Analyzers Intrigue Me


It’s only recently I’ve become fascinated by analyzers…on Youtube…on blogs…just their mindsets and unique views on things. I admit I’ve benefited from their comments on anime, books, etc. and have used that information to pick apart some of my things.

And so, here is a gift for you, dear analyzers. Perhaps it’s not a gift you want, but…I try, anyway.

I have finally returned to my first and most dear story series, ZCN & Friends: Adventures in I*V, and I guess it’s not as bad as I once thought it was…it used to be horrendous.

Please read this and enjoy it…After all, this revival and its subsequent revisions (some of which I just implemented) were inspired by all those around me who taught me what it means to be a writer and who taught me the art to critique, revision, and analysis. Thanks and enjoy.

(P.S. I know these things are probably second nature to you, but you don’t have to analyze this if you don’t want to)

[Yes, I am well aware it’s extremely long. What else is new with me?]

[Disclaimer:  ZCN/TIES is © ~CRK. I owneth everything thou dost see. © 1993 (the story was born with me); first version finished October 2010; revival and revision © 2012-2013. Man, I love copyright signs…]

 

Prologue…

“My Own World”

It all started when I was 12-years-old; well, not exactly, but 12 is a significant age in this tale. I was the cool kid on the block; the supposed “rich girl” among the commoners. My kingdom spanned the unknown land of Earlville, IL; a land of ancient and unwanted treasures. Dust and dirt covered every inch of life, buildings knew no other name, and prosperous society seemed farther away than it actually was. Yes, my practically invisible land spanned a mere fraction of the uncharted country-side, and no one cared to give it another name, for the town was slowly deteriorating itself.

Yet, I loved that little town. It was the backdrop for many fantastical adventures, many a childhood reverie—innumerable sweet memories dipped in childhood wonder and innocence. This little town served as my inspiration for Imaginationville (I*V for short): the world of my imagination. I wasn’t Claire, the shy girl who always gets perfect grades and always does the right thing—I was Zeenith, a rebellious, adventurous girl whose goal in life is simply to prove she’s the best there is at everything. In character, I’d see the deteriorating kingdom in a new light; I’d see adventures around every corner. I would sled with my friends in Winter Wonderland, the vast expanse of crystalline snow that mysteriously bordered Seed Hotel all year round. My house (Seed Hotel) was a welcome haven to all children and animals; it included an ice cream parlor, and the Victorian home itself served as a playhouse for children to use their imaginations: tobogganing down the stairs on a couch cushion, dancing in the living room to the Victrola’s melodies or to the player piano’s songs, playing hide-and-seek among the antiques, camping in a tent fashioned from bedsheets. The world was perfect; the world was joyful. The world was mine.

(I wrote this when I revived ZCN/TIES in 2012 and made it into what it is today. This little story inspired me to get over my fear of revising and to make my childhood dream a better one by utilizing all that I’ve learned as a writer. In retrospect, I’m glad I took that first step and revised it)

   BEGINNING ZCN

CHAPTER 1: “A WARRIOR IS BORN”

            It was a completely ordinary day; so mundane that one wouldn’t think it would hold any other significance. The sun and wind lilted over the prairie, carrying the plants’ melodies and scattering them across the never-ending lengths of fields. In the middle of the prairie stood a shack, formed by the determination and the independent fantasies of a 7-year-old and her pet penguin. The home had been crafted from a series of planks, abandoned and worn, crudely hammered together by nails and patched between the cracks with duct tape. The structure is spacious enough to accommodate both a bed & a make-shift kitchen and sturdy enough to keep out the most vicious of rains.

Beneath the walls lay 12-year-old me in my inflatable bed, my stick-like frame covered with cloud white blankets, and my vibrant, blue hair shimmering in the lost rays of sunlight wandering through the home’s one and only window. Across the room from me was my pet penguin, who happened to march triumphantly to my bed after having succeeded in a search-and-rescue mission for a can of tuna. Penguin, known simply as “Penguin” because the name suited her, attempted to wake me, the slumbering fool, but I did not budge under Penguin’s loud chirps. Finally, the little penguin became fed up with my blatant disregard of her starvation, and she threw her precious can of tuna on my sleeping head, causing all my dreams to jettison into another land, and thus, causing me to wake up.

“Penguin! What’s the matter with you?!”

Penguin responded frantically, waving her flippers through the air and chirping enthusiastically.

“Penguin, how did you climb up to the cupboard, manage to open the door, grab the tuna, and come back down, but not be able to open it?!”

Penguin responded with a series of chirps—both mad and disappointed.

“Isn’t there some sort of USG can-opening power or something?”

Penguin corrected me with small chirps.

“OK, power animal powers or something…”

Penguin, quickly becoming impatient, started rapping on the tuna can with her beak.

“All right, I’ll get up…besides all your pecking is making me hungry.”

With a jump for joy, Penguin ran to her special seat at the kitchen table and awaited her favorite meal.

I, rising like a zombie from a coffin, lifted myself from the bed and shuffled across the floor at a deadening pace; my mind could not comprehend whether the reality around me was indeed reality or a continuation of a dream. Ignoring my mind’s tricks, I opened the can of tuna using a manual can opener; at the first click, the lovely, pungent smell of tuna fish wafted through the room, replacing the air with a thick aroma only a penguin would love. As Penguin gobbled her breakfast, I poured myself a bowl of sugary cereal—a simple, virtually worthless snack that sufficed me each morning.

So began the usual morning of the vivacious, blue-haired girl named Zeenith—the persona I lived by back when I was young and foolish and without a care in the world.

As the monotonous day dragged on, a simple desire formed within me—I wanted to do something daring. Something completely insignificant, yet daring in a small aspect; I decided I would go on my usual walk across Wonder Prairie (the prairie surrounding my shack), but that I would walk alone—without Penguin, my only protector. Penguin did not approve of this hasty decision, though I managed to convince her I would be OK—how I’ll never know.

“Bye, Penguin; I’ll see you soon,” I said reassuringly as the wooden door creaked and reassumed its formation with the other planks of wood.

If only I had known then that that one, seemingly insignificant decision on that seemingly ordinary November 1st would instigate a series of events that would set the foundation of the rest of my life.

The lovely shortgrass prairie called me home again; the weather slowly dissolved into winter, the cool wind signaling the eventual coming of snow. The clouds drifted lazily in the cerulean sky, and I inhaled a deep breath, holding on to the crisp air as long as I could. The prairie always made me feel so alive. Suddenly, a rustling in the short grass caught my attention; I turned toward the direction of the sound, yet I found nothing. I dismissed it as fantasy. The rustling resumed. Then, I had a notion.

“I bet that pesky penguin followed me here,” I thought, trying to be wiser than she. “Penguin! I know you’re out there!” I called to the air, and I received no response.

“Penguin?” I was beginning to quiver. “Come on! Don’t play tricks on me!”

The response to my yelling was quick and decisive; a USG fireball (which came seemingly from out of nowhere) landed at my feet. I was trapped. I ran long and hard at this terrible truth: penguins can’t use Fire Wars powers.

The world speeded around me; thoughts flew through my head as fast as the scenery. “Why didn’t I let Penguin come with me today? Why can’t I have USG super powers, too? If I had powers, I definitely wouldn’t be running away! I’d be fighting!” There was nothing I could do but run. The shortgrass prairie around me circled and led to a steep hill—one much too steep for me to climb quickly. That was it; I was doomed. Or so I thought.

The hill to my back, I faced my pursuer. Visibly shaking, I stared him in the eyes as he stepped, slowly, closer and closer. He was short, and he was wearing a black ninja outfit with a red headband—his clothes alone told me who he was: a Maleconsai; an “evil ninja.”

“What do you want with me?!” I internally chastised myself for sounding so weak and feminine.

An evil grin crept up his face, “I want to teach you who you really are.”

His words confused me; everything confused me after this encounter—I was plunged into a world I never knew existed.

“Now, hold still. I promise this won’t hurt a bit,” elegantly, he manifested a sword and swung it by his side in slow motion.

My whole body chilled, and I couldn’t breathe. My blue eyes intently focused on the sword’s sleek structure—gleaming.

His right hand began to glow a plethora of swirling colors. He sharpened his focus on me.

“This is it,” I thought. “Now what?”

In a flash, he was next to me, and my blue streaks of hair were flying all around me; the tendrils gathered on the ground like waves on an ocean.

I suppressed tears, “M-my hair!!”

“Don’t worry, it’ll grow back.” The evil ninja replaced his sword.

“But…how?” I wondered.

Before I could anticipate his next action, he placed his magic-encoated right hand on my bare head. Instantly, a whole lifetime of scenes played through my head like an eternal movie. It was as though I was living my entire life in an instant; mentally, the scenes lingered in real time, but the moment realistically happened in less than five seconds. The memories escaped me—they as ephemeral as the seconds they occurred.

The magic dissipated along with the colors, my hair miraculously returned to its same long length, the evil ninja fled without a trace, and I fell to the ground, darkness consuming me.

The world slowly materialized around me. I had rolled onto my back, and I was facing the vacuous sky. Sitting up, I rubbed my head, the pain reminding me what had happened. I finally found the courage to climb the steep hill so that I could get a bird’s-eye view of my location. From atop the hill, the horizon unfolded. Tall buildings shimmered from the afternoon sun, and they called to me from the distance. To my right lay my humble abode, but a speck among the fields of emerald. I was so far from home! I had a simple choice: venture further or return home to face the wrath of Penguin and her criticism. The choice was obvious.

“Hey there, young’n!”

The sudden call from the bottom of the hill (the side facing the city) stopped me from heading back.

“Was that you making all that dern racket?!” the old man mumbled unintelligibly after his sentence.

Looking down, I apologized, keeping my embarrassment to myself.

“Hey, ya fixin’ to go to I*V City?” he mumbled again after speaking.

I*V City. All my life, I had always wanted to visit I*V City. I had thought that the opportunity would never come. “Should I take it?” I wondered.

“Um…Where’s that?” I asked.

“Just down this here road; you can’t miss it,” once again, he mumbled.

There ahead of me lay that innocent stretch of road, like a path to my life that had just opened before me. I was going to take it.

Sliding down the hill, I thanked the strange, old man for his directions, and I went on my way. The city waited.

Once I reached the city, the iron gates parted, and I was surrounded by buildings as tall as the sky.  The streets were bare and lined with plush grass and potted plants; kids and adults roamed from building to building, taking in all the sights; birds twittered from atop the trees or from inside nooks and crannies within stone buildings’ structures. Then it hit me: I was finally in I*V City. Gazing everywhere, my eyes landed on two particular skyscrapers—both the same exact height and rectangular shape. One said “USG Building” at the top, and the other said “Sham Creations” at the top.

“USG building?” I wondered, “Since when is there a building for USG super powers?”

“Why, there’s always been one!”

Surprised, I turned to find the mysterious voice that answered my rhetorical question, which, assumingly, I had asked aloud accidentally. I tend to talk to myself a lot without ever being aware that I am. The mystery man in question was a short man wearing blue clothes with a gold I*V City insignia on the chest pocket. I guessed he was the gatekeeper, who obviously was absent when I passed by the gate earlier.

“There…has?” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Pardon, but you must be new here, aren’t you?”

“Just got here.”

Looking down, he put his fingers to his forehead, “OK…You need to see the Leader of I*V at his house. He’ll be able to help you.”

But, being the gatekeeper, wouldn’t he know? “OK…Where’s that?” I figured I was being led somewhere ever since I left the house, so I figured, why not go see the Leader?

“Just down the road there; you can’t miss it!” He pointed toward a fork in the road I had come from; the extension led to houses (a kind of quiet suburb).

“Apparently you can’t miss a lot of things here…” I said to myself before responding, “OK, thanks.”

He stopped me as I turned, “Wait.”

It almost occurred to me to say “what now?!” Instead, I shut myself up.

“Listen to me closely…The Leader’s name is Mr. Bird. Now, Mr. Bird has three children: two girls and one boy. One of the children is trouble and should be avoided. But the other two—be friends with them. They’ll help you on your journey.”

Confusion took its reign over me yet again.

“Also, if anything strange has happened to you lately, be sure to let him know. He knows a lot about strange things.”

“Strange things?” What was he—psychic?
“Yes, that’s it.”

After an awkward moment of my thinking what to say, I simply (nervously) smiled, waved, and walked away. What else was I to do?

All the while I was thinking, I lazily strolled past a hotel. Four older women stared from inside four open windows. Once they spotted me, they whispered to each other; their whispers turned to yells.

“Hey, you!” the elder from the middle window yelled.

Biting back my anger, I whimpered, “Yes…?”

“Ain’t you a newcomer?” one of them asked.

“A newcomer…? Well, I suppose. I just got here, like, five minutes ago.”

“Ah! Very new!” the bottom one exclaimed.

“I knew it! They all have that same look,” The top one chimed in.

“Um…” I backed away slowly.

“Ready…” began the one in the middle; she was probably the leader of the four.

“What’s going on…?” I whined.

“Fire!!” they all screamed as vases flew from their windows.

“Ahhh!” I yelled, running as fast as I could down the road toward the Leader’s house, trying to dodge the armies of vases flying towards me.

“What’s so bad about newcomers?!”

In a moment, my presence was belittled by an elegant Victorian home, whose magnificent structure commanded center stage among the other, smaller houses lining the corridor preceding the cul-de-sac. The house was like a masterpiece ballet: its structure made of strings and lavishly decorated by percussion & winds with a commanding presence made obvious by the brass; on the inside, the home holds a story—one of struggle and tragedy, though it is portrayed in a Romantic, beautiful way.

“Well, he’s certainly not a bird!” my fantasy in jest was all for naught.

I approached the door, all the while making googly eyes at the home’s elegant structure and of the panorama’s majestical scenery: lawn leading to forest—the trees concealing a secret. Once elevated upon the stony steps, I knocked twice before resuming my thoughtful dreaming. The treeline transfixed my imagination and allowed it to run wild for a moment—a moment which was quickly interrupted by the careful, quiet sound of the creaking door and a girl’s call.

“Hello?” the question was so soft that I couldn’t believe it snapped me out of my dreaming.

There in the doorway stood an angel. She towered over me like a gentle giant; her radiant purple hair cascaded down her slim figure; her equally flowing purple dress continued the pattern to the floor. Her eyes were the color of the sky, and her voice was calm—calm enough not to scare the birds away. Only occasionally did she speak in accent, and when she did, it was a slight British accent, which highlighted her hidden wisdom & propriety.

I couldn’t help but stare. A part of me knew she was my age, but the other part couldn’t believe it. She held within her the authority of a leader in disguise.

“Might I ask why you are here?” she questioned politely.

Frazzled, I attempted to explain my situation to her, “I—um—I’m Zeenith, but everyone calls me ZCN for some reason. I was told to come here to see the Leader, and…I—a lot of weird things have been happening lately. I don’t know why. All I did was go for a walk!”

She blinked and responded nonchalantly, “Oh, I see.”

“So…are you the Leader?”

“I? Oh, no. I am the Leader’s daughter. I am sorry if you were confused,” she readied herself for her formal introduction, “I am Calla Marie-Claire Bird. It is nice to meet you, Zeenith. Shall I call you ZCN?”

“Uh, sure.”

“What a name,” I thought to myself.

“Right then. Please come in, ZCN.”

I followed the mysterious girl with the long name through the doorway into a magical world of royalty and fancy furniture. The hardwood floors were covered slightly with scarlet rugs, the walls were lined with woodwork and adorned with floral wallpaper, a wooden staircase spiraled toward the heavens, and the rest of the ground floor drew one’s eyes to the back room by the kitchen—the Leader’s room.

“What a house…” I thought, “I wished I lived in a place like this…”

“In here, please, ZCN,” Calla’s soft voice managed to snap me out of my daydreaming once again, and I followed her billowing dress to the Leader’s office.

As I trailed her, an argument ensued in my head: “Could she be the ‘bad one’ the Gatekeeper was talking about earlier? No way! She’s way too nice.” Indeed, kindness seemed to emanate from her.

The Leader’s office unfolded before my eyes as I turned the corner. Bookcases overflowing with books lined the walls to the far left, a wooden workdesk stood in the middle of the room, its surface littered with papers containing scribbles and type; an older man sat in a comfortable leather chair behind the desk. Turning in his seat, the man faced Calla, and he set down his pen and a stack of papers before turning to me. It was then I knew I’d found the actual Leader.

“This is ZCN,” Calla began, “She would like to ask you something.”

“Um. Hi, Mr. Bird. I—”

“Sorry for interrupting, but I need to tell you something, too, ZCN.” With that, Mr. Bird called out for his other two children.

As soon as Mr. Bird yelled, Calla stood in front of the wall like a painting. In moments, the other two kids walked in and stood beside her in the same proper manner.

On Calla’s left was a boy about my age, though he seemed younger because he was short, cute, and quite shy. His skin was much tanner than the girls. He was dressed in black dress pants with a t-shirt. Raven-black hair swept over his head and to his forehead, and brown eyes wandered curiously around the room. His eyes were full of mystery and emotion. They reminded me of Claire’s.

To the shy boy’s left was a taller girl (not as tall as Calla) who appeared the most teenager-esque of the three. She carried herself in a rebellious way, showing off her sense of style revealed in her fashionable clothes. Her hair was red and wild like fire; her eyes were like embers.

The firey girl whispered to the boy, “Try not to be so shy, 5.”

The boy (5, I presumed) just as quietly responded with an “OK…” before continuing his rapid, nervous investigation of the room. Each time his eyes met mine, he’d smile before averting his eyes to the floor again.

“ZCN,” Mr. Bird spoke out, “these are my three children.” He pointed to Calla and said her name.

“We have already met,” Calla smiled.

“…5,” Mr. Bird pointed to the boy.

His eyes caught mine again, and he smiled more widely as he lingered on my face seconds more before retreating to his now normal routine of scanning the room.

“…and Ima,” Mr. Bird finished, pointing at the rebellious girl.

“Wassup?” Ima asked without a care.

Looking at the three of them together, it was obvious which ones were good and which one was bad.

“Now, ZCN, if you’ll just follow me, I’ll try to answer all your questions,” Mr. Bird stood from his chair and walked toward the basement; his entourage followed him, and I along with them.

Descending the rickety steps, we reached a clearing; the added luminescence did not lighten the mood any—I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The dreary basement had been converted to a lab. A fancy supercomputer took up the front wall, and a metal chair stood solemnly atop a tattered rug across from the computer. I shivered.

The three lined up behind me in the same order as before: Calla, 5, Ima.

After tinkering with the keys on the computer, Mr. Bird instructed, “Go sit in that chair, ZCN.”

Of course he meant the only creepy chair in the abysmal room.

I couldn’t help but scream. Cautiously, I approached the chair as though it were going to attack me like some rabid power animal. Visibly shaking, I was drawn to the chair as my eyes intently focused on it; it was as though I was hypnotized through my fear.

“Oh, just sit in it already!” Ima’s reassuring words only deepened my discomfort.

Slowly, cautiously, I sat. Once comfortably in the chair, I heaved a sigh of relief.

“I did it!” I thought. “You idiot; there was no way it was gonna—”

SNAP. Built-in handcuffs captured my bony arms to the armrests. Yelling, I struggled to wiggle my arms free.

“Don’t worry. Those are just there to keep you still,” Mr. Bird’s words didn’t help either.

“Am I imagining things or did he just have an evil grin?” I whimpered internally, “What if that guy was lying? What if they’re all evil?!” I continued struggling, though at an increased intensity.

“Now, ZCN,” Mr. Bird suddenly became calm, “could you tell me what kinds of strange things have been happening to you lately?”

“Well,” I meekly replied, searching for the right words, “as soon as I left my house to walk around Wonder Prairie, a maleconsai chased me to the farthest parts of the prairie. Then some old guy told me to go to I*V City, so I did. Then, the gatekeeper guy told me to see you!”

“I see…” Mr. Bird mused, “Then what was it the maleconsai wanted of you?”

“I dunno. He took all my hair off and then grew it back again!”

“Really?” he returned to the computer; after pressing several buttons, the projector illuminated and awaited a picture. Once the projector was lit, Mr. Bird walked to me and handed me a weird-looking helmet that matched the eeriness of the chair. “Put this on,” he said.

Mr. Bird placed the metal hat on my head, and a strange picture manifested on the blank, lit canvas; the picture resembled a picture from a day-care finger-painting class—perhaps a stroke of “brilliance” for modern art. Squinting, I looked at the rendition from all angles, finding nothing each time.

“Is that supposed to be my head?” I asked myself.

Moments after that question wafted through the dark recesses of my mind, a subconscious force yelled, “Yes, that’s it!” I repeated the outburst in real life, thus surprising everyone—including myself.

“Who was that talking just now?” my mental conversation with myself continued.

“Yes, this is definitely, without-a-doubt, the Fighting-Style Seal of the Ancients,” Mr. Bird declared with a very serious tone.

The children agreed silently in their own ways.

5 studied the picture a moment; then, as if struck by inspiration, he procured a large, seemingly old book and leafed through it.

“The what?” I asked aloud.

Having heard my plea for knowledge, 5 shuffled to me, and he carefully set the book atop my lap. Surreptitiously, he pressed a button below the armrest that retracted the restraints. He pointed to the heading: “The Fighting-Style Seal of the Ancients.”

As I read, I noticed that the old book contained many tokens of information, creating a gold mine of knowledge. Picking up the pages, I let them run through my fingers to the back cover—the pages felt sturdy, yet flimsy; as though they had been sitting hundreds of years but a Divine force kept them from crumbling along with time. It was the treasure trove that could solve all my problems and alleviate all my confusion. I had to read more. Closing the book, I perused the cover. Raised letters spelled “The I*V Book of Legends” and set the title upon a higher level than the leather-colored cover. The book itself was in great shape, though time set its course upon it just the same.

Before I could open the book again, Mr. Bird snatched it from me.

“Be careful with that,” he said, “it’s important.”

“Uh, s-sorry,” I don’t know why I apologized.

“ZCN, are you far from home?”

“Well, I suppose so.”

“I would like it if you stayed in the city for a while.”

“Really?”

“Do you have any gems on you?”

“Not very many,” I hardly ever carried money around with me; after all, I was practically poor.

“Hm…Not enough for Seed Hotel…” he mused. “You’ll have to go to the hotels near here. They’re right down the road you came from.”

“Lemme guess, ‘You can’t miss it,’ right?” Finally, I felt in control.

“No, you could actually miss it quite easily. Why?”

My spirits sulked, “Nevermind.” Getting up, I moped across the room.

“Wait,” Mr. Bird commanded, “5 will take you.”

5 and I mirrored each other’s surprise. Not only did I feel for his shyness (because Claire understands), but I also felt for my arrogance. I can take care of myself!

“No, that’s OK. I—”

“No, ZCN! I don’t want you to get kidnapped…or worse.”

The shivers returned. “Is this ‘seal’ business really that important?” I asked myself, and I received no answer.

“Besides…5 may not be able to use USG because of the incaronsai present in it…”

“Him, too…” I thought in empathy. Finally, someone understood just how dramatic my life was.

“…but he can protect someone he cares about.”

Finally, the shy boy spoke a word. And not only that, it was a yell. “What?!”

“He speaks!” I yelled joyfully.

His face flushed, and he took leave behind me.

Mr. Bird’s plan had worked.

Finally, the fresh evening air caressed my face and tussled my hair, making it look like waves upon the ocean. A deep breath of air filled me, and my spirits lifted.

5 walked slowly beside me; he held his hand to his side, only inches from mine, as though pretending to hold my hand. Now in the open air, he, too, felt comfortable enough to converse with me. I could finally identify his soft, low voice; it was gentle and suave, undertoned with a slight Spanish accent; it almost made him sound romantic. Most of his sentences consisted of only one word.

“So…where’re the hotels?” I asked to start said conversation.

Hotel…”

“Huh?”

“There is only one.”

“OK…So, where’s the hotel?”

“Here,” he pointed toward a box containing four floors and four rows of windows.

I had flashbacks; it was the Newcomer Haters’ hotel.

“Is something wrong?” 5 asked compassionately.

“N-no. I-it’s just…”

It was too late. I was found.

“Hey! It’s the newcomer!”

My scream resounded through the still night air, sending flocks of birds on their way.

“I thought we told you not to come back!” another one of them yelled.

Crouching, I braced for impact.

Vases raised, they aimed for my pathetic shield.

All the sudden, the world stopped a moment and listened.

“…Stop.”

The Newcomer Haters lowered their vases and stared at the little boy in disbelief.

“5…?” I said, peeking from my tucked-over position.

“It’s OK now,” he told me, “I’ll handle this.”

The elderly woman in the middle confronted 5, “What are you doing here?”

Then I realized: I was surprised of 5’s confronting them because of his being shy; they were surprised because he’s the Leader’s son, after all.

5 replied bashfully, concealing a hidden authority, “B-because…I’m her escort.”

The topmost woman was not afraid, “Well, I don’t care he’s the Leader’s son! Hit ‘em both!”

I squealed, ducking down once again.

“It’s OK,” he laid a hand on my back. It felt so warm.

5’s voice suddenly gained an authoritative tone, “I said ‘no.’ Now…Go on.”

“Me?” I squeaked.

“Yes, you,” he offered me his hand, “Go inside. I’ll make sure they don’t hurt you, OK?”

We locked eyes. A warm feeling tickled my insides, causing all my muscles to relax. An even stranger feeling disconnected my consciousness from the fabric of reality; the whole world dissolved around us. The setting sun seemed more beautiful than usual. His hands were so warm against my frigid skin; when I pulled away, it felt as though I were parting with a summer breeze.

“OK…Bye.”

I almost hated to leave him there.

“Farewell,” he winked, his face and his eyes both smiling brightly. He did a graceful turn, and he walked home.

Before I could react, the topmost woman threw a vase straight at him.

He halted, turned, and snatched the vase from thin air.

We all stared jaw-dropped.

Gently, he set the antique upon the ground before resuming his leisurely jaunt home.

The topmost woman growled at him as he giggled.

His laugh filled me with sparkles. Him against the setting sun—I couldn’t part my eyes from the sight. Once I’d learned of my odd sensation, I pinched myself and entered the hotel. Finally, the weirdest day in the history of my life would be ending with a good night’s sleep. But, I wondered, where would I find myself tomorrow?

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