Celestial Railroad Bookstore Chapter 1

The Celestial Railroad Bookstore was a place you could get lost in. Literally. Three floors and a basement with winding maze-like hallways that beckoned a curious soul further and further down it’s halls. A reader that didn’t know where they were going could get lost in it’s halls endlessly, doomed to never return. On the second floor, right next to a rich balcony that overlooked a flower shop next door sat the World’s End Cafe, staffed only by the best baristas and stocked only with the finest beans and spices that existed in this multiverse. One sip of a dark roast with hazelnut and the drinker could be whisked away into a bittersweet fantasy that only promised to end once the cup once empty and Chai’s that pulled the drinker in a warm hug and pulled them away to rooms never seen.

Inside this cafe, a woman with purple hair tied back in a bun and eyes that could pierce even the most complicated of locks handed one such cup of French roast to a young college girl who was going to study on the balcony. Next to her sat a tall man with pointed ears and blonde hair pulled back into a French braid. The woman with the purple hair scribbled something on a receipt and handed it to the young girl. She blushed and buried her nose in a book and ran out to the balcony.

The man slid over to the purple haired woman and let his eyes follow her to see what she was staring at. He sighed and straightened himself up, “Ahlee, why do you insist upon giving your number to every single girl that orders from this cafe?”

Ahlee Vespin shrugged and pulled her gaze from the college girls posterior, “It hasn’t failed me yet Casanova. I have a 100% success rate. At least for a call. The rest, that’s a bit lower.”

Cassanova Brightstar buried his face in his hands, “Ahlee, you can’t just seduce every girl that walks into this cafe.”

Ahlee turned away from the register and fired a cocky smile at Cassanova, “Why not?”

Cassanova struggled to find words, “you ca- it’s no-” Cassanova closed his mouth, took a deep breath and then spoke, “Not every girl that walks into this cafe is gay, Ahlee.”

Ahlee folded her arms and leaned forward to look at him, “One hundred. Percent. Success. Rate,” she smiled and turned around to walk into the back, “I’m gonna go get us more cups and get the pastries out of the oven.”

Cassanova shook his head and sighed. He didn’t understand how she did it. He wasn’t jealous. He wasn’t even interested in girls. He just… didn’t understand and he wanted to.  He saw a short girl with a book labeled “criminology” walk up to the counter. She had pitch black hair and fiery red skin. Two pointed horns fell perpendicular to the side of her head.

Cassanova sighed and slid up to the register, “Hey there, welcome to the world’s end cafe. What can I get you today?”  

The girl pushed up her glasses and squinted at the menu, “Do you have anything… Pumpkin?”

Cassanova turned around to the back door, “Ahlee, do we have any pumpkin left?”

“Yeah! It should be in the minifridge,” Ahlee’s muffled voice said.

Cassanova smiled, “Sounds like youre in luck! We’ve got pumpkin lattes and regular lattes. We can also do a smoothie.”

The girl rubbed a finger across her face and nodded, “How about a pumpkin Chai with a little bit extra cinnamon and nutmeg?”

Cassanova punched the drink in, “Alright, that’ll be $4.20-”

“BLAZE IT!” Ahlee shouted from the backroom.

Cassanova sighed, “And can I get a name on that?”

The girl smiled, “Madelin.”

Within seconds Cassanova was shoved to the side, and a pan full of warm cookies clattered on the counter. Cassanova picked himself up off the ground to see Ahlee at the counter where he was just standing.

“I’ll take your payment thank you!”

Madelin’s face turned into shock as she tried to peak over the counter unsuccessfully, “Oh by the stars, is he alright?”

Ahlee eagerly nodded as she took Madelin’s debit card and swiped it, eagerly writing in the receipt and drawing a little heart. She handed the card and the receipt back to Madelin.

Madelin stared at the receipt and looked up at Ahlee who was staring dreamily into her eyes.

Madelin cocked her head and then smiled, “Oh! This is your number! I appreciate it but no thanks. I will admit, you are cute.”

Ahlee’s smile froze and it felt like her confidence had shattered, “haha, what?” She cleared her throat and forced out a smile.

Madelin cocked her head to the side and smiled, “Sorry, you’re very gorgeous! But I’m very focused on my studies right now,” she tapped the book and smiled again.

Cassanova pulled himself off the ground and brushed his pants off with his hands, “One hundred percent success rate eh?” He said smugly.

Ahlee rushed to the back room almost as quickly as she came in. Madelin held her receipt in one hand looking bewildered.

Cassanova quickly got working on Madelin’s drink, “Sorry about that. Ahlee is…Strange.”

“Ahlee? That’s a pretty name.” Madelin set her book down on the counter and pulled out a cell phone with a small red flame attached to it and started tapping away as she looked over at the receipt.

Cassanova gave Madelin an incredulous look and blinked as he started mixing the spices. He squinted, “Are you… entering her number?”

Without looking up, Madelin nodded and then pocketed her phone.

Cassanova pulled out the milk and pumpkin syrup and started mixing all three together, “Whhhhy?”

Madelin smiled and shrugged, “Well she is cute and I don’t want her to feel bad. She seemed pretty upset. Why’d you call my name if you’re gonna pour the drink in front of me?”

Cassanova was taken aback, “Store p-policy.”

Madelin gave Cassanova a devilish grin, “You didn’t say that with confidence. Is she forcing you to do that?”

Cassanova felt naked. He had just met this girl and she could read him like a book, “Ahlee, the pumpkin chai is done.”

“You do it. I’m too tired.”

“Oh she’s got you trained well doesn’t she? Does she run the drinks out to just thee girls? Or boys too?” Madelin leaned forward, her tail thrashing behind her.

“J-just girls.” Cassanova said as he handed her the chai.

Madelin picked her book up off the counter and took the drink from Cassanova, “Assert yourself. She’s all bravado and no bite.”

Cassanova gulped and started displaying the cookies, “Oh she can bite alright.” He rubbed his neck.

Madelin turned over to one of the chairs inside and placed a book down, her tail happily thrashing in the background.

Cassanova turned around and walked into the back room to see Ahlee shoving a plate of cookies into her mouth and crying. It was jarring to see this 6 foot tall woman so broken and beaten that he almost felt bad for her, “Ahlee? Are you okay?”

Ahlee turned to face him, as tears stained with makeup dripped down her face, “I’m a failure.”

Cassanova felt strange, here was his coworker and best friend reduced to depression eating cookies, he could have taken this moment to assert himself but the only thing he felt was pity, “Oh honey, it was only one girl. You’ll get the next one. Plus it could actually be a success. She put your number in her phone and said you were cute again.”

The tears immediately stopped and Ahlee stared at Casanova, grabbing his face, “She did what?””

His mouth was pursed due to Ahlee’s strong grip and he could hardly speak, “sheth puth youwr nuwmbewr in hewr pthone.”

Ahlee stood up, cradling Cassanova’s head under hear arm and pulling him up with her, “You hear that Cassanova? It’s the sound of victory. I will conquer this woman like I’ve conquered all other 412 woman I’ve ever slept with and when we’re done she’ll love me!”

Cassanova pulled himself out of her vice like grip and cracked his neck, “Ahlee, I love you, but I think you ought to leave this girl alone. She’s into her studies and she’s really good at it.”

Ahlee closed her eyes and put her hands on her hips, “Nonsense Cassanova, that’s a challenge and I’ve never turned down a challenge before. I bet you by the end of this day, that girl will have kissed me”

Cassanova smirked and readjusted his tan and blue apron, “How much?”

Ahlee turned to look at him, “how much what?”

“How much do you want to bet she’ll have kissed you by the end of this day.”

She thought about it, “$50. And I’ll cover two of your shifts without question.”

“Any shift? Even closing? Wouldn’t that interfere with you girl time?

Ahlee bit her lip, “Even closing.”

Cassanova smiled and extended his hand, “Deal?”

Ahlee took his hand and shook it, “Deal.”

***

Ahlee walked over to the table that Madelin was sitting at. She was pouring over that book and then scribbling things down in a notepad in a language that Ahlee didn’t recognize. Ahlee slipped a fresh chocolate cookie in a small brown paper bag.

Madelin didn’t notice.

Ahlee cleared her throat. Madelin looked up with a confused smile on her face, “What’s this?”

Ahlee didn’t meet her gaze, “It’s a fresh chocolate chip cookie that I just made. Though this one is a little different.”

Madelin seemed a little bothered, “What’s different about it?”

Ahlee looked down and then up at Madelin, “I put some raw honey and cinnamon inside it.”

Madelin’s eyes widened and she gave Ahlee a huge smile, “Oh my gosh that sounds amazing.”

Madelin pulled the cookie out and took a bite. She gave a contented moan as the fresh cookie came apart in her mouth. She chewed and closed her eyes, clutching her cheek, “This is very good… Ahlee was it?”

Ahlee’s face lit up, “Y-yes! And I’m glad you like it. I made it special for you.”

Madelin’s face turned an even deeper shade of red, “You flatter me Ahlee, you really do. But I’m serious. I do need to focus on my studies. However I would love to eat more of your cookies. Theyre very good.”

Ahlee placed a plate with about 12 of the cookies in front of Madelin. A look of shock and then joy washed over her face.

“What’s this?” Madelin said quizzically.

“You said you wanted more.”

“Where did you get them from? I thought you only brought one.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Madelin grimaced and nodded, “Is there something else I can help you with?”

“Hm?”

“You’re kinda just standing there.”

“Oh!”

“So…”

Ahlee cleared her throat. Madelin nervously looked down at her book. Ahlee took a step backwards, not looking away from Madelin. Finally she reached the counter and slipped behind it.

“So you struck out huh?” Cassanova slid over to her.

Ahlee placed a finger on her chin, “I don’t get it. I gave her a bunch of cookies and gave her my number. How else am I supposed to seduce her?”

Cassanova gave her an incredulous look, “You know for someone who’s seduced over 400 women you’re awfully bad at romance.”

Ahlee bit her finger, “I’ve never had to actually work for it. I just got by with my good looks and good words.”

“Guess I’m gonna win that bet then aren’t I?”

Ahlee frowned, “You go talk to her for me.”

Cassanova squinted, “Why would I help you win a bet that I want to win.”

“Because you love me.” Ahlee fluttered her eyes at Cassanova.

He gave a sigh and then slid over the counter, walking towards Madelin.

Madelin gave a deep sigh and looked up, “How many more interruptions should I expect from this coffee shop I decided to go to today because someone told me it would be quiet?”

“Sorry. She’s very insistent.”

“Why?”

“She’s used to sleeping with every woman she gives her number to. You’re kind of the first to just flat out reject her.”

Madelin gave a little laugh and covered her mouth as she bit into another cookie, “Oh no. The poor thing! She must be devastated.”

Cassanova shook his head, “Nah, she seemed to bounce right back afterward. She’s got it in her mind that you’re going to kiss her before the end of the night. I bet that she wouldn’t”

“What’s at stake here? Maybe I can shift the odds in your favor?”

Cassanova chuckled, “$50, and she’ll cover any of my two shifts without question.”

Ahlee nodded, “Hmm. that’s good. I can give you that. Plus I do love these cookies. I would love to have more made. Tell you what Cassanova. I’ll make you a deal.”

He raised an eyebrow, “I’m listening.”

“If you can get me her schedule, and have her be on shift when I want her to be, I’ll make sure you win this bet.” she started scribbling a number on a paper and tore it off, handing it to him.

Cassanova squinted at Madelin looking down at the paper and then back up at her as he placed his hand over his mouth, “Why?”

Madelin shrugged, “She seems interesting. Plus this is a REALLY good cookie and I feel like if I asked her for the recipe she wouldn’t even give it to me. Plus you can say you got my number and that’s sure to drive her wild and respect you more.”

Cassanova nodded, “Hm. I accept. Schedule goes up tomorrow, every wednesday, so I’ll text it to you? Conductor runs a tight ship around here.”

“Conductor?”

“Yeah. this place has a weird train gimmick if you hadn’t noticed.”

Madelin looked down at the carpet and suddenly realized there were railway tracks all over the place, leading down shelves and  hallways, “Yeah. this place looks like a real maze. Why is that?”

Cassanova shrugged, “Beats me. I know some people have gotten lost in here. There’s probably even a dead body somewhere. It makes inventory nights hell for the bookstaff. Might even be impossible. I hear some hallways go on forever.”

Madelin nodded, “Alright, go back to that cutie. I gotta study for this midterm.”

***

Amber Rosegold was lost. Worse, they were lost on the basement where no windows were. The lights were out where they were and they were only surviving by the light of a flashlight. Their green eyes scanned the darkness, trying to find a way out.

They pulled their hood down low revealing smooth flesh where ears would be. Long brown locks of hair adorned their head and then covered their ears. Their blue eyes quivered with fear, but they didn’t vocalize it. A book fell off a shelf casting a strange shadow across the dimly lit room. Amber jumped at the movement, giving a startled yelp. They shined their light on the book. It stood still. Like books do. They crept up close to the book as a shadow was cast behind them. They turned around and their light fell upon another book. The book’s title read, “Don’t be scared.”

They cocked their head. That was an odd title. Behind them, a book inched closer. Amber shined the light down another hallway and began walking towards it. The book behind them stopped moving as Amber found themselves walking down another staircase. Odd. I thought this place only had one basement. They walked down the stairs and then found themselves blinded by the light. Amber clicked off the flashlight and looked around.

They were now on the third floor.

***

“Conductor?”

“Yes, Charity?”

A woman with messy purple hair wearing a sundress that looked like it held the cosmo’s itself looked up from a desk. She put a bookmark down in the book she was reading and closed it.

“The basement is waking up.”

***

“Alright, Ahlee. You’ve got five minutes left. Look, she’s even got her book closed and is just staring at her phone. Now’s your chance. It’s now or never.”

Ahlee glared at Cassanova. There was an air of confidence to him. She didn’t like it, “I still don’t understand how you of all people got her number.”

Cassanova shrugged, “Either way. The clock is ticking before you owe me 50$ and two shifts. Oh! And looks like she’s packing up. Tick tock, here comes my money.”

Ahlee glared at Cassanova as Madelin stood up, putting her books away and then slinging a messenger bag over her shoulder. Ahlee swung herself over the counter and stomped off toward Madelin. Madelin looked to face her, “Oh hey! Those were really good coo-mmmmmmmmm” Madelin’s eyes widened as Ahlee picked her up and pressed her lips against hers. Madelin didn’t struggle at all but instead melted in Ahlee’s strong arms. After what felt like an eternity and also not long enough, Madelin felt Ahlee pull away and set her down. She felt dizzy. She felt good. Madelin felt her cheeks flush and she waved a hand at Ahlee, “b-bye.” and she ran off towards the stairs much faster than she’d ever ran before. .

Ahlee shot a look at Cassanova, who was holding his hands out in front of him as he looked about ready to scream.

Before she could say anything, the two of them saw Amber, the inventory specialist run over waving at them.

Cassanova swung over the cafe counter as she started signing at him furiously. Cassanova signed back for her to slow down. Ahlee poked her head over, She didn’t understand sign language, but Cassanova had been studying it in college.

“What are they saying?” Ahlee said as she leaned back against the pastry display case.

Cassanova rolled his eyes, “You can talk to them you know.”

“It’s much quicker if you interpret.” Ahlee shot back.

Amber looked a bit uncomfortable.

Cassanova sighed, “They’re saying that all the lights were out in the basement while they were doing inventory and that they got lost down there, but that they found a staircase that led to the… that doesn’t make any sense. What?”

“What doesn’t make sense?”

Cassanova shook his head, “There’s a staircase that leads to the basement.” he signed ‘show us’ to Amber.

Amber nodded and gestured for them to follow. Ahlee quickly put up a closed sign on the counter and pulled off his apron as the three of them ran upstairs.

Amber lead them through winding twisting hallways and corridors with shelves lined up with books as far as the eye could see. Amber finally stopped right next to a window and pointed at where a staircase had been just moments before. Amber’s fingers fell as they saw the blank wall before them. Amber walked forward slowly and placed a hand on the wall and slammed a fist against it.

Ahlee was weirded out. She had never seen Amber have an outburst like this. Amber turned around and pointed at the wall and started signing once more.

“They say that they swear there had just been a staircase here. They promise.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. How can a staircase from the basement lead down to the third floor. And right next to a window.”

Cassanova shook his head, “That’s not… entirely without base. This kind of stuff has happened before though it’s mostly just you’re walking down a hallway and suddenly you’re on the second or third floor. I’ve never heard a report from the basement.”

Ahlee glared at Cassanova, “What? That’s unheard of.”

“Only because you’ve only worked here for about 3 months. I’ve worked here for years. We get strange reports like this all the time but we’ve mostly just blamed it on the store’s weird architecture and strange winding hallways that loop in on each other.”

Ahlee straightened her posture and squinted at Cassanova, “Seriously.”

He nodded and began signing to Amber again.

Ahlee felt nervous. She looked down at her phone and saw a message. It was from an unknown number but the message’s contents showed exactly who it was.

“Can I get the recipe for the cookies you made?”

She quickly tapped out a message, “No. but come to the cafe and I can make them for your any time as long as you stay for more than an hour.”

Ahlee quickly saved her number in her phone as “Madelin 💜💚”, she locked her phone and then put it back in her apron pocket, “I’m gonna go clean up the cafe. Meet you back down there?”

Cassanova nodded and continued to sign at Amber.

Ahlee walked down a hallway, trying to remember the way she had walked to get here in the first place. She turned left, then right, then straight, passing by shelf after shelf. She felt the light start to fade and the overhead lights started to fade around her until she had to pull out her phone and turn on its flashlight.  The shelves around her started to feel more and more sparse, and the soft carpet seemed to be replaced with hard stone as her shoes clicked against the floor.

She held her phone down to see nothing but inky blackness at her feet. She turned around, hoping to go back the way she came and also hoping to get out of the spooky darkness she found herself in. Her phone’s light fell upon a stone wall and Madelin shone it upwards, trying to find the top. Her light kept going. Strange symbols and runes adorned the wall. She took a step back to try and get a better look at what she was seeing.

A massive stone wall with a circle at the center. Strange markings and patterns were in the circle. It looked like it could rotate, but strange locking and machinery prevented it from moving. Down at eye level, there were 7 indentations of different shapes and sizes spread out across the bottom. She changed her phone to camera mode and snapped pictures, getting several clear shots of the door and the symbols on it.  She sent them to Madelin.

A light caught her vision and she immediately darted towards it. She ran and ran until she could no longer hear the sound of shoes hitting stone and then dashed through the light which revealed itself to be an upward staircase. She didn’t care about where she was, but ran up the staircase, turned a corner past a bookshelf and found herself right next to the cafe. She turned around to see the staircase but when she did, a bookshelf had immediately replaced where she had fun from. She turned the flashlight off her phone and touched the shelves. It was solid. She looked at the titles of the books. Mostly kids book, nothing of notice. She walked back over to the cafe to see Cassanova and Amber cleaning up.

Cassanova glared at her, “hey, what gives? I thought you said you were gonna start cleaning up?”

Ahlee looked away, “I got lost.”

“Where?”

“I’m not sure. I walked down a hallway and suddenly everything was dark and there was this strange stone wall with weird markings.”

“Sure. You sure you weren’t flirting with that girl and avoiding work?”

“I promise. And I can prove it!” Ahlee pulled her phone out and to her image center to find that all the photos of the strange room had mysteriously vanished, “huh.”

“So? Where’s your proof?”

“They’re gone.”

“Right. Just like you weren’t flirting with that cutie from before.”

“I won that bet, you owe me now.”

Cassanova shook his head, “Nope. She didn’t kiss you.”

Ahlee frowned, “Yes she did. We kissed and everything.”

“Nope. you kissed her.  She did not kiss you.”

Ahlee opened her mouth to speak and then closed it. They were right. She pouted and reached into her wallet and Cassanova pulled out his. She typed a number on the front and then the two tapped the wallets together. The deed was done.

“Two shifts! Bye! Have a nice night! You can finish up around her.”

The two of them ran off, leaving a half-finished cafe to Ahlee.

***

Madelin stared at the strange message she had just received. There were about 8 pictures of a strange stone wall with mysterious marking sin languages that she recognized. She connected her phone to her printer and then had it print them out. SHe hung them up on a wall and looked back at her phone to see the messages disappearing as they were printing, “Hm. Interesting.”

She pulled out her phone and sent a message, “What are these???????”

She set her phone down and began translating.

***

Ahlee stared at her phone. The photos she had sent to Madelin were disappearing before her eyes. A message came back with her asking what they were. She sighed and clicked her phone shut. She heard feet running up behind her. She turned around, her left hand pressed against a hilt strapped to her work pants. She pulled it away when she saw it was just two of the Finders, Effie Smith and Oh-1. everyone in the store wanted them to date each other except the two of them. Effie just kept refusing Oh-1’s advances. Ahlee had tried to hook up with her when she first started working but she had politely declined with the explanation that she wasn’t into girls. Or boys. Or robots apparently. Regardless, she seemed to be just fine as is.

“Ahlee! Ahlee! Wait up!” Effie’s sweet southern accent peppered her speech making every word sound like it was coming straight from heaven above. Her curly black hair with blue highlights bounced against her dark skin like a pair of breasts on a girl from a Senran Kagura game. Oh-1 rushed over to catch up after Effie.

Effie ran forward and pulled Ahlee into a hug. Ahlee was blown backward but stood her ground and reciprocated the hug, “Effie! I haven’t seen you in a week! Where have you been?”

Effie pulled back from the hug and gave Ahlee a big smile. She gestured a hand over to the robot with a grey chassis with red highlights and a pair of pointy anime shades, “Me and Oh’1 and have been trying to find a book for a customer. Has it really been a week?”

Ahlee gave Effie gave a strange look, “Yeah, nobody knew where you two were but you were still clocked in so the Conductor seemed to be fine with it.”

Effie nodded and placed a hand on her chin, “Well we found the book that customer had asked for! It was an old unabridged copy of the rules of fanciness and manners. I think it was for that really tough girl with the long name. Something, something Wendigo?”

Oh-1 remained silent. Like always. Ahlee reflected back. Lady Alisondra Wendaeglor Vorinzon of the Wilds of Mt. Garenthsal the third was a thorn in her side. She was one of the many girls who Ahlee regretted giving her number too. The girl was nonstop and was obsessed with Ahlee. She wouldn’t stop calling and texting her, and even when she blocked her number, the messages still went through. She had only slept with her once. And then tried to leave but she wouldn’t let her. And her room was just absolutely insufferable. The girl lived in this lavish apartment with doilies and rugs and teacups everywhere and was constantly playing Wonderwall on her guitar that was also somehow a huge battle ax? Ahlee didn’t even understand how that tiny girl even held the thing up with one hand despite it being nearly twice her size. But she knew how to use it and that was terrifying.

“Anyways yeah, we just kept looking and looking, and looking and then we lost track of time and then we found another book a customer was looking for and a dead body, and this strange stone obelisk and then another abandoned cafe somewhere. Have you ever wondered how the entire bookshop is contained within that space? Like. That place is most certainly bigger on the inside somehow.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Oh-1 said, breaking his silence, “I’ve tried to write up the schematics from the inside and it doesn’t even make sense. I don’t even think Ovi could make an accurate map and she’s designed to build things.”

Ahlee nodded as she began to walk towards her apartment. Luckily the three of them lived in the same apartment so they could walk together. She stopped, “Wait did you say strange stone Obelisk? Did it have strange markings on it?”

Effie nodded, “I thought I took a picture of them but they were gone from my phone about an hour ago. It was really strange. Maybe I just didn’t take them?”

Ahlee shook her head, “Effie, you have the most perfect memory I’ve ever seen. Do you really think that you didn’t take those pictures?”

Effie was silent.

Oh-1 spoke up, “I can also confirm that she took those photos.”

Ahlee turned to her favorite robot employee, “My, aren’t you chatty today? Did something good happen?”

Oh-1 shrugged, “My mood has neither gone up or down from the beginning of this week. But I am happy that we are finally out of the maze-like confines that is the Celestial Railroad bookstore. At least until next week. Luckily the Conductor pays overtime. Or I would be very upset.”

Oh-1’s robotic way of speaking was almost endearing. Ahlee liked him. Not romantically. No. Heavens no. Ahlee liked girls. Plain and simple. But Oh-1 was plain and straightforward. He didn’t hide anything and was always upfront with you regardless of what was going on. It was admirable. And with Effie on the Autism spectrum, the two had a bond that made others just want them to date. But they didn’t want to.

“Can you describe the obelisk for me Oh-1”?”

He shook his head, “I cannot. As soon as we left, the video I had stored in my circuits disappeared. Effie had hers though up until a few hours ago.”

“Hm. Curious. Well, these are my stairs! Y’all have a good night now okay?”

Effie and Oh-1 walked to their first-floor apartment and parted ways as Ahlee climbed the stairs to hers. She pulled out a key from her work pants pocket and walked up to her door, “<3”  It was supposed to say 3B, but she had placed a sticky note over the B and put the other symbol before the 3. She unlocked her door and walked in to her mess of an apartment. She had been meaning to clean it forever but it just kept getting worse and she or Emilia  we’re hardly ever home. She immediately took off her work pants and shirt and placing them on a coat hanger. She grabbed a long shirt that said “INFINITE SOUL” in bright red letters and put it over her body and settled down on the couch as she pulled a dum dum from a jar. She unwrapped it and tossed the wrapper in a trash can as she stuck it in her mouth and pulled out her phone. She heard an angry scream from her little sister’s room and then a slam.

Ahlee sighed and stood up, walking toward her little sister’s room. She knocked on the door lightly, “Everything okay in there Emilia?”

“NO!” another slam.

Ahlee opened the door and saw her little sister, Emilia Vespin curled in a ball on her small starry bed as books and papers flurried in the air. Ahlee caught a glance of a paper and then plucked it out of the air. It seemed to be simple arithmetic. She looked back down at her sister and made her way through the whirlwind as Emilia made a path. Ahlee sat down and placed a hand and began to stroke her back, “There there. Is it the simple math again?”

Emilia pulled her hands away from her face to reveal tears streaming down her 8 year old face, “I’m so much better than this! Why won’t they listen? Why won’t they give me what I want?”

Ahlee felt bad for her sister. Emilia was a prodigy. Emilia was far smarter than Ahlee ever could be and even though she was jealous, the people at her school seemed to be holding her back. Which was a shame. Emilia was supposed to have been sent off to this “advanced learning” school to be able to give her the tools that she needed but they had refused almost every single one of her requests for harder materials that met her intellect. Ahlee tried to sneak her as many books from the bookstore that she could, but even with the Bookstore’s amazing pay, finding an apartment that was close to her school and also able to hold both her and her sister was hard.

The books and papers started to fall to the store one by one as Ahlee continued to rub her back. Honestly, Ahlee was pretty sure that her parents shipped Emilia over here to her just so they wouldn’t have to deal with her ‘powers.’ Ahlee didn’t mind though, the city of Reinhold was filled with creatures, robots, and all sorts of folk that were different from normal humans. Ahlee just had moved here to go to the one place her parents would never go to.

“They just don’t understand Emilia. Some people see genius and they want to squash it. But guess what?”

Emilia rubbed her face and sniffed, “What?”

“There’s a girl-” Emilia immediately sighed and put her hands in her face again, “Hey, no this one is different.”

“You always say that,” she said, burying her face in her hands again.

“No, I mean it this time. She refused my advances. Kind of?”

Emilia stopped, “What?”

“Mhm! But, she’s also a super dedicated college student who seems to be unnaturally intelligent. Maybe I could introduce you to her?”

“You just want to use me to get her to sleep with you don’t you.”

Ahlee chuckled, “ Maybe. She’s very smart though and I think she could help you in the direction you want to go. Plus, maybe she’s close with some big important college guy that they could somehow get you in there.

Emilia uncovered her face, “You really think so?”

“Yeah! Come by the cafe after school and I can introduce you.”

Emilia sat up and rubbed the tears out of her eyes, “Okay.”

Ahlee took her hand off of her sister’s back, “Now. Do you wanna go get some ice cream?”

Emilia frowned, “Isn’t it like 9 o clock?”

“Yeah. so?”

“You just want to see Gabriella again don’t you?”

“You’ve got me open like I’m a children’s book, Emilia. So do you want to go?”

Emilia nodded,  and stood up, “Of course. But you’re gonna put on pants yeah?”

Ahlee got up and posed, “And what if I didn’t?”

Emilia sniffed and grinned, “Then we’d get arrested silly!”

“Not if they can’t catch us!”

“Please put on pants.”

“Fine.”

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