Well, I decided to continue posting the chapters after all. I’ve decided to make this novel into a web novel because even though it was originally (still is?) destined for Amazon CreateSpace and possibly IngramSpark, I am…. Eh, not sure if tired of writing this novel is the right train of thought so much as I feel like posting it on my site here fits it better because 1: this motivates me to finish the darn thing, and 2: it’s non-blogging and non-fanfiction content for my blog, which I feel is needed.
When it’s finished, I’m still going to add as much more polish as I can (hopefully having received feedback) and then get paperback and ebook versions of it produced if there’s anyone who wants that. In the meantime, I’m going to dust off another of my WIP novels for the self-publishing scene. One that I think would be more… fitting for it.
But that’s enough rambling. On to the story!
Her eyes snapped open and she sat upright, gasping. She clutched her chest, breathing in and out and finding she wasn’t getting enough air. Her mind raced, replaying images of her nightmare while the sounds of her own tortured screams from it echoed in her mind. She wanted to run from the shadows surrounding her, and yet her body didn’t obey, frozen and numb.
When her mind finally drifted from the remnants of the nightmare and her breathing slowed down alongside her heartbeat, she looked at it with a more critical eye. It felt familiar in ways she couldn’t quite describe. She knew the exact circumstances of the dream didn’t happen, but the body, that powerful, mechanical body… She had been like that before, one of the monsters. A queen of monsters, a robot warrior.
She couldn’t remember how or why, only that it had happened. Her heart ached with yearning, and she clutched her chest again. She wanted to have that body once more, to feel its power course through every fiber of her being. She needed to have it back, and feel the thrill of battle again. Without it, she was nothing, and she needed to be something, to feel like someone. She needed to escape the shell of her own consciousness.
But how could she do that, when her mind was a maze of broken glass? Everywhere she went, she met either featureless, gray walls or shattered mirrors reflecting pieces of a life she didn’t fully remember. She closed her eyes and tried to meditate, greeted by uncertainty. The stillness of her mind provided no answers, and she let it go for the moment. She couldn’t force it to happen, not when she might not have been as ready as she thought. Perhaps there were things she didn’t need to know yet.
She yawned, wincing at the pain that flared in her throat. She snapped her jaw closed, rubbing her eyes and then looking over the edge of her bed for Cirrus. She didn’t see her and slid off the bed, stretching and hearing her joints crack. They ached soon after, but she didn’t bother to regret it. She waited for the lightheadedness to pass. Once it did, she walked to her small bathroom, passing by Cirrus, who groaned and stretched.
Axel spent fifteen minutes, ten refreshing herself and the remaining five staring into the mirror. Her dark eye locked with the eye of her mirrored self, and they held no recollection of her appearance, only revulsion. The scars, the missing eye, and the hopeless frown didn’t belong to her. They belonged to a stranger, the person she had become and didn’t want to be. But unless she could recover all of memories, she would never be herself again.
She stepped out of the bathroom, looking at her scarred hands before slipping the gloves back on. She felt like sighing but slumped her shoulders instead. Even if she got her memories back, this incident had changed her for the rest of her life. What was the point to thinking any different? She’d only give herself false hope that way.
She bent down and patted Cirrus on the head, beckoning her to stand up. Cirrus stood and nudged her side with her nose, yawning and wagging her tail. She looked up at Axel for a moment, and then walked towards the bathroom. Axel’s eye followed her, watching the door open for the dog and then close when she stepped inside. Axel sort of remembered that, and she decided to just stare at the door leading outside the small room.
Axel opened the door once Cirrus walked out to rejoin her, and immediately thanked the universe she couldn’t scream, because she came face to face with Lorelei.
“Hello, Axel,” Lorelei held her hands behind her back, puffing her chest out and standing tall, giving off the impression of royalty. She raised an eyebrow, looking over Axel with scrutiny. “I trust you slept well? I do believe that was your first planned sleep in a long time.”
Axel stood and stared at her, taking in every cue from her body language that she could, but Lorelei’s intentions were completely unreadable. She could, however, sense tension in the air, and decided to consider Lorelei’s words as mocking instead of caring.
“I had no idea if you’d actually wake up, so I went through the bother of walking over here to wake you up, myself,” Lorelei wiped her forehead with the back of her left hand, frowning at Axel like she caught her with her hand in the cookie jar, which was hard to take seriously when Axel was barely shorter than her. “Everyone else is waiting for you to show up, so why don’t you scurry over there? My old bones are aching from having to walk all the way here, so please don’t make me regret it.”
Axel narrowed her eyes and reached her hand to touch the top of Cirrus’ head, the feeling of her soft fur helping to calm her frayed nerves. She fought back a shudder that threatened to creep down her spine, standing tall and firm. She breathed in deep, and then walked away from Lorelei, Cirrus following.
“Really, you’re just going to walk away?” Lorelei grumbled, and Axel quickened her pace once she heard Lorelei’s footsteps behind her. Lorelei growled. “A simple yes would’ve sufficed, Axel. A ‘Yes ma’am’ or, even better, a ‘Sorry, ma’am’ coupled with you slowing down would be preferred, but let’s not get greedy here, hm, yes?”
Axel ignored Lorelei and kept walking, looking ahead and glancing at the people they walked by. Lorelei continued to talk, giving Axel one hell of a migraine despite her best efforts to drown out the old woman’s voice. Axel knew that Lorelei wanted a reaction from her, and she refused to give her that satisfaction.
“At least have the decency to meet up with everyone else at our usual haunting ground, Lady Mute,” Lorelei waved her hand in front of Axel, getting it swatted away for her trouble. She scowled. “You do seem to remember it, at least, since you had the will to show up there after being comatose for so long.”
Please go bother someone else, Axel wanted to say, but she didn’t trust herself not to utterly fail at speaking again. Her throat ached in anticipation of the words she wanted to speak. She looked at Cirrus, snorting when she saw the dog giving Lorelei occasional death glares. In a way, it delighted her to see her precious furry companion dislike the old woman as much as she did.
Axel cast quick glances at the people watching them, noticing how many had their eyes on Lorelei. They all regarded Lorelei with fear and hate, and those who took the time to stare at Axel gave her looks of pity rather than the looks of scorn she had come to expect. She kept her best poker face up, unsure of how she should react.
I have no idea what’s actually going on, but something tells me Lorelei’s worse than I ever could’ve imagined, Axel thought to herself with a shrug. She heard Lorelei cough behind her, and entertained the idea she could read her mind. She huffed and dropped the thought. I’m sure I’ll remember eventually, and if not, I’ll figure it out all over again. She’ll make it obvious soon enough…
Content with that idea, Axel made her way to their meeting place, not because Lorelei wanted her to, but because she simply had nothing better to do. That and she wanted to eat, which would only happen if she got a job, and unfortunately for her, Lorelei seemed to be in charge of that. She’d have to make peace with that for the time being, until she remembered everything and could stand on her own two feet without Lorelei.
“Hey Axel!” Snow waved as Axel stepped into view. She ignored Lorelei. “Feeling any better? You sure look like you are! That’s great!”
Axel really didn’t feel much better, what with her migraine and the other dull aches throughout her body. Nonetheless, she chose to humour Snow and nodded. She then looked at three people sitting near Snow. Cloud, Snow’s brother, and two older men Axel remembered were named Gage and Rip. She also remembered not liking them much.
“Since she’s done nothing but ignore me the entire time we were walking here, I’d say she’s doing just fine,” Lorelei huffed, prompting Rip and Gage to snicker while Snow and Cloud looked away from her. Lorelei glared at them, and when they noticed it, they both seemed to shrink in their seats. Satisfied, Lorelei sat down at her chair, motioning for Axel to sit down.
Axel sat down and looked at the blue liquid in her glass. She kept her gaze away from everyone else, and held her hand out by her leg so Cirrus could nudge it with her nose before she laid down beside the chair. Axel focused on her in order to ignore the tension in the air. Everything felt so rehearsed.
“So, any jobs worth our time?” Lorelei asked, picking up her glass of green liquid and swishing it around. “Money and supplies are running a bit low again, or so Gage has so helpfully told me. Regrettably, what we earned from Axel’s job didn’t last very long thanks to Cloud screwing up again and needing medical treatment.”
Cloud lowered his head and closed his eyes, clenching his jaw to keep himself from frowning. Snow placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. Axel then noticed the cuts and bruises on his face and exposed arms. Even if she could speak, she didn’t want to ask what happened to him.
“There weren’t any jobs available when I checked the board an hour ago,” Gage replied, taking a sip of his own drink. He shrugged. “I plan on checking again soon, maybe something will have come up by now. You know how the Valiance is… There’s always something broken.”
“Hm, a pity,” Lorelei replied, “well, please do check when you can, Gage. Meanwhile, I’ll look through our finances and… work something out that will make all of us happy. How about everyone else? Any plans besides sitting here all day, drinking more than you should of this stuff? Don’t forget, you can’t rely on it to keep you going all the time… Don’t be like Cloud here.”
Cloud tensed up, keeping his eyes closed. His lips curled into a frown despite his attempts to keep them from moving. He remained quiet, taking in slow breaths and shuffling his feet. Axel wished he would say something, anything, but he didn’t. He let Lorelei have that one.
“Well, Cloud and I were thinking of mech training a bit…” Snow looked at everything and everyone except Lorelei. “You know there’s gonna be a big tournament…”
The mention of mech battling sent Axel’s thoughts flying to her nightmare. Yes, further confirmation that it meant something, even if the events depicted were likely pure fiction and exaggerated. The monsters were real, and they were mechs.
“Absolutely not!” Lorelei slammed her fist down on the table, making the glasses jump and snapping Axel back to reality. Snow’s eyes widened and Cloud whined, while Rip and Gage smirked at the two. Lorelei gritted her teeth, and then forced herself to smile. “Let’s be reasonable for a moment, Snow… Even if Cloud wasn’t injured because of his own foolishness, it still really isn’t safe.”
“We’d only be practicing with each other, and we’d be careful!” Snow mumbled, her voice still loud enough for everyone to hear. She shifted in her chair. “We’d be going easy on each other, so we wouldn’t get hurt! Besides, if we get good enough, we could participate in that tournament-“
“I said I won’t allow it!” Lorelei hit the table again, and all of Snow’s bravery vanished in an instant. Lorelei placed her hand over her heart and then pointed at Axel. “Unless you two want to end up like her! Look at her, she can’t even speak! Her entire body is scarred and will never be fully healed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she isn’t even following half of this conversation! She’s lost in her own little world all the time now!”
Axel’s eye twitched, and against her better judgement, she sent a nasty glare Lorelei’s way. Luckily for her, the old woman didn’t notice, too focused on Snow and Cloud to even look her way again. Rip and Gage focused on their drinks, but still looked very amused.
“You’re not being very fair to her,” Cloud dared to speak up, gripping the sides of his chair to keep himself steady. He avoided eye contact with Lorelei. “I’m sure she understands everything just fine, especially the things you think and say about her. You can’t fool her, you know…”
Lorelei opened her mouth and yelled at Cloud, but by that point Axel had allowed herself to drift away from the world at large and tuned them out. She focused on her dream and the concept of mech battling, more and more memories pouring in, although not all of them made much sense yet. With them came the desire to make her dream real, rather, the battle portion of it. She’d prefer real life to not have the same outcome as the dream. But she craved the adrenaline of battle, craved it like a drug.
The memories were, as always, out of order and without context, but Axel gleaned enough information from them for the time being. She was a mech battler, a very accomplished one assuming these were indeed real memories and not daydreams. However, she could not remember what her mech actually was. She cursed her brain.
If I could talk, I’d ask Snow or Cloud, Axel shrugged, they’d probably know, and wouldn’t give me crap for asking like I’m sure Lorelei or those two minions of hers would.
A shrill scream tore through both the air and Axel’s thoughts, bringing her back into the world she wanted to avoid. Rip loomed over Cloud, who was lying on his back and looking up at the stronger, older man with terror in his eyes. Cloud clutched his nose, and Axel saw blood trickle down his chin. Rage seized her.
“Why don’t you stay out of this?” Rip snarled as Axel stood up. He ignored Cirrus growling at him and held up his fists for Axel to see. “You can’t beat me, so how about you sit back down and let Cloud and I settle this like men? You do understand that much, right?”
Cirrus barked at Rip and Axel leapt over the table, her fist colliding with Rip’s face before he had a chance to register her movement and intentions. Rip stumbled back and crashed into the wall, dazed. Axel landed and walked over to Cloud, holding her hand out to pull him up.
“Thanks,” Cloud took her hand and stood up, still clutching his nose and wincing at the pain. “You didn’t have to do that… I had him right where I wanted him.”
Rip tackled Axel to the ground before she could give Cloud a nonverbal response, and the two rolled across the floor, Rip throwing punches at Axel and missing.
“Hold still, you-” Rip’s words soon turned into a scream as Cirrus slammed into him, knocking him off of Axel. He swung his fist at Cirrus, missing her by an inch and giving her an opening to clamp her jaws around his wrist, digging her teeth into his armour and puncturing it. He gritted his teeth and punched her in the chest with his free hand, forcing her to let go with a whimper.
Axel’s mind went blank with red hot rage and she got back to her feet, throwing a punch at Rip’s jaw and sending him spinning in a circle from the impact. She wanted to growl or scream, but held up her fists instead, taking a step in front of Cirrus to guard her from Rip as he pushed himself back up. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“That’s enough, children,” Lorelei said after taking a few sips of her drink. She didn’t bother to look at Axel or Rip, or even Cloud. “Don’t forget, we’re working together, and if you don’t like each other… Too bad, the captain of the Valiance put us together and there’s nothing we can do about it. Therefore, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to murder each other, alright?”
“Fine, whatever, but Axel owes me a rematch,” Rip grumbled, sitting back down in his chair and crossing his arms. He shot Axel a nasty glare that she ignored. “You hear me, Axel? I’m not through with you yet!”
Axel rolled her eyes and returned to her seat.
Cirrus recovered and resumed growling at Rip, walking over to Axel without averting her gaze from the man. Axel placed her hand on Cirrus’ head, to calm both herself and the canine. She could’ve sworn she saw flecks of red in the holes of Rip’s armour where Cirrus had bit him.
I still don’t remember why exactly I don’t like Rip, but I think I’m comfortable in keeping my dislike of him, Axel thought to herself as her migraine intensified and her vision blurred. A wave of dizziness hit her, and a shudder went up her spine. Ugh, damn it…
Axel reached for her drink with both hands, taking a few sips of the cold, bitter liquid. It relieved only a bit of her stress and nausea, but she’d take whatever she could get, so she didn’t bother to mentally complain. She set the glass down and patted Cirrus on the head, sighing.
Even in her blurry vision, she saw Rip and Gage both get up and walk away. She blinked a few times to clear out some of the fogginess in her eye, and then looked at Lorelei. The pain made it hard for her to tell if Lorelei was looking at her. After a few seconds, her vision cleared just enough for her to see Lorelei glaring at Snow and Cloud. Axel narrowed her eyes.
“Now that we’ve taken some time to cool down a bit, have I made myself clear?” Lorelei said loud enough for even Axel to hear. “Don’t ever ask me about it again.”
“Yes, Lorelei,” Snow and Cloud both said at once. Both looked down at the floor in shame.
Lorelei smirked and leaned back in her chair, moving a strand of white hair out of her eyes. She won this round, and order had been restored.
The hurt on Snow and Cloud’s faces reawakened Axel’s anger, and she wanted nothing more than to wipe Lorelei’s smug grin clean off her face. She remembered enough about Lorelei to know this feeling was natural. I barely remember you, and yet I despise you with every fiber of my being.
“Leaving so soon?” Lorelei leaned her head to the side, raising an eyebrow at Axel as she stood up. She tapped her fingers on the table and cleared her throat. “Am I not interesting enough for you? Such a pity, after all, you’ve been so good to talk to!”
Lorelei followed that up with a toothy grin that did little but inspire rage within Axel. Everyone else looked at Axel, waiting for her to respond.
Axel rolled her eyes and turned away, walking on shaky legs and hoping Lorelei wouldn’t pester her further. She heard a deep growl from Cirrus, but didn’t bother to look. When she heard Lorelei shriek, she still didn’t look. She didn’t care much what Cirrus did. Whatever happened, she was quite fine with it. Cirrus followed her shortly after the incident, and life resumed as usual.
Dusty screens flickered in the corners of Axel’s eyes as she walked out of the business district, Cirrus at her side. She looked at the screens, her vision growing more and more blurry and forcing her to squint just to make out the silhouettes of machines in battle. Machines in the shape of animals, much like the ones from her nightmare. A spark ignited within her mind, a feeling of desire and belonging.
Axel wanted to stay and watch, but her rapidly declining vision and weak body told her otherwise. She continued walking, and even with her poor vision, she noticed that the people in the halls were ignoring her in favour of the battle on the screens. She felt grateful for it, not that she would ever admit it. Freedom from their glares was a welcome change of pace, and she wished it could be a permanent change.
When the door to her room hissed open, she barely noticed. She stepped inside, her movements automatic and her mind latching onto what she saw on the screens, to the detriment of everything else. She almost tripped and fell onto the bed, barely able to carry her own weight. She stood for a moment, body shaking. She sighed and placed her hand on the bed to steady herself. She felt like she had fallen underwater and was still trapped there, her mind clouded and the pressure on her head intense.
She lied down on her back and gripped the sides of her head, whining with a shrill voice as her head pounded and pounded, leaving her to wonder if her skull itself would crack. She heard Cirrus whine in sympathy, and sighed. Cirrus couldn’t do anything about her migraine, and her distressed noises were only making Axel’s pain worse.
Axel fell into a dreamless, fitful sleep, finding no relief from the migraine. She felt Cirrus nudge her foot even in her pain-induced haze, and she forced her eyes back open. Her ears rang like a thousand keening insects, and her eyes hurt from their dryness. Her head pounded a bit weaker than before, leaving behind an intense ache.
Sleep no longer a possibility, she reached for the thin glass remote on the desk next to her bed and grabbed it, turning on the crystal screen. Distorted images flickered on, obscured by a thick layer of dust. Looking past it, Axel saw two large mechs, a sleek panther and a clunky iguana, roaring and shooting at each other, clawing and biting and tearing.
Her mind returned to the dream she had, and the longing returned with a vengeance. She belonged there, one of the metal giants made in the image of creatures lost. The ache in her heart soon overpowered the ache in her brain, and she almost threw the remote at the screen. She needed to be there.
Memories poured in, bits and pieces much like the metal and wires torn away from the mechs. In that moment, she understood what had happened to her, what had damaged her. What Lorelei had meant, if she could assume Lorelei had only the best intentions for what she told Snow and Cloud. It was a fight that left her in this state.
Was it an accident? Or was it… intended?