Chapter 19:



Mary fires the pistol without hesitation, her eyes brimming with bloodlust. I manipulate the surrounding ice, extending it from my arms like tree branches, and barely manage to repel the bullets, prompting Mary to pace around me and fire at various angles.Bookmark here

`Careful not to allow the ice to spread too much, I continue sprouting more branches to deflect her bullets. Unfaltering, she smashes through several of the branches with her spiked gloves and closes the distance between us. Before she can fire another shot, I use another branch to sweep her feet out from beneath her.Bookmark here

My branches swarm on her, forming fists and raining punch after punch on her struggling figure. Before long, her defense breaks and her arms fall limp at her side. Her blood is painted on the ice that extends from my body, but it feels as though it’s on my own hands. Fighting back tears, I wipe the blood off her face, my hands shaking underneath folded arms.Bookmark here

I never thought my desire to live and fight would look so ugly and pathetic. I suppose it’s only natural, though— as base as that desire is. As I make to exit the burning house, using the ice as a shield, I feel sickened by my own selfishness.Bookmark here

From behind my clear shield, I survey the battle taking place in the yard. A few dozen of my father’s men remain, fighting against even more attackers. They haven’t noticed me yet, so their aim stays on the black suits. As several of the men dissipate into shadow upon being hit, I sneak to the side of the building.Bookmark here

With the battle out of my view, I trek uphill to the neighboring fence some twenty meters away, dragging the coughing girl behind me. I hurry my steps, and lift her over the fence before dropping her onto the grass on the other side and forming a dome of ice over the fence. Barely conscious and without her gun, she isn’t much of a threat. My ice melts down to something closer to a glove, and with a deep breath, I reach a trembling hand to her chest.Bookmark here

Something pushes my hand back, as static blares in my ears. "What?" I mutter. I can't fathom why I could touch her earlier and not now. I still don't know what I want to do, anyway, but if I were to try and take her heart, it looks like we'll have to be on the same wavelength. But she nearly took mine without this disturbance. "Wait… were those comments about driving supposed to..."Bookmark here

I look back toward the mansion's burning first floor, where Mary was nearly able to rip my heart from me in a previous iteration. I turn back to her as her eyes slowly open, and whisper, "I'll figure out our wavelength later, okay?".Bookmark here

Covering myself in ice, I rush back into the burning building. The truck embedded in the doorway seems to be seconds away from exploding like the first iteration.I throw the door open, and reach for the unconscious man behind the wheel.Bookmark here

The clean-cut, suited man wears a coat of blood over his face and chest, his hair uncharacteristically disheveled. “JC, hang in there!” I shout, grasping a hold of him and coating him with ice before lunging through the burning doorway.Bookmark here

. The enemies fire at me, forcing me to use more ice to defend. I run, holding JC with my ice, behind the volley of black suits. One by one, they are obliterated as they attempt to shield me, leaving only JC and myself.Bookmark here

However, I’ve reached my goal— the second of the two trucks that had broken through the front gate. After shoving JC in, I toss the lifeless driver out and take his place. With JC fastened into the passenger seat, I throw the truck into drive and step on the gas.Bookmark here

Just as I do, the truck inside the house explodes. Flaming rubble scatters throughout the yard, setting the magnificent cherry blossom trees ablaze. Several of the intruders are blown away by the blast, others running in disarray, engulfed in flames.Bookmark here

My ice evaporates as suddenly as the shadows of the black suits when the heat reaches the inside of the truck. Powered by adrenaline, I grip the wheel and whip the truck through the broken gate and onto the road, flooring the gas pedal.Bookmark here

The truck speeds down the road toward a sudden curve, made noticeable only by the truck’s headlights. However, the adrenaline and heat wavers and my body freezes. It isn’t the fact that I’ve never driven a vehicle before, or the cold finally settling into my pajamas, but something else. I try to force my hands to move, but the very act of moving them feels more challenging than even the deep dream world’s machinations.Bookmark here

As the curve approaches, I stare wide-eyed at the rocky ditch ahead. Suddenly, something touches my left hand. Despite the freezing temperature, the hand supporting mine resonates a warmth I've longed for.Bookmark here

The one who has supported me with his comments since the very beginning of my self-satisfying journey expresses his and everyone else’s support through a single touch. His warmth lights a fire within me, meant to break the curse of the endless cycle set upon me in the deep dream world.Bookmark here

I now realize that I forced myself into that cycle throughout my journey, allowing my fear to cloud the warm feelings I shared with my supporters. I let myself stagnate because I lost sight of the exchange of passion, focusing only on my terminality. Aside from relying on my father to save me, I also relied too much on my ability to suffer in silence— through hard work verging on machinic drive. That's the reason my body so often succumbs to freezing— not because of my health, but because I turned away from this warmth.Bookmark here

The dazed JC holds my hand firm and guides the wheel clockwise, steering into the turn. The nerves in my arms awaken, and I spin the wheel just enough to navigate the curve. His hand falls limp next to my leg as he breathes out a short sigh of relief before closing his eyes.Bookmark here

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