"No, Bryson. Not yet." He said, and peeked over at me as if to silently tell me to keep my mouth shut.
"Well, keep trying. The sooner we get Justin's abilities under control, the better. Let me know the second he reestablishes contact." Bryson put a caring hand on Taryn's shoulder to guide him away and talk in private. But he leaned over and gave me the sweetest kiss on my cheek before letting go of my hand.
"I'll be back in a minute, k?" He said, and a warm feeling rose up within me as I nodded in agreement. You never know how far away you are from the love of your life until you reconnect. And then...you wonder how you ever made it without them by your side.
"Whoopdeedoo..." Michael said with an envious sneer. "...You two are back in love again. Will surprises never cease?" He made effeminate gestures to mock me. "'I love you, baby.' 'Oh, I love you too, snookums.' Mwah mwah mwah mwah...gimme a break."
"Bite me." I said.
"Not even if I liked you, newblood."
I didn't give Michael the satisfaction of a conflict. I didn't even care enough to make it an issue. So I turned my attention to Doc instead. "When do you think you'll hear from him again?"
"I don't know. This Jeweler guy just seems to 'know' the right time and place to find me." Doc adjusted his glasses a bit, and gave me a bit of a sheepish look. "Are you sure about this, Justin? I mean, Pan is already trying to get a hold of this Erick guy to tell me more about these hidden conversations and all. I'd feel a lot better about this if I knew what we were walking into."
"So would I, Doc. But...he's right. I need his help. I don't have a lot of time." I looked over at Taryn and Bryson, who was, no doubt, talking to him about Alec. I could tell by the hurt in my boyfriend's eyes. "Yeah..I have to move fast." If the Jeweler could just...get me stable again, he could help me save my angel. I never thought that protecting something so fragile would be so difficult.
I noticed Trevor watching me from the corner of my eye, and I did what I could to shake myself free of my thoughts. Keeping him out of my head was a must at all times. Above all things, Trevor was a manipulator, even when he was being harmless about it. I didn't need him playing his little mind games around me. Not now.
"Let me know if you hear anything, Doc. Either from Pan OR the Jeweler, k? Whichever one contacts us first. I can't afford to wait around much longer." I said, and walked away to maybe find myself some peace and quiet until Taryn and Bryson were finished.
I managed to pass by Gyro, who was sorta sulking to himself while sitting on an old tire, throwing rocks at the ground beneath his feet. It was a strange thing, seeing Gyro look so...'un-hyper'. His little bottom lip was poked out in an almost comical fashion. But the sadness in his expression made sure that there was nothing 'funny' about it. He looked up, and quietly said, "Hey..."
He hesitated a moment, but something about the last words his sister said to him must have really touched a nerve. Gyro was hardly one to let anything bother him for more than a few seconds. "I'm ok, I guess." He pouted "I think...maybe it's time I get going again. I kinda miss my girl, anyway. My friends." He looked back down at his shoes, and it was as if this visible 'gloom' had actually covered him from head to toe. "I mean...I have fun with you guys and all, but...I don't belong here, I guess."
I put a hand on his shoulder, accidentally absorbing a strong surge of emotion from him that made me feel as though my heart was being crushed on all sides by a weighted feeling of guilt. I had to let go just to keep from letting it consume me too. I was at a loss for words, but...I had to do something. "Gyro...look, I don't know what Rain said, but...she's just being...'Rain'. You know that, right? We love having you around."
"You don't understand, Justin. She totally hates me. It's been YEARS and she still hates me."
"She doesn't hate you, dude..."
"Yeah...she does. Because of what I did." He said, but didn't seem to want to go into any further details about it. He rubbed his little nose on his sleeve and mumbled, "I never should have come looking for her in the first place."
He sorta 'cut me off' with that comment, making it clear that he didn't have anything more to say about it. So I just offered him my hand to help him up to his feet. And that's when I saw it...
Perhaps another circle. Perhaps a nightmare. Perhaps a horrific vision of the future. But I SAW it! As though it were happening right in front of me at that moment. My hand outstretched to Gyro in the exact same way, but I was looking down at him from the roof of a very tall building. He was hanging off of the ledge, bleeding, broken...crying...as though he had been beaten nearly to death. And as desperately as I reached down to save him from falling...Gyro's once fragile and boyish frame simply couldn't hold on long enough. I watched him cough up a small spattering of blood, and whimper helplessly as his fingers lost the strength needed to hold onto the ledge. I couldn't reach him in time. I COULDN'T! And with a scream...he fell. I watched him fall from the roof...down into darkness where all I could hear was a sickening thud on the concrete.
With a gasp, I snatched my hand back and covered my mouth with both hands, as reality snapped back into place. Gyro gave me a crazy look. "What's the matter?" I stood there motionless. Trying to force the memory of that blasphemous vision out of my mind. The sight of it almost brought tears to my eyes. "Well, are you gonna help me up, or what?" He said...and reluctantly...I reached out a shaky hand. He took hold and stood up, brushing himself off a bit. "I'm gonna go get liquored up. Now that Bernie's is all bashed up, I've gotta find another vampire spot that allows halflife's to party without the hassle. You wanna go?"
It became almost impossible to look him in the eye. The very thought of Gyro being gone just...it shook me to the very core. I found it hard to even put the words together to speak. "Uhhh...no. No, you go, ok?" I said. "But...Gyro, be CAREFUL, ok?"
"Be careful? Be careful for what?" He asked.
Do I follow him? Or do I stay away from him? If I stay away from him...then it can't happen, right? I can't be there. I can't reach out to him. He can't get hurt. I never knew if the circles were jumping ahead a number of years or a couple of minutes. But....but if I'm not there...then...maybe the circle will break. And a new one will have to begin. A better one. A SAFE one.
Gyro finally shook his head as I looked on in silence. "You're gettin' weird on me, dude. See ya later." And with that, he walked away, peeking once back over his shoulder as I stared at him with a trembling in my stomach.
I never wanted to see these things. Not ever.
My legs felt weak as I attempted to keep going. And occasionally I would see a small scrap of metal or paper move itself out of my way. My extras still slipping out of my grasp every now and then. It was like trying to hold too many objects in your arms at once. And even when you were weary from trying to keep everything together, items would spill over and under your arms anyway. Regardless of the effort to hold it still. I kept trying to 'file' them all away into neat little sections of my memory like Doc taught me to...but every time I thought I had them sorted out, ten new ones, that I didn't even know I had, would suddenly pop up out of nowhere and swim freely in my thoughts without any restriction at all. They were getting harder and harder to see. Or to figure out. Or to even HIDE. Sometimes I feel so full that I think I'm gonna be 'sick' from it. Other times...the feeling goes away completely...and I wonder what those different abilities are doing. If they're just positioning themselves in a blind spot...waiting to lash out without warning. I seriously need to, like...'practice' more. If for no other reason than I'd know what to expect of myself in tense situations.
I climbed up on a stack of rusted old Volkswagens, and just...sat down on the top of the heap. It was a quiet part of the lot. Far enough away from everything and everybody, where I could clear my head, and think. I could look back and see the Chicago skyline in the distance. Thinking about my lost humanity. Surprisingly, I found myself wishing I could be a part of that blissful ignorance again. My problems seemed soooo huge back then So incredibly unfair. And in a lot of ways, maybe they were. But it was nothing in comparison to the weight I've had placed on my shoulders now. Nothing.
If only I could just...'forget'. Just forget, and go back to the trailer, and cuddle up with my boyfriend in peace. Life would be so much better. So much easier.....
Flashes of Gyro falling from that ledge flashed briefly across my mind again, and I did all I could to block it out. But the image was quickly replaced with a vision of Dion...on the floor, with his back against a glaring white wall...blood splattered across his face. And in front of him...a long sharp metal object...dripping with blood, and the sound of a loving heartbeat...slowly coming to a complete stop.
I pulled my knees up under my chin, and clenched my fists up on either side of my head...physically pounding the sight from my eyes! Whimpering helplessly at the realism of it. Go away! GO AWAY!!! More images flooded my mind in a dizzying array of uncategorized chaos. A bus nearly flipping over on its side. Monsters in a forest, jumping from tree to tree. A man, chained to the wall, preparing to die. And many others...blurring my sight...until I saw one last mental picture. A vision of me standing out at the lake...tears in my eyes...as I finally take in....one last sunrise.
I felt a few stray tears run from my eyes as I held myself tight, curled up into a ball, rocking back and forth as I waited for the horrific predictions to fade. I couldn't even make sense out of some of the thoughts being shown to me. Faces I didn't recognize. Places I had never been Events that were so surreal that I could hardly bear the confusion they created in me. Voices, conflicts, losses...pain. Maria. And Zero. And Comicality. And 'Rage'. A jumble. Scramble. A scattering of thoughts with no link to anything I've ever known or ever thought I would know. And the time for their arrival was approaching fast. Just like Zero said..the circles were getting smaller. Smaller all the time.
As my head cleared, the pain in my heart increased. Almost overwhelming me as I looked up at the sky and practically BEGGED the stars to choose somebody else. ANYBODY else! I don't WANT to bear the pain of the whole world anymore. I don't want the responsibility of making the change. They won't listen. They won't even care. As I sobbed quietly to myself, I remembered the times when all it took was a warm embrace from my mother's arms and a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to make everything all better again. I needed my mom again. I needed my life. I don't think...I wanna be here anymore.
Sighhh....Comicality...where ARE you? Please come talk to me. Please...make everything ok.
However, once the thoughts left my mind...it wasn't Comicality that heard my call.
I saw flashes in the sky before me. Followed by a rolling symphony of thunder, and the already suffocating darkness seemed to deepen its shade into something that light could no longer penetrate. Not even the divine light of the stars themselves.
I wiped my eyes clean, and put my legs down as I saw the flashes of lightning crawl through the clouds, getting closer and closer by the second. I heard the sound of a deep growl rumbling through the increasing wind, and I instantly stood up on my feet. The roar got louder. Like the roar of a hundred lions at once...but even deeper. More powerful. More sinister. It was enough to cause the stack of cars beneath my feet to vibrate from the force of it. And as I looked up at the dark turbulence of the stormy sky above...I saw an evil pair of eyes open up to present their intimidating stare...as the clouds opened up in a grisly snarl full of fangs.
The Beast was returning. Gathering every painful memory, every fear induced fit, and using it to gain strength. I could practically feel it sapping the misery right out of me. Using it against me. The plight of my friends and the burden of my situation was feeding it faster than I had anticipated. And I couldn't stop it.
The clouds swirled up over my head, and a demonic screech knocked me off of my feet, sending me to fall hard on the ground below! The fall knocked the wind out of me, but I tried to roll to my feet. It was as if the whole world around me was suddenly becoming re-infested with the Beast's disgusting presence. It made everything dark again. It invaded my thoughts..only letting me see the bad. Only allowing me to feel the fear. It was all in my mind, but the Beast knew my own demons well. Better than I did. And it knew how to wield them as an unbeatable weapon against me.
I got to my feet just as the thunder cracked loud enough to almost deafen me. I ran forward, but a shadowed claw reached out from behind a corner to cut me off. It attempt to grab me, reaching out with its claws stained with blood...but I stopped and reversed my direction. The ground bean to get unstable under my feet, so I jumped on top of the cars in front of me, watching them as they began to sink into the dirt as though it was quicksand. It was trying. It was trying so HARD to get back in. But I used every bit of self control that I had to keep that thing out of my head. Enraged, the Beast shouted and grumbled with even more ferocity! The stack of wrecked autos that I was standing on, began to sink faster, and I was forced to jump to another stack in order to keep from going down with them.
It's NOT coming back! I can...I can keep it behind the barrier! It's not strong enough yet. It's just trying to trick me into feeding it more pain!
I saw a gigantic black shadow slide across the ground to the stack I was standing on, almost like a great white shark being spotted beneath the waves...and as it circled around beneath me, the cars began to sink again. But this time, my eye caught flashes of light as large mirrors seemed to emerge from the dirt itself. And in each mirror...a different scene of misery. A different vision of the future. It was FORCING me to see!
One mirror showed me fighting an armada of soldiers, being cut and sliced from all angles in a confined space. Another showed me being hunted by assassins, trying to protect Taryn from their slaughter. Yet another showed me holding Taryn's lifeless body in my arms...both of us covered in blood, and me screaming to the sky as I tried desperately to wake him up again. They showed me what was to come...and it hurt. It hurt sooo much that I had to shut my eyes to keep it from murdering my spirit completely!
I jumped to another stack of rusted metal, and then I shut my eyes to keep from being affected. The roars continued, and the Beast's shadow was quick to position itself beneath me with every move I made. I had to open my eyes as the cars began to rock to the point of almost falling over...and I looked into a mirror by mistake, seeing Alec practically stomping Michael into a bloody mess on the floor as Trevor attempted to come to his rescue. Alec smiled widely, finally getting the chance to murder a rival that he's spent his whole life waiting to see again. I turned away from it, only to see another mirror pop up in front of me. This time I shut my eyes before seeing the vision ahead of me. But as the cars fell over, and me with them, my eyes had to open again. The pain of seeing my dearest friends being murdered was too much for me to hide from...and the Beast's shadow began to slowly take form.
No! NO!!! I used Dion's extra to shut down as much of my emotion as I possibly could...but it didn't matter. It didn't shut the emotion off, it merely hid it from sight. And it continued to absorb it all. I saw the form trying to rebuild itself out of the shadows swirling around it, and it crawled along the ground in a tar-like unstable mess. It was crawling away from me, and I built up an energy blast inside...hoping that it would damage it enough in its weakened state to let me return to my regular mind state before it regained full power. I let go with a brain geyser blast that scattered the black gelatinous creature all over the yard, splashing against the cars as I separated it as much from itself as humanly possible. But the moment the blast was over...it simply began to slide and roll across the dirt, regenerating itself again. And at that point...yet another threat came into play.
That wicked spotlight from above suddenly shined its hateful anti-light down on me once again. Seeking me out. Whatever I had done, had alerted Alec to my presence...and he began searching again. Frantically using his tracking extra to locate me before I had the chance to block him out again I used Kid's static to keep him at bay as much as I could, but the shadows of the Beast began to get bigger, thicker, and the shadows on the ground became a puddle of monstrous hands that moved forward and began trying to grab a hold of me!
I stepped back, and fought off the many clawed hands lashing out from the dark ooze in front of me, but it took concentration away from me blocking out Alec, who was DESPERATELY trying to get a lock on me! Something about my avoiding him last time has created an even more urgent and strategic approach in him finding me. Keeping Alec was more important...and I couldn't concentrate on both. So I ran from the Beast and restructured the mental shield I had to counteract Alec's method of tracking me. I don't know how he was doing it, but he was SERIOUSLY getting close to figuring out where I was. And I can't have Alec find out the location of the Lot! I just CAN'T!!!
I ran further, using all of my focus on creating the strongest wall of defense that I could...but the Beast kept growing. Even using my fear of Alec as a source of energy. I was trapped. Unable to fight both of them at once. So I tried to simply get out of this pseudo reality and hopefully regain full consciousness so that I could escape them. I didn't know how to exit the illusion. I didn't know what kind of extra I needed to use to break out of this alternate realm of thought that I had been unwillingly sucked into. But I cycled through as many as I could. And as FAST as I could! Alec was practically tearing my mind APART trying to get access!
One of the Beast's hands grabbed a hold of my ankle, while two other hands grabbed me by the arms, holding them down at my sides! I struggled to get away, while still blocking Alec at every turn. More arms reached out of the shadows, now clawing and scratching me hard enough to leave bloody shreds of flesh on my arms and legs. I cried out in agony..and the Beast used that pain and suffering to grow stronger, a malformed, but stabilizing set of dark demonic wings now rising out of the ooze as its frightening roar shook both heaven and Earth. And still...my only concern was keeping Alec from finding my friends. And my angel. Even as the Beast began to pull me into the dark pit it had created on the ground under my feet.
Not far from me, I looked up...to see that blasphemous other side of myself...watching the whole thing play out with a wicked grin. My other personality let his eyes meet mine, and he crossed his arms...refusing to help me until I asked him to. Waiting for me to tap into the fury that only he could bring. I was losing. Losing my battle, losing my foothold, losing MYSELF. But he wouldn't help me. He wanted control. He wanted free reign to handle my enemies as HE saw fit. And I refused him. I felt myself sinking lower and lower into the abyss, the Beast now grabbing me by the face and pulling me into the shadows. To be consumed by them all. Swallowed up. Until there was nothing left but the pain and suffering that I had known my whole life. An existence in darkness...long before Taryn's bite made me a vampire.
My thoughts of misery weakened my defenses, and Alec began to find little 'holes' in my shield. Grabbing whatever little bits of information he could. Trying to get a visual that would help him discover our habitat here in the junkyard. My static protection was failing, the Beast was winning, and my other 'self' was waiting for me to sacrifice my sanity to for a shot at surviving this assault. My only other option at that point...was to scream.
I wanted out. I needed to get my mind out of trance. I pushed my focus to the very LIMIT...trying to peel back the fog and the confusion, and get back to my waking state. The ground trembled, the sky opened up, and I used every bit of brain power I could to pull me back into the real world. Unghhhh! I know I can do this! I KNOW I can! The Beast roared loudly, trying to keep me there for a bit longer. Sapping all the energy it could from me before I found a way to escape. Alec pushed even harder to pry my thoughts open, and I shut them down just as fast as he could find them. And finally...after enough struggling...I began to see the walls of the illusion melt and fade. I got even more determined...and ripped down those imaginary walls as quickly as possible. And then...
..As if by some 'divine mistake'...
Alec was able to find me in the dream state...and the second it happened..the Beast locked onto his signature. Time froze for a moment, and then the whole world began to crumble around me. Both parties had felt each other's presence for the very first time. And both seemed to be absolutely fascinated with what they found. Alec had found a creature with the strength and the unrestricted power to make him the GOD he wanted to become. And in Alec...the Beast found all of the delicious rage and suffering that it would ever need to return even stronger than before. Between them, both parasite and host...was a demon of unimaginable force. A monster that could hold dominion over any adversary that stood against it. United...'Rage' and The Beast would be unstoppable.
It was that instant fascination that caused the creature to release me from the trance, and I fell backwards off of the stack of cars as the real world came slamming back into focus without warning. The last thing I remember seeing was Alec's searchlight...observing the demon within me...and the creature looking back, almost with a smirk.
What did he know? What information could the Beast provide Alec if it were to somehow connect to his signature completely? If it knows my deepest darkest secrets...how long until Rage knows how to find me? How to find TARYN?
I rolled over after having the wind knocked out of me, and slowly got up to wipe the dirt off of me.
"Bad day?" Said a voice, and I looked up to see Jeremy standing not far away, folding up his cell phone.
"I saw you fall, junior. Didn't look pleasant." He said, brushing a bit more dirt off of my shoulder. "I walked by a minute or two ago to get better reception on my phone. You seemed...'preoccupied'." He told me.
"I think...I think I'm gonna need help."
"Help? You...want me to get Bryson, or...?"
"No. This is a completely different matter." I said, rubbing a sore spot on my side from the fall. I tried to shake the bad thoughts from my head, but it felt like it was swimming in my blood. Both Alec AND the Beast. It has to be stopped before it gets enough strength to reach out to 'Rage' "Do you have a tape player?" I asked Jeremy, who gave me a weird look.
"I'm sorry...did you say a TAPE player? Like...cassettes?" He smirked. "I know I crossed over quite a long time ago, Justin, but I DO believe in upgrading my technology over time. Next you'll be asking me if I've got a Betamax back at the lab."
"I need a tape player specifically. Tim gave me something to help me keep my thoughts from it, but my player got trashed."
"Keep your thoughts from 'what', may I ask?"
"I don't have time to explain."
"Of course you don't." He sighed. "You guys are seriously the weirdest bunch of vampires I have EVER stayed with, you know that?"
I didn't pay him much attention. My wheels were spinning. "I've gotta see Tim. He'll know what to do. Maybe he'll be able to give me an extra. Or..or maybe he'll have something even better. But I need protection. I need to get rid of it. Keep it away from me."
"Yeah...STILL have no idea what you're talking about." Jeremy said. "But I like watching your tight little ass while you walk. So, you lead, I'll follow."
I hurried out to the center of the lot, where Taryn and Bryson were already looking for me. I guess I had been gone for a lot longer than I had originally thought. Bryson said it was at least an hour if not more. The nightmares could be so involving. It was hard to tell how long I was locked in.
"Bryson...?" I started, almost feeling the words get choked up in the back of my throat. His eyes met mine with soooo much concern. To even BEGIN to tell him how much trouble I was in...it almost seemed like a sin to do so. To bring that avalanche of worry and stress to someone who has given me more fatherly affection than my own bastard of a father ever could. But the more I tried to bury my shameful secrets, the more I allowed myself to be haunted by the evil circumstances surrounding me...the more I found myself shielding my heart from all the love and care he was trying to give me. And the truth was...I needed his help.
"Justin? Justin, what is it?" Bryson asked, and Taryn was quick to step forward and hug me from the side.
In my head, I could still hear rumbles of the Beast's demonic snarling, and I had to close my eyes for a moment to block it out. "Bryson...I need to go see Tim. And I need to see him tonight. Now." I said.
Bryson's face. I'll never forget the expression on his face. As always, my burden became his, and he took on the weight of it ALL without hesitation. Further adding to my feelings of guilt. Feelings of shame. "Give us a second, Taryn. Justin, come talk to me."
"I CAN'T!" I blurted out. Maybe it was an involuntary defense. I'm not sure. It's hard to just 'let go' when you've been keeping secrets for so long. But I also added, "I mean...I can't right now. But I WILL." He gave me a look of minor frustration. So I told him, "I promise you, Bryson. When I get back...when I get back, I'll tell you...everything."
I felt Taryn squeeze me tighter from the side, and leaned over to kiss the top of his head as a nervous tremble ran through me. I wouldn't even know where to begin...but Bryson deserves to know. This whole 'family' of ours deserves to know. For the simple reason that...they cared enough about me to ask.
Bryson looked deep into my watery eyes, and knew that I was telling him the truth. "Jun is away at the moment, but I want you to take Dion and Jenna with you. Just in case you run into trouble..."
"No! That's alright." I blurted out again. "Dion can stay here. I'll take Jenna...and...and Jeremy's coming with too. So..."
"Justin...if anything happens, you're going to need Dion there to help."
"No, really...I'll be..."
"Jenna's skills are good. Dion's are better. And without Jun, you'll need two fighters to protect you. And to protect Taryn." I suppose he could tell by the way Taryn was clinging to my side that he was going with us. And fighting it was only going to make him push harder. "Go. And when you all come back...I want you to sit down with me, Justin. And we'll talk. About...everything. Ok?" I hesitated for a moment, but as he motioned for Dion to come over for his 'assignment'...I simply nodded my head. "I just want you to be safe. Ok? When Jun gets back, I'll let him know where you are."
The second Dion approached us, I had a flashback to the image I had seen before, and swiftly turned to walk away. White walls. Clear white walls. There was nothing like that in Tim's house. Nowhere. Not now. Not in this part of the circle. I'll keep him safe. It won't happen...not yet. I might be able to stop it. Maybe...stopping it is what I'm supposed to do. As a Mimic.
Everyone got themselves together, and we met at the front gate of the lot to make the trek to Tim's place. The oldest known living vampire in the city, save for these mysterious Elders themselves. He helped me before...maybe he can help me again.
Taryn stayed close to me, head on my shoulder. And Dion had a difficult time trying to keep Dylan from following us. It took some convincing, and some very sexy kisses between the two of them, before Dylan let him go out alone. I believe they traded a billion 'I love yous' before Dylan worked up enough of a boyish smile to let go of his hand. Jeremy wanted to follow, just for something to do, but he was still conducting business on his cell phone off and on, so I doubt he'd be much trouble. Jenna tied her hair back in a blond ponytail, almost giving a hint of 'toughness' to her appearance. But she was just too damn beautiful to pull it of convincingly. I think she could feel my amusement, and she grinned, giving me a pinch in the side before Taryn slapped her hand away. I was surprised to see that Rain had decided to come along as well. But she may have done it mostly for Taryn's sake. I didn't want to assume too much, but I don't think she liked the idea of losing his attention to me all over again.
We ventured out into the dark, now well past midnight, and stayed together in a tightly knit group as I went searching for answers in the only place I could.
When we finally made it to our destination, those answers seemed to be long gone.
Because Tim's house...the once proud structure that it was on the northern side of town, right at the edge of a small park...
..Had been completely destroyed.
And 'Rage's' signature of hate and suffering was radiating from the wreckage like a thick invisible mist.
Someone had beaten us to the punch.