Rekka Bellum

Warning. Some of the text features sensitive material like substance addiction, pain, mentions of sexual abuse, violence, depression, death, suicide and blood.

Ayerli'kum

The promise

Yesterday.

Token, a tall, athletic yellow-haired boy lay in the grass, bathing under a sun that was not the earth sun. He wore a t-shirt with the words 'flyweight rio 1998'. "Living's too hard," he said aloud, "all I can think about these days is how nice it would be to feel nothing, hear nothing... to just, you know, float in the void."
"This place is sort of like a void," Sy replied, "I get what you mean though." Sy was short and scrawny, with black hair trimmed on the sides and longer at the top, he had blue eyes set under a pair of arched eyebrows, making look perpetually angry. "We don't ever have to leave you know."
"Problem is that when it's quiet, I think too much... and I don't know, seems kind of worse somehow? I feel just as terrible re-living shitty moments in my head. Only way I see out of this is to kill myself, really."
"Come on," Sy had said. "He ought to die, not you."
"Yea," Token said, completely out of it, "maybe we ought to kill my dad."
Sy smirked, "just say when."
Token laughed then, daring to imagine what his life would have been like if his father, and coach, hadn't been part of it.
"We'll make it look like an accident," Sy continued.
"Naw, not sure I can live with myself either way, so there's no point to it. Whatever I do, I'm fucked." Token said, closing his eyes. "It just hurts. All of it. My body and my thinking thoughts... it shouldn't hurt, but it does."
"At least you'll get to find out if you can live with it," Sy replied.

The thought never left Sy's mind after that...

~

One evening after training at the gym, Token arrived home to find his dad lying on the kitchen floor. Sy was in the room, sitting at the kitchen table, reading. He stopped what he was doing when Token stepped in, and stood up.

Token didn't know what to say. He was shocked, paralyzed. "Shit, what did you do..?"
"Fucked with his meds," Sy said, "too easy."
"He's dead?"
Sy touched his side with his foot. Luciano, Token's father, was unresponsive but still breathing, albeit very, very slowly. "Soon."
Token's heart was racing, he felt like he couldn't breathe. "No, no no..."
"It's over, we've done it," he said as he went over to grab Token's shoulders, squeezing tightly, "you're free."
"We can't do this..." Token said, unable to stop looking at his father on the floor.
"You wanted him dead, and now he's gonna die."
"I didn't say that."
Sy kept calm, keeping a strong hold of his friend to make sure he was paying attention. "He’s subhuman, he deserves it." He took a deep breath. "The beauty of this whole thing, is that people will think he'll have overdosed, happens all the time with opioids. Lots of people make mistakes with dosage, happened to my uncle. You can walk away free, live your life the way you want to. It's that easy."
"Stop saying it's easy!" Token snapped at him, "there's nothing easy about any of this! We can't kill him Sy."
Sy gripped his shoulders even harder. "This needs to happen, you need to be rid of him. You'll never be happy while he's alive."
Token was panicking, his whole body was shaking, "I can't let him die, it's wrong!"
"It's okay for shitty people to die Pen."
"You're insane..."
"A little, but this is about your sanity, not mine." Sy released him, and held his hand out.

Token tried to relax, but he couldn't think. The words 'it's wrong to kill' flashed in his mind, he couldn't ignore them. The words were being shouted at him in his head. Token just shook his head. He hurried off and went to the bathroom to get a naxolone kit, he returned and was getting ready to administer it.
Sy looked sad, there was just no convincing him. He gripped Token's collar and began to pull him away.
Token began to shout, he wrenched himself out of his grip but Sy was there to grab him again. Token cursed aloud, he reached up and gripped the front of his shirt, forcing him down on the ground. Token was a young boxing champion, much stronger than Sy, and after getting a few hits he was able to free himself.
"You're ruining everything," Sy told him.
"No! You did that! You ruined it all! I can't lie about this Sy!"
"You've lied about things that are much worse!" Sy told him, eyeing his unconscious father on the floor.

Token heard voices at the door then. Followed by a quick knock.

"Who the fuck is that?" Sy whispered.
Token began to breathe hard, and suddenly gripped Sy's arm, then reached for him with his other arm and pulled him down on the ground. "Help! I need help now!" Token yelled, turning his head toward the door.
Sy struggled in his grip, cursing at him. "The fuck are you doing?!" No matter what he did, he couldn't get Token to release him.
The neighbor pushed the door open then, having heard the screaming. Sy heard, and started beating into Token, determined to run away. "If you don't let go right now I'll hurt you!" Sy whispered.
"Help!" Token screamed again.
Sy managed to draw out his knife, a small integral hook on the spine of the blade snagged on the mouth of his pocket, and automatically opened the blade as it cleared it. The knife had a yellow handle. He quickly unfolded it, revealing a serrated, reverse "S" blade with a hawkbill point.
"He hurt my dad! Help me hold him down! He's got a knife!" Token shouted.
Sy cursed aloud. He twisted his body in his grip, hard, and his blade caught Token in the face, the tip ripped through his top and lower lip, splitting it vertically, but even that wasn't enough. Token held on, so Sy drove the serrated blade through his right shoulder so he'd let go. That did it. Token released him. By then the neighbors were inside the house, and were coming towards them.
Sy barely had time to get away, he felt a hand swipping at his clothes, just missing it. One of the men chased after him into the house, while the other went to check after Token.
Token was on the ground, with a bleeding face and shoulder. "I tried to stop him," he stammered, "I couldn't." He closed his eyes, hoping to god they'd catch him. The man looked over his wounds, the gashes on his face and shoulder were evident. "You're going to be fine," the man told him.
Token would not be fine, never again would he be fine.
"My dad...!" he said to him, voice shaking.
The man saw the kit on the floor, and knew what to do, he went to assist Luciano straight away, administering the dose. Luciano woke up moments after that. The other man returned then, Sy had gotten away.
The police arrived shortly after. Both Token and his father were taken to the hospital. Token was interrogated about the event. He told them that he arrived home after school to find his father laying on the ground, unresponsive. Sy, his friend, had broken into the house earlier and had messed with his dad's meds, with the goal to kill. Token was going to help his dad, but Sy tried to stop him, then the neighbors came. Sy panicked, stabbed him and ran away.

When asked about why Sy would poison his father, Token replied that Sy was disturbed. No one had trouble believing that. Sy was antisocial, and violent. Luciano did not say anything to the police, saying he remembered nothing.
The police searched the city for Sy, and found no one, and to this day no one has ever seen him...

Tar boy

Today.

A 25 year old Sy was atop a mountain, sitting and watching the world around him. The place vast and green and devoid of anyone like him. The thick forests only concealed spirits and demons. Sy wore tattered jeans, and a black t-shirt, clothes that he wore again, and again, as if the aim was to have them dissolve on his body.
Today Sy was feeling restless, he could feel it in his skin and in his bones. He knew the mountain area by heart, and today he decided to leave it. Sy began to walk down the mountain side, and a few hours later he reached the bottom. The air felt electric here. He stared up and around, then took a step forward and felt the hairs on his head and arms raise as he walked through the invisible barrier protecting the mountain. He walked until he reached the tree line and went through.
After a while he arrived in a small cleaning in the forest. Sy bent down and laid a hand over a spot in the ground, he could no longer see it, but he knew that's where the symbol had been. Burn scars healed over quickly. Sy began gathering some small rocks, and drew the pattern on the forest floor again, overlaid over the old pattern perfectly. A rock marker would not disappear with time.
The air smelled of pines and wet wood, but then suddenly Sy detected a sour, burnt smell. Then he realized that the smell was not a what, but a who...
A boy stood in front of him, grinning. His lips were bright red, and his eyes were closed, sealed shut. His skin appeared dry, cracked.
Sy stared, "you reek..." he said with an amused look on his face.
"Yessss," the boy said.
Sy laughed, as if he'd expected the boy to say exactly this. "Yea yea, I'm ready. And you?" Sy said.
"Yessss..." the boy said again. The boy turned around and walked off then. Yess only ever said yess, making it easy to trick him into saying things. Some would tire of this game, but not Sy.
Sy followed him. They exited the woods and arrived in a long yellow desert. The transition from green to yellow was incredibly abrupt. Sy saw the boy at the top of a mound ahead, and then saw him as he began to sink into the ground, facing Sy, grinning as if he was daring him to follow.
The sand underneath Sy's feet softened very suddenly, and sucked him in. Sy barely had time to react. He fell through a thick layer of sand and then down into a sort of cave. There were two spots of light, the one from where he fell, and another where the boy had sunk. He could see him there, standing ahead, just the end of his barefeet immersed in the light. A larger form stepped in behind him. A set of white eyes and a larger pair of legs swung over the boy and stepped into the light.
"I'm tired," Sy said.
The tall demon was broad shouldered with a matching chest and shoulder long, straight, red hair. "Good. Today's the day then."
"Why the fuck not, I'm sick of running errands for him..."
"All you've got to do is walk in," Vincent said.
"As I've told you before, I don't care, I'll do whatever, but you've got to give me free reign over this place. No one fucks with me. Ever."
"Sure, whatever you want," Vincent said with a toothy grin.
"So what happens next?"
Yess approached Sy, and his body turned into a tar-like liquid. Yess splashed onto him, then began to enter his body anyway he could, through his mouth, and nostrils. Sy couldn't scream, the liquid was thick in his throat. He was choking, couldn't breathe. Then it was over, he felt a burning sensation in his throat, and then in his chest, and then... nothing. Sy laughed, "christ, is that it?"
"Happy hunting," Vincent said.

~

Sy walked past the outside barrier, and returned to Nemerald's lab, built on the inside of a mountain. The rock walls had been smoothed down, and several rooms had been carved in. Light entered the space from above, through a deep chasm dug into the mountain top. Hard glass separated the outside from the inside. Furniture had been built from wood, cut from trees in the area, although some items did not come from this world... things like high tech medical equipment, and computers.
Nemerald was looking over some documents when Sy returned to the lab. "How was the view today?" he asked, like he did everyday. "Anything to report?" Nemerald was 36 years old, grey-haired, and purple-eyed. He was of short stature, with a thick build. He wore glasses, but Sy knew, did not need them. Nemerald had once said that he found comfort in wearing them, he enjoyed their weight on his nose.
"Yea. You want to hear it now, or later?" Sy said. He walked near Nemerald, eyeing him carefully and looked around. Jak wasn't in the room. Good, Sy thought.
"I've got some time. I'm listening," Nemerald said.
Sy stepped near him. Then he felt his body aching again, the surge of pain was so intense that he blacked out.

The promise

Today.

Token was sparring at the gym, training for a big fight that was coming. He threw a last punch, "Alright, gonna call it a night, told Mari I'd come back before she was asleep today."
"She ought to come train here too," Troy said.
"Naw, she likes where she is," Token replied, "see you tomorrow."
Token went to the changing room, gathering his things in a small bag, which he strapped to his back. He stayed in his gym clothes, because he planned to jog home. He put some music in and started to run outside, but then as he ran he felt the world warp, and change around him. Then suddenly, he was in Circa. Token stopped, looking at the green grass, flowers at this feet. He stared at the mountain then. "Shit..."
Token walked to the long tunnel leading to Nemerald's lab inside the mountain, reaching the door he knocked three times, and then knocked twice real fast. The door opened and he stepped inside to find that the main room was completely destroyed. Token had not been here in a long, long while. "Nemerald?" he called out.
Jak came walking out of a back room, and waved him over. Jak was a lanky demon, with grey skin and short black hair. His eyes were large and round, with yellowed whites and large black pupils. He too appeared to have suffered in the fight, his white shirt had soaked up a lot of his own blood. His forearms were covered in strange symbols and markings.
Token did not want to be here at all. He sighed as he pushed through the mess of broken furniture... "shit, is that blood?" he mumbled, walking past a red stain on the ground. He arrived into the back room, walked past Jak and saw Nemerald laying on a table on his back. Nemerald was terribly pale, the area around his neck was bruised and the area near and around it, his upper torso and left shoulders were covered in heavy gauze. Nemerald turned to look at Token then, one of his eyes was red with blood, his cheek was purple and made his face appear much wider than it was. "What happened?" Token asked.
"Sy happened..." Jak said, with a discernible French accent.
Token closed his eyes. "Where is he?"
"Hakum'wi," Jak replied, "time to pay your dette."

Montore

Sy woke up in a forest, although it was less lush, and there was debris everywhere, garbage, discarded electronics and cans of beers. The forest was thinner here than it used to be, Sy could see a parking lot. A mega store stood not far from it. It was early in the morning, it was closed with no one around.
For a moment he tried to piece together what had happened, "did I kill him?" he asked himself. Then he felt something burning inside and he could feel it, it might have been Yess, or some pain from the fight, either way, he knew their plan had failed. Sy sighed, "barred from two worlds..." he said aloud, "gatta stop losing fights." He had not yet noticed, but he was bleeding from his forehead, and his knuckles too were blood red.
It was likely that no one would recognize him after being away for 7 years, but he didn't want to risk it. When it got dark, he left the forest to wander the streets of Montore.
Sy had been carrying his old wallet with him this entire time, he found a few dollars in it. The first thing he did was try and get a drink at a bar. He took a seat at the bar, but appeared uncomfortable, unaccustomed to a room full of people. He was annoyed, and people were loud, but it was warm. He stared at the drink menu, "what the fuck is an IPA..." he whispered. With the menu in hand, he saw the red on his knuckles "shit..." he quickly used the inside of his sleeves to wipe it up. In this moment, Sy was glad to be wearing a black t-shirt, he suspected that a white shirt would reveal many more traces of blood. "Not my blood..." he muttered, after inspecting himself and finding no wounds. "So if he's dead... I can go back? But no no no... then I would have stayed there. Fuck. What the fuck happened?" he said to himself, this conversation occuring in his head.
"Got some ID?" a bartender asked.
Sy looked up, coming face to face with a spirit. It's body was long, orange and was covered in scales from the neck down.
"No. Give me one of those fake German beers..." he said. The bartender nodded and re-appeared with the non-alcoholic drink, popping off the cap for him. "Glass?" "Fine like this," Sy said.
"7.50," Galeru the bartender called, presenting two open hands. Sy noted that the spirit had 6 limbs.
"What? For a beer? Christ. Fucking inflation..." Sy had exactly thirty dollars in this pocket. He gave him a 10$ bill. "Give me back a dollar." He then found some peanuts on the bar top and dumped the entire bowl in his hand and then transfered it all to his mouth. "These are free right?" he asked, hoping to god they were.
The bartender floated away, its large tail twisting as he went to grab some change from the register. Sy noticed a blonde boy working the bar, "no fucking way..." Sy said, eyeing him carefully.
Galeru returned, handing Sy a single golden coin.
"So that one with the crop top and shorts over there, his name's Orion right?"
Galeru eyed Sy suspiciously then, "maybe, who's asking?"
"No one."
"Well, ima save you time and pain Nowan. You're not his type," Galeru said, eyeing Sy up and down before floating away.
"I wasn't-ah fuck it to hell..." He sighed,s then took a sip of his drink, eating more peanuts between sips. He noticed the spirit flying away to serve customers at the other end of the bar, but then frowned when he saw him whispering to Orion. Orion looked over, but Sy was already gone. He'd ducked out of sight and had gone to hide behind a group of people in the back, taking the bowl of peanuts and his beer along.

~

After his beer, Sy spent the night outside. He found a secluded spot in a nearby park. He kept watch for a while, but eventually fell asleep. He woke up the next morning with a start, someone was standing over him and poking him with a bottle. "Water Mister Cross?" Orion offered him. Sy jumped a little at the sight of him, and couldn't understand why he was trying to give him water but without really thinking he grabbed it and took a swig. Though when the liquid hit his mouth he spat it out coughing.
Orion laughed, "Vodka. Sorry, terrible joke to make. You looked like you needed a drink drink."
Sy looked up at him, "how'd you find me..."
"Galeru's got a good nose, and good eyes... you were familiar to him, so he followed it here and came back to tell me about it." Orion explained. "Listen. If you want food and a warm place to stay, come to 183 Dudein road at midnight tonight. Sorry for the late hour, I've got some errands to run today and I'm working tonight but my shift ends at eleven. Walk around the building there's a back entrance. Knock 4 times, I'll come and get you. Then we'll talk, drink, fuck..." saying this, Orion winked in a jokey-kind-of-way, then he left.

~

Later that night, Sy showed up at the back of Orion's building. "Is this a shit idea...?" he asked himself, under his breath. He hesitated to knock. Before he could, he was pushed face first into the door, body flat up against it. "Don't move, and keep your mouth shut," the voice behind him ordered. Sy of course had no desire to be caught, he pushed back and tried to get free of this guy but couldn't. Before he knew it he was on his knees, face against the door still and someone was binding his hands together behind his back. Sy couldn't yell for help, who comes to the aid of a wanted man? He even had his mouth bound up with a piece of tape.
The door opened finally and he was pushed inside, dragged around in the dark and past a few more doors. Then he was thrown onto something soft, a couch. He could hear people bickering in the dark, shadows moved around him. He waited, sitting on the couch, someone would talk to him eventually.
"You hungry?" someone squeaked at him, then he heard shuffling and cursing.
"If he's hungry? For fuck's sake!" the other person whispered.
"Well what are we supposed to do now? Just whisper in the dark like idiots? He knows I live here."
The other person sighed. "Fine."
A light flicked open, a small lamp just beside where he was sitting and the person lighting it was, of course, Orion. "Hey!" He said, with a guilty smirk.
Sy could see there was someone else there, standing further in the back in the dark. He didn't seem to want to come closer, he just paced around wildly, from the living room to the kitchen and back.
"So, are you hungry?" Orion asked Sy.
Sy nodded, eager to have that tape off his lips.
"I'll get you a plate of something," Orion said.
He re-heating some curry and rice on the stovetop. Soon, the smell enveloped the room, escaping into the living room. Sy's stomach rumbled loudly, he hadn't eaten any real food in days. Once the food was warm, Orion transfered it to a bowl and returned to the living room with the meal. He set the curry down on the coffee table, and took a seat next to Sy.
"Sorry about that, we didn't know how you'd react," Orion said, peeling the tape off. Before Sy could speak, he brought a spoonful of curry near his mouth, "this is how it's going to be for now," he said apologetically.
Sy shrugged, he was starving and tired and was in no mood to fight. He took a first bite. This was the first warm, and aromatic meal he'd had since leaving the real world. The experience was so intense that he had to stop in mid-chew. He hadn't eaten food like this in ages, all Nemerald served were something he called 'nutri-blocks'. The food was always the same, dry, bland and full of nutrients, or so he said. Sy hated mealtime, so much that he'd lost a ton of weight over the years. Eating had become a chore. Sy wasn't a food connoisseur, but he missed the experience of food, of being able to detect subtleties in a meal, to have flavor come at you in waves. He chewed, paused, and swallowed, spoonful after spoonful until the bowl was empty.
"Is there more?" He asked.
Orion smiled, "that was a leftover, so no, but I can make something else." He got up and went into the kitchen to see what he could make real fast. "How about grilled cashew cheese? That's all I got, we don't eat dairy here. Trust me though, it's real good." Sy was salivating at the thought of it. "I'm good with anything."
"What did you eat in Circa anyway?" Orion asked.
Sy glanced over at the dark silhouette by the window, he stopped pacing but stood there, staring outside. "Just dry stuff," he said. "Got any soda? Aching for something fizzy and sweet." Sy asked, determined to not speak of his life in Circa.
Orion poked his head out of the kitchen holding an orange soda, "yep!"
The silhouette darted from his spot near the window and tore the can from Orion's hands, and without warning, he tossed it over to Sy. The can hit the wall just a few inches from his head and exploded, the orange soda came shooting out and sprayed Sy in the back of the head.
"He doesn't get any more treats," the silhouette said.
Sy stood up, his neck sticky with soda. “Damn. What a sad, sad waste." Since his hands were bound, he couldn't wipe it off. He made a face as it streamed down his back, entering the back of his pants. "Gross."
Token finally emerged from the shadows. There he was, his childhood friend, the boy who he'd last seen on the ground. He was very tall now, with wide shoulders and a thin waist. Token had an athletic build, with well-toned arms and legs. His hair was the same, spiky and blonde. He bore a scar on his lip, a thin line that traversed both the top and bottom lip. He had listless eyes, the rest of him appeared strong and confident.
"Oh I've been waiting a long time for this," Sy said, "is this why I'm tied up? You're going to turn me in to the authorities or something? You're going to give me what I deserve?"
Images of himself covered in blood flooded into his mind. Token remembered being on the ground, bleeding next to the neighbor trying to ressucitate his father. It felt like it lasted a lot longer than it did. He remembered being interrogated by policemen.
"So, what you gonna do with me?" Sy asked.
Orion looked at Token, wondering the same thing.
"You had no right... fucking with my life like that," Token said, scornfully.
"Your life was already irreparably fucked with," Sy spat, "I was tryin' to help. You needed it."
Token's face was red with anger, he rushed for Sy and pushed him up against a wall.
"Oh fuck you, you're the asshole. You just couldn't let me get away eh? Even after I did all the work..." Sy said, then looking at Token's expression he deduced that not much had changed since their time. "He's still coaching you isn't he? That's sick. Do you really hate yourself that much?"
Orion tried to stop him, but Token shoved him away, then he began to throw punch, after punch. All of his pent up rage, his fear and his sadness came spilling out. Token punched hard as a kid, but now it was like being mauled by a bear. These arms were thick, powering his two fists, trained to hit their targets. Token punched so hard and so much that Orion had to squeeze himself inbetween to get him to stop, and that worked well ennough. Token would never lay a hand on his brother.
"Breathe," Orion said as he held his shoulders. "Sit, way waaaay over there, and breathe, 3 seconds, hold your breath, 3 seconds, exhale." He walked his brother over to a couch opposite to where Sy had been. Token was breathing heavily, but he was beginning to calm down.
Sy was in a sorry state, sitting on the floor, eyeing Token. Even if in pain, he stayed silent, knowing that anything could set him off again. Sy couldn't decide which part of his body to hold, all of it hurt. He felt like he'd been inside the belly of a giant bell, and that someone had rung it with him inside. His bones were still vibrating.
Orion felt like the only adult in the room, he hated feeling that way. He went over to Sy and undid his cuffs, carefully. "I'm taking him to the bedroom," he told Token. He helped Sy up. "Can you stand?" he asked him.
“Yea, yea,” Sy said, getting up. He walked him to his bedroom, and laid out a sheet over it to keep the blood stains off and then helped Sy onto it.
“Lie down,” Orion said, he then left and returned with some painkillers, “and take 2 of these, every 4 hours. I’ll get you some water.” Token had tons of meds, in his line of work these were indispensable. Orion also brought some cold compresses for his bruises. He helped Sy out of his shirt and began to inspect his wounds, to make sure nothing was broken. "Shit," Orion said, his finger near his left clavicle, "you've got a broken clavicle, I think. Bone hasn't broken through the skin though."
"Great," Sy said.
Orion knew he couldn't take Sy to a hospital, Sy had no form of ID of any kind and it was too much of a risk. "I've got some training, did a first-aid course for my work," Orion said, "drunk people do really stupid shit." When Sy tried to move Orion shook his head. "You'll have to lie here awhile, try not to lift your left arm." A little while later the pills began to take effect, and Sy went to sleep. Orion washed some of the red from his face while he slept, cleaning up some of the wounds as well.
"You went too far," Orion told his brother, moving back into the living room. Token hadn't moved all this time, he just sat there, focusing on his breathing with his eyes closed.
Token opened his eyes, "I hate him... so, so much," he said.
"Now you're even."
"Not even close," Token said, through gritted teeth.
"Be glad I ran into him out there, cause I think he was trying to find you." Orion sighed, not certain how he was able to keep calm in this moment. A violent man lay in his bed, and before him stood a ticking time bomb. "Oof..." Orion said, fanning himself, trying to think on what to do next.
"Why the fuck are you being so kind to him?" Token spat out then, he was so angry he appeared deranged.
"Did you see how terrible he looks? He's super skinny, pale... I think the years he spent away were punishment enough,” Orion had seen scars on Sy's arms, perhaps things were worse than he'd first let on. "And you know, I don't want to set him off. He's in our appartment, I'm sure I don't have to remind you." Orion glanced at Token then, "how do you think we should handle this? Police?"
Token shook his head, the very thought of the story coming back into the papers made him anxious "No. Reporters will want to talk to me, and I just can't deal with that kind of shit right now." Token got up then, grabbed his coat and left the appartment.

Fast healer

Sy stayed in bed for a full 24 hours, and Token had not come home, which was just as well, Orion thought. The following morning, Orion went to check up on him and saw that he was gone.
"Uh, what?" He looked elsewhere in the house for him, "Sy?"
Sy walked out of the kitchen then, eating a banana. "Where the cops at?" He asked him, eyesbrows raised while chewing. "Thought I'd wake up in jail."
Orion eyed him carefully, he was holding it with his left hand. He also could not see any bruising near where his bone had cracked. He moved closer and hit the underside of his elbow, to see if Sy would react. "That... doesn't hurt?"
"No," Sy said, eating through the banana.
"It's healed," Orion said, eyes wide. "How? That makes NO sense."
"Aren't you glad I'm all better?" Sy said, returning to the kitchen to grab another fruit.
Orion followed him, looking him over, noticing that the swelling on his face was also way down, almost gone. "Well, yea but..."
"Christ. You got anything other than fruit?"
"I'll make you some rice with a fuck ton of lentils," Orion said. He made a mental note of keeping this detail secret to Token, the last thing he'd want to hear is that Sy can't stay hurt.
"So, no cops?" Sy said.
"No cops."
"Aren't you scared?" He asked, tearing out a large chunk of apple.
"Of you? Hell no," Orion said with a laugh, reaching over to pat him on the head, but Sy slapped his hand away before it could made contact. "But Token's real nervous around you, he'll be real easy to piss off so don't engage him, and most important of all don't hurt him."
Sy finished the apple then, eating around the core, until only the very hard bits and seeds were left. "Or else?"
"Or else nothing. We won't rat you out, and I'll make sure he doesn't mess with you. Plus I'll throw food and board, that's a hell of a deal." Orion said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"He's the reason I've got to hide," he said, smirking at Orion.
"You put him in an impossible position," Orion reminded him. "C'mon, I'll throw in the occasional joint."
Sy thought about everything for a second. He could stay here a little while, it would give him time to get used to being in a city again, and there was free food here... and a warm, clean bed. "I'll stay for a bit."
Orion nodded. "Token will likely be gone for a few days, to avoid you. He works out with his friend Mari a lot, he stays at her place sometimes. Now enough about that. Go take a shower, you have red on you."

Let's talk about Token

Everyday Orion would keep talking to Sy, asking questions, forcing him to do things around the appartment. In truth, Orion found him impossible to live with. Sy would take, and give nothing back. After a week, they'd learned to live alongside one another. Orion had people over often, during such times Sy stayed in Token's room. Sy didn't mind, he wasn't exactly eager to make friends. He read books, and when he felt restless he would do chin-ups using Token's horizontal bar, or he would use his weights. Sy never turned on the TV, he listened to the radio sometimes but switched channels as soon as he heard human voices.
He went out to hang on the balcony at night. Orion wondered what he was thinking about. He didn't appear lonely, or miserable, but then again he was hard to read. One evening, he joined him on the balcony and asked him outright.
"Would you say you're happy?"
Sy laughed, "Not really. Happiness is an impossible, unnattainable ideal. People lie to themselves of course, when they say they're happy. They have to." Seeing the look on Orion's face, he elaborated, "if people didn't believe happiness was a thing they could have then a lot more people would kill themselves off for relief. I think about my unhappiness as often as I can, and because I do I'm capable of bearing the reality of a disillusioned and concrete life."
"That's grim," Orion said.
Sy smiled, "accept that life is hell, and be free."
"So you get up in the morning thinking 'well, today is going to suck'."
"No. I get up thinking I'm going to keep myself alive again today. If ever comes a time that my reality becomes too unbearable I'll end it, but for now I am curious enough to want to stick around."
"Not everyone can sit with their pain," Orion said.
"Yea yea, I've seen Token's collection of meds, but if he stays numb forever he'll never learn."
Orion took a deep breath, he had expected the conversation to be about Token. "I know there are things in his life that he needs to deal with, it's just... difficult you know?"
"No it's real simple. His dad needed to go go..." Sy said.
Orion sighed, "killing people isn't a solution."
"You're wrong," Sy said. "Some people just need to die, that’s it. There are a lot of evil fuckers out there.”
“Oh please, you have to say that. Viewing others as evil makes it easier to hurt them.”
"Whatever. When I think evil fucker I see his face.” Sy said.
"He's got CTE Sy, his brain is like compote."
"Why are you talking to me anyway? You're not pissed about what I did?"
Orion shrugged, "might be strange to say, but not really? Like, me and my dad weren't close. Me and mom left real early on. I know he isn't a great person, but... does that really merit death?”
“I’d say it does. You don’t recover from people doing shit like that to you.”
“I'm happy you're talking, but I still don’t approve of what you did," he paused then, "did you come back here to hurt my brother?"
Sy did not know where to begin. "No." he said, simply, avoiding talking about Nemerald for the time being. "I just had to leave real fast, it's complicated." he said. "I promise I won't hurt Token, not while I live here anyway. Besides, he's a lot bigger than he used to be. He's a fucking tower now."
Orion laughed at that. "A chonky tower, yea."
Sy nodded, he looked deep in thought and then suddenly asked him about his mom.
"Your mom denied the whole thing you know, refused to believe you did it. People didn't like her for it." Orion wasn't sure he should keep going but Sy asked him another question.
"She's alive?"
"Yea, she moved though and I couldn't tell you where. Old house is still there, she couldn't sell it."
Sy felt like he robbed his mum of a good life. "She would have been happier if she hated me."
Orion gave him a light shove. "She's your mum, she could never hate you."
"That's bullshit, of course she can," Sy said.
"Ever heard of boxer's madness?" Orion asked him then.
"No," Sy admitted.
"Well, nowadays they call it CTE. You didn't ask about it when I mentioned it, but I'm going to explain what it is anyway cause I think you need to hear it. It's a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Our dad's has had his senses obliterated by boxing. He's been taking punches all his life, ever since he was a kid. He was punched in the head 4,000 times by the time he was 13. Doesn't take a genius to know that’s not good for the brain. He's in private care now by the way. He forgets things, has these violent outbursts, can't speak or think well, which you know, makes me think he may have been suffering from an early stage of CTE back then too..." Orion explained.
"Oh fuck that, he was well aware of what he did, and even then, the result is the same isn't it? People get hurt." Sy said.
"You're right. But it's tough. I support and defend Token, but I also feel for my dad because of his disease," Orion said. "I hate him for what he did, but also, I wonder if he really meant to do that to him. Like, what if he was imcapable of controlling his actions." He saw the look on Sy's face, "bear with me here," he said, seeing his face warp, ready to retaliate, "Token doesn't know I do this, but I've been researching this a ton. I read of Adam Phelps, a former NFL player that had unusually severe stage 2 CTE. A good guy, happy... well, he did not seem bothered by much, maybe a fatalist like you, who the fuck knows. He had a family, friends, money. He fatally shot six people before taking his own life. That was only diagnosed after his death though. His pathology was different, in that it was unusually severe in both frontal lobes." Saying this Orion put two of his fingers to his own head.
Orion took a long pause. He then grabbed his grinder, a small, stout, black cylinder. "What if Token's suffering the same, like... right now? He's got some symptoms, but I mean, it could be a number of things." He removed the lid of a small box, and reached for some cannabis buds. He broke bits off with his fingers, and added it to the edge of the grinder. "I've been counting. On average he gets around 7 shots in the head per round."
"That's the Token I know," Sy said with a smirk.
Orion was grinding up the buds, the smell rose out of the small container. Before opening it, he tapped it on the ground a few times and removed the lid and transferred it onto a sheet of rolling paper. "John Levan, a local fighter, suffered a serious brain injury after a fight for the lightweight world title last year. He left the ring under his own power, but then he started dragging his leg, and then he collapsed in the dressing room," he spent some time distributing the cannabis around, to distribute it evenly, "he was unconscious for an hour," he pinched the paper between his fingertips and slowly rolled it back and forth to pack the cannabis down, "then he was transported to a hospital and put in a medically induced coma on life support. He died two days later," Orion paused for effect, "he was 29."
"And Token's 26," Sy said.
"Aw, it is sweet that you know his age." Orion noted, smirking.
"Oh fuck off. He's a year older than me, that's how I know."
Orion tucked the paper into a roll, licked the glued edge of the paper and rolled an end down to hold it in place, "Anyway. As I was saying. Like my dad, he's been getting head shots since he was 12." He worked his way down the rest of the joint, tucking and sealing the joint as he went. Then he pushed a pen through the end of the joint to pack it down further.
"Christ, this is taking forever," Sy said, eyeing the joint.
"That's what you got to do if you want a good burn," Orion said, he then lit the end and inhaled. He held the smoke in his lungs for a while, and then passed it to Sy, exhaling, smoking escaping from his mouth.
"Who's got time for perfection..." Sy inhaled, keeping it in his lungs a long while to, absorbing more of the cannabinoids and terpenes into his bloodstream. "Oh fuck," he said aloud, leaning back into the couch.
Orion laughed, grabbing the joint back. "Told you it's good. It's good because I don't cheap out, and I don't rush either," after sampling it again, he passed it back to Sy.
"Can't believe I'm gonna say this but, I'm done." Sy said, refusing it.
"So what's your plan anyway?"
Sy thought about it for a moment, then smirked. "Smoke, drink, eat and sleep, rinse and repeat. That's my long term plan."
"I don't have any long term plans either," Orion breathed. "I could get you a job at the bar I'm working at."
"Fuck no," Sy said.
"Yeaaa, and we could change your name...to something like, Conrad... or" Orion thought for a moment, "Chips?" Orion stretched over the side of the couch and when he sat back down again, he held a bag of vinegar chips. He opened the bag and offered Sy some.
"Call me Tim in public, Sy in private." Sy said, reaching into the bag to grab a handful of chips.
Orion smirked. Tim was the name of his father, now dead. Sy had always preferred using his mother Harlow's surname, Cross, but his birth certificate read Sy Keon-Cross, back then Montore families appended both family names.
"Token's gonna freak out if you stay here," Orion then said, stuffing a handful of chips in mouth. "Hey I was thinking. I should dye your hair," Orion said, excited at the idea. "You'd look hot as a blonde." Seeing the look on Sy's face Orion thought it prudent to suggest something else. "I'll cut your hair. Nothing crazy, I promise. I've got some clothes for you too."
Sy eyed Orion's teal crop top and black leggings. "No one would ever suspect me if I wore that shit, but I don't think I have it in me Rye." he said.
Orion laughed. "I'll dig up some normie clothes for you, don't worry."
"You'd better." Sy agreed, taking the joint from Orion's hands again, "and as for the hair, don't fuck it up."

Chez Kim

The next day, Orion and Sy were at Kim's door. Sy was wearing one of Orion's old baseball caps, and wore a pair of thick shades. "Why are we here?" Sy asked.
"Shu-shush, shu-shush!" Orion said.
Kim answered the door moments later, smirking, "Hey O," she then glanced over at Sy, her smirk widening. "Come in."
Sy looked at her, eyes wide for a moment, but he walked inside, following Orion's lead. Orion saw Chelsea in the living room and went to hug her, "hey Chel!" Chelsea put an arm around Orion, "hey hon, how's Galeru?"
"Oh he's good, paranoid, but good. He's pissed at me right now though,"
"A real fuss pot that one," Chelsea then picked up another scent, her eyes locked onto Sy. "Who's this?"
"Sy, this is Chelsea, Chelsea, Sy. He's going to be crashing here for a while, I mentioned it to you yesterday and you said it was fine," Kim explained.
Sy looked at Orion, who just moved to Kim to kiss her on the cheek. "I'll check in tonight, see you later Sy, have fun!"
"Wait, what?" Sy said. Before he could say anything else, Orion had left and shut the door.

Chelsea was playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo DS, and Kim had wandered into another room. Sy, not knowing what else to do, went to sit on the couch with Chelsea. "If you give us any grief, I'll smack you so hard you'll pass out," Chelsea said, her eyes focused on her game.
Sy noted the size of Chelsea's paws and claws, the last thing he wanted was to have those anywhere near his face. "Rye made arrangements and didn't even think to fucking ask me..."
"Was a last minute thing," Chelsea said, "said he wanted to set up a playdate for you."
"Fucking hilarious," Sy said to her.
"Stop swearing." Chelsea said calmly.
"Yea yea, go bark in someone's else ears," Sy said, propping his feet up on the coffee table. Chelsea retaliated almost immediately, she kicked his feet off, and then smacked him hard in the head, knocking the sunglasses and hat right off. She hit him so fast and so hard that the gum he had in his mouth flew across the room.
"The fuck!" Sy yelled, recoiling and moving off the couch. "What the hell was that for?"
Chelsea smiled, "this is not your house. You can stay here, but you'll have to respect me, Kim and the furniture. If not, I'll hit you, simple as that,"
Kim stepped into the room just in time to see it happen. She watched Sy move to the other side of the room, to sit at the diner table. Again, he propped his feet up on the chair next to him. Kima met him at the table, pushed his feet off and sat next to him. "Chelsea didn't mean to hit you so hard, she forgets how frail we are, we humans I mean. Also, like... don't insult her, that's just plain common sense. She's big, she's got claws, and fangs, you did notice that right?"
"What did Orion tell you about me," Sy asked then.
"That you're a cutthroat narcissistic callous creature," Kim said, noticing he was getting angry she laughed, "actually, he told me you were 'an adorable asshole'. His words."
“Since you've agreed to give me shelter, what does that make you?” Sy asked her then, leaning on the arm of the chair to look at her, to try and see if he could read her.
Kim smiled, “I supposed it makes me an accomplice. I'm fine with it. Chel and & can handle ourselves, if something were to happen I mean." She explained. "Orion came by last night, we talked about it. Figured it'd be interesting anyway, we attended the same high school. I remember you, you were kinda nerdy, and weird and your ears were too big for your head. Seth, Eric, Yann... all those guys were assholes to you though."
"I got em back though."
"Yea, I remember, and you were suspended," Kim noted.
"How long's Chelsea been with you?" he asked then, curious.
"Um, I don't know. A while. How long's it been Chel?" she called out loud.
"You can tell him it's none of his business." she answered.
"He's got ears and he's right fucking here," Sy said aloud to Chelsea.
"Man oh man, you don't know how to pick a fight. Do you get off on pain Sy Cross?"
"Yes." Sy said then.
Kim laughed, "thought so."
"Tell that shrimp that he's not worth my time..." Chel said.
"Get me mad, see what happens," Sy said.
"Ooooh I'm shaking!" Chel said from across the room.
"You're flesh and bones like everyone else you know..." Kim said.
"Kindly fuck off." Sy said then, flipping off Chelsea.
"Kindly, eh? What a gentleman..." Chelsea said. Kim neared her face to his, "You're careless Sy Cross," Kim told him, seeing some of the scars on his arms. "I know what you did, the whole thing with Token's father. I also vaguely know what happened with Nemo..."
"I bet it's pretty fucking vague," Sy said.
"Orion tells me everything, sometimes too much. But not just that, believe it or not, I've got friends who know Nemo. Anyway, all this to say that I don't care who betrayed who. I care about Orion though, and for some obscure reason he cares about you. You've got to start earning some points with others though, with me, and Chelsea for example, and you've got to make that happen real fast. Don't shut people out, you'll die die if you do." With this, Kim got up. "I'm going out, Chelsea watch him, and get some food in him before his body collapses in on itself and turns into a black hole."
Sy said nothing, he was actually very, very hungry. At the very mention of food, his stomach growled, loud enough for even their neighbors to hear.

The feeding

Kim was gone for most of the day, but returned later that evening, Orion in tow, glad to find that Chelsea had not killed him.
Orion was dressed different, and had his hair slicked back, with a pair of sunglasses and a big bulky coat on. Her threw it off once he arrived inside. Orion thought it was a good idea to try and not look like himself coming here, he didn't want to blow Sy's cover. He pushed the glasses overtop his head, and joined Chelsea and Sy at the table.
"You two friends yet?" Orion asked.
Chelsea snorted, "far from."
"What she said," Sy said, the left side of his face was swollen from Chelsea's pawing earlier on. "We decided that the best way not to get on each other's nerves was to not talk."
Orion placed a bag on the table, full of take-out containers, "wow, that's healthy," he said, placing the paper containers on the table while Kim went to gather dishes and cutlery. She returned and began to set everyone down, then she started opening containers. Everyone at the table started to fill their plates, and to eat their fill.
"He was looking through our things," Chelsea said, "without asking."
"Narc," he muttered.
"Speak louder."
"Fuck off mongrel."
"Insult me again, I'm hungry for red meat and I need a reason to take a chunk out of you," Chelsea replied, baring her teeth.
Sy took a knife from his backpocket, and kept it in his hands.
"Put it away Sy," Kim said.
"She's been threatening me all day," he said. "I'm sick of it."
"Put. That. Away. Now." Chelsea commanded.
"No. You've got claws and teeth, I got this."
Lightning fast, Chelsea put her hand on his hand with the blade, squeezing hard. Sy kept holding it, but couldn't move. Chelsea pressed harder then. Sy had no feeling in his fingers, and dropped the blade. Chelsea grabbed it, pressed the lever to release the blade, locked it, and threw it, tip first, into the ceiling. It was stuck up there for all to see.
Sy stared up at the knife, then at his wrist. Chelsea still held it.
"Hug it out guys," Orion said, he'd stopping eating, concerned for Sy.
Sy tried to jerk his arm back, but couldn't. Chelsea had a good grip, and was too strong for him. She stood up, reached over and pressed down on his head, forcing him to sit down. "Apologize to the table."
Kim was eating her food quietly, her eyes focused on her meal.
Sy said nothing, fuming in his seat.
"Say sorry," Chelsea commanded. Seeing as how he wasn't going to say anything, she began to squeeze it. Sy stiffened, he couldn't move. "I'm going to break it," Chelsea said, "it's nothing to me, and if you still won't say anything then i'll twist it all the way off," she twisted more, and more, "and I'll eat it."
"She won't eat it Sy," Orion told Sy, then turned to Chelsea, "you won't eat it Chel!"
"Oh yes I am!" she sang. "Oh man, I feel sorry for you," Chelsea said, twisting harder. "You a lefty too eh? So, so sad."
Sy tried to calm down, the pain was started to go to his head. His eyes scanned the people at the table then. He laughed then. "No."
Kim butted in then, she put her hand over Chelsea's arm. "I know Chel, I know. But please... we're eating."
"Yea and I'm gonna eat him." Chelsea growled, seeing the look on Kim and Orion's face she released him, but pushed him back as she did. Sy's chair slid back, but he managed not to fall over, he smirked as he grabbed his own wrist, trying to get some feeling back into it. "Now fetch me my knife," he said.
Chelsea laughed, baring her sharp teeth. "Ha! So ballsy!" She was salivating now.
"Chel's my friend, she listens to me cause she respects my feelings, but there's a point of no return, and I think you've just about reached it. If you say anything else, anything to piss her off she'll tear you to pieces and I won't be able to stop her." Kim told Sy.
"And I'll be real sad," Orion said.
"...And you'll make Rye cry." Kim then took her plate, and emptied the last of her potatoes into Sy's plate. "Stop being an idiot, and eat."
Sy was still angry, but also terribly, terribly hungry. He gave up, and remained quiet for the rest of the meal, eating up everything that was served to him.
After the meal, Chelsea retreated to her room, Orion stayed a few hours but then left for home. Once they were alone, Kim got a ladder to bring the knife down from the ceiling. Kim slipped it back in his backpocket. "If you like this knife, don't be so trigger happy. It's a good blade, and Chelsea will break it next time."

Saving Sy

Sy was given a room in the large appartment. But after a while, he got sick of being indoors.
One morning while watching Chelsea eating breakfast he just snapped. "I fucking can't stand this shit!" he yelled, "I hate this fucking appartment, I hate this fucking place."
Chelsea looked at him. "Scream if you must, but you ain't goin' nowhere. You gatta lay low bucko." she said, turning her attention to the morning paper.
"It's been long enough. Let's go out then," Kim said, walking into the kitchen suddenly. Sy's voice had traveled through all the rooms. Orion had told her to keep him indoors for a while, to stay low, but Kim didn't care. "I know a place."
Chelsea looked at Kim then, setting the paper down again, "what did I just say?"
Kim walked behind Chelsea and wrapped her arms around her, hugging her tightly. "I know, but he needs some out time. And think of it this way, you'll have some alone time, finally."
"M'yea, there's this novel I want to finish..." Chelsea said then, "fine. He leaves the knife here though."
Sy frowned at Chelsea, "what if I need it?"
"What if I turn you inside out?" Chelsea replied. "I'll ram my arm down your throat and grab your ass from inside and—"
"Yikes. Okay. No knife. Come on Sy. Let's go get you a drink." Kim said, moving over to Sy and pulling the knife out of his pocket, tossing it over to Chelsea's side. Sy was going to grab it again but Kim bonked him on the head. "Leave it, you stupid stupid boy..." saying this, she wrapped an arm around him and guided him towards the door.
Both were at a bar, already on their third drink. Sy was in a better mood. Kim was waiting to see if Sy was the kind that got sad when drunk, but he looked like he was the kind of guy who became happy when drunk, so she felt it was safe to ask...
"Feeling a little claustro eh?" Kim asked him.
"I don't do well indoors," Sy explained.
"Nemo's lab must have been torture then huh?"
"Naw, had free reign over the entire mountain. But after a while I knew it so well that the space began to feel smaller and smaller in my mind..." Sy looked at her.
"I am surprised someone like you would have ever agreed to team up with him, well...with anyone, really."
Sy shrugged, "sometimes you gatta do what you gatta do," he looked at her then, "but you're with Seir so, that's kind of fucked too isn't it?"
Kim had not expected this at all. "So, you've been stalking me? I'm flattered that I'm that interesting to you."
"Seir works with Kozi, loosely. We don't get along, but he has mentioned you. You're close. You called me careless before, I'd argue you're worse."
Kim got up and went to sit next to him, "aw, you really are concerned for me aren't you?" she said, nudging him.
"Yea, because I think that Seir is bad news."
"I'm in control, Sy." she paused for a moment. "Seir's a good friend, but you teaming up with Kozi is just strange. You like to put yourself in harm's way, seems like."
"I need stimulation alright? That's why I do what I do. I want to be where shit happens, I'm fucking sick of hiding."
Kim put a hand on his shoulder. "Then let's come here every week, let's do 'stimulating things'. Fuck hiding." she said. "We'll hang out with Seir together, that encounter is sure to keep you entertained for a while."
Sy wasn't sure why he reacted this way, but he started to laugh, like what she had just said was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "You've got a few screws loose," he said then.
“So do you,” she purred softly. "You can stay at my place for as long as you want, I'll tell Chelsea to back off. You can come and go as you please, I'll tell Orion too." she said to him.
"Seir won't be glad to meet me," he told her.

Malvados

One evening Token returned to the apartment, he hadn't been there in days. He arrived to find Sy reading a book on the balcony and Orion rolling up a joint. "The fuck is he doing out there? People could see him..."
Orion shrugged it off. "Pft, he's been out there all day, no one cares. Kim and Chel are away for a few days. It's fine if he's here right? I promise, he's going back there once they come back," Orion eyed Sy on the balcony for a moment, "I changed his hair, better clothes. People'll think he's part of my harem."
Sy was wearing an outfit from Orion's closet, a pair of fitted lightgrey jeans, and a black t-shirt with a Russian band logo in the back, reading Медали. Both were near the same height, and had a similar waist size. He had black sneakers with white soles, and on the back of his chair hung a heavy greenish grey (feldgrau) stonewashed canvas jacket, two items Orion had found for him at the thrift store. Sy's hair was short on the sides and back, longer at the top. The shorter hair was dyed a dark red color, while the top was still black. Sy was real high at the time and didn't care then.
"He wanted to hit me the next day, like real bad. I think he likes the red though, he won't say but I know he does. Like, as if he couldn't tell I was bleaching his hair y'know?"
Sy was less scruffy-looking, he had a muted, clean appearance that would not draw attention. Token tried to calm himself down, he went to take a seat on the couch.
"He can take care of himself you know," Token said.
"You've got Mari, he's got no one," Orion explained. "Everyone needs someone."

The next day, their mother, Petra, was supposed to come to town to visit.
Orion groaned, "She's probably mad because I blew her off the last time she was here." There was no getting out of it, Petra was coming over and they needed to get Sy out. Petra knew Sy, there was a chance she would recognize him. Orion didn't know what to do, he couldn't trust anyone with Sy, and he wasn't sure if he wanted Token to help. At this point though, he didn't have a choice, besides he didn't believe Token would try anything else. He arranged for Token to take Sy with him for a few hours the day of Petra's visit.
That morning they snuck Sy out of the building and into Token's car. "You'll call me if anything happens right?" Orion said to his brother.
"Yes yes..." Token said, dismissively.
Orion gave him a shove, "I'm serious, you need to keep him safe."
Token didn't like when Orion was being an adult, it made him feel bad about what he was planning to do. "I will," he reassured him.
Orion smiled, "thanks."

Token and Sy drove off. It was an awkward car ride, Token said nothing and Sy didn't try speak either. They drove for a long time, buildings became trees, sidewalks disappeared entirely.
"I gatta take a piss," Sy said finally, after an hour of silence.
Token pulled over, he watched Sy work his way towards the nearest tree. He didn't know why he thought he had to pee on a tree at all, but it just felt right.
Token got out of the car and walked right over, thankfully Sy was done by the time he arrived. "Hey, I'm not done..." Sy said before Token shoved him onto the ground. Sy barely had time to tie his belt, "I get it, we're not friends. But you could at least let me take a piss in peace."
Token gave a great big kick in his gut, Sy was gasping for air. Token walked around him. "I'm taking you back to Kozi."
Sy couldn't speak, he just focused on breathing for now. He shook his head and tried to get away but Token just grabbed his shirt collar. "Let's go," Sy's hands were flat in the dirt, he curled his fingers and grabbed fistfuls of earth and threw it up into Token's face. He then made a run for the car, Token's car was the only option for a quick getaway.
Token chased after him. Sy was halfway into the car, but Token was fast, he pulled him away from the door and took a swing at him. Sy was able to dodge that. "I'll die if I go back," he managed to say.
"You'll die if you stay here too," he yelled back angrily, taking another swing. Token's fist came inches from his head, Sy was determined to avoid any contact with his fists since that last time they fought.
"Why do you want to live?!" Token shouted suddenly, his voice echoing throughout the forest and empty road.
Sy stared at him, silent at first. He didn't know the answer to that question. "Why do you?" He asked him. His hands were full of dirt, his knees too, his pants were untied still, barely hanging around his skinny waist. "Rye'll be pissed, he just got me these..." Sy said, looking over his clothes.
"I can't stand you," Token said.
"Notice how non-threatening I've been this last week? You've been throwing all the punches, Token." Sy said, throwing up his hands to show how he wasn’t going to return his violence, he had promised his brother he wouldn't.
Token rushed towards him again but Sy backed away as he got closer. "I don't like myself when you're around. You bring out the worse in me."
Sy laughed, "I bring out the real you, and the real you is dark as fuck. You spend all your time performing for others, and you're tired Pen, I can tell, and you're angry because I know your secret. C'mon, drop the act and be free."
Token leapt forward, grabbed his collar before he could get away, pulled Sy towards him and punched him in the gut, harder than before. He watched him keel over. He'd hit him so hard Sy's eyes were watering. Then, Token shifted his weight to his rear leg, he stepped his rear heel down and then threw a left hook forward. His fist was like a finely crafted blade, cutting the air, until it met with Sy's jaw. The resulting head snap caused Sy's brain to slam on the inside of his skull, knocking him right out. Sy fell limp, unsconcious.
Token rolled Sy onto his stomach, then proceeded to tie his arms at his back, then tied his ankles together. He looked at his phone to see that he had 10 unread messages... he could only see the first 4 in the preview.

"Fyi, Troy's coming over later :eggplant: :devilface:"
"fml, mom is so annoying :weary:"
"Is Sy okay?"
"Please don't fight :sadface:"

He didn't read the rest, he felt guilty enough already. "Don't puss out," Token said to himself. He shut his phone off, and threw it in the glove compartment, determined to pretend it didn't exist.
Deep down he hoped he'd hit him so hard he would never wake up. But Sy awoke a second after that, but he was stuck and couldn't move. His face had already begun to swell then. Token was on top of him.
Token forced the fingers of Sy's left hand into a fist, then he grabbed Sy's thumb and began to press it in the right order on his phalanges. He quickly taped his hands back together...
"The fuck are you doing..." Sy managed to say.
Token shook him, tightening his grip on him, continuing the sequence. "Shut up." He then did the same on his own hand.
Then the space around Sy began to change, the dirt became sand, and the clouded sky turned clear, and blue. The road and the car vanished, leaving him in a vast open desert. Sy was alone, tied up... on the ground. "What the shit is going on..."
Vincent stood near Sy then, appearing out of nowhere.
Sy stared at him, "it didn't work like you said..."
Vincent smirked when he saw Token suddenly appearing in the desert too, near Sy. He rushed for Token, grabbing the back of his neck and lifting him off the ground. Token was tall, but this figure was much taller, and stronger.
Vincent looked at Sy with bound hands. "Did you bring him back here for a reward of some kind?" he asked Token.
Token looked terrified, "I-uh, nononono I had to! I was made to!"
"Nemerald?"
Token nodded quickly.
"Here's what's going to happen," Vincent began, "Nemerald will undoubtedly come to collect his minion and prize," saying this, he gestured towards Sy, "so we will wait."
Vincent glanced over at Sy then. "So, you want this guy dead or what?"
"Yea. He punched me in the head. Yank his head off," Sy said, looking Token in the eyes. Vincent's hand gripped the top of Token's head then. Token's body stiffened, "Holy shit! No!" he yelled, but then Sy laughed and lifted a hand, gesturing for Vincent to stop. "Kidding, it's a stupid head, but he can keep it." He neared Token then, and pat him on the chest, "remember this kindness I just did you. Kay shit stain?"

The fight

Jak made his way over to where they were.
"Pft, another fucking clone..." Vincent frowned. "If you want either of these two," he said, lifting Token off the ground again by his arm, like he weighed nothing, and then gestured over to Sy. "You'll leave the pass open."
"So much for our fucking deal..." Sy said under his breath.
Jak smirked, "you know this will not be possible."
Vincent grunted, "then you're not getting anything."
"Stop talking and attack him already," Sy said aloud to Vincent, impatient.
"He's a clone, destroy him and there will be more... it is a waste of my energy." Vincent explained.
"What? Naw, he's the real deal. Kozi stopped making clones ages ago..."
Vincent frowned, unsure or not whether he should trust Sy. But by then it was already too late, Jak began to draw shapes in the air...
Vincent suddenly appeared panicked, in one quick move he threw Token on the ground, a good 5 metres from where he stood. Jak's shapes had stretched and distorted the whole of the space around them. Vincent rushed for him, a desparate leap into certain death. They began to fight, their movements were fast, difficult for human eyes to discern. The air around them became thick, electric.
Sy saw the hair on his arms rise, glanced at Token he noticed his hair was pointing skyward. The grass at their feet fizzed and burned, turning to ash on the ground. The trees around went up in flames. Sy was entranced, it was like watching gods battle.
Then suddenly Sy saw an arm fly off, a big arm. "Shit." Sy said, recognizing it to belong to Vincent. Token came by and grabbed him then, Sy's hands were still bound. Token cut the tape keeping his ankles together so he could walk, there was a lot of distance between them and the mountain and Token did not want to have to drag him there.
Token began to take Sy back toward the mountain, but it was not easy. Sy was fighting back hard this time, digging his heels into the sand. Token groaned, they made absolutely no progress. Then, suddenly they heard a loud scream, and out of a giant cloud of dust, the victor came out. Jak was battered, but not beaten. Vincent was gone, or disintegrated, it was hard to tell...
"He's dead?" Sy asked.
Jak caught up with Token, and grabbed Sy from him and then he thew him 10 metres ahead. Sy landed in the sand, but before he could get up Jak had caught up and did the same thing again, tossing him forward. Jak was angry, and would not do Sy any kindness.
"That's gonna take forever... and you're gonna tire yourself out." Token said. He could see that Jak was hurt.
Jak paused, looking himself over for a moment. He had a deep gash on his left arm. "You are right..." he then walked over to Sy and heaved him off the ground again before he could break into a run to get away. "Marche. Tout droit, en silence. Si t'essaie d't'echapper j't'arrache un bras pis j't'encule avec."
"What the hell does that mean..." Token said.
"If I try to run, he'll rip my arm off and buttfuck me with it." Sy explained.
"You speak French?"
"I lived with Jak-off for 4 years... remember?" Sy said. He began to walk forward, resisting the urge to run. He wanted to, but knew that Jak would catch up. For now, he tried to gather up some strength for his encounter with Nemerald.
Token, Sy and Jak walked next to each other, heading over to Nemerald's lab. "I hit you damn hard," Token said to him, as they walked.
"Stop boasting," Sy said, glumly.
"How are you okay? You don't have a mark on you," Token said, feeling crazy, suddenly. He had imagined what happened? He wondered if his brain was really going to shit, to the point where he was hallucinating fights. "I hit you, I did... didn't I?"
Sy bore a self-satisfied expression then, happy to see Token in distress. Jak shushed them then, as they neared the mountain.
Jak arrived in front of the door to Nemerald's lab, the door that had intrigued them all of these years ago. It opened. Token entered, Sy didn't. Jak shoved him inside, and into the main lab. Token was relieved, he felt safe here. Sy on the other hand, his eyes darted around... searching for Nemerald.

Suddenly Nemerald came walking into the room. With a wave of his hand, Jak locked Sy into place, little bolts of electricity jumped from Sy's body as it tensed up. Sy couldn't move a muscle. With another wave of his hand, he forced him to kneel on the ground. Nemerald's face was pale, like all of the blood had gone from his head. "What should I do with you," he asked himself as he went to stand close. He dropped to one knee, to be at eye-level with him. "Why you chose this is beyond me..." he said.
"Restlessness," Sy replied, with a half-smirk.
Nemerald placed a hand on the side of his face, "you know, you're not as valuable to me as you think you are..."
"I think am pretty valuable, otherwise you'd have killed me already..." Suddenly, Nemerald saw Sy's eyes blackening. In one quick move Jak drew up a spell between them, just in time, determined not to have a repeat of the last battle. Nemerald was still weak, and would likely not survive another assault of matching ferocity. Yess had escaped Sy's mouth again and was dripping down the invisible barrier. Jak began to move fast, drawing patterns in the air, a web encasing his target further. Slowly, Yess was forced back inside, retreating into Sy's body. Sy awoke, the white in his eyes returned, and he could see again. He looked at the state of the room, and laughed, seeing Yess had failed, yet again... "and the universe takes another massive shit on my life..."
Jak knelt beside him then, speaking in a double voice. One voice continued speaking in Eidoluk, reciting incancations, while the other addressed Yess directly. Sy then felt a surge of pain, like the first time Yess had come out, but it was growing in intensity. He felt the creature inside of him trying to crawl out, any way it could. Sy's skin became hot, he was sweating profusely. "Ah! Stop!" Sy yelled, "you're making it fucking worse!" He said, keeling over in pain. His skin was turning red, and he was getting dizzy, confused.
"Nemerald! Fais kek'chose! J't'en train d'le tuer!" Jak yelled.
Nemerald was out of the room, he returned moments later with a needle. "Keep him off me for a second!" Nemerald commanded.
Jak tried harder to contain him, but the more he did the more Sy seemed to suffer, as if about to burn from the inside out. "Y va mourrir j'te dit!"
Nemerald then quickly dove the needle through his skin. Seconds later Sy began to calm down, and he fell unconscious, laying over his side. Nemerald sighed, "sedative..." he breathed.
Jak too collapsed, taking a seat on the ground, feeling completely drained. He put his head in his hands, trying to regain control of his body. He felt weak, tired. "The fuck, was that..."
Nemerald hurried back into another room. Jak could hear him moving furniture around, then suddenly he poked his head out of the door and waved him. "Bring him here. Please, Jak..."
Jak had little energy left, but did as told. He picked Sy's body, moved into the room.
Nemerald looked back at Token, "wait here..." He then closed the door, leaving him alone with a pile of broken furniture.
Token sighed, he took a seat and waited. He couldn't hear anything they were saying in the next room...

Nemerald had folded up the edges of a tarp, and asked that Sy be placed in the recess. He then began to fill it with a thin layer of cold water, by way of transfering jugs of liquid sourced from a pool of water in the far corner of the room. The building was in a mountain, and much of the original features, like the pool of water, were kept as is.
"C'est pourquoi tout ca?" Jak asked.
"To cool him off..." Nemerald said.
"I don't get it! Why do keep him alive?" Jak asked, "he try to kill you, non? He don't deserve kindness from you."
"Oss is in there, Jak."
"You really think this still? Yess probably eat him already..." Jak said, taking a seat on the ground again, eager to relax. "Yess overtaking Oss would be a serious problem for us all," Nemerald sighed. "It's why we have to try to extract Yess." Nemerald then began to recite incantations, he motioned for Jak to do the same. Like on his first attack, they tried to lift Yess from Sy's body. The black began to exit his mouth, gathering as a ball in the air above his head. Yess too was sedated, easy to manipulate. Nemerald focused on each part of his limbs, but as the black began to exit Sy's pulse began to drop. Nemerald stopped, "damn this creature..."
Jak stared, "Oss is really gone then."
Nemerald shrugged, "I don't know. Subduing Yess might be our only option, for now... until we can learn more." He then waved Jak over again, and both continued to recite incantations together. Symbols appeared on Sy's skin, turning and twisting with every word, symbols themselves change too, depending on what was said next. They did this for a long while, until his skin was covered in a series of complex writing. The text then disappeared, sinking into his skin.
After a while, Sy appeared stable. "On fais quoi... si y se reveille j'pourrai pas t'defendre. J'ai pu d'energie..." Jak said, concerned for their safety. He did not feel like he could fend off another attack, he too was too weak.
"Put him in the black room." Nemeraid said.
Jak nodded. He bound Sy's hands at his back, and carried outside of the room, past Token and then opened a door at the far end of the main salon. The room was dark, there was no indication of a floor, or anything past the threshold of the door. The room was a black hole. Jak walked in, placed Sy inside and left before closing it behind him, and turning the lock.
When Jak approached again Nemerald addressed him. "How are you?" he asked, inspected Jak's body suddenly, the fight with Vincent had left some marks. "Any pain?"
"Bah, ca va passer," Jak said, finally allowing himself to relax fully, to breathe.
"Sy attacked me with Yess inside of him. Would you say that he too was responsible for this attack?” Nemerald asked him.
"Yes, I read it on him,” Jak answered promptly, "Lui et Vincent, they made a deal. Sy had no problem to betray you." Jak looked absolutely drained, pale and wan. "Ecoute, si ca t'dérange pas j'vais aller m'étendre..."
"Yes yes, vas-y. Bon travail," Nemerald said, as he watched him walk away. Jak nodded, disappearing into his quarters to rest.

Token sat on a chair, still overwhelmed by the recent events, "I thought you sent out clones..." he asked.
"Not for a long long time, but they didn't know that. Thanks to Sy it is now a spent tactic." Nemerald said, sitting on a chair across him, eager to rest too. His throat was sore from speaking. He was healing but wasn't 100% yet. "Jak risked his life out there for you, wouldn't have happened if you had arrived directly here in the clinic with Sy like I asked you to.”
Token nodded nervously, "I don't know how that happened." He paused for a second. "So um, what's the black room?" Token asked.
"A room that wages war on the mind," Nemerald explained.
"Right." Token said, afraid to ask more. "How long will you leave him in there? What happened to Oss?"
"A parasitical demon has taken hold of Oss, maybe forever... but for now, they too have been subdued." Nemerald smirked. "As for Sy's punishment, well, I'll let you decide how long. If you want him to stay there forever, it is fine with me. It's all up to you," he said, turning his back to him, and going to sit at his computer. He began to work, leaving Token with this task.

Token wasn't sure what to do, he felt Sy deserved the punishment, but he didn't like the idea that he had to decide how long. He kept staring at his watch nervously, wondering how long was enough. He kept thinking of Orion, and how he would have pulled him out the instant Nemerald had mentioned he could. Token was paralyzed, unable to decide. He couldn't focus on anything else. A few minutes into it he hesitantly stood up, and walked over to the black room. He stood in front of it, he even pressed his ear up against it to see if he could hear anything. Complete silence. Maybe Sy was okay? Token hated the idea that he was worried about him. He kept pacing around the door, angry at himself for feeling so terrible about keeping him locked in there.
"Is Sy a prisoner here now?" he asked Nemerald.
Nemerald did not turn to face him. "Yes."
"What happened anyway?"
"After he fled Montore I gave him purpose. I fed and housed him too," Nemerald answered, a hand resting on his throat over the bruises. His voice was hoarse, Token had only just noticed. "But he chose to hurt me, out of boredom seems like... I've always known he was fickle, but I did not expect this at all." Nemerald sighed, clearing his throat. "Sy wouldn't choose to stab you in the back..." Nemerald began.
"He would choose to stab you in the eye." Token finished. He then noticed the bruises then, he couldn't understand what pushed Sy to do this. "What are you going to do with him?"
Nemerald spun round in this chair and faced him. "Why? You want to take him home?" He asked, taking his glasses off and staring at him.
"No," Token said. That's all he could think to say.

He returned home and faced his brother "I left you a ton of messages," Orion said, "where have you been? Where's Sy?"
"Sy's gone."
"What do you mean...?"
"Back in Circa. He was captured. He's beyond fucked, and there's nothing anyone can do."
"But how?" Orion looked terribly sad, betrayed, and angry. "You told me you'd keep him safe."
"He doesn't deserve your kindness O."
"You lied to me!" Orion said, broken-hearted.
"Do you know why he left Circa? Because he tried to hurt someone, again! He made a deal with a demon, to help them kill Nemerald, but it didn't work and so he ran away and came here. Attacking Nemerald was a choice he made. He chose to betray him. He's a fucking psychopath." Token explained.
"Hold up... I don't understand. Did *you* take him back?" Orion said, visibly upset.
“He's gone, that's it.” Token yelled back, sick of being questioned.
Orion became angry then. “I don't know what Nemerald's done for you because you won't tell me, but whatever it is... he shouldn't have this power over you, he can't be allowed to manipulate you like this. He’ll never be done with you you know, he’ll have you do more horrible things and you’ll keep saying you have no choice as if saying that makes it okay! It doesn’t absolve you of anything.”
"He's not a super villain."
"What if Nemerald kills him? He doesn't deserve that!"
"I'd say he does," Token said.
"You sound just like Sy you know." Orion was furious. "He was under my protection! I told him he was safe with us! What do I tell Kim huh? If I tell her she'll come after you!" He couldn't believe this was happening. "You've been lying to me from the start? I...I can't believe you'd do that to me."
“We're talking in circles,” Token said with a sigh, "what's done is done. Tell Kim he ran off, like he always fucking does. Don't tell her more than you have to."
"You have to talk to Nemerald!" Orion begged. When Token did not reply, Orion stormed off.
"There's nothing I can do!" Token snapped back, then he went to grab a cup of coffee in the kitchen, but he couldn't enjoy it, he couldn't enjoy himself. "Fuck!" he yelled, throwing the cup against the far wall in the kitchen. The cup shattered into a million pieces, the black coffee staining the wall, and floor. The brown liquid left long streaks behind, like the appartment was crying brown tears. Token cursed aloud again and went to sit down on a chair next to the kitchen table, with his head in his hands.

Saving Sy

4 days passed, Token moved in with Mari because Orion never really forgave him for what he did to Sy. He moved out the very next day, and they hadn't spoken since.
Token was more medicated than ever, consumed by what he did to Sy. He always assumed that it would make him happy, but he was more miserable than ever. He pretended to go train during the day, but spent his time in the upstairs condo belonging to his father. He was supposed to sell it off for him, but he hadn't done so yet. In the evenings he went back home to Mari.
One day he lay in bed after taking a high dose of meds. One second he was in bed, the next he was back in Nemerald's lab. He saw himself walk to the black room door, reach for the handle, and he opened it. He opened it and stepped away. Then the lab faded away again, and the world around him changed once more.
The next day, he woke up, glad that he had gone back to Circa to free Sy. He would still be prisoner to Nemerald, but at least he'd be out of that room. He was relieved. He told no one.

6 months later...

Then he began to function semi-normally again, he went out, saw friends, hung out outside with Mari, went to run, to work out in the gym. A few months later he fought in a championship.
He was fighting John Cherkasov, a local fighter. In the third round Token knocked him out cold. Cherkasov was unresponsive. He was transported to a hospital. Token went home that night, and told Mari about what had happened. It wasn't uncommon in the boxing world. Two days later, he received a phone call. After the fight Cherkasov was put in a medically induced coma on life support, but then he died early this morning.
Token couldn't breathe.

Fighter down

Mari sat in the waiting room with Orion. Mari looked glum, she explained that she had found him in the appartment on the couch, unresponsive. She helped him breathe while waiting for EMS to arrive. She looked thoroughly shaken. Orion had an arm around her, caressing her shoulder. "Drug screens were positive for both benzodiazepines and oxycodone," she said, "I knew he was on anti-depressants... but I didn't think he was consuming oxycodone."
Orion sighed. "After fights, sometimes. Never before though, they screen for that stuff."
"This is the first time you've seen him in 6 months," Mari said.
Orion frowned, "worry and anger don't quite go together..." he said, playing with a bracelet at his wrist.
"He'll have to undergo therapy... he's already been screened, and I think I agree."
Orion nodded, "same."

Therapy

"How are you feeling?”
"Tired," Token replied, leaning back in his chair.
"You've recently experienced a tragedy, one of your opponents died after your fight. That must be difficult." The doctor said, sitting across from him in a private room.
"Dangers of the sport," Token said, avoiding the doctor's gaze, he appeared exhausted, drained.
"It didn't affect you?"
Token stayed quiet for a moment, re-calling the scene in his head, the moment when his fist hit Levan's head, and when he fell limp on the ground. Then he saw the same scene but with Sy on the side of the road, with his body falling into a black hole. Then he saw his dad's fist coming to his own head, followed by himself standing in front of a large machine with blood spurting in his eyes.
"It's okay to say that it did, it is not a weakness," she said.
"what bothers me," Token began, "...is that it doesn't bother me." His thumb moving across his phalanges. "I ought to feel bad. I hurt people all the time and I don't feel anything."
"As you said, that is the nature of your work."
"I don't feel bad. I want to hurt them." Saying this, he looked up at her.
"Why do you think you want to hurt people?"
"Because I'm angry," he said.
"Has something happened recently, to make you angry?"
"Recently, and for my whole entire life..."
"This is a safe space, nothing you say will get out of this room."
Token felt so weak then, he couldn't take it anymore. "I said I wanted to hurt people, but like... when that guy died..." he paused, looking at his hands, "I've wished to beat people's faces in till they're dead many times, and I didn't even do that, and the guy died."
"You didn't know him, it is normal to have dark thoughts sometimes but you did not mean to kill him. You did not fight differently."
"I killed someone else recently too though," he said quickly, his eyes tearing up.
"You didn't kill Cherkasov." The doctor said, "your job doesn't make you a killer."
"I've been fighting since I was 8." Token began. "Things happened though, with my dad. Bad things." Even in a safe space, he couldn't bring himself to say it. "I've never had... sex," he then said with a laugh, "I can't, and no one knows. People assume I have because of what I say, how I act, because of the nature of my work... and that makes it easy, I guess. It makes it easier for me to look at myself through their eyes, if that makes sense. The me that I think they see, the part that I show never betrays this fact, that I've never, ever, ever..." His voice trailed off then.
"You've never been with anyone because of your father?"
Token lowered his voice, as if about to say something terrible, forbidden. "I didn't understand what was going on. I was a fucking kid y'know?" He paused to take a breath then, putting his face in his hands. "It happened a few times, but then something changed... like a switch was cliked on in his head. He became super controlling, and angry. When I was 15 I became Montore's number one light flyweight boxer for my age. All I did was train. I wasn't allowed to go out, to see anyone. I snuck out one night and he beat me when he found out. Then he um..." he bit his lower lip so hard it bled. "That night I wanted to die. I took a bottle of paracetamol and two bottles of sleeping tablets altogether, spent two and a half days in a private clinic, had to stop school for a whole month. My dad hid it all, told no one. He brought me to Nemerald in secret. When I was 17 I fought in the country championship, I was so stressed I vomited before the fight. I won, but I felt sick inside. I took a ton of my dad's pain meds, and on the way out of the gym I took the service entrance, and I saw a trash compactor. I removed the guard, turned it on and put my left arm in it. I almost bled to death that day. I felt all the bones in my hand breaking,” Token recalled. “My hand was hanging off my wrist by strings of skin and tendon," he said. "I was hurting, but I was free. In my mind, that was the end of his control over me. He wouldn't be interested in me if I couldn't fight. He'd leave me alone. I liked boxing, a lot, but I was willing to let that go for a chance at happiness. Surely, he would let go of me then."
The doctor looked at his arm. "It was re-attached."
Token laughed, "what happened was a kind of a blur, I lost a lot of blood and was woozy as hell. Someone found me, and brought me to Nemerald and he made me a prosthetic. I didn't want it at the time, I fought it hard. But then once I had it on I sort of gave in. Learned to use it, went back to my life. Nemerald had told my dad I was ill, and that he was helping me. I stayed there for months. My dad doesn't know what I did, no one knows... well, except me, Nemerald, Orion, Sy, and whoever found me."
"You told Sy,"
"Orion told Sy, I didn't want him to know. Orion's knows that he wouldn't tell others, anyway..."
"You've got every reason to be angry you know," The doctor said, "your father, the one who was supposed to protect you, has betrayed you. And now, you feel you are betraying everyone else..."
"Yea," Token said, wiping tears from his eyes. "My friend Sy tried to kill my dad when I was 19, I tried to stop him... even if it's what I wanted. I wanted my dad to be so, so dead, but I was angry that Sy had forced my hand. I wanted it to be my choice. I ought to have been glad though, because he made it so that no one would or could suspect me. It was perfect. Then yea, I betrayed him, told him he was the villain. I still remember the hurt in his eyes... he knew it's what I wanted, but I chose to frame him instead. He ran away, I didn't see him for 7 years. Recently, Sy came out of hiding. I didn't give him a chance. I put him into the hands of someone that I knew would hurt him. Sy isn't a good person, but still, I did that. I was trying to be good back then, and Sy believed I shouldn't try. He said that trying wouldn't make me happier, it wouldn't make me a better person, either. I was fucked up, and dark inside, and I had to accept that. I think I understand now... what he meant," he paused. "The safest way of not being very miserable is not to expect to be very happy..."
Token looked as calm as he'd ever been in his life. "All of this. This is between you and me... right?" he asked, talking to an empty chair. No one else was in the room.
"My friend tried to do right by me, in his own twisted way," he felt a pressure in his chest then. "I dreamt that I'd freed him, but that's all it was... a dream. He's still in there. I told myself I'd done it to relieve myself of the guilt, but also, like... I think I wanted him to stay in there. In fact, what I really wanted was to be okay about him being in there, suffering. I wanted to like the idea of him suffering, but I couldn't, just like I couldn't let Sy kill my dad. I never do what I want, and I lie... to others, and to myself. I used to think that lying was keeping me sane, but it doesn't fucking work. Nothing works." He laughed out loud. "My brain is... wired wrong, or something..."
"What if you helped Sy this one time," Token said aloud to himself, gesturing, taking on the role of the doctor without switching chairs. "Others will find out, they'll be mad," he said, looking fearful. "They'll find out anyway," Token then said, leaning back into his chair, eyes wide, "and I lose."
He stood up then, and began touching his phalanges in that familiar sequence, the one that had saved him all those times he wanted to end it. Everytime he thought about ending his life, he would dissaparate, change his environment, pretend those problems weren't his own. Those were the problems of some other, really troubled guy and I pity him, Token would think. "Not mine," Token said, "I'm free."
The next thing he knew, he was disapparating from the room.

Waiting in the void

A door opened, light poured into the void. Someone walked near, and helped him up. He walked alongside him, and one other person before settling into what appeared to be an all-white room. His eyes couldn't yet adjust, he closed them.
The following days, his skin became warm again, his eyes adjusted and his hunger returned. He stayed in bed most of the time, unable to think. His brain was like pudding. People were around, getting food into him, and making sure he was warm, and never alone. The whole time he was lying down he felt a heartbeat through someone's skin. For now, he focused on that rhythmic sound.
He couldn't read people's faces, everything was just colors, and blurs, words were nonsensical, a series of notes describing nothing.
Eventually, his eyes focused, and he could see a large, furry beast nested beside him. His hand moved to touch it. The beast raised its head then, and called something aloud to someone else.
Kim came running, she sat beside him, putting a hand on his chest, "hey Sy."
Sy understood that, but he felt like he was watching the scene from inside a giant robot. These things were happened to someone else, and he was still far, far away. A mere observer, a non-participating entity in the world of the living.
Someone else was in the room, but they kept their distance. They were too far to make out. Kim helped Sy into a seated position. Kim brushed his hair gently, "you're safe," she said with a soft, reassuring smile.

On the next few weeks, Sy started doing more and more things, but getting him to talk again was not so easy. Kim continued to talk to him anyway, so did Orion. Kim read him books at night, aloud, and Orion made food for everyone. Sy ate a little, not as much as he ought to though.
In the black room, he'd had no need for food. It was like his body was in statis, but not his mind.
Then one day, his eyes were able to focus on far away things too, and it's then that he recognized the other person in the house. Sy's eyes were fixed on Token. Token had been dreading this, he stayed where he was. Kim and Orion were working, the only ones around were himself and Chelsea. "You were right you know," Token said aloud suddenly, "about me. I turned my back on you, but like... you were the one keeping me sane back then..."
"Who's sane," Sy said aloud then.
Token hadn't expected him to speak. "Not me," Token said, smirking, "not for a long, long time." He sighed. "I'm sorry. For everything."
"Shit, what reality is this..." Sy said, closing his eyes.
"I need your help," Token then said. He regretting asking as soon as he said it though.
Sy laughed, he then waved him away, saying nothing more.

Token told Orion about this later, when he returned to Kim's place after work. Currently, Token was in an outpatient program to help him work through his addiction, he was on methadone, and doing better overall. He was staying with Mari still, but came by to Kim's place almost everyday to see Sy.
"He thinks you're not real," Orion said, "you're being too un-Token-like."
"Is he gonna be fine though?"
"Yea, yea. Just got to give him time to acclimate," he said.
"And you?" Token asked, "you're still mad."
"Loving you isn't easy," he said before walking away.

Intermission

Orion brought Sy some peanut butter toasts. "How you feeling?"
Sy was sitting on the bed, back to the wall. He looked like a ghost.
Orion went to sit next to him. He moved to fix Sy's hair, but Sy moved his head to the side so he'd stop. "Want me to dye your hair again?" Orion asked.
Sy smirked, but stayed silent. They sat there together in silence.

The runaway

Sy did get improve over the next few days, but he was quieter, overall. It was hard to tell when he was in the room, his whole personality was muted, subdued. Then one night, he left.
"He didn't tell you anything?" Kim asked Orion.
"Yea, but he seemed... better, I don't know. He said he had to go, and needed time alone, so... I let him go."
He was gone.
Token wondered if he had gone back to Circa, but he doubted it. He attended therapy regularly, and never spent time alone. His doctor recommended he keep people around at all times. He was still on methadone, and likely would be for a very long time.

Then about a month later, Sy showed up at his appartment.
"Sy..." Token said, startled by his sudden appearance.
Sy entered the apartment, walking past him, found the kitchen and began to prepare coffee.
Token sighed, "Mari's here..." he whispered.
"Sup Mari," Sy yelled aloud then.
Token groaned.
Mari came walking out then, and saw him in their kitchen. "Hm. A revenant," Mari said, eyeing him over, she then glanced at Token to see if he was alright with this happening. Token shrugged, he was surprised but not too bothered. "What are you doing here."
"Coffee," he said, pouring himself a cup. Sy said, keeping his back to her.
Mari sighed, then walked into the next room, to text Kim to alert her that Sy was here. After sending the message she returned to the kitchen.
Sy filled the cup to the brim and turned around, leaning on the counter, drinking the hot brown liquid. "Kim thought I was dead." Sy said.
Token looked nervous then. Mari picked up on it too, she stood by, ready for anything.
"6 months waiting in there. It took me a while to piece it out. My mind's been kind of unreliable of late, but I found a quiet place, and was able to pull all the bits together again." Sy said, grinning. "You were there when Kozi put me in that room, I remember. You waited 6 months to tell anyone. Why?"
"I didn't know how to get you out..." Token explained.
"Did you know what the black room was?"
"At the time, no. I didn't, but I overheard him and Jak talking about it. They explained what it was. That was a little over a month ago. I sort of... lost it, realized how cruel it was. Went back and convinced him to let you go... 6 months in that place was torture enough."
"Last chance to tell me the truth," Sy threatened.
"I just fucking did." Token said.
"You fucking coward," Sy said, shaking his head. He appeared more dangerous than ever.
Just then Mari moved to grab him. Sy moved away from her and began to back towards the door, "goddamn lying piece of shit!" He yelled at Token, peering around Mari. "You dared ask for my help after too..."
Mari was fuming, she caught up to him and pushed him out of the door. "Never come back here," she said, slamming the door shut. She turned to Token then, took his arm and dragged him into a far room. "The fuck was that?"
Token was shook. "Nothing, he's insane. You know that."
"Oh really?" Mari said, sarcastically. "You told me he ran away, didn't say much else when I asked. Kim was wondering where he was, so I said you told me he was gone..." she said suddenly. "I lied to Kim, because of what you said. You didn't mention anything about Nemerald, or a black room. Hell, Sy said you were there when he was emprisoned? What the fuck happened Token?"
"Oh don't you fucking start..." he said, moving away from her.
She looked thoroughly tired. She knew Token wasn't telling the truth but to be honest she didn't care. Sy was gone, that's all that mattered. "Kim knows he's back by the way, I just told her. *sgh*, I'm going to bed."

>

Mud and and blood

Sy was outside of Token's building, staring up. He then felt a presence nearby, and noticed Chelsea there.
"You reek of mud and blood," Chelsea said.
"And old ciggies," Sy added.
Chelsea put her large paw on his shoulder, "Kim wants to talk to you."

Kim raced to Sy as he walked in through the front door. She threw her arms aorund his neck, "you okay?"
"Functional." Sy answered.
"What were you doing creeping around Token's building, um? Mariana said you were stirring up some trouble." Chelsea said.
"Getting fucked, hard." Sy said.
"You do you..." Chelsea said, glancing at Kim.
Kim directed Sy to the bathroom. "Get cleaned up." She turned on the shower, then seeing as he wasn't making a move to go she began to undress him, peeling off each layer, carefully. "So you left for a month to roll around in the mud? Fun."
"You're not mad," Sy asked her, letting her do it.
"Who's got time for that," Kim said. "You had shit to deal with, and so do I. My world doesn't stop spinning when you leave the room," she pointed out. After he was freed of all clothing, she walked him into the stall and placed him under the shower head. "Soap up," she said. She felt compelled to tell him what to do because he seemed lost, like a ghost unaware of earthly, human needs and basic behavior. "Mari said you were harassing Token."
Sy closed his eyes, letting the water rinse the dirt out of his skin and hair. "So Token brought me here from the black room, said Kozi let me go..."
"Kind of hard to believe, but that's what he said." Kim replied. "To be honest I was so focused on getting you well again that I didn't think about other details. You looked like death."
"Kozi told him that liberating me was his choice. He told everyone I was gone, he knew what the room was, he chose to let me rot in that fucking hellscape for 6 months. I went to confront him about it, gave him a chance to say the truth, and he lied... like he always fucking does..."
"How would you know what Nemo told him?"
"I heard a voice inside me," Sy said, standing in the shower. "Not sure if it was Oss, or Yess... or both, I could hear it before, but it was always muted, too low to make out. I was in there a while, as you know... and I learned to listen. I started making out some of the words. Then eventually, I started hearing echoes, other voices and I swear to you, I heard Kozi's voices, and Token's voice... I heard what Kozi said, 'I'll let you decide how long. If you want him to stay there forever, it is fine with me. It's all up to you,' he'd said... Token chose to walk away. And he told no one."
"A voice huh?" Kim said, incredulous.
"Only sure way would be to ask Kozi, or Jak," Sy said. "Token will never say it outright."
Kim removed her jacket, revealing a tank top. She didn't want to wet her sleeves. She reached into the stall and turned him around with his back facing her and began to soap him up. "I'll take care of it." she said.
Then she heard knocking on the door. "Kim," Chelsea said, speaking through the door. "They're here."
"Who's here..."
"I'll be out in a second," she said to Chelsea. She reached in front of Sy and shut the water off, then she spun him around, brushing his hair back, and out of his eyes. "I left you fresh clothes out in the bedroom. Get dry, get dressed and come in the kitchen."

Kim then exited the stall, dried her arms off and slipped her jacket back on, then she walked out to greet some guests. Sy could hear her speaking through the door. He looked at the mud at the bottom of the tub for a moment, then he willed himself out of the bath. He wrapped a towel around his middle and walked out. Then he noticed Seir in the kitchen, Kim's guest. He stopped there for a moment, his eyes meeting with Seir's eyes. Then he continued on to the bedroom to put on some clothes. When he walked out again he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but stayed barefoot. He arrived in the kichen.
Seir appeared out of place in this house, he was overly well-dressed, overly clean, not a hair out of place. He wore a blue suit, with a white blouse, and black-pointed shoes. He sat at the kitchen table, along with Yegon, another hegata.
"You know who I am," Seir said.
"Sure I do." Sy said, not in the mood for whatever the hell this was.
"I have a proposition for you,"
"I really, really don't want to hear it," Sy said.
Kim put a hand on Sy's shoulder, "Please."
Sy was tired anyway, he sat down, not entirely eager to hear what Seir had to say.
"You may not believe it, but Kozi and I work together."
"Yea right..." Sy said. "He fucking hates you."
"He does," Seir said.
"I've never seen you there..."
"We meet in Ayerli'kum," he told him. Seeing the look on Sy's face, he explained. "It stands between Gaukum'in... or Circa, as you call it, and Hakum'wi... the real world. Ayerli'kum is the space between spaces, you could say. Kozi and Jak want to protect ancients, and hegatas, that's always been their goal. Kozi helps to shelter hegatas."
"Vincent's an eidola, why's he want him out?"
"Vincent is... complicated," Seir breathed. "He was in Hakum'wi before, but he did something terrible and was banished here for it. By my hand, actually. To come back to Hakum'wi he has to go through Ayerli'kum, the mountain. Kozi guards the entrance for us all."
"What about Yess."
Seir gazed at him then. "Yess is even more complicated..."
"So what's your proposition then..." Sy asked, getting tired of this conversation.
"Resolve your differences with Kozi, and work with us." Seir saw Sy was about to complain and lifted a hand, "in return, I'll ask Kozi return Oss to you. You'll be stronger, able to separate, or merge like Kim and Chelsea."
"I'm not 100% sure Oss is still in here. While in Circa Yess climbed aboard, and has taken the wheel." He laughed then, at all the metaphors he was making.
Seir's eyes narrowed then, laying his open hand, inside up on the table. "Can I see your arm? Nothing wicked, I promise."
Sy looked at Kim, she gave him a reassuring grin. Trusting Kim entirely, he put his arm over his hand. Seir hovered his other hand overtop, making symbols come to light... both he and Kim jumped back when they saw that much of his skin was covered in writing.
"The hell is all that?" Kim said.
Seir appeared relieved, "he's bound up. It's for the best. Yess is dangerous."
"Kozi will never agree to awaken Oss again."
"He doesn't think you can control it, but if Kim's there to keep an eye on you I'm certain he'll relent."
Sy thought for a moment, "no deal, i don't want anything to do with Kozi."
Seir looked serious then, "with Yess in you, awakened or not... I'm afraid I can't let you do what you want. If he somehow exits into hakum'wi, the humans of Montore are as good as dead."
"Oh oh, so you protect humans too, eh?" Sy said, sarcastically.
"You don't know anything. My aim is to keep the peace, while making the world more equitable for my people."
"And the Ars Goetia are the ones to keep this 'supposed' peace?" Seeing the look on Seir's face, Sy smirked. "I know enough to say for certain that a greedy shit like you will not keep his word."
Seir stood up too then, visibly angry. He looked like they were going to hurt him, but Kim stepped in. "That's it for today, I think..." she took Seir aside to talk to them, they argued back and forth, and then Seir left the room, wandering into the living room to cool off a bit.
Yegon was still there, eating through the contents of Kim's fridge. "News travels fast," Yegon said, "Solo Devs are gonna find out about Yess, and then you'll have a lot more shit to deal with," he said, smiling broadly. "Seir can protect you," Yegon said.
"Those who say that are quick to fuck me over when protecting me stops being convenient, so, fuck right off," Sy said "I don't need you."
"Me and Chel can deal with whatever comes Yegon," Kim said.
"Compared to their leader, Seir's a moderate... heh, don't tell him I said that though." Yegon said, finished a bag of chips, emptying the crumbs in his mouth before tossing the empty bag on the table before he too, disapparated.
"Yegon used to be part of the Solo Devs," Kim explained.
Kim and Sy stood alone together in the kitchen. "You trust Seir?"
Kim shrugged, "Seir's not perfect, but he is making a difference."
"Let them make a plan that doesn't involve me." He walked off them, and went straight to bed, exhausted.
Kim sighed. She joined Seir in the other room. "Sy doesn't like to feel trapped... I told you not to say it to him like that..." she whispered.
"Yess is a force that he does not understand. I don't think he can be subdued. He's a danger, to us all. If Yess gets out there will be a massacre..."
"Did Kozi tell you that Sy was in that black room?"
Seir shook his head, "no, his business is his own. I might have done the same though, would be the only really safe way to contain him... that is, until we can be sure Sy is stable,."
"Kozi fucked with his head, if anything he's more unstable than ever! he'll never want to collaborate with Kozi again now... or with you..."
"He'll have to. You have to find a way." With this, he exited the house.
Kim groaned. She had to make Sy feel good again, somehow... she remembered his words then, that he thought Token was the one to blame for keeping him in the black room. If Sy was sure about this, then perhaps he'd think better of Kozi. This hadn't been Kozi's call, really...
Kim knew what to do.

The beast

Token was in the gym, doing his training. After he was done he went to the locker room to change, it was late so the room was mostly empty. His training partner had left already. He took his gloves off, then rubbed his knuckles. He then stopped, feeling someone in the room. He spun around, and saw Kim sitting on the bench across from his bag.
"Sy's back," Kim said. "but you already know that, since he came to see you first..."
"He isn't well." Token said.
"Why didn't you tell me Sy was Nemo's prisoner?" Kim then asked.
"Because I was worried about what Nemerald might to do to me if I told anyone," he said, looking irritated.
"You're angry that I'm asking?"
"I'm busy, as you can see..." Saying this, he started to grab things from his locker so he could go and take a shower.
"On that first day, Sy says, you were given a choice. And you chose to leave him in there. When he confronted you about it yesterday, you lied."
"How would he know that? He wasn't there..." Token said, turning around to face her. "Nemerald was angry. Sy tried to kill him you know." Token explained, all the while he was repeating the sequence on his hand, but out of order.
"He knows, and I trust him," Kim said. "Sy doesn't lie, not like you."
Token's face turned sour then, dark. "First he harasses me, now you? How many times do I have to fucking say it, he chose to harm Nemerald, so Nemerald punished him."
"Then he whistled and you came running. You brought him back there. Orion wouldn't tell me why you moved out of his place, but now I know why... I guess he knew but was trying to protect you..." Kim did not look impressed. Her skin started changing then, her features too began to warp, elongate and distort. Her body grew bigger, bulkier.
Token began tapping his fingers, in the right order.
In a surge of rage, she lunged forward to tear at him. Token had not had time to finish. He managed to grab her and slammed her body in the opposing locker. She immediately pushed off the wall and pushed her weight on him, knocking him over, his back hitting the edge of the bench. She smacked into him with such violence Token heard the bench crack. Token was down and Kim was all over him.
Token started to hit her, and to push her off with his legs. He was strong, but like this, Kim was stronger. She snarled as she took a bite into his wrist. Curiously, she could not taste any blood. She laughed, then yanked her head to the side and pulled him on the ground, wedging him between the bench and the row of lockers. She then stomped on his right hand, bruising his fingers, breaking 3 out of 5, including his thumb.
"You're not fighting fair! I'm a fucking human!" he yelled.
"Hardly," Kim said, "you never fight fair! I'm just giving you a taste of your own medicine! You dont even fight fair in your boxing matches apparently... Mr. fake arm." She hissed as she sent surges of electricity into his flesh to keep him still. Token's screams echoed in the locker room. "Stop!" he cried, trapped under her weight, an arm lodged between her sharp teeth.
"If I don't like what you're saying I won't stop," she said, as she sent another surge of current.
"Fine! It was my decision!" he admitted, staring at her teeth, plunged deep into his skin. "Nemerald let me fucking choose how long he had to stay in there, he said I had to choose!"
"Did you know what the room was?" she asked, in a strange double voice, not matching her lips, her mouth was still clamped on his arm. Token hesitated for a second, but she did not hesitate to shock him again. She opened her jaw for a moment but only to take a bit further up that same arm, when she saw no blood she bit up higher, and higher once more. There was a row of puncture marks all through the limb. Kim then bit just below his elbow, and her teeth finally found blood. Token screamed then.
"Stop! Please stop!" Token cried aloud, pain rushing up to his shoulder. "I knew what it did! Wages war on the mind. Keeps you alive, but only fucking just! That's what he fucking said. Fuck! I don't fucking deserve this!"
Kim snarled. "Oh you asked for this." She bit down hard and began to shake her head, with her victim writhing underneath her. She put her other paw on his left rib, and pushing down, in one quick, but violent pull her teeth ripped through his skin and away, taking the entire forearm off. She tossed the lifelike limb away, and began to re-transition back. As a human, she straddled his torso, her mouth dripping red. Token was breathing hard. His left forearm lay a short distance away, its high-tech non-human innerworkings now visible. Kim had bitten higher, to try and find where the prosthetic ended, and when pulling away she tore much of the long-healed end open again. The end of his arm was in ribbons, part of it was real, the other synthetic, but highly realistic. The wound was bleeding, heavily.
Kim smirked as she stood up, she grabbed a towel out of his bag and pressed it against his wound, "hold that there." Then, she grabbed his belt from the clothes he'd been wearing that day, coiled it around his nub of an arm and tightened it as much as she could. "It hurts right?" she asked.
"Of course it fucking hurts!" he spat at her, terrified.
She tightened it another notch, even if he was protesting. "So you don't bleed out entirely, too quickly," she explained. She then seached his bag for his phone, and dialed a number before
throwing it on his chest. "Ask EMS to save you, world's gatta find out sometime eh? Aw, you can't apparate to Nemo for help either, so sad."
Token heard the phone ringing, and saw that she had dialed emergency services. "Fuck you!" he yelled.
Kim smiled as she walked away, scooping his fake arm off the floor. "In this situation, I'd say I fucked *you* Token." she swung his own arm at him then. "I'm keeping this, it'll make a good doorstop," She walked away, blood dripped from her fingertips as she tried to shake some of it off, spraying the liquid across the floor.
"Hello? This is 911, was is your emergency?"
Token cursed under his breath. For a second he tried to see if he could actually do the sequence with his right hand, but his thumb was crooked, bending it was impossible, and he no longer had a left arm.
"Hello?"
Token was breathing heavily, he felt dizzy.

A present

Kim joined Sy in bed, after a good long shower.
Sy was awake in bed, lying on his side. The door was open, and so was the light.
Kim went to his side of the bed, and placed a single pill in his open hand, and left a glass of water on the side table, "to help you sleep." she said, "you look like death."
Sy let the pill roll back and forth in his hand, "I am here though, right?".
"Yea," she reassured him.
"And where's here?"
"My bed, in my house on Vermont street in the city of Montore, on planet earth, a blue planet orbiting a sun in the Milky Way, which orbits a giant turtle."
Sy popped it into his mouth, and took a swig of water before repositioning himself in the bed. Kim walked around the bed and curled under the blankets behind him, and held him tight. She caressed his side. "You're here. With me, in my arms," she whispered, hoping that this would be enough to bring him to sleep. She knew he was deathly tired, but that he also feared sleep. "You're safe," she said again, whispering softly. She continued to caress him until she knew for certain that he was sleeping.
"I got you a present, I'll show you tomorrow," she whispered.

The next day Kim was up early, she was between making coffee and answering texts. "Been blowing up all morning." she said to Sy.
Sy drank his coffee.
"It appears our friend has made a good decision, for once."
"I don't have friends," Sy said. "least of all any capable of making good decisions."
"Oh you'll double down on that statement in a second," she said as she walked over to the freezer. She pulled out an item in a plastic bag.
Sy glanced at it, "what's that"
"I got you a present."
"I don't want that, whatever the fuck that is..." his eyes tried to make out what it was, but then he saw fingers. He stared, uncomprehending. He was going to ask whose it was, but then he connected the dots. He blinked and then started to laugh. He reached forward and grabbed the bag to look at it, "holy shit. You went to see him... you took his fucking arm...?"
"And got him to admit everything," she said, "was sick of this silly rivality between you two." She threw it back in the freezer. "This is either a path to health, or to more self-destruction, time will tell... but seeing as he is in the hospital, Orion just texted me to say, it means others know he's missing an arm now. Won't have to hide that anymore, and I'd say that's a step forward."
"No one'll know it was ever fake, there's blood on here... you chewed him up good seems like..." Sy said aloud, "he won't be able to fight either." Sy continued to laugh. He looked unbelievably happy, amused. Kim had never seen him like that before. "That's what he wanted, you know. It's what he wanted."
"Well, he wasn't so happy when I took it. That kid doesn't know what he wants." Kim paused then, "do you like your present?" she asked him, going to stand near him.
"You did this for me?" he said, smirking at her.
"I did, yea." Kim replied, looking very pleased.
He took her in his arms then, looking into her eyes. "You're more dangerous than I thought."
"That shit had to stop y'know? I did say I was going to take care of it."
"I fucking love you," he said, his lips meeting hers for the very first time.
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To be continued...