Where All Roads Lead

Chapter 25

 April 6th, 2024

Cat found Rosa in the expected place, the training grounds. She had been a little worried as she arrived, because the red head had been noticeably absent from the sparring field for a couple of days and nobody had been quite sure to where she had run off. Seeing the other girl there, stretching, Cat had to stop for a moment and steel herself. The last time they had talked…it hadn’t ended well. Still, she needed help; more specifically, she needed Rosa’s help.

The red head looked over as she heard Cat’s footsteps and Cat saw her body tense up in an instant. “What do you want?” The other girl sneered. It was odd, but Cat thought that Rosa’s eyes seemed guarded, rather than aggressive.

“H-hey.” Cat said. This wasn’t going to be easy. “I came to…”

“Just shut up and pick up your sword.” Rosa said, kicking her spear off the ground into her hands. “I got enough to think about without you whining to me some more. You ready?”

“Actually, I didn’t come here to fight!” Cat insisted, even as she picked up the sword. You never could tell with Rosa if she’d even let you finish a sentence. Sure enough, the red head came charging forward, spear at the ready. Before Cat could even finish her explanation, she had already parried the thrust, rolling to the side.

Rosa didn’t say anything, instead studying Cat carefully, looking for a hole in her defense. It wasn’t like her to give Cat time to breath, but whatever the reason, Cat took advantage of it. Instead of attacking, Cat tossed her sword down to the ground again. “Want to get some lunch with me?”

“Eh? Lunch…?” Rosa blinked, then her eyes narrowed. “Why, so you can snap at me again?”

“L-Look, I’m sorry about before…” Cat said carefully. Looking back on how she acted, Cat felt embarrassed at how she had used Rosa as her scratching post, as it were, though the red head had certainly been cruel right back. Cat took a deep breath. It didn’t matter what had happened, this was something she had to do. “And I know that we both sort of lost it there. But there’s something I need to talk with you about so…Lunch?”

Rosa kept her eyes narrowed as she thought about it. Eventually, she lowered her spear and gave a shrug. “Whatever, why not? But you’re buying.”

“Sure.” Cat said, her whole body relaxing. “There’s this café I know, let’s go there.”

“Better have good food!”

“The best, you’ll see.”

The two girls walked through the park near the old forum, munching on the sandwiches Cat had bought. Cat had opted for a light caprese sandwich, while Rosa had ordered a monster of a sandwich loaded with meat and dressing. Cat had rolled her eyes when Rosa had ordered, but had paid for the extra additions anyway. When she handed it over, Rosa had all but snatched it from her hands, her eyes alight with glee. She had to admit, Rosa’s grin on seeing the sandwich was kind of cute.

They walked in silence for a bit, as Rosa took huge wolfish bites from her sandwich, Cat trying to think of how to start.

“So…This is kind of a long story, so bear with me, okay?”

“You got my attention for as long as this sandwich lasts, but given how good it is, I might be willing to go a bit slower.” Rosa said with a smirk, taking another bite from her lunch, tearing the bread and meat with great exaggeration. “Sho shtart talkin’!”

“Mmm…” Cat took a bite from her own sandwich, though with less ferocity. “So I summoned a spirit once while I was studying and she’s still around, teaching me magic and what not. Her name’s Scheherazade.” Cat looked to see if there was any recognition on Rosa’s face, but the girl didn’t seem to recognize the name. If she did, then she didn’t care to show it.

“With my sister sick, I’ve felt rather lonely, so Scheherazade gave me something to help with that. She gave me this journal that had someone else on the other end.”

“A journal? So, like, you were talking to a character in a book?”

“No, it was more like sending a text with a phone, I guess. I’d write the words and then they’d appear in Asha’s book. And she’d reply back to me, and I’d see the words appear in front of me.”

“Asha?”

“She’s my friend. She had a matching book to me. I could see her face and her emotions, like a little cartoon, next to the messages she wrote.”

Rosa furrowed her brow as she tried to picture what Cat was describing. “So you had a book that acted like a phone, talking to some random girl named Asha? Okay. What’s that got to do with me?”

“Mm, I think Asha’s in danger!”

“So? The world’s a dangerous place. I just got back from clearing out a nest of manticores. That was pretty dangerous. Heh…” Rosa said, giving a rock a kick down the dirt path of the park. It bounced a bit before landing in a bush. “Danger’s a good thing! It makes the strong stronger and thins out the herd.”

“But I want to help her. She’s somewhere near Turkey, I think in Syria, and she needs my help.”

“Somewhere in Syria. Gee, that narrows it down, Cat.” Rosa rolled her eyes. “You want to go fly over the entire region looking for one girl. No wonder you ended up in the wrong place in Sicily.”

“I’m serious about this, Rosa! She’s at some place called the Line Fortress and I need to go save her!”

“So? Go do it. What do you want, my permission?”

“No, I want your help.” Cat finally said, turning to face Rosa fully.

“Don’t see why. This is your friend, it’s got nothing to do with me. Thanks for the sandwich, Cat.” Rosa said, shrugging her shoulders, tossing the wrapper of her sandwich into the nearest garbage can. She continued walking, her attention finished along with her sandwich.

“I need to save her from her commander. She’s a red head…looks a lot like you. Calls herself Christie!” Cat called out to Rosa’s back. In an instant, Rosa’s entire body tensed and froze as her steps slowed to a stop.

Cat jogged up to rejoin her. “And this girl is really angry and….urghk!” Cat barely got to continue her pitch before Rosa spun around, grabbing Cat by her coat collar and, with astounding strength, lifting the other girl off the ground.

“Are you playing with me, Cat!?” Rosa said angrily, pulling the other girl close. The rage was back in her face. Cat had hardly even realized it was missing until she saw Rosa’s face turn red, her eyes burning into Cat’s. “Who gave you that name?!”

“Sh-she did!” Cat said, trying to pull out of the grip Rosa had on her clothes. Rosa just pulled her even closer.

“WHO!?”

“Ch-Christie! She told me her name!”

“Christie is dead! How could she have told you her name!?”

“Th-they’re all dead! Asha’s dead too!” Cat said as quickly as she could. She had never been scared of Rosa before, but this was different than the girl she faced on the field. “The Line Fortress, it’s a place where ghosts are held to fight against monsters! Christie’s, nn, their field commander!”

“How did she get there?! Who’s behind this!? I want answers, damn it!” Rosa said, shaking Cat back and forth.

“I-I don’t have much else!” Cat said, getting dizzy. “B-But I want to help Asha, Rosa! She’s my friend, even if she’s a ghost and, aaah, I thought if there’d be anyone to help with Christie, it would be you!”

Rosa stopped shaking Cat, staring deep and hard into her eyes. Cat just stared back, trying to look as sincere as possible. She felt Rosa’s grip on her clothes slacken, before falling back down to the ground, her knees shaking. For a moment, neither girl said anything, but they never broke eye contact. Cat brushed her jacket, straightening herself up as she waited for Rosa to say something.

“How do you plan to help Asha?” Rosa finally said.

“I’m still working on that…” Cat admitted.

“You want to go off to Syria or who knows where and you don’t even have a plan? You really are crazy, Cat.” Rosa said, shaking her head with a scoff.

“Maybe, but…well, Asha’s trapped there. I don’t care if it is for a good cause, nobody deserves to be trapped forever after death, serving as a buffer. And nobody should be able to stop them from having friends and a life!”

“They’re dead, Cat.” Rosa pointed out. There was no smile on her face.

“I don’t care. I’m going to save her. I want you to help me but if you won’t, I’m still going.”

Rosa stared at her for a moment before sighing, her forehead hitting her palm. When she looked up again, her face was steeled. “Alright. I’m coming with you. But we’re not doing this without a plan and more information. You’re going to tell me everything else you know about the Line.”

 

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One thought on “Where All Roads Lead

  1. Pingback: Where All Roads Lead | The Cities Eternal

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