eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
eponymous_rose ([personal profile] eponymous_rose) wrote2012-11-04 02:24 pm

[Mass Effect] Home Fires Burning (2/8)

Title: Home Fires Burning (2/8)
Word Count: 5,000 (this chapter)
Characters: Hilary Moreau, Aeian T'Goni, Solana Vakarian, Lantar Sidonis, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'Soni, Donnel Udina, Dehkarr, Jeff "Joker" Moreau
Rating: T
Warnings: Canon character death, violence
Spoilers: ME3, from start to finish.

Summary: Khar'shan, Tiptree, Citadel, Palaven, Earth. Five tales from the Reaper War. This is the way the worlds end.

Night Winds: 1. Endings

It was now the official, carefully considered opinion of Hilary Sarah Moreau that the war with the Reapers was absolute, total bullshit.

"Fuck everything about this," she muttered, and slammed the lid of a storage trunk as loudly as she could. From the tinkle of broken glass that followed, she was pretty sure she'd managed to break something inside. The thought made her feel a bit better.

"Language, Hilary," Dad said mildly. He was still staring out the window, which was pretty much all he'd been doing ever since the continent's main center had gone dark two hours ago.

"Fuck, Dad," she said, putting a little extra emphasis on the first word. "It's not like they're going to come down the street and go, hey, mind if we blow up your farm? If the Reapers bother coming out this far from the main settlement, we're gonna be dead before we know what hits us."

She'd been hoping to get a rise out of him, but he only snorted and looked back at her with a wry smile. "So sue me. Call it human nature." The smile turned down into an exaggerated scowl. "And watch your damn language, kiddo."

She turned away to hide her grin, but then she realized she was looking right at a blank wall where their family portraits used to be, and the smile faded almost immediately. "Dad, we should stand and fight."

Now she had his full attention. He moved away from the window and leaned in to talk to her, like she was a little kid again. It never failed to piss her off. "Fight with what?"

She gritted her teeth. "I don't know. Anything! This is our home. We shouldn't just roll over and run away. We can't."

Dad's face tightened, exactly the way it did whenever he thought about Mom. "Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, Hilary. No shame in retreating."

"Don't give me clichés," Hilary snapped, and even she was shocked at the venom in her voice. "Jeff's out there fighting right now. He doesn't run away, not for anything."

Dad's eyes crinkled for a second, like he was going to cry, and that more than anything made the bottom drop out of her stomach. Then he moved away, went back to loading up his files. "Your brother's an officer in the Alliance. He's a grown man and a trained pilot." He paused, braced himself against the box for a moment. "You're fifteen, Hilary. Please, give me this much. I want you safe. Work with me on this."

Hilary plopped down in one of the kitchen chairs, rubbing her temples. She hated this, hated going from wanting to personally drop-kick every Reaper back into dark space to wanting to burst into tears and hide under the kitchen table until everything was back to the way it used to be. "Dad, I'm sorry. I know you know what you're doing. I just- I was just hoping we could stay a little longer."

He finally turned back to her, and the tears in his eyes made her feel like absolute shit. "You're worried about Laura, right?"

Hilary crossed her arms, defensively. "No. Yes." She heaved a sigh. "I don't know. I don't care. I just want her safe. I don't think I'm even mad at her anymore." And to think that three weeks ago, the worst moment in her life had been walking in on her then-girlfriend with her hand down the pants of some spacer. Talk about perspective.

"I saw some evac shuttles leave the main compound. They probably got the kids out. I'm sure she's okay."

'Yeah. I hope so."

They were quiet a while longer, loading up the supplies, and this time Hilary was the one to sneak glances out the window. Smoke was still rising over the horizon. She wondered about Earth – they'd lost their newsfeeds a long time ago. She wondered about Jeff. She wondered about Laura.

When she looked back, Dad had gone still, his face pale and tight, and then she heard it, too, the roar of engines, the unmistakeable sound of a vessel approaching.

His eyes met hers, and another wash of panic ran through her. She realized she was holding a candlestick, of all things, gripping it so tightly that her knuckles had gone white, and she thought, a little wildly, Come and get it, you bastards, this thing's heavier than it looks.

Then the more rational part of her mind intervened, the part that made her hang out after classes to chat with the ex-Alliance engineer who taught physics, the part that knew very well what the engine of an asari shuttle sounded like. She laughed, way too loud in her relief, and Dad shot her such a baffled look that she had to clap a hand over her mouth to keep from bursting out laughing again. When he finally realized what he was hearing, he shot her a dizzying grin, and then they were both scrambling for the door. By the time they reached the makeshift landing pad, half the farmers in the outskirt settlements were there.

The asari shuttle was, without question, the most beautiful thing Hilary had ever seen.

Well, until the door opened and a couple of battle-weary asari commandos staggered out. Tiptree was a human colony with no particular tourist attractions – unless farm implements were your thing – so the most Hilary could claim in terms of exposure to aliens was the half-remembered early childhood she'd spent on Arcturus Station. And the extranet, of course, but you never knew how much of that was real, and how much was just some troll screwing with the stupid colony kids. Okay, yeah, she had come across a hell of a lot of pictures and vids of asari, some of which she'd taken great pains to ensure her father hadn't caught her browsing, but they didn't exactly do justice to the real thing.

The asari wore scuffed-up battle armor, and the one in front had a gash across her forehead that she seemed only to notice when she had to make an annoyed swipe at the blood every now and then. They were tall and strong and carried their arsenal of weaponry like it was just another part of them, their every movement a picture of easy, economical grace. It was like they didn't even realize what badasses they were, Hilary thought, and straightened her shoulders in unconscious imitation.

The one in front holstered her pistol – Hilary didn't know the make, guns weren't really her thing, but it was something appropriately sleek and graceful – and jogged up to greet Julie Feng, the de facto leader of their little farming district. They spoke in low tones, and Hilary started to wish she'd learned how to lip-read. Whatever was going on, it was pretty much a given that she wouldn't get the whole story. Kids never did. Apparently you gained a special superpower when you were eighteen that magically made you able to cope with the apocalypse. Who knew?

She didn't realize she'd been drifting away from the others and closer to the shuttle until she was nearly on top of it. The second commando was crouched next to the thrusters, trying to prize a jagged bit of shrapnel loose from the system. Hilary crouched down, keeping her distance, barely daring to breathe lest she get scolded and sent off to do some more all-important standing around. She watched.

It was funny how similar asari and human tech was when you got right down to it, and not all of it was because of technological cross-pollination after first contact. Hilary had won a prize for the essay she'd written on the topic, about how universal physical laws had dictated the course of engineering, which in turn had forced technological development along certain parallel lines the galaxy over. This advanced bit of asari military engineering had a surprising amount in common with the little hobby flitter-jet Jeff let her fly whenever he came home, and that was pretty cool, all things considered.

The asari's hands slipped, banging against the still-smoking engine coils, and she let out a string of curses so startlingly vile that Hilary couldn't help but burst out laughing. She stopped, mortified, when the asari whirled around to glare at her. "Oh, um. Sorry. I didn't mean-"

The asari's features melted into a ridiculously stunning smile. "No, I apologize. It's been something of a long day."

Hilary glanced toward the smoke rising from the horizon, thought again about Laura. "Yeah."

Following her gaze, the asari blew out a long breath, then crouched back to her task. "Can I help you with something?"

That sounded like a genuine inquiry, not a get-out-of-my-face kind of hint, so Hilary ran with it, trying to sound blasé, like her heart wasn't racing a mile a minute. "No, sorry for bugging you. I was just interested in the ship."

"You're into ships?"

The asari shifted over a little, and after a moment's hesitation Hilary crouched down next to her. Crouched down next to a friggin' asari commando to look at the engine of a friggin' asari shuttle. Okay, screw blasé. This was officially the most amazing thing ever. "Yeah, I'm hoping to be a pilot someday. My brother's a pilot in the Alliance." She hesitated. Last she'd heard, Jeff had quit and run off to go do something dangerous with his old commander. Twice. "Sort of."

"Hm," the asari said. Apparently giving up on brute force, she'd started using small biotic fields to tease the piece of shrapnel out of position, and Hilary shut up and watched, fascinated by the tiny twitches of her fingertips that seemed to be the extent of the mnemonic she needed. Two kids in her playschool class back on Arcturus had shown some weak biotic tendencies, but as far as she knew, they'd just manifested in an odd bit of blue glowing and the persistent rumors that one kid had sneezed himself out a bulkhead. This? This was art, plain and simple, like watching a dancer or a musician, the kind that was good enough to make it look effortless. She figured she should probably be jealous, but she was too busy being entranced.

The shrapnel finally jerked free, and the asari gave a little sigh of relief, turning it over in her hands with a grimace. "I swear I thought this was going to be what did us in. Take a near-direct hit from a Reaper, no big deal, but get a bit of metal in the works and bang, it's all over." She sighed again – there was something a whole lot older and more tired in that sound – and tossed the shrapnel away.

Still feeling a little stunned by the whole experience, Hilary watched the sliver of metal soar in its arc. When she looked back, the asari was pushing herself to her feet, dusting off the knees of her armor in what was ultimately a futile gesture, given the caked-on layers of grime. Then she stopped and just sort of smiled awkwardly at Hilary, who just sort of smiled awkwardly back. Dad had apparently noticed her absence and was starting toward her. Somewhere off in the distance, an explosion boomed, a faint echo that sounded like a low, rumbling growl.

In a desperate stab at normalcy, Hilary extended her hand. "I'm Hilary Moreau. Welcome to Tiptree."

The asari shook her hand, solemnly. "Aeian T'Goni. I'm the closest thing we have to a pilot right now. That's Neiara being all bossy over there. Serea and Lori are still on the ship being anti-social."

She paused, glancing back to the smoke billowing over the horizon, then offered a weak smile. "I guess we're here to rescue you."

As it turned out, there was a bit of an unspoken 'eventually' in the rescue plan.

Hilary managed to leverage her new first-name acquaintance with Aeian to keep Dad from filtering too much of the intel through his what-my-daughter-doesn't-know-can't-hurt-her engine, and she actually wound up being the room while Julie delivered her big speech to the farm owners. Apparently the war with the Reapers was going about as well as could be expected, which was to say that it was absolute shit and everyone was dying horribly. A few asari commando units had been passing through on their way from one battle to the next, had caught Tiptree's frantic distress calls, and had opted to help out.

The first shuttles had managed to evacuate all the children from the main settlement – Hilary breathed a sigh of relief for Laura – before the Reapers' onslaught had pushed the rest of the force to land, shifting the balance to a messy ground war that was likely to be ongoing for the foreseeable future, at least until reinforcements could break the Reaper blockade and they could all run like hell.

Aeian's shuttle – technically, Neiara was in command, but Hilary knew enough about pilots to tell whose ship it really was – had been badly damaged in an earlier battle, killing half its crew, but the survivors, being supreme badasses of the highest order, had still opted to join the rest of the force in their detour to Tiptree. Their little group of commandos had been recalled to the fight, but they wanted to leave one of their own behind to stay with the farmers until arrangements could be made for a full evacuation, Julie concluded.

Hilary glanced at Dad and tried not to make her puppy-dog eyes look too obvious. She followed me home, Dad, can I keep her?

He rolled his eyes back at her, then raised his hand. "We have a spare room. Nothing fancy, but we'd be happy to put someone up for the night."

Julie had apparently caught the oh-so-subtle subtext, because she shot Hilary a knowing smile. "I'll see if T'Goni is interested. Thanks, Alain. We'll stop by later tonight and see how things are going."

And just like that, Hilary was torn between mortal embarrassment at being so obvious, and giddy-making joy at getting to spend more time with a friggin' asari commando. The latter won out.

Aeian didn't have much to bring with her, but Hilary insisted on carrying the little duffel over her shoulder as they walked back to the house. For once, Dad was being very un-Dad-like, walking a few paces ahead to give her a chance to talk to Aeian in private. Of course, now that she had the opportunity, her brain seemed to have turned to mush, and all she could do was blush a lot and not look at Aeian directly. Charming.

After a while, Aeian took pity on her and broke the ice. "You said you wanted to be a pilot. Why aren't you training to be one?"

"I am. Sort of." Hilary swung the duffel a couple times, then remembered it wasn't hers and went back to carrying it more gingerly. "Extra classes after school. My brother helps when he comes home, though he hasn't been in a long time. I've got a ways to go yet."

"How old are you?"


Aeian laughed, then held a hand up in apology. "Sorry. I just can't get used to that. Humans are so young. Your father can't be more than, what, a hundred?"

"What?" Hilary guffawed at Aeian's baffled expression. "No! He's, like, fifty."

She was starting to recognize the teasing glint in Aeian's eye. "Children, the lot of you."

And just then, Hilary was starting to realize that she probably should've paid more attention in her xenobio class, but that was the one class she'd shared with Laura, and taking notes hadn't exactly been foremost on her mind. "Why, how old are you?"

Apparently Dad wasn't quite out of earshot, because he glanced back at her with a disapproving scowl. Aeian waved a hand at him. "Don't worry, we don't have a cultural taboo about age unless you feel like you've got something to prove. I'm 259 years old as of last week."

Hilary gaped, and had the vague satisfaction of seeing her dad stumble slightly before resuming his nonchalant pace. She did a little mental arithmetic. Aeian had been born not long after the First World War back on Earth, before humanity had even managed to leave their own planet. "Whoa. I mean, er. Happy birthday?"

She shrugged. "Thanks. You know, commando units actually tend pretty young. I guess we're the only ones still stupid enough to want to do this kind of work. Neiara's the eldest on our ship at 303." Her face darkened a little. "Marin, one of the people we lost, was just 106."

"I'm sorry," Hilary said.

Aeian shrugged again, but this time it seemed forced. "Yeah, well. That's kind of how it goes. People die, people live, and if you try to find a reason for it all you go insane." She scrubbed at the grime on her forehead with the heel of her hand, somehow managing to make the gesture look graceful. "Anyway. Sorry for being all doom-and-gloom. We haven't had much downtime. Or any downtime at all, really. This is what you have to look forward to if you go in for a piloting job with the Alliance, by the way."

Hilary knew Aeian was talking about the grime and the death and the suffering, but it was hard not to imagine herself at the helm of a beautiful, shining ship crewed with beautiful, shining people who did amazing things every day and acted like it was no big deal. "Yeah," she said, trying to sound appropriately sobered.

"So tell me about this colony," Aeian said, and there was a definite humor-the-locals tone to her voice, but somewhere beneath it Hilary figured there was genuine curiosity. She wondered what it would be like to do so many incredible things that the mundane seemed unusual.

"Oh, you know. Farming community, nothing too special. Tiptree's pretty good, as colonization prospects go." She started swinging the duffel again, warming to her topic. "First-in colonists cleared out one rare but deadly bit of natural vegetation, and pretty much everything else grows easily enough. Most of the actual farming's managed by VIs, and there are a few of us for each plot of land to make sure everything goes smoothly. I guess you saw the main settlement already. Not too exciting." She paused. "Well, until recently."

"Hm," said Aeian, and slowed her pace a little, apparently to let Dad get a bit further ahead of them. Curious, Hilary followed suit. "Listen, I... well, I know where you're at right now. Believe me, I know. I ran away from home when I was young. I wanted to see the galaxy."

Hilary felt a chill. She was pretty sure she'd grown out of the whole wanting-to-run-away thing, especially once she figured out what it would do to Dad if she just up and left. She could stick it out in Boringsville until she was an adult, no question of that. Assuming there was still a Boringsville to be stuck in when all this was over.

Still, even when things had showed no signs of ever changing, there was always something at the back of her mind, kinda like that urge everyone got at the edge of a cliff, like you wanted to throw yourself over just to see what would happen.

"But you did see the galaxy, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Aeian said, and glanced back toward the shuttle's landing site with a strange, wistful expression. "Yeah, I kinda did. For me, it worked out. But there were so many ways things could have gone wrong, and I had to make a lot of mistakes to get where I am. You seem like a smart kid, Hilary. Do things right, not fast."

See, why did this sort of thing make sense when Aeian said it, but when Dad said it, it just sounded overprotective, suffocating? Hilary had a weird moment of homesickness for Jeff, which was silly, since he wasn't exactly the world's most responsible adult. But he was her brother. He'd listen without judging, without ulterior motives. She could tell him anything. She hadn't realized how much she missed that.

"Yeah," she said, shaking herself from her reverie. "Yeah, okay."

A little cautiously, Aeian nudged her with her elbow. "Hey, don't look so serious. I know this is a really messed up situation right now, but you'll go nuts if you don't recognize the weirdness in it, take advantage of the moments of rest, the good times."

Hilary tried very hard not to blush at the brief physical contact. "With an attitude like that, I think you're going to get along just fine with me and Dad."

The grin Aeian shot her in return was blinding.

Okay, so things were a little awkward over dinner. Aeian stood very stiffly in a corner and politely refused to sit down. It took Hilary way too long to realize that she was standing so she could always face the door.

It was a little disconcerting, to be honest, seeing someone so clearly trained to assess threats in every situation, like she and Dad had suddenly been put into danger just by being in the same room with her. But Aeian did relax a little when Dad served up the protein-cube stew – with most of their cooking implements packed up and ready to go, their options for dinner were a little limited – and she wound up wolfing down two servings before sheepishly asking for a third.

Dad was being really thoughtful again, letting Hilary have a lot of time alone to chat with Aeian, which was great but was also kinda starting to creep Hilary out. She figured he was more than a little distracted by the whole looming apocalypse thing, and hey, maybe he thought she could use a little disillusionment about what being a pilot was really like, but it seemed like he was treating her as an adult all of a sudden. Parents were weird. She'd given up trying to understand hers practically from day one.

So she chatted with Aeian about what it was like being a commando, eventually steering her over towards a kitchen chair that still had a decent view of the door, and it felt like a victory when Aeian slumped into the seat at last. Within minutes she'd even relaxed enough to pull a little data chit out of her pocket, flicking it absently between her fingers in a dizzying display of dexterity as she spoke. In spite of the evident sureness of Aeian's hands, now that her own initial adrenaline-rush was starting to wear off, Hilary was starting to notice the sag in Aeian's shoulders, the dullness in her eyes that spoke of plenty of hours of missed sleep.

"You okay?" she asked, during a lull in conversation, and Aeian straightened, a bit guiltily

"Fine." She locked gazes with Hilary for a moment, then rolled her eyes. "Okay, yes, I'll admit that I'm a bit tired. Does it show?"

"Not a bit. I'm just freakishly perceptive."

"That obvious, huh?"

Dad poked his head back into the kitchen before Hilary could come up with a snappy retort. "Aeian, I've set the guest room up for you."

Aeian practically leapt to her feet, pocketing the data chit, as though realizing for the first time that she'd let her guard down. "Oh, thank you. I may just stay on watch tonight, though." She held up a hand to forestall Hilary's protests. "Commandos are trained to get by on very little sleep. I'll be fine."

Hilary drummed her fingers on the table, trying to stare Aeian down with her best disapproving glare. It wasn't doing much good, so she attempted a wheedling smile instead. "How about a shower, at least? You keep mentioning how grimy life is on a starship."

With a snort, Aeian rolled her eyes. "Using my own words against me won't work." She paused. "Water?"

"Of course," Hilary said, wondering what the alternative was on an asari vessel. She pushed the thought of showering asari commandos out of her mind as quickly as possible.

Aeian glanced over to Dad, who was grinning, then sighed and rubbed her forehead. "You drive a hard bargain. All right. I'll have a quick shower."

Dad jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Third door on the left."

"And for my next trick, I'll convince you to get some sleep," Hilary called as Aeian departed with one last backward glance at the door.

"Don't get cocky," Aeian said, and shut the door. A second later, the sound of running water echoed from down the corridor.

Still smiling, Dad sat down across from Hilary. "I'm proud of you, y'know."

Hilary blinked, pretending innocence. "Because I convinced Aeian to take a shower? I didn't think she smelled that bad."

Dad rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Hilary, I'm trying to be all nice and paternal. We're having a moment, here."

With a smirk, Hilary leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "Go on, then. Tell me how amazing I am."

"You're amazing," Dad said, without missing a beat, and there was a weirdly sincere undertone that wiped the smirk right off Hilary's face, made her straighten up in her chair. "I mean that, kiddo. I know it hasn't been easy since Mom-" He paused, took a breath. "Since Mom died, and since Jeff left. Being stuck here isn't exactly every kid's dream, I know. But you're making the most of it, and every now and then I'll look at you and see this confident grown woman staring me down, and it kind of scares the hell out of me."

Hilary swallowed past a lump in her throat. "Dad-"

He glanced toward the window, to the plumes of smoke and the faint orange glow that was in the wrong direction to be the setting sun. "There's a lot of scary stuff happening right now, kiddo, and I just want you to know that I'm going to do everything I can to keep you safe."

Clearing her throat, Hilary glanced down at the tabletop, saw the scrawling doodles she and Jeff had carved there the first time he'd come to Tiptree to visit. Most of hers were stars. She traced them with one finger, thought about how fucked up growing up really was when you came right down to it, because when did she stop feeling protected by Dad and start feeling protective of him?

"And I'll do everything I can to keep you safe," she said, in a shaky voice, and glanced up to make sure he wasn't going to make fun of her solemnity. He looked a little stricken for a second, and she thought that maybe growing up was pretty fucked up for all parties involved.

Then the moment passed, and he smiled, patting her hand, and she felt good, surrounded by home and amped up on new excitement and listening to the running water that spoke of change. She could think about what came next without that old terror running through her. Life would go on. They'd be okay.

The door's chime rang, and with a sheepish grin, Dad patted her hand again and went to answer. Julie and the others were at the door, and Hilary sighed at the way they all shot a conspicuous look in her direction. This was clearly an Adults Only meeting about Adult Stuff of the greatest importance.

Then Hilary realized they were probably strategizing, talking about their odds of survival, contingency plans, that sort of thing. Maybe she didn't want to hear it after all.

She drifted back into the kitchen, stared down at the half-loaf of bread left on the counter. She didn't really feel like eating – neither she nor Dad had done more than poke at their bowls of stew. All the adrenaline was really screwing with her system, lately. She felt like running ten miles and sleeping for two days, all at the same time. She felt like-

A scream ripped through the evening air, something horrible and distant and unreal, rage and wordless suffering all at once. Hilary jerked, then dashed back to the living room in time to see terror wash over Dad's face, and they both headed for the window.

Someone was walking toward the house at a brisk pace, and it took Hilary a moment to recognize the other asari, Neiara.

"I thought they weren't due back until tomorrow," Julie murmured.

Hilary darted back to pound on the bathroom door, her skin crawling with the echoes of that horrible scream. The water was still running – Aeian mustn't have heard anything. "Aeian? Neiara's here."

The water stopped, and Hilary glanced over to see Dad backing away from the window, his brow furrowed. "Something's wrong. I don't like this."

The bathroom door opened, and Hilary was so ramped up on adrenaline that it took her a few seconds to notice that Aeian was only wearing a towel. "What's happening?"

"Neiara's here," Hilary said again, trying to sound calm, but she could hear her heartbeat in her ears. "I don't-"

The front door sparked and crashed open, the sound of exploding panels doing little to drown out another horrifying, ululating scream.

Hilary fell back a step, crashing into Aeian, and then shouts were rising up from the living room, and Neiara stepped in, but she didn't look right, she didn't look right, she was glowing and there was something about her eyes, black and fathomless, and she turned to look at Hilary and screamed again-

One of the farmers, a man named Lin who'd given Hilary rides to school whenever Dad wasn't around, took a step toward Neiara – he couldn't see her eyes, he couldn't see her eyes – and she turned, touched a hand gently to his forehead. He gave a horrible scream, then crumpled to the ground like a puppet with cut strings. His eyes were wide open. There was blood running from his nose.

Julie stepped in front of the others – what the hell was she doing, she was just a damn farmer, what the hell did she think she was doing – and Neiara just seemed to jerk forward, not even really walking, the horrible glow cascading around her. She touched Julie, and this time it wasn't so sudden, this time her skin melted and dripped off her bones. Julie screamed, and Neiara screamed with her, and Hilary couldn't tell if the screaming was out there somewhere or just in her head, screaming, screaming.

Things were pouring through the door, things that looked like lurching, shambling gray people, things with glowing blue tracers across their gaunt bodies, moaning, reaching, grasping anyone who got too close, and all the while Neiara jerked from person to person, screaming, screaming-

Something landed on Hilary's shoulder and her whole body seemed to snap, and she felt bile rising in her throat and all she wanted to do was run, all she wanted to do was go, go-

It was Aeian, Aeian screaming in her ear, Aeian's hand gripping her shoulder so hard it sent shocks of pain through her, and then it was Aeian dragging her back, dragging her away from the dead and the screaming, and Hilary saw one face that almost made sense in the middle of the dying, Dad's face, one glance, and then she and Aeian were crashing through the back door and the night air was cold and shocking and the screamers were still screaming and the dead were still dying and they were running, running.

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