Northwest Portland 
 The sun rose high overhead. Its rays fought with the clouds for possession of the sky, neither side appearing to gain the advantage. With the air crisp and cold, the winds blew endless cumulus waves across the blue dome above.

 On a nondescript street in a nondescript neighborhood, she woke again.

 Hazel's eyes flickered open. She shut them tightly, panicking, throwing skinny arms over her head and curling into a tight ball, terrified of the bright light. She stayed there for a moment, apprehensive. But nothing happened.

 The sun didn't even feel warm; it was just...there.

 She looked up at it–directly into it–and stared for several long moments. But once again, nothing. No harm came to her. No one living could stare at the sun.

 Glancing down at her hands, she found them insubstantial and hollow, veined with a mysterious white and blue fire that seemed to encompass the whole of her.


 She was dressed simply–more or less how she had been when she died– and her hair didn't feel dirty. There was no gnaw of hunger within her. Frantic, she reached up to her mouth, using the same trick she had for a century-and-a-half to send her fangs down from her gums, but they too appeared normal, square, and undoubtedly human.

 Was this punishment? Purgatory? Penance for non-belief? Was she locked out of somewhere, and being sent back was the only recourse for redemption?

 She turned in a circle and experimentally yelled, "HELLO?" to the vacant block. There was no echo.

It was a rift he could manipulate, the variables a malleable clay that would only shape to form a useful tool if given the proper time and attention. He'd cultivated a meticulous and solid framework, but nothing Leon had done would matter if the pieces didn't move across the checkered board victoriously. The climax of this gambit was still too buried in a shadowed horizon, and while he was normally a patient person, the headlines had teased his ambition to ripple the surface of his placid mask.

He walked more now, music obscuring the monotone throngs of the day-to-day to clear the trash from senses that worked to form a gauge- to spot what mattered. So, he gathered strays and provided aid, hiding intention behind the guise of philanthropy, desperation and necessity forcing many to trust and rely- pretty ornamentations that if properly watered would blossom into allegiance and debt.

An army.

He flicked the butt of his cigarette and turned the corner, hands slipping into the pockets of his trench coat to finger a silver lighter, metal rolled in his palm as he kept pace with the melodic beat. It took another two miles for something to tease his attention, inner workings abandoned to focus on the blur in his peripheral-the recognition of a face that had riled a complacent world.

"You don't need to fear," he called, stepping to the edge of the sidewalk, aware of the cars still rolling by as he extended his energy to focus, "there's not much that can hurt you anymore." He provided a small smile, pulling the stem of his glasses upwards to offer her the comfort of a complete countenance- a place to focus. Tucking his sunglasses into the hem of his collared shirt, he studied her, allowing her the quiet, and time, needed to formulate a response.

Communication could be tricky with younger spirits.

 Panicked breathing felt more like a forced movement of her chest up and down. Hazel brought a hand up to her face but felt nothing. Her own flesh had substance to her, at least, and tingling on the skin around her nose and mouth brought some stability. She threw a hand out to a wall behind her, not realizing what she had done until half of her was lying in a dark warehouse, staring upwards at fuzzy, distant lights hanging from the ceiling. She glanced down at the other half of her and found that her legs were gone—toes up on the other side of the wall.

 Cursing, she sat back up, finding the sun shining again.

 There was a man. A very handsome man spoke to her. Rising to her feet, eyes narrowed, she approached him, hunching her shoulders forward like she would have done to go after prey.

 “Not much?” She asked, after a beat. Her voice seemed to work just fine, even if only she and this fellow could hear it. It had returned to how it was when she spoke often—a clear alto. “You say I have nothing to fear, and you threaten in the same breath?” Hazel walked around him, missing the sound of her shoes on stone. “What are you?” She couldn’t help it. There were no smells anymore, or at least not as there had been in the past century.

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