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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Madame Destiny's little suburban split-level house had thick, white, wall-to-wall carpeting in the foyer, the living room, and the steps down to the lower level. Nereid tread softly in the slippers she put on at the door, following X's black coattails down the stairs and into Madame's Consultation Room.

"Pacifica!" Madame said as she advanced to hug Nereid, her round face wreathed in smiles. "It's so good to see you. It's been a long time. You look so much like your father these days."

Nereid endured the embrace with a rictus of a smile. "Thanks. It's, uh, good to see you too, Madame."

When Madame released her, the Equestrian stood up from the comfortable overstuffed chair she'd been ensconced in. "Hey, there," she said, extending her hand to Nereid. She was about 4 inches shorter than Nereid, slim-bodied and blonde, and eternally 13 years old. She gave Nereid the shivering willies. Nereid had really hated being 13. "I don't think we've met in a professional capacity... and I think I last saw you when you were shorter than me."

Nereid shook her hand, murmuring a greeting, and glanced around. Tiffany lamps, peach walls, and good soundproofing made the room a quiet, comfortable, easy-on-the-eyes sort of place to gather. Only she, the Equestrian, Madame, and X were there. "Where's...?" she began, a little puzzled.

"He's a filthy horseboy," the Equestrian said with a half-smile.

"He left a mess of mud and grass on my carpet upstairs a few years ago," Madame said, reassuming her seat. "He's not allowed in until he learns to clean his boots."

The Equestrian snorted. "He'll never be in then."

"You need to teach him better manners," Madame said.

"Him?" the Equestrian said. "Better luck teaching manners to a wild bull."

X gently pushed Nereid into one of the comfy chairs adorned with a pastel flower pattern, then took a seat on what looked like a piano bench.

"So," the Equestrian said after taking a long drink from a bottle of hard lemonade, "you called, I'm here. What's up?"

Nereid looked at X. X looked grim, then said, "You've heard about Sophie -- Brainchild, the Ultimate's daughter, right?"

The Equestrian nodded, examining her bottle. "Heard she's comatose since that dustup with Josh Feldstein."

X said, "That's right. Well, the Oracle gave us a clue..."

"A typically cryptic and annoying one," Madame put in. "About going on a spiritual walkabout, essentially."

"And so Nereid and I went to Lucid's Dream Party to see if anyone there had seen Sophie," X said. "And some people had."

The Equestrian was watching X's face now, a slight frown on her face. "I don't like where this is going," she said.

X shrugged. "The door she went out through was, I'm relatively certain, a door to..."

The Equestrian waved a hand violently. "Yes, yes, I can guess. And you want me to look for her?"

"Actually," X said, meeting Nereid's gaze briefly, "we were hoping you'd take us there."

"Us?" Madame said, sitting up suddenly. "Oh, no, you can't leave, X."

X twitched visibly, then grew pale. Fists bunched so the knuckles were white, X said, through gritted teeth, "Madame, Sophie is my friend. I have to help find her."

"Your duty is here," Madame said. "I can't function here without you. You keep up on everything, and there's no telling how long you'd be in that country. Worse, if you were to be lost..." Madame wrung her hands. "I just can't condone you going, X."

"I..." X began, then bit back whatever the rest of the sentence was.

Nereid, for once in her life finding a clear cue for interfering in a conversation, hurriedly said, "That's all right, X. I can ask one of the Cosmics to come along." She looked at the Equestrian's distracted frown and added, "If the Equestrian will take us, that is."

They all looked at the Equestrian.

"If I were to take you along," the Equestrian began slowly, staring at her hand where it clenched the fabric of her breeches, "you would have to agree to follow every order and direction I give you. No questions, no cavils, because if you do something wrong there, you could be trapped there forever, or worse." She looked up at Nereid. "Can you promise to do that, Pacifica? Because if you can't promise me that you'll do as I say, then I'll go looking myself and leave you here."

Nereid nodded so hard she felt her teeth rattle against each other.

"Whoever else comes along will have to agree too," the Equestrian said, glancing only briefly at X, whose face had gone angular and expressionless. "I can't predict what will happen there. We might be separated despite you following my directions. Something else might happen. The only absolute about that place is that it's always changing, and it's always the same."

Nereid frowned, trying to parse that, and then just filed it away for later. "I understand," she said. "I promise."

The Equestrian sighed and rose to her feet. "Don't leave without seeing your parents," she said. "They'd kill me if you did."

Nereid showed uncommon good sense -- she thought -- in choosing to leave with the Equestrian, especially given the almost visible tension between X and Madame. Outside the bright green front door, the Equestrian turned and looked up at her.

"Ask someone you can count on," she told Nereid, "but I'm afraid the android probably shouldn't be the person to come along. He might, um, malfunction."

Nereid said, "Oh. Oh! That would be terrible, yes. I..." She desperately thought through the team roster and said, "I'll ask Wire. She... she cares about Sophie too."

The Equestrian cocked a smile. "Sometimes, I guess, that's all one can depend on." She snapped her fingers and an enormous black stallion with a white star on his forehead and a white sock on a front hoof stepped into sight next to her. "Need a ride home?"

Nereid took a step backward from the horse, whose eyes, she was sure, glowed red deep inside, and shook her head. "I'll... I... I'll be fine. Thanks!" With a quick wave, she turned and fled down the sidewalk toward the bus stop.

When she glanced over her shoulder, the pair was gone.


---

From the Author:
Sorry for the disappearance. Real life suddenly came down like a hammer! I'll answer comments soon, I promise!

My wife was wonderful with titles again and always, making up for my lack of brain.

Again: I'm posting twice weekly during the month of December as a [fill in holiday here] gift for you all. If you like getting WCS twice weekly, then please comment on anything. :) If I get 50 comments over the course of December, I will post twice weekly all through January as well. If I get 75 comments, I'll post twice weekly through February. If, by some amazing work of you wonderful folks, I get more comments than that, I will come up with some even better reward.


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Wow!

Date: 2010-12-21 08:53 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Sounds like a scary adventure, but worth the risk.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2010-12-21 05:02 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
It'll be exciting!

Date: 2010-12-24 06:12 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I'm really really looking forward to the Faerie storyline.

Date: 2010-12-24 03:29 pm (UTC)
contrarywise: Glowing green trees along a road (Default)
From: [personal profile] contrarywise
I don't know how I missed this chapter earlier, but I'm glad I saw it and caught up. Hoo boy, this is going to be an interesting adventure! I hope X convinces Madame Destiny to let hir go. I'll admit to a fascination with well-done gender-neutral characters, and I'd enjoy seeing more of X while on a quest.

Date: 2012-01-28 03:56 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
I, too, hope X will be allowed to go after all! I like them!

Date: 2012-01-28 05:24 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Madame Destiny just can't cope without her apprentice, alas.

Date: 2012-05-10 01:51 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Unfortunate!

And I too love Faerie adventures so much. They're just delightfully terrible.

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