Not caught up on the comic yet? You can go visit the comic’s archive through this link here.
Want something a little more substantial than a comic? You can go visit the chapter list through this link here.
“Are you fucking kidding me!? Screw all of this damn sunlight. Beautiful day my ass. I don’t get why everybody has to get so excited whenever the freaking sun comes out. I mean, do people not realize that the sun is going to engulf the Earth eventually and kill us all?” were some of the thoughts going through the head of a clearly disturbed individual as the early afternoon sun beamed down on them.
‘It’s going to be another bright, sunny, and absolutely beautiful day today’ were the words echoed by various weatherman in Lunaridge. The relatively remote metropolis, with its skyline dotted with buildings of various sizes, ranging from humble two-stories to moderately tall skyscrapers, was located in the temperate mountains of the eastern seaboard, and as such was no stranger to a typical summer day like this. The bright rays from the sun, unhindered by the absence of any clouds in the sky, warmed up the city to a pleasant temperature of 75 degrees that those dreading the oncoming cold that autumn would inevitably bring, would find solace in this last bastion of summer weather. No doubt most residents of the city would enjoy the weather to be like this pretty much all year round. Though, there is at least one resident, who would’ve preferred some overcast that day.
In the middle of the city’s Felnor Plaza, a scrawny looking teenager sat in the comfort of the shade of a small maple tree that had been growing from one of a few patches of dirt left open amongst the rows of bricks that paved the rest of the plaza. His hair was black and messy, covering most of his forehead and dipping into his eyes, but was not completely unkempt, as there was a rhythm to how his hair stuck up in various places on his head. He wore a faded dark red hoodie whose sleeves were cut just above his elbows, exposing a longer sleeved dark-gray shirt underneath. In addition, he wore faded blue track pants with sneakers tightened with Velcro straps instead of laces. He was clearly emphasizing comfort over style with his clothing choices, though nothing about his attire would make him stand out from anyone else under normal circumstances.
What was striking about him was his face, or more particularly his eyes. He had dark bags underneath them, which sharply contrasted the rest of his relatively pale skin and only sought to highlight his most unique feature: his eyes having an unmistakably crimson hue to them. He definitely looked like someone who preferred to avoid direct sunlight. Various passersby were clearly wary of him, with a few of them making active notes to themselves to not get too close. Their aversion to the boy though, wasn’t without some merit however. He was named Alex Haser, and he was not normal.
Alex had pulled out a small sketchpad from the backpack he had lying next to him and began scribbling out an address with a mechanical pencil in a fairly annoyed manner.
“Damn it. Another waste of my time.” Alex thought to himself as he crossed out the address. “I’m never going to get everything I need if all of these places I keep hearing about turn up as duds…” With pencil still in hand, Alex began cupping his chin with his right hand while his elbow rested on the corresponding knee.
“There’s still that place in the mall I haven’t checked out yet. But even still, with how every other place has been turning out at this point, I doubt they’ll have anything that I need either…” Alex assumed a more contemplative pose, shifting the position of his hand, so that his chin was now resting on his knuckles, freeing up his fingers to freely fidget about with his pencil.
“What should I do if I can’t get everything on my list before my deadline? Should I just go in anyways? Or should I just give myself a few more weeks of prep time? I mean, it’s already been almost two months at this point. Should I really be wasting any more time than that? It is also possible that I might not need as much stuff as I think I do…”
Alex stuffed his notepad into one of his pockets before reaching back into his backpack. He pulled out a thick, hard-covered book that had been bound in leather with small triangular copper plates faceted to each corner of the book’s front and back. Strange, yet ornate symbols and markings had been etched into the leather that almost glowed in the shadow of the tree Alex was sitting under. Perhaps tome would be a better description than book. He opened to the very back of the tome, and pulled out a sheet of loose-leaf paper he had stashed in between the last page and the back cover, and then promptly put the tome back into his bag, barely acknowledging how weird of an object it was to have in his backpack in the first place.
The paper contained a check list of various items, most of which being something completely unrecognizable to the general population at hand. The list had a few of the items checked off sprinkled throughout the list, but for the most part, more than two-thirds of the list was left unchecked.
“There’s gotta be something on this list of crap that I probably don’t actually need…” Alex contemplated to himself as he looked over the list. But before Alex could give any kind of serious evaluation however, he quickly got interrupted by the low moaning of his stomach growling.
“Stomach, are you kidding me? Ugh, what time is it…?” Alex thought in a mildly exacerbated manner. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. While not a flip phone, the phone was still clearly several years old in terms of model, but was still in a fairly pristine condition. No doubt due to the fact that Alex probably wasn’t the kind of person to call others very often.
“Oh, it’s 12 o’clock, which is TECHNICALLY lunch time. I suppose this is the price I gotta pay for choosing to skip breakfast so that I can start heading out sooner…” Alex put his phone back into his pocket and began to pack up the rest of his belongings, mildly irked by his hunger. He slung his backpack over his head before securing its single strap to his left shoulder and wrapping it around to the right side of his body, taking extra care to insure it has no chance of sliding off.
“I guess I can grab something to eat real quick, then head onto that place in the mall. I can give the list another look over while I have lunch so that way I’m not wasting time just eating.” While initially unsure where specifically to go for lunch, Alex quickly made up his mind as he walked towards the edge of Felnor Plaza. He quickly eyed a fast food burger joint among the many shops littering the sides of the plaza, and decides eating lunch there would be the most efficient use of his time.
Upon entering the restaurant, Alex quickly entered the small line of people who had already gathered up to order their food. While there were only five people ahead of him, Alex was still none the less displeased with the idea of having to wait in line.
“Damn it. Figured getting lunch out of the way early would mean I wouldn’t have to deal with any kind of line. Clearly these five other jackasses had the exact same idea as me!” he thought to himself. While very annoyed in his head, Alex kept a very bored and uninterested look on his face. “Bet these fatties couldn’t wait to line up at 12 on the dot so that they can start shoving crap down their damn nob holes as soon as possible” Alex continued to think to himself, purposefully ignoring the fact that everyone in line ahead of him was just as skinny, if not skinnier, than him. He continued to think very angry yet entirely impotent thoughts about everyone ahead of him until the line eventually moved forward.
“Can you give me a minute? I just need a little bit to think about what I want.” the new front of line said to the cashier, who happily obliged their request.
“Oh kill me now. Actually, no wait. Kill them instead. I’ve got shit I need to do today. I mean seriously, why even get in line in the first place if you don’t even know what you’re getting!? You. Fucking. Jackass!” Alex’s ultimately childish tirade continued on in his head as an inner monologue, completely un-phased by the relative speed the line was actually moving at. His thought process got quickly derailed, however, as he felt somebody behind him touch his hand that had been resting on the metal queue that had been dividing up the line.
“Oh, sorry about that!” the woman who accidentally ended up touching Alex’s hand said, sliding her hand back.
“Whatever.” Alex flatly replied to her, closing the gap ahead of him as the line got shorter. While on the surface, Alex seemingly paid no mind to her or the exchange, he quickly internalized her appearance as he felt something a tad… off about the woman who had just touched him.
She was a very tall woman, probably around 6’4” in height, a good head size and a half taller than him. She was wearing a black cabbie hat over her straightened blonde hair, which had been layered and reached all the way down to her waist in the back. Despite the length, she obviously took great care to maintain it, as it had a brilliant luster to it. Her eyes were green, with an inviting and gentle look to them, which complemented her youthful face. Based off of how young her face looked, Alex speculated her age, figuring she was probably 22 at the oldest. After getting a good look at her face, Alex’s eyes were, naturally, drawn downward to her rather ample cleavage. Alex didn’t know much about bra sizes, but figured she could easily be a DD in size. Their size did give him some pause, but not for the usual reasons.
“She could probably kill a man with a rack that big if she put them in a headlock. Probably easily snap their neck, or just smother them to death… Damn it Alex! Stop looking at her dumb boobs. Woman love to slap men for that…” he thought to himself. “Oh don’t stare at my boobs, you pervert! …Even though I’m purposefully wearing an outfit that draws attention to them, you’re still a pervert for looking!” he continued monologuing to himself, this time in an intentionally high-pitched girly voice. Once he finished his internal rant, he quickly turned his eyes away from her chest and got a look at the rest of her.
Her “nice rack” was being accentuated by her tunic-styled dress, whose length dipped just below her knees. Slits on either side of the dress exposed her fairly well-toned legs. Further accentuating her legs were the high-heeled boots she wore that went all the way up to her exposed thighs. All of these clothing choices were the same general shade of “royal” purple.
“Bet she wears something with heels on ‘em cause she likes to kick people…” Alex mused to himself. “She looks like she actually has some pretty strong legs too. It would probably really hurt if she kicked ya…”
Over her dress, she was wearing an unzipped black leather jacket with a fluffy fur trim around the neck. The jacket did go with her hat, but seemed a little warm for the weather. The jacket’s trim did highlight probably the most interesting item of clothing on her: a small black choker she was wearing that Alex couldn’t help but bring his eyes to.
It looked almost like a dog collar in no small part due to the small blue orb hanging from it resembling a tag. Alex couldn’t quite tell just what kind of substance the orb was made from, but he could make out what appeared to be a swirling mist inside of it. Not to mention, it almost looked like it was glowing. Before he could get a closer look at the orb, though, he noticed the woman starting to look at him, and quickly diverted his eyes elsewhere. The woman merely gave a quiet smirk in response, amused by his apparent fascination with her.
“I think that kid is staring at your chest.” Another woman who had been standing beside her said in a quiet and dry tone. “You should probably zip up that jacket of yours so he stops looking…”
“It’s fine Angela. There’s no harm in it.” the first woman responded back in a gleeful tone.
Alex looked at the woman apparently named Angela. She was a bit shorter than the first girl, but definitely seemed older than her, probably in her late 30s. Her hair was blonde as well, though had far less luster and was done up with a clip. She was wearing glasses over her faint blue eyes and an off-white secretary’s outfit, with a very stern expression on her face that seemed just a little worn out.
“She looks like a WASP with a major stick up her ass…” Alex thought to himself based off of her rather grumpy appearance. “Probably her older sister if I had to guess…” Alex spent the rest of his duration in line keeping his eyes forward, paranoid of the older woman watching over him with an icy glare. Though she didn’t stand out quite as much in his head as the first girl, Alex could still tell there was definitely something off about her as well. He eventually made it to the front of the line and placed his order.
“Okay, and this order is going to be under… Hazel?” the cashier asked with a hint of disdain, as they misheard Alex’s last name in the order.
“I might be a bit of a nut, but I’m not that kind of nut! It’s pronounced HEY-ZER. Get it right yah pleb!” Alex shot back in a joking tone that was masked in a veil of fake outrage. As Alex walked away from the counter to claim his table, he could hear the first girl lightly giggling to his response.
“Everyone else is way too weirded out by me to laugh at my jokes. There is definitely something up with that girl…” Alex thought to himself as he sat down in an empty booth in the corner of the restaurant. As he waited for his food, he looked over his checklist again, contemplating what items were on it that he could consider unessential and that he could remove without much issue. Unfortunately for him, he remained unable to concentrate on actually making any changes to his list and merely sat there constantly re-reading the entire thing until eventually his order was ready.
“Son of a bitch messed up my order. I said no mayo on my burger!” he thought to himself as he examined the food he just received. “Now I have to be careful to make sure nothing actually gets on my stuff!”
Alex ended up partitioning off the booth he was sitting it, devoting the entire right side of it to his food, and the left to his list so as to lessen the odds of him potentially spilling unwanted condiments on it. Trying to regain focus, Alex intently stared at the list he had set down onto the booth’s table, while absent mindedly eating his food with his right hand. He was so focused on his list that he wasn’t even looking to see where his food was, merely feeling around his tray until he grabbed either some french-fries or his burger.
“Why do I keep drawing up blanks when I’m looking at this damn list!?” Alex thought to himself after a good 5 minutes of uninterrupted staring. “Look, you just gotta think smarter here. Stop taking in the list as a whole. Just look at every item individually and think, do I really need this?” While Alex figured that idea would work in theory, Alex quickly realized a problem with this plan when he put it into practice.
“What if something happens and I end up injuring myself? I’d be screwed if I didn’t have some of these! I can’t cut this! And I can’t cut this one either, because if someone or something tried to attack me, I wouldn’t be able to properly defend myself! And this one if too important for navigating, I NEED to get one of these otherwise I’ll just get lost and probably die. And if I cut this one, then I definitely need to get at least one of these ones to make up for it…”
This continued for every single item on the list that Alex considered cutting. He eventually made it to the very bottom of the list, realizing that he had just talked himself into keeping the whole list for one reason or another.
“Now I know why I’m having such a hard time with this. I’m too damn paranoid to cut anything… GAH! What the hell is wrong with me!?” he thought to himself in anguish, slapping his face with both hands, absent-minded of the fact that he was still holding a burger in his right hand. “Way to go there dumbass…” he continued, removing the pieces of his burger he accidentally slapped onto his face while putting them back into their bun.
“All right, let’s try this from a different angle…” he thought to himself. “Let’s look at the stuff you actually did manage to get so far and see if you can use them in place of any of the things you haven’t gotten yet…” As Alex attempted to figure out some creative uses for the small portion of his list that he did complete, he found himself once again having difficulty concentrating. Though this time, it was being brought about by an external source.
The source of distraction was a conversation coming from a neighboring booth. Alex was about to get angrily incredulous at the fact that people were choosing to sit so close to him, while simultaneously being loud enough for him to actually be able to hear what they were talking about, before he noticed just who was talking. The two woman from earlier, whether knowingly or not, had decided to eat their lunch within earshot of Alex. Not wanting the two of them to notice him if they hadn’t already, Alex kept his eyes forward on his list while he continued eating, to avoid bringing attention to the fact that he was listening in on their conversation.
“So how’s the job hunt been going?” the woman with glasses asked.
“Ugh… not so good…” the other woman replied with a dejected tone.
“Have you actually been looking at places to apply to?”
“I.. I have! It’s… just hard you know? I don’t know this town too well, so I don’t really know too many places that I should even be applying to…” she replied again in a slightly defensive tone.
“I can buy you a newspaper with some job listings.” the bespectacled woman shot back bluntly, in a tone indicating that she didn’t want to have to listen to excuses.
“Well, it’s not just that I don’t know where to apply… There’s also the fact that I don’t really know a lot of what I should be putting down on the applications…”
“You put in what the form tells you to put in. It’s not hard.”
“I know that! I meant in regards to the whole… situation… with my identity…”
“I gave you an identity didn’t I? Just put down what I gave you and you should be fine.”
That last bit of the conversation mildly piqued Alex’s interest, as he began to wonder just what she meant by that. “Is she like… in witness protection, or something like that…? Or maybe she’s actually a criminal…” he thought to himself. As the two women kept talking, Alex took another glance at the woman who had accidentally touched his hand, sure that the two of them were too distracted to notice him watching them.
While Alex made no new observations about the woman’s appearance, he did notice something else that certainly caught his eye that he was surprised he didn’t notice when the two first sat down. The two of them had ordered an exceedingly large amount of food; far more than two men would normally eat, much less two women. Alex counted at least six burgers alone from where he was sitting, though there could easily have been more, not to mention various orders of French fries and chicken nuggets. All of the food had been unwrapped with the clear intent to be eaten there in the restaurant. What surprised Alex even more though, was the fact that all of the food was being eaten by the woman he was specifically watching. The woman with glasses that sat across from her had not taken a single bite of anything.
“Holy shit! Is she going to eat that all by herself!?” Alex exclaimed in his head. He was mesmerized by the speed of which she was eating the food while still being able to hold a conversation. The woman she was talking with seemed completely un-phased by her eating, like she had seen her do so before, and that amount of food was in some way normal. What was probably the most impressive thing for Alex was how seemingly gracefully she was eating her food. She was taking concise bites, not taking off any more than necessary so that she could chew through efficiently without making a mess of herself by spilling food bits everywhere like one would expect with that kind of volume of food. Her chewing was perhaps more impressive, as she was so quick and quiet about it, it almost seemed like the food was merely disappearing the second it went into her mouth, allowing her to hold her side of the conversation with minimal interruptions.
“Where the hell is she putting all of that?” he continued to wonder. “I can tell she has some meat to her, but I don’t see a single bit of real fat on her body… Well aside from her boobs that is… Heh, maybe that’s why they’re so big, because it’s the only place the fat will go…” His mind continued to wander on just what exactly the situation was with her. “Maybe she eats that much because she’s some kind of body builder…? Looking at her build and hair color, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was Slavic. Slavic girls can get pretty big can’t they? Maybe she’s in the country illegally, for one reason or another, and that’s why she has an issue with her identity…” Alex eventually settled on this idea, though figured it still wasn’t entirely correct, based off of the fact that the woman was speaking with no discernable accent, which seemed implausible for someone entering a country illegally. Once he settled on a backstory in his head, he realized he had completely tuned out of the conversation the two were having. Still entirely curious about the woman’s story, he resumed his eavesdropping.
“You can keep coming up with excuses all you want, but sooner or later I’m going to run out of rent money for your apartment, and you’ll have to be the one to help pick up the slack.” the woman with glasses continued. It seemed the only bits of the conversation Alex missed were them arguing over why the one woman’s current lack of employment.
“What about that guy you’re being a liaison for? Why can’t he give us some more money?” the other woman asked.
“Because he doesn’t exactly deal in any kind of money that people would accept for rent around here…” the woman with glasses answered back in an annoyed and exacerbated tone. She let out a tired sigh as she began resting the side of her head on her right hand. She then began to look listlessly off into the distance, like she was thinking about something. “…Though I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask him. He might be able to do SOMETHING to help us with our whole funding situation…” she continued on, in a far nicer tone than she had been using the entire conversation.
“…Though, I also know we would be able to get you at least an extra month’s worth of rent if we could do something about this appetite of yours…” she added on, with a small smirk on her face.
“No!” the other woman replied bluntly in a child-like cutesy tone. “If I want to get back in top form, I gotta eat as much food as I can!” she continued, shoveling an entire half of a burger into her mouth before effortlessly swallowing it like it was a cup of water.
“I know that… I just wish you weren’t so… insistent on eating being the only way to do so…” the other woman replied back, trailing off as she did, like she knew there was no way she could actually convince the other woman in a little something called moderation. A brief air of silence then fell over the two as the woman who was eating was clearly thinking something over in her head before she eventually decided to continue talking.
“You know what would really solve the money situation?” she asked, pausing as she swallowed a bite of french-fries. “…You guys finally getting around to finding someone for me to form a Pact with. I wouldn’t have to keep paying for my crappy apartment and I could just go live with them…”
“Did she just say a Pact?” Alex thought to himself in complete surprise, the phrase clearly sparking something in head as the gears in his brain began to turn.
“Uh… It’s probably best we don’t talk about something like that right now… It’s a bit too NORMAL here for that kind of talk after all…” the woman with glasses replied. Though she was using a calm tone, she was clearly not expecting the other woman to bring up something like that. “…But yeah, we’re still trying to find somebody who will work. It’s just, you know we’re working with a very small pool of potential people here… But please trust me when I say we will find you someone.”
“Are they talking about the same kind of a Pact I’m thinking of? Is she one of them…?” Alex’s mind continued to ponder the implication of her saying that word. “It would explain why she’s able to eat so much food like that. It would explain why she’s so tall. It would also explain all of those weird vibes I was getting from her! There’s just one way to be sure…” Alex reached down underneath the table of his booth with his left hand, his fist clenched tightly. He looked over to make sure the two women weren’t looking in his direction. Satisfied that they were too busy to pay him any mind, he proceeded with his little plan.
Underneath the table, away from the prying eyes of anybody in the restaurant, he began to slowly open up his clenched fist, his palm facing upward. Alex started to rest his head on his free hand and began concentrating his mind on something.
“All right. Let’s not release too much now. Send out just enough to get her attention.” he thought to himself. As he did, he slowly began to open the fist he had made underneath the table. As he opened his palm more and more, it began to give off a surreal light blue glow. And from the glow, a small wispy vapor emerged, simmering in the same ghostly blue hue.
Alex then began to swirl the vapor around in his still partially grasped hand, being careful not to open his hand completely. As he swirled it around, he used his fingers to help form and mold it as it were a piece of clay, compacting the vapor into a more dense fire-like form. In one quick motion, Alex jerked his down ever so briefly, creating a sort of spark from his hand which sent the tiny flame flying from it. He clenched his fist again, and gestured it in the direction of the women’s booth, with the flame following this direction. Using his thoughts in tandem with his subtle hand movements, he directed the flame underneath the table the two women were sitting at. Once the flame reached its destination, it quietly dispersed into the vapor it was made from, before that too disappeared into nothingness.
“Now let’s see if she was able to sense that…” Alex thought to himself. He took a sidelong glance at the younger woman, trying to observe any changes in her behavior. For a few moments of observation, there was no deviation to how she was acting. She was merely talking and eating like she had been the entire time. But then suddenly, in a brief second, Alex was able to catch something off. A small shiver had run down her spine, and her ear twitched ever so slightly. It seemed like she noticed Alex’s little trick.
“Did you feel that?” she asked.
“Feel what?” the other woman replied.
“I got, well… THAT kind of sensation again… like something was being channeled somewhere pretty close by…”
“I didn’t feel anything like that. You are more sensitive to things like that… You could just be overreacting again…”
“I guess…” the young woman said, unsure of whether or not that was the case. She briefly scanned the entire restaurant, her eyes not focusing on any one place in particular. As she began to look over to the booth where Alex was sitting, he quickly buried his head into his list so as to not draw her attention. Her gaze fixated on him for a few moments. Alex was able to feel every single second her eyes were looking in his direction, with the slightest bit of anxiety building up inside him as she did. But eventually, she returned her focus back to her own table and continued eating the rest of her food that she had been diligently working on. Believing that she had found nothing suspicious about him, Alex let out a silent sigh of relief.
“There’s no question about it. She’s definitely it.” he thought. “I need to follow her, and see if I can maybe get a chance with her when she’s by herself. I just gotta make sure she doesn’t notice me and scare her off in the process…”
And with that thought, Alex decided to make a diversion to his original plan for that day, deciding that potentially stalking the woman was a far better use of his time. He quietly sat in his booth despite having already finished his food, diligently waiting for the two women to finish theirsas well. Eventually all of the food at their table had been consumed, pretty much all by the same person, and the two began to leave the restaurant after tossing out their garbage. Alex continued to sit in his booth, merely counting down time in his head. After around 30 seconds had passed, Alex quickly gathered up his things and headed out the restaurant as well. After quickly determining which direction the two woman were heading, Alex set out and tried to match the speed the two of them were walking so as to not make it too obvious he was trying to follow them.
The two women made their way down the end of Felnor Plaza before turning onto the sidewalk of the main roads that ran parallel to it. Alex kept his cellphone in his hand so that in case anybody looked back at him, all they would see is a disinterested teenager too busy keeping his eyes glued to his phone to pay attention to the world around him. Whenever the two women would momentarily stop, he would as well, usually playing it off like he had to stop and tie his shoes, despite the fact that his shoes had no laces to speak of. Were it not for the fact that the crowds of people he tried to blend into were taking active steps to avoid being anywhere near him, he would’ve blended in perfectly. Still, regardless of that fact, Alex was able to follow the two to their destination without them being any the wiser. They ended up stopping at a bus stop a few blocks away, which eased some of the stress off of Alex having to continue following them.
“They have to take the bus too? That’s perfect!” he thought. “I was worried that I’d either have to keep following them by foot half way across the freaking city, or that they’d just end up getting into a car and driving off without any way for me to follow… With this, I can keep tailing them just by getting on the bus and there wouldn’t be a single suspicious thing about it…” Satisfied with this revelation, Alex sat down at a nearby bench as he got ready for the bus’s arrival. He noticed the two women had decided to wait just a few feet behind him, still talking with one another. Confident that noticing him at this point wouldn’t raise any suspicious from them, he decided to remain on the bench and continued to listen to what they were talking about.
“I guess I’ll stop by in a day or two to check in on you again.” the woman with glasses said. “I want you to make some kind of progress into trying to get a job; otherwise I might just start dragging you off to random places you can apply to…”
“Ugh… Why do you have to be so pushy about the job thing Angela? Wasn’t me living here in Lunaridge supposed to be only a short term thing anyways…?” the other woman replied.
“I was only going to have you relocated to another city if we couldn’t get you to blend in to Lunaridge. And considering how convenient of a location Lunaridge is for us on our end, I’d prefer not to have to send you somewhere else. So please just make it easier for all of us and try to find yourself some work. It will really make it easier for you to blend in here…”
“Guuh…” the other woman let out an exacerbated breath of air as she tried to let out a long groan. “I don’t know… I still think you guys finding someone for me to work with would be better…”
“Well, obviously we’re still looking into that as our Plan A. It’s just that you being able to support yourself here would still be a nice backup in case that takes a while…” the woman in glasses answered in an understanding, yet tired tone. It seemed like after talking about the subject with the other woman for so long, she was too drained to try to be assertive with her. She walked a couple of steps away before letting out a bit of a sigh.
“Anyways, I really should get going now. I’ve got a work thing I really should be getting on top of. Apply for some jobs, and call me when you get back to your apartment all right?” she said.
“All right, I’ll be sure to call you, and thanks for buying me lunch again.” the other woman replied. The younger woman gave a quick hug to the older one, who seemed a little bit uncomfortable at just how tightly she was being squeezed. The two then waved goodbye to each other, as the older woman continued down the sidewalk, turning the corner at the end of the block. Once she was out of view, the other woman resumed standing behind the bench Alex was sitting on, and proceeded to wait just like him.
“So she’s not even going to ride the bus with us?” Alex thought to himself. “Perfect. It’s going to make following this girl even easier, because that’s one less person I have to hide from.” Alex was rather pleased with how things had been turning out, quietly smiling to himself as he waited for the bus to arrive. “Provided her apartment isn’t too far away, it shouldn’t be much longer now before I can ‘see’ her in private…”
Aside from getting mildly irked when more people showed up and sat next to him on the bench, the rest of the wait was fairly uneventful for Alex. While he did occasionally check his phone ever few minutes to see just how long he had been waiting, for the most part Alex merely sat at the bench with a contemplative look on his face. The woman he had been following similarly did not much of anything during her wait. She mostly just paced around in a circle with her arms folding while occasionally stopping to whimsically rock back and forth on the heels of her feet, having no difficulty maintaining her balance despite wearing high heels. Alex for the most part was content with her pacing about behind him, if only because she was tall enough to shade him from the sun from her position. After about eight minutes of waiting, the bus eventually arrived, letting off a few passengers at the stop before everyone who had been waiting began to funnel into it. Alex was a little bit slow on his feet however when it came to getting on the bus, and ended up being one of the last people on.
He quickly climbed the small set of stairs onboard, with two quarters already prepared to pay for the bus fare. He quickly stashed the coins into the change receptacle before turning his attention to the main aisle of the bus. While the bus was fairly clean and well maintained, with no hint of any kind of unpleasant odor, Alex couldn’t help but let out a groan of disgust, if only because of the large concentration of other people on board with him. Though, the feeling was probably mutual, as he noticed a vast majority of the other passengers staring at him as he got on with worried looks on their faces before they diverted their gazes elsewhere. Ultimately un-phased, Alex began to make his way down the bus’s crowded aisle, stumbling over the legs of other various passengers who were sitting with their feet angled into said aisle.
“Move your damn legs you assholes! Seriously!” he thought to himself as he stumbled over a particularly unobservant man’s feet. “This is why I hate public transportation. Too many assholes who don’t give a shit about inconveniencing others…” He continued to make his way towards the back of the bus, doing his best to “accidentally” stomp onto any feet he deemed too far into the aisle. And whenever anybody would complain, he would merely respond with the most insincere sorry he could muster, having no sympathy for those who couldn’t slide just a little bit further into their seats to make it easier for the new passengers to get by.
He eventually made it to an empty seat on the right side of the bus and scooted himself in close to the window, sliding his backpack off as he did so to allow him to sit with it in his lap. As he waited for the bus to start moving, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Hey, do you want to sit on the outside seat so you don’t get as squished?” the woman he had been tailing asked him. In his apparent disgust at having to be stuck on a bus with so many other people, he had glossed over the fact that she had been following behind him the entire time. Alex looked at her and quickly remembered just how much bigger than him she was. There was no doubt in his mind she could easily sandwich him in if he remained seated by the window.
“Yeah. That’s probably a good idea” he thought. He began to shift his way out of the seat so as to allow her the window seat before he quickly realized why that might be a bad idea for his tailing plan. He then completely stopped in his tracks.
“Uh… Actually, no! I prefer sitting by the window!” he said in a half stammer, quickly shuffling back up as close to the window as he could.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t think a tiny little guy like you would be very comfortable sitting in between me and that window, especially considering you’ve also got a backpack with you…”
“I.. I said it was fine…!” he stuttered back. “… And don’t call me little…!”
“All right…” she said, as she sat down in the outside seat. She assumed a very prim and proper posture in her seat, with her legs pressed together directly in front of her, and her hands clasped together in her lap. Obviously, she was still trying to be courteous of Alex, taking up as little space as her large build would allow for. Despite this, Alex buried his head further into the window, his face pressing directly against the glass. His arms wrapped around his backpack as he began to hug it tighter and tighter, clearly getting nervous about this seating arrangement as he did his best to compress his already small frame even smaller. The woman quickly noticed the sizable gap that had formed between the two as Alex continued to uncomfortably scrunch himself up against the window.
“Are you… alright?” she asked him.
“I just don’t like other people touching me…” Alex replied. The woman gave Alex a concerned look but eventually decided it was probably better to just leave him to his own devices. Not soon after, the bus continued along its intended route. Alex kept his face in the window, trying to underplay any kind of interest he had in the woman sitting next to him, not realizing he was probably doing so to an overly suspicious degree.
“Man this sucks… But I gotta let her take the outside seat.” he began to justify to himself. “I can much more naturally just follow her off of the bus if I don’t have to let her out from the seat.” Alex used the faint reflection of the window to continue observing the woman’s behavior. For the most part, she merely sat in the same position she had assumed as when she first sat down, with her eyes diligently focused towards the front of the bus. She would occasionally make glances towards Alex, but they would rarely last more than a few seconds, and it was entirely possible she was more interested in looking out the window than similarly watching him. After a few minutes passed, Alex eased up a little bit, de-compressing from his position and filling in more of the space the woman was allowing him. He still refused to look directly at her however.
After traveling straight for a few blocks, the bus ended up making a fairly sharp turn to the left. The turn did cause some shifting around for most of the passengers, but for the most part, everyone who had been paying attention to the turn was able to brace themselves so as to stay put in their seats. Unfortunately for Alex, he had been too busy staring off in to the distance to have noticed beforehand.
As the bus turned, he was quickly jerked to his left, his scrunched up posture providing no resistance to the sudden change in direction. Before he had even realized what had just happened, Alex found his face buried into what he thought was the seat of the bus. Mildly confused, Alex turned his face upwards and ended up meeting the woman’s gaze eye to eye. Something clicked in his brain, and then he finally realized he had just landed face first into her lap. While her chest obscured most of his view of her, Alex could still make out a wide-eyed expression on her face. The two of them sat like that for almost 15 seconds before Alex, eyes quickly dilated, suddenly realizing the potential implications of what just happened.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH MOVE BACK! MOVE BACK YOU IDIOT!” he screamed internally to himself. He instantly snapped back to the position he had glued up against the window, doing his best to play it off like that bit of potential sexual harassment didn’t just happen. He once again used the window’s reflection to determine just how annoyed the woman had gotten from that unintended bit of face planting. Much to Alex’s surprise, the woman didn’t seem angry or annoyed. She merely responded with a light, yet hardy chuckle with a smile plastered on her face.
“Are you okay there?” she asked him, still partially laughing. “I guess I should’ve warned you we were about to make a sharp turn, huh?”
“IT’S FINE! I’M FINE! IT’S ALL FINE!” Alex rapidly yammered out. Feeling that his face was becoming as flush red as his eyes in embarrassment, Alex wedged his head down in between the corner of the window and the seat in front of him. “Ughhhhhhhhh… Why did I have to land face first into her lap!?” he thought to himself. “It’s so stupid! LIKE absolutely retarded! And it’s going to make me look even more suspicious if I try to follow her now! There’s no way she wouldn’t notice the guy who just had his face in her crotch!” Alex, very visibly mortified, continued the downward spiral in his head, cursing his rotten luck.
“Hey, this might sound like a dumb question, but… your eyes… is that natural, or do you just wear contacts?” the woman asked Alex.
“…What…? My eyes…?” Alex responded, looking at her in confusion while feeling around his right eye with his hand.
“Their color I mean. I’ve never seen someone who had red eyes before. I wanted to know if that was because you were wearing colored contacts or not.” she continued. Alex was used to people freaking out whenever they got a close look at his eyes, so when she asked him with such earnest fascination, he wasn’t quite sure how to responded.
“Um… Why does it matter!? And why are you asking a total stranger such personal questions anyways!?” Alex eventually responded defensively.
“Sorry… I just figured it was only fair considering where you just had your head!” she said in a jovial tone. Her laughter continued to embarrass Alex, putting him further on the defensive.
“Look, they’re naturally like that, okay!? Now can you just leave me alone!?” he replied in a frustrated tone.
“…Sorry. I was just really curious. I’ll… I’ll leave you alone…” she said in a dejectedly sad tone.
“Why the hell did she want to know whether or not my eyes are actually red!?” Alex thought. “I mean, most people take one look at my eyes and think I’m some kind of a vampire or something… Why is she so interested in them…?” Alex’s mind continued to wander before he remembered the reason why he decided to follow the woman in the first place. “Oh yeah… That’s right. I probably don’t freak her out because she’s not like the rest of these people…”
The bus continued its route through a tunnel, darkening its interior. For the most part, the only real source of light was coming from the lights installed into the tunnel’s sides, though Alex could make out another source of light from the window’s reflection. The orb the woman had been wearing around her neck was glowing rather brightly in the dark. Realizing this, she quickly covered her neck with her hand so to not draw attention to it. Alex acted like he didn’t see anything, but seeing the necklace glow in the dark reignited his initial interest in it. He opened his mouth to ask her what the deal was with her necklace, but ultimately ended up stopping himself.
“…I mean, there’s probably no harm in asking…” he thought. “But I did just blow her off about my eyes…” He paused to himself as his mind began to drift to a different subject. “I know I was going to wait until I was alone with her… But maybe I should just go for it right now… I mean, what’s the worst that could happen…?”
Alex took a deep breath through his nose, slowly lifting his head up to face the woman. He looked over, expecting to see the same face he had familiarized himself with up to this point, but something caused him to hesitate. Due to the low lighting of the tunnel, he couldn’t make out the clear details of her face anymore, only a vague silhouette of it. Viewing her in the dark like that made her face look far more sinister. Nothing about her face had actually changed. But, without his ability to see the gentle look of her eyes, she appeared far more ominous to Alex for a reason he couldn’t put his finger on. A sense of dread began to well up in his stomach, as something about this woman being in the dark terrified him.
“What if she says no when I ask? Who’s to say she wouldn’t react in some kind of crazy way…? I… I don’t actually know what she’s capable of… If… if she did take it the wrong way, I would want a way out just in case… I should just… wait to talk to her at her apartment…” Alex eventually decided that asking whatever he was planning on asking could wait until after they had both gotten off the bus. Though far more uneasy about the prospect of continuing to follow the woman to her apartment, Alex was still determined to go through with it.
“Even if I don’t go through with asking her, I should at least figure out where she lives. That way, if I ever build up the nerve to do so, I can still follow through later…” he thought to himself. Eventually, the bus cleared the tunnel, with daylight seeping back in through the windows. The woman uncovered her neck now that her necklace would stop glowing. Alex looked over to her on more time. Now that he could once again make out the welcoming look of her eyes again, he felt a lot calmer about her.
“The dark definitely changes her. Maybe the dark reveals her true nature…” he surmised in his head. He promptly returned to gazing out the window for the remainder of his ride on the bus. Eventually, the bus’s movements temporarily halted as it approached the next stop on its route. Alex felt the seat shift as the woman sitting with him prepared to stand up, indicating to him that this was her stop. He began to get ready to stand up as well before he realized it would be easier to follow her unnoticed if she didn’t know he was getting off at the same time as her. So when she finally stood up to make her way off of the bus, Alex pretended to stay behind and fiddle with his backpack. Only once he was sure every other person who was getting off at the stop had begun to head off the bus as well did he stand up to make his way off. Unfortunately for Alex, his precautions ultimately turned out to be completely pointless, as the woman immediately noticed him getting off the bus. Apparently she had also decided to linger around a bit herself.
“Oh, so you get off here too huh?” she asked him. While there was nothing confrontational about the way she talked to him, Alex couldn’t help but feel she might be onto him. A voice in the back of Alex’s head was telling him to bail and jump back onto the bus before it left again, but he decided to just stand his ground.
“…Y-yeah… You got a problem with that!?” Alex tried to sound as stand-offish as he could in hopes she would get uncomfortable and keep walking. The woman however, remained un-phased.
“Well it could just be that I’m paranoid… but I feel like I’ve been seeing you around a lot today…” she replied, stepping in extremely close to Alex. As she got closer, she began to hunch over a bit, so that her face was level with Alex’s. “Are you sure you haven’t been intentionally following me…?” she said, eyes closed, with a big grin on her face. The tone of her voice was just as friendly as ever, but her getting in Alex’s face directly like that only put him more on edge. She was definitely on to him. Alex did his best to keep all of his panicking internal, and replied in as calm and collected manner as he could.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about lady. It’s probably just one big coincidence that we’ve been going to the same places. If you think otherwise, then you probably are paranoid…” he answered in an even collected tone, trying to sound as disinterested as he possibly could.
“Oh really? Well, where are you going from here?” she asked inquisitively.
“Well… I don’t think it’s any of your business, but if you’re going to suspect me as some kind of STALKER, I’ll have you know that I’m going to meet someone at their apartment near here…” In an attempt to make his story sound more believable to her, he decided to inter-splice it with his true intentions, hoping she wouldn’t catch on.
“Which apartment building is it?” she continued to drill him.
“…It’s uh… one of the ones on this street… I think… I don’t know. I haven’t actually been there before…” he said, less confident with his response.
“Sounds like you don’t quite know where it is. You DO have an address for it right…? Maybe I can point you in the right direction… I mean, if it’s a real place that it…”
Alex wasn’t familiar enough with this part of Lunaridge to bluff an address. “FUCK. What do I say now…? I don’t know how well she knows this area! If I fake an address, she might be able to figure out I’m lying!” he panicked to himself. His mind quickly tried to brainstorm a way around having to give an answer.
“I uh… Have it written down somewhere…” he said, pretending to reach into his pockets. “Now… where is it…” He continued to root around in his pockets, acting like he was searching for an address that wasn’t there. “Oh no… please don’t tell me… I… I had it with me on the bus…” Alex said, quickly emulating an increasingly stressed out tone. “Don’t tell me I left it on the bus…!” Just as he said that, the bus they had just gotten off of began moving once again, and started speeding off down the street.
“NO! I’m such an idiot! I did! I did leave it on the bus! Now I don’t where I’m supposed to go! Wh-what am I supposed to do now!?” he said, mustering up as much fake anguish as he could. He then proceeded to fake shivering in fear. “They’re going to kill me if I’m late…! I KNOW I won’t be able to handle that…!” he blurted out. He could see the woman visibly start to get more concerned.
“Holy crap… Is she actually buying this…!?” he thought to himself. “Maybe if I get her to feel bad enough for me, she’ll no longer be suspicious of me…!” He then proceeded to really sell his act, mustering up all of the negative emotions he could to force himself into actually crying. Tears began to visibly drip down his face. He was ready to start bawling his eyes out before the woman came in and stopped him.
“Hey, hey! You don’t need to start crying! You didn’t actually lose anything on the bus!” she said, trying her best to talk to him in a soothing tone.
“Wh-what…?” Alex muttered, fighting back his fake tears. “What the hell is she talking about…?” he thought to himself. The woman reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a very familiar looking sketchpad. It was the very same sketchpad Alex had had with him in Felnor Plaza.
“When you were getting to your seat, I thought I saw something fall out of your pocket when you were stumbling over those people on the bus. I wasn’t 100% sure though, so I didn’t say anything at first. But then I saw it on the ground again as I was getting off and realized that was probably what you dropped… It has a bunch of addresses written in it, so I figured that’s what you were looking for right…?” As she handed back the sketchpad, she did so with a remorseful yet simultaneously understanding look on her face. Alex stared at the sketchpad, completely dumbfounded. He didn’t even realize it had been missing the entire time he was on the bus. After staring at it for a few seconds, all he could muster was a very confused thanks.
“That’s why I was waiting around here at the bus stop, so that I could give it to you.” she continued, reaching her arm out to pat him on the shoulder. She then used her free hand and used it to wipe the tears that were still on his face. “I’m also really sorry about accusing you of stalking me… I was just trying to tease you before I gave it back to you… Looking at you right now, I should’ve realized you’re probably one of those kids who gets teased enough as is… I didn’t know how important to you that sketchpad was… I should’ve just given it back to you immediately…”
Alex stood there for a couple of seconds, holding onto the sketchpad firmly with both hands. While he did overplay its apparent importance, it was still something he would’ve been very upset about had he actually lost it. Alex found himself completely blindsided by the woman’s kindness and understanding. Even if it had been based around a false pretense, it was a sort of kindness he felt like he hadn’t experienced in a long time. The feeling felt so alien to him at that point that he had no idea how to respond to her. Entirely unsure of what to do, his brain defaulted to his typical grumpy attitude, something which was probably not the best fit for the current situation he was in.
“You think!? That’s a pretty dick move you pulled there! I have enough issues as is! I shouldn’t have to deal with some random ass hoe getting so full of them self that they think that just because I’m going in the same general direction as them that I’m stalking them!” Alex’s natural reflexes kicked in, as he began chewing the woman out while the voice in his head was doing the same to him. “What the hell are you doing you fucking idiot!? She just finished being nice too you! Now would’ve been the perfect time to ask her! You’re just completely ruining your chances here you fat fucking retard!” The woman merely sat there with a completely surprised expression on her face as Alex unloaded his tirade onto her.
“I don’t need this right now! I’ve still got to meet up with someone I don’t even know that well to talk about something I’ve been dreading for months, and you being ‘nice’ to me like that is only making my anxiety worse!” he continued, making air quotes as he said nice.
“I said I was sorry!” the woman replied, now finding herself on the defensive. “Look, if you tell me the address of the building, I can probably point you in the right direction so you won’t be late…”
“No thanks. I’ll find it on my own!” Alex said, walking off from the bus stop in a huff. Once he was a fair distance away, he pretended to look over his sketchpad to compare it to the nearby street addresses, while secretly using it as an opportunity to observe the woman. He glanced behind him to see her looking on, utterly confused, before she eventually just shrugged her shoulders and walked off in the other direction. Once he was sure she was out of view, he quickly turned back around and continued to follow her.
“Way to go moron. Because you had to be such a ‘tard, now it’s going to be EVEN harder playing it off if she notices you again!” he thought to himself as he continued tailing the woman. In comparison to when he first started following her from the restaurant, Alex decided to be far more overtly stealthy in his approach. He took care to duck into nearby alleyways, or remain hidden behind any trees he passed so as to stay completely out her view. While this behavior was incredibly suspicious, and he was frequently observed by various other pedestrians as he walked by, they thankfully payed little mind to his behavior. Though he was pretty clumsy overall at remaining hidden from her view, it ultimately seemed like the woman never noticed Alex had continued to follow her. Eventually, the woman turned into the lobby of a fairly ramshackle building, Alex surmising it was probably her apartment building.
“Ugh… This is where she lives? It’s only a few steps up from being a shithole…” he thought to himself as he stood outside, staring up at the entire building. The apartment was about five stories tall, with a small film of dirt forming over the entire front of the building. The various front facing windows of the complex appeared to be equally as grimy, as if the building’s tenants didn’t care at all about being able to view the world outside, though, given the state of most of the other buildings on the street, they probably weren’t missing much. Though, at least the building appeared completely intact, with no signs of any structural damage or vandalism. The place just seemed like its landlord was teetering on the cusp of no longer giving a crap about its state. Given the conversation he had eavesdropped on between the woman and her friend, Alex figured the building was the perfect place for someone like her to lay low.
After examining the outside of the building for a few moments, he decided it was probably more just dirty than dangerous, and figured it was safe for him to go inside. As he was about to head in however, he could see the woman still standing in the lobby through the entrance’s glass door. She was standing in front of a wall of small square lockers, most likely serving as mailboxes for the building’s tenants. She had already opened hers and was in the process of disinterestedly looking over a stack of envelopes that was most likely junk mail. After she was done going through the entire stack, she quickly jammed the entire set of envelopes into the pocket of her jacket before shutting the locker door behind her and disappearing up a flight of nearby stairs. Once Alex was sure she was out of sight, he quickly stepped inside the building’s lobby and approached the wall of lockers. Taking out his sketchpad, he took a note of her locker number in addition to the building’s address before stepping back outside.
“After my confrontation with her, I think this is probably good enough for today…” he thought to himself as he stood just outside the building’s entrance. He unzipped the main compartment of his backpack and stashed his sketchpad in there, determined not to lose track of it again. “Now that I know where she lives, I can always come by at another time… Maybe I can play off visiting her apartment as if I was coming to apologize to her directly for going off on her…” Alex continued to think about his future plans as he was about to make the trek back to the bus stop before he noticed something else that gave him pause.
The sound of metal and glass rattling could be heard from the alleyway to the side of the building. Curious about the source of the noise, Alex decided to take a detour back there and investigate. As he went down the entire length of the building, he rounded the corner to the back of the building before his path was blocked by a chain link fence. He could tell the source of the sound was on the other side of the fence, but due to his inability to climb over the fence, Alex was unable to proceed any further. Before he decided to turn around however, he heard a very gruff and raspy male voice talking to someone.
“Alright, we’re pretty sure the target is here. You two stay out here and watch the exits. The two of us will go inside and try to flush her out.” the voice said. Alex couldn’t see anyone, but as soon as the voice was done talking, he heard a series of metal clunking echoing up the side of the building. It sounded like two people climbing up the fire escape.
“Target…?” Alex thought to himself. “Don’t tell me…!” Another pit formed in Alex’s stomach as he realized they were probably targeting the woman he had been following. Alex began to breathe in deeply through his nose, like he was trying to sense something. As he finished inhaling, he felt a dark chill running down his spine. Whatever the source of the voice was, he could tell one thing: everyone who was hiding beyond the fence was not human.
“SHIT! When I thought she might’ve been in witness protection, it didn’t occur to me she was probably hiding from people like that!” Alex immediately turned around and began running out of the alleyway. “She could end up being my only chance at this! I just need to flat out tell her what my intentions are and warn her!”
He quickened his pace and headed for the building’s front door, swinging it open as fast he could. He then quickly booked it to the first set of stairs he could find. While his initial pace had been very quick, he began to seriously slow down as he attempted to rush up two flights of stairs. He quickly found himself winded as he reached his destination on the third floor. Though he felt the need to catch his breath, Alex powered on through the third floor hallway, determined to reach the woman before the people outside did. The hall formed an L-shape, with the first half of the hallway only having rooms on one side, with grimy windows taking up the opposite side. The hallway’s set up made it easy for Alex in his weary state to quickly verify that none of the rooms before the bend in the hallway was the one he was looking for.
As he was about to turn the corridor to the next part of the floor, he passed by a supply closet just at the corner. Were he not in such a hurry, he probably would’ve noticed the door to said closet had been hanging open ever so slightly. Alex didn’t notice this little detail however and as a result was quickly grabbed by whoever had been hiding inside as soon as he passed the door. Because he had been winded from his climb up the building, he was too out of breath to fight back as he found himself getting dragged inside by his backpack.
Having been pulled back with such force, Alex suddenly found himself getting flipped over backwards, crashing to the floor on his back, with his backpack unable to cushion the blow as it had been pulled off in the process. The sudden impact of hitting the floor knocked any breath he had remaining out. Coughing and wheezing, Alex tried to orientate himself as best he could but could barely make out any of what had just happened. The one source of light coming into the cramped room from the open doorway was suddenly extinguished as the closet door slammed shut, seemingly on its own. Alex couldn’t make out what had closed it as he desperately scrambled to get onto his feet. Still lacking proper air, he could only manage to make it onto his knees before he once again felt something come up and grab him.
Suddenly, two strong arms reached out and began to put Alex into a chokehold. The grip was tight, but not so tight as to stop him from being able to reclaim some of the air he just had knocked out of him. He then felt himself being leaned back slightly as whoever was holding him effortlessly lifted him off of his feet. Alex tried to struggle out of the chokehold, but was too weakened to lessen his attacker’s grip. He desperately grasped at his assailant’s arms, tugging at the sleeves of their clothing. As he continued to struggle, Alex found himself being pulled in closer toward his attacker, the hold of one of their arms shifting lower towards his chest to prevent his weak arms from moving. He suddenly felt an immense pressure on the back of his neck, as he felt like he was getting crushed against the assailant’s chest. In his panic, it took him a bit to realize just what was pressing against his neck, until he realized just how soft it actually felt. He then quickly deduced what had just happened: the woman he had been following since lunch had just put him into a chokehold.
“GAHHHH! I knew it! These damn knockers of hers can totally kill a man!” he thought to himself in anguish. While her chest did feel nice and soft on the back of his head, Alex could still feel the sheer muscular power behind them exerting more and more pressure on him, slowly smothering him into unconsciousness.
“So this is what you meant when you said you didn’t know where the apartment was!” she shouted at Alex in a deeper and far more aggressive voice than she had been using before, doing her best to angle Alex so as to stop him from being able to flail his legs as she did so.
“So I’m just being paranoid huh? That it was wrong to tease you just because it was just a coincidence you were going exactly where I was going? I just thought you were a harmless, if a little grumpy kid. I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt… But wouldn’t you know it? You actually are the stalker creep I accused you of! ” The woman continued to berate Alex, getting more and more irritated as she went on.
“You think it’s a good look? Spending your entire day just stalking a woman? I would’ve liked to think you were just too socially awkward or something to realize what you were doing was so messed up… But the way you so effortlessly played the victim when I called you out, makes me think you have a LOT of experience pulling crap like this!” Her hold on Alex got tighter and tighter. He tried to muster all of the energy he could to say something to get her to ease up on him, but he had so little air at that point that all that he could let out were a few wheezes.
“Damn it woman! Just give me a chance to explain myself!” he thought, wishing desperately that she would somehow be able to hear what he was thinking. “I wasn’t trying to do anything nefarious!”
“So why’d you do it!? Did someone put you up to this!? Did someone tell you to follow me all day because they figured I would’ve given a little kid like you a free pass!? Is that it, huh!?” she continued to grill Alex.
“No, you’ve got it all wrong! I followed you of my own accord because I just wanted to ask you something…!” Alex desperately screamed in his head.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself kid!? DO YOU!?” She squeezed her arm around Alex’s torso so tight; he could feel his stomach being churned as she flatten it with her raw strength. Alex tried desperately to say something, but whether intentionally or not, the woman had him in such a hold that he couldn’t get enough air to properly speak. All he could do was let out a long grunt of pain through his grit teeth.
“What? You’ve got nothing at all to say!? Should I take your silence as an admission of guilt?” She moved both of her arms across Alex’s neck and began apply pressure. Alex continued to grunt and groan in pain as he could feel his consciousness literally being squeezed out of him. “If that’s the case, say good night kid!”
“Damn it! Did she not realize she knocked all of the wind out of me when she first dragged me in here!? She hasn’t given me a single opportunity to catch my breath! How the hell does she expect me to say anything if she won’t even let up a little bit!?” Alex continued to feel light headed as more and more pressure was being applied to his throat. “She’s definitely trying to knock me unconscious…! But the question is, what does she intend to do after she knocks me out…!? I’ve got to get her to stop, and fast!”
Alex’s mind began to rush for any kind of solution he could think of, anything at all to get the woman to ease up her grip on him. He thought about the fact that his hands were no longer being pinned down. But try as he might, he was becoming too faint to move them. And the same could be said for his legs. He thought to maybe try biting her arms to loosen her grip, but that too was something he could not do, as his head was being squeezed too tightly for him to even get his mouth open. He could feel his cheeks begin to swell, his eyes begin to bug out, and sweat running all over his face. He was going to pass out at any second. As the world around him began to turn black, something awoke inside his head. An incredibly strong, almost primal force kicked in, and encouraged Alex to try one more desperate attempt to escape.
“Come on Alex… What have these past two months of preparation been for if not for an exact situation like this!? If you can’t do anything physically to escape… do something magical instead! Isn’t that how you learned how to deal with her kind!?” With his mind slipping from him, Alex pulled together all of the will power he could muster and focused his brain. Focused it on just one thing, and one thing only. He began to reach out with all of his senses into his surroundings, desperately trying to find something. After a few brief moments of searching, he found exactly what he was looking for: his backpack that had been tossed aside onto the floor. He focused his mind as best as he could muster, his sheer force of will screaming throughout his entire consciousness. With one focused, desperate thought, his backpack opened. The tome he had been carrying with him all day began to float out, following the inexact thoughts Alex could pull together in his last moments of consciousness. The woman seemed to notice something strange had been going on behind her, as for just a brief moment, Alex could feel her lessen her grip on him as she turned her head around. In that brief moment of weakness, Alex made his move.
A surge of energy churned through Alex’s entire body, as his mind prepared for his course of attack. Alex gathered all the power he could, rallying one decisive order to be delivered in that exact moment. With one last thought, he commanded the floating tome to fly forward, smashing into the side of the woman’s face before quickly dropping back down to the floor. As the heavy surface of the tome’s cover hit her in the face, a painful jolt went through her entire body. The shock of this surprise attack caught the woman completely off guard, loosening her grip on Alex even further. Alex wasted no time, pushing the woman’s arms off of him, completely freeing him of her grip. He then promptly fell on to the floor, face first, desperately gasping for air.
“What the heck was that…?” the woman asked in confusion, rubbing her face where the tome had hit her. Wasting no time, Alex got to his feet, though, because he was still exhausted and breathless, the best he could manage was to lumber into a standing slouch. Despite a bit of dizziness and disorientation, Alex did his best to turn around and face his attacker directly.
“What the hell… IS WRONG WITH YOU!?” Alex shouted, still short on breath. “You put me into a freaking chokehold and don’t even allow me enough air so that I can talk and explain myself! I mean, seriously… WHO DOES THAT!?”
“Fair enough…” the woman bluntly replied. She then quickly moved forward, before Alex had a chance to react. She immediately grabbed him with both hands by the base of his hood and lifted him up against the closet door. His brief moment of triumph quickly thwarted.
“There, you should be able to talk just fine like that. Now… Why the hell have you been following me since this morning!?” she asked, shaking Alex as she did so, causing the back of his head to repeatedly bump against the door.
“…This morning? What are you talking about!? I’ve only been following you since lunch, when we both happened to coincidentally eat at the same restaurant! And… I was only following you because I wanted to ask you a question I was too nervous to ask you around other people…” Alex replied, trailing off with his last statement.
“…A question you were too nervous to ask me around other people …?” The woman began to process Alex’s last statement. After a brief pause, Alex could just barely make out her turning red as her eyes also began to widen. She then quickly let go of Alex’s hood, dropping him suddenly to the ground, as she turned around and buried her face into her hands. “Ooooooh… Don’t tell me THAT’S the reason why you were following me…! Why didn’t I see that as a possibility!? Ugh…. I REALLY AM TOO PARANOID!” she began to shout in embarrassment.
“Um… I think you’re getting the wrong idea here… again…” Alex replied bluntly, staring at her as she started to flail about in shame.
“I can’t believe I just attacked you like that… I mean, it all makes sense too…! Of course you wouldn’t be confident enough to do it in front of other people! It must be hard enough as is for a nerdy geek like you to just go up and ask a girl out…!” she continued, her voice noticeably reverting back to the gentler tone she had been using up until that point.
“Excuse me…!? That’s not what I was going to ask you…!” Alex interjected, feeling a bit insulted by the woman’s assessment of him. She of course, was too focused on her own train of thought to acknowledge him.
“But wait… You said you’ve only been following me since lunch… That can’t be right. I know it felt like somebody has been stalking me since at least 9:00 this morning…” she pondered aloud to herself.
“I just said it wasn’t me! Are you even trying to listen to me lady…!?” Alex blurted out in increasing frustration.
“…You sure…? I mean, I can definitely still feel the presence I felt this morning right now. It kinda put me on edge. It’s why I grabbed you in the first place… You’re saying that wasn’t you at all?”
“Yes! It wasn’t… me…” Alex replied at first in extreme annoyance before he was quickly reminded just why he rushed to find her apartment in the first place. He immediately started to panic, grabbing his tome from off the floor and stuffing it in his backpack before securing it back onto his back.
“Why are you freaking out again?” she asked, curious about Alex’s sudden hurry to gather his things.
“Because I just remembered the reason why I was in such a hurry to track you down in the first place! I was trying to warn you!”
“Warn me about what…?”
“When you were talking with your friend at the bus stop, I overheard you two talking about Lunaridge as a place for you to lay low. Like people were after you… Well, I just heard about four people talking in the back alley of this building… I didn’t see what they looked like, but it sounded like they were hunting you down!”
“WHAT!? Are you serious!?” she replied, grabbing onto Alex’s hood again in concern.
“Yeah. I sensed their presence as well. It felt like they were Spirits, just like you…!” As Alex said that, the woman’s eyes widen greatly. She didn’t expect Alex to have figured out her true nature as something beyond a human.
“You… can tell that I’m actually a Spirit…?” the woman looked at Alex in disbelief. “I thought you were just a normal human but, thinking about it… it makes sense considering the kind of energy I’m sensing from you…” She was ready to continue on that train of thought before the concerned look in Alex’s eyes caused her to snap back to the more pertinent matter at hand.
“Wait…! Why am I thinking about that at a time like this!? If someone is trying to hunt me down, we need to get out of here for the time being…!”
“We… As in, the both of us…?” Alex asked in a concerned voice.
“Yes. If they are other Spirits, they might be able to detect that you’ve been in contact with me. If that’s the case, you can be in danger as well!”
“What!? I didn’t sign up for something like this…!” he exclaimed, as the woman grabbed his hand. She then opened the closet door as she begun to lead him along with her.
“Consider it a bit of recompense then for so shamelessly stalking me and then LYING about it. Now come on, I have a place worked out already where we can hide in this exact kind of situation…!” she replied, continuing to pull Alex along by the hand.
Just as she was about to round the corner with him however, the two of them are halted in their tracks by the sound of a nearby window being smashed into. The duo quickly turned around and focused their attention on the source of the sound at the other end of the hall. Somebody had just jumped through one of the windows and was staring down the two. Almost as soon as he had jumped into the building, the woman instinctively pushed Alex behind her to shield him from the intruder. As a result, Alex didn’t get too good of a look at them, but as soon as he started speaking, Alex could tell it was the same man he had heard outside.
“Well look what we’ve got here. There were a lot of rooms in this building… Didn’t think it’d be this quick to flush you out, Kitsiyuna…” he said, his harsh taunting voice sending chills down Alex’s spine.
“So her name’s Kitsiyuna…? Glad I finally know what to call her…” Alex thought to himself. “…That is a pretty weird name. Definitely sounds like a name a Spirit would have. So why does it sound like I’ve heard it somewhere else before…?”
“Who the hell are you? What do you even want with me…?” Kitsiyuna asked.
“…I’m just a simple bounty hunter.” the man replied. “Somebody with a lot of cash payed us a lot of money to get you, and like a good bounty hunter, I intend to collect!” Alex peered out from behind Kitsiyuna to get a better look at the bounty hunter. He noticed the bounty hunter reaching his right arm down for something by his waist. In a split second, Alex realized exactly what he was reaching for and quickly hid back behind Kitsiyuna.
The bounty hunter had pulled a revolver out from its holster, and started aiming it directly at the two of them.