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He spent the day hungry, sleeping in the shade of a hollowed tree. Bell felt himself wavering, his personality fading in and out like the tide of an ocean. One second, he was fully there, present and aware and slightly freaked out to be a bird; the next, he was gone, washed away under instincts. It was uncomfortable, terrifying, and then he was washed away again. He wasn't in control. The goat was. He'd never felt that so distinctly before as he did now. [i Is it because I know? Is the goat taking more control because I know, or am I noticing it more because I know?] Either way, he didn't like the conclusions he drew.
When night came again, he felt the goatling reach out to him. Humans. For the attack. Landon or Daniel? Longing flooded through him, followed by revulsion. He wanted them, but like this? It wouldn't be real. They wouldn't even be them. But he needed help. There were at least two men with guns. He didn't like his odds alone.
It wasn't his decision to make. He felt someone else decide, the goat make its choice. It needed an ally, so it would be best if they were both human. The owl fluttered out of the tree. Bell stood up from the base of it. He turned to the goatling. Despite himself, despite his misgivings, he wanted to see Daniel or Landon again. He needed them. Even a fake. He felt disgust that he was so weak, but coudln't help but want it anyways. Anything. Anything but loneliness.
Lilah looked up at him and knew he had changed. This was the killer. The demon. Although she should be afraid, she couldn't be. He was only human. A weak, pitiful human. If anything, she felt sad for him.
"You're free to go," she said. The door was unlocked. If he left, he'd find the gate open. They could find him again. Without Bell, his other half would come wandering back, helpless as it was. And if he found Bell, then they all won. Serenity ebbed against Daniel's anger, wearing it down. Outside the house, Lilah knew everyone was watching, ready to spring into action if Daniel made a move.
She had no reason to be afraid. She smiled at him.
It took to the air alongside its partner, stretching out stiff wings while keeping an eye out for something easy to eat. As a crow, finding something to still the hunger was easy. Unlike its feathered friend, who'd let its prime hunting-period pass looking at humans pacing about. It landed near water and had its fill, washed its feathers and then hopped into the wet grass in search of curious insects. Another day had passed. It had felt the pain at its core, but even though it'd piqued his curiosity, it didn't feel any immediate threat. There was only a sense of cloying, the same it usually got when its core's thoughts were unbalanced. Like the originator, it found dismissal easier than caring.
After having its fill, the crow found a high perch up a branch and squatted down for a while, perked up by noise from down below every now and again. Day came and went by quickly. A caw came when dusk set in. Would they go back? Was that the branches they'd been looking for? Perhaps as a human, their fighting chances would be better.
It sent some suggestions, barely thoughts or images, similar to how it communicated with its core.
It could be them for a while. A Daniel or Landon that was sane. It knew the shell's structure. Adapting it would not be a challenge for it.
It fluttered off in the general direction of the house. It might be time to make their move soon.
Daniel looked up. Lilah.
He narrowed his eyes, shifting his weight to take a better stance, just in case he had to fight. They hadn't hurt Lenny, but he might hurt Lilah. Why the fuck not? She'd slept with Bell-boy and shit- was pregnant with a child now.
"Is that Bell-boy's?" Daniel spat. "You little bitch, sleeping with him," he bit, barely holding back some choice words. Daniel stepped closer, fast, though he felt the scars from before were holding him back. A broken leg. It'd been some time since it'd healed, but it felt too fresh. Too sensitive still.
He put a hand around Lilah's neck. The other hand, slack down his side, had the razor blade dangled between his fingers.
"You're going to let me go, or this might become unpleasant," Daniel snarled.
She watched him sleep for a while, but when that proved fruitless, she wandered outside. There was still plenty to do to prepare, besides the nursery. She had to tend to the garden. Trim the wild growths and nurture the sprouts. Around her, the man and women of Haven moved to do her bidding, even without a verbal command.
They'd become closer since the event, since Daniel had visited and attacked them. He might have acted from a place of hate, but she couldn't feel angry when he'd only helped them become what they'd always been meant to be.
Lilah looked up when he awoke, notified by one of her many watchers. She wiped her hands on a cloth and headed out to meet him. Behind her, black liquid dripped to the cave floor.
Bell watched form above as the man patrolled. He walked a steady circuit around the house. Once or twice, he paused to scratch his nose or drink some water, or just to stare out at the night. Disciplined for a random man, but not particularly officious or well-trained. This had to be the right place.
[i Or a drug lord's hideout,] a cynical part of him whispered. Bell shook his head--a little more frightening when it almost turned a full rotation--and tried to focus. Being an owl was distracting. Being away from Landon was distracting. Everything was terrible, but he had to get this done.
The house looked right. Someone was keeping guard. This had to be it.
He hunkered on the roof and waited. If they had a guard, who knew whet else was out there? Who knew how many men they had?
A few hours passed. The guards swapped. From the roof, the owl watched, waiting. [i Two guards at least.] Were they all branches? Was one of them the main branch? Where was the old lady he'd seen? [i Might not still be alive,] he considered. Could be dead, or could be goatified. Either one was no good.
Daylight came. The owl shifted. It was time to find a place to sleep. He hooted at his companion and took to the air. They'd come back tomorrow, now that he knew what the defenses looked like.
Daniel opened his eyes to a white ceiling and felt his head swim in a way that explained him quickly and acutely that they hadn't taken any of the medication they were supposed to. Interesting. More white. Not a hotel-room? Oh. Right. He sat up. Bell-boy had ditched them leaving a note, fucker.
All motivation drained from his limbs and Daniel let himself fall back with a sigh. He had a headache and they were locked up in bloody Haven of all places. What the fuck. He'd left Lenny alone for a few days and this is where they'd ended up? After the hospital, it was only a minor improvement. Daniel lifted his arm from where it'd fallen across his eyes and looked about the room. More than just white, apparently.
Robust, but bland furniture littered the master bedroom.
Oh, shit. Lilah. He'd forgotten about her. Why was he with her again? Little Lenny never bothered asking those questions, now had he?
He'd been manipulated.
Daniel turned to rest on his side and found another bland, white wall. Haven. He ought to feel more at that fact. Some urgency, maybe, but he hadn't felt anything for a while. Nothing except for the anger and disappointment he'd felt over Bell-boy's leaving. He'd give his life for the man and what was his mother-fucking reward?
Sleep proved fruitless, so Daniel got up and opened the large closet. Clothes. Bland clothes to boot, same as the ones he was wearing. The other cabinets didn't have anything exciting in them either. There was a razor blade and some cream, a mirror in the bathroom. Daniel looked at his reflection and scowled.
He'd fucked up by letting Lenny take the lead.
Should've properly killed the people of Haven when he'd had the chance. Payback, for what they'd done to Bell-boy.
It came back, fortunately. The black bird honed in on its companion, its beady black eye reflecting the owl's feathers. Whoever was toting the weapon might know who they were, what they were. It wasn't safe. But they could be birds for a while and observe. There was no rush to get themselves killed or reacquainted with its originator's memories, carefully retained in the one shell. They could simply be, without trouble. It knew enough to protect itself now. It knew enough to kill. These branches would die on their own eventually.
Lilah followed him down the road, keeping close. "He wasn't in his right mind. He should never have abandoned you." She hovered near him, wondering at what he saw. He could see so much more than the rest of them. He was so much closer to the truth.
She tutted. "You're not weak. We're all weak until we need to be." Lilah looked all around, searching for the threat. "What is? Is something coming for you?"
There was no response. Landon jolted as if in pain. She watched him, confused, then reached out. Waves of calm spread from her to him until he fell to the ground, unconscious.
Men moved from the streets to lift him for her and carry him back inside. He still had his uses. If he wouldn't find her husband, then they could use him as a second surrogate. He'd survived it before. He would survive it again.
At the caw, he pulled up. A second later, he saw what he'd missed before. A human carrying a shotgun, patrolling the perimeter. He wheeled around and coasted back to his smaller companion. A part of him took note of the security, while the rest of him focused on the mice scurrying around in the dark under the porch.
[i Could be the place. Could just be a guy with a shotgun.] Bell wobbled on his perch, startled, but quickly acclimatized to sitting high above the world. He considered, thinking over the owl's base instincts. Plenty of people owned guns. But how many would patrol at night? [i Is that him? Or did he have help?]
If he had someone lower in the chain with him, they might be able to see Bell. [i We did consider that, but we didn't know.] He tried to bite his lip, made an awkward gesture with his beak, and quickly flapped to keep his place on the roof as his weight swung around. [i Being a bird is dangerous!]
Bell faded out with a sigh. [i I wish Landon were here.] When he was done, he'd have to go fetch Landon from wherever he'd wandered off to. Or at least peek in. Visit. He couldn't leave the guy behind. He was too weak, in the end. Too weak to go at it alone anymore.
Looking for him? Landon started, then whipped around to face Lilah, swallowing down a new surge of panic. She was doing something. It mitigated the panic, but not the delusions or hallucinations.
"He left me," Landon managed, blinking rapidly. All the white was creeping up with grey. Normally, Landon would feel an overwhelming need to run or escape it, but whatever fear usually protected him was gone.
"He abandoned me," he muttered, distracted by what he saw.
There were symbols now too, black ones. They spun and crackled to life, breaking free from their white shell to form the cog-chaos he'd gotten so used to seeing back when he'd just met Bell.
"I'm too weak. It doesn't matter. He's right, you know?" Landon stammered, almost curious. He carefully regulated his breathing, as if he'd forget if he didn't pay conscious mind to it. "It's going to consume us," he muttered, watching as the floor washed over with black and gained depth. In that depth, he found the green and gold flecks that could be seen in the reflection of Bellwether-goat's and the goatling's eyes. He didn't know how he knew.
And then there were faces. Some were torn up, disconnected from any limbs or torso. Faces that rose up from the dark and then, as if they were drowning, pulled back from whence they came.
Landon didn't know where to move or go. He usually passed out before this part, but now he didn't. There was no fear. Even as the sea of dying faces moaned underneath him, he was able to take it all in. Tendrils rose from that sea and wound around his leg, his chest. One dug in between his ribs, creating an agonizing pain that made him gasp. It dug around for whatever had replaced his heart. The tendril lifted him up, it was that strong, until his feet disconnected from the floor and he was just floating there. A leaf, pinned to a branch.
They circled and flew for a while, the darkness no impediment for their sharp eyes. Soon they happened upon some houses. Tired of flying, the goatling landed on the roof of one and waited for its bigger companion to finish whatever it was looking for. Guided by instinct, it sorted a few of its feathers and rearranged them. Beady black eyes observed as the owl circled closer to one of the houses.
It cawed in warning once.
It had a shot-gun. Another caw.
Lilah tutted. He was one of them. He knew better than she did just how much, but he was absolutely a part of them.
"We can go outside," Lilah said gently. She watched him flee the house. After a second, she set down her paintbrushes and followed him. She pulsed with acceptance and peace, trying to quiet his panic. It was fine, though. This was a useful kind of panic.
"Are you looking for him?" she asked quietly, a whisper in his ear. "We can help you find him. Whatever you need, we can find for you." He should be here. Her husband. The child's father. He should be here, when his child was born. Daniel could find him, even if no one else could. She would help him in return, but when he left, they would follow where he went.
An owl followed the first bird into the air, transformation almost instantaneous. He felt confused for a moment, almost sick. [i Where am I? What's going on?] Bell blinked and tried to rub his face, but it was impossible. Wings. Wings? He shouted and leaped, but it came out as more of a hoot and a flutter. This wasn't right. He shouldn't--
He faded out again. Bell felt himself slipping away and tried to fight it, but there was nothing he could do. The owl took over, and winged silently into the sky. [i Focus. Keep control!] Bell shouted, but his voice was faint. Flying was more important. The beat of his wings, the angle of the earth below him.
The owl followed the other bird into the sky and circled, following its lead. From up here, he could see everything. The town unfolded before him, all its secrets laid bare. It circled toward the large houses, searching out the one that matched its faint memories. Confusion reigned again, but it was quashed in the space of one wingbeat to another.
He peered down. None of these quite fit. One looked close, but there was no porch. He swooped down to get a better look. Maybe there was something he couldn't see from so high up in the air. His memories hadn't been of the house from above. There might be details he was missing.
Part of the family? Landon's confusion made him pause on a stroke down the wall. "We're not related," he blurted out. And Bell had left, so they were nothing, not even angry exes. Landon watched Lilah's back as she painted her symbols and the world tilted. Why was it so weird to see her do that? The symbols were familiar. Daniel could've painted them.
"Could we go outside?" Landon tried. It felt like he was back in the mental ward, held captive against his will. The walls were stifling, encroaching on his ability to think past whatever was right in front of him.
Whatever could the people of Haven do to help him, other than kill him?
Landon lowered the paint and brush, put them down gently, then turned and moved towards the door. He needed to get out of here. Panic crawled across his back in waves, a thick sensation of dread forcing his heart to beat ever faster. He needed to get out before he was consumed. Landon stumbled towards the front door, put his hand against it and near enough tumbled outside. His legs simply didn't work the way he'd been used to. They hadn't in a while. Ever since the stupid accident. Ever since Bell left.
Ever since 'it' left, whatever the 'it' was that invaded his dreams from time to time.
Landon breathed, fast, but he could stop the panic from rising.
He needed to get out and find Bell.
A nudge. It huffed. It was too late now. Too dark for a rat. It followed, but similar to it, found reasons to hide in a nearby hole. Rather than hide and scurry, they ought to just change again. Birds would definitely be at an advantage at night. Bats even more so. It preferred birds. Its suggestion was gentle, like last time, and its shift even quieter.
Soon feathers sprouted from where once fur stood up straight. Teeth were replaced by a beak, but the beady black eyes remained. A soft caw and the goatling was off, into the night. It flew, freely and untethered above it all. It felt as if it belonged there, in the darkness of night, flying high above the small trifles of those who lived down below. Observing was better than participating, surely they could agree on that.
Lilah watched the expressions play out across Daniel's face. It was so curious, the way he interacted with the world. No wonder her husband had been so fascinated with him.
She paused and considered, then shrugged. "You're part of the family," she said simply. He was someone who needed to be here. That was what she knew. Everything else would fall into place, as long as he was around. If her husband was here, that would be even better, but some things wouldn't be. She sighed and shook her head.
"If I can help, I should," she declared, raising the brush back to the wall. That was how things ought to be, right? She could help heal him for now. She and her baby, together.
He sniffed the air, nose twitching, then followed the first rat into the hole. It had to borrow in places, body not quite small enough to fit, but the tunnels were well traveled. Soon it found water, pooled deep in the tunnel. He bent to drink, then turned his nose to the air again. It was a vibrant world out there, full of wonderful smells. He wanted to explore, but he knew it was too hot.
He settled down to sleep. It was cool and damp in the tunnel, slow but steady drip a calming noise to rest him to sleep. There were no predators down here, just other rats and the occasional scurrying cockroach, interesting but not so interesting he'd wake up and grab one. The air in the tunnels cooled. Slowly but surely, it grew darker and cooler.
The rat's ears twitched. He sniffed, then sat up and nudged his companion. It was night. Time to investigate. There was a whole town to sort through, and one goat to find.
He came out cautiously into the night air. It was dark and cold; he shook himself, then scratched behind his ear. The sound of soft wings split the night. He retreated into the hole and watched the bird fly by. They had to be careful. They flew quietly at night. He chirped a warning to his companion and nosed out again, cautious. Were there other tunnels? The open air was too much of a danger.
For the baby, obviously. Why had he expected anything different for an answer? Maybe Lilah herself didn't know either. She did, however, enlighten him regarding the white. Landon lowered the white brush. Is that what they'd taken away from Daniel rampaging through Haven unleashing goats? Was their god-goat still there, repairing things? Daniel hadn't been mended. Landon doubted it could. He wondered what made Lilah so confident. Perhaps her goat's powers could easily subdue him. It was likely.
Landon furrowed his brow, slightly confused. The world felt off-kilter as it was and Lilah's lack of realism didn't help anchor him the way Bellwether's presence did. If anything, she untethered him even further with frightening ease. The scent of paint pulled him back. It felt real. It smelled real.
So Haven had abandoned their beliefs to match what they had experienced? Was it that easy? What had changed?
"Why are you helping me?" Landon asked. So far it'd been weird, but he didn't think he was being hurt or held against his will. So yeah, maybe some mind-control was in play and he wasn't sure whether he was the one consciously deciding what was going on, but he had some sanity left. More than he usually did. To give Lilah a sense of his compliance, Landon continued painting the small room. Whether goat or human, what was growing inside of her was most likely Bellwether's.
He felt cheated.
Bell hadn't known any better. He'd been cheated on and dumped at the first sign of trouble. Landon grit his teeth and put the excess energy into the manual labour. It'd be easier for the both of them if he could forget.
It greeted its kindred, then skittered ahead, showing it a nice place to burrow while it was still too warm. Back in the shade, into a small hole, leading underneath the building. Down the many nooks and crannies of its foundation, to a place where water pooled from a leaking pipe further above. Water. They would wait there and come out at dusk. Night would be dangerous for them, but it didn't have to be a problem. They were all.
These trifles did not impede their journey.
The sun was a furnace, and he raced into it. As soon as the heated rays touched his skin, he was set alight. Or at least, that was what it felt like. He fanned himself as he jogged, but the pace and his racing heart meant he couldn't easily cool down.
He turned to the goatling as it skittered out of a hole in the wall. Somehow, he felt as though it had said something, though there was none of the usual accompanying pain or the scattered images. "You need something?" he asked. Was it thirsty? He was, too.
The floor rushed up at him. He thought he was falling, but his feet never left the ground. He put out his hands to catch himself, and watched blackness envelop them.
A second rat turned to the goatling and sniffed it. Distantly, Bell felt confusion, but then that, too, was gone. He scurried out of the sun and back into the shade. There had to be a better way around than running around in the blazing heat.
He was back. "Nothing's wrong," Lilah said with a smile. It was fine now. All that mattered was the present. The past was someone else's concern.
Lilah looked at Daniel. "For the baby," she said. What else would she be decorating the nursery for? They were so lovely, too.
"It was," she allowed. But that was the old way. Her child was the new way. The first of what was to come. If they stagnated there, they would never reach perfection. She gestured at him with his white paint. "An artist needs a blank canvas." If they wanted to remake the world, they first needed to smooth everything out. Not so that it could stay smooth forever, but so that the one who came afterward could more easily build atop their foundation.
Not everyone agreed with her. There were shortsighted followers who thought that they had already attained the pinnacle here, that there was nowhere further to climb. But there would always be dissent where there was change. Lilah smiled. She would do what she could to make things smoother for her baby. Helping Daniel was only practice for what came next.
It scattered before the attacker could respond or reach for it and waited somewhere out of sight. It observed as its progenitor's shell dealt with the branch in a messy way and came out when it was gone, sniffing the floor upon which the branch had died. It stood on its hind legs for a moment, looking at the shell. Its words made little sense to the rat, but it knew what to do regardless and followed.
Unlike Bell, it wasn't restricted by keeping to the floor. It skittered up some boxes of detergent and ran across the air-conditioning pipes, until it reached an exit. There, it waited for the lumbering human to catch up. Perhaps it ought to take more advantage of the fact that neither of them were bound to a single form. Wouldn't it be much easier to simply change how it looked into something more refined or suitable?
Landon slowly pulled his gaze away from the blooded scene at the laundromat and blinked at Lilah, who was apparently calling out to him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, as if he hadn't just spent several long minutes watching Bell brutally murder another goat. His eyes strayed from Lilah's face onto the symbols she'd drawn. A stab of pain resonated behind his eye. Some of the symbols were familiar. None of them were Bellwether-goat's, but somehow, he had the feeling he knew some of them.
"What are the symbols for?" Landon pitched, looking down at his hands. He was still holding a brush. Rather than just stand there and do shit all, he kicked his body back in action. He swished the brush into he paint and applied it liberally to the wall. Of course, his shade of paint was white.
He'd thought everything in Haven would be white, but Lilah seemed to disagree. Her paint was all sorts of colour.
"I thought everything in Haven was white," he said, distracted almost by the monotony of painting. Up and down. Cover everything underneath up. Lilah could 'help' him? Cure him? After Bellwether-goat's 'cure', Landon figured there would never be a solution that would properly mend his mental ailment. It was probably in his genes. An unfortunate inheritance. Too simple for them to fix.
Lilah smiled gently and followed him into the room. "Thank you, dear," she said, taking up her own paintbrush. Where he painted the room with big, wide strokes, she plucked at the wall, painting out delicate patterns. Symbols, dozens of them, all of them winding into each other. She painted them in pastels, greens, blues, yellows and pinks. Flowering vines wound through them, an order in the chaos.
Beside her, Daniel went still.. She turned to him, concerned. He was there, but he wasn't. "Sweetie," she started, moving towards him.
Bell froze, taken by surprise. The goatling didn't. It flew at the man, a blur of dark fur.
The man smirked. "I've been searching for you for--"
Teeth closed around his ankle. He screeched and grabbed at it. In the moment's confusion, Bell closed the gap. The pipe jumped to his hand as though it was magnetized there. Seeing him charge, the man raised his gun again, but Bell was already too close. He struck the man's hand with the pipe. Bones cracked. The man screamed. Bell swung with all his might. The man never finished his scream. Blood sprayed over the pristine white washing machines as the man's head burst apart.
He chased down the falling body. Again and again, the pipe hit home. Blood flew, then turned to black. Leathery skin tore.
Black soaked into him. Bell panted, heart racing. The man was gone, but he still felt like he was on fire. He looked at his hands, watched the last of it disappear. [i Was that him?] But he'd said he'd been searching. The one he'd seen shouldn't be able to see him, if it worked the way Landon thought it had.
Another pang. He bit his lip. [i Damnit.] It was such a dumb idea. Had he been thinking? Had he?
A car passed by. He looked up sharply. The blood was still here. He couldn't be caught here. "Goatling, here boy," he called, whistling. He jogged for the back of the laundromat. Time they got out of here. He grimaced. And out into the sun. [i Can't be helped.] He couldn't get caught up in the law now.
He wouldn't? Landon wanted to fight the statement, tell her that he wouldn't be able to control himself, that he wouldn't know where he was or what he was doing. It was dangerous. He didn't trust her like he did Bellwether. Landon didn't say a word in the end. She could help him? Somehow, it felt right. Whatever qualms he had were washed away by something. It felt like someone else's doing. Like that black thing. Like what that black presence in his dreams sometimes did.
If he got better, maybe he could be with Bell again. The thought resonated for a short while before Landon harshly dismissed the feelings. They burned, but the truth was Bell didn't want him. He'd tired of his unbalanced mental state.
And now it was too late. There was no point. If he was better, in his right mind, their breakup would likely only hurt more. Rather than reply and give in, Landon stared out of the window again at the broken white houses. Daniel.
Daniel had done that and they'd taken him back in regardless.
Something felt wrong. It only felt like that for a few seconds and then that too washed away.
Only a thud in his core called him back to himself, kept him from being carried off completely.
"I'll help you prepare the room," Landon found himself saying. Anything to get away. He found he couldn't even find the will to pull his hand away, but a small part of his sanity was shielded from their influence. Even so, it was hard, because a larger part wasn't. Landon hoped that doing as they asked would give him time to get used to it.
It felt as if he wasn't the one picking up the paint-brush. Like someone else was taking over and stoically going through the motions, thoughtlessly and placidly doing as he was bid by something more powerful than him or the lingering goatling's presence inside of him.
And then he was staring up, from the floor, at a man holding a weapon. Landon felt a participant, but after some gentle nudging, followed the barrel of the gun. Bell! It didn't hesitate. Fast as only a rat could be, it skittered across the floor, onto the man's leg and bit into its ankle.
She looked at him calmly. "You won't." It wasn't a taunt, but a statement of truth. She knew he wouldn't. Therefore, it wouldn't happen. Nothing happened outside of her expectations. That was simply how it was.
"If you want to be in your right mind, I can help you," she offered. Another soothing pulse passed between them, almost like a heartbeat. Gently, it offered a counterpoint to Landon's fears, am assurance that all was right. She put a hand on her stomach and smiled. "We can help you."
The goatling's fur glistened in the florescent lights. He watched it, amused by its antics. It crouched under a table to nibble some bread, just like a little rat. It was so normal, like this. Like it was actually a rat. "Could you turn into a human?" he asked it idly. What would it look like? Daniel and Landon? A kid? Him? Someone else? He imagined it standing up and taking on a human form. It became Daniel, walked toward him with a smile.
Bell turned away. He didn't want that.
"How long til the sun goes down?" he asked the rat, tipping his head to get a better look at it. He glanced outside. From how blazingly bright and hot it was, he doubted it was anytime soon. "Damnit," he muttered with a sigh. Shouldn't waste the whole day. But what else was he going to do? Go outside and die in the heat? It wasn't like he even knew what they looked like or where they were yet. And then he'd have to follow them, stalk them down until everything was perfect... All that time, out in the heat? He grimaced again. [i No thanks.] But he didn't have another option.
[i The hell was I thinking? I need them.] He sighed again and let the chair fall back onto its feet. It clattered against the tile, loud as could be. The rat jumped and ran off, startled.
"Hey, come back." Bell stood and walked over, bending to peer under the table.
The bell on the shop door rang as it swung open. Bell stood straight, giving the man at the door a non-suspicious smile. "Hey," he said.
The man raised a gun.
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