Thank you, Vikertee. Today's chapter title is from the song A Poem For Byzantium by Delerium. I'm having a lot of weird health problems lately. I've had a headache nearly every day since the start of March and have been missing a lot of school. So if I'm slow to update and my writing is different than usual, that's why. Hopefully the quality hasn't gone down. There are more OCs in this chapter, as well as more canon character stuff. There is so much planned for this story that I have to write to explain how everyone ties together. It's going to be complicated. And big. But if I remember to put everything in, then every character is a necessary component.
I feel the pressure through my suit. I look like a spaceman, we all do. But this is earth.
The dark water stretches as far as I can see in any direction, leaching colour from the ruined city, fading to black below, blue above. We excavate the rubble, the rotted hallways of apartment buildings, pushing our way through. Even with all the people around, it's a solitary process.
We don't talk, can't talk through our black gleaming helmets. I can't see anyone's face and that makes them even more unreal. We just pass each other, no acknowledgement. I open doors, look around, leave, stomping awkwardly through the halls or swimming. Time feels delayed.
I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but it doesn't seem like I'm going to find it. This must have been a hotel. All the rooms look the same. Bed sheets and curtains sway in the current but never leave their places. What am I looking for? Maybe it is proof that people used to live here.
I pick up a pillow and throw it. It floats languidly across the room, drifts to the floor.
There's a noise coming from outside. Was that there before? It's getting louder. I push the curtains aside and look through the window. A group of divers, underwater in their astronaut suits, surrounds a building, grasping the edges of the roof. They pull up on it, kicking their legs down or pushing against the walls of the building with them, clearly working very hard. They're ripping the roof off. But where's the sound coming from?
A shadow falls over me and I spin around. Another astronaut. I beckon him towards the window but he shakes his head. The movement is slow, side to side. I keep pointing, try to ask him what's going on, but it's hard with just gestures, especially with these thick gloves.
He removes his helmet. Cole Thunder stands before me, his black hair moving in the current around his head like a separate entity. I bang my hand against the glass. White lightening-bolt cracks spread from the impact, and the window shatter silently, falling around my feet.
The humming is so loud now I can feel it all through me. They're lifting the roof, something glowing is shining out of it, bright yellow. I turn back to Cole. He's smiling. I pull of my helmet, chuck it out the window. Suddenly I realize I have no idea what to say.
His smile is so bright. There are schools of fish in the room, shimmering vibrantly. Their wide eyes take everything in. There are sea anemones on the pillows, on the windowsill, on the walls, arms waving brightly. It's all so intense I can't help being scared, even though there's nothing bad. The noise is so loud and why is he smiling?
He knows something I don't. They all know something. I realize I can't breathe underwater.
Any moment I'm going to die. Any moment I'm going to wake up. It's so bright. There's something I should do but I don't know what it is. Cole waves goodbye, turns his back and walks from the room. I take a deep breath full of water and wake up coughing.
Everything was a different colour then. A lot of stone buildings, and stars even shone brightly over cities because there was less light pollution. I miss the stars.
Streets were less crowded, the first cars only beginning to dot the streets. Roofless with wind-up engines, proud red paint jobs and never quiet.
Permed women in long, complicated dresses. Men in long-sleeved shirts and shiny shoes.
I closed the curtains and moved to answer the door. "Don't be so loud," I told my agent as he entered. "I'm trying to keep a low profile."
"Aren't you always?" said Christopher as he surveyed my apartment, spending a long while staring at the white walls with a knowing expression.
"Please sit down," I said, pouring us both cups of black tea.
"You're never one for decoration, are you Tori?" Christopher said as he sat down.
"No. I never stay in one place long, so there's no reason to bother. What is this visit about?"
"I got you a spot for a radio interview tomorrow, Star Station with Kana Langton – you up for it?"
"Seven A.M., so don't worry, long as this stays hush you're unlikely to be mobbed in the streets." He glanced towards the covered window. "Honest, Hatori – if you're so uncomfortable with fame, why work to be where you are in the first place?"
"It's something I can do well."
Christopher laughed. "I can imagine why. Acting must be easy when you're a blank slate."
"I'll do the interview," I said. "I'm not blank," I added, trying to say it casually, "I'm simply cautious about who I let into my life."
"Right. Anyway, good luck with the interview."
Rin and I go into Leftson on Friday. She leads us to a row of identical white houses – at least, at first glance they look identical. One of them stands out, with peeling paint and a lawn overgrown with thistles, their barbed leaves poking out from beneath the snow. Of course, that's the house we go to. Rin opens the unlocked door. It's dark inside.
"Bogwin infestation," she says, noticing my hesitation to enter.
"They feed on dark thoughts, take all kinds of horrifying forms. But they're harmless if you don't let them bother you, since they're physically powerless. Once they realize they can't get fear to absorb from you they tend to stay out of sight."
"I'll cast a repellant charm if they get too close."
As soon as I walk through the doorway, I'm hit by a wave of gloom. The temperature seems to drop ten degrees. Spiky shadows warp over objects I can't make out. There's a sound like wind and some kind of clicking.
Rin says something in the ancient language. The shadows grind to a halt and the room goes silent. Several things scuttle into the corners, like cockroaches.
"Those were them," says Rin. She casts an illumination spell. Even in the greenish light it's clear she's paler than usual, despite her attitude that the bogwins were nothing to worry about.
In the light, the house doesn't look bad. The windows are boarded up but the furniture is all intact and not bad quality. There's no visible damage to anything, and the living room all in all looks fairly typical. There's even a t.v..
"People think it's haunted here," says Rin. "So it's a safe place for magic users to practice, since any weird stuff that happens could just be seen as ghost business. And only we'd dare to come here."
"Is that why the Trackers don't get rid of the bogwin?"
"That and they're not high priority. Anyone brave enough to stay long around bogwin isn't the type they'd prey on, seeing as they prefer an easy meal. Eating all that fear makes them pretty afraid themselves, so the moment someone stands up to them they usually give up on that person."
Rin likes to talk about demons and magic, and I like to listen. It's complicated, all the rules of her world, but it's interesting. I've always been worried about not knowing things – it comes from all the places I've lived, all the different languages and customs around me. There was so much I'd try to remember that I'd forget the obvious things, or I'd mix up rules from different places and situations. But Rin never makes me feel bad for not knowing, only answers my questions, even a lot of the unasked ones. I feel safe around her.
We practice levitation first. I'm able to float a couch cushion across the room and land it neatly on the table. I'm not sure who's more surprised at my ability to accomplish this, Rin or I.
As I take a moment to get my energy back, Rin explains about the rules for dealing with demons of different degrees. Some demons are allowed to live in human society providing they fill out the right forms, while others are dangerous to people and the ecosystem and so have to be sent back to where they came from.
Killing demons is supposed to be avoided whenever possible, but has to be done with dangerous demons that are able to open a portal to our world themselves, and with demons that cause destruction for its own purpose. The very high level demons that do not follow the official laws are allowed to be dealt with any way the Tracker wants, although human Trackers usually stay out of their way. There are also non-human Trackers, although they and the human Trackers rarely interact professionally.
It is implied that there are levels of people who do this work that are above Trackers. Rin never seems to want to talk about them.
She grabbed my arm as I stepped forward. She met my gaze, her eyes pleading me to run. I looked away, back at the man who had broken our window. Candles blown out and the room plunged into darkness, his tall frame made him look like a stretched out shadow against the navy blue backdrop of sky.
"Get out," I said, teeth gritted.
"How rude," he said, voice cold, "to retract your invitation so soon after inviting me."
"I never –" My voice stopped, like the sudden rush of cold through me had frozen sound. I forced myself to turn fear into anger, as though that could unfreeze me. "Why did you come here?"
"I think," he said, striding towards me, his trench coat swaying in the wind, "it's about time we finally settled this. Like men."
"You're not a man. You're a monster."
"So be it, then. I shall settle this as a monster."
I can remember that feeling, the last seconds I had as a human. I can remember her protests as he pushed her aside, the glint in his eyes and his long fingernails. His skin was cold and hard, like a statue, and his fingers around my neck could easily have crushed the life from me. He wouldn't have flinched.
He was taller than me, with long blond hair and eyes that were simultaneously mesmerizing and painful to look at, somehow fiery and dead at the same time. He slowly drew one of his long fingernails down my neck, a long, clean cut, and pinned my shoulders to the wall. He leaned forward and I felt his teeth sink in, felt the warm flow of blood leaving me. I couldn't move. I couldn't tell if he had paralyzed me, like a spider injecting venom into its prey, or if it was the force of my terror pinning me still.
The strangeness of the sensation overwhelmed the pain I should have felt. My life poured out of me, so tangible and warm. I didn't expect dying to be like that. I couldn't honestly say I was even afraid anymore. I was interested to find out that living, and dying, were so clean and efficient, despite the big deal people always made about them. So much stress about death, when really it took hardly any time at all. The room blurred, like I'd been swallowed up by a cloud, and I slumped to the ground. I felt weightless, bodyless, as though I could sink through the floorboards or float through the ceiling, whichever I willed. It was very comfortable.
Suddenly, the process seemed to reverse. The room came back into focus, bright but deeply cold. I was aware my senses had sharpened, were stronger than they had ever been. He looked down on me, smiling, fangs still visible and stained with blood. My blood. I could hear her sobbing in the corner and I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to tell her I was fine. I wanted to feel awful that I had let her be so scared, that I couldn't protect her. I wanted to be so filled with feeling it hurt, like it used to.
But I wasn't. I felt nothing.
I wasn't alive. It was simply that the insignificant, physical components of me hadn't died.
I looked at the thing that had done this to me. I learned I could still hate.
I repeat after Rin, learning the names of the ancient letters as she draws them in the air with green light. "The oldest language has been lost to humans," she says, "and that's just as well, because the power of those words would be a ridiculous responsibility to handle. But a lot of the older languages are still known, and they have some of that language in them. That gives them their strength. This letter is Oric. Can you tell what it means?"
"Water," I say, surprising myself. "How did I-?"
"It's instinctual. It's so old and natural, I guess you'd say, that the language has become a part of us. Oric is a vowel, but the way most simple spells are set up, the vowels are the most important part. They're the power you're harnessing for the spells, and consonants are to control that that energy does what you want it to. Then there are the more complicated vowels, which do all kinds of weird stuff, but we don't have to worry about that yet."
"Oh. Okay," I say, trying to organize everything she's just said.
"Spells have different requirements – some you write out, others you say, and I hear that if you're strong enough you can just think some and they'll happen. Here's one of the most basic spells." She writes the symbol for water, then another letter on either side of it. The letters flash and vanish, and she cups her hands under where they'd been. A few drops of water fall into them.
"Wow, you made rain?" I say.
She laughs. "No, I just condensed some from the air. Your turn."
I take out the pencil and paper I've been using, since I haven't yet learned to write on the air, and I get the letters down as best as I can. Focus your energy into them, I tell myself as I curve my pencil around the word. Each line has its own magic, pull them together into one spell.
I've always been a little uncomfortable around customers who look at me as though I am a type of exotic food and they are trying to figure out the proper way to eat me.
"Greetings, Mrs. G'pgikonih!ohareq," Ayame says warmly to the large kinjali demon who has stepped through the door. "Here for your tri-weekly tea leaf reading, I presume?"
The demon rumbles an affirmative response.
"Marvellous! Right this way." The demon follows my boss behind a puce curtain.
The phone rings and I take it. I'm trying to give directions to our shop to a spoda demon who has somehow ended up on Jupiter while looking for us, when a shout in kinjali startles me. "Do you see the fast food place? Oh, right, I'm sorry, I forgot you don't have eyes, but can you smell it? Okay, now take a left – no, if you're at the Starbucks you've gone too far. One moment, please."
"I REFUSE TO HAVE MY READING DONE IN THE PRESENCE OF THIS UNHOLY ANIMAL!"
"Mrs. G'pgikonih!ohareq, my deepest apologies," Ayame's voice floats past the curtain. "I had no idea he was here, he wanders in sometimes – if it's any consolation, he says he's not a dog, but a human who was transformed into one."
"I KNOW A CANINE DEMON WHEN I SEE ONE!"
Shigure comes bolting from behind the curtains and looks up at me, head tilted, wagging his tail.
"I'm sorry," I say into the receiver, "I'll have to call you back."
Ayame and Mrs. Mrs. G'pgikonih!ohareq enter.
"A canine demon? " says Ayame. To the dog he says, "Is this true?"
"To a degree," says the dog in demon language.
"Shigure can talk?" I say. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"It is difficult to talk in this form," says Shigure. "It takes an effort get used to this differently-shaped mouth. At any rate, my problem still stands. I am unable to return to my human form."
"Perplexing," says Ayame, "but with this new piece of information, I am sure the issue shall be resolved! Where did this mysterious transformation take place?"
"The town of Coalbird," says Shigure.
Mrs. G'pgikonih!ohareq storms out the door, sending it rattling on its hinges.
"Wait, beloved customer!" Ayame calls after her, sticking his head out the window. "Next session shall be half price to make up for this inconvenience!"
"So why were you in Coalbird?" I ask Shigure.
"I heard an old friend was in the area, and I felt, in light of recent events, it was important to find him."
"What should I do?" I call over the roar of the jets of water filling the living room.
"Just – wait! Don't do any more magic!" calls Rin from the kitchen, where she's trying to close up the burst pipes.
I pace the wet carpet, uncomfortable in my uselessness. The jets stop, but water is still puddling at an alarming rate. Rin shouts a spell and the house goes quiet. I peek into the kitchen, finding her drenched and breathing hard, the under-sink cupboard open, revealing pipes covered in thick green bands of light.
"That should hold it," she says, smiling tiredly. "You pulled the bolts out with your spell."
"Not your fault. Definitely more impressive than most first tries at spells I've seen. So it looks like water's your element."
"Is that... good?"
"Yeah, it's fairly rare, actually. Most magic-users have one element they work best with – mine is electricity, Arisa's is fire." She gestures at the pipes. "This isn't my specialty, but these should last until I find out how to turn off the water supply." She reaches under the sink to secure a bit of tape that's started to stick up.
As soon as she touches it, the tape unravels, springing off as water shoots into the air more than ever before. Thick streams of it slam into the ceiling and walls, pouring down cold from all directions. "Go switch it off!" shouts Rin, her voice dissolving into gargles as water spurts in her face as she tries to reach the pipes.
"Are - are you oka-"
The basement is very dark. I cup some of the green fireflies in my hands for light, but tall shadows stretch down the stairs. I hear the bogwin clicking, but they don't come close and I press on.
There are a lot of switches in the basement. I switch off all the ones on a silver panel, but when nothing happens I realize they must all be for the already cut-off power. The guttural, metallic hiss of water through pipes echoes through the basement.
I move deeper into the room, darker and darker. I hear something different – closer than the water, and not the clicking of the bogwin, either. A sort of... slurping. Maybe the bogwin are trying a different tactic to scare me? No... I don't have any deep-seated fear of that sound, it's like someone messily eating noodles. At least, that's what I would have thought of it before. Now, in the dark, with no clear source, it makes me shiver.
I search around for the nearest portable object. There are a lot of the usual basement things here – cardboard boxes, a washer and dryer, shelves, tins of food. I pick up an empty rice tin the size of a watermelon; just in case I have to protect myself (although I'll probably run away if the source of the slurping turns out to be anything dangerous – which it won't be, it definitely won't).
My foot connects with something and I fall into a pile of cardboard boxes with a slight scream/gasp. The fireflies scatter into the air.
A face looks up at me, a very pale one, and I realized his dark hair had been hiding his face while he bent over something on the floor. Two long, pointed teeth protrude past his lips, which are stained with a deep red liquid.
I scream again, thowing the tin in his general direction. It doesn't go anywhere near him, but instead hits the stack of objects lining the wall on the other side. He looks to see what has flown past him, just in time for the tower to tumble. A bright stack of children's toys fall on him, including a wooden baseball bat which hits his head. He slips to the ground, his eyes shut.
I pull myself out of the boxes, unable to stop shaking. What did I just do? He could be very hurt! And what would he have done to me if I hadn't done that?
He's a vampire. Demons are real, so why is it surprising that so are vampires? Or maybe he's a demon that looks like a vampire. I have to get Rin...
Behind the fallen boxes, I see the water heater, and I locate the switch nearby. The water stops and the basement plunges into silence, except for the persistent clicking, which now seems louder than ever.
"Rin!" I call as I sprint up the stairs.
"Great!" she calls back. "You got it! The water's off!" She grins as I enter the kitchen.
"Rin, there's something I think you should see." At the tone of my voice, her smile vanishes, and she nods, following me.
At the sight of the unconscious man, she lets out a long breath.
"What should we do?" I ask.
"I... I don't know," she says, her voice a tone I've never heard from her before. "We should get him to my house. There will be people there who can help us."
She casts a spell and the man lifts into the air as though lying on an invisible board and follows us back up the stairs. In the light, I see his fangs are gone, but the red substance is still there. If it's not blood, it looks very much like it.
"Wait here," says Rin, dashing out of the house and leaving the man on the living room couch. A few minutes later, I hear a car pull up and I look to see her driving it. She gets out, checks that the area is clear, and then whooshes the man into the back seat. "Come on," she says, and I get in the passenger seat.
"Where did you get this?" I ask as she starts driving. I notice there's no key in the ignition, but we're moving.
"Found it," she says, voice quiet.
I know she's stolen it. I nod once.
"It's okay," she says quickly. "It's an emergency. I'll put it back after."
After ten minutes that feel like an eternity of uncomfortable quiet, we pull up in front of Rin's house. The lights are on inside.
"I thought you lived alone," I say, confused.
A woman runs out of the house, waves at us. "Rin!" she calls, with a wide smile. Very long, wavy brown hair flies behind her as she moves. "So I finally see you again! Is this your friend?" She smiles at me, then looks into the back seat and abruptly becomes serious. "What happened?"
"Hi, Carmen," says Rin. "Welcome home."
The man rests on Rin's couch, a blanket draped over him and his head propped against a pillow. "Yes, he's definitely a vampire," said Carmen before she cleaned the blood off his face. "We'll let him explain himself when he wakes up."
Rin, who looks as dazed as I feel, sits at the kitchen table with me as Carmen insists on preparing us tea. The scent of spices fills the room.
"Mitch and Delisle are still sleeping," says Carmen quietly. "Jet lag. Jade's in his room if you want to say hi."
"Maybe later," mumbles Rin.
Carmen sets cups of tea in front of all of us and sits down. Up close, I can see the soft lines in her face, and I place her age at mid thirties. I thank her for the tea, and she smiles again and says it's no problem. The way she says it makes it sound like she's surprised to be thanked. She has a very warm, genuine smile. Her happiness radiates like warmth.
"You've probably gathered, but I'm Carmen," she says.
"Tohru. Pleased to meet you."
"So how long have you and Rin known each other?"
I think back. "Since I moved here," I say, "so about a month and a half."
"That explains why I've never met you," says Carmen. "Rin probably mentioned, the rest of us have been in Egypt the last three months. She chose to stay here for Tracking and to look after the house."
"Oh," I say politely, still trying to figure out the relationship between Rin and this woman. I would have guessed family, except this woman is Caucasian. But she lives with Rin, and so do Mitch and Jade and Delisle. So many names I've never heard Rin say.
"I think I am going to go see Jade," says Rin, rising to her feet, leaving her tea untouched.
"Okay. see you later," says Carmen. She gets no response.
Once Rin is out of the room, Carmen says to me, "She never mentioned me, did she?"
I shake my head, then worry that I'm going to get Rin in trouble. Before I can say something to excuse Rin from this, Carmen says, "Yeah, that's like her." She doesn't sound angry, but a bit sad. "Mitch and I are her parents. Jade's her brother, and Delisle is her sister."
Begining to piece things together, I say, "Is Rin adopted?" then feel embarrassed. That's probably not the type of thing you're supposed to ask.
"Yeah," says Carmen, still speaking quietly. "When she was five. Mitch and I were supposed to teach her how to control her powers – I used to be a Tracker, and he's a wizard – but she stayed with us for a year, and well, we felt like a family. So we made it official. Rin still kept her last name. I guess she wanted to hold on to part of her old life."
I can't think of anything to say. I drain my tea. I've realized how little I really knew about Rin's life until now. How much I probably still don't know.
As though reading my mind, Carmen says, "It's not you. She probably doesn't tell these things to anyone." She forced a laugh. "She'll probably mad at me now for telling you her secrets."
I nod. I don't know how to explain. How I thought maybe I could be more to Rin than an 'anyone' for her to keep secrets from.
So I stay quiet. Even if she doesn't see me the same way I see her, I don't want to risk my friendship with her in the hopes of something.... more? Different? I'm not sure. It's hard to think straight, and I probably should stop thinking about impossible, or at least unlikely, things.
Jade lies on top of his guitar-patterned bed sheets, headphones plugged into the amplifier connected to the guitar in his hands, which he is playing frantically, the notes metallic through the room.
"Hey," I say, sitting down in the chair at his desk.
He doesn't acknowledge me, and I wonder if he's heard me, and whether he can see me with so much of his long blond hair falling in front of his eyes. He finishes the song, letting the last chord ring through the room as the strings gradually cease to vibrate. "I'm still mad at you," he says, not looking at me or taking off his headphones.
"I figured. How was Egypt?"
"Interesting. Hot. You missed the pyramids."
"I'm sure Delisle will show me the pictures."
"Delisle sucks at photography. Most of her pictures are the inside of her pocket, or her hands, because she was holding the camera backwards or didn't turn it off."
"Besides," says Jade, clearly annoyed, "it's not like being there. You could have come, we're not that terrible to be around."
Jade's always had a way of being direct. Sometimes I think that's my own influence. It's probably a good thing, that he doesn't let me bullshit my way out of things, but it would be nice to be able to get away with stuff sometimes.
"I don't think you're awful," I say, "I just-"
"Thought it would be more fun to spend three months by yourself?"
"I had to do Tracking."
"You could have got someone to substitute for you. What about Arisa?"
"I... fine. There were some things I had to figure out, okay Jade? And I thought it would be easier to do on my own."
"Did you figure them out?"
"I'm not sure."
"Then you didn't," says Jade. "Real answers are clear."
"Yes they are."
There's really no use arguing with an eleven-year-old. "Did you write any new songs in Egypt?" I ask.
"Hundreds." He says it in that fake-casual way of someone who's trying not to brag about accomplishing something clearly amazing, yet wants to be recognized for it.
"Good job," I say.
"Can I hear one?"
"Maybe later." He sets the guitar in its stand. "I think I'm gonna go sleep. Can you turn off the light?"
"Sure." I flick off the switch on my way to the door.
"That thing you were wondering about –" Jade yawns – "I hope you find out the answer."
"Thanks. Good night."
I am in a city and the buildings keep getting higher, stretching out of the ground, up until they blot out the sky. The world swirls darkly, and I realize I am indoors. The walls and ceiling are black. There are coloured balloons, a lot of people talking. I think I knew them at one point, but now I don't want to talk to any of them.
There's a string quartet playing. She's got the violin, her eyes closed, her hands making the elegant movements across the strings, the sound perfect. Her hair is tied back in a bun, a few escaped strands swaying with her movements. She plays so passionately. The sounds she creates are like their own world, a landscape of notes, a field of sound. They are almost as beautiful as her.
She doesn't see me. I try to get close to her, but suddenly everyone is blocking my way. Old friends and aquaintences trying to talk to me, but I can't make out the words coming out of their mouths. There is all too much sound, and suddenly I can't hear her playing. Only chaos. I look up and she's gone. The faces begin to fold like origami, becoming tiny points of colour. They become grains of sand. The room becomes an ocean at night, and the lights are pure white stars. And I see her again.
She is walking on the beach, in front of the glittering black water, and she smiles and waves at me. She motions for me to follow and then takes off running, into the water. I chase, but I'm too slow. Her head disappears beneath the waves. I lose her.
I am in an elevator and something snaps. Plummet. People around me are screaming. It's pitch black. A thud as the ground rises up to meet us. Pain. The sounds of lives extinguishing. But I'm still here. The metallic tang of blood fills the air.
"Mom! I think he's waking up!"