A Psychonauts Fanfic by Digitaldreamer
Chapter Twenty-One: The Galochio's Burden
Annnd I'm a day late. Well, at least it's better than a year, right? Ahahahaha... I'm lame.
Yeah, sorry guys, I wanted to update this yesterday but I had to edit it since I don't have a beta reader and one of my friends IMed me in the first time since like forever and... well, yeah. Long story short the updating didn't happen. Buuut it's happening now so it's all good right? Right? Ahaha... yeah. Well, I hope you guys like it anyway, this was actually what most of my work was during September. There's one point where I might have gone overboard with Raz... if it seems like it is tell me and I'll tone it down a bit, alright guys? I personally think it's fine given the situation, buuut you never know how other people will perceive such things so yeah.
Umm, right, not much else to say. Hopefully I can get the next chapter up in a decent amount of time as well, right? Hey, two updates is pretty good considering how long the last chapter took me.
Anyway, on with the fic!
Suggested listening music is once again Above the Rising Falls, Rap is a Man's Spirit, Letter From The Lost Days annnd if you feel like having fun come up with some sort of slow classical thing for a certain scene with Raz and Milla because I didn't want to add what I originally planned on adding to the OST for that scene.
'Tick. Tick. Tick.'
The memory reel continued to roll on the player even as it ended, giving a series of clicks as it continued to run. After a few moments Raz finally reached out to stop it, gazing down at the rusted metal with sad eyes.
"...Huh." He said quietly after a moment, shifting in the dry, dead grass.
"Strange, isn't it?" Sasha murmured from behind him, his hands shoved into his pockets. "To see what a difference simple things like human interaction can make."
"Yeah..." Raz gazed down at the ground, kicking lightly at the grass. "He was so... normal around that kid," He gave a small smile at the memory of the image of the boy, laughing loudly and whole-heartedly as Nereus sat beside him, chuckling. "Spinoza... what a weirdo. It seems weird to think of those two as being friends."
"Indeed," The German said.
"It's like..." The teen trailed off, then shook his head. "He was... he could have been... I could have been like him... how..."
"How could he have been like you and not? How could he have changed so drastically to go from what we have just seen to the Nereus we know?" Sasha suggested, reaching up to brush a strand of hair out of his eyes. "I do not know. I believe the point of that reel was to show us that Nereus was once not so different from you... and that those two and your influence were all very important to that."
"Yeah..." Raz's eyes narrowed. "My influence... how could he say I influenced him and meant so much? How could he spout off all of that about not hating non-psychics and always being connected, only to turn around and do all the crap he's done now!? How could he betray his friend and his sister like that?" He snapped, anger creeping into his voice. "I just... I don't understand! Why..."
"Because things for him were different," Sasha said calmly. "Because the mind can only take so much. Because this is but one moment in a life that still has years to go before it becomes that of the one you know." He peered at Raz, his sunglasses hiding his expression. "Are you really so petty as to not take any of that into consideration when it comes to this other child? You who have saved so many others who seemed just as far beyond help?"
The teen bit his lip. "It's not petty... I just..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I... I can sort of understand... I know... I know it's not his fault, not entirely, it's just... after everything he's done, how can everyone expect me just to forgive him? Hell, I don't even know if that's the point of all of this. What does everyone expect from me!? To forgive him!? To save him!? I get it, we're alike, we're connected, Nereus used to be a good guy, whatever! It doesn't excuse what he's done! It doesn't change anything!" The teen ranted, squeezing his eyes shut as images of the past few weeks flashed before his eyes. "The dreams, torturing me, almost killing me, almost killing everyone, killing his sister, causing so much pain... he hurt you guys, he hurt Lili! His family killed all of mine, cursed us to die! How am I supposed to just let that go!? Why does everyone expect me to do that!? "
After that great rant Raz fell silent, panting. Sasha watched him calmly for a moment, then sighed and opened his mouth to speak. "Ach... Razputin, no one expects anything from you," He said as he adjusted his sunglasses.
Raz blinked in confusion. "You're not?"
"No." Sasha shook his head. "The conclusions you draw from this are your own. I cannot tell you which path to take, nor can anyone else. We can offer suggestions, but nothing more. Your grudge is perfectly understandable. However... I do not believe it is as long-lasting as you seem to think... why are you arguing for it when there is no one arguing against it?"
The teen frowned. "But... you are... you--"
"I have said nothing of the sort. Perhaps the others made suggestions... but even so, nothing more. And even so, you must remember... this is all in your mind." As the Psychonaut spoke he fished into his pocket with telekinesis, finally pulling out a cigarette.
Raz's brow furrowed. "All in my mind?" He repeated.
Sasha nodded as he lit his cigarette with pyrokinesis. "Indeed... and if that is the case, one must wonder... who can you truly be arguing against besides yourself?" He said as he took a long drag.
The younger Psychonaut stared blankly up at him, then looked at the ground as he kicked lightly at the grass. He supposed Sasha was right... who was he arguing with? His friends? Himself? There was nothing to argue about with himself... he hated Nereus. He couldn't stand the guy. He hated their connection, he hated how similar they were, he hated it all...
And yet still there was that image of Nereus being so happy simply because he had been happy, of two blond boys grinning as they pulled on their goggles...
He hated Nereus... or at least, he wanted to. After everything that Nereus had done, he wanted so badly just to hate him, to blame him, it made things so much easier, so much less complicated. He wanted to hate him... but he couldn't. He couldn't hate Nereus... not after seeing what he had been through and what he had been, not after seeing what their connection had truly meant... but if that was the case, what was Nereus to him? What did this mind want out of him, what did it want him to see?
He didn't get it.
The boy was interrupted from his musing as a puff of smoke suddenly hit his nostrils, causing him to gag. "Ugh. Sasha, do you have you do that here?" Raz grimaced, covering his mouth as his eyes watered.
Sasha shrugged as he glanced at his cigarette. "You were busy. I don't see the problem."
"It's disgusting," Raz grumbled, wrinkling his nose. "Seriously, it's bad for you and it's just gross."
The German Psychonaut sighed and obligingly put out the cigarette. "Ach, you're as bad as Milla," He muttered as he put the remaining half of the cigarette back into the pack.
"She has the right idea!" His younger friend exclaimed. "You're gonna get lung cancer or something!"
Sasha sighed again as he shoved his hands into his pockets. "Yes, yes, understood. I'll work on quitting. Really," He said in a completely flat, insincere tone.
Raz shook his head. "I thought you were supposed to be a teacher..." He muttered as he made his way for the door on the other side of the rusted playground.
The older agent shrugged. "I can quit anytime I want."
"Uh huh." Raz placed his hand on the door handle, pausing to glance back at the desolate playground for a moment. The swings swayed softly, the merry-go-round slowly spun... the teen shook his head and opened the door. "Goodbye," He murmured, turning away and stepping through the doorway as he left the quiet, forgotten place behind.
He could have sworn he heard a child's voice softly whispering goodbye as the door closed behind them.
-Razputin... Razputin... you...-
The two agents once again found themselves standing in the hallway. Raz quickly turned and slashed the door they had just exited, then stepped back as the doors once again began to whirl around them in a blur of dark colors. "So..." He said conversationally as the doors whirled around him. "In that reel, which Friend do you suppose Nereus was?"
"Either Ross or Monica." Sasha said with a shrug.
Raz snorted. "So who does that make Spinoza?"
The German Psychonaut frowned thoughtfully. "Joey?" He suggested after a moment.
Raz shrugged. "I was thinking Phoebe, actually."
The doors finally slowed to a stop and Raz glanced around, eyes widening as he heard a click. "Finally!" He exclaimed, pointing to the end of the hallway, where a final, unmarked door stood. "We're at the end of this stupid thing!" He immediately rushed through the hallway to the door, his trenchcoat flaring behind him as he rushed past entryway after entryway.
"It's about time," Sasha murmured as he followed much slower after Raz, hands in his pockets. "Wait..." He said as he stopped behind Raz, causing the boy to pause with his gloved hand hovering above the door handle. "Before you open it... are you prepared?"
Raz frowned, brow furrowing as he glanced back at Sasha. "Prepared for what?"
The German Psychonaut gazed back at him stonily. "To face whatever lies beyond that door, be it monster or man, your greatest enemy or your greatest fear. To sacrifice things you may not wish to sacrifice... to learn things that may surprise you. To do things you once thought were impossible... are you prepared to do all that?"
Jade green met stormy gray for a moment. He felt that feeling in his chest, tugging him towards the door, urging him onward. He didn't know why, but he had to follow that tugging... it was the only thing that felt right.
Raz finally nodded, a confident smirk coming to his face. "Yeah. I can handle anything now."
Sasha watched him for a moment, then smiled as well. "Good. Then open the door."
Raz nodded, then turned and did just that.
The two of them stepped into a very small room, roughly only a twelve by twelve foot square. At least, that's how big the floor was. The walls themselves extended high above their heads, so high that one could not make out the ceiling. Every square inch of the room was made out of shining bricks of smooth obsidian, save for various square-shaped holes cut into the walls.
"Huh... this is... surprisingly plain." Raz blinked as he glanced around, putting his hands on his hips.
"Indeed," Sasha frowned as he glanced around as well. "Very few features... I wonder where one is supposed to go from here... especially seeing how entrance seems to have vanished." He said, casting a wary eye at the smooth wall where the door they had entered from had been.
The teen bit his lip as he glanced at the spot as well, giving a nervous laugh. "Kinda feels a bit like a trap... there has to be a door somewhere..." He glanced around, eyes finally settling high above their heads. "Aha, I see it!" He exclaimed, pointing upward. "A door!" Indeed, there was a doorway hundreds of feet above their heads, from where light was shining out and casting an eerie white glow in the otherwise dark room. Raz frowned as he cocked his head to the side. "It's way up there though... I can't levitate that high... how about you, Sasha?"
Sasha shook his head. "No, I cannot levitate that far... and there does not seem to be any sort of ladder or anything like that."
"Yeah..." Raz frowned and scratched his head. "I don't get it..." He muttered as he began to pace around the room, trenchcoat swirling around his ankles. "How the hell are you supposed to--"
The teen blinked, then glanced down at his foot, which had just pushed a single seemingly normal black block into the floor. "Um... what did I just do?" He asked as the room gave a heavy rumble.
Sasha shook his head as he glanced up at the ceiling, taking a step back as the rumbling intensified. "I am not sure... but I believe we are about to find out." He said, gloved hands twitching.
There was a loud rushing noise from the walls... and then quite suddenly with a great roar, swirling black water began to pour from the holes in the walls, like hundreds of high-pressured waterspouts. It began to crash around them onto the smooth floor like so many thundering waterfalls, droplets splattering this way and that.
"AHHHHH! WATER!?" Raz screamed, jade green eyes wide with horror as he scuttled away from the pouring water to the center of the room.
Sasha sputtered and coughed as he quickly moved away from where he had been standing directly under one of the streams, his black hair already soaked and dripping in his face. "Well, it does seem to be his speciality," He said as he glanced down. "And if I am not mistaken... there is no drain." He added, observing the way the water was already swirling around his ankles and seeping into his dress shoes. He was trying his best not to appear too annoyed about his already soaked jacket.
His young friend let out a yelp as he noticed this as well, leaping into the air in a futile attempt to get away from the liquid and splashing water everywhere. "AH! You have to be kidding me! This can't be happening!" He exclaimed as he began to glance around wildly. "There has to be a way out somewhere or some sort of way to climb up to that door or... or something!" The teen began to desperately paw at the walls, focusing his psychic energy, desperate to find something, anything!
"I highly doubt it. That would be far too simple." Sasha shook his head as he glanced around as well.
Raz shook his head wildly as he continued to feel at the walls, boots splashing through the water that had already reached his shins "No, no, no, this can't be happening, there has to be a way out..." He gasped, sweat beading on his forehead even as the swirling liquid made him shiver due to the cold.
"I'm afraid there is but one way, and it is well beyond our reach," The older agent stated grimly from the center of the room, gazing up at the lit entryway from behind sunglasses splattered with droplets.
"No, that's impossible, there's gotta be a way!" Raz finally stopped and banged his gloved fists against the wet walls, gazing up at the entryway as well. "We made it this far, there just has to be a way! No, no, NO!" He grit his teeth and hefted up his sword, tugging the dripping blade from the water. "Okay, no opening, huh?" He growled, placing both hands on the sword. "Fine, I'll make one!" With that he took a step back, ignoring the way his foot slowed in the now knee deep water, and with a cry he slashed the sword diagonally across the stone wall.
A bright, glowing orange line was left etched in the stone... then with a hissing noise it faded away as if it were nothing.
"What!?" Raz sputtered, eyes wide as the sword dropped to his side. "That's... no, no, this can't be! Open up!" He cried as he slashed at the wall again, this time in the opposite direction. The line stayed there for a few moments, then faded once again, the wall appearing untouched. Raz gaped at it, his arms shaking. The water was rising, and as it grew higher and higher, he was beginning to panic. "No... no, no, NO!" He cried as he began to slash desperately at the wall, striking again and again and leaving nothing substantial no matter how hard he tried.
"Why are you doing this!?" He screamed. "Haven't you been calling me all this time!? Why are would you stick me here, then!? Was this all just a trap to kill me with the stupid curse!? WHY!? I don't get it! Why spend all this time trying to get me to understand, only to kill me!? LET ME OUT!" With this final yell Raz let the sword drop to the side. He stood there panting, wet bangs dripping into his eyes as the smoking gash faded away once again. "Why...?" The teen pressed his forehead against the slick wall, swallowing thickly. He was running out of time.
He was running out of time and he couldn't swim.
Sasha, whom had remained silent all this time, suddenly spoke. "Razputin... could you come over here?" He asked.
The teen blinked, then turned. "Huh? What's up, Sasha?" He asked as he waded over, the water having reached his thighs.
His former teacher was gazing down at the floor through the swirling, rising water, appearing thoughtful. "Could you raise your sword for me?"
"Um... alright, sure." Raz said, tugging the sword out of the water once again with some effort and raising it into the air. Flames flickered around the blade... and underneath the water, a small, dragon shaped etching in the black stone began to glow as well. "Whoa!" The teen gasped as he let his arm drop. "What was that?"
Sasha frowned thoughtfully. "Razputin..." He said finally. "Try placing your sword there, would you?"
The teen gave a wet grin. "I guess there's not much else we can try, huh?" He asked grimly as he hefted up the sword again, then grunted as he stabbed the blade into the slot. The instant the point pierced the etching the entire room gave a rumble, and Raz gave a yelp as the sword sunk halfway into the ground. "What the!?" He sputtered as the water around the sword began to bubble, the ground below him shaking slightly. "What's going on!?"
"I do not know, but I do believe we have found the way out." Sasha said, unable to keep from grinning as he adjusted his dripping sunglasses. "I believe your sword is heating the water and is directing it below that part of the floor... if this continues, it should propel us up to the door."
Raz's eyes widened. "Really!? Great!" He cried. "Now we just..." He paused, brow furrowing. "Is it just me or is that rumbling getting louder?"
Sasha's brow furrowed as well as he glanced around. "I do... believe it is. But what--" He was cut off as the rumbling finally culminated to a loud crashing noise as the holes shattered, sending bits of brick tumbling down to crash into the water. This was the least of their worries, however, as with it came gushing water far stronger than that which had been coming before!
"AHH!" Raz screamed, his fingers loosening on the sword on reflex as the water swirled around him, his eyes squeezing shut as he reached up to shield himself from the water that was already waist high. The instant he released the weapon, the bubbles ceased.
"DON'T LET GO OF THE SWORD!" Sasha cried out, struggling to keep from being swept away in the sudden current. "If you do, the reaction will stop and we'll be stuck here until we drown!"
The teen grit his teeth as he forced his numb fingers back around the sword, watching the bubbles appear again. "Okay, okay, have to stay calm, have to stay calm..." He murmured to himself as his teeth chattered, squeezing his eyes shut. Droplets slide down his face, clung to his hair and clammy skin. "The water's not there, the water's not there, it's fine, it's fine, I'll be fine..." Some water splashed into his face and Raz coughed and sputtered, eyes opening on reflex... and the instant he did, he lost it.
The water was up to his chest. The water was up to his chest! He wasn't supposed to go in water up to his chest! If he was in water that deep, the hand would get him. The curse would get him! The curse would get him, he had been warned, he had seen the hands himself, they were there! He could hear the whisperings of an ancient curse in his ears, could see the fingers grasping at him from under the swirling, dark surface! He could feel them grasping at his ankles, preparing to tug him under! He was going to die! He was going to die!
"No! No No No No!" Raz screamed as he tried desperately to pull away from the sword, splashing wildly. "NO, NO, LET ME OUT!"
A pair of gloved hands reached out and caught his, forcing them to remain on the sword. "Razputin, calm yourself!" Sasha cried.
"No! NO!" Raz shook his head wildly as he struggled to get away, beginning to hyperventilate. Water splattered this way and that and he coughed and sputtered as he fought against Sasha's grip. "I can't stay Sasha, it's going too slow, it'll be too deep! The curse will get me! I have to get out of here! LET GO!"
"THERE IS NO CURSE, RAZPUTIN!" The German Psychonaut barked, holding his former pupil in place.
"Yes there is! YES THERE IS!" The teen screamed, his face a mask of terror as he thrashed in the water. "You can't see it, Sasha! The Hand of Galochio is there, it'll kill me, Sasha! I'm going to drown! LET GO OF ME!"
"I told you Razputin, there is no such thing! It is all in your head! There are no such things as curses!" Sasha shouted. "Now calm yourself, you are the only one who can get yourself out of this mess!"
Raz shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. "I can't! I CAN'T! I--"
The teen blinked in shock as he stood there, eyes wide, one side of his face burning from the slap Sasha had just given him. His soaked bangs hung in his eyes, droplets falling from them and dripping down his face. Sasha looked back calmly, his splattered sunglasses betraying no emotion. The water swirled around their shoulders now, like some sort of great, terrible monster.
"Control, Razputin," Sasha said calmly. "You are a Psychonaut. You have saved the world dozens of times! You have saved my life! You have already conquered the beast within you! This 'curse' of yours is nothing! Fight it! Take control! You can do this! The only one stopping you at this point is not Nereus, it is not any sort of Galochio, it is yourself!"
Raz gaped at him, his eyes wide. "I... but I..." He shook his head, biting his lip, then nodded. "I... I can do this. The curse... it's all in my head... it's all in my head."
The German Psychonaut nodded. "Exactly."
The teen nodded shakily back. "Right..." He reached up with one hand, fingers slipping at first, then on the second try caught his goggles and pulled them over his eyes. "Control... I can do this." The teen declared as he adjusted them, jade green eyes narrowing in determination from behind red lenses as he tried to let his shoulders relax. The water swirled around his throat now as he plunged his gloved hand back into the water to close around the sword again, he tried to ignore it and the hammering in his chest.
Sasha smiled. "Very good. Now relax, take a deep breath..." Raz did as he was told, taking a deep breath and holding it just as the water went over his nose. The floor below him was starting to glow now. "And Razputin?" The teen blinked as he looked up to see Sasha smiling.
"Please... be sure to return safely."
Sasha released him as the water closed over his head.
"Wha!?" Raz sputtered, bubbles coming out of his mouth as his eyes widened. His words were lost in a great rumbling, bubbles swirling around him and clouding his vision. He glanced around wildly, desperate to figure out where the German Psychonaut had gone. He wanted so desperately to call out, but he couldn't, there was water everywhere and he was already having to fight to hold his breath and his heart was hammering and where was Sasha!? He couldn't go without him! Where was Sasha!? The teen reached up to clamp his fingers over his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut. He couldn't breath, he couldn't breath, but he couldn't keep holding his breath, his lungs were burning, where was Sasha!?
And then the world shot up from beneath him.
"SAAAASHAAAAAAAA!" The teen let out a cry as he was suddenly propelled through the water. Liquid surrounded him at all sides, gushing, swirling dark water that sent him tumbling even as he flew upwards. It filled his ears, surrounded him, tossed him left and right as if he were a plaything. His scarf and trenchcoat tangled around him like sopping leaves, his lungs burned as he realized he was out of air, he was--
And then suddenly, with an "Umph!" Raz was flung through a doorway and across a silvery marble surface, causing a great squeak as his sopping form skidded across it. He finally came to a stop and just lay there for a moment, face down in a puddle on the floor.
"Razputin!" A singsong voice rang through the room.
The teen cracked open one eye. "Milla?" He groaned.
"Oh goodness, darling, you're all wet!" He suddenly found himself telekinetically pulled to his feet, a pair of gentle gloved hands immediately fussing over him. "My my, what on earth were you and Sasha up to!?" Milla's beautiful face swam into view, tinted red from his goggles. "And I don't have any towels or anything, ayiyiyiyi...'
"Milla, Milla, I'm fine!" Raz yelped as he held up his numb fingers to try to ward her away.
The Brazillian pouted as she stepped back, putting her hands on her hips, her multicolored dress swirling around her legs. "Come now, young man, don't give me that look! I'm only looking out for you!" She tsked, her mouth pressing into a thin line.
Raz gave a sigh as he pulled his goggles off of his head and dumped the water out of the lenses. "I know, Milla, but come on, I'm sixteen!" He exclaimed as the qater splattered across the marble floor.
Milla's brow furrowed in concern. "But you're soaking wet, darling! You'll catch a cold!"
"I know, I know, hang on..." Raz muttered as he squeezed the liquid from his trench coat. He then stood there for a moment and closed his eyes, concentrating. His body gave off a soft orange glow and steam began to rise off of his soaking wet clothes. Within seconds he was mostly dry, though his hair was still slightly damp. "There, see!?" The teen grinned and flashed a thumbs up. "I'm my own personal heater! Pyrokinesis, whoo hoo!"
The older Psychonaut shook her head, though a smile came to her face. "Show off," She murmured.
"Hey, I can't help it if I'm awesome," The teen said with a shrug as he pulled his goggles back on again. "At any rate... let me guess, you're here to lead me through the next part of Nereus' mind?" He asked, quirking a brow as he glanced around. The two currently were standing at the beginning of a set of long, worn, circular marble steps that lead to an ornate set of black doors, though they were much smaller than the first gate to the castle. Though they were still rather far away, Raz could sense all sorts of psychic energy pulsating from behind the doors, as well as the whisperings of that voice he knew so well.
Milla nodded and gave a smile. "I am. But it's you who's leading me now darling, don't you know?"
Raz gave a small chuckle at this. "I guess I should have guessed," He said, shaking his head as he gazed at the door again with tired eyes. He could feel it again, that tugging his chest, growing more and more urgent and so impossibly heavy, calling him onward. "It's my journey, right? You're just here to help." The teen gave a small smile as he turned towards the door. "Alright... that's fine. Let's go, then."
"I'm right behind you, darling!"
With that, the two began their trek up the steps.
"You know," Raz said conversationally as they climbed. "It's funny... when this whole mess started, I would have found you showing up to be really weird... I mean, I still don't understand why you, Ford, Sasha and the Coach all showed up. I guess it has something to do with psychic connections of whatever, or maybe it's all in my head... but when it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter. I'm just glad you guys have been here to help."
Milla smiled. "Well, I'm glad too, darling! We all just want to help in any way we can, after all! That's what this has all been about!" She said. "I mean... I know you're much older now sweetie, but there's nothing wrong with taking some help, right?"
"Yeah, I get that now..." The teen frowned as he glanced down at his boots. "I just wish I knew what you could help with... I still don't know what I'm doing here. I mean... so far, yeah, I've learned a lot about Nereus... but what about me? I feel like I'm supposed to be here... but do what?"
The Brazilian woman frowned thoughtfully, tapping her chin with a gloved hand. "Well... perhaps you're not the only one who needs the help?" She suggested.
Raz's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Milla giggled at his confused expression. "Oh darling... being a teenager is such a silly time. You all struggle so hard for independence... but when it comes down to it, everyone needs help sometimes. You realized that after awhile... have you considered that you weren't the only one in this mess who needed help?"
"Wha?" Raz blinked and paused in his steps, glancing up at Milla. "What do you mean...help?"
The Brazilian Psychonaut beamed. "I really can't say, sweetie! I can only do so much, after all."
The teen gave a huff of frustration. "Why is it you guys all keep talking in riddles? This is so confusing!" He exclaimed as he folded his arms before him. "Why can't you just give me some straight answers!?"
Milla laughed again, the happy sound ringing through the otherwise eerily quiet mind. "Oh Razputin..." She smiled warmly as she glanced him over. "You've grown so much... I can still remember when your head only reached my waist, and look at you now. So handsome!" She reached over and pinched at his cheek, eliciting a yelp from the teen.
"H-hey! Come on, Milla, cut it out!" Raz exclaimed, blushing heavily.
The Brazilian Psychonaut giggled. "You'll make a grand husband for Lili someday, I'm sure," She said as she released him and began to walk ahead.
Raz frowned as he rubbed his face. "What does this have to do with me being here?"
"Oh, nothing really... I wish I could give you a straight answer, but I can't." Milla shook her head sadly, her earrings clinking with the motion as her heels clicked against the stairs. "I wish there were more I could do for you. It's just, you've grown so much... but even so, it's hard for me to see you going through such difficult trials and not picture that ten-year old boy who snuck into camp."
The teen blinked, then smiled. "I know... but even when I was that old, I was always throwing myself into trouble anyway, remember?"
Milla giggled. "I suppose you're right, darling.You've always been following the beat of your own little party... who am I to let my silly motherly worries get in the way of that?" She murmured, her shoulders tensing as she hugged her arms closer to herself, glancing back at the boy and biting her lip.
Raz blushed slightly at this, glancing to the floor. He knew Milla had a tendency to see any child under her wing as hers, in a way she was essentially the camp's mom. And when it came down to it, he really appreciated it... he had never had a mother, after all. But to see her pretty face etched with worry always made him feel a twinge of guilt. "Milla... I'm sorry, I don't really have much of a choice," He said, scratching the back of his head.
Milla sighed and paused, gazing at him for a moment. "Oh, I know." She then smiled again, reaching out and ruffling his hair. "Always the little hero, right? But... promise me you'll be careful, alright sweetie?"
The teen blushed even more. "A-alright, I promise," He said. In spite of his rushing to say the words so Milla would let go (he was a Psychonaut, for heavens sake!), he meant it. He'd be careful as long as it meant he wouldn't be causing her anymore worry than he had to.
"Good," Milla smiled as she released him and glanced ahead at the doors, which they were now very close to. "Now, is it just me, or do I hear music in there?"
Raz blinked, then glanced ahead. After a few seconds of listening, he could heard it... the soft strains of a classical orchestra, the soft babble of people talking inside. "Yeah, I can hear it too, along with voices..." The boy blinked in confusion. "Why voices? Nereus' mind has been empty up to this point..."
The Brazilian Psychonaut frowned thoughtfully, then snapped her fingers. "Sounds like a party!" She exclaimed excitedly.
"A party?" Raz repeated, gaping at Milla. "You can't be serious!"
Milla grinned as she put her hands on her hips. "No doubt about it darling, there's a party going on in there! And it sounds like a bit of a dead one at that..." She tapped her heel against the marble staircase for a moment, then smiled and grabbed Raz's wrist. "Well, come on now darling, what are we waiting for!? We don't want to be too late to the party!" She winked at him as she turned, her long, silky hair swirling behind her as she began to make her way up the rest of the stairs.
"H-hey, wait!" Raz sputtered as he followed her, trench coat trailing behind him. "This can't be right, it's Nereus' mind! If there's a party, it's one for the deranged!"
The older Psychonaut laughed as she came to a stop before the doors. "Now now sweetie, just because other people have different styles doesn't mean you shouldn't give them a try. Now, let's go!" With that, she took a hold of the door handle and wrenched the shimmering dark doors open.
They found themselves standing in a great, crumbling ballroom. The floor had been elaborately decorated with some sort of design at one point, but time had chipped and dug away at it so there was little left beyond the occasional gleam and flash of silver, sapphire, and emerald. The windows were all large and carved in elaborate arcs, though the glass was dark and dirty. Against the walls were tables covered with tattered gray cloth, spiderwebs hanging off of them and giving them a ghostly air. Dim, dusty glass chandeliers hung high over their heads, casting an eerie silver light over the room.
The creepiest part however, were the shadows. They congregated across the floor, blue-ish gray beings of differing sizes and shapes with features just beyond view. Sometimes one could squint and swear they saw the form of a woman, while other times they swore they had caught the visage of a man, or occasionally saw a child rush by as if seen through the rustling of curtains over a veil. They spoke in eerie whispers that made the hair on the back of Raz's neck stand on end, A group of them were gathered upon a stage and were playing an ethereal, sorrowful tune, while the rest floated eerily in groups across the floor.
"Whoa... creepy," Raz commented.
Milla gave a small laugh. "Something tells me this party is a little dead, hm, sweetie?"
"No kidding," The teen muttered as he glanced around. "And from the looks of things we have to go through them to go on." He added grimly as he pointed ahead at another, smaller and thinner black door at the other end of the ballroom.
"It does look that way, doesn't it darling?" Milla's pretty face twisted into a frown as she gazed across the dusty ballroom. "And it looks to me like there's no way around the dance floor."
Raz nodded. "I wonder if I can just walk through..." He said to himself, taking a few steps forward. He glanced back at Milla, whom shrugged, then took a deep breath and placed a booted foot on the dance floor.
The instant he did the shadows seemed to come to life, perking up from their eerie, quiet waltz and turning towards him, the whisperings growing in volume and intensity as wind swirled around the room. It was as if they were a swarm of bees, quiet when undisturbed, but the moment Raz entered their sanctuary they turned hostile, beginning to speed up and float around in each other, glowing blue eyes appearing in their depths.
The teen swallowed and immediately stepped away, hefting up his sword to defend himself. The instant he did the crowd of shadows settled and went back to their dance, moving smoothly to the music. "Well," Raz said slowly as he lowered the sword and let it vanish for the moment in a burst of flames. "That didn't work."
"Looks like they don't want anyone interrupting," Milla said, tapping her chin. "Hmm... perhaps we're not supposed to interrupt?"
"And how are we supposed to do that?" The teen asked, quirking a brow for a moment.
Milla frowned, then her face brightened. "Of course! No one likes a party pooper! If we can't beat them, we'll have to join them!" She exclaimed.
Raz stared at her. "Join them?" He repeated. "Um... wha?"
"Isn't it obvious, silly?" Milla giggled. "You're not supposed to walk across, you're supposed to dance!"
The teen stared at her. "...You... have to be kidding me," He said. "After all the crazy crap I've had to go through in this mind, now I have to dance!?"
"I'm afraid so, darling." Milla grinned and snapped her fingers, swaying to the slow beat of the song. She really didn't look too sympathetic, then again Raz supposed this was her thing. "Just get out there and show them that you know how to work it!"
Raz gave a groan. "I'm really not into dancing..." He muttered, shuffling his feet. Well, okay, that wasn't true. He had a tendency to dance like a complete moron to songs on the radio when he thought no one was watching, and of course there had been that one school dance he had gone to with Lili. When it came to dancing he mostly just jumped around and had fun, since he really didn't have any sense of rhythm. Normally he wasn't too self conscious about it (seriously, who really knew how to dance at school dances anyway? And it wasn't like anyone else was around when he danced to the radio), but this was an entirely different situation! This was life and death!
Milla rolled her eyes. "Oh, you're just like Sasha. Just go out there and try it, darling! Have some fun!" With that, she gently shoved Raz into the crowd.
The teen let out a yelp as he stumbled across the dance floor. The instant he touched it the shadows began to swarm again and the boy swallowed. "Okay, okay, dancing, umm..." He held up a hand and formed it into something like a duck's bill, then began to bop along in a circle, waving his hand back and forth as he did. "Neh, neh-neh, neh-neh NEH-neh!"
Apparently the shadows really were not fans of the 'Ziltch', seeing how they began to grow even more restless.
He heard a laugh. "My darling, you certainly have style!" Milla gracefully slipped in and took his hands in hers. "However, I do believe this may be more appropriate." With that she began to sway to the music, leading Raz in a ballroom waltz.
The instant she did this the shadows quieted and began to dance again, though Raz barely noticed as he was too busy trying not to trip over his own feet. "Gah! S-slow down, I can't-- Milla, I don't know how to do this!" He yelped.
Milla blinked in confusion. "You mean you don't know how to waltz?" She asked as she spun Raz around.
Raz flushed. "I was kind of busy being a Psychonaut and an acrobat, I didn't have time to learn to dance!" He sputtered as he stumbled awkwardly, trying desperately to avoid stepping on Milla's heels.
"Oh, well that's a shame, it's oh so much fun!" The Brazilian Psychonaut beamed as she spun again, taking them past a couple of shadows.
"Easy for you to say," Raz muttered as he stumbled again. "You know what you're doing!"
Milla rolled her eyes. "Oh come now darling, it's easy!" She cooed, taking a hold of Raz. "Now, count with me. One, two, three. One, two, three..."
Raz's blush deepened. He felt so awkward! Fighting psychic villains was so much easier than this! "I-I... gah! Okay, okay, one two--"
"Too fast, darling!" Milla grinned as she spun again. "Slower now! One, two, three..."
The teen gave a sigh as he began to repeat after her. "This is such a drag... I would have rather fought more monsters or overcome another phobia," He muttered.as he tried his best to focus on keeping his feet right, his trenchcoat swirling around him as he moved.
His dance partner laughed. "Oh come now, darling, it's not so bad! Besides, now you'll know how to dance when you and Lili go to special occasions together!"
Raz snorted. "Somehow I can't imagine Lili is a big fan of the waltz," He said as he mentally envisioned his dour girlfriend dancing willingly.
Milla laughed again. "Maybe... and maybe she really wouldn't mind dancing with you once and awhile, you won't know until you try, will you?" She asked, smiling as she let Raz spin this time.
"Whoa, whoa!" The teen yelped as he spun. "I-I dunno, I get the feeling she'd try to set me on fire!" He said as he continued the dance.
The Brazilian Psychonaut shook her head, still smiling. "Well, you won't know until you try, will you darling? That's what life is about, after all... it's about trying!"
Raz frowned thoughtfully as he continued to dance. Yeah, it was about trying. Trying... maybe that's what this whole mess was about. But what was he supposed to try? To forgive Nereus? To not hate him? To understand... to understand what? That they were similar? He already knew that... so what was he doing here?
Maybe right now he was just supposed to try to figure that out.
The teen smiled as he glanced up at Milla, looking away from his feet for the first time. "You know... you're right. It's about trying," He said as he closed his eyes and tried to listen to the music. "One, two, three, one, two, three..."
Milla's face lit up as she spun again. "Yes, that's it Razputin, you're doing it! Oh, great job, darling!" She gushed.
Raz gave a laugh. "Don't say that or I'll mess up and step on your foot!" He warned as he narrowly did just that.
His partner laughed as well. "Alright darling... let's just keep at it, alright?"
The two continued to make their way across the dance floor, a mass of color in the otherwise dim and dreary ballroom. The music rang through the air, mournful, and the shadows seemed to slid out of their path as they slowly continued onward. Raz hardly noticed, however, as he was too busy focusing on not stepping on Milla's feet.
Finally, the two reached the other end of the ballroom floor just as the song the orchestra was playing ended. Raz gave a sigh of relief as he stepped away from Milla, panting. "Jeez... that's way, way more tiring than it should be." He muttered, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
Milla laughed, appearing to not have been phased at all by the entire ordeal. She looked radiant and happy as always. "Well, now you know how to waltz, at least."
Raz chuckled and scratched the back of his head. "I guess... although whether I'll remember or not is another story." He said, grinning at her.
The Brazilian smirked. "You'd better, young man! If I find out you can't remember at the next company party, you'll be in a lot of trouble!" She declared.
"Awww, that's not fair!" Raz exclaimed. "I mean, seriously, this was kind of a weird situation! I mean... jeez, who knows if you'll even remember this!?"
Milla huffed, folding her arms. "You men and your excuses. I expect you to remember!" With that, she turned towards the door. "Shall we be going, darling?" She asked, smiling as she glanced down at him.
Raz blinked, then glanced back at the dance floor. The shadows continued to dance in the cold, silvery light, the mournful music wafting through the air, their whispers just beyond his reach. He then shook his head and turned back towards the door. "Yeah... let's go."
With that, they opened the door and left the quiet, sad party behind them.
-Razputin, Razputin... please...-
The two of them found themselves in a small, dusty coat room. Coats of all shapes and sizes hung from the ceiling, pressing at them from all sides in dull colors of white, blue, and gray. It was as if they were standing in a forest of them. Raz coughed as he inhaled a bit of dust from a nearby white fur coat, stepping back and pushing it away. "Ugh," He muttered. 'Looks like someone needs to do some spring cleaning."
'No kidding, darling." Milla wrinkled her nose. "And these coats... ugh, talk about lacking in style!" She muttered as she pushed several of the gray, dusty things away from her.
Raz coughed again as he pushed aside another coat. "Yeah, it's kind of... wha?" The teen blinked as brushing aside another coat caused the entire rack to shake, and quite suddenly rows and rows of the coats rolled back and several lights flashed on to reveal something that caused him to yelp in horror.
It was a skeleton. It hung from the rack, limp and rotting, bits of moldy flesh and dead blond hair hanging off of it. A tattered, gray tunic hung off of the frame. Thin, bony wrists were locked to the rack, bound by a set of rusted metal chains. It stared at him with wide, gaping dark holes, the worn teeth twisted into a grimace, dead eyes wrinkling like old grapes.
Milla frowned and made her way towards the teen's side. "Razputin, what's-- oh my!" She gasped, covering her mouth with her hand as she stared at the skeleton.
Raz shook his head and looked away. "Great," The teen groaned as he stepped back into the nearly made clearing. "Literal skeletons in closets. Well, this is just fantastic."
The older Psychonaut shook her head as she looked away as well. "I wonder what it could mean..."
"Hell if I know," Raz muttered, shaking his head. "But I don't think I want to go looking through this closet anymore. Knowing Nereus, there's probably more." He said as he glanced suspiciously at the other coats.
Milla made a face and moved away as well, brushing off the dust that had clung to her brightly colored clothes. "Well, let's see what else we have here aside from bones then, alright?" She said as she glanced around. "I for one would like to hurry and get out of this creepy place."
Raz nodded as he glanced around. "No kidding. Now if I were a door, where would I--" He was cut off as several coats rustled. "Um... did you do that?" He asked, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Um... do what, darling?" Milla asked.
The shuffling happened again, this time from a different section of the closet. "That!" Raz exclaimed.
Milla shook her head as she sidled up next to him. "It's not me, darling... and whatever it is, I'm betting it's dangerous." She said as she put two fingers against her forehead.
Raz nodded as he slid into a fighting stance, the sword of Vritra appearing in a burst of flames. "Knowing how this mind is, I'd say you're right." He growled. The coats rustled once more. "Alright, whatever you are, come on out!" He snapped.
The coats began to rustle once again, growing closer and closer as Raz's grip tightened on his sword. What could it be? A nightmare? Another one of those things he had fought with the coach? A shadow? Nereus himself!? There was a final rustle and a shadow loomed over them, blotting out what little light there was.
Raz snapped. "You'd better show yourself or I'm going to tear you apart, you--" The teen trailed off as something small, blue, and whimpering trudged into the light. "...Poor, defenseless, memory vault.?"
Milla let out a laugh at this, dropping her arms to her sides. "And here I was getting worried!"
"Yeah, yeah, false alarm." Raz muttered as he let his sword vanish again and walked towards the vault, making a point of going slow and not appearing threatening. The vault cringed away for a moment, then settled as Raz knelt before it and pet it on its head. "Shh, shh, relax..."
"Poor little thing... I wonder why it's like this?" Milla said, brow furrowing in concern as she leaned over to look at the tiny, terrified vault.
The teen shook his head. "I dunno. All of Nereus' memories have been really weird," He said as the vault finally relaxed and spit out a tiny, spit-coated reel. "Although I really can't blame the thing, I'd be scared too if I were trapped in this place." He added as he stood, glancing around for a player. His eyes finally fell on a dusty one with coats piled on it and he moved towards that, Milla following.
"How strange..." Milla murmured, hugging her arms to herself. "Most people don't go to such lengths to hide their memories."
Raz shrugged as he pushed the coats off of the player. "Yeah... well Nereus isn't like most people, Milla. Maybe this will help explain why..." He paused to glance at the reel. "It's called 'The Galochio's Burden'. Ooh, dramatic."
With that, he put the reel in and hit play.
It was a special day in the Galochio camp.
Family members rushed this way and that, babbling amongst themselves in excited voices. Shimmering decorations of silver and blue were hung up around the camp, the cooks rushed to make as much food as they could starting from sunrise to sunset. Children rushed around excitedly, playing games and laughing even as their parents snapped at them. There was an air of excitement, of joy around the camp.
After all, The Heir was to turn thirteen tonight.
Nereus himself grimaced as another loud child rushed past outside of the caravan. He hated all this noise... it was the most activity he had ever seen in the camp and to be honest, he didn't like it. It carried an excited, happy air on the surface, but Nereus could feel it.
There was bloodlust in the air.
"Child, focus!" Thin fingers with long nails painted like jewels gripped at his face, eliciting a wince from the boy as he was forced to look at his mother. She gazed down at him with heavily lidded eyes, her face covered with shimmering blue make-up, her waist-length silvery hair tied up in an elaborate style.
Nereus gave a sigh as several other women bustled around him, drying him off. He had already been up well before dawn. This was something he was well used to, but as opposed to training, he had immediately been taken to a shimmering, glowing pool with various markings etched into the stone. His mother and father had accompanied him and he had been commanded to drink from this pool as his mother chanted something. He had then been forced to undress from his usual white tunic and step into the pool, which had been cold as ice, and had been forced to stay immersed within it, supposedly contemplating his duty while his mother and father had continued to chant. Really, all Nereus had been able to think about was how he couldn't feel any of his limbs.
Finally, when the sun rose he had finally been allowed to step from the pool and make his way back to camp. shivering and pale, as his mother finally led him into the caravan. He now stood inside the dark room, shaking as icy droplets slid across his pale, scarred frame. He could see very little in this caravan, for it was his mother's, and he had never once actually been inside. The windows were covered with multiple layers of silky, patterned cloth, making it impossible to let any light in. The only light came from several scented candles, which gave off a spicy scent that made Nereus want to gag.
"Ah--" The boy winced as a woman got to his head and ran a cloth through it, drying his off. "Mother, is all of this really necessary? It is only a birthday." He said.
"Silence, child," His mother hissed, gripping tighter at his face. "You are The Heir and this is the thirteenth year! Tonight is the night of the ceremony. If you were not so weak, I would have let the purification process take far longer than it did!"
Nereus made a face. "Purification? For what?" He asked, as the women finally dried him off and stepped away.
His mother gazed at him coldly for a moment, then flashed a smile, though it wasn't a very nice smile. "For the ceremony, you fool. Tonight is the night Indra awakens." She drawled as one women rushed quickly around Nereus, rubbing all sorts of strange smelling oil over him, then stepped away.
The boy felt his blood run cold. "Indra?" He asked as the women crowded around him again, this time carrying elaborate robes of silver.
"Yes!" His mother exclaimed, her eyes flashing excitedly. "Ah, how exciting, is it not!? Tonight is the night your training is complete, boy! The night that your destiny finally comes to fruition! At long last, the time has come for your great honor!"
Nereus swallowed as he gazed down at the ground. Indra... tonight was the night, was it? He had hoped this would never come. What would this mean? Would he change? Would he cease to act like himself? What would happen? What would the ceremony entail?
What would happen to Razputin?
As he mused, the women began to bustle around him. Two forced him to lift his legs as they tugged a pair of tight, pure white pants on. A set of women knelt at his feet, wrapping them in dark blue cloth, and Nereus grimaced, he was not used to his feet being covered by anything. Still others lifted his arms, forced them into tight silver sleeves that gleamed in the candlelight, the cloth fitting snugly and hiding away his burns and scars. The boy winced as the robes were tightened to the point of being almost painful around his torso and tied together with a long, blue silk sash. The robes clung tightly to his thin frame, though the back trailed behind him and drifted like water all the way past his feet. The robe itself was emblazoned with all sorts of patterns, though central to it was a pair of blue wings and the Mark of Galochio sewn into the back.
His mother smirked as she gazed down at him. "There we go... and now boy, hold still as I apply the markings." She drawled as she took a small brush from a jar of shimmering blue paint.
Nereus grimaced. "Is this really necessary? I am not a woman," He said, wrinkling his nose at the scent coming from the paint.
Again the woman gripped at his face with her nails, eyes flashing. "Do not speak that way, child!" She hissed. "This is the ceremonial dress for your part, and you will go along with it! This is a great honor, you stupid boy, now be silent!"
The blond glared coldly back at her as she began to swirl the brush over his face, bristling.
How could this woman be his mother? She never once had called him by his name.
As the woman worked, the other women continued to bustle around him, placing all sorts of gleaming jewelry on him. Silver bangles on his wrists, gleaming rings of metal around his ankles that would jingle as he walked, a cold choker was placed around his throat. The boy gave a yelp of pain as an earring with a dangling, single shard of sapphire was suddenly jammed into his ear.
"Silence, boy!" His mother snapped. "You almost made me mess up."
Nereus hissed as a cloth was dabbed at his abused earlobe, numbing it. Couldn't they have pierced his ear earlier? No, of course not, that would be too simple.
At long last the women stepped back, gazing at him. His mother stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "One last thing," She said, reaching for a box on a table. She snapped it open and pulled out a single silver circlet, the Mark of Galochio etched upon it. "Bow, boy." The woman hissed.
The boy did as he was told, sinking down to one knee. A hush fell over the room as his mother began to chant something, the candles flickering as she spoke, blue psychic energy glowing around the circlet. She placed it upon his head, still chanting, her voice growing louder and louder.
A breeze blew through the room as if on it's own accord and the candles blew out.
His mother smirked and stepped back. "I present... the Heir of Galochio." She murmured, gazing down at him. "Rise, boy."
Nereus took a deep breath and did as he was told. "Thank you... mother," He said slowly, though he didn't mean it at all.
The woman nodded curtly. "You are free to return to your caravan to rest now, child. You will be summoned when it is time for the feast."
Nereus nodded, silently thanking the heavens for finally being able to leave. He was starting to feel light-headed from the fumes. He glanced around, his eyes finally settling on his old clothes, and he walked towards them, reaching for his goggles.
"What are you doing!?" His mother exclaimed, sinking her nails into his shoulders.
"Ah!" The boy winced. "I was just getting my goggles!"
"Stupid boy, you cannot go wearing those disgusting things, we would have to redo the purification all over again!" The woman hissed. "If they are truly so important, you may wear them after the ceremony, understood?"
Nereus looked from the goggles to his mother, then gave a sigh. "As you wish, I won't wear them." He said, picking up the goggles, watching his mother's face. She gave a twitch, but as he didn't seem to be trying to put them on she didn't do anything else. "I'll be going, then."
With that, he turned and stepped out of the caravan with his goggles in hand, silently musing over how much he would rather be wearing them as opposed to the heavy silver circlet upon his head.
It was as soon as he stepped out that he found himself running into Spinoza... or rather, it was Spinoza who ran into him. The other boy gave a yelp as he tumbled to the ground in a heap. Nereus silently thanked the heavens that it had not been him who had fallen and gotten himself covered in dust, or he would have found himself going through the whole getting ready process again.
"Nereus!" Spinoza exclaimed excitedly from the ground, peering up at his friend. "I heard you're turning thirteen today, that's so great! Happy birthday!"
The blond snorted and folded his arms before him. "I suppose that's one way to put it." He muttered.
Spinoza frowned as he stood, not even bothering to brush all the dirt off. "Awww, why so sad, Nereus? It's your birthday, you shouldn't be sad on your birthday!" His brow furrowed as he glanced up and down at Nereus. "Why are you dressed like a girl? And why is your face painted all weird?" He asked, reaching out to touch him.
"I am not dressed like a girl, it's a ceremonial robe you dolt!" Nereus snapped as he batted Spinoza's hand away. "And it's that reason I'm so down, you moron! Have you not heard everyone running around rambling about the ceremony!?"
"Ceremony?" Spinoza blinked in confusion as he glanced around at the various decorations. "What ceremony? I thought we were just having a party!"
The blond gave a groan. "You are truly the most unobservant imbecile I've ever had the misfortune of meeting," He muttered. "The ceremony, you moron... tonight is the night I'm supposed to have Indra awaken." His shoulders slumped as he said these words, his gaze going to the ground.
"Ooooh," Spinoza nodded brightly. "You mean the big monster in your head that you're supposed to use to... oh... OH!" The blond suddenly gasped, eyes widening as he finally realized. "Oh man, you mean--"
"They're going to expect me to go after Razputin? I am not sure. All I know right now is about the ceremony tonight... all I know is from here, everything changes." The boy glanced down at his hands, feeling his heart sink.
Spinoza frowned. "Why does Indra awakening mean everything has to change?"
Nereus scowled. "Have you not heard everything I've said, you dolt? Razputin is Vritra! I am Indra! I am supposed to follow our family's teachings and destroy him!"
"But you don't believe those teachings." Spinoza said, brow furrowing.
"No, I don't!" The blond shook his head. "I don't believe them, but I'll have to do it anyway!"
His friend's frown deepened. "Why?"
"Because the family says so, that's why!" Nereus snapped. "Have you not been listening at all!?"
Spinoza cocked his head to the side. "But won't you be the head of the family?"
"Yes! That's why it's my duty to--"
"Do whatever you want!" Spinoza finished excitedly.
"...What?" Nereus blinked, brow furrowing. "What do you mean?"
The other boy laughed. "You're supposed to be the most powerful psychic in the family, right? So who can tell you what to do? No one! Nereus, this means you can finally start telling everyone else what to do!" He said with a grin.
Nereus blinked, eyes widening. He had never thought of it that way. "You know... you may be right!" He said. "I'm going to be the head of the family... this could finally be my chance to change things! I won't have to kill Razputin! I can make things different!"
Spinoza nodded excitedly. "That's right! This is your chance!"
"This is my chance!" The blond repeated, positively ecstatic. He began to pace in circles, shaking with excitement as he babbled. "I can make things different! I can teach everyone the truth! I can find Razputin and save him, I can save him! I'll finally finish this stupid war! This is the night everything finally changes for good, Spinoza! Finally!"
"Yaaaaay, go Nerrie!" The other boy cheered and clapped his hands together, then lunged towards Nereus with open arms. "Big hug!"
Nereus shoved him away, back into the dirt. "You'll get me dirty, you moron. And don't call me Nerrie," He added, but he was smiling.
Spinoza laughed from the ground. "You're so nice to me, Nereus! Alright, if we can't hang out now, how about later?"
The other boy frowned. "Hm?"
"Well..." Spinoza smiled shyly as he began to trace his finger in the dirt. "You see, it's your birthday... and I don't think anyone should have to spend their entire birthday at some stuffy ceremony... so I was thinking, maybe afterwards the two of us can meet up at celebrate!" He glanced up at Nereus and beamed.
Nereus gazed at him for a moment, then smiled. "You know what... that doesn't sound like a bad idea, Spinoza. I've never actually celebrated my birthday before. It could be a nice change." He said, grabbing the boy with telekinesis and helping him to his feet.
"Yaaay!" Spinoza cheered excitedly as he was set down on his feet, then began to dance. "Nerrie and me get to have a paaaaaaarty!"
"Don't call me that!" Nereus snapped, but went ignored.
"Party, party! It's gonna be great, we'll have cake and presents and streamers and pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs and goody bags and a pinata and nifty hats!" Spinoza rambled, jumping up and down.
Nereus rolled his eyes. "I truly doubt it will be that much of a party, Spinoza. There's only two of us and we don't have any of the things you were listing." He said, folding his arms before him.
"Awwwww," Spinoza's shoulders slumped. "...Can we still have nifty hats?"
"...I'll consider it."
"Yaaaaay!" Spinoza began to dance again while Nereus simply shook his head, though he was still smiling.
"Spinoza!" Nereus tried not to flinch as he heard the familiar, shrill voice of Spinoza's mother ring through the air. Spinoza himself paused in his dancing, blinking and glancing over to see his mother and several other women that Nereus had previously seen in his own caravan. They were all standing there with severe looks on their faces, glaring at the two boys.
Spinoza, oblivious to the cold fury radiating off of his mother, just beamed and waved. "Oh, hi mom! Why didn't you tell me we had such a big thing going on today?" He asked cheerily, azure eyes twinkling.
His mother, a short woman with quickly graying hair and far too many wrinkles, scowled. "I already told you that, you stupid child! Now get over here!" Even with her usual harsh words, there was something in her dark blue gaze that made Nereus frown. And why were all the other women there as well?
"Why, do you need me to help?" Spinoza asked, cocking his head to the side. He was apparently oblivious to the odd air the entire situation seemed to have.
"Yes! You have... you have a duty to preform, we've discussed this!" His mother hissed, wringing her hands as she glanced over at the other women.
The boy blinked in confusion. "A duty? Oh wow, I'm sorry mother, I must have forgot! I'll hurry and help, then!" He said, immediately jogging towards his mother, slowing only to turn to his friend and smile apologetically. "Sorry Nereus, I have to go, alright? I guess I have something important to do, how exciting is that, huh?!"
"Yes..." Nereus trailed off, frowning. "Very exciting."
"Haha, yeah! I'll see you later!" Spinoza gave one last wild wave, then hurried to his mother, whom promptly tugged him away and began whispering in a hushed, harsh tone. The other women began to crowd around them as well, speaking lowly.
Nereus watched as they all faded around the corner, then gave a sigh as he turned and made his way towards his caravan. What had that been all about? He had never seen Spinoza's mother like that, psychotic woman though she was. And all those other women... what could they possibly want with Spinoza? Did it have something to do with the ceremony?
The blond shook his head as he opened the elaborately carved door. No, no, that couldn't be it. Spinoza was far too stupid to be considered for anything involving the family affairs. Spinoza had obviously just forgotten to do a chore, that was all. There was nothing to be worried about.
Even so, as Nereus disappeared into the caravan, he couldn't seem to get the image of the woman's sombre eyes out of his head.
It was hours later when Nereus was finally allowed to exit his caravan, flanked by several of the women and his mother. The sun had dipped under the horizon, which seemed to only cause the occupants of the camp to grow more rowdy and excited. Orbs of water had been summoned into the air, their eerie blue-green glow filling the camp, casting all sorts of strange shadows thanks to the gaudy decorations that hung everywhere. Great tables had been set out in a clearing, their blue tablecloths covered with more food than Nereus had ever thought the camp had. The delicious, strange, otherworldly scents wafted through the air, some so strong and odd that they made the boy's stomach turn, while others seemed mildly appetizing. The Galochios danced and paraded through the clearing, hooting and hollaring as a variety of flutes and drums were played in the strangest music Nereus had ever heard.
The boy had finally been made to sit at the head of the main table, where he sat awkwardly between his mother and father. The instant he sat the music died down and his father stood, causing the entire group to go silent.
"My brothers," His father called out. "Tonight is the night! It has been twenty years since our last Heir was chosen, twenty years since the last battle that left both Aquato and Galochio struggling. However, we have recovered, whereas they have only weakened! It has been thirteen years since we last saw that family, thirteen years since we killed the last of their wretched women! Now but one duty remains, the dawn of this long night of war has finally come! This is the last time, my brothers!" His rough hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Nereus' wrist, pulling the boy roughly to his feet and ignoring his yelp. "With this child, we shall at last finally end this war! The time has come!"
The entire group let out a great cheer, claps and shouts sounding through the air, yelps of "Long live the Heir!" filling the child's ears. Nereus stared at them with wide eyes, feeling his stomach twist. They were all so excited for something so horrible...
"Now, my brothers, celebrate, for tonight is the night! Be merry, for our victory is here at last! Let the feast begin!" His rather continued, unaware of his son's feelings. The rest if the group all gave cheers, then settled to their seats as the music began to play again.
"Good job, Aurelius," Nereus' mother said stiffly over the music.
"Thank you, Seraphim," Her husband replied dully as he sat back down.
Nereus gave a sigh as he sunk into his own seat. His mother and father had always been like this. He really doubted their union had ever been for any reason other than to give birth to him, and the two hardly did anything to disprove this theory. They were hardly in the same area of camp together, let alone the same caravan or the same bed.
"Boy, eat," His father nudged him roughly. "This is for you, and no one can eat until you do."
The blond gave another sigh as he gazed at the food. Most of it didn't look terribly appealing, it all smelled far too strong and seemed to be so heavily spiced that Nereus doubted even chicken would still taste like chicken. The blue lighting didn't help, as it gave everything a dull, cold air. He finally settled on some fruit and bread, piling bits of this onto his plate before picking up a grape. He gave a sigh, then popped it into his mouth. He really didn't feel hungry.
This small act seemed to be enough, however, as soon enough the party was in full swing. Family members babbled amongst themselves as they dug into the food, children rushed this way and that, laughing. The musicians continued to play, their strange music filling the air. His mother and father both filled their plates and began to eat as well, each pointedly talking to anyone who didn't happen to be each other. Nereus merely gazed around as he picked at his food, absently musing on the 'party' he and Spinoza would be having later.
"Whatever we do, it's bound to be better than this," The blond muttered as he bit into a piece of bread. He then paused, frowning, and glanced around the area. Where was Spinoza anyway? With all this, surely the boy would be causing some kind of problem... But no, he couldn't see that head of spiky blond hair and those purple goggles anywhere.
The boy's brow furrowed. Surely Spinoza wouldn't miss something like this, he had been rambling about it all day! The blond glanced around, his eyes finally settling on another boy with long, greasy blond hair who was munching on an apple. "Cassius!" Nereus called out.
"Hm?" The blond glanced up, scowling. "What do you w-- ...ah, my Lord," The boy bowed grudgingly, though the sneer on his face made it clear he didn't like it. "Ah... my apologies and congratulations, sir."
Nereus snorted, well aware that the other boy's words were a total lie. He had heard enough of the boy making fun of him in front of his face, nevermind all the things he was aware of behind his back. "Where's Spinoza?"
"Spinoza?" Cassius wrinkled his nose. "That stupid kid? How would I know?"
The blond scowled. "Considering you seem to take quite a bit of pleasure out of making fun of him, I assumed you may know."
Cassius snorted. "I haven't seen that idiot since this morning. No one has."
Nereus' brow furrowed. "Since this morning?" He repeated. "That's odd..."
"And not my problem," Cassius huffed. "Now if you'll excuse me, My Lord..." With that, he slicked back his hair and wandered towards another Galochio girl, whom glanced back at him and giggled.
The blond sighed and shook his head as he watched them go. "Inbred brats..." He muttered, taking another bite of his bread. Nereus gazed lazily around at the rest of celebration, fiddling absently with one of the silver bracelets on his wrist. When it came down to it, his family didn't look so bad... a few of them looked pretty hideous thanks to genetics but... perhaps once he took over, there could be hope.
His thoughts were interrupted as one of the women leaned towards his mother, whispering something in her ear that he only just barely caught. "The sacrifice is nearly ready, My Lady, and it is nearing midnight."
"Ah, yes, thank you Ares," His mother nodded, the charms in her hair tinkling with the motion.
Nereus frowned as the woman stepped back. "Sacrifice?" He repeated, brow furrowing. "What sacrifice?"
His mother glanced down at him, eyes narrowing. "Do not ask foolish questions that you do not understand, boy," She hissed.
The blond's eyes narrowed. "Mother, I believe I have a right to know, as I--"
Long nails suddenly shot out to dig into his arm under the table. "Know your place, child!" His mother snarled, her eyes flashing dangerously as if lit from within. Her beautiful face was a mask of rage, accented by the paint on her face. She didn't look so beautiful anymore. Nereus winced, tensing, then gave a nod. What could he do against this woman?
His mother flashed a smile, not a very nice one, and withdrew her nails. "Good boy."
Nereus slumped back in his seat, ignoring the throbbing in his arm as he glanced around. Suddenly, the entire party seemed far more sinister. What was going on here? What was the sacrifice? And most worryingly... where was Spinoza?
Something was very wrong here, and he had to find out what it was.
The blond glanced around and his eyes finally settled upon two of the women, whom were walking towards the back of the camp and were whispering to each other. He then glanced to his father, touching his sleeve lightly. "Ah... father?"
"What?" Cold sapphire eyes fell upon him and Nereus flinched, but did his best to keep composed. He had to learn to stand up to this man.
"I... ah, I need to go relieve myself. May I?" The blond lied.
His father's lip curled. "If you must," He muttered after a moment, turning a way. "But hurry. The time for the summoning is soon."
Nereus nodded in thanks, then stood, stepping around various chairs and away from the party. As soon as he was certain his father and mother wouldn't see him he hurried after the women, doing his best not to let his robes flutter too much in the wind and give him away.
At last, he caught up with the two and stepped behind a caravan, listening intently.
"Honestly, that child is so annoying... he doesn't even realize how important his place is," One woman muttered.
"Tch, at least he's less full of himself than his mother," The other woman sneered as they walked. "Thinking she's so high and mighty just because she was the one to bear the little monster... ha! The only reason she was chosen is for looks, little else. I would have brought forth a far more worthy Heir." She muttered.
The first woman snorted. "Ah yes, of course, because that would look lovely. I'm sure that little brat would have turned out so much better if he'd been born from siblings as opposed to cousins."
Nereus felt his stomach twist. So his parents were cousins... this was hardly a surprise, seeing how no one was allowed to marry outside of the family, but even so... it really was not something he wanted to know. The blond shook his head, it wasn't a fact that mattered now. He had other things to worry about. With that in mind, he continued to follow the two.
"Silence, bitch. You know nothing," The second woman huffed. "I was nearly chosen."
"But you weren't," Her companion scoffed. "Well Ares, relax, I'm sure if all else fails you can still be chosen to burn as the sacrifice."
Ares gave a harsh laugh. "Hardly. You know as well as I that it must be a child... though why this one, I do not understand," She muttered, wrinkling her nose. "He has to be the most annoying child I've ever met.
"Oh, I'm aware!" Her companion sneered. "'Blahblahblah Hi what's your name blahblahblah Nerrie is my best friend blahblahblah ooh, what are you doing, what are you doing? Hahaha that tickles'! Oh my... it's enough to make me want to kill him right now!" The woman snapped, dropping her mocking, high, nasally tone.
Sapphire eyes widened in shock and Nereus paused in his tip-toeing. They couldn't possibly mean... no, no, it had to be wrong, they had to be talking about someone else!
Area shook her head, her short blond hair moving with the motion as they neared a caravan. "I suppose it cannot be helped... he was the only child who would give the Heir the time of day. Stupid boy," She muttered.
Nereus shook his head, feeling his knees go weak. No, no, this couldn't be right, they had to be wrong...
"Indeed, a pity... but I suppose it cannot be helped," The first woman muttered as she reached for the door. "Such is a Galochio's burden, I suppose... even for a stupid brat like that." With these words she opened the caravan and stepped in.
"Oh, hi, I remember you!" Spinoza's voice echoed from inside the caravan.
Nereus felt his stomach twist. "No..."
"Hi, how are you!?" Spinoza greeted cheerily. "Are you having fun!? When do I get to go to the feast? What's your name anyway? What's with all the shiny stuff? Why--"
"Silence, you stupid boy!" Ares snapped as she followed behind her companion.
"Hey, what's with the rope? Are we playing a game?"
"...Yes. It's a game," Ares said, her voice suddenly sickeningly sweet. "Now hold still while we get you ready to play, alright?"
"Ooh, yay! I love games! Like there was this one time when--"
The caravan door closed, muffling Spinoza's continued ramblings.
Nereus stood just outside the caravan, feeling his entire body go numb. Spinoza was the sacrifice. Spinoza was going to die because he had bothered to be friends with him. Spinoza was... No. No, he couldn't let this happen! He couldn't! He had to stop it!
The blond let out a growl, sapphire eyes narrowing dangerously. They weren't going to take his only friend from him. "Spinoza!" He called out, his voice ringing through the air. "Spinoza, don't worry, I'm going to save you! Just hold on!" With that, he charged towards the caravan, his robe rustling behind him.
Before he could get to the caravan, however, a pair of strong arms clamped around him.
"My my, what do we have here?" The man from the healing caravan sneered, his face one of dark glee. "Looks like we have a little runaway!"
"AH!" Nereus let out a shout, bucking wildly against surprisingly strong gloved hands. "Let me go!" He snarled, bits of blue energy sparking around him. "Let me go or I'll kill you!"
"My my, such strong words," The healer sneered, tightening his grip. "I'm afraid I can't let you interfere, however. Your father is already quite upset with you, I doubt we want to let you botch up the ceremony and make him even madder, hmmm?"
"Let me go! AUGH! Spinoza!" Nereus cried out again, struggling wildly. Blue energy was sparking around him, but it wasn't forming into anything. Why couldn't he attack!? It felt as if something were clouding his mind, blocking everything...
"Now, now, relax. You can't attack me, I made some modifications to that ceremonial crap of yours just for this reason," The healer drawled as he tapped lightly on the circlet on Nereus' head. "No worries, you'll get all that power back and more after the ceremony. Now come on, we don't want you to be late." With that, he turned and began to walk back towards the main part of camp, dragging the kicking and screaming boy with him.
"No! NO!" Nereus screamed as he thrashed, reaching desperately towards the caravan they were leaving behind. "Let me go, I have to save Spinoza! I... ah! Spinoza!"
The healer smirked. "No worries, you'll see him at the ceremony... in a manner of speaking. Now relax... you should be more worried about yourself, kiddo. You've got quite a bit in store for you." With that, he threw back his head and laughed as Nereus continued to thrash.
"No! I have to save him! I... augh, no! SPINOZA! SPINOZAAAAAAAAA!"
The boy inside the caravan never heard him.
To Be Continued...
Dun dun dun. Oh the drama!
Every time someone reads this chapter and doesn't review there's less of a chance I'll feel motivated to finish this fic. Come on guys, we're two chapters away! Please review and tell me what you thought!
As for when the next update will be, I'm aiming for two weeks from now again but seeing how I spent the past two weeks totally failing at writing... well, we'll see. I'm hoping it'll take less than a year, though. If you review you're more likely to help me want to keep at it, so please review, alright?