Morning the next day, I woke, having only had about two hours of sleep. My eyes were blurry and red, and I felt like a zombie as I brushed my teeth and tried to put myself together. Rose said she was going to stay the night and would return some time in the morning. Perhaps, with Aunt Rose here, she could help me with finding Hannah. The security detail had done as much as they could, and had come up empty.
Hannah had told the security when she left that she was heading to a fast food place, but when they had called the location she had logged, there was no evidence she had been there. The security was just there to keep people from breaking in, and they weren’t exactly trained private investigators. Suffice it to say, they quickly ran out of steam. I considered going to Madison a few times, but I didn’t want to upset her further. That’s when the door rang in the twilight hours of the morning.
I ran down the hall ready to answer it, but of course, security had already intercepted it, and it wasn’t Hannah. Rather, it was a packaging service, and they delivered a small envelope. The envelope was addressed to me, so I couldn’t do anything but sign for it and take it. The packaging lady tried to hit on me, but Charlene’s presence intimidated her and she quickly left with a frustrated look on her face.
“A holotape?” I muttered, pulling out the long flash-drive-like device I’d come to know for containing media.
I looked through the envelope two more times, and the holotape was the only thing in it. Aunt Rose had destroyed the VS she bought last night, so that only left Madison’s VS holotape player. I let out a sigh. It seemed like fate was determined to have me see Madison either way. I had no clue what the tape was, but I had a sinking suspicion that it had to do with Hannah. Thus, my desire to see what was on the tape quickly peaked.
I ran over to Madison’s room and knocked loudly. It took a moment before the door opened. Madison peaked outside and her eyes were red as well. It looked like she had been crying for half the night. Charlene was still standing behind me, but I didn’t hesitate to push myself forward, shoving Madison back into the room and closing the door, cutting off Charlene. I didn’t really care what Charlene thought about the situation. Now wasn’t the time for being tactful.
“B-brother!” Madison let out a cry as she saw me lock the door and turn towards her. “We can’t…”
“Madison, I need-”
“Ah!” Madison let out a cry while backing up her knees, which had hit the side of the bed, causing her to fall back. “Brother… I… I…”
Madison finally closed her eyes, trying to ease her breathing, “J-just once… okay… one last time. I absolutely won’t change my mind!”
“Ahhh… I need your holotape player.” I scratched the back of my neck, looking a little bit awkward.
“Eh? Ah? Oh!” Madison turned red, growing increasingly flustered before turning away and diving for a drawer, pulling out her VS player I had only seen once before.
She handed the device to me with both hands while looking away.
“Thank you!” I nodded as I took her tape player.
“Stupid brother…” Madison’s words were barely audible out the side of her mouth.
“Madison, do you know where Hannah is at all?” I asked while ignoring Madison’s behavior.
“Eh? Hannah?” Madison’s expression stiffened. “What about Hannah?”
“She left last night, and she hasn’t been home,” I responded, sitting on the bed a distance from Madison and turning on the VS while trying to figure out how to put in the holotape.
“Hannah is gone?” Madison’s worried face lasted only a second before she twisted her mouth and turned away. “It’s none of my problem. She’s not my sister.”
“She is your sister,” I responded back, only now getting how the holotape slid onto the VS.
“No…” Madison gave me a tearful look that caused me to stop for a moment. “Don’t you get it? I’ve always been trying to protect her, but all I ever did was annoy her. She said it herself, I’m not her real sister. That’s genuinely how she sees me.”
I stared at Madison, lost as to what to say. The truth was, I didn’t know what was going through Hannah’s mind. She was always such a quiet and reserved girl like her Mother. It had never even occurred to me she had such thoughts. Even a day later, I didn’t know how to respond to her comments. I had hopes of getting to Hannah and convincing her to make good with Madison, but with Hannah gone, I was put in a hard place, and I, unfortunately, didn’t have the answers.
“Hello, Clyburn.” A distorted voice suddenly came from the VS, the holotape choosing that second to finally start playing.
The voice also startled Madison, who turned to the video screen. The screen was dark and grainy, the video taken at night in what looked like a grungy area. However, after a brief focusing, a person came into view. The person was none other than Hannah. Madison audibly gasped next to me, while my hands tightened on the VS player.
“If you’re playing this, then I’m sure you recognize your dear little sister here,” the distorted voice continued, a harsh thing that sounded neither man nor woman and made my skin crawl. “We caught her walking around aimlessly at night, the poor little thing. We were just going to play with her for a while, but then we found out she had a brother. We’d rather play with you.”
As the voice spoke, the camera tittered around Hannah. She was squinting into the light with her hand raised up, and she looked like she accumulated several scratches and bruises. She looked in an okay shape other than that she had been crying for some time. Her clothing was together, but dirtied, and her face seemed like a mix between anger and fear. My entire body was shaking, and I realized I had been holding the VS tightly enough the image was flickering a bit. I loosened my grip.
“Faeri wants to see you. You’ll get a new package tonight with the rendezvous point. Come alone. Don’t call the cops, I’ll know if you do. If you comply, you’ll get to see your precious sister again. If you don’t, well… I’ll personally turn your little sister into my bitch. She’ll come to like the taste of pussy, I think. Hahahaha…”
The tape went to static as quickly as it had started. I turned to Madison. Her mouth was open, but once again her eyes quickly flashed and she looked down, not willing to meet my eyes anymore.
“Madison… Hannah, she’s been kidnapped.”
“Mm…” Madison murmured while closing her eyes.
“I need your help. You’re the only family I’ve got right now. We need to figure this out.”
Madison remained quiet for a moment before shaking her head. “No…”
“No? This is Hannah. She’s our sister!”
“She’s your sister!”
“Damn it, Madison, this isn’t the time to be fighting. Please, will you help me?”
“Why do you have to act like a god damn chil-” I stopped my words as Madison stared at me defiantly.
I had stood up and was now hovering over her, my voice raising to the point of a shout. That’s when the reality hit me. Madison was a child. She was only a sixteen-year-old girl. Hannah was only fifteen. These were just girls. While Mom and Aunt Rose were able to easily reconcile as adults, expecting the same thing from kids was perhaps asking too much. They were selfish, and childish, and confused. I wasn’t too much better, prone to my own emotional outbursts and mistakes, but at least I had my memories as reference. I could subjectively evaluate the situation. My sisters weren’t so lucky. They were just kids that had to grow up the hard way.
Madison had felt betrayed by Hannah. After all, she had dedicated such a large chunk of her life to protecting her sister. She had always felt protective of Hannah, her younger sister. For that sister to suddenly turn into a person you don’t even recognize, and worse, refuse to acknowledge your family bonds, it hurt Madison too much. It wasn’t finding out Noah wasn’t her father that crushed Madison that night, it was Hannah.
“I… understand.” I stood up, giving Madison one last sad look before I turned and walked out of the room.
As I approached the door, something in my eyes must have triggered Madison, because she suddenly spoke. “Wait!”
I stopped, looking back to see my sister, standing and rummaging through her nightstand. She pulled something out and handed it to me. It was a sheet of paper with an address written on it. I looked questioningly from the sheet in my hands to Madison’s face. Madison refused to meet my eyes, but she still spoke.
“It’s the address of someone who might be able to help. It’s all I can do.”
I finally gave a slow nod. “Thank you.”
“Broth- Clyburn…” Madison spoke out, causing me to stop for a moment. “I’ve already got the okay to move to the dorms. A car will come to pick me up later today. I won’t be here when you get back…”
“Already?” My mouth falls open in shock.
“I had been thinking about doing this for some time… I’m sixteen now, I don’t need Mom’s permission.” Madison kept her eyes down. “You’ll keep her safe, won’t you? Make sure to bring her back safely. I’ll never forgive you if she gets hurt.”
I slowly nodded with a sigh and then shot Madison a severe look. “And you watch out for yourself as well.”
“Next year, I’m coming to the Academy. I’ll be looking to bring you home. I won’t rest until you’re mine, body and soul!”
“Ah!” Madison let out a cry before turning her head and saying with a pout. “R-r-ridiculous!”
I gave a slight smile but didn’t say another word as I unlocked the door and left the room while Madison looked on worriedly. Madison might be proud, selfish, and stubborn, but she was a good girl, after all. I knew that Madison loved me. That was all that was important. When she said she’d do it with another boy, she said it just to anger me. She was just a sixteen-year-old girl, after all.
I knew my Madison, the woman I loved, better than that. She was afraid I’d leave her after I went to the Academy. I could beg and whine and force Madison to stay in the house, but if I did things that way, somewhere deep down, she’d always resent me for it. My only choice was to show Madison that I was a better man. I wanted my sister completely. For that, I couldn’t focus on temporary gains. I needed to see the big picture.
I had spent the last year in self-indulgence. I needed to grow up. It’s time to start bringing my family back together. I meant what I said to Mom. I’m not going to hide behind my age anymore. I’m the man of the house, and it’s my responsibility to do what I have to. That included bringing my sisters back to me and keeping all of my women happy.
“Charlene, have a car brought around. I’m going to this address.” I lifted up a piece of paper in my hand.
“Master, your Mother-”
“She’s not here, and she left me in charge. I’ll take all responsibility for my actions. However, Hannah is in danger, and if you keep me from protecting her…” I stopped, continuing to walk without finishing what I said.
I actually didn’t know what I’d do. Tell Mom? Charlene seemed to have a better imagination than I did, since she gulped and nodded.
“Yes, Master, I’ll call one in immediately.”
I headed straight to the lobby while Charlene gave a few quick orders over the radio. By the time I walked out the front doors, there was indeed a limousine waiting for me. It wasn’t some fancy stretch model, just a fairly run of the mill car, but the fact it was floating still gave me pause.
I half expected that barking orders wouldn’t work, so I was shocked I had made it this far so easily. Could I have always just said I’d leave and then leave? Did I need to go through a year of isolation, or did it take Mom being out of the house for me to regain my independence? I didn’t know the answer to that question any more than I knew how these hover cars worked. It’s magic, right? I found myself too embarrassed to ask. I’d use directness to get Charlene to follow my orders up to this point, and if I started acting like a wide-eyed youth, I’d lose all the ground I gained.
So, I quietly waited for someone to open the door, and I stepped into the car. The inside wasn’t much different from the cars in my own world. It looked like some forms came from being functional, and weren’t always a decorative trend. However, the car also made no motor noise. When the car started moving, it was a bit disconcerting. There was no rumble or feel of pavement. Instead, there was just a humming noise that kind of reminded me of an airplane.
Charlene sat across from me, remaining vigilant as my guard. I didn’t explain myself to her. I wasn’t completely convinced I should. She hadn’t been around for a long time, and was a very by-the-books woman. As long as she followed my orders, it’d be enough.
Our land was actually about 50 acres, surrounded by a thicket of the forest. I was allowed outside occasionally, but that usually meant the flower garden in the back or running in a nearby field. The path leading up to our house wasn’t even concrete, but a gravely substance. Then again, was there a need for concrete in a world with hover cars?
The answer to that question appeared to be yes. As we passed a fence that defined the boundary of my prison, we ended up on a standard road heading about sixty miles an hour. This was the first time in my fourteen years of life I remember ever being this far away from home. My heart started to palpitate for a moment, but I quickly brought it under control. Thankfully, I had thirty-five years of memories to fall back on, or I would have been a complete mess right now. It was just a temporary jolt of anxiety, nothing more.
We headed down a highway for about twenty minutes. There were occasional properties, but nothing that looked much different than my own experiences. Most of the locations looked ritzy and Victorian. However, it was after those twenty minutes that I started to see a city in the distance. I looked down at the address on the little paper.
“Amaryllis…” I muttered.
“It will be the Amaryllis Academy that you attend next year,” the driver spoke up, looking back with a grin. “I’m a senior their now. I can show you around when- hey!”
As soon as she started talking, Charlene hit the window, closing off the front driver section from the passenger section. The girl herself was somewhat pretty, especially in the uniform. However, she was giving me a look sort of like the ambulance women. It was a feral predatory look that made me uncomfortable, so I didn’t mind Charlene’s rude act. I still gave Charlene a questioning expression.
“She’s a temp. I apologize for letting her speak to you,” Charlene said matter-of-factually.
I turned away to hide my complicated expression. “It’s fine.”
It’s not like I was a celebrity or something, so it was a little weird to be protected from girls talking to me. However, this was the world I lived in now. The first three working women I’ve met and every single one immediately started hitting on me. My head would have been bigger if Mom hadn’t coached me for the last year on how much women intended to use me. I was caught off guard by the first girl, but I’m quickly coming to appreciate my Mom’s advice and protection. I can’t imagine how I would have ended up had I been allowed to interact with more women earlier on before I could get a grip on my hormones. It’d be Nada times one hundred.
The city became clearer through the fog. Now that I thought about it, there was often a lot of fog around the mansion too. I wondered if this city was just a naturally foggy place, like London. In fact, old London was what immediately came to my mind as we drove through. It had a rustic appearance. There were no skyscrapers. Instead, the city was sprawling as far as the eye could see. That’s when I saw something that caused me to blink several times.
“What are those?” I nearly leaped out of my seat, any attempt to look mature was destroyed in an instant as I pushed my face against the windowed glass in awe.
“The islands?” Charlene answered. “Ah, yes, there are ten islands in Amaryllis. They’re mostly owned by conglomerates and businesses. Amaryllis Academy is on an island as well… for students’ safety.”
Islands? They’re floating! Above the sprawling city of Amaryllis, are numerous floating islands with more buildings on them. As Charlene suggested, many of them had smokestacks flying out of them. How did they do this? Well, if they could make cars float, I supposed they could make islands float too. No wonder they didn’t build skyscrapers. There was no limitation of land space when you could float anything at any height.
However, the sight of the islands was only the first shocking thing to come into view. As my eyes looked on, there were numerous flying vehicles as well. The cars seemed to mostly stay on the ground, but every island had a trolley system that ran up to the island. The sky also seemed to contain ships. No, not airplanes, but actual airships. Some of them looked sort of like nautical ships, but most of them resembled blimps with the dirigible balloon too small to possibly work.
I forgot all attempts to look like a leader as I stared out at all the crazy things. Some of them I read about, but it wasn’t like our library had a fiction and nonfiction section. I never had an idea of what was true and what was made up. Furthermore, hearing something described in books and seeing it were two very different things. For the first time in a year, I realized that I really was living in another world. This was nothing like my old world.
The people wore outfits shabbier than mine. At least, I could tell the cuts weren’t as nice. However, they also weren’t that much different. The dress looked somewhat antiquated, but also somewhat novel. It had a Victorian vibe to it, just like everything else, but also a decorative cleanliness to it. Everything looked antique, but also fancy. It was like driving through a Ren Faire clothing exhibit, except the designs on the outfits were more uniformed, manufactured, and refined.
“We’re here,” Charlene suddenly spoke up, causing me to fall out of my revelry.
I gave a nod and got out of the car once the driver opened the door for me. She looked like she wanted to talk with me more, almost bouncing on her feet as she continued to take several sneaky glances in my direction, but a sharp look from Charlene seemed to keep her from approaching.
I glanced around the street to find we were in a darker area of town. The brick buildings looked run down and the street lights were far fewer. Most of the buildings were 2-3 stories tall, and they had a rough look to them. Overall, this world seemed to have a greater emphasis on artistic architecture, so even though aged, the area looked beautiful, but in a beautiful wasteland kind of way. I could tell that this wasn’t a nice area of town, but when it was first built, it would have been quite decent. It’s the kind of place that would have been restored and called the historic district in my own world.
“Stay here.” I gave the command as I walked up the gravel path to the front door.
I was shocked when Charlene actually listened. What made Mom like Charlene was also part of what made Charlene a poor guard. She was very by the book. So, since I was in charge, she’d follow my commands. As I walked up to the building, I couldn’t help remembering my former head of security, Brooke. She wasn’t like Charlene at all. She’d do what needed to be done to protect who she needed to protect, and only took orders more as a suggestion. I couldn’t help but think she would have followed me regardless, or perhaps even forced me to wait.
I couldn’t think of these kinds of things now. I had finally reached the door. I reached out and rang the doorbell. However, after two times without a peep, I figured that it didn’t work, I gave the door a solid knock. I barely managed to land the second knock when the door opened. A young girl poked her head out the door, and her entire appearance caused my eyes to widen. She had her black hair up in two pigtails. She was wearing a sweater shirt which exposed her belly button, and she also had a skirt on that was plaid. This, combined with two slanted eyes and a dark complexion, gave me a sight I’d never have expected in another world.
“A… Japanese schoolgirl?” my mouth couldn’t help but fall open at the sight of this strange phenomenon.
Everyone I had ever encountered, which admittedly weren’t many, had a distinctly western appearance. To see a Japanese beauty, not just a Japanese beauty, but a young, teenage Japanese beauty wearing what could only be considered erotic cosplay, the sight had surely shocked me.
The girl giggled at the sight of me, covering her mouth before she turned behind her and shouted. “Babe! We got a man here!”
Even her voice, which was youthful and pleasing, dripped of a Japanese accent. It was clear that English was not her native tongue. Was this the person my sister had sent me to see? No, that couldn’t be it, then it had to be whoever she shouted to? There was a loud burp and sound of someone getting up. There was what sounded like beer bottles being knocked over, as well as the shuffling of someone coming over. I couldn’t see into the home, but the house had a messy vibe. Was this a man? How did my Madison know of the location of a man?
A strong arm wrapped around the Japanese schoolgirl, looking like it might have lewdly groped her if it wasn’t holding a bottle of whiskey. The girl blushed and giggled, leaning back onto the form behind her. The face moved out of the shadows of the doorway and finally came into my line of vision. When I made out their face, I saw frown aimed at me.
“Oh, it’s you…” My shoulders sagged instantly as I saw a familiar face that I had just been thinking about.
“You… kid, what the hell are you doing on my doorstep?”
“Hello, Brooke.” I looked up at the best chance my sister had given me to find Hannah. “I need your help.”