Spoils of War

Saturday, 12/21/2250 – By Rebecca Green.

 

Last night had been wonderful – magical, even. She couldn’t really describe what had happened, but it had been like a dream straight out of the sappy romance novels she couldn’t stand. She’d awoken with Adrian’s arm around her and her head against his arm, deep in the depths of the library. She felt on top of the world, but at the same time there was a level of perplexion.

She’d felt comfortable, waking up with him. It had been a strange level of intimacy, nothing sexual or even physical about it except them touching each other in the barest manner. She hadn’t been that close to anyone in a good thirty years, not emotionally, and not so innocently. Perhaps that was what she liked about Adrian- he was so inexperienced, yet he was entirely sincere in every action he took toward showing what little affection he felt comfortable showing.

It had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to be so vulnerable. Falling asleep with him- deep and sound, and she knew it had been foolish in part, with that mad woman after her, but she felt… safe, as silly as that sounded.

Despite all things, she edged out of his arms and stood up, taking her leave before he ever woke up. She didn’t want to wake him and she’d rather hold onto the magic of yesterday than ruin it with whatever awkwardness would surely ensue, if she knew anything about Adrian. She recalled the blizzard. This was, after all, not the first time she’d woken up with him. Last time had been much less pleasant, but equally, as she imagined, awkward. There was no need to set them back again by subjecting him to that, though she did worry he would assume she’d run off out of regret- she’d approach him later on the subject to clear the air. If all went well, Rhea was confident that they would be able to act upon their feelings rather than doing this dance they had choreographed.

She headed to her office, it was a Saturday, but every morning she would go running followed by a quick routine in her gym before school started. However, she was still wearing her masquerade dress, though she had discarded her mask on the way out of the library. She hurried, hoping no one would see her still dressed up, and snatched the spare outfit she had in a drawer of her desk, quickly changing into it. She didn’t mind the dress- even loved wearing skirts when appropriate, but the thing was scratchy and she was tired of it.

Rhea had just grabbed a water bottle to carry with her when there was a hurried knock on the office door.  She looked over to see the headmaster peering through the window in the wooden frame. He had a harried face and she quickly headed over, opening the door and waving him in.

“What’s the trouble?” She began instantly, her own eyes narrowed in confusion as she ran through all the things that could have possibly happened. What would have Rodney coming to her?

“Where have you been hiding?” Rodney began, “The staff was looking all over for you and Adrian. You seemed to have disappeared during the dance.”

“We went to the library for privacy,” Rhea explained, albeit a hint embarrassed at describing this to her employer. “Why, what happened?”

He had a grave expression, but it was soft- compassion in his eyes and it made Rhea uncomfortable as she shifted between her feet, holding the water bottle a little tighter.

“There’s been another attack.” He began, and Rhea froze.

“Veronica?” She questioned and he nodded, “Did she hurt a student?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“What do you mean?” Rhea insisted, impatient with his words that were clearly trying to broach this subject delicately, but she just wanted him to spit it out. “Who’s hurt?” Her stomach churned with possibilities- was it an innocent kid who the woman had crossed paths with? Maybe someone had seen her and she’d decided that cover was more important than harming an innocent civilian. Or perhaps she had targeted specifically- she was clearly willing to hurt Adrian to spite Rhea, despite their familial relation, but Rhea had been with him. Her eyes flickered to the door as her blood ran cold, thinking of her niece. But the girl had gone home for the holidays, hadn’t she?

“She wasn’t here.” Rodney explained further, his hands clasped together on the head of his cane. “Veronica targeted the home of your family.” Rhea mutely stared at him, her head spinning with the implications, imagining that dreadful woman attacking her family- the people she loved more than anyone else. Rodney’s eyes studied her and he went on as she did not reply. “I’m sorry, Rhea, but your brother was killed by her, around ten last night.”

Her heart seemed to stop, having known that the news would be something of that accord, but hearing it as the truth was no better. She took in a sharp breath, and let it out with a question, “What about everybody else?”

“Your mother and sister-in-law are both fine, they were outside of the home. Your niece was attacked, she’s in the hospital. She was in critical condition, but has since stabilized.” Rhea nodded, her heart in her throat as she felt like she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Her next breath came out shaky and Rodney watched her with sad eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss. We’ll catch the woman responsible soon enough, I assure you.”

Rhea was looking away, imagining it. Imagining her brother- how had he been killed? If Veronica’s attempt on Rhea’s own life had been any indication, it would be bloody, it would have been painful, and she could hardly imagine what she had done to Lunette. The girl was fourteen, and she had been attacked because of Rhea.

Something prickled at her eyes and she squeezed them shut, barely registering as Rodney placed a hand on her shoulder, and she pulled away. “I have to go.” She blurted out, hurrying toward the door and disappearing through it in a second.

She had no plan of where she was to go, but her feet took her in a familiar path. It wasn’t because he was someone she truly trusted, but Adrian was the first person that ran through her head. Ourani wasn’t really close to her and Ismisis was likely asleep, and he’d known Jericho himself, she couldn’t tell him. Not like this. Rhea was in the library a second later, having left it hardly half an hour before.

Rhea first backtracked to the couch, but it was empty and she was wiping her eyes, turning quickly and moving to head out, unsure of where to find him until she caught sight of a man in the office by the entrance of the library. She swiveled and a moment later was knocking rapidly, struggling to calm herself, but she felt like she was going to throw up and tears had long since forced their way down her cheek.

He opened the door, a smile on his face that disappeared the moment he really saw her. “Rhea?” His voice full of confusion, worry knitting in his eyebrows and he stepped back to usher her inside. “What’s wrong? What happened?” The only time he’d ever seen her less than composed and confident had been that confusing instance after she’d gone through the void and had some sort of mental attack by her memories. It boggled him to see her like this and he didn’t like it.

Stepping into the room, Rhea crossed her arms. She was shaking with the effort as she struggled to open her mouth and talk, when the only thing she could do was cry. This was her fault, there was no ifs or buts about it, and while she knew every other person would try to convince her otherwise- she should have killed Veronica, tracked her down. She’d known the woman knew her family, yet she hadn’t considered that Veronica would go after them. Rhea expected rage, to jump into action and go after the woman herself, but instead she was falling apart because that was her brother, her best friend.

Adrian hesitated, taking a step forward and then a step back before he made a decision and was moving to wrap his arms around her, hugging her in a manner that was awkward and loose, but Rhea soon held him tight, pressing her face against him and trying to forget that she’d only really known him for a month. This was insane, but she needed it.

“M-My brother.” Rhea choked out. Adrian tensed around her, his heart filling with dread as it was all too obvious what that meant. He didn’t need her to say it as he tightened his own arms, forgoing his own hesitance in favor of comforting her.

“I’m sorry.” His voice was low, gentle as he asked, “What happened?” Had he been ill? Jericho had seemed perfectly healthy the one time Adrian had met him. Lively and energetic and they’d had no warning, not that Rhea had indicated, had it been this sudden?

She squeezed her eyes shut, “He was killed.”

Adrian’s stomach did a flop, more than dread. He made the connection and he felt nauseous himself. Would she have really gone that far? Adrian couldn’t fathom what his sister had become, a monster that would kill people for money, to scare. Yet at the same time, he thought it was only to be expected- she’d always been malicious and his head provided the much more intense word, evil. She was pure evil and he was disgusted to be related to her, to have any memories of them as children. Growing up together, however much she’d tormented him, she was his sister and he hated that.

“My niece is in the hospital- she was- attacked.” Rhea couldn’t get around that. Veronica hadn’t just killed someone, she’d gone as far as attacking what was a child in Rhea’s eyes. She may be a teenager, but only just barely and she was innocent to whatever Rhea had done to offend Veronica enough that she’d do this. Or done to whoever hired Veronica- she had dozens of enemies from her years on the Spook Squad, but she couldn’t figure out who was tormenting her so.

She felt the hand against her back flex.  He was just as, if not more, disgusted. He didn’t know what to say- he couldn’t bring Jericho back, he couldn’t take back what his sister had done to her niece, Adrian could only imagine what had happened to her.

“You should go.” He finally said softly, “Go see your niece. I’m sure your mother needs you right now.” Something told him that Rhea would need that too- and he was right. Rhea needed a reason and this would be her mission. She nodded against him, pulling back and wiping her eyes.

Rhea swallowed hard before she found herself asking, “Will you come with me? I don’t-” She glanced away, looking for an excuse. “I don’t think I can drive.” I can’t go alone.

He looked at her in surprise, shifting a bit uncomfortably. Even so, he nodded. “Okay.” He looked away himself, quickly snatching up the car keys he had on his desk. “Do you know what hospital?”

“No. I’ll find out.” She’d text her mother- Rhea pulled out her phone, expecting the bombard of texts from the woman, and finding that Deirdre had already given her the address. She didn’t say anything about Jericho dying- probably hoping to tell Rhea in person. “It’s- It’s in Chicago. Is that okay?”

Adrian nodded more readily, resolved to help her. “That’s fine. I can’t let you drive that far and I know it won’t be easy. I lost my mother, it’s hard when you’re alone.” A time in his life he didn’t like to think about- how everyone seemed to disappear the day she died in her hospital bed.

“Thank you.” Rhea replied, a fake smile behind her tears.

“C’mon, let’s go. You’re family needs you.” Adrian led the way, taking her to his car, and Rhea followed, hoping this wouldn’t go too badly.


 

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