Sixteen: "The Real World"

       I'm tired of sitting around on the sidelines waiting; thought it might be time to contribute...

        The letter crumpled in my hand, I sat heavily on the edge of the bed, cursing Stark and her pigheadedness. Maybe there's no reason for me to play scout leader now that we're all here, but damn it, they put me in this position, and I find (much to my own astonishment) I'm taking it seriously.
        I wonder if this is how Harry feels every time walk out the door?
       I realized, after I'd calmed down somewhat, just why Stark drives me batty: She reminds me of me at that age. Thirty years ago, I was just as reckless, just as fearless, just as emotional. But I also had the training and skills to back it up. If I was going to get killed, it was because I was stupid, not because I couldn't take care of myself in a fight. Stark's bravado isn't going to be enough when she runs into trouble.
       Damn, damn, damn. I am so going to kick her ass, assuming she gets back here in one piece.

        I made the round looking for her, or Luke, since she mentioned seeing him before she left. No one had seen either of them in hours. Luke was probably avoiding me like the plague, after our earlier conversation.
       It probably hadn't been the most tactful way to broach the subject, especially since I'm preety sure he still doesn't like me much, but I had figured best get it out and dealt with now. I had to know where he stood, regarding Zamorna's plans to bring back his father.
       All in all, the conversation had gone far better than I expected. I even found myself regretting having hit him, and not just because I was tired of hearing about it. He agreed stopping Zamorna was necessary, even as he admitted that he wished for the chance to know his father. At that moment, I felt a certain kinship with him - it was a feeling I could quite understand.
       My search ended in the Pattern room, which was, of course, was empty. I stared at the crazy thing for a long time, wondering when I'd finally give in and walk it. And then I wondered where my brother was right about then - if he was hurt, in trouble....
       I spun about and left the room as quickly as I could, before I followed Stark's example. I was getting pretty tired of sitting on the sidelines, too.

       My legs were killing me by the time I got to the top of that staircase, and even the thought of the other three flights of stairs back to my room was more than I could stomach. So I made my way outside, and found a way up onto the wall, eluding the few guards posted. I parked myself in a nice corner that gave a view down the side of the mountain. The air was still, occasionally disturbed by a light fresh breeze off the ocean.
       Even devasated as it is, this place holds a certain power, a certain clarity of sight, sound and smell that astounds me. All of Lewella and Gerard's talk about substance and shadow didn't really make sense, until now. I could feel the difference in the air. I mean, Blythe is real, to me, but this place, it was like waking up out of a life-long dream and sudddenly finding a whole new world to deal with.
       It was both exhilarating and very, very humbling.
       I shifted on the hard stone, though my discomfort had little to do with how I was sitting. No, it was more realizing just how little a fish I am, in a very big, unfriendly, pond.
       I shoved the impending melancholy aside. It's no fun getting maudlin unless you're also drunk, and though I can't say I haven't been tempted by Luke's method of coping in a bottle, I also needed all my wits about me.
       I thought back over the fight with the Windriders. Even without Fletcher, we'd aquitted ourselves well, and I now had a bit better idea of just what my companions are capable of, both good and bad. With the variety of skills at our disposal, we just might be able to live up to our bargain with Gerard, and put Amber back in working order.
       While I was glad for Fletcher's safe return with Syrana, Leiko and Rhiannon, it still meant Harry was still out there somewhere out there. With Salome. The very thought set my teeth on edge, and my trigger finger to twitching, and I was quite peeved with myself for not having taken the time to tell him about what I'd learned of her and Fletcher's involvment with Zamorna. 20/20 hindsight...

       It was dark by the time I'd worked through my mental frustrations enough to look upon current events with a much better humor. I left my perch and made my way down to the treasury, hoping Matthias would come and keep me company as he'd hinted.