Nikko left. WITHOUT ME.
He says he only came to visit, that "the world is still going nuts" and I have to stay here until they work things out. He told me that they found May, she's okay, and Ariella says Oya, but....
HE LEFT WITHOUT ME.
I kick the door. Ow. I kick it again. OW. "Stupid door!" I yell. Of course, it's not the door's fault. It's not the door's fault I'm left out of the adventure. It's not the door's fault that Nikko's comlink went off and Gloria told him to come back. It's not the door's fault that we didn't figure out what Leslie is.
I kick it again anyway.
My new defenses are set up by now. Well, they're really glorified booby traps, probably ineffective against anything worse than a little sister, but if something were to happen, I'd at least have a few seconds of warning.
I grab my backpack from its hook on the wall, filling it with provisions I've been stashing, extra weapons, my lockpick kit, some cogs, and various other necessities. Flipping the hood of a gray cloak over my head, I kneel down next to the door.
This is getting out of hand. My team needs me, and what am I doing? Hiding in my room. I've been in plenty of deadly danger before, as everyone well knows. And it never stopped me. So it isn't going to now.
I pull out a screwdriver. I had been hesitant to try this, saving it for a last resort, because I didn't want to break anything. But I don't care anymore. The circumstances have changed. I unscrew the doorknob, stick my arm through the surprisingly large hole, and finagle my wrist into a somewhat painful position to reach the top deadbolt. A really painful jerk, and the first bolt is open. I repeat the process for the bottom one.
I push open the door, and silently reassemble the doorknob. After a last check, all that remains is to lock the door again. I sigh, but do it. Does knowing that my heart is overriding my common sense make what I'm doing smarter or dumber?
I pad noiselessly down the stairs, having long ago memorized a pattern of non-creaky spots. Probably dumber. I pause at the bottom, listening for Emmalee. I hear her humming in the living room, and the sound of a pencil scratching. If she's drawing, it makes my escape that much easier.
I slip through the hallway into the kitchen, grabbing a couple essentials to stuff into my backpack. With one last glance towards my sister, I open the front door and run like crazy.
Diving into the first clump of bushes I encountered may have been a really bad idea, but I did it anyway. Thankfully, I didn't run into any bees or thorns or mutant cow leavings. However, I did find something unfortunate.
"AAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!!" I scream, backpedaling frantically. In the bush is a small-ish Automaton, heavily armed, lithe and flexible, with long arms and a streamlined black carapace.
Forgetting any attempt at stealth, I keep screaming and keep running, not even slowing down enough to whip out my hammer. I glance back to see if it's even chasing me, only to find it less than five feet away.
This is NOT going as planned.
Eventually, I make it to NML, panting and gasping. The foggy thing is still chasing me! "Get out of here, you stupid tin can!" I yell, which is hard because I can barely breathe. I scan the street for somewhere, anywhere to hide. Nikko's house. PERFECT. Dodging a pile of pipes, I finally reach his door.
I slam the door RIGHT in the little 'Ton's face. "TAKE THAT, YA FOGGY TIN CAN!" I shout. From behind me, I hear a confused chorus of "AISLINN!?!?!" I turn around to see Nikko, May, Ariella, Iris, Gloria, Jacoby, Ilayne, Etlo, and Vytanni staring at me.
"Uh....hey, guys?" I wave. Ariella stalks up to me, her fists clenched. For some reason, Iris is copying her.
"Aislinn Nicole Mollisong!" She says through clenched teeth. "Goodness, Ari, you sound like my mom. It's fine! I just decided I could be of better use in the field, instead of stuck in my room going stir-crazy while you guys are adventuring. Did Nikko tell you about my discovery, by any chance?"
Ariella looks like she's going to explode, but Vytanni cuts in. "No. We haven't...had any time." This remark is followed by an uncomfortable silence.
"Aisy, we need...we need you to come see something." Gloria says quietly. "Okay. What's wrong?" No one answers me, but they all troop silently into a back room. I follow, but not before I've checked that my ScrewCane is handy.
Xonos Darkgrate is tied to a chair in Nikko's back room, his top hat off and his mask askew. The checkered black-and-white mask is moved just enough to where I can see the purple bruise on his jaw. He looks up when we enter the room.
"Guys. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?" I shove past everyone and start trying to untie him. "Are you okay? What happened?" Before Xonos can answer, Jacoby grabs my arm and pulls me back.
"Aislinn, wait." "No! I'm not going to wait! This is not okay! What did he even do!?" Etlo coughs. "Uh..well...he showed up, and, um...Nikko started it!" He points at Nikko.
"Nikko. Explain. Now." I fold my arms, edging slowly towards Xonos. Maybe I can get over there before they notice...
He rubs the back of his neck. "Well..." He sighs. "Glow called me back, because they thought they had a lead on Matt. But then he showed up." I edge a bit closer. "I'm sorry, Aislie, but you know what he tried to do to you! He burned down a hospital. What was I going to do, shake his hand and let him come in and take us down?"
I shouldn't say it. I really shouldn't. I have no right to bring this up. This won't make anything better. I should just reason with them, not say this thing that wants to explode out of my brain like a volcano.
"HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!??!" Why don't I listen to myself? "You, of all people!!! You, who every person in the entire Resistance had reason to hate?! You, who was our worst enemy for years?!" Oh, shut up, Aislinn, shut up...
I look him straight in the eye. "What he tried to do to me? What about what you tried to do to me? For years." Nikko winces as my words hit him like shrapnel. Oh, please, you buckethead, stop talking!
"And he doesn't deserve forgiveness?" I finally stop seeing red, stop raging, stop talking. Everyone else in the room is silent, staring in shock at my tirade. Xonos whispers, "Whoa."
I'm shocked too. "Oh my goodness, Nikko, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it-" He holds up his hand. "No, no, it's okay. You're right. It's...it's okay." He turns to Xonos, and starts untying him.
"I'm sorry, Darkgrate." He says reluctantly. Xonos stands up, puts his hat back on, and adjusts his mask.
"Well, I'm going to have this bruise for a good while, and I'm rather reconsidering my choice to come to you for help, but...I suppose I accept your apology." He nods to me. "Ah, Aislinn, good to see you're back in the game. I was hoping to talk to you. You see, I have a proposition for you..."