Silence reigned in the room.
Not true silence – rubble shifted and settled, water rushed and spilled from broken pipes, sirens wailed in the distance – but the oppressive, artificial silence that comes from people very purposefully, very deliberately not speaking.
The man in blue was the first to break it, of course. “Wait,” he gasped, eyes widening. “Are you mute? Oh man, I’m gonna feel like such an asshole if you’re mute.”
With effort, Zarah tore her icy gaze away from him and looked at Guster. “You,” she said curtly, projecting her voice to carry across the room without shouting. “Get out, now.”
“Oh, good!” The man beamed, genuine excitement in his eyes. “That is a huge relief, let me tell you. So, what’s your name? I’m Paose, by the by-”
He was interrupted by two loud gunshots, as Guster spun up from behind the slab, pistol raised. Even as the first shots were still ringing, she began to fire again, deafeningly loud, the muzzle flashes briefly lighting up the room.
After ten more shots (Zarah counted), the gunfire ceased, replaced with metallic sliding and clicking as the detective reloaded, eyes still trained on Paose.
“Well,” he chuckled, somewhat hoarsely. “You’re a good shot!” At least a few of the shots had hit him, Zarah was sure, but the soft rain of metallic clinking as he shifted showed that most had been stopped by his ghostlight constructs.
“Put him down,” Guster snapped, apparently unperturbed by him remaining stubbornly not-dead. “Now.”
“Aww,” Paose pouted. “No screaming, no surprise, no ‘how are you still alive’? That’s my favourite part.”
“Last warning. Or I’ll show you exactly how unsurprised I am.”
He grinned. “Okay then! Putting him down,” he said, and threw Spencer at Zarah.
She stepped to one side, and the man’s limp form sailed clear past her, hitting the ground with a heavy thump and rolling a few times before coming to a stop.
“…huh,” Paose said after a moment. “I’ll be perfectly honest, I expected that to go differently.”
“You,” Zarah addressed Guster, without looking away. “Out. Now.”
The detective started to say something, but Paose beat her to it. “Now where’s the fun in that?” He began to rise higher into the air, tendrils curling back, ready to strike. “I think she should stay right here and glurgh.”
Presumably, he’d meant to say something else, but the scalpel that had whistled across the room and split his throat made the point moot.
“Out,” Zarah repeated, hand still outstretched from throwing the blade. “Now. Because I am not particularly caring what happens to you otherwise.”
Thankfully, Guster seemed to have gotten the message, and dashed across the room without a moment’s hesitation in a hunched-over dash. Paose gurgled something incoherent, blood gushing from his throat, and the few tendrils not keeping him aloft shot forward to intercept her-
-then immediately went limp as the five other scalpels Zarah had grabbed buried themselves in his face and hands.
He roared in pain, his tendrils losing structure and splashing down, but they reformed almost instantly, catching him before he could hit the ground. Not as effective as Zarah had hoped, but it gave Guster enough time to make it over to her side of the room.
“Nice catch, asshole,” the other woman spat as she passed. Zarah gave her a tired bit of side-eye, but didn’t bother to respond as the detective dragged her partner out of the room.
The squelch of Paose yanking the scalpels out was one of the more unpleasant noises Zarah had heard, and she’d witnessed some doozies. “Well,” he said, voice still slightly gurgly, “kudos to you, kid. In my defense, I always forget how hard it is to kill you buggers. Yanis always gets so smug about that.”
“You know her.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yanis? Of course! Best of buds, she and I!” He paused. “Well, normally. She maybe might be a little bit mad at me right now over some dumb little thing and I maybe went around and smashed up a few of her womancaves in retaliation, but it’ll blow over! I mean, you were there – it wasn’t even that much damage, right? No big deal?”
Oh, saints, he’s seriously asking. “It was… pretty bad,” Zarah answered, thrown enough by the sincerity that social mores took over automatically. “You did destroy an entire wall.”
He kissed his teeth. “I did, yeah, I did do that. Shoot.” The malaise only lasted a moment, though. “Ah, I’m sure she’ll forgive me! Especially when I tell her I cleaned up the mess that caused this whole thing in the first place.” He raised a hand to his mouth, like he was sharing a secret. “That means you,” he whispered conspiratorially, adding a wink for good measure.
And just like that, the brief veneer of normality broke, and the reality of the man opposite her came flooding back – and with it, her rage. In the power station, he’d been off, sure, but in a familiar, recognisable way. Here, though, his apparent geniality had thrown her off, crossed wires. She’d talked to him, like he was a person instead of a monster, instead of a… a rabid fucking dog that needed to be put down.
He was still talking, but the ringing in her ears drowned out the words, red clouding the edges of her vision. What had before felt cold and solid and compressed was now starting to crack and splinter, breaking free of its containment, revealing itself to be white-hot, volatile, unstable. Lethal.
Surrounded by a soft corona of blacklight, her hands shook with tension as the rage flowed over, boiling up and out, filling every inch of her until it felt like the air around her was going to ignite, and she took a single step backwards-
-and launched herself forward, less a jump than the path of a bullet fired from a gun, farther than it seemed even her enhanced strength should be able to. She crossed the span of the room in an instant, and Paose barely had time to blink before she slammed into him, her fists, fingers interlocked, caving in his chest with a vicious hammerblow.
He went flying backwards, smacking into the wall with a crunch that was equal parts wet and dry, and having passed on most of her momentum to him, Zarah arced downwards, her feet touching the ground a bare instant before her shoulder hit the wall.
She bounced off, hard, but managed to stay upright until a collision with one of the slabs brought her to a full stop. The blacklight muted the pain in her shoulder, but she could still feel it throbbing, the uncomfortable sensation of her muscles moving on their own as they pushed things back into alignment.
The rubble where Paose had fallen began to shift, and he began to rise, letting out a few wet, hacking coughs. “Well,” he started to say, but then Zarah smashed a fridge-sized piece of rubble over his head and he went down again.
She didn’t wait for him to recover this time, grabbing a foot-long piece of rebar and jumping to the top of the pile. He was lying in a rough crater, eyes closed and still bleeding from various points. The tendrils had disappeared, but even as she watched, they started to reform, coalescing out of the air.
It was a slow process, though, much slower than the stranger had been with their hound, and they only made for token resistance as she jumped down, swatted them away, and buried the rebar in Paose’s chest.
He cried out, choking on blood, but it turned into more of a pained groan as she twisted it deeper, burying it into the concrete underneath. One foot on his chest, she grabbed the uppermost section of the rebar and twisted it sideways, so he couldn’t just pull himself free.
“Wow,” he choked out, giving a bloodstained grin that somehow actually looked genuine. “Wasn’t expecting the brutality. You’re fucked up, kid.”
“Enough,” she snapped. She’d vented the anger from before, but now it was building up again. Her hands started to shake, but she pulled the hammer from its sling and gripped it tight to keep them steady. “You have-”
Acting on instinct, she spun around, hand lashing out to destroy the tendril that had been forming behind her.
“-five chances,” she finished, looking back down at Paose, who still seemed thrilled with the whole affair. “Where is Metzin.”
“Five chances?” he said with a grin. “Seems a bit-”
Without hesitation, she swung the hammer down, effortlessly smashing through his left kneecap.
“Four chances,” she said over his muffled scream. “Where.”
“One,” he panted, “slight problem with that, though. Did you miss the whole healing- fuck!”
“Three.” The first kneecap had started to regenerate, though – albeit slower than she’d come to expect from her own wounds. “Kihri,” she snapped. “How do I kill.”
“Ooh,” Paose started to say, “who’s-” but she whipped the hammer around, stopping it only an inch from his head, and he promptly shut up.
“Removing the head or destroying the brain,” came the sullen reply. “Are you asking me how the general… concept of killing works? Cause I really thought you had a better grasp-”
“How do I kill him,” she interrupted. “Any burner.”
“Uh, break his shade, idiot.” Then, a moment later, “Oh, fuck you. I fucking said I don’t-”
“Thank you,” she said, and tuned Kihri’s voice out as she continued to rant. She still didn’t know what a shade actually was, or what breaking one entailed, but she knew she’d gotten everything she was going to from her sister.
And sure enough, as she returned her attention back to Paose, she thought she could see… something. It was as if Kihri’s comment had been a… a primer, and once she knew- not even what she was looking for but just that she was looking for something, her brain could go from there.
The thing was around Paose’s neck, draping over his shoulders and sinking into the ground below him. It wasn’t… real, she didn’t think; it didn’t obscure the details it should have covered at all. It was more like it was overlaid onto him, and she was seeing them separately from each other.
Wait, didn’t Kihri say something about…
“Like a cloak or a cape or something,” she’d said, back under the power station. “It looked… kinda blue? But also kinda not.”
And with that, like a camera coming into focus, the object resolved itself into a clear image.
It was made entirely out of blue ghostlight, a shade darker than Paose’s tendrils, but the colour was muted somewhat by that strange overlayed effect. At his neck, a large metal spike was driven through two hands, the arms draping around either side towards his back, trails of blood frozen in time as they dripped down the naked flesh. The arms disappeared into the ground around the bicep, but she could see the top of a head poking out, dangling limply, more blood running down it from an injury at the crown.
“Ah,” Paose said, and the humour had disappeared from his voice for the first time. “Well, shoot.”
‘Break the shade’, huh? When she nudged it with the head of her hammer, it seemed solid enough, so she planted one foot on Paose’s torso, swung the hammer back, then everything went blurry for a moment.
When her sight resolved, she found herself looking at a completely different view than the one she’d had before, and her brain had just enough time to process that she was on the other side of the room before a blinding wave of pain consumed her.
Zarah blacked out for a moment. When she came to, her injuries were only agonising as opposed to unbearable – she could feel the blacklight already coursing through her, healing her and deadening the pain (hopefully more of the former than the latter).
She’d been hit be something, she put together, flung across the room in an instant with no warning whatsoever, and had hit the wall so hard that she was embedded in it, which is why she was still upright despite being a good metre off the ground.
Her senses hadn’t quite returned yet, but she could hear the sound of voices, coming from where she’d been standing only moments ago, see a blurry figure standing there.She growled and began tearing herself out of the wall, using the blacklight’s strength to break free of the nigh-perfect imprint of her form, and dropped to the ground. Landing hurt, of course, but everything hurt – a state she was growing uncomfortably comfortable with.
The muffled tones began to resolve into words as she stood, her vision focusing enough to make out her attacker.
He was young, pale-skinned and fine-boned, with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. His mop of wiry black curls looked like it had been hacked more than cut short, with the exception of the section that fell over his left eye, which had been bleached blonde and cared for to an incongruous degree. The fur collar of a long, middle-grey coat framed a long, gangly neck, and the rest of him fit that standard – as if he hadn’t quite grown into his frame, despite being at least Zarah’s age.
“…completely ignored me!” he was saying. His voice confirmed her speculation – while not high-pitched, it had a breathy, fluted quality to it that made her think of someone just past puberty, though again he was too old for it to actually be that. “It really bums me out when people do that, y’know? It’s… it’s… impolite, is what it is!”
Paose’s reply was muffled and incomprehensible, but the boy’s reaction seemed to indicate it was a joke, or whatever passed for one from the man.
He wiped at his eyes and went to speak, then noticed Zarah and broke into a broad grin. “Oh hey! You’re alive!” He was missing a tooth, she noticed, and a few more were chipped and damaged. “That’s cool, that’s cool! I super-duper didn’t mean to kill you, I just got a little, y’know, overexcited.” He waggled his fingers, as if that clarified things in the slightest. He looked as if he had more to say (and Zarah was getting the impression he always did), but the blue tendril that wrapped around his neck cut him off short.
“Well,” Paose said, lifting up into view, “this has been fun, but-“
The tendril holding the boy collapsed, dropping him to the ground, seemingly unharmed. “Whoops,” he said with an embarrassed little grin.
“What did you do?!” Zarah demanded. “Is he dead?”
“Not… yet?” He pointed upwards, the hole in the ceiling. “Maybe when he lands, I dunno.”
“You…” Zarah connected the dots. Whatever the boy’s trick was, the one that had turned her into a human bullet, he’d used it on Paose – but directed upwards. “You imbecile!” she hissed, stepping forward. “I had him!”
“Wait, what?” He frowned. “Weren’t you fighting him? Ohhh, no, I get it, you’re one of those ‘honourable duel’ people! ‘I have to defeat him myself or it means nothing’, yeah?”
“I had defeated him,” she spat. “He had information, information I was about to have, until you have throwing me into the wall! And then, you are helping him get away!”
The boy winced. “…oh. Um. Whoops?”
Zarah snarled and leapt at him, hammer coming down in an overhead blow with so much force that it felt like she had actually injured her shoulders by swinging so hard.
The boy caught it effortlessly with one hand.
The hammer instantly stopped, with zero impact and zero recoil. It wasn’t like he was strong enough to take the force, but like he’d somehow neutralised the force entirely, holding the hammer in mid-air.
Zarah, however, hadn’t been affected at all, and so she smacked her face on the hammer’s shaft and tumbled gracelessly to the ground.
“Ooh, sorry.” Gallingly, the boy came over and offered her a hand up. “That looked nasty.”
She slapped his hand aside, clambering to her feet. “Who are you?” she demanded. “Why are you here?”
It was, she realised, almost exactly what Abigail had been asking her a few minutes ago, and she found she didn’t like the role-reversal one bit.
“Oh my gosh! I am so sorry!” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Remy! Remy Auclair, well, technically it’s Remembrance, but everyone calls me Remy unless they want to make fun of me and you don’t seem like you’d do that!”
Zarah looked at his hand, then back up at him. “Bespelled,” she said flatly.
Stupid trash garbage-fire language. “Charmed. Why are you here?”
“Oh, I’m charmed too!” he replied, ignoring her question. “But it’s rude not to introduce yourself, y’know? Took me ages to figure that out, so I totally get it if you didn’t know.”
She resisted the urge to hit him, if only because he’d already proved it would be futile. “Fine,” she snapped. “First name Zarah, last name you just have tried to kill me.”
He frowned. “That doesn’t sound like a real name.”
“You-” She suppressed a growl of frustration. At the very least, he didn’t seem hostile. To be honest, he didn’t seem much of anything except dim. “Kihri. He’s gone. Back here.”
“Oh, no, it’s Remy. Re-my. Don’t worry, it happens all the time. Well, okay, not all the time, but, like, some of the time? Occasionally. It has definitely happened at least once before, probably.”
“Who the fuck is this clown?” Kihri asked as she emerged from the floor.
“<‘Remy’, apparently. Beyond that, I don’t know.>”
“Who are you talking to?” Remy asked brightly..
“No-one, shut up.” Zarah turned away. “<He showed up just as I had Paose pinned down, effortlessly threw me into the wall, then then sent Paose into orbit when he tried to attack.>”
“<Figuratively speaking. He barely even moved, but it was like Paose had been fired out of a cannon.>”
“Hm. Is- like, kinetic energy manipulation? Is that a thing?”
“<You’re asking me like I would know.>”
“What language is that?” Remy asked
“Oh yeah, you’re right. Hey dipshit!” Kihri yelled at Remy. “What’s your fucking deal?”
Zarah sighed, turning back to face him. “Why are you here, Remy Auclair?”
He beamed. “Hey, you got it right! And, uh, that’s ossified.”
“…do you mean ‘classified’?”
Zarah was beginning to wish he’d just try and kill her – it would be easier. “You,” she snapped, “just let a murderer, a serial killer, free. That means you are either malicious or incompetence.”
“Incompetent,” Kihri helpfully corrected.
“Oh,” Remy laughed, “it’s definitely the, uh. Second one. Completence.”
Kihri snorted. “Never would have guessed.”
“Were you looking for Paose?” Zarah ground out.
“Him. The man you let get away.”
“Ohhhh. No, no, I just followed him here. I’m actually looking for, uh,” he pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket, “‘Yanis Metzin.”
Because of course he was.
“Wait, shoot, I wasn’t supposed to say that part.”