Brooklyn and I walked about the market strip and looked at the various fruits and meats that the farmer’s market had to offer. It was expensive, but high quality. There were also people selling handmade clothes and jewelry, but that was especially expensive. The two of us were mostly browsing when it came to the farmers market, but Brooklyn stopped to buy some freshly-caught fish at one of the stalls.
“You know that’s going to smell terrible the whole time we’re walking around, right?” I really didn’t want to put up with the smell of fish for the entire 1-2 hours we were going to spend walking around here.
“That’s… a good point…” Brooklyn thought for a moment before turning to the salesman. “Excuse me sir, would you be willing to keep our fish here so that they don’t rot while we’re walking.”
“Sure, I guess. I’m going to put them back in the ice, so I can’t promise you’ll get the same fish when you come back,” the man replied. “I hope that’s okay.”
“That should be fine, thank you!” Brooklyn was obviously ecstatic that her idea worked. “That was a good suggestion, Ash.”
“Uh… Thanks?” I knew that my suggestion was entirely for selfish reasons, but I guess it is nice that her fish is less likely to rot on the way home.
[ cut ]
Brooklyn and I found a decently-priced restaurant to eat lunch at and sat down. I already ate and I wasn’t in the mood for fish and chips, especially after walking through the disgustingly pungent underground segment of the farmer’s market, so I decided to abstain from eating here.
Brooklyn wasn’t a super big eater, so I figured it would only cost me a little under ten dollars to cover her meal. Looking at menu prices, however, I was shocked to see that it was a little over twelve dollars for her order. I guess inflation really hit the restaurants here hard.
“You know, you don’t have to buy me food every week. I have money,” Brooklyn said.
“You don’t have a job right now and I doubt your parents are giving you any money. Don’t you want to save your spending money for stuff like clothes?”
“My parents pay me to make trips down to the market for groceries, so I have enough money to eat here even if I went alone,” Brooklyn replied.
“Your parents are paying you for chores now?”
“I guess they want me away from the house more.”
Yeah, that makes sense. Brooklyn always had a tough time with her family. She was adopted at a young age, and I know that her parents are on the verge of divorce from what she’s told me. I doubt they want her worrying about their relationship, so they’re sending her away to spend time with her friends. Unfortunately, I’m probably her only friend. The rest of the photography club is nice to her, but I doubt they would want to hang out around Brooklyn outside of club meetings.
“So, have you found anything else out about your biological parents? I know you were looking into that,” I asked. It wouldn’t hurt to change the subject just a little bit.
“Well, I did some digging into the camera my dad left me, and I found out it’s quite the antique. The model is supposedly a Polaroid Land Camera Model 500, but it’s been heavily modified. I think it was manufactured some time in the 70s, so it’s at least 44 years old,” Brooklyn explained. “I think I can put colored film in it, but I don’t know where I’d find any. Ultimately, the camera is beyond discontinued, and if it broke, I don’t think I could find anyone who could fix it.”
“Why would you decide to modify a camera like that when you can just buy a new one.”
“Because it can see things that you can’t, remember?” Brooklyn said. “At the library, it was able to capture those footprints, we can’t see that with the-“
“Hold on, did you say footprints?”
“I’ve heard that before somewhere,” my brain fired back into action. I think it was Noe, Noe said something about demonic footprints. If that camera can really see them, that must make it really special, no wonder Brooklyn’s dad worked so hard to keep it running. “Brooklyn, can I-“
Suddenly, as I glanced over my shoulder, something caught my eye. There was a woman standing on the pier, taking a step out into the ocean. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, then I heard a splash, the impact of something rupturing the surface of the water.
“I think someone just jumped in,” I said.
“Isn’t that illegal?” Brooklyn replied, standing up from her chair. This sucks, Brooklyn had only just taken a few bites out of her fish. I should have known that something like this would happen.
“Yeah, probably. My mom always told me not to jump off the pier,” I stood up and ran over to the side of the mounted dock that connected to the seafront pavilion we were eating on. There was a rope fence that blocked my path, but I could still see the point of impact clear as day.
There was blood in the water.
Not just a small amount of blood either, a large patch of the ocean below had been stained red. At first, I was just shocked, but that shock slowly drained from my body as a pit formed in my stomach.
“Help! I think someone’s in trouble!” I turned around to face the crowd behind me. There was a large group of people gathering to see what had just transpired.
A gaze from within the crowd caught my eyes, however. It was a blond man wearing a denim jacket. Suddenly, the air around grew cold. The heat drained from my hands and feet in a near instant. It felt as though my skin would freeze solid, but my organs within were another story. There was a burning sensation that slowly condensed onto what must have been my heart as the searing pain grew more and more. As my skin became rigid like a sheet of stone, my heart felt like it was about to explode. I gasped in panic as I felt an expansion within my chest, and then-
[ cut ]
Immediately, my perspective snapped back to an intent stare into the bloodied waters below. I gasped for air as my heart resumed beating. Each pound of my chest brought that sensation of panic to new heights. What the hell just happened? I thought I was going to die. Did I die? Who was that man I locked eyes with? Was he another sorcerer?
“There’s someone drowning, call 911!” Someone in the crowd behind me called out. Didn’t I say something like that earlier? Why was nobody listening then?
I stopped to collect myself, staring over the edge of the pier, as something bubbled to the surface. It was oozing blood from one side and floated to be fully exposed in unison with a gasp of horror from my fellow onlookers: a severed arm. It was half chewed-up by something beneath the water and separated from its previous owner. What the hell? I felt my heart grow louder as I took a step away from the edge. I needed to get out of here, fast. There was something going on, and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I rushed over to the table where Brooklyn was standing and took her arm without saying a word.
“What are you doing? What’s going on?” She asked.
“I don’t have time for questions now, we need to run!” my voice was shaking almost as much as I was, but my legs pounded onwards to the beat of the drum in my chest.
Before I could escape, however, my eyes locked with the blond man once more. I felt the heat drain from my body, just like before. My heart was lit aflame like the last time our glances met. His expression looked to be a mixture of confusion and surprise.
[ cut ]
I was staring out into the blood that spewed from the corpse below the pier. I wanted to scream. What was going on? Why was I back here again? Is this some kind of time loop?
Noe said something similar to this as well, a demonic projection. It’s like an estimation of the future accurate down to every individual atom. Laplace’s theory. Is this what “retrying” from the beginning is like? How many tries do I have? How long is this going to last?
I dashed for Brooklyn and started running. She asked the same questions as earlier, but this time I didn’t give a response. The instant before me and that blond man’s eyes would meet, I took cover behind the doorway into the farmer’s market.
That guy with the denim jacket must have been a sorcerer. It seemed like he was taking the heat from my extremities and focusing it into my chest cavity before releasing it in a violent explosion. That would have to be heat manipulation. Going off of the look on his face, I doubt he was expecting me to run, which means his attacks take practically zero planning or setup. An ability like that is terrifying, what weakness could it possibly have?
“Ash, where are you taking me?”
“Someone just died, we need to get to safety if we don’t want to join them,” I said quietly. The crowd was drowning out the sound of my voice fairly well, so I doubt the sorcerer from earlier heard me. Was he the one who killed that woman? It seems highly suspect that a sorcerer simply just happened to be around the area when that woman died. On a contrary note, the way that the woman there died was flashy and unsubtle. If he didn’t care about the death being seen, why wouldn’t he just make her explode like he did to me?
“Okay, just lead the way,” Brooklyn replied.
I then heard footsteps quickly running towards Brooklyn and I. We were going to have to make a move, fast. If we took off running now, the sorcerer would probably end up spotting and blowing us up, so we didn’t have much of a choice but to make a surprise attack.
“Brooklyn, do you have a knife?”
“We’re being followed.”
I looked around the doorframe, careful not to make my presence known. If we have the element of surprise, we can probably take him down. I doubt he can manipulate heat in two places at once, and if he blew me up right next to him he would probably die. There he was, standing right outside. Our gazes crossed, albeit only for an instant, but I could already feel my body temperature drop. It was only a matter of time before I died again.
Before that, however, I saw a blade appear at the sorcerer’s neck. It was a single-edged sword, something akin to a Japanese katana. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it is. Its blade shimmered with a pale glean, a light that seemed similar to Noe’s scissors, though not identical. I couldn’t see who was wielding it, but they likely didn’t even know I was there.
“Excuse me, Sir Abner, was it?” A voice from beyond my sight said. “I wish to have a word with you and I highly recommend your compliance.”
“Put down your sword and I might oblige,” the denim-clad man said.
“Unfortunately, I know that your weapon has no sheath. It would be unwise for me to unarm myself,” the man, clearly the sword bearer, said.
“Then I suppose it would be foolish for me to not fight back,” the blond man said as he stepped away from the blade and held out his hand towards his new opponent. A concussive sound erupted from his fingertips as his body soared out of view, accompanied by a wave of visible heat distortion. The swordsman’s arm didn’t move.
The heat that I had lost gradually returned to my body. I rested my back against the wall behind me a breathed a sigh of relief. It looks like I might have a chance of survival after all. Just when I thought things had been getting better, I saw a figure run up from the downstairs part of the farmer’s market. It was Scarlet. He looked over at me without skipping a footstep before readying a massive blade of blood in his hands. The blood solidified in an instant into a black, glossy metal as Scarlet stepped out from the doorway.
“Blaise, I’m sorry I got your message so late. What’s going on?!” He now stood outside. I couldn’t tell who he was talking to, but I had a pretty good idea. This is now either a two on one, or it just got a whole lot more complicated.
It would be a lot easier if Noe was here right now.
[ cut ]
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