There’d been no small amount of chaos and uproar once Camila and I had parsed the legal jargon.
But it could also be the fact that this Mr. Schroeder had called first.
Just an email. The first tentative contact made to report a mistake.
Was all he had needed.
“Hunter, yes? Good of you to call, now child,” said a thickly accented voice. A man’s. Clearly in a position of power and versed in using it. No other conclusion could suit such a flippant, whimsically disingenuous tone.
It took all my strength to hold back an outright growl. “Can I help you?” Ground out of my throat instead, fist gripping the table.
“Video call for one. So if you would be so kind as to turn the phone from your ear herr.”
“Like a crystal ball.”
And if the man now on his screen, so prim in dark red with rose pink accent, caught the slip he didn’t let on to it.
Instead continuing to correct my own error.
There had been no mistake.
If it so pleased me all expenses for the round trip, accommodation, and any other charge from competition would be covered.
Equipped with the Schroeder brand’s cards and duel disk Hunter Wilde would be some new life breathed into the company image.
“Now I assure you this is not a risk. From what I hear you have some skill yet, and not to mention made an astounding connection. I won’t try to buy your eye with the newest and shiniest cards.”
The man… didn’t seem to be looking down on me. Not in that moment when he sipped a drink put back off screen.
“I can certainly agree there is some… mysticism present in here Pegasus’ delightful game so attachment to certain card types or characters is only natural.”
And not through the whole exchange.
Mr. Schroeder always placed Hunter right at his eyes.
"Yes, of course. I meant no offense in that aspect at all madam."
"Camilla is fine," she redirected coldly. "We're both adults after all."
Or, I could only speculate, that she hoped so.
That was another thing that pricked uncomfortably in my mind. Shroeder did appear quite young no matter how he clearly intended to present.
"Assuming you do believe in me and my skills, not even getting into how you might know I'm anything special," his prime suspicion for a leak of information such as that was Keji of the store. "And you're serious about riding company money on me..."
Could that be some means of guilt to put me in a corner? Controlling and prodding at my willingness to do what would inevitably be asked of me after. Plus, he was in the same business as that Seto Kaiba.
Whom he somehow doubted, quite distastefully myself as Ms. Noceda for this figure, was the type for partners.
Also, like, it would be cheating I was almost certain.
"Guess what we're both trying to ask is how am I supposed to pay you back if your investment goes belly up."
"Ahh, sharp. Appreciated herr child. Yes, nothing is for free. Well, not truly. I can tout generosity all I want but the fact is that you are absolved upon delivery of my terms. No if or but about it, no matter the circumstances you may find yourself during or after."
We shared a look. Camilla already fearing the worst. I'd not told her then about even applying to enter.
"Mama, I really didn't-- lie."
I'd not told her what my plans would have been to get halfway around the world.
I would have lied to her, saying that the entry process permitted paying my travel expenses. But Schroeder shot that idea dead in the boiling water.
"Hunter, mijo," she whispered, gaze trained warily to the man on the camera. "I know, why you wanted to do this. I am not mad, but, ayy you should have told me. Let us figure out something for you together if it was so important to you."
"I know. I'm sorry."
She sighed, turning back to Schroeder. "Well, what did you have in mind?"
"really now, don't treat me with such suspicion. I assure you I am not a cruel man. In fact, from the start I respect you quite a bit. You are clearly a protective, dutiful Mother with a good boy," indicating me with a beat of his head as if it were something that needed repeating.
"Then no more non-sequiter. Just state your terms. If they don't harm my son or myself then I'll consider it."
"Of course," and that calculating, savvy eye trained upon me. Gauging my reaction and seeking my opinion over another's. Namely, the reasonable, responsible adult.
Certainly odd in this human world. But then again, not unheard of even in mundane, run-of-the-mold school. Treating me as an equal, a friend.
"Now, I offer at all because you are clearly in some financial strain. Many companies do, I've set a link to various affiliates and colleagues of mine which have many similar programs for gaming tournaments or even schooling and other higher or specialized service, but, that is more supplementary than anything even if I think it would highly interest a single-parent household."
With a wry smile he fanned out his hands again. Still ever graceful within his plush seat. "As to your, hehe, predicament I wouldn't wish to overtax your resources no. Hardly efficient so assuming on the probability of your not meeting the minimal requirements your parent or guardian; as outlined, will pay a percentage of incurred fees as direct wire deposits. With negotiated payment plan, the rest, will be through your time, either directly at my beck and call in headquarters, or in one of my stores. How yet, I leave that to you. You would not be paid, but other than that treated as any other employee or work-study student seeking experience and good marks on a resume than anything."
Quite a fair agreement. It eased things somewhat, even if he still came off as intolerably smug. But hey, probably it was a rich people thing. Wasn't like I'd met many nice rich people to compare.
"Now what say you now, Hunter?" he preened, clearly having me on to answer just how he wanted.
I was going to do this. One way or another.
Looking to Mrs. Camilla I could see she was still in thought. And though the man didn't inspire much solace or comfort, I knew well enough to sense lies or malice. And Mr. Schroeder far as I could see, had none.
I signed my name sharp and imposing upon the paper, presenting it proud and with chest puffed in confidence.
Like that, the screen went black.
Camilla was, very justifiably, in shock. She didn't like it but... there was little she could do.
However, as she'd reminded, didn't mean she wouldn't have a lawyer on standby once she found one. Taking the afternoon to compose a list on this Schroeder Corp, any and every source she could call to know more.
I honestly couldn't bring myself to worry all too much about things. This human, just didn't measure up if he wanted to be 'tough' of all things. With Mama at my corner, I felt safe to just appreciate luck turning in my favor. Whilst putting together a Duel Disk of my very own, and a small, warm warble nuzzling at my neck.
Chuckling and happily petting at the fairies who tried to handle the tools. Only for their minute hands to slip through without consequence.
Those Duel spirits turned into a constant comfort, fiddling at my insides so that the new experience of flying on a gargantuan tin can with clearly no stabilization systems and only simplistic mechanics off a children's toy to guide it, wasn't so terrifying.
"Deboarding, Domino City now. All passengers remember to take all carry-ons and personal items. We at Tokyo Airway are not held responsible for lost or stolen items."
Humans. Innovative as they were, they really should have left flight to the professionals. Witches, if it weren't clear.
Then again, their cities wiped dirty little villages and horse drawn buggies to the ground.
First the clear blue skies stretched far as the eye could see with a fjord of fluffy, soft clouds, and then a second airport. Bigger and more whizzing components than the last. And a whole new backlog of people!
This 'customs' was rigorous.
Odd runes replaced English signature on each and every surface.
And on his way outside of this singular building he found blaring streets of car horns and nearly got mauled by one wild green metal stallion just taking a step to orient himself.
Flight always gave him air legs unaccustomed to heavy land and oppressive gravity!
At every side, smooshed unto this epicenter were many more buildings. Highway bridges and streets rising to the sky.
It filled my senses it took each and every unused crevice of brain power.
Including those keeping me upright apparently. Geez. Had I-- no. Nonono.
Have I made a mistake?
The city was so big, I knew no one, and Schroeder only paid for a singular ticket. Nothing Camilla could do about that. Japan's laws around what was considered a "child" differed a lot then those back home.
And like a blow-hardy, annoying fool I'd leapt at the chance to be outside "parental control."
"Enough. Enough sightseeing," I scolded of myself. Though I'd maintained an arm looped around my suitcase I still slapped some reality onto myself. "Now where," the sifting dig at his pockets began to grate quite quickly. Somewhere there'd have to be a note as to where and who to expect for pick-up and transport to his hotel.
Shoot. And he'd made it priority too.
A tap made my hairs stand on end. Wary and already agitated I whirled around an uppercut ready to fight.
"Hunter Wilde?" inquired a man in a tone crisp as a black ironed and pressed suit. His face an immaculate mask of professionalism and disinterest.
Noting the poster board held up with his name in elegant rosy cursive I gave a weak nod.
It was a trio of security detail who kept onlookers to a minimum, as well as taking the task of his luggage.
"You will immediately be escorted to Mei-Lei hotel to settle yourself in. Consider me your temporary aide and confidant, whatever you may require sir, I promise to provide it."
"Of course sir," I said, "thank you sir." Giving a slight bow in response.
An action he mimicked, as well as indulging to offer his arm to my own as a guide.
Opening the door to the limo; not untraceable or even particularly subtle in the slightest, was just a bit much though.
But also, the vague notion of being treated like an actual Prince, was in ways haha ironic,
and dramatically, tragically ironic. Schroeder, though clearly doting had his own ends.
There was just one more clause to the contract.
Deliver some piece of programming with no knowledge on what or why, without suspicion, to the Kaiba Corp executives. The pair of brothers Seto and Mokuba.
Exactly why it had to be the Quarter Finals.
These ends he'd selected me to carry out for him since I was in the least able position to choose otherwise. Besides, nothing told me of what boss he would prove to--
All that fled my mind once I saw just what Luz had been on about when I told her the big news.
How the sun could shine upon panes and panes of glass. Metal buildings cutting high and powerful. The heat, even in this car, growing expansively to a heavy shroud.
She'd made me promise to get pictures of any and all "highlights."
Her fault really, for not specifying because right now, everything, every minute detail captivated his mind and any lingering mistrust.
My shutter snapped. I was here now, things hadn't gone to all Hell, and on the off chance I would need help, I and a bunch of weird, loud, devoted witches could be more than up to the challenge.
Plus, wings fluttering in my galderstone clued me in to how excited a red cardinal was right now. A rush of pride overflowing to the point of a few stray tears.
Besides the necessary, his escort wasn't a fan of chatting.
Just fine with me. Of course, by no means was that an indicator of an uncaring employee. In fact, such boundaries usually proved just the opposite. His eye was on the objective and the objective of his pay alone.
"Uhh, sir," he said lowly, keeping a respective distance of Cerbos, "pets are not permitted in this hotel, and considering its-- class we'd face an unfortunate incident with exterminators."
I glared, I couldn't exactly help it, I'd already had one palisman threatened and, failed to protect.
"Okay, Cerbos, hide-and-seek time," I hummed in a dulcet, calming manner.
The way he tickled my hair to hide in the awful nest made me smile just a bit.
And the guard's incredulously revolted face just nearly made me burst out laughing.
But there were way too many people in suits. I'd have to maintain an image if I hoped to get the time and privacy I'd need from here on in.
"Well, we're here." I whispered, "any ideas on what to do first?"
Cerbos ducked his head with a hairy leg rubbing in thought.
About food and when the human would stop being a mess of nerves and bitter homesickness.
Okay, I near lost my mind once I actually got a look at the spacious, elegant bedroom. With kitchen, bathroom, dining area amenities!!!
The tub was the size of a literal algae pond back on the Isles or the Bat Queen's own sleeping hole.
There was a cold box--fridge-- fully stocked with drinks, food, treats, and meats.
And a television the size of the entire side wall right at the foot of his bed for easy, lazy viewing. It was way too much.
Sooo, it was lucky for everyone involved once the guard finally knocked saying I should eat something.
"Will you need help to," I read over the options, "pick. Something. Out?"
As my eyes roved the options the Japanese became English in a pulse of red.
And out of my lips came fluent Japanese in return. "Ah! The gyudon looks aamazing, hey do you want some?"
"N--no thank you. Just umm worry about yourself."
I simply shrugged pointing out a few other things.
Which when came to me steaming or bubbling hot and full of flavor.
Neither did the salmon or shogayakai, shrimp, sushi and omlette samplers or onion soup disappoint.
Behind lacy white curtains was a night sky; clear of stars but no less vast and familiar than back home. The moon was in the same phase too.
Mrs. Noceda, may be looking out at that sky from her bed tonight. Thinking about me. But, more likely Luz.
wait. DON’T LEAVE!
It is my anxiety that saved me. Jolting me awake in an overpowering volt, spiking furious and only growing as I turned each way trying to make sense of this fine, fine, indescribable mess I was in! SEE SOMETHING BESIDES IT!
The endless darkness, peeling wood, and Earth under my fingers.
Numbly I tried to stand, feeling my legs tremble under my own weight.
Lurching I found myself in an awkward four-legged stand, hair slick and across my face.
Still I got a view of wooden beams above me forming into a triangular roof and a loft, a large bell from what looked to be the split of heavy doors across me.
Otherwise an abandoned barn space likely used solely for the tools and hay to feed cows and chickens and pigs and chickens.
All the, all the sharp tools.
Though I'd hardly taken a step my belly lurched soooo sickly to have made any headway at all.
The corner now with what could be a trough supporting my back seemed a lot safer.
This was not my bed. I wasn't home. I wasn't safe. I wanted my bed! I wanted my Aunt! I wanted to be held! Why did my Mom have to-- have--
Had I been-- no, wait, the wedding. The Church. The bells and potluck in the park after with the gazebo and swings not five feet away to begrudge this new man.
Nice enough looking.
Adorable curls, glasses, a suit popping buttons because he was Holly Jolly fat.
That man traded a honeymoon...
For a bonding trip.
Except my Aunt, she'd be getting fifty dollars.
I remember her being the one to hug me.
Console me, her own heart breaking.
At the same time and day I haad also been hiding behind Mama screaming up a ruckus at my insane stepfather prodding me to ride a horse.
OH GOD! OH GOD OHGOD. My memory now too?!
Kneading my hands through my hair-- I found my hands tied as so many things were going, going fuzzy.
Even the scant image of how I got here began to sit ill in my mind. Static turning a sharp polaroid of adrenaline and terror to ash.
After a taxing day I'd changed into simple pajamas, not bothering with my cuter lingerie and night gowns Mother and I had spent hours shopping for.
Settling into a bed softer than a cloud. Burying myself, nearly drowned, in a squashy, feather light pillow.
Only to wake up next to a tug and pressure on my ankles. The slithering shadow gliding toward my face; grinning giddy and deranged.
My voice caught as cold, clammy skin traced my cheek in a caress. Right to shoving a rag to my face.
"N-- nuh, M-m-mommi."
Gentle, coying platitudes filling my ears as my body bucked, bucked... "Phy-- Lemm--"
"No, Princess. Now be a good girl."
I held my breath for just a little bit.
It may have been just a few seconds but it was enough.
I could mark in my memory being thrown none too gently into the backseat of a car. So my head hit the opposing door right at the crown.
Whatever poison or sedative worked its way down rendered me paralyzed, unable to even crawl and beg.
At most I could squint my eyes just enough to see his face. Mother's new husband. The man who had only acted nice.
I couldn't move, I couldn't speak when gagged, and my mind continued to stutter somewhat like the stuttering pace of the uneven road.
Before going silent.
But different hues began to slither out of the unseen corners. Edging the face, the look, the entire event in just enough doubt.
Just enough that if I didn't believe among the stench of barnyard animals, poo, and scritch-scratch of hay, that my Mother now loved a kidnapper--(child murderer)-- over me than the police wouldn't believe a word I said either.
Would they care?
i-- I couldn't let such thoughts get the best of me. I couldn't? I couldn't and I won't!
I-- I would sit here, safe-ish, poised, and ready to ask some somber, unflinching questions.
And yet when that door opened and my stepfather was haloed by the silver streams of moonlight all that came out was a whimper.
A derisive smirk in place he made a cool, predatory stride towards me.
Sweat running down my back I could only shudder as I squirmed back into the wall.
Watching him loom a flood of betrayal cracked in my voice. "Why?" I asked.
From between my arms shielding myself, I could slowly tell... there was no need.
By my observation he looked completely apathetic to me. Sure, annoyed to take a breath and let it flow long and brittle. But hitting me clearly hadn't crossed his mind.
"Really. Jesus, I'd hoped not to spell it out for you. I'd hoped that in all your irrational dramatics, insisting I hate you, insisting I want you dead, want your Mom all to myself," he mocked, "you'd actually do something about it. Instead of being such a dim-witted waste of space and time."
He tutted playing the disappointed parents getting to one knee on my level, eyes trained on mine. Sheer, overwhelming arrogance pinning me into place.
He'd just said, something so awful. And yet, was so confident to get away with it. To get away with-- whatever was in store for me.
"You're right by the way," he sing-songed, elongating the affirmation. And in an instant that cold, murderousness broke leaving a personable, gentle charm I had never been able to trust.
To my Mother's detriment and I'd felt guilty then. I felt guilty now.
"This is all your fault by the way. I hope you know that. I love your Mother, very much so don't worry about that. I could have-- maybe-- loved you as something."
"I mean not a daughter understand. I mean, so plain and skittish. Like some chihuahua rather than a person, you disappoint me so much." He chuckled fondly all the same, smiling with-- I could hardly believe, real wholesome love on his face. Noooo.
Why was this man still so clearly-- good for Mother? Loving her, looking at her that way, thinking of her, even now. Why? Why just me? What had I done wrong? I didn't mean to. I don't want to die.
"And to be honest, I even loved that about her. To be so giving toward someone who'd never give anything of worth in return. Who just had to make everything all about herself."
My body had completely shut down, frozen in terror.
So that when there was a minute crunch on the gravel path outside the barn each step cut like a bullet.
"Oh honey, you flatter me so much," giggled a voice once so warm... now utterly sharp and sardonic.
My Mother young and vibrant, absent from the stress of having raised such a troublesome child for so many years. Beautiful as she was dangerous having traded her nude makeup for smoky purple eyeshadow and a blood red lipstick.
"You don't have to go to such lengths for me to do those things you like with my Victoria," she purred, fingers travelling down his chest.
Completely uncaring to the horror dawning so painful in my body.
"Still here are you?" she mused, somewhat irritated. Such coldness made me flinch.
"Mom! Please I-- I love you! I-- I'm sorry. Send me away! Have me committed I don't care, whatever it takes. Whatever, I'll do it, I can be better--" I inhaled a sharp breath when she pulled my hair whispering in my ear.
"Darling. You're embarrassing yourself. Again," intoned a deeper tone for just a smidge of a second.
But the smell clinging to her.
"Now, let's do it. Poor thing deserves to rest now. Least we can do is send her off right," Mother said.
"Of course honey."
A white dress with lace trimming and thin, flowy sleeves. Embroidered with tiny flowers.
Going quite well with a crown of green ivy leaves and delicate, pastel flower binds. The last touch being a final thorned vine to bind my mouth shut.
Muting my screams when the match was struck and blazed deadly fire. Warm nails raking across bare skin.
Soon enough the reality struck. It struck in dark, oppressive roar of life whooshing out of my chest.
From where the benevolent flash of a Goddess intervened.
The snap of a burly cloak of sapphire was about all I could see, besides some tufts of brown hair at the side of her head and a glint in her eyes much more human than that of her parents.
"Isn't this just-- vile," the Goddess responded blithely yet glacially cold. With a swipe of her fingers deadly killing light lashed out reducing the specters to flames.
And I cried despite it all.
I closed my eyes when I realized she'd formed a grand pair of scales, from which she drew more power of both dishes.
Silence reigned and the noises typical to a farm began to return.
This Goddess now faced me and I found myself floored. For the first time in a long time could I feel a sense of security, feel at ease, and trust the images I saw.
This person, no older, no taller or grander than any of my other 14 year old classmates, didn't mean me harm.
Her weapon was discarded in favor of her own soft hands, undoing the real work of a knot still holding me captive to this horror.
Through the whole process my mind didn't fixate on depositions or the dreariest grey space I'd ever see. No, rather a sense of familiarity itched to be resolved in my head.
Where I could place this character. Somewhere in my real life I was sure. Because, a name laid heavy on the tip of my tongue. Right from when we'd met eyes and she'd done me the courtesy of changing into a cute sailor's outfit.
As if alluding to a fanciful flight that became a Freshman art class work. To vacation at the seaside, to some pier with earthy, jolly locals.
"You don't have to fear anymore. Once we get you home, you may call me," her name.
Certain as my own ten fingers or the blue sky or air we breathed.
Her name, I knew it. I was certain.
"Harley," I answered, awe in my voice as the connection clicked. Harley Forester from my favorite comic. A girl like me. No beauty queen, normal looking but that said likeable enough. Cute.
And with the imposing, secure personality that refused to bend. One of the many, many defects of myself I wished could be wiped away.
"Get on my back, think a happy thought any at all."
this Harley's voice soft in a way that the 'real' thing could never do.
Until that voice screamed.
A ringing overturned any sense of peace.
Awful fire seared and sizzled me to the bones. Melting me to my barest parts.
When I next opened my eyes...
I couldn't be certain I wasn't mad.
From that barn, that dark, about to be burned alive.
To here, in this room and this bed. My room. My bed.
Clutching my head I did nothing to scream. There was nothing more I could do.
I was insane, I was terrified, I was trapped in my horror with no way out. What did come out was the tiniest portion.
I wanted my Mother but she'd left. She'd left.
And what if she was dead?
What if she never came back?
What if she left so she could escape me and start over?
"Lindsey!" my Aunt's harried cry cut through the sobbing.
Slippers shuffling she began to hold me, rocked with me. "Lindsey, Lindsey, shh, shh, it's all okay. You just had a bad nightmare. Lindsey! Lindsey please. Please stop."
She muzzled me in her chest and that brought another spike of paranoid fervor.
I scrambled out of her grip, scratching and snarling.
Until I fell, right on my shoulder.
"The neighbors! Lindsey. Lindsey oh god! Alright, alright. I get it, we'll call a doctor okay? Okay, you're going to be better soon."
"Mom! I want Mom, I wanna see her!"
"Sweetie, please, please just, come to me," she said holding an arm out to me.
Aunt Roz had me backed to a wall, curled on my legs, and stood over me in all her height in this dark, cold space.
Mom. Mom. Only Mom would keep me safe.
I-- it hardly made sense, part of my scrambling brain knew that but at that point, even if the fire felt so real, even if I was so sure they would in fact burn me alive at least the thoughts will stop.
And at least, ,y Mom, who I love and am loved by the most, won't leave me for some man.
A Man Named Schroeder
There were rare few places all the way out in homey little Gravesfield where a person could get a deck.
If a duelist wanted good cards they’d have to troll online-only vendors or trading hubs.
And all were seriously expensive.
Duel Monsters just, for some reason or another, didn’t reach those here or in a lot of countries. Despite the rabble in Europe, Japan, and Korea.
That said, there was a place.
One singular place I knew had donated the school’s ten starter decks with the promise of free employment for the summer months and marketing. Along a small fee.
Turning around it was a mad dash beeline for the game shop at breakneck speeds.
It was a one room shebang called the Gilded Glib’s Duelist Central.
Opening the door a generic store chime sounded.
All the same I called out to whoever could be present.
The counter person looked up but did little more than hummm at him briefly.
“Eighteen minutes. Have your time cut out for you.”
“Of course?” I muttered.
“Yes sir,” I yelped somewhat loudly.
“You go to the junior high? Gravesfield one?”
“Huh? Oh mmm yes sir. Why?” I pressed, somewhat suspiciously.
“No reason. Go on. Do what you have to. Till then, let me sleep.”
Sure enough he set aside his newspaper and put his head down beside it.
Quiet pressed upon the shop.
Letting me hear each and every step of mine on the wood tiles.
A last CREAK and I snapped up a bundle of booster packs.
All random spells, traps and monsters. I could organize and otherwise parcel them out however I wanted later.
But, cards were always different attributes, types, and of differing, random series in these packages.
For all I knew I would get a complete hodge-pudge of beasts, insects, light, water, fire-resistant, cold-resistant, opposing monsters, or unusable, useless spells.
I needed a unifier to my deck.
Some singular type to tie together with effects and buffs. Plus enough variety to adapt any set strategies.
I also favored a more dynamic, cautious structure of dueling. Ways in which I could feel out and pry out a duelist’s battle style and fight accordingly from that.
So, definitely a type that would allow strong defenses and minimal damages.
Gilded’s cases for individual cards were locked tight. Only an owner’s key could open one. Letting customers and younger kids look but not touch.
Or worse… when the vigil was sleeping, steal.
But it wasn’t too troublesome considering the displays were organized by type and unified “chains.” Series of cards that went together and grew in power when used alongside booster spells or coupled monster effects.
A couple cases by were my favorites. The Lunar series of beasts.
I wanted them. A start was a start. I could at least start a hand and then la—
My ears just… popped.
Turning, the howl grew in pitch.
Crying out to the sky.
Mournful and supine, begging to be… held.
But I hadn’t cast a single spell.
I turned around wildly searching, I don’t know for what.
Either some speaker or even model out. A better explanation…
Peeking I could see the cashier still slept.
No hint of gold to my skin or nipping at the fibers of my shirt.
With careful steps, muscles taut and fists clenched in resolve equal to the hardened bone of soldier’s instincts.
I held my breath, howls slowly fading but sharply clear in my head.
What— what was this?
Possession? Glamours? Was I being— what why couldn’t I control my body.
Hands touching upon a beat up old box on a shelf ROAAAAAAAARUGHGGH the beast slathered and snarled.
“Heh heh. Duel Monsters?” I asked at school one day. “What’s that?”
I’d been given a noob deck set. Set against the newest member. Someone who knew the ropes no better than I did.
But could keep his hand to himself.
I noticed quickly the Dueling Club had near no girls.
What also turned clear to me was that… monsters were soldiers. Spells were glyphs.
And I…? I was the God whose hand shook but was a God nonetheless. I, sent ranks to their deaths.
From the first moment I looked into a card’s eyes there was this… this link that always carried out to me. The monsters felt— were— real. Sometimes more real than I felt on some days.
I was scared and I was frantic. Inside me the eyes of everyone, their bated breaths sent me into a dark place. Made the wooden table, the tiled floors, all of it, there was no one. No-thing. I was just me. Solitary. In the dark.
In the dark. And a crowd watching.
So I made the moves. Played the fields. Closed my eyes and bowed my head for each fallen.
And as the murmurs began to prick…
Because basketball, gym, cosplay, sewing, charm, and wit. I was good at it all. Yet here, here’s where Hunter Wilde was beat.
And that was the whole of it wasn’t it?
The monsters weren’t going to stay. Weren’t in a position to defend themselves without me.
So my eyes turned cold. Apathetic. Arrogant.
The Golden Guard took over and won the duel.
Once I’d looked down again it all slotted into place.
Hah! Once the field turned into tactical maps and I got my starter with goblin platoons or toy regiments it was a clean sweep.
Well, okay I had to read some so I didn’t accidentally disqualify myself.
Still… preliminary matches and simulation turned to analysis. Studying stats, style, picking up discs and swag.
Until I was in the monthly betting pool and winning.
“Haha,” I chuckled arms full with a pool of chips, chocolates, gummies, sour string, fruit rolls, and other cookies or salted stuff. “I said it didn’t I? Painless. I’m a man of my word.”
And stuck out my tongue.
The former ranked number two fumed and pointedly ignored me the rest of that evening but so had I. So had anyone else in the bracket for all of fifteen minutes.
Those snacks later found their way to Camila’s veterinary office for kids and others waiting on surgery or… unfortunate news… to munch on.
I spiraled. Down and down, down till my knees near gave way.
Petting fur, watching yet more leap for prey.
And— and sparkling lights. Orbs, bright glyphs.
As pixie fairies nipped just beyond their fangs.
Winked at Hunter— me.
Me. Winking and commuting to me and my heart.
It was mine for just ten dollars.
The man whose name I found out was Keji allowed me the extra time to register for the tournament.
He’d send away for my forms, writing in the rarest card of the set; a still common, average Brotherhood of Wolf monster. Just a level three.
"We can add this Change of Heart."
"Does it have to be a playing card though?" I wondered.
"Dunno, don't exactly care but we can cover our bases."
He made no promises.
Seto Kaiba’s was an exclusive event.
“Either way I appreciate it,” I said, still somewhat … figuring just what it was that was making my deck vibrate.
Keji grinned slyly. “Don’t, really Wild Child don’t appreciate anything. Don’t say any one word about ‘thank you’s or ‘aww so cool Kej-man.’ Give it three days and you’ll turn around screaming curses…” he broke out into bitter laughter.
“Why— why would—“
“Course that’s hardly skin off my bones. Sometimes you just get all these crazy crack legends from kids searching for discounts and ways to make a ruckus.”
“Legends?” I whispered, not just a little unnerved if fascinated.
“Hah! Yeah,” he said leaning in, waving me on to do the same.
Once I was good and close that he could drop to a whisper he told me. “So it goes that deck there is cursed, possessed. Spirits leaking out of the beasts. Always getting mad at their owners for something, ‘the deck’s not supposed to be theirs or hers or mine,’ ‘cards choose themselves.’ Supposedly the whole game is a modern reboot of some sick occult magic involving human sacrifice and rites to Hell.”
“Woah.” My eyes widened, clutching tight. The cards were still warm.
And— the warmth still fluctuated in a way that beat sedately in my hands.
Almost like the hot stuff was a purr.
I gazed to Keji. Surely he could see or realize— something.
Clutching them I presented my cupped hands.
“All talk of course. Seriously, you have a complaint and you will, I’ll give you your money back so don’t look at me so pitifully.”
“Right,” I said and with a sideways glance whispered back, “Though I figure myself made out of some tough stuff, stupid curse would regret… it. So much.”
Keji shrugged. “Could be. Just as many pros are starting to come out saying they speak and feel with their decks. I will tell you, the holographics are no joke. Fire and brimstone coming at real wizards, seeing it in their faces,” he whistled, “I would hate to be a Duel Monster. Really.”
“Yeah. I get where they’re coming from,” I agreed. “Well thank you… for uh… for the service.”
Keji simply nodded. Sure enough, now without customers let loose and lit a light. Exhaling he came out from the counter, taking coat and some keys.
“Look it’s late. Way too late for you, lemme give you a ride.”
Making me tense.
Among the first rules of the human world, or really any exchange of my life, never let just anyone know where you lived.
“Or not,” he sighed, somewhat defeated but nevertheless let it lie.
“Just be safe alright,” he said with a stern expression as he held the door open for me.
And slammed it just as I began my pedaling home.
Shoot. Cerbos was likely spinning a complete cocoon of the house by now.
In Germany, a White Castle with blue accents
A man in a cashmere robe lounged on the pool deck of his elegant home.
Sipping a cold, tangy cocktail.
Smiling and setting down the glass when his laptop chimed.
An email with a file attached that addressed the recipient as Schroeder Zigfried.
On it did he find his rousing Champion by the name of Wilde. No older than sixteen and vagabond appearance from a school ID photo on his information sheet.
“Okay maybe I didn’t think that far ahead happy now?” I sniped at a burner phone.
Where on the other side none other than Luz giggled. “Very,” she cheekily replied, before sighing, “it was really a good try, nice gesture.”
“I’m going to do it,” I enthused. “One way or another.”
I was at the foyer now, backpack in hand to meet with some of the library staff. Having asked about a small job. A one time thing to organize a community athletics event for kids. The pay was nothing to write home about but I’d been told to ask around. See if moms needed lawn work or garages organized.
“Oooo. Am I gonna have a famous dueling brother, well I better get an autograph while I can on all my notes… Yuchi Mouto won’t—“
At that point I was really losing my head with her. Not caring at this moment right now she’d happened to save my life once, twice. Or more than I could ever repay.
Who was counting though? Hardly mattered to the cackle beginning to nettle under my skin.
Just a second away from hanging up Luz composed herself.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Look I don’t know dueling. Almost no one does but everyone knows the best in the game whoever it is in whatever game. And this Japanese kid, he’s the King.”
That was when the doorbell beat me to getting the knob.
For a moment I recoiled, tensing as Camila always made a point to inform me of guests. Mail was delivered every Friday, three days away, and trash or other maintenance assigned did not engage with residents unless outright summoned or required by a regulatory or functionality issue.
“I am absolutely certain you just misnamed that big shot.”
And by Dueling stats and tournament wins Hunter was near certain the “King” was still that hot air, egoistic billionaire Kaiba with his Battle City throw down.
And surely either/or she expected a snide remark. Some promise to introduce the Titan to this soft human preener.
Hmm. Well no need to keep whoever waiting. And if it was some human scam or ambush well… Luz very well should remember I’d stared down a King before. “I’m… going to have to call you back. Please stay safe and try not to come by with ash and a new mullet.”
“Weh. Wait a— Hunter?”
I cut her off there.
I’d text later.
Slow typed my foot.
Opening the door I found no one to greet. No indication at all there was any guest.
But my foot did in fact find evidence.
On the step was a sizable package, the sticker stenciled with our home address and my name in bold, thick lettering.
Not to mention a whole other letter tied to the corner.
Hefting it inside I found it to be barely a burden. Certainly something bulky was inside, and solid but other than that…?
Mrs. Noceda continued her washing in the kitchen.
“Mijo. Was that the neighbor? A few kids?”
I simply shook my head quite intent on the true mystery. Then again the who may matter just as much.
“Not sure,” and I not my lip slightly, “umm it’s against the law? Opening others’ mail right? Your name has to be on it?”
“Yes. Honey did you by chance, see something you really liked?” an uncertain note came to her voice.
Though I knew much better than to be wary. Give me some credit.
A person may just as likely mistake the checkout for check-it-out on that Internet.
“Haven’t been on those sites,” those confusing, scammers who can’t not know what they’re doing, “won’t allow it at school anyway. And Keji didn’t email me back yet about equipment.”
Camila sighed. “Well nothing more to do then. Go on mijo.”
When I cut open the front center of the box, to say I was surprised and more than a bit disconcerted was putting it quite lightly. Often the way Luz liked to say the nightmares were just little nicks from bed bugs.
Which didn’t make anyone less concerned being how bed bugs could bleed her dry if given an inch.
A duel disk ready for assembly lay in the box under layers of foil and bubble wrap. That and a single device that could only connect to a computer.
Then the letter.
Reaching for it, I found Camilla ahead of me and staring to the paper perturbed.
“Excuse me while I get my phone.”
Camila had drawn herself taut. Just as battle ready as she was clearly stressed.
Taking a look himself Battle City immediately registered.
A contract, just one page.
The bottom fold marked only with an X.
Whipping out his cell Hunter opened a new email.
C,E, and O?
The weekend morning started steel grey and cold.
The water still not heated but I was way too grimy and gross from last night.
I could appreciate a glass of blueberry blast, even an icy one across my scalp in hot, deadly simmering summer heat.
But smelling of artificial syrup from head to toe...
I went into a harried rush in and out, leaping about with nothing more to protect me from the chill than a mustard yellow towel and throw over my hair.
The bite of a small portable heater up my second floor bedroom was welcome, creating a pleasant throb on my skin.
Shivering, I let my hair free of the thick wool then moving on to my torso, frantically drying myself. Lucky for me, it was ingrained in scouts to dress swiftly and correctly for morning inspection. Lest the emperor grow angry.
Either way, I was warm in fifteen seconds. No complaints, no contest.
On my shoulder and out of his enclosure was my Palisman. A sizable and ghastly spider with lithe, hairy legs rising and falling in a stretch.
Shaking his head up against my own face indicating he demanded attention. Namely that of prey.
“Okay okay,” I relented offering my fingers for a friendly nip before the big travelled up my arm.
Finding our way to what served as the kitchen. Not far from the main foyer of the old place. Where we’d once painted the bird tube and done Spanish from scary Dual-Lingo.
Eda in all her ways still didn’t totally understand human pipes and wires. She got me water for the faucet and shower but for the life of her couldn’t fathom a full on fridge. So, she did the next best thing.
A portable mini usually meant to be in an RV and siphon from the gas of the car. This one’s unit was outside.
And it did the job.
Keeping the loaf cold and safe from bugs. Or more namely, a snotty arachnid with a taste for fire beetles. The cold of the machine keeping them stupid and wings fluttering feebly but flaring to life once out.
Even so, I handled them with care, before tossing them around the webs.
Inevitably caught and devoured. Gruesomely and involving bloodied crumbs and odd clear fluid from empty eye sockets for me to clean off the counter.
Cerbos was then content to nap in my hair. Now a festive Jewish hat. I’d have to ask Vee or Camilla what those were called again. I certainly remembered not liking the looks those times some coworkers came by, or patients in the vet’s office, or some of his schoolmates who wore those “religious head coverings.” Hats and also hi-jabs. Only remembering the latter from old movies.
Ones I was warned compulsively by Luz and her mother to not take as fact or use in any normal conversation.
With that done, everything checked, and phone hanging off my fingers…
Damn keys. Key, where—
A dangerous tip caught me off kilter but was quickly fixed. Acutely reminding me why I lived alone.
Much as I loved my friends to death and back, I was not one to be so mercilessly mocked! I mean Willow was one thing, she was Willow, she never meant it to be annoying. Not that— not that such a thing was in her. No, she made people double trip on crossing her. And anyway, when she laughed it was the nicest—
Tossing the phone and letting it slide to better grip, taking the glazed vanilla bread like a book.
Fishing my jangling ring I locked the knob.
Mrs. Noceda sent a couple texts as I made the serene stroll down, whistling a tune to myself.
Shower before morning. O Que te salve Dios de gripa.
Can’t wait to see you mijo.
Mijo. May just be my favorite word.
Deftly he swung himself away from a streak in a white shirt, jogger pants, and an unruly blend of yellow and blue hair.
Vee stumbled, flailing arms to catch herself and glared fiercely in my direction as he laughed.
“Ahhh. Hey I tell you not to run patata,” I crooned.
She stuck out her tongue, quickly forgetting her irritation.
This time I let her crush me into a hug.
The delicate way she held my cake, eyes gleaming and already drooling could have been a factor too.
Mrs. Noceda was much the same. Burying me in a hug and even giving Cerbos a pet.
I returned him to staff form and let him lean in the living room next to a window sill.
Lunch was delicious as usual.
We talked and we laughed. We caught up.
I couldn’t waste this chance in teasing Vee when she’d brought up her friend Masha’s name.
“Stooooop,” she whined putting her head down the kitchen table.
“Mija,” Camila soothed with a hand patting her back. “Mija sabes Que no intenta mal.” There was still laughter in her own voice as she said it.
“Ya se Mama,” she conceded. And now had a sly smile on her face. “Y Que es unos rumores entre amigos?”
Vee still had some gestures from Luz. Namely the look she had when planning mischief.
“You know last Willow had called she was pretty disappointed you’d been out with those sweaty guys you hang with. Instead of your lonely little sister,” she pouted impetuously.
For a moment my breath hitched.
I puckered my mouth, refusing to let anything go.
Vee gasped. “Whyyyyyy?”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“Sorry still, still can’t hear you over my loving heaaaart.”
“I love you patata!” I finally enunciated fiercely.
Leaping she smothered me again, making me flail once I realized I really couldn’t breathe.
“So expect Luz to come by for next weekend. Oh you know what we should tag team. Augh but I also really do want her advice. Being in a healthy, romantic relationship.”
“I’m sure the human can take a joke,” I assured.
It was well into the night outside.
Near eight and I suppose the routine of a scout hadn’t wholly left me as I yawned at every other sentence.
For the moment Vee and I had moved for the living room.
Took out a few board games and began to play.
Though for all through it I could sense something was up.
For all she rambled on about her “maybe/maybe not” over Masha, commenting on the witch of Hunter and his status in school, and of course the Isles there was something she hadn’t mentioned. Something nipping at her happy demeanor.
I wanted to know what to do. I should have. We’d gotten way, way closer ever since staying in the human world.
Sometimes we treated each other to a movie or the zoo. We showed each other off to our friends. There was always laughter when we hung out.
We were friends.
I was her older brother.
Seeing that frown while she pondered her checkers pieces, before catching my stare and making a move she shouldn’t have made.
One we both knew she wouldn’t make.
Especially since she taught me the strategy part of dueling.
I placed one of my vital pieces in her black one’s jaws. Boxed in, inevitable to be caught and the game won.
She noted the play with significant confusion.
I was not subtle. I was not gentle and sensitive to others the way my friends were.
“What’s bothering you? It isn’t the girls at your school is it?”
Vee had decided to completely start fresh.
That meant no Gravesfield Junior High where Luz used to go to and “came back” to after camp.
Instead she’d chosen a somewhat more turbulent place. Meadow Lane.
A somewhat farther school with less than stellar records on passing students or graduation. But she said it was fun if not a bit loud and the kids really weren’t all so bad as they were made out to be.
There were even much more Hispanic kids to practice Spanish with. A lot who’d been understanding to their “situation” as not from around.
Still, I couldn’t watch over her the way I could at my school. Protect her with that popular status.
“No— n—n-no. No no it’s not that,” she said whiling away her finger, already beginning to curl on herself. “School is great. It isn’t anything.”
“Vee,” I breathed, “please. Please tell me. I’m your brother.”
“I— she said… she said not to—“
“Who! Who said!” I urged, not liking her voice at all. Someone, something was hurting her! Hurting her deep and often to be like this. On the edge of sheer panic.
“Mrs. Noceda,” I repeated somewhat skeptical. That just didn’t fit. What would she want to— no. No no no no.
Something wasn’t, he was sure now he was absolutely missing something.
Now if only she would—
“Camila said to please not worry,” Vee continued and it did loosen the knot that had constricted his chest just a bit.
She just meant not to keep it in and worry. Of course she was.
“She said it was fine. That we just— we weren’t a bother and she loves us.”
Now if that wasn’t distressing in its own way.
Only that was all I got out of Vee before she started crying.
She threw herself onto me. I couldn’t do much at that point except hold her.
She blubbered something about Camilla seeing her like this. I muffled her cries in my shirt. But that wasn’t the right thing to do.
Though for now, despite the fact that Vee needed what I couldn’t provide, the issue right now was getting her through this moment. So, I did.
Vee breathed, buried in my body. I guided her best as I could.
To calm down and to please, please tell me anything.
Turns out, therapy, family lawyers, special needs toys and anxiety tools weren’t cheap.
“I found the bills one morning Camilla just passed out. Not like passed out out but, she was just so tired.”
She’d said so in a whisper now leading me along.
Slowly tiptoeing so as to not make a fuss, into her own room.
Where she had snatched some of the receipts and letters herself.
I read it, looking up from the numbers, admittedly as torn as she was.
So of course Vee wrung her hands in worry.
“I— I don’t know what I can do. I mean Hunter,” she rasped voice thick with emotion.
I huffed softly. More thinking than anything.
I couldn’t make her do anything. If she wanted me and only me then I would have to respect that. Offer her a stress free place to get away for the weekend if nothing else.
I’d found ways to occupy my time around town without spending money. It was a system that worked.
Then again me? I needed answers.
“Okay look,” and tear-filled eyes gazed up. I kept my cool, “Vee it wasn’t the way to go. You can’t be taking this stuff—“ he treaded very carefully, making sure she realized he wasn’t exactly scolding her.
“I know that,” she defended nervously.
“I know you do but, look, I can stay here with you. I can listen. No,” I corrected, “I will listen. That I can do for you but, I also need to address this. With Mrs. Noceda.”
“Hunter but— she said,” and then her stance hardened. “No. We shouldn’t. I mean it’s fine really.”
“No. No it isn’t,” I insisted. “Look I’m worried okay. And, I know you are too. You don’t have to join me but that’s why I’m saying. If you still need me than fine but, me. I need to address this with Mrs. Noceda. Figure out just what’s up.”
Vee closed her eyes. Straining, struggling with herself fiercely.
Before finally crying out.
Holding my hand and the pair heading together in an urgent gait.
“Children?” Camila asked peeking in from the kitchen. Having finished the dishes and finding quiet. “Vee? Hunter? You two where have you gone… off—?
Odder still when she spotted the abandoned games. Both checkers and some more of those Dueling cards Hunter borrowed from school.
“Here,” Hunter said. Without fanfare, tone trite.
He stood stiff and worse yet expression solemn as when he’d first sought refuge along his friends almost a year ago now.
And Vee was cowering behind. Looking almost ashamed and— almost refusing to meet her eyes.
“Mijos? What— what is. It?”
“Please don’t lie,” he then said struggling to get the words out. “We’re— we’re sorry for peeking.”
Crumpled in his hands were papers she’d never wanted them to see. The last thing they needed right now— was to see the monetary costs imposing on their getting better, getting everything that should have been given them from the start.
Unbidden, her legs nearly fell.
She could tell her expression was falling. Putting a hand to her mouth…
Hunter was so fast in catching her.
“Sit down, please. And please don’t. This isn’t your fault, we— we worry too. And I need to know.”
There’s been no way to know how the conversation would have gone.
I was relieved though, that Camila was scared for us first and foremost.
Money was tight.
She had admitted as much, admitted how important it was that Sasha Waybright be their therapist.
Since she knew the ins and outs of magical worlds.
She promised to elaborate; laughing a little, if not strained.
She kissed Vee and urged her to go to bed for now. She’d be up with some chocolate and the rest could be for the morning.
Still sniffling Vee nodded.
Camila took me through just what the expenses were.
The sheer wear of the financial burden obvious on her face.
“The lawyers promised to let me pay in installments with a bit of grace all things considered. Without certain paperworks…”
“…then I’m not a person here either. I don’t, wouldn’t, have a shot of making something here.”
Camila nodded. “Yes and neither would Vee. Social Services would have come and they protect kids but,” she smiled in a way all too much like her daughter when keeping up the ruse of know-how when in a bind.
Briefly it weighed on me how lucky it was Luz learned from and admired her Mother so much. As Camila had forgiven him almost as easily as Luz.
“It’s create a lot of awkward questions on where I proofed from and if you were maybe lying and holding me prisoner.”
This time both shared a hearty laugh.
“I wanna help.”
“Oh baby,” Camila soothed hand on my head.
“No, Mrs. Mom,” she put a hand to her chest.
I kept my gaze.
It had been a huge step.
Calling her Mom just then.
“Honey I— I appreciate you may feel…”
“L— le- let… let me sp- sp- speak.”
It had been so huge.
I’d— I’d never dared overstep the way I had.
Acknowledging Mrs. Noceda as my Mother, my family, dating to believe this could last it shorted out my voice, much less composure completely.
Sure enough I was scorching red and surely making an expression ripe for ridicule and cartoonishly unsightly.
But either way I did speak.
Focusing on the table.
Making rings with my finger as I did.
“I’m not suggesting anything crazy but, well, I cannot stand by whether you want me to or not. It just isn’t my way,” I declared, false ruefulness when I shook my head.
“Well alright I suppose,” she hummed thoughtfully with a pensive hand to her chin, “ah! I could use some help organizing coupons.”
“Send me off with a stack!”
“Hmm your house though, it is very old plus it is a little more humid there.”
“My gym locker is out too then. Not much better after all.”
Camila winced. “Never bring those back if they’ve been with your clothes the whole day.”
“I’m with my clothes the whole day.”
“Now you know what I mean and I know you do,” she teased. Ruffling my hair where her gaze stayed on my face for just a little longer.
She looked away first. “I suppose you will want the Wanteds too. I know half-baked isn’t a word in your vocabulary.”
“No ma’am,” I puffed with considerable pride even if Camila were more exasperated than amazed.
“But,” she affirmed right down to the Mom finger and soul-piercing, pin his butt to a chair stare. “You start small, after all you’re schedule is choked up enough as it is with all those clubs you’re a part of. Not to mention going in all directions for those friends of yours.”
I wanted to look abashed but I couldn’t.
Not my fault people found scars a draw. And not that I had to dole out anything on the how.
Sooo, mysterious bad boy reputation for the foreseeable future.
Very much not sad!
“We are,” she said drawing and feeling it out as she did, “also going to have to dial down your birthday. Now I know, I know I promised and we’d already put plans together…”
Usually I don’t interrupt Camila whenever she speaks.
I was still getting used to being addressed and permitted to answer questions.
Not that she was asking rhetorical, subtly scathing questions any half-wit witch would know to bow their head and wait to be addressed.
Either way I did end up laughing.
The nervous, still somewhat unhinged or derogatory laugh I favored. Or, used to favor more than any.
“I don’t need a birthday. To be honest, I mean never missed out back there so yeah. Besides I never did get the point of that human custom not to mention we don’t know when I and not Caleb was born. Which, would be way… weird…?”
Any playfulness or laugh lines on Camila’s face vanished.
Replaced in tandem with the peaceful, meandering atmosphere into something sharp and dreaded.
“Hunter that isn’t— I, you know Amity celebrated birthdays right? So did Willow and I’m sure Gus.”
I simply blinked.
“O-okay then scrap that then. Well uhhh then a trip,” I proposed.
“Where to. Keep in mind our options are a bit limited. Though we could do a lunch in the park, the beach.”
“I was sorta hoping, we… visit Luz.” I smiled hoping for approval, “y’know over… there.”
“I— I mean we could but mijo is that— will you be okay?”
I mulled it over. Taking great care and thought. Before overall settling, even with a shaking hand, I was probably ready as I would ever be.
Melancholy had begun to grow.
Maybe not for the sulfurous air of the Isles or rib cage maze of forest and gulch of the Isles itself…
But, for the people there. The energy and feel of his friends when they were completely unbound, unfettered.
Sure magic ran wild in Camila’s house, and he smiled just thinking about it, but it was always with the knowledge to be careful else she’d be the one footing the bill right after hosting.
And that wasn’t fair.
“Yeah! I… wanna see the Boiling Isles again.”
There was a lot to do before I could even begin talking birthdays or trips touring around Hexside, Glandus, the now Consortium out of the old castle.
And shopping in the renamed Owl House Market Square. Made infamous for the Owl Lady herself making her shop and business there.
As well as obscurely known as the meeting point of teacher and student.
Though at the moment, my mind was more on Wanted ads. Coffee shop. Grocery, mall, barber… Junior teacher?
But… that didn’t seem like me. I would have done anything sure but, BY TITAN! He had no idea what most of those words were.
Sure, he had heard them in passing. He’d watched enough TV.
A good portion of the evening was spent pacing.
I put on my pajamas.
Camila bought all the clothes I had now.
Brushing my teeth while the water ran, in the mirror numbers spread across the glass.
Spitting, I could hardly… I pitched my head down toward the sink.
Crying out in my frustration, feeling as my breathing turned erratic.
Slowly trying to parcel my breath, keeping focus on my chest and the way my lungs tightened and tightened. Further… further…
Dizziness began to run through my nerves, turning my legs against me.
Narrowly did I stop from completely tumbling.
Instead, lurching for the door.
And out of the Whittibane house down each step and out to where a rudimentary metallurgy had been slapped together.
Inside I stepped into an arched back, slowly finding the shining coat of Oxford paint on a two wheel bike.
Made for a tall teenager.
I imitated each click.
Synchronized my steps.
Each in harmony at the cool breeze of a Saturday night.
I took my bike through all the paces.
Grinding on the asphalt, slapping on it, speed growing and the resistance turning almost taut.
Feeling the rush of my body and my other organs left behind.
I kept going, kept pushing, and kept pace as the neighborhood turned to a blur.
Coming to wild turns, several near misses and not for the first time forcing the bike on its side before I was able to re-stabilize myself.
My breath now caught by adrenaline.
Slowly, my problems started becoming small.
I could, think it through.
Camila had promised to talk more tomorrow. Suggested to me that I bring my worries to Ms. Waybright.
Getting a job might require sacrifice and really, I’d probably gotten as good with sewing as I cared to get.
Giving that up, ceding the team to Cedar or at lest put us on equal footing instead of Captain and best player could absolutely happen. The coach had been one of the most attentive to his situations.
Embarrassing, but later quite vital.
When I took to the street again it was at much slower pace.
I was entombed raw, cold to the bone in a two-layer night shirt and loose, wide legged pants.
Still, I felt I had some more in me.
It was probably not too far from midnight by this point.
Slowly, the dark ceded to a strip a bit further by his neck of woods, awash in lights.
Plenty of neon signs for restaurants, the coffee place he picked up late lunches or played hookie a daring two times.
A much more upscale building flashed ads.
A new hotel.
The channel turned to static.
Before blinking back to life just as quickly. Except this time with a person of definitive features, sharp, callous azure eyes, and some skin-tight sleeve and belts deal under some long silver coat.
It did not do that emaciated, starved frame any favors.
I would bet money the guy was short.
Though either way he had my attention.
In the light, the spectacle, and much more in a voice demanding attention, so boisterous it had to compensate for something.
“…To Domino City! Open to all the rabble who figures themselves duelists. A survival of the fittest battle royale, the winner the indisputable King of Games,” he swore, clenching a fist taut and veiny to the screen. Expression cold and eyes empty. Yet with no less grit to his bold declaration.
The guy announcing the event dubbed Battle City was throwing his hand into the gauntlet too.
”Be ready. Only the best will be permitted…”
”Two weeks from today!”
Just as promised the next night was a wild flurry of sweat, adrenaline, and the repressive sphere of a crowd. Parents and teachers, classmates, and adorers all cramped into cheap metal bleachers and the cordoned edges of the gym floor. Wide, excited eyes waiting for that final shot.
The change of the red tally numbers.
All riding on a single play.
In a deep huddle of humid body odor and taut bodies I gave a sweeping glance to the team. Closer than kin and driven by nothing else but success of the mission. "Okay we're at the straits, best team in the league, we have them by the balls..." I began, feeling it in my own heart, the pounding pressure of it all.
The pride of our school.
This small niche we can call ours.
"You have to take it," Riley urged.
I shook my head. "No. I can't."
To my own right, between Devin and Ed. was that one. Cedar Wong.
"You're our best at pressure and that's what we need right now. Someone who is anywhere and everywhere."
"But if one person has the ball--"
"right they'll all charge--"
"Wong will be our rear, a decoy in our Blitz play. Feint and let the ball pass to Number eleven."
"Hunter you're insane."
"Am I?" I dared with a sly smile.
"Look I-- I can't. I can't do this," Cedar insisted growing agitated by the second.
"Yes. Yes you can."
Because Wong had always been the second in command. Never needed practice, could always skive off when Michaels led the team.
When it was only because of him that he was anything.
People who are that controlling were always threatened by talent and strength.
When it shined, they shined brighter than stars.
"Hunter, come on this is it. We can't--!"
"No you can't," I cut in, "you cannot keep hiding yourself away. As your captain I will not accept that. You are talented Cedar, Braddock wouldn't have bullied you into thinking otherwise if you weren't. I told you then and I will keep telling you until it gets in that stone skull of yours... You are not under me, you don't belong to me, you belong to no one except yourself Cedar. So, are you seriously going to let us down when your friends need you and only you?"
"Is this the best shot?"
"it's the only shot and I'm sure everyone agrees," I said directing my confident stare unto the rest.
"You're the man C."
"No one better."
"Can we see your place?" Cedar asked.
"I will think about it."
Cedar nodded, the verv back in his expression.
"One. Two. THREE! Break!" we declared as one, hands out to the ceiling.
We did the run, fluid and effortless; Eddie to me, me to Will, Will down the center and doing a sidesweep of the ball.
Shing Hu coming on behind the Scorpions Captain Ryan Adderway.
Sound fell away.
The cascading waves of the crowd turning to thick cotton, a note of shrill static.
At an Abomination trudge three front fielders lunged for the leaping beacon.
Hope and grit on his face, his entire soul bared on the gym. To prove himself.
And escape a dark shadow.
The buzzer cut through sharper than a knife.
"The Gravesfield Gadflies... HAVE WON!!!!"
I was subsequently swept in a euphoric tangle; atop the shoulders of seniors. Beside me was Cedar Wong, blue punch cascaded onto our heads into a quickly sticky turning cocoon.
Together we held a trophy aloft my smile straining under the arms of Mrs. Noceda hugging me with pride.
We ended that night at a pizza parlor.
Gabbing on about everything and nothing.
Camila and a couple other parents footing the bill.
Looking upon it all from the skylight of a sighing old relic out in the woods, so slightly slanting in the wind the word coming to mind...?
Slowly the fuzzy feelers of my eight legged friend scuttled about my face and down to the waist for a pet. Settling to sleep at the sill from bed.
Once I had wanted to play Flyer Derby.
Once I had wanted to attend Hexside. As a normal student.
I wanted to study wild magic! And carve palismans!
I had never wanted to step in that throne room again!
But then I had to.
I had to scout out the night markets and villages of lower Titan. Issue orders of release for those having been in Conformatoriums. Deliver letters of resignation, all manner of threats to my friends.
Track down Odalia Blight.
Go back to the hovels of Latissa where once I'd almost handed over a batch of palismans to slaughter.
Scouts new and old straightened and saluted.
In brief moments I was the emperor.
And then it was Ms. Clawthorn and then Amity Blight or the old Head Ms. Lilith. Mrs. these days.
I couldn't much go to Hexside either.
My friends were only growing and getting better. Without me.
Something wasn't working. Something was missing. I couldn't sew without the steady thrum of a trembling machine. My fingers were often clumsy, my stitchwork too tight. Cluttered.
At some point I had tried beast taming. There was a brief window where I waited so eagerly, for the Bat Queen to give her blessing from one of her pets. Err, children.
I could get a wolf. As good as, at least.
After that snarling Greyback nearly bit my hand off. The cubs had wings and scorpion tails. And their eyes, they weren't proud. They didn't glint like steel or perfect gems. Instead they were empty and grim.
There was nothing inside them. No magic, no soul. Nothing at all.
Not... not the magic I was looking for.
Hexside, Derby, palisman.
I tried to learn, I did.
I don't know why I tried so hard honestly.
Just what was I flailing so desperately for anyway?
Why did I refuse to see?
That the castle rooms were too big, the Blight manor's guest room, the unused suite Odalia once owned, all too cold. Not mine in the least. The Owl House was better. Cozy, felt more like home.
That didn't last too long either.
Our worlds would one day, not be ours anymore.
I knew that.
They did too.
One day, either in the far future or closer, we would say goodbye. For the last time.
What we also knew, is that they were all I had. And maybe, that wasn't healthy. But it just may be, that I may never start over there. Never not be the Golden Guard on those Isles.
I had never had a Mother before.
I had never had cafeteria food or pop quizzes.
I'd never had to memorize lines about being a refugee or decorate what was once a clubhouse for us, what used to be his ancestral home.
"I'm gonna crash if that's fine. Caleb? Mr. Wittabane? Silence means yes."
A pair of heavy cases clunked on wooden flooring, kicking up a storm of dust.
And a skittering thing...
Shit. They had termites.
Magic just, wasn't a part of my life anymore.
It was fine. Really, it was fine. Living for sure without the thing that dictated and defined my life or even... allowed me to exist in the first place.
Made of... magic... and all.
I didn't miss it. Nah. More trouble than it was worth really.
I certainly don't shake or convulse sometimes(but, just my hand) so chill, just chill deal? Deal.
But hey so what? I mean, I did two or so of the things I set out to. And considering where I started that-- that is big, it is a huge deal.
HUGE deal. Huge!
Ah, humans have these games called baseball and basketball.
And while I don't mean to brag, all the old Golden Guard stuff, right down to the "cutting throats" served now and again. No contest. Showed them!
Take that Braddock Michaels!
I know I'll be the first Freshman captain on the team.
The guys are good in throwing sure, but they are completely unfocused and uncoordinated. Wait till I get done with 'em. Few weeks of infantry tactics and a night out in these woods, they'll see a feint or fatal knife attack from a mile off.
I should probably stop now.
The new picture went a lot better. Used to the flash now I could put on a small, shy smile for the camera. Absently I couldn't help but trace just where the scars were on the real thing. Large and imposing over my eyes and where my ear would be if not hidden by an illusion stone.
Instead of the bomb threat terror of last time. And the one before that, the one before that, the six before...
"You have got to stop losing these Wilde," Hal sighed.
I simply laughed, an awkward, buck tooth grin coming onto my face, setting the ID down. "I know, I'm sorry."
"That's fine. Now off to class."
"Yes sir," I said saluting, before remembering not to accidentally toss the small card again.
Packed in my bag I made sure to heft my books; only for someone to crash straight into my chest. Or did I shove my chest at their face? I don't always remember.
Either way the poor boy yelped like a kicked Vee.
"Sorry, sorry I am so-- I shouldn't even be talking! I don't-- I didn't--!
He went crimson. Outside of helping him with his own materials; including what could only be office assistant stuff, I tried to nod and listen.
I kept a firm and careful squeeze of his shoulder, hoping to convey he was by all means free to escape. "Hey, hey, hey I don't wanna hear that nonsense, just focus on me 'kay, okay?"
"Okay," he whimpered.
"Now is there anyone else here?" I murmured voice now no more than dust.
He shook his head.
"Good, that's good--"
Turning his head back I continued in a quick, comforting whisper, "now in--" he took in a gulp of air.
And with fingers raised counted down as I slowly exhaled.
The younger freshman copying it.
"Come on," I said picking him up off the floor.
"Thanks, so so much Mr. Hunter."
"Please Mr. Hunter--" then again his Father was either a corpse or a tree. Belos was well, Belos. "Anyway, you hit me up next time whoever it is is throwing shade you got that."
He nodded, now smiling and eyes brimming with awe.
We continued chatting. Mostly about classes, making sure he wasn't late, handing in the forms in his place.
"We should make him a hall monitor." the vice-principal commented absently, while watching the pair leave in good spirits.
Both smiled fondly to the older freshman.
I stopped cold.
Rules and authority. My worst enemy.
But no problem couldn't be solved with snacks.
"You ever seen M&Ms disappear within five seconds! Cuz you're gonna right now!"
Ripping open the bag I did just that to the freshman's, I'm sure, amusement, no matter how he tried to pretend calling me crazy. After all, the poor schmuck worshipped 'Mr. Hunter.'
"Mr. Hunter no!"
Eddie, Saanjik, Shing Hu, Saravi, and Claire were some close-ish friends. My b-ball team and Claire's posse from the cheer squad.
"Feeling good about the game tomorrow night?" Claire needled, brow raised, and voice taking on a sardonic note. "Is a whole lot riding y'know. This whole school's pride this season is riding on the new guy who barreled his way in to the team, some may say... unfairly so."
"Ha. Am I supposed to be intimidated, because I'm not," Hunter laughed. "If there is one thing I can deliver on it's demolishing the competition." And to show that point I gave an extra hard slam of my locker door, punching dead center without a glance.
Smiling I tried to swallow the rush of pain and throbbing of what I was sure is a lurid red on my fist.
Sooo stiff. It shouldn't be stiff should it?
"Alright then settle down," Claire laughed cheekily. Much like an annoying human witch I knew. Was this really the brutal bully that made that brave witch cower?
"So it's that Chem exam you have next right?" With a wink she added, "mind sneaking a cute friend of mine the answers for tomorrow?"
I mounted my best deadpan. The very same I used to use against dumb Wild Witches who tried to talk their way out of arrests.
Sure, it was different for me. Being popular, whatever that meant.
I shouldn't be calling Claire a friend should I? No, I really shouldn't. She wasn't always so nice and fun. Sometimes she genuinely got the joy of making me nervous.
What she always called 'keeping me on my [human] toes.'
1. Alluring Secret: Black Vow
2. Lost One's Weeping
3. Ma Survival Game
4. Daughter of White
So yikes. Where do you wanna start? Warnings of rape, most prominently abuse(family and domestic), dysfunctional parents, mental illness, death, the absolute child endangerment that is Gohan's childhood, and some not great portrayals of certain characters. Taken from a perspective without the life and death battle, which may make certain statements problematic. Kinda wanted to explore consequences of growing up in a fraught, unstable environment with little idea of what construes normal; also borrowed the plot beats of a certain fanfiction named 'Killed With Kindness' which is about an abusive, dangerous relationship at the center. Not to mention addressing that it was the job of adults to protect a child rather than expect said child to do that for them.
Years and years later.
His older brother still went into his moods every now and again.
Years and years later.
Tears would still leak from Goten's eyes to watch. But if he turned away, would he find that big brother hadn't eaten? Would he find he was turning on himself; guilty and dirty? He didn't understand what "dirty" was. Yet it brought such a chill he wasn't sure he wanted to.
Trunks may have laughed, Mom may not have wanted to at first, and Bulma had been the one to insist.
See Goten go to a therapist too.
She had his methods. Pair him off with what had been missing. A Father. A Man. A strong stone pillar that if around...
Maybe could have stopped Big Brother from packing his bags; had him stop. And think. On what love was, on what SMACK was appropriate. And circumvent one night of lust that led to thousands.
--There was an angel who had lost both her wings--
Gohan. His so strong, the strongest, his big brother.
Goten knew by heart all the stories. Of the past, of that sordid present, all the secrets and jokes between adults.
He knew Mother and Bulma could go on and on in circles worrying.
Gohan had no friends.
He had a bright future.
Gohan had no one.
Gohan would marry and give his Mother grandkids to spoil.
Gohan had brought a boy, oh but he was rich. Lived on his own. A house all paid for. (?) Some things with this Lemo's Mother that he wished not to talk about. Clattering his fork and going dark.
--Who devoted her life to whatever the world may bring--
Even, when life looked to only bruise his face, refuse him food, scream and insist. Attack and berate at his strength.
"LOCK the DOor Goten!"
Vegeta hmmphed seeing the sorry state of his clothes. The obvious lies and mournful eyes.
"You can't slack off."
"The world needs you, remember that."
"Studying, alright fine." Piccolo, did you have to say it in that tone?
Some outright laughed and he did with them.
In the after, well Goten couldn't remember feeling so angry.
"Lock your door."
That wasn't fair!
"Lemo is... angry with me. He, hahahaha, stupid but he-- hits sorta hard."
It wasn't his fault. It wasn't.
"Don't open it." Gohan squeezed hard enough to bruise. Recoiling when Goten grimaced at the pain. "Please, whatever you hear, no matter what, DO. Not. Open. The door."
--She fell in love once long ago in the past knowing love just couldn't last--
It ended after a year of silence. Gohan being no more than a ghost.
Gohan clutched his hand tight to his chest, wide eyed at Goten who couldn't comprehend. Just what was the big deal about his neck?
He would always ask.
Could only ask.
In a love so beautiful, so gross to his childish brain.
What went so fatally wrong? They didn't share food anymore. Didn't laugh anymore. Gohan didn't look at Lemo without guilt, without pain. Not a warrior, not a murderer. Not a monster, not a Saiyan. Lemo he said...
Gave him the most wonderful gift. The gift Goten had, of being a kid.
--So heartbroken the lost angel had been, wandered the town not knowing what to do--
There'd been a time where love meant erasing all the pain.
Sweeping it away under pretty words and lofty promises.
Laughing to all the little things that made his brother odd.
\And as an adult those odd tics of an alien still filled him with shame\
\He could stare for hours, gauging if it was safe to finish? Was he meant to eat as much dinner as he liked? Or did his wife want leftovers? Would there be company tomorrow? What if shehshahdworkearmfjeiolyinnthermemrotning? Itwouldn'tbefairthentoleaveabigmess.\
No ambiguousness, no two ways about it.
Lemo had wanted the new nerdy student of Orange Star High.
Now... now in the dead of nights at city streets too loud with the horns of cars. Yelling at Gohan too for being at the roads at this hour.
Offended that he looked so bedraggled, a whole sorry mess, racked with the shudder of cold... too hungry, too depleted to summon up even a taudry heat of the little reserves withering away.
His body despondent, desperately starving.
Goten didn't know that one.
The day he knew, much, much farther along was one about a police precinct.
Mom should have been the one to find his brother on the streets.
Someone! Someone should have!
Before he burned a house down.
Before Officer 09465 found him.
But that day before the precinct Gohan found love looked much more like Shrapnel cursing softly, barely there taking in Gohan across him on an old, piss stinking sectional a dour shade of magenta.
--A boy came by the most beautiful he'd seen with eyes shining brightly with life so sweet--
Lemo first came to into his life...
Simply one lunch period he'd decided to sit with Hercule Satan's daughter, her new friends, and the odd Son boy due in his next period.
He made very good desserts.
Shrapnel couldn't cook for shit.
Someone else came in for that about once a week.
Mr. Shrapnel's Father was a list of issues too. His work was the reason.
Might as well lay it all out for when the old man orders the goons over and scared the crap out of--
Well point, Gohan developed a certain stance habit even sitting down.
And, they'd talked for twelve minutes fifty seconds to the dot and-- did he blink?
Gohan sometimes forgot to keep in mind that that scared Shrapnel. And forgetting terrified him a faair bit too.
"A human with me, I wonder could it be?" Gohan had to wonder. Had he truly gotten so lucky?
--They gave into the lust within and ran away to start their night of sin--
Now, this particular memory wasn't... particularly... anyone's fault.
Everyone assumed he'd not understand anyway.
And they were right. He didn't.
"Your son raped his partner."
And Gohan stopped bouncing Goten on his leg. Making him look up.
To see his brother frown in a way... that made Goten tear up real sad because his brother looked ready to cry too.
And none of the grown-ups were talking, moving, breathing it looked like with all their eyes blown wide.
Mom hugged Gohan and by happy coincidence Goten as well. Screaming and sobbing, rocking them both since she was swaying on her feet as she held her boys.
He had met Meri.
He had known very not good things had happened when their brothers had slept in the same bed.
He'd just not connected the image, of Gohan being used and kept still with the word.
Ra--ra-- such a clearly distasteful word.
By all the adults refusing to look at his brother. As if he were... too ugly? To look at?
--Are we finally free? Can it be? Within this night of lust it's just the two of us--
"The first time hurt. It hurt like a bitch."
Gohan swore a lot more.
Gohan had a lot more friends now.
Gohan had someone, albeit another kid, to hold his hand while his world fell apart and something inside broke. Possibly irreparable, possibly for the worst.
"Lemma," Meri whispers so quietly and carefully. Breathless from fear and from pain.
--Determined to do what it will take for them to thrive--
Their lives a tragic fairytale.
"You're King," Lemo murmured in his hair whilst the Witch wearing the skin of a Mother shrieked. Huddled in a dark corner by only the light of a lamp warming their faces in gold. Turning dull eyes to sparkling, hopeful flares. "It's my job to make sure you grow up strong. So you can take back this kingdom. As the King right now... is too weak to do so."
--Clutching their sins, now it begins--
Meri knew it well.
The sound of a palm backhanding Lemo. Rage flying from this Witch they were bound to call Mother too.
As long, as long as Meri could make it to fourteen.
All the Kings were fourteen. Then things would be fine.
Sometimes, his eyes wavered, staying on the knife block in the kitchen while Mother made their dinner.
Was it safe to let her have those?
Couldn't she turn on them as easily as he wanted to turn on her?
--Paranoia saves you from the favors that could spell your doom--
Meri trembled, Lemo refused to hold him, touch him, even be close for a week.
Meri, Meri just had to memorize the rules.
The rules were there for a reason. The rules were to survive. To keep him safe, to keep him on the path to be King.
And though he suspected it somewhat abnormal not to have outgrown such a story, for Lemo to keep telling him such a story, Meri continued to believe. With all his heart.
With all his heart Meri almost shatters when their Father's visits become less and less.
Because he was a weak King. A weak, servile King who'd not had the nerve to kill that fake wife.
--An alluring, sensual fille de joire--
Late at night, when the sky greys in hue.
When big brother lied about sleeping soundly.
Is a grunt and heave.
Down in what is the forbidden master bedroom.
Just a second and he can hardly believe... heart racing, mind a tumble, does he run and almost stumble down the hall.
--A noble using her prestige for headway--
Was it... normal?
For people actually in love, to bicker so much?
"But I get so lonely here by myself," Lemo would complain.
"What lonely!" Gohan shot back. "Look, I mean I live here, I spend all my weekends here, I cuddle in the halls with you, I go to the bathroom when you do, hang out and eat with your friends, go to your favorite places, talk about your parents. I can list more. Frankly, I think maybe, we could invite my. Friends?"
"I mean yeah! That is the basics of what a good boyfriend does. I'm sorry if that's such a hassle for you!"
"Well no-- I mean, look that isn't what I said. I just mean, can't we slow down a bit. I'm honestly kinda tired."
"No. No Gohan if anything I'm tired. I clean, I cook, I figure out the bills, I still have to study, not to mention make sure you don't open the door at just anyone who could be my Mother trying to either steal Mer back or TURN YOU AGAINST ME! Just like she did to my Dad."
That... hadn't happened.
Lemo's lying Gohan. He's lying.
"That doesn't even make any sense!"
"Ugh. Figure yourself out how you're gonna get dinner! And don't you dare think of blowing more money I earn."
--A girl whose love for her older brother is a bit bizarre--
And he wanted to take Lem's side he really did.
Except Gohan hurt too much, too often.
Smiling all the same.
--Up against her the brother's fiance--
All the men in their family had entered Lemo would lie.
Their Father, his Father, his Father, and their Grand-Pappy.
"I mean I thought..."
"No. Absolutely not. Much too dangerous. Not to mention an inappropriate influence."
Lemo didn't appreciate how his temper flared.
However, there was no fear anymore.
"Gohan that's just the truth of it. Please, it hurts me to see you hurt. Please. Move on."
--Something awful happened yesterday...--
His brother could only laugh.
Somewhat sly, voice bemused of a too-big, too naive imagination.
___"Gohan just lost his footing"___
"You are such a klutz," he chided fondly.
A meek, dutiful and slathering beast.
Who warily agreed. Agreed that he was so lucky, that Meri's older brother loved him just as he was, silly as he was, dull as that head was.
"That Father of yours, I bet he dropped you. Oh wait, you said he'd fallen too."
Lemo abruptly cut his laughter, realizing the man who should be on his side had stopped obeying.
'Hadn't he said?'
I love you.
And the one who loved you, agreed with you.
________Who's to say... that's how it happened?________
Just keeps and keeps on happening.
--Something awful happened yesterday--
He is gone.
Big brother, just what did you do?
--Blood blooms like a flower from the loser's back--
Meri can only fear.
'Am I insane as well?'
Meri can only cover his ears.
All he knew to do.
--The older girl crumpled to the ground, and the last thing that she saw... Before her vision faded into deep, darkest black--
Whilst his brother begged, loud and broken to the black haired man.
The man who smiled and was kind like Mother never was.
Punishment was the continuing order for this man.
Meri no longer breathed.
Tears burning in his eyes, pearls, soul pieces, embers... of a brave warrior who could not and would not turn away.
__And there he screamed, this man whose name had not mattered for he was the Beast__
________Meri could not comprehend. Wailed in agony equal and greater still________
That not even the most evil nor beloved Witch could silence.
--The distraught face of his brother in law--
Haunt his tormented days to come.
--Nevertheless (and though he knows is well deserved) survival--
--is not a talent he should let himself forget for all his living days--
For gleaming in the background...
is a sharp and vengeful curse.
Burning black and burning heartless evil.
Who's first? Who could say?
"But say hello to your bitch of a Mother for me."
Mom hadn't appreciated not being called.
She hadn't appreciated her son having been in jail.
Mom hated this person who'd burned down his oppressor's house down. Hated his finally fighting.
Goten hated her for forcing Gohan on the run again. Away from his home, his bed. Away from Goten.
--Feel it cutting into me the doubting, painful knife. Feel it deepening the rift finally cutting just right--
It was almost funny!
How his big brother never fought for himself.
He'd set that house on fire for Lemo's newest prey. Poor thing, turned mute.
--Feel it growing into a weapon, hurting me--
Hardly asleep and he'd awoken screaming and erratic at the softest touch.
His roommate took in his bloodshot eyes with sadness of his own.
Shrapnel showed to Gohan a softness he'd never have believed him capable.
The flashes of Cell, of Frieza, Raditz, and all the others repeated.
He hadn't believed himself capable of such weakness.
He never should have been able to fall for all of Lemo's tricks. Much less end up so... so... DAMAGED.
Shrapnel kept his actions slow, loud, and overt.
He did what was only verbally approved to do.
"Shhh, shhh. Focus. Just focus on my voice, focus on where you're at like right at this second."
But Gohan shuddered for more. Wanted to demand more.
AHHH! Lemo didn't stop. Covered his mouth when he reaaally didn't wanna hear the words.
More could turn into too much he couldn't give.
--So good with numbers Science and Math I like, but I'm terrible at English--
"And for the love of God," Shrapnel grumbled, "GO. Go outside Gohan, I am telling you and just make sure you tell me if you'll need me to leave the door unlocked at some hour of the morning."
"That-- that's it?"
"Yes. What do I have to--"
Shrapnel sighed. He did that a lot. Especially in the stray hours after Gohan peeled himself off to change and eat.
There were so many rules and not enough rules, no do and don't, no if that.. this and what have you.
Shrapnel wasn't-- he wasn't doing this right.
He wasn't setting his clear boundaries!!!
--And I feel that everything I choose will always be false--
There'd been no right answer.
And he was sure even his brother had known back then; seventeen and torn to pieces. So that he cried after yelling about being given all the food when Goten was smaller and precious and RIGHT. There.\
--And today, this homework about me. A blank sheet--
Cher was a friend of Lemo's. Of course.
He was much leaner than Shrapnel, polished too with distinctively common square glasses which glinted off dark, calculating eyes.
"Well, there is not much more to say then, I am so sorry for all of it. Shrapnel says..."
"I was too much. I-- I don't want, I can just I have friends of my own."
"Dude, friends who you've said as much make you feel like shit about this whole mess!"
"Shrapnel please," Cher scolded, "not helping."
"Doesn't mean I'm wrong."
"Now you by no means do have to take my hand. I just hope you will."
And he smiled.
He remembered the voice on his phone. Late at night when Shrapnel had called past the shock phase into impotent, (too possible to turn) violent rage.
--Saying how we're sad and how we're lonely--
Cher sat beside him, not saying a word. Not expecting anything.
He turned the page of his workbook, finding the page was no longer illegible from his shaking, sweaty palms.
--Can you even stop the rope from hanging him by his neck--
For a moment he did not respond. Too caught up in his playlist.
"Oh I'm sorry. Did you--"
Face out of range he presented the flier meticulously smoothed out and held close to his chest each night.
"Umm? Go-han. What am I looking at? Exactly?"
"Let me compete, I know it's sorta not the safest thing in the world so I could get hurt and need a hospital even though like not really because we have a family secret for that that I can't tell you but either way I'd still stick you with some bills and that is so stupid to do for some fighting tournament even though it is like fucking important because if my Dad will come for anything it's this and I never did get to-- to properly y'know send him off and I don't care if he left I want to duke it out one more time! So with all that, will you consider?"
"Sure, I'm free that day. I can support you."
He bit his lip.
He wasn't answering. "Did I ask at a bad time?"
"Bad--?" he looked to the dinner, "oh goodness Gohan."
He raised his hands, letting him see just his hands. No movement, no items, no danger. Namely boiling sauce.
"You are asking me permission to compete in the first place."
"Uh. Gohan, you don't need my permission, and by the looks of it not even a parent's permission. But if you'd feel-- more at ease, then I will say yes. Go ahead and sign up and I will collect everyone to cheer you on."
When he hugged Cher he did almost end up tipping the sauce over making him yelp and panicking both.
Before breaking into giggles.
They'd not really talked about it much.
Cher closing the subject in the gentlest way possible for obvious reasons.
Though they didn't disagree. No. Lemo had to die for daring to raise a hand to yet another friend.
It was sick.
"Does he just have a roster of you all to run through?"
"I don't want to consider it, but it might as well be a sound theory."
--I am so sorry for being alive--
Meri turned seventeen not two weeks ago.
Meri was invited to a wedding by a female classmate for this weekend.
He'd run through his paces. Seeing a Zen master/martial artist to sort through various nasty missteps and failures of his past. Namely, achieving consciousness.
Sensei Shin-Hon wouldn't appreciate the exaggeration.
Son-Satan manor now rose to greet him.
And of course Mr. Son Gohan was as well. Likely having sensed the energy of a little boy who'd been groomed to--in so little words-- kill his Mother.
--I have been saying that since I was five--
The image of that small boy, head toward white marble as Gohan kneeled down never left.
He shouldn't be saying that.
He shouldn't be here.
His stupid, abandoning Dad shouldn't have been scolding and punishing him! He should have been allowed to give him and Lemo and their parents and all those what they deserved!
"You've seen what no kid should ever, ever have to see. This can't be easy and it's okay really, if you need to get it out however it comes. Cry, scream, break something. Hit me." And he laughed nervously, "well alright maybe not me. Then again I did, well your parents didn't deserve-- oh no. Oh no nononono. Did I say something wrong?"
Meri just couldn't hold himself.
Wrapping his arms around and barely reaching he heaved out heavy, pained sobs. God! KaMI! Something! He--he felt it. He felt bone where there should be squishiness, felt where his skin bucked because of a bruise or-- and he shuddered, what was probably faded white and jagged.
Scars. Gohan had scars.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'M SORRYYYYYYYYYY! I'M SO--" and for a bit he couldn't speak. Just cry. Heaving he found enough to say it. "I should have-- hic-- I should have stopped, stopped him."
"I should have told. I hurt you."
"No. Listen to me. No. You, you did not do anything, anything alright," and... was Gohan crying too.
He hadn't meant to do that!
Meri shook his head.
"You did the right things," Gohan said. "We had no idea what would have happened if you stood in front of it. Your brother, your brother is very sick. He could-- could be he wouldn't have stopped. Even for you."
"He-- he isn't bad. Not-- not like Mommy. Lemma's almost never hit me!"
"True. He's clearly done a great job looking after you and being there when yours' Dad couldn't be," he wiped the tears away.
"But-- but he still, still did something awful!"
"Yeah, and hey."
"Those were his choices. You don't control what he does, or... even... what I would have done. Because I'm the one who stayed anyway and made it all go on longer. Me and your brother made the bed so now we have to deal with it. But, and this one's important." Meri couldn't help, did he dare hope? Hope for... what? Forgiveness maybe. "That is between me, him, and a therapist. Not you, and do you know why?"
"Because all we've managed to do is make you need one of those. I forgive you, even if there's nothing to forgive. I say it, because it's what you need and is the truth. It's the truth you need most."
--Tedious days and years went by all I ever did was whimper and whine--
"Brother! Where-- where's Lemo Witch!"
"Witch!" Videl yelled over the very real air pressure.
Meri squiggled and squirmed, forcing her to brake just to get him back into place.
"Hey! Look down."
Meri came to the startling conclusion he'd best be quiet.
"V! You get them both!" asked a brawny sort with girly blond hair and a mean, smug type of face.
"Whaddya mean both? Were we supposed to get both!?"
--Truly no one deserves that fate--
So, he found, once he'd been briefed he couldn't be mad nor even that scared.
Not even of Gohan's dear friends who clearly wanted Lemo dead. They let him hide from his Mother anyways.
Sure, she looked like she wanted a hug, crying and sick with worry for them both...
But then why wasn't she-- or Dad-- calling Lemo's name?
--Gradually and slowly I had learned to open up and truly trust her--
He stayed up on what was called the Lookout.
No one for company except his own parents, a green person, a woman he remembered to be Gohan's mother, and even a couple other kids.
The little brother Gohan so adored.
The mentor who had first taught him to fight. According to Lemo, made Gohan a beast.
Meri knew full well, and stayed well away from the adults.
But a green littler man came by to talk.
Calling himself God. Gohan had said there were many. One on Earth and others up in Heaven.
So, he supposed, this was really God. And he'd not answered any prayer. Not Meri's, not Father's or Lemo's. He was sure not Gohan's to "end it."
The world was at stake.
It'd been vital for Goten to learn this technique called "Fusion."
_________So do you get a kick out of pitying such a worthless nobody?________
"Hey I'm Goten. And I almost didn't sense you. What are you doing all out here?"
"I don't wanna go. Tell my parents to eff themselves or better yet go jump off!"
"Hah! I can't say that."
"Then leave," he decried somberly.
Only for the kid to shake his head faster than a spinning top. Fists even curled and raised to show off his conviction. "Nuh uh. No way! Come on, it can't be fun to be alone all like this. Hey, we'll get my brother you'll see. Y'know," Goten leaned in, "he wouldn't have said so to keep you safe but... he's... the Great... Saiyamaaaaan!"
Rolling the name with dance to boot.
"Yeah," he plopped himself back down next to him. Nudging his shoulder. "So, this I bet is a big plan. Gohan's pretended to go evil so Baddibibi will be all like 'oh hum' then my brother attacks!" Fisting himself on the head he imitated a KO.
Meri simply Hmmphed.
Boy. He wished that kid had really been dumb. That he'd not known a damn thing about damn anything.
--Without another word... he took me into his arms. And said something I thought I'd never hear--
"Saving your life was no mistake. I an so glad to have met you and be friends today."
Seemed that, no matter how cruel my brother or deranged my Mother. These Sons, would stick by our sides.
I could truly never repay them.
Depends on Who You Ask
This girl has two identities. Her name is Emiko Suoh. Fanfiction OC? Yes. Likely won't end up doing anything but I wanted to pose the ideas.
Natsume(or Emiko's) Book of Friends
A child with the ability to see Yokai. An ability inherited through the grandmother and for a twist; Emiko received this dubious gift from the Suoh side. Shizue. It was distasteful but it was what it was.
Arriving in Japan; a year younger than her brother Tamaki, Emiko approaches Ouran methodically allowing students to approach and fawn over her as the demure heiress of a prominent family. She didn't resent the students using her, two friends who weren't yet boasting of being in her good graces or asking favors: they all used each other. Being seen with others would prevent either her grandmother from meddling or Tamaki from worrying.
She is very much into pastels and cute flowing dresses.
Yokai however, tend to ruin the things she holds dear, namely her closet and blond tresses. It angered her but she kept her composure as they were not only stronger than her, sometimes outright murderous, but also universally suffering. Any source she has read agree that the Yokai are a despondent creature. Besides, they did make for good conversation when they were in the mood. Still, being a pet is quite a presumptuous question. Whether in France or Japan her life was not dire or desperate. Yokai in her childhood often bonded with her through riling her overdramatic brother.
While sorting through the attic for keepsakes of her Mother and even Father in the second estate she comes across another tidbit of her past Shizue had attempted to hide. The book of yokai, ghosts, and spirits she had imprisoned and enslaved. Or, she supposed simply snared was the right word. Knowing what she does Emiko takes the book, intent on freeing the spirits, finding an out of the way nature reserve that served her purposes well; a business with little revenue and so overgrown and almost abandoned. Save for the mysterious proprietor of the land that didn't look to care how many people wandered in.
That is, until those intruders begin releasing Yokai which their clan works so hard to seize and kill. Matoba was a ruthless and antagonistic person perhaps Emiko's own age but still a foreboding leader of the Matoba clan. The two strike odds in their ideologies concerning Yokai, all of Emiko's experiences shaping an opinion that humans were a hassle compared to Yokai, much preferring her spectral friends to this real world and human relationships. Matoba of course feeling the opposite and so seeing Emiko as something akin to a witch. Not evil or worth death mind you, just... terribly misguided and dangerous to continue on. Leading to an abduction to obtain her book, a relic that cannot be passed without consent or her own death.
Emiko can't say she isn't intrigued and if nothing else; Matoba is not unstable nor violent, and take out the abductions he does appear reasonable. Though that complicates matters of anyone believing her even if there were adults in her life who would bother to do anything rather than blame her. Matoba further taunted her whilst closing that option when he sealed a business proposal with Shizue, making him a 'friend' of the Suoh family. Though despite that, despite being blackmailed they do come to care for each other. So when tensions and repressed agonizing rage of her Mother's circumstances take Emiko down a dark path ready to renounce this human world to the Yokai; Matoba cannot cut her down. Nor can he ignore that his hatred has cooled, able to hear wailing within the sky of pained, restless souls. Not all human, but sentient and feeling.
Emiko is brought to her senses but with the power imbued into her faces a choice... between the world where she's known so little love or to grant the secret wish of escaping somewhere else. To wander the world of spirits respected, feared, and adored for her work. In the end she can't forgive the way Tamaki can, despite being grateful to have genuine friends at school and in Matoba her scars run deep and besides, she couldn't even be sure if her father cared much more for either her or Tamaki.
Shooting Star-- uses some plot from Static Shock. Mostly season one. I just liked it, but also pertains as to why the title is as it is. And also, have some fun.
About six or seven months following a chemical disaster that released a toxic smog onto the outskirts of a Commoner prefecture. Hotly debated, sizzling news tonight is the enigmatic, mysterious Alva. Rumors circulate about company espionage, sabotage, restitution, and a thieving ring. Now this "Bang Baby"-- (may change that, though it would fit for her origin story-- slumming with other Ouran classmates), more commonly goes by Shooting Star, yet it is her hired hands and loyal followers who are privy to this second alias. Until tonight.
Hitori Shiomiya: Lyter
Hitori, fifteen years old, Second Year student of Matsuba Municipal Public School is here today to recount a... harrowing experience. Though unknown, Shooting Star had chosen to abduct him. Once recovered it was later confirmed that he holds a position in his school newspaper so...
The hefty camera swiveled to meet the face of a lean, somewhat dozing boy. Plain featured with a light brown fringe cut and under grey eyes were black bags.
"With his permission we present an exclusive to Shooting Star. Just who she is and just where this Bang Baby stands apart from all the rest."
The boy did his best to keep confident. Hitori may have unflinchingly, unequivocally agreed to this, getting the story out and workshopping the girl's tarnished reputation... and his allies would say that was a risk.
"Delighted to be of assistance," he assured politely.
Right now of course, they'd managed to spin the story that Hitori; unremarkable high school student and definitely not Bang Baby was the target out of misplaced spite against a world that condemned those of her kind.
A pushy, but not violent protest to get the word out through him.
"I'm sure you are now, a reminder, we can stop for a break anytime you like."
"That won't be necessary." But he threw in a smile, crinkling his eyes to look grateful, "but I appreciate the sentiment."
"Well I suppose we'll get on with it. Make sure you get some sleep tonight."
The joke got only polite, stinted laughter. As had been planned.
Hitori had slept. He'd just, not... slept... well.
"Now tell us, Alva--"
"Shooting Star," Hitori corrected. "Alva is what she uses for business and it's meant as a scare tactic to the specific companies she hits."
The police already knew there was a pattern from the documents and notebooks found in her lair.
He really, really hoped Star was okay.
"Okay then Shooting Star; youth on a power trip or chaotic good meta-human?"
"Honestly, really depends on who you ask?" he said quite honestly.
A sneaky smile betrayed the thoughts, the people, that ran through his mind.
"There are many people who'd have a whole lot of reasons to say just about anything about Star. Depending on what they want."
"Hmm really. Now do go on."
Hitori leaned in mimicking the note of secrecy and intrigue. "For one people in power are of course going to call her addled and insane..."
Shizue and her disapproving frown would certainly say so.
Better not to dwell too long though.
"No one was none the wiser of the Alva company having been responsible in the first place of horrifically ugly not to mention painful mutations--"scripted dialogue. Sounded professional. Proper. "Not to mention all the shareholders and prominent members of society willingly turning a blind eye or blessed to better resources by sole status of their wealth. Shooting Star brings all that to the light. Without endangering or ruining anyone if anyone else had tried."
If there was one thing such a misguided, angry soul had been right about it was theirs(the Suoh kids and his own) ability to do anything. For the moment.
He was unsure on that still. Whether letting that destructive, crime ridden course of action go on. Even if it would defeat an arguably bigger, holistically vicious crime.
"I agree with your summary," a but was apparent in that tone. It would be in his, maybe if he was older. Maybe... if he hadn't spent days watching her banter with her brother, or let them both go without so much as a beat. "That said, what many people cannot abide..."
"Is the aggressive means she uses to get there. Not to mention her blaise, thoughtless attitude to the whole thing," he granted. "Shooting Star said as much herself the crusader business entertains her."
*Allowing him freedom from his binds Hitori tested his wrists. He didn't exactly have a poker face. Not like this girl who kept up the "not all there" aesthetic whenever her powers came out to play.
And so did when portions of her dress sleeves lashed out and whipped closed around his throat, taut but without pressure. Holding him there as she then extended her hold to the hanging light fixtures.
"Turn yours off and I'll turn mine," she said somewhat quietly.
He'd later have her cell phone. Two whole days.
Not just for the invaluable pictures he'd saved to his own... but to figure out just what she had in mind.
He'd been fingering through her collection of photos, Star sitting with her legs up, resting her head on her knees before stretching up and placing her gaze firmly on the wall opposite.
A long, eerily mocking smile hitched up her face.
"You aren't wrong you know. I mean obviously you do but I hope it provides some positive that I acknowledge who is in the right here," she said, but Hitori couldn't just take it. Sure enough the sentiment was rewarded, "that is what's most convenient to the media. You play Alva's narrative quite well. You and I both know that of all parties it's biotech and health companies that profit from this whole fiasco. Ootori, Kochi, Ala-Toren," she began to laugh. "Suoh! All get to experiment on us freaks, lock us up... tell us we're wrong, broken. Mistakes, because of their fuck-ups. Their greed. Of course, we're paying for it. The adults make a mistake and who pays for it but those like us. Young, unheard, silenced. Disposable."*
Simply stood there. Dress billowing softly.
"My apologies, but all the same it is the literal. If it had been a reporter like myself, if I were commenting on say... the mayor's office I may find myself and my family slapped with court papers no matter how many civilians may agree with me."
"Let's uhh, let's not go there. Now I've been directin the conversation so far, let's move into... you."
Hand across his face, Hitori did put some serious thought. How to say this?
How to say it in the least problematic, not to mention, exposing way possible?
Hitori supposed starting with the truth wouldn't kill him.
"I'd say she didn't use more force than she needed, it was a quick and simple matter of catching her victim unawares."
And he could almost see the lie in his mind's eye, either straddled from his bed, slowly lifted off in his sleep. Tied by some rope(perhaps the flag) as he exited school and scooped off his feet in front of the entire student body.
The truth though was a bit more, hired his least favorite Ebon and his gang to stage a robbery as a cover for a kidnapping leading to some exploding lights and close misses with many, many knives and talons.
"As a captor she treated me well. I never went hungry or anything like that, I wasn't yelled at or threatened. She kept me tied up long as it took for me to trust that I'd be released anyway. At most she promised i'd probably miss two/three days of school."
"Huh and why do you suppose that is?"
"Well she is school age. And honestly I would have a pretty hard time believing she is like mental and psychotic. Bang Babies usually end up attacking anything and everything within their sight not that anyone with eyes can't see that's because they hardly understand their own bodies much less how it can suddenly spout fire or turns into boneless Jello.
"If I had to give my two cents she's reacted the best."
The newscaster nodded.
"I want to circle back to the companies she hits. Right now all of them are from one conglomerate, not the most common knowledge granted but I bet the police could at least verify I wasn't talking out my-- well, that I'm not lying."
And she looked rapt with attention for the info.
"If I hazarded a guess Shooting Star has close ties or reason to dislike Suoh group. From where it looked to her and later to me when she held me, they were one of the big companies that had an in with Alva; maybe to treat their own kids if they got stuck in the gas or maybe some inherited thing I couldn't say..."
"But either way..."
"The connection was there and she considered that unacceptable."
"She has a lot of money laundering projects. Jewels, China, hard cash, gold, silver, any and every valuable commodity you could think of she smuggles it. She's definitely into the fancier things in life. It's honestly a little funny. But gay love novels that was... unexpected."
That elicited a very unscripted gasp. And Hitori couldn't help but be just a little disappointed.
Sooo, Not Sure If I Count
But I'm doing this anyway.
My Excerpt from my story 'The Winterset Conspiracy' Chapter 2: Off the 4I Highway.
Though for now he seated him in the car, head lolling as he did his seatbelt.
It was on the 4I highway that he opened his eyes and so quickly realized he wasn't in bed.
"Emile?" he asked.
"Heya kiddo," the man chirped, looking into those azure eyes through the mirror.
"What have you done?"
"Don't worry about it. It is late, so you should just put your head back and go to sleep."
"I was, but you insisted on such an impromptu road trip. Where are we going?"
How good of Abel to still trust him. It was a relief he wouldn't have to see him afraid. When his intentions were the furthest thing from.
"A lovely ranch I've purchased a couple of towns along. Amazing area too, so cozy and remote. A slice of a fairytale, better yet, away from all this urban noise and pollution." And no offense to Abel's fascination, but Emile did wrinkle his nose. Always a sour smell in the air.
"Towns over?" Abel asked, a sharpness to his query.
Hopefully proper love would undo that.
I should warn you, it would be the nice thing to do. I smile and laugh much as there's smog in the urban, the dainty little pickets, even out in the rural skies. I delight in overtures of classical music, I bend completely enamored, to a simple bird blue or red to parse through black or grey. In summary, be careful because I am quite a sweet morsel. I may just be quite painful and annoying to deal with. I've been told so enough(no big deal). I've not annoyed anyone out of being my friend, out of shielding me from that shadow called loneliness that has claws sunk deep and seeping oozing poison to my head for a good long while. For when I'm with others... I'm bright. I'm alive and healthy. Too strong, too protected for that shadow to have its way. So just to warn you, I'm going to hold and cherish you than you've ever known. You'll wonder if I'm real and there may just be the possibility...
That I'm in a dream.