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Operation Hedgehog
So get this, Rune's entire life was the Atharim. Literally her entire, insane, awesome life was the Atharim. She lived and breathed it since her very first wailing breath. And she loved that stuff. With every single dead monster at her feet the world became a little more right.

But every now and then a girl's gotta have a break.

She was on her little Mini Wallet, the one cased in psychedelic colors, and browsing websites in the neighborhood she originally met Thalia in: Old Hat Sky, or New Bat Sky, or something like that. There was a right onyx black cup of coffee on the table, mostly drank, and a tiny little pile of sugar packets crumpled alongside. She'd been there long enough that the drink went cold, but anything better than 48h old stale gas station coffee and she couldn't tell a difference. She absently sipped out of it now and then.

Tap, tap. Someone touched her on the shoulder.

She pulled her ear bugs from her ears and looked up. It was Silvio, the guy that waited on her this evening in the diner. Silvio's hair was dyed a white so bright it gleamed like fresh snow. He had impressive extenders in his ear lobes, and another pair of studs in his cheeks. "Closing up," he said, eyes flickering toward the screen Rune had been watching. It was a paused video of a hedgehog floating in a bathtub.

She pulled her legs off the opposite bench. "Gotcha."

She dropped the Wallet and earbugs in her bag, right next to a revolver, but stopped herself before he got away. "Hey Silvio! There any 24 hour hedgehog pet stores in Moscow?"

He thought for a second, and shrugged. "There's everything in Moscow."

Rune grinned. I'm gettin' a hedgehog.
Chief Inspector Drayson McCullough rarely took anything that could be considered time off. Even when away from work, even on his off hours, his actions or thoughts were usually connected to his work in some way. So his presence at a pet store, of all things, would likely have come as a bit of a surprise to the few people that knew him. His commitment to his job did not leave him with any time to spare caring for an animal.

He wore a thick brown wool paletot style over-coat, to ward off the chill air of December in Moscow, and a simple dark plaid scarf hung off his shoulders. A pair of leather gloves, chosen for function and appearance, not simple appearance alone, were tucked into one pocket, and he stood watching a pair of basset hound pups playing in a display case, towering over a young boy and girl who were pressed against the glass and giggling happily.

He did not know the children, and was not present on their behalf, but he hadn't been able to pass up a moment to watch their childish enthusiasm. He'd overheard their parents speaking to one of the store's staff, and the father would be returning on the morrow to take the pups home to the unsuspecting children.

The parents came and ushered the children away to continue browsing the stores along the street, playing up that they had only come inside to entertain their children's curiosity and nothing more, and Drayson shared a ghost of a smile with the father as they departed.

Then it was back to the task at hand, as Drayson turned away from the two pups, watching with whimpers and scrabbling paws as the two children departed, pleading their parents to buy the dogs.

Each stride rang out a solid chop as his heel then ball of foot met floor. It was a calm, confident, stride, and he easily met the gaze of those around him offering passing pleasantries and polite nods. At first glance, he was a polite, happy and easy going man.

And behind that mask, there were few emotions to be seen. He was a tired man; left threadbare yet somehow still standing. He had bore witness to terrible things, seen the most base and sadistic sides of human nature without flinching, bottling it away deep inside where it would bother no one. But despite that, he felt...content. His was a task few could do, a responsibility few could carry, a weight he bore with pride.

His stride brought him to the part of the store dedicated to the smaller, exotic pets, and he strolled the length of cages and aquariums before stopping before one that housed a pair of hedgehogs. The two curious little creatures spared him a moment's interest, pointed little noses sniffing at the air, but they could sense nothing from within their confined little world, and soon returned to rooting about in the thick carpet of wood chips where they found bits of dried fruit, sprinkled in by one of the store's staff.

He'd been given an unusual task, a favour asked of one of the elderly couples living in the same building as he. Their granddaughter was visiting, a girl no more then 10 years old, and she had been speaking non-stop about hedgehogs. And so there he stood, watching the strange little animals with the intent of buying one for a neighbor's granddaughter.
Sierra had only been in Moscow a few weeks. It was difficult to find food that Snow would eat. He wanted to hunt, and Sierra didn't blame him one bit. But it was a long ways to travel on any given day for her and Snow to travel out of Moscow and find something to hunt, they had to go further and further from the city each day. The animals had fled something, it wasn't the new new wolf in town, something far more sinister kept the animals at bay, but nothing they showed Sierra ever gave her any idea what it was.

It was cold in this part of the world, December was cold in most places Sierra had been, but she had the luxury of the hunt, her coat was self made of animal hide she had killed herself. It looked like something you'd buy from an outrageously priced store, Sierra even saw an identical one in the store, the money should make on that alone. But Sierra hated the kill, hated taking a life, but even for a wolf it was necessary. She made sure to use as much as possible and thanking the beast for it's gifts. Her father had taught her survival, but the wolves and other creatures of the world had taught her balance.

So Sierra went on search for alternative methods, Snow was resigned to eating butchered meat, but Sierra wanted to surprise him. Pet stores had rabbits and all sorts of various creatures, Sierra hoped to set up a regular trade on farmed rabbits, Snow would not like the ease in which he could kill these creatures, but it was better than letting him wander the streets of Moscow only to be caught by their pest control people, or worse be put down for killing one.

She hoped to find rabbits for so far there had only been a store dedicated to hedgehogs. She passed the place several times but decided to go in anyways. Sierra was nearly as cautious as the wolves of other two legged as they called them. She smiled at the words and let it help her as she walked the aisle of creatures. She was saddened by their captivity. Creatures needed to roam free. They needed their own lives, but these were farmed and raised to be pets. Pets was such a horrid word, yet she had to call her beloved friend on in order to get an apartment in a bad neighborhood. City life sucked.

Sierra stopped next to man watching a pair of the silly creatures, oblivious to their captivity. The hedgehog might be more of a challenge than a rabbit. Sierra would have to ask Snow what he thought about the cute little things. She reached out with her mind and hoped Snow would hear her.

Images of being trapped passed through her mind, Snow didn't liked to be kept inside, Sierra knew he was pacing back and forth watching and waiting for her return. She couldn't have brought him this time, she needed to go inside the stores. Sierra sent back the images of the small creatures in front of her. Snow sent back an enthusiastic yes, she felt the images were more a kin to having a treat. Sierra smiled.

The excitement of Snow ran through Sierra's mind, he was happy and Sierra would take a few home. She would look for the healthiest of them, and then hope that she could make a bargain with the owner. But this man looked like he needed a little help staring at the pair in front of them. "Having difficulty choosing?"
She smiled. "You don't look much the pet type.
The yip of puppies across the store held Rune's attention for like twenty minutes. There was a tiny white one with a smooshed up nose that made her want to stuff him in her bag and keep him forever and ever.

There was a reason her and uncle seth never had a pet before, though. She walked away from the little guy, but by the time she was half way to the hedgehogs, she was already feeling better.

Thoughts of the pup flew out the window with the first cage of prickly little buggars. This place worked with an officially certified breeder (Rune did her homework) because she wanted to make sure to get a healthy young one. And she wanted to track down some specially modified genetic colored hedgehogs too.

She hefted her bag to drag out her Wallet. "There's notes on here somewhere..."
she said to herself, swiping carelessly here and there through files to find the information she needed.

In the middle of an aisle, she got fed up and looked for a Wallet docking station, one that could just read her bar-code number and direct her to the right tank in the store. The tanks all had numbers and specifics displayed on the front. Things that told a wary hedgehog shopper about health status, vaccination, and genetic modifications (if any).

Alas there was no docking station, so she flipped her rainbow colored hair around, which of course made her red bangs fall in front of her eyes, and looked this and that for a worker.

None. Well crap. What was this place? Wal-Mart? Nah. They probably had better hedgehog organizations. Wal-Marts the best.

So she waltzed up to two other shoppers. A big black guy who looked sour enough to give Regus a run for his money. And a girl about Rune's age, maybe, with pretty dark hair and accent. "Hiya. You guys seen where the GMO hedgehogs are? I'm gonna get one with colored spikes."
She smiled her crooked smile and turned the Wallet screen around to show off the super-awesome internet version.
Drayson turned slightly to look at the woman whom had spoken to him, and smiled softly at the rather insightful comment. She was right; he wasn't the type for pets. He simply hadn't the time for such things; it would be unfair to the animal, which would likely spend days at a time in the care of a house sitter or at a kennel service.

She was tall, which was something he had gotten used to living in DI. Russian women were often noted to be tall, after all. And Spanish, by her accent and complexion. One for designer contacts. Or, on closer examination, body modification surgery to permanently change her eye colour?

Coupled with what he could only assume was some sort of designer jacket; raw leather, well worked but surprisingly...real? No, on second thought he doubted the jacket was designer. It had seen too much use; it was simply too functional to be some expensive piece of clothing. Which caused him to second guess her eyes. A conscious choice to alter her eyes seemed out of place for someone that enjoyed functional, if flattering, clothes.

But, he could make no claim of being an expert on women; he'd had a few dalliances in the past, but nothing serious. Each relationship had been short; he missed too many dates due to work for any relationship to work.

He looked back to the hedgehogs, the same soft smile as he watched the spiny creatures, "Shopping for my neighbors. Their granddaughter is in town, and she has been talking about hedgehogs all week. So they've asked me to get one for them to give her as a surprise."

He cast her an amused grin; he honestly enjoyed helping people, even in something so unorthodox as this. His smile warmed slightly as he leaned a bit forward to look passed Sierra to the newly arrived Rune. Her question was met with a moment's confusion on the part of Drayson; he lived in a world of acronyms, so it took him a moment to logic out what she had meant.

"The genetically modified ones? Colorful."
The young woman certainly matched the description. He leaned in to take a closer look at the image displayed on the Wallet and nodded slightly. There were some who felt genetically modified animals were a sin and a crime, that the modification served no purpose other then for profit. But the research that created them also went towards curing disease and preventing birth defects.

An unfortunate side effect of human society was that consumer goods always drew more interest then medicine, and without producing a consumer good with the research, many such technologies never came to fruition. He stood tall again and pointed to an aquarium further along the wall, where some of the more 'exotic' exotic pets could be found.

"May I ask why you want a hedgehog? I don't know much about them."
He glanced from Sierra to Rune; he wasn't sure if Sierra was actually after a pet hedgehog or not, but she had approached him in regards to the curious creatures, and took that as a sign that she was of a common interest.
Sierra blinked at the multicolored hair. That was new. But that wasn't saying much, she preferred the company of the animals over people. People were so complicated. She smiled at her and tried to figure out what she meant by GMO, thankfully the man next to her offered a solution. Sierra nodded, genetically modified, why would anyone want to modify a hedgehog. The world outside the wilderness was still a strange thing to her.

Images of chasing down hedgehogs from under bushes pushed past Sierra's mind. The smile grew wider, she sent back an image of hurrying, it was complicated talking to wolves so that they understood. But she had learned from the best, Snow had taught her well, and he was eagerly waiting the chase. Sadly Sierra didn't think he'd get much of one, these hedgehogs looked rather unaffected.

Sierra didn't see a store person around. She picked up one of the prickly pet and brought it to her face. It smelled healthy, the best she could tell anyway. "I don't want them, my friend does. He's rather finicky."
She looked up at the officer and their colorful friend. "This one would be a good pet. Healthy, male, no chance of more than one."
She couldn't talk to the hedgehog, but he didn't seem to mind being picked up. "He'll be good too, he doesn't mind being held."

Sierra looked at Rune, "Colorful spikes, I think I'd like to see that up close and personal."

She put the male hedgehog back in his cage. Sierra was sad, she wanted to let it run free. If she had the money to buy them all she would. But sadly they'd probably die in the wilderness. Would be better for them to stay here and find good homes. Sierra would take the most active of the lot here, and hope Snow would not be disappointed.
Rune didn't answer the old guy's question right away. She just spun on her heels and flopped her wrists that he follow.

"Come on! I'll show yah! It don't take no detective to figure it out."
Her mouth split into a gleeful grin and she darted around the corner.

The wall of GMO HedgeHogs were gloriously colorful! They all had the normal tawny colored, fuzzy bellies; fuzzy like the side of Rune's shaved head, but the spikes! They came in every color imaginable! Hot pink and fuscia colors were on the left, and like the rainbow of Rune's hair, faded to yellow and green and finally to indigo and purple to the right.

She literally couldn't contain herself and just started going from tank to tank, pressing her face in close and getting a good look at what she'd only saw on the internet her whole life. Petstores in the US sometimes had hedgehogs, but they were illegal in some states. None ever had colored ones.

She was helping herself to a lime green spiked hedgehog when the others caught up with her. The little guy was really chill, actually, and he curled up (spikes down) in the palm of her hand.

Rune just held him out in mid air toward Drayson. Its stumpy little legs wobbled up and down. Its nose lifted and sniffed at the air.

"Thats why!"

There was a hedgehog play pen set up nearby. Kind of like what was used for babies, but smaller and stocked with hedgehog toys, like dominos and balls, tunnels and even a bead pit.

She set the green spiked fella in the center and started luring him around the pen to play with the various toys. Its nose pushed around as it explored, but when it got to the dominos, it somehow managed to hit the front one just right and the little white blocks lay down their perfect snake-like pattern.

"Who wouldn't want a hedgehog's whats yah should be askin'!"
Drayson looked at the curious little creature in Sierra's hand as she held it up to her face, and nodded approvingly as she set it back. The animal did indeed seem to be well used to being handled, and once back in it's cage it waddled to the glass to peer and sniff curiously at the three of them.

At Sierra's interest and Rune's beckoning, he gave the 'mundane' hedgehog a farewell glance and moved to follow. The colourful girl seemed to be in her element; besides how well her extravagant colours matched with the GMO hedgehogs, her child-like exuberance was equally well suited.

Her off-hand comment about detectives was answered with an amused grin as the two girls walked ahead of him. He doubted either recognized him; he was rarely in the news, and fleeting at best when he was. That thought brought back memories of what outstanding cases still sat on his desk, waiting his personal attention. There was never an end to the work; perhaps he would get a few files done that night rather then his original plans. Castletown was playing Kirkwall for the Highland Amateur Cup, and it was being played live at Churchill's pub, just a few blocks from his loft. He could always catch the highlights over the net later.

The curiously colourful creature seemed quite content in her tiny hands, and followed her finger around quite dutifully in the play pen. One of the store staff wandered by to see what they were up to, but on seeing Drayson the teenager decided to skirt wide and leave them be. His disarming smile probably helped a little, but few were willing to approach a man of his size.

"You seem to be a natural with animals, young lady. Both of you."
He moved to another cage, and after a moment's thought carefully lifted a royal blue coloured hedgehog from it's confines. The animal eagerly crawled onto his hand, and was instantly dwarfed in comparison. He brought it out and cupped it between both hands, and it had ample room to crawl about and sniff at the air before peering up at him. "So you believe one of these would make a fine pet for a little girl? She will be ten next month. Not too young to care for a pet?"
The girl was not a child but showed the enthusiasm of one. It made Sierra smile to see a grown person feel the call of life. Snow danced in her head. He was eager, and putting him off too long could rouse his ire. Sierra didn't want her wolf mad at her. He came with her instead of roaming free. It wasn't about friendship or even kinship, their bond was shared, they both enjoyed each other's company. She was never alone with Snow at her side.

The man picked up a blue hedgehog. Sierra shot Snow a rainbow of hedgehogs and he sent back a blank stair. She giggled softly to herself. He hoped it was taken as a gesture outwardly not something like she was going mad. Her brother had gone mad with the wolf and the dream. The thought brought back the memories of why she was here. To understand her brother's death. He hadn't really hurt anyone. He'd defended himself. But the scar on Sierra's leg told a different story. He was gone. She knew it, but she hated to remember her brother that way.

Sierra's thoughts drifted back out and she heard only ten year old girl and caring for a pet. She smiled at the man. "A perfect age to start learning."
Sierra still didn't understand the need for a pet, or the reason why you'd want a hedgehog. She still felt overly bad for these caged creatures. Snow sent her an image of wolves romping through the store eating all the hedgehogs. The most vivid part was the stark red of blood against the snow white of his coat. Sierra shivered. Wolves believed in balance. Everything had a balance. This was out of balance, a wolf would get fat and lazy if he had this much of a buffet.

Sierra vowed to go hunting, she'd bring Snow one creature from this dungeon of gloom, but from then on out they'd go hunting. It would have to be big and he'd have to learn to eat cold dead food. He didn't like the idea. Sadness trickled into her mind. But Sierra sent back the hunt. The glory and adventure. They needed to go home soon. The city was no place for Snow.

Maybe she could send him away, he wouldn't leave completely, but maybe without her protection he'd stay away from the city. This was no place for a wolf. Sierra would miss her friend, but it was she would miss him more if he died on her.

Sierra took a deep breath and was still unsure of what to do. She watched the colorful girl with the hedgehog. There was beauty in it. She pulled her camera up, she always carried it with her, no matter where she went. The lens cap off and the correct adjustment. Sierra took pictures of the girl and her pet. They weren't overly special, but Sierra caught the innocence on camera - preserved it for eternity.
Rune gasped when the old guy grabbed a bright blue hedgehog. She quickly put her own lime green one back in its tank with its buddies and swapped him out for a bright purple one. The screen on the tank said the quills were colored 'Electric violet,' I like the sound of that.

The hedgehog squirmed, but Rune loved how soft its fuzzy underbelly was. All prickly from up top and sweet and cuddly underneath. It was just like having a pet Uncle Seth. Only this pet isn't butt ugly.

Violet also happened to be her mom's name, and the type of flowers Thalia was drawing for her Atharim tattoo. The hedgehog was a boy, but that was okay with Rune, she liked being around tough guys.

They touched noses, the hedgehog's purple snout to her schnoze. The cold butterfly kiss made her smile merrily. The hedgehog wiggled its legs. He approved also.

"I think I got mine,"
Rune said. She took him to the the little play area and let him sniff around while she watched and chatted. What friendly - and also important, nicely smelling - people she was with.

"Is ten years old grown up enough to have a pet?"
Rune drummed her hands on her hips right above the loop of a utility pocket. Despite the brightly colored hair and dramatic makeup, she was wearing rather simple and functional clothes. Her pants had lots of pockets, and weren't loose enough to grab at nor too tight that she couldn't conceal anything. She was wearing a cotton tank top under a similarly functional zip-up coat - the hood of which was down at the moment, but had the look of deep cowl potential. She moved with strength born of hard, physical work rather than gym bulk. And as she ran her palm across little Violet's quills, it was clear she wore no jewelery or bracelets.

"You could get her a hoglet. That way they'd grow up together,"
Rune answered without really answering the question. The reason was she had no idea if normal ten year olds could take care of a pet. She could have, but pets living in their car didn't make for good road-company long-term. Rune knew, she tried to sneak a puppy in the car one day. Uncle Seth made her give it away at the next truck stop. It was alright, though. She eventually understood why they couldn't have pets; it was for the same reason they couldn't have regular families. Families have to take care of each other, and they were gone all the time.

She met Drayson's eye and while earlier's enthusiasm might have waned a little, Rune smiled her affable smile, "And she gets to tell everyone she has a hoglet. And that's just a right plain awesome word."


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