"Can I take you out for dinner, Andrè?" asked Lise, offering her hand to the young boy.

He narrowed his eyes at the hand, looked up at her face, then down back at the outstretched arm. "Yes, but no hands. I'm old enough to walk on my own and we're not on a date."

Lise let out a surprised laugh. "So be it. Let's go."

"Uncle Alec?" Andrè paused, looking up at the big man.

He was staring at his house, eyes lingering on the owl, and then looked down at Andrè. "Go ahead, bud. I need to go see where Jean-Luc is."

"Okay." Andrè was unconcerned. "Let's go, lovely Lise."

Lise couldn't help the small laugh that escaped her, though fear nipped at her heels and worry edged her thoughts.

⋆⋆⋆ ☾ ⋆⋆⋆

Jean-Luc woke up to a pounding headache behind his eyes.

It was sharp, and blinding, and lasted all of two seconds before it disappeared like smoke.

He was on his back, staring up at an ornate ceiling of gilded bronze and copper. A thick quilt covered him, soft pillows surrounding him, and he was shirtless.

Groaning, he pushed himself onto an elbow and took in the room.

It was circular, small, and its walls were more window than stone. He could see the sky stretching out in all directions, a mass of smudged greys and soft blues.

Surrounding the bed were rugs of all shapes and sizes, most of them rust-coloured and patterned by fragile thread and intricate pictures. In one corner, there was a paneled wood square, most likely a trapdoor, but with no handle.

Jean-Luc frowned, rubbed his eyes, looked again.

It was the same.

Pushing away the quilt, he swung his feet to the floor. The rug was rough beneath his bare feet, his pants were a soft, loose cotton, and something burned on his back.

Stung when he moved. It wasn't sore or bruised. It was a sharp pain.

Jean-Luc tried to reach back and only succeeded on making the pain worse as his skin pulled in all the wrong directions.

He sighed and cast his eyes around the room, looking for a clue as to his whereabouts. Looking straight ahead, Jean-Luc started when he noticed someone staring at him.

Then relaxed with an embarrassed exhale when he realised it was his reflect.

Standing up, he pulled a face as his back burned again, then turned his back on the mirror. Strengthening his resolve, he turned his chin to his shoulder and looked at the mirror.

A black mark had been drawn on his pale, Mireston skin.

It was small, it was spiraling, and it was instantly recognisable.

In fact, it was one of the things Jean-Luc had studied.

And he couldn't understand why the mark of 'confusion' had been drawn on his skin, one side of it hooked into the 'authentic' mark, so as to give the illusion they were one.

Something thumped, there was a scrape, and then the wooden panel was pushed open. It made a dull thud as it slammed against the floor, followed by the face and shoulders of a grim-faced girl.

She pulled herself up, wavy hair obscuring her features for a few seconds. Leather covered her skin, stuck to her petite frame, as she pulled her legs up and propped her chin on her knees.

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