Adian pulled up the video files from seven days past to the day before for the reading room's camera. He sat at the monitor bank in the dark room, with Snowhawk standing behind his chair. They watched the sped up video, most of it seeming to never change, other than the time stamp in the lower left corner counting up each day in twenty-four hour time. On the seventh, fifth, and fourth days in the past, Snowhawk appeared on camera. The first two appearances were around the same time, each day, for three or so hours. The seventh and fifth days were uneventful. During her longer visit on the fourth day, later in the evening than she had previously been there, she fell asleep on the couch. They watched the footage on these days in a normal speed, but looking at the time on the fourth day, a section of the video was missing. The time jumped from 17:34 to 18:07.
Adian backed the video up several times. "We need to tell my brother about this," he frowned, turning his chair toward her. "Part of this video is missing, and there's no telling what happened there."
"Who was on duty?" she asked, wondering if there was some dissent in the ranks of the guards.
"At that time, no one. I'm usually the only one in here, and I was in my room at that time."
Snowhawk stepped back and folded her arms across her chest. She had a feeling in the back of her head, but wasn't sure if she should say it aloud. "Do you think someone here is trying to get back at me?" That wasn't the feeling she'd had, but maybe she could get something out of Adian.
"Whoever it was got access to these files. The cameras will alert some of the guard captains and myself if they're tampered with." He sighed and shook his head. "I may have to just start encrypting these files. The guard shack key apparently isn't good enough, even though I have the only copies, and the lock was changed after we got my keys back from Legacy."
Snowhawk folded her ears flat, frowning and drawing her arms closer to her. She had to ask the question, if he'd thought of it. "What if it's not something we'd normally think of?"
"What do you mean?" the wolf returned, carefully standing.
She fidgeted and tapped the toe of her right hoof on the floor. "What if it's like... something supernatural. Like a vampire."
Adian brought his hand to his chin and he sighed as he thought. "I vaguely remember that there were reports, from shortly before the Delphin Empire came to power, so some 3,000 plus years back, reports that someone turned into some kind of vampiric creature in what's now Juv. They had been a delphin." Adian paused, looking off to the side. "There was some name I can't quite remember right now, but that's basically what he became."
"Did he survive?"
The chocolate wolf shrugged. "I don't know. But at this point, I would think it would be really unlikely he's alive. I know you delphin live forever compared to the rest of us, but I think more than three millennia is a bit much."
"I would hope so," she fidgeted, "And that whatever affected him wasn't able to be passed along."
He gave her a small nod, then motioned toward the hallway out of the room. "Let's go find Janus. We're going to have to talk about what we should do."
Janus looked up from his paper work as he heard his door open. He first saw his brother, who strode directly into the room and to his desk, where he placed a hand then leaned for a rest. Directly following Adian was Snowhawk, her head slightly lowered, biting at her lip, with her arms crossed before her. Her ears were back and when she stopped at his desk, she sighed heavily. "Something I should be aware of?" the pale wolf began, pushing his chair back and standing.
"Someone keeps getting onto the grounds and into the house. Or they're always here," Adian stated, then looked over at Snowhawk. "And they're fucking around with her." Before Janus could say anything else, his brother continued. "And they may not be mortal."
"How do you know?" Janus asked.
Snowhawk walked around the desk, then leaned over slightly. She moved her hair off of her neck, and showed him the two puncture wounds near the end of her scar. "These."
He looked, and lightly touched the two knots. "This is like a bite wound." Adian nodded in agreement. He placed both his hands on his desk, sighing and looking at the papers on it. He was quiet for a moment, then took a deep breath, and looked up at his love, then to his brother. "What would you suggest?"
"We don't know who this is right now," Adian began. "The one time when she remembered something, and was in a place where there was video, the files had been tampered with. I'll be changing how those are saved today, but that was the biggest lead." Janus saw his brother's lip curl into a small snarl, then run his hands through his short, red hair. "I hate to say we need to wait but--"
"I'll try to draw them out," Snowhawk interrupted.
"Love--" Janus tried to begin.
"I just won't be alone where there aren't cameras. Or I'll make sure I'm not in those spots long."
"Are you sure you want to do that?" Adian cautiously questioned, turning towards her.
The mare nodded. "If that's what it takes, yes." She closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply as she straightened her posture. She opened her eyes, then looked at both wolves. "I've done more dangerous things."
While Janus couldn't deny that statement, the thought still worried him that she would potentially be alone with some unknown being and that being's intentions. "I don't particularly like that idea," he frowned.
"I'm not thrilled about it either, love, but, it's about all we have right now."
He looked at his brother, frowning. "Adian?"
The younger wolf shrugged. "That's not what I would have suggested but it's better than what I was thinking of."
Janus rapped his knuckles on the desk and bit at his lower lip. "Dammit. Fine," he replied after several moments of silence. "Let's work out how we're going to do this. You both have the tendency to just rush into things without thinking about them."
Snowhawk glanced to Adian, then pointed his way. "He might. I just have too much shit go wrong when I do plan."
"Which implies that you don't always." He grinned at her, then looked to the younger wolf. "What have you seen?"
"Not much," Adian shrugged. "There was a little more than a half hour of video missing. What ever happened was during that time."
"Whoever it is seems to come by only when I'm asleep. I may not have woken up each time either. This has been going on since Adian and Legacy fought, and you went to the hospital for him." She thought for a moment. "I know what they look like, though that might not mean much."
"Could be a starting point, even if they shift forms," Janus commented.
"As long as they're not one of those that looks different in different forms. But what I saw was a male delphin, red and white piebald, brown hair, red horn with a golden spiral, and gold eyes. I swear they were glowing. His ears curled towards each other at the tips."
He brought his hand to his chin, thinking. "Those lines died out though. The ones with that ear type."
"Random recessive trait popping back up?" Adian asked.
"It would be the first in about 700 years, and I would think that unless they were hiding in Juv, they would have been pretty well known either here or in Di'aru."
"Still, that's something highly noticeable, beyond all the chrome."
"Do you think you should alert your guards to be more watchful, or just leave it as is?"
"I would think if he was hiding in the guards or house staff, that knowing might make him more bold, if he feels like he's too easily avoiding being seen," Snowhawk mentioned.
Adian nodded in agreement. "It could make him more bold. Easier to catch. I won't mention the missing video, because I could also catch him trying to change it. I'll leave the locks alone for now as well."
Janus agreed. "Right, and I wouldn't mention that you have an idea of what the intruder looks like either."
Another nod came from Adian. "The less that he thinks we know, the better."
Helaine found herself feeling relatively safe, for once, despite being with only one other delphin she knew. It had been a little more than two weeks since Jerome joined the group. She'd made friends with the last newcomer, Sunila, and having those two helped ease her anxiety.
She never stopped wondering, though, if her cousin was okay. If she was safe. If she was actually still free or if things had fallen back to the old ways.
People talked. They talked and said that they knew people on this property or that one that they were free, or they just looked free, or it wasn't even attempting to look like freedom. It all really depended on who the owner was, or once was. She never heard any doubting thoughts about the Sinisusi property. But still, she worried.
Perhaps it was just because she had never been without her cousin for very long--
She stopped her thoughts. No, there had been a period of over a year where they were apart. Almost fifteen months, as she counted. When she had first been sold to Ulmer. Why had it been okay then, but not since? Perhaps she should ask. She stood from her perch that over looked a small pond in the city's park, and wandered off to find Jerome.
The golden Guard was found carefully patrolling the edge of their group. Never far out of site, and never out of earshot. She trotted up to him, and he turned toward her as he heard the grass softly crunch under her hooves. "Is something wrong?" he quickly asked, his ears folding back. "You seem... concerned."
"I needed to talk to someone. About Snow, and you're about the only person I really know here."
Jerome nodded his head slightly. "Let's chat then. But a bit closer to the group so I can also keep an eye and ear out."
"Right," Helaine nodded. As they walked toward the group, she began, "Why am I so worried about her? We were separated for so long when I was sold over five years ago, but I didn't worry half as much then as I do now."
"Well," Jerome began, "you're a bit older now. You have also seen her go through quite a lot that she didn't go through when Bryce owned you both." He paused as they stopped. "And I'm sure the rumors that have been filtering in of places not exactly changing haven't helped any. Just being an escapee at this point is probably a huge factor in how you are feeling."
"Not in the least," Helaine responded, shaking her head and frowning.
"What if I go check on her?" he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder and smiling. "I haven't yet, and I should."
Helaine first smiled, then her face darkened as the next thought crossed her mind. "What if you stepping away means someone will come after us?"
Another smile and a ruffle of her hair came from Jerome. "Have you noticed that liver chestnut delphin? The purple-eyed one?"
"I've been training them, as a Guardian. They're nowhere near being fully-trained, and won't be for some time, but now that the slavers are mostly out of power, we will need more Guardians."
"Will they still be able to protect us in the mean time?" she asked.
"I won't be gone long. Probably not even a day. But yes, I have confidence in them. They will do everything they can to protect you, and the others."
Helaine smiled broadly and bounced forward to wrap her arms tightly around Jerome.
The following evening, golden hooves clicked down the sidewalk as a few flakes of snow fluttered around him. It was quiet tonight, less foot traffic than usual. Perhaps it was just the time, Jerome thought. The city had slowly been regaining some of its population, though not everyone would return. It was also possible it was the temperature. It was still early in J'ari, and winter was only really starting.
There was a scent of ice in the air. It had only flurried until now, but he felt that actual snow would fall soon. A certain purple delphin would be pleased.
He saw the iron bars of the Sinisusi estate ahead of him. A hasty repair job had been performed on one section of fence, the one Helaine had described as being where her and her cousin had slipped out not three months earlier.
He saw someone ahead of him, standing and staring through the fence toward the house. The faint click of hooves as the figure shifted told him the species, and he soon also saw the glint of silver on a horn from the figure's head. That hair color is familiar, he thought. He trotted up, not taking care to disguise the sound of his own hooves in an attempt to carefully draw attention, and not startle the other delphin.
The figure's head turned, and the dark cream, dun-marked face and amber eyes of another former student of his faced him. "Legacy!" he called out, smiling.
The somber look on Legacy's face melted away into a large grin. "Jerome!" he returned. "I was hoping I would find you soon."
"Something of interest here?"
The younger Guardian-in-training nodded. "I know she came back here. But I can't get in to see her and talk to her. I just want to talk!" he babbled.
"You mean Snowhawk?" Jerome asked, canting his head to the side.
Legacy nodded. "I think she's the one. I thought so when I saw her years ago, but I found her like two weeks ago, scavenging. I invited her back to my place, and she stayed the night." He took a deep breath and sighed. "Then those wolves showed up the a few days after."
"And since then?"
"I grabbed the keys off one of them when I was fighting with him... Well, he dropped them and I picked them up. So I came back here a few days later and the damn guards knocked me out when I tried to get in."
Jerome closed his eyes, and he knew the pain he felt at those words was visible on his face. The younger continued.
"But she was here! She was on the second floor and watching when they clocked me!"
The golden one grimaced and brought his hand to his head, rubbing just above his eyes. "Do you realize just what it sounds like you're saying?"
"What do you mean?"
"Guardians are not stalkers, Legacy," he sighed. "Have you attempted to just, I don't know, knock and not break in with stolen keys?"
"They keep chasing me off!"
"Well, all things considered..."
Jerome gave a heavy sigh. "Look, come back with me. Give things time to kind of cool down here. I'm guessing you have them on higher alert, so I can't exactly easily check on her either. Helaine is back at our camp, and you two can bitch to your heart's content."
Legacy frowned and fidgeted. "Alright, if you feel it's best."
Jerome turned next to Legacy, draping an arm across him and directed him back toward their camp. "I do. Besides, it's getting really damn cold. We're setting up in a larger shelter tonight. And being alone isn't fun, so come make the best of it with us."
Over the following ten days, no one, especially Snowhawk, noticed any changes.
The spot on her neck was still sore, like it was freshly injured. She tracked each of those days she noticed it was worse than others. But she couldn't place times. There were periods where she had no idea where she was or what she was doing. Memories from around then were just hazy.
Adian had said yesterday that chunks of time were still going missing from the recordings as well. No one could even see where the files were stored but him, and only two other guards were ever in the building to watch monitors. Neither of them ever reported seeing anything.
She sighed as she looked out the window of her room. The skies had been heavily overcast for a couple of days now. She had seen the flurries turn heavier, and there was a frosting of snow over the gardens now. Today, it was finally starting to really come down. I know I told them I would stay where I could be seen but, dammit, I want to go out and enjoy this. She nodded a bit to herself, then turned and trotted to her closet. She removed a heavy, hooded cloak to drape over her shoulders, then headed out to the hallway.
Few people were in the house today, but it was Terndi, after all. Their weekend was starting. Just the regularly posted guards, and a couple other delphin remained behind, and were now paid for their work.
Just before she opened the door into the gardens, she slung the cloak around her and fastened it. There were a few cameras outside of the doors, so she would just stay in range of those. That wasn't going against what she had told Adian and Janus. Opening the door would set off a noise in the guard shack, as opening any window or outside door would do, so Adian should be able to easily track where she was.
She shrugged off the thought and turned the handle of the door, swinging it in, then stepping outside. The air hit her lungs sharply, and she inhaled deeply to take in the icy smells around her. The snow crunched beneath her hooves as she moved away from the door. Everything was frosted. She could see on the hedges around her, and felt under her hooves, a thin layer of ice beneath the three inches or so of snow.
She crunched away from the house, and out into the garden. A couple of small slips left her wondering if some hoof boots may have also been a good idea.
As the flakes fluttered down around her, and she moved further from the house into the garden, she tried to be mindful of the cameras on the sides of the house, and to stay in their field of view.
The hedge just ahead of her rustled, sending some of the snow piled on the evergreen leaves to the ground. She crouched and moved forward to investigate. Sometimes, there were small animals or birds living in the branches.
A false step sent her forward. She hadn't been mindful of her footsteps, and her hoof slipped on the ice.
She never hit the ground, though. Someone caught her, but she hadn't heard anyone anywhere near her. "Who--" she began to ask, turning her head to look behind her.
The golden eyes of the piebald unicorn stared back at her. She opened her mouth to either scream or curse or scream a curse, but quickly found her muzzle clamped shut with his hand. He hefted her to the hedge, and held her firmly despite her struggling. Once he had her near the thick branches, he turned her around to face him, never removing his hand from her muzzle.
She struggled to see behind him, to see if the cameras could still see her here. No, in trying to find out what was under the hedge, she had wandered too far away from them. Dammit, she thought, how could I have been so stupid!?
"Look at me, mare!" his voice commanded, as he snapped her head towards his own.
She whined and struggled, but his grip on her was vice-like. When her eyes met his gaze, she found herself unable to look away. Their gold-tone glowed. He wasn't looking at her as much into her. Why couldn't she look away from him? In her periphery, she saw the golden spiral of his horn begin to glow as well.
A name entered her mind, almost like being called for. A male voice calling out. Emerald? she heard. Are you awake? The message would pause, then repeat.
She couldn't tell how long this continued. Her perception of time was distorted. She felt the soles of her hooves begin to numb, as well as the cold leaking in through her cloak where she had been held against the hedge for however long.
The piebald male's eyes softened from harsh to almost sad, and he gave an almost disgusted sigh.
There was a flicker in her mind a moment later, and a female voice, not her own, answered back, Kieran?
The male's expression instantly changed to one of almost joy. You'll be back soon, my love, the male voice in her head responded. "Though now the question is: what do I do with you?" he grinned as the glow died from his horn.
It had been his voice, she thought. She hadn't heard him speak enough to connect the two.
Who did you think it was? the female voice responded.
She didn't have time to process the second voice in her head before she felt her head roughly jerked to the side and saw the piebald male's head move toward her. The world went dark not half a moment later.
Adian's attention snapped to the monitor looking at the garden when he heard that door alarm trip. He saw Snowhawk tentatively make her way outside, taking careful steps on the ice-slicked stone of the garden's path. He watched her cautious steps, until she managed to get to the outer range of the camera. She stopped where most of her, from hocks upward, were out of frame. "Dammit, Snowhawk. You need to be more careful."
He saw her step forward, then she seemed to slip.
A shadow crossed where she just stood. Then the screen turned to static. "What the hell?!" he yelled as he jumped from his chair. He furiously poked at the buttons on the console in front of him, trying to bring the camera back to life. "Shit."
He turned and sprinted out of the room and up the short hall, then scrambled up the stairwell. He paused for only a half moment and grabbed his keys from the hook next to the guard shack's exit, then barged through the heavy door. He ran towards the garden, hearing the solid thud of the door slamming behind him.
The garden was not far from the guard shack, but that shadow, followed by the camera going down was more than concerning. "Snowhawk!" he yelled as he approached where she should be. "Snowhawk!"
He continued to run through the garden.
He rounded a corner, and his legs went out from under him on the slippery ground. "Dammit!" he growled as he hauled himself up. "I hit that wound." As he stalked forward, limping from pain, he could see the door she'd left from. Her hoof prints were beginning to blur from the still falling snow. He followed them to see where she'd slipped, but no signs of her knees or hands hitting the ground. Then he saw a second, larger set of hoof prints. The hedge right near where she'd slipped was missing the snow on its branches, and the two sets of prints were near the center of that. Only the larger set left, and hers were nowhere to be seen.
"Snowhawk!?" he continued. "Where the hell did she go?"
"Oh," an unknown male voice began, "you're a speedy one, aren't you?"
Adian spun around to see the piebald delphin with the curved ear tips standing before him. Over his left shoulder was the cloaked form of Snowhawk. He narrowed his eyes and growled softly. "Hand her over."
The delphin smirked. "Not even a 'Who are you?' How rude."
"I don't really give a shit who you are. You need to give her to me, and then you need to get lost."
"I don't think so, wolf," the unicorn smirked, reaching across with his other arm and lightly patting the back of her thigh. "She's quite important to me, and until her purpose is fulfilled, I think I'll be hanging onto her." He grinned, and Adian saw sharp fangs in the other's mouth.
Adian narrowed his eyes and snarled. "It's been you."
A small shrug came as the reply. "You never noticed until she pointed it out. You're either slacking or not very good at your job. Though," He inclined his head, pausing for a moment. "You're not without potential. I could help you out--"
Adian snarled and tried to lunge at him, but his grip on the ground was tentative at best. He did move forward, but couldn't close the gap quick enough to grab either delphin.
"Why are you so angry that I have her? Not like you have an interest just trying to protect your brother's feelings. Or maybe," he again paused and grinned, "you do have some interest in this mare."
Adian growled again. "Just hand her over."
"You are quite the rude wolf, not answering my question, not asking my name, just making your demands."
This bastard is stalling. Why? Adian thought.
His thought would be answered momentarily. He felt his arms wrenched back and pinned behind him, and he was pulled backwards, then off his feet. He looked down to see a thick, leathery tail ending in a tuft of mulberry hair across his chest. He was jostled around as whoever had him pulled him closer to their chest and, with the tail's strength supporting him against the attacker, one arm was freed from his, then wrapped around his chest, then the other. They were the same grey, leathery skin as the tail. The tail tip curled up and the tuft brushed under his chin. "Aren't you a handsome looking wolf?" the heavily-accented female voice asked.
Adian twisted back as best he could to try and see whose arms he was in. He saw an almost, but not quite, equine muzzle, with bare skin instead of fur. The large ears on the being sat low, resting along the curve of her neck, and her eyes were so lightly colored, they were nearly white. She grinned at him, revealing sharp, predatory teeth. "No fucking way," he gasped. "An avizon!"
"Figured we were just myths?" she smirked. "Like his kind, too?" she continued, nodding in the male delphin's direction.
Adian struggled against her, but his feet not touching the ground made it difficult to try and escape. Her hold on him was vice-like. He couldn't even hook his leg behind her knee to try and pull her down.
Her tail slid down to wrap itself around his legs. "Hold still," she chided.
The male delphin smirked and turned away. "I take it you have this, Anya?"
Adian felt her chin bump his shoulder as she nodded. "More than."
The unicorn nodded in return to her over his shoulder and walked away.
Adian fought against Anya's grip, but she was unrelenting. "Let me go, dammit!"
"Look, wolf, I don't know if you've realized this yet, but you aren't going anywhere. If you'll hold still for just a bit more, I'll let you go and be on my way."
"Just what do you want, anyway?" Adian snarled, still trying to shake himself free.
He felt himself lifted slightly as she shrugged. "I'm not sure what exactly he's doing but we just need you and your brother out of the way for a little bit."
Adian growled and continued to try and break free from her grasp.
Janus stopped outside of Snowhawk's room. Her door was slightly open, but when he looked inside, she was missing. He saw her closet door opened, and an empty coat hanger had been hung from the mirror on the inside of the door. She usually did that with coats and cloaks that she would return to the closet shortly.
He looked out her window to see the snow falling, and with the missing outer garment, figured she must have stepped out into what might have been called her element. Neither of the boots she would have taken for a trip of any real length were missing from the closet. She must be in the gardens, he thought.
He left her room and headed downstairs to the garden's doorway. Upon stepping outside, he heard his brother's faint growl. He quietly closed the door, then made his way to where he had heard the growl from. As he walked, he saw the various hoof and paw prints leading to the same place. One set of paw prints looked like nothing he'd seen before.
"You really don't understand the whole 'hold still thing,' do you?" an unknown female voice asked.
He peaked from behind one of the hedges to see his brother struggling against the grip of a very muscular, draconic looking, female being. A single word thought crossed his mind. Shit. He recognized her species, though they were so uncommon, they were generally thought to be extinct.
Now what? he wondered while he listened to his brother fight against the avizon. He couldn't remember most of what he'd learned about the species, not this quickly, in any case. Dammit, Adian. What did you get yourself into this time?