To say that I was ‘ready’ for whatever it was Izma had to show me, would not have been right. Willing, yes. But not ready. I was just at my wit’s end.
The light of the room dimmed, and I could feel my hairs stand on end as I started to pull open the red door.
Then Lethia’s hand slammed the door closed again from out of nowhere. I gazed at her wildly, and her green eyes met mine, mirroring my bewilderment. Where had the enchantress come from? Was this another trick? I turned my head and saw Izma glaring, her previous smugness gone.
“You dare–?” she started.
Lethia cut her off. “I do!” But her voice trembled, and I could see her whole body shake as she turned back to me. “Nyx…you have every right to hate me right now. But please believe me when I tell you that going through this door will ruin you!”
I looked her up and down. “…Why?”
“It’s a trick, it’s Izma–”
“No,” I interjected through my grit teeth. “I mean why should I trust you?” Lethia’s expression fell. Somehow her deflation fanned the flames of my anger, and I shoved her, hard. It felt good, to see her nearly fall. To let out some of the wrath I felt toward her. “I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you, Lethia Artaud!”
“I know that! And I’m sorry!” Lethia fell to her knees and clasped her hands. “No more games! I’m done playing! I remember now, Nyx! I remember how you and Elmiryn went out of your way to help me when you could have turned and walked away! You risked your lives to save me and help me in my goals!” She buried her face in her hands.
I mulled over her words as she took a moment to compose herself. When the lights dimmed…that must of been her power shifting, letting her remember.
“I’ve repaid you terribly!” She continued, with her hands curled to fists she pressed them to her chest. “But even if you spurn me, beat me, or kill me, it would be a far better fate than to continue–”
Only she didn’t get to finish, because Izma grabbed her by the head and flung her across the room like a doll. It happened so fast, I barely caught it. Odd, how our group seemed capable of speeches and impassioned declarations whilst under fire. Izma didn’t appreciate our verbosity, clearly. Whatever Lethia had to say, she was going to have to be more economic about it. If she was even conscious.
…And I wasn’t too sure I was willing to keep listening anyway.
I gazed at her crumpled body on the other side of the room, her hair fanned out around her on the white floor, and felt strangely…passive about the scene.
Izma’s cold eyes fell on me, and I turned to face her. Her human disguise was vibrating, as if it would shatter at any moment.
“Well?” she asked, her voice harsher and deeper than it was before. “What are you waiting for?”
She was right. I had nothing to wait for.
I turned back to the door, ready to open it.
“She’s looking…for…you…” Lethia’s voice. It came in broken gasps.
My hand stilled on the doorknob and I turned to gaze over my shoulder.
Lethia’s arms shook as she tried to push herself up. I could see blood dripping from her nose, and I wondered if this was real, or just another illusion.
“She’s looking for you, Nyx!” she said more firmly. “You promised…to be by her side! Always!”
My eyes widened.
Izma took a menacing step toward her, but I started forward, cutting her off. Lethia’s eyes brightened as she held out a hand to me. “Nyx! Oh, Nyx! Elmiryn needs–”
My fist slammed into her head so hard it bounced off the wall. Lethia’s body went limp, and I could see the blood pooling from beneath her down turned face. Her hair effectively covered the damage, but I was sure I had felt something break beneath my knuckles. I stood heaving over her, tremors of rage coursing through me.
“Promises? You want to talk to me about promises!?” I spat.
…And I felt a hollow sort of satisfaction–a salve, if you will–for all the cuts and bruises my spirit had suffered at the hands of this girl who, good intentions or not, managed to hurt me so much. The fury that I knew for her was violent and terrifying. But as I heard Izma laughing behind me, I felt that fire die down. It didn’t go away. I wasn’t sure if I could ever stop the wildfire that was inside me now. But without the incessant roar of bloodlust confusing my thoughts, I was able to gather that…
The girl may have played along with Izma’s sick game, but it was under great confusion brought on by her amnesia, and the worst acts I suspected she had been entirely absent for somehow. The parallels this situation had with Atalo’s death–the misguided intentions, the loss of control, the horrible consequences…Lethia Artaud was just like me a few years ago. She was as weak, as naive, and as self-righteous as I was. Faced with these facts, I realized I could not forgive her, because I could not forgive myself.
Izma’s hand touched my shoulder, and immediately a feeling of pins and needles spread down my flesh. Her voice sounded tight with glee.
“Kill her. Kill the weed!” She giggled.
I reached down and grabbed Lethia by the hair. My lip curled as I laid eyes on the girl’s swelling face. At a glance, my guess was she had a broken right cheekbone. The skin was broken and bleeding. Her nose was still bleeding too, but I didn’t think that was from my punch. I pulled back my palm. A swift strike angled upward to the nose could kill her, especially given the force I could put into the blow. It was one of the fatal points Elmiryn had taught me to strike.
My jaw tensed.
“Kill her,” Izma hissed behind me.
My eyes narrowed. “Would you ask me to kill myself if it pleased you?”
“Why would I want you dead, little sum?”
“Why do you want her dead?” I countered readily. I started to drop my hand, but still held Lethia’s head up with the other. “She has done everything you asked.”
“She has failed me. Tis simple.”
“Is it?” I let go of Lethia’s hair and rocked forward onto both my palms. Given how close I was to the enchantress, the space for this was cramped and awkward, but I was able to move well enough that my upper body weight was sufficiently shifted onto my hands. With a deep breath, I let out a sharp kai and kicked backward with both my legs.
They struck air.
I didn’t actually expect my attack to hit Izma. I just wanted to make a point. I was not going to become the astral demon’s new pet. Whatever hatred I felt towards Lethia, I had to admit to myself that I could not do to the girl what I could not do to myself–and that included killing her.
Grabbing Lethia’s body, I called on the shadows and willed them to swallow us. As we sank into darkness, I could hear Izma screaming in rage.
The precinct wasn’t as busy as Elmiryn expected it to be, given the day and the hour. Still, there was a steady hum of activity–of printers squealing, keyboards clacking, chairs creaking, and papers rustling. The air smelled like ink, gun oil, and carpet freshener. Those brought in handcuffs were sullen and quiet, their attitude suggesting a familiarity with the setting. She didn’t like being here. It reminded her of her childhood.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Manard. It really helped us to clear things up faster. The other witnesses corroborated your statements, so just one more thing and you’re free to go.” Officer Gale undid the handcuffs and offered the woman a seat next to her desk. She’d mentioned her first name, but the woman had already forgotten it. The officer had russet brown hair at shoulder length, and rich azure-blue eyes. She didn’t look that much older than the redhead, but there was definitely some age about her eyes…probably from stress and sun.
Elmiryn rubbed her wrists, glad to be free of the confines. She locked eyes with the cop and grinned. “Hey, no prob. I know how you guys work. I mentioned my dad used to be an officer, remember?”
Gale smiled, and the redhead detected a hint of irony in the expression. “Yes. You did.”
“Oh-ho! You worked with him. I can tell.”
The other woman coughed and sat down in her chair. “That obvious?”
Elmiryn shrugged. “Warner isn’t exactly Mr. Congeniality. Let me tell you, whatever you went through, it was a thousand times worse being his gay daughter growing up. At least you got away from him when you clocked out!”
The other woman laughed. “I was never partnered with him. He was already an investigator by the time I hit the streets. He seemed a good man. Just…strict.”
“That’s a nice way of putting it.”
Gale laughed again as she pulled her clipboard to her. “Well, we’ve got your statement down. We just need you to confirm it with a signature. Your cousin is still filing her charge against the suspect. You’re free to wait for her if you’d like.” She passed the clipboard over with a pen.
Elmiryn signed it quickly, then glanced over her shoulder to the room where she saw Nick had been taken. “Say…D’ya think I could talk to that guy? Nick?”
Officer Gale gazed at her shrewdly. “We don’t normally allow for that.”
“Hey, I’m not pressing charges!”
“But your cousin is, Ms. Manard. You and the suspect had a physical confrontation. We’re not looking to have trouble in our precinct. The paperwork would be a nightmare. Anyway, I think they’re charging him formally now. He’s going to be transferred to a holding cell until he posts bail.”
“I don’t care where I talk to him. What if you were there with me? I just want five minutes.”
Gale puckered her lips in thought and craned her neck over the sea of desks. When she looked back at the redhead, it was with a sideways gaze. “Five minutes? That’s it? You aren’t suddenly going to change your mind about all of this? Because again…the paperwork. It’s a bitch.”
Elmiryn shook her head eagerly. “I’m not changing my testimony. I’ve already signed my statement, right? Soooo…can I see him?”
The officer drummed her fingers on her desk. Then with a sigh, she stood and jerked her head. “All right…Just five minutes! But the moment things start to get out of hand, I’m ending it!”
Elmiryn made a small fist pump. “Yes!” She stood with a pop. “Thank you!”
“Settle down. I’m still not sure this is a great idea.” Officer Gale moved past Elle, and the redhead followed her down the aisle to the interrogation room.
Gale rapped on the door briefly before poking her head in. Elmiryn could hear her speaking with someone, and a second later, she opened the door wider and stepped aside. Elle glanced at her before entering.
A plain clothes officer in a gray suit and dark button up was glaring at her as she entered. He was a tall black man with broad shoulders and slim hips. The light of the room made his close-shaved head shine. Elmiryn gave him a small wave when he didn’t move or speak.
“Uh. Hi,” she said. She glanced at Nick. “Geez, Nick. The way they’re treating you, you’d think you just tried bombing a place!”
Nick was slouched in a chair behind a small table. He smirked at her. “How are you sure that wasn’t what just happened?”
“Five minutes,” Gale said pointedly as she shut the door and leaned on it.
Elmiryn sat in the chair opposite the man. The investigator went to speak with Gale, and the redhead could tell her ‘five minutes’ was going to be more like three. She leaned onto the table with her elbows and narrowed her eyes at Nick.
“Did you get what you wanted?”
The man just chuckled and held up his hands. His wrists were still cuffed. “Elmiryn. Dear. Just look at me. What do you think?”
Elmiryn frowned and was about to point out that he was going to get legally boned when something occurred to her.
“Your face…” She breathed with widening eyes. “You look…different!”
Nick’s face was fuller, his lips no longer dry and white rimmed. His eyes were clear and his hair looked almost lush. Like those shampoo commercials she hated so much.
“How do you think that happened?” he asked mildly.
“Water,” she murmured, looking away. “A comb. Maybe some Carmex. Fuck. I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“Yes,” Nick hissed, and Elmiryn snapped her gaze back onto him. The man hadn’t raised his voice. Had barely moved even. But something about his presence screamed at her. “I was able to feed. Not the usual portions I enjoy from you, but our encounter gave me some strength, nevertheless. And hasn’t our little chat gotten you thinking?”
“About everything you ignoramus,” he snapped. “Honestly, I’m surprised a toy like you survived so long without me!”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” Elmiryn bit back. She struggled to keep her voice level. She didn’t need their meeting cut short. Weird things had been happening all night, and for whatever reason, she felt Nick was at the heart of it all. “How did you know my name? We’ve never met!”
Nick sat back and stared at her. “Good lord. You really have no idea.”
Elmiryn gave him a suffering look. “Duh! I’ve been saying that this whole time!”
“No. I mean…you have no recollection of anything. At all.” Nick rubbed his chin, his eyes turning distant. “Damn. Damn. Our connection has deteriorated, just as I feared. I was hoping Izma had just been leading you on, but I see it’s more than that now. DAMN, that you were such a fool to imbibe Artemis’s blood! I tried to warn you–!”
Elmiryn reached her limit of patience. “What are you talking about? Who is Artemis!?”
She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see the investigator looming over her. “Time’s up.”
“I’m not done!” she protested.
Gale appeared behind the man and placed a hand on his arm. “Hakeem, maybe just another minute–”
“No,” he said firmly, forcing Elmiryn to stand. “This guy is part of an on-going investigation, and we don’t need any more interruptions!” He started to guide the woman toward the door, his colleague trailing behind.
“This is bullshit!” Elmiryn ripped her arm out of the investigator’s grip just as she was forced out the door. She turned to square off with him, but Gale was there, blocking her way, her hands up in a placating manner.
“Hey, hey! Let’s kill it here, girl. If the man says leave, we have to do it!”
Elmiryn started to pace. “I wasn’t done! I need to talk to that Nick guy!”
“Look, he was dinged on some other charges. You’re just going to have to wait!”
The redhead clenched her fists. “If he had warrants out on him, then why would he let himself get caught!? That doesn’t make any sense!”
Gale raised an eyebrow at her. “Let himself get caught?”
Elmiryn opened her mouth to respond when she heard Lethia calling for her.
The woman didn’t even have time to turn before Lethia crashed into her with a hug. She grunted as she patted her cousin awkwardly on the back.
“H-Hey, Lethy…” She looked up and her eyebrows rose. “And Nyx!”
The sorority sister smiled. “Hey hero!”
Lethia pulled away, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Oh my GOD, can you believe all this happened?”
Elmiryn shrugged uncomfortably. “Are you guys through?”
“Yeah. I’m totes ready to go home…” Lethia took her hand and started to tug. “Let’s go! You’re done, right?”
Elle glanced at Officer Gale, and the woman gave a nod. “We’re done for now. If we need anything else, we’ll be in touch.”
She felt disappointment settle in her gut. “…Okay.”
Together, the three women left the precinct offices. They made it to the lobby before Elmiryn’s phone started buzzing in her pocket. When she answered, it was Izzie.
Her girlfriend squealed on the other line. “Elle! Christ, are you okay!?”
Elmiryn followed the others as they made it outside. Pausing at the precinct doors, she held up her hand indicating she needed a moment, and stepped aside. “Hey, Izzie. I’m fine.”
“I only just got a chance to call you now. Oh geez. I’m shaking. I can’t even believe…I mean, a guy really pulled a knife on you??”
“Holy shit!” Izzie sounded like she was going to cry.
“Hey. Shh…it’s fine! We’re all fine. I totally clocked the guy. My hand’s a little sore, but it’s not swollen or anything. I can still make a fist.”
She heard a laugh. “Baby, you are so–”
Only Elmiryn didn’t get to hear what she was, because a surge of static swallowed Izzie’s words. The woman frowned as she double checked her connection. “Izzie? You there? Hello?”
“I need to see your phone.” The woman turned to the sound of Lethia’s voice behind her.
Caught off guard, the woman did nothing as her cousin calmly took her phone from her hands. Then, before she could react, Lethia dropped it onto the concrete and stepped on it with her heel. Hard. There was a loud audible crack, and Elmiryn let out a small cry, her jaw dropping.
“L-Lethy! Lethia, what the fuckin’ fuck, man!” she sputtered.
She dropped to her knees and started picking up the pieces hurriedly, as if being quick would somehow salvage her device.
“I can’t fucking believe you!”
“That was, like, a month’s salary! And THEN some!”
Elmiryn looked up sharply to see Lethia glaring down at her. “What?” she snapped. Behind her cousin, Nyx was approaching a concerned look on her face.
Lethia spoke through her teeth. “Elmiryn, you need to wake up!”
“This isn’t our home, and we need to leave!”
“Why does everyone keep talking in riddles!?”
“Maybe if you didn’t keep your head shoved so firmly up your butt, it wouldn’t feel that way! You just. Have. To. Pay. Attention!”
Nyx stopped at Lethia’s side. “Is everything okay?”
Elmiryn stood to her feet, holding the broken pieces of her cell phone. “Oh. I don’t know. Sure. Except my cousin seems to have lost her shit!”
Lethia rolled her eyes and walked away.
Nyx stepped in closer as Elmiryn prodded the cell phone bits in her palm glumly. “She wrecked your phone?” the sorority girl asked.
“It’s toast…” Elle sighed. The woman turned to glare after her cousin. She had approached an officer in a kevlar vest at their vehicle and was saying something to them. “I don’t know what got into–” Her voice choked as she saw the officer open their trunk and hand Lethia a shotgun as if they were a librarian handing her a book.
Blinking, Nyx turned and looked too.
The officer loaded a pistol and handed the girl that firearm as well. Lethia smiled at him before she made her way back.
The moment she was within talking distance, she said, “Elmiryn, we’re on something of a time limit and we have a lot to do, so I can’t stop and give you a spiel. So while I appreciate you’re disoriented from being in a reality that is not ours, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to snap the fuck out of it and help me get Meznik out of that precinct. Pronto.” She glanced at Nyx and back. “And you might want to shoot her. For simplification.”
“That would simplify things!?” Elmiryn sputtered. “Lethia what are you doing with those guns??”
“Lethia, have you lost your mind?” Nyx added next. She was backing away, her face drawn up in horror.
The blonde ignored her and continued to address Elmiryn. “One gun is for you. One for me. Do you want the pistol or the shotgun?”
The redhead shrugged helplessly. Partly because her mind still had yet to make sense of the overarching mystery of the night. Partly because the part of her mind that had broken up her sensory information into manageable bits honestly couldn’t decide between the two weapons.
Lethia handed her the pistol and the woman took it weakly. “Fine. I’ll use the shotgun. Your doubt isn’t right for this firepower.”
“Jesus Christ, can you just explain to me–!”
“Elmiryn, what’s your opinion of this Nyx?”
Elmiryn blinked and turned to look at Nyx. The dark haired sorority sister had backpedaled some feet away and was looking ready to run and get help. From who, the redhead wasn’t sure. All the officers in their vicinity still had yet to even take note of the situation.
“Not real,” Lethia interjected harshly. “Shoot her. She’ll let Izma know where we are.”
“You can’t be serious…” Nyx whispered. She shook her head slowly, and looked at Elmiryn. “Please tell me you aren’t buying this!”
Elmiryn felt a sweat drop trail down the side of her pulsing temple. “I–I’m not–”
Lethia’s voice was low and fast. “Elmiryn, she’s just a caricature of Nyx. She’s too arrogant. Selfish. For Halward’s sake, she’s unbelievably pretentious! Is this the same girl you care about so much?”
“Help!” Nyx screamed suddenly, putting her whole body into the cry. “Someone, please!”
“They won’t hear you,” Lethia murmured. Her expression was dark.
“HEY! THEY’RE GOING TO SHOOT ME!”
“This isn’t Izma’s world. She just set up a stage on it. So I was able to gain control of these people. You’re without help.”
Nyx stared around her wildly. No one was moving. No one behaved as if they heard her at all. Slowly, she looked at Elmiryn.
“Please…” she begged, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t!”
Elmiryn frowned at her. “Do you…do you know what Lethia is talking about? Do you know who this Izma is?”
“Elmiryn, I like you! I really do! I know we just met, but please! Don’t do this to me!”
The woman’s frown deepened as she heard her voice in her head.
“What if you regret it? Where will that put us then?”
She didn’t remember ever saying that, but that was definitely her voice. Was it really a memory? Of a different time, a different place, a different person?
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she murmured, gripping the pistol. Her thumb checked the safety. It was off.
Nyx clasped her hands together and fell to her knees. “I can pretend this never happened! I won’t breathe a word, I promise! I’m even sorry that we ever met, but is it really right to punish me for that!? I didn’t ask for this!”
Elmiryn’s brow twitched as she heard Nyx’s voice in her head.
“…And for the record, Elmiryn, I never regret anything when it comes to you!”
Her face pulled long.
Nyx held out a hand to her. “Elle, please!”
“I’m sorry.” The woman raised the gun and fired. The sound was loud, and her bones seemed to vibrate from the shock.
“…You don’t make me want to believe,” she breathed in the stillness.
Red spray stained the concrete dark.
Her hand stung from the force of the shot.
The people around them still did not move, as if nothing had happened.
Elmiryn let her hand drop, and as she watched Nyx’s blood pool out onto the ground, she found…she felt nothing. No horror, or glee.
“Do you remember?” Lethia asked quietly.
The woman stared at her cousin and gave a small shake of her head. “Not really.”
“But you know this life is a lie, don’t you?”
Elmiryn gave a stiff nod.
Lethia patted her shoulder. “Then that will have to be enough for now. I wasn’t kidding, Elmiryn. We have a time limit. Izma will try to stop us, and we still have the problem of getting Meznik free.”
“Why do we need him?” Elle’s voice was hollow.
“Believe me. I don’t do this out of any particular joy. But it’s necessary for the moment. A means to an end.”
“Can you…make the people in there not attack us? Like out here?”
Lethia bit her lip and shook her head. “No. I was able to take hold of this group because they were not aware. But the minds of this world are…foreign. I won’t be able to take hold of Izma’s other familiars within the precinct, and the other officers will be on alert. We’ll have to fight our way through.”
“And I’m…good at fighting, aren’t I?” Elmiryn murmured. In her head, she substituted the word ‘fighting’ with ‘killing.’ She could feel it, like an aftertaste riding on the reality of Nyx’s abrupt execution.
Lethia’s voice suggested she was aware of the distinction. “Yes. You are. Very good. That’s why I need you to remember as much as you can.”
The woman took a breath and looked at the girl. “Are you still my cousin?” She hated how vulnerable she sounded.
The blonde hesitated. “I…can be. If you want me to.”
“Then let’s go, cousin.”
Elmiryn clenched her jaw as she raised her pistol. “Let’s rock and roll, then!”
The light in the room dimmed.
Quincy paused as she glanced around her. Her eyes fell on Lethia.
“What just happened?”
Lethia rubbed her forehead with a wince. Her green eyes batted a few times before they lifted to meet the wizard’s gaze.
Quincy lowered the vial and rested her wrist on the edge of the table. “Are you all right?”
The girl stared at her for a few moments.
When she spoke, it was with a whisper. “I’m fine. Go ahead and drink, Quincy.”
The wizard scowled, and did just that. The drink burned her throat.