APRIL 4TH, 1619.

In the Cat’s Cradle, there were many places that people lived and worked at. It was so much like Mystryal that it was easy to forget that you were underground somewhere unknown. For, in one place, there was a store called “Mary’s Flowers.” It was a quaint little place that sold flowers from all across the world, and was run by a Sylph woman named Mary Amanak. Such a place would not seem out of place on Mystryal.

Just next to it, however, was the strangest little building called Sybil’s Fortunes. One might think it a fraudulent kind of place- where the proprietor ran a scam trying to predict a person’s future- and it would have no place on Mystryal at all.

What it was in reality, however, was a Tattoo parlor, and its owner, one Roselyn Sybil, was a Lycan woman of the Jackal variety who wore little in the way of clothing- all to show off the artwork her handy skills with a needle had put on her body. Even her tail- shaved clean- was not spared from the needle and the ink.

Just in between both shops, however, was a small alleyway, blocked off from foot traffic with a small metal gate, locked with a padlock that required two keys to open. Just beyond that gate was a small garden consisting only of a herb known as Rosemary.

If anyone were to ask either woman why they grew so much Rosemary, the only reply would be identically shared- a coy “Shenanigans” quipped alongside a smile that said if you had to ask why, you were missing the real point of it, weren’t asking the right question, and that they would both mock you relentlessly until you finally got the point.

And that was exactly the situation Chery Purchit was in right at this very moment- while she waited for her brother to finish getting the no tracking rune tattooed onto his thigh.

“OW!” Her brother yelped.

“Quit your whining, Pup,” the woman twirling the giant needles filled with ink said very calmly. “We’re almost done.”

“Why the hell are you using… what the hell are those anyways? Knitting needles!?” Alec griped- and then yelped again as the sharp point of one of the needles punctured his skin.

“No, they’re tattoo needles disguised as knitting needles,” Roselyn paused in her work- needle still in his flesh, “why would I be using knitting needles?” And then she pulled the needle out, paused to grab a towel, and wiped away the blood from the last few punctures.

“I dunno,” Alec hissed at her, “that kind of seems to be the thing you’d do?”

Roselyn’s ears- also covered in ink- flexed as she processed that. “Well,” she began conversationally, “I’d say that’s more to do with your own subconscious issues relating to giant, phallic objects. Tell me, do you happen to have dreams of kissing people fiercely and passionately, or are you the one BEING kissed passionately?”

“Wha- What the hell!?” Alec yelped at her question. Blue eyes outlined with a chilling violet ink. It was unnerving in that even her eyelids seemed to have been decorated with ink. “What kind of question is THAT!?”

“One relevant for next time,” Roselyn concluded as she put the towel away, and fetched a large bandage to paste over the raw and tender flesh. “We’ve finished,” She said with a firm press against the skin to make sure the bandage stuck- this had the side-effect of making Alec hiss in pain. “Come back in a week, and we’ll see if I need to touch it up any. We’ll set up a maintenance schedule for the rune itself after that.”

“If I didn’t need this to keep my parents from finding us, I wouldn’t even be here,” Alec griped as he got up from the chair, and started hobbling over to Chery.

“Oh quit whining, you big baby,” Chery rolled her eyes at him, and then gestured at her right leg- also covered in a large bandage. “I didn’t cry at all while she was putting mine on!”

Alec said nothing to his sister regarding that as he turned to the other person waiting in the parlor’s waiting room- the woman who owned the building just next door, Mary. “So what the hell is the deal with the needles?”

“What is the deal with them indeed,” The woman gave a smile that said she knew, but wasn’t telling. “Why I’ve been asking myself that for years. Did you know she once used those very same needles to blind a Gnomic man who thought it funny to try to wreck our garden?” She paused at Alec’s surprised, and very concerned face. “Oh, don’t worry, she washed them afterwards.”

“That wasn’t what I was worried about,” Alec said with a gulp as he glanced over towards Roselyn, who gave him a very amused look in return while she washed off her needles in the sink.

There was eyebrow wriggling involved as well.

Damn it. They’d done that intentionally, hadn’t they?

“Oh!” Chery snapped her fingers, interrupting Alec’s train of thought. “Is the right question ‘how do you have a garden of rosemary underground where there’s no sunlight?’?”

Mary and Roselyn looked to each-other, and then started laughing.

“Well, that’s a rare answer,” Roselyn answered cryptically as she went into another room to deposit the now clean needles. “You’re the first one this year to ask that.”

“But it’s not the question you wanted me to ask, is it?” Chery sighed in defeat, as the bell above the door rang in tune to her misery.

“Don’t fret over it!” Came a boisterous cry from the door- Alec and Chery looked, and saw Faye leading Mikari in by their held hands. “They’re never gonna tell ya! I keep asking, and they keep playing around with it.”

“Or maybe you’re just not asking the right questions, Faye,” Mary answered.

“Nah!” Faye stuck her tongue out.

“Ah, Mikari,” Roselyn began as she returned from the back room. “Here for your checkup, yes?”

“Yeah,” Mikari nodded, the first time that she’d spoken since entering the building. Chery was a little surprised at first that Roselyn had identified her without hearing her speak first, but then Chery and Alec both smelled a rather fruity fragrance coming off of Mikari’s hair, one shared by Faye’s, and the not-really-a-mystery wasn’t too hard to solve.

Mikari had been using Faye’s shampoo recently enough for the smell to stick- and Roselyn had probably identified them by the scent alone.

“Come, sit down in my chair, and we’ll see if the bandages have done their magic,” Roselyn motioned to the chair Alec had been sitting in not a few moments ago, and Mikari headed over to it. “Any stiffness, burning, tingling?

“Nope,” Mikari answered as she sat down. “Well, stiffness around where the bandage is sticking- but that’s kinda just the bandage’s fault, right?”

“Yes, that’s normal,” Roselyn grabbed at a tab on the bandage, “brace yourself.” Mikari did, and Roselyn ripped the pad off of Mikari’s left leg. Mikari flinched slightly as some hairs were pulled by the sticky adhesive, but held her own otherwise.

“Hmm,” Roselyn prodded at the subtly glowing red rune on Mikari’s thigh. “Skin seems healed over nicely. Rune seems stable… Mary? Opinion?”

Mary walked over, and looked at the rune, smiling once she’d finished her own inspection. “You did a wonderful job transcribing it down as always, my love. I have no complaints”

“I have years of transcribing your artwork to thank for that, my dear,” Roselyn smiled in return. It was a very flirty and happy smile, and Chery saw Roselyn’s tail swishing side to side in happiness.

“Oh, you flirt,” Mary giggled, and turned away shyly. “Get back to work.”

“You know I am, but what are you?” Roselyn shot back with a laugh before turning back to Mikari, and inspecting the rune once more. “Yes, that’s healed up nicely. I think you’re okay to start washing the skin now.”

“Okay,” Mikari nodded.

“I think…” Roselyn went over to a table, grabbed at the calendar, and looked it over. “You should drop by in two weeks, for a checkup and we’ll see if the Rune’s still fully powered by then, and if not, we’ll see how much it’s decayed. After that, we’ll schedule a maintenance session.”

“Alright,” Mikari nodded again. “I’ll come by in two weeks then?”

“It’s a deal,” Roselyn nodded, then, pausing as Mikari got out of the chair, glanced over at Faye. “Now then, Faye, I do believe we should take another look at yours, since you decided to come in early, for once.”

“Aw, geeze,” Faye sighed, “do I have to? Don’t I have another Month left on this?”

“Given how much energy your rune burns on a daily basis,” Roselyn said flatly, “no. Now sit down and we’ll see how much of my ink the person who’s hunting you has been burning.”

“Sigh. Fair enough,” Faye sat down and, rolled up her short’s leg.

And so it was a completely different expression on her face that Roselyn examined Faye’s own rune tattoo.

“Has it tingled much lately?” Roselyn asked. “Burned any? Felt cold at all?” To which she received appropriate answers, none of which were satisfying to the tattoo artist, who growled once she finished poking and prodding the rune. “Damn it. I’m still not sure how much of this is just the person tracking you, or how much of it is the ink blend not being quite right to sustain it.”

“Well, you’ve got a whole new group of test subjects to compare to, now,” Mary reminded her with a supportive hand on the shoulder. “It should be easy to figure out from there.” She then leaned in a whispered, “Besides, you enchanted me, remember?”

“Dork,” Roselyn snorted at that, “I suppose you’re right, though, about the others. If they have the same burn rate as Faye, then it’s just bad ink burning up fast as it’s being used… but if they go through it slower?” she trailed off for a minute, then nodded and got up. “Faye, stay seated. I’m going to go fetch a bottle of ink and the patchwork needles. Hopefully we can keep this running without fault for an extra month.”

“Oh, joy,” Faye sighed. “So much for today being another free day.”

“Well,” Alec said, “now you share our pain.” He nodded to Chery, “Come on. We gotta go pick up those new Ids before the news hits the radio.”

“Right,” Chery nodded, then waved to Mary, and Roselyn, who just walked back in. “I’ll make sure to bring Alec in tomorow!”

“You do that, have a good night,” Roselyn nodded to the girl, then turned back to Faye. “Now then- let’s get this rune recharged.” She held up a smaller needle than the one used on Alec, but still a fairly large one all things considered. Faye could only groan in dismay.

Cafes, the world around, came in many types, shapes, and sizes. Depending on the town size, they could be small, or large, or somewhere in between. Sometimes, they could be placed a good ways down a road in between two large towns- these rest stop cafes were handy for travelers looking to get off their feet for a while.

_“-the third un-um-unprecedented day in a row now after Yaovi’s summoning Circles started redirecting to an.. An answering machine? Is that right? … Okay…”_ The cafe’s counter resting radio was blaring as Elise, Jake, and Dirk entered the building. _“Ah-and g-given Hecate’s rep-repeated insi-insis-sistant stance of-”_ It played a clip of Hecate speaking, boisterously, “No Comment- still investigating,” before returning to the lady speaking. _“Wuh-we cah-can only ah-assume that the explosion that destroyed Mys… Missed trial may al-also have claimed the Reaper’s Life.”_

“It’s been two days,” Dirk grumbled as the three of them slid up to the counter and began examining the cafe’s menus. “You’d think they’d have moved on from this by now.”

“To be fair, Dirk,” Jake remarked over the radio’s other speaker- a loud, angry sounding man who was likely a conspiracy theorist. “This is the biggest event of our modern century. Nobody before has managed to hit Mystryal as hard as… Tee. Ech. Eee. Wai. Did.”

“We can spell, you know,” Elise poked the Dragon in the shoulder with the handle of a spoon.

“Yeah, well,” Jake rolled his eyes. “You never know who might be listening in.”

_“Suh-orry- I hate to interrupt but we have some HOT BREAKING NEWS!”_ The lady on the radio said firmly- interrupting the man who was just about to take over. _“We’ve just received the o… Official, Public Statement from Chief Naahgee Luhvel.. Leewelleen?”_

“Llewellyn,” All three former students corrected at the same time as the angry man on the radio.

_“Leewellyn, right, thanks,”_ The woman pressed on, regardless of having the name right. _“Anyways! Th-That’s not the important part! This statement contains the official Ca…. Oh Cypher… The Official Casualty Report from the bombing incident that destroyed the Two Islands this–”_

“Wasn’t it only one island?” Jake whispered to Dirk as all eyes and ears turned to the Radio.

“Sssh,” Dirk shushed his boyfriend with a finger pressed gently to the mouth, as he narrowed his eyes firmly at the Radio.

_“According to this list, among the deceased, confirming our worst fears, is the Grim Reaper herself, Yaovi.”_ The woman sighed, and muttered a “I was hoping I was wrong,” before soldering on. _“…Also among those dead are one Ahr’tur Leewellyn-”_ And here she got the name wrong again. _“World Renown Archeologist, and the Chief’s mother.”_

_“Father,”_ The angry man corrected.

_“Sister, right,”_ the lady one again got it wrong.

“What the hell is her problem?” Jake asked.

“Nepotism,” the waiter behind the counter remarked. “She’s a new to the job and a skipped internship DJ, got stage fright something fierce even over the radio, AND is somebody’s specially appointed special someone. Only reason she still has the job is because someone wants her there. She’s not cut out for radio, and she knows it.”

_“Joruun and Ayrenn Windhelm. Oouch, says here they left behind two kids.”_ The woman continued to read the list.

“If she’s that bad, why are you listening to her?” Elise asked.

“We’ve got a running bet on if she’ll snap and quit on air,” The waiter smirked.

“I see,” Jake and Elise both smiled, bemused at that statement, and turned his attention back to the radio.

_“-‘Isolation Operations Director’ Sh… So… Sholip Snape?”_ The woman once more had trouble reading a name that likely wasn’t that hard to actually read. You could hear the uncertain tone to her voice as she continued on. _“And, um… Oh No… Here’s a name I actually recognize. Alec Purchit!? Alec Purchit is dead!?”_

“Alec?” Elise blinked. But that didn’t make sense. He’d been alive when she’d been packing to leave. He’d asked her if she was going to go to the thing Mikari had called them to and… And Kono Yisela was still intact? So wait, Islands… Alec… Something was fishy here.

_“Man, that poor family cannot catch a break lately,”_ The angry man said, a bit less angrily. _“You know their daughter, Chery, died just a bit before the Glitter Festival last year? Burned up in a fire in her own bedroom. Local Town Guards think it was murder, last I heard. Now this? That’s a sad bit of irony for ya.”_

_“Oh My Creators! I’d heard about that, but I didn’t know they thought it was Murder now!”_ The woman whined.

“Damn,” Dirk shook his head. “Guy’s got a point. First the daughter dies in a house fire, now the son in a blast of flames?”

“Yeah,” Jake nodded. “That’s just uncanny…”

Elise, meanwhile, could only sit there uncomfortably in her seat as she wrestled with the implications.

Alec had almost certainly been ALIVE after the explosion. So… why was Mystryal reporting him as dead?

Suddenly, Elise felt guilty about leaving as abruptly as she had… then, she squished that feeling deep underfoot and ground it away with a shake of her head. ‘It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done. I can’t regret it now. I just hope you know what you’re doing, Alec.’

Alec and Chery looked down at the folders containing pictures of their faces set alongside the names that were now theirs, along with all the other modified information they’d now have to memorize and repeat as the truth.

“Haruhi Windhelm,” Chery read her new name aloud. “…Windhelm, really?” She looked up at Nahgi Llewellyn. “I mean, Haruhi. That’s a nice name. I like it. But Windhelm? Why Windhelm?”

“Because,” Nahgi fought back the urge to sigh. “I once knew a Wolf- not a Lycan, but an actual Wolf- who went by the name Windhelm. She was very nice, and helped me out of a jam once.”

“Fair enough,” Chery nodded, and turned back to her shiny

“Why am I Allan Windhelm? Couldn’t I have been a Dave?” Alec sighed. “I could have been Dave Windhelm. That would have been cool.”

“Hey, I tried to keep your new names as close to your old ones as possible so you wouldn’t screw up by accident,” Nahgi shook her head as she crossed her arms. “If you had any specific preferences, you should have told me them before I got these new identities made.”

“…Damn it, you’re right,” Alec sighed. “Che- Haruhi.” He corrected himself. “Any complaints?”

“Nope,” his sister replied. “I like that our birthdays were kept the same.” She paused- “Did you have to say our new fake parents got killed in the explosion, though?”

“I needed a few fictitious names to pad out the casualty report,” Nahgi rolled her eyes. “If I’m having to make two new Identities for even one of my detectives, I might as well go all out and give you a convincing backstory for going rogue.”

“Revenge is a dish best served by children,” Alec remarked as he closed his folder. “Alright. You came through and hopefully these’ll do to keep our parents from looking for us. Consider me and CH-” He flinched, “Haruhi. Haruhi and I. Consider us officially part of your team.”

“Good to hear it.” Nahgi nodded, and then went to sit down at her somewhat-new desk- pausing only to add, “Ah, Right. When you go reintroduce yourselves, go tell the rest of your team that Ranagi will be dropping by the Cradle later tonight with keys to the new safe house. Lizzy and the Cat’s Guild enchanter should have finished with it by the time you get there.”

“Will do,” Alec nodded, and as he and his sister turned to leave the office, they did so not as Alec and Chery Purchit, but as Allan and Haruhi Windhelm.


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