Raven Skies: Part 1
by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Kai is Kaylee's, used with permission. Anyone you don't recognize is probably mine. :)
The door slid open with a smooth hiss as soon as I reached it, and I froze, peering cautiously into the shadows beyond. It was too dark to see much of anything down here, but it looked like a hallway. An empty hallway.
This was too easy. To hear Domino tell it, Cable's safehouses had security that would eat you for breakfast if you blinked at the wrong moment. Just strolling in there as if I was going for a Sunday walk in the park would be stupid. Unless he was 'in residence', and the open door was an invitation.
Hi, Kai, come on in! Oh, and try not to let the automatic defenses blow your head off.
Okay. Think it through. The real question wasn't whether or not the defenses Domino had warned me about were on. I'd lay money that they were, even if Cable was here. He'd never struck me as the type to let down his guard, even for a moment.
No, the question was, were the defenses set to use lethal force? I didn't know Cable well enough to make that judgement. Actually, part of me wondered what I was doing here to begin with. After all, it had been LOGAN who Domino had come to for help. I'd just sort of ended up coming along for the ride.
Simple math, really, I reminded myself. There were two safehouses to be checked here in New York. Having a third person along gave Domino the chance to go look up her old friend Bridge and ask if SHIELD still had any surveillance on a certain wayward Summers.
Logan had taken the one in Hell's Kitchen, leaving me with this rather attractive brownstone on the Upper West side. The exterior looked perfectly normal, no different from the other buildings on the street. The inside was just as innocuous. Nice decor, too; really upscale. Never thought Cable had such good taste.
Nothing at all out of the ordinary. Not until you went down the stairs to the basement and ran into a smooth metal door with no handle or doorknob of any description, set into an equally featureless metal frame. It could have come straight out of the underground complex at the mansion.
Scowling, I considered what to do next. Shouting 'anyone home?' seemed a little too obvious, and it would just draw attention to me if the defenses had me pegged as a hostile. A method of testing the defenses finally occurred to me, and I nodded thoughtfully, digging in my pocket for a coin. I came up with a nickel, and tossed it through the doorway into the hall beyond.
Gritting my teeth and hoping I wasn't being TOO stupid here, I stepped through the door. Still no plasma cannons emerging from the walls to blow my ass to kingdom come.
I realized I was holding my breath, and let it out with a sigh. Maybe he WAS here, and had decided to be friendly. I mean, he had to know someone would come looking for him, after that little disappearing trick he'd pulled. Probably wouldn't expect me or Logan, though-- Walking quickly, but carefully, I made my way to the other end of the long corridor, running through the events of the day in my mind.
Out of the blue, Domino had shown up at the apartment this afternoon, looking tense and worried--hell, as close to frantic as I'd ever seen her. Over coffee, she'd told us that Cable had gotten some kind of transmission last night at X-Force's headquarters, and promptly started acting "bizarre, even for him". He'd ducked out sometime during the night, without leaving any word about where he was going or when he'd been back. Domino had managed to trace the PACRAT to an airfield a couple of hours outside New York, but there, the trail had gone cold.
Logan had taken her story at face value, thankfully--I think she'd probably have decked him, otherwise; she was that uptight about the whole thing--and kept his own opinions strictly out of it. He'd pointed out that Cable was prone to vanishing abruptly--true, from what little I knew of the man. But Domino had insisted that there was something very wrong, that she'd sensed something through the psi-link that made her think he was in trouble, and racing off to solve it himself in typical stubborn-male fashion.
Then there was the fact that he'd deleted the transmission as soon as he'd read it. I didn't know diddly-squat about psi-links, but that, I most definitely found suspicious.
Reaching the other end of the hall, I found myself facing a door that was absolutely identical to the one behind me. After a long moment, it slid open as well. Cautiously, I stepped through, into a narrow, dimly-lit room that seemed mostly empty. A few oddly-shaped crates sat over in the corner, but nothing else.
And there was no other door.
"Shit!" I snarled, whirling around just in time to see the door behind me slid shut. I swore again and turned around, scanning the room warily. There was something wrong--the echoes weren't right. "Cable! If that's you, this isn't funny!"
#I didn't intend it to be.#
I felt that unsettling sensation of a presence in my mind, a moment before the world seemed to turn inside out. I found myself lying flat on my back, staring up at the blank ceiling.
I couldn't move a muscle. I couldn't even blink. Helpless, furious, I laid there, mentally reviewing my list of reasons to hate telepaths. Adding a few more, while I was at it.
You rat-bastard sonuvabitch-- I finally thought at him, tossing the thought out to the room at large, since I didn't know where he was.
#So I've been told.# His voice in my mind sounded tired, ironic. Oddly sad, too. #Lights out, Kai.#
Everything went dark.
Stepping through the holographic image of the opposite wall, Cable walked over to the woman lying on the floor, and stood over her for a moment, shaking his head. Kai, of all people? He'd expected Dom, or maybe one of the kids--but her? What was she doing here?
The answer hit him almost immediately. "Of course," he mused wearily. "Dom went to Logan." Surprise, surprise.
That complicated things. He spoke a few commands aloud in the battle language, and the wall behind him shimmered for a moment before the image steadied again. That might gain him some time.
His jaw tightened. It's your own fault, you stupid son of a flonq. Obviously he hadn't been careful enough about what he let leak down the psi-link. Domino couldn't possibly know what was going on--he hadn't said a word, and he'd been very careful to erase the transmission--but she flonqing well must know how he felt about it. Guilt and fear were the hardest emotions to mask, even with concentration, and all of this had taken him by surprise, thrown him off balance--
Kai would come to in fifteen minutes or so, with a headache. He hadn't precisely been ROUGH with her--but he was distracted, so he hadn't been as deft as he probably should have been. Her formidable mental shielding hadn't helped. But he couldn't find much regret for this turn of events--all of that was directed elsewhere, at the moment.
Still, something told him he wanted to make sure he was a good mile or so away before she woke up. Hopefully, by the time she found her way out and called in the cavalry, all of this would be over. He went over and picked up his weapon, smiling grimly as the dim light glinted off steel.
After all, the last thing he wanted was an audience.
"I didn't even see him!" Kai growled. She paced along one side of the room, stopping every so often to reach out and touch the wall, pushing against it experimentally. "One second, the door slides shut. The next, I'm lying on the floor. No warning at all, the sneaky, back-handed son of a bitch--"
"Kai?" Logan interrupted after watching her for a moment. "Not to interfere with your ventin', darlin', but--"
"Oh, shut up!" she snapped. Logan almost smiled. Between hurt pride and whatever remained of the headache that even someone with a healing factor invariably ended up with after being on the receiving end of a psi-attack, she was in a bitch of a mood. When he'd found nothing at the safehouse in Hell's Kitchen, he'd come looking for her here, to see if she'd had any better luck, and found her locked down here, cursing so loud that he'd been able to hear her from the floor above. "Remind me to laugh in Jean's face the next time she tells me how good my mental shielding is!"
Logan grimaced. "Nate's made an art out of sneaking up on people's blind sides and taking them out before they know what hit them--trust me on this. One of these days, I'll tell you about the first time we met." He joined her over at the wall, after adding another one of the heavy metal crates to the pile holding the door open. Just to be safe--the last thing they needed was to end up locked down here together. "All I was gonna say," he continued, striving for a reasonable tone, "was that you look to have the same thing in mind as I do, here--"
"What? A nice, spirited game of Summers-As-Punching-Bag?"
"The wall, Kai. I was talking about the wall," he said. Patiently.
She scowled, and relented. "I know," she said, pushing at it again, this time a little harder. "It feels solid, but there's something odd about the echoes in this room. Like it's a lot bigger."
"Yeah." He frowned. It was downright weird. The smell, the air currents--everything but the sound of the room seemed perfectly normal for someplace this size. If Kai hadn't caught the strangeness in the echoes too, he would probably have concluded that his senses were playing tricks on him.
"If we could just figure out how to get through--whatever this is," Kai said, frustrated. "Domino said she'd been here before, right?" Logan nodded. "Well, if she's familiar with the place, maybe she can tell if Cable took something from here--or left something here --that might tell her where he was going."
"I did find his trail outside--"
"Yeah, but it would be a lot better if we had at least some idea of what we might be walking into," Kai pointed out. "He obviously wants to keep us away--maybe for a good reason." She snorted. "I wonder if Domino thought of that before she decided she needed to find him."
"Kai--" he started, but before he could say anything else, he heard footsteps in the hall outside. Logan immediately fell into a defensive position, seeing Kai do the same out of the corner of his eye. Domino stopped, blinking at the crates blocking the door, and then climbed over them.
"Neena," Logan said, and then scowled as he caught the second scent, a moment before G.W. Bridge, in civilian clothes instead of his usual uniform, followed Domino into the room. "What's with the tagalong, darlin'?" he asked. Domino's only response was to roll her eyes at him.
"Keep talking like that, Logan," SHIELD's acting Director said caustically, "and I'll start to think you don't like me anymore."
Logan snorted. "You must be mixing me up with someone else, Bridge. I never liked you." The jibe was necessary, to cover his surprise at seeing Bridge here. The last he'd heard, he and Cable were still 'on the outs'. To put it mildly.
"Bridge?" Kai asked, her eyes narrowing. "As in G.W. Bridge?"
"The one and only," Domino muttered sardonically, and then went to examine the wall. "G.W., this is Kai. Kai, G.W. One of my former partners, but he's been much less fun ever since he went legit." She stopped for a moment, giving Kai a measuring look. "You all right?"
"A bit of a headache," Kai grumbled. "I'll take it out of his hide when we catch up with him."
"Good luck," Bridge said dryly. "I've been trying to get him back for worse for years now." Domino glared at him, and he raised a defensive hand. "Simmer down, Dom, I was just reminiscing. I'm here to help, I told you that."
"SHIELD does still have surveillance on him, then?" Logan asked.
Bridge raised an eyebrow. "Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how hard he is to keep track of? Even now that he can't teleport? I don't have the budget for it."
*So why the hell are you here?* Logan wanted to ask, but didn't. Bridge's motivations were none of his business, as long as the man didn't get in the way. "No joy here," he said to Domino. "I don't think the wall's solid, but there doesn't seem to be any opening."
Domino went over to the wall, laying a hand against it. "Probably a combination of a hologram and a forcefield," she said in a neutral voice. "I've seen this sort of thing before. It's permeable from the other side--anyone can get out--but it's keyed to certain bio-signs from this side." She gave them a smile that seemed more than a little forced. "Usually I'm on the 'approved' list."
Frustration and fear dominated her scent, so strong that Logan almost growled despite himself. Whatever sort of trouble Nate was in, he was still going to answer to him for putting Neena through all this.
"So there must be something in there he doesn't want us to see," Kai surmised.
"Even money says it's a decoy," Bridge said flatly. Domino blinked at him, and he shook his head. "Even if we got through it, there wouldn't be any 'clues'. Think, Dom."
She stared at him for a moment longer, before understanding dawned in her eyes. "Right. This is meant to keep us busy," Domino said with an exasperated sigh. "While something--else happens, somewhere else." She frowned. "But then, he would've known we'd realize that--"
"So, of course, it is a distraction," Bridge concluded, as if it were obvious.
"Pardon me?" Kai asked. She wasn't the only one having trouble following the conversation, Logan reflected ruefully.
"It's simple," Bridge said drolly. "If you know how Nate thinks."
"Why don't you enlighten us?" Kai asked, folding her arms across her chest. Logan realized that she hadn't really calmed down all that much.
It was Domino who answered. "He knew we'd guess this was a distraction," she said levelly. "But he would also have known that we would know he knew that--"
"I'm getting another headache," Kai muttered.
"So, since we'd know that he'd know that we'd know what he was thinking, presumably we'd start to wonder if he wasn't faking us out after all," Domino said with a thin smile, and gestured at the wall. "In which case, this becomes a distraction, even if it really isn't."
"Pardon me while my brain starts dribbling out of my ears," Kai said, looking taken aback. "That's just perverse."
"That's our Nate," Domino said, and there was a strange sadness in her words. "He's desperate, I think."
"How do you figure that?" Logan growled.
"Once he saw Kai, he'd have been stupid not to realize that you were in the picture too, Logan. And unless he's found some replacement bodysliding technology--which I doubt, since he wouldn't have taken the PACRAT in that case--he knows you can track his scent." She shook her head slowly. "All of this is just him trying to buy time."
"For what?" Bridge asked.
"I'll be damned if I know," Domino muttered. "But I'm sure as hell not going to sit here and speculate." She gave Logan a piercing look. "Up to playing bloodhound?"
Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. I looked up sharply, scowling at the black clouds rolling in from the west. Oh, lovely. The last thing we needed was rain; Cable's trail had been hard enough to follow as it was. He'd backtracked countless times, obviously trying to confuse the trail. Come very close to succeeding a few times, to be perfectly honest. Wherever he was going, he certainly hadn't taken the direct route.
And he sure as hell didn't want any company.
Bastard. Wait until I get my hands on him. Well, Domino had dibs. I could wait my turn. Leave ME locked in a basement? I don't think so--
In the end, after two solid--and more than frustrating--hours, the trail had led here, to this quiet warehouse district. Quiet? I thought, looking around with a scowl. Too mild a word. Put plainly, the place was deserted, which was odd, even for early evening. I kept expecting to see someone, anyone, come strolling into view from an alley or something, but no one did. There was a strange, charged heaviness in the air, and I didn't think it could be entirely credited to the storm rolling in.
Logan was growling under his breath, clearly bothered by it too. I was relieved to know that whatever it was, it wasn't just my imagination running away with me.
"Something ain't right about this," he grated, looking around suspiciously.
"You think?" I said, raising an eyebrow.
He scowled at me, but he was definitely uneasy. "Funny, Kai. Doesn't this feel wrong to you?"
"Of course it does," I said irritably. "I just don't know what to make of it, that's all--"
"G.W.!" Domino suddenly said, sharply. Logan and I both stopped dead, whirled in time to see her staring incredulously after Bridge, who was walking away briskly in the opposite direction. She called his name again, but he didn't even look back at her. Domino cursed and caught up with him quickly, grabbing his arm. "G.W! What the hell are you doing?" she demanded angrily. He didn't answer, and she had to dig in her heels to keep him from pulling away and keeping right on walking. "Hey!"
"You decide you didn't really want to be here after all?" I asked caustically as I went over to them, but my next words froze on my lips as I saw the look on his face. To say my skin crawled at the sight would be putting it mildly. He was staring off into space, unblinking, his expression as vacant as a mannequin's. The lights are on, but there's no one home-- I thought, absurdly. "What the fuck is this?" I breathed, instinctively keeping my distance, as if whatever had caused this was contagious.
Domino ignored me. "Answer me!" she said harshly, shaking Bridge's arm. "What are you doing?"
"Shouldn't be here," Bridge muttered dully. "Need to go home--somewhere else. Don't want to be here." The words sounded strange, hollow, almost as if it was something he was repeating by rote.
"I get it now," Logan said suddenly, coming up behind me. I turned, scowling as I saw him nodding slowly, as if something had just been confirmed to him.
I hate all this cryptic bullshit-- "Care to share?" I asked sarcastically. "Wait--on second thought, if this is more labyrinthine logic, spare me. I'm still trying to unknot my brain from the last time."
"Nah," Logan said. "Just a bit of deja vu, Kai--"
Before I could ask him what the hell he was talking about, Domino scowled at him--and abruptly hauled off and slapped Bridge. Staggering backwards--she certainly had put some enthusiasm into the blow--he blinked at her confusedly, rubbing the side of his face.
"Dom?" he protested. "What the--"
"Exactly what were you just doing, G.W.?" Domino snapped.
I eyed her warily. She'd been very quiet ever since we'd left the safehouse--trying to get a response on the psi-link, she'd said when I'd asked--but now, all the tension that she'd been keeping so tightly under wraps was out in the open for anyone to see. I realized then how much she loved her partner--and how badly she wanted to wring his neck at the moment.
Bridge shook his head doggedly, as if trying to clear it. "I don't know--I--"
"Had the urge to turn around and leave," Logan said with a humorless chuckle. He gestured around aimlessly. "That's why this neighbourhood's so empty."
Bridge's expression suddenly cleared, and then turned rueful. He seemed half-amused, half-annoyed. "Shit," he swore. "I don't believe it. All those years I watched him do this, and yet I fall right into it."
"Into WHAT?" I demanded. "Would one of you tell me what you're talking about already?" I sounded waspish, I knew, but I was really getting tired of being left out of the loop.
"Little telepathic trick," Logan explained briefly. "Not quite a mindwipe."
"Oh, that helps, Logan--"
"It's something he used to do back when his powers were mostly dormant and he didn't have much to work with," Domino said, still sounding angry. "It's a telepathic suggestion without much force behind it. Usually only works on the unaware or the weak-minded." She glared at Bridge, who made a face at her.
"Don't look at me like that, Dom. Not my fault my defenses against psionic interference aren't much to speak of. I just never got the hang of it." He gave Logan and me a measuring look. "You two've got natural shields, and Dom's picked up a lot from Nate over the years--"
"But why just stop at 'encouraging' us to leave?" I asked with a frown. "He didn't have any trouble dropping me in my tracks back at the safehouse--"
"I wouldn't think this was aimed at us," Logan said pragmatically. "Seems more likely to me that he's trying to clear this place out."
"Still," Domino said in a quieter voice, "Kai's right. He could have tried to force us to leave--I don't know if he could've managed it with all four of us at once, but he could have tried. He hasn't. Which means he's conserving his strength."
"And trying to make sure there aren't any potential witnesses hanging around--I don't think I like where this is going," Bridge said grimly.
"Join the club, G.W.," Domino whispered. She turned away, studying the warehouses surrounding us, and then closed her eyes, her expression hardening into a mask of almost inhuman determination. It was a look that said she wasn't going to take no for an answer--I could see that much, even if I had no idea what the question was.
A moment later, she smiled. It was a thin, distinctly unamused expression. "Gotcha," she said.
#Can none of you take a hint?# Cable's furious voice suddenly snapped in my mind. Judging by the expression on Logan and Bridge's faces, that had been directed at all of us. I felt like jumping out of my skin. That 'presence' was back in my mind, glowing fiercely gold, seething with frustration so strong I could almost taste it at the back of my throat.
"Succinctly?" Domino inquired, still aloud. "No." She was staring intently at one particular warehouse at the end of the street as she spoke. "All right. G.W--"
"I'll go around the back," Bridge said ironically. "If you see me doing the zombie act again, give him a good boot to the head for me, all right?"
"That goes without saying," I muttered, still not clear on what had just taken place. Cable clearly knew we were here, now--what would stop him from turning the 'suggestion' into a telepathic order? I'd had my head messed with quite sufficiently for the day, thank you very much--
But Domino started towards the warehouse at a brisk walk, clearly not bothered by the possibility. Conserving his strength, she'd said. So what the hell did that mean?
The warehouse had clearly been out of use for some time. Inside, it was dim and cool, but the silence somehow wasn't quite as oppressive as the calm-before-the-storm feeling outside. This was a nice, isolated location, I reflected grimly.
Perfect, if you were looking for someplace to carry out a little private business without interference.
All of this was beginning to fit together into an equation that I didn't like at all. Stupidity like this got people killed. Cable was an experienced mercenary, he should know better than this! Of course, that only made me wonder what the hell was going on and what was driving him to handle it this way--some sort of half-assed desire to protect Domino and X-Force from whatever it was, maybe? Or shame-- The thought came right out of the blue, with nothing to back it up.
But somehow, for some bizarre reason, it felt right.
Cable was sitting on a crate placed almost precisely in the center of the warehouse floor. Right out in the open, where anyone who came through any of the doors would be able to see him. Not in a sensible place like the corner, where he could have his back to the wall and be able to see all the entrances at once.
"Stab your eyes--all of you," he said angrily. He was wearing stark, unrelieved black--some sort of body armor, it looked like--rather than his usual blue and gold uniform. The only weapon he seemed to have on him was the one he was holding, a long staff topped by a curved, wicked-looking blade that seemed to draw all the light in the warehouse.
"Hold on, Cable," I said, definitely unamused by his 'greeting'. Domino was staring at him through narrowed eyes; probably giving him an earful on their psi-link. I didn't let that possibility stop me, though. I had a number of choice things to say to him myself. "You do NOT get the privilege of being the offended party here, pal."
"And if you'd kept out of what didn't concern you, you never would have ended up locked in the basement in the first place, Kai," Cable snapped, and then leveled an icy glare at Dom. "And you! Did you even stop to think that I might have a good reason for 'sneaking off'?" he asked sarcastically. "Instead of just jumping to conclusions and decided you needed to be involved in something that's none of your flonqing business?"
So defensive--his tone, his body language, all of it. He certainly wasn't coming across as cold and collected as he usually did. Whatever was going on had badly shaken that prodigious self-control of his, and I started to understand why Domino had been worried.
"Watch your mouth, Cable," Logan growled. "You ask me, you owe them both apologies--"
"Tough luck, hairball. I don't apologize, remember?" Cable glanced over his shoulder as Bridge appeared from the rear of the warehouse. "And what the hell are you doing here?" he demanded irritably.
Bridge raised an eyebrow. "Nice to see you too, Nate," he said pleasantly. "Oh, and by the way? Mess with my mind again and I'll break your jaw."
"It's not my fault you never mastered more than a basic shield," Cable said bluntly. His grip on his weapon had tightened slightly; a reflection of tension, I realized. "So now that you're all here," he continued brusquely, "what precisely do you want?"
"An explanation would be a nice start," Domino said caustically.
He met her eyes, his expression stony. "No. And you can all just turn around and walk right back out the door."
"Excuse me?" she almost shouted, her pale skin flushing.
"I can see where this is headed," Bridge muttered.
"Shut up, G.W.!" Cable and Domino snapped almost in unison. It would have been funny as hell, if the situation hadn't been so tense. The two of them immediately glared at each other, as if each was affronted that the other had 'stolen their line'.
Domino broke the stand-off first. "I thought you'd stopped pulling stunts like this," she snarled.
"And I thought you'd finally recognized that I have a right to a private life!" Cable snapped right back at her. "Do I tag along like a mother hen when YOU have business elsewhere?"
Even I had to admit he had a point. Domino flushed again, but didn't look away for a moment. "Business?" she asked, almost mockingly. "Is that what you call it? You get some transmission out of the blue, start acting like someone hit you upside the head with a two-by-four, and then vanish? Oh--I almost forgot--you almost, ALMOST shield the psi-link, leaving it open just enough so that I can sense that you're miserable--"
"So you went off half-cocked, thinking I needed to be rescued?" he spat. "Thanks a lot, Dom! I never knew you had so little faith in me!"
"All right," Logan growled, stepping between them. "'T' on the friggin' field, you two." They both glared at him, and he snorted. "Neena, yelling at the man isn't going to solve anything. And as for you, Nate--we're here, and we're not leaving until we get some answers, so deal with it."
Cable swore at him in that weird musical language of it, and Bridge raised an eyebrow. "Well, someone's certainly in full 'antisocial bastard' mode today," he quipped.
Cable gave him a furious look. "Bridge, would you stay out of this before I--"
"Oh, this is great," I said disagreeably. "Logan, you want to jump in here? The more testosterone being spewed the merrier--"
But as I looked over at him, I could see quite clearly that he had a better idea. He gave me a faint smile and a wink, and then donned a deliberately casual expression as he turned to Cable.
"So, Nate," he said, nonchalantly. "What are you hiding from?"
The tactic worked. Cable turned away from Bridge, looking flustered by the question. "You think I'm hiding?" he demanded.
"Well, that's sure what it looks like from here," Logan said easily, pulling out a cigar. "I tell you, bub, when I was trying to think of what the hell you might be up to, it never occurred to me that we might find you cowering in a corner somewhere."
Cable stood up, glaring in pure fury at Logan. I stiffened, expecting some type of attack--what the hell was Logan doing, TRYING to pick a fight?--but Cable didn't make a move towards him. His voice, when he spoke, was eerily calm. "You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
Logan lit his cigar. "Probably not," he admitted. "So why don't you fill us in? Save us trying to gut each other over misconceptions." He waved a hand at Cable's weapon. "You could start with that. Never seen you carry anything like that thing before. Looks like something out of a museum. You swear off your guns as a New Year's resolution or something?"
Cable was looking more and more off-balance as Logan went on. "Logan," he finally said, his voice sounding strained, "what part of 'this is none of your business', 'I'm not going to explain', and 'go away' didn't you understand?"
Logan bared his teeth at him amiably. "I'm a slow learner. Bear with me."
Cable looked around at all of us. We had him cornered, and he knew it. I saw him weigh his options, discarding them each in turn before he resigned himself to the inevitable. Moving stiffly, he sat back down, his shoulder slumping.
"Pull up a crate," he said, his mouth twisting bitterly.
to be continued...
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