Chapter 7: Evening at the Docks
Seeing her again was almost incomprehensible, especially after only beginning to search for her for less than a day. Aerin had been easy to find; I had figured that she would go to the Continental Archives to look for answers and had waited for her there.
A part of me had just wanted to give her some money and tell her to run. However, the other part of me, the much smaller part, had wanted to test my strength as a man and agent of Mortalita and see if I could actually carry out the assignment. Strangely enough, the smaller part had won. I had realized that if I killed Aerin before getting to know her all over again, the pain of her death would be less great.
I had followed her down the raining streets discretely, but soon, she had taken notice of me and had began to run. I had continued to run after her as she turned into an alleyway, and had pointed my gun at her once a dead end had been reached.
It had been so hard to see Aerin soaked in the rain, praying for mercy. Tears had poured down her face; her beautiful, womanly face, as she told me to kill her quickly. I had tried to ignore the sound of her voice and keep my gun steady, but when she told me to rot in Hell with the rest of the heartless corpses, my sturdy, emotionless mindset had broke.
I had collapsed onto the ground, and Aerin had immediately knelt beside me to see what was wrong, regardless of the fact that she didn't know who I was at the time. She had removed my hood and sunglasses, and began to cry even more when she recognized me.
It wasn't until that moment that I realized how much I had missed her. As she had removed my gloves and stroked my fingers, I had thought about how impossible this assignment was going to be. There was no way that I'd be able to kill her. No way at all.
Knowing of the dangers of the city, I had brought our touching reunion to an abrupt end, telling Aerin that she had to get out of here. She wanted to ask questions and talk, but I mentally pushed her away. Since she had continued to prod and attempt to catch up on the seven years that we had lost, I had told her to meet me at the Flowerlea docks. The harbour is my favourite place, for although it is abandoned and empty, the silence and serenity of it is so peaceful, especially when the light of the crescent moon reflects on the clear, rippling waters. It was a place that I knew would be safe for us.
Aerin had agreed, but had first wanted to know my name. It seemed strange that she hadn't known it before, but deep down I knew why. I hadn't told her my name seven years ago for, at the time, only selfish, stupid reasons. I hated my name. It was the name of my stupid father, a man who I'd hated so deeply. Luckily, I gave him what he deserved.
As the years had gone by and I figured out what Mortalita really was, I became glad that Aerin did not know my name. If she had known the monster that I was, our chances of seeing each other again willingly would be slim. When I had told her my name today, her expression had changed, however, almost as if she was recalling a bad memory.
With that, Aerin had softly bid me farewell and left the alley, bag in hand. When she left, I had a chance to recollect my thoughts. Aerin was...so...beautiful. Her features were so delicate, and even though she appeared timid in most ways, her face expressed a determination that possessed a strength I could not try to comprehend.
I had watched her leave the alley, and then returned to my apartment to rest and remain motionless while staring at the crumbling stucco of my ceiling. I hoped that I had done the right thing by letting her go off on her own into the dangers of Kannere to find a place she'd never been to. Maybe she would just run off back to Lawler, but recalling the happiness in her face at the sight of me, that possibility seemed unlikely.
Hours passed as I lay on my moth-eaten couch in a state that was a cross between slumber and reality. To loosen myself up, I emptied the contents of two beer cans down my throat; strangely enough, I felt just as stiff and cold as before.
Alcohol was a weakness of mine. Although I was not extremely addicted to it to the point of being drunk all of the time, I still consumed at least two, maybe three, beers daily. The drink seemed to drag me away from the stresses of work and reality, but today, it still wouldn't help me get over Aerin.
It was funny how I could barely pay rent, but managed to buy a twelve pack of booze every week. Luckily, train tickets and other amenities needed for my job were paid for by the company credit card, and if I used my won money for them, Mortalita would refund me later.
When I was younger, I used to get the agency to refund everything that I bought from new sunglasses to beer. The privileges of my job had made me materialistic, but soon after, Mortalita found out that I wasn't really buying new bullets and demoted me by one class.
Days when I was mischievous and childish seemed so long ago. Now, I could barely find humour in any aspects of my life. A smile on my face now seemed like it could only be found in a parallel universe. I hate living like this.
Before I was given the assignment to kill Aerin, thinking about her would make me happy. Now, thoughts of her make me sad as I think about what I must do to her. Even today, when Aerin had removed my hood and figured out who I was, her expression of sadness and hurt made me want to shoot myself. I don't think that I'll ever be able to make her understand why I had pointed a gun and prepared to kill her. Even if I had the time span of forever to tell Aerin why, I would not be able to find words of reason and motivation. We used to be friends. Friends don't attempt to kill each other.
Glancing at my watch, I realized that I should probably be off to the Flowerlea Docks to meet Aerin. Leaving my apartment, I made my way down the hall, and nearly crashed into my landlord as I walked with haste.
"Mr. Barrow, I need your rent," the landlord, Mr. Hundrap, prevented me from continuing on.
I sighed, loathing him with every breath he took. "It is not rent collection time yet, sir."
Mr. Hundrap raised a bushy eyebrow. "I need last month's rent, Mr. Barrow."
"I'll give you some rent," I muttered as I blew a quick punch to the side of the landlord's head. He fell to the ground, unconscious, giving me an opportunity to steal his car keys. It would be easier if I drove to the docks.
I didn't care if I got evicted from the apartment now, it was a piece of junk anyways that could hardly classify itself as a home. I wouldn't be arrested for attacking my landlord; since I was a member of Mortalita National, I had immunity to the law. The agency didn't believe in punishments for acts that needed to be done.
It's strange how evil can have so many advantages.
Once I got outside, I walked through the rain to Mr. Hundrap's beat up old brown station wagon. As I put the greasy keys in the ignition, I remembered that I had to stop and buy some food for Aerin. It had brought a weak smile to my face when Aerin's stomach had rumbled in the middle of today's short conversation.
As I drove, I watched for fast food outlets positioned at the side of the road. I hated the idea of feeding her greasy, fried, and unhealthy fat, but I didn't have the time or money to buy her a gourmet meal. I had given her my pocket money, all of twenty dollars, for a taxi. Finally, I found a Burger Barn and bought a small pop, a cheeseburger, and a medium fries via the drive-thru.
I continued to drive along the wet streets of Kannere, past the downtown core, and through the outskirts until I was out of the city. After driving along an old gravel road for quite some time, I saw an old harbour, and parked the car a good ways away from the docks. I couldn't afford the chance that someone might find out that we were here.
I walked towards the harbour, seeing the silhouette of a woman standing on the deck with her image illuminated by the glow of the moon. As I neared the shape, the image became clearer, and I saw that the woman was Aerin. She waved and smiled, beckoning for me to come closer.
Soon, I joined her and sat next to her at the edge of the dock. Aerin removed her shoes and let her feet glide atop the water's surface. I kept my knees to my chest, not following her example. She smiled to herself as she watched her feet, then turned her head to meet my eyes. Her face was strained and tired, since she had experienced a tough day, but her beauty still shone through the stress.
"You know," Aerin said, "I vaguely remember you telling me that brown was the worst possible colour for a car, that it was a colour of nature and not of a polluter. I noticed that the car you drove here is brown. Did you change your mind?"
I laughed for what seemed like the first time in ages. "No, it's my landlord's car. I still believe that a colour of nature should not be painted on something that destroys nature. It's too ironic for my liking. However, I did not have much choice in the matter, since I needed a car."
Aerin smiled, nodding. "You stole it, didn't you?" I thought that we'd agreed that you'd stop that nasty habit."
"It's not my worst nasty habit," I admitted grimly, thinking about my drinking and killing.
Aerin was silent for a moment; she probably already knew about the killing. "Well," she said after a while, "The world is filled with ironies. I mean, how can a place be called Flowerlea and not a single flower grows there?"
"So you noticed the ugliness of Kannere," I chuckled, "Well, it must've been nice-looking at some point in history for someone to give it such a pretty name."
"Yeah," she agreed, and then noticed the bag of food beside me. "What's in the bag? Not another gun I hope. Mind you, the bag does say 'Burger Barn' on it and I don't' think a place like that would sell revolvers and pistols."
"No, it's food, you eat it, not shoot with it," I explained as I handed the bag to her, hating how she'd mentioned the gun, "You must be starving."
Aerin nodded heartily as she peered into the bag. "You're going to have to tell me what all of this is. I admit to have never eaten fast food."
"Well," I began, "This is a cheeseburger; it's got beef with cheese on it in the middle, and is surrounded by a bun."
She laughed at my description. "I know what a burger is, silly. What I meant was, what are these?" She held up a limp, thin fry with a puzzled look on her face.
"That is a fry. All it is, really, is a deep fried potato dipped in salt and grease," I explained.
"Sounds appetizing," Aerin said sarcastically as she put the fry back in its box, "And what is in this drink? Water, I hope. I've been so thirsty that I've been tempted to drink the ocean water."
"No, not water," I corrected her, "It's a carbonated drink filled with sugar, caffeine, and artificial flavouring. Pop or soda are its common names."
Aerin took a sip, and gagged as she did, but managed to swallow the gulp down. "I don't think that I can drink this whole thing."
"Ah, it's only a medium size. Just be glad it's not super sized," I joked, "Don't worry, you don't have to drink it at all if you would prefer.
She was appalled at my suggestion. "You bought this for me, it's only polite to drink it!"
"Nah, don't worry about it," I replied, "I'll have it. I haven't eaten all day either, and I barfed up my breakfast, so the drink would be a nice refreshment."
She nodded, still smiling, and began to eat her cheeseburger. As she ate, a strange expression came to her face. "Well, I'll admit that it's an acquired taste, but the food is satisfying. Thank you."
"No problem." We were both quiet for a while as I drank the pop and let Aerin eat her food. When she was closed to being finished, I spoke again, remembering that Aerin had said earlier that she wanted to talk. "So, what is it that you want to talk to me about?"
Aerin bit her lip as her smile faded. Her eyes met mine and I could tell that she was struggling against tears. She looked down at her lap, not facing me. "I never pictured it being this awkward. It's weird, I once had our reunion all planned out. What I would say, and what you would say when we met again. And now that we're together in a situation that I hadn't planned, I don't remember what I was going to say. Kind of makes you want to laugh…"
I wanted to comfort her and take away all of her sadness. I wanted Mortalita to never have existed. I wanted to just pull her into my arms and caress all of her pain away. However, I knew that I couldn't let myself go there, especially after pointing a gun at her and knowing that she must die at my hand. All I could do was continue to listen.
Aerin wrapped her arms around herself as a cool sea breeze blew through her hair. She opened up her suitcase, took out a familiar, faded leather coat, and put it on. "It's yours," she admitted, confirming the familiarity, "I should probably just change completely since I'm still wet from the rain."
"Yeah, you wouldn't want to catch a chill; changing might be best," I replied.
Aerin nodded, but made no move to change. "It's been such a strange day, so many weird things have happened. So many secrets that were once buried in the layers of my soul have been unveiled. There's just so many jumbled memories that keep me underground...so many words and thoughts that I cannot remember no matter how hard I try. I've discovered that truly, the hardest person to know is one's self…" She shook her head. "Oh, don't listen to me babble."
"It's okay," I assured her, "Talk. I'm not going anywhere. I'll stay and I'll listen."
Aerin smiled weakly and hung her head again. "I...I don't know why things have to be so different between us but somehow...some how they are. I mean, I'm older and you're older and I finally know your name, but that shouldn't change anything." She paused, closing her eyes to keep back the tears. "You're different in more ways than just your age, Ranier, and I don't understand. I've spent so much time being scared for you and thinking about our time together, but the man I knew seven years ago still hasn't come back to me."
I was puzzled. "Aerin, I'm right here."
She shook her head defiantly. "You're not the man I knew. Raven was a kind, gentle man who promised to protect me from danger, not someone who would point a gun at me."
Raven? Still confused, I asked, "Who's Raven?"
Her eyes widened, showing remembrance that she hadn't told me about this 'Raven' yet. "I forgot to tell you about that," Aerin said softly, "Well, the initial in your jacket said 'R', and I needed to think of a name to associate with that letter so that I had a way to remember and think about you. There was this raven who lived on the church top after you disappeared, and stayed for a month before leaving as well. You and the raven were so similar, so I started thinking of you as 'Raven'."
I guess that I hadn't been the only one to use symbolism while thinking about her. To me, she was a rose. To her, I was a raven. I rested my hand gently on Aerin's shoulder as she began to cry softly. She shrugged away at the touch of my hand, and continued her tale. "What I believed to be the same raven came back to the roof top on the exact same perch yesterday. I took that as a sign to go out, find you, and find out more about my past. Just so that I wouldn't lose the bird again, I placed a braided band around its foot. Today, while walking to the archives, I found that same raven with a bullet in its heart, lying on the sidewalk by some Kannere apartment buildings. I thought that you might be dead because the bird was too."
My eyes widened and my jaw dropped open. It couldn't be. I live near the Continental Archives. I shot that raven earlier today when it was annoying me, and in doing so, I had broken Aerin's heart.
Aerin caught my expression and stared at me in shock. "It was you, wasn't it?" she cried out angrily.
I sighed, trying to think of a way to bring this to her gently. "Aerin, the bird was driving me nuts and it wasn't going away. I didn't mean to shoot it."
She scowled, more tears coming to her eyes. "Don't you know that when you point a gun at something and fire, the shot probably won't miss? You're just as bad as the rest of those Mortalita idiots!" she exclaimed angrily.
So she did know about the agency, but now it was my turn to get angry. "Hey, just in case you didn't know, my day wasn't so hot either! And how the hell was I supposed to know that it was 'your raven'?"
"It doesn't matter whose raven it is, you're not supposed to kill to solve your problems!" Aerin stood up from the docks quickly, most likely attempting to get away from me. Her tearing eyes met my raging ones with scorn. "Oh, so your day wasn't that great? I'm sure that work is real hard for you, a top agent! Let me guess; did they change the coffee machine from espresso to decaf? Oh, life's tough, get me a violin!"
I clenched my teeth together as I stood. "Aerin, listen—"
"No!" Aerin cried, her voice growing hoarse. She shook her head in despair. "Why do you do it, Ranier? This job as an assassin is nothing but a series of repulsive, thoughtless killings! Doing this work for Mortalita impairs your judgment and causes you to act without thought. It doesn't matter if you knew that the raven was mine. You shouldn't kill an innocent creature!"
"This way of life is the only way that I know how to live!" I protested.
"Well, there are better ways out there!" Aerin exclaimed.
I scowled. "Would you rather that I become a monk, worship your God, and wear a robe down to my ankles?"
"You're taking this the wrong way," Aerin retorted, "I just don't want you to kill anymore."
I took a deep breath and sat back down on the docks, running my fingers through the water of the sea. This time, it was my turn to recall a bad memory. "I've known the way of life of a killer since I was nine years old, and have been acting on that path for fifteen years now. I must admit, I regret joining Mortalita now, but I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for my first kill."
Aerin managed to calm herself at my mention of regretting joining Mortalita, and sat down next to me once more. "Who...who was your first kill? If you were only nine...it was just a wild animal or something, right?"
I shook my head, and delved deep into my mind to gather the words and strength needed to tell a past that I've tried so hard to forget. "My...my father always used to abuse my mother and I. We always lived in fear, never knowing if we'd last another day. My mother was too scared to run away, and I was only a child. One night, my father killed her by giving her too many pills and by breaking her neck. When I went to say goodnight to her, I found her dead in a kitchen chair."
Aerin's eyes softened. "What did you do?"
I choked down an unmanly whimper and continued. "I was only nine, but it didn't take long for me to figure out that my father had killed her. Rage consumed me, and a couple of nights after her death, I took my father's revolver from inside his bedside drawer and shot him five times in the heart." My hands began to tremble as I recalled the pain. "Before shooting him, I told him to rot in Hell, just like you did earlier on today."
Aerin bit her lip and looked away from me. "Did the killing of your father inspire you to become a full-time assassin? Did you like the feeling of watching another die at your hand?"
I shook my head. "I decided that I wanted to get revenge on people who threatened or hurt others. I didn't want anyone to experience my pain. Since I had no parents, I was sent off to an orphanage. When I was 12, Mortalita was established and advertised itself as an agency that rid the world of evil." I paused to take a breath, and then continued, "Intrigued, I left the orphanage and joined Mortalita's training academy. For five years, I learned the way of the modern knight. However, not only did I learn about guns and stealth, I also learned to only obey my senior officer. Little by little, although unknown to me, I became a puppet in their hands.
"When I was seventeen, my senior officer deemed me ready for my final trials and tests. After I completed them, the agency gave me a two month vacation so that they could carry out a judging process. In that time, I moved to Lawler, and met you a month after arriving."
"So...you knew that you were going to leave and never told me?" Aerin demanded.
I shrugged. "First of all, I didn't think that I would even pass the trials, so I thought that I would stay in Lawler for a lot longer than I did. Secondly, I didn't want to hurt you by letting you know that I would one day leave."
"Why didn't you at least say goodbye to me?" Aerin prodded.
One of my deepest fears is of saying goodbye. I hadn't wanted to say that one word that would end a friendship just a month after it had started. Of course, this had been a selfish approach since I had thought only of the pain that I might face. Because of my egotistical action, I had ended up hurting Aerin more than I could have ever imagined.
Not wanting Aerin to know my weakness and fear, I told her a reason of lesser importance as to why I didn't bid her farewell. "The agency had called me so suddenly, and wanted me to start on an assignment right away."
Aerin blinked slowly as she tried to take in all of this new information. "I'm...I'm sorry that I was so harsh and cold towards you today. I didn't know and didn't realize that I'm not the only one who's been through hard times."
My eyes were beginning to water, and I turned my head away to avert Aerin's gaze. Regardless, she cupped her soft hand around my cheek and gently made me face her. "I guess that having painful memories is much worse than having none at all, like me," she said softly as her finger lightly brushed against the stubble on my cheek, sending a strange sensation through my body. "I'm sorry that I acted so selfish."
Aerin's hand returned to her lap, but her eyes never left mine. The sweet green eyes that I loved remained locked with my dim blue ones in a gaze that made me want to fly and weep at the same time. She broke the sweet silence with words that asked questions that I feared to answer. "So, Mortalita is after me now, I guess? They sent you out to...kill me?"
My lips trembled as I tried to find words to explain. "They told me...this morning...in a sealed envelope. When I saw your picture, I couldn't believe it. I ran away from my general and locked myself in the bathroom like a little girl. That's why I threw up my breakfast."
Aerin closed her eyes to stop the flow of tears. Her delicate shoulders shuddered as she wrapped her arms around her midsection. "They want me to die for doing nothing wrong. So I'm a princess, I just found out today. If they had killed me earlier when I didn't know of my lineage, I'd never know why I was wanted dead…"
"I would resign if I could," I replied, trying to say words of comfort although even my heart was breaking, "But then, Mortalita would suspect treason on my part and not only kill you, but me as well. If I stay with your assignment, there's still a chance I may be able to protect you, as long as I don't have a partner, anyways."
Aerin wiped her crystalline tears from her cheek. "What a cruel, cruel twist of fate...You have no choice but to kill me. I have no choice but to love you," she muttered softly under her breath.
My heart leapt as I thought that the word 'love' escaped Aerin's lips. No, I must have been imagining things. When only a medium-sized soda is in your stomach, you can hear things that were never said and only imagined.
"What should I do?" Aerin asked me, and I was reminded of her asking the very same question seven years ago. Only this time, Aerin was inquiring about her life being on the line, and back then, it was only about a game of Monopoly. My eyes closed as I flashed back to that day.
"What should I do?" the girl asked, "Should I buy Marvin Gardens or save my money for Boadwalk?"
The man smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "Well, seeing as you already own three hotels, six houses, and all of the railroads, I don't really think that it matters. Either way, I'll be bankrupt next turn."
Aerin giggled. "It's too bad that you didn't have a get out of jail free card. That could have helped you out when you kept on being sent to jail!"
The man chuckled. "Well, it's not my fault that all the chance cards sent me to prison!"
The girl nodded, smiling. "I guess that's just the way that fate works…."
"Ranier?" Aerin asked, bring me back from my world of memories.
I shook my head to rid myself of the past for the time being, and put my mind back to now when fate wasn't sending me to Monopoly jail. Instead, it was on a path to lead me straight to a world where I could never be forgiven for the sin I will commit.
"There's a small town, Neroy, 100 miles south of Lawler that isn't very connected to civilization," I replied, "If you used a different name, Mortalita wouldn't find you for a while."
"But they would still find me," Aerin pointed out, "It'd just be like a detour to death, that's all."
I sighed. "Taking the detour is always a better path than ramming straight through the construction."
Aerin shrugged. "I guess. So...what should my new name be?" She smiled playfully through her pain as she waited to hear my suggestion.
"It can't be anything that sounds too odd," I replied, putting a damper on Aerin's playfulness, "Otherwise, you will be spotted easier."
"So, something like John Smith?"
"No, because that is a man's name, and you are a…" I fought the urge to say girl, but managed to say, "...woman." It seemed to strange to think and See Aerin no longer as a child.
She nodded. "How about Rose Smith? I've always loved the name Rose."
Rose. Just like the flower that had so often reminded me of her on dull days, the flower that I had destroyed this morning. "Perfect," I agreed after a little bit of silence, "Now, you must go. If you take the evening train, you'll be able to hide easier and won't be as noticed since it is at night. In Neroy, stay at the inn. They don't ask for identification there, and don't keep computerized records. Once there, you should be safe."
Aerin picked up her bag as she stood, though a look of worry crossed her porcelain-like face. "But Ranier, what if something bad happens and I need to contact you?"
"Here's my personal cell number." I tore a sheet of paper from out of my wallet and scribbled the number on it with a pen that happened to be in my jacket pocket. Aerin took the paper from my hand and folded it neatly into her damp skirt pocket. "Come, I'll drive you to the train station and give you some more cash there."
Even though I didn't really have any cash, I guess that there wasn't much else I could do. I would give her what I have, and pray that that would be enough. I led Aerin to my landlord's car, and the silence of the short drive was awkward. Aerin didn't say anything, nor did I. I guess there just wasn't much to say after the long conversation that had just occurred.
When we finally reached the station, I helped Aerin out of the car and carried her bag for her. I handed her the cash I had as well, even though I knew that my rent still needed to be paid. Aerin purchased her ticket, and I waited with her at the station.
More tears began to fall from Aerin's eyes as the train to Neroy arrived at the Flowerlea station. She turned to me, trembling out of fear. "Ranier...I don't know if I can do this...I've never been very brave…" She collapsed onto my chest and threw her arms around my shoulders. I didn't want to be too friendly, given the circumstances, so I just lightly placed my hands on the small of her back.
She stepped back from our awkward embrace, and clenched her hands around my own, squeezing as she did. "I feel so afraid...what if I never see you again?" Aerin asked softly, "I couldn't live with that, not after just meeting you again."
"You will," I assured her, "I promise." I freed my hands from her grasp and wiped away a tear from her cheek. "Now go. Don't miss your train."
Aerin sniffed, took her bag, and walked onto the platform. A train man checked her ticket and she took one last parting glance at me before boarding. The train pulled away from the station moments later, but I didn't get a chance to see her face one more time through a train window.
Fate had allowed us to be with each other without the pressure of death on our shoulders. Next time, I knew that we wouldn't have that luxury.
A/N: So, what do you think? Once again, I humbly apologize for my updates taking so long.