Rated: GC · Campfire Creative · Other · Action/Adventure · #1632732
Six students lead two lives.
It was Sunday evening and Saienta was at work. Corey was leaning against the counter on the other side watching passersby through the window as Saienta helped a woman register her newborn and when she left, Corey asked, “When do you finish again?”
Saienta looked over at the analogue clock. “In two hours or so. How long’s your break?”
Corey had wiped away most of the sweat and dirt but couldn’t easily hide the fact that he worked in a blacksmith. “I have half an hour left. Let’s get something to eat. I’m hungry.”
“Let’s go to Yellow then. I have twenty minutes.”
Saienta went to the side and lifted part of the desk up so he could get out. As he put it back down, the bells above the door chimed and Mizu came in. Corey and Saienta looked over at him.
At that moment, Saienta’s calm and collected boss came out to take over, giving Saienta a knowing look. Him again.
“I want to register my sister’s newborn…” Mizu said to Saienta, despite the obvious fact that he was standing on the wrong side. He motioned with his head towards his boss. “Ask him. I’m on break.”
His boss, who he actually called ‘boss,’ was a tall man with thin framed glasses and a translucent 5 o’clock shadow that never seemed to disappear no matter the hour. He cleared his throat.
Mizu scowled at Saienta and walked over to the desk. “I don’t like your clerk’s manners.”
“Ten-in no taido ga warui,” Corey repeated to Saienta in Japanese, exactly what Mizu had said.
Saienta laughed and Mizu was bitterly offended shooting a glare at Corey, not knowing what had been said but getting the essence of it.
“Can I help you?” his boss asked as they left with a jingling of the door’s bells.
They sat down in Yellow and ordered some food, glad they could pay with their own hard-earned money. The restaurant was almost full since it was the evening, and orange light filtered through the bare windows. “I wonder where Nyu is…” Saienta said to Corey slyly while the waitress took their orders.
Corey looked at him sharply and didn’t answer. It was sort of fun teasing Corey by bringing up Nyu. The six of them had gotten to know her better since they had first met her. It was also good saying hello to someone they knew in Sandra. She was rather popular from what he kept on hearing, business wouldn’t be half as good here without her.
The waitress looked at Saienta upon hearing the question. “She’s saying goodbye to Tiyan. He’s going away for a while, I heard.”
Saienta nodded as though he cared and she went to serve someone else and maybe eavesdrop on another conversation. He looked across at Corey. “Didn’t you ask Sirian and Elli to join us?”
Corey shrugged. “I asked them before but I think they don’t get a break from the fish market for a while.”
“Annaleace?” he asked, taking a sip of his tea.
“She’s seeing Tiyan.”
“Where is Tiyan going?” He figured he may as well ask since everyone seemed to know except him.
“To Nersa for a few days. I heard from Shia, Jordyn’s mother, that Tiyan goes there a lot to oversee the horse training or something.”
Sirian and Elli came in at that moment looking flustered. They spotted Saienta and the back of Corey and came over to the table, sliding into the booth beside them.
“Hey guys, I’m starving,” Elli said. “Did you order already?”
“You did? Dammit. I’m so hungry I’ll eat anything. Waitress!” she called.
“Hi,” Sirian smiled. “Sorry about the fish smell. If you can smell it, I mean. I can’t tell anymore.”
Corey smiled a little. “Don’t worry about it. I probably smell just as bad…”
Saienta only smelled like cigarette smoke, as usual. It was probably too late to apologise for that.
He was thinking over his latest Red Tide missions and it was hard not to brood.
The others were probably used to it his unreceptive air, not that he was always the warmest, most welcoming guy around.
The waitress returned and Elli and Sirian ordered and paid for their food in advance.
“You know, not long from now we’ll have Gossamer Leaf. Do you think we’d eat in our own restaurant? Is that normal?” Elli sipped her tea.
Corey shrugged. “If Saienta is cooking…”
“Heh! You’re right, I’m there,” she grinned.
“How are the horse riding lessons coming along?” Sirian asked Corey with her lips pressing into a secretive smirk that she couldn’t hide. It was hard not to imagine Corey in the riding uniform if you had actually seen it.
Corey looked like he was trying to blend in with the chair. “I’m not taking lessons with Ruth...and the girls...anymore...”
“Oh yeah, how are the riding lessons with Saienta going?” Elli piped up.
Corey gave her a strange look. “How did you know about that?”
Elli looked shocked, like she forgot she wasn’t supposed to know, and then she looked devious. “Well…I have my ways. Okay, so I heard you talking about it once. Our walls are thin, you know.”
Saienta started paying attention to the conversation again, putting Red Tide out of his mind for now. “He rides well across the paddocks,” he said and Sirian nodded.
“We’ve seen you ride before, during the haze-horse training. You aren’t that bad,” Elli told him. “Except that Rain seems to be the master and you’re…well…”
“His bitch,” Saienta smirked.
They laughed and Corey shook his head in a self-pitying way, “Sadly that sounds about right,” he said grudgingly.
“Oh, before I forget,” Sirian started, “I made a logbook for each house, one for ours and one for yours. And I put in the amount owing towards Moth, I had him check it as well, and if you make payments towards the house, you can write it down so you don’t forget how much you owe. That way you can also see if you’re going to be able to pay it off as well. It’s good to take record.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Corey said. Elli nodded obligingly.
“I’ll give it to Elli after work and she can take your one to your house.”
“You know what I was thinking?” Elli said, pouring herself some tea. “Annaleace has been married for about five days. She seems really happy. It’s getting easier to believe but every time we get back to school I can’t even imagine it, and then the cycle of reminding myself starts all over again.”
Sirian shrugged. “It’s easy for me to believe. Especially when I see her with her parents or her brothers. That’s when I have to wonder what they would say if they only knew what she was going through.” She looked down at the string around her pinkie. “But I guess that’ll never happen.”
After his shift was over, Saienta locked up the registry’s glass door and lit a cigarette. It was 8pm and the streets of Sandra in this area were mostly empty. He walked towards Lovely Kuki’s Kimono store since it was on the way. Annaleace was the only one who finished at the same time and she was just closing the doors of the shop behind her when he arrived. They had both missed Wing-Moth’s summons because they were both the last in their workplaces and always closed up shop. He put up a hand in greeting when she turned around. Annaleace smiled. “Hey.”
Since it was quite dark, Saienta could see there were quite a large number of Viesen flowers sparkling brightly inside. She noticed his gaze.
“Oh...they belong to lovely Kuki. She’s um...really happy.”
He nodded and half-smiled. She must be in high spirits, he thought, remembering the flowers were connected to the owner’s emotions. Compared to his own sad Viesen flower, these were like a mini fireworks show.
“Finished up?” he asked, and pointed to the store with his cigarette.
She nodded and they started walking back to the training fields together. He noticed she had a new habit of twisting her wedding ring around and around thoughtfully.
“Tiyan’s gone. When will he return?” he asked.
“Two or three days. I don’t know if I can wait that long…”
He looked over and could see the grin she was trying to hold back just thinking about him. She was a nice girl. He was glad she followed her heart despite everything else. He knew about the conflicts she had only a day before the wedding.
Saienta half-smiled. “How is the married life?”
“Oh…you know.” She waved her hand as though it was nothing and then looked sideways at him. She wasn’t fooling anybody. “Okay, it’s great and I can’t help being happy about it. I feel like it’s almost wrong to be this happy and every time I go home, I miss him, and then I start feeling bad about my family and how I can’t share it with them. It’s like…if my mom knew, she’d go crazy for about two seconds ‘cause I’m so young, and then she’d laugh and jump around for the rest of her life.”
She started laughing at herself and looked embarrassed. “Sorry… I sound like a bimbo. It’s weird being married.” She laughed again and shook her head. After a while she said “And the other great thing is having Sirian as my sister. It brought us really close. I know she’s committed to it as well and when she gets married, I’ll definitely do the sister thing for her. Everyone should get married now, even you.”
He laughed and threw his cigarette into the dirt, grounding it out. “You’re going too far now.” Her happiness was getting infectious. He had to admit, he hadn’t spoken to many people like this, except for Corey. It was one of the reasons he was starting to like being in Sandra, even though he wouldn’t admit that to himself. On the other side of the Gate, there were few people he would talk to; he was forced to get to know them.
However, he had his burning Red Tide tattoo to remind him who he was. The good things here couldn’t last forever, at least not for him.
Saienta stopped. He felt something was very wrong, could sense it in the air that danger was approaching. Annaleace hardly noticed, lost in her happiness, and then stopped a metre away, turning around to see the intense look on his face. Her smile dropped as she registered something was wrong as well. They both looked around them, trying not to move too much, as though movement might get them into trouble. What had made Saienta stop in the first place was the feeling that the street they were on was too empty, and too dark. Someone had put the lanterns on the walls out but it wasn’t just that. He could feel there were people watching them, waiting. There were people behind and in front, caging them in, approaching carefully. Annaleace gave Saienta a look as though asking Who are they? Can we take them on? If they were soldiers, he was doubtful. They were nowhere near good in their training.
He relaxed and stood up straight with defiance in his eyes. Such as it was he lit another cigarette even though he just finished one. Whoever they were, it would make no difference what they did. Saienta would rather die in hate than fear. Annaleace stood watching him at first in fear and doubt, and then came to the same conclusion as he did because she put on a look of contempt and even put a hand on her waist as though bored.
He heard girlish laughter further down the street from behind him, and he saw Annaleace look even more annoyed as the people approached.
“You,” Annaleace said in a tone of disgust. “Again?”
Saienta understood. The ones behind him were the girls who were jealous of her marriage. They wouldn’t be much of a problem, they were just girls. The ones behind Annaleace however, were the problem, and Saienta felt it in every part of his mind as he watched them approach. Soldiers; four of them.
He couldn’t feel his darkness creeping up on him but it was close.
Annaleace and Saienta now stood facing each other, hemmed in on both sides.
It took a single instant. Saienta’s lit cigarette fell from his hand to the ground, ash hitting the ground blazing for an instant in his mind as a symbol of his defiance meaning nothing to them. The soldiers hazed and forced them against a brick wall, binding both of them up in rope so quickly that they barely had time to register what was happening to them. There was a stupid sounding giggle from someone enjoying the indignity they suffered. A gag was tied around their mouths and Saienta and Annaleace could do nothing but glare back at them with the deepest hate. They were pushed to their knees and Saienta had to look up at the people looming over them. Ten of them in all. A lot of people to take in. This was going to be worse than the beatings because it was definitely unsanctioned. The General could not have commanded this, he could sense it.
Annaleace was squirming next to him, trying to untie her hands but it was useless. These soldiers were efficient.
Saienta recognised only one or two of the guys as soldiers he had seen around, and he recognised all six girls as the ones that had harassed Annaleace. It occurred to him he had accumulated enemies here but he hadn’t imagined they would have done anything knowing the village leaders favoured them. Unless of course, they had a good way to cover it all up without being caught.
“She’s almost here,” said one of the soldiers to the others. “Another minute.”
“Your prettiness can’t save you now, can it?” one of the girls took the opportunity and spoke in a sympathetic voice to Annaleace. Saienta remembered she was at the wedding. Probably one of the criers. “You think it’s all over because you’re married? How deluded. It’ll never be over. Not until all of you, all six of you, are gone.”
Bitter bitch. She probably cried at night and dreamed of getting revenge.
Saienta managed to make a laughing sound. The soldiers shot him a look of anger. “What do you find funny?”
He continued to laugh. He made a muffled sound as he explained what he thought was so funny, not that they could understand a word of it. They got annoyed and pulled down his gag. “The others,” he said, “aren’t here. How do you expect to get to them? As soon as we disappear, the others will catch on and you’ll never get past the General or Ame.”
Saienta glanced over at Annaleace and saw she was still looking defiant.
Saienta could read the fleeting look of anxiety and doubt on some of their faces at his words. And there it was.
They didn’t have the others because Moth had called them to a meeting for an unknown reason. Annaleace and Saienta had missed it. Moth had said it wasn’t very important, in fact, he wasn’t sure what the meeting was for at all. Now Saienta had a feeling he knew what it was for.
“Who fucked up?” Saienta asked with cold humour. “Was it you?” he asked antagonizing the most dangerous-looking one. “Did you get the timetables wrong?”
“Shut the fuck up!” he yelled, and hazed forward, slamming his knee into Saienta’s face. It was the worst hit he had ever taken, just when he thought he had had the worst of it from the numerous beatings they been through recently, it seemed to come from all directions at once, probably because the back of his head slammed into the brick wall behind him from the force of it. The soldier didn’t hold back. Pain exploded through his skull and blood flowed freely from his nose. He felt it leaking from his ears and maybe some more places. It surprised him that he didn’t fall unconscious. At least his eyeballs felt like they were still in his head. He started laughing because it hurt so much and it was sort of funny, the eyeballs thing. “Oh…fuck…”
There were a few sounds of surprise and one of the girls murmured - was she murmuring? - something like, “You idiot! You could have killed him! You know how weak they are. We can’t throw them back through the gate dead.”
“Actually we could,” said someone else. “Not a bad plan.”
“Oh shut up, we aren’t murdering them.”
When he managed to open his eyes with effort, he could see Annaleace trying to wriggle out of her bonds, and looking at the others with complete hate. They gagged Saienta again, he guessed they weren’t pleased with what he had to say. His eyes opened slowly.
Annaleace was breathing heavily, keeping her dark gaze on one of the girls.
“You see,” the girl said, keeping her look of contempt on Annaleace. She leaned down and brushed Annaleace’s hair back off her shoulder. “We hate your presence in our world. We’re doing everyone a favour by removing you. It’s not just the Tiyan thing either. It’s everything. It’s insulting. We can’t understand why village leaders like Ame and the General want you here. You are such an embarrassment to our village we feel you’ll take us down with you. You think you’re our saviours and we simply can’t abide it any longer.”
One of the soldiers laughed and spat on Saienta. “You can’t even save yourselves.”
“Losers. You didn’t even realise that you’re here on trial anyway. If you hadn’t improved, the General would have thrown you through the Gate, erasing your memories anyway. We’re doing you a favour, saving you from the humiliation.”
Blood trickled from his ears and he felt it sliding slowly down his neck. There was a ringing that was growing louder and he found he had to concentrate to hear them.
One of the soldiers reached down and using some kind of Mythra, broke off the string on Saienta’s finger. It felt strange, he’d grown used to it being there. He then snapped Annaleace’s off and put it in his pocket. “I’ll keep these as a memento.”
I’ll keep your severed hands as a fucking memento.
One of the girls reached down and slid Annaleace’s wedding ring off her finger. Annaleace could only watch in horror and struggle to get free. The girl pocketed it and grinned down at her. He could see the pain in Annaleace’s eyes at the thought of that girl having her wedding ring from Tiyan.
He’ll get it back for you, was all he could think.
“She’s coming,” someone said, looking off into the dark. The soldier stood up and waved away the ones who weren’t soldiers. The girls gave Annaleace one last look of triumph and walked away, disappearing into the dark.
A moment later, another soldier arrived, hazing to them. She stopped and eyed the scene carefully. The soldiers straightened and their looks of hate fell away, replaced with cold formality as they saluted her. “Commander Mira.”
Saienta got the feeling Commander Mira knew nothing about their treatment and he struggled in his bindings, trying to tell her that this was wrong.
“You are sure the General commanded this?” she said, looking down at them and then at the other soldiers.
Saienta and Annaleace pleaded at her with their eyes, struggling to get free. She was a light of hope for them.
One of the soldiers nodded. “The General has ordered that these two have their memories obliterated of this world immediately. All spaces in-between should be filled in as much as possible.”
She looked at the soldiers carefully. They couldn’t be lying, not all five of them. “I need to clear this up with the General first. This is a serious order. My Obliteration ability is not taken lightly.”
Annaleace was nodding. He could tell she was saying ‘yes’ again and again.
The soldiers looked fleetingly worried about this. The one who was like the leader of the group spoke again. “This is an urgent request. We are required to put them through the Gate before the night is over and the General is otherwise engaged, it is why he sent us to do this for him.”
She thought it over and Annaleace was shaking her head fervently but Commander Mira wasn’t looking. Saienta growled in frustration.
Commander Mira nodded, running a thumb over her lip contemplatively. “I have a mission in the city after this and I won’t be returning for three days. It is the only reason I can foresee for the urgency.”
Saienta growled again and kicked the brick wall behind him with a foot. His head was still aching.
Commander Mira reached down and placed her two fingertips on each of Saienta’s temples. Once he locked gazes with her, he couldn’t pull away or close his eyes.
In an instant, everything from just before the first time he had stepped through the Gate, to now, was obliterated from his mind, leaving blank spaces. She filled them in with blurry memories of normal routines he had before he had gone through the Gate that very first day. She only had to turn on a switch that made him reason out most of the blank spaces in his mind on his own.
He had never gone to the Golden Sands or Akaino tech. One day he might go to a paintball skirmish, he always wanted to try it.
Once he had said to Ame that their deaths would mean nothing to him, with the possible exception of Corey. The memory was eliminated into nothing.
It was too dangerous to let him remember the other five. Annaleace was just the new girl. Who was Ryan? Elli was the girl he had returned the bracelet to. Sirian was the girl Cedric had made the bet on, the bet with Saienta for five grand that he could sleep with her in two days. Did he win that bet? He was sure he did.
It was a meticulous process and reminded him vaguely of Forx’s ability, except that he was sure she didn’t see into his mind, she only pulled the trigger. Every time he thought of something to do with this world it linked to other memories and then were shoved away into a void and replaced with foggy memories that might explain the absence. There was no friendship with Corey. There was the day he had gone to his house to work on the paired project. He had broken up the friendship because he didn’t want Corey in his kind of fucked up life. Corey was class-president in Ellet College for fuck’s sake.
There were many other blank spaces, such as what happened to Rell and why he was at the cruise, but they couldn’t be helped. He became Saienta, the one who was in Red Tide and attended Ellet College, cleaned office buildings and worked on a farm. He was the one who hated everyone at Ellet, and fell asleep in class because he worked all night. He did become an official Red Tide recently, which was good.
He saw a harsh white light, and his eyelids fluttered, letting him have a brief glimpse of the stars of Sandra before he was knocked unconscious.
“What. The. Fuck?” Saienta growled as he woke up to a pounding pain in his head. He held a hand to his temple and then looked up. He creased his forehead as he looked up at the stars. Why was he sleeping outside? He noticed he was on hard concrete too and looking around, it had to be the school roof. He had seen it enough times to know except not usually in the dark. He creased his forehead. His schoolbag was lying next to him, and not far from that, was the curled sleeping figure of a girl. He stood up and shook her awake. She better have some answers.
The girl murmured as though she was in pain. Who was she, and why was she sleeping on the roof with him? He had a suspicion he might have taken something, but he didn’t understand why he would take drugs as a Red Tide.
Her face contorted in pain and in the dim light, tears might have been leaking from her eyes. “-that they would give up on him,” she whispered to herself in grief. “I won’t forget…I thought it was over…”
Slowly, she woke up and then looked around her in confusion. She looked at him as though he had put her here, and then sat up.
“Who are you?” he asked tonelessly, his voice cracking from the dryness of his throat. When she sat up, he recognised her a little more.
“Annaleace…why am I... here?” She looked as confused as he felt, and seemed afraid of him. He knew he had that affect on people but it wasn’t usually this bad. She looked repulsed by him. “You have blood on your um…everywhere…What day is it?”
He touched his face and his fingers came away with blood. He winced at the pain. “Tch.” He couldn’t feel any blood on him. He took out his phone, the CA7 he had stolen from Corey, and switched it on. He couldn’t actually remember the date either. “Sunday…the 15th of October?” The last few weeks seemed blurry and he had to think about it. There was nothing unusual about the last few weeks, he was just confused about why he was on the school roof at 9pm, next to the new girl, sleeping, on a Sunday. If he had fallen asleep during school as he usually did, it meant he would have been there since Friday afternoon. That made no sense. No sense at all.
He stood up and held his head. It was late, he had better find the rest of his Red Tide guys and see what they were up to. They were probably wondering where he was. But first he wanted to get home and wash off the blood. Annaleace picked up her bag and looked at her black pants strangely. She dismissed it and slung her bag over her shoulder. “Do you…have any idea how to get off this roof? My parents will be worried,” she said hesitantly. She looked afraid and he didn’t blame her.
He ignored her and lead the way heading for the door. It was unlocked and he made his way down the stairs and through the dark corridor with her following behind.
“Wait a second,” she said. “Do you mind?” she asked, pointing to her locker. He glanced at her and then leaned with his back against the wall, signifying he would wait.
She opened it and started putting books into her bag. Saienta was looking into the darkness, wondering why he felt strange, like there were things missing from his mind. There were feelings, or something, that he was supposed to be used to. He stopped thinking about it when he heard her gasp.
She was looking at a photo tacked to the inside of her locker door. “What is this? I don’t remember this…it looks like I was at the cruise with my brother and that other girl, Sirian?”
How could she not remember something like that? “Huh. Stupid girl,” he said and shook his head. Annaleace looked at him a little self-consciously. She kept rubbing her fingertip over her ring finger. People usually did that when they wore something there as a habit but she wore no ring, and he couldn’t see why she would wear a ring there anyway.
When he rode his RSV back home, he found it strange breathing, and then realised his lungs felt cleaner and he was less short of breath. That was strange. He was having a weird night and wanted to get it over and done with. When he reached his garage, he opened it and parked his bike inside, sliding the roller door shut behind him. Everything was as it should be. There was some comfort in that. That was until he reached his bed.
His helmet dropped from his hand when he noticed a photo frame standing on his bedside drawer and he picked it up. What the hell was that? He was standing in a suit, with no shirt, next to that girl Elli, and Corey. It was disturbing. He was sure it had to be the night of the cruise, but he couldn’t think of why he would even go. He opened his top drawer and put it in face down, deciding to ignore it all, at least until his head wasn’t pounding, and maybe not even then.
Later, after a long shower, he checked through his phone and was disturbed by the fact that some of the last incoming and outgoing calls were from and to Corey. He didn’t remember talking to Corey. Why would he talk to him now? He deleted the number and then checked his messages.
Meet u at the gate at skool this time. I’m taking my car.
That was from Corey. Saienta felt like he had taken something heavy. He sat up and went through the next message, this one from a guy named Ryan, whoever that was.
We’re meeting on the other side of the Gate this time. We’re staying 4 a nite, donno about u guys.
Saienta’s head was aching. He must have been hit hard with a steel pole. Fuck this, he couldn’t figure it out. He threw his phone across the floor and it clattered noisily but didn’t break. A well-made phone, he thought vaguely, and was glad he had stolen it. He rolled onto his side and noticed a phone charger next to his other one. When did he get a charger for the CA7? Were they even out on the market? He growled in irritation and rolled onto his other side.
He closed his eyes. It wasn’t frustrating anymore. His scars were hurting, throbbing painfully like his head was. Why was there so much missing from his mind? It hurt in a way. He felt there were important things missing, things that had made life...fuller. There were meant to be places to go, goals to work towards but he couldn’t figure out what they were. Every dream he knew he worked for seemed insignificant. He felt more limited than he had ever felt.
Now there were holes, wide crevices that he couldn’t reach into and fill up. He was walking through darkness. In the silence he began to fall into the first stages of sleep, but it was restless and his thoughts were fragmented. There was no peace in this sleep. In the darkness, he walked, wondering who was walking beside him. There were footsteps and voices. He turned to ask who was with him but found he had no voice and felt that even if he asked, the others wouldn’t answer. Maybe they would. They were starting to stir fear in him. He had a torch in his hands. He turned it on to see who was there, but the light wouldn’t come on. It seemed to make everything darker. There are those who will miss your presence. He found it difficult to breathe. No one would miss his presence, not in this life.
What are you on about, Saienta?
Grey was there to meet them on the other side with a smile. His kind face seemed to decrease his worry but not the uncertainty. Corey managed a strained smile and looked away, not wanting to meet his eyes twice. Saienta had always said he was terrible at separating his thoughts from his expressions. All he could feel was an empty space inside his stomach; a place where their friendship existed and he clutched a hand to it as though trying to fill the void.
When did his life begin to change, and so rapidly? Not only personally, but mentally? It felt like it all began on his seventeenth birthday when his normal, mundane days progressively evolved. If he thought about it, his friendship with Saienta might not have been what it was if he hadn’t stolen his phone and if Miss Silvalet hadn’t paired them up for an English project and given Corey the chance to approach him.
Although life at home hadn’t changed then, his dad Hiroka had spent more time at Akaino Tech Industries than he did at home. In truth, Corey had spent most of his life without his dad. The three story house mainly occupied his lone self and Corey would never forget what it felt like to live in a house for one. But that was then; now the roles were reversed. And since journeying back and forth between the two worlds, he tried often not to think about their sometimes strained but on-the-mend relationship.
Sandra was the biggest change of all, for all of them. Corey hadn’t known Ryan, Annaleace and Sirian then. The twins had recently transferred to Ellet Secondary College and so he knew them only by name. As for Sirian, everyone in school knew that name and face. It was hard not to. She volunteered and involved herself in almost everything the school had from sports to committees. The girl she had once been was not the type of person that he took any significant interest in then, but in the time they had spent together he’d realised Sirian had many likable traits as opposed to her looks, heels and money. And soon enough, she’d lost the heels, the stylish hair to Sandra and even dropped most of her school commitments.
Sandra was almost a month old to them, and many things had happened. They were trained under the General almost every morning and every afternoon between school hours, which they eventually heard was a process that took the majority of soldiers years and years to accomplish. In a word, they were hated by most of the soldiers and the things the six of them had been given during their stay. They had the best houses in the South; not that they had asked for it, and were voted in by the village leaders to participate in the New Years festival; not that they had asked for it, and even the villagers were wary of them but only from thirteen year old Sin’s rumours.
They had been through a substantial amount of hardships considering the short amount of time that had passed. They were verbally abused for how pathetic they were in skill and strength. The soldiers were extremely wary of Saienta and believed him to be too unstable to reside in Sandra. Annaleace had been taunted by the village girls because Tiyan, whom was once an eligible bachelor in the entire South, was taken by her and they had just married. Nobody appeared willing to hire them as outsiders but Wing-Moth, one of the village leaders, had found a way around this. And now, Saienta and Annaleace have no memory of this place, thought Corey. But he didn’t regret his time here. There were many good things that had happened that were irreplaceable and it almost made their hardships worth it. Almost.
Corey came to life as soon as he reached Ame’s front door. The sight came as such a shock that he tried to remember the journey from the ruin city to Sandra. He had no memory of it and for a moment panicked that he too had lost his memory, and then felt stupid at his own paranoia. The strain in his legs from the horse ride was proof enough. Grey leaned past Corey to open it and Corey looked up in mild surprise. He hadn’t realised Grey following them since their usual drop-off spot.
The General, Ame and Wing-Moth looked up at them from the low table and Corey thought how unusual it was to gather here together at this time of day. They didn’t question why the four of them were here instead of on the fields training. In fact, they looked as though they had been waiting for them. Grey closed the door behind them. “They haven’t spoken a word.”
Ame raised a hand briefly and suddenly he felt safe. The day he’d experienced was still there but the emotions that came with it weren’t as unbearable. He was able to think clearly and it was a relief. Corey smelt something delicious and noticed there were several steaming bowls of soup on the table.
“Join us,” Ame smiled. “I’ve made enough for seconds.”
There wasn’t much room at the table but they all managed to fit. Corey picked up his spoon and used it to wade through the soup, disturbing the broth at the bottom. He took a mouthful and savored the taste. They ate in silence until everyone finished.
“I wouldn’t say no to seconds,” Wing-Moth announced. Corey and the others nodded in agreement. The General was the only person to decline. Ame refilled their bowls.
Wing-Moth heaved a sigh. “I have a certain feeling that something has happened to Annaleace and Saienta. And from the looks on your faces when you walked in, I would say I’m right.
My son, Lieutenant Grey and my granddaughter were discussing this prior to your arrival and we thought it serious enough to have Grey collect you this afternoon.
I have a confession to make. Yesterday, I called you all here of your own free will and you accepted. Annaleace and Saienta did not. They did not show up for training this morning and again their absence is unmistakable.
Yesterday, I had a vision that as of today, the six of you would disappear from my sight forever. Something was going to happen and I could not see what exactly. What I did know was when it was going to happen. And my plan worked for you four. But Annaleace and Saienta are gone from my sight completely. Admittedly, I hoped – even if one of you showed up that it would put a stop to it. Evidently, I was wrong.”
Corey had not touched his soup during the entire speech. He felt a little relieved that they knew something was going on, and a little confused. Corey was about to voice this when Ryan asked it first. “Why didn’t you say anything yesterday?” The tone in his voice came out strained from controlling his anger.
Wing-Moth crossed his arms over his olive green overcoat and for a moment was serious. “If I had said so you would not have been able to act as though nothing had changed. As I’ve explained, I was trying to prevent the outcome.”
Grey leaned toward them from across the table. “He did the right thing by not saying. Imagine that Moth was able to prevent it, would you want to know about it later? He would have reported what he knew to the General anyway and it would be our concern.
This may sound blunt, but this situation is more favourable. From here, we should be able to find out what Moth could not see.
This is a serious matter, and although it is too early to judge fairly, our instincts are leaning towards a possible offense.” Ame looked saddened at the thought. “We need to know what has become of them both though.”
Sirian tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. “Saienta and Annaleace don’t remember Sandra… They don’t remember you and they barely remember us.” Ame was shocked by the news. Lieutenant Grey met the General’s eye and they shared a look. They were void of any facial expression and if Corey didn’t know any better he could have sworn they were having a telepathic conversation. Maybe they were – none of them knew the General’s mythra.
“There’s only one person in Sandra with that capability,” Grey acknowledged. “I have utmost faith in her. I can not think of one plausible motive.”
The General nodded. “Even so, Commander Mira will be interrogated immediately – regardless of reason, she is guilty of erasing my soldiers memories without my authorisation. When this meeting has ended, I will request a soldier to escort her home. As she left just yesterday, she won’t be out of our reach.”
Not once in the time spent in Sandra had he or the other five met any of the commanders, and to learn that a commander under the General had used her mythra on Annaleace and Saienta was unsettling. It was common knowledge that the majority of soldiers were against their residency, but for someone to openly revolt the village leader’s decision was a disloyalty. It was hard to imagine when Corey had always thought the village people and soldiers were loyal and respectful to their leaders. They were a close community, like one big family; much unlike his own.
“That’s frightening. To think if I had changed my mind, I would have lost my memories too,” Sirian said.
“That’s not all that’s wrong,” Elli intervened. “They aren’t wearing these.” Corey assumed she couldn’t remember the name for it so she held up her pinkie finger with the string around it. There was a wave of interest on their faces. Corey looked at Ame and said, “I remember you told us that if we broke our promise they would break. I don’t believe Saienta or Annaleace would do that.”
“That’s right,” Sirian agreed. “Annaleace just got married – she was so happy. It doesn’t make sense that she would.” Ryan rolled his eyes as if it was irrelevant. Elli saw this and nudged him in the ribcage.
“Tenshi is the term,” Ame corrected Elli. “Tenshi can not be cut or taken off by hand, no matter how strong the individual.”
“Tenshi can not be forcefully broken unless mythra is used in a precise way,” Grey confirmed. “Others must be involved…”
The General turned to the four of them. “I want you to bring Annaleace and Saienta through the Gate Wednesday afternoon. Commander Mira will be back by then. Choose whichever way you will to bring them back. Your tenshis are no longer required.
You will continue with your usual routine. Whilst you are here, you will remain under constant surveillance and Lieutenant Grey will escort you to and from Sandra. Meanwhile, you are forbidden to speak of this to anyone. Understood?” he grunted.
They nodded in union.
Corey sleeked back his soaked hair and felt the water run down his neck. The cool was welcoming after hours of sweat and body heat during training. If he had to compare it to another day’s training, he knew they had worked harder before. But his mind was still back in Ame’s living room kitchen, going over the conversation. And the others were more than likely experiencing something similar. Because there was some daylight left, they thought of starting with horse hazing but remembered they couldn’t. Tiyan had already left for Nersa. Corey wasn’t disappointed and was grateful to have a rest from it, being his least favourite area of training. Whenever he and Saienta could fit it in, Corey had practiced riding on Saienta’s property. He was getting more used to it and he felt fine riding at a slow trot, but then again he did have more control holding the reins and it was still a different story to riding without any equipment.
Elli was holding onto her knees and staring at the ground when she looked up at them, squinting slightly because of the sun in her eyes. “Call it quits?”
Ryan had taken off his shirt and was wringing the water from it. “Yeah. I’d like to get home and figure out how to talk Annaleace into following me up to the school roof.”
“We’ll come up with something, together,” Sirian said.
“I know this is strange to say,” Sirian began again, “but I feel like I’ve just had déjà vu.”
“How do you mean?” Corey asked curiously.
Elli was watching her with mild interest. “Déjà vu as in, we’ve been here before? Because we have. Many times.”
“No, Elli,” Sirian replied as if it was a dumb thing to say. “I was just thinking about what the priest said during the ceremony about me; that I would be her guardian from outside evils and that’s when I felt like I’ve stood here before thinking and remembering the same thing.”
“It probably means nothing,” Ryan casually said over his shoulder whilst putting his shirt back on.
“Thank God Tiyan won’t be back until Wednesday,” Elli murmured.
Corey looked over his shoulder and saw Grey within sight and wondered if the General had placed him in charge of watching over them. Throughout their whole training, Grey had been there. “I have to go to work,” he remembered out loud. “I’ll see you back at school.”
“You can’t get out of it?” Elli suggested.
Corey shook his head, unenthused by the idea of work. “No. I said I would.”
He didn’t bother changing out of his clothes and by the time he reached the blacksmith square they were more or less dry. The sound of hammering of metal filled his ears. He put his black apron on and began the repetitive process of shoveling coal into the carts lined up next to the coal heap. He was hot and sweaty again – not from the summer air; from the heat of many furnaces burning away at once. Corey hadn’t much of an opportunity to watch the blacksmiths at work. The one time he did, he watched for barely a minute before the blacksmith ordered him to get back to work.
When he finished four carts full, he set off with one and wheeled it to shed nine. He knew which shed to go to because it was written on the side of the cart. There were ten sheds in total and they too were numbered. It was the first time he’d seen all ten sheds were in use. So far, the average sheds open were anywhere from four to six, but it meant very little since he had only just started working there.
Corey wheeled cart nine back to the coal heap and delivered two more. The last one was cart ten. He was almost there when Gage walked out with a sword, leant it against the shed wall and disappeared inside. Everyone was working hard and it was extremely busy like his boss had said. Corey wondered how many more hours it would take for them to meet the demand.
Somehow, he managed to deliver coal to each shed and was starting to feel like death. The thought of sleeping curled up on the dirt during work hours seemed less humiliating as time passed. He had been at work for a few hours and Corey felt the strain in his muscles and ache in his back. Even though he wore gloves to prevent skin irritation, he could still feel the ache where calluses were forming. Corey stilled the cart and made his way over to the water tank. In the square, the inescapable heat distorted the shape of everything at a distance. It didn’t help they were in summer and each day was getting noticeably warmer. He looked above at the stars and a vague thought crossed his mind about how they were brighter here than at home. Corey threw off his gloves and turned on the tap, washed away the dirt on his face and gulped as much water as his stomach could fill. He looked over at shed ten and noticed that the sword Gage had put outside was now gone. He thought about going to see him but there was a constant hammering from inside and thought against it.
His eyes fell on to the display wall. It was something he had wanted to do since his first day and decided to take a short break. Every now and then soldiers and spectators, some of them reminding him of excited tourists, came to admire the swords on display. It must’ve been open to anyone who wanted to see and he figured they must be worth a look. He ascended the steps to it wondering what amazing swords he might see in their glass cases. There were at least twenty swords on display and as he neared he noticed inside each case was a plaque similar to the one on their front door. Corey read one and it listed the name of the sword, weight, strength of blade and lastly the craftsmen/craftswomen’s name. He looked at several and thought the craftsmanship the blacksmiths put in to making them were something amazing. No sword was the same. They all had different structures, weights and magnificent design. He came across one sword that was mythra infused and wasn’t sure what that meant. It didn’t explain the difference between a normal sword and mythra infused one. In comparison there was no visible difference.
“Nice, aren’t they?” he heard Gage say. Corey turned to see him climbing the steps. It was hard not to be impressed by them.
Gage stopped beside him and his look was calculating. “How long have you been here in Sandra?”
Corey thought for a moment. “A month.”
Gage nodded thoughtfully. “I heard from a soldier that Sin’s dog is stronger than all of you.” He grinned, looking as though he wanted to laugh. “Are you really that bad?”
Corey smiled at the truth in these words. “I’d say so. Our first day of training was also Sin’s birthday and he was given Kitten for a present.”
“Kitten?” Gage looked confused.
“That’s the dog’s name,” he explained. “As I said before, we’ve been here a month and Sin taught Kitten to haze about two weeks ago. We can barely lift our legs when the jinkai weights are on. You’ve met Sin, have you?”
Gage shook his head, still humoured from his response. “No, not personally but I thought you might have since this ‘Sin’ spreads rumours about you all as if he’s made to suffer by watching you train.”
Corey explained the offhand things he did just to tease them and disrupt their training. When he finished, he reread the plaque of the mythra infused sword and wondered if Gage knew anything about them. “What’s the difference between a normal sword and a mythra infused one?”
Gage lit a cigarette with a match and then rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. “A mythra infused sword heightens the blades capacity. It can cut through the strongest metals. It’d be pointless to fight against one unless both swords are mythra infused. But like all metals, they eventually break down, just takes longer. They’re also rare. I’d expect the General would have one.”
“Can you put mythra in to other substances?” he asked curiously.
Gage took a drag of his cigarette. “Yes, but as I’ve said it is rare. For one, it has to be done by a mythra user capable of disbursing and injecting mythra inside or on an object. There used to be such a user in Sandra but she passed away a few years ago. She was also a Sandra soldier, and a blacksmith, and she loved swords. She’s very famous but since she passed, mythra infused swords could be a thing of the past and eventually other contributions she made to this village, like that tenshi you’re wearing, will not exist. The lieutenants I’ve seen here all wear one on their upper arms and even though I haven’t seen it, I would think the General has something similar.” Corey was in awed amazement and it made him realise how much he didn’t know still. Gage caught his expression and added, “I’ve got a book on mythra infused swords by Kiana Isaura – that famous soldier I mentioned. I’d strongly suggest it for later when you start learning to make swords. I reckon by the time you’ve finished reading it you’ll wonder why you thought these are amazing,” he said pointing to the swords. A bit of ash from the end of his cigarette fell on his finger and he wiped it off onto his apron. Gage looked at him levelly. “How did you get this job?”
Corey rubbed his head idly, wondering if the truth would sound embarrassing out loud. “With little effort, to be honest. I would’ve taken on any miscellaneous job but all the places I went to claimed to have no vacancies. The other outsiders were looking for jobs too and it was the same story. Then a village leader approached us and said he had found us all jobs. I suspect none of our current bosses were aware they had employed outsiders until we showed up at their doorstep.” Corey gave him a rare grin. He found himself comfortable in Gage’s company.
Gage exhaled with a smile and flicked some ash off the end of his cigarette. “When I first came to Sandra, I went looking for a job as a blacksmith. There are several Blacksmith Sqaures, three of which are far superior to the other four. When I was rejected by the two best blacksmiths for being a Northerner, I came here. Coincidently our boss is rivaled with the second man who turned me away. When he heard that I had just come from being turned down by his rival, he took an interest. I went on to say that I’d rather have worked at the other place and right away he took me onboard.” He grinned slyly. “It wasn’t until three days later I told him that he had hired a Northerner. And he said, ‘Any fool could see that’.” Corey laughed, amused by the way Gage found people’s reaction toward his background humorous and he wasn’t afraid to hide it. “I respect and appreciate a good blacksmith. It’s hard work and self rewarding, but it’s not my dream; it’s just what I know.” Corey nodded slowly, thinking about these words. “I’ve dreamt of being a soldier and killing Northern soldiers.”
He noticed the bitterness at the mention of the North and wondered what it was like there. “Become a Southern soldier.”
Gage threw away his cigarette; it rolled down the steps and onto the ground. The tone in his voice came out as irritated. “No, there’s no sense in trying.”
“There is,” Corey replied firmly.
Gage turned to him with narrowed eyes. “I came from the North, Corey. The North isn’t trusted here,” he said flatly. “The South would never consider it.”
Corey watched Gage descend the steps and disappear into the shed. It must have mattered, he thought, otherwise he wouldn’t have lost his temper. He walked back to his cart and readied himself for more labor.
Corey wedged then steadied his shovel deep into the coal heap. He looked down at his shaky hands and tried to ignore the pain in them. He was sure it was past eleven and wondered how much longer he would last. The tiredness he worked through had been replaced with adrenaline and now found that he was wide awake, but his body was protesting against it. The late nights at Akaino Tech Industries were gradually altering his normal body clock and he found he could stay awake for longer. It was useful to gain more hours in the day but he was paying for it dearly emotionally and physically.
He looked over at the shed Gage was working in. All the sheds had an orange, flickering glow inside them. It looked like each shed was on fire but he knew it was just the furnaces. Sythe, Corey’s boss, appeared round the corner of shed ten and called Gage out. He saw them exchange a few words and then Sythe pat him on the back, then turned and advanced toward Corey.
“Corey,” he called with his gruff voice, waving a hand as if to get his attention but Corey was already looking his way. He wondered what had just happened between them. “You can deliver that lot,” he said, looking at the three carts full, “and be on your way. We’ll be working for at least another hour but we’ll be right for fuel.”
Corey nodded, glad to be let off but strangely felt satisfied.
On his way back Corey tried to look, without being obvious, around the street in search of anyone following him. A part of him wanted to find out who, under the General’s order, was looking out for him for some peace of mind but there were many soldiers out that night. On one side of the road, there was a group of soldiers having a drink in what he imagined to be a tavern and on the other side was a soldier looking inside a weaponry store. There were soldiers walking toward or away from him on their way to someplace and they did little more than glance or ignore him.
“Hey. You.” A man grabbed his arm to stop him and Corey turned. The man let go immediately and apologised for the way he had got his attention, but Corey recognised him at once and bowed. They’d never been properly introduced so he didn’t know his actual name. The man was in fact Saienta’s boss at the Registry office and he returned the bow. “That boy Saienta didn’t show at work today.”
“Oh.” Corey hadn’t realised that he should’ve been and said the first thing that came to mind. “I don’t know the details but he couldn’t make it here.” The man knew that Corey was referring to Sandra and that Saienta was not in their world.
“Right, well the next time you see him, tell him the least he could do is send me a note.” He gave him an unsure look. “We have a postal service – mind you we don’t often use it unless it’s going outside of Sandra. Normally if we have something to say to somebody, we visit them.”
Corey nodded. “I’ll pass on the message.”
The next morning, the school gathered for assembly and were brought up-to-date on the school’s recent and upcoming plans. One of those plans was the end of year ball and the students began their excited whispers, even though they had just had the Shipwrecked Shindig not that long ago. Corey rarely attended such things but he wondered if this time would be different – he was class president and it was probably mandatory for him to go. It wasn’t a comforting thought.
Looking around, he tried to pick the other four out in the crowd. Saienta never came to assembly and probably never would. Sirian was with Keiji and her jock friends a few rows down, Ryan was with Sara and Mark behind him to his left, Elli was in her twelfth year and so she was right down the back with her peers, and Annaleace was in the row in front of him to his left. His eyes caught sight of her fingers rubbing where her wedding ring once was and he stared for a moment. There was a pained confusion on her face, biting the inside of her lip, and then she started twisting a strand of her hair. He was probably being hopeful but it looked like she was trying to remember something important. Only the four of them knew just how important.
Earlier on after English, Corey reached his locker.
“Hey, Morgan,” he heard over the noise in the school hallway. He stared at his locker with a hand pressed to it, listening only. “Are you coming to soccer training with us? … Man, this’ll be the third time you’ve ditched practice.”
“What are you doing then?” somebody else asked.
“Nothing.” Morgan sounded irritated. “I’m just busy, alright?”
“You haven’t got a girlfriend have you? That would explain some things.”
Morgan must have answered with a shake of his head because he never replied.
“Yeah, right…” a friend said doubtfully.
“Just drop it already,” Morgan growled. Corey felt a draft as he left and left his friends to stare after him.
Corey opened his locker listlessly to retrieve his Literature textbook and then shut it. Turning, he saw Alexia and Tidus in the corridor. He realised she had been trying to catch his eye and now that he was watching she waved and he smiled hello. Tidus only glanced at him because that’s where Alexia’s attention had been but was otherwise ignored. Lately, he had noticed their relationship was quite serious. They weren’t usually seen apart in school, with the exception of classes, and Corey could see why some Ellet boys had their eyes on her; but that was before he had even known she was Saienta’s half sister and before it was widely known in school that they were dating.
He made his way to the classroom when he heard someone call out and he turned around to see Tidus catching up. Corey stopped and wondered what he wanted because they hadn’t spoken to each other since their last heated conversation and couldn’t see what else he would have to say. Corey was getting used to his judgmental face, but this time he didn’t look angry. In fact, he looked sympathetic.
“I saw what happened yesterday at your locker. I didn’t mean to pry or anything, I just happened to be looking your way when it happened… I’m sorry.” At these words alone, Corey knew exactly which incident Tidus was referring to and was rendered speechless. He hoped Tidus hadn’t heard the conversation between them. It was bad enough that he was already suspicious of the six of them and the last thing Corey needed was for him to find out where they were going before and after school.
“Don’t be. Nothing has changed,” he said firmly.
Tidus shook his head a little, visibly frustrated by the reply. “How can you say that? We’ve been friends longer and here you are defending him. I saw that expression he gave you. It was the same one he gave to me before he turned his back completely. Are you going to justify his ignoring you as well? Look, I’m not mad at you. I’ve been trying to tell you since that this would happen. I’m just looking out for you, Corey.”
He scoffed, thinking how hypocritical that was and kept his voice low so that nobody else could hear but him. Tidus had no idea what was going on and Corey was tired of him jumping to his own conclusions. “Your idea of looking out for someone is telling Alexia’s half-brother to end what relationship they had. I thought I understood you but I don’t.” Tidus looked a little shocked. “Don’t go blaming Saienta for going back on his word, ‘cause I was the one who fixed your mess. Alexia doesn’t know or need to know what happened so let’s keep it that way.”
“I guess I don’t know you anymore,” Tidus said finally and there was a look of resentment in his eyes. “I felt guilty at first but now I couldn’t care less so I’ll tell you.” He paused purposefully and his face turned unfriendly. “I was the one who told Dean Haru that you six had missed school.”
Corey watched him leave in the same direction as the building exit even though class was about to start. A part of him wanted to go after him, but the other part had no reason too – none at all. He remembered the look on his dad’s face when Hiroka had learnt he’d purposefully missed school and the conversation which followed. It had caused them a whole new set of problems and now it was hard not to blame Tidus for it instead of themselves. Corey wondered what the others would think if he told them that afternoon but it was a fleeting, bitter thought and decided against it. After all, he didn’t hate Tidus. And the others didn’t need something else to think about. But since how this was an ongoing triangular problem, the only person he would ever tell is Saienta.
At the end of school, Corey went to get his bag from his locker. A part of him was hoping Saienta would show and greet him as normal. He realised how accustomed he’d become to it and now that he was stripped of it – there was no other way to say it, he missed it. Not even Tidus had paid him that sort of attention. A faint smell of tobacco drifted over and as though on cue with his train of thought, Saienta appeared at his locker. It was hard to avoid since their lockers were right next to each other. Corey pretended not to notice or care to save himself another repeat of yesterday and began piling his bag with textbooks for revision. Saienta grabbed his stuff; shut his locker and walked off toward the school exit. Corey knew the situation was impermanent and it would be over in a matter of hours. He would make sure of it.
That afternoon in Sandra, the four of them were out on the fields with jinkai weights on. Corey wiped away more sweat from his brow onto his arm. He had noticed since the Firefly festival the soldiers had stopped wearing their full sleeved uniform shirts and had replaced them with wide shouldered tank tops. They were exactly the same colour and had the Sandra emblem on them of a blue upside-down dragonfly embroidered between the shoulder blades. The only part of their uniform the six of them wore were their soldier pants and that was all they were given. They trained with their own shirts and he wondered if it was intentional or unintended.
Ryan sat down decisively and used a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. Sirian passed him the bottle of water without a word and he drank it in great gulps.
“How do they do it?” Ryan asked nobody in particular, wiping some spilt water from his chin with a hand. “The soldiers. It’s like they don’t feel how hot it is.”
“They’re probably used to training in this heat,” Sirian commented.
Elli covered her mouth to muffle the sound but they knew if anyone wanted to listen they would have heard. “Maybe they’re freaks.”
Corey lowered his head to hide his smile and then looked up and over at them sparring on the field. It was pretty amazing how much stamina they had in these conditions. They too would eventually get used to it one day but for now it was still too much. He realised when watching them that he’d never seen them use their mythra against each other and wondered why that was.
“I’m going to go cool off in the river,” she announced later.
The thought was too tempting to pass up so they took off their jinkai. While they waited for Sirian, Corey saw Sin haze to the General’s office and Ame opened the door. He was saying something to her and Ame reacted in concern. Sin squeezed inside between her and the doorway but Ame stayed out on the veranda, visibly searching for something or someone.
“Corey,” Ryan said, getting his attention. “Are you coming or what?”
He nodded slowly and turned to follow them but Sirian stopped him with her mouth open in alarm. Corey thought he had something creepy on him. “What?” he asked her, and then realised she was looking past him. He turned to see and froze like the rest of them.
Tiyan smiled at them warmly upon approach and they knew it was about to become extremely awkward. None of them were expecting him back till tomorrow. “Hey. Where’s Annaleace? I wanted to surprise her.”
Ryan was doing his best to avoid eye contact.
“You’re back early,” Sirian drifted, trying to keep her voice casual. It was a brave attempt. Corey noticed Ame coming towards them. He realised that she must’ve been looking for Tiyan, but that would have meant that Sin knew what was going on. Tiyan examined them in confusion by their sudden distance towards him and then laughed softly. “That is the purpose of a surprise.”
They all went quiet not knowing what else to say. They were forbidden to talk about what had happened so they couldn’t exactly explain her whereabouts. Sirian and Elli glanced at Annaleace’s husband in sympathy and he become visibly suspicious. He was about to say something when Ame finally saved them.
“Tiyan,” Ame smiled gently, “the General would like to have a word with you and your grandmother in his office. She is already waiting indoors.”
He nodded slowly, giving the four of them one last look over before following her. Some of the soldiers nearby waved to welcome him back. Their greetings were returned but Corey thought it looked half-hearted. The four of them looked at each other when Tiyan disappeared indoors and stood there for a short while utterly speechless. None of them said it but they were thinking it; Tiyan was about to have his question answered. Their desire for a swim in the river vanished and was replaced with a curiosity to know how things would unfold and how Tiyan and his grandmother would react.
They had been in there awhile when finally Tiyan stepped out with lovely Kuki and Corey noticed the strangest thing. The horses had now stopped grazing with their ears pointed up, and then scattered all at once as if something had frightened them.
“He looks pissed,” Elli observed quietly.
“That’s not surprising,” Sirian replied in a tone of voice that told her she’d just stated the obvious.
“I still am pissed,” Ryan added.
“Shit,” Corey breathed, barely audible to his own ears but they were all thinking it as Tiyan and lovely Kuki strode purposefully toward them. They were rendered silent again until they were face to face with an angry but crestfallen lovely Kuki and a stern faced Tiyan.
“Let’s take a walk in the forest together, shall we?” lovely Kuki suggested, not giving them much choice. Tiyan ushered the girls forward with a hand on their backs. Lovely Kuki gripped Corey and Ryan’s arm in an almost vice-like grip and steered them away into the forest, past the river and they kept walking for some time until they reached a clearing under the trees and out of the sun.
“This should be far enough,” lovely Kuki observed and turned to them. “We won’t be overheard here.”
Tiyan jumped right to the point as if he was made to hold his breath the entire time and now that he could breathe again it had to come out. “The General told us everything. I’m sorry Saienta shared the same fate, but my first concern is Annaleace. I need to know, is she okay despite her apparent memory loss?”
“She’s fine. Really.” Sirian comforted. “She’s not hurt anymore than we usually are. And as the General might had already told you, we’re bringing them back tomorrow afternoon.”
“Yes, he said so. I’m coming with you to get Annaleace back,” Tiyan replied. “I won’t sit around useless.”
They exchanged wary glances with each other, with the exception of lovely Kuki who appeared to be on her grandson’s side despite rules being broken. She looked as determined as Tiyan.
“That’s not a good idea,” Sirian responded. “There are soldiers constantly patrolling that area ensuring no one goes in or out except us. If you’re caught, they won’t let you pass and if you try you’ll only get yourself in trouble with the General.”
“My dear girl,” lovely Kuki pitched in, “the Kiseki’s honour family above all else and Annaleace is family. We will break one hundred rules to ensure her safe return and protection.” She stood next to Tiyan and drew herself up proudly.
“Even if you did come,” Ryan added to Tiyan, and Sirian gave him a disapproving look as if he wasn’t against the idea, “you won’t exactly blend in. The chances are you’ll get lost inside the school building and if you are caught by one of our teachers you’ll be escorted off the premises. We’d have to smuggle you back in again.”
“He’ll just knock them out cold,” lovely Kuki dismissed with a wave of her hand.
“I’m going with you, with or without your consent. It would be easier knowing you four will support my decision and help me if the time calls for it.”
Corey put his hands inside his pockets, thoughtful. “I’m for it,” he admitted and the others looked at him in shock. He shrugged. “I’m not saying that what Sirian and Ryan have been saying isn’t true, ‘cause it is. But I don’t think it’s my place to try and stop you so I’m for it.” Tiyan gave him an appreciative smile. Lovely Kuki looked like she wanted to hug him and he was glad she resisted.
Elli sighed with a smile. “I’m with Corey on this. Guess we’ll see you on the other side.” She clapped Tiyan on the back.
Ryan made a groan, growl sort of noise in thought but he sounded defeated. “Alright… Fine.”
“I still think it’s a bad idea,” Sirian said. “But I can’t argue against something like that.”
Lovely Kuki clapped her hands in delight.
Corey went to bed that night but for the longest time couldn’t sleep. His mind was too busy thinking of the next day, when they had to get Saienta and Annaleace through the Gate. He didn’t need to worry about Annaleace so much now that Tiyan was determined to be there and no doubt Sirian and Ryan would help. But Saienta had this notion that they weren’t friends anymore so it was hard to think of a plan that required trust. Saienta didn’t trust anyone he barely knew.
His mind went over intangible things that didn’t make sense when suddenly amidst all of the random words and thoughts realised that there was a way to make sure Saienta went through that Gate. His last thought before he fell asleep was he hoped Saienta wouldn’t hold any grudge toward him later.
Wednesday at school, Corey was at his locker trying not to think about what was ahead for him at the end of the day. He went to open it when Elli called out to him in the corridor.
“Corey! Come now, quickly. Tiyan’s early, he’s roaming the school.”
They hurried off down the hall, into another, passed the toilets, up a staircase to the second level and to the end of a corridor where a bunch of students had stopped to watch the scene. As they neared, a young man with platinum blonde hair wearing the Sandra uniform was walking about and examining each face in the corridor in search for his wife. Tiyan spotted them and approached. Corey saw Sirian in the crowd but she pretended to be a curious onlooker instead of showing association with Tiyan. She mouthed to Corey that she had sent Ryan to get Annaleace, and he nodded.
“Where’s Annaleace?” Tiyan asked.
Elli waved her arms in the air dramatically, showing visible exasperation but Corey could tell she was enjoying it. “Why are you here?”
“I told you before I was coming.” He looked confused.
“I told you to stay away from me. How many times does a girl have to say it, I’m not interested in your fancy jets or debonair looks.” She lowered her voice so nobody but them could hear. “You could have at least dressed casually. You’re a tad noticeable in all your hardcore-ness.” And then continued with her rant. “I’ve told you a million times, I want someone special, not special. I want someone who at least has a sense of direction and doesn’t need to consult a map thrice just to find his way to school that you’ve been attending for years! I mean, is that really so much to ask for! Is that such a big ask?”
While Elli was keeping the crowd occupied, Corey answered Tiyan’s question. “Ryan’s bringing her.” He took off his school jacket and handed it to him. “Put this on while you’re here. You’ll draw less attention to yourself.”
Tiyan slid on his blazer as two twelfth year girls eyed him with more than interest.
“Where are we going, Ryan?” They looked around at the sound of Annaleace’s voice. She looked straight at Tiyan and stopped dead.
Tiyan walked up to her cautiously, ignoring the staring crowd. “Annaleace…” His voice sounded pained and they stared at each other. She lifted her hands and again, Corey saw them rub where her wedding band once was. Tiyan pulled her into his arms and Annaleace let herself be held by this stranger.
“Tiyan?” She said softly, uncertainty in her voice and uncertain of herself. “I… I know you, but… I don’t know where… I can’t remember. I don’t know…” Her voice was shaky. She appeared in great pain as she thought but her mind, confused by inaccessible memories was causing her to panic.
“Do you trust me to follow me to a place where you will remember?” he asked her. “Your brother Ryan can come,” he added reassuringly. Annaleace looked at her twin and after a moment nodded slowly. Corey figured Tiyan wanted Ryan there so Annaleace was more comfortable and obliging.
They walked off together, Sirian discreetly behind them.
Elli turned to Corey. “Now that Romeo’s taken Juliet, you’d better go find Saienta, Corey. I’m going to go with Sirian.”
With a heavy feeling in his stomach, he found Saienta smoking on a bench under a tree next to the school car park. He felt wary and with good reason. Saienta looked at him approach as though he was a new species. It sort of felt like he was about to speak to him for the first time and knew it wasn’t going to be the same. Saienta would treat him like any other Ellet kid.
Saienta looked down at his blackened white, untied shoes and then up again. No matter what, Corey thought, you’re coming back with me. With determination, and a lot of thought gone into his plan, he set it about in motion.
“There’s someone who wants to see you on the roof,” Corey lied. “Said his name is Reeva and asked me to tell you.”
Saienta narrowed his eyes. “The roof?”
“Reeva told you?”
“Yes,” Corey replied feinting disinterest; he hoped.
Saienta looked down again in thought. “Where did you see him?”
Corey didn’t see that question coming but it was easy enough to lie. “When I was at my locker.” He turned his back on him as though he’d been dismissed and before Saienta could ask him any more questions. When he reached the school building, he looked into the reflective glass door and saw Saienta had fallen for it. Corey thought he was doing a pretty good job at lying considering he’d been told many times how bad he was. As soon as he went through the door, he hurried to the roof and waited by the fence.
Saienta opened the door minutes later and scanned the area; walked further out to see if Reeva was around the corner and looked pissed when nobody was there but him. In Saienta’s mind, he would have been tricked by an Ellet kid. He walked toward Corey and Corey saw him clench and unclench one fist. “What do you want from me, Akaino?”
Corey stepped forward. “You’re going back to Sandra.”
He felt the string around his finger break and there was some relief when it fell away. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his thumb over his pinkie and felt a bumpy pattern that had marked into his skin.
“Who the fuck is Sandra?” Saienta asked, stopping close to Corey with a dangerous tilt of his head. Corey couldn’t hide his grin. It was funny that he thought he was talking about a girl.
He looked irritated. “What drugs are you on? Did I give them to you?”
Corey calmed a little, serious again. “Didn’t you wake up on Sunday feeling that you must’ve slept for an entire month? Saienta. When you checked your phone, were you confused by your incoming and outgoing calls, and the messages about always meeting at the Gate?”
He darkened. “The fuck? What do you want from me?”
“Wasn’t there a photo of me, you and Elli on the night of the cruise, sitting by your bed? Didn’t you want to know why you were there in the first place?” There was a hint of trouble in his expression and Corey took it as a good sign.
“How do you know all this shit?”
“Don’t you want to know where Rell is?”
Saienta immediately looked up straight into Corey’s eyes. He reached forward and aggressively grabbed his collar. Corey didn’t stop him. “What the fuck have you done? Where did you put my horse?”
“You’re limited, aren’t you?” Corey said evenly, using the exact words Saienta had used to describe being away from Sandra once.
“Limited.” He didn’t say anything else, just thought to himself for a moment. “Have you been following me, Corey?”
“If I had, would it answer everything that’s out of place?” he replied.
Saienta’s voice was low. “What’s going on?” He pushed Corey back roughly, letting go of his shirt. “Who are you with?”
The school bell rang for class but they both didn’t notice.
“What?” Corey asked in confusion.
“Who are you with? What organisation?” Corey finally got that Saienta thought he was from a rival gang against Red Tide. “Stop smiling,” he growled. He snaked his right hand around the back of his Corey’s head, pulling him down full force into his knee. After a moment of pain, his nose began to sting and felt a rush of warmth spill out his right nostril. Corey straightened and gazed at Saienta as he wiped some of the blood onto his school shirt. He wasn’t angry at Saienta, nor did it hurt as bad as it should have. Saienta’s strength was limited in this world and Corey could take it. In fact, for the first time he was stronger. But, it was obvious Saienta wasn’t going to listen now without a fight.
Corey snatched the hand Saienta had snaked around his head and held it, tightening his grip. Saienta looked down and tried to rip his wrist free and appeared almost surprised when it didn’t work. He looked angry and swung his free fist into Corey’s face but he blocked it, twisted it downwards and took told.
“I saw it, Saienta.” Corey looked at him steadily. “I saw your dark state unleash on the field when we were in Sandra.”
Saienta visibly calmed somewhat and took a step back, throwing Corey’s hands off. “Stay the fuck away from me, Akaino. I’m serious,” he said coldly and turned his back on him to walk away.
Corey cut him off quickly. “You’re going back through the Gate,” he said firmly. “You’d kick my ass if I didn’t at least try to kick yours first.”
Corey nodded once past him. “The one behind you. Through the fence.” He chanced leaving him to walk over and put his hand through it.
“…the fuck…” Saienta walked closer, examining it.
“Go through. Sandra is on the other side. The place; not the person.”
Saienta reached out a hand and touched the surface, absorbed by the rainbow light running over the Gate.
“What is it?”
“It’s the Gate to the other world. You don’t remember this now, but about a month ago we found this together. You and me; Elli, Ryan, Sirian and Annaleace. Saienta… someone from Sandra erased your memories of us and anything to do with their world. Beyond here is where the answers to those blank spaces are. Rell is on the other side waiting for you. We all are.”
They entered the Gate together and Corey found Saienta’s reaction humorous. He responded to the surroundings in almost the same way as before. Corey, now standing at the edge of the roof, waved him over and pointed down to where everyone was waiting. Saienta looked and saw Rell amongst them and Corey saw a small smile on his face for the first time in awhile but it was fleeting.
“I don’t really understand what’s going on still.” Saienta looked at him. “I thought you were fucked-in-the-head crazy, but … there’s a part of me that knows this is real. If what you’re telling me is true, I want my memories back.” And that was all he said.
“Commander Mira has returned and is being interrogated as we speak,” Grey told Corey when he was on ground. Grey glanced at Saienta who jumped the last meter of the rope ladder. “We’re to go straight to the holding cell to get your memories back.” He said the last half of the sentence looking at Annaleace and Saienta, and then smiled at them. “You’re probably wondering who I am, but we’ve met before.”
Tiyan handed Corey his school blazer back, thanking him.
Annaleace and Saienta looked at them strangely when everyone got on their horses without the riding gear and were surprised when Neah and Rell bended their knees to let them on. Tiyan was riding atop Fade and smiled at Annaleace reassuringly.
“You’ve done this many times, Lacy,” Ryan commented encouragingly. “You’ll probably be surprised how well you can ride even though you don’t remember riding; ever.”
They dismounted outside a small building made of stone bricks. Corey had never seen the holding cell before. The four of them were wary now, because they were close to finding out who else was responsible for Saienta and Annaleace’s memory loss. When they entered the building, there were four soldiers lined up against the wall on one side. Corey recognised some of their faces but didn’t know any names. Reiki was there also, standing by the entrance as though guarding it. The soldiers gave the six of them a look of contempt and Grey urged them forward up the short passage. There weren’t any windows inside the building; the only light indoors came from oil lamps. They stopped outside a steel door and Grey opened it, stepping through and the others followed him into the room. The General ignored them as they entered; he only had eyes for the two others also with him. Corey vaguely knew the woman’s face; he was sure he’d seen her before and he wondered if this was commander Mira. She was sitting on a chair in front of a soldier, facing each other and he had his hands up on either side of her face. Corey didn’t know him and was sure he had never seen him before. There was only Ame who had unusual coloured eyes but this soldier had a strange milky-blue pair. The adults remained silent so they too didn’t speak. There must’ve been a reason behind it. They waited until the soldier in front of commander Mira dropped his hands and he turned to the General.
“Everything she told us is the truth,” he said. “There weren’t any others.” Corey realised this person must have been the interrogator.
The General finally looked up at Grey. “Lieutenant Grey, escort the four other soldiers inside. You would have passed them in the entrance.”
Grey nodded and seconds later came back with the four soldiers entering single file; Reiki came in last. One of them spat at their feet and Corey saw Saienta clench and unclench a fist. Tiyan gave them a look of disgust and drew Annaleace closer to his side. Corey wondered if Tiyan knew any other them and then wondered whether these were the people accountable but he kept his silence. They would find out soon enough. Commander Mira got out of her seat and bowed to the General with a saddened look on her face; she then joined Grey.
Reiki grabbed the collar of the soldier who spat and pushed him on to the now empty seat.
“If you so much as struggle,” the interrogator said, “I will use force and it will hurt – a lot.” Annaleace shuffled uncomfortably at these words. Corey reminded himself that she was in a new situation so her unease was not unexpected. From her point of view, it must’ve appeared aggressive but they were used to it now and he didn’t feel sorry for these people if they were to blame. The man with milk-blue eyes held his hands up either side of the young soldier’s face and they locked eyes. A minute rolled by before he withdrew his hands and turned to the General.
“Sera Pickhart, Grace Finlay, Miriam Dockland,” he announced and named three other girls. The soldier in the chair opposite leaned back, folded his arms and looked fierce. “They’ve had this planned for awhile,” the interrogator went on. “Although it was planned for all six of them, only Saienta and Annaleace showed up. These four soldiers attacked them and Sera took Annaleace’s wedding ring. This soldier lied to Commander Mira and I quote ‘the General has ordered that these two have their memories obliterated of this world immediately. All spaces in-between should be filled in as much as possible.’ When Commander Mira replied that she would go to you for confirmation, he said – and I again quote, ‘this is an urgent request. We are required to put them through the Gate before the night is over and the General is otherwise engaged, it is why he sent us to do this for him…”
The room was silent for a moment when Tiyan broke it and said to the uncaring soldier. “You disgust me.”
“The feeling’s mutual. You married an alien life form for fuck’s sake.”
The interrogator raised his clenched fist but the General grabbed it in a flash. His fist loosened and the General let go.
“How dare you say that about my wife!” Tiyan rebuked, showing visible restraint. Annaleace caught Tiyan’s eye and they gazed at each other in silence. Corey wondered how she’d feel being told that he was her husband in such circumstances. Ryan put a hand on her shoulder and said threateningly, “Don’t speak about my sister like that in front of me.”
“There is one other detail,” the interrogator cut in. “It may be classified; something that wasn’t meant to be heard by them.” He indicated his head towards the six, unsure if he should repeat it out loud. Corey and the others wondered what it could be. The young soldiers, including the one in the chair, looked confused like they didn’t repeat any confidential information. “I can’t distinguish it from fact or lie.”
“With these circumstances, I permit you to relay it for us,” the General replied.
The interrogator nodded. “They were told they were on trial here and if they hadn’t improved, you would have their memories erased and put back through the Gate.” The young soldier in the chair snickered to himself but the others at least tried to hold back their smiles. Corey, Elli, Sirian, Ryan, even Tiyan were taken aback by this.
The General shrugged his shoulders, indifferent. “Yes. I personally made it clear to them on their first day of training.” He looked at their mildly confused faces strangely but said nothing about it and continued like it wasn’t important. And it wasn’t. Corey thought back and remembered that he had definitely said if the six of them hadn’t improved, they would have their memories erased and be taken back. He wondered why he’d forgotten something as important and finally decided on him believing it was a threat after Ame had chided him for being callous. And all the General grunted back was, “Better for them to hear the truth.” So it wasn’t a threat but the truth and he had meant it.
“Reiki, please notify their parents or guardians in private and have them brought here. Lieutenant Grey, find Sin and have him help you escort them here. Commander Mira, inform the village leaders; I request that they be present to agree on punishments.”
When they left, the General looked up at the seven of them, ignoring the captive soldiers. “Forx, would you take them outside. I would like to speak to these four in private. Knock twice when everyone has assembled. I will still need you to interrogate the girls once they’re here.”
Forx lead the way out and they all followed him into the sunshine. Corey was instantly blinded by how bright it was compared to indoors. Saienta walked a few paces away from the group and Corey followed.
“Any of what just happened make sense to you?” he asked Saienta quietly.
He lit a cigarette and took several swift drags of it before replying. He shook his head a little; not as an answer but as though he was trying to fit things together and couldn’t. “I know I got fucked up,” he said, “but I don’t remember it. I woke up Sunday on the school roof with my face covered in dry blood.” He looked at Corey. “How do you know so much about me?”
Corey shrugged. “I wouldn’t say I know a lot. I know what you allow me to see or talk about.” He wanted to change the subject and thought of something that made him laugh a little. “You probably got a shock when you got home that night, wondering why there were traces of time you couldn’t remember. Like that photo I took the night of the Shipwreck Shindig. We made our great escape on Cedric’s speedboat.”
Saienta laughed. “…The fuck?” He looked suddenly serious. “Why was I shirtless?”
“Oh. You used your shirt and ripped up so we could scale down the cables into the boat. It was your idea. I guess so our hands weren’t torn to shreds.” Saienta was thoughtful and nodded slowly.
Later on, they turned when they heard crying in the distance and saw Grey return with Sin and the group of girls Forx had named earlier. Two of the girls were in remorseful tears, but Corey couldn’t help wonder if they were genuine or were they crying because they’d got caught. Either way, did it matter? They were still apart of it; if they had gotten all of them and never came back, would they have reflected on themselves later and feel apologetic? Corey couldn’t find it in him to feel pity for them this time. They had gambled their future; a decision solely up to the six of them to make and they wanted to stay. Play with fire and you’ll get burnt.
Corey saw Reiki and a group of adults not too far behind Grey and figured they must’ve been the parents of the girls and the four young soldiers inside. One of the girls not in tears saw the adults behind them and started to scream. “Mum! Mum, please!” She struggle in Sin’s grip, turning around to face her properly. The parent she yelled to was holding a two year old child in her arms. There was a man standing behind the parent who must’ve been her father; he had his hand on his wife’s shoulder. All of them looked disapproving.
“You’re no child of mine. You’ve disgraced yourself, our family and could have ruined the reputations of our village leaders!”
Tiyan was watching with no sympathy in his eyes some feet away with Annaleace; they were holding hands Corey noticed despite her memory loss. Elli moved over to stand by him and Saienta. Corey realised the girl shouting to her mother was the same person who had taunted Annaleace about Tiyan the most. The other girls had also been apart of it. The noise the mother and the girl made startled some soldiers training nearby. They weren’t that far from the training fields.
The girl turned to look at the six of them and pointed, her head turning back to her mother. “If anything has disgraced Sandra, they have! They’re ruining Sandra’s reputation. I don’t regret my intentions; they don’t deserve to be here amongst us let alone marrying one of us!”
“This is how you prove yourself to someone you say you love?” the mother asked, pointing to Tiyan with a free hand. “Does he deserve to be with someone as selfish as you?” Another parent consoling rubbed her arm as she spoke. “You’ve disgraced yourself and have ruined the chances for other soldiers to continue as one. Don’t you realise what’s going to happen, my stupid girl! You’ll all be sent away because of your jealousy, just because Tiyan found someone that wasn’t you. And you stand here before them,” the mother went on, pointing to the six of them now, the toddler in her arms about to cry, “announcing you don’t regret ambushing Tiyan’s wife whom I’m sure is a dear friend of theirs, erasing her memory so that you might have another chance to be his next bride? You’ve shown your worst face and here everyone is to see it.” Her mother reached Tiyan and bowed, looking up at him in a sad and embarrassed way. She held onto his arm gently and with the other arm, lifted her now crying child closer to her. “I’m so sorry, Tiyan. Please do not be quick to judge my family because of my daughter’s behavior.” Tiyan shook his head and reassured her that he wouldn’t change his opinion of the rest of her family. She then took something out from the inside of her kimono and handed it to Annaleace. “I beg y
The village leaders were Ame, Wing-Moth, lovely Kuki, Corey had forgotten she was one, Lieutenant Grey and the General. They were all back inside the holding cell but in a different, bigger room because there were more people but it looked exactly the same as the last one.
The first thing that happened when they got back inside was Saienta and Annaleace got their memories back. Saienta had gone first and when commander Mira was done with him, he stood up, caught sight of the soldier who had spat at them and smirked uncaringly.
The next thing that happened was deciding on their punishments.
The General pointed to the offending soldiers, “You four are prohibited from continuing as soldiers and will be exiled from Sandra first thing tomorrow for seven years. This incident is the most childish I have ever had to deal with. I even handed this assignment over to Sin as a part of his first mission but I don’t think it did him justice.”
The soldiers kept their heads down, some in their hands, to hide their faces at the thought of leaving and the people they were going leaving behind. Corey half expected Sin to gloat in some way but he never did and was very mature about.
“As for you girls, you are also being exiled for five years. Hopefully in that time, you will all come to terms with your foolishness.”