I was caught again by a branch. My tunic was snagged and ripped, my pants cut up to reveal deep bruises and gashes across my skin. A hiss escaped through clenched teeth as I yanked my arm away, irritating my dislocated shoulder and shooting pain like lightening through my body. The pain dizzied me, and I fell to my knees.
The forest was swirling around me now. The red sky was darkening, the trees blurring together. My vision hazed, but I heard a voice. Damian? Braden? Please, someone.
"A pity, this is."
Fear shot through my heart. I clutched my blade attached to my thigh and held my breath, remaining as still as possible. I allowed myself however to sink down completely, as if I'd finally allowed myself to black out. Play dead, Damian always told me. In this world, your safest with eyes closed - they can't read your thoughts, they can't toy with you, control you: they can't tell if you're lying.
Play dead to stay alive.
I wanted so badly to cry out in defeat when she drew closer, but I didn't. Crack. Snap. Branches breaking under her boots. She drew closer, I felt her ice cold breeze.
I felt the world dim slightly even through closed eyelids; she must've been kneeling down next to me, her shadow casting across my face. I felt icy fingers grab my chin. I did my best to remain still as she inspected my face.
Any belief I was alive, she could control me. Dopplegangers were too powerful.
"Too warm, too light; too innocent, too bright," she sighed. "Snuff her out in an instant, I will." Her presence faded. She was quiet; I didn't know what she was doing. She could be preparing to kill me; she could have left. Who knows.
"Oh, oh oh. What have we here?"
Who was there?
I heard heavier stepping, brisk stepping and then a halt. Whoever it was was standing on the other side of me. When the figure spoke, my heart lifted with relief.
"Emma... there's nothing here for you anymore."
Emma's haunting laugh could chill blood. "Ooooh, but, Damian, dead she lies here... Important to me that most certainly is."
"You're stronger without her around, so why does it matter? Shouldn't you be happy and moving on?"
Emma was quiet. Another chilling laugh and then a scoff and she spoke again. "Curiosity is our binding trait."
"Leave, Emma." Damian's snarl sent chills up my spine. I imagined his eyes: red, glowing, smoldering through her soul. Or, what she lacked of a soul.
"Mmm, petty humans you protect now. Interesting, that is." She chuckled again and within a breath, the cold presence vanished with a nothing more than a light breeze -- Emma was gone, again, thankfully.
I let out a cry of relief, my whole body heaving in breath. Damian instantly crouched next to me, a hand pressed into my lower back. "Are you alright?" he asked sternfully. I sat up, brushing back my unruly hair and letting out a heavy sigh. I was shaky, cold, uncomfortable and in intense amounts of pain - but, with Emma gone for the time being, I couldn't have felt better.
Damian took no less. He nodded firmly and stood up. "We should get going then." He would have almost walked completely away had my next action not frozen him in his place.
For the first time since everything began, I started sobbing.
The forest hung with silence. Birds stopped their flight, the wind in the trees stilled. As if the Parallel, even in all its twisted ways, found a moment of sympathy and respect for me. My body racked with sobs, shaking me from the core. "Why? Why? WHY?!"
Damian remained standing, his back turned towards me, frozen in place.
"I'm so.. I'm so tired of being hunted by her! I'm so tired of this place! I want to go home, I want my father, I want my family back... I want to be normal again! I'm tired of THIS HELL!" I hissed slamming my fist into the soil and grinding it between my fingers.
"Sh-She's so vindictive, so snarling, so cruel.. I'm terrified of her, D-Damian, and she's the other side of me?! WHAT, in God's name, does that say about me?!" I shrieked. The pain and fear hitting me all at once left my body in banshee shrieks and howls, sobs and shouts. Everything that had happened... Learning the truth of my mother, losing Braden... Being so far from my father, far from hope to even save him... Failing time and time again, just as I did before entering this hell. It all rushed through me, escaping in horrendous sounds that shook the entire world of Parallel -- a lonely, forlorn and grieving girl stuck in a hellish world she didn't even ask for.
Finally, I silenced. I grew numb, and my voice had left me. My face was wet and stained with tears, my hair a wind mess around my face and shoulders. My body throbbed with pain but I didn't care anymore. Pain was almost welcomed at this point.
"Emmy." Damian's voice was heavy. I didn't say anything. He walked over to me, but stood behind me. Of course, he can't talk to my face.
"I know, I know. 'Buck up, champ; get over it, chick, you'll be fine'," I mocked. I spat into the soil in disgust. "You haven't ever helped me, you won't, so why am I even breaking down in front of you. You're incapable of feeling that kind of emotion. Your mirror in the human world was practically a saint. You're nothing short of a demon, just as you've told me, if I've learned anything.." The hissing words leaving my lips tasted like venom -- they probably stung.
At his silence, I hung my head in defeat and shame. I was through. I hit the final low -- my sweetness, my kindness, my patience and laid-back persona were shattered. No more doe eyed, smiling and friendly bookworm -- no. This was who I truly was: vindictive, cruel, cold. Poison to those around me, those who knew me. They did say the point of this world was to strip you of your preconceived notions; well, I sure had a ton of new notions about myself now.
However, instead of him walking away, he stayed. He just stood for a while in silence, but then crouched down behind me. I felt his cold hands press into the tops of my shoulders.
Before I could think more, or feel the guilt crawl into every vein, my body was forced backwards, into his arms, my back pressed into his torso, his arms encircling my shoulders and his chin resting on the top of my head. He held me there like that, still and silent. "Damian, what are you--?!"
"You're a wonderful... wonderful.. human. You're radiant, warm, caring. Don't let this world poison you. Don't let anything poison you, Emmy." He craned his neck to where his lips were pressed into my ear. His whole body was shaking; what was going on with him? Where did this sudden burst of compassion, intimacy and closeness come from? I felt my heart racing -- now, where did THAT come from?! I don't ... I don't .. do I?
As quickly as it happened it had ended. Damian released his embrace, his body was no longer shaking. However, when he stood up he instantly sunk back into the ground, his eyes completely whited out and his body still. I fumbled up to be next to his side, shaking him. "D-Damian?! Come on, wake up!" I cried out. Please, you can't leave me either.. you can't... you --
Tears stung my eyes. "Damian, come on!" I snarled.
His eyes regained their color -- glowing red, piercing, shaded. Damian acted as if he had just been reawaken into life. His chest propelled forward with a gasping breath and he stumbled to sit upright. He held his head and stared around in panic, as if confused to where he was. I remained kneeling next to him, but I reached up to grab his face with my face, forcing him to stare at me. "Damian, you're alright -- I'm here, but what happened--?"
"Let go!" he scoffed, grabbing my wrists and shoving them down. He stood up irritably, brushing off his pants. "What are you doing, we have places we need to be." He forced himself pst me. I remained there, stunned. Annoyed, I shot up and whipped around, chasing him down and yanking his arm, stopping him.
"Excuse me! You comfort me and then almost just die randomly and think waking up and acting like your normal butt-head self is going to make it all okay?!"
He seemed disgusted, glaring down at my hand. Then, he looked up at me, annoyed but confused. "What? Comfort you? What's wrong?" I withdrew my hand; he was genuinely confused, as if nothing had ever happened. In the world of the Parallel it would make sense -- but for a moment, when he had been holding me, when I had been shaking his body back to life, I had phased my heart and mind into the human world. Attached, intimate emotion developed -- connections beyond just a companionship attaching me to Damian. When he held me... he felt warm. Human. Vulnerable, passionate, fragile, protective...
Where did that go so suddenly?
"What?" He sighed irritably. I shook my head, rattling my thoughts away.
"N-Nothing. You're right... we need to leave." He stormed ahead, abrasively stomping and gabbing on as always -- however, watching him, I felt something different. New, complicated, panicking, growing inside me like a virus, spreading like wildfire. What was this?
Curse the human heart -- always full of secrets.