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The following day went the same as the day before. They went to the same diner and were treated to a few more invasive questions from the same waitress. They continued their explorations, taking note of other important buildings. The town hall housed a DMV in its basement, the police station that looked like little more than a shoebox with an oversized parking lot.
The feeling of being watched never left. Eli found herself wondering how it could be that after all this time she still hadn’t adapted to the sensation. It was with mild horror that she realized that time had a way of standing still in a place like this. There was no sense of newness. No real “learning the lay of the land.” It was almost as if she had come home the moment she had crossed the town line.
Eli had voiced her horror to Yui as they walked toward Sanctuary for her interview. The sun was high in the sky, and still, all Eli could feel was the chill.
“You’re relaxed,” Yui said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “This place feels like home because it’s… it is what it is. As far as feeling like you’re being watched?” Yui shrugged. “It makes sense. We’ve been chased across the country. I don’t know that the feeling will ever go away.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if Yui felt the same. Before the words could tumble past her lips, the Siren waved her off and took a few purposeful strides toward the door. “Wish me luck!”
Eli watched as she disappeared into the building. She kept her hands in her pockets, fingering the stack of bills there. It felt strange to watch her like this so far away from Vegas and the lifestyle they lived before. When Yui had been held captive by Omnus—the shell corporation shell that hid the seedy dealings of Landyn’s Pack, Nex—she had been an erotic dancer. Strangely enough, Yui didn’t seem to mind the work. She just didn’t like being told it was what she had to do.
If ever there was a person cut out for night life, it was Yui. Not only was she a seemingly bottomless fount of joy, but she was personable. She could carry any conversation, no matter how tedious, without breaking a sweat. Never mind the fact that she was endlessly patient, incredibly open minded, and it didn’t hurt that she was hot as hell. Eli tried not to think too hard about tracing the outline of Yui’s tattoos with her lips. The full moon was fast approaching, and it would do her no favors to get worked up without immediately being able to tend to that want.
She continued her aimless roaming, trying to think about anything other than the uneasy feeling that blossomed in the pit of her stomach. The feeling only seemed to worsen when she was alone. She found herself glancing at her phone, checking the time with alarming frequency. It seemed like every time the urge grew to be too pressing, only a few minutes had passed.
After a half hour, her phone buzzed in her pocket. She frantically scrambled for the device, keen to put an end to her solitude. Her expression morphed into a frown when she read the words on the screen.
Yui: Got the job! They want me to start immediately. Do you want to meet me here when my shift ends?
Eli: Yeah. Sure. I’ll see if I have better luck finding a car today.
Yui: You’re the best! XOXO
Eli growled under her breath. She fished out her pack of cigarettes and pressed one to her lips. She drew in long, sharp breaths until the tobacco burned her lungs and left her throat feeling raw. She lost count of how many she had smoked as she looked at more car listings. There was a buy-here-pay-here on the outskirts of town that looked to be promising. It seemed to have a bit of everything—a white Ford Focus that had seen better days, a Honda Civic in candy apple red, an old Buick Regal with more rust than paint.
Under normal circumstances, she would have groaned about the long walk, but she had stayed in one place for too long. Yui’s words plagued her, leaving her to wonder if her worry was born of her environment or her conditioning. Was someone really watching her? Or was she just impatiently waiting for the other shoe to drop?
She tried to bury the thoughts when they came, but in a place as quiet as this, there was simply no escaping their intrusion. She made a mental note to stop by the general store to see if they had some headphones for purchase. If her days were going to continue to be spent like this, she was going to lose her mind. Better to drown out those unfortunate thoughts with death metal than allow herself to spiral. Especially when the full moon’s magic was nipping at her heels.
The map on her phone revealed a wooded area at the center of town that would cut her walking time in half. Never one to work harder when she could work smarter, she re-routed.
Tall pine trees stood like monoliths on either side of her. Each step brought with it fragrant wafts of evergreens. Dead branches and forest bramble caught her pants as she walked. The occasional pinecone would find its way under her boot, making deafening crunching sounds in the forest’s quiet.
Birds chirped happily overhead, and the odd sound of scrambled paw falls from wild rabbits and other forest mammals running to safety lulled her into a strange sense of calm. She couldn’t recall the last time she had been somewhere like this. It had to have been in college, long before her life with Landyn—her Devil—had begun. For as long as she could remember, her life was little more than desertscapes and concrete scenery. Flashing neon-lights, and perpetual hustle and bustle.
The silence here was so overwhelming, it was almost painful. But it was a pain she welcomed.
It felt like something else took hold of her, leading her deeper into the woods. She thought everything, and nothing all at once. Her thoughts raced and circled, even as they flickered, faltered, and fell quiet.
She walked through the ever-darkening wilderness, scenting the damp and the dying leaves on the breeze. A strange static filled her nose, burning hot, like electricity. The static before a storm.
Everything in her head quieted into one repetitive need—a singular, desperate want. To find where that feeling was coming from.
Eli moved at a frenetic pace, pushing dead branches and foliage out of her way. Her palms felt raw, and her knees were bloodied from the times she slipped. Yet, still, she could not be made to stop.
She reached a clearing where the sensation became overwhelming. Just like a balloon, it swelled and popped, leaving her standing amidst the moss and the fairy rings with a strange absence enclosing her. A large, stone circle stood at the top of a stone staircase. Moss and other plants had grown into the grooves. There was something about this place that seemed ancient.
In that moment, there was no pull. There was no strange, burning desire to see what laid beyond the other side.
It was her who was curious. Her who took the first steps. Her who stood before the great stone archway.
And it was her who stepped through.
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