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By Sarah Anne Steckel
The two of them quite a pair; Newo with her tawny complexion and vivid pink hair, as she walked beside her much taller and paler companion. As they passed under the streetlights, she glanced up at him, noticing how the luminescent light reflected off of Vortex’s bald head, and chuckled softly.
“What?” He looked down at her and tried to hide the smile that was pulling at the corners of his lips. When she failed to reply, he asked, “Have you been in the city long?”
“No, actually I just got in last night.” Newo crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him, the quick pace she needed to keep up with him slowed to a halt. As the adrenaline of first initially finding him wore off, his question reminded her of how she’s been spending the last couple of lifetimes finding him. Her eyes narrowed at him and she scoffed, “I’ve been busy searching every major city for you for the past couple of years, haven’t had the chance to sightsee.”
“Maybe we can start tomorrow, I know my way around here alright, what would you like to see?” He was oblivious to Newo stopping in her tracks and continued to walk for a few more paces before he noticed her absence and turned around to face her. He smirked and shook his head slowly from side to side. “What, you’re still mad that I didn’t come find you this time?”
“The past…” Newo counted out on her fingers, tapping each finger twice. “Ten times!”
“No, it hasn’t been that long…”
“It so has been that long!” Her voice raised, the tone verging toward angry. “Ten lifetimes! T-E-N.”
Vortex shook his head wildly and rubbed the back of his head anxiously. “How can you remember all of this?”
“Really?” At a loss for words, she watched as Vortex walked a few more feet away and motioned to the front door of a run-down bar. She sighed loudly and shook her head, looking to the other side of the street before pointing at a bar that was illuminated by several bright neon lights. “I want to go over there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Newo, we’re already on this side of the street!”
As the traffic in the street cleared, she stepped off of the curb and began taking several steps, the bright lights reflected off of her vivid hair and turned it into a rainbow of violet, magenta, and teal. Newo shouted over her shoulder as she stopped in the center of the road. “Nope, I’m halfway there!”
“Fine, whatever,” Vortex said with an angry sigh and opened the door to the small dive bar, not closing it until after Newo disappeared behind the door to the other place.
Newo stormed the dancefloor and promptly marched right up to the bar and flagged down the barback. Slamming her fist down onto the hard oak countertop she loudly demanded, “Double shot of vodka!”
“So demanding…” A suave voice whispered into her ear, its familiarity causing Newo to miss grasping a hold of her shot glass when it was handed to her. The glass struck the counter, the alcohol spilling over the rim and splashing her hand and shirt. Newo’s eyes glazed over, her mind falling into a maze of memories; unlike Vortex who she always remembered when she woke up in a new life, she could never recall the owner of this voice until it spoke to her.
As she began to break free of her forgotten memories, Newo found herself muttering under her breath, “Calamity.”
“I found you,” Calamity said with a smirk. His face was so close to hers that he could smell the perfume that she dotted behind her ears. Slowly he leaned back and lifted his drink up to his lips, and when he lowered his glass his face was contorted into a broad smile. “In fact, I’ve been waiting for you here all night.”
“You’re drunk!” Newo halfheartedly reprimanded, but her face quickly twisted into a playful grin.
“When am I not dunk, woman?” Calamity cheered as he reached into his pocket and removed a handful of bills and tossed it in the barback’s direction. He pointed at Newo’s spilled drink and wriggled his fingers four times. Returning his attention to his pink haired friend, he chuckled loudly. “Which means that you’re gonna need to catch up!”
“How did you know that I was going to be here?”
As her drinks were placed in front of her, Calamity urged her to drink them one after another, and only spoke after she finished all four shots. “I always know where you’re going to be.”
“Only once a lifetime?” Newo grinned faintly and rested her arms on the corner of the bar, and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Why is it I only come across you once?”
“I’m your ‘missed once in a lifetime’ chance! One of these times, you’ll pick me and not Vortex. I just have to be the first to find you.”
Newo mumbled something about him coming close this time as she turned her head away from him. Her thoughts returned to the few and seldom times that she had come across Calamity, and there were only two other lifetimes that she was able to recall. In each time, he always just saddled up beside her and spoke to her as if they had always known the other, as if he simply walked away seconds ago. He spoke as if everything they said to one another was one giant inside joke, and always seemed to have a juvenile smile on his face.
As if he could read her mind he asked, “Do you remember the first time we met?”
“Well, the time before this one was the sixties…”
“Ah, the sixties…!” Calamity sighed longingly. “All of those drugs I did!”
“Then the late eighteen hundreds… Wasn’t that the first time?”
“Nuh uh, nope!” Calamity shook his head. A smile formed on his face as he reached out and poked the tip of her nose playfully. “And you pride yourself on such a good memory!”
“Well, smartass, why don’t you remind me then, how did we meet? Cal—stop that!”
Newo watched as Calamity produced a rolled joint from his coat pocket and lit it. She narrowed her eyes and frantically tried to take it from him. “You can’t smoke that in here!”
“The more of a fuss you make, the more you draw attention to it,” he replied nonchalantly and continued to smoke it. “And besides, what are they gonna do… kick me out? It looks like we’re just goin’ for a walk then!”
Falling silent for several moments, he puffed on his joint and continued to guzzle back more of his drink. His eyes glazed over and for the briefest of seconds, Newo got the distinct feeling that he had forgotten she even existed. Loudly she cleared her throat, and she watched the light in his eyes brighten as he glanced back over at her. “You were saying?”
“Oh yeah…” Calamity smiled. “We met a long time ago… back before the Temple of Radiant Winds was a ruination.”
Newo breathed a heavy sigh; the inside of the large bar suddenly felt small and quite claustrophobic. A time that long ago was quite hard for her to recall; her brows furrowed as she struggled to recall the faded memories. “I was… a temple servant… And Vortex was in the king’s army… The army had come for shelter, away from the goblin army that threatened the nearby borders.”
“Yes…” Calamity hissed into his glass. “I was with Vortex that night, do you remember?” As he snubbed out the end of his joint, he noticed the barback and other patrons were glaring in his direction, and shugged to himself. Finishing off the last of his drink, he grabbed her by the hand and began walking away from the bar. “C’mon, let’s go for that walk.”
As their hands touched, the memory appeared vividly in Newo’s head; she recalled seeing Calamity beside Vortex as the three of them stood in the waist-deep waters of the flooded river. They waded between the thicket of oak trees, and Newo, who was weighed down by her long servant robes, was finding it hard to continue on. Her legs and feet were coated in heavy mud, and twice she fell and sunk down below the water.
“I got her, keep going!” Vortex shouted as he scooped her up into his arms. “The horde made it to the temple, the quickest way out of here is down the river!”
“We’re not going to be very fast wading through this mud, Vort!”
“Calamity, just keep going!”
As Vortex continued to carry her while he stumbled along in the muddy waters, Newo began to notice periodic sightings of armed goblins. All of those that they passed by had noticed the trio, but all failed to attack. Newo grinned and whispered loudly to the other two, “They think we’re also goblins, hunting after the humans who’ve escaped.”
“How do you figure that?” Vortex asked.
“Isn’t it something like goblins’ sight is bad at night?” Calamity slowed his pace so he was walking beside Vortex and Newo.
“Yes, their sight at night is poor, and the mud we’re coated in offers us a slight disguise.”
“So, once the first one from way back realizes that we weren’t goblins, and runs ahead and alerts the next dozen…” Calamity looked nervously between Newo and Vortex before continuing. “We have a small horde to fight in the middle of a swamp, whilst protecting a damsel!”
“I am no helpless damsel, sir!” Newo scolded bitterly through gritted teeth. “Give me a weapon, I will defend myself, just you see!”
“You stay put and do as you’re told!” Calamity growled and pointed at her. “Let the men handle this, we don’t need you getting in the way and ruining things.”
“Put me down! Give me a weapon and I’ll fight you right here!” Newo began to yell, causing Vortex to open up his arms and allow her small body to plummet into the water. He growled and hissed in a low and angry tone, “This is why and when we’re going to be discovered as humans, this right here. Well, here you go, now’s your chance to see how well you stand in a fight!”
As Newo got to her feet, Vortex shoved a small short sword into her hands, and then motioned to the thirteen goblins that ran up the banks of the river into sight. In haste she hacked away at the mud-saturated skirts of her temple robe, in an attempt to make it easier for her to maneuver in the waist-deep water. As she readied her blade, she watched as the first three goons took off running directly at them. Vortex chopped the head off of one, and Calamity ran his sword through the center of the second two.
“If we keep heading East like we are, the river gets deeper and the current grows stronger,” Newo shouted. “It makes for a quick way out!”
“Best suggestion we got!” Vortex nodded, striking the next attacking goblin with the hilt of his sword. The creature sunk into the water, and the trio continued their backwards trek in the river. Farther behind them, the water’s current began to turn from stagnant to trickling.
As they continued with their retreat, Newo felt a hand grab her ankle from underneath the water, and it forcefully pulled her under. As a second hand grabbed ahold of her waist, she felt its sharp fingernails begin to pierce the soft flesh of her stomach. Newo screamed and began stabbing through the water like a madwoman. The cloudy water began to turn opaque red as she felt her blade pierce through several different body parts.
Feeling a firm hand grasp the back of her shirt and pull her towards the surface, it was Calamity who she heard fight back a haughty laugh first and say, “Well what’d you say? Looks like you do have a bit of fight in you!”
The cold night air of the city struck her face, and shook her from the past. Her hand was still interlocked inside of Calamity’s as he continued to pull her down the quiet side street. Her mind still a bit hazy, she found herself mumbling out loud, “We fell…”
“Huh?” Calamity stopped his pace and looked over his shoulder at her. He lessened his tight grip on her hand, but failed to let go. With his free hand, he removed a flask from his jacket pocket, opened the lid with his teeth, and took a swig.
“When we met… We retreated down the river… I never told you both that the river current picked up only because it turned into a waterfall… We fell down it, broke my neck—I, I think I died there.”
“To be fair, I shouldn’t have trusted directions a woman has told me,” he said sternly, even though his face was veering on a smile. “I never have since.”
Newo frowned furiously, trying her best to mask the laughter that she was holding back in her throat. “Damn it, you’re such an asshole sometimes Cal, why do I have to like you so much?”
“Why do you and Vortex always have to meet first?” Calamity sighed deeply, his gaze rising to look at the clouded night sky. “One of these days, I tell you, I’ma meet you first, and change everything.”
“Change everything? You’re drunk, Cal.” Newo smiled sweetly, and patted the back side of his hand. “You always revert back into treating me like the helpless damsel when you get too drunk.”
“I’m always drunk!” Calamity cheered jovially, and hugged Newo tightly to his chest. “And I’m serious when I say, one of these lifetimes I will be the one to find you first. I will find you and I will complete my mission.”
“Your mission?” Newo’s face sobered, and she looked up at him concerned. While she seemed to remember him proclaiming resentment towards her always meeting Vortex first, this talk of a mission was new. “What’re you talking about?”
Calamity fell silent and looked down at his feet. He raised his flask up to his lips again and drank, tightening the lid with his teeth and putting it back into his coat pocket. His grip on her hand tightened once again, and he began walking down the street once more. “C’mon Newo, let’s go find some fun to get into, like old times! I think there’s a casino nearby—you were a pretty good card player, we could read each other pretty well in Kemps!”
While she tried to put his mumbling in the back of her mind, what he had said left her with an eerie and uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Now Calamity was chattering and making small talk like he usually did when he was inebriated, laughing at his own jokes and thinking he was the funniest guy around. As the knot in Newo’s stomach tightened, the things that she found most charming and enduring about Calamity made her nauseous and irritated her.
Silently she groaned, knowing that she had to somehow turn Calamity around and point him in the direction of the dive bar Vortex was in. She stopped in her tracks, and gave his hand a hearty yank, pivoting his larger body around to face her. As he looked down at her with a confused expression, she said coquettishly, “Hey, I know of a bar down here with awesome drink specials.”
Even though she had to nearly run to keep up with his fast skipping, she wasn’t fast enough to stop him from kicking the front door to the dive bar open, or hide from the glare of its angry patrons. She slid into the barstool beside Vortex, who also offered her an angry glare, his gaze flitting between her and Calamity in annoyance. Forcing her gaze off of the counter and up into his eyes, bashfully she blurted, “Look what the goblin dragged in!”
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