Chapter 14 – First Days (3)

First Days – Part 3

      As my lips meet Kay’s, I hear Charlie suck in a breath, and Rose gasp. I can almost hear Mimi grinding her jaws together in jealousy. Now that I think about it, this is the first kiss I’ve shared with any of them. But what the hell am I thinking about at a time like this? Why am even in this position? How did this happen?

      Kay’s lips are soft and warm, and clumsy. In a very Kay-like fashion, she gingerly returns my kiss in a way that screams inexperience- though that adds to the charm of it all. Which is rich coming from me. Even with being in this world, I have very little experience myself. Before long I pull away from her. I can’t even tell what’s going on. I’m consciously uncomfortable with what just happened yet my body aches for more. I didn’t wholly dislike the event, and that bothers me even more. Still, now would be a terrible time to show displeasure on my face so I simply give her a smile while sliding off of her.

      Now that I think about it, this is a really awkward position to be in. So instead of making eye contact with anyone, I reach into the basket and pull out the other half of the sandwich that caused everything and start eating it. Before too long Rose and Charlie start making conversation again about classes. It seems they are in the highest levels of classes, in part to their age but also their academic achievements. I take the time to look over at Kay but she’s simply eating quietly, with a tiny smile at the corner of her lips.

      “Zero.”

      Mimi calls out to me, pulling my attention to her. When I notice her, she’s patting the spot next to her. I move over and sit down. She reaches down and laces her fingers with mine. She looks at me with a really serious face and says, “We need to talk later,” before returning to her food. Great. I’m gonna get scolded for kissing Kay.

      Before too long the chime sounds letting us know to start wrapping things up. I grab Charlie by the hand and pull it up to my lips, kissing her knuckles. She gets a prideful look for a moment and asks what that was for.

      “Call it a bribe, I need a favor.” Her face contorts for a second before she loses it and laughs.

      “What are you pulling me into Zero?”

      “I want you to train me to use a sword. I was made wholly aware of my inadequacies recently.” Charlie looks at me with a long, hard look.

      “My Zero, I don’t necessarily think that to be a good idea. You’re incredibly powerful as is.”

      “But I’m unskilled. You’ve seen it in class. And though my recent experience wasn’t one with a sword, it did show me that I need to improve in any number of ways.” I tell her.

      She gives a wry smile and replies, “But you’re powerful-” I cut her off, “Do not lie to me Charlie, please. You can’t deny it, yes?”

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      “Perhaps your swordplay could use some… refinement,” she adds in a hoarse voice.

      “See? So, please?”

      I plead, looking up into her blue eyes. She looks around at everything but me and nervously shifts her weight from one leg to the other, giving prominence to her hips. “Charlie, what are you so hesitant about?”

      She glares at me and says, “Why do you insist on calling me that?!”

      The roar of her voice causes me to back up, startled. She looks at me with a hurt expression for a moment, then shakes her head. “Fine Zero. But I won’t be easy on you just because of who you are. That is what I’m hesitant about.” I’m hurt by Charlie, not just from her practically yelling at me, but also from her complete lack of faith in me.

      “I’d have it no other way Charli- Charlotte,” I quickly correct myself.

      She studies me for a moment and says, “After classes today I’ll drill some basics into you for a little while. You may want to inform the others so they don’t get worried.” I simply nod and thank her before turning around to leave.

      “Zero.” She calls for me.

      I turn to see what she wants only for her to seemingly make up her mind, shake her head, and tell me nevermind. I give her a small wave bye and leave to catch up with the others. I trot up alongside them and explain that I’ll be spending some time training with Charlie. Unsurprisingly none of them are happy about it but at least they don’t fight me hard on it. I offer Rose my arm only for her to hesitantly link hers with mine. Us four walk as long as we can together, with me struggling to keep up with Rose’s longer strides.

      Before long we have to part with one another and I’m alone again. I wearily make my way to my next class, tired from lunch and everything that happened. I don’t know why I kissed Kay and I can’t understand why Charlie snapped at me. But I can’t help but feel that they may be related.

      Partway through my last class of the day there’s a commotion in the courtyard. Most of the others pay it no mind but from what I can tell, the guards are hauling someone away. Judging by the robe, it’s a student. I wonder what they did. I sigh inwardly. Even in a foreign world, there are still people who do bad things. I’ll never understand it. Classes end before long, and I try to make my way to the private practice room using the mental map I’ve developed, but it’s still a struggle.

      Why do all of these old buildings have to be a dang maze? Eventually, I arrive at a room I don’t know. Inside of it is filled with books upon books. It’s got to be some kind of library. I know I need to meet with Charlie but I can’t resist taking a peek inside. The room smells of dust and ink. I walk down a row of books taking in what titles I can.

      Some of the titles are far too complex for me to understand. As I stare transfixed at one title, I try reading it aloud, hoping it’ll help me, “Eth-etheri-atheric-“

      “Atherical Tremors and Quakes. Volume two,” I’m cut off by a voice behind me. I jump and let out a squeak while turning around ready to defend myself. My breathing is ragged and my heart is palpitating like mad as I try to take in the person in front of me.

      He’s tall and skinny, taller than even Charlotte or Dom. He has a close-cropped haircut- sporting pink highlights between strands of blonde hair. He’s staring at me with emerald eyes that push on me like the wind through trees.

      “W-what?” I ask through a broken voice.

      “The title of the book. It seems you were having trouble with the more archaic writing. And then I scared you, so there’s that. Apologies by the way.”

      He holds out his hand to me, “I’m Kyle, Kyle Bartholum. And you?”

      He’s a fairly curt man, straight to the point. But he’s handsome in a way few in my world would be. I grab his hand and give it a shake. It seems he has no idea who I am. So for the first time in a long while, I give my real name.

      “I’m Eve. Nice to meet you.” He nods to me and asks why I’ve come here.

      I tell him where I was heading, and mention how I got lost but couldn’t resist this room. “Ah yes. The opiate of a scholar. Indeed. However, you need to go back to the last fork and take the right to get to your proper designation. I would recommend you doing so now as your friend is waiting,” he tells me.

      “Ah. Yeah, sure,” I reply.

      I’m not used to being so simply dismissed anymore. This world has obviously warped my views. “Right. I’ll be on my way. Could I stop by here again sometime?”

      He simply nods and tells me I’m welcomed at any point. With an exchange of waves, I’m off to find Charlie. Suffice to say, when I do finally find the correct room, Charlie is pissed.

      “You ask me to set time aside to assist you, against my better judgment, mind, and then you leave me waiting for twenty minutes.” Charlie scolds me. “Are you sure you’re serious about this my Lord?”

      I can only cower beneath her intense glare and hard voice; nodding my head when I can. With a click of her tongue, she unsheathes her sword while tossing me a separate one.

      “Attack me as best as you can.” She commands me.

      I won’t lie, this ferocious Charlotte is more similar to the woman I had originally met- the one who hurt Nina and took joy in taking me captive and forcing me in a fight to the death. This Charlotte scares me terribly and my knees shake and nearly buckle under me. The only thing that keeps me upright is Charlotte losing patience with me and my going at me first.

      What follows is nothing short of a beating. Charlie doesn’t take it easy on me; in fact, I would actually swear she got harder on me as the training went on. I can’t believe she would be this hard on others.

      By the time it’s over I’m bruised, with a busted and bleeding nose. I’m positive some bones were fractured and broken. Yet as always, those would be just fine in a few hours. No, what really bothers me is Charlie’s sudden change of attitude. When she finally ends her torturous “training” I ask through much pain and many a labored breath, “Charlotte, what’s wrong?” If I’m not seeing things, it looks like she winces when I ask her.

      “I told you I would be hard on you my Lord.”

      Charlie sounds so distant and cold. It brings my spirits down but I press the issue anyway.

      “That isn’t what I’m asking Charlotte. This kind of cold attitude isn’t you-” I’m cut off by her nearly shouting.

      “You don’t know a thing about me Zero. Now stand up. We’re going again.”

      With a fit of snaking anger seething out of her, Charlotte comes at me again and again. She’s no longer even pretending this is training.

      She beats me back until I’m kneeling on the ground with my sword held just above my head, barely keeping her sword from separating my head from my shoulders- were it not a training sword. It’s only at this moment that I allow Rei to finally flex some muscle. Before Charlotte can figure out what’s going on I’m standing up and pushing her sword away like it’s nothing. With a final push, I shove her nearly three feet away from me.

      She stands in awe of my new look. Assuming she even saw me like this before, she certainly was nowhere near this close to me. I- but not I, instead Rei- looks down at the practice sword with a bored expression before turning a hard gaze at Charlie. Charlie takes a half-step back under the intense pressure. Just like last time, I’m in control of my body, and yet not. It’s like being able to see myself from an outside perspective.

      “What has come over you, Girl?” Rei says with a sharp voice. Charlie’s knees visibly buckle beneath her and she falls onto her behind.

      “What is going on?” She asks through a squeaking voice, broken with fear.

      Rei simply takes a step towards Charlie, and then another. Before long she stands before Charlie, looking down her nose at Charlie, with scornful, golden eyes. With a flick of her wrist, my training blade is under Charlie’s chin, forcing her to look up at us. I can see the barely contained tears dancing in Charlie’s eyes.

      “Answer child. What has given you the right to take advantage of a weaker opponent? Better yet, you dismiss Eve’s attempts to calm you and figure your situation out. At every moment you acted without dignity or grace.”

      Charlie’s mouth attempts to fall open but Rei uses the flat of the blade to shove her jaw shut. “I know what you’re going through Girl. You’re feeling agitation and you don’t know why. Everything is bothering you; and inside, just beneath the surface, is the desire to break everything around you. You’re giving in to it, and it’s eating you alive. Your thread is bound to Eve now. And they are chewing upon it. Your soul’s destination has been changed, and the madness is approaching. In your hate for your attitude, you leave yourself open to fall deeper.”

      Rei stabs the blunt end of the sword’s tip hard into Charlie’s throat. I can see the pain on her face, but also something more- more than what was there before; recognition. Rei continues, “You feel betrayed by Eve do you not? You don’t even know why. But if you search hard, you do know, don’t you?” She pushes forward hard enough to force Charlie to start coughing and wheezing.

      “Tell us, what has set you off. That is the only way to face it, Girl. That is the only way to overcome what is taking over your soul. That is the only way to fight back against them, once they’ve taken hold. To regain who you are, you must face your weakness with honesty.”

      Rei lessens the blade’s pressure on Charlie’s throat, but does not pull it away.

      “I-I-I don’t-” she’s cut off abruptly by Rei’s shout, “You do! Or does Eve mean so little to you, that you truly believe your actions to be justified? Do you not love her as she loves you?”

      This makes me wince. Her words hit close to home and I can tell it’s the same for Charlie. Her wonderfully blue eyes take on a different gleam and she swallows hard.

      “I… I know I’ve been acting a touch too extreme-” she chokes on her words for a moment when Rei jabs the blunt tip of the blade into her throat. “I-I know I’ve been acting unlike myself. I don’t want to act like this, honestly. But Zero…” she stops to cough. I can tell she’s physically suffering from this confession and Rei’s near-torture. The corners of her mouth leak a near-black sludge.

      “Continue.” Rei commands without the option to refuse. To see someone walk all over Charlie like this is otherworldly. Not even the Valkyries have made her act like this before.

      “It’s just that… I haven’t seen Zero in a while. So we try and spend a little time together and the others rip him- her… from me.”

      Charlie spits out. With anger bubbling through her voice she continues in a furor, “That’s not so bad, sure. Zero has to give them more attention- of course he does. But then no,” she falls forward for a moment and punches the ground while yelling, “But then she acts like it doesn’t bother her at all! She just ups and starts kissing one of the others!”

      Charlie’s yelling at this point, while making her gauntlet meet with stone. Sludge from her mouth drips, drips to the ground. She keeps bouncing between pronouns to refer to me. It seems her emotional state has caused her to unconsciously see through the warped perception some, however little it might be.

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      “How is that suppose to make me feel? I know I’m not Zero’s wife! But he shows me attention and acts as if he cares about me. Then she just turns around and shows no interest in losing time with me! When I realized what I was feeling, it was like I wasn’t myself anymore. I’m not some maiden to get lost in jealousy, but I-I-” at this, Charlie breaks down and begins to cry.

      More thick sludge flows out of not just her mouth now, but here ears, and even her eyes. Her tears form a dark color. Every time the darkness touches the ground I could swear I was able to hear a small hissing sound before it essentially evaporated into the air. What in the world is all of this? I reminds me of when I was sick, and the thick blackness I threw up. I had assumed it was just me but…

      Surprising me, Rei kneels down and pulls Charlie’s sobbing form into our arms. She kisses the top of Charlie’s head and whispers to her, “It’s going to be alright now Charlotte. You’ve broken free of them. You’re strong. I swear I’ll do everything I can to protect all of you. But I have to go now.”

      These words cause Charlie to look up, and I meet her gaze in turn. She looks confused but honestly, I’m just as confused. I have no idea what’s going on, but it seems Rei does. I do not know who or what this, “them” is that she keeps referring to. But this isn’t the time, so instead, I simply hold Charlie while she continues to cry in my arms a little while longer.

      Eventually, she starts to calm down; I feel her rhythmically breathing into my chest with intermediate sobs growing further apart from one another. Before long she pushes herself off of me and gives me an incredibly cute, shy look. One so unlike her usual stoic self.

      “I’m sorry…” is all she says before she stands up and turns her back to me.

      “We’ll end our training here for today.” Charlie tells me, before starting to walk away. I call out to her and she stops. I can tell she’s trying to act tough, but she walks on unsteady legs.

      “Can you teach me again next week when I come back for more classes?” I ask her. Charlie looks at me over her shoulder and I can see the shock on her face.

      “You would want that? After everything-”

      I cut off her train of words by saying, “I can’t wait to spend more time with you Charlie. And that’s the truth.”

      Charlie turns around fully, with a wry smile across her lips. “You still insist on calling me that?”

      She heaves a sigh, “I look forward to it Zero.”

      With that, she turns around and leaves. I stand still for a little bit, watching her receding form get smaller. This whole experience has left a foul taste in my mouth. I call for Rei, but she’s silent. I feel like I’m the only person in the world out of the loop of what’s going on and I don’t like it.

      People I care about are changing- indeed I’m changing too. Something is going on just out of sight, and I’m being left out of it all. With those thoughts and more tugging at me, I make my way to the station to meet my girls.

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