“Come in!” yelled Bastian in response to the knocking while he was busy licking chocolate off his fingers. He had accidentally bit a little too hard into a piece of rabbit shaped one and the fluid jelly spurted out, dripping across his palm.
“You do not seem sick,” said Haruhi, seeing how dramatically he had wrapped himself in a cocoon of blanket, huddled in one corner of the bed. “And you created such a hue and cry, grabbing Erska’s stash. Look at yourself in the mirror, will you?” she reminded as she handed over the file Bastian had asked. “Why do you need this?”
“I think the dates are nearing,” he said as flipped the file while wiping his hands off a cloth, making his fingers sticky chocolate free. “That’s why I wanted to re-check.”
Assignment : 54
Name : Fleur Gin
Age : 35
Occupation : Bookstore employee
Address : No.9,Miu Enclave, Bleu Rue, Cafakla, Lessa
Death : 6 months from now
Cause of Death : Drug overdose
“Why? Did Fleur say something?” she asked, sitting on his bed.
“She’s taking care of her mother recently. Alzheimer’s, it seems. Fleur had a strained relationship with her mother but it was comparatively better than that of her father. I guess that’s why she took her in after getting a call from an old age home. So, handling her job and her mother is getting to her. I tried to help her out but her mother is wary of me, she threw an empty jar at me,” he said as he pointed to a tiny bump on the back of his head. “So, Fleur sometimes takes off from work. Her salary is taking the bite. Apart from all this, she’s taking her sleep pills at random dosages at random times. I forced her to stop but while I’m not at her place, I don’t think I can control her. She looks very pale, like I can literally feel her bones on her hand.” He threw his head back against the head post, closing his eyes. “She..though kinda annoying, does not deserve a life like this.”
“We can say that to a lot of our assignments, Bastian,” Haruhi replied with a chuckle. “Life was always unfair. But I believe that each human lived according to what they thought was best for them. What was happy for them. In a sense, even if it is twisted, at least they died with some fulfilment with a little help from us.”
“And yet some are left unfulfilled after death and they, in turn, take our position. Doesn’t that make our jobs half-assed? I mean, to think we ourselves have lived some kind of unfulfilled life and in turn, we end up inflicting the same thing on someone else by mistake? Do you know if there is an indicator for that – whether souls rest in peace or not?” he inquired.
“I don’t think any of us can control that. It is only known only after a human dies. The Grim reapers deal with that part. I don’t think you would have been informed about it yet. I can give you a gist,” Haruhi said as she began to explain. “Our job ends when our assignment dies which is then taken over by the Grim reapers. They collect the soul’s essence in balls called Necrosphere. It is said that if the soul is white, it means they are at peace or fulfilled and are ready for reincarnation without any problem. If it is grey, it means they are unfulfilled and that grey essence is what you see in each of our Draphacons, filled in a little ball.”
“Great. More information to make the day better,” Bastian groaned as his attentive shoulders slumped, rolling the blanket around him tightly as he reached for a bar of chocolate from Erska’s stash. Only his eyes and his long hair tied into a coconut tree like structure popped out.
“I’ll take the file back?” Haruhi asked, reaching for it as she looked at him.
“Yea…” he said as he stared at the file for a while. “Sometimes I wish they just gave us the exact date...Don’t you think it would be much easier that way? Instead of this vagueness..”
“I think this is for the best though. Somethings are best kept under the cover, this way even if we wanted to interfere, we wouldn’t be able to. No one would be able to,” Haruhi elaborated.
“Waldo told me that’s what he did.”
“Waldo told you, huh?” she asked, a slight smile which was rather sorrowful showed up on her face. “He got lucky. One in a million but of course, the aftermath was cruel, huh? She died with her husband on her wedding day..”
“Does everyone know this or something?”
“His was one of the worst-case scenarios. Mainly because he is stuck at the HQ. He can’t travel or do anything – because he played with the balance. That’s unforgivable. When you get retired, things like these, we understand. It passes just among us,” sighed Haruhi.
“I hope all this passes soon,” Bastian said as he passed over the file back to Haruhi. “I hate sitting like this all day.”
“Then don’t,” offered Haruhi, seeming oblivious but changed to a more serious tone instantly. “You are doing better than me though. It takes time. It is sort of like a temporary storm but after it is over, we’ll be back to ourselves in no time. Trust me.”
Bastian nodded slowly, his coconut tree moving along with his bobbing head. “What about you? I was always confused why you retired considering you are younger than me. What happened to you?”
“Are you sure you want to hear that? You keep saying too much info..” Haruhi cautioned.
“Might as well get to know more and go through the same shit, Haruhi. Go ahead. Tell me about your assignments and stuff.”
“Okay but you brought it upon yourself,” warned Haruhi. “I barely completed like thirty assignments before I got caught I guess. I was involved with mafias, mostly mafias. I think probably like for two assignments, I ended up being the personal guards of some celebrities.”
Bastian sat up, looking shook. “You talk like your life was some spy movie!”
“It kind of was. I’m good with my fists,” she said as stood in a boxing stance. “I’m an Athlete Specialization after all. So, most of my assignments involved fighting. And as for my retirement, that was one hell of a drama…” She sat on the bed again, facing away from Bastian. “I had a friend called Alexei, he was with me through thick and thin because he trained with me. Our assignments were a lot similar and we sparred in free time, we had like a group of friends too. I suppose in some way since we fought, like we were in real life or death situations..we were all pulled together by a bond of sorts..” She paused for a while before continuing as she rubbed her palms in unison. “So, when Alexei and few of us started revolting, I joined them though I had no idea what it was. He just kept telling me he would explain when the time is ripe and that we had all been duped by the whole system. We were trying to be peaceful yet we were treated roughly, tied and beaten up until we yielded. During that strife, Orfer forced the truth behind retirement on us and half of them broke but I kept persisting with Alexei. We would try to break out of our cells only to be recaptured and in one such confrontation, Alexei was killed by accident..”
Bastian gasped loudly. “Killed?! What do you mean killed? How does that even happen?? Who the fuck does that?”
“My boy Bastian, you’ve gotta lot to learn,” she said as she turned towards him, trying hard to hide a giggle because he looked like a tiny child, fuming through his nostrils. “Let’s just say among the retired Draphas, there is always a secret team that assembles on the Drapha Head’s command. No one ever knows unless you are a friend of a member or the Drapha Head. The Umbra. You’ll probably know that soon. You never see them until it is an emergency. None of us knew that and we were shocked when we were overpowered just like that, all these people charging at us from nowhere….I was the last one standing, it was like I was trying to honour Alexei’s death but eventually I subsided and ended up being shipped to Lessa to work under Pierre who was the previous stationed Drapha here and I soon replaced him.”
“What happened to Alexei though?”
“I’m not sure about that though…” she said as she rubbed her chin. “But Orfer did promise me he’d let me know what would happen. As far as I think, he might’ve been given another chance to be a Drapha after which he’ll be reincarnated. They’ll have to stabilize his soul first. When they would re-introduce him would be decided by the Grim reapers though.”
Bastian gestured an okay sign. “Enough for today until someone spouts something tomorrow.” Saying that he reached for an amoeba shaped piece of chocolate and popped it into his mouth.
“If Erska sees you like this, you are getting your ass whooped for sure,” commented Haruhi as she left the room only for the said person to knocking on the door. “Oh great. I’m gonna leave before hell breaks loose,” said Haruhi, leaving the duo to their mindless mischief.
“Bastian, I’d like to propose a-” Erska halted her enthusiastic speech as soon as she saw that her precious little things were being devoured by him in the most unruly fashion.
“Yes?” he asked in a rather shameless manner, licking the tips of his fingers as if he hadn’t done anything.
“Can I please have that back?” Erska asked softly, pained by the circumstance of her stash.
Erska slapped her thigh in frustration yet her face wore a smile. “One minute.” She went out and dragged Fyre in. “He’ll tell you that for the past one week I’ve been going to sleep early. Plus, I’m also taking my pills on time. Come on, Bastian. That’s the last of my stash,” she whined, her toes shifting continuously while Fyre nodded like an automatic doll to whatever she said.
Bastian’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the duo back and forth. “Seriously, Fyre?”
“Please, Bastian. I promise I wouldn’t eat a lot, okay?” she pleaded as she jumped onto the bed and began shaking his form so much that his coconut tree started dangling from his head. “Pleaseee.” Yet Bastian did not budge, holding onto the bag of chocolates away from Erska while placing his right hand against her forehead to reduce her mobility.
Erska sighed as she took out her mobile. “Aaah. I cannot believe I have to choose Plan B.”
“No matter what you do, you can’t please me, Miss Erska Saphine. I’ve got the will of a-” Yet he had no will whatsoever with what Erska was showing him. He slowly reached for the phone and zoomed in to the picture of Erska holding a jewelled mustard coloured egg from which white flowers sprouted. “That…is that a Faberge egg? Bouquet of Lilies Clock?!”
“An original,” she stated as she gazed at her nails keenly. “Sort of. I could have you view it.”
“No way!” he protested but still looked at the photo to make sure his eyesight had viewed it right. “The original is at Moscow. As if you would have it…”
“I thought you had a practiced eye, Bastian. Look at the flowers,” she said as she pointed to the ones standing on top of the egg. “They aren’t Madonna Lilies. They are Chrysanthemums.”
“So, it is a replica with a different flower?” Bastian asked in confusion.
“No, dumbass. It is an original but was never released because Peter Carl, the creator thought lilies fit the design better. This is the prototype that is less known. His signature is underneath. I don’t lie when I make deals, Bastian,” she said as she eyed the stash carefully.
“And you are telling me this is in your possession?”
“At my house, if you want me to be specific.”
“We have a deal!” Bastian exclaimed as he threw the bag towards Erska which she caught with great care.
“If that’s all it took you, I would have done this earlier,” she snickered as she gorged into a piece as if she was left starving for long.
“I still would have been darned vigilant,” warned Bastian but he wasn’t so sure about that.
“What’s with you being sick for the past whole week? I rarely see you out of the room..” she said, noticing the coconut tree on his head for the first time. She inched closer towards him.
He inhaled in as he blinked consecutively. “Nah...I wasn’t feeling well but I did go out twice or thrice to see Fleur, she is pretty tired herself,” he said as he yawned. “What are you doing?”
Erska was playing with his hair, pushing the coconut tree back and forth. “You look like a bloody mess,” she said as she began to untie his hair. “Let me help you. You’ve got a comb or something.”
“I don’t think that is necessary..” he protested but since he was in no mood to clean up after himself, he just let her do whatever she wanted.
“Do you have a comb, boy?” Erska repeated, holding the band in her hand while the other was brushing through his tresses as her fingers held the tangle-free hair. “You actually don’t need one, do you?”
“Nope. So, when do you think you can show me the egg?”
“I can after I go back home,” she said as she let her fingers comb through his hair, concentrating on making it even. “And that would happen only when I’m done releasing the novel and when I shove it in my mother’s face.”
“Aaahhhh…” Bastian dragged as he looked up but his face was instantly forced down because it interrupted with Erska’s process. “I heard from Quincy that you’re going to publish it and that the promotions on social media are going well. How do you feel now?”
“Still nerve wracking,” Erska said as she finally secured his hair into a knot after which she kneeled in front of Bastian’s rolled up self. “We did live streams, promised giveaways. Both Fyre and Quincy are my unofficial social media managers. I’m pumped up!” she exclaimed as she raised her fists to the air.
Bastian sighed, leaning against the wall in the corner. “I really want to see the egg though..”
“You want to see the egg, huh?” she teased, pulling his cheeks on either side. “Does little Bastian want to play with his toys?”
“Oh, cut it out!” he grunted, weakly waving her off but she continued to pinch him, causing his cheeks to burn. In retaliation, he punched Erska in the stomach a tad too hard that she curled into a ball instantly.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” he exclaimed, shedding his blanket pelt as he leaned her towards her. “Are you okay?”
“Real nice, Bastian. Real nice,” she managed, rubbing her stomach as she tried to sit up. “I’ll get you back one day for this..”
“I’m real sorry,” Bastian said as he patted her back in apology.
“So, are you going to be there tomorrow when I publish my book or you will stay up in your room?” she asked, switching topics though somewhere in the back of her head, she was plotting revenge.
“I..I was planning to see Fleur. She’s sick..sort of I suppose,” Bastian said as he frowned but seeing Erska’s droopy face, he continued, “I will try to make it if the place is nearby..”
“Actually,” she dragged as she rubbed her palms. “I have no current plans for making it into a hard copy. I’m only going the digital way. As much as I’m confident and everything, I don’t think I’m as confident as to put my money into manufacturing the books by myself. So, I’m just going to live stream the release but I still want y’all around…”
He nodded affirmatively. “Hmmm…better times are bound to come,” he said as he slid his arm around her neck, leaning against her neck for a moment before sitting up.
Erska turned to look at Bastian, amused. “Something wrong with you? You don’t sound too excited or ..something bothering you?” she asked as she tilted her head to get a better view of his sombre looking face.
He smiled in return, in vain. “I don’t know…let’s just say…” he began as he scratched the back of his neck. “I’m going through a kind of phase..where things aren’t what they seem…I mean,” he sighed, unable to express himself in proper words while Erska was trying to listen seriously. “Let’s just say after all this time, you realize there’s just more to something, like you didn’t even know it but now it is all coming back, everything hitting all at once.”
“Though I’m not sure what you are referring to..” she said as she rubbed his shoulders. “I understand what you are going through. I always thought, you know after the first book, I’d be happy because I’ve finally reached my goal but no – that was the start. It was like going back to square one. I was recognized for all the reasons I didn’t want to be and look where I am. Even trying to write this one, I walked out of my home as well as challenged my mother. The future is unclear but…I think I would regret it if I never did it…Even if time was holding me hostage,” Erska said, looking at Bastian as if it was on cue, “I’d still do all this.”
Bastian blinked, staggering back to Erska’s surprise as he loosened his hold around her. “Even if time held you hostage?”
“Yea…I’m literally walking on eggshells right now. My life, as I knew, has broken into pieces. I’m revamping myself, starting from scratch in the most unfamiliar environment. This is like a whole new me and despite everything, somehow, I’m still pushing forward. It’s like all of a sudden, a rush just hit me and I’m doing whatever I can to go where I want to. No more plans, nothing. It depends on me and how I use my time.” She shrugged in the most carefree way she could, at least from what Bastian has seen.
“Woah. I can’t believe you’ve grown up,” he said as he messed up her hair playfully. “I’m getting advice from you now…”
Erska flicked him on the forehead in retaliation. “Well, everything is falling in place, for now except for..one thing..”
“Oh. What that’s?” he asked, looking all curious.
She placed a finger on his cheek, letting it slowly fall. You. “Not that you have to know..” she lied, scrunching her nose.
And Bastian knew when she fibbed, especially, when her unmoving raven black irises were staring a little hard into his. He didn’t protest. He didn’t do anything except smile in the midst of the hazy vagueness and similarly did Erska respond, involuntarily. All he could feel that his heart was full and warm and giddy. This sensation that he had always let drift in one corner of his heart was threatening to overtake all of him. He knew if he was going to confront it, it would become dangerous eventually. So, he let it lie low. For now. It’ll be easier to lock it in when no one is looking.
They let that moment linger, not sure where it was taking either of them as each sought comfort in their own way. And just for that moment, each wouldn’t mind capturing the feeling into a bottle of scent that could be sprinkled any time they wanted to feel like they have been fully themselves, at ease.