Episode 16 – Promise
◈ Meanwhile in the Purge Headquarters ◈
Nelaira sat on her futon and looked at the lone elibu in front of her. Other people in his position would be on guard, afraid that the Ink would spread and infect them. That the Tainted in front of them would suddenly lose their mind and attack. But not him. He stood in a leisurely posture with his sickly pale hands behind his back, showing neither fear nor revulsion towards her.
He had neither bodyguards nor weapons that could protect him from Nelaira if she chose to attack. Yet Nelaira didn’t believe, not even for a second, that she could pose a threat to him.
The man with the grayish green hair framing his face looked no older than 30. He wore a wide smile that didn’t reach his eyes. One couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with his smile, it neither looked insincere nor polite, it wasn’t sly nor evil, yet it made Nelaira’s hair stand on end. There was just something about the man that gave her the creeps.
Those thin slits that were his eyes looked at her without emotion. They were so narrow that Nelaira couldn’t tell what color his eyes were.
Nalen Talath, the manager of the quarantine section of the Purge Headquarters. Exactly the calculating and cold-blooded man she had asked to see.
“You wanted to see me?” The man started the conversation with a sickly pleasant tone that reminded Nelaira of the hissing sound of a snake.
She suppressed her revulsion and steeled her resolve. “Has my fiancé been bothering you?”
That disturbing smile never left the man’s face as he replied. “Deliberately wasting my time is not going to help either of us.”
Nelaira chuckled wryly. “He is not going to give up until you let him see me.”
The man responded in a pleasant, friendly tone, but Nelaira could feel the sarcasm dripping from his words. “Oh my, you are right! We better let him see you then!”
Nelaira tried her best to keep her emotions off her face. “He won’t be playing nice forever. Do you really want the world to know that you are holding me prisoner? Is this a prison or a quarantine?”
Nalen Talath grinned wider, a tinge of malice finally dripping into his smile, and retorted in a teasing tone. “It’s a quarantine of course! Why would you compare it to a prison?”
Nelaira’s heart skipped a beat. She could feel cold sweat forming on her back. It felt like it took the man hours to continue, yet only a few seconds had elapsed.
“Aren’t you sweet? Worrying about our matters. You have too much time on your hands.”
He was probing her and waiting for her to mention “the deal” he had been informed about. That was the only reason why he was still here. Nelaira decided to finally get to business. She couldn’t delay any longer in fear of losing his interest. She had to put on a flawless performance, for he was her only hope.
“I’d be willing to help you deal with my fiancé, getting him off your back.”
The man showed no change in expression, still wearing that disgusting smile. “Is that so?”
Nelaira sighed and put on a pitiful act, her long ears hanging downwards. “As you said, I have too much time on my hands, yet at the same time, I have very little time left. If you help me spend these last moments a bit more pleasantly… I will write a letter to my fiancé telling him that I don’t want to see him and that although you are doing your best to stop the spread of the Ink, I don’t have many days left in me.”
The manager wasn’t moved by her words. He still stood with the same expression like a doll.
Nelaira didn’t give up. “You can, of course, suggest what you want me to write and then I’ll word it to sound like something I would say. I’ll rewrite the letter until you are satisfied. This would also help you to deal with the aftermath of my death.”
She paused shortly before continuing. “You’ve got nothing to lose in this deal. You only stand to profit. If I tell him that it is me who doesn’t want to see him, he will understand and stop making trouble for you.”
Nalen looked at her for a while, his eyes inspecting her closely. Nelaira felt her scalp turn numb, his gaze was quite unpleasant. It seemed like an eternity passed before he responded. “What are your demands?”
Nelaira’s heart jumped. The fish had taken the bait. Now she only needed to reel it in. The erratic hard beats reverberated through her body.
“I want you to bring me some blank paper and pens so I can draw. Also, I want you to bring me 3 new books to read every week.”
As she waited for his response, she could feel her heart jumping in her throat. It was painfully clenching with dread and fear of failure.
“What kind of books do you want?” Nelaira felt like a giant weight has been lifted from her shoulders. If she wasn’t already sitting down, her legs would have given out, and she would have slumped to the ground.
For the first time, she was happy to see Nalen’s smile, as it meant that the deal was on. Her heart was still beating erratically, but, this time, it was out of joy. Success!! She tried to stifle her excitement and not let it show on her face.
“I prefer romance and adventure books. The longer the book, the better.”
Just you wait. I’ll wipe that fake friendly smile from your face sooner or later.
“Alright. I’ll see what I can find. Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”
“No, that is all.” Nelaira smiled politely, urging him to leave before her fast beating heart gave her away.
“Then, I’ll be taking my leave.” Nalen Talath smiled and bowed in fake politeness before leaving the room. Nelaira’s smile stayed on her face for a long while, even after the doors closed, once again, imprisoning her in this cold metal box.
The first part of her plan was a success. Nelaira couldn’t help but feel satisfied.
Her request for books was a diversion from her actual target. All along, her true goal was the letter.
If she had asked him to let her write a letter, he would have laughed at her naivety. If they didn’t stand to profit from it, they wouldn’t be moved. If she offered to write a letter that was beneficial to him, he would have still refused it because of her suspicious agenda. Who would help their captors from the kindness of their heart?
She had to make it seem like she wanted something else from them, and the letter was only the bargaining chip to get it.
That letter was vital. It was her one and only chance to pass her secrets onto the love of her life. She had to forge every word, every sentence with utmost care, so that only he would be able to understand the hidden meaning.
The blanket of the night covered the streets of the city, but it couldn’t suppress the sudden chatter and excitement from erupting. One person after the other kept coming out of their houses to see what was going on.
There were only two small figures moving in the opposite direction from the crowd.
The first was a small boy, no older than seven, who zigzagged around the street skillfully, dodging people as if he was a leaf blown by the wind. His blonde hair jumped around his face in sync with the movement of his long ears.
His bright lime green eyes resembled that of a feline as he skillfully used the cover of the darkness to conceal himself from unwanted attention.
The second one was a girl, no older than the boy, her small delicate hands were tightly wrapped around the boy’s neck. Her nose nuzzled the boy’s neck, the short black hair, growing from the back of the boy’s head, tickled her.
Her chest pressed onto the boy’s back tightly, her head full of messy dark red hair was drenched with sweat. The long ponytail of the girl followed behind the two like a ribbon, waving and glittering in the darkness of the night.
One couldn’t tell from her expression, but her body was in so much pain she couldn’t even speak. She was clinging to consciousness with every shred of willpower she possessed.
The people around them showed a mix of curiosity and excitement. It contrasted sharply with the emotions showing on the boy’s face.
Dread, indignation, urgency, self-loathing.
The emotions radiating off of him could easily make one forget that the origin was a young child. There was no trace of immaturity showing in his eyes as he ran like the wind.
Cold sweat glistened on their sun-kissed limbs, both of them breathing heavily. Even so, the boy didn’t stop running for a long while. It was only when he heard a sweet melodic voice of a young girl that he halted and hid in the shadows of the empty ally: “It’s ok. No one is following us.”
“It’s not ok!” The boy hissed angrily. “You went in alone! Without me! What if something went wrong? I could do nothing but watch you die right in front of me!”
His aura was in turmoil. It clearly projected the pain and helplessness of watching your most precious person walk on the edge between life and death. She was right there, in front of him, yet the distance felt like the divide between worlds.
He was safe, and on the other side, she was alone and dancing with death. He was afraid to blink, afraid that when he opened his eyes, he would see her perish right in front of him. Wade had never felt that kind of fear before, that kind of powerlessness.
He had wanted nothing more than to charge in with her. To share her burdens. Being with her on the edge was better than being alone in a sanctuary. To die together was far better than to live alone. They had always been together. Inseparable. He felt as if even their hearts were beating together. He couldn’t imagine a world without her.
The girl’s aura tickled him gently in response. “Everything is fine. I am fine.”
The boy glared into the space in front of him. “All is well that ends well. AS if!” He rested his hands on his knees. “The next time you might not be as lucky!”
Before the girl could answer, the boy growled. “Don’t tell me you are sorry. I can tell you aren’t.”
“But I am. I am sorry that I worried you. I am sorry that I put myself in danger. I am sorry that I couldn’t bring you with me.” The soft voice sounded completely sincere.
“You’d still make the same choice next time!” The boy puffed up his cheeks in dissatisfaction. “I don’t want there to ever be a next time!”
“The risk was worth it.”
“No, it wasn’t. ‘When the risk outweighs the potential benefits it is not worth taking.’, remember?” The boy argued.
“A life for a life. The weight is the same.” The voice argued back with much less vigor than the boy.
The boy stomped his feet on the ground angrily. “Not all lives are equal. Some are more valuable than others.”
If someone were to pass by the two children, they would surely give them a strange look. The boy seemed to be arguing with himself. The girl on his back had her eyes and her mouth shut, undisturbed by the boy’s temper tantrum.
“Who decides the value of someone’s life? How do you know that the life I’ve saved wasn’t as important as mine?”
The blonde boy stopped to think for a second before replying. “It is decided by how valuable one is to society and the people around them. They were non-mages, thus, zero value. As for the people around them…no one came to save them; I rest my case.”
The childish voice responded in a tired voice: “Babies can do even less magic than non-mages. Does that mean they aren’t worth anything either? Yet every genius that changed the world started out as one.”
The blonde frowned, his cute face scrunching up. “Babies have potential worth. Their worth will rise as they grow up.”
“Right. The worth of life can change. For all you know, the one I’ve saved could grow up to become someone incredible.”
The boy’s mouth twitched. No way would that guy become someone amazing. He is a non- mage! But he wouldn’t be able to convince her otherwise. He changed his tactic. “Or it could stay worthless. It is a gamble. And if you continue gambling with your life, sooner or later you’ll lose it. This world is cruel. It is the survival of the fittest…you can’t save everyo…”
His speech got cut down instantly as a sad voice reached his ears. “Does that mean I don’t have the right to live?”
He grew silent. How did the conversation suddenly end up like this? Stupid move Wade, stupid move. Walked straight into the trap. Darn it.
He opened his mouth to say something several times but didn’t know how to refute. He sat down and put down the girl. They huddled together like pechuhs on a cold winter night.
“You are making my head hurt. I don’t know the answer to those hard questions. I just don’t want you to die!” The mere thought of it made his heart lurch and twist in his chest painfully. “I just want to be with you.”
The girl, lying pressed onto him opened her mouth for the first time. “Everyone dies. I’ll die too sooner or later. There are places where I can’t take you with me, no matter how much I want to stay with you.” Her voice was raspy and contained a profound sadness within, yet it was unmistakably the same voice that the boy had been speaking with previously.
The boy hugged her tighter. “If you can’t take me with you then I will walk by my own accord. When you return to the Origin, I’ll follow right behind. We’ll go there together.”
The girl’s hand that was on the boy’s chest grabbed onto his shirt tightly. “Don’t say that. If I die, you must live for the both of us.”
The boy covered the girl’s clenching little hand with his. “What point is there to life without you in it?”
To him, the redhead was the sun. When she shined down, everything around her turned into flowers, rainbows, and light. With her gone, everything would dim and turn into shadows, withering away, turning into a desolate land of death. Wade didn’t want to live in such a lonely place. She was the light to his darkness. A part of himself he never wanted to lose.
The girl opened her large orbs that could make anyone’s breath catch in their throat. She looked him in the eye with longing. “There are so many wonderful things out there. So many nice people. So many magical phenomena. So many different things we are yet to experience.”
She could see the beauty in everything. She could never truly understand how he felt. To her, life was a precious gift, and he too was a precious gift in her eyes.
The boy stared at the large orbs that flickered with glowing golden lights, his gaze not wavering for a second. “Then let’s experience all of them together. Let the gods be my witness! Be it the abyss, the eye of the storm. Be it life or death. I’ll follow you wherever you go! Never again will I let you leave me behind.”
The girl’s face finally contorted into a pained expression. “Stupid! I don’t want you to die!”
The boy’s mouth twitched, trying to suppress a grin. “Then you should keep that in mind the next time you decide to gamble your own life. Remember, you are gambling with two.”
She gasped, realizing that she had walked straight into his trap. “Low blow!”
The boy’s face spread into a foxy grin and his chest puffed up in pride. You think you can outsmart me? Fat chance!
After sulking for a while, the girl mumbled dejectedly: “I get it. I won’t ever leave you alone again. We’ll always be together. In life and death.” She offered her pinky finger. “Pinky promise.”
The boy’s eyes lit up like the sun, and he gripped her pinky with his own. “Deal! Don’t you dare go back on it later!”
As the two smiled, the time seemed to stop, and the word around them dissolved slowly. The blackness soon swallowed every light and sound. It greedily devoured everything, leaving nothing behind but a lingering pain.