Chapter 1 ''The damned and their fate''
''The only true friend of the damned is also their enemy...''
With a cry, revealing my anger and utmost relief, I got out of the gate and entered the Entrance Hall while slightly wobbling. I was exhausted beyond belief, but had enough energy to:
''Lavi, you idiot! You almost got us killed!'' I yelled, or at least tried to, while holding a bundle in my hands. Lavi entered just in time to hear my yell, panting while holding his knees. He was in no better shape than me.
''Say what?! How is this my fault?!'' he yelled, walking towards me after catching his breath, irritation clear on his face. His whole appearance was disheveled: the uniform that could protect us from fire dissolved and turned into nothing but racks, his skin red from the battle, hair ruffled, his chest-rapidly lifting and falling and gaze firing lightning. Lavi was as pissed as me.
''Who was the genius who entered the river, huh? Certainly not me, that's for sure!'' I yelled myself, feeling dull ache in my chest, a sign that I had for the umpteenth time over-worked myself, but too stubborn to pay any attention to it.
''I thought they got you! And besides, as you look at it, we were all into the water!'' His gaze didn't waver, didn't soften as he was SO adamant on lecturing me.
My level of irritation was getting increasingly high and Lavi only seemed adamant on increasing it.
''You were on the safer side of the bank, there wasn't much poison there!'' I growled. Damn, my head was killing me as well.
''And how many times have I told you not to shoulder it all alone! What's the point of being a team if we don't work together.''
He was right and rationally I knew it, but trying to talk sense to my irritated self was impossible.
Good thing the whole place was empty. We got back in the middle of the night and the few people who were there went to inform the higher-ups of our return.
To make things clear. Why were we angry?
What do you mean ''why''? The answer: a mission.
A mission, which wasn't particularly pleasant or easy; a mission that left us both extremely exhausted and irritable.
We were sent in India because of a clue of an Innocence fragment. There were rumors of a girl in a small village who was said to be able to heal various injuries and speed up the healing of diseases; a girl with incredible knowledge of healing, something impressive for her age.
Lavi and I were quite intrigued, to say the least. Especially me. I wanted to talk to the girl to help Lavi after what had happened.
Six months ago a lot of things changed in the worse way possible. Our comrades were killed, tortured, casted away; a lot of people lost hope or their path.
Allen had run away. Kanda was considered dead. Lavi had been kidnapped, together with Bookman. We had no news of the whereabouts of the four exorcists and I was getting desperate. Everyone relied on me to find them, since I was, after all, an exorcist radio station and knew everything and so on...Well, big surprise, I couldn't find them and Lvellie used every available chance to rub it into my face. The sucker was even crankier after what happened with Link.
Everything changed when one day Marrie and Miranda came back from their mission, carrying unconscious, bloodied and bruised Lavi. They said they found him floating in the river near by their gate point. Just like that, he appeared there, out of nowhere. The wounds he sustained were gruesome, we were all shocked when he was brought to the infirmary.
That night when we stood by his bed. Everyone, including me, cried tears of joy and relief. Back then I felt as if some weight had fallen off my shoulders. He was back to us. He was alive.
When Lavi woke up, two days later, he had no memories of what'd happened to him, where he'd been held and even at the beginning he didn't recognize us or his surroundings. He had no recollection of his experience with the Noah or what could've happened with Bookman. At least I managed to assure him that Bookman was alive, but I was still unable to pinpoint his exact location. I had some problems with my powers. They had decreased significantly for some unknown reason six months ago and I couldn't do anything like I used to. Ever since the accident in North America.
Lavi had returned around a month ago.
Anyway, back to the mission.
I wanted to meet the girl in question to ask her if she could help him with his amnesia and the damage his body still had. Lavi would lie to us, but I could feel his pain when it hit him, but I didn't need my abilities to notice it. It was a bit creepy how I've learned his body's language. I needed to take a look at him and I just knew: sometimes his right eye would hurt, or he would still in his movements or talking, his whole body would tense, but every time I asked him, he'd brush it off, as if it didn't matter.
Because I didn't matter...
Anyway off topic, again.
We found the girl. Needless to say, the things didn't go as planned. Shocker...
While Lavi and I sill busied each other with glaring, the bundle in my arms started moving. It was covered in my jacket, so I gently moved it to reveal the small head of a ten-year-old girl staring at me sleepily and with curiosity in her puffy red eyes.
The so-said-healer was a 10-year-old girl. Surprise mother-fucker.
She was actually very tiny and light for her weight. Someone would think she was a breakable porcelain doll. I was a bit above 160 cm and she could barely reach the middle of my thighs. Her skin was milky white, pale even for the natives with pale complexions. Her hair was the colour of raven feathers, lightly deflecting the light which was casted on it. Her eyes were her most unique trait. They were red. Well, not entirely red. She had some sort of genetic disorder which didn't allow much pigment into her eyes and their colour was some strange mixture of green and red.
She was a really sweet girl. Innocent and well mannered, still, she had her dark sides. Her innocent and curious eyes hid terrifyingly big intelligence. She could turn from a sweet 10-year-old to a sassy little dwarf.
Her name was Oxana. Her parents were fugitives, but because of her appearance a lot of people called her Oni(demon). The cocky little brat she was, she accepted it as something really special and used it on every occasion. Before anyone realized, they started calling her Oni, and she only allowed her close people to call her Oxana. Either that or she hated her real name, kill me, I had no idea.
Oni lived with her grandmother, her parents had died long ago. Her grandmother was bed-ridden and on her way to die. After listening to our story and contemplating it for a few days she made us promise to take care of her little girl. She passed soon after that. We stayed long enough to give her a proper burial and prepare everything needed. Took us some more time since the villagers wanted to say their goodbyes. She was really loved by a lot of people.
When we were on our way to the gate point by the river, we were attacked by level 2 demons. Just to tell you: deadly poison plus foam plus river equals to a major battle where you end up wet whether you want it or not.
I came back to the present situation when Oni started squirming and I set her on the ground with Lavi's help. It was so weird. I knew the girl for a bit more than a week and I had taken a special liking to her, as if she was my little sister or daughter. Looking at Lavi, the fondness in his eyes and the way the two interacted, I could tell he felt the same way. These two had already formed a special bond with each other.
The little girl turned around, eyeing the place. Lavi and I looked at each other, calming a bit. It seemed Oni was calmer after her gran's funeral, she'd cried quite the amount of tears, but it was normal. She was only a kid that recently lost her last living relative. And Lavi and I were just teenagers entrusted with the care of that kid.
It was still sinking in. We were going to take care of someone else and we could barely take care of ourselves. Not to mention that with this my situation with Lavi was a bit complicated...
Just before we could say or do anything, we heard the clacking of shoes and saw Lenalee, Timothy and Emilia running towards us. Lenalee and Tim must've returned a bit before us from their mission as they were bandaged up but still wore their tattered uniforms. They had it rough as well.
Timothy and Emilia crashed into me while Lenalee into Lavi. I hugged them tight as well; after what happened half a year ago, no one knew when we would see each other again...or if we would see each other. Oni hid behind our legs. The kid was super smart, sassy and a lot more, but she was still a kid.
''We're so glad that you're back.'' said Lenalee, sending us a small smile. After taking a close look at her face, I could clearly see dark circles under her eyes. She didn't have it easy either. She knew the others for longer than us, grew up with them and their absence was taking its toll on her as well. ''How was the mission?''
''Um...'' I stammered, not knowing what to exactly stay. How do you explain that you suddenly had adopted a 10-year-old demon-like girl together with your mission partner/crush/complicated person?
''We found more than we bargained for. We have a new recruit.'' Lavi said, lifting Oni in his arms. The easiness with which he did it and how fondly he held her to his chest made my heart do a summersault. She encircled her hands around his neck and hid her face in it, sending shy glances towards the three, finally stopping at Tim.
'Of course...'I chuckled. 'After all, they are close at age.'
It was adorable as Oni kept staring at him and Tim could only look right back at her, his ears coloring adorably and sticking out because of their contrast with his turquoise hair. Probably the kids wouldn't have it that hard.
I turned towards Lenalee and Emilia, who watched the display with fondness.
''Luna?'' I asked them. Luna and Crowley had gone together on a mission at the same time as us. It looked like they were still gone.
Lenalee shook her head. I sighed.
And that's when my body couldn't take it anymore, the anxiety, the worry and mostly the strain I put myself through as my heart suddenly clenched, causing a sudden pain in my chest.
It happened from time to time, a sweet reminder my body liked to send me and remind me that I'm still human. The last mission I went to was really something. Overexertion was understatement. It took me three weeks to be able to move freely without the possibility of fainting and a week and a half more to be allowed to train. Just so you know, to be bed-ridden for over a month sucks.
Lavi, of course, noticed it, and with Oni in his hands, he came to me.
''Go to the infirmary to check you up.'' He said, his voice low and stern, giving no chance for arguments. He and Luna were the only ones who knew of my spasms.
I glared at him and rolled my eyes. My irritation with him returned at full force.
''I'm fine.'' It was a blunt lie and I hated how he could read so easily, even though I had improved with my lies.
Lavi grabbed my wrist. I was just about to tell him to hold Oni tighter instead, but she was so tiny that even one hand was too much for her. He held my gaze with his stern one and seemed adamant on making me understand his point of view, which I did.
I really did, damn it. But it wasn't so simple...
''Yeah, I believed you.'' he snorted, giving me a pointed stare. Oni watched us with interest in her eyes. There was no way for her not to know about the things between us. We were obvious like ''a sore thumb'' as her grandmother had said.
''I'll take care of it.'' Lavi stated, his fingers gliding over my hand. ''You take Oni to the Infirmary. You got badly injured. Both of you.'' He locked my gaze and refused to look away, as if he cared.
''I'm fine. '' I said, pulling my hand away, but Lavi only tightened his hold. He had enough problems and he dealt with my own as well. I was disgusted with myself for being so selfish. I gritted my teeth. ''Besides,'' I said, raising my voice a bit "we need to take Oni to Hevlaska.''
Lavi tightened his hold on my wrist, and I already felt the bruise forming, but didn't look away.
''We can do it.'' said Timothy, sounding way to excited. ''How about it Lenalee? We were headed there anyway.''
''Um...'' I wondered, but Lavi gave them the green flag. I wasn't getting away easily.
''What's your name?'' asked Tim, with an excited gleam in his eyes. He probably was on cloud nine for having someone his age.
Oni hid her face again in Lavi's neck.
''Oxana, but people call me Oni...'' mumbled the little girl, muffling her voice against Lavi's neck. It was quite adorable , we the grown-ups watching the children.
''And your surname?'' asked Oni, either not caring or deciding to ignore the nickname she had. He had learnt a bit of Japanese.
Oni seemed to be deep in thought.
''Um...can I ask you two a question?'' said the girl shyly. Lavi and I leaned towards her, curious as to what the girl had to inquire. ''Granny said that you'll take care of me from now on...so...can I...'' I put my hand on her cheek and then lifted it to caress her hair. ''Can I call you mama and papa?'' Oni asked this, suddenly raising her voice.
Lavi and I both stilled. His fingers on my wrist burning my skin. I felt my face heating up a few degrees. That was unexpected. Lavi and I were just baffled. Before I could say something, Lavi answered.
''Sure, you can.'' he said cheerfully, flashing her his trademark grin. ''But you see, I don't have a specific surname, so if you want to use one of ours, if Mina, I mean mama, doesn't mind, you can take hers.'' I stiffened.
A pair of eyes and a half turned towards me, greenish-red and one green. Lavi was losing his wits and he was silently asking, no begging, for help. Before I could process what was happening, I answered.
''Yeah, sure. I like the sound of it. Oxana Carmichael, or for your delight, Oni Carmichael.'' the name rolled off my lips naturally, as if it was waiting for Oni to come and claim it. ''But just so you know, with this name, you'll receive one extremely annoying aunt.'' I said and booped her nose, making her smile slightly.
Everyone around us burst laughing. In that moment Lavi and I remembered we're not alone. I felt the flush creep up my neck, towards my ears. Lavi's nose and cheeks were sporting a nice shade of pink as well.
Since it was late, and a lot of people were asleep we decided to sent Oni with Tim and Lenalee, while Lavi and I decided what to do with the rest of the responsibilities. Lavi then set Oni down and together with Tim and Lenalee, she headed towards Hevlaska. Emilia excused herself, saying she was tired and would go back to sleep. Before the silence took its hold of the Entrance hall, we heard how Tim said something that made Oni laugh.
Lavi and I were the only ones left. When I looked towards my wrist, I saw he was still holding my wrist.
''Go to have your arms and legs checked. After your last mission, you should take better care of yourself. I'll take care of the report.'' Lavi murmured quietly, as if afraid to break the silence we found ourselves into.
''Do as you like'' I said, tugging my hand away and this time I was met with no resistance. Lavi spared me one last, long glance before heading towards the corridor that led to Komui's office. The moment I stopped hearing his footsteps, I released a deep sigh. It was a long night, I was exhausted and my whole body hurt but I decided against going to the infirmary. Again, I knew it wasn't the best decision, but decided to go to my room and at least try to get some rest.
Lavi was right about taking better care of my body. After my previous mission I was like a half mummy; I was really close to dying too, but I felt nothing about the prospect of death. Was it because my whole life I danced on that thin line? Or was it apathy? I didn't know, but after that mission everyone started looking at me as if I was fragile. And I wanted none of that.
They had their own concerns and I had mine. Besides, I had to be always prepared for the time when I was needed always came unexpected. Just like last time, which ended in quite the endearing way. But I had made a deal so I had to pay for it.
Besides, Lavi was panicking for nothing. My wounds weren't that bad. He was just a worry ward.
Keep telling yourself that...
I reached my room peacefully and as I entered, I closed silently the door and leaned on it. I had to take a shower and make sure to wash off the remaining toxins on my skin. Good thing Oni was there and healed a bit of the burns I'd received, but my clothes were a mess. I hoped to get a proper night sleep then laughed at the idea.
The irony was so strong it was ironic by itself. The exorcist who manifested her powers through her dreams was scared of falling asleep; scared of the nightmares that chase her, making her stay awake until she collapsed from exhaustion. I laughed at nothing, thinking about it. It was really pathetic.
It had started six months ago. A lot of things changed back then.
With no further do, I went straight to the bathroom, throwing my used-to-be clothes on a pile and washed myself, hissing when the hot water hit my sore skin. From the looks of it, the skin was mostly irritated, again thanks to Oni(since my last mission I had the tendency to be more fragile, a fact I wasn't pleased with). The poison wasn't really strong, but it wasn't weak either. However, the more dangerous part was the demon virus soaking in the skin with it. I was immune because of my parasite type Innocence but Oni wasn't and neither was Lavi. We found out that Oni could heal the demon virus from someone infected who wasn't immune. But we couldn't risk it, so out of nowhere I had taken off my jacket and wrapped her in it. A decision Lavi had berated me silently as Oni had nodded off in my arms afterwards.
My skin was only irritated, not something way too dangerous to worry about, so I decided I'd go to the doctor the next day to ask for some ointment. Easy as that. And probably something for the bruise on my wrist. Or I was just going to cover it with long sleeves.
Putting on some sweatpants and the maroon T-shirt Lavi lent me on our first mission, I lied in my bed and pulled the covers up to my chin and hugged my scarf to my chest in the hopes of driving the nightmares away.
I wasn't so lucky.
My head was spinning again. It happened when I was under severe pressure or anxiety. I leaned heavily against the wall, feeling it tilting down. I groaned as my muscles tensed.
'Komui'll wait a little...'
I had no memories of what had happened to me for the 5 months that I was gone. The last thing I remembered was when the geezer, Chaozi and I faced the two Noah. And after that everything was white. Every time I tried to remember, pain, so strong that I'd fall over, would hit me.
The time I needed the geezer the most, he wasn't around me. Probably if he gave me a nice kick, they pain would go away. I chuckled at the thought.
It wasn't that I didn't appreciate him or something. It was just that I never believed I'd be left alone like this. I knew a moment like this would come, but not so soon and not so unexpectedly. Everyone now expected of me to act as the new Bookman, to know everything there was to know. It sucked. What sucked more was that the council still hasn't send me a notification, something Gramps had warned of happening the moment I became his successor.
And I had told him to put a sock in it, for he had a lot of time.
I knew I wasn't entirely alone., I had the others who remained at the Order but it wasn't the same. The atmosphere was so stiff and tense I felt as if I would drown soon enough. Not to mention how I felt like a total asshole for making Mina search for Gramps when she had her own problems.
Mina was the other topic of my concerns. For the time I was away it was obvious something about her had changed. She still looked the same way, acted the same way but she was different. For the time we've been around each other, it was really surprising how well we've come to know each other. She was acting like she used to, a bit firmer, a trait which every exorcist gained but it was all a mask.
After my return I had a little chat with Luna and I knew that she knew something was wrong with Mina. When I asked her, she just shook her head and told me it wasn't her story to tell. But Mina had started walking down the route I warned her to avoid, the path of the lone soldier. Well, she wasn't alone, most likely...lost. Trying to find herself by helping others and not minding herself. The mechanism was started after Zack's death.
Or something like that. If I had difficulties in reading her before, it was straight up impossible now. She was lost and that explained why at times she completely contradicted herself. But one thing was certain.
Mina was hiding something and Luna and I desperately wanted to find out. Especially if it was the reason why she almost had died during her last mission. If I had to, I'd lock her somewhere and knock some sense in her head, even if she started hating me.
I didn't help the fact that I kissed her. If someone asked me why I did it, I'd honestly answer that I didn't know. I was attracted to her, I couldn't deny it. But something just stopped me, like a warning sign. It told me to stay away from her and so I did. After the kiss, I avoided her for days, then we were assigned a mission, during which she broke her leg and then came North America...
We didn't speak about it; both acted as if it didn't happen. Which made things worse.
The pain in my eye was unbearable...my mind gave me flashbacks of the day when I woke up.
How Mina sat next to me, the left side of her face, her whole left arm and right wrist along with her chest were bandaged. Her visible right eye was wide with shock and relief, red and puffy.
It didn't suite her.
I clearly remembered how I touched the left side of her face, how I lightly brushed my fingers against the bandages.
And how she flung herself over me, hugging me as tightly as my condition allowed it; how she was trembling; how the Mina I knew was sobbing; how she cried tears of joy;
I was in a room.
A familiar room.
I hated that room.
I had that dream again. The dream I hated the most.
I was in a white corridor, in the middle of it. I knew by experience that no matter which way I took, I'd end up in the same place. I was never able to escape it, no matter how hard I tried. There were moments when I just stayed there and refused to move, until the dream would make me move.
That was the only way my Innocence communicated with me. In the most unpleasant way.
Wanting soon to be over with it, I started walking straight ahead, bracing myself for the inevitable moment when the door appeared.
It took a lot of time until I came across it. As I walked, I had the chance to look around me and I wasn't surprised to find the walls empty, the air sterile, no sound to be heard, which sent shivers down my spine.
When I reached the familiar door, my steps faltered. Behind that door was where the true nightmare began. The things my Innocence showed after going through that door were always different, but the also the same and I hated what my Innocence was trying to convey through them.
''What do you want with me? If you want to tell me something, do it like before.'' Unsurprisingly, I didn't receive an answer. Half a year ago something happened and my Innocence started rejecting me, not in a way to become a Fallen One, surely not that. It was more like...my sync level was high but it felt as of my own Innocence didn't want me around itself anymore.
Or it was something I had done, but I had no memory of it, a lot of things happened 6 months ago. I couldn't pinpoint the exact reason why everything with me went high-ware.
Sighing in frustration, I reached to touch the black door.
The door was black like onyx, it looked greasy, as if it was freshly painted and the paint was on its way do be dried. It had no door knobs and I knew that if I wanted to open it I only needed to lightly touch it, even if it was only the pads of my fingers.
I reached towards the door, mentally preparing for what awaited me inside, but I never suspected what would wait for me outside.
Just as my fingers brushed the door's surface, a pale hand came out of the door, as if coming out of water and grabbed my wrist.
I screamed, my heart beating rapidly to the point of pain and for a moment I even thought it was going to seize its beating. The hand had a tight grip on me and it seemed to only tighten it for my second scream was a mixture of both horror and pain.
A silhouette started taking form in the door, but it never emerged completely. Beside the arm, the only other thing that appeared was its head and the contrast with the door was horrific. The door was the blackest of black while the figure was the complete opposite-the whitest of white. The black and the white were such shades that were associated with death. The face that came out of the door was white and cracked, his sclera red while his irises were light green with a tint of red inside them as well, the look in his eyes maddening and when he finally focused on me I couldn't hold the third scream that wanted to escape.
But it didn't come. My lips only opened but no sound escaped them. The thing tightened its grip on me and with a light tug on my arm he yanked me towards him until I felt the puffs of air. He leaned towards me as if he was about to share a big secret, but I only wanted to wake up, to scream but I'd dimly realized that my Innocence had taken that away from me too.
''The Heart wants you to know, Mina Carmichael,'' he said as he lifted his other hand towards my neck'' that it's waiting for you. It wants you to lead them to it. You know what it is to come.'' he whispered sweetly.
I shivered, clearly remembering what I'd seen behind that black door.
Because I really knew, no matter how hard I tried to deny it.
It grinned maniacally, the light in his eyes promising me that we would see each other again.
When I finally managed to let out my third scream, I dimly realized that I had screamed myself awake and how it was already early morning, the sun had already risen.
That dream was the true reason why I hated sleeping, why I preferred to stay awake for days instead of going to sleep. That dream was something my Innocence was trying to convey to me, but it didn't work really well. But this time it was different.
I still shivered, trying to keep my composure as I was engulfed in the familiar, comfortable quietness of my room.
Until a knock was heard.