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18+ Language Mature Content

Forever Linked

by ArtysticTalentz96


Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.

FOREVER LINKED

Twilight Tides Collections | Midnight Mystery

The adventure continues as Michiko and Hatchin are back on the road, now with Hatchin’s one-year-old son, Zeniel in their company. Meanwhile, Detective Atsuko and Officer Ricardo are also on the road, however it is not for the traveling brunette: word has got out that twenty-three-year-old Messina “Silver Huntress” North has escaped out of prison after nine years of confinement. While resting in Port Costa Rìche, Ricardo and Atsuko begin to get closer in their partnership. What will come out of it? Find out!

*Note the first two sections are simply fillers of what could’ve been in the show during the time gap.

Pérola, August 19th

Hatchin’s dream

A ten-year-old Hatchin was standing at the door of the plane with Hiroshi and the pilot already on board. Michiko was standing on the porch, leaning against one of the pillars with her arms crossed. Though she was at a distance, she could tell that the brunette was wearing a poker façade. “Michiko…” she whispered softly. As she turned to board the plane, she made the mistake of looking back and ran toward the house. “Michiko!” But try as she might, the porch started to become farther out of reach. “Michiko… Michiko… MICHIKO!!!”

An eighteen-year-old Hatchin sat up in her bed, panting heavily. Her sudden action caused the silk sheets that had previously encircled her shoulders in its velvet embrace to pool around her waist. Michiko. A burdened sigh wafted through her pale pink lips as she threaded her fingers through her platinum hair. She had not seen the sassy brunette since the last time she had been placed behind bars. This, the blonde noted with another sigh, was almost nine years ago. In short, she missed the cocky convict that spoke openly about the father she never really got to know. After all, he did leave to be with another woman.

Of course, even if it had taken a while to warm up to her; it was worth the friendship. Despite the way she went about it, it was clear that Michiko really cared deeply for Hatchin; which was more than she could compare to, with her history of upbringing. Up until she was ten, she knew the “foster hop” better than anyone. A reminiscent smile softened her features as she remembered that Michiko had stopped that. Her reflection on that fateful day was cut short as the wail of her one-year-old son reached her ears. The young mother smiled as she crossed the wooden flooring to her crib. Upon recognizing her face from the shadows, the young toddler whimpered lightly with arms outstretched.

Reaching over the crib, she picked him up. “What’s wrong, Zen?” the aforementioned simply yawned in her arms as he snuggled deeper into the girl’s shoulder, tears forgotten. The platinum blonde gave a light chuckle as she kissed the endearing redhead. She smiled airily at the silvery light that cascaded through the window and illuminated the room. Turning to the child bundled in her arms, she realized with an omniscient smirk that he was asleep and would refuse to let go. Snorting softly, she carried him to the bed and slept.

***********************************

San Diamandra, Cell Section Fourteen

The guard yawned as he did his nightly routine check, knocking his baton against the bars as he passed each holding cell. Michiko looked up as she could hear the guard making his rounds. Reaching into the breast pocket of her jumpsuit, she picked out a photograph and smiled. “Oh, sweet Hatchin...” She whispered into the night air. The photo had been taken on the day when they had gone to Osso to get their passports. The photographer had suggested they do a portrait, which had ended in a playful banter of shove love. She traced over the ten-year-old stage of Hatchin with a fond expression that most people never knew she had.

Her cell mates, Sasha and Messina, however, knew that the brassy brunette was more than capable of mundane simplicities. Sasha was a blue-eyed, twenty-six-year-old noirette that always thought that she was a force to be reckoned with, while Messina was her strategic and headstrong twenty-three-year-old daughter that was a natural at hand-to-hand combat and weaponry. Reaching for the girl’s hand, she once again found herself admiring the ring that adorned her finger. It was a heart-shaped diamond outlined with rubies atop a 24-karat gold band.

The shape-shifter had been born into the same Mafia that Michiko had been affiliated with: Monstro Pedro aka L.B.D.D. From an early age, the young escape artist had a tendency to cause trouble wherever she went: her nefariously cunning ways dealt with defacing property with spray paint and theft, not to mention her Sensei-level combat skills for a mere child. Though she had been originally sent to the Juvenile Detention Centre in Port Costa Rìche at the age of nine to serve for two years, another crime sent her to San Diamandra following her fourteenth birthday: the Pedro Blood Massacre. When the police had arrived to take her under arrest, she had been found with a silver Caliber gun in her immediate possession and covered in blood. As for her coined nickname Silver Huntress, it was linked to her uncanny skills in fighting; her specialty ranging from Siamese blades to Calibers. Michiko regarded the young brunette who was currently curled up in her lap, amazed that she almost never ceased to remind her of herself from time-to-time (though she was still baffled about her height. Michiko herself was five-foot-eleven and her late lover, Doan, had been six-foot-two: so it would be considered odd that she was five-foot-five). Hearing some shuffling on the other side of the cell, she glanced in the direction of the abrasive young woman who was sucking on her ever present toothpick.

A moment of silence passed before she heard the blue-eyed young woman ask, “Still thinking about her?” Michiko only chuckled as she replied, “So what if I am?” the inkette only scoffed lightly before redirecting her attention to the rivets in the ceiling. Placing the picture back in her pocket, she looked to the still slumbering Assassin. Threading her fingers through the girl’s soft hair, she looked to the solitary window in the room and smiled. I’m coming, Hatchin… in due time.

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

A tall, fair skinned man in his late-thirties waltzed down the hallway of an abandoned warehouse. He had obsidian hair that fell into his enchanting sapphire eyes just right. He wore a mahogany silk long sleeve that had a sleek black tie with a pair of black denims and coal black dress shoes. A silver chain bearing the yin symbol hung proudly from his neck. I still don’t understand why he’d be keeping surveillance on her. Turning a corner, he continued his mental musings. Either way, I can’t blow my cover: I promised to tell the Chief what they’re up to. He passed another hallway before he walked into an office.

“Sir, our desired subject has been reported to be out of jail.” A heavyset, chocolate toned man who looked to be in his early fifties proudly sporting dark-with-grey-streaked hair and emerald green eyes turned to regard the errand boy with a sinister smile. “Excellent job, Edonis; I look forward to your future Intel.” Turning back to the computer screen he been previously looking at, he commenced to type. A moment of silence passed before the young man spoke up. “But, why are we tracking her down?” the Triad Leader hummed to himself before saying, “I have my reasons, son. Now, see if you can find out where she’s hiding.” His son-in-law only sighed as he said, “I’ll get right on it, Big Daddy” before exiting the office.

***********************************

Conmoréna, August 24th

An eight-month pregnant redhead was at the stove when she heard the sound of sirens coupled with a service announcement come over the television screen.

This just in: Messina “Silver Huntress” North has escaped from Diamandra Penitentiary. If anyone has seen or heard of her supposed whereabouts, you are to contact the police immediately.”

Upon hearing the news, her seven-year-old pseudo daughter tore her attention from the screen and looked anxiously at her. “Aunt Margo, we don’t have to worry about them coming here, do we?” the mother-to-be only continued to scramble the eggs as she placed a hand on her growing stomach. Sharing the breakfast into three plastic containers, she packed three into two lunch bags. Placing them beside the knapsacks, she called the girl from the television. When the young brunette had approached her, she sent her to go wake her brother and cousin. About five minutes later, eighteen-year-old Rita came out to greet her with a tanned, chocolate-haired boy around seven–years-old traipsing after her. Young Rita had grown up to become a moderately curvaceous young woman with wavy dark brown hair that brushed her mid-back. She still wore her sassy attire, but had learned to dress more conservatively.

Receiving a yawn-filled good morning, she smiled at her elder niece and surrogate son as she directed him to his respective schoolbag before she went waddling to sit down. The young woman briefly looked after her pregnant aunt before turning to get ready for work. The cocoa-haired girl picked up her bag and quickly checked over her belongings, receiving a kiss to her forehead as the pregnant caterer went by. Just as she sighed in relief to be off her feet, there was a knock at the door. She simply looked in the general direction of the door for a while in contemplation and then got up to answer it. Hearing the footsteps behind her, she inwardly smiled as she knew that it was her surrogate children. Feeling one of them walk into her, she calmly opened the door.

Standing on the other side was a tall, lean yet muscular, young fair skinned man with coiffed ravenous hair who looked to be in about his early thirties gazing back at her. He was wearing a white pressed shirt with a black tie, black pinstripe suit pants and coal black shoes. Standing alongside him was a tall, moderately curvaceous chocolate toned woman with sepia Aviator sunglasses covering her eyes. Her sunshine gold hair was jelled into a bun, with a lovely bang that framed her face ending in little ringlets. She was wearing a crisp, sleeveless white silk that showed off slender arms, a pair of black pinstripe bell bottoms trousers and beige heels.

Looking the pair up and down, she smiled as she sidestepped to allow the youth leeway. With a chorus of “Bye, Aunt Margo”, they excused themselves as they went by the couple. Well Atsuko hasn’t changed much since I last saw her… I wonder when Ricky’s gonna propose to her. Shaking off the notion, she heard her younger niece chirp, “Hey, uncle Rico” as she went by. “Well, well: hello there Ricky, Ms. Detective.” Her smile shrank covertly as she regarded the individuals with a curious look. “To what do I owe the pleasure to see my brother and his partner?” the blonde offered a smile of her own as she replied, “Margo, we’re looking for Messina.” Smile vanishing, she continued. “We heard that she had passed through this city. If that’s true, she would probably have stayed here, as she’s close to you. Did she say anything about where she’d be going?” furrowing her brow in silent recollection, the redhead allowed the two to step inside. Once they were in, she closed the door behind them. Walking the Detective and her brother into the living space, she settled into the couch across from them as she sighed wearily. “What did Sina do this time?”

***********************************

San Marané

Michiko turned to look at Hatchin for what must’ve been the umpteenth time. The platinum blonde was asleep, her toddler sleeping in her lap. I can’t believe that it’s really been eight years since we’ve seen each other last: Hatchin looks so mature. Smiling softly, she redirected her attention back to the road. The sun was setting and they had yet to find a place for the night. The brunette shrugged as she continued to drive, her dark eyes drifting across the barren land in search of an overnight stay.

After an hour of driving, she saw a sign that read, “Welcome to Caste Tynite, Port Costa Rìche.” For some reason, the name rang in her mind like the toll of Church bells even until she found a decent motel to stay in. After checking them in, she went back to the truck and hopped in. Placing a firm hand on the slumbering adolescent’s shoulder, she shook her lightly. The girl responded with a loud yawn before she turned to pick up her son. Upon reaching their room, Hatchin placed little Zeniel into the crib provided before flopping into the bed. Her eyes closed as she listened to the gentle hissing of the shower.

Meanwhile, Michiko was taking a shower. “What is it about this place?” she mused as she lathered her hair before rinsing it out.

Flashback (San Diamandra, six years ago)

Michiko had just been escorted back to her cell after eating in the Mess Hall. Hearing the barred barrier clang shut behind her, she stood transfixed as she watched seventeen-year-old Messina packing away her belongings into a gray duffel bag. Sasha sat on the edge of the top bunk across from her, idly swinging her legs as she watched the brunette pack her things. A moment of silence passed before she moved to sit on the bunk below the raven-haired woman. “Sina, don’t tell me you’re leaving already.” Straightening up, she chuckled. “Yup, I got my letter of annual servitude just this morning.”

Another moment of silence ensued until their cellmate chirped, “Guess that means that I get your bunk for the month, huh sis.” Zipping up her bag, she turned to look up at her sister-in-law. She raised a brow in mock curiosity as she drawled challengingly, “Oh yeah… so you’re prepared to take care of Serpencio while I’m gone then?” seeing a smile slip onto the girl’s face, she immediately narrowed her gray eyes. Knowing from experience, that smile always meant trouble. The young escape artist turned her attention to her now standing mother. “I’m just saying,” she began slowly, strapping her bag across her shoulder as she tossed her greeting over to her sister before she truly focused on the elder Latina. “Anyways, I’m leaving for Port Costa Rìche.” Michiko only smiled as she pulled her daughter into a tender embrace. Kissing the crown of her head, she murmured, “Fine, just come back in one piece.”

End flashback

She had just finished towel drying her hair when her slender fingers fell upon a scar right near the middle of her head, the non-incidental action sending random chills down her spine. She tenderly traced the length of the scar, which ran two inches from the middle of her head to near the nape of her neck. Tossing the towel into a linen-lined basket near the door, she walked into the room to find both of her travel companions in deep sleep. She smiled as she strolled over to the eldest of the two and pulled the covers over her. Patting her short coif, she leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Goodnight, Hatchin.”

***********************************

San Mígellò, Peninsula Hotel

Atsuko pensively lounged in the bed alongside Ricardo, staring intently at a picture in her hand. They had decided to stay over in a hotel just outside Conmoréna, courtesy of a hunch about their runaway convict, whom they believed still resided in the Port Costa Rìche region. Glancing at the oddly silent blonde from the corner of his eye, he gave a lighthearted smile as her face portrayed an effortless calm before he looked back to the newspaper in his hand. After his wife and four-year-old son had died in a hit-and-run eleven years ago, not to mention his daughter Ra’Shona joining a syndicate, he had donned the thought of living up to his name: Solo.

Even with that promise in mind, he found himself very much in strong like of the Detective. After all, they had known and worked alongside each other since they were teens. Though she was could be moody and hell-bent on revenge, he had known her to be quite amiable and trustworthy. He had personally witnessed these times during their run-ins with Michiko: even if it meant her job, she could never dishonor the ex-convict to the point of death. It showed in her eyes that their encounters went farther back than when he had met her. As to how far back, he was never informed.

He let his eyes rove over her frame, taking in the way her jeans hugged her legs and the way her dark blue shirt hung nefariously low to reveal an eyeful of cleavage and red bra strap. Redirecting his ogling stare, he resumed his reading in silence and he allotted a small smile to curve his lips. Its appearance however, slipped from his face when he heard her murmur, “I can’t believe it…” assuming that it was more to herself than him, he simply kept silent. “Why would she give this to us? I mean, of all the pictures I’ve come across, I’ve never seen this one before.” Still keeping his eyes trained on the article of interest, he candidly flipped the page before he replied, “So I’m gonna guess that you don’t like the picture that you’re looking at?”

He heard her sigh before he heard some shuffling and she uttered, “Just look at this and figure out why Margo would give it to us.” Hearing the overt annoyance in her tone, he obediently did as he was told. Turning to face her, he was greeted with a photo between two slender fingers. Taking the photo from her, he quietly studied the scene frozen in time. The photo portrayed two people: a man and a girl. The fair skinned man looked to be in about his late twenties with dark, messy hair and dark brown eyes. He could be seen wearing a black sleeveless shirt, white-and-blue shorts and gray Lacrosse shoes. Leaning behind him was a tanned brunette dressed in a checkered black-and-white sundress with chalcedony red sandals, and an emerald headband atop her head. Recognizing her as present day Messina, she looked to be around ten or eleven and smiling, her carnelian eyes alight with happiness.

The picture had captured a typical sunny day at the park: kites flying, people jogging, children playing: the works. The two were seated back-to-back beneath a cherry blossom tree in bloom, the man looking down at her and her looking up at him. Both had their knees up their chests and their arms wrapped around them tightly, a look of love and pride radiating from his face.

Sanjay… Staring up from the heartfelt moment, his heart thrummed merrily in his chest upon realizing their close proximity. Blinking back the inevitable crimson blush, he inquired, “As beautiful as it is; what exactly am I supposed to be looking at? All I see is Messina spending time with Sanjay.” When the Detective remained where she was, he felt his heart thump painfully against his ribcage. A pregnant silence loomed over them before she spoke, her voice uncharacteristically soft. “Your sister wouldn’t randomly just decide to give you this picture of your brother and sister-in-law. She’s not that kind of person.” Briefly studying the picture in his hand, he hummed in agreement. “True, Margo is more thorough with things like this.” Studying the photograph a while longer, he added with a smile, “Sina looks a little like Doan here.” Handing her back the photo, his smile faded considerably. “It’s too bad she never got to know her father before he died.” Seeing her face cloud over with concentration, he went back to his paper.

A moment of silence passed until he heard her say, “I wonder if she’d be such a handful if she did.” He blinked when he heard a tone akin to tenderness and looked up to observe the blonde. In place of concentration was a soft smile. Still observing the Detective, he couldn’t curb his smile in turn. Watching her tuck the picture into a side pocket in her jeans, she slid off the bed. With smile still in place, she simply declared, “Well, I guess that means we’re going out tomorrow to make another visit to your sister to find some answers.” Nodding in response, he watched her leave to go to the bathroom before flipping through the newspaper. Seeing a headline that read, “Conmoréna under construction”, he decided to give it a read. So the bridge connecting Conmoréna and Santé Ferro will be out tomorrow... which means the fastest way to Mt. Salva-Torres is out as well. Sighing lightly, he placed down the paper and pulled out a map of Port Costa Rìche to look for an alternate route. As the noiret scanned the topography for Mt. Salva-Torres, he hummed when he heard the shower going. Huh, you’d think she’d been done by now… women. Sliding on his reading glasses, he looked to where they staying and traced an imaginary line back to the mountain village. I guess I have no choice but to go through Sorro Maestro, which means it will take us ten hours to get to the hospital. Folding up the map, he placed it back in his bag and flopped back into his bed. Well, that’s just splendid.

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

A tall, hourglass figured woman that also looked to be in her late-twenties walked into Big Daddy’s office. She had cinnamon hued skin and dark wavy hair that reached mid-back. She had a side bang falling over one of her golden eyes and chocolate lips. She wore a midnight black dress speckled with tiny ruby gems that hugged her curves before it flared out at mid-thigh and beige stilettos. Adorning her neck was a gold chain sporting the yang symbol.

“Hmph, hey... Daddy....” The heavyset man glanced up to regard his daughter, a sickly sweet smile in place. “Cynthia, sweetheart: have you any news on our prime target?” he was greeted with a hearty scowl as she ground out, “No, I don’t.” her features softened as she added nonchalantly, “And even if I did, you really think I’d tell you?” the ebony man sighed as he responded gently, “Now, now Princess. Is there anything wrong with wanting to contact my daughter-in-law?” her response was a light scoff as she countered haughtily, “I know for a fact that you don’t like her: you’ve said so yourself on countless occasions.” Crossing her arms, she cocked a sculpted brow before narrowing her eyes in suspicion. “Now, why do you suddenly want to see her?”

Now typing away at the computer in hopes of evading his daughter’s patented death glare, he replied, “As I told your husband, I have my reasons.” A brief, but noticeable period of silence passed as he looked to something on his desk. Losing interest, he redirected his gaze back to the screen. “Now if you’ll excuse me Princess, Daddy’s got work to do.” The young woman only sighed as she growled, “Yes, Daddy” through clenched teeth before slamming the door on the way out.

The force of the door was enough to shake the desk where he sat and resulted in shifting the keyboard some ways out of his reach. Leaning back in his chair unfazed, he shrugged his shoulders and reached out for the folder on his desk. Now, what do we have here?

***********************************

Caste Tynite, August 25th, Quantéro Hotel

The next morning, Hatchin woke up to the scent of frying food and the shuffling of plates and cookware. Tossing the sheets aside, she walked off to the direction of the kitchenette. Seating herself on a stool situated at the breakfast bar, she gave a yawn-filled “Good morning” as she commenced to rub the sleep from her eyes. Michiko turned to look at the young mother before she redirected her attention to the pancakes. “Good morning, Hatchin.” She called over her shoulder as she flipped another golden pancake onto the plate in her hand. “How did you sleep?” blinking, the aforementioned replied, “I slept well…” scrutinizing the back of the brunette, she shrugged and continued to oversee the preparation of the food. After a while, she was presented with her food: three pancakes, scrambled eggs, ten sausage links and a glass of orange juice. Glancing up to give her thanks, she saw a bottle of milk in the ex-convict’s hand. Recognizing it as Zeniel’s, she watched as the gray-eyed woman made her way over to the crib where the young toddler lay.

For a moment, Michiko just stood there peering at the child. Remembering the bottle in her hand, she reached down and tenderly brushed a cluster of autumn red hair from his face. The redhead stirred for a while before he looked up at the woman through sleep-blurred hazel eyes. A large yawn escaped him as he stretched, after which he raised his arms towards her. A soft smile curved her lips as she complied with the unspoken request, cradling him against her ample bosom. Lifting the bottle, she brushed the rubber nipple across his small lips and watched as he automatically latched onto it and began to suck. Gently rocking the preschooler to and fro, she hummed softly to him as he drank.

Hatchin looked on in amazement at the serenity that enveloped her being. Observing the heartfelt scene before her, she couldn’t help but smile. I haven’t seen her so nurturing in a while. It’s good to know that it still exists. Turning to eat her food, she chewed pensively on one of her pancakes. I wonder if this is what she was like with her daughters. Swallowing her food, she cut into the fluffy pastry and continued her mental musings. Either way, I hope I get to see Messina soon. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her last. Humming in delight, the Caucasian swallowed her food as turned to regard her surrogate mother with brown eyes shining. “Michiko, these are amazing!” the Latina only looked up from the youngster in her arms as she smugly replied, “Was there ever any doubt?”

***********************************

Conmoréna

Margo sighed as she flopped into a nearby chair in the kitchen. Looking to her wedding ring, her thoughts went to her soldier husband in battle. I wonder if Suneil is coming back. That is, if he’s scheduled to come back… her thoughts trailed off when she felt the babies moving and she rubbed her stomach. “Alright, sweeties, Mommy hears you.” Feeling them cease its movements, her lips cambered into a weary smile. Sighing again, she wearily called out, “Sina, sweetheart. Come out here: I’m tired and I need to ask you something.” An echoing snickering could be heard as the young brunette walked into the living space wearing a beige top and black sweatpants. She was still smiling when she peered into the kitchen to the pregnant redhead seated there. Her voice shone with remnants of laughter as she said, “Yes, Margo.” Rubbing her stomach again, she hauled herself from the chair. “Did you know that Inspector came by?” the young woman’s smile melted into a look of pensiveness as she sank into the leather material of a sofa in the living room. “If you mean the woman that my kids refer to as Rico’s shoulda-been-bride, then yeah, I know she did.” A moment of silence passed as she watched the pregnant woman pad over to take a seat in the couch across from the sofa. “Anyways, why do you ask, Margo?”

The brown-eyed woman only shrugged as she leaned back in her seat. “No reason, hon. Just thought you’d like to know.” A moment of bliss was acknowledged before the brunette candidly stated, “Mom used to say that she’s the whole reason why I’m here.” A soft smile settled on her lips as she added, “Apparently, I’m her favorite... though I’m sure it was because I was Doan’s kid.” Shrugging it off, a sad smile replaced her previous. “I don’t get why she treats me the worst and she claims to care so much about me. It’s like being the runt of the litter: she doesn’t believe I’ll amount to anything good.”

Tilting her head slightly, Margo silently studied the young fighter sitting across from her. Her tanned skin was flawless and full of youth, with signs of muscles due to dedicated hours of doing construction and other extracurricular activities. Her waist-length mocha hair was streaked with golden blonds and dark reds, with the front of her hair split into two side bangs. Her shirt hugged her voluptuous bosom and slender torso. Adorning her neck was a mica black amulet in a silver casing that hung on a taut silver chain. Her arms were decorated with crimson and emerald mineral ink that ran down her arms in complicated swirls and spikes before they ended at her wrists. Set proudly on her left hand was a gold ring, while on her right was a black biker glove with silver studded knuckles. Written down the left leg of her sweatpants was the word Benedetto in white.

Looking back at her face, Margo saw the architect’s mahogany lips camber into a reassuring smile. “Thanks for letting me spend time with Delle and Luke. I didn’t realize how much I missed them.” Blinking, the pregnant caterer looked taken aback at the abrupt change in topic that she was rendered momentarily speechless. After a moment of silence, the brunette got up and walked over to her sister-in-law. Standing before her, she slipped her hand into her pocket and presented a small envelope to her. “If you can, I’d like you to give this to the Bride… I mean, Atsuko.” Taking the envelope from the carnelian-eyed young woman, she inquired, “Can’t you just give it to her?” the young fighter merely sniggered as she eased herself beside the mother-to-be. “No,” she said after she had caught her breath. “I think it’d be better for the both of us if I didn’t.”

***********************************

Villo Xephanyl

Michiko and Hatchin were traveling on the open road when the brunette unexpectedly swerved to the other side of the road of the road before correcting the vehicle. The ill-prepared movement caused the young redhead to whimper noiselessly as he snuggled closer to his mother. The blonde was equally troubled as she watched Michiko pull over to rest on the shoulder of the road. Once the van had come to a complete stop, she clutched the back of her head. “Michiko?” the blonde squeaked nervously as she saw her dear friend’s face contort in an obvious sign of agony. Just as she raised her head to say that she was fine, her eyes rolled back as she went head-first into the steering wheel, her forehead colliding with the horn. The result evoked a scream of surprise and a wail of restlessness from the respective persons in the vehicle. Quickly checking for a pulse, she cradled her child to her chest before slipping through the door to call for help. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to attract the attention of passersby and a kind gentleman driving a tow truck offered to take them to a nearby hospital.

Four hours later, Michiko came to consciousness. The first thing she registered was a dull ache in the back of her head, after which she felt a soft pressure around her waist and on her stomach. Sitting up slowly, she saw Zeniel curled up against her side and Hatchin sleeping with her head on her stomach and her arm around her waist. She smiled down at her traveling companions as she softly laid the young toddler to rest on her chest. However, a frown tugged at the corners of her lips as she remembered the last time she had been in this predicament. Blinking, she looked around her hospital room before her eyes settled back on her friend. Threading her fingers through the blonde’s hair, she breathed, “Thank you, Hatchin.” With that, she fell asleep; this time, with a smile on her face.

***********************************

Mt. Salva-Torrès, August 26th, St. Marco General Hospital

Atsuko and Ricardo swiftly walked up to the reception desk. The receptionist looked up in moderate distaste before a look of astonishment effortlessly coated her features. Is that my brother and his partner again? To what do I owe the honor? She allowed them to show their identification to her and waited to hear what they had to say. Ever the charmer, Ricardo exclaimed, “Margo, what a coincidence to see you here.” Her state of shock morphed into a light smile as she chuckled lightheartedly, “So, we meet again, Officer.” Turning to regard the shade-sporting Detective, she smiled brightly. “How can I be of service?”

Happy to hear that they could go on with their investigation, she answered curtly, “Well, you can start by explaining this picture you gave us.” She quizzically regarded the blonde for a fleeting moment before the picture of her late brother and sister-in-law was presented. The redhead looked almost reluctant in answering as she smiled reminiscently at the photograph until she said, “This picture had always been my favorite…” the Detective slid the picture off to the side before she queried, “So why did you give it to us? Was there any real purpose or reason behind it?” Margo made pause as she mulled over her answer before she replied, “Not exactly, Atsuko.” She lowered her head as she continued. “I was just following instructions.” Wheeling over to another portion of the reception desk, she motioned for them to take a seat in the chairs provided.

The noiret sighed as he leaned back in his chair. “My only question is who…” wearily threading his hand through his hair, he continued. “Whose instructions were you following, Marg?” the woman was silent for a while as she regarded the twosome remorsefully. A bout of silence elapsed before she finally murmured, “I can’t say, Ricky; at least not to you.”

Another phase of silence passed as they digested the newfound knowledge. “Are you saying that I’m the only one that can know the reason?” the blonde queried in mild interest. The response was a nod in the affirmative as the pregnant woman continued. “Yes, for some reason, I was instructed to tell you. As to why, I’m not too sure of that.” Looking to her elder sibling, she sighed. “I’m sorry, Ricky.” seeing the somewhat dejected expression on his face, she hummed in thought. Smiling covertly, she pointed to a brawny dark haired man across the hallway. Smile growing gradually, she simply quipped, “Why don’t you go talk to Mivano? You both haven’t seen each other since you were kids and you both seem to be off-duty at the moment.” The Officer only sighed as he went to go talk to his old friend.

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

“Sir, I mean Father.” Big Daddy looked up to see a young woman with auburn hair shuffle into his office, making sure to close the door behind her. Motioning for her to sit in the chair before him, he moved from his computer to give her his full attention. “Yes, Abbey; surely you have news for me?” Seeing her nod in response, he allowed her to speak. “We haven’t found her as yet, but we can bring her here.” Leaning back in his chair, he folded his hands over his stomach. He simply raised a brow in silent inquiry as he breathed, “I’m listening, do go on.”

Seeing Abbey’s hesitation, he waited patiently for her to continue. “Well you see, Father, since we don’t exactly know where she is at this point, we’ve decided to use bait to lure her here.” With brow still raised, he immediately replied, “Oh really… and what would that be?” swallowing silently, she squeaked, “Her children; there’s been some buzz from one of our spies that she’s been spotted in Conmoréna.” A small, wicked smile slipped onto his face as he sighed in sadistic contentment. After a moment of contemplation, he redirected his attention back to his computer. “Well then, I suggest that you better get on with it.”

***********************************

San Quaños

A lone motorcycle blazed down the expressway, with the pre-noon sun beating down on the rider’s head. She reached down to touch the flask-like satchel attached to her pant loops, her fingers brushing against the leather material. Her eyes narrowed beneath her Aviators as she placed her hand back on the handlebar, unconsciously speeding up. I just hope I make it in time… her musings were cut short when she heard the sound of sirens in the distance. I swear... they’re so damn persistent. Pulling off onto the side of the road, she looked between the horizon and the police coming increasingly closer. Looking to the beacon of light, she murmured, “Time for a change.” focusing on the sunlight above her, she closed her eyes and breathed in sharply. Turning to the approaching police brigade, she opened her eyes to reveal molten gold in place of bright tangerine. Her amulet began to pulse and levitate above her chest, changing from obsidian to bright amber. Gathering all her strength, she cast a brilliant ball of light from her amulet. The end result was the squealing of tires against the asphalt, followed closely by metal to metal contact. The girl smiled before she zoomed off into the horizon.

After about an hour or so, she looked to her right to see a sign that read, “Welcome to Mt. Salva-Torrès, Port Costa Rìche.” Feeling her amulet hum against her skin, she reached up to touch it. Her surroundings disappeared to show Mt. Salva- Torrès hospital before she saw the cyclist sitting in bed. Once the vision faded, a victorious smile bloomed across her lips. So, that’s where you are… I’ll see you soon enough. Confident that she would get to see her mother, she revved on to her destination.

***********************************

Mt. Salva-Torrès, St. Marco General Hospital (Pêchò Wing)

“Here we are: the Salvage Ward.” The noiret blinked simultaneously as he surveyed the cluttered space from outside the doorway. His obsidian eyes swept over the wreckage once more before they rested on the raven haired man next to him. “Remind me what we’re doing here again? The last thing I remember hearing you say was ‘Rico, buddy. It’s been ages: we have to catch up, and I know the best place to do it.’ The next thing I know, I’m standing in front of the danger zone.” The Hispanic only regarded him with a pleading look. “Come on, Rico: I really gotta get this clean and I couldn’t do it alone.” Feeling a wave of annoyance wash over him, he groaned in defeat as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright, I’ll help you. Let’s get this over with.”

A couple hours later, Ricardo quickly looked around the room and sighed as he recommenced to stock up loose-leaf papers, folders and fallen cabinets. Damn it, Atsuko’s gonna have my head on a silver platter if I don’t hurry my ass up. The green-eyed escort glanced over at his childhood friend before he lifted another floor-bound cabinet. Clearing his throat, he nonchalantly inquired, “So, is your girlfriend here with you or did you actually come alone?” growling through clenched teeth, he heard the security guard chuckle as he turned to regard him. Mivano had always teased him about his affiliation with the Detective. “Vano, you know she’s not my girlfriend, she’s just my partner.” he responded, his tone resentful and bitter. Moving to pick up another folder, he drawled smoothly, “But, every time I happen to look in her direction, I found myself wishing that she was.” His friend simply smiled knowingly as he went back to what he was doing.

In almost no time, the cabinets were erect and the folders were off the floor so that the room appeared reasonably clean. Wiping the sweat that had accumulated from the painstaking task, Mivano murmured, “How about I take you out to lunch; I’ll buy.” Catching the Caucasian’s weary smile, he teasingly added, “Then I’ll make sure that you get back to your girlfriend safe and sound.” Said Officer only rolled his eyes as he went to follow his friend and escort. She may not be my girlfriend, but I do plan on making her mine.

***********************************

Mt. Salva-Torrès, St. Marco General Hospital (Rosa Wing)

Michiko groaned as she slowly sat up, her hand flying to the back of her head as a jolt of pain temporarily blinded her. Remembering the toddler on her chest, she placed a hand on his back as she got comfortable. Looking around, she saw that Hatchin was not there and harrumphed halfheartedly. She probably went to look for something to eat. Believing in the more than logical explanation, she sighed contentedly.

Meanwhile, Messina had just pulled up to the side of the hospital. Damn cops still on my tail. I thought I lost them at the city entrance. Taking a look at the license plate as she passed by, she smiled. Then again, it’s just the Bride and Groom so it’s no big deal. Cutting the engine, she dismounted the bike before she leaned it against the wall. As she was checking the gauge, her hand made contact with the brick siding to keep her steady. Her vision went blank as her amulet hummed against her skin, seeing her mother seated in a room with a little child in her arms. Once she became conscious of her surroundings, she removed her hand and looked up. It’s Mom alright, and she isn’t alone. Closing her eyes, she focused on her maternal figure’s presence as she telepathically sought out the path to her hospital room. Room one-nineteen… I know exactly where that is. With that, she walked over to the back entrance and typed a hyperdrive code into the keypad. Once she was in, she went up the stairs and made a left turn.

Michiko was playing with young Zeniel when she heard the door open. Thinking that it was Hatchin, she didn’t bother to look up. “Good, you’re okay… had me worried there.” Her head shot up to regard the intruder and she was rewarded with another shock of discomfort that stemmed through to her eyes. Clicking her teeth in annoyance, she searched blindly for the voice that sounded all too familiar. The brunette almost jumped out of her skin when she felt something make contact with her shoulder. Reaching up to touch her hand, she grazed over a fairly small, slick object with sharp contours before she slowly gazed up to meet inferno auburn eyes. A smile slowly crept across her face as she began to recognize the girl as her daughter, Messina. However, the smile dissipated when she saw the look of disappointment on her face. “What’s wrong, Sina?”

Blinking, the young brunette only raised a sculpted brow at her as she replied wryly, “What’s wrong is your scar.” Detaching her hand from her shoulder, she smoothed the woman’s hair as a noticeable frown curved her lips. “It’s acting up again, isn’t it?” true to her nature, the elder Latina shrugged off the concern. “It happens all the time, so it’s nothing.” Raising her own brow, she remarked, “Now, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be serving time?” the carnelian-eyed beauty laughed as she combed her fingers through her mother’s hair before reaching for the silently observing child in her arms. The elder brunette was surprised to say the least when the toddler willingly went to the young fighter. Seating herself in the chair beside the bed, she smiled mysteriously. “Don’t worry about it, okay? I’m still serving time, Mom. I’m just coming from San Quaños.” Smiling knowingly, the gray-eyed mother just rolled her eyes as she heard the door open.

“Michiko! You’re awake!” the next thing she knew, she was enveloped in a tender embrace. Turning to look at the blonde latched onto her waist, she smiled as she gently returned it. Turning her attention to the easily smiling brunette seated alongside the bed, her eyes drifted down to see Zeniel comfortably nestled there. The young redhead seemed oblivious to his mother’s presence as he contented himself with toying with the young Latina’s necklace. Looking back to the girl who now regarded her with a raised brow and vacant stare, she was primarily taken aback by the young architect’s fiery orbs. But as she studied the girl further, she blinked as her face transformed into that easy smile that reminded her of her good childhood friend, Soja. Before she could stop herself, she was openly gawking at the young mechanic. Is that… is this… no way.

Michiko watched the exchange of facial expressions between the two young women with interest. Since both women had only heard of each other, it was interesting to see the light of recognition reflected in milk chocolate and amber orbs. Clearing her throat, she stroked the blonde’s head briefly before wrapping an arm around her waist. “Hatchin,” the young mother blinked lazily as her eyes floated up to regard the ex-convict before she was once again focused on the runaway convict holding her daughter. “I’d like you to officially meet one of the greatest known weapons specialist in the syndicate Mafia and my daughter, Messina.” Hearing this statement, the blonde stared at her a while longer before she mentally slapped herself. Oh Sina, you just had to add notorious runaway to your already long list of nefarious achievements.

***********************************

Mt. Salva-Torrès, St. Marco General Hospital

Mivano chuckled as he and Ricardo exited the hospital café. His gaze drifted over to the Officer who, on the other hand, looked far from being on the same page. Nudging him in the arm, the Security Guard jest amiably, “Aww c’mon Rico. You said so yourself: you find yourself wishing she was your girlfriend.” Seeing his friend’s otherwise reflective mood, he noted that his eyes seemed vacant. Even still, the escort couldn’t help but chuckle at the look on said Officer’s face. Stroking his beard thoughtfully, he hummed to himself before making a quick right down the hall. Making sure that the Caucasian was still following him, he walked out into the lobby. Once they were seated, the twosome shared a moment of silence.

Casually glancing around the spacious foyer, his eyes settled on his partner who was seated across the room with her head in a file of sorts. He smiled unknowingly at the coincidence that she was once again staring intently at a photograph-sized paper. “So, what is it about her that you find so attractive?” Ricardo blinked in evanescent shock as he turned to face his surrogate brother with a smile in place. Gesturing to the blonde across from them, he smiled smugly. “Yes, Einstein: I caught you staring at your partner.” The aforementioned only commenced to blush abashedly as he murmured, “So, what if there’s something I find special about Atsuko?” Mivano made pause and looked to see the Officer once again staring at the blonde Detective with a dreamlike look in his eyes. “Well…” he drawled as he adjusted his pant leg. “The confession would be more for you, not me.” Realizing that he wouldn’t be getting anything out of the sable-eyed man, he smiled lightly as his friend’s gaze was fixated on the file bound woman.

***********************************

Conmoréna

Delle and Luke were happily watching a cartoon on the television when there was a knock at the door. Looking between themselves, they looked to the elder brunette behind them. A moment of silence passed before Luke asked, “Well, aren’t you gonna open the door?” the ex-trapeze artist blinked before she simply replied, “Nope, it could be some dumbass who came to the wrong address.” The twins shrugged and recommenced to watch the show.

After a while, another knock sounded and Rita sighed as she reluctantly got up to answer the door. Standing on the other side were four men and women dressed in black. On second thought, a whole group of dumbasses came to the wrong address. Looking them over, she crossed her arms as she shifted to lean against the door. I don’t like the vibe I’m getting from them. Remembering her manners, she lazily drawled, “Uh, can I help you?” a blond-haired man smiled amiably as he stepped forward. “Yes, I believe you can. You see, we’re looking to speak with a Margo Elbe. Would you know if she’d be home by any chance?” an uncaring expression settled over her face as she gave him a sideways glance, her sapphire orbs narrowing slightly. Yup, I do not like this vibe.

***********************************

Mt. Salva-Torrès, St. Marco General Hospital (Rosa Wing)

Messina had been regaling her mother and her companions with what she’d been up to when she felt something brush against her chest. Looking down, she realized that it was only little Zeniel holding onto her shirt as he stood, albeit shakily, in her lap. The young redhead looked up and gave her a toothy smile as he continued to run his small fists across the neckline of her baggy sweater, her knuckles occasionally grazing her ample bosom. She smiled softly in turn as she held the child by the waist to steady him.

Shifting herself onto the bed, she laid her head in Michiko’s lap as she commenced to raise the boy above her head, laughing as he giggled in childish glee. Hatchin leaned against the elder brunette’s arm as she watched the effortless bliss portrayed on her son’s face, her eyes briefly focusing on the gold band fitted to the ring finger of the young architect. That ring is beautiful. I wonder if Naru gave that to her. Missing the light in the girl’s amber orbs, she was surprised when she received a response. “Yeah, it’s from Naru: he gave it to me when I was seventeen.” Blinking, the blonde mother regarded her sister with a look of astonishment as for the moment that was all her brain would process her to do. Chuckling lightly, the shape-shifter laid the child to rest on her chest before she continued. “We got married on the 21st of May, seven years ago.” Looking to the shock-still teen, she smiled. “Does that answer your question?” nodding numbly, she raised the child back in the air.

A pensive moment passed as the blonde simply stared at the mysterious woman, while Michiko only smiled knowingly. After a while of watching the young Martial Arts prodigy, the blonde finally found her voice. “So,” she began slowly, “if everyone knows you as Silver Huntress, then who calls you the Floral Magician?” the primary response was a jab to her side and she ruefully rubbed it to dull the unexpected jolt of pain. As she did this, her chocolate orbs floated down to take note of the change in the girl’s attitude as she once again laid the squealing toddler to rest on her chest again. “You don’t have to answer that, Sina.” Her mother narrowed her eyes challengingly as she began to stroke her hair. To her chagrin, the young brunette merely said, “You’re right, I don’t. But, it’s okay Mom: if she wants an answer, I’ll give her one.”

Turning to the intrigued blonde, she smiled as she reached over to place a hand on top of hers. “Don’t take it personally, Hana, you know how she is.” Seeing her best friend smile knowingly, she made sure that she had a good handle on the child resting above her heart before she gently squeezed her hand. “However, I’m gonna have to agree with Mom on this one: of all the questions in the world that you could’ve asked me to provide an answer for, you chose that?” Staring a little longer at the blonde Chef, she sighed. Well, she wouldn’t have asked if she wasn’t serious. Gesturing to her mother, she sighed. “I guess the whole ‘Floral Magician’ thing was a special mention from Yours Truly.” The young mother nodded enthusiastically, which in turn made the prodigy architect laugh. “Well then… I dunno how to say it out loud so…” using her index finger, she motioned for the girl to come close before she whispered an explanation. As she spoke, a light frown tugged the corners of her pale pink lips downward as time went on. Pulling backward, she concluded. “Fortunately, that name didn’t go past the Diamandra Penitentiary. To put it mildly, only the convicts of that time would remember that name.”

She noted the look of blank horror on the young Chef’s face and stated matter-of-factly, “Hey, you asked for an elucidation and I gave you one.” The young woman only nodded nonplussed in response. Placing a hand on the back of the redhead’s back, she slowly got up. Deftly cradling the child in one arm with practiced ease, she sighed lightly as she telekinetically reached into the satchel attached to her jeans and revealed a small flask filled with black-and-blue swirling mush. Opening it, a vapor of grey ash escaped from the top. Still supporting the redhead, she gave it to her mother. “Here, it’ll help with the pain.” She didn’t turn around to witness the gray-eyed woman look skeptically at the flask before she took hold of it and took a tentative sip. Hearing the swallow and gag, the Huntress slipped the auburn cutie into his mother’s arms. “Sorry to leave on such a horrid note, but I gotta get to Quoso-Míare by nightfall.”

With that, she hugged her family before walking to the window. Opening it so that she could straddle the ledge, she added, “And if the Bride and Groom come by, you can let them know I’m out exploring.” The Latina and Caucasian laughed heartily at the placid comment, but promised to do so if they should come. Happy with the outcome, she pulled the other leg over and closed the window behind her before jumping off the landing.

***********************************

Mt. Salva-Torrès, St. Marco General Hospital

Margo chuckled as she finished her update to the system. “Alright, that’s everything.” looking to the ever-growing stack next to her, she huffed in frustration. “I was wrong: that’s everything… for the maternity patients.” Turning to ephemerally regard her ebony-haired brother and his friend, she couldn’t help but smile softly. Following his gaze, she ended up looking at the blonde with her head still buried in the folder she’d given her. Looking back to her computer screen, she shook her head as she briefly rested her hand on her swollen girth. If only she knew…

Mivano chuckled as he stated, “I can’t believe I’m actually allowing you to stare at this woman like a lost puppy.” After a phase of introspective silence, he leaned forward in his chair. Looking between his friend and the Detective, he sighed. But what can I do: it’s his choice. Clearing his throat, he queried, “Don’t mind my curiosity Rico, but why?” the Officer’s offhanded response was, “Maybe because I just do, ever thought of that?” the green-eyed after-hours custodian hummed in thought before he conceded, “I guess that’ll do.” With that, he blew a breath and said, “Say something before someone else does” as he patted the man’s shoulder and went about his duties.

Ricardo frowned as he thought, Mivano has a point; it’s just not easy to just approach Atsuko about stuff like that… if I had told her earlier, she would’ve thought of it as grief. Sighing lightly, he walked over to sit beside his partner. A moment passed as he listened to her shuffling through the contents of the folder, an occasional hum of interest sounding as she read them over. There was a moment of silence that followed before he heard her say, “Done with your bromance?” thinking that he only imagined the hint of lighthearted easiness in her supposedly candid tone; he only harrumphed lightly as he quipped, “Jealous?” the blonde only clicked her teeth as she murmured, “Hardly.” He waited patiently for a while longer before he cleared her throat. Hearing her hum in response, he inquired, “So, what did Margo talk to you about?” it took some time before she finally looked up, removing her sunglasses as he did so. He felt his heart skip as he looked into her piercing gray eyes. Damn those eyes… raising her brow, she regarded him quizzically. “Why would I tell you: even if you are my partner, didn’t she say that only I was supposed to hear?” Though he was used to her snide remarks, he still felt the sting. Looking away, he sat quietly with his mouth zipped shut. Feeling a poke in the shoulder, he turned and was presented with the folder she had been previously looking at. “That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t show you what she gave me…” Lethargically taking the folder, he started to read through the paperwork.

The ebony woman only observed him with a calculating look. I swear Ricardo, sometimes I wonder what goes on in there… putting the thought to the back of her head, she took out an envelope that was labeled Ms. Atsuko Jackson and slid it open with her fingernail. Teeming with covert curiosity, she cautiously removed the contents of the envelope. Inside of the manila packaging were a note and a photograph. Ricardo looked up to see his partner holding something in her hands. Placing the folder down to rest in his lap, he watched as she gave the note a once over before she stared intently at the photo. It portrayed Messina, and a tan red haired boy. Messina and the boy beside looked to be in their mid-teens. She was wearing a black tank top, sweatpants and black-and-white high tops. The boy holding her had green eyes and was wearing a beige undershirt, cream jeans shorts and white Lacrosse Polos.

Peering at the photograph more closely, he was able to recognize the male as her husband, Naru. They were seated beneath a cherry blossom tree in season with Sina smiling lovingly at her husband as he kissed her cheek. Upon closer observation, he noted that the photograph was taken in the park under the seemingly same cherry blossom tree.

Seeing her flip back to the note, he read it silently over her shoulder.

Dear Atsuko,

If you hadn’t guessed from the picture, it’s obvious that you’re either tired or freaked out. I know a picture says a thousand words, but I want to explain the reason why I’m giving this to you. I may be many things (a wife and mother to name a few), but I’m not a bad person. Personally, I just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t kill anyone, though the way you found me all those years ago would significantly preclude any other explanations.

As for the first picture, I told Margo to give it to you as well. Reason being: I’m still a misguided kid, as I’m sure we all were once upon a time. Though that doesn’t justify the reason as to why I ran off, I do have a duty to fulfill here in Port Costa Rìche, seven years’ worth might I add. I’ll explain that when I see you: that is, if you’d still be interested in hearing it. But till then, I’d like you to hold onto it for me: it’s my favorite for a reason.

Meet you in Del Torrènelò,

Sina

Due to his focus on the paper in her hand, Ricardo missed the gradual tenderness of her facial features while she was reading. “Ricardo,” humming in response, she crooned, “how do you feel about driving to Del Torrènelò?”

***********************************

Port Boroço, August 26th

A single bright light dispelled the darkness of a room in an abandoned warehouse, focusing solely on two coffee-haired kids and a dark haired girl; each tied to their own chair. The elder of the three groaned in pain and her sapphire orbs narrowed into slits at the sudden intrusion of light. She was wearing a black-and-white tank top beneath black jeans overalls and fuchsia Toms. Her waist-length hair was pulled into a half-ponytail and her mocha lips were pulled into a frown. This situation’s my entire fault… Delle and Luke would still be safe if I had just followed my damn instincts. Lifting her head, she focused on a single vantage point on the left hand side. Making out two shadows beyond the beacon of light, she snarled menacingly. Tied up or not, there’s no way I’m gonna let anyone hurt my cousins: they’re the only family I’ve got.

“It’s alright, Ri-Ri,” soothed a husky tone, “no need to get worked up.” Blinking, the girl ran the phrase over in her mind. Ri-Ri, he called me by my nickname… but he sounded a lot like Uncle Eddy. When a tall, fair skinned man emerged from the shadows, followed closely by a tall, hourglass figured cinnamon toned woman, her suspicions were confirmed. The aspiring artist’s face shifted from menacing to fearful as she happily whispered, “Uncle Eddy, Aunt Thia” to the respective persons. Edonis’ sapphire orbs sparkled in genuine worry as he approached the young woman. Bending down, he kissed the crown of her head as he stroked her face in a fatherly manner. Walking past her as he saw his other niece and nephew come to consciousness, she was swiftly captured in a heartwarming embrace and donned another kiss to the top of her head. Pulling away, Cynthia looked the young gymnast over as she crooned, “Oh, thank goodness you’re okay.” Hugging the rope bound trio, she smiled with her husband as Delle and Luke were now fully aware of their surroundings. He and his sister were outfitted in a black T-shirt with faded blue jeans and black-and-white high tops. Blinking drowsily, the brunet chirped, “Uh, Aunt Cynthia, where are we?”

His younger twin rolled her eyes as she replied, “I think it’s more important to know why we are here.” Smiling tenderly at her niece, the golden-eyed woman interjected, “All will be answered in due time, cutie. But for now,” she paused as she looked around and behind her, “sit tight.” A bemused expression settled on the young brunette’s face as she remarked submissively, “If you say so, Auntie. I just wish Dad was here.”

Looking away from the monitor, Abbey frowned. This isn’t right, and I headed the whole idea to get my nieces and nephew involved… I believe Father’s hiding something, and I’m going to find out what it is. Looking to the jolly graying man seated behind the desk as he typed God-knew-what on his computer, she couldn’t help but feel that the whole situation had something to do with Messina’s unpaid dues. Glancing back at the monitor, she saw Cynthia and Edonis talking to the children. Watching the panic that was plainly written on their youthful faces, she felt her heart sink as she knew she had played a hand in this game of deceit. Turning from the monitors once more, she devised a plan as she thought how to get the children uninvolved. But first, she’d have to send for help: and that would mean building alliances with old ties.

***********************************

Quoso-Míare

Messina sat atop the roof of the house of the city’s elder, basking in the rare moments of freedom as she watched the clouds go by. Of course, it would’ve been freedom if it wasn’t for that overwhelming instinctive that kept bothering her. No thanks to Operation: Silver Huntress… she hated remembering her two years in the Conmoréna Juvenile Detention Centre as it was there that she had gotten that god-forsaken nickname. What made it worse was remembering what the scientists had done to her: turning her into a human spirit. Furrowing her brow, she felt her amulet burn against her skin; the same amulet that had been branded into the back of her neck when she was eight. If it wasn’t enough that she had to sacrifice seven years of her life, plus the eleven years that she had to be in jail, she had to do the bidding of every person in every town in the whole region. It was a risk trying to serve Port Costa Rìche on an annual basis while having to serve time in Diamandra. Luckily, she was able to fit in seeing her niece and children whenever she could escape. Thinking about them, she felt her amulet grow warm against her chest. Reaching up to touch it, her eyes went blank as all she saw were Delle, Luke and Rita in a room tied up to a chair each. Gasping lightly, she blinked as her surroundings in Quoso-Míare came back to her. Her hand slipped from the ever present stone to rest lightly over her heart. My family… something is definitely wrong. Sitting up, she groaned as she cradled her head in her palm. I knew something didn’t feel right. I just wish I was wrong. The young architect sighed as she began to massage her temples. Get a grip, Sina, Naru’s gonna be here soon. The last thing you want him to do is worry about you.

Meanwhile, a twenty-four-year-old redhead wiped the grease and sweat that only came with working two hours on a car. Rolling out from beneath the Cadillac that he’d been re-wiring, he whipped out a gray handkerchief and wiped his hands clean. Hauling himself to his feet, he called out, “Hey, Ricono!” seeing a tanned male with gold eyes and dark hair come out to greet him, he said, “I’m gonna go take my break now.” The thirty-nine-year-old only smiled as he stated matter-of-factly, “Don’t you mean ‘I’m gonna go see my wife now’?” the redhead only sighed as he drawled abashedly, “Lay off me, Rico.” The gold-eyed male only chuckled as he nudged his little brother towards the garage entrance. “Tell my little sis I say hey and come back.” Smiling in relief, he jogged off to where the love of his life was waiting for him.

Once he had arrived to the house of the Elder, he walked in. Seeing a woman with long, white hair seated at the table, he smiled before bowing in respect. Before he could open his mouth, the snowette chirped, “She’s on the roof” before she picked up her tea and took a sip. Blushing lightly, he hurriedly thanked the ebony woman before he went back out the door. Taking a deep breath, he announced his arrival.

“Sina!” a deep baritone broke through the brunette’s haze as she got up. Great, now what: I already designed the blueprints –in detail might I add– for remodeling the bank, home renovations for the locals, the new orphanage and central fountain. Not to mention having to work long hours preparing the food in local shops and restaurants. Huffing indignantly, she mentally concluded, I’m not moving another muscle. Happy with her decision, she sighed contentedly as she watched a flock of larks pass over head. “Sina!” she rolled her eyes in slight annoyance as she idly thought, Nuh-uh… some people just can’t take a hint. Unlacing her fingers, she slothfully ambled to her feet and walked to the edge of the roof. All thoughts of telling the person off died on her lips as she looked down at the redhead, his emerald eyes shining. “Naru!” she cried happily, her previous scowl morphing into a serene smile at the sight of her husband. As greasy as he looked, she was sure for a fact that the only thing that looked half decent about her own appearance was her hair.

Seeing him motion for her to stay where she was, she nodded and he disappeared from her line of vision. Walking back to her previous spot, her mind drifted back to her children as she sat down. When I find out whoever took them in their control, they will have a first class trip to hell. She absentmindedly fidgeted with her wedding ring as she waited for her redhead life partner. I just hope they’re alright; I don’t know if I’d be able to hold myself back if proven otherwise. So caught up in her thoughts, she didn’t notice the presence of another being until she felt something gently grab her by the shoulders. The unexpected arrival made her shriek in surprise as she turned around to see her husband-of-seven-years seated behind her, an easygoing smile on his clean shaven face. Recovering from her shock, she playfully slapped his leg before she about-faced and leaned back on him. Feeling him wrap his arms around her waist, she sighed as her previous calamity drifted into the noonday haze.

For a moment, the couple was enveloped in a companionable silence. “So, Rico says hey.” he drawled candidly, resting his head atop hers. At the mention of her brother-in-law, she sniggered to herself. “Cool, you can tell him I say ‘hey’ back.” Relishing the calm, the mechanic’s forest orbs took in the glistening body of water surrounding the north side of the city. “How are things with you?” blinking, she was almost tempted to say, “Things are good, with the exception that our niece and children have been kidnapped.” Instead, she sighed as she said, “Usual runaround to get things done.” Placing her hands atop his, she habitually entwined their fingers. “Even if it’s tempting to tell Zomarì off; especially after what with all the things that he’s made me do.” Looking ahead, she unconsciously tightened her hold on his hand. I need to get them back…

Not hearing his wife saying anything, Naru sighed as his mind flipped back to the paper in his pocket. I really don’t wanna worry her, but I need to let her know. Snaking his arm from about her slender frame, he used his free hand to retrieve the note from his pocket. Better late than never, right? Slipping the piece of paper in her palm, he murmured, “Then Sina, you’re not gonna like this.”

***********************************

Del Torrènelò

An energetically charged Zeniel was running about the comfort of their new home in Del Torrènelò, his mother within reach if he so much as teetered too close to any furniture. Michiko looked on in silent observation, her lips curving upwards in a smile. With the remaining money that she still had from her last bank robbery, she had been able to pay down on a house and have Sina spruce it up for her. I swear that girl knows all the perks. She watched as Hana raised the toddler above her head before she planted kisses all over the endearing redhead’s face. This continued for a while before the blonde placed the child back on the floor and said, “I’m going to start making lunch” before she headed for the kitchen. The brunette harrumphed lightly in response as she resumed her watch over the playful child. A knock on the glass caught her attention, though she made no motion to see who it was. It’s probably just Sina coming back from working at the temple. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw her surrogate grandson make a beeline for the balcony door squealing, “Me-Me!” in childish glee. The Latina scoffed lightly as she made her way over to the boy who was excitedly banging on the glass open-palmed.

Standing on the other side of the sliding door that led to the balcony was the shape-shifter herself in a long, silky white dress with a white headdress. She swiftly picked up the exuberant child and saddled him to her hip before she opened the door so that her daughter could come in. Noting the crestfallen expression on her face, the ex-convict made a mental advisement to question it later. Shutting the door behind the young brunette, she watched the dress billow out behind her as she made her way over to the sofa. Something’s wrong: this has been the third time that she’s come in without a smile on her face. Feeling Zeniel wriggle about in her arms, Michiko placed him down.

Messina slid onto the sofa and habitually unpinned her headdress so that her dark chocolate tresses could cascade down her back. Threading her fingers once through her hair, a bang fell perfectly around her face. She was oblivious to her nephew’s pleas as her eyes took on a vacant stare.

Flashback

Looking between Naru and the note he’d just given her, she began to read it over. “Dear Naru, I know it’s been a while since we’d spoken last and you probably don’t want to hear from me, not that I could blame you. Anyways, I’m going to try and be brief: Father has taken Delle, Luke and Rita to Port Boroço. As to why, I’m still not sure yet. But I believe it has something to do with your wife owing him money, a good 40,000 arca. The address is 22154 Apple Crest Avenue: it’s an abandoned warehouse. Once you pass the old Mill about fourteen miles outside of town, you’re close. All you need to do is find a way of telling your wife that she needs to send the money as soon as she can. In the meantime, I’ll try to sneak you some Intel on Father’s plans when I can. With love and sincerest apologies, Abbey.” Glancing back to her husband, she raised a brow inquiring brow. “Lemme guess, you’re going?” seeing him nod, she slid the note in her pocket and hugged him tight. “Do me a favor; come back with them alive, alright?” the redhead only snickered as he dropped his head to kiss her on the cheek. “Don’t worry, babe: I’ll come back, promise.”

End flashback

Massaging her temples, she sighed inwardly as she picked up her fussing nephew. “Hey, Zen: how’s my little baby?” She cooed as she hugged and kissed the child. Feeling a movement beside her, she turned to look into the gray eyes of her mother with a sweet smile adorning her features. “Hey Mom, what’s up?” When the serious outlook of her mother was coupled with a calculating curiosity, she felt her smile shrink surreptitiously in size. There was a tense period of silence before the elder Latina draped an arm around her shoulder and kissed her temple. Smiling a bit brighter, she became aware of sounds in the kitchenette and looked around her mother to see her best friend scuttling about the cooking space.

“Hey, Michi-Dee, you’re early.” the young blonde called over her shoulder as she picked up a box of noodles and poured it into a pot of boiling water. Blinking, the young architect quipped, “I am? I didn’t realize.” Kissing the child once more, she gave him to the ex-convict before she made her way over to the kitchen. Briefly hugging her surrogate sibling around the waist, she moved to lean against the countertop as she watched the Chef work. “So, how was work at the temple?” her best friend inquired as she moved from the spiced pasta to the Jinbei stir fry in the pan before motioning to something behind her. The young woman only laughed airily as she passed her the spice she needed. “Good, being a priestess is demanding. Even after working that position for the past thirteen years or so.” Reaching up to briefly comb her fingers through her hair, she smiled down at the blonde single mother. She paused her ministrations when she heard her ask, “So, they’re gonna take you tonight, huh?” Blinking in momentary confusion, the brunette’s implied answer was a raised brow and her smile slipped from her face as a pensive look clouded up her features. What the hell is she talking about… oh, the Bride and Groom.

She sighed as she wearily threaded her fingers through her hair. “No, I was able to negotiate my cause.” Seeing the girl’s eyes widen, she smugly added, “So, I’m gonna leave in the morning.” The statement hung in the space between them before a weak, “But, I don’t want you to” was murmured. Petting the blonde’s hair, she smiled wider as the plea, “Can’t you stay a day longer?” was coupled with a stubborn pout and arms folded. Looking to the food on the stove, she dropped her hand and added a few spices to the sauce before she stirred them in. The topic at large was a temporary haze as the two friends began to share out the food into the plates provided. Walking them over to the table a few feet behind the couches in the living space, they placed the food on the table. Finally breaking the silence, Messina sighed. Hearing this, Hatchin quickly piped in concern, “What is it? Aren’t you hungry?” humming offhandedly, she shook her head. “What? No Hana, I’m sure the food will be delicious as always… it’s not you, it’s something else.” Tilting her head slightly, she offered a sunny smile in place of her previously troubled countenance.

By this time, they had been joined by Michiko and Zeniel. The young redhead squealed happily as he was placed in his high chair, waiting to be fed. Seating herself beside her daughter, she offered a short prayer before she began to eat. The young ladies followed her example and began to eat as well. There was a phase of silence, save the tinkering of silverware and occasional hum in delight as the consumption of nutrients continued. Finishing her food, the young Latina soundlessly excused herself from the table and floated off in the direction of the kitchenette.

Following after her, Michiko made her way over to where the young fighter was putting away her eating utensils. Seeing her tense up before relaxing, she stepped back when she whirled around with a smile on her face. Leaning against the counter, she fixed her daughter with a calculating look. “Mom, what’s up?” the woman only coupled her calculating expression with a practiced raised brow. Turning to rinse her plate in the other side of the sink, she commenced to towel dry her plate and utensils.

Saddling up beside her daughter, she sighed as she began to wash her own set of plates and utensils. Passing them off to the young Latina, she dried her hands in the wash towel. “Sina, what’s going on? You haven’t been acting like yourself lately.” When she didn’t receive a reply to that, she decided to try a different approach. Walking the girl over to the living room, they sat down on the sofa. “You know that you can tell me anything, even if I don’t act like it.” The phrase was answered with a firm nod and the young musician snuggled beneath the arm around her shoulder before tucking her legs beneath herself and draping an arm about the ex-convict’s waist.

***********************************

Quoso-Míare

Strapping his duffel bag to his shoulder, Naru went out to his motorcycle. Swinging his leg over the Harley Davidson, he looked to the address in his hand. 2154 Apple Crest Avenue. Crumpling the paper in his hand, he tossed it to the ground as he growled, “I know exactly where that is.” Revving up, he blazed on to Port Boroço. “Hold on guys, I’m coming for you.” Unbeknownst to him, he was driving straight into an ambush.

***********************************

Del Torrènelò

It had been a grueling chase after the young brunette, but they had finally gotten her back into custody. Though Atsuko was overjoyed, she still couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that the notorious runaway had willingly given herself in. All she remembered hearing her say was, “I’m finally free to serve one less sentence.” The blonde Interrogator sighed as she watched the world go by. I wonder what she meant by that… she never fails to make simplicity the most complex thing to understand. Turning to regard the oddly silent mechanic, she asked, “Why?”

For a moment, the ocher-eyed escape artist only raised her head to look at the woman. How thick can you be: I make it easy for you, heck I even write you a damn note when I obviously had better things to do with my time. And yet, here you are asking me why. Feeling tears pricking the back of her eyes, she redirected her attention her wedding ring. “Simply because, Ms. Jackson.” She replied shortly, hoping that the Detective never caught the slight waver in her tone as she reached into her duffel bag and handed her an envelope. Missing the inquiring glance, she kept her head down and waited for the gentle tug before relinquishing her hold on the manila packaging. “All you gotta do is read it, and then hopefully you’ll understand.” With that, she laid her head on her bag and slipped into a world of darkness, unchecked tears spilling down her cheeks.

***********************************

Port Boroço, August 27th, Golden Conquest HQ

Despite having to drive eight hours outside of Port Costa Rìche, it took until the first rays of dawn before Naru arrived to the address of the abandoned warehouse. Gradually decreasing his speed, he cut the engine and dismounted the motorbike as he rolled it to lean against the wall. His ears perked up at the sound of gravel shifting and dropped into a defensive stance, kicking the stand at the side of the bike down in the process. Emerging from the shadows was Big Daddy and his Shadow Hunters. “Naru, my son: glad your sister could send you the memo.” He gritted his teeth in silent rage as he thought back to the note he had gotten a few days before. So it was a setup, I should’ve known.

As if reading his thoughts, the heavyset Leader simply chuckled darkly as he snapped his fingers. Watching the Hunters sidestep, he heard the sounds of struggle before he caught sight of the redhead he hadn’t seen since Suneil had married Margo five years ago. She still dressed conservatively and her hair was no longer past her waist as it curled around her shoulders. Her bright hazel eyes were dark and stormy as they were narrowed at her father-in-law. The man in question simply took hold of her chin as he kissed her forehead. “Did you really think you could do anything without my knowing?” he purred innocently before pushing her off-balance. Due to the fact that her hands were tied, she fell rather gracelessly to the stone covered earth.

Without thinking, the redhead rushed forward to help her to her feet before fixing his father with a murderous glare. The graying man scoffed arrogantly before turning to go inside. “Gentlemen, would you kindly escort my children inside: I’m sure they’d love to see the rest of our… guests.”

***********************************

Del Torrènelò

Michiko hummed to herself as she fed young Zeniel his breakfast. Casting a quick glance across the table, she saw her surrogate daughter quietly picking at her own breakfast. Noting the frown, she sighed lightly as she softly pushed away the plate of food and pulled the fork out of her grasp. “Oi Hatchin, cheer up: how about we go visit her after breakfast?” The blonde nodded, her forlorn expression lightening at best. The next thing she knew, she was embraced in a tearful hug. Rubbing the Chef’s arms affectionately, she chuckled airily as she remarked sarcastically, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

It was around ten when they reached San Diamandra Penitentiary. The young redhead yawned as he snuggled deeper into the arms of his second mother, smiling as he was gently rocked and sung to. They had driven the two hours to spend some time with Messina. Luckily, the trio didn’t have to wait long as they were directed to the visiting room. Barely five minutes went by before a door opened and they looked up to see the brunette shape-shifter walking up to them, accompanied by Ricardo and two guards. The Officer nodded to the two behind him and they both exited the room.

Hatchin was the first to stand up and walk over to her, sadness coating her features. Just as she made to speak, the delinquent hugged her. “Shut it, I didn’t want to witness you making a fuss so I left early.” Rubbing her back, she added, “And I’m sorry for not saying goodbye to your face.” Releasing her with a gentle squeeze, she went over to hug her mother and nephew. “Hey, Mom: sorry for earlier.” Standing on tiptoes, she kissed her on the cheek before taking the toddler from her. “Me-Me!” cried the auburn bundle as she bestowed a kiss to his forehead.

She gently rocked him as she glanced between the two women standing before her, smiling tenderly. “As happy as I am to see everyone I care about all in one place, there’s a more pressing matter in Port Boroço.” Motioning to a nearby table, she had them all sit down before seating herself beside the dark haired man. Briefly glancing down at the toddler resting comfortably against her ample bosom, she looked back at them and her smile dissipated. “And let’s just say; I don’t have much time to get it over and done with.”

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

After another uncomfortable night with barely any food to send them off to bed, Rita awoke in an indescribable magnitude of pain. Slowly opening her eyes, she was temporarily blinded by the late morning sun. Hearing some rustling behind her aunt, she waited with bated breath for the outcome. After a while, the movements stopped and a hollow thud was heard, followed by a hiss and a pained “Ah” eliciting from the person as they fell at her feet. She gasped as she came to recognize the tall, tanned redhead man. “Uncle Naru.” She breathed in awe and concern. Looking up, he smiled gratefully as he stood up. “Ritz, thank goodness you and your cousins are alright.” Embracing her warmly, he placed a light kiss to her forehead as he moved to check on his children.

It was at this time that her eyes drifted over to the redhead that looked like a non-pregnant version of Margo. She was about to question the presence of the woman when her ears picked up on echoing steps coming towards her. “Aww, how touching.” Another deep baritone drawled, false affection lacing his tone. The voice belonging to a heavyset man approached them, a sinister smile arching his lips. Stopping a few feet in front of them, he allowed his gaze to rove over the group before him, his smile momentarily losing its wicked intensity. “Well, well; it looks like the family is all here.” He looked forlorn when he added, “Everyone that is, except Naru’s beloved wife.” Not too long after saying this, his normal brooding nature returned in full force. “Wake up the others.” He barked to those situated behind him. “I wish for them to be awake when their help arrives.”

***********************************

Conmoréna

Margo smiled down at her newborn babies. The young infants had just fallen asleep against her bosom, as they had just been breastfed. With obsidian hair, tan skin and golden brown eyes, the young girls were truly a beauty to behold. Raven and Rebekah… two beautiful names for two beautiful girls. Just as she about to put her daughters down to sleep, she heard a series of clicks before the door swung open. She smiled warmly at the mocha toned man that walked in, her chocolate eyes shining. The muscular man stood about six-foot-five and was dressed in a military uniform with a gray duffel bag slung across his shoulder. His amber eyes were dull and tired looking, his obsidian hair slick with sweat.

Shifting over, she motioned for him to sit in the space beside her. Once he was seated, she carefully placed young Raven into his arms. She saw his lips camber into a weary smile and his eyes misted over as he gently stroked the infant’s face with his finger before looking to the other that rested in the caterer’s arms. “What are their names?” the soldier questioned in a hushed tone, being careful not to stir his children from slumber. The woman softly replied, “The one you’re holding is Raven; and this one is Rebekah.” Kissing the noirettes, he was reminded of Delle. “Where’s Luke and Delle?” the newly mothered woman simply said, “They’re probably out with Rita.” Humming in agreement, he shifted the baby in his arms so that he could hold her against him. Feeling her kiss him on the cheek as she moved closer, he smiled. A moment of silence ensued before he heard his wife croon, “Welcome home, Suneil.”

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

Luke yawned and stretched, the stretch portion proving to be a cumbersome task as he remembered his predicament. Looking around, his big emerald eyes surveyed the space around them. His aunt and uncle were in front of him, speaking to someone. When he saw a tuft of dark red, he almost smiled in glee until he saw she wasn’t pregnant. That’s not Aunt Margo: her stomach is rounder than that. Despite the fact that the woman wasn’t his surrogate mother, he was still interested in who she was. But when his eyes fell upon the adult with sun-kissed skin and fiery red hair, he forgot all about the mysteriously familiar cherette. “Dad...” He whispered, not believing that his father was there. The man looked up, his emerald orbs shining brightly.

Overjoyed, he nudged his twin with the shoulder that was closest to her. “Delle… Delle, wake up.” The girl groaned before she spat, “If it isn’t someone or something I care to know about, don’t wake me.” A smug look settled over his features as he drawled in a superior tone, “Well then, I guess that means I can spend all the time in the world with Daddy.” Looking to the aforementioned, he gleefully maintained his smug outlook as the coffee-haired child yawned loudly and looked at the man through sleep-blurred eyes. He smiled as he rubbed her knee. “Morning, Princess.”

***********************************

San Diamandra, Penitentiary Visit Centre

After explaining the situation to those present, Ricardo nodded as he turned to the door. Michiko regarded her daughter for a while in disbelief, but sat back with an otherwise indifferent disposition. Feeling her amulet grow warm against her, she felt Zeniel’s face before touching the stone. Her surroundings disappeared as she saw the youth still bound to their chairs, and her husband being hauled to his feet. Once she was able to recognize her surroundings again, she felt the anger seethe through her. Hearing the toddler whimper against her, she rocked him as she stood up. Handing him to her mother, she simply said, “I’ve got some business to take care of.”

Looking to her charge, he went to the door and held it open. Stepping through the now ajar door were the guards from before. The first one stepped in carrying a gun in a holster and a change of clothes, while the other followed afterward with a duffel bag. Placing the apparel on top of the duffel bag on the ground, the two left the room as wordlessly as they came in. Within minutes, the woman was wearing a black ensemble consisting of a V-neck, sleeveless trench coat, jeans and combat boots. Twirling the Caliber in her grasp, she placed it in the holster and attached it to her waist. Just as she was about to leave, the Officer spoke up. “Sina, are you sure you should be going by yourself?” at first, the abovementioned simply regarded her brother-in-law with a vacant stare. But, as time wore on, her amber orbs appeared to be set ablaze as she narrowed them at him. Seeing him visibly flinch under her gaze, she growled, “Oh, I’m going to Port Boroço.”

Evanescently redirecting his gaze to the floor before meeting her eyes, he murmured, “Even still, I can’t let-” his lecture of reproach was cut short when he saw that her eyes had taken on a piercing grey and he began to levitate over the table, overt fear evident in his eyes as he felt invisible fingers closing around his windpipe. Staring wide-eyed at the woman he had come to respect (and now fear), he watched as she commenced to mentally choke him. “They’re not just important to me you know, or did you not realize that you’re dealing with someone who can be even more heartless than me? He has my kids, our brother, sister, niece and your brother-in-law: on top of that, he’s doing this so he can get to me. If I’m not there, they’re going to be dead without a moment’s hesitation.” Seeing him clench his fists, she knew she had gotten through to him. After setting him back down, she slipped on a pair of Aviators and the room was bathed in a world of white.

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

Big Daddy and his group of Shadow Hunters were sitting at the doorway of their syndicate Headquarters having a smoke, while the other adults were guarding the children. Making sure that the Hunters were keeping the Triad Leader busy, Cynthia smiled. “Sweethearts, I’d like you to meet Abbey; she’s Aunt Margo’s younger sister.” When they had said their greetings, she let her voice drop to a low whisper. “Now, I’m gonna need you to sit still for your Auntie.” Nodding in response, the cinnamon-hued woman unsheathed a knife from the sheath strapped to her thigh and cut through the restraints. Once they were completely off, the ebony woman asked, “Better?” the answer was a resounding, “Thanks, Aunt Thia” as they tested their sore limbs and rubbed at the rope burns on their wrists.

A moment of silence elapsed before they heard the crunch of gravel outside the door. Seeing Edonis stand up, the inkette kissed the trio’s heads as she whispered, “Sounds like your Mom’s here to pick you up” before she reciprocated her husband’s actions. The youth beamed up at their aunt as the couple left to meet Messina. Watching them disappear through the door, the ex-trapeze artist was the first to crawl into the safety of her uncle’s arms. Holding the twins close to her, she heard Naru say in a soothing tone, “It’s gonna be okay. We’ll be out of here in no time.” Feeling the others calm down, he smiled down at them. Sina, you better know what you’re doing. He thought to himself before regarding Abbey. Seeing her concerned outlook, he assumed that she was thinking along the same lines.

***********************************

San Diamandra, Penitentiary Visit Centre

Michiko groaned as she shook her head lightly. “What the hell just happened?” she hissed as she slowly shifted to a sitting position. When her hand came in contact with cool metal in place of wood, she looked up to see bars around her. Peering through the bars, she saw that she was suspended above the ground. She suitably noted that her daughter and the duffel bag had disappeared. Hearing a movement next to her, she turned to see Hatchin, Ricardo and Zeniel also coming around. “First time I conk out, I come to in a hospitable bed. This time I’m in a frigging cage.” Blowing a cluster of hair from her face, she continued her rant. “I mean, I should’ve seen that coming; but I didn’t think she’d make me a damn jailbird.”

“Michiko!” the blonde gasped as she crawled over to the gray-eyed woman with her son in her arms. Ricardo rubbed his head as he sat up. “Fuck.” He cursed silently after seeing their predicament. Glancing up at the brunette across the room, he sighed. “Any idea as to how we can get out of this crap?” looking away from her son-in-law, she sized up their situation before finally saying, “I was thinking you had an idea, son.” Hatchin blinked upon hearing the emphasis before turning to the man seated a few feet away. She called him son… I wonder why. Deciding that now wouldn’t be the best time to ask, she let sleeping dogs lie. A moment of silence passed before Michiko got up, the cage gently swinging as she did so.

Removing a pin from her up-do, she began to scan the semi-cramped space. After a while of searching, her gray eyes rested on something located at the top of the metal lockdown. Glancing up from her son, Hatchin followed the ex-convict’s gaze and instinctively tightened her hold on one of the nearby bars when she saw a cube at the top. Her decision was a wise one as she saw the brunette pounce on the bars before backflipping onto the top, all the time making the cage swing dangerously from side to side. “Damn it, Malandro: what the heck are you doing?!” the Officer exclaimed as he held on the bars for dear life, the cage moving about jerkily as she worked. Being used to the highs and lows of Michiko, the blonde mother simply replied, “Doing what you asked: finding a way out of here.”

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

Rolling to a stop, she strapped on her duffel bag and readjusted her gun. Hearing muddled crunches against the loose gravel, she looked up with shielded eyes at the crowd of people that had accumulated. Her attention was first drawn to Edonis and Cynthia before her gaze floated over to the rounded man that stood in the front. “Well, what do you know?” the ebony man drawled as he walked out to meet the woman in black. “Well, well… if it ain’t our little Spirit all grown up.” He smiled as the brunette turned off her motorcycle before she dismounted. Meeting his gaze, she smiled in turn. “Ah, Big Daddy North: it’s been a while.” She remarked in false contentment as she removed her Aviators to reveal her silver orbs glinting ominously in the late morning sun. Seeing his gang of strongmen instinctively step back with weapons at the ready, her light hearted smile shifted into a menacing smirk at the change of attitude. “I see the boys still remember when I mean business.” Smirk vanishing from her face, she hissed, “Now, where’d you stow my family?”

*****************************************

San Diamandra, Report Centre

Atsuko sighed as she cradled her cup of coffee made just the way she liked it: bittersweet. Just as she was savoring her first sip, she heard a terrific crash. Well, there goes my break before the afternoon shift. Looking at her office door, she sighed as she mentally counted to three before placing her coffee down. As if on cue, her door flew open to reveal one very irate Associate Chief. “Jackson!” he bellowed. “Did you hear that?” the woman lightly raised a sculpted brow as she dragged on her trench coat. “Yes sir, I’ll go find out what it was.” The man huffed before storming off to his office next door. Securing her overcoat, she felt her lips arc into a hearty grimace. And when I find out whom and what made it happen, they’re as good as dead.

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

Big Daddy tutted disapprovingly as he said, “If there’s anyone that should be upset, it’s me.” Stepping back, Messina guided her motor bike to lean against the wall before moving to stand before her finely dressed father-in-law. Her hand shot up to hold onto his silk tie, yanking him down to her eye level. “Listen here, fabric hog: I’ve got your payment, then some.” She snarled, her grip growing increasingly tighter on the piece of fabric in her hand as she was oblivious to the abnormal purple tinge of his face. Using telekinesis, she let the bag slowly drift to the ground before she hissed dangerously, “Now, release them: I’m sure you set this up so I could be dealt with.” Seeing the man nodding frantically, she smirked in satisfaction. Releasing him, the fiery brunette waltzed into the warehouse, not caring that she had just signed her death warrant.

***********************************

San Diamandra, Penitentiary Visit Centre

Following the reports of the guards, Atsuko waltzed right into the private visit center. Looking around, she primarily noted the large cage that lay forgotten on the ground. There was also a dent in the concrete that matched the base of the cage. Well, that explains the noise. Her grey eyes roved past the scene to the four people present, only to become increasingly furious. Seeing Ricardo meet her eyes with an unwavering calm only made her mood darken further.

The Officer could see his partner was more than upset, if her scowl was anything to go by. However, try as he might, he couldn’t help but admire the way her features would betray how she felt. He too, was livid that his sister had hoodwinked him once again, but he couldn’t find it in himself to show that. Hence, he went with the indifferent, yet level-headed approach. Bracing himself for the interrogation that was to take place, he took his time to imbibe her irate outlook: the wrinkle that appeared right above her nose, her stormy grey eyes, her pursed lips, her hips swaying in an ominous, yet hypnotic fashion… feeling the corner of his lips tug upwards, he covered it up with a cough. Once she was standing in front of him, she began her tirade. “Ricardo, what the fuck happened in here?” pausing to take a breath, she ran her fingers through her hair before continuing. “Actually, let me ask you this: where the hell is your sister? Because unless she’s invisible, I’m going to assume that she’s gone.” Letting out a haggard breath, she started to pace. “I leave you in here, with her, for not even a good hour and she’s disappeared.” Turning to the metal culprit, she pointed haughtily, “And in case you thought I’ve forgotten about that, where the heck did it come from and why the fuck is it even in here?”

There was a long period of silence as everyone turned to look at the dark-haired man. To the surprise of the ex-convict and company on the sidelines, the man had the audacity to smile as if he wasn’t in the figurative doghouse. Still smiling, he calmly stated, “I know where she is, but due to circumstances I can’t retrieve her myself.” Another lapse of silence ensued as the woman scoffed airily. “Alright, Mr. Optimistic.” She began, a challenging smirk arching the right side of her lips as she testily crossed her arms beneath her chest. “Where’d she go?”

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

Messina slowly walked towards the group beneath the gently swinging spotlight, her eyes having changed back to their tender ocher. Her gaze roved over those present: Naru, Rita, Delle, Luke… “Abbey?” said redhead looked up at the mention of her name, releasing Luke before she stood up. Straightening her red blouse and black pencil skirt, she regarded her sister-in-law fondly as she embraced her. “It’s been a while, Sina.” Turning to the four standing around them, she knelt down and pulled her children into her arms. Kissing their heads, she stood up to hug Rita. “Thank goodness you’re all okay.” Looking up to her husband, she kissed him passionately before hugging him to herself. “Baby, I thought something happened to you.” He breathed as he kissed the crown of her head.

“I just love family reunions, don’t you?” turning in the direction of the voice, the young architect snarked, “I gave you the money, Big Daddy. Now let them go.” The senior peered at her pensively before he smiled innocently. “Sina sweetie, what’s the rush? Don’t you wanna catch up; it’s been a while since I’ve seen you last.” The brunette only narrowed her eyes as she snarled, “Don’t fuck with me, North: we had a deal… or have you been in the business so long that you forgot what it means to honor your word?” seeing the man quirk his eyebrow inquiringly, she continued. “You told me that I owe you 40,000 arca for the jobs you gave me or you’d start adding players to the game. Damn it, I gave you the money in full; what more do you want?” hearing a reload, the graying Triad Leader pointed a rifle at her. A crooked smile contorted his lips as he gravely uttered, “You… dead.”

***********************************

San Diamandra, Penitentiary Visit Centre

Atsuko sat down as she took in the news delivered to her. “Let me get this straight. Now you expect me to believe that you, her charge, actually and willingly allowed our responsibility to go to Port Boroço. As in off this premises...” Her voice began to grow in intensity and bubbling rage. “I’m seriously hoping that you didn’t put her out of our damn range of immediate service and in the face of adversity.” She furiously smacked the table as she got up, eliciting a whimper of discomfort from Zeniel. Stalking over to stand right in front of her partner, she resumed her rant. “You’ve got to be shitting me right now. I mean, really, what the hell are we gonna do; the Chief’s gonna have our asses on a mantle when he hears this.” The suspense was imminent between the two as they stood toe-to-toe, one beyond furiously inclined and the other on the verge of almost laughing. Michiko observed with a smug grin; she was glad that she wasn’t on the receiving end of the blonde’s glare for once. On the contrary, Hatchin was worried for the Officer’s wellbeing.

Finally, the man calmly took hold of the blonde’s shoulders as he leaned in. Oblivious to their surroundings and her rigid stance, his lips stopped perilously close to her ear as he whispered, “Don’t worry about the Chief and what his uptight ass is gonna say.” His hands rubbed her arms as he continued, sending her heart into an unwanted frenzy. “So calm down; she left an address so we’ll be able to find her as soon as we get out of here.” With that, he relinquished his gentle hold on her and walked out of the room, with an unnerved Detective in tow.

***********************************

Port Boroço, Golden Conquest HQ

Exchanging a glance with the redhead, the twenty-three-year-old slipped out of her husband’s grasp as she walked towards the Triad Leader with an uncanny calm radiating from her face. She was just out of Naru’s reach when she felt a pair of slender arms encircle her waist. Turning to regard her impediment, she was staring at her blue-eyed niece. “Sina, what are you doing: Big Daddy’s got a gun. Are you sure you wanna end up dead?” said brunette only smiled as she gently freed herself from the adolescent’s hold. Kissing her forehead, she stopped in front of the outstretched barrel of the gun. “So, Big Daddy… wants me out of the game.” Using her index finger, she guided the barrel from her forehead to her chest. Still staring at him head-on, she continued in a sickly sweet voice. “Take your best shot, ossan. I’m gonna need to lose a life first.”

***********************************

San Pércho

As Ricardo calmly put the petal to the metal, Atsuko was absolutely unnerved. After going head-to head just moments before with her obsidian haired partner, sensations of unknown origin had been running wild in her mind and all over her body; sensations she had never experienced before but immediately disliked now that she had. The overall experience had left her raw and vulnerable with sensations that left her wanting more, yet wishing she could run away… far away.

As she sat in the passenger’s side of the vehicle, she could still feel his strong hands rubbing the sleek material that covered her arms, his breath light and teasing on the outer shell of her ear… her heart rate quickened as all she could think about was him: his eyes, his hair… just anything that had to do with him. I wonder if he’s capable of doing more with his hands, like massages; I’m starting to feel really sore. The thought was so swift that she almost wondered if it really was her. But then again, I haven’t been touched so… affectionately; it felt good, really good. Deciding that it’d be best for her to not think, she rested her head against the cool surface of the window and let her complications melt into the background.

About an hour or so later, they reached the abandoned warehouse. However, the scene before them was a far cry from problem solved. There, standing over a body, was their prized runaway. Atsuko felt her heart constrict at the pool of blood surrounding the body. Not again… just as she moved to investigate, she felt a moderate pressure around her upper arm. Before she could query the motive, she followed the man’s line of view. “Just, wait.” He murmured through clenched teeth as his fingers slipped from her arm. Clicking her teeth, she stubbornly did as she was told, while trying to keep a level head as the previously forgotten sensations once again resurfaced.

***********************************

Port Boroço

Messina calmly looked up from the body of the graying man to the smoking gun of the Shadow Hunter that had done the deed. Levitating over the blood of her deceased father-in-law, she landed a few feet away from the scene to clean her boots. It was at this time that her amulet flashed coldly against her skin. Reaching upwards, she touched it and her surroundings faded to show the Detective and the Officer with looks of astonishment. Coming to, she looked up to see the cop car. Great, this is just what I need. Now I’ve got to prepare another explanation to get me out of serving more time. Turning to the Shadow Hunter, she smiled gratefully as she uttered, “Thanks Mortimer, think you guys can get the cleaner on call?” seeing the others nod in agreement, she walked over to the car up ahead.

Stopping beside the driver’s side, she audibly winced at the door slam from the passenger’s side as the Detective stepped out. Hearing a gentler exit from her brother, she sighed as she steeled herself for the barrage of anger-powered inquiries. Chancing a moment, she asked, “I’m screwed, aren’t I?” her brother only chuckled softly as he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “If looks could kill, you’d be dead for the fifteenth time.” Despite the bleakness of the situation, she couldn’t curb the smile that spread across her lips. Holding out her hand, a duffel bag floated up to her. “Well then, the afterlife’s gonna have to take a rain check.” Raising a brow inquiringly, he watched as she knelt down to unzip the bag.

Looking up, he saw his brother and in-laws walking over to them. He immediately recognized Edonis, Cynthia, Luke, Delle, Rita and Naru. Odd, the cherette looks really familiar. It wasn’t until he saw the group come closer did he notice that it was his sister, Abbey. Damn… when was the last time I’d seen little Abbey? Suddenly, a hissing sound broke through his thoughts. Looking down to the now standing brunette, his eyes drifted down to regard the moderately large snake poking out of the bag. Its scales were a golden yellow and black with a beige underbelly, while its eyes were an enchanting aquamarine. The architect’s primary response was a stern, “Serpencio, that’s not how I raised you.” The reptile bowed his head in likeness of remorse as she tutted disapprovingly.

Atsuko had long since made her way through the throng, her lecture of reproach momentarily forgotten as she stood alongside her partner to watch the interaction between the amber-eyed brunette and the serpent. Though she should’ve been unnerved, she and those surrounding her had gotten used to the reptile’s presence. “Serpencio, be a dear and get me my shoes.” A hiss was heard before the black-and-yellow legless lizard ducked back into the bag. The carrier shifted and contorted for a while before he reemerged with a pair of black Toms. Taking the shoes from his tail, she quickly discarded her blood-and-gravel-soled boots and put them on. Blinking, the brunette mechanic looked towards the warehouse to see that both the body of the Triad Leader and the Hunters were gone. The others followed her gaze to see that as well. Shrugging it off as a usual occurrence, Cynthia smiled slyly at her brother-in-law upon noting the close proximity between him and the Detective. “So, Ricardo; I see you’re here on business.” she drawled, glancing briefly at the blonde beside him before continuing. “So, I’m guessing you came for our Ace of Diamonds?” noting the raised brow from Atsuko, Naru spoke up. “That’s their nickname for her, since she’s always got a trick up her sleeve.”

A phase of silence passed as they all turned their attention to Messina. She only continued to talk animatedly to Rita as Delle and Luke petted Serpencio, who had wrapped himself about his owner’s waist. Noting the calm atmosphere, she was almost tentative in saying what she had to. “Though it was nice to see you all again, I just wish it didn’t have to be like this.” As if on cue, the brunette escape artist made her way over to the group, as she had been leaning against the front of the car. Kissing the head of her reptile companion, she waited until he had uncoiled from her before hugging her family goodbye. Feeling the Detective’s heated gaze on her, she picked up her duffel bag before wordlessly walking into the back of the squad car with her pet in tow. “Uncle Ricky, does Mom really have to go back to jail?” the man stooped down to his niece’s level and sighed. “Yes Delle, she has to go back.” Lowering her eyes, she murmured miserably, “Then could you take care of her until she doesn’t have to anymore?” pulling the child into a hug, he kissed the crown of her head. “Of course I will, Princess.”

Releasing her, he stood up to hug his brother. “See you at the family dinner. Sasha should be out on good behavior by then.” Edonis smiled as he replied, “Good, I’ve been dying to see our little sister.” Abbey nodded as she hugged the Officer. “And I’ve been dying to see my fraternal twin.” Kissing her on the crown of her head, he went to hug Cynthia and the rest of the family. “We better get going; Michiko’s probably sick with worry.” Cynthia sniggered as she stated, “If Hana’s nearby, she won’t get as reckless as you think.” Ricardo laughed as he and his partner headed towards the car. Redirecting the vehicle, he sped off to the prison.

***********************************

San Diamandra, Penitentiary Visit Centre

“Hatchin, I swear, if they’re not here within the next five minutes…” the aforementioned only rolled her eyes as she rocked the slumbering toddler, watching the brunette pace a trench into the ground. It amused her to no end, however, because the ex-convict led others to believe that she was a heartless thief. Deciding against open mockery, she drawled encouragingly, “Don’t worry, Michiko. I’m sure they’ll be here before you know it.” For my sake at least, I sure hope they do. She added mentally. The woman only clicked her teeth as she stubbornly sat down. As if on cue, the door opened and in walked Messina following the interrogation duo. The blonde mother smiled at her friend as she went back to rocking her son.

Michiko, on the other hand, shot up from her seat and stormed straight over to them. “What the hell took you so damn long?” sighing soundlessly, she met the stormy gray head on. Well, at least she’s in a good mood. Watching her mother’s expression shift from worried sick to straight up pissed, she knew she was gravely mistaken to underestimate her mother. Chancing it, she opened her mouth to explain when she got the taste smacked out if it as she stumbled backward. The room was still as the force of the strike reverberated within everyone present; even Atsuko winced at the action. Yeah, should’ve known she was livid. Keeping her eyes trained on the ground, she clenched her teeth as she took the pain. “Damn it, you had me worried out of my fucking mind. You know you almost scared the shit out of me with that stunt you pulled.”

A beat of silence followed as the young Latina continued to stand there, head bowed in doleful nature. “What if something seriously happened to you: I can’t just go buy another frigging replacement. You need to understand that your life isn’t a fucking video game that you can reset whenever you feel like it.” Hearing her mother sigh deeply, a small smile slipped across her face. Feeling a gentle pressure encircling her, she walked into her Michiko’s embrace. “Listen to me, Sina: just because you’re an adult doesn’t give you the right to do stupid things.” Stroking her back, she softly squeezed her shoulder. “I love you, kid.” She murmured into the top of her head, kissing it. “I know I don’t say it enough, but I can’t afford to lose you.”

At last, Messina raised her head to regard her mother. “I know Mom, and I’m sorry for running off like I did.” The gray-eyed woman tenderly stroked her face as she noted the slightly pulsing bruise. “I’m the one who should be sorry, Si. I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.” Her daughter only smiled as she momentarily pulled away to place her Aviators atop her head. Seating herself on the ground, she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. As she did so, her inferno eyes progressively transitioned into ice grey and crystal like flames encompassed her as she began to levitate. Upon touching ground, one of her pant legs were removed to show complicated swirls and spikes done in blue and gold mineral ink with crimson diamond accents. In a burst of grey flames, the pant leg was replaced.

Everyone gaped at the sight before their attention was pulled to her face. In place of the previous welt was smooth, caramel skin. Watching the weapon specialist closely, she casually fixed her trench coat as she regarded those present with her fiery orbs. Looking to her mother and her traveling companions, she chirped, “So, I guess I’ll be seeing you both tomorrow.” Gently picking up her duffel bag, she went off to her cell. The adults looked at her dumbfounded, while Hatchin continued to rock young Zeniel as if nothing had occurred. “Michiko, I think it’s time we went home; I’m hungry.” She piped up, effectively rousing them from their stupor. The mention of food registered to the brunette’s stomach before conquering everywhere else. Laughing at the verbalized complaint of her stomach, she nodded. “Yeah, I’m hungry too, Hatchin.” glancing up at the clock in the corner, she redirected her attention to the charges of her daughter. “We’ll be back tomorrow to see her. Besides, it’s a two hour drive to Del Torrènelò.” Walking over to her blonde companion, she took the auburn toddler from her arms and laid him against her chest. They waved to the interrogation duo before exiting the room.

***********************************

Conmoréna

Naru and his siblings were seated in the living room with Margo, Suneil and their newborn daughters, Raven and Rebekah. The children had long since departed to their rooms for the evening, so the adults were left to converse with one another. Cynthia smiled down at her little nieces, their petite mouths forming a small “o” as she spoke to them. Edonis leaned against his wife, draping an arm around her shoulder as he watched the young infants try to perceive what was being said. “Slow down,” he drawled teasingly, “or you’ll break ‘em both.” The ebony woman looked at him with a small pout, to which he responded with a kiss. The others laughed as her ferocity diminished to a look of love as she kissed him back.

Naru laughed good-naturedly at the way their eyes lit up as they were admiring the new bundles of life; it reminded him of a kid at Christmas time. “With the way you look at them, it’s almost as if you’ve never seen a baby before.” Seeing the focus briefly shift to him, the mechanic continued. “You know, dismissing the fact that you had one and she grew up into a beautiful young woman.” His sister’s gazed narrowed into a smoldering glare at the quip, her husband’s expression mirroring it with more intensity.

Meanwhile, the three cousins were laughing at the day’s events. “I know right,” Delle smiled as she leaned against her brother to catch her breath. Rita sat up as she conceded, “I saw it too, they so deserve each other.” Luke chuckled as he remarked, “But I don’t see why Uncle Ricky has to be such a wimp about how he feels.” his voice shifted to an uncharacteristic tone of seriousness. “I mean, can’t he just come out and say it? It’s not like she doesn’t already know, right.” The elder of the trio hummed in thought before she replied. “Actually, I don’t think he can.” Seeing the raised brows, she continued. “With the fact that she has this whole coldhearted attitude, not to mention she’s stubborn and they’re been partners before we were born… Uncle Ricky can’t just go running after her with roses and chocolate.”

A contemplative silence passed before the twins nodded in agreement. It didn’t take them long to realize that it would take lot more than a push in the right direction before their uncle would be compelled to go public with his emotions (at least, to the person it mattered to most). Feeling her stomach rumble, Rita decided that she would go grab something to eat. “I’m gonna get something to eat, be right back.” Excusing herself, she swiftly left the room,

Rounding the corner, the conversation of the adults drifted to her ears. “Thia, it’s been almost nineteen years. Don’t you think she deserves the chance to know, after all she’s been through?” intrigued, she knelt down behind the wall to eavesdrop. There was a moment of silence before Cynthia spoke up. “Oh yeah, how would you go about it: I’m not the only one who’s got secrets. How would Delle and Luke react if they found out the real reason why they were kidnapped? Sooner or later, they’re gonna find out that their mother isn’t all that she tries to portray.” The ex-trapeze artist blinked as she listened to what was being said. I wonder what they mean by that… Just as she made to move, she heard Edonis say something that shocked her to her core: “That’s it, this conversation ends here. Naru, you know just as well as I do that telling Rita we’re her parents or the twins why they’ve really been living here would do no good for anyone.” Still frozen in place, she heard the follow-up quite clearly. “You weren’t there to know how cumbersome it’d be to raise a child at sixteen. Leaving her with Margo and Suneil was our way of compromise. As to how and why she ended up in a traveling circus until she was thirteen is beyond me. I don’t know how I could refrain from killing someone if something happened to my baby girl.”

Hearing a crash against the wall, she heard whimpering and soft footfalls heading in her direction. Zipping off to another corner, she tried to still her racing thoughts. So, Uncle Ricky was right all along. But even still, how could they think that I wouldn’t wanna find out about my past? And what do they mean by ‘what she tries to portray’? Chancing it, she peered from behind the corner to see her presumed mother bouncing one of the twins in her arms. She was still looking at the baby when she called out, “Rita, I know you’re hiding. Please come and talk to me.” When the brunette didn’t answer, she sighed. “I know I’ve got some explaining to do, so I might as well get it over with.”

***********************************

Del Torrènelò

Michiko and Hatchin were relaxing in the living room after arriving from their trip to the Penitentiary. Luckily, Zeniel was out like a light when they got in, so all Michiko had to do was put him to bed. Leaning against the brunette, Hatchin said, “So, what’s the deal with the Groom; he must really, y’know, like her.” She heard a soft chuckle escape the ex-convict as she situated the girl between her legs, wrapping her arms about her slender waist. It was a while before she heard, “No… he passed the whole ‘liking her’ phase a long time ago.” A moment of silence ensued as the young mother just remained silent. “How does she feel about him, do you know?” furrowing her brow in thought, the brunette mother mulled over her response before she spoke up. “To be honest, after her relationship with Satoshi when we were younger went south, I don’t think she allowed herself to show anything outside of misplaced anger and determination. Course, that all changed when I had Soja and Sina.”

Turning slightly, she caught sight of a reminiscent smile camber her surrogate mother’s lips as she continued. “When she found out I was pregnant, I saw something that I thought she’d lost after breaking it off with Satoshi; a heart. She did everything in her power and beyond to making sure that I had a healthy pregnancy; from making my meals to taking me to my monthly check-ups.” amazed beyond words, the blonde exhaled an airy “Wow” as she took in the information. No wonder she exploded at the Groom when she heard that he let her go. Knitting her brow in thought, she resumed her mental musings. But that doesn’t explain why she’s so mean to her. As if reading her thoughts, the gray-eyed mother sighed. “As for why she treats her like crap, I dunno. My guess is because she’s nothing like Soja and everything like me.” Pausing momentarily to stretch and yawn, she continued. “Despite her bipolar treatment towards Sina, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with anyone else punishing her.”

Another phase of stillness passed before Hatchin spoke up. “Do you think she’ll ever come to recognize the Groom’s affections?” her response was a light scoff as she remarked, “Knowing Atsuko like I do, she’ll turn a blind eye to something until it starts to become a problem.” Due to the blonde’s attention being elsewhere, she didn’t see the smile that spread across the Latina’s face as she smugly declared, “But in this case, she will start to become more aware of the obvious.”

***********************************

San Diamandra, Cell Section Fourteen

Messina was in her bunk, staring up at the rivets in the ceiling when she remembered her bag. Flipping onto her stomach, she unzipped her bag and out slithered Serpencio. Sitting up, she called the python to her and smiled as he wound his way around the bar to get to her before he snaked his way up onto her bed. She waited patiently for him to wind his way around her waist and rest his head on her shoulder, sighing deeply as he did so. What did I do to deserve this anyways… then I have to go talk to Atsuko, who probably hates my guts right now. Leaning her head against the wall, she smiled softly as she felt her scaly friend nuzzle her cheek and hiss soothingly. Reaching upwards, she petted his head with her index and middle finger. “Thanks Serpencio, you’ve always been there for me.”

Just as she closed her eyes in momentary peace, she heard the knocking of a club against the bars. Cursing under her breath, she looked to see the prison guard accompanied by the blonde Detective. Fuck… my… life. Speak of the devil in gold. A tender smile slipped onto the ebony woman’s face as she said, “Sina, we need to talk… in my office.”

***********************************

Conmoréna

Rita looked between Cynthia and Edonis for a long while before she took a deep breath to calm herself. This has to be some jacked up bullshit… these two can’t be my parents. They left me… alone. I mean, sure they left me with Aunt Margo, but it’s not the same. Hearing the soft hiss of running water, a smile momentarily lit up her pensive features. Sounds like the twins went to take a shower. Getting back to her previous line of thought, she focused more intently on the couple before her and a covert smile to curve her lips. Then again, that would explain everything dealing with my skin tone and my eyes. Finally at ease with her inner turmoil, she inquired, “Why didn’t you tell me? Were you embarrassed or something?” Cynthia sighed as she wrapped an arm around her daughter. “Ritz, we were never embarrassed of you.” She crooned as she threaded her fingers through her chocolate mane. “I mean, yes we were old enough to take responsibility, but we weren’t financially stable to do so.” Leaning against her husband, she smiled tiredly as he habitually placed his arm around her shoulders. “Your father and I decided that it would be best for you to get to know us, but not as your parents. Truth be told, when we were ready, you were already used to the fact that your parents were Margo and Suneil.”

Standing up, the ex-trapeze took a moment to stretch before she spoke up. “See, the truth is I already knew you were my parents, or at least I knew that uncle Edonis was my dad.” Walking to stand behind Margo and Suneil, she smiled down at her guardians. “They didn’t tell me, they only confirmed it; the person who told me was Uncle Ricky. I ran away to the circus because I felt like I didn’t have a family here.”

Flashback (San Benedetto, five years ago)

A thirteen-year-old Rita was prepping for her next act when she heard someone calling her name. Looking up from her shoe lacing, she saw a tall, dark-haired man wearing a crisp white shirt and pinstripe pants. Narrowing her eyes, she sat up straighter to regard the man inquiringly. “Who are you and how do you know my name?” the man smiled as he seated himself on a nearby crate. “Where are my manners? My name is Ricardo.” Leaning forward, he draped his arms over his lap as he continued. “I know your name because I know your father.” Raising a brow in confusion, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ricardo, you got the wrong kid. My parents are dead.”

Ricardo frowned before he fished around in his coat pocket for something. Removing a piece of photo stock, he handed it to her. The picture depicted two teenagers seated in a white room: a cinnamon hued woman with molten gold eyes and long dark brown hair and a young fair-skinned man with dark hair and sapphire eyes. They looked to be around seventeen and seemed to be smiling at a bundle being held by the raven-haired man. Seeing her slowly tracing over the photograph, he smiled. She continued to look intently at the photo in her hand until she looked up to see that Ricardo had left.

End flashback

“After that experience, I learned to appreciate what I had and came back.” Hugging her parents, she smiled. “And I, for one, am happy that I’ve got you as my parents.” Releasing them, she whispered, “Thanks for leaving me with Aunt Margo; because of that, I’ve gotten the experience I needed to really grow up.” Hearing these words, Cynthia smiled as she pulled her daughter into another embrace. “I’m grateful to hear you say that, honey.” Still holding her, the dark haired woman inquired, “Would you like to stay here or come with us to Quoso-Míare?” taking the time to think, she sighed. “I’d love to, Mom, but what about the twins?”

“What about us, Ri-Ri?” turning to regard the twins, she felt her jaw drop as she regarded the presently crimson-streaked brunette twins. Blinking in surprise, the sapphire-eyed brunette turned her attention to her lap before looking up again. “Well, I was just saying that I don’t know if I could bear to go to Quoso-Míare if you weren’t coming with me.” The green-eyed children nodded in agreement, seemingly unfazed by her earlier hesitance. She watched as Delle strolled across the room and hopped into Naru’s lap, oblivious to the quizzical stares around her. “I dunno coz; if you wanna go with them, you can. After all, it’s your choice.” Nodding mutely, Luke waltzed over to Abbey and laid his head in her lap. Turning to look at the elder brunette, he added, “We’ll just visit you whenever we can.” Smiling at their resolve, she scoffed, “You guys go snooping through my hair care supplies again?” blinking at the change in topic, they both raised their brow in confusion. Indicating to her head, she watched as the twins faced each other and began to scrutinize each other.

After a while, they turned back to her and smiled. “I was wondering when it would grow out.” Luke stated offhandedly, threading his fingers through his slightly damp hair. The brunette giggled as she snuggled deeper into the mechanic’s arms. “So, we’re coming with you, Daddy?” the redhead smiled as he ruffled her hair affectionately before he shifted in his seat. “Sure you can, Princess. Did you pack like I told you?” the seven-year-olds nodded simultaneously, to the delight of their father. “Good, go get your stuff then. I’ll be leaving in a bit.” Luke sat up and made his way after his younger sibling, making sure to hug Margo and Suneil on their way to their bedroom. Looking back to her parents, Rita asked, “Does that mean I’ll be seeing more of them?” the adults laughed good-naturedly at the inquiry before Edonis replied to the question. “Unless you’re not coming with us, then yes.” Thinking over her answer, she smiled brightly. “In that case, I guess I’ll go get packed up.”

It wasn’t too long before the trio returned with bags in hand. The caterer and Admiral stood to hug their in-laws and their children before they made their way to the door. The infant in his arms received many kisses before he announced, “I’m going to put Rebekah to sleep on my way to bed.” His decision was backed up by the yawning of his eldest baby girl. A unanimous “good night” was heard as he turned to leave. Margo smiled as her brown eyes shone with unshed tears. Abbey stood alongside her, wrapping an arm around her waist whilst smiling tearfully as well. “Delle,” at the mention of her name, she stepped in front of her younger aunt. “I wanted to give this to you.” Kneeling down to the girl’s height, she handed her a small rectangular box.

Being inquisitively prone, she immediately tore into the box to reveal a diamond charm at the end of a taut silver chain. Her eyes shimmered as she took out the necklace and happily clasped it around her neck. Gently hugging the red-haired accountant, she stepped back to admire the trinket. “I’ll treasure it forever, thanks Aunt Abbey.” Straightening up from her crouch, she handed one to Luke and Rita. Looking over to her brothers and sister, she smiled. “Make sure you call once you get home, that way we won’t have to worry for long.” Nodding in unison, they said their final goodbyes and left to begin their two-and-a-half-hour journey to Quoso-Míare.

***********************************

San Diamandra, Report Centre

Leaning against the door, Messina and Atsuko were having an impromptu staring contest. From the time the three had entered the office almost a half-hour ago, the brunette had refused to sit. However, Serpencio had been allowed to explore the surprisingly spacious corner office. After a while, the Detective blinked and the shape-shifter smiled smugly.

Gesturing to the seat in front of the oak wood desk, the mother-of-two made a show of rolling her eyes before pushing herself off the door and sauntering over to the chair. But instead of sitting on it, she crawled onto the desk and sat up, leaning against the wall with one leg folded underneath her and the other swinging idly over the edge. Her gaze floated around the room, taking in the features of the furniture and the guard leaning against the wall. Though it had not been her first time in the office (as she was notorious for getting under the ebony woman’s skin), she could still be surprised by the subtle changes.

After taking another look at the guard, she noted the woman had carnelian eyes that matched hers. “Soja, what are you doing here?” a warm smile lit up her face as she pushed off the wall. Walking towards the brunette, she stretched her arms towards her. “What do you think, sweetie? I’ve only been working here for the past seven years.” Touching the hand of her sister, she smiled in turn before embracing her warmly. The blonde smiled at the sibling affection before her, the display temporarily derailing her memory for why she had called the runaway to her office. “Sina, you told me you’d explain this when we got here.” Receiving a raised brow, she opened the top drawer on her left and pulled out a letter before closing it back.

Holding out the letter, she watched as the architect took it from her and began to read. Handing it off to her elder sibling, she shrugged nonchalantly. “Well, I guess I might as explain myself.” Sitting up straighter, she sighed as she tapped her chin thoughtfully. “The whole thing kinda starts with my sixth birthday...”

***********************************

Almandé Comèra

Luke sighed as he stared out the window; the night scene around them was bathed in tranquil silver lighting. “Dad, when are we getting there?” Naru chuckled at his son’s impatient nature as he said, “We’ll get home in about an hour.” Rita smiled as she piped up, “Then that means we’re close to Sancho-Forènes, right uncle Naru?” the redhead chuckled again as he nodded, looking out to the passing cityscapes. Leaning against the car specialist, she sighed dreamily, “I wonder what our house will look like.”

“Trust me honey, you’ll fall in love with it.” The brunette looked up to smile at her mother, who had stopped her conversation to give an answer. Delle whimpered gently as she burrowed deeper into her father’s arms. Luke scoffed lightly as he looked transiently at his sibling before muttering, “See, I’m not the only one who’s bored.” The ex-trapeze artist smiled as she shuffled closer to the whining brunet, gently pressing his head against her bosom. Stroking his face, she cooed, “Why don’t you follow her example and sleep.” Hearing him yawn, she pulled him into her lap and smirked as he rested his head in the crook of her neck. Bowing her head slightly, she dropped a kiss to the crown of his head as he drifted off. “I’ll wake you in an hour.”

***********************************

San Diamandra, Report Centre

Ricardo was calmly drinking his coffee as he flipped through the line-up of newcomers. He shook his head at some of the things that the prisoners’ files entailed in terms of strengths and methods of escape. And I thought Michiko had a track record; wait till Suko hears this. Mentioning his partner, he felt himself smile lightly in remembrance at her latest sound-off. I know she cares about Sina more than she lets on; I just wish that she would stop comparing her to Soja. Shaking his head, he looked briefly at his door before going back to his work. He was about to move on to the next set of names when a knock sounded at his door. Thinking nothing of it, he simply murmured his consent. Imagine his surprise when he saw an olive-skinned dark haired female that looked to be in her late teen’s standing in his doorway. Placing down his pen, he folded his hands atop his desk. “Can I help you, young lady?” he asked warily, his eyes searching for a guard on duty.

The inkette smiled as she walked up to him, a guard emerging from behind her as he turned to close the door. Recognizing the blond guard as Soja’s husband Molin, the Officer inwardly chose to be merciful to the girl. Seeing her seat herself on a corner of his work space, he was immediately reminded of Messina. The girl had piercing gray eyes, long, wavy dark hair and black painted lips. She was wearing a black ensemble that Messina had been wearing moments before, the only difference being that the trimming on the trench coat was crimson. She draped her right leg over her left knee before she leaned forward, the action causing some of her hair to fall over her face. Once her eyes shifted to crimson red, he knew exactly who she was. “Ra’Shona Solo, how can I be of assistance?” the girl’s eyes appeared doleful as she said, “Is that any way to talk to your daughter, Daddy?” rolling her eyes, she reached into her pocket and handed him an envelope. “If Asantero were here, you’d give him more respect.” Reaching into his top drawer, he ignored the latter comment as he removed a letter knife and cut it open. Removing the letter, he carefully read through it so as not to miss anything.

Finally facing his daughter, he placed it off to the side and looked her square in the eye. “So what you’re telling me is that I need to release Messina because she’s innocent?” the messenger nodded firmly, never breaking eye contact. The man leaned back in his chair, swiftly picking up the letter to quickly read through it. “And what if I don’t release her; she’s guilty for four different crimes and offenses.” He stated candidly, his eyes still skimming the sheet before him. “If you’re willing to pay for the mistake with your life, then don’t release her.” The flippant tone caught him off guard, which in turn made him look up to witness the Executioner’s grave expression. She says that as if it happens every day. Sighing lightly, he proposed, “Alright Shona, let’s say I do release her; who will take on the crimes set against her?” the abovementioned simply reached into her breast pocket and placed a sheet of paper onto the table. Moving to pick it up, he did as he had to the first letter before his head shot up. “You’re telling me that… no, he couldn’t have.” Looking for doubt, he was only met with a stern outlook as she murmured coldly, “The person responsible for the Pedro Massacre… is the Associate Chief himself.”

***********************************

Quoso-Míare

Rita carried Luke into his room, placing him beside his sister. Just as she witnessed many times before, they both snuggled closer together until they were holding each other. Dismissing it as a telepathic coincidence, she threw the blanket over them and bent down to kiss them on the forehead. Straightening up, she was almost out the room when they called her name. Sticking her head through the door, she chuckled to see them sitting up and beckoning to her. Strolling over to them, she pulled a corner upwards and slid in before shuffling to the middle. Once she was comfortable, she felt them burrow under her arms and rest their head on either side of her chest. Rolling her eyes, she pulled the covers over them and drifted off to sleep.

Edonis and Cynthia were walking past the room when they decided to peek in on their guests. Seeing their daughter and surrogate children fast asleep, they smiled tenderly at the scene. Walking soundlessly over to them, the brunette kissed their foreheads. “Good night and welcome home. We love you, cuties.” With that, she made her way back to her husband, closing the door gently as they left to retire for the evening.

***********************************

Del Torrènelò

It was around nine o’clock when Michiko heard a knock at her bedroom door. Knowing from experience, she simply announced, “Door’s open” as she candidly turned the page in her book. Hearing the door open, she marked the page and placed it on her bedside table. Folding her reading glasses, she looked to see the blonde mother making her way to the bed. Patting the space beside her, she watched as the adolescent slipped under the covers and shifted closer to her. There was a pregnant silence that loomed over the two before Hatchin finally spoke up. “Michiko, do you know a girl named Ra’Shona Solo?”

Seeing the woman nod in response, she continued. “What’s her relation to the Groom?” the ex-convict raised her brow in suspicion as she really looked at her. “What’s with the sudden interest to know?” the girl only shrugged as she said, “I was just wondering, that’s all.” Another period of silence passed, save Michiko drawing the blonde closer to her. “Shona was Ricardo’s daughter, truthfully, the only other child that’s really his. She and her twin brother Asantero ran away from home around age nine, sometime after their surrogate mother died.” The brunette’s face darkened considerably as she went on. “Don’t know what happened to Asantero after they ran away, but Shona became a force to be reckoned with by the time she was eleven; a good friend of Sina’s while they were in the syndicate. The two of them were a tag team force to be feared and widely respected. Shona’s skill lied in explosives and persuasion, while Sina could fight and kill anyone at any range within 200 feet.” Feeling the Chef’s body grow rigid, she rubbed her arm soothingly. “It’s said that she still works as a messenger for Golden Conquest, but otherwise she works as a priestess.”

Registering a soft weight around her waist, she wrapped her other arm about the offspring of her old flame. “She, Sina and Soja used to protect me a lot whenever I went to the supermarket.” Michiko raised her eyebrow at that; she had always thought that Sina and Hatchin had just met in Mt. Salva-Torrès. “So you’ve known them for a while?” she found herself asking. “Yeah, I’ve known them since I was eight. I met them after the shootout in El Zavaldèna Marketplace.”

Flashback (El Zavaldèna, ten years ago)

An eight-year-old Hatchin was walking through the marketplace when there were sounds of gun shots. “Come on, pick up the pace!” shouted a passerby as he grabbed her roughly by the arm, scarcely dodging a bullet in the process. “Leave her be!” cried his wife as she cradled her son to her chest. “She can obviously fend for herself.” With that, she took the hand of her daughter and ran ahead. Not surprised by his wife’s words, he gripped her arm and ran. As if it was fate, a shot whizzed by and the man released her and ran after his family. “You okay, kid?” asked a voice overhead. Looking up, she regarded an olive-skinned girl with long dark hair and ice grey eyes. She seemed nice enough as she took the hand extended to her as stood up, albeit shakily.

Ra’Shona, don’t tell me they hit a kid.” The girl Ra’Shona looked to the other girls approaching her and shook her head. Looking to the other girls, Hatchin noticed that they both had bright orange eyes and dark brown hair. The shorter one of the two removed a gun from her pocket and shot. After a while, the firing stopped and peace reigned supreme. Once they were sitting before her, the younger one smiled kindly. Shona smiled as she pointed to the girls. “Well, I’m Ra’Shona and this is Sina and Soja.” at the mention of their names, the twosome queried, “So, what’s your name?” looking to their outstretched hands, she returned the gesture. “My name is Hana, nice to meet you.” The three nodded as they stood up and Sina chirped, “Hope we can keep in touch.” Scribbling a number onto paper, they handed it to her and left and Hatchin smiled in knowing that they would.

End flashback

The Latina watched the young Caucasian drift off to sleep, a smile softly lighting up her features. Threading her fingers through the girl’s hair, she smiled down at her before reaching over for her book. Unmarking the page, she replaced her reading glasses and delved into the next chapter.

***********************************

San Diamandra, Report Centre

Atsuko sighed as she looked to her new cup of coffee, her slender fingers skating across the ceramic surface as she relished the warmth beneath her fingertips. About two hours ago, she had released Messina once she had given her the whole story about her criminal background. I never knew she, Soja and Ra’Shona were experimented on during their time in the syndicate. Huh, things sure have changed since Michiko was in it. Removing a folder from her drawer,she opened it and read over the information carefully. These are her records and accounts of criminal activity according to the region of Port Costa Rìche. Shifting the papers as she read on, she saw something that her head hurt: the Pedro Blood Massacre. She hated remembering the blood and bodies that were strewn across the streets of Port Boroço. Seeing the file again made her remember what Sina had said to her.

Flashback (Sorro Praçencía, nine years ago)

Atsuko sighed as she looked to the fourteen-year-old Messina Malandro seated across from her. They had been sitting in the interrogation room for what must’ve been a good three hours and the brunette had done nothing more than sit there, looking back at her with those bright carnelian eyes. Ricardo had long since left to go and get and some coffee, which meant that she was left to interrogate his future sister-in-law. Finally growing frustrated at the girl’s silence, she slammed her palms against the table. “Look Sina,” she began testily. “I have been very patient in letting you defend yourself. But now, you’re starting to get on my last nerve.” The young Latina only smiled as she leaned back in her seat. “Good, because you’re wasting your time; I didn’t do it.”

Narrowing her eyes, the ebony woman growled. “I am doing what with my time?” the shape-shifter simply replied, “You heard me Detective, you’re wasting your time.” Taken aback by the brazen attitude of the young teen, she bit back, “You know what, you’re right: I am wasting my time.” Coming close enough to touch noses with the young convict, she sneered, “I’m wasting my goddamn time; trying to defend you.” Seating herself, the blonde regarded the girl with an air of indifference. The statement hung ominously above them as the silence ensued. “Look, I really didn’t do it; I was with Ra’Shona and Soja when it happened.” Frowning softly, she allowed the girl to continue. “The last thing I saw was Sanjay jumping in front of me and a shot rang out.” The tears flowed effortlessly down her cheeks, her amber eyes glazing over as she shot up from her seat. “The blood was from Sanjay when he got shot and he dropped his caliber.” Pushing the folder across the desk, she ran out of the room.

End flashback

A knock at her door interrupted her trip down memory lane and she looked up to see Ricardo standing in the doorway. Putting the folder aside, she felt her eyes zone in on his disheveled appearance and the sensations from earlier that evening resurfaced once again. “Good lord Ricardo, you look horrible.” The inket laughed lowly as he moved into the room, toeing the door closed behind him. “Suko, that has to be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” He strolled over to her desk, seating himself in the chair provided. Pausing to run his fingers through his hair, he asked, “So, what are you working on?” when she made to question him, he tapped on the folder. “I was just going through Sina’s case files.” She replied coolly, allowing him to give it a once over. “Let me guess: the Pedro Massacre?” he quipped, his nose wrinkling as he continued to skim through the pages before him. Taken aback by the response, she only hummed in reply as she leaned back.

“Speaking of which, guess who stopped by today?” raising a brow rather intrigued, the blonde watched his facial features intently. “Was it Ra’Shona by any chance?” the Officer’s head shot up, his face effortlessly portraying his surprise. Smiling triumphantly, she continued. “Sina mentioned her stopping by when I called her in, though she didn’t allude as to why she would be making a visit.” The smile dropped from her face as she queried, “So, what was her reason for stopping by?” the sable-eyed man only handed her the folder and pointed to a highlighted section in the file. “To do the same thing Sina did when they brought her in for the Pedro Massacre: prove her innocence.” Reaching into his pocket, he gave her the letter that the Executioner had given him.

Taking it from his hand, her eyes widened as she drawn to only one line in the letter: it is with a heavy heart that we confess to John Adochin, being the Triad Leader of Golden Conquest, instigating what is now referred to as the Pedro Massacre. “Are you telling me that we wrongfully committed a child to a crime that should have been punishable by death?” seeing the man nod mournfully, the Detective bit her lip as she hung her head in shame. I knew I should’ve listened to her. Closing her eyes, she allowed the tears that she had held back for so long finally grace her cheeks.

***********************************

Del Torrènelò, August 28th

Hatchin yawned as she slipped out of Michiko’s room and padded off to the kitchen. Filling a small pot with water, she placed it on the stove and went to make Zeniel’s morning formula. Just as she had taken down the can of Pedi-Enfants, a knock sounded at the door. Placing the container on the countertop, she moved to open the door. Standing on the other side were two blonds dressed in black and wearing sunglasses: one who was tall and thin and the other was short and stout. “Good morning ma’am, would a Michiko Malandro live at this address?” Nodding in reply, she watched carefully as they removed something from their breast pockets. Recognizing the badges they pulled out as the one for San Diamandra, she allowed them to go on. “We’re here to give this letter of release to her.” Blinking in surprise, she asked, “Why would she need a letter of release; I thought she already did her time.” The taller man smiled down at her as he elucidated. “What my brother meant to say is that we need her to sign this letter of release so that Messina North can be granted her freedom.” Happy that she didn’t have anything in her hand, she leapt into the air and motioned for them to come in before closing the door behind them.

“Michiko! Michiko wake up, we have company.” She called out, bursting through the Latina’s bedroom door. A disheveled brunette yawned as she sat up, stretching upwards before rubbing her eyes. “Oi Hatchin, must you be so loud?” she groaned, glaring sleepily at the young woman before her. Unfazed by the woman’s grouchy attitude, she beamed, “Some men need you to sign a letter of release for Sina.” Visibly perking up, the ex-convict dragged herself out of bed. “Tell them I’ll be there in five minutes, till then entertain them.” Happy with the reply, she went off to get her son’s food ready. The men watched as she floated around the space.

True to her word, within five minutes she was walking into the living room. “Miso, Hansfetter, what brings you here?” she smiled as she greeted the men seated. The shorter one stood up as he looked her over. “Michiko, you look well. Glad to see you in a more civil state.” The other man stood up as he added, “Indeed, it’s rather refreshing to know that you can be trusted to be on your best behavior.” Waving her hand dismissively, the brunette gestured to the paper they were carrying. “So Hansfetter, that’s what I need to sign?” the shorter blond nodded as he handed her a pen and the release form. With a flick of her wrist, she signed and dated the paper. Handing it back to Hansfetter, she asked, “So, she’s really coming out this time?” Miso nodded as a genuine smile slipped across his features. “It appears that there was an anomaly with the final ruling for the Pedro Massacre case.” Seating himself in a nearby chair, he continued. “According to her records and an eye witness that will remain anonymous, she was not the one to instigate the shootout.” Hansfetter frowned as he added, “After sending the Caliber to the lab for DNA testing, the results show that John Adochin was the one to order the bloodbath.”

A profound silence washed over the individuals situated in the living room. Hatchin waltzed into the kitchen, carrying her fussy child over to his bottle. Michiko looked over at the two in the kitchen before her gaze floated back to the Investigators. “So what you’re telling me is that the one who started the Pedro Massacre, is the one heading San Diamandra as the Associate Chief?” seeing the grave nods of affirmation, she scoffed airily as she sneered, “And that son of a bitch was the one that spoke up as an eye witness at the trial.” Clenching her fists, she growled, “The nerve of that man, pinning the crime on Messina.” Feeling a hand on her shoulder, she looked up to see Hatchin regarding her worriedly. Taking a calming breath, she allowed a soft smile to camber her cheeks as she reached up to mildly squeeze the girl’s hand. “The good news is that she’s finally going to be free to live with her family.” Whispered the young Chef soothingly and Zeniel pumped his fist in celebration.

Standing up, Michiko chuckled as she took the child from the blonde and saddled him to her hip. Looking to the now standing men, she walked over and hugged them. “Thanks for stopping by, I appreciated it very much.” Pulling away, she led them to the door. Miso tipped his hat to the women before walking through the open door, followed closely by his brother. “Once we hand this in, she should be released by Friday morning.” Nodding in response, the Latina closed the door behind them. Turning to face the blonde mother, she whispered unbelievingly, “She’s finally gonna be free.” A lone tear traced her cheek as she repeated the phrase to herself. She’s finally gonna be free.

***********************************

Port Brazenìa

Ricardo yawned as he shuffled through his apartment kitchen, quickly trying to piece together a quaint breakfast. He was happy that he didn’t have to be in the office for the time being, especially since someone tipped the Chief that John was the mastermind behind the Massacre. Due to the Chief having to find someone that fit the outlined requirements for the job, the cells of San Diamandra Penitentiary were placed under strict surveillance. Simply put, all the field professions were enjoying early retirement. Now that he had some free time, his mind immediately floated off to his partner and friend. His face lit up an abashed shade of pink as he reflected on his actions towards the blonde. Damn it Rico, are you trying to dig yourself a grave? Being brazen is not gonna win her over. Shaking his head, he poured his freshly made coffee into a cup before stirring in some cream and sugar. Sipping the warm liquid, he found himself smiling at her reactions to his advances. I wonder if she’ll ever notice how I feel; hell, if Michiko can figure it out, then that means I’m being downright obvious.

Carrying the mug over to the kitchen table, he eased himself into the chair before placing it on the table top. Leaning back, he sighed as he crossed his arms beneath his chest. It’s too bad that I can’t go upstairs; I could really use the company. As if on cue, he heard a knock at the door. Thinking nothing of it, he got up and opened the door. He looked down slightly and was greeted by the sight of a woman that reminded him strangely of Atsuko. Her golden hair was long and sleek; her lips were painted a sultry red, and she was outfitted in a white V-neck with gray jeans and baby blue sneakers. Gazing into her stone grey eyes, he felt his heart thrum against his chest. “Ricardo, why do you look like you’ve seen a mirage?” clearing his throat, he stepped aside so that she could walk in and the scent of vanilla filled his nostrils as she waltzed in. “Uh, no reason Suko.” He managed to squeak, eliciting a raised brow from the ruby-lipped woman. Seating herself at the table, she lifted the mug to her head and took a sip of the creamed substance. Replacing the porcelain carrier on the table, she smirked, “Never knew how you could stand to drink your coffee like that.”

She watched as the Officer strolled over to the coffee brewer, wearing nothing more than a pair of red plaid flannel pants. Wow, I didn’t think that he was so defined. She felt her heart race at the thought, her eyes zoning in on his arms and abdomen. “So, what brings you here?” her gaze floated up to meet his inquiring obsidian, though his gentle smile conveyed that he was grateful for her stopping by. Somehow, the tiny gesture left her feeling more unsettled than alleviated. Fingering the mug before her, she smiled softly as she indicated to the upstairs with her chin. “Soja’s daughters, Ricki and Luci, believe that my home could do with some rearrangements. So, I decided to leave them to it.” Focusing briefly on the cup within her grasp, she drawled, “Besides, I think we need to talk.”

***********************************

Quoso-Míare

Delle and Luke happily munched away at their breakfast, courtesy of their beloved cousin Rita. Turning away from the game on the big screen, the brunettes chorused, “Thanks for breakfast, Ri-Ri.” Picking up their plates, they padded over to the young woman and kissed her affectionately on the cheek before going off to wash the dishes. The elder brunette watched with a tender smile as her surrogate siblings commenced to tackle the stack of dirty dishes. The children had already lived in their new home for a day, yet they felt as if they had lived there their whole lives. Knowing they would need help, she rolled up her sleeves and easily wedged herself between them.

Cynthia, Edonis and Naru watched as their children went to work. Delle and Luke were beginning their new school, while Rita would be starting her job as a junior stencilist in the tattoo parlor downstairs. The chocolate toned woman looked to the clock hanging atop the stove and said, “Delle, Luke, Uncle Eddy’s gonna take you to school now.” The twins rinsed the suds off their hands and ran to get their bags. Turning to her daughter, she soothed, “Honey, Soja should be arriving from San Diamandra soon; I suggest that you get ready, she’s only gonna have time to pick you up once she opens the shop.” Hearing a horn from outside, Naru chuckled as he went to the window. Looking down to the twenty-three-year-old dismounting her motorcycle, he gave a low whistle. The young woman looked up to see him and motioned for him to wait. Turning from the window, he nudged the blue-eyed brunette towards her room. “She’s on her way up, go get your uniform on.”

The ex-trapeze artist emerged from her room moments later wearing a black t-shirt with the words “Inspirational Ink” written in Old Western lettering, which was in gold. With white jeans bearing two IIs and paint splatter on one pantleg and gray Baby Phat Polos, she was just fixing her hair into a ponytail. “It's nice to see that it fits you, Ritz.” All eyes regarded the Sharpshooter surreptitiously nonplussed as she walked over to the group. “It’s been a while, huh Ruby?” the girl shook of her stupor as she ran up to meet her halfway, throwing her arms around her slender waist. “Soja, I can’t wait to start working with you.” The aforementioned smiled as she hugged her niece in turn. Pulling back slightly, she brushed back the young Latina’s bang. “You know what, kid?” seeing Rita shake her head, the parlor owner beamed, “I can’t wait to start training you.” Leading her towards the door, she threw a wave over her shoulder to her in-laws as she opened it. “Now, the first thing I’m gonna need to see is what you can do in terms of art.”

Once the door had closed behind them, the adults looked between each other before Edonis went to grab his niece and nephew from their room. Returning with the twins, he shook his head. “She is so dead.” He muttered through clenched teeth. With that, he left his wife and her brother to snicker at his comment as he went to drop the kids off to school.

***********************************

San Diamandra

Messina swung her legs idly as she watched Sasha pack her things into a grey duffel bag. Today marked nine years since the raven-haired woman had stepped through the barred doors as a prisoner to do her time. “So, I guess this is it huh?” the woman straightened up and turned to look at the crestfallen expression on her sister’s face. Strapping the bag to her shoulder, she sighed as she strolled over to the girl. “Shove over, kid.” She whispered kindly as she waved her over, to which the young brunette obliged. Once she had done so, she climbed up and seated herself in the space provided. They were silent for a while, simply looking over at the cell that they had shared for the past decade. Draping her arm around the young Huntress, she pulled her close. “Sina, don’t worry about the release form: I’m sure that Mom was ecstatic when she heard and signed that thing faster than her last escape.”

The girl only shrugged as she looked to the woman that had become family in the time they’d been together. “It’s not the form I’m worried about, Sash.” Intrigued by the change in thought, she hummed thoughtfully before she asked, “Then what are you worried about?” there was another phase of silence, save the shape shifter shifting closer to the source of warmth. “I’m worried of what will happen after I get out: everyone was fine when I was out doing community service, but how will they act when I’m out and never going back?” her sister hugged her as she kissed her forehead. “Honey, there are always gonna be people like that out there; people who are gonna try to rip you down and make life that much more miserable.” Moving slightly, she slid her thumbs across the apple of her younger sibling’s cheeks as pearl-like tears fell from ocher eyes. “At the end of the day, you’re just gonna have to face them head-on; they can say what they want, but they don’t know the truth of what happened. Just remember that among all the other people wishing for death roll, there is always gonna be a group of people that are willing to protect you.” Brightening at the promise, she wrapped her arms around the slender frame of her sister and friend. “Congratulations Sasha Mahjone, you are free to go.” Looking to the guard, she nodded as she kissed the girl once more before slipping off the bed.

Just as she was about to walk through the open door, the guard stopped her. “Is that Messina North?” nodding in response, she heard him say, “Congratulations Messina North, you’re free to go.” The now ex-convict slipped off the bunk, landing soundlessly as she touched down. Slipping her hand into the blue-eyed woman’s, they smiled as they walked through the barred barrier as free individuals.

***********************************

Port Brazenìa

Atsuko continued to regard her blushing partner with a blank expression, inwardly unnerved beyond words. Blinking uncaringly, she looked to her cooling cup of coffee. Just moments before, her partner had confirmed the one option she had hoped never existed: he loved her. In a way she had always known of his affections, though she had always dismissed them as his way of coping with losing Amylin and Stephon. Of course, there was the fact that they were partners and good friends; it was expected that they had each other backs, despite the situation. But now that her suspicions had been confirmed, she was simply perplexed at the way her body was responding.

Her heart rammed against her ribcage, almost as if it was attempting to leave her chest. Her head felt light and airy; her mental functions giving way to dormant sensations that left her vulnerable and undecided. Getting up from the table, her legs felt like jelly and she stumbled to regain her balance. Attempting to move again, she pushed off from the table and teetered forward. The next thing she knew, she felt something encircle her upper arms in a gentle grip and she was looking at the lightly tanned complexion of her partner’s chest. Her cheeks heated up considerably as she pushed against him, only to lose her balance and fall into his embrace. “Suko, are you alright?” she felt his rich baritone voice rumble against her face. Not trusting her voice, she nodded as she felt herself relax in his admittedly tender hold.

Ricardo smiled as he felt her body truly unwind, something he had not witnessed since they were children. Sliding his hands up her arm, he felt her instantly freeze as her heart banged rapidly against his upper abdomen. The feeling of her soft curves against him made him bite his lower lip to muffle the groan of desire that threatened to come out. Drawing his finger up her neck, he delicately traced the curve of her jaw before ending at her chin. Tilting it upwards, he watched as she deliberately focused on anything but his face. “Suko, please look at me.” The Detective finally looked at him, her eyes easily reflecting the fear and curiosity that she felt. The raven-haired man had never seen her convey raw emotions so effortlessly, especially since she was notorious for cloaking how she truly felt with misplaced anger. His gaze fell to her lips and he tenderly captured them with his own, his eyes sliding shut.

Unsure of how to react, she settled on closing her eyes as she kissed him back. Feeling him wrap his arms around her, she followed her instinctive and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer to her. The lack of oxygen made them separate briefly, but an invisible force brought their lips to merge once more. Opening their mouths, their tongues met one another passionately as they hungrily pressed their bodies together. A groan of innate desire eluded the blonde’s mouth as she felt a flame ignite within her loins. Still attached to the lips, she leapt onto the countertop and ran her slender fingers through his hair as she allowed his nimble fingers to explore her taut back muscles. Untangling their dancing flesh, she broke the kiss with a soft smack and a thin line of saliva connecting their lips.

***********************************

Quoso-Míare

“And that’s all you need to know; any questions?” Rita looked to her desk and the many tools that sat in front of her. Sure, she had seen and learned many art-related things growing up in the circus, but of course she had her questions. Oh man, where do I start? She thought with a light frown, and her aunt was quick to wake her up with a comforting hand resting on her shoulder. “I know this is a lot for you to handle, and I understand that you must have a million questions on your mind.” Nodding cautiously in response, the parlor owner smiled as she pointed out a young man with snow-white hair. “If you get stuck, just ask Rixton. He’s a real whiz when it comes to stencil setup.” Kissing the top of her head, the parlor owner disappeared into her office at the back of the shop.

Sighing lightly, the blue-eyed youth merely stared down at her instruments before moving to get some palette sheets to practice on. “Hey, you’re Rita right?” Hearing the kind tenor voice come from above her, she looked up expectantly from her work to see who it was. His spiky snow white hair complimented his caramel complexion, with the exception of the front bang hanging into his violet orbs. He was wearing a red ensemble to hers, with the exemption of his Tripp pants and his shirt being a bit baggier than hers. “I see you’ve been acquainted with Soja. Mind if I sit here?” shaking her head, he pulled up an empty chair from a nearby station. Turning it so that the back of the chair was facing her, he positioned it in front of her table and casually saddled it. Using the back of said chair to lean on, he looked down at her work with a sweet smile. “You must be Rixton.” The eighteen-year-old murmured numbly, an unnoticeable blush splaying across her cheeks as she regarded the handsome co-worker. “Uh-huh, but you can call me Rex.” He perked up, his eyes twinkling slightly. “And it looks like we’ll be working together for the next couple of weeks.”

***********************************

Casa Mérangue

Sina smiled as she stared up at the cloudless sky. It had been a while since she could remember what it meant to be free. Huh, so this is what it feels like to not have someone constantly on your tail. It feels… so damn good. A frown creased her brow as she threaded her fingers through her hair, her previously good mood sullied by the memory of how hard her mother had fought to keep her out of trouble. So this is what it feels like to disappoint someone you love. A cold bottle suddenly appeared against her face, shocking her out of her mental musings. “DUDE!” she shrieked in surprise and mild anger, whirling around to give Sasha a piece of her mind. The noirette shrugged as she leaned against the driver’s side of the red corvette, nonchalantly flipping out her Swiss army knife and sliced the screw top clean off the bottle before replacing it in her back pocket. “You were looking a little heated, so I thought a drink might cool ya down.” She drawled wryly, a cynical smile making an appearance on her face as she held out a bottle of Crystal Luck soda. The young mother looked between the drink and her sister-in-law before a snicker emitted from her. “You always knew how to cheer me up, Sash.” Taking the bottle, she deftly filched the knife sticking out of her ex-cellmate’s pocket and flipped open her beverage. Once she taken her sip of the refreshing liquid, she adjusted her sunglasses before clearing her throat. “So Sash, where do you plan on taking refuge?”

There was a moment of silence as the twenty-seven-year-old stared out at nothing in particular. “I dunno, Sina. I never planned for that.” She murmured, drumming her fingers against the door before turning to look down at the brunette over her shoulder. A lachrymose expression overshadowed her usually playful nature as she took a long sip from her lemon-lime twist. “I was thinking of staying over at Jonathon’s, but he’s probably got a new one living there with him.” A callous laugh escaped her before she drank what was left of her drink and threw it into a nearby trash can, smiling in sadistic glee as it shattered inside. “What am I saying? Even when I was living with him, there was a new one sleeping in his bed.” Sina frowned as she watched her sister and friend silently cry. Placing her bottle in one of the holders beside her, the architect climbed out of the convertible and embraced the sobbing woman. After a while, her tears subsided and the visor-bearing youth spoke up. “Here’s what we’re gonna do: you’ll stay with me in Quoso-Míare until we can find you a place to call home, no excuses.” Receiving a nod in response, she tenderly wiped the tears from the swordswoman’s face. “Good, now let’s get going. I have a stop to make before we reach Quoso-Míare.”

***********************************

Port Brazenìa

Atsuko sighed as she leaned against the counter, her glacier orbs strangely focused on the mug that was still seated on the table. Ever since she had shared her impromptu kiss with Ricardo, she has been feeling even more out of sorts and the frantic hammering of her heart was doing nothing to still her uneasiness. She didn’t want to risk looking in the direction of the living room, in case she was to find her partner staring at her again. I need to get out of here… I wonder if the twins are done with my apartment yet. Pushing off the counter, she drummed her fingers against the cupboard beneath it. “Suko…” the sudden sound of her name made her heart skip and she released an uncharacteristic shriek in response. Reluctantly looking over to the cause of the outburst, she felt her legs threaten to give out on her as the onyxet stepped into the living room. His usually tidy hairstyle fell slightly into his eyes and she watched as the water dotted his skin, making him appear as if he was glowing. She nervously chewed on her lower lip as he approached her, silently willing for her legs to move. In the end, she remained rooted to where she stood due to the lack of her bodily cooperation.

Ricardo watched the Detective before him very intently, being cautious as to not make any sudden moves. Damn, she’s even beautiful when she can’t make up her mind. The vanilla scent emanating from her being became an intoxicating haze and he began to feel a stirring in his lower regions. Easy hotshot, don’t do anything rash. You already screwed up once. The mere thought of her lips against his was enough to make his grip on the towel shift as his member began to rise. Damn it… he gulped before he leaned in, oblivious to the look of shock on the blonde’s face as his lips melded with hers once again. She has a chocolate complexion; and yet, she smells like vanilla. What a lovely contrast. Tilting his head slightly, he inwardly debated on whether he should fight with keeping the towel on his body or being left to stand in his boxers. That is, until his left arm decided to snake around her slender frame, his long fingers splayed at the base of her spine. Feeling her heart skip, he gently suckled on her lower lip as his ring finger rested comfortably in the small of her back. If only I could feel more of her… taste more of her cocoa skin. Allowing his towel to shimmer down his waist, he delicately cupped her cheek as he drew her closer to him. I just want to know her... all of her. Pulling away from her, the Officer deftly unlatched his lips from hers and kissed the underside of her jaw, savoring the way she clung to him to keep herself from falling. So, Suko has a weak spot… I wonder if she has anymore.

Atsuko felt her feet leave the floor as she was transported to the living room, her pulse racing as she could feel his lips move. It’s like my body doesn’t belong to me anymore. As soon as he put her down, he laid her down and immediately made his way down her neck. “Rico…” she gasped as warmth blossomed between her legs, accompanied by an oddly pleasant tingling sensation that sent chills up and down her spine. His lips whispered across her collarbone, the movements making her mewl tenderly as he continued his descent down her body. This is wrong, but why am I responding like this … almost as if I’m enjoying this torture? “Suko...” Internally shaking off her mental musings, she looked down at him and felt her cheeks burn as she noticed how they were positioned. She was lying on the couch with him kneeling over her; save the fact that his elbows were propped on either side of her. Her legs were draped over his lap and her arms were slightly holding him down against her. When did this happen? Her expression must have mimicked her thoughts as he began to sit straighter. “I can stop, unless you’re enjoying this.” For a moment, the prospect of stopping sounded good. Then why don’t I want him to stop? Looking over their predicament, she shifted against the bulge beneath her rear as she considered her options. Without warning, his fingers slid beneath her shirt and raised it to stop just beneath the underside of her caramel-laced bra, the unexpected contact igniting another wave of heat within her core. Ducking his head from her view, she soon felt the mica-orbed man gently nip his way down her toned stomach, resulting in her eyes rolling back as she moaned lasciviously under his ministrations. Feeling him stop, an uncharacteristic groan of impatience eluded from her pouting lips. Only caring about the absence of indescribable bliss, the blonde merely pulled her partner back to where he had stopped.

***********************************

Del Torrènelò

Hatchin sighed as she made her way to the terrace, being careful so as not to drop the clay jug of water she was carrying. It was around two-thirty now, which meant that it would be extremely hot when she opened the sliding door. Why do I have to water the plants now? She muttered heatedly to herself, momentarily disregarding the wall of humidity as she moved to water the plants before throwing the remainder off the edge. Carefully cradling the breakable to her chest, she quietly closed the door behind her. As was customary in the district of Port Costa Rìche, people would stay indoors during the hours of ten a.m. and five-thirty p.m. because of the humidity. During these times, most people would siesta, or sleep the day away: Michiko was one of those individuals. If there was anything that the brunette hated more than being chased by the police, it was having her time for beauty sleep interrupted (especially if she was recovering from excessive alcoholic consumption). The blonde shuddered in the remembrance of the last time someone had bothered her during siesta. Poor Loma, now she only delivers our packages to the front desk. Placing the water carrier in the supply closet, she padded off towards the kitchen.

Just as she opened the fridge, there was a knock at the terrace door. I wonder who that is. Closing the fridge door, she turned around cautiously to behold Messina and another woman standing outside. No longer interested in keeping quiet, the blonde sped over to the door and opened it as quick as she could. “SINA!” she screamed, flinging her arms around the unsuspecting brunette. Feeling the ex-convict wrap her arms around her, the tears came streaming down her face. “Please don’t cry, Hana-doll.” The mother-of-two whispered as the girl burrowed herself deeper into the welcoming embrace of her sister and friend. “Alright sweetie, I know you missed me; but can’t you wait until I come in before you get all mushy?” pulling away slowly, the young mother hurriedly wiped her eyes before she stepped aside to let the women inside. “So, this is the famed Hana Morenos.” The ebonette piped up, immediately drawing the attention of the aforementioned. “Actually, I recently had my name changed to Hatchin Malandro.” The blue-orbed young woman blinked in surprise before a smile slipped onto her face. “I see; well in that case…” Stretching out her hand, she waited until the action was reciprocated before she introduced herself. “My name’s Sasha Mahjone; it’s a pleasure to meet you, Hatchin Malandro.”

A profound moment of silence settled over the trio after the introductions were given, save Messina moving to close the patio door. “Oi, what’s going on in here?” Michiko groaned sleepily, easily capturing the attention of everyone in the room. “Sorry Mom, did we interrupt your beauty sleep?” called Sasha with a smirk. The tall brunette only yawned as she trudged over, her previous grouchiness gradually shifting to surprise as her vision adjusted to the time of day. By the time she was standing in front of her daughter, her eyes were glistening with tears. “Sasha, Sina; come here.” Walking into her arms, the Latina kissed the top of their heads as the tears spilled down her cheeks. “I really missed you guys.” She choked out, unconsciously squeezing them a little tighter as she threaded her fingers through their hair. “We missed you too, Mom.” The twin sakes chorused lachrymosely. Hearing Zeniel crying in the other room, they broke the heartfelt embrace. “Hey Zen… guess who’s here?” Messina crooned as she went to get the young redhead. The twenty-seven-year-old wiped her tears as she leaned against her mother-in-law, motioning for Hana to come over to her. Once the adolescent had done so, she said, “I think this one’s got something to say to you.” With that, she went in search of her sister-in-law.

For a while, Michiko simply stared out at nothing in particular as the blonde’s gaze was redirected to the tiled floor. “Hatchin, what is she talking about?” the girl blew out a calming breath before she finally looked up at the woman she had come to consider her mother and bestfriend. “I guess she’s referring to my name.” the woman casually looked down at her with a raised brow, silently demanding an exposition. “When I was fourteen, I decided to change my name… to Hatchin Malandro.” Upon hearing this, the silver-orbed woman blinked as she ingested what she had been told. “What made you do it? I mean, what made you decide to change your name?” the sunshine-haired girl only smiled as a light blush settled on her cheeks. “Because you were more of a parent than Hiroshi ever was. After he left me alone again, I decided that my name should reflect who I wanted to be known as.” After a beat, she only pulled the young adult into her arms. “To be honest, I’ve kinda always seen you as my kid.” Kissing the top of her head, the Latina added softly, “Which means from now on, I’m your mom.” Unbeknownst to the newly dubbed mother and daughter, Sasha and Messina were smiling in the corridor with a happy Zeniel.

***********************************

Quoso-Míare, Inspirational Ink Tattoo & Piercing Parlor

Rita sighed as she looked over her third stencil, biting her lip as she nervously drummed her fingers against the table. Picking up her pen, she silently debated her choice in linear definition. “Yo Ritz, which ones do you want?” Rixton inquired as he walked past her work area with a box of donuts and two milkshakes. “Yeah, sure thing Rex…” She answered offhandedly, her mind only registering a portion of his statement as she busied herself with her yin-yang dragons. The blanchoir blinked in amazement as he watched his apprentice hunched over her task, astonished by her dedication. Picking up the food that he had bought, he walked over to her station and placed the food down on the corner. Deftly swiping the pen in her grasp, he easily swapped it for her non-caffeinated beverage. “Hey, what was that for?” the brunette whined as she finally looked up from her latest piece of work to give him a look. “That’s my way of saying, ‘Take it easy.’” Pointing to the clock above the main entrance, he added, “Besides, it’s break time.” Deciding that the mauve-orbed adolescent had a point, she placed her materials to the side before she reached into the box for some of the donuts.

“Hey Eddy, aren’t those Sina’s kids?” queried a nearby employee, causing Rita to look up from her food to see who was talking. “Yep, that’s the twins.” Her father replied shortly, kneeling down to whisper something to Delle and Luke before he relinquished his hold on them to stand up and lean against the front counter. “Hey Delle, hey Luka; how was school?” the junior stencilist enquired as she looked over at her cousins. “It was great!” Luke beamed proudly as he moved to hug her. “Yeah, we had so much fun!” Delle added with a fist pump. Happy to see that they had a good day, she smiled as she sent them upstairs. With a chorus of “Bye Ri-Ri” and “Bye Rex”, they disappeared through the back door. “Glad to see that they haven’t changed much.” Rixton chuckled as he took a sip of his chocolate milkshake. “Yeah, they’re still pretty happy kids.” The brunette murmured before she bit into her Oreo-Crunch donut. Looking up to see her father passing by, she waved briefly with a smile. Once he was out of earshot, the snow-haired teen piped up, “I’m gonna guess that he’s your dad.” Blinking at the random thought, she regarded him quizzically. “How’d you know that he was my dad?” the tattoo artist only snickered as he tapped her arm before he motioned to her eyes. “Because you look a lot like his wife, with the exception that your eyes are the exact same color as his.” A pocket of silence covered them, save the red-outfitted young man moving to clean his hands before he took up what she was working on. “Y’know, this is really good.” Wiping his mouth, he nudged his food aside with his elbow so that he could fully study her work. “What do you plan on doing with it?” there was another pocket of silence before she replied; “I plan to put it on myself someday.” Running his forefinger over the contours of the image, he murmured flippantly, “Maybe I can be the one to do it for you.” Realizing what he’d said, a light blush settled on his cheeks. “Uh yeah, that’d be awesome.” The russet-skinned girl responded abashedly, making sure to keep her eyes focused on her food as warm tingles ran up and down her spine.

***********************************

Port Brazenía

Atsuko threaded her fingers through Ricardo’s hair, a strangled hiss evading her mahogany lips as the Officer gently suckled on the underside of her navel. “Rico…” she gasped as she felt him nibbling the area above her waistband, the warmth blossoming between her legs now accompanied by a dull throb. Dammit Rico, stop teasing me. The detective hissed inwardly, silently wishing for the noiret’s sweet torture to move further down. Not wanting to seem impatient, she fought against the instinctive to gyrate on his elevating manhood. Feeling him stop once again, she bit her lip to quell her want to scream. “Suko…” he purred, the mere sound of his baritone voice making her weak in the knees as he slowly kissed his way back up her body. Feeling his fingers slinking up her lithe frame, the blonde shivered as her shirt briefly obstructed her immediate sight. Reaching up to cover herself, the Caucasian’s hands gently encircled her wrists as he leaned close enough to kiss her earlobe. “Please don’t do that; you’re beautiful.” The statement froze her instantaneously as she turned to look at her partner. Her movement was rewarded with a loving kiss before he broke first.

For a moment, all Ricardo wanted to do was memorize the way she was in this moment: the way the setting sun reflected in her silver orbs, the honey-like flavor of her lips, accompanied by the sound of her heartbeat and the scent of her flawless skin. Why did I marry Amy? He thought with a smirk, capturing the Interrogator’s lips once again in a tender embrace. Slowly tracing his fingers down her back, he was surprised to find her on top of him with eyes alight. Breaking the kiss, he slowly raised them to a sitting position as he held her close. She’s the one I should’ve married… Suko’s the one I’ve been in love with. Kissing the side of her neck, he sighed into her shoulder. “Ricky, what’s wrong?” the sable-haired man looked into her pleading orbs and melted, her hands reaching up to cup his face. “I was just debating on something.” He replied dismissively, knowing full well that she would press him until he caved. “Does that something have to deal with me?” Looking away, his face was cloaked in thoughtfulness as he inwardly debated on what he should do. Damn, how do I answer that? He didn’t have long to debate before he felt her gentle hold on his face start to slip away. “Ricardo…” glancing back in her direction, he felt his heart sink at the sight of her tear-rimmed eyes. Reaching forward, he caught her hand and held it over his heart. “Suko, there’s something I need to tell you…”

***********************************

Mí Vello

Sina sighed as she treasured the remnants of sun that tinged the sky an array of reds and oranges, the rushing winds caressing her face with pleasantly chilling kisses as she drove home. They had left Michiko and Hatchin just over half an hour ago, with smiles on their faces and food in their stomachs as the chef wouldn’t allow them to leave without any of her deliciously spontaneous cooking. “That girl sure is something.” Sasha commented with a smile, eliciting a snigger from the driver. “Yup, that’s my little sister for you.” Reaching up to briefly adjust her rear-view mirror, the young Latina asked, “Sash, do you think the Groom’s gonna propose?” there was a beat of silence before the aforementioned scoffed, “I doubt he will without a prompt.” Raising a brow at the response, she glanced up to check her mirrors before indicating to move into the right lane. “What makes you think that?” due to her attention being fixed on reading the upcoming signs for Quoso-Míare, the brunette missed the inkette’s overemphatic eye roll. “You know Ricky just as well as I do; the only way he’s gonna ask Blonde Justice to marry him is if it’ll save his skin.” The young assassin drummed her fingers against the steering wheel as she turned into the right lane, being careful not to run into the truck already in that lane.

For the rest of the ride, the twosome was enwrapped in their own mental affairs. It wasn’t until they were traveling up the mountain to show their ID at the gate that Sina finally broke the deathly silence. “What if I was to tell you that they just might?” the late-twenties woman stopped fishing around her duffel bag to give her sibling an incredulous stare. “Then I’d say you were crazy.” She replied curtly, curious to see where the conversation was heading. “Then I guess that makes me a nut case doesn’t it, Sash?” the flame-eyed woman chuckled mirthlessly, causing the blue-eyed individual to sigh as she noted that the girl wasn’t going to say anything else. “I mean, I just think that they deserve to be happy… together. Especially after all they’ve put up with, physically and emotionally.” Stopping at the gate, they showed their citizenship IDs and waited for them to be scanned before they drove off. “So, what makes you think that their ‘Happily Ever After’ will be together?” Sasha enquired, unable to quell her inquisitive state any longer. The Aviator-sporting brunette gave a shrug as she pulled up to the parking garage beside the tattoo parlor, leaning over to type a code into the keypad. “Call me a dreamer, but I think that Songbird loves him a lot more than she lets on.” Another beat of silence encompassed them, save the hum of the garage as it raised off the ground to accept them. Driving down the slope to the underground parking, Sina followed the signs to the residence parking and drove into the closest parking space to the building door. Climbing out the car, the two ladies came out and unloaded the trunk. “So, what do you think your kids are gonna say when they see me?” the midnoire piped up, stepping back as the mother in reference clicked a function on her remote to raise the collapsible roof on the convertible. “They’re gonna be real happy to see you, along with everyone else.” With that, the siblings made their way upstairs to their family.

***********************************

Conmoréna

Margo was watching her daughters sleeping beside their father when the phone rang. Curious to know who it was, she crept out of the room and answered the phone in the kitchen. “Hello?” she replied as she sat down at the kitchen table. “Hey Margo, this is Michi… you won’t believe who got out today.” The redhead blinked before she turned to look at the number. “Michi, I’ve got two questions: how did you get my number and what are you doing in Del Torrènelò?” the Latina chuckled as she remarked smoothly, “Sina gave it to me when she stopped by; she said that she wouldn’t be able to call you before she got home to her family, so she said that I could tell you the news.” The newly mothered woman was absolutely floored, save the tears of joy that streamed down her cheeks as she ingested what had been said. “You mean, they dropped the charges against her?” at the hum in response, the caterer wept joyfully into the cordless device. Once she had composed herself, she sniffed, “Make sure to tell her I will definitely be stopping by so she can see the twins.” The mother-of-two could practically envision the starry smile on the other end as she heard her mother-in-law sigh. “Don’t worry Marg; I’ll be sure to tell her the good news.” With that, she hung up.

***********************************

Port Brazenìa

Ricki looked around the apartment before she gave a nod of approval, to which Luci smiled brightly. “Oh good, now we can call Ms. Jackson.” The brunette smiled, to which the blonde rolled her eyes. “What if she’s spending time with Uncle Rico; we can’t just drag her away from whatever they’re doing.” The younger of the two flopped onto the couch in exasperation, her ocher orbs glistening with the beginnings of tears. “But Ri-Ri, I wanna show her what we did. Do we really gotta sit up here and wait for her to come back?” the aspiring mechanic sighed as she seated herself beside her little sister, playfully ruffling her hair. “I know you do, but you gotta trust me on this.” Wiping away the stray tears cascading down her face, the eight-year-old whispered, “Ms. Jackson might bring us a little present if we’re good.” Hearing this, the third grader brightened as she nodded enthusiastically.

Meanwhile…

Atsuko stared down at the ring attached to her finger, a giddy smile cambering her lips as she did so. It was simple silver band, with emerald-encrusted accents and a decent-sized diamond in the center; and yet, it never failed to make her heart race as a state of euphoria washed over her. Ricardo rested his head in the crook of her neck, his eyes trained on her hand as he kissed her shoulder. “Glad to see that you love the ring.” He murmured, looking up in time to savor a loving kiss from his fiancée. “Of course I do, Rico… it’s beautiful.” The blonde sighed as she snuggled closer to him, treasuring the way she felt in his arms. “But y’know I love you too, right?” the onyxet chuckled as he bestowed a kiss to her temple. “Of course I do, Suko.” Just as he spoke, there was a knock at the door. Looking between each other, the Officer slid from behind her to answer it.

Ra’Shona rubbed her arm as she glanced down at the piece of paper in her hand. “I just hope this is the right address.” She mumbled doubtfully to herself, pulling her duffel bag closer to her person as she raised her fist to knock the door once more. Suddenly, the door flew open and she was staring up at her father. I guess Sina did know what she was talking about. “Shona, come on in.” the half-dressed man spoke up with a smile, standing aside to allot her entrance. The twenty-one-year-old strolled inside, her glacier orbs meandering over everything in sight before she noted the detective on the sofa. “Hey Suko…” the aforementioned smiled as she stood up, walking over to her with arms wide open. “Shona…” the young adult dropped her bag as she slid into the arms of her unbeknownst mother, who eagerly hugged her back. Pulling back, the chocolate-toned woman’s gaze wandered over her slender frame before she ephemerally cupped her face. “It’s so good to see you.” By this time, Ricardo had come by to see what was going on. “Did Sina send you here?” the girl nodded in response, which only elicited a grin from the man. “She mentioned that you’d be coming by.” Wrapping an arm around his wife-to-be, he kissed her forehead before he drew his daughter to his side. “Now we have two things to celebrate.”

***********************************

Quoso-Míare

“Great job today, Rita.” Soja announced as she walked out of her office, causing the abovementioned to blink in mild surprise as she looked up from cleaning her desk. “Uh, thanks Aunt Soja.” She managed with a smile as she placed her sketchbook in her bag. The parlor owner jangled her keys before she tossed it to the brunette, who dexterously caught it with one hand. “Tell Rixton to lock up for me; I’m leaving early in the morning and I’ve got some work to do upstairs.” With a final wave, she disappeared through the back entrance. “Hey, were you waiting for me?” the stencilist asked as he wiped his hands, a teasing smile on his lips as he made his way over to his desk. “No… well, yeah…” an easygoing chuckle erupted from the blanchoir as he gathered his things, which caused her face to flush in embarrassment. “Soja said that you should lock up for the night.” She finally blurted out, timidly holding out the keys to him. “Cool, I can handle that.” Taking the keys from her, a spark ignited as his knuckles brushed against her fingers. Biting her lip, she watched him lock all the doors before he handed her the master keys. “So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.” Her heart raced at their proximity, though she managed a firm nod. A congenial grin cambered his lips and he left through the main entrance.

Taking a moment to recollect herself, she made her way upstairs towards the living quarters. The first thing she noticed as she pushed open the door was that the living room was filled with light and laughter, causing her to raise a brow at the small circle that had formed around the couch. “Uh, what’s going on?” she called out, effectively gaining the attention of everyone in the room. “Is that Rita I hear?” a voice responded amongst the crowd, which caused the blue-eyed Latina to smile as she saw Messina stand up. “Aunt Sina!” she cried, dropping her bag as she ran to her. “I thought you were in jail.” She breathed, relishing the warmth of the ex-convict as she was surrounded by love and strong arms. “Yeah, I was… but then your Aunt Sasha and I got released.” Feeling a kiss to her forehead, she looked up with eyes shining. “Aww c’mon Ritini, don’t go crying and messing that beautiful face of yours.” The chocolate-toned teen nodded as she blinked back her tears, but to avail. “You and my little sister are a lot alike; she cried when she saw me too.” Gently wiping the tears that cascaded down her cheeks, Messina looked to her partner in crime with a smile on her face. “Alright Waterfalls, time for bed.” Sasha declared offhandedly as she pried the young woman off of her sister-in-law, the spontaneous nickname eliciting a bout of laughter. Carrying her in her arms, the noirette threw her nightly pleasantries over her shoulder. “Well, I’m gonna go to bed; I drove almost ten hours from San Diamandra to get here.” With a kiss for Naru and a hug for her in-laws, the weapons specialist retired to her room.

***********************************

Sorro Praçencía, August 29th

Two hard knocks and the ringing of a cell phone successfully cut through the morning haze of Asantero Solo’s mind. “Baby, could you answer that please?” came the pleading tone of his wife, Sinova. The twenty-three-year-old only groaned as he rolled over to answer the phone. “What?” he grunted sleepily as he lethargically pulled himself up to a sitting position. “Good morning, big brother.” Ra’Shona’s cheery voice floated through the receiver, inadvertently causing the Emerald Rosary’s leader to clench his teeth in annoyance. “What do you want, page; shoot, the sun’s still asleep over here.” There was a more doleful tone to his sister’s voice as she chuckled sheepishly. “Sorry Tero, I forgot about the time difference; I didn’t mean to disturb you.” The father-of-three smiled as he got up, turning on the lamp beside his bed. “Nova, I’m gonna take this to the living room.” Kissing the cherette’s temple, he shuffled out of the master bedroom. “So, what’s the special occasion?” Bending to pick up his six-year-old daughter, Sabina, the young man eased himself onto the couch. “Since Dad’s getting married in September, he wanted to see if you could come.” Holding the first-grader close, he swiftly pecked her on the forehead. “About time he re-tied the knot, I thought he’d never get married after Amy. So, who’s the lucky woman?” there was a beat of silence before he heard some shuffling, followed by the sound of a door closing. “He’s finally marrying his partner.” The blonde-streaked noiret blinked in momentary surprise before he hummed to himself. Wow…


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Wed Jun 22, 2016 4:57 pm
Brigadier wrote a review...



Hey there. It's just Lizzy dropping by real quick, so without a further ado, let the reviewing begin. I've been out of the review game for a bit so pardon me if my skills are already a bit rusty.

First off, this needs to be spit into a my of pieces. I know many users want to try and get their works out there and don't want to use tons of points. This isn't a very good method because that makes the work unapproachable. By my count and method of chapters, this should have been in at least 30 parts. Most of the chapters on this site range from 1,000-2,000 words so that the reader gets enough of the story while also being able to review it.

The amount of points needed for publishing this all separately is crazy but you can use the loop holes. I see that a lot of your chapters are no more than 300 words while others are 2000. You can combine these in some way to cut down the parts needed. I think if you go up to 3000 words the chapters will still be easy to review.

Now onto the story. The reviewer below has already covered chapter 1 and I think I can really only cover one chapter myself. Therefore it's on to me to cover chapter 2.

I went ahead and read the previous part just so I would understand what is going on. However I was still really confused when it came to the descriptions and naming of each character. So the one character is in prison and she keeps thinking about her friend at home, correct? I'm not sure which one is the one dreaming of home because it's so hard to identify each of the characters.

I saw the part about shape shifters and I was a bit confused by this. Was this novel me at to have supernatural elements? Or was this just a comparison to show how could te thief was? You know to show that she could slip into any place unnoticed. I wasn't sure so I felt it best to ask.

As far as grammar and spelling goes, there's not much to find here besides a misplaced period or something. I'll try and come back and review another one of the parts later on. But for now I felt if you could just get a little bit of feedback it would probably help.

Sorry if I couldn't make this review any more in depth but I just couldn't get through all off the chapters. I really think that you should split this up to try and get more readers.
Anyways, good luck.
Have a nice day.
Lizzy
The Queen of the Book Clubs




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Points: 19607
Reviews: 383

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Wed Jun 22, 2016 3:51 pm
Sujana wrote a review...



While I understand how the point system might lead to difficulty on this site, and how some people might forget that, on this site, several of the site users take "clearing the green room" very seriously (I understand some people don't actually expect reviews on their work, which is fine), I think I can speak for everybody who's come across this work intent on reviewing it when I say that it is...inappropriate Young Writers Society etiquette to post a work around 30000 words long in one article. Which is great! You wrote 30000 words, you should be proud of yourself! But it becomes difficult for the rest of us to review this all in one go, which is why I've opted for this method--I'll check this work's grammatical and spelling errors, and once everything's said and done I'll review the content of the first chapter. Good? Good. Let's see what we can do here.

" “I’mseriously hoping that you didn’t put her out of our damn range of immediate service and in the face of adversity.”"


I'm seriously. You missed a space.

"“With the fact that she has this whole coldhearted attitude, not to mention she’s stubborn and they’re been partners before we were born… Uncle Ricky can’t just go running after her with roses and chocolate.”"


They've.

"It didn’t take them long to realize that it would take lot more than a push in the right direction before their uncle would be compelled to go public with his emotions (at least, to the person it mattered to most)."


It would take a lot more.

"“And what if I don’t release her; she’s guilty for four different crimes and offenses.”"


Of.

"Happy that she didn’t have anything in her hand, she leapt into the air and motioned for them to come in before closing the door behind them."


Leaped.

Now, onto the more substantial portion of this review.

Starting the story with a dream sequence has some controversial aspects to it. Some authors consider dreams to be cheap shots, meaningless sequences with high drama but no stakes, cheating the audience out of something. However, in your case it seems that the sequence is short enough to be excused. But, at least to me, the sequence is actually too short to mean anything. I don't know any of these people, not even in a caricature way, and there's no actual emotion I can hold onto other than the faint screaming of a woman to someone else in the distance. I suggest rethinking this scene entirely or at the very least showing the lingering emotions in a more effective way.

However, the later scene with the child is admittably quite touching. The audience, walking in, still doesn't know what's happening, and the characters haven't been shaped well enough for it to be completely touching, but the sentiment of a mother comforting her child is universal and is a good way to start a story. The tone is set, the characters written down, and the conflict is settled. Everything is in order for a good storyline to come along and save the day.

That's all I have for you know. Till next time,

Signing out,

--EM.





"The only time you look in your neighbor's bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don't look in your neighbor's bowl to see if you have as much as them."
— Louis C.K.