The Gift of Rosiel: All’s Not Well in Avelyon
The employees-only hallway connecting the door used for deliveries to the main room of The Rabbit Hole was by no stretch silent, but the noise from the club was muffled enough by the sturdy wooden door to facilitate conversation. Out there, especially this late at night, it frequently got loud enough that exchanging confidences, at least, was right out. At least if you wanted the other party to hear you.
In that hallway, two of the club’s employees were getting ready to leave after their shifts. One of them, a human with long, platinum hair, was wearing the attire of a waiter, while the other, a black and tan hillside sheepdog, was dressed in a security guard’s uniform. The bitch’s tail was wagging as they chatted, walking together down the corridor past their boss’s office, the employees’ break room and the strippers’ changing rooms. When they reached the metal doors at the end, the skinny blond man paused for a few moments to pull a thin, mostly-waterproof red jacket from his duffel bag and threw it over his shoulders, sticking his left hand into the sleeve while letting the jacket hang loosely over his right arm, a cast covering his hand and about half of his lower arm.
“You sure you should be back at work?” the guard asked, holding the door for him. “It looks like more trouble than it’s worth.”
“It is.” He hung the bag over his arm and tugged the jacket into place. “But I don’t have much choice. I’ve got an expensive flat, a hungry cougar and two kids to feed.”
“But not yourself, hm?” She poked his ribs and he responded with a glare, prompting a change of subject. “Thanks for walking me home, Roxeen. You know you really don’t need to, and after you found your stepdaughter down on Dragonbird Lane and everything…”
“You don’t need to worry about that, Sinee. It wasn’t your fault and I’m glad I found her before those classmates of hers really got her in trouble. Fucking cruel kids, they’re lucky she didn’t get hurt. At least finding her then meant Ravaethinne finally decided I was worthy of being treated as a parent, and not just her father’s fucktoy.”
“That’s… harsh.” The sheepdog’s ears splayed to the sides in an expression of concern.
“I can understand her, in a way. There’s about as much of an age difference between Raven and me as there is between her and her sister. I’d be worried if it didn’t feel strange for her to call me ‘dad’.”
“You holding up alright now, then?”
“I… guess so.” He sighed, fingered his cast. “It’s been a lot lately. I’ll have to use my night off tomorrow to finish my review; that’s due in two days. I don’t know how I ever thought working three jobs was a good idea.”
“Says the one who was talking about asking some Fanimation magazine to take him back on as a reviewer.”
“The money would’ve been nice. That was before they changed my schedule on me at Gamer’s Haven, though – by the time I get my next day off I’ll have worked sixteen days straight. If they don’t change them again on the sixteenth day. On top of that I was volunteered to do extra-long days to train some clueless new guy my manager hired. Of course Roxeen doesn’t mind taking care of the new guy, Roxeen loves nothing more than teaching spoiled teenagers the almost foolproof computer system.”
“Watch the sarcasm, it’s dripping all over the sidewalk. Before you know it you’ll get fined for littering.”
The blond glared at his coworker and punched her lightly on the arm. They continued on their way in silence, him walking briskly with his canine friend falling into a comfortable jog next to him.
This far out of central Avelyon the street lights were quite far spaced, and several of the ones along their way were broken, forcing the pair to make their way along the sidewalk in complete darkness between those little islands of light. Since Sinee had started working at The Rabbit Hole, Roxeen had walked that way quite often, rather than driving or attempting to catch a bus back to his part of town. The city sprawled like a content tomcat below the hill where old Tragash Stronghold still stood, its intimidating walls now housing around two thousand high school students instead of the Lord of Tragash and his extended household, and distances were often far from trivial.
He made do, though, and he rather enjoyed these late-night walks. The dog was a pleasant conversation partner, sensitive, but without the yielding mannerisms of so many furred folk that shared her background in slavery, and as good company as he really could wish for. She also seemed to be one of very few people he got to talk to outside of work, anymore.
Working three jobs was nothing new to him, granted. He’d been doing game reviews alongside working as a sales clerk and serving food to guests at the club since he’d graduated high school, moving in with the club’s head bouncer and his spouses after his senior year. It had been manageable, but then he’d met the man he thought was the love of his life.
His first mistake had been to willingly move in with a man almost twice his age, who shortly thereafter had his two daughters move in with them. For a while, things had been rather good. Once in a while he’d managed to catch an afternoon or a night out with a coworker or a friend from high school, and that had been enough to make him content with his social life.
It had been by the time his boyfriend’s youngest daughter Nythengaille, a slightly withdrawn little angel of a girl with wavy brown hair, had started calling him “Daddy”, that things went downhill. One day, the girls’ father had simply not come home. When Gail’s teacher called him at work to ask why the girl hadn’t been picked up yet, he’d been convinced that something horrible must have happened to his boyfriend.
When the police found the man, he’d simply asked them to tell Roxeen that he wished to have no further contact. The ownership of the flat had quietly been transferred to him on the day of the man’s disappearance, and nobody ever showed up to pick up the children.
The dream had been shattered like a spun-glass New Year’s decoration dropped on a stone floor.
“You’re thinking about the girls’ father again.”
He looked at the dog, forced one corner of his mouth to turn in a lopsided sort of half-smile. “Can you blame me? I can’t believe I fell for it, or that I wouldn’t believe Raven when she told me what was going to happen…”
“Just don’t think hard enough about it to break your other hand. It’s not worth beating yourself up about. In the end it was him that did wrong, not you.”
“And I’m stuck with the consequences.”
“Life’s not fair.” Sinee shrugged.
They turned onto a better-lit street, one that would lead straight to the heart of Avelyon if one was headed that far. Their goal wasn’t quite that far, however, but a run-down apartment building on a small nameless side-street at the end of Dragonbird Lane, a few blocks away. The street was the workplace for most of Avelyon’s streetwalking prostitutes, some of them nearly as gaudy as the birds that had loaned their name to it. Some of those ladies and gentlemen of the night even brought their customers back to rooms in the same building as Sinee made her home.
Roxeen wasn’t quite sure how she could put up with it.
Once he’d dropped her off, he would have a fair ways left to walk to get to the much more upscale apartment complex where he still somehow managed to pay the rent for a three-bedroom flat.
That night the red-light district lived up to its name; someone had taken pains to fasten red tissue paper over the lights above each of the door alcoves along the street. In most of those alcoves, a man or woman practising one of the oldest trades in the country was leaning against the wall, a few of them smoking as they waited for another potential customer to come along.
Roxeen didn’t like the eerie gloom it gave the place, and hurried his steps, just to have his friend grasp his shoulder and slow him down again.
“They’re just people, Silver,” she muttered, ruffling the long white hair that had earned him that particular nickname. “Not bad people, either. A few of them live or work in my building.”
“I know; it’s not that. I just have this feeling… The dark alley and everything.”
“Aww, shame on you!” It was obvious from the dog’s wagging tail that she wasn’t entirely serious. “It might not look much, but Dragonbird Lane is as safe as you get in this price range. You’re certainly not going to get mugged – the ladies and gentlemen would be very upset if someone tried.”
“I guess you’re right.”
They reached the end of the street and said their farewells, Sinee disappearing through a door decorated with youths’ scrawled signatures and vulgar phrases. Still uneasy, Roxeen tugged his jacket tighter around himself, shifted his bag to his shoulder, and began to walk back toward the main street.
The prostitutes didn’t bother to solicit him; they knew Sinee and had seen him arrive with her more than once, after all. He nodded a greeting to those who greeted him, but didn’t pay them any further heed than that.
When a dark van turned onto the street, he raised his arm to shield his eyes and walked closer to the wall in an attempt to get out of its way. The car stopped next to him, however, and the driver’s side window was rolled down.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, without even looking up. “I don’t work here, I was just walking a friend home.”
“What a shame,” a voice purred from that window, sending chills down his spine as he recognized it. “I’m sure you’ll make an exception for me. Right, Spot?”
The sound that escaped between his clenched teeth as he snapped his head up to look at the jet-black, white-striped raev leaning out the window and leering at him could best be described as a growl. He took a step back, the duffel bag sliding off his shoulder, and his grey eyes turned yellow in anger. The magically gifted vulpine just continued to watch him with a falsely sweet smile on his muzzle, in a way that made the human man’s skin crawl.
The feeling of something much like a bird’s wings brushing against his mind startled him and prompted him to tear his gaze from the fox’s, reminding him that this was someone who couldn’t be trusted to play fair. When he turned to run, his foot caught on the handles of the duffel bag, and he was sent sprawling on the cobbled street.
Only barely did he manage to raise his hands to catch himself, pain shooting through his right arm from his already abused hand as his cast cracked on impact with a dry, snapping sound. The pain was bad enough to stun him for a few moments, long enough for a hand – not the raev’s, because it definitely wasn’t small or five-fingered – to grasp his shoulder and pull him upright, turning him to once again face the fox.
“Tsk, tsk. You shouldn’t run from me, Spot.”
The feeling of someone touching his consciousness was back, and this time he couldn’t turn his head away. The raev leaned further out of the window as he was shoved a half-step closer, and he felt the fox’s cool nose touch his forehead. Something squeezed, a brief moment of discomfort as his mind was manipulated, and then he felt nothing, slipping into dreamless sleep.
His bag remained behind on the street as the van backed all the way up to the main street and sped off.