Chapter 31: Within, Part II

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

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Comments: 1

Lance slid against the alleyway's wall, pushing his legs out as he felt the sun gently warming his skin, his clothes. He wanted to close his eyes, enjoy it for a moment, but the strange thought of how the warmth wasn't real took his focus elsewhere. Was feeling the warmth something his own mind was creating, or was it another detail Zidane had put in?


He looked ahead, where Zidane and Mungslev sat across from him. They were nearly immersed in shadow, the darkness cutting across the ground and Lance's outstretched leg at an angle. Despite the contrast in light, Lance could see them. He could see the two bags beside Zidane, another in his lap, its plastic bustling about as Zidane's hand dug around inside. He soon pulled out a small bag of nuts and his face fell in something of disgust and disappointment. Lance nearly let out a laugh, knowing the memory of unshelling so many was replaying in his head. He kept the amusement in, knowing there was something different about this memory. A peacefulness he didn't dare interrupt.


Mungslev reached out, snatching the bag from him. "Hey, those are good!"


Zidane didn't protest, watching as Mungslev tore open the top of the re-sealable bag and opened it up. Lance watched as the crossbreed turn back to his plastic bag, picking out a can. His face fell with subtle disappointment; the memory of living in the alley, learning he couldn't digest metals flashed into Lance's thoughts.


"Here." In a way that seemed softer than before Mungslev reached out, taking the can from Zidane's hold.


One leg stretched out, allowing him to take the knife from his pocket. He laid the can on its side, placed the blade near the edge of the lid, and began sawing. The knife was sharper than Lance expected, but then again he never expected a seven-year-old to be carrying around a knife at all. He looked up to Mungslev's face, studying the slight concentration in his features, and wondered how he got here.


It was a thought Zidane didn't answer; the can was sawed into halfway without an interruption and Mungslev immediately tilted it upright. He used the knife again, moving it into the can and prying the newly formed lid up and away.


His stare remained completely turned away as his arm stretched out to Zidane, silently offering the can back. The lid bounced at the motion, thin metal hanging on to the rest of the can by no less than an inch. A silence captured them both, Zidane's stare going from Mungslev to the can. Mungslev didn't move, every strain of his focus on the ground beside him. Eventually, Zidane took the can with both hands, bringing it towards him and staring down at it. His fingers fished around inside for a moment, thumb and forefinger only coming up for air to meet one another, thin syrup exchanging between each kiss of the skin.


When Zidane began pulling out the thin slices of peaches, when a few more moments of silence passed, Lance heard Mungslev speak again. Ever since the can was offered, an emotion had been planted in the air. Slowly, it had spread, and upon hearing Mungslev's voice, Lance became settled into its presence.


"You got lucky back there, you know."


Zidane turned to him, one cheek puffed with food and lips spotted with syrup. Mungslev glanced in his direction, dark eyes switching to something of a deeper plum color. He shook his head.


"That guy could'a had one of those boom... things." He made a gun with his hand, firing it soundlessly before shaking his head. His hand dropped down to his lap. "I don't know what they're called; I just know they hurt."


They stayed in silence, all three of them, until Mungslev looked back down to the bag of mixed nuts. He put a hand in, a one that Lance painfully realized was so small. Way too young for any of this.


"So yeah," Mungslev said, bringing his hand out. He turned his palm upwards and opened his fingers, revealing a small pile of nuts. "Wasn't bad for your first time."


While he began to eat, Zidane stayed quiet, blankly staring at a spot besides Lance where the alley wall met the ground. His eyes deepened, darkness bleeding and overtaking the blue until there was barely any left. For the first time in what seemed like a long while, he spoke. His voice rang out in the darkness covering them, the whispered words traveling to Lance and hitting something inside him like an earthquake.


"Does it get better?" he asked.


Mungslev's chewing slowed, and then eventually, he shrugged, looking away.


"Not sure, but let me know when you find out."


Another moment of stillness passed before one of them moved; Zidane looked down to the can of peaches, then to Mungslev. Without a word, he extended the can, holding it out in offering. Mungslev glanced between him and the can, seemingly about to reject it until he reached forward, taking it from Zidane's hand.


A smile curved Zidane's lips as Mungslev held the can between his knees, tipping the handful of nuts into his mouth. They didn't speak; Lance could tell they didn't have to. The emotion he had felt at the very beginning of the memory came up again. A peacefulness that made him more aware of the sun, a warmth that was real or not. But it wasn't just a feeling of contentment. It was friendship.


Lance's surroundings faded, becoming nothing but the pure white landscape again. He took a small step back, trying to look around and see something of the next memory. This couldn't be the end... Could it?


Zidane stepped towards him, still in the body of his six-year-old self. He looked up, a little surprised as he stopped a few feet from Lance.


"Oh, this isn't it," the crossbreed said with a smile. "I just... wanted to give you a little more of a transition into the next memory."


The connection clicked. "This is the one, isn't it?" Lance asked. "The one you told me about earlier?"


"The warning, yeah."


Lance heard it in his voice, could tell that whatever was coming up next was something Zidane didn't want to revisit. Lance swallowed, trying to flip the heaviness in his chest over, make it something lighter.


"Don't think my skin's gotten any thicker."


Zidane pushed a half-smile onto his face.


"Just let me know if it gets to be too much, alright?"


Whatever humor Lance had conjured was gone. He nodded, closing his eyes and trying to prepare himself in the space of a standard blink. When his eyes opened, he was in the weapons room again, the room Zidane and Arzo had been in together, but this was a fact Lance could barely register as Zidane was thrown against the wall. He stayed on the floor, on his side, curled inwards slightly. His closed eyes flinched tighter as Arzo took a step forward, words trembling with anger.


"I told you to stay."


Another step, another flinch. Arzo crouched down in front of Zidane, and as Lance looked on front a side view, he saw how small Zidane looked. How Arzo was leaning down at an angle, looming like a hawk over its prey.


Arzo reached down, taking a fistful of Zidane's hair. Slowly, the crossbreed was forced to sit upright, a bit lower than eye-level. Arzo's fist tightened, knuckles almost paling.


"Look at me." 


The eyes that were clenched in pain slowly began to soften; the brows above them began to space away from one another, the heavy lines in the skin disappearing as Zidane did as he was told. Dark eyes looked into Arzo's, the creases of pain still lining the center of the crossbreed's brows as if he was preparing for whatever came next.


Arzo leaned closer, voice whispering.


"You think you know what this is, don't you?" he said. "You think you know pain, you think you know what it means to suffer." The ghost of a smile curved his mouth, the whites of eyes turning pink and glossy. "How foolish the weak are. But oh how eager they are to learn."


Zidane landed back on the floor as Arzo stood up. Lance found himself near the center of the room again, Arzo walking straight towards him. His eyes were still glossed, blinking rapidly as he pushed both hands through the sides of his hair. When he withdrew his hands, all the hair swept into the tight ponytail outwards but didn't come completely loose. It was wild; unstable. Arzo suddenly turned to the left, grabbing a weapon off the wall like he already knew which one to pick. Like he had been waiting for this. Planning, even.


A sickeningly bitter taste came into Lance's mouth, but he kept watching, refusing to take the distraction his body was trying to give him. Arzo turned back to Zidane, the weapon in his hand.


"Get up. This is part of your training."


Lance looked back to him. What?


Zidane raised his stare, constant pain still evident in his face. Pushing shaking hands off the floor, he stood, stumbling for a moment as the clicking sound of a chain entered the room.


Zidane leaned to the side, the blade grazing the bridge of his nose before shooting into the wall. Blood leaked from the cut, barely forming anything more than a small circle before running footsteps caught Lance's attention. Arzo closed the distance between them in less than a few strides, yanking the knife out of the wall as he moved. The blade retracted back into his sleeve as Zidane started moving, attempting to sprint around Arzo. One step to the left and a reaching hand was all it took to stop the crossbreed, the Spiro paying no heed to the desperate thrashing. 


Arzo turned, swinging Zidane around and releasing his hold on the crossbreed. Zidane stumbled to the center of the room, nearly falling over before Lance saw Arzo lung forward again, the pipe in his hand swinging with the arc of his arm. Lance closed his eyes before the blunt object hit Zidane's head, but upon hearing a quick whoosh of air, opened them again. Zidane had ducked, and as the blade continued its swing, Lance saw the slight dents on the smooth metal surface. So this had been used before... On other children?


Lance didn't know. He didn't even want to watch, but there was a small responsibility rising up. He felt like he had to; like he'd made a promise to Zidane.


His breath clenched in his throat when the makeshift sword suddenly swung, retracing the path it just made in a backwards stroke. It hit the corner of Zidane's forehead, the blow making him stumble to the side. Another hit to the opposite side of the body, to the ribs. For a moment, the blow came to Lance as well; he felt the blunt power against his side, the cracks in the bones of his ribs. He inhaled, silently wincing at the action. When Lance exhaled, the pain was gone.


Another swing caught Lance's focus. He looked back to Zidane, seeing the crossbreed finish staggering back and narrowly missing a blow to the face. His eyes were glazed, unfocused. Lance could see that by the way they seemed to drift along in no particular path. A sign of a concussion, maybe, but mostly the sight stabbed another realization into Lance.


The age. Six, barely even. What kind of life is this? Who does this to a kid?


Lance felt the first sign of tears; a light, simmering pressure behind his nose. The feeling grew, expanding to the back of his eyes as Arzo suddenly pivoted, swinging his foot like a sledgehammer and catching Zidane in the side. He landed on the floor, keeping his head up to avoid another hit. He turned over to one side, hand pushing himself upwards when Arzo's knee slammed his head back to the floor. Arzo stayed there, down on one knee with his other holding Zidane down. Lance distantly noticed that Arzo's tail was out, the long limb wildly thrashing about like a lion's.


In the next moment, Lance found himself on the opposite side of the room with a clear view of Zidane's face. His skin was red, blood rushing up from the pressure of Arzo's knee. Lance felt Zidane's wounds again, but this time they were different. There was something strange on his bones, where the ribs had cracked. Like there was another layer growing, repairing at a rate that wasn't normal.


Arzo pressed his knee harder against Zidane's face. Saliva sputtered out from Zidane's lips, the pain on his face increasing until his eyes were nearly shut tight. With an eerie calmness, Arzo reached down, pulling Zidane's lower eyelid downwards.


"Come on..." His voice, his whole demeanor had changed. He seemed bored now. "Show me something else." With the bottom skin of his eye visible and small red veins reaching out, Zidane looked towards him. Confusion and helplessness came onto his face, an expression that was erased as Arzo took his hand away and shoved his knee against him again.


"Like you don't know what I'm talking about." A growl was below Arzo's words, an anger that increased as he continued speaking, words trembling with mirth. "Think about them. The people who took your life away, your family, your hope." He leaned down as close to Zidane's face as he could with his knee still as it was. His voice came close to a whisper. "They're all separate, aren't they? A freak, a monster like you. You must've had hundreds."


For the first time, a sound came from Zidane. A slight whimper, but from the way his eyes were closed, the way his face had turned down slightly towards the floor and his hand was half-clenched into a fist, Lance knew the sound wasn't from Arzo's weight. Lance felt it in his chest; a burning feeling that was growing, rising up from the depths of somewhere. The feeling was expanding, branching out and moving like fire that possessed a heartbeat. Sweat sliding down his temple brought Lance back to the room. He tried to name the emotion, but realized he had felt nothing like it; the experience was like seeing a brand new color.


The pipe in Arzo's hand clattered to the floor. Even before the weapon had stopped rolling, Zidane was reaching for it; straining, fingers almost touching the pipe. Arzo leaned closer to Zidane, grinning in a way that sent chills into Lance


"You want that, don't you? I can see it in your face. You wanna swing until my bones crack, don't you? My teeth fall, my blood shows." He moved closer, voice dropping lower. "Do it."


"Please!" Zidane yelled. "Let me go!"


"Let you go?" Arzo loomed forward. "Why would I let a freak, an absolute disgrace like you go?" He hunched, upper body dropping as his voice did the same. "You're nothing but a monster. A waste of air. Lower than dirt." His knee shoved against Zidane's head, punctuating his words as Zidane gave a small wince.


Lance swallowed, trying to focus on something else. But he just watched Arzo, tail thrashing about. A click sounded and Lance's stomach dropped as the knife embedded into something solid—wood. Suddenly he found himself staring at Zidane from a new angle, the crossbreed facing him. Zidane's face was red, clenched in pain.


The knife was in Arzo's hand, pulled out of the floor.


Zidane stopped struggling, staying incredibly still given the circumstance. He breathed out, the exhale shaking out of his lungs.


"Ah, here we go," Arzo said, lowering the knife to Zidane's face. Turning the blade, pressing the tip to the base of Zidane's eye, protruding the ball slightly.


"We have a memory here, don't we?"


"No..." Lance breathed.


Zidane swallowed, staring at the wall far away from him. Staring at the pipe that had clattered from Arzo's hand.


The blade shoved an inch into Zidane's eye, breaking the skin. "Move, or your eye is coming out."


Zidane reached out, straining for the pipe. His feet moved, sliding against the floor, bringing him inches closer to the makeshift weapon.


His fingertips strained. The blade pressed in further, sinking between bone and eye.


Zidane slid up just enough for his fingers to separately curl and secure the pipe into his hand. What happened next seemed like one motion; Arzo lifted himself off and Zidane swung as he turned onto his side, leading with the hilt of the pipe. The memory slowed, allowing Lance to take in Arzo's right leg pivoting with the minimal amount of effort in order to dodge the blow arm at his knee. Zidane's eyes widened, darkness swallowing them even further. Like he was surprised it had missed; like he was surprised that fire inside him was still there.


The memory returned to its normal pace with Arzo's foot stomping on the spot Zidane's knee had been just seconds ago. Zidane had moved it just in time, neither him nor Lance having enough time to process what would've happened if he hadn't done anything. A now familiar click cut through the air. Zidane head-slipped the knife, the black anger in his eyes returning as the blade shot back into Arzo's sleeve.


"Move." Before Arzo had even finished growling the command, Zidane was halfway on his feet. He used the end of the pipe to push off and get to his feet faster, immediately turning the weapon and blocking a kick aimed at his upper body. The force was still too much and Zidane rolled backwards. Without pause, he got to his feet again.


Arzo allowed him to dash forward, sidestepping the swing. Blinded by the anger, Zidane pivoted and swung at him again. Before the attack was even halfway executed, the top of Arzo's foot rammed against the side of Zidane's face, whipping it to the side.


"Fo-cus." The word was stretched out, clicking in a biting end. "Or are you too impaired to know how to do that as well?"


Zidane stopped moving, the question freezing his legs and halting his arms in mid-swing. Lance saw the memory he was thinking of; re-experiencing it as Zidane stared off ahead of himself.


Jeykoon's pitch-black eyes narrowed, strands of incredibly long hair moving off his shoulder and onto his lap as he tilted his head to the side. His stare swept from Zidane's lower back and up to the crossbreed's bowed head.


"Are you too impaired to have a tail as well?"


That sting echoed through Lance again, as Zidane swung the pipe, narrowly missing Arzo's knee. Another swing, retracing the path just taken, a feral yell ripping out.


"Pathetic," Arzo commented, and something like a smile came as his hand raised. Wrist positioned at Zidane's head.


The blade shot out, chain speeding as Zidane wrangled free and ducked, merely missing the knife by inches. As the blade was retracted, he swung, the heel of Arzo's sweeping foot connecting with the back of Zidane's head.


The crossbreed staggered forward, stopped for only a moment before swinging again.


This wasn't training. Lance pushed his hands through his hair, palms pressing hard against his . Whatever this is... It's not training.


He pushed away the thoughts of how young everyone was, the thoughts of everything that had happened before—pain and tragedy that seemed to be building up like the bricks on some kind of God-awful wall. Lance didn't know what to focus on, trying to think of something before a memory of Zidane's voice came to him.


"Trust me when I say my life gets better. I need you to believe that, okay?"


Those words repeated over and over until they were memorized. Lance breathed in, gradually straightening again with his hands burrowing into the pockets of his jeans. He blinked quickly, doing what he could to rid the light sting in his eyes, before his attention was ripped away from himself.


Arzo let go of Zidane a moment later, and Zidane hit a nearby wall. Clattering weapons down with him. The pipe hit the ground, rolling away as he landed stomach-down on his forearms, fists clenched. Lance saw the blood drip from his face, the source of the wounds hidden from his hair. The scarlet red kept spotting his skin like rain beginning to fall, and it wasn't until a moment later that Lance realized he was shaking. Zidane's hands opened into claws as they lifted to his head, arms tightly cradling the sides of his face. He was silent, his physical voice gone while his body spoke volumes. The quickening of his breath, the deep inhales that raised his back, outlining the bones of his spine. How his hands had grabbed his hair; not pulling at it but holding, clenching as if that was all he had left. The blood that had been smeared on his wrists and arms from various cuts had tainted the blonde of his hair, and the scarlet red brought Lance's focus to the only feature of Zidane's face he could still see.


Two separate trails of blood traveled along Zidane's nose. Their paths had changed since he had curled his arms inwards and brought his head down. Now, one path had crossed into the other, the drops joining together before falling off the point of his nose.


Like someone else had taken control of his muscles, Lance looked away from Zidane, stare going to Arzo. The Spiro slid one foot back, still calmly surveying the bloodied child on the floor. He pivoted towards the door, an air of satisfaction following him out.


Submitted: November 27, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Meaghan Kalena. All rights reserved.


Add Your Comments:


Raven Akuma

We meet again, Meaghan!! lol, I just came back from hiatus and left on and I guess I landed on the perfectly intense chapter to comment on again. This story is getting heavy, and it's just so compelling! I believe I meant to do this earlier, as well, but would you mind if I added your name to my recommended authors list? It's how I promote friends, but I like to ask permission first of course, lol. Anyway, love your story! :)

Wed, February 22nd, 2023 5:14pm


Hi Raven! Thanks so much for your comment and continued readership :) this is a chapter I’ve always been nervous about (it was hard to write!) so I’m glad it was received well.

You’re more than welcome to add my name. Thanks :)

Wed, February 22nd, 2023 4:21pm

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