This event forces writers out of their comfort zone and into the challenge presented. Every day a new prompt will be available for writers to look at and take up the challenge of. The writer is given 48 hours to complete the prompt. Each entry must have 100 words but can go over. There is a maximum of 1000 words.
This was a continuation of RPApril Extravaganza 2017's Writing Marathon. Prompts are bold in each entry.
This was a continuation of RPApril Extravaganza 2017's Writing Marathon. Prompts are bold in each entry.
Day 01: The Fool
A static, low and faint, filled the void. After a while, other noises joined it: the shifting of cloth on cloth, a pair of rubber soled shoes connecting with ceramic tile rhythmically, a door opening and closing.
When the door opened, more noises were heard, though none were truly distinguishable. Though, if things were being heard right - and far clearer once the door closed - there was electricity buzzing, something sparking, and the sound of several different liquids doing several different things.
The something sparking stopped, though, when the door clicked shut.
"Aw, Diggory. I was wondering when you would be showing up." There was the sound of movement but it was not as close as the original sounds had been. It was about the same distance as whatever had been sparking. "Hard to get much work done when I'm lacking my assistant." There was a pause filled by the ambiance of the room before a chuckle was formed by the voice speaking. "Well, come on." Again, movement, and this time the voice sounded muffled, as if there was something in the way of the sound. "I doubt you need an engraved invitation."
The sparking sound picked up once more.
"What is the Crystal Heart?" a new voice asked, this one much louder, as if it was coming from the same point as the shoes on the tile had ended just beyond the door.
This time the first voice gave a chortle. "We have been working on this project for five years and just now you are asking what it is we are making?" The voice became muffled again. "Please, Diggory. I am sure you could answer that far more eloquently than I can."
The rubber soled shoes against ceramic tile picked up again at a much faster pace, the sound of rubbing cloth as equally hurried as the second voice, the much louder, much closer voice spoke urgently, "No." The sound of shoes stopped as something solid hit a hollow surface, the rubbing cloth dying away. "What is the Crystal Heart?"
"Where did you get that?" the first voice asked, voice grave and heavy as it came from the left, much closer now than it had been originally.
"While I had been cleaning the lab last week like you had told me to do. It was open to this."
"You should have well and left it alone," the first voice spoke, though it sounded as if it wasn't aimed in the same direction anymore. The sound of sparking kicked up again.
"How could I have left it well enough alone when the goddamn title was what we were working on!" the first voice challenged at a higher volume.
"That is nothing but a fairy tale!" the first voice shouted.
"IT'S A GODDAMN WEAPON!!" bellowed the second. The ambiance of the room was deafening. The second voice spoke again, softer but still as sharp. "Professor, I am not stupid. I may be naive, but I am not slow. I have found probably most of what has been written about this to have a very good idea of what you are attempting and I can't let you."
The first voice laughed. It was sharp, it was brief, and it was anything but humorous. "Let me? LET ME?! You expect me to believe that my lowly assistant can stop me from creating the ultimate tool for creation?!"
"It is a weapon of mass destruction!" the second voice countered, a plea on the edge of the words. "Professor, this will not only kill this planet but every planet in existence. Every star. Every planet. Every single molecule will be destroyed if you manage to create this."
The following silence was far longer than anything else. There were clicks and clatters but it was irregular and not always in the same location.
Finally, the second voice spoke again. "Please, Professor. Don't go down this path. You do this, and everything we've been doing, everything we've created up to this point will be for not."
The first voice gave a low chuckle. "You think it will all be for not? That all this will be for not!?" The first voice got louder, as if its source had gotten much closer, yet the volume of the voice dropped to a threatening rumble. "This was all for the final product, Diggory. I gave my life to this project, I gave you a life with this project. A homeless boy starving on the streets with no where to call home, beaten nearly to death. I took you in, I gave you a purpose." There was the sound of something shifting and though the voice's volume did not change, it moved away, causing the appearance of being softer. "And now you see it fit to bite the hand that feeds you. You are a fool, Diggory." The voice spoke, muffled as if directed elsewhere. "Leave. Now. Before I call security."
"I'm sorry, Professor," the second voice offered, heavy with emotions that were indistinguishable between each other. There was the sound of something being picked up and then a heavy book softly thudding close. "But if either of us is the fool, it is you. You will only bring your own destruction with this plan of yours."
The first voice exploded. "GET OUT!!"
A silence settled that even the ambiance of the room could not fill. It seemed to last for an eternity before there was the sound of shoes scuffing against tile before softly connecting rhythmically with the ceramic. The rhythmic sound stopped in exchange for the sound of the door opening. There was a pause with the sound of shifting cloth.
"I hope it works, Professor. If not for everyone sake's, then at least yours."
The door clicked shut, shutting out the sounds of the room left behind.
He opened his eyes with either the dream or the memory rolling about through his mind. Electricity shot down his spine at the slightest twitch and he hissed in pain.
Day 02: Deja Vu
The rain wasn't helping anything. Every drop was like tiny needles pelting against his skin and all he could do was lay there in torture unable to move out of pain.
An odd sense of deja vu washed over him as he stared up at the dark clouds. He wasn't sure if it was from the battle or some memory he clearly could not recall.
That dream - or had it been a memory? - had been without visual cues to tell him much about what had been going on but the conversation, the way things had sounded, had been more than enough to inform him that he either had some other dude named Diggory's memories buried in him somewhere or he was not who he believed he was.
Or both, seeing as he was now lacking his crystal, whatever it had been. The fight with the Other was hazy. He couldn't quite remember much of it or what transpired after the crash clearly but he was able to discern that he had been rather unfeeling through it all in more ways than one.
Whatever had caused that had ended as soon as his crystal had started to shatter and even now he knew that whatever had been affecting him was not as more rain pelted against him feeling like knives against his skin and the emotional drain he was feeling from everything that had transpired up till that point.
His thoughts wandered to his friends, his companion, if those that had the crystals had survived their removal. While his hadn't been removed, he certainly had his shatter on him.
That alone left the question of what had become of him.
From what he could see, he hadn't moved from where he had been embedded in the ship's side but that didn't actually mean anything. He couldn't actually see the ship nor any of the metal to actually confirm that but the trees at the bottom of his sight and the horizon he could see at the bottom edge of his vision seemed familiar enough to dictate he hadn't moved.
The sound of crunching gravel grew from his right and he slowed his breathing in an attempt to hear over the rain. It sounded possibly like boots but that was the extent of what he could discern against the rolling rain.
Then, suddenly, a fabric draped arm was above him, blocking the rain pelting him in the face. The sound of the rain shifted and he was swallowed by the sound of the droplets hitting the water resistant fabric as a very unfamiliar face looked down on him.
"Whatchya doing layin' in the middle of a rain storm?" the stranger asked, their voice reminding him strongly of Advena, it was alarming. The stranger's bright brown eyes roved over him, quickly answering their question for themself. "Jeez, buddy. Did a bear get at ya? You look a wreck."
He tried to speak, tried to ask something, but the words caught in his throat and he started coughing.
Excruciating pain flared from his chest and echoed quite profusely all over his body. The figure above him flailed, frantically trying to get him to still while also trying to keep the rain off of him.
"Hey! Easy, buddy!" the figure exclaimed, a cold hand pressing against his soaked chest. "Try'n lie back without hacking up a lung, would ya?"
He did it as best he could but now that he was half curled upright, the thought of putting pressure on his back again seemed like a really bad idea.
The figure was much stronger than he had anticipated and they forced him back down, earning a hiss from him as his back came into contact with something that was not the smooth-ish surface of dented metal. He cracked an eye as he was pushed back and found that wherever he was at, there was no ship, no crash, and the thing he was lying on was some sort of rocky space. He couldn't figure enough of it out with the blurry glance to understand any of it.
There was a shout from his right and the figure turned, looking towards it.
"I'm alright!" the figure shouted, the angle at which they were shouting causing their arm to move a bit and let some of the rain past. "I found someone! 'e's in real bad shape!"
Again he couldn't make out what this supposed other person was saying but the figure above him seemed to be able to hear it just fine for they responded with, "Yeah! Thanks!"
The figure looked back at him, brown eyes gleaming with some strange joy he didn't understand. "Just hang tight, buddy. My friend is comin'ta help carry ya back to our place. I would do it on my own but I don't think I could make it the entire way without having to stop a few times."
This friend, it turned out, was some sort of animal. The thing was massive with hoofed feet larger than his fist and a body that certainly was several good times larger than he was. The creature's head lowered and the black nose pressed against his neck, the breath warm but the nose itself cold. The black eye he could make out on this side of the creature's head was a bit daunting but what drew his attention were the things growing from its head.
Two great branches of very sharp spines curled up from the creature's head, shaped in such a way that it reminded him of hands curling together as if to cradle something. It did so in such a way that if the creature lowered its head and charged, anything in its way would be skewered. He was immensely grateful the creature seemed to be very aware of the danger its head piece seemed to be for it moved its head above him careful to not catch him or the figure that was keeping him covered from the rain.
Day 03: Black Sheep
The figure above him laughed, pushing the great beast's muzzle skyward. "Come off it," they urged, grinning. "No need ta treat th' poor fella like a log ya wanna scratch on now. Come on."
The creature - far larger than this stranger and certainly far larger than himself - took a few steps back as the figure pressed against the creature's chest, throwing its head back and snorting in supposed disdain as it shook its head, nose towards the clouds. He was in awe.
"You gettin' inta mischief, North?" a new voice asked and this burly, bearded man came into Diggory's sight where the creature had been, large hand coming up to meet the nose brought down and in the man's direction. The man rubbed at it, eyes narrowed on Diggory. "Sure 'e ain't a Black Sheep?"
"Nothin' to say 'e is," the figure still covering commented, shrugging, "and with the state he's in, does it matter? He needs help."
The man hummed behind his beard, the frown clear in the man's expression. "Fair enough." The man squatted beside him, eyes narrowed. "So, got a name?"
Diggory nodded, wincing at the pain the gesture caused. The figure twitched, looking to the man.
"He just got through a coughing fit from tryin'ta talk," the figure spoke. "I don't think we should be having try anythin' till he's tended to."
The man grumbled, though it almost sounded like a growl. "Fine," the man huffed out, getting closer. "Hold North still, Bien. I'm gonna pick 'im up."
"Wh-wait!" he coughed but the man's large hands were sliding under him as the word left him and he was hefted up off the ground.
He wasn't sure if he passed out or not from the pain but it certainly didn't help that he was suddenly shoved onto the creature's back.
Being upright was worse than laying back down. Everything hurt, his head pounded, and nausea played at the edge of it all. The figure clambered up onto the creature's back in front of him and then the man clambered on behind him. The man's broad chest was the only think even keeping him upright.
"North, home. Nice'n gentle like," the man ordered.
The creature snorted before it started towards the direction it had come. Thankfully – whether from the man's directions or from the creature's own natural talent – the ride was much smoother than he had expected especially with nothing between him and the creature's back.
No, wait. He looked down and there in the gaps between the three of them being pressed together on the creature's back was some sort of fabric. A heavy blanket, maybe? It was hard for him to tell without touching it with his fingers but said fingers were numb – probably from the rain – and even attempting to touch the fabric meant moving and that meant more pain than he was already in.
"How ya holdin' up?" the man asked, beard tickling Diggory's neck.
"Fine," he spoke, a light cough following the word. His throat was raw and he was now very thirsty. He tried to ignore it as he added, "And my name's Diggory."
This cost him and this time the coughing nearly caused him to pass out from both pain and a lack of air. It was when it came to an end that he was aware of the man's arm around his torso holding him firm against the man's chest. Even through the layers of clothing the man was wearing he could feel the heat pouring off the man and started to shiver. He hated that he was becoming aware of things after the fact. Otherwise he would have asked for something warm by now.
His numb fingers should have clued him but he had been rather preoccupied by the fact that any movement was pain and any less pain was a blessing.
"No need ta go killin' yerself there," the man spoke, his voice grave. Diggory wondered if the touch of concern was real or him just hearing things due to being light headed. "You ok?"
Diggory nodded even if that made his headache worse but it was better than talking and causing another fit.
"We'll get some fluids in ya and then yu'll be able to talk without much trouble," the figure riding in front of him replied, grinning. "Then we won't have'ta worry about hacked up lungs."
The man behind him hummed in agreement.
The ride was quiet after that as the rain continued.
A short while after the brief conversation, the man loosened his hold in favor of wrapping Diggory in part of the man's outerwear. Diggory's shivering intensified at that point but he figured it was a good sign as his hands started to ache as they were warmed as well.
There was nothing guiding the creature through the trees, no rope, no reins. And from what he could tell with being sandwiched between the two strangers was that neither of them were steering with their legs, if that was even a thing. His mind was foggy on that but the information seemed sound for some reason.
The trees parted ahead of them and the creature dipped its head in time for Diggory to catch sight of what had to be these people's home.
A cottage made of stone and wood stood proudly on a plot of land in the middle of woods. There was a good amount of clearing between the home and the line of trees but there was no denying the sense of being in the woods. The house itself looked old yet well taken care of. There was a garden against the far corner, ivy and vines climbing the stone walls and hanging from the wood roof. The entire thing was picturesque and Diggory was certain that it looked just as stunning in direct sunlight as it did now in the downpour of rain.
"Welcome t' our humble abode," the man offered. "For now, you are welcome to stay here."
Day 04: Cowboy
He didn't know how to respond to that.
The creature came to a stop by the door and the man slid off first, taking his outerwear with him. Diggory gave a hardy shiver at the sudden cold rain pelting him. The man’s large hands pulled at him and he found himself settling into the man’s awaiting arms through the wave of blinding pain. His vision came back shortly after they had entered the home and he took in the space.
The entryway was rather clear of clutter and mess but the rooms Diggory could make out were a wreck. There were things crammed every which way, items stacked and piled in precarious places, and a plethora of everything else that, despite the rather clean mess, the place felt very homey, well lived in, and welcoming.
Instead of entering either of the rooms Diggory saw – one being the kitchen at the end of the hall, the other the living space to the man’s left – the man took him up the stairs, the figure dashing ahead of them and entering the door at the immediate top left of the stairs. They left the door opened and he found them following right behind.
Unlike the rooms downstairs that were clearly lived in, this room seemed rather untouched. He frowned, watching as the figure threw open the windows. The roof’s overhang kept the rain out but let the cool air in. He quickly discovered this had been done for a reason for not a moment later, the figure was ripping the blankets and sheets off the bed, a cloud of dust billowing up from the bed. The man took a few steps back into the hallway but the windows did their job and swept the cloud out the pair of windows on the far wall leaving a coughing figure at the foot of the bed.
The man chuckled, the sound rumbling through him from where he was resting against the man’s broad chest. “Could’a toldja that was a bad idea, Bien.”
The figure rolled their eyes, balling the sheets up. “Yeah, yeah.” They shoved the ball of sheets and blankets into a corner before going about remaking the bed with fresh sheets from the dresser in the hallway. The figure also put down what looked to be a tarp. With the mattress covered, the man walked over and set him down. The mattress gave a little and there was far less pain than what he had been expecting as the tarp crackled beneath his weight. With a nod, the figure said, “I’ll go see if we have anythin’ that’ll fit ‘im,” and dashed out the room.
The man chuckled, shaking his head before focusing on Diggory. “Any complaints against me changing yer clothes? Yer a right mess and theur soaked through.”
Diggory shook his head. “Just be careful,” he spoke carefully, earning only a small cough for his effort. The man nodded and got to work.
“If it helps,” the man offered nonchalant, “Bien’s gotten ‘imself inta quite a number of twists even as ‘e grew olda and I’ve been raisin’ that boy sense ‘e was born.”
Diggory chuckled, only to start coughing. The man’s large hand settled on his back, supporting him as the fit ran its course. When it was done, the man helped him lay back down carefully as Diggory offered, “Not sure if that helps, but thank you.” He gave a few more coughs but nothing like a fit. “So Bien is the boy that had found me, North is your creature,” he coughed again, “but I don’t know your name.”
“Armridge,” the man offered, solemn. “Ya can call my Ride if Armridge is too much.”
Diggory offered him a smile. “It’s no more a mouthful than Diggory and I don’t have a nickname in turn.”
Armridge chuckled. “Fair point.”
The man was ever caring, making sure to keep Diggory covered even as he removed every single piece of wet clothing. Diggory felt his face burn at that face but he could not deny that not being in wet clothes of any type was nice. The sheet over him was warming up against his body even as the tarp stuck to his bare skin. During the wait for Bien to get back, Armridge collected something for him to drink as well as a bowl of hot water and some rags.
“Bien will be bringin’ the medical supplies when ‘e’s done,” Armridge explained. “So, till then, let’s get ya cleaned up and on those fresh sheets instead of on that tarp.”
He was given one of the rags to cover his dignity while Armridge washed him. As much as he would have preferred a bath, this stung enough to remind him that it was probably not the wisest of things to do. The process wasn’t terrible, though, and he was on the clean sheets in no time at all covered by several layers of blankets and sheets.
“I got what I could reach,” Bien announced upon arrival with arms laden with a ridiculous pile of things.
“Seriously, Bien? Ya could ‘ave made a few trips,” Armridge scolded even as he went over to help.
Bien’s grinning face was quickly revealed. “Aw, come off it, Pa. Ya know it was fasta in one trip than th’ four it woulda taken.”
Armridge huffed but said no more.
This time Bien helped Armridge with Diggory, though they had let him slip into undergarments in privacy even as he nearly passed out from doing so. From there, his many injuries were tended to and he was dressed in soft clothing. He almost looked like a mummy wearing clothes by the end of it. Only his head and right hand were left mostly bandageless. By the time Armridge was tucking him in, Diggory was exhausted and ready for a good amount of sleep.
“Alright, cowboy,” Armridge directed at Bien. The youth hopped off the foot of the bed. “Let’s let ‘im get some sleep.”
Day 05: Mistaken
“Ok.” Bien grinned at Diggory. “Sleep well, buddy! If you need me, I’m at the end of the landing.”
“You ‘ave chores ta be gettin’ to,” Armridge scolded gently, shooing a laughing Bien out the door. Armridge took the handle of the door and looked back at Diggory. “I’m across the landing and in the room at the very end on yer right. The bathroom’s the door next ta Bien’s.”
Diggory nodded. “Thank you.”
Armridge nodded as he closed the door.
The door clicked shut and Diggory heard the sound of footfall on the stairs. Settling into the warm sheets, a breeze from the one window that had been left open washing over his face, Diggory felt right to sleep.
He woke without knowing if he had even dreamt. The world outside his windows was pitch black as the sound of rain told him that any moon or stars that would be out were behind clouds. Not wanting to get up, he burrowed deeper into the covers only to discover what had awoken him.
Frowning, he sat up and listened hard. There it was again; a sound, almost like muffled voices. He got up and carefully walked to his door. It opened a crack without a sound and he pressed his ear to the gap to listen.
“-mistaken. He is to come with us.”
“An’ who’re you to decide where ‘e goes?” Armridge countered sharply.
“Sir, please. We’re not trying to cause you any grief. We truly are companions of his and wish to get him home.”
Diggory frowned. Though they said they were companions of his, he didn’t recognize either voice.
“Hey!” Bien’s voice suddenly shouted. “Where’d’ya think yer goin’?”
The floor outside his door creaked and Diggory leapt to his feet. The door flew open and banged against the wall as the figure on the other side lowered their foot from kicking it in. Diggory skittered back towards the far wall, hands coming up and feet splayed to give him the best stance.
His attacker raised their hand. Light pooled in their palm and the hairs on the back of Diggory’s neck stood on end. He threw his arms up before his face, forearms crossed as he braced for the attack as it was released, his mind flickering to the damage that could happen to a home so full of knowledge and memories.
The attack slammed into him but he didn’t really feel it. Instead it seemed to press on him till it dissipated and he looked over to find that an opaque barrier had formed and his attacker was lowering their hand. The barrier rippled and vanished as he uncrossed and lowered his arms, standing up.
They stared at each other only for them to both jump when Bien exclaimed, “That was so cool!”
Diggory snapped a wide-eyed gaze on Bien’s face peaking around the doorframe as a stranger stood directly behind his attacker. Said stranger quickly shook off her shock when Diggory met her gaze and the stranger glared at his attacker. “Honestly, Neryk. Could you have done anything more threatening?”
Diggory’s attacker shrugged. “I had to make sure it was him.”
“By attacking him!?”
“Ah, excuse me,” Diggory asked, cutting in as Armridge and a third stranger joined on the landing. “But, who are you guys?”
The stranger that had berated Diggory’s attacker smacked her forehead. “Great. Just great!” She rounded on the stranger standing next to Armridge and shook a finger at him. “You said that Diggory would be here!”
“He is!” the stranger on the landing squawked in defense, gesturing at Diggory. “That is Diggory.”
“He’s not wrong,” Diggory quickly interjected. “My name is Diggory but I don’t think I’m the right Diggory.”
“No, you’re the right Diggory.”
All eyes snapped to Neryk but Diggory didn’t care about the other. He frowned at Neryk as his attacker lowered their hood. He stared. There, standing before him, was Advena. Or, at least, he thought they were Advena? It was hard to tell so he asked. “Advena?”
Neryk nodded, their expression softening. “Welcome to our true world, Diggory. Sorry about not finding you sooner and for attacking you. I had to make sure you truly were you.”
Diggory frowned, too many questions springing up as he blurted, “How did attacking me dictate I was me? And what do you mean true world?”
Neryk – or Advena, Diggory was so confused – smiled softly and that expression certainly was familiar. “Your second question will take some time to answer, Diggory. However, your first, not so much.” Their expression sobered. “You were always quick to respond magic against magic and each person that has magic has a specific magical signature.”
“So he is a Black Sheep!” Armridge exclaimed sharply.
Diggory frowned. “Black Sheep?”
“A group of magic users that work for a foe you’ll hopefully never have to face,” Neryk responded immediately.
Diggory shuddered, memories of the Other’s attack coming to mind. “Please tell me it’s not like the Other, is it?”
Neryk’s expression closed off and Diggory closed his eyes against the sudden wave of dread. He reached out and used the dresser to keep him upright as he tried to come to terms with that.
“The other?” the female stranger parroted, confused.
“One of the Professor's elite subordinates we.....encountered,” Neryk replied.
Diggory flinched at that, his eyes snapping open and landing on Neryk. “Professor?”
Neryk nodded. “We have yet to discover what his true name is.”
“No, Advena,” Diggory urged, taking a few steps towards them. “No, I....I think I know this Professor.” A sudden tension filled the room. “Or, at least, I know what he had been trying to create?” He shook his head, pressing the wrapped heel of his left hand against his left eye. “I don’t understand what it was I had dreamt before I was found,” he dropped his hand and looked Neryk in the eye, “but I had a conversation with this Professor. I knew what he was attempting.”
Day 06: Kittens
"Do you remember what it was?" the stranger by Neryk demanded, taking a step forward. Whether an instinctual reaction or a thought through motion, Neryk's arm snapped out, cutting the stranger off. She took a startled step backwards, eyes flickering to Neryk.
"I apologize," Neryk offered. They lowered their arm but their hard expression did not change. "Force of habit."
The stranger nodded, though she looked rather uncomfortable. She asked again, this time much calmer, "Do you happen to remember what the Professor had been trying to create?"
Diggory frowned. The dream was almost nonexistent in his memory now as most dreams have a tendency of becoming when left to time but there were fragments and impressions of what had happened. He closed his eyes, trying hard to dredge up anything more as he offered, "A lot of it is faded now but I remember it just being voices and sounds. I didn't see anything but I heard all of it."
"Like, from a closet?" Bien asked.
Diggory's lips quirked towards a smile. "No. It was as if I had my eyes closed." He opened his eyes and looked to Neryk and the stranger standing beside them. "He spoke to me, spoke my name, and I spoke in turn." He shook his head. "It was like a memory more than a dream but I don't remember it beyond the dream."
Neryk's voice was gentle. "What do you remember?"
Diggory fell silent for a moment. "I remember how certain sounds didn't seem right without knowing what made them or only becoming certain when someone spoke of it, whether it was me or the Professor talking." He took a breath as his left hand twitched. "I remember that we spoke of the crystal hearts, but there was something more to them, like there was some significance behind their creation."
He blinked before turning his focus back on the stranger next to Neryk. "That's all I remember, though. If there was anything more – anything significant – I don't remember it."
The stranger sighed, looking mildly put out, but she smiled gently and offered in a warm voice, "That's quite alright. I'm just glad we have somewhere to start, now."
Diggory frowned. "What do you mean?"
It was the stranger in the hall that answered.
"We – as in us and a resistance group of sorts – have been trying to figure out what that man is up to," he explained. "No one had any ideas, especially none of the low tiered lackies, and none of the higher leveled subordinates would say anything about the matter one way or the other. It's been rather frustrating not knowing if they knew or were kept in the dark like everyone else."
"How wide spread is the Professor's reach?"
The stranger beside Neryk spoke. "Global, we think." She shook her head. "It's hard to gauge, really. While he's got a few groups that behave like gangs, there are a number that travel around and work in certain locations so it's hard to tell if his reach is truly global or if he simply has people all over the world."
"And the Other was one of his subordinates?" Diggory asked Neryk. "Not just some singular bad guy?"
Neryk nodded. "Though, I'm not sure why the Other was gathering the crystal hearts if the Professor's goal is with the crystal hearts."
The stranger in the hall chuckled. "Jasmine's going to have kittens over this."
Diggroy frowned. "Jasmine?"
"The head of all this," the stranger by Neryk explained. "The one leading the charge against the Professor."
"The majority of those working for her call her Madam, though she does go by Madam Jasmine," Neryk added, giving the stranger in the hall a flat look. "Some, however, find they can be more familiar with her that others."
The stranger in the hall shrugged. "Hey, at least I'm not actually using her given name. It's still her code name."
"He has a fair point, Neryk," the stranger beside them stated, touching Neryk's arm cautiously. "If Madam wasn't ok with it, he wouldn't be calling her by it. You know how traumatizing she can be when she wants to be."
The stranger in the hallway shuddered as Neryk relaxed. Diggory wanted to know more, wanted to know why that seemed to not only ease Neryk but also cause the stranger in the hall to react like that. But they were interrupted by heavy footfall on the stairs. A third stranger came to a halt just out of Diggory's line of sight. "Madam wants us all back at Base. Something big's gone down."
The stranger on the landing nodded, his face set. "We'll be out in a second." He turned his gaze back into the room, specifically on Neryk. "We have to go. Either wrap this up or finish it later."
Both strangers dashed down the stairs, Armridge following behind them. Bien, in turn, rushed into the room and up to Diggory. "Are ya leavin' already?"
Diggory nodded, smiling gently. "Yes. Thank you for all you've done for me. It really helped."
Bien beamed at him. "Glad we found ya, then."
"Neryk! Let's go!" the stranger from the landing shouted up the stairs.
Neryk approached Diggory and wrapped him in their cloak. The weight was more than he expected but it was warm and covered him more than the clothes he had been put in. Neryk guided him out with a hand on his back. Bien bounded ahead of them, taking the stairs two at a time.
Armridge caught him at the bottom, chiding the boy but letting him go. Diggory stopped before the man in spite of Neryk's pressing.
"Thank you," he offered, clenching at the edge of the cloak. "For everything you've done for me. I'll do what I can to return the favor and the clothing."
Armridge raised his hand. "No need for any'a that. Just take down those Black Sheep and th' Professor'n we'll be even."
Diggory nodded and followed Neryk out.
Day 07: Birthday
The rain was still going strong as they stepped outside, though it had become a light drizzle at this point. Diggory paused just outside the safety of the house and turned his face skyward.
It was pitch black beyond the edge of the roof. He couldn't see the top of the trees even though he knew they were there. The trees themselves were being illuminated but what light ghosted over their bark was too dim to truly see into the branches. As soothing as the rain itself was, the whole scene was rather haunting.
He brought his gaze back down to Earth, finding himself staring at two vehicles that were strangely familiar even though he was certain he could not remember riding in one. Neryk added pressure to his back and he glanced over.
The rain was glistening off of the illuminated strip around the upper rim of Neryk's high collar and down the left side of their chest. The purple light from their collar made the underside of their hair glow in a faint purple that contrasted against the sharp blue white that the vehicles were giving off in a way that was equal parts ethereal and unnerving. They're eyes were kind, though, reaching over and pulling the cloak tighter around his throat. "Are you ok?"
He nodded, comforted by the familiarity of them tending to him. He wrapped his hands around theirs, stilling their touch. "Advena," he asked softly against the sound of the rain, "who are we?"
Neryk's – or was it Advena – gaze softened. It made them look rather sad. "I'll tell you when we get a moment to breathe, I promise. But, for now, I need you to just trust me on this." Their expression hardened. "And whatever you do, do not let anyone else know that you do not remember who you are. It would be unwise."
Diggory felt his heart sink at that as his chest tightened. Hide that he didn't remember? How did they expect him to do that? Still...
Swallowing thickly, he nodded and let their hands go. Neryk withdrew, turned, and made their way to the second vehicle. Diggory took one last look at the house.
Armridge and Bien were standing in the doorway, both looking far more somber than he would have liked. The moment they noticed his gaze, though, the looks were replaced with grins and waves. He returned the gestures but his smile felt tight on his face. He wondered if they could see how fake it was from there.
Movement drew his gaze towards the left of the house where the garden sat. There, in the near darkness, were a set of eyes reflecting the light of the vehicles and a body faintly outlined in the darkness. The branches of thorns on its head seemed to glow of their own light, though, as the creature turned its head and continued walking beyond the side of the house and out of sight. The whole thing make him shudder and look one last time at Bien and Armridge. Who exactly were these people?
Turning away, he hurried to Neryk's side who was standing by the open back door of the second vehicle. Their gaze was searching but for what he couldn't tell.
He slid across the seat to the far side against the other door. The vehicle was rather spacious even with the wall separating the back seat from the front. He frowned at it softly as Neryk climbed in beside him and closed the door.
There was a lurching sensation in his stomach but there was no actual sense of movement. There wasn't enough light to see by outside to gauge how fast they were going if they were even moving in the first place.
"How long will it take for us to get to base?" Diggory asked, wary of asking anything too showing with not knowing who could be listening.
"Half an hour," Neryk informed him. "Which, honestly, isn't terrible. You could have ended up on the other side of the planet."
Diggory hummed but wasn't sure how to respond to that. As much as it was useful, he found that it didn't really answer any of his questions. He sighed, resting his head against the window.
"Hey." He opened his eyes and looked over at Advena – no, wait, it was Neryk now, right? - as they gently squeezed his shoulder. "You can lean on me if you want to rest. I doubt that will be overly comfortable for an extended amount of time."
He offered them a soft smile. "Probably not."
He shifted so that he was leaning against Neryk's side. The only thing about that, though, was the fact that Advena was shorter than him, meaning that he had to shift around a bit till he found a good enough position. In the end, it turned into him leaning sideways on the seat as Advena put their back into the corner of the seat and door so that his forehead pressed against their neck as it was nestled between them and the seatback.
He fell asleep rather quickly, not that it did him any good.
When Neryk roused him, he felt more exhausted than when he had settled down to nap. He grumbled to himself, not at all conscious of the words he used, but it was clearly something loud enough and coherent enough to make Neryk chuckle. They ran a hand through his hair, the gesture kind and endearing. "Just a few more hours and you'll be able to get some real sleep."
"I know," he sighed, rubbing at his face. "It's just been a long, what, day? Year?" He gave a breathy laugh. "I'm so out of touch with time, I don't even know if my birthday passed or not."
"It hasn't passed yet," Neryk assured him and he looked up to find their expression serious. "You still have a few months till your 24th."
For some reason, that didn't make him feel better.
Day 08: Reflection
The door opened and Neryk climbed out without hesitation. Diggory couldn't help but pause. Beyond the vehicle was a well illuminated place, one full of people. It made his wary.
He followed Neryk out and looked around.
He hadn't been wrong on his first take of the place, but the entire area was enclosed. There was a low ceiling above and the people milling were all slowly making their way towards one of the sides of the massive space.
That side happened to be the one he and Neryk were dropped off in front of. Neryk leaned in close, their breath ghosting over his ear as they explained carefully, "There's another few levels above and below us for parking. This is the main pick up and drop off location with guest parking and a few different lots."
"When you said base, I was thinking some secluded location with a few dozen people," he replied tightly, his voice barely audible beyond his lips pressed to their ear. "This is not what I expected."
Neryk nodded. "I know," they acknowledged, though this time they simply spoke softly as they turned to lead the way. "I'll explain it in detail more when we're closer."
He sighed, wondering now how many times he would hear that till he actually got answers as he followed behind Neryk into a building that made his brain feel funny.
The area they entered wasn't all that extravagant, though it was well maintained and looked rather new. There was tile throughout the wide hallway leading towards the main area of the building. Here, Diggory found his footfall faltering. Even in what he presumed to be the dead of night, there were a ton of people coming and going in the expansive space. The ceiling was so high above their heads that there were walkways crisscrossing their way towards it for three floors above them. The ceiling itself had massive sections of windows which he was certain would illuminate the place greatly when the sun was out. But with the darkness outside, the massive space was illuminated by not only the lights hanging from the walkways or mounted on the walls. Two massive chandeliers hung from the high ceiling made in such a way to light up every level without being blindingly bright.
Neryk simply took hold of his wrist gently and guided him through the mass of people.
He brought his attention back to Neryk, taking in where they were leading him and kept in mind where they had come from. Down a normal sized hallway and then left at a crossing. They walked this hallway for quite some time. They walked it so long, in fact, that they were soon isolated.
Just as Diggory was about to ask how farther, Neryk pulled something out of an innner pocket and passed it over a sign as they walked. There was a chime from the sign. A door ahead of them clicked. Diggory arched an eyebrow. Well, that would explain that, then.
Neryk opened the door to reveal a small space. There were two vending machines on the left wall and an elevator directly ahead of them with no button. Neryk passed the same thing over where the button should be and there was another chime, this time from the elevator. The door slid open and Neryk stepped in.
He followed at a sedated pace.
The door slid shut and the elevator started to drop.
"How far down?" he asked, certain this would be a normal question.
"Till it stops," Neryk replied. "I don't know which floor they're having this meeting at."
The walls around them, barring the one the door was on, seemed to suddenly vanish and he jumped, spinning around to find himself overlooking a massive underground duplicate of the main space upstairs. He pressed his hand against the glass as he took in the walkways and the main floor beyond his reflection as they continued their decent.
The elevator slowed and came to a stop on the main floor. He stepped away from the glass and followed Neryk out past the few personnel waiting for the elevator. Neryk again led the way but now it was clear that most everyone was heading to the same location. However, instead of following the crowd, Neryk broke off and took a side hallway as soon as they approached it. Diggory glanced back but there didn't seem to be anyone that noticed.
"Our meeting is with the Madam," Neryk explained. "Their meeting is not."
Diggory wasn't sure if that actually explained anything.
There were a few people entering the room still when he and Neryk arrived. Where Diggory hesitated to cut in front of those entering, Neryk had no such hesitations and simply grabbed his wrist before dragging him into the room. The space was a decent sized conference room and almost all the chairs were full. Neryk guided him all the way to the other end of the table where there were the most seats taken yet still a few empty.
Neryk placed their hands on the back of the chair to the head of the table's right, both of which were empty. Neryk pulled the chair out and looked at Diggory. He suppressed the chill that went down his back, suppressed the urge to look at all the faces to see their reaction as he walked over and sat down. Neryk pushed his chair in and then stood against the wall behind him. He noticed they were not the only one to do that. There were three others standing against the walls.
It left Diggory feeling rather exposed.
All but three chairs filled: the chair directly across from him, the chair to his right, and the chair at the head of the table to his left. If he had felt exposed before, he now felt isolated as well. Someone crossed to the chair at the head of the table, grabbed it, and took it away as the lights dimmed.
Day 09: Apology
Diggory clenched at the cloak he was still wearing as the wall behind the head of the table flickered and came to life.
A nondescript woman appeared on the large screen, though she herself was not over imposing in size. Smaller screens all around her started flickering on revealing an individual or a room of people till the whole wall was filled with faces.
"Thank you for gathering so quickly on such short notice," the woman spoke. Her voice was calm, gentle even, while still holding a stern note. "I have asked all locations and their key members to gather for this telecommunications due to the dire situation that is at hand. I did not want to have to waste time visiting each one individually and awaiting responses from others."
"We are always happy to assist, Madam," one of the men spoke.
The woman gave a smile that didn't seem overly kind to Diggory. "I'm sure." she stated plainly before her smile fell away. "The information I have received is not good. The agents at the ICARUS branch have come across what the Professor may be working towards."
The room exploded with sound cutting her words off and not even half of it came from the speakers. It seemed like everyone in that room was trying to talk over one another, to be heard, and in the chaos he came to realize that he was sitting in among the ICARUS branch members and none of them had any idea what she was talking about.
The room suddenly rang silent and Diggory realized it was because his voice was echoing through the room.
"Enough of this," he was saying, somehow on his feet without remembering standing. The words kept going as his face displayed a disgust he wasn't sure he was actually feeling and his gaze flickered to those on the screen as well. "Shouting, arguing, and trying to ask questions now is nothing more than a waste of time. If you lot would just keep your traps shut and let the Madam actually speak, I'm fairly certain you would find that all of this was unnecessary."
The silence was deafening but he refused to sit quite yet. There was an air of challenge and the impression that if he sat now, he would lose whatever he had gained over the people present. Instead, he turned, facing the screen and meeting the Madam's gaze. "I feel an apology is in order however I do not believe that it should come from me unless you see otherwise."
The woman chuckled, the sound melodious and far more amused than anything prior. "I feel that they have been reprimanded enough without needing to apologize."Her expression turned a tad fond. "It is good to have you back, Diggory. You certainly were missed."
He offered a dry chuckle. "Only by you and so few, Madam."
The woman nodded and turned her focus back to the masses. Diggory sat back down feeling far more drained than he had any right to be. "For those of you that do not know him, Diggory is one of the original members of the ICARUS branch and has done many things for this organization. However, Diggory has been MIA for the last four months. He had been sent in to gather intel about the Professor's whereabouts and plans only to lose contact a week into his assignment. When we did not hear of him after the assignment was to be completed, we assumed the worst and have been proven half wrong. One of the Professor's elite had captured Diggory and others, subjecting them to countless horrors." The woman fell silent for a moment but no one else spoke. "However, it is because of this that we have now gained a better insight to what the Professor may be working to obtain." Again, it seemed her gaze settled on him for a second. "There is evidence that the Professor is looking into old lore surrounding an artifacted called the Crystal Heart." A low murmuring filled the room like static but it wasn't enough to drown out the next words she spoke. "For those of you unaware of what it is, I have a brief explination before I need each branch to set out and find out if the Professor is truly looking into finding or creating the Crystal Heart."
There was the sound of shuffling papers but no one spoke. It seemed as if everyone present was holding their breath and Diggory found his mind wandering to a half remembered memory.
An old book, pages flipping.
"Legend tells of an artifact called the Crystal Heart," an old illustration appears before his mind's eye, "that holds limitless power. Whether is it is simply a source of untapped energy or grants some sort of ability is not clear." Old pages were slowly flipping before his mind's eye, impressions of what is written on them filling his mind. "However, one source has stated that the Crystal Heart is not to be used lightly. As easy as it is to create with it, it is equally easy to destroy with it." A paragraph saying the same thing – though not necessarily word for word – was focused on. "It should stay out of hands that would abuse its power and, if at all possible," word for word started to appear in what seemed to be the last page of the given section on the old pages, "the Crystal Heart should be destroyed."
There was a burst of noise but Diggory ignored all of it. He didn't care as he half gestured for Advena, his mind full of the information from those pages and other pages he had supposedly flipped through. Advena brought their head down next to Diggory's and he reached up, pulling at them so he could whisper into their ear, "When was she informed about the Crystal Heart?"
Day 10: Glare
"I had only told you and a few others when you found me."
Advena – no, Neryk – pulled back enough to place their lips against his ear, his head and the back of his chair preventing anyone reading their lips as Neryk's head and the back of the chair had done for him. "I told the Madam about our experience, about the crystal hearts you and I had possessed and how they had seemed important to the Other. She must have just gone with it."
He frowned but let them pull away. He wasn't so sure he believed that.
The chatter suddenly quieted down as focus returned to the woman.
"These are the parameters I leave you with," she spoke, her voice grave. "Be extremely careful looking for the Crystal Heart. Should you find it, do not touch it, do not attempt to move it. Contact me and I will make sure those that have been cleared arrive as quickly as possible to deal with the artifact. Should we find it, we will be attempting to destroy it." The glare she sent through the screen was threatening. "We will not be taking the risk of someone using it. Am I understood?"
There was a ringing of "Yes, Madam" from the room as well as those on the screen.
She gave a brisk nod. "Good. Now. Be quick. We do not have much time left."
Without another word, her face vanished from the screen and the other smaller screens started turning off. Those in the conference room started moving about, chatter becoming so loud that it turned itself into white noise. Diggory rubbed at his face only to remember what he was wearing. He stared down at his wrapped hand, feeling an ache there that felt more than just fatigue.
"A-" He caught himself and tried again. "Neryk." They appeared at his side, bending over to be more level with his gaze. He looked to them. "I would like to leave now." He waved his hand between them. "I'm sure these need to be changed after everything anyways."
Neryk nodded. "Of course. If you'll follow me."
He stood up but no sooner had he straightened was he approached. He didn't recognize their face. They gave a shallow bow. "You are expected in one of the small meeting rooms."
"By who?" Diggory drawled, too tired to be cordial.
"By Madam Jasmine."
He blinked at that, feeling Neryk going rigid at his side. He glanced their way but their expression was neutral. He looked back at their messenger with a sigh. "Alright. Please lead the way."
The messenger bowed again before turning and leading them to the side door near Diggory's chair. Beyond the door was a hallway with doors on either side. It was long and it was creepy but Diggory dutifully followed his new guide trusting Neryk to have his back.
Nothing spectacular happened. In fact, the entire walk was rather boring. It got so bad, he started counting doors just for something to do as they followed the hallway as it made a 90 degree turn this way and that.
He had reached 23 by the time they arrived at the necessary room. The messenger opened the door but did not enter. Instead, they bowed and Diggory passed through with Neryk behind him. The door closed behind Neryk, leaving their guide outside.
The room itself was rather barren. There was a table and a few chairs but that was it barring the few items resting on the table's surface.
Neryk walked around him to the table, inspecting the items as Diggory took in the room. There were no signs of cameras or tech of any kind but even barren walls can be deceiving. He walked over to Neryk as they picked one of the items up. He realized it was a shirt as it came unfolded in Neryk's hand.
"Turn around," they softly directed and he did as they said, turning so that his back was to them. He felt the knuckles of their fingers brush against his shoulders for a moment before the touch left. It returned again.
"Here." He looked over his shoulder to find Neryk holding a shirt towards him. "Put this on. Pants will have to be trial and error."
He nodded, taking the cloth. They took the cloak from his shoulders and took over undressing him when his hands wouldn't cooperate. With his shirt off, it was easy to see that the bandages were in desperate need of changing. Someone seemed to be aware of this because Neryk simply picked up a pair of scissors that had been among the first aid materials and started cutting the bandages away.
He hissed as cold metal brushed against still raw cuts and abrasions. Something beyond exhaustion pulled at him at the reminder that he was still very injured and had been moving quite a bit since he was found. Sickness was probably clawing at his system, too, but he couldn't remember what to look for when it came to any of the sicknesses he could be getting.
Time got away from him as he seemed to nap with his eyes open and sitting upright because when Neryk pulled him to his feet, all of his bandages had been replaced and all that was left was for him to finish pulling up the new pants they had obviously started dressing him in.
There should have been embarrassment there. Maybe he was too tired to care at this point.
He pulled the zipper up and fastened the button as Neryk pulled the cloak back around his shoulders. It was warm and he shuddered, now aware of how chilled he had gotten.
A knock landed on the door they had entered through as his hands fell free from the front of his pants and the cloak settled closed around him. The door opened as Neryk took a step away. They both turned to faced the door proper.
Day 11: Answers
The door opened and only Madam Jasmine entered. Diggory frowned.
"Am I right to presume that this is a personal meeting, then?" he asked once the door clicked shut.
Madam Jasmine smiled gently. "Is it so wrong for me to want to see you?"
Her smile was contagious as one of his own pulled at the corners of his mouth. "I am not the right person to answer that, Madam."
Her smile fell as her expression turned concern and a little sad. He blinked, glancing at Neryk. Had he done something wrong?
"You don't remember me, do you?"
He looked back at her, surprised. That seemed to be all the answer she needed because she walked around the table and right up to him. He realized then that she was shorter than he was by nearly a head. With them nearly toe to toe, she had to crane her head back to meet his gaze. She had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen on a person.
Her hands were warm when she carefully pressed them to his cheeks. Her smile was drawn tight across her face. "I am glad that you are alive and in one piece, if nothing else. We can deal with your memory later." She took a step back and Diggory suddenly ached to have this woman's hands upon his face again. "Neryk, keep an eye on him for me, please."
Neryk bowed low. "Of course, Madam."
Diggory frowned, taking a step towards Madam Jasmine as the woman turned to head back to the door. "Wait," he called out, stalling her departure. "That was it? That was all this was about?"
Her eyes landed on him and he wasn't sure what to make of her expression. "In a way, yes, this was all I had intended to do," she confirmed. "The least I can do for you is make sure you are well attended to, including clothing and medical supplied." She gave him a soft smile that made her look tired. "That and I wanted to make sure you truly were alright with my own eyes." She turned her gaze to Neryk. "When his memory returns, contact me immediately."
Neryk dipped their head. "I will."
Madam Jasmine nodded. She looked towards him one last time before exiting the room.
The whole ordeal left him frustrated and he turned an unamused gaze onto Neryk. "Let me guess, answers have to wait a little longer."
Neryk offered him a smile but there wasn't much humor in it. "Unfortunately." Their expression turned serious. "You will get answers, Diggory. I promise. It just needs to wait a little longer."
He let out a sigh, rubbing at his face. His hand twinged and he pulled it back to stare at the bandages. He clenched his hand into a fist. "Fine." He looked over at them again. "But I'm holding you to it."
Neryk nodded but said nothing more.
They exited the room after Madam Jasmine but there was no sign of her in either direction. Diggory wasn't overly surprised. His fingers found the cloak's fabric again as he trailed after Neryk, trusting them to get him home safely. Speaking of...
"Hey, Neryk," he called out, words slow as he figured out what he wanted to ask with possible ears listening. "Are we finally leaving?"
Neryk looked back at him, a soft smile on their face. "Yes. We should have a car waiting for us outside to take us home."
He relaxed. "Good," he sighed. "I'm getting sick of being here."
Neryk chuckled but they had already turned around. "As am I."
Their walk back seemed to take forever. At least the elevator ride was short. Diggory looked around when they stepped off and wasn't surprised to find they had ridden the same elevator up they had down even as he had gotten turned around on the lower floor. He walked at Neryk's side towards their ride, confident he knew where they were going.
That is, till Neryk suddenly turned left. Blinking, he jogged a few steps to get at their side again even as he gestured the way they had been going. "Not getting picked up where we had been dropped off?"
"There are protocols we must follow to keep you safe," Neryk explained nonchalant.
Diggory gave them a flat expression. "Why?"
Neryk offered him an amused smile. "Because you're important."
Diggory's flat look only got flatter. Neryk laughed, the sound like chimes on the wind. He was certain he didn't hear that sound enough.
Their ride was awaiting them in a secluded location. Diggory thought that this was not only overkill but more likely to get him killed than protected. However, there were no attacks and they weren't confronted as they entered the vehicle and the vehicle started moving. Or, at least, he assumed it started moving when he had the same dropping feeling in his stomach. If nothing else, Neryk relaxed, settling into their seat fully. Diggory sighed, sinking into the cushion of his seat.
"How long of a ride this time?" He asked, rolling his head on the seat to look at his companion.
"Five minutes, if that," Neryk offered, reaching over and tugging the cloak closed around him. He wondered if it was because they were bored or nervous that they did so. "Once there, get some rest. I'll answer questions in the morning."
He frowned slightly but didn't counter their words. Instead, he settled back into the seat and stared at the ceiling, mind running even as his thoughts seemed to be dulled and those 'five minutes, if that' seemed to take an eternity.
But, as with most things dealing with time, the five minutes ended as he stepped out of the vehicle after Neryk in front of a home he did not recognize. Even after entering the building he still didn't recognize any of it.
"This way," Neryk softly directed. He followed them up the stairs and down a hall to a sparse bedroom.
Day 12: Elephant
It looked unlived in. There were no personal touched to the room but the closet was full of clothes he expected would fit him and there were trinkets and what not in some of the drawers in the furniture present but that was the extent of what he could find as evidence of his living in the room. With a sigh, he wandered into the closet. Supposedly Neryk's room was beside his but he had heard their footfall on the stairs. Either they hadn't planned on sleeping or they expected him to not notice.
Annoyance burned low and hot in his gut as he pulled at clothing at random.
He ended up with a large shirt and soft pants that seemed well enough like sleepwear without him recognizing most of what had been in there beyond 'pants' or 'shirt'. The bed at least was soft and smelled of something familiar even if he couldn't remember. He curled up under the covers and hoped his dreams would be peaceful at least.
Slowly color bled into the darkness, some swirling this way and that, others fading in only to fade out. Something collided with his gut, pushing the breath out of him if only briefly as he leaned over whatever the rounded object against his gut was.
"Look!" he exclaimed, his left hand going out to point at something. "Look! An elephant."
A chuckle that seemed all too familiar rang through the air. "That it is, my boy." Something ruffled his hair that caused happiness to flood through him. He pressed against the touch almost needily. "Do you want to wander the reptile house one more time before leaving?"
He felt his feet settle against something hard as a certain set of colors settled in front of him. "Can we?" he asked excitedly.
He was running. He knew that with how his feet were hitting the ground and how all the colors seemed to blur in a specific direction. He could hear laughter as his feet left the ground. His stomach rolled for a brief moment till pressure rolled across the back of his shoulder and down his back, his feet hitting something solid as he shoved himself upright once more.
"Excellent!" a voice oh so familiar shouted from some distance. "Well done, Diggory."
A smile - no, a grin broke across his face as he felt determination settle in his system. He was shoving harder at the ground, pushing harder as he felt himself prepare for action.
A hard shove and a different kind of sinking in his stomach. His hands wrapped around a metal bar briefly as it seemed the world rushed by before the sensation was gone and it felt like he was flying.
A rough texture collided with his hands and he grunted, pushing against it. There was the sound of scrapping, the sensation of his feet not quite holding traction with whatever he was wearing on his feet. But the thing stilled and he needed not to push anymore. Stepping away from whatever it had been, he looked about even if he couldn't make out anything, not even the colors swirling about him.
There was coughing to his right, to the direction he had been looking. "Good job, Diggory," an oh so familiar voice urged him, something softly colliding with his shoulder a few times. "That seemed to have stalled the blasted thing. How are you handling? Anything overtaxed or in need of attention?"
He flexed his hands and shifted his weight but there didn't seem to be any such thing as he offered, "Not that I can tell."
"Good," the voice spoke again. "Come here. I want to check you over anyways."
Cold metal settled against his hands as he leaned back against something. He could feel whatever it was against his lower back in a solid, rigid line. A different voice, a new voice, spoke. "So that is all you have to offer me."
As much as it should have been a question, it wasn't. "Yes," he returned, the word sharper than he thought necessary. "As it should be. After all that I was subjected to, I would think it best that I didn't remember much."
The other sighed, sounding tired even if all he saw was some color faded in the darkness. "Ok." There was shuffling and the color got bigger and became several colors. "But should you defect, I am taking you out."
"Of course," he spoke as if this was a given and it shouldn't be any other way. "Just tell me where you want me and I'll go there."
"MOVE!" someone new shouted as a body collided with his, sending him sideways. His entire left side hit what felt like ground but it didn't stay that way. His arm wrapped around the body against him and he forced them to roll with him. Something was in his hand. It jerked along with a sound he didn't recognize. He was up on his feet, the body no longer against him. He moved this way and that, rolled here, kicked at something there, and punched another thing in the process of setting up a second kick and triggering the thing in his hand again.
Silence settled as he slowly lowered his hand and he turned. Darkness was everywhere, even underneath the colors he could see, but here was a scene he could see, even with the haze that seemed to obscure his sight. He approached the debris, moving a few pieces of it off of a table before heaving the table upright and over. It thudded against the floor and he offered his hand to Madam Jasmine. "Come on," he spoke, his voice calm. "Let's get you out of here."
Her beautiful eyes shone bright against her dirty face as she took his hand. He hauled her to her feet as she spoke, "You never did answer my question."
He gave her a soft smile, answering, "No, Ma'am. I'm on my own."
Day 13: Debate
The room was dark when he opened his eyes. He shifted under the sheets and found that while it was dark, it wasn't a complete darkness. There was light seeping in at the bottom of the curtains covering what he was going to assume was a window as well as reaching in under the door and through the closet. That one confused him the most so he pushed himself upright and went to explore.
He found that there was a bathroom beyond the closet. The door was ajar and the frosted windows uncovered. The space was well laid out and crafted and he set about utilizing the space as bits of his dream swirled in his mind.
It certainly had been an odd one. He half remembered the conversations and what had happened but the last scene seemed to be burned into his brain. Madam Jasmine and him had been having a conversation of some sorts when something happen, something big. And, for whatever reason, that meeting had led to the Madam having an isolated meeting with him and behaving so oddly upon her arrival.
He couldn't fathom what had brought her behavior about. Despite the feeling that most of what he had 'dreamt' had actually been memories, he didn't actually remember anything. There was no context, no actual things he remembered beyond the fragments of fragmented conversations.
He stilled with his hands on either side of the sink looking up through his lashes to gaze at his reflection.
His head was bowed enough to cast his face in shadows from the light over the sink. He looked exhausted but it was him. He recognized his face, his features, everything, so whatever had happened, whatever would happen, he was still himself.
He pushed off the sink and finished what he had been doing.
He exited his room not much later after that, the door clicking behind him as he looked about the quiet hall. There wasn't much sense in exploring till after he had answers so he headed towards the front door, looking to find the kitchen.
There was an inkling of where the kitchen would be in the back of his head he had no reason to not follow. Down the stair and right around the last post of the stair's railing, he walked down the hallway till it ended with a door that led into the kitchen.
He wasn't overly surprised he had found it even without remembering the place. He was certain that most of it was engrained in him if he had originally lived there.
Neryk was there, though.
Diggory hadn't been overly sure what he was wandering about for till he found his companion and he suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do.
"We safe to talk freely here?" he asked, his voice coming off sharper than he had intended. He amended, "I still have so many questions."
Neryk looked up, silverware still in the bowl of food they had been stirring absentmindedly as they stared at some file. He didn't move closer to get a peek at what it was and Neryk simply closed the folder without drawing any more attention to the stack of paper.
"Certainly you want to eat first," Neryk started and – whether that had been intended to be a distraction or not – Diggory cut them off.
"This is not up to debate, Neryk," he spat. "You promised me answers and I want them now. Are we safe to talk freely here?"
Something flashed in Neryk's eyes and he didn't know what it had been. Had it been anger? Annoyance? Or had it been something else entirely? It had passed too quickly for him to track, at least, and Neryk did nothing more than sigh and give in.
"Yes, we're safe to talk freely here," they confirmed, gaze turning to him once more. They gestured at one of the table chairs. "It would be best if you sat down. I doubt all of your questions will be answered in a timely manner."
He crossed to the chair and sat down, running his hand through his hair. A twinge seemed to shoot up his arm from the gesture and he made a face as he lowered his left hand to the table. He opened and closed it trying to get the feeling of having no strength to go away. "What did you mean by true world?" he asked, turning his gaze from his hand to their face. "What had the Other done to us for that to even be a statement? Why can't I remember any of this life?"
Neryk shook their head. "To be honest, I don’t know either."
Diggory gaped at them. "What?"
Neryk offered him a tight smile. "I don't remember this word. Not really, at least. But I had gained enough information having woken up before you did that I had pieced quite a bit of dreams you're no doubt to fake it till it returns."
The question was beyond his lips without a thought, not that it mattered. Neryk answered it anyways.
"Some will," they assured him, "but I don't know how many will return for you." Their face twisted into frustration. "There is something that I can't quite remember that is specifically focused around you. Something important."
"Do you remember the Professor or is that just me?" he asked tentatively.
Neryk shook their head. "Just you for now."
He frowned. "You think you will remember him?"
Neryk shrugged. "I'm not about to bet I won't remember him. The Other had taken us both, remember?"
"Were we the only ones? Madam Jasmine had mentioned there had been others captured with me."
Neryk leaned back, crossing their arms. "If there were, I don't know who they were at this moment. I can find out if that is what you want."
Diggory shook his head, raising his hand. "We have other things that are more important that locating people we may not even know."
Day 14: Rainbows
"Things like why the Other had grabbed us and how he had not only put us in a different world, apparently, but also implanted fake memories." He looked to Neryk, eyes wide and a bit frantic. "I don't have any memory of this place, of these people, yet I remember being five with my mother in the castle learning about technology and ruling a kingdom."
A distraught expression crossed Neryk's face and he almost took back his words in a panic. But their expression became calm before he could utter any words and they spoke before he could even try. "I do not like answering you with things that give you nothing in return. Even with that, all I remember is that life as well," they offered, their gaze tired. "At least, what I was permitted to remember. That world, that life, is all I know, and I don't know if that means that we are from that world brought here as impostors or if the Other truly did mess with our minds."
He buried his face in his hands, elbows pressed into the surface of the table. Their hands were gentle against his arms and he looked at them through his fingers. Sunlight was shining through a high window, catching a few ornaments in the kitchen just right to reflect a few rainbows across the walls. One splayed across Neryk's arms.
"Even with how little I remember between both worlds, I doubt we are in opposing thoughts when I say whatever the Other had done to us had something to do with the crystal hearts you and I possessed in that other world." Their hand trailed up his left arm, caressing the mark that dictated where his crystal heart had been. It sent pain up his arm but he ignored it. "You still have the marks from yours, the damage it had done to you."
He shook his head, denying her words. "It didn't do anything to me till it shattered."
The sunlight faded like a cloud had obscured it source. They gave him a flat look, pressing into the back of his hand with their fingers. "This? This is not from shattering." They grabbed at their shirt and pulled it open. There, where their crystal heart had been, was a scar in the same exact shape as their piece had been. "This is what a shatter mark looks like." They gently grabbed his arm as they released their shirt. "This is something different."
Diggory didn't know how to reply to that and simply let the silence fall between them.
Neryk's hands disappeared from him and he almost asked for their touch to return with how suddenly cold those spots had become. "Diggory." He brought his head up, meeting their gaze. "I do want you to know that I have no idea why there is a name difference between here and there." Their expression closed off a bit. "But I do know that calling me Advena would be a bad idea. I don't know the specifics but it would be best if you didn't ever call me it again, as much as that will hurt us both for now."
Diggory nodded. "Anything else I need to know about?"
Neryk leaned back, a soft frown on their lips. The ambient noise from outside muffled by the home itself filled the brief silence. "Madam Jasmine sees you as a son of sorts," they finally spoke, "not that I have any idea why. Your past is so shrouded in mystery, even I was unable to gather much about you while I was looking for you. For some reason we're both enigmas here and that puts me on edge more than it probably should." Their frown deepened. "You weren't near me when I awoke. In fact, I was utterly alone and wandered into a major city before I had people that knew me pick me up. I instinctively reacted to someone shouting 'Neryk' so that's the only reason why I even gave them a chance." They closed their eyes, their frown flattening out. "Not that that helps much."
They opened their eyes again, meeting him with a look that was relaxed and curious. "I was able to learn that you are a very talented magic user."
"Magic?" he asked, amused and disbelieving of their words.
Neryk smiled. "It's actually a thing in this world. A good number of their technology is based around this particular addition to this world." The smile fell slightly. "However, this puts a figurative target on both our backs being magic users. Not everyone can do it and it took me some time to relearn only a fraction of what I knew. You, supposedly, work with it instinctual, though I haven't seen you use it beyond our first meeting here."
Diggory hummed a confirmation. "As far as I know, that's the only time I used magic."
The sentence was strange to say and even stranger to hear himself speak. Magic, honestly.
"And for some reason, Madam sent you to gather information about the Professor despite your high value to her." Neryk frowned. "I don't think that the situation is overly good in this world if she was willing to risk your safety."
Again he hummed his agreement but Diggory simply looked at his hands resting on the table as his thoughts slowly sorted themselves out. Side by side it was easy to see the faint blue lines that spiderweb across the back of his hand and up his arm. There were other injuries from his encounter with the Other that were raw but nothing was bleeding anymore, which was nice. His mind didn't want to seem to function properly, though, and he got caught on only one idea.
"So we need to gain more information."
"Correct," Neryk spoke.
He looked up. "Alright. Since you are more familiar with what is expected here - and if you are alright with it - see what you can dig up about who we are."
Day 15: Warning
"Try being as discrete as possible. Should nothing arise from the Professor during that time, we'll go from there."
Neryk nodded and stood, bowl in hand. He waited till they were at the sink before calling out, "Oh, and Advena?" They met his gaze as the glass clinked against the sink. He could see the warning in their gaze even as their expression was kind and curious. He offered them a soft smile. "Please be careful. You are the only thing here that I can remember and trust."
Neryk nodded. "Do you have any other questions that I can attempt to answer?"
He chuckled. "Plenty but none that are in dire need of being answered." His smile fell. "Will you be going out now? Or are you waiting for something?"
They shook their head. "Only thing I was waiting for was you." They met his gaze. "I'll find what I can as quickly as possible so please stay in. Without knowing how this world works, it would be safest for both of us if you stayed hidden away." They shifted their weight. "I don't think anyone will visit. Unless it is the Madam, I would suggest pretending to not be here."
He smiled. "Was planning on sleeping anyways. I'm still exhausted."
He wondered if Neryk relaxing was from his words or not. Regardless of what it had been, he watched them finish tending to their bowl before exiting the kitchen. He listened to them move about, tracked them till they got beyond hearing range with how big the home was.
The cloud moved again. He watched the light bouncing off the the water in the sink shift and move on the wall playing with the shadows and rainbows. There was a sense of having done this before, of having seen these shadows of light and dark play together in this same space like it had been a dream.
He wondered whose home this was. Was it his or was he just bumming off of someone at the moment?
He pulled his gaze away, finding Neryk standing in the doorway of the kitchen ready to leave. Their gaze was curious but the look in their eye was serious. "Anything you need from me?"
He shook his head, vocalizing, "If I think of anything, I'll send you a message." He frowned, gaze going to theirs. "How exactly do I send you a message in this world?"
Neryk crossed to him, passing him a device. "I had already thought of you needing to contact me so I grabbed the one that had been originally yours while I grabbed mine." The device itself was no bigger than his palm and rectangular. It was deceptively thin for as he tried to break it, it bowed but did nothing more, no signs of stress as he looked it over. "Feel free to play around with it to get a hand of using it." They reached over and tapped the center of the thing twice. It lit up and Neryk gently pressed his thumb over the digital clock. The screen changed, showing buttons and bubbles and windows of all kind as Neryk explained. "You can press your thumb anywhere you want. I believe you have your middle finger registered as well." He looked up at them but they shrugged. "I don't know why I think this but I think you used to double tap with your middle finger on the back before holding said finger to the other side and it would unlock and view on this side." They pulled the piece of tech from his hand and rolled it over. The screen appeared on the back, though it was like the back had become see-through even as all the words were in the right direction.
"Huh," he voiced. "Nifty."
Neryk tapped on one of the buttons. It opened a full screen window and they pointed at an icon that was them with their name. "Just tap my face if you want to call me. Press here-" they pressed the spot and a new window opened, "if you want to just send a text message. Either will get to me but I may not answer the call and just send you a text message instead."
He nodded, looking up at them. "Find out what you can. I'll be here."
Neryk gave a brisk nod before turning and heading for the front door. He listened and waited till he heard the front door close before standing. He traced Neryk's footsteps till he came to the door. He looked out the windows but there was no sign of his companion. Satisfied, he turned and started up the stairs as he slipped the device into a pocket.
The questions of who he was – of who they were – urged his feet deeper into the home, urged him to explore the home to see if he could find anything there. Just sitting and ditzing around with tech while Neryk was out looking for information seemed like a waste of Neryk's hard work.
He quickly discovered that whatever secrets the home held, he wasn't going to find them easily.
While the place was well furnished, it felt more like a hotel or a staged home than something actually lived in. Each room held furniture but there was a massive lack of personal items and any trace of any other people having been there. He scoured each room in hopes of finding something but the only two rooms that seemed to have anything were his and Neryk's so it came as a surprise when he accidentally discovered a stairwell behind a bookcase. He hadn't even meant to pull on it and it had moved revealing a staircase leading towards what he supposed was the attic. A chirping came from his pocket, startling him. He fumbled with his device. As it settled in his palm, he found a message on the screen.
This is your only warning.
Leave your past alone.
Day 16: Avalanche
It was forgotten for a reason.
He stared at the message, baffled and a little scared. How could someone know he was trying to dig up his past? Even beyond the few bits necessary to be able to function in the world he now lived in. Could it be that obvious? Had someone been listening?
His grip tightened on the device as he frowned. No, this had to have been perfect timing on the other’s part, simply knowing when to press send without actually knowing what would happen to him when they did. Getting up, he pocketed the devise and brushed himself off before looking up the stairs. It was dark but not overly so. There were signs of daylight streaming through and so, with a steady hand on the railing, he ascended the stairs.
The attic was exactly as he had expected: dusty, dingy, and full of things, though there was plenty of floor space to make it feel far more open and welcoming than he had initially expected. He wandered about the space, crossing to the windows at either end to open their shades and let in some light. He even opened them both a crack and cool air washed over him, the space becoming a sort of wind tunnel. The dust was kicked up but it brought a freshness to the room that breathed familiarity in the back of his mind, like a memory he couldn’t quite place.
“So this is where you’ve hidden away at?”
There’s giggling behind a stack of boxes, the room still sparse as they continued to move in. The person looking for the one hiding slowly stalked towards the stack of boxes and the giggling intensified with each creak of the floor that got closer.
“Gotchya!” the person shouted and a child squealed, laughing outright at small feet thundered across the wood floor, the person laughing right along as they gave chase.
He wandered among the stacks of things, hands ghosting over the tops of dusty boxes, sometimes leaving traces of his touch, sometimes not. Some of the sheets draped over furniture he moved carefully, taking a peak at things hidden from sight. Though appearing old, the items were generally sturdy and still in great condition, if not a little worn in some places.
They were both panting heavily but there was still an air of joy as the older asked, “So, why are you hiding up in the attic all by yourself?”
“It’s my secret place!” the child exclaimed, shifting about in the older’s hold. “No one will ever think to pull on the bookcase to find stairs!”
The older chuckled. “True. But I know where it is. Does that mean it’s still your secret place?”
“Of course!” The child sounded exasperated, as if this was a given. “That way, if something bad happens, you know to come find me in our secret place. And then we can hide here together till the bad thing goes away.”
“And you’ll always find me, right?”
Something dark flashed over him, like an impression of something bad happening and he steered clear of some spot where the boxes had been moved away from the wall and left where they had fallen. He didn’t want to know what had happened there that made him so uneasy.
“No matter what, I’ll always find you and make sure the bad thing can’t get you. I promise.”
He tore his gaze away, trying to sooth the emotions he wasn’t understanding,
At the top of a precarious stack of boxes was a stack of papers. Or, at least, he thought they were papers. He reached up and carefully pulled, trying to ease them off the pile without creating a mess.
His hand slipped on the box he was using to keep himself steady and the pile of papers turned into an avalanche of photos. Some were the size of normal sheets of paper, thus his initial assumption of what they were, but the rest were all sorts of sizes. As the pictures settled about him, he started picking up the pictures, looking at them and taking in any captions.
There were only a few that had anything written on the back that wasn’t a date and most of those were names he didn’t recognize or could barely read. Honestly, who thought letting the person with chicken scratch handwriting label the pictures was a good idea?
He didn’t recognize any of the faces he saw.
He stacked the pictures on top of a box that was at chest height and moved on.
He saw it when he started down the stairs.
It wasn’t anything significant, probably some cloth that had fallen between the boxes and the wall, - thunder shook the building and he whimpered into his hands that he had pressed over his mouth - but it looked odd from where he stood and it took a while for him to get to it - familiar arms were wrapped around him as the shouting echoed up the stairs, muffled by the door - what with having to move a massive pile of very heavy boxes.
It was when he had them all moved - the sound of wood breaking made him flinch, the body wrapped around him curling tighter still - that he came face to face with a stuffed animal. There was a crevice in the wall - the shouting grew louder but he didn’t dare move his hands from his mouth - that could probably fit him if he curled up a bit. He squatted, looking in - but the one holding him covered one ear for him and pressed the other against their chest - but found nothing of significance beyond the paint having been done poorly with splotches of it incomplete. He picked the stuffed animal up - rough hands pulled him from safety - and found it to be a rabbit - he reached back towards safety, his toy falling to the ground - of all things.
Day 17: Perfection
The poor thing looked abandoned - as the one that had been protecting him reached out, both of them screaming for the other as they were separated by force - all discolored in spots due to the dust. He rolled it about his hands till it was facing upright before looking back into the crevice. He wondered - bodies moved towards the other still in the hiding spot - if this had been a place where children hid or played. He glanced over his shoulder - they didn’t block his view as something was pointed at the other’s face - to where the boxes looked disheveled - his screams echoed with the bangs that followed - and could see that being the reason behind the state of the boxes as least.
The attic door closed with a loud thud that echoed in his soul.
He stood up with the toy in hand, gaze flickering around once more. Beyond digging through boxes, he had seen what he had wanted to see, not that it helped much beyond killing time. He crossed to the windows and closed them, curtains and all. The room was bathed in a low orange light and he used it to navigate easily back to and down the stairs.
The bookshelf still looking like the definition of perfection as it slid close with ease.
He situated the stuffed rabbit on the bookshelf so that it was leaning against the edge of the bookcase at the end of one shelf down from eye level. It looked like it fit there despite its discoloration.
He patted at it but it made no difference. The discoloration stayed despite his best efforts.
Slightly dejected but not wholly invested in the outcome, he turned for the exit-
“You were warned.”
His back hit the bookcase, the shelves becoming disheveled and the stuffed rabbit hit the floor with a dull thud. At the other end of the room was a person he did not recognize. They arched an eyebrow at him. “How is it you are so oblivious as to not know your own face?”
“What?” he partially squawked, staring at the stranger in the home. Despite any big talk he had in the conference room, a confrontation without understanding magic or without a weapon he was familiar with was not a situation he wanted to find himself in. Hand-to-hand combat was not his forte.
The stranger chuckled. “Why is it I’m not surprised your panicking at your own magic acting up?”
The figure disappeared only to reappear a few feet in front of him like they were made of smoke.
They waved a hand, commenting, “Magic, actually, but that’s beside the point. Are you actually going to talk with me or am I stuck responding to your mental freak out.”
“I-wha-you’re made of magic?”
It wasn’t really anything of sustenance but it seemed to please the newcomer. “Wow, he actually can form words with a borrowed body. Imagine that.” The figure’s face grew serious. “Can’t really listen, can you? Yes I’m made of magic, though truly I’m only a figment of your imagination.” A thoughtful look crossed their face. “Or memories. It can go either way.”
“So,” he spoke hesitantly, “you’re some aspect of me?”
The stranger arched their eyebrow. “I’m technically what remains of the original Diggory, so, sure, we’ll go with that.”
He frowned. “Original Diggory?”
The magical construct before him sighed. “It’s a long story.” They gestured towards the door. “Come on. It would be best to be somewhere a bit more, ah, secluded.”
Diggory arched an eyebrow even as he followed the stranger out of the room. “Whole house not enough?”
He grinned when the magical construct gave him a flat look, shaking a finger at him. “I don’t know how or why you called me but you did and I will not tolerate sass while I am here. Understood?”
He chuckled but nodded, willing to abide by the terms as long as his questions were answered.
The magical construct sighed, looking ahead as they led the way. “You’ll have your answers. It will just take a while.”
Of all the places to end up, he never expected for the construct to lead him into the kitchen. The construct gave him another flat look. “Do not pretend that you are not hungry after your adventure.” Speaking of, his stomach decided that moment was perfect to announce that it was very empty and wanted food. “This will go better if your mouth is preoccupied anyways.”
“Hey, I’m not that bad,” he countered with a smile, going about to prepping food.
“Whether you are or not doesn’t matter,” the construct replied, leaning back against the counter with their arms crossed, a smirk on their face. “It’s true.”
“Fine, fine,” he gave, waving a knife about before setting about finishing prepping his food. While he hadn’t truly expected the construct to start gushing information, he had hoped they would just talk.
“You weren’t holding down any sort of conversation either,” the construct pointed out.
Not only were they right, he also realized he was being a bit of a hypocrite because of it and went about fixing it.
“So how much are you the Original Diggory and how much are you just a trick of my mind?” he asked.
“Yes,” the construct replied and he stared at it, wondering if he had someone broken it or something. The construct chuckled, offering, “I am both and neither all at once. As much as I am the original Diggory, I am still a part of you.”
He sat down at the table, plate clattering against the tabletop as the construct sat across from him. “So, does that mean you know what happened here? What my connection to this place is?”
The construct looked at him and, for a brief moment, he thought he was going to be denied an answer. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
“I can answer both but you won’t like either of the answers.”
Day 18: Let it Snow
Diggory shook his head. “At this point, I doubt my feelings on any matter actually matter.” A thought hit him and he gave the construct a neutral look. “I’m insane.”
The construct laughed and he quickly added, “No, listen! I’m talking to a manifestation of magic as if it were an actual person so basically I’m talking not only to myself but a figment of my imagination!”
The more he spoke, the harder the construct laughed and for a moment, he felt offended. But then the construct calmed down - though it giggled a few times more, he presumed, at the pout on his face - and offered him a smile. “Diggory, you would be surprised how normal this is for someone of your magic level. As much as I am a part of who you are, I am essentially the original Diggory’s ghost, enhanced by what you’ve disturbed in this house.”
He frowned. “You keep saying ‘original Diggory’. Am I a clone or something?”
The construct arched an eyebrow, amused. “No. You’re a synthetic.”
“A what?” left his mouth as his brain failed to compute that.
“A synthetic,” the construct repeated a bit slower. His mouth went dry. “Artificial. You’re not quite a robot but your not quite human either.” Something cold churned his system as the construct continued, “That’s why you had control of the simulation that the Other had put you all under rather than the Other himself and why you had such a reaction to the other crystal heart.”
That hung between them for quite some time. In fact, he sat there in numb turmoil up until a mug of something steaming was placed on the table beneath his propped up face. He blinked at it, not understanding completely but knowing enough to reach down and wrap his hands around the mug. The warmth spread from his hands up his arms and the numbness subsided as he took a drink.
He looked at the content, surprised. “Hot chocolate? Wait.” His gaze snapped to the construct as they sat down. “You’re solid enough to make hot chocolate.”
A smirk formed on the construct’s face. “I am as here as you are, able to interact with you and others as you can. But that is only due to your magic level, not much of anything else. Most like me that are created usually are only ghosts.”
“Huh.” He looked down back at the mug and its content and took another drink. It was very good.
The silence now was companionable and he didn’t feel quite as freaked out as he had been at discovering he wasn’t human, or at least as human as he had thought he had been. The construct’s gaze was out the window when he started the conversation back up, his voice giving away his mild confusion.
“Did you say 'other crystal heart’?”
The construct looked at him. “Yes. You already have one.”
“What?” He frowned, shaking his head. “But the doctor in the…simulation had only found the one.”
The construct arched an eyebrow and he wasn’t sure if it was meant to be condescending or telling. “That’s because the Other only knew of the crystal heart he had put on your person himself. You only knew of one crystal heart on your person. Or, had known.” The construct frowned. “It is rather interesting that you didn’t have negative affects till after you were aware of it in the simulation. Granted, it could have taken that long for there to be a physical reaction or something could have gone wrong at that point, there really isn’t any way to know.”
“But I still have a crystal heart,” he verified, confused. The construct met his gaze. “Somewhere inside of me I still have a crystal heart.”
The construct’s gaze lowered and he followed it to his chest where his hand gripped his shirt against the center of his ribs.
“I would say you know exactly where it’s at, even if you don’t remember.”
He pressed harder.
The silence that hung between them was almost deafening but the ambient noise muffled by the home took small bits of the tension away.
A thought occured to him.
“Is it like the one I had in my hand?” The construct hummed in question, gaze curious when their gazes met. He clarified, “My crystal heart. Does it look like the one that had been in my hand or like Advena’s had been?”
The construct blinked and, for a moment, he wondered if they didn’t know. But, then, “Your crystal heart is like every other crystal heart that the Professor ever made; a perfect sphere that appears to be shattered in the center. The only difference is the crystal heart glowing with its own light because of the soul it contains.”
“Soul?” he choked, alarmed.
The construct nodded. “Your crystal heart has my soul. I made you to house it to keep it from the Professor.”
He shook his head, shoving away from the table but not actually getting up. “But how is that possible?! How could you put your soul in a stone that was in someone-something else? You needed it to live!”
Explosions shook the walls and floor, dust falling from the ceiling, but there was nothing he could do. He was trapped, mortally wounded, and running out of oxygen. He pressed a bloody hand against the glass, looking into the tank made by a cylinder of glass at the creation floating in the liquid. He had one last thing to do, one last thing to make sure that it all went right, that it all went as it was supposed to, and then he could sleep knowing the Professor would be unable to succeed. That his crystal heart would be unable to be used to find the Crystal Heart.
He moved away from the tank, the smeared bloody hand print seemed to shone with the light from the tank. He coughed, smirk bloody. “Let it snow, right, Professor?”
Day 19: Spaceship
“Let it snow so that the world may be coated in white,” keys clicked softer than the switches flipped, “so that all shall see what perfection is,” a whirring noise filled the space and streams of bubbles filled the tank, “and know that it is my shadow that stretches over it the greatest.”
The whirring intensified as a blinding light suddenly glared from the tank. Most of the space was drowned by the light except for the space directly behind the source of the light from the thing it was set into.
Instead, a stretched out shadow of a person loomed on the walls and ceiling instead,
“So that they know who is in control.”
But even the light overtook the shadow as it grew brighter and he slid to the base of the console he was at, eyes closed against the sharp light that colored his eyelids white.
“May you never see that control….”
He opened his eyes and the thing in the tank sucked in the air streaming into the oxygen mask.
The light faded as the power systematically shut down, all sounds slowly coming to a stop.
The only things left reflecting light off of his unblinking eyes were the soft glow from a perfect sphere with a center that appeared to be shattered and glowing with its own light suspended in the tank and the nearby display:
He pressed the heel of his hand into his eye, stemming off a headache forming behind it. Images- no, a memory was filling his mind and, while he had recalled it in a second, had know what had happened in a single moment, his entire being reeled at suddenly remembering something that he was not supposed to remember. He pressed into the other eye when the headache grew worse.
“Don’t fight it,” the construct spoke. “Let it work naturally.”
“I’m not trying to fight it,” he ground out, sending the construct a one-eyed glare.
“But you cannot deny that you are.”
Diggory resumed trying to ease the pressure of the headache by pressing against his eyes.
It did nothing.
He leaned back enough to look up, frowning as he questioned, “What-”
The construct’s hands were against his temples and he jerked in the touch, wanting to pull away. But then more memories flooded his mind and the pressure in his mind grew too much.
Till there was a pop and the pain was suddenly gone. He opened his eyes, blinking rapidly against the odd sensation. He shuddered as the construct pulled away and he tentatively touched his temple, his ear, but there was no external sign of damage. He shuddered again, looking up at the construct. “What did you do?”
The construct shrugged. “I removed the block.”
“You didn’t damage anything?”
The flat look he got was clear enough but the construct informed him rather sharply. “I made you, remember? I know what I’m doing.”
“So then you really are the ghost of the original Diggory,” he spoke, watching as the construct’s- as the ghost’s expression closed off.
The construct moved away, making some wild gesture with their back to him. “I have yet to actually confirm that.”
“But why hide the fact that you are still living in the crystal heart from me?” DIggory asked gently. “Wouldn’t it be better for your vessel to be aware of the soul they house?”
He caught sight of the sneer even as it wasn’t aimed at him. “You are your own person. There is no reason for you to even be taking this so well, let alone being ok with being nothing more than a vessel.”
Diggory shrugged as he stood. “To be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve been told I’m not human anymore and the novelty wears off after the first time.”
The dark chuckle from the ghost was a good sign and he came to stand behind them.
“And you gave me all of my memories back as well as all of yours,” he offered.
“That hadn’t been my intent,” the ghost snapped at him.
He shrugged. “Does it really matter any longer? I have years of memories in my head, allowing me to see the bigger picture you had intended for me.” He blinked before smirking, teasing gently, “Were you serious about the spaceship plan?”
“Hey!” the ghost snapped, turning enough to point a finger at him. “It was a good backup of many backups if it meant keeping you out of the Professor’s hands.”
“Then why create me at all?” The ghost recoiled. “Why not simply destroy the crystal heart?”
The ghost turned away, snapping even as the words lacked the intended heat, “You know why.”
“I want to hear it,” he returned, his voice careful, slow. “Directly from you. I may have your memories but that doesn’t mean I understand what you were thinking.”
Silence settled between them and while he expected not to get an answer, he waited. It turned out to be the right decision when the ghost let out a sigh.
“Because as much as I didn’t want the Professor to not find the Crystal Heart, I wanted to make sure someone else could.” The ghost turned and their eyes met. “I wanted to be the reason why it was found because I knew that if I wanted it found by someone other than the Professor, I had to give up doing it myself.”
A flicker of images flashed in his mind’s eye. The images were of texts dealing with finding the crystal heart. Many were useless, stating that it didn’t exist or giving no hints, but others spoke cryptically of how only the similar could find that which is similar. He could see the amount of research the original Diggory had done on the Crystal Heart, as well as the Professor, and knew as they did that to find the Crystal Heart, they had to make a pure crystal heart.
Day 20: Caterpillar
At least, that had been the original idea.
Diggory frowned, information swirling around in his head. “Did you ever think you were wrong?”
The words left his lips before he could think them through and without context, it probably made less sense,
The ghost seemed to know what he was talking about because they replied before he could add to it.
“Many times,” the ghost confessed. “So many times. Especially when we discovered what it would take to create a pure crystal heart artificially.” He shuddered as the information was displayed in his mind without his bidding. He vehemently agreed with the ghost on that. “I never wanted to even work on finding the crystal heart. I wanted to leave it be, wanted to just pretend it was nothing more than a legend like everyone else.”
A thick tome with an ornate cover, supposed truth about the Crystal Heart, something sparking.
He gasped. “My dream.”
The ghost frowned. “Your dream?”
He focused back on the ghost. “Just after my confrontation with the Other, just before I was found by Bien and Armridge, I had a strange dream. I didn’t see anything but I heard a lot. I heard a conversation. Specifically, I heard you confronting the Professor about the Crystal Heart.”
Realization washed over the ghost’s face. “There truly had been some repercussions from the other crystal heart, then.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You are nothing more than the vessel that is protecting the crystal heart,” the ghost started, hands moving about with their words as if an unconscious tick. “Similar to caterpillar and its chrysalis, except there should be no changes, no manipulations in either the crystal heart or you. In all of this, you and the crystal heart should have remained completely separate.”
His hand pressed against his sternum, fingers splayed wide. “And what, exactly, does that mean?”
The ghost shook their head. “I don’t know.” He met their gaze when it returned to him. “I had never intended for this to happened and had tried to put in fail safes to counter such things but it seems I did not account for enough. You were clearly accessing memories imperfectly since before I was summoned. It would also explained how you summoned me. Despite my talk, you should not have been able to summon the spirit out of the crystal heart without knowing who was within it and how to get them out of the maze that is a crystal heart.”
Diggory shook his head, fingers clenching at fabric. “So, what, does that mean that anything could happen? I could truly because whatever I was being turned into? I could die? What does it mean?”
The ghost sighed, rubbing a hand over their face. “All of that is possible but highly unlikely.” The ghost gained a serious look, their hand settling on their chin as they shifted their weight. “If nothing else, this will at least help you find the Crystal Heart.”
He shook his head. “It’s been 50 years. Would the Professor truly still be alive after all these years?”
“He had a child that was nearly my age when I had set that timer,” the ghost informed him and the information filled his mind.
He sighed, finishing off the thought. “Even if it isn’t, there is a Professor looking to finish what the original had started.”
“Exactly. And if they have taken up the mantel of Professor, then their intent is not much different from his. In fact, I would expect it to be worse.”
That surprised him. “Why?”
“Well, for one, the Professor’s original intent with finding the Crystal Heart had been pure enough from what i had been told and he was certainly ambitious when I started working with him.” The ghost’s expression hardened. “But looking for the Crystal Heart, doing what we did can corrupt absolute. Because I wasn’t heavily in it in the beginning and saw the effected, I was less affected. But anyone that comes in later - especially anyone easily swayed - would become corrupted faster, sooner, and more completely. It would create a person with the Professor’s drive and an even worse mentality.”
Diggory swallowed but his throat seemed to stick and his felt dry. “And if the Professor truly is still alive, the original one?”
The ghost met his gaze with their heavy one. “Then we are in grave danger.”
Diggory rubbed at his face. There was an odd pulling sensation happening in his chest that he hadn’t noticed till that moment and his limbs were starting to being increasingly heavier.
“You’re being drained by this.”
He looked up at the ghost. “Not sure if I can help that.”
The ghost shrugged. “You could end the spell.”
“And how exactly do I call you back if I have questions?”
“The same way you did this time.”
He gave a laugh edged in hysteria. It would seem he was reaching his limit. “I don’t even know what I did!”
The ghost was silent for a moment before offering, “If you need me to appear, you’ll figure it out. After all, I’m here now. Nothing says that you should be unable to summon me a second time.”
He took some comfort in that as he nodded. “Ok. One last question, then.” The ghost gestured for him to continue and Diggory asked, “Why am I able to use magic despite the fact that you made me without even taking magic into consideration.”
The ghost smiled and it held so much that Diggory wasn’t sure what to make of it. “I had never thought about magic till you summoned me. Magic was always a thing I lived without. But, if I had to guess, it was the fifty year stasis and the crystal heart you house.”
And, with that, the ghost disappeared, fading from existence.
Diggory sighed, burying his hands in his hair. He wanted to tell Adve-Neryk what had just happened but as the front door unlocked, he decided against it.
Day 21: Travel
He stood up and moved to the door to the kitchen, watching as Neryk removed their shoes. They glanced up from their task and gave him a soft smile. “I found some information,” they told him, using the wall to keep themself upright.
“Oh, good!” he chirped. “I didn’t find much in the house after my nap. It’s all pretty much empty.”
Neryk’s gaze was on him the moment they were free of their shoes. It sent a chill down his spine.
“Why are you lying to me?” Diggory flinched from that. Neryk’s expression turned sour. “Diggory-”
“I don’t know how much I can tell you, Neryk,” he cut in sharply, stalling their words but not their anger. He met their gaze without hesitation. “I do not know what danger you could be put in if I told you anything.”
Neryk rolled their eyes. “Come off it, Diggory. There’s no one here to even know you did more than just sleep all day.”
“Neryk, I’m serious.”
“So am I!” Neryk pointed a finger at him, their voice seeming unusually quiet after the sudden bout of yelling. “I have done everything to make sure you were safe and protected and looked after. I have risked everything trying to get you information. And while I do not mind, it would be nice to be kept in the loop.”
Something edged at the back of his mind and he forced himself into a half calm state. He sighed, running a hand over his face. “Look, Neryk. We’re not going to get anywhere if we’re both shouting at each other. Come in proper and lets sit down. I’ll make tea or coffee and we’ll talk about what we can. That work?”
Neryk closed their eyes and he could actually see them slowly getting themself to relax. “Yes, it does.” They sighed, offering, “I apologize, Diggory. It has been a long, stressful day and the information I have found has not helped that.”
He offered them a soft smile. “I’ll see what I can do to help alleviate some of that stress, then. Tea? Or something else?”
“Tea is fine,” they assured him as they approached. He led the way back into the kitchen and set about boiling some water. Neryk brought a chair over and collapsed in it with a sigh. “I hope your day has gone well, at least?”
“Most likely better than it sounds yours did,” he offered in kind, digging through the cupboards for a mug to use. “I wandered the entire building. It’s kind of creepy this empty.”
“We apparently haven’t been here overly long ourselves. The owner before us simply owned it, what with not needing it due to their preference to travel the world than settle in one spot.”
Diggory hummed an acknowledgement. “I can understand the allure of such a lifestyle. Anything on our history specifically?”
“I found that you and I have no records beyond what were made for us.”
The kettle started to whistle. He brought his head up, looking at her in surprise. “What?”
Neryk nodded. “Apparently we didn’t exist till a few years ago. Madam had pulled a few strings to make it look like we existed legally here. I haven’t figured out why, yet.”
He knew why. Could remember it now that the soul in his crystal heart had broken whatever barrier had been between him and the memories it contained as well as all the ones he had lost thanks to the Other’s involvement. He had gone to her as an undocumented person with no proof of existing beyond being in that room and proving himself to her by being in the right place at the right time.
He wondered if Neryk would ever find out about that week he had spent isolated with Madam Jasmine and how close they had become.
He now understood why she saw him as a son, which was both heartwarming and amusing.
“We can leave it for another time,” he offered, passing them a steaming cup of tea, infuser soaking in the bottom. “Did you find out anything else?”
Neryk frowned down at the tea in their hand before offering, “There wasn’t much I could find today beyond the fact that your file had been marked as a Professor target for some reason.”
“Professor target?” he parroted, confused.
Neryk nodded. “A Professor target is someone who is being targeted by the Professor for any number of reason. Most of the files marked as such, I discovered, range in reasons from having simply been a witness to having actually been a part of the Professor’s followers.”
“Wait,” Diggory interrupted, pushing off the counter in surprise. “You mean that Madam Jasmine has know Professor supporters in her employment?”
Neryk blinked at him. “There are a number of those in her employment, as you so put it, but that doesn’t mean they actually do any harm. The Madam has been rather efficient making sure that they can do little harm.”
Diggory ran a hand through his hair, more surprised than anything. He looked back up at Neryk. “I thought everything associated with the Professor was a bad thing.”
Neryk shook their head. “If that were the case, we’d miss out on a lot of information. Half the tech we have is thanks to some of the Professor supporters you were so quick to judge.”
He threw his hands up, quickly defending himself. “I have nothing against anyone that supports the Professor. Each to their own and all that. I just know that exposure to that sort of thing can cause people to turn and I don’t want to see them sabotage everything the Madam has worked so hard on.”
Neryk frowned at him over the rim of their mug. They slowly lowered it, asking, “And how do you know that? I thought you didn’t remember anything prior to the incident with the Other.”
Diggory winced before offering a weak grin. “I may have remembered a few, minor details.”
Day 22: Communicate
“Specifically while you were gone.”
Neryk sighed, running a hand over their face. “And you didn’t let me know this sooner because why?”
The face of the ghost popped into his head and he rubbed the back of his neck, looking away. “I was kind of having an existential crisis up until your return so the thought of messaging you didn’t come up till just before you unlocked the door.”
“And you didn’t want to tell me any of this because why?” Neryk probed non too kindly. He shrugged and they released a hard sigh. “Diggory, I can only protect you so much when you don’t communicate with me.” Their gaze was hard when they caught his. “I only want to help you. You know that, right?”
He nodded. “Of course. That’s all you’ve ever done for me.”
They smiled gently. “And I will keep doing so till I no longer breathe.” Their expression turned serious. “But that doesn’t explain how your memories came back.”
He shook his head. “Wish I could answer that one.” Though not a complete lie, he wasn’t completely sure on how the ghost had truly freed the memories he had been suppressing. He focused on them. “What about you? Anything come back?”
This time their sigh sounded close to a growl. “No. And it’s infuriating that I’m limited to what I’ve discovered while you’re now at a better playing field with keeping yourself safe.”
He reached out and gripped their shoulder. Neryk didn’t look up at him. “Neryk,” he softly urged and their gaze flickered up. “You will be able to protect me even if you didn’t know anything. You are so quick and so far more aware of the world than I am. I would be lost without you here if from nothing more than having originally only remembered what the Other had created.”
Neryk pressed their face into a hand, muttering, “It’s still frustrating.”
He squeezed their shoulder. “I know.” He offered an embarrassed smile. “But at least I can entertain you in your frustration.”
Neryk looked up at him, their confusion showing on their face. “How?”
“I need you to show me how to get into contact with the Madam.”
That within and of itself wasn’t as difficult as he had initially presumed. While he had his memories back, he hadn’t thought he had how to deal with the technology back. That had been proven wrong as soon as Neryk started guiding him through the steps but he pretended for their sake, messing up here and there only to get an amused smack from them.
“Just call her already,” Neryk snapped, a smile on their face, “and quit playing dumb for my sake. You clearly remember.”
He pressed the required buttons on the screen, chuckling as the ringing filled the air. “I hadn’t trusted that I did.” He shrugged a shoulder. “That and it’s nice having you help me with something from time to time. Reminds me of the life we had lived.”
Neryk’s smile eased. “I look forward to creating equally good reasons for keeping me around.”
He shoved at them playfully as the ringing stopped.
He looked to the phone, excitement rushing through him unexpectedly. “Miss me, Jamie?”
Silence answered him and his heart started to sink. Had he truly done it wrong or had he remembered in correctly?
But then there was a noise from the phone before Madam Jasmine was speaking again. “Where are you? Can I come see you?”
“Actually, I was hoping to come to you,” he spoke, looking to Neryk. “Even if it’s at some halfway point. I need out of the house and Neryk’s in need of some good company.”
“There’s a good diner I know not far from where I’m at,” she quickly said as Neryk shoved at him, gesturing something he didn’t understand but got the gist of. He waved them off, not about to go anywhere without them now that he had his memory back. He still didn’t trust that message he had received from someone he didn’t know. “I can send you the address and you can head there now. I need to clear a few things up before I duck out.”
“Sounds good,” he responded, gesturing to Neryk for a coat. He watched them duck out as he continued, “And there’s no need to rush. It’ll take us a while to get over there.”
“Are you sure? It seriously won’t take me more than-”
“Ah, hang on. I’m caught on a corner,” he spoke, listening to Neryk move around upstairs. “I’ll have to see if I can’t remove myself from underneath.”
There was silence for a moment and he wondered if she even remembered the code to understand.
“I hate it when I do that,” she responded and his breath caught in his throat. “You’ll have to grab a hammer if it’s an exposed nail. No need doing that more than once.”
Relief flooded him. She understood. She remembered.
“I may be an hour or two.”
“That’s fine,” he said, watching Neryk finish the last few steps on the stairs. “Do you mind if we order something and eat before you get there if we beat you? I may wander the shops nearby to kill time.”
“Not at all. Enjoy the shops and settle to eat if you get hungry before I make it down there. I’ll send you a message when I’m on my way.”
He took the coat from Neryk. “Sounds good. See you in a few, Jamie.”
“See you in a few.”
The line went dead and he turned the screen off before pocketing the phone. He looked to Neryk as he pulled the coat on. “Feel up to some shopping?”
His pocket buzzed as they nodded. “When will we be meeting up with the Madam, then?”
“When she’s able to escape work.” He turned and started for the door. “Come on. Let’s get going in case traffic’s too much.”
Understanding flickered in Neryk’s gaze.
Day 23: Insanity
He just didn't know how much they understood as he followed them out of the house.
He waited patiently as they locked the door, gaze going out to the world around them. While he now remembered it, it was still odd to see all of it after what the Other had done and made him belief. To think he believed he had been a Prince, of all things. It was honestly a ridiculous thought now that he was back home.
He looked over at Neryk, curious. Their expression was open but held little emotion. He smiled gently, answering their inquiry. "Just thinking of what the Other had put in my head, is all." He looked out over the world, noting the car waiting for them. "I can't believe he had me believe I was a royalty. I certainly don't feel like that now that we're back. Far from it, actually."
Neryk hummed, stepping forward. He fell into step beside them automatically. "I'm sure that the Other had figured it benefited him in some way."
"Like how?" he asked, laughing. "Did he expect me to become weaker somehow? More susceptible to his ways or something?"
Neryk opened the back door, looking to him with a blank expression. "Or something."
He frowned, confused. Did Neryk know something he didn't?
The ride to the diner and the surrounding shops was rather painless but once they were there, he was unable to keep his opinion to himself. "This is insanity!" he exclaimed, almost overwhelmed by the number of people there and all that was going on. "How do they all fit in this small area?"
"By forfeiting personal space," Neryk ground out, pressing their hands into some stranger's back so as not to get trampled as the stranger suddenly changed direction.
"Why so many people in one place?" he asked, not seeing any reason for the crowd.
Neryk grabbed at the back of his jacket, stopping his forward momentum just in time to avoid being crushed by someone flying through on some sort of personal vehicle small enough and permitted for use on walkways. It reminded him of a bicycle, just without the wheels and the frame a bit different.
"Do you see any shops not so crowded?" he asked Neryk.
"Knickknacks and oddities," he happily replied.
Neryk rolled their eyes. "Of course. This way."
Neryk took him by the hand and led him through the crowd. Diggory held on tight and let his gaze wander, Even with his memories back, this was amazing. The variety of people - from families and couples to individuals and street merchants - was incredible and while some part of him remembered seeing such varieties before, the part that had been the prince of that other world was still flabbergasted at all of it.
They entered a shop that wasn't dead but it certainly seemed like it compared to the crowd outside and Diggory quickly found the air to be stifling.
Neryk released his hand and he made to grab it but missed. They vanished from sight as a small group of people got between him and Neryk and he was left in a strange shop with his head spinning. He reached up and covered his nose and mouth. What was going on? What was in the air?
"I never thought I would ever meet the person affected by the insense," a voice muttered behind him and Diggory spun around as he brought his arm up to ward off the stranger but whatever was affecting him as such was affecting his ability to keep his balance in such a motion and he started to fall towards the floor in a way he wasn't going to be able to save himself from. He would have fallen completely but the stranger that had snuck up behind him caught him by the arm before he could get a good look at him and yanked him back upright, using his arm to spin him back around and keeping themself out of sight.
Their grip remained unnecessarily rough. "Easy now," the stranger whispered, their voice heavy. "No need going and damaging the merchandise."
"Most of this is worthless," he returned, though he wasn't sure why he was keeping his voice down. He should be calling out for Neryk or for anyone that would come save him but he didn't. He was certain that the person holding onto him was about to either kidnap him or stab him. Or both, though he wasn't sure in which order.
"That would mean you were worthless but that, I can assure you, is a total and complete lie." The stranger jerked on his arm and he hissed in pain. "Let's go." Whelp, he mentally added a check next to kidnapping. "We have someplace to be." Something pressed into his back and he added a check next to getting stabbed on his tiny mental list. Two for two and he wasn't sure he was happy about that. "Try anything funny and I'll make sure you can't walk."
He shuddered but complied, quite enjoying the ability to walk, thank you very much.
The stranger either worked their or lived there for he was led down a side hallway to some rickety old door and was forced to watch the stranger unlock the door with an ornate key awkwardly from behind him. The door sung inwards revealing a set of stairs that looked far older than the building itself. He frowned but didn't get to ask about them as he was shoved forward and directed to the top of the stairs. He very willingly placed his foot on the first step in an attempt to keep from being shoved down the stairs.
The only light currently lighting a small section of the stairs came from the door but that quickly vanished when the stranger shoved the door shut, the sound of the lock clicking into place taking away his only way back to Neryk without the stranger's key.
Day 24: Mirror Mirror
For a few seconds he continued down the stairs blind but then there was a crackling noise behind him that wasn't so much as jarring as it was surprising. A soft light filled the space as the sound of shaking liquid reached his ears. The light got brighter till he could almost see the 15th step ahead of him, barring his shadow.
The stranger shoved at his back again, barking, "Keep going."
The urge to give the stranger a flat look was so strong, he almost looked back completely to give the stranger a piece of his mind. He caught himself before he could, though, and focused on not tripping and falling all the way down the seemingly endless staircase.
His foot touched flat ground causing him to stumble. He blinked, confused. When had he reached the bottom of the stairs?
He whipped around forgetting about the stranger but his gaze went right over their head as he looked towards the top of the stairs but was unable to even see a sliver of light from the door he knew was there. The stranger shoved him back around none so kindly and he stumbled to the ground, hands scrapping against the abrasive surface.
"What do you think you're doing," the man barked rhetorically. "Keep moving. We're wasting time."
He shook his head, looking to the stranger. They were holding the light behind themself and obscuring it so that there was only the stranger's faint outline in the darkness. "I don't understand. What happened to the stairs? I thought we still had a long way to go."
He got the distinct impression the stranger sneered at him as they shifted their weight in front of him. "What are you talking about? That is the same amount of stairs there's always been. You must be more broken in the head than I had initially thought." The stranger's words took on a dangerous note. "Maybe you really are worthless." He caught the glint of a blade.
"No,! Wait, wait!" he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet and into the hallway they had ended up in, hands up towards the stranger he was backing away from. "I'm up, I'm moving. See? Heading the way you want."
The stranger huffed, gesturing. The blade of their knife caught the low light again. "Then turn around and start walking again."
He did as he was told and started walking, the real threat of being seriously injured if not killed suddenly around his neck like a noose and he found that it was getting difficult to breathe.
The space changed, not that it was visibly noticeable what with the stranger still obscuring the light but he felt it with how the air seemed to shift and the walls fall away. Or, at least, he had thought they had fallen away. There was a flicker out of the corner of his eye but when he went to look, it was gone. Another, like a tiny prick of light glowing where there shouldn't be light made by fatiguing cells, appeared elsewhere and he whipped his head around, bewildered as more and more appeared till his mind made sense of what he was actually seeing.
The tiny bit of light hidden behind the stranger was being refracted off the walls in an odd way and he found the words tumbling from his mouth before he could stop them. "Mirror Mirror on the wall, what befalls us in this hall?"
"Be quiet," the stranger behind him snapped but he was already trying hard not to burst out laughing in hysteria. No matter how strong he thought he was or ever had been, he had his breaking points and it would seem he had found his. The stranger shoved at him again as his footfall slowed due to his hysterical laughter that was slipping free in tiny fits that were growing longer. "Keep moving," the stranger barked with the rough touch.
His eyes snapped wide as the laughter finally escaped and he spun around in such speed that even he was startled when he captured the stranger's arm under his leg and pulled his kidnapper off balance. The motion and subsequent falling ended with the stranger landing on their chest on the floor with his knee in their back. The man groaned as he quickly took what he found was a large glow stick from the stranger's hand and relieving them of their weapon as well.
His laughter quickly died but he didn't move from where he was kneeling. "Well," he offered, putting his full weight into the stranger's back. "It would seem that the table has turned."
The man beneath him chuckled and sudden foreboding rushed through his veins. "Not that it's going to help you much. You have no choice now but to continue."
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
The stranger sucked in a wheezing breath before informing him, "You can't go back and you won't even if you can. You will continue walking down this hall till its end and there the End will begin."
His heart clenched in his chest and his head snapped up to look towards the end of the hallway that was shrouded in darkness. "The Professor."
The stranger huffed a chuckle. "Of course. Who do you think would go through all the trouble of creating an incense that affected only you? I thought the Professor was crazy but it worked. In all the years I had watched that shop, you are the only one to ever be affected by it's scent."
He looked down at the stranger, their face poorly lit so much that he doubted he would remember their face by the end of this. "If I get up, will you be following?"
The stranger tried to shrug. "Probably not. My work is done. You won't turn back and that is all the Professor wanted." The stranger's face twisted into trepidation. "Though, the Professor may have been preparing to surprise you or something. Probably."
Day 25: Lullaby
He frowned, gaze going back to the end of the hall.
It was hard getting himself to stand up but the stranger only moved about to sit against the wall. They waved at him, commenting, "You'd best be going. The Professor's been waiting a long time to come face to face with you after all these years."
He nodded, offering the stranger the glow stick. "You'll need this to get back up the stairs."
The stranger fished into a pocket and removed something. A crackle and a second later, the second glow stick was glowing faintly and getting stronger as the stranger shook it. "I'm good."
Nodding once more, Diggory turned and started down the way he had been heading.
The walls really were refracting the light oddly and it wasn't making any sense even as he was able to see so far with such low light yet not able to pick out the details of the floor or the walls themselves. On and on he walked, the only sound echoing off the walls his footfall against the stone floor.
Something caused him to still and he slowed his breathing, making it shallow to silence it so that he could listen.
There, on the edge of his hearing, was a noise. He started walking again, footfall now urgent. The closer he got, the clearer the noise became and it turned from a simple noise into changing notes and from changing note into something that sounded almost like words. By the time he was starting to make out discernible words, he had long since recognized the lullaby for what it was but he wasn't sure how he knew it.
The hallway turned and he found himself abruptly facing what seemed like an endless stairs with a tiny wooden door barely visible from where he stood. Clenching the glow stick, he started climbing.
His forehead hit the door and he jerked back, his foot finding the step it had just left. He glanced back, seeing the distance and not understanding how he had made it to the top so quickly. Breath in his throat, he reached out and turned the handle. There was the sound of the inner mechanisms working but the singer kept singing the lullaby. The door swung open without a sound and found the space beyond dark.
He closed the door, realizing he was in someone's home.
It was old and far older than any home he had ever been in before and that was saying something. He recognized the architectural era almost immediately but it had been from studies than actually seeing such architecture. There had been repairs made - he could make out the newer materials crafted to mimic what was replaced - but the majority was well kept and original. It was bizarre, to say the least.
The lullaby very clear now. He wasn't certain how it had made it all the way down the stairs and down the hall when standing at the door, the voice wasn't overpowering nor overly loud at that.
He followed it towards the front door where there was an opening into a sitting room. There, with their back to him, was a woman rocking back and forth, head canted to look at whatever was cradled in her arms. Back and forth she gently bounce, the words sliding from her lips so painfully familiar that it brought tears to his eyes.
"Did he finally fall asleep?"
He jumped, startled, and skittered sideways, back hitting the edge of the opening as he looked at the man standing roughly where he had been.
The woman turned as he brought his attention back around. In her arms was a bundled shape, a little pink face peaking out just beyond the edges of the blanket completely wrapped around the child. The woman looked exhausted but her face was bright with a smile. "Yeah," she offered softly, reaching out towards the man. Said man was already crossing to her, capturing her hand to kiss the knuckles before holding it close. "I think the worst of it has finally passed."
"Thank the stars," the man sighed and Diggory watched as the man pressed a tender kiss to the woman's forehead.
He was confused. Why weren't they saying anything to him? Why was he being ignored?
"Do you know who that child is?"
"Gah!" This time his back hit the stairs and he glared at the ghost of the original Diggory just as solid as the last time and smirking at him. "Don't do that. Are you trying to kill me?"
The ghost gave a bark of a laugh. "If I had been trying to kill you, you'd be dead." The ghost's eyes turned to the couple as they moved to sit on the couch. "And then I would be free of the torment of dealing with you and existing beyond my time."
The ghost looked at him again as he approached slowly, gaze going from the ghost to the couple cuddled on the couch. The ghost repeated, "Do you know who that child is?"
"If you're asking, it's either you or the Professor," Diggory pointed out and the ghosts chuckled.
"That babe is indeed one of those two. Do you know which, though?"
"You?" Diggory guessed flatly, knowing the ghost would correct him if needed.
A knock sounded on the door, cutting off any answer. The male got up from the couch with a kiss to the woman's cheek before going to the front door to answer it. Seeing as the ghost hadn't answered him, Diggory followed the man to the front door, assuming that whatever was about to transpire was important.
The lock clicked open and the door swung open easily enough. Beyond the door was a man close to the same age as the man that had just opened the door. The man on the other side of the door beamed. "Good morning, Professor."
Diggory's wide eyes snapped to the ghost. "Wait. What? But isn't the child..."
Day 26: Criminal
The chatter at the door was white noise as the ghost looked at him. "The Professor we know is the man standing outside the door. He and our father were colleges and best friends, having known each other since they were boys themselves." The ghost looked back at the two men and Diggory followed suit to watch as both men entered the living room. The woman happily greeted the Professor, the other man wrapping an arm around his wife's shoulders. "In another year, I lose my mother to illness. I never got the chance to get to know her and it changed my father." A solemn tone colored the ghost's next words. "I belief a part of him died when she had died. The Professor had done what he could to console the grieving man."
The area changed, became more dreary. The child now looking to be well into its second year of life was wailing in a corner not looking good. The man - the child's father - was on the couch, face buried in his hands.
The door unlocked and the Professor entered. Immediately he crossed to the child, picked him up, and went about tending to the little one, all while the father just sat on the couch, face obscure.
"This is criminal, John," the man called from the kitchen as the sound of water filled the silence. "You could get Diggory taken away."
"Don't care," the man muttered, voice muffled by his hands.
"John," the Professor berated but the man leapt to his feet, barking, "I don't care, Richard! I can't do this day in and day out, tending to that...that thing when it reminds me so much of her."
"John!" The Professor - Richard - came storming in, child still in the kitchen. Diggory suddenly hoped that the Professor had made sure the child would be ok left unattended. "That is your son you are talking about."
"He's no son of mine!" John shouted back.
The smack echoed in the space and Diggory was surprised that the Professor hadn't punched John instead. He certainly would have.
Richard pointed a finger at John. "I have lost my own wife and my two daughters along with my brother and his wife, leaving only me and my nephew. I have done everything for that boy because he is all I have left of my family. You should be doing the same for your son."
John shook his head but the man was shaking. "I can't do this on my own."
Richard clasped him on the shoulder. "Then don't. Come finally live with me and Andrew. There's certainly plenty of space for you two in that large house. I can even ask Beth and the others so that it's not just the two of us."
John shook his head. "But all of her things, the memories..."
"I'll have movers come in - really good movers that will be careful and meticulous - come pack everything up. There are many empty rooms at my house. I can give one to storage." The hand on John's shoulder tightened. "Please, John. You're killing not only yourself but your son."
A burst of giggles came from the kitchen and both men looked towards it. After a moment, John sighed and relented. "Alright. I'll go throw together a bag for both of us."
Richard looked back at John. "Take as much time as you need. Andrew is at school and you and I are both off today. I'll watch Diggory till you're ready to leave but I am walking you out of this house in time to be back at my house to have dinner with Andrew, bags or no bags."
John nodded and started for the stairs as Richard returned to the kitchen.
The house shifted, changing to something Diggory was far too intimate with to be comfortable. He whipped around, eyes wide as he asked, "Why are we here?"
"This is the Professor's home."
Diggory's gaze snapped to the ghost. "No."
The ghost looked over at him. "This is also my childhood home."
"But why am I living in it now?"
The ghost shrugged, turning to go up the stairs. "I don't know. But it would be best if you saw what comes next for yourself."
Diggory fell into step behind the ghost and up the stairs they walked to one of the rooms he had known as unoccupied. When they entered, the room was completely different. There were things everywhere and the room itself was clearly lived in. Sitting on the bed in the room were two boys, one about three or four, the other closer to eight or nine. The younger was sitting on the older's lap as the older boy read from a picture book.
"-for there was no other place to live, than to live at a place called home." The older closed the book, looking down at the younger. "Want another one?"
Every head in the room turned to look at the doorway. Richard was standing there, a soft smile on his face. "Do you mind coming here for a brief moment?"
"Sure, Uncle." The older boy freed himself of the younger, making sure that the younger had something to do before following the Professor out into the hall. Diggory shadowed the youth.
"Has he spoken to you yet?" Richard asked softly.
Andrew shook his head. "Not more than what you've heard."
Richard nodded, his expression concerned. "Why don't you go ahead and show him the attic tomorrow, then. I'll clean it up a bit so that you two can play up there. I'll set out some games and I'll make sure you two can take lunch up there as well."
"Are you sure?" Andrew asked. "I thought I wasn't taking him up there because he was too young?"
Richard smiled gently at the boy standing before him and placed his hand on top of Andrew's head. "I don't want him going up there on his own quite yet because, of that."
Day 27: Memory
"I do think he is still too young to be up there, but with his father still not back, I think it will help if he has a secret place for when things get harder for him."
Andrew covered Richard's hand with both of his, nodding.
The mood of the hallway shifted, the light changing along with the furniture and items Diggory could see in the other room. The youngest child dashed passed them in a fit of giggles aiming for the entrance to the attic. Diggory followed without a thought, watching as the toddler pulled on the bookcase. It swung open and, still giggling, the little boy darted beyond. There was a pause as the boy yanked the bookcase closed and up the stairs he dashed. The space was a bit more empty compared to when Diggory had been in the attic and there was a clear play area laid out beneath the farthest window. The boy, however, darted behind a stack of boxes unable to quell his giggles completely.
"So this is where you've hidden away at?"
Diggory instinctively took a step back as John came up the stairs. The man looked strained but happy. There was renewed giggling John slowly stalked towards the stack of boxes and the giggling intensified with each creak of the floor that got closer.
"Gotchya!" John shouted as he dived around the boxes and little Diggory squealed, laughing outright as his tiny feet thundered across the wood floor, John laughing with him as the man gave chase.
John managed to grab little Diggory and the pair collapsed on a beanbag in the play area, both panting heavily. The joy was very clear as John asked, "So, why are you hiding up in the attic all by yourself?"
"It's my secret place!" little Diggory exclaimed, turning around in John's hold. "No one will ever think to pull on the bookcase to find stairs!"
John chuckled. "True. But I know where it is. Does that mean it's still your secret place?"
"Of course!" Not only did little Diggory sound exasperated as if this was a given, the little boy had even rolled his eyes as little kids do. "That way, if something bad happens, you know to come find me in our secret place. And then we can hide here together till the bad thing goes away."
There was a pause as little Diggory picked at one of his father's shirt button. "And you'll always find me, right?"
John gently reached out and coaxed little Diggory forward enough to press their foreheads together. "No matter what, I'll always find you and make sure the bad thing can't get you. I promise."
"This doesn't stay, does it?" Diggory asked, gaze on the father and son.
"No, it doesn't," the ghost confirmed as the scene grew dreary. Little Diggory was still little but clearly a little bit older and was huddled up against Andrew under the farthest window crying. Andrew was running his hand through the smaller's hair whispering as the rain drowned out the words. Even from there Diggory could see the massive bruise on the boy's cheek and throat. "My father became an alcoholic when I started school. I think my interest in my studies reminded him too much of my mother."
"Are these your memories, then?" he asked as a flash of lightning changed the scene.
"In a way."
The thunder shook the building and a muffled whimper sounded from behind a tower of boxes. Diggory felt his heart sank as he slipped into the space behind the boxes and found Andrew and little Diggory curled together in the alcove in the wall. It was probably not more than a year after the last memory but it was clear a lot had happened to the two boys. Another jarring rumble of thunder that Diggory felt in his chest and little Diggory whimpered again, this time into the hands that he had pressed over his mouth. Andrew's arms tightened around little Diggory's small frame as shouting started to echo up the stairs. Both boys flinched at the sound of wood breaking and Diggory did as well. The ghost was very stoic in all this, not even reacting visually to any of this.
The shouting grew louder as people stormed up the stairs only to pause to continue arguing. Diggory watched as Andrew gently pressed a hand over Diggory's ear, the other against the boy's chest. Diggory's heart went out to Andrew. Eventually, John - drunk and not alone - started yanking boxes out of the way. His cohorts helped make short work of the pile as Richard finally made it to the landing after having shoved off a few guys. But by then little Diggory was already being yanked out by his father and passed off to one of his buddies. Little Diggory's stuffed rabbit that had been cradled between the two kids hit the floor as both little Diggory and Andrew screamed for the other. John didn't let Andrew out of the space, several of his buddies helping as John pulled a gun. This time Richard's screams joined the chaos but the man was taken out with a blow to the head as the buddy with Diggory started down the stairs.
Four gunshots rang out, all of them pointed at the alcove.
Diggory sucked in a breath, taking a step back even as the world melded into a different room of the same home.
"Are you ok?" the ghost asked.
He shook his head in answer as he watched Richard entering the dining room, a bandaged little Diggory sitting at the table looking broken. Richard placed the bowl of food in front of the child, sitting in the chair next to him that was a few feet away. Little Diggory barely reacted.
"Diggory?" Richard asked, his voice gravely. "Can you eat something for me?"
Richard leaned back after a small while and sat in silence. After a moment, he pulled out an envelope.
Day 28: Catastrophe
"Diggory, I wanted to wait till you were better to talk to you about this but the courts want an answer as soon as you can give one." Richard placed a piece of paper down on the table, the two creases from how it had been folded making it curl. "While the courts care little on your opinion, I thought it best to at least give you the option to speak up."
Silence but Richard didn't seem to be put off by this one. Instead, he waited. When no response was given after some time, he flattened the paper out and said, "These are the options the courts are giving. Your father is fighting hard to get you back with him but the courts are offering you a way out. They have approved two options: either you can live with me and I become your guardian or you are put in the foster system till you can be adopted."
Silence again but Diggory noticed the tears welling up in the little boy's eyes. Richard seemed to notice because the man moved to hug the boy but stopped before the motion could become apparent. Instead, he turned the motion into him putting his hands on the table, fingers intertwined as he waited.
It was the right thing to do because a choked sob escaped little Diggory before the boy asked in a raspy, weak voice, "I don't want to leave Andrew."
That was a shot through the heart for Diggory and the Professor, for tears sprung to both their eyes as Richard was unable to keep from touching the boy now. He wrapped the boy up in a big hug, tears steaming down his face as he croaked, "I know, my boy. I know. And I would be more than happy to have you here but Andrew..." The rest of his words seem to catch in the Professor's throat. "But Andrew isn't here anymore, Diggory. He's with his parents now."
"No!" wailed the little boy. "He can't leave! He promised he would stay! He promised!"
There were no words to describe how painful that was for Diggory to not only witness but to hear. He could feel the phantom echoes of little Diggory's agony and he looked to the ghost.
The once stony ghost was hunched over, a hand pressed to their mouth. Beyond the hair blocking his view, tears fell fast and hard towards the floor. Diggory reached out, not sure what he was going to do but he knew he wasn't going to just leave the ghost alone in that sorrow. His touch brought the ghost's attention to him and from one instance to the next, the pair were holding onto each other in a desperate attempt to keep the emotions brought on by the scene from breaking either of them completely.
When they pulled apart, Diggory felt horrible but the ghost looked better, calmer. Rubbing at his own face, he looked around and found they were at some zoo. Little Diggory, now a good year or two older, was running up to the railing of the elephant exhibit, pointing towards the large creatures milling about. ""Look!" little Diggory exclaimed. "Look! An elephant."
Richard chuckled as he came to the boy's side. "That it is, my boy." He ruffled little Diggory's hair affectionately and little Diggory pressed into the touch. "Do you want to wander the reptile house one more time before leaving?"
Little Diggory hopped from the railing, excitement and slight apprehension coloring his expression. "Can we?"
The world melted and the zoo changed into an indoor obstacle course of sorts. There were many people running about - most in their late teens, early twenties if not older - but Diggory's gaze was drawn to the smallest form sprinting down a long strip. Little Diggory wasn't so little anymore, now almost 13 or 14 years old. One of the groups started laughing at something as little Diggory leapt over a wide pit and rolling on the other side to maintain momentum as he kicked himself back upright.
"Excellent!" Richard shouted from a chalked off area. "Well done, Diggory."
A grin broke across little Diggory's face as the teen pounded towards the parallel bars. He leapt over the shorter one, his hands catching the higher one and flinging himself upwards towards a high platform.
The world shifted again and this time they were somewhere Diggory couldn't make out beyond being in the midst of a catastrophe. Little Diggory, now in his late teens, scrambled forward, hands collided with a section of what seemed to be wall started to fall towards him and Richard. Memory Diggory held his own, slowing it enough for Richard to shove something up against it, stopping it completely. Richard coughed from the dust as he walked over to memory Diggory, patting his shoulder. "Good job, Diggory. That seemed to have stalled the blasted thing. How are you handling? Anything overtaxed or in need of attention?"
Memory Diggory flexed his hands and shifted his weight but there didn't seem to be any such thing as he offered, "Not that I can tell."
"Good. Come here. I want to check you over anyways."
The world shifted again but Diggory paid it only so much attention as he commented, "You and the Professor became family, then."
The ghost nodded. "He became like a father to me after my dad's horrible treatment of me with his buddies the night he killed Andrew. Ever kind, ever present, and yet he started to change just as my father had."
Diggory looked over as the door opened and he was suddenly hit with a strong deja vu.
"I think all the loss finally caught up with him."
"Aw, Diggory. I was wondering when you would be showing up."
Memory Diggory was standing near the door, book in hand as Richard pushed a pair of welding goggles up. "Hard to get much work done when I'm lacking my assistant." Memory Diggory didn't react.
Day 29: Adventure
"Well, come on," Richard encouraged, turning back to his work. "I doubt you need an engraved invitation."
"What is the Crystal Heart?" Memory Diggory asked.
Richard gave a chortle. "We have been working on this project for five years and just now you are asking what it is we are making? Please, Diggory. I am sure you could answer that far more eloquently than I can."
Memory Diggory crossed the room in a few long strides, the young man approaching his late 20s looking conflicted. "No," he countered, almost slamming the old book against the metal worktable. Richard's gaze snapped to the book. "What is the Crystal Heart?"
"Where did you get that?" the Professor asked, voice grave and heavy.
"While I had been cleaning the lab last week like you had told me to do. It was open to this."
"You should have well and left it alone," the Professor spoke distractedly, turning back to his work.
"How could I have left it well enough alone when the goddamn title was what we were working on!" memory Diggory challenged at a higher volume.
"That is nothing but a fairy tale!" the Professor retaliated, slamming his tool on the workbench.
"IT'S A GODDAMN WEAPON!!" bellowed memory Diggory.
The ambiance of the room was deafening.
He spoke again, softer but still as sharp. "Professor, I am not stupid. I may be naive, but I am not slow. I have found probably most of what has been written about this to have a very good idea of what you are attempting and I can't let you."
The Professor laughed, the sound sharp, it was brief, and it was anything but humorous. "Let me? LET ME?! You expect me to believe that my lowly assistant can stop me from creating the ultimate tool for creation?!"
"It is a weapon of mass destruction!" memory Diggory countered, a plea on the edge of his words. Diggory felt the phantom pains of betrayal even as he didn't see it on the memory. "Professor, this will not only kill this planet but every planet in existence. Every star. Every planet. Every single molecule will be destroyed if you manage to create this."
The following silence was far longer than any previous.
Finally, memory Diggory spoke again. "Please, Professor. Don't go down this path. You do this, and everything we've been doing, everything we've created up to this point will be for not."
The Professor gave a low chuckle. "You think it will all be for not? That all this will be for not!?" The Professor got into memory Diggory's face, his voice dropping to a threatening rumble. "This was all for the final product, Diggory. I gave my life to this project, I gave you a life with this project. A homeless boy starving on the streets with no where to call home, beaten nearly to death. I took you in, I gave you a purpose." The hurt on memory Diggory's face was masked by the furious sneer as the Professor drew back. "And now you see it fit to bite the hand that feeds you. You are a fool, Diggory." The Professor turned back to his work. "Leave. Now. Before I call security."
"I'm sorry, Professor," memory Diggory offered, choked with emotions. He picked the book up and closed it. "But if either of us is the fool, it is you. You will only bring your own destruction with this plan of yours."
The Professor exploded. "GET OUT!!"
Memory Diggory barely reached and for the longest time the pair had a standoff. Memory Diggory eventually stepped away, crossing to the door. At its threshold, he paused and looked back, offering a final word. "I hope it works, Professor. If not for everyone sake's, then at least yours."
The door clicked shut and the room melted away, leaving behind some dingy basement, his kidnapper dozing at the bottom of the stairs that led back up to the shop above. There were boxes and crates everywhere along with an assortment of furniture and random things shoved on shelves.
One crate was glowing faintly and he crossed to it, already suspecting what was within. Sure enough, tucked into the crate was a crystal in a simple heart shape, smooth and perfectly rounded edges all the way around down to the single point at the bottom and the indent at the top. There were no imperfections anywhere inside the crystal itself where a soft light seemed to be coming from.
Diggory stared down at it. "Please tell me that's the last of our adventure down memory lane."
"Probably not," the ghost spoke. He didn't look their way.
"Why was it only a near-perfect artificial crystal heart could find the real one?"
"Resonance," the ghost offered, though that within itself was vague. The ghost must have noticed because they elaborated. "Those of the same vibration or frequency usually attract. If nothing else, an artificial crystal heart that matched the Crystal Heart's vibration would be able to find it. It also helps that there are memories contained in both that are of the same events."
He looked to the ghost, finding them watching him with an expression that appeared just as drained as he was feeling. "So why did the Professor want it?
"He wanted to bring his family back. I had figured it out and knew the consequences if he'd been able to try. I just didn't go about stopping him the right way and, in the end, never managed to help him as he had helped me."
Diggory looked back down at the Crystal Heart. "Can this really bring back the dead?"
"No." He looked at the ghost but the ghost gazing at the Crystal Heart. "Nothing can, not even a mythical object like this."
Diggory's gaze drifted back. "Why not?"
"Because it had been made that way."
Diggory's head snapped around, finding the Professor standing near the stairs. He didn't look like he was beyond 110 years old, though.
Day 30: The End
Instead, the man appeared to be in his early to mid twenties, the same age as the first memory. He leaned towards original Diggory and asked, "Another ghost?"
The ghost nodded, offering in turn, "Though I can only speculate on how."
The Professor- Richard offered a soft smile. "My soul was encased in the Crystal Heart, much as my Diggory's soul is encased in the crystal heart you hold. The only difference was that it happened without me actually having much say in the matter."
Diggory frowned as the ghost beside him took a step forward, voicing, "I don't understand. Surely you've been alive all these years." The ghost eyed Ricard's ghost warily. "Haven't you?"
Richard's expression turned a note sad. "No. I died the same time you did. In fact, it was the act of putting your soul into that crystal heart that bound mine to the Crystal Heart."
"You're kidding?" Diggory couldn't see the ghost's face to properly interpret that one line and Richard's solemn expression didn't help either.
"Do I have any reason to lie? Anything to gain?" Richard asked in turn, hands going out to either side. "I died in the aftermath of the explosion, though I don't remember specifically how my life was ended. I just know that it did and it hadn't been as peaceful as yours."
Diggory took a step forward. "But how did you get in the Crystal Heart?"
"The Crystal Heart is a collection of souls and magic, of memories and dreams. It is truly a heart crafted by those that give it life, and sometimes that life isn't given so willingly." Richard shifted his weight. "When I realized what was holding my soul from crossing on to wherever souls go after death, I felt no need to fight it. I wanted to find the Crystal Heart and now I was bound to it." His head tipped slightly to the side. "It didn't hurt that I could create a corporal form without needing to be summoned and I could see the ties that bound the Crystal Heart with the one housing my Diggory's soul."
Richard's gaze shifted to the other ghost. "You had been right, Diggory. I was a fool, a madman driven by the grief of losing his family and his best friend all in the same day. I had tried to pretend that I wasn't as affected as I had been by being the best I be could for you and I failed.
"I failed you, I failed your father, I failed Andrew and my relatives. I failed the world focusing on the Crystal Heart, and I failed future generations by creating a persona that grew long after I was gone no thanks to anything I did as a ghost.
"I failed...because I am flawed like every other human in existence and I had been denying myself that fact since the start of this whole mess."
There was a shift out of the ghost beside Diggory but he didn't look.
"There are no words that I can offer you, Diggory, to repair any of the damage done by me or your father, None beyond the reassurance that I was stopped before I could do something stupid, before I could condemn a world to oblivion." Richard's gaze settled on Diggory but he knew the ghost's gaze was looking through him to the Crystal Heart beyond. "Even being a part of it, I do not know the purpose of the Crystal Heart." The ghost's gaze focused on his face. "I do not know who the current person carrying on the Professor persona is, nor do I know what their intentions are. I have not been in a corporal form in many years."
Diggory looked to the Crystal Heart. "Should we just destroy it, then?"
Ghost Diggory shook his head at that, arguing, "We can't destroy the Crystal Heart. There is too much that would be lost if we did so."
Richard hummed an acknowledgement, not surprised by the other ghost's counter. "As much as I would be inclined to agree, it is a far greater risk of someone trying to use it for something it wasn't made to do compared to losing the knowledge contained within." Richard's gaze fell onto Diggory once more. "Besides. I believe it is no longer up to us to decide what happens from here on out."
Ghost Diggory sighed as Diggory watched Richard, frowning slightly.
"Ok," Ghost Diggory accepted. "I look forward to seeing you again, Richard. In whatever capacity that is."
Richard gave the other a happy, fond smile. "As do I. Take care, Diggory."
The ghost disappeared but Diggory's chest felt like it was burning. He pressed his hand against his sternum where his crystal heart was at. He looked back up at Richard. The ghost was watching him, expression serious. Richard met his gaze again. "You do know that following through with your intent will not be the end of this, right?"
Diggory turned to the Crystal Heart as it seemed to shine brighter. "Even if this isn't the end, it will be for the majority." He met Richard's gaze again as he pressed his palm against the Crystal Heart. "And that's all that matters right now."
The man at the bottom of the stairs jerked awake with a grunt. Groaning, he shoved himself to his feet and, figuring it was long past time that he got back to work. He moved to start up the stairs when an open crate caught his eye. Frowning, he crossed to it only to find the thing empty. Scoffing, he picked the lid up and moved it to the corner with the other empty crates. Honestly, how many times did he have to tell the kids to put the empty crates together?
He climbed up the stairs and entered the hallway only to stop. Standing near the shop was a woman and an androgynous person.
"Madam, I truly do not know who you are talking about."