Week 1, Day 7: Defeat Your Partner
She hated them for doing that to Allison. She hated them all. She loathed them. She despised them. She wanted to kill them all with her bare hands, rip their hearts out, cook soup with them and eat it. Then she would resurrect those bastards and kill them again, and maybe a few more times after that and then once again. But they couldn't even have hearts for her to rip out, because those things were not people or even remotely human. The Noise had more humanity in them than Joshua and his entire oh godly ensemble.
Her arms were still wrapped protectively around her partner, whom she must have mistaken for a giant teddy bear in her sleep, afraid of her pain more than Remy's own. The victim didn't seem to mind too much, however, as she was cuddled up to the brunette, nuzzling Remy's neck.
Thirteen's eyes shot open and she sat up so quickly as if she had just realized she had been sleeping on a bed of cacti. "Allison! Allison, are yuh—does it still a—are you okay?" She was so startled she didn't know which expression of 'Oh my god I fell asleep and now I don't know ARE YOU ALRIGHT?' to blurt out first. There was no blood and her shirt was still intact, but the only thing that told her was that now the wound wasn't protected. She helped Cameron sit up and pulled up her sleeve in order to examine the arm nervously.
The blonde giggled. "Relax! I'm fine, thanks to you."
Oh, right. The day has changed. It was all back where it started. No blood. Right. All good. Thanks to me you got injured in the first place. She mentally slapped herself for making a fool of herself. "Oh. Um, that's good." Suddenly she felt terribly dumb for overreacting like that. Judging by Cameron shyly looking away and smirking, however, the older doctor must have thought it was cute. Remy rolled her eyes. Back where it started.
The brown-haired woman did as she was told. Their surroundings seemed to merge into a great white desert, but she noticed that there were strange little bumps all around it in placed so that there was mostly equal distance between each two of them. Some were taller than others, some had bouquets of withering flowers with their leaves fallen off due to the snowstorm that had taken place in the night lying before them. When she looked closely, she realized the bumps were, in reality, tombstones. "We're still at the graveyard."
"Yes, but that's not what I meant. Look again."
Thirteen glanced at Cameron with a frown, clearly not understanding her point, so Allison gestured towards a row of gravestones in front of them. "The flowers."
Remy looked again. There seemed to be two rows of red spots, each to one side of an invisible road. Upon closer inspection, she saw that they were indeed flowers in full bloom. Small, slightly crumpled red petals were arranged into a circle on top of every flower and from the center of every group of petals emerged a long, bright red anther curved upwards.
"Spider lilies," the blonde informed her with a shaky voice as she stared at the strange plants.
There was still a frown on Thirteen's face. "Okay… So what's so scary about a few spider lilies? It is weird that they're not damaged or covered in snow, but I still don't see your point."
Allison cleared her throat. "Well for one thing, they are commonly used as ornamental plants in various countries in Asia, but they're not even supposed to be growing here. That's not what bothers me the most, though. Spider lilies are a bad omen."
"How is a random species of plant life a bad omen?"
"You don't understand," Cameron said and shook her head. "There are many legends of these exact flowers. I know a few, and none of them are good."
"Then tell me," Remy suggested and crossed her arms over her chest. "In return, I'll tell you it's just superstitious nonsense."
The blonde sighed. She plucked one of the lilies nearby out of the ground and twirled it around her fingers as she spoke. "It is said that the spider lily grows on both sides of the path to hell, and that it's permeated with poison that makes one lose consciousness and memory. Never can its leaves and flowers grow at the same time; when it blooms, the leaves fall off, and when the leaves grow, the flowers wilt. It is said that they were once two elves, one of whom guarded the flower and the other protected the leaf. They knew they could never meet but were curious to see one another, so they managed to trick the god overseeing them and met on a fateful spring night of a full moon. They fell deeply in love. When the god found out, he punished them by laying a curse on the two, so that they would never see each other again. Because of this, they say that these flowers foreshadow the departure of a loved one. They say that when a person sees someone they may never see again, spider lilies will sprout."
Remy got so engrossed in Allison's stories, contemplating the power of the mysteriously concealed devil, that she didn't notice Allison had stopped talking until Allison's piercing gaze abandoned the petals and met her own. She poked the other woman playfully. "Come on, Allison, it's just a bunch of fairytales. Don't be bothered by them."
"I guess. I just have a bad feeling about this…"
Suddenly, their phones went off. However, there was no pang of the clock inprinting itself in their flesh as they would have expected. They shared a brief worried look and both checked their phones.
"Follow the way. There is no time limit. I will be waiting."
Remy stood up to go. Cameron followed close behind and grabbed her by the wrist. "Don't!"
The brunette turned around and smiled a reassuring smile. "Allison, it's just stories. These flowers can't harm you in any way. Besides, what else do you want to do, stay here until we freeze to our second death?" She squeezed the blonde's arm and immediately noticed that she was instinctively touching the spot where the wound had been. Stupid. "There's no point in staring at what's been. We can only go forward."
Cameron knew she was going to regret this. "Alright. I just don't like this. Do you think they're trying to tell us something with all this?"
"If that's the case, then I have a message to deliver as well," Thirteen said, took the flower Cameron was still holding and ripped it to shreds, letting the torn petals descend onto the field of snow. "We are leaving here alive."
She could only hope she sounded more confident than she truly felt. It was not right.
They must have been walking for hours. The path took the same route they had walked the day before, only in the opposite direction. They exited the cemetery and marched past the medical center, past the Small World café and Conte's Bar, which they would hopefully see again. They entered the Community Park and kept going to the north, by one of the few lakes in Princeton, and into the woods again. Those vast, menacing woods. That was where things took a turn for the worse. They had been there before, together and by themselves too, and once they got deeper into the forest, they couldn't recall any of it. Wildlife had disappeared and the deeper they went, the more they felt that the real forest had only extended to miles behind them. This was a still, windless city of branches that the sky could not be seen through. Although they were surrounded by all those trees and moss growing on the rocks, there was nothing. Although they had one another, they felt strangely alone, as if they were drifting apart just by following the ominous trail. Yet they were still being observed with a wary eye of spider lilies, which all looked exactly the same, not even one petal bent in a different angle, all staring right through the two women as if they knew everything that was going on in their minds, hearts and souls. It was as if the lilies knew their deepest, darkest secrets, everything they kept from the world – and one another. They were their embodiment. Might have been that each of those flowers represented a different secret, but the one thing they all had in common were the unheard whispers: Go ahead. In order to pass the time and to help her mask her fear better, Cameron played around with her remaining pins.
"That's weird," she mumbled while toying with the pin that had helped her summon a giant icicle before in her hand.
"What is it?" Thirteen asked, happy to have received an opportunity to stop walking and thinking for a minute.
"The ice pin. Previously there was one icicle drawn on it, but now there are three."
The brunette frowned. "Let me see," she murmured and examined the pin herself. "It was number #001 before. This pin is number #002. It says Ice Risers."
"Are yours all the same?"
Remy pulled out all her pins and unfolded them in her hand. "Yeah, mine haven't changed… but hey, this is funny. Remember that light bullet thing I've been using? Its number is thirteen."
"Huh? I just noticed; the barbed wire I have is number thirty-one."
Both women looked at one another from under their eyebrows. Those were the first pins they had used. "No way. No way in hell."
Apparently, all that wasn't good (and spooky) enough. The next thing they knew, they reached the entrance to hell itself. At least it surely looked like one. In front of them stood a rocky hill as tall as the eye could see and at its bottom a mouth of a cave. The path of lilies urged the two women to go on. Cameron and Thirteen had no choice but to walk through the opening with Remy carrying a moderate ball of spirit fire to aid them in the darkness that arose.
Even if the message said otherwise, there was no time. There was never enough time. Never an opportunity, never a chance. They both knew that, and both kept walking in silence with the knowledge that they would regret it later for many, if not all days to be.
Thirteen stopped and rubbed her eyes, though she was neither drowsy nor had something fallen in them; it was a mere gesture of frustration. There was only one way reality would have it, and that way led nowhere to Cameron and her having a decent conversation in the near future. "Hey, Allison."
"Yes?" Those lucid irises of hers burned bright blue in the light of the fire. Thirteen thought she unwillingly captured the blonde's innocence perfectly.
It caused her to hesitate momentarily. "I just… I'm grateful I didn't have to spend the week with a stinking hobo or a truck driver who had been conveying African immigrants."
Cameron couldn't suppress a chuckle, but the point got across. "Me too." The blonde cocked her head to the side and stared at her partner for a while that seemed eternal, trying to read and reach her. Thirteen stared right back, doing the same. The fire crackled, floating above her palm.
And then they moved on.
What they found as they advanced through the tunnel was not what they had been expecting. They were expecting many different scenarios, ranging from a raging fire-breathing dragon guarding a treasure to skeletal giants and a sparkling double rainbow popping out of nowhere with the word 'CONGRATULATIONS' written on it in marshmallows. A blonde boy sitting on a leather armchair on top of an aquarium that had feet ago still been a strange mixture of stone and obsidian was not one of the options they had considered. The 'dungeon' was illuminated by numerous torches on the walls and a magnificent-looking chandelier braching out into twelve curved bars of gold, hanging off the ceiling. Aside of the now familiar pair of Moorish idols, other various kinds of marine species were swimming underneath their feet; flat yellow foxfaces, a manta ray, families of tiger tail seahorses, and one great white shark, among others. Interestingly enough, none of the aquarium's inhabitants expressed the desire to feed on their neighbors. They were simply swimming, peacefully, around their creator and the coral reefs that he had built for them.
The path of lilies ended at his feet. He raised his hands slowly and clapped, but the voice echoing through the hall was not the boy speaking.
"Welcome." A tall, black haired man emerged from somewhere behind one of the many bookshelves swarming with literature written in dead languages. His hair was ruffled, his clothing meticulously unified into a quite formal black attire, hands joined behind his back, and the icy cold radiated by his piercing blue eyes resembled the view one would see while standing on top of an iceberg and staring down at the raging sea. "I'm glad you two have managed to come here… alive." He put deep, unneeded emphasis on the last word, and glared at Joshua as he said it. The blonde boy smirked without even looking back at him, but said nothing.
Something about that man seemed familiar to Thirteen. Not even the vague 'I might have nailed this guy a year or two ago' type of familiarity but the blatant, brain-drilling 'For Pete's sake where do I know this guy from' type. Looking apart from the butler suit and the distant demeanor, she finally remembered. "Mr. Griffiths?"
Cameron glanced at her companion in confusion. "You know him?"
"Sort of. He was my last patient… right before I died," Thirteen answered in a low voice, narrowing her eyes at the suspicious man. "What are you doing here?" she called out to him.
"Changing the rules of my own game. You might want to look at your phones."
Remy and Allison shared a worried look before reading the new message.
"Part two: Kill your partner. There is no time limit. Also, the way back is sealed."
Cameron's guts instantly told her to look back and indeed, the message wasn't lying; where the glass had merged with the stone was now a solid wall and at the level of her face a row of torches.
Thirteen's first reaction was entirely different. "What do you mean 'kill your partner'? I'm not killing anyone! Aren't partners required to get you through the game? And what the hell are you doing here?" she snapped. It might have been an illusion, some mind trick that would cause her vision to replace the image of whoever this man was with something familiar to fool her. But why him? She never liked him much, either. He had always been asking too many questions.
The man who appeared to be Seth gritted his teeth. "There is a Player that has no business here." He extended his arm, pointing at the blonde doctor. "She was never meant to become one of us. I won't tolerate this nonsense any longer. She needs to be rid of, and that is your mission."
Cameron's heart skipped a beat. If that was true, no matter what the reason, whom would Remy choose? The taller woman, on the other hand, remained calm. "Then why don't you just erase her yourself? Go on, go ahead." She ignored the blonde's frightened stare and kept digging her eyes into the raging sea.
Seth clenched his fists. "How dare you—!"
"He can't," interrupted Joshua, still sitting on the armchair with an amused smile on his face. "He is the Game Master, but even he cannot violate the rules he had set, and surely not in front of me." He directed his attention towards his subordinate. "Aaron, I reckon we both realize they will not heed your wishes solely because of us unless we give them the answers the no doubt deserve. Allow me to explain the situation. You see, Aaron here has a certain personal matter to settle with Dr. Hadley, a many years old pact indeed. Tell me, Ms. Hadley, what was your entry fee?"
Thirteen didn't see the boy's point, but she figured that if anyone would get her closer to understanding what was happening, it would be him. And again she was reminded of the fact that she hadn't realized what she held dearest even after missing it for seven days. "I don't know," she whispered with a frown.
"I see. You didn't notice something being different? Something you used to do quite often when you were alive, albeit not voluntarily per se… What could it be?" he mused aloud, resting his chin on the back of his hand as a feigned gesture of being deep in thought.
Remy's eyes widened and her jaw dropped an inch or two. She hadn't trembled once during the last seven days. "B-but that makes no sense…"
"Does it not? What would you value more than the essential freedom and the belief of bending the rules to your will that your disease gave you? Behind all these walls, bitterness and denial, for you, the rest of it has turned into a benefit, whether you realize it or not. You are free of all conventions, nothing matters to you. Even while alive, you have already been playing the game for years and you know that not many people know what it's like to be truly alive."
"What is he talking about?" Cameron inquired with a shaking voice and stepped between her and the so-called enemies.
Crap. She wasn't supposed to find out like this. Actually, Cameron wasn't supposed to find out ever. They were supposed to get back to life, say goodbye and never speak of any of this again, preferably drifting apart until one day she would die and no one would ask any questions. Remy stood frozen on the spot. "I have Huntington's," she finally mumbled, still visibly shaken by the news she received and looked up at the blonde with silent expectations. She thought she might have been shaking then.
Allison couldn't believe her own eyes and ears. She opened her mouth a few times as if she were to say something, then closed it again as her eyes grew wet, glazed with tears she wouldn't let fall. Her lip quivered and in her gaze was written an emotion Thirteen perceived as betrayal, and it broke her. None of this was supposed to happen. And betrayal sires two children: hate and resentment. Remy kept telling herself Cameron couldn't feel those, but they were what she saw, staring right back at her from the forest of emerald green. I'm sorry, she was going to say, but her vocal chords betrayed her. Then she realized the cruel irony of the situation; she was not supposed to be the one saying those words, yet she felt like there was no reason for her to consider herself a human being anymore if she didn't. And then she realized what she had and tears almost filled her own eyes. "So you're telling me that I went through all of this without even knowing, just to die again?" Her voice had this deep subtle growl to it that suggested she was about to start screaming, but she didn't. Instead she gulped down the lump in her throat and waited patiently for the answer.
"That is correct. Aaron here spent a great deal of time studying you up close, as I'm sure you noticed. What can I say, once he sets his mind on something, it's very difficult to tell him otherwise. Now I was asked to supervise this round and one of my duties is ensuring that no wrongdoings are committed. I knew he wouldn't listen to reason, so I arranged for you to have a suitable partner during your stay, kind of behind his back."
Cameron was stunned into silence once again and turned to face the blonde boy. She hadn't been able to remember the face of the man that had fired the gun, only the darned smile. Now that she saw him, the picture seemed to fall right into place. "You killed me."
"Correct again, two for two," Joshua confirmed.
"And you don't consider murder a wrongdoing?"
"Not in the greater picture, no. It's not something you would understand even if I explained it to you. That aside, Aaron knows about my little mishap and as you can see, he is not pleased."
Cameron decided to ignore the murder for now as there were more pressing matters for them to discuss. "But you said that if we survived this week, you would bring us back to life! We got through everything you threw our way. We're perfect candidates!"
Joshua tilted his head to the side and his eyes shot up in surprise. "Perfect? What ever gave you the impression that you're perfect? Exceptional, yes, but by no means perfect, or else you would have already ascended to the Higher Plane. You are suitable. Alas, it is not up to me to decide the number of Players who can be revived this week, and the Game Master has already decided, which is why you need to kill your partner."
Thirteen clenched her fists. She was devising a plan. A flawless plan. She was certain there would be absolutely no killing in her near future; that was simply out of the question. At least not in Cameron's case. But she knew how to set it all right. "Make me a Reaper," she demanded, decision evident in her tone.
All the others were caught off-guard. "Excuse me?" the blonde boy asked.
"You heard me. I want to be one of you. That way, Allison gets to live, and I get to not die."
"You will have to face and erase new Players every day. Have you considered that?"
Aaron, or Seth – whatever his name really was – shook his head furiously. "Absolutely out of the question! Players cannot become Reapers just like that, you are—"
"Very well," Joshua cut him off before he had a chance to finish the sentence and raised his hand in order to motion for the other Reaper to halt. "If that is what you wish."
Remy took a deep breath. Aside from three pairs of eyes on her, she could feel something else; a series of sharp pangs running up her back. Pain. She stumbled and looked over her shoulder to see coal black wings growing out of her shoulder blades. There were no pinions nor muscles like a bird's, instead the wings were made of hollow, sharp-cut metallic bones resembling an elaborate artistic tattoo design, almost like the tail of the wolf, paws of the bear, or skeleton of the tiger, turning and twisting at certain angles in order to form the ideal shape with the occassional claw-like branches. Thirteen had become the herald of death.
"Remy, you can't do this—" Cameron began to stutter, but was quickly cut off by the enraged brunette.
"Why the hell not? Are you more content with killing me? There is no other way!"
"No, of course not, b-but, you can't—"
"Why not?" Remy yelled.
The Dead God's Pad had fallen into silence only interrupted by the sound of bubbles bursting underwater. Most of their animal neighbors, too, stilled into solemn tranquility.
Remy had everything taken from her – her life, her purpose and now herself – and neither of them knew the reason why. The so-called Mr. Griffiths wasn't too talkative either and Cameron heard her own heart beating because there was really no point in trying to argue with the Fates.
She tried anyway. "Because I'm falling for you and I want you to be happy, and I know happiness is something they can't give you," she whispered hauntingly quietly without diverting her gaze from Thirteen's greyish baby blues. She didn't know what she was saying. The words just seemed to come out of her without her having any real control over their meaning. She was able to comprehend the syntax, but not the impact of the message. Yet somehow, saying this at this exact moment seemed right.
All wrong. Everything. All of it was upside down from the start. Every single fucking thing.
"Can you?" Remy whispered just as quietly.
There was no sarcasm or rhetoric in the way the question was asked. If nothing else, it sounded hopeful, as if one was hanging on a straw representing their only chance.
"Fine, now that we have that settled, move so I can erase this worm," Aaron cut in and mumbled something under his breath. At that point, Thirteen, the novice in the Reaper league, began to grow pale until she could be seen through like the ghost she had become.
"What do you mean erase? You said you could resurrect only one person this week and that person is now her!" she exclaimed in panic, eyes darting from one Reaper to another and then to the one who had seconds ago confessed her love for Thirteen, a feeling that should never have arisen in either of them, didn't make sense and killed the last breath of certainty there was, replacing it with deceit and a shattered mirror of illusions.
"Neither of you completed the last mission. And for the record, I never said I could resurrect only one person; the Composer here mentioned that I had already decided how many Players would be revived this round. The number I had decided was zero. None of you pass and I'll collect my prize."
It was over. She was disappearing from the world of the living and the realm of the read as her voice grew weaker and weaker but could still be heard like the howling echoes of the wind in a garden of daffodils.
"The arrangement was clear. She had no chance to complete the mission without her partner."
"You know they wouldn't have done it."
"Send her back into the game."
"No! Your reign of terror is over. The week has ended. I don't have to listen to you any longer."
"The day is not over yet. Send her back into the game."
"You still haven't collected your prize. Based on my previous experiences with the two of them, I'd say she can last pretty long. Are you willing to risk it?"
"I have waited for twenty-seven years. I'm sick of waiting."
"Then send her back into the game and watch magic happen."
"The only magic happening here are your cheap card tricks and riddles."
"I will not ask you again. She is my proxy and I wish for her to return for a second round that she rightfully deserves. The rules do not forbid this. Maybe if you try hard enough, you might win both their Souls."
"That's an awful lot of effort for two overrated Souls. – Fine. I'll have it your way then. But you have no say in this week whatsoever."
"Of course. In return, you promise to voluntarily transport two of the greatest Players into the RG."
"Fair enough, Sir. Fair enough."
- CHAPTER CLOSED -
Author's Note: AHAHAH did you honestly think I'd let it end today? ...Actually I did, but... *cough* there is really no point in arguing with the Fates, is there. Now I'm contemplating making a "new story" for Week 2... just so it feels fresh. This fic is my baby and writing it is so much fun, I just couldn't give it up ;_; (Plus, I kind of promised there would be week 2.. so yeah.)
See you there.
Author's Second Note: Okay, the sequel has been officially named "The World Dreams with You" and should be available within a few days or.. the month or.. you know. More Cadley awesomeness on the way!