It was with much apprehension that Rainne left the comfort of her slumber. She had long since felt the change in the vibrations of the earth, but had been unable to awaken and she wondered at how long it had taken her body to recover its strength. Something must have disrupted the aeirie’s connection with the earth and now that her body was finally strong enough to awake, it was her responsibility to discover what it was.
The blue crystal faded around her with every step she took toward the waking world until her eyes opened and its protective walls vanished completely. Her deep blue eyes widened and she felt panicked as she took in her unfamiliar surroundings. Gone was the comforting warmth of the earth, finding, in its stead, an enclosure of smooth cold stone and large wands which proved equally cold and hard. The aeirie jumped at the sound of approaching voices. Feeling her panic rise, she cowered in a dark corner of her prison and took a calming breath, quickly casting an illusionary spell to imitate her protective shell.
“Nothing’s ever goin’ ta change,” stated a bored male voice.
“Maybe not, but it’s our job to check,” came the reply of a slightly deeper and equally bored voice.
Lance cast a sideways glance at cell 24-9AP. Glenn was right, he thought, nothing would change. None of the aeirie were likely to wake. None except the one in cell 24-9AP, he corrected himself silently. Lance hadn’t told Glenn, or anyone else for that matter, but 24-9AP had been changing slightly over the last few days.
“Hey! what’s gotten inta ye? Ye’re sae quiet these days!” Glenn exclaimed, poking his partner in the side with a bony elbow.
“Don’t do that!” Lance snapped harshly.
“Geez! Chill out mate!” Glenn cast a wary glance at Lance before continuing with his rounds.
Lance ignored him as he moved from cell to cell. He felt bad for snapping at the man the way he had. He really liked the guy; they got on well together, not that he’d ever admit as much out loud. Glenn was like the little brother Lance had never had, but always wanted. He was an odd character, to be sure, with strange quirks and, Lance thought, more than a little insane at times, but oddly charming all the same. The trouble was, Lance had been feeling edgy lately and it was worse today, though he couldn’t say why.
Lance arrived in front of cell 24-9AP and hesitated before looking inside. Not realizing he’d been holding it, he let out a long breath in relief when he saw the aeirie still encased within its blue crystal. Lance started for the next cell when he stopped and looked once more inside 24-9AP. He couldn’t be sure at the moment, but he didn’t remember the aeirie being in the corner…hadn’t they placed them all in the center of their cells? Lance studied the crystal hard for a long moment before shrugging it of, satisfied that the aeirie was unchanged.
“All clear,” Glenn called from down the hall. “How ‘bout ye?”
Lance quickly finished his rounds and stepped up beside his Irish friend. “Clear,” he sighed. “It’s going to be another quiet shift,” he added as they turned down the hall.
Rainne released a sigh as the two men left the hall, whimpering softly in pain from the noise all around her. She knew without reaching out that the others were all slumbering as she had been, not yet recovered enough to wake. The aeirie pushed the deafening sounds to the back of her mind and went to the only opening in the cell that offered a view of the outside world. Lifting her hands to the wands, she said a few quick words and they disappeared.
Rainne lifted herself out the small opening, letting the air set her feet gently on the soft ground. Her eyes widened in surprise and she collapsed to the ground in pain. Kedy edga yesa ofbe ym ryc? she sobbed as she recovered from the immense shock. Mastering her link to the earth once more, the aeirie rose on shaky feet and took off down the hillside.
“Oi, did ye hear that, mate?” Glenn asked, breaking the companionable silence the two friends had fallen into.
“I did,” Lance replied, his eyes narrowing as he stood. The two men hurried to the back room and jogged down the corridor, checking that every cell was still occupied. Lance grew uneasy as they approached cell 24-9AP and both men cursed when they found the cell empty of its inhabitant. “How the hell is this possible?” Lance cried, eyes wide in shocked disbelief.
“Now, how do ye suppose 24 got out?” Glenn asked, turning an accusing eye on Lance.
“How in hell d’you expect me to know?” Lance fired back.
“YE were in charge of 24!”
“I know that! and 24 was clear!” Lance snarled, his own sense of guilt giving his words more bite than he’d intended. “You can’t possibly hold me responsible for this! Anyone could have missed it. We know next-to-nothing about them!” Only you did see it, a voice chided him.
“Ne’er mind now, we’ve got to recover 24!” Glenn pressed, casting a sideways glance at his friend. Lance knew something he wasn’t saying, Glenn just couldn’t guess what. Glenn shook his head and hurried down the hall to sound the alarm.
“No!” Lance cried out in alarm. Glenn halted his movements and looked back at Lance with a curious expression. “Please,” Lance voiced just loud enough for Glenn to hear.
Glenn sighed and looked at his friend sadly. He could guess well enough what would happen to Lance when they found that an aeirie under his watch had escaped, but what else were they supposed to do?
“Please,” Lance said again, “ let’s try to get the aeirie back ourselves. If we fail, we’ll set the alarm.”
Glenn stared at Lance, considering. He nodded curtly then turned on his heel and exited the corridor.
Lance cast a glance to the next cell, cell 84-9AP before following Glenn out of the compound. The two men circled round the immense ten story building to stand outside cell 24-9AP. “It went this way,” Glenn said, pointing straight down the hill. Lance could just see the silhouette of a slight figure running far in the distance.
“We’ll need the van,” Lance stated needlessly.
Rainne let her feet slide along the loose ground of the hillside to distance herself from her erstwhile prison as quickly as possible. She began pumping her legs as she reached the base of the hill, running down the strange grey pathway without losing momentum. She kept running hard until she emerged from the trees. Rainne doubled over, shrieking in pain as she saw the strange structures all around her. The noise here was at an unbearable level and the earth’s pain washed over her once more, coursing through her lithe body unchecked.
Feeling as though she would explode with the agony building in her core, Rainne collapsed bonelessly to the ground. She whimpered as the earth’s pain continued to flow through her, in too much pain to minimize the link.
“There!” Lance cried as he spotted the missing aeirie just ahead, on the side of the road. “What on earth’s wrong with it?” he wondered out loud as they drew closer to the trembling form.
“We can figure that out when we get it secured in its cell back at the compound. Now, are ye goin’ ta sit there all day or are ye goin’ ta help me?” Glenn shot out, barely suppressing a chuckle as Lance jumped out of his thoughts and hurried out of the van. Both men were silent as they opened the back of the van and pulled out various restraints.
Rainne listened distantly to the men as they moved around her, her mind reeling from the pain, body too weak to move.
“Easy there, we only want to help you,” one of the men said soothingly as he slowly approached her. In the back of her mind, Rainne registered that the voice belonged to the one called Lance. Rainne did nothing as the men took hold of her, only noted distantly that the pain faded into the background at their touch. She breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed further as she felt from them only a desire to protect, willingly walking back alongside them to their strange moving room, easily accepting the bounds on her arms in exchange for the respite from the earth’s pain.
Rainne remained silent and completely still the entire way back to her prison, making no protest and offering no resistance as she was led back into the very room she had awoken in and run from.
“There!” Lance had cried as he had spotted the aeirie. A frown creased the young man’s smooth brow as he remembered the obvious pain the aeirie had been in. What had caused it such pain? And why did it all suddenly seem to disappear when either he or Glenn touched the aeirie? When he’d opened the back of the van, the aeirie had been sitting there calmly, but he’d seen the tell-tale signs of immense pain etched across its soft features. He’d also seen how those lines had smoothed out again almost instantly when he’d touched its shoulder. Lance shook his head in wonder. How could any creature feel so cold and so warm to the touch at the same time?
“What d’ye suppose they’ll do with it?” Glenn asked suddenly, bringing Lance out of his musing.
“I honestly can’t say, but I don’t think I really want to know. You know as well as I what they’re capable of,” Lance offered at length.
“But surely they wouldna do nothin’ ta hurt somethin’ they guard so closely?” Glenn questioned.
Lance shuddered, but made no answer. That was exactly what he thought they’d do. He didn’t really think that Glenn believed otherwise, but decided to keep silent and leave the man his innocent hope.
The two men sat in silence for a long while, each one absorbed in his own thoughts. Lance looked into cell 24-9AP to be sure that the aeirie was still inside and noted the slight tremors still running through the huddled blue form. “I suppose I should go make that phone call,” Lance said at length, rising from his chair with a drawn-out sigh. It was, after all, his call to make as 24 was among the cells he was responsible for.
Glenn watched in silence as Lance left the corridor, turning back to his study of 24-9AP only after his retreating form had disappeared from sight. He didn’t want for anything bad to happen to the beautiful creature, but there was nothing he could do if that was what they wanted to do. He knew his hopes were foolish, just wished that, whatever they did, the aeirie would be relatively unharmed.
“Hello? Doctor?” Lance spoke into the phone uncertainly.
“Yes?” came the gruff reply on the other end.
“Uh…Subject 24-9AP has awakened sir,” Lance said nervously, trying hard to recall proper protocol.
“What!?” the doctor cried, voice rising dangerously.
“I heard what you said!” the voice bellowed, the receiver slamming down to end the call.
Lance cleared his throat and stared blankly at the receiver in his hand before setting it gently in its cradle. He walked back to where he and Glenn had moved their chairs in the hall to watch over 24 and sat down numbly.
“Went that well did it?” Glenn quipped, trying to lighten the gloomy atmosphere as he turned to look at Lance. “Geez mate, ye look as though ye seen yer own death!” he exclaimed as he saw his companion’s pale expression.
Lance remained silent a long while. No one had ever seen the ‘good doctors’ who employed them, nor had anyone spoken to them before now. “I may have done just that,” Lance joked thinly, slowly regaining his composure.
“And was it the calm peaceful one we all dream of?” Glenn asked, somewhat hopefully.
“Nae, mate, t’was an awful and bloody one,” Lance replied deadpan, mimicking his friend’s accent as he watched the aeirie watching him with an unwavering stare.
“Ye dinna say,” Glenn replied softly, sobering quickly. “What d’ye suppose they’ll do?”
“Nothing good Glenn, nothing good,” Lance answered solemnly, breaking his gaze with the aeirie to look at Glenn. Both men turned their gazes back toward the cell just then as the aeirie moved to the front. Lance got up and walked over to the cell, stopping a foot from the bars as the aeirie pressed its face to the cold bars. “I’m sorry…I can’t let you out,” Lance said sadly, his voice a whisper as he stared into the aeirie’s deep sad eyes. Both men started then as the doors down the hall burst open to bang loudly against the walls.