Happy women's day! I know it probably sounds really empty and fake coming from a guy, but I really mean it. Like... if you're cis, transgender, black, or literally like undead... I want you to know that you deserve respect, not only today but every day. There isn't really a day when I feel like I need to be reprimanded for writing from the pov of women or people of any culture that isn't mine. Then again, if I only wrote from my perspective, you'd be getting "Setting you free" and "Top ten mistakes you'll never make" every submission. I don't claim to know everyone's problems when I write from their perspective; I just try to emulate the world in words.
You know that feeling where you miss someone you barely even know? That everything hurts, despite the fact that your heart tells it not to? When the world stops because everyone's gone? Yeah, let's just say I don't feel that way about Vedette.
Now, I know what you're thinking; I let some hot goth girl run away after she kissed me, and I should totally try to bring her back.
Try total annihilation instead. What kind of bitch kidnaps my best friend and takes off so I can become "stronger".
"So," I peer up at Nœl. "How am I supposed to do this again?"
He breathes in slowly, obviously trying to stay calm. "Vedette has assigned a series of tests to you,"
"Shit," I mumble. "Could they be open book? Nevermind, I'd probably still fail them"
He eyes me curiously, placing a hand on his crisp brown suit. "I'm not sure you understand. Think of them like games"
"Except I have a chance of dying?"
"Perhaps," Nœl entertains the thought with way too much glee. "It seems as if Vedette has gone off script. You should tread lightly"
"Trust me," I snort. "I'm not planning to do that. Anima, show me the way!"
The woods stay silent, devoid of any magic or pink energy lighting up in my hands.
"Um," I shake my phone. "Do I need to charge it? Or maybe I should be Dora? Maybe my phone can start singing like a map"
"I hardly think that should work," Nœl criticizes. "You have to think harder. If Vedette had told me everything she planned, I could have taught you how to use your Anima to find the first trial she's placed"
"You would have helped me?"
Maybe I should have hidden some of the surprise from my voice. The god stares at me for a moment, bewildered before chuckling softly. "Caddy, I never truly wanted to kill you. I simply had to"
"Why couldn't you just convince that Aman guy that he already has a ton of power? Then we wouldn't be in this mess"
"Aman is," Nœl pondered for a second before deciding on a word choice. "Difficult. Anyway, he's already dead. Even if he listened to me in this timeline, it's not like he'd listen in the next timeline"
"Would he know about this timeline in the next one?"
"It's hard to say. He'd most likely have some memory"
"What about me?"
"Huh?" his lighthearted smile fades away for a moment. "What do you mean?"
"Am I in the next timeline? Is Carson?"
"No," Nœl quickly determines. "Well... you won't be born in that timeline"
"Then why add that well?"
"You literally fucking did. What are you hiding?"
He sighs, taking out a small pocket watch to polish its already smooth gold edge. "Caddy, many people would like your power. What you're unable to harness yourself can be extracted-"
"Great," I nod. "Then let's do that"
"Through death," Nœl finishes solemnly. "We'd have to kill you to take your power. That's what we were originally planning to do before we decided on keeping you inside a prison"
"And you would have given my power to that other girl with Anima," I figure out. The god tries to hide his shock, but I ignore it. Don't think that the stupid girls are always wrong.
"Yes," he admits, hanging his head lower.
"You thought I was useless. You didn't trust me"
"To be fair," Nœl coughs into his handkercheif. "You also tried to throw yourself off of a roof"
"Oh my god," I scream. "Can everyone just shut up about me being a fucking idiot already?"
And just like that, the pink glow comes back. I flip over my hand, staring in awe at the still unfamiliar pink mist cascading off my hand.
"Just as I suspected," he holds my hand, inspecting the rosy fog. "You'll have to go to the roof you jumped off. That's where her first trial is"
"Are you sure?"
"Your Anima activated at the thought of it. You'll need to work on making your conscious desires come true, but that can wait. I still can't believe Vedette would do something unorthodox like this"
"You didn't think the girl who bitched about you would ever betray you? Are all the gods stupid?"
That gives him a little laugh. "We're not gods in your traditional sense, Caddy. Religion still exists. The existence of supernatural beings doesn't deny the existence of any others. There's room for enough reason in the world for more than one god"
"So basically you're trying to use the excuse that since other people exist, you don't have to be smart"
"I haven't met anyone like you in a little while. It's funny that you still act like her, despite the age difference"
"The other Anima child. She... she isn't important right now," Nœl pulls at his collar nervously.
"It sounds like your lying about a lot of foreshadowing"
"Just go to your roof," he waves me off, disappearing into a tornado of gold glitter.
Wow, deja vu. Leaving me alone again? At least it's the forest that's on fire instead of my mind.
Mayweather set my home on fire.
It's all on fire.
I trudge through the desolate forest, covering my converses in a thick layer of dirt and dust. I scoff at my shoes, not even bothering to clean them off. Under normal circumstances, I don't really think it'd be that weird for me to go back to Olympus, but it feels like a year ago. I can barely even remember its name.
Eventually, I reach the deserted train car, it's windows cracked from crashing to the ground after the passengers left. I guess the time travelers wanted to leave no train unturned.
"Okay," I breathe in quickly, looking toward my faintly glowing hands. "C'mon, Anima... you can do this"
To be honest, I think Anima has more of an idea of what I want it to do than me. If it had a face, it'd be staring me in the face just like Vedette would, hands on her hips, brushing her dark hair behind her head...
Wow. Let's not go there. I breathe in again, trying to focus my energy on the train. "Just take me to the roof," I tell it. "Please... somehow. I don't even care"
I can sense the magic cocking its head at me like "Girl, you realize what you askin'?". Before I can correct myself, the car vaults into the air, carrying me with it.
"What the fuck!" I scream at the rose-colored energy now surging from my hands. The exertion is too much, teaming up with the sheer force of the rising train to bring me to my knees. I stare up through the windows now facing the rising sun, the purple and orange sky shining directly onto my face as the floating stops for a second.
Of course, what comes up must go down as well.
I don't even bother screaming as the weight falls from my chest, plunging along with the car as we cascade down, heading straight for the city.
"Okay," after trying (and failing) to calm my breathing, I direct my attention to the Anima still pouring from my hands. "Maybe we shouldn't just like... drop onto the ground? A parachute would be nice!"
A single tiny white parchment ejects from the back of the train, keeping us at nearly the same velocity.
Great, so I guess my magic shares the same sense of humor as me.
"Maybe some more?" the fear in my voice begins to rise as the charred remains of Ms. Trachard's home come closer and closer. "Like, a lot more?"
More fabric shoots from the back of the car, dropping me to my knees again as the pull up drags toward the sky. At least I'm safe though, right?
Eventually, I'm at a safe enough distance to simply hop out of the car onto the roof. "Maybe don't crash down onto the ground?"
A familiar tug pulls at my hands as the train car shoots back up into the sky. I wince before shrugging.
"If Anima wants to be fucking annoying," I reason. "Then maybe it deserves this"
I shoot up the stairs two steps at a time, reaching the roof in only a few seconds. Charred bears and discarded bunnies stare back up at me from the floor of the nursery while destroyed ensembles rip at my heart. All those outfits they never got to wear. Ms. Trachard used to tell us that we should set aside a nice outfit just in case we ever needed it. How many unworn dresses were destroyed from the fire? All those untethered dreams and worlds spinning around without a rope to hold them down.
It's almost like a labyrinth, scratching at the back of my mind. The halls I've run through thousands of times have become a mystery. Every locked door is just another vindictive person in front of me, chaining me down to the reality I've never known.
Somehow, my feet stand directly in front of Olympus, at least, what's still left. The remnants of the rain drip off of the cords that used to hold sparkling fairy lights crowded amongst the couch Carson and I bought from-
A laugh breaks out from my lips as I recall the scene. Ms. Trachard brought us to a woman selling her couch from her living room. I mean, I had assumed it'd be a normal day. It didn't occur to the not so innocent freshman year me what could have happened. We were ushered in quickly by the woman as Ms. Trachard's face fell, horror passing over her usually calm expression.
A pole. That's all it took for Carson and me to start laughing and for Ms. Trachard's face to go bright red. The woman told us beforehand that she was a 'dancer' working from home. I guess Trachard didn't use her creativity to realize what that entailed.
The warm feelings flood inside of me as a large weight connects with my neck, tough and stiff. When I rub my hands around it, the happiness floods out, replaced with only pure fear.
"No," I pull at the downward-facing noose. "No!"
Is this what Nœl meant by trials. "Vedette," I hiss. "I know you did this. Please, just-"
A sharp, high-pitched laugh interrupts my pity. "Funny how it always ends up this way"
The world falls away to a foggy black world as the rope drags me to the ground. I struggle for a moment before a piercing jab comes from my side, immobilizing me.
"The hero always ends up like this," the time traveler's boots eclipse my vision as her sultry voice drifts over me. "I don't even know why you're trying"
"You tried to kidnap Carson!" I retort. She laughs again, sickeningly sweet.
"You didn't have to accept Anima," Vedette pulls out a thin knife, holding it precariously above my head. "You could have died!"
"That's really your bargaining chip?" a small laugh wafts from my mouth, hoarse and thin. "I could have died or saved the world?"
"There will be no world to save once I'm done with it!" Vedette screeches.
"Talk about a 180," I mumble. "What about all that 'noble time traveler act'?"
"Sometimes I forget how dull the world is," she pretends to swoon. "Oh, what a curse it is to be talented"
"Are you trying to make me hate you?"
"Caddy," Vedette wipes the knife against her black lace shawl, pursing the thin maroon lips that crashed against my own in what seems like a year ago. "There's no reason to love me. Are you still caught up over that kiss?"
"Don't you dare," I bare my teeth. "If you're going to kill me, you better do it already. Why don't you just end it!"
"Oh," she throws the knife carelessly behind her. "I hardly think that should work... you'll have to think harder. If I told you everything, you wouldn't learn how to use your Anima consciously"
"But I already did that entire thing with the train!" I protest.
"Good," a smile creeps up on her face. "Then this should be a piece of cake. I need you to learn how to harness your Anima, Caddy"
"I don't like how you said that"
"Well," Vedette flourishes behind me. "There are many uses for Anima besides the ones you were told. Nœl's simply afraid of the power you could harness... or the power I could take"
"Just fucking tell me what you're planning to do!"
"That'd be too easy," Vedette decides. "Good things come to those who wait. Now... since you've learned too much of my ulterior motives, we might as well speed up the process. How would you like to face all those trials at once?"
"Hmm... you're right. You wouldn't even survive one. I'll collect your Anima when you die, Caddy"
"You kissed me! Won't you miss me if I d-"
I choke on the words, giving her another laugh. "The one thing you have to learn is trust. How many times did I warn you of what I was capable of?"
"You won't kill me"
"Keep believing that," Vedette snaps her finger, allowing some slack on the rope. "Let's see how long you last"
She disappears in a thin cloud of red smoke, leaving me alone once more.
"Help!" I shout, trying to pull my body up. There has to be a way out of here, but how? I wasn't given any instruction. How did she expect me to es-
Oh. My heart sinks as I realize it all. She didn't... she didn't love me.
Was she even capable of love? Or was it just me?
The pitch-black walls begin to close in at a grueling pace as I struggle on the rope, trying to snap the binds. Even if I do break them, what's going to happen.
"Karma," I whisper. I tried to help everyone out when they were going through something hard, and now I'm in the deepest shit. "Please... please, please, please please!"
I saved all those unspoken wishes, right? Can't I use them now? "I need to escape," I tell my Anima. "Is there... how do I get out?"
Is it bad that I expected it to speak? Of course, the thought proves as useless as my incessant struggling. I'm trapped here unless I can figure out how to break free from the ropes.
"Take me somewhere else!" I tell the magic. "What do I have to do?"
A deep hum reverberates from my core as the shifty peach glow envelops my body.
"Carson's house," I decide, answering the unasked question. "Please... quickly!"
I close my eyes tight as a sound that can only be described as reversed vacuum explodes through the shrinking room. When I open them cautiously, I'm up to my waist in yellowing grass and familiar flowers.
"Mums," I breathe in their sweet scent. When I turn around, the next familiar picture comes into view.
I've never been happier to see that drab old house. And even though I can't tell for sure, I know with each step I'm coming closer to Vedette and Carson.
"You're it," I whisper through parched lips.