Rowen winced, unable to move with any celerity. His leg was covered in blood where his trousers had once been. His right hand lay useless over the broken remnants of his bow; he was leaning against something soft and shaking. His eyes strained to focus. The girl from his first waking moments cradled him in her bare lap against the soft purple fabric of her short dress; she held him gently as she wept, the tears from her brilliant blue eyes falling onto his face. He reached up with his left hand to brush aside a long, stray strand of her silken black hair, giving her the opportunity to grasp it in hers and stare straight into his weary eyes with heartbroken familiarity.
“Rowen...,” Kendy started quietly. He stared at the mark on her forehead, longing to touch it; he was unable to muster the strength. “You’ll be alright... we’ll get you home, and you’ll be fine...” He wanted to speak, but the simple action of opening his mouth seemed to rob him of his breath. “No, it’s okay. Don’t hurt yourself...” A look of terrified resignation came on Kendy’s face. “Rowen, I’ll always......” She lost her words in sobs and rested her cheek against his, her warmth and tears burning through him. “I’ll... I love you so much.....” A sudden, stabbing pang in Rowen’s chest overwhelmed him, and a heavy, silent blanket of darkness overwhelmed him. Kendy’s warmth, words, and weeping were lost to him.
“Rowen?” Cye’s gentle voice asked, pulling him from the dark silence. Rowen opened his eyes, blinking as light from the hospital window assaulted his sleepy gaze. “Are you okay?” Cye was holding his right hand, squeezing it ever so lightly.
Rowen forced back the lingering images of the nightmare and smiled faintly at his friend. “Yeah,” he responded calmly. “Despite the fact I’m awake. Why are you here?”
“I came up to talk, but you looked like you were in pain before I woke you up. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“It was just a nightmare,” Rowen dismissively stated. He smiled even more, his eyes starting to light. “You don’t know if Kendy’s coming today, do you?” Cye shrugged. Rowen bit his lip a little; he had hardly spoken to Cye since he had revived a week ago, and the pain of the earlier days in their old home still lingered in Cye’s soul. He had to try and reach him, to prevent a repeat of past tragedies and fears. “How are ya holding up?”
Cye’s friendly eyes glazed over. “I know what you did to Ayame in the void.” Rowen wracked his brain, unable to determine how Cye could learn what had occurred or why. “I mean, I know it’s nothing compared to what she.. sorta did to you, but you could’ve reasoned with her. You didn’t have to scare her like that.”
Rowen couldn’t fight back his curiosity. “Cye, how did you know about that?” he whispered, a little shocked. The old wounds of feeling helplessly inanimate and inhuman returned, along with a new shame for his old actions and attitudes.
“She told me.” Cye stood up, more secure on his feet since his cast had been removed. “I’ll be in my room for a while. Please don’t bother me.” He left the room in a slow, wobbly pace, devoid of any emotion.
Rowen shuddered at the exchange. Something well beyond the justified anger of a friend betrayed had been at play there, something neither could control. He pulled his thin blankets over his chest as an act of security. No nurses or doctors had been to visit him, only Cye and occasionally Kendy. While his visits with Kendy were pleasant and often resulted in an actual meal, the conversations with Cye would start innocuous and quickly deteriorate into accusations and veiled insults. It ranged from anger over Ayame and other matters of the past to anger over the present and how Rowen was ultimately to blame for their current state of confusion and helplessness. No matter what the topic, Cye’s tone was always cold and angry. A strange vibe was present at every one of his visits, as if more than just resentment was at play. Rowen heaved a worried, defenseless sigh and stretched out on his back. Manipulation--someone was toying with them for their own twisted aims and would not care who or what was hurt in the process. Worst of all, there was nothing he could do now to stop it; at best, Rowen could try to adapt around it and find a way to free himself from its grasp. Sleep steadily returned to his weary frame, as did a hope that this nap wouldn’t bring such pain or rude awakenings.
Kendy leaned down over the bed, careful not to wake Rowen from his sound slumber. He looked so very angelic when he was resting; the urge to stroke his face or pet his hair was overwhelming. Unfortunately, Kendy had been warned about getting too close to someone she hardly knew; he had only been awake for a week, and she was only able to visit twice. But there was something so intimately familiar about him.... Starting today, things would be different. She would visit him every day and bring him some real food to try and get some meat on his skinny frame. They would talk for hours and get to know one another; maybe she’d even share her wonderful dreams with him, hoping he had experienced the same ecstatic reveries. She couldn’t control herself any longer; her hand reached forward and ever so lightly ran down along his face, tracing the curve of his chin. As her fingertips neared his resting mouth, his eyes shot devilishly open, and he clacked his teeth sharply at her hand, sending her back with a slight jump. He laughed as he sat up, still watching her out of the corner of his gleaming eyes; she couldn’t help but join him, even though her perfect moment was lost.
“Do you wake everyone up that way?” Rowen asked playfully. As he settled, he gently seized Kendy’s hand. “Sorry if I scared you.”
Kendy smiled a little and sat in a bedside chair. “IF you scared me,” she responded with gentle, almost happy sarcasm. “How are you feeling today?”
“Like shit. What else is new?” Rowen answered. “It’s this damn building. If I could just sign Cye and myself out, I’d feel better.” He caught sight of three massive take-out containers sitting on his eating table. “Not again...”
“I’m not lettin’ them starve you on that liquid starvation diet. Got some soup--see? Lentil, minestrone, and cream of broccoli.” She placed a plastic spoon in front of the containers. “Tuck in, then.”
“But I’m not hungry yet.”
“But lookit you!! You’re so skinny! You need food!”
“I’m fine! If I wasn’t healthy, would you think I’d be in this shape?” Kendy knew it was rhetorical, but she couldn’t help but take up his offer of examination. He had a point--he had recovered quickly, and he had a very muscular build. But he was still too skinny. Pale she could deal with; she actually found it attractive on some people. But skinny just screamed for nurturing and protection and heavy foods. “Kendy, what are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” she quickly replied. She smiled slyly and stood up. “But lemme show you something.” She took his free arm and ran her hands tenderly over it. “This is skinny...” She started, moving her hands to his legs; Rowen froze up as she continued, too paralyzed by shock. “This is skinny...” Her hands slipped over his chest and stomach. “And this is skin--”
Rowen placed his hands on her wrists and lifted her arms away, staring at her with wide, pleasantly baffled eyes. “O-o-okay, I get it. I’ll eat, okay? Just...warn me next time you’re gonna grope me.” Kendy sighed and sat back in her chair, mentally kicking herself.
The room plunged into silence as Rowen picked at the lentil soup, trying to hide just how happy he was to get actual, edible food. “Rowen? Do you know where you and Cye are gonna go after you get out?”
Rowen shook his head as he swallowed his mouthful. “I was thinking of going back home, but Cye wouldn’t come. Not after how much time he spent trying to get away. We’ll probably find somewhere here.”
“You’ll hafta stay at the home,” Kendy said. Rowen just shrugged and ate. “You don’t wanna stay at the home.” He looked at her with one eyebrow raised in a non-verbal ‘huh?’ “You wanna stay at MY home.”
Rowen choked down his soup and grinned with startled surprise, trying to fight back laughter. “Did you just say YOUR home?” Kendy nodded eagerly. “Kendy, I hardly know you!”
“Well, this is a chance to get to know me better.”
Rowen smiled at her. “I guess you’re right. Hafta ask Cye, though. He might not wanna take up your offer. Besides, he’s been acting sorta strange lately. I wanted to check on him.”
“You want me to go down there?”
“No, I wanna go with you.” Rowen tried to stand up, swinging his legs free of the bed’s entrapment. As soon as he motioned to stand, his legs wobbled and gave out, pitching him towards the floor. Kendy’s arms caught him around his chest, letting him steady himself against her; his hands tangled in the loose strands of her hair as he helplessly let her guide his frame up to a standing posture. A strange aura overwhelmed him, but he was unable to define its exact nature. He simply pulled away from Kendy and smiled. “Thanks.”
The door to room 417 was closed, sending a chill down Rowen’s spine. There was no noise within the room, and the stiff hinges indicated it had been a long time since the door was last opened. Kendy placed her hand on the knob, only to have Rowen lift it away. He stared into her nervously, his eyes tainted with a strange sadness; she caught her breath.... those same bewitching eyes... Unable to move herself, he replaced her arm at her side. The wonderful confusion was quickly replaced by a stabbing pain that cut to the very core of Kendy’s being. It was the disorienting pain from the Tower, but now it was so intense that she could barely stand; she seized her head and let her knees give out.
“Kendy?!” Rowen asked as he caught her before she reached the floor. She tried to speak, but the pain made it hard to even find her breath. Rowen shook her a little, unsure what to do; she was perfectly fine in the room, but now she was ready to collapse. “Here, lemme get you in--” he started as he opened the door.
Rowen’s words faded as he saw exactly what was in room 417. A thick network of gray metallic wires filled the area in a tight matrix, with Cye held up limply in the middle, his arms stretched out straight from his shoulders. In a moment of panic, Rowen rushed forward, Kendy still in his arms; the wires engulfed Cye in a cocoon that quickly vanished into the suddenly immense depths of the room. The door slammed and was quickly lost in a sea of wires, two of which raced towards the new occupants. Kendy shoved herself away from Rowen and reached for her armbands, but her movements were trapped by the heavy, cutting wires. Both were pulled from the ground, with Kendy left hanging upside down. A burning sensation tore through the two, as if their very lives were being torn from their bodies. A figure stepped out from the shadows, revealing her head to be the source of the wires.
“....Teon....” Kendy groaned before another agonizing wave wracked her body, allowing a stray wire to wrap around her throat. The glyph began to glow on her forehead, briefly distracting Rowen from his pain.
“Nice to see you, Eos,” Teon taunted, grinning coldly as the wire tightened around Kendy’s throat. “Master Arbor! I caught her!”
A man stepped from the darkness towards Kendy, smiling calmly. His thick hand grabbed her face as he studied her, his eyes almost tenderly staring at the golden glyph. “You put up a nice fight, Eos,” he dully stated as he turned his back on her. “It’s almost a shame we have to kill you.”
“We could make her a slave, Master Arbor,” Teon offered in a fit of brown-nosing. “Just like her friends.”
“You saw how effective that was with Phoenix, didn’t you?” Teon nodded as Arbor stood aside from the wires that began to snake over Kendy and Rowen’s bodies. “Just kill her quickly.” The wires cut deeper into her weakening frame, forcing more breath from her being.
“Daddy, stop!” a young girl’s voice cried from the doorway. The glaring light obscured her except for her sillouhuette. “You can’t kill her!”
Teon glared angrily at the girl, while Arbor gave her his full attention. “Hya, I have to,” he sadly explained. “It’s my duty.”
“But you know who she is, Daddy. You can’t kill her OR him! Please, Daddy, let ‘em go!”
“Teon, release Eos and the boy,” Arbor commanded with a sigh.
“NO! We’re this close to finally killing her, Master! We-- AAAAIIIIIIGGGHHH!!!” Teon fell to her knees as Arbor tore her wiry dreadlocks out from their roots, letting the tangle of wires fall to the ground around Kendy and Rowen’s unconscious forms. “Master.....?” A burst of light originating from the girl tore through Teon, tearing her to shreds and leaving only a char mark on the floor.
“Thank you, Hya. I’ll take them outside. Will you tell her?”
“I can’t yet, Daddy. She wouldn’t understand. I’ll see you at home.” The girl’s sillouhuette faded into the light. “Thank you so much....”
Arbor stared down at the two unconscious figures with a resigned sigh. They would be fine, but as he caught sight of the third.... It was too late. The damage had been done, and there was no way to reverse or repair it. He had a new slave he never wanted. Hopefully, confinement to these halls would keep him and his intended targets safe from harm. He slowly picked up Kendy and Rowen, pulling them back into the safety of the shadows.
Steven gently tapped the moist cloth against Kendy’s forehead, prompting a low moan. She batted her eyes timidly, unsure of why the room was so horribly bright; a numbness wracked most of her body except for her throat, which was bruised and achingly swollen. All the figures existed as featureless shadows, yet none of the horrible pain brought on by Umbrans was present; she was safe. She put all of her concentration into listening to the shadows and find out who had her now.
“Is she coming around?” Rowen asked, his words slightly concerned; Kendy mustered a smile.
Steven laughed. “She’s fine. She just needs to rest--and so do you. When both of you wake up, I wanna have a little meeting.” Steven’s shadow vanished.
Kendy weakly reached out from her body, trying to touch the unseen Rowen. “Rowen... Are you there?”
The tip of Rowen’s hand struck hers, although he was still unseen. “I’m in the next bed,” he said quietly. “We’ll be okay.” He paused, concentrating on reclaiming his arm. “And we’ll find Cye, too. We’ll all be fine.”
The sound of quiet snoring overtook Kendy’s area of listening. Sleep didn’t seem as bad as it might during another occasion, and she quickly followed suit, her slumber marked by a symphony of gentle purring.
He woke feeling..... hot. Not merely warm, but overwhelmingly, uncomfortably hot. Something in him was burning, and it needed desperately to be extinguished. The source was obvious--that horrible person he had mistakenly counted as a friend for so long that had hurt and betrayed him, left him to turn into the inhuman creature he now was while he escaped. The heat amplified as he thought of the arguments, the torments, and the wanton attacks on his beloved, his eternally lost beloved. He knew how to stop the burning, stop the heat from devouring what was left of his soul.
He had to kill Rowen.
Just head right on to the rest of the ep, 'cuz it's nowhere near over.
Episode 9 continued
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