Friday, September 23rd
In darkness the moon blinks.
The glass sea hides the Watcher.
In desolation she sinks.
Obsidian claws catch her.
Episode Twenty Five
Toute Médaille A Son Revers
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“What did I do?” she whispered through her trembling lips. “I had such power, and—” 'What if I permanently harmed him? Should I go to jail?' She tucked herself deeper into the blankets, hoping that somehow she would find the comfort to heal all her conflicted thoughts.
From beyond the window, golden dust crept across the glass, shimmering with iridescent lights and swirling in mesmerizing patterns. The particles froze before each speck passed through the glass, letting off thousands of prismatic sparks, illuminating the room. Once indoors, dust became flesh, wrapped in a white gown, standing beside the bed.
Claire nodded in relief. 'It seems that Kerry’s inverse cannot completely cut me off from the outside.' Looking at Océane’s shuddering form she felt a wave of compassion as her own concerns melted away.
She sat on the bed and lay on her side, reaching out with her hand, but then thinking better of it, she called soothingly, “Océane!”
The girl tore off the blanket in surprise and her words erupted in a torrent while gesturing wildly. “Where have you been?! Am I one of those psychics like on tv? Does this mean some of those lunatics aren’t scam artists?” She slowed down as her mouth caught up with her brain and her eyes began to water. “D-did I do something wrong? I mean… I must have really hurt him. Pierre, he--”
She was silenced by Claire’s embrace which felt so real even though Océane knew she was not actually there.
Claire flicked aside her blond tresses to whisper in the girl’s ear. “Dearest Océane, you have done nothing wrong. If anyone is to blame, it is myself. I rushed you and pushed you to do something you regret.” She broke her embrace and shuffled up the bed so she sat hip to hip with Océane. “But I think its time you learned more about your power. Are you ready?”
Océane sighed and wiped her eyes. After a long pause, she nodded.
Taking hold of her hand, Claire began, “You act as a bridge between a person’s dreams and reality. What happened to Pierre was you took his own secret dreams and thoughts and forced him to confront them. He hurt himself long ago-- you just took away the aspirin so he could feel the pain. Pain exists so a person knows something is wrong, but some people, like Pierre, learn to ignore that pain, and slowly their heart is consumed. Océane, you saved that man, he was sinking into rotten mire and did not even know it, and you pulled him out.”
Océane nodded. “I… don’t understand...”
Claire was about to continue something distracted her.
“Is something wrong?” Océane asked.
“What? No! Your power?” She raised her hand in front of her and a glass rod grew into existence, resting in her palms and an eighty centimetre crystal blade grew out of one end. “See this scythe?”
“Oui, it was the one I used to chase Pierre.”
“Just like you use a brush on a canvas, use this as your tool. I do not want you do get so fully absorbed into the minds of other’s like yesterday. Just think of me and the word, glace, and this blade will be in your hand.”
“Why are you giving me this?”
“Because you will need it, I don’t know when, but soon.”
“You’re scaring me Claire!”
“I don’t mean to, dearest friend. So now, go to sleep and tonight you will dream of how to use this blade.”
“I don’t think I can sleep,.”
Claire smiled and lay down on her side extend her hand on the mattress between them. “Hold my hand and you will sleep.”
Nodding and following her instructions Océane lay down and looked into Claire’s sapphire eyes. Within moments her eyelids became heavy and she drifted off into peaceful sleep.
Claire smiled at her peaceful face and leaned in, planting a kiss on her forehead. Suddenly her eyes grew wide in surprise and she vanished from the bed.
In and instant The Apparition found herself strapped in place within the beachside parlour, with Dr. Kerry leaning over her. His electric blue irises with tri-pointed pupils sparkled in glee over a toothy, sadistic grin.
He let out a brief giggle before speaking. “I’m impressed. Even through my barriers you were able to travel back to your host body for a while. Too bad that you still have a narrow strand of your soul still connected to her!”
The Apparition through her disgust cocked an eyebrow, not understanding his statement. 'A string?'
“…because, I can see it, and where it goes!” Kerry cheered.
Her eyes widened briefly at her misstep and then glared. “Touch her and—”
“Oh you stop,” Kerry pouted, “too little too late for you! My godlike sight granted me a glimpse of your vessel. To think the mighty Apparition has been hiding inside a little French schoolgirl all this time! What did you promise her? An answer to all her problems? Her deepest wish perhaps? It doesn’t matter. She is my next experiment.” He raised his hand. “That is, once I’m finished with you.” He thrust his hand down as it was surrounded by a blue glow.
The Apparition stared down to see Kerry’s fingers penetrate her abdomen up to the knuckles. She lurched in pain as he moved his fingers around, seeking something within her entrails, but she did not scream.
“You rephaim believe yourselves to be invincible, but just like humans, you have organs too, one in fact…” He grunted as he forced his fingers further up her gut. “…is the key to your powers.”
The Apparition let out a gurgling scream as he ripped his hand out, leaving strands of clear fluid dripping from his fingers onto her white dress which now had and oblong hole in the middle. Immediately her body began to close up the wound and the dress repair itself but after a moment the process ceased. Flesh and fabric shuttered, being unable to finish their regeneration.
In Kerry’s hand squirmed a silver, vaguely crescent shape lump of flesh that twisted and jerked as if trying to make its way back into its body.
He looked down at The Apparition face, amused by her expression of pain, confusion, and fear. “You have heard it said, ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body,' but so few understand how interchangeable those terms are if you depart from the environment in which they reside. A soul cannot be measured, the mind is the expression of the soul for which the body is a house of flesh. But if one travels to another plane, the pattern shifts. Here, the soul is made flesh.” He raised his hand that held the writhing organ. “You don’t even know what I’m holding do you? This is the part of your body responsible for your constant regeneration, also it contains a parasitic, DNA-like substance that once I consume it, will alter my own soul structure.”
The Apparition cried out in terror. “No! Stop!”
He lifted the grey lump to his lips, and after a brief sniff he opened his mouth and slurped it up like a fruit, the grey organ squirming and leaping violently, attempting to escape his teeth.
She turned her face, unable to bear watching him chew what was once a part of her. She found herself staring towards the face of the repha beside her. He had turned his head in mild curiosity of what was happening. His knowing gaze told her exactly what had happened to him.
She winced at the sound of a sickening gulp from behind her, followed by a silence. A few moments later Kerry shrieked, causing her to turn her head back to see him. He was holding hand to his narrow chest and another to his belly. His eyes were bulging out as he let out a scream of agony. Blue and golden light leapt from his mouth as he lurched in pain. He tumbled, falling to his hands and knees, bringing him to eye level with her. He grinned as sweat beaded on his brow.
“Don’t look so shocked. It’s painful for the soul to change so fundamentally, it should be, should it not?”
Kerry found enough strength to move and made a frantic stumble through the door at the opposite end of the room, seeking solitude as he went through his transformation.
'Is he mad?!' The Apparition wondered, straining against her bonds. 'Does he even know what he is doing?' She lurched in agony as her body tried to close the wound but failed, trapped in the unending cycle of spiritual decay and renewal.
Trudging his way through the deep, midwinter snow, Vladimir finally caught eye of the glow from his house’s windows reflecting off the smooth white blanket covering their yard. A few more steps and he could see the front of his house. The air was well below freezing, but he was unperturbed wearing a t-shirt and thin jeans, his skin not even colouring from the cold. He sighed in relief, steam escaping through his lips and scalding the evergreen branches hanging low by his face. The fragrance of pine resin filled the air.
“Oops!” he muttered.
Two weeks past he had changed, and he was still adjusting to it, and his father seemed bewildered by what his son could all of a sudden do. It started on an unusually sunny day while he was chopping firewood. The sun felt pleasant on his back, the heat tickling his skin with a peculiar excitement, not unlike the thrill when Nati, a girl from school, hugged him the first time. When he lowered the axe handle there was a pair of charred handprints in the polished maple staff. In the days following he found that he could drastically change temperatures with no more effort than a breath, a wave or a touch. After a few minor accidents, he figured out how to control himself, but every now and then he would fail in his vigilance.
He noticed the blue van parked beside his father’s sedan.
'Is it someone from Dad’s job?' The sound of voices from inside seemed to confirm his suspicion.
He shrugged and stomped off the snow on his boots on the porch steps then opened the door. He was about to call out but something in the air felt wrong. The voices came to an abrupt halt after he entered and there was a sudden shuffling noise.
Vlad decided against removing his shoes, and instead closed the door lightly behind him and crept to the open coat closet opposite the door. He put his ear to the wall and heard whispers.
“I thought I heard something.”
“I’ll go check.”
There was a muffled cry that Vlad recognised as his father, cuing him that and he was in the kitchen with the strangers. He wanted to dash out and take all three, maybe four of the intruders down, but his gut told him these were not ordinary home invaders.
Steps neared and he pressed himself deeper into the dark corner behind the coats he no longer used. A tall man walked into view, wearing dark clothing and what looked like a black police vest but there was no agency name appliquéd on the back. He kept his back to the closet and glanced at the door.
Vlad realised that he left a trail of melted snow to his hiding place, causing his guts to squirm in terror. But to his relief the man never looked down, but turned back towards the kitchen allowing Vlad to catch sight of his dark hair and prominent Greek nose.
'Who are these people?'
He heard voices in the kitchen again, this time a woman with a foreign accent speaking as if she was on the phone.
“Yes? Good… so he is coming home? Perfect.” there was a light beep and Vlad imagined her pressing the ‘end call’ button on her cellphone.
“Kill him. The boy will be here soon.” she stated with a regal air.
Vlad burst out of the closet. He dashed down the hall hearing his father plead for mercy. He arrived at the doorway as Greek Nose slid his knife along the side of his father’s neck. Blood spattered on the floor.
“Stop!” Vlad wailed.
The woman and a third man immediately raised their guns at the boy, their cold gaze flickered in recognition of their target.
On instinct he crossed his arms in front of his face and widened his stance in Systema form. Gunshots rang and Vlad expected to feel shards of metal ripping through his body. However when he looked up a ring of flame confronted him as it licked at the floor, walls and ceiling of the kitchen.
The guns in the strangers hands lay on the floor a heap of ruined metal and bubbling plastic. The man and woman both lay still on the ground, covered in burns and scorched clothing.
Greek Nose attacked with his knife. Vlad stepped closer with shocking speed. He deflected the blade that was closing in on his throat, instead allowing it to slice through the muscles on the back of his forearm. His hand closed around his assailant’s arm as he moved to hurl him to the ground, but he heard his father sputter on the floor, tied to the knocked over chair.
“Dad? Are you alright?!” he asked.
His distraction gave Greek Nose enough time pry loose from Vlad’s hold and take a better position.
Jostled back to attention Vlad looked back at his opponent and to his surprise the man was screaming. At first he was confused and then he realised what he had done when the man fell silent and a chorus of crackles filled the air. The man fell over like a knocked down statue, his body frosted over after all the heat has been drawn into Vlad’s hand.
Vlad screamed and backed away as every surface in the room blossomed into an inferno. Collecting himself, he turned to get his father out.
Unfortunately for him, he failed to notice that the woman had survived the initial searing and though she lay covered in second degree burns, she mustered enough strength to pull the pin out of a round grenade.
“Die freak!” she screamed letting it roll towards the unsuspecting youth.
The world was all white as Vlad woke, white and cold. He raised his head and realised he was looking at a depression in the snow made by his face. He looked up and through the underbrush he caught sight of a pink coloured sky. At first he was lost in confusion and wondered what was going on. Then the song bird’s calls tickled his ears reminding him of the ringing sound in them.
It’s morning? he wondered. He tried to move his arms in from their splayed out position to lift him up, but they were uncooperative. His heart skipped as the scene in the kitchen began to come back to him. 'Dad!'
Ignoring his pain and deadness of his limbs he rose as quick as a windup toy, his gaze roaming around him only seeing trees. He turned and his breath gelled in his throat. He gaped at the sight of his house over thirty metres away, little more than a pile of ashes.
“Dad!” he screamed through hyperventilating breaths. He ran through the snow towards the house. He reached the edge of the thawed ground around what remained of the building and slowed his pace.
As he walked around the perimeter, he noticed the gleam of a soot covered sink marking where the kitchen had been. He eyed the rubble, noticing three disturbed areas where the intruders had fallen, though no bodies were there now and the van was gone.
Then he saw him, the black, charred skeleton bent as if still tied to the metal chair. Vlad’s knees buckled beneath him and he tumbled to all fours on the baked dry ground. When his shuddering and vomiting ceased many minutes later, his weeping began, a piercing cry in the midst of the woods where no one could hear his plight.
He leaned back and sat, his ankles freeing his hand from his weight. Through tear-blurred eyes he looked at his palms which glowed as one exuded heat and the other drew heat in. He made them like twin white stars and pressed them to his face to end his pain. But he felt nothing but his hands touching his face while brilliant flames erupted in a pillar above and around him, searing and freezing all they touching but leaving his body and clothes undisturbed by the slightest feeling of heat or cold.
Vladimir woke with a start. His eyes darted around the dark and tiny room. He wiped the sweat from his brow and sighed. He needed fresh air.
Pausing only long enough to put on his shoes, he ventured out of his room and down the hall. He reached the door to the roof access stairs and pushed it open, lumbering up the steps as if he were still asleep. He opened the door at the top and a gust of wind blew against him, but as usual he had no sensation of hot nor cold as the air flowed through his cotton t-shirt.
He began an exhilarating stretch when he noticed his brother gazing out at the distant London lights. He cupped his hand and pale light shown between Vlad’s fingers as he considered freezing Aleksei on the spot, but without much thought, he relented. He would gain nothing from such a cheap shot.
He turned and descended back down the stairs while he shook his head in disgust. He was about to slam the door shut behind him when a noise caught his attention. Looking back he noticed his brother’s heaving shoulders and his arms raised to his face wiping his eyes.
Aleksei was sobbing.
An unwanted memory sprung into Vlad’s mind. In first grade he had dislocated his arm after falling from his bike with friends. After he had risen from his fall and tried to hide his pain, it was Aleksei who came by his side, draped an arm around his shoulders and hurried him to help, crying himself even though he was unhurt. In a past life, he would have done the same were the roles reversed. But those days were gone, so he walked away, like he did the last time he saw his brother’s sorrow, on that fateful afternoon when their shared life ended.
Aleksei covered his mouth as he cried into his arm, unaware of the intrusion. Many conflicting sentiments brought on the tears, but fear was the strongest. Mere hours ago he was confronted with the face of death, first his brother, who he was not entirely sure on his intent, but the doubt was awful enough, and second the SICA agent whose intent could not be clearer. He could only wonder what he had done to be now marked for death? What force gives people the desire to kill others? His brother knows the desire, and just recently his own sister took a life to save his.
But he could forgive his sister, he would have done the same for her, but it did not make the man’s rattling last breath any easier to forget. And the thought that someone, somewhere was lifting a voice in grief compelled him to grieve with them. He fell to his hands and knees, weary from weeping and he forced himself to sigh in surrender.
He was alive, his sister was alive and they had found Vladimir. As long as they all survived this…
Tears sprang anew from his brown eyes and dropped onto the flat roof. 'I’m so scared, God, I’m scared! I feel like at any moment I want to just run.' “I’m such a coward, I don’t want to die!”
“No one wissshesss to die, child.” answered a raspy voice.
Aleksei’s heart nearly jumped into his throat as he fell back into a sitting position. It took him all his strength not to gasp in fright at the sight of the hooded Messenger crouched on the low wall encircling the roof. It hopped down, standing a few metres away and hunched over.
It spoke again, “Even I fear death and cleave to life, though I am the lowessst pariah. You, child, have much to grasssp hold of.”
The evening breeze rushed across the roof and rustled the creature’s loose dark clothes, causing it to appear both emaciated and small, and great and foreboding all at once. Aleksei gulped and wiped his eyes dry and stared back at The Messenger. He was absolutely confounded why the normally silent being was talking now. 'Is it trying to… comfort me?'
He was about to speak but the dark figure vanished. For a moment Aleksei thought it had just said its piece and left. But then the hairs on his neck stiffened, more than they already had, and he knew he was not alone.
The next few seconds were a maelstrom. He twisted his body to dodge a barely perceivable movement in the darkness. Punching out twice he felt his fists brush by some cloth. Then he jumped back, performing a barrel roll and allowing his movement to boost his activated power. He landed his back to the closed door and raised his hands before him and rotating them inwards causing vapour to be extracted from the air and form in a cyclonic wall. The Messenger, however, was too fast and burst through the mist, its hand reaching for Aleksei’s face. In a rapid shift of strategy, Aleksei used the spiralling mist he had gathered and ushered it strike The Messenger from both sides, causing its attack to miss and allowing him to snatch its wrist. Then Aleksei brought the creature into a hand-lock but it did not last long. The thing acted as though it no bones and twisted around on its back kicking Aleksei in his side with a leg that should not have been able to bend in that direction. Aleksei surrendered to the blow to avoid injury and tumbled a few metres to the right. He regained his stance in one fluid motion, ready for more.
Fog swirled around him and he glared at The Messenger, daring it to try something again, now that he had enough water to make a difference.
The Messenger let out a sickening spell of coughs which Aleksei eventually realised was laughter.
“What is up with you?!” he demanded.
The hood shook and behind the void where the thing’s face should be Aleksei could hear a tongue licking lips, or mandibles, whatever the creature had for a mouth.
Once the creature recovered from its mirth, it spoke up through rasps. “I find it humorousss how you called yourssself a coward. A coward’sss first reaction isss to run, but here you are, ssstanding your ground, glaring at me with the fire of a warrior!”
Aleksei was stunned from both The Messenger’s attempt to encourage him, and that he felt sort of flattered. He squinted into the darkness to catch sight of it but the creature had already left. The youth shuddered, wondering how it could disappear without him seeing any movement. He looked out at the awakening city for a few more moments before walking back toward the stairs to catch a couple of hours more sleep before...
'Come to think of it, what are we doing next?' The thought puzzled Aleksei. They could not just stay with The Association after all they had done, but when were they parting ways? 'We can’t go home either, not with SICA on the prowl. Where are we going?'