Cross Your Heart @caldroid
Chapter 5

‘The Wanderer’ was the title he was given, but it often felt more like a curse. It was a self-fulfilled prophecy, one that he’d all too easily acquiesced to. For a man such as himself who’d always felt disconnected from the lives of those around him, it seemed all too fitting. He could never quite pinpoint when the disconnect began. Surely, he thought, it was long before he’d ever had that damned title forced upon him. Was the accident from some years ago the catalyst -- or did the fault just lie within him all along? Even now that he had all the time in the world to find the answer to that, he never felt like he was any closer to doing so.

His relationship with other people had dwindled, and eventually he just stopped talking to them almost altogether. There were some exceptions to that rule, but he mostly just kept to himself. It was no secret that he was a monster. He wasn’t fit to be around human beings, but he also had no desire to surround himself with other vampires -- being around those who obviously weren’t human only served as a sick reminder that he, himself, also wasn’t human -- and unable to compromise, he just continued to wander. Always staying on the fringes of society, never actually slipping past its boundaries. A solitary existence.

The Wanderer had continued to tell himself that he was fine with a life like this. It wasn’t exactly a life worth living, but it wasn’t as though he was even alive to begin with. Even when he strayed too far away from the boundaries he’d set for himself, it was only for the sake of tying up a loose end -- trying to take responsibility for a past mistake. He never intended to have that kind of meeting with a human, and he certainly never expected to see him more than once. His initial interactions with the man were simply fueled out of a desire to keep any human bystanders from getting hurt, as he knew that it would ultimately be his fault if that monster caused any more casualties. One could call it a sense of guilt. Despite that, he found himself actually wanting to converse with that human even more. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had met his gaze in such a sincere way, and it just made him want to learn more about him. Maybe he was actually lonely all along.

Several months had passed since their last meeting, and the sweltering but pleasant heat of summer had faded into the harsh cold of winter. Humans were rather susceptible to the drop in temperature, and so he rarely saw them outside at this time of year. The cheerful buzz of the holidays had already gone by, leaving them with nothing else but to wait for the eventual arrival of spring. It was the kind of dreary atmosphere that invited bad tidings.

Several months had passed since their last meeting, and the sweltering but pleasant heat of summer had faded into the harsh cold of winter. Humans were rather susceptible to the drop in temperature, and so he rarely saw them outside at this time of year. The cheerful buzz of the holidays had already gone by, leaving them with nothing else but to wait for the eventual arrival of spring. It was the kind of dreary atmosphere that invited bad tidings.

Even several cities away from that man, news still managed to reach him rather quickly. The Wanderer had been numb to the cold for some time now, but for a moment it still felt like the blood in his veins had turned to ice. He’d never fully doubted that man’s promise, but he knew that this couldn’t have been what he intended. He, himself, had to re-read it several times just to be sure his eyes weren’t somehow playing tricks on him.

Luca Balsa, the aspiring inventor and young apprentice of the inventor Alva Lawrence, had been arrested for murder. An explosion that occurred in his mentor’s lab had killed three men and injured three others, and Luca was allegedly the cause of it. The report had made mention of illegal experiments, but there was nothing concrete stated. The Wanderer had no idea whether or not it was due to police confidentiality or a lack of evidence altogether.

Ever so faintly, he felt dread rise in the pit of his stomach.

Soon after the news broke, the Wanderer took it upon himself to travel with a particular destination in mind. The journey took less than a week’s time, in part due to his particular constitution which allowed him to move without rest or food for extended amounts of time. Still, he couldn’t help but feel worn down.

The Wanderer’s feet grew heavy underneath him as he trudged his way up a well-worn flight of stairs, sunlight dappling down through the cracks of the trees that towered above him. At the top of the hill laid a small, humble house, which seemed surprisingly well-kept in comparison to the nature which overtook the space surrounding it. He strode up to the front door, and a single knock rang out as he thumped his hand against the sturdy wood. Almost instantly, the door creaked open in front of him.

“Ah, sir Wanderer! I wasn’t expecting to see you back so soon,” A soft voice addressed him from the space beyond the door, and a man clad in white appeared before him. His way of dress was oddly ornate, as he chose to wear a somewhat elegant robe embellished with soft gold and silver accents. Most eye-catching was his face, which was half-concealed by an elaborate mask which obscured his eyes entirely. A light blue gemstone laid in the center of the mask, enclosed in a metallic crescent moon.

“Clark,” He greeted the man in turn. “Can I come in?”

The other man opened the door a bit wider, and stepped aside to give the Wanderer room to enter. “Of course. Please mind the mess, though.”

The Wanderer stepped into the house, and was immediately greeted by an overpowering aroma of feathers, candles, and… blood? That was unexpected. He sidestepped the piles of books and feathers that cluttered the floor, eventually making it to an unoccupied chair in a space he could only assume was the dining room. “That partner of yours dropped by pretty recently, I take it.”

The robed man softly shut the door and followed suit, sitting across the table from him. “Oh, Aesop?” He mused. “He did drop by for a bit a few days ago, but I’m surprised you could tell.”

“Can’t think of anyone else who’d leave that much blood behind and still live to tell the tale,” The Wanderer replied. “I guess ‘live’ is a bit of a stretch here, though.”

Eli Clark, the man before him, was a rather reclusive fortune teller. Despite his semi-outdated apparel and strange way of living, he was still completely human. The Wanderer was never sure if it was because of his powers of foresight or just his own twisted personality, but the man almost exclusively interacted with those of the inhuman variety. It was dangerous, for sure, but nothing in his brief time knowing him seemed to show any kind of fear. He never really felt like prying into his personal life, so the Wanderer could only assume that his fearlessness was due in part to the vampire that he resided with. That man was a completely different story, and he didn’t exactly care to meet him if not absolutely necessary.

“Aesop is still alive, sir Wanderer. As are you.” The fortune teller frowned. “I can understand your reservations, but if you were truly dead then we wouldn’t be conversing as we are now.”

The vampire wanted to retaliate, but bit his tongue lest he let himself get distracted from the reason that he came here. “Sorry, sorry. Anyway, that isn’t why I’m here.”

“I had assumed that you weren’t here to speak idly. You aren’t a man of many words, after all.” Eli absentmindedly stacked a few discordant books on the surface of the table, freeing up space. “Does this have anything to do with the ‘loose ends’ you sought to tie up, as it were?”

“Sort of. At the very least, that guy -- that monster,” He dryly corrected himself, “Won’t bother anyone else. Made sure of that.” He forced his eyes down to the floor, unwilling to make eye contact with Eli. Or whatever passed for eye contact with him.

Eli gazed at him for just a moment as his expression softened. “I’m sorry. You knew him, didn’t you?”

“That was a long time ago. Doesn’t mean much now.” He slowly lifted his gaze off of the ground, still not completely looking the other man in the face. “That’s not why I’m here either, though. I wanted to ask about a human.”

“A human,” Eli echoed back. “Are they an old acquaintance of yours?”

“No. Just met ‘im a little while ago.”

“If it wasn’t that long ago, then surely they couldn’t have strayed too far? I’m not sure you would particularly need my help finding them if that were the case.”

“It’s not exactly like that,” He replied, chewing on his lip as he contemplated how to phrase his request. “I’ve got a vague idea, I just need to know… some specifics. So I don’t cause a ruckus.”

“That’s very vague, sir Wanderer.”

“He’s in prison.”

“I…” Eli took a second as he mulled it over, clearly unsure of how to respond. “I’m afraid that prison break is outside of my area of expertise.”

“Wait, that’s not what I meant. I just wanted to go talk to him.”

“And how do you expect me to help with this?”

“I thought maybe you could, y’know, use that owl of yours to…”

“My partner,” Eli corrected.

“Right. Partner,” He repeated. “Couldn’t you use her to find what cell he’s stuck in?”

Eli sighed and leaned back in his chair. Seconds silently passed between the two of them, as Eli quietly deliberated. With a slow, careful voice he replied, “Give me a name and a description, and I’ll see what I can do.”

A dense, suffocating pressure hung in the air that night. The occasional clinking of manacles mixed in with the sound of Luca’s footsteps dully echoing off the walls of his cell were the only sounds that kept him company as he paced back and forth, unable to fall asleep. The passage of time was a distant concept to him. With no way for him to tell time in this closed off room, all he had was the sky to differentiate between night and day. It was dark out, so clearly that meant that it was already night. Or would it be more accurate to say it was still night? It didn’t make much of a difference to him either way.

A sudden numbness in his leg made him lose his balance for a moment, and he quickly leaned against a wall for support. It was a fairly common occurrence these days for his muscles to seize up like this, or at least he felt like it was. His reaction seemed pre-rehearsed at the very least, so this couldn’t have been the first time. He pressed his back against the cool stone wall as he breathed in and out, watching the puffs of white air that materialized as his breath left his body. He hadn’t been paying much attention to it before, but it distantly registered somewhere in the back of his mind that it must have been winter.

This wouldn’t do. He had to do something, anything to keep his mind from drifting, but he just couldn’t get himself to focus. Just think. He slumped down onto the hard floor as fatigue threatened to overtake his thoughts. He felt ready to nod off any second now, but quickly snapped back to attention as his vision began to dim. That’s right, it wasn’t that he was unable to sleep — he actually didn’t want to let himself fall asleep. But that hardly made sense, right? Sleep was a normal human function, and it would be unhealthy to force himself to stay awake all night. A memory slowly rose up, but just as quickly faded away again. All he was left with was a feeling that hung heavy in the back of his throat.

Fear. Of course, that was why he couldn’t bring himself to fall asleep. He’d already forgotten what it was that made him so frightened, but he had to assume it was a nightmare if the danger wasn’t anything tangible. It was likely for the best that his memory failed him when it came to anything specific, but he still couldn’t help but curl in on himself in an empty attempt to provide some sense of comfort. The sense of dread wouldn’t leave him, and so he just tightened his grip on himself while he tried to shift his attention to something else. In the oppressive quiet of his cell, all he could hear was his own heartbeat and the static that rang in his ears. The ringing grew louder and louder, and it shot through his brain like cannon fire. The pain he felt was so immense that it was almost as if someone was repeatedly knocking on his skull, and his hands reached up and helplessly cradled his head.

It was impossible to tell how long he’d sat there like that, but even after his headache subsided, the knocking had not. His head darted up to look at the iron door on the opposite side of the room, but it was clear that the sound hadn’t originated from there. He scanned the room, but almost instantly gave up when he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Just as he was about to fold back in on himself, an unnatural darkness fell over the room. No, not just darkness. It was a shadow. What was it coming from, he wondered? The contour of it felt too strange to be caused by a cloud, and he craned his neck over towards the window to get a better look. He was greeted by what appeared to be a human figure positioned on the other side of the window. There was a grating sound like metal against stone, and before Luca realized it, the entire window was gone. The bars, too.

An alarm went off in his head when he realized that the figure was slinking inside of his cell, but he made no attempt to move. There was nowhere for him to run to either way, so he just waited in anticipation of whatever would happen next. The figure stood rigid in front of him, possibly assessing him. For what reason, though, Luca had no idea.

He heard what sounded like an expletive muttered underneath the intruder’s breath as they knelt down in front of him. “Christ, Luca, what the hell happened to you?” Their voice was rough, but something about it seemed strangely comforting.

This whole situation was surreal. It couldn’t have been a hallucination, so it must’ve been another dream. He tried to analyze the features of the intruder a bit better to see if there was anything recognizable. The mark on his face in particular gave off an impression of familiarity, though he couldn’t quite place where he’d seen it before. He extended his hand toward the other man’s face and muttered, “Have I met you before?”

“You serious? It’s only been a few months, yeah?” The man’s gaze hardened.

He hadn’t realized he’d said that out loud, but these days the border between his thoughts and his words was tenuous at best. “I apologize, but lately my memory isn’t very re-re-re-reliable,” his words caught in his throat. “I likely won’t remember this dream, either.”

“Luca, this isn’t a dream,” was the man’s flat reply. He brushed aside Luca’s arm and stretched out his own, pinching the side of Luca’s face. “See? You’re awake.”

“I, I-I-I am?!” A sudden surge of energy rushed through him, and he was suddenly much more aware of the situation he was confronted with. If this wasn’t actually a dream, then someone had really and actually just broken into his prison cell with no trouble at all. He should definitely be more concerned about this, shouldn’t he? His eyes once again darted to the door, and he’d hoped that none of the prison guards had heard his sudden outburst. He whispered frantically, “How did you even get in here?”

“Just pushed the window frame a little,” he answered nonchalantly. “More importantly though, what can you remember?”

Luca’s brow furrowed as he tried to focus on recalling whatever information he could. “I’m Luca Balsa, a student of… I was an inventor. No, I’m still an inventor.” The words shakily tumbled out, and he inhaled sharply. No matter how many times he tried to go over the information in his head, there were always gaps that he couldn’t quite fill. “What am I even doing in a place like this? I’m not su-su-supposed to be here. I’m not-- I didn’t-- I never did anything wrong, so how--”


“It was a little dangerous, but I took all of the proper safety precautions! It, It, It, never had any issues before, and the door was always locked. It was locked, wasn’t it? But they--”


“They were in there too, why were they in there? It wasn’t safe, he shouldn’t have been touching anything,” He grasped his head with hands, his voice shook nearly to the point of hysterics. “It wasn’t my fault, I swear, I swear, I swear, I swear, I swear--”

“Luca!” He felt hands firmly clasp onto his trembling shoulders. It didn’t quite break him out of his daze, but it was enough to keep him anchored to reality.

Luca slowly lifted his head and peered back up. The other man stared at him with an unwavering gaze, and his expression suggested he may have been waiting for something. He took a breath to calm himself before he spoke again, but his voice came out strained. “I don’t know what brought you here, but I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

A sigh. “I just came here to see you. Secondhand reports and rumors about you are hardly a replacement for the real thing.”

“I don’t think I understand.”

“How long are you going to be stuck in this place?”

“How long…” he trailed off, and confusion etched itself onto his face. “I don’t know. They told me when my execution date was, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember. Or has it been a long time? How long have I been in here again? I…”

The man clicked his tongue. “They’re seriously going to kill you?” There was a slightly tremble to his voice, though barely audible.

Luca lowered his arms and pressed his knees into his chest. All he could do was nod.

The man broke eye contact as he stood up and his eyes darted around the room. He reached his hand out towards Luca. “Come on, get up.”

“Huh?” That was the only word that left his mouth as he stared at the extended hand, trying to piece together what he could possibly be thinking. Luca unsteadily extended his own arm in turn, but didn’t do anything more than that. Just as he did, he was suddenly and roughly pulled up onto his feet.

Luca was dumbstruck, and couldn’t wrap his head around whatever just happened. Once again, panic deeper into his voice. “What are you do, do, doing?!”

Luca was dumbstruck, and couldn’t wrap his head around whatever just happened. Once again, panic deeper into his voice. “What are you do-do-doing?!”

“I don’t understand, what are you talking about?” The words had scarcely left his mouth before his entire body was hoisted up off of the ground. He could hear a distant cacophony of shouts that could only have come from the guards and other inmates, but for a moment he could’ve sworn that his own voice was mixed in as well.

“Right, sorry for the confusion. I’m kidnapping you.”

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