70. Who Am I
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content warning: mention of amnesia; identity crisis; discussion of divine influence; discussion of past trauma; brief mention of death; may upset sensitive readers

Sunday morning I managed to sleep in till nearly half past ten. By the time I got out of bed mom and mum had already left to do their own thing. They had some plans for the day that included going out for Sunday brunch, but neither me or Nina were interested in that so we had the house to ourselves till about dinner time.

After finally leaving the warm soft comfy embrace of my bed I had an extra-long shower, then went back into my room to get dressed. I knew my little sister was up by then, because I could hear some noise from one of our video games coming up from the living-room downstairs.

We were both supposed to be doing homework and stuff like that, but I figured maybe she got all hers done yesterday. I was still catching up on assignments and stuff, and my plan was to spend all day working on stuff for Ms. Fields' Creative Writing class. Except I couldn't help feel tempted to go play some games with Nina instead.

First I needed to get dressed. I picked out some comfy panties and a plain bra, then a simple pair of leggings. I wanted one of my favourite tops to go with it, and ended up digging through my closet trying to find it. As I moved towards the back of the closet my foot bumped against something and I looked down in surprise.

There at the back of my closet was a big brown cardboard box that I'd never seen before. I couldn't understand how I'd missed it, since it was kind of huge. Like a foot and a half square and about two feet high.

I dragged it out of my closet for a closer look, and that's when I noticed it had some Chinese markings on the sides. Then I spotted a shipping label on the top, and my stomach lurched. Whatever it was, it had been shipped all the way from Shenzhen China direct to me. Like my name and address was on the label.

Inside I found it was just under half full of frosted plastic capsules, the kind you got from those one- or two-dollar vending machines. I pulled one out at random and popped it open, and found myself looking at a pink knitted puppy plushie. It was about the right size to hang on a keychain, and even had a little plastic clip attached to its back. The thing that worried me most though was the plushie had a faint purple glow of magic around it.

As I stared at the plushie I somehow knew it was a pink teacup poodle, and the trigger word to activate it was 'Yap'. With that knowledge a bunch more memories suddenly surfaced, and I dropped the open capsule then stumbled back to my bed where I slumped down heavily.

Stuff I'd been oblivious to all along was suddenly clear in my head. The memories were strange though, almost foreign. Like I was remembering stuff that someone else did.

It began all the way back in the middle of February. It was a Saturday morning and I was hunting online for small plush animal toys. I ended up on some Chinese website where you could get just about anything. I remembered ordering two hundred and fifty of those keychain plushies, complete with the plastic capsule shells.

The next memory was from the middle of April, when the the box of plushies finally showed up. It was a Monday afternoon, I came home from school and found that big box waiting for me outside the house. I brought it inside and hid it away in my closet before either of my parents noticed it, and I even put some sort of enchantment on it so nobody could see it. Not even me.

And the rest of that week I took an hour or two every night before sleep and enchanted a dozen or two of the plushies, but I didn't exactly follow the directions of that fuzzy figure in my dreams. The enchantments I'd been told to do would have resulted in random changes to people, but I modified them to make sure the changes would only be what people wanted, or what would make them happy.

By the time I had around half of the toys ready it was nearly Kaylee's birthday, and she wanted to hang out with me but I remembered blowing her off with some excuse so I could go and put the toys in some vending machines. I remembered enchanting the machines too, to make sure they'd give people whatever toy was most likely to make them happy.

I did it again after our May club meeting. Kaylee wanted to hang out and I brushed her off with some excuse about having to study, then I went out and reloaded the vending machines.

Then after Club Luna got involved and Miss Hawthorne began investigating the toys, I went back to the machines and collected all the toys that were left. I put them back in the box in my closet, and since then I finished enchanting the last of them.

And finally, I remembered setting up a secret discord account and using that to promote the toys. I'd send them out by mail one or two at a time to folks. I even started handing them out in person, to anyone who wanted them. To people like Kenzie, who wanted one for her sister but then her dad used it instead. At least now I knew why Kenzie and Kirstie avoided me.

My heart was racing and a cold heavy feeling settled in my stomach. Not just from the shock of suddenly remembering that stuff, but the confusion of the memories seeming so foreign.

Then my gut lurched once more as something else hit me. We'd all been positive Socha's influence and manipulation began after the second circle of runes was destroyed in June. But the thing with the plushies started all the way back in February. Which meant her influence probably began after I accidentally broke the first circle at new years.

Nina and our parents never repaired that first circle, which meant Socha could still be influencing me now. Maybe she was weaker, but she probably wasn't gone like we all thought.

I tried to think about what I should do, but my first reaction was to hide the box of plushies and forget the whole thing. Except I knew that wasn't a good idea. I wasn't sure if that was what Socha wanted or if it was just my own anxiety and not wanting to deal with complicated stuff, but either way I knew it was wrong.

After a few seconds I decided to compromise. I picked up the poodle I dropped and put it back in the box, and shoved the box back in my closet. Then I pulled on the first top I found and went downstairs to see my sister.

"Nina can we please talk?" I asked as I sat beside her on the sofa.

She was focused on her game, but I must have sounded upset or something because she immediately paused it. She turned to me and asked, "What's wrong Cass?"

I gulped as there was another urge to forget the whole thing. I tried to ignore it, I tried to just tell her what I'd found, but the words wouldn't come out. So instead I tried to approach the topic sideways.

"Something's come up Nina, and it's left me with a bunch of questions and stuff?" I responded quietly. "It's kind of about that piece of Socha stuck in my chest."

My little sister gave me a worried look, then grabbed the remote and turned off the TV so it wouldn't distract us. She asked, "Did something happen? Are you ok?"

"I'm ok," I nodded. "It's um..."

After another little hesitation I asked, "That shard, it's connected to my mind or something right? Or maybe even my soul? I remember we talked about that. My body is um, demonic and mostly comes from you? But Socha's thing does everything else? Like my mind and soul?"

Nina continued looking worried as she nodded slowly, "Yeah. That's why we have to be really careful figuring out what to do about it. Like when we fixed those broken runes last month it affected your memory?"

I thought about that for a bit, as I tried to understand how or why putting protective runes around that shard would impact my memories. At first it didn't really make sense, until something else occurred to me. Then suddenly I had a new and bigger question that left me with a cold heavy feeling in my gut.

I gulped, "Nina? Who am I, really? What am I?"

"You're Cassandra Underwood," she replied nervously. "You're my adoptive sister. Cass what's going on, what's this about? Are you having more memory problems?"

I shook my head, "No, that's not what I mean. I guess what I mean is um... I want to know who I am, as in where do I come from?"

"Oh," Nina frowned and looked down at the floor for a few moments.

There was a sad look on her face as she looked up at me again, "Like I told you before, you were an orphan, and you were dying. You're from eastern Europe, but I guess you want to know the specifics? You came from a village in the Chechen Republic. I found you after a car bomb killed a bunch of people there, including your parents. Lots of folks were hurt too, including you."

I hadn't actually been asking about that, but I couldn't bring myself to stop her from sharing that stuff. I was curious about that too, even if it wasn't what I was asking about.

Nina continued, "It was springtime when I found you, almost the middle of May. Then you were with me for a couple months, before I finally gave you to Brian so he could find you a proper home and family..."

"May?" I frowned. "So I was almost a year old when you found me? And our parents told me once they adopted me around thanksgiving, I always thought they meant the first one, when I was just a couple months old? But I guess I'd have been over a year old by then."

My sister shook her head, "August twenty-eighth was the day Brian took you from me. I guess he told people that's when you were born? You were a newborn when I found you, and that was on May twelfth. So you were probably born in early May. I'm sorry Cass, I don't know exactly what day. I don't know what your original name was either, or what your parents were called."

I sighed, "That's ok Nina. Thank you for telling me that stuff. I guess it doesn't change anything? I'm still Cassandra Underwood, and my birth certificate says August twenty-eighth."

"Yeah," she sighed as well. "I'm still sorry though."

We were both quiet for a bit after that. And once I'd processed that new information about myself, my thoughts went back to what I was actually trying to ask her. Except it took me another minute or so to find the words.

I took a couple slow deep breaths, then finally came out with it. "I guess what I wanted to know isn't so much about like, names and dates and stuff? It's more um, spiritual I think? What I mean is... Was I ever human? My soul I mean? Like, am I an orphan from eastern Europe who's body became demonic and who's mind was messed with so a goddess can someday take over? Or is that human soul gone? And if the human soul's gone, then who am I? Where did I come from?"

My little sister's eyes widened and she looked down at the floor. Then I noticed her face was getting sort of red and splotchy, and her eyes welled up. A moment later she burst into tears, and I pulled her into a hug.

"I'm sorry Nina," I said as I held her. "I didn't mean to upset you! I just want to know who I am."

Her arms wrapped around me and she held me tight as she cried. She tried to talk a couple times but she was having as much trouble forming words as I did earlier. So I kept trying to comfort her and stuff, and we basically just waited it out till she ran out of tears.

It took a few minutes, then when my little sister finally let go of me I grabbed her a box of tissues and apologized again, "I'm sorry sis. Are you ok?"

She shook her head as she wiped her eyes and nose. It looked like even more tears were threatening to flow as she sniffed, "I didn't know Cass. I swear I didn't know. She lied to me! She lied and she used me and she made me do things and I didn't know!"

Nina's voice started out soft but quickly turned angry. Sure enough there were more tears as she half-shouted, "She told me it wouldn't hurt you! I thought I was saving you! I did all those awful things because I thought it was going to save you and bring back my friend? But she's not my friend and she never was! She used me and lied to me and I hate her!"

She sniffed once more then grabbed another tissue to wipe her face. She was crying again and had trouble getting the words out but she forced herself to continue, "I thought I was saving you but when I did the rituals just like she said the little baby died and it's all my fault! Then you came back to life and I thought it was ok again but it wasn't. Cass I'm so sorry!"

I pulled her into another hug and tried to calm her down again, but at the same time I felt kind of hollow inside. I was pretty sure I had my answer, but before I confirmed that I focused on taking care of my sister.

"It's ok Nina," I whispered. "I don't blame you. I'm still here, whoever I am. I'm still me, still Cass. And it's not all bad right? The human baby was reunited with her parents. They're a family, just like we're a family."

She kept crying for another few minutes before she finally calmed down again. I continued to hug her a while more, till she finally pulled free to grab some more tissues and stuff.

Then once it looked like she was ok I asked softly, "So um, I guess that answers my question, sort of? I'm not human and never was."

Nina sniffed as she shook her head, "I'm sorry Cass. You... your soul I guess, it comes from her."

"But you're not like her!" she quickly insisted. "You're kind and caring and compassionate and gentle. You're a good person Cass."

I gave her a knowing smile as I replied, "That's because I also come from you. I get that stuff from my sister."

Her eyes widened, and for a moment I thought she was about to burst into tears again. Instead she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me tight, then mumbled into my shoulder "Maybe. I bet you get a lot of that from our parents too."

"Maybe a bit," I smiled as I hugged her back.

Then I sighed and added, "Nina I'm sorry Socha was so rotten to you. I'm sorry she used you and manipulated you. You're a good person and you never deserved any of that. And we're going to make sure Socha never, ever hurts you or anyone else again."

The two of us finally let go of each other after another long hug, and as we both sat back on the sofa next to each other I noticed one more thing.

"Hey!" I grinned at her, "That's one of my favourite tops you're wearing, you little thief! I was looking for that earlier!"

Nina blushed, "Oops?"

for folks interested in cross-references, the 2 times Cass mentioned avoiding Kaylee so she could distribute plush toys were in Interlude 6 and chapter 33

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