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[FIRST DRAFT]The Living Complex: Onset

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Artemis awoke with a start and a moment of confusion and anxiety prevented him from reveling in the feel of Holly pressed against his chest or her arms coiled around his torso. His head snapped up from the pillows and his eyes opened wide, but there was no threat. He heard nothing but the plumbing in the walls of his sizable home and the faint ticking of the grandfather clock he'd brought down from the Fowl Manor.

So why was he so worried? He laid his head back down on the pillows, pressed his face into the mass of hair that was the top of Holly's head, and let the feel of her auburn locks tickling his chin ease away the unexplained tension.

The fourth bong of the Grandfather Clock was forgotten in a dreamy haze, the same place he'd heard it.

~~~

Several days after the incident, he returned home from a difficult but short day at work while Holly fluttered about above ground in what was, on the surface, a few hours before dawn. He loosened his tie and ran a hand through his hair, hoping he looked disheveled enough to appeal to Holly's adrenaline-addled fascination with him looking unkempt, but he paused in front of his family's heirloom grandfather clock. His eyebrows tilted in consternation as he stared up at the towering piece of furniture, the five foot structure far taller than his tiny elven body.

Regardless of the height difference, he could still see the face of the clock clearly, and his worried expression stared back at him from the polished, mirror-like face.

“Four o'clock...” He muttered, head jerking and his fingers twitching in time with the ticking second-hand. The hand swept up to the twelve, the minute hand resting flush beneath it, and the hour hand stopped primly at the four, as it should. The muted bonging of the clock followed, but it made Artemis cringe. Even with the modifications he had made to decrease the volume of its chiming, the clock seemed abnormally loud today, and the four crashes of hammer on bell seemed to rise in volume and pitch until the fourth one felt like a spike thrust between his eyes.

Then it was done and the clock returned to its normal ticking, but he was leaning away with a hand to his chest and sweating heavily. The pain remained, muted as the bongs of the clock were supposed to be, for exactly five seconds when it vanished without a trace. Five seconds...five was fine.

He straightened at that, his anxiousness and furiously-beating heart buried under incredulity. Of course five was fine. All numbers were fine. All numbers, even...

He gulped, his throat coated in something thick and hot, but that passed in five seconds as well, and he turned from the clock with a huff to find himself something soothing to drink.