Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Chapter 2.19 - Broken Bonds

Warning: violence, strong language and possibly disturbing images if seen unexpectedly. I know I got a shock the first time I looked them through after shooting. I didn’t realise it’s possible for TS3 to be so…graphic, with the right CC.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. :)
   The clock was ticking. In the back of Chantia’s mind, the Song intensified, starting the countdown to the looming incident that was going to tear her family apart if she didn’t act fast.
   Her phone rang in her pocket. Without slowing her steps, she pulled it out and answered without even glancing at the caller ID. 

   “She’s got Renard,” Sam’s voice came through the speaker in an anxious tone. “Valeri. She just called me from his phone. She wants me to meet her at the abandoned warehouse. I already called the police, but I don’t have the time to wait for them, so I’m going so long.”
   The words had Chantia pale even more. “Don’t be reckless, Sam,” she implored him, afraid for his life. “She wants you to take her on alone. You’re going to get killed.”
   “She’s going to kill Renard if I don’t go,” he replied, his voice slightly hysterical. “She only gave me five minutes to get there. The police are on their way as well, but it’s going to take them more than five minutes to get there. She said she’ll give him an injury for every minute I’m late. I won’t let her harm my son.” 

   Chantia closed her eyes in pain. Her heart clenched at the thought of either her son or her husband getting injured.
   “Then please, please just be careful,” she begged him, resigning herself to the necessity of letting him go.
   I will,” he promised and ended the call. Chantia stared at the silent phone for a moment before setting off again. 

   She’d be damned if she allowed her husband to face the danger alone.
   The first thing Sam noticed when he entered the warehouse was the blood. It wasn’t much, mercifully, but just the sight of his son bleeding was enough to cause the fury to rise in his chest. He was going to kill Valeri.
   “You’re late,” Valeri declared coolly. “I wasn’t sure if you’d take my warning seriously enough, so I thought I’d give you some incentive. Hopefully now you’ll take me seriously.” 

   “You f*cking b*tch,” Sam growled, his upper lip pulled into a snarl. “You –” Words failed him completely. The crimson streaks on Renard’s cheek stared glaringly at him, causing his vision to be filled with red-hot flashes of fury.
   “Does anybody know you came here?” she interrupted him, the question bringing him back to the delicacy of the situation at hand. He couldn’t mess it up. He took a deep breath, trying to calm down.
   “No one,” he lied, shaking his head. Valeri’s eyes flashed with anger, but before she could accuse him of lying, he steamrolled on. “Five minutes is an insanely short amount of time. Did you honestly expect me to have the time to inform anyone? I’m not stupid, Valeri. I know you’d have no qualms to hurting my son.” 

   “Stupid would be to come here without informing anyone,” she retorted vehemently. “Don’t lie to me. Now, who did you inform?”
   “Look, it doesn’t matter,” he deflected the question. “You wanted to meet with me, alone. Well, here I am. Let my son go.” 

   She gave a short bark of laughter in response. “You didn’t really think it would be that easy, did you?” she asked incredulously. She lowered her hand and the point of the knife she was holding came perilously close to Renard’s throat.
   Sam froze in fear, his eyes staring at the knife. 

   “You betrayed me, Sammy,” Valeri declared. “You took away my freedom; a part of my life. I think it’s only fitting I do the same to you. An eye for an eye, after all; a life for a life. Your son for my freedom.”
   The knife descended even more, but Sam didn’t allow it to reach its target.
   He couldn’t stall for any more time. Praying that help was coming soon, he threw caution to the wind and went on the offensive.
   The fight was short, but very brutal. Getting into a fistfight when the enemy had a knife wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had, but he couldn’t allow Valeri to harm Renard any more than she already had.  

   “Dad!” Renard’s voice rang through the air, his voice anxious and filled with worry. For just an instant, Sam lost focus at the fight, instinctually turning his attention to Renard. The momentary lapse in concentration was just what Valeri had been waiting for.
   Knowing that if he didn’t end the fight soon, he never would, Sam threw himself at Valeri, pushing her to the ground. Doing his best to ignore the pain in his abdomen, he fastened his hands around Valeri’s neck and tightened his hold, holding on for dear life. Sure enough, Valeri’s struggles grew more desperate as she tried to escape from his hold, but he didn’t let go.

   After what felt like an eternity, his childhood nemesis ceased her struggles and collapsed onto the bloodstained floor. Hazy with pain and loss of blood, Sam was vaguely aware of Renard hysterically calling his name before his vision grew dark and he knew no more.



   It was the longest night of her life. In the background, Chantia could hear the usual hustle and bustle as the rest of the hospital staff went on with their daily lives, but she didn’t really pay attention to it.  All of her focus was placed on the steady beeping of the heart monitor and the slight rise and fall of her husband’s chest. He was alive. He was still alive. 
   She did her absolute best to ignore the dirge playing in the back of her mind. It was rapidly approaching the climax, and nothing she did could either delay or eliminate that climax. For the first time in her life, Chantia absolutely detested the Song.
   In the corner of her vision, she noticed an almost imperceptible darkness appear. With a curious sense of detachment, she watched the darkness solidify into a being she had heard numerous tales of, but never witnessed for herself. At the same time, the Song burst into climax, intensified by the presence of the being in the room.
   The Keeper of Balance. The Grim Reaper. The personification of death. 
   “Are you here to take my husband?” she asked softly, boldly looking the Keeper in the eye. Inside she was screaming and crying and begging, but outwards she kept calm. The being in front of her was so alien, so incomprehensible. She shouldn’t be talking to it, but she simply couldn’t help herself. She cleared her throat, trying to dislodge the lump stuck in her throat.  Her eyes stung like mad. “To the World of the Dead?”
   The being turned its shadowed gaze to her and regarded her for a moment before it turned its attention back to the person lying on the bed. Skeletal fingers brushed against Sam’s cheek, following the contours of his face.
   “He is no longer of this world,” the Keeper confirmed, its voice dark and ominous. The sound sent shivers down Chantia’s spine. The being in front of her was no one’s friend. “Remaining here will only disrupt the Balance further.” 
   Chantia clenched her eyes shut in grief, accepting the Keeper’s words. She wasn’t going to argue with a force of nature. When she opened her eyes again her husband was standing beside the Keeper, as insubstantial as the ghosts she had known her entire life.
   For the last time in her life, Chantia embraced her husband. She gripped him as hard as she could, trying to hold onto his presence for as long as possible.
   Far, far too soon he pulled away, gazing at her with eyes that were no longer that beautiful vibrant blue she had fallen in love with so long ago. 
   “Take care of yourself,” he requested softly, his heart in his eyes. His eyes were no longer that vibrant blue, but Chantia could still read the emotion in them with ease. “And please, tell the children I love them. And tell Renard that it’s not his fault.”
   She bit her lip in grief and nodded, realising it was the last request she would get from him in her life. He gave her one last kiss in farewell and with it he confirmed all the emotions she had read so easily from his eyes. 
   Then he was gone, and the only thing Chantia was left with was an empty pit of grief.
   She almost didn’t even notice when the Keeper appeared beside her, looming ominously over her.
   “Before I go, I will give you a word of warning,” the Keeper informed her. She almost didn’t hear the words that followed, so caught up in her grief she was, but once her mind registered the words she felt like she was doused in ice-cold water.  
   “You have meddled with things that were not yours to interfere with, human. You have altered the Balance. Your actions and the actions of your kin have caused an anomaly to exist, and the Balance cannot handle anomalies. There’s a price to be paid, and it is you and yours that will have to pay that price.”
   It took Chantia a moment to realise what the Keeper was talking about, but when she did the blood drained from her face. Those experiments with the Damned. There really were some things better left untouched.
   What have we done?

   She didn’t want to get up. Getting up meant facing reality, and Lyra wasn’t ready to face reality just yet. She wasn’t sure she ever would be.  
   It was the day of her dad’s funeral. It was the day she had to accept the fact that he was gone and that she would never ever see him again. It was the day she would have to say good-bye to him for good.
   She really wasn’t ready for that.
   There was a knock on her door. She didn’t respond, unable to summon the strength. It was probably her mother, coming to inform her it was time to go.
   “Lyra?” her sister’s voice broke the silence in the room. She glanced up, staring numbly at her sister. Arienne was wearing black; just like the dress she herself would have to put on soon. The colour didn’t fit Arienne, at all.  
   Her mascara was slightly smudged.
   “Lyra, we have to go soon,” Arienne tried to coax the younger girl out of bed. She still didn’t want to get up, but with Arienne in the room she could no longer pretend that time wasn’t passing. As if on auto-pilot, she got up and allowed Arienne to help her put on that black dress she really didn’t want to wear.
   Downstairs, Renard was waiting for them. The scar on his cheek stared vividly at them, reminding Lyra of the reality of the day even more than the black dress or Arienne’s smudged mascara did. In the corner of her eye, she noticed Arienne jerk her gaze away, unwilling to look at the reason their dad was gone. Lyra herself was having difficulty looking at her brother. She was still uncertain what to do with the feelings of hate and anger she felt whenever she looked at him. Why hadn’t he listened to her that night?
   The stereo was off. The only sound in the room was the ticking of the clock hanging on the wall. The sound was normally almost undetectable, but with the tension hanging in the air it sounded almost amplified. 
   It was just enough to drive Arienne over the edge.
   “This is all your fault,” she whispered bitterly, still unwilling to look at Renard. He flinched heavily at the piercing accusation, his shoulders hunching even more. He didn’t even try to deny the accusation: perhaps he was caught up too far in his guilt, entangled too deep in his self-hatred.
   “If you hadn’t…he would still have been alive, you know?” Arienne continued lashing into Renard. “If you had only listened to him when he told you to stay inside after dark, this whole mess could’ve been avoided. But because everything in your damn world revolves only around you, I suppose you thought you were beneath his requests. Well, guess what? He’s dead Renard, and it’s all because of your selfishness and the fact that you never bother to think about the consequences of your actions. This is all your fault.”
   “Stop it!” their mother demanded furiously, having heard Arienne’s accusations as she came down the stairs. Arienne immediately clamped up, but the damage had already been done. Words spoken in anger could never be taken back. 
   “I know, alright?” Renard retorted angrily, completely ignoring his mother. “Believe me, I know. I have the nightmares and this f*cking scar to remind me every damn day of my life. You’re not the only one who loved him, you know. At least you don’t have to see him get killed every time you close your eyes. Get over yourself, Arienne.”
   “Stop it, both of you!” their mother demanded again, and Lyra found herself agreeing with her mother. Seeing her siblings fight wasn’t an unusual occurrence, but the ferocity of this one scared her. This was the kind of fight that tore families apart.
   They continued glaring at each other until Arienne nailed the final nail in the coffin. 
   “I will never, ever forgive you. I hope you rot in hell.” With that she spun on her heel and marched out of the house.
   The rest of the day was incredibly uncomfortable. The snow continued to fall for almost the entire day, causing the day to be bitterly cold, and the ground hard and slippery. The funeral itself was a very small event, with only the people closest to the family in attendance. Renard and Arienne stood as far away from each other as possible and when everything was over, Arienne left without even saying goodbye.
   Two months later she got married. She didn’t invite Renard; in fact, she went as far as to adamantly insist that she didn’t want him at her wedding, and that she would chase him away if he bothered to pitch up. Renard responded by saying that he didn’t want to go in anyway, and that he would be more than happy to never see her again. 
   It was then that Lyra realised her family was irreparably broken. It was inevitable, really.  In the face of tragedy, people either grew closer together, or further apart. There had been no hope for her family from the start. After all, it had been the very centre point of their family who had been taken from them.
   The point was only driven further in when Renard declared he was going to leave the house.
   “I’m moving out,” Renard announced in a subdued tone. The months since their dad had died had been difficult for all of them, but Lyra had noticed that it had been the worst for him. Like he had told Arienne the day of the funeral, he suffered from endless nightmares of that night. Even months later, the nightmares hadn’t diminished.  
   “I can’t…there are too many memories. I’m going to go mad if I stay here any longer.”
   Their mom kept quiet, her hands folded in her lap. The clock hanging on the wall tick-tocked the minutes away. The stereo was on, but it was a different station that played. Neither of them could bear to listen to the music their dad had used to listen to.
   The lingering memories weren’t the only reason Renard wanted to move out, Lyra knew. More than the memories, he wanted to get away from the void; from the empty place at the dinner table that would never ever be filled again, and most of all, he wanted to get away from the knowledge that he was the reason that empty place existed. 
   “You know what happened wasn’t your fault, right?” their mother broached the true reason behind Renard’s sudden decision. Renard ducked his head and looked away, the action speaking louder than words that he didn’t believe her. To be honest, Lyra kind of agreed with him. Their mother kept insisting it wasn’t Renard’s fault, but if he wasn’t to blame, then who was?
   Their mom sighed at Renard’s non-verbal answer. 
   “If you truly believe it’s for the best, then I won’t stop you,” she finally replied to the original statement. “But you will always be welcome here, no matter what. Whatever happens, know that you will always have a home here.”
   “I know,” Renard replied a very soft, very subdued voice.
   The next morning he was gone, and the last of that familiar, comforting warmth Lyra had associated with ‘home’ was gone with him.
   “Do you…do you really not blame him?” Lyra asked her mother uncomfortably. Renard was the reason their dad was dead. Lyra had tried to look at the situation from several angles, but each time she drew the same conclusion: if Renard hadn’t gone out that night their dad would still be alive. 
   “No I don’t,” her mom answered simply. “Valeri was the kind of person who would’ve stopped at nothing to hurt your father. If Renard hadn’t gone out that night, she would’ve simply waited until she got a different opportunity; one that could’ve ended a lot worse.” She shook her head. “So no, I don’t blame Renard – I blame Valeri. If she hadn’t been in the picture, Renard would’ve been able to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted and nothing would’ve happened to him.”
   The answer caused Lyra to grow silent in thought. She supposed what her mother said was true, but that still didn’t mean Renard was blameless. If he hadn’t gone out…
   “Of course, it doesn’t mean that what Renard did was right,” her mother continued, “but his only crime was not listening to us. He doesn’t deserve the punishment he’s going through right now. What happened wasn’t his fault, but he will always blame himself. It’s a burden he’s going to carry for the rest of his life.” She gave Lyra a sidelong glance. “So please,” she requested, “don’t be too hard on him.” 
   I’m not the one hard on him, Lyra thought. Arienne is. But she didn’t say anything, because it wasn’t her mother who needed to hear it, but her sister. Except, of course, Arienne was so damn stubborn, she wouldn’t listen at all.
   Her family had become a massive mess, and she had absolutely no idea how to fix it. 
   Could things possibly get any worse?
A/N: Yes Lyra, things can get worse. Now stop tempting your Watcher. >_<
Anyway. Busy chapter, and not exactly the happiest one ever. I guess now isn’t a good time to mention I’m not a terribly big fan of happy endings? I find the Couple roll a little boring, so this whole generation was my attempt at showing that even the normally-happy roll of Couple isn’t always safe. I enjoyed this generation a lot, but I’m ready for the next one to start. I have great plans for Lyra. :D
Also, since this chapter doesn’t contain a good shot of adult Renard, here he is:
Not much of a change from teen though. :/ He'll be up for grabs soon.