Read this chapter to find out the reason for the blog title.
Finals don’t scare me. In fact, I haven’t started studying. I’ve survived 5 years in the school without studying, so what could go wrong? But there’s this hint of anxiety deep in my stomach that’s threatening me, telling me that someday, sooner or later, I will feel how it feels like to be at the bottom. I don’t want that, not now and ever. Thus, I’ve started to begin the path of studying, taking baby steps as I explore a new world, where everyone works hard for their dream…
By the way, the thing above are written in my own words – no copy-pasting. Awesome me!
Anyway, enjoy the chapter!
4 – You are the piece to my jigsaw
“So, the first thing we need is,” Celestia twirled around to meet Armada and Vega, who were seated at the dining table, “a piece of art!”
“Yeah, but how do we get it started?” Vega asked.
“Well, the kid said that the theme for the exhibition was ‘Utopia’, as in a place where everything is perfect – absolutely perfect.” Celestia emphasised the last words to make things clear; she was well aware of Vega’s slow responses and Armada’s need for further explanations – this was sometimes not needed, nor useful.
The trio had decided to enter the exhibition in hopes of meeting Imogen Sia. As suggested, the only way to meet her was to be in part of the exhibition, since only invited guests, staff and participating artists were allowed to enter. Rumour has it that the Galileo Museum of the Universe’s interior was the most breath-taking sights in the luxury and beauty category, and no other buildings could compare to the Roman-modern styled palace.
Since the event was held in the evening, it was safe for Vega to go about without deathly layers of clothing. Taking the earlier event into memory, Vega had regarded it as the “worst moment in his life” and vowed to never go out in daylight again.
Going back to the topic, the three travellers had to make a piece of art worthy to be seen by important crowds from all parts of Omnia. To save themselves from future embarrassments, they decided to polish their skills on some simple drawings before advancing onto the real piece.
Celestia had produced a pile of printing papers from the drawer of unknown contents and grabbed a few pencils, an electric sharpener in the shape of a square-based pyramid and two smudgy rubber erasers. She had cleaned the table, dusting off any dust so to make the surface clear and comfortable to draw on. She had also closed the curtains and placed a table lamp to give a good amount of lighting – not too bright and not too dim.
Though Vega knew some about art, his knowledge focused on performing arts; music was his strongest point. It also seemed that Celestia had stars dancing in her eyes – either implying enthusiasm or confidence, no one knew – and Armada was indifferent about the whole idea. And so they began the practice.
“For starters, let’s draw a cat,” Celestia introduced, “They’re simple anyway; just draw the head, ears, body, legs and tails, and voila!” the ginger-haired threw her arms with flourish, “You got yourself a cat!”
Armada stared at the art equipments blankly, “You know it’s not that simple, right?”
“It’s called practice, Arma!” Celestia rolled her eyes, “The more you do it, the better you get.”
Meanwhile, Vega was taking notes on the things Celestia said; head, ears, body, legs, tail… and doing it over and over again. Then it’s all sorted! He grabbed the nearest pencil and began drawing curvy lines on the smooth paper. He poured every drop of concentration into his work as Celestia and Armada debated about practices in the background. After some time, Vega could feel that his hands were getting used to the pencil – he gained confidence onto adding some more extra details to his cat. Stripes and dots and blobs of dark graphite covered the cat in the most “artistic” way. A grin split Vega’s face in half, drowning him in a sea of imagination, excitement and enjoyment; it was the first time in his life that he had felt so… occupied and very much… entertained.
After some time, the arguing dissipated. Celestia caught Vega doodling his way across the paper, engrossed in his work. Would you look at that – is he a talent? He could be, he’s an Innocent Soul after all; he should have a talent in some areas. “What are you drawing?” Celestia asked, eyes glittering with curiosity. Vega looked up and grinned.
“I’m drawing a cat,” he said, “Want to see?”
“We’d love to!” Celestia replied. Her face lit up with great expectations. How would the drawing look like? Must be like one of those ancient painters, like Van Gogh or Da Vinci. Or maybe he’s even better!
At last, she’ll see a true work of art! All these years of admiring shining talents from afar, she could finally see a real one up close. Adrenaline circulated through her body as fast as a rocket, flushing her cheeks.
Though hesitant at first, Vega slowly revealed his masterpiece. The soft lines creating gradient on the body… the pointy ears with dark grey stripes… the wormy tail that spirals like a whirlwind…
Almost immediately, Celestia’s jaw dropped in unexpected surprise. Armada choked back a laugh at the woman’s reaction and the so called “work of art”.
The said drawing was that of a cat – it looked nothing like a cat, though, but more like a mutant. Its eyes had needle-like slits that was as dark as Vega’s ebony hair; its square face was decorated with dirty smudges and stripes, and impossibly long whiskers that curved upward, giving the impression of a moustache. The tail was positioned in an absurd spiral of sketchy lines accompanied with the same stripes and smudges. Though the other features were as surreal, the eye-catching barrel-like body took up most of the now light grey thing sheet of wood; the legs were almost unseen, partly because of the immense body and the fact that they were miniature sized to begin with. Aside from that, the razor grin fixated on its face was altogether disturbing.
To summarise it all, Vega was hopeless.
“Nice. Now we know who to not allow to work on the project,” Armada snickered.
“What? At least I tried…” Vega murmured.
“It’s okay, dear. We understand,” Celestia smiled weakly, trying to recover from the sudden blast of disappointment, “Well, why don’t Armada and I try to draw as well?”
Armada took a lungful of air and sighed dramatically, “If you insist, though I’m not a big fan of art.”
“Yeah, says the one who was dying to get the autograph of –”
“Don’t say it!” Armada snapped, scarlet invading his face.
Celestia giggled at the response and Vega smiled; who would’ve thought that the big guy have an interest besides getting stressed over work? Armada should show his softer self more often – Vega would like to know more about the gentle giant.
After much protests from Armada – who made up excuses like his wrist aching – Celestia and Armada began drawing, taking their time as Vega watched the granite lines form on the once clean paper.
In what seemed like ages, Vega started to get into a daze, thinking about the past events carefully. He had assumed that the Professor took him in to raise him into a perfect lab rat but judging from Celestia and Armada’s actions and reasoning, the idea was dismissed from Vega’s mind. Maybe the Professor is just a really kind man, Vega thought. Yeah, that must be it…
Speaking of which, how was the Professor? He looked like he was at the brink of death, struggling to breathe or keeping his consciousness. Vega remembered the bloodied face, the broken limbs, the fragile pleas… “… Get out of here now; it’s not safe!”
Though the Professor’s conditioned concerned him greatly, he couldn’t remember what happened afterwards, nor did he know how the house became a pile of rubble. Surely the Professor couldn’t do such a thing – it would take a giant to crush the whole house like that –
It was all coming back to his head. He remembered the moment he stepped into the ruined kitchen. At the corner of his eye, through the open ceiling, he could see a magnificent figure looming above the house, red eyes like a beacon against the dim – but starry – sky. He had forgotten about the giant because of his sudden encounter with the injured man under the debris, but the haunting glare was now engraved deeply into his mind. Once he remembered it all, he couldn’t get it all out again – it’s fated to be tattooed in his head.
“Finished!” Celestia’s sudden announcement snapped Vega back to the present. In front of him was a picture of a cat with an oversized head the shape of a balloon. The body was sausage-like while the legs were stubby and looked more like wheels. From the looks of it, Celestia spent the most time on the face, as Vega could see the deep lines caused by pushing the pencil onto the paper, as well as present strips of granite that was missed when she was erasing mistakes.
Vega had wanted to laugh, but he thought that he was no better than her either. Instead, he complimented her with some words of encouragement, which lightened up his mood in the process. “Aww, that’s so sweet,” Celestia smile wholeheartedly, examining her picture, “I know I’m not good at it but I’ve tried my best. I’d really love to see at least one of my friends consider art as a beautiful thing!” She said the last sentence loud and clear, probably dedicating it to Armada who was resting his head on his hand, his left hand making its way freely across the paper. “Anyway, we really need to make an awesome piece of art if we want to find this girl. And by the looks of it, we’re going nowhere…” Celestia sighed a lungful, but kept her happy mask on, refusing to dampen the mood.
After quite a while, Armada dropped his pencil and down and pushed his drawing to Celestia and Vega, who were in the midst of a conversation. “I’m done,” he said shortly.
Vega and Celestia looked at the picture in awe. They had expected Armada to be real rubbish when it comes to creativity, probably not bothering and would end up just drawing stick men. Instead, a greyscale Scottish fold looking up meekly at the two human, eyes wide with plea and overloading cuteness. The soft texture of the fur and the detail of every inch of its body was reincarnated perfectly, making the picture looked three-dimensional, like it was about to jump out any time. Vega and Celestia stared and the pictures, then Armada, their mouths wide open with no sign of any words forming.
Armada shrugged their stares of admiration off quickly, looking at the saffron curtains, “I just do what I’m told – I put perfection and accomplishment as first priority.”
“Yeah, but the fact that you were this good for only a mission… You’re gifted,” Vega beamed.
“And I thought you’re a hardcore hater,” Celestia pouted, slightly jealous of Armada’s skill she had never known, “Who would’ve thought that you’re this good? You never draw, as far as I know, and you always have snarky comments for artists.”
“That’s because –” Armada never get to finish that sentence. Instead, a wave of rose painted his face, “… Nothing…”
“Aww, Armada’s being a tsundere!” Celestia teased.
“I am not!”
“But you just act like you hate something when you actually love it!” Celestia grinned like a sneaky child; Vega leaned in closer to listen to the conversation more clearly, his face fixated in an amused expression.
“You’re just saying what you want. And Vega, stop starring at me like that! Celestia, you’ve turned him into your minion!”
At Armada’s childish comment, the ginger-haired and the raven-haired barked out a laugh, filling the caravan with joy and primrose-yellow notes of happiness (as Vega sees it). Armada kept quiet, still starring at the curtain, but somewhere in his chest felt fuzzy and starting to warm up. He didn’t realise that his mouth was twitching in a silent laugh.
Galileo Museum of the Universe – a symbol of great luxury and lavished with hidden power embed into its walls. Display glasses were polished with the finest wax and every inch of the palace was disinfected; the marble floor was as shiny as polished gold and a long table was presented with top quality dishes and most expensive wine there was.
Whoever organised the event had hired professional chefs and talented musicians, as well as picking the most experienced butlers and waitresses – everything was premium quality. The musicians’ uniform were normal tuxedo – and black evening dress for the women – while the waitresses wore dress shirt with a navy blue vest and black pencil skirt, and the butlers also wore classic tuxedo but theirs had silver linings near the hem.
Important men and women entered the glittering hall lit by a magnificent glass chandelier; their expensive clothes matched the cream coloured wall lined with gold and silver. Their hair was as extravagant – women had theirs braided into the most complicated style anyone has ever seen. Men, however, preferred their hair done simply, glossed with gel and smells of the manliest musk.
Different luxurious limousines appear every second, dropping off men and women with style that would cost an arm and a leg. Even the limousines were the latest XVP model that uses magnets instead of the harmless bio fuel – the magnesia roads were embedded with magnet chunks, which allow magnet-wheeled cars to travel along the magnesia (a narrow road made especially for magnet-wheeled cars, so to prevent accidents). They had made bicycles with magnet wheels and a magnesia road for it too, but it was more expensive than a normal bike so very few owned it.
People only seen on the television attended the event, having a swarm of swooning fans around them. Chatter filled the hall completely, aside from the delicious smelling food and classical Mozart or Beethoven symphonies. Loud claps of high-heels were muffled by the open laughs of eccentric oldies; gossips flew around the room like a paper airplane flying freely in the wind. Young ladies eyed chiselled faces, and men took quick glances – or openly stare – at physically attractive women, young or old.
Watching the foreign activities, Vega and his personal guards stood by their artwork – Armada’s artwork, that is. Vega and Celestia had pestered Armada into painting something godly so they could get into the competition without obstacles. They’ve presented the painting to the art director, who begged the trio to sell the painting in any price they wanted. Though they didn’t really care about money, they’ve promised the balding man to sell it to him as soon as the event ended.
The trio rented formal clothes for the event, which helped them blend into the other aristocrats. Vega was relieved that he didn’t have to wear clothes that could smother him to death; he wore a lime green blouse and jet black tuxedo with baby blue and milky pink frills spiralling from his shoulder to his waist, much to his annoyance. He wore dark sunglasses despite the fact that it was way past afternoon; no one minded, though, because sunglasses at parties were considered a unique fashion among the aristocrats. Celestia’s primrose yellow tube dress flares out at the bottom, fancy frills and laces and apricot flowers decorating her feet; she had refused to wear the shoes that came with it and decided to keep her boots. Her hair was curled quickly, making it look messy but fashionable. Lastly, Armada had a black blouse, white tie and silver tuxedo. Resting in his chest pocket was a gold maereo, sparkling as the light from the chandelier reflected off of it.
Everything was amazing – they had got themselves nice dresses and managed to get into a premium-levelled party. However, Vega found the situation uncomfortable. One thing was the stiff suit and the frills on the tuxedo, obviously. The second thing was the deafening sound that filled the room. He could see different colours of sound drifting in from of him, tying his sight together and tormenting his brain – even the music that was supposed to sound pleasant sounded like a group of dying manatees amidst the mixture of random colours that don’t go with each other. Vega had wanted to excuse himself from the room and find a private space, away from the ear hazard, but if he does that then it would bring trouble for Celestia and Armada. He could go missing and they would have to find him.
He endured the pounding headache for more than an hour already and he was starting to feel himself sway in all directions. Just before his knees gave away, a pair of strong hands held him upright and settled earplugs into both his ears. Vega looked up to see Armada’s face right above his head, emotionless and strong. “Don’t push yourself too hard,” he said without looking at Vega, “Tell us if something is bothering you.”
Vega hadn’t expected the sudden act of kindness, especially from the tight-faced scientist. The noise that once had invaded his brain was now reduced to nothing but mumbles, and the advice Armada gave him had somehow snuck its way in – the ear plugs are probably communication devices. Vega thanked the large man sincerely, which gained him a nod of acknowledgement from the flaxen-haired man.
Next to Armada, Celestia was starting to communicate with other guests, probably thinking it would be awkward if they had decided to just ignore people when they’re talking to you. A lady in her thirties and what appeared to be her daughter approached Armada, eyes full of unknown intentions.
The lady had flaring red dress and her hair was done in a series of loops, while her daughter donned a blue bell dress with glitter all over it, her silver shoes just as sparkly. As they inch closer, Vega noticed that the senior was observing Armada head to toe and her daughter was visibly shy and tried to retreat behind the older woman, who kept on tugging her to walk by her side. The lady smiled as soon as she reached Armada, her smile showing pristine white teeth despite her age, “Good evening, sir,” she greeted, “Enjoying the party, I presume?”
Armada smiled politely, “Yes, thank you.”
“You look like you’re not from around here. On a vacation?”
“Well, I’m here to represent the town in which I lived in through my painting that I’ve submitted into the exhibition.” That was a lie, obviously, “This is the first time I’ve been to an expensive party like this so I’m quiet nervous at the moment.” But to Vega, Armada looked perfectly confident.
The woman laughed softly, “Take your time, you don’t need to pressure yourself too much. By the way,” the woman pulled the girl forward, “this is my daughter, Monique.”
Monique looked at Armada only to turn away shortly after. He cheeks were burnt and she was fiddling with her now crumpled dress. It took her a moment before she decided to greet Armada, “G-good evening. I’m Monique Vanagloria. This is my mother, Penelope Vanagloria.”
“Vanagloria?” Armada’s eyes were wide, “As in the Vanagloria Aeroexpress?”
“Why, yes,” the girl sagged her shoulders a bit, “My father is the founder.”
“Oh, I am very honoured to have met you two, then. I have been keeping track of your company’s products and read Mr. Vanagloria’s book about aeronautical engineering. I’ve even attended the book signing conference – the engine displays were exquisite!”
Wow, Armada was a very skilled talker. Vega noticed how quickly the girl had softened and the way the elder one looked at Armada with praises. Celestia had also gained much attention from lots of people, different genders and age. Vega was the only one without attention, which made him fume with jealously and childish loneliness.
How does it feel like to have a lot of people liking you? Wonderful, it must be; the two scientists looked as if they’re enjoying the moment of recognition. Vega wanted to be recognised too, but how? It’s not like he’s special – well, except for the fact that he’s an Innocent Soul, but revealing that information could attract danger – and he’s not that good looking, probably.
He looked away from the glowing happiness emitting from his two subordinates. Just then, he saw a beautiful maiden walking past him, wine in one hand while the other resting on top of the occupied arm. She also had sunglasses on, but hers was branded and looked it cost two to three times more than Vega’s. Her ruby dress swayed with her every step, the black frills, lace and ribbons making her look like a masquerade goddess. Her long hair was pulled back in a braided bun decorated with red maereo and other glittery decorations, showing her porcelain skin, clean forehead, high nose bridge and inviting rosy lips.
She noticed Vega’s eyes looking at her and decided to approach the blushing young man. “Nice sunglasses,” she commented, looking up and down at Vega, “I thought I was the only one wearing it, though I honestly only wear it because they say it’s fashion.”
“Uh, no,” Vega felt his heart hammering, “I-I wear this because I have this condition or something… It’s complicated.”
“I see,” she said simply, “So what’s your name?”
“Oh, I don’t have one.” In fact, Vega had never thought about it.
The girl nodded, “I see… Nice to meet you, Vega.” It was the first time Vega had seen her smile, but it was clearly faked and used for social purposes.
“W-what’s your name?” Vega gathered up as much courage as he could just to say the three words; he even stuttered!
“Here,” she shuffled through her purse and held out her slender fingers to pass Vega a small envelope, the size of a palm of a hand.
Vega accepted the envelope and inspected it – it was lavender in colour and smelt faintly of mint and a hint of lavender. Before he could ask her about the contents, the dark-haired girl had vanished out of his sight. Jerking his head to all directions, he tried to find any sign of the flaring red dress the girl wore or the red maereo headpiece she donned.
But she’s gone.
He didn’t even get to know her name.
The raven-haired boy turned to Armada who waved goodbye to the two visitors from earlier. Instantly, a hard mask painted his face, signalling that he was back on alert. “Armada?” Vega called out.
Armada answered without looking, “What is it?”
“I got this envelope…” Vega held up the miniature envelope. Armada turned to see it, eyebrow arched.
“Where did you get this from?” he asked.
“There’s this girl I met earlier. She talked to me a bit, like ask me my name and some friendly stuff. I asked for her name but she gave me this, instead,” Vega indicated the envelope, “I wanted to ask what’s inside it but then she was gone.”
Suspicious, Armada slowly took the envelope and opened it, revealing an “invitation card” that was addressed to the trio.
Dear Armada Aimer, Celestia Dreyhl and the unknown boy,
If you are reading this, then that means I’ve known about your mission and am aware of your business with me. However, I don’t do things for strangers easily. Meet me in the address given to you behind the card after the party, or I won’t have to bother with you any further.
Armada’s eyes bulged out of his sockets and turned to Vega, who was looking at him with knotted eyebrows. The larger man grabbed the teenager by the shoulder and spoke close to his ear, though the volume of his voice didn’t change, as Vega still had the earplugs on. “Where is she now?”
“Huh? I-I don’t know!” Vega stammered, “I told you, she left before I get to ask her about the envelope or even her name. I kind of have a bad feeling about this, Armada; I gave her my name and I don’t know what she’ll do. What if she knows what I am?”
Withdrawing and ignoring Vega’s worry, he turned to Celestia who was amidst a crowd of young men and women, laughing heartily. Her expression changed as soon as Armada gave an urgent glare. She nodded, understanding that they’ve acquired something about Imogen Sia.
Celestia gave the group a quick goodbye before taking a few steps to the two men. “Right, so what’s new?” she said quickly.
“Apparently, Vega had just met Sia but he wasn’t aware that it was her. She gave him this letter, telling us to meet her at the address at the back of the card.” Armada handed her the card.
The ginger-haired woman scanned the card with concentrated hazel eyes, taking in every detail that could have been possibly left on the card. The address written was as follows:
Eastern outskirts of Euphemia, block 5, Eden Street.
Walk along the street until you reach the end, which will lead you to the Eterna Cemetery. Beyond the woods, there will be a building; wait in front of the door but do not knock. I will come and get you from there on.
“Eterna Cemetery… Isn’t it the one that used to be the testing ground?” Celestia asked.
“I believe so,” Armada nodded, “And the building beyond the woods must be…”
Celestia gasped, “It’s that!”
“I can’t believe I forgot about it,” Armada smiled grimly, “It’s the laboratory, of course. You don’t suppose she lives there, right?”
“No but maybe she visits to reminisce the old times,” Celestia’s smile was also melancholic.
Vega hadn’t the slightest clue on what they’re saying. He wanted to ask what it was but he couldn’t form the words. He was an outsider, meaning he had no right to know everything – that was what the Professor had told him before. But he’s not an outsider now; he’s a part of the mission, too. If he wants to succeed then he will have to know what he’s supposed to do, not stand on the spot like a dead fish –
Without any warning, the grand oak entrance erupted into debris and flame. People screamed in panic, running around to get to safety, though in truth they were just making things more dangerous, as they run around there could be some people who tripped and fell and they could’ve stepped on them. Vega was glad he still had his earplugs on, as he felt that if he hadn’t he would’ve gone barmy from the muddy colours that was faintly forming.
The boy had stuck close to Celestia and Armada, afraid that he might get lost or abducted… or killed.
Calm down, he thought to himself, there’s nothing to worry about. I’m with Celestia and Armada, and they’re just enough to at least keep mad strangers away.
And just as he thought he was safe, a sudden jolt of electricity raced through him and sent him into unconsciousness. The only thing he remembered was the sound of a heavy object hitting the floor and the cool sensation of the marble floor. The rest was silence.