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But To Our Great Misfortune...


SK Wynter
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[i]"Bushes and briars and dancing friars,
Singing at Samhain, girls swinging to and fro...."[/i]

The lockpick and the wrench slid into the lock with a click. The young woman smiled softly, satisfied, fingers working nimbly to open the lock.


[i]"Singing at Samhain, winging at Samhain,
Their poor feet bound in heels and in pain,
And there isn't anywhere else to go...."[/i]

The pins turned and the lock succumbed to practised skill. For something that was supposed to be valuable out as sea as fresh water, the crate holding such didn't have that complicated of a lock. What did they think, that a padlock or two would keep the water safe to even a novice picklock? The White Cross knockoffs should have been more careful.


[i]"And all this time they are broken,
For they are wives without a word spoken,
And their husbands drink and their children bawl
As the Samhain night slows to a crawl...."[/i]
[i]
Click, click.[/i] One padlock, then another, and the case opens, the chains drop. Her pale fingers reach in and touch firm plastic, her nails digging in and pulling back. Ripping, the young woman carefully manoeuvres the plastic back, moving as quietly as she can. A few bottles is all she needs, and she'll return to her seat and lock the locks back up. Somehow, she'll lock them up, maybe with that coin trick Old Grandfather taught her. The old Pict defies the saying of, "Can't teach an old dog new tricks," like a belligerent toddler ignores a frustrated mother.


[i]"And they want to cage them in brambles,
And they want to tear out their entrails,
But instead they hold another baby in the belly,
And clap to the Samhain song,
Thinking of days too far gone."[/i]

She remembers a time when there wasn't a need to picklock, but now, it's addicting. Thrilling. Dangerous. Old Grandfather tells her not to think like God, but she feels like she thinks like an artist. The lock is a puzzle, an object of music, and it makes sweet tunes as she undoes it. The pins are pieces so delicate and fickle, stubborn unless she can tease them out and lead them away, like trying to lead away a stallion away from the mare's pasture. There is rhyme and reason to her work, and it's a beautiful thing, even if it's criminal. She might be a novice, but one day, the young albino woman will be able to crack any code, any sort of lock. Simple cargo jobs are the first stone in a path towards something she can actually do.


[i]"'We are things fully grown,
Or young or old, battered and wind-blown.'
The pretty village girls do not envy the song,
The swan song sung
In the light of the Samhain fire-song."[/i]

She plucks her quarry from its hiding place. One, two, three - no one will ask questions. She switches cases of the water bottles around, putting a couple of unaltered ones on top of the torn package. It is heavy work, and somewhat awkward work with the rocking of the boat, but Annan Rusby does it. She then closes up with her prize in her arms, pulling out the coin of some defunct country and trying to use it as a key. No such luck ▬ it must only work on the locks of certain houses and doors. She pockets the coin and scurries away, looking left and right. The strange, awkwardly-worded poem-song she has muttered to herself is now mouthed as she heads back to the deck.


[i]"It is too aisy to lie and flee,
For they are not bound if they are thought dead.
But if they flee that Samhain night,
They imagine beatings, and are filled with dread."[/i]

Old Grandfather is waiting for her on deck. When she approves, sheepishly smiling and looking a little terrified, he nods in approval at his little albino thief. He pats her delicately on the head, then takes a bottle for himself to drink from. The low-tech boat is unknowing of the incident as it pulls into the nearest port, where the two wayward "refugees" will hop off and find something else to picklock.


[hr]

[quote]OOC: Anyone can join.[/quote]

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Old Grandfather believes he is a Pict. "It's in the blood and in the eyes, lassie," he said to her, that night by the firelight when she found him, forlorn on the beach and staring at Mother Sea. "They say we became part of the Gaels a long, long time ago. We don't even have our own name, lassie ▬ they named us instead. The closest thing we probably have is [i]Cruithini[/i] in the old tongue."

"[i]Cruithini?[/i]" she asks, the word foreign yet familiar on her Gaelic tongue. She may not speak Scottish Gaelic, but the influences of the Scottish languages have tinged its variety of English for time unaccountable. Somewhere in Annan, she feels that the word is right as rain in her mouth.

"They say it came from [i]Qritani[/i], which itself is descended from [i]Pritani[/i]," Old Grandfather continued. "The word that would give Britain its name. We're said to be of Britain, but are we really so vague? So undefined?" His eyes are distant, his frown set in a face used to frowning. He tosses a piece of kindling into the fire, and it crackles in approval as it feeds upon new fodder. "The world shakes, the earth quakes, and our boundaries change too much. How many countries have only lasted a few years? Ten years? Twenty? What of the money we make, of the places we used to call home?"

His words strike a chord in her. She knows, from being told so and observation, that she is Scottish, but even Annan can't say where she's from. The ship, the storm, the gun - that's all she remembers. That, and the island, and her mysterious giant rescuer, and how wayward she ended up after being rescued. Her only companion was her mother, the sea, who birthed the little amnesiac onto that deserted island's far-flung shoreline. And even thought it was unclaimed, it is most likely now a marked territory on someone's map, owned and labelled.

Old Grandfather coughs up a ball of phlegm. He's old and more suspect to colds ▬ he can't stand how tired they make him feel. Spitting, he continues his impromptu conversation with Annan. "Our language isn't supposed to be Gaelic," he continues. "Archaeology says our words we're related to the Brythonic languages. Welsh, Cornish, that way of speaking. We moved with our animals, and cattle and horses meant we had much. Fitting, considering how fluid the political boundaries of the world are today."

She is fascinated. She knows of nomadic peoples ▬ the Roma, the Margrave, the Irish Travellers, the Scottish Travellers, and New Age Travellers. There may be more, but she can't put her finger on what those might be. Instead, she nods, her pink eyes full of curiosity, and she says, "And you do this?"

Old Grandfather huffs. "I did, once," he said. "I never believed in boundaries. I had a passport and a few places to go. When they wouldn't let me do my business, I knew where to sneak through, the little holes in their borders. In North America, I remember slipping through the border of two different countries a number of times before Customs found me. And then, they took my sheep."

She wants to question and poke holes in his story. North America has some of the toughest security forces in the world, she knows. However, she is too transfixed by what the Pict is saying, and continues to listen intently. However, she can't help but ask the obvious.

"Can you tell me more?"

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Old Grandfather really never did believe in limits. In his youth, he had multiple affairs ▬ his roguish grin breaks the frowning mold, and he speaks fondly of his trysts. Then he speaks of drinking binges and song and dance, barefoot and cheery runs across the beaches of places beyond and familiar. He can name all the stars and their constellations, and save for the darkest of caverns and woods, he does not need a lantern to find his way. He sleeps without a tent, except in the heaviest of rains, and he busks to feed himself at shoreline venues. Sure, the coppers may shoo him off if they think he's a nuisance, but according to Grandfather, "That's only when I'm publically intoxicated, lassie." Then he tosses in more food for the fire, sending up sparks sometimes, and continues with his tale.

Other than indulging himself in the goodness of the Earth, he also indulges in feelings. He's tried more than a few illegal things to get the perfect high, and he's done some incredibly stupid things to get the rush of adrenaline he loves so badly. A scar, pointed out across his stomach, was from a wild stag in Ireland that he wrestled to the ground. When he finally got the beast to let him on its back, he rode it like the Sami ride their reindeer, swinging his cap around and hollering until it bucked him off and gored him. He snapped its neck in return, and feasted for a week on cured meat and offal. Annan's eyebrows rise at the wild act, but again, she says nothing.

"And who are you, me honey?" he asks, leaning back on the log he has perched himself upon. "I've talked for an hour now, and you've barely said a word. Got a name for yourself, lassie?"

"Annan," the girl answers simply. Old Grandfather nods, his expression thoughtful.

"Annan..." he says. "That's an old word. They say it comes from a language we don't even know anymore. I thought it was a boy's name, though?"

"Didn't the term 'girl' used to mean both a male and female child?" Annan asks. Old Grandfather grins at her reply.

"Aye, that I believe they did, lass. It fits you ▬ you don't seem to be like the other folk who walk along the beach. You're not a teenager necking her partner with love-words, now are you?"

"I don't care for such," she answers, her nose turning up a little. Old Grandfather laughs, and the fire crackles in the starlight ▬ there is no moon, as it is in the new phase.

"Good girl! Men are more trouble than they are worth. That's never why I stayed around my girls for long."

The statement, for some reason, strikes Annan the wrong way ▬ probably because of how much nonchalance is in Old Grandfather's voice as he speaks so fondly of flitting from woman to woman. She still, however, lets him continue talking.

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She is nervous. Her quarry is in the middle of the street ▬ a vendor surrounded by people, hawking cheap plastic baubles. It isn't food, so she can't justify it by hunger, and Old Grandfather is insistent. It is a test, to separate needs and wants ▬ if she wants it, she might falter, but if she needs it, she'll follow through. That is what makes Grandfather a sensation junkie: need becoming want, the high as vital as nourishment. It has lost its bite in recent years, but that's not the point here. No, the point is to teach Annan the danger of impulse.

"Come on, lass..." he whispers encouragingly. "Right over there, left-right, look distracted. Slip something right from the bigger piles, no one will notice."

Annan nods, gulping. The sun is hot, her sensitive skin is sore, and she isn't sure if this is such a good idea anymore. Still, however, she must, as it is the only way to keep Old Grandfather's praise and acceptance. He is her teacher, and as such, will call the shots on what she can and cannot do. Silently, as inconspicuously as she can (with the help of aviator shades and a hat), she approaches. Old Grandfather's eyes dart left and right, carefully observing the surrounding street for the local forces of the tourist trap.

[hr]

"Why are you here?" he asked her that night, after they had talked much of origins and countries. "You're sixteen, you're not here with a boyfriend, and you have the look of a fellow bum. Cold?"

"Not really," Annan replies. "You looked interesting. I decided to stop and rest."

Old Grandfather quirks an eyebrow. "Is that all?"

"Yes," Annan says without hesitation. "I have a very simple mind. I like listening to people. You have a lot of stories to listen to."

The cockiness and self-assuredness in Old Grandfather's grin gains a hint of parental warmth. Perhaps this is why fate led to him calling Annan his granddaughter. "That's respectable. You sound very wholesome and sure of yourself."

"I see no reason why I shouldn't be."

Edited by SK Wynter
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She walks to the stand. She greets the shopkeeper with a little hello and smile. The shopkeeper responds back cheerily and keeps hawking things in her face, half-watching every move, half-watching the crowd. His voice carries over the chorus of excited chatter and local conversation, and Annan feels overwhelmed. Slowly, carefully, her lilly-white fingers creep over the table like spider's legs, and she tries to fancy herself with a dangling charm at eye-level ▬

"Think you might want a bracelet?"

He's staring right at her hand. Annan, startled, blinks and pulls back a little, and lets out a shaky, "N-no, I'm just looking." Before the pressure begins to feel like it will squeeze her head into itself, she turns and walks away. Old Grandfather sees her coming back, looking disgruntled at how easily she balked at the heist.

"You should have been more careful," he scolds gently as they cut down an alley, moving onto a quieter street. "You shouldn't be so easily intimidated by things!"

Annan can only frown and nod, putting her hands into the empty pockets of her long skirt.

[hr]

"Kilda."

He points out the tiny island on the map. An area of four miles, and a few other islands attached to it ▬ an archipelago. "This is where I want to go, but Customs won't let me."

"Why?" asks Annan. "What about your passport?"

"I don't have the right things to forge a USI passport," he says. "Don't have a copy, never got a hold of one. 'Sides, I'm not there to look at the scenery, or get a high off of anything more than abseiling cliffsides. No, me and some buddies have got some real ideas."

"Like what?" asks Annan, intrigued. She has never heard of Old Grandfather talking in this manner ▬ when he speaks of going to places, it's to fulfil his needs as a sensation junkie. At her quizzical expression, the older man only grins.

"It's not the Pict lands," he says. "We've already lost those to the bureaucracy. But did you know, Annan, that the people of St. Kilda lived for centuries without bowing to their 'king', hiding in caves when people came by? And now, it's barely inhabited, as far as I know."

Annan only nods, unsure of what to say. What is Old Grandfather thinking?

Edited by SK Wynter
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"ANNAN! GET DOWN FROM THERE!"

She stood on the very tip of the ship's bow, strugging to stand upwards as the boat rocked back and forth. Rain fell and waves crashed, no lightning thankfully to strike her. Her arms swung as she tried to regain balance, the boat dipping down and up, down and up. She felt a tad seasick, but pushed aside the faint nausea to stare at the crashing horizon.

[hr]

[i]"Well...hello," was the giant's reaction. Annan blinked, trying to discern his facial features. Weather-worn was he, his voice distinctly foreign — African, perhaps? It would not be a surprise. The fur seals that lay dead, gave birth, lived on the rocks — they were beasts of the Southern Hemisphere, Africa firmly placed there. She looked warily at something being held out, her eyes making out something that looked to be round.

"Who are you? Are you okay?"

A question of identity after silence so long. Annan tried to think; what could she say? To talk to a man, a person from afar, after living so long as a hermit on that shore. She clutched her skin tight, the barest of rags there beneath, shakily straddling the line between decent and not. She felt so exposed, so unready for the encounter; from her mind came a silent, protective prayer.

And then, from the blue, words came to her: "My mother was the sea and I came from her."[/i]

[hr]

"Mother...."

"ANNAN RUSBY!"

Her mother was the sea and she came from her. Beloved Mother Sea, Mother Mare, Gaia's watery sister. The pale girl raised her arms and stretched them high, taking a deep breath. Her white-blond hair clung to her face from the rain, and she realized that she was chilled from the storm. Her legs tensed, especially as bootsteps thumped and clanked across a wet deck. Then, she breathed, as there was only air, only the sea, only the salt and the rage of the sky.

"Mother."

"NO!"

She leapt, graceful as a swan, fluidly into a dive. Seconds passed ▬ seconds, not minutes, as the fall was relatively short ▬ and she hit the water like a rock. The shock up her skull, neck and spine shocked her, the world muted and gurgling as she slipped beneath the rocky ways. She drifted, the ocean cold, until adrenaline and instinct burst from within. She kicked, clawing and struggling, and burst through the rocky surface, the ship mere feet from here. Above her, she could hear someone calling out that someone had fallen overboard.

[i]Why?[/i]

And that pea of memory, that pest beneath the mattress, threatened to shift. But it didn't, and the waves rolled over her.

[hr]

"STOP!"

Sometimes, she wonders why the sea hadn't taken her.

"THIEF! A THIEF!"

Old Grandfather should have let her drift, swim back to the beloved Mother Mare's womb.

"STOP! I SAID [i]STOP![/i]"

But for now, she was not with the beloved sea, but land-bound and tired. She was running, it was hot as hell in summer, and she had just stolen a pomegranate. Her lilly-white fingers snuck across the table, grabbing the reddish fruit with a deft hand. She had been careful, walking away with a smaller-than-normal fruit, until she had tried to pocket the good. Then, a passerby who had not been paying attention, but who had saw what she had done out of his eye's corner, yelled. Now, people were pealing after her.

Old Grandfather can only facepalm from his hiding place at the amateur mistake.

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[i]This is where reality breaks down.[/i]

[hr]

Old Grandfather writhes like a fish on the floor. He's gagging, he's spitting up blood and he's turning blue. Annan can only stare, never scream ▬ she has not screamed at such things since Mother Mare birthed her on the shoreline. His lungs ache with pneumonia from going in after her; he spent too long swimming on his own to try and get her back. The substances of his youth have made it so, and not just his God-given age.

"An-ann..angh..." he chokes out, his hand clawing at the air. "H-hulp...gurt...hlk...."

The pea wildly shifts back and forth. She knows those choking noises, those dying gulps and gasps, though they are in memories buried beneath thought and time. As they fight and struggle to reach the surface of her psyche. Annan is staring, always staring, pink eyes wide with disbelief.

"Ann..an...! Ann...allllllllkgh...."

The last, horrible gurgle is the final straw. She raises her voice, panicked, but never a yell, and flees for help. Medics on board the refugee ship rush to Old Grandfather's side, and their caring hands begin to work, to try and clear his throat and lungs of fluid and blood.

[i]My mother was the sea, and she made you sick.[/i]

[hr]

He's got a smoker's wheeze as he runs through the dust. He should be out of the sun and the sand flying up, but he's not, and Annan feels guilty. It was her clumsiness and lack of awareness that brought the coppers onto their trail, not Grandfather's. He says nothing, too focused on flight and his breathing, but she knows he is angry. Or, perhaps, just irritated ▬ they are grandfather and grandchild, after all. He takes care of his young, for all the responsibilities he's shirked years before.

"Grandfather?"

"K-keep run...nin'!" he manages to say before coughing hoarsely. He slows a little, but realizes what is going on and pulls on his stores of stamina.

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Hearing the sounds from far off, the sounds of gurgling, of panic, of fear, a pair of green eyes turn down the hull of the ship. It had been months since Khris van Donop had left Europe, bound for wherever the sea and the wind would take her. She had since come low on money, low on energy, but full of determination and as a stowaway on board the refugee ship, she was anonymous but the gun tucked behind her waist made her a force to be reckoned with. The white haired captain of the Franco-German War pushed herself into a small doorway along the ship. They were docking soon and watching the two people beginning to run, she knew that they were making their escape. Thieves perhaps? Runaways like herself? Khris watched them as they continued to run away from the medics and the guards, nearing where she hid. Then with their pursuers out of sight, if only for a moment, Annan and the Old Man would feel a pair of strong arms reach out from the doorway and throw them both against the metal wall of the ship.

"Just curious," Green eyes shown through the darkness, with a patch of bright white hair at the top. "You two causing trouble? Or is trouble following you?"

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Trouble comes around like a boomerang. It flies and turns away, then comes back in a swift curve with a lot of bite. Before Old Grandfather and Annan could take another step, the two of them were grabbed, thrown hard against something metallic. Eyes, hard and green, reminded Annan of a snake's ▬ she thought she was being stared down by some serpent. Old Grandfather only wheezed from the impact against the hard surface.

"Just curious: you two causing trouble? Or is trouble following you?"

Annan stares and stares into those eyes. Old Grandfather glares as he tries to catch his breath. Then, the young albino speaks, even if it's just rambling.

"My mother is the sea."

"An-annan!" Old Grandfather scolds. The girl's pink eyes become hard with focus.

"My mother is the sea, and I've always been in trouble. You're in trouble too, aren't you? Where are you from? You sound German, you sound French, you sound European all over. You're in trouble too, what are you doing here?"

"Annan!" Old Grandfather manages to say after he gets his second wind. What is his charge doing? Is she insane? She is.

"My mother was the sea and I am of her," Annan stated firmly. Her stare was quite intense at his point. "I know a lot of things. You don't want to know them." [i]A bluff is only as good as the bluffee....[/i]

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Looking first at the albino and then at the old man, the Frenchwoman shook her head. It made sense, her luck, she would run into a mentally unstable kid and a charge. Though there were other ideas that ran through Khris' head. The girl could be just rambling off to confuse her, she could be crazed, she could just be scared. As the girl babbling on about incoherent things, Khris turned to the Old Man.

"Maybe you could talk to me then, I'm just curious what you two are doing that's all. First I hear a scream, then you both start running and from what I could see, people were running after you. The girl is obviously not used to this kind of thing, or she's just talking nonsense for the fun of it. But consider me an adventurer, if you are in trouble, I'd be happy to help you out. My life could use a bit of excitement at this point." She turned, looking out the doorway. The pursuers had since passed and they had a few moments of peace left. "We're docked so if they are after you for malicious purposes, we can get off. But again, I'd appreciate my first question being answered along with...is the girl crazed or what?"

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Old Grandfather steadies himself. He's getting to far up in his years, the old Pict is, and he doesn't need so much confusion in his life anymore. Then again, why take care of Annan when he has thousands more things to be doing? Adventuring, exploring, boozing, doing a number of other things that do not involve the law....

"Annan, shut up," the Pict barks, and his charge falls silent. Looking at the woman, he says, "Yeah, she's not too sane sometimes, lass, and then she's smart again. Look, we just had a few troubles back there, but if you want to offer something, say it. I'm too old to be battered around like this."

"The snake-eyed girl rolls her dice ▬ twinsy twos, or twelves all around? That is the question Hamlet envies."

Old Grandfather stares at Annan like she's grown a second head. "What on [i]Earth[/i] are you talking about?"

Annan shrugs. She doesn't need to make sense. "I don't need to make sense."

"Uh-huh, you keep telling yourself that, lassie," Old Grandfather replies. He looks at the snake-eyed girl, as Annan calls her, and shrugs in defeat. "She doesn't always make sense. Half the time she's happy with that."

"I just said that."

He ignores her before he starts rambling himself. "So what you want, lass? Excitement? This is a tourist destination. Surely you could find enough to do here; there are round trips to Marrakesh. Ever see the market?"

"I want to."

"I'm talking to the lady, Annan."

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"Smart eh?" Khris chuckled and shook her head. "Well that remains to be seen, but yeah, if you two are having troubles I'd be happy to help out." She sticks out her hand letting the Old Man take it. "Khris van Donop, Captain of Her Imperial Majesty's Front Guard. Or whatever is left of it. I was a fighter during the Franco-German War and after the Empress died, I guess there hasn't been much work or acceptance for us Imperial soldiers. France has gone to absolute hell, even now it's divided between two states. One English, one Fascist. So, when you don't have a home, you tend to wander."

With her hand on the Old Man's she helps him to his feet and then offers another hand to Annan. Whether the girl wanted to be lifted up, well that wasn't her choice. "C'mon, we'll get of the ship and then you two can lead the way. I'm only tagging along for now."

Khris poked her head outside of the doorway, making sure that the coast was clear then ushered Annan and the Old Man out of the hiding place. But the moment they were all gathered on the deck, two of the men who had been chasing Khris' new friends appeared behind the corner.

"There they are! Get them!"

Khris looked over and cursed then grabbed Annan and the Old Man's hand. "C'mon, there's an easier way off this. If you can't swim, just hold on." And with a strong yank took the three of them off the boat and into the murky black water of the Moroccan night. The voices would shout above them as they landed in the water with a tremendous splash. However the water was cool and the night was humid and as Khris pushed her head above the water she smiled and looked at the small harbor of whatever coast town they had come to. Seeing the Old Man and Annan surface a few seconds later she swam over to them and pointed to a beach not that far off. "Follow me, we'll be safe there." She smiled at Annan. "Glad to be with your mother?"

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It is then that Annan realizes where she is.

[i]Boat? Boat? How am I on a boat? And why is it night?[/i] They had been running all day. She thought she had just been remembering the boat during Old Grandfather's pneumonia spell. But no, they had been running all day, and she had been remembering things.

[i]This is when reality breaks down.[/i]

Both her and Old Grandfather allow themselves to be pulled into the water. They both can swim, and quite well ▬ Old Grandfather mentions he learned it as a trick to get away from boyfriends and fathers. He moves gracefully as he follows the woman, with Annan's gentle paddling not too far behind him. He grins roguishly at the woman when she points to the beach. "A woman after my own heart."

Annan, however, does not answer her question. Instead, as flashlights beam across the water, she stares out at the far horizon. Mother Mare reaches far, and she's tempted to approach the horizon, for no other reason than to see how far she could swim out. Then, the pea rolls around in her pretty little brain.

[i]You tried to swim. You gave up and let the waves take you home.[/i]

But the water is mostly calm and clear that Moroccan night. (She still can't even believe it's night!) She sighs in defeat, and before Old Grandfather can call out to her, she swims towards where Khris is pointing faster than the two of them have. Annan doesn't really believe Khris fought in the Franco-German war, but she does believe Khris van Donop is Khris's name. [i]It suits you. I like it.[/i] She also feels glad that, walking with the dark-haired, heavily-tanned Pict that is Old Grandfather, people will look at the taller woman first. Her hair is chalk-white, so striking with those green eyes.

The water seems to have an effect on Annan's psyche. As she approaches the shore, she thinks less about rambling and more about how they will avoid the police. She cares less about making nonsense and remembering strange things. Instead, all she wants to find is food ▬ the lost pomegranate was her lunch.

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Once the sand at the bottom of the ocean was high enough that Khris could stand, she pulled herself out of the water and looked over the beach in front of them. The harbor was a ways off still and the search lights would disappear eventually, they were stowaways, what would the police want with a bunch of refugees, in addition, Mogatopia was a corporate state, if you had a bit of money on you, you could bribe anyone you needed. Checking the soaked pockets of her jeans, Khris pulled out a few Athenian bank notes and then shoved them back in. "I think we'll be okay here for a bit."

She took a deep breath and pulled off her damp over shirt, the tank-top underneath would breath a lot better in the warm Arabian night. Then sitting down on the beach front, the Frenchwoman stared out at the large full moon that was just resting on the ocean. The night was calm, the sound of the waves lapping up against the shore and trio's quiet breathing. "So I introduced myself, how's about you two introduce yourselves now and tell me what you were doing on that ship. Where you were going, if anywhere at all. Might give us a better idea as to what we're going to do from here. Whether just wander or look for an objective."

A big grin crossed her face after though and the white-haired woman nodded. "Though I haven't had that much fun in a long time."

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Old Grandfather chuckles at her enthusiasm. "Well, Annan just knows me as Grandfather. I'd tell you my name, but there are several fathers and husbands who want me manly pelt to compensate for something. This little lady is the aforementioned ▬ "

"Annan Rusby," Annan answers simply.

"And there you have it," says Old Grandfather. "Well, we're refugees. I don't have anywhere else to go, and neither does she. Shifting borders and all the mess associated with that ▬ I don't even know how to get a proper passport for most places anymore. Neither does Annan, so she stays with me."

Annan doesn't add to that. Instead, she begins squeezing water out of her white-blond hair. Old Grandfather continues.

"So we were on a boat, then in the market, and !@#$ went down hard. I swear, it's like half of the coppers around here have PMS they're itching to vent, lass. So me and Annan were just trying to stay out of trouble, since it doesn't seem like people want to make sense anymore."

"Like me?" Annan jokes. Her brain definitely feels back to normal now, or as normal as what could be considered normal for Annan Rusby. Old Grandfather ignores her again.

"I'm glad you at least have some money, lass. I'm not going much of anywhere, so perhaps we should try your idea of 'wandering' for an 'objective'." His voice drips with sarcasm around the finger-quoted words; he's feeling a bit punchy from the adrenaline rush and the pain in his lungs wearing off. "Anything in mind?"

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"I figured as much that you two were refugees, though I'm afraid I don't particularly buy that you've been traveling around so long that you forget where you first lived. But that's not my business anyways. Not telling me your name only builds the suspicion that you two aren't you who say you are, but again, I digress." Khris said as she pushed herself off the sand and brushed it off of her jeans and shirt. "However, since you two don't have anywhere to go and that you seem so incredibly enthusiastic about trying on my lifestyle for a change." The sarcasm in the Old Man's voice didn't sit perfectly well with her, but she did her best to brush it off.

"We'll walk back to the harbor town, take that bus to Marrakesh and then go from there. I've never seen Morocco myself so this should be an adventure."

As she began to walk, Khris eyed Annan oddly. She wanted to get the chance to talk to the girl alone, mainly because she didn't trust the older man she was with. The girl was hiding something, it was rather obvious, as she flipped from crazed, to confused, to normal too easily for someone that actually had those mental issues. But until the chance arose, Khris simply stayed by the young girl nonchalantly and spoke to the Old Man about anything he happened to bring up. Eventually they would arrive back in the harbor town and from there it was only a few Athenian bank notes to Marrakesh.

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"Eh, I don't really buy that you're some sort of crack military trooper, lass," Old Grandfather says with a laugh. "But what's life without a little embellishment?"

[hr]

The bus is mostly silent, save for a few yawns and coughs. The gentle rumble of wheels across the sandy road seems gentle and soft compared to the harsh rocking of a meagre little boat. Old Grandfather snores nearby, arm slung over his face, and somebody smokes in the back. Dimly lit is the vehicle, a humble scattering of light provided by lanterns and cigarette fire. She toys with strands of her own white-blond hair, staring out the window as the gibbous moon shines down.

Annan Rusby's thought patterns are not always strange. They are not always threading, confused, twisting; when she has time to herself, and all is quiet and still, she can think. She merely needs to hear herself think, to surround herself in a veil of unheard, mental sound, so that she can focus. One plus one can equal two again, and she's not wondering about why the universe makes it so. Annan can think, and think, and think some more, and the gibbous moon glows, and it lights up her face and fringe.

So, while her brain is settled, she thinks of earlier times. She thinks of the African giant Adnan, and she thinks of that night she met a certain comedian in a ghostly pub. She thinks of wars and she thinks of movement, and she thinks of how out of the loop she's been as Old Grandfather and her have been thieving. It's true, they really don't know what the political borders are anymore ▬ so much change, so many days, so many hours. It's almost tiring, thinking of so much at once. Trains of thought chugging away, rumbling along tracks of what she knew, blowing their whistles when filled with a flash of brilliance. Perhaps it was time to cool the engines of those trains.

[i]"You have one hour," he said.[/i]

She turns her head towards the white-haired woman with those venomously green eyes.

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Khris had been relaxing peacefully as the bus roared towards the east. The moon was extremely bright that night and she fixed her eyes upon it, that and a few Mogatopian magazines, but they were dirty things and she quickly tossed them aside. She felt dirty in this country, not physically, but mentally. Mogatopia was a nation that had transplanted the traditional Arab population, one of amazing culture and history for an Asian one that bordered on the sexual taste of those in power. Anything would have been better than this, even the Pseudo-Greeks from yesteryear, but France had fallen too, it was the depressing world she lived in and she was looking for any escape out of it.

Turning to her side she looked at Annan and smiled. The girl was odd, but Khris was starting to take a liking to her, especially now that the Old Man was sound asleep. "It seems you have a lot on your mind. Everything okay?"

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"It seems you have a lot on your mind. Everything okay?"

"Not really," says Annan. "Can't sleep. I think the sea made me so sore from all the waves that I fell asleep because I was half knocked out. I think too much in this quiet; it was nice at first, but now it's annoying. It's like a bee made a nest in my brain."

Yes, this is the saner, less panicked Annan that Khris has picked up on. She had been hidden beneath that quirky brain, that brain with the pea rolling about. But now, there is only her and Khris, and the real Annan who isn't always confused. A blessing, it is, that she can communicate without blurting out strange, cryptic riddles without even trying. It makes her live up to the "mysterious and pale waif" stereotype she is trying to shake.

"Is Khris short for Khristina or Khristiana?" asks Annan. "Annan means 'water'. The Annan Waters are a Celtic river. That's really all I can remember, that and it's a word from a dead language. Grandfather's into that sort of thing; the Pictish language is relatively unknown, and he's a Pict. He's bitter about that, I think."

She looks at the gibbous moon again for a minute. Then, she looks back at Khris.

"What is [i]up[/i] with these magazines they have for reading?"

Edited by SK Wynter
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"They're garbage," Khris laughed and tossed the magazine aside. "Anyways, it's short for Khristine, but even when I was a little girl, everyone just called me 'Khris', so it stuck. But 'Annan', that's a beautiful name and I wouldn't say it's a dead language after all, you seem to know something about it, likewise the Old Man."

Khris thought for a moment and looked back up at the moon. "You know, Annan, if your Grandfather is a Pict and you obviously it seems, Celtic roots, why haven't you tried to head to Ireland, or Britain, or the USI? Those areas might be a lot more friendly to you, maybe even a good home for a wanderer." She nodded, "Because I really think that's what we're all searching for. A place to call home. I know I am at least. France was stolen from me a long time ago and I know I can't go back."

She turned back to the albino and smiled. "So I guess I'll stick and live through you for now. I have nothing else."

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Annan goes silent for another few minutes. If she and Khris were using a chat application, there would be a long trail of dots, an overexaggerated ellipsis, from Annan's chat handle. Eye contact is broken and she is deep in thought, mulling over Khris's words.

"I don't ever remember living up there," says Annan. "I only remember my mother, and living at sea. Then Grandfather found me and I've been with him ever since. He says he wants to go to St. Kilda, but he doesn't have the papers to go there and he doesn't know how to get them."

She is curious. France was taken from Khris? It sounds as if Khris was some sort of political ruler. But, she is probably more like Annan and Old Grandfather, and borders shifted and she was thrown out. Who is this woman of white hair and eyes green? Annan senses kinship, but cannot put her finger on whether that is true or not. There needs to be more talking, more exchanging, more information learned and given. It is time, once again, to listen; first, however, she must ask.

"How was France stolen from you? Were you a politician? And why are you saying you'll live through me ▬ you don't look very old, or if you are, you look very good for your age. I just assumed you had white-blond hair."

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Khris sighed and looked at the floor of the bus. She looked at her worn boots and tired feet. "Whether you and your Grandfather believe me or not, I was a Captain in the French Imperial Army during the Franco-German War. I fought at the battle of Metz and Strasbourg, got pretty beat up too, by one of those German Valkyries, but I did her in." She sighed and shook her head, "The sword the Valkyrie had, I gave it to a friend of mine, Claire Delacour, the former President of France. If we ever near Athens, I could have her meet us. Maybe then you'd believe me when I say who I am."

She looked at Annan in the eyes, her jade orbs glowing intensely in the light of the moon. "After the war, and Empress Therese's death, the Republic didn't last much longer. The Communists took over, now it's divided between Fascists and some English Pretender. Neither side I could ever swear loyalty to, I'm just looking for the chance to serve again. Serve France's rightful rulers, a Bourbon, a Bonaparte, a Zelle. Or a Free Republic, built on the ideas of the Revolution, something like that, but now, no, it's all garbage, just like these magazines."

Then Khris cleared her throat. "As to living through you, I mean it in that we're both looking for a purpose I think, maybe if you find yours, I'll find mine and I'm thirty-six. It is just lighter hair, a mutation of some sort at birth probably, but I appreciate the compliment." She laughed happily.

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Empress Therese ▬ the name strikes with familiarity. "I remember reading about her death," says Annan, "though I can't remember what it said about the funeral or whether or not they found the body. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think she died in battle, didn't she? There's this myth going around she lives again as a vampire. I saw it in one of those cheap paranormal magazines that claims the Marscurian Siberian royalty is descended from lizard people and a yeti. They even published a copy of a genetics test proving so."

She appreciates that Khris isn't so sullen, but Annan does not laugh. Instead, her pink eyes stare at the Captain with a stronger curiosity. "Bonaparte is the name of the British Empress, isn't it?" asks Annan. "Did the Bonaparte line ever rule France? And I heard France is a warzone again. I can't remember if the operation had a name, just that there are travel restrictions. I also know there were a few French refugees back on the boat."

Old Grandfather snorts in his sleep, then turns and mutters something about buttery pancakes. Annan leans back so that she is laying across her seat, staring at the dusty ceiling. A small bump in the road makes her bump her head a little, and she frowns and rubs the back of her skull. It is no serious hurt, however, and she continues talking.

"I had a couple of people think I was a vampire," says Annan. "It was the eyes. My eyes are pink, but when I'm tired or sick, they get bloodshot and grow red. I also never really got off the boat in Africa ▬ someone told me some people there skin albinos alive."

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"They'll write anything to sell a story these days. But the rumor goes that before the French Empire was going to launch nuclear missiles at Germany, Empress Therese challenged the German General to a duel in the fields outside of Lille. She was killed, but saved Europe from nuclear holocaust. Whether people know it or not, she was a heroine for France and Europe. It's why I still serve her and will continue to do so. As to the Marscurians, it really wouldn't surprise me, they're rather strange people and with all the nuclear blasts in Korea, all the Asians are probably mutated somehow." The comment about Bonaparte made the Captain laugh, however, and Khris shook her head.

"No, the Bonaparte's are Corsican, they might have married into the British line, but they aren't a British Family. But that doesn't matter now, because you are right, France pretty much is a war zone, or it will become one in the coming months and years. The nation needs stability, as to who can give that, I don't know. But it's my only prayer."

To the vampire comment, the white-haired woman only laughed. "They're a thing of fiction Annan, vampires aren't real. You have a genetic mutation that's all, same with my hair. Nothing to be ashamed or worried about. People judge you because they don't understand, well that's their fault, not yours. So pick up your spirits."

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A bus in MoG[Corp was an interesting place, filled with people from all walks of life, a couple about to go to a club discovered the three chatting while on the bus. A young white blonde, Veronika Agani, wearing little more than body paint, a pair of boyshorts, and heels, her date for the evening was a taller Arab in his early 20s with a trimmed beard, Nasser Mah, were both high as a kite, but Veronika wanted to talk with the group of people "Hello! I'm Veronika, and this guy is Nasser, can we help you? you look like you are lost or something, I have lived her all of my life, maybe I can hep you find what you are looking for?" Nasser was busy looking out the window of the bus, not that interested in the random people, as they were a normal sight, since in MoG[Corp] there wasn't really anyone "strange". Veronika seemed to be fixed on the albino girl and older gentlemen with the blonde, telling the blonde "you look like you should be doing something more interesting than hanging out on a bus, whats your name? you should talk with my friend, he is an agent for a fashion company,you have the figure to be a model if you wanted, I wish I could be a model but I am too short, how are you anyway, We're about to go to the club, where are you headed?" before telling the albino girl she had just met, "I don't think you're a vampire, they aren't real, the only thing we have to worry about is terrorists, other than that life in MoG[Corp] is safe! I do like how pale you are, I wish I didn't tan so easily, guys seem to like the pale look around here."

Edited by Mogar
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