Aidan stretched and winced at the twinge in his back, then looked up at the sound of a soft dual toned chime. It didn't show him who was standing on his front step... Only a hominid outline. He grunted and whacked the panel to admit the visitor into the front foyer. He disappeared into the bathroom as it cycled open for his guest to come in, coming back out after tugging on a pale blue shirt and combing his hair into some semblance of order. When he saw who it was, he stopped in his tracks. His voice retained a semblance of his sardonic sarcasm...
"To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this visit?"
She laughed softly, the sound oddly soothing and calming.
"I am merely passing on a bit of advice from those who survived the attack on Keegan's."
"I heard about that... How's everyone taking it?"
"They are not happy... The few that escaped reported hearing a soft hissing in the background."
"A soft hissing? What was it, a Naga?"
She stopped and looked at him. She hadn't considered one of the Snake People... The dumbfounded look in her eyes spoke volumes.
"I came across one in the woods the other night... She all but admitted they were everywhere. Wouldn't surprise me if one of them had been in the area that night."
"I never considered them. Perhaps you should mention this to the Night Patrol."
He snorted derisively and disappeared into the kitchen, coming out with two bottles of spring water.
"They wouldn't believe me if I did. They think it was the Were-Rats working on their own."
She took the offered bottle and took a healthy sip. Always good water... She thoroughly enjoyed it. Then she scowled at Aidan's assertion that his employers wouldn't believe him about the Naga.
"Surely they would..."
"No, they wouldn't."
He sighed and dragged his free hand through his hair, revealing the sharply pointed ears, then flopped down on the nearby couch. WhiteArrow watched him through narrowed eyes, watching closely for signs of fatigue or stress. The poor man fairly RADIATED stress!
"I don't work for them any more... My former partner got me fired."
"Not really... It was either fire me or have me drummed out for physical abuse."
She quirked a brow.
He sat up and looked right at her.
"I wanted to beat the holy hell out of my former partner."
"What is his name?"
She made a mental note of that, then moved to sit near the mongrel she'd taken in as an ally. He was so weary... She suddenly recalled a bit of lore and swore softly. He didn't even look at her as he leaned back and closed his eyes.
"When was the last time you slept all night?"
"I can't remember."
"Aidan, this is important."
"I really can't remember... The last few weeks have been a big blur."
He sat up and looked at her.
"Why are you asking anyway?"
Slowly, deliberately, she pushed her hair back to expose the sharply pointed ears, slanted eyebrows and nearly translucent skin on her face and neck. The structure of her face... The sparkle in her eyes... The faded sunburst tattoo on her right shoulder... The bottle fell from lax fingers to roll into a steri-field and was returned to the kitchen.
"Yes. Rather unfortunate for you, dear Aidan, to be related to a shaitaliach." (Shamed one.)
She sighed and finished her water before answering him.
"We share a father. His shame is ours to share."
Aidan leaned back again and absently rubbed the stone in his pocket. She saw his hand and inhaled sharply.
"What is it?"
"You haven't broken the stone?"
"No. I haven't had a need to."
"Now you do. Break it and revel in the truths that are revealed to you."
"This is an Answer stone, not a Truth stone."
But he pulled it out and studied it anyway. WhiteArrow traced the sigil in the air in front of her and sighed sadly when it sparked and flashed.
"Break the stone, Aidan... You need the information it contains."
He stood up and went to break it when he was overcome by another wave of dizziness just like the one that had swept over him at Scarlet Desires. The stone slid out of his hand and came to rest on the couch cushion near his leg. WhiteArrow leaped forward and pushed him back into the soft cushions. Then she cupped his hand around the stone and smashed it on the steel frame of the couch. The images that flooded his mind left him writhing and grasping for a lifeline. He was seeing his own birth... But the man in attendance wasn't his father!
"Will they live?" Cold and dispassionate.
"Good. Give him this stone when he's old enough. He will find someone to help him learn what must be learned."
A blank look, then a nod at the sight of the stone.
"What will you name him?"
"Is there a meaning?"
"Yes. The name is pronounced Eyeden, and means Valiant Warrior."
Another nod, then a scripture above the babe's head. A flash, then nothing.
"Where will you go?"
"Away. He will not find the truth wherever he goes, but it will give him a path to travel."
Then the man walks away, head low. This is Aidan's true father... But he won't make it out of the village alive.
The images faded and Aidan gasped for air at this stunning revelation. WhiteArrow sat him up and held him until he could sit upright on his own.
"What is it?"
"I saw my birth... There was a man there, but he didn't look like the picture Mother showed me before she died."
"Can you describe him for me?"
Haltingly, Aidan drudged up the face he'd seen at the memory of his birth... When he was finished, she sat back with a frown.
"How certain are you that this man is your father?"
"I'm not... Everyone told me the picture Mother showed me was my father. But if the man here in Mechanix isn't my father..."
"Then the answer you seek is in the village you were born."
"I can't go back there. It was burned to the ground after I was sent to live with Mother's people."
She looked at him at that comment, then slowly sat on the floor.
"And all this time I assumed your father was the Elf."
"No. Mother was."
"Then if your mother was an Elf, and mine was, then..."
"Then you've been lied to."
"And so, I suspect, have you. The picture you were shown led you here, did it not?"
"Then someone has deliberately altered records to make it appear as though we are kin!"
"Would that be so bad?"
She looked at him and smiled.
"No. I would rather you were my brother."
"Me too. Listen, I know someone who has access to information the likes of you and I will never see in our lifetimes... Want me to call her?"
"And tell her what?"
"That we need the truth about our heritage. She's a friend of mine."
WhiteArrow considered briefly, felt a pulse in her stomach that told her Garrett had discovered her perfidy, and made a decision.
"I'll do it now... You look like you're in for a world of hurt if he finds out where you are."
He was speaking on instinct now... But it was a good guess.
"I am. He knows I lied about your whereabouts. If he discovers you've broken your Answer Stone, he will surely kill us both."
Aidan sprang from the couch and keyed in Emerson's link code. He pushed a key and left the following message:
"Em, it's Aidan. Listen, I need your help. Things aren't what we thought they were. Get back to me as soon as you can, okay?"
He stored the message for her and went back to where WhiteArrow trembled on his couch. She looked up at the hand on her shoulder.
"I should leave. If he finds me here..."
His lips thinned into an almost invisible line and he made up his mind. Going over to a panel on his wall, he activated the bio-filter. It would tell Garrett Morris WhiteArrow was elsewhere and all calls to her residence would be routed to her earpiece, but her residence code would always come up.
"He won't find you until you leave. And when he does, you'll be far enough away from here."
She gave him a wan smile, then doubled over at the wave of agony washing through her. Garrett Morris was indeed Aidan's father... And hers... And he was about to unleash a similar feeling on his only son. But it would come in a different form... And it would be far more debilitating than what he did to WhiteArrow.