February 12th, 1996
Two hundred and fifty-five point three. That was how many buildings rested in my eyesight of New York City, along with the blinding lights, the mixed smell of perfume and garbage, and a slight haze of grey that glazed over the lower skies. But mostly, it was the blind citizens under me. The housewives, the businessman, the homeless, the children. All staring forward, never turning back. Passing only with ignorance and leaving the knowledge they could've taken. Non
February 12th, 1996
Two hundred and fifty-five point three. That was how many buildings rested in my eyesight of New York City, along with the blinding lights, the mixed smell of perfume and garbage, and a slight haze of grey that glazed over the lower skies. But mostly, it was the blind citizens under me. The housewives, the businessman, the homeless, the children. All staring forward, never turning back. Passing only with ignorance and leaving the knowledge they could’ve taken. None of them carried courage or dignity or pride. All they carried was fading hopes and colorless identity, without any thinking of anybody else or their impact. The human race was disgusting. Just like the man in front of me, stepping along the roof’s edge like a waterfall.
He was as I recalled: the same wrinkly button down, the dirty dark jeans, the old knit beany, and the charm that seemed to be worth envying. He was exactly who he was four years ago. And yet I didn’t know who he was until now.
His eyes, like enlarged blue moons, stared at me up and down in awe. I’m glad he’s shocked, I thought, I’m glad he is experiencing the same horror I am.
“Dead,” he repeated hollowly, “You…you died.” I could tell him how I escaped, but he wouldn’t believe me either way. A fourteen year old escaping from the same conspirators who murdered Kennedy? Unlikely. See, there were many theories of who killed Kennedy; But even the most proven theories were wrong: it was every person who seeks truth.
Slowly, I tucked my cold fingers into my old hoodie jacket and handed him a crisp photo. His fingers clasped it carefully, giving me a piercing look before his eyes lingered down. The photo was cracked, brushed in black and white. It was so dusted and faded that you could barely see the face of a young boy that occupied the scene. But no matter how old it was, I could see past the faded glare. But when I found that photo, and held it in my hands carefully as my eyes evaluated it, I saw it. The familiar attractiveness that beamed out of the photograph.
“Look familiar?” His eyes flashed up at me, and for a split second I saw a spit of anger. I had never imagined fury to raze those idolized blue eyes. I saw a new boy. A boy who wasn’t on our side. A traitor in the war between us and the past.
“What is this?” He asked tightly. I inched toward him.
“Lieutenant Beaufort assigned me a project to go into the wretched bunk,” I responded coolly, “And I found this. It was the only thing there.” I could explain more – how the most ancient scrolls were smoldered into copper ashes, burning the most important directions in human history. It was forever ruined. Everything – every conspiracy theory, the last pieces of truth, out there for everybody to see. The only guides that could remind our future civilizations that we must keep our lies kept, burned. I knew when I saw the consequences of the flames that it wasn’t just the bunker that would be lost. A piece of the world was broken. But it was when I saw the picture of the boy on the burned dresser that haunted me the most. Like a signature, a 1963 version of Eli hanging onto the dresser. I remembered listening to him years ago, the first time I met him, tell of how he wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. I just didn’t know that his uncle was trying to kill us all.
My eyes bored into him, praying to see something that I missed. A piece of change, tinges of remorse, something to convince myself that maybe he was my friend. But he was as charming as he was hollow. He was merely a cast of something I had imagined.
I hissed coolly, “I figured it out! I know it was you. I know you betrayed Neraka. Me.” My voice sounded childish when it echoed back onto the New York streets, but I didn’t care. They burned as my eyes settled on him more harshly, and his lips uncoiled into a smile. A horrible smile. And at first, his eyes stuck on me. As if he was finally seeing me for this first time as well. But then he stepped close to me.
“You know, the minute you stepped onto that sect – the first time I met you – I knew you were different. Others just thought you were nothing, a pure accident to land there. But I could tell there was something strong about you,” he sneered, almost enviously, as his eyes lowered from my eyes to my shoes, “It’s no surprise that you were sent on that mission. To be the second person to come back from that bunk alive. To be the savior.”
“Second?” I croaked back, ignoring the last part of his comment.
“I was the first, remember?” My teeth were grinding so hard that they took up the noise in my ears. I tried to contain my anger, but I could feel my fingers shaking against the side of my pants. I imagined him withering the sanctuary in golden flames, and smiling as he did it.
“I’ll never be like you,” I promised him, “I’ll never spend four years of my life pretending to be a part of an organization, only to be discovered a traitor.” He let out a stiff laugh under his breath, a maddening glare twirling into his irises. His feet stepped around, circling me like I was prey.
“You don’t get it, do you?” He clipped each word carefully. “I am doing what’s right. I am doing what is needed in this world.” My mouth parted instantly.
“What? You think bringing back every horrible person, every conspiracy, back to the surface, will help the world? These people are hiding under rocks and living in caves for a reason, James. They are so horrible that they can’t even show their faces to the world,” my voice cracked, “Forcing them out and showing truth to the world will only cause chaos.”
“Revealing to the world what is true is horrible?” He repeated He was so close behind me I could feel his breath on my neck.
“Lies make up this world,” I continued, “It makes us feel safe. What did you think the Neraka was for? Making a difference? No, it is about keeping balance. Keeping what is not to be told, untold. And you burned those philosophies to the ground.” His face blocked my vision, beaming only inches away from mine.
“I respect you, Cecilia. As I said before, there’s something about you that nobody else can ever live up to. If you listen to me, if you are man enough to take a chance, you will change the world for us. You will see that we are right, and that every sacrifice that has ever occurred in the last hundred years is for the greater good.” I didn’t blink.
“Did you know, Eli, that there are two hundred and fifty-five point three buildings in our vision right now? But most people don’t look at them because realizing how much is really in front of us, how much we leave behind for somebody else to take, is terrifying,” my voice rose, “Well, I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
I swerved on my heel, the wind bellowing loudly as I walked toward the escape. I opened the door, but before I flung into it I looked back at James. He was turned away already, his eyes lost between the seas of people below him, as if mesmerized by the truth of my words. He looked just as he had looked four years ago. Confused. Lost. In pain.
I bit my lip painfully, the idea of going back to him circling in my mind, but I shake my head. Maybe you lied to yourself, a voice whispered at the back of my mind, you knew he was like this all along. You just didn’t want to see it.
Except that was the last thing I knew. Because five minutes later, I was dead.
This was once my story. It was supposed to be my story. But once my body crumbled, and Cecilia Peters ceased to exist, I realized it wasn't me who would be starting something unthinkable - it was my death. Thats when the true story begins. When the universe would now look at seven billion people and rely on a new boy who could break the system, only because of my dead heart. Now, not breathing, capable of seeing the whole picture, I realize how wrong I really was. Not about Eli, but the entire conflict altogether. I wasn't meant to be the savior.
Niklaus Orochi Asch was.
Three years later
Most people don't favor being kidnapped, but Nick had to admit - it wasn't the worst thing to happen that day. He'd like to say that it started with his brother's infamous entrance in Principle Portera's office, or Kevin Kepp's accidental (but not too accidental) predicament. It didn't start unusual, or at least unusual according to Nick Asch's standards, but it did end in a very obscure way.