|Original: Truths Unseen, 3rd time's not the charm (1/2)
||[Dec. 31st, 2008|11:55 pm]
3rd time's NOT the charm! Did NaNoWriMo again this year, this time with more pressure because I made a pact with RL friends that we'd share our work with each other after. It's one thing to share with online friends who've seen my stuff before - I don't mind that as much, because we all write on the Internet. We know what to expect from each other. But with people you've never shown stuff to in real life? That's a little more nerve wracking.
In any case, we agreed, and so here it is, 3rd time around on NaNoWriMo (yes, yes, I know that's against the rules, but I'd rather not waste the rare effort I make in writing). This isn't the official NaNoWriMo version that I submitted - I plugged in the parts I wrote from last year to fill in the gaps for the rest of you.
Original: Truths Unseen. Young Adult. Philippine mythology. 11.7k+ words.
Working Title: Truths Unseen
Sala wasn’t sure if they could handle the target but they pressed forward with the plan anyway. It was better than letting Tomas go off on his own. Who knew what trouble he’d rile up? Last night was more than enough evidence that he liked to fight before he asked.
Even now, just sitting beside him, their legs awkwardly touching in the cramped war-vehicle-turned-public-transport, Sala could sense how tense he was. His dark eyes were constantly scanning the scenery outside the jeepney’s windows, while he simultaneously jiggled one leg, making the coins in his pocket to clink every so often.
Suddenly, he called out “Para!” to the driver, who instantly responded to that magic word. The public transportation vehicle came to an abrupt halt, causing everyone to slide into each other. Tomas extricated himself from the row of bodies and was off in a flash. Sala was less agile. In fact, she was still on the jeepney when it started to creep forward in anticipation. Just as she stepped off, it roared away in search of more passengers to replace them. It wouldn’t be hard. A couple of people happened to be a short distance away, flagging down any vehicle willing to take them on first. The competition was on.
Tomas steadied Sala in the aftermath. As soon as she was stable, he released her and started to head towards a side street.
“Traffic is just as insane in the suburbs as it is in the city.” Sala complained as she followed.
“It’s rush hour. Everyone’s going home.” Tomas replied matter-of-factly.
Sala looked around, slightly disoriented. She wasn’t all too familiar with this town yet, having spent most of her time in the city where she went to college. Each side street looked like the next – flanked by stores at each corner and barely wide enough to fit two cars side-by-side, sometimes less.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” Sala asked.
When he didn’t add anything, Sala prodded, “…and where is that?”
“You said he went to Ignacio Calinao school. That’s near Halaan compound.” He pointed ahead and to the left where a series of houses were built within a small radius. “Should be over there.”
Sala had to admit she was impressed. “You know a lot for a city kid like me.”
“I’ve just been hunting here longer.”
“You’re hunting.” Sala corrected. “I’m not. I’m investigating.”
Sala made a face at his rigid back, but didn’t respond otherwise. Working with Tomas was going to be difficult, but she’d dealt with worse in the past. Besides, Sala could tell that he was having just as hard a time as she was with their hastily arranged partnership. He was a soloist; it was natural. He’d improved in temperament since she first met him, at least. Tomas was purposeful now, to the point it might begin to interfere with his judgment.
Speaking of which, “Don’t forget what we talked about: if we see him, we’re not going to approach him. We have to catch him alone.”
“I know.” Tomas’ attention was focused ahead as he impatiently tried to get a first glimpse of the campus. They side stepped a street vendor who was just dumping a fresh batch of fish balls into a pan. The oil sizzled and popped while the smell of food wafted in the air, reminding Sala she hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
“I’m just saying-“
“I said I know. I won’t forget.” Already, Tomas’ tone was rising in irritation.
Sala put a calming hand on his shoulder. “It’s your temper that I’m reminding.”
Tomas was tense under her fingers – she surmised he didn’t like being touched but her gift worked with touch, and anyway, he had to stop being such a tightass – but he didn’t pull away. Instead, he half-turned, a guilty expression on his face, probably in response to a memory from the night before.
“Is your shoulder all right now?” he asked matter-of-factly, as if he were expected to ask when he’d much rather not mention it at all. In a sharper tone, he added, “The way you’re moving, it looks like it is.”
Sala considered giving him a hard time about it, maybe wincing for good effect, but she could tell he didn’t appreciate such jokes.
“It’s all right.” she replied. Lucky for you, she added mentally. There was some soreness when she moved her shoulder, but otherwise it was only a bruise. Even that was quickly fading with the herbs her group had given her before she set off.
Strangely, acting fine had the opposite effect on Tomas. Instead of being reassured, he said with a touch of defensiveness, “I just didn’t know that damn dwende was so fast. Who’d expect anyone to be around at that time of night, especially out in the fields like that? If you had been a normal person, I would have seen you before you even stepped within range.”
“That’s not the point. That dwende was playing on your impatience. If you’re not careful, they’ll all find out who you are.”
“Let them.” Tomas said recklessly.
“They’ll use it to their advantage like that dwende did last night.”
Tomas clenched his jaw. After a moment, he spoke, his anger subsiding a little. “I haven’t been here long enough for them to figure it out yet. It won’t be a problem.”
Sala nearly ran into him when he pulled to a short stop. She was glad his weapon was on the other side of his body, even though it was still sheathed. It wouldn’t have been fun to bump into it, sheathed or not.
Tomas held up a hand, palm curving downwards. Sala understood the signal. In two breaths, she pulled a cover of shadows and silence over them.
Tomas pointed ahead, the school campus just coming into view. It lived up to its reputation, with its modern-looking smooth buildings, tiled catwalk, and beautifully unnatural landscaping. It was totally unlike the blocky buildings they had at college. Those were old with history. That was the kind of campus she’d expected to find their target in, not this type. There was no way any creature of the night would be inclined to stay in such an artificial environment, and yet here they were, going against years of common sense. Times certainly were changing.
There were a few students coming out from a late night at school. Sala and Tomas began to approach cautiously, but Tomas stopped again, turning his face to the right in a searching manner. “Did you feel that?”
Sala did. It wasn’t common in carefully sanitized areas like this one. It was a sudden heat, a heightened sense of awareness, the kind that made her look over her shoulder and catch someone watching her, except no one was watching. If she wasn’t attuned to it, she would have even missed it. The spark would burst into flame for a minute at most, then it would splutter away. She often felt it before she met one of them, but which one of them was always a question.
“Do you see who it is?” she asked, eying the students, who were drawing closer.
“Not yet.” Tomas emphasized the ‘yet’.
Without warning, Tomas took off, veering away from the school. The web of shadows stretched between them, almost slipping off. Sala started running after him just in time, her steps muffled, her heavy breaths muted. She worked doubly hard to get her legs moving faster, but her speed was pathetic. She could barely keep up.
“Wait!” she cried, the web muffling her voice. Tomas, also contained within the web, was the only one who could hear her. He was obviously not used to slowing down for a partner.
“Hurry up or it’ll be gone.” Tomas replied impatiently, not bothering to look back. He moved with little difficulty, arms and legs both pumping like pistons while he ducked his head to speed up.
“Do I look like the kind of girl that does a lot of running?” Sala retorted, glaring at his back. If she’d known they’d be chasing down suspects this early, she would’ve worn sneakers. At least her canvass shoes were holding up to the job. Compared to the strappy sandals her classmates liked to wear that summer, Sala could move quicker, but it still wasn’t quick enough.
Tomas looked back at her briefly, not in annoyance but in appraisal. A decision formed in his eyes. He held out a hand to her. Sala reached for it automatically, pushing herself a little further to catch his fingers. As soon as they touched, Tomas muttered something under his breath, tracing quick letters on the back of her hand. Before she could register what they were, Tomas let out a final exhalation of breath.
“Keep up.” Tomas told her. He took off again, faster than before.
Sala stopped for a moment, uncertain what he’d just done. She doubtfully made to follow him. The first step she took almost threw her off balance. She felt somehow lighter, buoyed up just enough so that she was practically skimming the pot-holed pavement. Experimentally, she dug her heel into the ground, gathered her momentum, and rocketed herself forward. It was like flying. Two such skips caught her up to Tomas, two more propelled her gracefully ahead.
She laughed when she saw his expression as she passed him.
“That was meant to give you a boost,” Tomas said bluntly. “Not make you faster than me.”
Sala smiled and leaped further ahead, but not enough to risk slipping Tomas out into the light of other people’s sight. “Your speed is a spell, then.”
“What else would it be?” Tomas grumbled.
“You don’t use it very well, do you?”
In the moment it took for Sala to wink and Tomas to clench his jaw, they were gone.
Kite del Mundo knew she wasn’t alone. Someone was watching her while she worked in the empty classroom. As always, Kite ignored them. It’d been happening on and off for weeks now. If they were too chicken to make a move, then they didn’t matter. Right now, she had to focus on getting her homework done in time. She had to get out of there before the night set in too deeply. It was probably too late already, but that wasn’t going to stop her. She just hated the extra precaution she had to take.
Kite boxed her final answer in her graphing notebook, started on the next problem. Minutes passed while she scribbled down quick calculations that were more like estimations. No one expected her to get top grades. That’s what her little brother was for.
The overhead fan hummed overhead, rippling the pages of her notebook with every pass. From where she sat, Kite could hear the cicadas singing in the distance while deepening streaks of pink and lavender crept across the sky. It was easy to see when one wall of the room was missing – there was no need for doors in this school. Every classroom at Calinao high school was designed to open directly into the hallway, which in turn was lined with half a wall that allowed students to lean over the railing and watch the activities going on in the quadrangle. Even now, this late after school, there were students there preparing for those activities while the heat of the day ebbed.
Kite finished up the last problem with a firm flick of her sign pen. Finally. In one smooth motion, she snapped her notebook shut, swept it into her open backpack, and shrugged the backpack halfway on. She zipped it closed as she made her way to the stairs, hitting the switches off as she passed, and felt the start of a thrill course through her. Another one tonight. It had been a while since the last time.
Swinging the plum bag back to its proper position, she took the stairs lightly, two at a time, hardly making a sound. She noted that the presence had receded when she left the classroom. That was a bad move, considering there would be a better opportunity for them later. Geez, wasn’t there anyone with the patience and skill to pull anything off? Kite wanted to bust them already. This whole watching thing was getting annoying. It wouldn’t have bothered her if it had been different people performing the surveillance, but it was the same person over and over. Kite didn’t know how she knew; she just did. And it irked her. Where were the guts?
Kite had plenty of that. She had climbed the flagpole and slid back down when she was thirteen – and she was wearing her uniform’s skirt too. She always raised her hand to go first when there was an impromptu recitation in class and no one had studied. She even drove to the city, Manila, where the traffic was an insane mess of vehicles and honking. She could do anything, if it interested her. She could even get into the Star section where the top kids were.
A couple of said kids were hanging in the quad when she passed by. They were the achievers, the ones who would amount to something some day. Some basketball guys, still sweaty from practice, were going around and grossing out the members of student council. Kite was amused to see a girl with coarse brown hair being harassed with splashes of sweat.
“Don’t smirk at me, Kite.” Whoops. The girl had seen her. Kite pretended not to notice and walked on.
“Too good to talk back?” The girl persisted. “Or too dumb?”
“I know you’re going to one of those, again. Stupidest thing ever. Why are you wasting your time with that crap?”
“Anna, lay off.” Another girl came up, this one with a plump frame, short stature, and frameless glasses. She also had an air of authority that came with being student body president. Anna shut up, though her expression clearly showed that she had more to say, and it wasn’t pleasant.
“Thanks, Yvette” Kite said when Yvette came closer. “I don’t have time to deal with her right now.” Or ever. For some unexplainable reason, Anna had it in for Kite since they were sophomores. They were seniors now and Anna still hadn’t grown up.
“I know you’re in a hurry.” Yvette said. She bowed her head apologetically, the wayward ends of her hair almost catching on her uniform’s bow tie. “But we’d really love to have your help again setting up for the summer festival. You were great the last time you came, and it was a ton of fun, right?”
“Sure.” Kite agreed immediately. Anything school-related wasn’t exactly fun to her. The events she did help out with were tolerable, though, infinitely better in comparison to zoning out during class. Besides, it was a legitimate reason to have a later curfew. Her little brother, Gerard, couldn’t tattle on her when she came home late for school-sanctioned academic activities.
“The summer fest will be an even better experience.” Yvette’s eyes lit up at the thought of it. “There’ll be booths, and lights, and costumes. It’ll be the perfect way to cap off our senior year.”
Kite resisted the urge to cut the conversation short, even if she needed these precious minutes. The fastest way to get out of there was to agree to anything, even if she’d have to pay for it later. With utmost politeness, Kite nodded, even smiled. “Count me in, then.”
Yvette smiled winningly. “That’s awesome. I’ll sign you up. Thanks again!”
Kite was already walking away. “I’ll help when I can.” she called over her shoulder.
“By the way, Kite, we’re heading to the Delta after this. You’re welcome to join.” The invitation was genuine. Sometimes, Kite even accepted.
“Can’t tonight, but thanks.” Kite waved, then focused forward, her pace increasing in tempo until she got to the gate where a guard stood, a rifle he never used strapped over his shoulder. Just like the guards at the mall. All show. He ignored her when she stopped just before the exit to gather her sleek strands into a functional ponytail. Sticking a final, tiny clip deep into the base of her ponytail, Kite readied herself on the brink between the safety of school and the lure of the outside. Lifting her head, she analyzed the darkening sky and angle of the setting sun. Even if she hailed a ride from a motorized tricycle, she could tell she would still be late for her curfew. Gerard would be thrilled. He always enjoyed being the better child, and often pretended to be the eldest too.
With an exasperated sigh, Kite set off.
Unnoticed by the large potted plants, in the area where the nannies and drivers normally waited, a figure casually stood up and walked after her in long, easy strides.
It wasn’t hard to spot the Kite in the thick crowd. Her earrings glimmered tantalizingly in the slanting sunlight, catching Daro’s eye, and probably the eyes of others. For a girl who prided herself on being different, she was awfully similar to her high class classmates with her trendy jewelry. Today, she wore crystal earrings the color of the bay, and a bracelet that matched. A more subtle necklace hung around her neck, the string a generic black, the pendant a rough cross that was hewn out of some type of dark wood, possibly molave.
Accessories were the only aspect where Kite was similar to her peers. In everything else, she didn’t quite fit into the Calinaoan image. She’d been lugging the same beaten backpack for the past three years. Her shoes were scuffed, despite her efforts to keep them polished every day in accordance with school regulations. Even her uniform didn’t fit her the way it did other students. Instead of flowing gracefully, the burgundy and purple patterned skirt cut in stiff angles just past her knees. It was just as flattering, as the designer meant the uniform to be, but it had more of an edge than intended, especially when she marched instead of walked.
But that was the Kite. All of those shortcomings may have been forgivable in their shallow high school had she been smart, or talented, or even slightly friendly, but she was none of those things. It was her eccentricities that made her stand apart: her steel composure that made her snobbish, her recent penchant for wandering into the night to- Daro laughed to think of what she sought, and always, always had to hold himself back from doing anything.
But it would be so worth it to see her reaction.
As if to tempt him, her bracelet glinted at him as she reached up to tuck a bit of hair behind her ear. That was it. If he could do nothing else, then he had to annoy her at the very least.
It was no problem getting through the mass of pedestrians. Swiftness had always been a gift of his. There was also the fact that people tended to step out of his way when he passed though, their eyes never quite catching sight of him, reacting like ripples to a stone. Most moved aside without consciously meaning to, but there was always an odd person who didn't. Naturally, that person was Kite.
“Leave me alone, stalker.” Kite said just as he got within earshot, maybe even a little before. Daro heard her anyway, and dropped all attempts at disguising his approach. He was fast but he had never been light in step.
She hadn’t even turned around to ascertain she wasn’t telling off a random stranger. Daro laughed mentally, then easily caught up with her in two strides when it would have taken another guy four. He wheeled around on her and blocked her path. “Why would I want to stalk you, Katie?”
“Because you enjoy irritating me.” Kite accurately answered. “And stop calling me that.”
“Suuure… Kaite.” Daro chuckled, which effectively upped the annoyance factor. Kite attempted to step around him and hurry away to wherever she was going that night, but he effortlessly kept pace with her.
“It’s those long legs of yours. Abnormal. You need to be put in a lab and studied.” Kite cursed, still walking fast. Daro wasn’t listening. He had caught sense of something. Something like him? Or someone with an intent? Before he could figure out what it was, Kite whirled around, her ponytail almost whipping him, so fast was her about-face. The glare she projected up, up, up at him tore through his already paper-thin focus. He hated when she did that and thus obliged her with a dark look of his own.
“That act may work with our classmates,” said Kite, her simple features edged with irritation. Score! Daro thought to himself. “But I’m not a part of your star section. Stupid people don’t get intimidated, and stupid people don’t have to pretend to be nice. So get lost.”
“But I came to help you out!” Daro put on his sincerest expression. It was hard. Kite was far from fooled.
“Help? You came to sabotage me.”
Daro didn’t deny it, but he did his utmost to stifle a smile. His face was prone to glaring, which helped, but it was still a struggle. “What makes you say that?”
"Remember the Santos house incident? When you saw me unlocking the door with a key THEY gave me to look around, you rounded up the neighbors and told them someone was robbing the house?" Kite ticked off a finger. "Or how about the time you scared that guy I was interviewing about those fake white lady sightings. He thought YOU were a demon." She ticked off another. Kite went on – there was much to go on about and it was no surprise she was pissed with him - but Daro had tuned her out.
There it was again. He couldn’t pass it off this time. Someone was watching.
It pierced through the din around them. Vendors dotted the main street they were on at random intervals, sprouting as they did overnight and disappearing the next. Traffic choked the road, running up onto the sidewalks at some points. Commuters were either literally running to catch a jeepney, or were idly standing around, waiting for one to come. Even with Kite ranting right in front of him, Daro could still feel eyes on him, on her.
This was disrespectful. Daro moved to teach the observer some manners.
“So that’s it? You’re done with me and now you’re just going to disappear?”
Daro paused in his departure. He smiled handsomely, even if Kite had told him on more than one occasion that he was as ugly as a horse. "Did you want me to stay, Katie?"
Without hesitation, Kite dismissed him with a, “Get out of my face.” She pushed at him for good measure – and it wasn’t lightly – her tan fingers splayed across his shirt cuff, her palm resting against his bare skin. It was all he could do to not verbally reaction to the shock that passed through her direct touch. It was like she had rubbed her feet on a thousand yards of carpet just to jolt him.
Daro transformed the reflex into a purposeful fall forward, followed by a quick push to spring back to his feet. He straightened with a flourish, even craning his head around to see who had witnessed his spontaneous piece of choreography. Unfortunately, no one had noticed, not even Kite who had disappeared into some side street.
Somewhat let down, Daro plunged a hand into a pocket and headed to another street where the eyes would lose sight of him. He admitted that there was nothing he liked better than being appreciated for his gifts, although bugging the Kite was proving to be just as enjoyable. If he had only known sooner how easy it was, he would not have given her the benefit of peace for all those years.
He had never ignored her, though. And as much as everyone pretended indifference, no one else could ignore her either.
Both hands working at readying his weapon, Tomas used his lips to point at the pair. “Is that him?” he asked as quietly as possible.
The two looked ordinary enough. Both were the usual tan color of the region, both wore the standard Ignacio Calinoa uniform, and both sported backpacks, though the boy’s appeared next to empty. They walked side by side, moving and talking as if in jest. If Tomas were any less observant, he would have thought they were friends walking home after school.
Despite appearances, Tomas was sure they were not close. The difference was how the girl stood rigidly straight, as if she could somehow match the guy’s impossible height. While the guy smirked, the girl scowled fiercely, which amused the guy all the more. Tomas hoped she would punch the guy at some point. That would be evidence enough, and then they could step in and lend a hand…
Sala didn’t bother to lower her voice, disguised as it was as wind. “Yup, that’s the guy. Daro Vesiro, high school senior, on the varsity team for track, student of Ignacio Calinao since kindergarten.”
“Since kindergarten?” Tomas asked dubiously. “You didn’t mention that before.”
“We haven’t had time. You’re the one who wanted to go after him right away.” Tomas didn’t have to see Sala to know she was making another face at him. She continued. “Everything I’ve found so far confirms that Daro’s been here since he was a kid. School records, student’s memories, you know the deal. His existence wasn’t spun out of nothing.”
Tomas analyzed what she said, looking through her without seeing her. Sala merely reflected back at him, not literally, but enough to startle him and make him resurface. Right. He had a partner now. He had to relay what he was thinking.
Shaking his head to clear the dancing dots from his vision, Tomas clarified, “Even if he did grow up like a human, that still doesn’t make him dangerous.”
Sala shrugged. “He could actually be human.”
“But your witness says otherwise.”
Sala spoke carefully. She was always so careful, as if every action she made had to be planned beforehand. “I don’t want to act on only what my witness says. We need to verify things for ourselves.”
The cover hiding them suddenly flapped up, nearly twirling off them completely and dissipating back into the objects from which they were borrowed. Sala closed her light brown eyes, clenched her hands into fists and made an awful face, like she was towing a car with her bare hands. She fell on her knees, but nothing further so Tomas didn’t bother to support her. The shadows fluttered back over them.
Through gritted teeth, Sala made great effort to speak. “He knows we’re here.”
“Clearly.” Tomas scanned the street for the pair, but both had disappeared, as he had expected. He debated whether to unsheathe his bolo now, though the bolo itself wasn’t enough in matters like these.
“We’re not going to confront him.” Sala repeated. She refused to let go of their cover, despite the sweat appearing on her forehead, dripping down her cheek. She breathed oddly, a sequence of exhalations with no apparent inhalation.
“If he finds us first, what else are we going to do?” Tomas said matter-of-factly.
He didn’t expect Sala to stand in her state, but she did. “Run.”
Tomas found himself running with her against his will, the few shadows she kept a hold of leaping ahead to muffle the pounding of their feet against the cement road. Sala had her arms spread out in the air, fists still clenched, looking like a child pretending to be a superhero with an imaginary cape. They made their way deeper into a subdivision of housing which was quieter and potentially safer if it came down to a fight. Less chance of interruptions from someone passing by. There were few lampposts around, but once the sun set, they would cast bright white light and equally as sharp shadows that Sala could make use of if necessary. At least, that’s what Tomas thought. He wasn’t absolutely clear on how Sala’s other powers worked yet. He had been too impatient to have a total information exchange with her. It was too late to have one now.
The cicadas humming in this subdivision was almost deafening. They converged in the empty lots here and there that had yet to be bought and developed into more houses. Mosquitoes nipped at Tomas’ bare legs, eager to get a taste of blood, but he was moving too fast for them to latch on.
His companion wasn’t. She slapped at her arm while she plodded after him, steadily growing slower by the second. Tomas had known from the start that this would be a major disability – he had confirmed it when she had not been able to keep up the first time they had run that night. Sala was not made for physical exertion. Add to that, the mental strain she was undergoing just to keep them covered.
Sala stopped abruptly, and bent over. “I can’t go on.” she heaved.
“Straighten up and put your hands on your hips.” Tomas told her. He jogged back to her, allowing the cloak to contract and grow denser around them. “You’ll get more air that way.”
Sala moved accordingly. Her light skin made it easy to see how flushed her face was. “Your spell, do your spell.”
“I can’t so soon. I won’t have enough left.”
“Weakling.” A good-natured voice sang out merrily. The source appeared shortly after, looking straight at them with his large, unnatural eyes. “That shield is sloppy. I can see your toes peeking out.” He snapped a coin at their toes to illustrate. It pinged the ground loudly, making Tomas glad he had missed.
Sala exhaled and the blanket disappeared, uncovering her and Tomas. Sala looked considerably disheveled from exertion but she managed to glower so darkly that Tomas would have winced if it had been directed at him.
The suspect raised his eyes in a questioning manner. “I’m sorry, did I offend you?”
“Yes.” Sala snapped.
Tomas had to step forward to distract Sala, who looked ready to pounce, which was not logical. Tomas was certain she had no offensive abilities; that was why they had teamed up in the first place. Despite that, Sala’s stance angled forward, her nostrils flared, and her eyes were impossibly vivid, almost a molten hazel. As soon as he was in her line of sight, Sala immediately toned down and appeared apologetic. For someone so adamant about avoiding confrontation, Sala was surprisingly easy to get heated in one. Do as I say, not as I do.
The suspect likewise observed Sala, from her curly hair to her checkered shoes, then moved to Tomas in a quick once over that left Tomas feeling insulted.
Tomas used his darkest, most intimidating voice. “What do you want, Daro?”
Instead of answering, Daro broke out in laughter. He laughed, then laughed some more, doubling up from the hysteria of it. Charcoal brown strands fell into his eyes, clearly not in line with the school grooming policy.
“Stop it.” Tomas said, still in alto.
Daro roared and pointed.
Sala fidgeted uncomfortably.”Maybe you should talk in your normal voice.” She whispered to Tomas behind a cupped hand. Tomas waved her off, grateful his dark skin covered his blush of embarrassment. He was used to being taken seriously, not laughed at by this idiot.
“All right, Daro.” Tomas said, now in his normal voice. Daro’s laughter didn’t abate, his loud guffaws echoing throughout the empty street. No one was around to investigate. Many of the residents were still caught in rush hour traffic. Not even the maids or elderly grandparents came out to see what was going on. Only the dogs responded, their frenzy of barking starting to distract Tomas.
Growing frustrated, Tomas practically shouted, “Shut up!” The lamps flickered at Tomas last word, shutting on and off several times before regaining their steady beam. The dogs fell silent.
Daro unfurled himself to full height, moving with slow deliberation that did not suit the track star. Fast was normal on him. Slow was as unnerving as a predator stalking its prey.
“What I want,” he said in equally deliberate words. “Is to know why you’re following her.”
Tomas and Sala were taken aback. They looked at each other, and then at Daro.
“Her who?” Sala asked, confused.
“That girl you were stalking?” Tomas asked at the same time.
Daro looked skyward. At his height there was little point to the move. His head was clearly already lost somewhere up there. "I wasn't stalking. I was chaperoning."
"You were being annoying." Sala corrected.
The suspect bared his teeth and Tomas took a half step back. Daro's teeth were rounded and large, each yellowed tooth exactly the same as the next, all fit impossibly into Daro’s square jaw. It was then that Tomas realized that Daro was smiling.
“That too.” Daro replied. Proudly.
Disgusted, Tomas lifted his bolo up, its sharp, curving blade glittering softly in the dusk light. A bead of scented oil dropped from the tip, plopping onto the white road.
Daro didn’t react as most creatures would have to the oil. They cringed, usually, or made a face at the smell. It was pleasant to humans, but never to them.
“Me? You’re after me?” Daro pointed at himself to make his question clear. He raised his eye brows comically.
Sala stepped forward, putting herself in line with Tomas.
“You said he was in the star section, that honors class? Unbelievable.” Tomas muttered out of the corner of his mouth, not sparing her a glance. It was vital to keep his eyes on Daro. To lose sight of Daro would be to lose Daro completely.
Sala knew the drill. She likewise kept her eyes forward, her stance squared and unsteady, liable to being toppled over at a firm push. Tomas wasn’t quite as open to attack. He had one foot slightly behind him, while he held his bolo parallel to his face, tip pointed straight at Daro. He reached his left hand forward, beckoning Daro.
“Wait.” Sala was in cautious mode. Tomas resisted being pulled in by her nerves again, as he had been when they had run away.
“No.” There was no chance Tomas was going to pass up this opportunity now that it was here.
“We’re not sure it’s him.”
“It’s him.” Tomas said. “You said yourself that he’s been following all those students who have disappeared. Do you want him to take more?”
“Yes- no- I can’t read anything bad from him, and normally I can-“
“If it matters, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Daro interrupted their whispered conversation. “Not that I care, either way. I was just scoping you guys out but it wasn’t worth the time.” Crumbling cement crunched underneath his heel as he pivoted around. He was either oblivious or unconcerned he was exposing his back to them.
“Thanks for the target.” Tomas raised his bolo high above his head.
Sala was suddenly on him, getting in his way, pleading, “No, Tomas-“
Tomas shoved her aside so she wouldn’t get hurt and raised his bolo again, this time finishing the requisite slashes in the air. With a final thrust downward, the bolo started to exude dark wisps of violet smoke, which were invisible to the ordinary eye.
Sala saw it, and seemed to regret stopping Tomas. "I thought you were going to throw that at him." Her moment of relief passed quickly. She looked back at Daro but the suspect was gone. Tomas cursed, having lost sight of the bastard for that split second Sala had gotten in his face.
"I'd love to stay and get attacked,"
Sala and Tomas spun around to find Daro had moved some distance behind them.
"But I've got homework to do, unlike some students." Daro said pointedly. "You two are from the city, aren't you? Hope you don't get lost on your way home."
"We won't." Tomas said. "But you might not even make it to yours."
"Big talk for a big college boy. Not like it's going to help you find your way."
Daro snapped something small behind them that made a loud crackling noise. Sala jumped and looked, Tomas looked out of reflex because she was looking. Not again! He caught himself too late. Flicking his eyes back to the spot Daro had been last, he wasn’t surprised to find Daro was gone once more, this time not to return.
Irritated, Tomas walked over to examine what Daro had thrown. It was a cheap snapping firecracker that any kid could purchase at the market. Tomas cursed.
Sala kicked at a piece while they walked towards the main road. "That's the thing about dealing with demons all the time. You forget about the human tricks."
"He's not human." Tomas insisted stubbornly.
Sala appeared to share the same sentiment but tried to be objective. "What proof do you have?"
“Nothing.” Tomas replied. “Yet.”
There was a slight pause.
“I’m beginning to notice a pattern.” Sala said thoughtfully.
“That pattern being?” It looked like she was starting in on her psychological babble. Psych students were so annoying.
“Your penchant for saying ‘yet’. You can’t always be right, Tomas.” They reached a cross street, though it was hard to tell the way the roads skewed into one another. Sala looked around, bewildered. “Isn’t this the way we came?”
It was, but oddly the street they were supposed to turn left on looked unfamiliar. Tomas glanced back at the street they’d come from. The house with the red gate was still there but it was in the wrong position. Tomas remembered it to be on the other side of the road.
He laughed. It was the first time he’d done so in Sala’s presence. She was polite enough to cover up her surprise, though he did see her mouth drop a fraction. Recovering, she asked him what he found so amusing.
Tomas gestured around them. "We're lost."
Post too large, it says! Next part here.