(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).]
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.
Weight: 125 lbs
Eye Color: Mint
Body: Average, Pear-shape
Blood Type: A-
“I don’t like using daisies when I play ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’ Marigolds are better, and they smell nicer, too.” -Jaylee
(Jaylee was drawn by Deanna. Check out more of her art [here])
Jaylee’s brother said she was obsessive. Her father thought she had too much free time. Her mother only smiled and said, “Jaylee, would you like a–” holding out her most recent cooked creation.
Well, her brother was a twit, she thought. And her father thought everyone had too much time. Her mother understood, though. Her mother was the one who taught her about pheromones in the first place. The cookies she baked were delicious, too.
It started when she began her diary at the age of ten. Her mother gave it to her, telling her it was precious and she could write down her deepest secrets. She took this to heart.
First Entry -
Dear Diary(is this how you start?)
Lancer’s dumb. I don’t why anyone calls him Lancer. I did because he doesn’t like his real name and asked me to, but is Layne a bad name? I think it’s nice. I wrote too much bye now.
Second Entry -
I don’t like starting dear diary, so I’m not going to. You’re a book not a person and I don’t want talk to you.
Lancer’s dumb. I asked if he wanted to come for cookies today, but he said no. He said *there are tear drops on the page here* I smelled and had cooties! Serious? We’re ten and I don’t have cooties. He’s dumb. No one has cooties. Those are fake.
Seventh Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. If he’s really dumb am I dumb, too? I look at him in class and I can’t stop! I’m going crazy. He’s so pretty, though *heart* We’re reading a book and the teacher told us to write our favorite descriptions and I want to write about Lancer but I can’t give Ms. Allen that! She’ll read it. I’ll write them here.
Lancer’s hair is dark and wavy like wheat stalks bending in gusty wind. His eyes are so beautiful and blue, like a deep lake or maybe a splashy puddle on a rain day. His lips are ohmygod I can’t even think about his lips Iwanttokisshimsobad.
Do you think he’ll kiss me if I ask?
Eighth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. Today is my birthday and I asked him if he’d give me a kiss for a present and he said no. Why? I’m not pretty? I think I am. Mom has a big mirror and I can see all of me when I stand in front of it and I’m pretty sure I’m pretty. I even practiced making pretty faces so I could show Lancer. But he looks away! I make a pretty face and he looks away. Serious? If I were him I’d kiss me. What about ohmygod I can’t write that! Alright, I’ll write that I think kissing would be fun but maybe there’s more fun after? Diary, if you aren’t a book and are a person and you tell anyone I’m going to burn you in a fire.
A few days later, Jaylee’s mother knocked on her door. “Can I come in, dear?”
Jaylee stuffed her diary under her pillow in the middle of writing her ninth entry. “Yeah, mom. What is it?”
Mrs. Ellis opened her daughter’s bedroom door, stepped into the room, then closed the door behind her. She smiled at Jaylee, reassuring and calm. This, Jaylee thought, was odd, because her mother didn’t do it unless something was wrong. Sure, she smiled all the time, but it was more a silly, whimsical look instead of one with a lot of meaning.
Her mother removed the plentitude of stuffed animals from atop a wooden chair and pulled it to the foot of her daughter’s bed before sitting on it. “Jaylee,” she said. “We should talk, dear.”
Jaylee shrugged. “Alright.”
And they talked. About birds and bees and how Lancer might be a very pretty boy and–
“Wait,” Jaylee said near the end of the conversation. “How did you know about Lancer? Did you read my diary?”
“Yes,” her mother said.
“Is that why you gave it to me? You’ve been reading it this entire time! Right? Haven’t you? It’s private, mom! I hate you!”
This was the fourth time Jaylee had said I hate you since coming home from school, and while she meant it this time(she really did, more than the time before when she thought she’d hated her mother but now knew she didn’t but this time was for real), her mother smiled and laughed it off.
“It’s fine to have crushes on boys,” her mother said, ignoring the accusations(which were true, of course), “but wait until you’re older, please? Maybe you’ll get married and then it’ll be amazing. Kissing is fine, Jaylee, but you have a wonderful life ahead of you and I don’t want you to ruin it by–” And here her mother mentioned awkward details of what lay beyond kissing.
Jaylee cringed, because it was gross talking about this with her mom. Except, wait wait, she backtracked a second. “Lancer will marry me?”
“Why wouldn’t he? You’re an attractive young lady.”
“He doesn’t even look at me, though. I―alright, watch.” Jaylee made a pretty face to show her mother, the same one she tried on Lancer. “I do that and he looks away!”
“He’s shy, dear.”
“I don’t want him to be shy, though. I want him to kiss me.”
Jaylee’s mother scrunched up her brow. Contemplating something probably, but who knew what. Jaylee never understood her mother. Her father said she was some great sphereshifter before, but to this day Jaylee had never seen her mother sphereshift. Nothing. Not once.
“I’m going to teach you something, dear.”
“Mom, I don’t want to learn to make cookies.”
“Stop pouting, your face will get stuck that way and then how will Lancer find you attractive?”
Jaylee stopped pouting right away. “I still don’t want to learn to make cookies.”
“Not cookies. I’m out of practice, but I did this when I was young. You just need to be careful, alright? I don’t want you to take advantage of situations and if I hear about you and Lancer, or any other boy–” Her mother really really liked being awkward.
Twenty-seventh Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. Mom taught me pheromone stuff. She says it’s got to do with smells. I’m practicing but I can’t get it to work. She showed me one and I think it works, but people look at me funny.
Twenty-eighth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb and so is my mom! She tricked me. The sphereshift she showed me WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE LOOK AT ME FUNNY! Serious? What kind of thing is that? Who does that who wants someone to look at them funny Idon’tunderstandher.
Thirty-fourth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. My mom apologized and told me that was the easiest sphereshift to learn and that’s why she started with it. I guess that’s alright, but I don’t like people looking at me funny. This next one is nice. It makes people smile. Mom says it taps into memory centers in their brains and causes them to remember their happiest memories. That sounds nice. I smelled it but all I smelled were mom’s cookies, so I thought she was trying to trick me into making cookies with her. I used it around Lancer and he smiled! Tomorrow I’m going to ask him to kiss me.
Thirty-fifth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. He wouldn’t kiss me. What an idiot!
One-hundred-and-fifty-ninth Entry -
Lancer’s still a little dumb, but I think I’m wearing him down. I’ve been holding back so much. I told my mother before what I wanted to try, and she thinks it’s interesting if I can pull it off. I finally managed to do it the other day, and I’ve practiced to make sure I understand it and I definitely do. I haven’t told her yet. I’m going to keep it secret for a little. Rei came today and asked daddy if he could give Lancer and her a ride into Garde on his next trip. That’s tomorrow. Jared and I get to go. I’ll be with Lancer! I need to find a way to get Jared and daddy to leave us alone. Rei will help, I think. She’s helped before.
Back to my discovery! This is exciting I’m so excited. The secret to pheromones is water sphereshifting, mom taught me. The scents are good by themselves, but if you mix small scents mix mix swirl mix with sphereshifting, and put them on certain points on your body(wrists, neck, armpits, or another warm spot that’s inappropriate and mom told me never do that until I’m married or she’ll ground me forever I swear you’re reading this mom and I won’t do it I want to kiss Lancer but I won’t do anything else) you can use your body heat to evaporate the mixture and send scents into the air around you. A minor fire sphereshift to heat the mix increases the effects by a lot, though.
Which is fun and it works but what if you mix the pheromones inside your body and when you sweat they come out? Not gross sweat like after you run and you’re sticky, but the regular kind that happens a little at a time throughout the day.
And I can do that now! It’s neat. I’ve been seeing what my body makes naturally, but I figured out if I eat the right foods I can add different pheromones for a little while. It’s still a good idea to carry vials and ingredients just in case, but this is less conspicuous. Lancer would wonder why I’m holding a vial and mixing things before I ask him to kiss him. Now I don’t have to! Isn’t that neat?
Mom if you’re reading this stop reading this. I’ve asked you a million times. I’m sixteen now and I haven’t even kissed anyone. If you’re scared of me doing I’mnotgoingtowriteitthat’ssoweird I’m not talking about this with you. I won’t do it, alright? I don’t even use pheromone sphereshifting on Lancer ever anyways, but if I use it once to get a kiss that’s not bad, right? I’ll do the rest the hard way and I swear he’ll ask me on a date and I have two years and we’ll marry when I’m eighteen or maybe nineteen I don’t know.
I’ll talk with you when I get back. Stop reading this.
Lancer and Rei arrived at the Ellis’s home by quarter past five.
In the morning.
Lancer wasn’t pleased, in fact he felt he would have loved those few extra minutes of sleep, but Rei took advantage of his semi-consciousness in his half awake state and herded him out of the house early.
He couldn’t very well complain now. Finding out they’d arrived fifteen minutes before their necessary thirty minute early arrival was just fine and dandy. Oh, yes, nothing wrong at all. People shouldn’t expect you to arrive at six when they wanted to leave at six, no, never.
His lack of complaint attracted attention, probably because instead of speaking he kicked the ground and grumbled.
“That boy’s always so ornery,” Mr. Ellis said, packing luggage atop the carriage.
“Would you like a muffin, Lancer?” Mrs. Ellis asked, holding out a tray of various muffins.
Lancer took a muffin. “Thank you, Mrs. Ellis,” he said in between stuffing his mouth.
“Any time, dear,” she said. “Cheer up, alright? It’s going to be a beautiful day and you can sleep on the ride if you’re tired.”
Saying that, Mrs. Ellis added that whenever she traveled she found it dreadfully difficult to sleep because of bumps in the road―they needed to fix that, someone should pave it like in the big cities―but since he was young he shouldn’t have problems catching a wink.
Lancer stopped grumbling because he had a muffin, but he started again a moment later.
“Do we need anything else, daddy?” Jaylee asked from the front porch.
“Should be set. Thanks, darling,” Mr. Ellis said.
“We don’t need this catalytic charge displacer, dad?” Jared asked from inside the house.
“Next time, Jared. This isn’t a business trip.”
Lancer paused mid-muffin chew. He stared at Jaylee, who smiled and waved then looked down shyly when he didn’t stop staring. Jared told Lancer he’d help him with the schoolwork he’d missed. Rei stepped to the side, whistling, until Lancer jerked his head towards her and glared.
“Oh,” Rei said. “Did I forget to tell you Jaylee and Jared are coming?”
“Mmmffmmrrhhh,” Lancer said, then swallowed his mouthful of muffin. “Yes, you did! Why didn’t you say something? Seriously, Rei?”
Before Rei could answer, Jaylee waltzed up and stood next to him, hands in her pockets. “I’ve missed you at school, Lancer.”
“Yeah,” Lancer said. “Sorry.”
“Is that a muffin?” she asked. “Can I have a bite?”
Mrs. Ellis happened by with the muffins again. “Jaylee, hurry, take a muffin before your father and brother eat them all. I swear they act like I never feed them.”
Jaylee frowned and took a muffin from the pan. “Thanks,” she said in the most disingenuous way possible.
“Of course, dear.”
Before more awkward moments could commence, Mr. Ellis said, “Time to hit the road! Last one in’s the spoiled cheese.”
Jaylee looked at Lancer and rolled her eyes, gesturing towards her father. “It’s rotten egg, dad!”
“Spoiled cheese is worse, trust me.”
Lancer cared little for rotten eggs or spoiled cheese. He also no longer cared much for this carriage ride into Garde. Having to deal with Kanin was difficult enough, but Jaylee was another story.
Now, he didn’t hate her, far from it. He thought she was fun sometimes in larger crowds and an overall interesting person, but that didn’t mean he wanted her attention, which she gave him fully. It also didn’t mean he wanted to sit next to her in the crowded carriage, but the seats were so small that one of the boys needed to sit next to one of the girls for everyone to fit. Rei, his evil demon sister, jumped in before him and sat next to Jared.
Jaylee blushed when Lancer sat. “I can help with your schoolwork if you want? Since it’ll be hard for Jared to do if he’s not next to you?”
Lancer grudgingly accepted, Jaylee not noticing his ire and Rei feigning ignorance by refusing to look at him, humming.
Homework help was alright. Besides the fact that Jaylee kept touching him, playfully slapping his hand when he messed up, squeezing close and smiling whenever he did something right, and putting her arm around his to guide him if he took too long to write an answer. Those things bothered him, but it was better than the alternatives.
Imagine if he’d slept? He knew he would’ve woken with a tousle-haired Jaylee yawning, curled up on his chest. “Did you have a nice nap?” he pictured her saying. “I dreamt of you, Lancer.”
Bump! Creak! Crack! The carriage stopped.
“We’re here?” Lancer had never visited Garde so he had no clue how long it took to get there, but this seemed like a really short ride. Only a couple hours?
“Sorry, kids. Wheel’s busted. Going to take a few to fix. Stretch your legs for now,” Mr. Ellis said from the rider’s stoop outside the carriage.
They got out. Lancer relished his freedom from Jaylee.
“Help me out, Jared?” Mr. Ellis asked. Father and son went to work replacing the wheel.
“Isn’t that a nice lake?” Rei said to Jaylee, pointing out a small lake at the end of a willowy grass field.
Lancer suspected something.
“Daddy, can Lancer and I go to the lake while you fix the carriage?” Jaylee asked.
Ah, that’s what he suspected.
“Don’t be gone too long, darling.”
Lancer didn’t expect that.
Nor did he think Jaylee would take his arm in hers and rush off to the lake. Why was he going to a lake? Better yet why were they going to a lake?
Rei giggled and Lancer would have yelled at her but he was too busy being made to run towards some lake that he didn’t have time to do much else.
Lancer stayed home from school for three days. Not for any legitimate reason―unless fretting over his sister’s well-being counted as a valid sickness―but because he needed time to think.
Thinking, unfortunately, wasn’t his greatest ability. At least not with the kind of thoughts he needed. No matter what he came up with, no matter the random ideas floating through his head, it amounted to the same thing.
To fix Rei, to have any chance at reverting her to flesh and bones instead of a wooden toy, he needed to consult their older brother. Kanin wasn’t the most knowledgeable person ever(Lancer loved to point this out during their spats), but he knew people and might know someone who understood the sphereshifting involved in Rei’s transformation.
This, of course, meant they needed to travel to Garde. Kanin lived there now, visiting them only once or twice a year for a week at a time. He had no time for his hometown anymore, preferring the transcendent lifestyle of the big city, whatever that meant.
Everyone learned sphereshifting, but not everyone was good at it(Lancer, frowning to himself, knew he was a prime example of that). People like Kanin, skilled and masterful, had an abundance of work they could perform, and Garde was the place to go if you wanted to take advantage of that. Jobs varied as widely as small time work in shops to guarding trade caravans, and everything in between.
Lancer broached the subject to Rei when she came home that afternoon. “Hey,” he said. “Let’s visit Kanin in Garde.”
Rei ignored him and awkwardly held a pencil between her wooden fingers, attempting to write answers for her homework. “When are you going back to school?” she asked.
“That’s not important. We haven’t seen Kanin in forever.”
“I saw Kanin a few months ago when he visited, but you hid the whole time and refused to see him. I don’t see why you’d want to see him now. I don’t understand why you two can’t get along.”
“It’s more that–”
Rei refused to let him finish. “You want to see if he can change me back.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad to visit, either.” Except it would, Lancer thought. He hated it when Kanin came home, and while they’d never visited their older brother in Garde he imagined it would be ten times worse.
“I’ve written him a letter,” Rei said.
“I wrote telling him what happened. He’ll write back.”
This hadn’t occurred to Lancer. A letter? What a great idea! That meant he wouldn’t need to see Kanin after all, and he could still do something about Rei’s predicament.
“I wouldn’t mind going to see him, though,” Rei remarked offhandedly.
“What?” Lancer asked, startled out of his jubilation after realizing they didn’t need to travel to Garde.
“You said it wouldn’t be so bad to visit, and I wouldn’t mind going, so if you’d like we can go.”
“Well, there’s school–”
“You haven’t gone to school in three days.”
“I don’t think Mom and Dad would–”
“I’ve written them, too. They wrote back actually. They said they’ll come home as soon as possible but work’s got them stuck and as long as I’m alright it should be fine. If we need anything, they said to take money and visit Kanin.”
Although this was Lancer’s original intention, having learned of alternative options, and rejoicing in not needing to see Kanin, he just didn’t like the idea anymore. Rei stared at him, her glassy eyes wide and pleading. Despite his preferences, Lancer gave in.
“Alright,” he said.
“Alright what?” she asked.
“I guess we can go.”
“When? In the morning?”
“Isn’t that too soon? Don’t you have to―I don’t know―shouldn’t you tell your teacher?”
“I’ve already told her. I heard you mumbling in your room the other day about visiting Kanin, so I asked Ms. Allen today if it’d be alright, and she gave me a folder with classwork for the next few weeks.” She rifled through her schoolbag and pulled out a folder filled with far too many worksheets. “Here, I spoke with your teachers and got your lessons, too.” This time she took out four folders, each close to double the size of hers. “I thought since you’re having trouble maybe extra would help, so I asked your teachers and they added extra credit so you can catch up.”
“Thanks,” he said. He was not thankful.
“Let’s pack!” Rei hopped up, forgetting her homework. “Oh, this will be so fun. Do you know they have a giant observation wheel in the center of Garde? You can pay for a seat and it spins around with magnetics and at the top you can see for miles. We should do that. Can we do that?”
“Maybe,” he said. “Do we have to pack now? It’ll be nicer to sleep in and leave in the afternoon, right?”
“We can’t. Jaylee and Jared’s father offered to bring us in his carriage for free, but he’s leaving at six sharp, so we need to arrive by half past five.”
“In the morning?” Lancer frowned; she had to be kidding.
Rei gave him a strange look as if she had no idea what other time he thought she could mean. A second later she shrugged and smiled, jumping up and skipping to her room to pack her belongings, her wooden feet tapping her retreat through the house.
Needless to say, Lancer disliked this, but after grumbling for a couple minutes he went to pack.