Eko had always hated the Rain.
Not only did it make his bones hurt, but it also made it almost impossible to get home without one of his artworks being ruined by the grey sludge that fell from the sky.
He trudged through the dirty back streets, hand clenched tightly around his backpack straps, head low. Bumping into a few people, he muttered a quick sorry before disappearing into the ever-growing darkness.
That was the other thing about the Rain. It could be broad noon and the sky would be mourning, blocking the little bit of sunlight Kalisper ever managed to get.
Ducking into the awning of a shop, he ran a hand through his hair in a futile attempt to rid it of excess water. A sigh escaped his lips as he leaned a shoulder against the doorway, the smell of freshly baked bread coming from inside.
His stomach growled a reminder that he hadn’t eaten at all today. Temptation crept up his spine and wrapped around his throat tightly as he pushed away. Maybe tomorrow he would indulge himself in such a delicacy but, for now, he needed to get home before rush hour.
His footsteps sounded in the empty hallway as he made his way to their door. Creaks flooded around him as if something else lurked just behind him, out of sight.
After wrestling with the rusty doorknob for an ungodly amount of time, the door swung inward and the familiar smell of engulfed him. He dropped his backs onto the closest counter and collapsed onto the old, tattered couch. The moment his head hit the pillow, he drifted off to the sound of the Rain and traffic below.
Darkness hugged his skin, every inch of it grabbing onto his pores and scars, clinging on for dear life. It’s little legs felt like a million insects running over him, refusing to let go for fear of falling –or worse, dying.
He kicked gently at the shadows that raced around his feet and shooed them away with his hand until they disappeared into the far corners with nothing but a mere snort or a small growl.
“And you called me here because why?” He asked, walking forward. “I thought we’d made a deal that we’d go out separate directions.”
“I wish that was the case but you and I both know that’s not how it works.” A voice answered him from the void. “They need you again.”
He rubbed his forehead. “They know I'm on probation. I can’t do anything.”
“Not legally.” A creak split the air, followed by footsteps. “However, since you’re registered as dead, it wouldn’t be impossible to work around.”
A figure emerged from the darkness, it’s blue hide glimmering in the little bit of light that somehow managed to penetrate through the thick clouds. Their silver hair waltzed behind them as they neared, hand outstretched.
Eko shied away.
“I won’t hurt you, child,” they growled in protest. “I simply want to touch you. After all, we aren’t strangers.”
Reaching out, he guided their hand to his face, their rough caloused touch startling him. A freezing sensation rushed from the nape of his neck to where their fingertips brushed his skin and he flinched.
“You still have the power. Good.” They let their hand drop.
Anitha was a strange creature who rather much resembled a fairy although she looked nothing like one in her true form. Her small ears were invisible underneath her silk hair and as her three violet eyes peered at him from the darkness, he couldn’t shake the fear that was crouching in his stomach.
She rolled her eyes. “See, this is why we always talk in dreams where I can control the setting. Because if you ever saw me in person, you’d probably die.”
He gritted his teeth and she smirked at his reaction. “Humans are easily scared.”
She once again reached to touch his face but he lightly knocked her hand out of the way.
“I’m not a human any more than you are a Fjeha.”
“Saying such pretentious lies could get one hanged, darling,” she smiled, her sharp teeth shining for a split second. “Now, let’s get on with it. You’re briefing is tomorrow…usual time. Do not be late.”
Without another word, she was gone and the black mist that had once rushed at him now dissipated. He was once again back in his living room, staring at the stained ceiling above him.
Rubbing his temples, he rolled over and tried to erase everything that had just happened from his mind but as he began to doze off, the door snapped open.
He startled, sitting up.
“I’m not here to murder you, just to sleep for the night,” Emmet waved at him as he kicked his shoes. “I’m assuming you got called in as well?”
He nodded. “Unfortunately. I was really beginning to enjoy my break.”
“I know, right?” He rummaged through the fridge. “It’s so much easier to just…live a normal life as a human than have to worry about whether or not the Geau can handle their problems or not.”
Eko let out a deep breath and leaned his head back. The roof had long since seen better days and was now damaged from flooding and the Shifting. Cracks spread from each corner of the room across the walls and onto the ceiling, causing him to zone out as he traced them.
He was brought back to Emmet snapping his fingers in his face. “You good?”
“What do you think they want with us this time?” He stood. “I thought we were basically guaranteed our freedom after the last…situation.”
“You know how they are…They always play word games. It’d be useless to argue with them over this.”
He remained quiet.
“Well, I’ll leave you alone to ponder our impending doom. I’mma get a shower and crash in your bed if that's okay.” Emmet stuffed the remaining apple roll into his mouth and disappeared down the hallway before he could answer him.
Eko brushed the shower curtain aside and stepped out, wrapping a towel around his waist. Swiping the palm of his hand across the old cracked mirror, he was able to see his reflection through the fog.
Scars of different sizes spread over his body from the top of his head to as low as his ankles, each one having a different story behind it. Subconsciously, he slowly ran the pad of his thumb over the ones on his wrist–some of the deepest ones on his body.
Droplets of water fell from the shower head, splattering to the puddles below. He blinked, finding his own eyes in the mirror and quickly looked away. They reminded him of hers. The mere thought of it made his stomach twist.
Composing himself, he quickly got dressed and left. The city was starting to quiet down as the day came to an end and although it would never be silent, it would still doze off when the sun set.
Old York. The city that used to never sleep.
An involuntary sigh escaped his lips as he massaged his neck. He glanced at Emmet who was spread eagle face down on the bed and smiled slightly. They’d known each other for so long, it was almost impossible for him to get mad at the Blanket Hog.
He gently rolled him to his side and curled up, his knees tucked into his chest. The AC window unit sputtered on, providing a white noise that covered up Emmet’s soft snores.
His thoughts wondered and he did nothing to stop them. Sometimes, it was better to let them run instead of restraining them, pushing them back until they exploded with a vengeance so big it made it impossible to function for several days. That was the last thing he needed right before a new mission.
Once again, his thumb found its way to his wrist as he chewed on the inside of his cheek. One more warning and he’d be ‘honorably’ unassigned–a fancy way of saying he was no longer of use.
His jaw clenched. He had to continue, had to make it, had to succeed…if not, what was he? Nothing more than a lost boy in another solar system, another world with nothing to his name except a few scrappy paintings that couldn’t be sold for more than thirty bucks. If they let him go, he’d have nothing.
Body aching, he sat up. Pain richoted through his back as he stood and headed for the living room.
“Tomorrow will go well.” He assured himself as he collapsed onto the cushions. “It will be just fine.”
The tip of the paintbrush barely skimmed across the painting below, leaving a slight trace of light brown. Leaning back, the young woman tucked a strand of her shiny black hair behind her ear, further smearing the dab of blue that ran from below her eye to her temple.
Her phone chimed, shattering the silence and startling her slightly. Dropping her paintbrush onto the table next to her, she stood and walked towards the window. Sun washed through and the gentle breeze waltzed with the thin white curtains.
A sigh escaped her lips as she read the notification. Sliding her phone into her back pocket, she grabbed her coat from the hanger by the door and swung around the corner to check her reflection in the mirror before leaving.
“Agh, again,” she wined, shuffling for the kitchen where she quickly wiped the paint from her face. Her hands were stained and, in her opinion, looked more like art than the canvas in the other room.
Without another thought, she disappeared out the door and into the buzzing crowd below.
Eko rubbed the back of his neck as he stared at the floor. The hum of the elevator's ascension was making him anxious and each floor they passed seemed to crawl by, mocking the nervousness that bloomed in his stomach.
“Relax,” Emmet muttered. “It won’t be worse than last time.”
“And how do you know?” he countered.
The door slid open before either could say more and they hurriedly stepped off, each eager to be on solid ground again.
Intricate white walls surrounded them, designed and mazes engraved on them. Cream-colored flowers lined the hallway, their vases a sheer granite allowing visitors to see the stems that sparkled and shined from the Ven that had kept them alive for so long.
Ven was plant-based power. Some called it magic, but regardless of how it was referred to, its purpose was quite simple. It kept things alive and could heal dying things, including species such as humans. It only worked to certain extents but, with the right Weaver, it could save someone’s life.
Eko drifted back to the present when they reached the conference room before them. Scanning his badge, the grand door moved backward and then disappeared into the wall, allowing them access. He took a deep breath and looked at Emmet to see if he was ready. His gaze was met with a nod and both stepped forward.
The door instantly closed behind them, sealing them in the room until their meeting was finished.
“Ah, good to see you.” Juno stood at the end of the large oak desk.
The roof stretched upward, its glass ceiling giving a view to the grandeur surrounding them. Galaxies upon galaxies sprinkled the dark heavens as the flashing of docking lights and cruise ships swept across the scene.
It never failed to take his breath away. Millions and millions of different life forms were out there and what he was seeing was just the tip of the iceberg. His chest tightened as his throat swelled shut. Sweat began to form on his palms and his head spun as the realization of how small he was hit. His stomach dropped and he forced himself to look down at the ground.
The world spun before his eyes and he struggled to stay standing. Emmet led him towards the closest chair and helped him settle before speaking up.
“I thought you wouldn’t be using us for any more missions.” There was a certain bite in his tone, one that you wouldn’t quite catch if you didn’t know him and one that could most easily be misunderstood if not careful. “We were promised a peaceful Break.”
“Unfortunately, there’s been a change of plans.” Juno straightened his suit coat, his white hair complementing his black fitted suit that snugly fit across his broad shoulders. A gentle smile played across his lips. “And blame the higher-ups for bothering you, I’m just the messenger.”
Eko rested his chin in his palm. “Can you just tell us what the mission is?”
“It’s not something we would normally title as a ‘mission’ but we’ve located another Traveler.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“However.” Juno held a finger up. “She isn’t aware of her ability yet. We’ve traced her Pathway and she’s jumped multiple times but never for long. We’re assuming that they were just quick bursts into parallel universes and since she didn’t stay for an extended period of time, she most likely didn’t pick up on it.”
“And you want us to do what exactly? We’ve never encountered anything like this before.” Emmet spoke.
“We have regulations and protocols to follow in situations like this but I have permission from the Geau to bypass all of them. They need her as soon as possible and if we adhered to the rules it would take too long.”
“So you go and we kidnap her.”
“Yes, but I would hope you go about it in a more civilized manner. Let’s not have the authorities on our tails, okay?”
Eko chewed on the inside of his lip for a moment. “What do they need her for exactly?”
“I don't know but if I were to guess I would say for the Liberation. We’re getting to be too big with not enough room and–.”
“And they need someone else to do it for them when they have the two of us?” He cut him off.
“And Anitha who is stronger than the both of us combined,” Emmet added quickly.
“Look.” Juno took a deep breath and stepped back. “Just look up. Do you realize how little you are compared to everything out there? Yes, your powers may be immense but if we can get our hands on her, we have the key out of this god-forsaken place.”
“It’s not that bad but you wouldn’t know anything about that because you sit in your little spiny chair all day.” He rolled his eyes.
Eko silenced him with the wave of a hand. “I still don’t understand. We’re both indebted to the Geau and they’re just going to hire someone else on when we could do it and be free from you guys?”
“Take it up with them,” he snapped. “I don’t have the time or the effort to argue with someone like you.”
“Apologies. I let my anger get the best of me.” Juno closed his books and slid one across the table to them. “Here’s everything you could possibly need to know about the new Traveler. We’ll have a check-in in about a month.”
Words rushed to the tip of Eko’s tongue but he bit them back. He’d long since learned that there was no point in arguing with Juno or asking any more questions. The rest would be up to him and since they no longer had to follow regulation, the Geau wouldn’t be watching over him like a hawk.
Juno stopped, his hand resting on the door. “Please do be gentle with her though when you break the news to her. The last thing we want is for her to be traumatized and scared of the Pathways. Although, if she decides to be stubborn, you’re authorized to go to extremes.”
“Extremes? As in…” Eko’s voice faded out.
Juno nodded. “Yes.”
And with that, he disappeared through the door leaving the two in silence.
“Well, that certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.” Emmet dropped into a chair across from him.
He nodded. “I don’t know if it’s worse or better than what I had prepared myself for.”
He reached across and grabbed the files from him. “Where do we find her?”
Ecko tilted his head to the side. “Are you ready to be the proper art student or are you going to play hooky with the rich girls behind the studio?”
A pout formed on his face. “Fine. I guess the newbie is more important.”