Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Chapter 3 - Eric ~ Word Count: 2087
When I regained consciousness, light threatened to pierce my eyelids as a low, intense throb beat against my skull. I tried to move my arm to cover my face, but a jolt of pain radiated through it and stopped me cold. Every muscle in my body ached, my back, my neck, my arms, and I let out a low groan as I mustered the strength to roll over.
Sand scratched at my bare back and clung to my skin when I pulled away from it. A salty mixture of sand and water splashed onto my face as the roar of waves crashing beat against my eardrums. Why the hell was I passed out on a beach? I pried my eyes open, and, sure enough, I was lying several feet away from an old, rickety fishing pier, and another wave of water rushed up the beach, just a few feet away from my hand.
It felt like stumbling through fog as I wracked my memories from the night before. Something happened. It was something… important. I pulled my arm over my head to block the glaring light when I let out a scream. The word “TRAITOR” was etched and burned into my skin in a nasty red scar.
Everything hit me at once, the rally, the agents, the leader, the captain. I ignored the pain in my body and pushed myself up as a wave of nausea crashed over me. The image of those agents getting shredded, dying – my friends – invaded my mind and wouldn’t leave, and before I could register just how dizzy I was, I turned and threw up.
This isn’t happening. This isn’t real. I looked back down at my arm, skin still red and angry. Tell me this isn’t fucking real.
I staggered to my feet as more images flashed through my mind: the leader’s sinister, golden eyes, the dark outline of the pier, the bloodied knife. Oh, god, the pain. I fell onto one knee as the pain in my lower back spiked, and my hand instinctively reach back to where I had been stabbed first. All that I could feel was a jagged scar as if they skin had been shoddily sewn up and likely a bruise from the bleeding underneath. He’d only promised I wouldn’t die, not that I wouldn’t be harmed.
A deep anger welled up in me as I recovered again. Whoever that Hunter guy was would pay for the shit he did to me, one way or another. Even though I had “disobeyed” an order, it didn’t faze me. I’d always look out for ways to rebel against the man who’d enslaved me, no matter the ways he tried to break me.
When I looked up, I saw a stake stuck in the ground just at the edge of the beach with a bloodied and tattered grey t-shirt flying from it like a flag. That must have been for me. I stumbled up the beach, my feet not even leaving actual footprints in the sand as I dragged myself forward. I nearly collapsed when I reached it.
A pang of sadness touched me when I saw the shirt. Rachel bought that for me not too long ago. It had been completely slashed through from last night’s events, so it was beyond salvageable. I pulled it off the stake anyway.
At the foot of the stake was a small pile of sand, with what looked like some brown leather peeking out from the top of it. I brushed some sand aside and found my assignment journal. Underneath it was a change of clothing, including a plain white long-sleeved shirt. How gracious, I thought, as a trickle of sweat dripped down my back. At least it’ll cover my scars until I figure out how to deal with them.
Letting out a long sigh, I figured I should figure out what they wanted from me next and opened the journal. A page was conveniently bookmarked for me. I skimmed it to find that the first part of it was an imaginary alibi of what Eric the Agent was up to last night and why he couldn’t be contacted between the hours of 11 pm to 8 am. The next was a description of my punishment written in excruciating detail. At the bottom of the page was an ominous message that read, “Your next orders will be delivered tonight at midnight. The raid draws closer.”
The last part caused a shiver to run down my spine, as it was written in dark red ink. I slammed the journal shut and wrapped it in my ruined shirt before dropping it back in the sand. I never got a break with this shit.
Now what? I took a good long look at the word on my arm and seeing that enormous brand staring back at me filled me with an intense guilt. On some level, they were right. I was a traitor to my agency, my team, even my girlfriend who I’d used my influence on to sneak away last night. I was working for the very person I’d vowed to take down and just look where I ended up from it. Even if I told myself I was doing it to protect those people, to look for weaknesses, or something else noble, I was still one of them. Just like the leader said.
I pressed my thumb into the scar, hoping it might just go away if I pretended it was an illusion, but another flare of pain bit into my arm. It was very real.
By now, I’d wasted enough time; I needed to get back. When I unfolded the shirt to put it on, I found a few other miscellaneous items: my earpiece, my phone, and my … mask. It was the same white faced, white lipped, white eyed mask I’d been given by the leader, but now there was a thick grey slash that tore from the forehead down over the eye and nose. I threw it down into the sand and put the shirt on.
Next, I pushed the earpiece in and powered on my phone. There were a few missed calls, as well as a couple of texts from Rachel asking where I was and why I wasn’t answering. I let out a long sigh. This would be difficult to explain, even with my alibi. I shoved my phone into my pocket and moved to stand up.
You’re forgetting something, a calming voice said in my head. My head shot up, and just in the shadows of the pier, I noticed a dark figure watching me. My blood ran cold, and I became acutely aware of how exhausted I was. They beckoned me with their thoughts and their gaze, calming me with a familiar presence. From this distance, I was able to recognize a silvery-blue tint to the mask, as well as a pair of crimson eyes.
“Cobalt?” I called. What was he doing here? I thought I’d already had my run-ins with Splinter for the day. My feet started moving on their own, but not before I snatched my mask from off the ground.
It took just a minute or two to reach where he was standing, and I noted that the ache and pain of my body seemed to mysteriously ease up by the time I reached him. His mask was less ornate than the other Admiral I met yesterday but still just as haunting and intimidating. Still, I was a little relieved so see a familiar face this time. While he was less relaxed than I had seen him on other occasions, his demeanor wasn’t aggressive, and he even gave off a slight energy of concern.
He looked me up and down before stating, I warned you, Eric, that testing the limits of our Leader’s generosity is unwise. I hope this dissuades you from such acts in the future.
My cheeks turned red with a mix of embarrassment and frustration. “If you’re just here to teach me a lesson, Hunter did a damn good job of that last night.”
His lips curved into a slight grin under his lips and he didn’t hide the amusement in his voice. Hunter is one of Grey’s most ruthless Captains; I have no doubt he completed the task thoroughly. No, I am here to insure you can properly carry out your future orders. He grabbed my arm suddenly and pulled the sleeve up to reveal the scars. I instinctively tried to pull away, but before I could, I watched the dark bruises and raw skin return to its typical tan tone.
To my disappointment, the word was still there. “What was the point of that?”
The pain has already served its purpose, so I removed it for you, but I am required to leave the scars as you are not yet permitted to forget your mistake, he said in a matter-of-fact tone. I gave a begrudging thanks, grateful that he had at least made my life a little easier, and then tugged the sleeve back down. My attention turned back to the mask still in my hand.
“What happened to my—I mean, the mask,” I asked.
Out Leader has determined it would be in your benefit to adjust your mask, so you might begin expanding your natural influence, Cobalt explained. That is the main purpose of my visit today, as the adjustment phase may be turbulent. He motioned for me to put on, which made my gut wrench. I hated wearing the fake, “just-for-show” one, but now they gave me an actual Splinter mask?
I swallowed hard, and my hand drifted towards my face. Just like the other one, this mask didn’t have any way to see out of it, meaning I would have to see by sensing the world with influence. When I set it on my face, a heavy presence settled over me, and my head began to throb. It felt as if someone had plugged my mind into an outlet, and every one of my senses was being overrun with static. My skin hummed, my ears cracked, and my tongue singed. The fabric of the universe flowed over me, and it was stronger than I’d ever felt it before. It was like my mind was spinning in six different directions.
When Cobalt spoke into my mind again, his voice boomed, and his presence momentarily deafened my other senses to give me reprieve. Find my mind and anchor yourself around it. The mask is amplifying the sensitivity of your influence. It was like he was holding out an imaginary hand for me to grab onto as I latched on his familiarity. I recalled my first few lessons with him about using influence and tried to use that framework to reconstruct his body in my mind.
He had said before that seeing without eyes is like using the same neural pathways in your brain but instead of registering light in your retinas, you are instead reading the waves of the universe as they pass through and around you. While everything had been magnified immensely, I could still pick up the same patterns that resembled Cobalt’s silvery mask, his black hood, and his dark clothes. In my mind’s eye, I also reached out his hand so I could feel a little closer to his presence.
Using influence is similar to learning another language because you have to first be able to read the world around you through this new sixth’s sense. It felt like a weird combination of every single sense being stimulated at once but wasn’t being processed in the same way the other sense would. It was like I could feel waves propagated on my skin, but it did not register in the same way the touch of a physical object did. As well, there was always a drone of static underneath the sound of the ocean, but if I tuned into it, I could use it to decipher the structure of reality around me.
Then once you fully understood what all of those senses together meant, then you could use those senses to manipulate the flow of the universe so that one or even many people saw it differently than how it actually was. That was the essences of influence, manipulating the way people perceive time and space. Cobalt told me that if you were able to change the way enough people perceived it, then it would permanently change so one could effectively change reality.