Chapter 8 ∞ Befriend
The inexplicable coldness in my body receded minutes later. I felt like I had just been thawed from a block of ice. They had me lay down on a bed as a woman attended to me. I didn’t really get to see the rest because I unknowingly fell asleep. I only stirred to the sound of my mother and Laksa talking. As I had been dozing off that time, I did not remember much—even though I was truly tempted to listen in.
“Hellenia, your daughter is not like any other children who walked through those doors. It is a good thing I was the one to evaluate her, otherwise, I don’t know how things would’ve gone. Keep this to yourself. We’ll see how things turn out for her.”
I fell asleep again. When I came to, there was a disturbing shake that rattled my bed. I woke up startled by the commotion that rushed in. For a second, I thought there was an earthquake—at least, my dream told me there was. And I was convinced about that possibility until I saw a head ducking under the bed I was lying in. Footsteps echoed and people knocked on the door.
“Excuse me? Is anyone in this room?” The knobs turned and a head poked in. I exchanged stares with a man who suddenly stood frozen the moment he his eyes found mine. “This—uh…”
“Do you have any business here?” I heard Laksa’s voice echo. I caught him appear behind the man who jumped, startled at his sudden appearance.
“Uh…uh…” The man turned, facing Laksa with a flustered smile. “I apologize. I’m looking for a child.”
“Obviously not the one you found in that room, is it?” he coldly replied.
“If you have no other business, you may leave. I’ll inform you if I see who you’re looking for. Do not snoop around like this. There are areas restricted to outsiders and there are guests resting in some rooms.”
“I’m sorry. Thank you, professor.”
The man rushed to leave and Laksa moved to enter when his name was called by another—young, female. A brown-haired girl appeared in the doorframe. She was tired, breathless. Laksa turned his full attention to the newcomer.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Your presence is being asked for in the third area. We seem to have a special case,” she told him.
He gave me a glance and I smiled. Taking that as a sign, he gave a nod, taking the doorknob and closing it shut.
I felt the stowaway shift from under the bed.
“You can get out now,” I said.
“Thanks for that,” she told me.
A head poked out from under and a girl my age emerged. Seeing her, my lips curled in distaste. I eyed her choice of clothes with a little ridicule, seeing as the colors she picked clashed with her hair. The bright, cherry red curls were loud against her pale skin but the dark red skirt mellowed it down and made her complexion look rather pallid. Emerald green would’ve been a wonderful shade for her. Her eyes, too, were a beautiful olive green.
“You have a bad taste in clothes,” I said.
“What? But they’re pretty.” She bounced around and twirled in them.
“Yeah, they are. But not on you,” I told her. “Try going with green. It goes well with your complexion and matches your eyes.”
She crossed her arms and gave me a glare. “You’re not very nice.”
“I wasn’t trying to be,” I said, sighing softly as I sat up. “Who are you running away from?”
“That man?” She sighed. “He’s my…what is he?” She tapped on her chin.
“Where are your parents?” I inquired. “Shouldn’t they be with you? You’re taking the test right?”
“I’m already finished. And no…I came alone.”
“Alone?” I harrumphed. “Liar. Who was that man, then?”
“Well, he definitely isn’t a parent.” She indignantly stomped her foot. “Besides, it’s not like they can just come out and accompany me.” She rolled her eyes and sat on the edge of my bed, playing with her fingers as she did. “They’re way too busy at the moment.” Light flowed into her face and she brightly smiled at me.
“Why? What do they do?”
She didn’t answer and instead said, “Can I stay? Let’s play a game!”
“What about that man?”
“What about him? I don’t like him,” she said, placing both hands on her waist and flying forward to land face first on the bed. “Ughhhh. I’m so sick of it. Please let me stay. Let me stay and I can keep you company. How about it? Isn’t that a baggage?” She perked up, putting her chin on her hand with her elbows propped on the bed. She gave me a blinding smile.
“I don’t think that word means what you think it means. In fact, that didn’t make any sense.” I gave a sigh. I wanted to send her away but I was bored and there was no sign of my adoptive mother anywhere. Not to mention it’d be rude.
“Ooh. Good to know!” she exclaimed. “So. Can I stay?”
“Who are you anyway?”
She gave a wide grin. “I’m Erenol.”
“Evy—what?” she stuttered. “Never mind. Let’s stick with that.” Her pig-tails bobbed and she twirled some strands around her small forefinger. I knew she was technically my age, but I could not see her as anything more than a child.
I frowned disapprovingly.
“You can’t make my tongue go through so much work,” she said, taking a hint of my displeasure. “Anyway, you can call me Eren. Won’t that be great? We’ll be instant friends!” she enthusiastically exclaimed.
“Say my name and you can stay,” I challenged.
It was her turn to frown. “Evieeeeyoohnnn.”
“Not that either.”
“Urggggghhhh. Say it again for me, please?”
“Evahyuhn!” She raised both fists victoriously. “I said it right. I said it right, right?”
I raised both brows skeptically. I could not remember making friends in this manner at all. Although it was a little too sudden, I suppose her personality was not too irritating. I needed to meet other people other than the mistresses in order to ensure that I at least knew someone outside of the House. Things could get boring pretty easily. The prospect of knowing this girl and being friends was sort of exciting—weird as that was.
“You know, you’re really pretty,” Erenol—or Eren—told me. “It’s not very usual that I see someone like you. Did you come from the West like the others? There are many who come from the lands beyond the sea. You’re not like the others though.”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” I whispered. “But I’ve never known those parts.” In truth, I knew about it, just not as intimately as I should. “I grew up here. My mother raised me.”
“And your father?”
“I don’t know who he is,” I replied.
She nodded. “I know how it feels. I don’t see my father at all. I think the only time he ever visited me is when I was born. My mother? Well…I hear people say she won’t be holding out for long.” Eren breathed deeply and looked down. She drew shapes absentmindedly on the sheets. “Where’s your mother anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I had to sleep here and when I woke up, she’s gone. I’m sure she’ll be back later. She told me she’s taking me somewhere.”
Eren’s eyes brightened. “Can I come with?” she asked.
“What about that man?” I pointed out.
“I don’t want to go home. If he finds me, he’ll just drag me back…” she trailed off. “I don’t want to go back. Not right now, at least.”
I sighed. I felt a little bad for this kid. “You can’t go with us. People will think we’re kidnapping you. Besides, have you finished the test?”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “Of course, they don’t tell you the result until you come of age. But judging from the reaction of the evaluator, I guess I didn’t turn out like most of my other siblings.”
I decided not to have her elaborate about it, staying silent and looking out towards the windows. The room they put me in had previously been occupied by me alone. Right now, that wasn’t really the case. Taking my silence as a cue, endless chatter began going off in the background like an Armalite. I sank into the sanctuary of my mind, blocking out the sound with a wall of thoughts. Damn. This girl was a blabbermouth.
“What about you? Why are you here?” she asked.
I smoothly slid back into reality. “I was just not feeling well,” I told her. “For what reason do they do the test anyway if they’re not going to tell you about the results until you grow up?”
I managed to tone down my fervid desire to know about mine from affecting my voice. After that episode in the testing room, with all those peculiar visions of the in-between and that goddamned amber-eyed guy, my curiosity had skyrocketed. I was already making conclusions about this all. If what happened back there happened to have something to do with my so-called ‘three fates,’ that would mean it would pretty much be a part of my future—but what and how?
“They have this guidance stuff,” Eren said, pulling me back to reality. “They tell select people who swear an oath to keep the secret until the right time. To help guide us, but not tell us,” Eren said. “Sometimes, I don’t really get adults. But they have these complicated stuff we don’t understand to keep us safe. I just go with it most of the time. I don’t really feel like understanding them just yet.”
“What are the three fates anyway?”
“Are you kidding?” She crossed her arms. “How can you not know about the three fates?”
“This is the first time I went out,” I said. “There are things my mistresses don’t tell me. There’s a limit to how many books I can read, you know.”
“Haha, then let me tell you! My governess practically hammered this into my brain!” she enthusiastically climbed onto my bed, inching to my side as her hands. “There’s three fates—mind, body, and soul. They’re usually attributed to the seven dragons of the moon and the serpent of the sun. The moon’s phase during that time will determine your second fate—the body. The moon’s phase when your mind blossoms to consciousness is your first fate. And the last? Well, the fate of the soul is forever the same, no matter how many times you cross the bridge of reincarnation.”
“What about the serpent? How do you get classified under that?”
“Mm.” She tapped her chin. “Ooh. I don’t remember. It was a little more complicated than the moon stuff though, so…haha. But I remember them saying that people of the serpent, that is, those from the West side, are the only ones able to inherit such characteristic because they are the people of the sun.”
The door opened. My adoptive mother came in with a book at hand. “Evyionne,” she softly called, smiling warmly at me before her eyes went over to my new companion. “Oh, I see you made a friend. Are you lost?”
“Wow.” Eren’s eyes twinkled. “Your mother is really beautiful. I get where you have the hair!” she exclaimed.
“Why, thank you,” Hellenia said with a laugh.
Truth was, she wasn’t really my biological mother. Hellenia doesn’t know that I know. All these years, she had insisted that I was half-and-half and that my father was from Vertvalden. It wasn’t as though it wasn’t true. I have seen my birth mother a few years back and I was sure she was from Erindal. I really was a hybrid. There weren’t many like me, though. At least, I hadn’t seen anyone like me so far. This was, after all, the first time I left the House.
“Where are your parents, dear?” my mother asked. She gently shut the door behind her and went over to my bedside.
“I lost them.”
I looked at her, knowing she was lying. Eren gave me a pointed stare while pressing her lips thinly and ballooning her chin. I gave a deadpan. For all I know, she looked like that fist baby meme and I was a Kevin Hart with the brow raise.
“Alright, you two, what is it?” Hellenia asked while chuckling. “Do you mind telling me your name, dear?” She gave Eren a smile.
“It’s Eren, ma’am!” the girl replied with a salute.
My adoptive mother gave Erenol a subtly discerning stare. Beneath that guise of warmness, it seemed to me she was giving Erenol the ‘do-I-know-you’ look. “Nice to meet you. Evyionne and I were just about to leave. Do you want to come with us on our way out? We can help find your parents that way,” she offered.
“That would be a great idea!” Eren exclaimed.
I gave her a pointed look, but said nothing. I slowly got out of bed as my mother gazed down at me in concern. “Are you fine now, darling?”
I nodded. “Yup, I’m good. How did my test go?” I asked.
“Your test went just fine,” she told me. “I’ll tell you more about it when we go home.”
“Didn’t you tell me we were going somewhere else after this?” I pouted. If she takes me home so soon, I would be dearly disappointed. I was particularly low maintenance but I had needy bursts to explore outside once in a while.
“Mm.” She smiled. “Alright, then. If you insist. I do have something to show you.”
Eren looked at the both of us, playing with her fingers and zigzagging her ankles in place anxiously. The saddened look on her face reminded me of her recent confession about her mother who seemed to be in bad health.
“You can come with us,” I said, offering her my hand. “We’ll go look for your parents on the way.”
She lit up.
My mother cluelessly looked between the two of us. I gave Hellenia a smile and looked at my new friend. She would probably get in trouble for this later on—we might even get caught up in it. I just didn’t care at the moment.
Holding her hand, we all filed out of the entrance Sir Laksa had led us through when we came in. The Sunset Corridors seemed much prettier on the way back. Erenol was as fascinated as I was the first time I came through this path.
“Where’s Sir Laksa?” I asked my mother.
“He had important business to attend to. He told us to be on our way without him,” she replied.
“Oh, okay.” I looked forward. “I didn’t get to say goodbye though.”
“I’m sure he knows you wanted to say goodbye.” Hellenia patted my head.
I caught Eren look at the both of us with pursed lips.
“Eren,” I began. I didn’t want her to feel out of place or uncomfortable so, for the sake of bringing her out of the silence, I began a small talk. “Where do you live?”
“Mmn…” she trailed off. “My neighborhood is a little complicated to navigate. But I live somewhere around the Dragon’s Square.”
“The Dragon’s Square?” my mother echoed.
I looked up at Hellenia. “What’s there, mama?” I inquired.
“Nothing, Evyionne,” she said. “Well…the Dragon’s Square lies in the very middle of the city. It’s a little far from where we live, but not too far.”
Hellenia paused shortly, causing us all to halt in our tracks. Eren looked up at my mother, swallowing quietly. She opened her mouth, seemingly tempted to say something as she gazed at Eren’s face before deciding against it.
She then sighed, brushing back her ear to reveal her communicator. She slid her finger up the spine of the dragon around her earlobe and said, “Leiran Mernol.” After a few beats, the ruby-like jewels on the eye of the dragon glowed and my mother began speaking. “Leiran? Hm.” She gave a light smile. “I seemed to have found someone. No. Yes.”
Eren squirmed. I held her hand tight and gazed at her reassuringly. While she looked like she wanted to bolt, she met my eyes and stilled herself.
“We’ll be in front of the statue in around two hours.” She paused to let the other party speak. “No. We’re not taking a ride. We’ll be walking.” She laughed. “It will be fine. I have my ways. Do not question it and just be there. Mm. Thank you.” Hellenia then cut the line. “Well, girls, the statue is a long walk from here, but we have time. I assume you’d like to go see some things on the way?”
The life came back in Eren’s eyes and I couldn’t help but smile too.
“What’s the statue?” I asked.
“Well, dear. If you’re talking about the Veneryan capital city, Kilahad, then a landmark pops up in everyone’s mind—the grand statue of the Emperor’s dragon. It’s a sight to see. I wanted to show it to you. I assume Eren too will love to see it.”
“I already saw it a lot of times, but it’ll be fun with Evyionne!” she exclaimed.
“Alright.” My mother laughed. “Come on, you two. We have things to do. It will be a long walk, but we can stop by for snacks on the way!”
I must admit I was quite impressed by my mother’s subtlety. I was sure she caught on to something—I just wasn’t sure what. I deduced a few things from the information I was presented just now. The Dragon’s Square was quite an intimidating, powerful name to be called a place. From what I know so far, ‘dragon’ held a degree of prestige. Eren must come from a prominent background to be living there. This ‘Leiran Mernol’ my mother called must be someone just as important to be turning over Erenol to. But by designating a meeting place in two hours, she was also giving time for us to have fun. It wasn’t everyday I made a friend. I would be bummed if she got separated too early.
Now, wasn’t that quite a plan?