Chapter 20 – Almost (2)

Almost – Part 2

     I shift my gaze from her, back to the building. I can’t help but feel inclined to agree, this place looks abandoned- like it hasnt’ been touched in a decade. Rose nods. She turns to a passing person and asks them about the building. Evidently, it was an orphanage directed by a woman who died around ten years ago. Upon her passing there was no one to maintain it and the children were scattered to the winds by basically anyone who would take them. I don’t think Talim would have sent us here on a wild goose chase though. So I decide to find myself a way in.

      It was surprisingly easy once I started to ignore the other’s protest. The front door swung open, albeit with required force. An aroma of mold and dust hits me but I ignore it, after a small cough, and step in. I make my way deeper into the dimly lit house using the windows as guidance. As we make our way to what appears to be the lobby, Rose gradually gets closer and closer to me. By the time we reach some kind of front desk she has a death grip on my arm.

     The sound of something falling to our side causes her to let out a yelp and latch onto me harder. Mimi lets out a laugh and apologizes. It looks like she knocked over an old vase. “I’m surprised to see you’re such a scaredy cat Rose,” I tease.

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she bluffs.

      But it loses all effect as Mimi pops up right in front of her and she screams. Mimi starts laughing hysterically and Rose musters the hardest glare she possibly can at Mimi. I’m doing my best to keep from laughing too but it’s so hard. She’s so cute. While Mimi fends for her life against Rose, I make way upstairs. The stairs creak beneath my weight and threaten to give out from under me.

     I move down a hallway lit with nothing but a single dusty window at the end of it. I drag my fingers across the wall with each deliberate step. The dust caked on the wall colors my fingers and the floor in equal measure. I come to a door on my right and open it. Inside appears to have been a room someone lived in. It was barren now, giving little indication that it wasn’t always the case.

     There was a bed in the left corner stripped bare of even its mattress. A large, dust-caked mirror hangs above a vanity- on which rests a single book. When I slide my fingers down it, engraved letters respond. The book jumps open, causing a massive amount of dust to explode into the room. It’s so thick that I literally am unable to breath. I snatch the book and run back downstairs and outside, drawing the attention of the two who promptly followed me in confusion.

     Mimi is patting my back as I hack and cough up thick globs of phlegm and dust. “Is that a book?” Rose asks an obvious question when my breathing seems to stabilize. I give her a nod and hold it out in front of me. As I shake it, thick dust goes everywhere causing a reaction from the two. Being near the ocean had its perks though, as a breeze quickly sweeps the dust away.

     I quickly flip through its pages and find a rather inane set of writings within. “I can’t understand it,,” Rose says while looking over my shoulder. I close my eyes for a moment before forcing the book to join me.

      “Perhaps we’re not supposed to.”

      I shove the book into my pocket and start back towards the Academy. “Rose,” I call as we walk away from the orphanage. “Bring Vol by the hospital tomorrow alright?” She gives a hesitant nod.

     When we arrive back at the Academy, I say goodbye to the others so they can get food and go to their rooms they’ve been loaned for our stay. I pay Dom a visit despite how late it is. He’ll just have to deal with it. At least, hope he’ll still be in his office.

     My luck holds out as Dom is still pouring over a book by candlelight at his desk. He looks up when he notices me entering. “Always one to skirt decorum hm?” I ignore his comment and take a seat across his desk. “If you’re here about the research then I suggest you speak with Ninavin. The details escape me, but progress has improved by leaps and bounds from my understanding. Your way home is all but secured.”

     I feel lightheaded at this news. Home. My sweet home is so close. I miss Grandpa and even Jaimie. I make a promise to myself to visit Rachel’s grave when I return home. It’s been far too long and I have so much to tell her. Despite my elation, I have to focus on what I can do here and now with my own two hands, however.

      “That’s wonderful news Dom but that’s not why I’m here tonight,” while sliding the notebook I found to him.

      Dom looks at it, then at me. “And?” He asks while opening it. “Gibberish,” he says.

     “I found it in a room upstairs at an Orphanage called Arcadia.”

     He looks sorrowful as he reminisces. “Ah. You’re concerned about Miss Smith. Yet how did you come across this information?”

    So it’s the truth then? Kay is an orphan and grew up there?”

     “It would seem I say too much in my old age. But yes, you have the right of it.” He gives me a nod and returns to the pages, slowly running his hand over the pages within. “‘Tis a shame what happened there.”

     I go to question him about it but he slowly shakes his head. “Perhaps you should get that story, and this-” he gestures to the book, “Information from the girl herself.”

     “Even you can provide wise counsel occasionally, ne?”

      He gets a twinkle in his eye and says, “Occasionally, ” before seeing me off.

     When I enter Kay’s room, I find her fast asleep. I decide my plan for tomorrow and lay down to go to sleep beside her. To my surprise, she cuddles into me. At least some part of her is still there, even if only in dreams.

     Morning comes and I do my usual routine. Only today we have a little guest in the form of Vol. He’s gotten so big. He’s above my stomach nowadays. We talk while we eat and I promise him we’ll play today. We decide to meet in the courtyard in an hour. It’s time to break this misery over Kay.

     She’s awake, if you can call it that, when I enter. “Kay, let’s get you some fresh air. It’s not healthy to be like this.” She doesn’t even budge. Well, I expected as much. So I scoop her up and carry her. Surprisingly, she doesn’t fight me about it.

     She’s light as a feather in my arms, and even in this state, with her unfocused eyes and incoherent emotions splattered across her face, her warmth still fills me. I hope to all there is that this works. With these thoughts, I find myself in the courtyard, Kay in tow. Even in her current state, she can’t help but take a small peek around in curiosity.

     I find a soft, clean patch of grass and sit her down. Her grip on her bird tightens, but her eyes wander around. Not even five minutes later, Vol comes running at us in the distance. Immediately, Kay tenses up and looks in his direction. His beaming face greets us as he comes to a stop. His dirty-blond curls bounce around from the momentum. He moves those blue eyes to Kay and gives his toothy grin. “Kay!” he yells and tackles her into a big hug.

      “Your move,” I mumble to myself.

     Or rather, judging by the absolute hate in her eyes, Kay seems to have heard me. I give her a shrug and set down beside her. “Is something wrong Kay?” Vol asks.

      She avoids his gaze and gives a small head shake. “Oh that’s cool, is that a statue?” He asks while admiring the bird. Kay squeezes it closer to herself and shakes her head more violently than before.

     “It’s really pretty,” he tells her. I can’t help but give him the same look as Kay- confusion. How could anyone think that thing is cute? It’s a dead bird frozen solid with half of its feathers missing.

      “Really?” Kay speaks for the first time in nearly a week now. Her voice is even raspier than usual from disuse.

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     Vol gives a nod and continues with his line of thought, “Yeah. I’m not good at art and Mama scolds me for it,” he gives a bashful grin and rubs the back of his head. “But, it was living once, right? And here it is now, in some kind of tra-trans-tran… sitation?” Well, he tried at least.

     “Transition?” I ask.

     “That!” he bobs his head. “And um, that reminds me of you Kay!” he points at her. I’m completely taken aback. For a child to say something like that boggles my mind. Kay seems to be along the same line of thought and glances up at me. I give her a shrug.

     “What do you mean?” she asks. But he shrugs and grabs the bird from her quickly. Before she can react, he hands it to me and looks back to her.

     During that brief moment before he could see her face again, I believe with all of my soul that had it been anyone besides Vol, would have killed them.

      “Give me that back!” she shouts with considerable force and a voice louder than I’ve ever heard.

     “Gotta win then!” he says and tags her before taking off. Her face contorts into madness and I can see her restraint failing her.

     “Kay, it’s Vol.” She looks at me with pure malice.

     “Your fault!” She stomps off after Vol, leaving me with that resentment.

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     Hours pass by before I know it. Her expression transformed from anger to what I could only call compassion. Yet when she looks at me, it’s in disgusts.

     But so long as she gets better, I’ll take the fall for this. Hell, if I could make this world better for them all… I think I would take the fall for it all.

     But this line of thought is interrupted when I notice Vol telling us goodbye. I stand up just in time to have the bird ripped from my hands and a punch to connect to my jaw. I’m seeing stars and the blue sky. What an odd combination. I sit up with pain pulsating through me.

      “Tonight” she spits out, then leaves.

     Suffice to say, as night rolls around, I get increasingly nervous. Kay never returned to her room. But around midnight, I started to doze off when I heard the door open. Through heavy eyes, I see Kay in the frame. With only a nod, she turns around and leaves. I take it she wants me to follow her.

     When we arrive on the roof- oh god, here again- she stops in the center. When Kay faces me her expression is a mask but I can tell just beneath, there is a roaring maelstrom of anger. I can’t believe this. Am I seriously going to fight another friend? I’m just going to get my ass kicked again. I thought beating the hell out each other, then making up afterward was a guy thing?

     Well, not that I would know. Fighting is obviously a huge taboo where I come from. With a sigh, I take my stance, ready for Kay to make her move. She takes slow, deliberate steps towards me until she’s within a few feet. She starts to move and I brace myself.

     Yet to my surprise, she was bent over- bowing. I give her a cautious look but she doesn’t make a move. “What is this Kay? This isn’t how kicking my ass usually starts.”

      She finally raises her head and gives me a “huh?” look. “You’re not gonna beat the hell out of me?”

     “Why would I do that?” Her quiet voice echoes around me.

    “Because I’m an asshole?”

      Kay takes another step and extends her hand out. She places it in my chest, then pulls back with a confused look.

     But she seems to shake it off and places her hand back on my chest, over my heart. She peers down at me, and a smile blossoms on her face. “You try,” she says before removing her hand and sitting down, leaning on the wall. I’ve never seen Kay look the way she does now. I can’t quite place it. Maybe sadness mixed with a deeper kind of despair? Either way, I sit down next to her.

     It’s only then that I realize she’s holding the bird again. She catches me eyeing it and holds it up to me with trepidation. I reach out and run my fingers over the casing. It’s glass at this point, really. When I finish, she pulls it back and lays it on her lap. She stares off into space while petting the statue. “I grew up in an orphanage,” she quietly says.

     I turn my eyes directly towards hers. “Yeah?” She nods.

     “From when I could remember, until I was six, nearly eleven years ago.”

     “What happened?” I ask, though I think I know most of the story.

     “Man wanted to… buy up the female children. Mah’lum wouldn’t let him.” She grows sadder in her countenance. “His people took who they could, and they took Malie from us.”

     Tears fall from her eyes. I feel so bad for her. I wrap an arm around her and pull her close. Kay leans her head on my shoulder and makes no effort to brush her tears away. They fall with a collective plop onto the ground. They tease us with their unity, formed from a girl who believed herself to be, very much alone.

      “I’m sorry Kay. I really, truly am.”

      She shakes her head at me and continues her tale.

     “I got away, and found the men days later. I was young, so they paid me no mind when I moved around the inn they were celebrating at. No one did. I was just a lost thing.”

      I use a finger to move the bangs from her eyes, hoping to give her some amount of comfort.

     “By the time the fire started, the doors were barricaded. The building went down in smoke, and soot painted the sky.”

     “So you killed them for what they did to you and your family? I can’t say it was right, but I can say there aren’t many who wouldn’t sympathize.”

     She glances up at me, “The inn wasn’t theirs alone.”

     Understanding dawned on me at that. She took out everyone in order to take out those men. I can’t imagine it, and certainly can’t imagine what it’s done to her.

      She seems to recognize my look and says with a shake of her head, “No. I felt nothing about it. I think that’s why Ame took me in.”

      “Who’s that?” I ask, fearing what I will hear next.

      She blinks tears away and says, “The leader of the Arkadastic Order…”

      I look on in confusion so she clarifies, “ArkO is the deadliest group of trained killers in the world. Many believe them to be a myth. But we were real, are real.”

      And like that, the disconnection hits. No matter how much I grow used to this world, I will never truly be one of its denizen will I?

     “And this ‘Ame’ is their leader? And what? Took you in?” Kay’s eyes sparkle when she speaks now.

     “In not so many words.”

      Oh the irony, my dear Kay.

      “She found out what I did. Requested me. Trained me. Only the best can murder the way I do.”

      I’ve never seen Kay so happy before, so full of pride- and it sends shivers down my spine.

     “And so I became the Vagar of murder,” she says, absolutely beaming with a smile that dances ear to ear.

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