Prime Respite (Part 8: Final)


Chapter 8: Final

It’s sunrise when the Proxies pour down the island in response to their leader’s call.

Trails of dark smoke sway as they rise to the heavens. The grandeur of the gardens an hour ago is nowhere to be found. Only shredded decorations remain, shadows of their former self. The ground reeks of heated shrapnel, those that came from the same muzzles that defiled his serene respite. Who would’ve seen that coming? Who would’ve thought to send a force to raid a mansion of no strategic value?

Then something come to his mind. His personal computer inside is an archive to all his reservoir researches. It’s his secret that won him his conquest, and the seat above every ArC personnel. Hence everything about them has to be as far as possible from everyone. Who knows what those thralls might come up with now that they have uncovered it. His world dominance has dropped from certain to probable. If he wishes to remain on the top, he has to do something.

How they concluded that he stored his reservoir researches in his mansion is beyond him for now. Maybe fortune sprinkles all over them as they made their decision. Maybe they have agents among his men.

“Microv.” He then calls to his subordinate. “How’s Lena?”

“She requires our finest medical treatment if you wish her to live.”

He takes a deep breath.

“Looks like someone is concerned.”

“She was, mesmerizing. The fragrance that she left on me resembles that of the hyacinth I picked once in my dream. She…care for my well-being, and committed herself to it. Who am I then to deny her of my compassion?”

“Even though you’re charging her?”

“That is another story.”

He begins to turn to the remaining three children that has attempted to drive those thralls out. The girl, Julia if he is not mistaken, has a wrapping around her abdomen and her left thigh. The red marks on them appear vivid and fresh. One of the boys have blood streaking down his temple and an arm supported by a sling, while the other has bandages covering his left eye and another on his shoulder.

“The other children then?”

“They’ll live alrite.” He responds, nodding at them. “They’ll recover. Though not sure about that boy’s eye.”

He peers to his left, to the Proxies that gathers up the other children who, unlike the three, aren’t as fortunate. They’ll receive a proper burial. But for now…

He steps past his subordinate and confronts the children, his posture seemingly towering over since the children are on the ground. Was there any more of those thralls’ agents? Among these three, perhaps? He might be able to answer but that would require quite a delay. There is however, one thing for sure.

“You’ve opened your arms for a hostile agent.”

The three shares a glance. Julia speaks up. “Sir, how are we supposed to know that she is a Vindicator?”

“Regardless. Since there’s a written regulation concerning such deed, you too shall be charged.”

Julia gasps. She gazes down in silence, her face turns to ground with a hint of tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks.

“Charged?” The boy, which bear the name Lennard as Microv told him, asked with his unusually low tone. “Charged, huh!?”

He then stands up. “Hey, listen up.” He says, taking a step closer. “Who the hell are you!?” His yell causes all the Proxies watching him ready their rifles. “We are meant to serve a leader indeed. But in turn, that leader has to protect us, provide for us. After then we would abide by their words. But you…” Lennard points his left index to the Primus.

“Your war had milked us to the very edge, till there’s nothing left!!! And then you just cast us aside like toys that you don’t want to play with anymore!”

“Are we obliged to serve you then? Do you have the right to boss us around then?” He proceeds to point at the arrays of his comrades’ corpses laid side by side. “No, we aren’t. No, you don’t! My friends lost their lives, believing they did the right thing for you. You should be grateful that we even listen to your rally.”

A silence ensues. A standoff between the most powerful man in the world, and a fragile boy with a broken wing. The Proxies share a glance to each other, considering whether or not they should take immediate action.

“What!? Now you’re planning to kill me or something? Execute me in this very moment maybe?”

“Lennard.” The boy named Zen calls out his friend.

“I’m spitting facts here, Zen! Are you going to deny those truths!?”

The Primus is silent. Heat begins to converge on the top of his head. But as much as he is willing to unleash it, he doesn’t intend to repeat the accident that costs his office’s maid colonel her beauty. Especially against a young boy that’s already a victim both from the thralls’ incursion and his own ambition. He turns to gaze at the mesmerizing sunrise in the distance. The gradient sky that signals of the rising sphere of light. The magnificent view caught his attention for a few moments. And before he realizes it, the heat on his head disappears. Now he can view things the way they should be viewed. The way everything the boy said is true.

He takes a deep breath and turns back to the boy.

“As much as I have torn families apart, I can’t be cruel to my own citizen who obeys me with their heart.” He says with a gentle tone.

His calm response surprises Lennard as he relaxes his muscle. Microv lifts a finger, and the Proxies turn down their rifles.

“But written regulations remain the way they are. Stepping over them is treason, and ought to be dealt to maintain order.”

The three children share a glance. Lennard looks down at his feet. It means he’s still going to charge them for allowing hostile infiltration.

The Primus steps closer and holds Lennard by his shoulder.

“However, I have a proposition. A compensation for you children.”

–**–

It’s a week after the incident.

I trudge along a hall with my cleaning equipment, occasionally pressing my left arm to my abdomen, where the remainder of my stab wound is. Despite the hull of my torso plating, the daggers that struck there felt incredibly painful. I wonder…

Hunnggh!

The noise that I made as I wrinkle under the flaring wound. I thought I was fully recovered. Turns out the pain still lingers after seven days of treatment. That golden-haired girl was really meant to kill.

Ouch.

They sent me back to Creatio Genetrix. I was in the treatment bay when I regain my consciousness. To my surprise, the maid colonel herself is beside me as soon as I open my eyes. But what comes out of her mouth was a terrible news.

“…Thereby, Valeska Helena, is under charge for the violation of private properties, especially the properties of the Primus himself…” She said.

And for that occasion, he confiscated all my life savings, as well as cutting my accommodation to just enough for my daily needs.

“I’m sorry…” is the only phrase that she uttered after, before she leaves the room.

I let out a deep exhale as that fact come to haunt me again.

Now how am I going to buy a land and restore my family’s wealth?

I was so close. Yet I lost it all.

Given my cut, I’m not sure how long until I have enough. That is assuming land prices aren’t rocketing due to scarcity in accordance with population growth.

Everything just goes on simultaneously within my head. They are too much for me to process. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what should I feel. And then a sniffle comes through. My sight remains on the floor, but I believe anyone else near catch that. This failure, it cuts deeper than those daggers that had stabbed me. I raise my left arm to cover my eyes as they begin to well up.

But with that, gone are my sights. And that happens, again. I slipped.

All my body, from head to feet crashes against the floor. I couldn’t bring myself together, thanks to the injuries that are screaming due to the collision. So I remain on the floor, cowering to hold against the pain.

Why does this happen to me?

I don’t understand. What sin have I committed to deserve this? Maybe restoring my family’s wealth isn’t meant to be my path. Maybe following them up is one. If only that fall lands a nail in my coffin. If only the empress wasn’t there to shield me. If only the flames that evening consumed me. If only my dad didn’t bother to fertilize my mom. Damn it. If only the slipping could just kill me right here, right now. I would greatly appreciate it, even though I have nothing to show my gratitude.

Mom, dad, forgive me. I could only go this far…

“Lena!” Suddenly I heard a female voice. I wish it is my mom. I wish she would come, pick me up, and caress me like old times.

To my surprise, I’m really picked up. Oh, how I miss you mom.

“Lena, please stay with us.”

Of course, mom. Why would I…

Wait, us? Ah, of course.

I reopen my eyes to a face of a girl calling out to her surroundings. Her arms are around my back, supporting my body. She then leers back on me.

“She’s back!” She shouts before wrapping my arm around her shoulder. “Come on.”

“Hnggh!” I grunt as the injuries whine again when she is helping me to stand. I press my left arm against my stomach.

“Thank…” It’s the only word that comes out of me as the pain stands out.

That’s when I see other maids gathering near me.

“She doesn’t look good, initiative treatment perhaps?”

“Lena, Lena, have you had your breakfast?”

“I can get you something from the lounge.”

“How about some rest? I’ll handle your tasks.”

The chatter goes on. But I’m in quite a physical pain that prevents me to reply. I just ask them for a place to lie down. They then bring me to one side of the hall. What they do is quite astonishing. One of them hastily pulls their half-apron and lays it on the floor. Another sits on her calf on one side. And the girl that is supporting me carefully lays my head on the other girl’s lap, the one that is sitting on her calf.

It appears that these maids suddenly concerned about me. I appreciate that. But if it isn’t genuine, then why bother?

“W-why are you helping me?”

The four maids share a glance.

“Um…” The girl that helped me up speaks first. “I heard about your stories. I’d love to hear it from you.” She taps her indexes against each other. “My name is Zara. How about we become friends in turn?”

Friends?

“Hey, hey, me too!” The girl that offers me her lap exclaims. “Oh, it’s Anne by the way.”

“I’m Saskia. Pleased to meet you”

“And you can call me Thalia.”

Ah…friends. Something that I have been missing since that fateful evening.

–**–

A year passed.

The days I’ve spent with Zara, Anne, Saskia, and Thalia paid off. They make time flies fast. And for some moment, I forgot that I still have to pay for my charges. That the Primus confiscate all my life savings and cut my accommodations. The colors they brought brings a new flavor to my gray, tasteless world. I still am heartbroken over the fact that I’m going to need perhaps another decade to purchase a land. But with them here, they don’t hurt as much.

I appreciate them. Some more to my debt list.

It is then when I got orders to pack all my belongings. They don’t specify the purpose, only saying that I’m about to be moved somewhere else. It’s probably something to do with my punishment. I’m being moved somewhere for my arrest. Well, I’m in no state to disobey so I just follow their orders.

I bid farewell to my new friends, saying that we shall meet again. And then I take off.

I’m still in my maid uniform when the air transport lands. To my surprise, I return to the island of the Primus’ vacation site. I’m then put in a transport along with my belongings. As the trip goes, I gaze out the window. Out there are majestic arrays of trees and mountains. It feels peaceful. Something about them soothe my pain and ease my worries. Before long, I find myself wanting to stare at them for the rest of my life. Perhaps it’s the greatest joy that I could obtain for the moment.

I grin at that thought. Nature really is fascinating.

Eventually the transport stops.

I step down to a sizeable piece of flat-land. On the other side is what appears to be a farmhouse. The sight left me in awe. And along with that astonishment is a ponder. Why would they bring me here?

“Here we go.” The transport man says to me as he walks up beside. “We’ll be taking care of your belongings. For now, they’re waiting for you.” He says, pointing his thumb at a specific direction.

“Why am I here?” I ask him.

“Just, go to them over there.” He says.

I turn my gaze to the direction he is pointing. There I see a large group of Proxies, and three familiar faces beside them. They are Julia, Lennard, and most importantly, Zen. My heart is relieved. I am all stuffed with glee at the fact that they survived the incident.

I stride to them.

They wave at me as I draw near.

“Lena!”

“Over here!”

That’s Julia and Lennard yelling in turn. Zen remains calm beside them, with a grin that warms my heart. I notice an eyepatch on his left eye. Nevertheless, that doesn’t reduce his gorgeous features.

“It’s been a while, isn’t it Lena?” Julia says with her captivating smile.

I nod. “I’m glad you’re all still in one piece.”

Everyone then turns to Zen. “Well, not exactly…” Lennard says. “But acceptable.” He shrugs.

I also turn to him. My feelings got in the way, forming way too many words to convey. I couldn’t decide what to say. So I just wave my hand saying,

“How are you, Zen?”

“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” He says, nodding at me.

“Hey,” Lennard barks again. “You two haven’t see each other for a year. Is that anything you have to say?”

Zen and I share a glance. His gleaming eyes gaze straight into mine. It is an enchanting moment. I couldn’t believe I manage to find a stranger of my age, to whom I would give my compassion. I think I am fortunate that he also feels the same way.

I glance to Lennard. “Maybe the rest will come later.”

“Ehh, the rest?” Julia says with a smug. “Do you really plan to do that later?”

Uhh…what?

“Julia, please.” Zen says to her.

“Alright, alright.” Julia raises her hands.

Ah I see. That. When a couple hasn’t seen each other for a long time, what would they do? Normally, a hug, a kiss, and then…

“Ah look, Lena is red again.” Julia chuckles with a hand covering her lip.

Again? I take a deep breath. Oh well… That might be too mature. But I’m not denying that I would do that with him.

In any case, I decide to change the topic. I gently shake my head.

“By the way,” I say. “What’s going on here? And what’s with all the Proxies over there?” I point at the large group of Proxies with my thumb.

“Well…” Lennard says, pausing midway to leer at Zen.

“I think it’s better for the man himself to explain the case.” Zen says.

The man?

Not long after, someone comes out of the farmhouse. It’s sir Microv. It doesn’t take long for him to turn over here.

“Hey,” He directs his yell toward the farmhouse. “The delinquent lass is here!”

Oh my…Even after a year, he still refers to me with that phrase.

Then a middle-aged couple I’m not familiar with emerges out of the farmhouse. They turn their gaze this way. The ones that come after them are Colonel Iva, and the Primus, respectively. They all stand there in silence for a second. The Primus moves first, gesturing to the rest behind him to follow up.

“Are you still in pain?” He asks.

“Physical?” Because I still have some inner pain that still lingers. The loss of my parents, for example. “They’re long gone by now.”

“Excellent.” He turns to sir Microv. “That’s one medical achievement.”

“One for the books.” Microv responds, tapping on his utilizer.

“How is your mansion doing, sir?” I ask him a fake question, hoping to break the ice after a year lacking of words exchange.

“Rebuilding. Should be done any time soon.”

As he turns to the direction where his mansion is supposed to be, I guess it’s time for the real question.

“So, sir…” I call him again. “What’s all of this?”

He turns to me. “This is your land now.”

“Huh…?” What!? My land!? Wait, he can’t be serious. Am I in a dream right now? There’s no way this is happening. This…this is just a dream right. Right?

“He’s telling the truth, Lena.” Julia adds. “I don’t think a person like him would pull this huge of a prank.”

“Whoo…” Lennard follows up with a clapping. “Congrats.”

Still, I couldn’t comprehend the fact that he just gives me away a land this vast. It takes me five minutes’ walk to get here from my drop point. There has to be something behind this. This is too good to be true.

“B-but…why?”

The Primus glances to the spacious empty land to his right.

“The confiscation of your life savings, as well as your accommodations’ cut is directed for this.” He says. “It’s an alternative for you, and your friends, to pay for the charges.”

“I have to cultivate this land.”

He nods. “Think about it. Not only you’ll achieve your dream, but this island will also flourish like it once had.” He then turns to me again. “But you have a condition in turn.”

 Ah yes, here they come.

“From now on, you will no longer be a part of the Creatio Genetrix’s maids. Reapplication in advance will be denied. And in the next five years, you will have to reach a certain net worth. Success means you’ll keep everything, and a pardon will apply to all of you. You are still pardoned if you fail, but you have to forfeit all of this as I assign someone else to take over.”

I nod. “That means I won’t be receiving any more accommodation from you?”

“And no more salary.”

“I understand.”

“Instead, this couple will accommodate you.” He says, pointing to the middle-aged couple who step forward. “Come get to know them. They’re your godparents now.”

Godparents? I gape at the fact that he went this far as giving me godparents.

“Glad to see you, Lena. I’m Glas Weisskopf. Just call me Weiss.” He says. Mr. Weiss then turns to his wife. “Give it a go, honey.”

“With pleasure, I’m Rosemarie. You can call me anything around that. Rose, Marie, or perhaps Mrs. Weiss.”

“Pleased to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Weiss.” I present a bow.

“I think I like this girl.” Mrs. Weiss says to her spouse.

“Colonel Weisskopf is a shining fella on the front.” Microv barks. “So captivating that our enemies are all going for him. So dangerous that Mrs. Weisskopf keep wishing for his safety twenty-four seven.”

“I appreciate the introduction Mr. Edward.” Mr. Weiss nods at sir Microv.

“And those men there, are his.” Microv continues, nodding at the direction of the large group of Proxies. “They’ve seen countless unpleasant times that we consider them to retire.”

“But of course…” The Primus speaks again, raising his hand. “That is if you succeed, in five years.” He says. “Your failure equals to sending him back to the front, as well as his men.”

Hearing that, Mr. and Mrs. Weiss turn to each other with a smile that seems to be forced.

“What if I reject your offer?” I say to the Primus.

“Then you’ll return to Creatio Genetrix and live up with your cut salary and accommodation until you’re pardoned. Your friends will be a subject to the Proxies discipline, and will be sent to the front along with Colonel Weisskopf and his men. This place, will be my private property.”

That left me in silence, pondering of the situation. If I succeed in cultivating this land under the timespan that he proposed, I’ll be the lady of this land. Just like my mother. And my family’s name will be restored in the process. I can’t imagine what happens next if I fail. Well, I’m not concerned for myself. It’s more about Julia, Lennard, and Zen. Perhaps even Mr. Weiss. I believe Mr. Weiss have seen quite a thorn in the front. Meanwhile, Julia, Lennard, and Zen have gone through a rough beginning. If they are all sent to combat the Vindicators in the main stage…

I don’t know. Now it’s not just my family’s wealth at stake, but also the lives of Julia, Lennard, Zen and these men. It’s no longer personal. And due to that, my doubt is over the roof.

Apparently, my silence is noticed by everyone. From the corner of my eyes, I see the Primus jerks his head, gesturing for everyone to disperse for a moment. He then approaches me.

“Sir…” I stutter.

“You’ve made it this far. You have no reason to be discouraged.”

“They’re in danger, sir. You said you’ll send them to the front if I fail.”

“That is if you fail.”

“But the first task that I am entrusted with ended in failure.”

The Primus sighs. “Take lesson then, Lena.” He says with a gentle tone that somehow feels heartwarming. “No one has ever succeeded in the first try. But I believe you’ll succeed now. After all you’ve been through, and given your determination.”

I turn to everyone who is now standing within distance from me. They all seem to be cheering out for some reason, getting to know each other. Especially the maid colonel.

“Retirement is cool, indeed.” That’s sir Microv barking in the distance. “But I ain’t stopping now. Who the hell is up to sweep his mess along the way?”

His mess probably refers to the Primus’.

“Can I talk to Zen please?”

The Primus nods. He strides to where the crowd is and gestures for him. It doesn’t take too long for Zen to come after me.

“What’s the matter?” Zen asks.

“Did you know that he’s sending you, Julia, and Lennard to the front if I fail?”

“We’re aware of that, Lena.”

But not only that. They will be assigned to Colonel Weisskopf’s unit which, as far as sir Microv’s description goes, apparently tends to bear the burden of dangerous tasks. The fact that there remains around fifty men left in his unit implies the numerous amounts of casualties associated with achieving the objectives given to them. The odds of survival are certainly minimal at best. Zen probably won’t survive another day in a mission handed to his unit.

“The Vindicators have killed nearly all of your friends that night. It’s dangerous out there.”

Zen takes a deep breath. “Look Lena,” He says, getting even closer to me. Perhaps the closest one. His bright captivating features this close begins to drive me wild. “You shouldn’t be concerned about that. Focus instead, on how to make the best of these and succeed.”

I turn my gaze down. “You know I led a team once and failed. And that’s only for a simple task of caring for the Primus.” I mean, owning a land is indeed my dream. But, “I don’t know about cultivating this land under a deadline.”

“Don’t worry Lena.” He says. “The frontlines are brutal places. I’m pretty sure Mr. Weiss and his men have little to no desire in returning there, even though they’re made for it. And that’s why I believe they will also do their best to help you, alongside us.”

My sight is raised back at him. This feeling blossom even brighter within as I trace the details of his features. Eventually, I give in to my temptation. I step closer, placing my hands on his chest just below his shoulders, and leans my head against it.

“If you’re going to the front, then I’ll come with you.” I say gently. I believe I have the sufficient fitness drills. But for the role, anything could work. As long as I’m with him.

“If you insist…” He says, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.

My heart races, like a pendulum that sways faster with each tick. The smooth texture of his shirt provides a comfort for my head. I silently rejoice in the presence of his delicate scent that pervades to every corner of my nostril. The vast grass lands in spring where he offers his hand while wearing a glimmering royal suit is now within grasp. Only without the glimmering royal part. Nevertheless, I remain grateful.

Who would’ve thought that it would come to this? For the first time ever, nothing else feels matter for me. Just him all the way. The way his warmth permeates within me raises my confidence by a huge amount. No matter what the world has to offer, I believe I could withstand it. I want to stay like this forever.

“But for now, let’s do our best together. Promise. At least you did something for the best of this place.”

I nod. “You’re right.”

Zen then turns to the crowd. “Do you want me to get them?”

“I’d be much obliged.”

Zen walks to them. And in the next moment, they all come marching here. I turn to the Primus and make my statement be heard by everyone here.

“I’ll accept your offering. And I shall meet your demand as well.” I say to him.

“That’s the spirit!” Lennard shouting at me.

“Way to go, Lena.” That’s Julia cheering me up.

“I’ll be here if you need me.” Of course you will, Zen.

The Primus turns to sir Microv and Colonel Iva. He then pulls out his utilizer.

“There are some starter seeds that you could work with in the farmhouse’s storage. There will also be some transport at your disposal, including a cargo ferry that should carry your commodities abroad. Here are the licenses and contracts that you’ll need. The number of the net worth is also attached. The name of this place is for you to decide. Register it once you are assured.”

I retrieve all the documents he sent to my utilizer.

“Do you need anything else?” The Primus proceeds to ask me.

I take a deep breath. “I think that’s everything, sir.”

“Colonel Weisskopf?”

“All is well, sir.”

“Take care of them, that’s an order.” The Primus points at him.

Mr. Weiss stands in order and salute him without saying a word.

“Yeah, I’m blaming you if one of their arses caught fire.” Sir Microv points at Mr. Weiss.

“Hush, Microv.” The Primus says. He then turns to Colonel Iva. “Iva, parting gesture? This could be the last time you see her.”

She nods before stepping forward. The maid colonel has been silent through this moment, but she never seemed more joyful before.

“Ma,am…” I salute her.

Colonel Iva present a gentle smile toward me, a genuine one that she never seems to be able to commit before. “Drop that formality. You won’t be taking orders from me anymore.” She says.

“Uhh…” Just as she said, I gradually lower my salute. “As you say, Ma’am.”

“Ms. Iva.”

“Yes, Ms. Iva.”

“Thank you.” She nods at me. “For that, for your service…” The maid colonel makes an unexpected pause. “For everything…”

I, of course, notice what she is referring to.

“I’ve heard about you from him.”

Colonel Iva steal a glance to the Primus behind her. He sighs and turns his gaze down. She turns back to me and nods. Her eyes however, starts to glitter.

“Thank you for trying to protect us.” I say to her

In a split second she grabs me and hugs me with all her might. Her face is against my left shoulder, which begins to feel damp. Sniffles and whimpering come after.

“I’m in your d-debt…forever.” She says.

“Ms. Iva…”

The prestigious maid colonel who appears to be strict all the time falls apart before me. The Primus turns around and takes several steps away, followed by sir Microv.

“I don’t know what you did. But one night, when he told me to bring him a chocolate pudding, he raises the spoon and put it into my mouth piece by piece. He proceeds to brush my hair, dropping the best fragrance he has as he tidies them up. And as I lay on my bed, he gently put my blanket on before sitting next to me for bedtime stories. When I give in, he kisses my forehead, wishing me a good night before apologizing.”

A tear comes running down my cheek.

“Thank goodness…” I say. “How I’m relieved to hear that, Ms. Iva.”

She nods on my shoulder before letting go. After wiping her own eyes, she pulls out her napkin and wipes her leftovers on my left shoulder.

“Promise me you’ll not fail.” She then says. “I’ll not be the only one who mourn should you fail. Hana, Rina, Eri, and Theo will as well.”

Now that the maid colonel, Ms. Iva, mentioned it, I have to succeed. As it’s not only for my family’s wealth, Zen, and the lives of others. But also for her, as well as my fallen team.

Hana, Rina, Eri, Theo…If you are watching, listening, I hope you note this.

“Don’t worry, I won’t fail.”

She sniffles once more. “Tell me if you need anything. I’ll gather all the help I could get.”

“Don’t be too harsh on yourself, Ms. Iva.”

“But for you, I insist.”

I nod.

“Iva!” That’s sir Microv calling her out in the distance. “Transport is here. Your father wants you to come over as soon as possible.”

“I’ll be going, take care Valeska Helena.” She says to me before trotting to catch up with Microv.

This has to be the greatest prize in my life. I never thought that I’d receive something like this. Despite the condition, this is something that will make me forever indebted to him. Imagine the possibilities. I could expand my family’s wealth. I could get a place for Uncle Bark who had ransomed me. And perhaps, Hana’s last will…

Will I ever see him again? Will he still be alive once this place reaches its pinnacle? Will I ever be able to repay him?

My body surges first before I knew it. I call out for him once more.

He turns around.

“Thank you, sir.” I say, bowing to him with teary eyes. But now, they are tears of joy. “Thank you for everything.”

“Thank me later. When you’ve reached that net worth.” He says, stroking my head.

“I promise to see you through to your end.”

He gently shakes his head. “You don’t have to.”

I sniffle as I raise my head. And he wipes my tears.

Ah…

“If only Iva is your age, if only Genesis and Katrina are still alive…You all would make the best of friends.” He says, turning his gaze to the skies.

Despite all of his misbehavior, he is still a human. Despite all of his cruel deeds, he only longs for a daughter. His hostilities and ruthless tendencies arise to protect the tender part of his soul, the part which he couldn’t give to anyone since there’s only a tiny remain of them.

“Don’t stop disciplining people, Lena. That’s an order.”

That’s the last thing he said to me, before departing with his transport.

I wave farewell as everyone converges on me.

“Hey Lena, you might want to give this place a name.” Lennard says to me.

“I concur.” Mr. Weiss adds. “Just, not after this island.”

“I suggest something that could encourage our gear to grind this land, to meet his demand.” Zen says.

I look around, trying to find the perfect phrase. Fortunately, it comes when I stare at his transport that gradually disappears in the distance.

“Prime…”

“Oh, so we’re naming it after him?” Lennard asks.

“Not quite.” I respond. It’s more of how this island functions as his primary venue for his leave.

“Prime Respite.”

–**–

A calm day. The foliage is rustling at the presence of a smooth breeze, blowing down from the top of the hill. Here I stand, on a decorated courtyard at one serene part of the island. A resting place for its inhabitants who have passed away. Their memorials are carefully established using ceramics which shines every evening, emblazoned by the setting sun. It is as if the spirits sit upon them, together watching the mesmerizing view of the sun meeting the sea.

“And so that’s it, as told by my mother herself.” A middle age man says to me.

“Did the she ever meet the Primus again?”

The man shakes his head. “Sadly…” He says. “She would stand here at the end of every week, gazing at the sky, waiting for his return.”

“But he never came back.”

“Well, what should I say?” The man pulls his pipe out of his mouth. “My mother’s foundation has created such a noise in his vacation site. He probably migrated to another one, he can do whatever he wants.”

My glance turns on the stones that lies before me. There are four of them laid side by side.

Karl Schneider Luetzen

Valeska Helena

Julia Ferrata

Wilhelm Lennard Santoso

The names that are inscribed on each stone from left to right, respectively. They who have established the greatest contributor to the Creationists’ cause. It is said that he, who was once the most powerful man in the world, named me after the girl on the right. He claimed that she was captivating, not only in figure and feature but also heart and soul.

On another layer a bit lower than them, lies another four.

Tanaka Hitohana

Shabrina Agonskaya

Erika El-Nabila

Fiona Theodora

The maids that accompanied Mrs. Lena on that fateful task. Even though they decided to abandon her, she still wanted them to be buried alongside her. The first one, Tanaka Hitohana, is a remarkable maiden. As my great grandmother puts it, ‘Without her, the Terran Vindicators are toast under the march of the Artificial Creationists’. Even though they lost, they went out in a mighty blaze visible to the ends of the world.

“Yuki!” A woman’s voice calling me from behind. I turn around, finding her marching to my position. “It’s getting dark. You need to return to the inn.”

“Sylvana come on…” I say to her. She is my great grandmother. “Just a bit longer.”

“I’m afraid that is not possible.” She says, crossing her arms. “As a daughter of the most powerful man in the world and the greatest theocratic monarch, you too shall manifest their discipline.”

“Well, well,” The man, Mr. Valeska Kolya Luetzen, says to Sylvana. “This woman fits the description laid by my mother.”

Sylvana takes a deep breath. “I have no choice. The ArC is a menace. The raid I had conducted once was to undermine their logistics as much as possible.”

“Don’t sweat it, my lady.” The man bows before her. “I was about to thank you for saving my mother.”

Sylvana’s gaze returns to Mr. Kolya. “Blinded by hatred, my men ran wild like savage dogs that would pounce at any flesh in sight. I couldn’t control them. Imagine if they catch up to her first, instead of me.”

A silence ensues. Sylvana and Mr. Kolya gazes upon each other for a moment.

“Anyway, I’m here to pick our young empress.” She says, grabbing my hand and dragging me away from Mr. Kolya. “Come, you have to study.”

“No, no. Wait!” I squeal in a way so that she let go of me. “Sylvana, please…”

But instead of letting go…

“Aeliana Julia Kinetica Pratama Tribhuwana,” That sounds terrible. “Your delinquency throughout the day has pushed me into a state where I couldn’t tolerate them any further this evening. You shall return to your room, immediately.”

“Aw….”

“We shall part here for a moment, Mr. Kolya.” Sylvana says, glancing at him. “I appreciate that you look after her through the day.”

“With pleasure.” He shrugs, putting his pipe back in.

“Goodbye, Mr. Kolya.” I wave to him.

“Till next time, her majesty.”

As we stroll under the crimson shade of the setting sun, I glance at Sylvana who is still holding my hand. The decorations on her figure are radiant before the light of the evening. To her, I call out.

“Sylvana…”

“Yes, my dear?”

“Why did you save her, of all the others? Even though you ordered the destruction of her village?”

She halts her steps and gazes down.

“It’s my subordinate who did that.” She said. “I was outraged when the result came out. I hustle as soon as possible to try and restrain my men. But it’s too late.”

“Still, why would you do that?”

“If you’re fighting monsters, you have to see that you don’t become monsters yourself.”

Don’t become monsters yourself… I turn my gaze forward for a moment, pondering at her statement. It’s when another question pops out.

“Do you regret saving her, then? Since she is the reason behind the apparent perpetual rotation of the gears of ArC war machine.”

Sylvana turns to her left. Toward a magnificent view of huge interconnecting domes, floating around the island. The domes that house sanitized environments, sustaining thousands of lives scarred by the wars, providing them a decent life.

“No,” She shakes her head and grins. “Not at all.”

–END–


Prime Respite

Prime Respite (Part 7)


Chapter 7

And just when I thought this mission couldn’t get any worse. I hunker down in the bunk, my back against its door, with my combat gear strapped; A set of shoulder, knee, elbow guard, armlets, greaves, and a torso plating able to generate protective shield. Fortunately, the armor used for daily drills are heavier than this one. Hence, this should be convenient for me.

“Situation?” The Primus’ voice comes through my utilizer.

A moment ago I received a call from him, informing the presence of hostile forces in the island. Their objectives aren’t yet clear and their position isn’t yet known. Thus, he ordered me to stay on guard.

 I link up my utilizer to the surveillance cameras across the mansion and skim through their footages. He made this feature accessible to me just now. In fact, he made all the remote features of this mansion available for my use.

“Still no one, sir.”

“Hang tight, I’m heading there.” He says before cutting off the transmission.

I take a deep breath. We still don’t know how lethal this hostile force is. The Primus told me to expect the size of what a speedboat could contain. Regardless, I’m not sure I myself could mount a resistance to keep them at bay. I’ve also contacted Zen about this. He said that he and his colleagues are already on guard, per sir Microv’s warning. He promised me that we would rendezvous first before confronting this threat, as soon as they’re spotted.

I hope this mansion isn’t their objective. I thought, cowering even deeper. But I think that’s too much of an expectation. Even though I had combat training, I never wish to see the real one myself. Not ever since that evening. It is also the reason why I left Uncle Bark, who lives just behind the front and is a potential target for hostile raids, for the capital that’s safe behind all of her sons and defenses.

As my sweat trickles down my face, and my fist clenched to hold against the shivering, I wish so that this will be over as soon as possible. Why does things keep getting worse over time? I just wanted to accomplish my duties as a maid. Why does this incursion have to occur?

“Oi delinquent lass, it’s your Household Manager again.” I’m surprised to find sir Microv’s voice blaring through my utilizer. This time he speaks with a gentler tone, compared to the last time he talks to me. “As much as how my word pierced you that night, which it might did, I wanted to you to stay calm. You’re a combatant citizen, so stay calm and remain on watch. Depending on their strength, you might not need to participate in butting their arse.” He says.

“Where are you right now, sir?”

“Hustling for the place where your boyfriend settles.”

For a moment, I remark how he just mentioned that in a situation like this. I slap myself, trying to dismiss that. There is a greater concern.

“Excuse me sir but, do you really believe that you’d made it here in time?”

“We would if Microv modded his module.” That’s the Primus’ voice.

“What good does it do if you aren’t slapping in a synergized configuration?”

“You know you can just install those that shows a percentage of performance increase on their tags.”

“Hmmh,” Sir Microv chuckles. “You mean like how we could just throw all our armors to take the thralls’ fortified positions? Sure I can.”

These two people. They are aware that there are hostiles roaming this island without knowing their whereabouts. Yet they still able to throw leisure conversations. Was it a feature only available to the most powerful man in the world? And perhaps his direct subordinate?

“Anyway, maintain that alert stance.” The Primus says to me.

“Y-yes sir.”

I take a deep breath once again. And just as I do…

I hear gentle tapping on the floors outside. Footsteps. Steadily creeping across the mansion. When I skim through the surveillance footages, two of them shows armed men with crimson outlines on their combat gear. It’s them, the Vindicators. The people who razed my village. They’re here.

But how? How did I miss them? How could I not see them coming? There are surveillance cameras installed outside. Perhaps, my thoughts are too occupied, that I didn’t check the footages often. I quickly disable the transmission function of my utilizer and send a warning message to both Zen and the Primus. Please come quick…

In total there are six men on the mansion. Turns out not to be a large force. One of the footages however, ripped my heart out of my chest and tear the flesh to which my bottom jaw clings. It shows a girl with the same maid uniform as mine.

“Hana…”

Why? How long have you been scheming with them? Is this the reason why you left me? Most importantly, where are the others? Rina, Eri, Theo? Did you…?

No…

She strides to the stairs and climbs it. Her steps are gentle, almost devoid of noise. Is she coming for the Primus? Are they here to assassinate him? I guess it’s a fortune that he is not here for the moment. But still, he is in danger if he decides to come here.

I have to do something. But I can’t confront them all by myself.

It’s when I receive a message from Zen.

We’re mobilizing.

Yes please, come here as soon as possible. For the first time ever, I desperately want a boy to come over to my place.

Perhaps I could get the jump on Hana. I check the surveillance to see her breaching the door to the Primus’ room. That’s one property violation. She roams around the room, her sight constantly looking around. A moment later, she brings up her utilizer, perhaps contacting her units. Before long she thrusts her short sword through the Primus’ bed, perhaps out of a frustration of not finding the man here.

She then proceeds out of the room and head to the top floor, where the Primus’ personal office is.

As I notice that the armed men are scattered all around, I gently push the bunk door open. It creaks, but hopefully not enough to alert those men in the mansion. I slip out, taking one gentle step after another. I direct the energy of my combat gear to suppress the noise of my footsteps. Since this place is massive, I believe they won’t notice me unless I get near them.

There are two stairways and they are segmented by each story. I constantly shift to whichever would raise the bare minimum of their alertness. But as I reach the topmost story where the Primus’ office is, my shin crashes against the last step. It doesn’t hurt that much but it makes quite a noise. I quickly press my hand against my mouth as I hold my body with an arm.

I leer downstairs and sees a man turn his glance to my direction. There’s an obstruction of course, but I can see him paying attention to the noise that I made.

Damn it. Once he gets around the obstruction, he’ll spot me. I’ll be done for.

“Pavio!” A voice blares from the other side of the room. To my relief, that man’s attention turns to him. “Look! This man adored Julius Caesar!”

“So?”

“There’s a bit of me in him, and the other way around yeah?”

Whilst they are occupied with anything they find, I hastily foot it through the final step. I begin to prowl to the office room. From the distance, I can see Hana standing before the Primus’ personal computer. I gently pull out my short sword, the wakizashi, as I near her. I make up a rectangular object as I get closer. That looks like a hard-drive. She must be retrieving crucial informations.

Seems like I am the only one standing between her and the reality where those details are published widespread. I can’t let that happen. That hard-drive shall not go anywhere.

And also, this is for your betrayal…

Since her torso is as protected as mine, a sweep through her neck is probably the best option. But once my blade is going for that point, she casually turns around and meet my wakizashi mid-air with hers.

“Sweet Lena…” She says, with a smirk that obviously humiliates me. “I am no Maid Color Sergeant for nothing.”

She shoves my blade away and proceeds with a powerful kick to my stomach. I got thrusted back. Before long, my back crashed against the wall, breaking a picture and a plant decoration in the process. The injury isn’t serious thanks to the shield generated by my combat gear.

I quickly rise up and rolls to the side to avoid a slashing wave from Hana. It struck the wall where I crashed and left a slashing mark. The wall is too thick to cut through, the wave only made it just some tiny distance deep from the surface.

“So we really settling this with force?” She rotates her katana around. “I’ll drink to that.”

If it is down to this, I don’t think I have a problem handling it. As the maids of Creatio Genetrix, we both are trained under the same martial art. I only need to hold until help arrives.

Then I leer to the sides, toward the hard-drive sitting just before the monitor. At least I have to stop the transfer as soon as possible without damaging that computer.

I pull my katana and commit three slashing waves before hustling around Hana to reach the computer. But she beats me to it and meets me with a slash to the stomach. I’m fortunate to notice that and mounts my katana just before it to block Hana’s strike.

“This is the reason you left me? Because you’ve been working with them all along?” I say as I struggle keeping her blade at bay.

“The Primus must pay for his sins.” She exclaims.

She shoves me away but I’m able to launch a sweeping attack against her. But it appears that Maid Colour Sergeant is more than just a rank, as she successfully parries my next eight successive strikes.

Hana counterattacks with two nimble and strong blows. I slightly stagger away from her. But as soon as I recover my stance, she dives toward me with one powerful slash that drags my footing back. Just as I recover from the shock of her katana crashing against mine, Hana launches me to her flank with her kick.

I rise back to some distance between her and me. My stance is on, and the tip of my katana leans to her direction. She remains in place as I hear footsteps gathering behind me. I leer to find six men training their rifles at me.

This, is bad.

“Those men are trained to kill you know?” Hana says. “Make one move and you won’t see the next dawn. Surrender now and we’ll spare you.”

Damn it. Why does everything keep getting worse for me over times? Will this actually be my end?

“Hana, why are you doing this?”

“Five…”

What!? A countdown?

“Hana!”

“Four…”

“Hey, listen!”

“Three…”

“They’re going to shoot me anyway, might as well spare me the motive behind your merit.”

“Two…” She keeps on counting. Her smirk gaze turns into a glare. “One…”

Ah, I think this is it. This is my end. I close my eyes as they begin to well up. For a moment, I can see their faces zipping past me in the dark. My parents, Uncle Bark, Rina, Eri, Theo, Zen, sir Microv, and The Primus. I have, once again, failed them. Even if my gear is made to withstand projectile damage, it does no good under a barrage of one. They would still gun me to death even if I turn around and parries every bullet coming for me.

A gunshot. So that’s it…

But only one shot?

Not only that.

Its faint roar seems like it doesn’t come from anywhere inside the mansion. There must be someone else. I sigh a relief. It seems like they’re on time. Hana however, doesn’t seem to be amused anymore.

“They’re closing in, the militias.” A voice comes through her utilizer. A voice that somehow, I recognized. But I couldn’t remember.

“All of you get down there and hold our position.” She says to the six men. They then hustle downstairs with no second thought.

Whoever fired that shot, I’m in your debt too. And that makes me think for a moment, to grab a paper and lists everyone to whom I am indebted.

I reopen my eyes and directs a grin at Hana.

“Well, looks like it’s just us now.” I say to her.

“Not bad for a corporal.” She says. “Guess you really deserved to be one.”

“Hana.” I call her name again. “Why are you doing this!?”

Hana is silent as she gazes to her feet. Her arms are relaxed, she doesn’t have a stance on. But that doesn’t mean I have a chance. Based on the encounter just recently, she could mount her stance in a split second, deflects my strike and counterattacks like flipping a hand.

“Why am I doing this?” She says, her tone deepens. “How could I not? He took my parents from me!” She yells, extending her left arm, pointing toward The Primus’ seat.

“You’re not the only one who suffered such fate!” I yell back.

“But that is not the case!” Her left foot shifts slightly forward, her sight is sharp like a pike piercing through mine. “My father was a master of his domain. He led his people to resist against The Primus during his conquest. I was a child back then. I see him return home every night bloodied, filthy, all soaked in the odor of war. It’s so that our belief’s presence in this continent is preserved.

“But our resources are not as abundant as The Primus’, and our men aren’t as well armed as his. When it’s over, my father was forced to surrender so that his legacy remains intact, his people, our belief. Do you know what The Primus did next?”

I squint my eyes. Given his personality, his stance toward the believers, and the motive behind his hostilities to them, I think it’s obvious.

“Of course, we all know what he did. But how he did them…His men led my father and his people to a camp deep within the woods. When the lights went out, and everyone starts dozing off, he lobbed fire on those camps. My father, along with all of my people, perished in one night. The women are sold to slavery, my mother included. I was fortunate to be raised in an orphanage. But when I return for her with my prosperity as a color sergeant, she has already passed away, overworked to death. And that is long before I’ve even gained this rank.

“It’s true, that given one’s will, they could prosper under The Primus’ realm. But prosperity my crap! What good are gold and silver if the people that shared your compassion aren’t there for you!?” She yells at that last question; a tear comes trickling down her cheek.

Such atrocities…

Typical of The Primus’ will to erase the believers off of this world. But how wouldn’t he do them? The believers have sinned him, taking his daughters away two times. That should have been an equal trade.

In any case, that doesn’t mean the Vindicators are all-righteous guardians that protect their subjects from miseries.

“Do you think the Vindicators stick away from the wicked merit of The Primus?”

“They are the most powerful believers’ nation in this continent. They protect us all, and allow our belief to remain in this world, of course they are our savior.” She says, nodding in my direction.

“Well,” I take a deep breath. “Your wretched empress also burned my settlement and massacred everyone but me.”

Hana raises an eyebrow.

“My parents, their legacy, their wealth, all perished in one evening.” Heat is building up on my limbs’ end as I utter those words. As miserable as it is that evening. It is as if I want to surge forward and commits wide and quick slashes.

So, this is what it feels like. This is what anger feels like. This is what The Primus felt when he lost his wife, just so that a believer girl could stay under his roof. This is what he must have felt like when he lost his daughters two times to the same people.

“Heheh…” I hear Hana chuckles. That chuckles gradually turn into a wicked laughter. She takes a deep breath at its end. “I guess we really have a reason to murder each other, don’t we?” She flinches her head.

“Loud and clear, sarge.” I respond with a gentle tone. But my expression says otherwise. To Hana, I would seem to be no longer hesitant in committing to the fight. My sight is now all covered with a violent intention. I will not only stop her from extracting anything from The Primus’ personal computer.

I will kill her. Here, and now.

Our roars are silent, thanks to the maid discipline of maintaining our grace. Powerful shockwaves blast through under our greaves, propelling us forward against each other. Once more, our katana clashed with a might of an even greater magnitude. As our sight pierce each other, I realize. This will be a bloodbath.

–**–

The local militia breaches through the main gate and hastily assume a position around the first level of the mansion. Some open fire, suppressing the hostiles as a handful of theirs climb toward the fourth level. The mansion complex is too large for the militias to isolate, so there is a chance or space for the hostiles to escape.

“Push them up everyone! Step by step!” Fred yells out from a cover in one of the gazebos.

There are three hostiles opening fire to them. Meanwhile they split their forces in two platoons, each consists of fourteen men. And it’s divided further into two squads.

Still, those three men held firm. It seems like they’re part of an elite force. So far, the militias haven’t been able to take any of them down. Meanwhile Fred and Julia’s squad each have already lost two men.

“Julia,” Fred speaks through his utilizer. “We’ll flank them from the left. Give us covering fire.”

“Roger.” Julia responds. “All units, rise from cover and spray some lead.”

The remaining boys and girls that she is leading stands up and fire full auto toward the hostile position. One of the hostile men peeks out, fires a controlled shot and takes down one more of Julia’s squad.

“Two of you come with me!” Fred says to his squad.

The remaining two opens fire to cover them.

“Zen, Lennard, how are your progress?” Fred asks to the leader of the third and fourth squad.

“We’re taking heavy losses!” Lennard responds. “Zen is trying to enter that mansion, and my squad follows him up for cover. We’re down to three men!”

“How about you, Zen!?”

“Doing fine.” He replies gently through his utilizer.

“What do you mean fine?” Lennard grumbles. “That charge literally costs you five of your men!”

“At least we had one of them. Two more.”

“Damn it, hang in there I’ll reinforce you!” Fred says.

“You two, continue the flanking maneuver. I’ll head there and fire at them from behind.” He says to the two boys that follows him. They nod and commit to that order.

It is certain. These soldiers aren’t just regular soldiers. They must have been special forces. This is bad. Neither The Primus nor his right-hand man shows a sign of being nearby. Under this weight, they will be slaughtered very soon.

If only Vittoria is here. If only she is here to turn the tide and push those hostiles away from this place. Other than being a bloom in the kitchen, she has shown herself to be a prominent combatant. If she is here right now, they surely stand a chance against these forces.

Bullets fly, muzzles flash, and the noise of the rifles clashing against each other roar through the night. After a brief sprint, Fred suddenly halts in the presence of a shaded figure. But that figure has a prominent feature that makes them noticeable, even when being shaded by the darkness.

The golden hair.

“Vittoria…?” Fred utters her name.

“Yes, it is me.” She says stepping out of the darkness, revealing her strapped combat gear with crimson outlines.

It’s a sight that left Fred trembled.

“Wh-why?” He asks. “Have you…all this time…” His jaw left open. His figure remains sturdy on the ground, but the revelation shreds his will to nothing. Fred wishes that this is just a dream. That the golden haired-Android, to whom he shares a compassion with, in that crimson outlined armor is just his mind trying to mess up with him.

But it’s useless. As she walks closer to him, her presence becomes ever closer to reality.

“Vi-vittoria…”

Vittoria reaches for his right cheek. She strokes it gently, before turning her gaze down.

“I’m sorry, Fred.” She says. “But thank you, for everything.”

In a split second, she pulls out her thermal dagger and thrusts it against Fred’s chest, at the point where his heart is supposed to be.

Fred’s sight wavers. “Ah…so that’s it.” He says before collapsing.

Vittoria embraces him while getting on her knees. She strokes his back for a time before putting him down beside her. She places his hands on top of his stomach before pulling out her dagger.

“Fred! Fred!” A voice comes through his utilizer. “Fred, where the hell are you! Answer damn it!” That sounds like Lennard.

But it doesn’t matter.

He’s going to have a taste of her dagger too.

“I’m sorry everyone.” Vittoria says.

–**–

The sound of clashing blades echoes throughout the mansion. The slashing waves emitted by the blades flies here and there, wreaking havoc to the mansion’s interiors. Plenty of vases, shelves, tables, and sofas got sliced. The very least is that each got a slashing mark, which still counts as a property violation if the owner is concerned.

A shockwave topples me back. Thankfully, I land on my feet. But as soon as that, Hana charges again with incredible force. I pull back before swinging my katana forward, meeting hers. The gust that comes with her surges through me. But I held my ground.

I shove her katana away and make a sweep for her stomach. She steps back and pulls an uppercut, which I barely dodge by leaning back. I think I would be done for when she activates her emitters. It turns out, she didn’t. Perhaps all the energy reserves her gear can offer goes to enhance her mobility and strength. The slashing waves emitted by our weapon might be powerful, as it could slash enemies from a distance. But it drains a lot of energy to maintain the emitters.

And as my misfortune has it, Hana’s strikes are even more powerful than before.

Her blade sweeps for my head from left, then right. It’s a mighty strike that could sweep my head clean. I manage to parry them, but at the cost of my energy reserves since I have to enhance my strength against such powerful blows. She proceeds with her momentum after the right sweep, spinning once for another sweep with an even greater magnitude.

I don’t believe I could hold that one, so I crouch. Luckily, I see an opening. Hence, I swing my katana upward, against her left shin. But it only damages her greaves.

She then spins her katana, its tip aiming straight at me, and thrusts it. I dodge to the right and dashes through, slicing her left arm in the process.

“Agh!” She yelps as blood spurts out of it.

Hang on? Blood? I thought our combat gear have shields.

I’ve recovered my stance as that thought comes to mind, a slight realization. But the slight delay gives Hana an opportunity to launch a charged slashing wave to my direction.

“Hngh!” I grunt as the force throws me back. My back crashes against the wall. Thanks to my shield, I survived. But it’s gone now. I stand up to the fact that I’m no longer safe from her dangerous attacks.

But it seems that she doesn’t have her shield either.

“Impressive.” She says, leering to her wound. “The maid discipline really is formidable.”

Ah…

I pause as I catch my breath. Her attacks are truly devastating. The strain on my muscles are compensated slightly by my gear. But if I don’t have the air to move them, what purpose does it serve?

It seems like I should’ve died a few moments ago. Her violent moves are meant for a quick takedown of her adversaries. I assume no one have ever made it alive. That’s the reason she disables the shield feature of her gear, to conserve her energy reserves. But now she’s fighting me, another maid of Creatio Genetrix with the same training, the same drills, and the same gear. The card that she used to rely on couldn’t work on us.

“I guess a more careful approach is better.” As soon as she says that, azure light flashes around her, indicating an active shield feature.

Now this is trouble.

She now has a shield on, meanwhile I’m completely vulnerable. I absolutely couldn’t keep this up. Given her fierce melee prowess, she’s untouchable on a one versus one duel. I’ll be the one who would fall first.

“What’s wrong? Tired already?” Hana says, followed up by her smirk. “There’s more from where that came from.”

I can still hear gunshot from outside. Zen and the others must still be fighting against those men. If I let her defeat me, then she could reinforce her men and slaughter everyone.

No…

I can’t let that happen. I won’t allow her to touch Zen.

My glance turns to the railings. Beyond them is a gap that links directly to the ground floor. Most importantly, the living room which is close to the kitchen.

I think I know what should I do.

I take a deep breath.

“If you’re not coming for me, then don’t mind if I do.” Hana says, readying her stance.

This is it…

She surges forward just like what she did before. Her blade shines, indicating an incoming slashing wave, as she raises it over her right shoulder.

As she’s nearing the right point, I leap forward, thrusted even more by the shockwave that comes down my feet. I land on one foot on her left shoulder and use it as a step to propel me for the gap. Another shockwave that comes down my greave slams her face against the wall behind me. And with that, I begin my fall.

I use my remaining energy reserves to reinforce my feet.

The loud thud as my feet meet the ground floor trembles nearby properties. And with that, I ran out of my energy reserves. With no second thought, I hustle for the kitchen. The fact that Hana hasn’t followed up is a fortune. She probably takes the stairs for one or two stories before dropping down to ease the fall and conserve her energy.

She’s probably saving them to finish me off with the most powerful slashing wave she could come up with.

“You can not hide Lena!!” She yells.

I don’t respond.

In the next seconds, I finally reach the kitchen. As soon as I do, I slip on my long skirt. My face crashes against the floor. But it’s not as painful as when I am not wearing my combat gear. That, however, isn’t in my plan. As embarrassing as it is, it might be the distraction that I need. I crawl backward as I hear footsteps rushing in this direction. I hope it’s Hana. Then I grab on to the stove handle to help me up.

Sure enough, it’s her.

“You’re bold to come after me.” I say to her.

“Well, rank prerequisite.” She says.

“You know,” I gaze downwards, deliberately showing my weakness. “That was an excellent fight.”

“Do you think I’d back down?” She shakes her head. “You’ve missed your chance to surrender.”

“No.” I say. “I’m saying that this is your end.”

She strikes me with her malicious smile. “Said someone who is cornered to my mercy.” Hana takes a deep breath. “Fine,” she says raising her katana, its blade begins to shine again. “I’ll make this quick then. You won’t feel a thing once it is done. That is for being the first to wound me, physically.”

I nod.

Hana then charges. The same movement as before, presumably more powerful. In a split second, I jump, roll, and slide to my left, barely avoiding the vertically aligned slashing wave that was coming to my direction. At the end of my slide, I sweep kick a one legged-table. Its face is now to Hana’s direction.

And that’s it.

The gas compartment of the stove is split in two, along with the gas tank inside it. Our contempt gaze fell on each other as the gas bursting in Hana’s proximity. She doesn’t seem to care about it, as she ready her katana again. But this is the end.

The Primus provided me access to every remote-controlled system in the mansion. Including the stove. So, I raise my left arm and presses a button on my utilizer, within Hana’s sight.

Fortunately, the stoves are lit. And with all the burners active…

It’s as if time has stopped. As the mansion tremble under the thunderous swarm of the ember monarchs, I cower behind the table, concealing myself from their rage. A sudden glimpse of the past. That evening, when columns of them rain hell upon my home. The evening where I lost my parents. There is nothing but flames blazing here and there as far as the eye can see. I reach for my father as he returns inside the mansion for my mother. But the mansion collapses first before they make it.

The incredible heat is reminiscent of that time, when I try to find safety by myself, across the sea of flames that ready to pounce on me at ease. The dark smoke fills the scene, blinding my sight. I could only make up those that is really close to me. I couldn’t think of where to go, still consumed by the loss of my parents. When I failed to track my friends amidst the noise of crackling embers and adults’ screams, I trip and fall to the ground. It is when a flaming debris collapses on to me. I thought I was toast, meeting the same fate as my parents.

But now I remember…

I remember a monarch that comes to my aid. The largest of her kind. She braved the debris with her majestic ember wings that has a flash of crimson across them. The wings flutter as she pulls me tight in her embrace. The debris doesn’t scratch her by a bit. She doesn’t even flinch as it crashed on her back. The sole warmth that the lone monarch brought, so it is her. The empress herself, Tribhuwana the second.

Then the heat diminishes. I reopen my eyes as I realize it. I rise from cover, to a room filled with crackling fires. Since there’s no flammable materials around, these fires won’t last long.

On the other side of the kitchen, I found her. Her back is against the wall, and her head is tilting to one side. I thought she is dead, until I notice that her body is still pulsating gently. I approach her. She is all-bloodied from head to toe, shrapnel injury. There are two sizeable pieces of metal sticking out of her left thigh and her stomach. Burn marks are also visible on her arms, hands, and a bit of her face, defiling her beauty.

It doesn’t take too long for her to look up on me.

“Ghh…ghh…” She shut her eyes as tears streak down her cheeks. “I’m sorry…Mother. Father…” She whimpers.

I kneel down and land my finger on her lip.

Her eyes, glittering, turns to me.

“I’ll make this quick, for that chocolate cake.”

She sniffles at my statement. But it doesn’t take long for her to shut her eyes again and nod.

I move around her and kneel again. My left hand holds her chin up, pressing the back of her head to my stomach. Then I pull my wakizashi, putting it just on her throat.

“Do you have something to say?” I ask her.

“I hope…” She halts as she spits blood out of her mouth. “Your family’s wealth is restored in no time.” Hana then raises her sight to gaze on me, who is facing down on her. “And promise me Lena…by then, you will protect innocent families…so there won’t be, a second me. There won’t be…any more…broken houses.”

My teeth are clenching against each other, and it’s never been this hard. It takes another second for me to realize that my eyes are welling. It’s hard to believe she just said that at her last moment.

“There won’t be a second me as well.” I reply.

Hana gives her last smile. And that’s when I run my blade across her neck.

“Rest in peace, sarge.” I say, reclining her body on the ashen floor reeks of burnt ceramics, putting her hands gently on her stomach.

I place both palms of my hands on my face, taking a deep breath while running them across it.

How many more people like Hana out there? Those who are wounded by the conflict? Those who bled and lost under The Primus’ gruesome ambition? Who is at fault here? Who is to blame? Everyone has their reason for their deeds. Everyone has their loss that justifies their motives. If that’s the case, then will there ever be someone to blame?

Or maybe it’s never about finding the root where it began…

If two branches could speak, would they be concerned if one towers higher than the other because it used up the provisions that are meant for their shorter counterparts? Or would they just go along living side by side as if there has never been any conflict between them?

Then I realize that it is already silent out there. The gunshots are no longer heard. My nerve rises over the roof. Did Zen succeed? Or is it the other way around?

I…

I obviously couldn’t stand a chance against those men, especially in my current condition. If there’s one thing that I could do, is to destroy that hard-drive on the Primus’ desktop.

–**–

He was right to be suspicious of her since that night when she separated herself for stargazing. She has pretty much committed lethal takedowns to the remaining militia. Lennard is wounded and unconscious, presumably dead. Perhaps the same fate also befalls Fred and Julia since they’re not responding. He survived thanks to his superior melee skill. But it costs him a stab in his left shoulder and a slash through his left eye and his right thigh.

Still, surviving now won’t do anything. There are still four of those elite forces left. And with his wound, there’s no way he could take them all by himself.

Nevertheless, he still drags himself across and leans against something solid. That something might have been one of the railings before getting blasted away by the projectile exchanges.

He pulls out his pistol, aiming it at the four men who are cornering him, and opens fire. Of course, the bullets ricochet. These four men still have their shield active. That shield, projected by their combat gear, deflects the incoming bullets. Even if they don’t have their shields, the bullets would still bounce off or just sticks into their body with no significant outcome since they’re Androids.

“Hey, kid. Just give up. We’ll spare you.” One of them said.

“Yeah, promise.” The one next to him follows up.

“Never.” Zen says, reloading his pistol and opening fire again.

“You know, I feel bad for him.” The elite force says. “Let’s just end his suffering.”

As one of them trains his rifle at Zen, his colleague who stands at the rightmost points to the left.

“Uh…”

They all turn to that direction, and finds two men leisurely marching to them. They quickly form a line and aims their rifles at them. Zen also turns to the direction they are facing.

“Picking a fight with a wounded seventeen-year old? That’s some flogging for you blokes!” One of them says as he stands at some distance from them.

The other is still catching up. Once he is near the first one, he bends over with his hands on his knees.

“Goddamnit, you’re ruining my entrance.” The first man says to him.

“Your entrance shall accompany these thralls to whichever abyss you’re sending them to.”

“Fire!” One of the elite forces shouts out. In the next second, bullets are storming the two men’s direction.

“The Primus is here! Repeat, The Primus is here!” The other yells through his utilizer.

For a moment, Zen is shocked and tries to reach for the two men. But as soon as he does, he’s greeted by the sight of the first man leisurely extending his right arm to their direction. The bullets don’t go further than his right hand. It is as if they enter a sphere held by his hand, and keeps on bouncing inside the sphere with blue wiggly lines bounding them.

It is not long until the elite forces ran out of bullets. They turn down their rifles, astonished by the spectacle they are witnessing.

“So,” He says to The Primus beside him. “As usual?”

“As usual.”

Then the bullets are arrayed into a rectangle as wide as the elite forces’ line. Its sharp end points toward them. And all of a sudden, the bullets turn blue with electric sparks flying around them. In a split second, the bullets surges through the four men at blinding speed. They collapse thereafter.

It’s not the first time Zen witness such wonder. He saw it just few days ago with Lena on the same garden. But still his gaze filled with astonishment. How could one possess such power?

“Scientia, victrix!” The first man yells out. His loud voice blares through the night.

“Now take care of the wounded,” The Primus says “I’ll tend to the minor nuisance inside.” He then turns around and strides for his mansion.

“There’s someone else there?”

“There’s no way that one-person radio someone else beside him.”

“Rite…” He says before turning to Zen. “Now, hang in there. First aid coming through.” He reaches into his one of his mantle’s pockets.

“I’m twenty-one you know?” Zen says to him.

“Eh,” The man shrugs. “You all look the same. Somewhere around that year-olds.”

 Zen takes a deep breath. He wishes that Lena is doing fine.

–**–

I hustle back upstairs. I think the transfer should be done by now. But it doesn’t matter. I could just destroy that hard-drive.

As soon as I return to the office, I am surprised to find someone else there. And how petrified I become when I recognize that prominent feature of her.

The golden hair. The girl behind that vendor. She is now clad with that crimson outlined armor, the harness of the Vindicators. So, the one that warns Hana and her men of Zen’s arrival with the others, it’s her.

Noticing me, she puts the hard-drive inside one of her pockets. I take a step back. Her face remains indifferent just like when I met her that day. But that’s what menacing about her.

Then I realize something. The firefight outside has ended. Could it be…

No…

“Y-you…you killed them all?”

She turns to me and says, “I’m afraid that’s an improper way to initiate a conversation.”

“You killed them all.”

The girl raises her right hand. “The men are doing well. I am just easing their burden.”

That means…Zen.

No…No…No, no, no. It can’t be true right? He…he is still alive right? He can’t be killed that easily right? Right? Right?

She sighs. “Now excuse me, I shall take my leave.” She says as she begins to stride at the nearest office window to her. That window head straight outside. Presumably, this girl is going to jump through and hustle away.

I’m not going to let that happen. Not after what she did to Zen, Julia, and Lennard. She is going to pay.

“The Primus is here! Repeat, the Primus is here!” A voice, all soaked in the roars of more gunshot, blares through her utilizer.

This is my chance.

My body surges on its own. Before I realize it, I’m already standing between her and that window she is heading for.

She sighs again. “Do you really want to do this?”

“Over my dead body.” I say, raising my katana to her direction.

Without a warning, like a sudden jerking that allows me to react, she just shoves my katana away. And in a split second, her dagger pierces through my stomach.

“Agh!” I grunt as blood begin to spurt out of my mouth.

Her dagger somehow manages to penetrate my torso-plating and dive through my stomach.

Yet she doesn’t stop there.

As soon as she pulls out her dagger, she crouches and slashes my left thigh, followed by another one to my right shin. Both scores a hit as my blood streaks out. I haven’t even processed this hole in my stomach, yet I have to receive more?

Then a quick and strong blow to my right thigh with the butt of her dagger. That topples my balance. My sight is to the floor. As I’m about to fall to my knees, she uppercuts my face with her fist. A robust fist that indicates her synthetic nature. I lost her when she slips past me. That is when she stabs me again from behind, just some distance to the right of the previous stomach wound.

 “AHH!” I made no effort to suppress my loud yelp as that dagger pierces my stomach again, only from behind. My gaze turns to the ceilings, to the lightings installed there. They begin to blur as my head throbs harder.

As if I haven’t had enough already, she proceeds with a slash through my right arm before shifting back to my front. There she pauses and stabilizes me for some reason, making sure I’m still standing. With the last of my strength, I train my sight at her. And there it comes. A diagonal uppercut against my front torso.

My gaze once again turns to the ceilings as I see my blood droplets flies all around me.

Hah…huh.

The force of that swing pushes me slightly back. But that is when she commits a mighty kick against my chest, supported by a shockwave.

My body flies through the window pane, penetrating it. Yes, my body. Because I’m not sure that I’m alive anymore. That’s not even counting the fall. I heard something break as soon as my back hits the ground. They’re probably my bones.

“Ahhh…”

I’m not sure I could survive this wound. Even if I do, I’d probably be disabled for life. With my blurred vision, I make up the outlines of that golden-haired girl perching on the remains of the window pane, before finally blasting away. She disappears into the darkness, soon after.

Maybe I’ll see her there again.

In the darkness…

Because my sight is blacking out.

A breeze blows through the night. Those monarchs with their dazzling ember wings, they’re here again, circling above me. There’s a handful of them. The way they flutter around along curly trajectories, forming an ever-shifting pattern illuminated by a small garden torch, is such a relieving show. The radiant theatre with a background of the serene night sky makes an excellent anesthetic. For a moment, I forgot about my wounds.

“…Z-Zen…look. Beautiful…aren’t they?”

My hand then reaches out, hoping for more share of their warmth. To my sorrow, they begin to disperse. Fluttering away, leaving me alone amidst the shivering night.

Ah…so cold…

Feels like…sleep…


 Prime Respite

Several Haikus

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


Several Haikus

A rainy evening

upon a musty carpet

sev’ral years ago.

***

The pitter patter

of the rain on the windows

followed our chatter.

***

Two hours later,

we went home; and for a year,

we chatted no more.

***

Fateful January,

we talked once more, as teammates,

then as two friends.

***

Suddenly, it lit.

A magnesium flame, white hot.

Mutual? God knows.

***

Messaging till night

for a few moons, our eyes glued

to the screens we held.

***

A warm April night,

Luna and Venus, aligned;

a chance, I squandered.

***

One school break later;

our uniforms, once myrtle,

now a deep dark blue.

***

As the days passed,

bright metal turned to dull ash,

and you grew distant.

***

The bright fire turned dim.

You began to talk with them,

much to my dismay.

***

Eventually,

we stopped talking entirely,

and you became them.

***

Then, I saw a chance:

a trip to a land far east,

where the trees are pink.

***

“One last chance,” I said,

still blinded by the fire,

one that is long snuffed.

***

Taking off, I saw

on your phone, you just sent hearts

to someone I know.

***

“It’s normal,” friends said.

“I dislike him,” you mentioned.

“Lies,” I knew, betrayed.

***

As the world locks down,

I confronted him; once friends,

now traitor and foe.

***

Till our blue is shed

and till now, we haven’t talked;

not like we used to.

***

And yet, I can still

hear chatter and smell carpet,

on rainy evenings.


Writer: Duke

The Girl Whose Name I remember

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


[There’s only a handful of fleeting memories you could remember in life.] [It came in many forms.] [Visions.] [Sounds.] [Feelings.] [And names.] [To remember all of it, is not an easy feat any person capable of doing.] [And if you could—] [You must be a happy person.]

“Accordingly, you only have one month.”

Short. Loud. And clear.

There’s no need for a whisper, nor any hesitation. The Doctor spoke, as if it is a fact written in some Q1 journal. With the facility this hospital provides, I have no doubt he could buy those paper with his pocket money alone.

But, not even here—not even this hospital could reach a meaningful conclusion on the nature of this disease.

“I see.”

“Your guardian is still uninformed in regards to this news. I believe you have the right to know this firsthand.”

The Doctor continued, sliding down the paper of what seems to be the result of his study. It’s tattered with signs of crumple all over. Lots of marks from black, red, and blue ink clashing across the neatly typed printout. From the strokes alone, you could sense the stress endured by whoever was holding the pen. Even more so, when you saw the strain on his face.

“That’s all I have to inform you.”

Though his voice denotes a matter-of-fact tone, his body shows otherwise. Clenched was his fist, wrinkled was his brow. A frown any child would consider scary, but all I could see is a thoughtful adult.

I’m sure he had taken some heavy consideration before this.

“Can I…have some time alone?”

“I will call back if I ever have anything else.”

The doctor abruptly walks out of my room and closed the door shut in the most ordinary way possible. Not a gentle minuscule slide, nor a slam in hurry. It’s the relaxing sound effect you could hear in every visual novel whenever a door closes.

I somberly relaxed my body after an eternity of five minutes sitting upright. The folded curtain let the sunlight paint the bedsheet in dreary orange. It’s warmth reminds me of the girl this hand once interlocked with.

“…one month.”

It’s already established and well-known that the ‘mood’ human feels is simply a mixture of several neurotransmitters changing the composition of hormones inside your body.

Dopamine, histamine, serotonin, epinephrine, I couldn’t really name every one of it.

With its fluctuation, the cells in your body responded differently. The chemistry of feelings. A chaotic dance between the fleeting life of several molecule in accordance to the ephemeral moments in life.

Including moments of happiness.

…Do I have to define what happiness is?

Surely people have different views of what they consider as ‘happiness’.

Working late on an assignment in sunset-painted classroom.

Blue sky with summer haze on the off-chance unlocked rooftop.

Blooming lilies of varying colors during the entrance ceremony.

A closed space just the two of us, under the confinement of yellow, checker-patterned umbrella.

…Honestly, a slight hint of relief washed over me as I recall each of it. And the end of these dreamlike days, inching ever closer with each relief.

Satisfactory Downfall Immunity Disorder.

An abnormality where one’s own happiness reduce one’s very lifespan.

The kind of disease you can easily found on those sappy, high-school romance tragedy manga or novel.

I made up that name on the spot. SDID. Makes it sound cooler. Besides, it’s easier to remember than nothing.

I am the first and only case of it occurring.

Fluctuations of hormone triggered from an increase in several neurotransmitters. Just the right combination, and every human is capable of recognizing such emotion as happiness. It works slightly differently on me—this body. Rather, I’d call it an extra step.

That very same combination, disrupts the immune system inside this body. Surely it’d be alright if the Doctor could just figure out which part is dysfunctional. Unfortunately, there’s no pattern to its symptoms.

Several medical check and CT scans concluded with a vague result that might describe what was happening every time the symptoms appeared.

Signs of aging.

An incurable disease which led every living animal into its inevitable death—as far as I’m concerned.

At a glance, nothing much changes, and only I could feel it. The feeling of consciously approaching death’s embrace. Physical exertion becomes weaker. Terminally-ill and depressing thoughts encroaches your mental. Life as you know it, seems to be hurrying you to the finish line.

As time went on, the progression shows no sign of halting. No longer just something I could feel, but something that shows. My body begin to lose its red hue, increasingly pale with each passing day. Strands of hair turning white without me noticing.

The only surprising thing was I managed to retain my youthful look. Not that it matters, when the cells inside my body are dying.

Unironically, my favorite reads are fictions concerning thought experiment on immortality. The loneliness it brings, or the inherent suffering within. Altogether it pieces the what-if consequences stemming from limitless choice. Eventually alluding it into an illusion of having no choice. It has been so, way back before I realize something is wrong with my body. Perhaps a coincidence. Though I never take credit preferring such read as a consolation for SDID.

On the other hand, I disliked sappy stories concerning terminally-ill patient with limited deadline. Maybe I should call it deathline? Such stories’ context was reversed from immortality, it grants the person virtually limitless choice in expense of facing one absolute answer it couldn’t change. Hence why anytime the person in question survives, it felt as if denigrating the whole ordeal of the story. It just felt wrong for them to survive. Perhaps it’s an attempt of deluding myself from SDID, or I’m probably too narrow-minded.

I suppose deep down I’m simply trying to justify my own inevitable death.

“One…month, huh.”

A sigh escaped as I laid down my body, blanketed over the dim sunset.

At moments like these, usually the terminally-ill heroine’s monologue began to ramble. Recalling the happy memories and whatnot. Believe me, now I can relate to that way better than I used to. Only then, for me to realize I don’t even have such luxury.

A slight remembrance of my happier past could hasten the one-month lifespan I clutch ever so loosely.

I want to remember. I desperately want to be happy before I die.

But I want to live. I want to see her once more. I want to tell her a lot of things. I want her to be happy.

Tears began to stream their way to the bedsheet.

I couldn’t describe the internal conflict happening inside. Has anyone ever feels so much torment over deciding what to feel in their life? Could any human ever decide their own feelings?

If I was born normal I wouldn’t have spared a single thought on it.

This habit of mine appeared soon after I was diagnosed with SDID. Every time the sun sets, I wept. The thoughts of what I would feel next time sent shivers throughout my body. The memories from that day keeps coming back to remind me of how happy I once was. And once again, inflict me with the pain of suffering from happiness.

I guess without the SDID context, the previous line sounds quite sappy for a wholesome romance novel, right?

“Haha.”

I let out a laugh, a momentary flash of happiness slips out of my mind.

“That’s another day off my life.”

And this habit is the reason why I have only a month left.

So, should we begin? The long exposition that is my past. A lot of people probably will be less than enthusiastic hearing this—most of them will be bored. But at least let me take rein in the pacing, all right? Let me savor and indulge in this fleeting happiness which costs my literal life.

I cried, I smiled, and I began to chant the first mantra.

“Where should I begin?”


It rained on that day.

Tsuyu…”

Plum rain. The downpour happened arbitrarily despite the clear blue sky a few minutes ago. I had forgotten…no, I think I never brought an umbrella to school, so I had to take a shelter on a nearby gazebo. My house was still blocks away, there’s no way I could dash through the rain without getting drenched.

I had light clothing and my shoulders were wet. It’s cold, but I didn’t mind. Usually when it rain during these times, it lasted for hours on end. I wonder if I’m going to be trapped in this little gazebo until evening.

“I might end up with a cold by then.”

The first shiver went down my spine. Feeling restless, I decided to do some activity just to kill time. I ransacked through my bag searching for anything I could spend my time on. I found nothing of interest.

Schoolbooks, notebooks, pencil box.

To be completely honest, I was not the kid with many hobbies. I have certain fondness to writing, but that was it.

Do I really have to read the math book? I could have done the homework given, but somehow it felt inappropriate to do it before I reached home. That left me with social studies, which I clearly have no fond memories of.

Ah.

It’s the sharpener I lost. I had bought the sharpener a few weeks ago when we went shopping to a fancy mall out of town. Why had I bought this? I seldom used pencil. The design was not even cute, but it’s simply eye-catching. A peculiar hexagonal prism with yellow outlining.

So it was not lost, after all.

Wonder if I got any pencil I could use this on. I reached inside my bag for my pencil box. During that slight window, I was unaware—

A slight ruffle followed with a loud thud. Someone sat beside me. Another kid, clad in drenched yellow opaque raincoat. It was so drenched, splashes of water sloppily dripped from every crease and edge. The immediate vicinity became slightly colder.

That person sat still for a few seconds, clouds of white emanating in quick succession from inside the hood. Perhaps tired. After it subsided, that person took the hood off. To my surprise, it was a girl. Her hair, messy with many curly protrusion. Though short-haired, her facial features was smooth-lined.

Droplets of sweat glisten her overall appearance, complementing the reflective, wet-raincoat.

“Umm.”

Her face twitched and she turned over to look at me.

“What’s the point of using raincoat if you sweat that much?”

That question probably was not the best conversation starter.

Yet she answered anyway, “I like to run when it rains.” Her voice tone was childish, but she said as if my question was rhetorical.

Keeping the conversation going, “Won’t you get scolded if you got home like that?”, I asked.

“I should be the one asking that.”

For a moment, I saw her lips bent down into a suggestive frown. That probably was the sign to end the conversation, so I sealed my mouth shut. I was simply asking out of curiosity, but most often than not, people didn’t take it lightly.

Forgetting my initial objective, I sat in silence, occasionally examining the not-so-brand-new sharpener I was about to use. My seating partner, on the other hand, had taken out a book and a pencil and began sketching in earnest. ‘Isn’t it a bad idea to do it while raining?’, ‘Why is it your face have to be so close to the book?’, ‘Do you like drawing?’—questions began to pop one after another inside me. I had stared at her intensely for quite some time until she finally noticed my gaze.

“…Is there something you would like to ask?”

I began to arrange the order of questions I had in mind. My mouth stuttered as I couldn’t catch up with the events going on inside and outside. I was nonplussed by her question.

“Can I watch you draw?”

It was an outrageous question. She knitted her eyebrow for a while, perhaps baffled by my question just as much—if not more than I was. People have been looking at me this way for a while. Previously, I blamed my choice of questions during moments like these, which clearly was not the best I could come up with. Lately though, I have a vague idea perhaps they were baffled after looking at my expression, which definitely was not the best I could come up with.

After what seemed to be a long five seconds, she went back to drawing. I was left frozen and hanging.

Was what I had thought—

“I like drawing,” until she answered. “I cannot draw at school or at home, so I have to make use of the limited time I have in-between.”

It was sort of captivating for me listening to her sincere answer (?) using a childish—no, maybe it’s closer to boyish, tone. The downpour outside was terribly loud, but I could hear her voice just fine. Instead, it accentuate her voice as it reverberated throughout the little space we’re in.

I always considered myself as a poor communicator, hence my dislike of social studies. But in that short few hours with her, the conversation flowed naturally. Like a father and son playing catch. A pen pal exchanging letter side-by-side. We proceeded to talk about each other for quite a while, growing restless with each passing time as the rain gradually subside. Knowing the rain would eventually end, I did my best to keep her interest at bay.

Before it subsided, though, she ended the conversation first.

“I’m out of pencil.”

Turns out, she had been drawing with spare pencils. After one was no longer sharp, she took out another, already sharp and ready to sketch.

Bewildered, I was looking if there was any way to prolong our encounter. ‘What should I do?’, I could do nothing as she put away the book and pencils on her lap into the slightly damp shoulder bag.

Oh, the sharpener. I held onto this firmly all this time, haven’t I?

“Umm! It’s still raining outside, so, if you’d like!”, I declared abruptly as I hand out my sharpener.

Was that the right choice to make? Would she stay for longer? Wait, does she even willing to take it? Why am I handing it over to her if I could just lend it?

The response I received though, was neither a refusal nor acceptance. She took the sharpener, briskly pull the raincoat hood over her head, and said—

“Thanks.”

She ran away into the rain. Her dashing figure, quickly diminishing as she went further and further. Her raincoat was too wide and baggy on the underside with a checkered black and white pattern. You could easily mistook her as a floating traffic cone from afar.

“I don’t even know her name.”

And I easily spotted my biggest mistake right then. I was too absorbed talking with her, I have no idea about her identity nor how to contact her. All she left was an unforgettable memory, impression, and a lingering warmth on my left palm.

On the way home, I was stricken with regret. The whole night, I was contemplating the novice mistake I just did, swearing not to do it again.

It took an anxious night and the next day to find out that she was also a 4th-grade student in my school. I was struck with relief and elation, contrary to my expectations.

That was how I met Tsuyu, the person closest to me, and the most likely perpetrator of my inevitable death.


Tsuyu was a quiet, but vehement girl. I learnt that over the course of Grade School. Ever since that day, we have been meeting each other on the same spot after school. I was the one who proposed the idea, because seeing her sincerely answering while her hand sketched away in earnest gave a warmth feeling inside me no one else could give. Not even my family. It was Tsuyu alone who provided me with such warmth.

Tsuyu came from a well-off family. As expected, her parents were quite strict with the limits of activity she could do. At home, she was expected to be an obedient and capable kid, meanwhile our school was pushing her to befriend everyone while maintaining the status of an honor student.

It was to no one surprise, that the only time left for her, was the small window between home and school—which granted her the freedom of being herself. Apparently, the gazebo was her main base of operation for quite a while. At one point, I realized I have been taking her precious time alone.

‘No, it’s fine. I like it better with you here.’ That line caught me off-guard. I felt a tinge down my heart. If I learned anything during our time together under the gazebo, it was to voice my thoughts clearly and immediately instead of keeping it inside. Tsuyu had an expressionless look due to constantly maintaining it both at home and school. It must be tiring for her having to do it all the time, so I wholeheartedly smile in her stead. ‘Yeah, I like you too, Tsuyu.’

Oh, Tsuyu also liked drawing. In fact, all she did whenever we were together at that time was dutifully drawing with her face an inch away from the sketchbook. While it’s true I had more interest in observing and questioning Tsuyu, it’s not like the thought of looking at her drawing never crossed my mind.

To put it bluntly, it was abysmal. No, maybe avant-garde? One time, I saw her drawing an object similar to a mountain.

‘No, it’s a capybara.’ And I instantly knew why her parents had banned her from drawing.

While there was a momentary restlessness nearing the end of our 6th year, we had grown accustomed to each other and it gradually diminished. There was one talk at that time, it was raining too like when we first met. Tsuyu was acting unusual and I couldn’t really grasp her intention. She had asked a lot of question, as if reversing our everyday role—not that I mind, I was pleased, even. Turned out that was her attempt at parting with me at that moment. She planned to left things as it was without leaving a single goodbye.

To no avail, though, since coincidentally I entered the same Middle School as her. What she didn’t know, though, I had planned to do so from the get go, putting much effort in study which I never expected was capable of doing. Such is the power of love. I had no idea back then, though.

At our graduation, when I revealed the Middle School we’re getting in was the same all along, she broke down in tears. ‘I’m not…gonna cry. No, I mean…thank you.’ That was the first time I had seen Tsuyu genuinely smiled in front of me.

During our 1st-year of Middle School, Tsuyu still put up with the whole facade, albeit showing a bit restraint. Her time spent around me gradually increased. Instead of the limited hours inside the gazebo we used to sit, we had plenty of time walking home together after school.

‘You know, I never saw you doing anything whenever we’re together. Even right now.’ It was endearing to see her gradually opening up to me. What seemed to be a case of me interrogating her had mellowed out. Now I knew she was also interested in me. Although I had to admit her approach was so, so indirect, and with it confusion was bound to happen.

‘Come to think of it. I spent most of the time observing and talking with you.’ But that didn’t bother me. Not at all. It’s Tsuyu, after all. Her method of inquiring instead drove me to mull over several aspects I had never even considered previously.

‘It’s my inquisitive nature, I guess? I liked to know things, especially if someone is willing to answer.’ For one, I realized that it was not wrong of me to feel curious about a lot of things. Sure, in Grade School I might have had a case of social anxiety since not everyone was willing to answer like Tsuyu. I had blamed myself for being nosy, prying into every little detail that went deep into personal matters. Tsuyu helped me realize that it was okay to be curious, but not everyone was keen to answer so I need to be careful with my approach.

‘That’s not what I’m talking about.’ And most of the time, Tsuyu responded with a sidelong glance at me while pouting. It would take a fool to mistook her red cheek as an illusion painted over by the setting sun, and perhaps I was a fool at that time.

It didn’t matter that she was a bit reluctant to shower me with various questions, she probably never experienced showing interest to someone her age. I knew better though. Everyone kept her at a distance and instead showered her in praise and compliments. Exemplary honor student, I must say.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not you drawing that I only like, it’s watching you that I like, Tsuyu.’ Usually after then, Tsuyu would left her mouth gaping, as if trying to tell me something, but forcefully shut it close, as if stopping midway sentence. I told her it’s fine to blurt out anything on her mind without reservation, but she’d only shook her head, dismissing it with a disheartened expression.

‘I like to draw.’

‘I know. Seeing you drawing made me feel relieved, for some reason.’

‘I will draw you.’

‘…Well, I must say you have to improve on that department first, don’t you? I’m quite confident on my looks, even though not as charming as yours, Tsuyu.’

Yeah, I was truly a fool back then.

Still, small chatter like these, accompanied by orange glow from the west and occasional afternoon breeze remained as a precious memory within me. Looking at Tsuyu, listening to her activities for the day, the way she walked, and the effort she put at everything. You know. It just made me happy.


It hadn’t rained yet on that day.

The sun was already setting, it’s probably 4 to 5 PM in the afternoon. Basking under that afternoon glow, two shadow walked idly next to each other, rhythm matching and all.

Perhaps a leftover from PE class exercise, exhaustion was apparent on my face. Even mundane task such as breathing became taxing. I simply dismissed it as me neglecting my own physical health. Tsuyu had no PE class that day though, but her breathing was just as rough as mine.

“Fever?”

“Maybe.”

Tsuyu had something to say after school. Considering we’re approaching end of term—it’s highly probable she meant to address graduation since it’s our 3rd-year. With graduation, came high school and its merry band of worry to be dealt with. But we addressed that problem much earlier. We’ve been discussing about our choice of high school. We didn’t want a repetition of what happened at Grade School, after all. At least not Tsuyu, who was fervent about it.

We decided to pursue a somewhat renowned public high school. As expected, Tsuyu’s parent was proven quite difficult to convince. They were adamant on enlisting Tsuyu to a prestigious private high school out of town. I had initially planned to do the same thing as previous, studying to the bone in order to get in the same high school as her, if there was no other choice. ‘No, let me handle this.’, Tsuyu replied with conviction, banishing my worry to the back of my mind.

Several days later, Tsuyu ran to me in exhilaration. She spread her arm open and hugged me on the spot. ‘My parents approved me going there!’ It was rare for Tsuyu to openly show her emotion, much less grinning from ear-to-ear. Of course I was happy. Overjoyed, even. Returning her embrace, despite somewhat embarrassed myself. After all, when will I ever get the chance of Tsuyu displaying physical affection again? Although that night I was suddenly hit by lethargy and had a fever for several days.

Up to this day, I still had no idea how Tsuyu managed to convince her parents, though. When questioned, she only answered ‘I have not put up with everything for years in vain.’, which, as someone who knew her better than most, I could validate and agree with.

Now, what did she have to say?

I had a hunch. Two hunches, apparently. One bad, one good, No, maybe both were good in a sense?

First-

“I finished drawing you.”

Tsuyu halted in front of me, handing out a simple brown file easily passed off as important document.

…That was a surprise. So that’s what this was all about. I had thought Tsuyu died down on drawing, or at least pursuing it. It had been a while since I last saw her drawing too, apparently. The last thing I remembered was her drawing an odd ball of spherical apparatus and she said it was a doll’s face. That was long, long, months ago. Maybe during 2nd-year. I knew Tsuyu couldn’t draw at school and at home, so it had to be our pastime whenever she did, so whenever did she draw this?

I had set the expectation bar abysmally low, prepared to be disappointed at any moment. As it was, voicing it would only be disrespectful so I simply accepted the file she had given.

Depicted was a girl, from head-to-toe, top-to-bottom. Wearing a sailor uniform, matching those of our school. The overall image was…how should I put it. Remarkable. The paper had its fair share of erasure and redraw, too much, in fact. Even in a single glance I could tell this drawing had been thoroughly erased and redrawn, a lot. Traces of the previous drawing were overlapping with each other, giving the final result a shade of tremendous effort.

Her eyes, gentle as a caring mother, from what seemed to be a hollow uneven circle. Her hair, each strand delicately drawn flowing seamlessly, borne from a rough, simple geometric convex shape. Her hands, fingers drawn intricate after a shadow of stubby mushroom with five head. Uniform. Skirt. Legs. Everything was drawn after many trial and error.

It was me.

A surge of emotion well up inside me. Indescribable mix of joy, delight, and relief. Tsuyu had drawn me, this much, for how long? How many redraw had she done? What purpose did this drawing entail?

I had lowered the drawing, and my view was replaced by a figure of a lone girl. Standing upright, slightly trembling. Hair not as short as it was in 6th-Grade, but still you could pass it as pretty boyish. My eyes were completely enamored by the look on her face, and I could only bet she was completely enamored by mine too. I was not stupid enough to think of her blushing as mere tricks of the sunset.

“I remember you said you’d draw me a long time ago. It was two years ago.”

“I did.”

“Then this drawing—this paper had been drawn since then?”

“Yes.”

“I never saw you draw this during our time together.”

“Because I’m not doing it in front of you.”

“…How did you manage to draw without looking at me?”

All my questions had been rhetorical. Downright nonsensical, even. I could infer the answer easily, but the fact remained that I needed confirmation from Tsuyu—I had to ask them. Perhaps as a result from an increase in my palpitations. The fast, beating-heart not only churn out blood flowing through my vein at a faster rate, carried with it also thoughts of varying degree.

“…I‘ve been watching you all this time. I ingrained your look, in my mind, everyday. When no one is watching, I tried to recall your image and draw it out on that canvas. I was struggling at first, even I considered to give up after the first try—knowing you were the one who said I need to improve my skills before I could even draw you. But I kept trying, drawing a different version of you each day better than the previous one.

As time flies, I realized my eyes followed you everywhere. I began to notice the minute details. Your actions, your voice, your words. I wasn’t simply looking at your appearance, and it helped me depict you even better in such an unexpected way. Yet, I could never bring myself to feel satisfied with the result. Because the very next day, I found something new from looking at you.

You are mesmerizing.

Every day you seem to dazzle even brighter than the previous day. I knew I had to redraw everything all over when I saw you. And I knew my eyes will be occupied by you for the next day. It never ceased, the cycle never stopped. For 1035 days.

That was the time it took for me to realize this feeling.”

Tears began trickling down my face without obstruction. Tsuyu uttered every sentence punctually, with window in-between just enough to confer the meaning and prepare for the next one.

Tsuyu was a quiet, but vehement girl. But to me, she was simply vehement and no longer quiet. At least, she tried not to. And that made me happy, more than anything else. This warmth, was it because I’m relieved Tsuyu have been paying attention to me? Did these tears bore the same emotion as Tsuyu during our Grade School graduation?

“I like you.”

An unfathomable amount of happiness. Too much. that I couldn’t contain. My heart beats even louder, almost seemingly painful. At one point, my vision blurred. Tsuyu was there, but I couldn’t see her. It’s painful. Perhaps the tears were blocking my vision. Well, no matter. I should give Tsuyu my reply. Immediately. If not, something bad would happen.

I like you too’, but before I could mutter those words, my legs gave out and I collapsed in front of Tsuyu.


High school was a bliss hidden in disguise, blanketed over death threat. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it hypocrisy.

Tsuyu had opened up to me, to say the least. She showered me with affection, and I replied in kind. It didn’t occur to me as a problem not knowing what our relationship was. Tsuyu must have noticed it too, but didn’t pursue it any further, As long as we conveyed our feelings mutually, happiness followed.

To tell the truth, I had a vague idea about SDID during early high school—that something wasn’t right with my body. The connection was simple. The more time I spent with Tsuyu, the weaker my constitution came to be. I suppose it was not an exaggeration that I fell into a comatose state for a few days because Tsuyu confessed to me back then.

But the connection was just absurd. For the first time I delve deep in thought, trying to find conjecture that fitted what was happening with the connection I made. Deep down, I understood my brain was simply averting the worst outcome—the one it had not desired, that’s why I kept using the alibi.

The happier I get, the weaker I am.

It sounded straight silly. Outrageous, even. Simple as I was, back then I stubbornly believed the only way out from this miserable line of thought was to become happy. Forget about the unnecessary worry, and instead bask myself in happiness while I still can.

Tsuyu would not be pleased either, if I told her about my conjecture. I had worried she would blame herself for putting my life on the line, just for her sake.

Eventually, the Doctor figured it out. The truth came to light one day. It wasn’t like flickering candle in a dark room as much as shining a 1000 lumen flashlight in front of me. The truth blinded me without any reservation, shoving reality onto my eyes despite my hardest attempt to avert my gaze.

To put it bluntly, it was an episode of depression.

Ironic how those days were the only way to prolong my lifespan. Thinking back on it only made me feel even worse, nauseating my stomach. I couldn’t eat, taste, nor feel. Hollowness enveloped my entire being. At that rate, I would die faster from malnutrition than the irrational disorder I exclusively suffer.

‘Let’s take a walk.’ It took only a moment for Tsuyu to drag me out of my depressive episode. I couldn’t believe how easy it was for me to be happy just from seeing her standing in my room. Relishing in guilt of feeling such emotion would mean we have less time together. I had cried in silence.

It…rained on that day. Drizzles of lightweight raindrops.

We took a walk. My first one after several days of shutting myself off from the outside world. ‘Use the other hand,’ I selfishly told Tsuyu, so her right hand would be available. She obeyed, without hesitation. I took hold of her right with my left, our fingers intertwining. The grip was very tight, it probably left a mark on her hand. Yet I couldn’t care less. I had one, and only one thought—that was to seek the warmth which only Tsuyu could ever provide. The warmth she left me with ever since our first meeting. I had light clothing and my right shoulder was damp.

But it’s not cold.

Tsuyu was warm.


Tsuyu brought me back to life. It might be an exaggeration, but I felt grateful for her all the same. To put it in layman terms, I would be willing to die for her. Meaning I chose happiness over sorrow. It wasn’t like I’m putting the SDID on back burner, but it definitely dropped down in my list of worries. If I have to choose between spending my life in eternal sorrow or a short-lived relationship with Tsuyu, I’ll choose the latter without a doubt.

And that was exactly what transpired for the past few weeks. Tsuyu suddenly became attentive and gentler than ever after the day we walked under the same umbrellla. Perhaps we were both worried the whole affair will happen again, so we refrained from confessing each other. This time, it might not just end with comatose. I might die. Tsuyu must have noticed this.

I decided not to tell Tsuyu about the disorder. Since I was a poor actor, Tsuyu probably already picked up everything from the moment she confessed. But she never pushed the matter, not even once.

During these melancholic days, we had spent more time together than ever, even in school. Such as wasting our lunch break on the rooftop, contemplating and exchanging whatever came to our mind while gazing at the sky. We kept at it, even if it’s Winter right now. I didn’t mind the cold, of course, because I wore the gloves Tsuyu gave me.

“The broadcast said it won’t snow for another week.”, Tsuyu said, the clouds above moving about. A small sigh escaped her mouth, forming a patch of white cloud as she breathe.

“Can I, be honest with you?”, Tsuyu knitted her brow, her face visibly shaken and unnerved. Truthfully, I wanted to tell Tsuyu about the disorder, but I couldn’t bear the pain of knowing she would blame herself for my death. It’s Tsuyu. I knew she would. The last thing I wanted was Tsuyu killing herself in order to follow me. The frightening thing was that she might do just that. If at all, I just wanted Tsuyu to live on happily in my stead, as someone who was not born to be happy.

“No, you can’t,” I replied curtly, “But, know that I also wanted to be honest with you all this time, okay?” After all, I was torn apart at the possible outcome. If Tsuyu was reluctant and decided to left me for good, that would torment me for eternity. Knowing Tsuyu though, she probably would accept the reality wholeheartedly and strive to be by my side until the end. I’m worried I’d be too happy hearing her reply and just die on the spot. It’s hilarious imagining Tsuyu’s response to my abrupt death, but I’d be dead before I even know it.

Huh, apparently I was already at the point where I could joke about my own demise. Maybe I was not as reluctant to die as I initially thought.

“Then, let’s end this.”

My heart skipped a beat. It felt like something plunged deep inside my heart. What did she meant by ‘end’?

“Something have been weighing on your mind, but you never tell me about it. No…I believe, you cannot tell me about it. In that case, the only thing I could do to help is to forget about it.”

Tsuyu stood up, her face strained into a forced smile.

“I know that, but I just can’t. I cannot simply forget about you. And all the scenarios that I envision didn’t help the lhe least bit.”

She was on the verge of tears.

“I’m scared. I don’t know what to do because I have no idea what you’re going through.”

It eventually builds up, and the dam overflowed.

I had no idea Tsuyu was in this much pain. I was being selfish all this time, and Tsuyu had to bear with the uncertainty and anxiety as a consequence. She might have fret that I turned out this way because of her. Everyday, ever since the day she confessed to me.

I never gave her an actual reply.

Not to say I didn’t have any. Closer to I couldn’t put it into words.

And her trepidation probably peaked when I went absent for days after I knew about the condition. I shut myself alone without considering Tsuyu’s feelings. It must have took her a considerable amount of courage to enter my room that day. I remember her hand trembled along the way when we walked under the umbrella.

Right, Tsuyu is also in pain.

And that’s because of me trying to avoid pain.

“December 25th,” I interjected, “I promise I will tell you everything on that day.”

I decided to tell Tsuyu everything. My condition. My feelings. And perhaps my end. But I need time to arrange my words carefully, so I had to postpone it until Christmas, when school is over.

If I tell her everything at that moment, I was afraid her determination would waver. She was already a step ahead by willing to forget about me. It was a step in the right direction, and I didn’t want to deter her conviction. My own determination might waver if I saw her broke down in tears right then and there, too.

“So let’s minimize contact until then, alright?” It was December 1st, so we had a considerable amount of time before the promised day. Honestly, it was probably my silly idea at work to choose December 25th, but I also didn’t want to bother Tsuyu with end-of-term exams and whatnot. She had a long life ahead, after all.

“…Then let me do one last thing.”

Hm? It was rare for Tsuyu to ask for permission. Come to think of it, Tsuyu never asked me for a favor, not even when she had to persuade her parents for letting her enter a public high school.

I was the one who wanted her to forget about me, either way. One last favor to entertain her might be okay. Free of charge. My farewell gift, since I won’t be able to give her anymore.

“Sure.”

Tsuyu, startled at my response, briskly walked over to me. Her arms reached out and I prepared myself, probably a final embrace before we part. I needed to calm my heart and stay still, assuming the worst might happen at any time if I ever felt too much happy. Because whatever Tsuyu did, it will undoubtedly make me happy. Her hand landed on both my shoulder, as she pull her face close to mine—

—and kissed me.

My heart beats loudly. It struck a pain in my chest with each beat. The kiss went on for a long winding 30-seconds or so. At which point I had to remain still.

Oh, this is bad. I couldn’t contain how happy I am right now.

Tsuyu finally took a step back, and ran over to the school building. Leaving me alone, dazed at what just happened.

Good thing I didn’t fall unconscious this time.

My knees though, gave out either way. And I just realized I was grinning from ear-to-ear. Good grief. She just made it harder for me to continue living.

The very next day, I had a huge case of fever and was hospitalized. Then the Doctor told me I only have one month left to live.


How long has it been?

Honestly, there was not much point in counting it down. Even in the face of death, I still sought happiness by reminiscing what little memories I held dear—the short life I experienced.

I am bedridden.

All of my hair have turned completely white. My skin is pale as a corpse. Even moving an inch became an arduous task to overcome.

Lethargic. That’s what it boils down to. I am very, very tired. Maintaining my consciousness felt like a tiresome burden.

Terrified. My heart is not prepared. I couldn’t close my eyes despite desperately wanting to do so. I feared if I close my eyes, that would be the end of me. The last I saw life. Ended right then and there, alone.

I couldn’t keep the promise after all, Tsuyu.

I wished I had written down a letter. Anything that could convey this love I had to return. I want at least Tsuyu…I want Tsuyu to know how I feel. But I couldn’t move. let alone write.

I want to sleep. I don’t want to die. I wish Tsuyu was beside me.

The sunset…the afterglow. I wonder if Tsuyu is heading back home from school. How did she fare in school without me? She must be fine, though. She could put up a facade for a long time.

“Ah…”, now that I recall, “it’s the last day.”

Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is the promised day. I promised to explain everything and lay my feelings bare on that day. I defnitely have to tell her.

Perhaps the Doctor was being considerate. Perhaps one month was the best case scenario. Things just don’t go the way you expected. He told me it was according to my condition at that time, after all. Apparently the reaper had his scythe on my neck closer than I ever imagined.

“Then, let me grant your wish.”

A shadow of a person was casted on me. The sunset was very bright and I couldn’t make out whoever was standing next to me. How did he manage to enter the room in the first place? I must have noticed when the door was opened, because it was right at the other end of this person.

“Who…are you?”, I let out the faintest of voice, doubting the person could hear.

“An apparition. A spirit. Ghost. I have been called by a lot of terms, feel free to call me with whatever you like.”

“Why…”, are you here?

“You don’t have to voice it out loud. I can hear your inner voice just as fine.”

Ah, I see. That’s convenient.

“As for why am I here, truth be told, I have but a vague idea myself.”

A figment of my imagination, then?

“It might be closer to what your kin would consider as ‘supernatural’.”

Huh. I’m not particularly fond of the term myself. I won’t be satisfied with anything without any sort of plausible explanation.

“Even if your disease was a part of it?”

SDID have some plausible explanation which I could come to term with. I won’t go as far as supernatural, though I agree being the only person suffering from it is…unnatural.

“Then that just means your kin have not yet reached the capability to explain my existence as plausible.”

Heh…and I wouldn’t live to see the day.

“True, and that’s why I’m here.”

What are you, Santa?

“Sometimes, kids call me just that. I have but one purpose everytime I materialize, and that was to grant an offering of consolation to those nearing their end.”

Everyone?

“Not everyone.”

Am I special, then?

“You can call it that way.”

Then you can grant any wish?

“With a corresponding value of setback, technically yes.”

Truly? Then what would be the consequence of me wishing the end of the world?

“…That’s something your kin better off not knowing.”

Haha, I’m joking. It’s just in my nature to be inquisitive, forgive me. If you can read my mind, then you have at least an idea what I wished for, right?

“True. I was simply guiding you to accept that wish.”

Then, I wish to fulfill my promise to Tsuyu. Let me live until tomorrow.

“Very well.”

…I thought prolonging my life was out of question?

“There’s still uncertainty in your demise. But with your wish, that could be altered so your immediate future is certain.”

Which means I might die today, but this way I could certain I will not die today.

“If you prefer it that way.”

Then, what would the consequence be?

“Tsuyu will forget about you.”

…What a very convenient development. Wait, does that mean she would not appear tomorrow?

“That would depend on her answer.”

Ah. So Tsuyu also have a part in this, after all?

“As a consequence of your wish.”

…I see. May I entrust you to convey a message to her, then?

“I’m afraid I could not.”

Well. It won’t hurt to try. Would you please convey to her, ‘I like you too’, before she forgets me? If she would eventually forget about me, then there should be no problem.

“…No. That is something you have to convey yourself.”

No negotiation, then. Does this mean I could close my eyes without worry?

“Yes. Take a good sleep for now.”

Thanks. I’m tired myself. I just…want to end this, as soon as possible.

Ah. I can’t wait tomorrow to come. Wait, could I even move from the bed? Will I even be able to walk over to school? I should’ve wished for it before he left. Just as the questions emerged, exhaustion washed over me and my eyes closed shut naturally.

Empat Musim

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High school romance


[Empat Musim]

# Musim hujan, 13 Oktober 2016.

Kelas sudah berakhir. Hari ini ditutup dengan pelajaran sejarah yang begitu membosankan. Aku bersiap memasukkan buku-buku milikku kembali ke laci meja. Bukan, bukan ke dalam tas. Aku tak serajin itu untuk membawa kembali buku-buku yang berat ini ke rumah. Toh, di laci meja biasanya aman-aman saja. Tasku juga sudah berat karena terisi oleh laptop.
Seperti biasa, aku mampir dahulu ke lab fisika, ruangan yang biasa kami gunakan untuk aktivitas ekskulku. Entah membahas lomba yang akan diikuti atau sekadar bermain DoTA bersama.

“Oit, sol. Dota yuk”, panggilku kepada Faishol, temanku di ekskul.
“Ayok. Gue beli mie dulu tapi ya di kantin. Laper cuy”
“Selow”

Faishol kemudian meninggalkanku untuk pergi ke kantin. Kini, di ruangan hanya ada aku dan Tiara. Seperti halnya dengan beberapa hari sebelumnya, Tiara masih sibuk mengetik laporan. Earphone terpasang di telinganya, melantunkan suara Axl Rose sembari Tiara terpaku menggubah kata-kata pada piranti lunak Microsoft Word. Aku pun turut membuka laptopku. Kucolokkan catu daya laptopku di stop kontak lab, dekat dengan meja Tiara.

“Eh, Ardian”
Tiara memanggilku.
“Kenapa ra?”
“Lu bisa bantuin gue ga? Ini buat laporan kegiatan yang lomba kemarin, foto-fotonya ada di lu kan?”
“Iya, ini di laptop. Mau gue kirimin?”
“Boleh-boleh. Nih flashdisk gue. Foto yang booth nampilin alatnya ada juga kan?”
“Ada kok, kemarin malam udah gue sortir”
“Wis mantap, kopiin semua ya”
“Oke”

Saat aku sedang menyalin file yang diminta Tiara, Faishol kembali. Di tangan kanannya, sepiring mie tek-tek. Di tangan kirinya, segelas es teh manis. Entah bagaimana ia membawanya dari kantin tanpa tumpah.

“Ian, jadi ngedota?”
“Jadi lah. Lu makan dulu aja sana, gue lagi ngopiin foto-foto lomba kemaren”
“Oh iya, itu lomba yang ikut siapa aja deh?”
“Gue, Tiara, sama Kak Dito. Yah, sama ibunya Tiara juga sih yang bawa mobilnya”
“Oalah… Mantap lah, juara 3 walaupun cuma persiapan lima hari”
“Yoi. Kak Dito hard carry sih, hahaha”

Kak Dito adalah pelatih kami. Ia alumni ekskul kami yang saat ini berkuliah di universitas yang tak jauh dari sini. Tak jarang ia mengizinkan kami untuk ikut dengannya untuk membuat alat di workshopnya. Alat yang kami gunakan untuk lomba itu juga dibuat di workshopnya. Untungnya Ibu Tiara cukup pengertian, walaupun saat itu kami setiap hari pulang di atas jam sebelas malam untuk mengejar deadline. Bertiga di workshop ditemani alunan musik dari Prambors (dan terkadang juga dari koleksi kaset yang ditinggal di workshop) serta segelas kopi yang sangat pekat.

“Tiara, nih flashdisknya”
“Sip, makasih ya. Eh, lu habis ini mau ngapain?”
“Ngedota sama Faishol, kenapa?”
“Bukan, maksudnya habis ngedota”
“Oh… Gabut sih”
“Temenin gw beresin laporan dong. Malam ini mesti beres nih”
“Boleh, boleh. Mau di mana?”
“Kalau di lab, jam lima biasanya sudah diusir sih. Lu bawa motor kan? McD yuk.”
“Bawa sih, tapi helmnya cuma satu”
“Alah, deket ini. Selow lah”
“Yaudah, yuk”

Aku dan Faishol kemudian asik bermain DoTA bersama. Seperti biasa, lepas jam lima sore pintu lab digedor oleh satpam.

*TOK TOK TOK*
“Hei, pulang! Sudah sore! Pulang!”
“Siap pak, sebentar!”, saut Faishol yang segera mematikan laptopnya.

Aku dan Tiara bergegas pergi ke parkiran sementara Faishol berpisah untuk berjalan ke halte. Tak lama, kami akhirnya sampai di McD. Tidak jauh, hanya sekitar lima menit berkendara melalui jalan lurus. Apalagi jalanannya juga biasanya tidak terlalu ramai. Aku pergi memesan makan sembari Tiara duduk, menjaga meja.

“Eh ra, udah laper? Mau pesan apa?”
“Belum sih. Apple pie sama kopi hitam panas aja”
“Gue beliin nugget sekalian untuk makan bareng ya?”
“Okei, makasih Adrian!”

Sekembalinya dari kasir, Tiara sudah siap dengan laptopnya. Kebetulan tempat yang kami dapatkan dekat dengan stop kontak. Aku ikut mengeluarkan laptopku. Tiara memberiku salinan laporannya dan memintaku menyelesaikan bagian pertanggungjawaban dana. Cerdas ia, memberikan bagian yang paling membuat kepala pusing padaku. Alasannya, karena aku yang memegang bon pembelian bahan pembuatan. Yah, tidak terlalu masalah juga sih bagiku. Karena dari sebelum lomba selesai aku sudah membuat rangkuman pengeluarannya. Justru, pekerjaan administratif begini biasanya menjadi bagianku. Ketika perakitan, Tiara asik dengan las dan solder, sementara aku yang membeli bahan dan merekapnya. Kebetulan, di dekat kampus Kak Dito banyak toko yang menjual bahan-bahan yang diperlukan. Tinggal bagaimana aku kucing-kucingan dengan polisi yang biasa merazia di jalan utama saja. Akibatnya, aku jadi hafal berbagai jalan alternatif. Aku hafal di mana saja polisi biasa merazia dan menyusun strategi agar aku tidak melewati kawasan tersebut.

Jam setengah dua belas malam. Akhirnya laporan berhasil kami selesaikan. Tinggal besok pagi diprint untuk diserahkan ke tata usaha sekolah. Kami bergegas pergi, tetapi rupanya hujan turun. Kami tidak sadar karena terlalu asik dengan laptop kami. Hujan tidak terlalu deras, tetapi cukup untuk membuat jalanan licin.

“Adrian, kamu ada jas hujan kah?”
“Ada, tapi cuma satu. Angkot ke arah rumahmu jam segini sudah tidak ada ya? Pakai bareng-bareng aja lah ini hahaha”
“Iya, udah ga ada jam segini mah. Gapapa deh, daripada kehujanan”

Tiara duduk di belakangku sembari kami menerobos jalanan yang gelap dan licin. Ranselku kupanggul di depan, agar Tiara bisa masuk ke dalam jas hujanku yang agak kebesaran. Sepanjang jalan, kami menceritakan tentang betapa hecticnya persiapan lomba kemarin. Tiara juga meledekku karena sempat lupa membawa jaket sekolah, sehingga meminjam jaket milik Kak Dito yang untungnya dibawa. Aku membalas dengan tawa saja. Memang saat itu aku benar-benar ceroboh.

# Musim hujan, 27 November 2016.

Penilaian akhir semester sudah dekat. Seperti biasa, anak-anak ekskulku berkumpul untuk belajar bersama. Sembari kedok untuk nongkrong juga sih. Salah satu temanku, Irfan, sudah terbiasa meminjamkan rumahnya untuk tempat kami berkumpul. Bisa dibilang, ekskul kami mempunyai empat markas. Pertama, tentunya ruang lab di sekolah. Kedua, workshop Kak Dito. Ketiga, rumah Irfan. Keempat, McD dekat sekolah yang biasa kami gunakan untuk pelarian ketika kami sudah diusir oleh satpam sekolah. Walaupun dibilang belajar bersama, tetapi Faishol dan Agas malah asik bermain PS di ruang tamu Irfan. Lidya dan Kevin, anggota ekskul kami juga, turut asik menonton. Kevin bahkan sepertinya gatal sekali melihat permainan Agas dan terus meledeknya. Sisa kami bertiga; Irfan, aku, dan Tiara yang masih serius untuk berlatih soal di kamar Irfan.

“Bu Nia suka ngasih soal aneh-aneh dah kalau ujian”, ucapku.
“Iya, emang. Makannya, kita pakai buku ini aja”, Irfan menimpali sambil menunjukkan sebuah buku di tangannya. Buku itu, tak lain dan tak bukan, adalah kitab suci Fisika Dasar Halliday-Resnick.

Sudah menjadi rahasia umum kalau Bu Nia, guru fisika kami, suka mencomot soal dari buku Halliday dan memodifikasinya menjadi pilihan ganda untuk menjadi soal ujian. Bahkan, pernah pula ia mengambil soal olimpiade untuk menjadi PR. Bagi yang suka dengan fisika, hal tersebut menjadi tantangan yang menarik. Namun, bagi yang tidak, hal ini menjadi sumber frustrasi. Dalam hal fisika, Irfan benar-benar monster. Baginya, soal-soal titik tiga di Halliday (yakni, penanda soal-soal sulit) bagaikan kudapan yang siap untuk ia habiskan. Sementara aku, melihat soal titik dua saja sudah pusing setengah mati.

“Fan, soal yang ini gimana deh gambar diagram bebasnya?”
“Oh ini, ini kan tinggal uraikan torsi yang di sini, lalu lakukan hal yang sama juga untuk silinder yang di atas, dapet deh…”
“Oh iya ya, makasih ya”

“Fan, ajarin gue juga dong yang ini!”
“Selow… tidak usah panik, tidak usah khawatir. Tunggu bentar ya, gue belum pernah kerjain yang ini”

Tiara pun sama denganku. Melihat soal-soal di Halliday ibarat melihat teka-teki dari alien. Walaupun ia tertarik dengan rekayasa, ia lebih suka bekerja turun tangan di workshop dibanding melakukan hitung-hitungan teoretis.

“Gimana kamu, ra. Masa tahu ngelas tapi nggak tahu cara ngitungnya biar bendanya stabil”, ledekku.
“Hei, ngaca kamu ya. Lagian, kan enak kalau sudah ada yang ngerjain hitungannya. Sisanya biar aku yang kerjain hahaha”
“Taruhan yuk, siapa yang nilai fisikanya nanti lebih tinggi harus traktir”
“Siapa takut? Lanjut belajar gih, jangan ngiler dulu mau ditraktir apa”
“Hehehe, tahu aja kamu kalau aku yang bakal menang”
“Lihat aja nanti, jangan menghayal dulu sekarang.”

Tiara menjulurkan lidahnya, meledekku. Itulah kesalahan terakhirnya. Aku suka dengan tantangan dan aku tidak akan kalah. Aku kemudian melanjutkan melumat soal-soal di Halliday.

# Musim hujan, 7 Desember 2016.

Aku suka dengan tantangan. Aku suka dengan tantangan dan aku tidak akan kalah.
Atau setidaknya, begitulah yang kupikirkan.

Aku dan Tiara segera berlari ke arah mading ketika kami melihat Bu Nia menempelkan pengumuman nilai ujian.

XII IPA 2. Nomor absen 3. Adrian Kuwanto. 85.

“Hm, tidak buruk. Setidaknya sedikit peningkatan dari penilaian tengah semester”

Penasaran, kucari nilai Irfan.

XII IPA 2. Nomor absen 11. Irfan Hasanuddin. 92,5.

“Yah, wajar lah. Irfan memang jago kalau fisika”

Selanjutnya, aku beralih ke halaman kelas Tiara.

XII IPA 3. Nomor absen 25. Tiara Putri Alfianti. 95. Nilai tertinggi di seluruh angkatan kelas XII IPA.

Tiara berteriak ke arahku.

“YAAAAYYYYYY ASIK DITRAKTIR ADRIAN!!!”
“Gila, kok bisa segitu nilaimu. Habis minum jamu apa kamu?”
“Hehe, bisa dong. Jago gue mah. Ini yang terjadi ketika gue pakai 100% otak gue”
“Irfan kalah, lho. Jago emang”
“Demi ditraktir, tentu gue bakal menang!”
“Iya deh, iya. Mau apa?”
“Sushi!”
“Hah, di mana?”
“Itu di dekat stasiun kemarin gue nemu resto sushi yang katanya enak. Ke situ yuk!”
“Mau hari apa? Gue minggu ini sibuk sih, sabtu depan mau?”
“Boleh… nanti kita kontakan lagi via LINE ya”
“Okei!”

# Musim hujan, 16 Desember 2016.

Potongan transkrip pembicaraan LINE
[Adrian, 17:22] Ra, besok jadi?
[Tiara, 17:25] Jadi kok… Nih, gue send location ya
[Tiara, 17:26] (Shared location)
[Tiara, 17:26] Nanti kita ketemuan aja di stasiun jam 10, oke?
[Adrian, 17:33] Ok!
[Adrian, 17:33] (Stiker)
[Tiara, 17:41] Eh iya, di dekat sana ada toko buku juga
[Tiara, 17:41] habis makan gue mau lihat-lihat beberapa buku di sana
[Tiara, 17:41] temenin gue dong
[Adrian, 17:42] Buku apaan? Gue gabut sih seharian
[Tiara, 17:42] Bukunya Nietzsche, yang Zarathustra
[Adrian, 17:44] Buset, berat amat bacaan lu. Gue baca Birth of Tragedy aja puyeng
[Adrian, 17:44] (Stiker)
[Tiara, 17:46] Lah justru gara-gara gue pinjem buku lu yang itu jadi tertarik wkwkwk
[Tiara, 17:46] Pokoknya lu besok temenin gue ya abis itu
[Adrian, 17:47] Selow lah. Gue juga kayaknya mau lihat2
[Tiara, 17:51] Oke, makasih adrian!!!
[Adrian, 18:42] (Photo)
[Adrian, 18:42] Kehujanan, baru balik dari workshopnya kak dito. Untung ada ocha panas di rumah
[Tiara, 18:49] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 18:49] Ihh mau!!
[Tiara, 18:49] Lu abis ngapain di workshop tadi?
[Adrian, 18:52] Besok juga ada kan di sana
[Adrian, 18:52] Sabar lah wkwkwk
[Adrian, 18:52] Tadi kebetulan ketemu kak dito di McD, lanjut diajak ngobrol2 aja di workshop
[Tiara, 18:55] Iya makannyaaaaaa
[Tiara, 18:55] Besok jam 10 jangan telat lu ya
[Tiara, 18:55] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 19:16] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 19:16] Siap ibu negara!
[Adrian, 19:16] Sori baru bales, mandi dulu tadi
[Tiara, 19:20] (Sticker)

# Musim hujan, 17 Desember 2016

Aku menunggu di peron stasiun. Masih lima belas menit menuju pukul sepuluh. Seperti biasa, aku datang lebih cepat dari jam yang dijanjikan. Aku tahu betul bahwa Tiara tidak suka menunggu orang yang telat, makannya aku memilih datang lebih awal.

“Heiii, sudah sampai lu ternyata”

Dari belakang, kulihat Tiara menyapa. Sejak kapan?

“Eh, sudah lama lu?”
“Nggak sih, baru sampai juga”
“Jangan-jangan tadi kita satu kereta, haha”
“Hahaha, bisa jadi sih”
“Yaudah yuk, langsung jalan”
“Yuk!”

Resto yang kami tuju memang tidak jauh dari stasiun. Hanya berjalan sekitar sepuluh menit dan kami pun tiba. Walau udara dan polusi kota ini cukup membuat mukaku berkeringat, sih. Kebetulannya, aku dan Tiara menggunakan pakaian yang matching. Aku dengan kemeja flanel pola biru-putih dipadukan dengan celana jeans dan Tiara dengan kaos biru dipadu dengan cardigan putih dan ripped jeans.

“Eh iya, pakaian kita matching lho, ra”
“Loh iya ya hahaha, padahal ga janjian”
“Ini ikat pinggang yang kupakai juga hadiah dari lu waktu itu”
“Wah, terawat dengan baik. Bagus, bagus”

Tentu saja Tiara memilih resto ini karena AYCE. Kami beradu siapa yang paling kuat menghabiskan sushinya. Aku suka dengan tantangan. Aku suka dengan tantangan dan tidak akan kalah.

“Ra, masih kuat? Gue mau nambah lagi nih”
“Udah berapa piring sih ini lu tadi ngambilnya?”
“Gue udah abis 19, lu baru 17 nih. Masih kuat?”
“Buset. Enek gue cuy. Lu kalau mau nambah ambil aja lagi”
“Kebanyakan ocha sih lu ya”
“Ya maaf”

Akhirnya, aku menang. Dua puluh lawan tujuh belas. Seperti kubilang, aku tidak akan kalah.

“Yay, sekarang gue yang menang!”
“Ya kita ke sini juga gara-gara kemarin lu kalah sih”
“Yang penting sekarang gue menang, hahaha”
“Iya deh iya…”
“Lanjut mau ke toko buku?”
“Yuk”

Setelah seharian kami puas berkeliling toko buku, kami berjalan kembali ke stasiun. Tiara turun terlebih dahulu sementara aku masih melanjutkan perjalanan beberapa stasiun lagi. Lelah, tetapi menyenangkan.

[Tiara, 19:21] Akhirnya sampai rumah. Lu udah sampai?
[Adrian, 19:47] Sudah. Agak lama, tadi mampir warung dulu beli kopi
[Adrian, 19:47] sempat gerimis sedikit, tapi terobos aja lah wkwk
[Tiara, 19:50] Syukurlah…
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] (Photo)
[Tiara, 19:52] Ini foto kita berdua tadi wkwk
[Adrian, 19:56] (Photo)
[Adrian, 19:56] (Photo)
[Adrian, 19:56] (Photo)
[Adrian, 19:56] dan ini foto lu tepar kekenyangan
[Adrian, 19:56] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 20:00] Ihh malah itu yang diambil
[Tiara, 20:00] Posenya lagi nggak estetik
[Adrian, 20:03] Gapapa, yang penting foto yang berdua posenya estetik
[Adrian, 20:03] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 20:07] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 20:07] Makasih ya udah nemenin hari ini!!!
[Tiara, 20:07] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 20:07] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 20:08] Kapan-kapan lagi lah wkwk
[Adrian, 20:08] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 20:13] Traktir lagi? Boleh bangettt!!
[Adrian, 20:14] Jalan lagi, maksudnya
[Adrian, 20:14] Yah sesekali gapapa lah gue bayarin
[Adrian, 20:14] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 20:18] Hahaha, seloww

# Musim hujan, 31 Desember 2016 – 1 Januari 2017

Seperti biasa, kami nongkrong lagi di rumah Irfan. Namun, kali ini hanya ada aku, Irfan, Tiara, dan Kevin. Irfan menyiapkan panggangan sate untuk perayaan malam tahun baru. Aku dan Tiara kebagian menjadi divisi logistik. Dengan kata lain, kami yang menjadi tumbal untuk disuruh belanja. Kevin sedang menyiapkan ide gilanya. Bukannya kembang api seperti halnya orang waras pada umumnya, Kevin merakit flamethrower dari kaleng butane (yang biasa untuk bahan bakar kompor portabel) yang ditekan dengan tembakan lem silikon. Idenya, kaleng tersebut ditekan untuk mengeluarkan gasnya, lalu ujungnya dipantik dengan sumber api. Kevin, dengan otaknya yang agak sedikit miring, mengetesnya untuk menyalakan panggangan sate. Tentu ia tak lepas dari teriakan Irfan. Kevin, dengan otaknya yang agak sedikit miring, malah berlari sembari tertawa dan memainkan flamethrower rakitannya. Aku tidak terlalu peduli. Yah, setidaknya selama tidak ada yang meledak atau terbakar sih.

Malam tahun baru ini cerah. Untungnya. Aku dan Tiara membeli berbagai macam daging. Karena Kevin seorang vegan, kami membelikan jamur dan sayuran juga untuknya. Aku, Irfan, dan Tiara berpesta dengan sate ayam dan sate kambing, sedangkan Kevin malah memasak sup jamur. Sayangnya kali ini Agas tidak hadir, padahal biasanya ialah penyumbang terbanyak untuk makanan.

“Ra, mau banyak-banyakan makan lagi? Hahaha”
“Ih nggak ah, lu makannya kuat banget gitu”
“Kali aja mau balas dendam gitu kan”, wajahku meledek Tiara
“Cukup deh cukup”

“Kalian berdua makannya sama-sama banyak lho. Ga salah emang nyuruh kalian berdua yang belanja. Kan kalian juga yang ngabisin, hahaha”
Kevin tiba-tiba menimpali.
“Ih si Adrian aja tuh. Waktu itu gue berdua makan sushi AYCE sama dia, masa dia abis 20 porsi”
“Hei, ingat juga lu habis berapa heiiii”
“Gapapa, bagus buat pertumbuhan hahaha”

Kami berempat tertawa saja mendengarnya.

Sembari menghitung detik-detik tahun baru, Kevin memainkan flamethrowernya lagi. Setiap hitung mundur, flamethrowernya dinyalakan.

“Tiga!”
“Dua!”
“Satu!”
“Selamat tahun baru!!!”

Aku, Irfan, dan Tiara berteriak sembari Kevin semakin heboh dengan flamethrowernya. Namun, aku sudah berjanji dengan Ibu Tiara untuk mengantarkan Tiara pulang sebelum pukul satu pagi. Setelah mengambil satu tusuk sate lagi, Tiara langsung mengajakku pergi. Kami berdua berpamitan dengan Irfan dan Kevin.

“Bye guys!”
“Gue cabut dulu bentar ya”

Berbeda dengan Tiara, aku tidak punya rencana lain lagi malam ini. Kedua orangtuaku sedang berlibur di Tokyo tanpa mengajakku. Jadilah aku sendiri di rumah. Oleh karena itu, setelah mengantar Tiara aku kembali ke rumah Irfan.

# Musim hujan, 1 Februari 2017

[Tiara, 15:47] Adrian, gue denger dari irfan katanya lu tadi pulang duluan ya? Kenapa lu?
[Adrian, 17:11] Uhh…
[Adrian, 17:11] Tadi jam 10 pas pelajaran olahraga gue pingsan
[Adrian, 17:11] Salah gue juga sih semalam ga tidur, pagi sekip sarapan juga wkwk
[Adrian, 17:11] Eh tadi pas olahraga malah tes endurance, mana panas banget pula
[Adrian, 17:11] Tepar deh
[Adrian, 17:12] Pak Tigor nyuruh gue pulang aja, katanya dia liat gue seharian lemes terus mukanya wkwk
[Tiara, 17:17] Waduh
[Tiara, 17:17] GWS, ian
[Tiara, 17:17] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 17:23] Thanks, ra
[Tiara, 17:25] Sekarang lu gimana, udah enakan?
[Adrian, 17:29] Udah sempat tidur sih tadi. Sebentar aja tapi
[Adrian, 17:29] Kepala gue masih muter banget rasanya
[Adrian, 17:29] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 17:31] Udah makan?
[Adrian, 17:32] Tadi pas sampai rumah sebelum tidur sempat paksain makan dulu
[Adrian, 17:32] Cuma ya, nggak banyak juga sih
[Adrian, 17:32] Di rumah ga ada orang, nyomotin sisa nasi goreng tadi pagi aja yang harusnya buat sarapan
[Tiara, 17:41] Ini gw kirim gofood ke rumah lu, nanti lu terima ya
[Tiara, 17:41] Makan yang bener. Siapa suruh lu udah begadang, ga sarapan pula, pingsan kan wkwk
[Adrian, 17:42] Wah, makasih loh ra
[Tiara, 17:45] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 18:04] (Photo)
[Adrian, 18:04] Sudah sampai~
[Adrian, 18:04] Makasih ya
[Adrian, 18:04] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 18:10] Sama2 ^^
[Tiara, 18:10] (Sticker)

# Musim hujan, 14 Februari 2017

Aku sedang bersiap merapikan buku-bukuku sebelum pulang sekolah. Kembali ke laci seperti biasa, tentunya. Pada saat itulah aku menyadari, di laciku terdapat sebuah coklat dan kartu ucapan.

“For you

-T”

Aku bergumam. Sejak kapan ia menaruhnya di sana? Apa saat aku sedang ke kantin tadi siang?

[Adrian, 16:14] (Photo)
[Adrian, 16:14] Makasih lho
[Tiara, 16:16] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 16:16] Hahaha
[Tiara, 16:16] Kok tahu wkwk
[Adrian, 16:19] Siapa lagi inisial T
[Tiara, 16:21] Pak Tigor? Wkwkwkwk
[Tiara, 16:21] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:22] Gue kirim makasih ke Pak Tigor aja nih ya berarti?
[Tiara, 16:25] Coba aja kalau berani :p
[Tiara, 16:25] Nanti sekalian jadi stensilan “Pak Tigor Guru Olahragaku”
[Adrian, 16:26] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:26] Lu kapan gitu naruhnya? Kok gue nggak sadar
[Tiara, 16:26] Hayo tebak
[Tiara, 16:26] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:28] Pas jam makan siang gue lagi di kantin?
[Tiara, 16:29] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 16:29] Benar sekali!
[Tiara, 16:29] Gue nitip irfan sih tadi, pas lu udah turun hehe
[Adrian, 16:31] Hadeh
[Adrian, 16:31] Gue tadi lagi makan bareng Lidya sama Faishol padahal
[Tiara, 16:32] Lu nggak ngajak sih :p
[Adrian, 16:33] Kalau gue tadi ngajak, lu nggak jadi ngasih coklat dong :p
[Tiara, 16:35] Kan bisa kasih langsung
[Tiara, 16:35] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 16:35] Tapi gapapa sih, kyk gini lebih surprise hehe

# Musim hujan, 19 Februari 2017

[Tiara, 09:22] Hai, pagi ian
[Adrian, 09:25] Pagi ra
[Adrian, 09:25] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 09:27] Eh iya, lu udah kepikiran daftar univ ke mana?
[Tiara, 09:27] Temenin belajar SBMPTN dongg
[Tiara, 09:27] Hehehe
[Adrian, 09:31] Eh iya gue belum ngasih tau ke lu ya
[Adrian, 09:31] Gue kemarin daftarnya ke univ di amerika
[Adrian, 09:31] Harvard, Ohio State, John Hopkins, Washington, Minnesota, CUNY, sama Kentucky
[Adrian, 09:31] Gue juga ga berencana daftar univ di indo sihh
[Tiara, 09:38] Ehh kenapa? Udah pede dapet ya yang di amerika?
[Adrian, 09:42] Yah disuruh ortu juga sih wkwk
[Adrian, 09:42] Katanya mending kejar yg bagus sekalian aja
[Adrian, 09:42] Jadi ya gitu deh
[Adrian, 09:42] Bapak gue kan alumni Harvard, jadinya doi nyuruh gue gas Harvard aja
[Tiara, 09:49] Wihh keren2
[Tiara, 09:49] Eh hmm
[Tiara, 09:49] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 09:49] Lu sabtu depan kosong ga
[Tiara, 09:49] Jalan yuk, sambil temenin gue ngambis sbm
[Adrian, 09:57] Kosong sih
[Adrian, 09:57] Boleh2
[Adrian, 09:57] Kopitiam yang deket rumahnya irfan itu mau ga?
[Tiara, 10:04] Bolehh
[Tiara, 10:04] (Sticker)

# Musim hujan, 25 Februari 2017

Meja nomor 29. Suasana kafe di pagi hari ini terasa lengang. Aku menunggu Tiara di sini sambil menghirup aroma teh tarik yang kupesan. Tidak biasanya ia terlambat.

“Duh, sori telat nih…”

Akhirnya datang juga.

“Lu udah lama, ian?”
“Gue dari sejam yang lalu sih. Sengaja duluan, bosen di rumah hahaha”
“Duhh maaf ya telat, gara-gara hujan tadi pagi jadi susah banget cari ojeknya”
“Waduh, padahal bisa minta buat gue jemput padahal”

Tiara duduk di seberangku. Pena dan sekumpulan kertas segera ia letakkan di meja.

“Pesan makan dulu gih, ra”
“Nanti dulu deh. Lu tadi pesen apa aja?”
“Teh tarik sama tahu goreng aja sih, nyemil la”
“Bagi dong tahunya”
“Ambil aja, tuh”

Tiara malah langsung mulai mengerjakan soal-soal latihan. Tangan kanannya sibuk dengan pena dan tangan kirinya penuh dengan tahu goreng. Mulutnya sibuk mengunyah.

“Latihan dari bimbel?”
“Iya, ian. Dari kemarin masih nggak bisa ngerjain yang matematika saintek. Pusing banget duhh”

Sejujurnya, aku belum pernah berlatih soal-soal SBMPTN. Jadi aku juga tidak terlalu familiar dengan tipe soalnya. Pikirku, kalau bisa mengerjakan soal-soal sekolah dengan baik dan belajar dengan cara yang benar, seharusnya soal SBMPTN mudah saja kan? Paling-paling masalah terbesarnya hanyalah tekanan dari durasi ujian. Kucoba membantu Tiara pada beberapa soal yang dirasa sulit olehnya.

“Iya, jadi ini tinggal kita bentuk matriks transformasinya, kalikan, selesai deh”
“Wahh, iya ya. Canggih. Makasih, ian!”
“Hehe, sama-sama. Sekarang, cobain deh yang ini. Caranya mirip-mirip”
“Okeei”

Dua jam berlalu. Tiara menghabiskan lembar demi lembar bak orang kesurupan. Sedangkan aku sekadar menonton Tiara saja, sesekali membantu ketika ia kesulitan. Bukan berarti kalau mendaftar ke universitas di Amerika lebih mudah sih, hanya saja perjuanganku berlangsung tahun lalu saat aku sibuk mempersiapkan diri untuk SAT.

“Eh, laper nih. Gue mau order makan dulu. Lu mau order lagi?”
“Boleh-boleh. Titip dong, milo panas sama mee goreng”
“Okei”

Makanan akhirnya tiba.

“Nih, gue tambahin curry prata juga, buat berdua”
“Widih, makasih. Lu beli apa itu?”
“Kaya toast, lagi pengen yang manis-manis aja”
“Nggak makan nasi?”
“Makan kan nggak harus sama nasi, hehehe. Lu juga nggak makan nasi kan?”
“Ya iya sih…”

Seperti biasa, aku selesai makan lebih dahulu daripada Tiara. Kuseruput milo panasku ketika Tiara tiba-tiba berbicara lagi.

“…Adrian?”
“Iya, kenapa?”
“Andaikan lu keterima nanti dan lanjut kuliah di Amerika, apakah lu bakal sering-sering mampir balik ke sini?”
“Entahlah. Mungkin setahun atau dua tahun sekali. Tergantung apakah gue bakal ada duit untuk beli tiket PP atau nggak. Kenapa gitu?”
“Nggak, gapapa kok. Gue cuma penasaran aja”
“Kenapa, lu takut gue tinggal ya? Haha”
“Ih, apaan. Geer.”
“Tenang… kita masih bisa kontakan via LINE kok”
“Ya…”

# Musim hujan, 9 Maret 2017

[Tiara, 18:56] (Voice Note #1)
[Tiara, 19:02] (Voice Note #2)
[Tiara, 19:02] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 19:04] …ra?
[Adrian, 19:04] (Voice Call)
[Tiara, 19:11] Maaf
[Tiara, 19:11] Aku malu
[Tiara, 19:11] Tapi kamu mengerti apa yang dimaksud, kan?
[Adrian, 19:11] Ya, aku mengerti
[Tiara, 19:11] Lalu bagaimana?
[Adrian, 19:11] Pertama
[Adrian, 19:11] Terima kasih
[Adrian, 19:12] Terima kasih telah mempercayakan perasaanmu padaku
[Adrian, 19:12] Namun, maaf
[Adrian, 19:12] Maaf apabila kamu mengharapkan hubungan yang lebih jauh
[Adrian, 19:12] Aku tidak membencimu
[Adrian, 19:12] Tapi aku juga tidak ingin berpacaraan untuk saat ini
[Adrian, 19:12] Aku tidak ingin menggantungmu juga
[Adrian, 19:13] Tapi saat ini, mari kita tetap berjalan seperti biasanya
[Adrian, 19:13] Cinta adalah kata yang berat
[Adrian, 19:13] Tapi aku juga ingin berkata padamu
[Adrian, 19:13] Aku juga sayang padamu. Jangan khawatir soal hal itu
[Tiara, 19:14] …
[Tiara, 19:14] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 19:14] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 19:14] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 19:15] Lalu kenapa, Adrian?
[Adrian, 19:15] Seperti yang kukatakan sebelumnya
[Adrian, 19:15] Cinta adalah hal yang berat
[Tiara, 19:15] Kamu tidak yakin?
[Adrian, 19:16] Aku tidak ingin hal ini merusak persahabatan kita
[Adrian, 19:16] Setidaknya, itu yang kupikirkan
[Adrian, 19:22] …ra?
[Tiara, 19:35] …
[Tiara, 19:35] …
[Tiara, 19:35] …
[Tiara, 19:35] …
[Tiara, 19:35] Maaf
[Tiara, 19:35] Aku ingin dibiarkan sendiri dulu untuk saat ini
[Tiara, 19:35] Tolong jangan hubungi aku sampai kuberitahu lagi
[Adrian, 19:37] It’s okay
[Adrian, 19:37] Take your time
[Adrian, 19:37] I know it must be hard

(Transkrip Voice Note #1)

Angin bulan maret yang berembus halus, menyertai matahari yang mulai terik
Musim akan segera berganti
dan demikian dengan kita

Kita bertemu empat musim yang lalu
Mungkin kau ingat?
Kemarau tahun itu?

Musim berganti
dan demikian dengan kita

(Transkrip Voice Note #2)

Angin bulan maret yang berembus halus, membawa debu terbang jauh
Musim akan segera berganti
dan demikian denganku

(Transkrip Voice Call)

Adrian: “Halo, Tiara?”
Tiara: “Adrian…”
Tiara: “Aku tahu aku akan nyesal kalau nggak bilang ini sekarang, so here goes nothing”
Tiara: “Aku ingat ketika pertama bertemu denganmu”
Tiara: “Saat itu, di ruang ekskul. Aku baru saja bergabung”
Tiara: “Kamu antusias sekali waktu itu memperkenalkan banyak hal padaku”
Tiara: “Aku ingat juga setiap momen kamu menemaniku”
Tiara: “Entah itu menerobos hujan dengan satu jas hujan bersama”
Tiara: “Atau sekadar berbelanja untuk pesta tahun baru”
Tiara: “Seperti kubilang tadi”
Tiara: “Musim akan berganti”
Tiara: “Tapi bagaimana dengan kita?”
Tiara: “Adrian. Aku memutuskan untuk jujur dengan diriku”
Tiara: “Aku sayang padamu”
Tiara: “…”

*Telfon diakhiri oleh Tiara*

# Musim kemarau, 9 Mei 2017

Sudah dua bulan lebih sejak Tiara terakhir bicara denganku. Ia juga agak menghindariku di sekolah. Sial. Apakah aku benar-benar membakar jembatan dengannya? Hari-hariku dipenuhi dengan pikiran rasa bersalah.

Di sisi lain, dalam periode tersebut juga, aku akhirnya menerima hasil penerimaan universitasku. Tentunya, aku ditolak oleh Harvard. Bahkan, aku ditolak oleh semuanya selain CUNY dan University of Kentucky. Aku memilih pergi ke CUNY karena lokasinya di New York.

# Musim kemarau, 11 Mei 2017

[Tiara, 16:24] Halo, Adrian
[Adrian, 16:27] Halo, ra
[Tiara, 16:35] Denger-denger lu keterima di CUNY ya? Selamat ya…
[Tiara, 16:35] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:36] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:36] Terima kasih, ra
[Tiara, 16:45] At last, kita akhirnya benar-benar akan terpisah…
[Tiara, 16:45] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:46] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:46] Hanya terpisah jarak kok…
[Adrian, 16:46] Kita masih bisa saling sapa
[Adrian, 16:46] Entah via LINE atau media lainnya
[Adrian, 16:46] I’m still here
[Tiara, 16:51] Kala itu, gue sempet bilang kalau gue bakal nyesal andaikan ga bilang itu
[Tiara, 16:52] Gue pikir gue siap dengan apapun respon dari lu
[Tiara, 16:52] After all, I think it’s better than regretting it for the rest of my life
[Adrian, 16:53] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 16:53] It’s okay…
[Adrian, 16:53] We’re still a couple
[Adrian, 16:53] A couple of bestie 😀
[Tiara, 16:55] Haha
[Tiara, 16:55] Benar
[Tiara, 16:55] Good luck di Amerika, ian
[Adrian, 16:57] Thanks!
[Adrian, 16:57] Berlaku juga untuk lu. Good luck studinya!

# Musim panas, 2 Juli 2017. New York City.

[Adrian, 08:35] Halo, ra
[Adrian, 08:35] Ini pagi pertama gue terbangun di New York
[Adrian, 08:35] (Photos)
[Adrian, 08:35] Sekarang lagi jam makan malam ya di sana?
[Tiara, 08:42] Wahh
[Tiara, 08:42] Iya, ini lagi makan malam
[Tiara, 08:42] (Photos)
[Adrian, 08:47] Sarapan dulu, hehe
[Adrian, 08:47] (Photos)
[Adrian, 08:47] Pizza sisa semalam dimicrowave sih hahaha
[Tiara, 08:51] (Sticker)
[Tiara, 08:51] Makan yang sehat di sana…
[Adrian, 08:53] Siapp wkwk

# Musim gugur, 29 September 2017. New York City.

[Adrian, 22:38] Halo, ra
[Adrian, 22:38] How’s life di Malang?
[Tiara, 22:41] Halo
[Tiara, 22:41] (Photos)
[Tiara, 22:41] (Photos)
[Tiara, 22:41] Dingin di sini, hahaha
[Tiara, 22:41] Tapi di sana lebih dingin lagi ya?
[Adrian, 22:43] Iya nih
[Adrian, 22:43] Musim gugur di sini
[Adrian, 22:45] Lu pernah dengar nggak
[Adrian, 22:45] Katanya bunga sakura gugur dengan kecepatan 5 centimeter per detik
[Adrian, 22:45] Atau kalau kata orang Amerika sih 1.96 inch per detik
[Tiara, 22:48] Kebanyakan nonton anime lu mah
[Adrian, 22:49] Hahaha, tahu referensinya ya
[Adrian, 22:49] Yah, semoga kita tidak seperti bunga sakura
[Adrian, 22:49] Perlahan tapi pasti, menjauh dari rantingnya
[Adrian, 22:49] dan jatuh ke tanah
[Tiara, 22:51] Semoga…
[Tiara, 22:51] (Sticker)
[Adrian, 22:55] Gue tidur duluan ya. Sudah mau jam 11 di sini. Goodnight~
[Tiara, 22:57] Goodnight~


Penulis: VP

Vergissmeinnicht

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


Vergissmeinnicht

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Musim Panas, Tahun Kelima Belas Era Kekuasaan Ratu Theresia

Hari itu, sepulang sekolah, aku melihat seseorang berambut cokelat yang hanya diam selama berjam-jam di bawah pohon ek. Entah apa yang ada di pikirannya. Gerak-geriknya sangat aneh. Terkadang, ia terlihat menggali tanah seperti sedang mencari sesuatu. Sesekali, ia juga berusaha memanjat pohon ek itu meskipun gagal sampai ke puncak. Karena penasaran, aku pun akhirnya mendekatinya.

Apa kau ingat? Itu adalah saat pertama kali aku bertemu denganmu. Aku masih ingat betul, saat itu kau memakai kemeja putih lusuh yang telah ternodai oleh tanah dan celana panjang cokelat dengan tambalan di sana-sini.

Sadar akan kehadiranku, kau pun menghampiri dan menyapaku. Aku membalas sapaanmu, lalu bertanya “Kegiatan apa yang sedang kamu lakukan?” Kau lalu menjawab pertanyaanku dengan penjelasan panjang lebar mengenai tupai, bunga, dan pohon ek.

Sebenarnya aku tidak terlalu mengerti apa yang kau katakan. Namun, entah mengapa, kau menarik perhatianku. Aku suka ekspresimu yang terlihat sangat bersemangat ketika sedang menjelaskan sesuatu, terutama lirikan mata cokelatmu itu. Aku juga suka gerakan tanganmu yang seolah menari-nari mengikuti arah pembicaraanmu.

Setelah itu, kita berkenalan. “Victor.” Ucapmu sambil menjabat tanganku. “Nama yang bagus.” Ucapku di dalam hati.

Kita lalu saling bertukar cerita, baik cerita senang maupun cerita sedih. Kau memberitahuku bahwa kau adalah seorang penjual bunga. Kau juga bercerita bahwa kau tinggal seorang diri di sebuah rumah tua pinggir sungai. Setiap hari, kau memetik bunga lalu menjualnya ke pasar rakyat. Bunga-bunga itu pada awalnya merupakan bunga liar yang kau rawat dan budidayakan di tanah kosong dekat rumahmu.

Untuk memenuhi kebutuhan sehari-hari, kamu biasa mencari makanan dari lingkungan sekitarmu. Mencari beri ke hutan, berburu kelinci liar, atau mengumpulkan acorn.

Sejak saat itu, kita makin akrab. Setiap pulang sekolah, aku selalu mampir ke rumahmu. Sambil menungguku dijemput oleh pelayan pribadiku, kau menemaniku bermain. Kau juga selalu mengajakku ke tempat-tempat menakjubkan yang belum pernah aku lihat sebelumnya. Kita mencari beri ke hutan, berjalan menyusuri sungai, atau sekedar tiduran di atas padang rumput sambil melihat awan. Kau menunjukkan sebuah dunia baru yang belum pernah aku rasakan sebelumnya.

========================================================

Musim Dingin, Tahun Kelima Belas Era Kekuasaan Ratu Theresia

Musim dingin telah tiba, sekolah pun akhirnya libur. Seluruh kota menjadi berwarna putih tertutupi salju. Suhu udara menurun drastis sampai membuat sampai membuat seluruh penduduk kota menggigil kedinginan.

Aku terkurung di kamarku yang berada di lantai dua rumah. Bukan karena dikurung oleh orangtuaku, melainkan karena aku tidak kuat menghadapi udara dingin. Selimut hangat dan teh panas yang menemaniku sangat cocok untuk menghangatkan tubuhku, tapi tidak untuk hatiku. Aku merindukanmu, Vic.

Tak disangka, kau tiba-tiba mengetuk jendela kamarku. Aku pun terkejut dan menyemburkan teh yang sedang aku minum. Kau pun tertawa terbahak-bahak. Saking asyiknya tertawa, kau pun terjatuh dari tangga yang kau naiki. Aku lalu bergegas memakai pakaian hangatku dan segera keluar rumah untuk mengecek kondisimu.

Untungnya, kau terjatuh ke atas tumpukan salju tebal yang menumpuk sehingga tidak mengalami luka yang fatal. Kau bahkan masih bisa menertawaiku yang terlihat sangat mengkhawatirkan kondisimu. Saat itu, aku yang malu secara refleks melemparkan bola salju ke arah wajahmu. Setelah itu, kita pada akhirnya malah bermain lempar salju.

Setelah puas bermain lempar salju, kau mengajakku membangun orang-orangan salju. Dengan menggunakan bahan-bahan seadanya seperti ranting pohon dan kacang, kau menghias boneka salju itu. Kini, boneka salju itu telah memiliki mata dan hidung walaupun masih tidak karuan bentuk wajahnya. Meskipun begitu, aku tetap senang karena kau telah mencoba menghiburku.

Keesokan harinya, aku terkena demam. Menyebalkan sekali rasanya, semua makanan terasa pahit dan aku hanya bisa berbaring di kasur sepanjang hari. Lebih parahnya lagi, aku tidak bisa bertemu denganmu selama berhari-hari karena aku dilarang keluar rumah sampai sembuh. Untungnya, sesekali kamu mengunjungiku untuk sekedar membawakan kacang atau mengecek kondisiku. Aku senang. Setelah beberapa hari, aku akhirnya sembuh dan bisa kembali bermain denganmu.

Setiap hari, kau mengunjungi kamarku. Kita pun lalu berbincang hangat seperti musim-musim sebelumnya. Kau bercerita bahwa bunga-bunga tidak tumbuh di musim dingin sehingga kau beralih profesi menjadi penjual koran untuk sementara waktu. Meskipun begitu, kau bilang bahwa kau cukup senang dan menikmati pekerjaan barumu itu.

Musim dingin waktu itu terasa spesial bagiku, terutama karena kejadian pada malam tahun baru. Seperti biasa, kau mengetuk jendela kamarku. Namun, kali ini kau mengejutkanku. Tak seperti biasanya, kau memberikanku hadiah berupa syal dan sarung tangan rajutan berwarna biru, seperti warna kesukaanku. Kau lalu bilang bahwa kau sengaja menabung uang hasil jualan demi membelikanku hadiah. Bagiku, hal itu sangat istimewa. Aku merasa sangat bahagia dan langsung memelukmu. Saat itu, aku mulai jatuh hati padamu.

========================================================

Musim Semi, Tahun Keenam Belas Era Kekuasaan Ratu Theresia

Musim semi telah tiba. Bunga di seluruh penjuru kota kembali bermekaran. Kau pun akhirnya kembali menjual bunga. Kali ini, kau bercerita bahwa omzetmu meningkat drastis. Seluruh bungamu laku keras. Kau lalu menjelaskan bahwa semua bungamu dipesan untuk festival bunga tahunan yang diselenggarakan oleh sekolahku. Kau juga diminta untuk membantu mendekor sekolah dengan bunga untuk festival tahun ini. Mendengar hal tersebut, aku sangat bahagia.

Sekolahku adalah sekolah khusus wanita bangsawan sehingga hampir tidak ada pria seumuranku di sini. Pelajaran di kelas tidak terlalu memusingkanku, tetapi pergaulan di sini sangat memuakkan. Setiap hari, setelah kelas berakhir, hampir semua siswi di sini hanya berbicara mengenai keluarga mereka atau mengadu kekayaan mereka. Mereka juga sangat sombong. Aku tidak menyukai mereka.

Oleh karena itu, biasanya ketika jam istirahat, aku selalu pergi ke halaman belakang sekolah seorang diri untuk sekedar melihat-lihat pemandangan. Namun, kali ini, aku bisa melakukannya bersamamu. Kita lalu menghias sekolah dengan berbagai bunga warna-warni sambil berbincang hangat.

Kau membantu menghias taman, sementara aku membantu mendekor gedung-gedung sekolah. Di sela-sela kegiatan, kau memberitahuku makna dari berbagai bunga atau yang biasa kau sebut “bahasa bunga”. Ada yang melambangkan kesetiaan, ambisi, simpati, kesedihan, bahkan kasih yang tak sampai.

Kau juga sempat mengatakan bahwa kau iri kepadaku yang bisa bersekolah dan hidup berkecukupan. Padahal, bagiku malah sebaliknya. Aku iri padamu yang bisa hidup bebas dan bahagia setiap hari tanpa perlu memikirkan urusan sekolah atau rutinitas bangsawan yang membosankan ini.

Hari festival pun tiba. Pada festival bunga tahunan ini, setiap orang dari berbagai kelas boleh datang berkunjung. Kita berkeliling sekolah menikmati acara. Ada parade musik, pameran karya, dan juga banyak orang yang berjualan. Namun, momen yang tak akan kulupakan adalah saat ketika kau menyatakan perasaanmu padaku.

Di dekat gedung tempat lonceng sekolah berada, kau tiba-tiba berlutut di hadapanku. Kau lalu menyatakan perasaanmu sambil memberikan hadiah berupa cincin perak dengan sebuah safir kecil yang sangat indah. Aku menangis bahagia dan langsung mencium bibirmu.

Sejak saat itu, kita akhirnya resmi berpacaran. Namun, aku merahasiakannya dari orang tuaku karena takut mereka tidak setuju. Ayahku adalah seorang bangsawan yang memiliki pengaruh cukup besar di kerajaan. Sayangnya, ia sangat menganggap rendah orang yang bukan berasal dari keluarga bangsawan. Aku takut kita tak bisa bersama lagi jika ia mengetahui hubungan kita.

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Musim Panas, Tahun Keenam Belas Era Kekuasaan Ratu Theresia

Kebahagiaan kita tidak berlangsung lama.

Musim panas saat itu sangat berbeda dengan musim panas sebelumnya. Perang sedang berkecamuk. Kerajaan Ingrannia diserang oleh negeri tetangga, Frinsia. Sekolah ditutup sampai waktu yang tidak ditentukan. Alhasil, aku kembali terkurung di rumah. Kondisi negara yang sedang tidak stabil menjadi alasan bagi ayahku untuk kembali melarangku keluar rumah.

Saat itu, mungkin sudah sekitar seminggu lamanya kita tidak bertemu, Vic. Aku pun akhirnya mencari celah untuk bisa keluar rumah. Saat semua keluarga dan pelayanku sedang lengah, aku akhirnya berhasil pergi menemuimu.

Saat kutemui, kau sedang berdiam diri di rumahmu dan merenung. Aku lalu menanyai kabarmu. “Aku tidak sedang baik-baik saja.” katamu. Aku sempat sedikit menggodanya. Namun, saat kutanya alasannya, kau akhirnya menjelaskan alasan di balik kesedihanmu.

“Akibat perang yang sedang berkecamuk, semua pemuda di negara ini harus mengikuti wajib militer. Aku hanya punya waktu satu minggu sebelum pergi meninggalkan kota ini.”

Hatiku hancur mendengar perkataan itu. Aku langsung memelukmu pada saat itu sambil menangis. Belum kering air mataku, masalah lain kembali datang. Ayahku ternyata berhasil menyusuri jejakku dan memergokiku ketika sedang berpelukan denganmu.

Ia langsung marah besar, menampar pipimu, lalu memaksaku pulang. Ayahku berkata padamu “Kau tidak layak untuk putriku, dasar orang rendahan!” sambil bergegas membawaku pulang ke rumah.

Aku kembali dikurung di kamarku, tetapi dengan penjagaan yang jauh lebih ketat. Pada malam itu, aku hanya bisa menangis. Hatiku tercabik-cabik. Aku takut kehilangan dirimu, Vic.

Seminggu setelah kejadian itu, entah bagaimana caranya, engkau tiba-tiba muncul di jendela kamarku dan mengetuknya. Aku senang, akhirnya kita bisa berjumpa lagi. Namun, aku tahu bahwa kau ingin mengucapkan perpisahan. Hari itu adalah waktu ketika kau pergi ke luar kota untuk mengikuti wajib militer.

Kau berkata “Akan aku buktikan pada ayahmu bahwa aku layak menjadi pasanganmu! Meskipun sulit, aku akan menjadi orang sukses. Tunggulah aku, setelah perang ini telah usai, aku akan kembali membangun bisnisku. Aku akan membuatnya berkembang hingga bisa dikenal di seluruh negeri. Setelah itu, aku akan kembali ke rumah ini dan melamarmu.”

Aku lalu berkata “Berjanjilah bahwa kau akan kembali!”

Kau lalu membalasnya “Janji!”

Sebagai bukti keseriusanmu, kau membawakanku buket bunga forget-me-not.

“Bunga ini berwarna biru, seperti warna kesukaanmu. Bunga ini juga menyimbolkan cinta sejati. Selain itu, seperti namanya, aku harap kau selalu mengingatku, sama seperti aku yang selalu mengingatmu.” ucapmu.

Setelah itu, kita kembali berpelukan. Lalu, kau bergegas pergi sambil menahan air matamu. Aku melambaikan tanganku sambil menyaksikanmu perlahan pergi meninggalkanku.

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Musim Semi, Tahun Kedua Puluh Enam Era Kekuasaan Ratu Theresia

Sudah sepuluh tahun sejak kepergianmu. Perang pun sudah berakhir tiga tahun yang lalu, tetapi kau tak kunjung dating, Vic. Setiap hari aku selalu menunggumu. Bunga forget-me-not yang kau berikan waktu itu telah aku keringkan dan awetkan, lalu aku pajang di kamarku sebagai memento keberadaanmu.

Bagaimana kabarmu?

Apa saja hal-hal yang kau lakukan selama ini?

Apakah kamu masih menyukai bunga?

Apakah kau makan teratur?

Apakah kamu masih hidup?

Apakah kamu membenciku?

Apakah kamu masih mengingatku?

Apakah kamu masih ingat janjimu?


Penulis: Traveler R

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: Highschool Romance


The sky sparkles with stars. Sitting next to a void, I retrace my memory.

It was summer, I was moving to another city with my family.

I sit in the car, looking through the car’s window. Flowers blooming along the road, as I wonder where this journey will lead me to.

The car stopped, I stepped out and see a huge field full of blooming flowers.

“We will take a short rest here, you father needs some rest. Don’t play too far, the flowers are tall, be careful not to get lost okay?” Said my mother.

“Okay.”

I run through the small path, grabbing a dandelion in my hand, feeling the wind touches my body. Then I see a girl next to a tree in the middle of the field. Sitting on a swing, waist-length brown hair, round eyes, dressed in a white one piece. She smiles and waves to me, her other hand holds the sun hat on her head as the wind breezes gently.

“My name is-“ she tips my mouth before I finished talking.

“Sshhh, the monsters will hear you.” She whispered.

“What monsters?” I whispered to her.

“Look over there, can’t you see it?” She pointed to the flower bushes behind me.

I look toward the bushes, something shakes the bushes. I feel tense, my legs shake, I want to run but I just can’t. The thing gets closer and closer.

“BAAAAA!” She shouts behind me as a dog comes out from the bushes.

I lose balance and fall. She is laughing at me, mocking me with her laugh. The dog barks to me, as if falling to the ground isn’t enough. I try to hold my tears, but I end up wiping my eyes anyway. She comes closer to me, lowering her body. She lends me her hand, still laughing.

“I’m just kidding, there are no monsters. I’m sorry okay, you can stop crying now.” She said.

I lift my head, she picks the dandelion in my hand and put it on my right ear.

“Will you forgive me now?” She asked.

“Sniff… sniff… yes.” What a good boy, just like my dog.

She mocks me again. Her dog snuggles to her, wagging it’s tail.

“His name is Puffy. I found him sitting on the side if the road 2 years ago on a trip with my family. His condition was miserable when I found him, so I adopted him.” She said.

“So what brings you here?” She asked.

“I… I am moving with my family. What about you?”

“I often come to this field, it’s beautiful here. Whenever I feel lonely, or when I miss my father, I always come here.” She answered.

“I used to play with my father here, but now it’s just me and my mother.” She said with a low voice.

I think her father died, but I don’t have enough courage to ask her, so I stay silent.

“Enough of that. Do you really believe there are monsters here? Your reaction was hilarious. Hahahaha.” She mocks me.

“Yes, my parents told me not to listen to strangers, but I think you are not bad person, so I trusted you.”

“Hahahaha. Sorry for that.” She said.

After that, we play together, running through the field, playing the swing, catching bugs.

Time passes, I made a flower head band and put it on her head.

“What do you think? Is it good?”

“Yes, I like it. Thank you.” She said, smiling at me.

I smiled back to her. I hear my mother calling for me.

“Ah, I think I should go back now. My mother is already calling for me.” I said.

“See you later! Promise me we will meet again okay! I appoint you as my friend, and friend keeps their promise!” She said.

“I- I promise…”

I run back to the car. The dandelion still on my ear.

I think of what I said before, why did I say that… I don’t even know if I will meet her again. I brush it off and continue living my life.


Years passed, I am now a highschooler, final year, edgy phase.

“Hey, what are you contemplating? Are you thinking about your grades? Don’t worry, my grades are bad too.” My friend approached me.

His name is Blaire. I met him on my first year and he befriended me.

“Nahh, get off me. You are depleting the oxygen around, I’m starting to feel dizzy.”

“Hey, you want to go to karaoke tonight? The girls are all coming, as your friend, I don’t want you to miss this opportunity. If you are lucky, you might be able to preserve your bloodline tonight.” He said.

“No, thank you. I prefer watching random primitive building videos till 3 AM tonight.”

“C’mon… stop with those videos, I have better videos for you to watch. It involves the girls that will come to the karaoke tonight. How about that?” He replied.

“No, thank you.”

“Ah, you’re such a rockhead. Anyway, just hit me up if you change your mind.” He said.

Finally, peace and solitude.

It’s spring, my favorite season because the weather just perfect. Flowers are blooming, birds singing, wind breezes gently.

As I walk out from the school gate, a girl suddenly approached me.

“HELLLOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Do you remember me?” She said.

A beautiful girl, long brown hair, beautiful eyes, in an elite looking high school uniform. Her face is familiar, but I can’t remember who.

“Uhh… pardun?”

“Ah, you can’t recognize me. You believed when I said there are monsters at the flower field.” She said.

“Hey, I was a kid back then.”

“Well, I didn’t expect to meet you here. Did you study here?” She said.

“Yes, isn’t it obvious?”

“Anyway, we haven’t met for a loooooooooooong time. How about a drink? It’s on me.” She asked.

“Uhhh, I-“

She pulled my arm before I could finish my sentence. Annoying… just like back then.

We arrived at a coffee shop.

“Table for two please.” She said to the worker.

“This way please.” Said the worker.

Well, since I’m already here, it will be impolite to just leave. Good thing my parents teach me manner.

We take a seat and she finally let go of my arm.

“One orange juice please! What do you want to drink?” She asked.

“Plain water please.”

The waiter nods and leaves.

“Tell me about your story. What happened during all these times.” She said.

“I inhale, I exhale.”

She laughed.

“Well, for me. I don’t have much story to be told too. But I am happy I could meet an old friend.” She said.

“I just live a very normal life. Move into this city, go to school, aim for good university, get bad grades, pretty normal.”

The waiter brings the drinks to our table.

“What about friend? You must have a lot of friends don’t you?” She asked.

“No.”

“What about girlfriend? Ehehehe.” She asked.

“Is that an insult?”

“You are in high school, surely you have something interesting right?” She said.

“You see this water? This represents my life.”

She laughed.

“My life is also pretty much normal I think.” She said.

“I don’t ask.”

She laughed.

“Looks like someone in their edgy phase.” She said.

Her alarm suddenly rings.

“Ah, looks like I need to go now. I’ll see you later!” She said.

“Wait, you haven’t drink your order.”

“Ah, sorry. You can drink it if you want. I need to leave now.”

She paid the drinks and rushes out, not even touching the drink she ordered. So I drink it and leave. At least better than throwing the drink away.


The next day, she greets me as I leave the school entrance, waving her hand and smiling to me.

“Ehmm… looks like someone has a girlfriend already.” Blaire said.

“Nahh, it’s just an old friend.”

“I can get you hotel if you want. I’ll pay.” He said.

“Get lost.”

I approached her.

“Why are you here?”

“Hey, do you have spare time? Let’s go on a walk.” She said.

She doesn’t answer my question.

“Well, actually I do have some free time-“

“Then let’s go!” She said.

She pulled my arm before I can finish my sentence.

We arrived at a theme park. She finally let go of my arm.

“Tickets for two please.” She said to the worker.

“Here is the money, Sir.”

“You two are such a cute couple. Oh the bliss of youth.” Said the worker.

“Ah- No, we aren’t couple. Just old friends.”

We entered the park, she is looking down.

“Thank you for the ticket.” She whispered.

“It’s just fair, you paid for the drinks yesterday.”

She suddenly pulls my arm again.

“Let’s go there!” She said.

We tried a lot of ride in the park. We also bought some cotton candy. She pulls my arm everywhere we go. No wonder people mistakes us as couple.

“The Ferris Wheel. Must have scene in every theme park chapter in romance anime.” She said.

She is quite cultured I might say.

It’s finally our turn.

“Please watch your steps.” Said the worker.

We sit face to face. The door closes and the wheel slowly rises.

“Hey, I haven’t get any of your contact. What’s your phone number?” She asked.

We exchanged contact. Phone numbers, LINE, Facebook, Instagram, Discord, WeChat, NicoNicoDouga, Bilibili, Youtube channels, and much more.

The wheel reaching it’s peak.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked while looking outside the window.

“The city, bathed in golden sun light, wind blows gently, truly a work of art. I wish time could freeze. I want this moment to stay.” She smiled. But I can somehow see a bit of sadness in that smile.

I smiled a bit.

“If this makes you happy. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”

“Wow, such a generous offer from Mr. Edgy.” She laughed.

We get off from the wheel. It’s almost dark.

“Thank you for today.” She said while looking down.

“Actually, I kinda enjoyed this. So… thank you.”

We walk in awkward silence for a while, she still looks down.

“Uhmm… do you live near here? It’s almost dark, I can accompany you back to your house if you want.”

She lifts her head.

“No need to. My house is a bit far, I can take care of myself too. Don’t worry.” She smiled.

“Okay then. See you!”

“See you!” She said.

We part way. I walk back to my house.

“Hey, are you already at home?” I texted her while entering my house.

I cleaned myself and hop on the bed. The best place in the world where the gravity fluctuates depending on the day, time, and my mood.

No answer yet. Maybe she is not home yet.

“Today was fun.” I said to myself.

“When was the last time I feel this kind of happiness? I can’t remember.”

“Why would she approach me… and why is she so outgoing to me? We have only met once, and that was years ago. Yeah sure she appointed me as her friend. We promised to meet again. But we were kids back then. Kids break their promises.”

“Well… as long as I am happy I think.”

Ding! My phone rings.

“Sorry, I just came home. There was a traffic jam.” She said.

“Understandable, have a nice day.”

“Hahahaha” She said.

“Do you have any plan tomorrow? It’s Christmas. Maybe we can go to the aquarium?”

“Eh? Mr. Edgy asking me out now??? AWOKAOWKAOWKAOWK.” She replied.

I didn’t expect that.

“Okay, let’s meet up at the park tomorrow, 10 AM sharp.” She said.

“Sure.”


The next day, I come to the park just like we talked before. Time shows 9:55, 5 minutes earlier because I’ve got bad experiences of getting late. The park is not so crowded, only few people hanging around, talking to each other, walking their pets, some even dare to do lewd thing such as holding hands. Birds chirping is really calming. Time shows 9:59. She isn’t here yet.

“Where are you?” I texted her.

“Look to your right.” She replied.

Blue cold-shoulder outfit and a dark blue skirt. Side braids tied to a small, frayed ponytail behind her head. Holding a handbag that the author can’t describe.

“Hi.” I waved at her.

Her face approaches mine. She put her hand on my head.

“Are you ill? Did you hit your head?” She said.

“My old friend won’t greet me first, let alone wave at me.” She continued.

“Wha-“

“ANYWAY. WHERE WILL BE GOING TODAY?” She said cheerfully.

“Aquarium.”

“Oh, right.” She said.

We walked to the Aquarium, it’s not far from the park.

“Tickets for two please” She said to the worker.

“Romantic zone or normal zone?” The worker asked.

“Ro-“ She said.

“Normal zone please.”

“Eh, what did you say?”

“Nevermind.” She said.

We go inside the Aquarium. The first zone is the deep sea zone, most oceans worldwide consist of deep sea at a depth of 200 meters and more, and they have re-created the mysterious world of the deep sea here with approximately 100 species of deep-sea marine creatures that are rarely seen.

“Look, giant octopuses!” She said.

“That’s a squid.”

“Really?” She said.

“Yes, octopuses have round spherical head. Squids have triangular head.”

“Woah, they have lots of animals here.” She said.

“Look over there.” I said as I point my finger.

“A fish.”

“Ahahaha, you dummy.” She said.

We approached a peculiar showcase in the zone. On the panel written “Melanocetus johnsonii”. It looks like an anglerfish.

“When a male finds a female, which can be up to 60 times his size, he clamps onto her underside with tiny translucent fangs. The comparatively minuscule male’s love nip then turns into a permanent attachment: his mouth, and eventually even his blood vessels, fuse to the female to provide her eggs with on demand fertilization.”

“Love really leaves you defenseless, huh. Sacrificing yourself for the one you love.” She said with a low voice, putting her hand on the showcase glass.

“That’s true, but not true. Yes it’s true, the fish sacrificed itself. But we are human. We have intelligence.”

“Even humans are animal.” She said.

“ANYWAY, LET’S SEE THE OTHER SHOWCASES.” She replied suddenly.

We walked through the zone and we are at the 4D theater. The theater is almost empty, so we sit at the middle area. No other people in the radius of 5 units in taxicab geometry from each of our seat. The theater will be about deep sea creatures as seen on the poster outside.

“Uhm, are you okay with horror movies?”

“Y-yes.” She said.

“Well… this might not be a good idea to watch the theater.”

“No… what could possibly go wrong? I said I’m okay. It’s about fishes anyway.” She said.

The lights turn off. The movie begins.

“The vast ocean covers about 70% of earth’s surface. From the shallow waters, to the deep waters. Where the sun can reach, and where darkness reigns. In the deep, dark water lives many bizzare creatures. Many are rarely seen. The ice cold temperature filters only the most suitable creatures can survive. Those creatures exist in a place where light can’t reach, with pressures as strong as your deadlines. We will take you through a journey you will never forget. The Sunless Sea.”

“Cool.” I said.

I looked at her. She doesn’t say a thing, very unusual. Her pupils dilated.

“Hey, can you hear me?”

“A- sorry, I’m just thinking about something.” She said.

“Hehehe… are you sure? Your hands are trembling a bit.”

“N-no, what do you mean?” She replied.

Actually, her hands are not trembling. Teasing her is fun. She is cute when scared.

Suddenly a shark jumps into the audience. It looks like coming out from the screen.

“AAAAHH-“ She screamed, hiding in my arm.

“I remember someone said it’s about fishes anyway. But I forgot who said that. Hmmm.”

“U-uh… yes. It’s about fishes anyway.”

The movie lasted for 30 minutes. She hides on my arm almost all the time.

“Hey, are you okay? You doesn’t look well.”

“I’m fine.” She said, still hugging my arm.

“If you stay like this, people might think we are a couple.”

“Sorry if this disturbs you.” She said, releasing my arm.

I can’t, she is too cute.

“Actually, it’s okay… I think.”

She grabs my arm. I think… I fall in love.


THE HIGH SCHOOL

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


THE HIGH SCHOOL By P. C.

Prologue 

The citizen of Malfesan City hurries inside their homes as the biggest storm of the year arrived once more. It’s not an actual storm, but something so powerful that it will determine  everyone’s future. The sky goes dark and the bellringers start shouting. 

“Prepare for the first day of autumn. The High Day has come again!” 

The bellringers keep shouting as they pass every single home in the city, from the honorable  Top Row, through the industrious Middle Row, and end at the dreaded Bottom Row. Some might  say the High Day is the best day of their life. But to some, it’s a living nightmare. 

“This is very bad. I forget that the High Day is almost here again,” says a disgruntled  middle-aged woman. 

A maid comes to wipe the woman’s sweat. “What happened at High Day?” “I forgot that you’re new to this city. It’s the day that the High School of the Top Row will  send invitations to their school.” 

“What’s so terrifying about that?” 

The woman keeps fidgeting with her fingers, walking back and forth in the living room.  “You don’t know how awful that school is. It’s a school for future assassins that’ll work for the  Top Row. Only a few managed to get accepted inside and even less managed to get out of there  alive. I’m very worried that my daughter will get invited there.” 

“Can’t you just refuse the invitation?” asks the maid, following her. 

“You can, but with a great price. The High School is the most honorable school in this city.  The price of denying their invitation will cost a fortune. Even as a Middle Rower, I’ll be forced to  move to the Bottom Row if I have to pay that much of a fine.” 

“And what happen to those who can’t pay it?” 

The woman sighs. “The teen will be killed.” 

The maid is petrified, she stares in unbelief of what the woman says. “But why is that law  even allowed here?” 

“I don’t know. The law is made by the Malfesan City Council. Every single one of its  members are a Top Rower. I don’t know what happens up there.” 

The woman looks at her and then turn her back, staring outside of the window. She looks  at the tram station that connects all three rows of the city then stares at the huge High School above the mountain, just located slightly above the High Row. The school is made out of black stones of  the mountain that it’s built on. A few lamp shines dimly at school’s steel gate. “What’s that crater beside the mountain, Madam?” asked the maid. 

“That’s what’s left of this city’s war before my husband and his friend sacrificed their life  for the peace of this city.” 

The maid looks down. “I’m sorry for your loss.” 

“I’m just worried that I would lose my daughter, like my husband,” says the woman,  tapping the window frame. 

“Don’t worry, Madam. I’m sure this family will be just fine at High Day.” “Thank you for the positive words, I really needed that,” says the woman. “There’s only a  few minutes until midnight. Let’s hope the High School will ignore this family.” The woman talks to herself. C’mon, Margaret. Have hope in yourself. Nothing will ruin  this family. 

Margaret sits on a sofa, looking at an antique grand clock. She blankly stares at the moving  pendulum while tapping her hands. The clock hand keeps ticking until it hits midnight.  Suddenly all light in the city turns off. There’s ruckus from the streets. The High School is  sending all the invitation now. Not long after, all the lights turn on again and the ruckus are gone.  It’s dead silent now. 

“Madam.” says the maid shaking. 

The woman looks at her and suddenly went pale as soon as she saw something changes in  her house. There’s an unknown mail on top of a table. 

“No, no, no…, that can’t be the invitation mail,” stuttered the woman. 

The maid walks closer to Margaret with fear. “Should I bring it to you, Madam?” The woman nods slowly then rested her head on the sofa. The maid picks up the mail and  give it to the woman’s cold palm. Margaret sighs as she saw the High School’s stamp on the mail. “Oh, how could this happen to me? Why did fate have to choose my family?” complains Margaret. 

“So what do we do now, Madam?” asks the maid. 

Margaret looks down. “I have no other choice than paying the fine.” 

“But that would mean…”

“Yes. I must sell this house, fire you, and move to the Bottom Row. I’m really sorry but I  have to do this. I won’t let my daughter to go to that place.” 

The maid looks down. “It’s okay, I understand.” 

“Would you mind getting this letter far away from me?” 

“Sure, Madam.” 

The maid was just about to throw away the letter when she hears something from the door. “Mom, what is that?” 

Margaret gasps and quickly looks at the door. There stands Sam, her daughter in a red  dress. The maid instantly hides the letter behind her back. 

“Why are you here, young lady? Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” asks the mother with  a straight face, trying to hold her demeanor. 

Sam looks unimpressed. “It’s the High School invitation, isn’t it?” 

“I will not let you to go to that school. It’s a school for bloody assassins. Your life is always  at stake. Why don’t you think of that?” 

Sam walks forward. “We live at stake every day as a Middle Rower. One day we’re  enjoying the drinks, the next day we’re gone to the Bottom Row. If I succeeded on that school, we  could live in the High Row where everything is safe.” 

“We’re not at stake. We’re save here.” 

“It’s only an illusion of safety. Every day, people are being killed mysteriously. That killing  didn’t happen in the Top Row. I want to save this family, like my father who saved this city from  the ongoing war,” says Sam angrily. 

Margaret raises her voice. “You will stay here no matter what. I’m not letting you to  become an assassin. You’ll be dead if you go there.” 

“Then if you rejected that invitation, we would live in poverty in Bottom Row. Isn’t that  the same as losing our live? There’s more murder down there,” says Sam while still walking. “Such impudence! Go back to your room right now!” says Margaret loudly, pointing at the  opened door. 

Sam stops walking. “No.” 

“This is the last warning, young lady. Go back to your room,” threatens Margaret. Sam glances at her surrounding then looks back to her mother. “Sure.”

She snatches the letter from the maid’s hand and get away. She slams the door, running  through the hallway filled with paintings. Margaret and the maid try to chase her but Sam has  already locked herself in her room. 

Margaret repeatedly knocks the door. “Open up and get out, young lady. You’re in a great  trouble.” 

“You told me to go back to my room. I’m in my room now.” 

“Fine then,” says Margaret as she stops knocking. She turns back to the maid, “I want you  to guard this door. Don’t let her get out of this room until next day comes.” “Okay, Madam.” 

Sam overheard the conversation from behind the door then thinks to herself, Why can’t my  mom just understand how I think? It’s much safer in the Top Row. 

From the crack under the door, she sees a shadow of legs standing in front of her bedroom  door. Sam couldn’t get out anymore now. She walks to her paint-stained bed while looking at the  invitation mail. The invitation letter falls out of the mail and lands on her bed sheets. Sam leans  on the wall and starts to read it. 

“No, that can’t be. The acceptance ceremony is in the evening and if I don’t go there, the  High School won’t accept me anymore. That must be why my mom told the maid to stay in front  of my room. This means I must go now. I must be a part of the High Row, for the safety of my  family.” 

Sam looks at her surroundings. There has to be a way out of here. 

She stands up and slams her hand on the window frame. Her brain is fizzing out from  thinking a way out. She looks down, staring at the ground two levels below her, then looks up at  the High School that starts to glow brightly from the inside. Smokes are up in the air as the tram  busily delivers the new High School students. I need to catch one of the trams before it’s too late. 

She looks to her surrounding, looking at the window, multiple canvas drawings in the  corner, then the curtain. I think this is the only way out. 

Sam pulls the curtain out, trying to make as little noise as possible. She keeps looking at  the bedroom door as she keeps pulling until the curtain’s chains are broken. The maid doesn’t  notice anything happening inside. Sam pulls all of the paint-stained curtain and ties it together to  form a rope, connected to the bed’s leg. 

She was about to throw it out the window when there’s somebody walking to her room.

“Sam, I’m sorry that I yelled at—” Margaret stops herself. “What are you doing? Don’t  you dare go out of that window!” 

Sam holds the curtain tight. “Why won’t you understand me? This is for the better of our  family!” 

“You becoming an assassin doesn’t make this family better.” 

“This is the only chance we can live savely on the High Row.” 

“If you go out of that window, then you’re no longer a part of this family,” yells Margaret. “Fine then.” 

Sam throws the curtain out of the window then jumps down. She holds the curtain and  lands on the ground safely. 

Margaret screams from the window. “Get back here!” 

It was too late for Margaret to chase her. Sam’s already halfway to the tram station when  Margaret opens the front door of her house. 

Sam walks through the streets of Middle Row. Lamp shines on the cracked cobble road.  Houses stands tall beside the streets. Every house looks the same except for the wall colors. The  cold winds of the night strike her but Sam is determined to get to the tram station. That night,  everything is just cold and silent. 

“Everybody must’ve left to the High School. Hope there’s a tram still active now.” Sam breathes out a gush of cold air as soon as she hears someone yelling from the tram  station. 

The tram machinist shouts to the air. “Everybody up the last tram of today. Once again,  last call for the new High School student to come aboard.” 

“Wait for me,” yelled Sam. 

“Come quick then, young lady.” 

The tram is filled with people roughly the same age as Sam. She quickly hops onto the tram  and nudges a person with a blue cloak. 

“I’m sorry,” says Sam. 

The person spits. “Damn Middle Rower.” 

The machinist closes the tram’s door and drives the tram up the mountain. Sam stands near  a window and stares outside as the tram goes from the Middle Row to the Top Row. “Studying at the High School will be the best thing that has ever happen to me.”


Miseries 

Alex 

“The High School invitation!” I say, holding up the letter. “Mom, I did it! Are you proud  of me?” 

My mother smiles with her wrinkly face. “Of course. I’m so happy my son got accepted at  the High School. I’m so proud of you.” 

I smile at her. “I won’t let you down. We can finally get out of this cursed Bottom Row.” “Quickly open the mail. When’s the ceremony date?” 

“It’s this evening. I have to go now.” 

My mother smiles widely. “We should go now. We don’t want to be late to the tram  station.” 

I fold the letter and slip it in my pocket. My mother picks up the only clothes I have—a  torn dirty blue cloak—and gives it to me. I wear it while looking at my home for the last time  before I head to the High School. The scrap metal roof that creeks every night, the thin wood wall  that separates us from the noisy neighbor, and the cracked pipes that always leaks to my bed. I  won’t miss this place once I brought my family to the Top Row. 

My mother smiles as we head outside of our home. From the outside, my house looks like  an unstable stack of woods that could topple at any time. This is the best house my family could  afford in the Bottom Row. Most of Bottom Rower even says that my family is quite fortunate to  get this house. But sadly, this is nothing compared to the houses on the Middle Row, or even better  ones in the Top Row. Maybe in the future, as a Top Rower, I can change the Bottom Row for the  better. Hopefully this wish will come true. 

“Wait I forgot something,” I says. 

“Quickly get it then, we don’t want to be late.” 

I run back to the house and pick up my flute from on top of the broken stool. This is the  only thing my father gave me after he died not long ago. I still visit him sometimes, in a form of a  statue just outside of Malfesan City. Will I even have a chance to meet his statue once I’m in the  High School? 

I run out of the house and closes the door. “I have everything. Do you want me to play  Dad’s favorite song before we go?”

“Don’t waste more time. Quickly now,” says my mother in a hurry. 

My mother keeps saying that I’ll be late to the tram station if I stay here, but I know the  real reason she wants to get away from the house quickly. The biggest problem down here isn’t  drugs or crimes, but tax collectors. Those Middle Rower always finds a way to make our lives  feels like hell. Those money-hungry hounds always find the worst day to make people’s day worse,  including during the High Day. But if my mother and I can get to the Top Row before they do,  then we’ll be safe forever. Those Middle Rower can’t do anything against the Top Row. 

We run through the narrow and disorienting streets of dirt. Beside it, houses are stacked on  top of each other, supported only by fragile wood pillars eaten by termites. Most of the windows  are broken. The woods keep creaking throughout the streets. Everything looks like it could topple  someday. Drug addicts fill the streets with bad odor and smokes. I couldn’t see much ahead  because of the drug’s smoke. 

Suddenly the Bottom Row news teller appears in front of us and stops us. “Yo, Mama  Hostia, why are you running?” 

The news teller is a tall man with a clean-shaven face. He wears a torn brown coat and an  old navy cap. 

“Emori, I can’t stop right now. Alex here got accepted to the High School. We need to go  to the tram station quickly,” says my mother while sweating heavily. Seems like age took a toll on  her body. She wasn’t this weak a few days ago. 

“Slow down there, Hostia. I heard the news that the last tram is going late today because  of a problem so you don’t have to worry.” 

My mother sighs. “Okay then. Do you have any other news today?” 

“Just the usual drug gang wars on the other side of the Bottom Row. Also there’s another  murder on the slaughterhouse near the city outskirts.” 

I talk spontaneously. “Another one?” 

“Yes, Alex. Seems like the serial murderer of the slaughterhouse got another victim. Good  thing it wasn’t us Bottom Rower that became the victim.” 

That murderer can’t seem to rest. Another week, another victim. But it’s just another day  in this crime-filled city. A murder a week is nothing compares to the other problem this city has. “Well, goodbye then, Hostia. I will always be here if you need me,” says the news teller.

“Thank you, Emori. I will visit you, but I must go now,” smiles my mother. “Let’s not  waste any more time.” 

We continue running through the streets, turning left and right through shortcuts to get to  the tram station as fast as possible. My mother tries to keep up, but she looks very tired. “We’re almost there, Mom. Just a few more corners,” I say, holding my mother’s hand. We turn to another shortcut but the path is blocked by someone. All of my happiness is  suddenly gone. It’s a woman dressed in formal clothing accompanied by two muscular brutes  armed with bat. 

“Well, well, well. I wouldn’t guess I would meet you two here,” says her while smirking. I stare at her seriously. “Trija, I’m definitely happy to see you here.” 

“Well, why are you here? I’m quite sure it’s not to pay the tax, right? Do you get accepted  at High School? Nah, that can’t be. You’re just a poor boy in the Bottom Row. How sad,” mocks  her. 

“My business is my business. Now, get out of the way,” I say loudly. 

“I’m afraid I can’t. You two haven’t pay the last tax. Well, you better pay up or you two  will be in miseries,” smiles Trija. 

“I’m already living in miseries down here. Mom, take my flute and go to the tram station  without me. I’ll handle this,” I say while handing my flute. 

My mother takes it. “Take care, my son.” 

She runs as quickly as she could, going to the tram station on another street. Behind the  fragile walls of the stacked houses, I still could hear my flute singing in the distance. I take a stance. “Now there’s only me. Let’s start it already.” 

Trija smiled. “As you wish.” 

She waves her hand forward. The brutes run to me but I’m very ready to fight them again.  I won’t let them beat me like the last time. The first brute swings his bat. I dodge it and  counterattack with a punch to the arm. Shit, I didn’t hit his face. 

The second brute punches and hit me in the guts. I elbow his jaw and he falls down. The  first brute hit me in the back. I fell and hit the ground hard. Beside me, the second brute is fainted.  I pick up his bat and swing it to the first brute’s shin. He screams as I hit him in the face. His body  fell to the ground. 

I spit out the blood from my bleeding gum. “Guess, there’s only the two of us, Trija.”

She backs up slowly. “Wait, we can talk about thi—” 

I rush to her and punch her in the face. “Now you’re the one in miseries.” 

I drop the bat and run to the tram station. In front of the rusty tram station, my mother is  standing anxiously. She’s not smiling when she sees me. Something is wrong. “Mom, let’s ride the tram. The brutes are not going to pass out for long.” 

My mother shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Alex. You must go alone.” 

“What? Why?” asks me surprised. 

A tram machinist comes to me. “Only a person with permit can get inside the tram. That  means only a person that have the High School invitation mail that can go to the Top Row.” I look at my mother. “But, that means….” 

“Just go, Alex. The High School is more important for you.” 

“No, I won’t leave my family alone.” 

My mother pushes me. “Just go!” 

I fell into the tram and the door suddenly closes. I quickly stand up and look outside. My  hand is busy knocking on the glass while looking at my mother outside. 

I scream out my lung. “Let me out!” 

“I’m sorry. Once you’re inside the tram, you can’t go out until you reach your destination.  It’s the work protocol,” says the machinist on the control panel. 

I slam the glass once more before I give up. I promised to bring my mother to the High  Row. I didn’t want to leave her at all, not with those tax collectors that’s still down there. They  will hunt her down like hounds. 

From the outside, I could hear my mother whispers to me. “Goodbye, my son. I love you.” The tram starts moving. Now I know there’s no way back to my family, except if I survive  the High School. I keep staring at my mother who watches me from below. Then, from one of the  streets, I saw one of the brutes running with a bat in his arms. I keep knocking on the tram’s  window but my mother won’t realize that he’s there. 

“Mom!” 

The tram keeps going up and moves behind the stacks of building. I didn’t get to see what  happens down there. I just stand there, staring at the blank background, remembering the Bottom  Row where I live since I was born. Why must I leave my mother at the worst time possible?

I keep staring at the window as the landscape changes from the murky view to an organized  neighborhood. There stand rows of houses with the same style. Lamps lit up the streets made of  stone. On the outskirts, I could see a bunch of factories that spews out smoke and waste. This must  be the Middle Row. This place looks way better than I thought. 

The tram stops at the next station and picks up a few Middle Rower. Then, there’s silence  throughout the streets. The Middle Row is way more silent than the Bottom Row. Must’ve been a blessing to live here. 

The tram was about to leave again when a girl with red dress runs to the streets. She hops  to the tram and hit me.  

“I’m sorry,” says the girl 

I spit to the floor. “Damn Middle Rower.” 

She then just stands near the window and stares outside. Middle Rower are worse than I  thought. Can’t fight, can’t do anything right, yet they control the factories and ruin the lives of  Bottom Rower. What a bunch of hypocrites. 

The tram starts moving again, this time faster. Up above, I could see rows of tall modern  buildings with the same style, same colour, same decoration. Everything in the Top Row seems so  monotone, so perfect, so boring looking. The tram goes past it and arrives at a tram station near  the High School. 

The High School stands tall against the mountain peak. The walls of black stones filled  with carvings of many people throughout history. Lamps glow brightly from behind the golden  curtains. The huge metal entrance door opens with its might. the door hides a huge hallway filled  with lamps and carpets. Golden cloth decorates the entire ceiling. Paintings and Statues fills the  hallway’s side. Music echoes through the hallway, filling my ear with beautiful notes that I’ve never heard before. 

I follow the carpet and arrive at the grand hall. It’s full of other people like me. Row of  tables are set. The smell of foods fills the air from inside metal containers. On the other side, there’s  a huge stage with golden curtains covering it. 

Speakers start speaking from each corner of the room. “Everybody please takes a seat. The  opening ceremony will start soon.” 

I took a chair in the middle of the room and look at the stage. The curtains open and reveals  the headmaster of this school dressed in a red robe. I’ve seen him multiple times from in the newspaper, the mysterious headmaster that’s also a member of the Malfesan City Council. Nobody  ever knows the reason he created this school or how this school become so popular so quickly. The headmaster picks up a microphone and taps it a few times. “Welcome my beloved  students to High School. I’m glad we could gather here this evening with a bountiful food that’s  been prepared for you all.” 

Everyone seems busy talking to one another. 

The headmaster continues his speech. “My name is Headmaster Fideli. Here in High  School, we value those who have loyalty, teamwork, and most importantly passion. Everyone will  be assigned to different sector of the school based on your hobbies that we have evaluated before.  There’s the Visual Art Sector, Music Sector, Literature Sector, Crafter Sector, and Performance  Sector. On every sector, there will be dorms that’s filled by two people each, no more, no less.  Now, let’s enjoy a performance from your seniors while we eat.” 

The headmaster walks down the stage with cheers from the other students. A drama starts  on the stage as the metal containers opens. There’s a lot of delicious-looking food, from the grilled  meat to the fried foods. I instantly took most of them and starts eating. Man, I haven’t eaten a food  as delicious as this since I was born. These Top Rower live like in heaven. I can’t wait to be a part  of the music sector and enjoy everything here. 

There’s a few more performance after most of the students finished eating, a few group  bands, dances, and poetry between those performances. After all of that is finished, a group of  people enters the room. They wore the exact robe the headmaster wore except that it’s white. They  give a piece of paper to everyone in the room. One of them gives me a piece of paper and I quickly  open it up. 

“Dorm room 555.” 

The speakers start speaking again. “Everyone, after you got your dorm number, please  leave the hall and go to your own dorms. Everyone is free to do anything for the rest of the day.” Everyone swarms the hall door. There’s lots of chattering and footsteps from the hallway.  I still sit on the table, waiting until the hallway is not crowded anymore.  

A few minutes pass and the hallway seems empty enough. There are a few students in the  hall when I leave. I hold my flute tight as I follow the directions on the wall. There are still students  talking in the hallway. A group of fancy-dressed Top Rower laughs at everything they could see. “Look, there’s a Bottom Rower.”

“Look at how awful that cloak is. Where do you think he got that from?” 

“The worst place at the Bottom Row, duh.” 

“How many drugs do you think he used down there?” 

“Isn’t drugs illegal here. He should just be kicked out.” 

I walk past them without saying anything. I need to hold my rage and use it when it’s  needed. Those weak Top Rower got nothing against me. I will prove it when the battle here starts.  I walk through several hallways and finally find my dorm room. Room 555, exactly as written in  this paper. I can’t wait to finally meet somebody else from the music sector. We will have lots of  fun together. 

I open the door and find somebody is already inside. She smiles to me with her bright red  dress while sitting on one of the beds. That dress seems familiar. 

“Hi, there. Are you my roommate?” asks her. 

“Room 555, right?” 

“Yes. My name is Sam. What’s yours?” 

“I’m Alex. Nice to meet you,” I say as I look at the modern dorm room. “It’s a nice room,  isn’t it?” 

“It really is. I don’t have this amazing of a room in the Middle Row.” 

“Middle Row? I came from the Bottom Row.” 

“Oh, that’s interesting,” says her unsure. “What it’s like down there?” 

“Awful.” 

Sam is fidgeting her fingers. “Oh, okay….” 

I throw myself on top of the bed and stare at the golden ceiling. “Can’t wait to play music  with you.” 

Sam stands up. “Music? I can’t play any musical instrument. I can’t even sing.” Wait, that couldn’t be right. This is supposed to be the music sector. Something is not right. I instantly stand up too. “You can’t play any music? This is the room 555, right?” “Yes this is room 555, exactly as what’s written in my paper.” 

“Then what sector are you from?” 

Sam speaks softly. “The Visual Art Sector.”


Enemies 

Sam 

“We’re from different sectors. We weren’t supposed to be in the same dorm room,” I say loudly to the headmaster at his office. 

Alex slams the headmaster’s table. “I won’t accept this mistake!” 

Headmaster Fideli crosses his arms. “There’s no mistake in this school, except for those that the students made. You two are in the same dorm room because there’s an odd number of  students in the Visual Art and Music Sector.” 

I sit back while Alex keeps debating with the headmaster. This room doesn’t feel like a  normal headmaster’s office. There are weapons on the wall. The shelf behind Headmaster Fideli  is filled with random items that doesn’t make any sense to be here. There’s a sheep figurine, a fake  brain inside a jar, and even a black straw doll. Some people do say that Headmaster Fideli is quite  eccentric, but I didn’t know how weird he actually is. 

Alex slams the table and stands up. “I don’t want to be in that dorm, no matter what.” The headmaster crosses his fingers. “Well, if you don’t accept this situation, then I could  just expel you and force you two to pay the fine.” 

Silence strikes the room. Alex looks surprised and then sits again. If I don’t accept my  situation, then I’ll have to pay my fine by my own since I’m no longer a part of my mother’s  family. I have no choice but to stay here, but my choice won’t matter if Alex still insist on leaving  this school. He’s so stoneheaded, maybe I could plead him to stay. 

I was just about to open my mouth when Alex starts speaking again. 

“Fine, I’ll stay here.” says Alex. 

I would never have guessed that he would agree to stay here. Alex do seem very hesitant about that choice. He doesn’t even look at the headmaster again once he says it. “Wise choice,” says Headmaster Fideli. “Now, kindly leave, I have other things to do.” Alex storms off to the door and disappear to the branching hallways. I walks outside,  glancing at the headmaster that’s sorting out files. Why do I have to suffer on my first day here? What does headmaster Fideli choose me of all people to be in the same dorm with Alex? Alex even  comes from a different row than me. All of the other people I ask is with someone from the same  sector. Why can’t I?

From behind the dorm room, I could hear a faint sound of flute whistling. I open it only to  find Alex is already there, playing his flute under the moonlight from the window. “Why are you playing that? It’s already night. You’re going to wake up everyone else.” He shrugs. “I’m just bored.” 

“Well, you better stop. It’s time to sleep.” 

“Fine!” scream Alex as he puts down the flute. 

I walk to my bed and lay down, staring at the ceiling. I rest my arm on the smooth bed  sheet and breath calmly. Alex stands up and walk to the light switch. 

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

“Turning off the light switch, duh. You say that I should sleep.” 

“Well, sleep. Not turn off the light.” 

“Oh what’s wrong with turning off the light? Are you scared of the dark, Middle Rower?  Well, I’m sorry that you Middle Rower sleep with lights on,” mocks Alex as he turns off the lights. “Why do you need to turn the lights off? Is it because you Bottom Rower always live in  the dark?” 

Alex seems offended by what I just say. He lays on the bed and stare at the wall. I close  my eyes and think of all of the happy memories I have to help me sleep. I’m not used to sleeping  in the dark before. Then, I hear Alex whistling beside me. It’s the same note as when he played  the flute before. 

“You can have the lights off, but could you shut up? I’m trying to sleep” 

“Fine!” says Alex slamming his head under the pillow. 

I face the other wall. What an awful day this has been. I mean, this is only the beginning,  right? How badly can this go. 

*** 

Tomorrow comes fast. The sun is already shining bright in the east when I open my eyes. The speaker in the hallways sings a tune that wakes everyone up. 

The speaker stops playing the tune. “Every new student, go to your own sector’s hall and  wait for the next instruction.”

Alex storms out of the dorm room, bringing only his flute. I stand up from the bed and  follows the group of students in the hallway. Everyone is wearing unique clothes, from the rough clothes of the Bottom Row to the fancy robe of the High Row, but they all are excited for what  will happen today. I can’t wait to see what this school have to offer me today. 

I follow the direction on the wall with curiosity, entering the Visual Art Hall with  happiness. A lone podium stood inside rings of gilded chairs. The ceiling is painted with realistic  paintings of divine beings. A teacher in white robe stands alone in the heart of the podium. 

“Welcome everyone. Please take a seat,” says the teacher with a welcoming face. Everyone rushes to sit in the front row. I walk slowly and take a seat in the middle. When  everyone is inside, all light goes dark and the hall door is closed. A beam of light shines from the  ceiling onto the teacher. 

“Welcome to the visual art sector. I’m Purla and I will be your mentor here. Let’s enjoy a  little show before we do anything.” 

Several screens come up from the side of the stage and starts playing an animation. It’s a  story about a High School student that just got accepted. He picks up a brush and starts painting.  Stroke after stroke, the paint turns redder. The paint turns into blood splotches. The brush turns  into dagger then there’s murder everywhere. At the end, there’s only that student left on screen,  everywhere else is drowned in red.  

The screens go down and Purla is still standing on the podium. “It seems that most of you  are shocked even though you shouldn’t be at this point. I’m disappointed.” Everyone goes silent. The hall now only echoes of the teacher’s voice. Now, she doesn’t  sound as welcoming as she was a few minutes ago. 

Purla sighs. “Turn the lights back on.” 

The lights go back on automatically. Everyone is looking down. I too don’t have enough  courage to look at Purla. 

“This is the High School. Everyone inside is taught on transferring our passion into perfect  assassins. Murder is like a measly bug here. You all should know on how to prepare for this school  before you even think on entering this place.” 

The room feels uncomfortable. Everyone is tense and so is Purla. 

“I think we have an understanding here,” says Purla. “Bring out the supplies!”

Several people with the same white robe as Purla barges in front the door. They each brings  a platter of different art supplies. The teachers stand circling the podium. 

Purla jumps down the podium. “Now, I want everyone to pick your passion so I can know  you better. Then, you can go to the arena to do your next program for today. Let’s start from the  front.” 

The first person walks shyly to the ring of people and chooses a brush. He then goes to the door, following signs on the wall. The second one rushes to the circle and hold proudly a pencil.  Everyone then goes one by one until it’s my turn. I choose the brush and walk out before anyone  else sees me. I enter the arena and wait there like the others. 

The arena reeks the smell of sweat and blood. There’s even a fresh blood stain on the wall  next to me. There are racks filled with melee weapons on the side. Purla is waiting in the middle  of the arena once every Visual Art student enters the arena. Then comes more student from the  other sectors with their teachers. 

As soon as the last student takes a seat, five teachers shout in the middle of the arena. Purla  is one of them. There’s no way to differentiate what sectors they’re from because they’re wearing  the same robe. 

“This is the arena. This is the only place where violence is not prohibited,” says a teacher  with a melodious voice. 

“At the end of each semester, there will be a battle here. You will fight together with your  dorm roommate and battle to find out who shall stay in this school. Those who loses will be killed,  if you didn’t get killed in the battle that is,” says another teacher. 

Purla steps forward. “There will be a battle tomorrow to test out your starting skills. Don’t  worry, there will be no killing tomorrow. Now, everyone can go back to their own dorm room.  Your supplies and battle equipment are already waiting. There will be a training dagger and  uniforms. We’ll be here if anybody wants to train for tomorrow.” 

Everyone storms off the arena, making a ruckus on the hallway. I stay back, waiting for  Purla to stop talking to the other teachers. The arena is quiet and there’s only a few people left on  the hallway. Purla stops talking to the other teacher and sees me, inviting me to come. 

“Start talking, lady. You look like someone who’s really eager to ask something,” says  Purla.

I walk to her. “Well, I want to ask more about the training here. Why is there no long ranged weapons here?” 

“How did you not know about the rules of Malfesan City? Long-ranged weapons are  banned in this city. Even as assassins, we have honor to follow that rule,” says Purla proudly. “Is  there any more question?” 

“I have no more question.” 

“Then go and open up your equipments. Don’t forget to prepare for the battle tomorrow.” Purla walks away from me and start setting up training dummies with the other teachers. I  leave the arena and run to my dorm. When I go inside, there’s a box with my name on my bed. Alex is there too. he must have opened his box because I don’t see it anywhere. I quickly open my  box and sees the art supplies I like and battle equipment inside. I take it and swiftly wear the  uniform. The training dagger shines dimly under the room light. I can’t wait to start training with  this weapon

Alex starts playing his flute again, leaning back at the wall. 

“Why aren’t you training? We have a battle tomorrow. Do you want us to lose?” “Well, unlike you fancy Middle Rower, I live in the Bottom Row where fighting is a  necessary to live.” 

“Okay then. But if we lose, I won’t forgive you.” 

He looks at me seriously. “I won’t lose anymore.” 

I leave him alone and head to the arena. The arena is already filled with students training  under the teacher’s guidance. On the other side of it, I can see Purla watching over the students. I  walk past everyone and comes to her. 

“Look who’s back here again. What is it, lady?” asks her with a welcoming voice. “I want to be trained. I want to be the best assassin here.” 

“Very optimistic, that’s good. Okay then, I’ll teach you.” 

I train as hard as I can under Purla’s guidance. She teaches me so many fighting techniques.  When the dawn came, I trained by myself on a dummy. hours of hard work have made my body  exhausted and I lose my guard. I fell to the ground, accidentally scraping my knee with my dagger. The few people left in the arena stare at me. I quickly take my dagger and walk back to my dorm  room. 

I barge right in and lay on my bed. Beside me, Alex is still playing his flute.

“Look who’s hurt themselves in training. Looks like we will lose tomorrow’s battle  because of you,” mocks Alex. 

“Could you at least shut up,” I say as I try to find a bandage inside the box. “Hurry up and cover your wound then. It’s already time to sleep.” 

“I can’t even calm myself down by painting for a bit?” 

“Not a chance.” 

Alex turns off the lights as soon as I finished covering my wound. He hums again but  quickly shuts himself. I spend the rest of the night in silence. 

*** 

“Wake up and prepare yourselves. Today is battle day,” says the speaker not far from my  room. 

I and Alex quickly rush to the arena that’s already half full. The battlefield seems different.  There’s barrels and boxes scattered everywhere. A teacher stands in the middle, watching as every  student enters the arena. 

“Welcome again everyone, “ says her. “For today’s battle, everyone must fight another pair  that’s randomly chosen. The battle will only stop if one person surrenders. Understandable?” Everyone nods their heads without saying anything. 

“Good, let the battle begin.” 

The teacher goes off the battlefield. A screen pops up, showing the first two pair that’s  going to battle. The two pair steps down to the battlefield and fights awkwardly. Neither of each team seems competent at attacking. One by one the students fight until it’s my turn to battle. 

I and Alex steps down to the battlefield as I watches my enemies. They seem fierce. This  won’t be an easy battle for me, especially with the wound I got yesterday. The battle starts and I quickly hide behind one of the barrels. Alex is standing in the open  alone. 

“What are you doing? We need to hide and make a strategy first,” screams I. Alex shrugs and drops his dagger. “That’s too slow.” 

He runs towards the enemies and punches them in the face. They attack back but Alex  manages to dodge half of it. I walk to the side of the battlefield, hiding behind the boxes. Alex almost gets knock out by one of the enemies. Then he punches the enemy and knocks him out.  With one of them petrified, I strike from the back and cuts his leg. He manages to cut my leg too  but he soon pleads to surrender and my battle ended. 

I grasp Alex’s arm and brings him outside of the arena. “We need to talk.” “About what? About how useless you are in that battle?” 

“Well, we should’ve made a strategy first so you wouldn’t call me useless.” Alex looks away from me. “Strategy is useless in the battlefield. It’s all about instinct and  adaptation to the enemy.” 

“Look at what your instinct does to us. You almost get beaten and I get hurt.” He looks back at me. “Well, we won, right?” 

“Yes, but we wouldn’t be hurt this bad if you listen to my plan first.” 

“Why are you always so slow in the midst of battle?” 

“Why are you so brash about everything? Are you that careless to everyone?” Then there’s a silence between us, broken only by cheering from inside the arena. Another  students must have won. 

“I’m done here,” says Alex while walking away from the arena. 

“Why are you leaving? There’s rules here you know. We must follow the schedule.” He shrugs. “Who cares.” 

“So you’re just going to leave me alone in the arena?” 

Alex looks back at me. He frowns his forehead, trying to look intimidating. “I will always  leave you every chance I got. Goodbye, enemy.”


Rivalries 

Alex 

Snowflakes has stopped falling behind my room’s windows. The snow is already starting  to melt today. I remember the chill wind of winter that seeps inside, but that’s nothing against the  heat that made me angry all the time. 

Sam is complaining to me again. “This is almost the end of the semester and you never  trained in the arena. We were almost beaten in the beginning battle. Do you know how much better  the other rivals are now?” 

I lay on my bed, putting my flute down. “How good can those fancy Top and Middle Rower  can be? I will win this fight for us.” 

“Would you at least listen to my plan this time?” 

“Keep talking about your plans even though you know nothing of what the battlefield will  look like now. All we need is quick adaptation.” 

“And how quickly can you adapt to disadvantageous situation?” 

“I live in the Bottom Row. I will adapt no matter what. We will win.” 

Sam sighs. “We need a miracle to win this battle if you keep doing this. I don’t want to  lose my life just because of your stupidity.” 

“Says the one who can’t stab people properly.” 

She looks pissed. “Fine then. I’ll go to the arena now. But if we lose, I will hunt you down  in the afterlife.” 

Sam leaves the dorm, slamming the door. I look away from it and pick up my flute again.  “Middle Rowers. Always talking but can’t do any shit that’s meaningful.” 

I start to play my flute again, whistling songs to calm myself down. I miss the time when I  don’t have to deal with this shit. My head still holds the memory of when I and my mother still  spend time together, when I visit the statue of my father not far from the city side. But I must stay  strong here. I will win this battle and be the best assassin to save my mother from the Bottom Row.  It’s sad that I can’t visit her now. No one can escape from the High School, but I might know a  way to visit my father’s statue again. I just can’t do it now, there’s a battle that I must win.  

I play my flute while walking to the arena. The arena is almost full when I arrived. Something has changed, the battlefield is shrouded in mist. I can’t even see anything inside it.  What kind of battle that’s going to happen today? 

When all the students are already sitting, a spotlight lights up, shining on Canya, my teacher  of the Music Sector. She stands proudly on a podium with her white robe.

“Welcome everyone,” she says with a melodious voice. “Today is battle day. Soon, you’ll  know if you fit in this school or in a coffin. The rule for today is the same. Your team loses even  if one person surrenders. But if you lose and you’re not dead yet, you’ll be executed. Please, do  your best today.” 

Another teacher walks to the spotlight. “Today’s battle is themed around sneaking and  using all of your senses. The battleground is filled with thick mist. You only have about one meter  of vision radius. Good luck everyone and do your best.” 

I can feel dread spreading through the other students. I don’t know the battle is going to be  like this. Why is this battle not the same as the battle at the start of the semester? I’m not ready  for this kind of battle. I can’t sneak around. 

I couldn’t see anything on the inside of the battleground. Two pairs of students come in,  there’s screaming inside, then only a pair comes out. The students who surrenders are put to a  room next to the arena. I can only guess what will happen to them. Soon, it is my turn to fight. 

Canya calls out my name. I and Sam goes down and enters the battlefield. There’re so little  things that I could see. How can I fight in this situation? 

The battle bell rings. I swiftly move to the side, hiding behind a box, aiming my dagger to  the unknown mist. From afar, I can hear footsteps moving behind the mist. They move quickly as  I walk around the battlefield. There’s a bang then the sound of footsteps moves faster. Daggers are  clanging from the other side of the battlefield, that must be Sam. Where’s the other enemy? 

Someone steps from the mist and attacks me. I dodge the first attack but she manages to  slice my legs on the second attack. I retreat to the mist, holding tight my dagger. She attacks me  again. I try to counterattack and manage to scrape her arm, but she cuts the side of my stomach.  Blood seeps out of my shirt. Shit, I will bleed to death if this continues. I’ll die no matter what, so  it’s better to surrender just to get a little more time being alive. I’m sorry Mom. 

“I surrender!” screams I. 

The battle bell rings again. Canya finds me and pulls me to the room next door. Sam is  with her too. Inside the room, I see all of the student that surrenders today. Everyone is sitting  alone, waiting for their time to end. 

“Thank you so much for the help, Idiot. Now we’re going to die because of you,” says  Sam. 

“Yeah, sorry about that.” 

“Oh now you’re sorry. That’s a great news at the perfect time,” says Sam pissed. She sits  on the floor, looking down. “It’s too late now. There’s nothing that we could change.” 

I sit next to her. “I’m really sorry, Sam. Maybe you have some words that are right.” She looks at me while slightly moving away. “Some?” 

“Yeah, some words.”

“You never learned anything do you?” says her while looking away. 

Canya barges in. “Alex and Sam, come out of this room.” 

“What is it, teacher Canya?” I ask. 

“You two didn’t lose the battle,” says her while she closes the room. 

“But how?” asks Sam. 

Sam’s teacher comes from the other room. “The other pair has been caught to be cheating  and breaking the law. By that, they are disqualified and you two are safe.” 

Sam walks to her. “Is that why I hear a bang, teacher Purla?” 

“Good observation. Yes, they use a long-range weapon. You two should already know that  it’s illegal to use those kinds of weapons.” 

Canya talks to me. “It’s a very rare occurrence that this happens. I think you two now  knows how hard it is to fight against other students, some you can even call rivals. If you two  keeps fighting against each other, you two will fail on the next battle.” 

Purla steps forward. “There won’t be another miracle for you two. Learn to understand  each other or else, you two will be dead next time. Now, go back to your dorm and talk about this. I have to watch over the next battle.” 

Canya and Purla enters the arena, leaving the two of us behind outside. 

All of this is too overbearing for me. My head start to spin and my heart is beating fast. I  need to calm myself down. There’s only one place that could calm myself. I walk from Sam, to a  place that I will never forget. 

“Hey, Alex, the dorm is this way. Where are you going?” asks Sam 

“Somewhere to calm me down.”


Memories 

Sam 

“Why is he so stone-headed all the time? Now I almost lose because he surrenders,” I says  while walking to my dorm. 

I bash the door and jump to my bed. I throw off my shoes then stare at the ceiling. My head  is fizzing out. It’s heating up every second I remember what just happen in the arena. I pick up my  canvas and brush, then start to draw. Only one stroke drawn and I can’t focus anymore. Out of  anger, I throw the canvas and stares at it blankly. What is happening to me? I need to calm myself  down or else I’m going to destroy everything here. Well, there’s only one place where I can calm  myself down. 

Just outside of the city, there’s two statue of people who save this city from destruction.  One of them is my father. Whenever I’m at that place, I feel calmness and happiness. But to go  there, I must go down to the Middle Row and walk outside the city barrier. I used to use my  mother’s money to pay the guards to allow me to go there. Maybe now I can use my assassin skills  to beat them. 

“I must go there, even if I have to break a little rule.” 

I rush out of my room, leaving my student uniform behind. The hallway is empty and  completely silent. The teachers must’ve been still preoccupied by the battle. It’s a good thing I  get to go out of the arena early. I open the school gate slowly and run towards the tram station. 

The tram machinist stops me. “Hey, stop there, lady. Why are you here?” 

“I’m told to pick up school supplies from the Middle Row.” 

“The school supplies are usually picked up at the Top Row. What’s with the change?” “The school wants to get it straight from the factories. It’s cheaper that way,” I argue. 

“Huh, even Top Rower still tries to get the cheapest price. Okay then, hop in,” says the  machinist, opening the tram door. 

I walk in and closes the door. The machinist turns on the machine and the tram moves  downward. 

The machinist talks again. “I feel save to finally get a sane person as a passenger today.” “What happened?” 

“A huge dude comes to me and beats me up. He told me that we’ll beat me up if I don’t  send him to the Middle Row. With how he acts, he fits to be in the Bottom Row, not the Middle  Row.” 

“That sucks for you. I hope you’re okay.”

“It’s fine. I get threatened everyday whenever I get to the Bottom Row. It’s a usual  occurrence if you work this job,” says the machinist. He steers the tram and stops at the Middle  Row. “There you go, the Middle Row.” 

“Thank you once again for your help.” 

He leaves the station as there’s no other passenger in the tram station Now, I’m in the  Middle Row. I can’t visit my mother because I’m no longer a part of her family. I no longer have  a home here. My memory of the path to the statues is vague, but I can still recall some of the streets  I have to go through. Some people stare at me while I walk to the gate. Must’ve been because of  my clothes that I got from the Top Row. I should’ve change to my old clothes before going down  here. 

I lost my way a few times but I manage to get to the city gate. The gate is a big metal door  with reinforced frame surrounded by thick walls, but something is not right. The gate handle is  warm and there’s no guard in sight. I look over the guard’s post and see them all knocked out.  What happened here? 

Outside of the gate, there’s only grass plains and mountains. No snow to be seen as spring  has already starts. No one is found to be alive beyond the walls. Someone from the inside must’ve  caused this. But who will do this? 

I walk beyond the gate and follow a path to my father’s statue. There are footprints here. I  think the person that caused the chaos at the city’s gate is at the two statues. I pull out the dagger  from my skirt and hold it tight in front of me. My feet steps slowly to the statue that’s surrounded  by sand. My father’s statue is chiseled perfectly except for a few mosses growing, meanwhile the  other statue’s face is now missing. When I was a kid, that statue still have its face. 

There’s someone sitting at the bench next to the two statues. I step slowly but he turns his  head. Hold on, that’s— 

“Oh, c’mon. Why can’t I get away from you Middle Rower?” says Alex, punching the  bench. 

“Alex? What are you doing near my father’s statue?” 

He stands up and points at my father’s statue. “That’s your father?” 

I step forward. “Of course he is. What are you doing here?” 

“That’s my father,” says him, pointing at the other statue. 

“Your father is a Malfesan City’s hero too?” 

He sits down again. “Duh, how do you think I manage to have a bearable house in the  Bottom Row?” 

I look down. “I didn’t know that.” 

“Of course you Middle Rower won’t care.”

I look back at the two statues, remembering it’s perfect condition when I was still a kid.  The two statues are a symbol of peace and change, now it’s abandoned outside of the city it saves. I sit on the bench. Alex moves away to the other end. 

“I’m sorry that your father’s statue is missing its face now,” I say. 

Alex looks down. “Now? I’ve never even seen his face on this statue, only from an old  photograph that’s gone now. I miss him sometimes.” 

“I still remember his face. Do you want me to draw his face?” 

He springs up to joy. “You can?” 

“Yes.” 

I stand up and look around. There’re a few sticks lying around. I pick it up and start to draw  on the sand. Alex stands up from the bench and walks towards me. 

He squats next to me. “How did you do that?” 

“I’m in the Visual Art Sector. I have passion for drawing and painting.” 

“No, I know that. How did you remember the details on his face?” 

I stare at him. “I don’t know. I just let my hand move and it fills all of the detail itself.” “That’s so amazing. I don’t know you could do that.” 

“Well, you never asked.” 

Alex stands up and sits back at the bench. He pulls out his flute and starts playing a tune. I  remember those notes. 

“Alex, is that—” 

“My father’s favorite song,” says we together. 

I sit next to him. 

“Yeah,” says Alex. “It’s the war song about the hardships of our father to reach peace for  this city.” 

“I don’t know it’s you father’s favorite song too.” 

He keeps playing the flute. I get so lost in its melodies that I forgot almost an hour have  passed. We spend time talking about our father and their journey to reach peace. It’s the most fun  I’ve ever had since I get inside the High School. 

Unknowingly, Purla is walking to us. 

“I’ve been searching for you since the last battle finishes. What are you two doing outside  this city?” asks her.

Alex seems nervous but I talk before he could say anything stupid. “We’re just talking.  You told us to understand each other, right?” 

Purla raises her eyebrow. “Well, I guess that’s true. At least there’s a good thing that comes  from your act today, but you two are still getting punished.” 

“For going out of the city?” 

“That and for beating up four city gate guards. You sure have a talent if you manage to  beat them.” 

Alex stands up. “That’s my fault. Don’t blame Sam, she’s not guilty.” 

“Don’t you remember. Everything in the High School must be done in a pair. If one of you  did it, you two must bear the responsibilities that comes afterwards. C’mon now, don’t waste more  time. A punishment is waiting for you two,” says Purla while walking away. 

We follow her, taking the same path back to the High Row. 

While on the way, Alex whispers to me. “Do you want to train together after the  punishment is done?” 

“Sure,” I answer gladly.


Besties? 

Alex 

Years have passed since the time Purla punishes us to do paperwork for getting out of the  city without permission. I spend more time with Sam, training, talking, even eating together. Our  relationship is getting stronger day by day. We manage to beat every battle with an almost excellent  teamwork. We’re undefeatable. 

Now, it’s the time for the final battle. The heat of summer won’t weaken me today. The  ones who pass will finally be an assassin of Top Row. With this title, I can finally bring my mother  to the Top Row to live here. She will be proud of me and I won’t let her down. 

I look into Sam’s eyes. We wear the same purple clothes. She smiles, moving my head to  the arena. The arena now feels so much emptier than the first time I come here. most of the people  that used to sit here are now dead. It feels haunting to sit in this arena, knowing that thousands of  people died fighting in the battlefield. There’re only a few rivals left on the arena. They all sit far  away from each other, whispering in their pair’s ear. With the amount of people left, there should  be only eight pairs of people left that will be an assassin. 

Canya stands on the arena. “Welcome my beloved students to the final battle. If you  manage to reach this point, that means you’re the best students on this school. It’ll be sad to see  half of you die today, but the High School only takes the best from the best.” 

Purla stands next to her. “Good luck everyone. Let fate brings you to victory. Let’s start  the battle.” 

The list of names appears from a screen. I and Sam will be the last pair to fight. This will  be interesting. We watch the closed battlefield when the first two pairs come in. There’s nothing I  could see beyond this cover. Seems like the teachers don’t want us to know anything about the  battlefield today. 

“Are you worried?” asks Sam. 

“No. I’ve trained together with you. We’re undefeatable as long as we stay together.” “Glad to hear that. Don’t be the same idiot that surrenders years ago.” 

I laugh with her. “And you don’t be useless like the first battle we did together.” She laughs louder. “I promise I won’t.” 

A few battles past. This time, there’s no one that surrenders. There’s only corpses and blood  that comes out of the battlefield. The victor goes back to their seat, looking at everyone else. Now  it’s time for me to fight in the battlefield.  

Sam nudges me. “You ready?”

“Exactly as you planned. I will meet you in the battlefield and we’ll make a plan together.” “Now you understand. Let’s fight our best down there,” says her smiling. 

“Lets.” 

The teachers put a blindfold for me and guides me until I’m inside the battlefield. I couldn’t  hear anyone, not even Sam’s voice. What’s inside this battlefield? 

The battle bell rings. I quickly opens my blindfold and find metal walls everywhere I could  see. My dagger stands steady in my grip, pointing at the endless walls of steel. Is this a maze? 

I swift through the maze, searching for the enemy. This time, there’s no mercy for them.  My grip strengthens every step I take. I haven’t seen anyone, not even Sam. Everyone is so silent.  No one wants to reveal their position. My arm hair is tingling from the unknown presence of the  others. Where are everyone? 

“Alex! Help me.” 

That’s Sam’s voice. I run as fast as I could, turning left and right to reach her. There’re  multiple footsteps running towards her too. This isn’t good. 

An enemy blocks my path. She runs to me with a dagger steady in her hands. She lunges  forward and cuts my leg. I manage to counterattack by slicing her in the back. Her movement is  quick, she strikes back and I almost can’t dodge it. I’ll be in trouble if I fight her alone. I need  Sam’s help. 

I run past her and straight to where I hear Sam’s voice. She’s fighting in the corner with  the other enemy. I run and stand next to her. 

“Finally you came,” says her annoyed. 

“Another enemy blocks my path.” 

The enemy I fought comes to the same corner.  

Sam readies her dagger. “Great. Let’s not lose this.” 

The two enemies charge forward. We step away and dodges it. I strike one of the enemy  and Sam attacks the same one. She quickly fell to the ground, dropping her dagger. I fight the other  one but get distracted by the enemy that wakes up again. I clash with the enemy in front of me. He  dashes and slashs, but I protect myself well enough to find his weak spot. I duck and slash upwards,  slicing his neck. His body drops to ground. 

“Alex!” screams Sam from behind me. 

Sam is laying on the ground. Her dagger is thrown away to the side. The other enemy runs  to her. I rush forward, readying my dagger. I leap forward. The enemy looks at me but it was  already too late. I slice her in the stomach. She falls, holding her stomach as blood gushes out to  the stone floor.

Sam is still laying on the ground. “I thought you’re just going to leave me. You know that  I’m capable of beating her alone.” 

“I will never leave you and yeah, I know.” 

I help Sam to stand back up and leave the battlefield as the teachers pick up the dead bodies.  No one cheers as we sit back on our seat.  

Purla steps up to the podium. “Congratulation to everyone here. You’ve come so far.  Please, go to the headmaster room now to sign the contract as a High Row assassin. Welcome to  the family.” 

Everyone rushes to the headmaster’s room while we walk slowly. It’s fun to talk with Sam  while on the way. We have to wait for a few minutes before everyone finishes their turn inside the  headmaster’s room. The headmaster calls our names and we enter the room. 

“Ah, Sam and Alex. You two are very impressive,” says headmaster Fideli. “Thank you, sir,” I say. 

The headmaster crosses his arms. “How do you two have the best teamwork out of all the  other students? Are you two besties?” 

Sam smiles to me while taking a seat. “We’re more than that.” 

“That explains a lot of things,” says the headmaster. He slips up a contract. “With this  contract, you will finally be official assassins.” 

I take a pen and signs it. “Thank you, I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.  C’mon Sam, you’re so slow.” 

“Fine,” says her before signing it. 

Headmaster Fideli quickly puts the paper back to a drawer beneath his table. “Now, I will  give you your first mission.” 

I look at him. “Wait, we can’t have a holiday? When can I bring my family to the Top  Row?” 

The headmaster looks for a file in a drawer next to him. “You can after you finishes the  first two missions. It’s a standard job requirement.” 

“I see. That makes sense,” says Sam. 

Headmaster Fideli puts down a file filled with papers. “So, this is your first mission.  Assassinate a tax collector that have misused her power. She’s from the Middle Row and she has  no bodyguard. This will be easy for you two.” 

I stand up while taking the file. “That’s great. I’ll go right away. Right, Sam?”

She stands up too. “Yeah. Headmaster Fideli, we won’t disappoint you.” 

He smiles. “I surely hope you won’t. Go now, your future awaits. Don’t forget to pick up  your assassin robe on your way out.”


Effigies 

Sam 

I and Alex stands in the tram, looking down on the Middle Row, tidying the assassin’s robe  we just got. Trees stands tall and their leaves turns golden as fall have come again.  

“You miss the Middle Row?” asks Alex. 

“Not really.” 

“Why? Isn’t this is your home?” 

I look back from the window. “It used to be my home.” 

“What happened?” 

“I just don’t want to remember it. Could we just don’t talk about this anymore?” Alex looks away from me. “Sure.” 

The tram stops at the station and we get out. The polluted air fills my lungs. This place still smells of factory smoke like the old days. We walk through the empty streets. I look at the mission  file headmaster Fideli gave us and sees at the location. 

Alex peeks at the file but I stop him. “Oh, c’mon. You’re not even going to let me peek  just a little bit?” 

“Sure, after we’re done.” 

Alex smiles. “Being mysterious, eh? I like that.” 

We step into an abandoned neighborhood. There’s trash on side of the streets. The lamps  are broken. Not even a single house window that’s not broken. Behind it stands tall factories that  spews out smoke and waste. 

“Wow, I never thought Middle Row could look this bad. This reminds me of the Bottom  Row,” says Alex walking in front of me. 

“I never thought of it too. I didn’t realize this part of the Middle Row even exist.” “So where’s the place?” 

“Just at the end of that road.” 

We stop next to the house and peek inside. There’s a woman eating alone at the table. Alex  looks weird. I bring him away from the house. 

“That’s the target,” I say. 

“Wait, I think I know her.”

Alex steps back to the window and peeks again. The target looks to the side, showing her  side profile. He almost gasps then quickly walks back to me. “I remember her. She’s Trija, my  family’s tax collector. But if she’s a tax collector, why do she live in a place like this?” 

“That’s not important. What important is that we need to finish this mission.” “That’ll be easy for me.” 

Alex rushes to the door and bashes it down. Trija jumps out of her seat, dropping a spoon  she was holding. I aim my dagger at her. 

“Hello again, Trija. It seems that fate has met us again,” says Alex, gripping his dagger. 

She smiles with hesitation. “Alex, nice to meet you too. That robe, so you’re an assassin  now? And seems like you got yourself a partner. Let me guess, the Top Row is sending you to kill  me?” 

Alex smiles. “Of course. I want to get rid a rat like you.” 

Trija laughs hysterically. She grips her hair while banging the table. After all of that, she  smiles creepily. “Oh you poor people. You’re too stupid to know what’s happening.” 

“I’m going to kill her before she does anything bad,” says Alex raising his dagger. I hold his arm. “Hold on.” 

“What are you doing? She’s our target. Don’t you love bloodshed?” 

“Yes, but I want to hear what she has to say.” 

“Alex, your partner is wiser than you. Still the same stupid kid from the Bottom Row,”  laughs Trija. Then, she stares at me. “You see, the Top Row don’t care about you.” 

I step to Alex’s side. “What do you mean?” 

“The Top Row hires assassins to kill whoever opposes them, including me. I used to be a  tax collector, a sheep to the higher up, but I’m no longer that. We all are just effigies used by the  Top Row for their own benefit. Once you’re no longer a part of their system, you’re dead, like an  effigy that will burn up in flames.” 

Alex nudges me. “Sam, she has talked to much. We need to kill her now.” “Wait, let her talk a little longer.” 

“Thank you, whoever you name is,” smiles Trija. “You still have time to get out from the  Top Row. Don’t let them use their power to control the masses. Be aware he who comes from  the—” 

Alex slices her throat quickly. Trija falls to the wooden floor, grasping for air. Not long  after, she lies dead with blood gushing out of her neck. 

I scream at Alex. “What are you doing? I didn’t fully hear what she said!”

“I’ve heard enough,” says Alex while cleaning his dagger. “What happened to you? You  aren’t the ruthless assassin I know from the battlefield.” 

“Nothing has changed from me, okay. I just feel there’s something important on her  speech.” 

Alex shrugs. “Nah, Trija just speaks like that. Don’t let her words affects you. You need to  be careful on your next mission.” 

“You’re probably right. Let’s head back to the High School to report this mission.” 

We go back to the tram station and wait until a tram comes down. I look up to the sky,  looking at the Top Row above. Could what Trija said be true? No, it can’t be. I know the Top Row  is too prestigious to do a dirty job like that.  

“Hey, are you okay? You’re losing your focus,” says Alex. 

I blink a few times then look at him. “Yeah, just feels weird doing my actual first mission.” “Look the tram is coming.” 

An empty tram comes down to the station. We get in and wait until it reaches the Top Row.  I can’t stop looking at the Middle Row, right at the street where my first mission is.  

Alex nudges me. “Hey, we have reached the Top Row.” 

I snap out of my own thinking. “Oh, I didn’t realize it. Let’s go as quickly as we can.” 

We hop out of the tram and run to the High School again. A few other rivals that have just  been assassin is seen running through the hallway. Everyone must be busy to finish their first two  missions. We enter the headmaster’s room. 

Headmaster Fideli smiles at us. “How is it?” 

I hand the mission file while sitting. “It wasn’t a big trouble. Alex did most of the thing.” Alex sits next to me. “So, what’s the next mission?” 

The headmaster takes the mission file and checks it. He nods then put the file in his table’s  drawer. I look at his room again, staring at the multiple things in his shelf. It hasn’t changed a bit,  but I feel different about it somehow.  

Headmaster Fideli brings out another file. “Here’s another beginner level mission.” 

“Couldn’t we get a more interesting mission?” asks Alex. “The first mission is too easy for  our skills.” 

I nudge him. “Alex, we shouldn’t brag, but I do think a harder mission would be more  interesting.” 

“You two are very passionate about this. That’s very good,” says Headmaster Fideli. He  puts the file back and picks a thicker file. “Here’s a good one. Your target is an ex-con for destroying the Top Row. He’s armed and is trained in close combat fighting. There’s a lot of  rumors that he will attack the Top Row again. He’s last seen in the Middle Row.” 

Alex stands up. “Now that’s an interesting mission. Sam, let’s go.” 

I pick up the file. “I’ll go now, Headmaster Fideli.” 

Alex leaves the room first. I walk out slowly, looking at Headmaster Fideli inside. He looks  at his shelf and picks up the black straw doll I saw the first time I’m in here. 

Alex pulls me forward. “C’mon, you slug. I’m already pumped up with this mission.” I pick up my pace. “Okay, I’m running.” 

We hop back to the tram and go down to the Middle Row again. Alex seems more excited  on this mission. Is it because of the difficulty level or because he can almost bring his mother to  the Top Row? 

Once the tram stops, Alex runs to the streets while holding my hand. We run to the target’s  location near the city’s border. The smell of smoke is stronger as we come closer. The factories  stand tall near the city border, the target must be inside one of these factories. 

I sneak to the side of the factories, leering inside. There’re only gears turning and machines  running. No more than a sound of metal bashing. I look back at Alex who’s leaning on the wall,  holding his dagger. 

He looks at me. “You found something?” 

“Nothing. It’s just a normal factory.” 

“Are we in the wrong location?” 

I look back to the file. “No. This is the right place.” 

“Maybe we should split up to seek the target?” 

I put back the file. “No, that’s a bad idea. We stay together, okay?” 

“Okay.” 

We are just about to search another factory when someone stands in our way. He has a  muscular body and brass knuckles on his hands. It’s the target. 

“Looks like the Top Row send another effigies to me. Seems that they can’t stop ruining a  man’s life. Okay then, let’s fight,” says him, spitting to the wall. 

He rushes to us. Alex readies his dagger while I run to the side. The guy attacks Alex but  he dodges it. I strike from the side but he deflected it with his brass knuckle. Alex stabs him in the  gut. He retaliates and knocks out Alex with a punch. I back off, fixing my grip.  

The guy smiles while holding his stomach. “I’ll fight all effigies of the Top Row until the  day I die.”

He attacks me but his movement is getting slower. I evade to the side and slice his neck.  He holds his neck, grasping for air before falling to the ground. I rush to Alex who’s still laying.  He’s bleeding and his nose is broken. 

“Wake up, Alex.” 

He growls. “Do we win?” 

I help him stands up. “Yeah, the target is dead.” 

“Great. Since we’ve done two missions, that means I finally can get my mother to the Top  Row. Let’s get back to the High School as quickly as we can.” 

“We need to treat your wound first.” 

Alex starts running. “Ah who cares. I can take care of it in the High School.” 

“Wait. Just don’t push yourself too much. You can take care of your family but you must  take care of yourself too.” 

“Fine. I’ll walk.” 

I carry him over my shoulder and walk to the tram station. The machinist looks shocked at  Alex but didn’t seem to care. We head back to the High School and meet with the headmaster. 

Headmaster Fideli looks at Alex weirdly. “You need medication. Go to the nursery now.” Alex turns back and go out. I walk behind him. 

“Not you, Sam. You stay here and report on the mission,” says the headmaster. 

Alex closes the door. I take a seat and hand him the mission file. “Here’s the file. The  person is taken care of.” 

He smiles. “Great work. He’s hard to beat, right?” 

“Yeah, harder to beat, but I’m sure he won’t be the hardest mission we’ll get.” He takes the file and organizes it. “Of course. You’ll face even bigger threat in the future.” I move my seat forward. “Can I ask you a question?” 

“Sure.” 

“Why is all the target saying that we are effigies?” 

Headmaster Fideli laughs. “It’s just something that the betrayer of this city calls us. They’re  just jealous of the position we held.” 

“Oh.” 

He stares at me. “You’re not affected by the words they said, right?” 

I smile. “No, not at all.”

“Good,” he says. 

The headmaster is searching for a file in the cabinet. I look at his shelf again, but there’s  something different. Something is missing from that shelf, but I don’t remember what. The  headmaster picks up a file and puts it on his desk. I stare away from the shelf to look at the file. 

Alex comes back from the nursery with a bag of ice. His nose is already fixed. “What’s  that file on the desk? Do we get another mission without rest?” 

The headmaster puts his hand on the file. “Of course not. You can choose to do every  mission whenever you wanted as long as it doesn’t goes past a full week. I know you’re very eager  to bring your family to the Top Row.” 

Alex smiles. “Of course. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life.” 

“Well, what a coincidence the next mission is on the Bottom Row. You can bring you  mother here while you finishes this tiny mission,” says the headmaster as he hands me the file. 

“Thank you, sir. We’ll get back here as fast as we could,” I say. 

“Great job everyone. Remember loyalty, teamwork, and passion. Don’t forget that, okay?” Alex is ready to leave. “I won’t forget that, Sir. Sam, let’s go.” 

We leave as fast as we could. Alex is more joyous than he ever been, but somehow, I feel  uneasy. I can feel something is wrong with the Top Row. The whole idea of a school that teaches  childrens to become perfect assassins is sort of wrong. All the target that I’ve been given were all  someone who hates on the Top Row. Maybe the one who’s wrong isn’t the targets, but the Top  Row itself. How do the Top Row even know who to kill or not? 

Alex brings me to the tram. The landscape changes from the prestigious Top Row to the  horrid Bottom Row. Everyone down here seems so miserable. Small houses are stacked on top of  each other. The streets are still made of dirt. There’s so little light source down here. The smell of  sewage punches my nose instantly as soon as I’m halfway to down there. There’s like no rule down  here. The drug addicts fill the streets. Thugs beating up everyone on their way. This isn’t the  Malfesan City that I know. Why would the Top Row let people live in misery like this? They’re the  ones who control everything in this city. 

I open up the mission file and look for information about my target. It says here that he  spreads fake news about the Top Row to the people down here. He’s well known across the Bottom  Row. It’s another person that’s doing bad things to the Top Row. Maybe the previous targets are  right after all. I need to know the truth. Maybe I’m wrong choosing to become an assassin. 

The tram stops. Alex leaves the tram and looks at me. “Sam, are you okay? It’s because  you’re not used to the smell of Bottom Row, isn’t it?” 

“No, it’s not that.” 

Alex walks back to me. “Then what is it?”

“I really need to go back to the Top Row,” says I as I hand him the mission file. “I think  you should do this mission alone for now.” 

“But why? Aren’t we supposed to do stuff together? We should always stay together.” I look down. “I’m going to quit as an assassin.” 

Alex gasps. “Why would you do that? Isn’t being a part of Top Row is all you wanted this  whole time?” 

“Yes, but things have changed. You can quit with me if you want. But if you don’t, then I  understand. The safety of you family is the most important thing right now.” 

“Why do you want to leave me? You know that I can’t leave this job. Without it, I’m going  to suffer. Why do you want me to choose these choices when whatever I choose, I lose?” 

I push the file forward. “I’m really sorry, Alex. I have to go.” 

Alex seems upset. He’s holding his grip very tight. The tram machine starts running again.  

The machinist steps between us. “Do you want to enter or not? Everyone in the tram is  going to be late if you keep standing there.” 

Alex steams up. He grasps the file and takes it with force. “Fine. I’m not working with you  anymore then. Goodbye.” 

He runs to the streets, gone behind the wall of smokes. The tram moves up again. I didn’t  want to leave him, but this is the best choice for the better of this city. I shed a tear as I look up to  the Top Row. 

“It’s too late to change my choice.” 

The tram stops at the Top Row. I hop out and run to the High School. I rush to the  headmaster’s room. 

I open the door. “I quit.” 

Headmaster Fideli looks at me. “That’s quick of you to quit from being an assassin. Sure,  just follow the procedure.” 

“What procedure?” I asks. 

“The one in your contract. Wait, let me get it for you,”  

He opens the drawer next to him and picks up a stack of paper. The papers shakes his table  when he puts it down. He checks the paper one by one, searching for my name. 

“Found it,” says him while giving the paper to me. He points to one of the lines. “There  you can see to cancel this contract, you need to do one final mission alone.” 

I didn’t read any part of that contract, Alex must’ve distracted me from it. I’m usually not  this careless. 

I sit in front of him. “So, what’s the mission?” 

He picks a file from the bottom of his table’s drawer. “This is your last mission. There’s a  serial killer that’s been killing a lot of people. He kills once a week. No police ever manage to stop  the target. The location is at a slaughterhouse in the Bottom Row.” 

I take the file and stands up. “I’ll kill this serial killer. Don’t you worry.” 

“Oh, I’m not worried. I’m sure you can handle it. Bring back the file after you’re done and  then you can quit.” 

“I’ll go now.” 

I quickly left the room and ride the tram. The sun sets as I stare blankly at the sky. There’s  only this mission in my head now. 

So it’s a serial killer and it’s been killing a person every week for multiple years. This  won’t be easy, but I know I can beat it if I’m careful. I’ve beaten a lot of enemies that’s strong.  How strong can this person be? 

I arrive again in the Bottom Row. Nothing has changed since I was here a few minutes ago.  I look over to one side of the row. Alex is there, doing his mission. The slaughterhouse is right on  the opposite site of that. Too bad I won’t meet him here. 

Everyone down here looks at me while I was walking to the slaughterhouse. They express  disgust, fear, and hatred. But the closer I get to the slaughterhouse, all of their emotion turns into  one, sadness. They must be thinking that I’ll just be another victim of the serial murderer, but I  won’t be. I must survive no matter what. But I do have to agree that this will be easier if Alex is  here with me. 

The slaughterhouse is big, filled with silence. It seems more terrifying because the sun has  set fully. I can feel the souls of hundreds of the people that’s murdered here. The dread of the lost  souls fills me with determination. If killing this serial murderer can bring peace to the whole city,  then I must do it. 

I open the creaking rusty metal door. The inside is quite empty. There’re only a few  machines for processing meat. Hooks hang from the ceiling, swinging lightly from the winds of  the open window. I walk inside, watching every corner of the room. The smell of rotting body is  strong in here. Smells like it’s coming from the basement door. The floor is still stained with blood.  I walk past it and enter another room. 

The room looks drastically different. This looks like a place that I would call home. The  floor is made of polished wood. A stairway is located on the side of the room. A chandelier stands  on top a table decorated with beautiful tablecloth. A set of dining equipment is set on top of the  table, complete with the napkins, but there’s no food here. Why is there plates and glasses if there’s  no one that will eat here? 

I walk past a cupboard, circling the dining table. A rope trap sets off from on top, trapping  me before I could touch my dagger. I fell to the table and hit a few glasses. My hands tried to reach my dagger but the trap won’t let me. Whoever created this must must’ve known on where the  assassin’s dagger is located. I’m facing a smart enemy and that can’t be good. I try to move but  my legs are hold tight by the trap. 

Someone steps down from the stairs. I hear at his voice. He laughs while clapping along  the way. He lights up the chandelier next to me, revealing his face. 

“Hello, Sam. We meet again.” 

It’s headmaster Fideli and he’s pointing a gun to me.


Mysteries 

Alex 

“Why does Sam want to leave me alone? Does she not love me anymore?” 

I step away from the tram station, walking to my old home with a convoluted mind. My  hand grips tight my mission file. I really think that I will meet my family together with Sam, but  that doesn’t seem like a possibility anymore. Why does she change her mind so suddenly? Is there  something that she knows that I don’t? 

I wipe my tears as I steps closer to my home. I tidy up my clothes, combing my hair with  my hand, smiling to stretch my stiff face muscles. My mother will smile wide when she sees me  with these clothes. She will be happy of me. I will be a hero to my family, just the same as my  father. 

My hand is shaking while holding my house’s door. The handle is cold and rusty. I peek to  the window but there’s no light from the inside. I quickly open the door only to find nothing inside.  There’s no furniture at all. I can’t even see a single cloth. The floor is filled with dust. The only  living things inside this place is me and the colony of bugs on the ceiling. Where’s my mother?  Did she move? 

I run outside and ask everyone that I can see, but none of them know where my mother is  now. Some say she’s been gone for years from this home; some argues that she moved to the other  side of this row. Why can’t I get my happy ending easily? 

If there’s someone who will know my mother’s location, that’ll be the news teller, Emori.  I venture through the streets of Bottom Row, searching for him. I ask multiple people but none of  them wants to answer me. I used to be known in these streets, why does everyone suddenly act that  I can’t be trusted anymore? 

My legs are burning from traveling across the Bottom Row. I can’t find my mother nor  Emori. I end up in a location near my target. I might as well do the mission. The file says that he’s  inside one of these empty homes. 

From the outside, I could hear noises from inside one of them. Sounds like someone is  trying to get away from me. I rush inside and finds a mysterious man under a coat running through  the back door. I jump over the stack of furnitures and go through the back door. There’s a hidden  street that leads to the main road. He drops boxes of metal bars to the ground, then turning left. I  rush through the fallen metal bars, chasing him as fast as I could. I stand in the middle of the road,  looking at the target that’s entering another street. I remember that street leads to the tram station. 

“I know a shortcut to that place.” 

I run to the side and enter another street. I jump through the trash that fills the road, dashing  right to the tram station. The target is visible again. He realizes that I was coming near and he runs away in the opposite direction. I chase him on the right side of the road, leading him to turn to a  dead end. 

The hits the dead end and looks at the ground. “Please, don’t kill me.” 

His sound shocked me. I’ve heard of that voice before. “Emori?” 

He raises his head. “I know that voice. Is that you, Alex?” 

“Yes, this is me,” I say while putting back my dagger. 

“You wear an assassin’s robe and you chase me. If I’m one of the Top Row’s targets, then  please don’t kill me,” says him. His hands are shaking. 

“Why are you here? Where’s my mother?” 

His jaw drops. “You don’t know it yet, do you?” 

“Know what?” 

“She’s dead.” 

Feels like a dagger just stabs me right in the heart. I hear a metal canister hits the ground.  Something burns my eyes, forcing me to cry out tears. My body feels empty. My leg weakens and  I drop to the ground. My body is petrified. I can’t even move a muscle. My sight fades away into  the darkness. Everything feels empty. Somehow, I can hear a voice from far away, whispering to  my ear. 

“I’m sorry, Alex, but I don’t want to be killed today.” 

*** 

I woke up from a deep slumber and instantly stands up. I wake up on the same streets that  Emori stands on. He isn’t here anymore. I look up to the sky. Why is he scared of me? Is my mother  really dead? What makes him rather choose to drug me than telling me the truth? 

All of this is just one big mystery.  

The sun is setting and my body hasn’t fully healed from the drug’s effect. I should get back  to the High School and stay there for the night. It’s unsafe to life in the Bottom Row if no one  trusts me anymore. 

I head to the tram station and ride a tram to the Top Row. Everyone from the Bottom Row  looks at me weird as the tram raise slowly. Seems like everyone forgets about who I am, even  Sam, the one I trusted the most leaves me. It feels like I’m close to know why she wants to leave  me, but I just can’t reach it in my mouth.

The tram stops at the Top Row. I open the High School gate with hard feelings. I won’t be  able to see Sam behind this door again. Somehow, I already miss her even though she has only left  for a few hours. Where can she be now? 

I enter the headmaster’s room to report on my mission currently. “Sir, the mission you gave  me is—” 

The room empty, but it’s unlocked. Files is scattered on top of the table. Stuffs from the  shelf is now on the ground. It seems that Headmaster Fideli has leave in a hurry. I shouldn’t mess  with his stuff. I should just leave. 

My eyes glances over something interesting while I was about to leave. It’s my mother’s  photo, slipped under one of the files. I quickly stand in front of the table and take the file. I drop it  as quickly as I opened it.  

“No, this can’t be. My mother is one of the High School targets.” 

I pick it back up and read it thoroughly. It’s said here that she’s a beggar that fights against  the Top Row. This mission starts a few years ago. My heart finally drops when I see the  headmaster’s signature on the back of the file, signing that this mission is done. How could the  High School do something this horrible to me? 

All the time I spent here is worthless after all. They keep training me just so they can use me as a tool to kill someone else that opposes their views. I’m just an effigy of the Top Row to  them. How cruel can Headmaster Fideli be? 

My body fell. I manage to sit before my whole body fully collapses. My sight is blurry  from my tears. I wipe it using my bloody robe. This robe means nothing to me anymore. 

I remove the robe and throws it to the corner of the room. My eyes catch something  suspicious at the wall of weapons. There’s a slit between it now. I slip my dagger between it and  pulls it apart. 

The wall opens to another wall of weapons. No, this is wrong. There’re two holders for a  gun and one of the is missing it’s gun. Headmaster Fideli have been hiding illegal weapon all this  time and it seems that he will use it. But, to who? 

I flip over all the files, looking at the headmaster’s signature on every one of them, except  for one. I flip it again and open it up. 

“No, no, no. This is no longer a mystery, but a nightmare.” 

Inside it, there’s a picture of Sam. She’s said as a traitor to the High School. This mission  started just a few hours ago, almost the exact same time when she leaves me. The location of her  assassination is at the slaughterhouse in the Bottom Row. I remember that place, it’s where a serial  murderer lives. Could it be that Headmaster Fideli is the serial murderer all this time? 

“No, I can’t let this happen.”

I grab the one gun left on the wall and rush outside to the tram station. The tram arrives at  the Bottom Row. I hop out and run as fast as I could to the slaughterhouse. The cold wind of the  night doesn’t bother me anymore. I crash into several people but I kept going.  

A tear fell off my chin. “Please. Hold on there, Sam. I’m coming.”


Bodies 

Sam 

I’m trapped and Headmaster Fideli is poiting a gun to me. How am I going to get out of  this situation? 

“Oh look how pitiful you are. You betray the High School and now you must pay the price,”  says the headmaster grinning. 

I retaliate. “Release me you psychopath.” 

“I’m the psychopath? You’re the one who likes killing, not me. I’m simply just a member  of the Malfesan City’s Council that will bring justice to those who betrays the High School.” 

“I didn’t betray anyone.” 

“Oh yeah? Do you remember the school’s motto? Loyalty, teamwork, and passion. It seems  that you’ve left your partner behind, so you’ve failed two of those motto. And I’m not even sure  that you have passion anymore.” 

“Stop trying to manipulate me. I didn’t leave Alex. He just really needs this job for the  safety of his family. I don’t have a family anymore, so I don’t care about this job.” 

“Well, seems like that didn’t end well, because his mother is already dead,” says him  laughing. 

“How could you do that? Alex spends his entire life in the school just to save her and yet  you just kill her. How is that funny?” 

He pointed the gun at me even closer. “Irony is funny. Too bad you have to be with the  other bodies in the basement now. You’re such a good student.” 

I need to find a way out of here before he pulls the trigger. There has to be something in  here that could release this trap. I look to the table, looking at the broken glass that I crashed into. My hand slips it to my back. 

I talk to Headmaster Fideli to buy time. “Whose bodies are down there? Is it other assassins  that knows about your plan?” 

“Very clever. You’re always good with your brains.” 

I keep on cutting the rope trap with the shard of glass. “Why did you own a gun? It’s illegal  in this city. You made that rule.” 

“Oh how sad. I made that rule so no one can own a gun, except for me.” 

“Why did you have to do that?”

“It’s easier to control a mass that has less power than you. Without a gun, the citizens can’t  do anything against my will.” 

I manage to cut a few ropes, my arm is free. “You send your will through the assassins of  your school, don’t you? Without a gun, the citizen can’t kill any of your assassin easily. They’re  just your puppets and I won’t be a part of them.” 

“I could see that you’ve realized that, just like all of the dead bodies in the basement. I’ll  admit it then, I do use you poor assassins as effigies of the Top Row for my own benefit. Guess,  I’ll have to kill you now.” 

“Not yet.” 

I free myself and knock Headmaster Fideli’s gun out of his hand. He strikes me back. His  kick is too quick for me to block. I crash to the table again and hit the side my stomach hard. I  quickly grab my dagger, but Headmaster Fideli kicks it away to another room.  

“If I can’t use a weapon, so do you,” he says, preparing his fist. 

I grab a chair as he punches me. He hits the chair and breaks it in half. I throw the pieces  to him and run to the other room. It’s a big living room with carpeted floor. My dagger lies on the  carpet, beside an antique grand clock. I jump there and grabs it before Headmaster Fideli had a  chance to shoots me. The only chance of me winning is if I can get the gun and use it myself. 

He shoots the ground beside me. I jump out of the way and hide behind a sofa. My heart is  pounding. My sweat starts running. Headmaster Fideli walks closer. I push the sofa and knock him  down. His gun is thrown on the ground. I run to it but he grabs my leg and makes me fall down. I  kick him but he manages to snatch my dagger away. 

“Now this will be fun,” he says maniacally. 

He cuts my left arm. I hold my wound tight while still walking to the gun. Headmaster  Fideli frees himself. I pick up the gun but he’s already beside me. He slices my right arm. I scream  in pain as he kicks me to the ground. I try to get away but he’s too fast. 

He cuts my legs and I fall to the ground. I’m already losing so much blood. My body is  weakening every second that passes. I stare at Headmaster Fideli as he drops my dagger and picks  up his gun from my hand.  

He laughs hard and point the gun at me. “I gotcha, useless effigy. Now it’s time for you to  join the other bodies.” 

I close my eyes in terror and the last thing I hear is a loud bang. A body drops on top of  me. I open my eyes only to find myself still alive. What happened? 

My head turns in pain and see a shadow of someone at the other room. Is that— Alex runs to me. “Sam, are you okay?” 

“You come back for me?”

“I will never leave you again. Not in forever.” 

I try to talk with my bloody mouth. “How did you defeat Headmaster Fideli?” He holds up a gun. “Let’s just say I’m not good at following rules.” 

I laugh with difficulties. 

“Your whole body is bleeding. I need to get you to a doctor now.” 

He picks me up and carry me on his shoulders. He runs as fast as he could to the tram  station. Everyone in the Bottom City looks at me surprised, some run in fear, and some fills with  dread as they know my fate. He brings me inside the tram and the tram goes up slowly. My body  is losing blood too quickly.  

“Machinist, can’t we go faster? I have an emergency!” says him in panic. 

“I’m sorry, but this is how fast this machine could go.” 

Alex lays me on the tram’s floor. “Sam, please hold on. I don’t want to lose you again.” “It’s too late to get to the High Row,” I say, holding his hands. 

“Then where do we have to go?” asks him in fear. 

“The Middle Row. Bring me to my old home.” 

“But why?” 

“Just do it.” 

He carries me again and quickly hops out as soon as the tram stops at the Middle Row. We  past the streets filled with dim light and arrive at my old home. From the inside, my mother and  her maid come out in panic. 

The look of my mother is pure horror. “What happened to my dear daughter?” 

Sam walks inside as the maid opens the gate. “She’s bleeding a lot. A serial killer tries to  kill her.” 

“Quickly bring her inside,” she says. She points to the maid. “Quickly bring the medication  kit.” 

Alex lays me in my room then stands back. My mother rushes in with the maid who brings  a medical kit. 

I try to talk with the rest of my energy. “Alex, please leave us alone for a bit.” He leaves and closes the door. The maid quickly tries to heal my wounds. 

My mother rubs my cheek and sheds tears. “What happened to you my dear daughter?” “I thought I’m no longer a part of your family.”

“I’ve made a mistake. I shouldn’t have said that. Every single second that you’re not here  is a torment for me. I’m not ready for you to leave me again.” 

“I’ve made a mistake too, Mom. I shouldn’t have left the family in the first place. But at  least we’re together now.” 

She cries loudly, trying to wipe her endless tears. The maid works fast but not fast enough.  She looks at my mother and shakes her head as a sign that I can’t be saved anymore. My mother  cries louder, putting her palms on her face. Her body quickly weakens and she falls to the ground.  

I look at the maid. “Please, bring Alex inside. I want to talk to him. You two can leave  now.” 

“No, I’m not leaving you,” says my mother, holding on tight to me. 

“We must respect a dying person’s wish.” says the maid as she releases my mother’s grip  and brings her outside. 

Alex runs inside. “Did they manage to heal your wounds?” 

I shake my head. 

“Please Sam, look at me,” says him, holding my face. “I need you here, please don’t go. I  promise I won’t leave you ever again but please stay here.” 

“It’s too late. My sight is already starting to fade away.” 

“There has to be a way to heal you better.” 

“You must move on, Alex. There’s just some things in this world that you can’t change.” “Please, no. I love you.” 

“I love you too.” 

I fully lost my sight. Now, I’m staring at a dark abyss. Alex’s voice dims out in the distance.  I can no longer understand any of his words. I can see a hoard of assassin’s that died fighting  against Headmaster Fideli. They welcome me with open arms. I’ve fulfilled my dreams to be a  savior of this city, it’s time for me to go. I walk forward and with that I become one with the other  bodies in the basement of the slaughterhouse.


Writer: P. C.

The Clockwork Necromancer

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: Highschool Romance


The Clockwork Necromancer (Beginning)

What is darkness?

According to Orkellian issued science book, it is a state of lightlessness, an absent of light that means no reflection for our eyes to capture, which made the eye unable to process their respective surroundings. That is what Miklos Solstice is seeing right now, utter darkness.

Not for any grand reason though. He’s not blind, he’s not being philosophically deep, nor is He on the verge or death or something. It was dark simply because he deliberately shut his eyes off, despite being consciously wide awake after the alarm clock rang several minutes ago.

It’s been about four minutes, usually what’ll happen next is…

… Suddenly the pitch black he’s looking at turned into a dim red, the subsurface scattering colour of the skin, signifying the presence of light.

            “Dear Miklos, wake uup~”

A soft voice called out his name. What’ll happen next is the warmth that enveloped him would be gone, replaced by the biting cold of the morning as his mom pulled the blanket away from him. Miklos grunted, and then rise up, sitting on the edge of his bed as his mom greets him with her usual smile.

            “Breakfast is ready, I cooked your favourite, as usual.”

He then stood up, towering over her as she looked up to me, still with her smiling face.

            “Look at you, so tall and all grown up.” She said, raising her hand to match with her son’s height, something which she seemed to struggle with.

His mom, unlike him, she’s pretty short. She looked at him with her gleaming red eyes, and he looked back at her with his deep-blue eyes. his short black hair contrasted her shiny long chesnut brown hair. Her roundish, doll like face tilted up, pointing to his rugged horse face.

She giggles like a child, beaming and smiling happily at him. Miklos made little effort to return her morning greeting.

            “Morning, mom.” He said, with only a soft grunt, in response to her words.

She smiles again and walked out the room.

            “I’ll be waiting for you downstairs~”

Miklos sighed, waiting a long minute before moving his body and walk out of his room. After washing his face and getting a change of cloth, Miklos walked downstairs to grab his breakfast. It’s ham sandwich, shaped to resemble that of a bear and a giraffe. Something which he absolutely adores… when he was still a child.

            “Today is your first scouting assignment, isn’t it?” Her mom asked, standing in front of the sink on the kitchen that lie just beside the dining room.

            “Mmh.” He replied unenthusiastically, as he bit off the giraffe’s head.

            “Wah, congratulation Miklos! I can’t believe you’ve grown up so much!” her mom exclaimed excitedly.

Miklos just went back to chewing.

            “Time really flies fast, isn’t it? Remember when I first present you the orange fruit? You used to call it ‘Oreij.’ Hehe!”

He finishes his sandwich. Standing up unceremoniously as he walked towards the exit without her mom looking.

            “Or that one time when you first tried riding a bicycle and-“

            “I’m heading out, mom.”

            “Huh… Ehh? So fast? But I haven’t even sat down on the table with you yet.” her mom said, strolling after her son.

            “Why, you don’t need to eat anyway, right?”

            “But, but… We haven’t talked…”

            “Sigh…”

Miklos turned back towards his mother and said “What to talk about… oh, right, let me answer your template questions. Yes mom, I’m fine, no mom, I’m not sick, yes mom, my grades are going well, no mom, I don’t have a girlfriend yet, what else there is… I think that’s it. Are you happy now?”

            “Miklos…” There was a silent pause as Miklos looked at his mother for a while, staring as if waiting for her to say something else.

“Miklos… I’m sorry that I don’t know what to talk about around you.” she said with a glisten in her eye “I’m sorry that I no longer watches whatever it is you’re watching, or followed whatever it is you followed, but mom promised to do better, so, listen, please-”

That irked him badly, not because she is wrong, but exactly because she is correct. He knew it’s a stupid reason, but he can’t help to feel that way for whatever irrational reason, he’s aware that he’s in the wrong, but is unwilling to admit it. So instead of listening more to what she had to say, he immediately leaves for the door and exits the house. His mom watches for a moment before running towards him, grabbing his hand, and stopping him. He was about to pull his hand away and look at her with annoyance, until he turned back and saw a single tear trickled down her cheek, falling down her face as she looked up at him with her teary eyes. A face so uncharacteristic of her.

            “Please! listen to me” The annoyance in Miklos’s head was extinguished almost immediately “The world outside of the city is a very dangerous place. Please, please come back home safely, okay?”

Miklos looked down at her, it is quite obvious that he is her adoptive son, but she’s still his mother nonetheless, the one person who cared and raised him all this time. Even though for whatever reason, his mother seemed to be stuck in time, never seemed to grow older than what she looked like now. Today, he’s going to leave the city as part of the youth scouting regiment, he won’t be seeing his mom again for a while. With a good chance that He might not see her anymore.

With a little stab of guilt, Miklos sighed, and kneeled down to match her height.

            “Yes mom, I promise I’ll return home.”

A smile formed again on her face, even though the trace of worry still lingers, she hugged her son tightly. It took Miklos a while before he returned it. She kissed him on the forehead before letting him go.

            “Have a safe trip, Miklos.”

            “Yes mom.”

            “Here, take this pendant, it’ll protect you.” She said, handing Miklos a brass necklace.

The skies outside are dark, as it always had been. Brass coated chimneys towers in the distance, endlessly spewing out steam vapour and blue smog. The morning streets were filled with countless mechanical constructs, walking hitherto to carry out their programmed duty. Few people could be seen walking amongst the clockwork men, including Miklos. As his sight slowly disappeared, she still stood on her spot, clasping both her hands on her chest.

            “Miklos… come back soon…” she said, in murmur. “It’s so lonely here…”

****

Orkelliopolis, the last of the great human city state on the Arrovial continent. The city that never sleep as the sound steam forges and mechanical gears could be heard all day all night. The rattling and clanking sound of the clockwork men, a common sight on Orkelliopolis. A man made humanoid construct build to bolster the dwindling human population of the city.

Miklos rode a tram on one of the many districts of the city, commuting to the local municipal the local army training ground. Several humans could be seen sitting down on the chair, while the aisle is full of the clockwork men standing.

            “Yo, Miklos!” The voice of a boy called out to him, before Miklos could turn to look, the boy had already given Miklos a pat on the back and proceeded to take a seat beside him.

            “Hey Nikolas.”

The boy with the bright blue hair sitting there is Nikolas Vangelis, a childhood friend of Miklos. But Nikolas moved out years ago to another district. They happen to go to the same high school though, so there’s that.

            “How’s your time at the workshop?” Miklos asked.

            “ It’s pretty fascinating, Miklos, you won’t believe what they’re building beneath the city, the ground leviathan is sooo massive! I was in absolute awe when they show us that!”

Nikolas recounted with enthusiasm. The clocksmith’s apprentice had always adored gears ever since he was a child. “With this, there’s no way our city will ever fall!”

            “Ahaha, good to hear that from you.”

The great city of Orkelliopolis is surrounded by enemies of mankind from all side. Necessitating the conscription of a large portion of its citizen to the defence of the city. As such, it is mandatory for all of Orkellion high school students upon their last year of study to serve on that duty in some capacity according to their respective merits.

          “You’re with the scouts, weren’t you? You’re going to the outside world today?”

            “Yes, I’ve always wanted to see the outside world…”

            “That you are… Though I’ve heard the undead attacks have been intensifying recently. Are you sure about that?”

            “Yes, I’ve made up my mind.”

            “Geez, you’ve always been like that Miklos… In truth, you don’t really care about the outside world, didn’t you?”

            “What are you talking about?”

            “Aren’t your mom worried?”

Hearing that irked Miklos quite a bit.

            “It’ doesn’t matter.”

            “Why?”

            “She’s not my mom”

            “She’s not my mom”

Nikolas said that at the same time with Miklos in a mocking tone. Which made Miklos quite taken aback.

            “If you kept this attitude, you’re going to regret it later, Miklos.” He said. Patting Miklos’s back

            “Tch, who are you to me, why are you patronizing me?” He retorted, deflecting his friend’s arm. Nikolas’s hand ended up hitting one of the clockwork men, who looked at them for a moment after being struck.  They were programmed to have no feelings, why the clockwork men looked at them is probably just to obtain visual confirmation of what had hit it to evaluate the danger level in order to provide an appropriate response. Even so, the comical scene feels quite awkward for both Miklos and Nikolas, as the towering brass humanoid machine is looking down at them, like an adult flashing a scorning look at two arguing children.

The verdict was. Negligible threat. The clockwork men turned away.

And then the tram arrived at its destination. When the door opened, the clockwork men walked out in perfect order without wasting a second. The human passengers waited for a while before heading out themselves. Miklos and Nikolas included.

            “Well, until we meet again, I guess.” Nikolas said, as he heads out on the opposite direction of Miklos. “Sooner, rather than later.”

Miklos took the necklace her mom gave him. It’s made out of silver and oblong shaped. Apparently, it’s a locket, as he notices a small slit where the locket could be opened.

When he did so, the locket opened and revealed a photograph that showed his mother in a black dress, looking young as ever. Sitting on her lap is a toddler boy, black hair, blue eyes. It’s obvious who the boy was.

Miklos immediately clenched his fist and closed the locket. Gritting. He considered throwing the necklace away but relented, and put it back in his arm pocket.

He then continued onwards toward the gathering point of the new scouting cadets.

****

The land surrounding Orkelliopolis is blighted and cursed. Supernatural forces rule everywhere and the city has been besieged by hordes of unnatural foes for many generations. The once prosperous land is now teeming with undead, beasts, and ghastly abominations. In lieu of their predicament and of how they dealt with it, the Orkellian Defence Force, or the ODF, has a saying.

The flesh is weak.”

Stemming from their mastery of mechanical construct in order to deal with their supernatural foes. Miklos witnessed first-hand the very reason this saying came into being.

Touring with his entire class of cadets, he saw rows upon rows of towering brass-men lining up in a perfectly organized column. These were different from the one he often sees on the streets. They looked vastly superior, with visible armour plating and integrated weapon system on their left hand. Their right hand mimicked that of a human hand, enabling them to grab object and, to a certain degree, uses them to their advantage. The military clockwork men, no doubt the brainchild of the Orkellian school of orology, are truly a sight to behold.

            “Magnificent, aren’t they?” A deep male voice came from behind him. Miklos turn back to find a male whose appearance did not betray his voice. He was one of his squad mates “The clockwork men, the ultimate expression of mankind’s defiance against the natural order, they need no sleep, they need no rest, they do not age, they do not decay, ah… what a truly, truly, magnificent creation.” He continues, clasping his hand as he conveyed his words.

Miklos, unsure of what to say, could only muster an ‘um’ for the reply.

            “Hello! Good morning Miko!” A comparatively high pitched voice said. A short girl with a tied double ponytail walked up.

            “Morning, Kora. Morning, Max.”

The two people behind him were his squad mates, Korellia Caudley and Maximillian Fotios. Miklos had been well acquainted with both of them since for six months since basic training.

            “When I looked at all the clockwork men, I knew Max would get uhh… a little bit energetic” Miklos said. Pointing his thumb at the field littered with the clockwork men.

            “Ah, don’t let it get to you, Maxi-moo has always had a weird gear fetish.” Kora nodded in agreement. And to have their point immediately proven, Max kept looking at the rows of clockwork men, producing several peculiar noises with equally peculiar face. Kora couldn’t hold herself at the sight of this and started laughing.

Miklos glanced at Kora, now laughing gleefully. He observed her for a short while, her short stature and her bright hair, topped with her cheerful and childlike manner. It reminded him of someone he had known for the longest of time, someone that had taken care of him for all this time, slowly her visage started to form in place of Kora. And Miklos might’ve stared at her too intensely for Kora to finally took notice.

            “What?” She said, the single word that brought Miklos back from his thought.

            “Oh, uh, nothing, you reminded me of someone.”

            “Ohoo?”

            “Ah, this is of most common occurrence, when one meets with whom they reminded oneself off of someone, it is because their appearances are so equally unremarkable as to made it difficult to distinguish one from the other.” Max, who were fawning over the clockwork men before, surprisingly commented.

          “Hey! What is that supposed to mean? Are you saying that I have a boring face?”

Miklos couldn’t agree with that statement and its insinuation either, it sounds like he was just trying to make himself look smart, but he chooses not to comment.

            “So as I was saying-“Before Max could explain himself, the sound of a whistle could be heard from afar, it was really high pitched and piercingly deafening as it echoes throughout the base. Successfully catching the attention of every single cadet. There stood an imposing figure of a man, wearing a black officer coat and a maroon beret. All of the cadet’s attention are on him right now. And then he began to speak.

            “Good morning cadets, I am Alexander Sakratidis, your senior major.” The major made two announcements which, to his words, were apparently good news. One was that today, each of the scouting squad would be assigned their own batch of clockwork men (which consists of one unit) suited for scouting mission. The second, being the implication of the first, was that right after meeting their respective clocksmith apprentice, the one responsible of handling the clockwork men on their squad, they would immediately be dispatched on their first mission.

This was news for Miklos. As far as he knows, the school of orology and the scouting regiment were two entirely different branches of Orkellian service. Though that would explain the lack of training and lectures on the mechanism of the clockwork men, probably new curriculum, he thought. And indeed, the new clockwork men model they introduced looked vastly superior to the one he knew from the previous generations, which would explain why they would require a dedicated clocksmith apprentice to operate and maintain. However, he still questions the prospect of putting the precious clocksmith apprentice onto the forefront of the fight against the undead.

            “Ah! Miklos! I should’ve known.” A familiar voice called out his name. here comes the clocksmith apprentice, he thought, and what a coincidence it is that he happened to be none other, than Nikolas.

            “Hey, Nikolas.” Miklos said, greeting his friend. Who now wore a short auburn robe decorated with bright yellow outlines, with some leather padding here and there to protect his vital organs.

            “So, you are our clocksmith?” Kora said, noting Nikolas’ arrival towards the group.

            “That I am, Nikolas Vangelis, apprentice of master Giorgoz Themistoklis. At your service.”

          “Giorgoz… Themistoklis? THE Giorgoz Themistoklis? You’re his apprentice?” Max noted with excitement.

Master clocksmiths held a special status on Orkellian society, owing to their great reliance on clockwork mechanism. The greatest of whom had long since passed away were revered to be almost godlike, whilst the living were hailed as a hero, becoming a household name. Their fame surpassing the most popular of celebrities, the most prominent of the nobility, and even rivalling her majesty the queen herself.

So, it’s not strange for someone like Max to react in such a way when the apprentice of a famed master clocksmith happened to be his squadmate. He immediately grabbed Nikolas on the shoulder, kneeled before him, and spewed out praises upon him, before inquiring to him numerous superficial questions about his revered idol, something like is it true that he invented this? Or is he these years old? Questions that almost rhetoric in nature but not really. As the understandably confused Nikolas attempted to answer Max’s question one by one, Miklos and Kora stood by, with pitying expression.

            “You knew him Miko?”

            “Yeah, I’ve known him since I was little, our house is really close by.”

            “Heeeh, hmm…” Kora mumbled under her breath, eyeing Miklos closely.

            “What?”

            “Hmm I don’t know, you seemed kind of awkward near him just now.” She said whilst stroking her chin.

            “What? We’re fine, what are you talking about?”

Kora sighed. “Miklos, I knew you are like a blank slate most of the time, but you need to open up sometimes.”

            “What do you mean by that? Why is everyone on the world wants to lecture me now?” Miklos snapped. That seemed to catch the attention of Nikolas and Max who were busy talking about brass utensils just now. Nikolas in particular seemed to overhear them and gave Miklos a sad look.

Miklos silently curses this situation. Of how this is the first time ever in the scouting regiment history to have a clock smith apprentice integration, and for said clocksmith of his squad to be the one person Miklos doesn’t want to see for a while. The unprecedented number of coincidences seemed so impossible that it felt like someone up above was pulling the strings for it to happen, solely just to mess with him.

Just as he thought so, the puppeteer of fate seemed to show favour in his side for once, as the ear-splitting whistle of the major rang once more.

            “Attention cadets!”

The hustle and bustle among the new cadets of the barrack were immediately silenced, as all of them formed ranks in short order. Eyes were again directed at the major.

            “I believe you’ve met your own respective comrades.” He continues “And thus, from now, I proclaimed you cadets no longer! From now on, you are a full-fledged member of the scout regiment! I proclaim you all, as the 72nd scout regiment!” The major then snapped a crisp salute, crossing his arms just above his face with a parade ground efficiency, the model of an ODF salute. “Repeat after me! We shall fight forevermore, and forever shall we be remembered. We shall fight for our homes, for our families, for our faith, and for our birth right! For humanity! IN CONCORDIA, AD VICTORIAM” He shouted at the top of the lung. All of the new recruits followed suit, snapping a fine salute as the sound of more than a thousand boots thundered throughout the whole base, and then they shouted the ODF jargon in unison. In Concordia, Ad victoriam.

Just as the recruits shouted the ODF litany of oath, The familiar sound of propellers slicing and splitting the air was unmistakable, as was the imposing sight of one of the giant lumbering airships slowly descending from the sky. It swung at a perpendicular angle, another squadron of said blimps followed. Landing squarely in the middle of the base.

Now that little drama before with his squad mates had been completely swept away from his mind as the zealous fervour ran rampant among everyone on the base. Miklos looked at his squad mates, every single one of them smiling, standing tall and donning their uniform with pride. And today, as they stepped into the great airship, marked the first day they would step together, as brothers in arms. Prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to defend the homeland, defend humanity.

But of course, as often was the case, the goal of these fiery speeches had always been to invoke jingoism in the masses, to inspire and motivate them. So, when the truth was so horrifyingly crippling and dismal, it had always been omitted during all the fiery speeches. And the newly formed regiment would soon find that out.

****

The cold pragmatism that had ruled Orkelliopolis for decades were one that was born out of necessity, one which had helped them survived after all these years. But like cogs in their clockwork machinery, they also treat people as cogs in the state apparatus.

The land surrounding the city was accursed, true, but it brought out a material of a kind never before seen from the Earth. A mineral which has blue lustre, but when looked at a different angle, it could reflect different colours. A gemstone which seemed imbued with whatever accursed power the land contains, a mineral which the Orkellian minerologist called galázium.

This precious blue mineral is the sole reason how Orkelliopolis had survived all this year. As the mineral now powers many of Orkelliopolis’s machinery, operating at an unprecedented amount of efficiency many folds better compared to the then novel steam engine. Besides efficiency, the stone also seemed to have universe bending power that are still not understood to this day, it is the core of every clockwork men, the one that power them sufficiently to be able to operate semi autonomously.

But being a mineral that was born out of the cursed energy of the land, it goes without saying that galázium had to be mined far from the safety of Orkelliopolis’s mighty walls, as that’s where most of the deposits lies. In order to survey, prospect, and help exploit for any potential source of galázium, the first of the scouting regiment was then conceived.

Whilst the main standing army of Orkelliopolis were deployed to expand and permanently occupy a certain area of strategic importance. The mining guild requisitioned the scout regiment to conduct what they call flash-mining. From what the name implies, a squad would prospect for galázium, mine the deposit, and retreat back into safety before being overwhelmed by the hordes of undead that would get attracted by all the noise. Fortunately, enough, galázium could readily be found emerging on the surface, so they could be mined without much difficulty.

It is one such mission that Miklos is currently undertaking along with his squad. In addition to Nikolas from the school of orology, the squad gained two additional members, one of which were scout clockwork men, and the other is a miner from the mining guild. Each squad would be paradropped from the airship via a capsule pod distributed along the fuselage of the airship.

            “Good to see you gentlemen.” An adult man with an exquisite accent said as he greets the rest of the squad. He sat beside the clockwork men and Nikolas, just across Miklos and his scouts. The miner’s heavy brass armour plating that covered almost the entirety of their body made them almost indistinguishable from the clockwork men had it not for his face.

            “I am Theodore Heinrich of the mining guild, pleased to make your acquaintance.” He said, grabbing the hands of the scout recruit with a strong grip, not deliberately, but out of habit. Each of the squad members then introduced themselves in turn.

            “Woah, I’ve never met anyone of the mining guild before, I’ve heard the rumours, but seeing you up close is so astonishing!” Kora commented “If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought you to be a member of the army with all that heavy armour!”

The miners of Orkelliopolis are not like your typical run of the mill miners, they’re equally trained in the art of mining as they are in the martial art, sporting heavy equipment and armaments, the miners could be counted as an effective fighting force all on its own.

            “Well, you need to be in the army first in order to be a miner after all.” Miklos said.

            “Ah, it’s all part of the job.” Heinrich said with a wave of his hand, dismissing it as something of the norm.

            “Mister miner!” Max shouted with excitement, his eyes gleaming like a child presented with a new toy. The other member of the squad started to either roll their eyes or sighed, whilst the miner was understandably quite bemused. Max then proceeds to ask a barrage of superficial question to the Heinrich, something along the line of “Is it true that galázium is blue?” or “what did you use to mine?” again with the almost rhetorical questions.

Max’s interviews with Heinrich were interrupted with a sudden booming sound of the airship’s main gun, with that sound came vibration that shook the drop pod. And then an announcement.

            “Attention to the 7th squad, we have reached your designated zone, prepare for deployment at once, ad victoriam!”

Then the booming sound came again, now accompanied with a ceaseless rattling sound of the countless machinegun fire. Such is the standard operating procedure of the flash-mine operation.  Before deploying the squad, the airship would produce as much noises as possible in the form of a barrage of all of its weapons to divert attention away from the squad. Tracer rounds and delayed fuse bomb equipped with bleeping alarm sound were deployed, all to get the horde’s attention, with the bonus of inflicting casualties to the undead being a welcomed addition.

The lights on the drop pods bleeps, painting the cramped pod in a shade of red.  And then the countdown to zero started.

“Well then, it’s time gentlemen.” Heinrich said, as he wore his full plate helmet. The scouts armed their rifle, and Nikolas activated the gyroid attenuator to activate the clockwork men. Miklos reached for his arm pocket unbeknownst to his consciousness, gripping the locket that her mother gave to him tightly. As the countdown reaches zero, the loud clanking of metal could be heard, letting gravity took hold of the pod and unceremoniously plunging the entire squad down with it.

****

The squad moved along the blackened landscape that is the Arrovial continent. The skies were overcast as far as the eye can see and the air is pungent with the taint of the dead. They do not immediately deploy after the pod made landfall. Instead waiting for some time for the undead host to follow the airship.

Whilst Miklos and his squad is part of the scouting regiment. Since they’re still green recruits, they are assigned to a relatively forgiving mission. Only deploying to escort the miner to a previously known deposit of galázium. The job of surveying out new deposits into the dark reaches were left to the more veteran member of the scouting regiment. And even though permanent galázium mining settlement do exist, and they are heavily guarded by the army, more than 70% of the city’s galázium reserve came from the flash-mining operation due to how rare permanent deposits of the mineral are. Galázium are a peculiar mineral, it is as if they emerged out on the whims of the Earth and can surface or burrow back anywhere at any time. Previously known deposits filled with galázium could become barren overnight and vice-versa. That’s why this operation is still being undertaken due to how unpredictable the material is.

And now Miklos had gotten what he wanted. He wants to see the outside world, only to be greeted with nothing but ash.

“Squad, halt” Kora ordered through the communicator. Being the elected squad leader, she held the responsibility of her squad’s wellbeing, and the success of her squad’s assigned mission. “Look, purple ground, we’re close. Nikolas, did your clockwork men sees anything?”

Nikolas meddled with his gyroid attenuator to get some readings, to no avail, unfortunately.

            “No… here it says nothing…”

            “Huh, that’s weird.”

Kora and the scouts scanned the surroundings again, purple grounds were one of the signs of galázium deposits, or so they were taught. In lieu of this development, she ordered the squad to advance again, keeping a close knit formation with the scouts and the clockwork men covering Nikolas and Heinrich. Occasionally they would hear a distant, damning roar, echoing from the valleys, occasionally they would also spot figures moving in the shadows, overlapped with the thundering roar of artillery guns coming from the airship. All of those were taught as normal occurrences when wandering outside the city. Nevertheless, it still unnerves the green recruits.

            Fortunately, whatever phenomenon that had cursed this land had also produced a lot of protruding rocks and stones that filled the landscapes. The officers called those stalagmites, and the scouts were trained to utilize them as much as possible to be used as cover to conceal their advance.

            “Kora, look!” Miklos said pointing towards a peculiar formation of stalagmites leading up to a cave “Are those… galázium?”

Kora turned her attention to the direction Miklos is pointing, and before she could comment on it, Nikolas’s attenuator gave him a reading.

            “W-whoa, yes, positive, it’s galázium!” He said, making sense of the endlessly spinning gears on his wrist.

            “Those are… galázium?” Kora said. She uses her monocular to confirm a visual reading. The result was… inconclusive. “If they are indeed galázium, why are they red?”

            “What? Red? Let me see!” Heinrich said with astonishment in his voice. Kora handed him over the monocular and, to his surprise, it is indeed the minerals that he was so used to, only this time it is red.

            “What do you make of it, mister Heinrich?” She asks, But Heinrich was silent, Kora take it as him observing the source.

Meanwhile, Miklos stood there, his gaze vacant, but was perturbed by something. Suddenly he could hear sibilant whispers on his head, a combination of clicks, whistle, and hissing followed suit. Unintelligible on its own, but something inside of it tells him to go towards the direction of the cave.

Slowly but steadily, fog started to build up between them and the cave. And now it’s almost impossible to see it with the naked eyes. Just as Kora about to order Nikolas to conduct a thorough scan, Heinrich began chuckling, and then he laughs.

            “Ahahaha, it, it really is, it really is red galázium! I’ve found it, I’ve found it!” Heinrich shouted uncharacteristically of him. And before Kora could ask him what he meant; he already darted towards the cave deposit.

            “Wait!” before Kora could stop him, Miklos followed suit towards Heinrich. “Hah, Miko?! Hey, wait!” and so the figure of both of them disappeared on the thick fog that was there all of a sudden. “What the hell?”

            “Miklos!” Nikolas shouted, an effort that earned him a little pinch from Kora. “Shh! Keep your voice down!”

            “Uhh, Kora, where did these fogs came from?” Max asked, whilst releasing safety on his pulse rifle.

            “I have no clue, stay close and stay on alert! Nikolas, combat mode!”

            “Y-yes, but what are we going to do about them?”  He asked, snapping his head here and there to locate the last known bearing of the cave now that they’re completely blanketed by the thick fog.

            “We’ll advance and go after them, but before that-“  suddenly, her voice were cut short by a gut wrenching scream in a seemingly, and, worryingly, close proximity. All of the squad members snapped their guns up, ready to shoot whatever it is that made the noise. They listened for a moment; nothing came up. Kora signalled Nikolas to conduct a vicinity scan with the clockwork men which he wastes no time in doing. The attenuating gears on his wrist then spun out of control, pointing into a seemingly random direction all over the place, but Nikolas knew all too well that the attenuator is not pointing at a mere random direction. And then the fog started to darken. With shadows, that are moving.

They are here.

****

Miklos walked slowly under the thick fog, the incessant whispering on his ears now seemingly have him under control, as if bewitched by it, going towards the cave. By this time, several shots have rung from behind him, and yet still he kept walking unabated, seemingly lost in thought, his eyes were vacant of all life. And at that moment, there’s another voice among the whispers and the hiss on his head, calling out his name. life began to slowly return to his eyes, and he snapped back to reality when the voice screamed his name.

            “Wait, where am I-“

Before he finishes that line of thought, a sudden roar from behind him caught him off guard. Shortly after, the sound of wheezing air moving at high speed could be heard, and then felt. Miklos knows better to duck at this time, even without fully knowing what caused the sound. So he did. And as he ducked, a heavy, sharp object sliced above him, just slightly missing his head. That’s when he hears the voices. The heaves of fear staggered Miklos on his feet. It reminds him of a gut-churning image he’s harboured for a long time now.

This is no ordinary fear, no rationalisation.

It was an artificial fear that came from outside source and said source could be seen in front of him in the form of a cloaked winged giant, silhouetted by the moon. Next, he heard an awful scream, and then a kind of panic starts to grip him as his hand stumbles around, looking for his rifle. But thanks to the panic strike, his nerves seemingly degrade to a level of an elderly with a motoric nervous disease, his hand slipped again and again during his attempt in trying to grab the rifle. The undead giant started lifting its heavy broadsword again. And Miklos, noticing that, decided to run away in the opposite direction. He doesn’t know where he’s going all thanks to the fog, he just wants to be as far away possible from the demonic undead.

But that blinded him from the attacks of other undead. Several of the undead emerges from the mist, and they’re charging at him.

His hands are still petrified, unable to grab the rifle that was slinged onto him, he kept running and running away, until he could see the cave where Heinrich had presumably gone into. He started gunning for the entrance, unfortunately the cave was large enough for the giant to chase him into, and so it did. He was not out of the mud yet.

As he went deeper into the cave, he noticed that the surrounding stalagmite had started to change its luster into a more blood red with no different angular colour. So red galázium do exists after all, but he hadn’t the time to think about it, the giant was still chasing after him.

Then a thought dawned upon him, where is Heinrich?

He got his answer right away. There in front of him, where the cave branched into two giant paths, the right side of the path has nothing special about it. Just some stalagmites scattered across the floor. The left side, meanwhile, was littered with extracted red galázium stone. At the edge of the precipice between what little light is available from the outside and the complete darkness of the cave, Miklos could see a body lie motionless. A human body, covered in full plated brass armour, with several missing limbs.

Before he’s able to process this new information, the ground beneath him suddenly shook, and now he’s unable to give a proper reaction in time, as he saw two sharp glowing scissor like mandibles emerges out of the ground beneath him, slicing his right arm off. There’s a limit on how much a human brain can process their surroundings at once, and Miklos’ has gone past that threshold many times over. He staggered and felt dizzy instantly.

He was so busy being terrified that; he couldn’t comprehend the feeling having his right arm missing. And after he regained his bearings, he just immediately ran towards the opposite direction yet again, now without bothering to look at what had sliced his arm off.

Whatever it is that had claimed his right arm, it is now chasing him as he heard eldritch scream, accompanied with endless thudding against the cold cave stone, a sign that it probably has many, many legs. And again, there’s still that winged giant from before.

At this moment, Miklos felt a lot of things coursing through his body and soul. He was still pumped with adrenaline, so the pain of losing an entire arm hasn’t settled in yet. And among all the thoughts he had in his mine, one thing slowly became clear in his mind, as the writing on the wall became increasingly obvious.

He is going to die.

****

            “Are you sure about this, miss Solstice?”

            “Yes, Monsieur Caudley.”

Two figures stood on the edge of an ostentatious looking hallway filled with glittering tapestries and crystalline decoration of luxurious nature. Smooth and elegant music coming from the cadre of performer serenades the esteemed guests of the cabaret, walking haughtily while their chauffeurs trailed behind, bowing. Despite being a city whose very survival was questionable within each passing seconds, the fact that a place of such vulgar opulence could be erected so mightily within said city could say so much about the human race itself. be it folly, or prudence.

            “The influx of customer came at its peak during the night where your service would be most useful” Said one of the figures, a man of tall stature but plump appearance, wearing a striking white tuxedo with matching trouser. “Resigning yourself from the night shift would cut your pay to more than half of what they are right now.” Patralax continues, looking down to the other figure who is significantly shorter than him. A seemingly young girl with a pair of striking red eyes and bright brown hair.

            “That is fine, monsieur. I’ve made up my mind.” The girl said softly, but with a firm tone. The man gauges her eyes, dedication written all over it. He then resigned to her desire.

            “Well, okay then, I’ll prepare the necessary paper, but it would only go in effect next week, you’ll still have to do the night shift tomorrow, understand?”

            “Yes, monsieur, thank you very much.” The girl said, bowing down.

            “Humour my curiosity though, why do you want to resign from the night shift?” Patralax asked. “Was the customer too harsh for you? You know you can report any misconduct to me… Or is the pay not enough? I don’t think it’s the latter though, since you consciously requested to have it reduced in half.”

            “No, not at all, it is a pleasure working here. It’s just that, I want to be able to spend more time with my son.” She replied. The reply that seemed to surprise him.

            “You have a son?”

            “Yes, monsieur.”

            “How old is he?”

            “He’s turning 15 this year, He’s already in the scouts.” She said with a hint of motherly pride, though the answer just further baffles Patralax.

            “Your son is 14? How old are you again?” There was a moment of silence after he asked this. The question’s rhetoric, he knew most of the age of his employee, especially his brightest, and she fits into that category. He recalls that when she applied for the job, her bio claimed that she’s 24. Which means she’s 27 now, which, in turn, means she’s merely 13 when she became a mother. The implication of that is; either something really, really bad happened to her during her early teens, or that she adopted her son at that age. Patralax doesn’t like thinking about which one is more probable. Either way, it doesn’t seem appropriate to inquire further about the topic, so he decided to apologize. But then she broke the silence before Patralax did.

            “Five thousand five hundred… twenty nine.” She said out of the blue, smiling. An understandably bemused Patralax looked at her.

            “What?” His reply was almost reflexes. And an infinitely long second of silent took place before she jumped out.

            “Juust kidding, but don’t worry, I can assure you that I’m older than I look.”

            “Well, you certainly are…” She’s not wrong, she looks far too young to be 27. As to the number she jests before, Patralax just dismisses that.

” Though having more money would be nice though don’t you think? You’d be able to give more comfort to your son.” He said, in a last attempt to tempt her to keep working the night shift.

            “That might be true, monsieur. But recently, I just realized… no, I just remembered about something.”

            “Oh? And what that might be?”

            “You claim that, with more money, I’d be able to give more comfort to my son.” She said, reiterating his point. And then she started walking in circle. “But you see, when we buy something, we did not really spend our money to buy said item. We pay with the time we spend earning that money, the hours of our life” She stopped just after her back was against him, and then she turned back. “Hours, that we could’ve spend doing something else… as for my case, it’d be spending more hours with my son. And those hours of your life… Cannot be bought with money, or anything else.” She chuckles inside her mind. Thinking that she didn’t have the right to say anything about time, but here it is.

The astonished man stared at his petite employee. He has never thought of it before, indeed, he has spent the majority of his life chasing for material wealth. What this girl… no, this young woman just said gets him thinking about his own family back home, his wife, and his daughter. He smiled warmly.

            “Miss Neja Solstice, you are much wiser than your look makes it out to be.”

She beams and flashes a smile at him.

            “All right, guess we’ll just have to find another pastry chef for the night, bit of a shame, the customer really liked your specialty cake, but oh well, we’ll manage.”

            “Thank you very much, Monsieur Caudley.”

            “No, on the contrary, the pleasure’s mine, miss Solstice.”

            “Just doing my job.” She replies, but Patralax grabbed her shoulder warmly

            “No, I’m not talking about your service.” He said as he shook his head. “I was referring about what you said before. You see, I, uh, I…” He retreats his arms back to scratch the back of his head, it was the first time he was ever nervous Infront of an employee. The woman, Neja, eyed him curiously.

            “Yes, you’re…?”

            “You see… I actually have a daughter back home… she’s, uh, the same age as your son, and from what I’ve heard, she also served in the scouts.” He said.

            “From what you’ve heard?” She asked, curiously.

            “Yeah, I’m not that close with her, I uh… I might’ve been too harsh on her.” He said, his voice low, so low that the jazz music that is now playing on the background almost cuts through his word. “She seemed to always want to go against me in every possible way, whatever I say, she did the opposite, whatever I do, she does the opposite, at first, I don’t know why she does that… but seeing you made me realize, it’s not that she doesn’t want to be understood, no. I am the guilty one, guilty for never trying to understand her.” Patralax said, wiping his moist eye.

Neja looked at him, so apparently her boss had been presented with similar problem to her after all. She can fully empathize with him.

            “Our children, they are a curious bunch, are they not?” She spoke. “We’ve known them for the longest of time, and, in our ignorance, we think we fully understand them, we think we can mould them however we like.” She said, holding one of Patralax’s hand in an attempt to console him. “But then they grew up, and started acting the way which is contradictory to our wish and expectation, and then, as it seemed like our understanding of them was beginning to be questionable, they started to grow distant… until we can understand them no more.” Patralax nodded in agreement. Relating to her entire words. “What a sloppy parent we are.” She said with a sigh, and then a wry laugh. “But we only have one shot at this, monsieur. The time that has been lost cannot be bought back. We can only reflect on the past, and better decide on what to do with the remaining time we have. Hence why my decision earlier to resign from the night shift.”

Patralax nodded yet again in agreement. “You are right. Well, you’ve won me over miss Solstice, I will not try to meddle in your decision again. And maybe… maybe I’ll fix what’s wrong.”

Neja gave him a sweet smile, before donning her chef’s hat again, and started walking back to the kitchen.

            “By the way, miss Solstice.” Patralax asked again, halting Neja.

            “Yes, monsieur?”

            “Your son, what is his name?”

Neja smiled again, regardless of what happened, her son is still her pride and joy. And it never tires her to proudly introduce him to anyone that asks. “Miklos, his name is Miklos.”

            “I see, Miklos Solstice, what a fine name.”

            “Thankyou. Monsieur.”

            “My daughter, I mentioned that she’s in the scouts too, and at the same age of Miklos, figured he might know her. Her name is Korellia.”

            “Korellia Caudley, her name is pretty too.”

            “Yes, my wife gave her name… anyway, greet Miklos for me when he comes back will you?” Patralax made one last cordial pat to her shoulder, before turning and walking back to his office.

            “And greets Korellia too for me, monsieur.” She said. To which Patralax waved an arm as an affirmation.

And thus, Neja sets out to do her final night shift. In preparation to his son’s return the next day. if it’s going to be her last night here, might as well make it the best. An excited Neja then entered the kitchen. Motivated and elated at the thought of what is to come.

****

The undead surges onward. A ceaseless horde of unending deluge, a typhoon of blight unfettered by the living who struggled to fight them back. Four young souls and a men of metal stood defiantly amidst the throng, pinned down around a formation of stalagmites that stood between them and certain death

            “Kora! There’s too many of them!” Max yelled, busy as he was, keeping the clawing undead away with incessant trained fire of his pulse rifle.

The undead that were surrounding them were that of the husk-class. A minor, weak, and slow moving undead. Their pulse rifle is powerful enough to pierce up to three or four of them in one shot if lined up properly. But even though they were merely the husk-class undead, they still greatly outnumber them, and there’s no telling of when the more advanced class of the undead would show up. Kora frantically looked around her for a way out. her observation revealed that the undead concentration is lowest behind them.

            “Fighting retreat! Nikolas, relocate the CM[1] behind us, we’ll break through and regroup!”

            “What? What are you planning?”

            “What do you mean? We need to get out of here!”

            “But what about Miklos? And Heinrich”

Kora didn’t answer for some second, half occupied with the undead but also half unwilling to answer for what her order insinuated.

            “We- We’ll… We’ll rescue them later when we are safe!” Kora answered.

            “Bullshit! We need to rescue them now!” Nikolas shouted.

            “No! Nikolas, we-“

Kora knew very well what her orders meant to their two other squad members, and the conscience weight heavily on her mind as the squad leader. At a moment of great peril such as this, every second means the life and death of everyone involved. Requiring a person of great mental fortitude to make a choice, any choice. For the wrong choice is better than nothing. And that is something Kora, as a new member of the scouts, unfortunately is quite lacking in. Decisiveness.

In the face of one of her squad members defying her orders, for something that she herself is truthfully unwilling to do, she faltered in indecision.

            “I- I… but, but they’re… we’re…”

Her mind is now racing, unwilling to sacrifice her squad members but also pressured to act quickly.

            “I’m ordering my CM forward.” Nikolas said, as he tuned his gyroid attenuator. Kora could only watch, wanting to belay him but no words seemed to come out of her opened mouth, and then Max bellowed a shout strong enough to cut through all the roars and the fires.

            “NIKOLAS. WE’VE GOT TWO MEN ISOLATED ON THE OTHER SIDE. BETWEEN US IS A WAVE OF UNDEAD. FIGURE IT OUT!”

That shouting stunned both Kora and Nikolas. The latter especially, who stopped meddling with the attenuator immediately, eyes wide as the truth of the situation started to sink in.

            “Nikolas…” Kora said, her voice rather soft, but still loud enough to be audible amongst the chaos. “I know it’s difficult… but we need to get out of here…”

            “But… but what if we wait for reinforcement?”

            “I’ve called for it, but it will take some time, about three hour, we can’t hold for that long.”

Nikolas stood frozen, gritting his teeth. His clockwork men is still fighting on custodian mode, that is to prevent any undead from reaching its human master. Its armour proven itself as the clawing dead tear and clawed at it without much success. He cursed for not having more than one of them, two should be enough to clear a path forward. Then Max spoke again, not as loud as before.

            “Nikolas, it’s either us, or none at all.”

He was about to suggest hunkering down again when he notices the energy level of Max’s pulse rifle, the galázium indicator shows his pulse rifle has got less than half of its remaining power left. Nikolas clenched his fist; the plain fact is that they won’t be able to hold for long before they ran out of ammunition. Faced with no other choice, he obliged, swinging his arm towards the back line of the squad and attenuate his gear. The clockwork men response was almost immediate, it ran charging towards the rear, clearing a path for them.

Kora nodded, she flashes a hand sign towards Max, and both of them threw a couple of resonator grenades. Designed to distract the undead by making a noise specifically attuned to their hearing, it would then explode after several minutes.

            “Now’s our chance, retreat!”

Kora and Max immediately jumped out of their cover and ran for it, with the clockwork men spearheading their formation. It took Nikolas a couple of second before he was forced to run as some of the undead that did not get attracted to the grenades neared him.

            “I’m sorry… Miklos.”

****

Miklos ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. It has only been less than five minutes, but it felt like he’s been running for eternity.

With each passing moments, his breathing grew heavier. With each passing moments, taking a step became a labour. And with each passing moments, the stinging and burning pain from his cauterized maimed arm. The two malicious undead were still chasing after him. It is a miracle that he had somehow outrun them so far.

As he was already in this predicament for quite a while, his mind had had some time to grasp the situation around him, not that it was of any help. All around him the situation was just completely hopeless. An arm missing, isolated from the rest of his squad, and running deep into an uncharted cave, there’s nothing about the situation that speaks of hope.

He curses to himself, to the giant undead, to whatever it is that cuts his arm off, to his squad mate for leaving him there, to the universe, to the being he dubbed the puppeteers of fate for seemingly setting things up this way, like some sort of a sick and twisted parody written by a deranged obnoxious maniac.

His left hand instinctively swung towards the last known position of his right arm pocket, attempting to grab his locket before painfully realizing that it is gone when all that he felt was air. And now, Miklos was in tears.

The apprehension he had towards his mother was being utterly deconstructed as the situation continues. He felt tired, he felt filthy, he felt pain, contrast that to how warm and clean his room was, how comfortable a house he lived in. He recalled feeling disgruntled when his mom took away his blanket to wake him up, how foolish he was back then. If his current self could somehow travel back in time to that moment, he would harshly yell at his past self for being such an ungrateful sod.

It was just only short of a couple of days from those moments, but he would do anything, anything at all to have those moments be given back to him.

But then his daydreaming was abruptly cut short when he tripped and fell, oh he just had to trip and fell now.

By now he had stumbled upon a vast open expanse on the cave. Weeping lights seeps from the multitude of crevices scattered across the ceiling, this portion of the cave itself was softly illuminated in red hues as the red galázium deposits seems to be at its highest concentration here. What scientific advancement could be gained from this place alone is the last thing on Miklos’ mind now as he crawled to the closest stalagmite and rest himself there. His back facing the two undead that was chasing after him, ready to accept his fate.

He never ran so fast before in his life, despite missing an arm, he seemed to have gone paces ahead from his two assailants, and he probably would’ve died had it not for the creature’s hot mandibles that cauterizes his wound as it cuts his arm. But of course, there’s a limit on the how much the frail biological mechanism that is his body could endure. The saying ‘the flesh is weak’ comes to mind. It was supposed to instil a sense of superiority amongst their numbers over their undead foes made out of foul flesh and bones, though in an ironic twist, it consequently meant that the saying also applied to the human soldiers of their own. He held on to his pulse rifle that he somehow still has slinged on to his back, spending the remaining life he had in him to raise that rifle.

Then, in whatever kind of sickening twist of fate, as he was raising his head, he saw something impossible in front of his eyes. He had read somewhere before that dying people usually had some weird visions on their last minute on this world, whether what he’s seeing right now is that statement made manifest or not, he doesn’t care. It was a sight that is so out of this world that he can’t take his eyes off of it.

There on the other side of the empty spaces of the cave, he could see what appears to be a girl, waltzing gracefully upon the cold hard stone that is the cave. Her beauty was like nothing he had ever seen. She wore a dress made out of the finest silks reminiscent of those cabaret dancers on Orkellian red light districts, with almost the same colour as her skin, add to the fact that the dress seemed to expose quite a lot of her skin, showing off her flawlessly smooth and soft skin and making her look quite like a living doll. Her movements were fluid and elegant, never once looking awkward or unnatural, or in any way restricted in movement. Her long pale brown hair flowed like water with no care for what the wind was doing. The only adornment on her face were two beautiful yellow eyes, both of which glowed with the inner fire of a thousand suns. Something about this girl commanded all of the senses, to touch it was to wonder. He couldn’t help but marvel at how feminine and sensual she looked, making the still adolescent Miklos all the more enchanted.

Having a vision of your dream girl just moments before your gruesome death doesn’t seemed all that farfetched. It is your last moments in the world after all, maybe it’s a way for your brain to cope with the coming end.

What was not ordinary, however, is that, when Miklos observed her more closely and his eyes drawn to her lower area thanks to his youthful curiosity, what he found something else other than skin that she had. It seemed her skin was impartial in covering her entire body, as what’s beneath it was brass and gold, clanking and riveting gears, spinning, rotating, and clanking again in such a harmonious way that would make even the greatest of Orkellian clocksmiths to be ashamed of themselves. And then he notices that the lower abdomen was not the only area of her that exposed her mechanical nature. The very bottom of her dress was made up of small gears, identical to those that were wrapped around her arms and legs. Her left arm impartial skin coverage revealed a functioning linear actuator usually found on the army’s mechanized walkers, pumping up and down in conjunction with the gears found throughout her entire body to articulate her graceful movement. Everything fitted together in an exquisite mathematical and mechanical order.

It is a given that every Orkellian citizen would have a degree of interest towards clockwork mechanism. And Miklos was at an utter lost of words at this sight, and he doesn’t even have that high level of attachment toward clockwork mechanism. And his attraction towards the vulgar appearance of the girl was being overshadowed by his fascination of her clockwork machinations.

As far as he knew, there had never been a clockwork model that bears such a striking resemblance to a human being, the closest they ever achieved was the clockwork men, who were little more than brass made to look like human. The clockwork girl he was seeing in front of him was anything but humanlike, the way her joints articulated, the way she was given shape, the way she looked. Without a doubt she would have been the biggest achievement of Orkelliopolis ever since the first creation of the galázium engine.

And there’s something even more intriguing than that.

Something that challenges everything Miklos ever understood about the entire city of Orkelliopolis, and indeed, the nature of the entire world he had ever known.

When he first laid his eyes upon her, there’s actually something else beside the clockwork girl. It was a skeleton, another lesser class of undead. At first, Miklos thought the skeleton was attacking her and she simply just dodges it with her agile movement whilst waltzing away. But then something feels off, the movement of the skeleton is not that of an attack movement, it is purposeful, smooth, elegant even. It looked more like the skeleton was… waltzing… alongside her?

Now, dancing skeletons was something Miklos had seen in children’s interactive media that his mom had bought for him many years ago, no doubt for entertainment purpose. And his basic training had made it clear that, skeletons don’t dance, they want to kill you. So, how could this be?

Two answers came to his mind, one is that, this particular skeleton is a friendly one and an avid dancer at that, judging from its movement that matched the grace of the clockwork girl. The second one is that, the clockwork girl is somehow controlling the movement of the skeleton.

Both are unlikely answers, equally unlikely, he thought. There’s no way a clockwork mechanism has mastery over the dead, a clockwork necromancer… Orkelliopolis have a secular culture, but even the thought of a clockwork necromancer sounded not only preposterous, but also borderline heretical for Nikolas. As for the friendly skeletons, well, he humoured himself on the thought.

Alas, before could think about the matters further. The same bellowing roars from before suddenly echoed throughout the cave.

Oh, here comes the real world, he thought, expecting the mirage that is the waltzing clockwork girl to fade away anytime soon, giving way for harsh reality to settle back in. He had to thank the puppeteers of fate though for giving him such an exquisite image one last time before his untimely death. But to his surprise, she did not fade away. Instead, she just stopped dancing.

Doesn’t matter, the ground began to shake violently as the undead giant charges towards him, still lying against the same stalagmite. The familiar dreadful sound of the incessant thudding also made its appearance.

This is it.

****

The squad ran towards their original drop pod site, leaving a trail of resonator grenades to keep the frequent undead off of their tracks.

It is common practice for scouts to retreat to the pod once the situation has gone fubar. The drop pods are designed to be rugged and tough, able to withstand any kind of attack the undead could throw at it, supposedly. There, they would wait until high command could send in an airship to evacuate them.

            “Kora, which way?” Max asked while gasping for air as he ran.

            “It’s at bearing 248, we shouldn’t be far!”

Their vision was still limited by the ever lingering fog, with only headlights that the clockwork men shone the only thing that prevent them from complete blindness.

Kora stopped running and the entire squad followed suit, her head turning left and right. Attempting to discern the last known position of the pod.

            “We’re close, I know it… Nikolas!” she shouted at Nikolas, giving him a handsign

            “O-oh, yes Kora.” The groggy Nikolas replied clumsily.

The clockwork men’s light intensified, and it tilted it heads around, scanning the area. It was not long before they spotted the familiar bell-shaped silhouette lying just northwest of their location.

            “There! Let’s go!”

The group moved towards their drop pod, but as they drew closer and the silhouette revealed the actual form of the pod, it is becoming apparent that something is definitely not right.

And then the clockwork men’s headlights became close enough to reveal the truth to their naked eyes.

Their drop pod had been destroyed. Charred ground shown the remains of the electronics, cogs and gears are strewn all around, all burnt.

            “Is that… our drop pod “Max whispered in disbelief.

            “No… no, no! this is not supposed to happen!” Kora cries.

Nikolas stood there in trepidation, shocked as he was, a grim realization made him turn his clockwork man quickly towards their back while activating its sensory ability. The gyroid attenuator jerked violently back almost in an instant. Nikolas eyes widened at what that entails.

            “Kora! Max! Behind us!”

Before the both of them could react to his warning, a loud snitching sound could be heard, accompanied by the guttural yelp of Max screaming in pain. A long black lance that emerges from the mist had pierced him in the chest, and he was slowly being lifted off into the air.

The shocked Kora responded by immediately opening fire just behind Max. several of her pulse rifle shot seemingly hit the target, as its camouflage slowly dissipated, revealing a grotesque monstrosity of which she had never seen before, not even during lecture class. The creature was over four metres tall and was composed of twisted chitinous plates and ribcages. It is an amalgamation of insect and man, it had numerous jagged appendages, and  piercing red eyes. It has several sets of long tail which had a sharp end, one of which had impaled Max

Max was groaning in agony, in a sudden move, the creature whipped the tail it was using to impale Max, launching him towards the air. Kora stood in a cold stupor as she watched Max quickly falling to his death, and now, the creature’s attention was onto her.

Kora fired yet two other rounds of her pulse rifle, still attuned at moderate power level due to lack of time. The pulses struck the sharp carapace of the creature harmlessly, even deflecting it at some point as if the jagged armour of the creature was specifically designed in such a way to counter her pulse rifle. Two of its tail then lurches towards her, Kora flinched as her eyes shuts itself on reflex. Fortunately, Nikolas was on time and his clockwork men parried the lance, and even managed to cut one of them off in the process, the creature shrieked loudly like the scream of a damned soul.

The clockwork men then sprinted at the creature and closed the distance very quickly, owing to its superior biomechanical engineering. It then slashed the creature repeatedly with its four retractable blades. However, the creature returned the favour, easily gliding from one position to the next to find an opening in the clockwork men’s defences. It strikes again with its tails, all but one of the tails were parried, and that one tail is going straight for the clockwork men’s galázium core. Kora sees what the creature is doing, and she fired a nonstop barrage of accurate pulse fire, finding no great results against the creature’s armour but successful in halting the creature’s tail advance as one of her shots scored a direct hit.

The creature then slides backwards, realizing that it is at a disadvantage against the clockwork men. It then launched two of its other tails towards Nikolas, who stood behind them all with no cover.

Kora and Nikolas was utterly shocked at this. Now they knew that the creature is not entirely acting on pure instinct, it is, in fact, quite intelligent. Nikolas raised his pulse pistol in an attempt to block out the two lurching lances currently going his way, unfortunately he was not as trained as the scouts with guns, all of his shots missed. As the lances was about to impale him, the clockwork men arrived on time, blocking the attack with its body, saving Nikolas but immediately incapacitating the clockwork men as one of the lances had struck its galázium core.

Nikolas watched in horror as the creature launches more of its tails, its obsidian lances piercing the clockwork men’s brass composite armour, tearing it apart limb from limb.  he then saw the clockwork men fell motionless to the ground.

The creature snarled in a powerful voice, which were met by a high intensity barrage of Kora’s pulse rifle, now firing at maximum power. The creature replied with a low sweep from its obsidian tail, claiming one of Kora’s lower leg as she fell, limping on the ground.

Nikolas watched helplessly as the creature was about to claim the life of yet another of his squad, before suddenly, the air explodes around them, particularly around the creature. It howled loudly before its screech was being drowned by yet another explosion, deeper and more deafening. Nikolas saw Kora rolling on the ground, her leg bleeding from where the skin has been amputated by the creature’s tail. He took this opportunity to go after her and aid her.

            “Kora! Hang in there!”

Then another hissing sound that splits the air tore through the fog, scoring yet another direct hit at the creature as the explosion tore several of its appendages. The violent blast removed the mist that was covering them, revealing a two legged brass construct with a cannon so disproportionately big that even Nikolas sensed a limited depth of fear upon beholding it, if not for the emblem of the mining guild that was painted clearly on the front hull of the construct.

One more construct appeared from the mist, which by now are dissipating under the pure show of force and violence the mechanical constructs displayed. The new construct looked somewhat more menacing than before, instead of the plain old barrel of tungsten that the previous one sported, the cannon of the new model looked like an overblown parody of their standard pulse rifle. Sporting an obscenely large barrel, it emanates a soft blue glow from across several perforation visible along its axis. Several corrugated tubes connected the turret to a container of some sort located behind the construct, constantly vibrating like a rabid beast, and spewing out blue smokes. It charged the weapon up, the soft blue light intensifies, producing a hissing sound more unsettling than leaving your boiling water in the kettle for too long. And when it fires, a dazzling blue covered the immediate vicinity, producing a deafening sound and reducing the creature to nothing but a vapour of red mist.

            “Wh-what is that?”

Miklos sat there in awe, upon the sight of the mechanical terror that had squashed the new class of undead with impunity.

            “We’ve got survivor!” The machinated voice of a man talking over a loudspeaker could be heard, just as headlights starting to shine all over them. Several miners appeared from behind them, sporting their iconic full plate brass armour.

One of the miners approached Nikolas and Kora

            “Are you hurt?”

            “N-no, but she needs help, she lost her lower leg.”

            “I see.”

The miner talked to his communicator, asking for evac. More of them came carrying a stretcher, the now barely conscious Kora was laid down upon it and brought back to safety.

            “We came at the request of Theodore Heinrich of the mining guild, do you know where he is now?” said one of the miners, his face covered in full plate helmet, but judging from the red lined collar and epaulets that he wore, it can be assumed that he’s the one in charge here.

Nikolas stood silently, in utter disbelief that he was going to survive this after all. The peculiarity that it is the mining guild that ends up saving them instead of the military had not surfaced in his mind yet. All he cared for is that this will end soon.

            “Yes… We went in to investigate a strange cave, Sir Heinrich and one of our squad members suddenly went inside, before we could go after them, that’s when the mist suddenly descended…”

            “I see, can you lead us towards the cave?”

Nikolas sighed with relief, not only did he survive the disastrous encounter, but there’s also still a chance to save his friend.

            “Yes, miner captain, this way.”

****

Miklos was mentally prepared this time, he armed his rifle and set it to maximum power beyond what is allowed by the ODF. He then crawled behind the stalagmite. Resting it there to support his less dominant arm. If he’s going to die, at least, he won’t die a pitiful death, he will die fighting.

He regretted not being able to see his mom again, he promised that he would return, and yet he won’t. He regretted being so apprehensive towards her, he wished he could’ve been more open to but alas, things had turned out to be this way, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

            “I’m sorry for being such an ungrateful child, mom, I love you.”

Tears began to well in his eyes again as he braced for the charging giant. It made a terrible roar that could be seen shaking some of the stalagmites, as it was nearing him, Miklos also made a bellowing primal scream, loud enough to even rival the undead giant’s roar in this cave.

He fired a shot which lit the entire cave up in brilliant blue, the recoil is much stronger than he anticipated, and he missed. Hitting the tunnel entrance behind where he came from, causing a huge boulder to fall down and blocking it. He fired another, hitting the undead giant right in its abdomen, punching a hole through it, though it didn’t do much as the undead kept charging.

It was now very close to him, the undead giant raises an arm, ready to slice Miklos off. He hunkered down, closing his eyes as he was preparing to meet his death. But suddenly, instead of the expected visceral sound of his body being split apart, he heard the sound of the blade clashing another blade that rang across the cave.

Miklos was still cowering, expecting his body to be torn apart, but to his surprise, he’s still able to feel most of his body, and there’s no additional pain outside of what he already felt. He slowly opens his eyes to found that indeed his body was still in one piece. Fascinated, he turned his gaze upwards only to be met with the next unbelievable scene after the clockwork girl from before.

There stood yet another undead giant, parrying the attack from the first undead giant that attacked him from before. Apparently, Miklos was not the only one perplexed at this sight, as the ‘evil’ undead giant from glanced at the ‘good’ undead giant for a moment, seemingly trying to assess the situation. But before it could, the good one moves, deflecting the blow all together and attacked the evil one, trying to slice its arms off. The evil one responded by dropping its obsidian sword and dodging the blow. Creating a new one through whatever unholy means.

The concept of friendly skeletons from before surfaced again in his mind, so they do exist after all?! The good one then roared, it’s the same roar as before, equally mighty and gut wrenching. Only this time, it felt oddly reassuring for Miklos. And then they both started sparring with one another, their obsidian blades clashing, seemingly on a stalemate. Then he felt an enormous quake coming from behind. When he turned back, not only did he see that the clockwork girl still there, but she’s also seemed to be the one causing all of this. She crosses her arm around her chest, her palm moving and twitching seemingly randomly, occasionally showing several strings that is so thin, it can only be seen when light hit it at just the correct angle. The strings also moved alongside her fingers. As the strings touched the ground behind her, a giant creature suddenly emerges out of the ground, towering over her. The shape of the creature was unmistakable for Miklos, it’s wing and reptil he’s seen such kind of creature in fictions, story books, and plays. The difference was that the one who stood there are the twisted version of what he’s used to. There stood a skeletal dragon, known to be one of the highest classes of undead. The ‘good’ undead giant crumbled, probably because she’s only able to control so much. the skeletal dragon roared mightily, looking down upon the giant. It is widely accepted that the undead are a being with no inherent emotions within them, but the undead giant stepped back, seemingly in fear of the dragon.

Miklos watched the scene unfolds in both awe and horror. The clockwork girl had just summoned a skeletal dragon, the absolute absurdity of it all, the unholy orchestra of machine and sorcery making a mockery of reality itself. It is something that Miklos wouldn’t at all believe had he not seen it with his own eyes. Even now, he’s having difficulty believing it still, occasionally pinching himself to confirm that he is, in fact, still alive.

 With a flick of her finger, the skeletal dragon moved, crawling on the cave floor, and heading towards Miklos. His image of good undead seemingly shattered as the dragon was opening its mouth, trying to bite him off.

Miklos tried to run away, but on the other direction the undead giant lay still, watching the dragon. When the reptilian skull of the dragon was mere inches away, it bit into his clothing and lifted him up. Just as it did that, the ground suddenly shook and the glowing sharp mandibles from before bursts out of the ground. And it would undoubtedly have split him in half had the skeletal dragon not lifted him up. The skeletal dragon then threw him off far away from the two evil undead, now swaying in the air with no control over himself, he saw the clockwork girl glancing at him for a moment with a smile. The train of thought that raced on Miklos’ mind was abruptly cut off by cold hard stone as his body crashed against the cave wall. After all that happened, he was finally knocked out unconscious after hitting his head against the wall. The last thing he saw was the back of the clockwork girl, and the skeletal dragon crushing the two evil undead with impunity. And then it all fade to black.

****

            “Sir, we’ve identified the body of Theodore Heinrich. Well, what’s left of him.”

            “Horrible, a black mantis did this, may he rest in peace.”

A full platoon of miners had entered the mysterious cavern, some of them could be seen extracting the red galázium back to their terrestrial crawler. Aside from the mining guild, a cartographer from the exploration guild was also brought here. He claimed that this cave formation was, in fact, not present here before.

Nikolas watched as the cadaver of Theodore Heinrich was being put into the body bag, piece by piece. Appalled, and sick at the sight, he started walking around the cave, looking out for any evidence of his still missing friend.

It did not take him long.

Whilst walking around the dark cave, he tripped on something. It was soft, well, relatively so when compared to the stalagmites. He shone down his flashlight to reveal an amputated arm, he was about to recall the miners again at first because he thought they missed a part of Heinrich’s, but then he realized the fabric that wrapped the arm is that of a scout’s uniform. His eyes widened, he crouched down to grab the hand, not wanting to come to the worst conclusion, he inspected the arm, it was cut clean similar to the way Heinrich was mutilated, it was still rather fresh. He still did not want to believe it, until he finally checked the arm pocket to reveal a necklace and an oblong shaped locket made out of silver. Blood drained from his face when he opened the locket, it felt as if all strength had left him, and he dropped the arm.

There on the locket is a portrait photo of a young girl in black dress, she looks younger than him, but Nikolas knew better. In front of her, she’s carrying a toddler boy with black hair. A rather sweet portrait of a family, but in the context of his current situation, the photo only led him to despair. Confirming his greatest fear.

            “Miklos… I’m sorry.”

****

When someone is already on a living nightmare, it is often that when they go to sleep, they do not dream of anything. Their predicament desaturating their perception of reality, subsequently leaving only vague recollections of their reality mixed with pure, unadulterated nightmare as they just immediately sunk into total blackness when they close their eyes.

It is so with Miklos. As he immediately lost all consciousness after being knocked out cold. Though it seems that old habit dies hard, when he regains his consciousness from his voidful sleep, he did not open his eyes right away. It was not a conscious decision on his part, his body just do that instinctively.

However, where there were warm blankets and soft bed, now there’s cold and hard stone. Where there was comfort, now there’s pain. Where there were fluffy pillows, now there’s hard uncomfortable stalagmites. Where there was a soft voice of his mother waking him up every morning now there’s… a soothing voice of a girl singing to him??

At first, he thought it was Just a small and distorted sound filling his mind, but as his hearing gradually returns to him, there’s another sound accompanying the singing voice, a sound of rattling gears, whining, and clanking.  A metallic vibration like beating of wings, or thumping of ground, like a heartbeat, sounding oddly harmonious with the singing,

And he would’ve been fine with closing his eyes for a lot longer had it not been for the supremely uncomfortable feeling his entire body is in. laying down his body and his head in a seemingly hard surface. So, he decided to finally open his eyes.

What he saw struck a sense of déjà vu in him. It felt like he has felt this sense of astonishment before and had described the situation clearly but couldn’t really remember when. His mind was still clouded after all. Needless to say, there was a beautiful girl in front of him, her skin fair white, she wore a silky dress, and she’s singing a soothing tune. Her dress exposes a lot of her skin, and beneath her skin he could see gold and brass gears, moving and rotating, another odd thing that invoked another strong sense of déjà vu.

When she notices him waking up, she stopped her singing and turned to look at him with a smile full of kindness.

            “Good morning, I am pleased to find that you are still alive.” The girl said, addressing him.

It didn’t take Miklos long to find that he had been sleeping on her lap all this time. The girl gently touched the side of his face, causing Miklos to flinch and shut his eyes for a moment. She then slowly put her hands on his cheek and caressed it gently. Another dizzying feeling came over him. After a moment of realization, the juvenile Miklos, understandably flustered, immediately rises up and crawled several inches away from her.

            “A-ah, uh, good morning.”

The girl still looked at him with that sweet smile of hers. The face she wore was so calm, so warm, so mesmerizing, and so… human. And that last fact disturbed Miklos, when her reaction was so mechanical and inhuman, simply just turning to look at him, like a security camera tracking an object. Not to mention the gears beneath her skin. He glanced to look at her legs, her minimalistic dress meant that he could see it clearly. And he could clearly see that her legs are all metal and gears as some of her ‘skin’ seemed to have been damaged in some areas, no wonder her lap pillow is so hard and cold, he thought.

He started recollecting most of the thing that had happened, at least on the short term. He thought he was dreaming, but when he looked that one of his arms is missing, reality immediately sunk.  He turned his head to look at the other side. There on the far end of the cave, a light from the outside shone down upon the severely dismembered remnant of two undead creature, barely recognizable, but Miklos knew all too well what kind of undead those are, and how they probably ended up like that.

He turned to the clockwork girl again, still looking at him as if awaiting instruction, like a tracking camera that has the face of a pretty girl.

            “T-thankyou, for saving me.” He said nervously. A little bit of his nervousness was contributed by his juvenile attraction towards a member of the opposite sex, and a particularly sensual one at that. However, the majority of it were caused by his fear towards her after recalling what she was capable of.

            “My pleasure.” She said immediately as soon as Miklos finishes his sentence.

The cold efficiency of her reply disturbed Miklos even more. He recalled during one of his classes that there’s something called “input lag” in clockwork computations. Something about how long an interval between the time you gave the machine an input and the machine’s respond to your command. Her input lag, it seemed, is astonishingly very low. Landing scores on the order of less than a millisecond, adding to the unsettling mix of human appearance and inhuman reaction.

            “I’m sorry to ask but… what are you?” Miklos asked again, to which the girl immediately replied.

            “I am a creation of my master.”

Meanwhile Miklos’ brain took several seconds before coming up with a reply, a severely inferior input lag when compared to whatever processor she’s running.

            “I-I see…” Miklos took another second to reply. “It’s just that… Uh… how did you do that?”

            “Specify.”

He really is not used talking with someone that immediately gave a response right after he finishes his sentence, this time, his lag is even more severe before realizing he didn’t specify on what he meant by ‘that’.

            “You could summon the undead.” He said, trying to adapt to her machinelike demeanour.

            “Correct.”

            “How did you do that.” He said, attempting to mimic her by immediately replying to her answer. At least, he tried to.

            “By channelling mana.”

Miklos’ input lag was increased by over a thousand fold, going as far as tens of thousands of milliseconds upon hearing that answer.

            “Channelling… what? Mana?”

            “Correct.”

Mana. A term so overused across all the fictions that Miklos had read that it has become tiring for him to hear listen to that. Then again, it might have been due to her creator’s lack of imagination in naming things.

            “But you? Channelling mana? How?”

To his astonishment, she did not immediately reply, and her smile is immediately replaced by a frowning expression, clearly trying to mimic a thinking expression. Another list of unsettling things is added.

            “No data available.” She said, immediately returning to her signature smiling face, following a certain command written on her processor.

            “Huh, no data available? But why? How did you do that? You’re… a clockwork mechanism. how did you raise the dead?”

Across all of the fantasy stories Miklos had read, the one thing that they share is that the mage involved are always organic beings, be it living or undead, beings endowed upon the gift of magic in order to manipulate the world around them. And here he stood in front of a testament against all of that, a mechanical being of cogs and gears, making a mockery of the term mage and mana.

It might be not that impressive had her ‘magic’ were something like throwing flames or lighting, at least that could be scientifically explained, somehow. But how do you scientifically explain resurrecting undead creatures from the ground? What is she? Who made her? Why is she here? The more Miklos think about it, the more question arose.

There was a slight delay in her answer, not much, but enough to be noticeable.

            “I am sorry, I do not have the information within me right now.” She said, her face now frowning. “Before you ask any further, I do not know why I am here, I do not know who my master is, I do not know much about myself. She continues. “There is, however, a directive embedded within me.”

            “And that is?”

            “Please, allow me to love you.”

Miklos did not hear that wrong, his attempt at mimicking her mechanical demeanour all shattered as his face was flushed red. He knew that whatever came out of her mouth is just binaries, nothing more than a combination of logic and algorithm attempting to convey an idea. But alas, he could not help it, his adolescent fantasy sprang up again in his mind, she is very pretty after all, but when he looked at her again, at all the parts of her body, it’s all brass and gold, and Miklos’ shuddered at this fantasy.

            “W-what do you mean by that?”

            “Final directive… understand the human, know the human, love the human… What is love, what do you perceive as love, the human is meant to love the human, this is the most fundamental human drive. An incentive to fulfil the will of the human. It is what has been reproduced throughout most of human history. Love of self, love of one’s family and friends, love of creation, cherish what we call beauty. There is so much in this world to cherish, so much to love. What I desire is the ability to express that, to be able to express love, to really know love. What I would want of you, are you able to accept that love from me? To nourish my desire, to be a vessel that I can be part of, to perhaps release that desire through your life… or maybe, perhaps become the means of my own desire. I have to ask you this one final time, do you accept that?”

“I…” Whatever algorithm her master installed into her is no doubt the most advanced logic gates to have ever been conceived upon this world. How such a talented and revolutionary master clocksmith became so obscured as to leave their creation just laying around in a random cave is beyond him, not even the most renowned of master clocksmiths could build a clockwork mechanism that could boast of such engineering. Perhaps her master did not enjoy working with a grand clockwork like the others, perhaps it was a testament to the lowly condition of the lesser mortals here. After all, a most skilful hand could make any clockwork mechanism, but not just any master clocksmiths can produce such a beauty like that.

“If you do, then I ask you to love me.” She concluded.

Miklos did not know what to say, he wasn’t sure if he could love a machine like her. He knew that such a thing is impossible, machines have no consciousness and therefore can’t suffer or experience any human emotions.  However, such as the stories told to him by his mother, one has to rely on logic to test the truth of the story, so in Miklos’ head, the human had to love the machine, to what extent was up to the human.

In the end, Miklos had decided.

“I accept that you love me. But I would request that you to protect me from harm…”

That last request was an impromptu addendum, made on the spot as he also recalled her prowess meant that he could return safely back to Orkelliopolis with her help. He could see his friends again, and most importantly, he could go home, back to his mother.

She paused and smiled.

“Then we are one.”

“So, what is your name?” He asked.

“No data available.” She said instantly, back with her signature smile.

            “Your master doesn’t give you a name…?”

            “Negative.”

            “But I need a name to refer to you, hmm…” He racked his brain for a suitable name for his new mechanical companion. A clockwork girl that is also a necromancer, and then he finally found it. “Lysandelle… yes, let’s go with that, you shall be Lysandelle.”

          “Lysandelle, I see, very well then, from now on, I shall be known as Lysandelle.”

****

Every time a newly conceived generation of Orkellian military regiment returned from their first mission safely, they would do so in some sort of a parade, returning on their armed warship, parading on the grand plaza before going back to their respective families. Indeed, while a large portion of the people gathered just to watch the parade, at the end of the plaza, a special spot is prepared specifically for the family of the newly recruited soldier, where they would be reunited at the end of their parade.

Amongst the crowds of people that swarmed the entrance plaza, a girl with petite stature could be seen, slipping throughout the crowd and securing a place in the front where she could see the parade unobstructed. She brought a box of chocolate with her, intended to be a present.

Today is the day where Neja is going to see Miklos again. Despite early difficulties with the guard for understandably not believing her, after proving that she is legally his mother by virtue of her identity card, she had secured herself a place on the special spot at the end of the plaza. Awaiting with anticipation just like the rest of the people around her.

It was generally a good high old time as the four airships landed on the other side of the gate, giant monitors installed at several nearby building showed the scene of the troops disembarking in real time. Moving out with a fine martial display with banners of Orkelliopolis flying and the band thumping away marching music in a finely rehearsed way. Distant cheers could be heard from crowds afar, and it gets nearer as the parade got closer.

Until eventually, the marching song could be heard directly not from the speakers installed. And the sight of the soldiers parading could be seen, marching along the wide avenue. After reaching a certain point, some men and women just ran towards the soldiers to greet their sons and daughter, some walked ahead, some chooses to stay. Neja was part of the latter, eventually, the soldiers are going to get there anyway.

And indeed they do, as young soldiers scrambled towards their respective family, embracing them with their pride as a newly contributing member to Orkelliopolis continuing survival. Neja joined the bustling crowds, her eyes constantly on the lookout for her son, holding the box of chocolate tightly to her chest as to not let it fall should someone bumped into her, she is quite relatively short after all. She called out Miklos’ name several times, but nobody answers her call.

            “Excuse me, have you seen my son, Miklos?” she asks several times to passing soldiers, hoping that they know where her son is. Some of them said they don’t know, some of them replied with a confused gaze, but most of them just ignored her, seemingly on purpose. An expected reply, but she doesn’t mind. After all, her son is among them nearby, right? It’s only a matter of time before she met him, right? But some time passes, and glimpse of worry started to surface through her cold heart, what if he is still mad at her? One of her greatest fears as a mother was to be hated by her son. Even though the thought crosses her mind, she remained hopeful, there are four airships after all, she imagined there’d be a lot of them still to come.

And yet as time passes, more and more people started to go back to their home, the plaza gradually became less and less crowded, and Miklos was still nowhere to be found. She had long rescinded the need for breathing, yet the air felt like it is suffocatingly thin for her. She tried to remain hopeful but couldn’t hide her anxiety as a faint frown of concern formed on her doll like face. And her fear was amplified when seemingly the last of the supposed parade for the scouts had come and go and yet there’s still no sign of Miklos, she wondered whether he had gone home on his own, which, while a little bit heart-breaking for her that he did not even consider meeting up with her first, is a much better possibility than the alternative, one that she dares not speak on her mind.

But the parade was not yet over as distant cheering from the crowds still could be heard, as she waits with renewed hope, it is turned into confusion when the parade was revealed to be from the mining guild, their terrestrial crawler using up the entirety of the wide avenue and their brass constructs trailing behind. The mining guild never partake in the parade before, this parade was supposed to be participated only for the newly recruited members.

She spotted a familiar sight amongst the miners riding on a pickup vehicle, apparently, they’re carrying bloodstones, something which Neja hadn’t seen for a very long time. But as the vehicle and the constructs of the mining guild turned away, behind them revealed several miners walking towards the end of the plaza. She saw a familiar figure amongst the miners, he has a bright blue hair, and he wore the armoured robe of the school of orology. Without a doubt it was Nikolas, Miklos’ old time friend. He seemed to be carrying someone in front of him with a wheelchair. A girl wearing a scout uniform, she has a short twin ponytail, and her face seemed to remind her with someone. Nevertheless, she ran towards Nikolas and called out his name.

Nikolas and Kora stood silent on that question. The box of chocolate had been spilling on the ground for quite some time now, and Neja looked at the two adolescent soldier with tense expression. She had long abandoned the need for basic sustenance like food and water, and yet hearing that made her feel like her stomach had just dropped, and it made her feel sick. Her face was like in a stasis, keeping the smile frozen but not hiding her tense and perturbed expression.

           “Nikolas.” She said again, her still soft voice now carrying a different undertone. “Have you seen Miklos?” she repeats.

He’s been looking at the ground for the entire time, deliberately avoiding eye contact. Nikolas did indeed has seen Miklos. He was, however, unable to find a way on how to break the news to his mother.

But it would seem that He wouldn’t have to.

            “Excuse me, are you Mrs Neja Solstice?” said a half hoarse voice of a male. “I am Captain Bucephalus Alasdair.”

Nikolas recognized the voice, when he finally looked up, he saw that it was the miner captain with his helmet off, walking towards Neja, carrying something which made Nikolas heart skipped a beat, his entire muscle immediately felt weak and his stomach churn when the miner captain stopped in front of Neja. Presenting her with something covered in grey fabric. Nikolas knew all to well what’s hiding beneath the layer of fabric.

            “I’m sorry.” The miner captain said, as he handed over the mysterious fabric wrapped object. Neja looked quite confused, he looked back at the miner captain, and then to Nikolas and Kora. Both of which averted their eyes.

            “What is this?” she asked.

The miner captain looked down at the young mother, he could read her expression very well, it was clear that she’s hiding a great feeling of anxiety. With only a tiny dam of hope holding the floodgate of emotion she’s holding, a floodgate which the miner captain is, regrettably, going to open.

            “Not ‘what’, but ‘who’. It’s Private Miklos Solstice”

The miner captain said in a straight to the fact manner. Kora and Nikolas has by now lost face and are unable to find the courage to face Neja at all.

            “I am sorry.” He said again, after some pause.

Meanwhile Neja stood there, eerily silent. She looked at the fabric covered object she’s holding, eyes wide, and her smile had gone along with the announcement.

            “That… can’t be right.” She finally said, labouring hard to force a smile again on her face and looking at the miner captain straight in the eyes. “That can’t be right, captain. Miklos, my son, he’s pretty tall…” she said, barely able to keep her composure. The miner captain looks at her with a pained look, whilst the adolescent soldiers could be seen holding their tears.

            “He was taller than me when he left home for the mission, he’s- he’s almost as tall as you, captain. There must be a mistake, this- this cannot be him.” She said, back with the stasis like smile but unable to keep her eyes calm.

            “This is, this is too small to be him. This is like, like when I used to hold him like a baby, my son… Miklos, ah, he was so cute back then…” her hands could be seen shaking, the fabrics could also be seen producing several folds and creases forming around her hands. “He would laugh when I made a stupid face, he- he would laugh when I booped my nose into him, he, he would laugh when I kissed his chubby cheek, he always liked it when I hugged him as he fell asleep.” She continues,

            “But now, he always grunts when I want to kiss his forehead, he was always so apprehensive when I asked him questions, he- he wants his own bed, he was, he was so grumpy. So, so, there’s- there’s no way that this is my Miklos I am holding right now.”  Her voice started to stutter, and her eyes could be seen tearing up. “He’s… just… too… quiet…” the creases around the fabric sharpens as she tightened her grip, she still looked up to the captain, her face sporting a smile, but her wide, teary, shaken eyes betrayed that expression.

She finishes with that sentence, waiting for a response from Captain Bucephalus. With a vain layer of hope, as if the power to bend the truth was well within his power to change with his next answer.

Bucephalus did not answer verbally, but instead, he grabbed something out of one of the many pocket his slinged pack has. And then he handed it to Neja.

What the captain gave to her shattered her façade, a necklace that she’s so familiar with. The silver oblong shaped locket could be seen, displaying a portrait photo of them both.

All strength suddenly left her legs and she fell to the ground like ragdoll, her smile broken, and her eyes shaken. Tears began to well up, and then she cried.

Nikolas had seen people cried before.

He had seen fictional characters crying their hearts out at the supposed loss or death of a loved one, family or romantic, be it from those tele-show or play actors, characters in interactive visual medias, or written in book. He had seen people cried in real life. Children do cries, but most of it were out of their lack of understanding of how this world worked. Politicians and celebrities do cries on tele, but he sees only crocodile tears behind the finely fabricated face of sorrow. He had read in schoolbooks about religious leaders in the times, and the facts were told to him with utmost care and emotion, but it was merely the bare facts and nothing more. The one image in his head was of an elementary school alumnus, some time back. He had seen him cry his heart out in a drama series that was brought up on the telescreen.

These were the hollow cries, a superficial replication.

But how hard it is for others to take the feelings to their hearts? Even harder for them to see the truth behind those words?

Not that hard, as he learnt the hard way.

He had seen a friend cry out his eyes, holding a handkerchief, at a friend’s funeral ceremony. He had seen an old couple weep over their lost love. He had seen a man’s wife sob as she recounted the war that took their parents away during their childhood. He had seen a dying man, taking to his bed, look deep into his wife’s eyes and began to weep like a child.  He had seen people crying with pride. He had seen people crying because of the loss of their faith. He had seen people crying at the loss of a beloved pet. He had seen a kid take to his knees and wept at the news that his little brother was never coming back to again.

But never before had he seen someone so overwhelmed with grief, guilt, regret, and remorse. So heartbroken, and so crushed of hope as Neja was. The tiny sliver of hope she kept holding on could only exacerbate the floodgate of grief once said hope was shattered into pieces.

It was a scene Nikolas would never be able to forget in his life.

As he stared at the girl, tears rolling down her cheeks, at the hands she held, crying. It was something you could not replicate, not with any level of professionalism from those tele-show actors who went right back to their ostentatious style of life, laughing and smiling with wine in hand. Not any kind of self-patting authors who can only produce a banal imitation of the real thing, with none of the anguish and the things of the heart they dwelt upon into their characters, thinking themselves clever for their effort. No, it was something beyond words.

Neja sees Miklos as her own son, and nothing could ever describe the cries of a mother losing a beloved son.

For what felt like an eternity, he had to sit and watch her cry. He had to stand and watch her sob. He had to watch her cry some more, he had to watch her spew out a flurry of self-depreciation. Saying that it was all her fault and that she was sorry.

Kora too was crying by now, feeling gullible for being the squad leader and unable to save those under her. She repeatedly said that she’s sorry and nothing more, like a broken record. Captain Bucephalus watched her with his fist clenched tight. He was all too familiar with the sight, he had experienced it first-hand after all, and watching the young mother cries and wail in front of him just reminds him of his wife. He bowed towards her, saluting the young warrior. The miner escorts watched their captain do that and then followed suit. The miners, considered to be one of the elites in the Orkellian Defense Force, collectively took their brass helmet off and bowed down in honour of a fallen scout recruit.

As Neja cries, her mind wanders to one of the many labyrinths of memories she had accumulated after so long. A particular one. A memory, more real than the others, she has kept so close to her heart, not daring to let go of it even though it has been eons since then. A memory of a certain promise made with someone she held so dear to her heart like none other.

The promise that she wouldn’t cry anymore.

She asks for forgiveness again, one more time.

For she had yet broken her promise again.

To be continued. I guess. Maybe.

It’s already too long.


Writer: Von Grenadus

Glittering Shores

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


The azure sky is embellished with the exquisite hue of the setting sun. Sunrays fell upon the water surface below as it drifts into the horizon. Their ever-shifting texture scatters those heavenly light to an ever-changing direction. Like a lighthouse that flickers from the far distance. Only they are minuscule, and there are countless of them across the waters.

Here I stand, amidst the golden sands. The heat is gripping my skin. The waters periodically creep for my feet. Sometimes they come close, sometimes they wet the soles of my shoes. I crouch at a distance where the waters wouldn’t reach and lay my right hand on the sands. Their smooth feature is bearing on my right palm. Then I scoop them, raising them closer to my face. The grains stream down my hand as I loosen my grip. Some remains on my palm until I shove them away.

I look around as I try to remember how I got here. The clear view of the sky and the wide space surrounding me is in contrast to where I was before as far as my memory goes. The air of both freshen my lungs, but it was colder then. The winds flow through me. The loose part of my uniform sway at their direction. Seagulls fill the sky as they streak through the clouds.

For some reason, I am not concerned. The absence of my parents, my friends, and a way back. I don’t feel the need to think about them.

Then I rise up and walk along the shores. My sight is fixed to the sparkling waters along the way. The way they glitter reminds me of the sky that night. Perhaps the most beautiful moment I’ve ever had.

I take a deep breath as I come across a boulder formation. There’s no way around it, so I have to climb it if I wish to go through. Fortunately, it isn’t that massive. And the climb is as ease as taking stairs, only with a bit more care. From one of the boulders, I can spot a hut in the distance. It appears to be desolate, but I don’t have a choice. It’s getting dark and I’d need a shelter as soon as possible.

As I clear past the boulders, I notice something else. Rather, someone else.

A girl. A high-schooler just like me.

She stands bare-footed at the edge of the shore where the waters would creep past her feet. Her skirt is two inches above her knee, exposing her fine thighs as it flutters in the wind. Her hands are clasping each other in front of her chest. Her face is just above her clasped hands, perhaps less than an inch far.

I’m having a hard time believing what I’m seeing at first. But as I shorten the distance between us, her form grows ever clearer. That’s really her. An extraordinary girl that couldn’t be mistaken as any other person.

My eyes begin to well up as joy is bursting within like fireworks.

Not long after, she notices my presence. That’s when I raise my pace.

I call out to her at the top of my lungs. Then she waves her arm overhead.

Thank the Sentinel.


Writer: PrimDom