Episode 1 Part 2: “Order of Akasha”
Episode 1: “The Order of Akasha” Part 2
Written and Created by Ingrid Díaz
Part I | Part II
Azure could hear the growling of her stomach above the sound of her guitar. It had been unwise to skip dinner, she admitted, as her fingers sailed over the strings, leaving in their wake a random assortment of discordant notes.
She had prayed for hours, kneeled at the side of her bed, hands clasped together so tightly that her knuckles ached. She had begged God to banish the images from her mind, to guide her away from whatever temptation might lead to such unforgivable sin. In the aftermath of such unabashed pleading, she had clung with desperate need to the idea that the vision had been a warning; and not, as she feared, a snapshot of an inevitable future.
Her fingers paused, the echo of the last note drowned out by the knocking at the door. Frowning, she listened a second longer before moving to answer. She turned the knob with utter hesitation, her breath catching as the arch of the doorway gave way to the identity of the visitor in the hall.
Azure swallowed back the impulse to cry. She wanted to shut the door in the girl’s face; to somehow disappear from the room unnoticed. Instead, she stared into a pair of light green eyes, and waited.
“How did you know?” the stranger said, seemingly unaware of the effect her presence had on Azure’s state of mind. She held up the sweater she’d worn earlier, displaying the dark stain across the front.
Azure froze. Oh, no… She ran a quick inventory of possible explanations, but none made any semblance of sense. She felt completely cornered, on the verge of full-fledged panic. The only other person she’d ever confessed a premonition to was her mother … and that had ended badly. She couldn’t imagine how a complete stranger would react to the news that Azure just “knew things” sometimes.
“Can we talk?”
Unsure of what else to do, Azure allowed the girl inside, shutting the door after her.
The memory of what she’d seen earlier lingered in her mind. She recalled, with vivid detail, the feeling of lips upon her skin, the dampness of the sheets beneath her back. What troubled her, most of all, was the complete abandon with which the ‘she’ in the vision gave herself up: no shame, no panic, no regret; all thoughts lost to the comfort and familiarity of the experience. And though she had decided, with utmost conviction, to stay far away from the source of her perversion, she couldn’t help but notice that it was standing now before her.
Azure turned to find a pair of eyes regarding her curiously. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she whispered, hating the sound of trepidation in her voice.
“My name’s Aeryn.” For the first time, Azure noticed that the girl had an accent: British, maybe.
“Azure,” she found herself replying, more out of reflex than anything else.
They stood in complete silence for a moment: Aeryn glancing around the room curiously, Azure watching her; until finally, Azure’s stomach chose to interrupt with a long, loud rumbling sound that was at once audible and unmistakable.
Blood rushed to Azure’s cheeks in embarrassment.
“Hungry?” came the amused, teasing voice of the stranger.
“No,” Azure said. She was mortified.
“How’s your arm?”
Azure had forgotten all about the injury until that moment. “It’s fine,” she said, without really thinking. She suddenly realized it didn’t feel fine at all.
Aeryn stepped closer. “May I see?”
“No.” Azure stepped away. “I said it’s fine.” Aeryn regarded her silently, her eyes full of questions and concern. It made Azure dizzy just looking into them, so she looked away.
“Why are you so afraid of me?”
Azure blinked, thrown by the question. “What makes you think I’m afraid of you?” She tried to sound confident, but even she couldn’t ignore the slight tremble in her voice.
“Well, first of all, you’re pressed so tightly against that door it looks like you’re trying to go through it…”
Azure noticed for the first time the pressure of the wood against her back, and eased away from it.
“…and then there’s that look…”
“That…what’s the expression?” Aeryn stared down at the blue rug as if it held a wealth of answers. “Something about a deer…”
Azure remained silent.
Aeryn’s head snapped up, and she grinned. “A deer caught in headlights?” She frowned. “What a horribly depressing image.”
Azure forced herself to breathe. She wanted to smile, to relax, but knew she shouldn’t, couldn’t, let her guard down.
“How did you know about the ketchup?” Aeryn asked suddenly.
“Actually, don’t tell me. I think I figured it out.”
Azure’s heart pounded furiously. “What?”
“I bet that ketchup dispenser gets everyone,” Aeryn smiled. “But I appreciate the warning. Are you a sophomore … junior?”
Azure opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Finally, she said, “Freshman.”
“Oh, a wise freshman. Me too. A freshman, not wise.” Aeryn looked around the room again, and spotting the guitar, moved over to look at it. “Nice. Do you play?”
Azure had the unsettling feeling that her entire life was spiraling out of control. “A little,” she finally responded. “Do you?” and the question flew unbidden from her lips.
“No, I never picked it up. I play some piano, though.”
Azure was about to mention the open mike event, but closed her mouth in time. Warning bells resounded in her mind. Don’t get close. Get her out of here. She’s dangerous. She’s corrupt. “I really have a lot of homework to do…”
Aeryn took the hint. “Sorry. I really just wanted to apologize about the accident earlier. I’m not usually so clumsy.”
“It’s okay. Really.”
Aeryn started toward the door, and automatically, Azure moved to open it.
In the doorway, Aeryn paused. “It was nice meeting you, Azure.” And with that, she walked away.
Left with the unsettling feeling of disappointment, Azure closed the door and leaned against it. She crossed herself, and closed her eyes. God, help me.
Ry was in the middle of a Shakespearean monologue when he was rudely tossed out of character by the incessant knocking at his door. “This is Hamlet speaking, Ry is unavailable, could you please come back later!” he yelled, his gaze fixed upon his own reflection in the full-length mirror.
Hamlet, he knew, would not have been dressed in silk boxer shorts, or even a Dragonball Z tee shirt, but acting called for a certain level of imagination. Clearing his throat, he assumed a Hamlet-like posture, and continued. “Whether tis nobler in the mind to—”
“—suffer the slings and—”
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
“—ARROWS that are going through the head of whomever’s at the door,” he yelled crossly, heading in that direction. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, finding Naia in the ill-lit hallway. “I’m rehearsing one of my monologues for grad school.”
Naia stepped inside the room and closed the door behind her. She glanced around, and with a face illustrating disgust said, “How do you keep this room so neat all the time? It’s like—” Her eye caught the posters of naked men on the walls. “— a museum of penises.” She arched a finely plucked brow at the picture over the bed. “That one’s new.”
“Yes, I call him Kevin. He reminds me of this guy I had a crush on back in high school.”
“Ballet instructor. Have a seat.” He motioned to the bed. “I could use an audience.”
Naia sat at the edge of the neatly-made bed and, catching her reflection in the mirror, fussed with her dreads for a moment. “I can’t really stay, I’ve got about 300 pages worth of reading to do for tomorrow. I just came to tell you I had an epiphany.”
“I can’t begin to imagine.”
Naia sat up straighter, suddenly energized by the thrill of her idea. “People always discover things in pictures, right; UFOs, ghosts – that sort of thing. So, what if I place some cameras around campus? On some deserted hallways, or out by that park where no one ever goes.”
Ry could only blink. After realizing that his best friend expected some kind of response, he coughed – a method of stalling he had learned in acting class – and scratched the back of his head. “Look, Naia, not that I don’t think it’s a grand idea, but—”
Naia raised her hand in an effort to quiet him. “Listen, my father, in another of his guilt-induced frenzies, sent me a check for $5,000. I can get a bunch of equipment with that money.”
“Didn’t he just send you $1,000 like two weeks ago?”
“In his latest Hallmark card he wrote to apologize for being so cheap with me.” She rolled her eyes. “I really think screwing around with all those teenagers has done some permanent damage to his brain. His blood must be incapable of traveling north of his you-know-what.” Pointedly, she jerked her head in the direction of one of Ry’s posters.
“Lovely.” Ry certainly didn’t need that imagery. Naia’s father, though not an unattractive man, was too much of a jerk to regard with anything but disgust. He was an adulterer, and potential pedophile – if Naia’s accusations were correct – who made himself feel better by lavishing his only daughter with money and expensive gifts. Ry wasn’t entirely certain where the man got all of that money from, since Naia was seldom forthcoming with the details, but it seemed like quite the healthy source, going by Naia’s possessions. “Well,” he started, recalling the point of their conversation, “do as you will.”
Naia nodded. “I shall.” She stood to leave. “Sorry I can’t stay to watch your Hamlet monologue, again, but Professor Brown assigned us to read half of Jane Eyre by tomorrow, and write a response paper.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m so glad I’m graduating this year. I’m so sick of all this crap.”
“Know the feeling,” Ry agreed.
Stopping at the doorway, Naia turned to add, “Careful where you scratch yourself from now on. My cameras will be watching.” With a fake evil laugh – that sounded to Ry’s ears as eerily authentic – she exited stage left.
Familiar footsteps alerted Jael to an approaching figure, and he opened his eyes to find Zora standing beside his lounge chair. He regarded her, as he had many times before, with the same cool, distant air with which one feigns indifference. The truth of the matter was that Jael found Zora to be a bit of an incomprehensible mystery, the likes of which appealed to him far more than the perfect way she had of fitting into a bikini. That fact did not, however, keep his gaze from traveling up the perfectly sculpted form before him.
“The new members have been chosen.”
Jael smiled up at her, blocking the South California sun with one hand. “Well, well, has it been seven years already? Funny how time flies.”
“I’m sorry,” Jael interjected, “would you mind moving to the side. I can’t see a thing.”
Zora moved over, casting a shadow over Jael’s face. “—white magick activity.”
“Oh?” Jael perked up at the news. “Of what sort?”
“A location spell, but there was nothing to indicate that it came from an Akashan, other than the fact that it was cast by someone who obviously knows what they’re doing.”
Jael closed his eyes. “Probably just someone playing with the Craft.”
“And if it isn’t?”
Jael took a second to decide, eyes still closed. “Send someone,” he said finally. “Just to investigate.”
“I can go myself.”
Jael stared up into the violet eyes of the woman he’d secretly loved for nearly half a decade. It had been his lesson, a costly one, but a lesson nonetheless: never trust a woman. “Go,” he said, wanting to trust her, deep down in that part of himself that he loathed for feeling things he wished he didn’t. “Report back immediately upon your return.”
“Yes, sir.” She started to walk away, her body moving in silk-smooth fashion across the edge of the pool.
“Zora,” he called, after allowing himself the visceral pleasure of staring at her lithe body. “Where is it you’re going?”
“East coast. To a town called Merfolk.”
Clutching a wrinkled copy of her class schedule, and a newly acquired campus map, Aeryn passed through the doors of Kinney Hall and headed through the maze of hallways until she found room 138. It was officially her first day of class, as she’d spent the previous day setting up protection spells around the campus, and attempting to figure out if the Seer posed any viable threat. Of course, that excuse wouldn’t fly well with the professor, she imagined, so the flu would have to do.
She pulled the door open and stepped inside the classroom, where the students already seated turned to look at her. The woman behind the desk, whom Aeryn presumed to be the professor, glanced up as well.
Aeryn almost smiled at the predictable alignment of desks, neatly assembled in rows, facing a blackboard covered in the hieroglyphics of some other teacher’s class; the evidence that life existed in that room before those in it had entered it. Beautiful, Aeryn thought. She had seen movies, had experienced this moment many times before, but never in the three-dimensional wonder of actual life.
“Are you in this class?” asked the woman.
Aeryn took a step toward the desk, feeling awkward and on the spot. She could feel the eyes of the other students following her every move, as if she were the lead in an ill-conceived version of her life. “Yes, I missed the first class.”
“Aeryn.” She then realized that a first name was not enough in the world outside Lare. She glanced quickly at the schedule in her hand, at the fake last name she’d been allotted by the Elders. “Larson. Aeryn Larson.”
“Right.” The woman leaned forward in her desk, chestnut-colored hair falling over her face as she searched through her briefcase. She pulled two sheets of paper out and handed them to Aeryn. “Here’s the syllabus and the first assignment. You can turn it in to my mailbox by 4 p.m. tomorrow.”
Aeryn stared down at the papers, wondering what a “syllabus” was. “Thank you.” She retreated to the nearest available desk and made a point to read the fine print.
Principles of Literature
Ellie Brown, Ph.D.
Required texts: Vineland by Thomas Pynchon; Jazz by Toni Morrison; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; World’s Fair by E.L. Doctorow; and The MLA Handbook. All books are available at the Merfolk College Bookstore.
Class 1 (M): Read pgs. 1-85 of Jane Eyre. First assignment due next class.
Class 2 (Th): Read pgs. 86-118 of Jane Eyre. First assignment due.
Aeryn scanned down the sheet. The Elders were crazy. How was she expected to attend college full-time and help protect the world? There were only so many hours in the day.
Azure was lost in the images behind her eyelids. She felt the phantom-cold hands of her father clutching at her neck, as he whispered, “I know what you are”, in patches of air and wind. There was never a voice; just thoughts implanting themselves in her subconscious like knowledge through osmosis. And she would say—no, think—Please, Daddy, no, until the pain became too deep to foster words.
She heard her mother, in a voice that was real, asking, “What were you thinking?” And the light from the hanging light bulb in the basement would catch the metal of the belt in her hands. There were no more words, then, at least none that Azure could ever remember. There were only the sounds of leather meeting skin, of skin breaking into red, and the muffled screams that died in her throat.
Azure awoke to a blurred and watery pattern of shadows on the ceiling. She wiped the tears with the palm of her hand and turned on her side. She stared at the wall, where the shadows danced in rhythm to the wind. Outside people were laughing, and the distinct smell of cigarette smoke wafted through the open window.
The seconds passed, ticking away through her empty thoughts, until her heartbeat slowed, and her breathing evened. The ritual was always the same; the nightmares were always the same. You can run, but you can’t hide, or so the saying went. Azure was used to it all. In some perverse way, she found solace in the consistency.
She lay there for interminable minutes, staring blankly at the play of hidden life upon the canvas of concrete. Eventually, she ventured a glance at the alarm clock on the other side of the bed. The blood-red numbers floated in a sea of black, forming symbols that somehow made sense: 9:42.
Go, Azure, she instructed herself. Get yourself out of here.
And so she did.
Aeryn sat in her dorm room, sprawled out on the bed, Jane Eyre open in front of her. The sound of voices drifted in from the hall like misplaced thoughts. She’d spent her afternoon watching people pass by the open door. Some would wander by, glance into her room, and offer a smile or half-nod by way of greeting; others, lost in the superiority of belonging, would offer nothing but the sound of their retreating laughter.
She was captivated by these moving pictures of time, brief snapshots of alien life framed by the open doorway. It reminded her vaguely of television, of the feeling of being a part of something fascinatingly different, of experiencing only through the act of observation.
Aeryn knew deep down that she didn’t belong there, that it made no difference if she read Jane Eyre or not; if she wrote a response paper to it. She understood truths far greater than this caricature of life, full of burdens and worries that in the end meant nothing. She felt the depths of these strangers’ suffering; saw through to the pain behind the laughter, to the questions behind the smiles.
She wished she could explain that their lives were not meaningless, that their souls would live out their own destinies, and then return home, bruised, yes, by the knowledge of their experiences, but so much wiser for having lived. It was unfortunate that no one would listen, and those who did would undoubtedly forget, would lose themselves again and again in the trivialities of everyday life.
Dejected, she returned to the words on the pages before her, and she read through a full sentence before she was interrupted.
“Hi!” The cheerful voice caught Aeryn’s attention in an instant, and she glanced up to see a girl she didn’t know leaning against the doorframe. She wore a pink tank top with a silver cat printed on it and a pair of faded jeans. Her hair was shoulder-length, blonde, and looked as if three hours had been spent perfecting every curl. “You know it’s Thursday night.”
Aeryn got the feeling that the statement was meant to elicit a specific response, but she couldn’t figure out what it was.
The girl looked around the room, taking in the bare walls with a look of utter confusion. “Freshman,” she guessed.
Aeryn felt momentarily self-conscious by the emptiness of the room. She wondered if her inability to hang posters made it obvious how little she understood of the world she now inhabited. “I haven’t started decorating.”
The girl’s expression changed and she stepped into the room, smiling. “Hey, you’ve got an accent. Where are you from?”
Aeryn had gotten used to that observation during her time in Merfolk. It made sense, since the nearest landmass outside Lare was Australia, that the speech patterns would be similar. “Australia,” she fibbed.
“Wow, I’ve never been there. What’s it like?”
Aeryn thought quickly. She’d never really been there. “Big.”
“Yeah.” The girl nodded as if Aeryn had revealed some well-kept secret about the place. “Cool. Listen, my boyfriend and some friends went outside for a smoke. We’re going to a party on frat row a little later. Wanna join?”
“Um.” Aeryn looked uncertainly at the copy of Jane Eyre. “I have a paper due tomorrow,” and the words slipped out so casually that she barely noticed how normal she sounded. “Maybe I can catch up with you later?”
“Great. Hopefully I’ll see you.” She glanced up at the door, which, thanks to the Resident Advisor, displayed “Aeryn” in black permanent marker, inside a cardboard cut-out of a thought bubble. “Aeryn, huh? Cool name. I’m Tina. If I don’t see you tonight, come say hi sometime. I’m in 214.”
“I will.” Aeryn waved as the girl disappeared out of sight. Alone again, she stared down at the cover of the book in her hands. What use was she with her nose buried in 19th century literature? Tossing the book aside, she headed to the closet to change.
The coffeehouse sported its name, “El Paraiso”, in white see-through lettering across one window. Inside, the atmosphere was candlelight dark and bodies moved like shadows across the ill-lit space.
Outside, the night was warm, humid; the air a combination of car exhaust and the loud streaming voices of strangers. Individual fields of experience drifting along like gusts of wind, lost in themselves and each other.
Azure stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jeans, unsure what else to do with them. She stared through the window at the people inside, longed to open the door and step inside, be welcomed by whatever waited there. But she lingered shyly, leaned her body against the cement wall next to the café, and watched the people pass by.
Her thoughts drifted along with the monotonous rhythm of the world outside; the glimpses of soon-forgotten faces and fragmented sentences caught mid-story. She thought of the girl with the light green eyes and silk-brown hair, thought back to the gentle voice, to the soothing, accented way she spoke and somehow, unexplainably, felt calm.
Even the vision, which now loitered in her memory like the fading footprints of a dream, felt almost alluring. She allowed herself, for an instant, the forbidden pleasure of its recollection: the smooth, soft body gliding against her own, lips trailing feverishly along her neck; the cool, sweat-soaked sheets against her back, and those eyes: beautiful green sparkling in the moonlight…
I know what you are. Her father’s voice spoke inside her mind, startling her. But it was only a memory, the imprint of a whisper burned into the fabric of time.
Blocks away from the dorms, office buildings, and lecture halls, along the sidewalks by the pizza joints and late-night eateries, Aeryn joined the throng of students in search of a good time. She’d spent twenty minutes in the company of Tina and her friends, in the dark, loud basement of a ratty old house, before insisting she had to leave; the smell of cigarette smoke and spilled beer becoming unbearable after only a short time. College life might take some getting used to.
In the meantime, Aeryn was enjoying her self-guided tour of Merfolk. She passed by the neon lights flashing the words “pizza” and “open”, the ice cream parlor with a line of people stretching out into the sidewalk, the sushi restaurant, tattoo parlor, arcade, comic book store; something for everyone.
Everyone, she thought, her gaze landing on the solitary figure a few steps away, but us. She remembered their last encounter vividly: the shyness, surprise, and palpable fear radiating out of the girl’s body. You don’t know what you are, Aeryn thought sadly. I wish… What? What did she wish; to help; to swoop in and turn the girl’s self-perceived curse into a blessing?
“Your powers are not all-encompassing,” Kalan’s voice echoed in her ear. “But friendship…” Yes, friendship. That, she could offer easily.
Brown eyes glanced up, focused on Aeryn, and widened in surprise. “Are you following me?”
Aeryn was surprised by Azure’s voice: soft and gentle, as if she feared disturbing the air with its sound, apologetic even when it tried to sound accusing. You are a world of contradiction. “I was just passing by,” she said, her own voice sounding far shyer than she was accustomed to. She stood awkwardly, unsure if approaching the girl had been the smartest idea. She stared down at a spot of gum on the sidewalk.
“It helps if you actually attempt conversation,” Kalan prompted.
Aeryn looked up to catch a strange look on Azure’s face. Her gaze was fixed slightly to the left of her. Aeryn turned to look at what Azure might be seeing, but aside from a group of people across the street and random cars driving by, she saw nothing out of the ordinary. Turning back, she said, “I’m sorry for showing up at your dorm like that,” and was pleased when Azure turned brown eyes on her.
“I’d like to know how you found me.”
Aeryn hesitated. How much did the Seer already know? How much was it worth it to conceal? She didn’t want to lie any more than she had already.
“You’re a terrible liar anyway.”
Again, the strange look from Azure, her gaze shifting once more, before turning quickly back to Aeryn’s. She looked panicked. “I have to go.”
“Aeryn, I think she can see me.”
What? Aeryn looked at Azure. “Is something wrong?”
“I really wish you’d leave me alone,” and the words were laced in pain so deep that Aeryn took a step back.
“Azure, we are not the enemy.” Kalan spoke as Azure began to walk away.
Azure heard it; she halted in her steps, and her shoulders tensed at the voice, but she didn’t turn around. With her arms crossed against her chest, she hurried up the street.
After a few moments, Kalan said, “If the Guardians find her…”
Aeryn nodded. I know. She has no idea how powerful she is.
“Neither do you.”
She could sense that Kalan had gone, and she frowned. What does that mean? Shaking her head, she continued on her way. I hate when he’s cryptic.
The hallway was empty when Zora passed through the doors of Dexter Hall. All the students were outside, it seemed, enjoying the warm weather. There was so much laughter carried through the air in puffs of smoke. Schoolbooks lay forgotten on the grass. Knowledge exchanged for the immediate pleasure of fun, the satisfaction of procrastination.
Zora walked slowly, taking in the off-white walls and once-blue carpet, now stained with age and the occasional dark spot: the contrast between someone’s good time and someone else’s misery. She trailed long fingers along the wall, encountering the occasional construction paper-covered bulletin board, layers of bright colors masking the imperfections beneath. She smiled humorlessly at the flyers and announcements. She always forgot how mundane the world really was, how utterly idiotic. These worthless souls trapped in their own reflections. So few left in the world wise enough to turn the mirror around, to live on the other side of truth.
She halted in front of room 128 and read, “Aeryn”, off the cardboard cutout of a thought bubble. She stared at the name for a long moment, a spark of recognition igniting her memory. And she felt the physical world slip away, replaced by the flash of something long forgotten. She remembered a voice – female, familiar – speaking in urgent whispers. Saw bleeding lips form the words: “Her name is Aeryn,” before succumbing to the darkness.
And then she, too, saw nothing.
Blinking wildly, Zora took a step backward, away from the door and the name that sparked such recollection. The memories were coming more frequently now, a fact that was as unsettling as it was reassuring.
Shaking away the memory, she stepped forward again. Certain that no one could see her and that there was no one inside, Zora placed her hand on the doorknob and whispered, “Aperi.” The door clicked open.
Inside, she found the expected arsenal of academic weapons: textbooks, notebooks, pens, all stored neatly on a wooden desk. The bed was made, and the clothes carefully put away. There was nothing to betray the identity of the spellcaster, no posters or pictures, no personal gadgets, nothing but a picture-perfect example of a college dormitory.
Too perfect, Zora thought, her curiosity piqued by the memory. Assignment or no assignment she intended to find this Aeryn. She circled the room several times, hoping she had missed something. Finding nothing, she kneeled down and placed her hand on the cream-colored tile. She could feel the remnants of the spell, particles of air still crackling from use.
“Retege,” and the air lit up in a brilliant spark. The images flickered past in rapid succession: a building, a number, a door. And then everything vanished.
Zora smiled. “Time for plan B.”
Azure could tell she was not alone without even bothering to turn the light on. She gasped in the entryway, grasped the doorknob tightly and debated on whether or not to leave. “Please go away,” she pleadingly whispered at the shadow by her desk.
She stepped inside the room, knowing that she shouldn’t; if she left, odds were that when she returned the shadow would be gone.
And the shadow that was not a shadow stepped away from the window. It moved slowly and deliberately toward the corner by her desk.
Azure shut her eyes, more angry than afraid. Too many years of voices and shadows had left her immune to anything but annoyance. And the room was dark but she did not wish to turn the light on. It was easier to disbelieve in the dark.
She’s coming, the shadow said without speaking. You must run.
And she instantly thought of the beautiful girl with haunting green eyes. This is all in my head, she remembered. Just in my head.
No time to doubt, said the voice that was not a voice, sounding much closer than before.
Azure hit the switch and fluorescent lighting flooded the room. When she opened her eyes, the shadow was gone. She breathed deeply, her lips trembling with the effort not to cry. She walked cautiously toward her bed; afraid that whatever had been there would reappear. On her pillow she found a notebook she had not left there. As she got closer she realized something was written on the page. In large, strange handwriting, the word: RUN.
And Azure ran.
Aeryn felt her entire body tense. She could feel her skin prickling, the hairs on her arms standing on end. Is this what it feels like? She looked around, knowing that she was still too far away to make it to her room in time. A spell had been cast; a dark spell.
Azure, she thought in a panic. Into the air, she whispered a protection spell, “Robores benignitatis, robores luminis, praemonete vatem sui praedicamenti.” She ran as she cast, praying that she was not too late. She could not have failed so miserably in only a few days. How had they found her so quickly?
The grass in Merfolk was checkered, dry patches mixing with green. Under the blue mist of the light posts everything looked dull. She could hear the crunching of rocks and dirt as she ran, the occasional softness of actual grass. She could hear her heart beating furiously in her chest, its pace due to everything but exertion. Urgency was not something she was used to. Neither was fear.
She reached the path to Azure’s hall. Around her, life continued undisturbed and she felt a pang of envy at their ignorance. But it passed quickly. At the door, a guy blocked the way and offered her a drag of his cigarette. When she declined, he took it for himself.
“Why you runnin’?” he asked, the smoke swirling out of his mouth like a soul leaving the body. “Chill out, it’s Thursday.”
The others–nameless voices–agreed in chorus. And Aeryn stepped away. “Can you swipe me in?”
“What dorm you from?” he asked instead of answering.
“Dexter,” she replied, trying to sound calm. “Just visiting a friend.”
“Cool,” he answered, drawing from his back pocket the pass card. “What’s their name?”
Aeryn hesitated. “Azure,” she replied.
Someone else, someone behind her said, “That weird girl? She ran out of here like five minutes ago. You friends with her?”
But Aeryn didn’t hear the question. She turned to the source of the voice, a girl. “Which way did she go?”
“Shit if I know.” And the girl shrugged as she said it, dismissing the question and turning her attention to a book.
Aeryn stood there, pondering her options, unsure whether to feel relieved that Azure had left, or panicked. A location spell would take too long. And then her thoughts stopped, save for one fragment: The location spell. That’s how they tracked me. And if they’d cast a spell to rebuild it … Aeryn turned sharply, regarding the guy by the door with a smile. “Can you still swipe me in? I’ll just leave her a note on her door.”
He obliged, sliding the card through the slot. He made a show of opening the door for her as if she were a lady, and he a gentleman, and they caught in a bizarre rendition of Victorian times.
Aeryn passed through without a word. She was in no mood for humor. She headed for the stairs, to Azure’s room on the second floor, and found the door unlocked. Inside, she stood and waited. For what, she didn’t know. And as the minutes passed she grew progressively more worried that instead of coming there, the perpetrator would have found Azure after all. The thought made her ill.
As she waited, she found the notebook on the bed with the word, “RUN,” printed awkwardly upon its surface. She frowned. Who could have left this? She thought of her protection spell, but shook her head. Certainly her spell could not have manifested itself so strangely. But if not hers, then whose?
The knock at the door came soon after, and Aeryn dropped the notebook on the bed. She felt a wave of relief at the sound. “Who is it?” she called.
There was a slight moment of silence, and then, “Sorry to bother you. I live down the hall.”
The voice surprised Aeryn, but only insofar as it sounded too sincere to be the intruder. But that meant nothing. She thought quickly. “I just got out of the shower,” she replied. “I can come by your room when I’m dressed.” If it really were a neighbor, then surely they’d agree.
“I can wait.”
Strike one. “One moment.” Aeryn looked around the room. In the closet, she found a case of bottled water. She poured the contents of one over her head, careful not to drip too much on the floor. She grabbed a towel and dabbed at her hair as she opened the door. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said to the person standing there.
The woman gazed at her evenly. And they stood there, both studying each other silently. Aeryn guessed that she was around twenty-seven or twenty-eight. She was beautiful, gorgeous really. Her eyes looked almost violet, her hair long and dark. She was taller than Aeryn, her body slim but muscular. If circumstances had been different, Aeryn might have looked at her in a different way. But as it happened, the moment was tainted with a different sort of tension. “May I come in?” asked the woman.
Aeryn stepped aside and allowed her in. The woman’s aura revealed nothing out of the ordinary. If she were a threat, she was an expert at concealing it. Aeryn kept her guard up, and her emotions in check. Who knew what kind of powers this stranger possessed. She had to pass for Azure, for someone innocent and uninvolved. “Can I get you anything? I think I have soda. Did you just move in?”
As soon as she closed the door, she felt the switch in the air. She could sense, almost see, the darkness dripping from the woman’s fingertips. Strike two. Aeryn smiled, keeping the charade in place. “I hadn’t seen you here before.”
The woman said nothing, but Aeryn could see the debate in her head. She waited patiently for the truth, or for a lie, or for whatever came next. She could only hope that Azure didn’t think to return to her room yet. She couldn’t warn her without invading her thoughts, and she couldn’t invade her thoughts without permission.
“I’m a friend of Aeryn’s,” the woman said finally.
“She said you knew her?”
Strike three. Aeryn was about to answer, but the doorknob started to turn.
Azure ran until she realized that she had no one to run to and nowhere to go. She got as far as the Student Center, felt lost among the swarm of students, and finally turned back.
She’s coming. The voice rang clear in her mind, so clear that Azure wasn’t sure it was a memory. She shivered despite the warmness of the air. She crossed her arms against her chest, but kept walking. Why should she fear a girl? After all she had gone through, and all she had seen, there was nothing left to be afraid of.
But she remembered the girl speaking to the ghost beside her, and felt unsure. She remembered the shadows warning her. Run. She’s coming. But who was she? It would haunt her, she knew, not to know. And she felt haunted enough already.
When she reached the dorm, there were a few people sitting at the steps by the door. The girl from the hallway—Dawn, was it—glanced up from a conversation with some guy Azure didn’t recognize. “Your friend’s upstairs.”
Azure paused, feeling afraid and wishing not to. “What friend?”
“Some girl. Said she was leaving you a note on the door. Must be a long note. She’s been up there a while. Maybe she decided to wait.”
Azure swallowed, but walked up the steps and into the building. When she reached her door, she paused. Come on, it’s not the first time you open this door to find something at the other side. At least this time you know what it is. She closed her eyes briefly, and then turned the handle. She gasped when she saw what awaited her. Her gaze fell on Aeryn, then to the strange woman by her bed. “Wha…” And then she did want to run.
“Baby!” and Aeryn was standing in front of her. Her mouth was speaking words that made no sense: “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon. Was Wendy’s closed already?” But her eyes, her eyes were saying something different, and Azure had no idea what.
And then Aeryn was kissing her. But Azure had no time to register that fact, had no time to process that instead of a vision, she was hearing Aeryn’s voice in her mind. I’m sorry for doing this, but I had to act quickly. This woman is after me, not you, but if she knows of your visions she’ll be after you, too. Follow my lead. You’re Azure and my name is Claire. You can tell her that you don’t know Aeryn very well. That she bumped into you, that she found you somehow and came to apologize, and that you haven’t seen her since. I know you have no reason to, but please trust me. I can protect you, but I’d rather not make a scene here.
As Aeryn’s voice faded, Azure grew progressively aware of Aeryn’s lips on hers. Oh God. Oh God. And she couldn’t figure out if she was praying for forgiveness or lost in the sensations. She broke the kiss, but not harshly. She tried not to think of the lingering feeling of softness on her lips. She looked into pleading green eyes and felt her heart tear in a thousand directions. Then, “It wasn’t closed, but I realized I’d forgotten my wallet.” She arched a brow at the woman and found her looking at the floor. “Who’s this?” and she’d added a hint of jealousy to her voice.
Aeryn turned to look at the woman, and Azure could sense her relief. “She just moved in down the hall. She’s a friend of Aeryn’s? I figured she meant to be talking to you.”
“Aeryn?” and here Azure frowned.
The woman cleared her throat. “Aeryn said she knew you.”
“Knew me? That’s odd. I mean, yeah, I know who she is, but I’ve only seen her twice. She nearly trampled me in the sidewalk.” As proof, Azure lifted her arm and showed the cut. “And then she just showed up randomly at my door to apologize. That’s the last I’ve seen of her.” She paused. “Wait, no. That’s a lie. I saw her earlier today. She was walking in town.” She turned to Aeryn. “Remember, babe, I pointed her out to you.”
Aeryn looked surprised. “That’s her? The chick with the weird fro? And that thing on her lip?” She made a face, then winked. “I would’ve thought her cuter from the way you talked about her.”
Azure was completely thrown by that. She chose to ignore it, but then realized she couldn’t. “Sorry, Claire’s a bit insensitive sometimes. Hope you’re not too offended? She must have forgotten you’re her friend.”
Aeryn pretended to be embarrassed.
“Not in the least. I’m sorry to have bothered you. How long ago would you say you saw her?”
“An hour, maybe two,” Aeryn said.
“About that,” Azure agreed.
“See you girls around, then.” And then she was gone.
Azure waited until the door had closed. “Don’t you ever kiss me again,” she demanded, her voice trembling too hard to sound anything but frightened.
“I’m sorry,” Aeryn replied. “There was no other way.”
Azure stepped away, wishing … God, I’m so lost I don’t even know what to wish for. “Please just tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m afraid you wouldn’t believe me, if I did.” Aeryn spoke softly, regretfully.
Azure nearly laughed at the words. “Trust me when I say there are very few things I wouldn’t believe.” She caught Aeryn’s gaze. “Tell me.” And then, “Please.”
Aeryn sighed and looked away. “I never meant to drag you into this. I hope you know that.”
“I’m not sure I know anything right now.” But there was something in Aeryn’s voice that made Azure want to trust her.
Aeryn glanced up. “Though I didn’t mean to drag you into this, I am starting to see that it wasn’t an accident that we met.” She sighed. “I know that you see things when people touch you. I know that you see things even when people don’t. But that power that you shy away from, it’s a gift.”
Azure’s anger swelled at the words, it rose from the well where she kept all her negative emotions buried and burst out. “My curse is not a gift. You know nothing of what I’ve been through, of what I’ve endured because of this … this …” she breathed, started again, “You know nothing of what I’ve been through.”
Aeryn smiled sadly. “You’re right. Still, I know more than you think. What you wish to know, I cannot tell you. I can, however—“ and here she extended her hand, “show you.”
Azure stared at the professed hand. She had never voluntarily touched anyone. Anyone. And here was this stranger inviting her to take her hand. Here was the person she’d been running from not twenty minutes prior, inviting her to trust her.
“Blue pill? Or red?” And Aeryn laughed.
Azure didn’t get the joke – if it was one.
When Aeryn realized that, she laughed again and said, “And I thought I was sheltered.”
Azure stared at the hand. She was tired of being sheltered. She took it.
And the world as she knew it disappeared.
When Azure opened her eyes – or perhaps they had been open all along, but only now could see – she was standing by a lake. She grew conscious of the crystal clear water only inches from her feet, grew aware of the trees surrounding her, of the rhythm of the waterfall, the chirping of birds. She blinked, looked frantically all around her. I must be dreaming… But she had never dreamed of anything so beautiful.
“Do you like it?” a voice asked softly.
Azure turned to find Aeryn watching her. “I…” and she didn’t know how to finish the sentence.
“No one else really knows about this place, or at least, no one else comes here.” Aeryn’s voice was thoughtful, distracted. She was looking at the water as she spoke. “But then, not that many people grew up here.”
Azure waited. She didn’t know why, but she was hesitant to interrupt the moment. “Where are we?” she asked finally, worried that Aeryn would be annoyed by the interruption; unsure why she cared, considering that only moments before she had been filled with anger. Had it been only moments before? Everything seemed so long ago. Everything seemed so different.
“That is a tricky question.” Aeryn took a step forward, coming to stand beside Azure. “This is merely a projection. Our bodies are where we left them, but our consciousness is here.”
Azure looked again at the water, not really understanding. She was now certain that this was a dream. But she wasn’t afraid, as she usually was in her dreams. There was no darkness and no pain: only a vast and ever-present sense of peace.
“The world, the universe,” Aeryn continued, her tone serious but kind, “is connected by a series of dimensions. Every second there are bodies traveling from one to the other. There are portals, doors, everywhere; very few people are aware of them, and even fewer can see them.” She smiled at Azure then. “You’re one of them, Azure. That’s what makes yours such a rare and special gift.”
Azure didn’t say anything. And when she blinked, the world had changed again, the peaceful scenery replaced by a much busier one. She was in a city, a bustling city filled with buildings of all shapes and sizes and people walking briskly throughout. The streets, or what Azure took to be streets, were paved in marble. There were no cars or any signs of motorized transportation.
And the people—crazy people, by the looks of it—walked with giant books opened before them. They read aloud as they walked, they mumbled to themselves, they stopped to think and then kept walking. A woman standing by a fountain appeared deep in conversation with a bird. A man played the violin without a violin to play; but he seemed lost to the music all the same, his hands stroking the air at nothing.
As if reading her mind, Aeryn said, “I’m sure people would’ve thought you were crazy, too, if they saw you talking to yourself.”
And Azure thought of the many times her mother had asked, “Who are you talking to,” before dragging her down the cement steps to the cellar below.
She shuddered, shook herself out of the memory, finding it odd that she should have memories in a dream. But then, the rest of this dream was odd enough already.
Aeryn had taken her hand, and Azure looked down in alarm at the gesture. She expected something to happen, a vision, a premonition … something. But all she felt was the warmth of Aeryn’s fingers interlocking with her own.
“You’re safe here,” Aeryn whispered.
Azure didn’t answer, but started walking when Aeryn did. They passed by the crowds of people, none of whom seemed to notice them. “This is a dream, isn’t it?”
“The truth can seem like a dream,” Aeryn replied, and led her through the streets and into a building.
Inside, the ceilings were high and majestic, like a castle or a palace. Azure imagined that a Queen and King must live there, for whom else could inhabit such a place?
But Aeryn said, “This is the library.”
And at once, Azure noted that the walls were not walls at all, but bookcases filled with books. People would float through the air to reach the ones at the top, and sometimes hover in mid-air as they flipped through the volumes.
Azure stared all around as they walked. She took in the beautiful desks, the floors so shiny that they looked like mirrors.
“Every book that has ever been written is here,” Aeryn told her, and her voice carried a hint of pride. “We have books on everything imaginable. There are millions of collections. There is one collection, however, far more special than the rest. But only the members of the Order may access it.”
Azure glanced up. “The Order?”
Aeryn sighed. She stopped walking and let go of Azure’s hand. “You asked me who I am, and I told you that I could only show you.” She looked around. “This is what I am.”
Aeryn smiled. “This library. This island. These people. That is all I have ever known.”
Azure pretended to understand, but she didn’t, and knew that it didn’t matter. Soon she would wake up. “What does any of this have to do with me?”
“I suppose that’s up to you,” Aeryn replied. “And if not you, well, her.” And she pointed upward. “You’re a Seer and I’m a Mage. I don’t think it was a coincidence that we met. Did you feel it? That day when I bumped into you, the air changed. I didn’t understand it at first but now …”
And Azure did remember. She remembered the feeling, though she still couldn’t place what it was. It had felt as if she were close to something, as if something were coming together.
“The night I showed up at your room, I needed to make sure that you weren’t working for them.”
“The Guardians,” Aeryn replied. “Whatever you fear, whatever negative emotion ever fills you … it’s because of them. They have saturated the world with their anger, with their hatred and revenge. They are your demons, your shadows, your fears. My job—the Order’s job—is to stop them.”
Azure thought about it but none of it sank in. A dream… “That woman…”
“She’s one of them.”
And there was no sense in lying. “No. I think I’d like to wake up now.”
Aeryn looked disappointed. She nodded. “Just close your eyes.”
Azure complied, and soon, the warm fingers were around hers again. And she realized she had missed them.
When Azure opened her eyes she was back in her room, with Aeryn standing before her. She stared at their locked hands and felt a sense of panic so severe she thought she would black out.
It was Aeryn who pulled her hands away first. “I’m sorry if that made things worse,” she whispered, looking lost. “I’m new at this.”
At what? Azure wanted to ask her, but she was scared to. She was scared to ask any more questions; the answers were too disturbing to conceive.
“I wish you weren’t so afraid of me.” Aeryn’s voice held a hint of regret. “Is there anything I can do to prove I would never hurt you?”
Azure tried not to think of the vision, tried to push away the images now lingering at the forefront of her thoughts. But it was harder now that she knew what Aeryn’s lips tasted like. She could almost feel them trailing down her neck. She could feel Aeryn’s fingers on her body. “Oh God,” she found herself saying.
Aeryn was staring at her with concern. “What’s wrong?”
Everything. She needed to stop thinking of this. Her body was trembling and she couldn’t make it stop. She tried to focus on something else, “Why did that woman come here?” she asked, though she almost didn’t care. She wanted Aeryn to disappear and never return again. She was starting to realize that that would never happen. That she would see Aeryn again. And again … until … Stop!! And she forced herself to breath, to concentrate.
Aeryn started to speak. “I had cast a spell to locate you, and in my haste to find out who you were, I failed to conceal it. She traced it back to my room where she must have recast it. It brought her here to you.” She looked down. “This shouldn’t have happened. When I report back to the Elders I may be removed from my post.”
“Your post?” Azure was growing frustrated by her inability to comprehend. And for the moment, she chose to ignore the mention of spells. “You claim to have shown me something, but I still don’t understand.”
“My post here in Merfolk. Think of me as a mystical bodyguard,” Aeryn replied. “I think …” she hesitated. “I think I was sent here specifically to protect you.”
Azure blinked. “Protect me?”
“You’re very special.”
“I’m cursed, and I’m evil. And I am fairly certain that you are, too.”
Aeryn frowned. Then she shook her head, almost smiling. “The wicked are not born with gifts. They simply learn to steal them.” She gazed softly into Azure’s eyes. “You may not think that I know you at all, but I can tell so much by simply looking at you. Your sadness and your loneliness flow out of you in waves. But there is nothing that is dark about you. You take such care not to hurt me or yell at me, even when you’re so frightened of me you can barely stand. That amazes me. It makes me desperate to prove to you that I would never do anything to hurt you, even if I could.”
Azure looked away, wanting desperately to cry, but not daring to. How could this girl possibly protect her? And from what? And how could she explain that the reason she was trembling was not because she feared pain or hurt… but rather, getting swept up in a pleasure too forbidden to express. “Do you,” and this she desperately wanted to know, “kiss girls often?”
Aeryn blinked at the question. She cocked her head to the side and glanced at Azure with a hint of amusement. “Why? Did I not do it properly?”
Azure didn’t smile, though she was certain she was blushing. “I meant, is that … are you …” she didn’t know how to phrase the question.
“We don’t discriminate between genders in Lare,” Aeryn replied. “Where I’m from,” she added, to clarify. She looked at the floor, at the cream-colored tile, and said, “But no. I’d only kissed guys. And really, only one.”
Azure wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. She sighed, looking around the room. She didn’t know what to make of anything anymore. And she was suddenly too tired to bother. Why should it seem unbelievable to see people flying in a library, when she had spent her childhood, her life, watching people pass through walls? She had told Aeryn that there were few things she wouldn’t believe; it was true. Despite the many years she had spent suppressing every vision, denying every apparition … she knew, knew, deep down, that they were real. However, that didn’t mean that she didn’t still feel that all of it was wrong.
“I promise I won’t kiss you again,” Aeryn said after a moment. “If that’s what’s bothering you.”
The promise lingered in her mind. Azure instantly wondered what it meant for Aeryn to have made that promise, in light of the vision to the contrary. She wondered if that changed anything, or if it simply meant that Aeryn wouldn’t stick to her word.
“It’s important that you trust me, Azure. I have no way of knowing what the Guardians have found out. I don’t know if they know that you’re a Seer—“ and there was that word again “—or if they have a way of finding out. All I know is that they’ve been here, that they know that we exist. You have to promise to let me protect you, if it comes to that. You have to trust me to keep you safe.”
Safe? Azure didn’t know the meaning of that word, not from personal experience, at least. “I wish I could,” she answered. “But I don’t think there’s much you can do to protect me from anything.”
Aeryn smiled, then. “You have nothing to lose.”
Azure wasn’t sure that was true.
Zora stared outside the airplane window, watching the clouds swim by. She had been thinking non-stop since she’d left the dorm room and the two girls the previous night. They had been lying, she knew. And still, she hadn’t had the urge to make them tell the truth. Why? The question bugged her.
She had almost turned around after she’d walked away. She had almost wanted to believe them; but she couldn’t. She could tell, just by looking at them, that something was amiss. They didn’t kiss like lovers; they barely stood together like friends. No, they had recently met. But why, then, should they protect each other?
Her memories hadn’t stirred at all during the encounter. The only piece of the puzzle she could fit, for now, was the memory of the woman and the whisper of the name.
Aeryn, she recalled. Her name is Aeryn, the inflection on the is. Zora frowned at that. Is Aeryn. Is. As if someone had argued to the contrary.
Zora sat back on the chair, trying to ignore the slight feeling of claustrophobia that airplanes always brought her. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on her thoughts. What, for instance, should she tell Jael upon returning? The truth? A lie? She didn’t know yet.
One thing was for sure, however: she would not tell him of her memories. Over the years she had gotten the distinct impression that he didn’t wish for her to remember. And she wanted to know why.
She listened to the sound of the woman’s voice in her head.
Opening her eyes, she gazed outside again, and wondered, for the millionth time in what felt like as many years, Who was I?
The clouds rolled by, not knowing.
Aeryn took a deep breath and stood before the Elders. She swallowed nervously and tried not to fidget. They had summoned her, as expected, in the middle of the night. There was little she could do or say to defend herself; the Elders knew all. There were no excuses for putting another person’s life in danger. None.
Larken addressed her first. “You know why you are here.”
Aeryn hung her head and nodded. “Yes.”
“You’ve led the Guardians right to your doorstep,” said Faedyn. She shook her head. “I’ve never seen such carelessness. Really, Aeryn, we expected much better from you.”
Aeryn swallowed again. Please, Goddess, don’t let them kick me out. I know you didn’t choose me so that I could prove a failure after only a week.
“Have you nothing to say for yourself?” Telwen asked.
Aeryn glanced up. “It was a mistake.”
“A mistake!” cried Faedyn. “We wish it were that simple!”
“You brought her to Lare,” Larken said. “Why did you do that?”
“She’s a Seer,” Aeryn replied. “A very powerful one. And I …” her voice trailed off, then picked up again, “I just wanted her to understand.”
“A Seer?” Faedyn laughed. “Impossible.”
Larken asked, “Why do you think her a Seer?”
“She saw Kalen. She sees things. She-“
“All the Seers are accounted for,” Faedyn interrupted, rather sternly. “There are already two. There can only be two.”
Aeryn looked at Larken. The High Priestess was gazing at her curiously. “She is a Seer,” Aeryn insisted. “And if she isn’t, then she is something else. But she knows things.”
“Psychic, perhaps,” Ellowyn said, speaking for the first time. “A girl with psychic powers is rather ordinary. A Seer…”
Aeryn sighed. “Whatever she is, she must be protected from the Guardians.”
“Well!” cried Faedyn. “Then what exactly have you been doing?”
Aeryn clenched her jaw, feeling ashamed.
Larken held up her hand, and the Elders, who now murmured amongst themselves, quieted. “Seers are chosen at birth, Aeryn, and they are raised to be so. Their powers are too great to be allowed to co-exist in great numbers. Two is the limit. This …”
“Azure,” Aeryn supplied, rather quietly.
“Azure,” Larken repeated, “might harbor psychic powers. Those are common. She might be a great help to you in your mission. But a Seer, she cannot be.”
Aeryn nodded, not knowing what else to do.
“You’ve made a grave mistake,” continued Larken, “in failing to conceal your spell. We expect that from now on you will be more attentive. We cannot know what the Guardians will do with whatever information they have acquired. So, in the meantime, we must wait. You’ll change rooms at once.” She glanced down at a sheet of paper. “Bickford Hall, room 218.”
Aeryn arched a brow. That was Azure’s building.
“Now that you’ve put her in peril, there is not other choice but to keep watch of her. And if she does have psychic powers, as you say, then she might be of help to you.” Larken stared at her evenly. “The strange thing, Aeryn, is that we cannot detect her power.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She doesn’t appear to have any powers at all. We checked her completely.”
Aeryn frowned. What could that mean? “Just for future reference, how would I be able to tell if someone is a Seer?”
The Elders erupted in laughter.
Larken remained serious. “There would be a mark.”
“What kind of mark?”
“The mark of the Goddess.”
“Somewhere…intimate.” Larken smiled.
And Aeryn blushed. “I see.” She swallowed. “So … then … how do you know who the two are?”
The laughter abated.
“Let’s just say, they are among us,” Larken replied. “And leave it at that.”
When Azure opened her eyes, it was dawn. She blinked in surprise and glanced at the alarm clock: 6:04. It had been two the last time she’d looked at it. She didn’t remember falling asleep.
Slowly, the night’s events seeped through her sleepy consciousness and exploded in her mind. How much of it was true and how much had been a dream, she couldn’t decipher. She did, however, recall asking Aeryn to stay. She had feared, in spite of everything, that the girl was in danger. And so, she had placed blankets on the floor along with an extra pillow. She had ignored Aeryn’s protests and looks of confusion. But, Aeryn had finally agreed, saying, “It’s probably best that I’m here if that woman returns.”
Azure hadn’t replied. She had crawled into her own bed and turned off the light. But then, after she was certain that Aeryn was asleep, she’d turned on her side and stared at the slumbering figure. How could someone so small think themselves a protector? The girl couldn’t be more than 5’3”, weighed barely over 100 pounds, if that. She was hardly muscular, as far as female wrestlers went. And still, she had insisted, to the point of almost begging, that she be allowed to protect her. It would’ve been comical, if not for everything else.
It was the everything else that Azure didn’t want to think about.
The clock read 6:06, now, and she thought to glance down and see if Aeryn was awake. What she found, instead, were the blankets and the pillow neatly placed upon the desk.
Azure frowned, but not deeply. A part of her was relieved. The other parts were still too dazed to give it all much thought.
She turned so that her back was to the room. She stared at the bare wall beside her bed and tried to think of nothing. Sleep came easier than she expected. She left consciousness far behind again, slipping away into a place where, for once, the nightmares didn’t haunt her.
At some point, minutes later, or perhaps hours later, she turned around, searching for a more comfortable position. And as she did so, her eyes opened for a brief second; long enough to notice something strange: the wound on her arm had healed.
That’s weird, she thought, or started to think, but then the dreams pulled her back in.
“What do you think of these jeans?” asked Ry, gazing at his reflection. He turned to face Naia. “First impression.”
Naia looked at him thoughtfully. “Nice butt,” she answered.
Pleased, Ry turned once again to his reflection. “Yeah? Guess I’ll wear these tonight, then.”
“Boys night at Cupid.” He looked at Naia in the mirror. “Want to come?”
“As much as I would love to watch some hot gay man point his arrow in your direction, I have some things to take care of.” She fussed with her dreads for a minute, and then gave up. “Installing cameras in a University campus is hard work.”
“Never mind that it’s illegal.”
Naia shrugged. “Journalists live by different rules.”
“So do sociopaths and murderers,” Ry pointed out. “Doesn’t make their actions any less wrong.”
“You’re not being supportive.”
“I draw the line at invasion of privacy.”
“Yeah? Well those jeans make your hips look fat.”
Ry frowned. “Seriously?”
Naia stood, feeling frustrated, and somewhat angry. “It’s not like I’m putting cameras in people’s rooms. Just in the hallways. I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy. I just want to see what goes on when no one is around. I could care less about people picking their noses when they think no one’s looking. I care about the ghosts. I care about the shadows and the orbs. There has to be something lurking behind all of this normality.”
He let out a sigh and turned, pants and fat hips forgotten for the moment. “So, is your supernatural surveillance all set up?”
“Sort of. I am still trying to work out the kinks.”
“And are there many of those?”
“A few,” Naia admitted. “I can’t get any actual picture yet. But that’s just a technicality.”
“Of course,” Ry agreed, turning back to the mirror. “And I suppose that’s what you’ll be ‘taking care of’ later?”
Naia nodded. “Indeed.” She smiled. “Ry, when I get these cameras working, the possibilities are endless. It will be like unlocking the door to the unknown.” She sounded almost giddy with excitement.
“Yes, yes it will.” Ry frowned, distracted by other thoughts. “Now please be honest: do these jeans really make my hips look fat?”
But Naia wasn’t listening. She was lost to the dreams inside her head, to the ghosts and the fairies and werewolves that lurked in the shadows of darkened hallways. “This could be it,” she said nodding. “I’ll find them. And when I do, the Weekly Bizarre will be the hottest newspaper in the world.” She smiled, satisfied with her brilliance, and drunk in her hopes.
“You get creepier and crazier by the minute, I hope you know that.”
Naia simply smiled.
Continued in Episode 2