My enemies are numerous. They surround my safe-house and wait to strike in This realm.
Where there is one ant, there are two more. Where there are two, there are also four. Similarly, there cannot be one predator without it having allies.
The most common of them are the Eater, the Fuser, the Collector, the Unexpected, and the Dealer. The Eater survives by devouring souls and spirits like the Watchers; the Fuser will fuse the victim's soul to their own to enslave them; the Unexpected will do whatever it feels like doing to the soul at the time, ranging from the Eater's habit to simply letting it go once ensnared.
The Dealer is the one who only catches the souls to sell, and while that promises a longer wait until destruction, it also destroys the already slim possibility of escaping. Stories say that the Dealers hold one type of special Claw that enables them to call to other predators… which is what happens when a Dealer catches prey. The Claw sends out a signal that draws allies near, trapping the victim further.
~ ~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~ ~
Pain wracked through me, searing hot and blistering cold all at once, and razor sharp grips sunk in to the metaphysical membrane that held me together. I screeched in agony, the ungodly noise reverberating in the space yet muffled by the sheer emptiness of it.
"Pipe down," commanded my attacker, though the fact it spoke with the human tongue only identified which predator has snagged me; a Dealer. Perhaps I had been testing my luck with so many Leaps and was now facing some form of Karma, but nevertheless, this news was not good and I was ready to panic and release the defense mechanism.
"You sure like to squirm. Why don't you trigger your defense?" it purred, yet that made me hesitant to release it. I felt a second Claw brush against me, my soul quivering in another urge to activate the mechanism. "Don't you want to escape? I'm sure you're in a lot of pain right now."
I would have shuddered if I had a physical body, both at the agony still acutely torturing me and the fact I had the misfortune of running into a predator with two Claws. The quivering worsened when it grabbed me with the second Claw, gentle at first but still causing me to squeal louder at the added pain and try to worm away.
"Go ahead. Release it," it ordered.
When I merely continued to squeal and squirm, restraining the mechanism further, it started to dig the grips in and tighten its grasp, so I began a pathetic whimper between the screeches. This only annoyed the predator.
Next thing I knew, both claws had released me and another object—perhaps a tail or other limb—had whacked me away. I slowed myself to a stop and sunk a little like a deflated balloon, quivering and whimpering at the lasting effects of the Claws' grip. The Dealer made no other attempt to catch me, and that's when I began to recognize what it had been after. In fact, I detected soft sighs and huffs coming from them as if they were thinking of something troubling.
Before I had gotten over the shivering, I moved over beside it, "What burdens you so?"
"What's this? A Watcher speaks the human tongue and cares?" it retorted with a mix of bitterness and amusement. It was odd; I'd never recognized the emotions put to the tones before I spent so many years watching over that woman.
For once I felt speechless, but before I continued, it rose up from its hunch and spread its form out to reveal its true size, which was intimidating considering I was just a balloon facing a planet; at least, that is how it felt. The proportions were closer to a balloon verses a beach-ball.
"Tell me, Watcher. Why did you not release your defense?"
"… I do not know," I replied. "Why does this—?"
The Claw was then only a hair away from pressing against me, the quivering acting up again at the pain that lingered in my memory.
"Let me answer for you;" it offered, the same resentment showing through. "It's because you didn't want to hurt me. Want to know why?" It paused to give me time to respond, but at my silence, it started up again. "It's because you have been infected by the humans. Infected at your core."
I was startled at its accusations, confused at what virus I had allegedly picked up from the World People, and curious about this strange predator, but yet again, as I would have begun inquiring, it just continued on its rant, now moving about in a small circle. It was only half-paying attention since it had removed its Claw from me so thoughtlessly.
"Filthy foul humans. They lure you in; they interest you; they intrigue you; then like invisible Claws, clutch your weak spot the second it shows! Even if you get away, you're in ruins. Tch. I'll kill that bast…"
Alarmed as I might have been to have it stop altogether and turn to me, I kept my ground and awaited its continuation. Clearly something was upsetting it, and I guess I had been infected—infected by the World's People desire to help. An idea was forming, but the predator grabbed me again, causing me to wince and recoil…
Yet there was no pain.
Curiously stumped, I calmed, the predator speaking again, "Listen here, Watcher. I'll let you in on a secret. Dealers have two occupations, one of which is unrelated to getting a price for your tasty lil souls. Like the Eaters, Dealers need sustenance too, and the humans provide plenty for us, considering most of our allies don't use That realm for hunting grounds." It pulled me into an octopus-like embrace, stroking me like a soft pillow. "We take human souls for feasting. They're juicy too. However, that involves a complicated process of making a Deal with them, where we give them something and they give us what we want. Get it?"
I did. On a second note, this conversation was giving me a bad feeling.
It loosened the hug a bit, only to lift me up to its head to stare at my faceless form, "So recently, I ran into a little trouble with them humans; or rather, a specific man. I want revenge, but I can't do anything myself because…" It scoffed. "They sealed me. While I can still go in the world and interact, I can't use any of my abilities against him."
It wanted me to go in its place and exact revenge; while that seemed like an interesting endeavor and would take my mind away from the girl, I found it hard to accept. The moment my thoughts landed on her, depression came, and my metaphysical body started to deflate and sink again.
It noticed this and stared, but then it returned to the conversation, "Of course, I'm not asking you to do something for nothing." I imagined a sly sort of smile spreading. "… In return, I can help you save her."
Bad. Bad. Bad. That's all I could think when I perked up and focused on the predator for further detail on this offer, yet at the same time had a sense of paranoia flood over me. How had it known about her?
"You… know her?" I questioned, hesitant to even speak.
"You thought no one noticed it when you Leapt some hundred times?" it mocked. "Needless to say, I did. I came wondering what panicked fool was abusing their power so bad, then I found you uselessly trying to change her Future. I snooped around for a while because… heh. It was amusing to watch." It flexed its second Claw with boredom, then changed the subject when I made no response to the scorning. "So? What do you say? Deal or no Deal?"
Now I contemplated this chance. I wanted to save her with every spec of my being, but even to save someone, exacting revenge was never a good idea. Plus, how could I know that the Dealer would keep this promise? It might just vanish altogether once it came time to fulfill its end of the deal.
"Feeling doubt, hm?" it guessed rather easily but not perturbed in the least. "How about this then? You save the girl first, then you do your part of the deal, hm?"
Never before had I been so torn before, one side shying away from the shady, too-good-to-be-true offer yet wanting to take it up just so she'd have a better Future.
No, I should not take this offer; if I tried harder, I could just do it myself, so why risk it?
… but I had already tried everything. Nothing ever changed.
Those claws were taking hold of me again in the same gentle manner that made me wonder how those tools ever caused such unbearable pain. For the second time, those octopus arms pulled me in.
"I noticed you never stayed with her father once he was mugged," it pointed out, whispers so soft like its grasp. "When she left, he cried everyday, all alone in that cold building, then right before he passed on, he said…" It leaned closer, voice laced with sweetness. "… 'Where are you, Bianca?'"
My form trembled at the mere emotion behind those words—the loneliness only a single father would know once losing their last precious loved one—yet her name… the sound of it hit me like a speeding truck coming into contact with a concrete wall, punching a huge hole in my willpower.
Still, I knew this was just the predator's attempt to sway me into the Deal; it was working too well, and anything holding me back from accepting the offer was crumbling quickly. My last resort was to jerk away out of those gentle arms and Leap back towards That realm. I would not believe it until I saw it with my own eyes… because it must have been a lie. It must have been…
I found myself entering That realm right as she was receiving the news of her father's mugging. I then Leapt again, not through time, but across space, landing at the father's bedside in the hospital near to her home. He was in critical condition at this point, staring unwaveringly at the door and ignoring any of the nurses who tried to coax him to sleep. For a while, that was all that happened; he stared at the door, the nurses were refused, and painkillers were also turned down.
That was when a female stormed in, wearing a doctor's uniform and a furious frown on her face.
"You are getting sleep and you are getting medicated! I will not have you dying over something so silly! If this continues in your state, you'll fall into a coma!"
He did not respond immediately, but once the doctor began preparing an IV drip, he gave a frown and let a tear fall… Something within me clenched.
"… I just want to see my daughter before I sleep… The officers said they'd tell her…"
But she was not coming.
The doctor promised only a half-hour more, but that time depleted, so the woman returned with the IV prepared, and this time he did not refuse. However, as he drifted off to sleep, he started to sob.
"Doctor, make sure Bianca is safe," he mumbled.
The next day, it was officially decreed that he was in a deep coma, and it was not until several years in the future that he woke up again. Even so, he did not show signs of feeling better, and it did him no good to realize that not only had she never come to see him, but she had also deserted the apartment.
I felt panic arising as I watched his Grand Consequence come to play, finding it eerily similar in loneliness and despair as hers had been. The idea of interconnected strings proved an accurate description of what the Future was since her dismal Future had consequently caused his to spiral downward as well.
I do not know how long I was in a daze, heartbroken at these events and terrified that there was yet another person I was useless to help, but once he was on his deathbed, old and gray, but still decades away from her date of death, he had just finished an hour of pained miserable sobs before crawling across the floor and dragging himself onto the bed that she had used before she vanished.
The tears came again, and his husky voice cracked as he spoke so tenderly, "Where did you go, Bianca? What did I do wrong?"
"You did nothing wrong," I found myself answering, more in a panic than anything. "It was not your fault. It was something else."
My words fell on deaf ears, and his eyes began to glaze, staring towards me yet not seeing me.
"Where are you…?" he whispered.
When he fell still, so did I. His corpse had become an empty shell while his soul drifted off elsewhere. Even when I had accepted this, I could not move, perhaps on the verge of quivering. This was despair. This was despair. This was despair. It was all I could think.
This was despair.
Two Claws wrapped around me in that sweet seductive embrace, its voice closer, "So?"
I trembled, my resolve solid, "I will take your Deal."
"Excellent," it chirped.
The second Claw then pierced my body, pain shooting through me with a force and presence that no earthly being could comprehend.
The strange World Person had been staring at me for a while now, but it made me wonder. Could he see me? I assumed not, and was glad of it, since his muscled and tattooed form gave off a rather frightening aura, but… he certainly watched me as if he could…
I felt something at the top of my form pinch together in response to my frustration at deciphering the truth, and watched with a vividly acute focus as he quirked a brow. Near to where I had felt the pinch, a dryness came that stung at the area, so I let my body react reflexively to ease this discomfort… only for something to blind me.
I jerked at the momentary loss of sight, though once the dryness returned, my body reacted again in the same way that had cut my vision off for that split second. At that point, I began noticing weird things; my sense had divided itself. The way I saw and heard and smelled things was different as if only certain parts of me could detect certain things. Colors and shapes were sharp and only partially in focus as if I were zeroing in on objects selectively, while sound no longer had its own physical force, yet was as prominent as before. Then I noticed another reflex, cool air filling my insides then being pushed out again.
I began to comprehend, or at least guess at, what was going on. My gaze fell upon every last inch of the room I seemed to be detained in, metal bars forming a large cage around me and my human company, and some cops wandering around the small office-jail hybrid. Two were females, three were males, and not even the burly prisoner nearby lacked a content expression, even if he was in jail and not smiling.
"So…" he began, eyes serious and tone dark. "What'cha in for?"
My vision flickered again, but now I recognized that I was blinking, though I was more curious as to why I was in That realm. When I remained silent under the assumption he could not hear or see me, the burly man grabbed and jerked me up, which startled me to the point I clung to his arm to keep my heavy body from falling. Now they were all staring at me puzzled, even the cops, especially since I started wheezing anxiously. I took a moment to register it all; my vision was now upright, I felt gravity, I was breathing, I had eyes, I could feel a heart beating hard inside me, and…
When I looked up at the burly man, I saw World People arms on me.
Before I knew it, the man had thrown me off in annoyance, "Hey! Quit'cha clingin!"
I landed flat on my back and cracked my head against the ground, too unused to this sense of gravity and imbalance to do anything else, and for the moment, I laid there, dazed, staring up at the concrete ceiling. Why was I one of the World People?
To say I was horrified beyond words would be a stretch; I was just horribly confused.
"Hey, fella. You all right in there? Sounded like you hit your head pretty hard," a cop said, tapping the bars with a mag-light.
I rolled my head over, not appearing any less bemused, "Me?"
It was one of the girls, and she quirked a brow in a similar manner as the prisoner had done, "Obviously. Jenkins there certainly ain't hurt."
"… Jenkins…" I repeated to myself. Glancing at the prisoner confirmed that he was this so-called Jenkins. Names were precious in my realm, especially among the Watchers, so it was a great honor to be granted the chance to hear another's name. This just added on to my maladjusted state. I knew that World People tossed names at each other day and night with no real thought, so it was going to make me feel weird every time someone addressed another. In fact, being what I was, just hearing the word "name" would grab my attention.
"… You okay there?"
I perked up and looked back at the cop, "What? Y-Yes, I am fine…"
Now that I was talking to Them, it was hard not to get self-conscious over how I spoke since I knew from the beginning that my way of speech was not quite as refined.
Still, the girl giggled, "Aw, cute accent ya got. Where you from?"
I drew a blank; how would I explain that I'm from another realm without them misunderstanding? Thankfully, the girl got sidetracked when one of the men cleared their throat and drew her attention.
"Oh right," she muttered, but then returned her eyes to me. They were bright blue, an oddly mesmerizing shade that contrasted her black hair beautifully. "By the way, were you out drinking last night? We found you passed out on the roadside."
I blinked, then scurried for an excuse, "W-Well, I do not really remem'er. Got lost, wandering, fell down…" I rubbed my head when I became incoherent. "… I am just confused."
The woman laughed, "Take some time to get unconfused. Your friend said she'd be here soon to pick you up."
My body froze, an uncomfortable sensation, and I found my eyes widening; the predator had done this to me, hadn't it? At first rage seeped in, the mere feel of it causing my expression to harden and fist to clench, but then the Deal I had made came to mind, which loosened me up. It had helped me in a very strange way, though if I thought about it, it was the only logical solution. I had been unable to help her as a metaphysical being, so gaining a solid form would be the last resort to change her otherwise unchanging Net.
"Yo!" another girl's voice came.
This time when I looked up, I saw another World Person with dark brown curly hair that fell past her shoulders and wore a black leather outfit. Her eyes were an odd yellow-hued brown, and her face was slender like ones I remembered seeing in modeling magazines during my travels. According to what I overheard Jenkins say, she also had a good body-type that went well with the tight leather pants and belly-shirt.
I blinked seeing the cheeky smile on her pinkish lips, wondering if this was the "friend" that had come to pick me up. Glancing at Jenkins told me she was not there for him since he had not budged from his spot, so I stood up and approached with caution, watching her every move.
"Why are ya lookin at me that way?" she asked, leaning against the bars. "I'm your sister after all. Don't act like a stranger."
I averted my eyes, "… Right."
The cop from before came over to let me out, though while in the vicinity, she asked my sister if we had gotten into an argument, also making it known that she was curious as to what country I came from since she could not discern my accent. This supposed sister just said I was raised in some isolated land too small for any real notice and came to live with her when we found out we shared a father. It was convincing, especially now that I could see my reflection in a mirror on one of the cops' desk. My hair was the same shade of brown with a slight curl to its ends, though my eyes held more yellow than hers.
I frowned at the situation, even as the disguised predator pulled me out of the holding cell in a rush to leave. Apparently Miss Cop was getting too nosy and coming across some unplanned territory, like which part of the world my imaginary country was in and what dialect it spoke. Once we were outside, I was bombarded by the musky autumn scent, the smell of the falling leaves and foliage entering my nose with uncanny force. I almost felt dizzy from it, but more because I was unused to such sharpness.
The predator looked at me impatiently, her bubbly expression gone, "God, how'd you get locked up in less than an hour? For something silly like loitering no less. You know how hard it was to find you?"
My frown returned when she continued to rant about how it was becoming more of a hassle to go through with her part of the bargain since finding a place to live for free yet fooling the owners so that it seemed they were paying was not the easiest chore, and then went on about how giving me a physical form took more out of her than she wanted to admit. While she continued on that, I examined around this world through new eyes, and for once I wondered if this was how it felt to be born, overwhelmed with the senses, picking up each individual sound, smell, color and shape.
The colors… The wind picked up at that moment, so I could only gaze breathlessly as those bright red and yellow leaves showered down from above in a soft whirlwind that blew strong yet gentle against my skin and hair. I imagine my eyes must've shone like a child's; a child who had been hidden in a cave with only vague memories of what this grand, beautiful world looked like in the light.
So this was a car… Eyes grazing its large, sleek metal body, I pondered how it functioned, the predator having the seat beside mine and steering the vehicle with a strange circular grip. The engine thrummed as it worked, subtle vibrations causing my body to relax in an odd way, but most of all, I kept focused on the open window and the fast wind pushing against me. It was cool enough to make my body quiver while my curiosity towards these new sensations made the discomfort bearable. All the while, I began to understand things about the human body, simple things that most would not notice past their infancy. The eyes, for one, dried out if left open to the air, so the body rewetted them by blinking. I experimented, flexing fingers and wiggling toes to test what kind of control I had, then went to shifting facial muscles.
"What are you doing?" she growled.
Eyes narrowing, she kept her attention focused on driving, "Yes."
I shrugged, continuing on the experiment, though this caused me not to hear what she was saying for a few minutes, too occupied with this intriguing activity to notice.
I perked up, looking over bemused, "A name?"
"Yes, a name!" she scolded. At the time, I suspected her face got stuck in that unsightly scowl just as mine had got stuck with a puzzled one. She snapped me out of that small side-thought by jabbing her finger against my chest rather hard. "Unlike with the Others, identities are important to know! So you need a false name that you won't mind sharing with anyone who asks."
My mind went blank, and upon seeing my clueless state, she threw her arms in the air dramatically. That caused the car to swerve, the tires coming into contact with gritty soil and broken rocks, and though her hands flew back onto the wheel, the metal beast had already begun trembling from the unbalanced earth beneath its frame, careening towards a thick oak tree. Even when she steered hard away from the thick trunk, the car only skid across the dirt, turning just enough to avoid a frontal collision but putting her in direct line of fire. The inertia on the metal shifted, enabling the predator to scarcely throw the body of the car out of the way, the tires finding their way back on the road.
For the first moment after the recovery, we both sat quiet, stiff and wide-eyed, me gripping the seat and door while she stared at the road ahead.
"… You say anything about this, I'll slaughter you…" she threatened hoarsely.
I just nodded, not able to do anything else in my paralysis.
The sudden rush from that dangerous maneuver distracted me from my original goal of further understanding my bodily functions, so all I could register was the silence of the autumn colors. It was strange… Earlier I had thought my sense of the world had split into the five senses Worldly People have, yet now that I was so unfocused on the material realm, I could feel my metaphysical sense scoping the surrounding environment.
Now aware of its presence, even when the car stopped short to break me out of my trance, I could still feel it there like I felt my other senses. While my eyes scanned the new surroundings, my "sixth" sense also took a good look around. This old brick building was square as a cinderblock and just as pale, with a forest at its back and several residents situated comfortably inside, save one or two lonesome folks. The predator left the vehicle as I continued to delve further into the analysis, identifying one of the lonesome folks as a drug addict indulging himself on new goods and the other extremely paranoid about the apartment dwellers conspiring against them for his "secret" stash of scrap paper and broken trinkets.
The happier population consisted of a normal family of four, a single mother with a toddler and infant, a batch of peace-lovers bunking together, a lone teenager, and an elderly couple still genuinely infatuated with each other. The place seemed decent enough, plus bearing a comfy aura, even from the druggie and paranoid one. However, the building to its right, while identical in form, overflowed with unrest and malice, housing many stressed and pessimistic folk. Less tense but no better, the little yellow apartment on the left was a bucketful of careless mischievous young ones; even now they plotted the biggest Heavy Metal VS Rap battle party "ever."
More or less, I was relieved to know I still had this ability. Otherwise I'd feel… handicapped, like a blind man without a cane. Even better, the predator had entered the Comfy Building, but when my sense trailed after her, I found her attempting to hypnotize the owner whom subconsciously resisted with unusual ferocity; a mark of a strong will. The predator, on the other hand, grew tired of the repeated and enduring failure to overpower the World Person.
As soon as her intent shifted over to enslaving the owner's body forcefully, I released my concentration and exited the car myself. Curious how, like an elastic sphere, that metaphysical sense extended and retracted upon whim and concentration. Still, I crossed the sidewalk and up the wooden steps to reach the front door, placing both hands on the knob to turn it. Though I wished to prevent an unneeded casualty, this was the first time I attempted to operate a door. Thankfully, it opened with ease, though the door weighed more than anticipated.
Dusty air entered my lungs, itching at my throat to make me cough, an unusual and uncomfortable sensation. Stairs wound up to all four floors, each set of stairs built against the wall, and no more than three meters from me was the predator, standing in front of an open door where the landlady argued hotly over the rental fees.
"You could be a penniless beggar from a third-world country or the president's favorite niece; to live here, ya gotta pay! It ain't no charity drive."
"You don't have student discounts?" the predator asked, dark yet calm. "My little brother is—"
"No, I don't. Now git," the woman continued. Pale blond eyebrows were pinched in impatience. Her hair drawn in a ponytail and face chubby, her body revealed the possible source of unneeded anger; her bulging belly signified the later stages of pregnancy.
When the predator raised her hand to gain control over the human, I spoke up quick, "E'scuse me!" Her hand dropped as she turned to glare at the same time that the lady turned surprised eyes to me. Suddenly, I felt heat beneath my skin, especially at my cheeks. "I-I am her little brother. Could I ask the cost of rent?"
Giving my "sister" a huff, she gave me a smile, "You don't sound native. English yer second language?"
Smiling back sheepishly, I nodded, "Yah. I came from… my homeland to live with my half-sister. I do not know much about money though."
"Oh!" Her eyes lit up and her hands rose to her hips. "I git it. Yer home barters 'n stuff like dat, don't it? Money ain't worth much then… How 'bout this? In yo freetime, do some work fo' me. Yer labor'll pay off yo' rent, plus'll save me the task of getting someone ta hire."
I agreed to this, but the predator tossed me a sharp look.
It was not bad. Everything looked decent enough with glossy finish to wooden furnishing and squeaky-clean tiling in both the kitchen area and the bathroom. A large window allowed for light to fill the small yet comfy little living room where a television sat in front of the three-person couch, and given that there would only be two people living here, I could tell there was more than enough room. The carpet was soft on our feet as well.
Grimacing, I couldn't help but withdraw my sixth "general" sense to exclude the predator from my vicinity since it just made me acutely aware of how ticked off she was about the biased behavior from the landlady. Somehow, she found reason to be mad at me as well, though it would be for a reason I could not fathom.
She threw down her things, rummaging through and unpacking what was in the bags and boxes, which made me amazed to see just how much she had crammed into those puny packages. Endless amounts of clothes were drawn from the bags, ranging from sparkling salsa dresses to holiday-themed socks up until she'd be well ready to clothe over forty people for several days, yet it continued on once she opened the boxes. It may not have been more clothes, but the pattern repeated, her scurrying around with armloads of things like kitchenware and personal items, very swiftly settling in. When spotting me gawking, she tossed a sharp look and pointed to the door.
"Get your things. They're in the car's backseat."
I owned something? No, I was pretty sure I didn't. Maybe she was just getting rid of me for the moment? In any case, my feet led me out the door to avoid her rather wrathful attitude, taking my time in stepping down each step, hand gliding down the railing of the stairwell, and paying acute attention to every sense of my body. The way my body jerked if I did not ease my foot down to the next step, the smooth texture of the cold metal rail running along my palm which occasionally went rough if my hand came into contact with a rusty spot, the way the dust infiltrated my lungs to impair breathing ever so slightly…
Even once I got to ground-level, the motion of walking intrigued me, imagining my skeletal structure moving as joints bent and muscles flexed or relaxed. Being Worldly was oddly… invigorating.
I opened the door and once again took in the beautiful scene of autumn, though nature didn't bless me with another leaf-shower, and as I approached the car, my eyes trailed up as my nostrils scented the crisp air. The sky… so blue… It was not dark, yet held puzzling depth to its color, and the sun… Oh, what beauty it was. Even if I couldn't look at it without squinting, and even if I couldn't decipher its form as something other than a white ball of blindingly bright light, it captivated my mind. At this point, I felt I could get used to this sort of life.
I was then blessed with the pleasant experience of something heavy slamming into me from behind and knocking me flat on my face.
Being that it was my first real experience with physical pain, I let out a startled and hurt shout of, "FUCK!"
"… Are you okay?"
Strange warmth filled my cheeks at the realization someone had just heard my uncouth outburst, so I pushed myself up—slowly, as to regain my senses—readjusting my position so I'd be sitting on my rump rather than resting my face against the concrete. Rubbing my head, I looked up at whoever had been standing there, and found no one. I would have been confused, except I glimpsed a brown-haired head just south from where I had been looking, so I lowered my puzzled gaze. The first things I registered were her pretty face and pretty gray-blue eyes… and how winded she was. Instantly I came to the conclusion that she had been the lovely thing to knock me over, but curiously enough I felt a strange sense of déjà vu when looking into those eyes of hers, as if I had seen her before somewhere. The jail maybe?
I opened my mouth to apologize for my rude behavior…
Then it clicked.
My eyes grew wide, breath hitched, and I was rendered motionless before her. I did know her face. Like several times before and many more times to come, it was my first time; my first time seeing Bianca through Worldly eyes, and while she looked like an ordinary girl to any other bystander, to me I felt as if I had seen… a goddess maybe. Such joy filled me, yet at the same time anxiety, fearful that she might disappear before me or that my actions would be meaningless, but still brimming with awe and happiness to meet her and have the chance.
How long had I been gawking?
The question only registered because she had stopped her wheezing to stare at me rather weirdly like I was an escapee from a mental hospital trying to coax her into some weird plan to overthrow the government.
"… Did… you…" she began with uncertainty. "Did you hit your head too hard?"
The pain pulsing from my face suddenly became predominant, and after grimacing, which only worsened the pain considering my nose was the most injured from the fall, I slapped a hand over my face and rubbed it. Ow.
"… Um… person?"
I blinked, lowering my hand enough to peek over at her, "I-I am sincerely sorry. I cannot help to know you heard I said fell ground—" Getting a raised brow in response to my incoherent sentence, my face felt hotter than before. This bodily reflex in particular had my heart racing and eyes averting themselves. "… you are pretty."
This lost her completely, "Eh?"
"You are very pretty," I repeated, and I looked at her again, feeling rather unhappy with myself. "It surprised me. I was not expecting to meet yo—I mean, someone like you so randomly and… awkwardly."
Certainly she thought me strange, but she only gave an awkward smile and blushed, "… Thanks? You new here? I'm pretty familiar with this town so…" Her eyes turned to graze the buildings nearby, caution present. My gaze simply followed her movements. "Which building did you come out of?"
I pointed to the one in the middle, using the hand that had been covering my face since the throbbing had numbed.
"That one. My sister sent me out to fetch my belongings," I explained.
And just as suddenly as it had come, the caution vanished and she turned to smile welcomingly, starting a motion to shake my hand… Once her eyes landed on me, she stopped and the smile dropped, both alarmed and caught off guard. I watched the way she stared, wondering what was wrong, and I pondered if nothing was wrong and that maybe she was surprised at my face. Being that the predator was rather pretty herself and the resemblance between us was uncannily noticeable, perhaps Bianca liked my face. The idea made me giddy, brows raising, though it made me confused as to why I could see the alarm growing in her expression.
"… Uh… I don't know how to say this… um... not-awkwardly but…" The hand that had been preparing to shake mine, shifted so that the index finger was aimed at my face. "Your nose is bleeding. A lot."
Then I noticed the feel of warm liquid oozing down to drip off my chin.
"Please" I remember begging in my thoughts. "Please stay, Bianca." She was just over at the door staring into the living room with clear discomfort, shifting and itching to remove herself from the premises, perhaps ready to flee at a moment's notice.
As much as I oppose holding someone against their will, I almost feared for my life, or at the very least, feared the lack of mercy from the predator that had—by her own grace—spared my existence and made a contract with me rather than sell me off like a tool at a pawn shop. My dear "sister" had me planted on the couch, fingers twitching with the desire to curl and injure my nose further as she mended it. I felt silly too, having tissues and rags stuffed in each nostril to quell the bleeding.
"Silly boy," she was purring, malice laced in her words. "Not two days in the country and you broke your nose."
"Mhm…" I hummed back.
Once finished, I winced as she threw out the bloody cotton balls and tissues, glaring over at Bianca, and feeling the murderous intent flooding her aura, my body quivered faintly, a familiar ripple within my flesh. The defense mechanism still functioned? Curious as it was, I recognized that it was not being triggered in self-defense, but in defense of the very human I was risking myself for in case the predator attacked.
"You! Don't hurt my little brother again, or else face my wrath!"
The words had no affect, Bianca at first looking unimpressed with my sister then turning an apologetic frown to me, "Sorry again. I got caught up in my jogging and wasn't payin' attention."
I went to smile and tell her no harm done—well, figuratively—only for my sister to stand up and interrupt with her own declaration of, "To pay for this damage, you will now be his friend and come to visit every day through rain, sleet, and snow." An odd way of assisting me.
Bianca's jaw set, folding her arms in impatience and shifting her weight onto one leg. I only just noticed how old she was and what she was wearing, bringing to light the fact I had no idea what year it was, hence, no idea how long I had to unweave her Net. Quickly as she argued with the predator, I calculated her age and memorized her appearance, scanning through my many memories to match her current style with something in my head.
Her age had to be sixteen through eighteen. Right now she wore gray sweatpants that she used for jogging during her exercises and a light zip-up sweater to match. Shoes? Too generic. I never really paid attention to that when watching over her… Socks? White ankle-sock like any other person her age. Her hair was tied back and reached the nape of her neck, and then I spotted the one earring in her left ear, a real diamond inserted on the stud. Eyes lit, facts came together.
Her age was seventeen, giving me less than a year's time. All her life above the age of ten, she wore that one stud in her ear, but it was only on September twenty-third on her seventeenth year of life that she wore that diamond incrusted one when out for a jog. Her birthday present had arrived only yesterday due to a mix-up at the post office, so it wasn't until late at night that she received the box via UPS. Tomorrow she would lose it down the drain in her bathroom when getting ready for school.
"God! Shut up about his nose! I wasn't trying to break it!" Bianca's voice broke through.
I just noticed how viciously they were fighting, getting up close and personal like two cats about to engage in a duel. Surely just stepping between wouldn't be the smartest move, yet judging from the shoving that was taking place, it wouldn't take much more for the predator to reveal one of those Claws. If that happened, I was not going to restrain my mechanism.
I raised my hand high in the air, just sitting there watching like a clueless pup, and oddly enough, my sister noticed and lost her anger.
"What?" she asked.
The sudden change in attitude threw Bianca off, so she looked at me awkwardly to see what had calmed her so fast.
Again, my cheeks heated up and I shuffled, "I am not mad at her, so there is no need to punish her." Still, I didn't want to let this opportunity go, so I rubbed my neck, meeting Bianca's eyes sheepishly. "Though I would like to be friends anyway."
Unhappy with me for whatever reason, my sister huffed and breezed by to enter the bedroom on the other side of the room, and though Bianca watched her leave with annoyance, she walked up and held her hand out for me to shake.
"I don't know if we'll meet again, so I can't promise friendship, but either way, I'm Bianca. Nice to meet ya."
Her statement weighed on me, but I repressed that and took her hand in mine, "Pleasure is mine."
She rolled her eyes, probably at my formality since she had a smile donned, only to ask, "What's yer name, Mr. Nice Guy?"
"Oh, I-I'm…. uh…" Growing pale, I debated the idea of just telling her the name of my… existence, so to speak, so I would have something offhand to tell those who asked, but… the very thought of it caused my pale face to burn up. Seeing the confusion building in her eyes, I looked away. "… A-Alex?"
Her brows furrowed, both confused and suspicious, "… You're guessing?"
"It's Alex," I reaffirmed, breathless. "Alex."
"Are you sure?" she asked.
I looked back at her, "… Yes?"
An amused smile lit her lips, but she only chuckled and patted my hair, "Until you're sure of your name I'll just call ya Mr. Nice Guy. Maybe you'll catch me when I'm joggin' again."
The warmth in her eyes caught my attention; it wasn't something my physical form could detect directly, but my soul could, now scoping the environment with gentle tendrils and ever so gingerly feeling around and touching the warm little fire that filled her own soul with comfort. Though warm enough to seep through those windows in her eyes, as I felt that fire and that soul, I could tell just how brittle it was. I'm sure even my puny strength with my puny metaphysical body could crush it with no effort at all.
She was a glass figurine, a frail thing to be caressed with caution, else she might break.
I would wait every day of every hour if it would mean catching her on her daily jog, but if there was one thing that ever changed in her many chances at life was the route she took each day. My sister would come out to drag me back in to eat—something oddly limiting yet enjoyable—but each second I spent indoors gave me jitters, pondering the possibility of just missing her pass by. Well, I suppose then it was a good thing the predator always disappeared during the day, gone for hours and only returning when hunger beckoned, though if I had to stay indoors for whatever reason, I kept to the window with my sense on the look out for her familiar presence.
Today was such a day, freezing cold with overcast clouds to help darken the world in a bleak grayish curtain, and as I sat by the window, watching the road, I tried hard to recall the most likely outcome of today.
Three days had come and gone since first awakening to this strange Worldly realm, yet my alleged sister had no name to disguise herself under nor did I have any sort of plan to get in contact with Bianca more often. Remembering the events of her life I had witnessed as a metaphysical being proved difficult seeing as the only true sense I had known during those times had no physical tangency to it, something this Worldly form relied heavily upon. Brows furrowing and eyes closing, my body ached in a way that only an Other could fully comprehend or notice as time slipped by, unused and wasted.
In the darkness of my mind, I could concentrate better on those intangible memories. There had been only one case where she wandered out into the rain, seeming lost or searching for something that was supposed to be there. Even I had known at the time that she would find nothing, but hope blindly led us to seek out this imaginary goal anyway.
My lips curled in a smile—a sad smile—my hand lifting to my chest to press against my flesh-encased heart. A familiar heavy emotion had collected there, reminding me of my original goal to rest and take a break from this never-ending cycle of disappointment. A foolish notion; I knew I would never be content until I got a result I could deal with, and still, I wondered if this emotionally-heightened heart of mine would be able to endure anymore failures. Protected by a cage of bones and flesh, yet still so vulnerable to pain… How faulty.
She would not go out for today.
A knock at the door brought me to my feet and over to the exit, and for one last time that day, I practiced turning the doorknob and opening it. I had expected the landlady or perhaps the predator with her arms full, but instead, my body stiffened and cheeks flushed scarlet when spotting a teenaged girl with grayish blue eyes staring at me. Was this supposed to be ironic or something? How'd she slip by my sense?
In any case, despite her casual rouge jacket and blue-jeans, she was shivering in the unusual chilly September air and looking rather disheartened. I would have stuttered and got finicky if that lost expression hadn't sobered me down, so I simply watched the way she looked down in a mix of timidity and familiarity.
"Thought I'd visit," she stated.
I stepped aside for her, "Do come in, but I must say… I was not expecting you."
"Eh… I had nothin' better to do. Plus…"
Her gaze went out of focus, and I pondered if she could see into the Others' realm, but after a long moment of continuing silence, I broke an awkward smile and rubbed her shoulders to warm them up. This motion caught her attention, but when looking at me with those puzzled eyes, I just let go and returned a sheepish grin.
"Er… you looked cold. There is a blanket on the couch you can use if you would prefer," I offered.
She made herself right at home once she warmed up, and on the couch she laid, seeming to nap but much too quiet for it to be true slumber. I kept to the kitchen chair still situated next to the window, though now my gaze stayed from the road to watch her. It did seem suspiciously odd for her to come to me on one of the only days she would normally have stayed indoors, especially since our first introduction had held no personal interactions; after a "hello" and apology, she left as unconditionally as she had come. She may as well have gone to the house of the latest cashier she happened across at the supermarket… Weirder than that, I could remember just who that would be. Kara was her name, right?
"You an immigrant?"
When had my gaze dropped? Certainly Bianca was more interesting to stare at than my limp hands, which rested in my lap, so I returned my attention to her. "Yes. I am visiting for a year to decide if I should move from that nameless kingdom."
Her eyes had opened at some point to stare with scrutiny, "I thought monarchies were out of fashion."
I laughed, "You could say they are."
Her brow rose but then her body shifted so she was on her back to meet my eyes easier, "Would explain yer accent."
This caused another sheepish grin, more because my lack of practice with the Worldly tongue made it easy to identify me as foreign, not that anyone besides Others would know just how alien I was.
"Don't feel bad," she began again, grabbing my attention once more. Puzzled by her awkward expression, I tilted my head. A smile twitched at her lips, apologetic and embarrassed. "I didn't mean it in a bad way. In fact, it's kinda… well… cute."
"My accent?" I questioned, watching her shuffle in increasing unease. But after a confirming nod, I smiled at her. "Thank you very much."
When she only stared, now with no identifiable emotion, I shifted and looked out the window; I am sure she easily read my face since at this point I hadn't the faintest clue how to lie properly.
"S-So," I tried in an attempt to converse with her. After all, I had to make the most of this time to remake her Future. "Why did you arrive here so suddenly? The weather is not good at all, and we… barely know one another." Seeing the stern look form on her face and how she sat herself up, I quickly tried to amend for what I said upon realizing how it sounded. "I-I mean, you be welcome in home and company well good!" Shaking my head at getting my words tied up, I rubbed my neck and hung my head. "Er… How is it said? Would not you prefer someone you know? A friend?"
Again, I felt the urge to bash my head against the wall; I just had to say it, didn't I? using the term "friend" no less! If anyone were to know her eternity of loneliness like she did, it was me! Expecting a short temper or snide remark, the ensuing silence that had fallen unnerved me, my body awaiting some sort of violent reaction like a flickering candle being drawn near to a leaking gas tank. The closer the fire got and the longer I waited, the more immanent her glare and sharp words were… At least, that's what I had thought. In waiting so long, I ended up with my head lowered and shoulders stiff as I kept my eyes screwed shut.
A hand touched my shoulder, gentle to the point I pondered who owned it since it did not match the hostility I had been expecting, but when I looked up, I saw Bianca watching me with concern and confusion, which in turn confused me. It did not seem as if she was sensitive about her friendless state, and in fact, looked perfectly at peace with it. Was it purposeful? Staring into her eyes, I saw the same fragileness I had first detected, and that in turn brought my attention back to her hand, still soft against me and reflecting the same fragility with a subtleness I barely noticed.
By the time I thought to say something, my posture had relaxed and she had long since raised a brow at my strange behavior.
"Yer weird, ya know that?" she commented.
The best I could manage was one last sheepish grin before averting my gaze. It was hard to keep eye contact with her. I had no trouble when it came to the landlady or the predator, but with her, the one I was desperate to save, it felt awkward, once invisible to the eye and now the target of her attention.
When an awkward silence continued on, she drew her hand away, keeping it to her side, and merely standing before me, staring at me while I stared at the floor near her feet. A pounding sensation became apparent, thudding hard in my chest and beating against the ribcage. Be it caused by her presence or not, those feet shifted in an unsure gesture, hesitated, then quietly stepped away from me, towards the door, and even when my mind screamed for me to stop her and talk more, the most I could do was clench a fist.
Two days. She never came back. I could recall these days in her life as well, normal days that she did nothing special on, so it should not have been disappointing that she continued on her merry way. That was how she did things. Everything was irrelevant to her schedule; she would make no exception for me, some stranger.
Still… Bianca was one thing, but the predator had been gone the whole time too. It was only late the previous night that my so-called-sister had returned with a handful of paperwork and files, expression stern and gaze heavy. It had bore down on me with uncanny force when she first returned, though without much said, she locked herself in the bedroom and kept me out in the living room.
"Don't sleep in tomorrow. At seven you need to be up and ready" was the only thing she'd left me with the previous morning.
Easy enough. Sleeping proved to be a boring sensation to me but refreshing nonetheless. Now the question left was why? Glancing over at the clock, the green glow echoed to my eyes the time of 7:15AM, and ready as I was, the predator had not left the room. A shrug rolled off my shoulders like an automatic response to some unspoken question, but the second I rolled over on the couch to rest my eyes more, the front door swung open. It slammed against the wall, the noise hitting my ears at a volume that startled me, and once I looked over, I saw my sister glaring full force, dressed like a woman going to work at an office.
"Get up, lazy ass!" she hollered. "We're going to be late on the first day!"
I blinked furiously, especially when she dragged me up from the couch and pulled me out the door without waiting for me to recollect my balance. The whole trip down to the bottom floor I struggled to keep on my feet given my lack of physical experience, only to get jerked outside just as roughly to disable me any such footing.
Stumbling and catching myself on the car, I fixed my balance and turned to ask what was wrong, puzzled with the circumstances, but a bag was thrown at me, and when I caught it, the predator jumped in the driver's seat and turned the key in the ignition. The soft thrum of the engine gave a slight tingly feeling.
She looked at me as I got in the car, no sooner driving off from the building towards some unknown destination. I fingered the denim bag, trying to decipher its familiar form, though once I used my sixth sense to scan it, I recognized it.
Eyes lit up, I gasped, "A backpack!"
"Aren't you a smart lil boy?" she mocked. "Alex is your alias, right?"
I nodded, struggling a moment to remember, "… yes."
"Good. You are Alex Cole. I'm your older sister, Luisa. Got that?"
"Fine by me, but…" I frowned, brows furrowed. "… Where are we going?"
She rolled her eyes, apparently at my stupidity, "School, obviously."