He walked beside me as we left the circular room and went back out into the hallway. I could still feel this strange buzz in both of my arms as the extra I was previously using clung to me with a few involuntary aftershocks. I shook my hands a little, a few failed flames trying to spark up again before the energy left me completely and tucked itself back into whatever dark corner of my mind it came from.
Other people in the hall, coming from the opposite direction, would always bow their heads as we approached them. Lowering their eyes to the ground, some getting down on one knee...practically scattering like roaches so as not to offend us or get in our way. While this was still a new and awkward experience for me, being worshiped as opposed to being bullied by the people around me, The Jeweler seemed to be extremely accustomed to this behavior. To the point where it was like he didn't notice them at all. He simply moved forward while they were driven into the corners and against the walls like dry leaves in a gust of wind. He must have been living this way for a long long time for this to be his sense of 'normal'.
There was a young boy vampire in the hall, probably ten years old, who was walking with a woman that I could only assume was his mother. They immediately stepped to the side and lowered their heads just like the others, but when I saw the little boy peek up at me, I gave him a grin and I waved hello. All of a sudden, his eyes widened with shock and fear. He began to cry. Actual TEARS ran from his eyes almost instantly. He turned into his mother's embrace, clutching tightly to her waist, and she hugged him close so he could hide his face from me. What...what did I do? I just waved at him! Is he...happy? Is he sad? Is he scared?
This Vampire Mimic business is so damn STRANGE to me!
″Do you know when people are most lost, Justin?″ The Jeweler asked, not paying any attention to the crying child as we walked past him. ″Often in places like the center of a vast desert. Or the middle of an ocean. Giant forests, maze like caverns, frozen tundras. Places that stretch out as far as the eye can see in all directions. There's no sense of motion. No guidance. No purpose. No progress. People often defeat themselves in these situations. They end up going in circles, wandering aimlessly...doubting their every decision, draining themselves of hope...their confidence and their courage evaporating into thin air. In many cases, most people end up simply standing still, waiting to perish. Better that than making the wrong choices.″ As he was talking a little girl ran up to him and whispered something into his ear. She handed him a little handmade doll, and The Jeweler turned to hand it to me. ″Thank you, Barbara.″ Looking at it, it was a little blond, sewn together, version of me. She blushed fiercely when I smiled at her and said thanks. She giggled and hurried off without saying another word. ″People crave structure, Justin. Labels. Predictable order in a world of total chaos. They claim to rebel against a system they created in order to escape a cage of their own construction. We crave habit over conscious choice. We do things today simply because we did them yesterday. Simply because we feel the need to be given direction...instead of choosing direction. You may not realize it now, but you are trapped in that structure. That is why your circles are so clear to me, why the scriptures are never wrong, and why you are most certainly destined to lose the ones you love.″
″You keep talking about these scriptures and how they know everything...can't I just read them for myself?″
″You can...when you're ready.″
″When will I know I'm ready?″ I asked.
″You won't. I'll know.″ He said. ″It's not predictions that you should be seeking, Justin, but the spaces between them.″
″That doesn't make any kind of sense.″ I grunted.
″Always trying to add bars to your prison.″
″I'm not IN a prison anymore. Maybe I used to be...but I have Taryn now. Taryn set me free.″ I told him. I have no intention of ever letting him go, prophecy be damned.
He saw the defiant look on my face and figured this wasn't the time to argue. Instead, he gave me this little smirk. ″Love. Love is most engaging and yet most peculiar game of them all. Like a maze, actually. Ninety nine percent of the fun is willingly losing yourself within the maze's intricate design. No plan. No strategy. And the last tiny percentage is solely based on the hope that you will somehow emerge safely on the other side. Sometimes it works. Other times...they simply remain lost forever.″ He then said, ″Love requires vulnerability. And vulnerabilities can be corrupted, leveraged, and manipulated. You'd do well to remember that. A being of your, almost infinite, power cannot become a puppet for something other than himself.″
The Jeweler led me towards a set of double doors at the end of the hall, and a few of his servants silently raced over to open up both sides for us. Soft music could be heard playing overhead, with beautifully designed tapestries lining the walls, and more miniature fountains on either side. The lighting was dim, and I noticed more of his special jewels hanging from the ceiling.
″What if I figure out how to change things?″ I asked. ″The scriptures, the whole legend. Why can't I just make up my own?″
″You will be able to make whatever choices you like...after your transformation becomes complete.″
″Why not before?″ I said, still looking for a loophole. ″You said that I needed to break free from structure, right? Isn't this just another structure? Aren't you supposed to teach me what I need to know? To be better? Stronger?″
″The answers you need are not within the maze, Justin. They are on the other side. You must first navigate your way through it. You must complete the circle in its entirety. Only then, will you fully grasp the Vampire Dawn. Only then will you be able to wield its power and knowledge with confidence and responsibility.″
″I don't believe you.″
″Your belief is not required.″ He said. ″You are already a part of the design...″
″I didn't ASK to be a part of any design. You make it sound like I did this to myself.″
″We all do, Justin. The practice, itself, is unavoidable. That's the only reason the practice exists at all.″ He said. ″People claim to want complete and total control over their own lives, but deep down they realize that achieving such a thing would be absolutely terrifying. People only see limited choices as freedom. A or B, Left or Right, Up or Down, Boy or Girl. It's simple to choose when someone else controls the option you choose from. But...give them an unlimited number of options and they immediately become fearful and confused. Afraid they'll be overwhelmed. Much like those lost in an endless ocean or a vast desert...they fall apart. People are afraid to be in control. So whenever they're scared of losing direction, they go searching for a new prison warden to somehow return them to peace. Madmen, religious zealots, demagouges, and dictators, have known this secret for centuries. Yet despite their many crimes, scandals, and atrocities, humanity refuses to learn its lesson. It is the fear of ourselves that allows this. The fear of being completely responsible for our own actions with nothing to blame other than our own lack of effort to be better.″
″Sometimes we can't be held responsible.″ I said. ″Sometimes you aren't given a choice. You just have to do what has to be done.″
″I'm sure you believe that, young one. I would imagine it would be a great comfort to assume you were merely acting in the best interests of all. But there's a very small part of you that knows it isn't true. Isn't there?″ He gave me the slightest smirk, nearly invisible...but it was there. ″There is a 'voice', Justin. A little voice in your head. You think it's merely an inner monologue, just a matter of you talking to yourself with a completely rational mind. But you're not. That voice isn't yours. In fact, it is a separate entity altogether. completely detached from your true self." He told me. "Listen. Even now...I'm willing to bet that it's speaking to you.″ What is he talking about? NOW he's trying to tell me that my own thoughts aren't my own thoughts? ″Can you hear it?″
″I don't hear anything.″ I said, wishing he would just move on.
″You haven't learned to be aware of it yet. But you will...eventually. And it will haunt your every waking moment from that day forward. That voice, that guiding consciousness, has nothing to do with you, what you want, or what you feel. You listen to it because you believe it to be 'you'. Nothing could be further from the truth.″
″What is that supposed to mean? If it's not me then who is it?″
″It is your 'identity', Justin. One that you created. One that everyone creates for themselves. It is the mask you show the rest of the world in order to blend in. And you must blend in because you're too afraid to do otherwise.″ He said. ″It is that voice that forces you to pretend to be straight when you're really gay. It is that voice that makes people get up and go to work at jobs they hate, attend parties they don't want to attend, remain silent when they want to scream. It whispers to you through every decision you've ever made. You think the identity is there to protect you when, in reality, your true self exhausts itself protecting the identity instead. Listen to that voice, Justin. Doesn't it sound familiar? I'm willing to bet it was that voice that caused you to hesitate when it came to telling Taryn how you truly felt about him for the first time. It was that voice that allowed you to suffer such abuse at the hands of your father, or the bullies at school. That voice was what kept your mother's drinking a secret...putting her to bed in the day while you cleaned up her messes and kept your house in order. It tells you what you can and can't do. It tells you when you should tell and when you should shut up. It releases you from your responsibilities while clinging to your worst addictions. That voice is not your own, Justin. Listen to it. Does it really sound like you at all? Does it have your best interests at heart?″ I wasn't quite sure what to do with what he was telling me. I didn't know what voice he was talking about. I was going to ask more questions, but I didn't think he'd be able to make it any clearer. I thought about changing the subject, but I doubted he'd let it go so easily. ″You hear it...don't you? Right now. Are you listening?″ He asked. Then, he says, ″You have questions for me, but you want to avoid them by changing the subject. Correct?″ WHAT???
″I thought I told you to stay the fuck out of my head!″ I growled.
″Your defensive anger is predictable, but you fail to realize that it's all a part of the magic trick. Your identity is using a psychological evasion tactic to distract you from from your own truth. You WANT to ask me questions. You WANT me to tell you more. But that 'voice'...it whispers to you, 'don't ask, Justin'. 'Stay quiet, Justin'. 'Change the subject, Justin'. You know what your true self wants...but your identity forbids it, in order to protect itself. It cuddles up close to your heart and makes you serve its desires over your own.″ He smiled. "This is the first harmful bond that must be broken if make any further progress."
In an attempt to keep him from potentially digging around in my brain any deeper, I used Kid's extra to put up a static screen to block him out. I made sure that it was intense enough to do some serious harm to him if he didn't pull himself out of my thoughts. But...The Jeweler never flinched. It was as if he didn't have any need to read my thoughts at all to know what he knew about me, no matter how personal it got. But...how is that possible?
At this point, I noticed one of The Jeweler's security leaders come into the room behind us. I remembered him from the training facility on one of the lower levels of the building. Definitely a Hunter. He certainly looked the part, head to toe. I've battled Hunters before...and their presence in a room is unmistakable.
The Jeweler turned to me, and softly said, ″Keep listening for that inner conversation, Justin. Pay attention to what it's telling you. Think about the control it has over your choices. The next time you feel manipulated, or obligated to do something you don't want to do...the next time it keeps you from doing the right thing when needed...I want you to ask yourself whether it's looking out for you...or for itself. Think about the voice that's telling what to do, and ask yourself, what would happen if it spoke to you...and you simply chose not to answer? What if it gave you an order, and you chose not to obey?″ Then he said, "Interesting concept...is it not?"
The Jeweler's vampire security chief stepped forward to gain his boss' attention, and he left me to ponder the idea for a moment. ″A deal has been made, Sir. The package can be delivered as early as this coming weekend.″
″I trust that Cage made him a profitable offer, then?″ He asked.
″Sir...it appears that Rizzy has decided to inflate his prices considerably. He couldn't be talked down.″ His chief told him. ″It seems that even the Vampire Elders, themselves, have begun gearing up for potential conflicts as well. Things look serious. Rizzy is taking the opportunity to line his pockets. With so much business currently coming his way, I highly doubt we'll be able to sway his decision towards a better transaction. He's doing just fine without our contribution.″
″Oh, you will not out-negotiate that man, no matter how hard you try. Believe me. Pay him what he wants. We may have violent times ahead of us, and the last thing we want is to have to go scrambling for weapons when there are only scraps left behind.″ The Jeweler didn't really seem to worry about money, nor would I imagine he would ever have to, considering the sheer size and magnitude of this place alone and the people he employed. But I became a little concerned when he looked over his shoulder at me with a sly grin. He put a hand on his security chief's shoulder, and said, ″I'm sure you remember one of my most trusted protectors in this place, Justin? This is 'Minefield'. His number one priority is keeping this entire facility and everyone within it safe from any threat that may come our way. He, alone, is the reason why we all rest so easy in this place.″ I sort of 'nodded' in the man's direction, but I didn't speak. I remember seeing him training soldiers the other night in the gym...and there was still something so rugged about him that he came off as being truly menacing because of it. ″So...″ The Jeweler said to me, ″...I hear that one of your main extras is a 'brain geyser'.″
″How did you know about my...″
″You can collect that explosive energy and use it at will, can you not? I want you to show me.″
″I would like to see you bring this extra out of you, and then hold it steady. Just like you did with the fire.″ He said. It was almost as if he was asking me to stand on one foot, or to turn a simple cartwheel. It wasn't that easy.
″I can't...″ I told him. An answer that was instantly dismissed.
″Yes, you can. You have a very powerful, personal, ability. Something that you brought with you into darkness because of the life you lived before crossing over. It is an essential part of who you are, therefore it should be the easiest extra for you to control. I would very much like to see it.″
″It doesn't work like that. Sometimes...when I need it, or...when I get really angry...it just sort of happens. Just like everything else.″ I said.
″Just sort of happens?″ He asked. ″I see.″ He walked over to Minefield and lightly placed a hand on his shoulder. ″At what level are you currently training your top cadets?″
″Level eight, sir.″
The Jeweler thought about it for a moment, and said, ″Let's start with a solid 'three', shall we?″ And without any further instruction, Minefield began to walk towards me. Twice my age, twice my size...what the heck was he doing???
″Wait! What is this?″ I asked, backing up.
″This is me...waiting for something to 'just sort of happen'.″ The Jeweler told me. And before I was able to fully understand what he meant and put my defenses up, that Minefield guy let his arm shoot out from his side and he gave me an open handed palm strike to my chest!
It hit me so hard that I was literally knocked off of my feet and sent flying backward! The back of my shoulders hit the floor, and I rolled over myself before holding on to the tile and sliding to a stop on my knees. What the fuck was THAT for??? ″What are DOING???″ I shouted.
″Your brain geyser, Justin. I would like to see it. Now.″ The Jeweler said. ″Not by mere reaction, but by choice. Concentrate.″
″I JUST fucking TOLD you that it doesn't necessarily WORK like that!!!″
″Well, that's the way it's going to have to work tonight. And from now on.″ He replied. ″Show me.″
″I CAN'T!!!″ I screamed, holding my chest.
″Then the exercise continues.″ He said, and with a simple nod towards Minefield, he began to approach me again.
″No! STOP!!!″ I said, but he immediately began to lash out at me again anyway! He grabbed me and flipped me over onto my back, then tried to bring his foot down on my chest. I managed to roll to the side and he gave me a second or two to get back on my feet, but then he came at me again. My body reacted the way it always did, doing all it could to defend me from his attacks. However, blocking his punches and kicks was so painful that there was barely any difference between deflecting his strikes and taking a full on hit. I could feel my shins and forearms being bruised from his relentless assault, all while The Jeweler watched from a safe space off to the side. Why was he doing this? Why was he just allowing this to happen?
Minefield was just as fast as he was strong. Every strategic blow either worked to wear me down or keep me off balance. And once my instincts kicked into 'offense mode', allowing me to fight back...his skills got even more severe. I knew what Minefield was trying to do. I knew he was trying to push me into using my extras without thinking, proving The Jeweler's point...but I refused. I don't like it when I get that angry. I don't like it when I'm out of control.
I dodged him as best I could, but...he was sooooo strong! Every stance was so powerful. It was like his feet were practically cemented to the damn floor!
"Summon your extra, Justin..." The Jeweler said. "...This won't stop until you show me your true self."
Frustrated, I tried to quickly pummel minefield in his stomach...but it was like punching the shadow on the side of a brick wall. He swung at me and I spun around low to try to sweep his legs from under him. Like kicking tree trunks. He didn't budge an inch. Okaaaayyy...so a one on one is not going to work here.
Instead of taking any more damage from defending myself against his shots, I began to duck and dodge around them. Evading him in a way that used my smaller size to my advantage, and his heavier bulk against him. I tried to get in a few punches where I could. He's got to wear down eventually, right?
There were a couple of punches that I could literally feel the wind from as they 'whooshed' by my face, but I stayed in close and kept adding more power to whatever love taps I could manage. When he thrust his elbow back at me, I grabbed his arm and wrist...swiftly twisting it all the way behind him and forcing him down on one knee. YES!
But the moment didn't last. With ease...Mine field got back up to his feet and swung his arm forward again...carrying me with it! He flung me forward and I landed right on my ass nearly eight feet in front of him.
"You will not win with your fists alone, Justin." The Jeweler said as Minefield continued to advance on me. "Focus!"
Getting back up, I leapt forward, wrapping my hands around the back of Minefield's head and bringing my knee up to strike the bridge of his nose...but he merely pushed me back down to the floor. I scooted back quickly, but instead of coming directly at him, I used Chad's speed to race right around him.
Looking back over his shoulder, he grunted, "Don't you run from me, Boy!" And with a stomp of his foot, a surge of electrical energy shot out from the back of his heel...crawling and zig zagging across the floor like a bolt of lightning until it was right under my feet...where it exploded and knocked me right back on my ass again.
I hurt my neck, and had to hold my knees steady as I got back to my feet, wincing in pain. I tried to bring something, anything, to the surface. With a fling of my wrists, I was able to summon the fireballs much easier than I had before...my hands glowing from the flickering flame. But before I could use them, The Jeweler used a wave of his hand to snatch them away from me.
"That is not the extra I asked you for." He said. "Summon the geyser!"
"I can't!" I told him.
"You've done it before..."
"That was different! I needed it then!"
"Then we'll just have to make sure that you need it now." He snapped back. "Minefield...increase to training level five."
He nodded at his employer, and now he was actually running at me, full speed! You men he gets WORSE???
I dived to the side to get out of his way before he hit me like a runaway train, but as soon as I was back on my feet...he sent another charge of electricity through the floor, and I had to jump out of the way as another explosion popped up from where I was just standing. He spun around to kick me, but I was able to speed forward and lean back to slide under his leg. I turned to punch him in the back, adding a few electric sparks of my own. It worked to aggravate him, but with Dion's extra in the back of my mind, I tried to stay calm. With Jun's focus, I was able to sift through Doc's memory extra and scroll through the list of abilities at my disposal in a matter of seconds. Minefield charged again, and I used Dizz's extra to deflect his focus off of me for just a split second, forcing his eyes down to the floor. When he looked back up, Dylan's extra had completely made me invisible to him...if only for a moment.
Standing behind him, I began to hit him with everything that I had, Max's extra increasing my strength with every punch as Chad's speed moved my fists so fast that they became a blur, even to me. And then finally...with a BRUTAL kick to the small of his back...Minefield flew forward and landed on his chest, hitting the floor...hard.
"Enough..." The Jeweler said. I smiled over at him, even though I was out of breath...but he showed me no appreciation at all. Instead, he stoically said, "...If you're actually impressed with yourself right now, then we still have a very long way to go." He stepped closer to look me in the eye, an expression of utter disappointment souring his face.
"But...I didn't lose..." I said.
"No?" He replied. He walked over to help Minefield to his feet. Thanked him for his help in this demonstration, and let him know that he was dismissed. He left, giving me a look that almost guaranteed me a rematch where he didn't have to hold back. I'm not looking forward to it. The Jeweler walked past me and said, "We're done here for tonight. Return to your quarters."
"Wait...WHAT??? You're MAD at me??? What the hell did I do?" I shouted, following behind him.
"Once again, Justin...you have all of that power at your disposal, yet you can't bring a single extra, your own extra, into the situation when asked."
"You had that guy just ATTACK me for no reason! I was trying to defend myself..."
"You allowed the situation control you instead of trying to get a hold of the situation. Chasing the circle's end instead of trying to get ahead of it. You're not powerful, Justin. You're dangerous. Minefield controlled every aspect of that confrontation, and you don't even realize it. You will learn control, young Mimic. That, I can promise you." And with that, he actually left me there. Standing in the middle of the room all by myself as his servants opened the door for him to leave.
I think I was just...dumbfounded.
I stood in the center of that room, feeling...hurt. I was trying sooooo hard to understand what it was that I was missing. Where was I going so wrong? Am I just too stupid to figure it out? Is he just giving up on me for tonight?
It wasn't until a few nervous servants approached me with caution, their eyes lowered, that I was able to anchor myself back to reality again.
One of them spoke softly, a tremble in their voice, "We can escort you back to your room, if you like."
I had never felt so defeated inside. But I was also angry that he couldn't just TELL me what I needed to know so I could learn it and go home already. So, after a brief pause, I just told the servants, "No, thank you. I can just...I know where to go."
"As you wish..." They whispered, almost in unison.
I left the room and went back to the elevator. I couldn't help but to notice the silence surrounding me as I went up to the higher floors. I needed the loneliness, but couldn't stand the silence of it. By the time I got back to our room...I found myself hesitating at the door. Almost ashamed to face Taryn after my supposed failure tonight. Maybe I'm being silly...but...I just wish I was experienced enough to figure out what I was missing. Where I was lacking. It was going to haunt me until more answers were given. I just knew it.
I entered the room, and Taryn immediately hopped up off of the bed. "Baby! You'll never guess what I saw on this TV box! Did you know there's a whole series of shows about...?" As he got a closer look at me, his face changed. "Justy? Oh God, what happened to you?"
"Don't. Ok? I'm fine. I was just...it's a part of my training. I'm not hurt all that bad."
"All that bad? What are you talking about? Your arms are all bruised up! What did they DO to you? I swear, if that man..."
"Shhhh..." I smiled weakly at him, and drew him in close for a kiss on the lips. "...Taryn, I just...I really just wanna take a shower, ok? Get cleaned up, and you and I can spend the rest of the night together. I promise."
He searched my eyes to see if I was sugarcoating the ache within me, but I wasn't. I could assure him of that. I just needed a little time to think. And maybe bring my self confidence back up from zero. He said, "Well...ok. If you want."
"All I want is you." I grinned. "Just give me a few minutes to settle down. I'll be out soon."
He always had this misty eyed look of concern when he thought I was in any pain. It was sweet. IT truly was. But the pain I felt didn't come from my temporary bruises. Bruises that would be ninety percent gone when I woke up tomorrow. The pain was bubbling and boiling from a place much deeper than that. "I love you. K?" He said.
I kissed him deeply on the lips, feeling his already slender body shrink in my arms as a heavy sigh escaped his waifish frame. "I love you too, Taryn." I let him go, and worked up a smile as I went into the bathroom and closed the door.
All of these abilities...and I still can't get things right.
Like I said many times before...maybe fate made a mistake, choosing me. I'm no warrior. No messenger. Far from being any kind of savior. It's times like this that I wonder...
What I'm going to do if all of vampire-kind is looking for my greatness...and finds me out to be a total fraud.
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