XIII: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
Keira's tangled, wet hair draped down her back, soaking the back of the purple long-sleeved shirt she had gotten from Cassey. Hunched over a bowl of cheerios, she swirled her spoon around it and created a tiny whirlpool. Her eyes stared into the creamy white void, lost as her thoughts wandered.
A lump of honey nut cheerios sat on her spoon as she placed it in her mouth.
Or am I in even more danger now?
Just an hour ago, she had woken up in a strange house with the grave realization that her family is dead, killed by two blood-thirsty men. Not only that, but she also met the cryptic man known as Cross, and an elder, Raksha, and learned of the truth that had been hiding from her ever since the day she was born - that she is immortal, she has a supernatural power, and that there are others out there like her.
Some of them want to conceal themselves from society, but others want to crush it in the palm of their hands.
Are there others out there like him? Other killers?
Footsteps echoed off of the walls and travelled inside of the kitchen. The scent of cherry blossoms flooded Keira's senses, kissing her skin as the footsteps grew louder. She raised her head, wondering if she would be greeted with another unfamiliar face. She wasn't. Cassey walked into the kitchen, dirty blonde hair now combed and pulled back into a braid that hung by the right side of her head. Her presence filled Keira's heart with a glowing sensation, like she was healing her wound again.
Maybe she was healing her again, but this time her warped thoughts instead of the cuts and gashes that once scarred her skin.
"Do the clothes fit?" Cassey asked, breaking the silence as she walked over towards the refrigerator.
"Yeah, they do. Thanks." Keira replied, filling her spoon with cheerios again.
"No problem." A smile slipped up the blonde's face as she took out a box of waffles, "So where are you from?"
"Sylver," Keira answered.
"Other side of the state."
"Oh, never heard of the place," Cassey responded as she took two waffles and popped them into the toaster.
"I'm not surprised. It's a pretty small town in the middle of nowhere." Keira said. Memories of her old home flashed through her mind; the snow her and Ayden danced through, the blinding lights on the stage as she pounded on her drums, the laugh echoing in the forest as the snowball she chucked landed in Ryan's face.
There wasn't anything to laugh about anymore.
The blonde sighed as she crossed the kitchen to sit across from the new Immortal in the house. "I wish I had lived in a town like that. My brother and I are from London. It's never quiet there. Always busy."
"London? I've always wanted to go there, or anywhere outside of Sylver, really." Keira said as she grabbed the bowl and pushed it up against her lips, drinking the honey-flavored milk.
"It's not that great. But I did live there for fifteen years, so don't take my word for it. I get bored with stuff pretty easily." Cassey stated, followed by a spring of the toaster as her waffles jumped out. She hurried across the room, put her breakfast on a plate and smothered them in maple syrup.
Smacking her empty bowl against the counter-top, Keira then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand before asking, "So, who else lives here?"
As Cassey opened up the fridge to put away the syrup, she replied, "Oh, well there's me, Cross, Raksha, Darren, and my brother, Tyler."
"How old is everyone?"
"Cross and Raksha are God-knows-how-old. Centuries, probably, but I'm fifteen, Tyler's eighteen and Darren is nineteen, I think."
"Oh, so we're the youngest in the house?" Keira said with a small smirk.
"Really? How old are you?"
"I guess we are, then." Cassey replied, her soft pink lips forming into a warm smile as she sat back down.
Keira continued the conversation, "I haven't met your brother or Darren yet."
Pausing a moment to finish chewing up some of her waffle, Cassey then said, "Both of them are so lazy. They won't be out of their rooms until two. All they do is sleep."
"I'm usually the same way." Keira said with a grin sliding up her face, trying to force that haunting thought out of her best friend from her mind, "This morning was the first I've been up before noon in a while."
"What! No, you have to get up with me!" Cassey exclaimed, her voice colored by her distress, "I'm always eating breakfast by myself. Or with Cross, which can be very...tense."
"I can see why. He doesn't seem like much of a talker."
"He's not, but I still love him anyways. Him and Raksha have been protecting Tyler and I for a few months now."
"Protecting you from what?" Keira asked, a row of darkness rising underneath her eyes.
"Well, it's not like any one attacked us. Raksha contacted our parents and warned us that Alocer might still be alive. They got worried, and sent us here for safety. I've been here ever since." Cassey explained, her blue eyes lost as she continued talking, "Darren was here when we arrived. Cross told me he's been living with him and Raksha for a couple of years. He didn't tell me why."
Keira sighed softly.
Their parents were smart.
"I'm just happy to know that I'm not the only one with some freaky power in the world." She remarked as she got up to put her bowl in the sink.
Cassey chuckled lightly, "Same here." She paused for a second, gathering her thoughts. "So, uhm, what exactly is your power?"
The empty bowl tapped against the bottom of the sink as Keira placed it there, "Well, I don't know exactly what to call it, but basically, I can shoot lightning from my hands."
A tiny gasp came from the blonde as she nearly gagged on a piece of her waffle. "What? That's so awesome! I'm really jealous!"
Keira turned towards her, "Really? I don't think it's awesome."
Definitely since it all just blew up in my face an hour ago.
"Are you kidding me? All I can do is have my stupid hands sparkle and heal people. And you have bolts of lightning shooting from your hands? That's a lot stronger and cooler." Cassey urged on, her face glowing with admiration as she finished up her last waffle.
"Yeah, but if I get hurt again and you aren't around, I'm doomed." Keira assured, grinning as she sat back down at the counter-top.
With that warm smile of hers again, Cassey replied, "Well, I'll always be around, so you don't have to worry about that." Her eyes widened for a moment, as if she was just struck with an epiphany. "Oh yeah, I almost forgot." She reached towards the back of her skinny jeans, snatching something from her pocket. Keira looked on, curiously. What could she possibly be getting her?
"When Raksha found out about Alocer...erm, attacking you," Cassey started slowly, careful not to rip Keira's mind apart with the thought of the white-haired demon, "he sent Cross and I to help. While Cross was running around trying to find you, I saw this in the ashes." From her back pocket came a black iPod classic with a few scratches across the screen and a dent in the right side.
Keira's heart raced.
Her music. The one thing she could always rely on to let out her emotions, whether it was uncontrollable rage, utter confusion or simple happiness. It understood her, just like how she understood it.
And now, she had it back.
As Cassey handed it to her, she said, "It was the only thing that wasn't burned up too badly."
For the first time since that blood-soaked night, Keira had a part of home left with her. As she scrolled through her favorite bands, she couldn't help but to put a smile on her face. Cage The Elephant. Senses Fail. Nirvana. Falling In Reverse. All those musicians helped her cope with her feelings and now instead of discharging streaks of lightning from her fingertips in a torrent of rage, all she had to do was lay down, plug in her headphones, and listen.
Listen to the lyrics pouring from the singer's mouth as she drowned in the guitar riffs and drum beats.
"Thanks a lot, Cassey. Really," Keira said as she held her iPod again, eyes sparkling with pure joy.
"No problem. Oh, and here are some old headphones I found. You can have them too." The healer continued, grabbing a white and red pair of Skullcandy headphones from her jacket pocket and handing them to Keira.
That's when the idea hit Keira. It was as if someone swung a huge bat with all of their strength into her head, leaving nothing but a loud, metallic ringing shaking her senses. Healing people's fatal wounds and her own was Cassey's power, Keira knew that. But, even when she wasn't stitching up her gashes and cuts with beams of light, she was still healing the deep scars in her mind.
Are our powers somehow connected with who we are?
The question burned her mind with the possible answers. It all made sense, or to her it did, at least. Ayden's ability to manipulate the light around him guided her in the darkness. He was the person who found and saved her when she was being swallowed by the oncoming shadows of her depression. Cassey, on the other hand, healed not only people's wounds, but people's fractured minds as well. But, what could Keira's lightning mean about her own personality?
Destructive and unpredictable.
Oh, that's just fantastic.
Returning to reality, Keira looked up to meet Cassey's gentle stare. She had her head tilted, a slight frown tightening her light pink lips. Concern. That's what was in those huge, blue eyes of hers.
"Oh, sorry. I'm fine. Just zoned out a bit. Not used to being up this early, that's all." Keira responded quickly, smiling up at the healer who returned it with her own.
Destructive and unpredictable.
The words she were going to say to Cassey dropped from her tongue. That soothing, haunting voice chilled her body, even though she knew it was only her savior, Cross. He stood under the archway opening up into the kitchen, black draping around his body as if it was a part of him. She couldn't see where his hair ended and his clothes began. The only thing that wasn't black was his beautiful face, lean hands and blood-red eyes.
Why does he always cover himself up? His body isn't all burned up like that V for Vendetta guy, right?
"What's up, Cross?" Keira finally asked, swivelling around in the stool.
"Raksha wishes to see you in the weapons room. I can show you where it is." He answered, eyes not leaving the young teenager for a moment.
First, an art studio and now a weapons room? What else is in here?
"Oh, okay." Keira hopped off of the stool, said a quick good-bye to Cassey, and walked with Cross out of the kitchen. Even though she was walking up the stairs to the second floor, the sweet scent of cherry blossoms still hung in the air around her.
"Don't touch anything."
Keira smirked at Cross, trying desperately not to slide her hand across the blade of a long, curved knife that hung on the wall by her.
Never in her life had she seen so many swords, guns, and knives in a single place. It was like Raksha's room, but instead of being full of treasures and ancient trinkets, it was full of various weapons that stretched across the ages of time; samurai swords, a knight's chain-mail, old-fashioned pistols with its metal fading away. Beautiful but deadly, that's the way Keira would describe everything her eyes met. Not only that, but the room was as open and enormous as the art studio too.
"What else is in this house? Any secret passageways? Or maybe there's Narnia in a closet somewhere with Mr. Tumnus waiting for me?" Keira jokingly said as she stepped into the center of the room.
Cross shook his head. "Just wait here for Raksha and don't mess around with anything." And with that said, the shadow spun around and exited, leaving Keira behind with a room full of sharp swords and possibly loaded guns.
What a terrible mistake.
As soon as she heard the door slam shut, she walked to the samurai swords and picked one up. Unsheathing the blade, she grinned to herself as she saw the gleaming, pointed tip of it slip from the scabbard. Although the weapon had been crafted centuries ago, the metal still shone under the lights along with the bright red hilt which Keira gripped onto firmly. Japanese characters were engraved into the blade, the language unknown to Keira.
Oh, this will be fun.
For the next few minutes, Keira did nothing but swing the sword around, make stabbing noises, and try out different types of blades. Katanas. Daggers. Throwing stars. Pretty much anything she could find that was a sharp metallic object, she tried out.
As she put the throwing stars back onto the long table pushed up against the far wall, her eyes caught something to her left. Turning her head, they fell onto a pair of twin short swords hanging on the wall forming a X. As if drawn to them, Keira walked over and inspected them even more. Each sword was about three feet long and one fourth of a a foot wide with a slight curve half-way through the shiny silver blade. The hilt curved slightly at the opposite way the blade did, creating an elegant finish.
The twin swords were beautiful, to say the least.
Without hesitation, Keira reached forward and snatched them from the wall. She held the black-laced hilts, feeling the weight of the weapon in her hands. They were light, easy to slash with. As soon as she stabbed the open air with the two blades, a connection comforted her mind. The swords spoke to her, instructing her where to swing and how to do it in sync to the other. To her, they were two separate entities united by her flowing movements.
The feeling was strange. The only connection she's ever made to any other object were her two old, chipped drum sticks every time she had picked them up for a show. But these twin swords whispered to her with every slash and swipe. They spoke louder than those drum sticks ever had. So much louder.
She was at peace with herself.
Or at least, for the time being. Ever since that conversation with Cassey, her minds been ridden of her old, heart-wrenching thoughts of Ayden, Alocer, everything that happened those few days ago. For now, she was having a fun time with getting to know her new friend, annoying Cross with her remarks and swinging the twin swords around in the weapons room.
While in the middle of a slash, an ancient voice spoke, "So, I see you've taken a liking to the swords."
Bewildered, Keira turned abruptly and accidentally, stabbed one of the blades into the wall underneath a few hanging weapons. The sword dug itself into the white-painted wood, not budging whatsoever as the teenager tried to dislodge it. She bit her lip, knowing the old man standing behind her had just saw what happened.
Raksha's small figure shuffled into the room, a lumpy wooden cane clasped between his two wrinkled hands. His eyes fell onto the girl in front of him, who was desperately trying to get the blade out of the wall and failing terribly. After another quick pull, it unclenched its teeth from the wall with such a force that Keira fell to the floor with crisp flakes from the wall showering onto her.
"Hmm, so we do have a lot of training ahead of us." Raksha muttered as he stepped forward, standing above the girl.
Keira narrowed her eyes at his comment, "What do you mean by training?"
As she hopped to her feet, two swords by her side, Raksha explained, "Your powers are unstable right now. I'm here to help you to learn how to keep them in control."
"And how will you do that?" The brunette questioned the old man as she handed him the twin swords, knowing he wanted them by his outstretched hands.
For a few seconds, he did not respond. Holding the twin swords in his trembling hands, his eyes fell onto them as his thoughts wandered to his shaded past. The battles. The blood. The loved ones he watched killed by the hands of not only his enemies, but his friends who were turned. Pulling himself back to reality, he shook away his troubled past from his mind and focused on the young teenager standing before him. So young. So lost. So hidden from the truth.
"Niuweidao, the oxtail sabre, are what these two swords are." Raksha explained, turning around and walking to the open floor of the room. "It was a popular choice of weaponry during the early nineteenth century by Chinese civilians. I met a young archaeologist a century or so ago, and these were his defense against bands of thieves and thugs. He was a fine man, and ever since he died, I've kept these in here as a tribute to his life. They've been untouched. Until now."
Keira's heart sank. She was just playing around with the swords of Raksha's dead friend.
"Oh, erm, I didn't know. Uhm, I'm sorry." Keira managed to say, her words jumbled.
"It's not your fault, my child." Raksha said, stepping towards her. "I want you to have them. They are the main part of your training."
"What?" Keira began, shocked, "How can those swords help control my lightning?"
A wicked grin slipped up Raksha's face along with a bright flicker in his eyes. It crept Keira out a bit. She wasn't expecting a thousand year old man to be quite so devilish when he smirked, definitely after being introduced as a sweet, wise elder.
But, then again, the people in the Sanctuary she's met so far were anything but normal.
Without another word, he waved his hands at Keira indicating for her to take a few steps back. Understanding the motion, she did so and leaned against a strip of bare wall. Curiously, she watched Raksha. He was standing in the center of the room, knees bulging from underneath his blue robe as he bent them. Holding the two swords, one in front and one by his side, he seemed small but vicious.
Yoda. That's who he looks like.
Smiling to herself at the thought, Keira watched the old man, expecting him to just whirl the swords around in an expert fashion.
She was dead wrong.
The air started to crackle, as if there was a huge bag of popcorn heating up in a microwave in the room. With each second, it grew louder and louder until it made Keira's teeth tremble inside her mouth from its sheer power. Looking over at Raksha, her eyes scanned his face to see the hairs on his beard and head curl and coil. His eyes shined a brilliant shade of green, and then suddenly, the crackling materialized into energy.
Yellow lightning burst around him, blossoming in the air and travelling up his arms to the hilt of the twin swords he grasped in his hands.
As if Raksha's sudden ability to manipulate lightning didn't stun Keira enough, a light purple mist seeped into the air from out of nowhere. For a few moments, she wondered if she was about to inhale toxic gas that would kill her. Then, she realized what was actually happening. The mist formed into a thick, vivid yet transparent barrier circling widely around the elder, leaving her outside of it. Confused, she banged her fist into it. Her hand recoiled, and she ended up smacking herself in the face.
"Dammit, what is going on?" She mumbled, rubbing the spot on her face that she hit.
Groaning, Keira leaned against the wall just as she heard a high, teeth-chattering wail. Raising her head, her eyes widened at the scene before her. The lightning crawled down Raksha's fingers onto the sword and enveloped it in a layer of bright, yellow snakes. Before Keira could realize she wasn't imagining things, Raksha whipped the swords around his head in a graceful way, as if the swords were an extension of his arms, a part of him. The lightning still clung to them until he leaped forward, landing on his toes and slicing both blades across the air. Crests of yellow energy shot towards the opposite side of the room, smashing into the purple barrier and dissipating into the air.
This man of a thousand years had not only manipulated lightning through twin swords, but at the same time, created a powerful barrier to absorb it as well.
Who is he?
In the blink of an eye, everything vanished; the violet shield, the hissing lightning. It all faded away in a millisecond, leaving Keira standing against the wall completely dumbfounded.
"What the fuck just happened?" Keira managed to say with her hand pressed against her forehead, pushing her bangs away from her eyes.
Raksha still stood in the center of the room, the twin blades' tips resting on the ground. He didn't look drained at all. The same brightness sparked in his eyes, along with that small grin of his. It was as if he never rose a finger.
"Quite a spectacular sight, don't you think?" Raksha commented as he shuffled over to Keira. "I was gifted with the ability to absorb other people's powers just by a touch. Over the centuries, I've met quite a few Immortals and have learned how to control a variety of powers. Learning how to manipulate lightning through two metal swords didn't take a long time for me to master, but that's only because I'm insanely old and had time to understand how to use my gift, unlike you, which is unfortunate." He smiled down at the young Immortal before him, who still had her jaw wide open.
"So, you know how to use like, a thousand powers then?" Keira asked, her voice trembling not in fear, but pure shock.
For a short, old man he can be scary as hell.
A chuckle bubbled in Raksha's throat, "Oh, certainly not. I haven't learned that many abilities. Some powers are too complex for me to understand and attain, such as Alocer's shadow manipulation." He explained while flicking the two swords in the air and catching them by their tips, "But, enough about me. I'm here to help you learn how to control your power in a better way." Leaning forward, Raksha nudged the hilts of the swords into Keira's stomach.
Grabbing them, she walked away from the old man while saying, "Oh, this will be easy. I'll get it without breaking a sweat."
Raksha smiled at her blind confidence.
She was mistaken at how simple it would be.
"It's not as easy as you think it is," Raksha began, "Your mind is clouded by anger at yourself for not being able to protect your family. That's why the lightning exploded in your face earlier today. You subconsciously want yourself to suffer for not saving them."
The elder's words slapped Keira right across the face.
She fell speechless at that point.
Pursing her lips, Keira raised the two blades in front of her face, staring at the reflection in them. Her dark hazel eyes gazed back at her, and still she could see the anger blooming inside of them. What Raksha had just said was the truth. She wasn't furious at anyone but herself, and why? For not being able to be strong enough to save her family from their painful deaths.
Why does he have to be right all the time?
Taking Keira's silence as a stubborn agreement, Raksha continued, "To help direct your lightning, the Niewaidao's metal will conduct your electricity. All you have to do is aim and release. That's not the only good outcome of using the swords, too. You'll be twice as deadly in battle because you'll be able to stab as well as electrocute."
The purple mist gushed in the air again, materializing into a barrier surrounding the young Immortal in the center. Raksha stood outside of it, sitting cross-legged on a mat at the far end of the room.
"But, in order to do this, you must let go of the anger you have at yourself. Until you do that, the lightning will only explode in your face and cause you more pain. Oh, and by the way, I will not allow Cassey to heal you until you succeed."
Biting her lip, Keira's grip around the hilts tightened as she stretched her arms out. The crackle of lightning began to sound within the barrier, yellow sparks flying through the air. She was ready, determined to prove her strength to the leader of The Sanctuary. She had to, for Ayden. For her mother. For herself.
The sky darkened outside of the hotel, puffs of black and dark blue drifting over the sinking sun. It was a peaceful scene, but ominous at the same time. The oncoming night washed over the city and embedded its sharp fangs into the necks of its trouble inhabitants, like Skylar.
He hated the night.
It terrorized him. That jet-black feeling that hung in the back of his mind as the light faded away into the horizon. He wanted to chase the sun, keep it close to his body and stay warm. But, no matter how far he ran, the night always came.
Huddled on a reclining chair in the living room, Skylar thought about what has happened in the past week..
The Covenant had relocated after the battle with the Wilksons. Instead of being in the small and quiet town of Sylver, the five Immortals escaped to the city of Pittsburgh and decided to reside there for a while. The battle had done a lot of damage to everyone, even those who didn't lather their hands in blood that day. Especially Eve. And why was that?
Alocer, their leader, was unconscious.
He hadn't woken up for four days.
Touching the white bandage wrapped around his forehead, the memories of that night rushed back to the fire-bender - Alocer's blazing fingers gripping his neck. The shadows seeping into his skin. Rivers of blood soaking the fresh snow. Yellow flashes blinding his eyes.
That battle was one of the worst days in his life. The third, to be exact.
Pushing the haunting memories from his mind, he heard a door slam shut and heavy footsteps pounding into the floor. Turning his head, Skylar saw that Dean had returned from his daily trip to the pizzeria down the corner.
"Hey bud, want a slice?" The black-haired teen asked as he placed two boxes of pizza onto the table. Noticing the nod from Skylar, Dean handed him a plate with two slices of warm pepperoni pizza on it. Even when Skylar ate it, it didn't fill his stomach. But, then again, he's felt empty a lot lately, so he didn't expect anything different today.
Dean threw four slices onto his plate, "Alocer's still not awake?"
Skylar shook his head.
"Wow, I didn't expect Tallia to get him that good." Dean commented, glancing over at the closed bedroom door a few yards behind them.
Silence spread through the room.
No one said another word. Not even Dean, who had something to say all the time. He just sat on the couch, feet propped up on the arm of it as he started on his third slice. Bored, he grabbed the remote, turned on the T.V. and flicked through the channels until he came across Watchmen.
Skylar hated that movie as much as he despised the night.
It brought back those broken memories lost in his mind.
Like the night Alocer killed Chris.
Images of walls of blood bursting from shredded hearts of innocent people plagued his mind. Burying his head into between his knees, Skylar desperately tried not to have another crying fit, definitely with Dean sitting only a few feet away. He couldn't help it, though. His life so far has been full of nothing but vicious murders, life-altering secrets and just terrible pain. Keeping all of his misery inside couldn't last forever, so he let the tears prickle at the corners of his eyes. He let the darkness that he was so afraid of close in around him.
He gave up.
His eyes, now blood-shot, filled up with tears that trickled down to his quivering lips. Quiet sobs escaped his lungs, and the terror that has been controlling his life for seven years ravaged his body. He couldn't rise above the darkness, and so, he fell. Fell into the depths of the nightmares that ripped apart his mind.
As ice slithered down Skylar's spine, he let out a tiny cry that caught Dean's attention. He glanced over from the couch, eyes catching the trembling figure of the fire-bender with his head buried in his chest. With a small sigh, Dean looked away and licked his lips, contemplating on what to do. He couldn't just leave his only friend sitting there as his world shattered into pieces.
Placing his paper plate beside him, Dean pushed himself to his feet and walked over to Skylar. Carefully, he touched the red-head's shoulders and told him that everything would be okay. The crying still continued.
Without any hesitation, Dean slid into the chair with Skylar and wrapped his arms around him. He rubbed Skylar's bony back, pulling him closer and letting the fire-bender's head rest against his chest. Skylar didn't fight back. He practically fell onto his friend, grasping onto the collar of his shirt as more sobs wrecked his body.
Dean whispered in his ear, "I'm here for you, Skylar. I'm here."
Author's Note: So, hopefully, there was some character development you noticed with Cassey, Keira, Dean and Skylar in this chapter. I tried to show some, at least, so I'd love to see what you think of all of them in this chapter!
And, I hope that this didn't bore you. I know there hasn't been any action lately, but trust me, in two or three chapters that will definitely change.
Everything will start to pick up again.
And a little secret for people that actually take the time to read my A/Ns - Ryan will be in the next chapter!
Oh, and also, I'm gonna be uploading new chapters once per month. Last year, it was twice, I know, but senior year has been crazy, definitely with my eighteenth birthday being last week, Christmas coming up, two more friends' birthdays within the next two weeks and finishing up college applications.
So yeah, expect an update once a month.
And please, I beg of you, review about what you think about this chapter! Especially your thoughts on Cassey, Keira's development, Raksha's ability and the Skylar/Dean scene! Thank you so much, and I hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving and see you soon!
Oh, and don't forget to check out the character look-alike pictures on my profile! I'd love to hear about what you think of them!
Thank you for the continuous support. If I didn't have my lovely readers/reviewers, I wouldn't be as happy with this story as I am today. You guys are the reason I edit this non-stop and try to make it perfect for you, even though I know it's far from perfect.
And follow me on Twitter - kobrakiddd! I don't bite! :)