Chapter 13 – Vargar (2)

Vargar – Part 2

      The inside of my mind is damp and cool. For the first time, I feel the subtle brushing of wind against my skin. I look around and see that the area isn’t the one I’m used to. Instead of being inside of a near-black void, I stand in some kind of plains. The knee-high, orange grass around me shines in the sun, still wet with dew. The gentle breeze carries the smell of grass and fire. Something burns just out of eyesight. It smells warm and comforting.

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      “Eve, you’re here.”

      I turn around to see Rei in what appears to be the same battle attire from before. I let my eyes drag down her form and back up. In actual light she’s so much more beautiful and yet, seemingly more real. Her skin is still pale but looks closer to normal now that it isn’t being contrasted by the glow of her golden eyes.

      Her eyes keep their golden sheen but their usual luminosity is mostly gone, under the bright sun. Her wonderfully long hair, dark black that tries to absorb all there is from the sun, however, is up in a ponytail. It’s no longer nearly touching the floor in an organized chaos. Instead, reaching just below her hips- hips that I only now realize are full and shapely. Under the usual dresses and low lighting it’s hard to see just how beautiful her form is, but this- this takes my breath away.

      I realize I’m staring and never greeted her. With a blush, I meet her eyes and give a stupid little wave- why am I giving a stupid little wave?! I wanna crawl in a hole and die.

      It’s only then that I realize our eyes are locked and yet the pressure isn’t there.

      “Where are we?” I ask, breaking eye contact and looking around.

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      “We are-” she hesitates and wears a small frown before continuing, “Not where we usually are.”

      “No duh,” I tell her while admiring the amused half-smile that tugs at her lips.

      “You do need to go though. This isn’t where we should be meeting. I don’t even know why we’re here.”

      “Where is here?” I ask her again.

      “You need to-”

      “No. You never tell me anything. Last time you seemed to be in such a nervous state and forced me out. Now we’re in what seems like another world and you still won’t tell me what’s going on. Just who are you Rei and what is this?” I fire off question after question in rapid succession.

      “There is nothing to tell, you simply need to-” I cut her off with a glare and storm up to her. I take in her beautiful eyes and reach up and flick her nose; much to her dismay, she scrunches it up in apparent confusion.

      “If you tell me to leave one more time Rei I will seriously hurt you.

      “You can’t possibly hurt me,” she retorts with thinly disguised arrogance.

      “You can’t stop me from trying.” I retort back. She glares at me with her beautiful golden eyes.

      But I don’t flinch away and tell her, “Oh no. Your glare is powerless here. Now you’re stuck with me.” She gives an audible tsk and looks away with a pout. It’s easily one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen.

      I reach out and place my hands on her hips and pull her towards me. She glances down at me with a perturbed look on her face. “You’ve changed Eve,” she admits with some apparent tribulation.

      “Maybe it’s just the lighting,” I say sarcastically.

      She shakes her head and places a hand on my hip and continues her line of thought from before, “No. You’ve changed,” she says with a frown and continues, “That’s the problem. I’ve done everything in my limited power to hold it back but it’s still seeping through. It’s starting to affect others now as well.” I gulp and my pulse pounds.

      “What do you mean?” I ask.

      “Exactly as I’ve said.”

      “Then tell me again so I can understand.”

      “You’re changing. It’s coursing through you even as we speak, yet for you, it’s only superficial changes. Dormant attitudes and desires pushed down, making their way to the surface.”

      “What? That doesn’t make any sense. I know the Zeroth is changing me. When I stop and analyze myself I can see subtle ways in which I’ve begun to change. Hell, in some ways, it’s not even subtle; like now, with you. Why are we like this? So close, so intimate when I don’t even know you, when we’re both women. You tell me it’s because of things that lurk in the shadows, yet that’s nonsense. I’m being forced to change. I’m not choosing to change, and the changes are certainly not natural.”

      “Say what you will. But the crux of the matter is that the others are suffering more.”

      “What is this Rei? What are you even talking about? You haven’t even answered where we are.”

      Rei’s grip tightens on my hip and she pulls me closer still and looks down at me with a worried expression. “This time we are not inside you Eve, if that is what you want to call it, we are inside of me.” I’m so shocked by this that I pull myself away from Rei and her warmth, and find myself nearly stumbling.

      “What do you mean? You’re just something locked inside me, something that pervaded my mind when I received this curse, so how could that possibly make sense?”

      The despair I see on Rei’s face is all-consuming. I’m not sure what I’ve said to make her wield such an expression but it pains me to my very core. I move forward and reach out to her, but she flinches and so I let my hand drop.

      I hang my head in shame and tell her that I’m sorry for my outburst. “But” I say, managing to look her in the eyes again, “What you’re telling me is that… you’re real? That you’re an actual person!? Are you in Arsea?”

      I ask in a rush of exhilaration. “Does that mean we can meet?” I ask, far too chipper than I should be given the expression she’s still donning.

      “No… I’m not… in Arsea perse,” she says with face downcast.

      “What does that-” I halt my question. I know she’s just going to fight me on it. I take a look around and admire the landscape before speaking to Rei again, “So this is inside you? Your world, it’s amazing, beautiful even.” I turn a small smile to Rei, but her brow is furrowed and anger flashes within her eyes.

      “Beautiful and empty. Yes, how telling.”

      This time I don’t pull my hand back, even as she makes it clear that she would rather I did. I wrap an arm around her waist and pull her towards me. She stumbles slightly and I can’t help but giggle at her. She tries to smother her embarrassment by telling me to shut up, and so I do, using her mouth to accomplish it.

      She tries to pull back in apparent shock but I don’t let her. She seems to give in and eventually reluctantly returns my kiss. Too soon we part, and it occurs to me what I’ve just done.

      “I really am changing… I’m losing who I am, aren’t I?”

      She merely shakes her head, then bends her neck and places her forehead on mine. “I told you before Eve, in the end, you are you.” She wears a shy expression that causes my heart to rhythmically palpitate and speed up.

      I reluctantly pull away from her, but keep an arm on her hip, remembering why I came here, “Rei, you have so much to explain to me, but I know how things go here. I don’t know how long I’ve been gone in the real world, but know it’s been far too long. Assuming Mimi is still out there, we’ve had a bit of a… disagreement.”

      She perks up at this, “Are you finally requesting my assistance?”

      It seems even Rei is not capable of always being aware of what’s going on in the “outside” with me. I give a shake of my head gingerly and say, “I merely want you to heal me as much as you can. I will do all else on my own.”

      “That’s cheating.”

      I nod in agreement and respond with a, “Basically.” Before twirling some of my loose hair around my finger.

      “But I think it’s alright to take just a small advantage in what I’ve been given, ne?”

      With a shake of her head, and a small laugh, “Fine. Just this once.”

      I can’t help but give a mischevious laugh in return and give her an honest smile, my eyes creasing.

      My vision is starting to fade, but before I go, one thing echoes in my mind, causing me to sputter out what I can, “Rei, I don’t believe you’re empty inside,” and give her a small hug, while she wears an expression I can’t quite decipher.

      Before I know it, I’m back in that disgusting mud, covered in soot. The air tingles the back of my neck and I look up, to see Mimi staring at me.

      “Twenty minutes Eve. Twenty minutes, you left me,” she says while wrapping her arms around herself. I suck in a deep breath, the air isn’t as pure as the world inside Rei, but it’s still refreshing in a way it never was before. I stand up and apologize to Mimi.

      I take my stance, much to her chagrin; Mimi shakes her head. I shrug my shoulders and dive at her. She doesn’t seem to expect this and leaves herself wide open. I slam my fist into her ribs with everything I have, and while I hear no crack, Mimi immediately falls to her knees gasping for air, obviously in pain. With her arm on her side, she glares up at me with seething anger.

      “That makes us even. One surprise attack each.”

      With a roar, she slams her fist on the ground and pops three feet into the air. I look up in time to notice her diving down at me. I dodge, grab her by her leg, and spin. With her own force of momentum working against her, Mimi is sent to the ground with a loud bang.

       I turn around just in time to make her next blow only graze me. I swing at her and she dodges and kicks at me. We trade attempted blows, all the while Mimi’s hair slowly takes on a purple glow- she’s finally getting serious. I duck her next haymaker but she redirects her fist towards where I’ll land and sends a bolt of lightning crashing down at my face; sending me flying.

      I land and tumble backward, scraping and bruising myself as I skid across the ground. I’m putting up a better fight than before and it brings a smile to my face. I force myself to stand- battered and beaten. I steady myself and face Mimi. Maintaining her stance she asks, “Why are you smiling Zero?” with a dubious look on her face. Her beautiful eyes gleam in the dark

      “Because I’m happy for you Mimi. And because you waited for me.”

       I know I’m not gonna last much longer, so I run in a desperate last-ditch effort to hit her. That’s simply all I want, to land a clean blow. She’s stronger than me- faster than me and more experienced than me. But I have the one thing no one else does- my promise to Rachel to do everything with pride- to live up to being the best I can be. To be the most stubborn person possible!

      Mimi sees me coming and sends out her fist. Lightning sharks towards me and with a duck, I’m in her face. She grabs me and courses her lightning through me. The pain is unreal and I know I may just die here and now but I do all I can to make my hit connect. I reach out and flick her nose, connecting us and allowing the current to flow through her as well.

      The fight is over. The electricity did nearly nothing to her, yet startled her enough to make her relent. I lay as a smoldering heap of charcoaled meat. I see out of my periphery Mimi looking down at me with mixed feelings writ across her face. It’s then that my world fades to black and I drink deep of the void.

      I feel the sun lap at my face while the birds sing their chorus to the morning. My eyes stir and I crack them half-open. I’m immediately assaulted by pain, pain, and more pain. I’m forced awake and wrap my arms around myself to control the convulsions. It takes all of my will to not scream aloud; last night’s event flashes through my mind. I don’t know how I got here, but it’s clear this is Mimi’s doing. She could have finished me off or left me at the elements’ mercy, but didn’t- for reasons all her own.

      Tentatively I get out of bed and do my morning routine. My skin shows no sign of the previous night and yet I still hurt just beneath the surface.

      With effort, I finish getting ready and make my way downstairs. I’m assaulted by the smells of breakfast and it causes my stomach to rumble embarrassingly. When I peek into the kitchen I see Rose in her apron, humming a little jingle while cooking something over an archaic stove.

      Kay is a model statue at the table. However, when she sees me I swear I can see the tiniest of smiles tugging at the corners of her lips. I give a little wave to her while making my way to the table. Voltin comes from seemingly nowhere and gives me a tackle-hug. I giggle at this and it catches Rose’s attention.

      She turns around and offers me the salutations of a new day. She looks stunning in the morning light, her white hair reflects the near-orange light back at me while her blue eyes sparkle from her happiness. I’m made breathless at the sight of her. I’ve seemed to have lost control of myself- before I knew it I’m hugging her.

      “U-u-uuh,” Rose tries to make words but seems too busy going red to succeed. I let her go, but take her hands in mine and say, “I’m so happy to see you smile Rose.”

      Rose doesn’t seem to know how to respond and simply nods. Behind us, I hear someone else enter the room.

      I turn to see Mimi. She looks like a mess. Her beautiful amethyst hair isn’t styled and her eyes are puffy and red, with dark circles under them. The first thing she does is scan the room and catches my eyes. I give her a wave but she simply hangs her head and makes her way to the table. I move over and take the seat next to her, placing myself between her and Kay.

      Mimi sits there still- perhaps with even less observable movement than Kay. Her hair hangs in her eyes and for a moment I hesitate to even talk to her. She must feel like she’s going to be punished for last night. So I reach under the table and cup her hand and yet she doesn’t respond. She doesn’t pull away or squeeze my hand. Nor does she look up from her downcast gaze.

      To my surprise, Kay is the first to speak up. “Mimelia. You ok?” Mimi gives the faintest of nods and this seems to be enough to placate Kay.

      I look around and see Rose giving us a concerned look. I can hear Vol running around the house, playing by himself. I drop Mimi’s hand and go back to relaxing. She can continue to be depressed all she wants but the death she believes is coming- won’t. I know she doesn’t like being here, or with me, but she doesn’t have to act like this. Behind us, Rose clears her throat while bringing the plates to the table.

      “We don’t have too terribly long before we have to leave, but you can all still take the time to properly enjoy a good breakfast.:

      She turns and yells for Voltin, who comes rushing to the table and hops up on his seat and yanks his plate towards him.

      “Vol is so cute,” I say absentmindedly to the group. At this, all three turn to me and I am overcome by a feeling of awkward dread.

      “Yes he is,” Rose says while cleaning Vol’s cheek with a rag before continuing to say, “Our child, however, will be the most amazing of all, my Lord.”

      This makes me cringe so hard that I have to use physical force to restrain myself from bashing my head on the table. Instead, I simply nod and begin to eat my food. However, Kay keeps staring at me so I give in, “Yes Kay?” I ask.

      “Ours would be cute?”

      She seems to be making a statement but asking it in such a way that it begs to be answered. It takes me a moment to even figure out what she’s talking about. This may be the first time Kay has ever talked about something like this. I sigh internally, wanting nothing more than to snap back in rage against her. But I don’t. It’s obvious that this isn’t their fault.

      “Yes, they would be. You’re incredibly quiet and I’m pretty talkative. Maybe our kid would be a nice middle ground haha,” I say with a dry laugh at the end. Kay seems to have thoroughly enjoyed this because she flashes a rare full smile. One that actually curves her lips upwards. That makes my head spin for a moment. It’s easy to forget but Kay is no less beautiful than the others.

      It seems my reaction causes Mimi some discomfort- for she readjusts herself and how she’s sitting. With brief noises from Vol and Rose, we finish our breakfast. Eventually, Mimi allows Rose to tidy her up, no doubt thanks to her motherly nagging. When we’re good to go I take the girls in. They’re wearing the plain greenish robes I saw them with when I first met them.

      When I ask if I was going to get one for myself Rose giggled, and even Kay seemed to be on the edge of laughing. Only Mimi really stood out with her sour face. But we all ignored her and Rose talked about how absurd it’d be for the Zeroth to be in a dress. I simply shrug it off as they lead me to the familiar train from before.

      The way to the station is quiet, with only the occasional torch here and there telling of any light in the houses. When I ask why there are no other people heading for the Academy, Rose looks toward Mimi for a moment as if expecting her normal show of pride. But when Mimi doesn’t bite, Rose sighs and talks about how no one else in the district we live in is worthy of going to the Academy.

      I can’t argue with her. I just don’t have the energy anymore. Instead, I simply nod and board the train. We get our usual private carriage; while Rose seems to be taking extra notice of Mimi and arranges it so she’s forced to sit with me. Mimi doesn’t even try to hide how much it bothers her. Still, it does bother me even if I pretend like it doesn’t.

      I do my usual routine of staring out of the window to show my disinterest in the others. It seems to put them at ease when they know I won’t be spying on them. I tentatively move my left hand closer to Mimi’s hand, and let my pinky graze her hand. I feel her twitch, but that’s all. She doesn’t reciprocate nor does she pull away. I take the chance to sneak a peek at her face and I see tears bubbling in her eyes. She’s so close to the edge of losing it, and I don’t even know why. I give up in exasperation and reach over and yank her down, laying her head on my lap. She doesn’t even have the chance to resist before I’m resting my hand on her hair, brushing my fingers through it.

      Rose and Kay notice- because of course they do. However, instead of their normal signs of jealousy that peek out when they have seen me with someone who isn’t themselves, they simply go back to talking to one another as if nothing has happened. Well, Rose goes back to talking to Kay, and Kay may or may not be listening to Rose’s idle chatter.

      As I’m running my fingers through Mimi’s hair I can tell it’s fried and dirty. I don’t know if she even bothered to clean herself up after last night. Perhaps that’s why a stronger waft of vanilla than usual assails me. Even in her current state, she’s not able to completely let herself go. Another one of her charms perhaps.

      I don’t get to tread through her hair long before the silent tears fall. I feel them falling onto the legs of my pants- being absorbed through the fabric; but I don’t make any indication that I’m aware of her letting it all out. I simply go back to staring through the window while watching a distant, now familiar landscape passing to and fro. While stroking Mimi’s hair, the rocking of the train accosts me into an insistent sleep.

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