Uhh, I wrote this mostly because I wanted to beat up on Kalaani. It also sets up a little of Natori's story later on ... if I ever bother writing it!


Natori pulled her peco to a halt, dark gaze flicking briefly toward the monumental structure dominating the scrubby, forested skyline near the floating city of Juno. Though not nearly as big as the city itself, the mansion was more than imposing enough to make an impression.





All of these adjectives applied, but none of them were of much interest to the merchant -- her errand didn't require her to be welcome or well-liked. She pushed the bird a little faster, silently cursing the aging animal's increasingly brittle health, and turned her gaze to the winding path it was attempting to navigate.

In spite of her concerns, they reached the gates of the mansion before more than fifteen minutes had passed, and she maneuvered it up the walk without slowing her pace. She swung down only a foot or two from the steps, causing the bird to wheel away with a squawk and fluff its feathers at her until it was shortly distracted by rooting for lizards in the unkempt lawn.

Ignoring the bellpull for the moment, she lifted her fist to rap sharply on the heavy door and was surprised when it opened almost immediately, revealing a slender girl with blonde hair and a somewhat alarmed expression.

"Natori -- why are you --"

Natori's mouth curved into a feral grin. "So the rumors are true, after all." She leaned against the doorframe, peering inside a moment before returning her attention to the shorter girl. "Who knew, churchmouse. I never thought you'd shack up with money."

"I'm not --" She paused, pulling the door open and stepping past it to join Natori outside. "Please, Natori, why are you here?"

Natori took a step back, hands falling to rest on her hips. "I'm looking for my brother," she said flatly, fixing the girl with a cool stare. "I need you to tell me where he went, Kalaani."

"Wh-what?" Kalaani said, expression bewildered. "I -- have no idea where he --"

"Don't lie to me, little cousin," the older girl growled, reaching a hand out to rest against her shoulder in a gesture that would seem friendly from anyone else. "I know he was in the habit of stopping by the church with handouts for your family."

"Yes, he came by, but --" Kalaani broke off with a soft cry, wilting as Natori gripped her shoulder, increasing pressure even as the girl quailed. "Natori, please --"

"Tell me where he went," she said flatly. "I know the bastard came back through Juno -- there's no way he could resist sifting through what's left of his lab."

"Natori --" Kalaani's voice rose in pitch almost to a squeak as her antagonist's hand tightened on her again. "I swear I don't know --"

The merchant girl's hand suddenly shifted, catching her cousin at the base of the throat and thrusting her back until she collided with the wall, head striking the side of the building with a crack. "Tell me."

Kalaani drew in a rattling breath, eyes glazing slightly from the impact. "I -- h-he said s-something --" Natori's hand tightened on her, and she gave a reflexive spasm. "Rekkenber --"

"What in the name of all the gods is going on here?!" came a sudden, barking voice from the doorway.

"Mr. Malachi --" Kalaani gasped, but Natori barely seemed to hear the outburst, releasing her to slump nearly to her knees.

"Rekkenber?" Natori mused. "That outfit in Lighthalzen?"