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Heading back towards the elevators, Taryn's hand in mine, I couldn't believe how difficult it was to breathe a sigh of relief. After the fight in the lobby, and the reassurance of the Jeweler...I still felt a heightened sense of tension that refused to release its hold on me. People were searching for me. Dangerous people. And the only ones claiming to protect me...were just as suspicious as the ones trying to hunt me down. It was an uneasy feeling to say the least.
I saw his main security officer, Cage, come out of one of the elevators, nearly all of them opening simultaneously, and he was soon accompanied by a horde of armed soldiers. Apparently, too late to get into the conflict. "Sir?" He asked.
The Jeweler set him at ease. "It's all taken care of, Cage. No need for the extra assistance."
"What happened down here?"
"It is of no real concern. At least not tonight." He replied. "However, we may have to increase our security in the weeks to come. Contact Rizzy and tell him that we may need a rather extensive surplus of weaponry from his stock." Cage grunted, and the Jeweler asked, "Problem?"
"No problem, sir. Just...you know I can barely understand a single word that comes out of his mouth, right? I practically need a South London translator to figure him out."
"Then I suggest you get one. Because the surplus is for your benefit, not ours." The Jeweler smiled at me. "When push comes to shove...we already have access to the most powerful weapon on Earth." I can't say that I appreciated being referred to as a 'weapon', but took pride in having him maintain the utmost confidence in my abilities. "Make it happen. I will have someone give you a list. Any price is acceptable, but don't let him take advantage of our resources. Rizzy will swindle you if he thinks he has the leverage."
"Yes, sir." Cage replied, and gave a hand signal to tell all of his soldiers to lower their weapons and return to their positions.
"Justin?" He asked. "Give me a moment to contact a few connections about this matter and we can continue where we left off."
"Oh. Ok." I said, still holding Taryn close in my arms.
We stepped into one of the elevators, Taryn and I, 2 of the Jeweler's servants, and Strings. The Jeweler gave me a subtle smirk as the doors closed, and the elevator began its ascent with a little jolt. The servants never lifted their eyes from the ground. They were completely submissive, their will only focused on serving the Jeweler's wishes. It was slightly odd to witness, but my concentration was broken once Strings began to sling that yo-yo to the ground and back up into his hand again. An obsessive habit that he never seemed to take a break from.
"So...you like what you saw out there? I know ya did." He said.
I told him, "I've never seen anything like that. Ever. It was amazing." Then I gave Taryn a gentle squeeze and I said, "Thank you for keeping us safe. Both of us. I don't know how to repay you."
"Blowjob." He smirked.
"Blowjob. You can blow me. That'll make us just about even, don't you think? I hear gay boys do it best."
What an arrogant prick. "Fuck you, asshole." I grunted.
"Whoah, whoah...hehehe, slow down 'fairy tale'. I just wanted some head. You can save the 'fucking asshole' gameplay for your boy-wife over here." He said.
"It's not like I needed your help. I could have handled them on my own."
"Ummm...you might THINK you could have, but you'd be mistaken. I don't know what petty little vampires you've been dealing with up to this point, but that was a Class 5 vampire hit squad that you saw down there in that lobby. And when Ruby gets involved? Oh yeah...shit gets real ugly. So you're in more trouble than you know, kid. Believe me. Maybe, from now on, you'll stop running around the city of Chicago playing kung fu hero and keep your head down."
"I did what I did to protect myself and the people I care about." I said.
"Won't do you any good, you know?" He said. "Your destiny has already been written a dozen times in dusty old books that have long been forgotten by most. You're just climbing the branches, following the footsteps...floating with the current of a lazy stream until you reach the waterfall. The scriptures are never wrong. But you already know that, don't ya?" Strings was doing his best to irritate me, and it was definitely working...but when he made that particular comment I didn't want to continue any further with our back and forth. Taryn was standing right next to me. And Strings would definitely tell. He'd yell it out and laugh at Taryn's horrified reaction if he thought it would be entertaining enough. I don't know why I thought I was protecting him by keeping the tragic prophecy a secret. Secrets have always done me more harm than good, especially in darkness. But somehow...I stayed submerged in the illusion, telling me that I'd be able to prevent it as long as Taryn didn't know about his possible fate. It was a belief that I was willing to hold onto, no matter what.
Suddenly, the elevator stopped short, and the doors opened to reveal Bookworm standing in front of us. I asked, "What is this?"
Strings said, "This is where you get off. The boss won't take long to straighten matters out, and I'm sure he doesn't want you two getting into anything...'frisky'." Taryn and I both cringed at almost every word that came out of that boy's mouth, but when Bookworm stepped aside for me to get off of the elevator, I knew that we'd have to part ways.
"I'll come up as soon as I can. Ok?" I told him, lightly stroking my fingers against his cheek. "I love you."
"Love you too. Be careful." He said, just moments before leaning in to kiss me tenderly on the lips.
An uncountable number of kisses shared between us since we first met, and every one still feels like our first. Brand new. A gift of beauty that I had to constantly wonder if I was worthy to receive.
Just as the elevator doors were closing, I saw Taryn move to the side and practically press his shoulder to the nearest wall to stay as far away from Strings as possible. I heard the whizzing sound of his yo-yo as he smirked and said, "Nice faux hawk, bro..."
I really hate that kid.
Bookworm led me down a long hallway, down some steps, and into a large white room. This whole building seemed to get bigger and bigger from the inside. My mind couldn't conceive how they fit all of this stuff in one place. Even in a high rise like this.
There were various servants cleaning and polishing the marble ways of the place, glaring white with artistic splashes of grey embedded in the stone. Everything was so quiet. So elegant. It must have taken quite an exhausting effort to keep the room looking so clean. So flawless. I made eye contact with one of the servants in the room, and immediately...he gasped and lowered himself to one knee in front of me. Others in the room took notice, and soon began to bow at my feet as well. It was...a weird experience.
"What's happening? What did I do?" I asked.
"It is not what you did, but what you are." Bookworm replied.
Looking at all of them, kneeling like that...I felt so out of place. One of them, an older woman with gray hair...almost white, wrinkles in her face, and her fingers slightly bent with arthritis...she seemed to be shaking from the misery it caused her to be kneeling on the floor like that. But she held her position regardless. Head down. Eyes to the floor. I stopped walking and said, "How do I tell them they don't need to do that?"
Bookworm looked back at me and said, "Simply speak the words. Their will is your will. If you say it, they must make it so."
I don't think I've ever had a voice that was capable of having such an impact before. The very idea of it scared me. But I cleared my throat and strained my young, unstable, voice to speak loud enough to cover the entire room. "Ummm....ok. You guys? You don't...I mean, none of you have to do this. The kneeling thing, I mean." None of them moved. "It's ok. I mean...thanks. It's great, but...seriously, no need." They all remained perfectly still. Eyes glued to the floor. Bookworm waited patiently for me to figure things out for myself, so I slowly walked over to the older woman on her knees and I offered her my hand. Timid at first, she raised her eyes up to peek into my own. "It's ok. You can get up. Seriously." I saw her tear up slightly, and with a little more prompting...she put some of her weight down on my hand and allowed me to help her back on her feet. "It's ok. All of you. You can get up. Please?" They all gave me a look as though they were committing some crime by not knowing their place. But little by little...they all began to rise. Many still seemed too skittish to look at me directly, but I highly doubt that I've done enough to be idolized in this way.
Even if I had...I wouldn't want that kind of control anyway. It's creepy. And it's just not me.
"The sign of a true king in the making." Came the Jeweler's voice over my shoulder. I turned to see him dressed in new robes, a servant on either side of him to provide his every need. Even after the conflict downstairs, his smile remained genuine. "These daylight humans are avid students of the ancient scriptures that I hold here. They recognize you, and the greatness you possess. They may understand your significance better than you do, Justin."
"I appreciate it...I think. But all the theatrics are unnecessary. I'm just a normal person. They can treat me like a friend."
"No, Justin. I don't think they can." He said, and with a wave of his hand, his two servants and many others in the room got into a single file line and began walking out of the room. The Jeweler looked me in the eye and said, "Don't be afraid of your own glory, Justin. I realize that it takes some adjustment, but your magnificence will be seen whether you enjoy it or not. They don't kneel because they're forced to, but because they choose to."
I felt pressured into the idea, and I didn't like it all that much. So I just said, "I'd rather they didn't."
The Jeweler smiled and said, "As you wish." Then he stepped forward with Bookworm standing by, his lanky arms folded behind his back as his slender frame followed a few steps behind us. "Come. Walk with me."
The large room seemed to grow even larger with my every step. The silence seemed to press down on your shoulders, making you oversensitive about the sound of your own footsteps. His journey led me to a giant chessboard pattern on the floor. All set up with sizeable jade and ruby colored pieces that nearly came up to my chest.
"Do you play?" He asked.
"Huh? Oh. No. I never learned chess."
"Ah, too bad. This is the thinking man's football, as they say." He grinned, walking to the other side of the board. "It is the perfect representation of war. Of life. Of love. The lessons you can learn navigating this board are lessons that you can use in every other aspect of your life. And, much like life, you can formulate a strategy to win. And win often. The key is to think like a king...and not a pawn." He walked over to one of the giant Rook pieces and crossed his arms as he leaned on it. "Have you ever heard of a chess player named Bobby Fischer?"
"I think so. Name sounds sorta familiar."
"Well, Bobby Fischer was one of the greatest players of the game. Of all time. He eliminated one challenger after another, a long line of future challengers lining up from all over the globe, hoping to be the one that took his title. Great minds. Every single one of them." I was a bit confused as to why he was telling me this, but I busied myself by feeling the surrounding chess pieces and marveling at their craftsmanship. "So...I ask you, Justin...what made Bobby Fischer such an unbeatable opponent?"
Feeling the smooth surface of one of the horse head statues, I shrugged my shoulders. "I dunno..."
"Think about it."
"He was just...better than the other chess players, I guess."
"But why?" The Jeweler asked. "If it was a football player or a boxer or runner...some people might be faster, stronger, or more skilled than those around them. But not in chess. In chess, everyone has the same pieces. Everyone is bound by the same rules, has to make the same moves, on the same board. There can be no physical advantage." He stepped closer to me and said, "You see, most people play the game as if it was 'out here', but it's not." He pointed to his temple. "The game is in here. It's always been in here. This is where all of your heroes and enemies lie. This is where all of your battles are won. Or lost. The board? These pieces? Illusions. Manifestations of two separate minds trying to conquer one another without mercy. Such is the game. Such is life."
I attempted to keep my focus. "So is this my first lesson?" I asked.
"This is your awakening, Justin. The illusion of the 'game' must first fade away before you're given access to the truth."
"What game is that?"
"Humanity. Reality. All there is, ever was, and ever will be. I can teach you to see it, Justin. I can help you pierce through the veil and see just how much the world has deceived you. And just how much you've been deliberately deceiving yourself." He walked a complete circle around me, almost as if he were studying me again for the first time. "Haven't you felt it? The restraint? The pressure? Even now, you're probably more concerned about my view of you than your own. You stand here before me, afraid to move. Afraid to turn. Afraid to step foot outside of the small circle that I've given you to exist in."
"I'm not afraid..." I said.
"Oh, but you are. You don't recognize it as fear because you've gotten so used to feeling it every minute of every day that it barely registers anymore. But it's there. I assure you. Search your feelings. Can you sense it?"
A little frustrated, I said, "I don't feel anything at all. I can move whenever I feel like it." To demonstrate, I took a step outside of his little circle in defiance. Just then, a lout noise and a spark of fire and smoke exploded under my foot, causing me to jump back in horror. "What the fuck???" I screeched, holding my leg. There was no damage done, but it was mean trick to play. When did he put a goddamn mini firecracker on the floor?
"One of the first lessons you must learn is to act on your own thoughts and not mine."
"I WAS acting on my own instincts and you tried to blow my leg off!"
"No..." He said softly. "...I baited you by swaying your comfort and common sense to fit what I needed you to do. I predicted the outcome and...quite lazily...you completed the circle the only way you knew how. This is not good enough, Justin. You must learn to think for yourself if you ever hope to teach others to do the same. It's more than the simple matter of making a choice. It is the underlying reason that you use to make one choice over another. It is the ability to escape structure and freeing yourself from your own inner monologue that will bring you to the Dawn."
"But that doesn't make any sense. I don't get it."
Taking a moment to find a different approach, The Jeweler said, "Tell me...what did it feel like? That night when you walked to the edge of Navy Pier...and gazed into the cold, dark, water below?"
"That's PRIVATE! I told you to stay out of my head!"
"You are a part of the scriptures, Justin. I have seen your destiny played out time and time again throughout history, and it is always the same. You won't be hiding anything from me." Then he asked again, "So? What did it feel like?"
I stubbornly held back from saying anything more about the subject at first. Then, with a roll of my eyes, I mumbled, "Alone."
"Alone?" He said.
"Yes. Alone. Hopeless. And just....just tired." I said, remembering that night.
"I know that feeling, Justin. Believe me, I do." He replied. "So...you decided to throw yourself over the side, and let the waves swallow you up. Down, down, down, into the murky depths below. That was the choice you made. Now you must understand what led you there. Why was suicide your best answer?"
"I'd just had enough, alright?"
"No, Justin. That's NOT alright. I need you to tear open that wound and tell me why you decided to end your life that night." he demanded with a stern voice.
"I couldn't take it anymore. My life had been...such a series of disappointments..."
"Disappointments? What disappointments? List them for me."
"I'm NOT going to list them for you!"
"WHY? Because you're afraid?" He said.
"I'm NOT afraid!"
"Then what's holding you back, boy! SPEAK! What was it that led you out to the end of that pier? And what was the irresistible force that brought you home?"
I wasn't really sure where the tears were coming from, but they began to well up in my eyes until they flooded over. "I don't know!"
"Oh, but you DO know! Don't you? You're afraid to tell me. Afraid I won't make sense of it. Afraid that I'll dismiss it as a silly reason to through your life away. You have to push PAST that, Justin! I don't want your tears, I want an ANSWER!" Stepping closer to sternly speak in my ear, "What was it that made you step outside of your circle, Justin? What caused you to stomp down on that firecracker? What events forced your hand and guided you towards that decision? Was it your father's abuse? Was it the kids at school? Was it your mother's drinking?"
"You don't know ANYTHING about what I had to go through!" I shouted, pushing him off of me.
"Was it your friend? Was that it? A sick friend? The last vampire Mimic was born into darkness six centuries ago and he had to watch his friend suffer through small pox. What makes you so special? Search your heart and give me an answer."
"I didn't want to live anymore because it just HURT too fucking much to go on! It wasn't worth it!" I screamed, more tears rolling down my cheeks. "Every day was another heavy stone pressing down on my chest until it hurt to breathe! I was already nonexistent in every other possible way...I figured...I figured that I might as well stop looking for brighter days and end the suffering. Once and for all."
"Closer." He smiled. "Not yet at your core...but closer."
"I don't like this..."
"You wanted out of the circle, Justin. You wanted to bravely step forward on your own. This is your first step onto the chess board. This is your way towards getting a glimpse behind the curtain."
"How is this supposed to help anything?" I said, wiping my eyes.
"You are trapped in your structure. You are not who you think you are. You are someone entirely different and you didn't even know it, because you are afraid. That fear has kept the real you locked up for so long that if you were to meet yourself in a dark alley there would be no recognition between you. That other you is lost. Wandering in an eternal void, desperately wishing that it could be free from your denial. Your hypocrisy. This other entity is deep inside you, Justin...and he is waiting to be unleashed." He looked me in the eye, "You know what I'm talking about. Don't you?"
Thinking about it for a brief moment, trying to push aside the pain in my heart from his insensitive interrogation, I remembered something. Something dark. "The...the dreams?"
The Jeweler nodded. "Dreams now, yes. But not forever." He stepped away from me to walk over to a nearby window and look outside.
"But...those visions weren't real. That other me doesn't exist."
"So you keep telling yourself. It is that level of thinking that has enraged it." He told me. "Humanity...both in daylight and in darkness...is struggling with a schizophrenic nature that they try to ignore...but cannot. We've been taught to bully ourselves to the point of abandoning who we truly are for the sake of social graces. When we're young, we're honest. We know exactly who we are...and it's good enough. But as time goes on, there is a split. We begin to build a socially acceptable 'identity' that wear as an offensive costume in order to appease others around us. We hide. We fear. We suppress. And as we put more energy into the outer identity, our truth get left behind. Suffocated out of its rightful place on the surface. We lie, we cheat, we pretend to be that which we are not. All of humanity embraces this practice as if it was a virtue. They cry out to curse conformity but they're afraid to be different. So they continue to be a slave to the mask they wear in public. Constantly remodeling and redesigning the walls of their prison. They are convinced that they are building a fortress, when in reality they are building a cage. Creating a master that controls every aspect of their lives. It's whispering to you right now, Justin. Can you hear it? Telling you not to cry. Telling you not clench your fist and take a swing at me. Telling you to keep secrets and not speak honestly when I ask you a question. Can you hear it? 'You can't do that, Justin'. 'Don't let him tell you what to do, Justin'. 'Wipe your eyes, Justin. Don't let him see you crying'. Do you really believe that it's youmaking those decisions? Do you truly believe that it's all an imaginary conversation that's going on in your head? It isn't. That is the demanding identity that you created...making a puppet out of you." He beckoned me towards the window, and I moved forward to join him at the window to look out at the city skyline. "Do you know why people go to such lengths to deny their own souls, Justin? Their true feelings? Because the idea that they're responsible for their own souls is so terrifying that they can't bear to think about it. A soul is so easily corrupted. A white silk sheet being held up in the middle of a valley of mud. They build a suit of armor for protection...but the armor is 'alive'. It takes over. It tells you what to think, what to say, how to behave, who to love. It tells you not to curse around a priest. It tells you to lower your voice in a library. It tells you what's cool and what's not allowed. The identity is so easily swayed by whatever nonsense is fed to it...but the powers that be know that if they can appeal to your public identity, that you will obey whatever commands it gives you. You've been made to believe that you have no choices other than the choices they want you to have." He turned to look at me, brushing his hand through my blond mop as he spoke with a tender tone. "You walked out to that pier because you felt you had no other option. Because you were following a program that your outer shell demanded you follow. Another circle for you to complete. Another firecracker under your foot, waiting to happen. Many layers down...your true self wanted help...but you don't much listen to him anymore. Do you?"
"Please..." I sniffled. "...Tell me what to do."
"Telling you what to do is the problem, Justin. It is the one habit you must first learn to break." Gazing out of that window, he said, "I have lived a very long time. Many many years. More than you can fathom at your age. I've seen the illusions come and go. Mass hysteria caused by mere whispers, or scribblings on a wall. I've seen slaves beaten, witches hanged, wars waged, and plagues of every variety sweep across the globe. More than that, I've seen self made identities fade into the darkness. I've seen the moral costumes we wear tear and burn once they are no longer convenient. You've seen it too, haven't you? The famous and the popular...long winded speeches and brainwashed slogans about the danger of drugs and the perversion of sex and the well being of humanity in general. Seven virtues and ten commandments to instruct us on how to walk the straight and narrow path at all times, suppressing our every desire and random thought, all while cheering on a collection of tainted messengers and demigods in the media, stroking their immense egos until they're powerful enough to go out and commit the very atrocities they claim to be saving us from. They claim to have a sense of moral stability, but it is a delusion of the highest caliber. Oh yes...let us give these over-privileged brats and these self absorbed divas all the attention, money, and power, that they could ever want...and stand back and watch as their morality dissolves and they devour themselves. The truth is exposed. The true self is able to rise to the surface, but it hasn't been properly cultivated. It hasn't been stabilized. We've ignored it for so long that it emerges unhindered. Undisciplined. The celebrities, the teen pop stars, the corrupt politicians, the professional athletes...one by one, their social identities are cast aside to indulge in all the things they couldn't get away with before. You give them access to every unthinkable and despicable sin that the Devil can create...and they'll move in to taste every last one of them. Every time." With a heavy hearted sigh, he said, "After so many years in darkness, I can honestly say that I've discovered the divine comedy of it all. I've seen many rise to power, only to stand atop the highest cliff only to dive into the endless abyss below. Spraying a cold shower of rain water and ice on the insignificant wings of pre-fallen angels until they plummet into the dirt and jagged rocks from which they were born. The pattern never changes. The circle is always the same. The only thing that varies is what we keep secret and what we allow to be known about ourselves. Our identities have taken the place of truth. And that truth remains hidden until it finds a way to escape." Then he mumbled, "It always finds a way to escape. Always."
"Why are you telling me this?" I asked him softly.
He turned to me, looking into my eyes, almost with an expression of pity, and he said, "Because there is a 'change' happening within you, Justin. That true self still exists inside of you. Still lost. The boy who wanted to love other boys, who wanted to tell your father to stop hitting you, that little boy who just wanted to be loved and accepted from the very beginning...he's inside you. He is the opponent on your personal chessboard...and you don't know enough about him to match wits with him or predict what he's going to do." He said. "You are that celebrity now, Justin. You are that corrupt politician. Who has now been given access to a level of power that you never thought possible. Everything you've ever wanted...it can be yours. Everything you've ever held back...can be alleviated at the snap of your fingers. Your inner truth is beginning to realize the true power at its disposal. And once it fully understands that there are no further limitations on what it can do....it will consume you. It will take your casual 'identity' and toss it aside, putting it into the dark abyss that you cast it into the first time you hid your sexuality from the world. It's looking to be free. And it won't take no for an answer. A changing of the guard is happening...and you can't hold it off forever."
"I don't listen to him. I stay away from him." I said.
But he replied, "It's not a 'him', Justin. It's you. You've just forgotten him." He saw the distress on my face, and put a hand on my shoulder. "Come. I have more to show you. We'll get through your questions soon, but you must promise me that you're going to be honest with me through the entirety of your stay here. The Vampire Dawn is real...but only your true self has the key. We have to find him. Draw him out. And you have to allow him to speak...before it's too late."