John hesitated, then shook his head. There was something about the name that bothered him, but… now wasn the time.
”…you look like you could warm up by a fire. Do you… uh… wanna come with me? ” Both he and the girl were soaked to the bone, the rain continuing to pour down. Quarta shifted uncomfortably, not sure how to deal with the small girl in front of him. She continued to stare at him soullessly, which didn exactly help his discomfort. He reached his hand out in an attempt to help her up, but to his surprise, she flinched backwards.
”Hey, Im not gonna hurt you, ” he said, confused, but she just trembled and got up herself, still wrapped in the cloak provided to her. She looked hesitant but continued to follow him as they went down the streets.
The child behind him was moving slow, due to both her size and fatigue. Often, she stopped to catch her breath or had to raise herself back up after stumbling to the ground, but she never cried out in pain or stopped to ask for a longer break. This worried Quarta, who often extended his hand to help her along the way, but she always shied away.
He weaved through hidden alleyways, took shortcuts, navigating the city like there was a map on the back of his hand. They could have taken a shorter route, but there were too many people that couldve seen something, too many people that would start to spread rumours, and he couldn be having any of that.
The journey to find Prota had taken fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. The journey back had taken more than an hour. The bell rang, breaking the monotonous sound of the rainfall. The air inside the bar was warm, smelling of alcohol and food. Quarta led her behind the bar, opening a somewhat hidden door that revealed a staircase heading upstairs.
Despite being a bar owner, he made good money. However, he never did anything extravagant, didn live the lifestyle of nobles or royals, and instead lived on the floor above the bar he ran. There, there was a simple bed, a table for eating, a drawer and a door that led to the washroom. A fireplace sat in a wall, with a comfortable looking sofa and rug in front of it. That was all.
”Here, ” Quarta said, opening the door. He now thought he saw the reason behind Protas hesitation at being touched. The light level had been too dim to see her properly, but now, in a well lit area, he could see the bruises that littered her frail body. He turned away and grit his teeth as he turned the bath on.
Running water was not something that was powered by electricity, but rather by magic. Paying for a constant energy source to power mana channeled water was something that was rather expensive, and the only luxury Quarta gave himself. Soon, the bathtub was full of hot steaming water.
”Take your time, ” he said, closing the door as he headed out.
Prota stood in the clean washroom for a while, water dripping off of her and collecting in a muddy pool beneath her. Looking around, she finally took her rags off and hesitantly poked at the water. It was hot, but not too hot that she couldn get in. Putting the cloak aside, she slowly got in and let the warmth wrap around her. The water slowly got dark as the dirt and mud washed off of her, but there seemed to be an automated draining system as the water level lowered, then raised again, but this time, the water clean once more. There were various bottles with labels like ”shampoo ” and ”body soap, ” but she didn know how to use them and left them alone.
After the chills in her body had finally left, she stepped out, the water in the tub draining once more. Her hair was soft and white once again for the first time in over a year, like freshly fallen snow. She looked around, trying to see if there was anything to wear, but there was only the still wet cloak and the rags on the ground. Walking over to the door, she was surprised to hear not one, but two voices arguing on the other side.
”…look, Im not going in there. Do you know how incredibly suspicious that would seem? ”
”Well, yes, but… ”
”Yes, but my ass! I don care if the FBI doesn exist in this world, shes probably, I don know, five? Six? ”
”Ok, but… aren you going to give her clothes? ”
”…**, how am I supposed to give her clothes? I shouldve… ”
There was a pause. Protas eyes widened as she realized the voices sounded identical to each other. Not only did the tones match, but the mannerisms and the intonation were exactly the same. Unfortunately, shed gotten a bit too close to the door, and slipped on the wet ground, falling against the door. It opened a crack, showing only her face, but it was wide enough for her to see Quarta, and… Quartas twin?
Both Quarta and Zero looked towards the source of the sound to see the childs somewhat guilty face peeking out.
”Well, **, ” they both sighed simultaneously.
Quarta was rummaging around in his closet for something suitable. The child was about half his size, and he didn really have anything for her to wear. Finally, he pulled out the smallest shirt he had.
”Here, ” he said embarrassedly, opening the door a crack while handing the shirt in. It was like a night shirt, light blue and soft, and when Prota came out it looked like she was wearing a long nightdress, if not slightly large on her. Quarta walked into the washroom and began mopping the floor.
”Hey, Zero! ” he called out. ”Can you, ah… ”
Zeros head snapped up. ”Yeah, sure. ”
He reached his hand out to the small girl, a somewhat bored look on his face. She flinched back, as usual, but he approached her. ”Its ok. You can touch me. See? ” he said, reaching for her hand. Zeros hand passed right through hers. ”Im like a ghost. ”
She reached out hesitantly, trembling, but gripped onto nothing as she ”held ” his hand. Zeros bored face shifted into an amused one as he lead her over to the fireplace, where a nice fire was going. He indicated for her to sit down, then proceeded to float above the sofa. There he remained, held up by an unseen force.
”Im Zero, ” he said. The fire crackled merrily as no words were exchanged. Just like when Quarta had first met Zero, there was an awkward silence as the two had no idea what to say. Zero coughed awkwardly, waiting for Quarta to finish.
Quarta finally came back, looking a bit tired. He sat down on the sofa, far away from Prota, but she still pulled back, trying to take up as little space as possible. Quarta just sighed and got up. Fifteen minutes later, he came back with a steaming hot bowl of beef soup, thick chunks of beef floating around. The aroma made Protas stomach growl, but she just stared at it with wide eyes until Quarta snorted and gave it to her. She didn do anything but stare for a good five minutes, then dug in with the ferocity of a wild animal. The sight made Quarta smile.
”Easy, ” he laughed. ”Youll get a stomach ache if you eat so quickly. ”
The only sounds that filled the air were those of the fire, and the clinking of Protas spoon against her bowl. Finally, she finished. While she was still ridiculously malnourished and frail, she looked somewhat cleaned up. Her body was still covered in bruises, and her ribs still showed, but those were all problems that could be fixed.
Those problems, however, would have to wait. Quarta hadn helped the girl out of the kindness of his heart. There was something he wanted to know.
”Prota, right? ” She nodded in reply.
”Im sure you have questions for me. I have questions for you, too, ok? So… how about we take turns? ”
The girl stared at him suspiciously. Life on the streets had taught her to be cautious, but… who else had taken her in? This man had given her a bath, clothes, a warm place, and food, for now at least, and he didn seem like he had any ulterior motives. And besides, if he tried anything, she could always…
”…uh… ok, you can start. ”
Wordlessly, she pointed to Zero.
”Oh, him? You want to know who he is? ”
”Well, hes my slave. He does everything I ask, runs the bar, prepares my meals- ”
Quarta stopped as Zero slapped him across the face. While Prota had seen the ghostly figure float through everything else, he was apparently capable of physically interacting with his carbon copy.
”Huh? Am I wrong? ”
”Shut up. ”
”… ” Prota stared, unable to comprehend what was going on.
”Just kidding, ” Quarta said with a sheepish smile, rubbing his cheek. ”This guy… well, hes me, I guess. Its a bit hard to explain. ”
She cocked her head to the side, confused.
Quarta shrugged. ”Really. I don know how to explain it. No one else has ever seen him, and I didn expect you to be the first. Im sure well get into it fully another time, but for now Im going to ask a question, ok? ”
”Ok. ” Quarta was surprised to hear the girl speak. Her voice was quiet and timid, but she still had actually responded.
”Are you a ”demon ”? ”
If possible, Prota seemed to become even smaller, squeezing her eyes and sinking into the sofa as if trying to disappear from existance. Quarta was about to say something when Zero held him back. Both watched as whatever she was going through passed. Finally, she looked up at Quarta.
While quiet, the words were spoken with more firmness and resolution than Quarta had ever heard anyone in this world speak with.
Prota looked up at him, confused.
”Is there anything else you want me to say? I believe you. Is there a reason for me not to believe you? ”
The girl hugged her legs and curled up, but it looked like a weight had audibly been lifted off of her. She didn see Quarta bury his face in his hands as he sighed, rubbing his face before lifting it back up.
”Ok, your turn. ”
She looked up, surprised. ”What? I said wed take turns asking questions, remember? ”
She thought for a bit. ”…? ”
Quarta cocked his head to the side. ”Huh? ”
”…why are you doing this? ”
Quarta looked down, rubbed his chin, sighed, and then shrugged.
”Uh… well, out of the goodness of my heart? ”
Prota looked at him. It was such a terrible lie even she could see through it.
”…does there have to be a reason for something like this? Maybe I really am just doing a good deed. Maybe I just want to help a kid out. Is there a problem with that? ”
”I… I could kill you… ” the girl protested.
”So what? I don have a lot to live for, anyways. Any life is worth infinitely more than mine. So, if I can save just one life… ”
”Why not go for it? ”
He was surprised to see Prota sobbing, but it didn sound distressed. It was more… like a release of emotions, like the pent up stress shed been building up was finally released.
”Did… did I do something wrong? ”
These words were addressed to Zero, but they were not spoken out loud. The two possessed a sort of telepathic communication capability that didn require magic or energy. It was as if by being the same person, the two shared a special bond as well.
”No, ” he said, shaking his head. ”Just let her cry it out. ”
Quarta sighed. He could have told her the real reason hed went out and found her, but that wouldn really help. There was one last question to ask before he was done with everything, but he very well couldn just kick her out of the house.
”Prota. One more question. ”
She looked up through wet eyes and nodded.
”Have you ever seen something that looks like a glowing red orb, something that radiates pure energy? Anything like that? ”
Prota shook her head, looking confused. She didn even recognize the description. Quarta sighed and nodded.
”Ok. Thats all. ”
After a while, she just feel asleep. Quarta took a towel and wiped her face, drying the tears, and took the now dry cloak hed given her and draped it over her like a blanket.
Quarta went downstairs, filling up a mug with a strong liquor. He was only seventeen, but it was his bar to run, and besides, everyone thought he was at least twenty or so. His finished it with an explosive ”pah ” and slammed the glass onto the counter.
”Shes a kid, man, ” he sighed, shaking his head. ”Thats just so **ed up. ”
”Its not a fair world, Quarta, ” Zero shrugged. ”You did what you could. ”
Quarta stared out the window at the full moon in the sky. The rain had finished, and the clouds had parted to display the night sky in all its beauty.
”…shes six. You know how old I was when I went through all the shit I did? I was fourteen. Hell, I was technically way older than that. Whats with the fear of touch? Does she think Im going to hurt her? ”
”Why are you acting like you care so much? Isn she just a character? In the end, you were just trying to see if she had your memories. Admit it. Someone who kills with just a touch. That sounds like a lead on your memories, doesn it? Thats why you asked her if shed seen the orb. You just thought she was a lead to something more. So Ill ask one more time: why do you care so much? ”
Quarta rubbed his chin. ”You know, she asked me the same thing. I really don know. ” he sighed and shrugged. ”Is there an issue with helping a little kid? ”
”Youve killed little kids before. ”
”What does that have to do with helping them? ”
Zero remained silent. Quarta had scored a point.
”Is it because she reminds you of Emma? ”
”… ” a shiver went through Quartas body as he heard a name from another life.
” he said finally.
e not the same. ” He took a deep breath and sighed once more. ”Whats with all the questions all of a sudden? ”
”… ” Zero shook his head. ”I wanted to see if you would realize it yourself. She reminds you of yourself, Quarta. Her lack of emotions is a barrier that protects her. She finds it hurts more to feel and be betrayed, and so refuses to feel at all. ”
Zeros eyes stared deep into Quartas which were upon close observation lifeless, unlike the smile he sometimes wore. If Prota had cared to look into Quartas eyes at any point during their conversation, she would have seen the same thing.
Soulless, lifeless eyes, devoid of emotion.
”She refuses to feel, ” Zero repeated. ”Just like you. ”