Blood and Dust

He could see it, the light, at the end. Every second was a second closer to victory. Chase gritted his teeth painfully and tried to ignore the burning heat, the sparking metal, the drowning roars...but something in him cracked and shattered like glass. Just like that, it was over.

As his vehicle crumbled away into disassembled debris, Scarlet’s words echoed in his mind, “I’ll leave Jason...if you win. I only like winners, Chase.” She smiled tantalizingly in Chase’s memory and as his airship smashed into the side of the arena, exploding in brilliant magenta flames, Chase glanced out of from the dark visor of his helmet and searched for the golden irises and soft half-smirk he knew to be watching from the crowd. Just as the heat enveloped him, he found her.

Scarlet smiled and blew him a kiss. Then Chase blacked out.

____

“Chase!” A girl’s voice rang out in the long, lonely hallway and my eyes slid away from the gleam of the vending machine to a short, lively figure. She was waving her hand like a flag in the wind and with every step she bounced off the cement, her long tawny hair trailing behind her like ribbons.

“Eve,” I muttered in slight surprise, “What are you doing here?”

“To see you of cou-” BAM! Eve tripped and smacked the floor with a resounding echo that vibrated through the ground a bit.

“Ow…” She winced and pushed herself up from the cold floor.

“Geez, be more careful,” I admonished lightly before returning my focus to the vending machine. Eve leaped to her feet furiously, her hair literally standing on an end. Jamming her finger at me, her face contorted into a picture of rage and she set about on a long rant.

“Ha! You heartless devil, you’re still as brutish as ever! I thought I’d show you some sympathy before I challenged you at the next kai-fyun match, but that was too much thinking on my part. B*****s like you don't deserve sympathy – especially if they don’t know how to treat a lady-”

“Lady? Where?”

Eve’s face flooded fifteen different shades of red and before I could react, she hooked her arm around my neck and caught me in a chokehold. My body instantly panicked, but no matter how much pulled at Eve’s thin arm, I couldn’t pry her away.

“Y-you….freaking…monster…” I managed between gasps for air.

“Monster?! Who’s a monster?” Eve grinned darkly. Her arm pressed harder against my temple, and I began to see stars. My fingers brushed against her clothes, and I gritted my teeth in a final effort to throw her off. Just then, the smell of honey and flowers soaked through the air. The scent sparked a memory and in my middle of my throw, I froze. Eve and I tumbled to the ground at the same time. My arm scraped against the floor and a slight burn rippled through my body as my skin blushed red.

A shadow fell across the floor and a rush of adrenaline raced through me as I recognized the shape. My face tilted upwards toward the light, but under the bright glare I was momentarily blinded. Holding my hand up, I attempted to peer through, but it wasn’t necessary.

Golden eyes. A crooked half-smirk. Long, dark red hair.

Scarlet stepped forward from underneath the lights, like a fallen star on Earth, but nevertheless still a star. My heart quickened and I restrained my arm from shooting up to reach out to her. I could feel the heat rise in my cheeks and flood my ears. Even my mind was buzzing so much so that I couldn’t put together a coherent thought.

“Hello Chase,” she murmured softly with an amused look.

“You! - what are you doing here?!” Eve bluntly asked, “Chase doesn’t want to see a player like you.”

Scarlet chuckled. “Player? That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? I didn’t break my promise. The conditions were if he won…I would become his.”

Eve and I both blushed at the brazenness of her comment, but I couldn’t break away from Scarlet’s gaze. I seemed to feel nothing but the intensity of those golden eyes. Even the acrid smell of sanitization in the hospital melted away as I was submerged in the scent of soft summer flowers and sweet honey. I couldn’t forget…

Her mouth curled up softly, in the way that made my heart beat heavily and irregularly, like a broken metronome attempting to run at the speed of light. I pressed my finger lightly against her dimple and was thrilled to hear her laugh. It had the same sound as wind chimes, I thought. Scarlet turned her golden eyes, which were like the color of the sun but had the beauty of fire, towards me.

“Don’t ever leave me,” she whispered. Her mouth smiled as she said this, but an inexplicable expression in her face, or maybe it was the tone of her words, spoke of a screaming sorrow that would come if I disappointed her. A powerful urge in me needed to calm that fear and I reached my arms around her, pressing my forehead against hers. Our noses touched lightly and she peered up at me, waiting with timid hope.

“Never,” I whispered back and all the tension leaked out from her and the underlying fear within her seemed to vanish. As our lips met, a soft thrill prickled through my back, and I thought I could taste summer…

A pointed cough broke the air and I rocketed back to the present. Eve was giving me a strange look, and I glanced back to Scarlet. For some reason, a single tear sat on the brim of her eyelids, but before I could blink, Scarlet turned away.

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay. But since you were just playing with your childhood friend, I guess I didn’t need to have worried.” A joyless laugh echoed from her lips, and Scarlet looked over her shoulder.

“Bye Chase. You lost the bet, so now you have to leave Jason and I alone,” she smiled and winked as she waved.

“H-hold on!” I blinked in surprise as I heard the words I wanted to say come out of Eve’s mouth. A strange feeling took hold of me, and I turned my head towards her.

Eve, her long ponytail spread like a flare across the floor, sat angrily glaring at Scarlet. Though I had seen Eve angry too many times to count, the expression on Eve’s face now was entirely foreign to me.

Scarlet paused, as surprised as I was, and arched her thin eyebrows. The pounding silence reverberated in the hallway. I thought I could feel my skin prickle as a cold chill ran through me. Scarlet and Eve exchanged soundless words and I suddenly could taste the bitterness of their thoughts.

“You…how dare you treat him like a toy,” Eve murmured in a low voice, “Is this really just a game to you?” Scarlet scoffed.

“You don’t understand anything. A bet is a bet. If Chase won...” Scarlet’s voice broke off, “It doesn’t matter. He didn’t. Do you understand? The world is filled with rules, and only those who know how to use them can survive. So honestly, this is just natural – survival of the fittest.”

Eve nearly rushed toward Scarlet, but I leaped up in time to grab her waist and hold her back. Thank God…Fortunately, I had learned from when I was little that Eve had an odd tell whenever she was about to snap. Always, whether it was out of embarrassment or out of anger, Eve rubbed the back of her neck immediately before she lost control. As I struggled to contain the writhing girl within my grasp, I suddenly felt a wave of nausea rushed over me. My chest ached and my head reeled.

A loud, hollow clatter shattered the tense scene. I managed to glimpse a wooden clipboard on the ground as I abruptly crumpled against Eve. My face pressed against her clothes softly, but I barely noticed as the waves of nausea became worse.

“Wha-what is going on here?!” a shrill voice demanded, “Oh dear, oh dear! This is a hospital! You girls should know better than to stress out a patient like this!” A frail nurse in her middle-fifties with round spectacles shrieked indignantly. I vaguely recalled that Eve smelled like home – or whatever you could call that shelter we shared. As the nurse continued her lecture, I zoned out, my conscience already fading.

“Chase!” Eve cried worriedly. She maneuvered herself out from my grasp and tried to straighten my limp body, but I couldn’t help. I felt poisoned and fatigue seemed to nibble away at my soul. I slumped against Eve’s shoulder weakly and her body stiffened.

“Take care of him,” Scarlet muttered to Eve, “I’m getting out of here before that nurse loses a marble.” With that, she vanished like the changing colors of the autumn leaves. Eve’s face crumpled sadly, full of conflict.

“Chase…”

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“…his heart was injured in the explosion. We bandaged up Chase’s chest, but that will only provide support for a short period of time. It would be a good idea not to provide the patient any stress triggers for the duration of his stay at the hospital…we’re trying to get a new heart for Chase, but the replacement has yet to arrive. Even then, a heart transplant may be risky given that Chase is still a minor. It seems…” The doctor continued talking as I faded in and out of conscience.

“What?! You don’t know?”

“Please, Miss, not so loud,”

“But…” The voices softened and merged into the faint ambience of the hospital room. A dull ache thudded against my brain and my parched throat thirsted for water. I felt like something important was going on in the next room, but my brain couldn’t register why…

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Eve’s heart felt heavy. Aside from the incessant echo of the doctor’s words in her head, she was feeling unsettled from Scarlet’s appearance. Chase still loved her – that much was obvious. He had even raced on the most dangerous track in Skyline: Black Rift. The rumors as of recent have been that a monster from the rift had shown up and infested the track. Filled with violent geysers and unstable rocks, Black Rift is dangerous enough without a monster. Not a single racer has finished the track since the time the rift opened! But Chase….

Dust drifted towards Eve from the track and she squinted her eyes protectively, though course grains of sand became stuck in her lashes anyway. The heat beat down from the sun above her and a contemptuous wind roared in Eve’s ear. Something smelled like rain though and as Eve stared out over the vast desert, the dark racetrack winded like a snake through the haze, disappearing into the ominous rain clouds. Rain clouds? Wasn’t the sun burning Eve’s skin just moments ago? A heavy wind rushed against Eve, pushing her forward a few steps. Then red drops of liquid rained down from the sky and a deep roar reverberated across the Earth.

Rising from the sands, a dark shape towered over Eve. Its shadow blocked out all the light in the sky…

“Oh…god…” she whispered.

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The doctor had not lied; he had no idea what was wrong with Chase’s body. Indeed, some dark foreign substance had latched itself over Chase’s heart. Resigned to his incompetence, the doctor shrugged and moved on to the next patient, hoping the heart replacement would arrive soon and that would be that.

Yet, deep within the flesh of Chase’s body, beside the warm beating heart, the black substance suddenly burned a purplish-blue glow and the smell of rain filled the room. Chase turned over in his sleep uncomfortably. Beads of sweat lined his forehead, and suddenly his emerald green eyes popped open. His irises became a neon glow in the darkness of the room and the dank air was interrupted with his rapid gasps for air.

“Eve,” Chase murmured.

A voice shattered the darkness and approached the sick boy.

“Do you see…?”

Chase gulped and nodded, mesmerized by something invisible before him.

“She is not welcome in my territory, boy. Like you, she will face punishment. Even now the dark substance has confounded your human doctor and it will be hopeless for you to recover…All fall before the power of the rift,” the voice hissed mockingly. As the voice spoke, a feverish heat swept over Chase.

“But for some reason…she is not afraid of me,” the voice continued. A note of curiosity entered its tone. Chase gritted his teeth, his hand shooting out to grab the cold metal bar on the side of hospital bed. Now it felt like needles were stabbing his nerves.

“For some reason,” the voice ignored Chase’s pain, “she is only thinking of you. She is thinking, Did this monster hurt Chase during the race? Is this why he is dying? What a brave little girl. I cannot find the fear in her that every other human has experienced. Actually, that is not true. You were the other human who ventured into my territory without an ounce of fear. Boy, you want two things very badly: the love of your former girlfriend and the safety of your best friend. As I said before, all fall before the power of the rift. So I am telling you now. If you surrender your heart to me, I can return your soul to the past and let you relive your relationship with Scarlet. She will love you with the pure heart she once had. Or I can send you to your best friend’s side, and the two of you may have the honor of dying together before my wrath.”

“What kind of options are those?” Chase spat out bitterly as the voice withdrew into the darkness. He could almost feel the derisive smirk on the monster’s face.

“You want too much too badly, boy,” the voice replied.

Chase closed his eyes.

God…please. Why must it be like this?

His mind raced and memories from the past colored his eyes. Scarlet’s smile as Chase showed up at her door on Christmas night. The cold of that night tingled his skin now and then Chase remembered Eve’s cold tears as she knelt beside Chase when they were orphans. It had been raining on that day, like it was now. The sound of raindrops pelted like hail against the windowpanes. It had been night when they finally realized their parents had run away and abandoned them, leaving the small kids mired in deep debt. From then on, they had been through starvation, stealing, heartbreak, and loneliness. But at least they had been…

Together.

Chase pulled himself up and stared into the darkness. He was certain the voice was still waiting for his answer.

“One question.”

The darkness waited, and Chase swallowed his uncertainty.

“What’s my heart worth to you?”

“Energy,” the voice hissed with pleasure and launched Chase through a vortex of white light.

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Perhaps it would have been adequate for Chase to die. But the truth is, this story is only the beginning of an epic journey. I will not tell you the story because as of yet, it has not ended. However, I can tell you what happened next.

As Chase was sent through space, the black mass by Chase’s heart vibrated hungrily and the purplish-blue glow strengthened. Just as Chase tumbled out across the sands, his body thrashing about in the dust, the black aggregation exploded violently. Streaks of dark rift energy mixed into his bloodstream and Chase screamed, crumpling to the ground. His head pounded with a high-pitched frequency, and blood began to stream out from his mouth. Eve, whirling around, paled as if she had seen death itself.

Again, the monster towering above her roared and sent a shock through the ground.

“The game has been played, the story has been told…now it is come to end,” rumbled a deep voice in an eerie hiss.

A black hand rose out of the sand and abruptly shot towards the two kids.

“NOOOOO!!!!!” Eve closed her eyes, holding her hands out and welcomed her death as she stood over her beloved childhood friend. Then someone’s hand reached out in front of her and the scent of musky firewood flooded Eve’s nostrils. Chase’s warm breath filled her ear and his other hand rested on her shoulder. Eve watched in astonishment as a bright blue energy poured forth from Chase’s outstretched hand, gathering itself into a compact ball of light.

“Eve. Thank you…for everything.”

Then the ball exploded forth from Chase’s hand and collided with the black hand, shrouding the entire world in a blinding white light.

A guardian of the rift had been born.





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