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The Fourth Faction

By MrPapi All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Scifi

The Mysterious Girl

The darkness eerily cloaked the neighborhood as well as the solitary figure perched in the lone oak tree. This tree was the only ornament in the yard that if not for the white picket fences on both sides would be an endless sea of grass, mixing with the green of the neighboring lawns. Across the lawn was a red stretch of brick, a path leading from the grey sidewalk up to the brown front door of a two story white house, built with the same late eighties design as all the homes on the block. No house had a garage, however, so the residents were forced to park their vehicles on the street. Except for this house; the owners did drive a sporty red car, but as per usual, this night it was nowhere near it's allowed parking spot.

It's too obvious. Alone in the high branches of the oak tree sat a boy too old for his years. In the neighboring yard stood several more trees; on the limbs of one poised a curious set of eyes, and the boy knew it. It's been over a week and he's still there. When I leave he leaves. He doesn't come after me or try to go in the house. What's he planning? An Artificial has no reason to track me; a member of the Society, perhaps? Or is the C-Unit running a new study?

He opened one eye and gazed through the leaves even though the darkness of night blocked his view of the other person. He closed it again and tilted his head down. The teenage boy let his brown bangs fall over his eyes, crossing his arms as he sat patiently. The night was cold, but the jeans, green t-shirt, and brown jacket were more than enough clothing for the boy; they always were. Normally he would have gone home after sunset, but this unknown presence made him suspicious.

The boy's eyes shot open at the sound of many snapping branches and a loud grunt. Did he fall out of the tree? The boy dropped down from his branch to see. There was not one person, but two, and they obviously weren't on the same side. They lunged and leaped, swinging their respective weapons with terrible force. The shorter of the two, a girl judging by the sound of her grunts, held a long pole with a cone-shaped object at the end. Gripping the pole at the opposite end of the cone, she swung it in the air towards the other person. She then pulled back on the pole, letting her hand slide up until it was directly at the base of the cone. She then shot the weapon forward, letting it quickly go at the opponent until her hand clutched it again at the end of the pole.

The other figure, cloaked in a black cape, fought with a sword. The blade was encrusted with a wavy blue glow that shimmered in the dark with every swipe. The sword-wielder lunged at the short girl, but she dodged and smacked her attacker with the cone of her weapon. As the sword wielder fumbled across the lawn, it released a hoarse but feminine groan. The boy hadn't given much thought as to what gender his stalker was, but it definitely was female, but as to which one of the fighters had been watching him, he couldn't yet say.

After the sword-wielder got back to her feet, she attempted to escape, jumping into the next yard and running off. The shorter girl quickly went after her, and the boy watching followed suit. The girls had taken several more swipes at each other, and the boy was in pursuit. He quickly stopped himself however, slapping his forehead and mumbling "idiot," before turning around.

He ran a ways. Suddenly he stopped and leapt over twenty feet into the air, rotating and landing softly on the roof of the house. He then ran with light steps, as to not disturb the residents, across the roofing shingles. He then made another impressive leap to the roof of the neighboring house, in front of which he had camped out all afternoon. He gently crawled to the edge of the roof and leaned over the side. Upside down, he gazed through the upstairs window, looking in on a bedroom and a petite blonde girl as she reached back to take off her shirt.

He brought his head back up and grimaced, saying "My bad," quietly to himself. He then stepped off the roof, dropping himself lightly onto the brick path that led to the front door. The pale skinned boy silently strode to the front door. With his thumb and index finger, he lightly turned the knob to find that it was still locked. Relieved, he ran back to where the girls were fighting, easily jumping over the picket fences.

The taller girl delivered a stab at the shorter girl's side, sending her falling back, collapsing on the ground as she clutched her pierced flesh. Her weapon was out of reach, and the pain swelled up in her torso. As the blood began to spill through her fingers, the shorter girl blasted a loud scream. Brief, however, for as the moment the scream began, the boy sent a powerful kick into the face of the sword-wielder. The girl flew back into the fence, smashing the white-painted wood on impact. The short girl saw what happened and looked up at the boy with surprised eyes. He then planted his shoe over her head and forced her wounded body to the ground.

"Hey, what's the matter with you?" the short girl asked angrily, her face pressed against the trimmed grass. Her teeth were clenched from the pain as she spoke. "Is this any way to treat an injured person?"

"Shush," he whispered, bringing one finger up to his lips. "This neighborhood is filled with innocent people who are trying to get to sleep. It'd be rude if you disturbed them." His words were condescending, but otherwise monotone. In her current position, she couldn't quite see his face, but that was also free of any emotion.

He looked at the other girl across the yard. She rubbed her sore face and then leapt off, escaping in the darkness. He sighed quietly and removed his foot from the injured girl's face. He leaned over and pulled her to her knees, keeping the young girl steady by gripping her shoulders.

"What's your name?" he asked stoically.

"You almost kill me and that's the first thing you ask? How about 'are you alright?'" she shot back, her tight face a mix of anger and agony.

"I know you aren't alright. You wouldn't have lasted much longer with those injuries."

"Don't say something like that so casually, you…" The pain, however, finally got to her. The girl's head rolled back as she slipped into unconsciousness.

"Darn, lost another one," the boy said, as if he almost didn't care.

The sky was still dark when the girl finally came to. She had no desire to open her eyes, as the bed she had been placed in was warm and clean, far different from anything she had slept in for some time. It was also silent. Why is it quiet? It is never this quiet. Wait I was…Her eyes shot open. She was not in a cage; she was in a bedroom, a normal bedroom. She grimaced in pain as she tried to sit up. She was topless; her torso wrapped in red-spotted bandages. Her right arm was also bandaged, and another band-aid was stuck under her left eye.

"I have a few questions," asked the boy out of the darkness. The girl quickly looked across the room to see him seated in a swivel desk chair.

"You're the one that brought me here and treated my wounds. You also took my shirt off while I was unconscious!" the girl said, pulling up the blanket to cover her body.

"Don't worry, it won't happen again," the boy said bitterly. "Now, are you the one that has been spying on me for the last few days?"

"I won't answer any of your questions," she said, looking away.

"What's your name and affiliation?"

"I just said I wouldn't answer your questions!" she refused loudly.

The boy held up a finger to his lips and said "Keep it down. There are other people in this house, too."

"Who?"

"My family."

"That's a pretty bold move, leaving a dangerous stranger with your family," she said with a taunting smirk.

"With those wounds, I don't think you're all that dangerous. Plus I believe it is an unspoken policy of the Community to keep non-Community members uninvolved."

She glared at him with irritated eyes. She had wanted to meet this person, but she wasn't ready to give him the satisfaction.

"Anyway, I'll see you later," he said, standing up and slinging a backpack over his shoulder.

"What, you're leaving?"

"I have business to attend to. We'll talk again after I get back this evening, and I hope you'll be more willing to give me some answers, if you want to get this back," he said, holding up the small golden cone that her weapon transformed into when it was knocked out of her hand several hours ago.

"Stop, you're leaving me defenseless," she pleaded, but he was already gone.

She clenched her teeth and gripped the blanket tightly. You're the only one that stands against the other groups, on your own no less. Isn't that right, H? Why can't I just ask?

The boy known as H by so many in this city, as well as the next, walked across the quiet community only minutes before sunrise. He was neither drowsy nor weak; this was routine for him. The comforting sound of silence meant that any abnormal noises or enemy approaches could be detected. The cold of early autumn meant little to him. He was most at home, no matter the weather, in his green t-shirt and brown jacket.

He gazed up at the golden cone he held above his head. H turned it around between his thumb and index finger. He had never seen a weapon like this. He couldn't place it in a category, so he also couldn't determine from what group the girl was associated with. As he walked to his destination, H called an acquaintance on his cell phone. The boy who answered was an obscure figure in the Community, often looked down on by members of the other groups, but he was very willing to ask around for information about the girl. H thanked him for his continuing help, despite his unfortunate situation.

The alarm hadn't gone off yet. Tally was groggy and irritated at the state of things, but she couldn't force herself back to sleep, and certainly didn't want to get up. She rolled over and peaked carefully at the digital clock that sat on her bedside end table. There was still time; no rush. She closed her hazel eyes and nestled back down under the warm covers. Then the alarm went off, the cruel beeping that she wished so much to just sleep through one of these days. Tally sighed despite herself.

The drowsy teenage girl pushed the blankets off and sat up, draping her feet over the edge of her bed. She brushed her wavy blonde hair from her warm, pink face and stretched her arms above her head as she yawned loudly. Tally lightly brought her feet to the hardwood floor, but she immediately jumped back onto the bed.

"The floor's cold!" she said, sticking her toes under the toasty blanket. She looked out across her room for her slippers. Realizing they must be under her bed, she crawled over the edge of her mattress. Her strawberry blonde hair fell to the floor as she hung upside down and reached for the white slippers that sat in a pair beneath her bed. She kept groping for them until she lost her grip and tumbled to the floor. "Owie," Tally said, rubbing her sore head, "That really hurt." She grabbed her slippers from under the bed and stuck them on her feet.

The thin girl got to her feet and dusted herself off. She glared across the room and puckered her lips. "Don't laugh at me," she said cutely. "Go back to sleep; be happy you don't have to go to school." Tally then walked out of her bedroom, leaving the only witnesses, a stuffed duck and purple teddy bear, behind.

She cheerfully promenaded through her silent house with a smile on her face. Waving her arms back and forth with each step, she lightly tiptoed down the stairs and into the kitchen. Tally took a ceramic bowl out of the cupboard and gently placed it on the counter.

A peculiar figure stood out in the fading moonlight; a figure that Tally only witnessed by chance. It was a slight blur in her eye as she turned to get the cereal box off the top of the refrigerator. But Tally reacted quickly, and jerked back to look out the window with an expression of disbelief. The man standing outside with yellow skin and thin hair, dressed in holey rags, and shock draped his face.

Tally quickly ran to the front door. Could it really be…After messing with the uncooperative lock, she ran outside, going all the way down the brick path, and stopped at the sidewalk, seeing the man was gone. She couldn't go after him; it was dark and she was still in her pajamas after all. She stood there a moment, holding her hand to her ear to keep the breeze from blowing her hair in her face. She stared intently, hoping that the man would come back.

Up stairs, in her dark bedroom, a collection of photos was tacked to the wall. One near the bottom was of a man with a receding hair line, but still full of life. His skin was vibrant and his eyes were bright. He stood with his arm locked around the arm of a woman with blonde hair and beaming smile. Her other arm was locked in that of her muscular husband with hazel eyes.

In the center of the myriad of pictures was a larger one. On a bright spring day, in a garden of purple, pink, and white, a teenage boy with an un-amused expression and a green t-shirt stood with his arms crossed next to a blonde girl of the same age, as she made a ridiculous pose in his brown jacket.

"Hi H," Tally cheerfully called out to the boy leaning against the trunk of the lone oak tree in her front yard. She had eaten her breakfast, got dressed and did her hair and make-up. H straightened up and gave her a silent wave. The two began walking together when Tally began looking around the neighborhood in different directions. As she prepared for school she had periodically looked out the window to see if the man had returned, but he hadn't.

"Is something wrong?" H asked. She was behaving suspiciously, enough so that he was willing to put aside his typically indirect nature.

"Well, yes; thank you for noticing," Tally said gleefully. It was strange for H to take an active interest in what she was doing. "You see, I saw someone who looked familiar this morning, but before I could get outside to talk to him he disappeared. Saying it like that makes it sound like I just imagined it, huh? I guess I could have."

"I wouldn't worry about it," H said, continuing to walk.

"I know you wouldn't. By the way, did you finish the lab from yesterday? I couldn't get the equations right," she said, walking at his side.

"Yeah, I figured them out. You can look at them when we get to class," H answered. He highly doubted that it had just been her imagination. It looked like he would have to make another phone call.

There are only two direct ways into the room: through the door and through the window. Forcing an entrance any other way would disturb the family. The room's on the second floor. It would be difficult to make it all the way through the house without getting noticed, not that it can't be done. And it would be difficult to make it to the window; not that it can't be done either.

The short girl sat up in H's bed. With her sore arms and aching head, it was all she could manage. The sword wound also stung whenever she took a breath, which kept her from falling asleep; that and her increasing paranoia.

And there aren't any locks on the door or window? What's wrong with him? Not afraid of someone trying to sneak in and murder him? The family was pretty noisy down there. I couldn't tell how many there were, but since this morning there seems to be only two or three people left. What do I do if they all leave? Those strangers don't know it, but they're my unwitting shields right now.

She was dreary, though. Her eyes stared blankly at the comforter that covered her legs. Her head rested on the wall that the bed stood beside; her short navy blue hair was a ruffled mess. She was tired. Her injuries and her lifestyle had taken a toll on her morale. And now she was losing conviction. Her eyes slowly closed.

What's it like to wake up in this bed every mor-

There was a small sound, like a bird landing on the roof. But to her, it was like the noise of a nuclear detonation. As if a wild bull was charging at her, the girl's eyes opened immediately, wide with fear. Her stomach sank and her throat clenched. For a moment she stopped breathing. Maybe no one would find her if she remained quiet. No, she had to hide, run away or something, otherwise… With every near-mute sound after that, her heart rate increased five fold. Maybe no one would find her if she remained quiet.

There was an explosion.

"Aw yeah," a boy shouted.

The noise that tore through the peaceful sanctity of the library was enough to gather the attention of many patrons, including H, who reluctantly raised his eyes up from his book. Tally also turned around to see the source of the shouting, allowing her a brief respite from the homework she had been quickly working through since the beginning of lunch.

"Mark Spryt, you hooligan, what do you think you are doing!" An elderly woman with small round glasses, hanging precariously to the tip of her nose, stalked over to the computer section of the library. Her many years as the supervisor of Rodney High School's library had made her voice become an unbreakable whisper. Even her ranting was in a breathy tone. "This is a library, child. Do you not know what that means?"

The boy had previously been hunched over the computer, every bit engrossed in the action movie that played on the screen. His blood pressure picked up at the sound of Mrs. Bee's voice. He quickly pulled off his headphones, yanking out a strand of his long white hair in the process, and shakily closed the video player on the screen with his other hand.

"Why, Ms. Bee, what a pleasant surprise," he smiled awkwardly, "Imagine seeing you in the library once again. Heh heh."

Without wasting another moment, the grey-haired woman removed the DVD from the computer and walked away with it tightly clamped in her fingers. Mark quickly got to his feet and followed her.

"Come on, Ms. Bee," Mark pleaded, "I won't make any more noise. Please give it back. I was using it to study, I swear."

"Study?" the woman breathed, "Mr. Spryt, it is clear to me that you know nothing of the concept. Look around at all these young men and women. They come in here in their free time in order to work. Why do they do that? Because this is a library."

Mrs. Bee gave a look out across the library as she spoke. When her glare landed on Tally, who had been watching the scene unfold, the blonde girl quickly turned around and acted as if she was working. Her frantic pencil movements were a bit too fast to be considered natural.

"But I was using it to study modern culture," Mark tried with as innocent of a smile as he could muster, "and cinematography. That's worthwhile, right?"

The elderly woman brought her aged face so close to Mark's that he could feel her breath on his lips.

"Your parents can pick this up from the office after school," she said coldly. "And there will be no more film viewing in my library, understand child?" Mark nodded, and Mrs. Bee walked behind her desk, sticking the DVD in a drawer until she could take it to the administration office.

Mark grimaced and mumbled incoherently to himself, his real thoughts on the turn of events much more colorful, as he turned around. Standing right behind him was a smiling girl with hazel eyes. She surprised him.

"Hi there," she said brightly.

"Waha!" Mark screamed as he fell backwards onto the floor.

"Mark Spryt, get out of my sanctuary for scholars this instant!" Mrs. Bee pointed grandly at the exit. She almost broke her undertone for that.

"Hi there," Tally said again after she followed Mark out of the library.

It was sunny in the school yard right now, although periodic clouds passing by overhead frequently covered the grassy area in shadows. The few trees, under which many students sat and talked during lunch, boasted a collage of orange, brown and yellow leaves. As October progressed, autumn was finally showing its true colors. The cooler weather that now enveloped Tally and Mark made the toasty library a preferred place to be. But it was too late for that now.

"Yeah, hey. I'm Mark," the tall teenager said as he rubbed the back of his head, which hit Mrs. Bee's desk when he fell.

"Oh, I already know that," Tally said, still smiling.

"You do?" Mark looked confused, but then that wore off. "Oh, I guess you saw all that, didn't you?"

"Well, yes, but I knew you before," she said, looking up at the return of Mark's confused expression. "We have math together first period, silly."

"Oh, right," he smiled. Her name still escaped him though.

"Tally Xavier, how are you?" a grand greeting came from a gray-haired man as he approached. He held out his hands, as if welcoming a dignitary to the school, a gesture he used quite frequently. "Having a good year so far, I hope."

"Principal Douglass, it's so good to see you," Tally smiled and folded her hands behind her back. "I'm having a wonderful year. Thank you." Tally gazed warmly at him with bright eyes and a sincere smile.

"Excellent, excellent," the principal clapped, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to talk with Mrs. Bee. She seems to be in quite a state." He chuckled jovially as he rubbed his grey mustache. "Have a great day."

The principal turned towards the library entrance just as H was leaving.

"Ah, H," Principal Douglass said, "I hope you're keeping this young lady out of trouble." He wagged his finger teasingly at Tally, to which she giggled.

"Sir," H said humorlessly with a nod.

"Good, good," the old man said, "Take care now." He left the children and headed off to dampen the fires that plagued Mrs. Bee's spirit.

Mark bowed his head slightly.

I apologize for any demons you may face in there.

"Tally," H said in a bland tone as he approached them, offering Tally her backpack and jacket that she left in the library. She very gratefully accepted them and put the jacket on quickly.

"Mark, this is my best friend, H." Tally moved to H's side, holding out her hand as if he was a product on display. Then she moved to Mark's side and made the same gesture. "H, this is my new friend, Mark."

"Hey, H," Mark held out his hand, and the two shook. "That's a pretty interesting nickname. Is your real name Harry or Harvey or something? If it is, I wouldn't blame you for using your initial. It makes you seem cool and mysterious."

That long line of dialogue made Mark feel slightly embarrassed, but he kept smiling. H's refusal to say anything or break his stone cold face made Mark feel really embarrassed. It was a very uncomfortable moment for the white-haired boy. He wasn't really sure if he should keep talking or let go of H's hand. He didn't really do either, so the two teenagers kept shaking for what seemed like an eternity.

Tally stood by them, smiling as they shook hands

This is really awkward, Mark thought.

As H made his way through the front door, up the stairs and down the hall to his bedroom, the house was as dimly lit as the yard outside. Even darker still, for while the outside world had the full moon to grant as much light as it could muster, the halls of H's family's house were nearly pitch black. That's not to say that his parents and siblings were all sound asleep; he could hear very definite whispers behind closed doors. They were all still so young that bedtime was related almost stringently with sunset. He couldn't be sure, however, of whether his parents were staying up or pretending that their kids were sleeping and thus opted to turn in before that hope was dashed.

Not that it mattered. Whether they were asleep or awake, present or absent, dead or alive; no one was coming to greet him. And he couldn't blame them; not after so long.

When he entered his bedroom, there was a sense of misplacement. Something was not right. It was subtle, but not unnoticeable. Several drawers were not closed entirely. He slowly panned over the room, landing his gaze squarely on the bed that now lacked a certain dark-haired girl.

He nonchalantly walked across the room and closed the open window. Then he went over to his bedside and adjusted the sheets, which had been messed up, as if someone had struggled to free herself from them hastily. H then kneeled down, bringing his face close to the hardwood floor so that he could look under the bed.

And there she was. Squeezed between the floor and the underside of the mattress was the dark-haired girl, her arms gripping her aching side. She glared at him with a creased brow, her mouth in an upside-down V. She hoped the darkness prevented him from seeing her blush. It was embarrassing being found hiding in such a position.

"What?" the short girl asked defensively.

"Was the bed too soft for you?" H asked dryly.

"You took my weapon," she barked, "and left me here without locking the door! I had to hide! What if someone broke in?" H got to his feet and stepped away from the bed as she crawled out from under it. She winced with each movement. She unhappily accepted H's hand, and he helped her climb back into the bed and under the covers.

"Please keep your voice down," H said softly. His parents usually kept their distance, but they may be inclined to check up on him if they suspected there was a stranger in the house. And this stranger was definitely a stranger. He wasn't so much worried about her; leaving her unarmed and wounded would make her a nearly harmless guest. But he didn't know anything about her, and it was who she could possibly attract that made him uneasy.

"Did something happen?" he asked. The window had been opened since he left. That didn't mean someone broke into the house. Perhaps this stubborn girl just wanted some fresh air. H wasn't too keen on accepting that kind of answer, though. There wasn't anything to suggest that someone did break in, but at the same time there wasn't any evidence that would support the alternative either.

She didn't answer. Her face didn't even change expressions. In fact, her scowl stiffened. She couldn't possibly tell him that she fell asleep down there.

"Well, in any case," he held out his fist. "Here." He dropped the little golden cone into her hand. She remained silent; her scowl was starting to seem permanent. He kneeled down, standing on his knees next to the bed. The girl didn't seem like she was in the mood to talk as she lay under the covers, her navy blue hair resting against the cool pillows. "Is there something you would like to tell me?"

"I didn't agree to tell you anything," She rolled her head so that she faced the wall.

"What's your name?"

There was a long pause. Neither of them said a word or made a move. H remained on the floor, staring at the back of her head. Finally, with a sniff, came the word "Book."

"What book?" H asked quietly. There was another pause. "Don't tell me your name is Book."

"So what if it is?" She sat up quickly and stared him down, exposing her bandaged torso. The sudden movement hurt.

"It's kind of silly," H said, not intimidated by her glare.

"Well, who cares what you think anyway?" Book crossed her arms and raised her chin. She closed her eyes and turned her head back towards the wall.

"Clearly not you," H said sarcastically.

"You got that right, buddy," Book said.

"Since you are not the kind of girl to open up about herself, how about I share what I've found out about you," H got to his feet and moved over to the swivel desk-chair. He rested one elbow on his thigh as he read notes off of his cell phone. "You are clearly not an Artificial, or else I would have seen you before. C-Unit denies ever having seen you before either. The Society claims you are not in their ranks, although your weapon, known as the Pike, is a discontinued model that the Society once used to train new members, members that weren't specialized yet." H snapped his cell phone shut.

"It's not easy to get in contact with all the groups in one day, and I must apologize to my acquaintance because it seems to have been fruitless. According to all parties, you, Book, don't exist. Or perhaps someone is lying. So I am curious as to what your motives are. Are you here to spy on me? Are you keeping quiet to protect the interests of your organization?" H rested his cheek in the palm of his hand as he spoke.

Book refused to look at him.

Talking to her is like pulling teeth. That very expression had been used to describe H's minimal communication skills many times in the past.

"No, you're afraid of something aren't you? What is it? Is it your own organization or is someone after you? Perhaps I can help." H spoke softly.

Book took a deep breath and spoke through a tight throat.

"What would you do if I refused to answer?" Book asked.

"What do you think?" H asked with a sigh.

Beat me? Torture me? Imprison me here until I give into your demands?

"I'd make you stay here until your wounds healed and then I'd ask you to leave," H said simply. Book pursed her lips at his answer.

"And what if I am a spy?" she asked, seeming annoyed.

"Then I'd make you stay here until your wounds healed and then I'd ask you to leave," H repeated. As he stared at the back of her head, H briefly wondered what kind of life this short girl had lived until now. Somehow, by accident or by force, she got herself tangled up in all this. There didn't seem to be an ounce of fat on her body; a subsistence diet probably. He had seen many people suffer ever since the Community came into existence. Her story was probably a hard one to tell. "Book," he said gently, "you don't have to worry. I won't let anyone hurt you while you're here. You do know who I am, right?"

There was another brief moment of silence. Book chewed the inside of her cheek.

"You're H, one of the few Organics. You are not forcibly bound to the Catalyst like the Artificials are. Whenever someone in the Community makes a move, they first have to consider what you will do. After all, you hold all the cards, don't you?" She sounded pretty bitter towards the end of her statement. H remained quiet as she, gripping the bed-sheets tightly, finally turned to face him.

"The S. Organization, do you know who they are?" Book asked. He had never seen her smile, but her flustered expression was very familiar by now. This look that she now gave him was different. Her purple-tinted eyes were dead serious.

"I've never heard of them," H answered honestly. He leaned forward with his hands on his knees. Let's hear it.

"Your stalker was one of them," Book said, forcing eye contact despite herself. "All members use those blue, glowing swords. They all go by the last name Word."

"What was she doing? What is their purpose?" H asked. "And if you aren't one of them, what does it have to do with you?" There was a slight sense of urgency in his voice.

"They are watching us," Book said seriously. The wind outside picked up, and a crack echoed through the house from some unknown location. "All of us: you, me, every artificial in this city, every man, woman and child of the Society of Higher Life, all enlisted members of C-Unit, the Catalyst and every person who has ever had contact with us."

H kept his breathing slow. He folded his hands in front of his face as he listened. Through the moonlight that spilled through the window and the floating dust it illuminated, H stared across the room at her dim-blue lit face. The deafening silence rang in their ears.

"Why?"

"I met a nice girl once," Book said, looking up to the ceiling, trying to remember. "I don't know if we were the same age, but she just came up to me and started asking me questions. It was kind of annoying. She was covered in freckles and spoke with an odd accent. I'm not sure where she was from. Maybe it was just a speech impediment. We talked and laughed through the whole afternoon. It was dark before I knew it, but I didn't care. It was so funny how she went on and on about the kids in her class. This one boy she had a crush on. And then a glowing sword was shoved through her gut." Book turned her head to give H a sideways look.

He had a feeling the story would end like that.

He remembered hearing a story about a little girl in a neighboring city suddenly disappearing about a year ago. The parents made quite a commotion, going on the news, putting posters and advertisements everywhere. The story was that she just vanished while playing at the park. It was nothing H concerned himself with at the time. There was no way of knowing that this was the same girl Book was talking about, but if so, who would ever believe that this was what became of her?

H had seen a number of acquaintances fall. Some of them had even called him a friend. Not all of them were dead, but their current conditions weren't much better. Many of them wished for death almost as much as they wished for salvation. His stone face didn't show it, but he felt for the shaken girl sitting across from him.

"You see, she wasn't in the Community. She didn't know anything about magic or Artificials or Organics. She had no idea I was anything other than an ordinary person living an ordinary life just like her. But they saw me, knew who I was and didn't want to take the risk. I don't even remember how I made it out of that." Her eyes quivered slightly. "It was all so stupid."

Book bit her lower lip to keep it steady. Those memories were still fresh in her heart. She regretted even bringing it up now.

"The Community as a whole is in danger." Book lowered her head and looked away so that her shoulder-length hair veiled her face. She brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, curling up like a ball. Her voice became weak. "H, your mission is to cure the Artificials, right? And the Catalyst? All of them?"

"That's right," H was barely audible.

"Then," Book's voice shook a little, "will you even save me?"

H said nothing. He had quite a bit to deal with even without her. It would just be one more life to burden his already struggling shoulders. In the end, not everyone would make it out of this thing. Sitting there, whispers echoing across the room of a forgotten child, they both knew that very well. His silence made her want to cry, but Book took a breath to recompose herself and went on.

"You want to save these people. But to the S. Organization, these people are already lost. Removing all physical evidence is not enough for them. They will not rest until every last memory of supernatural occurrences has been wiped out, for one sick reason or another." She looked up briefly at H, a hopeless smirk on her face. "It's too late for us; we're already on their hit list." She lowered her head again when he didn't react, resting her chin on her knees as if she didn't have any strength left.

H took a deep breath, as it seemed Book was done talking. He stayed calm. H was used to being watched. He was probably being monitored right now. But the idea that he was being watched by someone he had never even heard of was unnerving.

It was clear that this was who Book had been afraid of. And they weren't just after her. He was a target as well. But he didn't care about himself; the others were relying on him. It appeared that Book had said everything she wanted to say, but H needed to know more.

"Hey, yeah Kenneth it's me."

Book looked up to see H on his cell phone, standing in the middle of the room.

"You said you didn't find out anything about my stalker, right? Well, now I need you to look into something else: there's a group called the S. Organization. They are targeting Community members and are most likely threatening. My stalker was one of them." H explained everything Book had told him about the dangerous group.

"Sure thing, H," came a friendly voice on the other line, "I'll see what I can do tomorrow. It was a pretty busy day, you know. And I still have to check out Tally's stalker. But I'll see what I can do." He yawned into the phone as he spoke.

"Thanks Kenneth," H said softly.

"Come on, H. How many years has it been?" Kenneth said with a laugh, "Just call me Kenny. We are friends after all."

"Right," H seemed a little uncomfortable, "One more thing, I need you to spread some information around the Community for me. The girl I told you about; her name is Book. From now on, she'll be working with me. We'll do what we can about the S. Organization, and in return she will help us out as a full-time member of the Fourth Faction. Make sure everyone knows she's with me. No one will touch her then."

Book's head shot up when she heard this. Unquestionable shock blanketed her face. Her eyes were fixed on H as he made a partner arrangement between them without even consulting her. She didn't interrupt, though. She didn't even think to.

It was the moment, for better or worse, when the worried look on her cute, child-like face looked the most resigned that it convinced the battle-hardened teenage boy to trust her. He couldn't yet be sure if she wished to defeat the S. Organization to save her own skin or to avenge that little girl that was cut down before her eyes. Most likely it was a bit of both. It was a risk, both trusting her and taking up this new battle, but it was one he was prepared to pay for.

"Okay man," Kenny said, "I'll call you tomorrow."

"Thank you," H said before hanging up the phone. He stuffed his cell phone in his pocket and turned towards Book. "By the way, I think it's time to change your bandages. I'll get some gauze from the first aid kit, and you're probably hungry too, right? Hold on a minute." He walked out of the room, turning on the ceiling lamp as he left. The room filled up with light around her.

Book gripped the blanket tightly. Her chin wrinkled involuntarily.

Jerk. Making plans without asking me. Thanks a lot.

She smiled softly despite herself.

Thanks a lot.


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