The Deceiver {Part 5}

I know, I feel like I apologize too much when it comes to these things, but this time I am especially sorry, since I am normally a girl of my word… I had fully intended to write up one of these once every two weeks for you guys, but things got really out of hand workload-wise for me… and so, I sadly got behind… BUT. Today I intend to do some major catching up. So, to pick up where we left off…

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Wren was doing something completely out of the ordinary.

At least, out of the ordinary compared to what she had currently been doing.

She was looking for her jacket, so she could go take a walk and mull things over. Normally, in these circumstances she’d do anything to get her friends back. Anything. But something about last night nagged and tugged at the back of her mind. The paper’s comforting glow, yet the fact that the lettering only showed in darkness. The fact that she or Jake had not spied it earlier was disturbing enough, and she still debated whether or not she could trust this person, whoever they were.

Finding her jacket, she yanked it on and trudged outdoors. Perhaps some fresh air might do her some good, and clear her head. Heavens knew she probably needed it anyway, being cooped up for a week in her bedroom like the–

She stopped, suddenly disgusted with herself. What had she been doing? Hiding away as some kind of recluse, as he had, instead of seeking answers actively? Being self-pitying would get her absolutely nowhere, and if she wanted to become as the Junk Collector had been, she was already well on her way. She kicked at the wood floor in anger and frustration. She wanted to get as far away from that, from Junk Collectors, from what they called the Shadow Six, and even from Kodi and Guy, if they continued to nag her, if all possible– not the opposite.

Fueled by this, she remembered her family lake, with the little boat she and Jake had bought the one year they had gone camping out by the woods, to sail out to what they named “Island Tapu,” from a story in an old New Zealand book their father had picked out for them on his many travels. She set her jaw in determination, relaxed her muscles briefly– then took off like a shot off the porch, down a winding path into the nearby woods. And she did not look back.

But if she had, perhaps she would have hesitated more.

###############

Kodi rose relatively early that morning, at eight in the morning. He took his time to just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, fan slowly rotating above him, pondering everything that had transpired. So, he could make things jump to life simply by a swish of his paintbrush, a stroke of his pencil. The thought was both mind-blowing and mortally terrifying at once. He had thought he’d have enough control over his gift to control the spider, so he could train it, but… he shivered, edging down under the covers even more. He hadn’t predicted it to grow so large so quickly, let alone turn against him like that. It was a miracle Guy had gotten there in time. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. The brush stroking the page. The color seeping through. One hairy, behemoth leg slowly peeling itself off the page and onto the floor, large, depth-less inky eyes peering into his soul, mandibles clicking rapidly, threateningly closing in…

Kodi exhaled, trying to calm himself. He knew that that was the least of their concerns, at any rate. Wren was still in major recluse mode, as far as he knew, and it was up to him, and only him, to try to weasel her out of it. No easy feat, for certain. And from what he could tell, while her cutting herself off from the rest of the world was naturally a defensive thing for her to do, in some ways it left her… more open. More vulnerable. Every bit as vulnerable as he’d been to the mini-Shelob he’d summoned. He needed a plan, a course of action, an argument to make her see reason before it was too late. The last thing their small group needed was more complications.

Sighing, he finally clambered out from under his toasty sheets, pulling them along with them as he tiptoed down the hallway. His ears, almost as sharp as his mind, eyes, and memory, detected the old man’s soft snoring across from his room, making him chortle softly under his breath. Next door, Kodi heard Guy mumbling in his sleep. Kodi cracked the door open to see him slouched over his desk, head cushioned by what appeared to be an opened textbook. Tiptoeing inside to see what it was that had kept his adoptive “brother” up half the night, he peered over Guy’s shoulder. Physics, huh… Kodi had heard of physics, but, being in the fourth grade, had never first-hand experienced the “pleasure” of such equations. Yet.

The thought made his artsy-minded brain shudder as he carefully backed out of Guy’s room, and quietly shut the door. Making his way back into his own room, he discarded the blanket and pulled on a jet black hoodie, grabbed his sketchpad, some pencils, erasers and a granola bar on his way out.

He did not regret his decision to squat outdoors to practice right away. It was fairly peaceful out; a subtle percussion of wind chimes accompanied by a lovely chorus of mourning doves, robins, and–

Meroooowwww….

Kodi’s ears pricked at the foreign noise. It sounded like…

His perceptive, dark chocolate eyes rapidly scanned the nearby tree branches. Sure enough, the one across the road, next to their mailbox, had entangled in its grasp a small, helpless feline, mewing helplessly. It looked stuck, limb all splayed out in different directions. Kodi wasted no time, madly sketching out a ladder, and, reaching out, took hold of the wooden ends, which now materialized as he pulled it forth from the pad. As soon as the leader had finished materializing, its image had vanished off the paper. After tucking his pad and drawing equipment into his knapsack and slinging it around his skinny shoulders, Kodi dragged the ladder over to the tree, almost regretting making it twice as tall as he was, if only for the weight’s sake. He leaned against the trunk; it went up just high enough to reach the lower branches. He’d have to stretch a little, but would make it.

Taking a deep breath, he placed a foot on one of the rungs, testing its sturdiness with his weight. To his relief, it seemed safe enough, and with that reassurance, he began climbing. He tested each rung before trusting his weight to it; he might have been a good artist, but he didn’t know how good a BUILDER he was.

“Well, look who it is,” drawled an annoyingly familiar voice. Kodi spun, almost losing his balance, already halfway up. Behind him, low on the ground, were the two kids from the other day– the timid, pretty young girl, who now was looking down steadily, as though embarrassed, and the saucy bully. “Yeah, what’s it to you?” He tried to keep both the ladder and his voice steady.

The bully boy tilted his head, looking up with a sneer across his freckled features. “You know, I always said that little monkeys like yourself were good at climbing,” he said, “But last I checked, don’t monkeys climb TREES… not ladders?” He nudged the girl sharply; she winced. “What do you think, Dusk? Shouldn’t we help the monkey better adapt to his environment?” When she gave no response, he continued, “Fine, if you won’t– I will.”

With that, he drew from his jeans pocket a stick of gum, calmly chewed, then placed the reddish gum wad on the lowest rung. The wad illuminated, much to Kodi’s shock, and, even more so when it suddenly exploded, taking out not just the rung it had been placed on, but the two above it as well. The whole ladder quaked, and Kodi had to fight to keep from plummeting below, scrambling as steadily as possible further up, away from the blast. No way… Is… Is HE some kind of psychopathic Junk Collector, too? But there was no time to really think about that, not when he was only halfway up the ladder. His options were, as he saw it, to either jump and risk breaking a leg, or… Kodi threw a quick glance up at the branches again. The kitten was still there, yet had gone very silent, ears flattened against the explosion’s noise and the hostility radiating from the boy below.

Fortunately, the bully seemed not to notice the poor animal; Kodi hated to think what would have happened if he had.

Grinning, the jerk proceeded to reach for another stick of gum to repeat the process– only to have his hand slapped away by the girl, whom he had called Dusk. “What do you think you’re doing?” Kodi heard the bully hiss as he clamped down roughly on her wrist. “You know that–” “Yes, I know,” the girl responded, cringing at the grip. “But that doesn’t mean…” Her eyes flickered up briefly, towards the tiny, white and gray speckled kitten. This time, the bully followed her gaze. Upon catching her eyes’ target, he laughed bitterly. “Oh, is that all? Your precious little kitty cat? Did you forget what we came here for? Did you forget what he does to–”

“I know,” she half-whispered, face almost hidden by a curtain of shining black hair. “But…”

“Hey, you there,” called out Kodi, interrupting. “Yeah, you. The big orangutan with the baseball cap that’s as backwards as your brain. Leave us both alone; I’m just getting a cat down, anyway. What’s it to you?”

The jerk snorted, then turned to the girl. “See? This is what happens when you can’t look after what you’ve been entrusted with. But don’t worry– you’ve been assigned a partner who can take care of both his own and your mistakes quite easily. Watch carefully. Maybe you’ll actually learn something, for once.” Faster than Kodi could blink, the boy slid another stick of gum down from inside his sleeve, chewed faster than a steam engine’s wheels, and, leaping up, slapped another wad on a rung just a few below Kodi’s feet. This time, Kodi didn’t wait til it started glowing or to test the remaining rungs; he hurried up the rest and lunged for the lowest branches, just above his head.

And none too soon– this blast was larger than even the last, destroying all the remaining rungs. What little remained of the ladder crashed to the ground below loudly, and dissolved into piles of pencil lead while Kodi dangled dangerously, ten feet above ground, holding on for dear life. He decided to take a risk, and, using a swinging momentum, managed to propel him up higher yet, grabbing onto more stable branches while getting jabbed by most. Soon, he too was entangled, and wondered just how similarly the kitten had ensnared itself. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the girl flinch once more, then look away… but this time, towards her companion. “Twilight?”

“What NOW?” It sounded more like a frustrated snarl than a real question.

“Aren’t we supposed to meet up with Midnight and Dawn sometime soon at that place to discuss…”

“SHHH!!” The boy called Twilight swore, jerking his head up towards Kodi. “Geez, do you want HIM to hear?!”

“I’m sorry… it’s just…” The girl, Dusk, bit into her lip. “Time is of the essence, and I thought it would be best if we started before we got too… held up.”

Twilight– though Kodi somehow doubted that was actually his real name– shook his head. “Alright, FINE. But we aren’t leaving until we at least finish what we’ve started.”

“Which would be what, exactly?” They both turned to face Kodi. “Sorry, couldn’t help overhearing. Kinda hard not to, being well within earshot and all.” Twilight sneered at him. “Funny you ought to mention that… because yeah, it DOES concern you, little monkey.” Turning to Dusk, “Do it. Do it now, before you lose the nerve.” His tone made Kodi stiffen with an unknown kind of fear. Do what? 

When Dusk seemed to hesitate again, Twilight growled, “Would you rather take care of him?”

“No,” she said rather quickly, “Of-of course I’ll do it. I just… Let me get…” She gestured to the kitten, who was mewing pitifully again, and Kodi realized with a jolt that it was hers. Twilight rolled his eyes. “Fine. But be quick about it.” The girl nodded, and, with a little flick of the wrist, she pressed the dark green beads of her bracelet into the tree’s trunk. The whole tree groaned slightly, creaking forward; the kitten yowled, clearly panicking. Kodi didn’t blame it; waves of more shock, more horror, were crowding out all his senses, any rationality he had left standing. One of the tree’s branches, hand-like, gently plucked the small kitten out from its brambles, the way a small, bug-collecting child might pick a beautiful beetle they do not wish to harm out of their hair, and reaching downward, presented the animal to Dusk, who had one arm outstretched. After nestling her pet tightly to her bosom, Twilight called out to her in bored annoyance, “Any day now.”

“R-right.” Turning back to the tree, Dusk pressed her forest-green beaded bracelet even harder into the tree, which now shook and shivered. “Out of the ground, thee has been raised,” she whispered. The branches shriveled, shrinking and curling around Kodi, almost cage-like; the whole tree seemed to tremble in anticipation quite forcefully. “Now to the earth, thou shalt be laid.” With that, and with her concentration, the tree, shaking a bit more violently now, felt as though it were… shrinking? No, not quite, Kodi realized, his heart jumping nearly out of his chest. A large hole had been furrowed out beneath them.

He was going to be buried. Alive.

The tree seemed to take its time, however, rumbling down into the pit, along with him, bit by bit. He frantically tried to climb out, to pry the branches loose– with no success. It was like trying to peel a permanent sticker off a metal wall, but more difficult. He took a chance when he passed her sympathetic eyes, “Don’t do this, please, don’t do this– I was only trying to–”

“Shh… I know,” she said softly. She was kneeling now, since the trunk was so far in, she had to press her special bracelet beads to the ground, instead. Her pretty, dark eyes scanned his face with only mild worry, but a good bit of empathy. “Thank– Thank you. For trying. And… I’m sorry.” The ground was now starting to building up around his “cage”; he was beginning to feel nauseated, claustrophobic. When there was only about a yard-wide hole above his head, he heard her whisper, so inaudibly he almost thought he imagined her saying it, “You know what to do. I know you do. Be… be strong.” And then, louder, while lifting her face to the sky:

“And now, unto the earth’s care– I commit thee!”

The hole slammed shut, and there was instant darkness.

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