I sat down beside SpookyErind on the edge of the rooftop. The familiar heavy dreamlike atmosphere enveloped me, almost like being underwater. My body was weightless but at the same time sluggish, my arms and legs becoming double as I moved them, reminding me of the time I got super drunk back in high school, moments before I passed out.
That was it…like I was on the verge of passing out, yet retaining full focus.
“Sooo…” I said, gazing at the frozen world in front of me. Although mostly dark, there was a smidge of light at the horizon, the sun halted in its journey to greet the waking city of La Esperanza a brand-new day. Not a very good day though. Rising smoke stood still like pillars holding up the sky. From this vantage point, I had a good view of the destruction wrought by Stella. Parts of the building I lived in had collapsed, and so did several of the smaller surrounding buildings. “So, why didn’t you want me to transform into Blanchette? Why make me use the other face? I decided to call it Pino by the way.”
Pino? SpookyErind linked her arm with mine and laid her head on my shoulder, her annoying floating hair tickling my nose. A cute name.
She knew I hated physical contact, but I didn’t mind her. I wanted my curiosity sated. “Would Stella have defeated me if I fought her as the big bad wolf?” I said, trying to hold back a sneeze. “She’s like really strong; I bet she probably can. Yeah, I had no idea there was such a strong enemy around, but because I was using the Pino face, I was constrained to act more carefully.”
That might be it, SpookyErind said in a tone that told me it was definitely not it.
“Or was it because you wanted me to try out this power and make new friends? Learn teamwork? Stuff like that?”
“How about this then; this is my best guess. You didn’t want me to use the Blanchette face because if I had turned into a giant werewolf, Clive would have killed me.”
“Both me and Stella actually. It won’t matter if I can beat her or not because once the Corebrings see us on TV, they’ll just see two bigass Adumbrae destroying the city and being a danger to everyone.”
That’s a good guess too.
“You wanted to save me from getting killed by Corebrings? Even if I focused on escaping, it would be unavoidable I’ll fight and eat those monsters in my Blanchette form; I won’t be able to stop myself from growing into the big bad wolf.”
Does it really matter what’s the reason?
I shrugged my shoulders, bouncing her head. “Just curious. Which of my guesses is correct?”
She locked eyes with mine. I didn’t break eye contact even though her eyes made my head swirl. None, she said. But I’ll tell you why since you’re so hung up on it. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, waving her arms like there was some big reveal. You see, my dear Erind, a lot of people are looking for your Blanchette form. Many people are expecting for you to show up all clad in sexy red, displaying your big, sharp teeth.
“Huh? I don’t under—there’s the 2Ms looking for Blanchette. Who else?”
Isn’t it funny then if Blanchette didn’t show up?
“I suppose that’s funny.”
“I’m not sure if you’re pulling my leg or not…I really shouldn’t try to understand you.” Either she didn’t want to tell me, or there was some hidden clue here I didn’t notice. “I’ll just assume you did it to save me from Clive.”
Sure, let’s go with that. She patted my head. That makes me look caring.
“I hate to admit it, but the teensy-weensy fact the Corebrings are in this city slipped my mind. I was so focused on what’s in front of me that I didn’t realize the very real possibility that assuming I defeated and ate the forces of the 2Ms, I’d just die to Clive and his team.
“I did consider the BID coming, but I was sure I could escape when they arrive. I’ll just pop back as Erind and they won’t catch me. Clive is different though. If he just caught a glimpse of me…wait a minute…I remember he said they weren’t supposed to save people because they were in some sort of secret mission. Why then did the Corebrings kill Stella?”
SpookyErind had a huge grin on her face, seemingly enjoying my guessing game. So many questions from you. She raised a brow as if she was encouraging me to continue.
“I bet that three hour thing has something to do with helping me survive too. Am I right?”
You’re really putting a lot of thought on this, way more than you needed to.
“Well…anyway,” I said, letting it drop; it was obvious I wouldn’t be getting any more information, “you really helped me a lot. Err…thanks so much.” I cringed at my lame attempt of showing genuine gratitude. Usually, it was just automatic when I say ‘thanks’ or something, and I, more often than not, didn’t mean it—that wasn’t a trait of my kind; that’s a trait shared by a majority of the human race. This time, however, I really did appreciate her help. Which was weird…was she already taking over me, changing how I thought? Or maybe I’m just beginning to enjoy my life.
Give me a huge hug then! She opened her arms wide.
Come on! I want you to initiate the hug.
“Fine,” I groaned. I awkwardly wrapped my arms around her. “Thanks again for the help.”
See, that wasn’t so bad. I’ll always help you because we’re one and the same. Meyoumeyoumeyou.
“Meyoumeyoumeyou,” I said along with her. We high-fived each other and then giggled. “You admitted you were helping me.”
She stuck her tongue at me and turned away, once again looking at the time-locked city in front of us. I also faced forward.
I had no idea why, but it was relaxing to be with her. Perhaps because I could talk freely; there was no one I could talk to like this. Most of the time—actually all of the time—my real thoughts were just in my head; they were filtered before coming out of my mouth.
But with SpookyErind…hmmm…does this technically count as still talking inside my head?
“Wha—hey! Cut that out!”
SpookyErind threw her head back, laughing as I have never laughed, as I could never laugh. Like without a care in the world. Like the pure joy of a playful dog. I don’t think I can do that.
All the genuine laughter I had in my short life—the pitiful few, now that I think about it; I just realized I had more fake laughs than real ones—were not as unrestrained as hers. Not because there was something at the back of my mind—people always had something at the back of their minds—but because I couldn’t connect with myself, if that made any sense. I always felt I was an outsider to my own body. Whenever I laughed, it was like I was looking at myself from the outside, looking at another person laughing.
The fuck am I thinking about now? I had no idea why my thoughts went this way. “What’s up?" I said. "We just met a few hours ago.”
What do you think about everything you’ve gone through just now?
“Everything I’ve gone through? Annoying? All my stuff is burned. Or are you asking me if I had some profound epiphany because of my experience?”
You said you had fun.
“Can’t deny that. This was the first time I met people in a life-or-death situation. Or second time if I counted Vanessa and her friends, but that was a different scenario. This time though, the emotions of these people trying to survive have more…impact? Not sure how to word that. I found it very comforting.
“I don’t like emotional stuff at all, but this time, because it was connected to life and death, it felt real. I was sure people were facing me with their true face, the face that only shows when people are desperate to survive.”
How about you? Did you have that face?
“No, not really. I wasn’t desperate to live. I’m supposed to be dead anyway; I’m just living on borrowed time. Speaking of living on borrowed time…” I turned around, looking back at Myra kneeling beside my body. I rolled my eyes and shook my head, facing SpookyErind again. “Did you see my Pino face though? I did enjoy playing a hero. And I saved, um, hmmm…I’m not sure who’s still alive.”
The important thing is that you had fun. She hugged me from the side. I was just checking up on you. I figured we could watch the sunrise. It’s nice it’s rising at the correct spot.
“What do you mean by that? It always rose up by the ocea—” I blinked. The ocean wasn’t that way. It was the other side of the city. Or was I just dreaming? I swore I always watched the sunrise rise over the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. “What’s going on—”
Time for you to wake up. She jumped off the rooftop, dragging me with her.
“The fuck?! Aaaa—"
“Aaaah!” I sat up straight, my mind scrambling to compose itself. I tried calming my breathing down. “What the…”
“Erind!” Myra said, shaking me. “Are you okay?”
“Don’t do that,” said Johann.
“Uh, yeah, I’m fine,” I said, massaging my temples. Everything was slowly coming back to me. “Where are we? How did I get here? I don’t…I don’t…last thing I remember is that the building I was standing on collapsed…Got hit by Stella.”
“We’re on top of a building,” Johann began to say.
“She can see that,” Myra snapped. She grabbed my shoulders. “Who was that who brought you here? That weird woman? She knew we’re together. She could be danger—”
“That was a Corebring,” I said. “One of the guys who killed Stella.”
“A Corebring?” Myra and Johann looked at each other. “Are you connected with her?”
“What? No. She saved me, dug me out of the rubble. She said she’ll return me to my friends. I don’t know anything else about her. I have no idea how she knew about us. She was probably watching—”
“You’re not with the Corebrings? What are you then? Are you an Adumbrae?”
“Myra…” Johann said.
“I think we deserve an answer now,” she said. “We all thought you’re just a normal girl. Innocent and unconnected to the bullshit of this world. Turns out I was right the first time—” Johann elbowed her. “What?” she spat at him.
“You should calm down,” he said. “Erind’s hurt and—”
“She’s hurt? Really? Her clothes are torn and dusty, so it seems her story about being in a collapsed building is true. There’s even some blood on her clothes. But she doesn’t have any injuries. Why is that, huh, Erind? You’re not human, are you?”
I looked down at myself. She was right. All of my injuries were already healed. I couldn’t have healed my squished leg that quickly. Must’ve been Trepanner’s handiwork; I saw her use her healing powers before. Now, what was I going to say to these two?
“Were you playing with us the entire time?” Myra said, her voice steadily rising. “Are you an agent of the Corebrings, pulling the strings for Mother Core only knows what fucking plan those guys have? Or are you an Adumbrae planning to take over our bodies? A lot of organizations in between that. Which one are you in?”
“I don’t know anything about that. And didn’t you see what just happen? The Corebrings are here.”
“Don’t change the—"
“Isn’t your whole plan to keep the Corebrings away?” I yelled back at her. I already had a story prepared, but I didn’t tell it yet. There was something amiss. “Why aren’t you more concerned? Deen became one of you because she wants to stop the Corebrings from attacking our country.”
She looked at me, her cheeks tensed, her nostrils flaring.
It was easy enough to understand. “You lied to Deen?”
“No, we didn’t,” Johann said, putting himself between us. “This isn’t the place—”
“It’s obvious it’s a lie.”
“What? She’s playing with us. She knows more stuff than she’s letting on.” Myra tried to shove Johann away but he didn’t budge. He glared at her, daring her to use her super strength to push him aside. She sighed and looked at me. “Why am I not more concerned? Why should I be? The Corebrings control this world. What do you think of them? Something like that 90s cartoons, what’s it called? League of Heroes? Or you assume they’re like the Corebrings in—damn, I forgot the name—that…that TV show? Just an organization that sends help when Adumbrae attack then they hide back in the Hive afterwards?
“That’s stupid as hell. They sell weapons, they sell technology to corporations…to countries! They control powerful companies. They control a lot of those churches worshipping them even though they say they don’t want to be worshipped as gods. They outright control some small countries, and surely have a big influence even in our government. Our president doesn’t like the Corebrings, but they can bomb the White House and kill him and the US still won’t go to war. Many politicians are on their side. And those that aren’t? That’s as easy as mind controlling them if needed.”
My eyes widened at her revelation. Was this all true? It all sounded plausible. Someone with superpowers wouldn’t just be like the heroes in movies. “I didn’t know—”
“Don’t give me that confused look. They’re demigods! You think they’re just going to be like a plumber you call when there’s an Adumbrae leak at your house? But you already know that, don’t you? Miss Corebring…or Miss Adumbrae, whatever you may be.”
“You’re right…I’m not human.” I could transform and kill her right now. She was weakened by our whole ordeal while I practically slept through all of it. My body was also fully healed by Trepanner. If I really wanted to keep myself safe, I could grab Johann and take him hostage. But that wouldn’t do, that wasn’t enough.
“Obviously.” Myra folded her arms and frowned at me, waiting for me to explain.
Rule #4 wasn’t simply about revenge, it wasn’t just about killing Myra because she tried to kill me. Gravity and theatrics; a simple death didn’t fit that. I said, “But I was human about a couple of weeks ago…”
“A couple of weeks ago?” she repeated. I could see on her face she was starting to piece it together.
I had the script for several lies in my head, prepared to explain away my nature, to take advantage of them. But now, I suddenly had a brilliant idea. There was no need for lies here. This was the time for truth. “Sixteen days ago to be exact," I said. "January twenty was the last day I was human.”
“January twenty...That was when Kelsey disappeared.”
“That was when you attacked me. When you tried to kill me.”
“I didn’t do anything like that!”
“I saw you throw your spikes earlier. Your power is not just growing an armor of bark, you can make projectiles. You know who you hit with your spikes last January twenty?”
“No…” she whispered. It wasn’t an answer to my question. It was a ‘no’ of disbelief.
“Me,” I said. “You nearly killed me that day. You saw all that blood in the stairwell of Sanders Mall? In the corridor? In the locker room? All of that was my blood!”
“I…I…didn’t,” Myra stammered.
“What is this all about?” Johann asked her. “I thought you didn’t hit her because someone stopped you? Weren’t you attacked by the woman in the red hood—”
“But do you know why I didn’t die?” I said, talking over Johann. “Because someone offered to save me.”
“An Adumbrae,” she said.
"What Adumbrae are you talking about?" Johann said.
“You’re right. On that day, I became an Adumbrae.”
“The woman," she said, "with the fangs and the red hood…it was you all along.”
Yes, the truth was, unironically, the best story to tell. “It was me. That was the first time I transformed. I bit you in self defense. It was all because you nearly killed me…and you would’ve killed me if it wasn’t for the Adumbrae."
She shook her head, slowly stepping backwards. "No...no...that's not true."
"You're fighting against the Adumbrae. You want to save your sister from the Adumbrae. But look at what you did."
"It can't be. No way"
"You're the reason, Myra."
"There's no way that's true!"
"Because of you, I became an Adumbrae.”