Aleksei locked gaze with his opponent, the fair, raven-haired repha, and attempted to predict her next move. Then he released himself from the gaze and dashed down the leaning trunk of the tree. She did likewise, navigating the tangle of massive roots. She beckoned to the water and two great serpents of fog rose and twisted through the roots alongside her.
Aleksei bent forward and continued his charge through the labyrinth. The two serpents opened their maws and Nida saw them engulf the youth and heard resounding impacts, smashing through the first few layers of bark. 'That’s going to hurt.' she mused. However she looked in shock when Aleksei shot out of the vapour, untouched and leaving a rolling tunnel behind him. She could not stop her forward momentum as Aleksei’s fist made contact with her abdomen.
She felt her organs compress and her spine strain from the contact. She was launched upward into a root. Almost instantly the pain disappeared as her body regenerated, but then Aleksei leapt up into the air and lashed with a vertical round house kick, hitting her side and sending her full force down to the surface of the water below.
Aleksei fell down behind her. As the explosion from her impact dispersed he noticed a wake in the water going out of the roots.
He evaporated the water beneath his feet, using it to support his body waist deep in the boiling water. Then he used the vapour, controlled by his pumping legs to race over the surface of the water as a speed boat as he followed his opponent’s wake.
He found her, standing still in the centre of the lagoon. As he charged forward, he raised his hands out. A torrent of vapour formed around him, placing him in the belly of a great, white serpent.
Nida sighed happily. 'He has grown much in at month. But…' She smiled ruefully as she raised a single hand.
Just before the vapour struck it spread out in front of her, as if it had struck a giant glass wall that it could not pass. She caught sight of Aleksei’s stunned face behind the wall of radiating mist.
'…he has much more to learn.'
The vapour dissipated and she smiled. “I think it’s time we took a break.” she suggested.
Aleksei nodded, and they leisurely skid over the water to a root. He plopped down on the root, feeling exhausted in mind and body. He noticed Nida holding her side.
“Did I hurt you?” he asked concerned.
“Well, yes, but I have healed. There is just a little lingering pain.” She sat down next to him. “When you fight, you keep true to our innateness.”
“Innateness?” Aleksei echoed questioningly.
“The base instinctual reason behind your actions, all people have one, but a Jinn’s is particularly pronounced, especially when using our powers.”
“So, is ours bad? Good?”
“Our innateness is malice. Everything we do is hinged on this.”
“What?!” Aleksei exclaimed, “I’m not malicious!”
Nida laughed at his reaction. “I’ll see if I can explain this, it’s a hard idea to absorb. For example, you love your sister, the base reason for loving her is your malice towards the lack of a brother-sister relationship. The reason for your choosing dance class is your malice towards inactivity. And the reason you fight is because of malice towards your opponent.”
Aleksei’s confusion could not have been more plain on his face
She sighed, trying to think of another way to express it. “Whatever it is you do, even your love of God which is powered by you malice towards disconnection, malice is at the root of both your good actions, and your bad ones. It’s not present in your conscious thought pattern, so I’m not surprised you didn’t notice it when you do right. But when you commit a wrong, malice is easily visible.”
Immediately images of the events on the deck of the Westsea came to mind. Aleksei thought about the look of terror in the man’s eyes, and his own reflection which he saw. “I see… So I protected the children for the sake of my malicious intent.” He felt wretched and ugly, like the drowned trees that surrounded him.
A comforting hand rested on his shoulder. “No, we didn’t. We acted out of a malice for their condition, your reasons were righteous, initially.”
He smacked her hand away, “Then how do you explain that!” he snapped, vividly remembering lowering the knife towards the captain’s eye.
“You became drunk with your power, and used it to satisfy your own lust. But…” she paused and admitted unenthusiastically, “…I would have wanted to do the same thing to that deviant. It was our mutual desires that took the moment. Take heart, you’re not a monster, the fact your conscience is bothering you is proof enough.”
“So in effect, my weakness is malice, all I have to do is suppress that.”
“No!” Nida said, shaking her head, “There are times where you have to embrace it, your innateness is your strength as well.”
Aleksei glared back at her and asked challengingly, “Is that what I was looking back at, the reflection?”
“The evil smile?” she asked humorously, “Well, yes, but you drew on our power, so we expressed our natural state. Sorry about that if it scared you. To avoid future incidents, just learn to control malice, not suppress it.”
“There’s still something that bothers me though,” Aleksei said, “Something that during the time I was here, I’ve asked again and again, but you have never given me a clear answer, how did I receive my power?” He stared intently into her cerulean eyes, searching for her reply.
“You think you want to know, huh?” She smiled mysteriously. “Such knowledge is precious, and once I give it to you, you have no way to give it back. Are you ready for that?”
Aleksei felt an unbidden shiver up his spine. He hated it when she spoke surrealisms. “Yes, I’m ready.” He urged as he thought, 'how bad could it be?' though in truth his gut twisted at the thought it could be some sort of dark arts.
Nida’s mouth twitched into a smile, and then she began with a question, “Have you ever questioned, what grants your body, which is merely an advanced machine, knowledge and self-awareness?”
“Well, yes, I believe it's the soul?” Aleksei replied.
“Indeed, what is the soul?” she asked.
“The soul is…” he had to stop and think. He had thrown the word “soul” and for that matter “mind” around, but he honestly had never thought much deeper on it.
She smiled, “So you can’t tell me what a soul is? That makes sense. You can’t use any of your senses to detect it, but you know that it’s there re--.”
Aleksei’s face was incredulous, “What does this have to do with a Jinn’s powers?”
She glared at him, “I’ll get to that soon enough.”
“Sorry,” he apologised shrinking back from her gaze.
“Now, you are a soul, albeit a rude one. The body is your marionette, controlled by your invisible self so you can interact with the world around you. But the body serves a second purpose, it acts as an anchor, keeping your soul near your body.”
“So it’s always around me?” Aleksei asked.
“Yes, but at the same time it isn’t.” she almost laughed at Aleksei’s look of irritation at yet another of her paradoxes. “As I said earlier, you cannot sense souls, they do not exist on earth, or anywhere else in this universe. This is because at the foundation of time, it was decided that two realms be made for life, the physical world, and the abyss, where the souls live. Both take up the same space, but do not interact, save for the bodies souls are tied to.”
The skin between Aleksei’s eyebrows crinkled thoughtfully. “I figured souls didn’t have a touchable form, so I suppose this makes sense.”
“Good, because there is your answer,” Nida said. “Jinn are different from their fellow man because they can do the impossible, pulling a small piece of their soul from the abyss into this world, to manipulate either themselves, or the environment around them. Jinn alone are capable of defying the order of the universe in this way.”
Aleksei grinned happily. “That’s, kind of reassuring. Knowing that it is my own power I have no need to fear in using it... and not something else's power.”
“Your power is yours.” Nida smiled. Then her face was clouded with a sad expression.
“What’s wrong?” Aleksei asked.
She looked almost ready to cry, “I’m going to miss you. These last few months have been wonderful.”
“But aren’t we one and the same-,” he said, then digesting the last part of the sentence he exclaimed, “Wait, months?!” He stood up quickly, “I’ve been asleep for months!?”
“No,” Nida answered, “You have been here for months. Time within the Inverse is distorted, running faster than the speed of the Outverse. You’ve been asleep for eighteen hours, and for only parts of three hours has your consciousness travelled here.”
Aleksei felt relieved, but he saw Nida’s unreadable face, causing him to think about what she had said. “Are you lonely?” he asked, “You spend all this time in here. Thousands of years trapped and alone, what do you do?”
She smiled quietly. “I fill my time somehow, there are many things I have to take care of while I’m here, but such details are meaningless to you. Now, it’s time for you to leave. You have a promise to keep.”
Aleksei vanished from her presence, and a pair of blue clad feet landed behind her.
“Is he ready?” said a harsh, distorted voice. "For the truth?"
Without turning around to the newcomer, Nida replied evenly, “Maybe.”
After she had spoken, Aleksei blinked, and the watery forest vanished and grey ceiling filled his frame of vision.
Jake’s booming voice filled the air. “Hey, look who’s awake!”
Aleksei looked at him, noticing the time on the clock behind him reading twenty after noon.
“Jake,” Aleksei said, “where are Tatiana and Evan?”
The large man smiled reassuringly. “They said that they had errands in Edinburg, can’t imagine what was so important though.” He squeezed Aleksei’s arm comfortingly. “But hey, what about the good news? You are alright, that’s something to celebrate.”
“Let me call them.” Aleksei ordered. “Um, I mean please, boss, sir.”
“No problem, Tatiana will want to hear your voice.” Jake replied good-naturedly.
Aleksei lifted his hands to dial, noticing that one was hooked up to an I.V. He punched in Evan’s number and waited.
“Hello?” Evan answered.
“Hello, Evan. I’m back!” Aleksei exclaimed. He heard scuffling in the background and his sister’s voice. He heard a beep and assumed that Evan had placed it on speaker phone.
“Are you ok?” Mashka yelled.
“Are you hurting?”
“Actually, I feel great.” Aleksei replied, his eyes widening at his own statement. 'I do feel great, he wondered. I should be at least sore, but I feel fantastic.'
Then the Apparition’s request came back to him again. “I need to get to Edinburg.” He said.
There was a pause on the other end. “Alright, we’ll come back and get you.” Evan replied.
“No, stay there, I’ll catch the bus.” He said urgently. “I assume you are there for the same reason I need to be.”
“If it involves a certain blonde, yes,” Mashka answered, anger saturating her voice.
“She spoke to you too!? Does that mean… Never mind, I will be there in a few hours, we cal talk then.” Aleksei promised. “Meet me at the transit centre. I love you.”
Quietly, Dr. Sean Kerry walked down an aisle of empty shelves in a previously abandoned warehouse in dockside Edinburg. He flicked a few strands of shoulder-length, blond hair out of his face as he read off of his tablet. It had a long list of faces, women, men, boys, girls, each of them with the section of a DNA profile beside them. He scrolled through the list, deleting one and grinned at himself. One less possible candidate.
He entered a small office in the corner of the warehouse. Inside, a muscular, bearded man pounded at a keyboard, window after window opened and closed as he speed-read them, typing in new commands.
“How is it going Bruno?” the blonde asked, his light Irish accent causing the large German to wince.
Bruno glowered a little at the intruder, and started hitting the keys a little harder in irritation. “Fine,”
“Delightful!” Sean exclaimed, laying his computer pad in front of Bruno. “So, you promised you would upgrade my processor, do it!”
“I have more important t’ings to do.” Bruno replied through gritted teeth, sending a sideways glance at the blond. “And I don’t recall making any promises.”
“Oh come now, I know you’re smart enough to make a programme or bot to do most of your work, you’re just trying to ignore me, your one true friend who puts up with your cold shoulder-”
“Processors are hardvare… I can’t--- nevermind! I’ll do it, alright!”
“Excellent!” Kerry cheered, his slender frame bouncing cheerfully.
Bruno grumbled something under his breath.
The doctor considered asking what he said, but he decided to get to business. “So, have you gotten more information from SICA?”
“A little. D'ey’ve narrowed down d'eir search to Learmoth area.
“What, how?!” Sean said, his eyes wide in surprise. “We only know that because of the Munich file.”
“I t’ink ve probably have a leak of some sort.” Bruno replied. “But even d'at don’t explain some of d'eir intel. It’s almost as if d'ey cracked d'e DNA algorid'm.”
“Well, we will need to fix that, won’t we?” Kerry surmised. “A superb way to track any leak is to send false information.”
“I don’t ‘ave aut’ority to do dat.” Bruno replied, “And neid'er do you.”
“Relax, I’ll just call up the Administrator, I have a suggestion to give him.” Dr. Kerry giggled as if at his own personal joke.
Bruno rolled his eyes, he had long become familiar with the effeminate doctor’s eccentricities, including his irritating laugh.
The Apparition stood outside the room, invisible to their eyes as she listened. “Nice idea,” she muttered. 'It seems they haven’t yet caught on.' She faded away leaving the men alone again.
A slow smile spread over Dr. Kerry’s face as he looked behind him to where the Apparition had been standing. “I saw you.” he muttered in a singsong tone. His right eye turned an electric blue and his pupil reshaped like black marker was drawing over his iris, creating a perfect, interlaced triquetra.
Bruno felt an unbidden shiver run down his broad back. “Vhat vas d'at?” he asked nervously.
“Huh?” Sean turned, flicking back his blond hair and pasting on an innocent face. “Oh nothing, I just think I’ve met a new playmate, it’s delightful!”
Bruno was left with a disturbed look on his face as the Doctor gracefully made his exit. “Deranged creep…” He muttered as he had dozens of times before.