Episode 3: “Visions”
Episode 3: “Visions”
Written and created by Ingrid Díaz
Life and the Afterlife
If I could live my life differently, the quiet would far exceed the noise. I would close my eyes against the darkness and surrender to the beauty of peace. I would not hear whispers against my ear. I would not question my sanity. I would let people get close to me. I would let people touch me. I would not be the empty shell I fear I have become.
Life and the Afterlife
There was a time, not very long ago, when all I wanted was to know my mother’s name. I would lay awake at night and wonder what she was like. I’d wonder what her last thoughts were before she died. I thought that if I prepared myself, that if I became the strongest version of myself possible, that I might one day face the ones who hurt her and exact revenge.
Now, years later, I’m not sure what it is I want.
I was sure, for a very long time that I wouldn’t live to see my eighteenth birthday, so I haven’t given much thought to what I want the rest of my life to be like. I think I am beyond repair. I think there are some scars that stay forever. The ones that disappear, well, even those have the power to forever change your life.
If you look closely enough, you can see that everyone is lost. How can you imagine the future of a life you feel is constantly spiraling out of your control? You make decisions every day and all that you can do is hope is that you don’t regret your choices. In the end, that’s what it all boils down to: choices. If we could all go back and choose differently, what would we change?
After a few days of careful observation, Azure had finally figured out the perfect bathroom schedule. By her calculations, the rush started around 8:30am. After that point, it was nearly impossible to find an available spot at the sinks, an open shower, and worst of all, a way to get by without accidentally brushing against someone. There was no other way to ensure utmost peace and privacy: she would have to wake up earlier than everybody else, much, much earlier.
When Azure pushed open the bathroom door at six in the morning, silence rewarded her. She stood in the doorway for several seconds, making sure she was indeed alone, before stepping inside. She breathed a sigh of relief at the stillness.
She placed her shower caddy at the edge of the closest sink and faced her reflection. The fluorescent lighting did nothing to flatter Azure’s appearance, its dull, unforgiving light shining down in blue-tinted rays. She took in the puffy brown eyes, the disheveled black hair rising awkwardly on one side of her head, and sighed.
“I’m such a mess,” she whispered, lowering her gaze to stare idly at the white tiles behind the sink. She half expected someone or something to answer her, but her comment was met with silence.
She cast nervous glances at the reflection behind her, while brushing her teeth. She wasn’t alone, this she knew, and she couldn’t decide what was worse: seeing who was there, or being left to wonder. She rinsed her mouth and with a last glance at the seemingly empty bathroom, headed for the showers.
She turned on the spray and waited outside of the shower stall while the water warmed up. The showers were a nightmare, the temperature turning from freezing cold to scalding hot without any warning. After some trial and error, Azure had figured out which of the stalls maintained the most stable water temperatures, but even that didn’t guarantee anything.
The water having turned a pleasant enough temperature, Azure began to take off her bathrobe. She heard the divider curtain between the bathroom and showers area slide open, but it was too late. The robe was halfway to the hook outside the stall.
Azure quickly covered herself back up with the bathrobe, blushing furiously as she turned to see Aeryn standing a few feet away. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. She couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating than this moment.
“I decided to shower at an ungodly hour in the off chance that I might catch you naked.” Aeryn grinned and surveyed the row of shower stalls. “You took the best one. I suppose you don’t want to share?”
Azure swallowed, her brain was having technical difficulties, and she wasn’t sure she was even breathing.
“I’m kidding, Azure, relax,” Aeryn chuckled, and placed the objects she carried on the floor.
Azure glanced down at the shampoo and conditioner bottles, thinking it a safer place to land her gaze. Before long, however, she found herself looking back up. Aeryn was in the process of turning on the shower, and Azure knew this was the perfect opportunity to jump under the spray unseen. Still, she remained rooted in place. What am I doing? What am I doing?
Aeryn caught her staring. “Something wrong?”
If possible, Azure blushed more. “No. The water’s just cold, still,” she lied.
“Ah.” Aeryn smiled at her, and then without any warning whatsoever, removed her bathrobe, and slipped into the stall.
Azure blinked, staring at the space that Aeryn had just occupied. Her brain officially short-circuited, and she swallowed again. She tried to push away the vision of them, the one that snuck up on her at the most inopportune moments. She fought against the memory of Aeryn’s mouth on hers. She breathed, shut her eyes against the images of Aeryn on top of her.
“You know, it helps if you actually get in the stall,” Aeryn teased, her voice sounding strange against the noise of running water.
Azure opened her eyes, and leaving behind memories of soft breasts against her skin, placed the robe on the hook. As she pulled open the curtain to her shower stall, she prayed the water was cold.
Like any true journalist in the quest for truth, Naia Dalton was well versed in the ways of stalking. Following living people, Naia was finding out, was far easier than following dead ones. She’d had no trouble spotting the black-haired girl as she’d exited the dorms, and no trouble at all following her into the dining hall. College life, Naia was also finding out, provided the perfect setting for a mission such as hers.
When the girl sat down at an empty table, Naia followed. She chose her seat carefully, taking one that was close enough for conversation, but also far enough that it didn’t break any pesky personal space laws. The last thing Naia wanted was to be thought weird. There was, after all, a very thin line between passion and obsession, and between madness and everything else. It was important to maintain a balancing act between all aspects of human nature. Seeming normal was, of course, the key to successful integration. Just like the aliens, Naia thought, idly spearing a leaf of lettuce.
She cast subtle glances at her subject, memorizing the facts: black hair, brown eyes, dresses like she’s on her way to church, cute in an unmarred, virginal sort of way. Naia focused on the gold cross around the girl’s neck for a second. Interesting. She chewed on a tomato while she pondered her next move.
As it turned out, her next move came in the form of doing nothing. The arrival of a third party added a new dimension to the situation. Cue the co-star. Naia took out a notebook, a pen, and a textbook. Under the guise of multi-tasking, she eavesdropped on the unfolding action a couple of seats away.
The new girl sported long cargo shorts and a tight green and yellow shirt with faded print. The silver pentagram hanging from the girl’s neck caught Naia’s attention a moment longer than it should have. She quickly looked back down at the sea of letters on her book, nearly smirking as familiar lyrics rose from her subconscious: So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table…
“Mind if I join you?” Naia heard girl number two ask. And before the other girl answered, she added, “Yes? Well, I’m joining you anyway. I’m sorry about walking in on you this morning. Well, I’m not really sorry, in the regretful wish-I-hadn’t-seen-what-I-saw way. More like, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you, although, I saw nothing to be embarrassed about, actually. You should wear nothing more often.”
Naia’s brows shot up to her hairline at the conversion. She turned the page on her book. I see gay people.
“Have you made it your personal mission to embarrass me at every possible opportunity?” the Christian girl replied.
“It’s not my fault you embarrass so easily. Besides, there’s nothing embarrassing about the human body. It should be celebrated.”
“Look, if you’re going to insist on randomly appearing everywhere I am, I’m going to have to ask you to please stop being so–”
“Crude,” the black-haired girl finished. “I believe in being–”
“Will you quit–”?
“Being so damn charming?”
Naia turned another page and took a drink of water to hide her smile. Who knew stalking could be so entertaining? Just then, her cell went off, its ring tone identifying the caller. It was bad timing, but she picked it up anyway. “I’m studying,” she said by way of a greeting.
“Studying? Is that code for something?” Ry asked.
“Yes,” she said distractedly.
“… something I need you to help me with,” the Pagan girl was saying. “I need to know if you saw some…”
“So I asked that guy out,” Ry said suddenly in her ear, and Naia didn’t catch the last part of the girl’s sentence.
“Sounds great. I’ll see you tonight, then,” Naia said quickly, and hung up before Ry could say anything else.
Whatever the Pagan girl had said had upset her companion. So much so that Miss Repressed USA was on her feet and rapidly gathering her belongings.
“Azure, wait,” said the Pagan girl, standing up as well. “I need your help.”
Azure, Naia thought, making a note in the memo pad of her mind.
“I can’t help you,” Azure answered, holding up her tray of mostly-untouched food. “If you can’t accept that, then–”
“It’s not me that needs to accept things,” the other interrupted, taking a tone that no longer sounded light or flirtatious.
Without another word, Azure walked away.
Naia considered her options. It would seem too suspicious for her to do anything other than sit there and pretend to read. She tried to make sense of the conversation, but was lacking too much context. She needed a plan.
Meanwhile, the remaining party sat back down and poked at the food on her plate.
Who are you people? Naia wondered, her gaze fixing itself upon the girl’s profile. And without warning, the girl turned to look back at her, light green eyes staring back at Naia’s brown ones. Naia instantly recognized the girl from her Principles of Lit class. Offering a friendly smile, she nodded in greeting. What the hell is her name? Erin?
The girl smiled back, briefly, before turning back to her food.
Naia turned another page.
Larken followed the path of shadows on the floor, letting the random patterns of light guide her through the otherwise darkened corridor. She knew that she was dreaming, in the same way that she knew that she would soon wake up; soon, but not quite yet.
Though she couldn’t see the floor, she knew it was tiled. She could feel the coldness under her bare feet as she walked. She could sense the walls at either side of her, closing in on her. The darkness was suffocating, the silence overwhelming. Where am I? She’d meant to speak the words aloud but couldn’t.
The sounds began as whispers, barely audible voices seeping through the walls, permeating the air with gentle breaths.
Larken struggled to understand the broken phrases. The voices spoke at one, their words mixing together, jumbled and unrecognizable. They grew urgent, breaking occasionally into fragments.
Larken felt the darkness descend upon her, the shadows at her feet disappearing under the cold grasp of buried memories. She gasped at the suddenness of change.
“Larken,” said a voice she recognized all too well; a voice she’d hoped to never hear again. “You know I will find you …”
She tried to speak, tried to retaliate. I am not afraid of you, she wanted to say. She was not afraid, that was true, but she was not altogether immune. Even after twenty years, their history, the pain of it, left fresh scars upon her soul.
“And when I do, my dearest, you will regret the day you betrayed me,” Jael continued, his voice coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. “I will find them all, Larken, every precious one. It is only a matter of time.”
Larken realized she was awake before opening her eyes. She stared into the darkness behind her eyelids for a long moment, breathing slowly. When ice blue eyes opened to the outside world, she stared at the deceptive emptiness of the room.
“It has begun,” she whispered to the silence.
“It started a long time ago,” a voice replied. “You knew it the moment you made the choice.”
Larken closed her eyes briefly. “He will not win.”
“Then you must help them.”
“Them?” Larken narrowed her eyes in confusion. “The Order?”
“You will understand when the time is right.”
“We’re running out of time.” Larken sighed, exasperated by her inability to comprehend. Them. Them who?
“Look,” Aeryn said, pushing her way into Azure’s room the second that Azure opened the door. “As much fun as it is to watch the progression of our … whatever it is we have, see-saw back and forth between hot and cold, I think it’s bound to get old really fast. So, I think the best thing for us to do is just deal with it.”
Azure closed the door slowly and leaned her back against it, facing Aeryn, but not speaking.
Aeryn sighed and took at seat on Azure’s bed. “Just tell me what I can do to make you more comfortable, and we’ll take it from there.”
“Okay,” Aeryn said slowly. “How about less uncomfortable, then?”
Azure shook her head, walking away from the door to sit at the desk. “I don’t know why you keep insisting that we hang out together.”
“You’re the only one that I can trust,” Aeryn said. “You’re the only one I can be honest with, even if you don’t want to believe me. And I’m the only one you can be honest with, even if you don’t want to believe in yourself.”
Azure lowered her gaze and swallowed nervously.
“Whatever reasons you have for wanting to pretend that your visions aren’t real, that the things you see or hear aren’t there, well … it doesn’t stop them from being true.” Aeryn chewed on her bottom lip. She glanced at the items on Azure’s desk and without much of a second thought, watched them levitate. They lifted up from the surface of the table and floated to the center of the room: pencils, papers, notebooks, and paperclips, all of them suspended in the air by the power of will.
Azure gasped, rising from her chair. She backed away from the objects. “How are you doing that?” she breathed.
“This is nothing, Azure,” Aeryn said, leaning back on her elbows. “This is first day of class stuff.” The items floated back to their original place on the desk. “I was just illustrating my point.”
Without thought, Azure ran her fingers over her arm; over the healed spot that remained. “You’re not real,” she whispered. “Oh God, I’m losing my mind completely. I’ve gone Schizophrenic.”
Aeryn groaned, falling back on the bed. “You are impossibly stubborn and ridiculous.” She sat up and regarded Azure seriously. “I’m very real, okay? Do you usually make out with figments of your imagination? Or run into them in the shower? I mean, if you’re imagining me then what … am I your sexual fantasy?” Aeryn grinned wickedly.
Azure blushed beet red.
Aeryn stood and walked over to Azure. “What did you see when you touched me?” she asked softly, almost pleadingly.
“I …” Azure swallowed, looking away. “I saw … a man. He was standing in the center of a symbol.” She glanced briefly at Aeryn’s necklace. “It was surrounded by fire. He … he was chanting.”
Aeryn stared at Azure, processing her words. “The man … do you know who he is?”
Azure swallowed. “Jael.”
Aeryn’s heart sped up. “Jael …” But why would Azure see him when touching her? Would they meet? Did that mean she’d fail the Order? Her mind reeled with Azure’s words. She had to sit down. She had to …
… the light in the room grew suddenly dim. And then it went black.
Azure had no choice but to catch her, or try to catch her, but in doing so, all she managed to do was fall down right along with her onto the light blue carpet. She had no time to register what had happened: the vision hit her like a brick.
“I don’t love her, okay?” she heard herself say, in a panicked, anxious sort of way, in a tone that was entirely out of character. “She’s not … she’s not …”
“She’s not what?” Aeryn asked.
“She’s not you,” was what Azure responded. “Don’t you see that it kills me to see you with him?”
The scene disappeared from her mind, and Azure suddenly found herself on top of Aeryn. Oh God, oh God, oh God. She quickly rolled off.
Aeryn opened her eyes slowly. She blinked several times and looked all around as if trying to understand her location in the world. “What just happened?” she asked, and started to sit up.
Azure wanted to help her, but she was terrified of touching her. “You fainted.”
“I fainted?” Aeryn asked in confusion. “I don’t faint.”
“Then you did a convincing job of pretending.” Azure stood up. “Do you want water or something?”
Aeryn shook her head, rising from the floor to sit on at the edge of the bed. “No, but thank you.” She looked confused. “That was weird.”
Azure tried not to think of the latest addition to her collection of inappropriate thoughts. It couldn’t possibly be a vision of the future. It couldn’t. Realizing that Aeryn had spoken, she quickly said, “Yeah. Are you okay?”
“I think so. Sorry about that.”
Aeryn looked at her carefully. “I didn’t mean for you to have to touch me. I know you don’t want to see things.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Azure lied.
Aeryn nodded. “Look, I really do understand why you feel scared about all of this. Growing up in a world like this, how could you not be? You’re conditioned to fear and abhor everything that doesn’t fit into the pre-packaged rules of conventionality. I get it. I do. It’s just that, Azure, there is so much good you could do.”
Azure stared at her.
“You’re not going to get rid of me,” Aeryn said. “But I’d prefer not having to force my presence upon you. I hope one day we can be friends.”
Do you know how much it kills me to see you with him? Azure pushed the words away, struggling to stay in the moment. “I can’t promise anything.”
“I’m very persistent,” Aeryn replied smiling. “I will win you over eventually.”
She’s not you… Azure looked away. God, I’m so lost. She knew what her father would say to all of this. He would say that Aeryn was an abomination; possessed, unnatural. He would think the same of Azure, too, if he knew the things she’d been thinking, seeing … feeling. Was there no clear path to all of this uncertainty?
Aeryn was standing again, and Azure felt her breath catch. “I have to go to class. But, thank you.”
“For telling me about Jael. For trying to catch me.”
“You’re welcome, although, I did a lousy job of trying to catch you.”
Aeryn smiled. “It’s okay. I didn’t much mind you on top of me.” She winked, and then she was gone.
I have often wondered about my father. In the quiet solitude of night such thoughts seep in uninvited, despite my best efforts to dispel them. I was never told much about him, other than I was better off not knowing him. But how could that be true? Even if he was a bad man, as I was told he was, there had to be some good to him. I’d like to believe that there is good in everybody.
Jael smiled pleasantly at the girl sitting at the other side of his desk. She looked predictably nervous and fidgety, running her hands through her blue-and-black hair with anxious anticipation. “Thryn,” he said calmly, sitting back on his leather chair.
The girl looked up at him, over the neat piles of paperwork between them. Her blue eyes widened. “Yes, sir?”
“Do you know why you’re here?” Jael asked her.
Jael leaned forward and folded his hands on the desk. “I’ve been watching you in your training. I have it on good authority that you are the best.”
She visibly relaxed at his words, even ventured at tentative smile.
“The reason you’re here, is because I need your help,” Jael explained, pushing a manila envelope towards her. He nodded for her to take it. When she opened it, he sat back again. “I’m sending you on a little mission, Thryn. I feel that I can trust you. I can trust you, no?”
Thryn looked up from the file in her hand. “Of course, sir.”
“Excellent.” Jael clapped his hands together. “I want to know who they are.” He pointed to the folder. “I want to know why one of them was practicing white magick. I want to know what they know about the Arts. And most importantly, I want to know if either of them have any involvement with the Order.”
Thryn stared at him, eyes widened again. “The-the Order?”
“The one and only,” Jael confirmed. “We are trying to locate its members; every last one of them. But we must be discreet in our search. Unless it is absolutely necessary, you are not to use your powers. You must come to fit in among these pimple-brained Neanderthals. You will have to lower your normal intelligence by a couple of digits in order to comprehend their esoteric worldview. Lay low for a while. Observe. Learn their habits, their likes and dislikes, but keep a safe distance. Whatever information you can gather from afar will help you get closer to them in the end.”
Thryn nodded. “I understand.”
“Good.’ Jael smiled at the young girl. “Don’t disappoint me, Thryn. I foresee a bright future for you among the Guardians.”
Thryn smiled. “I won’t fail you, sir.” She closed the file and stood. “Am I dismissed?”
He nodded. “I will send Zora to brief you on the details of your journey. Safe travels.” He watched her go. Another woman he’d be forced to trust. Did it never end? Alas, he had no choice in this matter. If the girls were indeed interested in girls, then only a girl could get the upper hand. Jael had faith that Thryn would have no trouble in that department. He smiled to himself. “Larken, Larken. We’re getting so much closer to your inevitable demise. I hope you’re scared.”
“He’s up to something,” Larken said. She gazed at the Elders across the circular table.
“Of course he is,” Faedyn answered her. “He’s always been up to something. That doesn’t mean he’s gotten anywhere.”
Ellowyn shifted uncomfortably. “It’s been twenty years, Larken. Do you think he’s finally figured out a way?”
“I do,” Larken admitted. “I do, and I think he’s gotten farther than we can possibly imagine.”
“We need to pull Aeryn from her post,” Telwen said quickly. “It’s too dangerous. If Jael really is tracking down the Order, he will eventually find her. If he realizes who she is, we’re doomed.”
“Not if she fights on our side,” Larken replied sharply. “You’ve seen her powers—”
“Yes,” cried Ellowyn. “And where do you think she gets them?”
Larken swallowed her words. She glanced briefly at Faedyn who stared back at her sharply. “Aeryn is not going to betray us.”
“How can you be so sure?” Faedyn asked her.
“Did you have a vision?” Telwen prodded.
“I don’t need to. I know–”
“Larken, you don’t even know the child,” Ellowyn cut in. “What you are suggesting is preposterous. When Aeryn realizes that we have lied to her about who her father is there is no telling what she will do.”
Larken closed her eyes. When she opened them, the Elders were staring at her expectantly. “We need her.”
“We should tell her the truth,” Ellowyn said.
“No!” Larken said forcefully. “It is not an option.”
Faedyn cleared her throat. “With all due respect, High Priestess, you are being unreasonable.”
“If we tell her now, it will compromise her position in Merfolk. It will weaken her and make her more vulnerable.” Larken stared back at her sister. “It is a risk I am not willing to take.”
“Then what risk are you willing to take, Larken?” Telwen asked. “The risk of losing her completely to the Guardians?”
“There is something I’m missing,” Larken said softly, suddenly lost in her own thoughts. What was it the ghosts had said? Help them? Them. Did they mean the Order? Did they mean Aeryn? Aeryn and someone else?
“Larken,” Ellowyn said in a tone that revealed it was not the first time she’d called for the High Priestess’ attention.
Larken cast ice blue eyes on the Elders. “Braeden,” she said.
“What about him?”
Larken smiled. “We’ll send him to Aeryn.”
“What good would that do?” Faedyn asked her impatiently. “It will only call more attention to the location. And quite frankly, with Aeryn’s magickal misstep, I’d be shocked if she hadn’t been pegged already.”
“If Jael is going to go after Aeryn then she’s going to need backup,” Larken said. “She will not turn against the Order knowing that it would mean turning against Braeden as well.”
“Larken,” Ellowyn said softly, “what makes you so sure that Aeryn cares that much about Braeden?”
“Because she does.”
The Elders exchanged dubious glances.
“The Goddess did not initiate Aeryn so that we would pull her out of her mission a few weeks into it.”
“And Braeden’s reasons for being where he is? Are those not as important?” Faedyn asked, her tone unkind.
Larken locked eyes with her sister. “Our war is against the Guardians. Our duty is to protect our own.”
“And you think sending Braeden to Merfolk is going to make a difference?” Telwen wondered.
The Elders exchanged glances again, this time coming to a unanimous decision.
“I hope you’re right about this, Larken,” Ellowyn responded.
As do I.
Ry finished folding a table of shirts only to have a pack of inconsiderate teenagers destroy it all over again.
“Can I help you find anything?” he asked, in the hopes of salvaging some of the work.
“No thanks, just looking,” said one of the girls.
Breathe, he told himself. And when they’d gone, he began folding all over again. One day, working in retail would be a distant memory. Something to tell a talk show host during an interview. One day, he would pass by the GAP and smile at the miserable employee folding away his dignity, and think, Thank God I am not you. But for now, he was resigned to the fate of folding and refolding the remnants of someone else’s thoughtlessness.
“I really don’t envy you,” said a familiar voice.
Ry looked up to see Naia standing by a display of cargo shorts. “What are you doing here? I thought you were boycotting the mall for all eternity.”
“I needed to get out and think about things for a while.” She shrugged. “And besides—“ She looked around the store “—being surrounded by such normalcy helps to fuel my ambitions.” She picked up a shirt as if it were a dead rodent she’d found in her sock drawer. “Do you know how many children were tortured in the making of this inauspicious travesty of a garment?”
Ry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, Big Business is Evil. When did you become such a hippy?”
“I’m seeing things in a new light, best friend of mine. Fascinating things have been revealed to me.”
Ry stared at her. “What things?”
“I can’t tell you here,” she said, as though it were obvious. “This place might be bugged. Big Brother is always watching.”
“Aren’t you the one with the hidden cameras?”
“Indeed. And it was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever come up with.”
Ry finished folding a shirt. “Right. Look, Naia, darling, unlike some people, my father does not throw gratuitous amounts of cash my way just for being my precious little self. My father is a homophobic dickhead who likes to drink and fart into his Lay-Z-Boy while his beer belly expands to the size of a woman carrying triplets. So I need to concentrate on this soul-numbing, but monumentally important activity. Ya dig, girlfriend?”
“Yes, girlfriend, consider it dug. Just come by my room after work. I have to show you something. My research has yielded fascinating results.”
“Stellar,” Ry answered, without emotion. He watched her leave, noting how strange it was to have Naia in his store. The contrast of her black X-Files tee shirt and worn baggy jeans against the preppy Caucasian mannequins was bizarre. Naia Dalton was known for projecting a clear “fuck off” attitude that intimidated most people. It was one of the things he loved most about her. But she was one crazy cookie.
His headset crackled suddenly to life and Ry was instantly reminded of his place in the world: a peon to the corporate gods.
Her name is Aeryn. Zora repeated the words like a mantra. The woman’s voice echoed in her mind, hadn’t stopped echoing since her trip to Merfolk, since catching a glimpse of the name on the door. She had tried to probe, had tried to get into the girl’s head, but nothing. Even the most recent attempt, while getting her closer than the others, had yielded nothing. Who are you? She desperately wanted answers, but whom could she ask? Jael was out of the question.
How had she come to distrust the one man who’d saved her? He had rescued her; he had shown her how to live. Who would she be without him?
Who am I with him? Who was I without him? The questions nagged at her. She leaned forward, over the railing of the balcony overlooking Jael’s estate. She let the wind blow through her hair; let it blow away her questions.
She hadn’t been the same since her return. How could she be? After years of not remembering anything, the veil had lifted, however briefly, and shown her a glimpse of the life she’d left behind.
Frustrated, she turned to walk away only to find Jael standing behind her, watching her. She didn’t jump, but her heart invariably sped up at the sight of him. He made her nervous.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He joined her outside, breathing in the fresh air with exaggerated enthusiasm.
His hair was graying, Zora noticed. It suited him somehow. She decided to relax in his company. It was Jael, after all. “It is,” she agreed, turning back around to face the view.
“I’m sending Thryn to Merfolk,” Jael announced without precedence or warning, in the same casual way in which he said everything else. He glanced at her; his blue eyes studied her reaction, before turning away. “What do you think?”
A part of her felt panic at the thought. She wanted to tell him it was a bad idea. She wanted to tell him to keep Thryn away from Aeryn. But why? Why would I want to protect someone I’ve never even seen? She didn’t know. The feelings lingered for a few more seconds before fading away. Indifference quickly replaced her initial alarm. She shrugged. “What for?”
Jael considered the question silently. He turned to look at her. “I think the place might require further investigation.”
“I could always go back—”
Jael shook his head, cutting her off. “I need someone who’ll fit in with the students, someone young and fresh—” He stopped quickly and smiled. “I didn’t mean to imply that you’re not young or fresh…”
Zora laughed. “Thanks.”
“Well, anyway, I just want someone there. Just in case.”
Zora had the distinct impression that Jael was keeping information from her. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. Still, she couldn’t help but feel that this time it was personal.
“I want you to tell Thryn everything you know about this Azure and this … Claire, was it?”
Jael nodded, seemingly distracted by the thoughts in his mind. He looked at her and smiled thinly. “Thryn is getting ready for her trip. I told her to expect you sometime today.”
“Yes, sir.” She watched him walk away, and for the first time since joining the Guardians, felt afraid.
Naia finished applying a coat of red lipstick and pressed her lips together. She stepped back from the mirror and admired her reflection. Gone were the baggy pants and dark t-shirt. In its place: a tight yellow top, and a black leather mini skirt. She arched a brow and offered herself a smile. “What do you think?” she asked, whirling around to face Ry.
“You look like a hooker.” Ry looked her up and down. “I never thought I’d say this, but please go back to your usual ensemble.”
Naia frowned, turning back to the full-length mirror behind her door. “You don’t think I look hot?”
“Not even a little bit. No. Why are you doing this?”
“I need to go proposition a lesbian,” Naia answered casually, attempting to manually adjust her cleavage.
“And since when are you into girls?”
“Since they hold the key to the biggest story of the century. I’m willing to go the extra mile for the story and I’m hoping this does the trick,” she said, while cupping her breasts and sucking in her stomach. “You think a little technicality like sexual attraction is going to deter me?”
Ry rolled his eyes. “And this girl you’re propositioning, is she into Ladies of the Night Couture?”
“Funny, ha.” Naia turned back around to face him. “Okay, wish me luck.”
“You do realize this is insane?”
“We’ve been over this already, Bartholomew. It’s all about the story.”
Ry nodded slowly. “Yes. But don’t you think there are better, less crazy ways of getting to a story?”
Naia stared at him blankly. “No.”
“Alrighty,” he said, giving up. “Good luck.”
My father found my diary when I was fifteen. I’d hid where I thought it would be safe, back when I still thought there was such a thing as a safe place. He read it all, every last word that should’ve never been written. “I know what you are,” were his first words to me when I came home that day. I stared at the diary on the table, and I thought, this is the day I’m going to die.
I was right.
Continued in Episode 4