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Chapter 5: Where Have You Been?

A cold flame, it’s big, bright and blue. My surroundings are dark, freezing and lonesome. Cerberus is by my side, smiling up at me. I raise the flame to view my surroundings, the entire area lights up, it’s an empty baseball field. The night sky is energizing, it makes me want to run around and think of a bunch of crazy situations. I look down to my hands, I’m holding a ball in my right and the cold flame in my left. It appears to get weaker every time I look towards the smile, joy and love of Cerberus. I get ready to throw the ball, I reach my right arm behind me and Cerberus barks and spins around in joy. I throw the ball and Cerberus goes sprinting after it, much faster than any puppy physically can. The further Cerberus goes the larger and colder the flame in my left hand gets. My hand begins to get numb and it feels as though the flame is making its way up my arm. Cerberus catches the ball before it hits the ground and comes hurrying back even faster than before. The closer Cerberus gets the smaller the flame becomes. Cerberus stops beside me and drops the ball, I pick up the ball and start tossing it up over and over again, each time Cerberus jumps up and attempts to catch it. I get on my knees to pet Cerberus and the flame becomes as small as the flame on a lighter. Cerberus tackles me, and starts licking me, I wake up to Cerberus on top of me, licking me.

“Good morning, Cerberus,” I struggle to breathe and push him off me. I’m feeling oddly content this morning, most likely because I have Cerberus by my side and my dream wasn’t anything horrific. “You must be hungry; I wonder what’s on the menu today.” I pick up Cerberus and place him on my shoulder like a little baby. I walk into my hallway, admiring all of the appealing decor as I walk by with Cerberus nibbling on my ear and messing with my hair.

I get into the kitchen and place Cerberus on the counter, I open up my cabinet full of food and treats for Cerberus and spin back towards him.

I pick him up and bring him towards the cabinet, “What would you like to eat today?” He sniffs around all of the food and starts gnawing on a brown bag of freshly homemade chicken kibble.

“You really do love my homemade recipes, don’t you?” beam buoyantly and place him back onto the marble counter. He barks energetically and begins to chase his tail, getting close to knocking over almost everything on the counter. I fill up his bowl with the food and place it next to him on the counter, he speeds towards the bowl almost knocking it off the counter and falling off himself and begins to devour the food similar to a lion that hasn’t eaten in days. With every bit the bowl gets closer and closer to the edge of the counter, am I a bad owner?

Just as Cerberus finishes eating his breakfast there is a knocking at the door, Cerberus spins around and flies off the counter, kicking the bowl off as he launches. Cerberus falls to his side and immediately rises back to his feet and darts straight into the door, barking as loud as he can. I laugh at the sight of him ramming into the door and acting as though nothing happened, now that wasn’t my fault.

I pick him up and open the door to find Des and Troy outside, “Hey, guys, what’s up?”

“Can we come in?” Des politely and quietly asks me.

I look at him confused, “Um, of course.” I gesture them in, and they admire the scenery. “So, what do you guys want?” I question them with a distrustful tone, keeping a close eye on their every move, they’re acting suspicious.

“We were wondering if we can have breakfast here?” Des asks me, worriedly. “Our place is a mess, I’m too lazy to clean up and Troy is still in a bad mood.”

That makes sense, “It would’ve been less suspicious if you started out with that, feel free to eat whatever you want.” I put down Cerberus and he starts running around their legs and jumping off of them like some sort of ninja acrobat puppy.

Troy doesn’t say anything and just waltzes straight into the kitchen, opening cupboards and the fridge, peering through everything like a detective searching for a clue. Des jumps over my counter and grabs a package of cookies from one of the cupboards that Troy has opened. Cerberus chases after Des, acting as though it is some sort of game. Des grabs a jug of milk out of the fridge and dives onto the couch, turning on the TV to some anime and eating some and cookies for breakfast. I walk over, take a seat next to him, and whisper to him, “He still has spoken yet?”

Des peers over to Troy staring blankly at whatever is inside of the fridge, looks back to me and shakes his head, “I’m really starting to get worried about him.”

Troy pulls out a container of muffins that Samuel and Anne’s parents made for me, places them on the counter and turns back to the fridge. “He’s not eating any whole foods for breakfast?” I examine him worriedly. He has an annoyed look in his eyes, “By the looks of it, he hasn’t started grieving yet.”

Des’s face starts to flow with panic, it looks like he is about to confront Troy about it, but I pull him back onto the couch and shove a cookie into his mouth. Cerberus gazes over to us for a second, then continues to spy on Troy. Des swallows the cookie whole and continues to whisper to me, “What should I do about it? I’m really worried about him.” Tears start to flow out of his eyes, “I just want my brother back.”

I wrap my arms around Des’s head, for him it may seem that I’m attempting to comfort him, but in reality, I’m trying to numb the noise so then Troy doesn’t hear us, “Eat your cookies, I’ll deal with this.” I slam another cookie into Des’s mouth and pull myself off the couch. Timidly making my way to the kitchen, I don’t know why I’m so scared right now, but Cerberus is walking at my heels and keeping a close eye on both Troy and me. Troy’s eyes start to get a pissed off look and he shuts the fridge door and turns back to the muffins. I place my hand on his shoulder and pull him into a hug before he is able to react. “It’s time to start letting them go,” I whisper into his ear. “We’re worried about you.” He starts to hold me tighter and my neck starts to get wet from his tears, “It’s my job to avenge them, you focus on continuing to make them proud. They wouldn’t want to see you like this.” He doesn’t say a thing, he just holds me tight and continues to cry in my arms, soaking my shirt and making my floor wet. I’m facing my back towards Des, so I can’t see what he’s doing but I’m guessing that he’s watching uncomfortably from the couch.

We hold each other in a tight, tear-soaked hug for what feels like another five or ten minutes. My shirt is muggy, my floor is as wet as a pool that was just emptied, and Cerberus’s fur looks oddly dewy. Troy finally breaks the hug and immediately turns around and avoids eye contact with me. I turn around to find Des hunched over on the couch eating cookies like it’s some sort of dramatic scene from a movie. I give him a judgeful smirk and signal him to come over. He jumps over the couch like in some sort of action movie, and comes barreling toward us, he grabs Troy and I and pulls us in to a tight, difficult to breathe bear hug. Troy chokes on his tears for a second upon being pulled back and somehow Cerberus jumped on top of the counter and is now happily barking, spinning around in circles and wagging his tail intractably. Seriously, how did he get up there? Did he somehow jump off of Des and managed to aim himself towards the counter?

Des let’s go of us and points towards Cerberus acting stupidly, we all start to laugh at his tongue flying everywhere as he spins, “What’s for breakfast?”

I shake my head and punch him in the shoulder, “Pig.” Both of our gazes shift towards Troy, he still isn’t talking, he’s leaning on the counter and forcing a smile upon his face. I understand that he’s going to need some more time, but at least I managed to have him open up for a short period of time, he should be in the grieving process now or soon. “I’ll make some pancakes and waffles. You guys go sit on the couch.” I look down at Des’s hand and snatch the package of cookies out of his hand, “And no more cookies until after breakfast!”

It looks like Des was about to say something but then he cuts himself off and smiles sadly, “Okay.”

The two pigs and Troy make their way back to the couch and I start pulling ingredients out of the fridge and cupboards. Cerberus is cuddling up to Troy and Des is whining because he isn’t getting any attention. I make a batch of regular pancake mix and another batch of vegan pancake mix; the dishes hastily pile up in my sink. I eventually finish mixing everything together and I start to heat up my pans and waffle makers. Cerberus smells the mixtures, jumps off the couch and comes tumbling into the kitchen, he trips over himself and runs into my legs. I go to put him on the counter but then stop myself because the fur might get into the batters.

I look down to him, smile and shake my head, “Sorry, boy, not this time.” He whines and barks and runs back to the couch.

“That was harsh,” Des says, looking back to the kitchen.

“Would you like fur in your food?” I question him with a dramatically theatrical stance and point my whisk towards him. He chuckles and turns his attention back towards the TV, it appears that Troy is in an entirely different world he’s staring out the window and paying no attention to all of the energy Cerberus is sending towards him.

The pans and waffle makers finish heating up and I hastily put the batter in all of them as fast as I can. I close the waffle makers and focus all of my attention towards the pans, it won’t take much longer until they are ready to be flipped. A few pancakes start to bubble, I quickly flip them, and the roaring screech of the batter sends Cerberus into a howler. The scent of butter and maple syrup starts to flood the apartment, Cerberus begins to drool all over my couch, slobbering up a path all the way to the kitchen. The waffles finish, I simultaneously open all of them, toss the waffles onto a giant plate and pour the rest of the batter in the waffle makers. The pancakes finish and I toss all of them over my shoulder and they land onto the place, one of the smaller ones landed on Cerberus’s head though. The waffles finish making themselves and I toss them onto the plate and throw all of the pans and waffles makers into the sink. I begin to sort everything between vegan and regular as Des begins to make his own drool path all the way to the kitchen as well. I take out a gallon sized bottle of maple syrup and slam it onto the counter, I then walk over to one of my cupboards and sling four plates onto the counter. I’m assuming that Cerberus saw the fourth plate because he becomes even more hyper, like a Tasmanian devil on steroids. Troy finally breaks his gaze away from the window and joins the drooling pigs and I in the kitchen. He takes some forks and knives out of the drawer and hands them to us and everyone begins to shove as much food as possible onto their plates. When was the last time they ate? Des shovels food onto both his plate and Cerberus’s, Troy grabs a huge stack of both the vegan and regular pancakes and waffles and slams them onto his plate, meanwhile I go small, three pancakes and two waffles.

Everyone else begins to devour their food like a pack of wild animals when I overhear a faint knock on the door. All together everyone stops and slowly turns their heads toward the door and stares in pure silence.

I get up and walk to answer the door, “You guys are so feral.” I place my hand on the doorknob and open the door, it’s Yuhoghaneun! I notice two ropes in the corner of my eye and peer around the door, Jowangsin and Dulyeowo are tied up and smiling as though nothing is out of the ordinary. “What the…”

“Can we come in?” Yuhoghaneun smiles awkwardly. I timidly nod and gesture them inside. Des and Cerberus are staring at them like they just walked in on them performing a seance, meanwhile, Troy is completely ignoring them and continues to eat, except slower, so he’s clearly still paying attention. Yuhoghaneun points Jowangsin and Dulyeowo toward the couch and turns back to me, “There’s something that I would like to explain.”

“What was it?” I look at him curiously, “Where have you been?”

“The reason why we haven’t spoken to you since what has happened is because I was busy trying to calm these two down,” he gestures to Jowangsin and Dulyeowo on the couch untying each other.

“Are you kidding me!” Des yells from the kitchen. “Out of all the reasons it could’ve been, trying to calm two people down was it and it took you two weeks to get them to calm down!”

“It was a nightmare,” Yuhoghaneun lets out an exhausted sigh and slumps down onto the couch.

I walk over to Dulyeowo and stand right in front of him, “Why didn’t you even try to communicate with me at all?”

He looks away from me, he appears ashamed of himself, “I was trying to kill Anthony and hopefully bring your parents back.”

“He was also more than willing to use up all of his power to rebuild your home with all of the irreplaceable items repaired as well,” Yuhoghaneun adds. I notice a tear fall onto Troy’s plate, he stands up, forcing the chair under him to tumble down and cause an eerie ruckus and storms out of the room, hiding his face from everyone.

We all stare at the door in awkward silence for a second and then Des stands up, “I’ll go after him, to make sure he’s okay.”

Des leaves the room and we all look at each other, “He’s still in pain?” Jowangsin asks me.

I contemplate for a second then shake my head, “He hasn’t exactly started the grieving process until about half an hour ago.”

“I’ll ask one of my angels to keep an eye on him,” Jowangsin adds. “However, there’s something else that I would like to inform you of.”

I turn to her and say curiously, “What is it?”

“Are you sure?” Yuhoghaneun cuts in. “It may be a little too soon, we can’t trust that she’s ready yet?”

“Not ready yet?” Dulyeowo spins over to him and shouts with an aggravated look on his face. “How dare you doubt her!”

“Both of you, shut it!” Jowangsin twitches at their outbursts. “She isn’t ready yet, but if she trains and homes in on her skills, then she will be unbeatable.”

Dulyeowo grunts and stomps over to the kitchen, “Whatever.” He pouts and mutters like a child, “She’s ready, I know she’s ready.”

“Well, he’s getting stronger by the second!” Yuhoghaneun snaps and growls at him. “She may not be ready to face off against an army that big!”

“Shut up!” Jowangsin roars, causing the building to shake, Cerberus whines and scratches at his ears then runs out of the room, I lose consciousness and fall to my knees.

I awake in my bed, Jowangsin is sitting on a chair beside me with her head bowed in embarrassment, Dulyeowo is leaning on a wall nearby my door, Yuhoghaneun is placing a cup of tea on my bedside table and Cerberus is peering in from behind the door, trying to stay hidden from Jowangsin and the angels while still keeping an eye on me.

Dulyeowo glances towards me and notices that my eyes are open, “She’s awake,” he mumbles. He has certainly gotten much more courageous over the time; he looks cool in that stance.

The other two snap their focus over to me and I notice Cerberus’s tail begin to wag slowly but he’s still timid. Yuhoghaneun sets my pillow upwards, “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m terribly sorry about that,” apologizes Jowangsin. “I’ve just been a little irritated for the last few weeks.”

“It’s alright,” I dismiss it and shift my attention over to Yuhoghaneun, “I’m fine.” I turn my attention back to Jowangsin, “What did you want to tell me?”

I can hear her gulp and she hesitates to tell me, Dulyeowo sighs and walks over to me, “We think we’ve found the hideout Anthony Carcasco.”

“Dulyeowo!” Jowangsin growls. I feel like I lose all feeling in my body, my head begins to ache, and my hands start to shake. Is this fear? Rage? Or maybe dread? I’m about to have a mental breakdown, I can feel it. Jowangsin shifts her gaze to me and her jaw drops, “Lexus, calm down.”

“She’s about to have a mental breakdown!” Dulyeowo warns and points towards the exit, “Everyone out!” Jowangsin grabs Yuhoghaneun by the wrist and drags him out of the room, I notice Cerberus sneak his way in but I lose sight of him in the shadows, the door slams shut and I can hear the other two running out of my hotel room. My breathing becomes heavy and difficult to maintain. Dulyeowo grabs a mirror from the other side of the room and points it towards my face, “Just so you know, this is what made Jowangsin so freaked out.” Through all of the pain and choking I manage to catch a glimpse of my reflection, my eyes have turned into laughing skulls, my hair is a black burning flame, my breathing is letting out black mists of cold and my entire face is covered in a black, burning sap. The sight of it makes me freak out even further, and my breathing becomes even more frantic and uncontrollable. I begin to scream, cough and choke manically, Dulyeowo is panicking and running around the room trying to figure out what to do. The ring won’t help anything since it doesn’t get rid of mental breakdowns. Just as Dulyeowo attempts to cover me with a blanket and use some sort of power, Cerberus jumps out of the shadows and flies onto my bed, scratching at my hands to keep them away from my head, licking my face and spinning around in circles to help distract me from my freak out and cuddling up beside and staring longingly into my eyes. I pass out from the heavy breathing but somehow, I can feel that Cerberus isn’t leaving my side and I can still feel his loving gaze pointing at me like a laser, burning into my forehead.

I awaken shortly after, Cerberus still cuddling up by my side, sleeping like a baby and Dulyeowo sitting beside me, smiling sweetly. He places his hand on my forehead, his warmth comforting and calming to the touch.

“Feeling a little better now?” He asks me in a deep hushed tone, his smile lightening up my jet-black room. “I’m sorry about today by the way, I didn’t want any of this to happen.”

I muster up a smile, “It’s fine, by the way, your confident smile is almost, intoxicating.”

He softly chuckles, “Try not to get too drunk.” His cheeks start to blush with a bright pink, and he looks away from embarrassment, he whimpers, “That sounded so stupid, I’m sorry.”

I giggle a little less quietly, Cerberus jolts up from the not so quiet squeak and crawls up my chest, then lays his head back down under my neck. I look back up to Dulyeowo and whisper, “It sounded a little stupid, but it was still cute.”

His cheeks turn from a bright pink to a dark scarlet and his smile grows even wider, nearly ear to ear, “Do you think that you’re ready to hear the rest of the news yet?”

I shrug tiredly, making sure not to make too much movement so then Cerberus won’t be disturbed again, “Best to hear about it before I wake up completely.”

His smile disappears and his face turns serious, it looks as though he hesitates to tell me but decides to anyway, “We’ve found Anthony’s hideout.” My breathing begins to become heavy once again, but I focus on staying calm, breathing heavily every five seconds. He notices and looks worried but still continues, “His army size has grown to over one million, we think that he’s starting to make his way to the non-magic zones.” Cerberus wakes up and begins to lick my collar bone, his soft fur making me weary, I’m assuming that my uneasy breathing and heartbeat is what woke him up. “Apparently, he’s been hiding in plain sight, he has several hideouts, a few construction buildings in the middle of the city, hosting meetings in a few parks, forests, and much more.” I begin to lose feeling in my legs, they’re limp like noodles and I can’t move, my body is as stiff as a boulder. I want to tell him to stop and give me a minute, but my throat is dry, and it feels as though if I were to speak then I’d cough up dust. Besides, this time it appears that Dulyeowo hasn’t noticed my troubled behaviour and decides to continue the update, “He’s getting stronger by the second, and I think he has also received numerous demon blessings, though I think they’re all low-level demons, Shi is a hundred times stronger than all of his blessings combined.” He stops and peers down to the ground, a look of shame on his face, “I think he’s collecting all of the low-level ones so then he can work up to receive a high-level blessing. Which then will make him nearly invincible.” I choke at the sound of that, Anthony being invincible. He was nearly unbeatable the first time I fought him! I don’t think I’m ready for this, if he’s getting stronger so quickly then I’m definitely not progressing fast enough. “You need to unleash your true power,” he mutters, Cerberus sneezes as he was muttering to himself and I was unable to hear him.

“What was that?” I ask him eagerly.

His eyes go large, and his face filled with fright, “Nothing, you didn’t hear anything.” I really didn’t. He coughs and hauls himself out of the chair, avoiding eye contact with me, “Train hard, Lexus. The world is going to need you someday, you can’t let Anthony achieve world domination.”

He then stomps out of my room, without saying another word, leaving me in complete darkness and horror. Cerberus glares at the door, trying to figure out what had just happened. I manage to calm myself down, and Cerberus’s soft puppy fur sends me back into a needed nap.

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