Chapter 10:

Animus in Daylight

The Life of Death


‘Meet me at the train station in twenty minutes.’ Bookmark here

Ava had acted like it would be simple, but for such a small town it is way too easy to get lost. Animus was unrecognizable in the daylight and I’d taken about four wrong turns in my attempts to find the train station. The streets were lined with cobblestone, houses being the most abundant buildings I passed. The closer I got to the center of town, the more compact the houses became, some even sharing a wall.Bookmark here

There was the occasional merchant with a booth of delicious smelling street food. I couldn’t resist stopping for a quick taste of steak kebabs. The meat was so tender, the juices pooled in my mouth with each chew. If it wasn’t for still being able to enjoy food I loved while alive I would’ve given up on being a death a long time ago. Meat will always be tastier than a soul. Bookmark here

People sporadically filled the streets. Most were dressed for work, men and women in suits, all collectively sipping on their morning coffee. I didn’t see a single car, the residents of Animus seemingly only used the train as their main source of transportation to the city. Bookmark here

It was peaceful here, the surrounding forest entangling itself to the town built within it. When constructing it, great effort was taken to ensure lush patches of greenery existed in the town. Flower patches grew along the streets, adding beauty no matter where you looked. The wind rustled through the leaves of the trees hanging over the buildings, like canopies shielding the roofs from the sun. Bookmark here

I followed the herd, much like a sheep, depending on them to guide me to the train station. It didn’t take long for this strategy to work, the whistle of the train letting me know I was drawing near. The station was minimalistic, nothing but the essentials. A few benches, one vending machine that barely had a line, and a simple metal overhang to keep everyone cool as they waited to board the train. Bookmark here

Ten minutes late. She can’t be that annoyed. Right?Bookmark here

I was wrong. Ava was waiting by the train entrance, her foot tapping against the platform in aggravation. Her arms were crossed as she scanned through the crowd, no doubt looking for me. There hadn’t been a good moment to ask about last night, and I don’t think it would be brought up again so soon. The prior conversation seemed to have dissipated from her thoughts, the new day’s trials taking their place. I waved weakly, the gesture catching Ava’s eye. They narrowed into a glare before she stomped towards me. Bookmark here

“You literally left before me. How’d it take you so long to get here?” She huffed, her insistent foot tapping beginning again. Bookmark here

“There were a lot of turns, so I sorta got lost.” I meekly replied, trying not to rile her up. Bookmark here

“You didn’t even have to make a turn! It’s a straight shot from my house.”Bookmark here

“Well, I didn’t know that when I left! Someone never mentioned that.”Bookmark here

“Let’s just board before the train leaves without us, you cut it pretty close. Fetch our ‘bodyguard’ will you?” She pointed to the vending machine, and to the source of why the line was growing larger. Bookmark here

Standing at the front of the line was Logan, his hand stroking his chin as he deeply contemplated what to buy. He was not in his usual attire, instead sporting a hat and sunglasses to go with his overall casual appearance. He looked like a tourist, almost unrecognizable at a quick glance. I walked over and randomly clicked ‘G7’ on the machine before Logan had the chance to stop me. A bag of barbeque chips fell from its hook, waiting to be claimed. Bookmark here

“Really had to pick these?” Logan asked, fishing out the bag of chips. Bookmark here

“Let’s just go already. Ava’s waiting and in a foul mood.” Bookmark here

“That would be your fault. Next time, show up on time.” Logan popped a chip in his mouth before grimacing. He stuffed the bag in the nearest trash can, muttering about the horrible quality of knock-off brands. Bookmark here

We boarded the train, following Ava through the cars until she found a set of seats suitable to her liking. We sat away from anyone else, giving us a small bubble of privacy. Bookmark here

“Y’know, when I was your age I would’ve decided to skip school by this point.” Logan said, giving us a quizzical look. Bookmark here

“I wanted to, she insisted we don’t.”Bookmark here

“My grandma would’ve known something was going on! Regardless, unlike you two, I’m still alive and plan to live to adulthood. If I start skipping now the academy will kick me out, and I worked hard to get there.” Her expression was hard, the edges of her jawline stiff. She had that determined look in her eye again. It was starting to grow on me, her expression often having the power to fill me with confidence. Bookmark here

The train lurched forward, signalling the start of our ride. I looked out the window, admiring the scenery as we zoomed by. Once the forest came closer though, it became nothing more than a blur of green, making me nauseous if I stared too long. I watched Logan with a weary eye. I trusted him to an extent, but he was still shrouded in mystery, and that could be dangerous. He had his nose deep in a book. There was no title on the front, just a blue hardcover with a few coffee stains. It looked ragged, the binding significantly creased from being opened regularly. Bookmark here

“Logan, I want to know. Why are the judges hunting you? If we’re going to trust you then you need to let us in on more information.” I’d finally summoned the courage to ask. It had been eating away at me, gnawing at the thin thread of trust I had in him. Bookmark here

“Oh?” Logan averted his eyes from the book, closing it, but leaving his thumb as a bookmark. He looked at us for a moment, silently contemplating what to tell us. Bookmark here

“No lies Logan. You know about us and why they want me, it’s only fair for us to know the same.” Ava butted her way into the conversation, leaning into my shoulder to be more included. I felt like I was being crushed between them.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing special. All of us are made by Death himself, but I’m...a unique case. I’m just the one death that wasn’t meant to be, a mistake they’d like to correct. They’ll never catch me though.” He flashed a grin, as if nothing he said bothered him. I’ll never understand how he does it, always bearing a cocky smile. I couldn’t really ever tell if that joy reached his eyes though, perhaps a hidden sorrow lurking just behind them. Bookmark here

“Really not going to give us anything else?” Ava asked, peering at Logan through her lenses with inquiring eyes. Bookmark here

“I think I answered the question well enough.” He smiled one last time and returned to his reading. Somehow his answer only made him more mysterious. Our ride went on in silence, Ava rummaging through her notes for class, Logan sticking to his book. It left me with absolutely nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs. Surviving boredom was not my strong suit. Bookmark here

“I’m going to the bathroom.” It was only an excuse to do something instead of sitting, but neither of them bothered to reply. Just a simple wave to signify they even heard me. Bookmark here

I walked to the back of the train, passing small clusters of people in the other cars. No one paid me any attention. Most were either glued to their phones or taking a quick nap on the ride. I pulled the handle for the bathroom, the metal cold against my fingers. The inside was tight, barely enough room to spread my arms out. My reflection stared back at me, my green eyes popping out in the fluorescent light bouncing off the mirror.Bookmark here

I started to lose focus right as pain enveloped the side of my head. It was a constant throbbing as if someone were hitting me in the head with the palm of their hand. The pounding was unbearable, my vision going in and out of focus. It felt like I was going to explode, the intense pressure building up in my brain, searching for a release. Bookmark here

I looked back into the mirror, but I barely recognized myself. My eyes were pitch black, all traces of green gone. My mouth spread into a wide smile, filled with razor sharp teeth stained with flecks of black blood. Bookmark here

Remember me?Bookmark here

The voice resonated in my head. It was distorted, as if speaking through radio static. The face in the mirror said no more, but continued to smile, leaving me with a pit in my stomach. I checked my face, but there was no grin on it. Whatever I was seeing wasn’t my reflection. It raised a hand to the glass, motioning for me to do the same.Bookmark here

Don’t you want me back?Bookmark here

Another distorted question in my head. I slowly raised my hand towards the glass, my hand shaking with effort as I gripped the sink for support. It was such a simple task, yet my body resisted. I was mere inches away from connecting with the hand on the glass when the announcement blared over the intercom. Bookmark here

NOW ARRIVING IN ARCAYA CITYBookmark here

The announcement tore my eyes away from the mirror for just a moment, but when I turned to face it again the image was gone, replaced with my own reflection. My green eyes stared back at me, the demonic face gone as if it were never there to begin with. I drew a few shaky breaths, my chest struggling to take in air. My clammy hands battled with the handle, slipping a few times before I was able to exit. I stumbled through the train cars, pushing past people attempting to exit the train. I caught up with Ava and Logan, both of them still waiting for me by our seats. Bookmark here

“You look pale, you feel okay?” Ava asked, placing a calming hand on my shoulder. Bookmark here

“It’s nothing. I just looked out the window too long and got sick.” I lied, shrugging Ava’s hand off. She looked troubled, but didn’t push for any more information. Bookmark here

The Arcaya train station was the opposite of the one in Animus. Hordes of people flocked to their trains, pushing and shoving to make sure they made it to the right train on time. Unlike the one train that went to Animus, Arcaya had countless trains in the station at all times. It never stopped, working like a machine to bring everyone to their destinations. Bookmark here

“You two are on your own from here. I won’t stray far, but it's best to limit how much time we spend so close together. We don’t want to be a giant beacon for the judges to find.” Logan said, already walking away into the mass of people. He gave us a half-hearted wave with his back to us before being lost to the crowd. Bookmark here

We took Lerna Avenue, the main road from the station to school. It wasn’t uncommon to see other students on the walk, some sporting our school colors of purple and yellow with our badger mascot on their shirts. I was never really one for school spirit. Bookmark here

A consistent thought nagged at my mind, the images on the train playing like a film in my head. I was struggling to recall the details. As more time passed the harder it was for me to picture my reflection with those eyes, the eyes of a hungry death. Bookmark here

“Milo! Oh, and Ava?” I was brought back to the world by Erik calling my name at the entrance gate. His hair caught the light, bringing out the reds in his curls. Amber was right behind, always in his shadow. She shot a quick glare in Ava’s direction, but made no comment. Bookmark here

“We ran into each other on the way here.” It was a hasty attempt to cover up why we were together and I was rewarded with a kick to the back of my leg from Ava. Bookmark here

What’s she so annoyed about?Bookmark here

“Guys wait up!” Reggie shouted, rushing up to greet us. A girl I didn’t recognize was at his heels, her bangs covering her eyes just enough that I couldn’t get a good look at them.Bookmark here

“I want to introduce you to our new classmate. Everyone, this is Aoki.”Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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