Chapter 20: A Small Truth

"I believe in the sun even if it isn't shining. I believe in love even when I am alone. I believe in God even when He is silent."

~Author Unknown

Anita rested by herself on a rock by the creek. She always liked sitting out by the water. It was the only place where her mind seemed to feel fully at ease. If today had been a better day she would attempt to skip rocks. She was really good at that, but she didn't feel much like skipping today.

She thought about Toshiro. Had she expected too much from him? Surely one person couldn't just simply choose to like somebody even if it was for another person's benefit, but she had really been hoping that it would be that easy. Toshiro, Max, and now Teresa were Anita's best friends and she didn't want to pick between them.

Anita heard footsteps and quickly turned her head to see who was approaching. Soon Toshiro came into vision. This made Anita's stomach drop. How was she going to explain to Toshiro her feelings when she didn't fully understand them herself? Toshiro was followed close behind by a blond woman whom Anita didn't recognize.

Anita looked out into the distance pretending that she hadn't noticed Toshiro, half hoping he would just ignore her, but Anita's plea went unheard. Toshiro sat down at the edge of the rock beside Anita. The blond woman stood back, a few feet behind Toshiro, watching in mild interest to see what would happen next. Toshiro stayed quiet for a moment, but when Anita remained unresponsive he forced himself to speak up.

"This creek sure is pretty." He said.

"Yeah it is." Anita replied seeming a little surprised that Toshiro hadn't brought up what was really on his mind. "I've always liked the water. Even as a girl I remember practically bagging my parents to take me to the beach. I don't know why, but just being by it is always really nice." Anita confessed.

Toshiro smiled slightly. "I've never been to the beach before, but you're right about this being nice." He confessed. Toshiro picked up a small rock and tossed it into the water. It landed awkwardly with a large splash.

Anita picked up another stone. "This is how you do it." She said throwing it and allowing the rock to skip across the water.

"Wow! That's really neat!" Toshiro exclaimed. "Do you think you could show me how to do tha …" Toshiro was interrupted by Melina who had cleared her throat really loudly as if to grab Toshiro's attention, needless to say it worked. "Oh … uh … Maybe you could show me how to skip stones later. I … uh … promised Melina I'd help her find Max and Curtis." Toshiro explained.

"Oh …" Anita replied timidly. And she was having so much fun too.

"Can you come with me? As soon as we're all together again we can let Curtis head back home and we can go home too." Toshiro explained.

"Yeah I suppose that'll be alright." Anita replied.

"Thanks." Toshiro said. "And um … Sorry for last night. Teresa can hang out with us more if she wants to." He added only loud enough for Anita to hear.

"Don't worry about it. I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have been so upset. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get home." Anita said smiling slightly.

Toshiro smiled back. Home wasn't exactly the first place he wanted to be, but he had to admit that (at least for the most part) it was a lot better than having to live outside. "I can't wait to get home too." Toshiro whispered back.

Anita traveled with Toshiro and Melina until the three came to Teresa. The girl was walking by herself. She would run and occasionally peak around odd places like behind trees or inside bushes. Toshiro wondered at first what she was doing, but quickly remembered about the game of Hide and Seek.

Toshiro tapped on Teresa's shoulder causing the girl to turn around abruptly and to face him. It seems that Toshiro had caught her off guard.

"I can't find 'em." Teresa confessed. "Those boys are good hiders."

"olly olly oxen free!" Toshiro yelled and Max jumped down from on top of a nearby tree.

"I'm here!" Max cheered while running up to hug Teresa.

"Where's Curtis?" Toshiro asked. "He knows the game's over right?"

"Oh. He doesn't speak Germanese so he's still hiding." Max explained.

"But olly olly oxen free is English not Germane -… I mean German!" Toshiro explained.

"Oh, well you can try calling something more English. Curtis likes English tea. If you call offering that I'm sure he'll come." Max explained.

"I'll try calling him." Melina said coldly while stepping up in front of Toshiro.

In that instance Max's eyes quickly crossed with hers and Max tightened his hug with Teresa. There was something about Melina's appearance that still creeped the boy out.

"Curtis come out! Troy and Robert will be worried sick if you aren't home when they wake up! You should know just as well as I do how dangerous these woods are!" Melina yelled.

"D-dangerous?" Max stammered a wave of fear beginning to rush over the boy like a tide.

"I don't care!" Curtis yelled back while jumping down from the tree and landing beside Max. "Why is it so important that we live out here anyway? I'm so sick of fighting off dragons and living off of unicorn meat! I just want to live a normal life!"

Melina shook her head. "You can't live a normal life. I told you that when we escaped from Krebs Projekt. You could have stayed with that man who freed us and contributed to whatever he was planning or you could have left with me and joined me, but no matter what you can never live a normal life."

"Unicorn meat? Dragons? Krebs Projekt? What are you guys talking about?" Toshiro asked.

"Ice-Maker, you don't know?" Melina asked Toshiro mockingly. Toshiro noted how she referred to him by Jimmy's last name Ice-Maker, rather than Fukui, which was Toshiro's last name since the adoption. This sent shivers down Toshiro's spine. If this woman knew Toshiro's former last name could she have somehow known his father too?

"H-how did you know my father's last name?" Toshiro finally asked.

Melina let out a small laugh. "Isn't it obvious? You look just like him." She turned to face Max. "Anyways, I figured with your friend Boulregard here then you'd have known all about the Magic World."

"We know plenty 'bout the Magic World." Teresa said defensively. "We just don't know what this forest has to do with it."

"Lueders-Booth! I should have known!" Melina exclaimed excitedly, taking note of the way Teresa's eyes seemed to change colors because of her animal curse. She looked at Anita. "I don't suppose you're related to any magic beings are you? Perhaps you're the Munchausen daughter I heard so much about."

"N-no." Anita said timidly.

"Well three out of four isn't bad." Melina teased. "Look here's the thing; I think you guys know exactly what's going on. I mean how else is it that two of the three flesh and blood ancestors of the four Mages and one girl adopted and raised by another ended up here? I suspect that you are all here for the same reason I am. You want to meet the Bald Old Man."

"The Bald Old Man's here?" Max asked excitedly.

"… Not exactly." Melina replied. "The Bald Old Man disappeared from the Magic World long ago. No one has been able to find him since, but I suspect that you already knew that."

"Look, it's only a coincidence that we ended up here in the first place." Toshiro explained.

"I blame Max's bad sense of direction." Teresa added.

Melina's eyes widened in surprise, part of her was beginning to believe that these kids were telling the truth, but she still wanted to test them further. With any luck she could use the kids' ignorance to her advantage, even if that meant leaving out a few nasty details.

"How much exactly do you know about the Magic World and Krebs Projekt?" Melina asked.

"I know a bit 'bout Krebs Projekt from James." Teresa stated. "He said that it did a lot of human mutation and cloning. Krebs Projekt was originally funded by 'da German government, 'cause they claimed to be tryin' to find a cure for cancer n' on some level that was what was happenin', but they did a lotta other human experiments on the side. Krebs Projekt has been shut down now, 'cause they got found out. The government tries to keep the story top secret, 'cause of their goof, but many of their 'lab rats' are still alive. Most 'a 'em went through at least one life changing experiment so their genetics are all messed up. Some even have supernatural powers similar ta Mages."

"That's absolutely correct." Melina said with a smile. "How does James know so much about Krebs Projekt?"

"He was a 'lab rat' himself." Teresa said.

"Really? How did James get here? Does he have any powers?" Melina asked, seeming interested.

"Eugene and I met James 'bout ten years ago on our trip ta Germany. He had escaped from Krebs Projekt on his own somehow without any mutation or powers at all. Eugene hadn't even heard 'a Krebs Projekt, but James convinced 'im that it exists. Now days James doesn't want 'ta talk about Krebs Projekt anymore. He says it brings back too many bad memories."

"I can imagine." Melina said. "I mean it must have been devastating to go through torture for that long and not even have anything to show for it. He can't even be recognized as a hero or survivor, because they keep the project top secret. One day I'd like to meet James. I'm sure we'd have a lot to talk about."

"Was your experience with Krebs Projekt much similar?" Teresa asked.

Melina shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not."

Teresa didn't like the way Melina tended to avoid having to explain anything about herself. Sure she could understand if Melina were to react like that for a question even slightly more personal, but Teresa's last question was supposed to be sort of an ice-breaker to get Melina talking more.

It was like Melina was doing everything in her power to avoid talking too much. Teresa secretly hoped that the others in her group would follow Melina's lead and not directly answer anything until Teresa got the answers that she desired.

"So how much did your parents tell you about the Magic World?" Melina asked. To Teresa's displeasure Max answered right away.

"The Bald Old Man taught my dad Toshiro's dad, Eugene, and some other guy named Dan how to use magic. Besides that I don't know anything." Max explained.

"Interesting." Melina said while allowing for a devious smile to form between her lips. "And I take it you don't know anything at all about this place?"

Max shook his head no.

Melina's smile widened. "Luck just seems to follow you then doesn't it? Or maybe it isn't even luck! Maybe this is fate or your destiny! You may be destined to find the Bald Old Man someday!"

Max smiled back. "You really think so?"

"It's certainly a possibility. I for one believe in you."

"Melina, you're telling us all this, but how do you expect us to believe you or even answer your questions seriously if you won't tell us anything about yourself?" Anita asked.

"Yeah and why is it you want to meet the Bald Old Man anyway?" Toshiro added.

"Do you want to become a Mage too?" Max asked excitedly.

Melina hesitated before answering. "… It's something like that. Anyways, it doesn't matter if you believe me or not. I'm just telling you what I think." Melina replied. "Either way I've got to rethink my strategy."

Melina began to casually walk away, but Teresa reached out, grabbed Melina's arm and forcefully pulled the girl back.

"Strategy for what?" She asked, her grip tightening.

Melina smiled. She always had distaste for the meek, especially when that trait was reflected in young girls. Teresa didn't seem that way. Teresa reminded Melina a little of herself. The girl deserved at least some sort of honest answer for her troubles, even if it were just a small truth.

"Let's just say I want to repay the Bald Old Man for something he had done wrong in the past." Melina answered coldly.

"Oh boy! So you're going to give him a present?" Max cheered.

"No." Melina answered. She felt Teresa's grip tighten.

"You're not talkin' 'bout killin' 'im are you?" Teresa asked.

"That's exactly what I'm talking about." Melina said.

Teresa was about to protest, but then Melina's skin started to suddenly heat up. It felt almost like the girl was on fire. This startled Teresa and caused her to quickly let go. Now the kids could get a better view of Melina's body. It looked similar to a wax sculpture melting at an extremely fast rate.

"Melina, are you alright?" Toshiro and Curtis yelled out in unison. Neither of the kids had a clue what was going on.

A smug smile etched its way onto Melina's face. "Don't worry about me. I promise we will meet again." Melina said. She continued to melt until all that was left was a skin colored puddle filled with some unknown, almost wax like liquid and Melina's clothes.

-phantom130 5 (December 2012)