Dust and debris sprayed across the room, and even as she ducked away, Zarah felt a burning line of fire across her forehead as a piece grazed her. It all passed harmlessly though Kihri, of course, but she followed Zarah down to the ground anyway, lowering herself into the floor until only her head was sticking out.
“Yoooooo hooooo!” a voice trilled out of the cloud of dust. “Anybody home?” It sounded inordinately pleased with itself, and had a soft, lilting accent that she couldn’t place.
“Can you get to the ladder?” Kihri asked Zarah, not bothering to lower her voice.
She shook her head in response – her voice, he’d hear. The ladder was behind them, pure open space with no cover the whole way.
“Yanisss,” the voice continued, and Kihri’s head jerked up at the name. “I’ve come to collect! You wouldn’t have gone and forgotten, would you?”
With the last few words, the voice’s owner emerged from the dust.
He was white, thinly-built, with straight black hair and a creepy little goatee. His clothes were unexceptional, but clean and in good condition.
He was also hovering a whole foot off the ground, held up at the waist by a thick band of tendrils that carried him forward. They looked to be made of the same stuff as the hammer, and were a light, slightly translucent-
“Oh shit,” Kihri said as Zarah started to rise. “Dude, no, you can’t-”
She didn’t hear the rest, the rushing of blood in her ears seeming to grow until it drowned out everything else. The man turned towards her as she stood, and a grin crossed his face. He said something, but Zarah couldn’t hear it. She stalked forward, eyes locked on him, and slowly his smile faded.
Without even slowing, she grabbed the hammer with both hands and yanked it free of the chair. It sent a jolt like electricity through her, but she barely even noticed it, and as she began to run, the scream that had been building inside her finally boiled over, tearing out of her throat in pure, wordless rage.
The man jerked back, caught off-guard by her sudden ferocity, and although two of the tendrils whipped up to try and catch her, they were too late to stop her from swinging the hammer full-force into his chest.
He went flying backwards across the room, and slammed into the cabinets on the opposite wall.
Zarah blinked. It didn’t feel like she’d hit him that hard. She wasn’t sure anyone could have. Then again, it didn’t seem like anyone should be able to survive it, either, and yet the man was already pulling himself out of the wall, tendrils digging into the concrete.
“Typical,” he spat, wiping some blood away from his mouth with the back of one hand. “Always leaving me messes to clean up.”
“Dude,” Kihri’s voice said from behind her, “seriously, we’ve got to go.”
Zarah ignored her and charged forward again, raising the hammer for another swing.
He was ready for her this time, though, and the tendrils met her while she was still a few feet away. She dodged two of them as they speared forward, surprisingly easily, and batted a third aside with the hammer, but the fourth one wrapped around her ankle and whipped her across the room and into the wall.
Distantly, she could hear Kihri’s voice, calling her name, but it was muffled by a loud and powerful ringing. She picked herself up off the ground, wincing, but she didn’t actually feel as hurt as she’d expected. He must not have thrown her very hard. Or, at least, not as hard as he evidently thought he had, because he’d turned away, completely dismissing her to examine the corpse on the chair.
The hammer was still in her hands, somehow, so she just charged in again, swinging with her whole body. At the last second, he began to turn, and she got a single, satisfying glimpse of his shocked face before he went flying again, back through the hole in the wall he’d made.
There was a loud crunch, and a pained growl, but there was still too much dust, and not enough light, to see far past the hole.
“Hey, uh,” Kihri’s voice said from behind her, “dude?” Something in her tone made Zarah turn, and she found her staring not at her face, but down at her hands. “Again, what the fuck?!”
She followed her sister’s gaze downwards. Surrounding her hands, strongest where they touched the hammer, was a corona of light – black light. Somehow – she knew enough about science to know that ‘black’ was really just the absence of light, and yet, there it was. Clearly providing illumination, yet somehow still undeniably black.
“I…” she said slowly. “What is… how is-”
She wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence, but it ended up being a moot point anyway, as a tendril shot out of the dust cloud and yanked her backwards.
She let out a startled yelp as she was lifted off the ground, and then, too quick to react, its grip disappeared, and she was hurtling through the air again.
Somehow, she managed to spin herself around in the air so that she was facing at least vaguely forward, and she felt the hammer connect with something, an instant before she slammed into something hard. Another wall, presumably, but as she fell this time, she felt it slope underneath her, and ended up rolling to a stop against something cold and hard, metal pressing into her shoulder-blade.
“Zarah!” she heard Kihri yell from above her. “Are you okay?”
She groaned in response, slowly hauling herself upright. The metal turned out to be the outside rails of train tracks, and from there, it didn’t take much to figure out that they were in the adjacent subway tunnel. Which also explained the curved walls.
“Ooh,” the man jeered from behind her, “did that hurt? Poor thing.”
Improbably, she had still maintained her grip on the hammer the entire time, and so she didn’t hesitate to spin all the way around straight into another swing.
Which, of course, left her stumbling and off-balance when it connected with nothing at all.
The man laughed as his tendrils carried him further back, still off the ground. His hands were actually in his pockets now, which just seemed pointlessly smug. “Who even are you, anyway?” he asked with a smirk. “Do you have even the slightest idea of what’s going on here?”
Zarah growled and began to step towards him.
“Don’t!” Kihri yelled, with enough urgency that she stopped with one foot still in the air. “Red rails! They’re live!”
Sure enough, when Zarah looked down, she found her foot hovering just over one of the rails, which was covered in faded, flaking red paint.
Carefully, she moved her foot back and set it down, firmly on the concrete.
The man pouted comically. “Aww, too bad. I wanted to see you get all crispy.” He shrugged. “Still, I think I’ll survive.” Then he looked up, and Zarah couldn’t help but flinch from the terrifying look in his eye. “You won’t, though.”
It wasn’t just a few of the tendrils that came barrelling down at her this time – it was all of them. The man launched himself forward, and as he did even the tendrils that had been holding him up shot towards her. She threw herself to the side just as the first few buried themselves in the ground, and tried to block them next ones with the hammer, but it was thin, and there were so many of them, and a few of them coiled together until they were thicker around than her head, and gored her through the torso.
“Oh fuck,” Kihri gasped from above.
She knew it should hurt more than it did. Sure, it hurt, but it felt more like she’d just been punched really hard in the stomach. Until she had to cough, which made blood spew out of her mouth, and her insides feel like they’d been set on fire.
“Really?” the man was saying. “That’s it? God, nothing about today can go right, huh?” The tendril she was impaled on suddenly retracted, and without it holding her up, her legs didn’t seem to want to work anymore. “Can’t even get a good fight,” he muttered sourly, as he lifted up and off the tracks, disappearing back through the hole and out of sight. The strange swishing crunch noise that the tendrils made quickly faded away, only to be replaced with a faint and distant rumbling. One that was beginning to grow louder.
“<Zarah?>” Kihri’s voice asked, suddenly right next to her. “<Zarah? Can you hear me?>”
“<Mrggg,>” she groaned in response.
“<Zarah, you need to get up. There’s a train coming.>”
Ah, that was what the rumbling was. Carefully, she lifted the hammer and placed the head against the ground so she could use it to support herself as she hauled herself onto her feet.
“<Saints!>” Kihri swore as she did so. “<How are you-?>”
“<I can see through you, Zarah. How the fuck are you standing?!>”
“<Does it matter right now?>” She began limping towards the other side of the tunnel, her free hand clutched to her stomach..
“<It does if you end up making your injuries… actually, you know what? Never mind.>”
Zarah didn’t know what had made her change her mind, but it didn’t seem that important in that moment. The rumbling was getting louder now, quite rapidly, so she lifted the hammer up onto the floor of the breaker room, then used it and her other hand to haul herself up. It was awkward and ungainly, and it made her stomach burn like it had been soaked in acid, but she managed to get all the way up and roll over onto her stomach, away from the hole.
Barely five seconds later, the train came roaring past, deafeningly loud and bright, bringing with it enough wind to nearly blow Zarah backwards.
And then it was gone, and it was just the two of them and the corpse.
It was so tempting to just lie there on the cool ground, but Zarah made herself roll over, and slowly scooched over to the wall, and then wiggled her back up it until she was sitting upright. Then she allowed herself to slump, head falling backwards against the concrete.
“Fuckin’… saints, dude,” Kihri said from in front of her. “How the fuck are you still alive?”
Zarah coughed weakly, and immediately regretted it. “Wait a few moments and it may become moot.”
“Uh, yeah, no,” she said, pointing down at her wounds. “Probably fucking not.”
With some effort, Zarah adjusted her position so she could actually look down at the hole in her stomach. Which… seemed a lot smaller than it had felt. The hole in her shirt was almost a foot across, but the wound was barely half that. And, even as she watched, it grew smaller still, fresh, pale brown skin slowly growing towards the centre.
She could feel it too, she realised – not directly, not as a sensation, but the pain was already less than it had been, and rapidly fading.
She looked up again to meet Kihri’s baffled gaze with her own.
“Do you mind,” she asked weakly, “if I encroach on your territory for a moment?”
“Sure,” her twin replied faintly. “Go right ahead.”
“What. In the fuck. Is happening?!”
It wasn’t particularly funny, but Kihri laughed anyway, which then set Zarah off and for a minute they just cackled together on the ground, more out of adrenaline than any actual humour.
“So,” Kihri said as the last of the laughter faded away, “uh. What do we do now?”
Zarah glanced down again, and found that the only trace remaining of her hypothetically-mortal wound was a large patch of untanned skin. “I… it was him. It had to be him.”
“That killed those folks? I mean, not conclusively, but it fits.”
“And now,” she gestured with the hand holding the hammer limply, “this. Red as well as blue.”
“And black, too.” Though that particularly light had begun to fade way now, it was still faintly visible. “D’ya think it means something?”
Zarah sighed, letting her head fall back against the wall. “…I have no idea what I think. What about you? Seeing as you are apparently psychic now?”
Kihri let out a long, tortured groan as she floated down beside Zarah, imitating her posture against the wall. “Don’t even fucking start, dude. I really don’t want to think about it right now. Or later. Or ever! Just, pshhh!” She made a gesture like confetti raining down. “Forget it ever happened.”
“…why does it bother you so much?”
“Why does having someone else’s memories suddenly inserted into my head bother me?!”
“Yes, that is what I was asking.”
She snorted. “‘Cause it’s fucking weird, that’s why.”
That was a lie, and not even a good one, but Zarah decided not to push it.
“What about that… thing?” Kihri continued, evidently determined to move away from the topic anyway. “Around his neck?”
“I did not see anything?”
“He definitely did, trust me. Like a cloak or a cape or something. It looked… kinda blue? But also kinda not. I dunno.”
Zarah was fairly certain she’d gotten a clear look at the man, and hadn’t seen anything like Kihri described, but things had been chaotic enough that she couldn’t say for certain. “Do you think it is connected to…” she waved a hand vaguely. “All of this?”
“I fucking hope so, because the alternative is we’ve got two completely unrelated instances of spooky bullshit going.”
“There are three, not two.”
“What’s the third, then? We’ve got glowy bullshit, weird capes that apparently maybe not everyone can see, and…?”
“I am sorry,” Zarah said cautiously, “but it is something we should consider. Do you not think that perhaps there might be some connection between-”
“I think,” Kihri snapped, shooting upright, “that we’ve spent long enough sitting around with a fucking corpse in the room.” She moved upwards towards the ceiling, her posture tense. “I’ll be waiting outside.”
Zarah sighed, then hoisted herself upright to follow. The movement felt… wrong, somehow, though. Almost a little too quick, a little too easy.
It was the pain, she realised a moment later. Or, rather, the lack of it. She felt… fine. Great, even. Healthy and hearty, more so than she’d felt in… a long time. She glanced down at the hammer in her hand, as if to make it reveal its secrets.
“<What are you?>” she said to the empty room.
Unsurprisingly, neither the hammer nor the corpse had any answers.
After blessing the body and closing its eyes (somewhat thankful for Kihri’s absence), she clambered back up the ladder, not bothering to avoid touching the blood this time. She knew she already looked worrying, covered in blood and dust and wielding a hammer, and figured that a little more blood wouldn’t make a difference. Admittedly, she did start to regret it about halfway up, when the texture really started to get to her, but at that point it was a bit too late to do anything about it.
As she had said, Kihri was waiting outside, floating around the treetops and occasionally stopping to inspect one. There wasn’t actually anything interesting up there, Zarah could tell – she just wanted to look like she had something to do. The posture gave it away – she tried to appear mildly interested, relaxed and curious, but Kihri only really had two modes; sarcastic boredom or obsessive interest.
Zarah let her continue for a few moments, then deliberately closed the door with a loud clang. Kihri still spent a few more seconds pretending she hadn’t heard, though, which was about typical.
“Finally,” she said, spinning around to face her but not descending. “God, you really do look like a murderer! Didja spend some extra time rolling the blood, just to complete the look?”
Zarah ignored the taunt. “I do not think we should go to shelter, until we have a chance to clean.”
“Until you’ve had a chance, excuse you. I look as beautiful as ever.”
“Yes, that seems to be accurate.”
“Pff.” As usual, a properly-executed jibe seemed to restore some of her good cheer, and she was smirking slightly as she descended back to ground level. “What are you thinking, then? Where’s the nearest public showers, the pool on Firth and Primrose?”
“…I think that is too far.”
“Mm, yeah, true. Considering you look like…” she clicked her tongue. “Okay, I could make a bunch of super dope references but you’re not gonna get any of them, so let’s just say you look like the shit a shit would take and leave it at that.”
“…thank you, I think.”
“So what’s the plan, then? Dirt bath? Sleep in a tree and eat squirrels until it rains?”
“…I think I might have to call in a favour a lot sooner than expected.”