Chapter 3:

Musings

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph


Enne started her day off early. After a quiet ride back last night, she was left with many questions. She saw a line of people stretching toward the end of the block as she exited the building with her hood firm over her head. It served as a stark reminder of where they stayed; Despite the city’s technical advances, poverty was still prevalent in the rest of the city. Most of the resources were centralized within the bandit network and their benefactors. According to Alejandro, little of the city had changed since his time away. How could a government not care for its people when it was central to its very existence? The wary eyes of old and young alike were enough to drive a wedge within her soul. One girl reminded her of the elf last night.

This is the world we left behind? She thought.

She discovered the soup kitchen to be sparsely stocked. People were displeased by her cutting in line, but she ignored the murmuring as she glimpsed the equally exhausted staff. Their utterances indicated the short supply they had. A middle-aged woman led the efforts. Her black hair was braided with loosening fringes from the busy morning. Frail and stern, she glared back at Enne. She yelled: “Hey you! Get in line!”

From the corner of her eyes, Enne could see the sinking shores of the city streets. The small rafts traversing the submerged city sparked an idea. She turned to the cook, who counted their stock.

“Hand me a basket, will you?” she asked.

“What for?” the woman replied.

“You want to feed them or not?”

The organizer didn’t question Enne as she handed her a small bucket. Enne immediately dashed toward the water. Its murky waters glistened beneath a sunny day. Her silver hair loosened from its low ponytail as her feet planted upon the large piece of driftwood. With a small burst of momentum and traces of mana, the board moved forward. She flew past the few fishermen’s rafts and cut between alleys to reach open water. She closed her eyes as the pathways opened; A strange scent of freedom evoked childhood memories with her mother.

Enne was too young to understand it at the time. Her mother had always tried to bring out Enne’s younger self, as she was as stoic as her father. She remembered the lightly splashed water when she observed the tadpoles by the stream south of her home. As a child, she was angered at her mother’s jovial behavior. Indeed, she wasn’t appreciative of it until she reached adulthood. Her mother always maintained a cheery façade in failing health. It was moments like these where Enne could appreciate the small things, especially glimpsing the beautiful mountainous backdrop.

I gotta keep the momentum, she smiled.

After a slight flick of her wrist, she watched the water closely. Fish began to jump from the surface as the bottom of the water warmed up. She swept around, shifting her body at the frenzied fish with the large bucket. Enne was satisfied with her catch as she looked at it. She snapped her fingers, ceasing the frenzy, but something else emerged when she wasn’t looking.

Got it! She smiled. As her board shifted back toward the streets, she looked over her shoulder. “Bwah—What the fuck is that?”

A large creature closed in on her. She shifted to the right before it lunged at her. Its massive frame when bounced against the wall. Now in narrow streets, it continued after her without signs of fatigue. As she reached the shores, the creature emerged with its mouth wide open. Enne jumped away from her board before it crunched into it. She landed on its flat surfaced head, realizing it couldn’t deviate from the narrow path. It beached itself on the pavement. Enne lost her footing when it thrashed weakly in the shallow water.

“By God,” the middle-aged woman gasped. The crowd emerged upon hearing the commotion. Enne looked from the side of the giant catfish, having spared half the bucket of fish. “You’re an elf?”

“Is that the first thing you think of?” Enne sighed. She glanced at the giant catfish. “This thing has to be about 25 feet. How does it get this damned big?”

“T—thank you,” an old woman spoke from the crowd. Enne looked toward the small gathering, seeing tears in their expressions.

Enne smiled back before walking toward the cook. She took the half-filled bucket she passed. Enne quietly disappeared into the crowd as she slipped over her hoodie. All the while, Alejandro watched on with a smile. He watched her until her figure was indiscernible in the crowd by the busier district. A glass of wine rested against the table by him. Though their night had its highs and lows, her altruism reminded him of what drew him to her.

“Typical Enne,” he said. He didn’t realize he smiled when he spoke. “She’s off to be the hero of the day already.”

Moments later…

“What are you doing back so soon?” Alejandro mumbled tiredly. Enne sat against the kitchen counter with her arms crossed. The wanderer was tinkering with a device at the roundtable.

“I thought you were asleep,” she replied.

“I was, but you struggled so much to get out of bed.”

Her curiosity shifted to the orb-like construction. Though its metal was worn, it maintained a peculiar sheen. Unnatural yet right in place of the city’s developing architecture, while tempted to question where he found the contraption, Enne needed to stay on point.

“It was a long night… With a lot to think about. Crescendo’s little accident, signals, big bird… And the girl.”

When Enne evoked the mysterious girl, her voice weakened. Her eyes trailed off at the thought. Alejandro saw his companion as an open book, someone who’d bare their heart on their sleeves. He also knew it was her way of guilting him into the conversation: She was asking to do something about it.

“Do you still hear these signals?” he asked. Her gaze slowly shifted back.

“They’re still very weak,” she replied. “None of the other places we’ve visited gave me this feeling, so….”

Alejandro pondered, adjusting himself in his seat. Frederick’s technological edge was the only difference between this place and so many others they came through. Perhaps she was just sensitive to technology, but she only ever displayed her concerns last night.

“Do you think that thing had anything to do with it?” he asked. Enne raised an eyebrow at his suggestion.

“Do you think that’s the case?” she replied. “There was something a little unnatural about it. Almost synthetic. Nothing changed when it showed up. Do you think this is why Crescendo—”

“En, I’m begging you,” Alejandro interrupted when he saw her curiosity piqued. “Let’s not get caught up with this. We can give them… nominal support, but these aren’t people we need to get caught up with. Janus—”

“So, we’ll ignore the innocent girl in his custody, whose fate seems grim?”

“Enne, that’s not….”

Alejandro withheld his response, frozen by the glint of her eye. Her scowl sent shivers throughout his body. Her beauty betrayed her dangerous strength, reminding him why Janus would keep tabs on them.

“Allie?”

“We can’t keep breaking the wheel every time you feel like it. How many other girls do you think end up in the same circumstance out here.”

“Is that indifference I hear?”

“The wheel always gets replaced, En. Don’t think I’m fine with anything they do. This is how things have always been. Keep thinking you need to be everyone’s hero, and you’ll realize nobody really needs them. There are no heroes, just actors at play.”

“Actors? How many people out there in the soup line look like actors to you?”

“En…”

“Are you afraid of him that much?”

“Afraid? No. Concerned? Absolutely. He’s more complicated than you’re giving him credit for. Everything he said last night is true. Somebody tips the balance of power, then what? Are you ready for the consequences that follow? No… Don’t answer that.”

“Because you already know my answer.”

Alejandro took a deep breath and winded from the heated back and forth. He was never one to argue, but neither was Enne. Her heart was in the right place, but as always, naïve to the world. It’s what made the lonesome wanderer gravitate toward her while also drawing points of contention. Alejandro believed in her vision of a better world but feared she’d undermine powerful forces. All the while, Enne reflected, feeling her words went too far. She’d forgotten Alejandro’s fragile state; His health came to mind.

“And the fact he’s heading this bandit network, in particular, is the other concern,” he continued, his tone slurred. Enne listened, having calmed down. “They haven’t found a single candidate that could fill his position. Janus isn’t some small timer. He’s served in the settlements, specifically T’Rach, under direct orders from the Ethoxian higher-ups.”

“As?” she asked.

“Paramilitary. He was the head of security for their… Gestapo. He was known for the way he’d creatively torture his victims. And those awful names: Dead-Ditch Mitch, The Mountainside Strangler, Woodchip Chuck—”

“I won’t even ask about the context of those names.”

“There’s no reason to think he doesn’t have the Ethoxian government in his pockets. Doing anything to get him mad, well… You’re asking for fire and fury. We cannot side with him for too long.”

“And you think he’ll just let us go?”

“No.”

“Then at least… Let’s get you fixed, at least.”

Alejandro held a blank gaze. Her heart sunk into his silence.

Enne sat at the table, processing his response. Her eyes were still glued to the orb before her. Alejandro leaned into his chair, staring blankly at the ceiling. He noticed the faint cracks stretching across. His spacing out was interrupted by the gentle taps of metal. His drowsy eyes trailed upon the object. Enne prodded it gently with her black-tipped fingers. The topics they intertwined became harder to bear. After all, Alejandro was from a different time and upbringing.

“So, you’re going to tell me what this is about?” she asked. Her tone became more relaxed with her light-hearted charm ensuing. Though he opened his mouth, he hesitated to speak.

“Um… While you were out, I decided to—” he paused, nodding along. Enne moved the sphere over to find a half-filled bottle. She smirked as he struggled to gather his thoughts. “Get one of the drones to tinker with them.”

“That took a lot of energy. You were speaking fine until now.”

“Yeah… I was!”

“Then what gives—Ah, now I know what this thing is!”

Enne’s voice raised more excitedly, startling Alejandro. He knocked the bottle over, spilling it over the edge. As it pooled by his foot, he couldn’t express his disappointment any more than he already did. He then observed the half-elph raise the device toward herself and shake it gently. Enne looked into its lens to make out its components.

“Why are you shaking it?” he asked. “It’s not a magic 8-Ball.”

“Oh, but with how this thing functions, it may as well be!”

“It’s meant for surveillance. I doubt it has a different purpose.”

“I know as much! But this can be used to disrupt anything it’s tracking down. Judging by how this thing looks, it’s really old tech. They really are giving out second hands. I imagine the newer models are armed with small caliber lasers.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Isn’t that how science works?”

“I mean… Sure?”

Enne shook it again before glancing at him. Her mischief was all too apparent, and the wanderer felt uneasy. He wondered what sparked in her mind when she slowly raised the contraption. His eyes fixated on her slow movement coming to a halt. The question remained. However, before he could ask, she slung the ball into the wall, blowing debris next to Alejandro. A light beam shot past Enne, flipping her wavy hair before hitting a withering plant on the counter. They exchanged glances.

“There’s a big ass hole behind me too, right?” he asked.

“Actually, no,” she gawked. Alejandro turned to the crumbling wall. Despite her strength, the wall was still intact. He wobbled to his feet to take a closer look. The back of the sphere was dented when he dislodged it. Within seconds, it restructured back into its dinky sheen. “That’s so—cool.”

“Is this some kind of alloy?”

“This has to be a newer model!”

“You said it was an older model earlier.”

“I… Did, but it doesn’t change the fact that we just confirmed it. And look at the plant!”

They took a closer look at what was left of the plant, but the beam didn’t damage the wall. Enne stroked her chin. Alejandro set the drone down, wondering if it was off at all. He thought he had damaged it beyond repair.

“This—Is interesting,” Enne said. “Is it tailored to vaporizing organic life? I thought this was a surveillance drone, but—Oh?”

“So did I,” he replied. Enne realized the orb shut off completely.

“Allie, it’s off.” She turned the sphere, making the lens visible. Tapping it again, she continued: “So, it can withstand high physical damage, but it can be short-circuited like most electronics. That was quite the hiccup then.”

Her companion furrowed his eyebrows.

“You’ve given me a lot of different explanations,” he said.

“Because we keep getting new findings,” she smiled.

“I don’t think causing property damage in the name of science counts, especially when you could’ve taken off your—”

“This is how we science!”

Alejandro backed down from her burst of enthusiasm. There was no convincing her on the matter. However, she slowly chipped away at what he didn’t know. Perhaps the city advanced much more than he imagined, and the mere thought made him reflect on the ramifications. If the drone was a newer type of equipment in their arsenal, what else did the bandits have? While he wondered, Enne’s mind sparked with the next thing she felt she needed to do.

“Allie,” Enne spoke. He slowly came to, giving her attention as she changed her dress into something more appropriate. A black dress with long sleeves and a long narrow hem covering her scaley patches of skin and the brilliant arm sleeve tattoo. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her as she finished slipping on the form-fitting dress. “I’m going to take a walk around. I know you might not want to—”

“Trying to entice me to go?” Alejandro replied. She glanced over with her typical cheeky smile.

“I prefer motivating,” she replied.

“Always the looker. I’d just ruin the look.”

“Oh, but I’m sure you’d feel honored.”

Alejandro flashed a weak smile, one so pained she immediately looked away. With an equally soft voice, he added: “I’m still pretty tired. Please, enjoy your walk.”

“But… I was hoping you’d come with me. I promise I won’t take you to loud places.”

“I—I’m sorry, En. There’s a lot I need to think about.”

Enne didn’t argue, quietly accepting his wishes before turning to the exit. After Enne shut the door, she stood against the door. Her hand rested over her beating heart, easing her panting. The pain behind his smile reminded her of his fragility. The smile was his attempt at comforting her. Enne wiped away her tear before walking away from the door. She needed to figure things out.

I will find a way, Allie.




This chapter had a lot of crescendos in its moments. It better captures Enne and Allie while still unraveling aspects of the world. I've enjoyed much of my writing when it comes to Allie and Enne's banter. This scene is probably amongst my favorites I've written between them. Leave a like and comment/ feedback, please!

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