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Chapter 8 – Adventure in Central

Jeffrey was the first one up in the morning, and despite his best attempts to wake no one, he failed miserably. Given the amount of people staying in the modestly sized apartment, being stealthy was a nearly impossible task.

Cooper walked out from his bedroom, which also doubled as his office. He wore bunny slippers and a cotton pyjama of a children’s television series. “You’re up already?” he asked through a yawn.

“Yeah, Alver and Lana wanted to go check out the library. We’ll probably leave for Woodburt afterward,” responded Jeffrey.

“I see. Stay for breakfast, at least. Don’t want you leaving here hungry.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

While most of the apartment’s current inhabitants still slept, or at least stayed in bed, Kireina and Cooper prepared a simple breakfast for the three teenagers, who helped clean the traces of their short sojourn by putting away the secret bunk beds and tidying up the living room in which they slept.

Minutes later, they sat around the dining room table with fresh omelettes steaming on their plates.

“What are you gonna do at the library?” asked Cooper.

“Oh, well, it’s a complicated story,” shyly answered Alver.

“Hm? A visit at the library can’t be that complicated.”

“We want to find out about magic to remove Alver’s bag,” said Lana unhesitatingly.

“Magic?” asked Cooper, his thick eyebrows shooting up on his surprised face.

“It sounds kinda silly, I know,” said Jeffrey. “Normally, I wouldn’t jump to magic as a logical conclusion for something that can’t be explained, but after everything that we’ve seen surrounding Alver, magic might be his only hope.”

“I see. It is a rather strange thing, to have a bag stuck like that on your head.”

“You know, my husband researched many unconventional, occult things back when he was still alive,” said Kireina. “He didn’t always share all of his research with me if it didn’t lead to new discoveries, so I don’t know if he researched magic, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he dabbled in the topic.”

“That’s so cool!” exclaimed Lana. “If you find anything, can you tell us?”

“Of course! You know, if you’re of passage in Hokori at any point in time, you can stop by Ryu and I’s home. It’s become something of a museum.”

“That would be super awesome, thank you!”

“Just make sure you don’t overstep into dangerous territory during your research,” warned them Cooper in a more serious tone.

“Where did that come from?” asked Jeffrey.

Cooper turned to Alver. “You’re a peculiar boy. There are mysteries surrounding you that no one can currently decipher. Why is there a cardboard bag magically bound to your head? Trying to get an answer to that question will likely lead you down a risky path.”

“Are you sure? How do you know that?” worriedly asked Alver.

“I don’t. It’s just a gut feeling.”

“Always trust your gut!” said Lana.

“Exactly. You kids be careful.”

“Alright, we will be,” said Jeffrey as he got up.

A short while later, as he and Lana were getting ready to leave, Alver brought a small piece of his omelette to his backpack, which lay on the floor, loosely open. He opened it further and snuck the egg inside.

“What are you doing, kid?” laughed Cooper.

“Oh, I’m just feeding my cat. He loves egg,” answered Alver, as if having a cat in a backpack was the most normal thing in the world.

Suddenly, attracted by the newfound presence of a cat in the apartment, Tsume, who had just gotten up, came forward. “Y-you have a cat?” she asked shyly.

Alver nodded. “He’s quite shy in front of other people, so he’s been staying hidden the whole time. Would you like to see him?”

“Y-yes please,” she smiled.

Alver leaned his face into the bag and spoke directly to his cat. “You can come out, Muchatcho, it’s alright. It won’t be long, someone just wants to say hi.”

Very timidly, but trusting of Alver, Muchatcho slowly emerged from the backpack, a piece of egg in his mouth. Tsume’s face lit up as all she had dreamt of in the past twenty seconds came to life.

“C-can I pet him?” she asked, sparkles in her eyes.

“Of course, just be careful.”

As Tsume brought her hand on Muchatcho’s soft fur, her twin brother came out of the guest room in a hurry.

“Unfair!” he said as he rushed to pet the cat as well.

Overcome by the sudden noise and by Kiba’s rapid approach, Muchatcho retreated to the bottom of the backpack, curling himself in a protective ball.

“Come on!” whined Kiba. “How come he lets you pet him and not me!”

“Because you’re a big loud jerk!” replied Tsume with sass.

“Alright, that’s enough,” said Okami, following them into the living room. “Don’t cause a scene, you two. We’re guests here, stay polite.”

“This sucks,” pouted Kiba.

“I’m sorry, maybe some other time,” said Alver, trying to appease him. “I’ve gotta go now, but you’ll see him again.”

Alver joined his friends at the back door leading to the rickety staircase in the alley. They waved everyone goodbye and stepped outside.

“Thanks for everything,” said Lana.

The three friends headed down to Central’s busy streets, and began making their way to the library, which luckily for them, was located nearby. Half an hour later, they arrived at a large park, one of Central’s many green spaces.

Many paths ran along a quiet stream pouring into a lake located at the center of the park. Around the lake, vast open fields with few trees and picnic tables scattered about made for an ideal relaxing spot. Families gathered to take in the sunlight and to play outdoor games.

Just beyond the lake, a wide flight of stone stairs led to an ancient looking building. Six massive wooden doors and equally large pillars decorating their sides made for an imposing entrance. A constant influx of people, most of them students at nearby universities, kept the library busy.

The three friends walked in and were once again amazed at the scale of Central. Everything was so much larger than in Saint-Tacos, so much grander.

Jeffrey, being the least impressed of the three, waltzed to the nearest receptionist. “Do you guys have anything on magic here?”

The lady behind the counter took a second to process his request. “Do you mean novels with magical elements? Because, yes, we have quite a few.”

“No, I mean historical texts that mention magic. And no, I’m not being sarcastic.”

“Oh. Uh, let me check.” She executed a search in the system’s database and turned the computer screen to face Jeffrey. “I’m surprised to say we actually do. They’re on the fourth floor if you’re interested.”

On the screen, only two entries resulted from her search. Trivinartria : Legends of Old and Trivinartria’s Founding Fathers.

“Alright, thank you,” said Jeffrey. He went back to his friends, who were still gaping at the library’s spiraling stairs and walls of books. “Come on, I know where to go.”

“How? This place is huge!” said Lana. “There’s gotta be hundreds of books on magic! How are we gonna have time to read it all!”

“There’s two, I already asked. Now stop making a fool of yourself and follow me.”

“Only two? That doesn’t seem right.”

“It kinda does,” said Alver. “Given how we know nothing about Jonathan Arky, your ancestor who supposedly founded Trivinartria, I would expect magic to be a buried topic as well, if it’s even real.”

“Of course, it’s real! How else do you explain your bag!”

“Keep it down, you knucklefuck, we’re in a library,” said Jeffrey. “Now stop wasting time and go.”

Lana waited for Jeffrey to turn his back and mocked him by doing childish faces. Alver gave her a light tap on the back and followed his friend.

They climbed multiple flights of stairs, turned around many shelves, which turned the library into a maze, and stopped in a section dedicated to ancient historians’ work. After searching through the hundreds of books in front of them, they came out with the two they needed, and headed to a corner of the library to read.

“I’m gonna read Trivinartria’s Founding Fathers,” said Lana. “It might help learn something about my family.”

“Ok, then I’ll take the other one.”

“And there isn’t a third one, so I’ll just take a nap here,” said Jeffrey as he sat down on a beanbag.

“Very helpful of you,” Lana mocked him.

“Hey, I found the books, stop complaining.”

Alver and Lana spent many hours reading the books but could not finish them before Jeffrey got tired and demanded they leave.

“We have to go, guys,” he said. “We need to reach the Western Road on the outskirts of the city before nightfall.”

“Jeffrey!” complained Lana. “I’m not even halfway done! This book has like four million pages!”

“Just take it with you, who cares?”

“We can’t just steal them.”

“It’s not stealing, we’re just borrowing them for an undetermined period of time. What are they gonna do, charge us ten cents a day for each day that we’re late?”

“If we make an account here, yeah,” said Alver.

“Which we aren’t gonna do, so no penalty.”

“You’re shady,” said Lana. “I don’t wanna get in trouble because of you.”

“This is very low on the trouble scale, don’t be a pussy.”

“Alright, let’s stop bickering and just go. We can take them with us, it’ll be useful. We can return them once we’re back in Central,” reasoned Alver.

“There you go.”

Lana felt like protesting a bit more but knew it would have no effect on the boys, who had already made up their minds. They snuck the books in their backpacks and left the library.

In the park, they were met with familiar faces, who seemed to be looking for them. It was Pearson and Cooper, waving at them from a distance.

“What are you guys doing here?” asked Alver.

“Want a lift?” asked Cooper. “We can bring you to the edge of the city if you want.”

“See, we would have had time to stay and read more,” pouted Lana to her friends.

“Sure, that would be nice,” said Jeffrey. “I’m not a big fan of the city, so the quicker we’re out, the better.”

“It’s not for everyone, indeed,” politely said Pearson.

The group walked back through the park, which was busier than in the morning. Many people sat on the grass drinking and laughing, creating a merry, somewhat festive atmosphere.

Cooper had parked his car in a small parking lot close-by. It was an old clunker which based on its looks alone, threatened to give up and die at any moment.

The three friends squeezed onto the worn-out backseat, while Pearson had the luxury of sitting in the passenger seat.

Cooper started his car with more ease than the friends would have expected and took to the road. “So, have you found anything interesting?”

“Only two books related to magic in there,” disappointedly exhaled Lana.

“Well, that’s a beginning. I’d be glad to have found anything at all if I were you.”

“That’s true, I suppose.”

“There’s some pretty neat stories in the one I’m reading,” said Alver.

“Oh, yeah? What’s it about?” asked Pearson.

“It retells a bunch of legends from Trivinartria’s earlier days, but it’s written by ancient historians, so it may have some truth to it. But honestly, it does sound pretty far-fetched.”

“Really? Care to give us an example?”

“There’s one story about a colossus with a vulture on its shoulder who roams the desert. It says that wherever they go, a sandstorm follows, and that they have the power to create deserts.”

“Mhm,” nodded Cooper. “I think I know where that’s from. Have you ever heard of the colossi and the guardian spirits?”

“Only by name, I think.”

“It’s an old legend of Trivinartria. Millions of years ago, Trivinartria was merely a vast plain, where two races lived in harmony: the colossi and the spirits. Colossi were, as their name implies, gigantic creatures that roamed aimlessly in the plains of the young continent. Spirits, on the other hand, were a race of anthropomorphic animals, usually associated with birds nowadays, who lived on the colossi. Spirits would live and thrive on the colossi, feeding their hosts with their life energy, allowing them to keep walking around the plains, which the colossi would in return give life to, spreading forests, rivers and mountains. It was a mutually beneficial relationship between the two races, which brought life to the world. As most legends however, things eventually took a turn for the worst when one group of spirits and their colossi began stealing life energy from another to grow further. This conflict led to a fight between the colossi and their spirits, which would eventually break apart the typically peaceful creatures, leading them to each go their own way. They created biomes to live inside of, never to set foot in the territory of another again. Every geographic region of Trivinartria is associated with a colossus and its group of spirits: the Riverlands, the Woodlands, the Wastelands, and so on.”

“You know a lot of things,” said Lana, who had devoured the story the older man had told them.

“Yes, well I did study history back in my younger days.”

“Really? That’s cool!”

“However, this is a story from Trivinartria’s mythology, not so much historical facts.”

Alver sighed. “Yeah, I figured as much while reading. It felt way too cliché and magical.”

“But keep in mind that most legends and stories emanate from a real-life event or individual. It’s the passage of time and the lack of proper conservation of these stories throughout most of history that deforms them.”

“So, there might be some truth to it?”

“Perhaps, but be vey thorough in your search of the truth.”

Cooper told the three friends more stories from Trivinartria’s olden days that he had learned of in school decades ago, until they arrived at a motel a few kilometers outside of Central, on the Western Road.

“Well, here we are,” said Cooper as he stopped his car in the motel’s parking lot. “Are you kids gonna be alright?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about us,” said Jeffrey, almost annoyed at Cooper’s paternal worry.

“You still have the number I gave you in Saint-Tacos?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, then. We’ll be going, we have to go get Jordan at work. See you all later. Take care of yourselves.”

“Thank you for everything once again!” gayly said Lana.

After a final round of goodbyes, Cooper turned his old vehicle around and headed back for Central. It was silent in the car, minus the rumbling of the motor. Cooper looked straight ahead, a nostalgic smile on the corner of his mouth.

“I know it’s not unlike you to care for others, but why these three particularly? You seem to have a fixation on them.” asked Pearson to his older friend.

“They remind me a lot of you three when you were younger.”

“Yeah… I guess they do.”

“You see it too, don’t you? Jeffrey is like Troy. Strong, unhesitant, he even has a similar attitude. Lana is like you. She’s a good, kind-hearted girl, who brightens everyone’s day. She’s jovial even in tragedy, truly a ray of sunshine. Alver, he’s like Meredith. He’s calm, kind, logical, shy and quiet. He stands out, yet his presence is almost imperceptible. He has no judgment in his heart, and he won’t let what others think of him deter him. The three of them, they rely on each other a lot, because they’re like family.”

“So, I’m a ray of sunshine, then?” laughed Pearson.

“Yes. You’re part of the reason I get up every day.”

“Stop it, you’ll make yourself cry.”

“Yeah, sorry. I just hope that one day, we’ll be reunited.”

“Same here...”

***

Meanwhile, Jordan was finishing up his shift at the Central Grocery Store, the store he had been working at for the past five years. While poking fun at the lack of creativity in the name, most people failed to notice it was named so because it was located at the exact center of the city. Jordan felt privileged with such an exclusive piece of knowledge.

The young man glanced at his phone, which he quickly buried back in his pocket to avoid getting caught. 5:55 pm. In five more minutes, he would receive the sweet release of his weekend. With a newfound motivation to finish his shift properly, he placed as many items in the shelves as he could, neatly and fast.

Eric, his manager, stopped next to him with a satisfied smile on his face. “You don’t have to work yourself to death, Jordan. I’d rather have you alive, actually.”

Jordan was the only one to laugh at Eric’s jokes, if one could call them that. They were not particularly funny, but he was the type of person to find everything funny. He had joie de vivre unlike any other, especially for a twenty-four-year-old college student working a minimum wage job.

“Don’t worry,” said Jordan. “I don’t want people to remember me as the guy who was killed by his job as a grocer.”

“I guess not!” laughed his manager. “You go rest, Jordan. I’ll see you in two days. I gotta go get something in the back, so, see ya.” He waved him goodbye as he headed for the back store.

A few minutes later, Jordan was clocking out. Then, from the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something. In the managers’ office, on the desk, was Eric’s nametag. Eric was always making a big deal about wearing a nametag, so customers knew who they were talking to. He said it helped develop a better relationship with them and enticed them to come back. So, naturally, Jordan had to go rub it in his superior’s face that he forgot something he preached about so much. He grabbed the nametag and ran across the store. Upon entering the back store out of breath, he saw Eric turn the corner in front of him. He called his name, but the shortness of his breath cut off the sound. He continued pursuing his manager, though much slower than a second ago. He turned the corner and stopped abruptly. He stood in the back store’s main room, alone. Eric was nowhere to be found.

“Eric?” called out Jordan, whose confusion got greater when he received no answer. He knew he saw him come into this room mere moments ago. And yet, there was no trace of him, like he vanished into thin air.

His determination unchanged, Jordan began looking for Eric, thinking maybe he hid himself as part of an elaborate ruse. Maybe Jordan was the one being pranked. Maybe Eric had forgotten his nametag purposely. Or maybe Jordan was searching through a palette of toilet paper for someone who was not there.

“Jordan…” said a girl’s voice entering the back store. “What… are you doing?”

Jordan put a halt on his search and turned to his co-worker, who was eyeing him shamefully. “I think Eric is a ghost.”

“And I sometimes wish I wasn’t affiliated with you.” She pushed her work table forward to go throw away some boxes. “Didn’t your shift finish, like, ten minutes ago? Why are you still here?”

“You could at least pretend to not hate me.”

“I don’t hate you, you’re just weird.”

“Oh, you don’t hate-”

“I’m not going out with you, quit trying.”

“One day, my charm will be too much for you to handle, and the truth will inevitably come out of your mouth, my dear Sara.”

“Please don’t call me affectionate nicknames.” She threw cardboard in the compactor.

“Of course, the compactor,” said Jordan with a snap of his fingers.

“Is the ghost of Eric in there, or something?” mockingly asked Sara.

Jordan examined the exterior of the machine. There was a small space behind it, enough for a person to squeeze through. Bags of trash blocked the way to an already off-limits area.

“Please don’t go there,” said Sara.

“I didn’t know you worried about me,” snickered Jordan in amusement.

“Actually, never mind, I don’t care. Just don’t call me when you get stuck in there.”

“I’ll call you regardless,” he said with an exaggerated wink.

Sara’s eyes rolled in the back of her head.

Jordan knew Sara was way out of his league. She had natural beauty rivaling even the most attractive supermodels, as well as a charming attitude and a kind heart. Jordan, on the other hand, was a goofy, somewhat lanky and stupid man. He was not the only one to try his luck with Sara, but she sowed no interest in getting in a relationship, especially not with someone like Jordan, whom she constantly turned down.

“Get out of there,” she said as she was ready to head back.

“Hey, Sara? Since when has this door been here?” asked Jordan.

“What door?” she asked unexcitedly.

Jordan constantly made so many stupid remarks, it was impossible to know when he was being serious. This time however, he was. He gestured his co-worker to come, which she did, albeit reluctantly.

“What is it this-” Sara’s brow shot up in a confused frown.

In the small space between the compactor and the wall, hidden underneath piles of cardboard and unused items, all covered in dust, stood a door. It appeared as though someone had recently pushed away the debris blocking the door.

Jordan tried to open it, but it was locked. Sara pushed him out of the way and took a hair clip from her luscious brown hair. It took her a few seconds to unlock the door with it.

“I didn’t know you were a professional lockpicker,” said Jordan.

“My bro taught me in case I got kidnapped.”

“Are you afraid I’ll kidnap you?” he joked.

“Just shut up and open the door.”

Still holding Eric’s nametag, Jordan pushed open the door. If they were confused at first, bewilderment now took over. Steep metal stairs plunged into the darkness before them, disappearing into the void. The air coming from beyond the door was humid and dusty.

“Should we go?” asked Sara nervously.

“Eric totally went in there,” said Jordan. “It’s the only logical explanation.”

He turned on his phone’s flashlight and began his careful descent of the stairs. Each step echoed with dread and excitement. He turned to his colleague, who had not yet moved.

“Just pretend you’re a tomb raider, it’ll be fun,” he said.

“Pretending this is a tomb won’t help,” she said with clattering teeth.

“Maybe it is. Maybe Eric really is a ghost.”

Sara wanted to voice her anxiousness, but a burning sensation of curiosity in her stomach told her to advance with Jordan and see what lied beyond the mystery door. Jordan did not wait for her to dive into adventure on his own. When his silhouette disappeared at the bottom of the stairs, his colleague hurried after him, careful not to trip.

The stairs plunged far down into the unknown. Their hearts beat rapidly, though for different reasons. After a seemingly never-ending descent, they reached another door. Looking behind them, the light from the back store was almost imperceptible.

“This is a terrible idea,” said Sara. “We shouldn’t be here.”

“Maybe. But we’re here now, so let’s just have a look,” responded Jordan.

He turned the doorknob, which, unlike the previous one, offered no resistance. The door slowly creaked open. Jordan shone his phone’s light inside.

Beyond the door was not a room, or another corridor, but a massive open space. Stepping inside, Jordan realized how far underground they had gone. The ceiling was tens of meters high, and the width of the space far greater. It was like an abandoned mine. There were old, unused rails, mountains of dirt and gravel, and forgotten mining equipment.

Sara was equally as mystified by this discovery but had already seen enough. “Alright, we had a look, let’s leave now.”

Jordan would have acquiesced, if not for the whispers that caught his ears. They came from far in the mine. His sense of adventure tingled, and much to Sara’s dismay, he searched for their source without her consent.

“Jordan, I’m serious, this isn’t funny. There’s something seriously wrong with this place and I don’t like it,” murmured Sara, as if trying to avoid being heard by someone who might be close.

“We’re almost there, just a second,” said her co-worker.

He suddenly stopped and crouched behind some large wooden crates. He closed his flashlight and listened. Sara hid next to him and prayed for this unforeseen adventure to soon end. Listening attentively, they could hear two men talking.

“And one more thing,” said one of them in a raspy voice. “One of your workers is directly associated with the man who spoiled our operation in Saint-Tacos. His name is Jordan. I suggest you monitor him closely.”

Jordan and Sara were trying to process what they just heard, especially Jordan. He came eavesdropping on a conversation and the first thing he heard was about him.

The two employees recognized the voice of their manager, Eric. “I see. I’ll keep an eye on him. Though I doubt he would prove troublesome.”

The other man squinted his eyes and turned to the crates Jordan and Sara were using as cover. “Is that him hiding over there?”

Jordan and Sara’s hearts dropped to their stomachs. They had not moved a muscle, nor made a sound, and yet they had been found out. Jordan got up and waved awkwardly at the two men.

“You forgot your nametag, boss man,” he nervously laughed.

His manager had a completely different face from what he was used to. His eyes were strict, his usual smile gone. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Neither should you. You could get hurt,” said Jordan in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

“Who’s with you?”

“Who’s with me? No one’s with me.”

The other man spoke. “They’re your employees. I’ll do it.”

“Don’t kill them. I’ll try to work something out.”

“Don’t do what, now?” said Jordan, his confusion preventing him from feeling fear in the moment.

But, before he could try and talk his way out of the trouble he had accidentally sought, his head felt heavy. His consciousness faded as his body hit the ground. Sara barely had time to open her mouth to plea for mercy that her body fell next to his.

* * *

Cooper and Pearson waited in the parking lot of the grocery store. He looked at his watch. It was twenty minutes past five in the evening. “This is strange. Jordan should have given me news by now. You stay here, kid,” he told Pearson as he left his car and walked into the store.

There was a cashier working close to the exit. From her position, she could see everyone who left.

“Have you seen Jordan leave not long ago?” asked Cooper to the young cashier.

“Jordan? Now that you mention it, I haven’t. His shift is supposed to be over. Maybe he didn’t see the time pass.”

“That wouldn’t be the first time,” laughed Cooper.

“Want me to call him here for you?”

Cooper was about to gladly accept when he saw Eric walk to his office. “That won’t be necessary. Thank you, dear.” He jogged after the store’s manager, calling his name.

“Ah, Cooper, what can I do for you?” said Eric with his signature smile.

“Have you seen Jordan?”

“He left a little while ago. I let him leave a few minutes early. You haven’t seen him?”

“No. I must have missed him on my way here, sorry to bother you.”

“Never a bother, Cooper.” Eric gave him a friendly wink and entered his office.

As the door slowly closed, Cooper put his foot between the frame and the door and snuck in. Eric stopped moving, his back facing the other man.

“This is an employee-only area, Cooper,” he said.

“I’ll ask again. Where is Jordan?”

Eric turned around with a confused frown. “Cooper, I don’t like your tone.”

“Cut the crap. I’ve been around enough liars to know when I see one.”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

“Not a very good one.”

“Cooper, this little farce of yours has gone on long enough. If you don’t leave my office right now, I’ll have no other choice but to call the police.”

Unfazed by the threat, Cooper launched a punch square on Eric’s face. The man tumbled backward, falling to the floor. He covered his nose with his hand as the warmth of his blood trickled between his fingers.

“You broke my nose…” said Eric in disbelief.

“You can call the police if you want. I really don’t care. If you did anything to my son, I will break more than just your nose. Now, tell me where he is.”

“You’re insane!”

Cooper grabbed Eric by the collar. “This is your last chance. Where is Jordan?”

Eric knew he was not fooling a man as sharp as Cooper. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with, Cooper.”

“Neither do you.” He tossed the man aside and left the store with anger in his step.

“Where’s Jordan? Are you okay? You look pissed,” said Pearson upon seeing Cooper enter the car by nearly ripping off the door.

“Get ready, tonight, when the store closes, we’re sneaking in. Jordan is in danger.”

“Seriously? What happened?”

“Something shady is going on, and Eric is involved. Jordan hasn’t left yet, and he refuses to tell me where he is.”

“What the hell…”

Cooper grabbed his cellphone and dialed his apartment’s phone number.

Kireina answered on the other side. “Cooper?”

“Kireina. Is Okami here?”

“Yes, would you like to speak to him?”

“Put me on speaker.” Once she did as she was told, Cooper addressed himself to Okami, simultaneously warning the others. “Something dangerous might be brewing up. I think Jordan is in danger. Tonight, Pearson and I are gonna go in the grocery store to try and find him, but I’m afraid someone might come to our home. Okami, can you protect Kireina, Kevin and the kids while we’re away?”

Okami had listened with an acute attentiveness to Cooper’s request, which had been delivered with genuine fear and worry. “Yes, you can count on me.”

“Thank you. Be careful.”

“You too.”

Cooper hung up, leaving the apartment’s inhabitants shaken to their core, especially Kiba and Tsume, who did not fully grasp the seriousness of the situation, but who nonetheless felt crushed by the expression of terror on Kireina’s pale face.

Cooper drove off to wait for the store to close and to blow off some steam. “We’ll get him back. I’m not letting another one of my children be taken from me. Not again.”


Submitted: March 01, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Thomas Vlasblom. All rights reserved.

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