WRITING Prophet City: Dying Hope

Discussion in 'SHOWCASING' started by Hydronine, Jul 21, 2012.

  1. IT is going to take a LONG time to put this up.

    Give me some critiques once I have a few chapters up.
  2. Prophet City:
    Dying Hope

    By: Jules Rudes

    Started: March 9, 2011

    Mentions to:

    Thank you to my family and friends, those in particular are Stevie White, who is an inspiration to newfound creativity in the story, and Andrew Kluttz, who, though is cynical and seems a little pessimistic, is actually a nicer man than he probably knows. Thank you to my brother, Daniel Rudes, who always has been there for me within moments if I should ever need him, and to my mother and father who put up with my crazy antics every hour on the day. Thank you to Natalie and Alex Burdette, who were some of the first text subjects that I sent my story to. Thank you, also, to my friend, V. Miles Dillon, who has taught me a lot about outward expression and inner genius just by existing. Thank you also to Justin Peles, who has helped more than he might guess. Thank you, also, to the friends and family I had not specifically mentioned here, because every friend and relative is dear to me.

    My biggest thanks go out to the other brother that I never knew I had until I met him, Jon Trice. Thank you, brother, for being there and teaching me so much without either of us realizing just how much we learned from each other. You were always there for you, and I always wanted to make everything ok. You were the yin to my yang and the inspiration to so many awesome days. You were such a good friend and I’ll never forget you.

    List of artists for Lyrical/atmospherical use:
    Two Steps from Hell
    Poets of the Fall
    DJ Tiesto
    Chris Cornell
    Arcade Fire
    Linkin Park
    Iron Maiden
    Paul Van Dyke
    Eric Clapton
    Viking Skull
    Jimmy Eat World
    Penny Foster
    Steve Gordon
    Three Days Grace
    Jason Verulo
    Cee-lo Green
    Gnarls Barkley
    Serj Tankian
    Hail of Bullets
    Modest Mouse
    Vampire Weekend
    Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head
    Adam Lambert
    Broken Bells
    Jerry Cantrell
    Escape The Fate
    Since October
    10 Years
    Powerman 5000
    Pop Evil
    Company of Thieves
    Velvet Revolver
    Depeche Mode
    The Killers
    Drowning Pool
    Matchbox Romance
    Matchbox 20
    The Cab
    Beach House
    DJ Splash
    Edison Uno
    Fleet Foxes
    Way Out West
    DJ Quicksilver
    Civil Twilight
    Billy Idol
    Trust Company
    Modest Mouse
    Butthole Surfers
    Smile Empty Soul
    The Cataracs
    16 Second Stare
    Does it offend you, yeah?
    Math Nathanson
    Type O-Negative
    Queens of the Stone Age
    He is Legend
    Red Hot Chili peppers
    Story of the Year
    Breaking Benjamin
    Mindless Self Indulgence
    The Birthday Massacre
    Alexandra Stan
    Kerri Chandler
    Monique Bingham
    Kristina Maria
    The Toadies


    People say that “the darker it gets, the easier it is to see the light.”- They aren’t talking about “God” or a literal take on the phrase- they’re talking about hope and belief.

    But damn, it can’t get much darker than this.

    Twenty-one years ago, a man by the name of “Robert Collumns” took over my birthplace, the world of Prophet City.

    It isn’t much, never was much to begin with; it’s more of a small town than a city, really.

    Maybe it’s not even that big.

    Twenty-one years ago, I had just turned five, and in the course of that one day, I lost everything that I had cherished.

    I lost my parents, my home, all of my belongings, even my own name.

    And my arms- for a short while.

    But my name? I’ll write it here so I remember it… I don’t like people saying it much… but that’s only because the wounds are still fresh... but I like to remember it.

    Hope Chain, daughter of Collin and Mary Chain.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever show anyone what I will write here- I honestly don’t know if I can.

    The children wouldn’t be able to understand, they’re too young, too protected from the current world. I like it that way, though- I’d do anything for them. I will always protect them to my very last breath.

    I don’t think Deus would understand either- perhaps because I haven’t even told him a portion of my past. I figure he’ll find out eventually, but I’d rather not talk about it until I have to.

    You’ll understand my reasoning soon.
  3. The Beginning

    I was five years old, still shocks me that the world fell apart like it did back then in that instant. No one wants to think about their childhood when it’s been shrouded in so much pain.

    It had always been bad, but no one had expected it to get worse. The thought was inconceivable. “It’s not possible”- that’s what everyone thought. But the world before Robert Collumns was a heaven compared to this.

    The second Robert Collumns took control of Prophet City, though, everyone saw the potential for how it could be, or how it could have been.

    To put it simply, we all suddenly saw that we all were in for a ride that we wouldn’t enjoy and our thoughts became soaked in the past, amidst the “What ifs”. Everyone had a wish, one thought, one thing they’d want to change about that day twenty-one years ago.

    Robert Collumns- I could go on for decades about the trouble that monster has done, and it still wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t even cover a quarter of all that he has done. To me; to others; to the entirety of Prophet City- to the world, even. Only 5’4 and the man is in control of it all. Major “short-person” complex, that’s my bet.

    It hurts to think about the beginning, how this all started. I still jolt awake some nights, screaming in a cold sweat, my fingers grasping onto my arms, over the old scars, the taste of copper lingering in my mouth where I bit my lip or my tongue too hard and bled. One of the kids are always at my bedside when this happens, asking me if I was having a bad dream again. It’s common to them; they’re used to it by now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

    They don’t know much about it, even Deus, a friendly priest who helps me run this orphanage doesn’t know much about my dreams or my past. Just that I’m troubled.

    Though, that’s putting it lightly.

    I blocked out a lot of what happened that day. I still don’t think I’m ready to handle it, but a lot of it comes back in my dreams. Every little detail is sharp, with perfect horrifying clarity.

    But when I sit there, panting and sweating in my bed, the memories dissipate like smoke.

    The known facts of that day, however, are ingrained into everyone’s heads.

    Robert Collumns had killed all of the official government that had previously ruled over Prophet City, all 34 elected public figures, and all before the sun had crept upon the new day. Before noon, he had already replaced all court officials, judges and police with his own supporters.

    My parents both worked with the law, my father was a high-ranking, well-known and beloved judge, while my mother was a regular cop.

    The only reason they never saw it coming was because they were taking that week off from their work, since it was my fifth birthday.

    We had been at the park. The one, somewhere in the center of the city, the one with the huge statue of a male angel with giant wings unfurled and raised to the sky, every little detailed feather stretched out in the open air. There was a cloth floating around his nude form, making him modest. The whole thing was made out of silver, with gold and platinum inlays. Sometimes, if you were in the right spot, at the right time, the sun would be right above the angel’s head, framed by its outstretched wings. It really was a beautiful sight- that statue, however, is a pile of rubble now. All the precious metals were looted from it, nothing but pieces of crumbling rock without a purpose.

    We were having a picnic there in the park, in the shade of that huge statue, eating cake and some other treats.

    I remember a sound from a little ways away, not knowing what it was, I was alarmed. I didn’t know before that day what a gunshot sounded like.

    Then… I remember my father collapsing on top of me. I protested until I heard my mother crying and screaming, along with feeling the warmth of the wet blood soaking through my little white sun dress.

    It wasn’t too long before my mother was killed as well, in the midst of trying to lead me to a safe place. I remember only bits and pieces after that.

    The next memory is where I’m laid down on my stomach, in between my parents, my arms outstretched in front of me, trying to pull myself away.

    Then- blood and pain so fierce, I passed out for a period of time.

    When I woke, my arms were being sewn back onto my body.

    The pain was excruciating, threatening to make me faint again, but what kept me up, was the sight of my parents’ bodies, decapitated. I could only stare, transfixed and unable to move as I looked at lay before me.

    Those bastards had taken their heads, but had generously left my arms.

    I couldn’t really use them for a year or two, forced to make-do, or try other methods on how to go through day-to-day activities. In this time, I learned to use my feet in place of my hands in some instances, while also learning impressive feats of balance.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a horrid klutz at times, but it helped.

    That wasn’t all, though, they took my name along with my parents’ heads.

    From then on, I was only referred to as “Ashley, of the First Generation”.

    I’ll admit, Collumns had a plan and it was a damned good one. Cruel, ruthless, but exceedingly brilliant- the man was a genius in some senses.

    He killed nearly half of the native population of adults who hadn’t supported his cause or views. The children were shipped off in masses to the other side of town to camps; all were renamed, traumatized by the events, and unable to even lift a finger against the monstrosity that had crept into our homes. We did as we were asked, we did what we were told. We nodded our heads and did what we could to survive.

    Most of us weren’t even fifteen yet. But, anyone older than fifteen was sent to a different camp.

    I had family and friends before that had all happened.

    Now I struggle to even remember their names or how they looked. It’s too painful, too much.

    I wish it wasn’t, though. I wish I could find them all, or to be able to say their names, so that they won’t be forgotten, lost to time.

    Other things, though, I still remember them like it was yesterday- memories that I’d rather forget one day. I don’t see that happening, though.

    After a few years, the world, it seemed, had forgotten what it had fallen from, what it had once been. It wasn’t much to begin with, but anything would be an improvement at this point.

    I’m not saying that Prophet City was wonderful and perfect before Robert Collumns had taken over, but this man- no, this monster, transformed it into a living hell.

    That’s not a metaphor.

    Robert Collumns, in the middle of this take-over, had opened doors to other worlds and dimensions.

    I guess you could call my birthplace a sort of “limbo” now.

    Sometimes, people from other worlds or dimensions just… appear in mine. Ever wondered where all those kids on the milk cartons really are?

    They’re here, because he bought them here.

    Young children are his favorite citizens- Too young to fight back, too old to ignore the world around them, but still pure, innocent, and untouched. Blank slates- free to be imposed upon and molded. Perfect in every way for his plans.

    It makes me sick, but the others from the First Generation, have become numb to the horrors around us. They’ve come to accept their fate with a dull and dead look in their eyes.

    It’s disturbing to me, how easily people give up. It makes me sick.

    I’m not like that.

    I refuse to accept this. This world is hell for me, and I’ll never ignore the evil in it.

    But, to appease our ruler, and to mollify my own goals, a year ago, I was allowed to run an orphanage, for unassigned or discarded persons. For children or people that Robert Collumns either saw as too much trouble to train or they wouldn’t believe what he told them when he greeted them after pulling them from their worlds. Or… they just… popped into existence outside of the assigned “door” into Prophet City. No one knows how this happens- it’s not supposed to, and it causes much more confusion than one might expect.

    Either way, I’ve ended up with over twenty-five children on my doorstep, all of them under sixteen years old, all of them instill me with a maternal sense that I doubt Collumns could even begin to understand, or want to.

    Half a year ago, Deus showed up on my doorstep, told me he came from some world called “Earth”… or something, least, that’s what he told me. Had a wife and two kids and was in charge of a large body of people in a “church”, but just phased into this world, outside of that door. I’m not sure why he appeared here, but he did, and he became our priest, whatever that means.

    He told us a lot about his god, read to us about it, wrote about it. Told us so many stories, and thinks he’s here for a reason. In his view, he told me that he thinks that if he got us to become “Christians” that it might help our predicament.

    I don’t have the heart to tell him that he was probably just a hiccup in the process. I think he knows, though, in some small way at least.

    He’s a good man, Deus. That’s all I’m supposed to call him by, won’t give me any other name. He’s a bit older than me, and surely a man of impressively tall stature, compared to my 5’6 nature. Has wavy, maintained auburn hair and crystal blue eyes. Thin but a healthy build. All and all, he’s a reasonable man, amicable as well, with good guidance in his ways. I envy his assuredness in his notion that he has a reason, a calling here.

    Though I’m not sure on this thing…. “Christianity”…

    We've both been trying to pull our own weight, really. He helps me take care of the children, and I appreciate that more than he'll ever know.

    The children; I could never get tired of talking about them. Each of them are so special, unique and so sweet. The youngest, Grace Lavender, is only four years old, and is a bit of a little genius. She loves reading books, and she's not choosy on what she wants to go through. I'm not joking when I say that I've seen her read a dictionary out loud to her doll, Jezebel.

    Her sister, Genevieve Lavender, is six years old (And three-quarters) and is the exact opposite of her sister. She's much more active and if she can't play one game, she'll play another, though she is quite capable of creating her own games. She has a hard time going to sleep, and so I was quite glad when we all found out that all she needed was for Grace to read something out loud. I kid you not- the younger sister reads the older one to sleep. It's adorable and it fills me with a kind of happiness that I just can’t seem to explain.

    That’s only two of the twenty-five children that I guard with my life. They truly are a blessing to a person like me. Deus is a blessing as well, though, I'd wish that he'd stop trying to teach all of us about what it is that he believes in. There is still so much that man has to learn about the world that he now resides in, though it is hard, due to the fact that, somewhere out there, he still has a family. That's a good and bad thing, I suppose. It keeps him focused so that he might learn how to get back to them, but at the same time, he's always daydreaming. It's a double-edged sword. I don’t envy him for it in any way.

    I hope he does find his family again, though.

    I've never heard of it happening before, though, a person being able to leave Prophet City back for their place of origin.

    I hope it is possible, for his sake.

    He was a bit of a mess when I first found him on my doorstep; he had apparently been yanked from his world only moments after his wife had given birth to their second child, a baby girl. But, luckily, it seemed like the children I watch over gave him some comfort, but at times, he still seems to be lost in his own little world. It’s easy to tell when he’s thinking about his home- his family back in some other world.

    Now he helps me, and honestly, I don't know what I'd do without the man.

    I just wish he wouldn't ask so many questions.

    I can't just humor him with his every question about my scars, or my odd eye color, or the fact that Collumns somehow created doorways into other worlds. I don't want to know how big Prophet City is, and it's the only civilization that I know of in this place. I don't know how he and I speak the same language, or why it always seems like it is about to rain here now and days. The sky hasn’t been clear for years. It’s always overcast.

    As I said, I don't want to put up with questions from him most times. Because, frankly, the man knows exactly how to ask the questions that would require a response that would include an emotional input from me, which is something I reserve for the children, really. It’s rather annoying.

    I'm not sure how to phrase it to get him to stop asking questions, and nothing seems to work, really.

    The children are catching on, though. And that's something I don't know how to process. It's good that they're starting to adopt his questions into their heads, because some day, they can find out those questions on their own, but for right now, all they're doing is asking me these questions.

    I'll give them some semblance of an answer, though, since they're just kids. It wouldn't do any good to give them silence to their questions.

    I'm not saying my answers are true, though.... unless I suddenly find out that I really was born with silver eyes... which I know isn't true- my eyes were originally blue; I’ll explain that later.

    This is my family, for right now, we're getting along just fine... but things are about to change for the worse, I can feel in some deep recess in my body.

    I can only hope that what is to come will not take away the last motivations I have left to live in this godforsaken world.

    Spots of Blood

    Our little story starts in the center of Prophet City. The orphanage is on the edge of the outskirts of the city, but I have to go in deeper to get basic items for the children, Deus, and myself. All I need to get are a few groceries, and then go back to the orphanage as quickly as I can, dodging glances from other citizens as I go.

    If the name "Ashley" is called, I don't hear it, and with the blood rushing in my ears, I try to walk as fast as I can without making a spectacle of myself.

    I'm afraid of being spotted. I'm afraid of being hauled in, in front of that tyrant bastard. I'm sure if he sees me again this month, it won't be nearly as easy to pull myself back from as last time. My own mortality becomes too apparent when I’m in his grasp.

    To explain that statement, after I was put into that camp- after I was renamed, and parentless, along with the fact that my arms were little more than useless for a time, only allowing me to wriggle my fingers. Anything other than that was too strenuous for my recovering limbs. I still managed to be a thorn in his side, though. I didn't want him to think that he had won everyone over. I refused to let him think that he had everyone bent over backwards to accommodate his every command. I refused to let my fear and trauma control me.

    Obviously this never ended well for me.

    This led to the fact that my irises are silver now, and the fact that I have three black dots in a row, under my left eyebrow, and three white dots in the same formation, above my brow both are painful tattoos I earned long before I could really strengthen my pain tolerance. This is why my body is covered in a mesh of scars that intersect and cross over each other. All I can say to this is that I am glad that I was young enough to heal quickly enough from it all. If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be dead.

    All and all, the man hates me now, and I have enough sense to know that I should keep mostly in hiding from him. I was honestly surprised when he agreed to let me even open this odd little orphanage.

    I all but ran when I had retrieved what I needed from the store, when I ran across a body, collapsed in an alley across the street. It wasn't anything new, there were always some reason for there to be bodies just... strewn about the city, though something struck me about this one- Something vaguely familiar about it.

    I grew worried and I grew cautious, but I needed to be sure of a sneaking suspicion in my head.

    So, I crossed the street and headed for the alley, to check the body that I could now see was face-down in a copious puddle of its own dried blood, though I could not see a wound from what I could see in its current position. It was female, with a hat pulled tightly over its head- some kind of stocking cap and a form-fitting business suit, almost as if she had accidentally pulled on a suit that was two sizes too small for her. I didn’t want to say it… but the woman looked like she worked the streets.

    My hand reached out, trembled slightly before pulling the hat away from the woman's head, and a rush of blond curls spilled out from it. The hair gave her away immediately.

    It was Mary. A woman from my generation, though she had been two years older than me. The last time I had talked to her was months ago, when I had argued with her over the state of Prophet City in some stupid little ...grocery store but she was scared... too scared to even think of gaining a view apart from Robert Collumns’. I don't blame her at all, but I couldn't bear talking to someone who tried to empathize with that man and turn a blind eye to their own world. Especially one who had let herself become so lowly. It was just too much to watch her go through life the way she did.

    Now she's dead, and I'm sitting there next to the body, my knees stained in her drying blood, it cakes my jeans, the feeling of the fabric soaking up her blood sent chills over my body. I wish I had talked to her again before this. Our last conversation ended with me calling her a sheep and a whore to this new world.

    I turned her over slowly, trying to find the cause of her death... and perhaps to make sure that it was really her. But there it was- dark blue eyes and a small up-turned nose along with ruby-red lips and porcelain skin. It was her alright. With a face that immediately told me of how she had felt in her last moments. Lips stretched away from teeth and her eyes were wide, in shock or fear. She had died in agonizing pain.

    She had been stabbed in the chest- repeatedly.

    I looked around for a moment, and then suddenly spotted something on the dark gray brick wall next to the body. A paper was plastered there, this is how it read:

    Attention citizens,
    It has come to my attention that some of the First Generations are not as happy with our city as I'd like.

    So I'd like your help in rounding them up for an execution. There will be a sizable monetary reward for each that are turned in, as well as a few other gifts and rewards for your loyalty.

    That bastard was really starting to work my last nerve.

    So that's it. You cause him too much trouble, and he gets you killed.

    That's just how it works now and days, and somehow, my old friend got the short end of the stick. She was just trying to survive this hellhole, and they killed her. Wonderful. If they can kill a girl like Mary, they'd have no qualms about killing me. I'm sort of... well-known for going against Robert Collumns' rules.

    I grabbed my groceries, and ran all the way back to the orphanage. If I left the house again after this, I'd have to wear something that would conceal my identity. Damn it all. Damn it all. I’m sick of hiding and dodging glances.

    I can't even really allow myself to cry over this after all that had come before it.

    It's almost like it didn't process in my head.

    I wish it could, but I had enough to worry about. I have twenty-five children, plus Deus to occupy my skull for the moment.

    As I entered the house, I could hear Deus orating some verses, probably from that book again, the “Bible”, as well as children playing. My heart was still pounding from discovering Mary. I almost didn’t hear anything else but my own body frantically trying to calm down.

    No, I wasn’t sad about her death, I was frightened.

    Not for myself, but for the fact that I have basically twenty-six people depending on me. If I die, there isn’t a soul in the city who would help them that I could think of. I need to figure out a way to safely introduce them to this world in case something happens to me, but I hope that doesn’t need to happen. But it’s true, no one would help them in this current state.

    Although, I can’t even muster it into my body to be regretful for anything that I have done to deserve this, all I wanted was to have done more.

    There isn’t much a five year old can do to a grown man. There isn’t much a ten year old can do to a grown man either. When I was sixteen, I was allowed to leave the camps. Most of my generation, however, stayed in the camps for four more years. I don’t blame them one bit, if it hadn’t been for the situation and my anger and drive for revenge, I would have stayed as well.

    There was nothing left for me in those camps. There were too many reasons for me to leave. It was… too much to be directly under that man’s thumb.

    I chew on this thought for a while as I stocked the kitchen with what I bought, though it didn’t help me, after finishing my tasking with the groceries, I was still in quite a state, trying to figure out what to do.

    I decided on taking a bath to calm my nerves.

    A couple children shot past me on my way to the bathroom, and I scolded them for running, but cast a gruff smile in their direction. It was all I could manage today, but they understood. I’m sure they even understood the bloodstains on my jeans. After a year, I guess these children got used to me. They got used to my weird little behaviors and quirks, and I’m sure they’ve grown to accept this life. There’s nothing else for them anyways.

    The small group walked away slowly, and I could hear them speed up again once they were out of view, though it wasn’t worth the trouble of chasing them down and scolding them again.

    I continued on to the bathroom and closed the door behind myself. The mirror was a little dirty and foggy, so I rubbed at it slightly with my forearm, my skin covered in the fabric from my jacket, and as a reflection came to view, I brushed the messy black bangs away from my silver eyes and looked at myself for a moment, then noticed the smear of blood on my cheek. I must have touched it with one of my hands; they were probably bloodstained too… It was a wonder that the children didn’t fear me. I question that sometimes, though, I never get many answers on it. I don’t understand how they can look at me without fear sometimes. I suppose that is the beauty of children, though. Always trying to strip away the fear and the evil from a person to try and see what lies beneath. It was a blessing and a curse, though, because I’m sure that they didn’t understand many of the nuances of my daily life, or why I had to hide when I went out.

    I touched the mirror for a moment, and then shook my head, remembering too late that my fingers were smudged with drying blood, and then wiped it away from the mirror with a nearby towel before shedding my jacket, then my shirt.

    I turned away from the mirror before I peeled away my bra. Then I took off my shoes and socks, and my pants, and anything I had left to preserve modesty. Free of every stitch, I started up the bath while I combed out my black hair until it spilled down over my shoulders and to my waist without any knots before I pulled it back into a bun while I slipped quietly into the comforting warm water.

    It felt good against my grimy skin, and I felt myself relaxing. My eyelids started to droop and I felt myself slide deeper into the water. At last, the surface of the water was above my head and I was calmly holding my breath. For a moment, I was content, and then the door was opened, and suddenly my body was being pulled out of the tub of water and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground by a very panicked-looking Deus. Great.

    I’m not even going to ask what the man is so worried about. He usually takes care of that for me.

    “What the hell are you doing?” I heard him ask, and without even moving to speak, he continued on. Here comes the speech. “Why on earth are you so covered in this dirt and… is that blood? Ashley, what have you been doing today?!” Yeah, no one knows my real name anymore, as I said before, I don’t… I can’t bear to have it known right now. Either way, the man looks pretty worked up, then after a few moments, he finally seemed to remember that I was naked.

    “Honestly, I worry when you go out- Sometimes it feels like I don’t know if you’re even coming back!” He spouted while he tossed a towel at me and turned away, and then seemed shocked when I crawled back into the bathtub, towel around myself while I laid back into the water. I still didn’t answer, but that’s only because I know he’s not done talking.

    “Ashley... Some of the children… said you looked… sad before you went into the bathroom… and… you were completely submerged in the water when I came in… and you’re not talking… Are you depressed?” The man asked as he sat down, his back against the tub, facing away from me. I suppose that was more comfortable. I didn’t really care if he saw my body or not- there were worse things in the world.

    “No. I’m just tired. It’s been a long day, and it’s not even over yet.” I respond quietly before grabbing the small bar of soap on the edge of the tub and gently start to run it over my skin. The film of dirt that rested there was cleaned away rather quickly as I worked the soap over my arms, then dipped them into the water, watching as the dirt clouded the liquid for a moment before settling. “I appreciate the concern, but I’m fine.” I hear myself trying to assuage his fears. No, I’m not suicidal in the least, I know that much. I don’t mention that I found an old friend murdered, or the fact that I’m going to have to go into hiding, since my life is more or less in danger now.

    I should have gotten more groceries.

    “You know, you can talk to me, Ashley… I won’t judge you.” Deus spoke quietly; his tone was dead-serious. I’m sure I could tell him everything, and that he wasn’t lying that he wouldn’t judge me.

    But I’m pretty certain that it would scare him. He’s frightened enough by this world. I wouldn’t make that adjustment harder for him. Who knows if he’ll ever get out of here- so I’d rather keep him and the children in the dark for a while longer…

    “I kno- My words are cut short as I hear one of the children calling out my name, and I rise from the tub, drying my body off with a different towel, hoping that I could get back to cleaning myself after I tended to whatever I was being called for. Wrapping the new towel around myself, I lock eyes with Deus for a moment, and somehow, I think he knows that I’m keeping information from him and the children… I think he has an inkling of an idea of what I might have gone through.

    I walk out of the room and head towards where I heard my name. I find one of the children near the door, looking at it uncertainly. I felt my hackles rising and my heart started thundering in my chest. Perhaps it was just paranoia, but after all this time, I have a sixth sense about when my luck’s about to hit rock bottom. Children are a good indicator of it as well. Normally they just come get me if someone’s at the door, they’ve never called me while they’re standing there, like some little miniature guards.

    “Sarah, take the rest of the children, go into the back rooms, alright?” I asked quietly to the little girl that had stood there and waited for me, offering a bit of a kinder smile, and absentmindedly, I hope that I remembered to clean that spot of blood off of my cheek, then lick a finger to rub at it, just in case.

    The girl nods at me, firing one last look at the door before gathering up the rest for me, doing as I asked. As I said- They know me well enough at this point. That wasn’t a request, and she knew that I was on edge. They’re good kids and know when not to push me. I fucking love those little brats, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible.

    While the children relocate, I spy through the little hole in the door at my would-be-guest, only to find one of Robert Collumns’ men outside my door. He was wearing one of those all-black uniforms, with a white stripe on his right arm which meant he was one of the upper class of the officers. Wonderful, great, all I need now is a summons to Robert Collumns’ place. That would really make my day perfect. Really.

    I swore quietly under my breath at my own sarcastic thoughts then sigh as I watch him knock on my front door.

    I walked back the way I came, back to the bathroom and swore again before I spoke as I passed by the room and went into the bedroom, changing quickly into any clothes that were within reach. “Deus, get my gun from the armory- get the one I got for you, too, and come with me.” I spoke in an urgent, hushed tone while I circle back towards the front door, listening as I heard the man knock and listening as I heard Deus rummaging through one of the closets near my room, which I had nicknamed the “armory”, he got my gun, and I heard him lifting his from its place on the wall, coming back towards me.

    Deus followed me quietly back towards the door as I heard the man’s voice on the other side of the door, muffled. Another knock and he speaks again, this time I understood.

    “Hope Chain, AKA “Ashley of the First Generation”, please step outside, I wish to speak to you.” His voice was calm and even; though, there was an underlying tone that I understood. If I didn’t comply, he wouldn’t be too upset if he had to force his way in and pull me out himself.

    “Hope Chain?” Deus asks quietly, his voice was sharp and distrusting, and I waved him off, checking my gun then cocked the hammer. I wasn’t in a mood for this today. I nearly felt like firing the gun right now.

    “Come back later? I’m in the middle of reading the children a story before they take a nap.” I call out through the door, and I hear him knocking again-is he deaf?

    “I’m sorry, but I can’t come back later, I’m a busy man, please step outside, this shouldn’t take too long.” My hackles are rising again, and I motion Deus to one side, out of sight should one come in through the front door, then I just barely crack the door open and flash a smile at the man, only to have a gun pressed against the tender flesh of my throat. “Please, step outside. No weapons.” The statement was commanded of me with an assured grin, and my gun clattered to the floor after I released the hammer and made sure it was safe again. Then I came out of my house, closing the door behind me, looking the man in the eyes with no ounce of fear, I would not allow this man to see how on edge I was today. He wasn’t allowed that privilege.

    He led me to the side of the building and searched me, patting me down silently before turning me around and putting me at gunpoint again. I’m sad to say this, but I’m so used to my life being threatened that it barely fazes me anymore. He was a quiet man, but direct, and I suppose I was thankful for that, as opposed to having to endure the officers that believed themselves to be chosen by Robert Collumns due to their entitlement of the job. They were truly stupid. I usually tended to cause more trouble with those types, though; I didn’t really know who it caused more trouble for, them or me.

    “He wished to speak to you in a couple weeks and commanded me to send you this message.” The man spoke as he dug out a piece of paper from his nearly pure-black outfit while he continued to hold me at gunpoint as I quietly read it to myself, almost acting oblivious of the gun inches from my body. I tried to imagine I was somewhere else. Somewhere peaceful, some place where I felt safe.

    I then mentally cursed again.

    Hope Chain,

    I hope this reaches you in good time. I will require another visit from you in the near future. I’ve heard that you’ve been causing problems again, and I suppose I have to rectify this. How much longer do you intend on rebelling until you see that I merely exercise the same power that a parent would over a child?

    I will admit something, you’re not the only one, and I’m getting rather tired of it.

    This city needs discipline.

    But I’ve done things for you that you shouldn’t take for granted. I could have said “no” to your proposal to open up a little orphanage. Keep that in mind.

    R. Collumns

    Damn it.

    Board Games

    “So does this mean that I’m omitted from that handbill I saw on the wall?” I asked, feeling around for some kind of lenience, gesturing to the letter slowly, only to feel the cold metal of the gun press against my throat and then smoothly slid up my skin, to under my chin. I heard a small bark of laughter. I was wrong, I had misjudged, he obviously was one of the followers that believed that he was chosen for this job. His obnoxious behavior was only starting, and I was already feeling like I needed to cause trouble.

    “No, he wanted this to be fun. If you survive, you are required to have an audience with him.” I heard the reply, and I saw the man smile, but I was taken back when I saw that his eyes were silver like mine… curious. Normally Robert Collumns didn’t experiment on his followers like this. It was rather interesting to me to see this man with the same eyes that I had.

    At least they hadn’t come to kill me outright today.

    “Alright; Now, is there anything else that you came for? I can go and set up the children to be able to take care of themselves for a moment if something else is needed of me.” I offered, trying to force myself to be nice for the sake of the children that resided in this orphanage. If I didn’t offer, or if I wasn’t as polite as could be, it would only cause trouble to the children. Over the years, I’d get varying responses from this, though, mostly they just departed, and I was hoping this case would follow the trend.

    If only I could be that lucky.

    “Actually, it has been a long travel from Collumns’ grand house, and I’m quite famished and thirsty. I’d be quite pleased if I could sate those needs before I depart.” The man stated with a greedy smile- as if he really was hungry and thirsty, it was just some ruse, just something to show how they can do whatever they want, and I can protest and cause trouble, but I can’t stop them. Obviously, they must have known that I just went to the store today. This has happened once before. They eat as much as they can, to make sure that I have to get more sooner than later, hoping the world will bring me to their ruler. An ironic twist of fate, it would be, if I was brought to my doom by the people I was trying to protect.

    “I have more than enough to share, come inside and take your fill.” I commented while I led the way back as soon as I feel the gun’s touch drift from my skin. I couldn’t even afford to be sarcastic at this point due to the situation. I have to think of the children’s wellbeing. To keep them safe, I will go along with this insanity and let these people into my home. To eat my family’s food, so that I will have to go shopping for more food, while trying to keep myself from being taken away to be executed- all for their entertainment.

    As I entered with Robert Collumns’ man trailing behind me, I called out for Deus and told him to keep the children entertained in the back rooms until I could tell him that it’s alright to let them out. I believe that I heard some type of affirmative answer from Deus, and then led the man to the kitchen and gestured to the space, allowing him free reign and proceeded to watch him gorge himself on as much food as he could take and took a few steps back, standing in the entrance of the kitchen, trying to keep myself calm and quell the anger that was rising inside of me.

    It was a sickening sight to watch.

    He finally departed after eating about half of what I had just bought from the store and I sighed then yelled to Deus that it was alright to come out. The kitchen, however, was a mess from that man- he ate like a pig. There was discarded food and waste all over the counters and tables. Still, I was merely happy that he didn’t eat everything, it could have been worse.

    I made a small meal for all of the kids and then took Deus aside, knowing that we needed to talk. This had been a long time coming, really. We walked in silence to another room and I paused to see if he wanted to say anything just yet. The man was quiet, but had a murderous expression on his face before he finally started, thinking his words over carefully before saying them out loud.

    “Are you finally going to tell me why that man called you “Hope Chain”, because I want answers- Who are you, anyways?” The man spat at me. I couldn’t blame him; this is a lot for one person to take. He has been taken from his home and family, his entire world and dragged into this one with no known way back, and the person he depends on for some kind of stability has just been discovered to have another name that he had no idea existed. I figured that it was time to realize that I could tell someone the truth for once. It was only fair, considering the circumstances.

    “My name is Hope Chain, but I haven’t been called by that name for around twenty years at least... I was renamed as “Ashley, of the First Generation.” I began, my voice soft and slow as I tried to figure out an easy way to explain this all; then led Deus to one of the backrooms, to one of the chess tables. We sat across from each other, the board game between us like something foreshadowing what was yet to come of this world between Deus and I.

    “Why were you renamed?” Deus asked, his brows furrowing and his tone was serious and edged with concern. I was certain that he could already ponder the answer. I knew he was a smarter person than I was by far. Though, as a precaution to make sure that we were on the same page, I explained it.

    “It was a tactic. Robert Collumns thought it would make the children more… pliable to his plans. It allowed him to instill the feeling he wanted- that he could change any variable that he wanted about us… even our own given names.” I answered gravely as I toyed with the white king chess piece. I waited for a moment, but no questions came.
    During the silence, I swapped the king piece for a simple pawn, placing the chess piece where the king was and vice versa, then I looked up at Deus. The look in his eyes spoke of his wordless understanding. I was speaking what I wanted to, through these little game pieces. Too afraid to say it out loud, I instilled meanings into these little pieces. I wanted Robert Collumns to loose control of this city, and for someone more... human to take over.

    “What happened to this city?” He asked, confusion leaking through his voice as his fingers grasped at a black knight, studying it, only to put it back down after a moment and run a hand through his scruffy hair. I made a mental note to remember to give him a haircut soon. I wasn’t great at it, but the kids didn’t seem to mind any mistakes I ever made, and I was good at trimming my own hair, so I guess I was the orphanage’s barber in a sense. I thought about that as I rummaged through my thoughts, continuing with the explanation.

    “Robert happened. He took over the city. He… killed anyone who disagreed with his views. Took all of the children for himself to hopefully remold them into…. Perfect citizens… But I don’t think he was pleased with my generation, since he just pretty much just put a price tag on all of our heads...” I explained, my voice was cold, void of emotion. I tried not to attach any thought to what I said. I didn’t want to think about it. I wasn’t giving him a complete answer though, and I knew it. Details were intentionally skipped. I would answer his questions, but there was a limit to it.

    “What happened to you?” He asked in a hushed tone, his head lowered slightly, I couldn’t see his face. I didn’t really know how to read that, and I was suddenly unsure of how this man might see me right now, after I’ve only told him the smallest of portions about my history in my life.

    “Doesn’t matter.” I answered quickly, suddenly very uncomfortable. I rose to leave, but the man latched onto my hand and looked me in the eyes with his assured crystal blue gaze. I sat back down, sighing. How could I possibly tell him what has happened? Where would I begin? How much do I tell him? I’ve never spoken of it, and now, faced with the choice of telling him, I had no idea just how much to let him in on.

    “Just tell me as much as you’re comfortable with.” He flashed a smile, as if knowing my mental anguish, I guess it was supposed to calm me down, but it didn’t help much. Perhaps it even did some harm. I didn’t know what to do, and faced with the situation, I went with a gut instinct and blurted out a tidbit of information.

    “He killed my parents.” I injected the statement into the conversation then gulped, unsure of where to go with this talk. I was feeling so edgy right now, I just wanted to get up and leave. A few moments ago, I had been so certain in my move to let Deus know the truth, but now I wondered if I was even able to handle the act of explaining it to him. I felt his hand on mine, another comforting move that had no effect on my inner turmoil. What do I do now? What do I say now? Did he expect me to continue to talk? I figured that it might be right to continue on with my little explanation, and so I did, growing a little more confident with every spoken word.

    “I can’t… I won’t forgive him or forget about it… so… I openly oppose him.” The statement that I had spoken drew me to think on my actions in the last two decades. I was suddenly starting to wonder if it was smart to continue on in this fashion. When I was on my own, I had nothing to loose, and it was easy to laugh about the fact that I was a thorn in his side, but now I had children and a man who depended on me. What if I died or was killed? I really needed to have a night to myself and try and think things through at some point. Maybe I could figure out some way to keep opposing Robert Collumns, but find some way to keep the children safe.

    “Is that where… all of the scars are from and those tattoos above your eyes? And the way you act sometimes?” He asked quietly, his eyes flicking up to glance at me for a moment, and then he reached across the board, placing the king and the pawn in their proper spots again. For some reason, that brought a frown to my face, though I said nothing, I nodded in response to his questions as I pondered what would happen if Robert Collumns was taken out of power and then found his way back into it. Would he see it as an attack and punish Prophet City as a whole for the situation? I found it rather alarming when I knew the answer had to be “yes”.

    “So what’s going on now?” The questions he asked always seemed to have double meanings- he wanted to know too much about everything, really. He wanted to know about the city, and he wanted to know about what just happened outside. The man wanted to know too much, and perhaps keeping him in the dark would keep him safe, but it would also keep him unprepared if something where to happen. So, I continued to talk, trying to explain things in the simplest way that I could.

    “The First Generation apparently isn’t to Robert Collumns’ liking, so he put a reward on it, saying that you could profit from turning in a First Generation- who knows how much money I’m worth... But if I can evade being caught for a few weeks, I have to meet with him again.” I explained simply, trying not to think about it too much. I was basically telling this man that if I didn’t get caught and sold off, or killed; I still had to meet up with the man who seemed to be the very root of my problems.

    “What happens when he asks you to meet with him?” Deus asked, and the room went silent for a moment- that concern was edging his voice again, and I sighed, not wanting to answer that question. Of course, I had to at some point, but I wished that I could put off that answer for an eternity. I wasn’t interested in explaining all of this, but since I had already started, I needed to finish it.

    “He’ll probably cut something else away from me or alter my body again… though; he’s running out of things to chop off, so he’s probably just going to make additions or changes… maybe he’ll make me more of a freak than I already am.” I muttered and watched as Deus looked to my hands, where each of my fingers held a ring of scars around each individual knuckle, around my wrists. There was no hiding it, I looked like that character… that monster from that book Deus had told me about… I think it was Frankenstein, I felt like a monster that had been taken apart and put back together. Then his gaze seemed to wander over my body. I could practically see him trying to speculate all that’s been done to me.

    “It’s ok; he won’t target you or the children.” I reassured him with a small smile. “You guys aren’t an issue to him, so he’s not interested in wasting his time on trying to cause trouble.” I continued, offering him a little bit of a wider smile, though he shook his head fiercely, he looked angry, but I continued on. “Even if I’m killed, I doubt he’ll have a reason to bother anyone in this house.” He put a hand over mine again and smiled grimly and shook his head, I couldn’t understand him at that moment, and his expression was unreadable.

    “That’s not what I’m worried about.” His voice struck me oddly then, and I looked up at him to find Deus staring at me in a manner I wasn’t used to. I was surprised by the what I saw clearly displayed on his face.

    He was seriously angry.

    “You act like you don’t matter, like it’s fine if you die! There are twenty-five children in this house who think you matter, that would be devastated if you died. I was expecting that you were keeping things from us, and perhaps even suppressing your actual personality… but this takes the cake!” He spat venomously, and I sighed before running a fingertip over one of the white pawns before making a move, I didn’t answer him. My silence spoke for me, and I watched as he leaned back in his chair, sighing and rubbing his face.

    “You have problems.” He commented, and I nodded simply, a wry smile gracing my lips for a moment before it drifted back into a weary frown. We both leaned back in our chairs; he looked up at the ceiling while I stretched a little before popping my neck. A couple of silent moments passed before he spoke again.

    “So, how long?” He asked, slightly more relaxed. I wasn’t sure what he was referring to this time, and at my confused glance, he continued. “How long do you have to stay in hiding before you can show your face outside of this house?” He asked simply, as if we were just talking about a trivial matter.

    I must have frowned more, because he frowned and shook his head, I think he got the gist of the fact that there seemed to be no time limit on this one. We were silent again for a time before he spoke up again. “Maybe you should get one of the kids to teach you how to play chess in the meantime.” He commented with a sly smile, interrupted when a white pawn struck the side of his temple. I had two more in my hand, but I slowly placed them back on the board, not interested in really throwing game pieces around.

    “That’s not how you play chess.” He commented, rubbing the side of his head where the piece had struck him, like it had actually hurt.

    “Yeah, but I don’t think I’m so hopeless that I’d need one of the young ones to teach me.” I retorted sharply and then rolled my eyes slightly before grinning. The right corner of Deus’ mouth quietly curved into a smile in response. “Deus… if anything should happen… keep the children with you… even… if you find a door back to your own world- If I’m not here… I need to know that they’ll be safe.” I spoke in a hushed tone, the grin slipping away from my tired face. I honestly just wanted to crawl into a bed right now and disregard everything else.

    “You can trust me, I wouldn’t leave them all alone- What do you take me for?” He questioned, seeming baffled that I even thought I had to ask. Perhaps this was the most reassuring thing I had heard all day, because in that moment, I felt myself calm down entirely and I knew I could trust him to take care of the children while I went to rest. I desperately needed to sleep.

    “I just needed to be certain… thank you… I think I’m going to head to bed early… I can’t seem to keep my eyes open.” I commented as I rose from my seat and smiled before leaving the room and passing through the kitchen on my way to the bedroom, some of the children that were still eating or snacking at the very least had noticed me. I kept repeating that I was going to sleep, which seemed to shock them with how early it was, since the sun was still visible on the horizon, but then a few of the younger kids came with as I headed up to the bedroom, which was a large room with 10 actual beds, three mattresses strewn across the floor, and a lone blanket and pillow.

    The last two items were mine. I liked it that way, though. Sometimes the kids had nightmares and they woke me up. I’d just walk over and sleep next to them- problem solved, they were reassured that they were safe and could go back to sleep with little to no problems. Though, when I had nightmares, I was more liable to find the least populated corner of the room and move there. I needed my space in those instances, but I’d usually wake to at least ten kids sleeping around me in the morning when that occurs.

    As it was, I was already moving to that little dusty corner of the room, but before I had a chance to protest, two of the children had already set up nearby, muttered a sleepy but cheerful “Good night” and promptly went to sleep. I figured there was no use and curled up in my blanket and dozed off, hoping that any dreams that I might have would be peaceful.

    I dreamt about the day I lost my parents again, and the fear and anger consumed my unconscious. I woke in a cold sweat, panting and trembling, with Deus pressing a cold, wet rag to my forehead. The man actually looked like he was genuinely concerned and I had to feel a little bit better by knowing that this man was on my side.

    “Did you dream about me kicking your ass in chess?” He asked, and I had to smile, though I muttered “Bastard” under my breath. He bid me a “good night” and then headed off when it seemed like I had calmed down. I was thankful that he was here, and I started to feel tired again.

    Within moments I was asleep again, though it was a dreamless sleep, or so I had thought. I had been so certain that I would wake without an issue, but I was mistaken.

    I woke to fifteen little faces staring at me in the morning and concluded that I needed to figure out how to stop screaming when I have nightmares. This just could not keep happening. It wasn’t good for them or for me.
    Suburban Suffering

    Life continued on for a few weeks, though it seemed that time was slowing down to a crawl.

    It had been a week after I discovered Mary, a week after I found out that all of the First Generation were now in danger, a week after I found out that if I survived it all, I’d still have to go to Robert Collumns and endure him torturing me again. A week after all of that, I found out that fifty people from my generation had already been sold over to Robert Collumns’ men and publicly slaughtered.

    I started taking Deus with me to the store, and wore a hood when I went outside of the house, but I think the storekeeper recognized me. Yet, he made no move to apprehend me, which I was thankful for. I suppose in these days, I should be thankful for any little thing that would make my life easier in any aspect. It was calm most times, though sometimes Deus would spot one of the First Generations being dragged off, and then he’d get a little jumpy. I couldn’t say that I blame him.

    At least he’s starting to get the hang of shopping in this place. He caught on pretty quickly; apparently his world’s monetary system is similar to Prophet City: Thin rectangular pieces of colored paper and coins made of metal alloys. It was the same in his world, which I found curious.

    I started involving Deus in more of what I did, hoping that he’d continue to be able to get the hang of what I did. Just in case something happened. I needed to know that he’d be prepared. I doubt he’d be much of a help if I kept him locked away with the children in the house. I wish he just didn’t have to see the gritty reality of this world. The horrid example of human life in this land was something I had been hoping to shield him from. Most people here were scum now and days. Though, he’d make remarks and comparisons about it all that I think were supposed to comfort me. It never helped much.

    Maybe people were always like this here, but I never noticed it until Robert Collumns took over. I never would have thought that Prophet City would become such a dark place. Or perhaps, it only had grown darker, and I had only been able to enjoy this world’s limited supply of air before it entirely submerged under the dark waters of insanity.

    I remember life being a little difficult before, but not like this. Now and days, it seems like everything in this place is a struggle. A struggle to get through your day, a struggle to watch this life unfold, and a struggle to watch what is happening in this city every day. It gets easy for a person like me to lament the past when the present is such a… piece of garbage. I try my hardest to try and stay out of my history and focus on moving forward, but where was I moving to?

    My orphanage now harbors three First Generations. Marcus, Katarzyna, and Lesia had shown up on my doorstep, searching for a place to hide.

    I don’t know why I let them stay. Maybe I’m getting soft. On the bright side, they help out with everything. Though, compared to the alternative, should they leave this orphanage, it’s easy to understand their behavior. They want to be worth their keep. I don’t think that they know that I’m a First Generation as well. I don’t know how they don’t, I’m pretty infamous. Perhaps they’re just trying to be nice and not bring it up. If they are, I’m rather thankful for it.

    Robert Collumns’ police force now patrols the streets on every hour.

    I don’t know what to say about his men, besides the fact that they’re all ruthless cutthroats like him. I get the feeling sometimes that they’re not even human, just robots following that man’s commands. They act like it, always cold, calculating, and they rarely talk unless they need to- Just like little robots.

    Either way, those three First Generations hiding at our house are bringing up a lot of questions with the kids and Deus. I hear more questions these days than I’ve been asked before in my life, and I don’t know how to answer them- especially when the questions are coming from the children, who are trying so hard to understand this world that I’m hiding them from. I feel a little bad about lying about the guests I’ve allowed into my house, but I’m unsure of what might occur if the children find out that I’m basically harboring criminals in my orphanage, and that I’m one too.

    Deus is usually cautious of the three, he finds them a little odd, but this particular night he seemed to be highly confused and frustrated about the situation. He was constantly badgering me with questions that I couldn’t answer around the others, and finally I grew frustrated enough to indulge in his quest for answers and led him back to the game room.

    We took our usual seats at the chess table.

    “Do we even know who these people ARE, Hope?” He demanded as sat at his place, the black chess pieces on his side glinting in the moonlight from the window. I let silence reign for a moment, while I thought of a good way to answer his question. I ran a finger over one of the white rooks before I picked it up and looked at it. This was a rather hard statement to follow and answer, I only hoped that what I would say next would soothe any possible anxieties.

    “I know them, Deus. They aren’t bad people. I can assure you about that. They won’t be any trouble to us.” I finally commented while risking a glance at him before placing the rook back on the board, smiling slightly at the chess pieces, a whirlwind of thoughts were spinning around in my head as I looked at them. I was brought out of it when I noticed Deus was shaking his head at me, looking angry. Oh deary, I thought my words would calm him, I hoped this wouldn’t escalate into something vulgar.

    “They look at the children strangely, Hope. They aren’t… normal.” He commented quietly, though his voice was harsh and full of judgment.

    “I’d like to think that you’d be more understanding of their behavior, Deus. They have their reasons for their behavior, and it’s not kind to judge them on it without proper knowledge.” I chastised quietly, but Deus was shaking his head again. I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to let it come to what I’d have to say next.

    I could see the potential for this quickly becoming an argument, and so I made my move.

    “Fine. Here’s the truth, Deus: None of the First Generation is able to have children anymore. Now shut up and teach me how to play this game!” I snapped quickly, glaring at him in a way that I usually reserved for Robert Collumns, but this was a special situation. I was too involved in this argument. The wounds were still fresh from years ago. The day that I was told that I had to go through a routine check-up, the day where I was told that I wasn’t allowed to have children… So they took the ability from me…

    I had just barely started puberty that day, and they had asked me to come in- for nothing special, just to make sure that I was healthy. They had told me it wouldn’t be anything bad and that it was merely just some kind of checkup. Then after it was all done, they had all smiled at me and told me that I was fine. I was perfectly healthy.

    Then the told me that they had followed Robert Collumns’ orders to render me infertile. They had all smiled at me like I had just passed some kind of exam, while telling me that I’d never be a mother. My womb would never hold a child. I would never be able to get pregnant.

    The silence took hold of the room.

    “Are you…?” Deus started, and trailed off- I was certain that this was just as awkward for him as it was for me to discuss.

    “Yeah, I’m barren, unable to have kids of my own…” I admitted it, feeling slightly pained by having to say it. Then I took hold of the white queen and lifted it, cradling it in my hand, watching the way that the moonlight shined off of the piece. “They’re good people, Deus… Just give it time and you’ll see it.” I commented quietly, my voice cracked near the end, and I gave a grim smile as I stroked a fingertip over the crown on the queen piece before putting it back in its place. I desperately hoped that he would change the subject. Please, for the love of your god, Deus, change the subject.

    And then the question that I had been waiting to hear revealed itself from Deus’ lips.

    “So… are you going to have to meet with Robert Collumns soon?” he asked quietly, his voice grew more and more hushed with every word, as if speaking of it would make it all the more real. That man had become a sort of “boogey-man” in this house. Or at least, that’s what Deus always seems to refer to it as. I don’t know what that term means. His name is rarely mentioned, though, if it is, everyone reacts.

    Fear is always in the house with that name. Honestly, I only think four people in this house have even seen the man in person, and I’m one of them. Marcus and Katarzyna seemed like they knew more than they let on, though, and that concerned me. I wished that I knew why they seemed to jump at every mention of the man’s name as if he was in the room with them.

    “Yeah, one of his men came by yesterday while you and one of the kids had gone to the store. I leave for the inner circle of the city tomorrow.” I stated just as quietly. I didn’t like thinking about it. Prophet City was made up of five circles. It’s a few days’ journey to go from the outer-most circle, to the inner most circles on foot. If one was to take a car, which really was a rarity, the trip would only take one day’s journey. And the farther you go, the colder it gets. I had drawn out crude maps for Deus before to try and explain how the city was set up, but we keep seeming to get sidetracked from the geography lesson to trivial matters that he insisted on bringing up.

    All he seemed to be worried about was the fact that from my drawings, it seemed like my world was much bigger than just a city. As he put it, he thought that our system of circles is like his world’s “countries”. But I still don’t understand his explanations, even through his maps and drawings. I’ve never seen so much water in a world before, it almost seems… unbelievable. He’s very certain that he’s right, though. Apparently there are these things called “Oceans” and “Seas” where he’s from; Large bodies of water.

    I can’t even imagine that much water.

    But now he looked at me, and he seemed so very worried, and I sat there, unsure of what to say.

    “What’s going to happen, do you think?” He asked under his breath after a moment and before one of the First Generations, Marcus, came into the room. Deus clammed up immediately. Obviously, the intrusion of space bothered him. I figured that if we tried to get away from all of the hubbub in the house and it still walked into a room we were in, just to go with it.

    “I don’t know... I was hoping you could help me with that… If I don’t come back…” I began, yet I trailed off, unsure of how to continue that train of thought.

    “Don’t even start that whole thing again; he’s not going to kill you. He can’t.” Deus spat quickly, cutting me off before I could even continue my statement, and then looked over at Marcus, to where he had walked over to after he had come in. He was the second oldest of the three that were staying with us. He was short, 5’5 at most, with scruffy dark brown hair that was almost black and silver eyes. He had a bit of a beard on his face as well, but it was usually well trimmed. He kept to himself mostly, but I’ve talked to him a couple times in these past weeks and found him to be an incredible source of knowledge on many subjects, and much of the same can be said for one of the other First Generations, Katarzyna.

    Deus didn’t like him much and thought that Marcus’s loner-type behavior was a good enough reason for distrust. I’m sure their issues will be worked out eventually, because they’re both good men and I’m certain that they’ll get along. Eventually. I hope. I’m almost certain that the situation will resolve itself. Nearly certain.

    “I don’t know, Deus, I’m more trouble than I’m worth, I’m honestly surprised that he hasn’t killed me sooner…” I started after a while, getting back on track and then I felt Marcus’ eyes on me, but I tried to keep my eyes averted from his as he suddenly walked over to the chess table, pulling up a seat to it. He had an unreadable expression on his face as he looked down at the board game and then up at Deus and I. He seemed to eye the black knight for a slight moment before interjecting his own words.

    “I don’t think he’d kill you just yet. That’s just my opinion, you don’t have to take it as your own, but I think he gets a kick out of at least one person still standing up to him in any small way. It keeps things from getting boring for him.” Marcus began quietly as he looked Deus in the eyes. I think he knew what Deus though of him at the moment, though he wasn’t trying to win him over at all.

    It was easy to see that Marcus thought that it wasn’t worth trying to please people. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that he’s one of the people I’m guarding in this house. He was just too much fun to watch as a person, he was a curious being, and he made his own path.

    “You should take precautions, though, just in case.” Deus started, his mouth twisting into a frown. He obviously disagreed with Marcus, and I hoped that this was not going to transform into some sort of argument.

    “She can’t.” Marcus answered simply in my defense, which answered a question of mine. He’s met Robert Collumns for certain. He has too solid of a grasp on the man’s personality for just speculation. Plus his eye color was a huge indicator. He had done something to make Collumns angry. Silver eyes were not something to be proud of. They spoke of a torture that was endured as punishment for something that had angered the ruler.

    I wouldn’t disregard their various uses and the heightened sense of sight that they brought with them, though I’d be more inclined to like them if I had not been wide awake through the entire procedure. It was a common occurrence for Robert Collumns’ problem children.

    His answer, however, did not seem to please Deus at all, even remotely. Deus frowned more and then shook his head. I could see him trying to mentally come up with a plan to help me smuggle some kind of defense in, but then it seemed like he understood the problems and gave up. I was only glad that this didn’t seem like it was going to turn into some kind of debate, and I sighed in relief.

    “What kind of god would let this world go to pieces like this?” Deus stated, in an appalled tone after a long silence and I tilted back in my seat, cranking my head back to look up at the ceiling, sighing quietly. I didn’t know how to answer Deus’ question, though I wasn’t even certain if he wanted it to be answered.

    “No god would. This world doesn’t have a god.” Marcus replied in an even and calm tone, as serious as he could be. I had moved the chair so I could get a better look at him and Deus. He must know by now that Deus is… “Religious”… I still don’t know what that means exactly, but from what Deus makes it sound like, it seems to be a lot like a club of some sort, or some kind of group with similar tastes and customs. I knew that Marcus’ comment wouldn’t be well appreciated at this point and hoped that it wouldn’t turn into an argument.

    “Every world has a god… it’s just not possible to not have Him in your life in some aspect.” Deus commented before shifting in his seat. You could practically hear the emphasis on the “h” in “him”, like he was trying to make us understand how important this being was.

    I left the room shortly after that. I think they were still in there, arguing two hours later.

    Into the Inner Circle

    I slowly made my way along the roads as I walked towards the Inner Circle of Prophet City, sidestepping other citizens, people and officers of Robert Collumns. With each step, I was going further and further into the heart of my land, and I truly didn’t know if it was for better or for worse.

    With each step, though, it seemed like everything was getting worse. The further I went the more homeless I spotted, as well as spotting groups of people that seemed to have banded together in the midst of this dystopian lifestyle. Gangs and other darkened hearts littered the streets. Hopefully, one day, there would be a way to remedy this. Perhaps one day, this world wouldn’t be so steeped in sin.

    I paused in the Second Circle, four hours into my journey, and already sapped of strength and energy, so I figured I’d stop by at a place I frequented for nothing more than the food and drink, and sometimes a night’s rest in one of their beds when I was too tired to go any further without rest. Eventually, this place would become a great asset to me, but I had no inkling of thought that it would come to that point eventually.

    The name of it was “Kalyn’s Tavern”. It was a little place, a kind of “hole in the wall” type of spot, with good drink and great food; though I usually found the rest of it quite… unsavory. It had its uses, I will admit, though for right now, it was home to some of the most ruthless of criminals, who would jump at the chance at getting a free buck. These were the kinds of people who were turning in the First Generations. Though, the staff and employees of this tavern were much more reliable.

    It was dark, lit up only so that you could see what you were eating or drinking, there was a perpetual hazy fog of smoke and the smell of sweat. The music that wound around the place was a dull throb that shook through your body. This place just wasn’t classy, but it was a good place to hide and get some rest.

    But it just wasn’t complete without Logan.

    Logan was used to seeing me taking trips like this all the time, he was a frequenter of this establishment, and I saw him every time I came. There was a time when we were good friends, but the relationship was like a large fire. It took everything you had and went up in smoke despite how much you tried to keep it alive. Perhaps I should be glad for that, seeing as what kind of person he was; but the same could be said for me.

    The last few times I came this way, I got into a couple of horrid scraps with him, though all of them were unfair fights; since he chose to have them right after I came back from Robert Collumns’ place. Particularly, this was after Collumns’ removed my eyes, sliced my skin seven ways to Sunday, just to see how long it would take for me to pass out. The man was demented and out of his mind, though I was just as surprised that Logan would punch someone who was literally blind that day. At least he only aimed for the stomach, and left it at that.

    I got him back once I got replacements; these silver eyes are pretty organic-looking, but it’s still noticeable. With one glance, people know what I am, solely because of my eyes. Not many know of any of the eyes purposes, only that they are a sure sign of Robert Collumns’ anger in that particular individual. It’s something I’m still trying to come to terms with, like everything else that’s happened in my life.

    Sometimes I’m worried that all these things that I can’t seem to get over in my life have stunted me in some way. They probably have, and I have a legitimate reason to be worried.

    Either way, I was sitting at that bar, feeling a warm glow slide down my throat as I drank, the beat of the music could be felt through the entire bar. I ate a little and moved to leave when I felt a hand on my arm, looking back, I saw it was Logan.

    Lovely. My day won’t be complete without having another argument that will probably result in yet another fight.

    “I need to talk to you.” He hissed at me, with an expression on his face that spoke of his current emotional state. He seemed pissed. Fancy that, the king of rage and anger was pissed at me again. I wondered for a moment where a bruise would show up tomorrow this time. Was he really going to pull something here tonight?

    “Fine, fine, let’s go to one of the back rooms.” I offered, unhappy and sullen, but it was better than another fight. I can’t take a fight now when I’m already heading towards yet another visit to Robert Collumns. I’d humor Logan on this to keep him calm. I only hoped that this would work and that he’d find a way to not resort to anger.

    “I need you to answer something for me...” He continued as he took my hand and led me to the backrooms, which were usually used for much more unsavory acts than just talking, but we needed the privacy apparently. I heard cries and moans as we made our way to a vacant room. Good to know the place was getting some good business, I thought to myself sarcastically.

    Once the door closed, though, he sat down on the bed, put his head in his hands, looking defeated.

    Something was wrong, I know this man; he wouldn’t look like that for anything.

    “What’s going on, Logan? What’s wrong?” I finally prodded, sitting next to him, when he scooted away from me. This too, was odd behavior for him. I was starting to get worried when he looked over at me, as if I was the source of whatever was pissing him off, which wouldn’t surprise me, but I was… caught a little off-guard by his actions and requests in the past ten minutes. First he was angry, now he was... I couldn’t pick up on his current emotion

    “He was here yesterday, Ashley… He… told me about you.” Logan and suddenly his behavior made sense. With horrifying clarity, it dawned on me all at once. He wasn’t angry… he was afraid.

    He was afraid of me, because he found out about me, because Collumns told him.

    Dammit. That man, Collumns, took pleasure in this, I swear.

    “It’s probably true; what he said was… probably true.” I admitted quietly and it seemed like Logan was inching further and further away from me with each second. I felt horrible about it, but it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t ask for this. I never asked to be twisted and altered like this. What was I supposed to do?

    On the other hand, I felt my heart reacting with every twitch he made towards the door, I wanted to grab him, hold him still so I could get words out of my mouth; explain this to him so he wouldn’t be so frightened. I didn’t know how to react to Logan like this, I had never seen him so frightened, but he had told me once that he was afraid of robots, or anything to that sort. I never asked him about it, due to the fact that… well, I thought it was a little silly. Now I wish that I had.

    “Please, let me explain, Logan.” I started, but I stopped when I saw the look in his eyes, and where his hand was. I saw the butt of his gun sticking out of his jacket and remembered quickly that I never was allowed to take my gun with me when I came this way; and that Logan wouldn’t go anywhere without his. I knew I was in a bad situation in that moment and I needed to assure him that I wasn’t a threat.

    I watched a bead of sweat roll down the side of his face, though his gaze was focused on me. He looked like he couldn’t get any paler than he was now. The fear was palpable.

    “Logan, listen to me… Everything’s fine… I’m not going to hurt you, I can’t hurt you, please, let me tell you a few things, maybe it will help.” I commented softly, moving towards him slowly- only to stop and back up when he seemed to move the gun towards me, looking at me like I was his enemy.

    “You don’t understand… He told me about everything… He... he told me about Silver Magik.” He commented and I looked away. I wish that I didn’t have to continue this conversation, but I owed it to this man. This man who had once been my friend, who had once been someone I loved. Someone that I still cared for in some small way.

    First I have to let Deus into almost every facet of my past, now I find that some of the parts I skipped, Collumns told to Logan. I’m starting to think I just found out why I have such a hard time keeping friends. I’m not quite sure what to do except for to grin, bear it, and just explain my side of the story.

    “It wasn’t my choice. You know that I never agreed to anything that Robert Collumns had done to me. He needed people to experiment on for his advances in technology and in magic and he ended up with… me and the others from the First Generation, I guess.” I started, already feeling like I was rambling far beyond having a point and I didn’t know what else to do but to continue.

    Logan wasn’t part of the First Generation. He didn’t have to worry like I did, or like some other people. That was a moniker given to the children that grew up in this era; he had already been of the age that would have been considered an adult, and he was smart enough to figure out that if he went against Robert Collumns, he would be a dead man.

    So he had pledged his loyalties to Collumns.

    “It started with my eyes… It took me a long time just to get used to the new things in my vision… the way they worked… Then… it was just… everything… He placed pieces under my skin, scarred designs into me to help carry the bonds. I’m not… really human… I’m not a robot or an android… or a cyborg either, though.” I explained, looking back at Logan, sighing at the situation. I wasn’t sure who was more confused anymore, I was almost dizzy from looking back at all that had happened. What in the world was I?

    The only reaction I got from him was the fact that he stopped shaking and took his hand off of his gun.

    That was good enough for now, and so I continued to talk.

    “I’m sorry for not telling you, but… by the time it had started, we weren’t even friends anymore, and we got into fights all the time. Why would I possibly tell you any of this? Why would you even care?” I finally asked before getting up, rubbing at my face with both hands, massaging my temples, trying to keep calm. All the old feelings of hurt started to rise back up when I thought of those times. We were always at each other’s throats, regardless of what we were going through. I wasn’t innocent in this either, I had hit him with the butt of a shotgun when he wasn’t looking one day, just because I needed to take my anger out on something since I had just had my limbs scarred up and tattooed for reasons they wouldn’t give me an answer for.

    I regretted a lot of it, but to see him like this hurt me more than anything.

    I think it honestly hurt that he might really be afraid of me, but I have to continue on. I need to get to Robert Collumns’ place in good time or it’ll add to what I’ll have to endure. And honestly, I don’t know how much more I can take of his desires to tear me to pieces in the name of science and silver magik.

    So, I got up and left the room, then proceeded to walk out of the bar after hefting the bag onto my shoulder from where I had been sitting before Logan had scooped me up from where I had been. I was determined to get to that house earlier than Collumns would expect. Maybe that would help what I was going through.

    I ended up being there six hours later than I thought I would be.

    Life on Standby

    I waited to feel pain, I waited to be abused, I prepared myself for it, and I tried to get into a mindset, prepared to withdraw into my head. I waited for his cruelty; I waited for the words he’d say. But as the moments passed, I found myself alone in the room. In my undergarments and trussed up in chains, restrained, and I was alone. With nothing to keep me entertained except for the sound of my own breath as I tried to keep calm.

    This was new.

    I hung there for a while, only scoping out the surroundings with my eyes only, not even moving an inch, wondering if this was some kind of game he was playing with my head. It wouldn’t be uncommon, he liked being in control, he liked showing people that he was in control. By this point, I knew one thing from him; he didn’t like movement or noise. If you moved, it annoyed him, if you cried out, it didn’t help you.

    Begging for mercy only got you killed around here.

    So I waited, the cold chains imprinting themselves into my skin as I waited, tracing the shapes in the dark room with my eyes, analyzing what was around me. I remember being led into this room, asked to strip down to my last shreds of clothing, and then restrained. Then the lights were turned off and the assistants walked out of the room. I was unsure of what was going to happen, and that scared me more than anything else today.

    There was a silver tray, covered by a simple red cloth. It had been quietly wheeled into the room moments before they left. I knew that tray well. It usually held assorted tools for torture; anything that could be thought of to induce pain into a living being was used. This man, Collumns, didn’t get any kicks out of torture. It was the thrill of winning the game that got to him; winning by breaking any deviant that got in his way. He loved hearing a person give in and plead for mercy.

    I operated on my own, without orders nor without heeding orders. I was a defect, with problems and with faults, as well as leaving the normal standards. This could not be allowed, and I knew that I was seen as a problem in most ways. I strove to piss the man off, and I was good at it, I just wasn’t good at making myself seem threatening to him. Still, I was at a point where he sometimes thought that I was too out of control.

    In this way, I was like a shrub that had grown ungainly, with a need to be trimmed and repositioned.

    I hung there quietly in the dark, tangled up in the restraints as calmly as I could manage, with the acceptance of a sheep in my eyes. I was about to be slaughtered alive again, and after this many times, the only thing that remained a constant in this equation was the fact that this demon of a man kept me alive through it all. In some ways it was comforting.

    In other ways, the thought of my situation made me crave for an end that I knew he would not allow.

    Even so, it was impossible to make a move in this current state. It reminded me of a chess game, or at least, my current position with chess; trying to make a move without knowing how to play. Sometimes you got a lucky break, other times; you annoyed your opponent by moving your chess pieces in other ways than what is allowed. I only hoped that I’d get through this without making him angrier than necessary.

    At length, I finally heard the door open and I felt my eyes adjust to the gentle stream of light that was allowed into the room, it hurt to have my eyes open for a slight moment, but I finally managed to open them and look to the doorway. Though the baleful silhouette that waited for me just outside of the shadows was the focus of my gaze, I couldn’t help but appreciate the interesting turn of events. It truly was like a game of chess to me, and through this perspective, I likened it to loosing unexpected chess pieces with every move.

    I respected the moves he made to keep this vendetta alive and new. It’s sick and twisted, I know, but it’s true.

    At this point, I doubted he and I were little more than comatose to the world besides trying to kill each other with a mock cover of civility. Under the guise of humanity, he and I were nothing more than evil spirits- poltergeists of anger and rage that struck out at each other in any way that we could manage, attempting to wound each other, but never to kill.

    The truth of it all, it seemed, was that neither of us wished for the other’s death.

    No, that would put an end to this game and force us to face the reality of a world that went far beyond our comprehension. We were much too damaged to live in this changing and mutating world without a crutch. We compensated for our madness with a sense of empathy that was unbeaten. Though his was inhuman and full of fallacies, my empathy was exposed for what it was, and the truth of it usually resolved to make people cringe.

    Though who I did ensnare with this odd facet of my being, were the innocents of life that would magnetize to me due to the fact that, in truth, I was a polar opposite of them. I was a tainted being that sought to be pure, and in understanding of the inability of this action, I did the next best thing. I safeguarded them, like some wayward guardian.

    In that aspect, they knew that I would spend my every breath wasting away just to protect them. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without those children or Deus, even the other First Generations could be considered innocents in this world.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Robert Collumns held himself in an ensnarement of his own design, madness and a sickness that connected further into his mind and being than anyone could have possibly anticipated in the first hour of his moves. I doubt that my parents even understood the extent of this man’s insanity.

    A madness that debilitated the soul while making it stronger in the same breath. A sickness that gripped onto his mind so hard that it broke through to his perception. It was a disease that sought for recognition by way of brilliance and enlightenment, while fraying the understanding of this wealth of knowledge.

    Though our hearts beat at a normal rhythm in our chests, we lacked understanding of the world; though our eyes had sight; we contained no understanding of the world we witnessed. The only understanding that we grasped was violence.

    In this way, I had realized long ago that I had been crafted into Collumns’ perfect enemy. I don’t know if this was his intention in the beginning, but surely, as he began his descent into the room where I hung from strong metal chains, with barely any remainders of true and untainted humanity, he knew what had become of this equation.

    Marcus’s words rang true in my head. He had guessed correctly, Collumns’ wouldn’t kill me. But I only gained this perception and understanding while in his presence. I suppose in a way, after this long, his madness has taken hold of my mind too, though only in some circumstances.

    I should be glad for that, but I must admit that the thought of being similar to him in any instance or medium made me sick. The understanding allowed me to gain access to knowledge of him that not many were able to hold, though it was a gift that I took as a curse. It was something I not only trampled on freely, but also disregarded as trash when I acknowledged its presence in my head.

    I could not change the way I had become, and I could not turn back time to hope for a different future. I could only move forward, and through this poisoned veil of justice, I could only strike out at this man as a way to try and better this world. But without a figurehead to take his place, the world I now knew would surely fall to anarchy.

    It could get worse, I reminded myself silently.

    So, as I endured the game that Collumns played that night, I laughed. I laughed out of the madness that forced me to think in ways that drove me to a perception that I could hardly bare. A viewpoint likened to one that a bird might have as it soars over land. I laughed as I fought to understand the world as a whole, and I laughed at the absolute failure of it. I laughed at the creation of the portals that Collumns created, I laughed at my pain and at his. I laughed as the debilitating madness drove us to the understanding that in some ways, we were now kin on opposing ends.

    I laughed as I was released from my bonds and crumpled to the ground, a stiff white medical gown thrown upon my body, soaking up the vibrant garnet shades of my blood.

    I laughed until I lost consciousness.

    In the morning, I found myself in a bed that was too soft to be my own, and a room that was too spacious to be comfortable. The color scheme of the room was white and gunmetal. The dark silver was found in the threads of the bed, and in the frame of it, even in the sheer fabric of the canopy that hung loosely around the bed, covering me in shadows. I pushed aside the sheer fabric and ripped the sheets away from my body and inspected the damage that was to become the new imperfections of my skin.

    There was no pain or remaining blood of course, no- Collumns liked to disturb his prisoners with the sight of what he had done, and taking away the feeling of the pain and the healing fluids of the blood only added to the fright of it all.

    How could these inflictions not hurt? I could see right through to the white bones of my ribs in some of the tears of my skin; I could see the flesh that he had teased out from the cracks of my skin- the sinewy muscle, wounded deeply, it hung out in stringy masses from my wounds. I was numb as I ran my hands over my body- though the violence was not the source of my despondency.

    What frightened me to silence were the sparks of light that danced upon my arms. Like little screws, metal bits had been fastened to both my arms in a pattern that I still had yet to understand completely. With each visit, the line between man and machine and what I had become were growing more blurred. I was finding it harder every day to call myself human still.

    And then, I made the mistake of running my hands through my hair- only to find that it was gone.

    In its place was smooth skin interrupted by scars and metallic pieces and bits.

    It was in that moment that I realized that my inhumanity was now clearly displayed outwardly as much as I tried to contain it within my being. I felt as though I had no strength left to hide what I was from people. My form now bore too many inflictions to hide, and I was growing beyond this childish need to fight from the shadows without people knowing without a doubt that it was me who struck out at the imperfections of this man.

    I was loath to admit freely to injustices that he indulged in as well as the fact that, I was not as pure and just as I tried to be. I was a very imperfect being, and this, coupled with the methods I used to obtain what I needed for the revenge I sought was purely crazed.

    I suppose one day soon, they’ll all see the wounds in my mind, and the darkness that I had been guided to, the brand that hissed as it burned into my skin so long ago still proudly proclaimed my agony. An engraving on the skin of the back of my neck, it spoke loudly with bold-faced lettering, “G-1, ASHLEY”.

    A chill stabbed into my spine as I accepted what I have been given, got dressed quickly, and like all other times, I was led to the door and looked back at Robert Collumns waving to me from the doorway with a friendly smile as I walked back the way I came, heading back to the orphanage, though I doubted I would be of any help for the next few days until I completely healed.

    I suppose I should be glad that I returned home at all, though as I lowered the hood from my head, I watched as the children looked on in confusion and the First Generations seemed to choke and gasp at the sight of what had been done to me this time. Though the only one who did not react, was Deus, who remained smiling through it all and took me to the back room with the other First Generations, and closed the door before he wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly to his own body, comforting me in a way that almost felt paternal; but I was horrified when I realized with growing horror, he was rapidly loosing weight and substance.

    It was then that I looked upon the First Generations and saw that they too, looked starved and hungry. At first I was unable to understand what had gone on, but then it became quite clear to me.

    The store I went to get food from had finally realized that I was harboring other First Generations, and while they wouldn’t strike or try to take them from this orphanage, I doubted that they would continue their business with me or allow any of their competitors to sell food to us either.

    I would have to take care of a few things in the coming days once I regained more of my strength.
    Gems in the Dirt

    Trepidation and anger was a constant in the orphanage for a time, though nothing was spoken in front of me.

    I was confined to a bed until my wounds healed, and I was under constant supervision and care. The children came and went in twos and threes, though with a sense of dread, I saw new kids every day. There were no explanations told to me, and I couldn’t bear to ask if more children had been led into this world. The thought alone scared me, but what made me jump was the fact that I noticed more adults as well. My home, of sorts, had become a hideout for quite a few people.

    Deus would come in now and then, and although, he hadn’t spoken ever since I returned, he remained smiling and comforting. I believe that in the few days of my absence, he truly had grown stronger, even though the food was scarce now.

    Some of the First Generations started using their knowledge of their land and routes to make quick trips and steal small amounts of food, trying to keep undetected. It wasn’t much, but what they did have, they portioned it out reasonably, though the most of it went to me and the children.

    I slowly gained my strength back and healed faster than most expected, and in time, I finally had Deus gather everyone around the torn and worn white wicker chair that I had moved myself to, and explained my story. I figured at this point, there was no need to hide my tortured past, and to continue to do so probably would not help anyone.

    So, with a trembling voice, and a weak body, I began.

    “I’m sure some of you already know my story, and I’m sure that there have been rumors about me- But, I figure if I’m going to tell you all about me, then I believe that I should at least tell you as much as I can. After I tell you all of this, you may not want to be here anymore, which I understand completely and I will not hold it against you.” I began, a small, sheepish and tired smile twisted upon my lips as my silver eyes alighted upon every person in the room. I needed for them to understand the severity of the present situation.

    Marcus left the room for a moment and then returned, a pillow under his arm, and he approached the chair, moved me slightly, only to place the pillow behind my back so that I would be more comfortable. I understood now, after my stay with Robert Collumns, why it was that Marcus seemed to know my needs and wants before I could speak them.

    It had been one of the topics of our discussion during that night of pain and insanity. It all seemed so disturbing and meaningless, without any reason; what he had done to the eyes, the alterations of our bodies, this thing that he called “Silver Magik”, I had many questions that I had kept quiet about for so long, and he answered all of them. That conversation had been quite… interesting to say in the least

    It was because that, even though he wasn’t in the same advanced stage that I was in, he too, was part of the Silver Magik. There was no name for our manufactured kind yet, though here we were. Collumns had explained that even though there was no intent of it or even an understanding of how it was happening, the truth was- all of the humans that had been steeped in this Silver Magik were now able to access a sort of primitive telepathy. It was more of an instinctual feel to it, and it was hard to explain, though it wasn’t very noticeable. I could also feel a slight connection to one of the other first Generations, Katarzyna, but it wasn’t quite as solid.

    Marcus knew this already, though, and as he slipped back into the shadows of the room, nearer to the back of the room, he was still very much in tune with my mind. It made me feel a sort of support that I was thankful for at this time. I knew at that moment that if I were to perish, that I would leave him in charge, as he would be able and ready to interpret my thoughts and actions into words and to know what I would want done.

    So, I continued the speech of my own existence.

    “It still feels like I was born eons ago. There has been… generations of changes, and though I’m only four years shy of thirty, it feels as though I am an old woman looking at this worn and tired world.” I spoke quietly and slowly, my voice was soft, but hesitant in opening up to this room full of people. “I was born to a judge and a police officer. The world back then… was different. There was a bright sun that shined into the world every day, and the people were happier…. I believe that it was never a…. great place to live… but it was home... But when I was five, Robert Collumns took over Prophet City.” I paused for a moment, collecting my thoughts while the children seemed to edge closer.

    “My parents were killed that day.” I stated the words quietly, looking down into my lap, my hands weakly grasped the fabric of my pants, clenching as hard as I could manage, the sadness ravaged me anew and I bit my lip for a moment. “I was given the name “Ashley” to replace my old name, Hope Chain.” I continued, only to be met with incredulous stares from the rest of the First Generations besides Marcus.

    “There is no possible way that’s true; Collumns said that she was one of the children that were killed!” One of the women, Lesia, spat and the others nodded before Marcus shook his head.

    “She’s telling the truth, I’ve been inside of her head, I would know if she was lying. Besides, worrying over the truth is not a matter for today. We have more pressing matters. Let her explain her story. I assure you that it’s true.” He commented and as he spoke the words, we exchanged a small wry smile of understanding. It was only moments later that I saw Katarzyna quietly step closer to his side, and continued.

    “Thank you… on that day I also lost my arms.” I slipped the statement in quickly as I hitched the cloth of my sleeves up to expose the ring of scar around both my arms where they had been severed from my body, answered by a chorus of reaction from my audience. I continued on, gaining more momentum as seconds grew.

    “I could not stand by and slip into line. I couldn’t accept the life that had been given to us. So I stood against Robert Collumns at every chance I had. Most of my scars and deformities are from his hand… I’m sure some of you understand this.” I explained, met with looks from the other First Generations, I believed that I was finally getting through to them and this in itself propelled me forward into my story.

    “I argued with him, I fought with him, I broke rules… I became a nuisance to him, and at some point, I guess that I became a nuisance to the people that I had been trying to protect as well. I don’t… really know when I started believing that one day people would understand my actions… but at this time… I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to understand anymore… It’s gotten rather confusing.” I paused for a moment and took a few deep breaths as I realized the truth that I was speaking. I had never really ventured to think about this, and now that I said it, I realized that it truly was how things were for me.

    “I just wanted to change the world back to the way it was before...” I added before continuing. “I wanted to go back to the world that I had been in before I lost my parents, before the sun went away, blocked out by these dusty clouds and dirty rain.” I railed, my voice cold and bitter. “I lost everything when he took over. I lost my family, my friends, my name… I’m starting to wonder if I lost my sanity among it all…” I pondered quietly, looking among the small sea of faces, offering a small smile, trying to keep mellow even though I was starting to feel so tired from it all.

    “No matter the extent of my vocabulary… I don’t think I’ll ever find the words to describe... just how this feels.” I droned, feeling even more tired all of a sudden.

    “Hope, maybe you should stop for tonight… You’re still not completely healed, and with all of your wounds, it might as well be enough of a struggle right now to keep you breathing.” Marcus berated quietly, with Katarzyna offering words of agreement and I smiled slightly before nodding quietly. My story, barely even started, now lay out in the open, and one of the children objected, gently taking hold of my shaking hand and requested for a little more of the story as I slowly made my way back to the bed, my feet sluggishly crossing the inches of space before I struggled and panted as I pulled myself up onto the bed, Marcus and Katarzyna at my side helping me as best they could without inflicting wounds to my pride

    “Fine, fine.” I croaked sleepily as the child and a few others crawled into the bed with me, other children leaving for a short time, only to return in teams, four or five working on pulling the mattresses into the room and going back for the sheets. I watched, amused and then amazed as even some of the First Generations and Deus helped out and then came back. Marcus and Katarzyna were close by and looked unsure, though I flashed them as best a smile as I could manage.

    It didn’t seem to stop the frown that was forming on Marcus’ face, though, and I was quickly alerted to the children’s curiosity as their tiny hands gently grabbed at uninjured skin and was quicker to calm them. They were too young to stay up so late, and to continue with the current story, it would never end… so I decided I would end the night with a good memory.

    “Years and years ago,” I intoned gently and softly. I tried to keep my voice mellow and calm. “When my parents were alive and well, I used to always beg them to take me to the park- you see, Prophet City used to be filled with beautiful parks and gardens, massive forests in some areas too… but my very favorite was Angel’s Garden Park.” I started and the children’s eyes started to drift, and I smiled at their sleepiness. “It was an extravagant forest-like garden. There were many trees and flowers, and the grass was a vibrant green, and in the middle of the park, there was a big statue of an angel.” I recalled, the memories coming to me, bringing a soft smile to my face, and looking around, I saw the same smile reflected on the faces around me.

    I quietly cheered mentally as I noticed the small quirk to Marcus’s lips, taking it as a victory.

    “The statue was very beautiful, and I loved to have picnics near it, which my parents never seemed to have a problem with, though they were very busy with work sometimes.” I explained. “But, when we were able to go and see it, we always went at noon.” I paused to take a breath, growing sleepier with ever word I spoke. “We went at noon because at that time, if you were in the just the right spot…” I yawned slightly as I continued. “The sun would be right above the angel, and in between the space of his raised wings… and the angel would shine and glitter… and for a moment- just a moment- it would feel like he was looking straight at you... it was a very calming gaze that angel had.” I marveled at the memory, pleased with it.

    “It’s the memory I will always keep in my thoughts… those days where my family would go to that park and eat near that statue...” I mused quietly, feeling the children on the bed with me snuggle closer and close their eyes. Someone got up and turned out the lights in the house and we all slept peacefully that night it seemed.

    I wish that it could have stayed that peaceful.

    In the morning I was woken by the thoughts in Marcus’s head. The emotions of fear and anger coursed through his body like a livewire, and it wouldn’t have taken me more than one guess to figure out what would drive him to the extremes of such emotions.

    I rose from the bed with care, gently moving away from the children without rousing them from their tender slumber. There was hesitation in my movements, unsure if I wanted to see what was, but I eventually made my way to Marcus; his form was enshrouded in the shadows, though he had a grimace clearly displayed upon his face, his eyes focused on something in one of the massive windows of the orphanage.

    “I wish that angel didn’t break.” He lamented quietly about the statue I had mentioned the prior night.

    I nodded silently, stepping closer to him, and then retreated when I felt him react negatively in his thoughts. He wanted me to be there, but he wanted some space as well. I stood in place and then moved to a nearby couch as he turned away from the window to face me, eyeing my slowly repairing body. It was not a look of concern or caring, but merely sizing up my body to see how long it was taking me to heal.

    This was just part of Marcus’s charm, really. He was, in whole, a very practical but unpredictable being. Though, I have often feared for him in the terms of dealing with the random and the irrational. The unexpected turns of life never seemed to do well for him, as his thoughts were gems, though they were manufactured through many hours of planning and thinking. If one were to catch the man by surprise, he was unable to come up with ways to quickly respond.

    Though, in this moment, he seemed as though his mind had been thoroughly entrenched in some deep thought that had been plaguing him.

    “Collumns sent this.” He stated simply as he walked over and handed me a simple folded piece of worn paper. I took it into my shaking and fatigued hands and unfurled the letter before reading it quietly, undisturbed by Marcus, who stood nearby, an unexplainable look on his face.

    To the residents of the Prophet City Orphanage,

    I have a predicament I wish that you’ll help me to solve. You see, I am getting reports that some of the stores near your establishment are complaining of thievery of their foods and other items. This is upsetting to some of the many residents of those areas, and I wish to solve this.

    The perpetrator that is usually stealing from these stores is described as a male, shorter than average height, silver eyes, messy dark brown hair and pale skin. We request your patience and participation in this dire need of justice. Your cooperation would be greatly appreciated.

    Though, if you are going to make this harder for yourselves, I might have the simple idea of alerting the masses to the sheer number of First Generations you have hiding out in that little dilapidated shack of yours that you call a home. Quite amazing, the amount of life you have living in that small space.

    Of course, if that alone is not enough to convince you to behave, I might be inclined to also take up an interest in a few of your inhabitants myself.

    I do wish that Hope is doing well, by the way, she was quite in a bad way when I last saw her, and I do worry that perhaps I was a little too hard on the woman. Though, how else is she supposed to learn?

    Enough of my idle ramblings, I hope to see this perpetrator brought to justice, and I wish you all well.

    R. Collumns

    Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be able to finish my story today. I’d be too preoccupied to dealing with this new turn of events.

    The Cost of an Arm and a Leg

    Only a day passed, and the letter was tucked away into a hidden location so that it wouldn’t be discovered by the children or other residents. All the while, Marcus and I spoke of our options and possible actions. I was stubborn on not allowing Robert Collumns to take one away from my flock. He, on the other hand, had already resigned himself to a fate that he knew would be similar to my own.

    The argument only got worse as Katarzyna joined in and agreed with Marcus quietly, though it seemed like in her heart somewhere, she’d rather take my side. I suppose she felt a duty to take Marcus’ side regardless of her standing on the situation and circumstances.

    Over the time that I had been recovering, he and I had spoken of the adjustments and changes that Collumns had induced in my body and his. We had compared scars and marks, past injuries and battle wounds. Our sight now, differed. Mine was now more advanced, upgraded by the enchantments and technologies that had been instilled in the skin upon my now bald skull, which had only recently begun to grow a slight sheen of fuzz. All of these odd enhancements had given my vision an odd array of different versions of sight I could use.

    I could access these differing modes of sight by mere thought- which had amazed Marcus as much as it had amazed me- the odd advances that Robert Collumns made through his adjustments to our bodies were certainly breathtaking at times. Though throughout it all, the man still had the nerve to insist that he had to go to Collumns, Marcus wanted to keep us all safe.

    We had argued and fought with each other only out of sight and hearing range of the others. Both of us seemed unwavering in our points until the day that one of the children happened to overhear us. It was one of the older girls, bordering on twelve, her name was Bridget, and she was a sweet girl, probably one of the first orphans to stay with me. The second she caught on to what we were arguing over, she laughed and told us that we were being silly.

    She had sat down nearby and smiled innocently before explaining that Marcus had a right to do as he pleased, and choices that involved him, were his to make. Though, when I explained my side to her, she turned a sympathetic eye to me and nodded quietly. She knew how I felt, but like the other children, she knew that there was no way to stop the man. There was brilliance in these children, to know when to stop.

    The thought of letting him leave and go to Collumns’ side made me cringe; I didn’t want to even spare a thought in that direction, but the man had conviction. He was determined to set himself aside from the rest of the orphanage so that we would not have to worry about Robert Collumns and his planning and scheming. It was a sacrifice that I did not want to allow, but it seemed that the truth was, the decision was not mine to make.

    That night, after many goodbyes and well wishes, Marcus left.

    I was bedridden again.

    Deus was constantly tending to the wounds upon my flesh that were still healing, slowed by my attempts to keep out of bed. Every time I seemed to even move even a finger, healing lesions would open and cause so much pain that I would wonder just how did Robert Collumns manage to inflict these wounds, but them numb them so entirely by daybreak?

    I wandered in and out of consciousness, the pain of physical wounds and faced with the loss of Marcus from our small group, I was entered into a depression that I was stuck in for a few days; during which, Deus took care of me as best he could with as much as they had.

    On the third day, I had to get out of bed; I had to do something because we were now down to crumbs at the orphanage.

    So, dressed in light-colored robes and a heavy hood, with bandages on all of my wounds and accompanied by Katarzyna, and Deus, I led the way to Robert Collumns’ castle.

    And I do mean “castle”- The place is huge, with towers and massive walls, covered in beautiful designs. I never like admitting that it’s beautiful, though it truly is. It is the man that it holds within it who is as demented as sin itself that is ugly. He’s not bad looking, though his soul is no small trifle to behold. It’s riddled with more imperfections than any being I know, beyond myself.

    And although the road was hard for me to travel in my condition, I needed to be there. I needed to make sure that Robert Collumns would help me find food for my group, or I’d just be a bigger pain in his ass that he’d be hard-pressed to find away to mollify me before I caused him too much annoyance.

    I would not let Marcus’s sacrifice go in vain.

    I had lost too much already, and I couldn’t stand to lose any more. I needed to find a way to be able to gain the upper hand in this battle, and I needed to find it now. There was no more time left to lose, and I was starting to grow frantic over the state that my orphanage was in.

    Back at the orphanage, I had left one of the First Generations in charge, and I was certain that they would be able to give the children and other adults adequate care and find a way to provide for them if we were not to return, though, a voice crept into my mind, and cautiously warned me of the fact that with Robert Collumns, nothing was for certain. I was hopeful of the fact that I wasn’t expendable, though I didn’t know if that extended to my friends that I took with me.

    I worried about that, but there was nothing I could do, they had insisted on coming with.

    I also worried about Marcus. I was worried about what might have been done to him, and the only kind thing, was to hope that a god somewhere had taken pity on us and allowed him to come through this unharmed or free of life-threatening damage, or, to mercifully lay him down in a peaceful and quiet death.

    It wasn’t something I wanted to consider, but in this time and place, I figured that there was no way around it anymore.

    As we entered the castle, we were greeted by a man in extravagant robes, who greeted us with a dull and vapid smile. I was tired and shaking from the journey, but I didn’t dare to rest. I stepped forward towards the man with Deus holding my arm for support, sensing my deteriorating strength.

    “We are here to speak with Robert Collumns.” I spoke with a tremble in my voice, though I stood as tall and proudly as I could, with as much confidence as I could muster up. Deus and Katarzyna stood by silently, though the woman seemed to bristle at the man who seemed so jovial to see us in this situation. It honestly made me wonder if Katarzyna had been here before, due to the fact that she seemed similar with the place.

    The response was immediate, the man wised up and the contours in the skin of his face twisted in a look of almost disgust.

    “He is currently in the middle of a very important meeting.” He dictated under his breath, glowering. He honestly seemed like he was fighting to keep a grip on his behavior.

    I waited a moment before suddenly looking into the man’s face again to find that his eyes appeared to be silver, but not quite in the same likeness as my own. It was a little alarming, but it only grew worse as I started picking up on a slight sheen that was coming from his skin while in direct light. There were little rivets and pieces that made up a patchwork of metal on his body, and every new piece I noticed, I would compare it to my own, and only calmed down after I found that his alterations seemed to highly out-number my own.

    “I merely quietly request his audience for a short time. Tell him that it’s Ashley of the First Generation. He’ll make time for me.” I emphasized my words and thoughts carefully then hastened to add, “It’s important.” In response to my words, the man seemed to only fume before toddling off. I assumed that it would be in the direction of Robert Collumns’ meeting, though I was mistaken.

    That little toad had merely gone to security.

    “I would thoroughly appreciate it if you cooperated with us. You see, the lord told me about you, and actually informed me that aside from visits that he requests from you, that he prefers not to meet with you.” The man spouted, and as he spoke, I noticed quite a few things about him. He just didn’t seem normal. Something was off about this man. I wouldn’t pick up on what it was until later, but for now, the stout little man was backed by four completely uniformed officers, and I thought it might be wise to go with what had been fussed about.

    So, Collumns didn’t want to see me- and to such a degree that he would allow this greeter to have four of his personal guards to come with him in case we attempted to resist. This was peculiar, and I wanted to ponder what might be happening for this response, because in the past, I had been able to come to the castle if I so wished, merely to have a pointless argument with that bastard.

    I found it odd, but I figured that he probably had good reason to keep me out of his home. This man knew me well; whatever he was hiding, he knew that he needed to keep it from me. This thought process only angered me due to the fact that I had a good idea of what the man might be up to at this time. He had found himself an opportunity for another test subject, for crying out loud. We practically handed Marcus over to them- might as well have gift-wrapped him like a present.

    My blood boiled.

    “I request again that I am able to meet with Robert Collumns. It is an urgent matter.” I insisted in a hushed but cold voice. My hands curled into fists, clenching tightly as I attempted to keep my mood calm. It wasn’t working and Deus moved closer, as if trying to decide whether or not to stand beside me in a show of loyalty and strength. He then followed through, stepping in line with me in front of the man, a stern look hardened on his face.

    In moments, Katarzyna had also moved forward. We stood like that for a second, perhaps almost menacing, though in moments, one of the personal guards had stepped towards us before an unseen attack was imposed on us. I don’t think any one of us had seen the move coming.

    It was as though an invisible wall had slammed into the three of us, and we were knocked to the floor. I could have sworn I heard the cracking sounds of a breaking bone coming from one of us, though I did not hear any sound of pain or protest from either of my companions. I was used to these odd, almost inhuman happenings, though I worried that this attack might frighten them. As I turned my sight to both Deus and the woman, I spotted the wound. Deus’s forearm was clearly injured, the bone was fractured and it showed. He didn’t seem to notice it; his eyes were focused on the guard who had caused the attack.

    Through the glass plate of the helmet that the man wore, I saw the glimmer of silver in his eyes. Then I saw that he was slightly shorter compared to the others. I moved to get up, to try and get a better look at the man, though that same force that had knocked me down before was enacted again. The back of my head connected with the ground hard enough for a crackling pain to register slightly in my foggy and drifting conscious. As I fought to keep my eyes open, I heard the request for my team to leave again.

    This time, Deus and the woman were quicker to react than I was, helping me to my feet and going back the way we came, during which, I whimpered a name under my breath, so quietly that I hoped no one had heard it, though I knew that they knew the truth as well. The man that had just approached us and had given no second thought to hurting us was one in the same as the man who had helped us all at some point during his stay at the orphanage.

    It was Marcus.

    We lost Marcus.

    The Price of Disobedience

    Nursing our shock and our aches and pains, we had retreated back to Kalyn’s Tavern. We had tried to retrieve aid for Deus’s arm, though no doctor that we found was willing to help us. So, in the Tavern, I was plying Deus with as much alcohol as he could manage before we’d even start to attempt to force the broken bones back into place.

    I had never heard that man mutter so many odd mantras than at that particular moment. It seemed odd to me that he was calling upon others to hope that his pains would not be too severe. I believe at some point, he even wailed out (after becoming thoroughly drunk) that he hoped “Jesus” would take pity on his soul and for “God” to help him. It sounded odd to me, but the words that spilled from his lips seemed to help calm him in some small way.

    You take your wins where you can, I suppose, and for him, it was that he was lost in a wave of hard alcohol and probably would be more inflicted with a hangover than an injured forearm by tomorrow morning.

    Finally I led Deus and the woman to one of the backrooms, thankful that I hadn’t spotted Logan yet. That was my own personal victory, I suppose, though I was dreading every moment. The anxiety that had been held inside of me since we entered the tavern finally died down a little as we closed the door to the hallway and laid Deus down on the bed while handing him another bottle of the fiery liquor to suck down while we worked on trying to repair his body.

    It was sickening to hear the kinds of sounds that Deus’s arm made while we were trying to fix it. In the middle of the ordeal, we found out that it wasn’t just one bone in his forearm that had fractured, but both. It was just as sickening to feel the edges of the broken bones just underneath the skin that we were gripping. We had no idea what we were doing, exactly, we were just trying to fix what had been injured and thankfully it was rectified soon.

    I was drunk soon after that, having stolen the bottle from Deus’s grasp and bemoaned the troubles of life into the amber liquid.

    Katarzyna had wrapped up Deus’s arm in a splint, so there was no need to worry, though it was only some cloth tape and a thin wooden plank. I just hoped that it would heal alright, considering the amount of trial-and-error with trying to adjust them back into place.

    We all fell into a pretty foggy unconscious after that, due to the amount of alcohol that we drowned our bodies. I’m sure we all drank for many different reasons, though some were similar. The fact that Marcus had attacked us; the fact that we hadn’t been able to talk to Robert Collumns about getting food for the children back at the orphanage; the fact that it felt like we trying to win a losing battle.
    What now?

    We woke in the morning with horrid hangovers and wounded pride, though; I was rising up the second my eyes cracked open. I walked out of the room and back into the main room of the tavern, ordered a small drink and then was on my way to try and meet with Robert Collumns again.

    I figured it had to be worth a shot.

    I cursed myself only hours later.

    Robert Collumns apparently really had not wanted to talk, because he wasn’t even here. Instead, there were only two of his minions. Not even his private guard, but the run-of-the-mill from his army. It was like the end of some stupid joke. The one time that I come here of my own will, the bastard doesn’t want to see me.

    I suppose he was too busy. I don’t know about everything that the man does, but I know enough to know that he isn’t one to enjoy peaceful moments. He likes getting things done. He likes working on projects without rest. That only makes me wonder who his latest project was.

    I’ll admit, though, that my mind wasn’t able to completely escape the fact of the current situation that I had appeared to weasel myself into. I was actually a little worried that they were just trying to keep me locked away today. I was restrained and guarded, though it seemed like I wasn’t going to be getting any visitors anytime soon

    Damn, you’d think after all of this that I’d get a break once in a while.

    Ah, well, no pain, no gain right?

    After a few hours of aimless restraints and constant supervision, I was released from the heavy manacles, only to be taken down to a room and slipped into full leg restraints that locked around the lower leg and went up to about three inches above the knee. After that my arms were restrained behind my back. I was then left alone.

    On the bright side, it gave me more time to plan out what I was thinking about doing should Robert Collumns come into the room.

    I didn’t have too much time before I heard a muffled version of speech through the thick door, and then it opened, and someone who decidedly wasn’t Robert Collumns came through the door. But it wasn’t Marcus either, this guy was too tall to be him, and the uniform was different.

    Trying to figure out who the man was would be a feat of impossibility anyways; he was wearing a helmet with a tinted visor. So, I couldn’t make out any facial features.

    “Robert Collumns is thoroughly displeased that you continued to attempt to contact him after he had made it clear that he was not in the mood to indulge you in your need to try and help your orphanage. It’s not something that he views as incredibly important and his time is limited.” The man started, his voice sounding electronic from the voice-modifying feature of the helmet. I detected anger and frustration from the man, though I was confused as to why it sounded in that manner.

    Perhaps Collumns’ men saw my interference in the same way that he did, or at the very least, empathized with him.

    “I humbly request his audience or some attempt of aid. I will keep coming back if my wishes are not met. He has deterred me from allowing my people to steal so that they can survive, but has left me with no other choice than to ask for help.” I explained quietly, looking at the man directly, also trying to figure out what rank I was speaking to.

    I saw no stripes, no stars, no braids or medals.

    Not even name tape.

    I felt my hackles rise and my suspicions only grew as the man seemed to sigh and go to the control panel that my leg manacles were connected to.

    “He’s insistent on being left alone. As for your appeal for help, there is a question that bothers me. Why don’t you get a job?” The man asked, and I picked up a hint of a smirk in his voice, sarcasm was evident. I wanted to rip free of my restraints and tear him apart. That sarcasm keyed me into believing that this man knew of my history with Robert Collumns. It was a deal that had been made between us.

    I wouldn’t have to take up a job under his order, and he would supply my orphanage with money for necessities.

    Of course, this agreement would be nullified at any time that he man saw fit, and it seemed as though he had decided that he had grown weary of our deal.

    “He’s quite appalled that you allowed your people to steal.” The man continued as he edged closer to the control panel, which alarmed me. I craned my neck around to try and follow him, as the panel was actually behind me. He never stopped speaking as he made his way over. “I believe his exact words were: Hope wouldn’t do that, we had an agreement.” The man asseverated, and his words grated on my nerves.

    “I wouldn’t have done it if we had any other option. My children were starving. I was starving. The stores won’t take our money. I am trying to find a way to keep my charges alive. That is all.” I defended, yelping as a prickling sensation alighted upon my restrained legs, glaring up at the man with all of the attitude I had left to muster up.

    “You’re using the orphanage as a front, aren’t you? You’re harboring other First Generations, and even displaced adults. You also had an agreement with Collumns to turn over any lost or misled adults to him. Let’s just be honest, alright? You’re not a very good citizen, are you?” The man questioned as he pressed another button, and the prickling feeling was only emphasized. I suddenly felt my blood rushing in my veins, my heart was beating faster.

    Caffeine; they were barraging my body with a stimulant.

    It was one of their tactics, and I was surprised that I didn’t see it coming sooner. If I didn’t answer accordingly with this tactic, then they’d switch tracks and fill my body with depressants. Either way, he was obviously in a mood to get answers out of me. It was odd, because only Robert Collumns or his officers tried these tactics, and usually only after a few days of my refusal to cooperate.

    “I’ve been through hell, alright? I just want to be left alone, and you people won’t even allow me that privilege!” I exclaimed as a bead of sweat slid down the side of my face, rolling down my neck. I was unable to suppress my emotions as freely, and it only pressed me to grow more frustrated. I shifted in my restraints to try and look at the man, only to feel the prickling feeling grow more intense and painful.

    Going up a gauge in the size of the needles was a tad bit unnecessary and unneeded in my view, but apparently I had no right to judge him.

    “Alright, the surveillance is finally down, let’s get you out of here.” I heard the man claim as he pressed another button and the leg restraints hissed as they unlocked and freed my limbs. My confusion only grew as he came forward, and unbuckled the restraint that kept my arms behind my back.

    “I need to knock you out with a mild drug, alright? I just need it to look convincing to get you past the others.” He cautioned as he exposed a syringe to my view, filled with a clear liquid. I didn’t know what was happening, but I could only hope that he had good intentions as I felt a quick pain in my neck before my vision started to drift. I fought the urge to sleep as the man picked me up and started for the door, and then I was unable to fight it any longer- I started to drift off to sleep.

    My eyes slowly lowered and closed as the door opened and I heard voices for a brief time, and then gave in after two more minutes of him carrying me as he walked.

    I woke up in the back of the car, groggy and confused. Almost no one in Prophet City had access to cars. They were a rarity. I heard a radio going, some tune was playing. Someone was singing along with the song, rather badly as well. The car’s engine was running, and I think I could feel the wheels running over roads.

    That’s when I saw the uniform folded in the foot well. Neatly, with the helmet placed right on top.

    I looked over to the front of the car and caught sight of a regular white shirt and jeans, then sleep overtook me again. I only prayed that somehow, I’d come out of this situation unscathed and able to provide for the children at the orphanage. A small sigh came out of me as I slipped away back into unconsciousness.

    When I woke up next, I was in a bed with Deus and Katarzyna sitting in nearby chairs. They jolted upright as I yawned and stretched out, trying to figure out my surroundings. I was back in the back rooms of Kalyn’s Tavern or so it seemed. I was thoroughly confused before Deus grasped onto my hand explained an interesting story to me.

    A man apparently walked into the bar with me and found Deus and laid me down on the bed before leaving. He hadn’t said much, but had given my priestly friend a note to give to me when I woke.

    As I unfolded the dirty and smudged piece of paper, I looked to Deus for some confidence or support. He smiled back, and I suppose it gave me some relief, though I nearly croaked when I read the letter. For more than one reason, I was pissed and confused, thankful but still in the dark over all that happened to be going on for the moment.

    Hey Ashley- Or should I call you “Hope” now?

    I told your friends to keep you in bed for a day. That drug is more potent than I expected, and I apologize for that.

    I would have stayed to chat if I hadn’t been called back to the job.

    Hope you slept well.


    Unexpected Opportunities

    It took a long time to explain the situation to Deus and Katarzyna.

    It took even longer to recover from the drugs.

    No one in the Tavern was able to tell me where Logan was either. I was more confused than I have ever been, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do, though I knew I’d still have to continue to try and help the orphanage. I was shocked, however, when I was stopped by Deus and the First Generation woman, who proceeded to tell me that Logan had actually told them to keep away from Robert Collumns and that he’d do what he could to help.

    I was confused, but didn’t give it a second glance, I only hoped that he could accomplish more than I could.

    Logan had managed to get us a little food and a bag of more for the orphanage. It wouldn’t even be enough to fill their stomachs, but it was better than nothing. Though, it didn’t stop me from wondering what was happening in the world for Logan to rescue me from that situation.

    Deus seemed confident in the plan that had been created while I was out, and the First Generation woman seemed in good spirits as well. I trusted in their judgment.

    It was Logan that I was skeptical about.

    The man had more mood swings than I did; one second he was happy and pleasant to be around, and then in the blink of an eye, he turned into Prophet City’s biggest jerk. He was older than me, and probably had seen more than I did. I at least came from the good side of town.

    Logan came from the other side of the tracks, so to speak.

    He already knew of corruption and the evils of man. He had already learned how to fend for himself by using tricks and deceptions. When the change came and Robert Collumns took over, he was already in place to accept it. There wasn’t much of a change to him. The ownership of the city may have changed hands, but it didn’t make his situation better or worse.

    When I first ran into him, perhaps it had been the drinks, perhaps it had been the desperation in my mind. I wouldn’t argue that I wasn’t lonely, but all that I know is that when I woke up the next morning, I found myself all too familiar with Logan and his home. The man had a heart, it was true, but perhaps it was too soaked in survival instincts and too strong of a sense of male ideals.

    Either way, the relationship continued for a while. It was mostly out of lust and out of a mutual sense of longing to have someone else.

    After a couple months, however, it lost substance. There was no foundation beyond mindless small talk and bedroom activities. I knew he would protect me, I knew he could take care of me and comfort me. I knew that when day turned to night, I had a place to sleep right next to him.

    But I’m unsure if actual affection existed there.

    I was sad when the relation dissolved to a friendship, then was shocked when suddenly it seemed like we were at each other’s throats every given moment.

    Going on those memories, I couldn’t figure out how it ended up like this. I’m pretty sure that the normal response for Logan would have been to leave me to my fate should I be in a bad situation. To rescue me in such a way, and to even go about and retrieve food for my companions and the children wasn’t something that agreed with his past actions and behaviors. It made no sense.

    Why was he even in that house in the first place?

    Where’d he get that uniform?

    Whose side was the man on? - Wait, I already knew the answer to that question: His own.

    So what was going on? I spent the next couple hours pressuring all of the employees of the tavern as to what was going on- but no one knew anything. Typical; Logan never shared much about himself with anyone. Usually even if he shared a slight bit with you, it wasn’t a permanent arrangement. The man would up and leave you in the dust should he feel the need. One day he’d let you in on his past, the next, he’d be closing the door on you.

    Some of the waitresses knew this all too well. There was one that I actually took pleasure in watching her get under Logan’s skin. She was just too good at it. The girl knew a few of his weaknesses, and knew how to get him to come to her, albeit unwilling. I’ve seen the way they act towards each other. Honestly, I think they hate each other, but perhaps their anger was part of the allure.

    If anyone knew anything, it probably would be her.

    So I found where she lived, since she wasn’t on schedule to work for that day and walked over after getting directions. Something about the way they told me to go seemed to spark my suspicious nature, and I wondered what was up. It wasn’t long before I figured out the problem. They gave me the long route.

    I quickly found better directions from another citizen, and found myself on the doorstep of an apartment complex that looked like it was on the verge of caving in on itself. I followed the directions and stood before a door that was banged up with a few thin spots in the paint.

    I knocked on the door and rang the bell and was greeted by the sight of the girl in a very tiny, torn-up nearly invisible robe that left nothing to the imagination. It didn’t take more than that to understand why I had been given the long road. Although, it seemed like I was the only one left in an awkward stance as she stood there, seemingly oblivious to her state of clothing and asked me if I’d like to come in.

    I rather quietly nodded my head and crossed over the threshold while she danced back to one of the rooms for a moment, and came out in slightly more covering attire. She set up for two rather potent drinks, and handed me one while she slammed the other with a sort of efficiency that I found myself marveling at with a sense of detached horror. This drink was pretty hard to swallow, yet she was drinking it as if it were only a glass of water.

    The woman was brash, loudmouthed, rude and ruthless. She did what she could to get what she wanted, and currently, everyone knew what that goal was.

    She then poured another drink and went into that room again and came out empty handed. Logan followed; thankfully he was wearing more clothing than she was. He sipped at his drink while I set mine aside, trying to forget my hangover while glancing at my would-be-rescuer with a perplexed look on my face.

    I wouldn’t deny the fact that the man made little sense to me.

    I sat there while the silence festered. I waited while she pulled out a cigarette and a lighter, though it wasn’t for herself. She offered it to Logan, and he refused, almost glaring at me. I suddenly gained the nerve to question why it was that he seemed so angry at the moment. Was it purely because I intruded? Or was it something more?

    He suddenly rose and walked out of the room, out of girl’s apartment. The anger was palpable.

    She got up and followed, though the second she got to the door, I could only assume that the man had glared at her, because she looked like she was about to shoot off at him. I wasn’t in the mood to be caught in the middle of this sort of situation, so I went out the door and past Logan, my reason to be there had been extinguished, plus I believe I had my answer already.

    Logan had saved me out of civility and nothing more. It wasn’t something I should look too deeply into, just to be thankful for it.

    I headed back to the bar and regrouped with Deus and Katarzyna. It had already been decided that we would leave for the orphanage within moments and they had already packed up most of our belongings. It didn’t take long before we were on the road again.

    Deus, bless the man; he was being the strongest about this. He spoke more of his world of origin as we walked. He spoke of a country called London, and his world, a thing called a “planet”- his was called “Earth”. He tried to explain many terms to us, “Solar systems” and “nuclear weapons”, many other things as well. It didn’t have much reason to it, though I sensed that he was trying to put our minds at ease. He told us of the stories he had created before being brought into this world. He told us the difference between “Fiction” and “Non-fiction” books, and told us is about the various genres of books you could read in his world.

    He told us what “authors” and “artists” were and what they did. He explained the concept of movies to us. It was interesting to learn about computers and some lofty thing called “the internet”. He seemed pretty confused when he found out that Prophet City had cars, though asked to see one to try and compare it to the ones from his world.

    Though when I explained it, he seemed to think it was odd. I don’t know why. Then he started to explain that his world had similar cars, though it was a long time ago. Katarzyna was silent, though I was starting to get worried. Since Marcus had left, she had rarely said a word, and now, after being more or less attacked by the man we were coming to save, she lapsed into a much more solid silence.

    Deus had let me on to it once that he had heard that she had been involved with Marcus, which explained a lot, though it gave no help on trying to figure out how to help the woman. As we walked, we spoke about the kids we were coming home to and it helped our outlook on this trip. It was good enough that we got this far.

    There was Cecelia, who refused to be called anything other than “CeeCee”. She was a little crazed and hyper, but she was a sweet kid. She had a habit of eating all the candy in the orphanage before anyone could even get to it. She’s the reason we have a pad lock on our cookie jar. She was eleven years old and came to us only a couple months prior to all of these happenings.

    Also there was Christopher, who was one of the younger ones, only six. He was sweet and afraid of the dark, though he loved stars and constellations. I constantly bet with the other adults on how it long it would take for him to get over his fear of the dark. He was intuitive, and had a good sense of right and wrong. If the cops weren’t all so damned crooked in this world, I’d bet that he’d be great for the job.

    There was also Cory and Cane, who were two new children, twins that had both been pulled into this world while I was bedridden. They were both fifteen, and were quite a handful. They didn’t want to cooperate, and I didn’t blame them. I only hoped that they weren’t giving trouble to the adults I had left in charge. They were sweet, but they were determined to get home, and they wouldn’t listen to any warning that any adults gave them that a door back hadn’t been found yet.

    I thought of the children and spoke of the stories, funny little memories of back when I was first starting the orphanage. It was a collection of funny stories of when I was clueless on how to raise children or to even feed them. I remember that the first one that Robert Collumns had passed over to me actually found a way to contact the man and had him come over so that he could explain what children ate and how to take care of them.

    There was a lot of laughing, but it thinly veiled the despair.

    If only I knew how hard it was from another person’s perspective- Someone who had been struggling with a secret, only to have to carry on alone.

    Katarzyna finally pulled me aside a day into the journey back and told me something that brought tears to my eyes and a heavy feeling to my stomach. I don’t know how the woman had soldiered on through it all, but she had followed Deus and me to try and get help for the children and to hopefully retrieve Marcus.

    Her lover and the father of the child she carried within her.

    She was pregnant.

    Come to think of it, I was wondering why she hadn’t drank with us that night. She was the only one of us who didn’t have a pounding hangover.
  6. Ok, I have more to put up, but I'll pause here for a moment.
    Coffee and Computer Chips

    It took the orphanage a while to get back into the rhythm of life.

    Chess became a constant pastime for me and Deus, and I still wasn’t able to learn how to beat him, or at least to last more than ten minutes against him. At least I was starting to figure out which chess piece was which and how you could move each piece and how many little squares they could go before having to stop. It was good enough for me to not loose within the first ten seconds like I had when Deus had first started teaching me how to play this infernal game. I was still confused that this game was also present in his world, and we were starting to fill in the blanks that maybe our worlds weren’t so different or as far away from each other as we thought.

    Katarzyna seemed to always be surrounded by the children, though I was still so confused on her pregnancy, given the fact that she was from the first generation, and should have been rendered infertile. She was gentle and loving, and oh, how the children loved her. It was sweet to see, though it was a little concerning when another of the women from the First Generation, Lesia, started to catch on to what was happening.

    I understood Lesia’s anger, but I wasn’t able to condone her constant badgering of the woman with child that was within my grounds. I warned her gently more than four times to let it go. There were children here, and though they weren’t our own, it should give us substance that though we were barren, our instincts were not irreparably damaged, that we didn’t need to harbor such anger.

    The woman wouldn’t stop, however. After many attempts to calm her down, I finally had to tell her to leave the orphanage after I found her threatening to stab Katarzyna. I figured at that point that it would be best and safer if I didn’t harbor a woman who was threatening to kill one of my other charges. I politely and quietly told her to leave, and there wasn’t much of an argument to it. This was a move I didn’t want to make, and she had pushed me to it.

    Soon after that, we started getting more frequent visits from Robert Collumns officers. One in particular had actually managed to become quite good friends with us. Kenji was an interesting person to run into, and from Collumns side, even. It was a nice surprise to find him in enemy lines. I was thankful to find someone that I got along with in those moments. Hell, the man even got along with Katarzyna and Marcus; Deus, however, was still wary of anyone in the orphanage who wasn’t a child or me. At least, he understood that Kenji was an important asset to us.

    He made sure that the orphanage had enough money to buy enough food and necessities each week, and even stuck around to play with the children. I soon found out his reasoning for siding with Robert Collumns: the man had Kenji’s lover hidden within his care. Robert Collumns had always loved trying to see how far he could push it with those under his rule. He was a cruel leader. From what I gathered, he was using this loved one for many experiments.

    The man had an obsession with Silver Magik.

    I was starting to get slightly worried about it all. He wasn’t stopping, he was getting more test subjects each day, and he wasn’t telling me anything. No matter how many alterations he forced me to endure, he wouldn’t tell me a damned thing. It was frustrating and maddening. I wanted to convince him to stop, but there was no way that I could get through to him.

    Either way, through all of this, I had a new ally in Kenji. He was beginning to be a common fixture to the orphanage. It wasn’t an unwelcome addition. Deus still was a little hesitant, though in his own way, eventually welcomed the new friend into the orphanage. The rest of the adults I harbored within these walls were afraid to show their faces, but it wasn’t long before they learned that there was no need to fear. Kenji was harmless and helpful. He managed to get us simple items that were hard to acquire on our own, like a few more mattresses, sheets, and blankets, and other necessities like clothing. He was eventually seen as a part of the orphanage just as much as anyone else.

    There was, however, another addition that wasn’t welcomed at all.

    You see, Kenji hadn’t come alone. Robert Collumns of course sent another of his guard to make sure that all was well. Don’t get me wrong, the guy didn’t snitch on our obvious secrets, but after all the man had done, I wasn’t too keen on having him so close. I didn’t know what his angle was or his goals even. No one knew how to act around him, and I didn’t know how far his loyalty to Collumns went. He might have rescued me, but that seemed to be an event that was unlikely to happen again.

    This man, Logan, was now seemingly a permanent resident of the orphanage as well.

    All I can say to this point was that the man was silent.

    I don’t mean quiet, I mean dead-silent. You could talk all you want, and the man would act like you didn’t exist. Well... he at least showed some recognition when the children attempted to talk to him. It was an interesting sight to see, though, it wasn’t enough to quell the anger and confusion. I had never seen him like this, and it put me on edge every second that I had to be in the same room as him. We didn’t argue, we didn’t fight, and I guess that I should respect that, but I couldn’t get over the look in the man’s eyes, the way he acted around me now. It wasn’t just the silence, it was the fear in his eyes- the fear that had made him tremble back in the back rooms in Kalyn’s Tavern, the fear that made him glance at me every five seconds that he was around me. As if I was the one who was a threat to him.

    I still had questions for him, but I knew the answers would be hard to come by.

    I wanted to know why he was suddenly so incorporated into the very fabric of Collumns’ plans, and why it was that he agreed to stay in this place. He could have turned it down, I know he could have. Still, I never asked him about it, fearing for the answers that he might give. I also was afraid that he might not answer at all. Every time I tried to talk to the man, it was like he didn’t even hear me. I didn’t want to attempt to figure out the angle that this guy might be working. I didn’t want to know the truth of it.

    Maybe it was because of the fact that in a way, I still thought of him how I did before he decided to place a distance between us.

    Maybe it was because I didn’t want to see that the person, who used to hold me in his arms, was now part of a cause that I didn’t agree with at all.

    I tried to take my mind off it by trying to take care of Katarzyna. I nearly put my heart and soul into trying to help her through this interesting pregnancy, which I was starting to wonder about. I was starting to question just how it was that she got to pass by the rest of us. How was she pregnant? How was it that she wasn’t infertile like the rest of us? Every First Generation was supposed to be unable to carry children- at all- yet here she was with the tiniest of a bump forming in her belly.

    I talked to her about it sometimes, though she found ways to circle around the subject. It was obvious that she understood the confusion of the matter, but in the same breath, she understood something about the matter that we didn’t. There was something that she wasn’t telling us. It was obvious, but she wouldn’t own up to it. No one bothered her much about it, though, because she was just too nice to harbor any bad feelings towards. Even though she was carrying a child, she still tried to help out around the orphanage, and the small acts were greatly appreciated by everyone.

    She and I were the closest to Kenji, besides the children of course. We found a lot out from him, but there was one particular day which became a learning experience for Katarzyna and me. I don’t really know what to say about it, other than the fact that it surprised me. This man, who had been offering so much help to us, had some skeletons in his closet that I couldn’t even begin to understand.

    It was in the early morning, sitting down in the kitchen while all the children were still asleep, and before Logan usually showed up. Kenji and I drank coffee while Katarzyna drank water and juice and some of the herbs that Logan had had shown up on our doorstep in a bag that was labeled “prenatal”. We didn’t question it. Back to the point, we had been talking about Kenji’s sorted past. You see, even before Robert Collumns’ doorways had pulled him into this world, life hadn’t always been sweet.

    Kenji and his lover were both from a country called “Japan”, which apparently was in the same world and dimension as Deus’s “London”. Oddly, though, the languages that were spoken in Japan and London were different, and Kenji didn’t speak “English”, but Deus apparently did. But we all spoke the same language some how. We all understood each other somehow.

    That’s not the odd part though.

    You see, Robert Collumns apparently chose these two for a specific reason. They weren’t just victims of random chance. He dragged them through their world and into this one. Because both of them worked in a rather shady lab due to the fact that they were forced to, by a group called the “Yakuza”, which apparently used to be an honorable gang, but had turned into something that was lesser, and in current years, had turned into little more than street trash.

    They had been working on something that they had nicknamed the “Avatar Project”.

    You see, they had been working on an AI, or “Artificial Intelligence”, which could be relayed through a human being. Basically it was a human who had the brain of a robot, without any parts or chips to ground it to the body, besides that brain. The explanation made little sense to me, though it concerned me when I found out that Kenji and his lover were forced to replicate that project here.

    Kenji told me with a tired look that they were close to finishing the project, which, here, was named “Aoife”, which was pronounced “EEfah”. I’m not clear on the reasoning on the name, only that it was some culture’s version of the name “Eve” which is a figure in a story that I think Deus told me about once. Kenji had said something about the culture of the name… “Gaelic”… I think that’s what he said.

    The project, “Aoife”, was a being made out of what would be classified as Silver Magik. She was the culmination of the beginning of human life, altered in such a way that it couldn’t possibly be classified as human anymore, then aged and preserved in ways that even Kenji is unable to understand. There was also a lapse in understanding why Robert Collumns was interested in this project.

    Why was he so immersed into Silver Magik? The answers were no where to be found. All that was left were the crumbs of his lingering humanity, or the façade of it. This creation, Aoife, was apparently in the middle of the castle, only doors away from the man’s bedroom. It made no sense to me. What was the point to all of this- where was the common link?

    Still, Kenji continued on to tell us that with each day, Aoife seemed to be growing more awake, or alert, as it was. Kept in a sort of suspended animation by dense fluids and with a running line of pure oxygen which hooked into a mask that covered her mouth and nose, she was an interesting specimen to look at, or so Kenji told us. I listened closely, while it seemed that Katarzyna wasn’t quite as interested, which I didn’t notice. She went into small times of silence in the mornings- I believe it’s when she thinks of Marcus the most.

    “Aoife is the culmination of what my lover and I have been working on since Collumns dragged us through about five years ago. She’s five years old at most, and she looks like she’s in her early twenties. She won’t grow any older either. It’s… odd. The man has her all dressed up every day. She’s always in a real nice flowing dress while she’s in that container.” Kenji spoke softly, as if he was currently imagining it right now and then slowly continued.

    “He treats her like a princess. The man always comes in and speaks to her, I don’t even know if she can hear him or any of the technicians in that lab with the amount of thick liquid that she’s contained in. She never reacts to anyone. She doesn’t react to voices or bright lights, or even pain. It’s like she’s in a coma. But with each day, she’s slowly waking up. Yesterday she twitched in response to pain.” Kenji smiled slightly, but it was a grim one, and we were about to find out why.

    “He’s going to use her like a figurehead to usher in the new era that he says is upon us.” He breathed quietly, as if speaking the words would summon Robert Collumns before us. The fear had become a physical thing that occupied the room. Kenji was brave, though, he wasn’t one to shake or to admit to the fact of the disturbing quality of this situation. He held strong and kept his face passive. It was something that I respected and was thankful for, because if he was about to break down and reveal how much it affected him, I was sure that I would be not too far behind him in admitting my pain from all of these torn and broken years.

    “What’s that supposed to mean? What new era?” Katarzyna finally commented, one hand over her stomach, the gesture was not lost on anyone. She was thinking about the child that was going to be born into this world. What would the world be like when that child finally came? I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t thought about that as well. This child, who was practically a miracle, was about to be born into a hellish world. But with what Kenji had said, perhaps the world was about to go into a change, and both Katarzyna and I feared that it would not be changing for the better.

    “She’s going to become the example of the perfect being… where we are all imperfect creations- even those he altered.” There was a bitter tone to the voice, and I felt numb as I looked down at my clenched fists. When I raised my head to look at Katarzyna, I saw the same anger. For all of our pain and for all of our anguish, the man wasn’t pleased with his own work. If we were imperfect, he was to blame.

    “Hope, Katarzyna… There are classes. Classes to all of this, I mean. You see, at the very bottom are the damaged humans- those who aren’t perfect examples. Like the sick, the weak, and the poor. Then there are the perfect humans: the athletes, the businessmen and women, the wealthy and healthy, and the geniuses.” Kenji started, sounding as though he had suddenly become very tired. Surely explaining all of this was no small feat, especially with all the emotional hold it seemed to have on him.

    “The next is what he calls the “Patchwork”, The First Generations that he started with, the ones he’s slowly altered over time… The ones he’s torn open and put his magic inside of; they are able to communicate with Aoife, where regular mortals can’t. They are also able to altered for a specific purpose.” Kenji explained slowly, looking up at me slowly, and looked away, wondering what it was that my purpose was besides being a pain in Collumns’ ass. Maybe that was my purpose.

    There was a small dark little smile that was peering out from the darkness of my subconscious. I could feel the giddiness of its grip. Something inside of me was reacting to what was being said.

    “Next would be what he referred to as the “Deities”. They are from the First Generation, or they are newer citizens. They’re basically more of the upper-class Patchworks. They’re more specialized to deal with a broader range of situations. They are able to talk and understand with Aoife, better than regular Patchworks. They’re meant to be her guard once she’s more able-bodied.” Kenji leaned back in his chair and sighed.

    “I believe that is what your friend has become. You’re close to what he is, Hope, but you’re not close enough. You can’t fight him, you’d loose.” He spoke softly as if cautioning me and Katarzyna. “I’d be careful around him if he ever comes back. The man that returns may not be the same person you once knew.” He added with a grim glance, lapsing into a silence that remained unbroken for a few moments.

    “What comes after that?” I found myself asking after looking to Katarzyna, who seemed to be reacting to what Kenji said. It must have been hard for her to hear this news. I figured it would be best just to continue onwards and not to linger on that subject until we found out a way to help Marcus. I fidgeted in my seat slightly as I felt eyes on the back of my neck and watched as Deus came into the room from my peripheral.

    Kenji didn’t miss a beat, looking Deus in the eyes as he sat down with us. “Next comes the goddess herself. Aoife is the top of the food chain in this. She’s the enlightened being of us all.” He spoke quietly with the oddest combination of emotions soaking through his voice. There was a sense of pride, as well as sorrow. I could understand it, given the fact that he had a hand in this being’s creation, and the fact that he most likely knew all of Robert Collumns’ plans with her.

    Deus kept silent for a moment then shook his head before walking out of the room again. The conversation went on without him, and slowly, Katarzyna started commenting less and less on the topic of discussion, then left after confessing that she didn’t feel quite well and went off to rest. After another hour, the children started pouring into the room, and the topic was dropped.

    It was obvious that I’d need to know more.

    State-of-the-Art Angel

    It seemed like my life now revolved around the moments that I was able to pull information out of Kenji. It was a good thing he was an ally and telling me this without prodding or any questions. When he wasn’t telling me secrets, he was a regular man. Albeit, a very eccentric and interesting person. I was surprised to learn that his lover was another man, though, perhaps, it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I just had never heard of it, let alone seen it in Prophet City- I suppose it didn’t fit with what Robert Collumns believed to be a perfect world.

    It was a rush, in between trying to take care of the children and making sure that everyone was safe, and trying to meet up in the same room and figure out what was going on for that week. By this time, my hair had grown another inch or two, and I was in that awkward stage of a haircut that rendered my appearance to be decidedly masculine, but the rest of my body was healing from its wounds rather quickly, so I figured that I had no room to complain.

    I stayed close to Katarzyna, making sure she was alright and taken care of, even managing to snag a few things that she might need during the pregnancy, and then every day, it seemed like I ran into one of Robert Collumns’ men while walking around. They always seemed to have a problem with me, and I was starting to get tired of the routine. I worried slightly, as well, when I noticed that they were starting to help me get the different supplements that Katarzyna needed. They knew. Which meant Robert Collumns knew. I tried to cope with the confusion of that predicament as best I could.

    Kenji had told us with excitement and dread when the day had come that Aoife opened her eyes for the first time, and revealed to everyone in that lab that her eye color was actually a bright acid green. She had brain activity, but it was pretty minor at this point still. To be fair, she was only five years old, even though her body had been aged, it would take a while to feed her with enough information for her mental state and capacity to mirror the age that she appeared to be. But there was a sense I got from Kenji that, perhaps, even though this being- this creature- had been born from a human mother, there was nothing left of that humanity when she had opened her eyes.

    She was still kept in that odd liquid-filled tube, only removed to change the gowns she was dressed in. There was one day that Kenji had managed to take a picture of her with a new device called a “camera”. I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though she had the body of a human, the girl in the picture was the furthest thing from human as anyone could manage. It only proved my suspicions true.

    When Deus saw the picture, though, it seemed like he was more concerned with the markings that were a motif throughout the girl’s body. On her forehead, on her biceps, on her chest, at the small of her back, under her navel, on the undersides of her wrists; all were marked with the same symbol, a circle interrupted by a vertical line that stopped at the radius of the circle, and stuck out from the top a slight bit. Apparently it reminded Deus of what he called a “power button”, because it was a symbol he remembered being on something he called “computers” from his world.

    I didn’t understand much of the talk that Deus and Kenji had next, but from what I gathered, the symbols held meaning in their world, and as Kenji explained it, the symbol represented a low-power state, or a “sleep mode”. When they glowed, she was in either of those states; when she was able to be used, whatever that was to mean, the line would go black and the broken circle remained lit, and when the circle darkened and the line remained glowing, it signaled the state of her awareness and the fact that she was fully functional.

    As Kenji explained it, in his and Deus’s world, he had been working on this project as a way to eliminate computers and instead make a human that was capable of the same functions as that machine. Not a robot or an android, but something that was between the lines of human and cyborg. It wouldn’t be regarded as a sentient, or a real human being, but more of a servant. Not quite a slave, or a lesser being, but more of a creature that was born into its role. It was a lofty idea that his gang had indulged in, and now, the reality of it was upon my world.

    He explained how in the beginning he had expected to create a robot or an android, but found that the social circles that surrounded him and his lover were looking for something more “exotic”. They were forced to work on a project that they knew they wouldn’t be proud of.

    Little to say, the two were pressured to enter into a world that they never expected, transferring their knowledge with what Kenji called “electronics”, to something more biological, and worked on combining the two in some way. There was little success for years, but they stumbled upon a breakthrough one night after Kenji had dreamt of a solution. At this time, however, Kenji believes that, somehow, Robert Collumns had something to do with his dreams. Shortly after he started working on the breakthrough, he and his lover were transported into Prophet City, lying on the cold stone floor at Robert Collumns’ feet as he welcomed them to “their new home.”

    It wasn’t long before they were under threats. If they did not work for Collumns; the bastard of a man would have one of them killed. Though, I’m sure that Robert Collumns had good reason for the threats, due to the fact that it wasn’t his usual behavior to be so ostentatious with his power. Robert Collumns obviously needed what Kenji and his lover could procure for him.

    So they worked as quickly as they could on trying to recreate the project that they had done in their own world, Earth. As with that first project, a woman was impregnated, but within the moment of childbirth, the newborn was whisked away to a separate room and subjected to many different tests and procedures. Kenji had described how the tests had changed the infant. Its skin grew deathly pale, it was silent, quiet and entered into a deep sleep, akin to a coma. Its eyes were covered in a white film when the lids were opened. Its blood, even, changed from a vibrant ruby color to a metallic, reddish-silver color with the consistency of mercury.

    Without a moment to loose, they started to age it while syncing it up to as many modes of knowledge as they could, with wires and computer systems that they had to create on their own, since Prophet City was clearly involved in a different stage of technology, or so he explained. The concept of that word still eludes me. Either way, this child was a part of this new movement.

    They lovingly named it Aoife.

    Kenji and his lover, Akira, worked as hard as they could for two years, but then in the middle of the third, Akira was badly injured during one of the procedures and was unable to help Kenji anymore due to the fact that some of Aoife’s blood had actually managed to spill onto his skin. It was badly corrosive. So the burden of the project fell onto his shoulders alone while Akira was used as a motivational tool by Robert Collumns to make sure that the man stayed comfortably under his thumb.

    Before Kenji knew it, he was spending two days straight working on the project, aging it, informing it and teaching it, tweaking it here and there, with little to no rest, then was sent to his quarters for a day to sleep and recuperate before being called in again for another two days. It went on for months, the work and constant pressure was maddening to Kenji, but what was worse was the fact that Akira was only released from Robert Collumns’ watchful eye for a single day every week and only if Kenji had been considered as a “hard worker” for that week.

    Needless to say, having to work for such long hours on a project, he started to become attached to it, regardless of the fact that it was programmed in a manner to understand Robert Collumns, to become that man’s tool. Kenji almost took a fatherly stance on the issue of Aoife. Regardless of everything, he was the closest thing she had to a father, and she was the closest thing he had to a daughter. He never thought he had wanted kids, and he was very adamant in that explanation to me. Aoife was important because she needed him. Without his work, she’d die. It gave him purpose.

    But he couldn’t ignore what was currently happening- Aoife was being brought into this world as a messiah for Robert Collumns’ intentions. She was merely a figurehead and a faithful puppet to agree along with the man’s whims. Implanted deep inside of that brain of hers, Aoife was created to be perfect to Robert Collumns ideals.

    So Kenji approached the man with a strategy that he knew couldn’t be argued with- Without some kind of balance, Aoife would have no equal or a counterbalance, someone to be able to keep her in line, should she fail to listen to the programming that has been instilled into her since birth. Surprisingly, the bastard went along with it and actually set aside another lab for another experiment.

    The success was short-lived.

    There weren’t enough people to work in both of the labs, and so the project was put on hold until it was the right time. Two weeks went by before more people were integrated into the labs and sifted through the proper channels until finally Kenji had enough assistance to repeat the project for the third time. Another baby girl was used, and within days, the child was rushed through its growth, into the form of a toddler while Kenji did all that he could to find a way to create a perfect opposite to Aoife.

    He named her Elu, and although this was his first time at doing this project without pressure from a gang or a man who had dreams of grandeur, he could not bring himself to care for the child as he gave her a name that came from one of the tribes of Native Americans from his world, a name that he remembered had meant “fair and beautiful”. He was too afraid to grow an attachment to the child as he did with Aoife, fearing that should he allow himself that small happiness that surely it wouldn’t last.

    Robert Collumns, of course, kept an eye on the project and explained to Kenji that this new project would not be allowed to be as powerful as Aoife. No, only if Elu used every ounce of strength in her body would she be able to even impede Aoife should a problem arise. You see, Collumns would set aside a way to procure more power for Elu should it be necessary, but until then, the other being of Silver Magik would always be a few steps behind Aoife in power, strength, knowledge and age.

    Yet, she was unbiased and her mind and head were clear and clean. No suggestions or persuasions had been placed within her skull. She was free where Aoife was constrained since birth. She had a purity that no one could touch, and a power that only Aoife could rival. Yet, she was the polar opposite of Aoife in every physical way.

    Where Aoife’s hair was the color of bright snow, hers was the color of the darkest night. Where Aoife’s eyes were a vibrant, shocking green, hers were a mellow reddish-purple. Where Aoife was marked by symbols, Elu had no visible abnormalities. Where Aoife was abnormally tall and slender in every way, Elu was slightly a head shorter than the average woman and slightly more voluptuous. Where Aoife was dressed in flowing formal gowns and looked like some real life goddess, Elu was dressed on the other end of the spectrum, in a form fitting dress with a few flares that were perhaps less conservative.

    At some point, he stopped talking to me about her, and even if I tried to pursue the subject of his jobs, he would refuse to tell me anything. I was angered by this, but I left the subject alone, not knowing anything about what had recently occurred. Only days later, Kenji didn’t come to the orphanage. Another day went by and I grew worried, but I had no idea what he had kept from me.

    When she opened her eyes one night, they looked so human and innocent, and it was that night that Kenji had thought of the situation for long enough to make a decision that would probably change the course of the battle we had been fighting for so long. He did something unexpected, understanding what the consequences might be once he followed through on his actions.

    As the numbers of his assistants started to dwindle, he pressed a set of buttons in a coded sequence, giving the affirmative to every time that the machines asked him if this was truly what he wanted to do.

    There were only moments before the light blue liquid started to drain out into pipes and lines that fed into a collective tube below the containment tank, where it would be filtered and cleaned and fed back in when another sequence of buttons were pressed. As the heavy liquid slowly started to empty out, Elu’s weak body sank with it, finally collapsing into a heap on the floor of her tank, her soaked long hair clung to her body in a tangled mess while the oxygen mask that has been secured over her mouth and nose loosened and hung from a strap. She opened her eyes again, blinking slowly as Kenji pressed another assortment of buttons to key one of the doors to the containment tank to open up.

    It was like a rebirthing, but the moment was cut short as the screeching of an alarm broke the silence of the room and Kenji was forced to quickly pick Elu up and hurriedly carry her out of the room and through the halls and rush to his car, which was a block or two away.

    Once inside and with Elu safely laid out in the backseat, he set off- not to the orphanage, but to the tavern.

    Kenji pulled the woman into his arms once again and entered the building, passing by everyone and going into one of the backrooms before calling out for one of the employees to call Katarzyna, and I wish I could say that I was the one who intercepted that call, but she had been contacted, while the children and Deus and I were all still asleep, and slipped away into the night as if she had never existed in the first place.

    I would never have foreseen what happened next.

    Blues of the Invincible

    Deep in the sprawls of the wrong side of the city, there was a building, completely void of any semblance of comfort. With wooden boards over broken windows, and bars on the doors, it would be an understatement to say that it wasn’t a welcoming sight. Though, this is exactly the building that my pregnant friend entered without any hesitation or fear.

    Katarzyna was quiet as she slowly made her way down the basement and into the throngs of people that had collected into the room, so much so that only standing room remained.

    There was a small stage near the back of the basement, and upon it stood one man behind a pedestal. Behind him was a flag pinned to the wall- a white flag with one diagonal blue stripe that went from the top left corner to the bottom right. It was simplistic, but in its design, it allowed a greater explanation. You see, the man at the pedestal was Blue.

    Blue was the leader of the only successful resistance in Prophet City. So successful, actually, that none of Robert Collumns’ men were allowed to speak a word of them so that hopefully less citizens would find out about them. It was an exercise in futility, however. They didn’t know who was in the resistance, and so they didn’t know who they had to stop.

    They’d never suspect Blue. Or, at least, that’s what his name was in the resistance. No one really knew what his real name was. But outside of the resistance, he was a perfect, model citizen- trusted by most of Robert Collumns’ men.

    Oh, he was a great deceiver, but he was a good man. He was a childhood friend of Katarzyna, and knew more about her struggles than anyone else. He knew exactly why she was still fertile, and knew about Marcus as well. There was a back story that I hadn’t even suspected. But it was there.

    My friend was in a resistance, and her friend was the leader.

    And Kenji had brought to them a symbol of their cause.

    Now both sides were aptly prepped with weapons. Yet, I was at my orphanage, sleeping soundly along with Deus and the children- I had no idea what was occurring, and I had no reason to suspect anything yet. It wouldn’t be until later when Katarzyna finally confessed everything to me that I understood exactly what I hadn’t noticed.

    Katarzyna didn’t return that day- or the next. She came back a week later- with Blue, Kenji, Elu and a few followers in tow. There were explanations that lasted for hours, and by the end of it, I was confused on the fact that I was even more confused than when they had first come in- if that makes sense.

    You see, Katarzyna had always been part of the resistance, but due to the fact of her relationship with Marcus and Blue, and the past I had never known, she was told to distance herself from them at some point when it was discovered that she and Marcus had developed feelings for each other, making them circumstantial liabilities, not just for her protection but for theirs. Marcus, of course, followed her to my orphanage, where they had hidden alongside my children and others that hid within my building’s walls.

    They needed to remain covert.

    It was safe to put her with me, safe for both of us. I had no idea what kind of leverage I had on my side all along.

    Katarzyna had always been against Robert Collumns- she had known about him far before anyone else, along with Blue and Marcus, she had tried to stop this all from happening, as children. They tried to warn others, warn them about the darkness that was brewing in the mind of the man who now controlled our world.

    In punishment and revenge, one of his first acts towards the city was to render the first generation barren- all except for three people. Blue, Katarzyna, and Marcus. Instead, they went through a torture much worse. Their fates were already visible to us.

    Aoife and Elu were actually Katarzyna’s daughters, Aoife was Marcus’ daughter, while Blue was the father of Elu- From samples obtained from all of them years ago in return for being able to keep their ability to procreate, should they wish.

    Now they were in possession of Elu.

    Elu, who was now wide awake, spoke little, but her small words were enough. She told of what she knew, she was able to hear the whispers of the machines, the wails of the devices that were used, able to peek into the minds of Patchworks and Deities while she was unable to wake. She learned through the knowledge of others. And she didn’t like what the world had to teach her.

    She sat there, in the kitchen, in front of me, in between Katarzyna and Blue, flanked by some of the people from the resistance, which I learned called themselves “Invincible”. She looked nothing like Blue or my friend, save for the build of her body. While her parents both had varying shades of brown hair, she was in possession of the darkest, blackest hair I think I had ever seen. While her mother had brown eyes, and her father held a kind of blue-green tint to his, Elu’s were a kind of vibrant purple. Her skin was pale, as her mothers, but a cast to her skin that seemed inhuman. While she wasn’t quite as outwardly strange as Aoife, it was easy to see that there was still something hugely amiss with her.

    She knew she wasn’t human anymore, and her parents knew the troubles that now accompanied the fact that they had Elu within their grasp. At this point, they now posed a serious threat to Robert Collumns, which was something that wouldn’t be taken lightly. They came to me, because I was the least of a threat to Robert Collumns, seeing as, now and days, I could never bring myself to kill him- and he knew that. I had been struggling along in life with all that this man had done, but at the same time, without him, I don’t think I could find a purpose for myself.

    So I’d be the safest person to hide with.

    Katarzyna began with telling us her story.

    She was actually related to the man; apparently he was an older brother that had been ejected from the family. The age gap was beyond ten years, and I had to wonder about the how that was possible for a moment. Though, as she spoke, I heard a kind of emotion that I couldn’t quite identify.

    “He had always been a little... different from the rest. We grew up in a bad part of the city, and he had always spoken of trying to get into a position to fix everything. It had always worried us, though we all knew his intentions were positive. He wanted to help this world... He still believes that he is.” She spoke quietly, hesitating in some spots. “He wanted to even the playing field, get rid of the slums and the bad parts of the city… He worried constantly that we were under some kind of… attack… I don’t know what he thought was a threat against Prophet City, but he still believes it.” Katarzyna insisted with a thread of assurance in her voice.

    “Blue and Marcus were childhood friends of mine, though they didn’t believe me about my suspicions of Robert until we found the corpse of my family’s cat. Apparently he had thought that it was a spy from another world.” She sighed through the words. “I tried to warn my parents, Marcus and Blue did the same… but there came a day when we found our families all slaughtered. Robert had done it. He said they wouldn’t understand. He wanted my help, but I didn’t know what else to do- I ran away. So did Blue and Marcus. We met up on the south side of the city, in that abandoned train station.” Katarzyna paused for a moment, and she almost seemed to lapse into tears, but in another moment, she was calm and collected again.

    “We holed up in that station for three weeks. At some point, we got food and weapons to defend ourselves, though we didn’t know how to use any of it. I suppose it was nothing more than a comfort, but at some point, we started teaching ourselves how to shoot and how to use everything and anything we had as a possible weapon. During that time, we had to run from the station because we were found there, and we hid in one of the condemned houses, then we had to leave that place too.” She continued, and in a moment, I went to fetch the hard liquor I kept locked up- seemed like a good time as any for it.

    As I poured myself a glass of a foul-smelling amber liquid, the story continued. “He was so angry that I had run away, that I was hiding with my friends from him… he was angry that I didn’t understand, because he thought it was simple enough and easy for anyone to understand. Like I was the one with the problem…” She whispered the last phrase, and the second it left her lips, it had become so apparent that even though I called her a friend, there was just so little I knew about her. Or any of the residents of this place, really, I holed them up here if they needed a place to stay and didn’t ask questions.

    I just figured in these times, there was never a proper time for small talk.

    “That bastard caught us eventually.” The simple phrase was muttered, not with anger or fear, but with what almost sounded like a sour laugh. I glanced over at the other new guest, Blue. He was an oddity in himself, his forearms rested before him on the table, and I was alerted to his rather eccentric version of jewelry- two manacles on both hands, with a segment of chain hanging from each separate piece.

    I made a mental note to tread carefully this night before practically inhaling half of my drink and then coughing slightly as the fire scalded my throat.

    “He tried to make us a deal. If we helped him gain power over the city, they wouldn’t kill any more people.” Katarzyna continued, unperturbed by her friend’s statement. “All we had to do was take out a few people... kill for him because he couldn’t bear to sully his hands that soon in the game… no, he wouldn’t have that.” She spoke, and as I looked into those eyes, I saw the gaze of a person dead serious in their admittance of their own wrongs and crimes.

    For some reason, I felt a chill creep across my skin.

    “We refused and he had us all locked away into that castle of his… back then we didn’t even know that it existed. Then… while he got his followers to carry out his commands, he presented us with yet another deal… He told us of a grand plan he had to fix everything…” She laughed for a moment, but like Blue’s, it was a bitter laugh, almost remorseful-sounding. Elu was quiet, but it seemed like she had already heard this. The followers that had come along with my friends were almost shadows in the room. I could barely even hear them breath, and at moments, I even forgot they were there.

    “He wanted us to have some kind of a orgy… because he believed that our family was the most suited to lead this city… to reign over it like gods… We of course, refused again, though it wasn’t long before the situation was out of our hands. They eventually got all of the samples that they wanted from us.” Katarzyna’s voice wavered slightly, and I watched as Blue moved to comfort her. I could only imagine the horrors that were contained in their memories of that event.

    I had been invited to see into a world that not many were allowed to see. I was peaking behind the curtain of Prophet City and into the making of what it now was today, of the pain and suffering it took for Robert Collumns to gain control.

    “So… What is your last name then?” I questioned gently, trying my hardest not to pry.

    “Zale. Robert’s original name was “Lolek Zale”. He… didn’t like it after what he did to our family, so he created… a persona.” She explained in an even tone, smiling grimly from across the table. Elu seemed to edge closer to what I had been told was her mother. It was hard to believe, since Elu easily looked to be our age.

    “He told us after it all, after all of the tests that we were allowed our freedom, but we were the only ones able to have children in our generation… it was no better than just telling us to go repopulate civilization.” She spoke bitterly, and within moments, she slammed a fist onto the table top, her body seeming to shake with her anger. This was obviously a bad subject for her. I knew from other talks that she would love to have a lot of children, if the situation permits it, but this was a different subject all together.

    “We started up a resistance, thought after being interrupted and shut down over ten times by my brother’s forces, we started being a little more secretive with it. There were signals, symbols… phrases… anything to help identify a member of our group.” Katarzyna explained with a small smirk, a tiny battle that they knew they won. Robert Collumns hadn’t deciphered any of the factors yet, probably. During the lull of talking, I sipped at my drink.

    Blue smiled as well, and yet, there was still silence from the followers.

    “We need your help.”

    In hindsight, I wish I had never heard those words from them.
    Beloved Scapegoat

    Eight glasses later, and thoroughly soaked in alcohol, I was still just as confused as I was at the start, and it wasn’t getting any better.

    I was honestly more confused than the time that Deus tried to read to me from his bible- I still don’t know what a “Begat” is, I’ll have to ask him tomorrow after surviving the hangover from tonight.

    They wanted me to go to Robert Collumns, be defiant, pull the shit that I usually do which usually lays me in a bed and out of commission for weeks. They wanted me to do this so that they could kill Aoife. Their other daughter. I just sat there and nodded my head while they plied me with more of the drink.

    In the middle of a particularly long speech, I was suddenly alerted to a tugging at my hand. One of the children had woken.

    “What’s going on?” Grace asked quietly, and I suddenly had to wonder where her sister was for her to come to me instead of her. Perhaps they were having those little sibling squabbles that I heard about. I had been an only-child at five, and I suppose after living in those camps, maybe I could understand how siblings might fight… but I still didn’t understand children very well.

    It was and still is a work in progress.

    “Wus’zat?” I slurred quietly and the girl looked up at me with her big round eyes and told me that there was a strange man in the bedroom.

    The reaction was immediate. Guns and other weaponry was exposed, Katarzyna tossed Blue a small gun she apparently had been carrying tucked in the waistband of her pants. Blue had another one out and ready, while all of the followers were tugging out weaponry of their own. I just sat there, dumbstruck.

    Someone was in my orphanage… Someone was in the room with all of the children- My children.

    I moved to get up, only to have a hand guide me back to my seat, it was Deus. Something was wrong though. The way he was standing… one of his hands covered his left shoulder, and then I spotted a stain of red bleeding through his shirt- I blinked a couple times, but it was still there. I felt nauseous.

    “Some of the children wouldn’t wake up, and I got scared…” Grace explained, and clung to my leg. I suppose in my drunken slump, at least I was still good at seeming like a comforting person. Katarzyna looked at Blue and quietly told him to be careful while sitting nearby me, Kenji remained at his seat, and Elu seemed to move a little closer to my little group of people who, for various reasons, couldn’t join in the fight.

    Within moments, Blue and his followers had left for the bedroom, and I cringed with every gunshot I heard. An eerie silence suddenly drifted from the room and then I heard something being dragged back to the kitchen. Blue lead the way as his followers slammed a body onto the table. With all of the shots I heard, I expected him to be riddled with holes, but there were probably only three wounds. It was one of Robert Collumns’ men.

    As the helmet was removed from the man’s head, there was a small reaction from everyone.

    Somehow, I knew it had to be Marcus. But the man we saw on that table looked like only the shell of him. His skin was pale and sallow; his eyes were bloodshot and held a look of detachment. Was he still Marcus?

    “Fuck.” I muttered, thanking the fact that no amount of slurring or speech impediments could really get in the way of that word.

    “No…” The word was said so quietly that I almost didn’t hear it, and then, I couldn’t even tell who said it.

    “The children are dead.” Another voice told me, and I wish I could comprehend that, but it seemed impossible. No, they were wrong, I had Grace right here next to me… if she survived, surely others had too… Right? I reached for my glass and started to pour another drink. I was still too sober for this.

    I wanted to drown in booze and breathe smoke. I wanted to destroy everything that I had left, I wanted to trade it all. If my children were dead, I wanted revenge… I wanted some kind of cure-all to this issue. I felt Deus stop me and take away the bottle, and I couldn’t even bring myself to fight him for it.

    I got up- it seemed to take forever to get to my feet.

    Deus was beside me as we set off to the bedroom, and the smell of death hung heavy in the air as I slowly flipped the switch for the lights. Blood painted the walls, it covered the floor, and it was smeared on every little body in the room. Eyes frozen in fear, mouths held agape, stopped in time in the middle of a silent scream that no one had heard.

    I moved almost mechanically as I silently walked around the room, assessing the situation, and then gently pulled one of the children into my arms, holding it for a moment before walking back into the kitchen, then walked back for another child, only to lay it next to the first… by the time, I had all of the little bodies in the kitchen, I was overcome with fury.

    I shook, with anger or sadness, I didn’t know why exactly… but then it all stopped.

    “Why.” I stated the word, demanding an answer that I wasn’t sure anyone had. I wanted to strangle Marcus. I wanted to kill everyone in the room. I hadn’t asked for any of this, I didn’t understand how this had come to occur. What had happened to deserve such a slaughter of innocence? No one answered me, though, and I lapsed into silence as I sat down in front of the bodies, only barely registering the fact that my only charge left, Grace, was climbing into my lap and crying against me.

    I felt so drastically enraged, but also so constrained by this horrid sadness that held me in an iron grip.

    All of the kids except for Grace- all of them had so many little wounds in their tiny bodies. All of them were so young, they hadn’t even really gotten a chance to live yet. All of them had homes in other worlds that they’d never come back to now.

    “Tell me why.” I stated, sobering up, and it still wasn’t met with a response.

    “Marcus was probably under a control… He had been commanded to do it… he had to have been...” Katarzyna murmured the whisper, staring at her lover... the look in her eyes mirrored the look in the children’s. It was disturbing and I had to avert my gaze. There was no way that this could be happening. There was no way…

    “I need to bury them.” I stated quietly as I wrapped an arm around Grace, trying to soothe her trembling body. I felt sick by what I had to do, but who else knew these children well enough to bury them except for Deus and Katarzyna, and right now, I didn’t even want them near the bodies.

    They were mine.

    “We’ll help, if you want it.” I heard the offer, but it didn’t register. I kept looking at my children, looking at their bodies. They were still so warm… It was hard to believe that none of their little hearts were beating. They were dead, yet, I couldn’t bring myself to accept it. I wanted to do something to fix it...

    “No.” I finally answered with a rather loud growl to my voice after going into one of the closets and retrieving a large rusty shovel.

    “Hope, your wounds….” I heard Deus’ voice, but it sounded so far away. I didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me, it made no sense to me. What wounds? They have been healing just fine and nothing was hurting. Actually, I couldn’t feel much at all at this point. I walked out the front door and walked around the building to the back.

    I started to dig through the pale yellow grass and dusty dirt, striking at the ground with as much force as I could muster.

    It hurt- it hurt to dig the hard ground up, for grave for the children that I had only known for a year or so. These graves were for children that would never even turn eighteen. These were children who had never done a single thing to deserve anything like this. I couldn’t believe that Marcus could do something like this, and I knew Katarzyna agreed with that thought. It had to have been someone else.

    But who? What would anyone have to gain by slaughtering a room full of defenseless children?

    The questions only grew as I finally realized that the first grave was done, and I dropped the shovel and went back into the building to retrieve one of the children, only to find Grace clinging to as many of them as she could. No one was trying to move her, and I couldn’t bring myself to either.

    Her quiet crying was the only sound in the room aside from the chorus of rhythmic breathing and heart beats.

    I grew bitter and angry as I watched the girl pleading with anyone to fix them. She didn’t want to accept that they were dead. Neither did I, but all of them lacked any vital signs. There was enough blood in that room to prove that they couldn’t survive their deaths either. They weren’t coming back.

    I finally managed to heft one of the children into my arms and Grace turned her head to look at me. I was frozen by that gaze of acceptance for a moment before I left with the body and carried it to the grave I had created. I placed the body inside, and left the grave again, this time going to collect some kind of marker for the grave.

    After retrieving some stones, I set a pile of them at the head of the grave and then continued to bury the first body. Then I repeated the actions with every child. I ended up counting out thirty graves- of children I had known for a year, and some for children that had only joined our orphanage merely weeks ago.

    After I was done, my entire body was covered in a thick film of mud and dirt with undertones of blood. I wouldn’t let anyone approach the graves, just Grace… I don’t know exactly why I was so protective of them, but I couldn’t fight it. I felt that it was right; it was what I was supposed to do.

    I eventually realized that some of the blood was my own. My healing wounds had stretched to their limits and cracked open. I still had yet to feel pain from any of it though. I still felt so very numb from it all. The alcohol wasn’t to blame… or was it? I didn’t understand anymore, and I didn’t want to understand.

    It was better that I didn’t.

    Marcus woke up finally after three more hours, but had to be restrained the second he woke. He wasn’t a threat, or violent. He just was still so entrenched in someone else’s control.

    That’s when Elu told us that Robert Collumns wasn’t controlling him. It was Aoife.

    That explained a lot.

    A Murderer’s Prayer

    After a few hours, Marcus seemed to calm down, and Katarzyna tried to talk to him, but all she got from him was confusion. What ever hold that Aoife had on him, Marcus was in control again, but had no recollection after some points. All he knew was that no matter what happened next, Aoife was able to see what he was, able to access his vision and thoughts.

    Which I used as justification to knock the poor man out again, using the handle of the shovel- friend or not, we needed to keep safe. I already lost almost all of my children, I wasn’t about to loose the one I had left.

    I understood why Katarzyna proceeded with a right hook to my face shortly after, but damn, the woman had a good hand on her. My jaw ached as I walked back to the kitchen where Grace had kept herself busy cleaning up the blood. It wasn’t my idea, and I sure as hell didn’t let her think that I approved of letting a young girl clean blood off of concrete floors. But what was I supposed to do when she told me that she just wanted to keep busy so she wouldn’t think about what had happened.

    As I walked over, she looked up at me for a moment, and I crouched down next to her, watching her try and clean the red mess up with soap and water. All it did was dilute it and turn it a clear pink color. It was getting all over her, but she looked so calm during the process. She had lost her sister, the only person she had left from the world that they had come from. She lost her friends too.

    I didn’t know what to say anymore, so I was silent.

    I think at some point, I tried to snatch up the bottle again, but it kept getting taken away- Didn’t stop me from trying again and again. After some time of this struggle, I found myself being rather unceremoniously dumped out of the orphanage and onto the doorstep while being told to cool off.

    I figured that was my cue to go walk off to Robert Collumns and scream out the injustices of the world to him. Or at least try to do something. I was sick of being held at arms length from trouble. If I wanted to go get myself killed in the process of trying to get something accomplished, it would be better than sitting under this man’s thumb. I had nothing left to stop me from fighting against him. I knew Katarzyna and Deus would watch over Grace if anything should happen to me.

    I just hoped that I could get a strike on him. Honestly, I’ve never been in a true fight with the man. Sure, we jockeyed our words against each other, jostled around to try and get the other’s attention, and sure, the man practically dissected me every time I came to his door.

    But for some reason, we had never had a true fight before, and now I was practically pushing myself to get to his doorstep before sun-up.

    I only got a mile away from the orphanage when a car sped past me, and then circled back towards me, stopping moments before it could have made a mess of me on the ground. I stopped and waited and was surprised to see Logan step out of the car, in the uniform for Robert Collumns’ forces, but without his helmet. He seemed to give me a look that I couldn’t figure out- I tried to walk in the other direction, but the second I turned my back to him, he had a hand on me and was dragging me back to his car by the wrist.

    I wasn’t too happy about that, but what could I do about it? I let him shove me into the car- But we didn’t head back to the orphanage. I should have known that he was just trying to help me get to Robert Collumns quicker. I wish I could understand why he was doing this, did he see the blood? Did he see the graves? Did he understand why I was trying to get there? Or, was he just fulfilling orders that had been given to him?

    I suppose that I should have known the answer, but my heart sunk when we pulled up and I was tugged out of the car and dragged into the fortress of a building. I should have known that Logan was only trying to keep his own life going, his values circled around himself and no one else, but I had hoped it could have been some other reason. All he did this for was because he was ordered to, and as I watched him walk back to his car and pull away, a bitter anger settled in my heart.

    I was dragged down the halls, even though I didn’t resist at all, and I wasn’t brought into the usual rooms. They didn’t stop for anything and just continued down the corridors and into hallways that I had never been to before. We were getting deeper and deeper into the building, and I was starting to get worried. This was something new and it was frightening. We finally turned at one corner and went into a room that was nearby.

    It was void of any real adornments, the walls were bare, and there was not even one stick of furniture, not even a door… just a hollow doorway. And even though this meant that I was unobstructed from escape, it scared me more than anything else. In a moment, everything changed. I heard the click of some kind of button and the lights overhead went out and I heard a kind of mechanical movement in the room- something inhuman.

    I heard footsteps retreating and I moved to follow them, but found I was constrained by something, I couldn’t figure out what it was though. I couldn’t find the strength or audacity to speak or to scream out of fear, though I shook and shivered. There was a moment of silence again, and then I felt something pierce the skin of the back of my head, and at that point, I had to scream, with eyes wide open and blind in the darkness, I was weak. I was weak and helpless and I was scared.

    The digging and piercing sensation only grew more painful as moments went by, and yet, after the seconds of screaming and struggling, I couldn’t fight it anymore. I felt tired and I felt like all the strength in my body had been emptied out. I tried to fight the urge to close my eyes, I struggled against some kind of mental pressure inside of my head that was telling me to go to sleep.

    I had to keep awake. Something bad was going to happen soon, and I knew it, and I wanted to refuse to allow them the pleasure of being able to do it without a struggle.

    It was out of my hands, though, and seconds later, my eyes closed and I was overtaken by the slumber that had been forced onto me.

    When I woke up next, the sight that awaited me was possibly the most horrifying thing that I had ever witnessed, though it was strange to me, and I wasn’t sure why it was that it scared me so much. I saw life through a shade of light blue, and as I opened my eyes, I felt something around me, too heavy to be water, yet it didn’t sting my eyes. There was a mask over my mouth and nose and I could still feel a dull pain in the back of my head, but I doubted that I wanted to know what the source of the pain was.

    I was in some kind of container, big enough that I had a good amount of room to move about in, though my body seemed to resist my commands to move. I felt almost frozen and this made me panicked, but for some odd reason, it was just my mind that was in a turmoil- I couldn’t feel my body reacting to the fear anymore. I couldn’t feel any of my blood rushing in my ears, or my heartbeat picking up speed. My body was calm even though I knew that in a normal situation, it should be responding to my emotions.

    It only frightened me more.

    As I moved my eyes around and tried to see through the liquid, and all I could see was a blurry vision of some kind of lab… like the ones that I had seen in Kenji’s pictures. I saw three empty containers around the room,, but they looked like they had been recently used, with residual liquid draining down the glass panes and collecting at the bottom, dripping down into the thin grated drain. I saw moving shapes that looked subhuman due to the liquid distorting my vision.

    It only got worse as I started to think that I was hearing some kind of voice in my head. Something…. Someone calling out to me.

    The liquid around me started to slowly turn a little greener and it started to sting my eyes a little, so I closed them, unsure of what I should do in this situation. My head ached and suddenly I recognized the voice in my head, which was telling me to open my eyes again and to try and look around. I think it was Elu, but I didn’t understand how I could hear her inside of my head. Perhaps it was the same way I could hear Marcus before he was taken away… this all was just so confusing.

    I opened my eyes again, only to find myself face to face with someone else. Someone was practically pressing their face up against the glass, starting straight at me. I would have jumped back or have had a little mini heart attack if I was in different circumstances, but my body was numb to me and I couldn’t move. Something was happening… the liquid was leaving the container through the grated drain at the bottom and yet, I still couldn’t move. As the level of liquid dropped further, my feet finally touched the bottom of the container, but I couldn’t hold my own weight.

    I slid to the bottom of the tank and collapsed as the mask covering my mouth and nose finally came unsealed and fell to the floor as I focused on at least trying to move my fingers, which I was unsuccessful at achieving. A door on one of the glass panes opened up and I was lifted up and put onto some kind of cold metal table, and it was at this moment that I noticed how horrifyingly bare I was of clothing, left in only the smallest scraps of necessities to make me decent and modest.

    The pressure at the back of my head had been removed, though now there was a feeling of a draft there… like it was empty… bare… I didn’t even want to begin to know what they had done to me this time, though the moments weren’t wasted as I felt restrains being applied to my wrists and ankles and then I felt something pressing against that throbbing part of the back of my head. Without any understanding of it, I felt a jolt run straight down my spine and watched as my body arched and twisted. I shivered afterwards, suddenly cold and scared.

    Without any input from my own thoughts, I felt my body moving, my left arm reached up, my fingers reached out and grasped at the air, but I couldn’t feel it at all. One of my legs shifted around and then moved as well. It was horrifying to watch, though I tried to ignore it and stay calm. I finally started thinking about all the people that had been involved in my life, and tried to come to peace with the fear that was slowly devouring my thoughts.

    As my thoughts came to Elu, I heard her voice in my head, telling me to move.

    I didn’t know how to even start to work towards being able to accomplish that feat, though. I was numb and unable to even twitch a finger on my own, yet here these people were, making my limbs doing what they wanted them to. I thought of Marcus and for some reason, my vision blacked out, as if I was asleep- then I realized I was seeing what he was. So we were still mentally connected in some small ways. He was still knocked out, so of course his eyes were closed.

    I tried to think of Elu again and her voice egged me on again, urging me to move. There was a sickening sense I felt as I tried to move my feet, and in some kind of twisted way, when I tried to move my feet to the left, they moved to the right, and vice versa. I tried to move my left hand but instead, the fingers on my right started to twitch. I couldn’t feel any of it, just watched with a sense of horrified amazement.

    I didn’t even want to know how they had done this to me, and only tried to move under these new restrictions and changes.

    I twitched the fingers on my left hand by focusing on my right and focused harder and harder until I was numbly able to try to struggle against the restraints on my left wrist. I tried the same with my right, and then moved on to my ankles. I kept at it, loosing track of time, but also loosing track of what was happening to me, of all that they were doing to my body. I didn’t notice pain and I didn’t register the blood.

    I slowly started to get in some kind of a rhythm, yet still I was unfeeling, unable to even figure out how to make a noise or to open my mouth. I couldn’t figure out how to move my spine, or how to rotate my shoulders- and yet I kept trying.

    The fear drove me to a focus that I had never sustained before, and yet, I felt like it wasn’t enough. I wanted to be able to escape, not to just be able to barely twitch or struggle with my hands and feet. I needed to get away, I needed to find a way out, I needed to fight against these people, and yet, it was impossible for me to even figure out how to do that. I was weak and powerless in this situation and all I wanted was to be able to gain my strengths back.

    As I stopped for a second to try and think, I realized how quiet it was. I couldn’t hear these people doing things to my body, and I couldn’t hear any of the natural sounds that I should have. I couldn’t hear anything else except for Elu’s voice which gave me orders to keep trying to move every couple of moments. Had they taken away my ability to hear?

    Suddenly I had my strength back and I was all but consumed with a rage that I couldn’t control. An emotional depth took hold of me which I had never experienced before, and it was intoxicating as I managed to free myself of restraints somehow, and for a few seconds, I felt like a god. I felt like I was the most powerful being that walked this land…

    Then they killed me.

    Shedding the Human Skin

    I could faintly hear voices trying to talk to me and I strained to hear them as best that I could over the sound of my own faltering heartbeat. I could feel a dull pain throughout my entire body and I knew that something was horridly wrong. I could hear Elu, and someone else… with a start, I thought I could hear Marcus.

    “You have to wake up! Quickly!” The words rang out through my head in his voice and I fought to open my eyes only to find another horror before me.

    I was dead.

    I was literally stone-cold, dead on the floor and watching these people shove my body into some kind of a casket. Yet something remained on the table, something that should have been familiar to me in an instant, yet I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly. I was struck by the sudden sight of fire as the casket was taken to an incinerator and I watched my own body burn and I could smell my flesh baking and burning.

    This had to be some twisted nightmare that I was having, someone had to wake me up soon- surely this wasn’t real!

    “Go towards the item on the table! Hurry, before you fade away!” Marcus’s voice commanded loudly in my head and I obeyed, trying not to process what he might have meant by the second part. It was a metallic, bloodstained long block, marked by buttons and wires and bits of flesh- my flesh…. Where had that come from?

    How long has that thing been inside of my body?

    I reached out towards the item and suddenly felt myself being pulled into it and then locked inside. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear some of the people in the lab making some remark that it had “worked”. I didn’t know what they meant, but I was certain that I’d soon find out.

    Within moments, I suddenly could feel. I could hear again, though it was a little hard to. I could move, but only barely. As my eyes opened, I was confronted with another surprise.

    I was in another container.

    “They remade you into another body, a newer one, a little different, but it’s still you, so don’t be alarmed, Hope.” This time the voice that spoke to me wasn’t Marcus or Elu, it was Katarzyna. I knew when I came back to the orphanage that she had a lot of questions to answer, and I wasn’t going to stop until I got everything straightened out.

    The liquid started to drain out of the container again and this time, when they pulled my body out, I was laid upon a padded gurney and wheeled away as a sheet was pulled over my body and up to my chin. I tried not to be afraid, but with three voices in my head, I was starting to feel a little… well, understandably insane.

    “You’re not insane.” Another voice quietly spoke, and the simple sentence held more bearing than my confusion. It was Blue, that resistance leader that was Katarzyna’s childhood friend. This didn’t help my view on my own sanity very much. Why was he in my head? I barely knew the guy and suddenly everyone’s picking around in my skull…

    “We’re trying to help since you decided you were going to go get yourself killed, you damned idiot.” Katarzyna grumbled, obviously displeased, though I couldn’t say that I felt bad yet for not appreciating their help. I still was massively confused about all of this. Lying on a gurney as it was being wheeled away to who-knows-where, I still had no idea what had happened and how I had gotten to this point.

    I faintly heard another whisper in my head, but this one wasn’t as clear… almost like there was a kind of static or interference from something. Well, at least, I think it did. I didn’t know what “Static” and “Interference” really was, all I knew of was the concepts that Kenji and Deus had described to me.

    It wasn’t Elu, and it wasn’t Katarzyna, Marcus or Blue… I couldn’t recognize the mumbling voice.

    I reached out slightly to that voice, straining to hear it as I suddenly registered warnings from my band of allies. But for a moment, I found myself too close and I could suddenly hear what the voice was saying, and shrank away from it. It was suddenly a scream in my head, drowning out the others, drowning out my own thoughts.

    “Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone.” The voice echoed throughout my skull, and I suddenly knew exactly who it was. I knew who this neglected being was, who reached out to anyone who would listen, who’s only thoughts were a pleading.

    It was Aoife. Of course it was Aoife.

    I reached out towards the voice again, ignoring the warning from the others. I was curious to see what would happen, and I was curious to try and make contact with this being that might have been the reason why all of my children except for one, are dead. She might be the reason why Marcus followed Robert Collumns’ orders and why he had such a hold over his men. Was she just clinging to their minds?

    “Pull away from her, it’s too dangerous.” I heard one of them say, but Aoife’s constant chants made it hard to figure out which of them where warning me.

    “Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone- Don’t leave me alone.” The mumble continued on, a mindless rant that seemed to have no end, and I don’t remember a specific time when it actually started. It just kept going, drilling into my mind with loneliness and a desperation that I couldn’t walk away from.

    As I tried to reach out to Aoife, the chants only grew louder and faster, like a madness was starting to rise up inside of her. At one point, I couldn’t even make out the individual words in her thought process. It became an inhuman, hellish-sounding jumble of sounds that never seemed to stop. It was endless and unrelenting and as it grew worse, I found myself getting closer. I didn’t even notice the other voices from my head growing silence as they withdrew. I had no idea what I was getting into. It was almost as if I was drawn in, mesmerized by her emotional state.

    “You’re not alone… it’s ok.” I found myself directing the thought to this broken creature that was just as human as I was. What had Robert Collumns done to her to make her this way? What had destroyed her so entirely that she would act in this manner? But in response to my words, I suddenly felt as though a presence was trying to force its way inside of my skull. I didn’t feel like I was on that gurney, being taken into some room that seemed more like a torture chamber than anything else- I was suddenly trapped in some kind of darkness that I had no way of seeing through. All I could hear was Aoife’s voice, still in that jumble of ranting. I could feel her emotions, I could feel the fear and loneliness in her. I knew what had been done to her.

    Her first memory was the pain of experiments. She could feel the fear of every scientist that came into her lab as they worked on her, too afraid to treat her like a human child since they knew all too well of the powers she was capable of. I could see Kenji in her memory, trying to father her and to create some kind of a parental role for her, but was halted by Robert Collumns, who had said that it wouldn’t be necessary to foster emotions inside of her- Aoife was planned from her birth to be some kind of emotionless killer and pawn for him. Anything he wanted from her, she was happy to do anything for him.

    I could feel her longing with every memory of Robert Collumns coming into the room to observe her. She viewed him as her father, her brother, her family, her lover, her everything. He was everything to her. They hadn’t placed suggestions in her head to follow him, like Kenji had said. They had altered her view on him. They attached every positive emotion that they could, to the image and voice of Robert Collumns, to the very thought of him. They had driven her mad, doomed her from the start.

    I started to empathize with her.

    She did everything, just to please him. Just for a hope that he’d stay there, looking at her for a little longer while she lay there, frozen and immobile in that container. He had her dressed up like a goddess, and from what Kenji had said, he practically worshipped her. But from these memories, all I could sense was that nothing about Aoife was good enough for him. None of the dresses were pretty enough, she was never strong enough, and her control over his men was never enduring enough. She was still too human to him.

    As her thoughts consumed my mind, I started to identify with her more and more. I started to understand it all- I understood why she had done everything that she had. I could understand why she had controlled Marcus and made him kill those children. She had done it because it would bait me into coming here. Robert Collumns had wanted her to control me, to gain control over me.

    She needed his love, she needed his affection- she was damned near insane because of all of this. This was just one more way to try and prove her devotion to him. And with a tired and calm conscious, I was able to understand it and even condone it.

    Suddenly I felt my thoughts clearing up, Aoife was ejected from my mind in moments and I was reeling from the feeling of having another conscious yanked from my head. It was as though she had been physically pulled away from me. Suddenly I could hear Marcus and Katarzyna, and Blue in small bursts, though it seemed to shock them when I suddenly could hear them again, which meant they could hear me too. I could hear a flurry of words as all of them seemed to sputter over something I couldn’t quite understand.

    “Come back- Don’t leave me alone- Please, don’t leave me- Please.” I heard the rasping whisper as if it was from a long distance away as I strangely felt at peace from the fact that she was out of my head now for the most part. I listened to Blue explained to me about how suddenly I was cut off from them and they couldn’t tell what had happened, though Marcus had explained that it could have been Aoife.

    So who had saved me if it wasn’t them?

    Katarzyna then quietly interjected that while I was out of the loop, she had sensed something odd in Robert Collumns’ building- Two beings that were similar to Aoife and Elu, but seemed different in some ways. She couldn’t read enough from where she was at, so she’d need to make a visit to be able to tell what was going on in this prison of a building, but the rest of us seemed to object immediately. She was pregnant, and though she was obviously skilled, even I knew that her condition might make her a liability if we weren’t careful.

    That’s when I looked around myself in the physical world and found myself in another lab, still on the gurney, but positioned right in front of a container which held yet another woman. I was starting to get sickened by all of this. Though, this woman looked nothing like Elu or Aoife. There were no marks on her, and she didn’t look too remarkable, aside from a few interesting features.

    She had short hair and a very slender body, at the same time; she was a great deal shorter than I was, even though she looked to be only maybe a few years younger than I was. Her hair, also, was a dark blue, only a few shades lighter than black, but it definitely was blue. She was naked also, which was something I hadn’t seen done yet, since I thought that modesty was still important to these people, though her body seemed to be placed in a way that still managed to preserve her from vulnerability being shown.

    Another thing that I believed was interesting was that there was a container next to her, yet there was nothing inside of it.

    I started wondering, but my thoughts were cut short when one of the lab technicians came by and explained that the other container used to hold her twin.

    Used to.

    Blue seemed to react to that phrasing, and a discussion started to occur in my skull, with Elu sounding very concerned about it for a few moments before explaining that by using me as a gateway, she managed to access the computers and technology near my physical body to find out that she had sisters in this lab. They were older than her, and it was unknown how they were created or even where they had come from.

    Their names were “Eko” and “Eden”.

    So who was I in front of? I pondered that before finally stating the question out loud, to which the same technician answered that I was in the presence of Eden. Her twin, apparently was currently with Robert Collumns. This little tidbit of information seemed to concern Katarzyna the most, and she wanted to know why that girl was with him. I asked this, and the technician looked away for a moment and told me that she helped him.

    That did not bode well with me, and I felt someone else reacting to this information as well- Aoife’s crushing devastation was something we could all feel. Aside from Elu, no one who was of their kind was known to be really allowed out of their containers, and this seemed to actually be for a purpose. As Elu explained it, the containers harnessed their mental and specific powers and used them as a kind of power source, and a technology in their own respects. Aoife was scheduled to be released from her container in a few months though, due to the fact that her particular purpose for being in her container was to cultivate and max out her abilities as much as possible.

    That’s why her parents wanted to kill her before that point, though, it seemed like neither of them were keen on the idea anymore. Marcus identified with her too much, and Katarzyna’s maternal instincts drove her to want to take her away from Robert Collumns more than she wanted to kill her.

    The feeling was not mutual.

    Aoife was on orders to kill anyone who didn’t meet Robert Collumns’ criteria, and that included her own parents and she didn’t seem to mind this at all. She only wanted to please the person that she had been engineered to be loyal to by was of emotional connection- she couldn’t see the abuse that she was enduring- was first and foremost.

    Blue was hesitant to think it, but it seemed as though he was trying to convince Marcus and Katarzyna to understand that Aoife might not be able to be saved. In the situation that was currently taking place, it may be too distressing to her to be ripped away from what was essentially her home, from the one person that she believed was her soul mate and family, and from where she felt safe, and to take her away when they knew she had no qualms with killing them. It was too dangerous.

    Meanwhile, I was trying to raise myself to get a better look at Eden, who seemed to be in a deep, peaceful slumber, which I envied her for. Was she the one that could have saved me? What would have happened if I had been left with Aoife consuming my mind? Would I have become as entangled as Marcus was, who, from what I gathered, was still in heavy restraints to make sure that no more mistakes would be made.

    I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and looked back at Eden, who’s warm brown eyes gazed at me out from her see-through prison, she looked… happy, or at least content.

    “This one is not the only one who saved you.” I heard, and her mental voice was clear, but soft, almost childlike. I didn’t know what she meant by the first part until Elu decoded it by saying that both twins were recorded as speaking in third person, almost disassociating with themselves. It was confusing, but Elu assured us all that there were no other recorded mental issues of value. “Who else saved me?” I finally attempted to think, and as I looked up at the woman, she seemed to frown slightly for a moment, though didn’t answer for a couple minutes.

    “Eko.” She smiled again as she thought of the name, though this seemed to puzzle Elu even more, who explained that the twins were recorded to actually hate each other- with a passion almost. They rarely agreed and couldn’t care less about each other. For both of them to work together to help someone would be quite an interesting development.

    This was getting rather interesting.
    Cat and Mouse: Same Game- New Players

    In moments like these, it’s sometimes hard to remember everything that brought you to these points.

    In moments like these, your life will flash by you, every little mistake is realized and every big win or triumph is felt and enjoyed. All regrets are heartfelt and every ill-gained accomplishment are stripped away for clarity. Every person that you’ve ever met, even once, is remembered and treasured, perhaps regrets are felt due to circumstances that cause some people to drift apart from one another.

    I didn’t feel any of that.

    As I gazed into Eden’s eyes, I found myself drifting away into my own thoughts. I didn’t notice the liquid draining from her container, or the way that she slowly started to drift down as the levels of the liquid lowered and her feet finally touched the ground. I didn’t see the lab technician pull the container door open for her, and I didn’t realize that she was stepping towards me and climbing into the gurney with me.

    All I saw was a beautiful forest.

    I wasn’t dreaming, I know I wasn’t- I swear, through this woman’s eyes, I saw a beautiful forest, untamed and untouched by anything, pure and unrefined. And I had never seen anything so glorious in my life. I had never seen so many trees, or seen plants so green, or flowers so vibrant. It was breathtaking and I couldn’t look away.

    Was this a glimpse of what Deus had described of as that lofty place called “Heaven”?

    I wasn’t able to pull myself away from it, and I didn’t feel or think of anything. I was too entrenched in this world that I had never experienced before. I felt at peace. I didn’t feel the pain as old markings were recreated on my body. The tattoos above my left eye were reapplied I didn’t even blink.

    I didn’t even know that it was happening until I heard someone saying to “let her off the hook”, and instantly I was ejected from the dream-like state I had been in and felt the pain above my left eye and winced before I cried out in surprise as I looked down and saw another tattoo dragging over my upper right arm, still in the process and found Eden stoking my arm, smiling softly.

    I’d be damned if I lied and said that I didn’t just feel like I slammed down way too many drinks and had sped into a hangover. I reeled from it and tried to reach out and feel for the presence of Katarzyna or Marcus, Blue, or Elu at the very least. I had no idea what had happened, but I couldn’t even figure out how to open up my mind to these people again, it felt like I was isolated somehow. Gods my head hurt.

    “Don’t push yourself too hard.” Eden spoke quietly, smiling gently as always, and I was starting to get a little worried about the situation that I started to believe that I had gotten into that really screwed me over. Her fingertips traced over my skin and flitted over my cheek before she got up and walked away from the gurney.

    I was about to move, or talk, or try and at least think, but even that proved to be difficult.

    Either way, I didn’t have to- Another woman came into the room, naked, looking almost exactly like Eden, except this woman had fiery-orange hair, same hairstyle though. I figured it would be safe to guess that this was Eden’s twin, Eko. The woman looked down at me, and had the same brown eyes as her sister, yet, for a glimpse of a second, I saw fires and swirling pools of molten lava, I felt like I was burning up.

    Eden said something akin to “Stop”, and at that point, I was ejected from that horrid nightmare of a place. Who the hell were these two, and how were they doing all of this? How was this possible?

    I was now more focused on trying to reach out to my friends now, more than ever.

    “Is anyone here?” I thought quietly, but no one answered, and I suddenly felt very alone and vulnerable. Within moments, the lab technician moved away, done with the design on my arm that I only hoped was a harmless little expression of art. Eden and Eko both seemed to come closer, and I suddenly knew exactly where they had come from. Their eyes weren’t brown- they were hazel. The exact same color as Logan… and their bodies….their faces… They looked so familiar even though they were so much shorter than I was.

    Robert Collumns had created children from me and Logan. I was sure of it.

    I would have cursed if I had thought it would help. These beings were my children. I knew it to be true, even though I was completely unable to bare children- and hadn’t been able to in years. I suppose that during the time that they had rendered me infertile, they had taken samples from me, though I doubted that Logan would have given samples of his own free will.

    I now completely understood Katarzyna’s drive to recover her children.

    I didn’t care about Logan, and I couldn’t care less about anyone else right now- what was important was to find out more about these twins. I wanted to rescue them, take them away from this prison and show them the world beyond these walls and tubes, beyond the containers and tests. I wanted to take them away from Robert Collumns and make sure that they were safe.

    Eden and Eko both seemed to come closer again and sat on either side of me on my gurney as I tried to raise myself to a sitting position to see them better. I knew that they had to be mine, it was just too obvious. They were beautiful... they carried a lot of traits from both me and Logan, but I was glad that they had his eyes. I will admit that regardless of him being an asshole and a jerk that was set on making sure his needs were met before anyone else’s, he had beautiful eyes. I wish that I could implore myself to hate him more, but, a part of me still wanted to have that moment again, back when we were still together in that odd way.

    I knew it would never occur again, but even empty actions fostered feelings that I hadn’t expected.

    I was about to say something when the Lab technician came over and told me that I would have to follow him to another room, there were still procedures that needed to be done, and that Eden and Eko needed to remain in this room, preferably in their containers. I bristled at that, but the two merely reacted to this by doing as they were told. The technician keyed up the machines and they hooked themselves into their masks and plugged that odd tube into the backs of their own heads without much fuss as the liquid rose.

    I bitterly followed the technician as Eden and Eko waved to me, conveying smiles with their eyes since their mouths were covered- I tried to offer one back, but it was an exercise in futility, because all I could manage was a grimace. I followed the man into the next room as I continued to try and make contact with my allies, but it was still silent in my head, with only myself to keep me company.

    I didn’t know that back at the orphanage, Robert Collumns had sent his forces over to eradicate whatever they could. I didn’t know that they had already infiltrated Blue’s safe house and killed a majority of his followers.

    I didn’t know that Deus was critically wounded, and that Kenji had already been taken into custody.

    I didn’t know that Grace had been wounded in her leg and that Blue, Elu and Katarzyna had to run while Marcus searched my small armory for any more ammo because he was out of bullets. I didn’t know that they were surrounded, but I was thankful that I had created a couple of secret exits from the house that Marcus knew about.

    As it was right then, all I knew was that I wanted to get out of this awful building and go back home to see my little girl after freeing my children from Robert Collumns’ grasp.

    I followed instructions and I did what they told me. But when all was said and done, I finally asked what Eko was really doing for Robert Collumns. I was surprised to hear that Eko was actually one of Robert Collumns’ most important projects right now. When I asked for the man to extrapolate, for lack of a better word, he told me that she was currently pregnant- with clones.

    I didn’t know where to go from there, and I think I passed out, but I don’t really remember.

    Meanwhile at the orphanage, Katarzyna had finally had enough had had unveiled a weapon all her own that she usually kept under wraps. She unhooked the long necklace she wore and snatched the long crystal pendant away to reveal a long, thin blade at the end of a very long, thin chain. She slowly let the length of it go and started to swing the chain gently while Blue and Elu quickly moved out of the range of her harmless-looking weapon.

    This woman, who I’ve only known for less than even half a year, who was pregnant and cornered, was now trying to defend herself and her allies after trying to avoid having to get into a fight in her condition. Marcus was injured, Blue had him holed up further back, and it seemed like the fight was already over. But as they drew closer, Katarzyna started spinning the chain before throwing it forward and yanking the chain back, causing the blade to jolt forward, imbed itself into an opponent or to at least cause some kind of harm before she drew it back.

    It was only a warning. She didn’t want to have to actually fight. She was feeling a little nauseous, probably morning sickness from the pregnancy.

    Robert Collumns’ forces kept on, though, even though the one she struck was currently bleeding out on the ground. Blue retrieved a gun from what Marcus had dragged over in a knapsack and open-fired, in warning. When they kept coming, he finally aimed the weapon at them and pulled the trigger and held it down, rounds firing out at rapid speeds without stopping until the belt was empty and he snatched up another from the sack.

    In the middle of getting blood taken from me to check on how I was adapting to my new body, I thought I heard gunshots and a whistling sound that I couldn’t identify. By the time that they were checking to make sure that they had tattooed the right design on my arm, I could hear Blue and Katarzyna again, though Marcus seemed to be out cold. Elu was keeping to herself, though I could feel her anger. The only reason she wasn’t joining in, was because Katarzyna and Blue both didn’t want her to stain her hands with blood in this circumstance, when it might be able to be avoided.

    I dashed out of the room I was in and ran back to the other lab and pressed the keys that they lab technician had and they containers emptied out and I retrieved Eden and Eko before telling them to follow me after finding a medical gowns for them to put on since they was bare of any scraps of clothing.

    I could only pray that I was going the right way as we ran down hallways and corridors trying to find a way out of this forsaken building. Every turn we made didn’t seem to make a difference, and no matter how far we seemed to go, everything looked the same. I was starting to get worried, but I only ran faster, urging them to keep up with me. Fast and faster, turning a different way at each corner, all I wanted was to escape. At some point, I couldn’t go any further without slowing down.

    Panting and out of breath, sweat dripped down my face as I looked to the girls and tried to offer them a smile of some kind of encouragement, only to receive a kind of empty grin in return. Who was I kidding? They had no idea what I was doing, and neither did I. Scared and motivated, I tried to catch my breath as quickly as possible and told them to keep up as I started to sprint off again. I didn’t get very far, and I soon saw why.

    I was loosing blood.

    I had ripped loose from a couple of machines when I finally found out what was going on in the orphanage, one of those had been siphoning some of my blood to analyze it.

    The tubing was still attached to my arm, and blood was freely flowing out of it, so I tugged at it slightly before yanking it free of my skin with an inhuman groan of pain, but the flow of blood had lessened without the tubing giving it unhindered excess to expel itself from my body.

    I felt dizzy as I started to run again.

    Back at the orphanage, Katarzyna had lost track of how many men she had taken down, and so had Blue. Marcus was in and out of consciousness, but was trying to help make sure that Blue had a steady flow of ammo. The men just kept coming and coming, and it seemed like they filled the entire room no matter how many they killed. Grace clung to Marcus’ limp body for some semblance of comfort while she tried to ignore the throbbing pain in her leg from the gunshot wound.

    It all changed when one of Robert Collumns’ men shot their gun, with that particular bullet lodging itself into Elu’s arm. The girl reacted with a shocked look and a scream that seemed to make the entire room stand still for just a moment as tears of pain ran down her face. Pure unadulterated pain was felt by every person who had heard her scream and watched her cry and try and stop the flow of blood from her arm. Her blood, a liquid that had the consistency of mercury and looked like a swirl of metal and human blood, was toxic to normal humans, though Marcus ripped off a sleeve from his shirt and tied it around her arm to stem the flow of her blood- he wouldn’t be affected by her toxic blood since he was able to handle it due to the testing that had been done to him.

    The room came back to life after that moment and the fight restarted.

    It was a madness that couldn’t be pleased or contained, and even though Robert Collumns’ men had weaponry, they kept walking forward without even taking out their weapons, with no fear in their eyes. They walked straight into their own deaths without a care. This probably was more traumatic than anything else until the helmets started to come off.

    Every person that was sent by Robert looked like a dead ringer for Blue.

    I tried to communicate what I had found out about Eko, and her ability to nurture clones within her body, but the responses were short and meaningless. They merely told me to get out of the building and get the orphanage before someone killed me. That’s when Eko put a hand on my arm and asked if she could help lead us out of the building, since I was only running them deeper into the building without knowing it.

    Things That Go Bump in the Night

    “You mean you knew how to get out of here the entire time?” I questioned Eko as she and Eden nodded with a bit of a smile. Well, at least two of us were amused by this situation as I tried to figure out what to do, seeing as this situation was so odd. I finally agreed and they both took off and I followed after them, choosing not to heed the warnings from Marcus or Katarzyna, who had said that it might be safer to follow my own instincts. Elu had agreed, though, and said that they would probably know the way out, it was just a matter of trying to figure out if their intent really was to help lead me to an exit, or if it was just to lead me into more trouble under the guise of help.

    I followed my instincts, which had been to follow the girls and to my amazement, we came to an exit unobstructed and walked out- Only to find Logan waiting for us.

    I was an idiot to think that we could just waltz out of this building.

    Logan stepped forward to us, and commanded for us to get into the car. There wasn’t even a glimmer of a smile on his face- he was all business right now. The man actually took another few steps before latching onto my arm and pulling me to the front passenger seat. I resisted and tried to struggle from his grip, but he shoved me in quicker than I could manage to get away.

    Eden and Eko merely got into the back seats without a fuss, and relaxed, deciding to let the pieces fall where they may. Logan got into the front seat and started the car before driving away. There were no conversations and we were all silent as the car made its way through Prophet City, oddly in the direction of the orphanage.

    As the sun started to rise, and the sky started to lighten only by a few degrees through the massive cloud-cover that seemed to be a permanent fixture to this world, I was consumed by the questions I had been holding to myself since I had first met Logan.

    It seems like I’m still in the same rabbit hole that I was back then, I was still so curious about this man who honestly only did things for his own benefit. I wondered if anyone would ever find out anything personal and truly important about Logan, or if he would ever trust anyone enough to let that happen.

    Eden and Eko seemed content in the backseat, silent, though observing the world around them from inside the car. They looked up at the sky, which looked to me like the clouds were heavy with eventual rain. They had probably never seen the world outside of Robert Collumns’ walls, and I wondered what they thought of it. I wondered if they were truly created from me and Logan, or if it was just coincidental that they looked alike to both of us in some small ways.

    Maybe it was just a coincidence.

    Hours later, we arrived at the orphanage, only to see the burning remains of my home. The smell of burning flesh and gore seeped into the car and I tried not to react to the smell of it. Eden and Eko followed me as I left the car and walked to the rubble and tried not to think about how I couldn’t seem to pick up on Katarzyna or Marcus, or even Blue or Elu. I tried not to think about what might have happened to Deus, Kenji or Grace, and I tried to keep it together as I surveyed the mass of dead uniformed bodies.

    They really had gone through one hell of a battle.

    That’s when I found a pristine, white flag with a blue stripe on it. Someone had to be alive to have put it here, and I looked around, only to see the two girls and Logan standing near the car. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I figured that they might be hiding due to Logan’s presence.

    The graves that I had made what seemed like only hours before were now disturbed like the rest of the grounds, bodies were displaced and in a sort of chaos, so I set about recreating the order that had previously been present in that area. I made sure that everything was perfect for the children that had once lived in this house with me. Perfect in every little way, I smoothed the dirt and ground over their little bodies and corrected the markers on every grave.

    I was half mad as it began to rain. Not angry, just legitimately on the road to insanity when I felt a hand on my shoulder, but when I moved to brush it away, I found myself being spun around to face Katarzyna and Marcus, along with Elu. I could only hope that it was Blue that was behind me and not Logan, but as time passed, I realized that I wasn’t having a delusional moment that I was having and it was Blue behind me, while Eden and Eko were still by the car… though Logan was nowhere to be seen.

    There was a bit of an overjoyed reunion, I will admit, and I soon interrupted it by calling the girls over, needing a break from the emotions that had been compacted into one day.

    I could see the look on Elu’s face as they approached and I grew a little apprehensive. Was it a mistake to bring them here? And what about Logan- where the hell was he? The car was still here, and I had a feeling that he was somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t see him.

    It was odd- for the rest of the day, these people helped me try to rebuilt even just a little of the orphanage that I had created. Grace was ok, but she was hidden from view and resting- her forehead had also gotten grazed by a bullet, and it had scared her so badly that she had refused to move or talk. Deus was gone. Not dead or abducted, but missing. No one knew where he had gone, though it was almost certain that he hadn’t been taken back to Robert Collumns, there was no need for him to be abducted.

    Or perhaps there was a reason that he could be abducted for, but I didn’t want to say it or even think of it. Could they have taken him to use as bait? The thing was, they had made it known that they were taking Kenji back with them and practically taunted Katarzyna, Marcus and Blue to come after them and get Kenji back, and yet, Deus was missing and nowhere to be found. It just didn’t seem right.

    Eden, Eko, and Elu walked off to a spot a little ways away, out of earshot, but within sight. I could see from the looks on all of their faces that they were having a very serious discussion, though I couldn’t possibly begin to guess about what they were talking about. Meanwhile, Katarzyna, Marcus, Blue and I talked about what had happened since I had left.

    Grace suddenly wandered over and wrapped her arms around my leg, clinging to me and her small body trembled and I felt my hands going to smooth the hair on her head, but gently brushed over the small wound before kneeling down and looking into her eyes as I checked it and made sure that she was alright. I knew she was troubled, and I knew this wasn’t just something that would be easily worked through, but I wanted to believe that small little acts of kindness might help the situation.

    Blue explained about how he had had left for a moment to check the safe house that he had his followers stay in. There wasn’t a single survivor, and all of the bodies were mutilated beyond recognition, there was no way of even telling the gender in some cases. All that was left of his resistance was the people that were here now and that one flag that was laid over the rubble of my orphanage. By this time, we had managed to create some semblance of a shaky little shack that looked like it could be blown over by the slightest gust wind. But it was all that we could manage for now, and we fetched everyone to get into it as the sky dimmed. Logan’s car was still where he left it, yet still, even as the sky darkened, I could not see even one sign of him anywhere.

    So I figured I should check his car, just in case.

    Of course, most of my companions disagreed with this move, wanting to be cautious, though, I figured it was more of a risk to just sit here and not know what Logan was up to. I was not about to be killed by an ex lover, and I would be damned before I let him kill anyone else important to me. I blamed him for quite a lot these days, and I knew it was unfair, but I couldn’t seem to get around it.

    Finally I got through to them and Marcus accompanied me as I trekked down to that car, trying to ignore a weird feeling of dread that was crawling down my spine as we got closer. The car was still running, I could hear it- the engine-thing was working. I think that’s what made it move… I think. Not many owned cars in this world, and even fewer people knew how they worked.

    A haunting melody leaked out from the backseat, the twang of strings on some listless tune. Fuck. A long time ago, when Logan and I had first met, I had heard a rumor about him, which said that he’d play out some sad little tune before he felt like he had to do something important. Usually that “something important” was feeling like he had to do something that was against his normal allotment of morals, which was killing, raping, stealing, blackmail- you get the picture.

    As we finally got to the car, I watched Marcus grab at his gun, and I merely balled up my fists and tried to remind myself that Logan surely wouldn’t hurt me- or would he? With everything that’s happened, would I really be surprised if he ended up killing me himself at some point? Still, I had to do this.

    I reached out for the door of the backseat, but it clicked and opened before my hand even got close enough to open it myself.

    I had never been so damned close to the barrel of a gun in my life. Looking straight down the barrel, I took a deep and shaky breath and reminded Logan that it was me. I saw a glimmer of a smirk on his face as he told me that he knew. Of course he knew. I always knew it would end up like this. “Let’s be honest, Hope, you’re not his favorite person, and never really were. Now he knows exactly what you are, and you know that he’s afraid of that, therefore he views you as the enemy… you need to figure out a way to get the upper hand in this.” I thought to myself and took another deep breath as Marcus raised his gun slowly at Logan, and I suddenly realized how stupid I was for wanting to come here alone.

    “Idiot, idiot, idiot, you should have seen this coming.” That little voice in my head spoke again and I agreed with it to a point.

    “Lower you gun.” I heard Marcus say, and hoped that Logan wouldn’t see it as a challenge. Marcus had brought a huge firearm with him, and I had actually laughed at him thinking it wouldn’t come in handy. But comparatively, it was huge where Logan’s was more concealable, smaller.

    But he was quicker with it, and I knew that. I had not a clue as to why I did it then, but I walked closer to Logan’s car until my forehead pressed against the mouth of the barrel of his gun and I smiled bitterly at him as I spoke my next words. “Go ahead, Logan. Be a man. Kill the girl that doesn’t even have a single weapon on her to defend herself. Go ahead and pull the trigger. I’m sure you won’t regret it.” I spat the words out, venom in every word, practically seething with the calmest voice I had ever had.

    I couldn’t see the disbelief in Marcus’ eyes, but I could feel it, and I understood it- though I had no other choice. I needed an opportunity.

    “You ARE a weapon.” Logan challenged, pulling the hammer back, and I listened to the resolve in his voice and in his actions. But I saw the sweat rolling down his face, the way his eyes seemed to keep stalking every move I made, even watching the way my ribcage seemed to expand with every breath.

    Was he really that afraid of me? How much did he really know about me?

    “Lower your weapon, Logan.” I heard Marcus speak again, though, this time, his voice was edged with a growl. Great, now both of them were angry. Marcus took a step closer and Logan took this time to knock me over with his gun, a quick little snap of the wrist and the hard material slammed into the side of my head. My world went sideways and I took a sharp intake of breath, trying not to make a single sound of pain.

    My world spun suddenly as I was manhandled and dragged into the car with Logan, my body leaned against his, unable to fight back as he pressed the barrel to the side of my head. Marcus shook his head, and I couldn’t read the expression on his face before I heard a gunshot and a hiss of smoke. It took me a moment to even realize what had just happened.

    Logan slumped back and since I was unable to hold myself up, I laid there with him as I felt a pool of blood running down his chest, I could hear his heart faltering and his breathing was coming in short gasps.

    My ex-lover was dying in the backseat of a car outside of the rubble of what used to be my home. My ex-lover was killed by a companion of mine who had killed most of my adopted children because some crazy fucked up woman- who happened to be his daughter- told him to. Nothing was making sense anymore and as I listened to Logan’s body shutting down, I knew I had to do something.

    He may have just tried to kill me, and he may be a horrible man… but I felt like if I just laid there and watched him die, it would be the final straw. So I did what no other ex-lover would, and tried to save him after peeling his fingers away from his gun and tossing it out from the car and pulled his shirt off before ripping it into strips and trying to make some kind of bandage for him.

    It wasn’t doing any good, and I knew it. But what else could I do? Marcus tried to pull me away, but I clung to the car with all my strength, resisting, when a sharp metal edge caught my wrist and a small amount of blood beaded up and dripped down my arm. I watched it silently for a moment and noticed how shiny it was compared to normal blood. It gave me an idea. I only hoped that it would work.

    I dragged my wrist over that edge again and again until a constant flow was started, and then I proceeded to peel away the bandages that I had just tied around him and held my wrist over his open wound, hoping for the best. His exposed flesh blistered and bubbled as each drop landed on him, and there was a small sound of pain from him every couple of moments.

    I sat there, kneeling over him with my blood dripping straight into his own drenched flesh, watching as he struggled to push me off, gurgled for me to just leave him be. But I couldn’t, and he was too weak to resist as I continued to sit there, hoping that he wouldn’t consider this some kind of slow torture.

    After a few moments, his skin swelled around the gunshot wound and I shrank away for a moment, afraid of what I had done. But then it slowly pushed the bullet out of his body and healed as if there had never been a wound in the first place.

    I was happy until Logan suddenly yelled out in some kind of primal agony and slammed the back of his head against the other door of the backseat, cracking open the window. Blood dripped over the backseat anew and this time, I knew that it wasn’t worth trying again. It had terrified me that he had done that, and with a horrified expression on my face, I slipped out of the car and onto the ground where Marcus helped me up and lead me back to that little shack we had all created, though, my mind was still back in that car, back to the vision of Logan before he did that.

    Marcus said that it had been a result of the chemical mixture, I had given him too much of my blood at once, and it had caused an unstable amount of emotions to rise up in him, that it wasn’t my fault.

    But that look of agony on Logan’s face, the way his eyes had seen right through me- the fear in his eyes. It wasn’t something I could easily brush aside, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk for a day or two, though I wasn’t alone. Grace was too terrified to speak after that scare with death. I felt like an invalid.

    Maybe I was. Maybe we all were.

    Is there a Heaven or is there only Hell?

    “I love you, you know that, right?”

    “No, Ashley, you don’t, you’ll wise up at some point and see that I’m not good for you.”

    “I doubt that’s ever going to happen, Logan. Don’t be so cynical.”

    The voices and memories circled around my thoughts, and my mood worsened with every second as I woke up from my slumber. I didn’t know where I was or what time it was- but that was unimportant to me.

    Logan was dead- stone cold, his heart had stopped beating hours and hours ago, yet I kept hearing his voice in my head. I kept going back to those moments where I had just woken up and found him sitting next to me, with a cup of coffee waiting. I could still see the way he smiled- like it was all some kind of joke. Like nothing in the world mattered because he was able to disown it all so easily if he chose to. The way he laughed, and the way he glared when he was irritated. The way he looked when he was apologetic- when he yelled at me or insulted me without thinking, the way he held me and whispered in my ear.

    I could still remember it all.

    At some point, I had to get out of my slump. I got up and looked around, remembering what had happened- remembering that we had built this little shack from the rubble of my orphanage- which only had one child left. All around me, people slept with tattered blankets and the remains of anything that could be used as bedding.

    Grace slept curled up in a corner, apart from anyone else. Blue, Katarzyna and Marcus slept in the middle of the room, and the three girls, Eden, Eko and Elu slept somewhere in between Blue’s group and me.

    Deus was still missing.

    At some point, the rest started to wake up. Our three charges were the last to wake, though almost immediately after they woke, they launched into another long talk with each other. After some time, there was a meeting of the minds; Marcus and Katarzyna were looped with the girls- we didn’t want them to have to fight. But that left me and Blue. We needed to find Deus, maybe that would help even the numbers. Maybe he was hiding somewhere- maybe he didn’t know that the battle had ended.

    The couple was pissed about the arrangements, but they lost most of their angst when Katarzyna started to feel nauseous. They quickly moved off somewhere to take care of it, while the girls seemed to realize the situation and walked a ways off with Grace in tow.

    “So where could your friend be?” Blue asked quietly, eyeing the rubble surrounding our little shack while I tried to figure out an answer to his question, though I wasn’t having much luck with it. Deus would be here. He wouldn’t run off, and he wouldn’t just leave without some kind of notice. He was a good man.

    “I don’t know” I murmured in reply with a frown as I glanced at the leader of the resistance- The only resistance in Prophet City.

    Where could Deus be? Where could that damned priest be? Have they taken him?

    “We need to check Robert Collumns’ place.” I found myself saying, my mouth moving mechanically. The last place anyone in this group wanted to go, was to that man’s place. Yet, Blue seemed to understand the reasoning behind what I said, as he nodded to what I said before fetching Marcus and Katarzyna back into the shack to talk about our options.

    “No. There’s no way that they would have taken him without telling us. They would have flaunted it in our faces like they had when they managed to snatch up Kenji. There’s no way he’s there.” Katarzyna asserted, while Marcus seemed to chew on the information a little longer before adding his own thoughts to the conversation.

    “Well he’s not here. Where else would he be? Where would he go?” He asked, a look of concentration on his face as he considered the options, then looked to the rest of us.

    “He’s there. I’m sure of it.” I stated, sighing while I shook my head. I had a sudden urge to smoke, though I was sure that it was a craving that would soon pass. It was merely stress. The stress was just getting to me- surely. I’ve been through hell; of course I would be on edge and want to take up a vice. I smoked for a few months when I was with Logan, though it was a habit that he hadn’t condoned in my case.

    “So, even if he is, what do we do about it?” Blue poised the question with care, looking up at all of us, his jaw set at an angle as his eyes locked onto all of ours before cresting upon the sight of a brief glimpse of dim sunlight filtered through the clouds. The sky only darkened further as time went by.

    “We need to get him back.”

    Everyone turned their heads to look at Grace who wandered into the shack. Her little body trembled with effort as she tried to keep her weight off of her injured leg. She ended up between Marcus and me, and clung to me, looking into my eyes in a way that spoke volumes. She repeated the statement again, though it didn’t make many changes it what appeared to be the decision of the group.

    There was too much risk right now, and he might not be there.

    “He’s there.” Elu assured us quietly as she entered the shack with Eden and Eko trailing behind her. “They have him, and they’re doing something to him, but none of us can reach into that knowledge. They blocked us out some how. Collumns blocked us out.” She explained, looking at the ground, her brows furrowed.

    “I can tell you approximately where he is in the building, but I have no way of telling what rests inside that lab.” Elu cautioned.

    “I can tell you what she can’t, just link me up.” A voice echoed into the shack as a man walked in. Immediately, it was clear what he was, though it seemed like an impossible thing to say aloud. Standing in front of us, stood a lanky wisp of a man. Lean and with hard corded muscle, he stood there with a tattoo over where his heart would be, a tattoo that covered the entirety of his left pectoral, in thick, bold, black ink, the number “5” was etched into his skin. Bare of any shirt, he stood in some semblance of dark pants that seemed to cling to his skin. He looked damp, as if he had been staying outside in all of this rather bad weather.

    “What’s your name?” I heard Katarzyna ask, warily, taking one step forward as we all seemed to keep a close eye on every move that the man made.

    “Damian, but I’m called “Ian” for short.” He stated quietly, and with that one name, our questions were answered. His name followed the motif with all of Robert’s projects so far. E-dan, E-fa, E-ko, E-lu, and now E-an.

    He was pale, with dark hair and fair eyes, and his body looked thin- starved. Damian shifted his weight from one leg to another then dug around in the back of his pants before holding up a vial of white, cloudy liquid. “I brought a peace offering. Now…. May I come in before it begins to rain again?” He asked softly, and for the first time, I think we all noticed how he trembled from the cold.

    “You’re one of us…. How come we don’t know about you?” Eko challenged, crossing her arms over her chest- a movement which was replicated by Eden and Elu.

    “I was hidden pretty well. I’m older than all of you- newer. They didn’t want me to be found- but I wasn’t happy there.” He muttered simply with a deadpan-look to his face. Blue looked to be on edge about him, though I could see Katarzyna starting to soften. The girls, however, looked like this was something they wanted to take care of.

    “Come inside and explain yourself.” I finally offered with a tired sigh.

    “Thank you… I’ve been searching for your little group for some time… I’ll admit I was a little hindered by that battle your group had.” Damian grinned as he handed off the vial to Eko as he came into the shack as it started to rain again. I snatched up one of the tattered blankets and passed it to the man as he walked into the thick of our little group.

    He wrapped himself up in the torn and dirty blanket, snuggling his cheek up to the fabric before returning to business.

    “That vial is an essence of your friend. They’re using him as a gateway. That liquid is made from his blood and tissue, combined with various chemicals.” He explained with a wry smile. “The other part of it is my blood and tissues. I was created to help bridge the gateways. Robert Collumns is no longer satisfied with only being able to contact people from other worlds and bring them here. He wants to go to other worlds and dimensions. He wants to connect them to ours.” Damian extended his arms out with a flourish, tilting his head to the side and his smile grew.

    “But for him to be able to go from world to world and dimension to dimension, he needs a bridge or a gateway. Your friend and I would be that gateway for now- but after about five travels or so, we’d both die from the strain. I’m not in the mood to sacrifice myself for that.” He muttered darkly, a scowl suddenly on his face.

    “How can we trust that what you’re saying is true?” This time, it was Elu challenging Damian’s words.

    “If you’re unsure, access my information.” He offered, and suddenly the room grew quiet as it was assumed that Elu was prying around in his head like she was able to with the rest of us, minus Grace. After a few moments, Elu suddenly started to frown at Damian, a confused look on her face.

    “I can’t communicate with you mentally.” She stated, though it almost seemed to be phrased as a question. Elu’s confusion was repeated in the faces of Eden and Eko.

    “Because I’m a newer model- if you want to find out that way, let me get my line out.” He muttered, as if bothered by what she was saying. Then he seemed to dig around through the hair on the back of his head before suddenly producing what appeared to be a foot or two of metal cord, and offered it to Elu, who looked confused by even this action before he slowly turned her around and moved her hair aside and seemed to plug the cord into the back of her head. I was positive that I saw Katarzyna, Marcus, and Blue all react with a horrified gasp. It took us by surprise, though, it seemed to be harmless.

    There was another moment of silence before Elu started to blink and then nodded quietly to herself, then in a moment, it seemed like Eden and Eko suddenly gained the knowledge as well.

    “He’s telling the truth.” Eden agreed as Damian gently seemed to pull the cord from the back of Elu’s head and seemed to feed it back into the back of his own head. The whole experience made me a little queasy, though I wasn’t about to admit it. What had we allowed into our shack?

    “He’s one of us, but he’s not related to Hope, Katarzyna, Marcus, Blue, or Logan. They don’t have it on file, but due to some resemblance, I’d venture to say that he’s possibly related to Elu in some ways due to hair color and skin color, though he seems to be as lanky as Aoife and has some behavioral resemblance to Eden and this one.” Eko stated quietly, reminding me that Eden and Eko both referred to themselves as “This One” instead of “I”.

    “You forgot to mention one of the little details in my file. I was also made to produce a replacement for Aoife… Collumns has grown tired of Aoife and wants a newer vessel for his movement. He doesn’t want her to be the figurehead anymore. In his own words, “She’s far too emotionally disturbed, Ian; what am I supposed to do with her?”- Rather blind, he is, to not realize that he’s just as disturbed…. But who am I to argue, I can’t begin to gauge my own flaws.” Damian spoke animatedly; his impersonation of Robert Collumns was spot-on, from the voice to the body language. I could see the look in Marcus and Katarzyna’s eyes- this wasn’t something that they wanted to hear.

    “Aoife, by the way, hates me with a passion since Robert Collumns is always pestering me. I don’t think I could bring myself to carry out that command- I don’t think that it would be something she’d agree to, even for him. She has enough sense to know that she no longer captivates him like she used to- she wouldn’t have a child for him, only for her to be pushed aside.” Ian continued, and I was certain at this point that he was unable to be stopped. There was something about him that seemed to hold everyone spellbound.

    I wasn’t blind to the look that Blue had on his face, though- he still seemed wary.

    “Why was Deus taken for this?” I found myself asking with a quirked eyebrow, though I was certain that the answer must be simple.

    “He came from another world or another dimension- which one, I’m not sure- those facts really hold no substance in any matter. The key point is- he’s a bridge to his own place of origin. In a matter of trying to explain it metaphorically: He’s a key, I’m the hand turning it to unlock the door. Using this, Robert would be able to make a kind of temporary gateway until he found a way to bridge the gap without using life forms.” Damian explained in a mellow tone, as if we were merely talking about pleasantries.

    “Would he really consider that it might be better to not use human life to bridge that gap?” Katarzyna injected into the conversation, a dull and bitter frown on her face.

    “You bring up a good point- I’m now considering the possibility that perhaps he mentions the future use of a gateway without using lives, merely as a comfort to those that work on the project.” Damian spoke as he seemed to chew on that knowledge for a moment then looked up at all of us again. “I believe I need a moment to converse with the girls- about unimportant matters, I assure you.” He smiled through the sentence before drawing the three other experiments aside while it seemed like a meeting of the minds was happening in my corner as well.

    “I like him. He seems nice.” Grace started, nodding slightly as I shrugged in turn.
    “He could useful, and he does seem trustworthy… I believe that the girls would have told us if he was any particular threat.” I agreed with Grace while Blue seemed to ruminate for a moment longer while Katarzyna nodded as well- though Marcus seemed entirely displeased.

    “I don’t know.” He stated after a moment, and his thoughts were echoed by Blue’s.

    “What other choice do we have? He’s already found us. We’ve all got a common enemy. He’s got no reason to be our enemy, and also, he’s like the other girls. Shouldn’t we be trying to protect him as well?” Katarzyna asked, bringing up some solid points. She seemed confident in what she was saying, though it still brought no rest to Blue or Marcus.

    “He knows where Deus is and might be able to help us get him back.” I added after a moment while Grace slipped away, I was sure she was just going over to watch the conversation that the girls and Damian were having. I didn’t expect to hear gunshots again so early, or think that we were in danger again until the girls and Damian rushed in- carrying Grace in his arms, telling us that there were more of Robert Collumns’ forces coming our way, shouting over the sudden noise of a barrage of bullets hitting our shoddy little shack.

    It was crumbling to pieces, and when it finally fell, we’d be riddled with holes as well if we didn’t think of something.
    True Reckless Heroism

    “We have less than thirty seconds to react before our shelter crumbles after I stop talking.” Elu informed us.

    25 seconds:
    I took Grace from Damian’s arms and placed her into Blue’s while pushing him along with Katarzyna and Marcus away, further away from Prophet City. Eden, Eko, Elu and Damian fanned out, Eko explaining that the men were only using the weapons to clear a path, and their orders were the same as they were before- to use their numbers as a weapon. They were not under orders to use their firearms on anything other than the shack. The walls of the shack start to crumble and fall.

    15 seconds:
    I waste a moment trying to come up with some kind of hasty plan while I tell the girls and Damian to follow the others. I waste another cursing and making some kind of mental appeal to the god that Deus believed in. I wasted one more moment reviewing what I had learned over the years about fighting when you have no weapon other than your own body. One wall remains and that’s purely because I’m leaning against it and supporting it. A bullet grazes my side and I try not to cry out in pain, though it’s hard to resist.

    5 seconds:
    I remember all of my injuries and realize that I’d be overwhelmed if I tried to resist, so I ran while I still had a chance.

    I caught up to the rest of the group quickly. We were just walking further and further into the uninhabitable land outside of Prophet City’s civilization. The men eventually stopped following us, though we kept going. We needed a plan, and this would buy us some time to think things through. None of Robert Collumns’ forces would go this far out because of the idea that the world beyond Prophet City was not fertile in any way.

    So far, it was an accurate description. The ground was hard dirt, dried to a point of cracks dividing it into pieces. There was no foliage to be seen, and the air felt hot, but with no humidity at all- though the sky only got darker the further we walked.

    Perhaps this was similar to what Deus had called “Hell”. There was no fire or brimstone, but this was just as unbearable.

    “What now? What are we supposed to do?” Marcus questioned as we slowed and finally sat down, too tired to continue.

    “We’re too far away from the lab to tell you what is happening now.” Elu spoke quietly, her words obviously including Eden and Eko- though I wondered about Damian.
    “What about you? Can you tell us anything?” I asked the man, as I realized something rather interesting- he looked exhausted. Not similar to me or my friends, or even Eden, Eko, and Elu- he looked almost like he was about to pass out from the heat and travel. His body shone with sweat and his breathing was shallow and rapid. “What’s wrong with you?” I finally managed to ask, trying to hide the confusion in my voice.

    “I’m not like they are. I’m not… I wasn’t created like they were... I was born human and changed into this... later. I don’t know how long ago they grabbed me up… but I’ve been there for some time…” Damian panted through his words, rubbing the sweat from his brow as he tried to take a deep breath. “I’m still a little weakened from all that they did from me… I’m a little…. Frail… I don’t know what they’re up to… they’re beyond my range, too.” He spoke, struggling though each syllable.

    “His heart is faulty, its beat is irregular at times, and his lungs are sensitive. The air here is too dry for him, and he’s straining his heart by walking all this way. Other organs are also affected, but those are the ones in critical condition.” Eko listed off with a grim look on her face. “If we stay here for too long, his heart and lungs won’t last. Also, his body’s under strain from the heat.” Eden continued after Eko stopped.

    “We need to have a plan then! Blue, what are our options? What can we do?” Marcus hissed, the urgency in his voice spoke of the fear that we all held in ourselves at this point. He sat on his haunches, supporting his weight on his feet and one of his hands while the other rubbed at his face in frustration.

    Blue stood silently for a moment, surveying the ground around us, before he finally answered.

    “We go back and we surrender… I don’t think we can fight any longer. We’re all tired- Katarzyna, you shouldn’t have to be running anymore, you’ll hurt your child... and Marcus, if she’s out of commission, you know that you are too, she needs you. Damian, Eden, Eko, and Elu- we can’t help you. If you keep running, Robert Collumns is going to grow too annoyed and will just have you exterminated. Hope... Be good. Grovel if you have to- Grace’s fate is probably entirely dependant on your actions.” Blue explained with a heavy heart and the exhaustion was clear to see.

    There were a few moments of silence before his words sunk in entirely.

    “What will you do, then?” Katarzyna volleyed the question at Blue, who seemed to chew on that thought before sighing. “Where will you go? Does this mean that you’re surrendering alongside us?” She continued the line of questioning, and the man’s visage only seemed to grow darker by the moment. Within moments, we were exposed to something I hadn’t expected.

    “I’ll have to surrender too! If I don’t, it could end badly for the rest of you!” He shouted, and a wind started to whip up. “We have to go back now. We can’t win, if we keep fighting, we’ll just be killed- what good will that do for anyone?!” He yelled out, his anger was felt in the wind that was quickly picking up speed and strength, dust and particles whirled around, making it easier to see the fact that this wind was purely circling around this man. After a few more moments, we were all knocked back by the forces of that wind.

    “What about Deus? What about Kenji?” I found myself asking over the roar of the whirlwind which was still growing faster and faster.

    “I don’t know.” The statement was cold and solid, like a door slamming shut on the inquiry. There was no anger to his voice, though I could see the frustration inside of him. I watched as Katarzyna and Marcus pressed forward, trying to walk through the winds to get to their friend, and the force of wind seemed to stop as suddenly as it started once the two had managed to get close enough.

    “What if we surrender and use it to our advantage?” He suddenly asked, and I smiled at that suggestion. At this point, I was so exhausted that I’d probably agree to anything if it got me out of this dry heat- though it was genuine with this idea. Perhaps this plan might work where others hadn’t succeeded.

    “I’m not sure that I follow, but you can explain on the way back.” I stated as I rose to my feet and slowly started to totter back the way that we came.

    “We’d be on the inside of the castle if we surrendered. The place where they hold their excessively unsavory criminals happens to be right under Robert Collumns’ building.” Katarzyna explained for Blue as she got up and pulled Marcus to his feet, supporting his weight and followed me. I looked back to see the twins helping Damian walk while Elu walked behind them, a hand on Damian’s back, appearing to be comforting.

    “Exactly.” Blue stated simply as he started after us, though he stopped and froze, his eyes fixed on something behind him.

    No…. no… Oh no… Don’t tell me…

    “Grace? Wake up, kid, we’re leaving.” Blue stated, moving back towards the child, where she looked to be resting peacefully on the dusty ground, but she didn’t wake to his voice. She didn’t respond when he shook her gently, or when he picked her up. He looked towards me, his gaze held a kind of horrified surprise in it, and it was all I could do to walk slowly to him and take my last child from him.

    Her tiny little body was entirely limp and too warm. She wasn’t sweating, and I could just barely see her ribcage expanding when she took a breath. I crouched and laid her back down on the ground to put my ear to her chest, but I could just barely make out the sound of a heartbeat.

    I looked her over- her lips were cracked and dry, and when I gently pried open one eye, I saw how bloodshot and agitated they looked. The wounds she had received while she had been dragged into that battle were dried, though it seemed as though they had broken open a few times to bleed.

    “Hope, is she ok?” Katarzyna asked quietly. I was suddenly enraged by her and by Marcus and Blue. I was enraged by Elu, Eko, and Eden- Damian too. I would still have all of my goddamned children if Katarzyna hadn’t brought that fucking resistance to my orphanage. I would be ok if the Invincible had just never come into my life.

    I scooped my last child into my arms, holding her close as I kissed the top of her head before starting to walk again back in the direction of Prophet City.

    “Hope?” Katarzyna prodded, the concern was obvious in her voice as she walked faster, trying to catch up- I only started to jog. I didn’t want to be around any of them right now.

    “Hope, is she alive?” This time, it was Marcus, who spoke slowly, tired from our arduous trek and dealing with wounds from the battle from yesterday. Perhaps he was the only one I couldn’t bear to be mad at, and I knew he was using it to his advantage. He seemed to struggle for words for a moment after I stopped walking and turned around to face him and Katarzyna.

    “She is, but I don’t think she’ll survive out here another hour. I don’t know for certain- I’m not a doctor- but I think she’s too exhausted and dehydrated to keep up with all of this bullshit. I’m not loosing her too.” I spat angrily before turning on my heel and starting to walk away again.

    I didn’t hear any footsteps behind me, but I didn’t care.

    I didn’t care about anything else.

    I’ve lost every child, every adult that had been hiding in my orphanage except for Grace. I wasn’t going to loose her too. I refused to loose her too. I’d do anything to keep her alive. I didn’t care about Prophet City anymore. I didn’t care about Logan. I didn’t care about Marcus or Katarzyna, Blue or any of those experiments.

    I’d trade everything to keep her alive.

    Nothing else mattered.

    I walked faster and faster, cradling Grace in my arms as I started to run, ignoring the dry, hot air that scratched at my skin, or the cracked and uneven ground that made it hard to keep my balance as I made my way back. I just wanted to go home, but because of the Invincible and because they were at my orphanage, it was attacked and destroyed.

    I wanted to retreat back to a happy memory in my mind- but in that moment, I couldn’t even remember a time when I was truly happy.

    I only ran faster. I didn’t care about rescuing Deus or Kenji- I’d gladly let them rot in Robert Collumns’ clutches if it would heal Grace. I was blind to the distance I had to cross to get back to Prophet City. I was deaf to the roaring winds and to whisper of the dust scraping over the dry ground. I was numb to the heat and the dull ache that throbbed throughout my body.

    I welcomed the sight of Robert’s men at the edge of the civilization, and at that moment, the ground rushed up to meet me.

    I sifted through states of consciousness and unconsciousness, but at some point, I struggled through a soft mumble.

    “Save her…. I’ll do anything you want.”

    Good or Bad Intentions

    I woke in a familiar bed.

    A color scheme of white and gunmetal silver greeted my view as I yawned and stretched slightly.

    It took a moment for everything to sink in and for me to remember all that had transpired in the last couple of days. I only remembered bits and pieces after I arrived at the border of Prophet City, greeted by Robert Collumns’ finest. Every waking second, I remember pleading for help, just wanting to make sure that my last child lived.

    I rose from the bed and looked around the room before walking slowly into the hallway.

    “Hope, I trust you’ll follow me without trouble?” I hear Collumns behind me and I turned to face him, and he seemed jovial, though I couldn’t bring myself to be angry or upset. It felt like all of the emotions had been drained out of my body, and I had nothing else. I think I muttered something like “Fine” before tailing him through hallways and corridors.

    We ended up in some kind of hospital area, and I looked to Robert Collumns warily. I was scared as he led me into one of the rooms and I tried not to react too much.

    Grace Lavender, the last of the children from my orphanage was suspended in one of those containers, a mask over her mouth and nose and a few IVs in her arms. I walked into the room and stepped up to the container and then looked to Collumns, unsure what to say or do. Was this him helping- or had he just decided that she was an easy target to experiment on while I was out?

    “She hasn’t woken yet, but we’ve been working on trying to get her re-hydrated and stabilize her condition. She’s very young, and we want to be careful with her.” Robert explained with a sly smile and then walked out, leaving me there.

    “Hope? Would you accompany us? We have a few minor questions for you.” A voice finally reached me as I turned away from Grace to face a group of Robert’s men, fully uniformed and looked to be high-ranking. I stood there for a moment before I finally reacted and walked away with them.

    I knew what they wanted from me, and I knew I couldn’t protect my allies. Robert Collumns had Grace. At any moment, he could easily give the word for someone to kill her.

    I moved mechanically after them, unable to process what I was doing until I sat down in a dark room with only one flickering light. The chair was off-balanced, and it was uncomfortable, and the room was cold. I was sure that it was all a way to coax me into exposing my sins quickly to get out of the room.

    One of the men sat down across from me and I took a deep breath as I tried to analyze the situation.

    “So… Hope Chain, renamed “Ashley of the First Generation”, why don’t you explain exactly what is going on.”

    I ran my hands through my hair and stretched back in my seat, sighing for a moment, steeling myself in my resolve. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I knew that Robert Collumns had no issues with telling his men to kill a four year old. I could just barely make out some kind of connection with one of my allies, though I couldn’t figure out who it was. Regardless, I tried to express apologies through the weak link.

    Then I spoke. I spilled out everything I knew- on everyone, on everything.

    “Blue, Katarzyna, and Marcus are all in the resistance that Blue has created- The Invincible. They were going to use Elu alone, and destroy Aoife… I brought Eden and Eko to them… I believe that they were going to use them as well, to add to their power, but I’m unsure. One of Robert’s other experiments, Damian, found us and wanted to help us recover some of our allies- you took Deus and Kenji from us.” I rambled off quickly, though I was quickly interrupted by my generous hosts.

    “How were they planning to kill Aoife?”

    “They were going to have me distract Collumns while they figure out a way to get in and kill their daughter. That’s all I know.” I explained quietly, though my answer didn’t seem to please them.

    “Are you currently trying to buy time for them?”

    “No, I don’t want to do anything that would endanger the life of the girl I brought in. I’ll tell you anything that I know, if you’ll continue to try and heal her.” I answered quickly, though I felt regretful. I didn’t want to have to expose everything, but I knew that Grace’s fate rode on my behavior and my actions.

    Blue had explained that. He would understand, though I felt like I was condemning all of my allies by speaking.

    “How much do you know about Damian? What did he talk about?”

    “He told us that he and Deus were going to be used to create a pathway for Robert Collumns to cross through, to be able to visit other worlds, He gave us some kind of vial- I think he handed it to one of the girls, Eko.” I started, but I stopped when one of the men raised a finger, and then walked out of the room for a moment.

    The silence was maddening as I waited. The other man in the room merely stood near the doorway of the room, a firearm in clear view. I suppose that was to stop me from trying to escape, though I had no thoughts of that.

    The other man came back in and gestured to me, telling me to continue.

    “He told us that this would kill them both eventually, and that he wasn’t interested in dying for Collumns.” I murmured- the reality of Deus’ mortality was suddenly laid out in front of me. He would die. Damian would die- but I didn’t care about him quite as much, though any death was something to be mourned, and to be regretted if it could have been avoided.

    What was I doing? How many lives was I trading for Grace? Would it even matter? I was only hoping that this would help keep her alive, though I knew full-well that this may have no effect on her circumstance. Robert Collumns could easily decide to have her killed anyways. I looked down at the ground as I thought to myself, and my thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of cold metal against my temple.

    “Why are you pausing? What else do you know?”

    “Damian was going to be ordered to…. Try and father a child from Aoife- since Robert is… no longer interested in her.” I spoke slowly, suddenly lost in my thoughts. I was worried- I knew these men wouldn’t want me to think. They want me to spill all the information I have, quick and clean and to get my ass out of there- instead, I was mumbling and taking my time because I was too caught up in my thoughts of how what I could be saying could affect my allies.

    “What do you know about the experiments, Aoife, Elu, Eden, Eko and Damian?”

    “Not much.” I was stalling, and I knew it- but I didn’t know why. I sat there for a moment before I continued, “Aoife and Elu share the same mother…. Though their fathers are not the same; I don’t know about Eden and Eko, though I’ve speculated that I…. might be their mother, and that one of Robert’s men, Logan, is their father… I don’t know much about Damian at all.” I explained, looking around for a moment while I chewed on my lip for a slight moment, then looked up at the men.

    Something suddenly went off in my mind- the feeling was similar to a hammer being cocked on a gun.

    “You know more, it’s clear by the look on your face, so tell us, what else do you know?”

    “I don’t know anything else.” I muttered quietly, feeling confused while I looked into the man’s eyes, finding them to be a regular brown- my right hand twitched involuntarily. Suddenly my teeth snapped down on my lip and a stream of blood suddenly flooded from my mouth at the same time that I launched from my seat and at the man. I slammed him to the floor, grabbed a fistful of his hair and propelled the back of his head into the concrete floor before snapping my body in position to face the other man, who had his gun pointed at me.

    I felt like some kind of puppet, like my movements weren’t my own.

    I shot forwards swiping aside the gun and slamming my forearm against the man’s neck, racing forward until he was pressed up against the wall and choking. I saw the struggle and desperation in his eyes and yet, I couldn’t bring myself to stop. I slammed my full weight against that one point on his throat until I watched the light leave his eyes.

    Something told me to look in their pockets- check their bodies for the keys to get me out of this room.

    “Good to know you’re leaving the connection open.” I heard Marcus and I started to laugh as I snatched up the keys from the breast pocket of the man who had questioned me, then snatched up the other man’s gun for good measure as I took a moment to go through the current situation.

    “You were the one in control, weren’t you? How did you do that?” I finally asked while I admired the weight and feeling of the weapon in my hands.

    “I’ll explain later- get out of that room and take a left. Go straight until I tell you to turn right.” Marcus explained, and I followed his directions, running with the firearm in my hands, though there was almost no one in sight. “They’re busy with a problem currently so you don’t have to worry about them until later, though it was a good precaution to arm yourself… Take a right here.” Marcus answered my thoughts as I turned, noticing a sign that explained that I was going to an “Experiment Containment Area”.

    “Use that key again to get through this next door, go straight.” Marcus stated and suddenly I felt a jolt of pain throughout my entire body for a moment, stifling a cry of pain. “Sorry, they’re really being rough with me today.” Marcus tried to joke, though I knew his pain. I finally wiped the blood away from my mouth and chin, lingering to feel the wound- my front teeth had made a good-sized hole, though I was sure that it would heal without any issues.

    “Who am I breaking out first? You?” I asked quietly as I unlocked the door and softly padded through the hallways, feeling on edge in this area. Something about it wasn’t right.

    “No. You’re getting Blue. Then you two will split ways to cover more ground- now, focus. Go to room number ninety-five. There will be a odd box near the door, it’ll have a bunch of buttons with numbers on them and a couple other little gadgets. Press in the code “1339183”, then you’ll have to twist the handle to open the door.” Marcus commanded as I picked up the pace, looking for cell 95.

    I found it finally and pressed the numbered buttons, then opened the door, looking in to find a horrifying sight.

    In the center of the room, Blue sat restrained, his head covered by some kind of helmet. I could see the way he gripped the arms of the chair and the struggle that took place. “What do I do?” I murmured my mouth open and slack with shock; my hackles were still rising- all I knew was that I wanted to be out of that room as soon as possible.

    “Take the helmet off of his head, talk to him, snap him out of what Robert Collumns is doing to him.” Marcus advised as I walked into the room, coming closer to Blue, letting my firearm clatter to the floor before reaching towards the helmet, pausing only to whimper a slight as another moment of pain came and went, followed by a strained apology from Marcus. My fingers finally grasped at the cold metal and then heaved the heavy chunk of metal from Blue’s head and tossed it aside.

    “Blue?” I bleated softly, only to get an empty look in return.

    I worked on the restraints quietly as I continued to try and get a response out of him. “Blue, come on, buddy, I need you to crack out of this….We need your help. Blue?” I spoke as I unraveled the restraints on his ankles and then went to work on the restraint on his right hand, pausing when I heard a sound from him.

    His eyes were sunken, with a far-away look to them, but his mouth moved.

    “Keep trying.” Marcus recommended. “How long have I been asleep? How long has he been in here?” I questioned quietly, afraid of the answer as I continued to try and coax Blue back to being himself. For a moment, I looked to the helmet, but jumped when I heard Blue take a sudden gasp of air, recognition finally appearing in his eyes. I was relieved, but that didn’t discount the hammering in my chest from the scare he gave me.

    “You’ve been unconscious for a day or two- give or take a few hours.” Marcus informed me cheerfully. “I hope you enjoyed your little nap, because you’re probably not going to get another one for a while.” He added as Blue rose from his seat, then looked at me for a moment, silent.

    Within moments, we were splitting ways, Marcus leading me to free Katarzyna, while he also led Blue to where he was.

    “After you free Katarzyna, you need to go to find Deus and Damian, We’ll take care of the girls and Grace.” He outlined carefully as I dashed off to where my pregnant friend was, only hoping that they hadn’t done anything irreversible to her. Following Marcus’ instruction, I keyed in codes and numbers, going through a handful of doors when I finally came upon Katarzyna.
    She lay on a simple bed, untouched, aside from some kind of IV that was fixed to the crook of her arm, asleep.

    “What did they do to her, Marcus? I can’t tell…” I started, only to trail off as I noticed something. Something was wrong- something was missing. That tiny bump on her stomach was gone; gone as if it had never existed in the first place. I could feel the anger from Marcus, and I understood it entirely.

    I removed the IV and pulled Katarzyna into a sitting position while I attempted to wake her up.

    “Hope, there’s no time for that, get her out of there and go find Damian and Deus.” Marcus snapped while I tossed aside the gun and picked Katarzyna up, starting to run back out into the hallway as Marcus fed me the directions to where Damian and Deus might be.

    But he was wrong this time.

    The Paradox of Laughter

    Marcus hadn’t led me to Damian and Deus like he thought. He had led me straight to Robert Collumns- with my two allies nowhere in sight.

    “I’m glad you came… I was starting to think that you weren’t going to.” Collumns started, smiling at me in the way that an old friend smiles. I felt like a fool. I should have known. I should have been more cautious- but who was expecting the madman to actually allow me to kill some of his own men just for me to end up in the same place that I started? Who knew that he could make his voice in my head sound so eerily similar to Marcus?

    “Marcus is currently unable to talk to you anymore, so I’m filling in for him. I had him say that last line.” Collumns gloated, and I felt my stomach turn at the possibilities of what had happened to Marcus. What had happened to Blue and to the rest of my allies? I was thoroughly confused.

    “So, how about you and I have a nice little talk?” He prodded as he gestured to the table and two chairs that only rested a few steps away. I followed him after gently laying Katarzyna onto the floor as he sat down and then tried to cope with the insanity that I’ve witnessed since I woke this day. I opened my mouth to speak, only to have Collumns shake his head and cut me off.

    “No. You’re listening, I’m talking.” He corrected and I sighed as I looked at Katarzyna who still was sleeping peacefully. “Do you really think that I’ll just let you walk out of my little home? You killed two of my men- I’m not pleased with that, Hope. I thought we were on better terms than that.” He admonished, still smiling.

    Then the bastard started to laugh- an obnoxious tittering of high-pitched squeals and yelps, it was dreadful to listen to and I imagined that it was the epitome of the sound of madness.

    “You killed two of my men, freed a prisoner, removed another from an Intensive Care room, and to top it all off, you were taking directions from someone who was currently being disciplined for repeatedly trying to make contact with the other prisoners. I suppose he made-do with you after finding out that Blue was rather… tied up, and Katarzyna was still knocked-out from her little operation.” He ranted on, getting louder with each word.

    “I can’t trust you, Hope. I thought that you would understand the risks that would come with trying something like this... I’m disappointed.” Robert chided, wagging his finger at me. I sighed and leaned back in my chair, frowning as I tried to figure out what I could do now.

    “Oh Hope, Hope, Hope- Don’t you realize your position?” He asked and I tried to control the rage that was sinking into my body. I kept silent, and I tried to keep calm, though, with every second, I only grew angrier.

    “I’ll have to punish you… But you don’t care about yourself- so, it’s a good thing that you brought that child with you.” He spoke with a dark smirk as I fought to keep from leaping at him from my seat. I wanted to destroy him for threatening Grace. I wanted to kill him for creating Aoife- who had controlled Marcus and instructed him to kill all the rest of my children. I wanted to make him feel the pain that I felt.

    “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything that would skew her good looks- no…. I think I’d rather use her for a new experiment that I’ve been curious to perform.” Collumns thought aloud, grinning at me all the while with that sick little smile. He was disturbed- beyond disturbed, he was insane.

    I finally shot out from my seat and slammed into him, my hands locking around his throat as I panted, anger boiling in my blood.

    “Maybe I’ll give her a third arm, or a tail!” Collumns laughed as I tightened my grip on his throat, yelling out in frustration as I slammed the back of his head down onto the ground. No, Marcus wasn’t in control this time, this was me. I was the one doing this, I was in control- and I wanted to kill this man.

    After the third or forth time that I propelled his skull into the floor, I heard an awful-sounding crack and blood spilled out.

    I got to my feet and picked Katarzyna back up before running back the way I had come, trying to find my way to where Grace was. I was worried, since Robert Collumns had already threatened her.

    She wasn’t in that lab anymore, but there was no one else in that area either. I sighed out of frustration before stopping and setting Katarzyna down, to try and wake her up. I needed her help, and I needed it now. After a bit of shaking and one small slap, her eyes fluttered open and I breathed a sigh of relief.

    “What did they do with my baby?” She shot the question at me in a sharp tone, her eyes locked on to mine and I told her everything that had happened so far, and she seemed just as distraught as I was. Then she told me that we had to escape, now, without anyone else.

    We were going to leave without Marcus or Blue, without Grace or any of the experiments, without Deus, Damian or Kenji.

    “There’s nothing else we can do here for now, we need to get out of here and come up with a plan- then we can come back. We can’t stay here.” She explained quickly as she rose to her feet, a little shaky, though I followed her as she started to walk away - I only hoped that when we came back, that there would be something- someone to come back for.

    We escaped without much trouble, after finding some kind of clothing for her, and I told her about how I had killed Robert Collumns, though she seemed unbothered by it.

    “He’s not dead- You killed a clone.” She explained in a matter-of-fact tone as I stared at her, dumbstruck. She had to be joking- there was no way that I went through all that trouble, just for it to not be him. I almost felt like crying as we retreated, running until we finally reached the tavern- though she refused to let me drink, regardless of how many times I tried to convince her that it would help me come up with a plan.

    “This is insane.” I spat finally as she nodded and shrugged dismissively.

    After a moment or two, Katarzyna suddenly yanked me from my cozy spot at the bar and all but dragged me to the back of the tavern, past all of the bedrooms to a doorway at the end of the corridor. Silently she opened the door and gestured for me to go inside.

    I was greeted by the sight of ten or fifteen people, all of which looked like they had been supporters of the Invincible, or related in some way.

    “I don’t understand.” I started, but Katarzyna grinned at me. It wasn’t much of a smile, given the circumstances, but it was all that she could muster up, and I had to marvel at this. I wasn’t quite sure that I understood who these people were, or why Katarzyna looked so happy to see them- I only hoped that my speculation that they were part of the resistance was correct.

    “This is a part of the resistance that managed to evade the attacks. We didn’t know if anyone survived, but we put out a message that if there were survivors, they should hole up in here for a bit, since this tavern has agreed to help.” She explained, gesturing to the group.

    Katarzyna then led me further within the room- which appeared to be a lot bigger than I had first imagined. It was furnished simply, with a few dodgy tables and a smattering of chairs here and there, but it was enough for the needs of this group.

    “Blue and Marcus have been captured,” Katarzyna explained as she climbed up onto one of the tables. “We’ve lost Elu, and we had also lost other allies.” She continued, her voice carrying throughout the room, and I could see the disappointment and look of hopelessness on some of the faces within the area.

    “But,” Katarzyna started up again, her voice soft as she looked around, a fire was smoldering in her eyes. “We will get them back. Marcus almost had us all free before we had to retreat. Collumns has grown too comfortable in his little throne- he doesn’t think we can truly pose a threat anymore- and that will be his downfall!” She shouted out as I watched the followers react with a chorus of agreement.

    “They’ve taken my weapon, and I assume that our arsenal was demolished and taken away in that raid by Robert Collumns’ forces, is that assumption correct?” She asked of the crowd, with varying responses, though the majority explained that they had no weapons.

    “Why don’t we take weapons from Robert Collumns himself?” I asked finally as the chittering of the crowd died down.

    “Get up here and explain yourself if you’re going to join in on this, Hope.” Katarzyna commented as I followed her direction and climbed onto the shaky table- worrying that the rotting wood wouldn’t be able to take Katarzyna and my combined weight.

    “Why don’t we drawn some of Robert Collumns’ men into this tavern… make it seem like an anonymous tip-off, and ambush them for their weaponry and their uniforms?” I baited them, waiting a moment for someone to react, but, seeing no response in sight- I continued.

    “We need weaponry, and we could use some camouflage.” I offered up, and finally got a reaction from Katarzyna in the form of an encouraging smile. “That’s all I have to say... I need another drink.” I blathered, my tone going sour as I stepped off the table. I suddenly realized how bad the situation had gotten, and it didn’t sit well with me at all.

    “Hope?” Katarzyna asked after me, but I waved her off, leaving the room and going back to the bar.

    I wouldn’t be much help in that room at this point, and I needed some comfort in the form of intoxication. As I ordered a drink, I looked around the tavern, only to find a few other patrons here and there, much less than usual. Spotting my glances, the bartender eyed me with a sorrow-filled look- then I understood.

    This tavern wasn’t just a supporter of the resistance; most of the patrons were involved.

    I was handed my drink and I sipped at it lightly for a few moments, only to pause when I heard the entrance door open.

    Three officers stepped into the tavern, weapons drawn, ordering for everyone to get down onto the ground with their arms in front of themselves, and to drop any weaponry that we might have. I followed the dictation, dropping to the floor, though within moments, they were over me, checking me for any concealed weapons. It was over in a few moments, though I saw them starting to head back towards the back rooms.

    I hoped they knew they were coming, because I wasn’t in a mood to get shot full of holes.

    I got up and slowly followed after them, but lingering as they opened the door. Too far away- I couldn’t see what was happening, though I knew that if I moved in close to see, a bullet would strike me where I stood.

    Suddenly there was a silence and I moved in to see the officers were all being pulled into that room. I followed to find a few of the followers retrieving all the weaponry these men had on them, and another few were stripping the men of their clothing. I was touched by this for a moment- until I realized more would come to check out what had happened to these three.

    Katarzyna and I discussed how we’d deal with these matters, but in the end, regardless of any planning, miscalculations, victories, or failures, we ended up as a well-armed group, able to blend in with the rest of Robert Collumns forces. There were a few moments of trepidation, but we all eventually ended up right back on Robert Collumns’ lawn.

    Not to fight- only to retrieve our allies. A group of less than twenty people, against a massive unknown number would be a horridly naïve move. We would regroup and then retreat.

    Easier said than done.
    Two Sides of the Same Coin

    Katarzyna and I split the group into two groups.

    Her group would go to retrieve Blue and Marcus; my group was going to find Grace and the experiments- if it was possible. We would meet up at one point and try to retrieve Deus and Damian, though this was also entirely dependent on how quick and efficient we could manage to be.

    If at any point we thought that we might be out-numbered, we had all agreed that we would retreat. With so few numbers, we couldn’t stand to loose anymore.

    Most of the people in our groups were uniformed, but not all. Since it wasn’t entirely necessary, we weren’t too concerned with it as opposed to other factors.

    I led the way as I tried my hardest to find a way to contact any of my allies- but it was no use. We walked through the building blindly, and at one point, I checked in with Katarzyna and found her to be in the same situation, though neither of us wanted to give up just yet. There had to be a way that Marcus had found out those codes and where everyone else was, without being able to talk to them.

    Finally, Katarzyna figured it out.

    “We’re attacking this situation in the wrong way, Hope- Don’t search for people’s thoughts, try and tap into the building itself.” She explained, though I struggled to comprehend what she had just stated. I was trying to find out where to find my friends, from the building itself. Yet, with all this madness, I knew that a year ago, I wouldn’t be able to even believe the abilities I now held within my power this day.

    After a few moments, I managed to get into the building as Katarzyna had instructed and found the room that contained Grace, and I focused on that for now.

    Grace was in a container, still suspended in liquid, though it was different. It was an odd shimmering grayish color- and she looked different. Her hair had grown longer and she seemed like she had grown a little. Had Robert Collumns aged her? What was he doing to her? I stepped towards the container slowly, though I hesitated, unsure of what to do.

    Grace suddenly opened her eyes. They had become a bright violet color and looked just as inhuman as Aoife’s.

    I suddenly didn’t know what to do.

    The way Grace was looking at me from inside of that container, it was a sort of predatory gaze. Like she was analyzing everything in the room and trying to figure out what the biggest threat to her wellbeing was. I walked a little closer, unsure if I even wanted to free her from this lab, knowing that she had been changed.

    She wasn’t Grace anymore.

    She wasn’t the child that I had taken care of. She wasn’t the four-year-old that I had comforted after her sister and the other children had been killed. She wasn’t the child that I had worked to save anymore. She had changed, and I didn’t even know if I wanted to make a move to find out anything else. I contacted Katarzyna to explain the situation, only to find her in a situation of her own.

    “Marcus is being controlled again, but we don’t know how to knock him out of it, and we don’t want to hurt him and Blue’s still nowhere to be found.” Katarzyna relayed, and I could hear the emotions over the connection and was able to relate.

    “Try to evade Marcus and keep trying to find Blue- Grace is... I think it might be a waste of our effort to try and rescue Grace now. She’s been changed.” I stated while I turned and walked away from the container, unable to even look at the child that watched me like a hawk with no trace of love or humanity in her eyes anymore.

    “Marcus killed one person from my group already… I might have to retreat; I don’t want to fight against him… I can’t.” She mumbled through the connection, and I felt the same, though I looked through the building and quickly found something that might help our cause. Leading my team away from the lab, I quickly ran down the halls and corridors, heading towards where I had hypothesized Blue to be.

    “And where might you be heading?” A familiar voice rang out from a hallway to my left.

    Blue walked out, with a grin- but without any recognition in his eyes. Had they gotten to him too? I couldn’t take any chances, especially since this was a case where we weren’t interested in defending ourselves if it put our attacker in danger of being harmed. I tapped back onto the connection with Katarzyna and told her about my situation.

    “We need to retreat again, we can’t fight them.” She replied, though I could hear the reluctance in what she had said.

    “I asked, “Where might you be heading?”- I had thought that I would be answered by this point.” Blue stated coldly, and I looked into his eyes, to find that they had become a frigid pale aqua color- like a doll’s eyes. I didn’t want to run and leave him behind. I didn’t want to have Katarzyna leave Marcus behind either- but we couldn’t fight against our own allies.

    I ran with my group following after me and I didn’t even have enough sense to try and find out if Blue was following us, though I prayed that he wasn’t.

    Everything changed when I heard someone firing their gun off, and when I turned to look, I saw one of my group lying on the ground with enough bullet holes in his chest to ensure that he wouldn’t be able to get up ever again. Within Blue’s hands lay the weapon that had dealt the damage.

    “Blue, snap out of it! We’re your allies, not them!” I exclaimed as I stalked towards the man, reckless anger coursing through my veins. He only seemed to smirk and tell me that I wasn’t talking to Blue anymore. I wasn’t talking to the person who had called himself “Blue”. No, he was a different person, enlightened by Robert Collumns.

    “I’ve been exposed to knowledge that I wished you knew. I wish all of you knew! Robert Collumns is a brilliant man, and he’s going to save Prophet City.” Blue prophesized with a flourish and a smile. I shook my head before looking back up at the man who I had known to lead a resistance.

    I saw a twitch of emotion waver over him, and hoped that what I was going to try next would work.

    “Think of Marcus, think of Katarzyna- think of all the people depending on you, Blue. They need you to get through this!” I spoke, trying to appeal to what ever remained of the real Blue within that brainwashed skull of his. “These people here are your allies- they look up to you and need your leadership.” I continued, moving closer.

    I saw another flicker of emotion cross over the man’s face before suddenly it stopped and he walked away, silent.

    I didn’t follow.

    Moments later, my group and Katarzyna’s were walking back through the roads, heading to Kalyn’s Tavern. A unanimous decision to leave the walls of that hellhole had been made, and so we walked away- Without anyone that we had set out to retrieve, and missing two of our force.

    For two days following this, we planned and we argued. Everyone had a problem with everyone else, and it was becoming a common occurrence to watch fights break out, or to try and break up a fight. Without a proper leader, this group of survivors was loosing sight of its goals.

    I couldn’t get the image of Grace’s face out of my head.

    Should I have tried to free her? Should I have tried to take her with me as we retreated? Was she really as changed as she appeared to be? Did I do the right thing? Questions swirled around inside of my head in a violent whirlwind as each moment went by. My nights were fueled by alcohol and my days were absorbed with arguing and trying to keep the peace.

    On the third day, I dragged Katarzyna aside from a particularly vicious fight to speak with her about the situation that was quickly forming around us.

    “We need to go back- just you and me. Not to retrieve anyone- to assess the situation. We need to know if this battle is worth fighting anymore.” I commented quietly, though she silently walked away. I knew she heard me, but I also knew that she probably didn’t agree, and I figured that giving me silence was the kindest way to respond to what I had stated.

    It wasn’t until that night that she wandered back over and we set off.

    We decided that if the situation had gotten far beyond what we could go up against, that we would disperse the group and go into hiding, and surface when the time was right. Live to fight another day, with hope that we could one day take down what had become of our world.

    I’m sorry to say, but it didn’t turn out how we thought it would.

    Every plan we made and every mistake we tried to expect and cover for- none of it would be enough to be able contain the mess that became of it all. It was all that we could do, just to keep ourselves from going mad- trying to focus on anything other than what was going on in front of us.

    Eventually, that fell through, too.

    Steeped in our mistakes and drive for justice, we had overlooked something pertinent- Our own situation.

    Motive and Fingerprints/ Proof and Evidence

    Let me recall what happened when Katarzyna and I had ventured back to Robert Collumns to analyze the situation.

    The night sky was overcast with heavy clouds that almost seemed pitch-black, with subtle hints of lining, showing where one ended and another started. We picked our way to his gates and slipped inside, Katarzyna carried a chain with her, bulky and rusted, it wasn’t comparative to her more concealable chain, though this one was fitted with a padlock- I believe one of the resistance members called it a “Smiley Chain”, though I’m not sure why. Currently it was looped and locked around Katarzyna’s waist- I had to admit that it made an interesting fashion statement, even for the people of this hellhole.

    I had brought along one pistol, a box of matches, and a small vial of black liquid. The last two items weren’t for me, though if I was pressed to- I’d use them myself.

    We snuck in the way we had before- an entrance on the left side of the building and had evaded all security. We knew that Robert Collumns could see us, regardless of how many precautions we took, though we were banking on the hope that he would be more amused to try and figure out what we were doing before he alerted his men to our arrival.

    Together, we made our way down to where Katarzyna had run into Marcus. We walked in complete silence and focus- even our connection was dropped. As we approached the exact area, Marcus appeared, like a malevolent phantom from the shadows. His eyes focused on us, and I noticed they had changed in color, much like Blue’s. His were a stormy dark-grey. They were cold and emotionless and I felt fear rising up inside of me in reaction to how he was behaving.

    “Katarzyna, have you decided to join me?” He asked- his voice sounding inhuman and hollow, and I could see her take a step back, looking at the ground, away from him.

    “Marcus, let us help you, I’m sure we can work something out…” I started, only to find the man right in front of me within a second, after knowing for certain that a moment before, he had been a yard or two away from us.

    “I’m happy like this.” He said with a smile that seemed too animalistic, too threatening.

    It just wasn’t him who was speaking- it couldn’t be. He had been brainwashed- Robert Collumns messed with his head somehow, we just needed to figure out the right way to snap him out of it. Then I watched in mute horror as Katarzyna stepped forward, with a look in her eyes that I couldn’t even begin to describe.

    “I’ll join you… I’m sick of fighting.” She admitted quietly, looking aside as she unlocked the chain from around her waist and dropped it to the floor. It clicked and coiled onto the floor while she took another step towards Marcus, whose smile only grew.

    I couldn’t find the words to speak or the will to move as I watched my friend slowly walk away, arm-in-arm with an ally-turned-enemy.

    I gaped and sputtered for words slowly as they walked out of sight, still trying to figure out exactly what had just happened. Numbly, I felt my legs lock up and as I dealt with trying to figure out where to go from there, I heard someone approaching. I couldn’t summon the strength to go any further.

    “Hey sweetheart.” The words were warm and friendly, though it froze me where I stood.

    My mouth went dry and tears rolled down my cheeks as tried to remind myself that it was too early for me to die, I wasn’t dead- so why was I hearing Logan’s voice? Why did I suddenly smell him? The scent was unmistakable- the smell of leather and cigarettes, warm and smoky- it was comforting as I tried again to remind myself that my ex-lover was dead. I couldn’t turn to face the person behind me, and perhaps it was for the best.

    “Guess who?” The voice continued as I heard the footsteps get closer.

    Familiar arms draped around my frame, the musk of that maddening scent was driving me insane, and I fought to ignore every instinct that told me to run. A cheek brushed against mine from behind as I felt myself being pulled back, against the front of a man’s chest. That too, was familiar- trimmed, though slightly scruffy on his chin, I wanted to reach up and touch that face to find out just how far this illusion went. I still couldn’t speak, though the tears wouldn’t stop.

    “I killed you.” The words were heavy and broke what ever moment was transpiring for a few seconds. With a thick voice, I continued, “Marcus shot you in the chest… I tried to save you and you killed yourself.” The arms that held me, which were so familiar, now clung to me, tighter and tighter. It was starting to become hard to breathe.

    “Then how am I here?” The voice asked me as I felt his body, knowing every curve, every muscle, every twitch and movement. I could hear the bloody smirk in his voice, the confidence, the dominating ego.

    “You’re not here… I must be hallucinating.” I muttered, taking a breath as his grip on me loosened, but in the next moment, I found my world spinning. With no strength at all, he had spun me around and I found myself face to face with what I had accused of being a hallucination.

    “Collumns brought me back here and I took a while to heal completely, but I was still alive when you and your friend walked away, but I can understand the confusion, seeing as how I did crack the back of my head open.” Logan spoke with that perpetual smirk, his hands gripping onto my shoulders as he suddenly pulled me close.

    I wrapped my arms around him- my fingers clawed at his back as I gripped him tightly, a sob wretched itself from my throat as I found myself crying into this man’s chest, not knowing what to think anymore.

    “Come with me, Hope.” He murmured into my ear, a soothing caress of breath was all it took to send a tingle of warmth down my spine, it was intoxicating- my eyes eased shut for a moment and I burrowed further into the warmth of his chest, yet when I opened my eyes, I spotted the chain on the floor.

    “I can’t.” My words were sharp and curt; any hint of warmth or caring was stripped away.

    “Hope... look at me. I’m here, alive in the flesh. Just as always- I’m here to save you.” His words were cloyingly sweet as he gently tilted my chin up to look at me, and I fought to look away from his eyes, but he had me pinned there. His words were like poison to me; Everything I had ever wanted to hear him say, the tone in his voice that I had missed so much. It was perfect.

    “Thank you.” I whispered my reply, though I frowned.

    “What’s wrong? What’s with the frown?” He asked, the concern was obvious in his voice, and I slowly moved away from him, gently prying myself out of his arms as I looked up at him, wanting for it to be true. I wanted this to be real, and I had dreamt of this since that horrific moment where I had thought Logan had died.

    “Its sweet that you know the words to say, and the body is a nice touch- you got everything perfect... But you’re not Logan, and you’re not here to save me at all... Logan’s dead.” I stated quietly, looking up at the man with a grim smile. “You almost had me… but Logan would never be that nice… he was a good man… but I don’t think he really cared about anyone.” I continued, a sigh raced out of my lips as I paused.

    “Who do you think I am then?” The man asked, and as I looked up at him, I found myself smiling a bit as the reality of this man’s situation came into view. I saw the confusion in his eyes, but the hint of a smile on his face- he was confused, but he didn’t know why.

    “You’re a clone of Logan, you have his memories and his many little unique movements. You look like him, you act like him for the most part- but a copy will never be the original.” I explained, and watched the emotions that crossed over this man’s face- this man who I so wished was Logan, and yet, was glad that it wasn’t.

    “What else can I be other than the original?” The man looked up at me suddenly, perplexed

    “I don’t know.” I admitted quietly, then bit my lip before walking over to Katarzyna’s chain, picking it up and winding it around my wrist a few times to make sure that I had a good grip on it. “Just find out for yourself, the answer will come one day, I’m sure.” I encouraged as I started to walk away, only to find him gripping onto my wrist.

    “What makes you so sure that you’re an original? What if you found out that you were just a copy?” He asked, the pleading look in his eyes dug into mine, searching for answers that I couldn’t give him.

    “I’d carry on…. Where is Eden or Eko?” I asked suddenly, trying to change the subject to something that could help my situation.

    “They’re in Robert Collumns’ quarters, along with Aoife and Elu- Damian too…Before you ask: I don’t know where Deus is or Blue. I don’t know where Marcus took Katarzyna either.” The clone answered me, though his tone spoke volumes. Perhaps with what help he had just given me- I owed him help now.

    “I’d give myself a name, to start off.” I spoke, looking around for a moment, making sure that I was still relatively safe.

    “How am I supposed to give myself a name? All I’ve been called is “Logan” along with thirty or so other “Logans”, how am I suddenly supposed to be someone else when I’ve been created to be a carbon copy of one person?” He questioned, and I shook my head, unable to answer his questions. I understood the confusion of his existence, but I couldn’t help him.

    “That isn’t Marcus who led your friend away… it was a clone- Every original is with Robert Collumns so he can keep a close eye on them.” The man spoke up suddenly, and I raised a brow at his unusually helpful behavior, though quickly scampered off when a panicked look suddenly crossed his face and in a hushed voice, he told me to run off in the direction that I had seen Katarzyna go. I didn’t look back as I rushed after where I thought I saw my friend disappear.

    Within moment I was in the entryway of a gloriously huge bathroom, where the bathtub took the form of a something that could be likened to a swimming pool. Clouds of hot steam swirled up from the water and I spotted Katarzyna with that clone of Marcus down at the other end of the huge pool.

    I could just barely make out Katarzyna pulling off her clothing, and Marcus following in suit, though he was the first to step into the water, submerged completely before he rose and reached out towards Katarzyna, who slowly followed after.

    Something wasn’t right.
    I looked down at the water, reaching down to inspect it, only to jerk my hand away when I realized what it was.

    The liquid in this massive pool was silvery, reflective, but opaque. I recognized its similarity to what my blood now appeared as. This was that liquid, this was what made my blood corrosive and dangerous to normal people. This was the liquid that ran through my veins as well as Katarzyna and Marcus’s.

    As I rushed to get closer, I swore I could hear that clone murmuring some kind of chant as my friend took another step into the liquid- it was now up to her knees, the clone took her hand and guided her in deeper. I started to run, unsure what was appropriate in this situation, and with every step closer, the clearer that clone’s words got.

    “Let motive guide us into this new life/ and take heed of the liquid that flows from this knife/ as this essence flows into you/ Savor what you’re turning into…”

    As I finally made my way to their side, Katarzyna was fully submerged. For a few moments, I watched as bubbles of air crowded up on the surface, and then suddenly it stopped. Had she drowned in this horrid liquid? Had she willingly walked into her own death?

    Within moments, though, she surfaced.

    She floated, her body shone with the liquid it had been dipped into, and as I made my way to her, recklessly racing into the fluids, I saw her eyes.

    They had become a golden amber color, smoldering as she looked at me.

    Becoming a Deity

    “Hope? Wake up- I’m starting to get concerned… Did she bump her head when she fainted?” My head swam as I opened my eyes, just barely making out Katarzyna as she crouched over me. I felt nauseous.

    “No- but perhaps the silver waters was too much for her body to handle.” It sounded like Marcus, though I fought to remember why I was distrusting of him right now.

    As my vision came into focus, I was struck by the sight of her eyes- that instantly brought everything else into focus.

    “What happened to you?” I muttered my question, still half-groggy. I tasted copper in my mouth and felt around with my tongue, finding a small perforation on the inside of my cheek- it must have happened when I collapsed… I couldn’t remember why I collapsed.

    “This is a clone of Marcus… he was trying to help me… I think we need to gain more power before we try to find out what we’re up against. This might be our only option.” Katarzyna explained, and I studied her carefully for a moment then decided that she was acting human enough to trust.

    “So what exactly is this?” I asked finally, gesturing to the shimmering liquids. I rose into a sitting position while I ran a hand through my hair, finding it to be completely soaked. “What happened to me?” I added, looking questioningly at Katarzyna, who smoothed my hair down, and smiled gently, the actions seemed to be comforting.

    “I guess you could say that this is the power source of all the experiments, the goddesses…. This is what is siphoned into their blood- into ours too. This is what gives them their abilities… It’s the very root of what Robert Collumns calls “Silver Magik”. I believe you fainted after trying to pick me up and carry me out of the pool.” She imparted to me.

    “Hope… you have to join me in this…” She started, though I waved her off, still trying to get my bearings as I slowly rose to my feet, swaying slightly- I was unsteady.

    “I don’t want to change myself anymore… I’m tired of it… Can’t I fight as I am now?” I inquired carefully as I turned to face her, “And what about this clone, why is he helping?” I added, narrowing my eyes at the Marcus that clearly wasn’t the original. He was too obvious about having individual tendencies and habits that Marcus himself did not own.

    “The same reasons why that clone of Logan helped you.” The clone answered for himself, looking annoyed. “We didn’t ask for these memories or instincts. We were created with the same ideas and same behaviors- but we aren’t them, and we never will be, because we aren’t perfect copies. Yet, still, we hold the same bonds towards the same people. Marcus loves this woman here… and Logan… tolerated you.” He explained after pausing for a moment, searching for the right words, and yet it still pained me.

    “Also, you might want to change your decision on not strengthening yourself. I can help keep the time- the longer you’re submerged in the waters, the more power you receive, yet, the more humanity is lost. It’s what I did with your friend.” He continued and finally I nodded quietly.

    “It’s just as much a physical experience as it is mental- I’ll have to ask you to strip down and repeat back the phrases that I speak as you follow my direction- all right?” The clone asked and I nodded again, turning away for a moment as I hesitated, then stripped down to my bare flesh.

    I watched as he turned and walked into the waters and then gestured for me to follow, cautioning me to walk slowly. As I stepped in, he pulled out a rather thin blade and spoke quietly, “Let motive guide us into this new life/ and take heed of the liquid that flows from this knife.” His hand moved for mine, and I sucked in a deep gulp of air as pain radiated from my palm where he dragged the blade across. I fought to repeat the words back to him.

    He dipped the blade, covered in my bright red blood, into the shimmering waters and then brought the blade back over my wound, this time having the broad side of it pressed against the gash as he continued to speak, pulling me slowly into the liquid more and more. “As this essence flows into you/ Savor what you’re turning into.” He dipped the knife into the pool again and dripped the water into my wound- I was up to my stomach in the pool, it felt colder the further I went. I spoke the words quickly, wanting for this moment to end quickly- feeling uncomfortable.

    He led me in deeper, taking my hands and submerging them under the surface before taking a loose handful of the fluid and gently flung it into the air over me- it felt like rain. “One with all and all with one / one with all and all with one.” He spoke the words in the same manner that Deus spoke when he prayed, like some kind of fervent whisper of protection. I repeated it and was shocked when I was suddenly dragged into the water and submerged completely.

    I struggled at first, wanting to breathe, needing to surface.

    That’s when I opened my mouth, sputtering as I struggled with the hand that was forcing me down.

    The liquid rolled down my throat smoothly, thought it was a heavy kind of fluid, and I could feel it as it finally made its way into my stomach. I suddenly breathed it into my lungs and struggled more, the feeling of drowning renewed my strength.

    I suddenly was aware that no one was holding me down, and that I wasn’t drowning.

    I opened my eyes- they stung for a moment then it just felt natural, I could see perfectly in this pool. I felt oddly in that moment- all of the hair on my body stood on end and I for just a second, I felt like I could hear everyone at once- their thoughts, even. It was a moment of madness and insanity and that one second seemed to stretch out for hours.

    It seemed like an eternity had passed before I finally surfaced, feeling weak and light-headed.

    “Congratulations, you and your friend have now bridged the gap between Patchworks and have become Deities.” The clone informed me as I paddled my way back to the edge of the pool and climbed out, lying on my back for a moment, exhausted as I looked up at Katarzyna, who seemed to approve of my action.

    “One with all… and all with one.” I murmured the phrase to myself, thinking of the implications it had.

    “The goddesses’ minds are all intertwined, they have a collective consciousness that is only separated by their individual identities- when they so choose to be so… the phrase refers to the ability to join into that conscious, and to have them with you, but to maintain your own individuality- to be able to maintain your humanity and your own goals and freedoms.” He informed us quietly, pausing for a moment as he strode out of the water and back with us. He then continued.

    “You are now part of the collective, but unlike the goddesses, you two have more of a choice. Where they are able to drag their sisters into their minds if they so choose, you are free of that.” He stopped and I looked up at him, in the middle of squirming back into my clothes, only to see that same look of horror as he told us to go- quickly.

    I fought into my pants and finished pulling on my top and then followed after Katarzyna as she ran.

    I didn’t know where we were heading, and I shivered- my body was still damp from that pool, and my hair was still dripping wet. Somehow, we ended up facing what looked to be Blue, though I was afraid that it was the same man who had told me that he had become “enlightened”. Was that man reality or was he a clone?

    “Collumns has been waiting.” He spoke coldly, and I knew it had to be a clone.

    “It took us a while to get here.” Katarzyna replied calmly as the man turned and walked away, supposedly leading us somewhere. She followed after, right on his heels, and I stalked after her silently while opening the connection between us, testing it quietly for a moment to make sure the connection was solid.

    I did this by doing a sort of mental “tapping” on that connection. It would be easiest to explain by metaphor- like tapping on a tight string. If someone’s on the other end, they’ll feel the vibrations and let you know by “tapping” back.

    As soon as I felt Katarzyna respond, I started. “Where are we going?” I asked though that connection as, in the physical world, I was still silently trailing her. For a moment, she didn’t answer- then I heard her reply. She wanted me to try to get into the building again, to look for myself where we were heading.

    Within moments, I knew.

    “There’s nothing else we can do now… we have to go along with it.” She told me calmly over the connection- meanwhile she faltered for a moment while walking before continuing on like it hadn’t occurred. I was unsure, but I felt slightly more confident about our chances after gaining that power.

    “What if we can’t retreat this time?” I suddenly asked as soon as I realized the possibility of it happening.

    If we were heading in Robert Collumns’ direction, I doubt he’d let us escape. Somehow, I had the inclination to believe that by killing his clone, I had forfeited all rights to being allowed an easy getaway. Though I wanted to go, since every clue and piece of information had told us that all of our actual allies were in that room with Collumns.

    Was it worth the risk?

    We’d soon find out.

    Meanwhile, I chewed on that phrase again. One with all and all with one, it was a kind of mantra that seemed to have much more importance than words could describe.

    I decided to test it out- That clone said that I was able to talk to the goddesses… the goddesses, the experiments, they were one in the same, though I was unsure of how he considered them goddesses when he found them imperfect. Surely, if one pleased him by now, he would have stopped making more.

    I tapped out on that connection, but it was like I had nothing to reach out to- no one was there on the other end. I tried a few more times with the same results and I told this to Katarzyna, who had replied that she had tried that moments before and already knew about the situation.

    All of a sudden, we were at Robert Collumns’ room, and we stood quietly as the clone went inside. We didn’t bother to move- we knew that if we did, we’d only be recaptured within the moment, perhaps in a worse situation from it.

    It didn’t take long for the lord to step out and greet us, though he looked displeased once he saw us.

    I’m sure he could see it on our faces- our eyes to be precise- that we had entered that pool of his.

    He invited us inside, and we followed quietly, only to find an appalling sight on the other side of the door.

    At that moment, I started praying, to Deus’ god, to the goddesses, to anything that I thought might help at that moment. We needed help at that moment like nothing else.
    Responsibility for the Whole

    Within Robert Collumns’ office rested over ten to fifteen tanks, all containing someone dear to us.

    They had Grace, Blue, Marcus, Damian, Deus, Eden, Eko, Elu, Aoife, Kenji (As well as the person that we could guess to be his lover in a neighboring tank), Mary, Three children from the orphanage who I had thought to be dead… even Logan. Each were in a tank filled with that pale blue liquid.

    “It’s so good of you two to join me, please sit down.” He offered in a pleasant tone and with a smug smile on his face. As directed, we both sat, on a small couch across from a massive desk that he leaned against.

    “It’s nice to see you, Kat, what has it been, ten years since we last talked?” He asked of my friend, who only replied by narrowing her eyes and setting her jaw at an angle. “How’s that little baby bump doing- oh wait, I already know the answer to that question, now don’t I?” He added, to which Katarzyna clenched her fists-her knuckles were bone white.

    “Don’t worry about that one, I keep the little one safe right here.” The man smiled slyly as he suddenly produced a smaller tank from under his desk.

    There, nestled against some kind of cushion, was Katarzyna’s child- barely half the size of a regular infant- not too surprising though, since they had removed it from her far before her due date. It lay in that liquid like everyone else while Katarzyna and I sat there in front of Robert- Katarzyna looked like she was ready to murder him.

    “Now, why don’t we make a trade? All the rest of your little friends, for an innocent who’s never even opened its little eyes?” He inquired, and I sat there with my mouth gaping, finding it unbelievable that this monster was asking this of us.

    I looked to Katarzyna, only to watch as a rush of emotions crossed over her face before she stood up and nodded.

    “Fine… Just give me my baby.” She hissed, only to be stopped by Robert handing her the container, which she immediately took into her arms- all of her will to fight was gone, overridden by her need to protect her child. She cooed and cradled that tank, while I sat there and looked up at the man to see him with that smile again.

    “Pick one- just one- and I’ll free them, free of charge.” He offered, and I boiled at that.

    I looked at those tanks, seeing the children and seeing the friends and allies that I had known for such a short amount of time: Deus, who, if left there, would surely face his death; Blue and Marcus who were probably doomed as well due to their stance against Collumns; the children, all of who were innocent and were undeserving of being dragged into this situation; Kenji, whose only crime was placating this psychotic monster to try and make sure that the life of his lover would not be threatened; His lover, who had become disabled by what they had been forced to make, and then used as a tool to get Kenji to work; The girls and Damian who only wanted freedom- aside from Aoife, who merely wanted attention from Collumns; Logan, who I didn’t understand after all this time, who I still cared about in some way.

    To choose just one was impossible.

    “I do encourage you to hurry on your choice, since in about forty seconds all but the tank of your choosing will be flooded with the silver water. Not too much, just enough to loose their humanity and make them malleable to my words.” He explained with a wicked grin, forcing me to a choice that I hoped was wise.

    “Marcus.” I stated the name loudly- as if it were a command. In response, within his tank, the man opened his eyes and looked straight at me. His eyes were still that silver color- not that stormy grey that I had seen on his clone, and I thanked Deus’ god for a moment.

    “I’ll free anyone but him, choose again.” Robert explained, all jovial tones were lost and I stood there, lost in the choice I had to make again.

    “Thirty-nine… Forty; Make a choice quickly, Hope, while they still have minds to think with.” He cackled as I watched all of the tanks start to cloud with that shimmering water. Marcus struggled within his, beating at the glass walls while I stood there, transfixed and unable to make a move.

    “Hope, hurry up!” Katarzyna shouted, panicked while clinging to the container holding her child.

    “Blue!” I shouted out, only for Collumns to shake his head again.

    But you said that- you said that… Blue or Marcus! Let one of them go!” I fired off, before I rushed to the tanks, trying to find some kind of door on Marcus’ tank, since he was awake. I searched for any seam in the glass, any kind of opening while I watched him struggle, beating and kicking against the prison he was being poisoned in.

    “Fine.” Collumns spat with disdain as he finally keyed into some kind of pad on his desk- Marcus’ tank opened, the liquid rushing out, leaving him collapsed at the bottom, gasping for air.

    That didn’t stop him from getting to his feet and attacking the tube that Blue was caged in, giving it all he had to try and free his friend.

    To Collumns’ dismay, the container’s door sprung open as well as Blue fell into Marcus’ arms. I stepped in to help, taking Blue from Marcus and laying him onto the ground while Marcus worked at freeing Deus, and I worked at freeing one of the children.

    “Stop that, or I’ll do that same to that baby!” Collumns suddenly shouted out in blistering anger and desperation, his hands clutched at that pad, showing it to us with trembling hands. Was he bluffing or was he telling the truth? Could we risk the chance? Katarzyna answered this question for me by one move.

    With one smooth movement, she reached forward, behind me so quickly that I barely felt it, and pulled out my pistol from the waistline of my pants and then cocked the hammer back and took aim at Robert Collumns.

    The whole action only took a second or two, and by the time I looked back at her to see what she was doing, she was already talking.

    “If anything happens to my baby, I will kill you right now. I refuse to go along with your damned insanity anymore!” She cried out, carrying that container with one arm while holding that pistol of mine in the other. Her hand didn’t even tremble as she edged her finger onto the trigger, her eyes narrowing.

    It was amazing to see that man suddenly put down that pad and hold up his hands above his hands.

    This could only mean that he was the real deal- the clone hadn’t fought back when I had killed him- and Katarzyna was completely aware of this and used it to her advantage.

    “Shut off the flow of the silver water.” She commanded, stepping closer and passing me the container holding her child as she pressed the gun to her brother’s temple. When he paused, she pressed against him with the gun, shouting, “Now!” She kept her gun on him as he keyed a code into the pad, and the flow stopped. By this point, Marcus had opened Deus’ container and Grace’s as well.

    “Open the rest of the containers and we’ll leave you alone.” She stated the words in a savage hiss, answered by her brother following her orders without question.

    I worked with Marcus to retrieve each person and lay them out. We worked on waking all of them up- Blue was the first to rise, followed by Deus and Grace. Soon after that, we were all on our feet. Though, we hadn’t thought to remember that one person in the group of tanks perhaps shouldn’t have been released.

    Aoife noticed the event going on that threatened Robert’s life and rushed in to try and help him, only to find no mercy in her mother.

    I watched as Katarzyna squeezed the trigger off while looking her daughter straight in the eyes with no remorse to be seen. Aoife sprawled back on the floor, clawing at a wound in her chest, sputtering for Collumns to help her.

    Katarzyna was silent as she continued to hold her brother at gunpoint, watching him as he twitched and looked at Aoife. For a moment, I was surprised and thought that perhaps he actually did care about the twisted little monster he had created.

    Then I heard what the man was mumbling and found it to be truer to his nature.

    “Don’t you die! You’re a priceless experiment; I have too many tests that I haven’t yet run on you, if you die now, I’ll have to start over completely from scratch!” Collumns snarled angrily while Aoife cried and whimpered. My friend, however, still showed no trace of any emotion.

    Then, without warning, Katarzyna moved the pistol back towards Aoife, squeezing off one more round before snapping it back to Collumns.

    Aoife died within the moment, perhaps it was a blessing, seeing as all her life was filled with misguided emotions and pain, and it was all the girl would have had to look forward to if she was allowed to go back to Collumns.

    “Marcus, pick up Aoife’s body- we’re taking it with us.” Katarzyna suddenly spoke, her voice was cold as she kept her eyes pinned to her brother. Her gun was still pressed to his temple, though her hand had started to shake. He moved to speak, though she suddenly drew her hand back and cracked the butt of it against the side of his head, watching as he crumpled to the floor.

    “We’re leaving.” She muttered softly as she started to walk away, taking the container from me and then handed back my pistol. I stood there, watching as everyone started to move. I looked back towards Collumns then followed after the rest of them as they walked out of the castle.

    I don’t know why it bothered me, what she had done. We got our allies back, we were safe- we essentially won. But something about this event put a bad taste in my mouth and I couldn’t figure out why.

    I tried to ignore it.

    We had a bit of a celebration at the tavern, which had given us the invitation to stay for a night- free of charge.

    The next morning, we split into two groups. The children and the Katarzyna, along with the experiments stayed at the tavern while the rest of us made our way to my orphanage to try and build something from the indiscernible rubble. We worked quickly and quietly. If we didn’t have enough supplies, someone was sent to get what we needed.

    When all was said and done, all we had was a slightly bigger shack than we did last time- but it was better than nothing, for now.

    We slept there for the night then worked for two or three more days, trying to make it bigger and sturdier.

    After that, people finally started to talk, like some kind of restraint had been lifted. Deus was confused about all that happened and we were still trying to explain all that had happened.

    Grace was a little distant, though she was still my little girl.

    The trouble was Logan- he worked alongside us, though he still seemed so cold. Nothing had changed, and I hadn’t expected it to. Perhaps I was just surprised that he was really alive, and perhaps I still hadn’t moved on, but I asked for him to take a walk with me one night- nothing heavy, just a friendly talk, if we were still capable of that.

    He surprised me that night.

    Gone without any Notice

    “I thought you died, you know.” I stated quietly as I walked on Logan’s right side, my hands buried in my pockets while I looked anywhere but at him. He, on the other hand, walked along, looking forward. He glanced at me once, but didn’t respond. “What happened in there? What’s happened between us?” I asked- my voice was still hushed.

    That made him stop- I turned to face him only to find him gazing at the ground with a determined look on his face.

    “Logan?” I murmured his name, trying to get him to look at me.

    “There is no us.” He stated in a tone that made me feel as though I had to change the subject right then. I should have known that was coming, but still, everyone has their weakness, and I was coming to terms with the fact that my biggest weakness was probably Logan. I pretended to scratch at the side of my nose while discretely wiping away tears that wouldn’t have a chance to fall.

    It’s childish to cry over spilt milk.

    “I didn’t mean it romantically and you know it.” I held in, being stubborn. I didn’t want to change the subject. I didn’t want to walk away. I had things that I wanted to say, and dammit, I’ll say them if want to. I toed a piece of concrete around while I waited for a response, and when I didn’t get one, I looked up at Logan again with a sheepish smile and then unleashed the torrent of questions. I couldn’t help it.

    I was only human… Errr… I tried to remain as human as possible.

    “Why did we drift apart…. Why did you rescue me? Why did you take me away from Robert Collumns’ place back to my orphanage? Why did you hold me at gunpoint and then hit me like that? Why are you here? Why…. Why don’t I understand any of this?” I reeled off the questions, and with every one, I saw his irritation grow. I knew I was asking too many in one sitting, but it just came out. I didn’t expect him to answer.

    He surprised me.

    “We drifted apart because we weren’t good for each other; I rescued you all those times because it was the right thing to do; I took you back to the orphanage because I was sick of watching those two girls suffer through those tests; I held you at gunpoint and hit you because I was pissed-off, because I had taken you back to the orphanage, Robert Collumns would have probably thought that I was on your side; I’m here because you need help rebuilding your orphanage; You don’t understand any of this because we live two different lives.” He answered each question simply, like he was merely rambling off simple answers to a test. With his last answer, he smiled, not a sign of happiness, or his usual cocky smirk- no, it was a grim smile.

    “Can’t we be friends?” I asked quietly, looking back at the piece of concrete that I was gently kicking around.

    “After your orphanage is rebuilt, I’m leaving.” His voice was cold, and I bit my lower lip for a while, standing there in silence while I tried to think of something else to say. After a moment or two, Logan turned and started to walk back. Pressed with the situation, and the thought that this might be the last moment to talk alone, I blurted out what was on my mind.

    “Don’t go back to Collumns. Please.” I looked at him pleadingly as I walked over to him, trying to catch up to him- but he wasn’t stopping or slowing down for me. He didn’t respond, or look at me as he walked. I chewed on my lip for a moment more before I stopped.

    I watched him walk on without me while I stood there. He didn’t look back, and I didn’t know what to do.

    “Don’t go back to him, you fucking asshole!” I shouted at him as he got further and further away- and still, no response to what I said. All I could think of was the possibility of having to fight him eventually if he sided with Collumns. I couldn’t bare the thought of believing him to be dead again.

    He didn’t care. He didn’t care what I thought or what I wanted from him- He answered my questions to shut me up, and with that done, there was no reason for us to talk anymore.

    At that moment, I think I cried for the first time about what had happened between us. I cried because I was afraid I was the reason why we didn’t work, and I cried because I was afraid of never talking to him again. The idea of that scared me, and it suddenly became so apparent how much I had fixed myself to him when I had been with him.

    I cried more because of how unfair life was, but that was something I did on a daily basis.

    That phrase, “real men don’t cry”? That’s bullshit. I watched Marcus cry when he saw his child in that tube, partly out of the situation of their unborn child being kept in that container, partly out of joy. I watched Deus cry at night when he missed his family. I’ve seen Collumns cry when he talked about how great he thought Prophet City would be one day, I’ve seen men of all ages cry with no regard for that stupid saying. Hell, when we got far enough away from Collumns’ place, we all had a nice happy reunion, everyone getting all teary-eyed and such.

    Except for Logan, but he doesn’t count. I’ve never seen that man cry, it’s like he really believes that it’s weak to let people see you cry. He just bottles it all up- he doesn’t get upset, he just gets angry.

    I think his brain is broken. That’s got to be it- he can’t cry.


    While I’m on the subject- I’m never trusting another man. Nope, I got everything I need, I’ve got a family of friends and children to take care of. I’ve got a war to fight and things to do. There’s no possible time for romance- I don’t need it- Logan’s not going to have me whimpering for his attention anymore.

    I took my time walking back to the orphanage, kicking at stones and pieces of rubble, taking my irritation out on them.

    Stupid Logan- I could have left you in that container, or even put you back in it. I was nice and I took you away from that man… and you’re probably going straight back to him.

    When I got back to the orphanage, I was greeted by a puzzling sight- all of the guys were talking to each other, looking a little confused.

    Logan wasn’t there.

    I understood and merely walked past them with my head held high.

    Nothing happened when Logan and I took that walk- nope, not at all. I’m not about to cry or anything, and I don’t care that Logan’s probably going straight back to Collumns, because that would be stupid. Why would I care about someone like him? He’s a complete jerk, and doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. He covers it up by saying that he tries to do the right thing, but it’s a useless move.

    I worked on rebuilding the orphanage all day and all night for the next three days while the rest would take breaks to plan for their next move against Robert Collumns.

    Katarzyna was still out of commission, having to make sure of her baby’s safety, Marcus wanted to help, though Katarzyna was against it, and so was the majority of our group. Blue was rallying support from more citizens- the man could really lead, though it was Marcus who actually would lead them to Blue. That was teamwork in its truest form. Deus wanted to help, though we were keeping him and Damian with Katarzyna and Marcus- we didn’t want to have either of them abducted again. Grace and the children were also in Katarzyna’s care, while Kenji and his lover, Akira, had agreed to join in on this war.

    I had caught up with Mary a few times, though she had left to go her own way shortly after we left Collumns’ castle. I was still so confused that Collumns had her in one of those containers, but I was glad to see her alive.

    All of our little goddesses were eager to help, and it was sweet, but we couldn’t include them on the regular battles. We were saving them as last resorts- besides, I was sure that with the amount of people that we now had supporting us, we were safe. Marcus was constantly training each of our supporters on how to fight, and we were making progress like never before.

    Finally, one night, as I sat outside, sipping at some celebratory wine because so-and-so’s wife had a child. I guess now and days, people were learning to celebrate their own child’s birth again. It had grown into be something that was mundane, just part of life, and over the years it had lost its importance.

    I looked up at the dark and cloudy sky and thought about the past, about the children I had lost, and the situation I now found myself in. I thought about my childhood and I remembered the innocence. I remembered friends and family- finally able to accept my past and let it go. It was peaceful.

    That’s when Logan showed up again.

    Dressed in that uniform, holding his helmet under his arm, he looked up at me in a way I couldn’t describe.

    “Do you want to come in? There’s a bit of a party going on and….” I spoke, a little overly excited at first, then slowed to a stop when I watched him pull out a note. He wasn’t here for me, he wasn’t here on his own. He was here to deliver a message. I should have known that.


    I reached out for the letter and he came closer to hand it over, his eyes were averted, and I wondered why, though I figured that the answers would come from this letter. I leaned against the wall of the orphanage as I read it then looked up at Logan, tears unabashedly running down my cheeks. I understood.

    I finally understood.

    I dropped the note and the wine glass to wipe the tears from my cheeks and shook my head, looking at Logan, feeling betrayed and then raced back into the orphanage, weaseling past everyone I could, trying to hide how I was feeling. I managed to get into the bedroom, and thankfully, for once, it was empty. I wrapped myself up in a blanket and cried.

    I couldn’t fight now. I couldn’t fight against Collumns now, when he had this kind of leverage on me. It was cruel and brilliant and I should have seen it coming. I should have known!

    I don’t know how long I was alone in that room, but eventually, someone came in.

    I couldn’t see by that point, everything was blurred by the tears. I felt arms around me and I clung to whoever it was, needing comfort and support.

    I smelled leather and cigarette smoke.

    It only made me cry more and I beat a fist weakly against his chest, fighting against the sobs that were tearing out of me. I called him names and whimpered and yelled at him. I said it was his fault while I also blamed myself. Mostly, I just asked “Why” over and over again while he held me.

    I lost track of time, and far after I had gone hoarse from crying, Marcus came in.

    I saw the look in his eyes, he knew.

    “We should have been more careful.” He stated quietly, stepping closer. Regret and sorrow filled his voice and all I could do was fight back the sobs. Logan didn’t move to leave, and I was thankful for it. I continued to cling to Logan as he stroked my hair, trying to comfort me.

    He didn’t care, and I didn’t misunderstand. This didn’t mean anything other than that he knew I needed someone there.

    “Who would have seen it coming?” Logan finally spoke, his voice bitter.

    “Why would you care?” I croaked out venomously as I could with a hoarse throat. I scurried away from him and to Marcus, lapsing back into sobs and heaving breaths. My lungs burned for air, but I was too busy crying. It was the final straw. I couldn’t find the will to stop crying.

    “Leave, now. You can’t stay here.” I heard Marcus say, his voice full of rage.

    I heard footsteps retreating, and I cried more.

    I cried and I cried until I finally fell asleep from exhaustion, by that time, the party had ended and everyone knew about the news that Logan had delivered. It turned into a discussion that lasted for hours, arguing over what they could do.

    How could we possibly win this war now with news like this?

    The note was eventually burned.

    It became hard to eat… hard to drink… hard to live in those following hours.

    Every time I closed my eyes, I could read that note. I could still see it in my mind,

    Dear Hope,

    What I’m about to tell you, you’re not going to want to hear, but you need to know this.

    Robert Collumns has become immortal- and that’s not even the reason for me writing this note to you.

    There’s no way that anyone can kill him anymore.

    If you wanted to kill him, you’d have to kill yourself and anyone who has ever been in contact with silver water, he exists now, because we exist.

    He doesn’t trust me anymore. After I returned, I was immediately locked away- I don’t know for how long. They’re allowing me to leave for one day- then the next morning, I’ll be killed.

    I can’t run away from it, it’s a timed device in my body.

    Also, at the same time that I die, another timed device will release a store of silver water within your body- too much for you to be able to handle, too much for anyone to handle.

    That’s still not the end of it.

    Damian Eden, Eko, and Elu have been discovered to be too weak. Their bodies are too frail in too many ways, it’s unlikely that they’ll survive more than a year outside of their containers. The more they use their powers, and their abilities, the weaker they’ll become.

    If you use them in this war, it will kill them.

    Invincible has to surrender. Only more people will get killed. Just give up.


    I had five hours left until sunrise.

    Until Logan was killed and until that store of silver water was released in my body.

    They tried searching for where Collumns had hidden the water, but they had no luck.

    I did what Logan said: I gave up.

    The Last Rainy Morning

    “What else can we do?” Marcus questioned while I shrugged and asked if Logan was still standing outside of the orphanage.

    He was.

    It wasn’t that he liked me or anyone here more than anyone else he knew. It was that he couldn’t go anywhere else.

    I guess he felt that it was comfortable enough to die here.

    “There’s got to be a way to stop this.” Marcus stated, though Kenji shook his head. We were all gathered in one of the back rooms of the orphanage, the bedroom. “We” being Akira, Blue, Deus, Damian, Eden, Eko, Elu, Katarzyna, Kenji, and Marcus, who were all just as puzzled as I was that Logan gave me this note.

    We had tried to figure out if it was a bluff or a lie, but everything was inconclusive. Plus, Logan looked pretty out of it.

    We already knew for certain that Damian was extremely frail, though to hear that the same could be expected of the girls was shocking. All of them, though, seemed fine at the moment, with no noticeable problems. Regardless of that, though, we tried to see if we could find any problems with them.

    That was inconclusive as well.

    We didn’t know if Logan was telling the truth about Robert Collumns. That scared us.

    The thought of that man being immortal scared all of us.

    I looked at my allies and finally decided that there was no more time to loose. If I was going to become something inhuman at sunrise, and if Logan was to die at the same time, I’d damn well stop wasting my time. I didn’t want to just disappear from my children’s lives, I wanted to be able to say goodbye first. So I had everyone else leave and I collected up the children and lead them all to their beds.

    It was long past their bed time anyways.

    I tucked them all in and kissed each of their foreheads before I started. I wanted to tell them what was going on, but I didn’t know how to do so. So, I tried to tell them in the form of a bedtime story. I struggled to find the words to say at first, but then I found inspiration in Grace’s curious eyes.

    “There once was a princess,” I started off, a slight smile on my tired lips. “She was born in the middle of a very big war… Her father and mother, the king and queen of the land, were afraid that the war could lead to the end of their reign- they were afraid that the castle walls might be breached and that their entire family would be killed- So they entrusted one of their knights with the young princess.” I spoke, feeling the weight of four pairs of eyes on me.

    “What was the princess’s name?” One of the children asked, sitting up in his bed.
    “Forget the princess- what was the knight’s name?” Another inquired.

    “Let’s see… the princess’s name… was… Anne...” I thought to myself for a moment before continuing. “The knight… the knight’s name was Clifford.” I looked to them and they seemed to have no qualms with my choices in names, so I continued. “So, off Clifford went with Anne.” I started, only to be interrupted again.

    “Did Clifford like Anne?” One of the girls asked.
    “Where did they go?” Another pondered.

    “Yes…. Clifford liked Anne... but he was her guardian- her knight. She was just a little child… They wandered into the dark woods behind her family’s castle.” I explained. “They wandered through miles and miles, trying to evade the war that had hit her family’s castle... And finally they came along a portal… Clifford, hearing the enemy approaching, guided young Anne to the portal, but stayed behind to defend her exit.” I was interrupted for a third time, but I enjoyed this.

    “Where did the portal go?”
    “Did Clifford follow Anne after he defended the portal?”
    “Did Clifford have to use his sword?”

    “The portal… transported Anne into a hellish realm, and all alone, she was lost and frightened…. Clifford followed Anne, but was wounded badly, so he couldn’t travel far from the portal.” I started, seeing the way the story affected the children. They didn’t like how this story was turning out- but it wasn’t meant to be a story they’d like.

    “Clifford found Anne, though, right?”
    “Did they find their way home eventually?”

    “No… I’m sorry, but this story doesn’t have a happy ending… Clifford died of his wounds… and Anne managed to find her way back to the portal years later, but found that her home had been taken over… all of her family was gone… she had nothing to come home to…” I explained, a grim look on my face.

    “She was forced to become a commoner in her own kingdom, unable to tell people who she really was, and hoped, one day, that some one strong enough would come along and defeat the tyranny that now held her kingdom captive… The end.” I stopped, finding the children looking at me, confused.

    What was I supposed to tell them?

    How could I possibly explain this?

    “Look… I’m going to have to leave tomorrow… I might not be coming back… I know Deus and my friends will take care of you guys… be good for them, all right?” I stumbled through it, hoping that it was a good start. I found the children, especially Grace, looking up at me, hurt.

    “Did we do something wrong?” Grace asked finally, and I walked over to her bed and crouched down, looking at her straight in the eye as I stroked her cheek.

    “This isn’t your fault… There’s just… something I need to do.” I tried to smile, but it came out all wrong, and I could feel the tears welling up inside of me again. I didn’t want to have to leave, but I didn’t want to stay here if I became something inhuman. I didn’t want to stay here if I changed… I didn’t know what I might become, and it scared me.

    “I love you all very dearly… and I wish… that I could see you all find your way home… but… I don’t think I’ll be able to be here.” I explained and took a breath, getting up to say good night to each of them before I left the room.

    I closed the door behind me and started to cry again.

    Walking quickly, stumbling through doorways and past everyone else, I made it through the door and found myself outside, facing Logan.

    The clouds were starting to lighten-up.

    Morning would come soon.

    He would die, and I’d… change.

    “How did it get to this point, Logan?” I asked finally, looking up at him. The man I saw was not the person I was used to. He didn’t seem like he was trying to cover up his emotion in that moment, but at the same time, I saw a kind of acceptance in his eyes. I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t question him.

    “It started as a dream… he just wanted to make this place better.” He answered quietly.

    “No… this is obviously the result of someone who’s delusional and out of his fucking mind.” I corrected, setting my jaw at an angle as I stood there with him. It felt natural, just talking to him.

    “I won’t argue with that.” He acknowledged.

    For a moment, it got silent, and we watched as daybreak grew closer and closer.

    “I’m scared.” I admitted after a while.

    He didn’t say anything, and we went back to silence as it started to rain. It was cold, and it stung against my skin as I stood there, but I didn’t want to go inside. The wind gently blew through the dead grass in front of the orphanage and through the strands of my dark hair.

    “My time’s almost up.” He stated simply, and I looked over at him, to find him gazing up at the sky with an indescribable look on his face.

    His eyes looked so dark in that moment, and then they turned towards me.

    For a single moment, I could have sworn that I saw a single ray of bright sunlight peek through the heavy black clouds behind him. Like some grand gesture, just for him.

    In the next moment, I found myself watching the light leave Logan’s eyes and stood there, frozen as he fell, collapsing to the ground, convulsing.

    In one drawn-out moment, his body twisted and stretched in ways that it shouldn’t.

    In the next moment, a single stream of bright red blood drained from the side of his mouth.

    For the second time, I watched him die, and it wasn’t any easier this time, though I didn’t have much time to mourn his death. I felt something inside of me, a pain, spreading throughout my system that grew worse with every moment. Each second felt like an eternity in this pain. I wrenched my eyes shut and tried to deal with it as best I could.

    I felt something, a presence, in my mind.

    I was tired, and weak… I couldn’t hold it off or push it away.

    It felt like I was being ripped apart, physically and mentally. At some point, I heard voices around me, I heard my name being called, but I couldn’t remember how to speak. I couldn’t hold out anymore. The weight of this presence was overpowering, I couldn’t possibly fight against it anymore.

    I gave in.

    As I let go, I felt myself being absorbed into this mass. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear or feel anything, it was just pure darkness.

    I felt like I was disappearing, piece by piece, being taken apart to become something else.

    I saw glimpses of my life, entangled with indiscernible images from histories that I didn’t recognize.

    Perhaps this presence, which was the silver water, showed that it wasn’t just a liquid, or a chemical, but a being in itself.

    A thinking, living being that had thoughts and feelings, and even memories.

    I died and was reborn, as what, I don’t know.
    Wandering Through the Shadows

    I found myself in the midst of some kind of conversation. I couldn’t see anything- it was pitch black around me.

    Not with anyone there, but… it was like how you would talk to an inanimate object- like how a gardener might talk to his plants.

    The kind of conversation where you’re sure that there won’t be a response, but you’re eerily certain that it counts to talk to them.

    “Is anyone there?” I asked, and I felt a kind of vibration around me in response to my voice. I waited a few moments and then suddenly a rush of images swirled around in my mind. I saw the creation of this liquid. I suddenly knew how it came to be. I saw it, like I had experienced it myself.

    Robert Collumns had accidentally created a huge amount of it while searching for a way to become immortal. He had no idea at that time that it was sentient.

    I saw Robert Collumns through this being’s eyes.

    I saw a young man, not yet as embroiled in the sin and madness that would come through the years.

    I saw someone searching for a way to lengthen his own life, and saw failure with the silver water, though; he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it- he wanted to find a use for it.

    “Why are you showing me this? What happened to me?” I questioned and felt that familiar vibration around me as it reacted. I saw its first contact with human life, Robert Collumns led in a young woman and drew in a large amount of the silver water and injected it into her.

    For a few moments, the viewpoint changed- I was seeing through the woman’s eyes.

    I switched from the viewpoints and suddenly I realized something- this liquid knew that it was almost a kind of poison to the human body. The chemicals that created it, searched out the flesh of the human it was injected into and fought against it, seeing it as a kind of attack on itself.

    It didn’t want to be absorbed into the human’s system, so it absorbed it instead.

    The only way to successfully create coexistence was to gently take it drop by drop.

    I suddenly knew what would happen to me. My physical body had already died, but within this water, I was still somehow maintaining my individuality. It was ok, I was still ok, I just needed to get back in control of my body for a few moments before I lost my hold on it. I needed to communicate a message to my friends. I knew how to fix this.

    My mouth- I had to move my mouth, figure out how to talk.

    I figured out how to do it after what felt like an eternity, and even though I couldn’t see, I tried to speak, hoping that someone was there.

    “Please, I need water…” I managed to say.

    Then I felt that control slipping away again, all I knew was that if I got some actual water in my system, it could help balance my system and save my body from the poison that it was receiving from the silver water.

    In the meantime, I found myself learning from this shapeless being that had memories and thoughts and feelings all of its own.

    Eventually I found myself in a bed, in my body, able to see and feel.

    I found a glass of water in my hand, and I drank out of it, still thirsty.

    In a bed next to me, I saw Logan’s corpse, still just as dead as I remembered it, though it looked like they had tried to save him. I’m sure the man would be pleased to know that they at least gave enough of a shit about him to try and save him.

    I knew how to fix it.

    Sitting on the edge of Logan’s bed, I looked him over, trying to find any evidence to lead me to find where the device had been in his body. What I found was a darkening bruise, forming under his left shoulder blade, the bruise wrapped around that area, went under his left pectoral and pooled on his front as well.

    I knew what I had to do, but I cringed at the thought of it.

    “I’m sorry, Logan… I just hope you can’t feel this, dead as you are.” I muttered quietly, choking up a little as I looked around and then crawled from the bed and rose to my feet, traveling to the kitchen- empty of any life.

    I grabbed one of the thin, small knives from the drawer and padded my way back to the bedroom, dropping to my knees as I looked at the corpse that I was going to desecrate for the second time. I shook as I raised the blade above my head, holding it with both hands, the point aimed straight for where Logan’s heart would be.

    My body trembled for a moment more then stopped as I finally yelled out in a primal rage, bringing my hands down, propelling the blade into his chest.

    Dark, sludge-like blood welled up around the blade and poured out of the wound I created. If the man had really been dead, that shouldn’t have happened… I think. I think that’s how it went, as far as dead bodies go, and this wasn’t following that tread. Logan, therefore, couldn’t be dead, just… stopped.

    I trembled more, finding myself crying from the tension.

    You’d think after this many times, horrific violence inflicted on Logan wouldn’t scare me as it did. Even though I did it, and I knew I wasn’t doing it to hurt him, it still put a bad taste in my mouth.

    I grabbed the knife with a shaking hand and after a few seconds to steel myself in my resolve, I wrenched it free of Logan’s chest. Without a second to loose, I then slit my wrist, held it over his wound for only a moment, enough time for little more than a teaspoon of my blood to drip into the gash.

    Rushing, I then grabbed the glass of water and pulled Logan’s head into my lap, gently opened his mouth and poured a bit in, then closed his mouth and rubbed his throat, breathing a sigh of relief when I felt his throat react, he swallowed.

    I repeated the act a few times, then immediately raced off as fast as I could to go fetch bandages.

    All right, that’s now two times that I’ve saved Logan’s ass, and I’d hope at this point that the man would be grateful, but within the first moments that he was able to speak, I regretted my action.

    “Why the hell did you waste your time saving me?” Was the first thing that the man spat at me as I took a needle and thread and proceeded to sew him up, ignoring his comment for the moment, focusing on making sure that I closed up the wound before patching him up.

    With that done, I looked up at the man, only to find a glare. A look that was so filled with disdain, aimed at me.

    “I don’t know! I honestly don’t even remember why I thought it was a good idea to help you!” I shouted, throwing the rest of the bandages at him. The roll of gauze smacked him under the left eye before hitting the ground and unraveling, while the patches merely wavered and floated to the ground.

    The knife was right next to me and I was having serious second thoughts about letting this man live again.

    We sat there in silence for a moment, not moving a muscle. Then the bedroom door was opened and we found Marcus smiling down on us. I stayed where I was for second longer, then got up and went to him, wrapping my arms around him, hugging him before going out the room. In the kitchen, I found a nice surprise.

    We had two new allies.

    “This is Calista, and Mercer, they’ve come a long way to find us.” Marcus informed me as I faced the new comers. Obviously he trusted them, and Katarzyna seemed to be close to them as well, she was in a very involved conversation with the woman.

    I tried to ignore the sound of footsteps behind me as Logan came into the room, and then walked through the kitchen, and through the hallways, making my way for the front door.

    I sat on the porch, watching the yellowed grass blow in the wind, and then looked up at the sky, at the dark clouds that looked heavy with rain

    I needed to clear my mind, and I needed to have some space from Logan- with all he had said, I needed some space.

    “You ok?” The question came from the shadow of the doorway, from the mouth of a smirking priest.

    “Yeah, I’m fine... I just need a second... I’m just a little tired.” I offered, finding the man moving to sit next to me. Deus was silent, and thankfully understood that I needed a few moments of silence. I looked back up at the sky, trying to remember what real sunlight felt like.

    I had a few hazy memories from when I was young, and felt warmed just by being in that light.

    Now it was always gray clouds, covering every inch of the sky.

    I couldn’t even remember what the moon looked like.

    “So, how does it feel to cheat death?” He asked, in a smirking tone. I didn’t know what was making the priest grin like he was, though I was glad that he was happy. I couldn’t really feel happy aside from that at the moment. I was too focused on the situation at hand.

    “It feels like anything else… I don’t know how to explain it… it doesn’t feel like anything, Deus.” I explained quietly, looking up at the sky again before facing him.

    “The girls found something, by the way, so Marcus and Blue are going to go check it out tomorrow.” Deus explained as he passed a glass my way, filled with more water. I drank it silently as I thought about what he said. He looked over at me and continued, “They found out from Damian that Collumns is creating more Gods and Goddesses. Damian said that he had seen a nursery filled with infants going through the same process that they all went through. A room full of them.” Deus added, looking a little down, and I understood why.

    Robert Collumns had just built the war back up, and bolstered his forces. He didn’t care if what he did killed the children he created, he didn’t care about his men. He just wanted to win, he wanted to do what he wanted.

    If we wanted to win this war, it was clear that we’d have to start being just as ruthless as he was.

    Cradle and All

    “We can’t leave them there- with the rate that Robert Collumns is moving at, he’ll have them maturing fast enough that they’ll be fully grown by tomorrow. We can’t have those odds against us.” Katarzyna argued, the look in her eye was enough to remind me that I was not going to enter into this discussion.

    “What can we do? We can’t risk loosing more of our people right now, we can’t fight.” Marcus explained, taking the opposing side against Katarzyna, which was rare in most cases.

    “We’ll get slaughtered if we let them be and don’t act now.” She snapped, turning to face Marcus head on.

    “Calm down, both of you, we still have some time to make a choice- now, girls, how long do we have before these children are fully matured?” Blue asked as he turned to face Elu, along with Eden and Eko. They faced each other, seeming to debate the information then Elu turned back to Blue, explaining that we had two days to work with.

    “That’s enough time to come up with a decent plan before rushing into anything.” Deus commented. He sat as far as he could away from the group, still a little wary of everyone. He sat there, with Grace sitting in his lap, sleeping. Blue seemed to nod in agreement, though Katarzyna didn’t seem pleased with what had been said.

    “We have to act now.” She repeated then stalked off, Marcus following her.

    The rest of us remained where we were, though it was worrisome that we were quarrelling over what we were going to do. Within seconds, though, it was obvious that the situation was escalating, as Katarzyna was seen in the hallway, with all of her little weapons and ready to go. Marcus was following her, telling her to at least wait for the rest of us.

    She just went ahead and left.

    Marcus, of course, was quick to suit up and follow behind her.

    I didn’t know what to do, though I got myself ready and followed after them, alongside Blue and some of our supporters. Following in their tracks, we quickly caught up to Marcus, who, by then, had lost Katarzyna. She had shaken him off quickly after they had gotten into the city.

    Elu had told us that the lab where they were growing these children was not in Robert Collumns’ building, but in another area, that was able to be accessed by a secret tunnel in the third ring of the city.

    Katarzyna didn’t know that, though, so she was probably heading straight for his place, not knowing that her objective was elsewhere.

    Though, there was no trace of her at Robert Collumns’ place, and it was uncertain where she had gone, if not there.

    Rushing back the way we came, our little group decided to split up to look for her.

    Marcus and I ran down side streets while trying to find a mental connection back to Elu, to make sure that we were heading in the right direction to the secret entrance- hoping that maybe Katarzyna had found it.

    We found a shaky connection, but it was enough to get messages across. Elu replied, telling us that we were heading in the right direction, and then reminded us of which ways to go next- so far, though, she couldn’t sense a connection from Katarzyna within that area.

    Marcus and I followed our directions and found ourselves within a dark and cramped tunnel. Before we went any further, we contacted Blue and told him what we had found, telling him to catch up.

    I didn’t feel a response… in fact, I didn’t even feel the connection.

    Marcus and I continued on, regardless of that, and stalked through the tunnels. The only thing we found was leaking pipes and rusted railing. The tunnels were made of hard stone, some kind of concrete, probably, with the occasional flickering, dim light bulb in a loose setting, swinging from a bare wire.

    My hackles were rising.

    Marcus and I kept walking, the lights above us were either almost burned out, or already dead. At one point, I could barely even see two inches in front of me- at which point, I used my other modes of sight for the first time. Tapping into a kind of night vision, and telling Marcus to do the same, we kept going until we finally ran across a fork in our path.

    For a moment, we paused then came to a decision; Marcus took the right path, while I took the left.

    Keeping in contact, we walked down our separate paths and kept our eyes peeled for any danger. I strained my senses, making sure that I wasn’t being followed.

    That’s when I suddenly heard a rhythmic scraping sound behind me. I stopped and turned to see something racing to just outside of my line of sight. I reached into my pack and dropped a glass vial of blackish liquid, stepping away before I struck up a match and threw it back towards the puddle, racing away, trying to escape away before the liquid did its work.

    The tunnel shook as a loud popping sound occurred, and a shock of flame raced after me, and for a moment, I felt the heat on my back, scalding flame just barely whispering over my clothed skin, burning parts of it away. I didn’t even have time to verbalize the pain as I continued to run back the way I came, still, unbelievably hearing that scraping sound still.

    Nothing should be able to take on a liquid explosive from that close of range and survive.

    Still, I heard it behind me as I kept running, going through my weaponry to try and find my next line of offense.

    At some point, I collided into Marcus, who seemed to have been running just as fast as I was, probably from the same type of enemy. There was no time for words as we both watched for our approaching enemies and searched for appropriate weapons. Marcus chose a small pistol, firing it off, though it seemed like none of his shots connected with the creature. It was as though the damned things were running fast enough to go up the sides of the walls to evade our attacks.

    I pulled out a few more vials, something that Kenji had made recently, and threw it a yard or two away from myself, then ran away, taking Marcus with me, then doubled back when I caught sight of the other creature barreling towards us.

    It was some kind of unnatural monster, with flesh that seemed raw and shiny, like exposed organs. Four sets of eyes sat in the middle of its face in a tall line, set over a protruding maw of exposed teeth. Somewhere in between the gaping jaw of razor sharp teeth, and the pitch-black eyes, there was an orifice, looking like some kind of exposed nasal cavity.

    Its face was long and thin, the eyes and the mouth took up the most space on the face of the creature, though it had long, naked ears, somewhat similar to a rabbit, that were so long that they dragged on the ground, though they were ragged. Their bodies were lanky and sinewy; they seemed to be a strong creature that essentially moved mostly on all-fours.

    The one behind me had seemed to stop, and when I turned to look, I found that I had slowed it down using a gummy and sticky substance that held it in place, though it wouldn’t hold it for long, it would give us time. Grabbing another vial, I threw it towards the other creature.

    Only one of its back legs had stepped into the liquid, and it strained to reach us.

    Marcus and I sprinted away, evading the other creature as it viciously snapped its maw at us.

    The creatures’ front legs seemed slightly longer than their back legs, and their front legs ended in three claws, each toe furthest on the inside was larger than the rest and seemed to be held above the others, while their back legs ended in four toes with slightly smaller claws. They had a long, rudder-like tail, though it seemed as though it was merely made up of bone- in fact, their entire spine and their ribcages were exposed, within full view.

    With a sickening wrenching sound, Marcus and I turned and watched in horror as the creature with only one leg stuck, ripped itself free of the ensnared limb, unbothered by the missing limb as it restarted the chase. We ran all the way back down the path that I had taken while we both searched for a weapon that could actually put this beast down.

    It seemed like we spent an eternity running and trying to find a way to defend ourselves.

    That’s when we came to a dead end.

    When people come to a point in their lives where they’re faced with danger and limited amount of chances to get out of the situation alive, they’ll usually do what they can to survive, which would include sacrificing anything and everything else they can to survive.

    That wasn’t exactly how Marcus and I dealt with the circumstances.

    While he faced the beast, I knocked on the walls, trying to see if it truly was a dead end or if there was some kind of hidden escape route.

    Sadly, I found nothing, and the beast was almost upon us as Marcus tried firing his gun again- with the same result, the beast managed to just barely dodge each round.

    It slowed to a stop right in front of us. Its maw dripped with a dark shining sludge, and its head was angled straight at us. It stood there, as if waiting for something. Then it sat down on its haunches, much like a dog would. Marcus then slowly started to assemble another weapon, one that we both hoped would work.

    The creature sat there, staring straight at us… perhaps, not even looking at us, but, rather, seeing through us. As if we were nothing.

    Marcus finally finished putting together the next weapon, which resembled a gun loosely, though it was a bit larger. He loaded one end with a large pellet-like mass. It was shiny and metallic- probably the whole thing was something that had been crafted by Kenji back at the orphanage.

    Marcus finally aimed the weapon at the creature, and I watched as he pulled the trigger, sending the round at top speeds into the creature, hitting it somewhere in its chest. The projectile was different than a bullet- instead of either getting embedded into the body, or punching right through it, the round seemed to explode on contact with the creature.

    Fragments of the round burst forth, sending a spray of blood and gore in every which direction within a probable radius of about a yard or two- I was surprised at the amount of it that ended up on us.

    I would be lying if I said it wasn’t traumatizing at all.

    The body of the creature lay in front of us, scorched and smoking. The smell of burnt flesh hung in the air. I stood there for a moment, trying to remember how to move. Marcus was on the move by that point and I ran after him. I didn’t want to think about what we had just dealt with, but I had to keep my head straight.

    “What the hell were those things?” I finally asked, walking alongside Marcus as we made our way through the corridors. Marcus was silent for a moment before replying that the creature we saw was most likely something that Robert Collumns had pulled from another world.

    We walked, and then we started to run. No matter which way we turned, there was no sign of the nursery or of Katarzyna.

    I was starting to get worried, though Marcus calmly contacted the girls and told them of the current situation. Thankfully their response was nearly immediate- they told us which way to go, and then informed us that they didn’t sense Katarzyna within our area.

    She wasn’t here.

    So where was she?

    Marcus and I rested in one hallway, trying to figure out our next move. We wanted to destroy the nursery, but we also wanted to find Katarzyna. We had to choose between the two. Surely after breaching the security, Collumns would activate what he had and use it against us if we left the nursery without destroying it. But if we couldn’t catch up to Katarzyna, who was to say that we’d ever find her again?

    Marcus was worried.

    But we had made our choice after a few moments.

    We walked quietly back to the orphanage after we had destroyed every creature we encountered, and after we had slaughtered every child in the nursery.

    Blackest of Hearts

    I sat in front of a small fire that was gently burning outside of the orphanage, watching the flames slowly lick at the air, dancing in the small breezes that would pass through the area. It was dark already again and for the first time in my life, I had lost track of what day it was.

    How many days had gone by since this can of worms had been opened?

    It was harder to think with this constant buzz in my head, a kind of reverberation in my head that wouldn’t stop- a side-effect from the silver water, without a doubt.

    I was left to myself for the most part, time went by, the clouds got lighter and darker, so I suppose that days were passing me by as I sat there and tended to that tiny fire. Deus would bring me food and water every now and then, though he knew better than to talk to me.

    After what had happened while Marcus and I were returning back to the orphanage, there wasn’t much to say.

    I refused to move unless it was necessary, and I didn’t say a word. Deus was the only one who came out to see me, and at this point, he had given up trying to convince me to come back inside. I don’t know when I slept last, though at this point, I don’t even know if I’m really awake. Every once in a while, I wondered if I was even really alive, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d find the answer to that.

    I felt empty and cold, like there was nothing left inside of me that was human.

    I think it died a long time ago, but I finally realized it now.

    I watched the flames or I looked up at the clouds in silence until Marcus joined me, his right arm all bandaged up and kept in a sling, the rest of his body also covered in a patchwork of bandages. He sat down next to me, though I barely gave him a glance and didn’t speak a single word he stayed there for quite some time.

    Silence is more comforting when it is shared with someone else.

    My eyes drifted for a moment, moving over Marcus. I saw he was looking at me as well, and we stared at each other.

    Another eternity passed.

    The fire crackled and burned, the flames danced and the smoke disappeared into the air, though it grew louder when I finally looked away from Marcus to toss another piece of wood into the flames. After that, I rubbed at my face, finally feeling tired for once.

    I just wanted to be able to change what had happened. I wanted to go back in time and find some way to change it all.

    To rewrite history, in its entirety, was something I longed for- something I’d trade anything for.

    Blue was dead.

    The body was within Collumns’ clutches and we couldn’t retrieve it. There was no possible way we could save him at the moment. Marcus and I had both been there, and yet, there had been nothing that we could have done.

    It had all happened so fast.

    After we had destroyed the nursery, Marcus and I had started our journey home.

    I gazed into the fire as I remembered the way that we both felt in that moment- empty, hollow, yet satisfied that we achieved the goal for that situation. We had set out to destroy the nursery of eventual enemies, and we had. I wish we could ignore the obvious truth of the matter.

    We had killed children. There was no way we could really avoid admitting that.

    When we left, we ran into Blue and his followers, only to find them tailed by the same creatures we had encountered in the tunnels.

    Marcus and I had dealt with them as best we could, but we lost three of the followers, and in vain.

    I want to say that we found a way to win in the end.

    We didn’t.

    Blue died, torn apart by one of those beasts, and they dragged his body away… we followed after, trying to find a way to retrieve him, but all attempts failed.

    Only two followers survived were the two that Marcus had introduced to me, Mercer and Calista.

    We didn’t find Katarzyna either.

    We were now missing five people from our force; two of them were important leaders of our force. For the next few days, we had come together and tried to figure out how to progress from this point, yet we were hopelessly uncertain.

    No one knew how to lead this group, and Marcus and I…. Marcus and I weren’t interested in loosing anything else.

    He was the only one taking care of that child now.

    Its mother had been gone for ages, and we had to face the facts that we may never know what had happened to her- perhaps that was for the better in this case.

    It was a girl, Marcus hadn’t figured out a name for her yet.

    I think he was still hoping for Katarzyna to come home and help with the naming process.

    It was sickening to realize just how easily we had given up. How easily we had given in. I was angry with myself about it, but mostly, I just felt like leaving it all behind. I felt like walking away from all of this. I was sick of the battles, sick of the war.

    Sick of loosing and sick of seeing people die.

    That was life here, all it was, was death and misery- false hopes were plastered over everything, but it didn’t cover up the truth for me. This world was a kind of hell.

    I was afraid to see it get any worse than it already was.

    I remained by that fire, tending to it. The smoke was intoxicating after the amount of time that I had spent inhaling it. I’m sure it wasn’t good for me…. But I wasn’t too focused on that thought.

    Deus eventually stopped bringing food or water, Marcus took over that for him.

    It seemed slightly ironic that out of the two of us, Marcus was still able to move around and interact with others. And I had… shut down.

    It didn’t take long for him to heal. People who had come into contact with the silver water healed a little faster than normal people.

    It didn’t do anything to help my mental injuries. I was still stuck in my head, reviewing everything that had happened, trying to figure out what had happened- what had gone wrong.

    I had no idea how much time had passed until Marcus practically dragged me inside one night, and I found a celebration in progress.

    It was the anniversary of the day that Deus showed up on my doorstep.

    It had been two years since that day, and here he was, with a look on his face that only made everything worse for me.

    He looked fine for the most part, perhaps even joyous- but the way he moved, and the look he had on his face when he thought no one could see him… I knew it pained him to know that he had now been trapped here for two years. Two years away from his family, two years away from his old life.

    I tried to put on a brave face and join in on the celebration, but at some point, Deus wandered off, saying how he needed some time to himself.

    I left him be, wandering out again, accompanied by Marcus.

    The night air was cold and I felt my skin reacting, a shiver raced along my body as I moved back towards the little fire that had been dying in my absence.

    “You know, you can’t stay out here forever.” Marcus commented quietly while I grabbed some small twigs and tossed them into the fire, piece by piece- gently feeding it so that it would become stronger and larger.

    “I know.” I stated, listening to the fire crackle and sizzle. It calmed me down a slight and I breathed in the smoke, finding peace in it.

    “Katarzyna will come back, you’ll see… and we’ll find a way to get Blue back.” He stated quietly, giving me the feeling that I wasn’t the only one he was trying to convince. We sat down in front of the fire together, and for a moment, we were silent. His comment hung heavily in the air as both of us tried to find truth or hope in it.

    “I’m sick of all of this.” I muttered quietly, rubbing at my face tiredly.

    “What can we possibly do about it right now? We just have to wait it out. I’m sure something good will come of this… I’m sure of it.” He continued, though his voice was softer- weaker- his face was worn and just as tired as my own- Though he had desperation in his eyes, a drive to search for a shred of hope left to hold on to.

    I envied it.

    “What are you guys doing out here? I thought both of you finally came back in.” I heard someone comment from the doorway, and I didn’t bother to waste time guessing who it might be- that was unimportant. I just wanted to be left alone.

    Besides, it was one of those two new additions. I didn’t really want to talk to either of them. Then, of course, another person joined in, this one was one of the followers, part of the mass, our army, all of which I was rather disconnected from.

    “Elu says that both of you have been in quite a dark mood for all this time, and now you’re back in that slump. Come out of it.” The man stated, and I merely got up and walked, away from the orphanage and everyone, only slowing when I heard Marcus following behind me.

    “He didn’t mean to offend us... he was trying to be helpful.” Marcus offered as he caught up to me, walking along side me.

    “I don’t really care… I don’t care anymore.” I responded back, my voice cracking as I spoke, the emotions leaking through. I was emotionally exhausted from everything that had happened in my life… I felt like I was falling apart.

    I was tired… I just wanted to stop. I wanted a normal life…. I wanted peace…. I wanted to be able to get away from all of this madness.

    I was sick of fighting, and I was sick of even taking care of all of the children. I just wanted to be left alone.

    I didn’t care about them anymore…

    I wasn’t surprised by that revelation; it didn’t bother me. It was only the truth. I couldn’t do anything about it, I only had to adapt and change to fit what I had become. There was no more time for me to kid myself. I couldn’t lie anymore about this life. It wasn’t what I wanted.

    I didn’t want peace- I wanted freedom.

    I wanted freedom to realize who I was, what I wanted and what I am.

    I didn’t want this life anymore, I wanted something else. The fluids that flowed through my veins wasn’t purely blood anymore. I wasn’t just human; I harbored another entity inside of me, one that had as many rights as I did. The wants and needs of this being were simple enough, though I wouldn’t be able to achieve them at the moment.

    I needed distance…

    Marcus followed me as I walked aimlessly around the outskirts of the city, never saying a single word, merely giving me a look every time I glanced at him- a look of curiosity more than anything else. I gave a small smile in return and finally started towards the city, knowing that Marcus would follow me.

    That was alright, he’d understand this. Perhaps he needed this, too.

    We walked around the first ring of the city for a while, though I eventually made my way to the second ring, with Marcus trailing behind me.

    I wasn’t walking anywhere specific; I was trying to listen to what the silver water was telling me. It wasn’t so much a voice, as it was a feeling. I felt like the entity was leading me where it wanted to go.

    Marcus, thankfully, didn’t say a word of protest through the journey, though he eventually caught up with me and walked by my side. The silence was comforting and I thought for a moment that perhaps this world wasn’t so bad.

    Imagine our surprise when we ran into Katarzyna.

    Drifting in Shadowy Waters

    At the same time that Katarzyna appeared in front of us, another perplexing situation was revealing itself back at the orphanage. Eko, who had long since decided to continue to carry the unborn children within her that had been placed inside of her by Robert Collumns. At this time, she was complaining about a mysterious pain in her stomach.

    This was not common for her, she had given birth to many clones and modified humans that Robert Collumns had created, and she had never experienced this kind of pain before.

    One of the followers had some experience with pregnancies and delivering babies, and in the moments following, he tried to figure out the cause of the pains.

    Eko already knew what she was expecting.

    Robert Collumns had imbued her with three fertilized eggs, already predetermined characteristics. Two females, one male, none were clones, though all of them were part of an experiment with silver water. It was unprecedented, and the follower was wondering if it was the root of her pain.

    Back in the city, Katarzyna was telling Marcus and I about what was going on, what she had found out in her time away.

    Robert Collumns had been making many advances in many areas, unnoticed by us- we had become inattentive to his plans and actions since our last scrap with him that resulted in Blue’s death. We were unsure of how to proceed, and I suppose that we had thought that perhaps not acting on anything was an answer.

    Katarzyna revealed a folder that she had stashed in a bag over her arm- within, it held pictures, some were black and white, others were colored; none of them made sense to us until Katarzyna explained what they were. All of the pictures were of a young barely-clothed woman, who looked scared- frightened, really.

    “That’s Aoife.”

    The words I heard, coming from Katarzyna’s lips, didn’t register for a few moments. They couldn’t process. It wasn’t possible.

    We killed her- Katarzyna killed her- In cold blood, with two gunshots.

    And this woman didn’t even look much like her- sure, there was resemblance here and there, but there were no markings, her eyes didn’t have the same neon-green look, they were blue, and her hair was the color of dead grass, a dull blonde.

    Katarzyna told us about how she had watched Robert Collumns transfer all of Aoife’s thoughts and memories into a young woman he had brought in from the city- who had actually come from Deus’ and Kenji’s world. He had then introduced the woman’s body to only a hint of the silver water, though she had escaped before he could do anything else.

    She went into hiding, trying to escape Robert Collumns in his own mansion.

    He eventually found her.

    But that was moments before she disappeared into the gateway between Prophet City and the world called Earth.

    The gate shouldn’t have been functional, Damian nor Deus were there, nor was anyone else who should have been able to power it. Yet, this woman had activated it and successfully reached the other side.

    These pictures, Katarzyna explained, her voice was rushed and rambled, were of her on Earth.

    The pictures had been taken by those who Robert Collumns had manipulated.

    The woman was now being searched for in every corner of Earth, though, they couldn’t seem the find her.

    “That may or may not be because I sent someone into Earth a while back in case of such a situation.” She smirked, as if she was waiting for us to applaud her. In return, all she got were blank stares- it was yet another thing I couldn’t comprehend. How did she manage that? When? Who did she send?

    “Who did you send?” Marcus finally asked the question that I was unable to voice.

    Katarzyna smiled at that moment, and the name she offered up baffled me. It was completely impossible. There was no possible way…

    “I sent Deus.” She spoke, and walked away leaving Marcus and I to gape and stare for a moment before she came back and motioned for us to follow her. I suppose that she had more to tell us, but it was starting to get a little confusing already. How did she send Deus? Marcus and I had witnessed him celebrating his second year of being in this hell hole.

    How could he be in two places at once?

    Katarzyna led us into our usual place, Kalyn’s Tavern, walking us into the back rooms before she continued to explain what was happening. It was a bit much to take in at once, though, there seemed to be no way around it. I listened as she told me about a plan that had been crafted without anyone else’s knowledge.

    “I grabbed Deus and Damian a couple weeks back and sent Deus back into his world with the help of one of his clones, which I then sent back to you guys with Damian. I figured at some point, you’d find out some how, but I suppose that the clone was probably enjoying being treated like a person, instead of a copy… in either way, I sent Deus back, with the command that he should stay within the area he goes into, just in case someone else is sent through. He’ll go home to see his family in a year’s time if nothing happens- but something did happen, so he’s probably in hiding with that girl.” Katarzyna spoke.

    She paused, breathing quietly for a moment while I tried to think about what had taken place without anyone’s knowledge.

    “I believe that both of you probably need a few more moments to think, but while you’re focusing on that, I’ll order us some drinks- how about some absinthe?” She asked quietly.

    The drink that she spoke of was also known on Earth, Deus had talked with me about it a few times when we had talked about various drugs and alcohols one days when we had been first getting to know each other.

    This absinthe, however, was everything that Earth’s wasn’t. It was hallucinogenic, and in large doses, it was lethal, in smaller doses, it was used to take the edge off- plus it was highly addictive.

    I had tasted it once, years ago, and had gotten into some trouble with it. Marcus, however, I knew, had soaked a few years of his life in the substance.

    For our ally to offer us such a drink was nothing less of an insult.

    Regardless of our reactions, and possibly the fact that both Marcus and I were staring at Katarzyna in disbelief over everything that had been said in the most recent chunk of our time together, Katarzyna went ahead and ordered two glasses of absinthe.

    While we waited for the drinks, Katarzyna handed us more pictures.

    “The girl that you see in those pictures is the form that Aoife has taken in her transfer to Earth- when she comes back, she will regain her usual looks- at least that’s what I’ve guessed. I’m not sure why her appearance changed…” Katarzyna started, pulling out even more pictures, some of them with both the girl and Deus with her. Both of them looked to be on-guard and wary.

    There were more pictures, all of Deus and this girl, looking to be on the move.

    “Where are they? What are they doing?” I asked as a waitress came by with two tall glasses.

    Only a small fraction of the glasses were filled with a bright green liquid. Only one finger tall, the amount was miniscule on its own. Along with the two glasses, however, there were two more, shorter glasses, half-filled with water, as well as two odd spoons and two sugar cubes.

    Katarzyna then walked over to the platter while the waitress walked away. She set the odd spoons over the top of each glass. Each spoon was oddly slotted, and over those slots, she placed a sugar cube. Katarzyna then picked up a glass of the water and slowly poured it over one of the sugar cubes.

    The cube slowly melted away through the slots, mixed in with the water as it swirled up the green liquid at the bottom. She did the same with the other glass and then mixed the drinks with the spoons.

    With the rituals completed, the drinks were ready.

    One sip would be just enough to drink without any debilitating side effects.

    Marcus and I lifted up the glasses, surveying our poisons, then tilted the glasses up, preparing to swallow. For a moment, I think I hesitated, but then raised the glass further, the odd taste filling my mouth. I didn’t stop there. I kept drinking, as if possessed by a primal need- fight or flight in the issue of facing the problems before me. I chose to flee in the face of these problems.

    I only saw my own demise in the future if I stayed involved, with any of this.

    Across from me, I saw Marcus mirroring me exactly. The last of the drinks were spilling into our mouths and already, I knew both of us were feeling the effects. In my slowly-blurring vision, I watched as Marcus’ glass fell from his hand, falling through space until it finally collided with the top of the table- a spray of glass fragments flew in every which direction.

    The sound of it was distorted and sounded so quiet and far away.

    Then my vision started to worsen, colors were getting more vibrant while the actual state of my sight was only blurring more.

    I was only slightly aware that I had fallen to the floor, trembling and drooling.

    There was comfort in the fact that I saw Marcus in this condition too. In fact, it was hilarious. I started to laugh about it. A trickle of blood started to make a slow travel from the corner of my mouth and made its way down to the floor, mixing with my saliva.

    To say that I was killing my body with this substance was an understatement. It was the easiest substance in Prophet City to overdose on. Even if you only drink one glass- that they measured out- they couldn’t tell you how much your body could take.

    If it wasn’t for the Silver Water that ran in our veins, Marcus and I would be dealing with a life or death situation in this moment.

    That didn’t ease the pain in my body as the absinthe started to cause a reaction in system- much like regular alcohol, it caused my body temperature to rise. Though, it raised my temperature to a feverish degree. My vision started to blur and it felt as though my body was becoming heavier as the seconds ticked by. My ears started to ring and my eyes started to close, suddenly feeling so tired.

    Fully submerged in my unconscious, I was absorbed by that entity that now resided in my mind, the silver water helped clear my head.

    It obviously wanted to communicate, so I tried to understand it.

    At a very fast rate, I learned. I was being taught about so many things by this knowledgeable entity. I learned why it was that Aoife was able to sift herself into another person’s body, and why she had changed. I learned that her behavior had changed when she had crossed over into that other world.

    I learned more than I wanted to about what Robert Collumns had done.

    The shock of it was enough to freeze me in my thoughts for a long while. I didn’t know what to think anymore. I couldn’t think anymore.

    What if what I had just found out was true? – it would turn everything I knew on its head. It would mean that everything that I’ve done, everything that I’ve done to take Robert Collumns down was wrong.

    It would mean that I was wrong- that this resistance and all that we had done wasn’t doing the right thing.

    We weren’t the good guys- he was.

    All of my grudges, all of my seething rage and hatred, all that I had pushed myself for, it was all a moot point. All of it meant nothing now.

    The realization of it cracked through my very being, destroying all that I knew. Everything that I had taken for fact was now brought into question.

    There weren’t enough answers for the questions that swirled around inside of my mind, and with time, the amount of questions only grew, while the answers were growing scarcer. I was growing dizzy and lost inside my thoughts, and now the silver water started to retreat back into the shadowy corners of my subconscious. I felt like I was slowly fading into the realization of the madness in my mind.

    I became so lost that for a moment when I first came to, I was unsure of anything- even my own name escaped me for a moment.

    When I looked up at Marcus and Katarzyna, I couldn’t even find the will to speak.

    “I think we need to go back, there needs to be a talk… there’s… something I found out while I was out cold.” I explained quietly.

    This was going to take a long time to get through, and it was unsure if it would even be believed, since I was made aware of it by a sentient being whose physical form was a metallic liquid.
  14. Alright, I'll upload more chapters in a week or two, but in the meantime, if you've been reading my story, could you give me some critiques?
    Fighting Nature

    The talk never happened.

    It wasn’t that I lost my nerve- rather, it was the fact that I never got the chance to talk.

    The fact that Marcus and I were restrained in some kind of reinforced room didn’t help either. Katarzyna had locked us away before we had a chance to say or do anything.

    My heart sunk when I heard her walking away, my forehead rested against the door as I slowly closed my eyes and sighed quietly.

    “I swear, I didn’t know, Hope, I didn’t know… I swear… I never saw this coming… I never thought this could happen… I didn’t know...” Marcus spoke quietly, his voice rasped through the musty darkness of the room that had gone unused for some time. I looked over at the man to find him curled up against the wall with his face in his hands.

    I’d never seen him look so defeated before.

    Seconds drifted by, minutes expired without notice, hours sifted by us without any indication of motivation.

    What reason did we have to try to get out of this room, when all that waited for us on the other side was a world that we didn’t understand?

    The feeling of betrayal throbbed throughout my body and the numbness from the absinthe painfully started to fade, like a comfortable blanket being yanked away and the cold setting in.

    Our wrists were bound and so were our ankles- that’s all she had done before she had dragged us into that empty back room of the tavern. It seemed like only yesterday that Katarzyna had shown up on my doorstep right next to Marcus and Lesia.

    I couldn’t stop going through the memories.

    I had trusted her. I had defended her. I felt horrid, though I was sure that Marcus’s feeling of betrayal was more concrete. He was curled up; leaning against that wall, faced away from me, his body trembled in an effort to not cry. He was trying so hard not to fall to pieces, but it was easy to see that his attempts were failing. I couldn’t blame him- He was taking it better than I would have.

    This was the mother of his child, a girl he had known since childhood, someone he had grown up with, who he knew better than the back of his hands... yet it was obvious that he hadn’t seen this coming. He didn’t know.

    She knew what we had been doing was wrong- she could have told us, but she didn’t. As far as I could tell, it had never even crossed her mind. This whole time, she had lived a lie in front of all of us.

    Robert’s men weren’t the ones who had slaughtered all of the citizens when I was a child- though; he had no problem with taking credit for it.

    It had been a small rebellion, but a giant massacre- done by the citizens who had felt like a change was needed and that violence was necessary.

    Tears streamed down my cheeks as I realized the truth of my memories- the people who had killed my parents had been crazed, out of control. Robert Collumns wasn’t like that, he was thorough and methodical.

    Putting all of the children into camps had been his way of restoring order and to effectively keep track of all of the orphans.

    My head was spinning.

    Robert Collumns had used forms of intimidation only to keep his seat in power. He had only started to torture me after hundreds of attempts to harm him. It had started so simply- after five years of putting up with my accusations and constant attempts to hurt him, he hit me, once and not very hard.

    But I never stopped, and neither did he.

    I kept egging him on in a bout of reckless vengeance. His reactions became more violent as his frustration grew.

    I’d never been so damned confused and disillusioned.

    From the looks of it, Marcus felt the same way.

    Nothing made sense anymore.

    We sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. After time had passed, I gently reached out to Marcus’s mind, unsure if I should even break the silence that had grown.

    It couldn’t be avoided, we needed to communicate.

    “Katarzyna was one who was our real enemy?” I finally asked, my mouth going dry.

    “I don’t know… I have no idea anymore.” Marcus replied slowly and softly, murmuring against the wall.

    “Marcus, do remember anything during that time that you went to Robert Collumns’ side? At one point, you fought against us… you had some kind of force field or something…. I’m not sure how to describe it… but… do you think you can do that, but, just enough to break our bonds?” I asked, licking my lips every time I paused. They felt cracked and chapped.

    I ached, and I wasn’t sure what the cause was, the absinthe or the situation- it was probably a bit of both.

    “I don’t remember any of it… I can’t even feel any connections right now, besides yours, and even that’s pretty weak… I think I was only able to do that with Aoife’s help. She was in control at that point.” Marcus explained, writhing and struggling in his bonds.

    “Great.” I muttered in response, weakly allowing myself to limply collapse to the floor, “Just great, how are we going to get out of here? How, Marcus?” I snapped, the questions contained my seething anger, which, I will admit, was unfairly directed at my friend.

    “I don’t know- calm down for a moment and let me think.” Marcus replied curtly, his voice stern.

    The moments drifted by slowly, every second that slipped past us was another second lost to us; we needed to get free, we needed to get out of these bonds and figure out the situation.

    The silence was broken by Marcus when he suddenly made a noise of realization. I was hoping that his little moment would get us out of here.

    That’s when I looked to find that the noise he had made was not for his own thoughts, but that of the acknowledgement that someone had come into the room while we had been busy fretting over our situation. The body was cast in a shadowy silhouette, though it was at least made obvious that it was a male figure, standing in the doorway.

    The sound of footsteps approaching us brought a sense of dread and apprehension. I was wary, and rightfully so- I recognized the man as one of the bartenders of this tavern- one of the ones that was supposed to be connected to our rebellion- which may or may not be in the best of intentions anymore.

    In the man’s hand gleamed a blade, and his stance was decidedly unfriendly towards us.

    For a moment I was frozen, unable to make a move.

    It wasn’t me who made the first move, it was Marcus.

    From the corner of my eyes, I saw a flash of light- then a streak of movement flew past my sight, rocketing towards the bartender.

    It was over in mere seconds.

    Blood spattered the room, and Marcus stood there, his body lacked any smear of red, while even I was dappled in it. My eyes hadn’t been able to follow what had happened, though I was able to come to a conclusion.

    Marcus was able to tap into that power in times of desperation, and what I had seen before was not even merely a scratch on the surface of what his capabilities held.

    Slowly spinning on the ground, the knife reflected the light from the hallway as it finally stopped, the blade directing towards the light.

    That’s when yet another figure appeared at the door.

    Marcus was already trying to free me, though he spun around to face the person, that knife was in his hand, and Marcus pressed it against the figure’s throat.

    “Let’s try to figure out who this one is before we do anything- he didn’t come with a weapon like the bartender.” I started, undoing the rest of my restraints before I walked to Marcus’s side, wary of this person, though, he wasn’t armed, and he looked surprised by our actions, perhaps it was possible that he didn’t know that we had been back here.

    “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Marcus asked quietly through clenched teeth, his voice hinted at the fatigue that was starting to leech at our strength. I didn’t know how much we had left in us.

    “My name’s Eric, what’s going on? I came in to get a bite to eat and the whole place is empty.” The man rushed his words, confusion leaked from him in waves.

    It was a relief, but we were completely drained at this point.

    My body ached and my eyelids were growing heavy, it was as if I had completely run out of power, not merely myself, but also the power that I had gained from the silver water. I looked over at Marcus to see that it was obvious that he felt the same. What did we do now? Where did we go?

    Were we still welcome at the orphanage- did we even want to go back to that place? Who was really on our side?

    Deus… how could he have not told me? Why didn’t that clone explain?... were the children safe? How much of the rebellion knew the truth? How many had been lied to, like we were?

    Fear consumed my mind for a moment, though it was a dull throb that echoed in the background as I realized just how insane my world had become. I had to deal with what I could, and for the moment, I couldn’t deal with the fear- for the sake that if I tried to, it would paralyze me.

    I needed to keep moving.

    “We’re leaving.” I stated quietly to Marcus, stretching for a bit before moving towards the door. Marcus followed silently, though, this person, Eric, seemed to be in quite a state, he looked confused, and took a few steps towards us, then paused as we got to the door. For a moment, we stopped as well, looking back at him.

    I suppose it was to be expected, that civilians would get involved at some point, but this was my first time seeing the reaction firsthand.

    Eric seemed as though he was thinking hard, considering what was going on. I believe that I understood the predicament- because I believed that Marcus and I were having a similar problem.

    He seemed like a good person, and at this point, Marcus and I had no idea if we had any allies other than ourselves- would it be wrong to see if we could get an ally out of this person who had unknowingly crossed our paths?

    “Who are you?” He suddenly asked, breaking the silence, and in that moment, I had made my choice.

    Perhaps it was wrong, but I turned and walked away silently. It wasn’t right to involve him. It wouldn’t be fair to him. We didn’t even know what we were doing anymore.

    As we made our way out of the tavern, I wondered to myself what might have happened if we had made an offer to the man? Would he have turned us down? Would he have joined us? As I thought of the questions, I found myself crashing into Marcus’ back, falling down after colliding with him. I rose to question why he stopped, only to freeze when I realized it for myself.

    The tavern had kept us safe and blind to the world outside.

    We had no way to know what had happened while we were restrained, and yet, I had to wonder how it was that we didn’t hear anything going on outside.

    In front of us lay a world in ruins that we couldn’t recognize.

    Fire had scorched some of the buildings, others crumbled from an onslaught of attacks from construction equipment. Bodies lay torn and mangled in the streets, blood colored the ground. I suppose those were the citizens who had been lucky, because every couple of moments, I’d realize that some of those bodies were still just barely alive, writhing on the dirt in pain. It was a disturbing sight to see and I had no plausible explanation for it in my mind.

    Marcus stood frozen, and I finally turned towards him, reaching out tentatively and weakly grabbed for his hand, needing some kind of human interaction, something to dim to glaringness of the disturbing gore and violence in front of us.

    “What happened?” I finally asked, my mouth dry and my body shaking- not from fear but from the confusion of it all. I couldn’t comprehend it.

    “Robert Collumns was just overthrown by a rebellion…” A voice answered, belonging to the man we had turned away from.

    Eric gave us the answer, and yet, I wished that it hadn’t been said.

    Ignorance was bliss, a true statement when coming face to face with a scene like this.

    Light at the End of the Tunnel

    Marcus and I ended up at this man’s abode.

    Warming ourselves up by the fire, Eric explained what had happened while we had been locked away.

    A small band of people, led by a woman, whose name was unknown, brought down Robert Collumns and his forces. A band of superhuman beings had fought alongside them, doing all that they could to win.

    And when they had come out as the victors, they took their battle to the streets, taking down anyone who had supported Robert Collumns’ reign.

    Elu, Eden, Eko, and Damian; all of them seemed to be on her side from what this man was telling us, which only worsened the situation. There was a deep-seeded confusion that was starting to take hold of my system. I had only a handful of choices, and at this point, I needed to face them and take my pick.

    Do I go back to what was familiar, regardless of the fact that I had reasonable doubt that it wasn’t a justified cause that we were working towards? Did I remain apart from them, trying to figure out what the truth was? Or should I ignore it all and just walk away from the issue?

    I looked at Marcus, trying to find comfort in him, only to find that he was gazing deeply into the fire, with a look of concentration and anger.

    “How did it get to this point? What happened….what the hell happened? What could I have done?” I heard him mutter, a quiet fury in his voice, a rage building up that I could clearly see as he sat there.

    I wouldn’t say he was livid, but I would say that his anger was poorly contained, and he finally rose from his spot at the fire to turn to me. For a moment, there was silence- it was broken by the sound of Eric’s footsteps, approaching from the kitchen with some food for us.

    “I can’t stay here, I have to do something.” Marcus stated, rising from his place, making a move for the door. Eric, once again, was put in an awkward situation as I rose as well, going to Marcus. I tried to calm him down, but it was understandable that he was angry.

    “What can you do, Marcus? Right now, we just need to sit tight and wait for some inspiration. We need to wait for an opening. We can’t just rush into this.” I tried to persuade him, though it was obvious that I wasn’t getting through to him. This was just too confusing and I was starting to understand how futile it might be to try and stop Marcus from running into this changed world.

    What right did I have to try to stop him?

    He walked through the door without another word, and I slumped against the wall, sighing from the emotions that were bombarding me. I couldn’t even remember where this all started, I couldn’t remember anything with all the thoughts rushing through my head. It was all too much.

    I was startled by the sound of movement nearby, then realized that it was Eric, who had been standing there patiently with food. My mouth suddenly started to water as I remembered how hungry I was. Nothing was said as I approached him and took the plate of food that he offered. I had no idea what it was, but it smelled good. I tore off pieces of the slab of what appeared to be some kind of meat, and tucked it into my mouth, chewing quickly and without thought, just wanting to have something in my stomach.

    Silence took hold of the room, aside from the sounds of chewing and breathing.

    When I had finally finished off what was on my plate, I looked up at the man who sat across from me and finally attempted to ask the question that was bothering me.

    “Why did you help us?” I inquired, absentmindedly licking the corners of my lips, tasting the remainders of the food I just ate.

    It seemed like an eternity before the man opened his mouth and started to explain.

    “It looked like you needed a hand… and plus, it’s not exactly safe to walk around right now, it’s better to stay inside… maybe I should have stopped your friend.” He pondered and I had to take a breath before starting my own explanation.

    “He’ll be fine. It’s a little hard to hurt or seriously injure someone like him.” I murmured slowly, looking into the fire, watching the flames lick at the air, feeling the heat of it warming my skin. “He and I are a little… different.” I stated.

    “Honestly, I could tell, your eyes are both really odd colors and both of you… behave a little oddly.” He admitted; his honesty surprised me and I raised my head to look at him. What color were my eyes again? How did Marcus and I behave oddly? I was curious to ask, but we were interrupted.

    The door was thrown open and Marcus stormed in, dragging a body behind him. I could feel his unrestrained anger, and I could smell the blood and fear from the body that barely struggled against him. Eric tried to look as passive as possible, but it was simple to see that he was uneasy about all of this, and I didn’t blame him. I wanted to apologize for the trouble we were causing, but I was curious as to Marcus’ behavior.

    Who did he drag in?

    Marcus threw the body to the floor and then, to my horrified amazement, he pulled out a weapon, a firearm of some sort, aiming it at the man’s head. That’s when I saw him.

    It was Robert Collumns.

    I could see bruises and lacerations over his face and body, his clothes were dirty and torn.

    I could see fear in his eyes and his body slightly trembled.

    This was barely even a shadow of the man we thought that we knew; he was stripped of his power and authority, he had been overthrown.

    I still couldn’t figure out if that was a good thing or not, but I was sure that Marcus could get answers out of him. I knew that this man would finally give us answers, he couldn’t evade them anymore.

    Stripped of his power, he was just as mortal as we were… as we used to be.

    “What is happening? Tell me or I swear I’ll make your life hell.” Marcus spat venomously, pressing the barrel of the gun against Collumns’ right kneecap. It was easy to hear the man trying to swallow in the silence, and then he made an effort to answer as quickly as he could. For three minutes, he stuttered, looking panicked.

    Finally an answer came.

    “I… I don’t know what happened…. I was w-working with the Silver Water, trying to form more Goddesses when it just happened… I don’t know h-how they got in, but… I have r-reason to believe there was a spy among my soldiers… Maybe two…” He muttered out quietly, looking gun, transfixed.

    “Who got in?” Marcus snapped, nudging Robert with the gun, which only made the usurped ruler stutter more. It was getting us nowhere, so I tried to gently move Marcus’ hand.

    I didn’t expect the glare that I got in return.

    “Hope, are you really feeling sorry for this man? Try to tell me that you wouldn’t be itching to shoot him if you had this gun, just try.” He seethed, knocking my hand aside and moving the gun to Robert Collumns’ head.

    His hand was shaking.

    “I don’t feel sorry for him, and I’m not trying to stop you, I just think that if you keep scaring him, we won’t get the answers we want. I hate him just as much as you do, and I want answers too, but this isn’t the way… We don’t need to threaten him… he’s no longer dangerous… Just stop, Marcus.” I told him softly, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder, only to get shoved aside.

    “I don’t even know what I want him to tell me. I’m just angry… and… Dammit, you know he deserves it.” He raged, tossing the gun to the floor, it clattered and came to a rest at my feet. That was when he started to pace.

    I took the gun and made sure that the safety was still on before placing it at the small of my back, tucked into the back of my pants.

    Marcus stormed out of the room again and I tried to calm myself down before asking Eric if he had any rope. He answered in an affirmative and went to get it. He was a good host, and we were being horrible guests, then again, I suppose it was circumstantial.

    Robert looked up at me and in his eyes, I saw that same lost look that I saw in everyone else’s eyes. He was scared, but I was more afraid of him now than I was a few moments ago. I felt like I was facing an injured animal that was cornered, liable to lash out at me for being too close.

    Eric returned with the rope and I went about systematically restraining Robert Collumns until he was unable to move an inch. It didn’t make me feel much better, but it was better than nothing.

    “How does it feel to be powerless like everyone else?” I shot the question at him, standing a few feet away but looking in a different direction.

    He didn’t answer.

    Silence ruled over the room while Eric stood there, looking unsure of what he should be doing. I felt horrible about how things were going, but I was so confused.

    That was when Marcus came back in, yanked Robert Collumns aside by a handful of his hair and held him to the wall. I went towards them, only to stop as I watched tears roll down Marcus’ face, his grip loosened and Collumns slid to the floor, trembling and whimpering.

    This was insane.

    Marcus fell to his knees, his face twisted in anger, contrasting with the tears. I understood, but I didn’t know what to do.

    How do you combat insanity? How do you find reason in a world that has been turned on its head? How do we deal with our emotions?

    A million questions still encircled my mind.

    I went back to what Robert had said earlier and realized something.

    “You were trying to make more goddesses? Why? Haven’t you learned your lesson already?!” I screeched, then suddenly my anger turned to horror, leading me to my next question. “How far did you get with these goddesses?” I asked tentatively.

    The man looked up at me, and in that moment I saw how time and experiences had aged him. The way he gazed at me was ominously foreboding.

    “Eight little toddlers- that’s all I had to work with. I didn’t select who they came from, I just had them brought to me… Four boys and four girls. I wanted to created beings that wouldn’t be governed by anyone. I saw that my mistakes in previous creations was that I tried to control or guide them…. I’ve infused them with the Silver Waters and let that be their only influence…. But those two… people stole four of them….” He explained quietly, regret and sadness colored his tone and voice.

    “Take us to what you have left- Are they still alive?” I replied, Marcus immediately snatched up Robert Collumns’ arm and wrenched him to a standing position, looking towards me while I moved towards the door.

    “Yes- they’re still alive- but their bodies are all…. Frail… They are…. Incomplete; the process was interrupted…” He explained, and in that moment, Marcus was out the door with him, and I followed behind, looking back at Eric, who, once again, was being left behind. I hoped that his generosity towards us would not be strained by our constant coming and going.

    We trekked up to the rubble of Robert Collumns’ abode, letting him lead us to the underground labs. Amongst the dust and stone ruins, cracked tanks, scattered glass and strewn wires, we saw the scum-filled tank of silver water.

    Four small bodies were lying motionlessly around it, their skin was the palest white imaginable, with a sheen to it that could be likened to a pearl. Their hair lacked color- it wasn’t white- it was as though the silver waters had perfectly infused it with its color- a shimmering liquid metal. Their bodies were bare, and for a moment, I couldn’t even tell if they were alive- then I noticed their tiny chests slowly rising and falling.

    I didn’t know what to make of it, or what to think.

    Marcus reacted first, shoving Robert Collumns aside before going to each of the children, checking their vitals.

    When he put an ear to one of the girls’ chest to listen for a heartbeat, her tiny hands twitched before reaching out to him, I saw her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear anything, I was too far away.

    I wasn’t far enough away that I missed the look on Marcus’ face. Utter shock and abhorrent fear came off of him in waves. I watched him slowly rise and come back, walking determinedly and slowly. His fist sent Robert Collumns to the floor before he turned to me.

    “What is it?” I asked quietly, fearful of the answer I might receive.

    “She told me that she was too weak… that she wanted me to put her back in that tank until she was stronger…. She’s barely breathing, possibly on her deathbed, and she has no idea.” Marcus explained before turning and walking back to the children.

    “I don’t know anymore, Hope. Maybe we should go back to the orphanage... We should bring the kids.” He mumbled to himself while he ran a hand through the girl’s hair as she trembled, her eyes were half closed and the effort it took to take those quick little breaths was heartbreaking. A decision cemented itself in my mind, for better or for worse. I walked over to Marcus, trying to figure out a way to help the children.

    After we found a way to stabilize their condition, we would bring them to the orphanage with us.

    There’s no place like home.

    A Better Place

    We were going home. The thought of it still surprised me, though it was a bit to take in when I thought about everything that we had gone through. Marcus and I didn’t speak much on our way back. In each of our hands, we gripped a handle to the container we carried between us, to transport the children.

    Robert Collumns followed after us, his hands restrained and his restraints were connected to the container.

    Every couple of moments, we would stop so the children could be examined. Their condition never improved, but at the same time, they never seemed to get worse.

    Marcus seemed to be particularly attached to them, and I knew it had to do something with the child that was still at the orphanage. His child that he had taken care of since Katarzyna disappeared. Everything was so confused lately, and I didn’t know if it would get better or worse when we showed up at the orphanage.

    When we finally came through the door, carrying the children over our shoulders, it was unsure of how they would greet us, though we decided to take a chance. Robert Collumns followed after us, looking around warily.

    People milled around inside, paying us no mind- I didn’t recognize any of them, and there were quite a lot of people inside. I led the way to where I remembered the bedroom being, taken aback when I opened the door. There were at least double the amount of complete bed sets in the room, most were set up as bunk beds to take up less room. Some people were resting and others talked to each other while lying down.

    Marcus and I walked through and settled each of the children into separate beds, then set about looking for any familiar faces.

    Deus’s clone was nowhere to be seen, and Katarzyna didn’t seem to be anywhere in the house. I didn’t see any of the goddesses or Damian. We led Robert Collumns throughout the house, and finally started to talk to the people milling around, asking questions.

    They didn’t know anything. It was as though someone had abducted them, wiped any memory from their minds of how they got there, and then left.

    It was baffling.

    They didn’t know who Robert Collumns was, and the truth of their questioning, blank stares seared into our minds.

    They were fine with us staying for a while and didn’t mind being questioned. They had no children among them, and no one recalled a tube with what appeared to be a fetal baby inside, so there was nothing to go on, no clues.

    Marcus looked crushed by this, though he tried to remain calm.

    I suppose it helped that we had brought Robert Collumns along- we at least could try and find clues in how he was overthrown.

    That too, eventually lost meaning. He didn’t know anything of substantial value. We had to finally stop when Marcus lashed out, accusing Robert Collumns of being the reason this all happened.

    I would have liked to blame Robert Collumns for everything, too, but it wouldn’t help. It wasn’t logical. We couldn’t pin all our blame on him, it wouldn’t get us any further, and it wouldn’t get us any closer to finding the real answers.

    Robert Collumns didn’t know how these people had appeared here, since he didn’t bring them here. He didn’t remember any of them. He didn’t know if anyone else could have found a way to figure out how to replicate his process of transporting people from their world or dimension to ours.

    There were too many questions and not enough answers.

    Then, in the midst of everything, Marcus found something- a couple spots of blood and bodily fluid near one of the far-back corners of the bedroom.

    With our enhanced senses, the only thing that we were thankful for, we could tell that the blood was from a modified body, like ours, yet different. Unlike regular blood, it didn’t dry out and become a brownish color- it was a metallic rust.

    The other residue was amniotic fluid.

    It had to have been one of the goddesses, and the only idea we had was that Eko had given birth. We didn’t say any of this, but I saw a look in Robert’s eyes that he understood the significance of the stain. Oddly, it wasn’t pride that I saw, but anxiety.

    It didn’t matter. What this man thought was worth less than a cent to me. I turned my attention elsewhere.

    There was nothing else around us, no other clues, so we stayed for a little longer, borrowed a bite to eat with a promise to return the favor or help these people if they needed it when we returned next, then carried the children away. I wish I could say with certainty that we were going to help these people, but at this point, it was hard to say if we could even help ourselves.

    Robert Collumns wasn’t allowed to eat- Marcus and I were still rather wary of him and spiteful of our past with him.

    By the time we left, it was already night again- and we were unsure of where to go.

    So we went back to where Eric’s house had been, only to find it nowhere in sight. Where his house once stood, there was an open lot.

    We took different routes and tried to figure out if we went the wrong way, but after what must have been a couple of hours, we found that we were in the right space, and the house legitimately wasn’t there. It was as if it had been removed from existence without leaving behind a single trace. There was no evidence of there ever being a house there in the first place.

    I was legitimately confused and properly out of my mind at that point, then again, I wasn’t sure when I could have ever considered myself sane.

    “It was right here, wasn’t it?” I asked Marcus, who nodded quietly. I then turned to Robert Collumns, who had been surprisingly quiet this whole time. He turned away, but I yanked on his restraints, my anger flaring up. I put down my side of the container, Marcus following my moves, checking the children before watching me again.

    He knew something.

    “Do you know something about this?” I asked in a barely restrained, angry way. I had two handfuls of his shirt clutched in my fists. Marcus came back around and tried to help keep me in control, but it was impossible for this to be contained.

    “Eric’s one of my sleepers…. He was a test subject… I let him loose because I had no use for him, he just wasn’t as successful as I wanted him to be, but I figured he’d be useful in this situation, but I suppose that he tapped back into his old behaviors.” The laugh following his words was enough for me to throw him to the ground and pounce on him, wanting to smash his face up until he could never laugh again. It was too much- the fact that everything was once again turned on its head and changed in a moment.

    “What did you do to him?” I asked through clenched teeth as I felt Marcus’ hand on my shoulder, a calming gesture that wasn’t going to get through to me at the moment. The man I was facing was the good guy. We were the ones who were in the wrong. It didn’t seem right. Robert Collumns was the one that had been trying to fix our world, and although there were mistakes, he was trying to help. I had lived all my life so far believing that my cause was justified, and it wasn’t.

    “He was meant to be a contingency plan…. If I ever lost power of this place, he’d go about trying to fix it so that I’d be on top again. Also, he was meant to be a good liaison, so that people would see that I was the best ruler for them.” He explained simply. I was sickened, but I had to remind myself that the man I was talking to was the same person who I had hated for most of my life.

    Marcus guided me away from Robert at that point. I don’t really know what happened next. I heard his voice, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I could still see, but I couldn’t understand what I saw. My awareness melted away and I suddenly found myself stuck in my own subconscious, knowing that the sentient being that shared my body had something to show me.

    Even though it was horridly invasive, I was thankful that I had the silver water in my system.

    I could just barely feel some kind of awareness inside of my consciousness, but it wasn’t the same feeling as the entity that was the sentient being inside the silver water.

    It was something different, more human, though… something seemed gravely wrong. I could feel the emotions from it, and I was surprised to find that although it seemed like a peaceful presence in my head, it was murderously angry and upset.

    In an instant, I felt the pain it felt, I saw through its eyes and I knew the truth.

    Then my awareness was back. I looked up at Marcus and saw the same expression on his face that I knew I had on mine. He had seen it too.

    The children were not individuals anymore. They only had one conscious, only one mind. Their mental capacity far extended anyone else’s, but the pain they had experienced from a young age defined their existence.

    Robert Collumns had made a mistake. He had played god, and for once, I learned that he was suffering for it.

    “They’re keeping you alive, aren’t they.”

    The question passed through my lips, cold and uncaring. The images whirled around my mind, whipping my emotions into a frenzy. I had to fight to keep them in check, struggling with the unrestrained anger that only a child could know.

    “Yes, they’re one of my newest and strongest experiments…. But… they’re unstable…” He offered, his tone was weary and exhausted. Perhaps it was just me, but I thought I heard a smallest hint of relief. Perhaps he was happy to get this off of his chest.

    “What did you expect? You gave this power to children who grew up neglected and spiteful, then drove them insane by trying to brainwash them into protecting you. They connect their anger and frustration to your image and voice! You created something that can’t be killed- and of course you fucked it up!” Marcus snarled. He had reached his breaking point, and so had I. We needed to calm down and remember that we were under the influence of the images and emotions of the children who reached out to us.

    As much as I wanted to kill this man in cold blood, regardless of who is right and who’s wrong, I couldn’t do it if the catalyst were children who were only doing what they had learned to lash out. It was their only way of communicating, and they were manipulative, due to how they had lived.

    If I was going to have this man’s blood on my hands, I wanted it on my terms.

    “You said, before we found these children, that you had not messed with them, or tried to influence them… did you have no idea that how you were caring for them was so selfish? Did you not understand the consequences of your actions?... Don’t answer that, I know what you’re going to say…” I spat, then took a few steps away from Robert Collumns and the children. “They’ve been separated, Collumns, they’re in pain, They can’t function well unless they’re all together. You united their minds, you must know that. They blame you for that.” I snapped, then paced back towards Robert Collumns, unable to stop myself.

    Marcus watched me with blank eyes- they were communicating with him.

    My hand went to the small of my back, where that gun had been resting. Silently, I took it into my hands, feeling the cold weight of it, then I lifted it up, pressing it against the soft skin of one of the children.

    “Stop messing with my head and emotions, please. I’m trying to help you, so understand that I don’t want you to use me to carry out your whims.” I stated quietly. Violence was all that these children understood. It was enough to bring anyone to tears, and I was surprised that I wasn’t crying- for the love of living, I was pointing a gun at children… though, they were quite ill-behaved.

    Wait… what do I refer to them as? It was eight children, but they shared one conscious, one unit… essentially, one person, just divided into eight parts… so, would they even have separate names, or just one?...

    “Why did you make them this way?” I asked Robert Collumns, my gun still pointed towards the children. My eyes became narrowed at him, and then a pain radiated in my head, a horrid, nauseating feeling rose in my stomach and I bit back he bile, and tried to stay standing, my thoughts clouded.

    I heard a thud, and there Marcus was, face down on the ground, out cold.

    My sight was starting to blur, and my balance started to fail, but I tried to stay up, unable to understand why I felt so horrible… then as I looked to Robert Collumns, I saw the telltale smirk that said all that I needed to know…

    We had been duped again.

    Robert Collumns was reciting commands and as my eyes drifted and my vision darkened, I reached out to Marcus, trying to stay together… Our hands were untangled and we were hauled in different directions. I struggled as much as a person could, given my situation.

    But it was in vain… by the time I woke up, I had no idea where I was... all I knew was that I was outside city limits… by a great deal.

    Cracked and dry earth crumbled under my body as I struggled to get up, my wrists ached and I rubbed at them, finding raw and torn skin… same with my ankles… I must have been in restraints for some time… so… how long have I been out here?

    I struggled to my feet, and immediately sunk a few inches into the ground.

    Looking up to the sky in the scorching heat, I was greeted by a sight that I hadn’t seen in some time- Actual, unrestrained sunlight… I could see the sun… and I could see the pale blue sky… And even though I had no idea where I was, this bolstered my spirits.

    My sight adjusted and I finally noticed tire tracks, nearby… they had stopped a short distance away from where I had come to… it had to be the way back home.. If I just followed the tracks…

    I started to walk, and my body ached in pain with every step.

    It seemed like eternity, walking and walking, but I still could not see the end to the tracks… I was exhausted, tired, and thirsty. My throat was scratchy and dry- a fine layer of dust was starting to settle there, my tongue was cracked painfully.

    I walked on, knowing if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to continue. I could feel my blood sluggishly moving through my veins as I willed myself forward, trembling with effort. The heat was unbearable, and the ground was killing my feet. The wind stung my eyes as I looked up again, still no end in sight. My vision was starting to blur again, and my skin stung with the heat of the sun.

    I fell, my fingers scratched at the earth, trying to push myself back up, only to feel the give of one of my fingernails. I tried to remain calm as I pulled my hand back and tried to push the nail back into my finger… it was disgusting… I didn’t know what else to do. I tried to get up again, but… I swear my skin started tearing on my hands, like I was breaking apart… and the blood that was dripping from the tears… was just regular blood.

    I was just a regular person now… why? I don’t know… but I was too numb to be surprised. I couldn’t even feel the pain anymore, and I pushed myself up again, for some reason, I started thinking about Logan… for some reason, I started to blame him, for all of this… It wasn’t something I was proud of, but I needed it.

    I needed hate to get through this… hate had been a driving factor all my life… I needed it… It was like substance abuse.

    It was like coal for a furnace, or air to breathe. I needed to hate… I needed something to blame, something to set my sights on to get even with. So I focused on Logan, I clung to my seething anger as I kept walking, my pain was worlds away at this point.

    Eventually, I found another body next to the tracks… though it wasn’t Marcus… it was someone I didn’t know…

    I checked for a pulse, and found a faint one. It wasn’t my best idea, but I saw some tattered rags nearby, perhaps what the person had been carried in, and I laid it out and got the person onto it, and dragged it behind myself. Skin cracked and bled, my eyes felt scratchy and dry, and still, I tried to keep going. Every step made my body ache, but I forced myself to continue.

    Eventually, I found the tracks ended, with the car right there. We were still in the middle of nowhere, this stranger and I, but the sight of the car raised my hopes slightly- until I learned that it had no gas.

    A dusty wind has started up around the car, and I quickly pulled the person into the car with me, closing all the doors, seeking shelter from dust and heat for a moment. I had never driven a car, aside from one time- as I said, they’re rare. I didn’t understand it was always hotter in a car, than outside of it, and the dust was coming in through cracks in the car.

    Soon enough, after I shrouded the lower half of my face in as much fabric as I could- having torn it from what I was wearing, and doing the same of the stranger, I got us out and kept going. The dust bit at my eyes, and I looked for footsteps or any signs of how to get back to the city from this point.

    It was then that I heard a ringing in my ears, like a high-pitched wail of an alarm. It was enough to make me want to double over and curl up while covering my ears… I didn’t know where the sound was coming from, but I knew that it had to mean I was near to the city… it had to… I walked a few more steps and the ringing got louder.

    I had to find a way in, but going straight towards the city from this angle wasn’t going to work. I turned myself and dragged the stranger behind me, after checking for a pulse… still there, but still weak…I went around the perimeter of the ringing sound, looking behind myself to study the curve of my footsteps- I had to be making a circle around the city…

    Eventually, I found a lull in the ringing and finally went forward.