(This story section is too long by about 100 words. I will try to cut it down if I get a chance, but I’ve been dealing with a lot lately and am trying to get things back to normal)
Lancer lay in a hospital bed, bored. There wasn’t anything to do. Nothing.
Sure, Rei was in the same room, recovering, reading a school book and doing homework, but who wanted to do homework?
And Jaylee, also here in a third bed, kept looking at him funny, but he couldn’t talk to her or anything. That’d be weird, first off. Also, what would he say?
“Lancer?” Jaylee said.
“Yeah?” Lancer asked.
“You look weird. Are you alright?”
“What do you mean? Do I have something on my face?”
He knew he shouldn’t have eaten pancakes for breakfast. They were delicious, but the syrup was so sticky and messy. And the nurses wouldn’t let him bathe! Granted, he couldn’t stand up too well, so he probably couldn’t have walked to the showers anyways, but still.
“No,” Jaylee said. “I mean, are you thinking about something? You look upset.”
“Oh,” he said. “No. Yes. Kinda.”
Rei butted in. Wasn’t she busy with homework or something? “He’s mad that Kanin saved us, though I don’t know why. I’d rather be saved than dead.”
“No one was dying,” Lancer muttered. “I was just about to find a way to beat Rupert.”
“You were just about to die,” Rei said. “Kanin saved you, and was very nice, and you haven’t even said thanks. That was a really difficult sphereshift he used, too.”
Lancer grumbled, not talking, because no matter what she said he wasn’t going to thank his older brother. Why should he? He hadn’t asked for help, so whatever Kanin did on his own was his business. Maybe Lancer benefited, but that was no good reason to show appreciation. People gained benefits from lots of things for tons of reasons, and a person couldn’t very well show gratitude for every little thing.
“What was that sphereshift, anyways?” Jaylee asked.
“Kismet sphereshifting,” Rei said, using a tone reminiscent of their teacher’s back at school. “It’s a specialized form of cross sphereshifting. Difficult, but very concentrated. It focuses on karmic deliverance–”
“Do you even know what those words mean?” Lancer asked.
“I do!” Rei said, lifting her nose up at him. “Basically it uses good or bad karma that someone’s gained, and tokens gained during the actions. So Kanin found us after checking the library–”
Lancer interrupted again. “I’d like to add that I found you first by checking the library. Kanin did it after.”
“So Kanin found us–” Rei repeated. “He knew Lancer was doing tasks all day, since they met in the morning and he had asked around. Luckily Lancer kept the quill, leather parchment, and ink on him, or else we would’ve been out of luck, because–”
“Exactly,” Lancer said. “Kanin couldn’t have done anything without me.”
“Shut up!” Jaylee and Rei said, glaring at him.
“So,” Rei continued. “the kismet sphereshift used those items as foci. Kanin couldn’t know what would happen, but obviously since Lancer wouldn’t have done anything bad, except interrupt everyone, it was safe. The quill brought the swans, who attacked Rupert. The leather turned to thin armor. Good enough to deflect a blade, since Rupert wasn’t expecting it. Lyle Lampblack knew about Rupert’s private study and the ink Lancer had acted as a catalyst for the kismet sphereshift, so he came to investigate.”
“Like good luck,” Jaylee observed.
“Yeah,” Rei said. “It’s guaranteed so long as you’ve been good. Otherwise, it’s bad.”
Someone knocked on the door, catching everyone’s attentions. “It’s tasking,” Kanin said. “May I come in?”
“Of course!” Rei said. “Kanin! I’ve missed you.”
“Sure,” Jaylee said, looking at Kanin like a hero.
“No,” Lancer said. “Visiting time isn’t for another hour.”
Kanin grinned at Lancer and walked towards his bed, ruffling his hair. “True, but I have special permission.”
Lancer glowered. “That’s dumb.”
“You’re dumb,” Rei said, sticking out her tongue.
“I’m glad to see everyone’s fine,” Kanin said, ignoring the dissent. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help sooner, but we had to take precautions to not jeopardize anyone’s safety.”
“Well,” Lancer said loudly. “I had it under control.”
Kanin nodded. “You did. You kept Rupert distracted so I could sphereshift.”
Lancer frowned. This wasn’t what he expected, and he found it hard to argue when Kanin said things like that.
Rei shrugged. “Honestly, why did you talk to Rupert in the first place, Lancer? If you hadn’t, none of this would’ve happened. I’m not blaming you, but you need to be careful.”
Lancer frowned. That hurt. He wanted to discover a way to fix Rei, return her to normal, and while he hadn’t told her, or anyone except Rupert(and Kanin somewhat), it upset him that she’d chastise him. If she knew–but he couldn’t tell her. She didn’t like it when he talked about it..
“Gaining information isn’t bad,” Kanin said. “Rupert wasn’t a good source, though.”
Lancer, annoyed, glared at Kanin again. He channeled his upset feelings towards Kanin instead of holding a grudge against Rei. Kanin was being too nice.
“Speaking of,” Kanin ducked outside for a moment, returning with a book. “I think you’ll like this. It’s a book on alternative sphereshifting. Mostly fantasies and myths, so more a book of stories than anything educational, but some of the sphereshifts are proven real now. It might help?”
Lancer snatched the book and shoved it under his pillow. “Thanks.”
Kanin patted his head. “You’re welcome.”
“Don’t be so nice.”
“What? Why not?”
“Stop being difficult,” Rei snapped. “Thank him for saving us, too!”
“It was nice of you,” Jaylee said. “My father wants to invite you to dinner before we leave Garde, if you’ll come?”
Kanin nodded. “Of course.”
“I’m busy that night,” Lancer said. “I have a lot to do.”
“Lancer!” Both girls shrieked, exasperated.
“Fine, I’ll go,” he mumbled.
“I need to return to work, but everyone relax, alright? You especially, Lancer. You might feel better, but Rupert did a number on you.”
Kanin left, bidding everyone farewell. He hugged Rei, and shook Jaylee’s hand. When he went to hug Lancer, Lancer turned away. Handshaking met resistance, too. Instead, he waved and said goodbye. Lancer tried to ignore him.
Once Kanin left, Lancer said, “He can’t tell me what to do.”
Rei sighed. “Lancer, really?”
“Seriously,” Jaylee said. “You’re so stubborn.”
“Whatever.” Lancer grumped.
“You’re cute still,” Jaylee added. “I appreciate you trying to save me–it was really nice.”
Lancer rolled over so he didn’t have to look at them. “I’m tired, so I’m going to sleep?”
Jaylee frowned, unsure. “Alright–”
She said no more. Lancer knew what she would say, anyways. He couldn’t like Jaylee, though, for lots of reasons. She would grow into that sure, confident woman, while he would live in a shack. Also, she was clingy.
He fell asleep before he changed his mind.
Blackness covered Lancer like a mother tucking her child into bed. The pain eased away as if it were ice melting in the summer sun. The taste of blood in his mouth was now gone, and he could no longer hear his heart thumping over Rupert’s voice. The bookish smell of crisp paper permeating the librarian’s study seemed like an afterthought, some vague remembrance of a surreal daydream.
Overall, it was kind of nice. Lancer felt an interesting calm pass through him. Was he dead? Was this what the afterlife felt like? Should he count the seconds? Except it was difficult to know if he thought in real time or if his perception of time controlled the speed of his thoughts. He wasn’t much of a philosopher, but this idea intrigued him.
His nothingness took shape, a room, and it seemed like the void nearby lightened as if a spotlight were shining on him very dimly. A sound, music, interrupted his isolation. Classical, mostly piano, but with faint hints of violin added in. Lancer felt this was very strange, because he shouldn’t be feeling anything, but there it was.
The spotlight widened, making a circular area for him to stand in. Him in a metaphysical sense, he assumed. Or his afterlife self? He didn’t want to contemplate the implications of seeing and hearing things when he shouldn’t be seeing or hearing anything, so he stopped before he started.
A spot on the “wall” of his enclosure flickered, a rectangle appearing. Inside the rectangle a series of images progressed. A few seconds, then it paused, and replayed. He saw himself as a child playing with Rei, them hiding beneath a table while Kanin pretended not to notice.
Another rectangle flared to life. This one showed his first day at school, unable to participate with the other children because of his lack of sphereshifting ability. The teacher shook her head, annoyed, but Lancer’s child self merely grinned like an idiot.
He’d been that once. Maybe he was still. No one thought him intelligent, but it didn’t matter. He had friends and no one mocked him, or at least they didn’t to his face. Did they do it behind his back?
Another image. Jared talking to Jaylee, both younger. He couldn’t hear them speak, but somehow Lancer knew they were talking about him. Jared mentioned how useless Lancer was, how he shouldn’t go to the same school as them, and Jaylee agreed. Odd. Would she do that?
Then another picture, another Jaylee. She looked nice, grown and older. She wore a rich-looking dress and seemed important. The way she walked accentuated this, making her appear confident and sure. The pictures started this way, then shifted, showing a destitute, older Lancer living in a rundown shack by a lake. He held a mangled fishing rod and was failing his attempts to catch fish. Summer sped by to autumn, then winter. The lake froze and the older Lancer lay huddled in the shack, shivering.
One final image popped up. The perspective was odd as if he were seeing it for himself, first person, but watching from far away. Starting blurry, it cleared until he saw Rupert wielding a knife above him—real this time, not a letter-opener. The knife fell into Lancer’s chest, guided by the librarian’s hand, and the picture blurred and took on a ruddy hue.
Lancer turned and looked at a different image. They kept repeating. Jaylee, older, then Jared berating him, and him and Rei hiding under the table. That teacher harassing him, over and over again.
And his death at the hands of the maddened bookman.
The piano music changed depending on where he looked. He liked the childlike plucks on the keystrings for the image with him and Rei, but the elegy that played when he saw the older him was frustrating.
His final remembrance, the death scene, had strange music, though. It picked up, heavy and fast, then slowed to a screech at the end. Lancer thought if he could jump through, enter at the right time when the music was fastest, maybe he could stop it from happening. Or maybe it had already happened, and this was a memory.
Except why would he see an older him in another picture then? Granted, it wasn’t a nice picture, with him homeless and poor and freezing by a lake. Still, it seemed like there was something he needed to recognize, something he should do.
“Lancer,” someone said.
He looked around. An image flickered, vanished.
“What?” Lancer asked.
“You can’t stop me!” Rupert’s voice.
Another picture ceased to exist.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Lancer said.
The other images blew out, making loud popping noises. Pop. Pop. Bam!
The room never existed. His thoughts of it shattered and his mind carried him to the fore of reality. He was on the floor in terrible pain, but something was happening around him. A discarded knife lay at his side. He stared at it for a long while, then realized he was wearing leather armor. When did he get that? Was this the real afterlife now? If so, it kind of sucked. What sort of afterlife kept you in horrible pain?
He heard loud honks coming from one side of the room. Ruffled feathers erupted into the air. Lancer saw Rupert struggling against an onslaught of swans. They pecked his body and battered him with wings, buffeting air and feathers into his face. The librarian shrieked and fell against a bookshelf.
Vials of ink spilled from a desk, upending their contents on the floor. The ink moved like shadows, seeping across the floor towards Rupert. At his feet, the tenebrous substance sprung up and grabbed his legs, latching him to the floor. The swans continued their assault, shredding his clothes to tatters.
“Are you alright?”
Lancer glanced sideways with groggy eyes.
His brother, Kanin. And Lyle Lampblack, the lantern cleaner, standing in the doorway.
Kanin smiled. “Everything will be fine.”
Lancer thought he put every ounce of strength he had into slashing Rupert, but it was all for naught.
Rupert stood on guard, learning his lesson from Lancer’s previous determination, and merely stepped away.
Not terrible on its own, not really. Lancer accepted failure when it happened. Granted, he would’ve preferred success, but he had options. He could do this, he could overcome adversity. He wasn’t worthless and he wouldn’t succumb to apathy and settle into life like people thought he ought to. His strength, whatever was necessary, he would do everything as best he could―no, better, because without sphereshifting he was already at a disadvantage when compared to others. He would become strong enough to stand toe to toe with his brother on his own terms, and then he would become stronger. If he could prove himself to Kanin, then everything else would be easy. This was nothing.
That’s what he wanted, but when Rupert sidestepped his attack Lancer found the blade of the letter opener in his hand diving straight for Rei’s chest. With her gone he couldn’t do anything.
Lancer prayed and panicked. Without knowing how, without feeling it, he jerked his body sideways and avoided stabbing his unconscious sister head on. The dull blade of the knife dropped from his hands and glided across the desk towards Rei’s side, where it thunked and stuck lightly into her wooden body. His head slammed into the desk and he fell in a heap on the ground. Well, if anything, he appreciated Rupert’s sphereshifting now; Lancer was probably in an inordinate amount of pain, but his senses hadn’t realized it yet.
Rupert snapped his fingers. Probably more for effect, but Lancer didn’t have time to contemplate intricacies. The bottled up pain blared through his body like the feeling of really loud music at a huge party. Everything ached, even things that shouldn’t ache. His foot felt twisted and deformed, like someone had slammed a wooden club into it, broken it, then tried to splint it with that same club. His head, too, and then he noticed the bleeding. Also, and quite distinct, his shoulder felt like someone had ripped through it, shoved spinning metal gears into the wound, then powered them with thrashing jolts of lightning.
He couldn’t move, and for once he didn’t want to. Everything hurt. All of it. His body, of course, but his mind, too. Rupert didn’t have to do anything more and he’d already won, because he could do whatever he felt like doing now without interruption.
Lancer scrunched his brow, concentrating, to figure out a plan. Talking, perhaps? Except arguments were never his strong suit and Rupert had a stranglehold on logic. Twisted conclusions, perhaps, but whatever knowledge the librarian had unearthed to let him arrive at them seemed infallible in the man’s eyes. Lancer doubted his current ability to speak coherently, anyways.
“And so,” Rupert said, “You should now understand the differences between us. While you blindly chase ideals, I use knowledge to improve myself. My way is infinitely better, because I gain information from numerous sources, cite references, and have the backing of multiple professionals in their fields, while you have only your own drive. A group effort always trumps a lone person.”
Rupert was in the midst of conversation, though Lancer couldn’t remember how or why it started. He managed a glance at the librarian, wincing in pain.
“I won’t torment you any longer. I’ve gathered enough information about you to adequately fill a few pages in a notebook. I can measure your general statistics after, so that’s a non-issue. Though―hm―just to be on the safe side I’ll show you something reserved for special occasions.”
Lancer wheezed and crumpled up further, knees inching towards his chest.
“You might surprise me more, you see? How should I know? I’m not keen on discovering any tricks at this point in time, though. Luckily for you, this means something exciting!”
Lancer couldn’t wait. He was so excited he almost momentarily thought of attempting to clap, but didn’t.
“Perhaps you noticed the duration of my sphereshifts? Not long. Approximately one minute. That’s my current limit, though I can reapply it or switch it afterwards. You should realize that by now, so I won’t bore you with details. But! Listen, because this is the exciting part. For a far briefer moment I can remove every single one of your senses. That pain you feel? Gone! Seeing your sister and friend bound before me? No more! The smell of despair and the taste of defeat and the sounds of my shoes scuffling along the floor right before I pierce your heart and end your life? Mostly you won’t know any of that, but you are defeated and I expect you’ll despair, but I don’t know what you’ll think of in your last moments?”
“Ah,” Rupert added. “If you’re curious, you’ll have twelve seconds of last moment thoughts, too. Less, depending on the exact nature of my sphereshift once I kill you. Will you realize you’re dead, and just stop, or will the sphereshift maintain itself and allow you a full twelve seconds of senseless thought before you shuffle off this mortal coil? A difficult question, because it’s impossible to ask someone after the fact, but I wish you luck.”
Lancer attempted to spit at the man’s feet, but he only managed to drool. Saliva pooled on the floor and dampened his cheek.
Lancer knew he hit Rupert. His fist whalloped the man’s jaw and it made a smacking sound on impact. Rupert’s head jerked to the side.
Except Lancer felt nothing. Minimal sensation, a microsecond of flesh on flesh, but no more. He saw himself punch Rupert, knowing it should hurt(his hand, Rupert’s face), except—it didn’t.
Bewildered, Lancer stepped backwards. One foot rose, but when he lowered it there was nothing below. A trap? He sought purchase, but failed, and fell. Down, down, this deep dark hole and…
His rear slammed onto the floorboards. He heard the sound, but no more. Beneath him was solid flooring. No hole, nothing to trip on. Why couldn’t he feel the floor, then? Everything was odd, off, like a dream where he couldn’t remember things, what they were.
Rupert rubbed his jaw, groaning. “I wasn’t going to attack you,” he said, apologetic. “You’ve forced my hand, though. You aren’t interesting, can’t even sphereshift by your own account, so there won’t be much to write, but I’ll create some notes and then end you.”
Lancer stared, dumbfounded. “I won’t just let you—”
Rupert strode to a bookshelf and removed a thin notebook. “There’s nothing stopping me. What can you do? You’ve noticed your predicament, haven’t you?”
And in fact, Lancer hadn’t. He made to stand, but couldn’t feel his hand pressing the ground. His knee bent, thigh flexed, but he only saw this instead of feeling it. Though what did that matter? He just did it, watched himself carefully, and managed to steady his unsure footing.
Rupert nodded approval, impressed. “No sense of touch, yet you stand. I commend you. It won’t help, but your mettle is admirable.”
“What are you talking about?” Lancer asked.
Rupert grinned, setting the notebook aside. “I devour information,” he said. “My hunger for knowledge is insatiable. I want to read everything, know all, even if it’s impossible. I informed you of my information sphereshift previously, didn’t I? A trick to glean information on a subject. And, as common sense dictates, evident by your current situation, there’s a way to retract knowledge, too. When you hit me, a premeditated cantrip sphereshifted upon myself reacted, and you lost your touch.”
“Really?” Lancer said.
“Indeed,” Rupert responded.
Watching his movements, Lancer tensed his muscles. It should work, he hoped, but maybe not. Still, better to try than surrender altogether. He watched his legs flex, running at Rupert, ignoring the odd sensation of nothing. He nearly tripped, but caught himself and rode on instinctive memory, darting forward. When he was within arm’s length of a shocked Rupert, he wound back his arm. A fist, powered far too strong because Lancer couldn’t feel what was too much, slammed into Rupert’s chest.
The librarian wheezed, all the air in his lungs squeezed out of his body, and crashed, floorbound. He avoided Lancer’s subsequent stomp by rolling under, and to the other side, of the desk, but it was close. Lancer lost his footing when he missed a kick and found himself sprawled on the ground again.
Rupert grimaced. “You’ve more determination than I thought. I’ll note that in your book.”
“Great,” Lancer said.
The ground solidified, and Lancer could feel it again. His feet pressed the floor, soft-cushioned shoes touching his soles. He stood up. Not much of a trick, apparently, Rupert’s removal of senses. If the man could only maintain it for under a minute Lancer didn’t need to worry.
Or he thoght not, except the world turned black. Light faded, as if someone had doused the lanterns, and his sight flickered.
Rupert chuckled. “At the risk of punny cliches, let’s see you rouse your way out of that.”
Lancer hesitated, listening. Sightless, but during summer he enjoyed playing a game at the lake. One person shouted a word while wearing a blindfold, and everyone else playing respond with another. Odd words, different every time, but the game always played the same; tag someone without seeing them.
Tricky in an unknown room, but he felt like he had a decent understanding of his surroundings. He dropped to the floor, feigning a trip, then rebounded and pushed himself underneath the desk. Hoping he could duck below to the other side, where Rupert waited, ripe for assailing, but without sight he might just crash, too.
Fortunately the desk was high, and Lancer dived low. He passed beneath the desk, sharp, and snatched Rupert’s legs. A lug brought the bookman down, tumbling and screaming.
“Seriously?” Rupert asked. “Is he serious?” he repeated, to himself. “Preposterous. No one can do this. Do you not know fear? That’s something no one can remove. Everyone feels it. Anxiety? Do you think I’ll let you free after ruining my research? I would’ve if you acted reasonable. I might’ve let you help, even. But you’re being obstinate and chaotic and it upsets me.”
Lancer’s sense of touch vanished again. Not knowing if he still held Rupert, or if he was squeezing midair, he panicked. His vision blurred, slowly returning. When he could see again he saw Rupert standing free at his side.
“I didn’t want this, but you’ve forced me,” Rupert said.
The librarian mimed words. Lancer heard nothing. Through current experience, it seemed Rupert could only block one sense at a time; currently hearing.
Rupert snatched a letter opener from the desk. Lancer heard, “–making this difficult,” before the man stabbed the tool into his shoulder. Pain welled, vanished. Lancer eyed the letter opener embedded in his shoulder.
“You won’t die,” Rupert said. “I’ll be less forgiving a second time around, though. Also, don’t move your arm. You’ll only wound it further since you can’t feel it. Inadvertent ripped ligaments, usually.”
Maybe Rupert meant to scare him, but right now Lancer didn’t care. His free arm grabbed the knife and wrenched it loose. He frowned, knowing it would hurt later.
Careful, he thrust the blade at Rupert.
He hoped he put all his weight into it, but he couldn’t tell.
Lancer skulked through the streets, creeping towards Rupert’s studio. Everything was quiet. The commotion that set everyone off was confined to one area, apparently. Which made sense since everyone shopped or worked there, so that’s where they heard the news.
With the address, 949 Sable Lane, Lancer discovered the studio relatively easily. Settled in a passageway between buildings, he initially passed it by before realizing he’d come up one short counting street numbers. He backtracked, rechecking between 947 and 951, and saw steps halfway down the passageway.
The place needed a good cleaning. The steps were covered in dirt and probably originally not black. Oddly, the numbers, 949, were relatively shiny, though. Lancer descended the stairs and peered through a window in the door.
Nothing. The dim passage, mixed with overhanging shadows, and a dirty window, ruined any chance of espionage. Was Rupert even here? Maybe he’d gone somewhere else?
Well, Lancer decided to find out. The rusty doorhandle gave him issues, but he succeeded in turning it and opening the door a crack. A dreadful creak gave him away if anyone stood opposite him at the door. Too late for misgivings, though. He snuck through the scarcely open door, closing it behind him
Inside was better, barely; less dirty, more cluttered. A bookcase beside the entrance desperately needed organization, what with half the books crooked or stacked atop each other. Beside that, Rupert had set up a desk and makeshift planner. A regular person might use a ledger, but the librarian just piled paper notes on top of each other.
The top note read: “Investigate Lancer’s Story.”
The tale he’d told about Rei, he assumed. Possibly more. If Rupert learned of Jaylee and the pearl, then who knew what else he’d figured out. Librarians were tricky like that, deducing information from the most obscure reference points.
A loud crash sounded farther in. Lancer darted for the wall, hiding alongside the bookcase. When nothing came, he craned his neck forward and peered towards the noise’s source. Flickering light illuminated a room at the end of the hallway, and a man’s voice muttered nonsense in a low rumble.
Definitely something to investigate, Lancer thought. He tiptoed down the hallway, passing a pristine bathroom, and a room with only a cot and a bedside table. Tumbled books, ripped out pages strewn across the floor, acted as obstacles. He sidestepped them and moved on.
Outside the inhabited room, he sidled against the wall and peeked inside. It looked like a miniature library, organized properly with bookshelves lining the walls, two high. Rupert even had a rolling ladder and a researcher’s desk nearby. Possibly more, but Lancer couldn’t see anything else with the door half shut.
And Rupert, of course. The man was inside, his voice recognizable even as a mumble. He said something, asked a question, but no one answered. Talking to himself? Probably, Lancer thought.
This was it. There was nothing else to do except barge in and confront the crazed bookman. Perhaps he was innocent, right? No one knew for sure. He’d assaulted Jared and Mr. Ellis, so not absolutely guiltless, but Rei and Jaylee might be missing for another reason.
Lancer charged, shoving the door open so it slammed against the wall. He found Rupert slouched over a desk he couldn’t see before. When Lancer entered, Rupert looked up, startled.
Then, as creepy as a cat, he grinned. “Hello there.”
Below him on the desk lay Rei, unconscious, with leather straps binding her wrists and ankles to the desk legs. Rupert had a blank book near her waist for jotting notes. Tied to the chair behind the desk was Jaylee, her eyes closed and head hung to the side with a ball gag in her mouth. Another notebook, this one closed, was on the desk in front of her.
Well, Lancer’s hope of being wrong was definitely wrong, so there wasn’t much he could do there.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” Rupert said calmly.
Or not? “Um, it looks pretty bad,” Lancer said.
“Oh, I know. I apologize. Don’t worry, though. I’m recording their vital statistics. Everything possible. Height, weight, shape. I inspected quickly for birth marks or other identifiers, but nothing in depth. Anything else I should write down? Also, do you know what type of wood was used for your sister? Curious, too, you never told me your frien—” Rupert gestured at Jaylee with a quill. “—owned the Moonstruck Pearl. I’ve researched it, did you know?”
“Uh?” No matter what Rupert said, this definitely sounded devious to Lancer.
“You’re confused,” Rupert said. “Understandable. Not a writer, I assume? Let me explain.”
Lancer said nothing. Rupert continued. “Besides research and information, I enjoy fiction. The characters are fascinating. I write sometimes, too. To get an understanding of a character, you need a sheet of statistics. You won’t use everything, but even recondite details are good for reference. How does this tie in? The utmost appeal for a novel, I find, is that characters live forever. Even if they die in the book, one can flip back a few pages to resurrect them. Immortality, so simple, yet it’s eluded mankind forever.”
“I really don’t understand,” Lancer interrupted, “but I’d appreciate if you let Rei and Jaylee go.”
Rupert stood tall, gazing upward as if recollecting a fond memory. “Accessing knowledge, Lancer, is the supreme act of great civilizations. So! Please don’t worry for your friends. Even if my research results in their eventual death, they’ll live forever in my notes. And! If I’m unable to write their characters into a novel, I bequeath their information books to you, so you may find a writer to induce their immortality.”
Lancer understood that perfectly well. Maybe Rupert enjoyed books, but Lancer hated them. Especially when this man wanted to substitute his living, breathing friends for a cold, inanimate binding holding papers together.
Rupert smiled, continuing his writing. Lancer stomped forward and bashed him in the jaw.
[Author's Note: Rupert's dialogue about "Accessing knowledge is the supreme act of great civilizations" is a modified quote from Toni Morrison. The original was stated as: “Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission.”
Toni Morrison is a wonderful author who has won the Nobel Prize(1993), the Pulitzer Prize(2012), and most recently the Presidential Medal of Freedom(2012) which is the highest civilian award in the United States. If you'd like to learn more about her, I urge you to check out her Wikipedia page (here).]
[Special Note: Check out Sphereshifters on Smashwords (here)! The eBook version contains the first thirteen story sections, plus relevant character introductions, and two bonus story sections not available on the website. Share it with your friends! If you like the story, why not leave a review on Smashwords?]
Lancer woke just as the sun began creeping up the horizon. Eyes barely cracked open, he scanned the room through insignificant slits. No one else was awake.
He didn’t know why he’d agreed to sleep in the Ellis’s room. Mr. Ellis reserved a room for him and Rei, but one thing led to another, hamburgers, this and that, and when Rei, Jared, and Mr. Ellis returned from delivering Albedo to the guards Lancer was as good as passed out. He vaguely remembered Jaylee saying something before he fell asleep―where was Jaylee, anyways?
Well, everyone was asleep, no sounds of movement, so he risked opening his eyes and looking around. Jaylee lay next to him, a layer of blankets separating them. Breathing shallow, mouth open, she looked kind of sweet.
Bad thoughts, Lancer decided. This wasn’t the place for that; no place was good for that. He needed to leave.
Apparently he hadn’t changed into pajamas, which he approved of. Always good to prepare to face the new day, you know? Jaylee wore pajamas; a cute, pink getup with baby blue flowers embroidered all around it.
He left. He just left. There wasn’t anything to do but leave before he noticed something weird and dumb and not good. Which was a lot right then, and he didn’t need the distraction.
Lancer explored the hotel, intent on staying awake. Tired, yes, and Rei would let him in if he knocked loud enough, but he had work to do and it was a solo job. Rei wouldn’t understand, Jaylee would hamper him, and he felt uncomfortable asking Jared or Mr. Ellis to help.
A too-cheerful-by-far man greeted him at the hotel’s front desk. “Early riser? Sun’s just up. I’ll page someone to deliver breakfast? Nothing fancy, mind. Continental.”
“No thanks,” Lancer said. “Do you have a map?”
The man grinned, holding up one finger indicating Lancer should wait. He disappeared through a door to some office behind the desk for half a second, then returned with a pamphlet.
“Best we have, good as anything.” He tapped it on the desk, then slid it over.
“Thanks.” Lancer smiled, pocketing the pamphlet. “Oh, um. If anyone asks for me―I’m Lancer―tell them I’ll be back later?”
Lancer stepped outside, yawning. The sun persevered, fighting against nighttime weariness, overcoming obstacles until it reached the top. That’s what Lancer decided he would do, today, no hesitation.
Opening the pamphlet, he looked inside for―what the heck was this? On the paper, drawn in bright colors, was a map of Garde. Written in a box on the side, and marked on the map, were some of the most useless tourist attractions he could imagine. The observation wheel(which the mapmaker personified by giving it a smile), a coupon for an arcade, and numerous other tourist traps that sounded neat if he was four years old.
The map did show streets, which was all he needed, he guessed. He followed one, using the pamphlet’s vague directions, then another, and one more. The walk ended in front of Kanin’s apartment. The bellhop from yesterday stood beside the front door, greeting people with a curt nod and a “have a good day.”
Lancer approached, confident. He’d march right in, ask for Kanin’s apartment, stride there with purpose, and pound on his door. Nothing to it.
Except the doorman halted him with a glare. “Get lost, kid.”
Lancer blinked. “What?”
“No solicitors. See the sign?” The doorman tapped a thick wooden sign with an “X” and red circle surrounding the word “solicitors.”
“I need Kanin,” Lancer said, attempting to fix this mixup. “He’s my brother.”
The doorman checked him over head to toe, hand resting on his chin. He paused, offering someone a “have a good day” before saying, “You don’t look anything like him.”
“Me.” The man jabbed a finger into his chest.
“Hello, Lancer.” Preoccupied with his argument, Lancer failed to notice his brother leaving the apartments. “Everything fine, Sam?”
“Kid says he’s your brother.” Sam jerked his head towards Lancer.
“I’ll deal with him. Sorry, Sam.”
“Yeah.” Sam shrugged, brushing it off. “Have a good day, Kanin.”
Kanin walked past Lancer to the sidewalk, barely acknowledging his existence. Lancer glared after him. It wasn’t like he wanted to come in the first place, and now his brother needed to embarrass him, treating him like a spoiled child? Not that he cared what Sam thought, or Kanin, or anyone else, but still.
Kanin looked over his shoulder. “Are you coming?”
Lancer went, oh he went alright. He stomped after Kanin, not even caring if he made a scene. His brother rolled his eyes and frowned, but Lancer just kept going.
“You’ve grown,” Kanin said. “You’re almost as tall as me.”
“I’m not here to talk, Kanin.” Lancer thrust his chin up so he could look down his nose at his brother. “Having fun with your jobs? Great and dandy, is it? Well, you know what?”
Kanin laughed. “I don’t, but I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”
“Yeah, well―yeah.” Kanin always ruined this for him, always mocked his anger and made it sound like Lancer was the incorrigible one. “Rei needs help and you’re here doing whatever you want. She needs you and you don’t care. What do you think about that?”
Kanin patted Lancer’s shoulder. “I’m going to work, Lancer. I’ll talk to you later.”
Kanin left. Lancer blinked, unsure what just happened. Once Kanin was a block away, turning down a side street, Lancer fumed.
Good! Kanin could work and ignore Rei and treat the world like his kingdom for all Lancer cared. He’d help Rei on his own. Because how hard could it be? Someone must know about sphereshifting here, an expert with enough knowledge to fix his sister.
Like a librarian. Books. He found books dull, but they had lots of stuff in them and librarians loved the things.
Sam snickered behind his back. “Tough break.”
“Where’s the library?” Lancer asked.
People gaped when Lancer’s group entered Garde on the reconstructed Ellis carriage. Not much of a carriage now, though.
Mr. Ellis, with Albedo’s confinement in mind, spent three hours using metal sphereshifting to transform their transportation into a rolling prison. The passenger’s compartment shrunk, with no doors to speak of. Albedo spun in the middle, the carriage wheels powering a series of gears to keep him unbalanced and contained. Refitted, the seats sat above all of that, with Jared, Jaylee, Lancer, and Rei occupying them. Mr. Ellis found this fine and dandy, humming a tune while the horses clopped through the city.
The carriage wasn’t the only thing attracting stares, though. With Rei out in the open, doll transmogrification visible, more than a few passersby stopped to ogle her. Strange, an oddity, Lancer felt like they were members of some circus sideshow. He frowned, shooing anyone who stared for too long, grumbling, grunting.
“Want to work on your schoolwork some more?” Jaylee asked, pressing against him.
He let her put her head on his shoulder; it seemed the least he could do after she’d rescued him. “Not really,” he said.
“We’re almost there,” Mr. Ellis said. “I arranged for some rooms in a little hotel I know of. Owner’s an old friend, so don’t worry about the cost.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ellis,” Rei said, dutiful. When Lancer grunted, she prodded him.
“Thanks,” Lancer said.
He wasn’t ungrateful, far from it, but with stress from the events on their journey here, along with his impending meeting with his brother, Kanin, he was in nothing resembling a good mood. In fact, he felt rather sour. Arms crossed over his chest, grumping, glowering at a man who asked about acquiring a doll like Rei, he felt reassured about the reason for his bad mood.
“Layne.” Rei tugged his sleeve. “That’s Kanin’s apartment building.”
Lancer took a good look at it. Nothing special, he decided. So what if it had a fancy tarpaulin above the entryway, with a suited doorman standing guard. Who needed a house constructed from materials like that? Why not stick with classic wood, or brick, or whatever people built houses from. He didn’t actually know what the apartment was made of, but he didn’t quite care, either.
“Lancer,” Jaylee declared, distracting him from glaring at the apartments. “I’ll make you dinner at the hotel.”
He grunted, trying to feign indifference, but his stomach grumbled giving him away. “Alright,” he said.
“We need to bring Albedo to the guards, right?” Rei asked, then without waiting for an answer, added, “I’ll help. Maybe Jared should come just in case?”
Jared shrugged. “Yeah. That’s good. If he tries to escape, dad and I can handle him.”
Rei beamed, bright and brilliant. Or that’s how it appeared, but Lancer saw it as more of a sadistic and maniacal look. What kind of sister did he have here?
And so it went, Jaylee and Lancer were left alone in one of the hotel rooms while the others delivered Albedo to the authorities.
“I know I said I’d cook–” Jaylee started to say, then paused.
Lancer frowned. “You’re not going to make food?”
“Oh, no, I will! Promise.” She nodded her head so fast it made his neck hurt watching it. “It’s just―I wanted to talk first. Kinda. Alone, you know?”
Lancer saw where this was headed. Clearly noticed the path, and thought it best to avoid it altogether. “Jaylee, I like you, but I’m not in like with you.”
Jaylee blinked, lips pursed. “That’s not what I wanted to talk about.”
“You’ve made this awkward.”
“Well, you always want to be close to me and help me and the way you look at me―I mean, it seemed obvious.”
“I do like you, but you’re not the only thing I think about ever.”
Silence. Crickets might’ve chirped, except there weren’t many in Garde.
“So what are we talking about?” he asked after awhile.
“I don’t want to say it now. You’ll laugh,” she said.
“I won’t, I promise.”
She stared at him, surveying the situation. “Alright. Give me a hug first.”
“What?” He stared back, not surveying anything.
“You’ve made it uncomfortable. This’ll help.”
He didn’t understand her logic. Actually, he thought a hug would make it more awkward. He enjoyed hugs, didn’t mind them, but a hug was sort of intimate and that’s what he’d intended to avoid.
Except she hugged him before he could say anything against it, so he wrapped his arms around her waist and held her close.
“Alright, so I’ve decided–” she said.
He fidgeted. “We’re going to talk while hugging?”
“Yes.” Her statement accepted no bridge for disagreement. “We can’t keep the pearl out in the open. I’ve been practicing with something, and I think it’s best if we do that, but I wanted to ask first.”
“Alright,” he said. “What is it?”
“I was thinking―if we dissolve the pearl in vinegar, dilute it with water, and sweeten it with honey, I can drink it. It’ll take a few days, but then no one can steal it or misuse it, since it’ll be part of me.”
“Sure? What are you asking me for?” He didn’t understand half of what she said. Vinegar dissolved pearls, what?
“Because it’s ours, silly.” She squeezed him tight. “The pearl, it’s like our baby.”
“It’s a pearl, Jaylee.” This conversation needed fixing quick.
“I know. If you want to use it, let me know.”
He refused to even ask what she meant by that. “Can we eat dinner?”
“Oh! I’ll start. Let me set the pearl up first. What should we eat? Do you like hamburgers? My mom taught me how to make sliced fried potatoes that’re really good, too.”
“I’d love a hamburger!” A sliver of drool escaped his lip imagining a greasy meat patty.
Jaylee flashed a shy smile and fussed about with her hands. Maybe he shouldn’t say “love” around her. Agh, when were the others coming back?
[Note: This story is NOT ELIGIBLE for contest entries, but if you'd still like to comment that'd be great.]
Everyone was fine, in a manner of speaking. Or they were until Jaylee hefted up the fist-sized pearl she’d procured from the clam and used its power to unbind them.
Then everyone wasn’t so fine, except Rei who treated the situation like an interesting puzzle that needed figuring out.
“Who’s that?” Mr. Ellis asked, peering at Albedo.
“I saw a huge rockslide,” Jared said. “Seemed fine before, but I’m pretty sure rockslides don’t just happen randomly, especially without mountains–”
“My sincere apologies,” Albedo said, politely ignoring Mr. Ellis’s stares. “Lancer and I were having an altercation, but it’s been resolved.”
Jared nodded, accepting this explanation. Mr. Ellis wasn’t so easily convinced. “What’re your intentions with my daughter?”
Jaylee, whether to keep Albedo spherebound or because Albedo kept pressing towards her, had her arm wrapped around his while he combed his fingers through her hair. “Daddy, it’s not what you think.”
“It’s not? I don’t need to think to see what I see, and the sight’s not suiting me.”
Demons didn’t break loose from the underworld then, but Albedo’s bindings shattered, which was nearly the same. “Insignificant fleas! How dare you spherebind me. As if I’d ever feel love, even affection, towards a juvenile girl. You shall pay for this.”
Albedo raised his hands, ready to strike. Mr. Ellis reacted faster. In the blink of an eye, sprockets and gears and gadgets galore surrounded Albedo, spinning and lifting him off the ground. Without dirt beneath his feet, he seemed to lose control over the rocks. The cogs zipped forth, removing themselves from the wagon and Mr. Ellis’s clothing: wheel spokes, transformed zippers, belt buckles. In the end, Albedo was trapped in a constantly spinning clockwork prison.
The well-dressed man screamed until a pair of screws attached themselves to a bit, spun tight, and clamped his mouth shut.
“Jaylee,” Mr. Ellis said, “you’re too young to date him.”
“Daddy, I don’t want to,” Jaylee said.
“I know he might seem appealing, being more mature and handsome, but–”
“He wanted to kill us, daddy.”
“Makes no difference. I’m not losing a daughter to the likes of him.”
They argued, each confusing the other. Mr. Ellis wanted to keep him trapped so he’d stay away from Jaylee, and she wanted Albedo constrained so he wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. Neither budged, until they realized they wanted the same thing(though they still refused to accept the other’s viewpoint).
“So,” Rei said. “How was it?”
The commotion between the Ellis family had distracted him. “What?” he asked.
“You and Jaylee? The water? Did you kiss?”
Lancer stared at her, his expression blank. “Are you serious?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
So she was serious, which seriously bothered him. “Look, Rei–”
He would’ve said more, set the record straight, but then he remembered the giant clam. Isabelle, too, but the clam seemed more immediately important. Could clams live out of water? Agh! What if he was dead already?
“Gotta go!” Lancer ran as fast as he could towards the reservoir.
The upheaved ground made the search more difficult than necessary, but he found the clam. Tilted sideways, shell cracked open, the clam looked so horribly out of place. He jogged up and patted the shell.
“Hey, buddy?” How did one address a companionable clam? “You alright?”
The clam gurgled, water spluttering out of his shell like a drowning man spitting up water during resuscitation. “Lancer–” the clam said, voice dying.
“What do I do? Hold on, hold on, I’ll save you.”
Lancer turned to run to get help, but crashed into Rei. Her and him, wood and flesh, fell to the ground.
“Rei! Are you alright? This is horrible. Two in one day. Don’t die, Rei.”
Rei clicked her eyelids, blinking. “I’m fine. Stop trying to put me back together! I haven’t fallen apart. I don’t even think that’s possible.”
Lancer stopped prodding her arm, moving it around its socket. “Oh. Sorry.” He glanced at the clam. “Look, Rei. This clam can talk. It saved us. It’s going to die.”
Rei surmised the situation, eying the clam. “I don’t think he’s dying,” she said.
“What do you mean? Did you hear him?”
“The girl’s correct,” the clam said, cheerily. “I can live away from water for days. It was a joke. Did it lighten the mood? I’ve heard of jokes, but I’ve never done one.”
Lancer stared at the clam. Maybe the clam stared back, but Lancer didn’t know how that worked. He assumed they had the equivalent of a mollusk staring contest, though.
“I’m going to drown you,” Lancer said.
“That’s a joke?” the clam asked. “Because I can’t drown–”
Lancer grinned. Was he joking? No one needed to know.
“Did you need that woman?” the clam asked.
Lancer stopped, confused. “What woman? Jaylee?”
“The muddy one. I hope not, because she’s escaping.”
Lancer spun on his heels, looked towards where Isabelle should’ve been. In her place stood a goopy pile of mud, the seductress nowhere in sight. He stomped, angry. Argh! Well, they had Albedo, right? Double checking, he calmed a little bit. Not a happy calm, but with Jaylee around Isabelle shouldn’t be a problem.
“Let’s roll you back into the water,” Lancer said to the clam. “You were a big help. I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” the clam said, a hearty chuckle coming from somewhere. “I always wanted to go adventuring. Three hundred years without any fun gets you down in the dumps. Your friend can keep the pearl, too. She looks like she enjoys it.”
“Thanks,” Lancer said. “I’m sure she’ll like that.” To Rei, he added, “Help, please?”
Rei nodded, helping maneuver one side of the clamshell. Between the two of them they slid the clam into the water just fine.
“Is it bad that woman escaped?” Rei asked afterwards.
“It’s not good,” Lancer said. “Not good at all.”
Hopefully they could deal with it, though. This trip into Garde was too eventful by far.
[Note: This story is NOT ELIGIBLE for contest entries, but if you'd still like to comment that'd be great.]
“I daresay,” Isabelle said, “you’ve chosen the wrong adversary.”
She lifted her dress enough to retrieve a wand of lipstick tucked into a belt buckled around her thigh. Popping the top off the wand, she applied red color to her lips and pressed them together.
“You’ll never best me, and there’s few ways your friend can best Albedo, so we’re at a standstill.” Gazing at Lancer, an alluring look in her eyes, she returned the lipstick to its concealed spot beneath her skirt.
“I don’t see how you could beat me either,” Lancer said. “You can’t control rocks,” he added, regretting it afterwards, feeling childish.
Isabelle stared at him, then broke into harsh laughter. “You’re scared of a few rocks, is it? Your fear is misplaced. You know nothing, my little boy.”
Lancer knew enough to end this here and now. He gave her the benefit of the doubt with the lipstick, but no more. Sure, his parents taught him not to hit girls, but they also told him to think for himself and be willing to re-evaluate his beliefs depending on the circumstance. Seeing as Isabelle planned to spherebind Jaylee and him and use whatever screwed up concoctions to test charm experiments on the people of Garde, he felt validated in his reconsideration.
“A rock,” Isabelle said, Lancer approaching her. “may only harm your body.”
Closer, a few more steps, and he would sprint and tackle her to the ground.
“While I,” she said, zealous, “will wreak havoc on your soul.”
Lancer crouched, preparing to stampede into her. At this, Isabelle brought two fingers to her lips and blew him a kiss.
Lancer’s senses tumbled like the wave of earth Albedo shoved forth minutes before. He staggered, dropping to his knees, and clutching his chest. His body shook. He felt like his heart would explode at any moment. Everything seemed awful and he knew, in his core, the center of his mind, that nothing would ever be better.
The world, his existence; none of it mattered. The reservoir to his right looked appealing, a means to end his torment and pain, except it was too far. He couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to throw himself into the water and wait to drown.
“You see?” Isabelle asked. Her voice was a bright beacon drawing his eyes. “Love is only one emotion. Simple, easy, wonderful and enjoyable. Love is not absolute, though. The smell of pleasantries and amazement entertains everyone all the same, but what of life’s other offerings? Do you think anyone cares about the scent of despair? Depression, anger, anxiety, bravery? Boredom has a smell, did you know?”
He remembered now. Isabelle had that ability, a sphereshift for love and affection. If she could exhilarate, it stood to reason she knew how to do the opposite, too. Except what did it matter? If Lancer pulled through, he had no chance afterwards. Jaylee might control Albedo for awhile, but she was inexperienced and Isabelle held vast knowledge. Just looking at her, mature and womanly, Lancer knew she was better. People denied it, but a person’s looks said a lot.
“The problem,” Isabelle said, strutting forwards, her heels clicking against the cobbled ground, “is I dislike violence. It amuses me to seduce a man and entice him to act a certain way for promises of more. This–” She kicked his shoulder. “No fun. If you’d fetched the pearl and given it to me, we could have avoided this altogether. You’ve forced my hand.”
Lancer nodded feebly. He’d brought this upon himself, deserved it. He should’ve listened, should’ve thought. Now it was too late. Forlorn, knowing no alternative, he hit his head against the ground, cutting his cheeks and forehead on a few stray rocks. Someone called to him, but it made no difference, because soon it would end. His neck struggled to raise his head again.
The rocks beneath him burst into dust. When he slammed his face down, it scattered into the air. Chalky clouds surrounded him, filling his eyes and nose. Tears streamed down his cheeks and he closed his eyes to protect them.
He sneezed. Once, twice, more, until the dust settled, leaving him with a congested nose and watery eyes. He jumped up to get away from the ground in case that happened again. What a dumb thing, though, to hit his head into a pile of rock powder.
“Thanks, Albedo. You’re really nice,” Jaylee said.
Through hazy vision, Lancer saw Albedo gushing. “What are you talking about?” Lancer asked.
“If you can’t smell, pheromone sphereshifts stop working. Albedo crushed the rocks into dust so you’d sneeze.”
Lancer blinked, both confusion and dust and tears. “Uh?”
“Serious?” Jaylee huffed, looking like she wanted to hit him. She pushed Albedo instead. “”Look, Lancer. The sneeze got her scents away from you, and now you have a runny nose so she can’t do it again. Go be useful instead of standing there.”
Oh. That sort of made sense. He wanted to wipe his nose with his shirt sleeve, maybe wash his eyes in the reservoir, but in light of Jaylee’s explanation it appeared that’d have to wait.
Isabelle backed away, a sensual smirk on her lips. “Just a game, boy. You win. That’s it. You and your girlfriend are free to go.”
Lancer sprinted, wrapped his arms around her waist, and tackled her. Plowing into her and lifting her up in the process, he slammed her into the reservoir. Sputtering, Isabelle spit up water and flailed in the shallows.
“Would you please?” Jaylee said sweetly to Albedo.
Mud oozed up, coating Isabelle in a layer of muck. The sludge continued until it covered her entirely, leaving a spot for her head. She stood poised in the water, an inert mud monster, unable to move. Her reddish brown hair trailed behind her in the breeze.
“Let’s find my dad,” Jaylee said. “We can’t leave these two here.”
Lancer nodded. “I hope everyone’s alright.”
[Note: This story is NOT ELIGIBLE for contest entries, but if you'd still like to comment that'd be great.]
Lancer and Albedo squared off, entering into an old-fashioned bout of fisticuffs. Albedo swung time and again, a smug look on his face. Lancer did everything he could to duck and dodge away, using his craggy surroundings to fend off the blows and save him from danger. This did little good. Albedo missed Lancer, that much was obvious, but each punch that hit a rock splintered the thing into countless shards. And some of those shards―as if a gauntlet of rocks wasn’t advantage enough―stuck to the mitt, forming an amalgamation of smooth glove and spiked additions.
Everyone said, Lancer thought while avoiding a grab for his elbow, when the gloves were off it meant someone was serious. Albedo seemed more serious with his on, though. People said the dumbest things and he never understood why.
Lancer countered with a punch, a testing blow to see what would happen. His knuckles eluded Albedo’s guard after the man sent a reckless assault towards his torso, then crunched against the hard sheet plating covering his chest. Albedo laughed then, twisted and malevolent.
So much for that. Maybe Jaylee had some good ideas?
And then it occurred to him while Albedo stood mocking him: Isabelle had spherebound him with a pheromone sphereshift. Jaylee freed him, of course, because Jaylee was wonderful and beautiful and amazing, except he hadn’t always felt this way. In fact, he distinctly remembered not feeling this way an hour ago. That whole schoolwork thing and how it bothered him when she rested her chin on his shoulder to survey his answers.
Suffice to say, this upset him.
Albedo could wait. The man wanted to insult him anyways, doing nothing but laughing for a good ten seconds thus far, so Lancer returned the favor and turned his back on him. He strode towards Jaylee, dashing over jagged ground.
She and Isabelle were arguing. With comparable sphereshift specializations, they apparently had little they could do to one another except catfight or partake in a verbal spat. Neither looked willing to start the former, what with Isabelle’s primmed nails and Jaylee’s innocent inclinations.
“Look,” Lancer said, interrupting them. “I know you used sphereshifting on me. Now, I still love you, alright? I want you to know this. But you can’t go around doing that without telling me, you know?”
Jaylee stared at him like he was blitzed. Isabelle regarded him with one upraised eyebrow.
“Really, now?” Isabelle asked, amused.
“Lancer, I–” Jaylee frowned. “It’s just, um. Watch out, watch out!”
Lancer knew this, what it meant; Albedo. He jumped to the side, assuming a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right direction, and hoped he wasn’t wrong and about to take a massive blow to the spine. As it so happened, he chose correctly. Albedo swung downward, an overhead strike, hands pressed together, but he floundered when he hit air.
“Look, Lancer,” Jaylee said, about to say more.
“I don’t think it’s time to apologize!” Lancer said, kicking at a slightly unguarded section of Albedo’s thigh.
“Alright, but–” She bit the edge of her bottom lip. “Oh, oh, oh! I know what to do!”
“Sure,” Lancer said. “I like that plan.” Details were extraneous.
Lancer did what he needed to do while Jaylee did whatever she intended. Albedo had stumbled after Lancer kicked him, but he found purchase on a near boulder and halted his fall. When he returned to standing, the things on his hands looked more like the ball of a morning star than any regular gloves.
Lancer didn’t even know if he could outmaneuver Albedo’s attacks anymore. The man strained somewhat while wielding the gloves, but he also used sphereshifting to make them less unwieldy. The range at which Albedo could attack had increased, along with the area. Maybe Lancer should just run, but he didn’t want to leave Jaylee behind.
No more options, all out of–
“I love you!” Jaylee screamed. “Please don’t hurt him!”
Yeah, yeah. Maybe Lancer loved her, too. He didn’t know because of that whole sphereshifting business, but it felt nice and tingly and he could go with it. Except―wait, what? Don’t hurt him! Argh, that made no sense. Jaylee, a traitor? Doubtful, but this day was too strange by far.
“I won’t!” Albedo pleaded, crawling on hands and knees. “I’m sorry. I won’t hurt him. Please, forgive me?”
Lancer puffed out his cheeks, huffed, looked confused. Well, whatever, if the guy loved Jaylee there wasn’t much he could do. He was a bit old for her, though? Kind of gross when he thought about it.
Isabelle stared at Albedo and sighed. “Idiot.” To Jaylee, she added, “Right. So you can play love games with the pearl. Do you think you can keep it up forever? I tire of this.”
Ha! Oh man. Jaylee was good! Lancer grinned. She’d never sphereshifted like this before, at least that he knew of. Except, wait, hrm, had he ever felt odd feelings towards her in the past? Maybe? She smelled nice sometimes, and her hair was bouncy, but no ew probably not.
“Lancer, you take care of her and I’ll take care of him,” Jaylee said.
Lancer nodded. He could do that. This seemed a better idea. Isabelle didn’t have rocks and rocks were his newfound mortal enemy, so this would work.
Isabelle smiled when he went to face her. “Ready to play, little boy?”