Chapter 18
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Hello Everyone~!

To celebrate my first ever ko-fi tip, I worked hard to bring you this bonus chapter! I'll still be trying to keep the Wednesday/Saturday schedule this week. Thank you, Amira, you made my week.

Content Warning:

Spoiler

Mention of death, panic attacks, imprisonment

[collapse]

Matthew Johnson is a lot of things. Teacher. Mentor. Activist. Hiker. And secretly the guardian to the cell of an ancient demon. Or, at least, he thought he was. He now realized that the whole “demon trapped in a bowl” stuff was just propaganda to hurt a kind girl. A girl who vanished in front of him just moments ago.

She had been taking a sip of tea when she yelled Tyler’s name, then the next thing he was aware of was the sound of a porcelain mug hitting the floor and shattering. What happened? She sounded so distressed. Why’d she disappear? There were too many unanswered questions.

He had come to the Underwood's house to find out what happened to his charge. Now that he found out, he found himself at a complete loss. He had no idea what to do, so like every other time in his life, when he was put in a place of uncharted territory, he did the only thing he could. He fixed himself on the things that were right in front of him and resolved to worry about the rest later.

Matthew began picking up the biggest pieces of the mug, careful not to cut himself. As he went to throw the pieces away in the trash, he noticed a spot of blood fall onto the lid of the can. Cursing, he found the roll of paper towels and wrapped a few sheets around his hand. As he was doing this, he noticed a broom and butler in the corner nook by the fridge, which stood slightly ajar. Carefully, trying to keep the towel in place on his hand, he went to work sweeping up the last bits of the mug. He was on his knees wiping down the last of the spilled tea when ice flooded his veins as the front door opened.

“Eris? Honey, are you home? I thought I locked this door.” Came the clear voice of Christine Underwood.

◊◊◊

“Tyler!”

Eris’s shout echoed, reverberating off the dense atmosphere. Every muscle, every inch of her body hurt. Her thoughts came slow and with deliberate effort. Eris sat upright, ignoring the pain, and looked around in a panic. This place felt familiar, she could never forget the unpleasant feeling that her previous immurement left her with. It was like a bad smell, but only in her head, so it followed wherever she tried to go. The rest of this place was very much, not familiar. She was sitting in warm, waist deep water, which went on for as long as she could see. The water was perfectly clear, but also reflected the pale pink sky and white clouds from every direction. Interspersed throughout the water were a variety of flowers and grasses shooting up and growing, trying to reach the sunlight that was made by a sun that wasn't there. Even the air felt warm. If only this pressure on her sinuses would let up, she could enjoy it.

Then she remembered what had happened and started panicking again.

Tyler!

That’s right, the very last thing she could recall was losing her connection to Tyler. For a brief, excruciating second, she felt like her very soul was being rent in two. Did she die? Is this what death is like? Before coming to Earth, she had no concept of death, but she supposed she could die now that her and Tyler shared a soul. Did Tyler die too? Thoughts of how Christine would react flashed through her mind. She didn’t have to imagine what she would be like, she had seen too many mothers lose too many children.

Wherever she was, she couldn’t feel home anymore. For the second time in her life, she wasn't able to bend the surrounding space to her will. The agonizing absence of her home played second to the crushing absence of her connection to Tyler. When did that happen? Eris always kept an emotional distance from everyone ever since—. She cut off her thoughts before they could replay the memories of her first friends. She was so distraught when she learned about death.

The fact that she can't feel her connection to her home or to Tyler anymore meant one thing, Tyler must have died as well. All she could do was cry.

After a while, she resolved herself to sleep. Just like before, she could fall asleep easy, and just like before, she knew she wouldn’t ever be forced awake unless someone freed her again.

It wouldn’t matter anyway; if this really was another prison instead of a purgatory for her soul, there wasn’t any artifact she could have been bound to keep her soul in that place. Purgatory for a soul after death or stuck in her own personal universe, the result was the same. She would never see the light of day again.

At least this one was warm.

After what felt like seconds and forever all at once, she finally ran out of tears and drifted into a fitful sleep; letting her body be completely submerged by the warm water. Sinking into the mud, the last thought she had was how it kind of felt like the hugs Tyler had given her.

◊◊◊

Tyler woke up to a pounding headache. It felt like she was sitting inside a church bell as the clapper swung between sides. She briefly imagined a hunched man pulling at the chord.

“Where—?” Tyler began to ask aloud, but the throbbing headache got worse, and she had to lie back down. She was pretty sure it was a hospital cot. She found she could move her head if she did so slowly and tried to look around. The room seemed to be of a concrete affair, square and small. Tyler was thankful that the lights were out, the only light came from the gentle orange glow of a strip of lights along the corners of the room. The bed barely fit and was flush against one of the walls, and in the corner there was a toilet and a sink.

Oh, no. She thought. There’s only one reason to have a toilet in a room like this. I’m in some kind of prison.

After a while, the headache subsided, but not completely. It still hurt unlike any other headache, but it was now low enough to ignore. Sitting up, she noticed it was still wearing the clothes she left the house in. Looking at the bed, she found she really was laying on a hospital cot and on the corner of the bed was a change of clothes, a set of blue-green scrubs. Ignoring the change of clothes, she gingerly got off the bed and onto her feet. She felt a little dizzy, so she steadied herself near the bed as she made her way to the door, trying the handle. Locked. She didn’t expect to be able to just walk out, but it was the only thing she could think of.

Wait. Tyler had magic now, right? She tried to reach inside to that well to pull some out, but found that she couldn’t feel it. She tried focusing her will on opening the door anyway, but she was only rewarded with her headache worsening.

Tyler clutched her head in both hands and laid face down on the cot, her knees tucked under her stomach and head pushed into the pillow as hard as she was able. Her stomach was reeling from the pain and threatening to throw a fit if she tried again.

Just then, the door unlocked and someone stepped inside her room. She tried to turn her head from the pillow to see who it was, but couldn’t muster up the energy to move. The person didn’t speak. The only sounds they made were metal scraping against metal and the clatter of plastic. She worried she was about to be tortured, or worse, dissected like the frogs in last year's biology class. She braced herself for the worst and started crying into her pillow.

Then the door opened and closed again, and the feeling of an empty room returned. She tried to focus on the sounds around her but nothing was happening, so she just laid on the cot, hunched over until the pain finally subsided enough to look around. The metal and plastic sounds were apparently from a small folding table and a tray of food. It didn’t look very appetizing, especially compared to the food she wasn’t able to finish at the shop, but she was hungry enough to eat. She reached for the horrible excuse for a burger, but pulled her hand back when the thought that it might be poisoned entered into her mind. She moved to lay back on the cot, staring up at the ceiling, and tried to sleep.

◊◊◊

Art had barely drank any of the tea in front of her, and Cathy gave her a worried look as she sipped her own. Art was going over the last couple of hours again in her head, attempting to remember something, anything more about the plain van that she saw earlier. She wished there was something she could do, especially since she learned it was Tyler that was the one in trouble.

After calling the police and giving a statement, they let her go and told her to stay in the city for the next few months for followup questions. She didn't have much faith that they'd find her, but she forced herself to hope anyway. She could still remember the look on that young boy’s face when she told him she saw a kidnapping. Instead of going for the phone, he immediately ran to the woman's bathroom and asked in a loud voice if anyone was in there. She could still see the panic in his eyes.

She had been walking home from shopping for a collapsible laundry basket when she witnessed a tall man princess carry the young girl into the back of a plain delivery van and drove off.

“Art.” Cathy said, interrupting her jumbled memories of that afternoon.

Art looked up from the table at Cathy. She had a worried look on her face.

“Please drink a bit of tea. You’ll feel better.”

Art thanked her by nodding slightly and drank some. It did help, and she gave a sigh as the warm liquid soothed her stomach. She didn’t even realize it had been hurting this whole time. Her phone on the table buzzed, and she opened it to see who it was and set it back down after reading the message, not bothering to type out a reply.

“That was Matthew. He said he was going to stay with Christine tonight, and that he didn’t want her to be alone.”

Cathy nodded. “That’s probably for the best. You’re welcome to stay here tonight if you’d like.”

Despite the absolutely awful day she had, that still managed to make her blush a little with happiness. “I’d like that.” She smiled and took a sip of tea as they planned what to cook and do for the evening to take their minds off the events of the day. There wasn’t anything either could realistically do for the poor child, though Cathy insisted on trying one of her protection spells. She still wasn’t sure it would work, but she wanted to try anyway. Art wanted to see exactly what kind of hobbies Cathy had, so she agreed and asked if she could watch.

She watched Cathy busy herself with some salt and candles that looked homemade. The ritual was small and involved a careful application of a spoon as Cathy carefully drew a circle on the table. Art thought that the affair looked quite charming, especially when the house lights were down and the table was lit by the dim light of the candles. She wasn’t sure if she should do anything to help, so she just sat to the side and hoped that by being there would help the spell do whatever it needed to do. It was a simple ritual, and was over in just over fifteen minutes. It even involved something that Art could swear sounded like a prayer.

When Art was sure Cathy was finished, she helped clean up the salt. “Did it work?”

“I hope so. I’ll believe it did anyway.”

Art was never sure what to believe in. She was never one of the religious sorts, much to the consternation of her evangelical neighbors, but she decided that she’d believe this.

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