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Grim Wolf
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The Very Best
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He screamed, and her mouth folded up into a bloodthirsty grin which remained even after a concussive blast drowned her ears and something all force and heat and death crashed into her skull and took her life with it.


No group could be active all the time; what the cameras usually showed were highlights, the most exciting moments (usually rewound to show the time they'd become most interesting). When a group became too boring, the cameras would move on to someone else.

Jean Nesa had not gone into work for several days, leaving his staff to fend for themselves. He had sat in front of the television, leaving only to go to the bathroom; he had eaten twice in the past seven days.

He had seen his daughter fight twice--once against Garrett Hunter (and how scared he'd been when she'd caught that wooden sword on her arm, and what small, fleeting pride he'd felt when she knocked him to the ground) and once against Samantha Ridley (with his heart in his throat as he waited for it, the arrow through the chest, the death of his sweet daughter). He'd seen her smoke, too (as if he hadn't known--he could smell the smoke on her clothes whenever she did it, vague under the perfume she used to try and mask it), and seen her talk.

She wasn't ready for this. She couldn't be ready for this. So what if she wanted to be a martial artist, so what if she was strong, she was still his little girl...

They didn't show any footage of her for days at a time, but Jean could not bring himself to leave the television. There might be something, some sign, and now this idiot box was his only link to his daughter, that slight girl who he'd held in his arms only yesterday, that tiny child whose scream had deafened him the day she was born, always demanding, almost rewarding.

His girl. His petite angel.

On the ninth day, he heard her name. On the ninth day, he buried his face in his hands and howled without thought.

Eloise had not spent the past nine days with her husband.

Something had broken inside her, when they'd received the news. She'd retreated to her study, leaving only when she knew Jean was in the living room. She had spent the past nine days in a drunken stupor; empty wine bottles were scattered all about her study, around the dusty typewriter she'd so loved when she was at college and around her chair. She ate, when she felt hungry; she slept, when she felt tired; she drank, when she began to feel sober.

And she read.

Again and again she read, every story in her boxes--the two novels, the countless short stories (including the two that had been published--just those two, and both in less-than-stellar magazines). She read every broken shard of a dream she'd never lived up to, she read every piece of despair that remained to her, every drop of bitter aftertaste in her otherwise-easy life.

At least she'd had the chance to try for her dreams, even if she'd failed. Belle wouldn't even get the chance to try.

She ran a hand along the yellowed edges of a short story--the last one she'd written, the only one she'd ever shown to her daughter. Stared intently at the first page, with the quote at the top of the page.

The greatest lesson is to live without fear.

The howl shook her out of her reverie, jerked her head into the air. She felt ice rise up like a wave in her and stifle all thought, all emotion, all feeling; she felt the cold, inescapable sensation of violation, of horror, of woe. She felt a piece of herself die in that howl. She reached for a nearby bottle without thinking--this one had half a measure of oblivion left in it, enough to soften this edge, enough to remind her that...

Her fingers touched the glass neck of the bottle. Flickered away as though they had been burned. Without looking at it she got to her feet, set the story in her lap down upon the desk, and went down to her husband.

Lin Xiang had devoted his life to his art--his Baguazhang. Just Baguazhang and his little house with its living room left open for practice. Ostensibly, one should be a master of other martial arts before one ever learns Baguazhang, as Baguazhang is more an underlying methodology than a martial art unto itself; given his location in St. Paul, Minnesota, Xiang's students had been few and far between.

And over the past few years, there had been only her.

He did not own a television, and his life did not end with her abduction. He trained, as always; he shopped, enjoyed a spartan but nutritious meal; he read, to keep his mind active, and attended a local strategic games club to keep his thoughts sharp.

But for the past several days, he had added something new to his schedule. Whenever he felt it--anxiety, restlessness, weariness--he would sink to the floor, fold his legs, and immediately clear his mind and focus only on her--on that strange, wild, spoiled girl who had somehow convinced him to teach her. It had nothing to do with the fact she knew savate, nothing to do with the year she'd spent begging him. It had everything to do with how devoted she was; all the attention she should have given to the other facets of her life had been devoted to learning, to practicing, to growing.

He understood that kind of obsession. He had been the same way, before he'd joined the service and seen just what violence really was. Before he'd come to understand that violence as the world understood it--as he'd understood and as Mirabelle Nesa had tried to use it--was just so much futile flailing in the face of hostile, indifferent death.

One day he awoke and found himself afraid; one day he rolled from his bed and assumed a sitting position on the floor. He stayed there for some time, eyes closed, breathing coming to him in short-rabbit quick gasps. A flare of violence, of aggression, and defiance; a flare of something hot and all-consuming, something alive.

When he got to his feet, he left his tear stains behind him.

During the war, Lin Xiang had learned that his ability to fight (and he had been good, when he was younger; as good as she was, though he'd been a bit older than her) meant nothing; that he could still be beaten, that what he wanted and what he cared for could not always be protected. The martial arts must be tempered with humility--with the understanding that their practitioners are only human, that they can be beaten, that they have to accept their weakness in the world. He had always tried to convince her of this, to accept that she was only human and that she could, in fact, be beaten, no matter how hard she tried.

She had never believed it. Not once in her life.

Edited by Grim Wolf, Apr 26 2011, 02:32 AM.
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