Chapter 35. Write a Novel Challenge.
She stood frozen. There he was, right there, right in front of her. Neina’s mind screamed at her to say something, to recoil from the man in front of her, scream, do something. But she couldn’t. Her eyes were wide, dilated, her breath, sharp, shallow, rasped and uneven. How is this happening? What is this? It-It can’t be.
She could win gold at the Olympics with the type of mental gymnastics her mind had to endure to wrap itself around this. This was like some kind of twisted game whereby the world pulls on her heart-strings, whilst also making her dance for an eternity in the palm of its hands. A game where ultimately, she’s made a fool out of, or simply a game played by some crooked puppet master who enjoys watching others suffer.
“Neina! Neina!” called a familiar, masculine voice.
“Earth to Neina. Are you there? Jeez. I thought you’d be happier to see me!”
Ryder rolled his eyes. There was something off about them. While he still sounded the same, or at least similar enough to the Ryder she knew, something was so very off about him. His eyes, for example, where they once held warmth and kindness, now appeared frozen, devoid of the Ryder that was.
“U-Uh… Yeah… I-I just-”
“Hey, is something wrong? You don’t look so good,” Ryder asked.
“I’m s-sorry, I’ve been working really hard lately and -”“And you just overdid it? Should we hire someone to make sure you don’t do that? It’s been happening so much that it almost feels as if the world is being a little extra cruel to you,”
Neina was still trying to get her body under control. She had to move. She had to say something? She had to …
“The world plays a cruel game with you,”
Neina’s eyes widened upon hearing those words. The woman. Ryder. Her words. His words.
“Y-Yeah. I guess you’re right. I suppose,” Neina laughed nervously, “I-uh, I have to go. There’s something I need to ask Frankie,”
“Sure. See ya,” Ryder smiled.His smile was cold. It held little emotion. It seemed hollow. Even so, Neina forced a smile and scurried out of the room. She made her way through the now unfamiliar halls, not bothering to even glance at the people she pushed on her way. She could apologise later.
Eventually, after about ten minutes of speed walking, she had found it. Neina had no care as she slammed open the door to Frankie’s office. Nor did she care about the three other people staring at her with wide eyes and disapproving faces.
No. She marched up to Frankie before speaking in a low, shaking tone.
“Can we talk?”
Silently and dumbfounded, Frankie nodded and excused himself from the room.
“What is he doing here and where’s Charlotte?”
“What? Who’s he? And I told you, Charlotte’s in her office?”
“Ryder. And no, she’s not,”
“Ryder works here. Charlotte may have gone to take a break, Neina. You need to calm down. I understand you want to work on your projects your way, but you have to be able to admit when you need help.” Frankie placed a hand on her shoulder but she swatted it away.
“No. I can do this on my own. This is my project, my dream! If I want to reach the vision that I have, I need to do this on my own. And, that’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point? I’m worried about you Neina. You don’t need to do this on your own, you need a break or help, or something …” Frankie did his best to reason with her. “There’s no shame in getting help from someone and it definitely won’t take away from your original vision.” Not that his reasoning would work. Neina was a fighter.
“I’m not doing that, sorry. This isn’t what I’m here for anyway. Just tell me where and when you last saw Charlotte, then I can get some peace of mind and finally get back to work,” Neina sighed. She was not in the mood for this conversation. With an exasperated sigh of his own, Frankie told her about Charlotte getting lunch with Ryder an hour earlier.
Neina’s face paled on hearing this. She thought back to what she saw in Ryder earlier. The look in his eyes. Neina quickly said goodbye to Frankie; she needed to think. She wandered around for twenty minutes or so, cursing whatever creature was at fault for practically turning this place into a maze. Finally, she had made it back to her own desk. Taking her seat, Neina decided to take a moment to calm down and try to assess the situation, though the world was not that kind to her.
“There you are, Neina. I was looking for you,” Ryder smiled, casually placing a hand on her shoulder. Nenia froze.
“I need to borrow a USB stick since I lost all of mine. You don’t mind, do you?” Neina just nodded her head, completely in shock. Her eyes were wide and her body trembling.
“Thanks. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise! In the meantime, let’s hope that the world doesn’t play any more cruel games with you, right? After all, you kind of need to be at least somewhat healthy to complete Prophecy Tower,” he joked. Neina nodded again.
“Great. Well, see you later.” Neina could only nod. Ryder’s touch used to be warm. Her brother used to be affectionate and kind. Now, when he placed his hand on her shoulder, she felt cold. Something dark and sinister resided instead. Something so terrifying that it shook her to the core. Neina couldn’t explain it. She had never felt something in her entire life that managed to shake her entire being like that. It was terrifying.
Deep down, she knew. She knew that if she couldn’t figure it out, everything she loved would come crashing down around her, and it would all be her fault, regardless of whether Mors world had something to do with it, everything to do with it or nothing to do with it.
Finally, regaining her will to move, Neina placed her head on her desk. Maybe some peace and quiet would help to clear her mind. Perhaps it would allow her to figure out what to do. For a split second, she closed her eyes, and in that moment, she heard it. It almost felt real. Charlotte. Her words were desperate, but also reassuring, letting her know, that perhaps there was still a chance she could fix things.
“Neina. You’ve got this. Please hurry…”
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