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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Elena Williamson was born with white hair, which meant only one thing - on her 19th birthday she would become a fated protagonist. Elena, herself, couldn't have cared less of this and just wanted to live her life normally. To help her keep magical creatures and her fated adventures away, her father gave Elena a bodyguard A or R as a birthday present. However, when A or R gets a fatal curse Elena is forced to go on a trip with her magical, flamboyant antagonist Loid to save him. She’s forced not only to jump into the shoes of a protagonist, but also trust Loid and go with him to the lands beyond human world - the magical lands which are dangerous for any human. Their journey starts now.

Based on my webcomic ARE ar arecomics.tumblr.com
Cover art by Avaruuskala
Proofreading by Katarone (who really saves my behind)

Submitted: August 27, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 27, 2016

A A A

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Chapter 1; The beginning of your unwanted story
 

 

When Elena Williamson was 19 years old, she wished nothing more than to concentrate on her law studies because she had just recently started in a very renowned university. What she did get, on top of the studies that is, was a destiny of a protagonist due to her natural white hair she had been born with. When you were born with white hair your destiny was to become a protagonist at the age of 19, whether you wanted it or not. And Elena didn’t want. Absolutely not. She couldn’t have been any less interested in magical stories, fairy Godmothers, Prince Charmings or other magical creatures, which lurked just behind the corner like a bad smell you weren’t able to run away from. She wanted to be like any other normal young woman with absolutely nothing to do with anything unearthly or unusual.

To help Elena to live her life as she saw the best, her father had given Elena a special birthday present on her destined 19th birthday, a bodyguard. A or R, a tall and lively punk guy with a wild red mane and an undercut, long braids hanging behind his earring-covered ears - and with way too skinny jeans - had been introduced to Elena as someone who would make sure the Prince Charmings or Peter Pans wouldn’t get too close to Elena or else they would be greeted with one of the bullets from A or R’s wide firearm selection. Her father had also given Elena an envelope, stating that she should open it when the time was right. When Elena had asked when the right time for that would be, her father had simply smiled lovingly with his eyes and said “Eleanor, my darling, you will know when it happens.” So far Elena had kept the brown, big envelope in her night stand’s drawer, pondering if she could really tell the right time and how she would be able to tell when the time was right. She asked also A or R’s opinion of the matter, but the bodyguard just ruffled her white hair and grinned saying it was up to Elena. It had felt somewhat odd to Elena that he was so casually playful around his new boss, but she didn’t say any word of this to A or R.

Another thing Elena kept asking from A or R was his name and boy, did it end up being a one tough question. He kept constantly changing his name, introducing himself first as A, and when Elena called him by that name, he laughed heartily and told her there were no one named A here, but he was R. And again, if she called him R he grinned saying the name was A. At one point Elena got frustrated with his jokes, feeling that the punk was just humoring himself with her expense, and simply demanded to know his name. His face had gotten stern, brows knitting together into a thoughtful expression, but then he had relaxed, chuckling, and noted with a wave of his palm that his name wasn’t important and if it bothered Elena, she could name him. Elena had wanted to insist that she would be happy to know his real name, but some strange gut feeling rising from her stomach had told her not to do that. Thus, Elena had named her bodyguard simply as A or R – and he seemed content with that name.

At the beginning of A or R’s arrival into her life, Elena was a bit timid of the idea of having an unknown person staying in her home, but she really couldn’t be left alone for long periods of time due the onslaught of her story trying to kick in. She worried she would feel herself being constantly watched. Worried that what if she didn’t come along with the bodyguard at all. Worried if anything was going to work out at all. However, over time Elena got used to A or R’s constant presence in her father’s mansion, and she was actually very happy to have someone around the house. Her father was way too busy with his businesses to stay over in his own home and the huge building felt too quiet without any company. Plus, having someone to talk to and share her troubles with, someone who understood the difficulties of being a fated protagonist, was only an extra. A or R was there when her law studies in the university got too demanding, feeding her with his home-made ice creams, which Elena learned soon to adore. He was there when boyfriend troubles came crashing down and the sensation of being single grew too heavy on Elena and she needed a shoulder to cry on or just a hug. He stayed next to her bed on full moon nights, when Elena’s worst fears, the werewolves, were on a move, keeping his favorite gun, Saiga-12, loaded with silver bullets nearby. A or R also talked lovingly about his family and fumed at Elena whenever his dating game applications didn’t work properly after an update. She never dared to ask how many of them he had in his phone.

“How long are you planning to work as my bodyguard?” Elena asked one day.

A or R lifted his head up from the fantasy book which was almost glued against his nose, and smiled from ear to ear.

“As long as needed. My contract has no expiration date.”

Elena had believed him. Had believed that A or R would indeed stay by her side, acting like her shadow, as long as she needed him there, or as long as her father wouldn’t end the contract with A or R. She understood that working as a guardian against magical creatures had its risks, but A or R was a real professional. He sniped, butchered, slaughtered and hunted the swarming fairy tale creatures with no effort whatsoever, though he refused to harm griffons, believing it would bring bad luck to anyone who injured a griffon.  Sadly, his workload was pretty much endless, as sooner or later the killed magical creatures returned, for them being immortal to the hands of men.

Despite of A or R’s education, knowledge and skills, he was still only a human, like Elena, and they both got a very grave reminder of that in one brisk October evening, when the darkness had just slowly spread over the city, leaving the orange moon hanging low in the horizon, peeking behind the gigantic skyscrapers. Perhaps it was due to the odd looking Moon, perhaps Elena herself had done something to cause the event to happen, but for whatever the reason a white dragon found its way on top of Williamson’s mansion. Elena immediately ran to A or R when she figured out that there was something definitely much, much bigger than a pigeon on the roof, just to find out that the man had already noticed that something unwanted was paying them a visit.

“I have never seen a white dragon,” Elena said with a scared voice, her hands up to her chest while she rubbed her fingers.

“White ones are rare, but not that uncommon. We had one here three or four months ago when you were sleeping,” A or R stated while loading his rifle he had pulled out from somewhere. “Stay inside. I’m going to check it out.”

“B-be careful,” Elena’s voice kept tottering.

She followed A or R’s request and stayed indoors, trying to take a peek outside from the windows in a secrecy. She didn’t see or hear anything. The evening was peaceful and quiet. Almost too quiet. She was about to go up one more floor to get closer to the roof to hear something, when A or R’s rifle’s shot broke the silence with a piercing sound, echoing in the Williamson’s garden, running through the tree branches, which slowly swung in the evening wind. After that it was quiet again, until she heard one of the balconies’ windows opening from the upstairs. Elena ran up the stairs and made it to the right balcony entrance just when A or R was closing the door.

“Did you get it?” Elena asked, stopping her heels.

“Yeah, no big deal,” A or R smirked a bit, turning to face Elena. He was still holding his rifle and standing straight, but Elena noticed immediately how something was wrong.

“What happened?” She came closer to A or R, inspecting his face with a worried look. His green eyes looked somewhat dull and a drop of sweat rolled down on A or R’s temple.

“N-Nothing, don’t worry. I just got a hit of some mist when it died. It got a bit too close for a comfort,” he chuckled Elena’s concerns off.

She wasn’t really buying his words.

“So… are you hurt? Or not?” she asked again, just to get her worried question shooed off by A or R again, with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

“Fine, I’m fine. I’m just going to take a shower,” he insisted, taking a step forward. As soon as his foot landed on the ground he staggered forward, dropping on his knee.

Elena was immediately next to his side, pulling him up.

“No, you’re not fine! Come on, tell me, what happened? Was it the mist? Can I do something? Should I call an ambulance?” She shot A or R with a flood of questions, her heart heavy with the worry that this was something bad. It was unusual for A or R to catch even a flu, and while he had some scars from encounters with an enemy, such bad luck events were very rare to him.

“Just the shower, I think it will do,” A or R croaked, getting up to his shaky, slim legs.

“You think?” Elena repeated his words with a high tone, “Don’t tell me you don’t know what that was?” she cried, suddenly horribly afraid that this wasn’t just something that could be washed away.

“I—“ he managed to reply right before his whole body went limp and crashed on the red carpet, taking Elena down with him.

“A or R!” she screamed him name, trying to wake him up.

But A or R didn’t wake up. Didn’t reply to her. Just lied on the ground unconscious, covered with sweat and his nose slowly starting to bleed from whatever he had gotten into his body.

Elena rushed to the downstairs and called an ambulance, hoping they could help A or R. Wishing that they could help him. He was still unconscious when paramedics loaded him into the ambulance and when Elena took a taxi to the hospital, asking the driver to drive there as fast as it was legal.

She knew something was so very wrong.

 

 

Elena sat down in the corner of the hospital’s front door, hiding from people’s view, yet being close enough to the entrance to storm in if she heard anything new or A or R. Good or bad, she didn’t care. She just wanted to make sure she was there for him, like he was always there for her when Elena needed him.

Elena had to admit that A or R was the best present her father, who loved to shower her with gifts, had ever gotten her. Best. Present. Ever. Her very best friend. Her pretty much only friend after the magical 19th birthday had occurred and she had started to pull magical creatures and other plot devices like a magnet into her life, scaring everyone out. Ben, an brown haired young man who loved his acoustic guitar, had understood her, being sort of a half-magical creature himself too, but if there was something Elena couldn’t do in this lifetime, it was to date a werewolf. She was too afraid of them, so Ben was a part of her life no more.

What she feared now more than the wolf monsters was the worry he wouldn’t see A or R on his feet ever again. That he wouldn’t wake up, wouldn’t open his green eyes which seemed always to smile at everyone. That she wouldn’t get to eat his wonderful homemade ice cream with crazy flavor combinations like peanut butter-cardamom-coffee or cry against his shoulder whenever she had bad experiences with dates. It chilled Elena’s bones down to the core with horrible sadness to think that A or R’s condition would grow worse. What if they needed to put him in a life support? What if they needed to cut it off because he wasn’t going to wake up? What would she tell to his parents, if A or R was going to die because of her?

She sensed someone walking nearby, but Elena had no interest in the outside world. She wiped her eyes quickly, hoping whoever was going there wouldn’t see her tears, which tried to run over her cheeks. She didn’t want to cry, not in public.

“Well, well, I thought I smelled familiar tears,” a cocky voice came just next to Elena. She turned quickly toward the sound, startled, and her eyes widened.

It was Loid. Her magical antagonist. The bastard who had lured her into a kiss and pinned her into a contract with him, against her will. The tall blond man with a wild messy hair and the odd leather jacket, which was open both from front and back, looking down at Elena with the usual cocky grin he always had on his face, his pale blue eyes sparkling. Elena was sure he was enjoying himself seeing her so miserable. She frowned angrily.

“Get lost,” she hissed at Loid, fighting back an urge to sniff.

“How cold!” Loid gasped dramatically, squatting down. His leather pants let out a creaking sound. “If you are planning to cry don’t do it without me. You have no idea how powerful young maidens’ tears are and how much money I can make with them, so please, if you are about to cry, save the tears for me.” He searched for his breast pocket and pulled out a glass bottle, “Look, I even brought a container.”

Elena was miffed that she didn’t have a gun to shoot him down – not that it would have helped. Like any other magical creature, Loid was also immortal to human hands. Even if she raided A or R’s gun cabinet and blew Loid’s head off, he would just grin and respawn. Still, she would have wanted to try that anyway. Hurt him good for always pestering her at the worst possible times. Hurt him for luring her into that kiss that bind her to be his protagonist.  She was still angry about it.

“Come on, say something, you’re not fun,” Loid interrupted Elena’s thoughts of how to demolish Loid.

“I said get lost. I’m not interested in spending any time with you,” she spat.

“Laney, you’re such a tight-up ass,” Loid sighed and sat down next to Elena despite her protest.

“Laney?!” she repeated her new nickname, but Loid paid no attention to that. Instead he scanned the area around them, like looking for something.

“Where’s your lapdog?” he asked casually after a moment of searching the area with his gaze.

Elena didn’t reply. She couldn’t. Her throat was getting tight and hot.

“Seriously, that guy is like your shadow,” Loid scratched his acute chin, squinting. Then his eyes started to glimmer and he took a look at Elena, grin spreading on his lips.

“Is he inside?” he cooed.

Elena wanted to hit him.

“Oh, I see,” Loid’s grin widened and he leaned backwards against his arms, chuckling. “That explains. What a great dog. Did he take a bullet for his master? Is he dead? Has someone dealt with him for me so that I don’t have to stand him around you anymore and we can get this protagonist-antagonist deal really kicked in?” Loid kept spilling out questions one after another, seemingly pleased with his own thoughts of A or R’s condition.

In a second Elena had turned over to Loid from her hunched position and grabbed his collar with both hands, pushing her face to Loid’s. Her eyes were flaming with fury, tears streaming silently down her moist cheeks.

“He will be dead only over my dead body,” she hissed venomously, her eyes drilling deep into Loid’s core. He blinked, surprised.

“That’s a eh… rather strong statement,” his voice tottered a bit and Elena let go of him with a push, sinking back to a hunched position over her legs, crossing her arms around herself.

Her stomach was hurting now, too.

It was quiet. Either Loid was laughing at her inside his head or he had understood something wasn’t right – Elena really didn’t care.  The worst case scenarios were starting to pour back into her mind with full force, and what Elena wanted the least now was to give a single tear to for him to enjoy.

“…Why are you outside? Shouldn’t you be in there?” Loid broke the silence, pointing to the huge hospital building behind him with his thumb.

“Visiting time is over,” Elena croaked.

“Nah, rules are meant for breaking,” Loid waved his arm standing up. Elena took a glance at him from the corner of her eye.

“Don’t you dare to go there!” she suddenly shouted, bolting up from her seat. Loid had already drawn a black hole up in the air with whatever magic he had. The edges of the man-sized hole were dancing with blurry smoke, but otherwise the thing in the air looked almost solid. Its surface had an odd rippling movement.

Loid lifted his hands up in a sign of peace when Elena barked at him.

“I’m just taking a look,” he defended himself and gestured Elena closer. Unsure of what Loid had in his mind yet worried about A or R she did as Loid requested and stepped closer to him and the hole. He scooped her under his arm and guided her in front of the dark opening. It looked like a deep, black tunnel with no edges and on the other side she could see a faint form of light. A little dot, with a yellowish tone.

“Take a closer look,” Loid told her, pointing at the dim light far in the distance with his finger. Elena had to squint her eyes and blink rapidly for a while, but soon the image started to get clearer and sharper. Far, very far away, she could see A or R’s hospital room, the flowers his mother had brought in and A or R himself sleeping on the bed.

“A or R!” she gasped, earning a chuckle from Loid.

“I said I was going to take a look at your lapdog. My mortal enemy, wounded on a hospital bed, is a sight of a life time. You want to come, too?”

“W—what?” Elena stammered looking up at Loid’s face. He smirked down at her, squeezing her closer to his body.

“You better hold on tight and not go anywhere from my side, alright? It will be pain in the ass if you get sucked somewhere into those multiple dimensions while we cross this Line to your lapdog’s room. I’m not going to find you twice.”

Elena nodded hastily. Loid had – for some unknown reason – come to her rescue once when she had accidentally stepped on a Loop Hole and triggered it. The Loop Hole had transported her to another dimension, a place where A or R as a human couldn’t go, and Loid had stepped in to bring her back home. She didn’t remember anything of the event, as Loid had erased her memories of it, but she had heard everything from A or R. Despite of the memory loss, Elena knew she didn’t want to repeat that adventure. She decided to follow his advice.

Elena took a wobbly step forward, readying herself for the journey and trying to stay in pace with Loid’s long strides. The hospital’s front yard was left behind them and a complete nothingness surrounded them as soon as they were inside the hole – or Line, like Loid had called it. Elena didn’t have much knowledge of magical things, spells, creatures and such, as she wanted to stay away from them as much as possible. She followed Loid, glued against his side and kept her eyes focused on the tiny image of A or R’s room in front of her. At first it felt like she was walking with Loid a long, long, long time with no signs of them making any progress, but suddenly the tiny image of lighten room zoomed into her face with a high speed, so fast Elena almost fell on her butt. She got so disoriented of this sudden attack of the room’s image that Loid basically dragged her with him out from the Line, forcing her to walk despite of Elena feeling like she was going to trip on her own feet.

“Here we are,” Loid sounded amused as he watched Elena’s dazed face. Indeed, she was inside A or R’s room. She freed herself from Loid’s hold and walked slowly to A or R, pondering if this was real or one of Loid’s tricks. When she touched A or R’s cheek and felt how warm it was, how feverish he felt, Elena knew this wasn’t a delusion.

Loid made his way to the room’s door and spat on it three times. Elena stared at his odd behavior and before she got to ask what on Earth he was doing, the blond man draw geometrical lines on the door, connecting his saliva spots with one another.

“This well keep the hospital staff at bay while we are here,” he murmured, wiping his fingers on his pants.

“Magical saliva?” Elena offered with a cocked eyebrow. He turned around on his heels and shrugged.

“Hey, my body is my magic wand. Anything it has, does and creates can be used for spells,” Loid sounded somewhat hurt, like Elena should have been aware of his various skills. She let that slide and focused back on A or R.

She could feel how that tight hotness was climbing back to her throat from her chest when she looked at A or R’s face. He looked peaceful, tired but peaceful, and it made Elena horrified. She had always viewed A or R as a bundle of energy and when he wasn’t kicking, screaming and fighting against whatever was wrong with him, Elena felt like he was about to give up. She noticed how the tears had returned.

“So, what happened?” Loid asked casually from the other side of the bed. Elena couldn’t look at him. She took A or R’s hand into hers and squeezed his big palm tightly.

“He was protecting me, like he always does. It was some sort of a dragon,” she explained quietly.

“You saw it?”

“It was rather small and white, with a long snout. Apparently it buffed something on him before it died – I mean, disappeared – and after that he went from bad to worse in a second. Passed out instantly, sweaty and nose bleeding. He hasn’t woken up since,” she told honestly. When Loid didn’t say anything, Elena took it as a sign to continue, “They can’t tell what’s wrong with him. There isn’t anything physically wrong in A or R, no injuries, but he doesn’t wake up and his condition gets worse…”

“So, basically he’s dying?” Loid offered and to Elena it sounded a way too casual thing to ask. She let her head sink lower. She couldn’t admit that out loud. Couldn’t nod a yes. Didn’t want to do that.

They could be wrong. The hospital staff. A or R was sick but he could get better.

“…What will you do if he dies? You’ll get another lapdog to my annoyance?” Loid smirked.

“If…” Elena started, taking a shaky breath, “… I don’t want anyone to die because of me. Because I’m the fated protagonist I never asked to be. If he does die I… I’ll quit. I’ll quit everything. No one’s life is worth of being used on me, used for my sake. I can’t… I can’t live with such a burden. I don’t want to be a protagonist,” Elena sobbed heart-breakingly, pressing A or R’s forearm against her chest. “I don’t want another bodyguard. He’s my birthday present,” she wailed. Big drops rolled on the bed sheet from her eyes and she squeezed A or R’s arm even tighter.

“Quitting protagonist business isn’t child’s game. Actually the whole protagonist shit isn’t just some Saturday jump rope skipping. If it was, you wouldn’t need your lapdog. You wouldn’t do that,” Loid grunted with a snort.

“I would. Try me if you want,” Elena hissed with such hate and determination she surprised even herself.

Loid stood next to the bed in a silence, his face stern. For once he wasn’t joking around or amusing himself at Elena’s expense. When he walked away from his spot, Elena opened her eyes and followed his back with them.

“Where are you going?” she squeaked, blinking to see him better through her moist eyelashes.

“I’ll be back soon,” he replied shortly, licking his fingers and drawing then a circle in the air with them. A similar black Line hole they had used to get inside appeared before Loid, opening and spreading wider. When it was Loid’s size he stepped in, leaving the circle with smoky, blurry outlines in the air. Elena wanted to go to see where the other end leaded to, but her need to be at A or R’s side was stronger than her curiosity of Loid’s doings. A few minutes later Loid was back, and as he stepped inside the room, the Line hole vanished into the air with a small sound of a pop, like a soap bubble had been burst.  He was holding a narrow, long medical tube with two needles. Elena stared at Loid as he rolled up his leather jacket’s sleeve and went to A or R’s side, seeking his arm and sticking one of the needles into it without any hesitation.

“What—what are you doing?” Elena shrieked.

Loid sat on the chair next to A or R’s bed and injected the other needle into his own arm. A steady stream of blood started to snake towards A or R from Loid.

“I’ll give him some of my blood. Otherwise he will die,” Loid replied, underlining his last words. Elena paled.

“What do you mean?”

Her lower lip quivered, her eyes following the tip of the blood’s stream as it disappeared into the needle and into A or R’s arm.

“Your medical staff will find nothing, as your lapdog’s condition isn’t physical, but you should know that far already” Loid began, squeezing his palm into a fist and relaxing it then in a repeated motion, “I’m not going to lie to you, Laney.  Your lapdog has gotten himself a rather nasty curse.”

“Curse?” Elena couldn’t believe her ears. Her heart sank to the bottom of her stomach. She could feel how her hands started to tremble and how the cold sweat seeped on the back of her neck.

“You can’t see it, no one in this building can see it, but your lapdog’s String of Life is corrupted. The String of Life connects soul to a body and when it gets cut, the person dies. Your lapdog’s String of Life is covered with murky, black energy, which gnaws the string thinner and thinner. Eventually it snaps and then it’s bye-bye lapdog and he goes to doggy heaven. My blood can rebel against the curse to buy him some time, but it can’t prevent it from eventually happening. It’s like a doom’s day’s clock we’re turning a bit backwards with this,” Loid explained in detail, his tone and eyes serious.

Elena’s heart broke into millions of pieces. She looked at A or R’s face, realizing her worst fears were coming true. That he was dying. She could already see him lying in a casket, surrounded with white flowers and herself standing in black, eyes covered with a lace veil, next to the hollow grave where his body would be laid to rest.

And it was all her fault. All her fault for attracting magical creatures and putting everyone who knew her in constant danger.

She couldn’t take it.

“Please, I have to do something!” Elena cried from the bottom of her aching soul, “Tell me that there is some way to lift the curse! Tell me you can do it! You are a magical being, are you not? Tell me you can help A or R! I’ll do anything it needs to get him back to normal,” she sobbed almost hysterically, not even trying to hide her hurt from Loid. She didn’t even care if someone from the hospital staff found them.

The man sat silently on the opposite side of Elena, legs crossed and staring at something on A or R which Elena couldn’t see herself. His lips were pressed together and Elena waited, waited, waited for him to say something, anything. It was dead quiet. Uncomfortably quiet, and the stillness made Elena’s sobs sound even more heavy and hollow.

 “There is a way,” Loid finally spoke, licking his lips.

“I’ll do it!” Elena yelled teary-eyed, jumping up from her seat and taking Loid by surprise. He looked at Elena with a boggled face, but soon it melted into a grin.

“No yelling, Laney. My spell can keep the staff away only so far,” he lifted his finger up to his lips for a shush. “You didn’t even hear me out before you replied.”

“I’ll do anything. A or R’s life isn’t something that can be cast away so easily. I’m responsible for his condition. I’ll do it – if it’s something I can do,” Elena calmed down a bit, sitting down, her hands still shaking.

Loid inspected Elena for a long time with his pale blue eyes. She didn’t budge. Just held on to A or R’s hand like her life depended on it and stared back at Loid. Finally, he sighed and turned his head away, looking at the wall.

“If you want to do that, to save your lapdog, you have to come with me. His curse isn’t from this world and the solution, either. Will you do that?” Loid asked, keeping his gaze focused forward.

A small sensation of hesitation hit Elena, but only for a second.

“Where will we go?” she asked, already ready to leave, earning Loid’s attention.

“To a Far, Far Away Land,” he grinned from the corner of his mouth. Elena couldn’t tell if he was he joking or serious with his answer, but she got a feeling that if she followed Loid, it wouldn’t be any trip to a local neighborhood.

“When will we go?” She was stern, knowing that this was something she needed to do. To Elena’s surprise Loid burst into a loud laughter, his head tilting backwards.

“If you go with me to save your bodyguard, do you know what it means?” he managed to say between his laughs. Elena’s face stayed serious.

“That I have to put up with you for God knows how long,” she remarked, getting a small ouch as a reply from Loid.

“Well, not only that, to make things even worse from your point of view, you will become what you hate,” Loid tapped his chin with a wink of his eye.

“…A protagonist…” Elena’s eyes widened. Of course. Of course it was like this! If the destiny couldn’t make her a fated protagonist just by giving her white hair, it would force her into an adventure by using A or R. In Elena’s opinion destiny was a one nasty bitch, but not as nasty as she was when someone hurt her loved ones.

“Are you willing to do that?” Loid’s eyes were full of amusement.

“For A or R’s sake, yes. After that I will return back to normal,” Elena nodded.

Loid eyed her a long time with a grin, rubbing then his chin and sighing.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that…” he whistled, leaning back to the chair’s backrest and closed his eyes. “Alright, we’ll go after the blood transfusion is done and after I have filled my energies. So, relax and enjoy yourself while you can.”

Elena took a look at A or R through her tears and squeezed his palm with both hands.

“I promise, A or R, I’ll get you the remedy and you will get better. I swear,” she whispered at him, closing her eyes.

 

CHAPTER 2; The city reaching for night skies

 

To Elena’s surprise, Loid charged himself after the blood transfusion with a few muffins and a chocolate bar stolen from the hospital’s closed café – or so Elena assumed when he returned from the third Line he had created within the evening. He defended himself stating that he had a sweet tooth and offered to give Elena a sugary kiss after he had eaten all his findings. Elena was still so devastated with the news of A or R slowly dying that she didn’t even react to Loid’s teasing. Loid got the hint and dropped the act.

“Alright, there are some rules on this trip,” Loid began, his mouth half-full with the second muffin, “First of all; no wandering alone. You have no idea of the magical world so you better stay close to me if you want to help your lapdog. Second rule is that you do as I say.”

“Fair enough. I should have asked A or R more about the magical world and creatures and such…” Elena muttered quietly, her head turned to A or R.  “What we need to do in order to save A or R?”

“We will sacrifice you!” Loid spread his arms with a wide grin and laughed then at Elena’s utterly shocked face. “Nah, just kidding. It would be troublesome for me to find a new protagonist.”

“…Why did you even choose me…?” Elena wasn’t amused by Loid’s joking. Her shoulders just sank lower with each sentence Loid uttered. 

“Does it matter?” he grinned back, ignoring Elena’s grunt, “Seriously speaking: We need to make an antidote from special ingredients.”

“…Don’t tell me we need to find those ingredients?” she inquired, taking a look at Loid. Somehow a cold, unpleasant feeling ran along Elena’s spine, but she did her best to ignore it. 

Loid cocked his head and stuffed the rest of his baked treat into his mouth.

“That’s the trip,” he replied, opening the chocolate bar with a pleased smirk. “I wish I had even half of what we need, but this is a rare curse, so the ingredients are scattered here and there.”

Elena didn’t say anything in return. Her attention drew back to A or R’s face, which didn’t look as pale anymore after A or R got some of Loid’s blood. It didn’t soothe Elena much. She knew time was ticking, for all of them.

“Let me guess; you are thinking, what if we can’t find those ingredients? What if we don’t find them in time?” Loid had sneaked next to Elena, peering down to her face, chocolate bar hanging between his teeth.

Elena kept her eyes at A or R, a deep frown on her forehead. Her brows knit tighter together as she opened her mouth.

“Of course I worry about that,” she hissed, hurt. “I can’t afford to lose A or R and you can’t afford to lose me as your protagonist. We’re all in the same boat and the consequences of failure will affect us all. Of course it makes me worried. It makes me sick to my stomach, but no can do. I have to get him back,” she spoke sternly, eyes now full with something fiery. Her hand had reached down to A or R’s red hair, stroking it gently.

“Well, a failure would be a very unfortunate to me,” Loid agreed, ignoring A or R from the matter completely.

“We can’t fail,” she repeated her thoughts out loud.

“I can’t promise we will succeed. No one can,” he pursed his lips, rustling with the chocolate bar wrapping.

“Then we do the best we can and if I catch you slacking I—“

Immediately Loid cut Elena’s comment off with a loud groan.

“I know, I know! No need to lecture me. I’m as interested in losing our contract as you are losing your lapdog, I guarantee that. We have gone through this matter already, let’s just drop it,” he huffed and handed something to Elena.

“Eat.”

Elena looked questioning at the piece of milk chocolate in Loid’s palm for a second, before she pushed his hand away from her face with a sigh.

“No, it was in your mouth,” she muttered, uninterested in his offering.

“My mouth has been on yours already, quite a many time, if I recall it right, so no big deal, yes?” Loid grinned impishly, which was a mistake.

In a second had Elena stood up from her chair with such fury the chair fell down with a loud bang. Loid bounced backwards and threw his hands into the air as soon as Elena reached his collar, looking like she was ready to eat him alive.

“My bad, that was uncalled for,” he tried to chuckle off the rage he had summoned from Elena’s core. He had forgotten how suddenly Elena could snap.

“I’m not in a mood for stupid jokes,” she growled, “I know I need you so I can save A or R’s life, but don’t even dare to think I wouldn’t give you something very unwanted in return for pushing my buttons. So, try your luck and you’ll find that piece of chocolate showed very, very, very far up to your mouth with a few broken teeth,” she spoke most calmly, her tone steady and firm, white bang hiding half of her face.

Loid kept his posture under Elena’s icy stare, rolling the chocolate piece between his fingers next to his head like a magician.

“We definitely have the right protagonist-antagonist thing going on,” he began with a bit shaky voice and when Elena’s grip tightened around his leather jacket’s collar, Loid lifted his chin up higher and lowered his hand with the chocolate piece, “You need to eat before we go. First trip from physical world to magical world will take its toll on a human like you, even if I gave you some protective shield. Chocolate is the best energy source for that, so please.” Carefully he pushed the last piece of the chocolate bar towards Elena’s nose. “And I promise this hasn’t even touched my lips.”

Elena let her hand slide down from Loid’s collar, loosening her grip from him. Hesitantly she took the offered treat, eyes still on Loid’s face, a suspicious stare coating them.

“I’ve got one more,” Loid said pulling an unopened chocolate bar from his leather pants’ back pocket with a slow movement. For Elena it almost looked like a peace offering of some sort.

Elena inspected the small chocolate piece thoughtfully, her eyes narrow. Loid’s comment of how traveling to magical world would eat her energy ran wildly in her head. She hadn’t thought the difficulties of the upcoming journey - except for how to stay sane around Loid – and though Elena had no second guesses about would she do this or not, she was still feeling fear-like tremble in her stomach. Unsureness, slight shakiness deep in her bones, fear that she didn’t have what it needed to save A or R. To find all the needed ingredients. However, she did her best to hide all this from Loid and tossed the chocolate piece into her mouth, accepting the other chocolate bar from him.

“Eat quick, we need to go soon,” Loid hurried her as Elena was peeling the chocolate bar free, “The spell I put on the door will wear off in a few minutes, not to mention the more time we waste here the worse it will be to your doggy.”

She basically devoured the bar as fast as it was possible, turning mouth still full of chocolate to A or R, and petted his head gently.

“I’ll be back soon. Don’t you go kicking the bucket on me, alright?” she managed to mumble between swallowing the remaining of the chocolate bar. When she had bid farewell to A or R, she hurried to Loid’s side and looked up to him.

“Let’s go. Show me the way.”

“As you wish, but before we go,” he reached to pull out some of his blond locks, rolling the hair between his fingers. Elena followed the scene curiously, and to her surprise the thin locks started to gain mass and become more solid. After some rolling Loid was holding a long, thick needle, same in color as his hair.

“What did you do?” Elena let her thoughts come out from her mouth. Loid only snickered.

“Some magic,” he replied and pricked the tip of his left ring finger with the needle, which disappeared right after that into the thin air.

A tiny droplet of blood seeped out from the fingertip and Elena watched in amazement how Loid took hold of the droplet, and pulled it into a thin line before them, all the way up to the level of his eyes. The blood, obeying his will, followed the movements of his hand. Then he kissed his bloody fingertip, and rest of the blood rushed back to his hand, closing the wound behind.  A long stream of blood hung in Loid’s hold, like he would have been holding a few inches long red yarn, as he turned towards Elena. She wanted to ask what he was planning, but Loid opened his mouth before she got chance to do that.

“Kisses are my favorite magical tools, but this time we will need something a bit stronger, much more durable,” he explained, throwing the blood line over Elena’s head and crossing its ends over her neck, near her collar bones.

Elena felt how the blood felt warm, but it wasn’t wet at all. It felt like something warm and almost leather-like was touching her, but soon she could feel the string sinking underneath her skin. She gasped, throwing her hands up to pull the string away when it started to sink into her neck rapidly, squeezing her windpipe and gnawing its way under her skin, but Loid grasped her wrists.

“Don’t touch it. It feels a bit nasty, but only for a second,” he said.

“What are you doing?” she croaked with shocked look. The string sank deeper into her neck and she was sure it had turned into a nasty, slimy worm, which tried to snake and squirm deeper and deeper into her body. She shuttered with the disgusted feeling and stuck her tongue out with an audible gag. Her eyes were getting moist.

“People don’t enter the magical world that often, as it’s extremely difficult to get there without any help. Thus, every single living soul there will immediately be able to point out that you are a human. Humans are both feared and liked and oh, very wonderful for all kind of special potions and magic. You remember what I said about the maidens’ tears? I wasn’t joking. We don’t want any lunatic magical being abducting you and torturing you for the rest of your life to get those tears out – and many other things your body can provide them,” Loid spoke, his tone low and serious. It shuttered Elena more than the squirming feeling in her neck.

“Is this some sort of protective spell? It feels so nasty,” Elena shivered visibly and Loid let go of her wrists, allowing her to take a few disgusted, shivering jumps here and there, as she was trying to shake that horrible feeling away. The blood line had completely disappeared into Elena, without leaving any mark behind.

“Sort of. It tells the magical creatures that you are in my possession and others don’t have access to you. Though there are always some idiots who will try to break the Magical Possession Laws, some rebels and outlaws, but this keeps majority of magical creatures interested in humans at bay,” he continued, following Elena’s icky dance with his pale eyes.

“What?” she managed to hiss, when the horrible feeling from her body finally disappeared. “I’m your possession now?” Elena rubbed her neck from the spot where the red string had entered her. She didn’t like that thought.

“It’s just between us and for this trip only, but it is a safety measurement we need to take,” Loid looked back at her with a serious face. “So, if anyone asks, you’re mine and I took you into my possession against your own will because that’s how the Magic Laws works.”

“I—I don’t think I follow all of that. Isn’t that what you did when you lured me into a date and then requested that kiss which bonded me as your protagonist?” Elena cocked her eye brow. Her neck felt a bit cold now.

A smile flashed on Loid’s face.

“Kind of, but not exactly the same. Same law applies to both situations, but this contract I just made between us – just for the trip though, like I said – is a lot more personal and a lot intimate so to say, and it’s there only for your own sake. The kiss was… well, it was protagonist-antagonist deal, but this is more like an owner and an item stuff. Or a slave. However you want to put it in human terms. Possession of a human in a magical world is a bit complicated matter, it has many regulations and such things don’t often happen, so you will draw an attention to yourself. Just follow my guidance and most importantly, trust me. You don’t want to end up in the wrong hands,” Loid underlined his last statement by mimicking throat cutting with his thumb.

Elena had still somewhat of a hard time digesting everything Loid was telling her, but she nodded slightly anyway, a bit spooked by what she had just heard. She didn’t let Loid’s words scare her too much, though she could feel how the worry for her not being capable enough for this journey was starting to make its way into her stomach. She should have asked A or R a lot more things about the magical world. It wouldn’t do any good if she got into trouble, too.

Elena decided to brush that nasty, nagging feeling off as well as she could and concentrate on something else.

“You make it sound like I should be happy I have you as an antagonist…” she pointed out awkwardly, returning back to what Loid has just said. He took Elena’s comment as a compliment and spread his arms beside his body, smiling proudly.

“Take it as you wish, though mind you, you might have gotten someone possessing you completely in the human world, instead of just getting someone a handsome creature like me as your antagonist.” He was seemingly very pleased with himself. Elena reminded herself that this was indeed Loid and his ego was as big as the hospital building itself was, and she shouldn’t encourage him by stroking it.

“Being possessed doesn’t appeal to me,” Elena mumbled, still feeling the dark void in her stomach.

Suddenly they heard talking and footsteps coming from the hallway. Hastily they both turned to look at the door. Loid sneered.

“Oops, we used more time on this chit chat than I planned. We must go now,” he told Elena with a commanding voice, spitting quickly into the air and drawing a Line hole before them with his hand. Then he took Elena under his arm and pressed her tightly against his side. “Here we go, Laney. Hold on very, very tight. This Line will be a lot longer and more dangerous for your slipping into some Too Far, Far Away Land again, somewhere a lot further than previously”.

Elena nodded hastily and wrapped both of her arms around Loid’s midsection, taking a final quick look at A or R over her slim shoulder. He looked as peaceful as when they had arrived, and Elena was happy he wasn’t aware of the mess Elena had gotten herself into, right after he wasn’t there protecting her from her protagonist fate from kicking in. Her shoulders and knees trembled slightly as she took a direct look at the whirling Line hole in the air, thinking how this was it: Her story. Her fate as a protagonist, whether she wanted it or not. How she should just suck it up and go for it, for A or R’s sake. Keep her feet steady and mind clear as she would obtain all the needed ingredients for the antidote, even if she would need to pay a heavy price for that. She would gladly do that for A or R’ sake. He was always there for her – it was her time to be there for him.

As Loid took the first step in the Line, urging Elena to walk with him, Elena took a deep breath and furrowed her brows. She could do this! She wasn’t alone. Loid would help her because it served his own priorities and needs. Elena had to trust Loid, as odd as it felt and sounded – and she also needed to trust A or R, trust that he would fight the curse and not be ready to die just yet.

 

The Line spread before Elena and Loid, swallowing them both whole into a complete darkness. As soon as they had entered the Line, Elena had to turn to look behind them, just to see how the end of the Line disappeared right when A or R’s room’s door opened and two nurses stepped in. She hoped they hadn’t seen anything, though she knew they would wonder about the fallen over chair she had forgot to put back in its place after Loid had caused her to snap at him.

The air inside the Line felt heavier than Elena remembered and this time she could see some mist around them, dancing and swirling and drawing glittering small, stardust like clouds with an aurora’s colors, clouds which seemed to spread all eternity to all possible directions. She turned her head left and right, up and down, trying to see everything that was going around her.

“Don’t touch anything else other than me while we are here,” Loid’s voice echoed from above her.

“Roger,” Elena replied, her voice also echoing. She took a bit tighter hold on Loid, just in case.

Elena tried to see where they were going, but the scenery ahead looked the same as everywhere else around them. Her head started to feel heavy from all the squinting. Loid seemed to know exactly where they were going, but just like last time, to Elena walking inside the Line felt like they weren’t making any progress despite walking and walking and walking and walking a little bit more. Besides, it was difficult to walk in such a badly bent position under Loid’s arm.

“What will happen if I touch something?” she had to ask after a pretty long silence. “And can I free my other hand? Do I have to hold you like this?”

“You will end up in whatever shit place that spot you touch might take you and it will take forever from me to find you. To other questions; no you can’t and yes you have to – the tighter the better,” Loid let out all the answers at once.

She could tell from his tone Loid wasn’t joking. Falling into a silence, Elena pondered how her previous, accidental trip to another dimension – after stepping a Loop Hole - had actually been. Maybe it had been something so horrible it was better if she didn’t remember, because Loid had erased her memories. Or maybe she had met a wonderful new antagonist and Loid didn’t want her to remember him to secure his own spot. Could two antagonists even fight over same protagonist? Could they snatch a protagonist away under another’s nose? Maybe not, if it had something to do with the Magical Laws Loid had mentioned earlier. 

“Loid, about the things you said earlier,” Elena began, shifting her position so that her back wouldn’t hurt so much, “Does the magical antagonist possession have something to do with humans being possessed? Like possessed by a demon?”

Loid laughed a bit, taking a look down at Elena.

“Is that what you were thinking so hard just now?”

“Never mind, I’ll ask A or R when he wakes up,” she replied focusing to look at the far distance in front of them. The sparkling mist was still dancing around them and to Elena it looked thicker and more lively than a moment ago. Her head felt somewhat heavy but she kept walking forward with a determined mind. 

“Antagonists can, in some cases, possess a protagonist, but it’s rare. It requires certain type of malicious evil energy and such evil entities aren’t usually interested in antagonist-protagonist deals. Let’s say they don’t prefer to be lowered to the level of an antagonist,” Loid spoke casually, ignoring Elena’s comment.

“Wha—Lowered to the antagonist’s level?” Elena repeated Loid’s word, but the man didn’t pay attention to it.

“Smaller evil beings like to possess humans, any who is weak enough for them to enter the body. You can call them demons if you like,” he noted.

Elena wanted to ask more, but her head was getting heavier than it had been so far.  She concentrated more on their steps, hoping to see at least a little hint of the end of the Line in the distance. One foot, another foot, one foot, another foot. Repeat from the beginning. Ignore the bounding headache which was becoming stronger and stronger. Keep the walking up, stay close to Loid. Breathe. In and out, calmly. Take another step, one more, one more, one more. Remember not to touch anything.

“Oi, is the chocolate’s power running out already?” Loid asked his eyes at Elena.

She opened her mouth to answer, but only thin wheeze came out.

“Oh no, Laney, I’m not taking that shit from you. We still have quite a long way to go, so pull yourself together,” Loid’s tone rang strongly in her hears. It sounded odd, like all the echoing the place had have suddenly vanished. Like Loid had entered her head instead and spoken from there with a booming voice. Elena tried to speak, but just wheezed something again, blinking her eyes and hoping to see some light, wishing that the end of the Line would be near.

Elena hadn’t noticed how she had slouched forward until Loid took ahold from her and pulled her body up.

“We need do this crossing over with a hastier pace than I planned. Things really aren’t going too good for you today, eh, Laney?” he grinned but his eyes had a worrisome look in them. She scooped pale Elena up into his arms just before she started to wobble forward.

“Don’t let go of me, alright? Hold on.”

Elena’s ears were still ringing, Loid’s words sounding like a loud yelling inside her head. She felt how Loid sprung into running and it made her feel even worse. Her head was getting heavier and heavier, her stomach felt sick and each step Loid took hurt her body. She was seriously worried she would throw up any time now. Arms tight around Loid’s neck Elena prayed with closed eyes that the running would stop soon and it would take the horrible pounding ache way from her, too.

As soon as they got out from the Line, Elena let go of Loid. She stumbled down, fell on her knees and rolled on her back, holding her head. The light was bright and it hurt her eyes, making the headache feel worse.

“Breathe and relax,” Loid’s voice came just over her head. She couldn’t open her eyes from all the agony going through her body.

“The hell I’m giving up,” she groaned out loud, frustrated that they had only began the journey and she was already shaking and aching like someone with a fatal fever. Her body was begging for mercy.

“I’ll lend you a hand,” Loid replied, lowering his head to capture Elena’s lips into a kiss. She was able to feel how a rush of energy emitted from Loid mouth through that kiss, and though the kiss was a quick one, it started to affect her right away. By each passing second, by each deep breath she took, the headache and nauseous feeling seemed to flush away. Every second passing by made Elena’s body feel better and better, until most of the pain, shivering, trembling and aching was over. When Elena was finally ready to open her eyes, Loid gave her more room, standing up from Elena’s side with a grin.

“You aren’t a very good protagonist, for flipping like that so easily,” he was snickering, corners of his mouth reaching from ear to ear.

Elena pushed herself up to sit and shook her head.

“I didn’t ask anything from you,” she grunted, blinking her eyes. Her hands felt warm, like something hot was rushing in her veins, but her legs were still too shaky to stand up.

“It takes a while from the magical energy from my kiss to get to your legs,” Loid noted, like he knew what Elena was thinking.

Elena shook, patted and rubbed her legs to wake them up from the weak state. She frowned.

“Why do you always do that?” she avoided Loid’s eyes, lower lip pouting angrily.

“What?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Oh, that. Well, kisses happen to be my specialty, though I could have transferred energy into your body from mine by other methods, too,” he pointed out with a mischievous wink, earning a disgusted huff from Elena in return. If anything, she definitely didn’t want to have Loid roaming all over her body.

With the burst of energy Elena stood quickly up and wobbled forward, finding a solid surface from the nearby tree. It wasn’t until now that Elena noticed they were on a hill and below it was a wide scenery of a late night city spread wide open, as far as her gaze could travel. The orange sun setting in the far horizon had been the burning culprit of blinding Elena, but when her headache had calmed down, she could actually enjoy of the setting sun’s beauty. She could tell it was a different kind of a sun, but she couldn’t pin point what was the thing that made her feel so. The air around them felt unnatural to Elena, but again, she couldn’t tell what was the cause of it. Maybe it was the smell. Maybe it was how the air rippled against the city silhouette and the big orange sun, which hung in low over the city’s line.

“Arriving to a different world, which has different energy, is quite a shock to a human body,” Loid had walked next to her, his attention also pointed at the city. “We will rest till tomorrow.”

“I really wouldn’t like to do that. A or R needs me back as soon as possible, but I’m afraid I can’t argue back with this matter,” Elena groaned, noticing how she was leaning the tree for support a bit too heavily. She wouldn’t be able to fake her state for Loid, even if she did want to dash to the first item and then immediately to the next one. She had to respect her limitations. Suddenly she felt herself just upset for the fact that she was so weak, though the other voice inside her reminded that it was alright to have weak moments. Especially when you transited from a world to another. 

“By the way, you never told me what items we’re looking for to make the antidote,” Elena pointed out., stretching her back and shaking her legs a bit. The magical energy had reached her toes and her whole body felt somewhat warm.

“I’ll tell tomorrow,” Loid said pushing his hands behind his back and a strange, somewhat bitter sweet smile flashed over his face. “Come on, let’s move. You should be able to walk by now. Tell me if you need a refill of the energy.”

“No! No, I’m fine!” she barked back, straightening her back even more and putting a brave face on. She wouldn’t let her mind play tricks on her and sink her mood down.

Loid eyed her for a short moment from head to toe and sighed then loudly.

“As you say. Follow me. The big city is the best place for hide out at this time. With so many people there we can get your energy field to disappear among theirs,” he explained, starting to walk down towards the city. Behind him Elena did her best to keep her body up straight and took hasty, somewhat wobbly strides after Loid, concentrating on not falling on her nose.

The sun was falling rapidly behind the wide horizon and by the time they reached the city’s edge, it was almost dark. Tall buildings started right from the outskirts of the city, like someone had cut out a piece of some city’s central area with tall office buildings, and placed it here, in the middle of the grass field, which spread all the way to the thick forest they had come out from with Loid. The nature ended and the city started with such a precise line Elena unconsciously stopped at the edge, looking at how the grass underneath her shoes transformed suddenly into an almost black pavement. Loid didn’t notice her stopping and quickly she ran after him, admiring in awe all the neon lights, the glass buildings and street lights which surrounded them. Her body was feeling even lighter now and the bright lights against the black sky, the tall, strange looking buildings, lifted up her mood. Her head was turning back and forth to scan everything she saw.

“Try to act like you have been here before,” Loid noted without glancing at Elena, while walking before her with his hands in the pants’ pockets. 

“Sorry,” she replied shortly, pushing her shoulders back and lowering her jaw from staring at the sky. She focused on Loid’s back, thinking it was perhaps the best so that her eyes wouldn’t start to wander here and there. They didn’t need any unwanted attention

“Good,” he remarked shortly.

It took some time from them to reach their destination by foot. After an hour walking Loid stopped suddenly and turned to Elena, who also stopped on her tracks. She eyed the tall black building, dozens of floors high. Its almost polished stone-like surface with black glass windows glistened in the neon lights dancing  across its surface, and the neat looking small garden with a few short trees and a sand path right in front of it didn’t seem to match it at all - and yet, at the same time, it felt absolutely logical for them to be side by side.

“We’ll rest here this night, make plans for how to go forward with this rescue operation and also fuel our tanks. You, especially, need to eat often while being here, though I’m always a backup energy source if an emergency happens,” he explained calmly, leading Elena to the black glass building’s root.

“How often should I eat?” Elena asked as they entered the building and made their way to a fancy looking elevator.

“Guessing from your size and how quickly the chocolate’s effect run out I’d say in every 3 hours, though it can change to 4 hours or shrink to 2 hours, depending how your body adjusts to this world and what density the magical energy in each place is,” he replied and guided Elena from her shoulder in front of the elevator’s panel. “Here, you’re such a kid I thought you’d like to push the button,” he grinned widely, pointing at the buttons.

“Very amusing…” Elena huffed yet pushed her finger out. “Which floor?”

“Top.”

“Is there anything in this world which I shouldn’t eat? Just in case we would get separated and I’d need to find some food,” she asked when the elevator softly yanked off from the basement floor, its gears whirling quietly above them.

“Many things. Most of the solid food is edible for you. Don’t pick anything strange from the forests,” he replied.

Elena was quiet for a while, thinking. “I think I’ll need lots of chocolate on go…”

“Yes, you will.”

A common silence fell into the elevator. Elena followed with her eyes how the little light switched from floor button to another, in a calming pace. The elevator trip seemed to take a small eternity, and for once even Loid was quiet. When they reached the top, Loid lead Elena to the fancy hallway, which had only one, dark wooden door with golden numbers on it. It looked strange as it stood there alone and when Loid got close enough to it, the door knob rolled on its own and the door opened.

“Come on in”, he said, entering the apartment.

“Is this your home?” Elena asked with her mouth agape, walking quietly deeper in.

“Yes and hey! Take your shoes off!” Loid barked, pulling his long boots off.

She hastily dropped her shoes off without tearing her eyes from the room before her. Everything was neat and in order. White, black, grey and silver where the dominant colors. The living room was merged together with a kitchen, a long bar table dividing the area. Angular couch, small living room table, chairs matching the sofa and a wide TV had gathered around each other. Tall windows ran through the apartment, a scenery of the city night below them. Everything looked polished and clean, like Elena would have entered an apartment torn straight out from an old interior design magazine.

“This is like… a modern version of the 80’s style,” Elena’s eyes were sparkling with joy.

“I happen to like humans’ 80’s style,” Loid sounded hurt.

“It was a compliment,” Elena pointed out, walking to the windows and peering down at the city. It was quiet so high above the ground. She noticed Loid didn’t have any curtains.

“Seriously, I thought you’d live in some kind of a lair. With a throne and murky stone furniture,” she turned around her heels, admiring the modern paintings on the opposite wall.

Loid snorted, sounding even more hurt than just a moment ago.

“Me, living in a filthy lair. In your dreams,” he grunted and it wasn’t until now that Elena noticed how grumpy his face looked. Actually, it had looked like that ever since they left the forest.

“I’m sorry to barge in like this,” she said, pondering if she was invading Loid’s private space.

“Don’t mention it. Eat,” he replied casually and pulled a salad bowl out from a fridge, tossing it on the long bar table with a plate and utensils. A jug of juice followed the bowl and plates.

Elena sat down on a high bar stool and pulled the blue salad bowl closer. The food looked and smelled fresh, though she had no idea what the tiny fruits or vegetables or whatever between the lettuce leaves were. She thanked Loid for the food and took a big portion of it nevertheless, knowing she should get her energy back. Loid was standing on the other side of the bar table, back towards Elena, and he was making something on the kitchen counter.

“I need to go out and get us some things tomorrow morning before we leave. I might leave early, so don’t wonder if I’m not home when you wake up. While we are in a hurry, I recommend that you rest well and sleep as long as you want”, he spoke to Elena.

Elena stabbed the salad with her thin fork and leaned against her free arm, looking bothered.

“Can’t you just give me some energy so that I don’t need to sleep so long? Not that I’d want you to do that, but if it saves us some time, I’ll do it,” she muttered, keeping her face down the plate.

Loid chuckled out loud, but didn’t turn around.

“Frankly, this time I have to decline your request. Trust me on this and remember the rules we set,” he pointed out, rummaging through his kitchen cupboards.

Sure, Elena remembered them, but to be honest she had never been really good at following any rules when she had her mind set on something. Despite her eagerness to find the cure and get to back to A or R as soon as possible, she also understood she shouldn’t argue with Loid about anything regarding the magical world. Her mind sank lower when she thought how stupid she had been for not really ever asking anything about the magical world from A or R. He could have talked about it for days, as he was well educated of all unworldly matters, but fearing his stories and her interest would somehow summon the protagonist plot closer to her, Elena had been only vaguely interested in A or R’s special topics. She rather listened him to tell about the books he had read or the dating games he had played – or what new ice cream recipes he had come up recently.

“Don’t look so sour. We’ll get your lapdog back on his feet.” Loid sat on the table with a big sandwich and a tall drink of something warm which almost smelled like coffee.

Hastily Elena wiped the corners of her moist eyes and sniffed.

“Yes, we will. I will. Even if it kills me,” she swore with a determined frown, avoiding Loid’s stare as she returned to shovel the dinner into her mouth with an animated hand.

“Let’s not go that far, for your dog’s sake,” Loid replied, but there was no hint of humor in his voice.

 

 

Chapter 3; Of Bargains and burdens

 

 

Elena couldn’t really sleep that well in Loid’s apartment. She had been given the whole bedroom for herself, while Loid slept on the spacy sofa in the living room, but despite the quiet bedroom and solitude, Elena’s night had been very restless. Thoughts of A or R had filled her mind, and by the time the sun was peeking from the horizon with the new dawn’s bright rays, Elena had slept just a few hours. Drained, she cranked herself up from the bed, thinking it was no use to toss and turn around. She could just get up as well.

Loid was already awake when Elena emerged from the bedroom. He was busying himself in the kitchen without shirt on, a cup in one hand, and was muttering something under his breath. The air smelled like fresh roasted coffee and Elena sighed aloud, though her sigh turned quickly into a full yawn. Loid turned around to look at Elena, and frowned when he saw her face. Quickly he slipped a few brown pills to Elena when she sluggishly sat at the table.

“Energy supplements. Let’s not get used to those too much. Not very good stuff for humans in a long run,” he muttered into his coffee cup while Elena swallowed the given pills.

“Thanks,” Elena replied, noticing how a proper breakfast with eggs, bread and coffee had appeared under her nose on its own. She ate although she hadn’t any appetite, reminding herself that she was doing this for A or R’s sake. She had to be in a good condition. Elena made her mind up to ask Loid to knock her out if she couldn’t fall asleep properly next night.

“Today we will head out to meet a friend of mine,” Loid informed Elena, finishing his coffee.

“Oh?” Elena mumbled, gesturing for Loid to pour her another cup of coffee.

“He’s a well-known business man and I’m pretty sure he’s got one of the items we need for your lapdog’s remedy. We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready,” Loid spoke, filling Elena’s mug.

Elena’s eyes lit up immediately.

“We can actually buy some of the items?” she was almost beaming despite her tiredness. “I thought we’d need to go on endless journeys in order to hunt down to items, or find them from in some remote locations.”

“We’ll have to do some of that, too, but at least some of the items can be bought from my friend,” Loid said, helping himself to another full mug of coffee.

“That sounds great,” Elena sighed happily. She thought about how shopping sounded like a nice idea overall, though she was a bit ashamed of herself for getting excited over a shopping trip while A or R was in a hospital. She reasoned that this was her first and only chance to see magical shops, and for what she knew of A or R, he would like her to enjoy of it, even just a little. That reasoning didn’t subdue her ashamed feelings as much as Elena had hoped for.

“Don’t get too excited,” Loid was there to bring her mood down, too. “We’ll be exposing you to magical creatures as we go out. We have to be careful.”

“Speaking of which, we got here yesterday pretty easily. I didn’t see almost anyone outside and this is a big city,” Elena pointed out, turning her attention to towards the tall windows. The sun had reached the top of the horizon line, and she could hear faint noises of the city waking up reaching the top floor from the open window.

“The sun sets and the first few dark hours of the night in this particular place are treated as time for relaxing. During the dawn the energy levels here drop drastically for a moment and it affects everyone,” Loid explained casually.

“So that’s why you were so crummy looking yesterday,” Elena pointed out with a grin, her head turning slowly to Loid. He seemed to be a bit taken back by Elena’s words, but in a second Loid had composed himself, snorting in return.

“I had a certain luggage with me weighing me down,” he didn’t sound like he was joking. Elena wanted to hit him with her fork in return.

“Anyway, luggage or not, I can’t leave you alone for safety reasons, so we’ll go to my friend’s together. I’ll draw a Loop Line this time, it will save us some time. Are you finished with your breakfast?” Loid stooped and gestured at Elena’s empty plate.

“Are you saying we can’t use Loop Lines all the time? I thought we’d travel through them from place to place,” Elena asked with a boggled look.

“No, there are connectivity issues and local law regulations, plus it will wear you down if we use them too much. We’ll do some traditional traveling,” he replied, pulling his black jacket on. Elena still didn’t understand how it even stayed on him. While it had sleeves, the back and front were open. On the backside only a small panel was holding the jacket together with the collar.

“Let’s not drop our guards,” Loid’s eyebrows knitted into a deep frown as he summoned a Loop Line to the middle of his apartment. “This time just hold my hand and don’t let go. We’ll be changing locations inside the magical world, and the place where we’ll be heading is sort of close by. This trip doesn’t require as many safety measurements as crossing between worlds.”

“Alright, I have no intentions of getting lost,” Elena agreed and took a firm hold of Loid’s outreached palm.

They stepped in the Loop Line hole together and with one, two, three steps they had already reached the other side of the Line. Elena barely had time to blink when Loid’s modern black and white living room had been replaced with a very cozy looking small village. It had brown red colored houses stacked on top of each other, with wooden rooftops with lovely thin chimneys pointing out from them. Houses were red-brown, streets were red-brown, anything made from wood looked like made from the exact same color, and here and there colorful shades of yellow, red and blue brightened up the town. There were small sandy and stony hills, and stone covered pavements and roads reached to all possible directions. Wooden barrels and stalls were stocked near the sidewalks and the soft murmur of everyday life could be heard all the way to the entrance of the town, where Elena and Loid stood.

“This place is pretty,” she whispered to Loid, letting go of his hand.

Loid’s reply was a sharp inhale.

“Pretty doesn’t always mean good,” he muttered, straightening his back.

“Oh right, I need to remember to stay alert,” Elena nodded, sharpening her senses. Yet, the place opening in front of her eyes felt very nice.

“A few things before we enter the city; don’t stare at the people. Try to ignore them and don’t look them in the eyes,” Loid had crept closer to Elena and leaned down to her.

“Alright, blending in,” Elena agreed. Loid fell into a silence until he continued.

“... Second,” Loid rustled something from his pants’ pocket, “Take this. It wards off the evil intentions.” He was holding a small, clear pink pebble between his fingers.

Elena didn’t like the idea of being exposed to any kind of evil, so she gladly followed Loid’s advice and slipped the small pebble into her pocket.

“Anything else?” She cast a look up to Loid. He eyed Elena for a moment in complete silence, looking like he wanted to say something, but then he just shook his head.

“Let me handle the talking,” was the last advice Elena got from him when they entered the town through a small, arched gate. Elena immediately dropped her chin and focused on the ground, taking a sneak peek at her surroundings from the corner of her eye. Loid was walking a bit ahead of her and Elena thought it would suit their fake ownership deal fine if she allowed him to do that. Thus, Elena made sure she didn’t get too close to Loid.

The streets were somewhat crowded despite the early morning, and soft mumbling was heard from here and there, echoing softly in the air. From what Elena saw from the entrance of the town, all its residents looked very down to Earth, very human. No nasty evil spirits or other naughty forces. It soothed her mind greatly and she almost forgot to keep her head low enough. The further in they went, the friendlier feeling Elena got from the town. If she had arrived here by herself, Elena was sure she would have explored every single crook and nook of this lovely, red-brown colored place. Elena really liked it all. Liked what she saw. Shebecame so focused at peeking to right and left, that she suddenly bumped into Loid’s back. He had stopped, and was gesturing Elena to come to his side.

“That’s the house,” Loid said, pointing at the house in front of them. There were barrels and boxes in the yard and a lively ivy was climbing up the rough surface of the building, reaching the rooftop.

“Your friend’s house?” Elena was getting excited. This would be a one step closer saving A or R, and the sooner they would get back to him, the better for Elena, she thought.

“Yep. Like I said, let me do the talking,” Loid shushed at Elena when the front door opened. A blond, tall, muscular man in grey jeans and a white t-shirt appeared in the door frame, and when he noticed Loid, his face lit up with a warm smile.

“Oh, isn’t it Loid?” his voice was surprised and delighted as he stepped outside. “What brings you here?”

Loid spread his arms, walking closer to the man.

“Markus, long time no see. How have you been?” he greeted him back with a grin.

Elena followed Loid, walking in his steps. She took a peek behind his back at the man in front of Loid. He was even taller and broader up close than Elena had imagined, and he had the most beautiful face. His very light blond hair was short from the sides and pushed up from the front into a crazy 50’s style combo. His smile was warm and his laughter sounded as lovely as he looked.

“I thought you had croaked! It’s been too long,” Markus laughed and hugged Loid, who, to Elena’s surprise, returned the hug friendily.

“Nah, just busy. I’m actually still a bit busy,” Loid said, breaking the hug.

“Boo-hoo. I hoped you’d stayed a bit longer for my entertainment,” Markus sounded honestly hurt despite his chuckle.

“I wish it was for entertainment, but I’m here strictly for business this time,” Loid replied, putting his hands on his hips.

“That’s some lame news, but what can you do? Life gets busy at times,” Markus shrugged his broad shoulders. Then he slowly turned his eyes to Elena. “Especially when you have got some luggage with you,” he noted casually, his light brown eyes focusing on Elena.

As soon as Markus’s eyes captured Elena’s attention, she felt like she would have been pushed forcefully under water. She couldn’t breathe. His eyes weren’t soft and sunny anymore, but intense, full of something which made Elena’s face blush all to way up to her ears. Her heart was suddenly beating rapidly, desperately, her palms sweating, and when Markus’s gaze got even more intense, Elena was sure she would pass out. Not from fear or horror, but from pleasure, from a high level of passion. From a hot, primal sensation running deep in her core and bursting suddenly out, all the way up to her stomach, twisting her senses mercilessly. It was almost as if Markus’s eyes were calling Elena to come closer. Closer and closer, all the way up against his bare skin. Elena didn’t like it. She wanted to tear her eyes away from Markus, but she couldn’t. His eyes were too strong, too inviting, and in her mind Elena noticed herself thinking how Markus had to be the most handsome guy she had ever met. It was like those thoughts weren’t fully hers, but fed into her mind and whispered there gently but assuring, luring and demanding. She was getting scared of not being able to control herself, being on the verge of just launching herself into Markus’s arms without her own consent.

Suddenly Loid’s palm blinded Elena, and as soon as she couldn’t see anymore, her body relaxed. All the strange, invading thoughts disappeared from Elena’s mind and her head felt hazy. She didn’t know what was going on. What was that man doing to her? When she was able to breathe again she did her best not to shake visibly.

“Alright, that’s more than enough of staring for one day,” Loid declared with a grunt, his brows knitting together as his gaze was focused on Markus.

Markus blinked a few times and then laughed heartily, shrugging his shoulders.

“Nah, I was just checking your catch out. Is this the antagonist you’ve been talking about?” Markus’s tone was cheerful.

“Antagonist?” Elena whispered. She must had heard it wrong.

“You know how it is: My stuff means my stuff.” Loid removed his hand from Elena’s face and hastily she turned on her heels to avoid facing Markus.

“Just checking!” Markus lifted his palms up in the air, turning then towards the door. “Anyway, you said you were in a hurry, yes? Let’s go inside and talk about whatever business you had in mind”, he gestured Loid and Elena further in.

“I need some fresh air,” Elena blurted, heading away from the house with hasty steps. Loid dashed immediately after Elena and seized her by grabbing her shoulder.

“Tell your miss I won’t be staring at her anymore,” Markus’s voice was humorous. “The door is open. Come on in when you are ready,” he said and disappeared inside, closing the door behind.

When Markus was gone, Loid glared at Elena. “What are you doing?” he hissed with an annoyed voice, his hand firmly around Elena’s upper arm.

“No, what are you doing?” Elena hissed back with as much annoyance in her voice. “You brought me to some monster, right? Isn’t that what he is? My skin is still crawling like he’s touching me with sharp, cold claws! My mind feels violated!” Elena jumped free from Loid’s hold, rubbing her arms with a disgusted face.

“Markus was only playing around with you,” Loid explained, his expression miffed. 

Elena shot him a sharp glare. “If he tries anything funny anymore, I’m going to punch his teeth in,” she spat, sizzling with rage.

“That’s something I’d like to see,” Loid noted.

“I swear, if he ogles me once more I’m…!” Elena underlined her earlier statement with an angry hiss, pointing her finger at Loid’s nose. “No one humiliates me without consequences. Not even magical beings.”

“Let’s just get the item and the sooner we do that, the sooner we can leave. Fine?” Loid sighed, pushing Elena’s hand away from his face.

“Fine!”

Elena was actually the first one going towards Markus’s house, her soul hotly furious that someone had dared to cross her mind like that and play around with her like she was some item. She wouldn’t let him do that again. Definitely not. To demonstrate that Elena wouldn’t fear anyone who disrespected her, she swung the front door open and caught Markus off-guards.

“Oh? Are you feeling better?” he asked, like nothing had happened.

Elena shot daggers at him with her eyes, stomping further in, Loid right on her heels.

“Fine,” she huffed, keeping her head high and avoiding Markus’s gaze.

“Don’t mind her, she’s a handful,” Loid sighed, nudging Elena to calm down when Markus wasn’t looking at them.

“So, what can I do for you this time?” Markus asked from Loid, offering Elena a seat in front of a small oval table in the corner of the room. Elena declined his offer and sat in a different seat, Loid following her and taking a seat opposite of her.

“I’m in a need of one item. Nothing fancy but I thought you’d be my best shot for it,” Loid crossed his legs, slouching casually in the chair.

“Oh?” Markus voice rose up curiously as he sat next to Loid.

“I need some Pipa Seeds,” Loid continued. “The sooner the better.”

“I do have them. Stored from this year’s seasoning,” Markus nodded.

“That will do. I’ll take ten.”

“And the payment?” Markus asked, leaning closer to Loid.

“What do you ask for them?” Loid inquired with a smirk, his eyes fixating on Markus’s face.

Markus expression turned into a soft yet sly small smirk. He turned his head slowly towards Elena and pointed her out with his finger.

“Some kundaline from your catch,” he replied, eyes drilling into Elena. She jolted in her seat.

“What?” she didn’t follow Markus and as she looked at Loid for an answer, she saw a quick flash of seriousness in his pale eyes. Just for a second, then he was back to his own self again, chuckling.

“That’s a way too high a price for some seeds,” Loid shook his head disapprovingly, earning Markus’s attention. His eyes were glimmering sharply.

“You can take something else from my store, too. I can tell that you need more things than the seeds. You know you can’t lie to me, Loid. Your whole being tells me it’s not only the seed you are after,” Markus voice was deep and raspy.

Loid scoffed.

“Kundaline from her is a way too high a price. I suspect you won’t have anything worth of that here,” Loid lifted his chin up, eyeing Markus along his nose.

Markus shifted closer to Loid in his seat, his slyly grinning lips almost touching Loid’s cheek.

“Tell me what you desire. I’ll exchange that for a little bit of her kundaline. Anything you want. Are you cooking something from the seeds? Do you need or want something specific? Just a teeny weeny little amount of her kundaline and we have a deal. It won’t hurt or kill her. She will be all good afterwards. You know how I am. I would never mistreat a woman,” Markus murmured into Loid’s ear, his eyes turning to Elena, who sat in the chair opposite of them.

Loid’s eyes also followed Markus’s gaze to Elena’s face. She looked back at him with a concerned look. Elena could tell the how air in the room had gotten suddenly very heavy and tense. Markus had his eyes nailed on Loid, that same feeling like something about him was off crept to Elena’s spine. Loid sat in his seat casually, but his eyes on Elena told her that something bad was going on or about to happen. Elena had no idea what Markus wanted, and his offer to Loid about being able to give him anything Loid wanted sounded alluring also to Elena. If she wanted, she could ask Markus to save A or R, that’s what she thought, but every single cell in her body yelled danger when she even looked at the man. She couldn’t pinpoint where that bad vibe was coming from and it made her even more nervous.

“Forget about it,” Loid broke the short silence sharply. Markus only cocked his head slightly, eyes fixating tighter on Loid.

“You can’t possibly think that I wouldn’t want something from such a special human female if you brought her up right under my nose, can you? I can tell she’s special, different from the usual human females. Her kundaline will fetch me a small fortune. There are lots of buyers for such a magnificent finding.”

Loid’s stare was hard but he kept his posture, pushing Markus’s face further away from him.

“You may have some of her blood but that’s all. If your kundaline stack is needing some refilling, I’ll give you mine. But for her blood and my kundaline I want something more than the Pipa Seeds,” Loid did a counter offer with a firm voice.

“What do you have in mind?” Markus leaned against his palm, a smirk still playing on his lips.

“Silk dragon’s claws, two of them,” Loid replied without missing a beat.

“That’s some heavy stuff,” Markus let out a playful chuckle, scratching his sideburn thoughtfully. Then his face darkened in a mere second. “I won’t give the claws with such a low price,” he growled like an animal.

A cold chill ran along Elena’s spine by the sound of Markus’s tone, but Loid seemed to be unaffected by it. He cocked his chin higher, smirking smugly with the corner of his mouth.

“Might you want to have a reminder of my value or have you forgotten? The price is more than fair. For our friendship’s sake you can take some of my blood, too,” Loid replied lifting his hand up and curled slowly, almost softly, his fingers around Markus’s chin, never breaking the eye contact with him. “Take it as a present from a me to you.”

Markus fell into a thoughtful silence, inspecting Loid from underneath his eyebrows. The tension in the air felt heavier and chiller on Elena, and she was mentally preparing herself to run out the front door as soon as the tension would explode.

“I can also change my mind about letting you have anything from her,” Loid turned Markus’s head towards Elena, pressing his head against his temple. “It would be a shame, wouldn’t it, Markus?” he pointed out with a low whisper.

Elena opened her mouth to reply, but she couldn’t take Markus’s stare straight on in a fear of him doing that horrible trick of his again with his eyes. Hastily she whipped her head to the side, trying to look as relaxed as possible despite the atmosphere in the room pressing her down into the seat harder and harder with every breathe she took.

A low hum rose from Markus’s throat as he sat up straight, removing himself from Loid’s hold.

“… Very well. We’ve got a deal, but as compensation for not letting me have anything from her other than blood, I will take your kundaline both physically and energetically,” Markus said casually.

Loid kicked back in his seat with a wide grin on his face.

“Like you wouldn’t have done that anyway, you sly bastard,” he chuckled, receiving a nonchalant shrug from Markus as a reply. The heavy air in the room and the tension between the men disappeared in that very instance. Elena wanted to relax in her seat, but she really couldn’t.

“I’ll extract the blood from our lady guest now, and while she waits, we’ll take care of the other end of this deal,” Markus said getting up and offering Elena his hand to pull her up.

Awkwardly she took ahold of his hand and allowed Markus to help her to her feet. Elena didn’t like the idea of giving blood to this strange magical being, to this man who just a second ago had felt like a feral beast inside a fancy cover, but if it saved A o R she would do it. Even when it felt scary.

Markus looked down at Elena with a warm smile and sunny atmosphere.

“I assure you, fine lady, that the procedure will be quick and painless. You’ll have some snacks afterwards. It won’t be any different from a regular blood donation,” Markus’s voice was back to its oddly soothing and inviting tone. Completely different from the growl he had used on Loid.

“What… what will you do with the blood?” she had to ask.

“Oh, but sell it, of course! Everything can be sold. Everything,” Markus opened his arms wide to his sides. Elena noticed just now how big he actually was. Only slightly taller than Loid, but physically much heavier and more toned than him. She started to understand why Loid had said he’d like to see Elena actually punching Markus’s teeth in.

Pushing her shoulders back, Elena followed Markus to the next room, Loid walking behind them like a shadow, stopping at the door frame to watch the operation. Elena was expecting the blood to be taken out with some strange spell, so she was rather surprised when Markus proceeded to take his payment with a regular needle. As promised, the operation was over quickly and Markus was humming with a pleased tone, blood-filled syringes in his hands.

“Lovely, just spectacular,” he sighed, admiring his new ware. “I can tell this is first class stuff. You need to tell me where you can find humans like these, Loid.”

Loid leaned against the door frame crossing his arms over his chest.

“No one knows targets like her as well as I do,” he simply stated.

After Markus had gotten from Elena what he had been promised to, he left with Loid, leaving Elena behind into a tiny side room with some sandwiches and mint tea. Markus assured to her it would be safe for Elena to eat, but she remembered what Loid had said about random food offers. She got a glimpse of Loid’s face before the door behind them closed, and the way he looked at Markus with a sly smirk was almost like a flirty invitation, which took Elena off-guard. She reasoned that for what she knew about Loid, he used his body for magic anyway, so this wasn’t probably any big deal to him, especially when it was about Markus – whatever the kundaline Loid had promised in exchange of their remedy ingredients was. She decided not to fret about any of this, but concentrate on A or R’s well-being, focusing to send him prayers of good health and luck to ward off the curse until she make it back with Loid. 

 

Elena didn’t know how much time had passed, but she assumed it had been around half an hour when the door to her room opened, Loid’s head peeking inside.

“Alright, let’s go. Our business here is over,” Loid croaked, opening the door fully. Elena noticed something was off in him. He looked somewhat tired, but stood with a straight posture. Entering the shop’s side of the building she found Markus stocking something into a wooden box, and in her head Elena pondered if that was the item Loid had given to him.

“As promised, here you go,” Markus turned around behind the corner, fetching something from the lower shelves. “Pipa Seeds and two Silk Dragon’s claws.” He held two small velvety bags out to Loid, who took them and tipped his fingers before his forehead for a salute.

“A pleasure to do business with you, Markus,” he mock saluted Markus.

“As always, Loid,” he repeated the gesture back. “Don’t mind if I draw a Line here,” he continued.

“You always draw lines anyway,” Markus replied casually. “See you soon?” he asked when the black hole appeared in the middle of his shop.

Loid just snorted a soft chuckle and waved his hand. Then he pulled silently Elena under his arm and took the first step into the Line. Elena was happy that they left so quickly. Markus was still making her danger zone senses tingle, and she just wanted to get out there fast. Far away from him. The way Loid was quiet and somehow strange only made her bad feelings about Markus stronger. When they arrived back at Loid’s apartment, he basically pushed Elena further away from him.

“You are pale. Take something from the fridge,” he said unemotionally.

Elena’s eyebrow cocked.

“I could say the same about you,” she noted, but Loid said nothing, just making his way to the bathroom, and after a moment of silence Elena could hear him turning the shower on.

Unsure of what had actually happened, Elena did as Loid had advised and ate something, realizing only now how hungry she actually was. How there was strange kind of fatigue in her body after visiting Markus’s shop. While looking for a way to use the thing which looked like a microwave, Elena couldn’t help thinking if it had something to do with her being exposed to an ancient magical creature’s presence for so long, or  if it was Markus himself which was the cause. Clearly he had done something to Loid, too, as the man looked even more tired when he came back from the shower, loose black jogging pants on, hair messy and wet.

“I made a sandwich for you,” Elena offered, pointing at the plate next to her.

Loid stopped drying his hair, letting the white towel to drop on his shoulders, and smirked tiredly with the corner of his mouth.

“How thoughtful,” he said, with a look in his eyes which told Elena it wasn’t a thank you, “Put it in the fridge. I’ll eat it in the morning.” He put the towel on the stool’s back rest and turned to head to the black sofa.

As Loid turned around, Elena noticed a big bite mark on his upper back, near the shoulder line. It looked like it had been made by some animal. She paled.

“Oh my God, Loid!” she breathed out, utterly shocked. “You are hurt!”

“Hmm? Oh this?” he turned to look over his shoulder at his wound. “No big deal. It’s going to heal fast.”

“It’s not about that!” Elena replied back sharply, eyes wide. “That looks painful and horrible and dear Lord, what did Markus do to you?”

Loid looked almost irritated by Elena’s concern, but he only scoffed, heading to the sofa.

“Just part of the deal, like promised. Eat your meal and let me sleep,” he groaned, laying down on the sofa, back to Elena.

She wanted to argue back about the wound and Loid’s condition.

“If you get hurt who’s going to help me with the remedy?”

“Laney, you’re making this a lot worse than it is,” Loid growled, displeased.

Admitting her defeat with this matter Elena quieted up. She continued her meal, eyeing Loid’s back and the gaping wound every now and then. The longer she stared at that red, still slightly bleeding spot, the worse Elena felt herself. Guilty. Helpless. Unable to help to A or R alone she had gotten Loid into trouble. With a sullen face Elena thought about the meeting with Markus and their business with him. He had taken only blood ever so lightly and gently from her, but abused Loid.

Abused. That word caught Elena’s attention so abruptly the fork on her hand dropped on the floor.

So that’s what it was, Elena found herself thinking. Markus had… Markus… No… It couldn’t be…

But Loid’s tired face, his horrible bite mark, the way he had went to shower immediately when they had gotten back. The way he had been silent the whole Line trip. A hot sensation strangled Elena throat. She hiccupped.

“I’m sorry…” Elena half-sniffed, her head bowed down. She couldn’t believe what she was thinking. Was that even possible?

Loid opened one of his eyes lazily but said nothing. He listened attentively.

“I didn’t know Markus would…” she breathed out, unable to continue. She felt guilty.

“What? Sleep with me?” Loid asked, catching the drift immediately. “Please, that’s not the first nor the last time,” he rolled on his back and closed his eyes.

“I wouldn’t call that just sleeping when I look at you and how you are now…” she muttered, rubbing her hands and doing the best to fight the tears of guilt. “That… that looks more like a sexual assault to me.”

A deep chuckle rose up from Loid’s chest. “It was consensual. Business if you may. Stop fretting,” he noted with a grin.

“But I caused it. I… This is my trip, I need to save A or R,” Elena protested, knowing already what Loid would answer. “I feel guilty for doing nothing and just standing by, and getting others injured. First A or R and now you. I should do something, something besides what I did. If anything, I could have--”

“There’s no way I’d hand you over to Markus and you know that very well,” Loid snapped, just like Elena had anticipated. “Have you already forgotten what we spoke about before we came to this magical world? About your value here as a usable item? Markus is the most dangerous one for you. You are lucky he’s a friend of mine and we could negotiate a favorable price for those items we needed. You don’t want to fall into his hands. He’ll take much more from you than the kundaline and take it by force. Remember the maiden tears?”

Elena paled visibly.

“Markus would keep you here for eternity, make you stop aging and thus dying, torturing you to get whatever he or his clients want. Trust me, that man would probably sell me, too – and in a way he does,” Loid muttered, but didn’t seemed bothered by his words.

She shuttered at Loid’s words, remembering Markus’s intense eyes.

“…What did you give him, exactly, in return for the items?”

Loid smirked with a soft snort, amused.

“Just kundaline. He can extract it both in energy and magical forms for his collection,” he looked at Elena and made a crude pumping gesture with his hand over his groins. “Don’t look so shocked. Markus is an Incubus.”

“He’s a what?” Elena basically jumped up from her seat, almost knocking the tall seat over. “You took me to an Incubus, you son of a bi---“

“Pipe down, will you? You’ll disturb the neighbors,” Loid frowned angrily. “This is a peaceful apartment complex and I’ll get in trouble if you keep yelling, not to mention the trouble that will arise when my neighbors find out there’s a human here. It’s rare for me to even have guests here in the first place.”

Elena released her fingers which had already curled into fists, but she was still disappointed with Loid.

“But to an Incubus, of all the possible creatures...!” she repeated herself with a squeaky voice, but Loid only laughed.

“You speak like you’d know what kind of other creatures there are,” he mocked Elena, but then his expression got more serious. “Markus’s specialty is to extract sexual kundaline energy from all living beings. Super creative ingredient let me tell you, fits many types of spells and needs.” He eyed Elena keenly.  “Mine is a bit more special than an average magical being’s kundaline, so he’ll got a good price from my contribution. Lucky for you,” Loid actually sounded rather proud.

 

Elena listened to him with a flushed face. She had had a feeling what Markus had wanted from her when he had asked for kundaline energy, but hearing it coming from Loid’s mouth made it worse. More real. She was disgusted down to her core.

“So it’s… like… prostitution?” she tried to understand how Loid was so casual about the whole deal.

“Of course it’s not!” Loid groaned back dramatically, clearly hurt, “Markus’s is my friend and a business partner. We help each other out. If he wants something out of my body for himself and I get a good payment of it, of course I’ll do it, and vise versa. Or just for fun, we’re not strict with each other.”

“So he’s like your lover then? Or a boyfriend? Or a friend with benefits?” Elena crossed her arms, head cocking to the side. She tried her best to grasp what was going on.

“Laney, please, you make it all too complicated. It’s that human tendency to put labels on everything. Who cares about details? God, humans are too nitpicky with everything” Loid’s eyes rolled and he let out a miffed croak. Then a grin rose up to his lips. “Or are we getting jealous? There’s plenty of me for both of you. I don’t mind such trivial matters as whether or not the partner warming me up is a man or a woman.”

“No way, never!” Elena gasped out loud angrily, getting an amused chuckle from Loid as a reply. He turned on his side, his bare back to Elena, and a pained hiss replaced his chuckle.

“… Does it hurt?” she asked.

“He bit down quite hard and took a lot of blood. Such a selfish, greedy prick,” he murmured, turning to peek over his shoulder at Elena. “Are we getting worried?”

“No,” Elena answered sharply, “It’s just that I don’t understand this place, or these laws or whatever, and I can’t find the items for the potion alone, so you’d better not croak or anything,” she admitted. It made her feel down again thinking how useless she actually was here on her own.

Muffled laughter echoed from the black leather sofa.

“This won’t kill me. Sure, Markus could kill me if he really wanted to, but I could also I kill him if I wanted to – if I put up a good fight. We have this… silent agreement not to step on each other’s toes,” Loid explained, shifting back to a more comfortable position.

“… I don’t understand why someone would even want to kill their business partner. Sounds to me like you both gain quite a lot from each other…” Elena mumbled out loud her thoughts. She tried to imagine if Loid and Markus had a similar kind of a friendship in an emotional level like A or R and she had – and it felt wrong to even consider that one of them would kill the other, in any circumstances.

“Your obsession over Markus’s and my businesses is rather nosy,” Loid scoffed angrily without looking in Elena’s direction.

“Sorry, it wasn’t a question. I was only thinking out loud. A bad habit,” she apologized.

Loid snorted but didn’t reply to Elena. She took it as a sign to shut her mouth and leave Loid to rest. She did her best to assure herself that Loid knew what he was doing and judging from his stories this wasn’t his first – nor his last – time in Markus’s rough handling. Yet, the guilty gnawing sensation in Elena’s stomach didn’t leave her alone.  If she could have only helped somehow, some other way, and not just stood by…

 

“Markus and I… We respect each other, but know that we’re possible threats to each other, too,” Loid’s  croaking voice reached Elena’s ears. She could hear how Loid licked his lips while speaking. Loid was still resting in the same position, arms tucked under his head.

“’Keep your friends close and enemies even closer?’” Elena tried, surprised how Loid brought the matter back on the table.

“That human phrase is so amusing,” Loid noted, his tone somewhat humorous. “No, not like that. You’re labeling things again.”

Elena didn’t understand why Loid even wanted to talk about this matter suddenly. Nevertheless, Elena quietly waited to see if Loid wanted to tell more, for whatever reason he might have had.

“Markus’s magic is a lot more powerful than mine, for he’s an ancient being, like all incubi are. I’d need to put all I’ve got in line if I wanted to face him in battle. Not to mention there’s really no place to hide from him, as Markus has ears and eyes working for him everywhere,” Loid turned on his back, eyes closed.

“Are you saying we were in grave danger at that shop?” Elena yelped. Her stomach turned around when Loid nodded.

“And you didn’t tell me anything!” she cried, throwing her hands in the air in an animated manner. “I had a feeling it was a bad place but this…! You took me to monster’s, no, demon’s lair, just underneath his nose! To a demon even you couldn’t protect me from if he really wanted to do harm! You can’t even protect yourself against Markus! You say you are friends and yet--!”

“Laney, lower the voice please,” Loid groaned. He turned his head upwards towards the kitchen to see Elena better. “If I told you all this, you’d have freaked out. Freaking out lowers your stamina, which makes you an even easier target to Markus, and harder for me to protect. Magical laws again. Plus, you do understand the protective spell I put on you is something Markus does see, yes? And the pebble I gave you earlier? He’s not an idiot. Dangerous as he is, even for me despite our common interest towards each other, he’s not a fool. He wouldn’t do anything to ruin his business or reputation. Not anything to really anger me, for I am a sly bastard and I’d take him down the way it hurts the worst. Balance of terror if you may.”

She placed a hand on her face with a deep, deep sigh, shaking her head.

“… You are, at the same time, the worst companion I could have on this journey, and also my best shot,” she mumbled, earning a short laugh from Loid.

“That’s me,” Loid waved his hand and closed then his eyes with a deep yawn. “Now, I’m going to catch some sleep. You should sleep, too.”

 “Does this business of yours with Markus slow our journey down?” Elena asked, noticing just now how Loid’s lower eye lids had turned a dark purplish color.

“A little, but hey, we got two items. Let’s just wish we won’t need to turn to Markus’s help with the rest of them,” Loid yawned once more.

The next day, Loid just slept on the sofa under a huge pile of blankets which he had piled up from some secret place, not waking up until after a day and a half’s sleep.

Elena felt horribly guilty and scared for her journey in the magical world. 

What if the meeting went differently (ARE comics, arecomics.tumblr.com - Niuniente)


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