The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph
Blood on the sink.
His amber eyes trailed at the blood going down the drain. Alejandro felt things were getting worse by the day. Enne didn’t witness the extent of his afflictions. He gazed back at the dirty mirror, quickly reminded of his deteriorating state. Heavier bags, grayed beard, and thinning hair; The vigor he had months ago was no longer present. A strange feeling welled within him as he balled his fists: Fear.
Alejandro lowered his head.
“It just keeps getting worse,” he said.
He looked back at the image, leaning slightly to glimpse the cracks on his skin. His cheeks were noticeably slimmer, wondering how much time he had left. After hearing the commotion beyond the bathroom door, he shifted his attention to the door. He glanced through the side of his eye, sighing…
She just can’t keep her word. Can she?
They arrived at an establishment at the heart of the city’s tourist district. Enne noted the Elven tech that blended in with the old architecture. It reminded her how different her home was compared to the developing outlier under Ethoxian control. Holograms invited the passerby with proximity sensors with enticing models projecting the likes of male and female guests alike. Unpiloted mech decorated the roofs above, watching their every move. Though the half-elf was awed by the neon lights, it was unlike what Alejandro remembered. He couldn’t ignore the holograms that enticed him in Enne’s image.
“See something you like,” Enne asked. His eyes couldn’t lie.
“N—no,” he replied.
“I got these things all figured out. By projecting things that appeal to your senses. Clever marketing, wouldn’t you say?”
“So, you won’t tell me what you see?”
“What do you see since you’re so insistent on asking?”
“The only one I want to see is right in front of me.”
“Now, that’s—” Alejandro was at a loss for words as her smile widened. “Stop playing around!”
“Why would I do that? I wonder if they developed this further! That would be so cool! Like, imagine me being in your head—”
Alejandro shook his head as she chuckled along
“You already do that.”
“I’ll… Take that as a compliment.”
It was upon Enne’s insistence that he’d go out, convincing him under the guise of a change of pace. However, the wanderer rarely enjoyed a place packed full of people. He felt their scrutinizing eyes as they entered. It wasn’t long before he started feeling unwell. Strobe lights flashed throughout the warm, inviting lounge. The thumping electronic music bombarded his senses, though Enne immediately felt the urge to dance. She noticed immediately when he stopped by the railing leading toward the bar.
“Allie?” she said. “Are you okay?”
He massaged his head while nodding.
“I shouldn’t have forced you to come. We can always—”
“No, I’ll be fine,” he replied. His tone didn’t convince her. “I—Need to use the restroom.”
“Okay. I’ll be here.”
Her ears perked when she heard chatter by the bar. The setting stretched most of the room with a mix of antiquated wood and golden accents. Enne saw a woman being harassed by a pair of men. The young woman didn’t reply as she drank quietly. Alejandro touched Enne’s shoulder, finding the intent in her eyes.
“We have to lie low,” he reminded.
Without receiving a response, Alejandro shuffled to the restroom. Enne sifted through the packed dance floor, tightening her lips as she approached the men. Salem drank the lager down, avoiding any sort of response. Both men were too close for comfort, but it was customary to her. The gruff bandit leaned toward her face.
“Come on, you ain’t gonna say nothing to us, babe?” he asked. Just as he tried to run his hand through her hair, he felt a vise press on his wrist. He looked over at Enne. “You looking for some action, too?”
“Probably not the kind you’d hope for,” she replied. The goon smiled before gently nudging his hand away.
“Pretty and a smart mouth….”
“I don’t think she wants to be bothered.”
Salem sighed as she slowly looked over her shoulder. Their eyes met, but Enne found the witch took her presence as a disservice. She said: “So, it is you. Hey… They bug me all the time, but they’ll all bark and no bite.”
“Are you—Drunk?” Enne asked.
“Well, duh… We’re in a fucking bar. Seriously though, don’t worry about them.”
“That’s not acceptable.”
“You heard the witch,” the other bandit said. “She said she don’t mind.”
Enne caught his hand when he tried to touch her. She accidentally applied too much force and twisted his arm, sending him into a horrid howl. More bandits surrounded her as she looked on, distraught. Despite her righteous intervention, she knew Alejandro would be upset.
“Eh, my bad,” she said. “I applied a little more force than I wanted!”
“You don’t say?” one said. He pounded his fists together as he approached her. “Dumb bitch, this’ll teach you—”
Enne ducked his hefty strike. Her eyes revealed their glint before tackling him against the table behind him. The riled-up crowd spread apart, observing the woman’s nimble maneuvering. Another tried to grab her from behind, only to be met with a bone-crunching strike to the jaw. She swung around to kick him into the rest of his group. She parried gracefully when someone tried to pull a knife on her. Enne spun the assailant into the bar counter with a gentle twist of her hand.
Another smashed a beer glass on her face, doing nothing more than annoy her. Her hand reflexively grabbed his throat and lifted him up. She pinned him against a wall, barely hearing collective gasps over the rhythmic music. The impact slid her hood back to reveal her elven ears. Enne looked around the room, seeing none of the bandits wanted to approach. The man she held struggled to speak as he tried to pry her grip.
“A fucking elf, of course,” he gasped.
“Enne,” a familiar voice said, followed by an irritated sigh. She looked over to find Alejandro standing atop the stairs. “I leave you for a few minutes, and you nearly destroy this place. Can you fucking listen for once?”
Enne’s lips quivered. His scolding tone dug deep into her conscience. Her grip loosened, dropping her attacker to the ground as he coughed violently for air.
“You do this every… time! Are you doing this to piss me off?”
Alejandro didn’t notice her teary eyes until he came closer. Enne resigned herself to silence when she looked away. Salem sat quietly, intrigued by their dynamic. The music suddenly cut off. Someone clapped from at the second-floor entrance of the VIP lounge. Everyone looked to the source of the clapping, glimpsing a sunglasses-wearing elf. His hair had receded into a skullet, and his face was stone-faced despite the expressive demeanor. His military-inspired clothing barely clung to his frail body, but it confirmed his position. He gestured his hands at everyone who fought.
“My, my, that was a work of art,” he said. “Now… Are ya’ll done, or ya’ll finished?”
“Eh?” Enne and Alejandro said at once.
A little later…
“I was right about finishing my game until you caused that ruckus,” the man said. “I thought to myself, they got into this time. I thought Larry was at it again, but then again… He ain’t on duty.”
With a gentle stroke of the pool stick, the 8-Ball was knocked into its socket by the cue ball. It crawled to the side before finally stopping at the edge. The man with the sunglasses stood up slowly before rubbing the pool stick’s tip. The lounge was well-furnished for an old building. The minibar across the large room had more of his men aligned, watching; Amongst them were those Enne injured. He glanced over at his guests, Enne and Alejandro. The leader smiled at Enne before returning his gaze to the nervous Alejandro.
“You know, Al,” he said, wagging his finger. “I didn’t think you’d show your face after what happened. You really made me look stupid, and I… Do not appreciate that.”
Enne’s ears wobbled slightly upon noticing Alejandro’s distress.
“It was a long time ago, Janus,” Alejandro replied.
“That, it is! But we gotta bury the hatchet, am I right? You cost me. You cost me big. There were a few times I coulda killed you when you showed up, but—”
Enne shot up from her chair. His subordinates intervened, but they stopped with a gentle wave of his hand, as did Enne. Janus saw the distinct marking and lilac eyes. His heart fluttered, chuckling with nostalgia.
“Don’t you lay a finger on him,” she said. Her voice rattled as she clenched her fist. “If you do anything—”
“Oh… That fire in your eyes,” Janus smiled. He took a step forward. “You know, the way you moved down there also reminded me of her. Hell, my boys can learn a thing or two instead of acting like complete goons.”
Enne narrowed her eyes. Alejandro sensed her piqued curiosity.
“Let’s scratch all that nonsense you just spewed. What do you mean of her?” she asked.
“I think it’s easy to see you’re a Bouvire, no mistaking it.”
“I am, but my father wasn’t much of a dancer.”
“Your pops was a good man. Always tried to play a tough guy, but he was too soft for this world when he came here. Eh…He and his cousin were two very different folks.”
“He never spoke about anyone in my extended family.”
Janus sat against the pool table’s edge. He lowered his sunglasses, sizing her up. Enne relaxed her posture, unclenching her fist as she stepped back. He found her to be just as invested as her cousin was. Janus asked: “What do you know about where your pops came from?”
“Next to nothing.”
“And you’re out here searching for answers, yeah? And that glint in your eyes… You’re just a lot tamer than she was.”
A simplistic device crackled by the bar. The voice spoke clearly: “Commander Janus, we have a situation!” Janus frowned as he walked over toward the radio. One of his henchmen reached over to respond.
“What’s the problem?” Janus asked. He took a swig of his drink when he reached it.
“We found a survivor just north of the city… One of the products from the missing train.”
“What? How the hell did she end up there?”
“We… Don’t know.”
The transmission rambled on. Enne glanced over at Alejandro as he listened. Janus processed what he heard. He bit his lips in frustration as he shuffled toward the window to look at the streets below. Alejandro observed them, soon feeling an unmistakable warmth beside him. Enne leaned against him, her lips close to his face. She whispered: “Are you okay?”
He nodded before turning to face her. Enne’s face was incredibly close to his.
“We aren’t in good company,” he whispered.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” she replied. “Did you—know anything about my father?”
“I met him over a hundred years ago. Your father showed up over three hundred. Besides, I wouldn’t exactly trust a thing Janus says.”
“Hey,” Janus said. They looked back at once. “Ya’ll gonna kiss or something? I got a room down the hall over there. Don’t give me that look! Don’t be shy!”
“Eh, no—” Alejandro replied. Janus shrugged as he walked toward them.
“I think it’s time we take a ride… For old time’s sake.”
Enne kept Alejandro close as they exited through the side entrance. It descended to an alley behind the establishment. A few hover bikes were parked with a limo between them. Janus’s tastes were as Alejandro remembered; Janus had an appreciation of human culture before the Collapse. Alejandro stood beside the limo’s door, reluctant to enter until he felt her gentle touch. He glanced over before entering. Janus sat across them, having lit a cigar with the sunroof open. The inside of the vehicle was clean for its age. The engine roared over the hover bike’s silence. The hover bikes led the way.
“This baby still drives well,” Janus remarked.
“Where are we going?” Alejandro asked. “We coulda just taken one of your airships—”
Whoa? What’s the rush? I thought I’d take you for a spin while you’re here…To show how things changed after you left. You could’ve been living lofty, but it looks like you’re at death’s doorstep.”
“Hey,” Enne raised her voice.
“En,” Alejandro sighed. His old comrade smirked as Enne looked at passersby as they sped through the city streets. “Yeah, I’m not in good shape, but….”
“I could help you. After all, we go back. I couldn’t have taken this city without you.”
“I should’ve never helped you.”
Janus scoffed, nearly choking on the smoke he inhaled. Enne glared at him from the reflection. He noticed immediately.
“Oh, don’t give me that look,” he said. “You make it look like I killed your puppy. Alejandro is a big boy. He can take a little ol’ insult. You know… I’d figure someday Ulysses’s offspring would show up. And knowing him, he’d take things to his grave. Some truths were better off left in the darkness, he’d say. He was always the mysterious one, but he wore his heart on his sleeve. You know what? He’d always look so sad. Like…like he was born with it or something. Eh, how is he doing, anyway?”
“He passed away over a century ago.”
“Ah, damn. I, hell—My apologies.”
“No need. You didn’t know… But, I do have a lot of questions.”
“How about this? You two roll with me. I can give answers, and maybe I can buy you some time, Al.”
“What’s going on, Janus?” Alejandro asked. His former boss glanced over as he puffed smoke into the air. Janus leaned forward, disregarding the ash falling on the carpet. Enne glimpsed his blind right eye. “There’s no reason you can’t handle this yourself. I’m washed up anyway.”
“I don’t know about washed up. You might be older, but I don’t think you’ve lost you, eh… touch? Besides, your timing couldn’t be more impeccable. We’ve been having problems with the rebels lately. These mother fuckers are like roaches, striking and hiding in the darkness. They wait to fight another day. It’s been getting uglier with Neo-T’Rach becoming unstable. Those Ethoxian morons have no idea what the hell they’re doing.”
“You haven’t figured out how to deal with them? Even with all the weaponry the Ethoxians gave you?”
“You know them better. That’s more important.”
Enne glimpsed the wanderer’s subtleties when he nodded.
“I haven’t been part of this for a long time.”
“It’s a vicious cycle, man. How many good people do you think I’ve lost?”
They looked each other in the eyes. Alejandro wasn’t one to mince words with his familiar.
“Good people… That killed other good people?” he asked.
“That’s how we eat out here,” Janus replied. “You might still think of me as some asshole, but I’ve kept things in check.”
“Then what’s the concern with the rebels?” Enne asked. His eyes trailed toward her as she spoke. “Over a century, but you haven’t crafted an effective counterinsurgency? Have you considered people joining the rebels because the way things are now isn’t working?”
“It’s a vicious cycle,” he repeated. “You really don’t understand the reality out there. You need people like me. Love it or hate it, I am the equilibrium.”
“You certainly haven’t changed,” Alejandro said.
“Change?” Janus replied. “If it ain’t broken, you ain’t gotta fix nothing.”
Alejandro saw Enne’s scowl. Janus took another puff as they reached the end of the residential area. Drones filled the skies, scanning for some unbeknownst reason. It wasn’t long before they hugged alongside the train tracks. A small caravan was in the middle of the road; The bandits were armed with assault rifles and body armor. The vehicles weren’t like anything she’d seen before. Like the hover bikes, they didn’t use wheels and were shaped like boxes, ideal for transport. Their dull shine gave the impression of weak armor when she knew otherwise. As their ride came to a stop, Enne gently grabbed Alejandro’s hand. She looked toward him, finding his uncharacteristic worry.
Flashes of memories flooded her mind, but she held on. Death, degradation, love… A culmination of experiences enveloped every fiber of thought as if it were her own. Everything seemed to regard his experiences here. However, amidst the fluctuating emotions, she discovered fear.
Enne blinked a few times before his voice registered.
“En?” Alejandro said. “Daydreaming again?”
“Eh, sorry,” she replied.
Enne exited first, holding his hand. They saw the overwhelming presence, wondering how an organized group could struggle with resistance fighters. Janus waddled over. His cigar ran thin, quickly putting it out before reaching his subordinates.
“So, what’s the news?” he asked. He saw nothing beyond the blockade.
“She won’t talk,” the leader in charge replied. “But it looked like she came from the west.”
Enne glimpsed a young woman in custody. The pink-haired woman shrunk to the sight of their leader. He ran his hands through her hair with a smile. Enne immediately felt repulsed, approaching Janus to intervene.
“If we’re going to get her to talk, we need to gain her trust,” she said.
“We run a business, Enne,” Janus reminded. “This girl is just property. We got a lot of clients looking for young—”
Janus narrowed his eyes when he felt her ears. He turned to see her terrified eyes gazing back. Her petite body trembled from his cold caress. An elf ear was revealed when he moved her hair away from the side of her head. His mouth parted as he glanced at those who found her.
“Aw, shit. She’s an elf? An Ethoxian national? How the fuck did this happen?”
Before the leader in charge could reply, Janus pulled out his gun and shot him in the face. The young woman screamed as she cradled herself. She pressed her palms against her head as he looked around. He grit his teeth when he turned to the next gunmen. He pushed the hot barrel against his head.
“When someone can’t answer for something, someone takes the bullet! There are consequences for these kinds of mishaps.”
“That was unnecessary,” Alejandro said. Janus exchanged a cold and empty glance.
“Sending a message is always necessary,” he replied. “Get the girl back in town now? We need to find the train wreck now!”
“We’ll go with you,” Enne replied. Janus shook his head.
“Crescendo will be going with you,” he replied.
Alejandro and Enne's dynamic is rather on shakey ground, but it grounds them a bit. I hope you liked their jovial interaction as much as I did. Leave a like and comment, please~