Chapter 10 – ‘This anomaly,’

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                                                                                                                                                                side story 1–>

                If you were to open up a dictionary and look up the word ‘anomaly,’ it would give you… “Deviation from the normal order, form, or rule; abnormality. Something unusual, irregular, or abnormal.” ‘Abnormal,’ huh? I guess so. You know, I don’t really monologue to myself all that often – I mean, who does – but is it too much to ask for someone like me to stay in the background and mind my own business? I mean, come on, that sentiment lasted me this long, and it was pretty good up until now. I don’t mind sitting back and letting others be more outgoing, I can enjoy myself by just watching. I don’t need to expend all that energy, in fact it gets too tiring to do so. But now all this stuff is happening… It’s something I didn’t realize I took for granted. Being normal. I’m not that anymore. Oh but I still want to be… I’m sorry if I’m coming off as too overdramatic, but you may not understand where I’m coming from. Or maybe you do and you still want me to shut it. Sorry then. But… I suppose there is a bright side. You’re here with me, right? You’ve always been here, for these last ten years. If I can remember that, then maybe one day I’ll be okay with being ‘abnormal.’

                My little ray of light…

                Ayase snapped her fingers again, and a stone bench materialized in front of her. Literally out of thin air. She walked over and took a seat on one half of the bench. It’s so silent here, and her footsteps ring out into the empty space. “Care to join me?” she asked Lilly.

                “Uh…” Lilly was at a loss of words. What was there to say if you were in an arcade and then suddenly transported to some mysterious area? Nothing but sky in every conceivable angle, like an empty snow globe. Even the ‘floor’ they were on was invisible. Considering her surroundings, Lilly could have ran in any direction, until Ayase and the bench were just a dot, and she would most likely not encounter anything else but more clouds. Left with little choice, Lilly sat next to Ayase.

                Upon closer inspection, the bench had an intricate Victorian design, a leaf motif and flower pattern that was as inviting to sit on as it was comfortable. But it was a design that existed exclusively in a closed off section of a park, known solely by two people.

                “How do you know about this bench?” Lilly asked while sitting down.

                “I don’t know about it myself, but using psychoanalyzation I determined what would be the most suitable design for you to be at ease with. Is it not to your liking?”

                “It’s creepy. If you wanted it to be suitable, we would still be in the arcade.”

                “Fair enough.” Another snap, and the bench morphed into a generic wooden bench, a replica of the ones at their school. “But it’s important we stay here, I don’t want to risk any interruptions.”

                Interruptions from what? Where are we? Endless blue skies surrounded Lilly and Ayase. It’s so bright here, but there was no sight of the sun or any other source of light. Like this place simply enveloped the essence of ‘dazzling’ and ‘clear.’ A beautiful sight to behold, the disturbing means of getting here aside.

                Lilly spoke without thinking. “So where are we, exactly?”

                Ayase answered with a hint of pride. “We’re in a Taschenraum. Normally you aren’t granted access to create your own so early, but I guess I’m lucky!”

                Yeah, that makes sense, thanks. Lilly sat in wait for an actual explanation.

                Ayase spoke up again after a pause. “I guess I’ll go first. And then I’ll answer any questions you may have. What do you say?”

                Lilly wore her sarcasm on her sleeve. “You know what? That sounds like a great idea.”

                Ayase laughed. “Good to know!” She took in a deep breath to indicate a shift in tone, and began to make her case. “Things happen in this world, Miss Akiyama. Things that most people wouldn’t have the mental capabilities of understanding. Sometimes they’re inconsequential and pose no real danger. Sometimes they can threaten the whole universe. Either way, that’s where we come in.”

                We? Lilly repeated.

                “I belong to an Organization that deals in those matters. We’re like journalists,” Ayase said, winking to Lilly. “We report and keep record of the various ‘irregular’ occurrences happening all across the world. And then some. What that means specifically is hard to put into terms for humans like you to understand.”

                Is that some sort of insult? Lilly raised a thick eyebrow.

                “But what does that mean for you? Hmm… well, I’ve been assigned to oversee you and your development. You are what we refer to as an ‘anomaly,’ or a ‘phenomenon.’ A very interesting one actually. Do you know why all these things have been happening to you lately? To put it simply… you’re the source of it.”

                Now that was a shock. “How, how is that possible?!” Lilly rushed her words in disbelief.

                Ayase still spoke with a calm demeanor. “That maintains a mystery. I don’t know how it came about yet. But what I do know is this, the first report of data regarding your status as an ‘anomaly’ was recorded about three weeks ago, sometime early September. We refer to that as the ‘ground zero’ of an anomaly.”

                Three weeks ago in September? That had to be my birthday! The revelations continued to pile upon Lilly. She was lucky she was already sitting down to properly take in all this information. “Okay… what else?” She hesitated to ask, nervous to what the answer may be.

                “What else? Like I said, you’re the source your own powers. Although, you actually share a unique causality relationship with one other person. That in and of itself is an irregularity. Can you guess who it is?”

                “…” I couldn’t imagine.

                “Haruko Rea.”

                The name echoed in Lilly’s head. A clear image of Rea’s face came to her. And suddenly some pieces fell into place. That’s why I’ve only been switching bodies with her! And why she can tell if I read her mind! But why is this all happening in the first place? What exactly is a ‘causality relationship?’

                “Haruko Rea seems to have an insurmountable influence over your developing powers, despite having not once displayed any of her own,” Ayase continued, “to make a comparison, it’d be like a dam controlling a river’s flow.” She peeked at Lilly’s face. Still confused, huh? She kept going.

                “Her state of being is strongly tethered to your powers, more than yours are for sure. What that entails exactly has not yet been fully observed. Allow me to guess, you have limited control over some powers but none for others, right? Are you getting all of this?” Ayase talked to a blank Lilly, staring off at a cloud floating by.

                “Yeah… I mean… yeah…” was all Lilly managed to mumble. Are you kidding? This is getting harder and harder to follow!

                Ayase smiled. It really is a lot to take in in such a short amount of time. “I’m sorry if this feels like overload,” she said. “I have a colleague who was much colder. No one would believe her when she tried to explain-”

                “Are you done?” Lilly now rubbed the palm of her hands together, as if she too can create some sense of normality out of nothing. All things considered, it might not be out of the question.

                “Not yet,” the brunette gave a meek smile, like a waitress trying to apologize for a long wait. “Please bear with me.” Another second to find the words. “Oh yes. The reason why you, and by extension Rea, are so intriguing is that you’re indeed human. Anomalies typically consist of dimensional vortexes or time dilation improbabilities – you know, the usual – but it’s extremely rare that one would manifest as a human. It’s… interesting, to say the least.” The complicated jargon flew over Lilly’s head, into a cumulonimbus.

                Lilly was about to interject, “…ah-”

                “However,” (Lilly shuts her mouth), “you’re still classified as low level. Low level anomalies are only observed and hardly dealt with. In addition, and because of that, they’re actually quite difficult to erase.” That answered one of Lilly’s questions; are you going to help me get rid of this? “So you pose no threat to the universe at large. You’ve got that going for you, which is good.”

                Lilly shifted in her seat. “Awesome.” She racked her brain a little more. “What about you then? What’s the difference between you and me? I mean, you’re the one who brought us here, to this Ta-, Tasch-, Tack-, place! Aren’t you an anomaly too?”

                Ayase fixed her hair. “You have a good eye! It may be construed as such, but there is a distinct difference. To study and report on all the phenomena that occur, the Organization grants me and my colleagues ‘access’ so we can manipulate what we need to in order to properly do our job. Producing a Taschenraum is one of those accesses I’m allowed. These powers aren’t my own. I have limits in place. You, on the other hand, are not bound to anything.”

                “Then what are you? An alien? A time traveler? Some sort of slider or esp-”

                Ayase giggled. “I guarantee you I am also human. You… can check me if you want to.” She says this while blushing.

                “That… won’t be necessary.”

                A few clouds drift over the girls’ heads, blocking some invisible light source and shading the two. This small, delayed moment gave Lilly some odd seconds to wrap her head around the situation. She hated to admit it, but it was gorgeous in how surreal it was. She entertained the idea of showing Rea this place, what would she think of it? Speaking of which…

                Lilly rapid fired her remaining questions.

                “So you really can’t do anything about this?”

                “I’m sorry, but there’s not much I can do for you in that regard. My job is to observe and report on the both of you. And on the other hand, even if I could do something, I can’t observe an anomaly that no longer exists, haha.” She made that weak, apologetic smile again.

                “But this is just a phase, right? It’ll go away right?”

                “Who’s to say? The good news is, low level anomalies tend to deal with themselves, and dematerialize on their own, but…” She looked away. “There may be a chance it will go away by itself. Or not. Just being realistic.”

                “Hah!” Lilly exhaled. Absolutely fantastic. Scratching her cheek, she thinks of anything else to ask. Oh right…

                “Have you told Rea?”

                Ayase swung her feet, looking down towards more sky. “The thing is, you’re only a low level anomaly right now because she doesn’t know. It’s unclear what effect it would have on the phenomena surrounding you should she be aware of them. My reports conclude that informing you won’t yield the same risks though. If you want to tell her, I won’t stop you, but it’s just a warning. I think it’s best if we left her out of it for now.”

                “Taking the heat off of yourself in case the universe ceases to be, huh? Nice move.”

                “You know, you’re very sarcastic when you get troubled about something.”

                “N-! No way!”

                Lilly coughed. Ayase found this all funny, in one way or another. Lilly was not fond of Ayase’s just-another-day manner of speaking. Like this was all normal for her. Though her in case, it was. She pondered more on what to ask about, might as well milk as much info as I can.

                She expressed a fear she’s held since coming to this enigma of an environment. “Why tell me all of this then? Are you trying to recruit me to fight aliens, or pilot a robot, or…” she gulped, “be a magical girl?” Lilly shuddered at the thought of a frilly pink dress and heart-shaped wands. Ayase had a confused face before laughing even harder.

                “Ha ha ha! Of course not! What a strange concern, Miss Akiyama!” Now a little embarrassed, Lilly asked again.

                “Well?”

                Ayase regained her composure. “I’m telling you this because you, at least, deserved to know. It must have frustrating to deal with all of this in the dark. My reports concluded that, unlike Rea, giving you all this information won’t run the same risks, and judging from the fact that you and I are still intact, that conclusion is correct.” She stands up, walking on air a few paces away from the bench, and stretched, her back facing Lilly. Thinking aloud all the while. “Uwah! I was so nervous! I actually wanted us to talk way earlier, but I guess Rea never did deliver you my letter. At least it worked out anyways!” Naturally, Lilly has no clue what she’s talking about.

                “… Then what?” was all Lilly had the will power to say by this point.

                In return, she received a smile brighter than anything in recent memory. There was even a dimple on the left side. The cloud passes over, the light hitting her face. Maybe that was what was illuminated this place this whole time. “We’re all young, right? Try to enjoy it if you can. Don’t worry, it’s my job to make sure nothing gets too out of hand. And who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself!” Ayase’s cute wink was like icing on a cake.

                Lilly leaned back onto the bench. Somehow, that helped in easing Lilly into all of this. Maybe, just maybe, being an anomaly won’t be such a bad thing. Who knows how long until that backfires? she thought.

                Ayase did a little wiggle with her index finger. “Hmm, I think that’s enough for today! I don’t mean to keep you away from your girlfriend for too long!”

                “My g-! What?! I mean, she not, well- It’s like, you see-!” Lilly almost fell out of her seat.

                “Don’t tell me you two just have a causality relationship!” Ayase teased.

                Ayase snapped her fingers once more. Glass-like shards emerged from the clouds and began to form and fuse around Lilly and Ayase, reconstructing the image of the arcade. Soon the shards finished their job, and they’re back exactly where they were standing beforehand. The noisy atmosphere came back as well. It’s as if they never left.

                It was Ayase who leaves first. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep it to myself!” she said as she passed Lilly. Lilly herself perturbed by that tongue-in-cheek tone. Ayase’s image of the cute and docile underclassman was destroyed entirely. “Oh, and give it another ten seconds before you head out too!”

                Huh? Lilly thought, and with that, Lilly was alone. She didn’t see any tangible reason to not trust Ayase by now, so she starts to count in her head. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine

                “Lilly? Where are you?”

                Rea appeared soon after, her deduction regarding Lilly’s whereabouts successful. “Why are you still holed up in here?” Judging from her actions, they must not have been gone for too long. Certainly felt like they were.

                “I have a headache,” Lilly truthfully answered, “so I’m staying here for a bit.”

                Rea grabbed Lilly’s hand, and tugged her along. “Well come on then! We haven’t played together yet!”

                She stumbled forward from Rea’s pulling. “Alright alright!” After everything that just happened, maybe a game or two won’t hurt.

                The rest of the day unfolds peacefully. Lilly kept a close eye on both Rea and Megumi, although those worries were unheeded. Everything turned out okay. Even Saori was manageable enough. And even Lilly and Ayase got a game in together.

                After the arcade they went out to grab some lunch and crêpes, Lilly and Rea splitting one between them. They concluded their afternoon excursion right after, the party of six going their separate ways back home. Lilly and Rea took Megumi back to her home, and Lilly dropped Rea off at hers. The sun has set by the time Lilly returned to a home cooked meal, courtesy of her father. All in all, a simultaneously very hectic and very relaxing day, strangely enough.

                In the end I never did tell Rea about everything. Maybe I’ll tell her when I think she’s ready.

               Can’t I just pretend that all this never happened? That’d be nice.

                Night came sharp on time. Lilly lies down in her room, drifting in and out of a state of wake and sleep, her body gripped in a dreary embrace of rest. She waited for the darkness of her room to swiftly carry her to the next morning. The phrases ‘anomaly,’ ‘phenomenon,’ insurmountable influence,’ and ‘relationship’ hop over fences in her head instead of sheep. Zzzt. Zzzt. Lilly picked up her phone by her desk. The light from the phone forced her to squint. It’s a message from Rea.

                R: “U up?”

                L: “Yes. Barely.”

                R: “LOL!!”

                Whatever this was about, Lilly hoped it was important enough to warrant the blinding hit to her vision.

                L: “Did you need anything?”

                R: “Did u have fun today?”

                Lilly decided if she should tell the truth or spare her feelings.

                L: “Beside another instance of body snatching, I did.”

                R: “YAAAY! i’m happy 4 u!”

                L: “That’s sweet.”

                Carefully typing and choosing her characters, Lilly figured she asked Rea about something that’s been on her mind the whole day. They were both up anyways.

                L: “Hey.”

                R: “???”

                L: “When we switched bodies today, I saw you acting weird with Haru. Is everything okay?”

                A response-less minute slogs by.

                R: “Oh”

                L: “Is there anything bothering you?”

                R: “Nothing, really. It’s hard for me to talk to guys when they think I’m you. It’s sooo annoyinggg!! >__<”

                Wait a minute, if Haru was talking to Rea thinking it was me, then does he…

                L: “And that’s it?”

                R: “that’s it… u don’t have 2 worry about me! K – goodnight! !

                The informal text convinced Lilly that she really was fine. Wishing back a sweet goodnight, Lilly put back the phone and honed back in on the dark ceiling. Huh, I never knew that. Her eyelids start to weigh a ton. She thought about the words Ayase told her in that sky-filled chamber. ‘Who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about yourself!’ They resonated a clear tone.

                “How much do I really know about everyone, I wonder?”

                Sleep finally drifted her to the next day.

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