I escaped silently and fluidly into the morning. Spires of pink light filtered into the Under tunnels. I boarded an underground train heading for Northerly, where I'd get off and search around until I spotted the way to the Under-paths. Aching in my bones was the urge of killing, swirling in mixture with my own worries and dread. It made for an intoxicatingly strong poison. I took a seat on the nearly empty train car, crossing my legs and examining my temporary companions. Near the back of the car was a boy looking to be a bit younger than Era. His hair was in tiny spiral-curls, which were way too plentiful to be anything but natural. In his lap giggled a little boy, amber eyes sparkling. He looked somewhere in between two and four, I noticed as twin dimples appeared in his cheeks. Sitting with her floral dress rugged and tattered across from the two boys was an elderly woman. A grim, solemn line was set in her lips.
I tried to block out the warm blood pulsing in their veins. On my palm, my fingernails dug crescents as I attempted to distract myself, but the draw to these three people was unnerving. Curly-haired boy hushed the kid in his lap. I heard what he said, though.
"Look! Girl!" he squealed, smacking his chubby hands together in a few excited claps. I shifted my backpack between my shoulder blades.
"Yes, Gil," Curly-haired boy consented, "That is a girl." He noticed I was watching, and he winked. "What's your name?" he asked me.
I ignored him.
Sighing teasingly, he hopped seats with the kid, Gil, in his arms into the seat across the aisle from mine. "We'll have to make one up, then, huh?"
Gil giggled again. "Yes! Yes!"
"How about…" Curly-haired boy tapped his chin. "Sourpuss?"
"No, no!" laughed Gil, "Princess!" As much as the killing urge was gnawing on me, Gil's undeniable cuteness was nipping at my bitter attitude. They didn't know how dangerous I was, how much risk they were stacking against themselves.
"Princess?" Curly-haired man mused, looking stunned. "Why's that?"
Gil stared at him, and I saw some unheard exchange of thoughts go between them.
"You're right," stated Curly-haired boy, staring into my eyes. "She is a princess."
I didn't know what to say, so I just choked out, "Thanks."
"I'm Lander," Curly-haired boy introduced, "But Gil here calls me Curly."
Oddly, I felt my skin easing from its tenseness. Soft warmness released into my bloodstream. I turned my focus from Lander's almost minty-colored green eyes. His skin was silky, tannish like Era's and his black hair contrasted – I'd admit – beautifully. Oh, right. Era. Slowly, my sensed faded back into immediate view. Why had I let myself forget?
"Where are you headed?" asked Lander. I looked up again, floored by the gentleness settled into his eyes. Something about them appeared…..tender, like they were pouring my chest up with hot chocolate.
"Us, too." His voice was almost a whisper now. My view clicked to my hands again. Focus. Without asking me, Lander took my hand in his and turned it over. Gil was silent, watching me with rapture from Lander's lap.
"What happened?" He sounded concerned, examining the purple bruises that had blossomed on my wrist. Era left marks. I skimmed the places with my fingers.
"Nothing," I yanked my hand back and placed it on my knee. I was fighting a swaying current to tell him. To tell him why I was running, why I wasn't back home – where Era and Indale were.
A crease appeared on Lander's forehead. "You're lying," he said. Then the lightheartedness transported itself back into his eyes, which drew mine like nothing else. "But we're headed the same place, so maybe we should play a game."
Gil chewed his fist contentedly. Taking one glance at him, I shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
"Okay, here are the rules."
"There are rules?"
"Yep. So I'll ask you a question." Lander halted my half-formed protest with a hand. "A completely non-personal question, but….you have to answer completely honestly."
"Huh," I huffed. "Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for you."
Lander waved a hand, saying that I could then do the same to him. It sounded fun, so I agreed. Why not? It would distract me from my escape, the coldness that was frosting my heart.
"What's your favorite color?" was Lander's first query.
I answered back instantly, "Yellow. Sunshine yellow. Like the summer sun."
Lander nodded. "That fits you."
Only slightly confused (why the heck did that make sense, sunshine yellow fitting me?), I shot back, "Yours?"
"Not a very original question, but okay." Lander smiled. "It's blue, like the sky."
Era's twin irises were the color of the sky I had always seen: gray and stately. Except in the Top. Longing to remember what the sky looked like pinned me in the chest.
"What's your real name, Princess?"
I stared at Lander. "Talya." I mentally stabbed myself. He could report me. I could die. What would Era and Indale think? I was being careless, thoughtless.
"Tal-yah," Lander sounded the syllables carefully. "Gorgeous, but what's your first name?"
I blinked. How the hell did he know that I went solely by my middle name? Fear crept and slithered into my thoughts. What was going on? How much did he know? Yet, still, my killing urge slept. If I could only just kill him now, it snored, it would be better. But the blanket of odd numbness around Gil and Lander subdued it. I could never kill someone in the cold blood without the urge spurring at me, forcing my hand. Nervously, I bounced my legs.
I stuttered, "I-you-how.."
Indifferently, Lander shrugged. "I just know when someone's not really themself. You seemed like you were worn, tired of being someone that I knew you weren't. Talya means 'strong,' but I get the feeling that you're tired of being like that."
His arm wound around my shoulder. I didn't move it. I swallowed thickly. "My name is Acley."
"Now, that," Lander said lowly, "is your name."
A/N: What do you guys think of Lander? What's up with Acley...or is it Talya? What do you think Era is thinking right now?