Cause and effect. I mentioned it before. Gave a stern lecture about how you should always be prepared. I knew how to talk the talk… walking the walk was a whole 'nother matter entirely. In terms of expecting what I just heard? I was basically a one-legged cripple.
"Didn't take you for the cultured type," I said.
In retrospect, I shouldn't even be surprised that she knew. Wasn't like Asteria was an obscure indie piece with little to no backing whatsoever. If it garnered enough notoriety to have people cosplaying characters, it was a given it'd be a household name to some.
I just didn't expect she'd be one of the 'some'.
"We had a bit of a talk when you moved in, do you remember that?" She asked. "You asked me back then what I was pursuing in college and I told you that I was in - "
"Program and design," I uttered, realization dawning on me. "Must have slipped my mind."
"Asteria's one of my recent favorites. Wrote a short essay on it once too. That one actually got me a short tour in their studio. I never expected to be nearly killed by something I'd admired so much. Then again, I don't suppose that's a thing I should even be expecting in the first place. Life gets so strange sometimes… don't you think so?"
"Took the words right outta my mind."
Talking to her made everything stiff for some reason. Mature innuendos aside, I was seriously afraid to even move from where I was, like a wild timid animal, I feared she might scamper off, even when I knew something like that was totally stupid and unreasonable.
Couldn't help it. Everything about her, every slight movement, every gentle expression, they all just screamed 'Fragile! Do not touch!'. Heck, half the time I expected the wind to just blow her over Humpty-dumpty style.
She was like a grenade with its pin off, and God only knows if she was a dud all along or actually primed to burst at any moment.
"So…" Once again, ladies first. "What are they doing here?"
I realized I shouldn't have talked so big just then. I held collectively, within this desolated little mind of mine, only sparse pieces of details and facts. The answers that I do have were fragmented, and none were even fit to be answers to give in the first place.
Time to go with a classic.
"No idea," I said at first, then realized I technically did. "Okay, actually I do. But it's a long convoluted mess and I'm not sure where to even begin."
"I rather not waste more of your time… you look tired as is," Amanda inched forward slightly, leaning over, sheepishly smiling over at me. "You can keep things short, I'll be gone soon. If there's something I don't understand… well, mmm… next time, then."
It wasn't as if I had a long captivating tale prepared in advance in the case anyone confronted me about my life as is. Fortunately, it wasn't a tale adorned with flowery words she wanted, just a simple brief answer for a not so simple, perplexing question.
I'll do my best.
"Well first off, they're not Asterians," I began, reluctantly unsealing the entrance to a rabbit hole without an end. "Actually one of them is, but I digress. They're all beings from a place called Kronocia."
Amanda, her reaction barely threading shock, asked calmly, "Another game?"
"Another world," I corrected.
She nodded, blinked, "Okay… wasn't expecting that," and remained still very much level-headed. "I have a funny feeling this won't be the last time you'll be shattering my expectations."
As it turns out she was right on the money. Every assumption, every belief that she had about the whole thing wrong, done and gone. I let my abridged version of the events unfold into the open air, Amanda, a good listener, stood quietly and took it all in.
Would have offered her a place to sit beside me, but strangely I felt she wouldn't have even if I got on my knees and insisted. So there, standing, she remained, letting my brow-raising explanations replace her own.
Of course, Kronocians not Asterians. But that didn't mean the conclusions she reached were all in stark contrast to mine. So much common ground shared between the two worlds, it'd be amazing if there weren't some similarities intertwined between my hearsay and hers.
Indeed it was a Matriarch's doing that got her involved in this mess. She even got the terminology right. Subspecies of Elidna. Going Frenzy. She remembered seeing an Elf, a Phoenix and also a Succubus alongside me. Honestly much of what I told, she already knew.
The rare few times I corrected her were for details that were simply minute. Terestra was no Demon Queen, she was the Goddess that ruled over Kronocia, and the omnipotent perpetrator that reduced it all into nothingness… and she was also -
That was the extent of her outrage, a slight rise in volume of her voice, and it didn't even go up by much. Amanda looked at me with eyes wide open, and with her eyebrows soaring to the heavens.
"Yep," I heaved. "I'm the son of another world's Goddess. The 21st century Jesus Christ at your service. Pleasure to meet you."
She smiled at that. "And Leonardo's your dad? I'm curious how that happened. They hate each other."
"Trust me, I'm also at a loss about my own conception. A Hero and an evil Goddess, loving husband and wife… who would have thought, huh?"
"Four out of Five endings to the game ended with them killing each other," Amanda wondered aloud. "I guess it's pretty safe to assume your parents aren't really from the game."
"Spoilers…how nice. Might as well double down while you're at it, what happens in the fifth?"
"The worst ending," She simply said. "Terestra destroys Asteria for good."
Seriously, my mom has got some issues. As a kid, I always hated that piercing gaze of hers whenever I was up to no good. Skipping school, playing games… just one look from her would set me straighter than the ruler she keeps on the top shelf.
I always thought that stare was a passive ability all Moms have on their offspring. Probably was still, it was just that mine had the added benefit of being capable of destroying the world in the blink of an eye… certainly felt like that was the case that one time I broke the washing machine because my dumbass thought it could clean everything.
Spoiler alert: They won't clean your shoes for you. I learned that the hard way.
"So, Kronocia… it's really…?"
"It got ending five-d, yes." I affirmed. "That about sums it up. They're living with me because they ain't got no place to go."
"Except for the Elf, though, right? She's Asterian… so what is she doing here?"
Hearing that popped open a thought, a question more like. "You finished the game, right? Does it ever explain why Elves are as hated as they are?"
"Ahh, that's one of my favourite things about the game," She said eagerly. "Usually Elves are a prestigious race in many stories. I like that little turnaround in the game where they're seen as vile and despicable creatures, it's really - "
Amanda trailed away, her eyes meeting mine, and immediately understood.
"Not what you wanted to hear…"
I waved it off. "There a reason for it?"
"Not… exactly. They're evil… and that's that."
"It is what it is," She said. "That's a direct quote from an NPC. I suppose you're asking because the Elf living with you told you about it?"
"Yeah… her name's Eshhhllyyy - I call her Ash," I said, nodding my head. "Probably recognize her from the game. She's a companion, and to answer your question - I have completely no clue. I found her swimming in the dumpster waiting to get crushed by a garbage truck."
From there, what started off as a single, isolated question in regards to how otherworldly beings ended up in our plane of existence branched off and morphed into a storytime session of bizarre proportions.
Had half a mind to pry more on Ash's story and her true nature... but decided it really wasn't Amanda's story to tell and moved on to something else.
It never occurred to me just how much I wanted to air out my grievances, how I longed for someone to just listen, nod their head, and sympathize with the utter ridiculousness that was my daily life, and as Amanda stood there, listening, nodding, sympathizing, I believe it was safe to state that she passed with flying colors.
"And all I wanted was a job, you know?" I finished, just as the setting sun peeked its last beyond the distant horizon. "Now I've died once, been made a master of two different beings, a blood donor for another one, and my all-powerful, all-encompassing parents are ghosting me to the ends of the Earth like they have nothing to do with it."
Amanda, the patron saint of patience, stood across a meadow of swaying yellows and red, twirling a sunflower around her fingertips, and wisdom knowing no bounds, simply uttered out, "Relatable."
"I know, right?" I said, feeling validated for once. "Look at me now, I'm dressed like a bad-boy and I smell like an air freshener that got stuffed with chili powder."
"Well, I think you look nice," Amanda said, her comforting smile visible from across the garden. "Much better than how I usually see you. Not sure about the smell, hmm, maybe it's just preference."
Unfortunately, she couldn't ponder for any longer. The invisible pitter-patter of raindrops flinched her face into a slight blinking frenzy. Adding to it, came a stronger gust of wind blowing the edge of her dress and the golden locks of her hair along with it.
"Another one," She muttered, squinting upwards to the grey murky skies. "These past few days have been awfully wet… and I keep forgetting to bring an umbrella."
"You need one? Got a spare in the house."
"Ahh, no, no…" She shook her head. "That won't be necessary. My car is right around the corner. I suppose I should take that as my cue to start going."
The pitter-patter turned into heavy splashes, inking the white of the concrete pavement into a damp dark shimmer, prompted Amanda into movement, her long slender legs treading back towards the open street.
"It was nice talking to you again," She said from afar. "It was very… enlightening."
A loud thundering from up high had her spinning right around, her hands above her head, breaking into a sprint towards the exit. Seeing her outline grow further into the distance spurred something in me.
Talking to her was a breath of fresh air, a semblance of normality that I've never had in so long. I'd like to retain that feeling, actually. It's quite nice.
"Can there be a next time?" I yelled.
Her figure from afar, her white dress, her yellow hair - so vibrant, mesmerizing - swaying in the breeze, - like a flower in full bloom smiling bright.
"Search me online," She yelled back. "I couldn't find you there. But I'll know you'll find me. I'm everywhere."
Having a shouting match while Ria and Adalia were just on the other side of the door behind me was not a good idea, so instead, I stifled my lips, raised my hand, waved, and gave a thumbs up.
Amanda, still moving backward, gave two in return, before disappearing around the bend, like she was never there.
So there I was once more alone with only my thoughts for company, except I didn't find them as bothersome as before. Would have loved to linger in isolation for a bit longer but I feared Ria would throw a fiery fit if I managed to soak my clothes before the day they were due to be used.
And with the raindrops gradually increasing in both speed and strength, I thought it best to also take that as my cue and save loitering around the outdoors for another rainless sunny day if there ever comes one.
I got up, twisted the doorknob, and entered the hallway, closing the door shut as I did.
"Right, I'm back. What's the plan you have here, Ri - "
It was dark. Very dark. Verging to the point of imperceptibility. Curtains were drawn, windows were shut, and every switch for every light source was flickered to the 'off' position.
Confusion was very much settling itself well and comfortable in my head, yet before I could voice it out - there smoldering incandescently, glowed a crimson figure by the dining table.
"Nice plan," I called out. "Does it involve me tripping over something in the dark?"
"Shh." Her finger pressed against smirking lips. "Don't ruin the mood here."
The wick of a candle, a candle I didn't even know was there, suddenly went ablaze, its flame flickering brightly, illuminating the center of the table and unshrouding all there was to see.
Two plates at opposite ends of the table, with silverware set perfectly adjacent on either side. At the furthest end sat Ria, elbows perched atop the table, leaning her chin onto the back of her hands, staring directly at me always with that mischievous expression.
"You are late," she said.
"I was outside," I said warily. "Ria, are you gonna explain - "
"Mistress Ria?" She tilted her head, her lips curving to a frown. "Master, is it not impolite to speak of other maidens when fraternizing with one directly? Do our customs really differ vastly from world to world when it comes to the matter of courtship?"
What in the fuck.
"You're joking," I muttered. "Please tell me you're joking."
Mistress Ria with cruelty in her veins upheld herself graciously, and spoke ever so sincerely, "Master, why would I feel the need to jest in such intimate moments with one another? "
"Oh my God, you're killing me."
"Am I really?" She said with a simper. "Why is that, I wonder? I mean, was it not you, after all, who desired to go on a date with me?"
I don't even know what to say to that. I don't even know what to do. She did though, Ria always does, nodding her head at me, urging me forth.
"Why don't you take a seat, Master?" Ria said, batting her eyelids at me. "Dinner awaits."