New chars, more drama, more plot. A boy's visions, a girl's determination. What can clashing waves create?
(Eleven and a half pages, this one was a little hard to write for some reason. But I was pleased with it regardless)
Chapter 4 Edit
“In this world, we have very strong rules supporting our society,” the boy wanders around the city, always in an undending dialogue with that being. He is but a small child when compared to everything else on this world of giants, even hydrants stand taller than him. The being by his side is a blur, a mosaic. Its existence is acknowledged, its voice can be heard, but it can't be seen. “Those at the top step on those at the bottom. Those at the bottom also step on those on the bottom, as long as they're above them, be it for a single inch or whatever they have.”
“That isn't really good, is it?” the boy looks at the mosaic, feeling those rules aren't fair.
“Bad or good, it's the way we work. When a lion eats an antilope, is it unfair? Should the antilope also get a chance to eat the lion? It can't. It won't. The strong eat the weak, that's just rules of nature.”
“But are you really fine with saying you're at the same level as animals? Shouldn't you hold your humanity as precious and have everyone help each other?”
The boy wakes up. Not sweaty, not screaming, not scared. Calmly, he opens his eyes. He stares at the wooden ceiling with tired eyes. Every time he sees that being, he loses memories. He knows he has lost something, but he can only figure what at the worst timings. He would be attempting to open his account somewhere and realize he doesn't know his password anymore, even though he had opened it just a few days ago. He would be talking to one of the children on the orphanage and wouldn't know their name anymore. Once he forgot the entire existence of a child and almost abandoned her, but the other kids kept asking him where she was and the incident was avoided before developing into anything terrible.
He looks around. The children are all still fast asleep. They sort themselves as they want, but still taking in consideration their safety and the beds' limits. On the larger beds, there are five or six kids sleeping, then two or three on the smaller ones and Lui by himself on a small one. This is only one of the bedrooms, the other has a friend of his as responsible adult. He is only a decade older than most of them, but the environment has made him develop more responsibly than he would normally.
He is an orphan as well, but ever since he was twelve, which is to say, three years ago, he steadily started helping out more and more. Generally, when they hit their teens, they can leave for another institution for teens or start living on a boarding school. Lui and his friend decided to stay, however. Her reasons for staying aren't known by him, but the reason he stays is mostly because he didn't want to stop helping them. The only other small factor influencing his decision is that he doesn't want to leave Robin behind, he thinks she might grow lonely. Robin, by the way, is how he refers to Ares, whose real name he doesn't know.
Wondering what time might it be, he gets out of bed and leaves the room. He puts his hand over the scar on his eye. The feeling of knowing it is there and how he got it makes him relax. That is something he doesn't want to forget, no matter what. He leans against the wall and sighs. 'How much longer will I have to endure these dreams...?'
His friend pokes him. It takes a while for return to reality, though. She's drilling her finger on his cheek by the time he finally notices she's there. Long pink hair tied on a ponytail, bright brown eyes. She smiles, giggling at how ridiculously long it was the wait for his eyes to turn to her. What call his attention the most is her hair.
“...When did you dye your hair?” He points to it. It's a very bright pink, doesn't feel realistic at all.
“Quite some time ago. This is the second time you're surprised by it, did you know?”
“Oh. Nevermind then. Did I also already say you look cute with it like that?”
“No. Last time you said it was embarassing to look at,” she's pleased to hear it's cute, her smile widens slightly. “Guess even your memory problem works for good sometimes, I'll take this to be your true feelings about it.”
“...Ok,” 'so even what I think changes as I lose memories? Huh...' he sighs. It bothers him, but as it is something he can't do anything about, he simply shrugs it off. “Let's start making breakfast.”
Making food, washing dishes, doing the laundry, making lunch, taking the kids out for a walk, helping them with studies, their list of activities goes on and on. Some of these are done by the actual adults at times, at others it is done by the two. Lui dropped out of school many years ago, so he has no personal activities that he must do. His friend has already finished high school, but didn't decide on any path to follow afterwards. Despite that, she often leaves during afternoons or evenings and returns some hours later. He doesn't know what she does and never bothered her with questions. He's just happy that she has something to do with her own time and wants to respect her privacy.
Her name is Clay. She never met her parents, but she believes they must have hated her since birth, but registry didn't accept Mud as a name, so they went with something close that would be accepted. She asks people to pronounce it 'Kurei' for it to sound cuter, but it's just a vain attempt, nobody bothers. Clay is sixteen, very cheerful and the person the children like the most. She makes up for what Lui lacks in excitement in double. Still, they have nice chemistry together, her quick pace together with his steady pace creates comfortable atmosphere for everyone around them.
He takes care of the morning tasks along with her. The kids that study are taken to school, the others are being taken care of by their legitimate caretakers. Clay already left for her afternoon activities, Lui has nothing to do. He climbs to the rooftop of the orphanage and lies on the floor, staring at the sky. He is not particularly sleepy or tired, yet he dozes off anyway.
He opens his eyes to find himself on the edge of a cliff, facing the sea. A wide, deep blue sea. Ships sailing, sailors and fishermen throwing nets and harpoons on the sea. Using many known methods, they're fishing. Some of them are successful, bringing fishes the size of cows on their nets or harpoons. Not very surprising, when one thinks about, it's only expected that giants would eat giant fish.
He looks behind him. He can see some of the city of giants behind him. The buildings are a bright white, they don't seem to be made of a material known by him. When he walks within the city, it seemed to be something like silver, but now that he sees it from a distance, it doesn't look like it anymore. However, as the mosaic covers most of his vision, he can't see it well enough to continue analyzing.
“Isn't it beautiful? The ritual of fishing. The competition that is trying to get the largest, longest, heaviest fish?” The mosaic speaks. What sort of face it might be making is beyond anyone, but it sounds quite joyful, perhaps it smiles.
“...Isn't it just another way to figure out who's at the bottom and who is at the top?”
“Yes, exactly. Even on the smaller activities, they never give up on finding a way to crush others.”
“I really can't see what's so fun about that.”
“Because it is competing and trying to show their worth which drives them to continue moving forward. Because they fear being crushed, they continue struggling. 'More power, more power, I will, no, I must take the top,' is what the voice in their hearts repeats like a prayer.”
“If you're climbing a collapsing tower and find out that once you reach the top it'll stop collapsing, wouldn't you struggle as much as you could to reach it?”
“If the tower didn't collapse, wouldn't it be for the best?”
“If the tower didn't collapse, only a few would want to climb it. Then you'd have very few at the top and many at the bottom, shrugging at the task as there's no urgency to climb.”
“...” 'So this system stops the world from birthing people like me?' he thinks. He almost asks it, but swallows his words.
He turns to the sea once more. The sailors are all happily showing off their fish and looking for more. They scream at the giants in other ships, laughing, mocking each other, and the mocked ones answer in the same way. They look satisfied. Despite everything, they look satisfied. It's also worth mentioning only a few of the giants seem to be humans, and even those still have hair of many odd colors and blue skin. The others have faces and bodies which are like animals. Lions, tigers, dogs, seals. Every sort of animal, available in all ranges of size, but always in a humanoid form.
They're all focused on their tasks, on their silly competition, on the pleasantries they're exchanging. When one is enjoying oneself, it is easy to lose sight of whatever surrounds them. But the boy watching from the distance could see it. A humongous shadow moving within the water, towards the ships. Before he can do anything, not that he even could do anything, two ships have already started sinking.
Five sea serpents. That is the impression they give, but their bodies seems to have a type of exoskeleton, an armor of many layers. Their fangs rip through flesh and wood alike, they slam their bodies against the decks and bows, smashing the sailors along with whatever part of the ship they stand on. But it's not simply an assault of sea serpents. All of them are connected to single main body, which is still hiding underwater, attacking ships from below.
The sailors don't stand a chance. The ones who try to abandon ship and swim to the shore get eaten on a single bite. Those who throw harpoons or attempt to attack in any way deal no damage and are crushed soon after. The ones who get on their knees and pray get ignored, but the sinking of ships doesn't stop, the flying debris doesn't avoid them. There's no hope for any of them.
“...Who do they pray to?” The boy asks. While from the outside he looks perfectly calm, unnaffected by the massacre happening in front of him, he feels conflicted.
“Nobody in particular. They simply ask for a savior.”
“...What is that monster?”
“A fearsome Hydra. Recently the sailors had to fend off a small one that wandered here, it's likely... to be a parent in search of revenge.”
“Is that fine with you as well? Does it also fall under 'Rules of Nature'?”
The boy clenches his fist. 'This shouldn't be allowed,' he whispers. Ten out of twelve ships have sank already, not every sailor has been killed yet, but even those who are in good enough conditions won't manage to swim to the shore before getting caught. The rampage of the hydra is merciless, it dyes the blue sea in red. 'Can nothing be done for them?' the boy curses his powerlessness.
There were many splashing sounds, naturally. People struggling, the hydra's heads hitting the water as it attacks people, wooden debris flying against the water and so on. Calling what is heard a superior splash doesn't cut it as well. It can be compared to the splashing sound of an elephant falling from the skies onto a pool. A sound so loud everything else goes quiet.
The Hydra stops moving. Its heads turn towards the main body. Towards the gaping hole that has opened in it. Little by little, they lose strenght and hit the water, having gone completely limp. The hydra sinks as well, soon disappearing amidst the sea that had turned red.
The boy could see it for a moment. He couldn't see what it was, but he saw it was there. He turns to the shore, where it seemed to have come from. Kilometers away from the boy, kilometers away from the ships as well, standing on the shore, a single man. He wears a blue armor, much like the armor the very hydra seemed to wear. And as the armor's torso and shoulder pads have sea serpent-like heads, one would easily assume the armor was truly crafted from a hydra.
The 'man' has the body of a white lion. Mane to feet, completely white, like snow, only its nose, claws and eyes show a different color. While the eyes shine with a threatening yellow, the nose and claws are pitch-black. Once the hydra has sunk deep, he turns his back and walks away. He threw something. A spear? A harpoon? A sword? Could any of these create a hole of that size though? It killed the hydra in one hit, pierced through it and then sunk as well.
“Who is that?”
“To call him 'The King' wouldn't be very wrong, but the correct answer is Liodras. Currently, he is the one who stands at the top of this society.”
“...Let me guess, the reason he kills the enemy but doesn't help the injured is also rules of nature?”
“We are all alone on this world. Only those who have strenght survive. This is a test to these sailors, a selection from providence. 'Do you have what it takes to continue heading up?' is what they're being asked.”
The boy wakes up. There's a foot on his forehead. He can't see the person as the sun is right above his head, sunlight shines straight on his eyes. Ignoring the foot since it isn't applying any pressure, it simply was there, he changes to a sitting position and turns around. It's Clay, he should have expected as much. She sits by his side, holding her knees.
“Hey, Lui...” She has quite the serious expression, a face he doesn't often see on her. 'Did something happen while she was out?'
“...Go on, what is it?”
“You know the... secret sponsor? That robin girl,” she plays with her thumbs.
“Since I was the one who told you about her, I guess I do know her,” he misses the point of what she meant.
“Is she your friend? Do you like her?”
“Well, yes. On both of these.”
“Who do you like more, me or her?”
“Uh... When you ask like that, it's hard to answer. You and me have been friends since we were children... And Robin is someone I admire. She is my ideal, perhaps. You two stand on different places to me, it's hard to compare,” he doesn't choose his words very much, he just says what comes as it comes.
“I see... So you can't choose, huh...”
“...Did you not listen to what I said?”
“But if I asked you to escape with me and abandon her, you wouldn't answer, would you?” She turns to him with angry eyes. He can't understand what is going on. Did something happen and he forgot? Why is she acting like this?
“Escape...? Escape where? Isn't this our place?”
“...Do you mean that? Do you really want to be here forever?”
“I mean, where else could I go? I have no family or friends anywhere...”
“And by staying here that won't ever change! Didn't you once tell me you didn't leave this place when you had the chance because you 'didn't want Robin to be lonely'!?”
“I... Did?” He puts his hand over the scar on his eye. He doesn't remember ever saying that. He does remember thinking that once, but that wasn't his main reason, as far as he knows.
“...Lui,” she stares straight into his eyes. He feels scared. There's something within her which is scaring him, but he can't explain what. “Would you leave this place with me and live somewhere else, just the two of us?”
“...” “Answer me!” she yells. The something within her seems to have caught fire, becoming even more scary. 'Why is this happening?'
“I... don't want that,” he says. He wants everything to continue like it is. Leaving together like that, without a place to go, without an objective, without anything... who'd do that? It's a bad idea all around.
“Hmph. Then...” She stands up and takes a few steps ahead. The orphanage building isn't that tall, but one can get a good sight of the neighborhood when standing on the rooftop. She takes a deep breath. She basks on the sunlight. “Then I'll have to kill you right here, right now.”
“...What?” He can't believe his ears. He knows what sort of action would warrant that reaction from her, but he didn't do anything worth of that.
“I wanted to give you a chance. I'd abandon that which is more important to me for your sake, but you can't even let go of someone who doesn't care about you for my sake. So not only I'll follow my orders, I'll also get rid of a toxic relationship,” she nods. Lui is completely lost. 'Did I lose a piece of information that would connect all of this?' he can't even tell whether it really is something completely absurd or if it is his fault.
“I'm still lost, what is going on?!” He stands up and tries to approach her, but as soon he grabs her shoulder, she turns around and pushes him away.
“It doesn't matter to you. But I guess nothing does,” she laughs. A very melancholic laugh, her gaze low and her hope waning. But she brushes it off right away, she'll cut the weak links on her heart. Her sad eyes become filled with determination, and she speaks once more. “Gate Open! Release!”
Blinding light shines forth from her back and envelops the two of them. For Lui, seeing someone right in front of him disappear, then have the entire world around him vanish does plenty of damage to his mind. He tries to reach for her as she vanishes within the light, but his body doesn't move. And thus, with his understanding of her reasons remaining nil, the stream of light takes him to the otherworld.
The cracked rocky soil would make one think this wasteland has suffered from a drought for over a decade. The only reason such impression would be wrong is because this place was created minutes ago, for the sake of this battle. Dark storm clouds occupy the entire sky and rain down balls of flame. Those flames create a circle, a ring surrounding Lui and Clay.
On the red corner, representing the flames of passionate feelings, Clay and her spirit, Raizan. A red lizardman in dark armor. He wields an eastern sword, its blade crimson-colored. His eyes are white, he has an eyepatch over his left eye. His helmet exhibits a double golden v-fin. On the blue corner, Lui and his spirit, Adrian. A blue half-naked giant. He wears some sort of fur skirt and leather shoulder pads, but his entire torso and abdomen are bare. He wears a helmet as well, but while Raizan's covers his forehead and above, Adrian's covers everything from the nose up, only his mouth can be seen. His weapon is a golden spear that leaves a trail of light as he moves it.
Lui looks around. Flames falling from the sky, a ring of flames around them, a lizardman and a giant. 'Did I fall asleep? But what would Clay be doing here? This is something different, what is happening?' He tries to acess the situation, but as he barely understands his dreams of another world, how could he grasp what is ocurring here?
He turns to Adrian. He knows plenty of giants, so he gives Lui a sense of familiarity. He can figures that this world and the one within his dreams are related, despite still not knowing how. 'Perhaps I can ask this giant about what he knows,' he thinks. He turns to the giant and opens his mouth. Before he can mutter a word, a crimson spark flashes in front of his eyes. Followed by a warm rain of red droplets and Adrian's head hitting the ground.
Raizan wipes the blood away from his sword and stores it back on its sheath. Adrian's beheaded body falls on its knees and vanishes. The blood which landed on Lui doesn't, however. He stands there, frozen. 'It's a completely different feeling,' he thinks. 'Seeing a human die, seeing a bunch of giants dying faraway, seeing one die right in front of your eyes. It's different.'
Clay tackles Lui. He doesn't even resist, he is out of himself. She hits him with her shoulder and he falls to the ground like a marionette whose strings were cut. She gets on top of him, holding his shirt's collar with one hand, pummeling his face with the other. 'How nostalgic,' internally, he laughs. 'This isn't the sort of thing that should be nostalgic.'
Many years ago, on a certain orphanage, a girl appeared. She came from a violent background, abused by her own parents, apparently. But at least they got reported by a neighbor that realized what was going on when they saw her covered in bruises on a certain day. That girl had developed a thick barrier around herself. Whoever approached her met with an aggressive repercussion, thus nobody attempted to get close to her.
She was like a wild animal, everything she did, she did by herself. She didn't accept anyone close to her, and nobody could blame her for having such trust issues. People figured they could only accept her difficulties and work around them, to allow her to heal. But there was a boy that didn't understand that. He mindlessly approached the girl and offered her candy.
She bit the boy's hand and kicked his shins. He didn't get what he did wrong. Assuming the problem was the candy, that she didn't like that one, he offered another. That was strike two, he bit him again and pushed him down. The logic to his following action was... well, there wasn't any logic to it. That's how children act generally, a system that can't be understood. Seeing how hard she rejected him, he gave her a hug. He wanted to believe anyone would become friends with anyone if they exchanged a hug. That was strike three.
A shriek of madness. The girl went blind with fear, which turns into rage and a need to fight back. She knees the boy's stomach, headbutts his head, pushes him into the ground, jumps on top of him and claws his face. She wouldn't stop screaming, which made the caretakers quickly find them. She had blood on her hands and some that splattered on her face. The boy was knocked out cold, lots of minor slashes across his face, and a single very worrying wound on his eye, almost as if she tried to rip it out.
And now it's happening again. But rather than because he got too close, it was because he was too distant. 'It's funny how the world goes around...' her fists hit him hard. 'She did say she was gonna kill me. Guess this time no caretaker is gonna save me, though,' he closes his eyes. 'Was she always this strong? I guess she was...'
“Is that truly how far you want to go?” the mosaic appears. Not on the otherworld, not on the world within dreams. He seems to be within the boy's mind, floating like a thought.
“What else is there for me?”
“Anything could be. Someone who has never looked an inch away from what's already within his hands shouldn't be able to say there's nothing for him to take.”
“I don't get it?”
“Someone who never even tried to climb anywhere wouldn't know how high they can go. You've given up on living before even attempting to do it,” he feels the mosaic blinked for a moment. As in, its form appeared. It was too large for him to grasp all of it on a single moment though.
“...Is that what you wanted to show me through all those dreams? You were trying to give me will to live?”
“...Who knows. Maybe I'm just bored and wanted to chat with someone.”
“Did your character change there for a moment?”
“If I'm showing change, there's change happening to you as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“We are connected. If you allow it, we can become as one.”
“...Why do you like me so much?”
“Who knows,” the mosaic breaks. The being finally becomes visible, Lui finally finds out who he has been talking to all this time.
A floating marine turtle shell. It has arms, but no legs, instead of them, there's a single hole on the shell, from which countless eels or perhaps tentacles coming out. They sway and coil, as they're very much alive, almost as if each individual one had a consciousness of its own. Instead of head coming out from the front of the shell, a humanoid torso bulges out. The giants were humanoid animals that fought against the serpents. This being is a humanoid serpent. But at the same time, its skin makes it look like a shark. 'Is his body cartilage from the waist up? And is it really correct to think of that shell as waist down?'
The shark-like skin is white, with a deep blue carapace covering its head, nape and all the way from shoulders to arms. The snakes that grown somewhere on his back, around the shoulder area are also covered on that blue carapace. Something like a beard falls from its chin, but Lui assumes it wouldn't be actual hair, probably more cartilages.
The being behind the mosaic seems to be some sort of chimera from both ends of that world, a giant mixed with underwater beings. 'Is that why it only observed, not siding with either side? Because it belongs to both worlds?' Lui wonders about the creature's nature. And just as the mosaic finally disappears completely, he returns to the part he's getting his face broken.
While his consciousness was lost, she figured that no matter how much she hit him, for some reason, he wasn't giving up. So she decided to have Raizan mince him down. He woke up on that minute, on the moment he raised his crimson sword and prepared to swing it down on him. When the blade is inches away from his bloodied nose, it stops. Raizan looks away, surprised, then jumps towards Clay and holds onto her with his left arm.
Lui can't afford to look, but it soon comes within his sight. And it washes all of them away. A wave. Out of the blue, the sea invades the ring, putting out flames and taking both Raizan and Clay away from Lui. The giant on the turtle swims to his side and picks him up, throwing him on the shell's back.
“The ocean won't ever lose to a puny flame,” the being says, quite smug. 'I'm glad I can finally see the faces it makes.'
“What reminds me. What is your name? Mine is Lui.”
“Stromhyde,” Instead of the 'main body,' it's one of the snakes that responds. It's creepy, but Lui believes he can get used to it. “I'll share basic information about battling via Limpid Channel, alright?”
“Whoa, wait, what is that?”
“You'll suddenly understand what is going on here, simply because our minds are connected.”
“Alright... then, I guess.”
He feels an eletric jolt within his head. Spirits, magic, attacks, skills, everything unfolds within his mind. The most important concept he has to understand is 'the life.' Once it reaches zero, the battle is over and the battlers return to the real world. But to make one's life reach zero, you must break their hopes and/or spirit. The spirit's death deals a lot of damage normally, as they are much like a double to the battler. Witnessing their death is like seeing oneself die, thus why on most battles, that alone is enough to end it. Some people need to take damage themselves, the moment they think 'I don't want to get hurt any more than this,' is when their life has reached zero.
The reason for Lui not losing even after getting beaten down and having his spirit defeated, is because none of that affected him. He couldn't even acknowledge Adrian as his spirit before it died, and the shock of someone dying in front of his eyes is commonplace. Getting attacked by Clay, as much as it hurt, gave him a nostalgic feeling. Even if he thought he was gonna die, he didn't hate the pain, he didn't want to get away from it. The life of the living dead can't be reduced. That which is broken can't break.
“So... if I beat that lizard, it's likely she'll give up?”
“And if I ask you not to, you won't make her go through a punishment game, right?” Information concerning the punishment game was a subfolder to 'winning a match,' he understood the concept pretty quickly.
“...If you don't wish for it, I'll refrain.”
“I'm sorry, but I won't accept that 'rules of nature' thing just yet,” he smiles. A drop of blood touches his lips. He wonders if it's his or Adrian's, but it doesn't really matter. It's just some blood.
“Hm, what is that attitude? Are you saying you're standing above her already?”
“Guess I'm good at climbing,” he spreads his arms.
'I couldn't get it before. But now with this guide installed on my brain, I got it. All that happened there is clear now, I just couldn't translate it before,' the movements he makes with his body, using arms, legs and back to pose and control the flow of his energy and that of his surroundings are similar to tai chi movements. The water around him ripples, pillars of water slowly ascend around Stromhyde, who is amazed, unable to deny he truly is fast at climbing. Lui looks around, still doing fluid and slow movements. Luckily, it's not hard to find an armored lizardman and a pink-haired girl floating amidst a crystalline blue sea.
“Awaken the song that speaks of empty skies...” the pillars rage upwards like geysers, spinning around and coiling like snakes. Lui bares his fists like snake fangs. “Now harken thee to the voice of the ocean lord! Magic, Hydro Explosion Dragon!”
The water pillar dragons take for the sky. They slash through the dark clouds, clearing the sky. A heavenly blue is exposed and the sun finally shines down on them. 'Don't create a world of dark clouds when you love the sun so much... Clay!' the dragons fly down, all converging at Raizan, smashing him under the pressure, breaking, crushing and ripping his body apart as it is dragged into the abyss.
Stromhyde swims towards her in high speed. Lui wants to rescue her from the water, since he doesn't know for sure if she actually can swim. But she interprets it wrong and figures he's coming for the kill, which makes her life reach zero. She could endure Raizan's death, but seeing that chimera monster swim towards her made her give up.
She knows of the punishment game after the battle. She braces herself for something as gruesome as Lui's spirit to hit her. At the same pace the otherworld vanishes, her fear increases. And she didn't even get to see the tentacles it has under the shell, that would make her even more nauseous. She closes her eyes. But nothing happens. She doesn't feel anything different on her body, no matter how long she waits.
Suddenly, warmth. Around her neck, against her cheek and chest. She opens her eyes. Lui is hugging her. Tight. She can't see it since his face is right by hers, but he smiles. An honest, genuine smile, the sort she had never see him open. She doesn't even know how to react. So she just takes it. She just lets him hug her.
“This time you didn't try to kill me, phew,” he laughs, wiping some blood that dripped from his nose. His face is still all sorts of hurt, he's just glad his teeth didn't break and his nose is mostly alright as well.
“...” She isn't sure if this isn't the punishment game. They're back on the rooftop, but it could all be part of it. Offering the illusion of comfort and then turning it a despairful ride.
“You know, Clay, every time you beat me up I figure something new about life. I sure hope you continue wrecking my ass whenever I lose my way.”
“I've decided on leaving this place. I'll talk to the adults, of course, I'm not that rash. So I'll ask you to please stay here and take care of the children.”
“Wait, why a monologue all of a sudden, this makes no sense...”
“If you ask me, going to another world and battling with spirits doesn't make any sense too. But we just did it,”he turns around and starts walking away. Clay still can't grasp this punishment game.
“Wait, Lui! Aren't you... Isn't there information you want from me? Or a revenge? I was gonna kill you for real...”
“Heh, to me it's an everyday thing. I grew up with you after all,” he puts his hand over his eye. The feeling of knowing the scar is there and why it is there makes him at peace. She cries. She tried to kill her best friend, and he doesn't hold it against her. He continues to hold her and the scar she gave him as dear. She doesn't know if she feels guilty or if she feels loved, but what matters to her is that a heavy feeling makes tears roll down from her eyes.
Lui doesn't bother to explain much of his actions, he only thanks their caretakers and says he'll send letters from time to time. He says there's a place for him to go, a friend to stay with, but it's all a lie. He only doesn't want them to worry, he'll decide everything as it goes. Not a simple task, but it's the way he'll climb this tower.
Carrying only a suitcase with clothes and his toothbrush, he walks out of the orphanage and looks up into the sky. 'Where should I go?' he asks the wind. Dramatic for certain, but he gets no reply. He laughs at his own stupidity, for thinking that would have any result. He takes a step forward. A motorbike almost runs over him. If he had taken another step forward, it certainly would have become a traffic accident. He freezes on his tracks, thinking 'my adventure has barely began and I almost turn into statistics already.'
“Lui!” The biker jumps off the bike, removes her helmet and walks towards him, a smile on her face. He doesn't know this woman, but she's hugging him and saying she's glad he's okay.
“I'm... sorry, I'm confused here, ma'am. I have memory problems,” he tries to break free from her, but she doesn't read the mood and refuses to let go of him until he says that.
“Ah, I, of course, wait a sec,” she taps her pockets in search of it, but there's nothing in any of them. She panics for a second, not believing she could have lost it.
“Ares, it's on me, you handed it to me, remember?” Another girl Lui has never seen appears before him. She was also on the bike, but while the other woman leaped recklessly, the other girl made sure the bike wouldn't collapse and got out carefully. The girl hands the woman a mask, which she promptly wears.
“Ah, Robin!” He feels sorta stupid, not recognizing her voice or anything else. 'I guess I always focused too much on the mask whenever we talked.'
“Are you alright? Did anyone attack you?” She guesses no attacks happened, as he is looking pretty okay. His face is a little swollen, but something of that level isn't what one gets from battles.
“Yeah, just now. It's fine, though, I... I won, I guess,” thinking about it, he feels as if he cheated. She certainly took down his spirit, but then he got another one in its place.
“...Was it your first time?”
“Yeah. It's hard to learn how it works, but we managed.”
“So I guess your spirit is a nice guy, good,” 'Are you trying to imply yours isn't?' She ignores Galvados' question.
“Hm, excuse me. Nice to meet you, Lui, was it? I'm Erika, Ares' master!” She offers him her hand. Hesitating a little, he shakes it.
“Master?” He turns to Ares, an eyebrow raised. She grows red in embarassment, Erika is hard to have around in most situations with normal people.
“I work for her. As a maid.”
“...Really? I mean, not that I thought you played masked hero all day long, but... a maid, huh...?” he scratches his chin, deep in thought. Ares feels his image of her might have started breaking. He turns to Erika. “Do you... need a butler?”
“Huh?” Ares turns to him, surprised. She didn't expect him to admire her that much. Obviously, she's interpreting it wrong.
“Yeah, I could use one,” Erika nods, not really thinking about it. She can have as many servants as she wants, it isn't a problem to have one more. And there's the plust that if he is Ares' friend, the three could be friends together.
“Wait, that fast? When I was getting hired, I-” Erika turns to Ares with a playfully angry smile. Ares nods and returns to maid mode, only nodding in agreement with Erika. “Are your guardians comfortable with you working on such a job?”
“Well, I'm on a 'cutting ties with the orphanage' stage right now, so they're not my guardians anymore, I think,” he shrugs.
“Where are you living then?”
“...I might currently be homeless as well.”
“We have servant quarters, you can sleep there!”
“That's no place for a, I mean, that environment is not adequate for a growing boy just starting on his first job. Would you be comfortable with living together with me instead, until you're older?” Ares lived on the quarters until she could settle down and get a home of her own. It isn't hell, but the debt you create to the Leondall due to it is fearsome. She'd never say such a thing in front of Erika, of course, but she plans on explaining it to him when they're alone.
“And a teen boy living alone with a woman is fine?” Erika puffs her cheeks. Ares gently lands a chop on her head.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, what do you think I am?” Ares briefly laughs, breaking away from her work mode. Erika laughs as well, it's rare for Ares to treat her like a person, not as her master. Watching the two, Lui can't help but feel it might be very fun to work with them.
Meanwhile, on a different layer of the world, but still on the same place, three spirits stare at each other in surprise. Rafil, Galvados and Stromhyde, all gathered on the same space, their hosts laughing and enjoying themselves together. Were a being from their original world to witness the sight, they'd refuse to believe their eyes.
“How long has it been, right?” Rafil laughs. They're not showing their actual forms, all three hide behind a smaller, pet version of themselves. Small enough to the point their hosts could carry them on their clothes or bags, were the spirits and hosts to exist on the same layer. Rafil is a yellow owl on top of Erika's head. Galvados truly only has shrank in size, nothing can quite be a pet form for it, the most it bothered to do was hide its weapons from sight. Stromhyde is a turtle with a snake head, a being straight out of chinese culture.
“For three of us to assemble like this... The situation truly has become dire, I'd say,” Stromhyde says, thinking about how weak animals form packs to ensure survival and take down larger predators.
“Ah, Magna is close as well. Just some cities away, Erika told me,” Rafil continues, but she lowers her head as she talks, showing she's upset. “But he totally ignored me... I guess he wasn't happy to see me.”
“He did say he was going to solve all of it by himself. The rest of us coming just steals the spotlight from him. While I don't pity him, I can understand him being angry,” Galvados shrugs. Yes, with all four arms.
“Was that really it? I thought he had started hating me...” A small light shines on Rafil's eyes, she cheered up.
“I think it's impossible for anyone to hate you, Rafil. For many reasons,” Galvados points out a small detail she forgot.
“I don't think my powers as the Goddess of Love affect a fellow God.”
“Well, since I'm quite fond of you, I think these powers must work on anyone. Otherwise I've just made a huge discovery about myself and might need some time to come in terms with it,” Galvados laughs.
“But returning to the main topic... If four of us are here, then, surely...” Stromhyde resumes the conversation.
“Riselfar and Zearth are nearby as well!” Rafil happily flaps her wings. She's the only one that likes all the others, and perhaps the only one that is liked by all. Some especially get along badly with others, while others have no particular interest. The relationship of these six sibling-like deities is complicated and hard to understand. It'd need a lenghty infograph to properly explain.
Back in reality, Ares tells Lui to continue fooling around on the orphanage for a while, she needs to return the, as she said, little lady to her mansion and confirm she's not getting fired. Afterwards, regardless of her being employed or not, she'll come back to take him home. He leans against the wall and waits. Then he sits on the floor with his back against the wall and waits. 'Is Robin even alive right now? The way she said it, she might even get charged for kidnapping...'
He notices there's a bottle of juice on top of his head. The girl put it there and gambled on what would happen first, Lui noticing it or the bottle falling to the ground. Oddly, he balanced it perfectly on his head. He takes the bottle and opens it. The girl also has one, she opens hers as she sits by his side.
“I'm part of this group, you know? You don't, since you never asked. But I would have liked it if you did. 'it's really fun,' I'd say. 'Don't you want to try and be part of it too,' I'd ask. And you'd say no, but in the end you'd come once and really like it too,” she's returning the monologue he offered her. “I don't get it very well, but they want to bring back order to this world and the otherworld. I don't care much about the reviving the goddess thing, I just like being with everyone.”
“You always were happy when you returned from your meetings, that alone was enough for me,” he says between listening to her and sipping juice.
“And Robin is the enemy. An enemy, actually. There's six of them, apparently. She attacked an important member the other day, then escaped here. They saw you chatting with her and figured you were her ally. So they gave me the order to kill you.”
“...I see,” 'so this time it wasn't her own will that did it? No, that's just wishful thinking from my part,' he shakes his head.
“If I disobeyed, they'd erase me from the group. That's why I wanted to run away with you. If we could be together somewhere far away, even without the group, I'd still be happy.”
“...Now that you say it like that, I realize how awful I am for moving together with Robin after refusing to elope with you,” He hadn't realize his hipocrisy until now.
“Haha, don't worry, I'm aware you like her more than you like me. This time I'll be the one happy for you.”
“...But your group probably won't let go of her that easy, will it? Are you gonna be fine? You failed to kill me and all.”
“Failure was an option, just refusing the task wasn't. There's many of us and only a few of you, it's a matter of time until someone manages. The six spirits we gotta take down are slightly different from average spirits, which makes them harder to deal with, but we'll find a way.”
“Are you recharging now? I get this feeling you'd have dragged me into a battle again if you could.”
“Yeah, I'm still disheartened. I need to let my spirit rest for a while before letting it fight again.”
“So... next time we meet there'll be more of the same?”
“Probably. Unless they move me to a different task and forbid me from trying to take you down.”
“...You're being surprisingly open,” he raises an eyebrow.
“Well. We're on different sides of the... battle, but we're still childhood friends, right?” She smiles. She voiced her honest thoughts on the situation.
“I guess. Also... after I get some good money and this silly conflict ends, do you mind if I take that offer? To go live somewhere away from here?”
“...Sure,” she blushes. She plays with her thumbs for a while, that line of his made it a little awkward to continue conversation. After a while, she returns to normal and stands up. “Guess I'll go report my loss. When are you moving in with her?”
“She said she was going to deliver her... friend back home and then come pick me up. But she might have gotten killed by her boss while at it.”
“Sounds rough. Good luck,” she takes a few steps away from him, but soon stops. There's something she wants to say, but she can't really find out what or how to say it. “See you around?”
“See you around,” he wryly smiles. This sort of exchange gives him a warm feeling on his chest. It's simple, it's common, but there's a purity to it that makes him feel happy.
It took Ares another fifteen minutes to return. She figured she could work out the papers for him to start on the job as soon as possible. With Erika's help it went very smoothly, only a matter of figuring which tasks he could take and how that would affect everyone's schedules and so on. After she explained why she was late, he climbed on her bike as well and she rode him to her home. Just a middle class apartment. While she gets a nice pay for working directly by Leondall's likely to-be-heir's side, she doesn't feel the need to live anywhere fancy.
“Wait, I just realized, does that mean you're not fired?” he asks, awkwardly entering her home. It's the first time he's been to anyone else's home, he has no idea how to act.
“I might have gotten a raise... for some reason. Something about taking Erika for a fun ride, getting her to leave her room for once. And since she wasn't sickly, they also assume I took good care of her. She's weak to sunlight, I mean, that's why she could become ill. And... they only complained about leaving with no warning, but she owned up for that,” Ares removes her riding suit and boots as she speaks. She's wearing a pair of spats and a tanktop beneath it. “I need a shower, so... Make yourself at home. It's not a castle of any sort, but better than being homeless, I'll tell you.”
“You're being nicer than usual.”
“That's because you're sort of a guest right now. As soon as you settle in and start feeling like a fellow resident, I'm back to normal,” she says it on casual tone. Not threatening, not joking, just saying it as it is.
The day ends with him sleeping on her couch. Ares considered giving him her bed, but ultimately decided she needs it more than he does. She bothers to give him a blanket and her pillow, but the bed she keeps for herself. 'It smells like her,' he can't help but be distracted by the odor emanating from the pillow. He'd honestly rather not have it if it's gonna unsettle him like this. Despite the adversities, he falls asleep quite quickly. Expected, judging by everything his body went through on a single day, in just a few hours.
As a small finishing note, a post scriptum to this turbulent day in which the wheels of his life finally started to show they can spin and move forward, it is worth mentioning that he saw no dreams. For the first time in God knows how long, he sees no visions of the world Stromhyde comes from.