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“I… I don’t know.” Mara was resting at the end of Phee’s bed, fiddling with the blanket resting between them.

Phee’s normal perk was gone. Her body was frail, and she could barely choke down anything more than ice cream. She took a shuddering breath, then turned back to Mara, “It’s—,” she choked, her hands shaking softly, “It’s Charlie. She wouldn’t just leave…” A single tear crept its way down her peachy face.

Mara hesitantly crept over to her girlfriend—comforting wasn’t really her thing, but now it was Phee. And with the unfamiliar tugging at her lungs, she knew she had to do something.

“Hey, don’t cry,” Mara whispered softly, stroking the tangled pink hair out of her now sticky face. Her eyes were pail; their original blueberry color had frozen up into shattered ice.

“I’m sorry,” Phee uttered, slowly closing up, her limbs tightening and her head sinking.

Crap, crap, crap. That’s not what I meant. Mara thought then bit her lip, an uncontrollable adrenaline urge spiking through her body.

Phee hadn’t taken Charlie’s… decision lightly. None of them did, they had just dealt with it different ways.

Daniel… well, Mara wasn’t too sure about Daniel. But according to Phee, he had spent most of his time outside, exploring the Rift, going on hikes, or reading new comics (though he mentioned they weren’t as exciting as the ones he grew up with). Even so, it wasn’t like he could get the human ones either—without Charlie, they were stuck with just the Rift. And despite the fact Mara had grown up in Riftside, there were still many human delicacies (even though she wouldn’t admit it) she missed more than she thought she would.

But besides all that, Mara was upset. Distraught.

Disappointed.

She thought she had seen something in Charlie. That sunny spark, or at the very least, a trustworthy friend.

And she was disappointed that through everything they had survived, whether when fighting for their lives, or eating chocolate chip cookies together, she had just left.

Or better said, betrayed them.

Mara hadn’t done any fortune tellings since it all became clear. Her mind wasn’t in the right state, too busy and frantic for seeing any twists of fate woven into someone’s future. To make it worse, her powers would flare out during random times. Whisps of the future would flicker before her eyes, then fade before she could decipher any meaning.

But how did Mara deal with it?

The truth was, she didn’t.

Maybe it was because she didn’t believe it. She didn’t want to. She had already lost one friend. For good. What was the problem with losing two?

But Phee could see right through that, and even though she was crumbling quicker than the others, she did everything she could to try and push them through it. When they were doing especially poorly, she’d quickly wrap herself up—with mittens and scarves, even though it was the middle of summer—and sneak into the cafeteria to get them all ice cream.

Lumariens didn’t deal with loss the way humans did. For them, betrayal (though Phee still wouldn’t call it that) was… unheard of. You didn’t betray others. And no one betrayed you.

But when they were betrayed or left behind, it was like being let go into a tumbling black whole. Or better said, a black whole tumbling into them. Everything being sucked out, then mixed up and stuck back in, but that one little piece was still missing.
In Phee’s case, her fever was shattering her mind with cloudy nightmares. The scenes acted out right before her: her home planet being destroyed and her not being able to do anything about it.

Betrayal made Lumariens sick, in every possible way.

Mara sighed, her eye fluttering closed for a moment. She then headed towards the bathroom, where she grabbed the softest washcloth she could find, and let it soak up with cool water for Phee.

Phee squeezed her hands tightly. She didn’t want to make Mara nervous about her. She had been through a lot. More than she knew, and she had survived it. Alone.

But now Phee had people who cared about her. People who made the process so much easier.

She winced slowly at the thought, Charlie sweeping across her vision, hurt sept back into her chest.

But she still had Mara. And Daniel. And her lava lamps. And for now, that was all she really needed.

-

Miles away and outside of the little purple pocket dimension, laid the start of the tumbling mess.

Charlie was sprawled upon a wide field of grass, her phone and Starbucks beverage laying beside her. A sharp smile tickled across her face as she felt the wind blow against her hair. She looked up.  

For her, it wasn’t old people or pets she missed while she was forced to live out her life in Riftside, but rather the arching blue sky.

Her hands slid into the grass as she examined the clouds, slim and long, only partly covering the suns beams splitting onto the lawn. Today was her day off. All of the planning and strategizing was tougher than she anticipated, but not impossible. And ever since she declared herself the new director of Omnio, practically leaving the Rift without any word of goodbye, she felt... free. She wasn’t held back by stupid rules or people who cared too much about her. Her options were limitless, she could do whatever her heart desired.

But now it was her turn to do what had to be done. She wasn’t going to let another child be dragged away from their homes and be forced into a bubble they didn’t want to be in. She wasn’t going to let that happen, and quite honestly, she didn’t care how she was going to get her result. No matter what or who she had to face.

“For 14-year-old me,” she muttered softly, as she continued to gaze up at the sweeping sky.

-

“Are you feeling a little better Princess*?” Mara asked faintly, as she continued to press the washcloth against Phee’s forehead.

Phee sighed, rolling her eyes. That stupid pet-name. “I’m fine,” her heart skipped a beat, “Mara, you have no idea how much your company means to me and—”

“Please, shush. I’ll always be there for you. No matter what, and you know I mean it.” Mara stroked her hair slowly, carefully combing out the knots with her fingers. Her words were aimed at comfort, something she only ever did when she needed to get her message across. Phee had to know that even if they disagreed or had the occasional argument, she would never do what Charlie did.

Not like how she did it.

Mara was the only one who had gotten anything from Charlie before she fled to continue Dante’s work. She had found it on her nightstand, which wasn’t too peculiar at the time; Charlie loved to phase into Mara’s room and deliver things for her. But this time, it was a letter, just for her.

She had left a letter telling Mara about everything. Of course, Mara told Phee and Daniel right away, but by the time they had gotten to her dorm, she was gone. The room was put together nicer than Charlie had ever done before, and there wasn’t even a track of her left.

It was evident she was gone for good.   

The sun slowly started to rise as Mara left Phee to go to her classes, leaving her to an empty room with practically nothing to do. Or as least, that’s what she wanted everyone to think.

She had a plan.

Carefully, she bit her lip, then strainingly reached over to her bedside table, grabbing her phone.

She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her teeth, trying ever-so-hard not to let another tear drop. In and out, Phee told herself, just breathe.

“There has to be a mistake,” she mumbled softly, her hands held tight, lingering over her phone, “I—I have to talk to her.”

Two days later, after maybe one too many text messages, Phee had a plan. Right outside of the Rift, Phee had hidden herself behind the trees. Their arms stretching out, grabbing onto each other, holding Phee practically invisible. She cracked her knuckles; she had been waiting for ten minutes too long, and her back had started to hurt.

Snap

Phee sprang up, but was surprised with who she saw.

Daniel.

“Hey Phee,” he said, a wide smile stretching over his face, “Whatcha doing?” He carefully hopped over lumbered logs littering the dried grass over to her. She watched him feebly, her breath starting to quicken.

But as Charlie had told her many times before, “She was a terrible liar.”

“Hi Daniel,” she smiled softly, it was nice to see him, “I have to tell you something—”

“You told me you would come alone, Phee.”

They both turned around, and there she was, standing right before the purple whirlpool.

Daniel’s face slackened, “Charlie?” he shook his head slowly, “We have to talk.”

She sighed, her hands tightening on her tote bag. She looked, well, no different than before. She had on her light blue overalls, littered with small scratches and light stains. She looks too similar to before, Phee thought, biting her lip. She didn’t… she didn’t look like she would just abandon them like that.

“Well, it wasn’t really you I intended on talking to you—” she muttered hastily, then looked up at him disappointingly, “but I guess you’re here anyway.” Daniel looked like a lost puppy. His head shook slightly as if he couldn’t believe what Charlie had just said. He took a shivering breath, then glanced behind him, as if that would take him out from the situation. But they were friends. Partners. They both knew what it was like to have been brought to the Rift.

And that’s what she tells him when she sees him again?

Looking down swiftly, she scratched her neck then lipped her lips. Her limbs were cramped, and it was clear she hadn’t thought about what to do if Daniel were there.

“Phee, this is for you,” she quickly grabbed a bag from her tote and handed it to her, “Share them with Mara too, please. And Daniel,” she turned to him, hesitating for a moment as she reached his eyes, “I was going to give them to you after—I mean—later, but these are for you,” she handed him comics—the last two in the series he had been reading.

She gulped, then smiled weakly, “Thank you. And… none of this is about you. Just please don’t take it personally,” she looked back at the vortex, closed her eyes, and stepped back through, her body slowly slipping from beyond their reach.

“Charlie! What—no. What do you even mean?” He had run up to the purple wall, his hand lingering before it, his fingers urging to go through. Suddenly, he grabbed his hair, pulling at it as he yelled out, “Charlie—don’t you dare leave! Come back!”

Phee just stood there, slowly opening up the bag Charlie had given her. The smell hit her first, sweet and pleasant, and as she looked down, she saw a dozen freshly backed chocolate chip cookies gazing back up at her.

Daniel turned back to Phee, his face red and palms sweaty, “What does she mean by ‘none of this is about us?’ What—what is she planning?”

Phee’s face darkened as she glanced back up at him, “I… I don’t know.”

Mara’s eyebrows furrowed as she re-read the letter Charlie gave her. She was sitting on her bed; her room looked like it hadn’t been made in days.

She knew why Charlie had left.

It was detailly explained, but she hadn’t had the strength to tell anyone else about her letter. The note there was for her; there must have been a reason she had only given Mara a goodbye. Her head shook as she looked up to her door.

She had to tell the others soon.

They deserved to know.

-

Dear Mara,

Thank you. Know I’m really sorry, ok? And it’s not about you or Phee or Daniel.

But I really should just get to the point by now.

I’m leaving the Rift to continue Dante’s work. And I don’t think I’m coming back. But it’s not like they’d want me to anyway.

I was just a kid when I came into the Rift. I didn’t have a choice about whether I wanted to or not. After coming here, I realized there are still a lot of children being dragged into the Rift against their will. Like I was.

And I know you might not understand, but I’m begging you, Mara, please just try.

Dante left his company to me. It doesn’t mean I want to continue his work like he did. I want to do something right for once. That’s all. Just that. And talking to the elders is like talking to a brick wall, it does nothing. I have to take this into my own hands or else more people are going to suffer.

You’re my best friend, Mara, and know I’m doing this for you too. So that everyone can just live the life they want to live, you and the others included. So don’t come after me, or fill my phone with calls, because I’m already gone. I love so much Mara, but this is my choice to make.

Love,

Charlie King

-

But first, Mara had to talk to Charlie.

Charlie and her had been friends since they were 14. They were all but kids who met on a stairwell and slowly but surely started to open up to each other. Mara had the gossip, and Charlie… well, she was a good listener. Even though they sometimes acted like they weren’t the closest, they were similar; sometimes too similar. They relied on each other, never letting the other feel alone.

Well, up until now.

She bit her lip as she sat up on her bed, slipping her shoes onto her feet. Getting out of the Rift wasn’t the problem. After the battle of Riftside, Mara had received some pretty powerful information—perfect for blackmail.

The problem was how she was going to get to Charlie.

Sure, she knew a bunch about the human world from Daniel and Charlie’s stories (and the other humans who had been taken into the Rift), but actually getting around there? She was totally unexperienced. They… they do use different money than here, right? Mara thought, as she began to scribble down a hurried letter.

But her anger had started to overpower her doubt. She was going to talk to Charlie. It didn’t matter how she was going to get there.

She packed a bag of important stuff, ran over to Phee’s room to drop the note off on her dresser, then paused, licking her lips.

She wasn’t any better than Charlie, was she?

-

Dear Phee,

Hey, I’m heading out of the Rift to talk to Charlie. I know, I know it’s a stupid rash decision, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. And yes, I’ll call you if I need anything.

Want to get some ice cream when I’m back?

Love,

Mara

-

I’ll be back soon, she thought, and it’s not like I’m running off for good either. Though her uncertainties were still hooked into her chest, pushing her deeper and deeper into her doubts.

She had to keep going.

Getting passed the guards wasn’t any problem, with a quick text to the Mage Elder and maybe a little pressure of a knife to his neck, she was free to go.

Let’s be honest, she was angry, her girlfriend was sick, and she was going to get her way.

After her fingers pushed through the purple barrier, she paused. Her body tensed as she gulped, and she felt her feet dig into the ground. God, she was really doing this.

I’m leaving the rift, she thought, I’m breaking all of the rules.

Rules are meant to be broken,” she mused with a small smile crawling up onto her lips.

 With one step, she pushed herself through.

A burst of sunlight hit her first, as she stumbled forward onto her knees. She looked up at the sky, “huh,” she muttered as she pushed herself to her feet, “it really is blue.” Her head swerved as she began to look around.

She was in a forest, the trees hiding the swirling portal behind her from average humans. The wind blew through her hair, tickling her ears with an unfamiliar breeze. As she turned, she began to hear the muffled sound of tires scratching a road, but couldn’t see anything through the brambles that lied before her.

So… this is where the humans live, Mara reflected as tiny blue birds flew across her line of sight, their chatter intriguing Mara, They certainly don’t have those in the rift.

And behind all of the unfamiliar sounds and packed dirt under her feet, was the hazy sound of crying.

She shuffled, the leaves crunching beneath her, as her head tilted down to a fallen log where the noise was coming from. Carefully, she made her way up to the it, trying hard not to be heard.

She paused, then began using her powers to see what or who was behind it.

But Mara recognized it.

An old memory floated back up to the surface, as the cry triggered something in her.

“Charlie?”

Immediately, the crying stopped. Mara began moving closer, carefully walking around the log.

Curled up behind the rotting wood, was Charlie. Her small figure was compressed together, and her face was puffy and red from tears. She felt as if she was being torn apart; her mouth was dry, and her heart was thumping in and out of her chest. Guilt. Pride. The two emotions were trying desperately to overpower each other, but just creating more and more pain. She was desperate for the misery to stop. But it was already done. The more she waited would only make it much worse.

 And then there was Mara.

Waiting patiently on an answer only Charlie herself could give.

Slowly, she tilted her head up at her, her hair sticking to her face. Mara’s face was dimmed and emotionless. Yet, as her mouth parted, a hand reached down to Charlie.

Mara’s fingers lingered before her tired eyes. An offer.

-

*From – to – is a scene from The Unleashed itself (!), just in my own written form, with a few added touches and a few cuts to original scene.

“Hey, new girl, your kinda in the way,” Charlie looked up at the person behind her with puffy eyes, slowly scooching over to the side of the stairwell.

None of this was what she wanted.

“Okay, what is it?” The voice rung from behind her once again, this time she noticed the slightly… caring tone in their voice?

“huh?” Charlie asked, as she glanced back up at the person who was now standing beside her.

“Why are you crying?” the person asked again, an aggravated tone slipping through their voice.

“uh—this just isn’t the place I thought it was, that’s all,” Charlie mumbled, her disappointment growing stronger now she had said it out loud.

“All right,” they sighed, taking a seat beside Charlie on the stairwell, “listen, I know you saw the homeroom video, but you kind of need to know how things really are here. It’s like a hierarchy of things. The mages, we are legit. We are the best, we know it, we flaunt it, it’s kind of well deserved,” they described with a confident smile, their hands exaggerating the point.

This mage seemed… well, better than some of the physicals Charlie had met. Not as much false self-confidence as the people she knew so far. Plus, they seemed like a decently fun person to hang out with.

Maybe.

“The elementals… they’re badass, but they’re kind of hippies,” they waved their arms, “They’re all one with nature and all that. But if you want a friend, you should try an elemental.”

“But I’m not an elemental.”

Yeah…” they answered, eyebrows raised, “I know. The physical guys you run with; they can be kind of tools. They’re all about the brawn, not the brain,” Charlie agreed silently. They were jerks, but at least better than nothing, “You phase right?”

“Yeah.”

“Right,” a brief chuckle spread over their lips, “that’s kinda lame. Well, as far as physical powers go. And you’re human?” Charlie nodded, “You act really human.”

Well, what was she supposed to be? An alien? It’s not her fault she wasn’t born here. It wasn’t her fault she was dragged here in the first place. The truth of the fact was that this whole thing wasn’t fair.

“I’m going to be nice, since you’re new, but I’m not one to often give free advice. I’m only going to say this once: If you want to survive here, maybe try being less human.”

“I just… I just want to be me,” Charlie admitted.

Yeah, ok,” they snickered, their eyes widening as they got up and began to walk away, “good luck with that.”

“Wait! What’s your name?” Charlie asked.

“Oh, I’m Mara,” she introduced herself, her head slightly tilted.

“I’m Charlie.”

“I didn’t ask, but it’s really nice to meet you,” but Charlie could have sworn she walked away with a smile.

-

Just take my stupid hand already, Charlie, Mara thought, her lips now pressed together. But Charlie just lingered there, her sore palms pressed against the ground, her knees awkwardly squeezed together.

Mara stumbled back as Charlie got up alone, her knees buckling as she did. She shook her head slightly; the heck was that?

 “Charlie,” she started, letting her body relax a bit, chuckling under her breath, “God Charlie, you know exactly why I’m here.”

Charlie took a deep breath as she swallowed, planning her words carefully. She cowered, shook her head, then looked back up at her dissatisfied eyes.

“I told you everything in the letter.”

“Yeah, a letter,” a mask of disappointment slipped down Mara’s face, “You know I need to hear it from you.”

“I was 14 when I was forced to the Rift. Barely a teenager. I was a child, Mara,” a single tear began rolling down her face, “And I’ve tried to get the Elders to let the children decide where they want to spend their lives. But they just don’t listen to me—”

“I can help you, Charlie!” Mara interrupted, lashing out, “I can make them listen and—”

“Dante had the right motive. And, you know, I can see why he did everything he did. But they’ve brainwashed you into thinking how they want you to think, Mara. Look,” her voice cracked as her shoulders softened, “I just don’t want any other kid to end up like me.”

Mara shook her head, swiftly moving back up to Charlie. Her hands tightened slightly as she inhaled.

“You have no idea how much pain you’ve caused everyone,” she pressed her lips together, like she was trying not to cry after everything that had happened, “Phee’s sick. Daniel’s heartbroken. And I’m trying to figure out why. I want to know where the Charlie I knew went.” 

But right as more tears began to slip down Charlie’s face, Mara’s phone began to ring.

“Mara… I think I made a mistake,” she uttered, her mind stuck somewhere far away from the forest they found themselves in.

It’s fine Charlie, Mara thought, we’ll figure it out. And that’s how it always was. Charlie would pull some prank, and Mara was always there to get her out of it. Always.

But now it was Daniel calling out for her.

He had never called her, in fact; how did he even get her number?

But as Mara just held the phone up to her ear, her face started to pale. The anger dropping quicker than the blood in her face.

No.

The phone slipped from her hand, the glass shattering amongst the rocks scattered across the ground.

She wouldn’t.

**“Charlie…” Mara’s voice wavered, and her face was glazed over with a new emotion.

Fear.

“…What did you do?”