Chapter Nine

   “It’s finally clean,” Raram said with a slight sigh. “All of the walls have been scrubbed down, and are now free of the blood. the guys are replacing the carpeting, Septi, and your office is being aired out and sanitized. What’s next?”
   “I go through Steppe’s paper work,” Septi said grimly, feeling very tired. “See what’s there, complete it, file it- all that fun stuff.”
   “I never asked,” Mes said suddenly. “What’s being done about the wounded?”
   “Chuck bribed a normal doctor to help us. This guy already was pro-mutant, but was terrified of helping us,” Septi said.
   “Okay,” Mes said, tilting her head slightly. An uncomfortable silence fell, and Septi broke it with yet another sigh.
   “I need to go,” she said abruptly. “I have work to be doing elsewhere.” She turned to go.
   “Alright. See you later, Septi,” Raram said. Septi smiled sadly and nodded to show that she had heard. As she rounded the corner, she heard Mes chattering relentlessly about Lord of the Rings, and Raram responding, just as happily. Their laughter floated through the air to Septi, who suddenly felt much older than they and more alone than before.
   ‘Don’t be stupid,’ she thought viciously. ‘You’re no more or less alone than you were before. Things have changed, and your friends may or may not now who you are anymore. It’s to be expected. I mean, you don’t even know who you are now.’
   “Septi,” a voice started her out of her thoughts, and she stared up to see Ferinequell staring at her. “We need to go through the paperwork quickly in case there are any papers of time sensitive and important nature. The office has been cleared out, so we’ll need to get new furniture for it.” Then he noticed that she was looking preoccupied, and switched to a kindly, brotherly tone. “Septi, what’s wrong?”
   “I’m just trying to do a self-evaluation,” she said, looking up at him, but not meeting his eyes. “I kind of feel like I’ve changed so much that I don’t know who I am anymore.”
   “Ah,” he said, understandingly. “Septi, let me tell you, you’re more than your likes and dislikes, and you won’t find who you are in the people you surround yourself with.” She nodded absent mindedly, still lost in thought.
   “I suppose,” she said, quietly. Then she shook her head. “Alright, you said that there is paperwork?” she said, her tone business-like.
   “Yes,” Ferinequell said, his tone matching hers. “I have a feeling that there may be a lot, perhaps upto a decade’s worth. Steppe’s record keeping was far from perfect, so there may not be as many records as there ought to be.”
   “Oui, that’s very true,” Septi said quietly. “And while I have the deputy’s records for the last five years, anything before that is lost.” She started walking towards the office again, and Ferinequell followed her, glancing out the window that he passed.
   “It’s a lovely evening out there,” he said, glancing at Septi’s pale, almost greyish, complexion. “You certainly could use some sun.” Septi’s lips twitched slightly at that comment.
   “Perhaps, but this paperwork won’t do itself.”
   “What say we do it outside? On the back patio? That way you can get a little bit of sun, and it gets done.”
   “Alright,” Septi said, oppening the office door and walking over to the filing cabinet, the only remaining peice of furniture in the room. She pulled out the drawer with the last years records, while Ferinequell carefully searched through the bow with the stuff from the desk drawers. when they were satisfied that they had all of the records necessary, then headedout of doors.
   Sitting down at a picnic table, one of the remenants from the VI4C school, Septi and Ferinequell spread the papers in front of them. Skimming through the stack, Septi located the bills, reciepts, and bank statements. Reading the amounts, she let out a loud exclamation in French.
   “Chuck, this is rediculous!” she said when she had regained control of her shock. “They… he… how?” she showed it to him. He stared down at the pages, unimpressed.
   “It would seem to me that Steppe dipped into the money Lord Victor had left for the VI4C’s use,” he siad. “For what purpose-“
   “Steppe withdrew several thousand dollars!” Septi interupted, digging through the reciepts. “I would like to know what that selfish pig spent it on! Money doesn’t grow on trees, and if we use money with such indiscresion-“
   “Sept, calm down,” Ferinquell said, helping her search through the stack of reciepts. “Here they are, from the date he withdrew the first of the money on until last month.” Septi stared at them with growing dismay.
   “C’est impossible!” she said quietly. “He spent as much… was no one aware of what he was doing?” Ferinquell flushed slightly in the quickly fading November light. “You knew, didn’t you?” she asked reproachfully. “And what are they all for?” she added, refering to the reciepts.
   “Yes, I knew,” he said, his voice slightly strained. “I didn’t approve, but Steppe… well, he didn’t listen. And some of them are for the VI4C, but these are for certain luxeries. Pleasure houses, bars, clubs… that’s what most of these are for.” Septi snatched the stack, and began to read them herself.
   “Is that Japanese?” Septi asked, examining the one. Then she raised her gaze to Ferinequell. “He threatened you, didn’t he? Blackmailed you?”
   “Not blackmail, exactly,” Ferinequell said nervously. “But yes, he did threaten me.”
   “And you didn’t breathe a word to anyone,” Septi said, her eyes betraying her quiet anger. “Ferinequell, how DARE you not tell anyone of this attrocity!”
   “Oh, yes,” he said, his tone acidic. “I forgot. Brave little Sept, running to meet danger head on, ready to fight to the death for the betterment of the VI4C. As if she’s never been in a possition in which she could do nothing about her surroundings.” Septi fell silent for a moment, then she spoke again, pale with anger.
   “You’re a thoroughly self-absorbed old man,” she said, her voice sounding strained now as she fought to remain in control of her emotions. “How dare you come whining to me?”
   “How dare I?” he asked, sounding appalled. “How dare I? Septi, don’t deny for a moment that your motives for challenging Steppe weren’t for self-preservation. You didn’t want to be the next to die, did you?”
   “I’m not denying that,” Septi snapped. “I still don’t want to die. That might have influenced my thinking, but my solution didn’t exactly help my survival any. I almost died in that fight, in case you didn’t notice.”
   “You’re pathetic, Septi,” he sneered. “Acting so self-righteous. You’re not as great as you seem to think. You’re selfish, not selfless. You’re not a family girl, not a good friend, are a canniving little brat.” Ferinequell’s words stung, and Septi flinched.
   “I’m not a pretender, like you, Chuck,” she said, losing control of her temper. “If people like me or not, that’s up to them. And as to me not being a ‘family girl’, what family?” He gaped at her, then attempted to stammer something out for several moments before she continued to speak, her voice deadly quiet. “The only person I have left in my biological family is my mother. She’s- we’ve kind of grown apart since I started to work with the VI4C. So that just leaves the VI4C, which is like an exceptionally dysfunctional family to me.” Septi finished this outburst and inhaled sharply. She stared at him and he stared back for a couple of seconds.
   “You think of the VI4C as a family?” he asked hoarsely.
   “Yes,” she responded quietly. Something in Ferinequell’s face softened, then he returned his attention to the stack of reciepts.
   “I suppose it’s getting too dark to do this,” he said, changing the subject abruptly. Septi nodded, and shivered slightly as a breeze blew across the the patio.
   “And rather nippy,” she said, gathering the papers to prevent them from blowing away. “We can finish this in the living room.” Chuck nodded and followed her into the hideout. She led the way into the living room and got seated, spreading the papers on the coffee table.

   Septi yawned and stretched, heading into the room she had slept in the previous couple of nights. Mentally running through her to do list she sighed, feeling as though she had barely accomplished anything.
   ‘Paperwork, part way done. Cleaning the halls, removing blood stains, done. Disposing of the bodies, done. moving my stuff into the hideout, not done anything about that yet. Getting calls out to my professors, mum, and Nito, not done.’ Her thoughts were interupted by a tap on the door, and she opened it to see Raram.
   “Okay, you act all normal for five minutes, then you’re all weird again,” Raran said, standing with her hand on her hips. “What’s going on in that head of yours, girl?” Septi blinked, surprised. No one had ever asked her to explain her thoughts before now, and it was rather shocking that Raram was so up front about this matter.
   “A lot,” she answered, hesitantly. “Why don’t you come in?” Raram stepped in and Septi shut the door. Raram took a seat on the bed, tucking her stockinged feet up beside her. Septi sat down on the other end of the bed and picked up the pillow.
   “So, what’s up?” Raram asked, concern written on her face.
   “I don’t know,” Sept said, choosing her words carefully. “I think that the big thing is that I’ve changed. I’m not really who I was.”
   “That’s to be expected,” Raram said serenely. Septi nodded and continued.
   “But I’m not the only one who’s changed,” she said quietly. “You guys, you and Mes, have gotten closer. Not that I mind that. But in the process, I feel like I’ve been shoved out of the friendship.”
   “So you feel like we’ve been excluding you?” Raram asked, a look of hurt on her face.
   “Yes,” Septi’s voice came out sharp, and she was batteling tears again. Raram shifted slightly, and leaned over to place a hand on Septi’s shoulder.
   “Septi, go ahead,” she said quietly. “Let it all out. You can’t keep going like this.”
   “I know,” Septi whisperd, forcing herself to look up and meet Raram’s eyes. A single tear slipped out, and then the flood gates broke. Sobs wracked her body and tears streamed down her face. Raram moved again, this time so she was sitting beside Septi, so she could hug her. They sat there like that for several minutes, Septi crying and Raram hugging her, until Septi had calmed down.
   “You gonna be okay?” Raram asked, pulling back as Septi grabbed the tissue box from off of the nightstand. Septi nodded and blew her nose.
   “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I will.” Septi gave Raram a small, sad smile.
   “No, you’re not,” Raram said, studying her. “There’s more than what you’ve told me already. What else is there? What are you leaving unspoken?”
   “You don’t want to know,” Septi said vehemently, trying and failing to sound fordidding.
   “Don’t tell me what I do and don’t want to know,” Raram retorted. “What are you keeping from me?”
   “If I tell you, I don’t want you to pity me,” Septi said quietly. “I hate pity.” Raram nodded, and Septi took a breath and continued. “I’m having trouble forgetting the tortures. Forgetting all Steppe did to me. As I have physical proof, I’ll never forget. But it’s like i’m stuck in the past. Stuck in the cell.”
   “What do you mean, ‘physical proof’? Dr. H fixed up your legs, didn’t he?” Raram asked, her eyes narrowed slightly.
   “Yes, he healed my legs, and I only have the faintest trace of those scars,” Septi said, and turned around. She lifted the back of her shirt part way, revealing scars on her lower back, some of which obviously went higher or lower. Raram inhaled sharply, and Septi let her shirt drop back into place. Turnign back toward Raram, she saw a look of anger on Raram’s face.
   “Told you that you didn’t want to know,” Septi said. “Not pretty, is it?”
   “No,” Raram agreed. “Steppe did that to you?”
   “Yes,” Septi said. “Dr. H helped me by closing the veins and knitting together the muscles that were shredded and torn in the process, but I’ll always have these scars. I believe the doctor also said that Steppe had scratched my spine, and several ribs, but there was no serious damage, so I should be fine.”
   “That’s just appalling!” Raram exclained, glaring at her hands. “Though we should probably be getting back on track?”
“Yeah,” Septi said. “So, I’m having trouble getting my mind off of the last couple months, and then there’s all this work, and you and Mes are now BFF’s, and I’m the third wheel in this friendship, then all the paperwork Steppe left is just exceptionally horrifying.”
   “I can imagine,” Raram murmured, closing her eyes. “So, is there anything else you want to talk about?”
   “Not really, though I can tell you one thing I don’t want to talk or hear about. Lord of the Rings.”
   “Oh? Why not? It’s awesome!”
   “Not really. They were okay, but I really don’t care for them. They were drab and took way too long to reach the point.”
   “You don’t like Lord of the Rings? How is that possible?” Raram asked, somewhat flabberghasted.
   “I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible, and I fail to see how anyone could enjoy them as much as you and Mes do,” Septi said coldly.
   “It’s just…” Raram shook her head, as if she were trying to shake something off.
   “A stupid book series? Yes it is,” Septi said, her voice tense. Her fingers curled tightly around her pilllow.
   “They aren’t stupid,”Raram retorted hotly.
   “Yes,” Septi insisted. “They are!” Septi and Raram glared at eachother for a couple of seconds, then Raram got off the bed and walked to the door.
   “I’m not going to sit here while you insult the greatest books ever written!” Raram said, opening the door.
   “Fine,” Septi said. “Be like that. I don’t even care anymore. It’s not like you’ve been much of a friend, recently.” Raram glanced back at her for a moment, a mixture of sorrow, anger, and hurt on her face. Then she left the room, slamming the door behind her. Septi burst into tears again, suddenly feeling extremely lonely. ‘You’re a liar, Septi. Nothing but a liar.’
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