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Devil's Dishonor (HIATUS)

LoopyPanda

Black Jacket
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
12,022
Location
cyberia cafe
NOTE (4/2/20): Devil's Dishonor is under indefinite hiatus. In coming months, expect new content to have replaced the older portions of the manuscript. The newest chapters likely will not be revised nearly as much, but earlier chapters are little more than revised scripts from many years ago and doesn't suit what I'm looking for anymore.
Old note: upon recent reflections, I have chosen to retitle my work under a new name and series identifier; rather than one painfully long thread full of chapters, I intend to split them into separate threads (or "books") that will clearly separate between major story arcs and serve as an easier Table of Contents than if I were to just leave it all in one thread. As for the title of the novella series as a whole, please refer to it as "Devil's Dishonor" from now on. 



Olivia Hawthorne is an average high school sophomore who lives in suburban Seattle. Her best friend, Damien Matthews, moves back to town after nearly a year and a half since he abruptly left. Nobody seems to know the definite answer to why, which makes Olivia assume the role of interloper in his mysterious double life. She manages to discover his web of secrets-- the threads of which come undone to a world she never imagined had existed. Her curiosity won't come without irreversible consequences.
Genre: Fantasy
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Chapter 1: Cast Away

 

LoopyPanda

Black Jacket
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
12,022
Location
cyberia cafe
Chapter 4: Misaligned Judgement
Olivia lost consciousness for several seconds. She only saw black, but when she regained consciousness, her vision swam in and out of focus. She heard somebody trying to talk to her, but the throbbing pain in her nose was distracting. Olivia felt something warm and wet on her lip-- no doubt she hurt herself.


“Please wake up...” The stranger came back into her view, who had been leaning over Olivia. From the looks of it, she must have been laying on the ground.
“What happened?” Olivia groaned in pain as she tried to prop herself up on her elbows.

“You ran into a tree and lost consciousness,” the girl said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Hopefully your nose isn't broken. Just so you know, I had no intention of harming you.” She pouted.

“Well, can you promise me you won’t throw lightning bolts all over the fucking place again?” Olivia said gruffly. 

“Right, sorry. It’s just that I usually come down here with another one of my kind. Usually, I get the easy part of the job, since none of the others ever seem to take me seriously.”

“Your… kind?” Olivia repeated back. Then she remembered that Nicor mentioned the Zodiacs the previous night. “You’re one of those people sent to check up on exiled demons, aren't you?” She asked.

“Y-yes,” The girl replied hesitantly, confirming Olivia’s fears. “But you don’t seem to have a demon with you, so I assume it was the human who informed you.” 

Olivia nodded.

“Very well. It can’t be helped then... We are Constellation Spirits who come down from the heavens on the orders of Hades to assess the progress of his Exiles. It’s a fairly difficult task for us since we only know the approximate locations of the Exiles, so we usually come in teams to shorten the time taken just to find them. I am Capricorn. And you are?”

“My name is Olivia,” Olivia answered hesitantly. Capricorn appeared as old as Olivia. But looks are deceiving, she thought while wiping the blood from her nose off with the back of her hand. At least she could take relief in that Capricorn wasn’t aggressive, unlike Nicor. But that was what made demons different from the Zodiacs, it seemed.

“Now that we have that explained away, could you please lead me to the Exile?” Capricorn asked with her orange eyes giving off a warm glow. With how she carried herself, it almost made Olivia feel guilty if she were to reject her request.

Olivia nodded sheepishly. “Okay, I will. Y-you aren’t going to hurt his Contractor, right?” The brunette asked. Damien could have been confronted by now by Capricorn’s partner. Or worse, he could have been ambushed and attacked. Olivia could only hope that whoever was accompanying Capricorn was just as friendly in their demeanor.

“I promise the human will be unharmed,” The horned girl responded.

The girls stared at each other in awkward silence for a few moments before Olivia fidgeted with the sleeves of her jacket.

“Well, how am I going to get you there with my car? It would be hard to keep anyone from spotting you…”

Capricorn blinked with a raised eyebrow before softly chuckling and shaking her head. “I think I can arrange a better solution than that. Watch!” She said as she held her hand out with her palm facing the sky. From the mist in the air, a thick cloud began to form as all the water droplets gathered. The small clump of mist slowly grew in size until it was at least the size of a car. Capricorn placed both her hands onto the cloud and Olivia watched it glow with sparks of what looked to be electricity emanating from her palms. "We can reach them much more quickly this way.”

“A… cloud?” Olivia questioned in disbelief as she stood herself up from the muddy ground.

“Not just any cloud, a storm cloud! I love using them to get around when I can, it’s so fun! I use my magic to keep myself from sinking right through it since it’s so light,” Capricorn replied as she lifted Olivia up like a doll, gently lowering her onto the cloud and getting on it herself. The cloud felt soft and solid thanks to Capricorn’s enchantment. Olivia’s eyes widened-- this was concrete proof that magic was capable of defying established human science.

Just how powerful are the Zodiacs? Are they demigods? Are they even Gods in their own right? Olivia thought to herself distractedly. She was so mystified, she hardly noticed that Capricorn started to make the cloud lift up into the sky and began to move.

“Lead the way!” Capricorn said as the cloud was ascending until it was below the canopy of leaves. Granted with a bird’s eye view of the trees and school below them, Olivia was able to lead her towards Damien’s house. Deep down, she wondered if it was even a good idea to take her directly to his home in order to find Nicor, but at the same time, nothing Nicor had done to her and Vee warranted her having any obligation to look out for him. Nevertheless, Olivia was only leading Capricorn in the right direction to guarantee Damien’s safety.



“We’re here!” Capricorn said as she lowered the cloud down to Damien’s backyard for Olivia to dismount from it. “I hope we can be friends and know each other more, Olivia! Maybe next time?” She asked with a smile as the cloud dissipated and they were now in Damien’s backyard. "I'm kinda lonely since the other Spirits don't hang with me..." Olivia just nodded as she walked forward, tuning out Capricorn when she happened upon Nicor and who she assumed was Capricorn’s partner.

Next time?" The snarky voice belonging to the mysterious young man interrupted. "As if, Capricorn. You took forever to get here, you know. Shows me how diligent you are on your own.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. The young man appeared to be in his early twenties, with his olive-toned skin giving him a warm, youthful glow. His dark crimson eyes betrayed the warmth; Olivia felt like his frigid gaze pierced right through her. He also had short & straight black hair that seemed to stick out in messy tufts. The young man had a black leather jacket and a red V-neck underneath, along with black pants and boots, his belt holding a sheathed sword of sorts
.
"S-sorry, Cancer..." Capricorn's eyes widened a bit as she tilted her head and looked at something behind him. "What's that you got there?" She asked with a curious tone.

“Hm? You mean, this?” Cancer had been dragging Nicor behind him along the ground, who was thrashing about and cursing at him in some kind of foreign tongue from what Olivia could perceive-- probably the language of demons. Cancer loosened his grip on Nicor’s hood to let him speak. "Are all you mongrels this annoying?" The man grunted. “It would be less painful if you didn’t struggle.”

“Just let me go!” Nicor couldn’t speak any further when he started to make a distressed choking sound. Water had risen from a small puddle in the ground nearby, which was being manipulated by Cancer with a flick of his wrist. It manifested in the shape of a hand and immediately wrapped the fingers around his neck with a vice grip. Nicor was indeed a water demon, but his gills were located around his ribcage, not his neck. His trachea was vulnerable to compression. Nicor gripped at the water, which seemed impervious to his struggling.

Olivia watched this happen with a horrified expression on her face, but there was a small voice in the back of her mind that sounded almost happy that Nicor was forced into a chokehold. Serves you right. Now you know how it feels, she thought instinctively with contempt.

“Quit squirming," Cancer said with a scowl. "This wouldn't be happening to you if you decided to just keep quiet when speaking to me. That's probably what got you kicked out of the Underworld too, wasn't it? You kept running that pompous mouth of yours. Now look where that’s gotten you-- a washed-up monster of the seas.” He was enjoying inflicting this kind of shame onto the demon.

“Cancer…” Capricorn trailed off, sounding somewhat quiet then. "Do you have to be this rough about it? We shouldn’t be treating him this poorly. He isn’t a Rogue." From the way she chastised Cancer, not finding the sight entertaining.

Olivia didn’t know what to say, so she decided not to interfere by saying anything that would get her into any trouble. What should I do…? Where’s Damien? This is getting bad, she thought.

Cancer scoffed and flung Nicor to the damp ground, the water’s grip releasing his neck and soaking his shirt. “I was expecting you to at least manipulate the water I used to get back at me, but perhaps I expected too much. I guess not all demons are fully immune to their affinities.”

If only my gills were on my neck instead... The water demon thought defiantly, but he instead chose to express his anger with a low weak growl, breathing heavily to get the air back into his lungs. He touched his neck and then shakily rolled over and onto his hands and knees, wheezing for air. Nicor lifted his gaze up to meet Olivia’s, who stared back with a worried expression. Though truthfully, that worry didn't look like it was over him.

“That should teach you. Are you done with your little show now?” Cancer asked mockingly. “We don’t have all day.”

“I thought he had a Contractor? I don’t sense him nearby,” Capricorn was looking around the backyard. She looked like she didn't want to be here much longer.

“Oh, right, the human. I can’t find him around here either. The demon said he wasn’t here. It’s just him in this little building,” Cancer replied.

“That’s because Damien goes to a different place after school to practice his swimming.” Olivia admitted quietly, turning her eyes over to Cancer.

“See? Just like I told you. He ain’t here.” Nicor’s voice was hoarse.

“So, the demon wasn’t trying to fool us? You’d expect them to be liars after all,” Cancer said.

Olivia felt relieved that Cancer hadn’t come in contact with Damien yet. He was safe regardless of whatever stupid thing Nicor decided to do, so long as he wasn’t around to see the consequences of it.

“What’s the kid doing here anyway!?” Nicor hissed across the yard as he stood up, wiping his mouth of the saliva that managed to trickle out from his resisting. "Stupid humans like her have no place in this."

“Hey, don’t act like we planned to drag an outsider into this. From the sound of it, the fact she’s even here tells me that you took care of that yourself.” 
Cancer smirked and chuckled as he placed a hand on the grip of the sheathed weapon at his side. Nicor grit his teeth in irritation.

"Look, I know why you’re strict on demons like Nicor,” Olivia hesitantly interrupted, “but please, do you need to be this harsh? Damien’s not here, so if you want to interrogate him, just wait for him to be here. Alone.”

"She’s right, Cancer. Let’s just leave,” Capricorn said.

"Don’t pretend to understand what we do, child." Cancer gave Olivia a hard glare. “Just because a Contract between him and the human was made, doesn’t guarantee Nicor will keep his end of the deal. The only reason Lord Hades sends us down here is to ensure the human’s safety stays guaranteed. Humans don’t get to choose whether or not to be Contracted-- the least we can do is let them feel certain that the demon won’t just kill them later on. Don’t be fooled, child, it happens far more often than you are led to believe.” His tone was cynical and grim. “Your friend must be a lucky case-- not every human survives the Contract this long or see themselves fit to complete it. Demons aren’t the types to be patient-- when you’re of no use, they’ll decide to end it by killing you, consume your soul, and then seek a new Contractor. But it’s foolish and futile; from the moment they absorb their human’s soul, it’s the point of no return for them.

You can’t just change Contractors like that. Demons don’t believe it to be true, but then they drive themselves to madness thinking they’ll be able to correct their little mistake. That’s when they give in to their bloodlust for more souls, thinking we won’t be able to seal them away if they become more powerful. They’ve deliberately sealed their fate to Tartarus by then, and we cannot forgive such an offense.”

Capricorn remained silent, looking away as Olivia’s eyes were wide with shock. Nicor simply stared at the ground, being shamefully reminded of his looming fate with being sealed into Tartarus, known to him best as the Abyss.

“Besides,” Cancer suddenly kicked Nicor's side and knocked him over onto his back. Nicor’s face was scrunched up in pain, completely speechless from the blow-- Olivia could have sworn she heard a dull snapping noise from the kick. "They’ll end up being stuck back in the Underworld like they wish for so badly-- just a deeper part of it. I don't see the point. Why Hades gives any of you a second chance is beyond me. Frankly, demons deserve to rot and remain in the Underworld. Monsters are just monsters in the end," He said with a sneer before stifling his laughter.

Nicor growled angrily and firmly gripped Cancer's ankle, making the Zodiac’s expression turn irritated. 

"You little shit... thinking you can just tell me what I already know..." Nicor muttered through blood seeping out the corner of his mouth. "You Zodiacs really piss me off...!" His sclera turned black again, like the night Olivia and Vee were attacked.

"Hm? You're still awa-- wha!?" Cancer was forced back by Nicor shooting multiple streams of water at him. He put his arms up to shield his face from the torrent, gritting his teeth and glaring daggers at Nicor.

"While you were running your mouth, I was busy separating all the water from the muddy soil." Nicor stumbled back up, grinning with mischievous intent. “I ought to make this visit of yours worth your while, right? I’ve been waiting for a chance to fight one of you,” he said.

Olivia and Capricorn hadn't moved the whole time, afraid that at this point it would be dangerous to even bother intervening physically. 

Good thinking. Guess he didn’t become exiled for being an idiot... but considering he’s trying to start a fight in Damien’s backyard, he’s still an idiot, Olivia thought with crossed arms.

"So you think you can challenge me? That’s mighty bold of you seeing as I just had you gasping for air a few minutes ago." Cancer placed a hand on the hilt of his sword, stepping back to put some distance between him and Nicor. "Not that I mind. I was looking for an excuse to cut something up today." He smirked condescendingly as he got into a defensive stance. “You must really have a death wish.”

Capricorn swallowed hard from the sudden turn the situation took, and Olivia was just as tense. 

"....Cover your ears." Capricorn ordered after a moment of thinking. Olivia complied but gave her a confused look. Capricorn's expression became serious as she held her hand out towards the sky, levitating upwards. Several bright streaks of light shot out from her hand and dispersed into the clouds, which seemed to immediately turn gray and overcast the town. A loud rumbling began to build up not long after. Rain began to come down on them.

She did all that so nobody would intervene. Smart, Olivia thought. It was a good idea, considering how easily someone could go out and hear or see the commotion going on. A sudden thunderstorm would be more than enough to drown out any loud voices.

"Come and show me what a demon like you is capable of. I might actually have fun toying with you," Cancer taunted.

Nicor let out a bestial snarl as he lunged into the air, his fist about to connect with Cancer’s cheekbone. He saw a mere flash of movement from Cancer and not a second later felt a sharp sting of pain strike up across his torso. It came too fast for him to really register. The black-haired Zodiac smoothly moved aside as Nicor kept sailing through the air and lost momentum, hitting the damp earth shoulder blade first. The water demon clutched at his clothes. Even though the jacket wasn't open, Cancer sliced clean through it and his shirt. His blood started to stain through the ripped edges.

His sword! To think I would forget he had it drawn... Nicor thought, scrunching his nose at the Zodiac. It didn't explain the burning sensation accompanied with the pain, however. Immediately he took off the jacket to inspect it. The rain that was falling progressively harder wasn't helping matters.

Cancer flicked his wakizashi sword to the side, flecks of blood dripped off the blade and onto the grass. “Blind rage will only hinder your ability to avoid danger. That should have been easy for you to dodge,” he said, his expression neutral but his voice dripped with contempt.

“Damn you... don't lecture me!” Nicor snarled as he got up, but not without the red stain on his torn shirt spreading, which made him wince in pain. The wound the sword inflicted was a lot deeper than he had realized. Nonetheless, Nicor pulled his right hand back, a sphere of water forming from the water surrounding them. “You’re going to regret that!” Water from the puddles and the raindrops began to accumulate in his hand.

A thumping noise was heard from behind Capricorn. 

“Eh? Where did Olivia go?” Capricorn asked. “She was right next to me.” She turned around to see Olivia collapsed on the ground. Apparently, the brunette couldn't seem to stomach the sight of blood, so when she saw the severity of Nicor’s injury, she must have passed out. “Olivia!” The amber haired girl cried in alarm, immediately dropping to her knees to check on the fainted girl. 

“Nothing to worry about. Humans aren’t used to seeing bloodshed these days,” Cancer rolled his eyes at the sight. 

The rain was starting to come down in heavy drops of water, quickly soaking the group outside.

For a few seconds, Nicor’s fierce gaze flicked to where Olivia once stood, drenched in cold water. “You shouldn’t have stayed here to wait on me, squirt,” he muttered. However, his tone seemed a bit apprehensive, even a bit guilty he accidentally dragged her into it. But now wasn’t the time to worry about a human. Nicor’s gaze returned to Cancer, who was distracted-- now was his chance to strike back. Nicor thrust his arm forward to send the fully formed water sphere flying towards the Zodiac.

Cancer, gifted with quick reflexes, turned his attention back to Nicor just in time and put his arms up in an attempt to block the sphere, but the water still crashed into him with a pronounced impact stronger than the streams of water from earlier. "...Tch!" He grit his teeth and dug his heels into the softened earth in resistance.

"Don't get too cocky, Crabby. When it rains, it really isn't a good day for anyone who decides to fight me." Nicor smirked, even though a corner of his lip was bleeding since he bit too hard on it from the earlier fall.

Capricorn had taken Olivia into the backyard’s summer gazebo, knowing well things had gotten too escalated to afford having her anywhere near it. Olivia’s hair seemed to take on a nearly black appearance from all the rain beginning to pour. The goat Zodiac sighed. “Poor thing. Why were you granted this kind of misfortune?... Fate is a cruel mistress,” she said quietly. Capricorn then turned her gaze back to the battle going on.
 
"I guess it was my fault for creating a thunderstorm. I'm sorry, Cancer."

“Whatever. I was expecting a boring fight. Maybe it wasn't a fluke,” Cancer said as he stood up once more, though his voice sounded breathless. 

“What, you pissed off that I wasn’t some low-rank nobody?" Nicor retorted snidely as he moved to manipulate the water puddles now beginning to increase in size. He began to draw out large streams of water from the earth at an accelerated rate without a pause. “Maybe you need to take some lessons about fighting against another water elemental!” Nicor lunged forward into the air, the streams of water all following him as he moved.

Cancer sucked his teeth with indignation. “You aren’t getting a hit like that again!” He replied, swiping his sword horizontally as Nicor closed in.

Both were hit; Nicor suffered an abdominal wound similar to the first, which began to feel numb from the adrenaline coursing through his body. Cancer was then met with the powerful torrents of water, which hit him at all parts of his body like a battering ram of fists.

“Agh!” Cancer choked as he coughed out blood from the pummeling he took. He had dropped the sword to try and fight off the torrent, unable to try and lighten the blows of the water with his own water manipulation. When he put his arms up to his face against the streams, Nicor simply made it so that the ones aimed for his torso would strike him at either side of his ribcage, pushing him further away-- Cancer’s was pushed back by the force into a tree’s thick trunk. The water dissipated back into the soil.

Nicor fell back to the ground, clutching his torso. He hissed in pain, the deep cuts starting to take their toll on him. He was thankful for being able to pull of that last attack before losing all his stamina. If he hesitated any longer, he would have lost.

That sword, it’s definitely got something on it that keeps burning into my wounds… The water demon thought with disdain as his cyan eyes locked onto the wakizashi that lay abandoned on the grass. The rain washed away Nicor’s blood, giving the puddle it lay in a tinge of crimson. He recalled when Cancer had drawn it before it began raining; it had a wet glint to it even before the rain began to fall.

“You wiped it down with holy water, didn't you?!” Nicor growled, baring his fangs.

Cancer chuckled darkly, although his voice was hoarse. “The very thing that stunts your quick healing ability. Took you long enough to notice. You aren't the sharpest sword in the collection, are you?” Soaked to the bone, the Zodiac felt all his energy had been drained from tanking Nicor's attack.

“You've got some nerve to talk shit looking like that," the demon retorted. Cancer felt and looked awfully fatigued from the blasts. He really wasn’t as tough as he made himself out to be, from what Nicor saw.

Capricorn was crouched next to the red eyed boy in an instant, putting her hand over the bruises on his face where part of the torrent battered him.

"Cancer, you're definitely at your limit by now. Call it off! You know we aren't allowed to just beat them to a bloody pulp because you wanted to." She looked genuinely worried about him.

Cancer was about to object and insist on staying, but he soon realized doing so was completely pointless by now. Damien failed to show up and if they risked staying in the Overworld any longer, he'd expose him and his partner to further unnecessary attention or end up forced through the light gate once he was fully drained of energy. He hardly had the energy to even move. “…Fine,” he gave in through grit teeth with embarrassment.

Capricorn looked back at the gazebo where Olivia lay; she was the only human who knows about her existence aside from the few Contractors and Demons that have met her. In a way, she felt like they had become friends-- on top of that, she genuinely felt sorry Olivia was caught in the middle like this. “I’m going to borrow one of your keys,” she said to Cancer, grabbing for a silver one from an array of gold and silver keys hooked to his belt. She held it up in front of him. “I’m giving this one to the girl in case she’s ever in a pinch with the other demons that might come across her path. If they’re anything like this one.” Something told her Olivia would need it if she was directly connected to Damien and Nicor.

“What? Why?” Cancer replied, feeling himself grow faint. He didn't seem to have energy to argue, but was mystified by her actions.

"We're supposed to protect the beings of this world, Cancer." Capricorn got up and Nicor watched her stride over to the gazebo where Olivia lay unconscious. “I’m not sure why, but I can't help but feel like I should grant her this." Grasping the key in both of her hands, Capricorn held it close to her heart, whispering an incantation under her breath. A light glowed from her hands before she opened them back up to reveal the enchanted key. It now had a gold tint, with a symbol of a goat with a fish's tail engraved into the base. The key itself glowed a bit more before fading, signaling the completion of the enchantment. Capricorn then placed it in Olivia’s hand, curling her fingers gently around the key. “I’ll make sure you’re safe, okay? I’ll see you soon,” Capricorn whispered before leaving Olivia’s side.

Nicor seemed very lost. He thought the spirits didn't care about what didn't directly affect them. His eyes flickered to Olivia.

What’s going on? Why? What's so special about her? He thought. Then he found himself being lifted up by the collar of his jacket, making him cringe with pain. It was Capricorn. 

“Don’t get the wrong idea. Just because I told Cancer to spare you from his violent streak doesn’t mean I won’t hesitate for one second if you lay a finger on her or your Contractor,” Capricorn stated with a flat tone before dropping him onto his bottom and then walking over to the fallen wakizashi blade. After retrieving it, she went over to Cancer, helping him up before using one of his keys to open up a portal that formed below them and engulfed them in golden light. The light faded and so did they.

Nicor blinked in surprise several times, wincing again as another wave of pain washed across his chest. "Weird kid... Ugh." Clutching at his wound, he forced himself to stand despite the immense burning pain resulting. He took a look at his palm and saw his blood smeared on his fingertips. Forcing himself to walk towards the gazebo in a limping gait, he had figured he pulled a muscle in the fight. Hopefully he didn’t break a rib.

“C’mon Squirt, wake up,” He muttered gruffly as he made his way towards Olivia and gave her a nudge with his free hand. It seemed she was mostly conscious by then, as she almost immediately opened her eyes. She slowly sat up, blinking several times, then looking at her hand, feeling that she was holding something.

A key? Olivia thought, squinting to look at it closer.

“Capricorn gave you a gate key,” Nicor said, breaking her gaze from it.

“A gate key?” Olivia repeated in confusion.

“I’ll explain later,” Nicor replied, gripping his torso with both arms and emitting a strained grunt. He hissed at another burning sensation pulsing around the wounds. "They left, now come help patch me up."

Olivia paled a bit in color. "O-okay..."

“What, you aren't afraid of a little blood are you?" Nicor taunted before wincing. The wound should have already begun the healing process if it weren't for the holy water, he relented.

“N-No I’m not! I’m just not used to seeing people fight with swords...” Olivia insisted, holding back the nausea building up in her stomach by avoiding looking at any part of his torso. Making sure the coast was clear, she grabbed his arm and tugged on it. “At least let me help you in. You look like you can’t even walk...” Olivia slung his arm over her shoulders and placed an arm around his waist to help him walk back inside. However, he was much heavier than she could move, and sluggishly dragged him in. "You could lose a few pounds you know... you're heavy."

The remark strained whatever patience Nicor had left, after all the pain and irritation Cancer inflicted on him. "Whatever! Argh, just hurry it up and make yourself useful, you wench!" He snapped.

SLAP!

Olivia had struck him across the face using her free hand with great force, taking him by surprise. He put his hand over his stinging cheek, speechless. Whoa, what the hell was that? He thought in shock.

“Shut your mouth and let me help you, you smurfy little shit." Her expression looked dark and menacing, not tolerating anything from him anymore. "You've got a lot of nerve to say that when I'm dragging your sorry ass back inside."

Nicor swallowed hard and kept his mouth shut. Once they came inside, she shoved him onto the couch.

“Alright, now we need to get something to stop the bleeding. Try not to bleed on anything,” Olivia muttered coldly, rushing upstairs to look for a first aid kit or at least some cotton balls. This left Nicor in the living room alone, rubbing his cheek in bewilderment that she had just slapped him a second ago. This caught him off guard; he thought she was afraid of him mostly, but it seemed that her annoyance with him quickly blew that fear out of the water.

"Damn, I wasn't expecting her to be that gutsy..."

Nicor quietly started tearing the rest of his ripped shirt off. “Where’s Damien? He should have gotten home by now,” he muttered, hearing footsteps descending the staircase.

“I found some cotton balls and peroxide so it won’t get infected,” Olivia announced as she walked towards the couch but stopped seeing the now bare-chested water demon. 

“Uh…” Olivia paled again before hesitantly soaking the cotton balls to start dabbing at the wound. She averted her nervous gaze.

Nicor rolled his eyes. “Are you going to help treat my wounds or not?” He said with a scowl, but made a conscious effort not to say anything that would incite another outburst from Olivia.

“Oh, uh, yeah. I just don’t really like the sight of blood,” She replied awkwardly, sitting next to Nicor and continuing to soak the cotton balls. “Please lay back a bit,” She said, keeping her eyes off of his wound directly.

That explains why she passed out all of a sudden… I guess she meant she never saw actual swords be used to cut people up, Nicor thought. Olivia set down the bottle of peroxide and began dabbing lightly at his cuts. His jaw tightened at the sting but it passed quickly. About ten minutes later, Olivia finished and picked up the bandages & gauze to dress the wounds when Damien entered the house.

“I’m ho—“ Damien stopped when he saw a wounded Nicor and Olivia on the couch. 

“What…. happened?...” Damien said in shock as he dropped his swim team duffel bag and stood before the two. His eyes widened seeing the bloody cotton balls.

“Zodiacs decided to pay a visit," Nicor explained. “A guy and a girl-- Cancer and Capricorn.” His tone became hostile mentioning the red eyed boy, and the slits for pupils he had made this clear.

“You managed to drive them off or what?” Damien asked, surprised that they’d be here already in such a short time. He had only made an official contract with Nicor nearly a year ago. But they didn’t give a warning, not even a bit more time?

“Yeah. Doesn’t matter really, they came to see if I had gotten a Contractor yet and I got in a fight with one of them,” Nicor said. "They didn’t seem to take my word that you were still alive and Contracted with me. Capricorn found your friend and led her over here while I dealt with Cancer.”

“You mean they just didn’t appear in front of you directly?”

“It seems they only know the approximate location of the people they come down to look for.” Nicor shrugged. “That’s my guess, anyway.”

“Given the track record demons have in the Overworld, I’m not surprised they don’t like you,” Damien said before giving him an eyeroll. “But, I’m glad Olivia didn’t get hurt in the end, and that’s what matters to me. I see you had her take care of your wounds for you.” He gave the water demon a look.

“Hey, she wanted to, I wasn’t asking her to,” Nicor replied through gritted teeth, rubbing his cheek. It wasn’t red anymore, but it still stung. The motion made Damien quirk an eyebrow. 

"Be grateful I still did after what you said. You jerk," Olivia remarked coldly. "Anyway, Capricorn gave me a Gate Key. I’m not sure why though,” She said, taking the key out of her pocket and showing it to Damien. 

Damien’s eyebrows furrowed curiously as his blue eyes studied the key in surprise. “...A what? Why? While I’ve never met a Zodiac spirit myself, I don’t think they’re too keen on interacting with any human that isn’t involved with demons.”

"Well, I don’t know why. I was… asleep," Olivia lied after pausing to come up with a different reason.

“... You’re a terrible liar, Olivia,” Damien said with a blank expression.

“She passed out from seeing this.” Nicor gestured to his lacerations.

“Ah. Well… Maybe they offer contracts with people or something? I can hardly tell what you mean by ‘Gate Key’," Damien answered.

“I can tell you don’t.” Nicor stared down at the key while speaking with a flat tone. “That key’s different.”

“Well, do you have a better explanation?” Damien said with an eye twitching in irritation.

“Yeah, actually,” Nicor said with both his eyebrows raised. “Like I said before, I wasn’t some nobody of the Underworld. I used to hear stories about humans summoning demons to do their dirty work for them with a key because it was a symbol of a Contract-- not the kind Damien and I are in-- where the human signed away something of value to them in order to obtain the demon’s allyship. I never thought I'd actually see one though, they say that was a practice from the Old World. I guess it’s true, considering Hades tightened the leash a bit in the last millennium.”

“Then I'm right about it being used for a Contract, aren't I? It's just with a Zodiac instead,” Damien argued, crossing his arms.

“Like I said, this one’s different,” insisted Nicor. “It doesn't make sense that Capricorn would be the one to propose the deal in the first place if they prefer as little contact with the Overworld as possible. And Olivia was passed out-- you need both parties present to really make a Contract. You are right in that this is an item that brings Capricorn to your friend though. She enchanted it herself-- but there’s just one problem. She never told me or the squirt how to use it. So how is she gonna summon her?”

Damien sighed. “Let’s just hope Olivia will never need to actually use it, then.” He had no choice but to trust Nicor’s word on the matter. “Why did she withhold that from you though?”

“...If you ask me, I don't think she exactly knew what she was doing herself,” Nicor said while looking at the floor. “Guess we’ll just have to wait for her to realize it and come looking for us again.”

Olivia stared at the gate key and clenched her fist around it, getting the sinking feeling that there would come a time where she would call Capricorn down. And if that time ever came, it certainly would not be a situation where anyone else could come to her aid.

The only blessing I’ve been given after a terrible curse, She thought with dread.
I'll be posting the Critique thread soon. Edited the last few paragraphs because I felt like it.​
 

LoopyPanda

Black Jacket
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
12,022
Location
cyberia cafe
Chapter 5: The Spark that Bled
In the wake of the conflict between Cancer and Nicor, the two Zodiacs traveled back to their realm of Origin; the Heavenly World.​

The Heavenly World exists in a realm that looms high above the Overworld; between the edges of each realm, there lays a giant temple in the sky surrounded by a vast valley of clouds. The Sky Temple within the Heavenly World’s boundaries exists between the infinite universe humans understand as the natural world and possibly nothingness. If one were to imagine the realms as separate planes of existence, the three exist in a stack; one on top of the other. Surrounding these realms is Limbo, or nothingness. The Underworld is the plane between Limbo and the afterlife, sitting below the Overworld and Heavenly World. The Overworld is the middle plane, separated by a seemingly infinite barrier known as the Overworld’s universe of matter and antimatter. The Heavenly World hovers above the Overworld.​

While the Underworld is a realm shrouded in darkness, the Heavenly World and Overworld are bathed in light. Apollo and Helios, the Sun Gods, used their immense power thousands of years ago to grant continuous light to the heavens by allowing sunlight to travel through the edges of the universe endlessly. This light does not reach the Underworld due to Hades’s barrier of darkness. Because the Overworld is expanding indefinitely, travel between realms requires the usage of powerful magical portals that behave akin to teleportation. The portal itself does not necessarily serve as a corridor that one must walk through because that would imply a conjuring of corridors that stretch endlessly. Instead, portals behave like climbing through a hole in the wall to reach the other side. It is what the Zodiacs traversed through to reach the Sky Temple.​

Within the temple is a grand hall lined with detailed pillars and a reflective ivory floor, warm light pouring in from outside through the open sections of the walls. At the center, hues of orange and gold illustrated a large Sun within a ring that depicted all twelve of the Zodiac symbols. Here is where the Zodiac spirits made their entrance; the Sun glowed briefly before a portal opened through which Capricorn and Cancer appeared.​

“We’re back…” Capricorn mumbled, looking worriedly at Cancer.​

“Just get me to my room befo— ” Cancer was interrupted by a booming voice all around them.​

“You have returned? Please give me your report on Nicor and his Contractor.”​

At first, a ghostly figure appeared before the two, but it solidified into the form of a tall dark-skinned woman with flowing white hair that obscured her eyes. She wore a long white dress adorned with thin golden chains draping along the dress’ waistline, accented by pieces of orange agate and opal.​

“Libra!” Capricorn and Cancer immediately kneeled before her, the latter ignoring the pain the movement inflicted. “I… I…” Capricorn stuttered.​

“Cancer, I expect an answer.” Libra’s voice was firm but polite.​

Cancer sighed, looking up at the woman. “Well, the water demon’s not a Rogue, we know that much.”​

“Have both the demon and his Contractor been consistent with their collection assignment?” Libra pressed. “I tried to contact Thanatos again, but it seems Lord Hades has him occupied.”​

“About that…” Capricorn began, but she was nudged in the ribs by Cancer to keep quiet.​

“Contractor wasn’t there. So, I decided to see for myself if the Exile was taking it seriously. Roughed me up enough to prove it. We… never found out the exact amount of progress they’ve made over the past year yet.​

Capricorn felt guilty, considering that she caused a thunderstorm that boosted Nicor’s abilities and made the overall matchup even worse for Cancer. Yet her mentor was taking the heat all on his own to make up for their mistake, on top of nursing his wounded pride from the fight.​

“… I suppose I will send Gemini to finish your assignment, since you have failed to bring me all of the information I requested of you. Perhaps she will be more competent and won’t needlessly distract herself. Very well then, you may go,” Libra said in a flat tone before turning away and fading from their sight. “Please take time off and rest for your injuries.”​

“She’s going to mouth my ear off later for this,” Cancer muttered as Capricorn guided him through the halls of the temple. It seemed quiet, meaning the others were likely still out. “Whatever. It’s not our fault she didn’t predict that the human wouldn’t be there by the time we’d reach the Exile.”​

“Sorry…” Capricorn murmured.​

“I’m… sorry too,” Cancer said. “It was a waste of time.”​

“...”​

He closed his eyes from the exhaustion. “Can you take me to the healing spring? I don't think I'll sleep through the pain.”​

“Of course.” Capricorn obediently carried him to the part of the temple that the Zodiacs used to heal their injuries quickly. They entered a large room that housed a vast pool of spring water, curtained by a fine mist. Removing his scabbard from his person, he handed the wakizashi to Capricorn before snapping his fingers. At an instant, the human clothing he wore had changed to a traditional lightweight toga; he also used magic to remove his shoes. The clothes he took off appeared neatly folded on the tiled floor in the corner of the room. Not caring that the toga would get wet, he stepped into the pool, appreciating that all the weight from his stuffy Earth outfit was now gone. A wet toga was a warm welcome for all he cared. ​

After finding a good spot in the spring, he sat down and dipped most of his head into the water as well. The throbbing pain from before immediately began to fade away, and he could feel his energy slowly come back to him while his body rested in the warm waters. Closing his eyes, he sighed quietly in relaxation. Capricorn stood barefoot in the pool with the water up to her ankles watching him quietly until he spoke again.​

“...Do you have any idea of the consequences that could come from giving that human girl the ability to have you at her beck and call? What were you thinking?...” He was too exhausted to lecture her, but his anger was thinly veiled through his fading pain. “We may serve to protect the Overworld, but we aren’t their servants.”​

“It’s... complicated, alright?”​

“Great explanation. Libra will find out eventually anyway, whether you tell me or not. Be prepared for when she does…” Cancer trailed off. His eyes snapped open a few moments later. “Wait.”​

“...What?”​

Cancer’s mouth turned into a smirk. “All you did was give her a key. She can’t use it since you gave it to her while she was unconscious.”​

“Why can’t she? I even enchanted it!”​

Cancer was about to open his smart mouth and haughtily explain the problem, but realized it wouldn’t lead to anything good. "I’m not telling you. You’ll probably try to go back down there and fix your mistake. Which would get us both in more trouble than we already have. If you want to know so bad, you’ll have to ask Libra.​

”Capricorn huffed and her cheeks puffed up indignantly. “Fine! You’re nothing but a hotheaded bully anyway! I’ll just figure it out by myself!” She stormed out of the hot spring area and back to the main hall of the Sky Temple, leaving Cancer by himself.​

He leaned back to close his eyes again, sighing. “What a handful you are… Give me a damn break.”​



.           .           .          .​




“I think it’s time for me to get home…” Olivia said, glancing over at the clock in Damien’s living room-- it read 7:30 P.M. and the sun had long set. She let Damien try and take care of the injury she sustained from running face-first into the tree trunk earlier that day. Luckily, her nose wasn't broken, but it looked red even after Damien made her hold a bag of frozen vegetables to her face to get the swelling to go down. It would probably bruise the next day. “Mom’s going to want to know where I've been.” Once she stood up, however, she froze in place before making a frown. “Shoot, she’s gonna kill me since I forgot to even text her.” Inadvertently, she left her car close to school. Much farther away than Damien’s house.​

“Come to think of it, I never saw your car anywhere near the house,” Damien said. “... How’d you get here before me without it?”​

“Was it Goat Girl that took you here?” Nicor asked. “It's not like those freaks ever rode in a car before.”​

Olivia nodded and poked her fingers together. “Only because it would have been weird if somebody looked into my car and saw a girl with goat horns in the back seat. Besides, she does zappy things with her powers! Cars can attract lightning and I wouldn’t want to get electrocuted. I completely forgot I left it back by the school… hopefully nothing happened to it.”​

“I could just drive you there. It's too dark to walk back anyway,” Damien offered.​

“I vote we drive too. No way am I gonna be sighted. As fun as it was, I’m not in the mood for something like that again,” Nicor muttered under his breath. “Damien’s got dark windows, so nobody sees me easily.”​

“I didn't park it in a very obvious place either so we’d probably have to use our phones' flashlights.”​



. . .


[size=small]The drive to the woods near the school was quiet until Nicor broke the silence. [/size]​

“I don’t get what's so special about you to one of those cloud dwelling freaks,” he said. “Acting like she never saw a human before. You’re all boring and weak for the most part, worrying about a bunch of minuscule things that ultimately don’t matter. It’s so idiotic.”​

“You ask like I'm supposed to know why! I don’t even know. She just found me first ‘cause she didn't catch up to you by then.” Olivia was already lost in trying to comprehend everything that happened over the last few hours. There was no way to really get an answer either as to why Capricorn gave her a key that didn’t currently work according to Nicor. She did not see any reason as to why Capricorn became friendly if Cancer behaved like her polar opposite.​

“This again, Nicor?” Damien rolled his eyes as he drove. “If you, a demon who had a high rank before being exiled, don't know why, how would Olivia? I only know things that you tell me yourself!”​

“And? I’m just sayin’ that it’s really weird. I’ve never heard about the Zodiacs being this friendly with humans. Even if it’s their job to watch over them.” Nicor rested his chin on his hand that was propped up by leaning his elbow against the car window. “Forget about fighting the other Zodiacs now! I was lucky that the best of them all weren’t sent after us. They probably would’ve whooped my ass, and this one almost did.”​

“You mean there’s more than just those two!?” Olivia blurted out in shock.​

“Duh. One for each star sign,” Nicor said bluntly. “I would rather not see any of them since they're probably as pretentious and annoying as the two we met today. Why can't Hades just check up on me with his lackeys instead!? That brute can't ever be bothered to check up on his own without them. He can’t be that busy doing whatever it is he does in that fortress of his! You’d think he’d give someone with my rank better treatment than the cold shoulder.”​

“Guess he didn’t like you much either. Too bad,” Damien replied flatly.​

Olivia didn't want to speak anymore to Nicor, so she resolutely stared out of the car window as they drove. “... Hey Damien, how come your mom wasn't at the house at all today?”​

“Out on a business trip for the week,” Came his matter-of-fact reply.​

“Does... she know?” Olivia hesitantly asked.​

“...” Damien knew what she had meant, and felt a pit in his stomach form at the mere implication that he was keeping his current predicament a secret.​

“...”​

“Nah. She'd probably flip her lid if she knew her kid was stuck with a demon like me!” Nicor laughed heartily before Damien could speak. “I already have to keep an eye on your little friend now that she caught me, so I'd prefer to avoid his mother at all costs. Lucky for me, she isn't here too often. She doesn't know I eat all the food instead of her son. She’s convinced he's hitting another growth spurt or something, so I guess it's normal for you runts to eat a cabinet’s worth of food in a couple days.”​

Olivia didn't look at either of them. “I guess I can understand. You never told me about anything you’ve been up to the last couple years, so why did I think you'd have told your mother?”​

“It’s not like I didn't want to tell someone about this frankly chaotic thing going on in my life, Olivia. It’s just that-”​

“You wouldn't want her to get hurt, so it'd be best if she never knew. I know.” Her tone was curt, and had a hint of pain in it. She knew why he couldn't tell anyone what he was forced into, but why was she feeling so hurt by it? It didn't make sense to her.​

“I… yeah. The same goes for you and everyone else I know here.” Damien drove and kept his eyes hidden from the rear-view mirror. “It’s hard coming back and knowing hardly anyone now. That's what I get for distancing myself from Seattle entirely, I guess. But I wasn’t careful enough coming back here.”​

“We got careless is all.” Nicor picked at his teeth absentmindedly. “Sorry about your friend, but sometimes it can't be helped. You're both lucky Damien recognized you, otherwise I don't think he'd have given a damn if I--” His lips curled up into a malicious grin as he spoke before he was interrupted, the smile quickly being wiped from his face. ​

“We’re here,” Damien cut in with a sharp tone. Olivia glanced over his shoulder and saw that his hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly that the knuckles turned white. She quickly averted her gaze and tried to ignore the stifling atmosphere. This made Nicor roll his eyes.​

They each got out of the car as the sky began to light up with lightning. A quiet rumble rolled over the school’s parking lot. “Let’s hurry so nobody sees us,” Damien said, softer in tone as he walked with Olivia. Nicor chose to stay in the car.​

“... I'm sorry, Olivia,” He said after a few moments.​

“... For what?”​

“Everything. For not telling you anything, for leaving all our friends suddenly, for Veronica. I deserve it if she decides to hate me for the rest of her life. Since she almost died. Just… try not to let her rat me out or anything. I'm just sorry in general.”​

“...” Usually, Olivia would brush aside any grievance with an ‘it’s okay,’ but this time, she had no instinct to do so. No amount of apologies would undo the wall he put up between them for the sake of protecting his friends; she was the only real friend he still had after coming back, and even then there was a clear void in their friendship now. ​

“I'll be sure she won't tell anyone.” That was all she could muster for a reply. ​

They reached her car and she unlocked it without any problems, although the rain started up by the time they got to it.​

“... I'm sorry you got hurt today because of me too,” Damien started again.​

“It’s my fault for being nosy in the first place,” came her flat reply.​

“I understand if you don't want to associate with me anymore because of all this.”​

More silence.​

“If I did that, then everything would go back to how it was the last couple of years.” Olivia bowed her head as the rain began to increase. Droplets of water dripped off her hair and fell on the seat since she didn't get in her car-- she held the door to the driver’s seat open still as she gazed towards the muddy ground. “I don't want to go back to being lonely again right after you came back.”​

“You have Veronica though.”​

“Just her-- everyone else is just a classmate. Things have changed the second I saw the demon. Nothing you do will undo it.”​

Damien watched her stand there without speaking for a while before she looked up at him through her wet hair that stuck to her face with unsettlingly empty eyes. “I should go now. See you in class tomorrow.” Without waiting for a response, she got in and maneuvered her car out and back onto the road, driving off for home.​

Damien stood in the dark staring off in the direction she drove in as the thunder rumbled around. He heard a loud rustling noise from the trees above before something landed behind him with a loud thud.​

“She left already?” Nicor popped the bones in his neck. ​

“Yeah. I don't have her number anymore so hopefully she gets home safely…”​

“Don’t worry your pretty head over it. I'm sure that after today, she might not be so alone anymore.” The water demon flicked his wrist around as the rain drops around them moved out of their way and landed in the grass around them with a cascading pattern.​

Damien’s heartbeat picked up suddenly as he looked over at him, almost speechless at what he said. “What… do you mean?”​

“We’ll see, blondie. Now let's get your weak ass out of this rain. You’ll catch cold. Can't have my partner in crime getting sick.” He roughly gave the teenager a pat on the shoulder before leading them back to his car. “Don’t look so gloomy. You should be glad she won’t be able to keep away anymore.”​

“That’s not funny, Nicor. You think I asked for--”​

"Don't you get it?" Nicor said in a low voice, followed by an eerie smile. “Everything had already been decided the second she laid eyes on me.” ​


.          .         .        .​


Olivia had arrived to her own house a little past eight o’clock. Once she parked inside the garage and came in through that door, she stopped in her place after reaching the den.​

“About time you got home, young lady!” Her mother stood up from the couch that sat close to the door, putting her hands on her hips and looking at Olivia with a stern expression on her face. “Where have you been? Surely not at Vee’s, since I called her and she told me that she felt too ill to go to school today! Do you know how worried I was? And what happened to your face!? And your hair is wet too! Did you forget your umbrella again?”​

“You didn't try texting me first?” Olivia asked once the bombardment of questions was over.​

“Of course I did, but for some reason the thunderstorm from earlier today fried some of the cell towers. It wouldn't go through to your phone when I tried calling you, so I guess you were near the one that got fried. That's why I called Vee right after.”​

Olivia completely forgot that Capricorn had fired her own thunderbolts into the sky to produce such a strong thunderstorm. Hers was probably much stronger in voltage than typical lightning given she was some kind of mystical being, so the fact it messed up some towers and telephone lines logically shouldn't have come as a surprise in hindsight. It explained why her phone didn't ring at all following that, knowing her overprotective mother.​

“I wasn’t alone or anything. I went to a friend-- er, Damien’s house,” Olivia explained. “He just came back to Seattle, so I wanted to, um, hang out with him now that he finally moved back. We tried to climb a tree like old times, but I fell and hit my nose on the trunk on the way down.​

Her mother stood over her to check over the injuries Damien already tended to; for being first aid, it was treated rather well. Still, Olivia was blatantly lying to her mother and having her face examined this closely made her heart rate spike. She wished she had her makeup bag in the car so she could have at least applied some concealer to cover up the fresh bruising that was beginning to appear.​

“Damien? The same one who went to school with you back in middle school?! Oh my goodness, I thought he moved away for good! Wonder what brought him back here?...” The woman wondered aloud as she moved Olivia’s wet locks of hair out of her face.​

Your guess is as good as mine in retrospect… Olivia thought to herself cynically. “Yeah… we just spent the day hanging out after school.” She placed a hand on her stomach, which let out a loud growl. “I'm hungry though… hopefully you didn't wait to start dinner.”​

“I did. So it's pasta night. Go on and change into some dry clothes. And dry that hair of yours! You’ll catch a head cold like that.”​

. . .​

After dinner, Olivia dropped her backpack by her desk as she was too drained from the day’s events to even think about studying or doing homework. She could just get up and finish it early the next morning before she headed for school. It was late already, so she decided to send Veronica a quick text that she made it home and who she was with. Not waiting for a reply, she left her phone on her nightstand as she got ready to sleep. Before she finally lay on her bed, her eyes fell on something out of place that sat before her.​

“... a dolly?” What sat on her sheets was a doll that seemed to be made solely of fabric. It had long black yarn on its head for hair with black buttons sewn on for eyes. The doll also had what looked to be a hand sewn dress. ​

Is that a present from Mom or something? It looks kind of cute…

She had a few plushies here and there left over from her childhood, but she wasn't exactly a collector. Maybe her mother found it and thought it looked nice, like those porcelain dolls found at the antique stores. Olivia hummed quietly before taking the doll and placing it on the windowsill that was across the room from her bed. Even if the dolly was cute, she wasn't going to sleep with it. She found the idea to be embarrassing.​

Not picked up by her ears, however, was a faint giggle that came from the doll itself.​


Notes:​

I apologize for the long wait. But I wanted to make sure this chapter had some proper substance to it. Hopefully next chapter will be more exciting. But hey, we need to have a boring chapter every once in a while to give readers a break from the crazy stuff.​

BTW, I put up the Review thread for Gossamer up a while ago, but I edited the title and the OP. So feel free to express your thoughts about this chapter if you have any you want to share with me. I'm open to answering any questions that aren't spoiler-category.​
 

LoopyPanda

Black Jacket
Joined
Sep 3, 2015
Messages
12,022
Location
cyberia cafe
Chapter 6: The Deeper You Delve

The morning was met with a thick fog outside, gray clouds obscuring the sun once again. Olivia’s room remained relatively dark, as she was curled up in bed with an odd dream lingering in her head. People usually dream vividly, and have at least a full awareness of their dream’s environment to interact with. In her case, she didn't even feel like she was there; it was as though she was the spectator looking in. Standing from afar, Olivia could still perfectly recognize the silhouettes.

The entire area of the dream was swathed in darkness, for there were no visible structures that vaguely resembled the real world at all. No grass, no dim lighting from street lights, no sky, no moon, no faint outline of nearby buildings. It was simply the pitch black darkness that only encompasses a nightmare. An unseen source of light cast spotlights down on the figures; Olivia could see herself, on one knee, holding someone who looked like Vee in her arms. Her doppelganger was weeping softly, but her sobs echoed loudly throughout the empty space. Although there was no rain sweeping the area, the sound of rain hitting the grass hummed-- the only white noise that accompanied a vast expanse of nothingness. Another spotlight appeared behind her dream-self to reveal Nicor, looming over her; his hair obscured his face. Vee’s limp body changed to that of Damien’s, although Olivia was too far away to determine how he was dead or even injured. Olivia wanted to run towards the light and dispel the illusions before her, but she found herself unable to move forward, essentially frozen in place, cementing her as an intruder of her own mind’s constructs.

Each time she tried to move forward, she felt some kind of unseen force stand before her and push back with great resistance, urging her to simply watch.

“Humans don’t ever change,” Nicor’s voice didn’t echo, but it cut through the tunneled ambience like a knife. “They never learn. Just fragile little playthings that break each other-- ribcages nursing broken hearts that can’t keep the promises they make.” She watched him walk around her doppelganger, who kept her head down and continued to weep softly. It was difficult to ascertain whether she was ignoring him or not.

“You cause your own suffering after all-- at the mercy of your hubris,” his face became visible as he talked down to the doppleganger. It looked strange. He had coal-black buttons for eyes, with a crudely drawn mouth forming a smile end-to-end. The crayon-mouth never moved while he was talking.

“That’s not true… we make each other happy too,” the doppelganger finally replied. Her voice was strained to a raspy whisper. “Our existence doesn’t have to be about pain.”

“But some people can only learn through pain.”

Olivia felt a cold hand touch her shoulder, startling her into looking behind her. The weight of the hand lacked any gentle touch that a human would have; it felt hard, synthetic even. What stood before her was a young woman that reminded her of the doll that was in her room. But she looked artificial, for her hands had a series of lines that looked like articulated joints on a ball-jointed doll. Her skin was pale and had the same appearance as porcelain without the reflective finish. Olivia could very faintly make out spiderweb fractures around her eyes and at the joints of her arms. The most distinctive feature about the strange woman was her eyes-- they looked like glassy obsidian gems framed by sets of long eyelashes. Her delicate face had a set of cupid’s bow lips that formed a gentle, sympathetic smile.

“Why do you think he left this place, child? You, an interloper, are powerless. You can’t lend him any strength.” As harsh as the woman’s words were, her tone was gentle. She embraced Olivia in a gentle hug, patting her head like a mother consoling a child, but the action felt stiff. It felt as though the doll woman didn’t really know what a hug was, and was merely mimicking the motions. “You poor thing. Fate is such a cruel mistress for tricking you...” After a moment of silence on Olivia’s part due to her inability to speak for herself, the doll spoke for the last time.

“He doesn’t belong in your world anymore.”

Before Olivia could really begin to understand anything she saw or heard, the dream was interrupted by the sound of her blaring alarm clock, jolting awake with a cold sweat. Her mind was so fixated on the strange dream that she nearly forgot why she woke up to begin with. Olivia glanced over at her nightstand where the clock stood-- it was thirty minutes until seven o’clock. So foggy was her mind, it didn't occur to her that she intended on waking up early to finish her math and history homework. The girl made a move to lay back down, tiredly not caring about why she woke up early to begin with, until she saw the doll from last night was tucked right under her arm. How did that get there?

“I should do my homework. I'll be in big trouble if I don't.”

It was a tiny, quiet voice, and sounded just like Olivia’s. But she never opened her mouth. Olivia, too sleepy to seem startled by a thought she didn't create in her head, obeyed it and slumped toward her desk. For a minute, she hesitantly stared at the dolly sitting so innocently laid against her pillow, and internally scolded herself for being so silly as to consider it wasn't her own brain. After all, simply thinking is a relatively involuntary action.

My face hurts like hell…

Olivia idly touched her face and winced at the area around her nose bridge. It was still tender from the previous day, and she could feel some healed scrapes that were left from her face hitting the bark of the tree. No doubt would she find obvious bruising, but she hoped that it wouldn't be so bad after putting ice on it. Forcing herself to wake up and concentrate, Olivia plopped the math textbook down on her desk and began to work her way through the assignment. After a few easy problems, her mind started to wander back off again, so she resorted to just looking up the answers on her phone. Usually, she was genuine about her schoolwork, but after a hellish two days where she could have no restful sleep, Olivia felt entitled to a day of being lazy. The assignment she couldn't cheat on was the history assignment, which required her to actually read the book. After another half-hour of working hurriedly, it was already time for her to make her way to school since the first class began at 8:30 a.m. sharp.

I didn't even get my outfit out of the closet. Whatever. I don't care.

Agitated at how disorganized she was for the day, Olivia just put her hair up in a messy ponytail and slipped on a pair of insulated sweatpants. She wasn't concerned with getting in trouble at school for not wearing something that wasn't indicative that she practically rolled out of bed. Veronica and Damien were her primary concerns once she woke up a bit more. The morning rush made her forget about the strange dream plaguing her night; the vague memory of it upon waking was quickly drifting out of her conscious as the need to begin her daily routine took priority. Neglecting to have checked her phone, there were plenty of new messages on it-- most of them from her mother, presumably sent during the widespread outage Capricorn had caused, but never got through until the late hours. After swiping those aside, she found a few new texts. 


6:00 a.m. - Mom

“I’ll be at work til 8 tonight because of meeting and big to-do list, left money on counter so you can buy urself something for dinner. Be safe, love you, XOXO!!! <3”


Olivia’s mother worked as health administration at one of the bigger hospitals in Seattle, so she would usually get home around sunset. But today, it seemed like a busy day full of more tasks than usual. Olivia paid no mind to it, although she felt too paranoid and restless to just nap in her house all alone. She figured she could just find something to do with Vee and Damien after school… if either of them felt like it.

The other new texts were sent earlier.

11:18 p.m. - Vee

“Glad ur okay. Hope you didn’t send this before the big outage, cause I just got your text.  I’m coming back to school tomorrow, so don’t forget to let me borrow your notes for Mrs. Brown’s class! :p

11:19 p.m. - Vee

“Also, sorry again about making you follow Damien home the other day… I really didn’t think this would happen. Maybe you should steer clear of him since he has that thing with him.”


‘Maybe you should steer clear of him.’

Olivia’s stomach sank as she read that line, the words echoing in her head. Her initial shock dissolved into a numbed feeling of indignation. Forcing herself to swipe out of the message onto the next, she instinctively deleted the second message together. She didn't want to look at it or even think about it.

“What am I gonna do?...” she muttered under her breath. The situation was too complicated to be thinking about so early in the day. What Olivia needed to do was process everything one step at a time. The existence of demons, the Zodiac spirits like Capricorn, Damien, Vee’s trauma. All of it was something she had to deal with separately. By herself, for the most part, and this she understood. There were no new messages from Damien, which was to be expected. He was only gone for a year and went radio silent on her end, but it was also possible he wasn’t able to get her phone number a second time. After the way she treated him last night, it was probably for the best he left her alone until the morning regardless of whether he still had her in his contact list or not.

...

“Oh… it’s Friday,” Olivia realized. Maybe she could invite Damien over and sort things out by acting like normal kids for a couple of hours. Maybe even go to catch a movie somewhere, or play games at her house. But then, she might upset Vee. The constricted feeling around her lungs from the building anxiety distracted her again, so Olivia perished the thought out of guilt before finishing preparations to leave for class. It took all of Olivia’s concentration to stay aware on the road but she arrived to the school on time. To her relief, nobody paid any attention to her outfit or the hastily applied makeup that at best obscured the bruising, but looked off anyway. She didn’t want to draw any attention to herself as she rushed through the hallway towards her locker.

After retrieving her notebooks, Olivia briskly walked to her social studies class. The classroom wasn’t completely full of students, but they chattered away mindlessly to each other and paid no heed to her. For this class, all the desks were aligned such that one half of the class sat in rows off to the left while the right side mirrored the arrangement. It was meant to discourage chatter between students and facilitated a better learning environment for discussing the short documentary they were supposed to watch today. Olivia was tired and her eyes practically ached with fatigue; it would be a good chance to catch a quick nap in class without being detected. Damien sat in the last row of chairs whose backs touched the bookshelf that stood against the wall, and glanced up at her for a second before hiding his gaze. Olivia figured it was because he wanted to keep his distance, but if anything, she didn’t want to feel lonely.

She plopped her backpack down on the empty desk next to Damien. The sudden movement near him made Damien flinch in his seat, letting out an “oh, hey” as she seated herself. She dragged the bag off her desk and onto the floor, offhandedly noting how heavy it felt for some reason.

“Morning,” Olivia greeted, propping up her head with her hand under her jaw. Damien narrowed his eyes worriedly.

“You don’t look so good. Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m...” she abruptly yawned. “...Fine.”

Damien continued to look her over worriedly. “... have you been sleeping properly? Or are you usually this sluggish-looking?”

Olivia snorted. “How do you with a life like yours?” It didn’t sound hostile or accusatory; a comment merely made in jest.
“Hm. Well, I got used to it.” Damien chewed on the metallic part of his pencil as he watched more people walk through the door. Class was in ten minutes, so they both must have figured out the same thing-- to at least act like normal teenagers talking about normal things, and dissolve this suffocating distance between them even if only temporarily. He noticed none of them even glanced Olivia’s direction as they took their seats, much to his surprise. He figured she was a social butterfly, but that really wasn’t the case; Veronica suited that picture more. Catching himself doing his nervous habit, he stopped and attempted to hide it.

“S-so, um, do you… have a place where I could eat lunch? I, uh, I’m still kinda new here, so I haven’t really made friends to sit with.” 

Olivia hummed with a smile on her face. It was small but it made him nervous to meet her gaze for some reason. “You’re in luck. The table I sit at has an opening. A couple, actually. Though, I figured you were the kind of guy who wouldn’t have trouble making friends.”

“I thought the same about you!” Damien said, feigning indignance as a dramatic joke. “But looks like we’re both terrible at socializing without someone to help us with it. Doomed to be introverts forever, I guess.”

“Speak for yourself! You had to at least have one friend at your old school, or else you would’ve gone mad,” Olivia laughed before stopping. “Where was your last school anyway?”

There was a moment of silence where Damien hesitated to answer. “New York,” he finally said. “I didn’t go to school in the city though, it’s in a small town. Way smaller than here in Seattle.”

Olivia’s eyes widened in awe and for a moment she drew the attention of other students. “No way, you went to New York!? That’s all the way across the country! Did you go to Times Square?! I’ve always wanted to go there! Actually… I’ve always wanted to go traveling, but with my mom’s job and stuff, I’ve never done it.” Her cheeks began to flush after the admission. “There’s a ton of places here in Washington I’ve never been to. Seattle feels like I’ve only explored a little of it.”

The few students who were occupying seats near them turned around curious about the conversation.

“Whoa, you've been to New York? What’s it like?” One asked.

“I bet it always smells like smog over there. It's probably the most polluted state around!”

Damien seemed caught off guard by the sudden inquiries, so he had to muster up his strength to not make it look apparent. “Oh, uh, we did get to go on field trips a couple of times, to New York City. Like I said before, my school was in a small town, so we only went on those kind of field trips around the winter and the spring. If we did well on big exams, they'd let us have a day to go there.”

“Wow, really? I wish we could do that… and yours was a public school?”

“A boarding school, a-actually. We didn’t really go on those kind of trips all that often, they were always sticklers about learning above all else.”

“Hah, figures! Is it nice around the places that aren’t crowded with people and buses?”

“Well…”

Olivia noticed he was getting more hesitant the more they pressed on with the questions. He almost looked like he had said too much by the time he let that slip. After he answered more of their relatively mundane questions about his stay in New York, using shorter answers, they returned to their own conversation. Harmless questions, but with his predicament, he must constantly have been on guard about any aspect of his life outside Seattle. She heard a quiet sigh from under his breath.

“I’m not that good talking to strangers…” Damien rubbed his neck and slouched a bit in his seat. “But…”

“What?”

“...Is it true you haven’t done a lot of stuff here in Seattle? There’s plenty of cool things to do, it’s just a matter of picking a day and doing it. With the weather being as rainy as it is and all,” Damien ventured while poking his index fingers together, trying his best to hide what he felt was a blush coming on. The suggestion made Olivia seem more awake, with her expression brightening even further.

“It’d be even more fun if I had an old friend come and do it with meeee~” She singsonged. “Vee’s a party girl, she’s not really into sightseeing and stuff. We usually do stuff on Fridays like going to the movies, but I don’t know if she’d feel like it. N-not that it’s cause of anything from the other day, it’s just, you know… she wasn’t at school yesterday,” Olivia stammered to clarify her previous statement, keeping her voice at a low whisper so nobody else would hear.

“Yeah…” Damien averted his gaze for a moment, the memory of what happened with Veronica putting an instant damper on his mood. “Is she still sick or did she decide to come today?”

“She texted me saying she’d be here today, so...” Olivia didn’t want to bring up anything Vee had sent her regarding Damien, and from her understanding, she planned on keeping her distance from him for a while. “We eat at the same table, but…”

“Let me guess,” Damien interrupted, “she doesn’t want to talk to me?”

“... probably not,” Olivia whispered back. “But it’s just you at school, so I think it’ll be fine. Mostly. As long as he’s not with you, she doesn’t have anything to be afraid of. Don’t take it personally.”

“None taken.” Damien had begun to write something on a clean page of his notebook before turning it for Olivia to see.

It’s kind of why I was trying so hard to stay away from you, the message said. A risky statement that was too personal for any eavesdropper to catch. They both exchanged glances before Olivia reached for the notebook to write her reply, but she was stopped by the distinct buzz of the school’s bell-- class had to begin. Mr. Stuart, their social studies teacher, ushered in a couple of tardy students to clear out the halls as he entered the room, closing the door behind him. He was a favorite among the students since he was the only history teacher that could make the subject interesting enough to learn about. He was no pushover however; despite his laid-back demeanor, he didn’t tolerate sloppy work of any kind and especially wasn’t one to let slackers doze off at their leisure. Mr. Stuart usually relegated them to the very front row, depriving them of any potential Z’s they could catch. He broke his silence after the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance and reading of the day’s announcements were performed. 

“Good morning, everyone. It’s Friday, meaning it’s Documentary Discussion Day. Pass in your worksheet about the Industrial Revolution so we can watch the video on the Gilded Age and have our class debate...”

The sound of shuffling papers swiftly filled the room, students passing their papers to the person next to them so that the person at the end of the row could hand in the stack. Olivia had been furiously writing down the remainder of the answers during the announcements, only turning in her sheet after the stack ended up on her desk. She passed the pile of papers to Damien, who slapped his on top before letting Mr. Stuart take it with the other stacks. Preemptively, Olivia reached into her backpack again to take out her pencil case, but reflexively jerked her hand away when she felt a foreign object laying at the bottom of it. It felt soft like yarn. Lowering her head down to examine the contents of her bag, she was startled when she discovered the doll from her room was sitting atop of her pencil case. Olivia exhaled through her nose, scolding herself for getting a scare out of that.

Since when did I put that stupid dolly in there? I really must be tired… she thought before covering her mouth to stifle a yawn. Geez, I’m definitely sleeping in tomorrow so I can retain my sanity. At this rate I’ll be afraid of my own shadow.

Olivia quickly zipped the bag back up hoping nobody would notice it and gingerly set the pencil case down on her desk with her notebook in case she needed to take any notes. Knowing their teacher, he’d probably put details from the video on the next unit test just before winter break. But such expectations were lost on someone who hasn’t slept properly in the last two days; a nap sounded much more enjoyable, especially since it was Friday. Olivia could even feel the burn of sleep deprivation on the edges of her eyelids, enticing her to close them and rest her eyes just for a moment. Damien watched her get into a comfortable position to sleep while pretending to be awake before turning his gaze toward Mr. Stuart trying desperately to get the documentary to begin projecting on the dry erase board.

……

Capricorn walked down the halls barefoot, still expressing her annoyance with Cancer treating her like a child. “Stupid crab-boy…” she muttered. She wanted to know what Cancer teased her about, but it was impossible to ask Libra about it without drawing suspicion. Capricorn wasn’t sure if what she did would qualify for punishment of any kind from Libra. Cancer was her mentor, so maybe he was doing it to scare her? Was she really going to be punished as badly as he was making it out to be? She couldn’t tell-- Libra was strict, but she was also kind and understanding.

“It is our job to watch over the humans when Zeus and his legion cannot, but you are strictly forbidden from directly communicating with those who know not of the other realms,” was what Libra once said. “So you must exercise caution when I send you on Overworld missions.”

“Don’t humans know about angels and demons already? What’s the point about making sure they don’t see us?” Capricorn remembered arguing.

“Thousands of years ago, back when many Gods and Goddesses lived in the Overworld alongside humans on Mount Olympus, it wasn’t such a concern. We were the neutral beings that served to protect humans when they were subject to the manipulative will of Gods time and time again,” Libra said. “That was before the War of Ruination. Many fled Mount Olympus in anticipation of destructive battle between Typhon, the Monster King, and those who decided to stay and defend the Overworld. Us included.”

“Oh yeah! Feels like I forgot about that…”

A small, knowing smile formed on Libra’s face, although her eyes were obscured by her long fringe. “It’s not a bother. When the Zodiac spirits are reborn, we lose our memories of the past life in exchange for a new one. I am the exception since I must keep balance of many natural orders.”

“The Gods agreed to leave the Overworld to the humans after the world ended, didn’t they? It’s why we have to deal with rogue demons running amok all the time, ‘cuz Hades is a lazy bastard,” Cancer chimed in.

“Your unnecessary comment aside, yes. But we are the closest thing humans have to neutrality in terms of divine interventions. As far as they are concerned, Gods watch over them from an unseen realm since it’s been so long since they have walked the Earth. The oracles also lost their purpose, so the history of human life before the War of Ruination disappeared with time. Based on what Gemini has discovered from her observations of humans since then, they know little of the ancient world lost to the earth’s tomb. The modern humans are a unique case, to say the least. They have not needed our divine guidance since the Gods have left, so it is more important that we perform our unseen duties and contain the scourges that plague the Overworld. Humans don’t see angels and demons as tangible beings; instead, it seems that they’ve been reduced to mere legend. The human world has practically forgotten about us except for the Hunters.”

“Maybe it’s best it stays that way. Hunters like Solomon needn’t be resurrecting the Old World to mortals that don’t need to know,” Cancer said.

“Hm…” Capricorn remembered the conversation was a serious matter in Libra’s eyes, so she needed to ask someone that she knew was able to keep secrets.

“I know! Virgo might still be here.” The spry spirit made way down the seemingly endless hall of pillars leading to Virgo’s part of the Sky Temple. Virgo was a spirit that tended to keep to herself when she wasn’t given any hefty tasks to deal with, and Capricorn often found her in her garden rather than her actual room she used for sleeping. Taking a sharp left at the end of the hall, she could hear the faint strums of a harp echoing through the archway, indicative of the Zodiac’s presence.

Virgo’s garden was a product of her magic that manipulated the earth, so the room was an extension of her Earth constructs. The floor was an endless blanket of grass soft to the touch and cool under Capricorn’s bare feet, swathed in a sea of flowers with vibrant shades. She could hear the hum of flowing water from a distant pond being filled by a waterfall coming out through one of the walls. Capricorn passed by many pink and purple wildflowers of many types, soon approaching an area filled with white morning-glories that upon close glance, gave off a warm glow. Seated on a tree trunk in the middle of the flowers sat the Zodiac spirit Virgo with her back turned to Capricorn.

Virgo was a young maiden with a warm overtone of skin only the sun’s rays could bestow. Her short, wavy hair stuck up in small tufts, kept tame by a crown of morning-glories that sat on her head. Today, she wore a pale orchid-colored dress with many translucent layers. Attached to her arms were three cuffs that had the same type of light fabric attached to them; her ethereal attire piled up at her feet, but did not obstruct her playing of the large harp nestled in front of her. Each note was gently plucked, delivering a soothing lullaby to anyone within range. Just the harp alone made Capricorn feel instantly relaxed, but after she stepped forward and closed the distance between herself and Virgo, the continuous flow of notes stopped. Virgo looked over her shoulder to look at the silent spectator that entered her peaceful space; her deep emerald eyes were dull, lacking the shine that one would normally see. As though her eyes alone absorbed the light. This effect made her rather gentle gaze look intimidating to anyone who wasn’t used to looking her in the eye.

“... I was practicing,” came her quiet voice.

“I-I know. Sorry. I just… wanted to talk.” Capricorn sat down on the grass next to the trunk Virgo was sitting on. “It’s kind of a secret only me and Cancer know about, so you won’t tell anybody, right?”

“That depends,” Virgo replied. “Did you do something bad?” Her hands gently traced the notes she was originally playing, without plucking the strings as she kept her eyes trained on the younger Zodiac. “Libra will be angry.”

“W-well, I don’t really know if I did something bad. It’s just something I need to talk to somebody about that isn’t Libra. You’re good at keeping secrets.” Virgo was one of the higher-ranked Zodiacs; she was both experienced and powerful after all.

A quiet sigh came through Virgo’s nose before she smiled. “I suppose you’re right. I never did say Cancer was the one who damaged the pillars during his sword training.” The memory caused both of the girls to chuckle softly with each other.

“Then I’m counting on you not to tell anyone! So this is what happened…”

...
...
...

Olivia had enjoyed her small nap during social studies class, and luckily managed to get away with it for about 20 minutes while Mr. Stuart used the time to grade papers. Damien didn’t have such a luxury for napping at school, so he decided to do her a favor and share his notes with her on the footage so that she wouldn’t be lost on the off change she was called on to participate in the discussion. Neither of them had any more classes together for the rest of the morning, so they merely gave each other awkward glances and nervous smiles that were pinched a little too tightly. Damien almost let Olivia walk to her next class without any other exchange of words, but put his hesitation aside to stop her by grabbing hold of her jacket sleeve. She looked at him over her shoulder, surprised.

“Yes?”

No resistance. Damien wasn’t expecting that after their ‘conversation’ from yesterday. It caught him off guard that she wasn’t trying to keep her distance or put up a front of hostility. For a moment, he almost lost the courage he mustered to catch her attention for a minute.

“Would it be okay,” he started out slowly, not wanting to stumble on his words. “If we sit together for lunch?” Even though they discussed the matter before class, he wasn’t sure if she had already forgot about that and didn’t want to make things uncomfortable later.

Olivia blinked at him with a blank expression before her mouth pulled up at the corners with an apologetic smile. “I already said it was fine, dude. It gets boring sitting with the same people everyday anyway. See you later!” She took off to her next class before Damien could say anything else.

He exhaled through his nose with a lopsided smile.

I guess she isn't that upset with me, but we really do need to talk about it at some point.

The only problem was that it was a risky endeavor and he already just wanted Olivia to forget about everything, as impossible as it was. He wished for both her and Veronica to simply not remember any of it, lest it follow them forever. Normal people weren't supposed to know what he did. Anxious about the eventual confrontation, he tried his best to focus through the rest of the classes until the lunch break. When the time finally came, he made a beeline for the cafeteria to get the best food first. His nerves began to affect his appetite, so Damien chose to snag the first tray of chicken nuggets he could see. Accompany that with a handful of smiley-face tater tots and a milk carton with an apple, and he had a simple enough tray for a stomach whose sensitivity was hardwired to his nerves. Although, his last school was in a small enough town that had more appetizing selections, but that was because it was a private school that was better equipped with its budgeting choices.

Never know what you got until it's gone, huh… Damien joked to himself. Then, he turned around to see how full and lively the cafeteria was. Teenagers bustling between seats like a school of fish. But he was unable to spot Olivia in the sea of heads until he caught sight of her arm. She was waving him over to a table where Veronica was also sitting. A few other girls he didn't recognize were also occupying the seats around them. They didn’t look like people Olivia knew, so he figured they were Vee’s friends.

“Thanks for savin’ me a spot. Place is packed,” Damien said to Olivia while sitting down. He gave the girls staring at him curiously a shy smile and and a wave. “Oh, uh, hey…”

“Who’s the new guy? Is he your boyfriend, Olive?” One of the girls teased, causing Olivia to go red in the face. Veronica didn’t say anything, choosing to take a bite out of her lunch and avoiding any comments.

“No! We’re just... friends,” Olivia stammered, pressing a hand onto her cheek to try and hide it. “He’s not a new kid anyway. He moved back after spending a while in… New York?”

“Huh? Was that the kid you used to hang out with until like… a little after eighth grade graduation?” This one was a girl Damien somewhat recognized, since they went to the same middle school. He forgot her name, but knew who she was relative to Vee and Olivia’s clique.

“Y-yeah, we’ve been basically friends since we were in first grade.” Olivia laughed nervously, her flush fading. Damien let her do most of the talking so that he could simply eat his lunch in peace. After some back and forth banter, Veronica finally broke her silence, although unexpectedly.

“Geesh, you girls are too nosy! It’s been forever since they last got to do anything together, so we should leave them be!” Vee said boisterously. Damien didn’t think she would do it considering the air between each other was rather tense. “The line got pretty short, so you’d better snag what you can since you’ve been blabbing away.”

“What? No way! Quick, Violet, they’re gonna run out of the good stuff!”

“Shit! That’s what you get for sticking’ your nose where it doesn’t belong and asking dumb questions!”

Vee rubbed her temples at how annoying her friends could be, but she was relieved to buy them some time alone as a small group without any outsiders nearby. “Sorry about that. They’re just so… ugh sometimes.” She handwaved them dismissively.

“Vee…” Olivia trailed off.

“Before you ask, I’m fine now.” Veronica looked at Damien with a slight grimace. “As long as that thing isn’t around you, we’re cool, alright?”

The no-nonsense statement threw Damien off. “Of course. If I knew you guys were there, none of that would’ve happened. I’d have made sure of it,” he managed to get out.

“It’s fine, I guess… at least, if Olivia is letting you sit at the table, it’s fine with me. I know you guys have been friends longer than I have with either of you.” Veronica clapped her hands together. “So let’s lighten up the conversation cause I don’t wanna dwell on this any longer. You got the notes I asked you to bring, girlie?”

“Oh, uh, yeah.” Olivia awkwardly shuffled papers around in her backpack, trying to keep Damien from spotting the dolly out of avoiding any further embarrassment. Quickly, she pulled out the notebook containing her history notes and slid it across the table, zipping up her backpack swiftly after.

“Nice, nice!” Vee took out her phone and began to take photos of the notes for later copying. “I already went around all my classes’ rooms to get the homework I missed yesterday. They’re giving me an extension since I called in sick, but it’s all due Monday,” she reported.

“Aw, man… does that mean you can’t come and hang out at my house tonight?” Olivia pouted. “Assuming you’re even gonna do it all tonight anyway.”

“Hey! I’ll have you know I have a relatively consistent work ethic,” Veronica said. “I’ve got enough homework that I can’t leave it for Sunday like I usually do anyway. So hanging out is a no-go for me tonight.”

“Do you guys hang out every Friday?” Damien asked.

“We try…” Veronica replied.

“My mom’s gonna come home kinda late today, so… I don’t want to be alone in my house…” Olivia whispered the last part of her sentence into Damien’s ear since he was sitting close by. “Are you free Damien? It’s okay if you--”

“I’m free tonight,” Damien responded without thinking. He blinked hard realizing what he just blurted out. Olivia cocked an eyebrow, not expecting him to have said yes at all.

“Really? D-don’t bring--”

“I won’t. He’ll be fine having my house to himself as long as I come home before my mom does. Which is usually around 9 or 10 since she’s always working overtime,” he affirmed. “I’ll just call my house phone and he’ll probably answer it.”

“I see… then, I’ll give you a ride back to my house. Mom left money so I can get myself dinner, but we should be able to stretch it for a pizza and some snacks. I got drinks at home.” Olivia began to talk excitedly at the thought of finally getting to spend some time with Damien like normal people for once.

Veronica looked between the two with furrowed eyebrows, looking a bit annoyed at the idea of letting a magnet of misfortune like Damien get anywhere near Olivia. Straightening out her expression, she haughtily chimed in. “Guess I won’t have to worry about my lil’ Olivia being alone to herself. Nothing is worse than having a free night and nobody to hang with. Have fun, cause we’re supposed to get more rainy weather tonight. No surprise there though.” Vee said with a lopsided smile. In the end, she wanted nothing more than for Olivia to be happy, and to forget about the ordeals she was going through for a little bit.

“Say,” Vee asked Olivia, “What’s up with your face? It looks kinda funny around the nose. Did you forget to put makeup everywhere else?” She joked.

“And what’s up with your neck? It looks like you used the wrong shade to cover up the marks,” Olivia retorted.

“Can you see the bruising?” Veronica paled.

Olivia held up her hands nervously, smiling apologetically. “N-not at all, I was just joking, Vee.”

"Geez! Don’t mess with me like that!" Vee puffed up her cheeks. She glanced up and saw the girls come back with their food, starting up another conversation about nothing in particular. Damien looked over, noticing Olivia never got a tray from the cafeteria. It looked like she ate whatever she found in her pantry; a meager granola bar and a juice box. Worriedly, he slid his tray over towards her and began portioning all the food that remained on his tray. Olivia began to reject his offerings.

"I’m fine, I’m just not feeling well…"

"You literally slept through class this morning and you’re eating like three bites of food. I don’t mind sharing,” Damien insisted. “I doubt you ate breakfast either."

“You’re such a mom,” Olivia groaned before yawning impulsively and taking a bite out of a shared nugget.

“Hey, it’s called having a routine. At my old school, we had to do exercise all the time to stay in shape, so I’d pass out if I didn’t eat breakfast beforehand,” Damien said indignantly. “I’m also on the swim team. A couch potato like you wouldn’t understand,” he joked before sticking his tongue out childishly at her.

“I very much enjoy a low-energy lifestyle! Granted, I’ve never been one to eat breakfast in the morning. I’m never hungry around then…”

The rest of lunch flew by with little boredom, as the teenagers kept each other amused and relaxed, at least until the bell buzzed to send them back to the classrooms. Olivia, however, was so excited about the evening’s prospects that she couldn’t pay attention in her other classes. Giddy with delight, she was busy writing down ideas for what snacks they could buy and what they could do once they would arrive at her house. Movies? Old shows? Video games she hadn’t taken out for some time? There were many options, but it was perhaps easiest to stream some old comedy shows that they used to watch together. Hopefully he was still into them, and if not, they could play some multiplayer games on her old console that’s still plugged into the wall. Olivia scribbled down a short list of shows they would easily find through the on-demand services available, and luckily wasn’t caught by her teachers for not paying much attention to the subject matter at hand. It just looked like someone taking diligent notes. The minute the school’s bell rang to announce the end of the school day, Olivia rushed to her locker for a quick exchange of notebooks and textbooks before making a beeline for Damien’s locker.

“Hey! Ready to go?” She asked him excitedly.

“You know it! So, what’s the plan? Are we gonna raid the grocery store first?”

“Yup! I got the list and everything. We just need to be careful about our budget.”

“Bah, that’s easy. We’ll just get everything off-brand. They taste mostly the same anyway,” Damien said as they walked through the halls, heading into the parking lot with the oncoming flood of students ready to celebrate the beginning of their weekend. He took pride in being a bargain hunter.

“Sounds good to me. As long as we get enough change for pizza.” She quickly unlocked the doors to her car for both of them to get in. Damien took out his phone and called his home phone. After a few rings, it finally picked up.

“Yeah?” Nicor’s husky voice was on the other side.

“Don’t wait for me. I’m going to Olivia’s house, so feel free to do whatever you want. In the house,” Damien emphasized.

“Who’d have thought you’d be up to pretending like you’re a normal teenager? Well, it is the big city, so you’re bound to get bored doing the same-old same-old. Have fun, kid.”

“You’re awfully… cheery.”

“Because I get the day off without any brats like you bothering me! I get to do whatever I want and relax! A demon’s gotta have some R&R too, y’know. Even if I’m an Exile.”

“Yeah yeah.” Damien hung up the phone and sighed in relief. He was kind of glad to have such a slacker demon like Nicor, because he was content with leaving Damien alone for a short while. They’ve been forced to be in the same space ever since they started the Contract, so a little breathing room was nice. “Alright, I’m ready to roll.” The two exchanged genuine smiles before beginning the drive to the supermarket in search of their customary party food.




Whew lads! It's been a while. This chapter is 7,227 words long! The longest chapter yet! So long in fact, I had to split what I originally wanted to be as one chapter into two. Mostly because this was a dialogue and description-heavy chapter to help characterize Damien more (he needs some love from dear Creator), and I need to slow the pace down before anything major comes next. Just some happy kids doing happy things! I also wanted to stick in some neat lore so it doesn't seem like a dull chapter :)

The next chapter should hopefully wrap up this part of the arc. The Zodiac scene will be expanded on at the beginning of the next chappie

As always, thank you for your patience. Maybe that's why I made it so long, haha!

Also, I proofread this as much as humanly possible, so hopefully there isn't any weird inconsistencies. Also also, site is being a jerk and won't correctly put the chapter into a spoiler
 
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