It's not a blessing; this is a curse.
‘Shh…you’re father’s resting right now; let’s give him some quiet time, all right?’
‘He’ll be all right; I promise, he just needs to sleep, okay?’
The door gave only the slightest of creaks, not that he heard it; no, he wasn’t aware of anything at all right now, only the burning pain that continued to wrack his body as he turned restlessly, slowly descending from that feverish haze into the realm–
–they called it–
“I’m sorry, I thought we were going to have tea.” His eyes opened with a start, but strangely his mind was so muddled. What the…where was this, wasn’t he sleeping right now–
A brick fireplace, with an old-fashioned iron kettle hanging over that was just about to whistle as the older woman, far more in years than his mother wheeled herself over. “Unless, I was mistaken…?” Despite her age, she deftly swung the pot out of the fire and filled the teapot.
“Wha–wait a minute, who–” This woman…why did she seem so familiar...if only he could stop and think for a second.
“Sugar? Of course you do; you always do. Precisely two, and the milk is always poured in between.” As if she hadn’t heard his query, the woman dropped one cube in, stirred, then dropped the second. “I’m afraid I’m not as adept as I used to be, so you’ll have to pour the tea yourself.”
He could only stare as the teacup was slid neatly in front, still trying to gain a sense of his bearings. The warmth from the fire, the faint smell of smoke, and this drowsy atmosphere…it felt halfway between a dream and a fantasy, wherein every time he attempted to make sense the thought would slip away, as if he’d never had it at all. The only thing he could do…well, as she had said, this was tea, right? With shaking hands, he poured out the hot liquid, only to spill it at the end. “Shit, sorry–”
“–It’s quite all right, dear. No need to be so nervous…” A faint chuckle from the woman, and suddenly there was that ping again, a reminder that he ought to know her. “You must be wondering what you’re doing here, and who I am…aren’t you?” The table was wiped clean and she handed him a small teaspoon. “Am I right? Adam Muirhead?”
That gave him a start. “How d’you know my name?” A little more, if only he could focus a little more…if only his head didn’t hurt so much…
“Hmm, must be the state you left your body in; I wouldn’t have guessed it would take you this long to figure out, but take your time.” Her own cup was poured out now, as she gently wheeled herself to her seat.
“My…body?” Wait a minute, this was…he’d only heard of it a few times, and even then, Sio could never fully explain it, only that she’d known, when it’d happened–
“–Florence Nightingale.” Her name fell in a hush as the pieces finally snapped together. The room, this situation, and the grey-haired woman who was now confined to a wheelchair but whose eyes remained as piercing as his own emeralds.
She rewarded him with a small but gracious smile. “Very good, child.”
So this was what it was like, to finally be able to communicate directly with your e-gene. He’d never imagined in a million years that Nightingale would prefer meeting over tea in a cozy drawing room, though Sio had mentioned similar settings as well–a tatami room with shoji screens, and a Japanese tea ceremony.
At last, the great Florence Nightingale was interested in talking to him, the unfortunate vessel who housed her soul.
“Unfortunate? Is that what you think of yourself–with pity?” The tea nearly splashed as he choked, how did she know, “–what you’re thinking? You forget, I am you…in a sense.”
Now that he was granted this opportunity, Adam was suddenly speechless. So many things, what to say…whether or not this was even real, if anything he did now would matter in the end.
“…What d'you want. Why…wait until now, t’ contact me, after all these years…” For hadn’t Sio’s first contact with her e-gene been right on the first field of battle, all the way back in Taiwan, whereas all he’d ever known was the shadowy whisper who only occasionally manifested beyond that skeletal mask.
There was a pause as she sipped her tea. “I’d rather, there was never much of a need. It’s as I told Dogoo when we first met: this power cannot be controlled; even you, who has inherited the ‘Voice of God’, are unable to activate it at will.”
“Tch; in other words, you only show up when I’m incapable of handling myself…” He took a sip of his tea, more out of a need to keep his hands occupied than anything else, even though the liquid had been impeccably sweetened to his taste.
“Do you disapprove? I’d come to think you rather like your freedom on the field…”
Did he? Now that the question was posed to him, it seemed as if he answers had no weight. “…No…that’s not…it…” This burden that he’d always carried: light and dark, or two sides of the same coin. “…Why…even though, Jack the Ripper’s just a handle…then why…why does it feel like, I’m…” A rising burn from the bile in his throat as he recalled those dark tendrils, the hysteria of madness that he worked so hard to keep locked away at all times.
“…How come you never revealed yourself, and always hide behind that…creature…”
Even though the world had finally become privy to the truth years ago, that Florence Nightingale had perpetuated the legend of the Ripper to cover an even greater evil, still whenever their minds connected on the field it was always that of a shadow and mask, its chilling touch more than enough to leave him paralyzed (if just mentally) for the moment they joined. Whether or not he was engaged in Nightingale mode, she was never there; never to guide him, to pass on her wisdom much the way that old warlord, however twisted, accommodated.
“…I suppose, the answer is that truthfully, there wasn’t a need; my power, that which Dogoo originally wanted, is not a power that can simply be wielded with practice.” Her hands, wrinkled and gnarled after years of service both on and off the field, yet still able to gracefully set the porcelain down without a single waver. “On the other hand, the persona of Jack…crafted from naught but the darkest side of human imagination.”
He was gripping the cup so tightly it was a miracle it hadn’t shattered yet. “Y-You…you’re just making excuses, t’ keep yourself from staining your hands, just like you did…back in London…!” White-hot fury, at this wheelchair-bound woman in front of him, not a trace of pity in her green orbs. “Tch–who’d’ve thought, the great ‘Angel of Crimea’…too cowardly to confess her own crimes…”
Out of habit he took a sip of tea, but for some reason the taste was all wrong–salty and bitter, and why was it more viscous than before? A drop splashed onto his pants, staining them crimson–his eyes widened and he spat out the mouthful, flinging his cup away in horror as he willed himself not to just wretch up the contents of his stomach; the blood drip, dripping steadily down the tablecloth as the empty teacup lay on its side. “Wh-what the…fuck…?”
‘Perhaps, in order to fight monsters…we must create our own.’ He looked up only to see the room darker all of a sudden, and with a start he leapt up from the carpet as the rug beneath his feet started growing more and more stained and that warm, mineral stench of blood and slaughter choked his lungs.
“–Jack the Ripper.” Without even realizing it he had taken on a fighting stance, the growl creeping in the back of his throat at the towering shadow. “Let me out of this place. Now.”
‘Already? And here I thought you were so keen on meeting me…’ It was as if the figure was growing from his own shadow, the two connected yet disconnected because surely, Jack the Ripper wasn’t real–maybe it was all in his head, as she’d said–
“–Get. Out.” Trails of crimson were starting to leak from the ceiling now, fueling his anxiety even higher and yet the room was growing smaller, his vision darker…he had to get out, now, before he suffocated in this insanity.
There was no response, only a thin, spine-chiling laugh as the shadow continued to watch with those glowing orbs while Adam scrambled on the floor, all exits gone but no, he was not going to be trapped in here, not in this godforsaken hellhole–
–a mirror? Since when had that been there? Despite his panic, the visage that stared back mesmerized him for a second; for it was not that of a grown man, scarred and haunted by tragedy but that of a young man, a boy really; scared and uncertain of what he was getting himself into the first day he joined DOGOO.
Hey. Don’t be scared; you'll be all right.
‘Will you?’ He whirled around, the reflection all but forgotten now as he stared down that vast length of darkness, flickering around the edges of existence.
“What do you want! Just–leave me alone! Please!” Shaking, he backed up until he hit the cold glass.
He didn’t want to be here; didn’t want any part of this nightmare, the deepest of evils that mankind was capable of. “Monster…that’s what you are, even more than the Invasion Objects…”
It gave a low, almost inhumane chuckle, that rumbled until even his bones vibrated. ‘…Is that what you think I am?’ A skeletal hand reached out, Adam shuddering as its icy touch burned through his uniform, forcing him to turn around. ‘Tell me, Adam Muirhead…if I am a monster as you claim, then what are you?’
“No–I won’t–hnch!” The bony digits dug painfully into his neck as he felt his eyes opening of their own accord. No…don’t look… Slowly but surely the Ripper was coercing his eyelids to move, body frozen in place as the image took shape.
‘Are you sure I’m the monster, Adam?’
“NO–stop, please stop! Don’t–it’s not, it’s not real!”
‘Tell me what you see.’
“NO! It’s a trick!”
‘How do you know?’
“Because–I–aarrggh!!” By sheer willpower he moved, channeling all his fear into a single strike and the mirror shattered, each piece glinting blood and white while he was laughing, laughing…
“…Oh dear. That’s the second time you’ve spilled something, young man.” His eyes opened with a gasp, heart still beating madly as he tried to orient himself. Was he finally awake, or was he still trapped in this…dream, or whatever the hell it was?
“Th’ bloody hell was that all about…” Struggling to catch his breath, he cautiously took in his surroundings. Once again, he was sitting face to face with an elderly lady in a wheelchair, brick fireplace still going strong, the fog and blood all but gone like they’d never been there.
Had he even really met the Ripper, or had it just a figment of his imagination; a delusion brought on by this distortion of mental spaces and his fragile condition?
“Goodness, I knew you were tired, but I didn’t think you’d fall asleep in the middle of tea.” Tsking, she set a fresh cup in front of him, but before she could retreat he grabbed her wrist.
“W-Wait. That…what just happened…” He had to know…even if it was all in his head, it couldn’t have been pure coincidence.
She looked at him with a level gaze. “…What do you mean?”
“…You said I…fell asleep…do you…do you swear that’s what happened?”
“Yes; I thought you could use the rest.” Gently but firmly, she pried her arm from his grip. “…Did you see something?”
“I-I…” How could one fall asleep if he was originally already asleep? His head was starting to hurt from trying to make sense of all this. “…I met…him…but, I don’t even know how that’s possible–a hallucination? But it was so real…”
At this, the former nurse gave a sigh, and for the first time she actually seemed human, and not the detached spirit. “Just as the ‘Voice of God’ is a key component of my powers that I gave…so too, is the figure…‘Jack the Ripper’…”
Suddenly he was filled with a burning hatred–towards her, Dogoo, and himself. Why…why couldn’t they have just been satisfied with that power, why did they have to preserve that…demon…
“Why…why did you choose me, ’f all people, to inherit them…” A pointless question, but one that he found himself asking over and over again.
“I didn’t choose, Adam; you know how it works–the e-genes were disseminated back into the bloodlines and we hoped for the best. If you must blame someone, I suppose you could blame the fates, that you just so happened to be the descendant who would awaken my powers…”
“T’ hell with that…I don’t want these, don’t need these–”
“–but we need them, humanity needs them and you–”
“–no, they don’t!!” In a moment of pure rage, he flung the teacup into the fireplace, the fire hissing as the tea spilled from the shattered porcelain while he heaved for air, overcome by irrepressible despair. “If these so-called ‘powers’ are as strong as you claim they are, then how come I wasn’t able to save her?! How come I couldn’t save Sio?!” He screamed at her out of sheer desperation, but her face remained as impassible as ever, despite his outburst. “They’re not ‘special’ or ‘important’; they’re a bloody curse, that’s what!!”
He had known all along, after his awakening…this was a burden he would carry for the rest of his life. Exhausted from his fury, he sank to his knees, not even bothering to wipe the tears that were starting to fall down his face. “…I never asked for this… I never wanted to be a hero, or save the world, or any of that…!”
Something warm wrapped itself around his shoulders, tenderly wiping his tears. “…I’ve made you suffer, haven’t I.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
“…I just want her back…please…”
She was combing his hair, soothing the strands back into place. “…You know I can’t do anything about that, child…”
“Am I…being punished?” In spite of his rage earlier, he was very tired now, hard to even remember why he was here in the first place…
A single pat on his shoulders, and a deep sigh. “…No; you have done nothing wrong, Adam.”
“Then why…am I…”
And then there was nothing but darkness.
She left the broken teacup where it was; no use in retrieving it now. The boy was out like a light; carrying him over to the bed in a wheelchair hadn’t been easy, but it hadn’t been any harder than, say, slashing the throat of a woman in the dead of night. It wouldn’t be long now, before this connection dissolved and he would remember it as nothing but fragments of a dream. Or so she hoped.
Adam Muirhead…the young man who was technically her reincarnation. It was a tragedy that rivaled even that of Shakespearean classics; no one deserved to shoulder such a fate, not even for the sake of the world.
“And yet, that’s what we agreed on…isn’t that right, Dogoo?” She had seen it all, watched from her preferred seat in the shadows; his feelings towards that girl start with irritation, then fascination, then all the fear and desires that came with the realization that he might just be very much in love with a certain young lady…
“I’m sorry, Adam…but this is what the fates have in store for you. And for all intents and purposes, you have done very well…you’ve done good, child.”
Faintly he stirred, and she felt the world grow a little dimmer. Their connection was just about at its limit…
‘God…if you truly exist…use your gift to guide him, as you once guided me…