Remain. [NaNoWriMo '16]

[Sequel to NaNo '15 novel Run.] Ruling the world isn't as easy or as fun as it sounds, especially not when a group of angry angels are thrown into the mix. What's worse is that Baxel is without his right-hand man, who just so happens to be the key to everyone's plans.

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15. Fourteen: Fight Like A Girl

    Taryn kept a careful eye on Isaac as they made they made their way out of the airport in Spain and into the car that his parents had sent for them. She remembered when she’d first met Isaac; he had spent most of his childhood in Spain before his parents decided to return to the American GITS. Staring out the window at the city flashing by, Taryn could remember that encounter in vivid detail. 

    “Hey there,” the boy with unruly curls and caramel skin said as he hung his jacket up next to Taryn’s on the hook. He was bare from the waist up, either for vanity or flexibility, Taryn wasn’t sure. She didn’t care; he would bruise just the same with or without a shirt. “I’m Isaac. I think you’re my sparring partner today,” he said with a smile. 

    Taryn’s eyes flicked to his, then back to the wrappings she was applying to her hands. “Taryn,” she offered. 

    “I don’t know what kind of operation you Americans run,” he said, his voice accented slightly, “but I don’t hit girls.”

    Dropping one hand to her side, Taryn plucked her bō off the wall with the other. She turned to him, face placid. “That’s fine. You won’t have to.”

    Isaac’s brows shot up. “What’s that now?”

    “Your sexism aside-“

    “It’s not sexism, it’s chivalry.”

    “Your sexist chivalry aside, you won’t be able to land a hit on me,” Taryn assured him. “So it’s a moot point.”

    Isaac blinked at her, his lips still drawn up in a little smirk. 

    “Are you just going to stand there looking at me, or are we going to spar?” Taryn snapped after a moment of waiting.

    Shrugging, Isaac grabbed his own bō and stepped forward, replying, “Listen, if they didn’t want me to stare, they shouldn’t have assigned me the prettiest sparring partner on my first day. Or is this your tactic? Unnerve guys with your looks?”

    Taryn gave no warning before expertly swinging her staff around, which he blocked just in time. She pirouetted, slid into a crouch and swept the staff into the back of his knees. Isaac went down, and before he could even raise his own weapon in protection, Taryn was pinning him to the ground. “My tactic,” she hissed, “is to kick ass. Sex has nothing to do with it.”

    His eyes wide, Isaac gave a cocky little grin despite the fact that he clearly lost. “We could change that.” 

    With a little growl, Taryn pushed off him. “Get up and fight like a girl.”

    Isaac pulled himself to his feet, using his bō to help. “Is that supposed to discourage me?”

    Taryn attacked again, her staff a blur through the air. “No,” she breathed in between movements. “This is.”

    There was a spark of amusement in Isaac’s bright eyes, and his grin was one of joy and challenge. Taryn accepted. 

    The memory washed over Taryn out of nowhere. Suddenly filled with nostalgia for the confident, cheerful boy she had met two years ago, Taryn looked over at Isaac. He stared out the window with his brows pulled low, fingers tapping a nervous rhythm onto the door handle. There was no trace of that easy smile that he had tried to charm Taryn with. The light spark of his eyes was replaced with something hard and heavy, betraying the weariness that they both felt. As much as she had always complained about Isaac, Taryn kind of missed him being annoying. At least then he was happy. 

    Neither of them spoke on the ride to the large mansion in Pamplona where Isaac’s parents had set up headquarters. When they pulled up in front of the beautiful building, Taryn wished everything wasn’t so serious and they could take the time to appreciate the sights. Isaac didn’t even seem to acknowledge his surroundings as he pulled himself from the car and followed the escort, his eyes only on his next steps. 

    “Are you okay?” Taryn finally asked. 

    “Fine.”

    Isaac looked unwilling to say more, and Taryn didn’t push. She knew that feeling well. The inside of the building was just as beautiful but humbly quaint as the outside, albeit dimly lit. Taryn feigned intense interest in the decor as an excuse to avoid looking at Isaac. She got the feeling he wanted to melt into the background, and she had no problem helping him achieve that. 

    “Isaac!” a woman’s heavily accented voice called from the room to their left. Taryn turned, but Isaac stared resolutely ahead. “Isaac,” the woman tried again when she reached his side, turning him by the shoulders and enveloping him in a hug. Isaac’s arms hung stiff at his sides, making no move to reciprocate. When she pulled back, she studied his face, her eyes flicking between his. “You look exhausted. Let me get you a room and something to eat, and then we’ll talk.”

    Isaac didn’t protest. He didn’t say anything at all. Isaac’s mom’s eyes slid past her son to Taryn, and immediately stepped over to her. “You must be Isaac’s friend,” she said, wrapping her arms around Taryn. Half out of pity, Taryn hugged back. 

    “I’m Taryn,” she said when they pulled apart. 

    “Cross, right?” Isaac’s mother asked. “I knew your parents well. I’m Laurita.”

    Taryn’s smile was a little forced, more out of politeness than anything. “I recognize you from the GITS, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t know your name.”

    Laurita smiled, warm and genuine. “It’s alright. The time we spent in America was a hectic time for the GITS. Come with me,” she said, reaching out to touch Isaac on the arm. “You two can get cleaned up while I make some food.” When Isaac didn’t meet her gaze, Laurita added, “I’ll make your favorite gazpacho.”

    Isaac still wouldn’t look at her, so Taryn reached out and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “Isaac. Come on.”

    Nodding only to Taryn, Isaac ignored the look of hurt on his mother’s face. Laurita composed herself quickly, leading them through the house to a wing of what appeared to be spare bedrooms. “Your father is taking care of a few things, but he’ll be home in a few minutes. You get cleaned up, then we’ll all eat together - like a family again,” she told Isaac. Taryn almost winced, knowing that was perhaps the worst possible thing to say to him. 

    When Laurita deposited them at their rooms, Isaac finally spoke. “What is it you wanted us to see, Mother? Show us, then let us leave.”

    Laurita’s face hardened. “Isaac Mateo Azarola. You are not leaving this house without at least having shared a meal with your father and I. We haven’t seen you in months, and we paid for you to get here and back to America. The least you can do is be grateful.”

    Isaac’s jaw clenched, and he stepped into his room without reply, closing the door behind him. Laurita sighed, and Taryn hesitated in the doorway of her own room. “I’ll talk to him,” she promised Isaac’s mother. 

    “He’s really angry at us, isn’t he?” Laurita whispered. 

    Taryn nodded. “Yeah, he is.” She could see where he was coming from. He felt abandoned, betrayed, like his parents’ personal interests outweighed what was best for the world. Taryn knew exactly how he felt, yet she couldn’t seem to be as angry at the soft, motherly figure in front of her as she was at her brother. Isaac had tried relentlessly to get her to consider forgiving Damian, so maybe it was her job to do the same on his behalf. 

    “Thank you,” Laurita said with a little smile, laying a hand on Taryn’s arm before heading down the hallway and leaving Taryn alone. 

    Before talking with Isaac, Taryn took advantage of the shower. The feeling of the dirt coming off her skin in waves of hot water was indescribable, and when she finally stepped out into the steamy bathroom, she felt a million times calmer than she had over the past few weeks combined.

    Putting on the cleanest clothes she had in her pack, Taryn headed over to Isaac’s room, hoping that he, too, had reaped the benefits of a calming hot shower. She knocked a few times, then waited. 

    “Who is it?” came the muffled reply. 

    “Taryn.”

    A few seconds later, Isaac opened the door. He turned without a word and headed back to his bed, perching on the edge. Taryn stepped into the room, noting that he had, in fact, taken a shower. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Now clean, Taryn felt her stomach start to growl and couldn’t wait for hot food, regardless of the inevitable awkwardness. 

    “If you’re here to convince me to take it easy on them, you’re wasting your breath,” Isaac muttered. 

    Taryn stood in front of him, her arms crossed. “Look, I completely see where you’re coming from,” she admitted. “I’m just here to tell you that just because they work for Baxel doesn’t make them bad people. I don’t know if you noticed, but the city we just drove through? It wasn’t war torn. There weren’t people laying on the streets. Everyone seemed reasonably happy and healthy and fed,” Taryn said. “What if, by joining Baxel, your parents saved this country from his erratic and destructive rule?”

    Isaac just frowned at the floor. “It was selfish,” he said at last. “They should’ve stayed behind to fight.”

    “There are more ways to win than fighting,” Taryn reasoned. “Besides, do you know what I would give to bring back my parents, even if they were Baxel’s personal servants? It’s better to have selfish parents than dead parents.” Isaac’s eyes flicked up to hers. “Trust me,” Taryn added.

    Crossing the room, Taryn sat down next to Isaac. “What Damian did was just selfish. He wasn’t helping anyone by hiding. But how many people in Spain do you think are blessing them for keeping them from war and famine and destruction?” Isaac let out a shaky breath, and Taryn took that as a good sign. She continued, “You don’t have to forgive them right away. Just don’t burn bridges you’re going to regret.”

    Isaac closed his eyes. “I’m just so angry at them. They gave in to him so easily.”

    “You mean you’re angry because they turned their back on you so easily,” Taryn amended. 

    His eyes snapping to hers, Isaac opened his mouth like he was going to say something, then stopped. Taryn gave a little smile. “I feel you,” she said. After a brief moment of hesitation, Isaac reached out and pulled her into a hug. Normally, Taryn would fight such sentimental contact, but this time? This time, they both needed it.

 

—[]—

 

    I couldn’t get over how thankful I was that the shadows were back. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to watch inside the Watchers’ compound as they did unspeakable things to the women they captured-

    Not that I watched that, of course. I may be a demon, but there is a line. No, instead, I waited for the angels to become pre-occupied with their chosen women before dropping into the Nether and returning in one of the supply rooms where my reconnaissance told me that a human servant woman was alone. 

    I materialized out of the shadows, and the woman opened her mouth to scream, the sound cut off when a convenient stream of shadows clamped over her mouth. She dropped the diapers she was holding and tried to struggle as I zipped her into the Nether, then quickly back up to Earth in the nearby woods. I needed her sane for this interrogation. I waited a beat to see if some kind of alarm bells would sound at my intrusion of shadows, but nothing came. Perfect.

    “Hi,” I chirped as the shadows set her down on a nice mossy boulder. “I’m Baxel. And you are?” She stared at me, uncomprehending. “Je suis Baxel. Quel est ton nom?” 

    “M-Maris,” she stammered. “Oú suis-je?”

    “Pas important,” I replied, waving off her question. It didn’t matter where she was; it was probably better than the Watchers’ compound anyway. “Dites-moi tout ce que vous savez sur les Nephilim qui ont échappé.”

    I listened as she described the escaped Nephilim to me, compiling a mental picture to relay to the shadows. It was a girl, tall, pale, white hair, who appeared to be about nineteen or twenty years old. The best the woman could remember, she wore a maroon sweater. Her name was Rirnemis. When the woman was finished, I nodded. “Merci. Tu peux y aller. Ne parlez à personne à propos de moi ou cette conversation.”

    Maris nodded and ran off into the forest, not looking back. With the ring to back my commands, I was certain she wouldn’t tell anyone about what she said to me, so I let her go. She didn’t matter anyway. 

    I sent all the information I had to the shadows, hoping that someone somewhere would speak her name for them to pick up on. The rest of the description was rather vague, but it was the best I had. Even so, I had to work on a back up plan in case the shadows didn’t have enough to go on. 

    And, as always, my back up plan had a name: Ted.

    “Heyyy, buddy,” I said, appearing behind Nybbas. Ever since the Great Debacle of ’92, I had shadows keeping an eye on Nybbas at all times, ready to feed me his location whenever I deemed it necessary. This time, I found him in a small corner of India, poised to nudge a cup of coffee onto a laptop and start a fight in the little cafe. 

    Nybbas had made himself invisible to human eyes, but he hadn’t counted on me. The men at the table looked up at me, probably wondering why I was apparently talking to the legs of the table. I didn’t acknowledge them. “Want to step outside?” I asked. 

    With considerable reluctance, Nybbas went with me out into the street, following me behind the restaurant where we could talk without making me look like a lunatic. “You never come to visit me, Baxel. I bet you want something,” Nybbas said. “That’s the only time people come to visit Ted.” He pouted nudging the dirt with a misshapen toe. 

    “Sorry, Nyb- Ted. I’ve just been busy,” I excused. 

    “And Damian, my best friend, even he doesn’t visit me.” 

    I gave a sympathetic nod. “Yeah, he didn’t visit me either. He was a pretty crappy friend these past few months.”

    With a frown, Nybbas sniffed. “He makes me sad.”

    “He makes me sad sometimes too,” I agreed, patiently playing along. “Hey, I actually found this girl who I think you’ll get along with really well, maybe she could be your friend.”

    Ever gullible, Nybbas looked up, his already golfball-sized eyes widening further. “Really?”

    “Yeah,” I said. “Her name is Rirnemis, and the last I saw her, she was around Larrau, France. She’s probably about as tall as me, pale, white hair. Why don’t you go look for her?”

    Nybbas bounced on the balls of his feet. “I will! She sounds amazing.”

    I smiled. “She is,” I told him. Then, as if it had just occurred to me, I added, “Hey, if you find her, will you let me know? There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to her about; maybe I can pop by and we can all hang out together.”

    “Okay!” Nybbas chirped, his voice a little squeak in his excitement. “I’ll let you know right away! I’m going to go right now!” 

    Nodding, I gave him a thumbs up. “You do that. Good luck!” 

    When Nybbas had disappeared, I shook my head. How gullible. How good for me.

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