The Depths of Demons Chapter 5
A Little Note: This chapter is all one exceedingly long flashback, but Im not going to put in italics because, well, italics get annoying after a while. So does bold. Heh.
Walking beside Jem, he moved swiftly through the well-lit hallway, feeling sick of Tur-Ahs endless theme of white. Around him, the plain white walls stood watch, invisible eyes sneering out at him. He could sometimes feel that gaze upon him, even though he told himself he was merely imagining it. Within those walls, something watched, waited.
"Your father is coming next week," Jem commented casually, not pausing in his smooth, steady stride down the hall. The blue material of his coat and sleeves brushed against each other, creating a slight, soft, whirring noise. "There will be a welcoming celebration."
"I know," he responded quickly, surprised to find there was no fear, no anger within him at the mention of his father. Rufus no longer felt anything for the man at all, save perhaps a cold, detached knowledge that he could use his father, as his father had used him.
Months had passed like hours for him; hed blinked, and they were gone, not even giving him the opportunity to tell himself to remember everything. But it didnt matter, really. Rufus felt nothing for anything, anymore. He would let life pass without him; it mattered little. The terrible things that happened at Tur-Ah Compound affected him not at all, though, somewhere within, he knew that he should care. Jem cared. Although he was a Turk, although he nearly single-handedly ran Tur-Ah, he fought against what happened. The man was in a trap; Jem needed Shinra just much as it needed him. Rufus saw this, knew it. While Jem fought to stop what the Shinra did, the only way they would listen at all was for him to hold the position of power he did. Shinra was forced to listen to his demands, but still held back. And Rufuss father absolutely refused to let the slaves go.
And freeing the slaves was what Jem fought for the most. It was a struggle for power that Jem could not possibly hope to win, yet would not allow himself to lose.
Shaking his head, Rufus thought of his father. "What did my¾ " He was cut off as a slight form hurdled toward them, throwing open a door and falling into Jem in a blur of long black hair and white cloth. Jem and the figure went sprawling to the ground, sliding across the smooth floor. Watching in mute shock, Rufus heard shouts and the sound of hurried footsteps from near the door. On instinct, he closed the door, pressing one foot against it.
"Uunh," murmured the girl in white who lay on the ground, her legs curled against her. Jem had already begun to regain his composure; he sat, then pulled himself upward and moved toward the girl.
Rufus blinked and she was on her feet, one small fist aimed threateningly toward Jem, the other hand moving in a slow arc as she waved a knife back and forth in front of him, warding him off as she backed slowly away. He couldnt decide how it was that shed been able to so quickly reach her feet and such a stance; he simply waited to see how Jem would respond, waited to see her easily dispatched.
"Hold it there, girl, I dont mean to hurt you," Jem whispered softly in a gentle voice, his words startling Rufus.
The girls sea of black hair spilled over her shoulders as she shook her head angrily; her too-green eyes shone in defiance. There was a dark look in those eyes, a kind of brilliant, shining hatred, so bright and deep and dark that it burned Rufus to look at her. He knew that hatred was for him, for the Tur-Ah Compound. This girl was a ghost of what he had seen, but been blind to. Her mouth, her lips spread in rage, taunted him with unspoken words. Just like Darra, haunting, hiding behind whispered memories. He couldnt look at her, but could not look away, and he was lost in a single moment as Jem continued speaking, Rufus not hearing; the girl cocked her head to one side. What was Jem saying? Rufus couldnt hear; the girl had hypnotized him; his guilt had paralyzed him.
This is what I am; this is what I do; this is what I allow to happen.
The girl glanced at him, and there was one spark as their eyes met, then parted. Those eyes were not for him. She turned them to Jem, and the defiance, the anger, melted out of them. Her hand opened, loosening, the imprint of her fingers on the palms of her hand. The knife fell from her with infinite slowness, seeming to glide as it dropped to the ground, the blade marring that smooth, flawless surface.
And sound exploded upon Rufus.
Hed heard nothing, felt nothing, seen only the girl in that last moment. To see that Jem was bleeding, if only slightly, was a shock to him, tremendous and terrible, rocking through him. It was as though he had left himself and, when returning to his body, found things not as they should have been. He was confused. Jem was bleeding; the girl had her hands pressed against the flawless skin of her cheeks, those same eyes wide and frightened.
Jem said, his voice a careful whisper that Rufus could not comprehend, "Shh, youre all right. Dont worry; Im not hurt. Its nothing. Everything is fine. Dont worry."
"I didnt mean to. Im sorry. I didnt mean to," the girl chanted, her tone the husky, clenched sound of someone who desperately needs to weep. She was looking at Jem.
"We need to get you out of here. Theyll be coming," Jem told her, moving toward her and wrapping one arm around her waist, that arm which bled from the bite her knife had inflicted. His blood stained her white dress. Green eyes blinked, startlingly clear against the incredible black of her hair. Jem took a step, and she took a step with him. Their eyes were locked.
Having been forgotten, Rufus watched as Jem led the girl away, then bent, crouching, to the ground. He wrapped the fingers of one hand slowly around the hilt of the knife, then pulled it gingerly toward himself.
That girl walks with ghosts.
He could not comprehend his thoughts. Yet, the vision of the white dress, dark with Jems blood, stayed in his mind as he took the knife and followed the two slowly down the hallway.
Rufus entered the room, not knocking, holding the knife tightly in his left hand.
"Lock the door, Rufus," Jem demanded from somewhere inside, and Rufus did as he had been commanded. He felt his hand slide down across the electronic lock, moving the switch to the correct position. Still carrying the knife, he moved farther into Jems room.
He found his friend in the kitchen, dabbing at the girls forehead with a wet cloth. She sat upon Jems counter, saying nothing, her cracked lips pulled into a thin line, eyes closed tightly.
"Whats your name?" Jem inquired softly, putting his hand on her chin and carefully moving her head about, checking for wounds. Satisfied that she was relatively unhurt, he tossed the cloth toward the sink then took both the girls hands between his. Rufus watched in fascination, placing the knife on Jems table. What was wrong with the man?
"Sairobi Genevi," she replied softly, keeping her eyes closed. "I¾ " Shaking her head, she broke off and took deep gasping breaths of air.
"Youre all right now. No one will hurt you. Ill make sure of that."
At that, she opened her eyes, a flash of anger within. "I can take care of myself."
He gave her a wry smile. "That I dont doubt. But these people are accustomed to tracking down people and crushing them. You know this, or you wouldnt have been running as you were. How were you able to escape?"
Saying nothing, Sairobi Genevi continued looking at Jem.
"You are from Wutai, correct? And you were brought in here, likely with the rest of your family, a few days ago, when the most recent of Shinras slaves arrived." Abruptly, Jem released the girls hands, turning away. He moved away from her, to the counter directly across from that upon which she sat, and slammed his fist into the cold, hard wood. The cupboards above shook with the impact. "Damn! Why will they never listen to me?" Bitterness was heavy in his voice.
"Jem?" Rufus queried, moving to his friend. It was cold in the room; Rufus shivered slightly.
Ignoring Rufus, Jem returned to the girl, a determined look upon his face. "How you were able to escape does not matter. It only matters that you were able to escape. But Shinra doesnt like it much when their slaves prove to be clever enough to outwit them." He turned once more, rage in his eyes, and faced Rufus. "I need you to do me a favor. I was to have a meeting with Scarlet in a few minutes. How that woman somehow became head of the Turks¾ " Jem shook his head, then continued speaking. "I am going to be unable to attend this meeting. Go speak to her for me, please. Tell her that I was unavoidably detained, and whatever you do, do not tell her the true reason. You will do this for me, Rufus?"
He was not certain why he agreed. In truth, he thought Jem was making a terrible mistake by helping the girl, putting his own life in risk. But Rufus found himself nodding, then leaving the room and heading for the thirty-second floor of the Tur-Ah Compound, the Turks Ward.
Rufus knew little of Scarlet; hed met her twice since shed been made head of the Turks by his father, but had not spoken to her. The truth was, she frightened him. There was an aura of coldness about her, as though she walked in winter while wrapped in the heat of Tur-Ah Compound.
Like Jem, who held the title of Turk, yet had none of the duties of a Turk, Scarlet never left Tur-Ah. She was head of the Turks in name only. Rufus was not certain why his father had given her the title, but knew better than to ask. He was certain whatever the answer was, it was not something he wished to know.
She sat behind a desk, blonde hair pulled back from her face, yet allowed to spill over her bare shoulders. Though shed been made head of the Turks by Rufus father, she did not wear the customary uniform; instead, the woman was clothed in a sleeveless black dress that clung to her body; her lips were painted a deep, dark red, her eyes outlined with black. Rufus looked at those eyes, so unlike the eyes of the girl who had collided with Jem. They were cold eyes, fierce. He saw himself in them. Those eyes mirrored his own.
He walked slowly down the long, smooth, blue floor, his feet echoing through the room each time they impacted with ground.
"Rufus Shinra," Scarlet said, her voice hard to decipher. There was a whining quality in it, as though she were disappointed, but also something that drew in the listener. Just below the words shed spoken was a whisper, a hint of smoke, promising something that Rufus could not quite understand.
So unlike Darra.
"Jem Buckley sent me to inform you that he has been detained and will not be able to attend the meeting he was to have with you."
For a brief moment, something flashed through the womans eyes, something hard and sharp. Then she smiled, stood, and moved slowly around her desk, sliding her right hand across the smooth surface. She moved toward him. Standing just barely too close to him, so that she had only slightly invaded that space around him he needed for himself, she brought one hand up and laid it lightly upon his shoulder. "Jem sent you, did he?" she inquired, her voice so soft that Rufus had to strain to hear. "Youre the son of the president. Isnt your father coming here next week to make you Vice President? Are you not Jems superior?"
"Jem asked me, so I¾ "
She smelled too strongly of perfume. The heavy scent made it difficult for him to breathe, to think. Turning his head, he glanced at her hand, at her long fingers, resting upon his shoulder. Her fingernails were long and painted red, the same color as her lips.
So unlike Darra, whod bitten her fingernails.
Keeping one hand on his shoulder, Scarlet, head of the Turks, plucked a stray reddish-blond hair from Rufus shoulder, held it momentarily in the air, then watched as she let it fall slowly to the ground. In that one simple act, Rufus saw the power within her, laying just beneath her skin, perhaps running through her blood, ready to be unleashed. It frightened him; it fascinated him.
So unlike Darra, whod died, powerless.
He could feel the heat of her hand upon his shoulder. Somehow, shed moved closer without him knowing it, so that her body was nearly touching his. She tilted her head upward, watching him. Lifting her hand off his shoulder, she moved one finger and rested it lightly against his lips.
The sharp edge of terror wounds itself around his spine, keeping him paralyzed.
Then, abruptly, Scarlet stepped back from him, returned to her desk, and sat. "Tell Jem that I will expect to see him first thing tomorrow morning. If hes not there, no matter what his excuse may be, he will be punished. Severely."
Feeling confused, filled with a bewildering excitement, Rufus left the room, glancing back at the strange, intoxicating woman.
"What took you so long?" Jem asked a soon as hed walked through the door, then closed it behind him, locking it. Led by the sound of his voice, Rufus found Jem sitting at his table, a computer in front of him. Jem turned his head, looked at Rufus, and said sharply, "I shouldnt have sent you to Scarlet. She has¾ a way with people. Are you alright?"
Nodding, Rufus told Jem, "There was something I had to do, first. I stopped by my room." Rufus shrugged. He pulled up a chair next to Jem, sat, and gazed at the computer screen. Somehow, Jem had found his way into Tur-Ah Compounds Population Database, something not even Rufus knew the password to.
"Would you check on Sair for me? She was so exhausted . . . I told her to curl up in my bed. Hopefully, shell sleep all day."
Doing as asked, Rufus pushed in the chair, then walked slowly through the kitchen to Jems bedroom, where, as Jem had said, Sairobi Genevi lay in sleep, wrapped in white sheets and blankets, bare feet sticking through the cloth. One long, slender arm was flung over a pillow, fingers curling toward the palm of her hand. Though he could barely see her head, it was still apparent to Rufus that her hair, which was wet, had been cut. Hair that had once gone down nearly to her waist now curled slightly above her ears. Rufus stood there for a moment, looking at her in curiosity. He returned to the kitchen, deep in thought.
Who is this girl? Why is Jem helping her? I dont understand. And why was that woman, Scarlet¾ like that? Everything is so confusing. My father¾ "Shes fine. Shes still sleeping," he told to Jem, once again taking the chair.
Jem nodded. "Good. Shes been through so much; what she needs now is rest. Luckily, she escaped before they were able to brand her number on her, so I can simply erase it from the database. Still, shell be in danger, for a while anyway. Thats why I had her cut her hair. Still, it wont change her appearance enough, and shell have to stay out of sight for a long while. Shes a brave girl; she was able to get herself out of that hell, and she hasnt protested at all."
Looking at the computer screen, Rufus understood suddenly what Jem was doing. Hed pulled up Sairobis file, and was changing it. Where it said Citizen Status, Jem had replaced the word Prisoner to Rank A Civilian. Hed deleted the number given to all prisoners from the top left corner of the file and instead given her a passcode, something all residents of Tur-Ah required. And, as Rufus watched, Jem erased the prisoner numbers listed under mother and father, replacing them with the word Deceased. After hed changed everything else, Jem slowly pressed the delete key several times; as Rufus watched the girls last name disappeared, and was rewritten by Jem. Instead of Sairobi Genevi, the girl was named Sairobi Payne.
She was late. She was late, and Jem was worried. Standing beside the taller man, Rufus, the newly made Vice President, could feel that worry, that tension, covering Jem in a thick, dark cloud.
His mind returned to what hed heard of Jems conversation with Sair.
"This will be the best opportunity we have. It will take care of everything. Ill introduce you to everyone there. Then well leave together. It will work. Youll be safe; trust me."
"I do trust you. But, what if something happens? What if someone recognizes me¾ what if they know?"
"Its been three weeks since you escaped. The guards who would recognize you will all be on their summer leave by now. And besides, you look far different from that day you crashed into me in the hall. Nothing will happen. I promise you. After I leave, wait ten minutes, then come yourself. Ill fetch you. Dont worry."
"This dress¾ where did you get it?"
"It was my sisters. She was much shorter than you, though. It was too big. She never wore it."
"Your sister? Youve never spoken of her before."
Then, when hed made his presence known, theyd stopped speaking and stepped quickly away from each other. Jem had already told Rufus all about his plan, of course, but it was apparently new to Sair, whod stood with a frightened look upon her face, clutching the gold dress tightly against her.
Looking at his friend, Rufus reassured him, "Dont worry. Shell be here. She is likely just nervous."
"I shouldnt have made her come alone. I should have brought her with me. This is too dangerous. I shouldnt have made her come at all. I should have waited longer."
Shaking his head, Rufus kept his eyes upon the door, trying to block out all other sound, sight. He did not want to be there, at the party celebrating his absent fathers birthday. He wanted to be in his room, alone in the darkness. He kept his eyes upon that door, wanting to run to it, pull it open, and escape. Rufus could not do that, though. Instead, he turned to Jem. "You know this is the best decision. If she is a Rank A Citizen, she needs to be known by others at Tur-Ah. This is an opportunity you could not afford to miss. It¾ "
Jem was barely listening to him; he was too concerned to do anything but worry. "What could have held her up? I told her¾ ten minutes."
"Dont worry, Jem, shell be¾ " He stopped, cutting off his sentence, because the door moved slowly open and, from the darkness, into the light, Sair stepped, clad in that shimmering gold gown. Her long fingers were clasped about her arms, as though they could protect her from whatever lay in front of her. Within those eyes, that incredible color of green, Rufus could see the barest hint of fright. Others, he knew, would see the terse smile, the aloof way she held herself, but Rufus knew fear when he beheld it. Eyes could never lie. Not Sairs eyes, which held a forest of secrets within their emerald depths. "Shes here. See?"
But the girl who stood in the waterfall of light near the door had caught Jems attention, and held it. Without a word, Jem left Rufus and strode quickly, purposefully, toward the doorway. Sair turned, saw him, smiled, gently lifting one hand from her side in a small wave.
As Rufus watched, his friend caught the girls hand, ignoring everything else, and pulled her farther into the room, onto the dance floor. Entranced, Rufus kept his position, stood watching them. Others in the room, too, turned to watch Jem, the most influential man in Tur-Ah, dancing with that unknown girl.
Jem was supposed to introduce her to everyone. But hes not. In fact, looking at his friend, Rufus wasnt certain Jem was going to let her go at all. The two seemed oblivious of everything and everyone. They were gazing only at each other. Somehow, the pair looked outside of all else, as though everything corrupted in Tur-Ah could not touch them. They danced outside of time.
He could not seem to stop watching them. The light, so dim in the large room, sparkled off the gold in Sairs dress, the gold in Jems eyes. Dark hair glimmered, and the two, dancing with such fluid motions, seemed to be one being.
He heard a sudden intake of breath beside him; the smell of thick perfume inundated his senses. He knew, without having to turn and look, who it was standing beside him, who it was also gazing at Jem, at Sair. He knew the hand that rested so lightly upon his shoulder.
"Dance with me."
In one quick movement, before Rufus could say a word, she had grasped his hand and pulled him into the center of the room. Startled, he looked down at the woman with the chilling smile. Her dress was a deep red, the color of rubies, the color of blood. Her hair, pulled away from her neck, was pinned atop her head, and, strangely, she wore little make-up. The dark outline around her eyes was merely the shadow of curiosity. Her eyes glittered with the sharp teeth of winter.
"Who is she?" Scarlet demanded, her voice cold silk.
He knew who the woman was referring to. Turning, and turning her with him, he told her, "Her name is Sairobi Payne. Rank A Citizen. She came here on the last ship from Junon." The lies fell so easily from his mouth that it was easy to forget they were lies. It was easy to forget that Sair had been a prisoner, a slave, merely a week ago and that, below them, somewhere in the depths of Tur-Ahs vast basements, her family was held, made to work so that those in power could dance and celebrate.
"What an interesting name," Scarlet murmured, toying idly with a lock of hair that had come loose. She paid little attention to her dancing, trusting Rufus to do most of it for her. "Sairobi Payne. It makes one wonder."
He had not thought of that before. Jem had chosen a rather unusual last name for the girl. Sairobi Payne. Sairobi Pain. Why did he do that? For what purpose?
Looking at Scarlet, he tried to shake the feeling that had crept slowly up his back. The look in her eyes startled him. It was not a warmth he saw in there, exactly, but something he could not define. It bothered him that she looked at him in such a way, while most other times the gaze she gave him was one of indifference.
"Rufus," she said softly, slowly, her mouth caressing the word.
He nodded, but he did not say her name, as her eyes told him she long for him to do. He simply continued dancing, paying no attention to those who watched them, the vice president of Shinra and the head of the Turks. If she continued to look at him that way, he might never care about anything again. He might forget the fear that she instilled within him. He might forget his past.
But Scarlet did not continue looking at him like that. When he said nothing, simply continued to look at her, she turned away, her gaze once again falling upon Jem. "Why have I not met her before?" she demanded icily, her fingers biting suddenly into Rufuss skin.
"I dont know. Perhaps you simply never ran into each other," he replied softly. The light, so soft, so strange, was having an affect upon him, not unlike alcohol. He watched Scarlet, with her dangerous, deadly eyes. He watched Jem, and the girl who danced in his arms. Rufus felt detached from everything, even his own thoughts.
"Jem seems to know her well." She had not turned to look at him; her gaze was caught by the golden-eyed man and the golden-clad woman. Her eyes were sharp needles, trying desperately to pull the two apart.
"Yes, he does. Seem to." He would give her no more than that, even if she asked, which he knew she wouldnt. If he didnt supply what he knew himself, then she would not try to pull it from him. Scarlet had her own ways of manipulating information. She knew how to get what she wanted, and always got it.
But she wont get Jem, no matter how she tries. She has to realize that, looking at him.
Abruptly, Sair and Jem broke away from the dance floor, pulled away from each other, yet kept their hands clasped. As everyone watched, they walked out of the room, saying little. The door closed behind them; the celebration went on, as though they hadnt been there.
Rufus felt Scarlets grip tighten once more. When she turned back to him, her eyes were open, raw, filled with pure emotion. The naked hunger within those eyes was difficult to look upon.
"He will regret what he does," she whispered. "Both will. The time will come; I swear it." Her grip tightened even more; she was clinging to him, as though unable to stand on her own.
For a long, long moment, they moved in the silence the music wrapped around them. Then, as moments bled together, Rufus found speech.
"Scarlet." He spoke her name softly. Those eyes turned to him once more, veiled again in secrecy. He had been wrong, thinking eyes could not lie. Scarlets did not know how to show the truth. "Everyone regrets."
Uncertain, she nodded. At that moment, she was not so frightening. She was a child who had been hurt. She was just like him. They were the same.
"We are the same," Scarlet told him, pulling him off the dance floor. The soft music, flowing through his veins, began to slow. Rufus let her lead him out the door, into the white hallway. His footsteps matched her own; they seemed to breathe together.
We are the same. Exactly the same. This is how it is meant to be.
But when he blinked, he saw Darras face before his. He saw the curve of her lips in that teasing smile. He saw her in a moment, sitting on the ledge with him, serene and peaceful.
He saw her dead.
Rufus shivered, but was not cold.
Beside him, Scarlet slid open the door to her room, pulled him inside. The lights were on, making the room much brighter than the hallway, than the room they had departed. For a moment, he could see her clearly: the blonde hair, the dress the clung as though painted upon her body, eyelids and eyelashes, curved full lips, the pale throat. He wondered how old she was. Standing there, she could have been thirteen; she could have been thirty.
How could I ever think her dangerous? How could I ever be frightened of her?
Then, without a word, she flicked off the lights. Darkness washed over him; he took a step back. Another long moment passed; it could have been minutes, it might have been hours. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Then Scarlet took that silence in her hands, broke it in two. "Youre not afraid, are you?" How was it that her voice could change so easily, unthreatening one moment, the next carrying a quality of dread? "Nothing is there in the darkness that isnt there in the light. You know that dont you?"
His mind disagreed with her, but he did not speak. There are ghosts in the darkness. There are memories that surface only when eyes are made blind. There are whispers that cannot be heard in the light, with eyes too busy searching.
She moved silently; he wasnt aware that she was near him until shed slipped one hand around his shoulders, pressing herself against him. Her breath was warm upon his neck.
"Rufus," she crooned, her other hand creeping across the back of his neck, tilting his head down, bringing his lips gently to hers. She said his name again, a giggle in her voice. "Do you know what your father did?" she questioned suddenly, moving slightly away from him.
He didnt speak.
"You will suffer as I did."
Do you know what your father did?
She kissed him once more, roughly this time.
Do you know what you father did? Do you? Do you know? Do you know what you father did?
That kiss went on, but he wasnt thinking; her voice was echoing in his ears. The darkness was so heavy around him it nearly pulled him down.
You will suffer as I did.
Do you know what your father did?
You will suffer as I did.
What did you father do?
He found strength. He lifted an arm, pushed her away from him, much harder than hed wanted to. She could have lost her balance; he wasnt certain. Nothing could be seen in that darkness.
Without thinking, he turned, hands grasping blindly until he found his escape. Using all his strength, he ripped the door open, rushed into the hallway. It was difficult to breathe.
Just before he turned to run, he glanced back, saw her standing in the doorway, one finger tracing her chin slightly. If she said his name, he might return.
Somehow, he knew he could not do that. Rufus could not allow himself to make such a mistake. So he turned then, ran down the hallway so quickly he left his breath behind him. He didnt give himself time to think; he ran and ran, circling through the building. He was not even certain where he was running until he found himself at Jems door, felt his fist impacting with the structure.
For a long time, there was no answer. Then the door was pulled roughly open, and Rufuss fist struck nothing but air. Tomorrow, his hand would be red; it would be painful, but he gave no thought to that. He simply looked at Jem standing in the doorway, dark hair tousled, a surprised look upon his face. His shirt hung upon him strangely, unbuttoned, as though it had only hastily been pulled on. Feeling disoriented, Rufus at first did not recognize his friend.
"Its three in the morning," he muttered, then, seeing the look upon his friends face, asked with concern evident in his voice, "Rufus? Are you all right?"
He wasnt certain how long he had been running through the halls. How had so much time passed? It couldnt possibly be the time Jem claimed it to be, yet it seemed suddenly as though an eternity had passed since he stood outside Scarlets door.
"Im fine," he choked out, then turned once more, ran. He ran to his room, closed the door behind him, locked it. He ran to his bed, crawled onto it, pulled the blankets over his head and hid himself from the world.
He took a deep breath, listening to the echo his feet made each time they hit the hard, smooth ground. He walked swiftly down the hallway, intent upon his task. The vice president of Shinra did not even glance at the girl upon her hands and knees, dark hair spilling over her shoulders, revealing her scarred, bloody neck as she scrubbed the already clean floor. Instead, he walked right past her. Two years in Tur-Ah Compound had taught his eyes to be blind to such things. A starving girl who worked to clean the floor he walked upon was nothing for him to be concerned about. He left such matters to Jem, whose eyes had seen the same things, yet refused to blind themselves.
But, then, Jem had something to give him purpose; he had Sair. Perhaps, is she had never come into their lives, he would have given up his quest against slavery. Sair, though, with her smoky voice and wide green eyes, told them of what happened in Tur-Ah.
"You know they feed them maggots," shed said one night, sitting upon a chair with her legs drawn against her, cocooned in a blanket. One moment, the three had been talking, laughing softly about something Rufus could no longer remember. Jem, standing next to Sair, his hand protectively upon her shoulder, had grown still, silent, pale. "And they leave them alone there in the dark. In the cold. Its so warm outside¾ you would never dream how cold it gets. But sometimes, its so cold, when dawn comes there is light again, you can see a layer of ice upon the water bucket. There arent any blankets. Im here; Im warm. How can I laugh, when my family is down there? What if I see them some day, working¾ what if I see my sister scrubbing the floors? What will I say?" Then the words had stopped tumbling from her mouth, though her lips continued moving, her eyes continued staring outward. Rufus had left the room Jem and Sair shared, walked to his own, not able to bear the pained, determined, look in Jems eyes, nor the despair in Sairs.
Because, unlike his friend, Rufus felt nothing of pain or guilt; he wasnt sure he had any emotions. Most of the time, he merely felt cold.
Darra, though, had affected him. She might even have made him feel. Rufus shook his head, erasing such thoughts from his mind. Hed merely had an attachment to Darra, because she treated him like no one else did, like something human. Deep down, Rufus knew he wasnt human; any human part of himself had been killed a long time ago. It had died right along with his mother.
So why was it that Scarlet fascinated him? She frightened him, that was true; the woman had a way of looking at him that chilled him to his core, froze his heart and all his senses, brought him to that dangerous realm where no thought founds its way inside. But she could hook him with a glance, with a gesture, with a simple, displeased sound that escaped from closed lips. The way she dressed, the way she acted¾ she seemed unreal, fake. And if she wasnt real, then she couldnt possibly hurt him, no matter what fear she instilled within him. And, after all, fear was an emotion. The only one he had.
They'd made no mention on what had happened that night, which seemed so long ago. The entire day could have been erased from time; she went on treating him as she had before.
He wondered what would have changed, if that night had been different.
Putting thoughts of Scarlet out of his mind, he returned his attention to the task at hand. He moved swiftly down the hallway, past the girl who scrubbed with raw, reddened hands and a tear-streaked face, down the hallways, down the stairs, to Tur-Ahs side entrance.
Kren Feej nodded at him, standing behind a white desk, hastily jotting words down upon the piece of paper in front of him. Rufus did not pay him any attention; he headed toward the exit.
Opening the large outer door, Rufus stepped quickly outside, into the sweaty, damp air.
Jem had told him to go outside. It was something the older man told him to do often; to clear his head, his thoughts. This was the first time Rufus had listened. He was not even certain why. That day, hed simply found himself walking to Tur-Ah Compounds small side entrance.
He hadnt remembered the heat; in the two years hed spent at Tur-Ah Compound, hed been outside only twice, and both times had been to greet his father when the man chose to visit Tur-Ah. Both times had been at night, when the blistering heat cooled slightly, to a bearable degree. In the middle of the afternoon, the heat, the humidity, was so terrible, that Rufus was astounded anyone ventured outside at all.
Immediately, he wanted to turn on his heel, pull open the door, run inside to where it was cool and the air was breathable. But Rufus would not do that; Jem, and other soldiers, were outside all the time. If they could do it, then he certainly could. He was no spoiled son of the president; hed heard people call him that, as though they knew what it was like to live with Rufuss father. President Shinra spoiled no one but himself. But the man was a master of disguise; to those who did not know him well, he seemed nice, withdrawn even. To those who did not know him, he seemed like Rufus.
"You are not your father," Jem had told him a short time ago, after Scarlet had told him how alike he and his father were. "Shes just trying to get to you; dont let her, Rufus. You are not your father."
Rufus was not his father, and that was why he could not turn, head back into Tur-Ah. That was what his father would do. Instead, he stepped forward, his feet sinking slightly into the damp ground, and headed away from the compound, toward the forest path.
Mosquitoes swarmed around him, making soft buzzing noises as he waved them away with one arm. He walked slowly, a blur of white and blond through a background of green. He might have continued walking forever, until he reached the shore of the island, stepped into the sea, and let it swallow him. But voices, the sudden roar of laughter, caught his attention. Rufus whirled around, his eyes seeking the source of the noise.
"Rufus, what the hell happened?"
He blinked twice, quickly, then pushed Jems hand away from his face. His own fingers lightly touched the wound near his eye, then withdrew as a sharp pain shot through him.
Turning to Jem, he told him, "I went outside."
His friend gave him an exasperated look, waving the medical assistant over. "That I know. Not everyone who goes outside comes back with a bloody face and a small animal. What happened?"
Wincing as the assistant dabbed at his wound, Rufus said, "I got into a tussle with some off duty soldiers¾ "
"A tussle that you undoubtedly started. No one would willingly pick a fight with the son of President Shinra." Pausing, Jems gave Rufus a reproving look. "Three of those soldiers are in critical condition."
He glared at Jem, biting down upon his lower lip. "Are you going to let me tell this, or not?" He clenched his hands into fists. You werent there. You dont know. You cant understand.
Nodding slightly, Jem crossed his arms, waiting for Rufus to continue.
"You know that Stenforzen released seven specimens into the forest two weeks ago. The soldiers caught one of them and decided it would be great sport to torture the little beast. So¾ " He shrugged, turning his head away. "So I stopped them."
Jem did not speak for a long moment. When he found his voice, his tone was cold, somewhat frightening. "You could have killed those four. You knew they were no match for you. You could have just commanded them to stop; you could have easily taken it from them without injuring them the way you did. Rufus, you have to learn¾ "
Rufus snarled at Jem. "Dont tell me what I have to do, and what I should do. You werent there. You didnt see them, what they were doing to it. They needed to be stopped." I needed to be stopped, back then, when¾ He shook away his thoughts. Standing suddenly, he pushed himself away from the table upon which hed sat. He glanced quickly around the infirmary; the two medical assistants in the room bustled around, tending to patients, no longer paying him any attention.
"Rufus, I understand why this upset you."
"No, you dont. You cant¾ "
In one sudden movement, Jem moved toward Rufus, grasped him by the collar, and pulled him roughly. His voice was rough, filled with emotion. "I know, Rufus. I know about the creatures your father made you fight. I understand your reasoning behind saving this one, perhaps more than you do. Its the same species. It even has the infusions. So you think, if you save this one, you will be saving all those others you were forced to kill. And maybe you will; I cant say. But that does not justify you in doing what you did to those soldiers. You cant tell yourself that because you were defending it, you were right. You know that; you fought them because you wanted to fight. You fought them try ridding yourself of all that pain you have inside you that you wont admit to having. It wont work, though, Rufus. It wont."
No. Youre wrong. I fought them to save the creature, and thats the only reason. You dont understand. Youre just like everyone else; you see only what you want to, but you are NOT right! Rufus jerked himself away, narrowing his eyes. "I dont have to listen to you. Youre not my father."
"Youre right; Im not your father," Jem said coldly, then flared with anger. "But I wish to hell I was your father, because I would have taught you something more than how to kill and how to fear!"
Intending to ignore Jem, he turned and walked toward the infirmary door. Jem stopped him, caught him by the shoulder.
"You struck out childishly today, Rufus," he told him, his voice strangely bereft of emotion. "Maybe its because you were never allowed to be a child. Im four years older than you and have traveled many places you may never see, but youve seen something I hope never have to. Think about that, Rufus. And go take care of that kitten you rescued."
Rufus wanted to ask Jem how he knew all that he knew. He wanted to ask why Jem had befriended him, when almost everyone was frightened of him. He wanted to ask Jem how he was able to stand up to everyone, and still had the strength to back down when necessary. But he didnt. He simply nodded, and obeyed what Jem had commanded.
He named her Dark Nation. It was the name of the cat in the story his mother had always told him late at night, the story about the young girl kept captive in a tower in a far away land. He was not certain why, looking at her, he had suddenly remember the story, remember the name; he simply had. And he knew that there would be no other name for her.
Stenforzen had had no more use for her; as a specimen, she had been contaminated, and could not be released again into the wild. So Rufus kept her. She walked beside him always down the long hallways, her stride matching his own, her eyes the same glimmering gold color as Jems. At night, even though she soon grew too large, she crawled onto his bed, buried herself beneath his blankets.
He looked into her eyes, just as he had with those creatures he had killed. And she seemed to understand, as she stared right back. She had been bred simply to kill, or be killed. To kill his kind, as he had killed hers. Because of that, he understood the creature, and felt she understood him as no one, not even Jem, could.
His mind troubled him. Fragments of sentences, syllables, words, drifted through his consciousness, rearranged themselves in his mind. Scarlets voice, Jems, others he could not quite make out, blended together. They all spoke the same words; they all held different meanings.
You will suffer; you did suffer.
Do you know what I did?
That girl walks with ghosts.
You are not your father. You dont know how to be yourself.
Do you know what your father made me do?
Do you know what your father did, to you?
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