Episode 4: “Questions”
Episode 4: “Questions”
Written and created by Ingrid Díaz
My third day of investigation has yielded very little. Subject #1, Azure, is the epitome of boring. It’s not enough she dresses like a conservative Republican on her way to the latest convention, but she does little else besides go to class, eat, and return to her room. If she’s gay, I’m the Queen of England.
Occasionally, Subject #2, Claire, is at her side. I don’t know why, though. They don’t seem to get along very well. If they’re sleeping together, they’re clearly having trouble in the sack. It’s probably because Saint Azure is frigid. Oh, and not gay.
Claire, on the other hand, is hot. And if I weren’t supposed to be stalking her for Top Secret Guardian purposes, I’d be hitting on her. Following her around, however, is going to be hard. She keeps an odd schedule. I’ve managed to figure out her classes, but I don’t know what else she does. Every time I start to follow her, I lose her.
I hope to find something more interesting in the next few days before I send my report to Jael. I doubt that he cares if the cafeteria food sucks – which it does. Almost as much as my roommate, Cornelia. Shouldn’t stalkers get their own room? If I were allowed to use my powers, I’d hex her.
I had to settle for putting green hairdye in her shampoo bottle.
College is fun.
The pink bubble obscured all vision of the brownstone building and the door she’d been staring at for the past hour and twenty-two minutes. Thryn stared through the rose-colored globe, trying, out of boredom and nothing more, to maintain her view of the tall black door even with an object in her way. Quite expectedly, the bubble popped several seconds later, covering her mouth and nose with pink, sticky gum. At least it had missed her hair.
Thryn spent the next few minutes trying to remove the mess from her face, and became so absorbed in her task, that she nearly missed the object of her stakeout exiting the building.
“Ah, crap!” Thryn muttered, tossing the gum on the grass beside her, and simultaneously collecting the books she’d been pretending to study from.
Azure was on the move, and even though Thryn had a pretty good idea where it was the girl was going, it was always best to be sure. Besides, she was hungry. A meal didn’t sound like a half-bad idea.
As she trailed behind Azure, Thryn jotted down several things in the notepad of her mind:
1. Azure had changed from her earlier getup. The current ensemble consisted of: a long black skirt, and a plain white button down shirt.
2. Claire was nowhere near her, which meant that a) they’d gotten into a fight – again, b) Claire had finally realized Azure was not gay and broken up with her , c) Claire was studying in her room or doing some other college-like thing, or d) Thryn had accidentally missed Claire’s exit from the building.
While Thryn mused over the appeal of option 2b, she managed to note something else: Azure was not headed toward the cafeteria after all.
Where the fuck? Thryn hoped she wasn’t as obvious as she felt, trailing after the strange girl. Normally she was better at this stalking thing, having done it in prior relationships, but this was different. And besides, since when did Saint Azure not keep to her excessively boring, yet precise schedule?
Thryn slowed down, letting Azure take a bigger lead. She hoped not to lose her, but she also didn’t want to be spotted. There were few students out at this hour and it made blending into the crowd just a little harder.
Eventually, Thryn realized that Azure was headed toward the student parking lot. She has a car? That was a new one. It was day 5 in her stalking, and she’d never seen Azure even remotely glance in the parking lot’s direction. Where the hell could she be going? And how the hell was Thryn supposed to follow? In her next letter to the Guardians, she’d have to ask for some wheels. A motorcycle would be hot, Thryn decided.
She stopped walking when she reached the parking lot, hovered instead by a nearby tree, and watched as Azure approached a car as unremarkable as its current occupant. It wasn’t long before Azure had pulled out of the spot, and was driving away.
Towards where, Thryn had no idea.
Weirdest thing happened today while I was stalking the hot chick. I realized I wasn’t the only one following her around. This girl sure is popular with the ladies.
Subject #3, The Other Stalker, couldn’t be more obvious if she tried. She first caught my attention cause she was wearing a Mars Attacks t-shirt, and I thought that was lame. Then I realized she was going where I was going. Only, where I was going was where Claire was going. Not suspicious, considering it’s a college campus and there’s only so many places to go.
But then I realized that Claire wasn’t really going anywhere in particular. She just kept walking around aimlessly. That’s when I realized that the Other Stalker was doing the same thing. So there we were, two losers following around this girl that just kept walking around in circles. Well, I was far less obvious. I hope, anyway. It’s not like they do Stalking 101 in Guardian training.
I guess now I have to stalk Subject #3, too, just to figure out who the hell she is. This is starting to get tiresome.
Azure The Boring did nothing of interest today. She sat under a tree for hours reading the Bible.
Jael is going to get a kick out of that one.
The only thing of interest today is that I told my roommate, Cornholia or whatever, that I’m a bonafied lesbian. I think it totally freaked her out. I think tonight I’ll start moaning her name in my sleep. Tomorrow I’ll steal a pair of her underwear and have her “accidentally” find it in my things.
I’m hoping she moves out by the end of next week.
“Any idea yet who’s been following you?” Larken questioned, pushing away, as she spoke, the long tresses of white hair falling over her face.
The question hung in the air for a second longer than the High Priestess had expected, perhaps longer than even Aeryn had. When the mage finally spoke, she sounded troubled. “It seems like there’s two, not just one. One is a girl in my class. But without using my powers, I haven’t been able to gather much,” she said, sounding to Larken’s ears, as somewhat frustrated. “I think she’s a journalist. I think she might know something, but I don’t know what. I can’t imagine why else she’d be following us.”
Aeryn sighed. “They’ve been following Azure as well.”
“Azure. The psychic. Interesting.”
Aeryn stood from the chair across from the High Priestess’ desk and paced. “This is all my fault. If only I hadn’t left that spell uncloaked maybe none of this would be happening. How could I have been so stupid?”
Larken said nothing. She watched the troubled young mage for several seconds, letting the girl vent.
“Perhaps it would be in the Order’s best interest if I quit my post,” Aeryn said.
The words caused the High Priestesses’ eyes to narrow. “We cannot change the past, Aeryn, we can only learn from our mistakes, and hope to do better in the future. That is the lesson we hope you’ve learned. Aside from that, there’s no definite proof that any of these things are related.” She paused. “Who is the other one?”
“That I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before. I can’t read her. She’s … Well, I think she’s the one we should be most concerned about.”
“Why do you say that?”
Aeryn looked down. “Just a feeling.”
“Never doubt your intuition, Aeryn,” Larken said. “If you feel she is trouble, then it’s your duty to protect yourself and others from her.”
“Do what ye will.”
Aeryn sat down with a sigh.
“Is there something else?”
Aeryn looked up, her light green eyes suddenly dark. “Azure. Well. When she touched me, she said she saw Jael.”
Larken felt the world around her still. She struggled to maintain her calm as she spoke. “What to you mean?”
“She said she saw him standing in a ring of fire, that he was chanting.”
“How do you know it was him? How do you even know that her visions are true?” Larken was clinging to denial, something so unlike her, she saw the startled look on Aeryn’s eyes.
“Azure called him by name.”
Larken sat back, feeling defeated. How could she possibly have seen him? How would she even know his name? No psychic is that powerful. “What else has she told you?”
“Nothing,” Aeryn said regretfully. “Azure doesn’t like to talk about her visions. She thinks they’re evil.”
“But there’s probably more?”
“I’m certain there’s more.”
Larken sighed. “Find out what it is.”
“By any means necessary.”
Aeryn frowned. “But I’m forbidden to-
“By any means necessary,” Larken repeated slowly. “There is no question that this is imperative to our mission, to the very purpose of our existence. If this girl has information that could be beneficial to the Order, we need to know what it is.”
Aeryn looked away.
“What is it?”
“I just want her to trust me.”
“Are you sure you can trust her?”
Aeryn’s gaze landed sharply on Larken’s. “Without a shadow of a doubt.”
Larken stared at her curiously. “How can you be so sure?”
“I can feel it.”
Azure parked the car across the street from her final destination. Instead of getting out, she sat there, engine still on, ready to bolt. What was she doing there? Had she finally lost the final vestiges of her sanity?
Her mother’s house loomed in the near distance, quiet and dark. A light was on in the living room. Her mother’s car was parked in the driveway, where it had undoubtedly sat, unmoved, for weeks.
Azure put her cheek on the wheel, stared across the seeming miles of pavement between her and the source of all her fears. Why would she come back here? Why now, after all of this time?
A shadow passed by the window. Azure stifled the impulse to hide. She worried for a moment that her mother would peer outside, would see and recognize the car. Azure would have to go inside then. She would have to go inside, and face what she’d run away from all those months ago.
The shadow moved away, the curtains undisturbed. Azure let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and sat up, clutching the wheel with both hands.
Her mother was still inside, alive in body, if nothing else. For now, that was all that mattered.
She didn’t notice the dark brown eyes peering out of the window, as she drove away.
The strange thing about trying to avoid someone is that the more you try, the less it works. Especially when said person lives only a few doors down, and redefines the laws of stubbornness. I’ve never met anyone who could be at once so infuriating and so incredibly … alluring. It unsettles me in a way I can’t describe. In a way I don’t even wish to think about.
It’s getting harder and harder to rein myself in, to push her away and out of my life. She’s so insistent on breaking through my every barrier. Has she put a spell on me? A curse of some kind?
The visions have stilled since the last one. The one of us – her and me – and the mysterious “him” the other me spoke of. There’s been no sign of “him” – whomever he may be, assuming, of course, that my visions when I touch her are at all accurate, and not – as I desperately hope – just day dreams; momentary flashes of nothingness.
But the ghosts keep speaking. More and more, it seems. Words that sound like warnings. They speak in riddles I’ve no motivation to decipher.
Still, I wonder … are they warning me about her?
Azure wasn’t sure what compelled her to knock on Aeryn’s door the second she got back to the dorms. Perhaps it was the same thing that compelled her to drive the many miles to her mother’s house and sit outside in the dark. Perhaps it was insanity. Or maybe it was desperation, fueled by her ever-present loneliness.
Moments later, the door opened.
Aeryn was clad in black pants held at the waist by a thick brown belt. She wore a brown, long-sleeved shirt, and a sleeveless jacket over it. Azure was vaguely aware of the fact that her eyes were trailing up Aeryn’s body. She quickly snapped her gaze upwards to meet with curious green eyes.
The room behind Aeryn was dark, save for the glow-in-the-dark stars and the white Christmas lights that had replaced the dorm’s default fluorescent lighting. Though Azure normally shun away from darkness, Aeryn’s room was undeniably cozy. It had its own magnetic pull.
“Hi,” Azure said, realizing she hadn’t said anything yet.
Aeryn smiled. “Where’ve you been? I missed you at dinner.”
Azure glanced away; worried that the truth would shine too clearly and distinctly in her own eyes if she dared allowed Aeryn to gaze into them. “I, uh, went for a drive.”
“Oh,” Aeryn replied, leaning against the door. “Do you want to come in?”
Azure should’ve said no. She shouldn’t have knocked in the first place, or done any of the things she’d been doing lately, like having dinner with Aeryn every night. But she couldn’t say no. She couldn’t stay away. The other girl’s company was becoming something she undeniably craved. A fact that she wasn’t sure she altogether accepted, or else, she might’ve not been standing there in the first place.
But she walked into the room, looked around the impeccably neat surroundings while Aeryn closed the door. There was never anything out of place in Aeryn’s room; never a book on the floor or an article of clothing hanging on the back of a chair. How could someone seem so carefree in life, and live with such meticulousness in private? Every time Azure walked into Aeryn’s room she expected it to be in chaos, in some sort of disarray. But it never was.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Aeryn was standing against the door, leaning against it in her usual casual manner.
Azure didn’t know what to say. How to explain she didn’t know what she was doing there? A part of her wanted to tell her, tell her how she’d driven a hundred miles to her mother’s house for no reason she could ascertain. That she hadn’t gone in, or made herself known. That she feared the very air surrounding her home, or what had once been her home, if one would go so far as to call it that.
So much of her wanted desperately to give in, to tell Aeryn everything about herself. But she feared, and rightly so, that saying one thing would open a door she’d be incapable of closing. There would be no turning back from that, and the fact remained, despite it all, that she wasn’t altogether sure she trusted Aeryn. The girl remained, to Azure’s eyes, a question left unanswered.
It was then Aeryn’s eyes lost their usual glimmer of amusement, their casual nature, and when she spoke, her voice revealed concern. “Is something wrong? Did something happen?”
Azure backed up as Aeryn moved forward, towards her, in a movement intended to offer comfort. But Aeryn stopped mid-way, either by Azure’s reaction or the recollection that her physical presence was not welcome, or perhaps, a combination of the two. “Nothing happened,” and that was the truth. The other question she didn’t know how to answer. “I just came by to see …” To see what? “To see if you’d done your homework for class.”
Aeryn smiled, relaxing a little, though Azure could tell she was still concerned. “You came here to ask me if I’d done my homework?”
“Yes.” There were lamer excuses, Azure thought, though she couldn’t think of any.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Ah.” Azure nodded.
Aeryn waited expectantly for Azure to say something else.
Finally, Azure sighed. “Can I just stay here for a little while? It’s just … I just … I don’t want to be alone right now. Don’t ask me why. I just don’t.”
“Take a seat.” Aeryn motioned to the chair by the desk Azure was pressed up against.
Azure complied, feeling the usual combination of relaxed and uncomfortable that generally accompanied any time spent with Aeryn.
“Actually, I’m glad you’re here. I was going to come look for you anyway,” Aeryn revealed, once seated on the immaculately made bed.
Aeryn nodded, and for the first time, Azure didn’t think she was the only one feeling uncomfortable. Aeryn refused to meet her eyes, something incredibly uncommon. “See, I spoke to Larken, you know, the High Priestess, and she said … well, I told her what you’d told me about Jael, and she wants me to find out what else you know.”
Azure had gotten very good at pretending that Aeryn wasn’t what she claimed to be: a mage, working for some secret witches association located in a hidden island near Australia – because while Azure was certain her own sanity teetered very close to the edge, she didn’t consider herself to be that insane. And yet, what else could she do but pretend to accept, just like she could pretend that all evidence Aeryn had provided was mere illusion. “Uh huh…”
“Look, Azure, I could get to the answers I need by unorthodox methods if I have to, but they’re my orders. So, I beg you to tell me. I would hate to invade your thoughts. It’s not something I believe in.”
Azure frowned. “Invade my thoughts?”
Aeryn looked away.
Could she really do that? Azure shifted uncomfortably in the wooden chair, unsure of what to say. Something akin to fear began to worm its way through her body.
“I would never want to do that,” Aeryn replied after a moment, and her gaze rose to meet with Azure’s. “You have to believe me on that.”
“But you could if you wanted to.”
“Yes,” Aeryn answered. “Just how you could touch me right now and see my future.”
Azure bit her lip, then said, “But I don’t do it on purpose. I can’t help it. It’s something you would do consciously.”
“Yes, but it’s something that, under normal circumstances, I’m forbidden to do. The truth is, Azure, I think the Order is in trouble. I think they don’t even know just in how much, and that’s the problem. If you saw Jael when touching me, well … it must mean that I’m in danger, and if I’m in danger, it means everyone in the Order is.”
Azure swallowed, not really caring much about this ‘Order’ Aeryn spoke of, but caring very much about Aeryn being in danger.
“Just tell me if you know anything else about it.”
Azure sighed, looking away. “I’ve only seen him the one time. But there is one more thing.”
Aeryn sat up and leaned forward. “What?”
“There was a warning. A woman, a g…” She paused, feeling ridiculous, but the urgency in Aeryn’s eyes made her continue. “A ghost told me I was the only one who could stop … rain.”
“Rain?” Aeryn frowned, sitting back thoughtfully. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hm.” Aeryn looked contemplative for a while, and Azure didn’t know what to say, so she remained silent as well. When Aeryn spoke, she sounded more relaxed. “You know we’re being followed.”
Azure stared at her. “What?”
“By two different girls that I’m not entirely certain even know each other.”
“I have no idea. But I will find out.”
Aeryn smiled. “I have my ways.”
Azure wasn’t sure she wanted to know what that meant.
“Thanks, by the way, for telling me all that you told me.”
Azure wasn’t sure why she had. “Well, you did threaten to read my mind otherwise.”
“I’m sorry. Really.”
Azure merely nodded, looking away from Aeryn’s gaze.
Silence fell over them for several minutes, and when Azure finally ventured to glance at her companion, she found green eyes staring at her. “What?”
“Just wondering why you’re dressed like a waitress.”
Azure glanced down at her outfit. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“It’s just so … so boring.”
Azure frowned. “I’m not really trying to go for interesting with my wardrobe.”
“Hey!” Azure was about three seconds from pouting.
“And your hair…”
“What about my hair?”
“I just think it could look a little more … lively.”
“Yeah.” Aeryn crawled across the bed until she was closer to Azure. She sat at the edge and looked Azure up and down. “Let’s go shopping.”
“Shopping. You know, that things girls are supposed to do together.”
“I hate shopping.”
“I would, too, if I always came home with that kind of outfit.” Aeryn glanced pointedly at the clothes in question. “And you need a haircut.”
“Some layers would do you good, I think.” Aeryn looked at her subject thoughtfully. “Yeah, we’ll go tomorrow. Don’t worry it’s my treat. You just do the driving.”
At some point, Azure realized, she’d lost control of the conversation. When had that happened? It was probably when she’d first walked through the door. “No haircut,” she said seriously, wondering if that meant she’d somehow agreed to everything else. What the hell was wrong with her?
Aeryn smiled. “Now do one last thing for me.”
“Touch my hand.”
Azure stared at Aeryn as if she’d lost her mind. “We’ve talked about this, no.”
“The last time you said that, the world as I knew it got flipped upside down.”
Aeryn smiled and stretched out her hand. “Please.”
What was it about those eyes that made her want to do anything but say no to them? There was no doubt in Azure’s mind that she no longer had one. After a resigned breath, she reached over and took Aeryn’s hand, startled, as she did so, by various things at once. The first was the softness against her palm. The next, and the most surprising, was that nothing happened. There were no visions, no voices in her mind, no weird mind tricks. She stared at their hands, and then up at Aeryn’s brilliant smile.
“All of the other times you caught me off guard, so I couldn’t block you, but I’ve been working on it.”
Azure was vaguely aware that their hands were still intertwined. What did Aeryn expect this to change? That they’d be able to touch all of the time? She pulled her hand away.
Aeryn’s smile faltered. “Guess I thought you’d be glad there was at least one person you wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally brushing against.”
The thought of any kind of physical contact with Aeryn made Azure nervous. “Yeah.”
Azure started to rise. “Nothing. I should get going, though. You have homework to get to, and I have some reading to do.”
Aeryn looked confused but didn’t argue. “Are we still on for tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Azure responded automatically, not really thinking it through. Suddenly, she just had to get out of there. She was thankful that Aeryn didn’t try to stop her. Out in the hallway, the bright lighting hurt her eyes. She closed Aeryn’s door, feeling like she’d suddenly stepped out into an entirely different world.
And left another behind.
Thryn tapped the rubber end of her #2 pencil against the side of the desk. Tap. Tap. Tap. Three rows below, in the crowded auditorium, which smelled vaguely of cheap perfumes, cheap colognes, and feet, someone snored loud enough to wake himself up. Thryn rolled her eyes and slouched down on her seat, stifling her own inherent need to yawn. Now she remembered why she’d quit school.
Why were the Guardians forcing her to attend class, anyway? She remembered something about ‘fitting in’ and ‘looking believable’; though she didn’t think skipping class would make her seem any less believable as a college student. Perhaps she’d have to start skipping. She doubted Jael would really mind. And it’s not like anyone was watching her, nor cared about what she did or did not do.
She did yawn, then, letting it all out.
Somewhere on the stage, a plump man in a suit continued on about Carbon, writing hieroglyphics on the dry-erase board as he went. No one was listening. No one cared. It said a lot about the state of the world when people paid thousands of dollars a year to sit around not caring. Thankfully, Thryn hadn’t had to pay a cent. She also had little reason to care.
The sounds of books slamming and feet stomping clued Thryn in on the fact that class was over. She appreciated the domino effect it had across the auditorium. All it took was for the front row to pay attention, and bam, everyone knew what was going on by following their lead.
Thryn gathered her books and the notebook she’d been doodling on. A big-breasted woman releasing bolts of lightning from her fingers stared up at her before disappearing behind the cover of the notebook. Thryn tossed everything in her bag, and made the slow descent down the steps of the auditorium, held up by the crowd of half-asleep zombies before her.
Once outside, she breathed a sigh of relief and headed toward the cafeteria. Stalking would have to wait. She was starving.
Years of intense training with the Guardians had prepared Thryn for nearly anything. She was a top practitioner of the Dark Arts, feared by her peers for her impressive abilities in various realms of magickal expression. She’d been trained in defense, offence, curses, spells, white magick, and had been complimented highly by her mentors on her casting abilities. Thryn was not a force to be reckoned within the Guardianship. Everyone knew that. She could hear a needle drop from a mile away; was attuned to nature in a way that baffled even the most powerful of her fellow warlocks.
So why, then, hadn’t she been aware of the other girl until she’d practically fallen into step beside Thryn?
Thryn saw the shadow before she ever saw the figure, and looked up, though not too far up, since the other girl wasn’t much taller than she. Light green eyes stared back at her. Oh, shit! She had no idea what to say.
“Hey,” said her once-stalkee-turned-stalker. “Can we talk for a minute?”
Thryn stopped walking and looked around. They were standing in the middle of the sidewalk leading to the cafeteria. Hardly the place for an intimate chat about stalking and the like.
The other girl didn’t seem too concerned with things like privacy or not making a scene in public, or the subtleties of life. “Why have you been following me?”
Thryn couldn’t very well say: Sorry, I didn’t mean to get caught. Hold on a sec while I contact the man who sent me here in the first place so I can get an approved plan of action. So she said something else instead. “You’re really hot.”
When in doubt: flirt. It was not a secret she’d been taught in her many training sessions with the Guardians, but it was just as effective as say, striking the girl with lightning. “Sorry, was that too forward? I meant to say, your ass is nice. Particularly in those black pants you had on yesterday.” It wasn’t a lie, really.
“And my friend’s ass, is hers hot too?”
Oh, crap, she knows about that too? I really suck at this stalking thing then. “I’m sure you’ve noticed it. No need to ask me about it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some dinner to consume.”
“Who are you?” the girl demanded, undeterred. Fire burned in those green eyes, and Thryn was tempted to reconsider her strategy.
What the hell is she going to do to me? She almost laughed, but managed to turn it into a cocky smile instead. “Just consider me an admirer.”
“Yeah? Well go admire someone else. And stay away from my friend.”
Was that a threat? “Or?”
“You don’t want an answer to that question,” the girl said, and started walking away.
Thryn called after her. “Actually, I would love to know the answer to that question. Perhaps over lunch? My treat.”
But the girl didn’t turn around.
Thryn watched the girl’s retreating back for a minute. Actually, these pants aren’t half bad either. Then she turned and headed in the opposite direction. Lunch would have to wait. It was time for plan B.
What the hell was that? Aeryn wondered as she trekked the rest of the way toward the student parking lot. Since when was she caught off-guard by someone? Flirting was her thing. Hers. Who was that chick? Why was she really following her and Azure around? Was it all a coincidence? And did her ass really look better in the other pants?
All compelling questions, but answering them would have to wait. Shopping with her favorite enigma was next on her agenda, and she was looking forward to a bit of fun. Perhaps her entire purpose on Merfolk was simply to get Azure into normal clothing. Goddess knew she’d need all her years of training for that miraculous feat. Getting Azure to agree to go was one miracle, but there remained several more to undertake.
Aeryn found Azure sitting on the grass by the parking lot, predictably reading the world’s best-selling book. “Sorry I’m late,” she said when she was close enough to plop down on the grass. “I had a run-in with our stalker. Well, one of them.”
Azure glanced up in alarm. “What happened?”
“Not much. I basically asked her why she was following us.”
“Well, it seems I have a nice ass,” Aeryn replied with a shrug. “But yours is still in question. Though if you ask me-
“I’m not asking you.”
“So, what, she’s like … just interested in you?”
Aeryn contemplated the question, and lined the possibility against the facts of her encounter. “Though all signs would point to yes, I’m not convinced. I think she’s lying.”
“That, I do not know.”
Azure rolled her eyes, and put the Bible back in her bookbag. “You know, for an All Mighty Whatever, you’re really quite useless.”
“Are you trying to hurt my feelings?”
“Well, you just went up to her. I could’ve done that. Anyone could’ve done that. I thought you were going to do something hocus pocus-y.”
Aeryn smiled. “And here I thought you didn’t believe in that.”
“Well you’re not helping convince me otherwise.” Azure stood up, swinging the black bag over her left shoulder. “Are we doing this shopping thing?”
Aeryn started to follow Azure to her car, feeling her ego deflate slightly. ‘All Mighty Whatever.’ She’d show her all mighty.
When she was allowed to.
Ry was re-folding another endless stack of shirts, while entertaining thoughts of flinging all the clothes around and screaming like a madman, when he spotted them.
Now, Ry was no fan of Naia’s insanity-driven obsession-fest, but he respected it enough. Well, respect may have been a strong word. He humored it. Which is why he instantly reached for the cell phone on his belt, and headed for the stock room. Pick up. He muttered the phrase in his mind, while peaking out at the store. He didn’t want to lose them.
“Yeah?” came the groggy voice at the other end.
“Those chicks you’ve been following around like a crazy-ass person. They’re here at the store.”
“What! What are they doing?”
Ry glanced out again. “It looks like they’re holding a séance. One of them is chanting, while the other is saying something about ghosts speaking to her — what the hell do you think they’re doing? Looking at clothes. Ooh, I love that shirt. Though I think the green one would match her eyes better.”
“Well, damnit, go talk to them. Eavesdrop as much as possible. Call me right back when they’re gone.”
Ry sighed against the phone. “Fine. Bye.” He clicked off, and headed back out into the show room. He never would’ve thought he’d be sucked into Naia’s crazy schemes while at work. Then again, he’s the one who’d called her. “May I help you?” he said when he was within hearing distance of the two girls.
“Just looking,” one said gruffly.
The other smiled brightly. “Actually, yes. Do you think she’d look better in a yellow or a pale blue?”
Ry considered looking at the girl in question with his Queerical Eye. “Actually, I think both look great. You could even layer the two. Give you a bit of color.”
His answer received a grin from the green-eyed girl. “Excellent. We’ll take them in extra small.”
Ry carefully removed the shirts from their corresponding piles; thankful neither girl had opted to destroy his handcrafted masterpiece of a shirt mountain. “Here you go,” he said, handing the shirts to the one who actually looked happy about them. “Anything else?”
“We’ll let you know. Thanks.”
“Okay.” He smiled, and set about pretending to fix the table near them.
The conversation went as follows.
“I’m not wearing that.”
“Yes you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You’ll look hot.”
“I don’t care about looking hot.”
“Why do you ask so many questions?”
“Because you never give me a decent answer!”
“Are we done here yet?”
“Fine. But I’d like one in black.”
Ry handed her one in black.
“No problem,” Ry replied.
And so it went.
By the time they’d left, he’d made himself a hearty commission, and couldn’t wait to call Naia. Except he couldn’t decide which juicy bit of gossip to deliver first: that one didn’t like thongs, or that the other wore a 36C bra.
She’d be so proud of him.
Azure stared at her reflection in the dressing room mirror, at the “new and improved”, Aerynized version of herself, and sighed.
“Well?” Aeryn stood outside the dressing room, waiting impatiently for the final product to emerge. “Do you like it?”
Did she like it? Azure remained silent while she pondered the question. It was like staring at a different person; at her long lost, though admittedly more attractive, twin. She realized the question wasn’t really whether or not she liked it, but rather, did she feel comfortable in it?
Behind her, the curtain slid open with a loud SHHH sound, and Aeryn joined the reflection.
“Whoa,” were Aeryn’s first words.
Azure whirled around, blushing furiously at the words. “I feel ridiculous.” She pulled uncomfortably at the bottom of the small tee, trying to get it to cover more than it was intended to. Giving up, she pushed her brown hair behind her ears instead. “It’s not me.”
Aeryn took the words as an invitation to close the curtain behind them both. She stepped closer, making Azure progressively more nervous in the small confines of the space.
For a minute, Aeryn dug through the piles of clothes Azure had wandered in with, and pulled out a black long-sleeved shirt. “Here, put this underneath.”
Azure took the shirt, wondering if Aeryn intended to remain where she was. When it became clear Aeryn wasn’t budging, Azure said, “Privacy?”
Aeryn smiled and turned around to face the wall.
Azure sighed, but did as instructed. Arguing with Aeryn was as exhausting as this whole shopping spree was turning out to be. “Okay,” she said, when she was finished. She turned to the mirror, realizing this was the first time in a very long time she looked at herself in the mirror in such a manner. She couldn’t recall ever caring what she looked like before.
“Is that better?” Aeryn asked, watching Azure’s reaction carefully. “The shirt underneath is longer, so you won’t have to worry about accidentally exposing that beautiful stomach of yours.”
Azure glared at her.
“Sorry, no compliments, I forgot. I meant to say hideously flat and-
“Okay, enough.” Azure resisted the impulse to smile. “Just tell me what you honestly think.”
“About your stomach?”
Aeryn crossed her arms against her chest and looked Azure up and down. “Honestly?”
“I think you look gorgeous. And I think you were born to wear jeans.”
Azure looked away, feeling entirely self-conscious under Aeryn’s gaze. “You said I looked great in everything.”
“That’s cause you did. I have an excellent eye for such things.”
“You’re so modest.”
“Just aware of my strengths.”
Aeryn was quiet for a moment while she thought it over. “Even All Mighty Whatevers have their kryptonite.”
“So what’s yours?”
Aeryn didn’t answer. Instead she said, “I think we should hit the cash register. You need a jacket to go with all that, and I have just the thing in mind.”
The curtain SHHH’d open again, and SHHH’d closed. And Aeryn was gone.
Azure frowned at the sudden stillness of the dressing room. Guess I hit a sore point.
“I’m never going shopping with you again,” Azure said, much later, slurping soda through the straw in her Taco Bell cup. When was the last time she’d eaten fast food? She couldn’t remember. Possibly never.
“You said that already,” Aeryn replied, unveiling her fourth soft taco and staring down at it with excitement. “This looks so good.”
“You said that three tacos ago, and I still think it looks disgusting.” That hadn’t stopped Azure from ordering a couple for herself and finishing them off. But then, she’d been famished. Shopping with Aeryn belonged in the Olympics. It was a sport unto itself. They should have people handing out towels and bottles of water at the entrance to each store.
Aeryn smiled and held up her taco. “Do you ever have anything positive to say? I feel like I’ve asked you that before.”
“You’ve asked me many things.”
“Then I’ve either not asked you enough, or you’ve not given me good answers, cause I feel like I know absolutely nothing about you.” She bit into the taco and chewed happily.
“You do know nothing about me.”
Aeryn nodded and took another bite.
Azure glanced wearily at the shopping bags sitting at their feet. Aeryn had opted to pay, and Azure hadn’t been able to stop her. She almost regretted bothering. She’d just have to figure out a way to pay her back, or sneak out in the middle of the day tomorrow and return everything.
Azure looked at Aeryn, noticing that she was now on her fifth and final taco. “What?”
“Thanks for agreeing to this. I know it’s entirely not your thing.”
Truer words had never been spoken. This was certainly not Azure’s ‘thing’, assuming Azure even had a ‘thing’, which she wasn’t altogether sure she did. But despite her protestations, she’d enjoyed herself. She might even go as far as saying she’d had … fun. Fun. The thought startled her. “Uh, well, you’re exhaustingly persistent.”
Aeryn grinned. “I’m getting complimented left and right today.” She crumpled up the taco wrapper in her hands and sat back with a satisfied sigh. “That was the best meal I’ve had in a while. The dining hall needs to up its culinary standards.”
“Nothing beats a home cooked meal,” Azure replied.
“Are you offering to cook me a meal?”
Was she? No! “Of course not. I was merely offering my thoughts on the subject. Besides, we have no ‘home’ to cook at.”
“There’s the kitchen in the dorms.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Hm. Well, maybe we can move out of the dorms next semester. Get an off campus place.”
“Just so I can cook for you?”
“I wouldn’t mind.” Aeryn smiled brightly.
“I’m not moving into an apartment with you.” Though the thought of moving off-campus was particularly intriguing. It would certainly make her life easier. How much would that go for? Probably more than she could afford. Which reminded her: she needed a job. What her grandfather had left her wouldn’t last forever.
Aeryn shrugged. “Just an idea. And no, not so you could cook for me. Just seems safer somehow.”
The last word that sprung to mind when imagining living alone with Aeryn was “safer.” But she didn’t voice the thoughts; instead she hoped that silence would make the conversation turn to something less uncomfortable.
She should’ve known better.
“So, what’s wrong with thongs?”
Azure sighed. “Can you ever talk about something … I don’t know … not personal?”
“Thongs are personal?”
“Underwear is personal.”
“Okay, what would you consider impersonal?”
Azure thought about it, not really wanting to think at all. She wanted nothing more than to go back to the dorm and sit in bed with her guitar. For some reason, she felt music at her fingertips. It had been a while since she’d felt inspired to compose. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “Something other than my underwear choice.”
Aeryn studied her for a moment without saying anything. “Let’s go home. You look like you’re all malled out.”
Was it written on her face? Azure wondered. “In a minute. I’m actually too tired to get up.” And that was the truth. She’d probably be sore in the morning. When was the last time she’d exercised? Never.
And this wasn’t even actual exercise. Maybe she should start visiting the campus gym.
“Well, here’s something impersonal: what do you think we should do about our stalkers?”
“You’re asking me? I thought you were handling it with your Super powers.”
“Well I highly doubt that turning either of them into a cockroach will help solve the mystery.”
“You can do that?”
Aeryn smiled, but didn’t answer, and Azure decided she really didn’t want to press the issue. “I think you and I could come up with something more innovative.”
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to figure out why it is they’re following us in the first place.”
“That worked well for you earlier, Miss I-Have-A-Hot-Butt.”
“Hey, I’m sure my butt has plenty of pulling power, but I sincerely doubt it’s great enough to make two random girls follow me around for no other reason than to stare at it. Besides which, they’re following you, too.”
“And my butt has no – what did you call it? Pulling power?”
“Oh so talking about underwear is personal, but butts are okay?”
Azure sighed. No wonder she was exhausted. “Let’s talk about neither.” How did a relatively normal conversation somehow end up in guttersville? Scratch that. No conversation with Aeryn was ever ‘normal’, relatively or otherwise.
“You brought the butts up.” Aeryn frowned. “What an odd statement.”
“So what’s your big plan?”
“Stalking them back.”
“That’s your big plan? What if they realize we’re stalking them?”
“We tell them they have nice butts?”
Azure shook her head, reaching for her soda. “You really suck at this.”
“And you’re much better?”
“Why don’t we just lead them astray? Like, instead of doing the usual things we do, we do something totally random and confuse them. If they have some hidden agenda, that might warp it.”
Aeryn considered. “Not a bad idea.”
Azure was secretly proud of Aeryn’s approval. Not that she really needed it or anything. But still. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt … good about herself, or about an idea she’d contributed. When was the last time she’d even contributed an idea? Where were all of these questions springing from?
“We’ll do that, then. We’ll jumble up our schedules, save for classes. Hopefully, at least one of them will get frustrated enough to do something insane.”
“That’s seriously comforting.”
“Well, not insane. Just, stupid. Something that will give them away.”
“Like, come at us in the night with a knife?”
“I wouldn’t let that happen.”
“Forgive me if my trust in your capabilities is a little non-existent.”
“You’re forgiven.” Aeryn looked around. “I’m still hungry.”
“Leave something for the other hungry shoppers, Aeryn.” And Azure stood, grabbing some of the bags at her feet. When she realized Aeryn wasn’t moving, she looked at her. “What?”
Aeryn was grinning curiously. “You called me Aeryn.”
“You’ve never said my name like that before. Actually, I don’t think you’ve ever really said my name.”
Azure started to feel self-conscious in that way she hated. “I’ll meet you by the car if you want to pick up another 20 tacos.” She started walking away from the table.
Aeryn caught up to her two seconds later. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable back there. It’s just that … have you ever realized how intimate it sounds when someone else says your name?”
Azure didn’t answer.
“Sorry. I have this weird compulsion to tell you the truth about everything, and I probably shouldn’t because …”
In spite of her better judgment, Azure turned to look at her companion. “Because why?”
“Because I’m not supposed to. I wasn’t meant to get close to anyone here. My job is merely to blend in, observe, protect, and above all, not call attention to my-Oh! Can we take escalator again? I love that thing.”
Azure rolled her eyes. “You already made me go up and down three times earlier.”
“Live a little.” And Aeryn rushed toward the first step, shopping bags swinging in the air.
So much for blending in, Azure thought, and a soft sigh escaped her lips. She watched Aeryn for a moment before stepping aboard.
As expected, Jael hadn’t been pleased that Thryn had been found out, but he was relieved that her cover hadn’t been blown. Thryn was relieved that Jael hadn’t been too pissed. Pissing Jael off was not something the Guardians were in the habit of doing. In fact, it was advisable to avoid it at all costs.
Plan B, otherwise known as Operation: Befriend the Subjects, was next on her agenda; as was the issue of figuring out who Stalker #2 was, and what she wanted with the two girls. Thryn had called this Plan B.2 or Operation: Stalk the Stalker. So far, neither operation was going well. All subjects were currently M.I.A. and Thryn had no way of locating them without doing a location spell.
Jael had told her to avoid magick, where possible, but had not forbidden her entirely from using her powers, yet, truth be told, she could use a day off from all the sneaking and following around. Besides, she needed a plan for the plans, and a day of quiet contemplation would work nicely toward that goal.
As would the new motorcycle Jael had agreed to deliver to her within the week.
“So, what are you doing?”
Thryn glanced up from her sketchpad to find a pair of brown eyes staring back at her. Technically, she’d been drawing while simultaneously attempting to stifle any impulses to turn her annoying roommate into a multi-legged creature. But she couldn’t very well say that. So instead, she said, “I was contemplating how to go about falsely befriending three potential members of a secret, White Magick Order created by the Goddess to destroy my Dark Master’s plans to destroy Christianity and take over the world.”
Cornelia stared at Thryn silently for about three seconds. “No, seriously.”
“I’m drawing you naked. Now, you can help by removing all of your clothes, and standing near the light.”
“You asked.” Though, Thryn had to agree with the sentiment. She had no desire to see her roommate naked, no matter what kind of lighting. She shuddered at the thought, and quickly pushed it away from her mind. She focused instead on the drawing in front of her. She’d been working on a potential comic book idea; only, she didn’t know what to base the plot on. That, and the heroine came out looking differently every time she drew her. Maybe she could find an artists’ club on campus. There had to be something worthwhile to do at this crappy college.
That’s when the idea struck her.
Suddenly, she knew how she might get to Azure.
[Author's Note: There's a scene missing from this chapter that I can't seem to find in my files. Once I track down the complete version of this chapter I'll post it. I apologize for any confusion.]
Continued in Episode 5