winked. "This might be a dream, but who said it wasn't real?"
She turned and walked into the forest. Ariel was left on the cliffs, clutching the amethyst necklace in her hands, utterly stunned. She sat there, wind battering her face and sea foam stinging her eyes, until the stars entirely disappeared and there was nothing left of the sea.
When Ariel woke up, the purple necklace was sitting on top of Rosamund's scrapbook.
She picked it up and stared at it for a few moments. The purple stone seemed to glow with its own sort of light, and it felt as light as a feather in her hand. Creepy.
Setting the necklace back down on the scrapbook, she got out of the bed and changed into different clothes, checking herself quickly in the mirror before opening the door and going out to the main room.
Nyala and Rosamund were already in the kitchenette, eating cereal. Ariel hesitated for just a moment, then entered the kitchenette and started opening cabinets in search of food.
"Whoa," said Nyala, getting up. "The sleeper awakes. Do you want cereal or oatmeal?"
"Cereal, please," replied Ariel, blushing. Rosamund snickered into her cereal as Nyala pulled out a box of something called Trix and grabbed a bowl. When her cereal was ready, Ariel sat on the barstool next to Rosamund and started eating. Nyala leaned against the island counter and scooped a spoonful of cereal into her mouth.
"So," she said when she had swallowed, clearing her throat. "Game plan. We're going to get you some new clothes—"
Ariel exchanged a glance with Roz. "Clothes? But—"
"We've got it covered," said Roz. "Sorry, Nyala, continue."
"Right. After you get a wardrobe revamp, we're going to teach you self-defense."
That made Ariel sit up, wide-eyed. "Self-defense?"
Somehow, she found herself in the middle of a park. Dead trees and yellow grass surrounded them. Rosamund and Nyala were standing in front of her, their arms crossed. Ariel was wearing an entire outfit made out of shapeshifter hair thanks to a witch named Melusine, who ran a black market shop in an apartment building two blocks away from their own home. Lamps shed orange light across the park.
Rosamund stepped forward and grinned. "All right. Ariel, I want you to attack me. Give me everything you've got."
Ariel couched down and launched herself at her. Rosamund merely stepped out of the way. Expecting this, Ariel landed on her hands and feet and swung her leg out, tripping Rosamund up. She jumped to her feet and straddled Rosamund, lifting her fist to punch her.
Rosamund was staring at her, wide-eyed, eyes glassy. Ariel paused, sitting back and lowering her fist. Rosamund smiled and grabbed her arm, twisting it around, forcing her to get off of her to avoid pain. "Rule number one: never underestimate your enemy," she said, getting to her feet.
Ariel scowled and pushed herself up, rubbing her arm and looking around. But Rosamund was nowhere to be seen. They'd all worn black that night, and Rosamund had worn a beanie to cover her hair. Nyala was standing in the orange light, watching her with an amused smile.
Ariel closed her eyes and focused in on her other senses. Someone was breathing behind her—dead grass was crunching underneath someone's feet—
She whirled around and managed to grab the fist that came flying out of the darkness. She twisted the hand to the right, causing Roz to gasp and fall to the ground. "Rule number two," she told Rosamund, "always use your senses to your full advantage."
Rosamund got up and smirked. "True," she said. "You have some talent. Must be those Night People genes in you. If we keep training you, you'll be great at this."
Ariel put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And you're such an expert?"
Roz exchanged a glance with Nyala, and her smirk became a full-blown grin. "Sure. I was trained by the best, after all."
Roz's smile turned sad, and she looked down at the yellow grass. "Yeah," she muttered, suddenly pensive. "She called herself The Cat."
"What happened to her?" asked Ariel. Rosamund didn't reply, and she understood immediately. "Oh."
After a moment of silence, Rosamund looked up at Nyala. "Well, Pawar? This was your idea. You want to try your luck with your little protégée?"
Nyala stepped forward and smirked. "Sure. I trained with the best, too, you know. I have lots more experience than Roz—and don't think I'll be going easy on you."
Ariel shifted into a crouch and rolled her eyes. "Wouldn't dream of it."
July 2, 2016. Ariel has now adjusted to her new life, and is learning more things every day. But a storm is coming, and she isn't quite ready to face it yet.
Nyala grunted as Ariel threw her to the floor, then put her hands at the base of the woman's throat. "Dead," she announced smugly.
They were in one of the basketball courts in the ghetto, and quite a few people had gathered to watch. A few had even volunteered to fight Ariel, Rosamund, or Nyala. Ariel tended to lose to those who actually knew what they were doing—but fighting the inexperienced people was actually kind of fun. There was a sweet sense of pride whenever someone yielded the fight to her.
Nyala was the toughest. Six days of training, and she had yet to beat her more than five times. "That's once," said Nyala, getting back to her feet. "Thirty-two more, and we'll be tied."
Ariel crossed her arms and glared at her, taking a moment to catch her breath. Rosamund laughed and put a hand on Ariel's shoulder. "I think Ariel here needs to take a break," she announced, to the laughter of the crowd. "But I'm ready to fight anyone who wants to fight me!"
Suddenly, the loudspeakers crackled, and everyone there fell silent. "Attention," blared a raspy, croaking voice. "Attention. There will be a mandatory meeting for all inhabitants of the Salt Lake ghetto in the courtyard tomorrow, at 12:30 P.M. Failure to attend the meeting will result in dire consequences. You are dismissed."
The speakers went silent, and Ariel turned to Rosamund. "What happens in the courtyard?" she asked.
Rosamund narrowed her eyes. "The courtyard's only used for when Maya wants to broadcast something big," she muttered. "She used it when she executed Prince Delos in '06. I don't know what she could use it for now, unless—"
Ariel gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth.