Not the World You Knew
Elise’s letter to her parents had been finished for hours. Yet she remained at her desk, reading and re-reading, until she wasn’t sure what words meant anymore. Sorrow welled bile in her gut, twisted her intestines into knots. Rage lathered her blood to a froth, only common sense and despair managed to temper it.
She knew she’d been harsh with Hailey. Illogical even. It didn’t matter. Everything was her fault, intentional or not. All Elise could do now was hope to contain herself, keep from causing undue problems. Primarily, that meant not speaking to Hailey again anytime soon. That reality made the knock on her door all the more aggravating. She stood up, yanked open the door, expecting to give Hailey a piece of her mind.
Instead, Yaz’s eyes were deranged by concern. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I just… thought you were–”
Elise deflated,“Please don’t say that name right now.”
She beckoned Yaz in, whom shut the door behind her. She leaned against it with a shoulder, turned to watch Elise sink behind the desk and fold up the letter. The air between them was tense, but its ire was aimed elsewhere.
“Sooner or later you’re gonna’ have to leave this room,” Yaz warned. “Do it enough, you’ll run into her. It’s a small place.”
“All I’m saying’s, you can’t be angry forever.”
“I know.” Elise turned in her seat, “How’d you deal with it?”
A definite apprehension preceded her. She cleared her throat carefully, “I… was angry. I took it out on other people. Most of my family was killed before Rachel reached me. My sister was…. she didn’t last long. After her training was finished, she left. We found her a few days later, dead from a heroin overdose.”
Elise grit her teeth, “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t put the needle in her arm.”
“I just meant–”
“I know what you meant. But I don’t need sympathy. I need you to understand.”
Elise was somewhat taken aback, “Understand what?”
“Your anger, however valid, effects more than you.” She glanced wide, encompassing the bunker’s entirety. “There are people here whose sensitivity to emotions is infinitely greater than ours. And even I can sense your anger from a ways off. Imagine how the others feel.”
She shook her head, exasperated, “So, w1at? Just shut off?”
“Of course not. That’s worse. For you and us.” A hint of desperation appeared beneath Yaz’s controlled exterior. “No, what I’m saying is, we all accept this isn’t what you want. We respect that. But your anger is unnecessary. And short-sighted. And ungrateful.”
Elise’s face was hit by a brick wall of confusion, “Huh? How?”
“Think of it like this.” Yaz settled against the desk beside her, eyes forward. “We rescue this girl from actual, real harm. Take her in. Keep her safe. Fed. Comfortable enough. The only thing we ask, is to accept that leaving isn’t possible. Not yet. And not because we want to keep her here, but because it’s not safe– for anyone— to let her go yet. Meanwhile, she’s understandably angry, but despite a polite surface, resentful. Hateful, even.”
Elise hung her head, ashamed.
“How would you feel about her?”
Elise echoed earlier sentiments, certain now whom she meant. “Like she’s an asshole…”
Yaz’s tone firmed in correction. “Or, that she doesn’t understand greater things than her are at stake. And that, unintentional or not, she’s being supremely selfish.”
The room went quiet. It lasted long, thoughtful minutes. Yaz’s words, and Elise’s thoughts, ran their course. Elise’s shame went deeper than she wanted. Whether from the Seers’ around her, or her own internalized guilt, she felt far worse than unwittingly selfish. That she likely occupied the middle ground between her and Yaz’s estimations didn’t help matters. Negatively impacting others she bore no ill-will toward made her stomach.
“What do I do?” Elise asked finally. “And how?”
“We’ve already begun that. You just need more patience. In everything.” Elise gave her a curious look. “I’ve put together a training regiment. It won’t be easy, but I’ll be there. Every step.” Elise’s curiosity faded. Yaz rose, lightly patted her shoulder, “Come on. You’re a long way from being field-rated.”
Elise followed her to the training room. The next few hours passed in sweat and fatigue. Yaz stressed proper form and movement therein. Bench-weights were the simplest place to begin. Yaz spotted, only giving breaks between after several sets of high-reps. Yaz took over here and there, forcing her to spot and watch. Elise relished the shifted pace, and opportunities to breathe.
Treadmill running came with its own challenges. Maintaining proper form at full-tilt to simulate escaping Hunters wasn’t half as easy as it had sounded. Yaz urged her on; a single lapse in form might cause a twisted ankle, wounding or killing her or anyone else with her. She’d seen it happen once– and would say nothing else to the effect.
To Elise’s credit, she easily broke through her own physical barriers, managing to power on, when she should’ve long failed. Either from her own inner-drive, or Yaz’s expert instruction, she attained heights of physical endurance few beginners had known. Let alone herself. There was something to be said of Yaz’s presence and confidence. It topped no-one else’s, making her both an excellent teacher, and a hard-as-nails leader. Elise suspected it was the only way she’d retained control over men and women twice and more her age.
Their day of training ended after the bunker had descended into night-time dormancy. The main corridor was lit, and light peered from beneath various doors. Otherwise, the place was quiet, still. The two girls showered and headed for the kitchen bar. Elise took a seat while Yaz rummaged-up leftovers.
Over a sighing microwave, Elise finally glanced at Yaz, “So, how’d I do? Really, I mean. Don’t sugar-coat it.”
Yaz smiled. “I wouldn’t do that anyhow. And for a first day, you’re beyond where I was. Then again, I was younger, so that had something to do with it.”
Elise grimaced, “Is that good or bad?”
“Good,” Yaz chuckled.
The microwave spat a few beeps. Yaz removed their food and sat beside Elise to eat. Elise was careful to pass the time with anything other than the situation outside the bunker.
“So, who trained you?”
“Just about everyone. Myself included.”
Yaz chewed with one side of her mouth, spoke with the other. “Everyone’s skilled at something. They took shifts. I mostly learned strategy alone. I spent my nights on it, more as a useful hobby than anything. Eventually, I started arguing about our patrols and defenses. When the others finally got over themselves and started listening, they saw my logic. Soon they were deferring to me. Eventually, it was just easier to put me in charge.
Yaz sipped water, “The Seers taught me to trust my instincts, channel them into reactions. Bryce and the others taught me how to react. Self-defense and combat-tactics. Combined with my own training, I became the fighter I am.”
Elise recalled fleeing the alley. “Why the sword?”
“Its good in close-quarters, and it scares the hell outta’ people,” she said with a hint of amusement. “There’s nothing more intimidating than a tiny, pissed off girl with a couple feet of steel in her hand.” Elise managed a laughed. “The other side is, it’s really easy to win when your opponent underestimates you, and they tend to.”
Elise’s face fell to a sad realization, “So you’ve… probably killed a lot of people, huh?”
Yaz let the question to echo between them with a long drink of water. “Elise, we don’t live in the same world anymore. The one you’ve known your whole life. That’s part of the transition. It’s why it’s so difficult. You have to accept the world isn’t what you knew it to be. It’s filled with blood, and fear, and death. Whether you let it weigh you down or not depends on remembering a simple fact; when the time comes, they’ve made their choice.
“If you’re a guardian for friends or family, you’re their first and last line of defense. If someone intends to test that, ordered to or otherwise, they’ve accepted their lives may be forfeit. I, and the others I command, are the only thing standing between the Seers and fates worse than death at the Hunters’ hands. Each of us will fight to our last breaths and beyond to ensure against that.”
Elise’s stomach bubbled like a cauldron. Yaz was training her to be a weapon. Like her. If it came to it, she’d have to kill. Die even. All to protect those she cared about, as Yaz had sworn to do. Her appetite left her. For the sake of her ailing muscles, she forced the last of her food down, sensing she’d need it to properly recuperate. Yaz sensed her resignation, put a hand on hers for comfort.
“Elise, I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. “But our lives are no longer our own. They belong to the people we love. The ones we’d die to protect. That’s the real truth of this life. You must accept it. My sister could not. It’s not easy, I know. I’ve been where you are. We all have. But I’m telling you, it does get easier.”
Elise felt tears welling in her eyes. “How?”
Yaz leaned over, quiet for sympathy’s sake. “By focusing elsewhere. By preparing yourself. So if or when that moment comes, you’re as ready as anyone can be. Because those you serve, deserve it.”
“And if I’m not ready?” Elise asked, her breath fluttering.
Yaz turned Elise’s face toward hers with a pair of gentle fingers. Their eyes met: Yaz’s sharp, determined, and confident, as Elise had come to expect of them; Elise’s pained, frightened, longing for something she wasn’t even aware of.
“I promise, Elise, you will be.”
Elise searched her for deception or uncertainty, found neither. Her head and eyes sank, tears glistening in their corners. She nodded, prompting them to roll down her cheeks. For better or worse, she believed Yaz. Despite a tainted, bygone innocence, a purity of spirit remained in her. She forever radiated an aura of devotion and loyalty. Even without Seers’ abilities, Elise was sure of it.
She breathed deep, steeling herself against fear. Whatever came of her ailing friendship with Hailey, at the least it had brought her Yaz. Without her, Elise would never survive what might come. Whether due to her training, or something more, Yaz’s companionship was fast becoming the thing she could rely on. Hopefully, it would be enough.
Elise and Yaz parted soon after for sleep. Morning training would come early, after Yaz’s daily patrol and security briefing. Until then, Elise needed to rest.
As she lie in bed, waiting to sleep, Elise couldn’t deny her growing dependence on Yaz. She was beginning to need her– as more than a student to a teacher, or one friend to another.