Chapter 37:

Volume 2, Chapter 4: Davis and V****

Parable of the Renegades

Music played from shops and other venues across the open streets. The sounds were upbeat, but to those who weren’t used to San Desquiciado, it also gave the vibe that something dangerous was biding its time to strike.Bookmark here

A pair of male senior teenagers stood chatting up a storm while leaning on a brick wall outside an abandoned night club. Their choice of casual clothes warmed them from the night wind, but their simple design also gave off the impression that they looked decent and harmless.Bookmark here

The girl standing between them thought otherwise.Bookmark here

Quivering her lips as she huddled to herself, her shoulder-length bronze hair appeared to curl inward in the same manner. Walking away would have been simple for her if only those two annoying guys hadn’t been following her ever since she first entered San Desquiciado.Bookmark here

“Look, I’m just saying you need someone to watch your back if you really want to go around these parts. Anyone can mug you when you least expect it, so trust me when I say it’s not safe to be here, all alone.” One of the male teenagers, who wore a black sweater and grey jeans, persisted to the girl.Bookmark here

“And the last thing you’d want is to end up a damsel in distress.” the other male, dressed in a plaid shirt over his V-neck, added. “The police never show up here, so it’s pretty much a game over if you get caught.”Bookmark here

The girl beamed a friendly smile toward the supposedly kind words coming her way.Bookmark here

“I’m a damsel, I’m in distress, but I can take care of myself just fine,” she said.Bookmark here

Part of her had to admit the cautionary advice almost convinced her to take the offer, but the two older teens just had to be so hard-headed with wanting to “protect” her. That was why she suspected them to have a knack for sweet-talking. Their voices may have sounded like chocolate chip cookies to her ears, but she was also betting the chocolate chips were actually raisins in disguise.Bookmark here

In other words, a nasty outcome was waiting for her if she took a bite.Bookmark here

“What was I thinking?” the male in the black sweater berated himself with a weak smack to his own head. “Of course, you’d be uncomfortable! Duh! You don’t even know who we are!” He put on the most charming smile he could muster and placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m Austin.”Bookmark here

“And I’m Sage,” the male in the plaid shirt and V-neck joined in. “So, now you know who we are. What do they call a pretty little thing like you?”Bookmark here

Instead of answering immediately, the girl took the time to shove the clingy hand off her shoulder without giving the slightest hint of the hostility building within her. And even after that, she still didn’t give them what they wanted.Bookmark here

Silence reigned until the unanswered question felt awkward. The two teens eventually grew tired of holding their nice guy poses.Bookmark here

Then the girl finally spoke.Bookmark here

“I appreciate the offer and I’m flattered the two of you would want to protect someone like me, but really, I’ll be fine on my own.”Bookmark here

She still didn’t give them the answer they wanted.Bookmark here

The girl lost count on the number of times she tried to tell them off without making herself look or sound rude, but her patience was now on the edge of slipping away. Hiding her discomfort was becoming a chore to maintain.Bookmark here

“Is that right?” Sage stopped his lean on the wall and dropped his act, having had enough of getting turned down.Bookmark here

“Seems this one prefers naughty over nice.” Austin followed suit. “What are you gonna do if someone steals your stuff? You know, like this?”Bookmark here

From behind, he snatched the girl’s possession – a white purse manufactured by Gucchi, a fashion brand that specialized in leather goods. Austin smirked as he dangled the purse, barely out of the girl’s reach. The fact that he towered over her made the act almost effortless.Bookmark here

“Nooo! Please, give it back! Give it back to me! Please!”Bookmark here

The girl pleaded and tried to grab her purse back, but to no avail.Bookmark here

“See what I mean?” Austin said, brandishing an amused grin as Sage laughed at the girl’s pitiful attempts. “Now how about you reconsider our offer and let us keep you safe while you’re here? I promise we’ll take care of you. We’ll take care of you really good.”Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

Peeking from the darkness of a narrow gap between two structures, one of the many entrances into the alleyways, Davis wretched at the unfolding travesty. His hands gripped the corners of his hiding spot so hard, the cement would’ve cracked under the pressure of his fingers if he actually had the grip strength to do that.Bookmark here

A girl around his age was hopping just barely off the ground as her tan go-go boots could only lift her so high. Bronze hair, lustrous with curls that could almost touch her shoulders, bounced alongside her in a frantic rhythm. She had her arms raised to their limits and flailing after a white purse that dangled just inches beyond their reach. Her hourglass figure was adorned in a beige blouse that gave an exquisite contrast to her sun-kissed skin. A loose collar exposed the fine details of her dainty neck, a pair of sleeves covered three-fourths of her arms, and a thick leather belt hugged her waist. The blouse was also long enough to reach below the girl’s hips like a miniskirt, allowing it to cover a third of her black leggings.Bookmark here

With a sense of fashion that instantly brought a shine to the eyes of anyone, it was no wonder that girl became a target to the hungry men, especially in the lawless streets of San Desquiciado where the righteous and just were hard to find.Bookmark here

Davis didn’t consider himself to be one of those rare people. Like anyone with taste, he would’ve eyed the girl just the same. What he wouldn’t do, however, was dangle her purse and torment her if she didn’t want anything to do with him. Rejection hurts as he had experienced countless times, but given some time he learned to get over it as he was optimistic it will only accumulate to make the day he finally scores feel even sweeter.Bookmark here

Hearing the heartfelt pleas of a girl in peril made him suffer on the inside as if he was sharing her pain. Davis gritted his teeth. Bloodshot veins throbbed in his eyes. Someone better than those inconsiderate guys needed to step in and lend her a hand - Someone like him.Bookmark here

But his desire to help the girl wasn’t only because she had the looks to launch a thousand ships--Bookmark here

Why in the world are you here, Viola?!Bookmark here

--It was also because he recognized her.Bookmark here

The girl hopping after her purse was Viola Knightley. She was unofficially nicknamed the “Bronze Rose” for the color of her hair and for its resemblance to the petals of an upside-down rose. As the niece of Rea Nightingale, Lucas’ adoptive mother, Viola was also Lucas’ cousin but without relation to him by blood.Bookmark here

It was around a week ago that she moved to the town of Cameron’s Feint after studying abroad for five years, and it was earlier that morning in the school grounds of Cameron’s Feint high that she was reunited with her cousin, who turned into a nervous wreck when she caught him off-guard with a hug that screamed “long time, no see!”Bookmark here

She also met Davis, who wasn’t interested in her at first due to her familiar actions toward Lucas giving him the wrong idea. That all changed when he found out she was actually Lucas’ cousin and even better, currently single.Bookmark here

Now, here she was again before his very eyes, in trouble, and with no one else looking to save her.Bookmark here

One of the most ulterior grins Davis ever made stretched across his face.Bookmark here

Now was his chance to make up for the slight disappointment back in the alleyway. This time, a girl will be the one he saves instead of, well--Bookmark here

“Uh, hello? Are you still there?”Bookmark here

A rough tap on the shoulder from behind and an irritated posh voice gave Davis the disappointing reminder that someone was still with him. He slumped his shoulders, sighed, and turned around with a sagging face.Bookmark here

“You’ve been staring into space for the last minute or so.” The injured man with metallic blond hair stood nearby, leaning on a wall to keep his legs from wobbling under his weight. “What’s going on?” he demanded to know.Bookmark here

“I spotted a friend, who is a girl, she’s in trouble, I need to save her now!” Davis replied in quick succession, wanting to get the question over with.Bookmark here

“Wait, is this the friend you were talking abo--?!”Bookmark here

Before the blond man could ask another question, the ground vanished off his feet. Without warning, Davis had slung him across his shoulders with a fireman’s carry. He ran as fast as he could somewhere in the alleyway, searching for something.Bookmark here

“We just managed to find ourselves a way out of this bloody maze!” the blond man held down the flat cap on his head, not wanting it to be blown away by the drag wind pushing against them. “Why in blazes are we going back!?”Bookmark here

Braking himself to stop and catch his breath, Davis looked left and right before continuing in the latter direction. “I can’t watch over you and save my friend at the same time, so I’m finding a place for you to hide.”Bookmark here

“And where in here would be a suitabl--!?”Bookmark here

The blond man fell on his rear before he could finish as Davis dumped him in a hurry. His new surroundings were very compact and it also smelled almost no different than him.Bookmark here

Davis looked down at the blond man one last time as his hands reached out for something in front of them. “You already stink, so this hiding spot shouldn’t be so bad for you. Now wait here and stay hidden until I get back.”Bookmark here

With that being said, Davis slammed down the coverlid of the dumpster he hid the blond man in. He could’ve sworn an angry protest thundered within the trash container a few seconds ago, but he dismissed it and prepared to make a rescue he was certain wouldn’t turn out to be a disappointment.Bookmark here

A sibilant hiss of steel came about as Davis pulled his longsword from the scabbard strapped to his back. Staying up to help a friend was starting to turn out for the better. He’ll save Lucas tomorrow, but for now, he’ll be sweeping Viola off her feet.Bookmark here

Davis rushed back the way he came, ready to make an entrance like a hero, but was forced to break his momentum after seeing what happened next.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

Viola ceased her frantic hopping, now convinced it wasn’t getting her anywhere. Most of her now felt like asking for the return of her purse was pointless, but she still wanted to try settling her issues the easy way. Bookmark here

She turned to face Austin, the older teen in the black sweater and looked him straight in the eyes.Bookmark here

“Please give back my purse.” This time, Viola discarded the bubbly demeanor that made her appeal, and her round eyes narrowed themselves into slits. She hitched a thumb to the person behind her and warned Austin, “Either you give it back, or your friend will do it for me.”Bookmark here

Sage scoffed from behind her, not taking her warning seriously.Bookmark here

“Really? You think I’m gonna listen just like that?” he taunted, pulling off a smug grin.Bookmark here

“See what I mean?” Austin pulled a smug grin of his own at Viola. “You’re not gonna survive alone here if all you’re gonna do is beg. And my buddy here isn’t gonna fall for your charms, not unless you come with us and—!?”Bookmark here

He flinched, his hand losing its grip on the purse when another fist flew at him before stopping mere inches off his face.Bookmark here

The fist that nearly clocked him was too big to belong to a girl.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, Viola caught her falling purse before it could get stained with impurities from the ground and secured an arm through its strap. It was back where it belonged and no one was going to steal it from her this time.Bookmark here

“Thank you!” she rejoiced for Sage; whose priceless reaction matched that of his friend.Bookmark here

“What the hell, man!?” The confused Austin snapped and moved his face out of the motionless fist’s path.Bookmark here

“I-it wasn’t me! I swear!” Sage claimed even though one of his arms was now outstretched with a hard fist formed at the end of it. “It was her! She poked me in the shoulder and then my arm moved on its own!”Bookmark here

Austin was doubtful at how ridiculous that sounded, but after taking a second to follow his friends’ claims, he found himself at a loss for words.Bookmark here

Viola had formed a hand spear with her index and middle fingers extended firm and plunged them deep into one of the shoulders of Sage. For some reason, that was all it took to force the rest of the arm to throw a punch seemingly on its own and with a lot of power put into it.Bookmark here

Then Viola pulled her fingers out. No wound was left in Sage’s shoulder. That was when he felt himself regaining control over his arm, which he drew back to himself in a hurry.Bookmark here

“What… What the hell did you do!?” he demanded and clutched his arm, still surprised and confused that it was manipulated by someone else for a moment.Bookmark here

“Two words. Reflex points,” Viola answered kindly. “And now that I have my purse back, you two should take this chance and let me go. Do that, and I’ll pretend this never happened.”Bookmark here

She walked away, but an auditory cue warned her that her business with the two persistent teens wasn’t finished yet.Bookmark here

“As if!”Bookmark here

Austin jumped her from behind, his arm thrusting out to grab her.Bookmark here

Viola turned around and held out one of her forearms in a vertical position, but her intention wasn’t to block. With only a slight push to the right, Austin’s attacking arm slid off Viola’s forearm and glided past her head to the side. Her bronze curls swayed and undulated from the graze.Bookmark here

Before Austin could react at how Viola parried his attack with such ample timing and finesse, Viola closed in on him. The intimate distance achieved within a second left him wide open with no room to put up any kind of defense.Bookmark here

Viola wasted no time and exploited the opening. She put her hands up and unleashed a torrent of strikes that all went for the head.Bookmark here

Fingers, fists, palms, and elbows came firing hard in rapid succession. To Austin, it was like Viola was attacking him with inhuman speed as he was fooled into thinking he saw all manner of strikes happening to him at the same time.Bookmark here

And yet, despite being too frozen to dodge any of them, his face remained unharmed even as the storm of attacks raged on.Bookmark here

None of Viola’s strikes were actually hitting him.Bookmark here

It wasn’t thanks to a miracle or intervention that Viola’s attacks didn’t connect. In fact, this was all her doing. Every time she threw a strike, she stopped them inches short of Austin’s face before pulling them back, leaving him to only experience a mild shock from anticipating a hit.Bookmark here

Had Viola chosen to land them all, she would’ve pummeled his face over five times within a second or two before she had to shift her focus to his friend who was now attempting his own attack.Bookmark here

Sage unleashed a left-handed punch from behind, intending to knock Viola out in one head-ringing blow. Viola turned around, the lack of surprise on her face undaunted by the fist heading her way. With only one hand needed, she swayed to her left, grabbed the punching arm by the wrist and threw it behind herself without breaking its flow of momentum. As a result, the punch was redirected away from her and toward Austin’s face instead.Bookmark here

But then Viola leaned forward, curled a leg behind herself, and scorpion kicked the incoming fist up and away from its new victim’s face before some teeth could get knocked out.Bookmark here

“See? What’d I tell you?” Viola asked the two stunned teens, both of whom she also protected from each other.Bookmark here

Apparently, they were too stubborn to listen and instead renewed their attack on her, much to her chagrin.Bookmark here

“Fine,” Viola muttered after taking a stance and deflecting simultaneous punches from the two agitated teens. “You just lemme know when you think I can take care of myself, alright?”Bookmark here

And then, the longest thirty seconds ever happened.Bookmark here

Austin and Sage gassed out and could no longer stand straight. They wiped away their layers of sweat and panted in exhaustion while Viola remained within their reach and between them, unharmed and still ready for more. Bookmark here

They tried again.Bookmark here

It didn’t matter whether they attacked her one by one or at the same time - Viola continued to foil their attempts to hit or grab her from every direction by slithering, parrying, and redirecting their attacks. She even did them a favor by preventing them from accidentally hitting each other in the case of redirection.Bookmark here

Spectating the action nearby alongside other curious bystanders, Davis couldn’t find it in himself to move or take his eyes off the skills Viola was putting on display. She was performing all sorts of defensive maneuvers with not only her hands but her feet as well. She did all of those without dropping her purse. In fact, the purse appeared to move in an acrobatic manner as it went with the flow of Viola’s movements and juggled itself between her hands and feet.Bookmark here

Whatever the true natures of those abilities were, Davis was certain about one thing – ordinary training wouldn’t allow Viola to perform such complicated maneuvers with such speed, form, and fluidity.Bookmark here

Austin and Sage refrained attacking for a moment and backed off a step. The fact that Viola was able to toy with them so easily left them boiling in frustration, but they weren’t alone.Bookmark here

When Sage threw another straight at her, a really tuckered out attempt that any decent person could avoid, Viola went for another approach. She flipped over him with a handstand to his shoulders, then landed on his blind spot.Bookmark here

A fearsome and palpable aura emanated from her and Sage felt it as frostbite on his spine.Bookmark here

Just like him and Austin, Viola too had finally lost her patience.Bookmark here

蛇的 Path of the Snake: Venom Machina! Bookmark here

A strange sequence of words resonated out of Viola’s mouth.Bookmark here

Before Sage could turn around and face her, one of his arms moved on its own and fired another punch that went straight for Austin, who shrieked and crossed his arms over his face to block it. Despite the successful defense, he was sent skidding across the pavement by a few feet. The brunt of the attack left his arms too numb and shaking to block again.Bookmark here

Sage couldn’t believe what just happened. All his life, he never threw a punch that hard and he should’ve been too out of stamina to do it.Bookmark here

Like she was pressing invisible buttons on Sage’s back, Viola went all out with a flurry of painless finger jabs that puppeteered him to walk forward while unleashing a punch rush of his own toward Austin, who now kept backing away until Viola had enough and ceased her control.Bookmark here

Seeing this as his chance, Austin ran past his recovering friend and threw a hook, only to be intercepted more harshly by Viola. Still riled up by the action, she was triggered to shout another strange sequence of words.Bookmark here

蛇的 Path of the Snake: Venom Anesthesia! Bookmark here

Viola attacked again with a combo of strikes, but this time she chose to make everything hit the mark with all her attacks targeting Austin’s arms. Each strike cracked with a miniature shockwave.Bookmark here

From an onlooker’s point of view, the arms weren’t the best targets to attack when someone was left with an opening. Austin thought the same and was almost dumbfounded at what was happening to him. The jabs to his arms were so weak, a massage was the accurate answer if he were to describe how Viola’s attacks felt.Bookmark here

Sage tried to take advantage of Viola now that she was busy focusing on his friend, but his footsteps warned the girl of his presence.Bookmark here

蛇的 Path of the Snake: Venom Anesthesia! Bookmark here

Viola spun around and with no hesitation or fury leaving her eyes, attacked Sage’s arms the same way she did Austin’s. She spun around multiple times, switching targets at random intervals and pelting them with as many quick jabs as she could before alternating to the other, thus giving neither of the two teens any time to recover and strike back.Bookmark here

Then Viola stopped attacking. Her purse’s strap was starting to slide off her shoulder so she needed to adjust it. Her distraction was quickly discovered by the two teens.Bookmark here

Cackling, they both reached out to grab her at the same time as punishment for her shift of attention to something so trivial.Bookmark here

But to their surprise, they failed to do it even though Viola did nothing to defend herself this time.Bookmark here

And why was that?Bookmark here

It was because the arms of both teens had fallen limp and refused to move. Doubtful at first, they tried to move them again, but the farthest they could do was make their arms flop about like loose noodles.Bookmark here

Viola wasn’t aiming for their arms in general – her real targets were deeper inside: the nerve endings and every muscle tendon that allowed an arm to move were all inflicted with precise and disrupting strikes that left them paralyzed.Bookmark here

“Hey, both of you. Watch this.”Bookmark here

Viola directed a shocked Austin and Sage to the brick wall she was tapping with a finger. When she knew she had their full attention, Viola closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, straightened her hand into a spear, and drew her arm back.Bookmark here

Not a second later, the impactful noise of shattered bricks and cement left the two older teens flabbergasted. A wet dark spot expanded in the center of Austin’s pants while Sage was lucky he was already wearing his brown pants.Bookmark here

It was a stunt that had to be seen to be believed.Bookmark here

Viola had proven to the two teens that all her parrying and dodging maneuvers was just her playing nice. All this time, she could’ve ended things in an instant by impaling them with her hands - just like what she did to the brick wall.Bookmark here

Viola pulled her hand out of the brick wall and rocky fragments poured out the small but gaping hole she left behind. Her hand was undamaged save for a few scrapes to her nail polish, but she didn’t mind so long as her point came across.Bookmark here

“So, what’ll it be?” she asked the two teens as she brushed off the remaining dirt particles that stuck to her hand.Bookmark here

“You… don’t need someone to protect you,” Austin trembled, finally admitting defeat. “You’ll… be fine on your own.”Bookmark here

Viola then shifted over to Sage, who flinched and nodded in agreement with his friend as soon as her gaze pierced him.Bookmark here

Now having their acknowledgment, Viola beamed a jubilant smile. She approached Sage and grabbed hold of one of his arms. Before the teen could protest on what more would she want to do with him, Viola had already executed her move, pelting the arm with a one-handed sequence of finger jabs, palm strikes, and hand chops. She finished by kneading and rubbing her thumbs on the arm, easing it with a slow and relaxing massage before letting it go and switching over to the opposite arm.Bookmark here

After dealing with Sage, Viola gave the same treatment to Austin.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, warmth gathered in Sage’s arms with his blood now circulating properly through their veins. He tried to bend his arms and curl his fingers. An elated gasp was his appropriate reaction; they did everything as he commanded! His arms were able to move again!Bookmark here

Austin gawked at his friend’s overzealous celebration just as his own arms also regained their mobility. It baffled him how he and Sage weren’t suffering some sort of retribution for their actions.Bookmark here

“After what we did to you, are you really gonna let us go just like that?” he asked Viola, not fully convinced he was being set free.Bookmark here

“So long as the two of you stop bothering me, I don’t see why not,” she replied, her saintly smile putting him at ease.Bookmark here

Austin accepted and gave a remorseful nod in appreciation for Viola’s mercy. “Right. We’re outta here.”Bookmark here

He took his celebrating friend and departed as they were in dire need for a change of pants. Viola, now in a good mood again, waved them off as their distance grew further apart.Bookmark here

“Take care now, and give us girls some space!” she called out to them before turning away to go on with her current plans.Bookmark here

But before Viola could take a step, one of her most recent actions during her self-defense came back to haunt her.Bookmark here

It involved shouting a strange sequence of words in a dramatic fashion.Bookmark here

*Gyaaaaaaaaa!!!*Bookmark here

She squealed, hands laid on her cheeks, bronze curls swishing, knees buckling, hips wiggling, and a brighter shade of pink lighting her face.Bookmark here

Her hands balling into shaking fists, Viola scolded herself with several bops to her own head.Bookmark here

Dummy! Stupid!! Ridiculous!!! Crazy!!!! Insane!!!!! I got so worked up and called out my techniques again! Please tell me no one else heard me!Bookmark here

Lucky for her, all the bystanders had already left, having been intimidated by the hole she made in the wall--Bookmark here

“Yooooooo...”Bookmark here

--Except for one.Bookmark here

The asphalt below her screeched as Viola spun on a heel to the trailing voice, her fighting stance renewed and her face still illuminated by her blush, but the color was receding.Bookmark here

“No, no, no, I’m not with those guys! Really!” Davis claimed, bringing his hands up. “I was just like… ‘wow!’ at what you did there! That was amazing!”Bookmark here

“Really now?” Viola refused to let her guard down despite the praise. “It’s interesting for you to say that while you’re pointing that sword at me.”Bookmark here

It was only then that Davis realized his fascination led him to forget putting his sword away.Bookmark here

“Whoa, my bad!” he admitted, fumbling to slide his longsword into the scabbard on his back.Bookmark here

He nearly cut himself during the rush. This was not the re-done first impression he had in mind. Hopefully, this didn’t mean he just squandered his chances of him and Viola hitting it off. Bookmark here

“You looked like you were in trouble and needed some help. Also, I wasn’t planning on hurting those guys. I just thought maybe I could scare them off,” Davis said after re-sheathing his weapon and rendering himself harmless.Bookmark here

Viola withdrew her stance, but the glare in her eyes retained her caution.Bookmark here

“And what were you thinking would happen if you helped me?” she questioned. “Were you expecting something from me as thanks? Something personal, maybe?”Bookmark here

“That’s… a little too much. I wouldn’t be expecting something like that.” Davis trailed his gaze away and held his tongue from ending his sentence with the word, “yet.”Bookmark here

Viola crossed her arms. At the same time, a finger crossed over her lips in thought. There was something familiar about this person. She could’ve sworn he was from somewhere not too long ago, but where?Bookmark here

“Omigosh!”Bookmark here

Her hands fell on her cheeks and her eyes rounded away their hostility.Bookmark here

Davis was caught off guard when Viola suddenly went up close and personal with him so she could hold his hands for a double handshake.Bookmark here

“We met this morning at Cameron’s Feint high school, didn’t we?” Viola squeezed his hands harder like she had found a reason to no longer feel scared.Bookmark here

“Yeah! That’s right!” Davis nodded his head in glee, relishing the moment of physical contact with the girl’s hand and hoping this moment could last for at least a few more seconds if possible.Bookmark here

“Oh man, I’m so sorry!” Viola sobbed. Her lips ran in squiggles as she made sparkling goo-goo eyes in remorse for going on the hostile defensive. “It’s just that I was so annoyed with how many times those guys tried to hit on me. I don’t hate attention, but they acted like creeps! You on the other hand…” Her hold on Davis’ hands shifted to resemble them clasped together in prayer. “…I know I can trust you!”Bookmark here

A wry smile appeared on Davis’ face. “Wow... that’s uh… that means a lot to me… haha… So, I take it you remember who I am, right?”Bookmark here

“I do!” Viola released his hands and replied without thinking. “You are--”Bookmark here

Yes! Say it! Say my name! Davis bottled himself up and held back his smile, preparing himself for an explosion of excitement in 3…2…Bookmark here

“--Lucas’ friend!”Bookmark here

At the same time, all the music from the nearby venues stopped playing due to a technological malfunction.Bookmark here

That was no joke. Viola actually said that.Bookmark here

Davis went pale and limp as if his life had been sucked dry. He swallowed his lips and stared at Viola with dead eyes that looked dry only because they were fighting to hold back his salty tears.Bookmark here

“That’s… That’s how you remember me?” he struggled to say.Bookmark here

“No! I do remember you’re more than just a friend of Lucas. Really!” Viola claimed with a worrisome look on her face to which Davis muttered, “That sounds so wrong,” and Viola chuckled an anxious laugh. “It’s um…” She twiddled her index fingers as her widened eyes stared straight down at the tips of her quaking go-go boots.Bookmark here

What’s his name, what’s his name, what’s his name!?Bookmark here

Her inner thoughts panicked like crazy. Viola questioned herself like her life depended on it, but the name of this person in front of her never came close to resurfacing no matter how hard she tried.Bookmark here

She now remembered that he was a friend of her cousin, but that was it.Bookmark here

A nervous trickle of sweat ran down her temple.Bookmark here

Come to think of it, this guy was very unenthusiastic for some reason when we met this morning. That pretty much explains why his name isn’t coming to mind right now.Bookmark here

Time was running out. Before her stalling act could get suspicious, Viola lifted her head and looked Davis straight in the eyes. Discomfort wasn’t what Davis was expecting. The smile Viola forced herself to bear at him was rigid, stiff, and almost unsettling.Bookmark here

“Say, do you have an account on Facespace?” her smile creaked along with her voice. “You should add me as a friend!”Bookmark here

In the awkward silence that followed, the pressure weighed down on Viola until it was too much for her to handle. Her forced smile couldn’t be maintained any longer, and a few seconds later, it gradually screwed itself into a crooked grin that put a blight on her beauty.Bookmark here

It didn’t take much for Davis to figure out the treachery displayed before his very eyes.Bookmark here

“So… you don’t remember me after all, do you?” He sunk deep into a scowl, having deciphered Viola’s request as a simple trick to re-learning someone’s name without making themselves look bad for forgetting. “That really sucked. I hope the next person doesn’t get lied to like that.” He turned around, having decided their conversation was over. “Well, it was nice seeing you again, Viola Knightley.”Bookmark here

Davis lumbered away, his face downcast and his back hunched from carrying the weight of something that almost felt like heartbreak.Bookmark here

“Wait! Please don’t go!” Viola reached out and pleaded for him to come back. As if she wasn’t guilty enough for not remembering his name, that guilt doubled in weight when she found out he remembered her’s.Bookmark here

Davis heard her plea loud and clear, but he refused to give a response. He continued to go back to where he came from, knowing he couldn’t leave the blond man alone for too long. He almost blamed himself for taking his time.Bookmark here

Okay, it looks like I have no choice.Bookmark here

Viola sighed then prepared to take action when Davis went over ten steps away from her without showing any signs of stopping. Planting one leg behind herself, she pulled her arm back. Popping noises erupted from the joints within.Bookmark here

Disappointment was an understatement to describe Davis’ reaction. Viola remembering him only as Lucas’ friend came as a shattering blow to his ego, almost as much as Rio proclaiming Lucas as her boyfriend. Of course, that was before his suspicions over her came into play. Still, the damage had already been done and forgetting it was not as simple as it seemed.Bookmark here

“Davis…!”Bookmark here

What the?Bookmark here

He stopped walking and rapped his knuckles on his head. Was he so disappointed from earlier that he started to imagine the voice of a familiar girl calling his name?Bookmark here

“Davis…!”Bookmark here

No, it wasn’t a voice in his head. In fact, the sound was ringing through his ears.Bookmark here

“Davis…!”Bookmark here

It was a siren’s call, and it sent his heart aflutter!Bookmark here

He turned around, bulging eyes defining his bruised face.Bookmark here

Viola had her hands cupped in front of her mouth to amplify her voice.Bookmark here

“Davis…!”Bookmark here

It was real! She was calling him by his name!Bookmark here

“Da--…!”Bookmark here

A cloud of dust flew past Viola and in front of her stood Davis before she could call his name for the fifth time or give a reaction appropriate to shock.Bookmark here

“I‘m not dreaming, am I?” Davis begged to be proven right, having managed to run back to Viola in record time thanks to a bliss of adrenaline. “You called me by my name, right!?”Bookmark here

“Yup, and it’s all real,” Viola assured him after a giggle. “I just needed some time to remember everything, but I promise I won’t be forgetting the name, ‘Davis Crane’ anytime soon.”Bookmark here

Just like his reaction to Viola not remembering his name at first, Davis stood silent. This time, however, his internal voice was squealing itself into high heaven.Bookmark here

It was safe to assume that all the previous negativity he bore against Viola was now gone, down to the last ember.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

Following his not so smooth reacquaintance with Viola, Davis sat down with her on a nearby bench and surveyed for any dangers around them as he explained to her about San Desquiciado, the lawless location they were both in. There was a lot to talk about, so he at least covered the basics out of a concern to not overwhelm the girl’s mind, something he’d beat himself up for.Bookmark here

As she listened, Viola’s thoughts backtracked to Austin and Sage, the two guys she fended off. Sure, their offer of protection was most likely done with ulterior motives in mind, but Davis’ quick lecture on their current location reaffirmed their words to be correct, nonetheless.Bookmark here

Having the skills necessary to defend herself kept Viola confident on her own safety, but now that she thought about it, the people she fought off were just two unarmed teenagers who weren’t expecting her to be capable of more than what her appearance suggested. Davis made it clear to her that San Desquiciado had more dangerous individuals to offer, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were lurking somewhere nearby.Bookmark here

Viola didn’t underestimate his warning once she got the gist of it. She was only human after all. The simplest of weapons was enough to hurt her, and with the way she liked to present herself, she was also someone who cared a little too much about her appearance. It would be a surprise to say she survived a night in San Desquiciado with no hungry male trying to prey on her after she first came into their crosshairs.Bookmark here

“I see, so it’s best to have someone looking out for you,” Viola said, thankful that the worst didn’t happen during her stint so far.Bookmark here

Davis nodded with crossed arms. “Definitely.”Bookmark here

From Viola’s point of view, she was a newcomer to Cameron’s Feint, meaning she had to start over in a lot of things such as developing a circle of friends or becoming familiar with what’s around her new home, the latter being the reason why she was wandering around San Desquiciado in the first place. It also left her at ease to know a friend of her cousin was willing to watch her back.Bookmark here

“Then,” she clasped her hands together as she made puppy-dog eyes, “would it be alright if I tag along with you, at least until we’re out of here?”Bookmark here

“Definitely!” Davis said once more, but this time with a lot of rejoicing.Bookmark here

Viola had to pinch herself not to laugh. It took almost no effort to wrap Davis around her cutesy little finger.Bookmark here

“Thank you~”Bookmark here

That had to be one of the sweetest thank yous he’d ever heard. Davis nearly fainted and ascended to Heaven but that would mean leaving Viola behind so he forced himself back to life before he could hit the ground. Of course, that was all an exaggeration.Bookmark here

“I hope you don’t mind, but there’s someone else who’ll be coming with us,” he said after regaining himself.Bookmark here

He went on to explain how he found an injured man in the alleyway and that he was hiding in a safe place when Davis attempted to help Viola out.Bookmark here

Viola raised no objections with having another companion even though this one was injured and more likely to be a liability than an asset. To be clear, it was because he was injured that she was all in on helping the poor man out.Bookmark here

With the pair now in agreement, Davis ran ahead, leading the way back to the shadows of the alleyway and to the blond man’s hiding spot.Bookmark here

As she trailed behind, Viola picked up on her running speed to close in on Davis and snuck a hand into the back pocket of his pants. She slipped a foldable object inside.Bookmark here

It was Davis’ wallet.Bookmark here

Viola had snatched it from him when he first turned his back on her. Although it was filled with a hefty amount of money, Viola’s intention wasn’t to get herself some easy cash even though their current location meant committing theft was okay.Bookmark here

She really couldn’t remember his name and had no choice but to sneak a peek at his personal ID.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

They ran a short distance, almost enough to break a sweat.Bookmark here

A few twists and turns later, Davis and Viola arrived at a certain spot in the alleyway where the injured blond man was in plain sight.Bookmark here

He was sitting down in a state of half-sleep next to the dumpster Davis threw him in. Apparently, he couldn’t last long in the claustrophobic and smelly hiding place.Bookmark here

Seeing the poor state of the blond man made Viola gasp. An instinct inside her was triggered. She rushed ahead of Davis, much to his surprise, and crouched to the man’s side.Bookmark here

“Davis, what happened to him?” Viola held up the blond man’s left hand, hoping her gentle touch would help the poor soul feel at ease. She also tried her best not to voice her disgust at the stench wafting off him.Bookmark here

“I was going to ask him about that later,” Davis said, coming to a halt near them. “He wanted me to bring him to the hospital, but that’s not a good idea right now.”Bookmark here

Viola looked up at him, confused. “Why is that?”Bookmark here

Davis held up one of his index fingers… “One, he probably doesn’t have much money. I saw how thin his wallet was, and I’m sure the hospital is going to charge him a lot for what he’s got.” …followed by his middle finger. “Two, just getting to the hospital will be a hassle because it’s on the opposite end of where we are and out in the open. It’s gonna be a landmine for us to get there, maybe literally.”Bookmark here

Viola was shaken. “You mean the local hospital is here in San Desquiciado?”Bookmark here

“Pretty heartless for them to set up shop here, isn’t it?” Davis rolled his eyes at the thought of the hospital’s strategic location. “But the business world is pretty harsh, and thanks to stuff like the turf wars happening so often, they’re never gonna run short on clients and cash.”Bookmark here

“I see,” Viola muttered in disgust for the shady business the hospital practiced. “In any case, you’re right. Going to the hospital might put us all in danger, but you’re in luck. You won’t be needing a hospital, and you won’t need money either. A safe place where no one can disturb us will do just fine.”Bookmark here

The context of what Viola said sparked an educated guess in Davis. “Are you telling me you’re--?”Bookmark here

“I’m not a doctor,” Viola said at first, but a smile following that brought Davis a strange sense of enchantment. “Not yet.”Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

Davis poked his head out of the alleyway and back to the open streets. He looked to his left.Bookmark here

With Viola taking a few minutes to examine the blond man’s dislocated shoulder before mending it, he was left with not much to do until she finished her first-aid treatment with the rest to follow once they found a safe spot to recuperate.Bookmark here

The little time Davis was given to do as he pleased urged him to make a purchase from a nearby vending machine. He first spotted it on his way to make himself look good in front of Viola when she was being harassed by the two older teenagers.Bookmark here

After sneaking to the big contraption that glowed with a combination of scarlet and magenta, Davis scanned its list of oval buttons from top to bottom. Each button had its contents written on them in their own unique fonts to arouse interest.Bookmark here

*CoKe!!!Bookmark here

*Spritzie BlitzyBookmark here

*Fanta-SyBookmark here

*Breezy RainbowBookmark here

*Cracker JackerBookmark here

*Crush on MollyBookmark here

*Hero-In 420Bookmark here

*Doom LagoonBookmark here

“Aha! Found ya!”Bookmark here

Davis fished out his seemingly unstolen wallet then slipped in a few coins and dollar bills to make the exact change required. He pressed the button that read, “Doom Lagoon.”Bookmark here

The near-inaudible sound of a small and soft object making a landing was Davis’ cue to open the vending machine’s dispenser through a flap near its bottom. After sticking a hand in, Davis grasped and pulled out a small packet. Staring at its swirling black and red design, a smirk adorned his face at the prospect of untying its cord and snorting the packet’s contents later.Bookmark here

His business with the vending machine now finished, Davis rose up and turned around - only to gasp and make the packet jump between his hands in a juggling act until one of his hands caught it.Bookmark here

“Viola!” Davis yelped the name of the person who was now a few feet in front of him with her hands perched upon her shapely hips. He gripped the packet tight in his hands. “How long have you been standing there!?”Bookmark here

Viola rolled her head clockwise and glared at the packet in Davis’ hands.Bookmark here

“Hmm… Long enough,” she said. “Whatcha doin’ here?”Bookmark here

“I was uh… trying to buy myself a drink,” Davis claimed while his eyes broke contact with Violas’ several times. “But I only realized now that I was ripped off. This vending machine doesn’t sell any of that.”Bookmark here

While Davis fought a mental struggle to hide all his guilty signs for lying, Viola stepped next to him, leaned closer to the vending machine, and squinted at its column of buttons.Bookmark here

“Davis,” She turned to him with a convincing smile while unconvincing veins throbbed on her temple. “You should’ve known something wasn’t right before you paid more than $4.75 for a drink.”Bookmark here

“Oh… I didn’t realize that.”Bookmark here

Contrary to his statement, Davis knew exactly what he was paying for, but he couldn’t afford to let Viola know his purchase attempt was intentional, so he continued to play dumb.Bookmark here

“It must be becaush I’m shoooo schweepy.” He faked a yawn into an open hand while also botching his pronunciations on purpose, hoping Viola would fall for it. “It’s really late right now, and it shucks that I shtill got a lot of things to do.”Bookmark here

“Is that so?” Viola tilted her head while raising a questioning eyebrow. “I can help you take that sleepiness away.”Bookmark here

Davis couldn’t shake off the feeling that something not good was going to happen to him when Viola placed a hand on his shoulder. Her other hand pulled back and adjusted its fingers to make itself resemble the open mouth of a snake, complete with its fangs bared.Bookmark here

“Wait, wait, wait,” Davis wanted to jump away, but the grip Viola had on his shoulder was ironclad. “What’re you going to–”Bookmark here

蛇的 Path of the Snake: Revitalizing Fang Bookmark here

“—HAAHRK!!!”Bookmark here

A flicking hand thrust to the chest forced Davis to expel a hard cough full of saliva and made his heart skip a beat. He knew it was Viola’s hand since he saw it coming, but the excruciating pain almost deluded him into thinking Viola stabbed him with three knives at the same time.Bookmark here

Crumpling, Davis held his chest tight as if he was cradling his own heart.Bookmark here

“There you go.” Viola caught Davis and assisted him back to his feet. “Feeling awake, now?”Bookmark here

Davis had no time to enjoy the intimate moment of him getting caught in Viola’s arms. He was too occupied with wheezing and trying to catch his breath.Bookmark here

“I still feel the same!” he complained.Bookmark here

“It didn’t work?” Viola narrowed her eyes. Her hunch was telling her that something was amiss, and it had nothing to do with the failure of a technique she practiced countless times. “That’s strange. It shouldn’t hurt at all so long as you feel at least a little sleepy. Guess my aim for your pressure points was off the mark.”Bookmark here

Upon hearing her explanation, Davis thought about why he wasn’t feeling sleepy in the first place. The concern he had for Lucas’ safety had made him restless and going to bed wasn’t something his mind considered doing until his upcoming preparations were ready. In the end, his façade to divert Viola’s attention from the fact that he just tried to buy something questionable had backfired.Bookmark here

“Okay, let’s try again,” Viola said, one hand clasping Davis’ shoulder while the other hand prepared itself for a second strike.Bookmark here

“No more, please!” Davis pleaded and raised his hands up to his shoulders, waving them. “Mistake or not, I’m okay now!”Bookmark here

Viola relaxed her hand out of its snake shape. “Alright,” she said, a slight grin peeking out. “You sure?”Bookmark here

“Yes, very!” Davis asserted.Bookmark here

Viola chuckled at his response.Bookmark here

Now that the “sleepiness” issue was out of the way, one more concern crossed her mind.Bookmark here

“Since you got that instead of a drink, what are you going to do with it?” She asked, eyeing the black and red packet Davis clutched in his hand.Bookmark here

“I… don’t need it,” Davis said through clenched teeth. “If the vending machine won’t give me a drink, then I don’t need anything else from it.”Bookmark here

It took a bit of self-forcing, but Davis managed to throw away the packet, far enough to dissuade him from pursuing it as it flew through the air.Bookmark here

“Now then, we should get back to our injured friend and bring him to a safe place,” Viola said. “I cleaned the blood off his face, sprayed him with some perfume, and popped his shoulder back in, but I can’t have anyone disturbing us when it comes to treating the rest of his injuries.”Bookmark here

“Right. Let’s go.”Bookmark here

Davis left with her and tried not to look back.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

The black and red packet containing a substance called “Doom Lagoon” laid on the street, unmoving and standing out amongst the dirt and gravel.Bookmark here

But it didn’t stay littered for long.Bookmark here

Out of nowhere, two scruffy ruffians found the packet and picked it up at the same time. When neither refused to surrender the treasure, one of them clocked the other in the face with a haymaker.Bookmark here

It was on, now.Bookmark here

A brawl between them broke out. Dirty fighting moves like clawing and biting to name a few, brought in all sorts of brutality. While slugging it out, they each tried to snag the packet away from each other with neither managing to hold it for too long.Bookmark here

After a five-minute slugfest, both ruffians were left panting and drenched in sweat. They were too exhausted to continue hurting each other, so they refocused the last of their efforts to keep an unbreakable grip on each side of the packet. Heaving and hawing, they pulled with what little might they had left, neither wanting to yield the glorious substance.Bookmark here

Finally, the packet was no longer able to hold itself against the strength of two men pulling at it in opposite directions.Bookmark here

It gave up and split itself open. One of the ruffians fell backward due to a break in the tension and it was he who ended up inhaling most of the red and black dust that drifted in the air.Bookmark here

In less than a second, the sclera of his eyes converged to the center, shrinking every other color until there was nothing but white.Bookmark here

He sat up in a state of madness. “Oh my God!”Bookmark here

“What!? What’s wrong!?” The other ruffian asked.Bookmark here

The intoxicated ruffian stared at how hard his hands were shaking. “We’re not real! I just realized we’re not real!”Bookmark here

“Huh?” The unaffected ruffian raised a corner of his mouth and gawked. “You can’t be serious.”Bookmark here

“No really! We’re just two unnamed, one-off characters in a novel! The only reason for us to have any screen time is so our sick author could show what happens when we snort a Doom Lagoon!”Bookmark here

“Which is?”Bookmark here

“Weren’t you listening!?” he shook the other ruffian by the shoulders then spread a hand across. “I now see and speak the truth!”Bookmark here

“Riiiiiiight…” the shaken ruffian drifted his eyes away to the side, completely unconvinced.Bookmark here

“And now that we’ve served our purpose… We’re no longer needed. This chapter is about to end!” The intoxicated ruffian slowly went pale and looked up to the sky. “Hey, you! Yes you, the one reading this novel! I just wanna say--!”Bookmark here

The two of them were turned into roadkill by a speeding car out of nowhere before one of them could spout any more of his nonsense.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Please disregard their existence and carry on, reader.Bookmark here

James K.
Gerry Hines
You can resume reading from this paragraph.