Codexing Against Blood: Ch.4

Sarah walked a few steps behind her father, noticing the greying of his silk black hair. It started heavily at his temples and peppered along the sides to the back. Thomas was tall and slender, much like her own build. It was bizarre and comforting to be in his presence again. To see the age affecting him and her long past memories. Sarah felt insecure and shy.

Once they arrived at the entrance of the dining room, Sarah faltered. Looking up to the table she spotted her brother and she paused. There sat Tyler who was looking right back at her. He watched her silently and with an unreadable face. It wasn’t seeing him that made her pause, but the blur flicking white box of light that blocked a portion of his face.

“Ah, you must be Sarah! I’ve heard so much about you. Your father has told me so much about you over the years. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Did you just come in?”

The sweet soft voice of the woman sitting on the other side of the table pulled her attention away. Sarah made eye contact with the woman she assumed was her stepmother. Already she pushed away from the table to stand and greet her.

Dread swelled within Sarah as the lady walked around the table towards her. Was it too late to turn around now and flee? Before she could react, Thomas placed a strong arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close. Sarah had no escape route left.

“No mother, she came several hours ago,” Tyler spoke with an indifferent tone, neither interested nor bored of the conversation. The small white light was no longer there while he continued to stare at her. Sarah caught a glint of intrigued interest in his eye, despite his aloof act.

Sudden pressure to speak began to build up in Sarah. Should she introduce herself back? Say something nice about their home? It seemed silly to compliment the house since it was Sarah’s first before she married her father, but Sarah was at a loss for conversation.

Thomas chuckled with a dazzling smile. “I found her asleep in the library. I may have told you before that it was her favorite place to spend hours when she was a child. Old habits die hard, hey?”

With an intentional push forward, he stood behind Sarah with his hands in his pockets. Sarah stumbled forward, stopping to catch herself. With an awkward smile, she cleared her throat. Being the centre of attention or being held on display was never her forte. Clasping her hands together, she gave a small nod. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss.”

“Oh please, just call me Jane. We’re family after all! Come, come sit next to me! I would love to get to know you more.”

Politely taking her offer, Sarah allowed herself to be ushered to the seat. It was strange to be so far from her father at the table and even harder to not scowl at Tyler. He avoided eye contact, focusing all of his attention on his mother while their father rang the bell to be served. Two ladies came in, bringing plates with food. They severed the family quickly and silently. Sarah was unsure if she should thank them, looking about the others to mimic their reactions. None of them seemed to even acknowledge the servant’s presence. Jane turned in her seat, facing Sarah excitedly.

“Sarah, I heard that you are in the same school as Tyler now. How have you been fairing?”

Placing her hands in her lap, Sarah only turned her head to face her stepmother. “No different than the previous school, although I do have more spare time.”

“Do you find the module classes challenging?”

Sarah fought a frown. Jane knew a lot more than she realized about her school life. Glancing over at Tyler, she responded.

“I find it all the same…” A flash of dull light blinked in front of Tyler. Narrowing her eyes, Sarah could have sworn she saw something like a computer screen floating in front of Tyler. “The subject content could be flushed to flow a little easier, but overall it’s decent. “

“It must be a breeze then since you always did better solo than in class. When she was a little girl, she was diligent in her studies. Always the top of her class.”

Sarah blushed from her father’s compliment. This was news to her! “I wouldn’t go that far, dad.”

Turning back to face Jane, Sarah continued. “Although each subject is? simple, I don’t always agree with how the program is run. There aren’t enough students following school policies and we tend to have too much freedom. Sadly even I tend to get caught up in it as well.”

Jane gave a hearty laugh. “So I’ve heard. Tyler told us he sees you in the school library reading often. I guess it all makes sense now. I never really believed it until today that you very well could spend your entire life in a library and be content.”

Sarah shuffled with unsettled nerves. Tyler spoke about her? This was shocking considering they never spoke a word together until today. Before she could speak, Tyler added to the conversation. “Sometimes I even scold her for falling asleep there. I should have known she would have gone to the library here. Did you use to live here at some point, Sarah?”

“Oh that’s right,” Thomas picked up his fork and knife to begin digging into his meal, “Sarah grew up here. Her mother and I bought this house when we were young, just married. Up until her mother and I divorced, she ran through these halls well before you came along.”

Sarah sat quiet, listening for more to follow but it didn’t. She wished her father would divulge more, the only memories she had were fragments. The first whole memory she knew was when she started living in the small two-bedroom house.

This was not the only memory gap Sarah was aware of. Unable to recall what age she was when her parents separated or why she didn’t have the choice to stay behind bothered her the most. Reaching for the cup of tea that was poured for her, she took a deep sip. One day she would try to gain the courage to ask him personally, for now, it was best to leave it be.

Instead, Sarah curiously watched Tyler from behind the brim of her teacup. Talking about her past with her father was one thing, but her brother on the other hand. Why did Tyler lie? If he wanted to get to know her, why didn’t he make an effort? It was a redundant question since Sarah could argue the same herself. When would they have been able to approach each other at school because he was a Hopper? Scalers and Hoppers never mingle.

The flow of conversation continued while they ate. The abundance of food was more than Sarah could manage, yet she ate all she could to not appear ungrateful. Jane asked several questions regarding her schooling, current hobbies, and interests. Without being disrespectful, Sarah did her best to answer each question fully instead of short curt answers. It was beyond exhausting work to maintain this amount of effort.

Thankfully the questions slowed down, and she could lean back into her chair content and full. Sarah looked at her watch, realizing how late it was. Thomas caught her glance and spoke up. “Ah, if you are worried about the time, why not stay the night? Jane can help you with nightwear and I can drive you home in the morning. It would be nice to enjoy breakfast with you. I‘m sure your mother wouldn’t mind either since she is working late. It would give her some comfort knowing you weren’t alone.”

Sarah forced a smile, fighting with all her might to smile. It was a nice gesture, but all she wanted to do was be alone in her house. With one look at his puppy-eyed excitement, it was hard to say no. Sarah couldn’t bear to disappoint him. “That sounds lovely. Thank you, dad.”

Now how was she going to excuse herself to leave? Sarah was not one to socialize this long and now had no excuse to leave. Just then, Tyler cleared his throat pushing back on the chair away from the table, wiping his lips before standing. “Father, would you please excuse us? It would be nice to have a chance to chat with Sarah since we don’t get to spend much time at school. Different schedules and all.”

“Certainly! You too go catch up. If you need anything, we will be in the study.”

Sarah felt a wave of relief wash over her. At least she wouldn’t mind speaking privately with him. It was better than being constantly interrogated by Jane. Eagerly pushing from the table to follow Tyler, Sarah gave Jane a semi-bow. “It was very lovely to meet you.”

She didn’t need to wait long for Tyler’s brisk walk around the table. Together they turned to head out the door. Tyler’s pace was even and unhurried while they took the stairs toward the bedrooms. Sarah felt a new type of worry as they turned down the hall in silence.

Although they had never spoken, Sarah was nervous to break that wall. Once they reached his room, he waited for her to enter before shutting the door quickly. Sarah stood in the middle when he began.

“I know what I said at the table was a lie. I wanted to get that out before we say anything else. The fact is, you and I probably will never be close while we attend the academy. With you being in the module classes, it would be problematic. My parents wouldn’t understand as we do. So please, for their sake, let’s continue this farce. Father was so happy when he found out you were attending and well, I couldn’t break his heart.”

Sarah crossed her arms, listening intently. Everything he said made sense. In order to make their father happy, they would have to play this up. With how terrible the school’s feud was, Sarah understood why she may never have a good relationship with Tyler. Even if he was her half-brother. Sarah rolled her tongue in her mouth. There were still a few pieces of information she was missing that she hoped maybe he could fill in.

“I believe you. However, that doesn’t explain how you knew so much already. How did you know about me sleeping in the library?”

Tyler shuffled a bit at the question. “I may not be able to approach you at school, but I did want to get to know you. This may be a little lame, but I grew up knowing I had a half-sister that I could never meet. I didn’t know much about you and I always saw your picture in the hall. You may have seen it on the way to the study. Father doesn’t talk much about it either, so any time you did come up, it left me curious. Coming from a man who talks about everything passionately, why didn’t he say much about you? It wasn’t until I saw you in school one day that I told him. He was so thrilled and excited that he always ask me about you.”

Sarah nodded with a small smile. “So you would check up on me when you could.”

The sentiment was adorable. A little brother who wanted to know about his sister in secret. Maybe they would be able to develop a kinship now that she could come to visit at the house any time. It was comforting to learn. Sarah relaxed visibly, turning to sit on his bed.

“Well, I always wished to speak with you but I didn’t know how to approach you either. You may have noticed I don’t really socialize well and don’t have many friends.”

Tyler smirked, joining in beside her. “That’s ok. I am surprised though, you don’t seem like a Scaler to me. You have the ideals of a Hopper. Would you consider joining the classes instead of staying in modules?”

Sarah scoffed. “And lose the ability to sleep in the library? No way. Not going to lie, it’s absolutely perfect. And as long as I keep my grades up, it will stay that way.”

Leaning back into the bed, Sarah crossed her arms under her head. It was nice to finally lay down and close her eyes. The day was extinguishing.

“So what do you usually do when you come home? Do you read in the library as well?”

Tyler chuckled. “No, I‘m not one to read leisurely. This may be a bit of a surprise to you, but I play video games. Are you interested in any?”

“Video games?” Sarah propped herself up to stare at Tyler in disbelief. It was a bit of a surprise indeed. “What is with everyone in our school being so obsessed with games?”

“So your not interested at all?”

“No, not at all. I see no appeal to it.”

Tyler was stunned. Brushing his neat hair back, he was a bit speechless. Was it that big of a deal to him? Sarah raised an eyebrow. “Is that really so surprising to you?”

With a nod, Tyler pushed up off the bed. “Yeah, a little. I just… never mind. It was a silly thought.”

He walked over to his desk where his laptop sat. Waking it up, he lifted it with one hand and walked back over to her, sitting on the floor. “I know you are tired so you can rest here. If you feel like talking then just ask. I could tell you were dozing off during dinner. Don’t feel inclined to force yourself for my sake. There will be plenty of time for us to catch up. That’s if, you want to come back here again. “

Sarah adjusted herself to look over his shoulder, propping her head up with her arm. “I appreciate that. What will you do in the meantime?”

Tyler loaded up a game on his screen, already typing away with commands. “I need to do a little bit of skilling for a mission I am on.”

Within the silence of Tyler’s typing, Sarah watched with heavy eyes. If that was what he wanted to do, then she wasn’t going to stop him. It was nice to have a bit of comfortable silence. Before Sarah could close her eyes and rest, a small buzzing alerted her. Opening her eyes wide, she saw the fuzzy blur of a screen once more. It was distorted and faint with different symbols that shuffled into new ones quickly in repetition.

Sarah sat up to watch. There was no way this was a trick of her eyes. Squinting hard, she tried to focus on what it was. With a fizzle, the screen dissipated once more. To have seen such a screen in front of him twice in one night? This was no coincidence. With piqued interest, Sarah decided to intently watch over his shoulder.

Codexing Against Blood: Ch. 3

Several days passed before Sarah knew it. She stood in front of her father’s house nervously, straightening her jacket. It was a large mansion, fenced off with tall brick walls surrounding the vast yard within. The taxi driver closed the door he held open for her, then walked back to the front seat and took off. Sarah watched the yellow vehicle disappear around the bend before facing the enormous house. Sighing, she approached the gate and pushed it open.

The house, the yard, and the driveway brought back vague memories. It was so long since she’d been here it almost felt awkward and strange to return. Although she grew up here, her memories were distorted and sparse. Why did she forget so much about her childhood?

Reaching the door quickly, she hesitated before knocking. How should she greet her father? What if it was her stepmother instead? Sarah held her hand floating before the door when it suddenly opened. Inside stood her brother.

“Welcome. Dad is going to be a little bit. Let me show you around.”

He was quick and abrupt in his speech, turning to walk back down the hall with no notice. Sarah walked in quickly as he left her behind, holding a quick debate about whether to take her shoes off and close the door first. With quick flicks, she knocked her shoes off and pushed them to the side, and quickly swung the door closed. Before she could open her mouth to speak, he had already begun the tour of the home.

“This is the living room to the left, down the right hall is the kitchen, and up the stairs to the left is the bedrooms. The library and study are also up the stairs to the right. We also have the lounge and day room past the dining room. There are snacks in the kitchen if you want, the cook is preparing dinner, and mom is in the garden enjoying tea. I am sure you would like to be entertained by her so you may do as you wish. The exit to the garden is also down the hall beside the lounge.”

The primly dressed boy didn’t pause a beat, taking to the stairs to disappear around the bend. His footsteps muffled quickly into nothingness, leaving Sarah alone in the hallway. Letting out a disgruntled huff, she crossed her arms. Why was he in such a rush to leave her? There was her chance to say something to him. Instead, she was left alone in the dust. A little cross with herself and at him, she whispered to herself.

“Good to see you too, Tyler.”

Sarah turned from the stairs, looking down the hallway towards the rest of the house. The hall had a hardwood floor and rolled-out floor mat that stretched from one end to the other. The color faded after years of constant traffic and began to fray at the edges. If she understood Tyler’s tour, the garden was down the hall. The vague memory of the yard came to mind when she used to run around and play freely.

Although she wished to see the garden again, the idea of facing her stepmother alone didn’t sound appealing. Sarah was still gaining confidence to walk freely in a house she’d long been removed from. Instead, Sarah made her way up the stairs. The idea of reading in the library was more intriguing than introducing herself to a stranger she’d never met.

The same worn carpet trailed up the stairs and into the upstairs hallway. Even though the stairs parted left and right, they both connected to the same hallway. In the middle of the staircase hung a giant chandler with small crystal-like shards spiraling into a peak in the middle.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the stairs so anyone could see who was coming up or going down. Sarah ran her hand along the balcony to appreciate the view. Turning down the hall towards the library, she noticed a few doors on each side. All of them were closed with no signs.

Sarah bit her lip, walking down quietly and inspecting each of the pictures on the wall. Some were old frail photos of past generations, others expensive art of landscapes or buildings. Approaching the first door, Sarah pulled against the handles. It rustled with a loud clunk, indicating it was locked.

She moved along to the next door on the other side of the hall to meet the same fate. A few more doors further down, Sarah picked up the pace to find the library. Before she could reach the next door, a picture on the wall caught her eye. It was a picture of a family posing outdoors in front of the mansion she was standing in.

Sarah gasped, recognizing it. With small steps, she approached it. The image of 3 people came into view. She spotted her mother and father smiling. In the middle of them was a small girl with long black silk hair wearing a frown. Sarah reached out towards the picture, touching it gently to trace the outline of her past self.

The image brought forth several feelings. Some painful, some happy. It was hard to tell exactly how she felt about seeing the image. How after so many years could she not remember this picture or memory? The image flickered with an instant electric buzz around everything but her. Grinding her teeth, she decided to let it go, turning quickly towards the closest door to her. One day she would need to deal with these feelings, but today was not one of them. All she wanted was to make it through the day successfully. Then, after she went home she would sort it out.

Grabbing the handles of the next door, she pulled at them forcefully. It didn’t take much effort as she began to swing it open before her.

Sarah stepped back a bit as the door opened up to the library. The onslaught of old books and leather hit her senses, making her smile. All memories of the photo forget she stepped into the room. Shelves lined the large room with layers of books along each wall, with a few extras further into the back. Up on the far back wall was a large stained window that opened the room with bright natural light, giving a welcoming glow.

Unlike the school’s library with several dim lights, this room had long hanging chandlers much like the one hanging over the staircase. Despite the room looking disused for many years, not a trace of dust feathered the tables, chairs, or shelves. Look’s like father kept excellent care of the books, Sarah thought with a smirk. Quickly, she walked up to the closest wall and ran her fingers across the binds, looking at each name as she did.

Sarah closed her eyes with a warm smile and traced several books before stopping at one. Pulling it out, she anxiously looked at the front book of an unknown author. Flipping through the pages at glance, she noted it was written in old English. It was fascinating. Hugging the book close, she looked around the room once more. The vague feeling of being here before in her past passed in a faint wave of nostalgia.

The middle of the room held a small coffee table and a leather couch. Sarah walked towards the chair and flopped down into it with sudden disappointment. The moment her bottom hit the stiff and cold leather, she knew it was still very new and hardly used. Sarah grunted from the hard impact, then quickly stood up she examined the chair.

There was barely a wrinkle in the leather, confirming her suspicion. Did her father read in the library at all? Sighing, she sat back down in the chair, disgruntled. It was nothing like the school’s worn couches, but it would have to do. Nestling down into the chair as best as she could, Sarah tucked her feet beside her on the cushion. Ready and comfortable, she opened her book and began to read.

The library’s temperature was cozy and warm, whispering a sweet lullaby of tranquility. No wonder she spent all her time in the library at school, it was possible she subconsciously remembered this room within the house. Where all the books came from was no concern to her, as long as they were there to read. With a small yawn, Sarah leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

Several hours must have passed by when a knock at the door startled Sarah awake. Looking about the room, she felt lost and disoriented. When did she fall asleep? Rubbing her sleep-filled eyes, she looked down at the table to see a cold cup of tea next to it. Sarah was so enthralled with the book, she didn’t even notice anyone come in. Or was it when she fell asleep? She stretched out with a slight groan before closing the book that was still open on her lap. With a glance at her watch, she knew it would be well time for dinner.

Sarah stood up, straightening her skirt while returning the book onto the shelf. A voice stopped her moments before she could slip it back into place.

“I figured I would find you in here.”

Sarah froze. The sound of the deep rolling voice was one she had not heard in person for many years. It was the same tone she remembered as a child, and even over the phone when he called her. Continuing to slide the book into place, Sarah held her hand flat against the shelf for a moment. She was nervous about facing him, even after all this time. Timidly turning her head, she finally met eyes with her father. He stood in the doorway, a grand smile looking tenderly back at her. He offered a small chuckle at her unease.

“Hello, Sarah. It’s been a long time. I’m honestly not surprised you would stow away here instead of meeting your new mother.”

“Stepmother. She is no mother to me.”

Sarah didn’t mean to come off so bitter. She was sure the woman was a lovely and kind person, yet she was nothing but a stranger. With a quick brush of her skirt and jacket, Sarah straightened out her uniform to present herself before her father.

Dropping her hands to her side, she stared awkwardly at him. Why was she suddenly so nervous to speak to him? Should she politely thank him for the dinner invitation? Was that too formal? With a few quick steps, her father closed the gap between them to embrace her close. He hugged her tighter than she ever felt before. It took a few moments to realize he wasn’t going to let go when she slid her hands up around to hug him in return. If there was anyone she would hug, it would only be him. It was a feeling she missed and felt safe in. Resting her head on his chest, she closed her eyes.

“Hello, dad. I missed you.”

Not letting her go, he spoke softly. “I missed you too. You look so grown up and just like your mother, the real one, I mean.”

Sarah chuckled, sure he was just telling her to make her feel better. Stepping away from the hug, he sighed heavily with a smile. “Well, my lovely bookworm, shall we head to the dining room?”

With a nod, the two of them made their way down the hall.

Codexing Against Blood: C.3

Several days passed before Sarah knew it. She stood in front of her father’s house nervously, straightening her jacket. It was a large mansion, fenced off with tall brick walls surrounding the vast yard within. The taxi driver closed the door he held open for her, then walked back to the front seat and took off. Sarah watched the yellow vehicle disappear around the bend before facing the enormous house. Sighing, she approached the gate and pushed it open.

The house, the yard, and the driveway brought back vague memories. It was so long since she’d been here it almost felt awkward and strange to return. Although she grew up here, her memories were distorted and sparse. Why did she forget so much about her childhood?

Reaching the door quickly, she hesitated before knocking. How should she greet her father? What if it was her stepmother instead? Sarah held her hand floating before the door when it suddenly opened. Inside stood her brother.

“Welcome. Dad is going to be a little bit. Let me show you around.”

He was quick and abrupt in his speech, turning to walk back down the hall with no notice. Sarah walked in quickly as he left her behind, holding a quick debate about whether to take her shoes off and close the door first. With quick flicks, she knocked her shoes off and pushed them to the side, and quickly swung the door closed. Before she could open her mouth to speak, he had already begun the tour of the home.

“This is the living room to the left, down the right hall is the kitchen, and up the stairs to the left is the bedrooms. The library and study are also up the stairs to the right. We also have the lounge and day room past the dining room. There are snacks in the kitchen if you want, the cook is preparing dinner, and mom is in the garden enjoying tea. I am sure you would like to be entertained by her so you may do as you wish. The exit to the garden is also down the hall beside the lounge.”

The primly dressed boy didn’t pause a beat, taking to the stairs to disappear around the bend. His footsteps muffled quickly into nothingness, leaving Sarah alone in the hallway. Letting out a disgruntled huff, she crossed her arms. Why was he in such a rush to leave her? There was her chance to say something to him. Instead, she was left alone in the dust. A little cross with herself and at him, she whispered to herself.

“Good to see you too, Tyler.”

Sarah turned from the stairs, looking down the hallway towards the rest of the house. The hall had a hardwood floor and rolled-out floor mat that stretched from one end to the other. The color faded after years of constant traffic and began to fray at the edges. If she understood Tyler’s tour, the garden was down the hall. The vague memory of the yard came to mind when she used to run around and play freely.

Although she wished to see the garden again, the idea of facing her stepmother alone didn’t sound appealing. Sarah was still gaining confidence to walk freely in a house she’d long been removed from. Instead, Sarah made her way up the stairs. The idea of reading in the library was more intriguing than introducing herself to a stranger she’d never met.

The same worn carpet trailed up the stairs and into the upstairs hallway. Even though the stairs parted left and right, they both connected to the same hallway. In the middle of the staircase hung a giant chandler with small crystal-like shards spiraling into a peak in the middle.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the stairs so anyone could see who was coming up or going down. Sarah ran her hand along the balcony to appreciate the view. Turning down the hall towards the library, she noticed a few doors on each side. All of them were closed with no signs.

Sarah bit her lip, walking down quietly and inspecting each of the pictures on the wall. Some were old frail photos of past generations, others expensive art of landscapes or buildings. Approaching the first door, Sarah pulled against the handles. It rustled with a loud clunk, indicating it was locked.

She moved along to the next door on the other side of the hall to meet the same fate. A few more doors further down, Sarah picked up the pace to find the library. Before she could reach the next door, a picture on the wall caught her eye. It was a picture of a family posing outdoors in front of the mansion she was standing in.

Sarah gasped, recognizing it. With small steps, she approached it. The image of 3 people came into view. She spotted her mother and father smiling. In the middle of them was a small girl with long black silk hair wearing a frown. Sarah reached out towards the picture, touching it gently to trace the outline of her past self.

The image brought forth several feelings. Some painful, some happy. It was hard to tell exactly how she felt about seeing the image. How after so many years could she not remember this picture or memory? The image flickered with an instant electric buzz around everything but her. Grinding her teeth, she decided to let it go, turning quickly towards the closest door to her. One day she would need to deal with these feelings, but today was not one of them. All she wanted was to make it through the day successfully. Then, after she went home she would sort it out.

Grabbing the handles of the next door, she pulled at them forcefully. It didn’t take much effort as she began to swing it open before her.

Sarah stepped back a bit as the door opened up to the library. The onslaught of old books and leather hit her senses, making her smile. All memories of the photo forget she stepped into the room. Shelves lined the large room with layers of books along each wall, with a few extras further into the back. Up on the far back wall was a large stained window that opened the room with bright natural light, giving a welcoming glow.

Unlike the school’s library with several dim lights, this room had long hanging chandlers much like the one hanging over the staircase. Despite the room looking disused for many years, not a trace of dust feathered the tables, chairs, or shelves. Look’s like father kept excellent care of the books, Sarah thought with a smirk. Quickly, she walked up to the closest wall and ran her fingers across the binds, looking at each name as she did.

Sarah closed her eyes with a warm smile and traced several books before stopping at one. Pulling it out, she anxiously looked at the front book of an unknown author. Flipping through the pages at glance, she noted it was written in old English. It was fascinating. Hugging the book close, she looked around the room once more. The vague feeling of being here before in her past passed in a faint wave of nostalgia.

The middle of the room held a small coffee table and a leather couch. Sarah walked towards the chair and flopped down into it with sudden disappointment. The moment her bottom hit the stiff and cold leather, she knew it was still very new and hardly used. Sarah grunted from the hard impact, then quickly stood up she examined the chair.

There was barely a wrinkle in the leather, confirming her suspicion. Did her father read in the library at all? Sighing, she sat back down in the chair, disgruntled. It was nothing like the school’s worn couches, but it would have to do.  Nestling down into the chair as best as she could, Sarah tucked her feet beside her on the cushion. Ready and comfortable, she opened her book and began to read.

The library’s temperature was cozy and warm, whispering a sweet lullaby of tranquility. No wonder she spent all her time in the library at school, it was possible she subconsciously remembered this room within the house. Where all the books came from was no concern to her, as long as they were there to read. With a small yawn, Sarah leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

Several hours must have passed by when a knock at the door startled Sarah awake. Looking about the room, she felt lost and disoriented. When did she fall asleep? Rubbing her sleep-filled eyes, she looked down at the table to see a cold cup of tea next to it. Sarah was so enthralled with the book, she didn’t even notice anyone come in. Or was it when she fell asleep? She stretched out with a slight groan before closing the book that was still open on her lap. With a glance at her watch, she knew it would be well time for dinner.

Sarah stood up, straightening her skirt while returning the book onto the shelf. A voice stopped her moments before she could slip it back into place.

“I figured I would find you in here.”

Sarah froze. The sound of the deep rolling voice was one she had not heard in person for many years. It was the same tone she remembered as a child, and even over the phone when he called her. Continuing to slide the book into place, Sarah held her hand flat against the shelf for a moment. She was nervous about facing him, even after all this time. Timidly turning her head, she finally met eyes with her father. He stood in the doorway, a grand smile looking tenderly back at her. He offered a small chuckle at her unease.

“Hello, Sarah. It’s been a long time. I’m honestly not surprised you would stow away here instead of meeting your new mother.”

“Stepmother. She is no mother to me.”

Sarah didn’t mean to come off so bitter. She was sure the woman was a lovely and kind person, yet she was nothing but a stranger. With a quick brush of her skirt and jacket, Sarah straightened out her uniform to present herself before her father.

Dropping her hands to her side, she stared awkwardly at him. Why was she suddenly so nervous to speak to him? Should she politely thank him for the dinner invitation? Was that too formal? With a few quick steps, her father closed the gap between them to embrace her close. He hugged her tighter than she ever felt before. It took a few moments to realize he wasn’t going to let go when she slid her hands up around to hug him in return. If there was anyone she would hug, it would only be him. It was a feeling she missed and felt safe in. Resting her head on his chest, she closed her eyes.

“Hello, dad. I missed you.”

Not letting her go, he spoke softly. “I missed you too. You look so grown up and just like your mother, the real one, I mean.”

Sarah chuckled, sure he was just telling her to make her feel better. Stepping away from the hug, he sighed heavily with a smile. “Well, my lovely bookworm, shall we head to the dining room?”

With a nod, the two of them made their way down the hall.

Codexing Against Blood: Chapter 2

Sarah stood with a groan after Heather left to return the book. I guess it won’t hurt to be a little social today. She brushed off her skirt to straighten the back end and picked Heather’s bag up. Sarah never brought her bag to the library. It felt weird to be carrying something so bright and cheerful. It was a bit of a surprise that Heather was into these kinds of things. Then again, if you knew how cheerful she was, it did make sense. 

Sarah placed her hands in the pockets of her blazer and stood near the book aisles. Heather placed the book back on the shelf and then promptly skipped back with excitement. Her momentum didn’t stop when she reached Sarah, linking arms the moment she reached her. Without pause, she pulled them off in a flash.

Blatantly leaving through the front doors, Sarah griped loudly while fighting against Heather’s pull. There was no escaping Heather’s iron grip on her arm all the while tugging Sarah along. All pleas fell on deaf ears the entire way down the street. Constantly Heather would ignore her request to wait till the bell had officially rung. She knew full well how uncomfortable it made Sarah. It probably humored her to tease Sarah relentlessly over it.

The walk to the cafe was short since it was close to the school’s campus. It was a convenient place since the owners knew it would attract business efficiently from the academy. Upon entering the front doors, it was bustling with kids. Several of the Scalers were crowded around a booth on one side and a handful of Hopper’s on the other. You could tell instantly by the painfully obvious difference in attitude. Scalers never stuck to the academy’s dress code while Hopper’s thrived on it. 

Several blazers had been discarded carelessly unto chairs and tables nearby, nearly every Scaler had untucked shirts or rolled-up sleeves. The Hoppers sat neatly in their chairs with clean neat suits and skirts while they shot deadly glares. They were brooding and collected closely into a small group around a table. 

Sarah tugged at her blazer to straighten it, sharing equal disapproval for the disregard the Scalers had for their uniform. In the past, Sarah tried to convince them to follow the dress code to no avail. There was nothing she could do to convince them, being “fresh blood” to the school. Most of the students had been attending the school since they were in preschool. Some habits died hard.

Sarah and Heather approached the table and were welcomed into the swarm. Each person gave a small cheer and shuffled to offer a place to sit. This won a loud scowl from the other side of the room. The Hoppers shook their heads at their rowdiness, watching them closely with sneers. 

Sarah did her best to act properly, sitting with her legs and arms rested in her lap. Even though her actions were observed, there was no gaining any favor from them. Her association with the Scalers sealed her fate and would always be disliked by them. There would always be a painfully obvious distrust from each faction. 

Each interaction was met the same; either inside or outside of the school ground. The distinct separation between the two was palpable.

Although, Sarah knew that becoming a Hopper would change that, giving up her new way of living wasn’t worth it. Still, she made a valiant effort in hopes to patch the difference.

The sound of laughter bursting around her brought Sarah’s attention to the table. Easily she’d forgotten to pay attention to the conversation around her, although it wasn’t any better. She could hardly keep up with the crew since the only thing they ever talked about was video games. 

What was it about video games that teenagers were obsessed with? The constant comparing of scores, skills, and abilities was insufferable. Not to mention the ever-changing lingo and abbreviations from game to game. It was difficult to follow. 

Sarah had learned to stop asking each time because it was visibly irritating for everyone. To constantly keep her in the loop each time they spoke slowed down the pace. Instead, she long learned to just pretend.

Again Sarah’s attention drifted, looking about the cafe for stimulation. Several more groups of classmates had flooded their way in. It got busy and loud with several more Scalers crowded around them. The bell must have rung for lunchtime. 

People lined up for food or piled around the small tables around them. Despite the high energy, Sarah found it hard to fight her drowsiness. With no stimulation or intriguing conversation, she began to zone out and picture the hillside instead. 

How quiet and peaceful it would have been while lying outside. The wind blew softly through the trees rustling the leaves, the chirps of the birds as they flew about building their nests, and even the bell as it rang in the distance for class changes. It was such a shame she was trapped indoors in a cafe with nerds instead.

A sharp nudge to the rib tore her back to the present with a dizzy whirl. With a grunt, Sarah pouted at the person responsible. Heather offered her a smile and then nodded her head to the shooter game behind. Was it that time already? 

Gladly removed from the conversation, Sarah willingly crawled out of the booth. Sarah made her way to the machine and pulled out some cash to hand to Heather for coins. Leaning against the machine, Sarah glanced around. The cafe had died down significantly. The Hoppers returned to the academy for classes aside from a few stragglers who were still eating. 

Several Scalers had moved into the computer backroom, leaving the lobby emptier than when they first arrived. The once overly crowded tables branched out into smaller groups, each in deep conversations. 

This wasn’t so bad, Sarah thought while tapping her fingers against her arm. She browsed the room until Heather approached with a cup full of coins, wearing a grin from ear to ear. Sarah smirked, shaking her head, then turned around to grab her trusty grungy red gun. The way Heather got excited to play a lame old game was adorable.

The game was one of those “cop-duo” games where the players had to save hostages from gang members that held up buildings and malls. To Sarah, it was something mind-numbing to point and click at. Heather, on the other hand, was a different person. 

Her entire being was into it, cheering at kills made or yelling at the screen when she felt the game glitched. If a shot missed or a bad guy didn’t die after several shots, she would slam her hand on the surface of the counter before them. 

Sarah couldn’t help but laugh at how obsessed Heather was about how far they made it, achieving certain checkpoints, or when they beat their previous scores. How was Heather able to keep track of each game flawlessly?

Despite how carefree Heather was, this was one area that surprised Sarah. Who would have thought she was such an intense gamer?

To Sarah, it was no different than playing a game at a carnival. You already know all the games are rigged so you have to pay more to win. No matter how good you are, it was impossible to win. 

Sarah speculated that maybe the reason she couldn’t be bothered with games was because of that. She believed it was all just a waste of time and money since there was nothing to gain from it. Games were just a giant sinkhole for your pockets. Either that or Sarah had extremely low motivation to do anything. Which rightly did play a big factor. 

With no real hobbies or interests, sleep was the only compelling thing. There were no driving passions other than reading, but even then, Sarah did it to only pass the time. There wasn’t any real enjoyment from doing so.

The screen began to flash red and her character died again. Absently reaching into the cup for a coin, it came up empty. Sarah had zoned out entirely the whole game, not paying attention at all. With no more coins, she placed the gun into the holster to watch Heather’s character instead, placing her hands in her pockets. 

Sarah witnessed Heather shoot at several thugs in quick recession, saving a running hostage. The graphics of the game were terrible and pixely, making it laughable to watch the 2D character run, flailing arms towards more criminals. 

Tsking, Sarah shook her head. Why did they program them to be so stupid and run towards more danger? It was such a nuisance.  It was no bother to Heather though, already popping two more guys nearby for a successful hostage escape. 

It was amazing to see how skilled Heather was at the arcade game; to see her with so much focus; saving ammo until the right moment to shoot, finding all the secret items that hid in the background of the rubble, and even managing to run to the next shelter point without taking damage. 

Intently watching Heather’s gameplay, Sarah saw a strange quick flicker fizzle across the screen. It was barely noticeable at first until it focused into a blur of red flashing words. Sarah squinted, trying to read it when it vanished. 

Scanning the screen, Sarah blinked a few times then rubbed her eyes in confusion. She must have been seeing things due to being tired.

Heather glanced over to Sarah’s side of the screen quickly before abruptly dropping the gun into the holster. She must have realized that they had finished the coins and no longer had the desire to play. Sarah frowned, watching the character on the screen take damage all around and die within seconds. 

Game over scrolled across the screen, playing the failure end song. Shrugging at Heather, Sarah scoffed. “You could have kept going.”

It was the same banter they exchanged after each game. Heather swiped her hand dismissively. “Naw, it’s no fun if you’re just standing there watching me. And frankly, I think this was your worst game yet! What’s up with you today? You seem to be zoning worse than usual.”

Sarah rolled her eyes, leaning against the machine to scan the room, not taking note of anything in particular. It was hard to say what was going on in her mind since all she wanted was to sleep. Having kept herself awake all morning in anticipation of the warm hillside, she had exhausted all the revered energy. Why did socializing have to be so tough?

Heather watched with the anticipated smile, snickering as she pulled out an energy bar from her purse. Handing it towards Sarah, she lifted a brow.

“When was the last time you ate?”

Taking the bar with a grumble, Sarah chose to eat the bar in silence. It was interesting that Heather had an acute intuition, especially when it came to her eating habits. Granted, Sarah’s desire to sleep had bypassed the idea of a meal. Never expanding much energy left her hardly feeling hungry. That, or when she did eat it was always alone. 

Crossing her arms, she chewed solemnly. The only time she had company was with Heather. As the idea crossed her mind, Sarah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly she released it and swallowed her meal. 

Thinking about it, there was something that weighed heavily on her mind: the visit to her fathers on the weekend. Glancing at her friend, Sarah fidgetted with the bar’s wrapper.

“I’m supposed to visit my father in a few days. It will be the first time I’ve seen him in years, ever since my parent’s divorce. Something about meeting his new wife and establishing a relationship with my brother.” 

Why she felt so inclined to share so much was beyond her, possibly the fact that she had no one else to speak to about it all.

Heather nodded with understanding, slinging her bag around her shoulders before leading them towards the small bench against the wall. Sarah followed with a bit of surprise. It was rare that they would ever sit and talk. Heather turned to properly face her, with readiness to listen to her. Sarah nervously sat down. It was a little offsetting.

“Were you ever close with your brother before?”

Dropping her arms to her lap, Sarah leaned into the wall in thought.

“From what I can recall? Not entirely sure. A lot happened back then and it is a bit of a blur. I would be the first to admit that when it comes to this kind of stuff, I had never paid much attention to my surroundings.”

Heather giggled, not surprised by that sort of response. Sarah shot a look of irritation, triggering Heather to promptly wave her hand in front and apologized. “Sorry, don’t mind me. It just sounds very much like something you do even now.”

It was a typical answer Sarah expected to hear. Still, she huffed and leaned her head back against the wall to stare off into the space before her. True as it was, Sarah always thought that the gap in her memories was odd. A piece of her she was missing that led to her isolation and solitude. Her father made no efforts in the past. Now suddenly he was reaching out to attempt a shell of a family? 

Heather’s frowned, feeling a little guilty at the sudden laughter, her voice softened as she spoke. “Are you worried about seeing them again?”

This time, Sarah dropped her head with a smile. It was considerate of Heather to show such kindness when it wasn’t needed. It was accepted graciously. With a slight shake of her head, Sarah took the last bite of the bar and crumpled the plastic neatly into her palm while she chewed. She took a moment to trace her finger on the outside of her lip to gather crumbs. Before answering Heather, Sarah licked her finger clean.

“My father, yes. My brother on the other hand…  He attends the academy here in a different grade. We’ve seen each other here and there, although there haven’t been any attempts in conversation. Besides, what is there to say? We have nothing in common outside of our father and attending the same building. Not grounds for a conversation starter.”

Sarah avoided eye contact, not eager to see Heather’s reaction. The last thing she wanted was any pity. Quickly, Sarah stood up and straighten her skirt before heading to the garbage bins. She knew she wasn’t doing a swell job communicating. It was uncomfortable talking about a past she barely remembered and a family she was never close with. 

With a huff, she prepared to face Heather only to be grappled around the shoulder. With no warning, Sarah was dragged away towards the door. Heather wore a grand smile on her face, pulling Sarah close under her arm. Barely steady on her feet, they collided into the door and nearly tripped out into the sunny afternoon.

“Don’t worry about the small stuff.” Heather planted her feet on the ground, supporting Sarah from falling, “I am sure that your dad feels incredibly guilty and wants to make it up to you. If not, why would he suddenly be inviting you? 

Sarah wrestled out of her grip with a grunt, glaring at Heather as she continued, “Cheer up! It could be good news! For now, let’s just head back to the school.”

Heather pivoted on her heel towards the school, flashing her a wink as she walked off ahead. Over her shoulder, she spoke loudly for Sarah to hear her. “I’ll let you finish reading your “Russian Agriculture” book. If you want, I can teach you how to speak it. I’ve heard I’m an excellent teacher.”

Sarah chuckled, shaking her head. Heather was right, there’s no reason to fret it now. All she could do was wait and see. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she took her time to catch up to her sly friend.

Codexing Against Blood: Chapter 1

Sarah sat dully within the worn leather chesterfield, her legs crossed elegantly. Absentmindedly, she flipped through pages of a book that sat neatly on her lap. It was quiet and peaceful. 

The casual cough of the librarian in the distance, the constant smell of old books, and the timeless aura of peace enveloped her like a warm blanket. It was an ideal place to seclude herself from the entire academy. Had she not been patiently waiting till the lunch bell rang, she would already be napping in the cozy chair. However, today she will not sleep away indoors.

The sun was out in full force and the warm rays sang to her in a siren’s call. Sarah kept herself from checking the clock, not wanting to fret anxiously about the time since it was all she had nowadays. It was a privilege for a student like her. 

The Willager Brightson’s Academy was unique, offering several options and class styles that were like no other. For several reasons, the biggest option was the module structure class. Not only was it a self-paced program where each subject was offered in module format, but you also had to apply to get into it. It was very exclusive and few were selected in each grade. Even fewer were accepted outside of different schooling systems. Once you are accepted into the program, you could complete the entirety of your education. However, failing to comply with the grade mark requirements or rules meant expulsion from the program. Permanently.  

Sarah was the small few that were accepted into the program. Instead of spending her school days in a classroom, she was granted the freedom to do as she pleased. Within limitations, of course. Some requirements were that each student must be on-premise for the morning classes and with good attendance. Only then were they able to leave the property during the 3rd and 4th periods. 

At the end of the day, they must return to check-in after classes had finished within an hour. Leaving the academy’s premise was a perk that Sarah utilized every day. 

Often she spent her time in the library and then would go sleep out in the fields. During the first few weeks of attending the school, several of her classmates had shown her around. They shared all of the hidden gems and where most of them would hang out. One of her favorites was the hillside. 

It was a fair distance from the academy and through the forest that surrounded the entire property. The small worn path weaved and if it weren’t for the others, she would have easily gotten lost. There in the far back of the property line was a small open field that turned into a sharp hill. It was a popular place for all the module students to hang out due to the privacy. It was also easy to access once you knew your way and quick to return to the building to check back in.

  Although as fall began to settle in, it got quite chilly out. Several of the students decided to stay inside. Despite the cold, Sarah was determined to enjoy the last few days of good weather on the small hillside. It had become her place of sanctuary. On hot days, the tree shade gave enough solace and the open hill patch was a great place to have lunch. The way it angled was perfect for a snooze and the feeling of nature all around was soothing.

Sarah was fortunate to have been invited on a whim to the hillside by her classmates. It was easy to get along with them since they too desired to laze about. Not having the overbearing weight of constant conversations was a beautiful change of pace. Because she wasn’t much of a social being, it was hard for her to make friends. Even in her previous school.

Here, Sarah could let her guard down. To just enjoy the weather while feeling like she had low-maintenance friends. Occasionally they would share in playing games, but with winter approaching it died down. Sarah had not seen them since. 

So alas, her hiding out in the library began. Students also began focusing on oncoming module deadlines since the majority of them put it off to play outside. Now being forced indoors it was a perfect time to catch up. At least for them, not for Sarah. She had long completed the necessary ones in the first month.

A sudden loud clunk on a small table nearby broke Sarah from her daydream. Heather plopped down her pastel rainbow bag and crossed her arms in the chair across with a smile. She took the liberty to sit down first before breaking Sarah’s thoughts.

“Hey, you look a little worn out more than usual. Winter blues kicking in early?”

Heather smiled softly, waiting with a twinkle in her hazel eye. Several freckles sat on her cheeks and nose against the contrast of her light cream skin. She brushed her amber bangs to frame her face, then pulled at her large braid made of dreads down her left shoulder while she adjusted in the chair. How she managed to keep them so neat and firm always baffled Sarah.

Smiling lazily back, Sarah closed the book on her lap with a thump. Looking down at Heather’s uniform, she stiffened. Immediately she spotted several infractions to the school’s dress code. Heather had ditched the academy’s forest green blazer and untucked her long sleeve shirt from her plaid green and blue skirt. Several top buttons were undone to show an array of layered necklaces and tank tops. 

Sarah scowled with a shake of her head while Heather burst out laughing. In response to Sarah’s displeasure, she leaned back into the leather chesterfield and kicked up her legs to rest on the table. Before Sarah could start her usual lecture about her uniform, Heather raised her hand to stop her and quickly interjected.

“You can’t change how I am. I’ve been doing this since 5th grade, If they haven’t kicked me out since then, they won’t start now.”

Sarah huffed before snapping her mouth closed. Adjusting her poster to sit up straight, she flicked her long black silky hair out of the way to lean into her fist propped against the chair’s arm. “Fine, make us look worse than we already are. You wonder why everyone in this school thinks the Slithers are spoiled rich kids.”

Heather rolled her eyes. “As if sitting outside on the hill is any better. I heard you’ve been napping out there and was late for check-in, Miss Kettle.”

Sighing heavily at her companion, Sarah squirmed in her seat. She may have been a little tardy here and there in the last few weeks. At least it was a few small mistakes and not blatant disregard for uniform policies. 

Sarah settled back into the chair and placed her hands behind her head. She noticed a few students sitting nearby at tables with headphones in. They worked hard on projects and term papers, scribbling frivolously in their world. 

Yes, Sarah had been tardy a few times. However, it was no surprise Heather would have found out she was scolded. There were classroom students, or Hoppers, who had it out against them. The Hoppers who complained usually tried to get the mod students banned or reprimanded on purpose. Scalers were treated like degenerates, no matter what they did. Even though they had the same grade point as the class or higher since it was a requirement. The real difference was that Scalers didn’t need to follow the standard rules.

Sarah was always treated the same as the Scalers, no matter how hard she tried to follow the rules. She would always be an outcast regardless of where she attended.

Sarah feigned ignorance of Heather’s statement. With a coy smile, she finally replied.

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Closing her eyes, Sarah fought the sleepiness that pulled at her. They sat in silence for a few moments. The sound of pages flipping could be heard, filling in the silence. Each moment that passed, Sarah could feel Heather’s eyes on her. How long was she going to keep staring? Was she going to comment on her remark?

It finally became too much to bear when Sarah took a deep breath in. Since Heather had come to find her, there must have been a reason. There was always a reason.

Not bothering to open her eyes, she let out a long-drawn sigh. “Was there something you needed?”

Heather giggled victoriously. “I’m glad you asked. A few of us Scalers are going to the cafe at lunch if you wanted to tag along. You can always go nap on the hill tomorrow. If the weather permits.”

Fighting a grumble, Sarah chewed at the inside of her lip in thought. Going to the cafe meant that Sarah was expected to socialize with several groups while they talked and played games. It was a new internet cafe that opened last year that served food, coffee and tea of all kinds. They had several tables to hang out and a back room with several computers lined against the walls. 

The boys would hang out in the back to play games, yelling loudly and cheering at each other every time someone scored or won. Meanwhile, the girls would stay at the tables watching the boys. 

Sarah was not interested in gawking and found it unamusing. Not to mention that games were not her thing; she despised them. There was only one game she didn’t mind playing. The cafe had an old-school shooter game in the front. Heather forced her to play a few rounds even though she was terrible at it. Still, Heather didn’t stop inviting her to play. 

They would play till the money ran out regardless of her skill, which wasn’t long. Heather was much better at playing and always carried them through the levels. Each time Sarah could no longer play, she would give up and claim she was no longer interested.

If not for Heather, Sarah wouldn’t bother to go. In the past, Sarah used to refuse Heather each time. She would seek Sarah out every day to befriend her, asking her to come. Until one day, she finally said yes. Since then, Heather would constantly drag her along. 

Why she bothered to do so was a mystery. Neither of them had much in common. Heath was incredibly popular where Sarah wasn’t. Yet, out of all the people in the school, Heather was her closest friend. If she hadn’t made an effort, Sarah would be left in the library or hillside each day alone. 

It was a sombering thought. Sarah opened her eyes and glanced over at Heather. She sat patiently with a caring smile, waiting for her to reply. How did Heather put up with her? Sarah was stale and mundane to be around. She knew if she decided to sit in silence till the last minute to answer, Heather would comply without a fuss. It made Sarah feel guilty. 

Heather was a saint with her carefree attitude and hippy appearance. Sarah was quiet, reserved, and followed the rules. So what if she wasn’t the ideal friend? Just because Heather broke the rules more than any student in the academy didn’t mean Sarah couldn’t be friends with her, right? Sarah had an opportunity to make a close friend, even if she was troublesome. 

Dropping her arms to her lap, Sarah gave in. she nonchalantly answered while flipping open the book again. 

“Fine.”

Heather stood up and snatched the book from Sarah. The action startled Sarah. With a gasp, she sneered at Heather. Heather giggled and tapped the book under her chin, leaning in close. Her necklaces fell out and dangled in front while she planted a fist on her hip. With a roguish grin, Heather wagged the book with a taunt. 

“I will have none of that. I know you’re not even reading anyways. It’s in Russian, and I have a sneaking suspicion you don’t know the language.”

Sarah crossed her arms defensively. On second thought, she was a terrible friend. With a pout, Sarah barked back. “I could be learning.”

Heather raised an eyebrow and looked at the title of the book. Laced with dramatic flair, she spoke enthusiastically. 

“Mmmhmm. ‘Agriculture of Russia’?”

Heather flicked her eyes towards her with a knowing grin. It was a new form of teasing Sarah hadn’t seen before. Desperately searching for an excuse, there was no escape from the embarrassment. Sarah ran out of interesting books to read. It had become a game to grab one at random and try to read it regardless of language or topic. Disarmed with no retort, Sarah frowned. 

Heather laughed victoriously and turned towards the library aisles. “As I thought. Khoroshaya popytka, my friend. Come, we are leaving early today.”

Codexing Against Blood: Prologue

Shit, she’s right on my tail. I can’t shake her!

The man ran full speed down a crooked street. Looking over his shoulder, he stumbled on debris, tumbling hard with a roll across the ground. Sharp concrete chunks from crumbling buildings sliced his skin while he slid to a stop. He cried out from the pain along his arms and legs. Already he was battered from fighting against the child that followed shortly behind.

Gasping for air, he clawed the dirt beneath his fingertips. It was the end of the line for him. He knew once the girl locked on to him, there was no escape. Her skills exceeded his tenfold, despite his adult years of practice. 

The sound of crunching footsteps several feet away made him stiffen. The sensation of death loomed ever closer. Trembling, he turned to face the predator. 

 There before him stood a small petit girl. Her eyes grey and empty watched him closely. She wore a black leather bodysuit that hugged her tightly. Each step she took was controlled and calculated. The wind tossed her silver hair about while she giggled softly. There’s no way a girl her age could be such a skilled hunter.

She’s a shapeshifter. There’s only one person who could be this talented.
“I know who you are. Attaché, the academy’s lapdog.”

The small girl tilted her head with an eerie smile.

“Oh, seems you’ve heard of me.” She stopped a few feet away, “Saves me time.”

Her actions didn’t fit the child’s innocent appearance. It was uncomfortable. Pushing himself up slowly, he grunted.

“I also know what you can do. You can shift your appearance, extract information, and manipulate anyone on a whim. It won’t work on me.” 

Barely standing, he held his side. His breath was laboured and shallow. Without touching his ribs, he knew they were broken. Even his shirt was blood-soaked. Snarling at the girl, it took everything to keep his voice even. 

“If you came looking for the weapon, give up. You can beat me, torment me, or do whatever you want. It will not cave! I’m ready to die.”

Attache’s smile faded, her expression hallowed and unamused. 

“And yet, you ran. If you were ready, you would’ve accepted it gracefully. Come, let’s be civil. You have something I need. I can pay you handsomely.”

The man spat at the ground between them.

“I have nothing to say. If you wish to kill me then do it!”

Attache smiled and started to circle the man. “There is no need to kill you. Just tell me what I need. Tell me where the weapon is.”

About to reply, something held the man in place. Sweet whispers crowded his mind. Her words sang a melody that gently coaxed him to reply. It caressed him tenderly and asked him once more to tell her what he knew. It took him a moment to realize her power. Quickly he shook his head to break from the spell. She was stronger than he thought.

 A small flicker popped up in front of him. A small blue digital square hovered in the air. Small glitches flickered around the flat screen weakly while displaying his current status. A warning flashed with a count down to when he would lose consciousness. He glanced at the health bar as it depleted, followed by a black bar shrinking his health. The wound damage he sustained was too much. Closing the screen, he selected a gun that was stored in his inventory. It materialized into his hand from nothing, rendering the gun with blue fuzzy chunks. It completed the physical form of a standard M9. 

Aiming at Attache, the man glared with hatred. “No! Your skill won’t work on me no matter how high the talent is!”

Attache stopped, raising her hands to her face level. Her voice shifted from a sultry adolescent to that of a small child’s. Cowering, the child’s face scrunched up in fear and bewilderment. 

“P-please no… Sir, don’t hurt me.”

Blinking the sweat from his eyes, the man blinked hard. Was this a real child or an illusion? A small tear ran down Attache’s face as she stared at the gun. It was convincing. For a moment, he believed that this could be an innocent child. Confusion and doubt ran through his mind, tricking him. This wasn’t real, was it? In an instant, the child’s fear was replaced by concern. She took a few steps forward. 

“Please…Tell me. Where is the weapon?” 

The gun shook viciously in his hand while he watched her. Shaking his head viciously to break the siren’s hold, he screamed back.“STAY BACK!”

“It doesn’t have to be like this. We can join up as a team. We’re the good guys and just want to cure this plain.”

“No! NO! I won’t tell you! No one will ever find out who they truly are!”

Attache changed her demeanour, lowering her arms with astonishment. Widened her eyes, she spoke softly in her normal voice. “They? The weapon is a person?”

Shit! I slipped up big time! 

With no further words, the man pulled the trigger. His aim was true, striking the girl in the head. Unfortunately, it was a mirage. The image of the child glitched, disbursing into thousands of coded cubes. The presence behind him caught his attention too late. A sharp sudden pain lodged into his hand, knocking the gun out of his grip. A small dagger pierced through his hand. Three more daggers caught his clothes, pulling him to the ground. They were long and slender, effectively pinning him into place. 

Unable to use any more strength, he collapsed unto his back with a heavy thud. Tears streamed down his cheek, blurring the vision of the pale girl standing over him. 

“At least kill me quickly.” It was a pathetic plea, one he knew the answer to.

“I can’t do that. You have the information I need and until I retrieve it, you’ll be my captive.”

Closing his eyes, he relaxed. There was no other choice now. Quickly he opened the message he had long prepared weeks ago and sent it off. At least his wife would get a proper goodbye. Next, he opened his inventory, the shifting screen barely rendering in at all. He took out a single pill for such occasions and swallowed it.

Attache noticed too late, lunging for his throat to stop him. Punching at his chest in hopes to dislodge it, the man smiled as he coughed from the impacts.

“You and your enemies will never find them. This war will come to an end and neither will be the victor.”
Attache growled, pulling at his shirt.“Where are they?!”

“You will never gain control this plain. Only they can.”

With a gurgle, the pill burst within him. Attache barely dodge the sudden vomit of acid that spewed from his mouth. His body and the ground around him began to disintegrate, sinking into the corrupted land beneath. 

Standing a few feet away, Attache could only watch. There went the only real lead she had. It had taken her years to finally learn his name. Cursing, she ran her fingers through her hair. Where on earth could this person be?! All this time she was looking for an object that thousands speculated about. A key, a bomb, maybe even a mythical computer chip; all of which were wrong.

Looking up at the sky, Attache could see the Ever Tree pulsing in the distance. The purple hues lit the world around even from such a far distance. With a quick scan of the area, there were no traces of life forms around. With the body’s limbs remaining, it wouldn’t take long for one to appear. 

The other plains wind howled through the vast land of broken buildings covered in strange purple vines and plants. Would her superiors see this as a failed mission or a successful one? Although she could have killed him and taken the mutated organ that stored his memories, he was more valuable alive. The fact that he could withstand her manipulation and her psychological attacks was impressive. Truly a terrifying mutant. 

A small green chatbox from her teammate popped up in front of her view. 

“Did you find anything? I’ve been looking for ages and I can’t get a signal on this guy.”

Attache scoffed, looking back at the remains. And he never will.
“No, I didn’t. Let’s call it a day. Let command know we couldn’t find what they were looking for.”

“Right. See you back at the academy.”

As the screen closed, a horrific cry sounded off in the distance. Looks like the unknown creature will be eating plentiful tonight. With one long glance at the warped and corrupt land in front of her, Attache couldn’t help but feel sorrow. What did he mean they could never control the land? Does that mean they can’t find a cure for its corruption? Did this person have the ability to stop the entire mutant war?

Scoffing with a frown, Attache opened a portal door back to the real world. How many more years will she find the next clue to the weapon? Only time would tell. In the meantime, her duties at the academy would keep her busy. It was the start of a new year and she was in charge of recruiting. Dropping the shell around her, Attache’s body transformed back into her original body. The layer of green cubes shifting down her body in a fast scan, she walked through the portal. 

Before it closed, she turned around to spot several beasts running towards the body. Brushing an amber dread from her unreadable face, she made sure to watch them eat the evidence left behind. Attache was now the only person who knew about the weapon. She wanted to keep it that way.