Dedications

To those who helped,

and bothered to stick around for the three parts.

To you all, thanks.

2: A Departing Soul
A Departing Soul

Ever since the morning the rain have been falling steadily and softly, some of it bouncing off the casket as it was lowered into the ground. Everyone from the college of Trades watched under their black umbrellas with their children, mourning the loss of Headmaster Jack Trades. Sadly the old man couldn’t recover from the wounds he sustained while fighting Victor back at the airport. The priest was finishing a verse as the casket reached the bottom of the hole.

"...and we pray that Jack, our faithful and beloved son of God, find peace in Heaven," he said. "Amen."

"Amen," everyone responded softly.

"That concludes the service. You will all be in my prayers." He walked back toward the hearse, leaving the others as they watched the grave keeper cover the casket.

"Leaf," Verona said, holding their twin children, who were now nearly two months old. "I'm going to take them to the car."

"Okay," he said. "I'll be there later." Verona nodded and walked toward their car. Leaf was standing next to his parents. "You okay Mom?"

"I'm fine," Suzy said, wiping her eyes. "I'm just going to miss him."

"We all are," Carlyta spoke up. "I'm sure of it." The others nodded in agreement.

"What now?" Dan asked.

"I'm not sure."

"Sharpe has declared war on us," Florida said. Her children, Ciel and Faye, hugged her tightly.

"I know."

"Gifted people everywhere are mobilizing," Lotus said. "To fight back."

"It could very well become World War Three," Alkiv said, having just arrived back in the states from his hometown in Greece yesterday morning.

"I know," Carlyta said with a nod of affirmation. "So... now we all face a choice." Everyone looked at her. "There are those who are going to fight, and those who are going to hide. I'm not going to criticize whichever choice you all make, because it's your choice. All I can really say is good-bye for now, and best of luck."

"I heard that Secret City is preparing for a large increase in refugees," Aoi said. "A safe haven for the Gifted is being set up there."

"Yes. If you don't want to fight, then I suggest that you head there. I have to head back to the university." She and her son Will walked to their car and left.

"So what are we going to do?" Jaylen asked as they watched Carlyta drive away.

"We should meet at my house," Rikki said. "We'll come up with plans there." Everyone nodded in agreement and walked to their cars to meet back up at the Soto household. Once there, everyone gathered in the living room, while the young kids were in the dining room, eating lunch.

"So what's the plan?" Luuk asked.

"Dan and I have decided to stay at our house," Florida said. "But we'll be ready to head to Secret City if we need to."

"That's right," Dan said.

"If anything, that sounds like the best plan," Aoi said. "Try to lay low, but be ready to leave."

"I second that," Lotus said.

"I'm sure Cass would choose to fight," Suzy said. "If she were here." Everyone let out a sad sigh. "I hope someone makes Sharpe pay for killing her," she muttered.

"I wouldn't mind fighting," Luuk said. Lotus gave him a dirty look.

"Me too," Yin said.

"Same here," Alexis said. Yin gasped.

"No!" she scolded. "You could get hurt. Or worse."

"But Mom-"

"Alexis, I said no."

"Come on! You know I can fight! Dad, tell her."

"Alexis, I'm not going to fight," Aaron said.

"Why not?"

"Because your mother said so, and I'm going to watch over you."

"What the hell?! I'm 20 years old! I can take care of myself!" she fumed.

"Alexis Auralyn Harmony!" Yin yelled, glaring at her daughter. "That is enough! We've caused enough of a scene already." Alexis growled and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. Yin huffed exasperatedly, and stared at the door. "She is so grounded once this is over." Aaron nodded in agreement.

"Sorry about that," he said to everyone else in the room.

"It's okay," Rikki said. "Kids, right?"

"Dad, what the heck?" Leaf complained and his mother laughed.

"You were like that too," she said.

"Mom?!"

"Hey, you know Mom and Dad are right," Dakota giggled as Leaf scowled and bit his lower lip.

"I'd pummel you if I didn't have kids of my own!"

"But they'll eventually start acting like that," Lotus said.

"Better be prepared," Dan said.

"Why now?!" Aaron suddenly yelled.

"What is it?" Yin asked.

"It's Sharpe! He's mobilizing military as we speak. We're running out of time. Someone needs to get to Secret City. It isn't safe anymore."

"How's that?" Rikki asked.

"Sharpe knows where it is. He's going to raid the entire city, curing everyone. Killing anyone who resists."

"I'll go," Aoi said.

"Trades University isn't safe either. Carlyta and Will are in danger."

A military base somewhere.

Trucks full of soldiers were driving through the security gates. Troops were also arriving by helicopter as well. The Major watched as platoons of soldiers marched in formation to the barracks. His name was Sergeant Major Cash Radcliffe, who served in the military his entire life.

"I'm sure President Sharpe is watching," he muttered to himself. "Sergeant!"

"Yes sir," the man saluted.

"Make sure that all the Captains keep their regiments together. This is the largest military mobilization in this country's history. We need to make sure that everything is in perfect order."

"Yes sir, Major." The Sergeant left to fulfill his ordered duty, leaving Major Radcliffe to his thoughts.

"I can only pray that things go as peacefully as possible," the Major muttered. "After all... Sharpe has declared war on his own citizens. The man's mad."

3: Trouble at Trades'
Trouble at Trades'

Back at Trades University.

Carlyta parked her car and she and Will climbed out.

"What now, Mom?" he asked.

"Will, I'm not sure if the rest of the world agrees with Sharpe, but if not, then you should go back to Holland. You'll be safe there."

"Are you sure? Will you be okay here?"

"I'll be fine."

"Okay then. I'm going to leave then." He hugged her. "I love you."

"I love you too, son." He walked to his car and drove out of the parking lot. Carlyta watched until he was out of sight. She sighed and walked inside to Jack's old office. She opened the door and switched the light on. She noticed that Jack's chair was turned around. She gasped as it turned, revealing the person sitting down.

"Welcome home," John Sharpe said, a smug grin on his face. Carlyta stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief and rage.

"H... how dare you sit there?!"

"You're a mutant, right?"

"What the hell do you think you are doing here?!" Sharpe pulled out a gun and pointed it at her.

"You were recently widowed, too... weren't you?" Carlyta couldn't say anything due to her sudden, endless rage. "I know you're emotionally unstable due to your recent tragedy, so I'll give you the choice. You can either come with me, without resisting and get cured, and live. Or, you can resist and I have you killed right here. So which will it be?"

"You... you bastard," she growled.

"Excuse me, but there's no reason to be so upset. After all... I didn't kill your husband."

"Never talk about Jack that way to me." She clenched her fists. "I'll... I'll kill you."

"So you're choosing your fate? Alright." He aimed his gun at her chest, but Carlyta lashed out, plants and vines taking over the building. Sharpe cried out, as greenery destroyed the building. Carlyta was left standing as the ruined building grew over with plants and vines. She was then surrounded by armed soldiers. She watched as Sharpe climbed out of the vines. "Wow. I had no idea plants could be so deadly. I'll give you one last chance, Mrs. Trades. Surrender or die." Carlyta glanced around, the soldiers ready to fire. She then came up with her choice. She quickly surrounded herself inside an orb of vines, thickening by the second. "Shoot her!" The soldiers opened fire but the thickening plants blocked the bullets from ever reaching her. She sat in the dark center, not knowing what to do.

"Someone help me," she cried.

Far away.

Aaron watched in horror in the direction toward the university.

"What's going on?" Yin asked, the others joining them.

"It's Sharpe," he said. "He's made to the university. He's attacking Carlyta." Everyone gasped.

"That bastard!"

"We need to get there!" Aoi said. Leaf was already calling for a hover-jet to pick them up. After a couple heart-wrenching minutes, the jet appeared overhead and everyone climbed in. Florida, Suzy and Lotus stayed behind to look after the children. Yin made sure that Suzy would hold Alexis back while the others left. Lotus watched from a bedroom window while she nursed her young daughter.

"You're mother wants you to stay here," Suzy told Alexis, holding her back.

"Damn it!" Alexis swore, leaving her grasp.

"Could you please not swear in front of my children?" Florida asked her impatiently. "I don't want you teaching them bad words."

"Shut up!" Alexis said before storming away after the jet left.

"We will be having a talk with your mother when she get back!" She and Suzy sighed.

"I don't see how Yin can take care of a child like that," Suzy muttered.

"Well, I'm sure she takes after her mother," Florida added and they both laughed, not knowing that Alexis had collapsed onto her hands, coughing up blood.

4: The First Fight
The First Fight

The jet reached the university after a few minutes. Everyone gasped as they saw the soldiers surrounding the ruined, grown-over main building where Jack's office once stood.

"What the hell happened?" Rikki asked.

"Look at the plants!" Lotus said. "They meet in the center."

"Carlyta's built herself a cocoon," Aaron said. "She's hiding in the center."

"But they're burning it," Yin said as they watched soldiers with flame-throwers spray fire everywhere.

"She can just re-grow the vines," Aoi said. "They'll never be able to get to her, so long as she has the energy."

"We have to help," Dan said.

"Alright," Kilo said.

"Try not to kill them," Chyanne said. "We don't want complete war breaking out." The jet came to a stop and Sharpe looked up at it.

"Damn it!" he hissed. "Stupid Order!" He had no power over the Gifted Order, so his soldiers could not fire at them. "Solders, withdraw for now!" He and his soldiers left before Leaf and the others set foot on the ground.

"Where the hell does he think he's going?" Yin asked. "Get back here you coward!"

"Yin, please," Aaron said, trying to calm her down.

"I'll kill that man," she vowed.

"Carlyta!" Rikki yelled out.

"Carlyta!" Lotus joined in. "Aaron, where is she?" Aaron looked over and thought for a moment. He gazed toward the center of the vines and plants. He and the others ran over to it.

"Carlyta, can you hear us?" Yin began to cut her way through the vines with a focused flame. The vines began to slowly move out of the way, revealing a tired Carlyta, lying in the middle. Rikki reached in and carefully pulled her out. "Carlyta, are you okay?"

"Rikki?" she asked, as her eyes adjusted. "Everyone..."

"It's okay, we're here," Lotus said.

"I don't see him coming back," Aoi said. "We should find a safe place."

"Trades University isn't safe anymore," Carlyta cried softly, out of energy.

"Careful, don't try to say anything," Lotus said. "You need to rest."

"We need to go," Aaron said. The others nodded in agreement and Rikki carried Carlyta to the jet. Once they were all on board, they headed back for the house and Yin's phone rang. She pulled it out and saw it was Suzy.

"Suzy we're coming back right now," she said.

"Well then hurry!" Suzy said.

"What's going on?" she asked, causing everyone to look toward her.

"It's Alexis." Yin gasped, her hand over her mouth. When they arrived, Rikki brought Carlyta to the spare room where she slept to recover and Yin and Aaron hurried inside.

"It's out back," Lotus said, holding her baby with Florida holding her children behind her. They ran out to the backyard to see Alexis being held with a knife to her neck, by herself. This suddenly brought back a long series of flashbacks to Aaron and Yin.

"What the-?!" she cried.

"Damn!" Aaron hissed.

"M-Mom?" Alexis asked weakly, dried blood below her lips.

"Well now," the other Alexis said. "It looks like I take after Daddy a bit more than I thought." She too, could split her negative emotions into a physical being. "This is the first time I've ever come out, and it feels wonderful."

"Aaron, what do we do?" Yin asked.

"We enroll Alexis in an anger management class," he responded, thinking up a plan.

"Now is not the time to be sarcastic!"

"Yin please, I got this."

"Dad," the real Alexis coughed with a horse voice. "I got this." She grabbed the knife by the blade, surprising the negative version of herself and once she had a solid hold on it she pulled it from her fingers and turned, shoving it into her negative version's chest. She coughed up some blood and fell, disappearing. Alex fell too, laughing unevenly. "That was fun." Yin and Aaron ran over to her, Suzy grabbing the first-aid kit. While Yin and Aaron were patching up their daughter, the phone rang and Suzy went to answer it.

"Hello?" she asked.

"Suzy, it's Will. How's Mom?"

"She's fine."

"I didn't know that Sharpe attacked the university until after the plane took off."

"I'm sorry. The university isn't safe anymore."

"I'm sure," he said after a while.

"Will?"

"What is it?"

"Stay safe for us, okay?"

"Okay. Good luck." They hung up after that. Suzy walked back into the room where Carlyta was sleeping. She gasped quietly noticing that, though Carlyta was sound asleep, she was crying. "I'm sorry." Everyone had gone home late last evening. Carlyta was still asleep so Rikki and Suzy decided to leave her be. She awoke the next morning. Carlyta sat up slowly and yawned. She looked toward the nightstand for her glasses.

"Good morning," Suzy said, bringing her plate of eggs and toast for breakfast.

"Good morning Suzy," Carlyta responded. "Thank you for letting me stay here."

"You're welcome."

"I'm sorry for imposing."

"Really, it's okay. I imagine you must have been so tired."

"I was."

"So what now?" Carlyta gave a downhearted sigh.

"I'm not sure. Sharpe wants to kill us. Now those groups want to fight back..." she trailed off.

"Wait, what groups?" Rikki asked, appearing in the doorway.

"The resistance groups. They're gathering to fight back. Though I imagine with a lot of rage and anger."

"We should see just how violent these groups are."

"That's a good idea."

"Who would go?" Suzy asked. Rikki looked at them and headed for the phone.

5: The Resistance
The Resistance

A party of people walked through the doors of the old cathedral, where a large group had already gathered and were talking amongst one another. In the new group, was Aaron and Yin, wearing black hoodies.

"Remember why we're here," Aaron said to her. "Carlyta wants us to check out this resistance group."

"Sweetie, I know," Yin stated, matter-of-factly. "But I wonder who the leader could be?"

"I've been thinking the same thing." Then, one person walked onto the impromptu stage that was set up.

"My followers!" the man addressed. Everyone stopped chatting and turned their attention toward him. "You have all gathered here, because you believe in my cause. We know that our President, one John Sharpe, has declared war on our kind. We are the beginning of those who will fight back against the human army. We are the resistance!" Everyone cheered. Yin looked toward the floor. "Tonight, we start taking back our rights, our cities, and our lives. We will put a stop to this cure. The humans have considered us as mutants. But no more. If they consider us nothing, then we will do the same!" Everyone cheered again and Aaron looked toward her. "Are you with me?" Everyone cheered louder. "Hell yes!"

"Let's go!" someone yelled.

"Let's kick the humans asses!" another one said.

"Alright!" the man said restoring some order. "If you have decided to stick with me, then move to the left, if you haven't yet go to the right." People moved to their desired sides, leaving Aaron and Yin in the middle. "Tonight, we move to take back North-East City."

"Yin, what's wrong?" Aaron whispered to her. She looked up and over at him.

"Nothing. Sorry, I'm-" she stopped dead as she looked up at the man who had spoken. The leader of the resistance. He was looking toward her. She looked into his finely tanned face, with burnt-orange eyes and hazel hair. Her eyes widened in utter shock and she drew in a harsh breath that was barely a gasp.

"Yin?" Aaron asked, noticing her frozen state. "Yin, what is it?"

"It... it can't be," she barely spoke, having such little air. "There's no way." He had met her eyes and she knew that he knew it was her. He stepped off the stage and toward her. Yin lowered her face in meek attempts to hide, but he stepped over.

"I noticed that you two haven't picked a side yet," he said, not showing any signs that he knew who he was talking to.

"I'm sorry," Aaron said in roughly the same manner. "She's just nervous about her choice."

"Please," he said slowly. "Take all the time you need... Yin." Aaron threw his eyebrows up in surprise and looked over at his wife who then punched the man, letting some fire singe his cheek, tears falling down her face. Some of his first followers came running over to his side, ready to strike back. "Stop," he said, dismissing his men.

"What the hell, Yang?!" Yin screamed. "You died!"

"Did I?"

"It was a car crash! You burned and died!" Yin had lost all control of her tears now. "I saw the wreck. Your body."

"It wasn't my body."

"But why, Yang?"

"What?" he asked with some genuine confusion.

"Why would you fake your death?! You left me all alone!" Yin fell on her knees and Aaron comforted her and glared at him, but he kept his anger level to his absolute minimum.

"Do you honestly not remember?" Yang asked impatiently. "You were so damn distraught about Mom and Dad! All the nonstop crying! I was tired of it."

"What are you saying?"

"I faked my death to get away from your tears." Yin growled and punched the ground, again letting out more fire.

"You bastard. To think I cried for you. I mourned you! And that's the reason you left me?! My crying?!" She stood back up and glared at him, her eyes becoming red hot with flames. She let out a yell of fury to hit him again, but he caught her fist. She gasped as she saw his hand had changed into solid ice, steam forming between them.

"I'm afraid, dear sister, that won't work on me. I see you've become fire, and I have become ice. Really ironic, don't you think?" This sent Yin over the edge again.

"Shut the hell up! You still have a lot of explaining to do!"

"And explain I will, so long as you cool your head." He let out a wave of icy wind, freezing Yin where she stood, as ice crystals formed all over her.

"D-Damn," she stuttered through gritted teeth, glaring at him with one eye.

"Now we can all sit down together and have a friendly conversation," Yang said. "Let's take this somewhere else."

6: How Long has it Been?
How Long has it Been?

Aaron and Yin sat down at a table with Yang. Yin was still shivering from her brother's attack. Aaron wrapped his jacket around her. He noticed that her faced had darkened, and she had a strange expression. It was a creepy, almost crazed smile. Aaron moved over slightly, having never seen her like this before. Yang noticed this too and stared at her, so the air was thick with tension for a few minutes until Yang spoke up.

"So," he started, looking at Aaron. "I don't believe we have officially met. My name is Yang Harmony."

"So I've heard," Aaron said. "I'm Aaron."

"How do you know my sister?" he asked, motioning for his follower to give him an ice cream cone.

"He's my husband," Yin said, her voice shaky from her shivers. Yang's eyes widened slightly.

"Is that so? Well then, I imagine that you're doing better." Yin exhaled some flames onto her hands and rubbed them together.

"Yes. I am."

"Any kids?"

"We have a daughter." Yang sat forward, very intrigued, almost excited.

"Seriously?" Yin glared at him again. "Wow... okay." Yang was obviously ecstatic about the fact that he was an uncle, but then he remembered his trusted followers were with him, so he tried his best to stay true to his character. "What's her name? What's she like?"

"Her name is Alexis," Aaron said. "She's a great Kendo fighter and highly skilled with a katana."

"Okay."

"She takes a lot after her mother." Yang laughed.

"Shut up!" Yin said.

"And that's exactly what she'd say."

"Aaron!" Yin whined. "Don't take his side."

"Come on, you know it's true."

"Yeah, I know," she pouted. "But I'm still pissed."

"Yin, I'm sorry," Yang said.

"You were my brother."

"I want to make it up to you."

"Do you have any idea how long it's been?" she asked, before sneezing. "Do you?"

"Well-"

"It's been 26 years, Yang."

"Okay. I-"

"Damn it Yang! Can't you see that there isn't anything you can do to make it up to me! Nothing! I will never forgive you for what you did! I can't."

"Why not?"

"You broke my heart. You were my brother, my only family after Mom and Dad died. And you just left me alone." She looked toward the floor and angry tears fell down her frozen cheeks while Aaron hugged her. Yang stared at her and she began to cry, this time with sadness. "Besides... how can a dead person make up for time already lost? Time you decided not to have..."

"Fine. If that's how you feel..." he trailed off and stood up to turn around. "It was nice to see you again," he said before walking away.

"Go die in a shit-hole," Yin whispered. Aaron looked at her with a slightly worried expression. "Aaron, I want to home."

"Okay," he said, leading her out of the building. They arrived home late that night. Aaron started a fire in the hearth. Yin sat next to it wrapped in her favourite blanket with a hot cup of tea.

"To think he was alive this whole time," she muttered to herself, staring into the flames. "I feel so stupid." Aaron couldn't think of anything to say, while he sat down next to her. "I don't suppose my parents are secretly alive too?" she asked with a slight laugh. "Nah, they're dead."

"Are you feeling okay?" Aaron asked her, staring into the fire as well. Yin lifted her hand and used her Gift to manipulate the fire. Aaron watched as she created little human-like figures. He guessed they were her family.

"I'm fine." Aaron looked at her. He watched as the figures changed into a house. Obviously, the house was burning and then it fell, leaving two small figures outside. "Face it. My brother's an ass. He was then, he still is now. God, he hasn't changed at all." He watched as there was a car that drove head-on into a large truck. He could almost hear the screeching tires and crushing metal. The fire changed back to its regular self and Yin dropped her hand and glanced toward Aaron. "Aaron?"

"What is it?"

"...nothing. I'm just... tired." She set her cup on the coffee table and layed down on the rug, falling asleep a moment later. Aaron smiled and moved her hair out of her eyes.

"I love you," he whispered to her sleeping form. "I'll see you in the morning." He choked the fire and went to bed.

7: Can we Make a Deal?
Can we Make a Deal?

Carlyta was still at Rikki and Suzy's house. She was on her way to the kitchen when she saw a car turn into the driveway.

"Rikki, Suzy," she said, calling them over. "There's someone here." Rikki walked to the door and the doorbell rang just before he could open it. He stopped for a second and sighed and continued to open the door.

"Wow that was fast," the man in the middle said. He had a finely tanned skin tone, with dark-orange eyes, capped with hazel hair.

"Can I help you?" Rikki asked the man, Suzy and Carlyta standing well back.

"Yes, I've come to make a deal with one Carlyta Trades," he said, looking at his phone for a moment. Rikki stepped aside and Carlyta stepped forward.

"What do you want?" she asked him, the slight wrinkles on her face becoming a bit more obvious as she had a slight frown. But before anything could be said, the confrontation was stopped by the sound of a car speeding down the road and drifting into the driveway.

"Oh God, what now?" the man asked, turning to see Yin throw the car door open and storming right over to him.

"What the Hell do you think you're doing here?!" she demanded.

"Yin?" Suzy asked. "You know him?"

"He's my brother." Rikki and Suzy gasped.

"I thought you said he was-"

"So did I. But I guess I was wrong." She brought a flame covered fist to his chin. "Spill it now, before I spill all your blood."

"Yin please," Yang said. "I've simply come here to make a deal with Carlyta."

"Yin, calm down," Carlyta said. "The least I can do is listen to him."

"Fine," Yin said, bringing her fist down, the flames dissipating.

"Now, where was I?" Yang asked. "Ah yes. I've come to make a deal with you, regarding the remainder of your former students."

"Yes, and?" Carlyta said, urging him to continue.

"I am currently massing a resistance group as we speak and I know that your students listen to you, as their leader, so I've come to ask you to join with me."

"I figured as much, but your methods are too barbaric." Yang stared at her in mild disbelief. "You're too much of an extremist. All you seem to want is the killing of all normal human beings."

"Well, I wouldn't go that far-"

"Mr. Harmony, if I may call you that, I hate John Sharpe as much as you do, but I only pray for the day he and he alone is gone." Yang thought to himself for a few moments.

"Alright then. If that is your choice. Just be warned: If you are not with us, then you are, by default, against us."

"Maybe we're neutral," Rikki said in a similar tone.

"Maybe so. Good day then." He turned and began to walk back toward his car. "Just so you know, I really hate neutrality." He gave them a low expression before getting into his car and driving away.

"What was all that about?" Suzy asked after a tense moment of long silence.

"I wouldn't know," Carlyta said.

"But if I wasn't mistaken," Rikki said. "I think he really wants us to join up with him."

"You can't be serious," Yin said. "Like Hell I'd join up with him."

"What's been going on between the two of you?" Carlyta asked Yin.

"I told you already. I thought he was dead, but apparently he faked it just to get away from me."

"That's so mean," Suzy said.

"You aren't actually considering it, are you Carlyta?"

"Absolutely not," she answered. "As I said, his methods are far too violent for us to solve things peacefully."

"So what should we do then?" Rikki asked.

"Gather everyone we can and meet at the Gifted Order's base in the mountains."

"They have a base in the mountains?" Suzy asked.

"Yes. I've never actually been there, but that's their back-up base in case if the one in the city was closed or attacked." She pulled out her phone and pressed some icons. Rikki and Yin did the same. "Let's try to be there in three days." Everyone nodded in response.

8: The Mountain Base
The Mountain Base

After a two days, those who wanted to were gathered in thick winter-wear at the entrance door to the Gifted Order's mountain base. Rikki, Suzy, Yin, Aaron, and Carlyta had packed everything they could and went with Leaf and the others in separate jets.

"It's not exactly a mountain resort," Suzy said, looking at the massive steel doors.

"It wasn't ever supposed to be," Jeanette said as she went to the door.

"There's no door handles," Yin said.

"It requires a Gift," Jeanette explained. "Anyone here magnetic?" Everyone shook their heads. "Useless." She sighed and put her hands on the doors.

"I thought you were a telepath," Leaf said.

"Yeah. I'm also a magnetic." She ran her arms down the doors and Rikki and Aaron pushed the doors open with loud, metallic shrieking. "Well, here we are." Everyone brought their luggage inside as Jeanette went off to find the power switch. "Mi casa es su casa. Right Johanna?"

"Oh shut up," Johanna said as she hugged herself with glowing arms. Jeanette's laugh echoed down the long hallway and the lights came on a couple moments later as well as the heater, leaving everyone to sigh in relief as they could take off their heavy coats.

"Ah," Dakota said, stretching her arms. "I could barely move in this thing."

"Bedrooms are on the right side of the hallway with restrooms on the left," Jeanette said. "Training rooms and the dining area are towards the back." Laura ran past her and right into the restroom. "Okay, so that concludes the tour."

"I'll start making food," Carlyta said, setting her coat on her suitcase and walking toward the dining area.

"Ooh, I can help," Dakota said, walking after her.

"Thanks." While they started growing some plants in the hydroponics room adjacent to the kitchen, Leaf and Verona settled into one of the bedrooms. While Leaf was resetting the crib, Verona let out a sigh, as she prepared herself for feeding the babies.

"What's wrong, Honey?" Leaf asked. She looked at him with sad eyes.

"I'm glad we'll be safe here," she said softly, looking into her sleeping children's faces. "But I didn't want for my children to be growing up in a compound."

"I understand." He set up the bed and took ahold of Ren, his infant son. "I completely understand." Verona was busy breastfeeding Cedar, her daughter. Leaf remembered that they had came up with the names the day they found out they were having twins. Leaf named their daughter while Verona named their son. He also noticed that Cedar had taken after him, with his red hair but she had her aunt's silver eyes. Ren however, looked more like his mother, with purple hair and a cerulean eye color. There was a knock on the door.

"Hey Leaf," Dakota's voice said from the other side. "Carlyta and I got some fruits and veggies grown. You want anything?"

"We're fine," Leaf answered, Verona smiling in agreement. Cedar finished eating and Verona and Leaf switched.

"Okay."

"He in there?" Jeanette asked.

"Yes." Leaf stood up and went out into the hallway, looking at Jeanette.

"What's up?" he asked, still holding his daughter, who was looking at Jeanette and Dakota with a small smile.

"We have an extra room if you want to set up a day-care for the kids," Jeanette said.

"That sounds okay."

"Alright. You can move your stuff in whenever." She walked off to finish prepping some other rooms, including her own.

"I think it's kinda homey," Dakota broke the silence. Leaf laughed softly, Cedar cooing in his arms. After a while, everyone migrated toward the dining room as it was around dinner time. Suzy and Carlyta decided to make a hearty veggie stew. Everyone ate together while Suzy handed out bowls.

"Is anyone else gonna move in here?" Yin asked Carlyta while they ate.

"Not as of now," Carlyta answered.

"I know Aoi went to Secret City," Rikki said. "But I haven't heard from her since."

"What about Dan?" Suzy asked.

"He's still at his house. Nothing too major has happened yet."

"That's good to hear." Suzy noticed that Yin was looking rather downhearted. "What's wrong Yin?"

"I wish I lived in England, with Lotus," she answered, hugging her blanket.

"Why's that?" Aaron asked.

"I'm worried about my best friend."

"We're all worried, Mom," Alexis said.

"If ya need to talk, I'm always open," Alec said with a wry smirk.

"Shut up."

"Alexis, be nice," Yin said absentmindedly and Aaron glared at Alec. Rikki and Suzy laughed softly.

"We shouldn't be so down," Verona said.

"Yeah," Leaf agreed. "We can get through this, together."

9: Some Sparring
Some Sparring

After a few days, Johanna finished washing her face off at the sink. She turned off the water and sighed, looking at herself in the mirror.

"I wonder when this war will be over?" she softly asked herself. She let out a downhearted sigh, then lightly tapped her cheeks. "No Johanna. Don't be so down. Let's try to make today a better day." She built up a confident smile in the mirror and walked out of the bathroom and over to the training rooms.

"So what are we going to do today?" Laura asked, looking around, seeing Leaf sitting in a chair over here, and Alec laying back on a bench over there.

"Well we shouldn't sit around all day," Alexis said.

"Hey Alexis?" Johanna asked.

"What's up?"

"Do you know where your mother is?"

"Uh... why?"

"Well, since she and I both have fire-based Gifts, I wanted to do some sparring with her." At that exact moment, Yin came around the corner.

"Is someone talking about me?" she asked, looking at Alexis and Johanna with mild curiosity.

"What, your ears burning, Mom?" Alexis asked.

"What?"

"Anyway, you wanna to spar with me, Mrs. Harmony?" Johanna begged with sparkles in her eyes. Yin gently pushed the young woman back a step.

"Call me Yin, please. And maybe. Aren't you the one who can shoot fire too?"

"Si. But my fire is much, much hotter," Johanna said with a nod and mild smirk. Yin thought to herself for a moment.

"Alright. I'll be the judge of that," she said with a similar smirk, popping her knuckles.

"What are we judging?" Jeanette asked, walking over.

"Yin and I are gonna spar, if that's okay with you," Johanna said.

"Sure, just take it easy on each other. In fact," she added with a louder voice, "I think we can all use some practicing." Everyone looked up and over. "Since we only have one functioning training room, why don't the two of you go first?" Everyone got up and gathered around the windows as Yin and Johanna stepped into the large training room and stood on opposite sides.

"Best 2-out-of-3?" Johanna asked.

"Nah," Yin said, stretching her arms. "Once. All-out." Johanna smirked with a laugh.

"Leaf," Verona said.

"Yeah?" Leaf asked her.

"I'm going to stay with the kids, okay?"

"Alright. Love ya." They gave each other a quick kiss before Verona walked off to their room.

"Ready," Jeanette said through the speakers. "Fight!" As Yin began charging her attack, Johanna quickly mustered up a ball of heated plasma and threw it forward, hitting Yin right in the stomach, knocking her off her feet with a grunt and sending her rolling across the floor. Alexis gasped from behind the window and Yin started laughing as she sat up.

"Is that it?" she asked, wiping away the burnt lower-half of her shirt.

"I was holding back," Johanna said.

"Don't." Yin charged up her attack and with her hand forward, she sent an inferno in Johanna's direction. Johanna laughed and with her arms crossed in front of her face, she stood and took the heat with full force, only being pushed back a few feet. She looked up from her defensive stance and laughed. Yin laughed too and began charging another attack, Johanna doing the same. They stared at each other and suddenly they released their attack simultaneously, When the fire and plasma met, the beam and fire fought each other for a bit before there was a large explosion of smoke and the spectators couldn't see what was going on.

"Damn," Johanna breathed, looking around the smoke. "You're a lot stronger than I thought."

"So are you," Yin said, as she too was stalking her enemy in the blackness.

"You know, for a vecchia."

"What'd you just call me, kid?" Yin glanced around, now with an uneasy feeling.

"An old woman." The hair on Yin's neck stood up on end as Johanna's voice was right behind her and she jumped to the side as there was a small explosion where she was just standing. The smoke started dissipating and Yin turned and saw Johanna standing about 20 feet behind her.

"You're so gonna regret calling me that." She bulked up on energy and released another inferno from both hands. Johanna jumped and rolled to the side, avoiding the attack.

"I'm going to try out this new trick," she announced with a confident smirk.

"Let's see it, Miss Copperfield." Johanna brought her hands together and placed them on the ground. A moment later, the ground beneath Yin exploded as a tower of heated energy erupted from seemingly nowhere. "You like that? I call it 'torre di fuoco'!" Yin was sent high into the air and she hit the ground with a loud thud, going wide-eyed as the wind was forced out of her lungs. She forced out some dry, raspy coughs as she was laying back on the floor. Alexis was watching with a worried expression.

"Should we call it off?" Leaf asked Jeanette.

"Wait," Jeanette said. Johanna watched, ready to strike again, as Yin started to growl.

"Hey, the vecchia's alive," Johanna said wryly. Yin jumped up, her body emanating a red-hot aura, as her eyes became pure flame with an enraged expression. She yelled out, flames shooting from her clenched wrists and mouth. She aimed it all at Johanna who gasped and was blown back onto the far wall as Yin focused the flames. Johanna was screaming in pain and everyone watched with horrified expressions.

"Jeanette, do something!" Leaf said.

"Mom!" Alexis yelled. Jeanette slammed her fist on a blue button and the training room filled with powerful coolants, freezing itself over.

10: Some More Sparring
Some More Sparring

Jeanette went inside the frozen-over room and pulled an ice-covered Yin out along with a freezing Johanna, who was nearly naked, having most of her clothes burned off in the match. At least they were both still alive.

"Damn it you two, I told you to take it easy," Jeanette scolded them both.

"Now we gotta wait for the room to thaw," Leaf said, Jeanette adding a nod of affirmation.

"M-Mio D-Dio!" Johanna shivered. "È f-freddo."

"Mom!" Alexis cried, hugging the freezing cold woman. "Are you okay?"

"A-Alex," Yin said through chattering, gritted teeth. "G-Get a fire going... n-now." Alexis nodded and grasped her swords and focused, building up conducted heat. She slowly moved her blades close to her mother and the ice slowly began to steam away. Jeanette grabbed an extra outfit and gave it to Johanna, who was wrapped up in a heated blanket.

"W-wasn't that fun, Yin?" Johanna asked, her voice still quivering from the cold. Yin glared at the young woman, killing her crooked smile.

"I'm sorry Johanna," Alexis said softly. "Mom doesn't like being beaten." Yin exhaled some flames.

"It's not you," she muttered shakily. "It's the damn ice. I hate it."

"So who's going next?" Alec asked, despite the fact the room was still frozen over, Jeanette giving him a dirty look.

"Maybe I'll teach you a lesson," she muttered.

"Please do," he said with a mildly sensual tone.

"Ugh," she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

"Ya know," Johanna said softly. "I really hate the cold too." Yin looked back at the young woman who had a small smile. "I'm still not used to it actually, given that I've lived in Italy most of my life." Yin sighed, expelling some flames again with half a smirk.

"Thanks," she said. "I had fun." Johanna smiled and laughed.

"Anch'io," she agreed. Their laughing stopped when Suzy walked in with some bowls of leftover stew.

"Who won the battle?" she asked, handing them both a bowl.

"It was a draw," Johanna said, as Yin heated her stew back to a boil as she held the bowl in one hand.

"I was definitely winning though," she stated.

"Were you?" Alexis asked with a hint of unnecessary worry. "Mom, you were losing control again." Yin glared at her daughter.

"You do not talk to me like that. Do you understand me young lady?"

"Yeah, I understand." Her eyes narrowed and she strode away.

"Damn it, Alexis," Yin muttered. "Why don't you listen?" She stared into her boiling stew with hot eyes as her spoon began to turn red with heat.

"Yin," Aaron said, putting his hand on her shoulder. She looked up and her heat died away. "You're melting your bowl."

"I know," she sighed as she cooled down for a few minutes. Once the bowl was cool, Aaron held it while spoon feeding her as she hugged her blanket tightly.

"Aw, that's cute," Verona said with a smile, watching the couple. "Why don't you spoon feed me Leaf?"

"Huh?" he asked with surprise. Suzy giggled.

"You really should, Leaf," she stated. "It was lovely when your father did it to me."

"What kinds of conversations are these?" Carlyta demanded with half of a somewhat forced smile. "Anyone with a dirty mind will be thinking the completely wrong things."

"That would be me," Alec said from his recumbent position on the bench and everyone shared a good laugh.

Much later that evening, the training room still hadn't thawed, and everyone was getting ready for bed.

"Well, it's our first night at Hotel Mountain Base," Verona whispered, as Ren and Cedar had already been put to sleep. Leaf nodded as they climbed in bed together. He slowly wrapped his arms around her and she blushed and laughed. "What are you doing?"

"It's cold," he answered with a smirk. "We need to stay close to keep warm."

"What about the kids?"

"They'll do it too, they're smart enough." Verona giggled again.

"Good night Baby." She gave him a kiss on the lips before turning her head back to fall asleep. Leaf stayed awake for a little while longer, making sure that she and the babies were sleeping soundly. He slowly drifted off after he knew they were.

11: Not Quite the Best Place
Not Quite the Best Place

Leaf awoke early the next morning. He noticed he could see his breath at each exhale. He quickly and quietly sat up and made sure the kids were well wrapped up. He glanced at Verona who had a somewhat pained expression on her sleeping face. He dug under the bed and found an extra blanket and set it on top of her. He stood up and got dressed, wearing his coat since the heater must have went out. He went to the utility room and saw Jeanette hard at work, with some grease on her face.

"Morning," she said, stopping to look up at him.

"Hey," he said back. "What's wrong with the heater?"

"Well they don't work," she answered, going back to work.

"I know that."

"I figured, sorry." She turned a few wrenches. "Damn this older tech."

"I would call Saleen, but this might be too ancient for her."

"Well for one thing, it still runs R-134a."

"Really?" He climbed down to help her.

"Yep."

"You know, you're really good with your hands." Jeanette choked out a giggle. "What?"

"Nothing."

"I'm sorry, I've just never seen this side of you. You don't seem like a hands-on person."

"Look, just shut up and hand me that hammer," she said, the cold air hiding the fact she was blushing slightly. He handed her the tool and she beat on a valve lever only to have it break off. "Damn it!" She huffed and set her tools down. "Well, the service valve's shut closed and we can't have anyone coming up here..."

"Is it dead?"

"Yep," she pulled herself out with Leaf following suit. "It's shot." She put the tools back on her belt and they walked out of the room, Verona watching from the doorway. "Morning Mama V."

"Good morning," Verona said with a smile, holding Ren and Cedar.

"They didn't hear me swear, did they?"

"Nope, we just got here," she laughed. "But we heard it's broken."

"Yep. We can't get it fixed."

"I don't want to freeze, Jeanette."

"Neither do I," she said as they walked to the cafeteria. "There's a town about an hour and a half from here. I'll send Leaf to go get some heaters."

"Why me?" he asked.

"Because I said so. Since you'll be on the road awhile, I suggest you get going."

"Come on, Sweetie," Verona begged. "This'll be a chance for you to be our hero."

"Relax," he said. "You don't have to say it like that." He went to his room and put on some extra gear.

"Good," Verona said, appearing by his door. "Here's a map of the county." It was marked with the compound's location and a route to the town, which was named Rockridge.

"What's going on?" Suzy yawned as she stepped into the cafeteria.

"I'm going to need to get some space heaters," Leaf said as Jeanette gave him the keys to a vehicle parked in the garage.

"You know how to drive right?" she asked him.

"Of course," he responded.

"Be safe Sweetie," Suzy said, hugging him.

"I will Mom." He hugged her back. He smiled and walked toward the garage and into a 4-by-4. He crossed his fingers, hoping that after a few years of being unused, it would still run, and to his luck, it did. That's when he found out that the vehicles were electric. The garage door opened and he drove out. Following a trail down the mountain side, he drove for awhile. After about ten or so minutes, he grew bored and reached to turn on the radio, but the screen in the dashboard showed a video call.

"Leaf?" It was Jeanette.

"I love technology," he answered. "Video calling in cars."

"Leaf, it's been standard in most vehicles since 2020."

"I know, it's just cool." Jeanette giggled at his giddiness. "So whatchya need?"

"You doing okay, Onii-chan?" Dakota asked, poking her head into frame.

"Yes. I am."

"Okay."

"It's only snowing a little bit."

"Just hurry back, Sweetie," Verona said, rocking Ren slightly. "The kids are getting cold."

"Yeah, and I don't wanna roast 'em," Yin said.

"Please don't," Leaf said.

"They're fine though," Alexis said, holding Cedar. "Cedar's a little angel." Leaf watched as Cedar spit up slightly on Alexis's shirt and he laughed. "Get this off me. Now!"

"Aw Alexis," Verona laughed, "it's just a little bit of spit." She took ahold of Cedar after handing Ren to Suzy. Alexis wiped her shirt with a napkin and an agitated expression. Leaf laughed again, while keeping his eyes on the trail.

"Oh, I can see a town down in the valley," he said.

"That's Rockridge," Carlyta said, sitting down behind everyone. "There should be a hardware store just off of its main street."

"Thanks." He ended the call and continued driving. It would be a while since the road became some dangerous looking switchbacks. With some precision, Leaf turned the corners as sharply as he could in order to save a bit of time. After many right and left turns, he finally hit snow-covered asphalt. He continued driving and he came across the hardware store that Carlyta had mentioned. He pulled into a parking space and climbed out, heading inside.

"Welcome," the man at the counter said. Leaf nodded in response and went back toward the space heaters. He picked some decently sized ones and brought them up. "This it?"

"Maybe a couple more," Leaf said with a sheepish smile as he hurried back to grab a couple more.

"Alright, that'll be $225.47." Leaf pulled out his wallet and handed the man $300. "Here's your $74.53."

"Thank you."

"You got it?"

"Yes sir."

"Ain't that one of them Government vehicles?" He gave Leaf an inquisitive look.

"Uh... yeah," Leaf answered with a slightly worried tone.

"Could've sworn they shut them down." He was talking about Sharpe shutting down the Gifted Order.

"They did. But I found this outside of one of their bases. Needs some new paint." The man laughed.

"Yeah. Wouldn't wanna cause any confusion. Have a good day, boy."

12: Ice Boy
Ice Boy

In the middle of a large forest, there was a camp with several tents set up. In the middle of the camp, Yang sat back in his rudimentary throne while not entirely watching his newest followers practice using their Gifts for war, as he was rather infatuated with a novel. He reclined like this for a good few minutes until one of his most trusted followers came up to him.

"Luci," Yang said. "I'm in the middle of an interesting story. What is it?"

"Really Yang?" Luci asked. "That's the kinda shit you give me?" All Luci heard as an answer was an incomprehensible mumble. "What?"

"I said I'm reading." She sighed with a mildly aggravated tone.

"Here's the total number of recruits we have so far." She handed him a note pad. Yang turned to the next page in his novel. "Well?" He sighed and placed his bookmark in the page and closed it. Taking ahold of the notepad, he glanced through it.

"Our numbers have been declining these past few months," he noted.

"Yeah, I know."

"But you don't know why?" he looked up at her, his expressionless face demanding an answer.

"Well... no."

"Why did I even assign Dominick to give the speeches?" He dropped the notepad with an annoyed sigh and stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to give Dominick a few words of wisdom." He walked off. Luci sighed and shook her head, getting down to pick the notepad back up. She walked back to the training areas to watch the followers train, when a younger boy walked up to her.

"Hey Luci, wanna spar with me?" he asked with an overly enthusiastic tone. Luci looked down at him and sighed.

"Not right now Lake," she replied. "Besides, I'll just kick your butt again."

"B-But I've gotten better this time!"

"Lake, I said not now." The little kid puffed his cheeks in anger and went to kick Luci in the shin. She used her Gift and her leg changed to a metallic material. Lake's foot knocked against the metal and he fell over.

"OW!" he screamed, causing people to look over.

"Told you," Luci scoffed walking away, leaving Lake rolling on the floor holding his foot, crying. She went by a few more groups before seeing Dominick walk the other way, one side of his face red. They made eye contact and stopped walking.

"What happened to you?" they asked each other simultaneously.

"Lake," Luci scoffed, still holding her annoyed expression.

"Lucky," Dominick said. "Yang handed me my ass on an icy platter." Luci cracked a smile.

"Serves you right."

"Shut up." He kept walking to wherever he was going. Luci went to her tent that she had set up. She sat back in her hammock while reviewing her phone messages. Then,, her fabric door was thrown open, showing Yang standing there.

"Did you break Lake's foot?" he asked.

"The little shit-head asked for it," she replied.

"That doesn't mean you go and injure a valuable member of our resistance."

"Valuable?" she laughed. "You wrote his name in the 'Cannon Fodder' list."

"That may be true, but the more we have on the front lines, the better."

"Look Yang, you know damn well that aside from your skills, I'm completely untouchable. I'm composed of the sturdiest, strongest metal known to man."

"I know, even your skeleton is made of it, you can morph your skin and body into it at will."

"Lake knew what he was getting into."

"Did he?"

"Fine, maybe he didn't. It's not my fault that you let 12-year-olds sign up. Why the hell are you getting all butt-hurt about this anyway?"

"Just don't hurt the kids, okay?"

"Fine," she sighed. Yang gave her a smirk, and left.

13: Reflections Upon A Story
Reflections Upon A Story

Everyone in the compound was much happier not that Leaf had brought up the several space heaters. It was dinner time and everyone was enjoying a veggie casserole that Suzy and Verona had put together.

"Hey Mom?" Alexis asked. Yin looked up.

"Yeah, Sweetie?" she asked back.

"Can you tell me about Uncle Yang?" Yin choked on her food but was able to force it down with a glass of water.

"No," she answered flatly, then went back to eating.

"Why not?" she asked innocently.

"Alexis, I said no, and that is final," Yin stated. Alexis puffed out her cheek in anger and hurriedly ate the rest of her dinner and stormed off to her bedroom.

"You know, you two shouldn't fight," Laura said. Yin shot her a glare and Laura sat back in her seat. "Sorry," she muttered. Yin sighed and stood up, leaving her plate of food and walked to the training room, where the air was still cold from the other day's freeze.

"What's she doing?" Suzy wondered aloud.

"She's letting her anger out by facing the cold," Aaron answered. "She does that every once in a while. Just let her get it all out of her system."

Later that night at bedtime, Alexis was under her covers curled up with a manga. Yin walked into their room and went to the changing room.

"Mom?" Alexis asked, nit looking up from her book.

"What is it, Alex?" Yin asked with a slightly annoyed tone.

"Can you please tell me more about Uncle Yang?"

"No, Alex!" she let out an angry yell inside the closed room. "Now get to bed."

"Fine," Alexis muttered, setting her manga under her bed and pulling the covers over herself, turning toward the wall. She fought some thoughts for awhile before she began to doze off. Yin went to use the restroom and Alexis turned, seeing it was nearly 11:45. She noticed that her father wasn't in the room yet so she waited for Yin to get out and go back to sleep. After nearly 10 minutes, Alexis quietly got up and stepped outside the room to look for her father. Aaron was in the training room, staring back at his other half, in a control session. "Dad?" Alexis asked softly, causing both of them to turn around and Aaron quickly produced a knife to destroy the other half.

"Why are you up this late, young lady?" Aaron asked.

"Dad please, I wanna know more about Uncle Yang," Alexis begged. Aaron sighed and put his jacket over her shoulders.

"Sit down." They sat on the ground. "Look Alexis, Yang is your mother's twin brother. They grew up together and did everything they could to support each other when they lost their parents in a house fire at the age of 4." Alexis's eyes widened. "They grew up on the streets, living off of theft and even robbery. But when they were 13, Yang was, supposedly in a car crash where he didn't survive."

"But, he's alive isn't he?" Alexis asked.

"Oh yes. He faked the accident, just to get away from Yin."

"What? Why the hell would he do that?" Aaron stared at her. "Sorry. But still, why would he do that?"

"Well, your mother was completely distraught at the loss of her parents, even after 9 years."

"Oh."

"Finding out Yang was alive after all these years took a bit emotional toll on your mother, so you have to understand why she's still so upset about it." Alexis didn't say anything, but nodded. "If you had a brother who you thought was dead, I'm sure you too would be very upset when you found out he was secretly alive."

"Wait, I have a brother?"

"Wha- No. You don't."

"So that was just hypothetical?"

"Yes, Alex." Aaron hugged her. "Of course it was."

"Will I have a brother?" she asked with a small smirk.

"No. Now come on, you need to be in bed." The two of them stood up and went back toward their room.

"Dad, you met Uncle Yang, right?"

"Yeah. Once."

"What's he like?" Aaron glanced upward in thought for a moment.

"A bookworm, if a bit of a jerk."

"Oh."

14: Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands
Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands

Aaron and Alexis went back to their room and slept. That next morning however, when everyone was busy eating, Alexis didn't show up. Feeling a bit worried, Yin went back to their room only to find Alexis gone as well as her things.

"Alexis!" she screamed, alerting everyone in the base.

"Yin?" Aaron was the first one in the room.

"She's gone!" Yin cried.

"What?"

"Alexis ran off!" Everyone gasped in surprise.

"Damn it," Aaron swore, hitting the wall with a fist.

"If she didn't take a vehicle, she won't get far," Jeanette said. "It's a blizzard outside." She ran to the garage and came back after a few tense moments. "A vehicle's missing."

"But she hasn't driven much in weather and terrain like this."

"Aaron, go get her!" Yin cried, tears in her eyes.

"Honey, why are you-?"

"It's my fault!" Yin fell on her hands and knees, her tears collecting on the cold floor. "Our daughter's gonna die out there... and it's all my fault."

"No, Honey, she's not gonna die!" Aaron yelled at her. "Jeanette, prepare another vehicle." Jeanette nodded and went back to the garage. "I'll bring her back. I promise." Aaron kissed Yin on the lips, tasting her tears as they fell. He stood back up and grabbed his coat and winter boots. He went to the garage and climbed in the rescue vehicle that Jeanette had prepared. With the lights flashing, he drove out and into the mountaintop storm as everyone stood and watched.

Aaron drove toward the mountain road, still seeing signs of previous vehicle tracks. He followed the tracks halfway down the mountain where the bright spotlights shown onto a massive snowdrift. Aaron noticed that the tracks led off the side of the road.

"God, no," he muttered. With the control panel, he shown a spotlight down the side of the mountain and climbed out. "God please no!" With an arm up to protect his eyes, he saw the vehicle driven directly down the mountain side for a few meters, until it had rolled several times. "Alexis!" He could barely hear his own voice over the blizzard. He wrapped a tow cable around his waist and started walking down the mountain side toward the wreck. He went around the overturned vehicle, seeing supplies and tools in the snow, but Alexis was nowhere to be found. Aaron gritted his teeth in anger. "Damn it Alexis." Then he saw a trail of footprints leading away from the vehicle. He followed it until the tow cable couldn't go any longer. Aaron knelt down, using his Gift.

"Wait, why didn't I use my Gift in the first place?" he muttered aloud, not that he could hear it. He looked and looked, down the mountain range, until he saw her, riding in the cab of a pickup truck. He let out a huge sigh of relief and started climbing back up the mountain.

Much later, the door to the base opened and Yin hugged Aaron, heating him up, melting the snow he was covered in.

"Where is she?!" she cried worriedly.

"She's safe," he answered, taking off his coat and boots, as Yin and Johanna kept him warm. "She's on her way to see Yang no doubt."

"How far did she get?" Rikki asked.

"About a couple miles, then a huge snowbank covered the road. She tried driving down the mountain side."

"But she could have-" Leaf said.

"She did. She rolled it. But she must have been alright, since she was able to walk away from it."

"My poor little girl is out there all alone," Yin cried softly. Aaron hugged her, not letting go for awhile.

"At least she's safe, Honey. She's safe." Yin slowly wrapped her arms around him.

"She is so grounded when we bring her back."

15: Strange Relations
Strange Relations

Alexis continued on her trek. Having moved from truck, to car, and truck again, she knew where the resistance group was, and she was on her way there. Once she made it to the main entrance, and others who were either already members or wanting to join, walked in, she snuck off to the side, wanting to look for Yang herself, rather than attend some ridiculous orientation. She went from tent to tent, looking for the one that would be Yang's.

"Come on, Uncle Yang, where are you?" she muttered to herself.

"Hey!" someone yelled. Alexis jumped and saw a guy pointing to her. She didn't know it at the time, but it was Dominick. "Who are you?"

"Shit," Alexis hissed and turned around to run away.

"Get back here!" The young man easily caught up to her. He grabbed her and put a hand over her mouth. She struggled in his grasp and he tore her double scabbard off of her back and tossed it aside. He held her down and started tying her up. "You should know better than sneak around a place like this."

"Let me go!" she shouted under his thick hand, only to barely hear anything. With her arms restrained, he hit her with the end of her scabbard, knocking her out.

After some time, Alexis groaned and slowly opened her eyes. She looked around, seeing the elaborate roof of a tent from an awkward angle. She tried to sit up only to find herself tied up with a piece of tape over her mouth. She struggled against her bonds, but could only get herself into a sitting position. She huffed through her nose in defeat.

"Oh, the little stowaway's awake," a voice to her left said. She craned her neck to see a man with hazel hair and golden-yellow eyes. He walked to a chair and sat down in front of her. "Normally I wouldn't do this sort of thing, especially since you're what, 16, 17?" Alexis shook her head with a mild glare. "Whatever. The point is, if you wanna join, you gotta go through our orientation. Instead, you decide to sneak around carrying these knives around." He picked up her confiscated double-scabbard and drew one of her katanas. "These aren't bad looking blades." Alexis felt a bit of nervousness as he must have went through her belongings. He sheathed the weapon and put it back down. "You're sneaking around with dual-katanas, so obviously, I'm going to assume you're some sort of assassin sent from another group." Alexis shook her head. "Is that so?" He looked her in the eyes, blinked and stood up. "Wait a minute." He walked over to her and felt some of her hazel hair. Alexis drew back a little bit with a soft whimper of nervousness. He bent down and tore the tape off.

"Okay, ow," Alexis winced softly.

"What are the names of your parents?"

"Aaron and Yin Harmony."

"What was your name? Alie, Alero...?"

"It's Alexis you dumbass," she said.

"Oh my God, he was right. You do take after your mom." Alexis gave him a blank stare. "They never told you about me?" Now, the realization dawned on Alexis.

"Uncle Yang?"

"Yeah, I should probably untie you." Using a blade of ice he created in his hand, he cut his niece free. Alexis then hugged him. "Uh, okay." After a moment, he awkwardly hugged her back.

"I'm so glad I'm finally meeting you," Alexis said with a tone of excitement. "I have so many questions."

"Alexis, Alexis, please," Yang said. "Not now."

"Yang?" a voice asked. Yang and Alexis turned to see Dominick. "What are you doing with her?" Alexis let out a cry and hid behind Yang.

"Dominick please, she's my niece."

"She's the Hellspawn of that crazy sister of yours?"

"Damn it Dominick!" Yang yelled, becoming completely made of ice. "Do not insult my own blood."

"Okay, okay, sorry," Dominick squeaked, backing out of the tent and running away to his own tent. "Don't go in there, Yang's pissed off!" he was yelling.

"Don't mind Dominick," Yang told Alexis. "Why don't you sit down? I can get you some tea while we chat, given that you and I have some catching up to do." Alexis smiled and nodded.

16: A Day of Reckoning
A Day of Reckoning

The following morning, Aaron woke up with an expression of fear, as he spent the night watching what Sharpe was up to. During breakfast, he told everyone about what he had saw.

"He's doing what?" Carlyta asked.

"Sharpe's mobilizing his forces as well as spreading anit-mutant propaganda," Aaron said. "Gifted people are being distrusted and fired from their jobs all over the country."

"That explains why stock prices are falling like flies," Rikki said. "The economy's gonna drive into a recession." Suzy nodded in agreement.

"Companies are just going to hire normal humans," Leaf said. "Our population's big enough for most of them to remain stable."

"Yes," Aaron said. "There will be a bit of a drop, but the country's economy should be relatively okay."

"Oh," Rikki said.

"But that's not entirely the point," Aaron continued. "Gifted people won't be hired anywhere, except at Gifted-run businesses."

"Aaron, get to the point," Yin said. "Is Sharpe a threat or not?"

"In the long term, yes," Aaron said matter-of-factly. "We can't just sit here any longer." He glanced at everyone in the room. "We need to make a move now."

"Um," Suzy started, but hesitated.

"What is it?" Rikki asked.

"I'm sorry but... I feel like... Yang is the only one doing anything about this."

"What?" Yin asked with disbelief. "Suzy, what are saying?"

"I'm sorry but, I feel like we may have to join him."

"Like that'll happen!"

"I said I was sorry."

"Yin, please," Carlyta said. "Suzy may have a point. Besides, we won't last too long here. Our supplies and resources will eventually run out."

"Then we'll just move to a different compound," Yin said.

"Oh great," Dakota said. "I'll be a nomad."

"We just may have to be," Leaf said.

"I'm more than fine with that," Yin said.

"Now listen here," Carlyta said. "Would you rather join Yang, or be captured by Sharpe?" Everyone looked at her with amazed expressions. "Think about it."

"I don't need to. I can kick Sharpe's ass."

"Honey," Aaron said. "He and his army would outnumber you a million to one." Yin growled, clenching her fists.

"They're just normal humans and they can all burn!"

"Yin..."

"What?!" Aaron rolled his eyes toward Verona who was glaring at her for yelling out in front of the babies. Yin looked toward the ground before storming off, sending out flames with each breath.

"What's gotten into her?" Alec asked. "Jeez."

"How can you deal with that?" Laura asked Aaron.

"Don't worry about it," he answered, getting up to follow her. She was pacing her room, muttering angry thoughts aloud. "Yin?" She looked up at him, her eyes glowing with rage. "Come on, you didn't mean that."

"Maybe I did," she raged. "Maybe I didn't. So what?" The air around her began to turn into heat waves as her anger increased.

"You don't hate humanity, only Sharpe."

"It's too late for that." Her eyes became solid fire. Aaron sighed and stepped closer to her. "Aaron," her tone became more worried now. "Step back, I don't wanna burn you."

"You can't," he said with a warm smile. "You know that." Yin started breathing heavily and began to cry, all of her heat dissipating. Aaron walked over and hugged her, her body still very warm.

"You're right," she muttered tearfully. "I... I sound like him..." Aaron didn't say anything, knowing that was true. With what she said, she did sound like Yang, hating humans just as much as he, if not more.

"I know he hurt you," Aaron said softly. "But it's time to forgive."

"No. I won't forgive him." She looked at him with serious, tear-stained eyes. "I can't... it's impossible."

"Yin. If my sister hurt me, I'd still forgive her."

"Auralyn has nothing to do with this. Besides, isn't she Ungifted?"

"Yes. Come on." He took her hands softly. "Let's go back to the others." Yin sighed and forced a small smile.

"Okay." She stood on her toes to give him a kiss.

17: Tutoring, Training, and Story Telling
Tutoring, Training, and Story Telling

At the resistance camp.

Yang and Alexis were sparring. Alexis using her heated swords, Yang using whatever he made out of ice in his hands. Dominick and Luci were watching.

"So this Alexis girl, is Yang's niece?" Luci asked.

"Apparently," Dominick answered. "He gave me shit for tying her up though."

"Why?"

"Exactly. I didn't know at the time. Besides, you would have done the same, seeing her sneaking around with a number of weapons on her."

"Would you two shut the Hell up?!" Alexis said, facing them, giving Yang an opportunity to strike, holding an ice spear to her neck.

"Focus, Alexis," he said. "If you don't focus, you'll end up dead."

"Way to state it straight, Yang," Alexis muttered. Yang shoved the spear into the ground next to her head, much to her shock, and he helped her up. "Don't you dare to that to me again!" She punched him in the shoulder, but he turned it into ice. "Ah!" Alexis drew back, having an unnatural gut hatred for anything cold. "Damn it!"

"You should really get to know me better," Yang said. "But we're done here." He turned and started to walk away.

"So what do I do now?"

"Don't ask such trivial questions, Alexis." Yang walked away and Alexis sighed.

"You want something to eat?" Luci offered, stepping forward.

"Sure, I guess," Alexis said, her stomach growling softly.

"Then just follow me," Luci said with half a smirk. "Our food tents are over this way." Alexis followed Luci to the food where there was fresh fruits and veggies layed out as well as people using their Gifts to cook.

"Who ordered the steak?" a cook asked.

"Over here!" a guy in line said as he was handed a well-done slab of meat.

"So you can see," Luci said, "even though we focus on fighting, our Powers can really come in handy."

"Powers?"

"Yeah."

"Sorry, I just grew up around people who called it 'Gifts'."

"Well here we use 'Powers' so you better get used to it quick."

"Okay." Alexis nodded and took a look at a menu. "I'll have an Italian sandwich," she told a woman running a rudimentary deli.

"Sure thing, Sweetie," she said with a hint of southern drawl. Alexis stepped back, watching as her sandwich was made. Alexis then thought about how she missed her mother, sighing sadly.

"Hey, what's up?" Luci asked, seeing this.

"Sorry. I just... it's nothing."

"Didn't sound like nothin'. Wanna talk about it at my place? I need a roommate anyway."

"Sure."

"Here's your Italian, Sweetie," the deli woman said, handing Alexis a plate with her sandwich on it. Alexis forced a smile.

"Thanks," she said softly and followed Luci back to her tent.

"So what's the matter, Alex?" Luci asked.

"Well, that woman at the deli,"

"Summer? What about her?"

"Well, the way she spoke to me, it just kinda reminded me of my mom. Now, I miss her..."

"Your mom?" Alexis nodded, wiping the corner of her eye. "What happened to her?"

"I ran away so I could find Yang."

"Oh. I imagine that if your mom hates Yang that much, she wouldn't tell you about him. I understand."

"Hey Luci," Dominick said, peeking his head inside.

"What the hell do you want?"

"I heard from Doc that Lake's foot was only sprained."

"Well still, that shithead deserves it."

"I know." He shrugged and left.

"Just ignore Dominick."

"I know," Alexis said. "I have been."

"Good." They ate their lunch in silence. "You wanna talk about your mom?"

"Not really."

"Okay." The rest of that afternoon went on without much more incident.

18: On the Road Again
On the Road Again

At the mountain base.

"Alright," Jeanette said to everyone that morning. "That's our plan and we're sticking with it?"

"Yes," Carlyta said with an affirming nod. "We're going to go to Secret City to help with the refugees. At least there we'll be safe."

"People there are moving into the underground part of the city," Aaron said. "And on the way there, we can go by the resistance camp."

"Wait, why are we going there?" Carlyta and Jeanette asked.

"That wasn't part of the plan," Jeanette said.

"Well it is," Yin said. "Yang has my daughter and I want her to come back to us."

"Okay, but we shouldn't stay there too long. Things might get hectic."

"Oh don't you worry. It won't take too long." Jeanette could only wonder what that meant as they all packed up two vehicles with all of their belongings they had brought with them.

"It's a good thing we left," Dakota said on the long ride down the mountain. "We were running out of food."

"I know," Leaf said, making sure his children were secure in their seats. He glanced at Verona who smiled back.

"So Yang has an ice-based Gift?" Rikki asked Aaron.

"Yeah," Aaron nodded. "Annoying as heck." He avoided swearing by the young children.

"What, quiet and shy?"

"Seems like it. Bit of a bookworm."

"Kinda like you when we first met," Suzy said to him.

"What?"

"Yeah," Rikki nodded. "You were pretty quiet and distant."

"That's only because I didn't want you to get hurt by him, like Lotus did." There was a few minutes of strange silence.

"I still miss her," Yin said. "I should call her."

"Yeah, you should," Suzy agreed. "I've been meaning to call some of the others, but I haven't yet."

"Don't worry, you can do your reuniting calls once we get to the city," Jeanette said from the driver seat. "For now, we need to focus on getting through the resistance camp. We're only a couple hours from it." Everyone sat in anxious silence as they neared the resistance camp. As they entered the forest, Jeanette and Alec stopped the vehicles, seeing a person standing in the road. Leaf looked out the windows curiously.

"Is it a patrol?" Carlyta asked.

"Yeah," Jeanette said. The person, a young woman, walked over to the first vehicle, the one Jeanette was driving with everyone in it.

"Gifted Order?" the young woman asked, her voice changed slightly due to the fact she was chewing gum. "I though they were disbanded by the government."

"Officially yes," Jeanette said.

"Alright." She blew a bubble and popped it, chewing back into her mouth. "How many you got in the back?"

"Eleven in here. The one driving the second truck is with us, making a total of twelve."

"Twelve, huh?" She blew another bubble. "What is it you guys want?" Leaf figured something wasn't right, given that this girl seemed to just be stalling something.

"We're just passing through," Jeanette said.

"Are you?" a voice asked. Yin heard the male voice and clenched her fists.

"What's wrong?" Aaron whispered.

"It's Yang," she answered. Leaf watched as Yang stepped out and over to the vehicle.

"I'm going to ask that everyone in both vehicles step out, please," Yang said.

"Just do it," Jeanette said, shutting the truck off and climbing out first. Yang went around and helped those in the back to step down. Yin of course, refusing his hand.

"Is that everyone?"

"Wait, I'm back here," Alec said, climbing down from the second truck and walking over.

"Twelve including two infants?" Yang asked.

"Yes," Verona said, Leaf standing next to her, holding Ren. "They're ours."

"Okay. Now we can get down to business." He glanced at Carlyta with a smirk. "I assume you've changed your mind?"

"No," Carlyta stated. "We will never join you or your violent regime."

"Then why have you dared to show up on my doorstep?"

"I want Alexis, Yang," Yin said.

"Alexis?"

"Yes. She needs to come home."

"Alexis, come on out." Yin watched as Alexis stepped out from behind the gum-chewer. Yin went over to her.

"Sweetie are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Alexis said, pushing her away.

"You had your father and I so worried!"

"I thought you might have died," Aaron said with a scowl. "You know better than this."

"Do I, Dad?" Alexis said. "Your method of hiding in a frickin' mountain base, where it's cold as hell, isn't going to work. Not anymore."

"Alexis..." Yin said, her eyes wide with shock.

"Mom, I'm sorry, but I'm done and I've decided to stay with Uncle Yang."

"Alex, please. Think about what you're doing."

"Mom, I'm going to stay, and you can't do a damn thing to change my mind!" Yin stepped back, tears in her eyes.

"Fine," she muttered, hugging her. "I know you're a big girl now, and that you can make smart decisions on your own."

"Mom," Alexis blushed slightly. "I'm 20."

"I know. But please, don't put too much faith in him. I don't want you to get hurt the same way I did." Yin let go and Aaron hugged Alexis.

"I didn't think it would be like this," he said.

"What's this all about?" Yang pried. Yin looked over at him.

"Alexis, you can stay if you want. But next time you leave, answer your phone."

"Okay Mom," she said in an annoyed tone.

"Yang!"

"Hm?" he asked, an eyebrow raised as Yin walked over to him.

"You make damn sure you keep her safe," she whispered to him, poking his chest with a lot of force. "If she so much as gets looked at the wrong way, by you or anyone here, I will know, and I will come back and burn your head off. Slowly. You understand me?"

"Quite."

"God you're an asshole."

"Look who's talking. Okay," he said to the group. "You're free to go."

"Let's go, Flossie," Alexis said.

"Yep," the gum-chewer said. Yin watched as her daughter walked away from her.

"You totally threatened Yang, didn't you?" Aaron asked her.

"Why wouldn't I?" she said as they climbed back in the trucks.

"'I will burn your head off slowly.' That's rich."

"Shut up!" she said, blushing.

19: Return to the City
Return to the City

The two trucks traveled along the road toward Secret City. Now with some paint to cover the Gifted Order logos, Jeanette turned off the highway and into the country, with Alec following in the truck behind. After 45 minutes f traveling down a gravel, cross-country path, they saw the city on the horizon, and it didn't look as lively as it used to be. While the city stood, there wasn't a trace of a single soul. Jeanette parked the truck in the central square park and everyone climbed out.

"There isn't anyone here," Leaf said.

"Yeah," Jeanette said.

"God, you don't think that Sharpe-?" Suzy asked.

"No," Aaron said, dismissing her bad thoughts. "Remember, I saw the mass evacuations to beneath the city."

"With your God-like omnipotence," Rikki said with a smile.

"That's why I fell in love with him," Yin muttered with somewhat dreamy eyes.

"Come on, we're getting distracted," Laura said, looking around. "We need to find a way to get beneath the city." The air was suddenly cut with a yowl as Leaf was tackled by a woman in a black trench coat. She had cat ears and a cat tail with claws on the end of her fingers, held to Leaf's neck.

"You're not going anywhere!" she declared, before blinking at the group. "Oh shit- It's you guys!"

"Aoi!" Suzy said, laughing and hugging her. Aoi laughed and hugged her back. Leaf smiled and wiped his shirt off, standing up.

"It's been awhile," Rikki said.

"What are you guys doing here?" Aoi asked. "Did Sharpe kick you from your homes?"

"No, we couldn't handle the mountains anymore, so we're moving here."

"Sounds like fun. Head over to the bakery on Fourth Avenue, there's an entrance to the underground there." Aoi rode with Jeanette as the trucks were driven to the store where the entrance lifted up to reveal a hidden ramp beneath the store. With the trucks parked, Aoi lad them around the town. "So as you can see, we're all living happily down here."

"Yeah I can tell," Alec said.

"Shut up."

"Whatever," he said, shrugging and walking into a diner.

"Good riddance," Aoi said.

"Agreed," Jeanette said. "I don't know why he wasn't terminated from the agency before."

"Aoi!" a little girl said, coming over to her. Aoi giggled and picked her up.

"Who's this?" Suzy asked.

"I'm Siri," the little girl said.

"I know," Suzy said with a smile.

"She's the granddaughter of Damian and Emma," Aoi said. "You remember, the store owners?"

"Yeah," Rikki said, Suzy nodding. "Their shop was our first stop on our trip here."

"Do they still have a shop down here?" Aaron asked.

"No," Aoi said. "They just help out with rationing supplies. Hey, how did you know them?"

"Well, I was also on that trip, but I stayed with Jack and Carlyta. I watched everyone else have fun and enjoy their time, and it made me jealous."

"Aw," Yin said, holding his hand. "But this was before I enrolled, right?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah, because I would remember going on a trip like that."

"That, and Lotus was with us at the time," Suzy said.

"I still need to call her."

"She's doing okay," Aoi said as they continued walking. "I called her the other day. She and Luuk are doing alright. Oh, and their daughter, Ivy. She's so adorable."

"Aw, I forgot about little Ivy," Yin said. "How's she doing?"

"Well, for nearly a year old, she's doing okay."

"I really need to call them."

"Hey," Siri spoke up. "There's my Grandma and Grandpa!" She jumped out of Aoi's arms and ran over to Damien and Emma.

"Siri, there you are," Emma said. She looked over and saw the group. "Oh hi. It's nice to see you all again. College of Trades class of 2016, right?"

"Yeah, that's us," Rikki said. "Some of us anyway." Rikki and Suzy continued to chat with Damien and Emma while Aoi walked away to talk to the mayor of the temporary underground city.

20: Mr. President
Mr. President

In the Oval Office in the White House, one John Sharpe resided back in his lush, revolving chair.

"I am so happy the rest of the country is agreeing with me," he said smugly as he examined one of his many model air planes as he actually had a hobby.

"Good for you sir," one of his guards said. Sharpe frowned and set the plane down on his desk.

"Really? Is it? I want the rest of the damn world to agree with me!" He slammed his fists down, knocking off one of the plastic wings. He growled softly and put it back on. "The world need to know that the mutants are nothing but freaks who could take over the world at any time." He looked at the plane from various angles and gingerly lifted it up, only for the same wing to fall off. "Damn it, where's my glue?"

"Right here, sir," the guard by his desk said, pushing the small bottle toward him.

"Thank you," Sharpe said. He took the bottle and carefully applied a thin line of glue along the inside edge of the wing and he slowly placed it back on the model. "Now this needs to dry for five minutes." He held his model together while glancing around his office. "Ryder?"

"Yes sir?" the guard responded.

"What's my schedule today?"

"Ask your secretary sir," Ryder responded.

"Press my call button for me."

"Yes Sir." Ryder reached across the desk and pressed the call button on the desk.

"Yes, Mr. Sharpe?" a woman on the other end asked.

"Wells, what's my schedule today?" Sharpe asked, still holding his model.

"You're schedule is open until 5:30 this afternoon, Sir," she said.

"Alright. Ryder, end the call."

"Yes Sir," Ryder said, reaching across and pressing the button again to end the call.

"God, I hate her," Sharpe muttered.

"Why is that, Sir?"

"It's just her name. Akiko Wells. It just doesn't make sense."

"If you say so Sir." Sharpe looked up at him then back down at his model, making sure the wing was set at the proper angle. Once he was sure it was perfect, he carefully placed the model back on his desk.

"Ah, much better." He moved the base of the model to an area where he felt like it should be. He stood up and paced around his office, going around and inspecting his various other model planes. "I feel as if I need a few more."

"I can have someone get you some Sir," Ryder said.

"Sure. Make sure they get me an F-22 Raptor. I don't have one of those yet, and I want one."

"Yes sir." While Ryder talked into his wristwatch, Sharpe's attention was turned toward his computer, as the tone for a video call from a foreign ambassador chimed.

"Oh great, what now?" he muttered, moving to answer the call.

"Mr. President," the caller, a man from Germany, said.

"Hans Baxxter? What is it?"

"The UN is still outraged by your anti-mutant proclamation. Leaders from several countries are rethinking their diplomacies with mutants, but they all know that if anyone else follows in your footsteps... world war three may become something that isn't just a fantasy."

"I know, which is why I am doing this as peacefully as possible."

"We've seen videos of riots and social media posts against you."

"I know. They just don't listen."

"Still, the biggest surprise was your public execution a few months ago."

"It's only been a few months? It's felt much longer than that."

"Really, it wasn't that long ago."

"What's your point?"

"My point is, Mr. President, that you should really be careful. Prime Minister Scheltz has told me to tell you."

"Scheltz?"

"Yes."

"Hm. Tell him that things won't get out of hand, alright. I have things perfectly under control."

21: An Early Discovery
An Early Discovery

Leaf and Verona were in the apartment they were given in the underground city watching the kids play, when Cedar suddenly crawled away in that moment when Leaf wasn't watching and Verona was occupied by Ren. When he noticed she had crawled away, he went out into the hallway and saw her chewing on one of the metal carts that the maid service used.

"O-Oh my word!" the maid exclaimed. She was a younger woman with jet black hair pulled back in twin ponytails, and bright green eyes. They were so bright, they seemed to be glowing. Leaf ran over and picked Cedar off of the cart and she began to cry.

"I am so sorry!" he apologized and then he noticed the area where Cedar had been teething on was melted. The woman looked at the area too and gasped.

"What in the-?" the she began to ask, then she looked at Cedar and smiled, realizing something. "My, she's going to be quite the handful."

"E-Excuse me?"

"See that sir? You young daughter has acidic saliva."

"What, as a... as a Gift?"

"It would appear so." Verona came out into the hallway holding Ren.

"Leaf, stop flirting with the maids," she said. "If you want me to-"

"Look," he said, pointing to the cart.

"What?" She looked at the melted area. "Was that-?"

"Yes," the maid answered her with a smile, tearing off some of the metal from the ruined area. "It appears she has acidic saliva." She gave it to Cedar to gnaw on.

"No wonder she doesn't teethe on the things we give her," Verona muttered. The maid let out a small laugh.

"I guess she prefers metal."

"I guess so."

"Although, I'd like to reimburse you for the cart," Leaf said.

"Oh, you don't have to do that," the maid said. "Really, we just ordered some new ones anyway. It'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" Verona asked.

"Technically, I do have to report this to the landlord, but I'm sure she won't think too much of it."

"Okay. Thank you."

"Sure." Verona smiled and walked back to their room. "Sir?" she held Leaf back a moment.

"Yes?" he asked. The maid suddenly leaned in close, her face darkened with an angry expression.

"If I have to clean up baby vomit one more time, I swear I will tear all of your belongings to shreds." Leaf stared at her with wide eyes. "Have a nice day," she said with a smile before moving onto her next assigned room. Leaf looked at Cedar and she looked back up at him over the piece of metal she had in her mouth.

"Well, I hope you're happy," he told her before he walked back into their apartment. By that time, Cedar has completely melted the metal and was crying, wanting more.

"Leaf, go get her something," Verona said. She quickly dug through her purse and handed him thirty dollars.

"O-Okay." He took the money and walked around the city and toward the hardware store.

"What can I do for you today?"an employee inquired as he walked in.

"Well, my daughter has acidic saliva, as we've just discovered, and she likes the taste of metal," he explained as clearly as he could.

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Well alright then," the man let out a hearty laugh. Let's go back to our nuts and bolts and see if we can't find something for her to gnaw on." He led leave to the hardware section and over to the vast array of draws filled with several types of nuts, bolts, and washers. He handed him an aluminum bolt. "Try this." Leaf put it in Cedars mouth and she teethed on it for a bit then she let out a cry.

"I guess she doesn't like it."

"Steel?" He gave him a similar bolt but made of steel. Cedar didn't like that one either. "Okay... maybe magnesium?" Leaf put the bolt in her mouth and she teethed. She then cooed and smiled as she kept teething. "Well I'll be." Leaf handed him the money he was given.

"I'll pay for those other two and give me all of those magnesium bolts you have."

"Okay, I'll give you a couple different sizes, but nothing too small for her." The man smiled and placed several bolts in a few paper bags and carried them to the front. "I guess that'll be all?"

"Yes." The man took the money and rang up all of the bolts.

"Alright, you'll be getting 12 cents back."

"Thank you," Leaf said as he placed the coins in his pocket and went for the bags.

"You might want to use this wagon." He gave Leaf a wagon to carry the bags in. "Just bring it back."

"I will, thanks." Leaf smiled and pulled the wagon along as Cedar was sitting in the back, gnawing on one, cooing with a smile. He pulled it back to their apartment, passing the same maid in the hallway. She stared at him with slightly wide eyes as the wagon wheels left a slight track in the carpet. Her eye twitched as Leaf couldn't help but smirk in her opposite direction.

"What?" Verona asked as she watched as he pulled the wagon into the room and placed the bags on the table with loud, metallic clinking. "What on earth did you get?"

"About 25 pounds of magnesium bolts," he answered.

"Good lord."

"Well, it turns out that's what she likes."

"O-Okay."

"I gotta bring the wagon back to the hardware store."

"Alright. I'll watch her." Leaf gave her a quick peck on the cheek before he walked back out, pulling the wagon with him, annoying the maid even more as he made a second set of tracks.

"Could you not!?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry ma'am."

"My name... is Rika."

"I'm sorry, Rika. Really." He walked back out and returned to the wagon to the hardware store. He came back to see Rika furiously cleaning the carpeted hallway of the small tire tracks.