Chapter 19 – Criss-Cross (3)

Criss-Cross – Part 3

      “Nina, I need answers…” I mutter weakly.

      Her face contorts again, a sigh escapes her lips. She gestures for me to sit on the lounge chair in the corner that I’ve never used before. As I lean into it, it seems to swallow me whole. I’m swallowed even deeper as I sink in further with Nina’s additional weight. With her on my lap, she leans her head on my shoulder, breath tickling my neck. To distract myself from the sensation, I wrap my arms around her.

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      “I am unable to answer everything Evangeline-sama, not necessarily because I wish to keep secrets, but because I genuinely do not know. Much as I do not know how you came to learn of my past. I can’t help but think Bartholum has had a hand in this.” She once again coos into me. “Ah.” I squeak out against my wishes. She pulls herself off of me and stars dagger towards me, with squinted eyes.

      Then in a pout, she says, “That brat.”

      “He isn’t the reason I know all I do, but he assisted, yes. Or rather, he has no idea himself. But there is a tome…”

      “One must have escaped my knowledge,” Nina says.

      “What is that supposed to mean?” I ask.

      “I burnt everything related to that time. That which remains are the safe things.”

      “But that’s history!” I speak louder than I meant to and Nina winces. Yet I continue, “You mean to tell me you’ve destroyed the past? For what? On whose authority do you persuade the future?”

      “…”

      She stares at me before leaning back into me. “You don’t get to get out of this just by being cute,” I inform her. Nina smiles into my chest knowingly. I run my hand over her back, gently rubbing her, hoping to prod the information I seek loose.

      “There are reasons I had to destroy all that information. I promise. You don’t know what it was like back then. You don’t understand what it is like now.”

      “I don’t understand-” I try to finish but she talks over me.

      “Yes, you don’t understand. You never will. You cannot. You didn’t witness the wars or what he… what Azrael changed into. You didn’t witness the corruption of the masses.”

      “So you’re telling me what I read was real?”

      “I don’t know what you read, but probably.”

      “But how did you extend your life by so much?” It seems unreal.

      “… I had my ways. But the cost was too high. I… I believe I’m the reason he changed.”

      “But you didn’t change, and you did the same thing, or something very similar to yourself, didn’t you? And you had nothing to do with all the civilians that changed.” She cries gently into my shoulder.

      “I have to believe it was my fault Evangeline-sama… I have to. Nothing else makes sense. Monsters aren’t real. But nightmares… nightmares are the things dreams are made of.”

      That’s heartbreaking to hear. But I can’t just stop now. “Nina, did I really die?”

      She nods into me, quietly sulking in her tears. “But you saved me… at the cost of the Valkyries freedom. Using their what? Their souls as an anchor?”

      She falls silent for a long time. So long that by the time she replies, I had half-forgotten what it was I had even asked. “I don’t really know how to explain it to you, Evangeline-sama.” She says with head still bowed into my the crook of my neck.

      “Try me.”

      She looks up at me with teary eyes, but a small smile on her lips.

      “The simplest way I could explain it is… I don’t know. I took that which binds, and bound it tighter.”

      Her non-answers are seriously getting on my nerves even if that’s not what she’s trying to do.

      However, she seems to pick up on my dissatisfaction and continues, “All people share bonds. The strings of fate bind us. But for some, the bonds are stronger than others- for the Zeroth and those of meaning, the bond is stronger than any other. But in the end, they’re just strings- threads as it were. But they can be reinforced if you know how. The bonds can able to be strengthened, and then manipulated. What bond is yours, may be placed in another as an…”

      “An anchor,” I mumble. She nods again. I don’t really understand it, but I sort of do. “But that doesn’t really make sense. You’re saying our relations to others are predefined?”

      “I… don’t know. The things are there. My research has been in the manipulation of things, not their origin. But from what knowledge I do have, I’d say yes, but no. Normal people- no offense,” she apologizes to me quickly, which causes me to laugh. Nina gets flustered and loses her cool. In doing so, she reverts to her lightning-quick gab.

      “Normal people,” she continues, “Don’t really show differences when the strings are modified or even cut. For the most part, maybe they’ll hate an enemy a little more, or marginally less. Perhaps who you love will seem a little more alluring: or perhaps that little thing they do will aggravate you a little more. But some people, mostly those related to you… The Zeroth I mean, have some key differences.”

       “I’m not gonna like what I hear next am I?” I ask, but the answer is already clear. Her face is crestfallen, and I can tell she’s the one that wants to run now. I try to help her calm down by running my fingers over her shoulders.

      “The “strings” between certain people and the Zeroth are less… malleable. They can’t be manipulated like others. That isn’t to say they are difficult to manipulate; in fact, the opposite is true. The bonds are incredibly easy to manipulate, but they can only be forced to go one way; as if something crafted them as such.” Nina runs breathless by the end.

      “And all signs point to the Zeroth.”

      I half ask, half state in dismay. My stomach tightens at the reminder I am a pawn to fate, and the others must suffer for me. Nina has gone silent and just leans into me comfortably.

      “And Silence, and Moderator?” I ask, having almost forgotten. She tilts her head at me in a way reminiscent of a puppy.

      “I don’t know?” She ends in a question.

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      “But you reacted to it when I brought it up before!”

      I try not to let the anger overcome me. Nina makes to reply, but the door to her lab flies open. The loud bang of the door as it slams into the wall causes us to jump in surprise. A single look at Rose, arms crossed, standing there with that glare was more than enough to cause a sinking feeling in my chest. She eyes Nina and me with permeable anger.

      We aren’t in a compromising position per se, but Nina is still sitting sideways on my lap. Yet with Rose’s anger and her predisposition to enter mom mode, I feel like she has caught me naked.

      “Um. You should really knock before you-” the room gets awfully cold and the chattering of my teeth interrupts me. Nina nervously looks between the two of us, seemingly unsure of what she should be doing. My head starts to hurt in a way I wouldn’t associate with coldness. I think it’s my wincing that causes Rose to ease up. With anger tinting her voice, she informs us that Kay is awake.

      “T-thank you,” I tell her.

      “Now come along Zero,” she says authoritatively. I can’t help but nod and look at Nina.

      “Thanks for um, spending time with me Evangeline-sama.”

      She gets off my lap. But instead of going to her desk she approaches Rose. The comparatively diminutive Nina looks up at Rose, who stares daggers back.

      “Thanks for helping on the roof, and for protecting our Lord.”

      She stands on the veeeery tip of her toes, and still has to hop, but manages to land a kiss on Rose’s cheek. Rose seems as taken aback as I am. But unlike me, she’s able to pull herself back together quickly.

      “You’re welcome.” Rose tells her with less anger than before.

      I give Rose my arm and she takes it. Nina waves us off at the door. But as we pass her, I sneak a look her way. She catches my gaze and gives me a wink and a smile before shutting the door. That minx! I must remember this for my arsenal.

      “Did you have an enjoyable time with Ninavin, my lord?” Rose asks, apparently feeling awkward from not speaking for so long after leaving Nina’s lab.

      “I did. But You’re still jealous, huh?” I tease her.

      She looks away in a huff as we round the corner to the medical halls.

      “J-just make sure to cheer Kay up alright?”

      She backs away as I approach the room I left Kay in hours ago. The evening sun shines high in the sky outside, ready to make its journey below the horizon.

      With nerves wracking me, I enter the room.

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