Chapter 16: Spring

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She was a clown.

She used to laugh, to smile, to humor, and to ignore the snarks by cupping her ears shut. The people in nurse uniforms were not kind. She decided that she didn’t like them.

She was not crazy. She was different; as different as every human was from each other—with her likes, dislikes, quirks, vices, and merits. She was beautifully flawed, tragically built from a wicked witch’s brew of leftover personalities.

She made a wish once: to see the day her parents would welcome her back. Her father would have a proud smile, never too keen on expressing his feelings. Her mother would cry instead, all too eager to show how boundless her love was. And so, every morning, she’d wait for hours by the window. The clouds would roll back and forth, and the sun would set down, yet she would still be there, patiently staring at the end of the driveway—at that little corner that met the main road towards the city. She would perk up the sound of every car passing by, and sulk in disappointment when none of them turned past that little corner.

It was fine.

She could go there again the next day and wait.

Winter never bothered her with its frosty breaths, snow-capped trees, wool blankets, and the promises of a better, more peaceful year. Summer was a kind teacher, smiling at her with its rustling trees, and lulling her to sleep with its glittering night sky. Autumn was a colorful, lively sister, carpeting the ground with her swirling golds and reds. Spring always approached quietly, never too hot or too cold. And as the seasons marred the landscape with each of their passing, she was always there, waiting.

She knew her parents were coming. They made a pinky promise—and everyone knew not to break pinky promises. It was an unbreakable oath. However, the nurses weren’t happy. They never believed her. Ah, but she’d show them! One day, she’d go away and leave all of them behind. She would be the one smiling at them.

Eventually, she grew older, and she grew more lonely.

People came in, and even more never came back.

It was fine.

She remembered many things. She remembered the clock ticking by, slowly, one second at a time; one more cursed second of her life ebbing away behind white walls. She remembered the food, overcooked, salty, and always the same—every day. She remembered a nurse in particular. Her name was a bit elusive, her face blurry, like a camera that refused to focus. She would grab her by the arm and whisk her away whenever she had her face plastered on the window. The nurse never understood, never listened, never saw her tears, or the child screaming for help behind her eyes. It was a game. Everyone played it as well. The bruises on her lips, cheeks, and arms were a testament to that. It was so one-sided it made her feel jealous. But patients were not allowed to play, right?

Well, she remembered one last thing. She was never a fan of rules. And when the next morning came, it was one hell of a day.

It was truly a party to die for.

Her long chain of victories came to a glorious halt when she was crowned with a gift. There was no way it was anything but a gift, just like her new chamber—she was awarded that on her seventh day. Oh, and how beautiful it was. It set her apart. The clothing was perfectly tailored to fit her new status. It was long-sleeved and lily-wite. It reminded her of winter. They were a bit uncomfortable, however. For some uncanny reason, her arms were painfully locked behind her back. How was she supposed to play like that? No matter how much she writhed, squirmed, or twisted. She could hardly move.

It was fine.

She knew her parents were coming. And when they did, she’d play with them too. She would proudly announce that she learned how to play. Her father would chuckle at her; he always liked to laugh at her. Now she could laugh with him too. Her mother instead would be a worthy opponent; when it came to playing, she was really good. She was looking forward to it.

With a smile on her face, she waited.

She was not crazy. She was different; as different as each human was from each other—but unlike them, she was perfect now. She was beautiful. And because of her beauty, she’d smile, she’d laugh, she’d humor, and she would never shut her ears anymore. The snarks couldn’t hurt her.

She made a wish once: to see the day where winter would finally be gone, so she could feel some warmth.

Eventually, she grew old, and she grew more confused. How long did she have to wait for them?

A lot of people went away. Apparently, it was due to a new hush-hush game. She heard their small-talk, how couldn’t she? No one wanted to stay in hell, so they moved away. Where though? Well, it must have been a very popular game, people were slowly disappearing. The hallways had never been so bereft of life before. It was not fair, she wanted to play it too. It looked really fun. So she followed them. One stifled step at a time, up the stairs and towards the roof. No nurse was there to watch. The fools. And then the sky opened up to herself, tussling her hair and kissing her face. Her chest squeezed in a lungful of sweet, crisp oxygen.

Only allowed on

So she opened her arms as well, or at least she tried to… until they dislocated and the pain became a faraway friend.

She wished her parents could see her now—she had just learned how to fly, after all.

Life was a difficult game.

And she lost.

It was fine.

She could wait for them there.

Did spring finally come?

It was warm, soft, and it wrecked all of her defenses. She ventured a look into his green eyes; was it pity that she saw? Compassion? Sympathy? She certainly didn’t find fear, revulsion, or hatred. No, they were such a vivid green that she could almost see herself sitting behind that window, and stare as the grass danced to the breeze’s tune. It was the eyes of spring, never too hot or too cold. His hand didn’t shy away. It held her, his warmth a painful contrast against the cold rivulets of her cracked skin.

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“Also, don’t you want to be beautiful again?”

She squeezed his neck harder, she wanted to feel the wheeze of his dying lungs bathing her hand.

He smiled, a simple curl of his lips. “You… have waited… long enough. We came… here… for you.” despite his splintered voice, a glint of self-assured victory flashed past his eyes.

She was frustrated. That was not how you played a game. You should never talk when playing.

His words faltered her. His fingers touched, probed, and felt every inch of her zombified face, as if he were plucking the strings of a guitar. No hesitation, only a smooth transition between each of his digits. It had been so long since she was last touched like that—a touch that didn’t hurt her. It didn’t leave behind any bruise, pain, or discomfort. Actually, she found herself liking it. That’s why a small side of her didn’t want to kill him. If she did, she’d lose spring.

That was unacceptable.

“I… was not… crazy…”

“I know…” he whispered softly, “I know you aren’t. You’re not crazy. You’re just slightly different… just like me in that regard. Ah, but you’re angry… understandable, if I were in your shoes, I’d feel just the same. You’ve been waiting for too long, and now you can’t leave. The world hasn’t been kind on you,” the pressure on his windpipe lessened, and Jered was finally able to take a breather again; nonetheless, the entity’s hand didn’t retreat. It stayed glued on his neck, as cold as a cube of ice. “You’re stuck here, in this moldy shithole, dutifully waiting for people that will never come back… you know that. You’ve always known. That’s why you waited. Not for them. But for someone else to come, and take you away.”

She gasped, her eyes stretching dangerously wide open. “I…” she struggled to say something else, but her mind was wired to repeat the same thing. Over and over. “… was not… crazy.”

“Indeed you were not.” Jered tilted his head to guide her eyes towards the pearl, “That’s why I’m here. You’re very special, and because of that, you’ll get to relive life once again. It’s an opportunity only for you and you alone. And all of you have to do, is take this…” he hovered the pearl higher, closer to her than him.

The entity’s free hand sailed upon instinct, edging for that shining little stone. She was so close to the pearl that it kicked off a strong reaction. The mist inside swiveled and twisted. A burst of wind went off, shooting up dust everywhere. A suction vortex suddenly concentrated on her, like a magnetic field. Jered thought she was only going to be sucked inside the pearl. No, it was a bit more dramatic than that. A raspy scream tore through her throat. Her hair, face, and body melted like a popsicle left under the sun for too long. Her skin dripped off her flesh, and then her flesh was peeled off her bones, and then her bones were pulverized by the pearl’s pulsing light—until a black ectoplasmic substance was extracted and swallowed inside.

Her distorted screams faded off as the pearl, now glowing an angry red color, burst with another powerful gust of wind—it carried such a putrid smell, along with the heavy Mana-ish tang, that Jered had to pinch his nose shut. It was definitely not a good combination. Once the wind waned into a slight, dying breeze, he retrieved the pearl. His Mana Orbs flickered back to life, and light finally returned in that dreary, cramped room.

“Well, s***. She must not be happy about it…”

The pearl twinkled as if in response.

[Quest Completed!][You have been awarded 1000% experience for a spell of your choosing.]

Jered slumped back against the wall. It was finally over. He grabbed his phone, brushing the dirt off its surface. A slew of messages from his mother popped up as soon as he unlocked the screen, and he had to bite back a chuckle at that. It was not surprising; she used to do that to Jasmine too. Now that he had caught a breather, it was time to rub it in Rainey’s face. “I choose Mana Beam,” he said, clambering back to his feet.

[Mana Beam has become Lv.15][The spell’s power output has become stronger. You now need slightly less mana to conjure it.]
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