Blood began to taint the water as the mermaid's body rose to the surface. Its pure black demon eyes were wide open.
Jack had been a hunter for as long as he could remember. His first prize was a fairy he'd plucked from a tree when he was just nine years old. He had squeezed it too hard and heard its high-pitched shriek as its spine broke in half. It was the first time his drunken father was ever truly proud of him. He had told him, "Son, you keep at it like that, and you'll be a mighty fine hunter. Don't fuck it up, or else you'll be shaming your ancestors." The most encouraging words he had ever heard from his parents. He still treasured the moment to this day, ten years later.
Jack didn't exactly quite understand why his family hated the creatures so much, but he understood that they'd disown him if he felt any different. In a way, he pitied the creatures; they had no chance of survival since government allowed people to freely hunt them. But he didn't feel that bad for them. Vampires, mermaids, and werewolves hunted them, so why couldn't they hunt back? It's not like the Supernaturals were such saints.
A few of his fellow hunters gathered around and applauded Jack for his shot before they helped him haul the maiden to shore.
"Damn, what a beauty." One guy, with sunglasses and orange hair, whistled. "You really got a good one, Jack. No wonder we named you leader."
"Are you fucking insane? Look at their eyes, they're like fucking demons." Their newest recruit said. He was most likely the youngest of them all, maybe one or two years younger than Jack, himself; a handsome teen with brown hair and brown eyes. He'd joined for the money, and apparently had a deep hatred for mermaids. Jack still didn't quite remember his name, hoping that one of the others would address him before he would have to.
"You got a thing against mermaids?" Sunglasses asked him.
"Yeah, they're fucking creepy as all fucking hell."
"Calm down, fuckboy," Jack rolled his eyes, "let's just get her into the truck."
"Hey, Jack." Sunglasses walked over to him. "You ever heard of this forest bordering the edge of Elurigh? I hear it's got many Supernaturals. Rumor has it a notorious thief lives there too."
"Did you hear this from your wife?"
"It's a waste of time."
"Look, your wife tells you a lot of shit, but it's never right. You drove us out into the middle of the ocean in search of some mermaid alpha. Remember what we got? Water in our lungs. We're not listening to your damn wife."
"This one's true, I'm telling you!" Sunglasses insisted, "she saw them with her own eyes."
Sure she did.
"…Fine. But only to prove that your wife's shooting herself up every day and seeing shit that isn't there." Jack frowned and got in the truck.
Sleeping was the most beautiful thing in the world and no one could convince Ari otherwise. That was basically all he did, really. He slept at night, during the day, at school, at home, on the bus, anywhere that didn't involve standing up. This was probably why he was failing a couple classes… Or all of them… But he didn't care. It didn't matter to him, he wasn't human anyway. He was 100% elf, which meant he was 100% screwed over. Elves, vampires, unicorns, witches, and such were always considered inferior by the human race. It was probably because they lived in the forests among the animals, and sometimes even acted like animals; thus, they were hunted like animals. However, some of the smarter ones learned to make themselves look like humans with magic. The only problem was that making masking spells was hard, so most of them just used magic to hide their pointy ears and hoped no one would notice the inhuman appearance they had that humans considered 'attractive'. It fooled most people, considering how ignorant they were to supernatural knowledge, but not all.
Ari wasn't taking any of that shit.
When his parents died, Ari made a promise that he would look after his little sister, which meant he needed to disguise all of her, not just her ears. So when he wasn't sleeping, he was practicing his magic. In fact, sometimes he cut his napping time to practice magic. That's how much his sister meant to him. After a few years, he got really good at magic and immediately disguised the rest of himself and his sister. Only then did he let her walk out the door and into public. She had always been pretty bitter about how he didn't let her go outside, no matter how many times he reminded her that she couldn't go outside unless she wanted to be sold as a slave for the rest of her life or beaten to death so her eyes could be sold at a store. It probably was not the nicest thing to tell a four year old, but why sugarcoat it? The hunters weren't going to when they gouged out her eyes.
"Ari, I'm home!" The voice of his seven year old sister woke Ari up from his nap.
"Wait, what?" He blinked. "Stella, when did you even leave?"
"A while ago? To go to school?" A little girl, with blond hair and red eyes to match Ari's own, walked into Ari's bedroom and dropped her backpack onto the splintering floorboards. "Which you appendage skipped again." Unlike Ari, Stella was very interested in learning academics and human knowledge. She loved using big words, even if she didn't use them correctly.
"Apparently," Ari corrected. "And of course I skipped, how is human stuff going to help me?" He fell back onto his pile of thin blankets and pillows that he liked to call 'bed', "I know the language and basic math. Who cares after that?"
"You don't know basic math." Stella scoffed, "what's the square root of 100?"
What the hellwas a 'square root'? Why was the root a square? Roots were the squiggly lines of a tree that stuck into the dirt, how did that have anything to do with math?
"…Okay, who cares about roots and squares?" Ari said, annoyed.
"School does!" Stella put her hands on her hips, "and you need to go if you want to find a job!"
"Who says I want to find a job?" Ari rolled his eyes. "We can get food and water from the forest, clean with magic, and sleep in here. Isn't that enough?"
"What about technology?" Stella asked. "What about all those cool things that humans have like phones and computers and microwaves? And we can't live in this house forever! It's falling apart and emerging they'll tear it down and find us!"
"Eventually." Ari corrected again, "and I've cloaked this house along with us, remember? We look like any other house near here. And who cares how big the waves are, we're magical.We can make waves as small as you want."
"No, you can. I'm not good at magic."
"Because you don't practice."
"But practicing is so boring…"
"And algebra is just so exciting; I shake when I think about it." Ari rolled his eyes.
"Ugh, you're such a supernatural."
Ari frowned, "Don't use that as a derogatory term."
"Why not?" Stella stamped her foot on the ground and Ari was afraid the floor was going to break beneath it for a second. "The kids at school do!"
"Well, for one thing, you are a supernatural. And don't listen to what the kids at school have to say about us. They're all just being fed terrible lies by their parents."
Ari could tell Stella didn't have an argument back because she changed the subject quickly, "Are you going to do your homework?"
"No, that's too much work." Ari frowned and pulled the blankets back over him, "I'm going to sleep."
"Ugh! You're so lazy!" Stella said angrily and kicked him. It didn't physically hurt him, but the fact that she was so mad at him did. However, getting a job was too much of a risk, so there really was no point in doing homework; he didn't want to tell Stella and crush her odd fantasies of living a human life though, so instead Ari just sighed and closed his eyes. One day she'd understand…
Stella was so done with her lazy brother. All he ever wanted to do was sleep and play with magic! Why of all brothers did she have to get this one?
After she finished her homework, she looked over to see that Ari was fast asleep. She knew he hated it when she went outside without telling him first, but at the moment, she really didn't care. She wanted to go play outside, so she was going to play outside. Besides, she'd probably be back before Ari was awake. Even if she wasn't, he could simply just walk outside. That is, if he wasn't too lazy to walk two steps out of his room.
She stuffed her homework back into her backpack and ran outside. Her heart was beating rapidly against her chest from the adrenaline. She knew it was wrong, and part of her was very nervous about getting caught. That part, however, was overruled by the rest of her screaming 'Do it! Who cares about what Ari thinks? If he worries, the better! Just have fun!'
She smiled as she watched a red snake slither across the sidewalk.
A white haired, red eyed mute boy walked down the road aimlessly. It was fascinating to watch all the supernaturals run by nervously, pretending to be humans. It may have fooled normal people, but he had lived with supernaturals far too long to not be able to tell the difference. It was normally just elves, normal witches and manipulators he saw; werewolves, vampires, shadow witches and others weren't smart or tamed enough to survive among the humans. The only way they could be tamed was through a lot of abuse, starting at birth. It was cruel, but it was just how things worked and no one could change it.
Then something caught his eye.
A young elf girl was out alone playing with a snake, though it seemed more like she was strangling it. Wait… That snake looked familiar… The boy shrugged it off and looked around to see if her parents were nearby keeping an eye on her, but there was absolutely no one. He immediately came to the conclusion that this girl was an orphan. Supernaturals knew better than to just let their children play outside alone with no supervision, especially without anything to disguise their ears.
He approached her, making no sound as he walked. The girl only saw him when he was standing before her, looking down at her. He could see the fear in her eyes, her shoulders trembled slightly, and her hands fell limp, letting the poor snake slither back into the forest.
Ari was right. Stella took back every bad thing she ever said about him, he was right, okay?! She prayed that a miracle would happen and he would wake up from his nap and come save her from this creepy human. The boy bent down so they were eye to eye and reached into his pocket.
Stella knew she was done for. He was going to take out a knife and stab her to death and take her eyes, just as Ari said humans would. She wanted to run, but she couldn't feel her legs. She wanted to scream, but her voice wasn't working. She made helpless little squeaks for terror as the boy took out his murder weapon.
The boy took out a phone! He typed something into it before he turned the screen toward her, Hello, my name is Skylar. Where are your parents?
Stella just stared at the screen as the boy patiently waited for her to get her voice back. With some struggle, she managed to whisper, "I-I live with my brother…" She found it odd that he typed his words instead of speaking them, but she was too afraid to ask. What if she angered him and he called out hunters to come take her away?
The boy nodded and typed, If I may ask, where is your brother?
Does he know you're out here?
The white haired boy known as "Skylar" paused for a second, before typing, Would you like to live in a better house?
That was… What was the word again? Sociopathic? Yeah… That's right…
"That's really sociopathic." Stella crossed her arms. She immediately felt very embarrassed when Skylar looked confused and she knew she had said the wrong word.
"She means suspicious." A voice said. She turned around so quickly she got dizzy. Stella suddenly had bigger problems than sociopathic albino…
Standing in front of their door was Ari. And she could see his anger rolling off in waves.
The first thing Ari did when he woke up was panic. It was a usual waking up routine. He always woke in constant anxiety of Stella being taken by hunters. After a few minutes he usually reminded himself that the hunters weren't here and that Stella was safe. He still called her name to make sure.
When there was no reply, Ari untangled himself from the blankets quickly and jumped up. Where could she have gone? He had told her countless times to never leave without telling him first. He even told her to slap him awake if he was sleeping! What if hunters had taken her while he was asleep? Couldn't that have been the only option? Stella would've woken him up! Why didn't she wake him up!? It was then when Ari realized he had stopped breathing. He took a second to breathe and walked over to the window to see if Stella was outside.
And she was.
And he was furious.
Not only was she outside alone, she was outside alone talking to some stranger. Ahuman. She wasn't even wearing anyform of disguise. Ari felt his heartbeat speed up and pound in his ears. The room got warmer as if someone had turned on the heater they didn't have onto full blast. His vision blurred slightly, but it was still good enough to walk down the stairs and outside.
"That sounds very sociopathic." He heard his little sister say, muffled by the sound of his own pulse.
The albino boy looked pretty confused by her sentence, as he should've been.
"She means suspicious." Ari said, and both of them turned toward him.
"A-Ari, I thought you were sleeping!" Stella squeaked.
"And I thought you were doing homework." Ari hissed, "But I guess not. I guess you'd really rather die than just play inside. What the-" He remembered that Stella was only seven, "-Firetruck are you doing out here!? Are you crazy!? You could've been killed! And who the… Helicopter is this guy!?" He pointed at the white haired boy.
"I'm not crazy, I wasn't killed and his name is Skylar!" Stella yelled back, "He's a good person, even if he is a bit creepy, and he even offered for us to live in a better house!"
"Doesn't that sound a bit 'sociopathic' to you?" Ari mocked. He knew it was immature and mean, but he really didn't give a shit right now, he was too pissed off.
Stella went red with either anger or embarrassment, "I don't care if it does or not, I'm going with him!" She grabbed onto Skylar's arm. The human looked helplessly confused.
"No. You aren't." Ari walked over, "you're going to go back inside and… and… And take a nap or something!"
Skylar began to type something on his phone. If he was calling a hunter or something, that would be the end of him. Ari was getting ready to take the phone and chuck it into the woods, when the human turned the phone toward him.
Why don't you come with us? I'm sure you will find that there is nothing to worry about. And you'll be able to protect your sister if there is.
"Or we could just go back into our house and pretend this never happened," Ari said to the strange boy who typed instead of talked.
"Come on, Ari!" Stella tugged on Ari's sleeve, "just one visit! If it's as creepy as you think, we'll go home and I'll never go outside without telling you again."
"….Fine." Ari said. "But if I'm right, you're also going to stop bugging me about getting a job, alright?"
"Deal!" Stella said.
"Okay, take us to your sketchy hideout." Ari looked at Skylar, "but I'm warning you, I…" He didn't actually have a threat prepared. Shit. He closed his mouth and just crossed his arms. "Let's just go."
Smiling was exhausting.
Skylar only ever forced a smile when he met new people, and usually that smile was gone by the end of the day. However, he tried to keep on a warm smile when that older elf ever looked over at him. He was already suspicious enough; there wasn't a point in making him more suspicious. Plus, with all the disturbed children that lived in the Stray House…. It was in his best interest to show the brother that there could be normal and nice people living there too. Just… Hopefully hewouldn't show up.
As they walked through the forest, Skylar looked up at the leaves and tried to find a reason to smile. It was fall, and so the leaves were turning all kinds of shades of red.
"Look at all the pretty leaves I collected, Sky!" A girl in her teenaged years ran over to a child Skylar, holding out a handful of red leaves. "Aren't they beautiful? Just like your eyes!"
Skylar laughed silently a bit at memory. His mind continued to wander off as the two elves just argued behind him. Finally, he was pulled out of his thoughts by the little girl.
"Whoa! Is that it?"
He didn't even need to look at what she was pointing to, he was already so familiar with the sight. A large mansion brightly lit and tattooed with paintings and colors from the Strays. A place he'd learned to call home for almost five years now.
Skylar took out his phone and typed his message before turning it to the shocked elves, Welcome to the Stray House.
A red snake innocently was wrapped around a tree branch. Without warning, in replace of the snake was a short little boy, wearing a black hoodie and jeans. Mave sat atop the tree branch, his snake-like green eyes focused on the two elves and Skylar walking below him.
Wait. That girl looked familiar.
Ah yes! She was the girl that tried to strangle him.
As he watched the three pass by, a single bird flew down and landed on his shoulder. He smiled and pet it gently, "Hey, Pilot. You've gotten bigger; soon maybe you'll be as big as Grey." He chuckled quietly, letting the small sparrow step onto his finger. Grey was the biggest hawk he had.
"Whoa! Is that it?" He heard the younger of the two elves shout, causing Pilot to get startled and fly away.
Mave looked back down at the two elves, "I wonder if Eliza knows about these two yet…" He muttered quietly to himself, running a hand through his shaggy red hair. He quietly stood up and jumped from branch to branch quickly, making his way to the Stray House.
When he opened the window he usually slipped in through, he was greeted by a lovely punch in the face.
"I swear, prince, you just make it too easy." He heard a distant cackle as he tried to focus his vision and lessen the pain in his nose. The blurred figure cleared into a young boy, around thirteen or fourteen, clothed in all black. A skull ring hung around his middle finger and a skull necklace around his neck.
"Oh, Chaos," Mave glared, "Still a jerk, I see."
"Aw, are you still upset about what I did? That was a thousand years ago, prince."
Mave scowled, fire and screaming flashing through his mind, "Stop calling me that. And of course I'm still pissed off, you ruined my life." He slipped through the window, and began to walk past the other.
"Would you rather be dead?" Chaos rolled his eyes.
Mave didn't even hesitate, "Yes." He slammed the door behind him.
But he couldn't die just yet.
Admittedly, the mansion was pretty impressive.
But equally as sketchy.
Ari was immediately greeted by muffled talking from other rooms and a strange girl in his face. The elf suppressed his ear-piercing shriek of horror, forcing himself to turn it into a small, "H…Hello…?"
The girl stepped away from him (thank god) and flipped back her brunette hair across her gray hoodie, "I am the fabulous commander of these kids, and founder of this house. My name? Eliza. My interests? Anime and stealing. My face? Awesome."
"Your sanity? Not there," Ari sighed. There was no way this girl could actually be the leader of all these kids and the owner of this giant mansion. She was like, fifteen.
"Well then, sassy," Eliza crossed her arms, "I'll have you know that I once dropped an orca on a man and I didn't even say sorry."
"I… Don't know how that was relevant or how that's true, but okay?" This girl was freaking Ari out. If she hadn't stuck her face into his when he first walked through the door, she would've looked like just any other high schooler. She was average height, normal brown hair and eyes, a casual hoodie and skirt, and a pair of glasses sitting before her eyes. Then again, if Ari learned anything from human school, it was not to judge a something by its whatever. He didn't quite remember the phrase, but he knew it basically meant don't judge people.
"Your mansion is so cool!" Stella exclaimed. "It's so much better than our stupid house. Our house is just a shack that's falling apart because my stupid brother won't get a job." She glared at Ari.
"Why thaaaaank you," Eliza drawled out her 'thank'. She then turned to Ari, "What do you think?"
"I think it's unbelievable people haven't found this place yet."
"Heh. You don't want to know how we pull that off."
As Ari and Eliza talked, Stella looked around the house curiously. Cute little paintings aligned the wall; some were really pretty and well drawn, while others were more childish. Either way, Stella was amazed. It reminded her of when she was five and she drew something for Ari. They had just learned to to mix colors in art and their teacher allowed them to paint whatever they wanted. Stella had been so excited, she accidentally spilled red paint all over the table and then cried about ruining her picture. In the end she managed to turn her mess into a house. It wasn't very special or anything, it was just the childish 'triangle over the square' kind of house, and the sky didn't even touch the ground, but she was proud of it anyway. The teacher had told them to give it to someone they really cared about, like a mother or a father. Stella wanted to give it to her teacher, but they had insisted that she gave it to someone in her family. So Stella had no choice but to give it to Ari.
Stella didn't plan to give Ari the painting until they had gotten home, not wanting other people to actually think she loved her brother. Ari had bothered her about what she was holding in her hand, but she refused to let him see, so luckily he stopped asking. Somewhere during their walk home, Stella had tripped over a rock and her painting flew into the mud. Being five, Stella had immediately started crying over how her painting was ruined. Ari tried to help her, but she didn't want his stupid help, it wasn't going to fix her painting. Not even wanting to see the picture anymore, Stella ran home in tears, leaving Ari behind.
She never saw the painting again.
Looking back on it now, Stella didn't even know why she wanted to give it to Ari; she should've just kept it for herself.
The elf girl was pulled out of her thoughts by Ari saying something about excusing him, followed by a door slamming. Stella looked over to see a short redhead, maybe around eleven or twelve? Or nine?
"Oh! Snake Boy, get over here!" Eliza called out to him.
"Hm?" The boy walked over. Stella immediately focused on his eyes. They were a typical shade of light green, but his pupils were in slivers, like a cat or a reptile; his eyes were awesome.
"This is Stella and her not-as-cool big brother Ari!" Eliza said cheerfully, and Stella couldn't help but stifle a laugh as she watched an agitated expression take place on Ari's face.
The boy smiled, and Stella swore she saw a jagged fang. "I'm Mave," he waved slightly at them.
Stella waved back; Ari didn't. She elbowed her annoying big brother and smiled back at Mave. "Ignore him, he's just really dumb. It's really nice to meet you! I really like your eyes, they're so cool and identical!"
Mave looked slightly confused, and Stella mentally face palmed. She had to stop using words she didn't know.
"She means intriguing." Ari sighed.
" Ah… Thanks," Mave said, "I like your eyes too. I've never seen an elf with red eyes before."
"Wow, thanks!" Stella grinned, liking this boy already. After all, how many boys could she meet that were nice AND okay with supernaturals? Not to mention his eyes were really cool.
"Yayyyyy, friendddsssss!" Eliza clapped her hands together, "Snake, can you show 'em around the mansion? And remember, don't let them meet him."
There were too many kids to count in the Stray House, yet surprisingly it wasn't even as loud as the school cafeteria; and not gonna lie, that sort of freaked Ari out. The silence was nice, but it was tooquiet, to the point where it was eerie. It was as if their psycho leader had already informed everyone there were new kids that arrived and they all were just observing them from a distance, like mermaids to humans before they eat them. Any minute one of the Strays could pounce on him and eat him. Or worse: Stella.
Speaking of Stella, his little sister seemed to be completely oblivious to the tension, chatting happily with that little boy, Mave. She rambled on about how cool the Stray House was and how it was "so much better than their own house" or how interesting the people were, unlike her "annoyingly boring" brother. Ari should've been used to these words by now, but each insult was like a stab to the heart.
"Don't get too close to each other, I haven't picked out an outfit for the wedding yet." He teased, slightly bitter about all the insults Stella was throwing at him when he was standing right there.
Stella's face turned red from either anger or embarrassment; maybe both. "Shut up, Ari! God, you're so annoying!"
Mave, on the other hand, looked pretty amused. Weird… Kids usually reacted like Stella did. Ari expected at least an "Ew no!" or a blush maybe or some form of an immature reaction. But Mave just stood there while Stella threw a fit over the comment.
"Wow, you're pretty mature for your age." Ari couldn't help but comment.
Mave chuckled slightly and Ari really didn't understand why what he said was so funny. "Really? I'd say I'm pretty immature for my age."
That really confused Ari. This kid was like, nine, right?
"How old are you?" Stella asked. Ari couldn't help but be a little interested himself.
"Thirteen, I guess you could say…" Mave shrugged.
Ari was about to ask what that meant, when Stella pushed him aside, "Wow! But you look so young! And you're so short!"
Ari rolled his eyes, about to scold Stella for pushing him, when someone caught his eye.
He couldn't see much, due to the figure standing in a dark hallway across from them, but he could make out a young child, maybe only a little taller than Mave. They were holding something and blue lights flashed around them. Ari couldn't exactly say what, but something about the image just made Ari feel… uneasy.
"Mave, who is that?" The elf looked over at their tour guide.
"Who?" Mave turned to him.
"Them." He looked back over at the kid.
"O-Oh…" Ari caught the stutter in Mave's voice. "No one very important… He's just a kid who lives here… C-Come on, I'll show you your rooms."
As they walked past the boy, Ari could see pale blue eyes and black hair. Something red was dripping down from the spherical mass in his hands.
Wait… Was that…?
"-okay, Ari?" Ari jumped at Mave's voice.
"S-Sorry, what?" He looked at the boy.
"Don't be an idiot, Ari." Stella huffed, "Mave asked you if you were okay."
"Oh… Sorry… Yeah, I'm okay." Ari nodded.
"Ugh, don't bother with him, Mave…" Stella's rant faded away as Ari looked back over at the eerie boy, only to find an empty hallway.
This is what happens when I don't sleep.He thought to himself. He tried to keep his mind on the paintings around them that aligned the halls, but the back of his mind kept telling him to grab Stella and run.
That boy was holding a head.
Okay, so the boy back there was a little strange, but Mave said it was alright, so it was alright. She already trusted him and any other Stray more than she would ever trust her bossy brother.
"Hey Mave!" A boy with light blue eyes and black hair with blue streaks in it approached them. He looked like the typical bad boy she would see at school; a leather jacket, ripped jeans, and messy hair. The kind of guy that would make gross and mean jokes about supernaturals. She stepped back slightly, a little unnerved by him.
"Oh, hey Cole," Mave said to the boy. Stella noticed Mave stepping back slightly. "This is Stella and her brother Ari. They're new here."
"Cool! Nice to meet'cha!" Cole said cheerfully to them. Stella smiled slightly. This boy didn't seem too bad. "It's nice to know that the author wants to add more characters into this story."
Mave sighed slightly, "Cole likes to pretend that we're in a story."
"Hey, it could happen." Cole shrugged, "And I could be breaking the fourth wall, right as we speak." Perhaps Stella spoke too soon, this boy was a little strange. But crazy or not, he was still very nice and she'd take him over her brother any day. In fact, his strange little story thing made him muchmore interesting than Ari.
"Well, nice to meet you too, Cole!" Stella held out her hand for Cole to shake.
Shaking his hand reminded Stella of how she would stick her hand into the snow when it was winter. She couldn't help but pull her hand back quickly and flex her fingers to make sure they still worked.
"Ah, sorry." Cole apologized, "I probably should've warned you."
"Why are you hands so cold?" Stella asked, holding onto Ari's hand in attempt to warm her own.
"You're an ice manipulator." Ari said. Stella looked at her older brother incredulously; how did he know that?
"Yep!" Cole said cheerfully, "Yeah, I know what you're going to say: 'Oh, an ice manipulator named Cole, how ironic'. Well I'll have you know that I have no retaliation to that comment and I agree one hundred percent!"
"Wait, so, you're a supernatural too?" Stella was still stuck on that. She was secretly really glad. Another supernatural meant Ari probably trusted this place more, which meant they could stay!
"Of course, this is a supernatural safe house after all," Cole chuckled, "all kids and supernaturals with nowhere else to go are welcome. I'm surprised you didn't know, considering you tour guide is a-"
"Not quite." Mave cut him off, "Supernaturals are bornsupernaturals. Anyway, where's Verona?"
"Ah, she went to go help Commander with something." Cole said, "we were actually going to go get ice cream later, wanna come?"
"Um… Thanks, but…" Mave said slowly.
"Oh yeah, sorry." Cole laughed slightly, "right, well, we'll bring you back a cake then."
Mave perked up and smiled, "Thanks!"
"Do you guys want anything?" Cole asked Stella and Ari.
"Oh! I'd love some ice cream!" Stella said excitedly. She loved all human foods, even the cafeteria food that other kids, like Ari, complained about. Humans created the bestfood. Then again, to Stella, humans created the best everything! She just didn't understand why Ari didn't like them…
After Cole left, Stella immediately turned to Mave and asked, "Do you not like ice cream?"
Ari started to zone out their conversation, not really interested. Stella was curious as ever about the Strays, while he had just decided not to question these things anymore. The Strays were weird, and he left it at that. Knowing that there were other supernaturals here made him feel a little more safe…. But he still couldn't get the image of that kid out of his head… He could've swornhe was holding a head…
Maybe I should ask Mave more about that…He thought, but immediately brushed it off. Mave already seemed hesitant to tell them who that kid was, he definitely wouldn't give him a straight answer if Ari just walked up to him and said "Hey, why was that kid back there holding a head?" Besides, it could've just been weird lighting, or a misconception. Maybe the kid was actually holding a watermelon and it was watermelon juice that was dripping down from his hands. Then again, why would a random kid be standing in the middle of a dark hallway holding a broken watermelon?
"And here's your room," Mave said, pulling Ari out of his thoughts again. The boy was holding the door open to a spacious room with a bunkbed and a desk. The walls were a plain white and the flooring was wooden. On the far back wall were two average sized windows, lacking curtains. It was unnaturally clean for a room that no one lived in; there wasn't even a single cobweb.
"This is so cool!" Stella grinned, running into the room.
"It's pretty empty, but Strays are allowed to customize their rooms however they want." Mave then frowned, "Oh, that is, of course, if you want to become Strays…"
Ari gave him a slight smile, "Can we think about it?" Mave seemed nice and so did Cole, even if he was strange. Of course those were only two people of a thousand. He still had doubts on trusting this place.
Mave nodded, "Of course. I should get back to Eliza, just in case she has something to rant about. Skylar and I typically take turns listening to them. Bye." He waved and left.
"We're definitely staying, right?" Stella asked, as soon as Mave left.
Ari sighed, "Look, Stella-"
"Ari, we're staying!" Stella stomped her foot on the ground. "Come on, what's so bad about this place? You just don't want me to be happy! God, you're so selfish!"
"Stella, I wantyou to be happy. I always want you to be happy." Ari frowned, hurt at the accusation. "But I want you to be safe more. Don't you think it's kind of strange that there's just this giant mansion in the middle of nowhere and yet no one knows about it? Have you ever wondered how many secrets they're keeping from us? What kind of people live here?"
"Mave and Cole are nice! And so is their commander!" Stella protested.
"Yes, I know Mave and Cole are nice. Though I wouldn't say the same about their commander…" Ari thought back to Eliza's introduction of him, "But that's two people out of who-knows how many. Also, earlier I saw that boy holding…" Stella definitely wouldn't believe him if he ended that sentence with 'head', "Something that little boys shouldn't be holding." He ended lamely.
"Then you saw wrong," Stella insisted. "Can we at least stay a night? Please?"
Ari was hesitant.
"Don't you want to sleep in an actual bed instead of on the floor?"
"Clever," Ari narrowed his eyes, "using such a weakness against me." He laughed slightly when he saw Stella smile innocently, "Alright, onenight. That's it, okay? And please don't leave the room without me. Or at least Mave."
"Deal," Stella stuck out her hand and Ari shook it.
The boy laid on the bed and almost died on it. It was so, socomfortable. Before he knew it, he fell asleep.
The biggest mistake of his life.
Stella couldn't believe Ari! A huge house where supernaturals and humans got along! All kinds of food and technology and art! And he wanted to leave!? Did he not see this great opportunity to meet new people, learn new things and live a better life than the one they had in that broken down house?! At least she had managed to trick him into letting them stay a night. It wasn't even hard, he was just so dumb.
The elf sighed with frustration as she looked out the window to their room. The forest was beautiful… The leaves were turning pretty orange and red colors, blowing through the wind without a care. The transition between summer and fall was her absolute favorite time of year. The weather wasn't too cold or too hot, the trees became gorgeous, and school started again. What wasn't there to love?
In fact, why not take a walk through the forest and admire the weather? 6:00 PM was the perfect time after all, with no sun beating down and the colorful transition of the sky…
"Please don't leave the room without me. Or at least Mave."Ari had told her. His words made her hesitate…
Oh, but who cared! She defied him once, she could do it again! What was he going to do, kill her? He couldn't possibly, he was her brother! And besides, this time she'd definitely be back before Ari woke up. She jumped off the bed and walked out the room, letting the door slam behind her.
Ari slept like the dead.
"It's 7:00 PM already?" Eliza said to no one in particular, "Well, another day spent on anime and music videos." She sighed, "I wonder if those new kids are still sleeping. I should go check!" She hopped out of her chair and skipped out of her room.
"Arriiiii, Stellaaaaa~~~!" She said as they flung open the door to their room, "Huh?" She blinked in confusion when she only saw Ari sleeping in the bed and Stella nowhere to be found. "Ari, wake up," She shook the elf. When he didn't wake up, she jumped onto the bed and pushed him off.
"Ow! What the hell?"
"Dang, why are you such a heavy sleeper? Anyway, where's your little sister?"
She watched dumbly as the look of horror dawned upon Ari's face.
Sleep was the worst thing in the world and no one could convince Ari otherwise. How could he have just gone off to sleep, trusting that Stella wouldn't try to go out alone again!? Was he an idiot!? She was seven; of course she would try again!
Ari ran through the woods, desperately calling out Stella's name.
"Stella, please answer me!"
"This isn't funny!"
He needed to stop and catch his breath after a while, having not realized through the adrenaline that his lungs were burning and his chest felt like it was caving in. He only then realized that his vision was blurred. Not from running, but from worry.
He blinked back his tears and looked around. The sky was nearly black, and the trees blocking out what little light left weren't helping. He bit his lip, feeling his worry build up in his chest as his vision blurred again. This time he was unable to stop the tears from falling.
"C-Crying isn't going to find h-her…" His voice cracking slightly as he rubbed his eyes, desperately trying to clear his vision, "I-I need to keep moving…" Ari tore through the trees and bushes, continuing his search.
He didn't notice the dim lights, just a few feet away from him.
This forest was probably the biggest gold mine they've ever hit. They only had to walk around for an hour and already they had caught a mermaid, two elves, a vampire, and five fairies.
The hunter counted up their pile of dead supernaturals and grinned when he hit nine. Through the dim light of his flashlight, he stared into the lifeless eyes of the mermaid. It made him shiver; the pure black eyes made them look like demons, yet it was so compelling. He always had to stare whenever they caught one. Fucking sea wenches didn't look so beautiful when they were out of water and their mouths were gaping like a fish. A fly landed on her eye, blending in with the dark black, rubbing its legs together before flying onto the other eye. Another fly soon replaced it, and the hunter realized how many bugs the dead bodies were attracting. He swatted away the flies in his face as he made his way into a safer area, tripping over a few bushes.
"Fucking bugs," he cursed.
Then something caught his eye…
A young elf, probably no older than seven walked down a cemented path alone. Usually his rule was to spare the young ones, perhaps sell them as slaves instead of killing them. However, this one was different.
Her beautiful red eyes would cost a fortune…
Stella knew she had told herself just a few minutes, but she found a path and really wanted to know where it lead to. Before she knew it, a whole hour had passed by the time she reached the end, which just lead to a small shopping center in the city.
"See? Now I know!" She grinned. "No harm done! I just walk the way I came from now…" She hesitated when she looked up at the sky. The pretty red and orange colors were turning darker and darker as the sun went down. Soon, it would be pitch black dark…
Stella shook off the bad feeling building up in her chest and smiled, "No worries. I can make it home before it gets too dark. I just need to go back the way I came." She calmly walked back down the small path she had taken, taking her time to look around.
The bushes next to her rustled a bit, and she stopped for a second.
Probably just a small animal. She thought to herself, but walked a little faster anyway.
She walked faster…
Stella was now running as fast as she could.
Something wasn't right…
The rustling was following her.
Oh godStella thought, blinking back tears, What if I don't make it home? What if I die?In that moment, Stella's life flashed before her eyes, and a portion of her overwhelming fear was suddenly replaced by guilt. Ari was right. About everything. He had only tried to protect her, and she hated him for it. God, she had never even told him she loved him…
Ari, I'm sorry…
I understand now…
Please forgive me…
I love you, Ari…
If it meant anything, the girl felt little pain.
A clean shot right through the head was all it took. Well, that and a fuck load of running. For someone so small, she ran incredibly fast.
"Hey guys!" He called to the rest of his group, "get your fucking asses over here and take a look at what I caught!"
The other hunters trudged over, dragging along their wagon of bodies.
Their leader- Jim? Jack? Who cared- walked over and inspected the girl's body. The hunter was really expecting a "well done", followed by a pat on the back. However, he got yelled at instead.
"Are you an idiot?" Jack hissed, "You killed a child? Children make excellent slaves, don't you know that!?"
The hunter was shocked, but quickly smirked, "This is different. Look at her eyes."
Jack rolled over the girl's body with his foot. Her face was blood-stained from the bullet hole in her forehead, but her eyes shone a brighter red.
The other guys whistled, making the hunter feel quite proud of himself. "You should've seen me shoot her," he gloated. "Twice the speed of a normal young one. I'm telling you, she's special. We could get at least ten thousand with only one of those eyes."
The others laughed and whooped as Jack bent down and cut out her eyes. It was a really disgusting process. First he dug his fingers into her eye sockets, then tugged them out, his grip tight enough to ensure his grasp, but loose enough to keep it from squishing. Finally, with a swift cut of his knife, he severed the optical chord and pocketed the eye before going onto the second one.
"What do we do with the body?" The hunter asked after the girl was robbed of her eyes. He could already see flies beginning to gather in the empty sockets.
"Throw it in the lake or whatever," Jack shrugged. "Her body isn't worth shit."
Two of the others walked forward to haul her off, when a sudden rustling came from the trees. The hunter smirked; did the girl have a little friend?
Out staggered a young male, maybe around sixteen. His hair and eyes matched girl's, which meant he must've been her brother.
The boy's beautiful eyes were wide as he slowly made his way to the girl. He could already see tears running down his face, and all the hunter could think was how stupid this creature was for walking straight into a circle of hunters.
Jack seemed to have the same thought. The hunter could see him take out his pistol and aim at the boy.
A gunshot rang out.
Jack's body fell to the ground.
Seeing all the rage and anguish in the air made Chaos absolutely delighted. He watched from a tree, fascinated, as that elf boy stumbled toward his sister. As one of the hunters took out a gun and shot. As a golden shield formed around the elf boy, causing the bullet to bounce back and hit its owner in the head. As the other hunters screamed.
It was all so wonderful.
"Her eyes…" Chaos looked back at the scene when Ari finally spoke.
The hunters stepped back slightly as Ari took a step forward.
"Where are her eyes…" His voice cracked slightly.
The hunters looked to each other, hesitant to answer his desperate little question.
"Where are they!?" Ari screamed, bringing his fingers together. Chaos watched a golden aura fly around the boy's fingers as he snapped.
One of the hunters swelled up like a balloon and popped. Chaos couldn't help but laugh in delight as his blood, organs and brains flew everywhere, splattering over the trees, the hunters and Ari himself. A pair sunglasses that the man had been wearing flew off into the distance and Chaos reminded himself to go search for them later. They were a nice pair of shades.
By now, all the hunters were screaming, trying to get away. But all the hunters who got farther than a foot away expanded and popped too.
Ari never did end up getting an answer out of them. He did, however, manage to create a river of blood down the forest path. Chaos watched boredly as Ari dropped to his knees beside his sister and hugged her, crying silently. He loved all sorts of misery, but silent crying wasn't as… chaotic.
"What are you doing here?" Chaos turned around to see the prince standing there. He smirked, "I could ask you the same question, Prince."
"Stop calling me that." Mave scowled, "I'm looking for Ari and Stella. Have you seen them?"
Chaos smirked, "Oh, I've definitely seen them. And I must say, they were quite entertaining. However, I'm bored now. You can take over."
"…What… What do you mean…?" Mave said slowly. Chaos could see the fear in his snake eyes.
Chaos moved aside to let Mave see for himself, "Right this way, my prince."
The sight was horrifying.
Mave wanted to do three things: throw up, cry with Ari, find Eliza.
But instead, he walked toward the older boy cautiously, trying not to look at Stella's empty sockets. He didn't know either of them well at all, but he could already see his vision blurring slightly.
"Ari…" He said quietly. He paused for a response, but continued when he didn't get one, "I'm sorry…" He knelt down beside him, "I know you don't like us, but… We-… I'm here for you. Y-You don't have to stay here, I-I'll come over tomorrow-"
"I'm staying…" Ari's voice was barely audible.
It was Mave's turn to be silent.
Ari looked up at Mave, tear tracks still on his face, "I'm staying…" He looked back down at Stella and Mave could see tears falling once more. "To make sure this never happens again…"
The Strays hosted a funeral for Stella the next day.
After, Ari just sat in his room, on the bottom bunk. They had offered to replace it with a single bed, but Ari declined. Stella had loved the Stray House so much, he couldn't take down her place from it.
There was a knock at the door and Eliza slowly poked her head in, "Hey… Can I come in?" Ari nodded and she walked over and sat beside him. It was quiet for a while before Eliza spoke again, "What did you love most about her?"
Ari smiled slightly, "…Her interest in humans… I always talked about how absurd it was, but… It's what made her her."
There was a silence and Ari looked up to see his commander looking around his room.
"I'll decorate it, don't worry," he said. He got up and picked up a picture off of the desk, "Mave and I walked back to my house earlier to get the first decoration…" He grabbed some tape, stuck it to the picture and taped it to the wall. He stood back and looked at the painting. It was a childish 'triangle over the square' kind of house, and it had some mud on it, but it was beautiful to Ari.
Eliza walked over and smiled at him, "Welcome to the Stray House."