I really need your comments on this one!

Hello,

So here’s chapter 6. I really think this chapter is not as good as the others and I need your comments and suggestions, you know, tips on how to make it better. Also, the World Book Competition is back! I didn’t participate in the last one but I will participate this year. We still don’t know the theme yet so I haven’t start writing, but I will write a lot as soon as it’s out! Cheer for me!

Enjoy chapter 6. Remember your feedback!

6 – A night with Imogen Sia and Bandersnatch

It was similar to the situation before, except he was now lying on a soft bed, sweet scent of flowers wafting around the room. He felt like he was about to sink through the mass of incredibly soft cotton – his arms were spread wide across the circular bed, reaching out for nothing in particular. He wriggled his fingers and toes, stretching them as far as they could go.

Vega inhaled deeply and sighed out relaxation. He had never felt so blissful in his life and what’s more was that there was a slick, warm thing rubbing against his feet; it felt like some kind of foot massage, so warm and sticky and slimy and –

Wait, what?

That didn’t sound very right.

The boy snapped his eyes open and brought himself up. Sitting on edge of the bed was a gigantic hound, driving its black tongue – as black as its bramble-like fur – up and down Vega’s feet. Vega’s white eyes widened in horror at the creature’s impossibly huge size for a dog, and the fact that its fangs were clearly visible behind the unnaturally long tongue, peeping out once in a while.

He hadn’t realise that he was screaming at the top of his lungs until the dog jumped back onto the floor and a dark-haired girl barged in, looking angrier than a raging sea during a heavy storm. “Will you just shut up!” she raged, “The hell is wrong with you? Suddenly waking up and screaming like an idiot… Seriously!”

Vega literally shrunk back into the soft bedcover, “Sorry…” he said in a meek voice.

“Whatever,” the girl sighed dramatically and walked over to Vega. He though that she was going to do something horrible – something horrid and unspeakable – so he clenched his eyes close and prepared for the worst. The girl was a bit puzzled at Vega’s reaction, not sure of what to do. “Hey, I’m not going to smack you or anything,” she explained, “Just checking your injuries. I removed the planks because the arms and legs are healing in a straight line now; if I hadn’t done that, your bones would heal in an odd way and become squiggly thingies permanently – that would just be ugly. Your cuts and bruises and some other things are gone by now, and it’s fortunate that your skull is still intact; you should thank yourself for that – you have a really good healing system so I guess you’re pretty much fine, but that doesn’t mean that you can just walk around the house freely.”

She rambled on and on as she did some odd things to Vega body, poking it, bending it and lightly hitting it. Finally, she took out a stethoscope – or so Vega thought; he remembered the Professor showing him one – from under the bed and placed the cool metal on Vega’s chest, swiping it around as if she’s scanning the ground for treasure.

Meanwhile, the large creature sat silently near the bed, looking with surprisingly calm red eyes at Vega’s pure white orbs. It stared intently, refusing to look away, and prohibiting Vega to look away. Did his scream anger the beast? He didn’t know. All he did know was that he was feeling awkward with the stares but not at all frightened.

Moreover, the creature also looked familiar. Vega had the feeling he had seen it somewhere before (before the attack earlier, of course) and somewhere deep in his mind, he had some kind of mixed feelings, a mix between affection and pity. “Is that dog yours?” Vega asked the girl.

The girl dropped her stethoscope to rest on her shoulders and then proceeded huffed a sigh in some kind of relief, or was it annoyance of the question?

“No. Someone trusted me to keep watch on him,” she answered.

“Who’s the owner, then?”

The girl crossed her arms and leaned on one leg, biting her bottom lip as if in thought, “I don’t think you want to know.”

“No really, I do.”

“Why?”

Vega scratched his nape, “He looks kind of familiar. He’s big and somewhat scary but I’m not scared at all. In fact I –” Vega then remembered something completely irrelevant. “Hey, you’re he girl I met at the party!”

“It’s not a party; it’s an event, an exhibition,” the girl rolled her eyeballs, only if she had one.

“I didn’t recognise you because you had your hair up, and you have it loose now. Now that I think about it, I never get to ask your name,” Vega started to get nervous for some reasons. “So, what’s your name?”

“I think you already know that – I’m pretty sure.”

“… You’re Imogen Sia?” Vega asked, mouth open at the sudden realisation.

“Well, yeah,” Imogen Sia took off the stethoscope and stuffed it under the bed, back to where it was. “Today must have been a really long day; you need some rest. I’m just going to have a talk with your two friends. Bandersnatch will keep you company,” she said jerking a thumb at the dog’s direction. “If you need anything, tell Bandersnatch and he will do it for you, or tell me if it really needs my help.”

Without another word, Imogen Sia exited the room, closing the door in a soft silent click. Vega wasn’t sure of what to do next; should he talk to the dog or keep the awkward silence between them?

At last, Vega waved a weak hello at the dog named Bandersnatch, “Hey…”

The dog’s reply sent Vega tumbling off the bed, “Hello. Did you sleep well?”

Well, that was completely unexpected. The dog’s voice was gruff but gentle, like a man in his forties or fifties. Vega scrambled back onto the bed, eyeing the dog suspiciously. Not only it was in an abnormal size but it also talked in human tongue. Interesting.

“Umm… you can talk?” Vega slowly crawled closer to the beast, clenching the bed sheets with agitation.

“Well, yes, I guess,” Bandersnatch shrugged its broad shoulders. “I can also shape shift.”

“You can look human?”

“Yeah, see?” A swirl of black smoke engulfed the dog and a little girl in a white robe appeared before Vega. The dog’s main traits were gone but its red eyes and ebony hair remained. “I can turn into anything I want,” Bandersnatch said in the little girl’s voice.

“That voice… it was you?” Vega alarmed.

“Yeah. I wanted to get out because I had to have a walk but Imogen completely forgot about it. I can get really moody when I don’t get my daily exercise; that was why I attacked you.” Bandersnatch bowed deeply, “I’m truly sorry for what happened earlier.”

“Hmm… Well, I guess I can’t blame you,” Vega said. “By the way, have I met you somewhere before?”

Bandersnatch lifted it head, red eyes wide in disbelief, “You… don’t remember?”

Vega cocked his head to the side, “Remember what?”

The room fell silent for a couple of moments before Bandersnatch shook its small head, dismissing the thought, though honestly it still bothered it, “Nevermind. It’s nothing important.”

“Anyways,” Vega’s smile was starting to form on his porcelain white face, “do you go around like that or as something else?”

Bandersnatch smiled back and morphed into a tall, lean young man, the same bloodshot eyes and ruffled raven hair. His forehead was broad and his chin ended in a sharp arrow-like shape, his jaw smooth with not the slightest angle. A black robe was the only article of clothing on the slightly bronzed skin; only his knee and downwards were visible from underneath the jagged end. Fingers and toes were adorned with metallic grey nails, the same colour as the claws seen before, and teeth were lined up perfectly, though the canines were evidently longer than normal.

It has been a long time since Bandersnatch shape-shift so he still felt uncomfortable at the sudden changes that happened to his body. He stood awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot, rubbing his forearm with his porcelain white hands.

Bandersnatch’s gaze went to the floor, “I’m just borrowing the form of my master.”

“Seriously, who was your master?” Vega edged closer, desperate to hear the answer. Bandersnatch hesitated at first, refusing to meet Vega’s eyes and clashing his teeth against each other. “Well?” Vega asked, “Will you tell me?”

The young man’s eyes finally met Vega’s but they were different from before – it was now full of pain and sadness. “…osoti…” he answered simply.

“… What?”

Bandersnatch turned away, “I can’t. I just… can’t say his name.”

“Well, if you take a deep breath and relax,” Vega insisted, “you will find it easier; at keast that’s what the Professor told me,” he added to himself. Bandersnatch did as he told – he took a deep breath and turned to meet Vega again. This time his eyes were confident.

Myosotis.”

At the mention of the name, Vega’s world sank into notes of darkness.

* * *

As she descended down the spiralling staircase, Imogen’s head was filled with unanswered questions – but they were not supposed to be answered to begin with, anyway. She had thought that she would be seeing him instead of the boy but her predictions were wrong. However, according to Armada, he had showed up when Vega was critically wounded. Maybe it was because the wounds are healing, she thought. If the wounds are healing, it would capture and lock in the escaped Scent and restore everything to normal.

“Urgh, enough!” she thought to herself, frustrated to the point where she nearly crushed the handrails into smithereens. “Sooner or later, he’s going to show up, anyway. There’s no point in fretting over things like a kid. I need to focus on the present matter, nothing else!” Imogen’s vibrant red dress swiped the stairs behind her and lightly caressed the floor as she hurried back to the living room. “That guy… he’s really shrewd,” Imogen said between gritted teeth.

She flung the door open, startling the two guests; the woman was looking at ornaments and other furniture while the man sat on the loveseat, seemingly worn out. Armada furrowed his eyebrows at the sudden blast of noise and Celestia scurried off to her place by the hologram of a waterfall, which cascaded down in front of the window overlooking the backyard.

Cherry wood boiseries coated the walls, signifying authority and power, the same effect the chocolate brown carpeting had. The antique furniture that inhabited the house was replicas of old memories – they had successfully turned the mansion into a lavish museum. Though the rest of the country was advanced in technology, Imogen had decided to live like how people used to live, which was in a house with “normal” household appliances, furniture and decorations, though she did possess some modern technology such as the holograms scattered around the house and bugs, as well as almost microscopic cameras, planted into the walls of every room.

Not mentioning Imogen’s expensive dresses and accessories, it was obvious that Imogen was a person high above the others. Her aura had a certain feel about it, something like capability on doing the impossible – without knowing her, people would know she was gifted. It had been rumoured that she had raised the bankrupted Sia Enterprises to once again rule the production of military weaponry as well as the funding for foreign studies, erecting the Institute of Universal Studies in the heart of Euphemia. At such a young age of twenties, she had gained herself countless of awards for discoveries and brilliant inventions. Also, her intelligence, beauty and cunning personality had been praised by many, young and old, and of all classes. In short, Imogen Sia was a legend among legends.

Right now, Imogen Sia was not pleased.

Imogen sat heavily at her personal armchair, all frown and annoyance. She snatched the documents from the mahogany coffee table, clenching it so hard that it almost ripped apart.

Armada sat up, eyebrows still knitted together, “What? Your expectations crumbled?”

Imogen huffed and threw the paper back onto the table. She then rested her elbow on the arm of the chair, while her hair was in a tangle in her iron grasp. “That boy,” she started off, “can really push my buttons, just like what he had done before. Just when I thought that the Seal was broken – and I had expected his Scent to fill the room – he had decided to stay as the dorky wimp. And I was going to give that cursed murderer a piece of my mind.”

“It takes time,” Celestia said quietly, observing the backyard behind the waterfall. “The Seal is not weak. The only thing that could break it is death – or near death – and time.”

“But then,” Armada continued, “we can’t wait until he had regained every bit of his memory. We need to have a head start and reach Avalon as quickly as possible. That is where you come in handy.” Armada’s gaze turned to Imogen. The girl lifted her head to level her field of vision. “If you want to say something to him, it would be better if you come with us. By the time the Seal is broken, you can be the first to talk to him. After all, we need your skills and knowledge about the Outside and Avalon.”

Imogen now rested her chin on her delicate fingers, “My information isn’t that accurate, you know,” she said. “They are just theories, they don’t have evidence. My father had gained the information from that guy. What if he’s lying?”

“He is a citizen of Avalon, and moreover, a Puppeteer. There’s a slim chance for him to be lying.”

“Oh, there is a big chance for him to lie,” Imogen retorted. “He was known as the Master of Secrets, Shadow God, the Mask, Endless Mischief and Actor – he was the one mainly responsible for the Massacre ten years ago; he’s not to be trusted.”

“Do you really hate him that much?” Celestia was starting to get ticked off. Imogen was, after all, bad mouthing about her beliefs.

“Of course,” Imogen replied, “Not only he killed my brother, he also sent my father as a tribute to Armageddon. How is that not outrageous?”

The room was filled with bitter silence. As time flew, Celestia’s temper had cooled down, realising that it was not the right time to counterattack with religion and personal opinions; Imogen had also calmed down her feelings, realising that she had mixed up work with private life, which she had vowed not to do. Armada was still slouched on the loveseat, headache rising because of the tension. “We should be discussing about the plan for the journey, not bicker,” Armada finally said.

“True. I’m sorry for the outburst,” Imogen apologised.

“It’s not an outburst; more like releasing the tension over the years,” Celestia smiled warmly. Imogen returned this with a twitch of a smile, though her posture had not loosened a fraction. “And so,” Celestia continued, “considering the rumoured condition of the Outside, what should we do?”

“Actually, it’s not that dangerous,” Imogen said. “It’s true that there are flora and fauna that had never existed before and some mutated beings, but there are some people still living there, left out after the Countdown. My father came to know them as ‘True Humans’; he believed the people living in Omnia had been corrupted by the way Innocent Souls treated them with too much kindness that humans started to treat them like worthless slaves, believing that Omnia had come for the sake of humans. In truth, according to the Old Book of Avalon – also known as the Manual – Omnia had been predicted to rise to the surface of the Earth because the Puppeteers had thought that after Armageddon’s awakening, the Earth will be a safer place than before, they believed it was safe for the Innocent Souls to finally walk on Earth. It was not mentioned in the Manual but the reason the Innocent Souls are sensitive to light was probably because of the fact that they live under the Earth; they’re a bit like the legendary mole-people. By the way, have you heard of the Filters’ true intentions?”

“Yes,” Armada said, “For more power; to find Avalon and claim ownership.”

“Exactly, but it won’t be that easy,” Imogen smirked.

“Why?”

“Avalon has great security systems, and they have the Minotaur?”

“You mean the mythological creature?” Armada arched an eyebrow.

Imogen nodded, “True and it does exist, or so he said. The technology in Avalon is more advanced that what Omnia has so military prowess in Avalon is probably beyond our league. If we have the required people, we might get off into the place easily.”

“Myosotis and Ragnarok,” Celestia said. Saying their names felt like she was addressing kings of a far-away land. “We got one of them, so one more to go. But I heard that Ragnarok has full power over the host so I’m guessing that it’s going to be very hard to get him into an agreement, let alone finding him.”

“Ragnarok is powerful but not on Earth; well, not that strong, anyway. He might have control over the body but the Seal had restricted him on using his powers for more than two percent,” Imogen said, “So if the Innocent Soul he possesses is a weakling, it won’t be much of a trouble to catch him.”

“And as for Vega?” Armada questioned. “Does that mean Myosotis is weaker than Ragnarok? I’ve heard that Myosotis held a higher position and he’s the one who could vanquish a large number of men and machineries. Are these not true?”

“No, he’s indeed stronger than Ragnarok. If he had wanted to, he could break the Seal without any effort. However,” Imogen added, “considering the events leading up to the Massacre, He would have lost a large amount of power.”

“The ceremony also took a lot of energy; it would need a good amount of time for him to regain as much energy to at least talk through the boy,” Celestia explained. “Speaking of which, how’s Vega?”

“His wounds have healed but he still needs rest,” Imogen reported. “He has Bandersnatch for company so I think he’ll be fine when it comes to social needs. And as for Bandersnatch… he might find it difficult to start a conversation without getting hurt.”

Just as Imogen had finished her sentence, it was Bandersnatch’s turn to barge into the room, slamming the heavy oak door onto the wall, producing a loud bang. Bandersnatch was in the form of a young boy, sweat raining down his forehead and neck; he ran all the way to the living room. A cut was visible on his cheek, still bright and fresh.

Armada was once again not very pleased, “For God’s sake! Don’t you people know how to knock or at least open the door more gently?!”

“Sorry,” Bandersnatch panted, “but it’s urgent. Vega had –!”

The quartet hurried up the spiral staircase. Their legs ached and grew numb but they had suppressed the pain and discomfort. Bandersnatch had turned into a large Doberman, leaping up three steps at a time, tongue lolling out of its wide mouth. The cut from before had healed, leaving a bright coloured scar on the right side of his face; it traced along its jaw, beginning below the eye and ended just below the lip.

Earlier in the living room, Bandersnatch had reported to the others that Vega was acting “weird”, saying that he sent books and cupboards flying, smashing windows and made the lights flicker uncontrollably. But according to the shape-shifter, Vega had the look that was unimaginable on his face – Bandersnatch had described it as a maniacal grin, pure madness.

“The Seal!” Imogen exclaimed. “I knew it! It got weaker when he had gotten that head injury. And just as I thought that nothing was wrong!”

“I’m really sorry,” Bandersnatch said between pants, “It was me who attacked him; I shouldn’t have.”

“No, it was mine. Well, partly yours too; you can’t even control you animal instincts and you call yourself a ‘skilled disguiser’.”

“Really? Is that how you make people feel better?” Celestia said.

“What? I’m just saying what’s real. I don’t like lying.” Imogen bluntly replied.

“Hey, we’ve got to get to that boy quickly – not chit-chats!” Armada commanded.

So up the staircase they went, hundreds of steps trampled and their breathing getting heavier and heavier every second. All kinds of thoughts swarmed their heads – worry, fright, anticipation, and unexplained excitement. Imogen’s dark brown hair whipped the round finial as she turned towards the double arched door at the end of the stretching corridor.

Just as they thought. Sounds of falling glass and a blunt object hitting the ground furiously was loud and clear behind the door. Armada launched himself towards the door, yanking the golden knob. It was locked. He then resolved on knocking the door down but it just gained him one more thing to his list of injury.

“It’s no use,” Imogen said. “That door’s made of goliath metal, the strongest around.”

Armada clicked his tongue, “Then how are we supposed to get in?”

“Stand back; it’ll get kind of messy.” Imogen cleared off the others, making space for herself.

“What are you doing?”

Imogen smirked, “Bringing the door down.” Without a second, Imogen whispered under her breath, “Blueprint.

A scarlet ring appeared in her hollow eyes, looking like pupils. Taking a step back and going into a striking posture, Imogen poured her focus onto the goliath metal door, eyes unblinking, the spinning red ring locked on the midpoint of the door and as still as a “sleeping” alligator. Iron fist forming, right foot ready to jump, mind focused, everything was ready – Imogen now just have to strike a deathly blow.

And so it landed. Imogen leapt forward, fist first to dent the king of all doors. Soon after, a following blow landed on the same curve, ripping a hole on the door. Finally, a powerful round-house kick blasted the door open. Armada and Celestia watched open-mouthed while Bandersnatch gave an indifferent face. “What… was that?” Celestia managed to choke out.

Imogen turned to grin momentarily, “My Blueprint.” Turning to the room, she found it perfectly fine, with no traces of broken furniture. The four of them walked into the high-ceilinged room, watching out for any sudden attacks or encounters. The polished floorboards and rich green wallpaper gave an air of tranquillity – it calmed the group down, almost erasing their troubling thoughts.

The room was in a perfect condition. The bed was neatly made, the curtains tied back to reveal the twinkling stars among the night sky. It was all quiet. That was odd by itself.

Armada had asked the question before anyone else, “Where did Vega go?”

“Could he have escaped?” Imogen flashed her red rings, scanning the room carefully. Suddenly, her eyes caught something at the corner, shuffling under the bed. “Found him!”

Imogen and the others raced towards the bed. Celestia carefully lifted the covers, showing a dark-haired boy lying flat on his stomach, eyes dull and apathetic. The ginger-haired woman ran her warm fingers through his locks, making the boy look up at her with faint grey rings. Vega managed a faint smile; his eyelids half closed as he started to drift back to sleep.

“Vega,” Celestia said in a low voice, “What happened? Bandersnatch had told us that you were acting… weird.” Celestia chose her words carefully, not daring to trigger anything.

Vega just gave a half-minded reply, “Nothing. I don’t remember anything. I remembered asking Bandersnatch about his owner. Then, I realise that he wasn’t there anymore and I just left myself to sleep. Oh, and I kind of heard the banging and all; that’s why I’m awake,” Vega added.

Celestia sighed warmly, “Well, get a rest. We will be right here when you need use, okay?” Vega nodded and in a matter of seconds, was back to dreamland.

The woman tucked the boy in gently, a motherly expression on her face. However, it was turned into a serious mask as she turned to greet her subordinates. “Something happened, alright,” she said.

“You don’t say,” Imogen said. Her Blueprint had been deactivated, leaving her eyes plain black once again. “Bandersnatch,” as she called its name, it immediately trotted to her side, still in its Doberman form. “I want you to tell me how it all happened.”

Bandersnatch told her everything – the shape-shifting, the questions and answers. Imogen stroked her chin, taking in the details and the basic plot. “You can’t separate your personal life with work, can’t you?” Imogen asked, knowing the answer very well.

“Sorry,” Bandersnatch had his head hung low, ashamed of his unprofessional actions. Imogen patted his head.

“It’s okay. At least you didn’t do anything worse than that,” she said. “Well,” she turned to greet Armada and Celestia with a half smile, “shall we continue our conversation?”

“About Vega?” Celestia asked.

“Before that, actually.”

Armada was obviously ready with the upcoming information, “About the Earth?”

Imogen nodded, “About the Earth.”

-rookieMANGAKA

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