“Sorry, I don’t understand.” Mrs. Wu said slowly and loudly.
This happened often since the local university participated in a cultural exchange program for students. Of course, they had to speak some English to attend school here, but since both they and the Wu’s had heavy accents it was difficult for them to understand one another sometimes. Just a part of living in a city that’s basically a huge cultural melting pot!
The Wu’s owned a beautiful Chinese restaurant in the middle of downtown Houston, TX. It was located right across Buffalo Bayou, and if you looked out the window you could see the University. That’s where most of their business came from and why the Wu’s decided to make it the only 24-hour Chinese restaurant in town. Plenty of hungry students would come in to order food while cramming for finals or after a late night of partying.
A teenage boy nearby, who stopped clearing the table a few feet over, chuckled a bit before walking over to the table as the students had resorted to bantering with each other in German while Mrs. Wu watched in frustration.
“Sorry guys, only English or Mandarin will get you what you need around here.” He said, in fluent German. “Luckily for you, I am the exception!” He took out a notepad from his apron pocket and a pen he had tucked behind his ear.
The group of students laughed nervously before taking turns giving their orders. The boy thanked each of them after assuring them that he’d be available for the rest of the night. Mrs. Wu thanked them as well and the two of them made their way back to the kitchen. A young woman sitting nearby watched them the entire time as she sipped her tea, which made him feel a bit uneasy. She had white hair that was pulled up in pigtails and she wore a neatly pressed black dress that was embroidered with symbols he didn’t recognize. He thought it was strange that someone that looked like they were in their late twenties would have a head full of white hair. Then again, there were tons of odd fashion trends he didn’t quite understand.
“You are a life saver, Jesse, have I ever told you that?” Mrs. Wu said to him in Mandarin, which snapped him out of his thoughts.
Jesse grinned. “Ah Mrs. Wu, you know I’m always happy to help.”
“You are a very bright boy to know so many languages.” She beamed.
Jesse blushed a bit. He almost felt like a fraud because understanding various languages came naturally to him. He’d never had to study them or practice. It was almost like he had an automatic translator in his brain. As a kid, people were often shocked to look at this little Hispanic boy and realize he could understand their conversations, regardless of what language it was. Many people thought he was gifted somehow because of it. It’s something he had been told by his teachers all his life, but his foster family thought it was a sign of something evil.
“It ain’t right for a child to be speaking in tongues.” His foster mother would often mumble.
“I told you, it’s on account of his mother being a junkie.” His foster father would chime in.
“Still… We need to keep an eye on him.”
Boy, did they ever. Any sort of sass or misbehavior was met with the back of a hand or the strike of an extension cord.
“Jesus had to suffer, so will you if you don’t act straight,” they would often say.
He didn’t let it tarnish his view of all religious folks. In fact, there were plenty of social workers and teachers who were from all sorts of religious backgrounds, even some who were atheists, but they were all good people. However, it gave him a reason to leave at the age of fourteen when his foster parents locked him in the basement after they had caught him calling his social worker for help.
He knew he could do a better job of fending for himself, and he’d been on his own for a couple of years now with few issues. He couldn’t exactly be picky about the kind of people he worked for but, as luck would have it, he found a family-owned Chinese restaurant that was willing to give him a chance. The Wu’s were the best to work for, especially considering Jesse was an underage run away from the North side of town. Initially, Mr. Wu was just thrilled to have found someone who could speak Mandarin and English. As time went on, however, he became a valuable employee for his work ethics. He had become so close to the family that they started treating him like one of their own.
The end of his shift was near, and he cleared the German students’ table after he had collected their bill. It looked like his decision to chime in paid off this time. They had left him twenty bucks worth of a tip, and he was completely grateful for it. Money was tight, and every penny that wasn’t spent on bills was going towards saving up for his own place. The place the Wu’s had set him up in was fine, but it was pretty dingy. A nice flat or studio apartment sounded like paradise to him, and he was only a few hundred dollars away. The Wu’s also knew a guy who’d rent a place to him, no questions asked. He just had to have enough for the down payment and first month’s rent.
“After finishing those dishes, you can head home.” Mrs. Wu’s voice came from behind him.
“Are you sure? If you need the help I can stay late.”
“No, you’ve done plenty. Here, take this.” She handed him an envelope.
He wiped his hands on his apron and smiled as he accepted it. “Thank you, Mrs. Wu!”
She winked, “I added a little extra. A kid like you should be enjoying life, not slaving away in a kitchen. Take some time off and live a little!”
Jesse was stunned. He already loved her and the family to death, but he hadn’t expected something like this. His entire life had been filled with no sort of love or kindness, even from the people who were supposed to give it to him. Then, there were these people who were almost strangers to him, and they’d given him more than he could have ever expected. He fought back tears before finally speaking.
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Wu, you guys really are the best,” he exclaimed.
She smiled and waved him away before heading back out to the dining area. He checked the envelope, curious to how much she had given him. Sure, a vacation would be nice, but he wasn’t really in the financial situation to afford such a luxury. His eyes widened as he looked at all the one hundred dollar bills that were neatly packed together. It was at least $1500, if not more. Plenty to take a couple of weeks off comfortably, even after paying off his bills and setting some aside for living expenses. He quickly changed, said his goodbyes, and even gave Mrs. Wu a quick hug before leaving.
He burst out the back door and quickly made his way to the crossing light. It was a hot Texas night, like most others, but even the heat or humidity couldn’t get to him. He was in such a great mood that as the light changed he didn’t even check to make sure any cars were coming. Otherwise, he would have seen the blazing red Corvette speeding down the road. The driver was swerving a bit, indicating that they were drunk. It was barreling directly towards Jesse who turned just as it almost hit him. Time seemed to slow down, and all he could think was to jump out of the way. As he pushed off the ground with his feet he suddenly felt as if he were bouncing off a trampoline. He could feel himself launching into the air, and he hopped right over the car as it sped past him and crashed through the banister of the nearby bridge. Once he landed, he turned to watch the car just in time to see it fall over into the water.
The few people who were watching seemed to have not noticed Jesse and rushed over to see if the driver was okay. Some were trying to make their way around down to the bayou while others were on their phones, likely calling 911. That was, except for a white-haired woman standing across the street who suddenly pocketed something. It was the same one who had been drinking tea inside the restaurant. She gave him a smile and a slight nod before turning to the alley behind her and stepping into the shadows. He thought that the adrenaline was making him hallucinate, but as he started to feel himself calm a bit he could still make her silhouette out just as she turned down a connecting alleyway.
Now wasn’t the time to focus on that. He wasn’t sure how he had managed to pull it off, but he knew that he had been lucky. He felt winded, and for a moment he wanted to take a seat on a nearby bench. The sudden sound of police sirens quickly made him forget the idea, and he turned to run down Milam street towards his apartment. Four squad cars sped past him just as he made his way to the corner where the British-styled pub was. People from inside were spilling out, trying to get a look at the commotion. He hurriedly made his way through the crowd and continued down the road quickly until he reached Market Square Park. Everything was quiet, as it was already pretty late. Sometimes there would be a band playing or a festival of some sort, but it was barren that night. A few people made their way from the Greek restaurant in the middle of the park towards the parking garage. Most likely the last employees heading out after closing for the night.
As he continued to ponder over what just happened he decided to cross through the park to cut down the time it took to get home. The moment kept replaying in his mind as he tried to rationalize how he’d been able to make that jump. The college prep courses he was taking had helped to broaden his mind, but it made him someone who was always trying to find a logical explanation.
Adrenaline? No, that didn’t seem very likely. It could have been a hallucination, but he hadn’t been showing any other signs or symptoms. Plus, the event itself was very real, and the only portion that was out of the ordinary was the slowing of time and being able to jump so high. He was exiting the park and made it a point to use caution when crossing the street this time. Hallucination or not, that was an experience he didn’t care to repeat.
As he turned onto Preston street he heard familiar voices along with laughter. Rounding the corner, he could see a group of five guys hanging outside a nearby bar. Houston was a big city filled with all sorts of different venues, and unfortunately for him, that meant he worked near a lot of bars. Most nights it wasn’t an issue as people were out to wind down for the day or trying to live it up on the weekends. They mostly ignored him, aside from the occasional giggle and looks he got from girls out with their friends. However, there were times when he’d run into someone filled with liquid courage looking to prove themselves. Jesse wasn’t a big guy by any means. He stood at about 5’6” and was relatively scrawny at 130 lbs. He had a toned swimmer’s build, as that was his favorite form of exercise, but he wasn’t built like some of these wannabe “Alpha male” types.
He had a run-in a few weeks back while making his way home one night with a guy who decided life wasn’t hard enough for him. The guy called Jesse a “fag” for glancing over at him while the guy was throwing up on the curb. He followed Jesse for two blocks before he finally left him alone. Ever since then, any time the guy saw Jesse he’d blow kisses at him while grabbing his crotch. Jesse decided the smart thing to do was to take the long way around to the other bus station on Travis street, but just as he turned around he could hear a voice yell out from behind him.
“Weeellll lookie here fellas! If it ain’t the little queer spic!” The man called out.
The other guys with him burst into laughter as if it were the funniest thing they’d ever heard. Jesse picked up the speed of his walk, hoping the moron was too drunk to care but, once again, luck was not on his side. He could hear their footsteps close behind him as they yelled obscenities and continued to laugh like a pack of hyenas.
“Yeah, I see what you mean, Ken. Little bitch is definitely a homo.” One of the guys slurred.
“He’s probably illegal too. That’s why he’s out here, giving it out for some pesos.” Ken roared.
Jesse began to break into a run but Ken grabbed him by his arm and slammed him against the side of the building they were passing. It didn’t hurt, and he barely felt the impact, but his heart was beating against his chest. His body was warming up as the adrenaline began pumping for the second time that night. He could smell the booze emanating from Ken as he pulled in close to Jesse’s face. He glared back at all the guys, hoping they’d see he wasn’t scared of them. Did he want to try and take on five guys? No, nor did he think he could, but he knew if he showed any sort of weakness they’d push him further.
“What the hell do you want?” Jesse growled.
“Ooh, he’s feisty!” One of the guys behind Ken bellowed.
Ken swayed a bit, showing he was drunker than Jesse thought. He moved so close to Jesse’s face that he could feel the warmth of his breath. A couple of the guys looked around to make sure they were clear before nodding over to the alleyway nearby.
“You know you want me, and since I’m feeling generous tonight I’m going to give it to you,” Ken slurred in Jesse’s ear.
Jesse’s skin began to crawl as he tried to struggle against his grip. He knew these guys were far too gone to reason with, and he did not want any of what Ken had to offer. He tried to yell out but Ken turned him around and slammed his head into the wall. Again, he barely felt the impact which worried him a little. Hopefully, it was from the adrenaline rushing through his body, but it could be a sign of significant trauma. The only thing he could feel was rage and the sweat pouring down his face.
The guys shoved him down the alleyway while Ken began to undo his pants. Jesse nearly lost his balance but, surprisingly, he could keep himself standing. He noted the gate in front of him as he turned to stare down his assailants. He went to wipe the sweat collecting on his brow, but he was startled to see his hand was painted crimson with blood. The guys were chuckling and licking their lips like rabid dogs as they prepared themselves for what they had planned for him. Ken charged him but Jesse quickly ducked out of his way which caused him to slam against the gate. One of the other guys grabbed Jesse from behind and pinned his arms behind him. Ken stood up and glared at Jesse; his face full of fury.
“You’re going to get it now, little bitch!” He growled as he made his way to Jesse.
His fist was pulled back, ready to be sent flying when Jesse felt a strange sensation wash over him. Like before, everything seemed to slow down, and he could feel a rush of energy flow throughout his body like electricity. He pushed off the ground with his feet which caused him to flip over his captor and land behind him. Without thinking, he shoved him into Ken’s punch which landed straight into his jaw. The guy went out like a light and everyone stood in shock. Almost on instinct, Jesse balanced himself on his left leg and swung his right leg behind him just as another one of the guys charged him. He planted the back of his foot to the side of the guy’s face which caused him to slam into the side of the alley. Another guy picked up a broken plank laying against a wall and swung wildly at Jesse who dodged every hit with reflexes he didn’t even know he had. The guy swung the board downward and Jesse kicked upward with his right foot causing the board to slam backward into the other guy’s face; knocking him out. The remaining member of Ken’s group turned and ran down the street, freaked out by what he had seen. That just left Ken who was glaring down Jesse as he turned to face him.
“I’m not scared of no fairy if that’s what you’re thinking.” He slurred out.
“I never asked for this. Not once have I ever retaliated against you. Despite all of your insults and the offensive shit you yell at me, all I ever wanted was to be left alone.” Jesse yelled out.
Ken reached into his back pocket and pulled out a switchblade. He breathed heavily as he lunged at Jesse. Once again, time seemed to slow down for Jesse and, like before, he maneuvered in a way he couldn’t explain. He dropped to kneel on one leg as he swiped the other one along the floor around him in a circular motion. This caused Ken to trip and fall on his back while the knife went flying out of his hand. Jesse grabbed it mid-air and brought it to Ken’s neck while he still laid on the ground.
He got close to his face and breathed heavily as he could feel the his blood pumping with intense rage. Heat radiated throughout his body, and his eyes stung with swelling tears. Something deep inside of him wanted to end Ken’s life. He could do it and nobody would miss this pathetic excuse for a man. It scared him at how much he wanted to, but as he stared into Ken’s eyes that were filled with fear, he could feel a sense of empathy wash over him.
“I never want to see your face again, and if you ever see me I want you to turn and run the other way. Do you understand me?” Jesse commanded.
Ken nodded and whimpered while repeatedly begging Jesse to spare him. Jesse tossed the knife over the gate and turned to make his way back to the bus stop. He stopped in his tracks when he noticed the woman with white hair was standing at the entrance of the alleyway with a smile spread across her face.
“Well then, that settles it,” she said with a grin. “You are one of us.”
“I’m one of what?” Jesse said, preparing himself for another fight.
She giggled and put a hand over half of her mouth as if she were telling a secret. “You’re a Grigori!” She whispered, excitedly.
The trip home felt like it took hours but it had only been about twenty minutes. He had so many questions, but the lady refused to answer any of them aside to say that her name was Weiss Kaninchen.
“White rabbit?” He asked, suspiciously.
“Yes, that is what my name means in German. I chose it when I joined the Hallowed just as you too will choose a name to signify your transition.” She retorted, somewhat defensively.
The only reason he agreed to let her follow him was the sounds of police sirens that reminded him that he had just kicked four guys’ asses in an alley and threatened one with a knife. Weiss claimed to know why he was suddenly able to move like he was in a Kung Fu film. The two of them had been talking for a couple of hours, and he finally decided to ask her once more what he had asked on the bus.
“So what exactly is a ger-gory?” He asked.
“Well, first, it’s pronounced gri-gawr-ee. Secondly, it means that you are different than other people. You have special gifts.” Weiss said, matter-of-factly, before taking a deep breath. “You are to serve as a guardian of the Earth as well as my home world, Araphel.”
“A guardian, like a soldier or something?” Jesse spat out in disbelief.
She smiled sheepishly at him before continuing. “I know it’s a lot to take in.”
Jesse snorted. “That’s an understatement.”
He walked over to his sink and dampened a rag to wipe the blood off of him. As he wiped his forehead he realized that he couldn’t find the source of the blood. Under the thick layers of gunk was only clean skin, as if there had never been anything there, to begin with.
"Can’t find the wounds, can you?” Weiss said with an amused smile on her face.
He shook his head in disbelief as he turned to face her. “Weiss, did I die in that car accident? Am I in limbo or something?” He choked out.
Weiss smiled at him warmly as she shook her head. “No, my dear Jesse. Quite the opposite, in fact.” She stood and walked over to him before putting her hands gently on his shoulders. “You have been reborn, in a sense.” She guided him to his shoddy couch and helped him to sit down.
“But, none of this makes any sense! It defies all logic and reason.” Jesse protested.
Weiss nodded in agreement. “Yes, living on Earth I can see why you would think that, but even some of your world’s scientists believe that there are possible parallel worlds to this one. They just haven’t come to the how and why yet. That is by design, and if the legends are true then they will never figure it out.”
Jesse gave her a look of confusion. “What Legends? What do they say?”
"Well, when the universe was created the Earth and Araphel, where I’m from, were both one and the same. Back then, the planet’s spiritual energy gave the people and creatures magical abilities. This is where many of your world’s myths and legends originate. The people that had these abilities were known as the Grigori. They started out as watchers over the lesser beings of the planet, but some became corrupt and tainted by their lust for power.” She stood up and walked over to the window of his apartment and took a deep hesitant breath before continuing. “Have you ever wondered why there are thousands of deities from the various religions around the world?”
“Are you implying that they’re all real?” Jesse scoffed.
She nodded, sadly. “They were, once. Unfortunately, they fought with one another for the right to rule the rest of humanity. Those who fought for peace and harmony bound together and used the power of the planet to separate the world into two planes of existence. The Earth would remain a place where magic was absent while Araphel would be a place to contain all of the magical energy.”
“I’m not saying I believe you, but what does any of that have to do with me?” Jesse said as he stood to join her by the window.
She looked over at him. “For some reason, that we don’t understand, humans on Earth have continued to develop into Grigori. Albeit, at a much smaller scale than before. However, this means that I and my comrades are tasked with bringing the awakened back to Araphel.”
Jesse stared at her with amused disbelief. “And you expect me to believe all of that?”
Weiss sighed heavily. “Whether you believe me is inconsequential to the ultimate outcome, as far as I am concerned. Now see here—” She took a few steps closer. Her once warm nature shifting to become cold and almost threatening. “You only have one of two choices as to how the remainder of our exchange will continue. The first is that you willingly follow me back to the Bastion to begin your training. The second involves me forcing you there, and I’d really hate to do that.”
Jesse looked her over a bit, taken back by how forceful she sounded compared to her size. It would have been comedic had it not been directed towards him. Even though she was shorter than him something told him that her words were true and that she could make him go with her if she needed to.
“What about my life here? I can’t just abandon the Wu’s.”
Weiss’s warm smile returned, softening her hardened expression. “Jesse, dear, I will take care of them, I promise. My word is my bond, and I will not allow any misfortune to fall upon them.” She placed a hand on his shoulder.
“How do I know you’re not just crazy?” He exclaimed.
Weiss chuckled a bit, “Well, for starters, we’ve been conversing in Grigorian this entire time.”
He froze as the realization washed over him like a cold shower. It was true, he hadn’t been familiar with the language they had been talking in for the last couple of hours. He just figured it was a language he hadn’t come across yet. He never considered that it might be a language from another world.
“It’s part of being a Grigori.” She started again after it was clear that the realization wasn’t sitting well with Jesse. “We can understand any language spoken to us, aside from fictional ones. For example, I attempted to learn Klingon once, but I’m afraid it was lost on me completely.”
“To be honest with you…” Jesse said as he shambled over to the couch and sat. “I always wondered why I was the only one who could do that. I didn’t even realize I could until a couple from India were conversing with one another about how lost they were and I stepped in to give them directions. They were amazed at how well I could speak with them in Hindi.”
He sighed as he leaned forward; placing his head in his hands. He took a moment to gather his thoughts. Surprisingly, Weiss didn’t speak while he did. He could feel the sense of urgency in the air, but she remained silent. He was appreciative of that, but this couldn’t have been her first charge. It comforted him, even just a bit, to know that there were others like him who didn’t know what choice to make. She promised to take care of the Wu’s, and there was something about her that made him want to trust her. Every time she gave him her word he could feel a surge throughout the air as if it were a sign that it would be done. The question now was if he was brave enough to do it. Not that he had a choice, according to Weiss.
“Alright, I’ll do it. I’ll go with you.” He stood to face her. “What do I need to do?”
Weiss turned to face him and smiled warmly. “Pick a name.”
Confused, Jesse replied, “But I have a name, it’s Jesse.”
She nodded while giggling a bit. “Yes, that is the name you were given here on Earth, but as a Grigori you can choose a new name to represent the start of your journey. It’s a rebirth in many ways, so don’t take it lightly. If you would still like to be called Jesse, then that is what you will be called.”
He thought about it for a while. The only issue he ever had with his name was that it was given to him by the state, not by his parents like other people. He had no personal connection to it, but this was an opportunity to pick a name that meant something to him. He felt so torn over the thought of leaving his life behind and starting a new one that it was difficult for him to even focus on something like a new name. It’s not something he ever thought he’d have to do, so it’s not like he had it planned out. All he knew was that everything in his life had been shattered. Suddenly, a word formed in his head that described his situation perfectly. Before he could even give it a second thought it escaped his lips.
“Rift… My name is Rift.”
She walked over to him, placed a hand on his shoulder, and smiled. “I think it suits you. Well then Rift, shall we get going? One thing you will come to notice about me is that I absolutely hate wasting time and I am a little more than punctual.”
“What? Now?” Rift exclaimed.
“Well there’s no time like the present, I always say!”
“I’m not even packed! What does someone even bring with them to another world?”
She chuckled. “Really, dear, you worry far too much! You don’t need to bring anything or do anything but follow me. I have already taken care of everything else and you will have all that you need once you are in the Bastion, you will see!”
“What are we doing up here?” Rift groaned once he realized she had brought him up to the roof of his apartment building. “Someone’s going to catch us and then we’ll be thrown in a mental hospital!” Thinking about it more, he wasn’t sure if they didn’t belong in one.
She skipped over to the edge of the roof and peered down. “You have a lot of work to do on your faith in people.”
“That’s what happens when you grow up on the streets.” He said in a snippy tone harsher than he had meant to. Weiss had been nothing but kind to him, and he had no reason to throw attitude her way. Luckily for him, she hardly seemed to notice, if at all.
"You have to trust me from here on out. If you don't, this will be a lot more difficult for the both of us." She turned to face him. "Do you understand?"
He wondered what she was talking about, but he decided it was best to just go with it. It's not like he had much of a choice if what she had said was true. He finally nodded, "Yes, I understand."
She turned back to face the cityscape once again. "Join me on the ledge please."
Rift hesitated but finally relented and walked over to the ledge as well. "What's this all about?"
"Trust." Weiss answered, irritated. "If the two of us are going to work together I need you to trust me. Now, please, step up onto the ledge next to me.”
Rift sighed a bit before doing as she asked. He wasn't one to be afraid of heights, but standing seven stories above ground level didn't sit well with him. Before he could protest further he was amazed by what he saw. It was early in the morning, but there were cars still making their way to and from their respective destinations. The sun hadn't risen yet, but he could see the faintest hints of sunlight trying to peek above the horizon. It was quiet, with a few distant city noises, but it was almost tranquil.
"Every time I visit your world I can't help but be amazed at how vastly different, yet similar, it is to mine. It definitely does have its charms." She said with a warm smile. The two of them stood and admired the view for what seemed like a long time. Finally, Weiss spoke up again. "In order to get to Araphel, we need to travel by R.A.B.I.T. hole." She looked at Rift who was giving her a weird look. She laughed a bit. "It stands for Ready Access Bilateral Intergalactic Transporter. Yes, I know, it's an odd name, but I wasn't the one who came up with it, I can assure you.”
Rift grinned a bit, thinking about her name’s meaning and the name of the transporter. If she wasn’t the one who named it then whoever did must have had her in mind.
“Now, traveling from one place within the same plane isn't an issue, but traveling from one dimension to another is a bit trickier. That is why we're here." She pushed a button on her wrist-band which emitted a beeping noise. "Weiss, reporting. G-2021 has been located and we are ready for transport, over."
A male voice responded back from her communicator. “Copy that. R.A.B.I.T. hole in five.”
Before Rift could ask her what was going on a loud roaring sound came from beneath where they stood. He looked down and saw the concrete on the sidewalk begin to quiver until it moved in a spiral direction as if it were being sucked downward. Soon enough, a hole about the size of a car had appeared. In the middle of it where swirls of light and wind rapidly spinning. The realization finally hit him.
“Weiss, this is all real, isn’t it?” He asked her, the panic rising slowly within him.
She smiled and extended a hand out to him. “Yes, but always remember my dear Rift that you are not in this alone. I promise you that I will always be near.”
He hesitated for just a moment before taking her hand in his. The two of them looked down at the maelstrom beneath them before stepping off the ledge and plummeting downward. Time seemed to slow down, and a smile spread across Rift’s face as the adrenaline rose within him. He let out a loud yell of excitement and Weiss laughed before joining him as they descended downward. They slipped rapidly through the entrance, and moments later only silence remained as the portal spit the road back into place as if nothing had been disturbed.
The wormhole was a swirling mess of colors and, to Rift, it was like skydiving through a rainbow-colored cloud tunnel. He half-expected a unicorn or dragon to fly by, but before he could entertain the idea further, another hole formed below the two of them. This time, he could see a white ceiling with a glamorous chandelier hanging from it. It almost looked as though they were about to enter a room that had been turned sideways. The two of them began to slow in speed and as they reached the exit he began to descend onto the ceiling. Strangely, it was as if gravity had suddenly been switched back on and he fell backward. With a loud thump, he felt himself hit the cool marble flooring. Weiss, on the other hand, had turned right side up after her exit of the R.A.B.I.T. hole and was slowly drifting downward as if she were wearing a parachute.
She walked over to him and reached out a hand to help him up. “Welcome to the Bastion!”
The two of them stood in the middle of a large room with a bowl-shaped ceiling. Everything was made of limestone and silver, except for the banners which were all black and decorated with symbols he was unfamiliar with. He then realized that they were the same symbols that were on Weiss’s dress. At the back of the room stood a large marble door with the same decoration in the middle of it. He was in awe of his surroundings, and he started processing his situation when Weiss snapped him out of it.
“Right, the ladies’ rooms are on the right, and the gentleman are on the left. You, of course, are located on the left, and you will be staying in room 103.” Weiss began. “Everything has been prepared for you. You are free to take the rest of the night for yourself, but I insist that you get some rest as it is quite late.” She peeked at her pocket watch before looking back up at him. “Just remember you are not allowed to leave the premises, and it’s probably best to not wander around too much until after I’ve given you the tour tomorrow. Breakfast is served at six a.m. sharp, and the dining hall is just down this hallway to the right through the big double doors, you can’t miss it. Do you have any questions?” She glanced back again at her pocket-watch before looking to him for his response.
Rift shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he said, not very confidently.
She smiled at him warmly while placing her hands on his shoulders, “I really am proud of you. Just remember what we do is for the greater good, and sometimes that isn’t as black and white as most may think.” Weiss glanced back at her pocket-watch and her eyes grew wide. “My my my, time really does get away from me far too easily… well, my dear, have a good night and I will see you in the morning.” Before he could respond she was already making her way up towards the women’s rooms.
She’s always in a hurry.
The thought made him smile as he made his way up to the men’s rooms. He admired the bannister as he climbed the stairs which was made from some sort of white wood he couldn’t place. As he reached the entrance to the hallway that lead to the men’s rooms he let out a small gasp. Everything was beautifully decorated in blacks, whites, and silvers. He felt like he was in one of the fancy hotels he used to clean back when he first started out on his own. The rooms were situated in the same way a hotel was.
“Right, room 103 she said.” He muttered to himself.
It was quiet, and he peered up at a silver-plated clock as he made his way down the hallway. It was already eleven at night, which probably explained it. He had a little under seven hours to get situated and sleep. He was used to working on five hour nights of sleep, so that shouldn’t be a problem. If he could even fall asleep. He stopped once he reached his door and let out a sigh.
Stepping through the door would make it official, and for a moment he felt like he didn’t want to. It was no use, though, he was already here. Even if he wanted to go back he had no idea of how to even begin to do that. Not wanting to waste much more time, he turned the silver knob of the door and gently pushed it open. His room was normal and very much just like any other bedroom he’d seen before. It was kind of a disappointment since the rest of the place was so extravagant. Sure, the bed looked super comfortable, but he was expecting something more fantastical. To the left was a doorway leading to the bathroom, his bed was in the back next to the window, and on the right, was a small desk with a lamp on it. The desk had a small tray on it filled with various treats, a tea cup, and a teapot. There was also a card that read “Welcome!” on it in cursive handwriting. He looked the card over and saw a small message from Weiss on it.
“You’ll probably need a little something after your trip.
Feel free to help yourself!
He smiled a bit before grabbing a double chocolate chip muffin that melted in his mouth as he bit into it. Everything here seemed normal, just fancier. His restroom, although nice, even looked like something he’d see back home. In fact, he could swear he was still back in Houston, that was, until he stepped over to the window and peered outside.
Below he saw several of the courtyards that surrounded the wing of the ivory tower he was in. Everything was carved from what looked like limestone, and it made the castle look as though it were glowing in the moonlight. Past the castle walls were miles of dense forest and in the distance he saw an ocean that sprawled out far off past his view. The thought of beginning his journey made him both uneasy and overjoyed. Everyone feels like they are destined for greater things, but he’d never imagined it would actually be true for him.
He plopped down on his bed and noted that it was super comfortable. It was probably the best bed he’d ever been it. It was soft where it enveloped him a bit, but firm enough to give his body the feeling of support. As he finished off his muffin and continued to stare out at the night sky. How very different his life had become in such a short time.
Though he never met his parents he wondered about the sort of people they were, and what they would have thought about his new life. Would they have allowed Weiss to take him? Would they have been proud to have a son with magical powers, or would they be those religious nuts that thought he was evil? Before his awakening he worked in a small Chinese restaurant, and now here he was, some sort of guardian. He yawned while continuing to think about his life, and how things might turn out. He finally had a real reason for living. Eventually, he drifted off into a deep sleep.
“Rift, my dear, open your eyes.” A soft feminine voice rang through his head. His eyes fluttered about as he tried to pull himself from the grasp of his dream.
“From the ashes he will be reborn.
Only the holy three shall set us free.
Through death, salvation comes.”
“What? I don’t understand.” Rift said aloud while still struggling with his consciousness. His eyes finally opened, but he quickly shut them as rays of bright light poured into his pupils. He shaded his face with his arms, but as his vision began to focus he could see that he was standing on a cliff overlooking a castle. It was surrounded by a vast city and a dense forest. The moonlight bathed everything in a glowing shade of blue. Rift suddenly found himself propelled forward into what appeared to be the center of the city. The air was filled with the sounds of music, laughter, and overall cheer. He walked around a bit while observing with curiosity and confusion.
“Am I still dreaming,” he wondered.
No one seemed to notice his presence, and they went about their merriment as if he didn't exist. A loud roaring sound suddenly penetrated the calm night air, and the sounds of joy were replaced with screams and panic. The earth beneath him quaked viciously as explosions rang throughout the plaza. Rift looked to the castle in terror as its once brilliant walls were violated with craters from the onslaught.
He searched the skies for the intruder but saw nothing. The once crowded plaza stood desolate of all life, a mere ghost of what it was just seconds ago. Great machines that reminded him of flying ships could be seen lifting from behind the castle’s walls. He turned to look down the main street that lead from the town’s entrance to the castle gates.
Across the plaza he saw a man standing with an evil grin painted across his face. His eyes were the color of glowing embers, and his body was almost unrealistically perfect. He wore nothing but a black tattered toga and countless numbers of black chains wrapped around his body, the ends of which had sharpened hooks and spears on them. Although he was the most beautiful man he had ever seen, there was something about him that made Rift uneasy. The sound of metal clanking behind him made Rift turn around as dozens of soldiers poured from the castle’s gate. He turned back to face the unknown man and was startled to find him standing right in front of him.
“Don’t be afraid, young one.”
The man’s voice sent shivers down Rift’s spine. His tone was warm, almost kind, but his voice seemed to hide something dark and sinister.
“In time you’ll understand. For now, behold the power sleeping within you.” Without hesitation, the mysterious stranger walked past Rift, focusing his attention on the guards who surrounded the two of them.
“Pitiful creatures… I admire your courage, but your insolence cannot go unpunished.”
He extended his right arm in their direction. As if giving them life, the chains wrapped around him began to slither about his body like serpents. Suddenly, they charged forward through the air towards the soldiers while creating webs around the plaza. A few of soldiers managed to knock them away, but others were trapped in their unrelenting grasps. The chains coiled tighter and tighter replacing the silence with grinding, snapping, and cries of agony.
Their numbers dwindling, the few soldiers that remained tried to retreat into the safety of the castle walls. The man laughed while Rift watched in horror at the massacre before him. He knew he should intervene, but his body failed him. His chest began to tighten as he fell to his knees. The world around him was engulfed in flames, and his ears were filled with the terrified screams of the innocent as he blacked out.
Silence once again filled the air around him, and he slowly opened his eyes to see he was once again in his room. One leg rested on the edge of his bed and his back was laying on the floor. After a moment, he finally realized he had fallen out of bed.
“That was one hell of a nightmare,” he groaned to himself.
His entire body was covered in sweat and he grabbed onto the edge of his bed to balance himself as he attempted to stand. The sun was slowly starting to peek over the horizon, and Rift let out a groan as he peered over to the clock on his nightstand. It was almost time for him to be down for breakfast, yet it felt like he hadn’t gotten much rest. He pulled off the sweat soaked shirt he was wearing as he made his way over to the bathroom.
“What the hell was that all about?” He wondered.
As he turned on the shower a thought crossed his mind. Could this just be stress related? He removed the rest of his clothing, pulled back the blue satin shower curtain, and stepped into the silver and porcelain tub. He let out a sigh of relief as the hot water hit his body and he could feel his muscles begin to relax. One thing was for sure; this was going to be a long start to the next chapter of his life.
Rift let out a groan as he made his way through the castle. His thoughts moved back to his dream. He could only remember bits and pieces at this point, but what he did remember was very vivid. “The seven kings of hell will rise, and the world will burn.” Fire, screaming, panic, and those burning ember eyes were what kept replaying themselves in his head.
Behold what power you are truly capable of achieving.
Those words bothered him the most, yet he had no reason why. As he entered the dining hall he was in awe of how pristine it looked. In the back was a round table where Weiss was sitting with two other people he didn’t recognize. The two of them were glaring at her and she stuck her tongue out at them quickly before looking around to make sure no one had seen her break in character.
One of them had the looks of a typical thirteen-year-old Asian boy, but the way he carried himself would suggest he was anything but. He was dressed in black and blue clothing with an over-sized top hat that had a slightly charred card tucked into the blue ribbon wrapping around it.
The lady next to him reminded Rift of a Jester. Her clothing had purple and black diamond shapes decorating it. Her hair was raven black with purple highlights, which she wore rolled up in short bulbs on either side of her head. They reminded him of cat ears, which should have made her seem less threatening. He couldn’t see much of her face as her mouth was covered by a black and purple metallic mask that had grin sprawled across it with pointed teeth. Something about her made him feel uneasy, and he noted that it was probably best to avoid her in the future.
He turned his attention to the wonderful aromas wafting in from the left of him. The sight of the buffet-styled line of food made his stomach turn in knots of eagerness as all the delicious aromas strengthened and welcomed him in. There were all kinds of food littered about, some of which he had never seen. From bacon and eggs, pancakes, and porridge to chorizo tacos, refried beans, and crepes; everything he could ever want was in front of him. He helped himself to a few tacos, some thick-cut bacon slices, a small bowl of oatmeal, and a big glass of cranberry juice before turning back to the seating area. He always had a huge appetite, but for some reason no matter what he ate he never seemed to gain weight. He figured he just had a high metabolism, but now he couldn't help but wonder how much of being a Grigori affected him.
The tables were all very elegant with black satin cloth covering them. There were several others carrying on while eating their meals, and suddenly it dawned on him that he had no clue where to sit. A few people glanced his way, but several seemed to be deep in discussion. A girl from the far-right side of the room waved at him excitedly. He looked around a bit then pointed at himself. She giggled and nodded while she continued to beckon him. He quickly made his way over to her and was surprised at how young she was. Her hair was a beautiful snow white, and her eyes gleamed a light blue.
“Hiya, my name’s Yuki! You can have a seat next to me if you’d like!” She gave him a warm smile while patting next to her.
“Umm thanks, I’m Rift.” He said, awkwardly, while taking his seat.
“Rift huh? I haven’t seen you around before. I figured you may need a place to sit so I flagged ya down!” She giggled while continuing her meal. She had a mound of white rice that had a fried egg on it. She seemed to have just started on it as she finished off what looked like a pile of beans in a stringy slime.
Rift nodded, trying to shrug off the embarrassment. “Yeah, today is my first day as a Hallowed.”
She smiled and tussled his hair. “Then as your senior, I’ll take you under my wing!”
Rift chuckled, “Senior? You don’t look a day over fourteen! Shouldn’t I be your senior?”
She shook her head, “Actually, I’m eighteen–”
Before she could finish a tall guy, around Rift’s age, interrupted her. “Wow, they had thick cut bacon! Can you believe it?” He looked over at Rift as he took a seat next to Yuki. “Hey, who’s he?”
Yuki smacked him in the arm, “You’re very rude Anzu, you know that? This is Rift.” She said while she placed her hand on Rift’s shoulder.
Anzu extended his hand, “Hey Rift, it’s nice to meetcha buddy. I’m Anzu Siris!”
Rift shook his hand while measuring him up. Anzu was about six feet tall with short strawberry blond hair and full beard, athlete’s build, and light skin. He wondered if he was from the USA, like he was. He was tempted to ask, but he wasn’t sure if it was rude to inquire about people’s former lives or not.
“Just because it’s all you can eat doesn’t make it a personal challenge, Anz.” A female voice said from behind them.
Rift looked over to where a guy and a girl were standing. He had dark brown hair and was about as tall as Sebastian but not as muscular. She had dark red hair and was around the same height and build as Yuki. The guy smiled at Rift and reached over to shake his hand.
“Hello, my name is Zephyr Rafale, and she’s Kira Mallick.” He gestured over to the girl who had teased Anzu.
Kira laughed a bit. “What can I say? Sarcasm and teasing is how I show affection!”
Everyone chuckled as the two of them had a seat at the table. Rift was relieved to have found some friendly people to talk to as he was afraid things would be as bad as they were on Earth. He never fit in at school due to him being in advanced classes, so when he had the opportunity to test out of high school he took it. Unfortunately for him, his foster parents used all of his tuition money. It had been the last straw that forced him to go out on his own. He shook the memories from his mind and allowed himself to learn about the others.
Yuki was from a Japanese mountain village and had been at the Bastion for three years. Anzu, who was of Scottish descent, had only been there for about two years. Kira was Yuki’s best friend, and she originated from South America. She had been at the Bastion for four years. Zephyr was from Canada and had only been at the Bastion for a year. He and Rift seemed to share a lot of the same interests and by the end of breakfast he found that the two of them were already forming a friendship. Rift was happy that for the first time in his life he finally found somewhere he fit in.