[Hello, this is Xhaxhollari. This blog is mainly a medley of escalation as far as April goes. Just as a reminder, whole paragraphs in Italics inform the reader that this is an event that happened in the inworld. If you need refreshers on who everyone is, https://livingfiction153034881.wordpress.com/inworld-stories/ this page is for a list of alters and this page https://livingfiction153034881.wordpress.com/about/ is for frequently asked questions.]
Neither Xanthe or I know if Nebula considered this all a roleplay. She did, based on dialogue, seem to know that the only way she could contact a majority of her friends was through via a laptop. I remember her feeling terrified when someone would be in danger or when she herself was threatened– as if someone afraid they wouldn’t wake up after dying in a dream.
That being said, she was abnormally attached to her laptops. We never did have the best quality. They were prone to viruses and what we later found to be ‘scare-ware.’ At one particular instance when the body was 17 years of age, she was tuned into our inworld when a pop-up accompanied by an inhuman-sounding shriek burst into the consciousness during the wee hours of the morning.
The pop-up itself was the usual tech-based fear mongering. “Your computer is infected! All files will be deleted!” But the screams. They didn’t respond to volume controls. They kept going, perhaps triggering delusions, hallucinations, or even visions of the future that I couldn’t see. Somehow, in the midst of the breakdown, Neb ended up under the impression that these were the dying screams of her friends.
She took the battery out of the laptop and sat, shaking uncontrollably. It wasn’t long before April texted her, snapping at her for not being online and an active part of her puppet show. “There’s a virus. I think it’s threatening to kill our friends. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m scared.”
“Just download anti-virus software, stupid.” April said, responding with her usual empathy. “This is why you need to get a Mac. They don’t have these issues.”
“You don’t understand. I’m terrified. I don’t want my friends to die.” Did Neb give April inspiration in that moment?
Fed up with what was likely the result of too little sleep and too much constant fear, April finally exploded with, “If you’re that scared of your friends dying, then you don’t deserve to have friends.”
I was taken aback by this. There was too much to wonder at in this single sentence. Nebula paused before finally texting back, “Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
–Five Years Later–
Xanthe was born and raised in the inworld. Everyone who’s met Xanthe could guess that it’s much more familiar with how a Methusilla pureblood turns a human into a vampire than it is how to drive a car. Our inworld could, at times, be just as traumatizing as the outerworld. It sometimes even mirrors it.
Have you ever seen the anime “Black Rock Shooter”?
April showed us the anime back in 2012. It shows two separate timelines and dimensions, each happening simultaneously. One features a group of school friends in one mundane sort of world through the general trials of adolescence. And as this group of friends would struggle through interpersonal conflicts, they would have these dystopian alter egos that would fight it out in another world.
I myself watched this show with eerie, spine-tingling fascination. Particularly when the group of girls grow more aware of this other world and find out that one of them had traded places with their dystopian counterpart a long time ago– they didn’t want to face reality, and left it to live in another world parallel to ours.
I was born of the outerworld, but I adapted to the inworld. Xanthe was the opposite– home-grown inside the headspace, then left to wreak havoc in reality. Therefore, when our life was falling apart on the inside and the outside, I decided the division of labour.
Neither was pleasant. Everything that can happen in the outerworld can happen in the inworld, with all sensations persistently present. Xanthe has been stabbed, set ablaze, nearly drowned, beaten, fed on by multiple vampires, and has had their heart stop. If they haven’t experienced a sensation in the outerworld, the system makes an educated guess on what such things ought to feel like– to make for a more realistic experience.
Xanthe and I had quarreled about this, recently. Indignant and possibly more than a little self-pitying, they had snapped, “Oh, so I was basically your stunt double that had nerve endings. Wasn’t that the time Prosper ran me through with a fucking sword?”
I stared at them. “Yes. While I was handling [April] and you were primarily out to get drunk, vent to Cotton, and cheat on [April] with [Avery.]”
Xanthe squinted at me thoughtfully. “You know, comparatively, being stabbed was probably preferable.”
Needless to say, the division of labor wasn’t perfect. Xanthe seemed determine to drink themself into a stupor whenever they knew they were due to hang around April, which led to some… mishaps.
Cotton had recently announced that this would be his last year in Savannah. He was due to move to Atlanta by the next summer. As April and Xanthe sat across from one another at the “Rocks on the River” restaurant, April seemed determined to let it be know how much Cotton leaving didn’t bother her. “It’s not like it’ll change anything,” she shrugged. “He acts like him moving will affect me. Like I don’t have other friends.”
Xanthe nodded absently, sipping a glass of brut. Amusingly, the association between British comedy and escaping from April via imbibing had created a Pavlov effect, and each sip summoned a familiar tune. Ground floor, perfumery, stationary, and leather goods. Wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware, and food. Going up–!
“Do you remember what that’s like? Having friends outside of Cotton?” April asked. The way she coyly baited an actual response from her captive reminded me of a child tapping the glass of a reptile tank. She seemed to delight in provoking Xanthe’s barely hidden loathing for the situation.
We had to both fulfill the duties of ‘partners’ without feeling a shred of romance for our jailer. It felt like we, as a system, were an exotic pet to show off, who’d been recently trained not to bite when forced to perform tricks.
Xanthe frowned. “I have plenty of friends,” they said, giving intolerable acquaintances and colleagues what I thought was a rather wide berth.
April smiled and rested her chin on her hands, looking up at Xanthe through her lashes. “Real friends?”
I felt the body stiffening. Xanthe’s voice was cold when they said, “They are real friends.”
April’s smile didn’t falter. “Just as real as you?”
I had to fight through what I can only describe a slosh of intoxication before arriving at the front and pulling Xanthe back just to give a nondescript reply. (Or perhaps none at all. I don’t function well while drunk.)
The relationship portion of Xanthe’s life was turning absurdly dark. I myself had to endure a dozen or so sudden, lip-bruising kisses and April laying on me to establish dominance. I’d witnessed both Neb and Xanthe pining for her, treating every rare bit of affection like it was a luxurious treat in a little over two years before; this new, hyper-affectionate April seemed like a sick joke when we couldn’t say no.
And we couldn’t.
Believe me, I’d tried. Xanthe’s physically intimate time with her always seemed to border from unpleasant to outright dangerous, in ways I’m disinclined to divulge here. I attempted to explain aspects of my own asexuality to her on one walk home. “Sex does feel good, but it’s frankly far too messy. And I’ve never liked the way that human bodies look. If we– or at least, I– could just keep clothes on, I’d be much more comfortable.”
I was hoping that this would relate as somewhat reasonable to April, the fool that I am. But as we walked from lunch back to Xanthe’s apartment, she stared forward with undisguised vitriol and finally replied, “Someone wants punched in the face.”
Another time, April and I were looking for a place to sit within Gallery Espresso. Gallery Espresso, if one has ever experienced it, is a mismatched collection of furniture where laptops flock to roost.
At the time, we had an old Dell with a failing battery that needed plugged in to manage more than a half hour of runtime. Unfortunately, none of the seats near a wall outlet were yet available, forcing myself and April to awkwardly sit at our table with nothing but our teas and mutual disdain. When a coveted table-next-to-an-outlet was free, we announced our intent to move.
April opted to stay behind, which might as well have been a red flag in Communist Russia convention at this fucking point.
I let Xanthe relish in their time to write. It was one of those stolen moments that seemed to help keep their morale up. After about a half hour, Xanthe noticed April had also found herself a table– and that their duties as a punching bag could be multi-tasked alongside their writing career. Lifting our Dell, we walked back to the table. “Mind if I join you?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” April snapped back.
I blinked. “You don’t… know?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to sit with someone who loves electrical outlets more than me.”
I could feel Xanthe gearing up to say, “Hm. Want to test that theory? How about you fight one with a fork, and I’ll love whoever wins?” but, after some struggle, I managed to choke out an ‘I’m sorry, I misunderstood.’
Close calls were frequent.
I didn’t always have such luck in this department. As mentioned, intoxication definitely weakened my presence and strengthened Xanthe’s. And– well, they’d had a rough time within the inworld. An ever-frequent conflict (You say conflict, but I say it was an altercation. Get it? -Xanthe) with an alter who’d suddenly turned against them ended in them being backhanded down a flight of stairs. Their feelings were about as bruised as their body, so when Cotton suggested a night of bar-hopping, Xanthe readily agreed.
The final destination of the night was planned to be Mata Hari, a novelty bar with a speakeasy theme and method of access. (One had to give a password for entry, which delighted Xanthe endlessly.) And because Xanthe couldn’t go anywhere off-leash, April was invited as a barely tolerated caveat. Cotton and Xanthe met with April after starting off with a couple of cocktails at The Grey, then met up with April at Andaz.
The goal was to pass the time at a few bars before ending up at the fabled speakeasy. And April, who weighed the least out of all of us, persistently kept up with with her companions. While in Mata Hari, April was left at the bar and Cotton and Xanthe were dancing to the swing and jazz music, in that way that drunk, white people do. She loudly complained that their dancing, an expression of exuberance and joy, was driving her to drink.
And drink, she did. While they were resting on one of the antique couches, Xanthe felt something unexpected and wet on their forearm. They pulled it away from April’s line of drool just in time to avoid the vomit that splashed onto the antique carpeting.
They were outside in a whirl, with me able to watch but powerless to help in the midst of Xanthe’s heavy intoxication. There was someone else, though. Someone who would later reveal his name to be ‘Jasper’ was triggered outward, so then I had two functioning alcoholic, impulsive knuckleheads handling a situation where our jailer could’ve been dying of alcohol poisoning, which was just fantastic.
“I… may have pre-gamed,” April confessed through heaving.
“And you choose now to spill? After we get bum-rushed?” Jasper griped.
So, it’s Xanthe and Jasper sharing one body and one brain cell, Cotton doing his best, and April vomiting in the alley in front of one of Savannah’s most exclusive bars. Cotton was repeatedly running in to get glasses of water with the bouncer, who was not at all amused by the situation, asking angrily if he needed to call an ambulance. “No, no, we’ve got it all under control, mate,” slurred Xanthe, who didn’t even have themself under control.
At one point, they attempted to use some of that famous hospitality tact to convince this bouncer not to be justifiably irate. I’m certain, in their own view of themself, they were the picture of eloquent negotiation and saved the night through sheer charisma. What I’m sure I heard said was, “Hello, sorry, I’m a concierge in the area. Hey, listen, we had to take her along. She pre-gamed and didn’t tell us. I don’t like it either. But we’re fine. We’re both fine. Cotton, we’re fine, right? I’m a concierge. Anyway, it’s all going to be just jake.” (Jasper cut in there. Like I said, one brain cell.) “And I love this place. It’s a wonderful establishment. That thing you do with the cotton candy and champagne? Just brilliant, mate. Bloody genius. You’re– an actual speakeasy! I’m a concierge!”
The bouncer, realizing that further berating will just be lost to the haze, told the hapless group to ‘beat it’, as Jasper would say. There was a blurry bit where Cotton and Xanthe-Jasper carried April in between them from Mata Hari to the Hyatt, where they knew there was a hotel bathroom that wasn’t too closely safeguarded from non-guests.
After escorting April to the bathroom, Cotton sat with Xanthe-Jasper (Xasper?) in the lobby. Through the enduring magic of alcohol and the thought of greasy bar food, they had an idea and pursued it. See, Churchill’s pub was closing within the hour, and it was just across the street.
Fast-forward to ten minutes later, they’re both seated at a table at 12am, having just ordered, with Cotton asking, “Wait. Did we leave [April] at the Hyatt?”
Xasper stared into space for a solid minute before they both finally said, “Oh, fuck.” It took a bit of frantic calling, but they managed to lure a still-green April across a five-lane street and into the pub with the promise of a large pretzel. I’m not entirely certain, but I think the entire debacle may have been a subconscious assassination attempt.
Not that April didn’t wreak revenge on Xanthe for this. She always did. This time, to summarize an ever-convoluted string of events, Koji and Prosper had a conflict just as dramatic as could be expected from that household. Koji, in response to some trauma or another he had been dealt, had expressed that he’d like the entire night wiped from his memory. Well, this is something the inworld is definitely capable of. But only specific alters can make it happen. Xanthe, myself, Dominic, and Vex. So, when Prosper attempted to do this on his own, the inworld decided to tell him that this was the wrong move by making it a botched attempt. Koji exhibited all the symptoms of this– anterograde amnesia, nosebleeds, dizzyness. It was indicative of a brain injury that could prove fatal if left untreated. Xanthe had heard about this and showed up to their house in a huff to undo the damage that Prosper had done, frankly indignant that he had even attempted such a thing.
But Prosper was going into a spiral of, ‘Maybe it’s better if we both die, then. Obviously, I’m a failure as a father, since he’s traumatized. And also, fuck you for existing! You’re not touching my son!’ (Paraphrased.)
Xanthe was insistent. ‘Look, Koji might be dying, this is dangerous, you can have your breakdown later, but let me just fix the kid.’ (Paraphrased because this conversation went on a lot longer than it needed to.)
Eventually, exasperated by Prosper’s unwillingness for free help, Xanthe pushed past him on the staircase to get to Koji. Xanthe was most of the way through undoing Prosper’s mistake when Prosper decided, in a case of uncharacteristic (See: April-influenced) over-reaction, to grab his sword and try to slice Xanthe in half, diagonally from the right shoulder on.
Vex fortunately intervened just in time to tackle Prosper, which resulted in an odd half-slice, half-stab via his katana that went managed to go most of the way through Xanthe’s shoulder. and part of their torso.
Let me reiterate a very important fact. We feel everything that happens to us in the inworld. The tearing of muscle, the hot viscous feeling of blood, the firing of nerve endings, instincts screaming through every synapse that death was on the horizon.
Xanthe clawed into Koji’s shoulders, still practically knee-deep in the younger man’s subconscious. Xanthe tried to say something boasting, along the lines of, ‘Watch me do a better job while I’m bleeding to death,’ but when their mouth opened, a bit of black blood (Yes, they literally bleed ink) pooled in a line out of their mouth. They quickly closed it again.
Xanthe managed to hold on until Koji was sorted, then both of them fainted. Xanthe was probably glad they were unconscious, for Vex and Prosper were locked in a vicious battle over their respective children with Aberle, arriving trying to get them both to stop.
I never really knew what would happen if Xanthe died within the inworld. Would they lose access to the inside? Would we have to change hosts again? Would the body go comatose?
I had no desire to test this. I was sifting through the minds of all I had access to at that moment– Sound was the closest. I was able to persuade her, through what must’ve felt like subconscious whisperings, to call Romeo to send a healer over. Dashiell was who got back to Sound and reported back that there would be a delay– because, of course, April had influence over him. I looked back towards the Hanasaki house– Xanthe had been carried down to the living room and laid across atop of a number of towels, on the couch.
They were conscious again, just barely. They had no desire to move and let the twinges and pulls alert them to the extent of damage– they always were queasy around such things, staring at the ceiling and counting under their breath. In pain or discomfort, they always had a habit of counting under their breath to either 12 or 24– then starting over.
April had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. I can remember thinking that it was odd– both Xanthe and April usually got around via the help of someone that could teleport. But then, I was suddenly convinced that she had been in the same building the entire night. I’m not sure if the inworld or herself created that effect– I was too used to it to ever question it, but there April was, walking across the living room and positioning herself on top Xanthe to straddle their chest.
Xanthe gasped and bit back a yelp, turning it into an airy cackle. They looked at April. “Good lord. If your ass is visiting me, I might actually be dying.”
April shrugged. “I didn’t give you permission to die.” I feel as if she might have meant that to be cute, but in our current hostage situation, it was terrifying. Especially it prompted Xanthe to start brainstorming ways to shorten its lifespan as an act of defiance– a habit which it hasn’t yet forsaken.
Xanthe smiled tightly. I couldn’t pretend to be them within the inworld, so I was using all of my influence and silently pleading with them to be cordial. “Why not? My funeral might be the only event where I can’t say anything to piss you off.”
April shifted her weight. Xanthe’s writhing was involuntary. “What funeral?”
Xanthe laughed dryly
April apparently wasn’t joking. “What funeral?” she repeated, as if talking to someone who had sustained brain damage. “Neb didn’t have a funeral. Why would you? Your body’s just going to keep walking around like you were never there. No one will ever know you died. Then you’ll ask me to call you something else and we’re going to start this bullshit all over again.” She sounded exasperated by this concept.
I’m not sure if April was, in a rare moment of warmth, trying to convince her partner not to die, or if she was aiming for every haunting thought Xanthe had ever suffered. Xanthe stared at her, speechless, and after a moment began shivering so hard that their teeth chattered.
Meanwhile, I was having my own existential crisis. This sort of escalation, this gore, this suffering– it was becoming common place in this world. If all of these people weren’t independent of me– and would cease to suffer if I simply stopped communication between my friends and April’s– why didn’t I? What was there to be gained?
I liked Xanthe. As exasperating as I find them most days, I recognize them as everything Neb wished she could be, everything Neb romanticized. And there they were, suffering a pain rare on the outside but all too common within.
“You’re such a writer. Are you ever going to say anything from your own mouth– or are you going to pull the ‘third-person omniscient’ bullshit?”
I zoned out to the outerworld. I was in a familiar position of being hunched over a laptop, with a new window blinking in the corner. It was addressed to a messaging account that used to be Neb’s, and had just automatically signed in. It was from an account that looked to be named after one of April’s characters– someone she drew frequently– someone who was supposedly her ‘dead in the womb’ twin brother.
For the sake of anonymity, let’s say this account was called ‘Kieran Psalm.’ I paused.
It wasn’t unusual for April to introduce new cast. In one particularly ill-advised time, she tried to introduce a boy and butler pair called ‘Cierru’ and ‘Sebastian.’ It was dropped abruptly when she learned that Nebula actually liked and had been watching Black Butler.
But this seemed more… organic.
“Guardian angel. I’m talking to you.” I could hear them as I read the words. It almost sounded like April’s voice. Almost. It was deeper, but with the same accent and inflections. “I wanted to talk to you. You’re all that’s left of Neb, aren’t you?”
I thought about ignoring them. They might’ve guessed my pulling of strings to make sure everyone was safe, and I had no desire to be told that this was against the rules. But something made me use my voice, for perhaps the first time since Nebula died. “I don’t know what I am. But I don’t want my friends to die.”
The voice paused. “You don’t have to keep hiding. I know I’m not. People like to say that I don’t exist either, but here I am.”
“I don’t know what that means,” I typed to them, then I paused. “Are you [April]’s dead twin?”
“I was never born over there. But I’m alive over here,” Kieran said. “I don’t want to be a secret anymore. And you shouldn’t be, either.”
And that was the beginning of the most grievous mistake I have ever made.