Foreword

The enemy is armed, and they are ready; ready to strike the moment your guard is down, but sometimes willing to attack even if it's up, to test your defenses against their offenses.

Know your enemy. As the trout knew the hawks, you must be aware of who hunts you and how they hunt. In the case of the Watchers, they are the elk and the deer that flee from the wolves and lions. Neither defense nor offense are a stronghold, so the Watchers rely on their navigating skills and evasion abilities to stay out of harms way.

As for the nameless predator that hunts them, their choice of weapon is the Claw. It comes in many forms, sometimes without a physical form at all, being that it is a tool made of raw life-forces. The only common factor between them is their undeniable efficiency to grab and detain a Watcher if one wanders too close.

Few Watchers survive once snared by a Claw. Those who do leave the horror stories of the unimaginable pain its mere grasp can cause.

~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~

The Future is not as the World People believe. They say it is what will happen, what will be said, what will be born, what will continue to exist, and what will be terminated. It makes sense in their minds, but with this ideology they divide themselves, some glorifying fate and destiny while their counterparts shun it for taking away their sense of free agency; to shape the Future to their liking. The Other People are aware of this flawed logic, though the only ones who care to observe the World People are the Watchers, whom lack all things required to communicate with Them except sentience.

The Future is nothing more than the Grand Consequence. In the closest terms in the human tongue, it is the interwoven net of cause and effect that course through a person's life, creating, breaking, mending strings of consequences depending on their actions or inactions. The dividing factor of this that separates it from the World People's ideology is there is no Greater Force influencing decisions and thoughts, or in simpler terms, its logic eliminates the possibility of predetermined fate, hence no contradictions.

However, it is possible to predict one's choices and what will follow, though the chances of the prediction being true vary between each creature due to different mentalities and how open each being is to influences. Those chances are never certain, yet there does exist a theory that if an Other were to guide a World Creature through their life choices, the Worldly One, with its Other, would be able to assert Absolute Control over the Net of the Grand Consequence.

You are the World People. Flawed and ambitious, you precious beasts rule in That realm, now only semi-conscious of This realm where you first existed and once coexisted with. As your mind developed and searched to understand That realm, you began to forget Us. Time wore away at your temporal bodies, and eventually caused your mind and memory to decay, so we reached out to help you and remind you that We exist. Yet, your new view of the World, which you developed to comprehend and survive its conditions, warped your minds to the point that We were obsolete; all but forgotten.

Do you remember Us?

Of course you do; but only as the myths and bedtime stories that litter the fiction sections of your libraries and bookstores. Vampires, Were-creatures, dragons, spirits, ghouls, demons, angels, fairies, sprites, nymphs, sirens, mermaids and mermen… Your beasts of fantasy are not mere superstition with baseless roots; they may not exist as you were taught, but the origins are undoubtedly of This realm. What causes you to doubt is your own fault; your science and logic have fought Us out of That realm; fought Us to the point only the Watchers care to keep an eye on you anymore, and rarely do they do it out of anything but duty.

Sometimes a rarity does occur, an oddity, a quirk, a peculiarity. Sometimes an Other will take deeper interest in the Worldly Realm and its inhabitants. Sometimes this deeper interest is deeper than is considered healthy.

I am your narrator. I am a Watcher, an Other, and an oddity. Your realm is a beauty to the eyes of my soul, though I am merely a spirit that wanders your realm metaphysically. My insatiable curiosity towards your lifestyle and mere existence make my duty a favorite hobby, and drives me to delve myself into your lives as much as possible. Your words, your technology, your landscapes and oceans are all alien to my kind, even more so to ones trying to decipher it.

One thing I could envy the World People for is their natural ability to feel with their heart; you seem to call these feelings emotions, and these emotions are hard to generate as a spirit. I began my journey originally by going from person to person on the street, spending a few weeks with them, then wandering off to study more of them, but as time went on, I started to settle down with one for a while, then as of the last few centuries, stayed throughout people's lives.

From birth to death, I followed. Sometimes they knew I was there, once consciously and twice subconsciously, and most times they were oblivious, but each and every time I experienced something wonderful. I observed the way their faces and body changed, how their voice got louder or softer depending on whether they felt anger, sadness, or joy, and saw their minds mature from infancy to their golden years. So wonderful; it made me feel excited, never failing to enrapture me in the mere tedious routines of the day.

Then I happened upon a girl, the mother having given her up for adoption at infancy both because she was an illegitimate child and to save herself the trouble of raising a kid that was on accident. The father had no interest in the mother or the daughter, so no action to take custody came from him either. I had been following the parent of the mother, but upon witnessing this series of unexpected events, I changed hosts, watching over the baby and its easily discarded life.

The orphanage was nothing horrible nor worth appraising. Up until she finally settled in a foster home, they kept her well-fed and given lots of time outdoors, even though she had been showing signs of a problem-child since her earliest years. On occasion she bullied the younger children or the meek older ones, mostly when she felt unhappy or stressed. The bullying sometimes involved breaking or stealing their personal belongings, and sometimes she went past the bullying to vandalize the orphanage's property. If blame looked like it would land on her, regardless on whether she did it or not, she did all in her power to frame someone else.

Her first pair of foster parents were an upper-middle class elderly couple, hoping to have a sweet little girl to send off to a nice Elementary school. For a while they put up with her childish and selfish nature, but never punishing her, she never learned, and within a couple months she was sent back to the orphanage. The second pair was younger and hoping to adopt so they wouldn't have to give birth naturally, more because the woman was often sickly and weak from a special medical condition. Their inexperience with children caused them to last a mere five days with her before giving her back as well.

A year later, at the age of seven, a lone man attempted to take her into foster-care, and despite his sullenness and depression, he handled her well, managing to keep her with him for two years. However, he then turned to alcohol and lost his job and his house. For that reason Social Services took her back. That was when things started to look better for her. Though sad and missing that lone man, she never vented on the other children and her behavior showed more maturity. The workers did not need to hassle her anymore, and most were pleased with the improvement, but I was the only one to notice it when she would wake up in the middle of the night and hide under her bed just to cry. I never comprehended the reason for it; I just knew that it meant she had something weighing on her heart.

Around Christmas that year, one more came in seeking parenthood. Again it was a lone man, but he was not so solemn and leaned towards the passive and observant side. Plus, he was still in his late teens, perhaps just turned eighteen. She ended up walking out of the building by his side and went through a four month period of living with him in silence. It threatened to continue on for the rest of the year, except the young foster father took the initiative and brought her to an amusement park to warm her up. Like magic, she was talking with him and holding his hand by the time the day ended.

Their father-daughter relationship was healthy as if they were blood-related, and at some point within the next few years, he ended up fully adopting her. Still, from getting better, things began to trickle back down to her previous state of unhappiness once school began. Nothing was terrible; she just struggled academically, and it was hard for her to make friends. She had developed an introverted personality, never feeling the want to express herself to strangers in order to gain a few companions, thus, most mistook her anti-social behavior as bratty and passed her off as a snob. Aside from a couple bullies, she was left alone, so she abandoned her sense of feminism for an easier and tomboyish appearance.

The Future started to take effect after she graduated, barely able to obtain a regular diploma and nearly held back every year of high school besides her freshmen year. Afterwards, she went on to a community college, completed her first semester before running out of funds, then turned to live with her father for a while so she could gather money from her part-time job. Things only worsened; her father's pay was reduced to the point he was always shy a few bucks when paying the bills, so she had to aid him. Pressure was put on both of them for months at a time before the house was foreclosed and they moved to an apartment building in the nearby city. There she picked up a night job and he an out-of-town commute. Even living together, they saw one another less and less until they both felt as if they lived alone.

Saddened and in despair, she fell into a depression, eating less and unable to rest well, and living her life for her profession despite the fact it became more of a burden with each passing day. It eventually triggered a mental breakdown, which almost cost her job, but once she went back to work, another tragedy took place.

On the eve of Valentines, a man caught her on the way home from work, and friendly at first, he dragged her into the nearest hidden corner. Scream and fight as she might, he turned the victor and rewarded himself by sowing his seeds inside her. He was at it for many hours, only leaving once he was satisfied, and she, broken. Unlike in stories, there was no hero to save her.

Oddly, she just went home, washed off, then went to bed. She did not tell her father, nor show sign of being victimized, and her misery only leaked out when he was gone. Not a month later did she hear that someone had mugged him and left his beaten form to be hospitalized. He soon fell into a coma, but at that point, she never saw him again, once again changing homes, this time to some rural town where she took up three part-time jobs to occupy her. Like in her school years, none took interest in knowing her, so she lived her remaining years in isolation. Even on her deathbed, even at her funeral, no one came or cared.

For the first time in my existence, I used a power that Others have that Watchers rarely use. Watching her live and die an empty existence had filled me, at first, with some hunger for a happy end, or at the very least a better one, so I began from the beginning. And for the first time, I watched the same birth twice. I had some hope since I knew what the Future was. It was not anywhere near pre-determined, so if one were to reverse time, choices made and decisions decided were often different than the last time.

However, I was embarking on a long and laborious journey, one that would teach me well about the emotion of disappointment.

The first Leap back filled me with new excitement to see how her future might change, only to be puzzled as her life's course hardly changed at all. The differences I spotted were insignificant in the Grand Consequence, and I ended up watching a repeat of her previous Future. Once she died, I again jumped back.

Perhaps I had hoped it was a fluke, but the second Leap taught me otherwise. Again, there were changes, some not as insignificant as before but still guiding her down her previous path. I became a bit impatient this time, not waiting for her to finish her last sigh before Leaping once more.

The third time I was even more so annoyed with the repeating events, and it was not until halfway through that I realized the problem. An introvert she was, but confidence and stubbornness were also a part of her, making it so that her choices were not influenced by things that most Others and World People took into account. At the same time, the fact that she did anything different at all showed possibility, so even when she died this third time, I did not lose hope just yet.

Fourth: Anger assuaged, I kept watch once more while she traversed the seemingly unstoppable events of her life that came to play, waiting for her to realize somehow that she was leading herself to a sad and unhappy end. Yet it all continued as it had before.

Fifth: Disappointment turned to pity. Now I observed solely how she responded to That realm in aims of understanding her unwavering Net, unable to find much in terms of answers. Most vivid in my mind was her reactions during the unfortunate event when that man took her so forcefully.

Sixth: Pity turned to depression. I began to realize the desire to help her overcome this Unstoppable Future, but alas, I knew it was up to her and could only watch.

Seventh: Depression turned to frustration. At this Leap, I started talking to her, advising her, she whose ears were deaf to my voice, and I wanted to push her down a different street on the eve of Valentines to avoid the man that would choose her as his victim.

Eight: Now I was beyond irked and screamed at her with all my might when I knew she was weaving a bad string in her Net, all the while she continued on her not-so-merry way, unable to heed my warning. For the first time so vivid my memory, I was furious, and when the man came for her, I felt hate saturate my soul.

Ninth: The rollercoaster of emotion, a thing an Other is not accustomed to, slowed its pace in me, settling at desperate; desperate for her happiness, desperate for justice, desperate for a better end. Now I did anything and everything possible to stray her from her path, though most was in vain. There were occasions that my newfound emotion churned into raw energy and caused something to shift in That realm near her, but most times she brushed off the disturbance.

Tenth: I tried harder.

Eleventh: I tried again.

Twelfth: Nothing changed.

Thirteenth.

Fourteenth.

Fifteenth.

Twentieth.

Thirtieth.

Sixtieth.

I was around my hundredth time when I finally began to give up. The human's ideology of the Future was threatening to make sense for once; the idea of a predetermined Future. Even after observing her so many times, I could not make sense out of her iron will that inevitably led to her miserable end. Even as I moved closer to one hundred fifty Leaps, I saw no solution coming.

Perhaps if she made friends?

No one ever showed interest. Not even in bullying her. A few snide remarks and friendly hellos had been tossed at her before, but nothing ever consistent enough to make a difference. At this point I was desperate to the point that any change would relieve me; I even found myself begging a World Person to pick a fight with her just to cause some disturbance in her Net.

Perhaps if she moved to another school?

Moving around in her childhood and twice when older had done nothing to help her lack of social skills.

Perhaps if her grades were better she could apply for a better college?

She did not study, nor did she want to. Plus, what had her dropping out of Community College was not grades but money.

More money?

How? Both she and her father exhausted every source to keep the house, only to get forced out anyway.

Two hundred ten Leaps. I was tired. I was sad. I was obsessed. Nothing I did made a difference, and I began to accept that she had doomed herself to her fate, yet at the same time, I wanted to stay near her until her existence ceased. On the other hand, it was painful to watch now, causing such deep aches that even my bodiless existence could feel it down to my core. It hurt to the point that at the worst point in her life, the most unfortunate of the events, where the man catches her, I had to close my mind to the scene and wait for it to finish before I could look again.

"Two hundred seventy-three Leaps," I had counted. On that Leap, during the time of her Tragic Event, I was doing what I could to avert my attention from the current situation with the Man, which had become routine, but then something dawned on me. One last solution had come in view that had promise.

What if something stopped this particular event from happening? What if she somehow got away or avoided the Man or maybe didn't move here?

I opened my mind to observe the scene with a keener eye but found the Man standing with a happy groan and pulling his pants up as he left. Quick, my attention flitted over to her only to find her face had already gone blank, her stare unfocused. This was it, wasn't it? The pivotal and most influential turning point in her life. It was the thing that made her snap and give up on happiness. If it had not happened, she would not have snuck to that rural town while her father was hospitalized.

Or at least, that's what I was hoping. For a new goal, I made a Leap, not at birth but at the time she was deciding her route home. Uselessly I implored her to take an alternative street, did all in my power to manipulate her environment, only to be ignored. I chased her down until the Man caught her, then Leapt again, farther back to when they were deciding where to move, and once again, I tried to whisper a better choice, or rather, what would be a bad choice. Again, I went unheard. Leaping to her college years, then her High School years, then trying to convince her father not to take her as a foster child, my every effort was aimed towards one goal; re-knitting her Grand Consequence. When I ran out of places to jump to, I revisited her major choices to try again, and failed again. After thirty-seven more jumps, I found myself back at her birth. It was not to sway the mother from giving her up—I had already tried—I was there to look at the baby girl whom was oblivious to her unavoidable Grand Consequence; I had come to pity her, sympathize with her, care for her.

She wailed as they cleaned her, those gloved white hands caressing her puny form with the utmost care, and I gazed on with envy. At the same time, I pondered the idea of killing her now to erase her part of the Net altogether, which would spare her the knowledge of life's cruelty. No, not life's… the Future's.

Before I snapped out of this thought, she was leaving her toddler years, a problem-child and growing her stubborn personality, which was one big factor in her demise. Hollowness filled me, a defense against the static emotions I did not like, though it also made my warmth towards her dull. I could still kill her. Even if I could not talk or touch her, I could influence something around her, maybe have a parked gas tank explode when she passed it on the way to the candy store. She would be the only one caught in the explosion due to vacant streets and buildings closed for holidays.

Right now she had a crayon and paper, sitting on her legs as she drew the same flower and butterfly that I'd seen her draw over two hundred times. Just like that, my wall fell, my emotions came to surface, and the thoughts of cutting her life short melted away. If I had a physical form, I may have worn a sad smile. That would be the best way to describe my mood; sad to have to leave her to her tragic path but somehow ready to love her existence enough to let her learn on her own.

"Precious creature," I whispered to her, but before anything else, I Leapt.

Rather than traverse time, I left That realm for the time being. After so much, I wanted to rest my weary soul and move on. Maybe it was just my weariness that ruined my interest in further learning about the World People. Rest… rest… afterwards everything would return to normal…

An aura overcame me, powerful and unhappy, so between This realm and That one I slowed my Leap to a halt in order to locate the presence. Part of the reason was safety precaution; even the Others have predators, sometimes those predators being one of our own. It was already a risky procedure to Leap between the realms, but add in the fact that it is impossible to tell how safe your landing area is and that one becomes like a fish skipping across a lake, a hawk just might swoop down at the chance for a meal.

We have many hawks, Watchers especially. Being what we are and what we do, Leaping is Our means of travel between the realms, which opens us for attack since we do not have any means of redirecting ourselves. Hence, we cannot dodge if, say, something got in our way… or worse yet, if it tried to grab us.

The In-between Place is both blank and bizarre, images from both realms flashing through it like lightning to leave only the impressions of events and no remaining fragments. Blank because it has nothing, not time nor floor or sky, the only thing proving it there were the illusions that leaked in through the cracks in the realms.

And in this In-between Place, I was suspended for several minutes while I located the source of unfamiliar power. It took me no time to deduce it a predator, but I had to wonder why it had not shifted from its spot when feeling my approach. The chances of it not having noticed me from the start of the Leap were close to zero, yet even as I lingered, it did not budge or seem tempted. That made it easier to find out where it was.

My soul rippled in a strange way not uncommon among the Watchers; it was a defense mechanism wanting to activate, triggered when a predator loomed too close to be safe. Indeed this predator was too close. Alarmingly close. I had an idle desire to seek this predator since they were so close by, figure out what had them unhappy…

Yet the moment the thought entered, I felt the iron grip of a Claw.