The Mighty King - Chapter Two
Posted January 2nd, 2018 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: Hey everyone! I'm sorry this chapter is late, but I'm lazy and easily distracted, so I ended up watching two seasons of Grey's Anatomy instead of writing. Furthermore, I'm leaving the country for two weeks and won't have my laptop with me so the next chapter will also be late by at least a day or two...or three.
In other news, I personally think this chapter sucks way worse than the first, the characterization just...isn't there. I wasn't feeling it while writing, so I apologize for the poorer-than-usual quality of this chapter, and also I should mention that as I'm looking at the draft I have of the next chapter...it's not great either. Just a forewarning. That being said, I could use your help! If you notice anything-- anything-- that could be changed to improve this chapter, or the story overall, please let me know!
This chapter's song is Badlands by Alyssa Reid ft. Likewise.
Thanks so much
P.S. I must have accidently put the first chapter as a story instead of a chapter, so here's the link to it; https://www.kidpub.com/story/mighty-king-chapter-one-2935161692
[ Badlands ]
There wasn’t much you could do about something you couldn’t predict and barely remembered. Night terrors were chokingly awful, and uncontrollable. Masy jolted out of bed, sweat soaked her night clothes and her heart skittered. She dug the heels of her palms into her eyes, willing the pressure to rub away the fear. It took thirty long seconds for her to catch her breath, and when she did she sucked it in and blew it all out along with the rest of her panic.
She stumbled out of her hammock and down the curved hall that followed the building’s circular outer wall. In the bathroom, she flipped the cold water switch for the shower and stuck her head under the freezing spray. Shaking off the residual fear with chattering teeth, she blindly grabbed a towel to dry her hair. Across the hall, someone was pacing in the kitchen. If it was her dad then she had time to spare before school, he always rose at unholy times to get ready for work. If it was her mom, she was probably running late.
“Honey, are you read to leave?”
Masy groaned; it was her mom.
“Nearly,” she called. She dragged a brush through her rats’-nest of purple hair and grabbed a hairband from the vanity drawer. She hated having hair in her eyes, almost as much as she hated school.
Speeding past her mom, she grabbed a pro-offered slice of grain bread and took her sack from the hook by the apartment door.
“Thanks, mom,” she said over her shoulder on her way out. If her mom answered, she didn’t hear it over the clicking of the door.
Outside, a crisp wind batted a plastic bag over the asphalt. The smoghead roiled in the sky above, poisoning all of Feiex. Every enclosed space large enough to fit an adult human was packed with heavy-duty air filters, so as long as you didn’t linger outside for too long you probably wouldn’t die of exposure. It was a shock for outsiders though, a couple ended up hospitalized every year.
Masy ran into the tram stop not a moment too soon and hurried up the steps to the cab. As one of the first stops on the tram route, she was regularly the only person on in the mornings. Today however, she had company. A tall black man who looked like he’d lost more than one night of sleep was perched on the edge of the very back seat. The Aeskotite from last night. What was his name again? Manny? Lira’s memories were always foggy, especially in the mornings.
Masy cleared her throat as she sat, to catch his drifting attention. He glanced up, recognition flitting across his face.
“Oh hi, um, about last night. I’m sorry, but it’s important for you to believe me,”
Masy held up her hand to silence him, “I believe you.” At the base of her spine something—someone, rather—stirred. The Aeskotite looked taken aback, his mouth gaped slightly.
Manuel, that was his name. Masy took a bite of her grain bread and settled back in her plastic seat. There was a whole tram ride ahead, she would let Manuel sort things out on his own for a bit. See if he could figure out her surprise.
Four stops later, Lira’s friend boarded. His lips were wet with clear gloss, he smiled when he saw her, but it vanished the moment he spotted the Aeskotite. Masy quirked an eyebrow.
“Hey, Masy,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation. Jensen Jae was one of the few people who could tell Masy from Lira at a glance or by a greeting. Of course, it helped that Lira was one of only two people on the planet who called him by his real name.
“Been busy?” she asked, skimming him. His eyes were bloodshot and there was a faint stain on his right sleeve. He scowled at her.
“Lira was supposed to call last night,” he muttered.
“She had a shower and fell asleep,” Masy shrugged. She wasn’t responsible for Lira’s mistakes, she wouldn’t be held accountable. Movement out of the corner of her eye had her smirking. JJ bristled as the Aeskotite came up to them. Manuel had finally sorted things out.
“Did you need something?” JJ asked, trying and failing to keep the tremor out of his voice. He was in a mood, if he was speaking up. Manuel ignored him, focusing instead on Masy.
“You’re not the person I spoke to last night.”
“Bingo.” Masy snapped her fingers, “My name’s Masy, last night you met Lira.”
Her spine pulsed again in the same place, a residual tic racing down her arms. She shook her fingers out.
“Mace,” JJ murmured warningly.
“I know what I’m doing,” she snapped, probably more harshly than necessary. Manuel grabbed hold of an overhead handhold as the tram screeched to a stop. His brow was furrowed in thought.
“You’re twins,” he guessed.
“Close, take a seat.” She tipped her hand at the seat net to her. Manuel sat carefully, choosing again to perch on the edge of the plastic mould. “Look closer.”
She pulled off the headband, fluffed her hair, and let her posture loosen. She felt more than saw Manuel’s gaze wash over her. She knew what he saw; she wasn’t just identical to Lira, not just achingly similar, she was exactly the same. The same copper eyes, same faun’s ear, even the same faded scar on her left ring finger. Realization dawned in his eyes. They were two people, two minds, in the same body.
“Ah, I see.” Manuel nodded as if that made perfect sense. Which, really, it did. “Why is it that you believe me but the other…you, wouldn’t?”
Masy slipped her headband back on, making a distasteful grunt at Manuel’s question. She had started putting things together years ago. There were hints, too many to ignore. And yet, Lira found ways to ignore them anyways. It was frustrating beyond words.
“I pay more attention,” she clipped. The tram rumbled on, they were entering the business sector. “I want to know what you’re supposed to protect me from.”
“He’s what?” JJ hissed beside her. She went on, studying Manuel’s reaction.
“Are you the reason for the scuffle outside the school?”
His shoulders tightened incrementally, incriminating when paired with the slight flaring of his nostrils. Masy tipped her chin thoughtfully. What was Manuel’s deal? Why, of all times, had he shown up now? Manuel glanced around the tram, the small space was filling quickly with other passengers. Witnesses, all of them. He shifted uneasily, weighing his words before he spoke.
“Tell me more.”
“I—” he hesitated, running a hand through his short curls, “I can’t here, there are too many people.”
“We’ll get off at the next stop, find somewhere quieter,” she said, she turned to JJ, “How do you feel about skipping school today?”
“Not him,” Manuel said before JJ could answer for himself. Masy swivelled on a dime, jaw set in a firm line.
“Yes him,” she snapped, fixing Manuel with a flash in her eyes that he clearly hadn’t been prepared for. “Unless you want me to start screaming about the Aeskotite who won’t stop making lewd comments about me.”
Manuel pursed his lips, gripping his knees tight, like they were anchors keeping him from making stupid remarks.
“Okay, okay, your friend comes,” he conceded, “is there anyone else you would like to bring along, the driver maybe?”
Masy snorted, and scratched her cheek to disguise the amused grin that twitched briefly up her lips. Sarcastic bugger, she thought with a smidge of begrudging approval. Were all Aeskotites like this?
The next stop on the route was a steel park. Wide swaths of concrete with purposely varied topography and beautiful sculptures. Masy lead the way off the tram, her and JJ’s exit went unquestioned despite their obvious youth. Masy held her breath as Manuel jogged down the two short tram steps after them, the rickety metal creaked under his weight.
Just keep your mouth shut, Masy thought vehemently at the tram driver. Manuel attracted attention on his own, but it was absent attention, abject curiosity and mild unease. A single comment from a concerned bystander, and that attention would become sharp and focused. The other passengers would notice Masy and JJ—too young to be out on a school day--, their small minds would jump to conclusions, make the wrong connections between the Aeskotite and the children, and Masy would lose her chance to get answers.
“Where ya headed?” The tram driver piped up. Masy rolled her eyes skyward. She stopped in front of a holographic route map, preparing to step in with a smile and an assurance that Manuel was with her. It might not work but it was worth a shot anyways. As it turned out, her acting skills went unneeded.
“Sight-seeing,” Manuel answered calmly.
“Is that so?” The driver didn’t sound convinced, but Manuel remained unconcerned.
“Yes, I’m a teacher’s aide back home, we were considering Ceszna for a class trip next yeat. They sent me ahead to look around and see if there are activities for the kids. Is that a problem?”
Masy watched Manuel out of the corner of her eye. He stood on the last step, half-turned to the driver, arms hanging casually by his side.
“Not at all,” the driver grumbled. “go on.”
Manuel strolled off the tram, and past Masy and JJ.
“Stay here until he’s gone,” he whispered, on his way by, not so much as glancing at them. Masy tapped the hologram, pretending to study it. The tram doors squealed shut, but the tram stayed idling for a few moments longer. When at last it let off two short beeps and chugged out of the sop, Masy pivoted away from the route map and nearly jumped out of her skin. JJ was right beside her, cleaning his glasses with the tan sleeve of his sweater. Quiet kid, he was, easy to misplace, and he knew it too.
“Come on, let’s go find Sir Protector.” Masy stepped around him, pretending he hadn’t startled her. Manuel was nowhere in the stop. JJ slipped his glasses back on and jogged after Masy.
“Remind me why we’re trusting an Aeskotite stranger,” he shoved his hands in his pockets.
“That’s racist.” Where was Manuel? She wandered towards the park, craning her neck to check any nooks or crannies that might fit the large many. The fingers of her right hand cramped.
“What? No it’s not.”
“Saying ‘Aeskotite stranger’ instead of just ‘stranger’ implies that he’s more untrustworthy than a regular old stranger because he’s Aeskotite.”
JJ opened his mouth, the closed it and sighed through his nose, “Okay, Mace, sorry. Why are we trusting him?”
“I’m interested in knowing what he has to say.” Masy started down one of the sunken-in paths that snaked throughout the steel park. Few other people were on the trails this morning. In the distance there was a jogger, the plastic tube connecting her oxygen mask to her air filter bounced against her thigh. Masy looked up to the sky, crossing her arms. The smog wasn’t terrible today, but she could’ve done with her own filter anyways.
“What did he tell Lira?” JJ asked.
“That I believe I’m meant to be her protector.”
Both JJ and Masy jumped at Manuel’s voice behind them. JJ went a shade paler. Turning on her heels to face him, Masy narrowed her eyes at Manuel.
“Don’t sneak up on people like that,” she scolded. Manuel stared down at her, blue eyes impassive. Masy frowned and turned away before a staring match could ensue. Lira was growing more agitated by the second, she was causing major twitch problems and Masy didn’t want to give her any extra reason to act up.
“What are you supposed to be protecting me from?” she demanded, focusing on a huge squiggly sculpture not far down the trail. She didn’t understand what it was supposed to be, and that irritated her.
“I’m not sure,” Manuel admitted. Masy scoffed, curling her lip at the statue. Stupid, squiggly chunk of metal. How could people stand flow art, it was so loose and ugly.
“Then how do you know I need protecting? Aside from the smog, what exactly is gonna get me?”
“It’s not a matter of knowing what, it’s that I know something will come after you,” he sounded sure, and frustratingly cryptic. Masy closed her eyes to blot out the squiggly statue, and shook a tremor out of her fingers. “As far as we know, you’re the Geminus. We’re fuzzy on what a Geminus is, but we’re pretty sure it’s you.”
Geminus. Masy opened her eyes. She liked the sound of the word, the shape of the letters. More importantly, she liked having a word she could tack to her mental pinboard of the strange little details she’d collected over the years. All the puzzle pieces she’d scrounged, half-built landscapes in her mind, now clustered under the new title. Of course, aside from that the term was useless, but still…
“You’re crazy,” the words slipped from her lips. Masy jolted, coughing back shock, or tried to cough at least. She tapped her foot, it remained planted on the stone. She wiggled her fingers, they wouldn’t budge. In her moment of excitement over the Geminus term, she’d unwittingly given way to her sister.
Manuel stepped around, facing Lira so they were toe-to-toe. His hands were on her shoulders, preventing her from bolting. Lira tipped her head to look at him, acutely aware that the top of her head only came to his chest.
“Please, my entire life since the day of my rites has revolved around preparing for the day the Geminus was found.” His brow was wrinkled, the skin soft like warm leather, “I have trained every day for ten years with the sole intention of protecting you, the least you can do is give me the benefit of the doubt.” He didn’t shout, but he might as well have. The intensity in his tone, in the flash of his eyes, shook Lira. At some point during Manuel’s speech, Jensen had tucked his fingers over the crook of her arm. She was grateful for the gentle touch, because at that moment it was the only things keeping her heartrate relatively normal.
At once, Manuel recognized the fear in Lira’s wide eyes. Immediately he released her, and took a large step back.
“I’m sorry,” he clasped his hands behind his neck, his eyes slipped closed for a moment and his shoulders rose with a massive breath. “I didn’t mean to startle you, it’s been a long three day and I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t call me crazy.”
Lira pressed the back of her hand to her chin. She had been listening in the entire time Masy had been running the show, and she knew Masy was listening now. A strange man stood mere feet from her, claiming she was something called a Geminus, claiming he was meant to protect her from…something. Everything about this screamed danger. The problem was, Masy was the smart one, Masy picked up the minute details of body language and thrived on casting suspicions on every living being. Why was it that Masy dove headlong into this, of all situations. The question was almost enough to make Lira stay. Almost being the keyword.
“No,” she said, shuffling back as she spoke. Manuel started towards her, but thought better of it.
“I know this is a lot to take in,”
“I have to go,” she huffed. Jensen’s hand on her arm gripped tighter.
“Wait just a minute,” Manuel pleaded, “I’ll show you.”
At that, he kneeled. He pressed his palm, fingers splayed, to the stone path, under his touch the solid concrete shattered. It was crushed to dust and flung into the air like smog floating in stuttering crooked patterns. The aerial show only lasted a half-second, Manuel stood, sucking all the floating remains of the section of path into himself, inhaling it straight out of the air.
“What in unity…” Jensen breathed. Lira agreed with him. All of the dust vanished into Manuel in the span of a few seconds. When he was done, he lower his chin and grinned excitedly.
“I’m a dusteater, I take aged things and use they’re energy to—to,” Manuel stagger, the smile falling off his face. He coughed twice, puffs of fine powder escaping each time. Then, he collapsed.
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