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Autumn, Part One
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The air over Solstice was filled with the haze of burning leaves, the scent of smoke and the season of fire. Thick, white smoke stole across the hedges and fences from one yard to the next, turning spectral and silver as it drifted closer to the heartbreaking blue of the autumn skies. Even across the river the smoke took the place of morning mists, brought on by the cooling temperature.
Everywhere one looked were signs of smoke and fire, and the sight brought a serene smile to Nathaniel Long's face as he sipped at a steaming mug of tea.
"Has he agreed to come?"
"He hasn't said no, as such." Corbin drawled from the leather sofa. "He doesn't want to, mind; but he can't really help it. The opportunity's just too deep in him."
The Mayor's cheeks creased as his smile widened. "You've never been a believer in apotheosis, have you?"
"I don't believe in much I can't pronounce."
"You don't think we can transcend these natures."
Corbin brushed an errant curl from his right eye, gleaming up at the Mayor's back. "Not really. Not most of us. I don't know why anyone would want to."
"MacIntrye would agree with you. I've never been able to abide sycophants, though they'd doubtless make my life simpler."
"Leave you twisting in the autumn breeze, more like." Corbin began to crack his knuckles in order, one at a time, letting the pops reverberate through the office. "You're glad to have us on board ... and he disagrees with your mortal politics enough to tell me flat that he voted against you. I don't mind keeping him close - I think it's a good idea, frankly. But it smells to me as if you're actually thinking about letting him in on our shared little secret, and that's something I have to argue against whether you like it or not."
"Triumvirates are messy things, Corbin. It's more stable with a fourth in the cabinet."
"Stable?" His laugh rang through the glass windows which separated them from the office, brought a few secretarial heads turning. "This is war, boss. There's nothing stable about it. I'm not saying you don't know from conflict, but you've always been more of a one-on-one type. Bringing Mars into Solstice isn't going to put an end to any kind of trouble."
"Now tell me, Corbin, are you saying that because you think it's a bad idea, or because you dislike the man himself?"
Another, quieter laugh followed. "You're asking me a lot."
"I'm rather known for it."
"All right. I don't like him, and I can tell you for sure he doesn't like me."
"What if he'd come back as the Morrigan herself? I suspect you'd be arguing a slightly different tune."
Corbin's eyes still glittered. "Maybe. But then, she's more predictable in her real form. You've got the devil's own luck when it comes to these rebirths, you know that."
"I make luck, Corbin; and even then I don't rely on it." Long continued to watch the smoke through his window like a man fascinated. "With that said, talk to me. Make me feel lucky. Tell me what you think would truly happen if we did wake him to his true self."
"I think he'd get in my way as badly as MacIntyre used to. Plus, I think he'd wake his daughter within the week, and that's trouble none of us need."
"Look in the files on my desk, please."
Corbin rose from the sofa and sauntered to the desk, flipping idly through the papers. "Who brought these reports over? I could've told you she'd make trouble in school."
"Ah, but what I'd like you to focus on are the notes on how her father responds to the days she gets in that same trouble. Given those notes, do you really think he'd be eager to wake her if he knew what and who she was?
"More to the point, wouldn't you rather have him awake without her knowledge than the other way around? War is far from the worst thing we could wake in our sleepy little town."
There was silence as Long inhaled steam from the tea, then blew it softly through his nose. Only the sound of rustling paper filled the office for a few moments before Corbin made a small, clucking sound in the back of his throat.
"I think it's taking a chance."
"This, presumably, means that you?re in."
"This, in turn, means MacIntyre?s presumably out."
"I think you'll be surprised again. She's always been a friend to war, though not on such intimate terms as you."
"So let her surprise me now, in the season of bleeding leaves." Corbin laid the folder back on the desk. "I've got to run now if you expect the caterers to be paid for and on time. Anything else I should look into while I'm running errant?"
"No - feel free to take the rest of the afternoon. I'd like you on the scene first thing tomorrow, though. Rosa's bringing the boy along ahead of time; so be forewarned."
"I've got a new book of magic tricks to loan him. He'll leave me alone at least a half an hour."
"Enjoy, then. I'll leave you to it."
Corbin moved to the door before turning over his shoulder. "You really believe in this apotheosis?"
"I have good reason to. Haven't I come such a very long way?"
"I suppose you might have. Still and all ? burning leaves is still against city ordinance, and I can't help but notice that MacIntyre's been asked to leave it alone. Enjoy the autumn while it's still on fire, boss."
Long simply nodded where he stood, watching the pearl-grey smoke weave along the river.
"I'm not going."
Michael laid a hand on the door, willing himself to count to ten. "Vick, listen to me. It's too late for this bullshit, all right?"
"No, it's too late for your bullshit party."
"That's just going to get you grounded longer."
"Why can you say it, then?"
"I don't give a ? look. I don't care if you want to go or not, you're going. Once we're there you can spend as much time as you want on your phone texting your pals about what a loser I am, but you're not staying home alone this afternoon and I'm not staying home hoping for a crack at your idiot boyfriend."
"He's not my boyfriend!"
"Whatever he is, he's not coming into the house without a black eye or worse. So get moving."
"This is so unfair!" The words were hurled at a fever pitch, followed by the sound of something fragile striking the wall.
"You can break all the crap you want, Vickie, but remember that it's yours and I ain't replacing it."
There was the distinct sound of something less fragile rebounding against the wall before silence descended.
"You don't even wanna go! You said so!"
"Yeah, that was when I thought I might be able to leave you here. As it is I don't get to go fishing, you don't get to stay home, we both lose. You can thank him for that one, too."
"But that's not fair!"
"Nothing is." He lowered his hand and turned the doorknob. "I'm coming in."
It had been a coffee mug, nothing more - laying in pieces on the carpet. Empty, he noticed gratefully, which meant no cleaning expenses on this tantrum. Victoria stood by her bedside, glaring at him with all the hate and contempt only an adolescent could muster. Her tangled mane of dark hair was bleached at the ends this week, pushed in a heap over a pierced eyelid in what Michael assumed must be the newest style.
"Look. I don't like this any more than you do, Vick, but you gotta know why I can't just leave you here after you let him in, all right? I'm not gonna just sit and stew about it. I'm not your mom. You can leave the piercings in, that's fine; you wear what you've got on now if you want. I'm not asking you to go Little House on the Prairie here, I'm just saying that you're going."
"Fine." Turning her eyes to the door and crossing her arms, she stalked past him into the hallway and down the stairs. "Then let's just get this over with. God. Your new friends are gonna be waiting."
He took the stairs behind her, slowly counting to ten once more.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2009