This contains serious spoilers. You need to read at least to the end of Part Two for this to make any sort of sense. You’ve been warned.
The sun sank beneath the horizon casting its final amber rays upon the traveler making their way along the well trodden road. Long had they traveled from far to the east, their body was thin and frail looking, their heavy cloak was ragged and torn and their boots were on the verge of disintegration. Wrapped across this traveler’s face were strips of cloth, covering their mouth and left eye, thin strands of auburn hair could be seen from under their hood. She was breathing heavily, her meager rations had run out days ago and she was nearly dead from exhaustion. As she crested a hill she saw it… the warm friendly glow of an inn! She put what little energy she had left into rushing toward her salvation.
As she approached the inn she stumbled and lost her footing, falling heavily onto the weathered building, a resounding thud could be heard.
“I don’t weigh that much,” She mumbled under her breath.
Stumbling around to the front she opened the old wooden door. The inside was homely, a fire roared in the building’s center casting a cheerful yellow light on the several patrons. The bar and kitchen were at the back of the main dining room so the traveler had to weave their way past the many tables and chairs, the floors creaked with every step she took. She drew up to the counter where the bartender was eyeing her up and slammed a small handful of coins onto the counter.
“Will this cover a meal and a room?” she said desperately.
The bartender counted the coins. “Aye, that’ll get you… four plates and a room for a couple of nights.”
The traveler sighed in relief. “I only need the room for a night, but I’ll take the four plates.”
The bartender raised his eyebrow as he handed several coins back to the traveler. “I know the temptation to stuff yourself is strong, lass. But ye’ll wind up regretting it when it comes back up again.”
“I’m full of surprises.”
“Of that I have no doubt; I’ll start you off with two and see how you feel afterward.”
The bartender turned and went into the kitchen and came out with two plates piled high with food. Large chunks of seared beef drizzled in thick brown gravy with sides of cooked vegetables and a whole baked potato piled upon each. The traveler’s mouth watered.
“Which room is mine?”
He pointed down one of the several hallways. “Third from your left, with the brass knocker.”
“Would you mind if I ate in the room?”
The bartender shrugged. “You paid for it.”
The traveler made their way down the hallway, floors creaking all the way, carefully balancing the massive plates of food. She got to the door in question and pushed it open with her side. She placed the plates of food on the small table and bolted the door behind her. Checking the curtains she made sure that nobody could see her from outside. Pulling down her hood revealed a head full of bushy, unkempt auburn hair, some of it was matted down by the cloth strips covering her face. She slowly unwound the cloth, wincing slightly when the roughspun fabric caught in her hair. Finally it was all pulled away. A massive gash ran diagonally across her face, disfiguring her nose and destroying her left eye. Such disfigurement wasn’t uncommon in Alcadon, the people lived rough lives, but it was her mouth that would raise a few eyebrows. She had normal sized lips but her mouth wrapped all the way around her face, she had no cheeks. Inside her mouth were rows upon rows of small, sharp, black teeth, like needles, and nestled in between them was a slimy black tongue. Not even bothering to sit she wolfed down the food. In a matter of seconds the plates were empty and her hunger was satisfied.
She wrapped her face once more and, ignoring the bed entirely, reclined on the floor, leaning against the door, and drifted off into a deep slumber.
She was awoken by the force of something large ramming into the door jostling her into wakefulness.
“C’mon! Gerrout ‘a there!” A low gravelly voice called through the door. “We know yer in there now open the door!”
The traveler sighed. “Adventure awaits…” And stood up just in time for the man to burst through the door and land in a pile at her feet.
He jumped to his feet and threatened her with a small handgun. The traveler raised her arms and allowed herself to be dragged from the room to the dining area where the barkeep and the rest of the patrons had been rounded up. There were at least twenty men surrounding the patrons.
“That’s all ‘a them boss!”
His boss, was a tall, bald, muscular man sitting atop the bar eating a ridiculously large turkey leg. At the queue from his minion he threw the leg away and leapt agilely from the counter. The traveler noted that he carried a firearm at his side and likely another one in his polished leather boots.
“Ladies and gentleman.” his voice was smooth and refined. “As I look around at the faces here, I see recognition; it’s nice to know you all haven’t forgotten me.” He had a wicked smile on his face.
“How could we forget you, Grond?! Butcher! You’ll not have any of our coin!” One of the patrons yelled.
The bald man, Grond, nodded his head and the back of the patron’s head was bludgeoned by one of the goons. The patron fell to the floor unconscious and bleeding.
“He got off lightly… I find myself to be a little low on funds at the moment and was wondering if you’d like to… chip in for a good cause?”
Grond began walking around the group, sizing them up, relishing the fear in his victim’s eyes. But there was one eye that didn’t avert from his gaze. The thin, ragged, wild haired traveler stared straight back at him with an impassive uncaring eye.
“You don’t fear me? You’ve got guts lady. Are you a lady? I can’t tell.” He looked her up and down. “Hmmm, I doubt you even have coin on you… a pity. Lads we have our first volunteer for target practice!”
The goons whooped and hollered as the traveler was ushered in front of the door. A line was formed by those eager to test their aim. The first man took his place and aimed carefully, he squeezed the trigger and the shot rang through the room.
The traveler didn’t react, she didn’t move, not even the slightest flinch.
“Whoa mate! Y’missed? How could ya? She’s right there!” One of the goons called out from the back.
The man was shoved out of the way and the second man took his shot. Same thing again, no reaction, nothing, it was as if she was made from stone.
Three more men tried and the traveler wouldn’t fall. Finally Grond walked right up to the traveler and placed his gun against her temple.
“This’ll get ya!”
He pulled the trigger and the gun virtually exploded in his hand, he recoiled in shock.
“What are you!?” he yelled, running to the back of the room.
The traveler started to stretch. Several crushed bullets fell from beneath the folds over her mouth clattering lightly on the floor. She let out a massive yawn. “You know… I’m rather new to this whole moral compass thing, right and wrong, that whole shtick. There is one thing I know for certain though and it’s when an insect get’s too high and mighty it needs to be crushed.”
Grond retreated to the bar. “Punch her full of holes boys!”
The whole group opened fire, peppering the traveler in bullets. The patrons had the good sense to get out of there when the gang started shooting. Her clothes shredded and tore and yet she did not fall, none of the bullets pierced her skin. The cloth around her face fell away revealing her large slathering mouth.
One of the goons called out. “What the hell are you, creature!?”
“I would say death, but that name’s already taken… call me Medusa!”
She lunged forward punching through the chest of one of the goons. Using his dead body as a flail Medusa began to beat the others with it spraying blood everywhere.
“No bystanders! Excellent! Now I can really go all in!”
Leaping from the floor Medusa landed on the shoulders of another, crushing him beneath her weight. The force of her landing cracked the solid wooden floor beams; popping one up effortlessly she began to bludgeon another with it. His spine snapped before the board could, she discarded the board by shoving it into a goon who was trying to sneak up behind her.
“Now just look at this mess you’ve all made, I don’t think I have enough money on me to foot the cleaning bill!”
Soon all of the men were dead apart from Grond who was hiding behind the bar. Medusa vaulted on top of it, it groaned under her weight. She peered over at the cowering man.
“Hello little bug… You’re the only one left.” She reached over and gently turned his face up to look at hers.
“What are you?” Tears were streaming from his eyes and his mouth was quivering.
“I told you my little bug… I’m Medusa, sweetie…” Her eye pinched in a smile as she sharply turned his head, breaking his neck.
“Well then…” She slid off the bar and surveyed the damage. “All things considered that was pretty clean!” The floor beneath her groaned and bowed from the sudden weight increase. “Christ! I don’t weigh that much!”
She rifled through the dead men’s pockets coming away with a small fortune in coins, she left them on the bar and proceeded to pull all of the bodies outside to dispose of them. She quickly wrapped her face in some fresh cloth.
“I’m loathe to give scum like you a proper burial, but it is the cleanest way of getting rid of your carcasses. Oh well, I could use the exercise!”
The road to Sampras was long yet mercifully flat. Medusa was in good spirits, her travel pack was well stocked and her fatigue had worn off many miles back. She almost felt like her old self, almost. Looking at her surroundings she was awed by the grand scope of everything. She never had the time to admire her surroundings and yet she now had all the time in the world.
The calming whisper of the light breeze blowing through the long grass. The soft crunch of small rocks beneath her feet. The skittering of small animals running through the undergrowth. Medusa closed her eye and soaked it all in. She suddenly found herself tumbling down a small ditch; she came to rest in a small streamlet, the cold water soaking into her clothes.
Medusa pulled herself from the ditch. “Note to self: Don’t walk with your eyes closed.”
Checking her supplies she set off once more, mood somewhat soured.
The warm afternoon sun quickly dried her clothes and she found herself admiring the scenery once more.
Several days of walking later Medusa entered the bustling trade hub of Sampras. It wasn’t a large city, but the scope of its trade operations easily doubled its size. Entire city blocks were made up of temporary housing and inns were on every street corner. Massive ships, both wood and steel, sat in the gargantuan dry docks for repair, the docks were packed full of ships of every size and type. Schultz’ technological influence was felt strongly in Sampras above all others.
Entering the city, Medusa was immediately bumped and jostled by the crowds swarming through the open market, though more often the person doing the bumping was knocked out of the way themselves. She drew several odd stares but they were quickly swallowed up by the crowd. Medusa made her way to the nearest inn, looking for lodging. Medusa suddenly found her way blocked, several stockily built youths fanned out in front of her. The crowds left plenty of space between themselves and these youths.
And yet more thugs, somehow I’m not surprised.
The lead youth, a man slightly older than the rest with a mop of golden hair, stepped forward. “Good evening, trash, we would kindly ask you to get out of our city.” The rest of them stepped forward as well, cocky smiles on their faces.
“Oh? Trash? Then why are you still here?” said Medusa mockingly.
“Listen waif, you have no business in Sampras and we’ll kindly ask you to leave before we force you out!”
“Does everybody get such a warm welcome or have my charming good looks stolen your heart?” Medusa’s tone was turning firm.
“You’re bad for business,” he said bluntly.
“That’s not what I see. Look at how the market has cleared; I think you’re bad for business, not me.”
“If you won’t leave quietly then we’ll be forced to use violence.”
“I would have preferred if you’d started with that.”
“You think this little charade of yours is cute?”
Medusa threw a stray lock of hair from over her eye. “Bitch… I’m adorable.”
“We warned you.” He gestured to the two burliest men who approached Medusa.
They bodily grabbed her about the shoulders and tried to force her to the ground. She didn’t budge. The man gestured to another, who tried force her down by ramming her in the stomach with his shoulder. He fell to the ground nursing his freshly broken collarbone.
“Very well, you have injured one of my men and are refusing to cooperate.” He pulled a massive handgun from the belt around his waist.
At the sight of the gun Medusa let out a defeated sigh walked forward, dragging the two others along with her.”What is it with you men and guns? You get the tiniest shred of power and it goes to your head. Here let me demonstrate what your power will get you.”
Medusa roughly grabbed the gun from his hand and placed it to her temple.
Medusa fired. The gun flew from her hand, barrel shattered. Apart from a few black marks from the powder Medusa remained unharmed. The group stepped back. Medusa effortlessly shook the two men, who were still struggling to pull her down, off. She walked right up to the blonde man, who was trying and failing to hide his fear.
“I need a job…” she said.
His face went slack. “A job?”
“Yes, preferably one in manual labor or protection.”
“You’re not human!”
“No, I’m not, but they don’t have to know that.”
He thought for a moment before finally replying. “Normally I’d throw you in prison for the actions you’ve taken, but these are unique circumstances, also you’d probably kill all of us if we tried. I’ll take you to my superior and we’ll see what he thinks.”
“Thank you.” Medusa tilted her head, right eye pinched in a smile. “Lead the way.”
The office was lavishly furnished, ornate chairs, useless tables, vases with fake flowers, and oil paintings were in abundance. Medusa was ushered in where she was stared down by a hard faced man with short cropped hair.
He looked to the blond youth. “Look kid, just because they’re a criminal doesn’t mean they always have to come to me. Just throw her in jail.” He turned back down to his paperwork.
“Actually, no, she’s looking for a job.”
The man scoffed. “She’s a waif, I doubt she can walk five paces without collapsing let alone carry a job.”
Medusa smiled. “Oh, I’m full of surprises sweetie.” She looked around, her eye settled on a polished bust of Laverne T. Schultz. “How fond are you of this bust?”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Well… not very.”
Medusa stood up and walked slowly over to it and placed her hand gently on the face. “Is it solid?”
Medusa squeezed. The head shattered into a thousand tiny pieces and dust flew everywhere.
The man’s expression remained unchanged. “That’s coming out of your pay.”
“Thank you, boss.” Medusa smiled.
“And before you go, I need a name for the payroll.”
“Call me… Ariadne,” Medusa replied.
“Very well.” He looked to the youth who was lightly coughing from the dust. “Take her to the usual quarters and get her settled in.”
“Alright, come on, it’s time to meet the boys.”
Medusa followed the youth out of the office. “You know, I haven’t the slightest what I just signed up for.”
“You are now employed by one of the most lucrative private security organizations in the city of Sampras, welcome to the club.”
“And what is your name?”
“Jozhen, a pleasure to meet you Ariadne. I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot, there has been a massive influx of drifters from the east, and we thought you were one of them. They’ve been no end of trouble around here.” He stopped at a doorway. “Alright, now I’m gonna do you a favor. These are guest quarters, they’re meant for a single person only; usually new recruits go straight to the barracks. Due to you being a woman I’m going to give you private quarters, and I’m doing this more for the other guys, you’d probably wind up killing one of the horny bastards. I also assume, due to how you’ve wrapped your face that you’re not very keen on showing off. Again, for the sake of prying eyes.”
“I appreciate it.”
Jozhen opened the door to the guest quarters. It was a small, simply furnished room, with a small window at the far end.
“We’ll set you up with clothing later; I assume you don’t have anything of your own apart from that satchel. Dinner’s in an hour, you can eat in your room if you want.”
“You know… despite initial impressions, you’re not bad kid.”
“Thanks, but don’t tell anyone, I have a reputation to maintain.”
Medusa entered the room and Jozhen closed the door behind her. She dropped her satchel on the ground and walked over to the bed. She carefully placed her weight on it, it sagged dangerously.
“Alright… maybe I do weigh that much.”
Medusa pulled the mattress from the frame and placed it on the floor. She lay on top of it, almost pushing to the floor, and waited for dinner.
The hour passed relatively quickly, Medusa’s mind was abuzz with the prospect of her new employment. There was a gentle knock on the door and Jozhen poked his head in.
“Dinner’s ready, I think it’s time you met the rest of us. Everybody’s very excited to meet you.”
“Oh, no doubt.” Medusa rolled off the mattress. “I’m sure by now everybody has heard about my little stunt with your handgun.”
“They’ll probably ask you to do it again.”
“That won’t be a problem, I hope you have spares.”
The mess hall was a large high ceilinged room with several long tables stretching from end to end. There were at least two hundred men all crammed around these tables heartily eating their food, chatting and insulting their friends, it was an all around rowdy and welcoming atmosphere. As soon as Medusa entered the chatting stopped and the whispering began. Quick glances were thrown like gunfire.
“I think they’re scared of me,” Medusa said in a loud whisper to Jozhen.
“You did shoot yourself in the head. I think anybody would be scared of that,” he whispered back.
One of the men stood up and walked over to the two.
He looked Medusa up and down. “So this is the one that you and your boys couldn’t put down.”
“They couldn’t beat me so they hired me,” Medusa said back a bit sarcastically.
The man pulled out his sidearm and handed it to Medusa. “Do it.”
“What? shoot you? I would never. Myself however…” Medusa picked up the gun. “Hmm, it’s a bit lighter than the other one; I don’t think it’ll fly as far.”
The man raised an eyebrow.
Medusa shook her head in resignation. “Oh all right. Gentlemen crowd around! I’m going to shoot myself in the head and then beat the shit out this one here.” She gestured the gun at the man.
A semicircle formed around her, careful not to be on the side where the bullet was going to reemerge. The only one who didn’t move was Jozhen who stood alone to her left. Medusa dramatically put the gun to her head, and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out and the gun flew out of her hand, hitting someone in the face.
“You see gentleman? I’m not dead. It takes more than bullets to kill me, and even then, who knows?” She shrugged and turned to the man who was looking very surprised. “I think I owe you something.”
Quick as a flash she was on him, using her body weight to force him to the ground where she laid a few savage blows to his face and stomach. The punches may have been light to her but to him they were earth shattering. She then bodily lifted him above her head and threw him like a ragdoll out of one of the windows. Glass scattered across the floor and a hefty thud could be heard outside as he landed heavily.
Everyone in the room was stunned, a shocked silence descended. A slow clapping could he heard echoing around the silent room, it was Jozhen.
“And that is why you don’t mess with Ariadne,” he said. “She is officially with us now, if you have any issues you bring it up with her, I’m sure she’ll be happy to accommodate you. She’s your companion now, treat her like one.”
The next week was one of the most enjoyable in Medusa’s life, and when considering that life, that isn’t a very difficult feat. The reputation she gained was well deserved, a perfect capture record, brutal efficiency, and harsh but fair punishment. She quickly found herself becoming comfortable with her group which consisted of Jozhen and the youths who accosted her on her first day in Sampras.
“Oi, Ari, let’s go drinking!” said Jozhen rather suddenly one night.
She chuckled, though it was more of a scoff. “You know me better than that,” she said back somewhat jokingly.
“No, not really… c’mon it’ll be fun!”
“Alright, just let me grab something from my room first.”
“Take your time.”
Medusa was gone for several minutes until she returned with a thin, hollow, metal tube around eight inches long.
“What’s that for?”
“It’s a straw.”
“Never heard of it, let’s go.”
Normally the two would have to weave through the bustling crowds of Sampras, even on a chilly evening the streets would still be full, but the berth the two were given was considerable.
“Your reputation precedes you…” Jozhen said, impressed.
“Indeed…” Medusa saw the respectful fear in the people’s eyes. “I’m used to it.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“Perhaps I am.”
“Tired of being the bad guy?”
“Oh, you have no idea.”
Jozhen stopped outside a small run-down tavern. “This is the one.”
“And what makes this one so special?”
“I don’t think I like your tone.”
The two entered, the floor creaked dangerously beneath Medusa’s feet. Jozhen looked at her feet quizzically.
“Um, I know it’s not my place to ask, but how much do you weigh?”
“That’ll remain as much a mystery as my past.”
The bar was silent, all eyes turned to the infamous Ariadne joking with her familiar, the mood was tense.
“Gentleman and ladies!” Medusa announced to the room. “I have no business with any of you! I’m just here for a drink! But if you want to arm wrestle though, I’ll take all challengers!”
The sigh of relief was easily audible as the tavern returned to its normal rowdy self. Medusa and Jozhen wove their way to the bar.
“Two half shots of Fellacian absinthe,” he said quietly to the bartender.
Medusa’s eyebrow rose. “Are you hoping to get me drunk?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, this is just to get a buzz going.” A smile creased his face then the two small glasses of amber liquid were poured out.
Medusa pulled the straw out of her pocket.
“So are you going to tell me what that is?”
“Observe.” Medusa dipped one end of the straw in the glass and fed the other end through the folds around her mouth and sucked, the absinthe vanished.
“Now I just need to find a way to do that with solid food. Oh my, that tasted quite nice, I think I’ll have another.”
The barkeep chirped up. “Far be it from me to say but I don’t think you want to end your night of drinking on the second shot.”
By the end of the night Medusa had drunk the entire bottle of absinthe. All eyes were on her as she sucked down the rest of the bottle.
She looked up and saw all the eyes on her. “What? Can’t a girl drink in peace?”
Jozhen’s eyes were large as dinner plates. “By all rights Ari you should be dead. That was enough absinthe to kill twenty men.”
Medusa scoffed and said jokingly, “don’t underestimate me.”
Medusa felt a gentle tap on her shoulder she turned around and saw one of the most muscular men she’d ever seen standing before her.
His face creased in a warm smile. “You said something earlier about arm wrestling? Well I bet my boys over there a round of drinks that I can’t beat you.”
“They’re lacking an education.”
Medusa nodded understandingly. “Well alright, where do you want to do it?”
“There are special tables outside; it’ll also be easier for others to watch.”
“Lead the way.”
They made their way out to the front of the bar where several special reinforced tables were set up.
“I hope the chairs are as strong as the table.”
“What do you mean by that?” The man looked puzzled.
Medusa grabbed one of the outside chairs and gently placed her weight on it; it creaked and groaned until one of the legs shattered.
The man was a little more than surprised. “I’m swiftly regretting my decision.”
“Nonsense, how about I kneel?”
The man sat and Medusa kneeled, each placed their elbows in special indentations on the table. A crowd from the bar had gathered to see just how strong the mysterious Ariadne was.
Jozhen counted down “Three… two… one… go!”
The burly man began to push, putting his entire body weight into it; Medusa didn’t budge an inch, not even the slightest shake.
She smiled. “I think you’re gonna get your round of drinks after all.”
The man, red faced, veins bulging looked at Medusa, eyes wide with fear. “I regret…”
The table imploded as Medusa slammed his hand through the strong wood. Shards of wood scattered everywhere, the man was thrown from his seat and landed face down on the cobbled street. The force of Medusa’s push knocked him out cold.
“I’m sorry my friend, I have a bit of trouble holding back.” She looked around at the scared faces of the people. “And with that, I think it’s time to retire for the night, come along Jozhen.”
The next day, Jozhen and the group sat at one of the dining hall tables, while Medusa stood as per usual.
Jozhen was reading from a sheet of paper. “Alright we have a VIP coming to town and our services have been specially requested, well actually, it’s Ari they want, but I want everyone to feel included. It’s an Indra… why an Indra would need human security is beyond me.”
Medusa stiffened. “Which Indra?”
Medusa visibly slouched. “We, erm, have a bit of a history.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“The lady Ari, a woman of mystery,” said one of the others jokingly.
“Indeed, and it’s best if it stays that way. When is he due to arrive?”
“Well, you see, that’s the funny thing.” Jozhen inspected the paper. “It says in thirty minutes.”
Medusa was growing increasingly worried. “Where were we to meet him?”
“Outside the compound.”
“Oh that clever bastard!
“I’m getting a not-so subtle feeling that you don’t want to meet with Anon.”
Medusa ran her fingers through her bushy hair. “Well considering the last time we spoke I threw him through a tree, yes, I’m not very inclined to meet him. Wait no, that was Bolt… or was it Kid?”
“Hmmm, your past with him aside, it’s too late, we can’t pull out now, you’re going to have to put your differences aside and do your job.”
Medusa wasn’t listening, she was too busy pacing and mumbling to herself. “Damn, I should have kept a lower profile. Bah who am I kidding, looking like this I’d have been found anywhere.”
Before Jozhen could offer his reassurances the door to the dining hall burst open.
“Where is she?!” Yelled a deep booming voice.
Silhouetted in the door frame was the tall lithe form of Anon.
Medusa panicked, she ran. She threw herself through one of the windows and sprinted as fast as she could down the street. She didn’t know where she was running to, as long as it was away. As if from nowhere Anon rounded the corner, cutting her off. His outstretched arm caught her right in the neck and she tumbled down the street.
“You can’t run!”
Medusa scrambled back to her feet and kept running, Anon right behind her. She sprinted to the dry docks, Anon trailing her the whole way.
“What’s wrong Medusa?! Lost the stomach to fight!?”
Her breath was ragged as she entered the first empty dry dock. She stopped, Anon stopped, and the two faced each other.
Anon spoke, his voice full of malice. “I thought the rumors of a masked traveler killing a notorious bandit leader in such a creatively brutal way were just simple exaggeration. Then the rumors of the inhuman feats carried out by a member of a private security force, who just so happened to also be masked. I started to put together the pieces, the name was the final piece, at least try to be original. Take that cloth off your face Medusa, you can’t run from what you are!”
Medusa tore away the clean linen strips, revealing her grotesque mouth and ruined face.
“That’s more like it. Trying to pass yourself off as a human? Trying to hide from us? From what you are? I don’t even know what you are anymore.”
“I’ve changed!” Medusa’s voice was ragged. “Yes! I’m a monster! But I’m not that same monster!”
“Tell that to Khim! To the trading post! To Doctor Tryel, the man you dissected alive! There is an ocean of blood on your hands Medusa, nothing you can do will atone for it.”
Anon pulled out his trident. Medusa fell back into her defensive posture.
“Anon, please, we both know you’re no match for me. Please let’s just end this without violence!”
“Perhaps you have changed. At least the Medusa I knew wasn’t a coward.”
“I’m not that Medusa anymore!” Tears were streaming from her good eye.
“You play the part so well… you should have been in the movies.”
Anon rushed forward and roughly jammed the trident into Medusa’s stomach, she didn’t even try to dodge or block. The prongs didn’t break through her skin, so Anon discarded it and began savagely beating Medusa. Kicks, punches, slams, and throws were dished out swiftly and painfully, Medusa took them all without reacting. His kicks and punched grew lighter and lighter as he tired.
“Anon… please, I’m done fighting,” she whispered, laying flat on the ground.
“No! You are a creature, a beast! I refuse to believe that you could change like this, it’s all wrong! It doesn’t make sense!” Anon sounded unsure.
“You can thank Ellie for all of this.”
“Don’t you do throwing her under the bus!” Anon yelled
She rolled over onto her back, looking at the bright blue sky. “The piece I took from her… it changed me; it gave me reason, something to offset the animal. It’s not even a fair trade… she lost her leg, and I gained humanity.”
Anon sat down beside Medusa, exhausted, he let out a small chuckle. “I believe you… I don’t know why, but I actually believe you.”
“I’m trying to atone for what I’ve done, chances are I never will, but I can try at least.”
“My god, you actually mean it.”
“Yes…” Medusa paused. “In the Petrified Wood… I saw the grave you left behind… Kid. I’m responsible for her death, just like I’m responsible for Valkyrie’s and so many others. Her board, Banthu has it; I traveled all the way back to Alcadon to give it to him, to bring her home.”
Anon looked down at Medusa. “Kid isn’t dead.”
Medusa stiffened. “What? But I saw her body.”
“Body yes, mind no. She’s still alive in Ellie, and it’s all because of you.”
Medusa relaxed again. “In a positive way or a negative one?”
“Positive, believe it or not. That night in the gym, when you killed Valkyrie and stabbed Ellie, you awoke something in her.”
“Metaphorically of course.”
“Nope, the brain of a young woman was attached to her board to prevent overheating. You woke the brain up, releasing the personality of its previous owner. I can’t even begin to explain how but somehow the owner of the brain Katrine, Valkyrie, and now Kid, are alive inside Ellie.”
“Huh, I thought she was making that up.”
“When did she tell you?”
“When I was dragging her by her ankle through the Petrified Wood. I should have listened.”
“It would have saved us a lot of trouble.”
“Yes… do the rest know about me?”
“No, I figured it out myself and came alone, as far as the others know you’re still dead.”
“Please don’t tell them. If I provoked such a reaction from you then I might actually wind up dead.” She traced the massive scar on her face. “Don’t forget what Ellie did with a single kick.”
“That kick shattered her leg.”
“It shattered my head.”
“Fair enough.” Anon shrugged.
“Well now what? I think I’m done in Sampras, you’ve rather ruined my reputation.”
“Indeed…” He thought for a moment. “Come with me. I’ve been considering traveling the country for a while now. This might just be the excuse I need.”
“You’d be stuck with my charming company for a very long time.”
“I think I’d manage.”
“Keeping an eye on me in case I devolve?”
“Something like that.”
Medusa’s stomach growled. “Ah, another of my human trappings, I have to eat and drink or I’ll die, probably.”
“My, you really have changed.”
“You’re just now figuring that out?”
“Maybe I am.”
Medusa craned her head back; she could see a crowd forming at the entrance of the dry dock. “It seems we have an audience, I think I’d better wrap up again.”
“Yes… then we’re agreed?”
“Why not, I honestly have nothing better to do with my time, who knows…” She trailed off. “Maybe we’ll help some folks along the way.”
Anon hauled her up to her feet as she rewound the linen across her mouth. “So how are we going to explain this?” he asked.
“I have no idea.”
Jozhen ran up to the two. “What was that all about!?” he cried.
“Oh we just had to work a few things out, last time I saw him I planted his head two feet in the ground. I think he owed me.” Medusa gave a small wink, though it could have just been a blink.
Jozhen just looked even more confused. “He called you Medusa, is that your real name?”
“That name belongs to a past life that’s best left at arm’s reach. A long time ago I went by that name, but I’d prefer if I were called Ariadne from now on.” She gave Anon a not so subtle nudge.
“Oh, ah yes, Ariadne.” Anon rubbed his now aching side. “We’ve decided to go traveling together.”
Ariadne looked at Jozhen, her eye betrayed the sadness she felt. “I’m sorry Jozhen but I have to leave, I can’t stay in Sampras forever. I’ll miss you.” She moved in and gave him a gentle hug, even by human standards. “I’m sorry I’m not much of a hugger.”
Anon tilted his head. “So it seems nothing is impossible. Hah! Alright Ari we leave immediately, destination: nowhere in particular. Grab your things and meet me in the entrance market.”
Ten minutes later Ari was walking unhindered through the entrance market looking for Anon. She found him haggling with a seller over a small set of pans and a portable stove.
“What’s all this then?” She was legitimately confused.
The seller looked back at Anon, eyes wide. “She wiv you?”
Anon nodded his head.
“Yearight fitty p’cent.”
Anon placed a small handful of heavy coins in the man’s outstretched hand and began putting his purchase in a large leather satchel that he must have also bought in the market. He shouldered the satchel and made his way, with Ari trailing close behind, to the exit.
Ari stared inquisitively at the satchel and it’s gently clanking cargo. “So are you going to tell me what that’s all for?”
“These are for you. I’ve often been told that I’m a… connoisseur of natural living, capable of creating visually uninteresting yet tasty food. You are bound by the human trapping of hunger, and I intend to be your chef on our travels.”
“Huh, how unexpectedly kind of you.” Ari jogged forward and caught up to Anon.
“I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, I’m hoping beyond hopes that you’re telling me the truth. If nothing else I can bludgeon you with the pans.”
“Don’t get any bright ideas.” Ari said ominously.
“Bah, those are too few and far between to warrant any serious consideration.” His tone went serious. “Please don’t let me down.”
Ari’s voice was quiet. “I won’t, I promise.”
“Alright then! Where to first? We have a whole world ahead of us and I have no clue where to go.”
“Valkyrie lived in the forest of Khmi’Bakhan right?”
“That she did, right where the Knoss split before going to the… hold up, you know the Pacific right?”
“Yes…” Ari’s tone was cautious.
“Guess what they’re calling it know.”
“Oh, hmmm, world ended… all the names reset. I dunno, something generic no doubt.”
“The Great Salt Sea.” Anon waved his arms in a grand yet mocking gesture.
Ari’s tone was surprised. “Oh boy, that’s… worse than I thought.”
“And lake McKinley…”
“The waste dump?”
“Yeah , they’re calling it the Acid Sea, the name is apt but couldn’t they be a bit more creative?”
“You lived there right?”
“Oh yeah, nearly forty years.”
“You’re a crazy old hermit.”
“Yeah? Tell that to Scorn or Wulf, they’ve been kicking for centuries, I think Scorn is pushing four hundred years.”
Ari’s tone was quiet again. “That’s not so long… I spent… oh it doesn’t even sound real when you say it.”
“What do you mean?”
Ari looked at Anon, her eye wet. “You got those cryogenic pods right? I didn’t. I went the long way. I spent fifteen thousand eight hundred and twenty three years locked in a pitch black room. I counted every second of every minute of every day. I felt the earth shake around me as humanity blew itself into oblivion for the last time eight thousand years ago. All those years, submerged in my own filth and decomposing bodies turning into slime. I forgot how to speak, I forgot how to think, and all that went through my mind were the numbers slowly ticking up and vague thoughts of revenge. You all slipped through time in an instant, and I, the forgotten one, the one best left forgotten was exactly that. That doesn’t go to say it wasn’t my fault for how things turned out. For the safety of everyone in that station it was best that I was locked up and buried.” She looked at Anon. “They buried the whole building Anon, just to be rid of me and the pain I’d caused. I’ve never thought about it that way, but my whole life I’ve been the villain, I’ve been the bad guy, like in one of those terrible war movies Freeman watched.” She let out a shaky breath. “I guess it’s better late than never to realize who I was and what I am.”
Anon wrapped his arm around her thin shoulders and pulled her close. “I think you’re the living embodiment of change. In your own savage insanity you wound up saving yourself. You’re not the creature that crawled out of that hole in the ground all that time ago, you’re you, a wonderfully complex beautiful individual who spit in the face of their own nature and changed for the better.”
“I had some help along the way… Oh little sister of mine…” Ari sighed wistfully. “A part of me wishes that I could just sit down and talk to her.”
“Ha! Knowing our luck you might get that wish.”
Ari shook her head. “I bet she’d try to beat the stuffing out of me same as you.”
“Well maybe not, she was the only one of us who was convinced that you changed in those final moments. We all thought it was an ego thing when you jumped down Havoc’s throat.”
“It most definitely was an ‘ego thing’. Spend enough time dreaming of something and the moment it fails to come true can be a bit heartbreaking. Cut me some slack I was rather new to the whole ‘feeling something other than murderous rage’ thing, of course I got angry and offended when my own kind rejected me. I intended to die there, killing Havoc.”
Anon looked down at her. “So if they’d accepted you then you’d most likely be out there slaughtering?”
“That is a definite possibility.”
“I’m glad you got offended.” His voice was tinged with relief.
“So am I, this life is far more fulfilling than wanton murder.”
The two kept walking and talking, for hours and hours they talked about anything and everything. The sun dipped low in the horizon and Anon set up camp for the night. Soon a small fire was burning and Anon was cooking a grey lump of something on the stove. A ‘tuber patty’ he called it, seasoned with foraged herbs, it smelled like body odor. Ari was reclining against a surprisingly comfortable rock, looking fearfully at the thing on the stove.
Anon saw the fear in Ari’s eye. “Trust me, the researchers loved these.”
“Are you sure they weren’t just being polite, you are an Indra after all.”
“Oh no, they were very vocal about what they didn’t like. I’ve woken up several times with my less popular dishes impaled on the top of my head.” He felt at the ridges around the top of his head, he pulled a dried leaf from one of them. “How long has this been up there? You didn’t put that there did you?” His metaphorical eyebrow rose.
Ari shook her hands, feigning innocence. “Who me? Come now, I’m not that stealthy.”
“You are and we both know it.”
“I think it gives you a devilishly charming air.”
“It’s a dried leaf…” Anon said flatly.
“Devilish and charming,” Ari reaffirmed.
Anon took the patty off the stove and handed it to Ari, who took it gingerly.
“Ooh, hot.” She juggled until it cooled down slightly. She pulled the cloth from around her face exposing her mouth.
Anon spoke before she could take a bite. “You know, you don’t have to wear that thing when you’re around me, I don’t mind.”
“It’s more for my benefit; I can feel a semblance of normality when my mouth is covered.”
“Fair enough, give it a taste.”
She slowly bit into the patty, a rich nutty flavor spread through her mouth; the herbs were strong but not overpowering. The patty quickly vanished into her maw; she let out a small burp.
“Heh, self control and food don’t mix with me.”
Anon nodded sagely. “All new sensations are thrilling at first. It’s a pity though; I’ll never be able to taste my own cooking.”
“Oh come on now, you’re a smart guy, you’ll find a way. Also… do you have any more of those?”
“That I do.” He plopped another glop of patty on the sizzling stove. “We’ll fatten you up yet.”
The night passed uneventfully, after a few hours of talking and joking Ari finally drifted off to sleep. She awoke the next morning wrapped in a light blanket; the fire was out and Anon was nowhere to be seen. She felt a small pang of fear, but saw the stove still set up and quickly squashed the fledgling feelings of abandonment. She stood up and stretched scanning the landscape, looking for Anon. She saw him standing stock still, partially submerged in a nearby small lake; he was holding a long sharpened stick. In a flash he stabbed the water and pulled a good sized fish struggling from the water. He ran back to the campfire, fish still valiantly struggling in his grip. He placed the fish on a large flat rock near the stove and whipped out a small knife where he proceeded to expertly gut and debone the large fish.
“You’re like a surgeon,” Ari said jokingly.
Anon looked over. “Indeed, I was initially meant to be a field medic, but I rather stood out. So they just gave me regular combat training like the others.”
“Why don’t you pick it up again? You could be the crazy travelling doctor.”
“Humph, I considered it; problem is people tend to be afraid of me and for the longest time I couldn’t speak audibly.” He gave the small metal cased device strapped to his waist a light tap.
“Ah, I was going to ask you about that.”
“One of the engineers who worked under Schultz whipped these up for us, sweet lady. She’s a bit obsessed with us Indra; she’s actually in a relationship with Lethe.”
“The lumpy one?”
“Yeah, lucky guy, of all of us I think he deserved it most.” He gave Ari a little look. “I bet she’d faint if she caught sight of you.”
“Visually or internally.”
“Either, you’re a strange one Ari. I’m only guessing but perhaps the instability of your chip forced your internals to twist and change, making you as you are now. You have real organs right?”
“Indeed, a digestive system, and a respiratory system, I run so hot that my biomass needs them to function properly. I’m not sure about any others though.”
Anon cut a large filet of meat from the fish. “Have you had to shit yet?”
Ari raised her eyebrow. “What kind of a question is that?”
He flipped over the filet and began to carefully peel the scales off. “Everything with a digestive system shits.”
“I don’t know how I pass waste, I haven’t done it yet so I’m remaining hopefully optimistic that I never will.”
“A crying shame.” Anon flopped the cut of fish onto a waiting pan and placed it on the stove.
Anon got up and walked to the backside of the boulder Ari was leaning against and came back with several odd looking flowers.
“Already bringing me flowers? We’ve only been together a day now; I think you’re being a bit forward.”
Anon bit back just as jokingly. “Me? Bring you flowers? No…” He crouched over the stove and squeezed the stems over the fish, a clear oily liquid oozed out. “When in doubt, the oil from the Brumtha flower is an excellent vegetable oil replacement.” The oil snapped and popped as it danced around the heated pan.
Anon flipped the fish over to cover both sides in the oil, a thin tendril of steam began to rise from the pan, the smell was glorious.
Ari’s stomach growled angrily, she looked down at it. “Oh hush, be patient.”
“I think it has a mind of its own.” Anon flipped the fish, it was a lovely golden brown.
“Who knows at this point.” Ari’s mouth began to water; she quickly wiped her chin as she began to drool slightly.
“I saw that… Is my cooking making the mighty Ariadne drool in anticipation?”
“Consider it the highest praise I can offer.”
“I shall. Ah! That’s what I forgot, I didn’t buy plates. You’re gonna have to eat with your hands.”
“Fine by me.”
Ari juggled the roasting hot fish until it cooled and quickly set into devouring it.
“Strange…” remarked Anon.
“Oh? Something strange about me? I thought we established that as the norm around here.”
“Well yeah, but I beat the absolute snot out of you and you didn’t even flinch. And now here you are juggling a hot piece of fish like it’s the hottest thing on the planet.”
“Context is key. I deserved that beating from you, so I took it without complaint, but this is a less formal environment so I can show how a really feel, and besides this is a different type of pain.”
“Fair enough.” He watched in fascination as Ari viciously devoured the fish. In a matter of seconds the fish was gone. “We really need to work on your table manners.”
“I don’t have cheeks; my eating ability is a bit stunted because of it.”
“Again, fair enough.”
Anon scrubbed down the pan in the nearby lake and packed the stove up in the satchel once more. The two set off to the north east, towards the great forest of Khmi’Bakhan. The journey was uneventful; the two never encountered any other travelers, being so far from the road-more-traveled the chances were slim to begin with. Pretty soon the two entered the vast Jungle of Kvasstch.
“Oh, this place puts the Petrified Forest to shame.” Ari looked around in wonderment. “I’ve never seen trees this big before.”
“Considering when we were made it’s a small miracle that we ever got to see trees at all.”
Ari placed her hand on the trunk of a massive spruce. “I was rarely ever outside and when I was it was in a cage, I never got to see nature.”
“Heh, you weren’t missing much, if dismal was a landscape then that would have been it. It’s funny, we just passed the old Waters base a little while back, it’s called it the Sampras Dig now.”
“That’s where we were created.”
“Indeed, it’s a forest now.”
“So much has changed.” Ari looked up the trunk of the tree to see its top waving in the gentle breeze. “Beautiful,” she whispered.
“We’re only a short ways from the Knoss, if we hurry we’ll get there before nightfall.”
They reached the bank of the Knoss two days later, Ari insisted on taking her time.
“Oh, it’s massive.” Ari’s eye widened as they broke through the forest cover and the Knoss came into view.
“Indeed, there’s a ford nearby we’ll be able to cross there.”
After walking downstream for several hours the river shallowed out enough for the two to make their way across. Holding their packs above their heads they waded in.
“Oh, that’s cold!” Ari exclaimed as her waist submerged.
Anon forged on in stoic silence, the water sloshing around his midsection.
As the two exited as river Anon shook himself dry like a dog while Ari began stripping to wring her clothes dry.
“You weren’t very chatty back there,” said Ari as she pulled a small fish from her boot.
“I was more concentrated on not being swept away.”
“Really? I didn’t really notice the current, though the ground was a bit soft for my liking. I’ve found through considerable experience that I’m remarkably heavy despite appearances to the contrary.”
Anon opened his pack to check that the contents were undamaged. “Your biomass is probably incredibly dense which accounts for your remarkable durability, the rest of us are a bit fluffier. The fact that you survived the explosion inside Havoc is a testament to your durability.”
“God, that smelled bad.” Medusa gave a small shiver. “Credit to the explosive, it did knock me out; I woke several days later to find myself intact. I made my way south after retrieving Kid’s board, oh the things I ate…” She shuddered again.
“I won’t ask.”
“I wouldn’t tell you either way.”
“Well, we’re close to the spot, do you want to set up camp for the night or keep going?”
“Let’s keep going, now that we’re so close I’d like to get there sooner rather than later.”
The two kept going, walking along the riverbank, a comfortable silence rested on them. Around midnight a light could be seen on the river, moving toward the two. Ari shrunk beside Anon, trying to hide herself.
“Don’t worry.” He wrapped his arm over her shoulder. “It’s probably just a cargo ship; nobody’ll know who you are.”
“I know, it’s just every time I see a ship, I’m reminded of the Trading Post.”
“I’m surprised you set up in Sampras then.”
“It’s easier to avoid boats there than you think.”
“Hey, look, don’t beat yourself up over it. The simple fact that you’re here, now, talking about it, and regretting it means those people are on their way to redemption. You’ll make things right, you just have to believe in yourself.”
The ship passed silently.
“Ya wanna make camp now?” Anon asked.
Ari was beginning to feel the exhaustion from the day set in. “Yeah, let’s stop for the night.”
Ari awoke early the next morning, Anon sitting next to her, his arm wrapped around her shoulder. She could vaguely remember him coming over in the night and holding her close.
“Hey, you’re finally awake?” He lifted his arm from her shoulder.
“I think the answer to that is fairly obvious.” She stretched her arms and twisted her back, a series of loud cracks echoed through the forest.
Anon noticeably flinched. “Oh, that’s gross.”
“It might be gross, but it feels wonderful, it seems I have a real skeleton too.”
Anon pulled a patty from his satchel and handed it to her where it was promptly devoured. “Ready to go? We’re almost there.”
They walked for several more hours, until the split hove into view, then Ari set off at a light jog toward it. It was an unremarkable spot, just a large sandbar jutting into the rushing water.
“So this is where she lived?”
“Yep, I don’t know what she did for all of those years, probably what we all seem to do in abundance, standing still. What I’m more curious about is where she stored her weapons. She had quite a few and didn’t bring them all with her when she went to meet Ellie.” He began to look around. “Maybe she kept them in the forest somewhere…”
Another boat hove into view, honking its horn at the two, it was large and looked to be a passenger transport. Ari quickly made her way back to Anon at the tree line, pulling her hood up. Anon waved cheerily back to the people on the boat. Anon’s wave quickly died when he saw who was on the deck waving back.
“Remember that offhand remark about our luck being bad enough to run into Ellie in our travels?”
“That I do.”
“She’s waving at us.”
“Oh god… I’m not ready for this.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
Ellie leapt over the side of the boat, landing heavily on her foot in the shallow water, strapped to her back was Kid’s massive broadsword and held beneath her arm was a large heavy duty crutch. She hobbled over to the two, Ari shrunk even more behind Anon.
“Well, if this isn’t a surprise, what in the world are you doing out here Anon?” She came to a stop in front of them, towering over them both.
Anon moved to shield Ari a bit more. His voice was just as good humored as usual. “I could ask the same of you. Though, knowing you, you probably have a better reason to be here than us.”
Ellie slightly moved herself to see around Anon. “Probably, I’m just here to collect a few things, and Vee wanted to be back home.”
“Nostalgia is a powerful thing.” Anon nodded sagely, moving to the side to block Ari again.
“You said the same thing about placebo.”
“Many things are powerful.”
“Who’s your friend? I didn’t know you had a travel partner.”
“Indeed I picked her up along the way; she’s a bit shy around new people.”
Ari peeked around Anon, looking at the slab of muscled destruction that was Ellie. “I wouldn’t say she’s new.”
Ari could sense the confusion emanating from Ellie; she pulled down her hood and slowly undid the cloth strips, revealing the rest of her face. “Hello little sister.”
Ellie froze; if she had a face it would no doubt be cycling through more emotions than one could count. “Ah…” Was all she could get out.
Anon put his hands up, still shielding Ari. “Now before you do anything rash, let’s talk this out.”
Ellie stumbled back and sat heavily in the sand. “So you did change,” she said quietly.
“I’m making the attempt,” replied Ari.
“Good, good.” Ellie was still sat, frozen in the sand.
Anon looked between the two of them. “Y’know, I expected a more visceral reaction.”
“We’re closer than you might think,” said Ari as she walked over and sat beside Ellie in the sand. She placed her hand on Ellie’s leg, the leg that ended in a stump. “I’m so sorry. I wish I could have told you sooner… I’m so sorry.” A thin trail of tears flowed from her good eye.
Ellie raised her hand to Ari’s face and wiped away the tears. “I got you back though, didn’t I?” She traced the ugly scar.
Ari let out a small chuckle through her ruined nose. “That you did.”
“You look better all cleaned up.”
“Yeah, I feel better too, just to think, I was running around chasing you lot naked.”
“Yeah, we were gonna comment on that but it didn’t seem very appropriate given the circumstances.”
“Besides, clothes are comfortable.”
“That they are.”
Anon sat down opposite the two and gave them a quizzical look.
Ari ignored him. “You poured so much of yourself into me, and I ignored it.”
“You aren’t ignoring it anymore.”
“No, I don’t suppose I am… How are the others doing?”
“Who, the other Indra?”
Ari shook her head. “No, those in there.” She raised her arm and tapped the side of Ellie’s head.
“Why don’t you come in and find out, they’re all very eager to meet you.”
“Really? Are you sure they don’t want to beat the crap out of me?”
“Well there is some of that, but it’s mostly curiosity.”
“Anything to make amends.”
“Alright, let’s see if this works on you, you might have changed too much to enter the conventional way. Place your hand on my shoulder, do you feel the others?”
“Go to them.”
“That’s pretty vague, but alright.” Ari cast herself toward the presences of the others.
Anon walked over and placed his hand on Ellie’s other shoulder.
Ari found herself standing naked in a grey void, a simple door stood before her. She walked forward and slowly opened the door. Behind it was a room, much larger than the one she had in Sampras, sectioned off to make smaller rooms. To her left was a small kitchen and to her right was another door leading to another smaller room, she slowly entered.
Sitting in front of the door was a small child wearing a ridiculously bright set of clothes. She leapt up and yelled, “She’s here!”
Three more people rounded one of the partition walls, two women and one child like the other one. The child used a crutch.
“Welcome,” said Ellie, “to the apartment.”
“You really weren’t joking.” Ari’s eyes were wide…
Wait, eyes? Ari felt her face; she had both eyes once more, a whole nose, and a small mouth with cheeks. “My face… what happened to it?”
“We’re all human here, even you,” Said Ellie reassuringly.
Ari looked at the other women, she immediately recognized Valkyrie, and the other woman she remembered being named Katrine. Both wore terse, expectant, expressions, as if they expected Ari to go berserk at any moment. Kid ran around excitedly in her usual fashion.
Ari walked over to Valkyrie and looked her up and down. “You look well.”
“Thank you,” Valkyrie responded tensely.
Ari looked into that familiar face, struggling to find something to say. She let out a small huff and muttered, “I’m terrible at this,” and wrapped Valkyrie in a strong hug, finally letting out the many emotions she’d repressed for so long. She held Valkyrie closer, shuddering and sobbing she let everything out.
Valkyrie tightly hugged Ari back. “It’s alright, just let it all out.”
Anon quietly entered the apartment and stood by the surprised looking onlookers. “See? Anybody can change.”
Half an hour later the group was sat around on the futon and the chairs pulled from around the table, talking about anything. Ari had been clothed by Katrine’s freshly stocked wardrobe and was sitting cross legged on the floor.
Ari nodded, chin buried in her open palm. “Oh, so that’s what happened… seems Banthu was wrong about that one.” Ari mused to herself.
Ellie tilted her head, brow furrowed. “Wait when did you see Banthu?”
“I stopped by Alcadon… ooh, a month and a half ago? I had to drop off a package we talked at great length about what happened.”
“That doesn’t seem like you, I never thought you were the courier type.”
“Well I’m not, but I felt obligated. “ She looked at Kid. “I delivered your board to Banthu, I don’t know how he’d do it but if anyone can get you back out there he can.”
Kid put a look of mock outrage on her face and placed a dramatic stump on her forehead. “Oh, you desecrated my poor body, oh!” She fake swooned.
Ari was very confused. “Um.”
Kid leapt back up. “It’s alright; I’m glad that you did it, who knows Ellie, maybe I won’t be here forever.”
Vee thought for a moment. “Did you guys check my board?”
Anon answered. “Yes, unfortunately the damage was irreparable; you got hit in just the right spot.”
Vee saw Ari’s discomfort. “How about we talk about something else?”
“Yes, let’s.” Ari let out an inward sigh of relief.
“So what are your plans?” Ellie looked at Anon and Ari. “Just gonna wander around for a while?”
Anon shrugged. “To be honest we didn’t really get that far, the thought to travel was rather spur of the moment. A little part of me wanted to keep Ari here in arms reach; turns out I just enjoy her company. She really is a whole new person.”
“When considering the person I used to be, just about anything could be considered an improvement.” Ari muttered.
The group was silent, all thinking about something to say. Before anybody could say anything Kid leapt up onto Ari’s slouched shoulders. She crawled over Ari’s head and looked her straight in the eyes.
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” she said bluntly and seriously. “You’re not who you were, make amends and move on.”
Everyone was shocked; such moments of clarity from Kid were few and far between.
“Now look at me and say you won’t be such a grouch.” Kid raised her eyebrows expectantly.
Ari stared straight into Kid’s deep green eyes. “I won’t be such a grouch.”
“The past is over and done with, all you can do is look toward the future and better yourself in the now.” She crawled back to Ari’s shoulders and launched, landing perfectly back on the futon. Totally unconscious, she was snoring before she hit the cushion.
“Huh.” Was all Anon could get out. “She do that often?”
“No,” Katrine shook her head, “Kid’s a happy soul, too much negativity can get her in one of her serious moods.”
Ari’s voice was small. “She’s scary when she’s serious.”
“Indeed, how about something to lighten the mood.” Katrine stood up and made her way to the refrigerator. “You can thank Ghost for this; Ellie finally took her out drinking.”
“Oh that’s nice,” said Anon, “how did she take it?”
“Rather well.” She returned with several small glasses filled with a light orange liquid. “Though I must say, you Indra can’t hold your liquor worth a shit.
Ari thought, trying to place the name. “Wait; which one was Ghost, I don’t think I ever got to meet her back in the day.”
“The hot one.” Vee said bluntly.
“Oh.” Ari nodded as realization dawned. “She seemed nice, didn’t pull her punches though.” Ari cringed remembering the solitary blow she received from Ghost.
Anon took a glass and took a sip. “Oh, and remember Morgan?”
Ari shook her head.
“The one that came up the shaft after you? The weird blobby thing.”
“That thing had a name?”
“Yeah it was an LE model like you and Ellie; he was made without a brain, and wound up looking like that.”
“Yes, I recall it was quite agile considering its size and… well everything about it.”
“Yeah well the others blew it up. Turns out Morgan was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for the overthrow of Schultz. If Morgan wasn’t there then things would have turned out way different.”
Vee shrugged. “An errant piece can ruin a whole game.”
Anon looked at her. “That sounds like the sort of nonsense I would say.”
She looked thoughtful. “Actually, you might have.”
Ari piped up. “Do you have any Fellacian absinthe? I had some in Sampras and quite liked the flavor.”
Katrine got up and went back to the kitchen. “I think I have some rattling around somewhere, don’t drink too much though.”
“Yeah that’s what they said in Sampras, they seemed surprised when I finished the bottle.”
Vee cracked a smile. “Looks like Famine takes after her, she can hold her liquor. Katrine, how about you give her The Brew.”
Ari could hear ominous chuckling from the kitchen.
Katrine came back around the corner with a large cup filled with a deep burgundy liquid, a wicked smile across her face. “Not even Famine could stand up to this one.” She handed the glass to Ari.
The group turned to her expectantly. She gave the drink a sniff, it had a pleasing fruity scent. Throwing caution to the wind she chugged it. Her mouth felt like it was on fire, she desperately hid her discomfort, not wanting to give the others the gratification.
“Delicious,” she rasped. Her eyes widened slightly as a sudden haze fell on her, everything seemed fuzzy around the edges. She shook her head and the haze faded.
“Wow.” Katrine’s mouth was slack. “I’m gonna have to make something stronger.”
“You can try,” said Ari breathlessly. “But it’ll do you no good; I can stand up to anything you throw at me…” she felt her brow grow warm, droplets of sweat formed across her body. “Whoa, there go my organs.”
She fell backwards, unconscious.
Ari awoke to the hushed voices of Anon, Vee, and Ellie talking in the kitchen. Katrine was sat on the futon with a pad of paper and a pencil; she stole a quick glance occasionally.
“Hup, don’t move, I’m almost done,” she said when she saw Ari wake up.
The voices in the kitchen quieted further, Ari saw Anon poke his head around the corner. They made eye contact and he winked cheekily then turned back.
“We were gonna move you somewhere comfortable…” Katrine’s talking surprised Ari. “But none of the furniture could bear you weight.”
“Yeah, I’m used to that.”
“We’d need an industrial sized scale just to weight you, everything else would just shatter. I feel bad for your boots.”
“Indeed, the soles are steel, everything else just evaporated over time. Then again, I don’t really need shoes, but they make me feel normal.”
Katrine got off the couch and walked over to where Ari was still laying, she propped herself up on her elbow and looked at the paper in Katrine’s hand.
“So are you gonna tell me what that is?”
“Well I thought I’d do one better and show you.” She crouched down and showed Ari what she was drawing.
It was Ari, her face specifically; it looked like a photograph was turned black and white and printed on the paper.
Her eyes were wide. “Is that what I look like?”
“You looked so peaceful passed out on the floor, I couldn’t resist the urge.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.” She gingerly handed the drawing back to Katrine.
Ari stood up and immediately felt a strange pressure in her midsection, she looked down confused. “There is something wrong with me…” she said worriedly. “There is a strange feeling in my lower abdomen.”
“Chances are you need to go to the bathroom.”
“It’s that small room over there, just squat over the weird white chair and relax, just make sure you get it all in the bowl.”
“I’m guessing the chair won’t handle my weight?”
Ari went cautiously over to the bathroom; she closed the door behind her.
Katrine went over to the three in the kitchen.
“Strange to think she was a spider a couple of months ago,” Katrine whispered.
“Indeed,” replied Vee her voice low. “She’s improved greatly. Anon was just filling us in on her activities over the past few weeks. Her violent streak isn’t quite gone yet, the way she dealt with Grond and his gang is evidence of that.”
“Yes,” interjected Anon, “but she was acting in self defense and in defense of the others in the inn. Perhaps her actions were brutal, but the outcome would have been the same if bounty hunters had gotten them.”
“She used a corpse as a flail,” Vee said quietly
“Don’t say you haven’t been tempted to do that before.”
“Not with a corpse.”
“Look, Grond and his men were the last ones she killed, brutal as it may be she’s still only going after criminals. She’s restraining herself, she knows killing is bad and only does so when it’s absolutely necessary.”
“I agree,” said Vee, “but I’d still like for you to keep a close eye on her.”
“I had no plans of leaving her, she really is quite charming when you get to know her, sarcastic as hell but still very nice. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll take her back to Alcadon to reunite with the others.”
“That would be very dangerous, there is still quite a bit of bad blood against her. Bolt and Wall would be especially keen to get their hands on her.”
“Perhaps,” said Ari, sneaking up behind the group, “if they met me now their opinions may change.”
The four whirled around.
Before the rest could say anything Katrine spoke. “I heard neither the sound of the toilet flushing nor the sound of you washing your hands, come along young lady, let me teach you basic hygiene.” She ushered Ari back to the bathroom.
Ari turned and looked fearfully at Anon. “I’d gladly take punishment at the hands of Bolt.”
“But do you really mean that?” Asked Ellie.
“Yes, it’s as Kid said, I need to make amends!” Ari called as she was pulled into the bathroom by Katrine.
“Is that your final word?”
“Yes!” Ari yelled from the bathroom.
Anon turned to the others. “Well that’s that, it didn’t expect her to be so enthusiastic, but I think she’s made up her mind.”
“Well, we can leave immediately, after we collect Vee’s belongings.” Ellie turned to Vee. “You do remember where you put them right?”
“Of course.” Vee waved nonchalantly.
Ari, Anon, and Ellie blundered through the forest looking for Vee’s supposed marker.
“Are you sure she said it was around here!?” Anon yelled through the forest.
“Yeah!” Ellie called back, “she says we’re getting really close.”
“Do you think she could be a bit more specific than ‘a grumpy looking tree’?” Ari smacked a low-hanging branch out of the way; it snapped back and smacked her in the face. “Gah! Damned tree! Your charm is wearing thin!”
“The beauty of nature is lost when you have to find something in it.” Anon yelled back.
“More of your sage advice?!”
“Yeah! Oof!” Not looking where he was going he walked straight into a tree. He stepped back to glare at the tree, only to find it glaring back. “Hey! Call me crazy but this tree looks positively furious!”
The others gathered around to gawk at the tree.
“Well, she wasn’t lying,” said Ellie.
Anon studied the tree further. “I think it’s called pareidolia, it’s a psychological thing where people see faces in random objects.”
The trunk of the tree was scarred with several knots and fungal growths that made it look like it had two downturned eyes and a screaming mouth.
“Creepy,” said Ari, rather fascinated.
“So we dig?” asked Ellie. She was silent for a moment. “Yep, we dig.”
“Do you think she has enough axes?” Ari counted them again, there were five lined up on the ground.
“Yeah don’t forget about the poleaxe and Big Rhonda.” Muttered Anon.
“Yeah, Big Bertha was too cliché. She took them both with her, they’re still in Alcadon, these were her ‘for fun’ axes.” Anon gathered them up and put them in his pack.
“She’s swiftly beginning to scare me.”
“As she should, in a fair fight she might actually be able to beat you.”
“I’d like to put that to the test one day.”
“Be careful what you wish for.”
“Actually, it almost seems like the perfect time to settle some old scores.” Ellie said, sneaking up behind Ari.
Ari whirled around just in time to get lifted by Ellie and thrown through several trees. Ari dragged herself up, and fell into a defensive stance.
“Damn, you are heavy.” Ellie closed in.
Ari ducked under a heavy right hook, and blocked a clumsy left with her forearm. Ellie’s crutch flashed in her peripheral vision and suddenly she was on the ground again. She rolled out of the way as the blunt end was swung at her head.
“C’mon, don’t just dodge, fight back!” yelled Anon from the sidelines.
“But I don’t know how much is too much!” Ari yelled back desperately.
“Start light and go heavy!”
The crutch flashed again, punting her in the midsection, Ari fell to her knees gasping. Ellie braced herself to go for another throw but Ari shot forward knocking Ellie over. Using her air jets Ellie managed to flip and land back on her foot. Ari rushed her again and threw a light punch, it just bounced off.
“Too light.” Ari grumbled as Ellie threw and arm drop that caught her in the shoulder. “Careful! I might bruise.”
“I wouldn’t be too worried about that!” yelled Anon.
“Your sage advice is not required right now Anon.” Ari leapt up and threw a sharp kick to Ellie’s chest, Ellie stumbled back slightly. “There it is.”
Ari rolled through Ellie’s legs, just missing a lightning quick grab and leapt onto her broad shoulders. The sudden weight increase made Ellie fall to her knees. Latching her legs around Ellie’s neck, Ari threw her weight forward somersaulting through the air and taking Ellie along with her. Ari released her legs and Ellie went soaring through the air. Reaching out, Ellie snagged the trunk of a nearby tree, sliding down it to rest gently on the ground. Ari stood up and brushed some dust off her shoulder, she beckoned at Ellie.
“It looks cool in your head but brushing dust off your shoulder actually looks stupid!” Anon yelled, breaking the tense mood.
“Hush!” Ari kept her eyes on Ellie. “Good god you’re stubborn. Sorry Anon but she punches far harder than you ever could.”
“Stop making me feel inadequate!”
“You don’t need my help for that!” Ari yelled back.
Ellie inhaled deeply, her body expanded slightly, Ari braced herself. With a roar of jets Ellie shot forward, faster than Ari had anticipated. For a split second Ari could see every minute detail of Ellie’s fist, the slight differences in coloration, the texture of her skin, the small smoking holes of the air jets, then it made contact. Ari saw stars; she shot backwards, until her travels were halted by a massive ancient boulder which subsequently split down the middle.
Ari got up shakily. “I think this matchup is rather unfair, she doesn’t have to pull her punches.”
Ellie was suddenly in front of her. “Then don’t.”
Ari ducked under another massive swing. “You said it not me.”
Quickly analyzing Ellie’s frame Ari determined the best spot to lay a full strength punch, somewhere that would hurt but not be altogether damaging. Ari settled on her right side, just below where Ellie’s ribcage would be. Ellie’s demeanor changed, she suddenly went from offensive to defensive, crossing her arms over her chest and head. Ari threw the punch.
Perhaps it was a good thing Ellie switched to defense, though her dodge wasn’t quick enough to get out of the way entirely. Ari’s knuckles just grazed the outside skin, rending several small chunks of skin and muscle from Ellie’s body. Without something solid to stop it, Ari’s swing kept going, her fist made contact with the massive boulder. The force of the displaced air made the boulder crack before her fist ever touched the rock, as her fist traveled through the solid stone it began to liquefy around her hand.
The rock disintegrated, chunks of fractured stone shot through the woods, shredding anything they came in contact with. Ellie was showered in these deadly missiles though her skin was thick enough to ricochet most of them, Anon took cover behind a tree. Ari fell writhing to the ground, her arm badly burned by the molten rock. Not even hesitating, Ellie hauled Ari over her shoulder and began hobbling as fast as she could toward the Knoss. Her foot sunk deep into the ground with every step she took. The tree line came into view, Ellie sped up, Ellie threw Ari down on the bank of the Knoss and pulled her arm into it, a faint sizzling could be heard as her arm cooled. Anon rushed from the trees and crouched by Ari.
“I think that was a poor choice of words,” said Anon.
“Indeed,” Ellie winced as she pulled a particularly sharp shard of rock from her side. “That was my mistake.”
Ellie place a cursory finger on her right side, she hissed in pain. “Ooh, I’m glad I saw that look in her eye, otherwise I would have wound up like that rock, she’d really have some anxiety issues after that.”
Anon chuckled. “Next time you fancy a quick bout I’d recommend you let her know. She could have liquefied you.”
“Hmph, I expected her to be strong, but that’s just ridiculous.”
“Don’t forget how she performed against Havoc, I’m pretty sure she was holding back even then.”
Ari stirred. “Hmmm, so this is what real pain feels like? I don’t like it.”
“That’s the point,” said Anon, “here, let’s get a look at your arm.”
Her arm was bright red and badly burnt, the skin had already begun to blister in several places.
“Well, I think we’ve found your limit, and it stops at molten rock.” Anon leapt to his feet. “Alright, let ‘the connoisseur of natural living’ tend to your wounds. Menthol! We need Menthol!” Anon sprinted into the woods.
He left both Ari and Ellie sitting awkwardly in the shallows. They looked at each other and laughed.
“I think he likes you,” said Ellie, giving Ari a little nudge.
“Now why would he go around and do something like that? We’re just travel partners, and besides, he’s only known me for five days.”
Ellie was quiet for a moment. “Do you really want to meet them? The others?”
“Yes, they have every right to know I’m still alive. And if they have any grievances then I’d like to either talk it out with them, or let them tire themselves beating me then talk it out.”
“We’ll have Anon put out a call when he gets back, I still don’t know how to do it. We’ll have the Indra come back to Alcadon then we’ll do a reveal of some sort. When they figure out who you are chances are they’ll earnestly try to kill you.”
“I can’t blame them for that.” Ari winced as she dunked her arm back in the cold water. “I only hope they’re willing to listen when they’re done.”
Pretty soon Ari’s arm was wrapped in a poultice of crushed mint leafs and river mud and wrapped in fresh green leafs and twine.
“If I had known you were going to be so injury prone I would have picked up medical supplies in Sampras.” Anon said jokingly, tying the final knot on the makeshift bandage. “Just don’t move your arm too much and it should be fine. I’m not sure how quickly you’ll heal; it looks like you actually have real skin so it might take a while.”
Ari scoffed slightly. “I’m a biological marvel.”
Anon nodded. “That you are, c’mon get up.”
Ari shakily got to her feet and the small group began walking along the river making their way back to Alcadon.
The journey down the river was remarkably uneventful; bar the occasional passing boat it was nothing but water and trees with little to break the monotony. Ellie was, and remained, fascinated with Ari’s need to carry out basic human functions like eating, drinking and especially sleeping.
“So how do you know when you’re gonna wake up?” She asked.
Ari thought. “Well… I don’t, I just sort of wake up when I do, I have no control over when I fall asleep and when I wake up again.”
“It seems rather inconvenient.”
“On the contrary, sleep is wonderful. Every feeling in my body is replaced with a warm softness. Every breath I take makes my eyelid droop further, and when I finally do fall asleep, I dream.”
Anon spoke before Ellie could. “I’ve often been enamored with human’s fascination with dreaming, what’s it like?”
“Imagine your oldest memories, they’re patchy and they’re fuzzy around the edges, you can’t remember what people said, only that they said something. Faces are clear, expressions are not. Sometimes you’re you, sometimes you’re somebody else. You can dream an entire life in minutes or spend the entire night forming a single sentence and you wake up before you can say it. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a dream so crystal clear that you can remember it when you wake up, and if you’re luckier you can remember it even longer. Some nights I don’t dream and I simply wake up the next morning with the hours instantly passing me by.”
“Do you ever dream about who you were?” Asked Ellie carefully.
“Yes, more often then I’d want, but still less than you’d think.” She gave Ellie a light jab with her elbow. “You feature prominently in those, or more specifically the bottom of your foot does. They’re always much clearer than my normal dreams, then again I suppose all nightmares are.”
“Who would have thought…? I haunt your nightmares.”
“You and many others.”
Ellie let that conversation drop; she was silent for a moment until… “So do you shit?”
Anon burst out laughing. “Language young lady!”
“Hey you’re not much better!”
“I’m older than you by a large margin; you’re not even a year old yet.”
“Yeah? Well… I can still beat you up!” Ellie retorted lamely.
“Temper temper,” scolded Ari. “As for your question, I have no idea. As I learned in the apartment I do have to pass waste, at least in there. As for out here?” She shrugged.
“Hmmm, the more I learn about you the more normal you seem.” Ellie muttered.
“I take that as a compliment.”
“It was meant as one.” Ellie placed her massive hand on Ari’s shoulder. “We’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“We? It seems my emotional support group is beginning to grow.”
Ellie turned to Anon. “You were right, sarcastic as hell.”
The blast of a boat horn interrupted Anon’s assuredly witty reply. The three turned to see the boat that carried Ellie coming back up stream, it was moving slowly but still quite a bit faster than the three were walking. The boat slowed as it pulled up alongside the three, a man waved from the deck.
He yelled out to them, “Oi! You three! Care fer a lift?!”
Ellie looked down at Ari. “Think you’re up to it?”
“Sure, that’s if I can even get on the boat without sinking it.”
“Don’t worry it’s mostly steel, we’ll keep you on the lower decks though just in case.”
“Alright, then, let’s see.”
Through some miracle Ari managed to haul herself on board without damaging anything or letting the captain know just how much she weighed.
“I see you picked up some friends along the way!” The captain said cheerily as Anon and Ari hauled themselves aboard. He looked up at Anon. “’pon my soul, yer a darn sight taller than people say.”
“Indeed, though I’m still not as tall as Ellie here.”
The captain turned to look at Ari. “an’ who’s yer friend?”
Anon wrapped his arm around Ari’s shoulder and tried to pull her in, though he wound up pulling himself in. “Travel buddy, we were going the same way so decided to partner up.”
“I envy ya lass,‘s not many can befriend an Indra, yer a lucky ‘n an no mistake.”
“Thank you.” Ari replied politely.
“So I hope your trip to Sampras was uneventful?” Ellie asked the captain.
“Aye that it was, gotta full cab comin’ back too. Business s’never been better.”
“Naow, if’n you’ll ‘scuse me I need t’be back at the wheel.” He turned and made his way to the upper decks.
Ari sat and gently reclined against the railing, letting out a small sigh. “If you two don’t mind I think I’ll take a nap.”
“Alright, we’ll go get comfortable.” Ellie and Anon went inside, it took some effort but Ellie managed to squeeze through the small door.
Ari watched the beautiful scenery pass by, slowly the trees began to thin, looking to her left Ari could see the vast Knoss wetlands stretching as far as the eye could see. She relaxed and closed her eye, soon the warm embrace of sleep claimed her.
She awoke from her dreamless sleep. Eye still closed she could feel somebody sitting next to her, probably Anon getting snuggly again, something was wrong. This person was smaller, and warmer. Cracking her eye open Ari turned her head slowly to see a familiar face gazing inquisitively at her.
“Gah! What are you doing here!?” Ari recoiled when she saw Jozhen’s face.
His mouth was twisted in a cheeky smile. “Aww that isn’t the way to greet old friends.”
Ari stood up and stretched her leg. Jozhen’s face grew concerned when he saw Ari’s bandaged arm.
“I missed my punch, definitely for the best that I did though, the boulder didn’t stand a chance.”
“You punched a rock?”
“Well I was aiming at Ellie, we were having a little bout, it seems I’m not above getting burned.”
“How did you get burns from punching a rock?” Jozhen was looking more and more confused.
Johzen’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he said in a small voice.
“Anyway, what are you doing here, I thought you were going to stay in Sampras?”
“Nah,” he waved off the suggestion, “I couldn’t stay there forever. I’m thinking of going off to Alcadon, maybe join the military there, if that falls through maybe I could join up with some mercenaries.” He shrugged.
“The convenience is astounding, I’m off to Alcadon as well, but for slightly different reasons.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“You wouldn’t believe me.”
“Look, Ari, you can punch rocks so hard that they melt, I’ll believe anything you say.”
The two sat for quite a while, Ari dumping her life story at Jozhen’s feet, he sat silently and listened. After an hour of gushing Ari stopped.
“Is this too much? I’m honestly surprised you haven’t jumped overboard to get away from me.”
“Now why would I do that,” he said, “from what I can tell you and Medusa are completely different people.”
“You aren’t afraid of me?”
“No, not really.”
Ari began undoing the cloth around her face. “Even when you know what I look like?” Ari pulled away the trips covering her nose and eye first.
“I’m not afraid of your scars.”
“It’s more than scars.”
She pulled down the strips covering her mouth.
A look of shock flashed across Jozhen’s face, but was quickly replaced with a small smile. “You lied…”
“Huh?” Ari was incredibly confused, this was not the reaction she had envisioned.
“Back in Sampras, you lied. I asked you if you thought you were cute, and you responded, and I quote ‘bitch I’m adorable’.” He screwed his face up when he poorly mimicked Ari. He gave her a playful shove. “Nah, it’s fine, I could get used to it after a while.”
“You mean that?”
Jozhen patted Ari’s knee. “Of course I do, you’re my friend.”
Ellie squeezed out of the door, she froze when she saw Ari barefaced with somebody else. “Ah, this is unexpected, I’ll come back later.” She made to squeeze back through the door.
“No, no, it’s alright, he’s a friend from Sampras.” Ari waved Ellie back over.
Ellie reclined on the railing alongside Jozhen. “A friend? You never mentioned him.”
“Well, cut me some slack, I’ve been a bit distracted this past week and we only met up with you a few days ago.”
Anon poked his head out the door, and saw the three talking. He caught Jozhen’s eye.
“Ey!” said Anon loudly before shooting some finger guns and ducking back inside.
Ari deflated slightly. “That reference is older than western civilization.”
“Wait,” said Ellie, “how do you know about the Fonz?”
“Freeman watched an ungodly amount of Happy Days in his spare time.”
Ellie shuddered. “It should have been lost to the ages.”
Ari turned, confused. “Wait, it’s still around?”
Jozhen answered. “Yeah the whole show was found on an ancient storage bank a few years ago, it’s been spreading around the country like a plague.”
“Some things never die,” Ari muttered dejectedly.
”I’m frightened, I’m scared, I’m terrified, and I’m gonna die.” Ari muttered to herself monotonously.
The final few days of their journey were uneventful and consisted of them sitting around and talking. They disembarked where the Knoss was closest to Lake Halgue and walked along the road from there. The city of Alcadon rose from the horizon like a jagged mountain with the mile high Schultz building as its peak. Ari had grown increasingly reserved as the journey went on, to the point where she began muttering to herself, ignoring the others. When asked she still maintained that she wanted to meet with the others though she was sounding more and more unsure.
The three, Jozhen decided to tag along, had to literally drag her over the threshold to the city, drawing many stares. The Indra were given a respectfully wide berth, whatever was happening was their business. And the people didn’t interfere. Not even the military guard stationed at the entrance batted an eye. Finally Ellie had enough of Ari’s reluctance and simply slung her over her massive shoulder, her steps quickly became labored but she didn’t complain. Ari limply bounced on Ellie’s back.
“I think she’s having a panic attack.” Jozhen said, staring into Ari’s glassy eye. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Anon shook his head. “Not in the slightest, but it needs to be done, otherwise she’ll wallow in guilt forever.”
“They’ll tear her apart!”
Ellie spoke. “Jozhen, you seriously underestimate how strong she is. You saw her scar right?” Her tone was serious.
“I shattered my leg giving that to her. If I had to break myself to break her then the others won’t stand a chance. I know it sounds arrogant but it’s the truth.”
“Will you stop them if they go too far?”
“I honestly don’t know how they’ll react; some I know will be furious and other may just stay out of it.”
Anon ruffled Jozhen’s hair. “We may not seem it, but we Indra are surprisingly forgiving.”
“I saw your forgiveness in the dry dock.”
Anon cringed internally.
The group entered the Schultz building lobby and made for the elevators.
Ellie pulled Ari off her shoulder and handed her to Anon. “Anon, you and Ari take an elevator to the gym, I’ll go get everyone, they should be in the lounge.”
Anon pressed the elevator button and waited. Jozhen stood next to him.
“You probably don’t want to watch this,” Anon said to Jozhen, “shrapnel, y’know?”
“She needs a friend with her.”
“Then she’ll have two.”
The door opened and the two stepped inside, dragging Ari in behind. Anon pressed level U15 and the elevator started the long descent down.
Ellie entered the lounge, they were all there, with the exception of Xypia. Ten heads turned expectantly towards her.
“Follow me.” Was all Ellie said.
The elevators dinged and the Indra stepped out into the gym. There were three people standing in the center of the room, Anon was easily identifiable but the other two were a mystery. There was a blond haired man and a woman with their face wrapped tightly only showing their right eye which was red and dripping tears. As the Indra approached the woman undid the cloth around their face revealing an ugly scar and a grotesque mouth. Bolt and Scorn immediately froze.
“MEDUSA!” A screech tore from Bolt’s speaker as she rushed forward.
The other Indra froze. Medusa?
Anon and the blonde man quickly got out of the way as Bolt rushed forward, planting a fist right in Ari’s mouth. She fell backward, not bothering to block or even move. Punch after punch was laid, only after Bolt began reaching for her weapons did the Indra intervene. Bolt was roughly hauled of Ari’s limp figure and held in a full nelson by Wall until she calmed down.
Ari was muttering something; several of the Indra crouched down next to her to hear what she was saying.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” was all she said.
Ellie crouched down and pulled Ari into a sitting position. “She came to make amends; she knew the risks but came anyway.”
“This is Medusa?” Pixia sounded incredulous. “Wasn’t she a spider the last time we saw her.”
Anon stepped in. “We don’t know the specifics, but she seems to have metamorphosed into something resembling a human. She has a digestive system, a respiratory system, bones, real skin and probably a bunch of other things we can’t even begin to comprehend. For all intents and purposes, bar the mouth and her incredible strength, durability, and weight, she is human. She even sleeps and dreams. She is no longer Medusa, she is Ariadne.”
“The guiding light…” Said Lethe.
“If and when she snaps out of her mental breakdown I’m sure she’d like to talk to you.” Anon gave her a few light slaps to the face.
Ari remained in her unresponsive state, staring wide eyed at the ceiling, muttering.
“I think the stress has gotten to her.” Pestilence crouched down and with Anon, lifted Medusa. “Let’s get her somewhere comfortable.”
Lethe turned and went back to the elevators. “I’ll get Juvinea; she might know how to help.”
“Has Banthu turned back up!?” Ellie yelled after him.
“Nope!” The doors closed behind Lethe and he was whisked away to the engineering levels.
“Good lord!” Pestilence exclaimed. “She’s heavy.”
“Yeah, she may not look it but if she had half a mind to she could take us all down. Ellie learned that the hard way when they had a quick sparring session.”
As the group made their way back to the elevators Famine turned and saw the blonde haired man standing awkwardly.
“Excuse me,” Famine walked up to Jozhen, “but who are you?”
“I’m… her friend.”
Famine nodded. “It’s safe to assume she doesn’t normally act like this?”
“I’ve never seen her act like this. She’s the strongest person I know, and I’ve seen her in some pretty bad spots, but I’ve never seen her scared before. You all scare her, more than you could know.”
“Her history is… considerable, especially with us.”
“Yes, she told me.”
“Does she trust you?”
Jozhen didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
“Then please come with us, she might talk to you.”
Famine turned, followed closely by Jozhen.
Ari was laid out on the floor of the lounge, Anon sat next to her.
“Alright everybody, I think she needs a bit of time to calm down.” He stood up and started pushing the Indra towards the door. “We’ll do things slow, one at a time, all of you being here are probably making her worse.”
“You speak as if you care about it,” said Bolt snidely.
“I do. I care for her very much.” He looked straight at Bolt. “Vee’s forgiven her, hopefully you will too.”
Bolt stiffened and quickly left the room.
Wall turned to the rest. “Alright guys, lets to what he says, let’s give her a chance.”
The Indra left the room, leaving only Anon and Wall. Wall walked over and sat beside Ari, he placed his massive hand on her chest. He was silent, feeling the sharp rising and falling of Ari’s chest.
“So much has changed…” Wall mumbled. “From the creature you were to as you are now. Where has that old confidence and arrogance gone sister? What happened to that uncaring attitude when you slaughtered the humans? Where’s your anger? Look at you, lying on the floor crying, bombarded with feelings. You are no longer that creature… Medusa is dead, she died long ago in the ruins of Knossos, all that remains the same is the chip lodged inside your head, and I’m sure even that is unrecognizable. Medusa cut off my arm, not you, and Medusa is dead, you should not bear the guilt of the dead.”
Ari continued staring at the ceiling.
“Can you feel it? Your lungs filling with air? The pounding of your heart in your chest? The sweat dripping from your pores, and the tears oozing from your eye?”
Ari’s breathing slowed.
“You’re human. The rest of us can find forgiveness, what you did, while terrible, was understandable. You were flawed, you were insane, and many of us saw how the government treated you. Most of us already have forgiven you; Bolt is liable to be the only holdout. But when she forgives you there will only be one more, one person you need to seek forgiveness from.”
Ari turned her eye to look at Wall.
“Yourself… you need to forgive yourself. Because at the end of the day, yours is the only forgiveness that truly matters.”
Ari’s eye widened and a fresh flood of tears began to cascade down her face.
“Thank you,” whispered Ari.
Wall wiped away her tears with his massive finger. “Everyone is capable of change; they just have to be brave enough to try.” Wall stood up and left the room, leaving only Anon.
Bolt paced angrily around the apartment. “And you forgave it!? That thing killed you!”
“Yes!” Vee yelled back. “That woman is no longer Medusa! Medusa is dead and still Ariadne bears that guilt. Do not be angry for my sake!”
“For your sake!? What about me! That thing took away the one person I actually cared about, you! And now I can only talk to you through Ellie, who won’t always be around when I need you!”
“Grow up!” Vee screamed.
Bolt went silent, shocked.
Vee lowered her voice. “I love you Bolt, like a mother loves her child, but you have to move on. You have your own life, free from me, don’t let me hold you back from your true potential. You need to leave the nest.”
Vee tried to hug Bolt but Bolt pushed her away.
“I will never forgive her! Not for what she’s done to me and not for what she’s done to you!”
She turned around and stormed out of the apartment.
Vee buried her face in her hands, suppressing sobs. Katrine led her back to the futon.
“Hey,” Katrine said in a calm reassuring tone, “you did good back there.”
“No I didn’t…” Vee’s voice was quavering.
“Yes you did, you heard Bolt, ‘I will never forgive her’. You’ve planted the seed, now we just need to wait for it to grow.
Vee looked at Katrine with big, wet, hopeful eyes.
“So what is it you wanted me to take a look at.” Juvinea was confused, Lethe was usually more open.
“You’ll see.” Lethe’s voice was deadly serious.
The two entered the lounge. Anon, and a blonde haired man were sitting on the couch and a thin woman was lying in the ground her face was covered.
“Lethe, I’m not a medical doctor, if there’s something wrong with her I can’t help.”
“She’s not quite human Juvinea. Come take a look.”
Lethe kneeled down and pulled the cover off the woman’s face. Juvinea’s eyes widened with shock.
She crouched down beside Lethe. “What is she?”
“In a past life she was called Medusa,” Lethe answered. “I assume you’ve seen the security footage from the loading bay. We don’t know how but she’s changed in both body and mind, she’s almost indistinguishable from a human.”
“She’s an Indra, and yet she’s not? This is above my pay grade, this above even my sister. Only Banthu would have a clue as to what’s going on. Um, is she conscious?”
“Yes, very, she’s getting over a panic attack.”
“The more I learn about you lot the less I understand, first Ghost… Let’s get her to my lab, if anything I might be able to help her calm down.”
Anon and Lethe struggled to haul her up. Juvinea looked confused.
“How much does she weigh?”
“My best guess would put her at maybe two tons,” gasped Lethe.
“Well how’d she manage that?” Juvinea was all sorts of confused. “Wall doesn’t weigh more than six hundred pounds.”
Anon was bent nearly double with the strain. “Our best guess was that Ellie interrupted her transformation process by kicking her in the face and ripping the skin. She was probably going to be far beefier or maybe even monstrous, just to distribute the weight, but this is how she turned out. Personally I’m glad she turned out this way.”
“As am I,” Lethe groaned, “at least she can fit through doors.”
They finally had to resort to dragging her. It seems the jolt of her head banging into several corners brought Ari back to her senses.
“Oooowww,” she groaned weakly.
“Welcome back to the land of the conscious and the semi-conscious,” said Anon.
“Where are you dragging me?” Her voice was tired.
She lifted her head. “Lethe’s girlfriend?”
Juvinea blushed a bright scarlet, Lethe would have as well if it were physically possible.
“Well… I wouldn’t go that far,” Juvinea said uncertainly, “we’re just friends.”
“Not according to what he told me.” Ari shakily pointed at Anon.
“Oi, don’t try to shift blame on me, I just brought it up in passing.”
Ari’s tone was joking. “Oh, the vivid, graphic detail.”
“I think she’s almost back to her normal self.” Said Jozhen hopefully.
“Indeed,” said Lethe, carefully angling his pull so that Ari hit another corner. “Oops.”
“You’re on thin ice boyo,” muttered Ari.
“I think her sense of humor is returning as well.” Anon put her leg down and crouched over her. “Can you walk, or do you want us to keep dragging you around like the princess you are?”
“I’ll walk,” Ari grumbled.
She pulled herself uncertainly to her feet. “You never mentioned how hard that Bolt could punch, she nearly broke what’s left of my nose. I think she needs therapy.”
Anon scoffed. “Ironic coming from you, you’re about as stable as a pile of sand in a tornado.”
“That analogy was so forced and contrived that I refuse to acknowledge it.”
“You’re strangling my creative genius.”
“I think genius would be the last word I’d use to describe you.”
“Even after handsome and sexy?”
“Third to last then, and even higher as you list off more flattering words.”
Juvinea was rather lost for words, listening to Ari make snide remarks and jibes, it was a total change from how she was earlier.
Juvinea had an idea. She gave a nonchalant shrug and leaned against the wall. “And you were getting on me and Lethe for being close; I might have to pull the floor’s snog box out of retirement for the two of you.”
“Ari turned around and pointed a finger right in Juvinea’s face. “No, do not make such inferences.”
Anon gave a small shrug. “Well I mean…” he began, his tone wry.
Ari turned until her finger was in his metaphorical face. “No… naughty, not every friendship has to be a romance.”
Lethe shrugged. “She said no, sorry buddy but you’re out.” He looked over at Jozhen. “Hey kiddo, you’re up.”
Ari turned once more until her finger was brushing Jozhen’s nose. “Don’t even think about it.”
Jozhen averted his eyes, slightly blushing. “Furthest thing from my mind.”
Pestilence peeked her head around the corner, carefully watching the strange exchange go down. She seemed so normal, almost strange to think that she was gibbering on the floor only a short while ago. Death, who was keeping an eye on her, snuck up behind her and cleared his throat. Startled, Pestilence fell forward landing heavily. The conversation immediately stopped, five heads turned to stare at Pestilence.
“Nice night for a walk,” she said, still lying on the floor.
“Were you eavesdropping on us?” asked Anon.
“Who, me? No!” she dismissed the thought with a wave.
Death poked his head around the corner. “Then what were you doing sneaking around behind them?”
“Eavesdropping.” Pestilence admitted guiltily.
“Well, how about instead of skulking around like a cretin, you just join the conversation?” Anon waved her over.
Pestilence looked back at Death who shook his head and walked off. “You lie in the bed you make for yourself.”
“Hey, that’s one of mine!” Anon yelled after him.
Pestilence stood rigidly and gave a small wave. “So, uh, how’re you doing?”
“Much better,” replied Ari.
“Perhaps a bit overwhelmed with all of us at once?”
“That’s about right.”
“Look, I’m sorry about Bolt, she’s a bit of a handful at the best of times…”
“Hup! I came here to apologize to you, not the other way around. The way she acted is completely understandable; I expect and even welcome it.”
“You want to get beaten up?”
“If it’s the first step to forgiveness then yes, I’ll take as many beatings as I have to.”
“Just pray she doesn’t decide to return in kind,” joked Anon. “You should’ve seen her bout with Ellie, oh that was incredible.”
“You can tell us on the way,” said Juvinea, “there are a few tests I’d like to run in my workroom.”
Ari leaned against the wall as Juvinea did her inspection, the rest of the Indra and Jozhen were lounging around watching it all happen. Ari recounted her ill-fated bout with Ellie.
“It melted?” Pestilence didn’t quite believe it.
“Yeah…” Ari ran her hand trough her hair. “I underestimated Ellie’s speed and overestimated the strength of her body.”
“It’s probably for the best that you over swung,” said Anon, “if you had nothing to stop the punch you would’ve taken off like an ancient helicopter.”
“My boy, you need a lesson in physics,” said Juvinea.
“And if I hit Ellie she would have exploded, so all in all I don’t think it ended that badly.”
Pestilence stroked her chin area. “We really could have used you against Proteus; a punch from you would have ended things right quick.”
“Indeed,” said Lethe before Ari could answer. But then we wouldn’t have been around to save Xypia from getting splatted and we wouldn’t have seen the window.”
Pestilence burst out laughing. “Oh my god that’s right! Oh, talk about lucky.” She turned to Ari. “That bastard was made from some stern stuff, we got it on its back but we still couldn’t kill it, imagine our surprise when Schultz’ window flies a mile down the side of the building and cut the damn thing in two.”
“The convenience is astounding.”
“I know right? It seems that no matter how bad things get we almost always come out of it alright.” She trailed off; eventually she stood up and made for the door. “I have a few things I still need to take care of, I’ll talk with you lot later.”
Pestilence left the room, around the same time Jozhen let out a massive yawn.
“Call me crazy… but you’re tired”, said Ari, she turned to Lethe. “Is there anywhere for him to sleep in the building?”
“Indeed there is, there are guest quarters on levels 311-315, I’ll take him up there.”
The two left the room. As soon as they left Juvinea closed and locked the door.
She turned around, blocking the entrance. “How long?” she asked, voice serious.
“How long, what?” Ari asked, confused.
Juvinea walked forward and poked Ari in the chest. “How long has that been in there?”
“Ah.” Ari’s face fell. “I don’t know why, but a part of me hoped you’d find that.”
“How long? And Whose?”
“I got it when I came here last, when I dropped of Kid’s board with Banthu, he did the surgery.”
Anon was confused. “Wait, what are you talking about?”
“She has a brain Anon, just like Ellie, a human brain.”
Anon deflated. “That would explain quite a bit…”
“I had no choice.” Ari pleaded. “The piece of Ellie started me on the right path but it couldn’t do more than restrain my urges. If I didn’t get the brain I likely would have reverted to what I was, I didn’t want that. In the Petrified Wood, Ellie explained how her chip was paired with a human brain, how it reduced the load on her chip. I didn’t want to be crazy anymore; I wanted to be like her, sane, normal! I couldn’t do it on my own! Please understand!
Anon was silent, Ari could feel crushing disappointment emanating from him. Juvinea refused to make eye contact.
“Very well,” said Ari quietly, “goodbye.”
Anon looked up sharply as Ari leapt to her feet and sprinted into the door, tearing it off its hinges. She sprinted down the hall, heavy strides cracking the tiles. Finding the nearest window Ari leapt from it, she was only a dozen stories up so she landed unharmed. She left a crater in the road as she landed, traffic swerved and pedestrians ran. She looked back to see Anon and Juvinea standing in the window, he was yelling something but Ari couldn’t hear him over the sounds of traffic.
She sprinted to the outskirts of the city, leaving a trail of small craters in her wake. The guards at the entrance to the city had no time to react as Ari blew past them; they were left slack jawed as she sped into the flatlands. For mile after mile she ran, not slowing down until early the next morning when her legs finally gave out and she collapsed. She crawled to the nearest boulder and huddled in its shadow. She withdrew into her thoughts.
“And we’re back here again.”
Ari jumped as Ellie’s voice jolted her awake, she huddled deeper into the boulder.
Ellie and Anon sat heavily on the ground beside her.
Ellie sighed. “You really are a big ball of depression and issues, we get one thing squared away and another problem gets dredged up.”
“Just leave me alone.” Ari muttered.
“Why? We’re your friends; we won’t just give up on you.”
“I’m a monster, I don’t deserve friends.”
“By that same logic I’m a monster and don’t deserve friends.”
“But you didn’t have a choice.”
“Neither did you.”
Ari looked at Ellie, her eye glistening. “She died, for me… Of all the people I’ve killed, of all the deaths I’ve been responsible for, hers has hurt me the most. I am the reason she’s dead, and she’s the reason I’m alive.”
“Who was she?” Ellie asked gently.
“She was Banthu’s daughter. Imagine, a father killing his own daughter for a complete stranger.”
“The ethics are complicated,” said Anon, “but I think you still did the right thing. As Scorn told Bolt a long time ago, ‘the right thing is not always the good thing’. The consequences of your inaction would have been far greater than just her death. Grond would have killed all the people in that inn, and he would have kept killing, but you stopped him.”
“I killed over twenty men.”
“Twenty men who had killed hundreds and would have killed more. It’s all about the big picture, and while your actions are debatable in the now I’m sure things will become clear in the future.”
“Please,” said Ellie, “come back with us. Only Anon, Juvinea and I know about the brain. If you don’t want to tell anybody else then nobody has to know. We just want you to be happy, and honestly, I think Pestilence likes you.”
“I don’t deserve happiness.”
“Everybody deserves happiness.”
“What about Bolt?”
“She’ll take some convincing but I’m sure she’ll come around to you when she gets to know you.” Ellie held out her hand.
Ari looked at the outstretched hand. Hesitantly she took it. Ellie stood up and tried to pull Ari up too but she stayed seated.
“You’re gonna have to pull harder than that,” said Ari quietly.
“Stubborn as a mule,” Ellie muttered. “Well, if you’re going to play that game then I’ll just beat you to the punch.”
Ellie crouched and heaved Ari up over her shoulder. Ari thrashed and lightly beat upon Ellie’s back, but the two could feel her relief, they made their way back to the borrowed ATPV.
“You done freaking out on us?” Pestilence asked earnestly, looking Ari square in the face.
“Yes,” Ari said quietly.
“Speak up, I can’t hear you!” Anon yelled from two feet away. “My hearing’s bad!”
Pestilence silenced him with a stare. “Come on, it’s all right, there’s no need to be scared.”
“You’re acting like I’m a scared puppy.” Ari said grumpily.
“Well, to be fair, your pattern of behavior hasn’t been doing you any favors on that front.” Pestilence replied, her voice was still quiet but there was a hint of humor. “Would you like one of us to come with you? Wall? Anon? Myself? We’d all be glad to go in there with you.”
“No, I have to do this alone. No offense, but having somebody there would only cheapen things.”
“All right, good luck.” Pestilence gave Ari a gentle hug.
Ari opened the door and stepped inside. Sitting inside the room was Bolt; she was stock still and watched every move Ari made like a hawk stalking its prey. Ari closed the door behind her and walked up to Bolt until she was only several feet away.
“Say what you’ve come here to say and leave.” Bolt’s tone was angry.
Ari sat down in front of her and said nothing, she simply stared at Bolt.
“What are you doing? Either say something or leave!”
“My goodness, you’re an even bigger mess than I am.”
“Are you purposefully trying to antagonize me? ‘Cause if you are, its working.”
“Listen to that, listen to you. You keep hiding your actual feelings with anger.”
“Anger is an excellent coping mechanism.”
“But it isn’t, you’ll only drive away those closest to you, like you did with Vee.”
“You left her in tears, the person you care about most in the world, the person who loves you back just as much, if not more so, you made her cry. Why did you make her cry?”
“I-I was angry, angry about you, angry that she could forgive you for killing her!”
“And so you decide to sabotage your relationship with her. Her actions were her own.”
“Don’t tell me what I thought!”
“You’re scared… Oh, you’re so scared. You’re scared of what will happen when the anger goes away, when your shield finally breaks. What will happen to you when it does… will you cry? Will all of those emotions you’ve been bottling up for decades finally burst? Will you go insane? Is the anger the only thing that’s keeping you together?”
“Shut your mouth!”
“You’ve killed so many people… I’ve seen your combat record… You’ve killed more people than I have; the only difference is that they were on the other side, but in the end that doesn’t matter. I know your pain… that cold sliver of ice puncturing the deepest recesses of your being, growing day by day, tainting your thoughts. So what do you do? You build walls, you box that shard up until it’s the furthest thing from your waking mind, but it’s still there. It may not be growing any larger but it’s growing denser and denser. That shard of ice is a good thing, it’s the best thing one could ever have, and it’s your humanity. It’s not the happy side of humanity; it’s the bad side, the sad side… Guilt, fear, regret, loneliness, sadness, feelings that mold a person, that make them better, without them you’ll never learn from your mistakes. I lacked even that sliver of ice in my being, until Knossos, until I bit Ellie. Those feelings changed who I was, from the moment I first felt that pang of guilt flash through my being I became a different person. But I did as you are now, suppressing those feelings, hiding them away in a nice pretty box. But I did something that you haven’t done yet, I opened that box and I let the feelings go. Imagine that… me, the insane killing machine, lecturing the not-so-insane killing machine about humanity… such an odd world we live in. I do not ask for your forgiveness Bolt, I ask you to forgive yourself. Because… at the end of the day, yours is the only forgiveness that truly matters.”
Bolt was silent. Ari stood up and left the room.
Anon, and Pestilence were waiting out in the hallway.
Anon spoke first. “Well I didn’t hear anything shatter so I take it that things went well?”
“She needed Wall’s advice more than I did.” She looked back at the door. “C’mon let’s go, she needs time to herself.”
As they walked down the hall a soul shattering wail erupted from the room. Anon and Pestilence whirled around.
“Is she OK?” asked Anon.
Ari kept walking forward. “It seems she’s taking my advice.”
Ari entered the guest quarters, and was immediately struck by how utterly spotless everything was.
“Too bad the shower probably can’t support my weight, I feel like my being here is dirtying everything.”
Pestilence shrugged. “We’ll figure something out, there’s probably something in the engineering department that can hold your weight.”
“Are you sure you’re fine with me staying here? I don’t want to intrude.”
“Where else would you go? Face it Ari, you’re stuck with us, at least until you decide to go out again. When you do go travelling again I doubt we’re gonna let you go alone.”
Ari raised her eyebrow. “Oh? Why not.”
“Anon’s got a bit of a crush on you. He’ll follow you around like a lost puppy,” Pestilence said quietly, in a gossiping tone.
Ari winked. “You think I haven’t noticed that?”
“I would have been more surprised if you didn’t.”
“I may be a mental and emotional wreck, but I’m not blind.”
Ari rolled her eye and shook her head. “Half blind.”
Pestilence chuckled. “Alright… see you in the morning.”
Ari turned out the lights and settled comfortably on the floor.
Ari awoke to an uncomfortable pressure on her chest constricting her breathing. Her eye shot open to see Bolt sitting heavily on her chest.
Ari groaned. “Oh, don’t tell me you’re also coming onto me.”
“Shh.” Was all Bolt said.
Ari began to panic slightly, her breathing growing rapid, a thin sheen of sweat formed on her brow. Bolt placed her hand on Ari’s face; she rubbed Ari’s sweat between her fingers.
“You eat, you sleep, you breathe, you sweat… you dream… You have no idea how much I envy you.” Her voice was filled with sadness.
“Unfortunately I won’t be breathing much longer with you sitting on my chest.”
“You could so effortlessly tear me apart, and yet you don’t… and yet you didn’t.”
“Violence should only be used as a last resort.” Ari’s breaths were short and frantic.
“God, I hate you.”
“That’s an improvement.”
Bolt stood up, Ari gasped as her lungs filled with air; she let out a few dry coughs.
Bolt opened the door. “I will not forgive you, I just can’t. But I won’t let my anger towards you dictate my actions.”
Ari turned over, facing Bolt and the door. “What about yourself?”
“I don’t know.” Bolt exited the room and quietly closed the door.
Ari turned back over, she chuckled to herself.
“We’ve both so far to go…”