Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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Chapter 8 – You have candy?
Is the EL Project a Breeding Ground for Psychopaths?
The Enhanced Lifeforms (EL) Project has produced eight murderers, two of them serial killers, who have collectively killed over one hundred people. The large number of EL psychopaths compared to their total number is alarming. Do the secret EL treatments make normal citizens into killers?”
—Excerpt from a pamphlet circulated by the radical group The Black Sheep
I’m losing it. I think I might be going insane. Any minute now I’ll snap and start screaming and smashing things up like Osvald that time at the Big Mugs Cafe.
My only comfort is that Seraph is in even worse shape than me, the poor bastard.
Look at him. He’s staring off into space, as unmoving as a statue. It’s unbelievable, but I think he might actually cry.
She really did a number on him.
The day started off so well, too. I woke up at dawn and made my way to Seraph’s, yawning all the way there. He was already up, tapping his foot impatiently as though he couldn’t wait to hurry up and do nothing all day. It was the eighth of the month.
Uriel met us at the north gate that was reserved for military use. The sky was cloudy but the air was cleaner here at the outskirts of the city. Uriel and I sparred while Seraph did his usual routine of walking around while keeping one eye on the gates and the other on the horizon. Vehicles and dyr came and went.
“Check this out,” said Uriel.
He was showing off his latest acquisition, an enormous curved sword with a wavy pattern of silver and black on the blade. I wasn’t interested at all, but I made all of the appropriate admiring noises while he swung it this way and that.
“Must have cost a pretty penny,” I said.
“Not really because I-” Uriel broke off and his head whipped to the left, unease rippling across his face as he sheathed the sword and slung it on his back.
I could sense it now, too.
There was an impossible to describe something in the air, on the edge of perception. It was coming from… yes, there. In the direction Uriel was staring at.
Seraph was the last of us to sense it, whatever it was. I could tell when it happened because he suddenly snapped to attention like a hunting dog on point, staring in the same direction we were.
A dyr with a single rider slowly came into view.
I think Seraph stopped breathing. After a few heartbeats, an expression of pure joy lit up his face. His lips curved up in the biggest smile I had ever seen him make. I was so engrossed in observing Seraph’s reaction that I didn’t look at Uriel, but I should have wondered then, as I do now, why Uriel and I could sense her approach.
Seraph took a step forward then stopped because the person in the dyr had turned around and was riding her mount away from us. He made an inarticulate sound of disbelief then started running after her. So did Uriel and I.
“Stop!” the rider shouted. ELs had enhanced senses so we could all hear her even though she was still far away.
None of us slowed down, of course.
“Ely!” she said, in a shocked, disapproving tone of voice.
Seraph stopped running and we followed suit, uncertain of what was happening. The rider also slowed her mount down until it came to halt. Seraph just stood there like a stunned ox, mute. For the first time, I noticed that Uriel was also strangely stupefied.
“Who are you?” I called.
“I’m Asteria,” was the prompt reply. “Please stay where you are!”
I wanted to ask why, but the girl, for I could tell she was very young from her voice, bent to the side of the dyr and was noisily sick. I winced in sympathy.
“You’re ill?! Is that why you want us to stay away? Do you need a doctor?” Seraph finally found his voice and shouted out a series of questions in an anxious tone of voice. He looked a little sick himself.
“No. I’m not sick. Just stay there, please. I need a moment.”
The girl rode her mount to the shade of one of the stunted trees that could be found near the city. We watched as she took a bottle of water from her pack then inelegantly gargled with it, spitting it to one side of the dyr with one hand on the trunk of the tree for balance.
I would have expected angels to be more ethereal and dainty if I believed in them, but this particular angel, now that I could get a good look at her, was nothing much. No wings, no halo, no divine chorus heralding her approach. She was small and cute, with long, wavy honey blonde hair and what looked like a good figure under her modest, dark blue dress, but she was hardly a great beauty. Her eyes were a deep blue. I judged her age to be fifteen, maybe fourteen. Too young to be running around in the wilderness alone.
She poured a little water into a handkerchief and wiped her face with it. Her movements were slow and deliberate, as though she was stalling for time. When she finally spoke, all she said was, “Ely, do you trust me?”
“What? Why are you asking?” Seraph seemed to be coming out of his daze. His reply was sharp and impatient.
“Ely! Are you saying you don’t trust me?” The girl used a scolding tone on Seraph for the second time. She was either crazy or totally without fear. I’ve seen A-class ELs quiver in terror at the slightest hint of displeasure in Seraph’s voice, but she was unfazed.
“No, no,” Seraph hastily replied. Incredibly, he seemed afraid of her displeasure. This was someone who’s been known as the “god of death” since he was eighteen years old. “I trust you.”
Asteria sighed and looked away, muttering under her breath. I think that, like most people, she underestimated our enhanced hearing. I strained my senses and managed to make out most of what she was saying.
“…Should have told him to come alone. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. I don’t know…worse than I thought…ugh… life is pain…”
The girl put the bottle and handkerchief away. She seemed to have come to a decision. Squaring her shoulders, she faced us and said, “Alright, come with me, Uriel. Sariel and Ely, stay there or go back to the city.”
“What?” Seraph and I spoke in unison.
Seraph looked like he had more to say, but Asteria quickly said, “Ah, I knew Ely wouldn’t have been told but… Sariel, do you also not know?”
Seraph and I exchanged looks of mutual bafflement. I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about. What was this about Uriel? I looked at Uriel, but he had turned his head away from all of us.
For a long time, none of us spoke. Then Asteria said in a gentler tone of voice, “Uriel, why don’t you take off your shirt and show them?”
“They don’t need to know,” Uriel spoke to her for the first time. His voice was low and resigned, which shocked me since I didn’t know that Uriel had anything to worry about. Seraphiel was the moody, withdrawn one. I was the loud, mercurial one. Uriel was our rock, the only stable S-class EL, the one we all counted on.
“Uriel. Take off your shirt,” I said. I wasn’t taking no for an answer and, by the looks of him, neither was Seraph.
Slowly, reluctantly, Uriel took off his jacket then his shirt. Bizarrely, there was a bulky bandage on his chest. Gritting his teeth, Uriel peeled the bandage off and showed us the oozing wound underneath.
This was impossible. ELs’ enhanced healing factor made minor wounds close up within minutes. This wound was deep, but Uriel had been with us for hours so it should have healed by this time. In fact, the location of the cut was familiar. Could this be the injury Uriel had sustained in the fight with the harpies last week?
My heart skipped a beat. It’s cliché, but that’s what happened. My mind was racing as I tried to fit all the pieces together, but none of it made sense to me. We were ELs. This couldn’t happen to one of us.
“So you see, Uriel should come with me,” said Asteria.
Uriel’s head hung low as he put his clothes back on.
“You can help him?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“But why can’t I go with you?” Seraph asked. There was a note of desperation in his voice that I had never heard before.
“I can’t,” she said. Then she started muttering under her breath again. “…Harder than I thought it would be… Why do things never go as planned?…Damn… “
Asteria suddenly raised her voice, saying, “I’ll send Uriel back when we’re done, and you can come and see me then. Oh and, Ely… you didn’t forget the candy, did you?”
Seraph took the small bag of candy from his jacket pocket and held it aloft for her to see. He handed it over to Uriel who started jogging towards Asteria.
We both stared at them as they disappeared into the distance.
I turned to look at Seraph then wondered if I had the same look of shock and misery on my face. How long was this going to take? All I knew was that I was going to stay here and wait no matter how long it took
I cleared my throat. I was about to essay a witticism of some sort, I don’t know what, but Seraph ran towards the tree Asteria had sheltered under. Words died in my throat when he placed his hand on the place where her hand had rested and gazed off into the distance where he had seen her last. He really had it bad.
I sat down on the bare ground beside the tree, waiting for the angel to come back.
Lin Meili’s Notes:
- They met again after ten years. Finally!
- Sariel’s POV chapters are fun to write. I hope you enjoy reading them.
- Thanks for reading!