I'd apologize for the delay, but I figure that sob stories just run off you guys by now. So, instead, I'll hope that the new chapter just speaks for itself – and speaks to you in deep and inspirational ways. Have fun.
Also, I noticed some errors in other chapters – there's an incomplete sentence in Chapter 2, and Odd and Ulrich are switched in the interlude (Odd was virtualized first, so his card should be first). That's fixed now.
Over grass, over gravel, past rocks and trees – the tendrils carried Yumi further and further away from the gate. As the journey continued, Yumi wasn't so much fearful of her destination as she was frustrated at her inability to escape – and her inability to be seen. Nobody was in the woods at this hour, or even outside in this weather. If only it hadn't been raining, she thought. The rain had ruined everything!
It didn't take her one look at her bonds to figure out that she'd been caught in a XANA attack. Somehow, knowing the identity of her attacker made her less afraid – after all, XANA was predictable and conquerable. She had to call the others and tell them about it as soon as she could…which she would have to do with her phone, which was buried in her bookbag back at the gate, and with her hands, which were tied together with a tentacle.
Tentacles, indeed. The thought didn't escape her, but when it came she desperately tried to think of something else.
She was hardly surprised at her destination – the familiar forest manhole, which the tendrils extended out of the open cover of. But as she approached, she was a little fearful of how she was to proceed. Would they let her go to climb or run away, or would they just pull her down the shaft, leaving her to bump into any which wall or ladder? To her surprise, the limbs were just a bit smarter than that. They stopped right at the mouth of the manhole, and a fourth, larger tentacle slid out, curled itself around her waist, and pulled her down the middle of the shaft.
She landed softly on her feet on the only platform that wasn't waterlogged. The sewer path was very different in the rain, as Ulrich had said. The water between the raised platforms, which was usually standing and stagnant, had swelled and overflowed their banks. Even this platform was grime-encrusted and slimy. She was released by all of the bonds except for two - the one that held her hands together, and the one around her waist. They still pulled her forward, but at a slower pace – fast enough to walk on her own, but not fast enough for the skateboards sitting behind her. The others moved alongside her, as if they were the bodyguards of some endangered celebrity. Clearly they had seen a problem with dragging her along the sodden, slimy maintenance floor. They did pull her right through the water, but only her ankles and boots got wet, and the strong middle tentacle held her in place. Yumi began to consider that, somehow, these tentacles could see.
After moving through unfamiliar tunnels for what seemed like an age, Yumi's path took a sharp turn to the right. She had never been in this part of the sewer before; in terms of construction there was really nothing too notable about it. There were pipes of all shapes and sizes, all gushing water – except for one pipe, the largest of them all, which was bone dry. It was out of this pipe that the tentacles extended – and Yumi knew this was to be her destination. She was pulled up and into the pipe, and set down softly on the bottom. All of the tentacles vanished, save for ones which tied her hands and feet.
She could only see about five feet in front of her – the rest of the pipe was shrouded in shadow. But whatever ugly, bug-eyed monster XANA had prepared for her, she wasn't going to let it have a docile prisoner. As soon as she was set down, she pulled at her remaining bonds.
[Is there any other way to hold her? This form is tiring.]
Yumi froze. It was the masculine voice she had heard in the Quad – but clearer now, clearer than she had ever heard it in her life. Perhaps it was only the pipe, but the sound seemed to surround her, separating itself into every pitch and tone. And she knew the voice.
[The walls are smooth, the door is open, and we have our hands. Toil is nothing.]
And the feminine voice – it wasn't feminine anymore, not at all. Her brain was forcing herself not to acknowledge it, but she knew this voice too. She wouldn't believe it – the situation didn't make sense. "What – who's there? This isn't funny anymore!"
[She asks to see what has been hidden.]
[How rare for a human…but never impossible.]
In the darkness, Yumi's eyes had just begun to make out a large mass, one about twice as tall and three times as wide as Yumi herself, curled against the mesh side of the pipe. The bottom of the mass curled and writhed, and the top was completely unidentifiable. As she watched, the mass began to move. It straightened up even taller, shuddered, and walked – crawled? – slowly forward, until it was only five feet away, and completely visible.
After one glimpse of the top, she forced herself to look at the bottom. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight purple tentacles, all arranged in a circle around each other, aside from the ones holding her in place. Fearsome, she tried to tell herself. Monstrous. Monstrous enough never to have to look at the top. They were smooth and scaly, like the tails of snakes, and as far as Yumi was concerned, this was enough. Nothing existed above the monster's waist, nothing at all.
[Oh, how adorable.] Both the tendrils and the masculine voice drew closer, and a shadow fell over Yumi's vision.
[Your opinion of us has never changed, has it?] Yumi felt something wrap around her chin. It was not a tentacle this time, but a hand – a warm, soft, and very human hand. No, it was two hands, one caressing each side of her face. She looked up involuntarily, and what she saw made her jerk back in shock, unable to make a sound.
Two torsos, human from head to hips, grew out of the source of the tendril mass. They were both male, naked, and fused, like conjoined twins, at the back – each torso was the back of the other. Other than this, the torsos were complete. They had four arms between them, two abdomens that turned to scales at the navel, and two heads. The two sides, unlike conjoined twins, were not identical. The body on the left had thicker muscle definition than the one on the right, though both were smooth and strong. The heads were handsome, too, but each in different ways. The left head had harder, older features and a wild mop of black hair, while the right head was softer, with a somewhat more sensible brown cut. And it was this, the heads, which was the most terrifying of all to Yumi – because she knew them as well as she knew their voices.
"Ulrich…?" she said in a voice that was more of a squeak. "William…?"
[Yes?] the two heads said in unison as they pulled away – except, as Yumi could now see, their lips had not moved at all. The voices had come out of what appeared to be thin air, and Ulrich's and William's faces were just as silent as they had been before. Their features, she now couldn't help but notice, were familiar but ethereal, as if they had taken on an air of perfection without actually changing at all. Despite this beauty, they were bone-chillingly cold – both heads wore identical blank expressions. They betrayed no emotion with their eyes, but something about their carriage gave off an air of intense pride.
Yumi's own pride, her own lack of fear of an inhuman pawn of XANA, had evaporated, and was too busy trying to make sense of what she was seeing even to be afraid. "What?" was all she could think to say as she looked from one head to the other. "What? What?"
[What indeed. This is far more familiar,] the Ulrich-head said, and this, this was even worse. It would have been far better if the creature had not been able to talk – or even only if it ever gave a straight answer.
[Yumi Ishiyama,] the William-head digressed. He twisted the body, which had been sideways before, so that only he faced her. [We've waited days and years for you.]
"Well, here we are," Jeremie said. His statement was rather unnecessary - all of the Warriors had memorized where his dorm room was. But, it was a good lead-in to his salutation. "We'll see you guys later. You'd better go let Kiwi out before he does it himself."
"I'll say," Ulrich said all-too-knowingly. He gave a smile, waved, turned away, and started down the hall.
"See you at dinner, guys!" Odd shouted as he walked after him. "Don't have too much fun in there, okay?"
"Don't worry, Odd, I'll make sure Jeremie doesn't have any fun at all!" Aelita grinned at their retreating backs, and then turned to her partner. "Hear that? No fun, no slacking off, no smiling." She was trying her hardest to keep a straight face.
"Curses, foiled again," Jeremie said with a smile just as wide. He opened the door to his dorm and made an 'after-you' motion with his left hand. "How could I not smile when I'm looking at you?"
"Aww." As soon as the door was closed – and just in time, as Jim was just passing by – Aelita kissed Jeremie on the cheek, patting him on the head as she did so. Your hair's all wet, she said as she pulled away.
"Is this supposed to surprise me?" Jeremie said. He made a beeline for his computer, and Aelita for the bed. He sat in his chair, spun to face her, and unloaded his bag as she retrieved her laptop. "On to business. Let see if any of our friends in the Digital Sea want to let us know that they still exist…" He pulled out his own laptop, opened it, and made a face. "Ugh, it's out of power!" He closed it again, and rummaged in his bag for a power cord. "That's the last time I let Ulrich borrow anything I own."
"Oh, was he watching his 'stories'?" Aelita giggled as she watched Jeremie struggle.
"If you ask him, he'll deny everything," Jeremie said gravely. "But I have to keep this charged…all of these cords look the same…"
"Um…" Aelita's face twitched, as if she had remembered something. "I had an idea last night for a program to auto-reload the Navskid missiles, so we won't always have to take to our heels whenever a Kongre decides to chase us around." She pounded her palm with her fist for effect. "It could work on the same sort of code as Odd's laser arrows, couldn't it?"
"Hm…" Jeremie looked up from his bag. "Maybe! But it's not going to be easy to extract just one bit of code from the outfit data and modify it for a non-organic…" He mumbled, as if to neutralize the topic. "We'll see if it's possible, but it might be easier from the supercomputer. We can still scan the network from here, though…and that just brings us closer to not needing the Skid at all." He smiled awkwardly. "Right?"
Aelita nodded, looking just a little melancholy. "Of course. Look…" She stood. "I have to go use the bathroom. You go start without me, okay?"
"Oh…of course," he said, the enthusiasm in his voice dying with every word. He turned away from Aelita's retreating back, and worked on untangling his laptop cord. He knew it was a necessity to bring up all of Lyoko's issues, being that it was his duty to solve them, but they always made conversations with Aelita too uncertain for his liking. If things could have been like he thought they were at the beginning, when he thought Aelita was a computer program, he couldn't help but think that none of them would have existed…
He had finished untangling the cord when he heard the door shut, and a few seconds later, when he had plugged the cord in, he heard someone jiggling the door handle. He turned around, confused at the sound. "It's open!" he yelled.
The jiggling stopped, and then the door opened very slowly, with several moments of hesitation. Aelita was back, standing still in the doorway and still clutching the door handle. Jeremie felt even more confused. "Uh…that was quick!"
Really? Aelita let go of the door handle and moved her hand back to her side in a jerky sort of motion. She walked forward past the bed, toward Jeremie, with the same sort of jerking gait. I don't think so. I think it's been far, far, far too long.
Something twisted in Jeremie's gut, but he tried to ignore it. "What are you talking about? You've only been gone for a few seconds! Did you even go? Unless you're messing with me…"
Why would I ever do that to you, Jeremie? Aelita was at his chair now; she was clutching the sides with her hands. He realized that her voice had a different inflection than he had grown used to – it was light, airy, and had an air of electric distortion to it, as if it was passing through a filter. You know that I would never do anything to hurt you. And why would anyone want to hurt someone as wonderful as you?
She leaned over the side of the chair, and spoke right in his ear. Jeremie shuddered. Part of him wanted to be charmed – even aroused – but another part of him was working out everything he'd heard and arriving at an answer he didn't like. He turned to look her right in the eye. "Aelita, what's going on?"
What else? Jeremie's eyes went wide. Even though Aelita had been talking, her mouth had not moved. A split second's closer look made him notice that she wasn't blinking – or breathing. Her face was completely frozen, but frozen in a small, sweet smile.
What? Aelita said in her light, soothing tone. What, what is it, Jeremie?
"Aelita?" Jeremie began, horrorstruck - but was struck dumb as Aelita's hand brushed against his face. He didn't move, and her smile did not change, as her hand moved down his face, meeting her other hand at the base of his neck. Her fingernails clutched his skin, and Jeremie's eyes rolled back into his head.
What's wrong? Aelita went on, wrapping her arms around his chest. You know, if there's a problem, Jeremie, you can always talk to me about it.
[Yumi Ishiyama. We've waited days and years for you.]
The William-head leaned down to Yumi's eye level, and her eyes opened wide with fear. It was at about this time that her mental capacities returned, and the questions began to flow. What was this creature? Why did it have Ulrich and William's heads? Why was it talking to her rather than killing her? Why did it have Ulrich and William's heads? She tried to punch her way through her fear to ask these questions, but when her mouth finally opened – as the creature was waiting patiently for her to do – the words didn't quite come out that way. "You- what-"
[Are you going to ask what we are again?] The creature straightened back up again, and the William-head folded its arms across its chest. [Why are you asking when you already know our names?]
[The "what" is correct,] the Ulrich-head piped back in, turning its head so that Yumi could see him. [You're right about the "what."]
"You? No…" Yumi shook her head furiously before looking up at the two heads, channeling frustration into an imitation of courage. "Cut the crap for a second!"
The two heads looked at each other for a split second, as if sharing a thought, and then the Ulrich-head turned back to her. [We're not stalling anything, if that's what you think.]
[We've waited days and years for you,] the William-head repeated, twisting its neck to face her.
"No! That…" Yumi couldn't figure out what the creature wanted, or even what threat it might pose – any wrong word, her instincts told her, and it might attack. "You're not-"
[I think she thinks we're speaking nonsense,] the Ulrich-head said. [But why should we make sense to everyone? We know what we're talking about.]
[There is no sense in solving a puzzle if you already know all the answers,] the William-head said with a smug air.
"Puzzle?" Yumi said to herself. She tried to stay on guard, but as she was not dead, she found that reasonable speech was no longer beyond her. "Look," she said, trying to decide whether or not to look the creatures in the eyes, "You seem to be able to understand what I'm saying, so I'm going to say this as clearly as I can. Who are you, and what do you want?"
[Why should we tell you anything? You have all the information you need,] the William-head hissed.
[But we could tell you that all day,] the Ulrich-head finished.
These words brought Yumi a measure of realization, but with that came more confusion. The creature operated on a certain set of rules, and for some strange reason it wouldn't do anything to her until she answered her own question. Whatever answer she gave would cause progress – but possibly death.
[Human beings can only survive for 96 hours without water,] the William-head piped in. It was right – she was trapped. Seeing death at the end of one road, Yumi took the other. You already know our names…that was almost too easy. You're right about the "what"…
"You're Ulrich and William," she said. The creature did not react. "But…no, you're called Ulrich and William. But you're not…" No reaction. "You're fake. You don't exist." No reaction. "Fake, unreal, mythical…" She ran through as many synonyms as she could. "Imaginary, inhuman…"
The creature remained still for a moment, and then the Ulrich-head lifted its chin. [See, Yumi? That wasn't so hard.]
The William-head did the same, taking in the incredulous look on her face. [Your words are your most powerful weapon, and you have used them well.]
[You are a novice, to be sure…] said the Ulrich-head.
[But you have the potential for rapid improvement,] said the William-head.
[Always keep your words in practice; we cannot emphasize this enough,] said the Ulrich-head.
Yumi found herself nodding, even though she still didn't understand a word this creature was saying. Its response calmed her against her will – while it was still a fearful enigma, it hadn't hurt her yet. "Words…well…yes, I used words. And I will…I think. So…" Her voice dropped to a mumble. "If there's nothing else I need to do, can I…"
[No,] the heads said at the same time.
[You are not finished,] the Ulrich-head said in a stern tone. It rushed at Yumi with impossible speed, stopping just short of her face, and looking her right in the eyes. [This is the closest you have ever come to starting.]
[The dilemma will not rest until it has been answered,] the William-head clarified from behind.
"Dilemma?" Yumi repeated. She stared right into the Ulrich-head's eyes, amazed and frightened at how familiar and unfamiliar they were. "Another one?" she said without fully realizing the words had left her mouth.
[How else will they survive?] the Ulrich-head said. The body pulled itself back upright. [Don't worry. This is our last and best, our foundation.]
[But it is a dilemma Yumi Ishiyama can solve,] the William-head said.
[A dilemma that only Yumi Ishiyama can decide,] the Ulrich-head said.
[It is a dilemma of commands and outcomes.]
[Only one answer is allowed.]
[And when you answer, you will be freed.]
Yumi gave a small, involuntary gasp. The Ulrich-head did not notice, or care to give it notice, and went on. [Do you want to hear it?]
[It is nothing but a sentence.]
[We will repeat it as many times as you wish.]
[Human beings can survive for only 96 hours without water.]
Yumi's wrists ached from trying to break the tentacle's hold – whatever this creature wanted to do, she was powerless to fight it. If this creature's riddle was simple, she could be freed without trouble – though why it had happened at all she could never figure out – but if not, she could only hope that something else had shown up to tip her friends off to XANA's attack. "I don't have a choice, do I?" she mumbled with all the power she could.
When she spoke, something changed in the creature's carriage – it held itself straighter and taller, as if this was the moment it had been born for. Both heads turned toward her, and she noticed the slightest change in the creature's faces – while they still wore blank expressions, something in their eyes and lips betrayed tension.
They said together, [Which one of us most deserves to die?]
"God, they're cute."
"You're saying that like it's a bad thing."
"Why not?" Odd casually brushed his hand against the opposite wall as he walked. "There's nothing wrong with being cute. The world needs cute things; me, for instance."
He gave Ulrich a sly grin; clearly that last sentence had been added for shock value. Ulrich, knowing Odd, had no truck with it. "I think we have two different definitions for the same word."
"Ha ha. Still, I can't help but smile when I see something like that, and neither can you. So there."
"Yeah, that's more like it." Ulrich and Odd stopped when they reached the door to their dorm room. Ulrich fumbled in his bag for his key. "Sometimes I wish I could be that happy and carefree with someone else…"
"And with just a sentence I know my plans for the evening," Odd said in a haughty, mocking tone. He leaned on the doorknob.
"You know, Odd, someday your mouth is going to kill you," Ulrich said. The next second, his eyes were on the doorknob. "Wait, is the door open?"
Odd's eyes went wide, and he looked down at his hand – he had turned the knob without realizing it. "Huh, did we forget to close it?" He shrugged, opened the door, took a look inside, and made a strangled sort of noise. "Guh-"
"What, what is it?" Ulrich began, but as soon as he saw the inside of his room, his question was answered for him. His jaw dropped, and he shouted an expletive.
The room was in ruins. Both closets and every available drawer had been flung open, and their contents – clothes, magazines, video games – had been scattered all over the room. The window had been opened from the bottom, and several hours' worth of rain had already soaked the desks and most of the room. Almost every available surface was covered in mud. There was mud all over the carpet, the beds – Ulrich's more than Odd's – the desks, the walls, and anything that had once been in a drawer. This included Kiwi – he was out in the middle of the floor, gleefully rolling on the sodden, muddy carpet.
"Kiwi, no-!" Both boys ran into the room. Odd crouched by Kiwi, who jumped up with joy and shook muddy water into his master's face. Ulrich climbed on top of a chair and shut the window with a groan. He stepped down into a puddle, soaking his cuffs with another groan.
"This place is a mess," he said, moving back towards the beds. "Someone's been in here!"
"Ya think? Ugh – Kiwi, stay still!" Odd had picked a dry shirt up off Ulrich's bed and was trying to clean Kiwi off with it with some difficulty – the little dog was far too excited by the commotion. "The drawers are all open…" Odd's eyes went wide. "Is anything gone?"
"Probably." Ulrich looked at his disheveled dresser. "Come on, help me!"
"But I have to calm him down! What if someone hears him?"
"Alright," Ulrich said, turning away, "but hurry–" He did a double take, and pointed at Kiwi. "Hey, that's MY shirt!"
"So?" Odd held up the open-front shirt. "You haven't worn it in months."
Ulrich made an exasperated sort of noise and splashed his way over to his dresser. When he got there, he began pulling drawers open and shut, scanning them for anything that might be missing. "That's on the floor, that's on the floor…" He looked up from the last drawer when he was done. "Okay, nothing – MY STUFF!"
"Your what?" Ulrich didn't answer Odd's question – he ran over to his bed and pointed at his wall. Normally, Ulrich had a martial arts poster, several throwing stars, and a set of nunchucks hanging over his bed, but the nunchucks and stars were missing, and the poster was ripped down the middle.
"Oh, that stuff!" Odd zipped Kiwi in his bag and jumped up. "Did the thief want to play ninja that badly?"
"Yeah, well, good luck to them! Do you know how long it took me to convince the principal they weren't real?" Ulrich froze for a second, realizing something. "Wait –" He crouched by his bed and tore through the drawers on its side. "Thought so – the Swiss army knife's gone!" He looked back over at Odd. "Whoever was in here, they're stealing weapons!"
"You sure about that?" While Ulrich had been searching, Odd had started on his own dresser. He had Kiwi's drawer open in front of him and a confused look on his face. "I didn't know dog toys were that deadly, then!"
"What?" Ulrich walked over to the drawer, and sure enough, all of Kiwi's toys were missing. His leash, food, and bowls remained, as did a wad of ten-Euro notes stuffed in the back of the drawer. Ulrich and Odd looked up at each other. "What?" Ulrich repeated.
"What are you looking for? I don't know what happened!" He looked back at the drawer in confusion. "Who would want weapons and dog toys?"
"I don't know. Anyone that can pick a lock."
"Okay, so that narrows it down to every student in the school." Odd thought for a second. "Maybe it was Sissi! Busting us for a knife and a dog, that's two birds with one stone…somehow…"
"Good try, but I doubt it. Sissi wouldn't want to be anywhere near all this mud…" Ulrich shook his head. "We should probably go report this to Jim."
"Yeah, if he can help us find who did it." In a flash of inspiration, Odd shoved the wad of money and the rest of Kiwi's effects into his bag. His timing was impeccable – Ulrich had already reached the door without waiting for him, and when he opened the door, he just narrowly missed Jim's face.
"Stern!" Jim held his hands up against an impact, and took a step back. He was soaked through, and looked somewhat more annoyed than usual. "Watch where you're throwing that! You're not the only one using this hallway –"
"Jim, someone broke into our room!" Ulrich interrupted.
Jim's expression hardly changed, but there was a vastly different meaning behind it. He was no longer annoyed – he was determined. "Broke in?" He stepped closer to Ulrich. "How do you know?"
"Do you think we would do this?" Ulrich opened the door wider, so that Jim could see the room. It looked just as it had when Ulrich and Odd had walked in, minus Kiwi. Odd was standing by the door with Ulrich, carefully guarding his bag. Jim gaped at the room for about five seconds, and then stepped inside. He walked all around, taking in every detail, before shouting, "Another one!"
"Another one?" Odd repeated, confused.
"Another one!" Jim turned around and pointed at the door. "This wasn't our burglar's first stop! Or last stop, if he went to the toolshed first…well, whatever order he robbed them in, the toolshed has also been robbed!" Ulrich and Odd gave each other uncertain looks. "What's missing? I don't know…anything sharp or rusty?"
"No," Ulrich said quickly.
"There's sixty Euros missing from the dresser." Odd pointed at Kiwi's now-empty drawer. Jim looked over at the drawer, scratching his chin. Without another word, he walked over to the dresser and started throwing all the drawers open. Odd giggled softly at him. Ulrich just shook his head. His gaze drifted over to the window. Rain was still beating outside where it belonged, but despite the downpour, the man standing outside did not react, or even move at all.
The man? Ulrich blinked. He tried to look again, but the man had vanished. He wasn't sure if it was the same man he had seen during his test, having paid the same amount of attention before, but the sightings were wholly unusual. He turned to Odd, intending to ask in a whisper if he had ever seen the man, but Jim returned before he could get Odd's attention.
"Alright…" He gave Odd an odd look. "Well, it looks like we had a little thief let loose on campus! This could be very serious…" He walked over to the doorway, paused, and turned around. "Well, come on! You'll give a better statement to the principal than I will!"
"Wait a minute," Odd started, leaning down for his bag. Ulrich realized with a start that his cell phone was still in his bag, as Odd's probably was. "My stuff-"
"Will be recovered as soon as Mr. Delmas notifies the police!" Jim grabbed them both by their collars and led them out of the room. "Come on…"
Aelita's walk up the stairs to the girls' floor was a calm one. She didn't run into anyone, and no one ran into her. The solitude left her free to hum a half-remembered tune – she wasn't sure when she remembered it from, whether from last week, last year, or fifteen years in the past. But it was a nice tune, and it comforted her immensely. It was a connection, something that reminded her that she was in the real world, that she was alive. It was the bane of her existence that she had to remind herself of this sometimes.
One uneventful girls' bathroom visit later, she was on the same stairs, but she took them far less urgently. She wanted to savor the time where she didn't have to remember the problems that she had to return to – where she could stay in a place where Lyoko couldn't find her. Still, she did reach the end of the steps, and with calm resignation she started to open the door that led to the boys' dorms.
Aelita stopped, confused. She had definitely heard a distinct "meow" from the other side of the door, but she knew for a fact that the only animal on that floor was a dog. Does someone have a video on too loud? she thought. Yes, probably. She opened the door to the boys' floor, discarding her suspicions.
She stopped cold in the doorway and looked around. There was not a cat, dog, or human in sight – just an empty, silent hallway. She shook her head, but still walked down the hallway with caution, watching her feet with tension. She was reaching a fork in the road – there was one wing that led forward, and one that branched off to the left. Jeremie's room was on the left, as was Ulrich and Odd's.
Aelita snapped to attention. "Turn it down!" she yelled toward the left wing, which only earned her a loud, angry "YOU turn it down!" from a closed door in the opposite direction. The mewing didn't stop this time – it continued, soft, silent, and constant, from the left wing. With a growing sense of confusion, she ran forward, hoping to the real source of the sound, but stopped at the mouth of the hallway when a cat stepped into her path.
It was a very small cat, somewhat older than a kitten, with flattened ears and a stub of a tail. It had triangle-shaped yellow streaks of fur on its cheeks and back, which contrasted oddly with the rest of its purple fur. It did not appear to be mewing, though the noise went on, and did not even look up as it turned down the hallway that Aelita had come from and -
"Purple fur?" Aelita said aloud with alarm, doing a double take back at the cat. At the sound of her voice, it looked up at her and meowed – as did the three other, identical cats that had joined it. They were all familiar-looking – horribly so. Eight more cats joined the other four, who were now moving past her in neat rows of three, mewing softly. Not wasting another minute, she stepped over them and looked down the hall.
Her jaw dropped - it was just as she had hoped that she would not find. There were three neat rows of hundreds and hundreds of completely identical cats walking at a leisurely pace down the middle of the hallway. The line came from another turn in the hallway, past which Aelita could not see, and did not seem to have any beginning or end. The cats mewed endlessly, and never looked up at her or changed their pace.
"Oh no…Jeremie!" Aelita knew what to do, and she did it without thinking. Jeremie's room was only four doors away, and chances were that he already knew about XANA's attack. The kittens made no attempt to stop her as she ran past them. Once she got to the door, she reached for the handle. "Jeremie, look! XANA's –"
Without a sound or any warning, the handle vanished from underneath her hand – as did the rest of the door. Aelita gasped, and looked down at her hand. She took a step back, fully expecting to tread on one of the cats, but bumped into a wall instead. Taking a wild look around, she saw that all of the cats and all of the doors had vanished. She was standing in a perfectly circular room with the exact coloring of the dorm corridor, but without doors or any means of escape.
"How…how did this happen?" she said aloud to herself. She felt along the side of the wall she had bumped into. To her surprise, she grabbed a doorknob on her right side, one that was both locked and, when she turned to look, completely invisible. She only looked, however, after the doorknob had grown so hot that she had to jerk her hand away.
"Owww…" Aelita rubbed her hand gingerly – she had been hurt, but now she knew how the room worked. Knowing no other way out, she felt her way along the wall, growing more and more frightened with every wrong doorknob. Whatever had happened, whatever XANA was trying to do, it was keeping her away from Jeremie – Jeremie was in danger. So she tried and tried, and after four wrong doorknobs and one terribly smarting hand, she finally came to a doorknob that turned harmlessly. A door appeared in the wall beneath the knob, and Aelita flung the door open. "Jeremie!"
Jeremie, can you hear me?
Jeremie wasn't aware of any transition away from his room. One minute, he had been sitting in his chair, turning to greet Aelita, and the next, he was…here. He didn't know what to call where he was, or even how to be curious as to how he got there. He knew he was floating, but the question as to how he was floating never crossed his mind.
Jeremie's eyes flew open at the command. A sudden, violent wave of comfort swept over him at the sight of where he was, but he could not for the life of him remember why. It was a yellowish, formless abyss, with no one and nothing but himself floating inside it. It was a very familiar place, a place he felt like he had been in a long time ago.
The voice cut through Jeremie's stupor like a knife – he knew who it was, and he didn't question why she was there. "Uh…Aelita!"
He held his hand out in the direction of her voice, and watched with amazement as she floated into view. First came a head, and then the rest of her body, formed out of nothing and coming closer all the time. He reached out with more effort, pulling himself closer to her with every ounce of his strength. Their fingertips dangled near each other for what felt like an eternity before, finally, her fingers intertwined with his.
Jeremie. Aelita's body floated down from its position, creating the impression that she was standing on nothing. Jeremie found himself floating down as well, as if he was obeying a command.
"Aelita…" Jeremie couldn't help but be taken aback by the form before him. It was Aelita, at last, an Aelita with elfin ears and green eyes, an Aelita made perfect by computer graphics. He didn't know why, he couldn't fathom why, but he was filled with a sense of warmth and triumph. Somewhere deep in his being, a hole, long empty, had been filled by the sight of her.
Do you remember this place, Jeremie? Aelita caught his hand in midair and lowered it to his side; Jeremie did not protest. They stood hand in hand in the abyss while Aelita waited for Jeremie's answer. Jeremie made no effort to remember; remembering did not concern him. Where is it? Tell me.
Jeremie said nothing, but Aelita only smiled at him. She looked out into the abyss, directing him to do the same. It's the limbo between your world and my own. Don't you remember? You came to see me, and you were trapped here. But then… She looked back at him with an even larger smile. I saved you. I came back and got you. I touched you for the first time…
Aelita let go of Jeremie's hands, but she didn't move away. In fact, she moved even closer, until she was practically touching noses with him. She put her left hand on his shoulder, and her right hand on his waist. The touches sent an electric shock through him – unfamiliar feelings filled his body and indistinct thoughts filled his mind. Something had changed about Aelita's face – it was sharper, and more alluring, but it had not lost the kind look it had always had.
You were so happy to see me… she said in a low, lingering voice, and that made me happy, too. Didn't it? Jeremie's mouth opened and closed, and he made several wet, gaping noises like a fish, but no words came out. No, you don't have to say anything. I know. She moved her left hand up his shoulder and onto his neck; the sensation sent a shiver down Jeremie's spine.
As Jeremie said nothing, and nothing else happened, Aelita moved and talked more and more, and the words washed over his stagnant mind. I was alone for such a long time, you know. And when you found me, it was the happiest moment of my life. You were my savior, Jeremie. The only one I could trust and love. You were, and you are, someone who is mine and mine alone…
"Mine and mine alone…" Jeremie repeated, the first words he had said in an age. How long had he been there? Minutes? Weeks? Years? He didn't care. When he found Aelita, it was the happiest moment of his life. She was his, and his alone…
Mine…and mine…alone… Aelita moved her left hand down to Jeremie's torso with the other and pulled him in even closer. Soon enough, their bodies were pressed together. Aelita's head was on Jeremie's right shoulder; she now spoke directly in his ear. Let's stay here forever, Jeremie. We don't have to go anywhere. Lyoko can die, and Earth can fall, but I'll always be here…
Suddenly, Aelita froze rigid in Jeremie's arms. Jeremie found himself with the presence of mind to look down at her – and was shocked by what he saw. Something in her face was distorted – her eyes were wide as dinner plates, and her mouth was stretched into a grimace. "Uh…Aelita?" he started.
No…Aelita was breathing very heavily, and her voice had gained a frantic tone. No…NO! STAY AWAY!
"What's wrong?" Jeremie said, but Aelita did not respond to him. For the first time in that world, he felt panic – but had no idea where to direct it. Aelita's arms closed in tighter around his waist, until they could have crushed his ribcage. STAY AWAY! she kept repeating, in a tone that grew wilder and wilder with every word. HE'S MINE! MINE! ALL MINE! ALL MINE! ALLL MIIINNNEEEE-!
Jeremie felt a strong, sharp pain across his face. He gasped and shook his head, trying to adjust himself to the sudden bright light on his face. He realized his surroundings very quickly. He was lying on the floor of his room, curled in a fetal position, just a foot from his chair. Aelita was kneeling next to him, holding an open palm next to his face and a horrified look on her own.
More interpretation! Only one this time –
Your hair's all wet. / "Your hair's all wet."
Hard to interpret, right? The rest of it doesn't need interpretation, if you figured that out.
Thank you for sticking with me!