Authors note: O.o Wow, I didn't expect so many reviews on this. The first page was my whole assignment, I just kept going because I needed something to eat up pages in one of my school notebooks. Now I think I'll keep going for a bit more. By the by, I got an B+ on this. The ending wasn't conclusive enough and my usage of comma's needed work. But the teacher liked it and encouraged me into continuing.

Talec: Conversation is tough because you gotta put a lot of your characters *character* into it. Most of my characterization is in a stories dialouge.

RitaMetreMaid: Never seen/read The Giver, and I know what dog you're talking about. I drew a pic of Vin before and someone asked me if he was Inuyasha. ::shrug:: Background on this world will be at the bottom in the authors notes.

Stormcat: I'm honored it's going into favorites. I obsess over sentence structure and grammar; it's one of my vices.

Wanequelle: I'm glad you like this so much. The whole 'eating meat for the first time' thing has been something I've been pondering about for a while, so I wrote what I thought would be my first impression. With a little addition of Vince's Half-Beast kitty-cat nature...

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Xander led me down darkened tunnels. With his warning not to go into any of the unlighted catacombs and then taking me down the aforementioned tunnels I was confused, especially so whenever I tired to ask him a question on where we were going he would hush me sharply and continue without a word. After the second or third time I held my silence.

After a while, I noticed we were walking up a slight incline, and even in the darkness I could tell that the walls and the floor were dryer than where we commonly stayed. The temperature, usually pretty cool and humid, got rapidly dryer and hotter. Xander didn't seem to mind, but I was soon sweating huffing behind him.

I was starting to reconsider my decision to see this Aises. Xander was never this quiet. He was always full of at least amusing anecdotes to cover the sometimes smothering silence of the Hive. This... silence was too unfamiliar.

None too soon, we seemed to have reached our destination. The tunnel seemed to suddenly end, except for an opening blocked by a piece of cloth, like the dens. A light shining from behind spilled some light around the edges of the curtain.

Xander heaved a long sigh before turning towards me with a grin. "Here we are," he whispered.

"Where's 'here', exactly?" I asked, whispering like he was. I found usually if I followed Xander's lead I wouldn't make a stupid mistake.

"Aises' little haven," was the reply. However, it wasn't Xander who'd spoken. I looked towards the 'door' of Aises' den and saw Jeremy leaning against the stone wall and holding a lighted battery-powered lantern. "What are you two doing here?"

"Vin here want's to meet Ai, how 'bout it?" Xander asked.

Jeremy glanced towards the curtain and seemed to consider his offer for a moment before nodded towards us. "Go ahead, just don't be long." He moved inside, and Xander brushed the curtain aside and he pulled me in behind him.

The small room was the most unique in the entire Hive, that I'd seen, anyway. Almost a perfect circle, and even more sparsly furnished than Xander's den. There was a single chair, which Jeremy sat upon, and a pile of blankets and rags which I supposed was Aises' bed. In the dead center of the room there was a stone cylinder, upon which Aises sat cross-legged. The hair on my head seemed to crackle with a strange, electrical energy.

As unique and unusal the room was, Aises had to be more so. Red hair, scarlet as blood hung arounds Aises' face in a uneven, stringly fall. A lithe, whip-thin body sat stick-straight in a posture that looked painful to watch, and from Ai's back there were two large pinions; wings reminescent of a butterflys or a moths, red as Aises' hair with darker 'eyes' and yellowish spots around the edge and clusters at the pointed tips. The bases hidden in scarlet hair yet stretching out in two whiplike appendages fainty covered in fuzz were antennae, and when Xander and I walked into the room they twitched in our direction, as if sensing our entrance.

Aises, despite what I had thought initially, was also male.

"Ai, you got company," Jeremy announced. I noticed that now he'd dropped the whisper, and now spoke at a proper volume.

"I know that," Aises chided gently. He had a rich, throaty voice. A voice a singer or a diplomat would have gladly killed for. His eyes were closed, yet he turned his head towards us with unfailing accuracy, and his antennae twitched again. "Helly Xander and... someone new? I'm sorry, but I don't recognize you a all..."

"Yep, he's new," Xander said, all joviality back. "Aises, meet Vincent. Vincent, this is Aises, Jeremy's lovey."

Jeremy rolled his eyes while Aises chuckled. "Nice to meet you, Vincent." Aises said.

"Nice to meet you too, Aises," I responded, feeling somehow like a fool. Aises had an air a maturity that, though he could only have been a few years older than I, made me feel like a clumsey little boy.

As if sensing this, Xander pulled Aises into comfortable conversation, taking the strange man's attention away from me for a while at least. I learned that the reason Xander didn't talk while we were on our way here was that the tunnels leading here were dangerous, and prone to collapse if someone talked too loud. When I asked why Aises lived here, they responded that this was the area closest to the surface and the landlines. Landlines, they then explained, were the means of communication between different Cities. Aises, with his sensitive antennae, could pick up electrical pulses as they conversed and can determine if anything they said could benifit or harm them. Aises told me that he was mostly looking out for any news that the City had found out about the Hive. When asked what would we do if they *did* find out, both Aises and Xander laughed and said that they would overcome that hurdle when they came to it.

Because Aises' job was so important, he seldom left his little room. Jeremy brought him food and company, and provided a stable conversation partner. Judging by the slight blush on Jeremy's cheecks at this, I had the sneaking suspicion he was a 'partner' in more than just conversation.

Throughout all of this, Aises kept his eyes firmly closed.

Finally, Aises told us that there was an incoming call and Xander and I stood to leave and let Aises to work in peace. When we went to step out of the room, Aises called my name.

Turning around, I had taken a step back when I sw that Aises had his eyes open. His eyes, glittering molten gold and multifaceted, seemed to stare deep into my very soul.

He was quiet for a moment, and completely motionless except for softly waving antennae. Finally, he broke the tension that seemed to be as taught as a wire between us by speaking a short, strange sentence; "You better hurry to your den."

That done he closed his eyes, and completely ignored me as he set to work.

I hurried through the curtain to where Xander was waiting patiently. Giving me a quick grin, he asked quietly, "You ready to go?"

My mind whirling around what Aises last said, I nodded, and we started the long trek back to the Hive proper, where the all the 'safe' tunnels branched out from a main one.

Once we were in the light once more, Xander chuckled. "Ai and Jeremy're so cute together, aren't they? Jeremy's so protective of Ai, and Aises doesn't even *need* his protection."

Chuckling, I rubbed my back awkwardly. The damp and all the walking was starting to get to me and my back was hurting. "They're so different, too," I added. "Jeremy's so uptight and serious, and Aises is more casual. It's kinda like a mirror, you know?" I didn't add that Jeremy didn't have a trace of that suffocating aura that Aises had.

Xander nodded his agreement, a grin showing off very sharp teeth. "You wouldn't beleive they'd be a couple if you were here when they first met. They got along like vinegar and baking soda; all pops and snaps and a mess everywhere. You wouldn't believe it when Aises finally walked right up to Jeremy and-"

The rest of his sentece was lost when the pain I'd felt in my back surged and I fell to the ground whimpering in pain. I was helpless as my back tightened up and then went as loose as twine. I hissed in pain when a comforting hand gengerly touched my sensitive back.

"Are you ok? What's wrong?" Xander asked, his voice frantic.

"My back," I hissed through clenched teeth. Then I groaned as I felt a grinding, shifting sensation all along my spine, shooting pain all along my body.

I was distantly aware of Xander shouting for help, the pain was my world at that time, and all I could do was pretend that it would all end soon.

-

As RitaMetreMaid has so politely asked, here's a bit of background.

This *is* Earth, but so far into the future that due to technology screwing things around and a whole lot of other factors, the earth has been reduced to a barren wasteland; with all but the most rugged life-forms dying out. The Cities are the major cities of earth that had been completely enclosed to protect the denizens within from not only the sun, but from the frequent dust-storms and suchlike. Travel from one City to another is very rare, but communication is still open via telephone lines buried under the sand.

City people have a completely vegetarian diet, while the Hive denizens live primarily off of meat. Denizens take turns searching for new water sources, herds of animals (ostriches seem to be the most plentiful of herd life, so they take up the most of the meals) and whatever plants they could make use of.

The oceans have completely dried up, leaving huge deposites of silt where they once were. No one, even if they leave the Cities, would ever cross these silt seas.

There are rumors of desert-dwelling humans, tribes of nomads who stay out of sight from both Half-Beast and Human. None of these rumors have been found to hold and truth, however.