Chapter 5: An Act of Kindness
"You know, I honestly feel sorry for you," Erix admits. "It's your first day and you already had to deal with an attack."
We're sitting at the bar in a seedy restaurant, Erix with their arms folded on the counter while I sit next to them, eagerly taking in every word they say. Despite how crowded the place is, there is only us two in our party.
"Usually the newbies have a bit of a leeway," they continue. "They get a few days to get acclimated before they meet their trainers." A pause, and they fidget with their hands a bit, clicking open and closed the latch on their head. "After that incident, however, Donnovan will probably want you and Skylar to start immediately."
"What was the attack about?" I ask. "Who were those people? You and Samuel both mentioned something called Riot?"
"Yeah." Erix turns their head to face me. "Riot is a clan of bandana heads - their mission, they said, was to spread their knowledge throughout the world."
Erix nods. "They're the ones that turned on us - whose god had awoken, who started this war. That's what everyone's saying, at least."
"So that's what you believe?" I ask as they slide off the barstool, standing up straight.
"I mean-" they hold out their hand to help me down, which I accept and do so- "if it's the only thing we've been told, what else is there to believe?"
I squint at them, understanding the logic behind it, if a bit narrow-minded. They don't seem to notice, though, and head on back through the restaurant with a motion for me to follow. So follow I do, with another question coming through my speakers- "So what's your story?"
"My story?" Erix echoes, maneuvering their way through the throng of people. "It's...a long one. The short version is that I was in trouble, so Donnovan found me and pulled me here. I owe the man my life."
"Can I ask...?"
Erix shakes their head. "Rather not say."
I nod in response, and then sort of just follow them awkwardly as the silence stretches on between us. It's not long until we come out in the alley from which we came, and I break the silence again. "Is there any way to get home?"
"Home as in...what?" Erix asks. "The facility, or-?"
"Like," I pause, giving a small breath, "home, you know...where I come from?"
We hear a scoff beside us in the dim light, and we both whirl around to face a person with a boom box head. They're leaning against the wall of the alleyway, watching us carefully with folded arms, a comically large hammer leaning against the wall next to them. "Good luck finding a portal to the right destination."
"BoomBoom," Erix sighs, straightening up and flicking open the latch on his head, lighting the flame. The light casts over us and nullifies the dim glow of my screen. "It's been a while."
"Hello, newbie." BoomBoom grins at them with the small screen along the bottom of their head. "Still in the program?"
"Yeah, unlike someone," Erix almost hisses back. "Where'd you come from, anyway?"
"I've been here this whole time," BoomBoom responds. "You just happened to stumble upon me."
Erix is quiet for a moment as I glance between the two. They definitely know each other, and they're definitely not friends. I've also never expected Erix to act like this - he struck me as the carefree type before, but now…
"I'm right though, aren't I?" BoomBoom continues, shifting their gaze over to me - where their speakers would be is a pair of eyes. "You'd be hard-pressed to find one that leads to the right place and time, especially since portals are so rare in their own right."
I let out a small breath, shoving my hands in my pockets nervously. "Where can I find one, though?" I ask. "If that's at all possible?"
BoomBoom hums quietly, a fast-paced tune that seems out of place for the situation. "Technically? Not legally. Interdimensional travel is a government-sanctioned activity, and has been put on lockdown for the most part due to what's going on. But if you're beyond that-"
"Don't encourage him," Erix cuts in. "We'd rather not have another fuckup like you around."
"What did you just say?" BoomBoom's "mouth" seems to almost stretch into an angry grin, and they lift the large hammer over their head. "Wanna run that by me again, hypocrite?"
"Whoa, whoa!" I hastily step in front of the two, holding my hands out to keep them apart while glancing back and forth between them. "No, no - guys, please, don't fight. Erix, say sorry before one or both of us gets hurt."
"You don't know what she's done," Erix growls in response.
"I don't care!" I almost yell back, feeling the electricity start to crackle around my hands again as I turn to them. "I'd rather not have to explain why our heads got bashed in to Ava or Samuel or anyone else!"
Erix seems to stare me down, his flame sparking, but then lets out a noise akin to a sigh before stepping back once, raising his head to face BoomBoom. "Listen, I'm still not over what you did-"
"I can tell," BoomBoom interjects with a hiss, her hammer still raised high.
"...But I'm willing to put that aside for now, for Dax's sake," Erix finishes, their hands balled up into fists.
I eye BoomBoom warily, watching her as she shifts her gaze back and forth between us. The silence seems to drag on for ages before she lowers her weapon, her expression settling back into what looks like a coy smile.
"Compromise? That's a first for you, Erix," she cooes. "But I accept." She turns to me and gives a nod. "As I was saying, if you're beyond legality, you can get your hands dirty by looking for...certain people. Black market sort of stuff, you know. He should know some of them."
Erix's flame flickers almost unnoticeably, but I glance up towards him for a moment before back to BoomBoom. "Can you recommend any place to get started?" I ask.
She glances around for a moment before leaning in close to me, her voice lowering to a murmur that I strain to hear. "The outskirts of the city are always ripe with such things, of course. Abandoned buildings, deserted back streets, stuff like that. Look for someone by the name of CRT - you'll know them when you see them."
She winks at me before standing back up straight, holding her hammer to the side and returning to her normal tone of voice. "Well, it's probably about time you two should be heading back. If you ever need anything, Dax, you'll see me around - come visit sometime, yeah?" She grins again, and I wince involuntarily, reminded of a certain someone at the motion. "Preferably without him."
"Hey!" Erix exclaims indignantly.
BoomBoom gives me a pat on the shoulder, ignoring Erix. "Nice to meet you, kid."
"Thank you," I nod back. "I'll see you around."
I nudge Erix's side and start to almost push him back out to the main road, and he gives a stumble before starting to walk on his own.
The roads are still quite busy even for this time of night, and the streetlights shine down on us as we head back to the facility without much to say. No one stops us or otherwise interacts with us, and we make it back in relatively quick timing.
When we arrive, however, we are accosted by Miss Flores, who catches sight of us just as she stands up from behind the desk. Hurriedly, she makes her way over to us, keeping her voice low as she speaks. "What are you two doing out so late?! Oh, Donnovan is gonna kill me if he finds out you two went out without an escort!"
"Chill out, Cam," Erix reassures. "Samuel knows, he's cool with it."
"Samuel knows?!" Miss Flores bristles in a mixture of surprise and frustration, starting to usher us further into the building. "Erix, you should know better than this!"
"Okay, okay, it'll be fine," Erix replies, following her and almost dragging me along. "We'll stay in for the night, I promise."
"You'd better," she huffs. "I can't keep letting it slide."
Erix simply gives me a wave and pulls me along towards the stairs, and I follow up in silence until we reach the dorms. He gives me a pat on the shoulder and a nod, and then turns, heading into the room.
I make a move to follow him, but I'm stopped by a soft, familiar voice calling out, "Dax?"
"Skylar?" I respond, turning around and looking for the girl in question. I spot her peeking her head out from a door down the hall, and when we lock gazes she waves me down and disappears into the room.
Heading over and poking my head into the room, I spot Skylar sitting on the ground with her knees pulled up to her chest. Mideichree sits next to her, and she motions for me to come closer. I close the door behind me and step lightly, my screen glowing slightly in the dim light as I take in the sight.
It's a standard living-type room, with a window on the far wall. The walls are lined with bookshelves and tables and pictures. There is a large rug in the center of the room, on which Skylar and Mideichree sit. There are a few doorways leading off to what I believe are a few other rooms as well.
"Skylar?" I whisper again, stepping closer to the two. When I am close enough, I kneel down in front of them, reaching out for Skylar. "Are you alright?"
Skylar doesn't respond for a long moment, and when she does, it's a barely-perceptible shake of the head.
"What's wrong?" I ask, grasping her hands in my own and rubbing over the tops of them with my thumbs.
She glances up at me with sore eyes - it looks like she's been crying. It's another long moment before she speaks, and her voice comes out as a whisper. "I want to go home."
The six eyes on my screen all blink out of sync as she hangs her head, pulling her hands away from me and holding herself close. "I'm sorry."
"N-no, it's okay, there's no need to be sorry," I stutter, moving closer and pulling her into my arms. "I..."
I'm at a loss for words as she buries her face in my shoulder, starting to blather on at random in a low sort of sob. "I miss my family and my friends, and I know it's only been one day but so much has happened and I don't feel comfortable here - I wanna go home, there isn't anything I recognize here - I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know you like it here but I just can't-"
"It's okay," I murmur as she cuts off into a sob, "it's okay, we'll find a way to get home, I promise. We're looking for one now..."
"Really?" she hiccups, staring intently at me.
"Yeah - Erix and I were talking earlier, there's portals that can lead us back home." I gently rub her back and press my screen against her head. "We'll find one, and we'll get home, I promise."
She blinks, and then hugs me tightly with a whispered, "You promise?"
"I promise." I nod and close my eyes, hugging her back.
We remain like that for a bit, in each other's embrace, before we break apart. Skylar gives a sigh, looking down at the ground. "You...you should go," she murmurs. "Ava said I can't stay in the same dorm as you."
I give her a sad look before standing up. "Okay. You know where to find me if you need anything, though. I'm always here for you."
Skylar nods once, watching me as I turn and head out of the room.