“I’m not trying to frustrate you ,” Lucas sighed into the receiver. Really now, Liesel didn’t have to react so severely to everything. It wouldn’t take more than five minutes to get to the roof could catch an elevator. Besides, the others were already there – it wasn’t as if his presence was completely necessary.
“Alright… Okay… I’ll go back right – ”
“Excuse me, coming through,” a man called from behind Lucas, catching the boy off guard. It seemed that while Liesel was ranting, the elevator had made a second trip up and back down again. The sole passenger was a man in blue uniform with his rather large cart of boxes – probably some kind of shipment for the department store.
“Sorry,” Lucas said, quickly stepping aside and out the elevator lobby to let the worker through. He vaguely wondered what could be in those boxes, but was interrupted by Liesel promptly trying to rush him to the roof. “I’m going right now,” he said before ending the call. Well, maybe hanging up like that was kind of rude, but it felt as if all he had been hearing that night were complaints or some semblance of scolding.
Slipping his phone into his pocket, he took one last look around the parking lot – pretty crammed with cars but surprisingly few people – but just as he turned to leave, someone caught his eye. Yet another familiar face, fortunately not bleeding this time. Suddenly alert, he grabbed the bloodstains across the front of his shirt. ‘Right… I hope Aki’s alright,’ Lucas thought as he tried to match a name with the figure. Of course – it was Kaden. Lucas wasn’t about to forget him after what he did to help just earlier that day.
‘Coraline wanted me to thank him…’ so perhaps it was a fortunate coincidence, but was it alright to approach? It seemed that he was preoccupied, sketching the scene of the basement. In the end, Lucas decided that a quick word of thanks wouldn’t hurt… although the bloodstains were a bit of a problem. Well, Lucas didn’t know when he’d see Kaden again – it was so hard to find people at school – so he tried his best to hide it with his hand. He would just have to hope that Kaden didn’t notice, or at least, didn’t bring it up.
“Kaden,” he called walking over, smiling as he would at school. “I didn’t expect to see you here as well. It looks like Sagaro is more popular with our school than I thought.” He’d have to make this brief if he didn’t want Liesel killing the rest of his mobile battery. “I just wanted to say thanks for earlier, you know, with Coraline. She wanted me to tell you she’s really grateful too,” Lucas said.
Who in the world was Lucas on the phone with? He or she was obviously easily angered, and Lucas was in Sagaro Mall to do something for him or her. But it didn't sound like Lucas was supposed to be in the Basement. He was saying something about how he would "go back" and that he was "going right now." Obviously, there was no need for him to stay in the Basement, and that was good. Kaden had to deliver the package surreptitiously, and having someone he knew find out about his Itex jobs would be horrible. Itex could end up considering him disposable, or worse, that he had to eliminate everyone who knew: Lucas. It was for Lucas's best interest that he left now. Just walk past and go up the elevator while Kaden drew in the corner...
Speaking of drawing, this was a strange picture he chose. The berserk scene, with blood matting Caine's features, the hands covered by a layer of blood, dead people all around, specks of red frozen in place, in time. While lightning and fire battled for kills all around, Caine drew his hand from a body as the corpse fell to the floor. The castle background seemed pale, almost fake, like the main focus was the blood, and the place had no meaning. His comrades were not seen, but a shadow fell across the bottom of the picture, the shadow, presumably, of one of them. But who was it? Ah well, the story was still in development, and this was helpful, even if it was gruesome. Caine was such a strange main character, but for some reason he seemed completely real, completely understandable, like Kaden had actually met him before.
He was interrupted from his thoughts by a voice, the end of a sentence. "... really grateful too." Jolting in surprise, Kaden looked up from his drawing. Lucas had taken the time to address him, even though Kaden was obviously lost in thought... Now they had to have a conversation, and time was of the essence. Lucas needed to leave, and he needed to leave fast.
"Huh? Grateful?" Kaden's mind turned back a few hours. "OH! You mean Coraline, yes. No problem, I just did what I could to help. I was nearby anyway, drawing. Speaking of drawing, where'd you get that red paint? It's the perfect shade for my picture!" He stared slightly more intently at the red stains on Lucas's shirt, knowing he'd seen the shade somewhere. "Oh no, that's actual... Who's-? Uggh... Sorry, I just can't..." Kaden put his head in his hands and started muttering quietly to himself, trying to calm down, the bile rising in his throat. "It's just paint, red paint. Only paint. Don't worry, it's only paint, like in your drawing. Caine's not as scary, right? And he's covered in the same type of paint! Just calm down, calm down, calm down. Just paint, red paint, just paint. Paint... Ugghh..."
Finally composed, he drew deep breaths, closed his sketchpad and looked at Lucas, pointedly at his face, not at all at his shirt, where... no. Just looking at his face. Smiling weakly, he spoke with a slight quiver. "I'm okay, really. Just... could you please go? Drawing soothes me, and, well, I hope whoever it is is alright. I'm just not sure that I'd be able to do anything to help. Please, we can talk later. Goodbye."
Kaden put his head back down and began breathing slowly, in and out, in and out. Lucas would leave soon, and the feeling would pass. And then he could finish his job and get out of here. He could explain himself some other time if need be. Right now, the job was of utmost importance. He would not be failing it this time.
Lucas was completely taken aback, and he could only stand stricken at Kaden’s strange reaction. Well, of course it was a stretch to hope that the bloodstains weren’t that noticeable – it was blood after all, and the dark liquid showed a little too well on his paler shirt … but even then, he hadn’t expected such a bewildered response. Yes, Lucas had been cringed a bit when Kaden mistook the stains for paint, but perhaps it would have been better to affirm it instead of remaining silent.
When the boy started to mutter to himself in a panic, more words uttered about paint and drawings, Lucas didn’t know what to do. Even now, although Kaden seemed a little more composed, he was breathing heavily. ‘Just like with Coraline this morning,’ he realized.
“Please, we can talk later. Goodbye.”
Lucas hesitated, staring at the other boy in concern. It was obvious that he wasn’t welcome there. Kaden wanted him to leave… but really, ‘I can’t just leave him like this.’ He had helped Coraline earlier that day, and Lucas felt it wouldn’t be right to leave the boy in a state as shaken as he was. Liesel would understand, hopefully.
“You don’t look so well,” Lucas said, concern weighing down his words. Really, it was not a good day for Itex to make their move. First Coraline, then Aki, and now Kaden? It seemed everyone had their problems, and Lucas was faced with each of them. “If you feel sick or something, there’s this place on the first floor…” he trailed off, but his offer still stood. Although Lucas wasn’t exactly sure how secure a place that pharmacy or whatever was, it was closer than the hospital, and there might have been something there that could help Kaden.
No, this wasn't good. Lucas wasn't going away. And he could hear the faint sound of the clock in the background, likely tolling the half hour already. Or was that just the ringing in his ears? It was hard to tell... Either way, he needed Lucas to go and bring the not-paint with him. He needed to know when he wasn't needed... Was there any way to get rid of this boy? It was for his own good! For both of their own good! Couldn't he see that? Couldn't he see that he was only aggravating the situation? All he needed was to go away and do what the phone-person asked him to. Just... go. Please.
"You don’t look so well." That was Lucas now. Couldn't he just leave? He had asked, pleaded even, using the word! Unless... he couldn't remember, was that out loud? Probably not, he felt disoriented. Lucas again: "If you feel sick or something, there’s this place on the first floor..." NO! That wasn't the problem! It was Lucas himself, and he needed to stay here! Kaden could not go back to the first floor, with the, that, clown... and leave his mission? Well, sure, Lucas had no idea that he was down here for a reason, but this was absurd. He needed to tell him straight out. Steeling himself, he looked up at Lucas again.
"No, that's not the problem. I'm not sick, no injuries, nothing that you could help. It's the... the b-... the not-paint. Take yourself and your paint-that's-not-paint, and go away. Then I'll be fine, or at least better... Just go away... GO AWAY!!!" He shouted the last, putting his head back between his legs, the edge of his sketchpad slightly visible through his legs, the pad lying on the ground next to him, the berserk page moved slightly, showing the license drawing below. Luckily, the numbers were hidden, and a simple glance wouldn't give it away. There was no need to do anything about it, but it did remind him of what he was here for, and he needed it done quickly. Just so long as Lucas got the hint, he could smooth it over later. He didn't like having to yell, but there was little other choice... Lucas was not realizing the problem here.
Ugghh... but the smell... it was starting to become a problem, the iron, that revolting smell. He needed to get Lucas away as quickly as possible. Fighting back the bile, he looked up at Lucas and practically screamed, "Go on! Get out of here! Bring your bloody not-paint and that bloody smell with you, and bloody leave me alone!" He spit it out, voice dripping with venom, filled with anger. He felt bad, but it was needed. Lucas had to go, he had to! If this didn't work, he had no idea what to do next. This was the best he could handle without vomiti- No, don't even think that, or it will happen... It was his best, and he didn't want to have to resort to… to that whatever-it-was, the mask, the soul-within-the-mask that would take over, according to... according to... to someone. He couldn't think, couldn't concentrate, and it was becoming too much of a problem. Soon, it would have to be taken care of, one way or another. He just hoped he didn't have to resort to anything drastic already...
He put his head down again and began breathing in and out, through the mouth, not the nose. In and out, in and out. And wait for Lucas to walk away, finally. Hopefully...
So that was it.
Lucas at least vaguely understood what the problem was here, and he drew back. His concern unable to hide his startled expression. “Ah, I… Sorry. I’ll just, um… I’ll be going then.” Again, he’d overstepped a boundary of sorts. Again he had misunderstood both the situation and the other party involved. “Sorry, Kaden.” Uncertainly, he turned away from the other boy and quickened his pace. He didn’t bother waiting for the elevator – instead, he stepped onto the escalator, weaving through the sparse people and walking his way up.
Once off the basement floors and back on the full and bustling first floor, Lucas took a moment to stop and sigh. That went badly. “I must’ve been so irritating to him,” he muttered, casting his gaze upwards. Right. The roof. He could already hear Liesel threatening to turn him inside out… Was there even anything waiting for the Masked on the roof? There never, ever was – Lucas was starting to lose faith in this whole conflict between some shadowy organization he hadn’t seen twice more after Torrings’ death. Even still, he had to be there, so the boy ran towards one of the two glass elevators he saw down the other side of the floor.
The first thing he did this time was make sure the lift was going up. Strangely enough, but welcome on Lucas’ account, the elevator was empty when he stepped into it. He took another moment here to heave another sigh, thinking back on that day’s events. “I never seem to get the point,” he mumbled. Habitually, his fingers found the cord around his neck, gently tugging at it until the pendent emerged from the neck of his shirt. Gripping the rough stone fragment in his hand, he looked through the window. The elevator was designed into the wall of the building, so he could see the sidewalk and the headlights of cars getting smaller and smaller as the lift climbed the floors. The streets were growing darker.
If only understanding people was as simple as seeing what was there.
The elevator dinged to a stop, and the same electronic voice proclaimed his arrival at the roof. Stepping off, he looked about – he never expected the roof of the mall to be so popular. Well, he’d have to find the others now, and with a little bit of luck, maybe they would find that rumored package of Liesel’s. Whether that would be good luck or bad, Lucas wasn’t sure… but first things were first. “Coraline? Gage?” he called before stepping into the crowd.
"Ah, I... Sorry. I'll just, um... I'll be going then." Ah, Lucas sounded so concerned, startled, confused... This seemed like a blow to him, something that he had no idea to handle. It left a bad feeling in Kaden's heart, in his chest. But he had had to do it; there was no other choice. The bl- not-paint was disorienting, making him want to flee in terror. But he couldn't, at least not physically. And if it had lasted much longer, he surely would have fled behind the mask, no matter the consequences. So he had saved Lucas, right? It was better in the long run, and his task could be completed, finally. He could smooth things over, explain himself to Lucas, later, much later. Once Lucas had a clean shirt and Kaden had calmed down...
The pounding in his head, the ringing in his ears, they were slowing down, calming. He just sat there, sure that Lucas was gone, but still unable to lift his head to check, to guarantee. A draft in the parking garage flipped his sketchpad to the next page, fully revealing the license drawing, visible even between Kaden's legs. It was confusing, straight black and white, lines drawn onto a page, patterns going every which way. The letters J and S were visible, along with F, i, h, v, y, U, f, A, P, g, t, E, W, R, m, I, and maybe even a few more. And numbers were visible too, 8 and 7 of course, but the other digits existed as well. Lines, patterns, shapes, numbers, letters, words, punctuation, symbols, ordered, randomly placed, grouped, scattered, empty spaces, places filled with so many things they turn black and unreadable. It was chaotic and jumbled, but the only thing out of place was the hyphen, hidden in the black lines. The only hyphen in the picture, marking the license plate as the real hidden message in an otherwise abstract, intricate, intriguing piece of art. But only he would recognize it, at least without spending too much time studying the drawing. It was well done if he said so himself.
Above Kaden, the clock tolled again, this time at the forty-five. 9:45, only a quarter hour until the deadline. He reached into his bag and pulled out the box, finally standing and walking over to the car next to him, the destination, the final stop of his job. Opening the trunk, he deposited the sleek, black box, wanting nothing to do with it anymore this night. Slamming the trunk, he turned around and walked to the escalator, going up and striding out the door, headed home.
It was a long walk home, but that was okay. He had a lot to think about. The Itex job, the flying woman and Judgement, the other people in Itex and whatever their jobs had been. Had the Chariot gone and given her mask away? What was the Tower's job? How did the Star and Hermit fare? And what was with Coraline? She had freaked out and needed his help, and Lucas'. And why did Lucas have so much... well, blood, on his shirt? Someone had to have been hurt in order for that to happen, but who? And by whom? What would his next task be? Did the mask really do as they said, as he believed? He hoped he didn't have to find out, and if he did, he hoped it wouldn't be soon...
He snuck into his room, climbing through the window into his room. Whether his parents cared or not didn't bother him, but he wasn't going to enter the front entrance and listen to their admonishing. He just wanted peace and quiet, sleep, hopefully restless today? Though likely not... He figured he'd see dreams about today's happenings, about the events in his book, but they were simply dreams, and they would be gone by the next morning. He lay down, closed his eyes, and waited to drift off to sleep, happy to sleep in, if he could, on the next day, the weekend.