"Hold on! What are you talking about? What do you mean she's dead?"
"That's exactly what I mean. I didn't want to believe it at first, but we may have to accept it now."
"Why? What were you told exactly?"
"It's about the earring that Olivia is wearing?"
"What does that have to do with Cricket?"
"When I stopped at a restaurant to get something to eat for lunch, I heard a few people whispering at the table next to mine about it and asked if they could explain it to me because I was from out of town."
"What did they tell you?"
"Apparently the earring is a device that keeps an anima from being able to use their gift. There is an individual in the eighth ring that is able to detect those that will become anima's, and he's able to create the earrings to suppress that person's abilities."
"Are you thinking that Cricket got caught using her gift?" she asked.
"I think it's worse than that. The men explained how if you come to the city and are caught with a gift, you're given a choice. You can either wear the earring, or you're brought to the eighth ring to receive a punishment. The only problem is that those who enter the eighth ring never leave."
"So she refused and now she's dead." No wonder the woman said she wouldn't help us. Even if we found her, there's no way to bring the dead back to life.
"That's what it looks like," said Noah. "I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize for. I was the one who suggested this awful trip, and you're the one who keeps saving us. If anything, this is all my fault."
"Don't blame yourself. I wasn't forced into anything; it was my choice to look for her as well."
"What are we going to do now?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. We still have a couple of days before we told Sophia we were going to be leaving. We can take the time to figure things out. First, we should probably talk to Olivia and see what she wants to do."
"That's true. She may not want to leave the country where she was born. She could still have family here that given time she could find."
"Do you want to go back inside now?" asked Noah.
"I think I'm going to stay out here for a few minutes."
"Okay. I'll wait until you come inside before I say anything to Olivia or Sophia."
"Thanks," she said.
Once Noah had left all her pent up frustration came pouring out. She didn't feel angry though. Instead, she just felt miserable. For once she had simply wanted things to work out. She wasn't even doing this for herself anymore. All she had wanted was to show Noah that she was someone he could trust. She wanted to repay the kindness that he had been showing her despite what had happened with his brother. Now the only chance she had to redeem what she had lost was gone; taking with it her last bit of hope.
After she was done pitying herself she went back upstairs to begin sorting everything out. This wasn't just her choice after all; it affected all three of them. When she got there though, she saw that Noah was by himself on the couch.
"Where are Olivia and Sophia?" she asked.
"Sophia's helping Olivia wash her hair with something called shampoo. Apparently, it's supposed to help your hair smell better or something."
"Huh, maybe I should give it a try later," she said.
"You could probably use it."
"Do you just wait for moments to come along where you can insult me?" she asked.
"Kind of. I mean, it's kind of how this relationship we have works.'
"In that case let's call it quits. I don't need that kind of negativity in my life."
"Sorry, but you're stuck with me," said Noah, laughing at her.
"Perfect. How long have they been in there for anyway?"
"Not long; probably a couple of minutes before you came in."
"Okay, I'm going to get a drink while we wait," she said. "Do you want one?"
"Sure. I'll just have a glass of water."
"So, how much do you think we should tell Olivia?" Noah asked.
"Shouldn't we explain everything?"
"Even about the earring?"
"What about it?"
"Did you forget she's wearing one as well? Which means if it's taken off she'll slowly develop into an anima user. Don't you think she has the right to know that?"
"I never thought about it," she said. Actually, until he mentioned it, she had completely forgotten about the earring she had. She's just glad no one's seen it yet.
"Wait!" she yelled in a panic.
"What's wrong?" asked Noah.
"What will happen if Sophia sees her earring?" she asked. "I never even considered hiding it while we were here."
"Sophia's not even from this country, I'm sure she doesn't hold such prejudices."
"Can you be sure?"
"We can always ask...," said Noah, though his words were cut off by a scream coming from the bathroom.
"Olivia, are you okay?" she yelled, running to see what had happened.
"Is everything okay?" Noah asked, standing outside the bathroom door because it was still inappropriate for him to walk inside with Olivia being naked.
Inside the bathroom she found Sophia sitting on the floor clutching her hand in pain while Olivia sat in the tub frozen in shock.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," Olivia replied. "One minute she was washing my hair and the next she cried out in pain."
"I have to step outside," said Sophia, rushing to get out of the room as fast as she could. She had wanted to ask Sophia what happened but didn't even get the chance to glance in her direction before she was out of sight.
"Do you know if she saw your earring?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"It's okay. Just finish your bath and get dressed, and then you, me, and Noah need to have a talk."
"Is everything okay? Noah didn't look too happy when he came inside tonight."
"Everything will be fine; just hurry up and get dressed."
Regrettably, things were worse than she knew. Out in the living area, Sophia was walking back and forth in a panic. Noah tried asking her what was wrong, but all she did was mumble to herself every couple of seconds.
"Sophia, did something happen?"
"How could you bring someone like that here!" Sophia yelled in reply.
"What do you mean someone like that?"
"An anima! How could you bring an anima here! This is The Garden, it's not a place for her kind!"
"Don't talk about Olivia like she's an object."
"I'm not; I'm talking about her like she's trash because that's exactly what she is! She's a misfit who belongs in the first ring with the rest of her kind!"
"How dare you talk about her like that!"
"I'll talk about her how every I like. You're all in my home at the moment, so if I chose to say something that's my god-given right!"
"What about her rights? I don't know what's got you in such an uproar, but there is no excuse for treating someone like they're beneath you. Does that piece of silver on her ear really change who she is? You've spent nearly a week with all of us and now you're going to suddenly change your opinion because of a round ball no larger than one of your fingernails."
"It doesn't change what she is," said Sophia. "You both kept this hidden which makes you just as bad as she is."
"I can't believe that this is the person you turned out to be," she said. "All your customers talked about how much you've changed this place for the better but you're just as cruel as everyone else. The scenery may change, but no matter where you go the people stay the same."
"Don't talk like you know me," yelled Sophia. Her face was turning red, and she looked upset by their conversation.
"Then don't talk like you know Olivia. She's just a young girl who was taken from her family as a child because of circumstances that she couldn't control. People like you deem her trash because of her gift, but all I see is a quality that makes her unique. I will not let her spend her life in a country where she's made to look down on herself when she should be proud that she's different."
"Why do you care so much when you don't even know her?"
"Because I was her," she replied, finally admitting the real reason why she was so willing to help Olivia. "My family died when I was a child and I was left completely abandoned. I was used and trained to kill because of an ability that I was able to unlock. Unless you can tell me that you know what it's like to beg for death because it'd be easier than having to deal with blood-stained hands and the guilt of knowing that the very quality that makes you unique also condemns you, then you don't get to decide whether or not she's a misfit. You don't get to decide where she belongs, or whether or not she's trash. To me, she's now family, and that's the only label she needs."
"Nicely put," said Noah.
"We'll be leaving as soon as Olivia gets done with her bath," she said. "Grab your things, Noah. We know longer have a reason to stay here."
"Wait," said Sophia, grabbing her wrist as she tried to walk by. She saw an expression of fear wash over her, and then she let go without saying anything.
"Olivia," she called into the bathroom. "Are you done in there? We need to get going." Opening the door to the bathroom she said, "Hurry up, we need to get going."
"Olivia..." She never received an answer. The bathroom was completely empty and Olivia was nowhere to be found.
"NOAH!" she called, rushing back to the living area.
"What is it?" he asked.
"She's not there," she said.
"What do you mean she's gone?"
"I mean, she's not in the bathroom."
"Did you check the bedroom?" he asked, calmly.
Running to the room she prayed that she'd find Olivia getting dressed; though sadly she wasn't there either.
"Where could she be?" asked Noah.
"What if she heard us?" she asked. "She could have run away."
"Why would she do that? You never said anything about her."
"I don't know, but if she didn't run away why would she be missing now?"
"Come on," said Noah. "If we leave now, I'm sure we'll be able to find her. There aren't that many places she could hide in The Garden."
"Okay," she said. They ran down the steps and down the street, each calling her name. Noah took the side closest to the sixth ring while she took the section closest to the eighth. Since it was getting dark outside, it was harder to see and the lamps outside of the shops provided little light.
"Olivia!" she called, "Olivia, where are you?" What seemed like hours went by and still, she heard nothing. No reply from Olivia and she hadn't seen Noah either. Her throat was beginning to hurt from all the yelling, and her legs were about to give out from the constant running.
When she had almost been ready to turn around and find Noah, she heard someone walking in the distance. Instinctively, she hid behind one of the bushes nearby. Even though she was hoping it was either Noah or Olivia, all of her past experiences still told her it was better to be safe than sorry.
From behind the bush, they could see the outlines of two figures walking towards her. When she was able to make out their faces, she was ecstatic to see that Noah had found Olivia, but just as she was about to rush out to meet them she saw a third figure walking closely behind them. That's when she noticed that their hands were bound behind their backs and their heads were lowered in shame. Almost as though it had been rehearsed, people started to emerge from their homes and stare as the three of them made there way down the street. It was dark so she couldn't make out many of their expressions; somehow she still knew the two of them were being judged.
All she could do was sit there behind the bushes and watch as they walked by. It'd be pointless to go and help. Or at least that's what she told herself. Yet again, she felt helpless. Just like when Hayden had been kidnapped, and she had to hide behind Marcus and be rescued. Now, there was no one to help her or them.
Eventually, everyone went back into their homes, and she was left to wander the streets alone. She had no money, no play to stay, and no one she could talk to. She was in a foreign country looking for someone who was in all odds dead, and now her only two friends had been taken from her.
"Abigail, we need to talk." She looked up to see that Sophia was standing in front of her.
"They're gone," was all she could manage to say.
"I know," replied Sophia. "I saw them walk by with the guard."
"All I could do was watch as someone took them away. What is it with you people? Why do you have to take everything away from me? My home, my money, my horses, my clothes, and now my friends. I don't understand why."
"We need to talk Abigail."
"I have nothing to say to you."
"I'm sorry, but I have a lot of things I need to say to you."
"Why should I listen to you?" she asked.
"What if I said I knew who you were looking for." This piqued her interest, though she doubted Sophia was telling her the truth. Nonetheless, her options were limited, so the only choice she had was to take her word for it. She went back to Sophia's house with her where she was given a cup of coffee, and a blanket to wrap around her.
"Why are you talking to me now?" she asked. "What would make you think I'd listen to what you had to say after everything you said about Olivia?"
"I thought about it for the last few hours, and I'm sorry for what I said. I overreacted when I saw the earring she wore."
"Is that all you have to say?"
"I'm also sorry for jumping to conclusions and judging you when as you made perfectly clear, I don't know your situation."
"If that's all I think I'll be going. Thanks for the coffee and the apology, but I don't have time to be waiting around here."
"I'd like to help you get them back," said Sophia.
She stopped dead in her tracks and asked her, "why?"
"Because I saw what they meant to you, and I once had someone who meant that much to me as well."
"Had?" she asked.
"He died shortly before I moved here."
"I'm sorry for your loss," she said, sitting back down on the couch.
"It's okay. I'm in a better place than I was when I first arrived here."
"You said you knew who we were looking for? How do you know that?"
"All it takes is a single touch," said Sophia. "In moments of excitement I often see more than I'd like to."
"Wait," she said, "you saw who we were looking for?"
"Than that means, you're Cricket. You're the person we were looking for."
"Yup, that's me."
"Why would you use the name, Sophia?"
"Sophia is the name I was born with, and I abandoned the name Cricket when Nathan died."
"You're an anima; you've known for years what you are and how to adjust your life. How could you have said that to Olivia when she was never even told why she was abandoned?"
"I was scared."
"Scared of what?"
"Scared of dying. Scared of being found. Scared of being alone. Scared of my facade being broken through, by the very thing I was hiding from."
"You have no idea what being scared is really like," she said. "I've been near death fourth times in the last month. Twice was because of the very man I'm traveling with. You don't know fear until your life depends upon someone who wants you dead. You probably already knew that though."
"I've seen it," replied Sophia.
"Then you know why we were looking for you in the first place."
"Since I'm already out in the open, explain something for me. Why are you hiding when there are so many people who care about you? You said you liked to be alone, but at the same time, it scares you. Why don't you go home to the people who need you."
"It's not as simple as that."
"No, it is as simple as that. You're just making it complicated."
"I can't explain what happened the day that Nathan died, but a piece of me died along with him. You asked me why I don't keep flowers; it's because my flowers are created from memories. I use the essence of what a person is feeling and create a flower that responds to my gift. That's why the woman who was in that morning received a crimson rose. For the longest time, I wanted to get rid of my memories of him. I hated having to be reminded of the person I lost. My memories were the only way I could keep him alive though."
"I lost someone I loved too once. I can imagine how painful it must have been for you. It's no reason to hide though."
"It was painful. When I left my friends behind, I wanted to create a life for myself where I could be happy again. I miss them terribly, but you need to be able to do more than just survive in this life. You need to be able to live."
"Why come here though?" she asked. "Or at least, why would you stay when you saw what they did to people with your kind of gifts?"
"At first I stayed because I was like you and wanted to make a difference. Eventually, I stayed because I found this place and the flowers eased my pain, even if it was just for a little while."
"You have to learn to move past that pain. Think about how your friends feel. They not only lost Nathan but now they've lost you as well."
"I realize that. The most painful part of your memories was seeing the friends I abandoned in them."
"Well after we get my friends back, we can work on yours," she said. "For now though, you need to help me keep Olivia and Noah alive. I'm not losing anyone else."
"Do you have a plan?" asked Sophia.
"Not really; more of we'll see what happens when we get there. Do you think you can get me into the eighth ring? I think I can manage as long as I have a way in."
"That'll be no trouble at all," she said grinning from ear to ear like she had a plan already set in motion.
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