Between Two Worlds

13.2 Life on the edge

“Move over, kid. We’ll handle this.”

“Don’t touch her…! Athena.. you can’t go like this..”

“Let us examine her.”

“Leave us alone. Go away…”

“Curtis-“

“I SAID FUCK OFF!!!”

“Blaze.”

Blaze lifted Curtis effortlessly and wrestled him face-down onto the ground. He hooked the boy’s legs apart, sat on his hips, and placed him in a rear wrist lock. With his right arm secured and left arm injured, Curtis was immobilised and helpless. Even without his injury, Blaze was twice his size, a weapon specialist and expert in hand-to-hand combatives. “Don’t struggle, kid. You’ll dislocate your shoulder,” he said calmly.  

Enraged, Curtis yelled at him, then at Kirino who knelt beside Athena’s lifeless body. He screamed at her not to touch Athena with her filthy hands; hands that killed hundreds, that brought Athena into their world, that helped kill her. He went on until Blaze tightened the hold around his neck, and therefore his airway. Curtis could still breathe, but yelling was out of the question.

Curtis cursed internally at Kirino and Blaze, then Masato, then Steve, but most of all, he cursed himself. He sobbed into the ground. Why was he alive? Why is she dead? Why were they all taken – Rue, Saanvi, and now her? Why was he spared and not her?! He should’ve been the one to die! He should’ve anticipated her actions! He should’ve known how emotionally driven she was! He should’ve-

“She’s not dead.”

His thoughts halted. He stared at Kirino blankly. She’s lying. He had checked her pulse, her breath, her heartbeat repeatedly – frantically. Nothing indicated her living. The woman was toying with him.

He studied Kirino. For once, she did not don her mask. Her expression was genuine, and Curtis thought she looked… puzzled.

“Not all her vital signs have ceased, there is one more…” Kirino placed her hand on Athena’s heart and under her shirt, as if making sure. “The girl is warm. If she’s dead, algor mortis should occur by now, but it’s not happening.”

A memory came to Curtis – his first encounter with her. After Roge hit her on the back of her head, Curtis hadn’t been able to detect a pulse, yet Athena had woken up albeit with a splitting headache. Was this similar? Was she still alive? Hope filled him.

“Blaze, let me go. I’m calm now. I won’t try anything.”

Blaze grunted as he sat the boy upright. “That’s good, kid. Now stay put and let me check your wound.”

As Blaze inspected him, Curtis assessed his surroundings. Steve and his men lay in a crumpled pile at the edge of the thicket, no doubt gunned down by Blaze’s high-powered rifle. Kirino bent over Kian, who had passed out either from pain or blood loss. She strapped and elevated his leg with some nearby rocks before applying emergency treatment. Curtis’s woeful gaze finally rested on Athena, who may or may not be alive. I can’t do this to them anymore, he thought. They’re better off without me…

“Missed your brachial artery. Checking the damage to your peripheral and junctional arteries- hmm, nothing serious. No nerve damage either at such close range.” Curtis barely listened, until… “Passing through that force shield must’ve plunged the bullet’s velocity.”

Curtis whipped his head to face Blaze, who concluded the examination. “Looks like a flesh wound. You won’t be losing an arm tonight, kid. But we’ll get you to the medics just in case.”

“You saw us…!” Curtis’s voice laced with dread and terror.

Blaze paused, slowly meeting his gaze. “Steve’s reinforcements didn’t drop dead on their own now, did they?”

“We’ll talk about it later,” Kirino interrupted. “You’re coming with us. Police will swarm the island in 10 minutes.”

“I’m not going until she wakes up.”

“We’ll take her with us.”

“No! She stays!” Curtis cast his eyes downwards, guilt etched on his face. “She must stay… here, away from us – from me.”

The adults went quiet. Kirino exhaled deeply.

A loud wail turned them towards Steve. He had regained consciousness, letting out a series of moans and cries. His eyes widened in fear as he registered the blood leaking from his abdomen, the bodies of his men, and of Kirino, Blaze and the boy who watched him.

“But you never miss.” Curtis blurted as Steve flailed miserably on the ground. “Why did you let him live?” Blaze didn’t answer.

Kirino strolled to Steve’s side. He tried to reach for his fallen gun, but he was too injured. She ignored his whimpering and picked up his weapon, then retraced her steps towards Curtis.

“Only you can ensure that no insect will ever touch her again.” Kirino reloaded a single bullet in Steve’s weapon, looked Curtis dead in the eye and presented the firearm to him.

*****

Athena sat up in complete whiteness. It didn’t blind her, nor was it soothing. It simply was.

Have I died? She got to her feet. Silence stretched all around her. She felt as if she stood on nothing, yet it wasn’t disorienting. If this is heaven, it’s not very impressive, is it?

“I find my being here impressive,” a voice spoke into her thoughts. She turned to find the Reaper watching her curiously.

“Grim!” She exclaimed, running to his side. “How are you able to enter heaven?”

He guffawed. “This isn’t heaven, sweet child. Although I am certain such a place would welcome you with open arms. Alas, I have never been to the other side. What do I know?” He asked rhetorically in a sing song voice.

“I died, didn’t I?” Athena sighed as her most recent memories surfaced to her mind. “I thought I could do it, you know, block the bullets. Maybe if I was strong enough, or less drained I could.” She inspected herself. “I don’t see a wound though.”

“The unclaimed soul protected you,” Grim explained. “He was shot in your stead, but he is fine!” – her face had paled – “A mere flesh wound – he is being treated as we speak.”

“That’s good…” she sighed. “He protected me – again. I’m always getting myself in trouble and he would come to my rescue, except this time, he couldn’t protect me from myself.” She smiled sadly. “You know Grim, I used to think I was cursed. I stopped thinking like that after I met Curtis and Kian, but… all this stuff that’s happened to me makes me think I really am.”

“Curious, isn’t it?” The grim replied. “Never have I encountered a mortal like yourself with such ill fortune. No doubt both of you should have perished – him at the lighthouse and you barely a moment ago, but-” He paused. “You saved him once again and now, you survive.”

“… What?”

“I believe we are in your psyche,” he looked about him. “A sea of white unrestrained by a horizon; a canvas ready to be filled with colors of life’s experiences. You are very much alive if we are here.”

“We’re inside me? You’re in my head?” She questioned bewilderingly. “Why are you in my head??? You didn’t tell me you enter people’s minds when they die.”

“I am not an intrusive vermin. I simply extract memories.” He looked slighted by her words. “Yours is a curious case. As I fell my scythe upon you, I found myself pulled into you by a force – the same force that restrained my voice and prevented my warnings of peril headed your way. There is no doubt that it is the work of the Laws of the Universe, for reapers serve its laws. If Natural Law prevented my reaping of your soul and cast me into you, it proposes that this occurrence-” he waved a hand encircling Athena and himself “-is natural. And if my entering your soul is deemed natural…”

He stopped abruptly, ensuring her full attention.

“Lady Athena. Do forgive me, for henceforth I shall proselyte my belief. I surmise that there is a reason for our acquaintance; a reason for your timely appearance in my presence; and a reason for danger and misfortune’s pervasiveness in your life! You are threatened every step you take regardless of intervention. It is as if you have been marked for death at each crossroad of your living!”

A chill went down her spine. He’s right. Why was she so unlucky?

“You were to pass on tonight,” he continued. “But you pulled back into your soul, and I alongside you! This proposes a connection between us – you, a young spell caster and I, a Reaper of worlds. But how and why? What has woven us so strongly that I am able to enter your soul, perceived as part of you, and therefore it is not natural and thus forbidden for me to reap myself?”

“A part of me? You think I’m seen as you? That we’re connected??” She gasped. It would’ve been a cool idea, if she wasn’t always in danger because of it. “So because I’m seen as a reaper, I can’t die; and yet because I am recognised as one, I’m going to keep… dying?”

“I hesitate to give merit to your speculation, child. We shall focus on what is to be done instead.” He refocused the conversation. “We need to ascertain what it is that binds us and severe it! You survived, but regardless of what saved you, it is only a matter of time before you succumb to this ill fate. I shall return to you at another time to unravel the truth and with hope, unchain you from the shackles of death. May lady-luck smile upon you, young Athena. Until we meet again.”

“Wait! How do I get out of here!?” she cried, but the grim had vanished.


Notes:

I don’t think the reaper was being clear enough so I’ll reiterate.
When he tried to severe the bond between Athena’s soul and her body, he combined into her soul instead. His deduction is that the Laws perceive him and Athena to either:
1. Be of the same soul/being/person or
2. Have some form of higher/transcendent connection.

In either case, he will not have the right nor power to manipulate her soul. So the pair has two questions to explore: “Why can’t he reap her soul?” and “Why is she so unfortunate?”

If we were to factor in time, wherein this story’s timeline has moved from Spring to Autumn, she’s been bullied and expelled, her life threatened 4 times and finally this moment where she’s supposed to die all in a matter of 9-10 ish months. I’d say she’s really, really unlucky.

  • I’m not a fan of gore, so unless it’s central to the story or partly hidden, I won’t add blood effects. Like that one shot where Steve is clutching his side with his men around. I don’t think I’d be able to sleep if I added the effects. Sorry for the lack of consistency.
  • I’m not sure if I should put the #swear or #blood tag on this chapter. There’s 1 cuss word in the entire chapter. I usually consult other blogs, but most don’t put the tag once the story is labelled mature. I’ll use it if I have a foul-mouthed character but I appreciate what you think is right. I’m still new to story writing so any advise is appreciated! 🙂

29 thoughts on “13.2 Life on the edge

  1. I read without pics because my Reader isn’t loading them today, and it totally works as text only! Reaper’s explanation was ample and very clear! I don’t see a need for the warning tags. Super plot!

    1. Aww thank you for your kind words and suggestions! I always have a small worry whenever the Reaper enters the stage because I like him so much so I want to portray him and his quirks just right. That’s a shame, I hope it is a one time thing in regards to your Reader not loading the pictures. My next two chapters are cinematic screenshots like the lighthouse chapters. I am still reflecting on why my mind insists that this method is best for these chapters – I have a few theories but I’ll sit on it some more.

      1. A picture tells a thousand words, so sometimes screenshots are all you need. 🙂 I like to do weddings that way, but it’s also because I can never think what to say.

      2. I dont seem to be getting notifications from you and CathyTea! Sorry if it seemed like im not responding. That’s so lovely of you to say that. I’ve been missing your stories. Are you taking a break?

      3. Don’t worry, WordPress is like that sometimes. I try to check Reader at least once a day. Yeah, I went on a building break, something I do from time to time. But I’ll be back to playing soon. 🙂

  2. Athena and Death have a weird connection. After all the reveals I feel left with more questions. Is Kian ok? Why is it they insist on Curtis doing the killing? Looking forward to see what happens next!

    1. Kian is okay! But he won’t be as good an MMA fighter anymore. You raised a very good observation. Curtis has always had one foot in/out when it comes to his partnership with Masato’s organisation. So there’s 2 things happening here. First is that if Curtis needs to prove his reliability/efficacy as a team member (able to take life when ordered). The second is simpler, he’s being tested. 😐

  3. Eek. while it might be luck that Kirino and Blaze were there before the police, I see what they’re trying to do. They make Curtis get used to killing :X

    The connection between Grim and Athena is a weird one. I wonder if Grim once was one of her ancestors?

  4. I thought Grim’s explanation was straightforward. I’m really interested to see what their connection is. In my stories, I try to put up warnings if there is blood or gore, and I put up warnings if there is a lot of swearing, especially if I have a few F-bombs in there. If there are only a few swear words, I usually don’t put up warnings. As a reader, I rarely pay attention to tags, but mature content and gore don’t bother me. That’s just my take on it and I think what you are doing now is enough for readers to decide if a certain chapter contains triggering content. And I agree with cathytea, I don’t think this chapter needed any tags.

    1. Ah thank you for the valuable feedback. Im definitely getting my bearings around ratings and cws better now. I’ll need that knowledge for sure.🤣

  5. This is it, isn’t it? The reason for why her life has been so miserable, down to her father dying of a sudden heart attack and she and people around her constantly being drawn into negativity. What on earth happened for Athena to get such terrible cosmic karma?

  6. Of course Kirino wants Curtis to deliver the lethal blow. How long have they been there, watching?

    I definitely don’t fully understand her connection with Grim, but it could have very interesting implications – I’ll reserve judgement on whether good or bad.

    1. No problem! Im happy you read through the yucky parts of the story quickly like ripping a band aid. I usually go hide when I know those chapters are being written cuz yeah….. 😶

  7. Kirino and Blaze just happened to see what happened and find them. I’m highly suspicious, but grateful for their intervention, even if Kirino is putting the gun back in Curtis’ hand, exactly what Athena did not want and tried to prevent with her use of magic shield. (which was epic, btw!!)

    I didn’t see the need for tags. This is super fascinating. Reaper and Athena are connected? I’m super intrigued. She is a reaper herself? Or maybe the connection is her deceased father? Or something else? I can only speculate for now, but well done. This was an excellent chapter.

    1. Some good theories there. 🙂 Kirino and Blaze have been tracking Curtis ever since Athena’s disappearance was publicly reported on the news. They had to go through a few hurdles first, hence the late entrance.

  8. Oh wow, I totally forgot about her having no pulse! Good to see that coming back in a significant way. Really adds to the reread value.

    Athena’s mind is… blank, isn’t it? But I’m totally ready for this dream sequence/trippy psychoanalysis section. There are some cool ideas in this chapter.

    Kirino forcing Curtis to make a decision whether or not to kill is p. significant for her because it shows where her loyalties are; she’d rather try to manipulate Curtis into thinking he’s a monster like his father for killing to prevent violence rather than committing violence for selfish reasons. Like if a child trafficking victim plunged a pair of scissors into her captor’s neck right before he was about to beat another little girl to death, and then he bled out, the Killing is Always Bad team would shame her and tell her she’s no better than her abuser. It’s not a new idea that some instances of killing can be considered ‘nonviolent’ under some nuanced definitions of nonviolence—looking at you, ahimsa—so the real challenge is identifying when killing is necessary to prevent more suffering and when it isn’t. I don’t necessarily think it is here but it’s the more humane choice for Steve. Rant over.

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I hope Curtis gets a lesson in nuance so he doesn’t blame himself and can make the distinction between reluctantly killing as a last resort to prevent violence and what the people around him are doing. If he doesn’t kill Steve, he could even feel guilty that he let his own (perceived) selfish desire to not deal with the emotional recuperation after killing someone lead to violence that would have been preventable (also perceived, b/c Steve’s the actor here). That’s what the line “wringing your hands over keeping them clean” in S&L5 means. Ok, I guess the rant wasn’t fully over.

    If you’re still up for feedback, which I’m guessing is probably not the case, I think what you wrote for Grim is perfectly clear—though I suspect others appreciated the kindly provided breakdown—and gave you a standing ovation for using a real swear word. Funny world we live in where a story can have the protag be sexually assaulted and almost die multiple times, and it’s still an issue for The Kids to read a word they probably already know and have seen used emphatically, i.e. nonviolently, eh? Not that this is a critique on your choices. I get that you’re making them to be kind and respectful. It’s just that, man, society’s priorities are weird sometimes. Okay, third rant over.

    1. Ha ha ha. What are your thoughts on Athena’s mind being blank? xD

      Ah.. I think they’ve grown accustomed to the idea that they’re all monsters in some ways. So I’m not surprised that Kirino handed Curtis the gun. They’re so used to violence at this point. What is another life when they’ve already cumulated a pile of bodies. :\

      Haha! I get you. Kinda weird for me to have tags when my protags are runners and assault victims. I think I have a tobacco warning somewhere and I just left it. xD

      1. What if I said I had no thoughts on Athena’s mind being blank? Hahha. And I guess it could also show that Kirino sees Curt as a killer now; good point.

        I do love tobacco reference tags, because they usually come near the end. Depictions of torture? Body horror? Gore? MURDER? AND TOBACCO REFERENCES?!

  9. So, Kirina and Blaze were sent there by Masato to ensure that Curtis kills Steve. I would bet they’ve been following them. So not only do Curtis and Kian know her secret – now Masato does as well.

    I believe the connection between the Reaper and Athena started with her father’s death…but maybe I’m reading too much into that.

    1. Yay for more theories! I wont be answering of course, but you should totally make them as they go. The answers are not far. 😀 We’re almost at the end of S1 after all.

      Masato knows too much. 😥

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