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Wed Dec 28, 2016 3:18 am by Sentinel

Hi all,

We're aware of a peculiar forum glitch that's causing some subforums to be locked.

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Anaphora: Vengeance

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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Tue Sep 27, 2016 2:51 pm

Chapter 4: Silent Passion



Our passage through the forest is long and silent. At first we’d sped away from the manor as fast as we could, making to close the gap between us and the Renegade’s second as much as possible. Then we’d come into the Poena forest and left our horses in a clearing, leaving a few men to look after them, and effectively traded speed for stealth. Now, our small formation moves through the terrain like one silent, cohesive unit.

I make my footsteps light as I watch my surroundings with a careful eye. I haven’t forgotten about General Morton’s suspicions about Brooks’s appearance being a trap. I’m directly in the middle of the formation, flanked on all sides, so I’m not especially concerned about being assassinated. But for the success of this operation, I take a close look at any place within the forest that might hide someone lying in wait for an ambush: the thick bushes, the wide tree trunks, the shadows in between branches at the tree tops. I even look out for piles of leaves that might be conveniently arranged enough to hide a pitfall.

I’m still analyzing one of the treetops when I feel a finger poking my shoulder. Irritated, I look over to Alexis.

“Hi,” she says with a little wave. She points up at the treetop. “Have you seen anyone yet?”

“If I did, there’d already be a fight.”

“Has anyone else seen anything? If they had, then we’d most likely know.” I glance behind us, spotting Alexei at the back. He and Alexis haven’t so much as looked at each other this entire time. “Even so, I must only rely on my own instincts.”

“Mmm.”

Alexis stops speaking, and I’m convinced that she’s dropped the conversation. But then she lifts her voice again, and poses a question.

“Do you trust me?”

I blink, taken off-guard by the question. “Of course I don’t,” I say. “I’ve only just met you.”

“You ought to,” says Alexis. “You ought to trust other men, too. Other people may succeed where your own instincts fail.”

“Other people are fallible. My instincts have yet to be.”

Alexis snorts suddenly, and I’m just about to ask her what exactly she finds so amusing when the men at the front come to a stop.

I arch my head back, allowing myself to look over a tall man’s shoulder. A large tree trunk lies in the middle of the road where an undisturbed path should be. While my men should be able to get themselves across it without much problem, it’s enough to make them stop and trade looks of confusion. Two men walk to the tree, one kneeling by the trunk to check it out, and another walking along its length, as if to see just how long it is.

They’re investigating it, as they should be.

The first man stands up and moves to look at the bottom of the tree. At its end are not a web of dirty roots, but a series of pale yellow inner rings.

It’s a clean cut.

The man’s head shoots up, arriving at the same conclusion that I have. “It’s a -- “

I hear the bullet coming before I see it.

I whip around, taking satisfaction in the fact that I have spotted them, that I have already beat them, and my dagger sails through the air to deflect the ceramic bullet to the side. I push the dagger forward, into the tree branches. Blood splatters onto the tree branches, which creak and threaten to snap with the newfound bodyweight.

That bullet is only the first. Two more ceramic bullets spring forth, one from the bushes and another from a treetop on the other side, both burying themselves into two of my soldiers before they can react.

Alexei retaliates by sending a small bullet toward both directions, but the damage is already starting to begin. A few more of the Renegade’s men jump out from behind trees and thickets, bellowing battle cries as they charge and engage Acritudo’s army in close combat.

But I know there have to be more, lying in wait. “Split up!” I bark to my men. My defense is going to be a relentless offense. “Find any others of the Renegade’s associates and weed them out.” My soldiers have to, before the Renegade can surround me and my squad. “Take Brooks and the Renegade alive.”

The majority of my men diverge into the forest. Already I can hear the cries and screams of pain. To my satisfaction, they’re more from the Renegade’s men than mine.

I catch a sound behind me, a faint footstep, coming closer . . .

Without turning around, I reach for a bullet and throw it behind me with my ferrokinesis. I hear it softly strike flesh.

The man who tried to strike me from behind is down, but there’s still more to go. Another one of the Renegade’s men charges me with a roar, raising a revolver and firing --

Evidently not all of the Renegade’s men are fortunate enough to have ceramic bullets, because this one’s made of metal. I hold out my hand in front of me, and the bullet stops --

Except not completely. The bullet wavers in midair, edging itself closer, inch by inch --

I grind my teeth, telling myself that this man and this bullet have no right to take my control away from me. That they deserve to writhe in pain for even thinking of that possibility.

The bullet projects itself in the other direction and lodges itself into the heart of the man that shot it in the first place.

I sweep my eyes around the area, assessing the ratio of our losses to the Renegade’s. The blood of the Renegade’s men spews onto the black uniforms of my soldiers, and other bodies in those same black uniforms fall to the enemy.

I still can’t see the Renegade himself. Where is he . . .

I find Alexis staring at me.

Near her, her brother fends off a dark-skinned man. But Alexis just keeps her sights on me, her bright green eyes knowing.

She saw my difficulty with the bullet, didn’t she?

Alexis turn around and strikes at the dark-skinned man -- who I now recognize as Coulter Brooks -- with her obsidian longsword. Alexei comes in for a quick thrust after that, and Brooks has to keep himself focused on dodging strike after strike after strike from both of the Blackthorne’s, Alexis and Alexei working together in perfect tandem --

I thought Alexis had said she couldn’t work well with Alexei. Clearly, she can.

So why lie about it?

I slit the throat of a rebel that got too close to me, and in the meantime, Brooks chuckles as his glass dagger is directed toward Alexei’s too-open side --

Only for the dagger to stray wildly off course, stabbing a target that wasn’t there.

Brooks blinks once. “What the -- “

Alexei flashes Brooks a wide grin. He activates his harness, thin metal cables shooting out of the harness and latching onto a nearby tree. He jumps up, propelling himself forward and behind Brooks, before flipping in midair and coming down behind him for a powerful blow --

Brooks is only just able to roll out of the way and dodge Alexei’s attack, with not a scratch on him. But he can’t dodge both of the Blackthornes, and the back of his shoulder is on the receiving end of a quick swipe of Alexis’s sword. Brooks manages to check in a cry after getting that gash, but all it takes is one look from Alexei before he gasps from his heightened pain.

While Alexei is happy to take his time with Brooks, Alexis looks away. Her forehead has barely broken a sweat. She scours the battlefield for an opponent to fight --

Before she freezes, her eyes rooted to something behind me.

I turn around --

Standing a ways away from the battle, right in plain sight with a smug smile and his hands clasped behind his back, is the Renegade.

The rest of the battlefield is forgotten. It’s just me and the Renegade, two symbols of two opposing sides, meeting at last.

I don’t trust anyone but myself to take this Trait Bearer in.

The Renegade cracks his neck.

I draw my weapon.

And then I charge the Renegade.

General Morton really hadn’t been lying when she’d said that no one had ever managed to land a hit on the Renegade. The silent Passion Bearer almost moves faster than my eyes can track, standing in front of me one moment and winding up behind me as soon as I start thrusting my dagger in his direction. I spin around, using my momentum to swipe my blade at him, and then again, but he just sidesteps both strikes, like a warrior toying around with a child playing at soldier.

Trait Bearers are corrupt, Father had said. Trait Bearers are a threat. Trait Bearers hurt people.

I take a step back and point my palm toward the Renegade, allowing me to better direct a burst of pain at him.

The Renegade’s back bends slightly, like he’s just taken a punch to the gut, but there’s no scream, cry, or even a grunt. He makes no sound at all, wincing a single time before righting himself.

“What’s the matter?” He’s a Passion Bearer. Let’s see how well he deals with anger. “Government got your tongue?”

The Renegade smiles, flashing me a pair of too-white teeth. At last, he begins to lift his arm . . .

I bend my knees, raising my weapon, preparing myself for any attack, any burst of Passion that might come --

Only for the Renegade to lift his hand above his head and make a signal with his fingers.

I’m not quite sure what it means, but evidently Coulter Brooks does. “Fall back!” he shouts.

Fall back? Wait, what?


I turn back to the Renegade. He’s already gone. What the heck? How in the skies was he able to get away so quickly?

There’s no real reason why they should have been falling back. The Renegade and his men, while falling to us faster than we were falling to them, weren’t necessarily in a position so dire that they must retreat. They could have tried to press on.

And yet here they are, disengaging with Acrutidian soldiers and falling back into the forest.

“After them!” I bark to my soldiers.

But even as they chase the Renegade’s men into the forest, I can tell the outcome. The majority of the Renegade’s men seem more accustomed to the forest, and know the terrain better. Most likely? We’ll end up losing a majority of them -- we’ve already lost the Renegade.

Many questions buzz at the back of my head. Why call this retreat when he didn’t need to? Why did the Renegade never attack me or even use his pyrokinesis once? Why even set this trap in the first place? What did the Renegade stand to gain?

None of this makes sense, and that is what concerns me most of all.


~ ~ ~


As I always do when returning from a mission on horseback, I dismount privately, in my own stable. After all, it’s always nice to be away from the rabble, especially when I’ve got a lot on my mind.

I finish tying the coarse rope to the pole, securing my stallion in the stable. The black horse whinnies.

I growl at the whinny, but nevertheless bend to retrieve a polished red apple from a nearby metal bucket. I hold it out to the horse . . . if only to shut it up before it can whinny anymore, of course.

“I know your secret.”

I tighten my grip around the apple to keep from jumping. At the doorway is Alexis.

“I’m the Dictator’s daughter,” I say. “I have a lot of government secrets milling about in my head. You’re going to have be a lot more specific.”

But the sardonic tone of my reply has no effect on her. Her face is still somber, so serious in comparison to her usual smirk, and I know that we both know exactly what secret she’s talking about. Her lips are curled back, like she feels sympathy for me.

That sympathy is worse than any disrespect she could ever give me.

“You’re starting to lose Cruelty, aren’t you?” Alexis says.

My throat becomes as dry as sandpaper. “Are you trying to incite rumors, Alexis Blackthorne? If you really hate me that much, just say it honestly.”

“You had trouble with the bullet,” she says, like I didn’t even speak at all. “Here’s what I think -- I think you lie to yourself when you say you want to see people suffer. And you’ve gotten so good at lying to yourself that you believe it. But when you start to wake up and remind yourself of the truth . . . that’s when your Cruelty starts to fail.”

I snarl, half-tempted to inflict my abilities upon her just for her audacity. But when I take a good look of what’s outside my stable and realize that there’s no one out there to overhear us, I decide that inflicting pain on her is just a waste of my time.

“You’re wrong,” I say. “Now go and make better use of your time than making incorrect guesses about my psychology.”

The apple’s core now tossed aside, I start off and march past Alexis, intending to make my way out of the stable.

But before I can cross the threshold, I hear Alexis ask me a question: the same question that she asked me earlier, just before we headed into battle.

“Do you trust me?” she says.

I look over my shoulder.

I cut a glare in her direction.

“No,” I say.

Alexis shrugs. “Well, you can.”

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[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by Michael DeathFlame on Fri Sep 30, 2016 6:23 pm

*Eagerly awaits next chapter*

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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Tue Oct 04, 2016 4:39 pm

Ack, sorry I didn't get this out sooner >.< But at least it's here now?


Chapter 5: Friends


A buzzing at my nightstand awakens me.

I peel my eyes open and spot my radio in the dark of the room. It’s the middle of the night. What could possibly be so important at this hour?

“Lady Zeidan?” It’s General Morton. “Lady Zeidan, are you awake?”

I force myself to sit up. I fight back the weariness from my voice as I say, “What is it, General?”

“It’s the prisoner, ma’am. Thaddeus Rickards.”

I sit up straighter. “Oh? Did you obtain any information?”

“He’s dead, ma’am.”


~  ~  ~


I’m at his cell in minutes, after changing from my nightgown and into a military uniform that I’ve had no time to press. The area surrounding his cell is closed off my lines of tape, which I’m free to duck under to get to the scene. General Morton and a few other soldiers mill around, overseeing things as medical personnel zip up two body bags and run a stretcher in the direction of the infirmary. The man on top of it has skin that is blackened and charred, and bits of bone peep through his sizzling flesh. The only sign he gives of being alive is a low moan.

Alexis converses with another soldier. By the state of her hair, she was just as brutally woken up as I was. She catches my eye, and then turns back to her conversation.

I approach Morton. “What happened?”

“Suicide,” she says. “From the looks of it, he didn’t want to risk breaking under interrogation, so he burned himself alive with his Trait.”

I feel cold all over. “And the other body?”

“The guards tried to stop the prisoner, put the fire out. The prisoner didn’t like that. So he evidently incinerated them both. One’s dead, and the other’s going to critical care. His injuries may even necessitate a Compassion Bearer.”

My mind is still spinning. Thaddeus Rickards, gone. My source of information, gone.

How could I have let this happen?

“My men are already on finding a new source of information,” Morton says. “I’ve sent a couple of squadrons out into the forest, since the Renegade’s men seemed to know the area well. They have orders to capture or kill anyone that presents a problem.”

I nod absently, still disconnected from my surroundings. Faintly, I can register Morton walking away, and someone else approaching. “Therese? Or Lady Zeidan? Whatever you want to be called, I guess.”

I’m losing control over this situation. I’m already losing control --

No. I won’t. With or without Thaddeus Rickards, I’ll find a way to bring the Renegade down. And I think I may have a lead.

I turn around, finding Alexis standing near.

“Find reports of any raids made on Acritudian supply lines,” I say. “Now.


~  ~  ~


I turn the empty revolver over in my hands, studying all of its grooves and ridges. It was confiscated from the corpse of one of the Renegade’s men after yesterday’s scuffle, as were various other weapons. My fingers run over the rusted barrel of the gun, then I turn it over and pop out the magazine. I look into the chamber.

Tiny letters are stamped into the metal of the chamber. Made in Acritudo.

I knew it. I knew that the weapons the Renegade gave to his men would have to come from somewhere.

I jot that down in my notebook and cross-reference a few of my notes.

“Nivalis 90th, 9,991,” Alexis reads from the reports I ordered her to get. Behind me, she continues to walk around in a slow circle as she goes on. “Ten revolvers and twenty ammunition magazines stolen from a supply convoy en route to Poena. One of the first sightings of the Renegade.” She moves on to the next page. “Aestas 74th, 9,993. Fifteen rifles, thirty packs of ammunition, twenty-one daggers, a few other miscellaneous weapons. Ver 22nd, 9,994 . . . yeesh, this one’s a bit heavy. Lots of high-grade military equipment stolen, including assault rifles, smoke bombs, flamethrowers -- “

“Flamethrowers?” I turn around in my swivel chair. “Why in blazes would a group led by a Passion Bearer need flamethrowers?”

Alexis shrugs. “Don’t ask me.”

She shuffles the papers together only to toss them onto her own desk on the other side of the room, where the reports splay like spilt blood. She turns back in my direction, and as she does, I see something that I didn’t notice before -- a bruise blotching a bit of her collarbone, half-hidden by her tank-top.

I frown. I don’t remember her getting hit around there in our scuffle with the Renegade. Did I miss something?

“That bruise,” I say. “Where’d you get it?”

Alexis pulls her tank top higher, covering the bruise up.

“Those are some of the raids that the Renegade’s been spotted at,” she says. “Judging by the reports, they seem to be getting bolder and bolder.”

“And this has all been planned for quite some time,” I say slowly, unsure why she didn’t answer my question. “9,991. The Renegade has been planning and organizing this for at least three years.”

“I guess that does seem a bit deliberate . . . at least, for a Passion Bearer.”

“Passion Bearers aren’t stupid,” I say. “Reckless? Emotional? Perhaps. But rarely are they stupid.”

I refer myself back to the tangle of notes I’ve written. The majority of it supports my conclusions: that this isn’t anything spontaneous, and instead a planned, organized rebellion.

And that . . .

I lick the tip of a finger and turn a page, not quite ready to address my other theory.

“The Renegade doesn’t just have a small force,” I say. “But he doesn’t have a full army, either. I’m guessing we would have seen quite a bit more raids if that was the case. At most, I’d say he has a hundred men backing him.” I tap the tip of my pen against the desk. “We can’t just kill the Renegade. We have to kill or capture quite a bit of his force, too.”

“But why?”  Alexis says. “The Renegade’s obviously the leader. Leaders are the ones who provide morale. Wouldn’t axing the Renegade be enough to put an end to the whole thing?”

“Perhaps at first.” I don’t take my eyes away from my notes. “But I don’t like taking chances. I feel as though the Renegade’s need for men are twofold: for numbers, obviously, but also as a fail-safe. What if the worst happened to the Renegade? What if he died? I can’t imagine he’d let himself leave this life without making sure there was a way to take the government down. With a system of men, it ensures that someone else -- Brooks, maybe -- will step up in his absence, and continue the rebellion.” I shake my head. “I will not allow such a thing to happen.”

Alexis props up an eyebrow. “Don’t you reckon you might be overthinking this? Just a little?”

“No. I know I’m not.”

“I feel like you might be overestimating the Renegade -- “

“No, you’re underestimating him,” I snap. My patience dwindling evermore, I continue, “The only rebellion that gave the government as much trouble as the Renegade was the Church of the Song. Better to overestimate than underestimate. Better to be over-prepared and quash the threat quickly rather than be underprepared and let that Trait Bearer hurt people.”

I stand up from my chair and seize a stray piece of paper from the desk. I take my pen, and scrawl out an edict to be approved by my father.

“Therese?” I hear Alexis say. “What are you doing?”

“I’m asking our Dictator to increase the Trait Bearer execution rate.”

“Wait, what?”

I look up at Alexis.

“But we need those Trait Bearers for interrogation,” she says. “Thaddeus already took himself out of the equation. If we just execute them, we lose -- “

“Many of them don’t actually know anything about the Renegade’s machinations. Therefore, their lives are expendable.”

“That might send a message, a message that the government is losing control -- “

“Only if we overdo it. If we increase the rate just a bit, just enough for them to see a difference and to instill fear into Acritudians, then the Renegade’s actions will be less likely to inspire some other rebellion. They’ll be too afraid to join.”

“With all due respect, stop going nuts -- “

I slam my palm on the desk. “Don’t you get it?”

Alexis goes still.

“I don’t have the luxury of failing,” I continue, still shouting, letting this dormant volcano erupt at last. “Leyland is the Heir to the Dictator. He can fail, make mistakes, and he will be forgiven. But I am the third child. A daughter. I’m not like Leyland, so that means I have to earn every last scrap of respect. I can succeed a thousand times, but if I fail even once, then my failure will be all that is known about me. I already failed enough by letting Rickards die under my watch -- I won't fail again!” If I fail, I’ll be seen as weak. If I’m seen as weak, how long will it be before I see myself as weak?

If I can’t even bring down the Renegade, then how is it that I can bring down Lucian Zeidan?

Alexis gives no reaction. I push back my shoulders and clear my throat, trying to regain some control of the situation.

Then Alexis smiles. “So. I guess there is a bit of fire under all that ice.”

I blink once. “What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said. There’s fire in you, Therese Zeidan. Don’t keep it in. Let it out.”

Alexis crosses over to my desk. She moves my papers to the side and sits on the desk before I can protest, her long legs swinging beneath her.

When she next speaks, her tone is somehow . . .  gentle. “You want to know what I think?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“I think you’re starting to burn yourself out. You need to take a break.”

“I don’t need a break. And for Skies’ sake, get down from there.”

Alexis shrugs, dropping down from the desk without protest. “That’s what people who do need a break say. Tell me, which horse is more likely to win a race? The one that sprints right from the get-go? Or the one that paces itself?”

I exhale slowly. “How do I relax, then?”

“I dunno, I feel like you’d know the answer to that. You have any hobbies? Anything that helps you relax? That doesn’t involve torture or killing?”

There is one, but there’s no way I can say it to her. It’s too absurd. “Not really, no.”

“All right, then. Have you ever been into town before? Not as part of some task or anything, not with bodyguards. Have you ever gone by yourself, or with a friend, and just sort of taken in the sights?”

“What would be the point?”

Alexis grins. “You haven’t, then. All right, let's go. No bodyguards or anything -- just me and you, like two regular people.”

I cross my arms. “No bodyguards?”

Alexis doesn’t budge. “Do you trust me?”

“If this is your way of separating me for an assassination attempt, then you’re doing a poor job of making it inconspicuous.”

“Oh, come on,” she says, rolling her eyes. “If I was really trying to assassinate you, then believe me, I wouldn’t be dumb enough to make it so obvious. So what do you say? Want to go hang out with a friend?”

My friend? Is that what she really sees herself as?

Not for the first time, I tell myself that she’s an idiot. For the first time, I’m not quite ready to believe that statement.

“Things didn’t end so well with my last friend,” I say quietly, resisting the urge to palm the coin kept in my pocket.

Alexis winks. “Then it’s a good thing that I’m a different kind of friend.”


Last edited by WritingBookworm on Wed Jan 18, 2017 3:01 pm; edited 1 time in total

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[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Fri Oct 21, 2016 4:11 pm

Chapter 6: Evening Star



I fold my arms across my chest, keeping my eyes down. I lean against the side of a building, the chilly wind kissing my face, and I draw my jacket tighter around me. Fortunately, the weather provides a great excuse for a hood. It’s still not the most effective means of being undercover, but doing anything more to disguise myself would be too inconspicuous.

The streets, while not completely empty, are relatively void of people, with only a few stray passersby walking from place to place. I scan the cobblestone road bisecting the streets, drop my eyes, and then scan the streets again. My blue eyes, while not as striking as my father’s, remain plenty recognizable. I’d rather not make it possible for Acritudians to identify me.

Movement from the left catches my eye, and I risk looking up to see Alexis returning with two items, one on each hand.

“Here.” She hands me one of the items -- a frosted ball of cake, mounted upon a short, plastic white stick, like a lollipop. I lift it to my nose and sniff it once. When all I take in is the sweet sell of chocolate, I hold it up and inspect it, like I might find signs of poison that way.

“It’s a cake pop,” Alexis says. “Made from a bakery three blocks east from here. There’s a lot of different flavors; yours is mostly chocolate, so it tastes kind of like a brownie.”

I frown. “I don’t usually eat sugar.”

“Yeah, usually.” Alexis nudges me with her elbow. “That means you can still eat sugar sometimes, right?”

I crack a slight smile. I plunge my teeth into the cake pop, and the rich flavor floods my mouth.

I take another bite before I’ve even finished processing the first.

Alexis laughs as the cake pop is obliterated in seconds. “Told you it was good.” She holds up her own cake pop, regarding it somewhat mournfully. “It’s a shame that the bakery overprices them. I can’t buy them as often as I’d like.”

“Well -- “ I swallow the last of the cake pop -- “I can always come in and threaten them into lowering their prices.”

“Uh . . . you know what, now that I think of it, the price suddenly isn’t so bad.”

But I can tell what she’s thinking. “You think I need to work on my people skills,” I state.

“Yeah. Yeah, you really do.”

Alexis eats a bit of her own cake pop, lifting her eyes toward the sun until she spots something. “Oh! There’s something I need to show you.”

“What is it?”

“Here, just follow me.”

“What are you -- hey!”

Alexis has already grabbed my wrist, pulling my along behind her as she races through the streets. She darts across the road, around sharp corners, and in between rows of shops, zigzagging through Poena. She only skids to a stop when she arrives at a tall, narrow skyscraper.

She pulls out a pin from her hair and fits it onto the locked doors. As though she’s done this several times, she jiggles the pin, working on the locks.

“Um -- “ I look out over my shoulder, watching out for others. “I’m pretty sure this is illegal.”

“Oh please. There’s illegal, and then there’s ‘illegal.’”

The lock gives, and Alexis pushes open the door before walking inside. Too curious to reprimand her, I follow.

If one couldn’t tell that this place was abandoned when they saw the front entrance, then they’d be an idiot for not recognizing that fact upon going inside. The dark, wide room is barren of any furnishings, and the only light is filtered through small windows placed around the walls. It is that light that allows me to see a layer of dust frosting the floor, so thick that I leave behind footprints as I walk through.

I cough at the dust and hook my shirt over my nose. “Just how long has this place been abandoned?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.” I find Alexis skipping up a non-functioning escalator, located at a far side of the room.

I start climbing up after her. “I ought to bring this up to Father. We should be doing something with this building.”

“Aww, don’t do that, now. That’ll take the fun out of this.”

Alexis leads me up through several more flights of escalators, spiraling up the building floor by floor. I close my mouth and regulate my breathing, doing my best not to look too winded when we reach the top floor. While Alexis’s own face looks red and out of breath, she doesn’t let this stop her from making one last sprint toward a set of doors, and --

We cross through the threshold, and I slow to a stop when I see it.

The balcony Alexis and I have stepped onto offers a fresh view of Poena. Out in the distance, I can see more buildings and skyscrapers collected together to form a sparkling skyline, sprawling away from us. Beneath our feet, from this great height, I look down to see the grid of blocks and avenues, the tiny people and vehicles that travel through this vast network.

I lay my arms on the metal railing, leaning forward just a bit. Streaks of gold and violet are painted across the pinkening sky, making this sunset look more like a work of art than something natural. The sun’s golden orb, while sinking behind the mountains, shines more brightly than ever. Or has it always shone that bright? Maybe I just didn’t really take the time to notice until now.

“It’s a wide, wide world,” I say.

“Yeah.” Alexis hoists herself up on the balcony railing and swings her legs over to the other side. “It sure is.”

I eye the way she sits on that balcony so casually, several stories above the ground. “Get down from there. You could fall.”

“Relax. I’ve done this hundreds of times. I know what I’m doing.”

She tilts her head back, her face soaking in the sunlight. Alexis looks content, wholly at peace . . .

Until she bites her lip. “Hey. Mind if I ask you somethin’?”

She already did ask me something just by saying that, but I choose not to point that out. “What is it?”

“You said you had a friend once, back there,” she says. “Do you . . . mind me asking who that was?”

All amusement falls from my face.

This time, I do reach into my pocket, my fingers wrapping around the warm metal. I bring it out, and my fingers unravel from my palm to reveal a coin. It’s one of the only pieces of metal I’ve never controlled with my abilities. Even if I wanted to, I could never find it in me to be cruel while holding his parting gift.

Evidently Alexis must see the look on my face, because she quickly says, “You know, nevermind, I can tell that this is a -- “

“His name was Chase.”

Before today, I never would have expected to find myself saying those words to another person. But to finally say it is refreshing, like setting free a bird that has been caged for far too long.

“I was pretty young at the time, but he was nice to me, so I got attached.” I wrap my fingers around the coin and put it back in my pocket. “But attachment isn’t a good thing.”

Alexis arches a brow. “Come on, now. Surely you can’t believe that.”

That earns her a glare.

“It’s not a good thing when your older brother uses that attachment against you and beats the servant, just to make you miserable,” I say. Don’t get too close to people, Lucian had said, all of those years ago. You’ll only get hurt. The sad truth is, he was right. “Getting close to people only gets you hurt. In this country, not trusting others is the only way to survive.”

“Not trusting others is a good way to survive, yes,” Alexis agrees. “But it’s a terrible way to live.” She gestures with her hand, as though to prompt me to continue speaking. “So what happened, in the end?”

“He left,” I say. I decide to leave out most of the details. “He wanted me to go with him, and I wanted him to stay. Neither one was possible.”

“Why would you stay, though?” Alexis says. “I mean, if your brother was a jerkface, while your friend was nice, then why stay?”

“You want the truth?” I smile tightly. “Because I was young. Because I was stupid and naive. Because I thought I could change things.”

Of all things, it’s that statement that takes Alexis off-guard. “Change things? How?”

I shrug. “Don’t ask me. Like I said, I was stupid. I didn’t like my life, so I wanted to change the world around me. But I had no idea how. And over time, I guess I learned that it’s a lot easier to change yourself and adapt to the world around you than it is to change the world.”

“Mmm. Well, if you wanted, you could change anything. You can do crap like that when you’re a Zeidan.”

“It’s not like I’m the Dictator.”

“Oh yeah? What if you did become the Dictator?”

I snort. “I’m female. I can’t become the Dictator.” Not unless Acritudo fell into very dire straits.

“Well, that’s a stupid rule, and you should change it if you become Dictator,” Alexis says. “Why do we have to be all stuffy and traditional like Avaditas, anyways? At least in Aspernor you get the position of the person you murder regardless of gender.”

“Yeah, because their policies toward anyone that isn’t white or heterosexual makes them so progressive.”

“While here in Acritudo, everyone’s lives suck regardless of race, gender, sexuality, disability, or any other sociological factor. Perfect!”

I clamp a hand over my mouth, but I can’t stifle it. Even muffled by my calloused hand, my laugher is clearly audible to both me and Alexis.

Laugher. I haven’t laughed like this since . . .

I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed.

It feels nice.

A soft breeze sweeps in from the east, tossing strands of black in front of my eyes. I tuck my hair back beneath my ears. That simple action makes me feel more composed.

“Might want to tie your hair back, you know,” Alexis says. She cocks her head to the side. “Maybe in pigtails, actually. They’d suit you.”

“Yes, because Acritudians will take a Dictator’s daughter in pigtails so seriously.”

Alexis holds up her hands. “Just sayin’. It’d help you look good, and thinking that you look good bolsters your confidence, which actually does help you look good. If it helps give that extra kick of confidence, then I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t do it.”

“Right. Sure.”

“Hey, if Avaditans could make bows look cool, then Acritudians can make pigtails look cool.”

“Because that’s how I want to be remembered. As a trendsetter.”

“Yup, obviously.”

I smile, but it quickly fades. As lighthearted as the conversation is, it does beg a good question. I may not want to be remembered as a trendsetter, sure. But how do I want to be remembered?

Alexis manages to lean back a bit without losing her balance. Again she looks skyward, losing herself in the flood of warm color that comes with sunsets.

I sigh. “We should probably head back soon,” I say, and I surprise myself with how forlorn I am about it. “I need to turn in a report of my findings to Father.”

“Just a minute,” Alexis says without looking down.

I follow her gaze, wanting to know exactly what it is that has her so entranced. It takes a moment to pinpoint it; a distant light hanging in the sky. A star. It winks at me, like it’s hinting at a friendly little secret kept between us.

“My mother would tell me all these stories,” Alexis says. “Stories to help me fall asleep, before she died. She said that stars didn’t always appear during nightfall. Sometimes, under good conditions, you could see a star even in the sunset -- the evening star. It’s the first and brightest star you see in the sky. It doesn’t wait for its proper time to appear; it demands to be seen.”

I mull over that for a bit. Then I smile. “Wrong. The brightest star in the sky is the sun.”

“Damn it Therese, stop ruining my childhood!”

I laugh, and take off running when Alexis drops from the railing and goes after me. She chases me into the coming night.


~   ~   ~


The next day, I receive a gift from Alexis Blackthorne. A dagger, with an ornately carved handle and a shining blade. It’s a bit more ornamental than practical, but it’s effective in battle nevertheless.

I decide to name it Evening Star.

_________________
Credit to Hime for the drawing!





[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Sun Nov 13, 2016 3:32 pm

Chapter 7: Secrets



For what feels like the thousandth time, I turn a page, dumping my chin into my palm as I browse the reports. Once again, I can’t find anything useful about the Renegade. I’m not seeing much that feeds into my theory, either.

The doorknob turns. I look up from my desk and turn around to see Alexis enter.

“Hey.” I take note of the cuff bracelets she wears on her wrists. “Those are new.”

“Oh . . . yeah, I guess.” She slips both of her hands into her pockets.

I furrow my eyebrows. Alexis’s movements are too slow, her smile too timid. If I look closely enough, sometimes she almost seems to be shivering.

“Alexis?” I say.

“I’m fine.”

“Alexis.”

“Really. I-I’m fine. We should look for more clues about what the Renegade’s up to, yeah?”

I watch her as she crosses over to her desk and sits down, and continue watching her long after she gets to work.


~  ~  ~


Poena feels hollow at this hour. Without the ambling citizens to breathe life into the city, it feels dead. But that’s not an entirely bad thing, I think. That just means I get Poena to myself.

I stroll along the paved sidewalk, hands folded into the pockets of my jacket. I have my hood up, as a precaution, even though there aren’t many people out. The night sky seems to press into Poena, prompting the fluorescent glow of the streetlamps to be brighter, and darkening the shadows that grow from every corner, every bend. I used to be afraid of those shadows, when I was a little girl. But the nice thing about being powerful is that you have little to fear.

I sent Alexis home early today. I may not know what’s going on in her life, but it was obvious she wasn’t well. If she wasn’t well enough to focus on her work, then why keep her there? She protested with a surprising vehemence, but I insisted, reckoning that some time off would be of benefit to her. It was to me, after all.

I found out nothing about the Renegade that I didn’t already know. I couldn’t unearth much that added to my theory about him, either; it’s admittedly a bit of an outlandish theory, one that would require quite a bit of proof. It makes my head hurt just by thinking of it. I had to go out, clear my mind. Already I feel refreshed, moving around in such a quiet place.

But not quiet enough, apparently.

“Preparations are done.”

I pause. The voice comes from an alley, just a bit ahead. The voice sounds familiar . . .

I look up at the building. It’s short, with a few windows that can serve as decent footholds if I play this right.

I jump up, latch onto the building, and begin to climb.

“Are you certain?” The second voice is deep, altered by a voice modifier. “I have not been able to oversee things as often as I used to. I need you to be absolutely certain.”

“I am. All of the necessary equipment is accounted for, and our men have been over the plan and contingency plans several times over.”

I hoist myself onto the roof, not making a sound. I crouch down, make my way over to the side of the roof. I peek over the roof and look down below.

He’s hard to see in the night, due to his darker skin. But after some effort, I can very well make out Coulter Brooks, the Renegade’s second, down on one knee. He was the first speaker, the voice I recognized. And the owner of the second voice, the one Coulter kneels before . . .

“I hope that’s the case,” says the Renegade. “Tomorrow’s strike will be instrumental to our cause.”

I am just as speechless as I thought the Renegade was. He can talk?

But I thought he had his tongue cut out. That was why he sought to topple the Acritudian government. That’s why he never used his voice while performing his acts of terrorism. So why the charade? Why not use his voice? And if a government member didn’t cut out his tongue after all, then why does he want to topple the government?

How much do I actually know about the Renegade?

“No,” the Renegade snarls. I look at him closely, see if he might be typing things into a computerized device that translates written word into spoken language, but I see nothing to support that idea. He’s genuinely using his voice, his lips moving in tandem with his words as he continues, “Our purpose is not to ‘inspire the people.’ Common men are too weak, too fearful after centuries of totalitarian rule, and are thus a lost cause. Our one and only job is to destroy the government, and put Vandor Zeidan under the ground.”

It is then, hearing the Renegade talk, that I recall my father’s words to me, five years ago. "Trait Bearers are corrupt. Trait Bearers are a threat. Trait Bearers hurt people."

The Renegade is corrupt. The Renegade is a threat. And why do I have a sinking feeling that what he's planning to do tomorrow will hurt people?

"I'm aware of how badly you want the Dictator gone," Coulter says. "I know he's done you a terrible wrong. But you also need to consider the larger implications this will have on Trait Bear-- "  

The Renegade holds up a hand, cutting him off.

The Passion Bearer tilts his head up, listening for something.

He spins around and fires a jet of flame up at my face.

It's only my instincts that save me from getting burned alive. I duck and roll to the side, feeling the strong heat and smoke from the flame even from here.

I have two separate bullets flying at them the moment I'm at my feet. Neither one of them hit, because the Renegade's too fast for one, and Coulter --

The second bullet redirects itself in my direction. I manage to halt it in time, but that doesn't stop my surprise. A Logic Bearer . . . So he finally decided to reveal himself as a Trait Bearer, did he?

The two men run off in separate directions, the Renegade to the right and Coulter to the left. I can't go after them both.

I scramble down the building, drop down once I'm close enough to the ground, and give chase to the Renegade.

Harnessing my Cruelty, I send another bullet in his direction, aiming to hit his spine and paralyze him just like I did to Thaddeus. But I soon lose track of where the bullet goes when it's drowned by a wall of flame that the Renegade -- his hands still in the same position that they were in when he sent the initial blast of flame at me -- pushes in my direction --

I dart to the side, pressing myself against the wall of an adjacent alley and letting the flames rush past. When I'm clear, I rush back out, running in the direction I'd last seen the Renegade go --

The alley opens up into another street. I run out, looking left, right, above --

He's not here.

I immediately look behind me, expecting him to ambush me at any given moment. But there's nothing to see save for an empty alley.

I turn around again, seeking the Trait Bearer out. I look in every which way, looking for a spark of fire, a flash of brown hair, anything to alert me to his presence.

Only after a minute's passing do I accept the truth; he's gone. I lost him just as quickly as I did back in the forest.

Sometimes, it feels as if I am chasing a ghost.

I use a moment to catch my breath. Then I straighten myself.

I might have lost him. But this time, I did not lose him without first gaining information.


~  ~  ~


I pelt past the rows and rows of houses, all so large and pristine that they might as well be mansions. I crane my neck, looking at the numbers on a tan-walled house, and then run past it.

The authorities are already at the alley where I spotted the Renegade, looking into the scene and seeing if they can gather any leads as to what he's up to. I've already given some details on what's happened, and what I found out -- that he can talk, that he specifically wants Vandor Zeidan dead, that he's planning to strike someplace tomorrow. But I need to talk to someone else, someone I feel comfortable with.

I activate my radio for the millionth time, just in case she decides to answer this time. "Alexis? Alexis, are you there?"

I don't get anything. I shove my radio back onto my belt, and keep running.

I've ran down two more blocks by the time I see it; a stuccoed white house with a wide porch. The address is labeled 889.

The Blackthorne house.

I take the steps leading up to the porch two at a time and race to the door, raising a fist to knock and --

I hear something shatter, like a class cup or vase being thrown at a wall.

My hand freezes before my knuckles can touch the door.

A beat of silence passes. Then I hear a low chuckle through the door. "You're a terrible shot, Alexis."

Alexei. I'd recognize that charming yet slippery voice anywhere. Except this time, it's already starting to lose its charm.

"I don't care," Alexis growls. "What you did last night -- "

"Was necessary." I listen closely, and hear Alexei starting to step toward Alexis. "You thought you had power, that you were gaining some sort of control over your life. So you brought it on yourself, really. I just had to remind you who was really in charge here."

I spot a window over to the side. Black curtains conceal the inside of the Blackthorne house from public view. But maybe . . .

I go to the window, inspecting the curtains. Part of the curtain is just an inch away from the border of the window, allowing me a sliver of a look into the Blackthorne home. Inside, Alexei stalks toward Alexis like a predator closing in on prey.

"You're wrong." The defiant look she thrusts at her brother doesn't match up with the way her voice quivers. "Therese Zeidan is my friend now. Through her, I can get connections, I can have the power to stop you from -- "

Alexei slaps her with enough force to knock her to the floor.

"Alexei and I don't play well with each other," I remember her insisting. She hadn't wanted to be near him despite how well they worked together in battle. I also remember the time we looked over files on the Renegade. I'd noticed Alexis had a bruise on her collarbone, one she covered up as soon as I pointed it out.

She hadn't gotten that bruise during our scuffle with the Renegade.

I quickly look away so that I don't instinctively impose Cruelty on Alexei.

"Oh, don't be so delusional, sister dear." Alexis cries out in pain from Cruelty that Alexei seems to be unconsciously using, and struggles when he winds his fist into her short hair and starts dragging her across the room. Alexis might be a soldier well-trained in combat, but so is Alexei, and he's a Cruelty Bearer to boot. "The Dictator's daughter isn't your friend and you know it. She won't be, when she finds out what you're keeping from her. She'd think you'd deserve what I did to you last night."

Oh, I already know what she tried to keep from me. And I don't think she deserves anything that you do to her just because she can't fight back.

"I'll tell her," she gasps. "I'll tell her that you gave -- "

Alexei slams Alexis against the wall, fastening his fist around her throat. Alexis chokes, clawing at his hand, fighting for a breath of air.

At last, she does manage unwind his hold enough to say, "You're just as bad as Alexander."

If the words have any effect on Alexei, his perpetual smirk doesn't show it. Instead, he just leans in close, real close to her, and whispers something into her ear.

I can't make out what he said. Whatever it is, it makes Alexis's green eyes become bloodshot, threatening to pop out of her sockets --

"DON'T TALK ABOUT HER LIKE THAT!"

And then she's shoving him off of her with renewed strength and she's aiming a fist at him that he only just manages to catch and he retaliates with another wave of pain and desperately pushes Alexis into a nightstand, causing the nightstand to topple onto her and for a frame to shatter and --

That's it. I can't watch this anymore. I run to the door, and -- perhaps too aggressively -- knock on the door one, two, three, four times.

All in the house goes quiet.

Soft footsteps trail from the living room and to the door. In due time, the door opens to reveal a somber-looking Alexei.

"Ah, Lady Zeidan." He executes a short, proper bow. "How is it that I might help you?"

His face is blank, his posture straight. Like a good, well-behaved Black Gloves operative.

But I know what lies beneath the mask.

"I need your sister here," I state. "She's my assigned partner in the ongoing investigation of the Renegade. New information about him has come to light, and she needs to be updated." Though, in reality, the Renegade has suddenly become one of the farthest things from my mind.

"Of course," says Alexei, bowing again. He turns towards the living room. "Alexis?" he calls. "Lady Zeidan is here. She says she has something to tell you."

Nothing happens for a moment. Then I hear just a bit of shifting. A nightstand being pushed off of a body.

Alexis walks into the room without any problem. Her throat and cheek are both red, and her hair is a mess, but the nightstand miraculously hasn't seemed to dealt her much damage. Alexei watches her walk past him and through the threshold of the door, but she doesn't muster the strength to look at him even once.  

I place a hand on the small of Alexis’s back, walking her away from the house. I can practically feel Alexei’s eyes watching me through one of the windows of the Blackthorne house, but I don’t look back. I quicken my steps, not out of fear, but out of anger.

Alexis turns to me, her once dominant and vivacious green eyes now filled with worry. “Therese -- “

“We’re going to the Zeidan Mansion.”

“Really, whatever you need to talk about it, we can just talk about it here -- “

We’re going to the Zeidan Mansion.” I’m not leaving Alexis anywhere near her brother.

She walks without further protest. I lead her down the road, through the gates after I’ve given the guards our names and identities, and into the mansion, where I find a small kitchen, uninhabited by any servants. I close the door behind us and pull out a wooden chair.

“Sit,” I tell Alexis.

“Look, I don’t think any of this is necessary,” she says. “It’s not like -- “

“Sit.”

She sits. I turn around and lift myself on the balls on my feet so I can rummage through a particularly high cupboard. I find something, and turn back to her. “Do you take hot chocolate with water or milk?”

“I . . . milk, usually. It’s richer that way.”

I take the hot chocolate mix out, along with a cup and a near-empty gallon that contains just enough milk to make a cup of the drink. I pour the milk in, microwave it for a minute or so, and then stir the mix in as best as I can. I think I poured too much in, because in the end there’s still a bunch of powder clumping together around the rim, but it ought to taste good enough.

Almost forcefully, I give the cup to Alexis. She hesitates, but chances at a sip. Then another.

As she drinks, I take note of the cuff bracelets worn around her wrists. This whole day, she hasn’t taken them off.

I lunge forward and seize one of her wrists before I can even think about what I’m doing. Alexis yelps, and cries, “No!” as I take the cuff bracelet and drag it down her arm, revealing her wrist --

Where a deep, purple bruise blotches her skin.

I let go of her hand. That bruise doesn’t look like it came from a straight fight. It came from someone gripping her wrists too hard. Like someone was holding her down. Like someone was holding her down to a . . .

My flesh crawls at the thought. Bile surges up my throat, and I have to clamp my teeth together in order to keep myself from vomiting.

“Did . . . “ I say. “Did Alexei . . . “

“Therese,” Alexis warns.

“I’ll kill him.” Instead of crawling, my skin feels like it’s on fire. I see red, and I stumble forward, overpowered by the need to punish him, to hurt him, to destroy him for what he did. “I’ll kill him, I’m going to absolutely kill him -- “

“Therese, no.” Alexis shoots up to her feet and intercepts me in my path. “No, you can’t -- “

“I’ll kill him.” I try to lunge forward, but Alexis grips my shoulders, restraining me. “I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’LL KILL HIM -- “

“Therese!” Alexis snaps.

I stop. I look up, and take a second to slow down as I see her green eyes. They’re frantic, concerned. Concerned for me.

All of this time, she’s been under Alexei’s thumb. She’s been suffering.

And yet, she still found it in herself to extend kindness to someone like me.

“Oh, Alexis,” I say quietly before throwing my arms around her. I hold her tight, like I can squeeze all of the pain and suffering out of her. After a moment, I can feel her arms around me as well.

I withdraw and look up to meet her eyes. “When did this happen?”

“Last night,” Alexis says. “Alexei noticed that I’d been happier lately -- ever since you became my friend. That happiness empowered me, allowed me to start standing up to him.” One of her hands rubs her other arm, like she’s self-conscious. “He didn’t like that. So, to make me feel powerless again, he pinned me to a bed, and then . . . well, I guess you can imagine what happened after that.”

I shake my head. “That’s insane. This should have been reported to the authorities -- I will report it -- “

“No.” Alexis’s face becomes pale, paler than I’ve ever seen it. “Don’t do that, please don’t do that.”

“What your brother has done is inexcusable -- “

“I don’t care, don’t report it -- “

“Something like this can’t just slide, Alexis,” I insist, my voice starting to rise.

“It can, and it will,” Alexis says. “Skies, why are you so insistent on this?”

“Because I have no tolerance for brothers who mistreat their younger sisters!”

Alexis falls silent. I stand there, trembling in fury. Because I still remember, even after all of these years. The words he said that cut deep. The lashings he gave to the servant that cut deeper. And then the actual cut -- the white-hot cut on my collarbone that came close to killing me.

“Lucian mistreated me,” I say slowly, articulately. “I will not let Alexei mistreat you any longer.”

“You have to,” Alexis says, her own voice becoming stronger as well. “Leave this be. I’ll take care of myself.”

“Why are you so determined to cover this up?” I say. “Are you ashamed to be a victim of rape, of abuse? Because there’s nothing to be ashamed . . . wait. No. That’s not it. Alexei threatened you, didn’t he? He threatened to do something if you told anyone.” She has nothing to say. That means I’m right. “But he can’t do anything to you if he’s behind bars. You’ll be under the government’s protection.”

“You don’t understand.” Alexis is pleading, begging in a desperate, broken way that I’d never thought she’d resort to. She always seemed too strong for begging. “You just don’t understand.”

“Then help me understand. What did he threaten to do, Alexis? What exactly has Alexei threatened to do to you?”

Alexis just shakes her head, again and again and again, not stopping even as she chews on her lower lip or as tears start to gather.

Then, she stops. She takes my hand.

“Do you trust me?” she whispers.

I blink, taken aback by the question she has asked four times now. “Alexis?”

“Then don’t tell,” she says, like what I said was an answer. “Promise me you won’t tell.”

“I . . . I can’t just leave this alone -- “

Her grip suddenly starts crushing my hand. “Swear it!”

“Alright, alright!” Immediately I regret saying it. I pull my hand out of hers, wincing at the throbbing in my hand. She’s a lot stronger than she looks. “I promise I won’t tell -- tonight, that is. But you also have to promise to tell me what’s going on. I can’t in good conscience leave this alone for too long.”

“I promise,” Alexis says. “I . . . “ She looks over her shoulder and at the door, like she has to go. “Look, I’ll tell you tomorrow, okay? I have to run a few errands tomorrow, extract some money from the Bank. But once I've got a spare second . . . I'll tell you, okay?"

She doesn't even give me a chance to respond before she exits the room, closing the door behind her. I'm left by myself, the cold air numbing me, the flourescent lights humming in the silence.

It's only then that I realize how much I don't like being alone.

_________________
Credit to Hime for the drawing!





[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
Currently Reading: Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Sun Jan 22, 2017 8:27 pm

Chapter 8: Red



Noise. So much noise, all overwhelming me. The noise of sirens, the noise of gunfire, noise of flames and crashing and yelling, swallowing me in the noise of a battleground and then --

Silence.

I hear nothing. That is, until I hear a voice, familiar and clear.

"I will break you."

I awaken in a sweat.

Lying in bed for a minute or so, I mull everything over. Then my eyelids flutter shut. After a long night of reporting, strategizing, and doing my best to prevent whatever the Renegade may have in store, I only got two hours of sleep.

I want to snuggle deeper into the mattress. But I have to be disciplined, so I throw the covers back and force myself out of bed.

I haven't even gotten properly dressed by the time I'm getting down to business. "Therese Zeidan to Angelica Morton, over." My communicator's placed to the side of the sink so I can speak into it as I wash my face. "I need a status update."

"The Dictator has agreed with your proposal to triple the security around him," Morton says. "I've been discussing matters with the other Generals. If the Renegade is as insistent on assassinating the Dictator as you believe, then perhaps we can draw him out. We could set up someone who looks like Vandor Zeidan as bait. The real Dictator would be hidden among the guard. His Cruelty is unmatched; the Renegade wouldn't stand a chance. While the Renegade is busy going after the double, the Dictator would have the perfect chance to dispatch of the rebel."

"I wouldn't be so quick to execute that plan. This is the leader of a nation we're talking about risking." And my father. My one remaining parent. "It's a possibility, but I'd have to give that more thought, and see what the Dictator thinks of that plan." I splash ice-cold water over my face, smearing it across my cheeks, my forehead. "What of the guards posted across the wall? Did they see anyone try to leave the city last night?"

"Negative, Your Highness. Nothing that was spotted, anyways."

"So he's still in the city," I decide. Unless he knew about the underground tunnels in Poena. But that's knowledge limited to the ruling family, and they're only for the case of an emergency. So unless Lucian Zeidan is somehow in league with him -- which I doubt, considering his face is too recognizable to go unnoticed -- he wouldn't know about them. "Increase search efforts. Kick down house doors, if absolutely necessary. The Renegade's still in the city."

"Of course. We've also increased security around key locations in Poena, including the mansion, the Academy, various storehouses, and the Bank of Poena. I've assigned a small but elite force of Black Gloves operatives to each location. They look like regular citizens, and are additional covert security."

"Good. Send me a complete file of who's been assigned to where."

She agrees to it, and I wrap up my call. I wipe off my face with a towel, and turn to my wardrobe to don a military uniform when I see it.

A stray red long-sleeved shirt, hanging in the back.

Red is the color of love, Alexis had said. Of passion. Of courage.

I reach my hand out, burshing my fingertips against the sleeve of the cotton shirt.

Red is the color of love.

In order to defend my father, I need to utilize my love for my family.

Of passion.

As well as a great and terrible passion to carry me each step of the way.

In hat moment, as I rip the shirt off from the hanger instead of my standard military vest, I like to think that I'll don these things when I wear red.

I take a good look at myself in the mirror after putting on the shirt, pulling down on the long sleeves so they cover my arms completely. I cock my head to the side, noting the way the color enhances certain features of mine. Red brings out the blue in my eyes. It makes them look electric, and -- dare I say it -- almost as striking as my father's.

What do you know? I muse to myself. You were right, Alexis. Red really is a nice color.

And if she was right about that . . . maybe she was right about something else, too.

I divide my hair into three sections. One section I leave free to hang down my back. The other two I gather at the top of my head, and I bind them both into high pigtails.

I take another look at myself when I'm done. Admittedly, it's a bit of an odd sight. I haven't worn my hair in pigtails since before I became a Cruelty Bearer. But just because it's a sight I'm unaccustomed to doesn't mean it's a bad one. In fact . . .

I smile. I like it.


~ ~ ~


"You're sure the Renegade is still within the city?"

"I'm certain, Your Majesty." Even I, the Dictator's daughter, know how to properly address my father in his own throne room. It's a bit dramatic, both the larger-than-life throne and the entire marble-floored room designed to contain it, but it serves its purpose. It shows my father's power.

On one knee, I keep my head bowed as I continue, "The sentries haven't reported anyone with his face going out of the city. Neither have the conductors of the railway, outside the wall. The only way he could have gotten out of the city is through the underground passageways, which is highly unlikely."

"And yet, no one has spotted him in Poena?" Father says, sounding more bemused than anything.

"No one," I say. "Soldiers everywhere are looking, but no one has found him." I start to add something else to that sentence, but then decide against it.

That doesn't go unmissed. "You seemed like you were about to say something else."

I say nothing. Do I say it? Do I dare suggest this theory of mine, the one I've been working on for days?

I have to. This is the Dictator I speak to. I won't leave anything out when speaking to him, no matter how ridiculous my suggestions are.

"I fear, Your Majesty," I say slowly, "that we've going about catching the Renegade in the wrong way."

"Oh?"

Once more, I run through all of my evidence in my head, every little link and chain of evidence that connects together in one greater picture. Why don't we have any record of the Renegade's face in any Acritudian files? Why is it that the Renegade always disappears so quickly after I meet him in combat? Why would the Renegade perpetuate the rumor he couldn't speak when he had a voice all along?

And then I remember what was stolen from one of the raids. Passion Bearers don't need flamethrowers.

I believe I know what this is all leading up to.

"The Passion Bearer we chase . . . isn't a Passion Bearer."

At last I look up, meeting my father's eyes.

An understanding passes between us.


~ ~ ~


My steps echo through the halls of the mansion, and my mind is still racing after that meeting.

I told Father the specifics of my theory, which he listened to with interest. The meeting had run surprisingly short after that, and I'd stopped for one moment to ask Father a question of my own.

"One more thing," I'd said, pausing before I walked out of the room. "I still don't understand why Alexis Blackthorne is my partner for this case. I'm not issuing a complaint. Blackthorne has proved herself to be a reliable partner. I would just like to know why you chose her of all people . . . that is, unless it's classified. Then I'll defer to your wishes." There. Polite. Respectful. But still assertive, in its own subtle way.

His calculated smile still remained on his face, unchanging. "Do you remember what I've taught you?"

I'd frowned. What he taught me? There were a great many things that he'd taught me. What specifically was he referring to?

" . . . I see," I'd said, even though I didn't see, and left.

Even now, on my own, without the pressure of his heavy gaze on me, I still can't figure it out. She's not a Cruelty Bearer, she's not particularly talented in any other area, and she's not especially connected to the case. Why --

"Lady Zeidan, do you copy?"

I pause in my place in the hall.

I've only just taken my communicator from my belt and established a line back when the man on the other end continues, "It's the Bank of Poena, Your Highness. We've lost all security footage there."

"What?" The Bank of Poena's security and camera footage are impossible to access, unless someone has the clearance. There's no way we can suddenly lose security footage on accident. "How?"

"We don't know, Your Highness, we're trying to observe the footage before it all happened, see what went wrong, but we're having difficulty pulling it up and -- " He takes a deep breath. "In the meantime, we've been observing the footage taken from cameras on the streets outside. Things . . . they're not looking good."

Tomorrow's strike will be instrumental to our cause, the Renegade had said.

We're already too late, aren't we?

I fight the incoming dread. "You'll have to be more specific than that. What exactly about the situation isn't looking good?"

"People fled from the building. We heard reports have been heard from inside the building."

"They've performed a hostile takeover."

"Yes, Your Highness. And they've got hostages."

I lower the communicator for a moment so I can release a heated swear.

I can see why this move was an instrumental one. It's not just that they're robbing one the biggest bank in the country. It's that they took over one of the most fortified buildings in the country. It's that the Renegade's making this fight even more obvious to the public eye than it already was, and showing the government isn't invincible. That we can be hit. That it's possible to scare us.

And he has scared the other man on the line. I'm willing to bet he's scared others, too.

I'm not going to let myself be scared.

I need Alexis. I need to talk to her, find her --

That's when I remember what she said last night. She had to go to the Bank.

And the Renegade's just taken hostages.

"I have to contact someone else," I say, becoming cold. "Tell General Morton to order her men to stand down for the time being. Not until we have more information about the situation."

"But Your Highness -- "

"That's an order," I bark. I hang up on him, and connect with Alexis's communicator instead. "Alexis Blackthorne, do you copy?"

Silence.

I try again. "Alexis Blackthorne, do you copy?" Nothing. Nothing at all. "Alexis Blackthorne, this is an emergency. Do you copy?" Still no response. "Alexis Blackthorne? Alexis?" I am alone in the hall, with no one in sight, so I don't bother trying to calm the worry in my voice. "Alexis!"

Dead silence.

I feel dizzy. He has her. He has her. He has her.

He has her.


I swallow down the rising panic in my throat, but I still don't feel better. This is just like that day, years ago. My brother whipped Chase. Chase got hurt, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. Now Alexis is going to get hurt, and I can't do anything to stop it --

I smash my hand into a fist and punch it into the wall. The pain brings me back into focus.

Today isn't like that day. I couldn't do anything to help Chase back then, because I was a child surrounded by wolves.

But then I got raised by them.

Now, I lead the pack.

I stand taller with a growl, and it's the most inhuman thing that's ever come from me.

I will end this.


~ ~ ~


I'm at the security room in minutes.

I place my hand on a fingerprint scanner, let a red optical laser scan y eye, and the door opens.

"How close are we to obtaining footage of the Bank before security went down?" I march into the room filled with computer monitors, showing footage from everywhere from the front of the mansion to the outskirts of the city. General Morton is with a cluster of people on the other end of the room, and a group of technicians huddle around a monitor which would be showing the interior of the Bank, if everything was working properly.

A woman at that monitor turns her head to look at me. "We've been working onit as fast as we can, Your Highness -- "

"Work faster."

I look at one of the other monitors. A swell of Acritudians have gathered around the larger-than-life building, a line of black-clad soldiers keeping everyone a good hundred feet away from any entrances. Some try to push their way through the crowd, getting as close as they can to the building, eager to see what's happening next -- of if someone they love inside is all right.

I guess I know the feeling.

"Your Highness."

I give the woman who spoke earlier my attention. The screen in front of them is no longer black and gray static, and at last shows footage of the Bank before the Renegade took over.

I step closer to the screen, craning my neck so I can get a better look at the video. Now that I'm not as frazzled about the situation, I remember that we've assigned Black Gloves members as additional security to every prominent location in Poena, including the Bank. What happened with them?

The screen features the proceedings one might usually find at a Bank. A pair of people in chairs talk calmly about something I can't hear, an elderly man hobbles into the spacious lobby, and a line of tellers at a counter work to get through the lines.

I see Alexis among one of those lines, tapping her foot restlessly.

I make myself look away from her, thinking back to the list I made Morton send me and trying to remember which operatives were assigned to the Bank. The operative that volunteered for that location was . . .

Alexei Blackthorne stands apart from the rest, his face unreadable. Despite his isolation from the crowd, he makes no move to make himself stand out, and everyone's gazes just wash over him without a second glance.

He remains unmoving for one more second. Then, he turns around and crosses to a door. With one glance to make sure no one's looking, he swipes an ID through the reader before going inside. I see none of the workers question him, because they know they have undercover security.

That door leads into a hallway. That hallway leads to the Bank's security room.

Within a minute, the footage goes out.


~ ~ ~


Soon enough, I find Alexei Blackthorne returning to the mansion.

I have him pinned against the wall, glass dagger at his throat, in four seconds.

"You little traitor," I snarl.

Even though his life is at my mercy, Alexei finds the audacity to laugh -- a far cry from his usual controlled demeanor. "Woah," he says. "Might want to take it a little easy there, don't you think?"

It takes every scrap of my self-control to not wrap my fingers around his insufferable little head and rip it from his neck. "If I were you, I'd be begging for your life right now."

"And why would that be, pray tell?"

"Did you really think your actions at the Bank were going to go unnoticed? You went to the security room in the building, and the next thing I know, security camera footage is wiped out." I narrow my eyes. "I'm not stupid."

"Actually, past evidence would beg to differ, but by all means, continue with your tirade."

I jam the edge of the dagger deeper into his throat. I don't even bother trying to tell myself that I take no satisfaction in the clear line of blood that appears.

For a long time, I've been wondering if there might be a traitor among the military's ranks. The Renegade attacked too many raids, had too much success obliterating storehouses and other buildings to not have had a source of inside information. But Alexei . . . "I don't even get why," I say. "You're already in good social standing, you already have power, you disagree with their views. Why risk so much to help a Trait Bearer?"

"Why not help a Trait Bearer? It's not like I have anything better to do, do I?" And through all that carelessness, I see a flash of dissatisfaction. Of hunger. "On and on your lives go. On and on the lives of you Zeidans and Generals and other higher-ups go, with no regard for the ones beneath you, no concern for the ones who enable your success. Ought I to be content with that, Your Highness? Should I resign myself to such a despicable, disgusting, boring life?" A wide smile cuts across his face. "Now that wouldn't be a strong ending to this story."

"That's it, then? You betrayed your ideals, your nation, and your family all because you were freaking bored?"

"My ideals and my nation, perhaps," Alexei says. "But not necessarily my family. Not my entire family."

I freeze.

Alexei keeps eye contact with me, and I know he knows what I now see. "Imagination does runs in my family, wouldn't you say?"

That's true. His father, Abraxas, was a Cruelty Bearer. But his mother . . .

I've long had a theory. That the Renegade wasn't what he seemed. That the Renegade didn't even exist.

Sometimes, it felt like I was chasing a ghost. That's because, in a way, I was. The Passion Bearer we chased wasn't a Passion Bearer.

The Passion Bearer we chased was an illusion, produced by an Imagination Bearer.

His face was never found in Acritudian files because he was never born. The Renegade always disappeared too quickly for a human being because he's not a human being. The Renegade never spoke because, usually, illusions can only fool one part of the senses. To claim the Renegade was voiceless not only attributed a false motivation to the Renegade, but also provided a perfect reason as to, when the Imagination Bearer couldn't embody the illusion and had to control it from afar, why the illusion couldn't talk.

And Passion Bearers don't need flamethrowers to produce fire. But Imagination Bearers would.

Now, that Imagination Bearer is . . .

"But she died," I say, honestly baffled. "Your mother was executed in front of the entire nation, how did she -- "

Alexei erupts into wild laughter.

That just makes me snarl even more. "Do you even realize what you've done? Your sister's one of the hostages. Your sister."

"And I should care . . . why, exactly?"

Why should Alexei care about Alexis? Why should have Lucian cared about me? "Because she's your damn sister, that's why!"

"You say that like it should mean something to me."

"You don't deserve someone like her."

"No, but you do."

I snarl. The liar. The traitor. The sociopath. The rapist.

In the back of my mind, I remember that I need to maintain control. That I need to act according to my head, and not according to my heart. I cannot allow myself to get personal. Those are the philosophies that I have long abided by.

But this is already personal.

I deck my fist into Alexei's face. I use my Cruelty to heighten the pain for good measure, and cause him to sink to the ground.

I activate my communicator.

"Black Gloves operative Alexei Blackthorne is under arrest for criminal activity and treason to the government of Acritudo," I say. I'm itching to add, and sexual assault, and it's only my promise to Alexis that keeps me from doing so. "He is to be detained with maximum security, and I will be personally overseeing his interrogation after more pressing matters are seen to."

I don't take my eyes off of Alexei for a half-second, and he doesn't bother resisting arrest when guards come and bind his hands behind his back with platinum cuffs. I don't wait for any of them to approach me and try to question me before I take off, tearing through the city streets and towards the Bank.

Normally, I would stop and try to plan. But I already have a plan.

The first part of my plan?

I will save Alexis.

The second?

By tonight's end, the Renegade will die, and by my hands.

_________________
Credit to Hime for the drawing!





[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by Athena Lionheart on Tue Jan 24, 2017 12:48 pm

Incredible as always, Writing! Eagerly awaiting more!

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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Fri Feb 03, 2017 1:23 pm

Chapter 9: The Illusion Shattered


"Are your men in position?" I say to Morton.

"They are," she says over the communicator. "Are you certain about this, Your Highness?"

"Very."

"Because you're Vandor Zeidan's daughter. I don't like the idea of risking someone so important."

"I hope you're not doubting my abilities, General."

"I'm not. I'm just reluctant about this plan."

"Don't be. None of the Renegade's men will touch me." Because I'm not going to even give them the chance to.

I tug at the metal harness I wear, making sure it's nice and fit. Standing atop of the roof of a skyscraper close to the Bank of Poena, I can see the windows of the top floor. From this angle, I can roughly see the crescent of a crowd gathered around the front of the building, some panicked voices rising above others. Do any of them see me? I'm not entirely sure. From this height, it's hard to make out their faces, hard to tell what they're all looking at.

I suppose, in the end, it doesn't matter. I just need to focus on the mission.

I crouch down, squinting so I can look through the windows of the top floor as best as I can. From what I can see, the rooms look empty of any of the Renegade's men. It won't be for long. They'll hear a crash, and the Renegade -- or Amber Blackthorne, whatever she wants to be called -- will send her men up to investigate.

Performing that investigation is the last thing those men ever will do.

"Wait for my word," I say, standing back up. "And when you come in . . . remember, don't put your attention where the Renegade wants it to go. Look for anyone in the shadows. Look for Amber Blackthorne. Take her and Coulter Brooks alive, but kill anyone else that resists."

I end the call. I don't know how Alexis will react, learning that the Renegade is her mother. I don't know how Alexis will react when I tell her that she'll have to die for what she's done.

I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I hook my communicator back to my belt, and take out something else instead -- a fine dagger slid into a white sheathe. I've seen the blade before. It's a bit fancy, but I expect it'll be able to handle the upcoming fight.

Evening Star. The star that demands to be seen.

I will be seen.

I flick a switch, and the piton of the cable shoots out from my harness and clasps onto a catch of a window. I hurdle forward, gaining a running start, and leap off of the building.

I'm not as carefree as some. I don't give myself time to savor the thrill of the wind lashing at my face, nor the weightless feeling of being in the air and off the ground. I just keep my eyes on the rapidly-approaching window as I shoot down the makeshift zipline. I clench my jaw, and bring my legs up so I hit the window feet-first --

I kick into the window with such force that the glass shatters.

I duck my head, raising my arms to shield my face, but it doesn't one glass shard from cutting my cheek. I ignore the pain. The line ends here, right at the outside of the window, so I hold onto the windowpane with one hand and use the other hand to free myself from the harness. Carefully, I move myself out of the harness while being sure to  hang on to the windowpane with at least one hand, and then I swing myself into the room. I hate to leave the harness hanging out there, just outside the window, but I don't have the time to take a moment and get it down from there.

That, and I'm already armed to the teeth. I don't want any extra weight slowing me down.

A voice that sounds distinctly like Brook's shouts. A thunder of footsteps up the stairs heralds the approach of several of the Renegade's men.

Good, I think. Let them come.

Let them come to the slaughter.


I draw a dagger, and open the pouch of bullets and other small metal objects I have clipped to my belt.

I see the first few of the Renegade's men run up to the top of the staircase.

A bullet is in each of their throats before they've even finished raising their guns.

I step over their corpses, and advance down the stairs.

A wave of four men come, two bearing guns with plastic bullets and two with glass knives. The two with guns lift their weapons --

I dash over to one of the men with glass knives, quickly maneuver myself behind him, and use him as a human shield just as the guns go off. One of them gives a horrified yell upon seeing that he's killed his own comrade before I take the dead man's glass knives, and throw each one at the mens' throats.

On I continue.

"Ashton, do you copy?" I hear from the communicator I snatched from one of the bodies. "I repeat, do you copy?"

Without a word, I step down the remaining step on the staircase, and begin making my way through the vacant hallway. The lobby shouldn't be very far away now.

Sure enough, I can hear Brooks's voice booming, even from here, and pick up bits and pieces of what he's saying. " . . . example that . . . Bearers will no longer live in fear! The Dictator may . . . you to think that the government, that the system, that he is invincible, but he is not. Governments have as much power as the people allow, systems can be broken, and Vandor Zeidan is just a man."

Oh my god, someone knock this guy from his high horse, I think, rolling my eyes. I keep my weapons at the ready as I continue.

"Acritudo will be destroyed!" His voice is getting louder, which means I'm coming closer. "Acritudo will burn!"

I come around a corner, and find a door to the lobby, outside of which two guards are posted. As I expected.

But they didn't expect me. Opposition, perhaps, but not me.

"Acritudo will fall," Brooks says from inside. The guards' hands are darting to their radios, but I already have two bits of metal -- a nail and another standard bullet -- out and flying at them. "And let it be made clear that there is no one who will be able to stop us -- "

The bullet stamps itself into one of the guards' foreheads, and I direct the nail into the ear of the other. I direct the nail through his earlobe, and the guard screams in agony. I smile as I maneuver the nail through his ear canal and all the way up to the top of his skull, and twist my wrist as I drill it into his brain.

On other side of the doors those men guarded, Brooks has gone deathly quiet. In that silence, I remember something Alexis said to me.

There's fire in you, Therese Zeidan.

Don't keep it in.

Let it out.


From my pouch, I extract a small, standard coin.

I open the door, and let the coin fly. In its controlled trajectory, the sharp edge of the coin slits the throat of one, two, three, four men and women, and it keeps going on and on throughout the room until I've felled fifteen of their men in a single stroke.

The bloodied coin returns to my hands. I clench my fist around it, letting the warm liquid seep in between my fingers.

Slowly, I look up, assessing the situation. The fifteen corpses of the men I've killed have all dropped to the ground, a good third of the Renegade's men already gone. Their remaining men turn their guns on me -- not all of them fortunate enough to be armed with ceramic bullets -- but none of them dare to make a move just yet. All are backed against the wall, forced on their knees, are a good twenty or so hostages, their hands bound in front of them.

I try not to focus on the fact that I see Alexis among them. Her wide green eyes dart to me for a second, before going right back to . . .

I follow her gaze to the illusion of the Renegade. The illusion is as detailed as ever, and for a second, I almost believe that there's an actual man standing next to Coulter Brooks in the center of the marble-floored lobby.

But I know the truth.

My eyes narrow into slits, and I try to find any sign of a woman behind the scenes, a figure in the shadows. I can't find anything. She's good. She's very good.

For a long, quiet moment, none of us move.

I strike first. I throw the coin out again.

Brooks is prepared this time. He reaches out with his hand, and some of the hostages gasp as they see my coin stop in mid-air with his Logic.

But I was prepared. As Brooks focuses his Logic on stopping the small coin, I redirect my attention to one of the guns the men has, and turn it to fire on a woman standing next to him.

"Fire!" Brooks says, and I dive and take cover under one of the lobby desks just as they open fire. Bullets strike the thin wood, and I stand back up to stop two bullets in their path. I push them back in the direction they came.

I've just heard those two men go down before I unsheathe one of my knives and throw it at Brooks head. He stops it, as expected, but it holds his attention for a moment as I seize control of another woman's gun. She's aiming it at me, in a moment in which she thinks she's caught me unaware, but I turn the gun around just as she's about to pull the trigger. It's too late for her to stop herself from planting a bullet in her own heart.

Do any of these ants really think they can defeat the giant?

The illusion of the Renegade gives a signal to Brooks. In turn, Brooks looks to his men.

"Start killing them," he says. He looks over to me. "We warned you of what would happen if you tried to stop us."

And, of course, of all people, the first person one of the men seizes from the array of hostages is Alexis.

She yelps as one of the men seizes her wrist and tries to drag her forward, but she digs her heels into the floor, resisting his pull, but he just stops and pulls out a gun anyways.

No, I think as I run over to Alexis and the rest of the hostages. I push back any metal bullet shot at me, and duck under the trajectory of any ceramic ones. None of them are going to die.

Do I feel that conviction because of compassion? In Alexis's case, yes, but not for the rest of them. None of them are dying because I'm going to show them that the government can't be exploited like that. They're not dying because their deaths would be proof that the government wasn't able to get this under control.

And under my control it will be.

The man lifts the gun to Alexis's head --

I flick out a metal nail toward the man about to shoot Alexis. The nail spikes through his throat.

I get to Alexis just as the man crumples to the ground, and place myself in between her and anyone else.

"Move in!" I bark into the communicator, now that I've secured my partner.

The response is immediate. Anyone about to attack me suddenly turns away when glass windows are shattered, allowing for Cruelty Bearers to swing into the room, and the door is kicked down, with soldiers filing in with guns blazing.

I've already taken out a good third of their force by myself. Already the numbers of the Renegade's men are beginning to drop under explosive gunfire and swiftly-thrown knives. Brooks is yelling orders that I can't make out over the cacophony of battle, but it'll be no use.

Within minutes, they'll be crushed entirely.

Some of Morton's men dart over to the hostages, beginning to free them and escort them out of the building as best as they can throughout the chaos. I focus on them as well -- or, at least, I focus on Alexis. I saw through the rope with Evening Star, and the bonds fall loose.

I stand up, producing the two glass daggers I took from the body of one of the first men I killed.

I don't bother asking if she's okay. She's not a glass doll. Alexis is a force of power, like me. "Ready to fight?"

Alexis's face still seems somewhat pale, but she grins. "Thought you'd never ask."

I offer her a hand. She clasps her wrist around my forearm, and I help her rise.

Alexis and I plunge into battle. I throw one of my daggers at one of the Renegade’s men, and don’t wait to see where in her body it’s stuck before slashing my other dagger across the chest of another. It’s a slim, well-executed cut, and in the meantime Alexis is just hacking her way through the battle with her glass knives, slamming her blades into shoulders and tendons and spleens.

We’re doing it, I think as I fight with Alexis. The Renegade had wanted a system to fall back on in the event of her death, but we’re crushing her force. We’re completely destroying that system.

And yet, Alexis's eyes are still darting back and forth between the men we fight and the illusion of the Renegade.

She doesn't know yet, does she? I think as I bisect the torso of one of the Renegade's men with one of my daggers. She doesn't know that the man we've been chasing is just an illusion, and that the illusionist is . . .

“Your mother,” I say to Alexis, once I’ve had a moment to catch my breath. “She’s alive.”

Alexis nearly drops her knives. “Wh-What?”

“She’s the Renegade. The man we see here is an illusion made by an Imagination Bearer, like your mother.”

Alexis doesn’t say anything. But the next time she stabs someone, I swear, she does it harder than before.

Finally, the two of us turn our attention to Brooks.

Hoping to take him off-guard, I throw my coin at him. The coin pauses, and then Brooks shoots it back at me --

Alexis deflects the coin with the flat of one of her blades.

She charges him headfirst, and he only manages to save himself from a puncture by unsheathing a glass blade of his own and parrying her strike. The two trade blows, again, again, again, with both refusing to surrender any ground.

I rush into the fray the first chance I get. I come from behind with an uppercut slash of my dagger --

Coulter turns, and my heart skips a beat when my own dagger plunges itself at my heart. Only the surge of Cruelty I make myself feel stops it from making its mark.

But unfortunately for Brooks, it seems as though he can only control one thing at a time.

Because in the moment Brooks is concentrating on killing me, Alexis swoops down with her own daggers and slashes across the backs of his knees.

Brooks cries out as he sinks to the floor. He then glamps his mouth shut, and contorts his face in the effort to stop himself from yelling in pain.

Satisfied with his defeat, I’m more than content to watch Alexis slowly walk from behind him and around his crumpled form until she’s in front of him.

Brooks lifts his head to see the girl standing over him.

Then, of all things, he crosses his eyebrows. “Wait a minute -- “

Alexis decapitates his head in one stroke.

My jaw drops.

“What the hell!” I say. “Alexis, we needed him for interrogation!”

Alexis simply sheathes one of her knives. “He was too dangerous to be kept alive,” she says. “I felt like the best thing to do would be to kill him.”

“‘Dangerous?’ Did you see how efficiently we took him out? We could have easily done that again had he tried to . . . “

My words die as I notice that Alexis is suddenly looking away from me. I follow her gaze to where she’s looking, and . . .

I see her.

Among the throng outside, I see a woman in a hood. That hood can’t hide the slender diamond face, or the thick strawberry-blonde hair that falls to her collarbone, or . . .

Or the startlingly green eyes, exactly like Alexis’s.

The illusion of the Renegade flees deeper into the building, but no one gives it any mind -- not after what I told Morton. Amber Blackthorne’s eyes follow the Renegade until it’s gone, maintaining the illusion, and then . . .

Her eyes lock with mine.

She turns right around and flees into the city.

Alexis barely has time to call out my name before I run out of the building and after her mother.

I push my way past soldiers and civilians alike, ignoring Alexis as she again cries out for me.

I can’t bear to see her face. I know this situation with her mother won’t go down well with Alexis. But I have to put my country’s security before one person’s feelings, even if that person is someone I hold close to my heart.

I spot Amber darting in between two brick buildings, and I follow her, chasing her through the tight alley, around a corner, and then back out into the open streets --

I’m gaining on her. I push myself harder, and hurdle after the woman. In the distance, I can still hear Alexis.

Amber tears across the road. I do the same, and a car horn blares as it screeches to a halt. I ignore the fact that I almost just got hit, and go faster, faster, faster and faster and --

I throw a bullet in her direction once she’s in my range, careful to aim it at her legs rather than any fatal areas. Amber slams herself against the wall of a building, missing the bullet by a hair.

Her moment of pause gives me all the time I need. I close the distance between Amber and I, and --

I whip out Evening Star and stake it at her shoulder. Amber moves her body to the side, dodging the blow, and she does the same when I try to strike at her both from the right and from the left.

“Fight,” I say, swinging at her again. She turned her son against us, took her daughter hostage, and fooled the entire Acritudian military. The least she could do is fight. “Come on,” I say, growling, thrusting my dagger at her again. Still she just dodges, irritating me, mocking me. “Fight back, you -- !”

My blade strikes her wrist.

At least, it would have, had her body been corporeal.

Instead, Evening Star cleanly passes through a transparent wrist.

My eyes widen. What the . . .

The illusion of Amber starts running again. I begin running after her, only to purposefully trip over my own feet in my haste. That moment of deliberate tripping gives me the chance to quickly assess my surroundings, because where an illusion is, the illusionist can’t be far.

But I don’t see anyone. Not on the other side of the street. Not alone on the rooftops, not on the other side of any open building windows. The streets are barren, after word of the crisis at the Bank. The only other person around here is . . .

“Therese!”

. . . No.

No.

No.

No.

But despite the iron band of fear crushing my chest, I stand up, turn around, and . . .

“Oh skies, Therese,” Alexis says. Her face crumples in relief.

Is it real relief, or practiced relief?

Alexis runs the rest of the way up to me, her eyes flickering between me and the illusion of the runaway Amber Blackthorne. I look over my shoulder, and see the illusion growing farther and farther away until she runs out of sight.

“What are you doing?” Alexis says. She looks so confused. Looks so confused. “She’s getting away -- “

“I suspect it’s too late,” I make myself say. I feel sick, and it feels like the world is falling apart, but I pretend like I’m fine and the world’s fine and everything’s fine as I continue, “I won’t waste my energy pursuing something I can’t catch. I’ll find another way.”

“You’re giving up.” To anyone else, it sounds like an offhanded comment. But now I can hear the calculation underneath. Alexis is assessing, observing, and she does that every second of every day, constantly adjusting and reworking her plans as necessary. “It’s not like you to give up.”

I don’t look at her.

How dare you, I’m itching to scream. How dare you.

The Passion Bearer wasn’t the only illusion in this mess.

Whatever friendship I might have had with Alexis was a lie. It’s a beautiful lie. A precious lie. A blissful lie.

It’s still a lie.

“Let’s head back to the Bank,” I force out. “I need to see the situation there.”

I don’t let myself see Alexis’s reaction before I head off.

"My ideals and my nation, perhaps," Alexei had said when I'd accused him of betraying others. "But not necessarily my family. Not my entire family." Alexei had as good as ratted Alexis out right then and there. And yet, I’d still jumped to the conclusion that it was Amber. That her mother was still alive, despite thousands witnessing her execution.

But I’ve always had a habit of telling lies to myself.

I have an even worse habit of believing them.

I still utter no word to Alexis as we begin to approach the Bank, and everyone surrounding it. Hostages are embracing their families, all of ‘the Renegade’s’ men are dead or captured, and all the effort put behind capturing the Bank was all for naught for the rebels. The rebels wanted to show that the government wasn't invincible, but the government just turned that tactic on its head and showed that as quickly as rebellion arises, it will be quashed.

It’s a victory for the Acritudian government. I should feel victorious. I don’t.

Proper procedure calls for taking Alexis in. I have to torture her, I have to break her, I have to execute her. But I can’t bring myself to do that. Not until I accept the truth.

Just like her mother before her, Alexis Blackthorne is an Imagination Bearer.

And she is the real Renegade.


Last edited by WritingBookworm on Sat May 27, 2017 8:28 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Credit to Hime for the drawing!





[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by WritingBookworm on Wed Mar 22, 2017 6:11 pm

Chapter 10: Trust


In the weapons storage room, before we head out to catch Coulter Brooks, I ask, "And what do you want, Alexis Blackthorne?" I ask.

When she next speaks, her words do not falter. "I want justice. For my family."

I don't have to ask who she's referring to. "For your father." His death may officially be a suicide, but given Abraxas Blackthorne's assignment to track down a certain missing Zeidan, it's not hard to guess the circumstances that led to it.

Alexis smiles very, very tightly.

I see the anger in her eyes. It's not the petty indignation that was there when she stormed into the armory a minute ago. This is different. Deeper. Her green irises throb with an anger born from hate -- a hate that could rage and ravage and raze, should she let it out.

But she keeps it contained, because it is the incorrect time and place to let it out. In the meantime, it simmers, deep within. And she lets it drive her, propelling her ever closer to her one final, ultimate goal.

To the time when she'll unleash it.



~  ~  ~


"Lady Zeidan." Sitting at the table across from me, Morton runs through her papers, and then looks up to ask me another question about this afternoon's incident. "You were the one to find the true Renegade, and chase her. Do you have any idea where she might have gone?"

I lift my head, meeting her eyes. My expression is as unwavering and professional as always.

I do know where the Renegade is.

She's within our ranks, and she always has been.

She's Alexis.


"I haven't the faintest idea," I say, as smoothly as though it was the truth.


~  ~  ~


"Do you trust me?"

That's the question Alexis asked me on four separate occasions. Come to think of it, I've never said, "Yes." And so Alexis never stopped asking. It was because she needed the confirmation from me, wasn't it?

I shake my head, like that can banish Alexis from my mind. I take the watering can from the shelf, and trudge over to a rosebush. I tilt the watering can ever-so-slightly, and watch the water sprinkle onto the roses. I've never stopped gardening -- not really. I might have been discouraged from it for a while, after Lucian was so kind as to light my roses on fire. But I didn't stop. Maybe it's because I tear things down a lot. As much as I do genuinely enjoy tearing things down, it's refreshing to build things up every once in a while.

I smirk to myself, advancing to the next rosebush. Still, a Cruelty Bearer, growing flowers. It's contradictory to my position in society, and not to mention totally embarrassing. There's a reason why I'd said no when Alexis had asked if I had any hobbies outside of torturing and killing, and . . .

The thought of Alexis makes me feel so much colder. My arm slackens, and I leave the watering can to limply dangle from my hand.

The water, unhindered, continues pouring onto the rosebush until the watering can is empty.


~  ~  ~


I knock on the door. "Alexis."

No sound comes from the opposite side of the door. So I knock on it again. "Alexis, are you in there?"

Still no response. Deciding that she must not be home, I bend down on one knee and lift the corner of the porch mat. There's a key underneath, and I use that to unlock the door and enter the Blackthorne house.

The house is vacant, and the lights all off. I don't want to give away my presence, should Alexis come back while I'm still here, so I don't turn on the light. Instead, I pick my way through the dark halls, trying various doors and peeking into different rooms until I find what's most likely to be hers. I don't know if I have the courage to talk to Alexis about this matter head-on, so the best I can do to learn more about the situation is to look through her room and see if I can find anything that will tell me more about the situation. It's an invasion of privacy, and, somehow, even though Alexis is a traitor to the Acritudian government, and even if that fact makes it so that I technically have a right to be searching her home, I still feel bad for intruding on her space.

But anything sounds like a better option than personally talking to her.

It's the farthest from my personal bedroom it can get. While mine is organized and free of any mess, I see a bunch of clutter strewn across from the floor. A small bed is stowed away in a corner, and then on her dresser . . .

I start when I see what's standing on top of her dresser.

There, situated on a corner of her dresser, is a photo frame with a picture in it. Photos, while not strictly outlawed like they are in Avaditas, are still exceptionally rare for the common man or woman in Acritudo. Accordingly, there is no photo in the frame -- instead, there's a drawn picture. A picture of two stick figure girls. One is small, with black hair and green eyes, and she holds hand with a taller stick figure, with curly strawberry-blonde hair and eyes that are the same color as the girl's.

I recognize them. It's Alexis and her mom. Did Alexis draw this, when she was young?

The photo frame isn't the only thing that assumes my interest. Scattered around the dresser are notebooks. Some have frayed leather covers and spines that are taped together; others look as though they were just bound together yesterday.

Cautiously, I approach the oldest-looking notebook. I brace myself, as though I expect the sketchbook to be a bomb that's about to blow up in my face, and . . .

Inside the notebook, on the very first page, is the drawing of a butterfly.

It's a crude drawing, the lines all disjoined and ragged like the artist barely even knew how to hold a pencil. Nevertheless, if I look hard enough, I can tell that the drawing is of a butterfly. And it looks . . . a corner of my my lip quirks up. It actually looks rather cute.

I flip through the rest of the sketchbook, and through the others. There are pictures of flowers, rainbows, ladybugs. Many of the older ones are drawn just as crudely as the butterfly, but the more I flip through it, the better the artistic style becomes. The disjointed lines become fine and precise, and bare outlines of everyday things become detailed and shaded caricatures that look so lifelike that I'm almost surprised that it's not a photo.

But the more detailed the pictures become, the more experience Alexis gets . . .

The pictures also become increasingly violent. The drawings of in the newer sketchbooks aren't as innocent as flowers and rainbows and ladybugs. Instead, there are sketches of men in Acritudian military uniforms getting skewered through the throat. The Zeidan mansion, alight in flames. And Vandor Zeidan . . .

The picture of Vandor Zeidan is so gory that even I, someone well-versed in torture and desensitized to the sight of blood, have to close the book for a moment to reorient myself.

I take a moment. Then, reluctantly, I open the book again and go to the next page, bracing myself for what I may find . . .

I pause.

The next sketch is unlike the others. For one, it's unfinished, in need of shading. But what I see of the drawing so far isn't bloody at all. It's two girls, sitting upon a high balcony of an abandoned building. Together they stand, looking out at an uncompleted skyline of Poena.

I can feel my face softening. With one finger, I trace the space between the drawings of our faces.

"Therese?"

I jump.

Behind me stands Alexis.


~  ~  ~


She only now lowers a knife as she registers me there. Had I been so absorbed in her drawings that I hadn't heard her come in? Stupid of me. Stupid, stupid.

Alexis appears confused. "Therese?" she says again. "What's going on here?"

For one long, heart-pounding moment, I say nothing.

I take a deep breath. I close the sketchbook, and put it back on the dresser.

"I know," I say.

"Know?" Alexis says. "Know what? And what're you doing in my house? Why'd you break in?"

"I have a right to break in," I say, "because I have reason to believe that you, like your brother, have committed treason to the government of Acritudo."

"What?" Alexis doesn't seem mad, or defensive. There's just hurt, and more confusion. "I know that you think my mom's the Renegade, but that doesn't mean I'm associated with her. I mean, you can question me about my affiliation with her, if it'll put your doubts at ease -- "

"I don't think you're associated with the Renegade. I know that you are the Renegade."

"What's gotten into you? Do you trust me?"

And it's that, that, that right there, that makes me snap.

"I don't know, Alexis," I snarl. "Should I?"

Alexis actually goes as far as to scramble back a few steps. Like an innocent, frightened little puppy.

"Therese?" she says.

In an instant, I do wonder. I actually do wonder if maybe I'd been wrong, if I was just being unreasonable. If, somehow, I could trust Alexis, and if all of this -- the way she was the only one close enough to conjure the illusion of Amber Blackthorne, the violent drawings of Acritudo's downfall -- is one big, convoluted misunderstanding.

But I can't lie to myself.

"Skies," I say, my voice becoming quiet. I look into her eyes, the sheep's fur that disguises the wolf well. "You really are good at this, aren't you?"

Silence.

Alexis is still. I keep my eyes locked on hers.

Finally, she sighs. "Well, shit. I guess you do know."

And then she unsheathes a knife and throws it at my heart.


~  ~  ~


My reflexes are more enough to save me. I easily deflect the metal knife to the side, and let it clatter to the floor.

Seeing that a speedy, accurate throw wouldn't be enough for her, Alexis draws her obsidian longsword -- I suppose she always needed to have weapons that weren't made of metal in case an occasion like this arose, didn't she? She swings the blade at me, but I'm too quick. I knock the blade out of her hand, and let that fall to the floor as well. Alexis scrambles to get it.

I have a knife pointed at her throat before she can take one step toward it.

Alexis freezes. Then, she has the good sense to slowly put her hands up in the air.

"Don't run," I say. "Don't fight. I don't intend to hurt you, so doing either of those things won't help your case."

"Oh yeah?" Alexis snarls. "You don't intend to hurt me, do you?" She cocks her head to the side. "I'm pretty sure that's the government's job, to hurt Trait Bearers."

"But I don't want to hurt you," I say quietly.

I clear my throat before she has the chance to respond. "I want to hear you out." I mean it. "Only after that will I come down to a decision as to what to do with you."

"I'm a Trait Bearer. I've hidden my Trait, incited several rebel incursions, and am a traitor to the Acritudian government. What to do with me should be clear."

"It should be, but it's not, because you're also my . . . "

I want to say, My friend. But the problem with saying that is that I don't know if she ever was really my friend, or if it was all just a ploy to get me to drop my guard.

I nod my head over at the dresser behind me, where the picture frame of the drawing of Alexis and her mother stands. "You had a close relationship with your mother," I say, trying to get her to talk, to open up. "That's what the drawing implies, at least. You got the Imagination Trait from your mother, I take it?"

Alexis's face is unreadable. She stays silent for so long that I don't believe that she'll answer, and I'm just about to ask her a different question when she says, "No."

I wait for her to go on.

So she does. "My mother was never an Imagination Bearer."

I make a conscious effort to hide my surprise as Alexis lowers her hands. She lets one arm hang at her side, but shows the palm of her hand with her other. In her palm, I watch as an image -- an illusion -- begins to form.

"The truth," she whispers, "is far more terrible."

The illusion coalesces into a window, and a wall surrounding it. Alexis's room. The same one we're in now. The illusion, like I'm watching a video, zooms out to provide a wider view of the room, where I can now see a young Alexis sitting at a table, smiling to herself as she draws a picture.

The young Alexis looks so happy, so innocent and so carefree, that I actually have to smile a bit.

"My mom was an ordinary citizen of Acritudo," Alexis says. "She went to an Academy, earned the Cruelty Trait while she was there, and married my father to bring honor and status to her own family. She was obedient, dutiful, and committed to the ideals of Acritudo. But then I came along."

The illusion zooms out furthermore until it feels like I'm looking at her room from outside the doorframe in the hall. Just outside of her room, Amber Blackthorne stands, back pressed to the wall. Cautiously, she peeks into Alexis's bedroom, watching her draw.

"My mom concluded that I had the Imagination Trait, and decided that, since it appeared at an early age, I had most likely been born with it. For a time, I don't think she knew what to do. But then . . . well, she spent time with me. She saw how I used my Imagination."

The figure of Amber Blackthorne smiles.

"She decided my Imagination was something good."

A flash, and then suddenly Amber's sitting down with a small Alexis in her lap. Alexis's pencil scratches and curves all across the paper. When she's done, Alexis sets down the paper, shows her mom the rudimentary drawing of a butterfly, and Amber's mouth forms a little O, like she's gasping in astonishment. She smiles, soundlessly praising how talented her daughter is, and Alexis giggles as Amber ruffles her hair. She brings her in for a big hug, and kisses the top of her head.

"She also decided that my Imagination was something beautiful. Something worth fostering. So she did. At every turn, she encouraged me to be creative, to go out in the world and explore and see beautiful things that were worth capturing in art, and to look at the world in a way that was entirely my own. I did, and because of her, my Imagination grew.

"But while she thought my Trait was something good, she also knew it was something dangerous."

The scene shifts. Alexis, while sitting on her mother's lap again, is on a different chair with Amber. Young Alexis opens her palm, similar to how she's doing now, and from her palm blooms the illusion of a flower.

Again, Amber smiles, but the smile is sad this time. Gently, she closes Alexis's small fingers around her palm, extinguishing the illusion. The look on Amber's face is grave, and the smile on small Alexis's face begins to fall.

"She told me that I was special. But special means different, and the Acritudian government didn't like what was different. She told me that there weren't many people who would understand me, and warned me to never display my Imagination in front of my dad or brothers. And as soon as I was old enough to understand, she told me the extent of the situation, and that I would be killed if I was discovered.

"The problem was, Imagination has always been a tough Trait to control."

The scene changes once more. A slightly older Alexis, now appearing to be around eight years old, paces back and forth in her room, growing restless.

"I understood the situation," Alexis says, "but that didn't mean I liked it. I grew so impatient, so restless to put my Imagination to use, that I got tired of stifling it every second I wasn't alone or with my mom. So . . . I got reckless."

Eight year old Alexis at last stops in the center of her room, huffing to herself. Then she looks over her shoulder, noticing the crude drawing of a butterfly she drew for her mom years before. She smiles mischievously, and with a wave of her hand, the illusion of a butterfly comes to life.

Alexis laughs and claps her hands twice as the butterfly soars all across the room. In the open space of her room, she runs in circles as she chases her own butterfly, jumping up occasionally as though she were trying to catch it. The butterfly flies around the perimeter of the room once more, and then . . .

And then it flies out of her open window.

Unable to control her illusion from the sudden distance, the illusion of the butterfly abruptly disappears.

The illusion of the butterfly disappears, in mid-air, out in the open, for all of Poena to see.

Young Alexis, her face suddenly pale, backs away from the window.

The situation only gets worse. Soldiers in black and red are at her house swiftly, and Alexis cowers before them, her eyes wide with terror . . .

Her mother steps in front of her.

Alexis looks confused, her eyes filled with questions. But Amber doesn't look back at her. Instead, she just holds her head high. The soldiers surround her, and wrench her hands behind her back before cuffing them. And so the Acritudian soldiers arrest her for a crime she didn't commit, take her in because of a Trait she didn't have.

The scene melts into a different background. A coliseum. At the center of it, the public executions proceed.

(It's the same place where Father executed Mother -- )

Soldiers shove Amber Blackthorne, her once pristine strawberry-blonde hair as dirtied and tangled as a rats nest, down to her knees. She lifts up her face, swollen with bruises and blotches. Her imprisonment was not kind to her.

A soldier gives a signal to a firing squad. All of them train their guns on Amber.

And then they fire.

Each bullet hits its mark, and Amber Blackthorne's body becomes peppered with bullet holes.

She's dead before she hits the ground.

And up above, watching from the audience, a scream blasts from Alexis's face.

Alexis -- the real Alexis, standing in front of me -- closes her fingers around her palm and snuffs the illusion out. All at once, I'm jarred back into reality.

"She died," Alexis says. "She died taking the blame for my stupid mistake. She died because of me."

I'm not sure what to say. Instead, I just close my eyes, because I too had to witness a mother's execution. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to watch.

I bet seeing something like that was the hardest thing Alexis ever had to watch, too.

Her voice certainly supports that notion, because she can't hold back her blubbering. "And, and I almost lost my Imagination, right then and there." Unconsciously, a new illusion appears -- the image of a small Alexis curled up in bed, all alone and staring hollowly at the wall. Instead of the vibrant color of the illusions before, this illusion's color palette is muted to black and white and gray. "It was my Imagination that had done this, my Imagination that had gotten her killed. And if all a Trait brought was suffering, then was it really worth having? I began thinking like the rest, believing Traits were ultimately a bad thing."

The illusion changes. Alexis is slightly older, maybe nine or ten, and her unkempt hair has overgrown, now falling down to her elbows. Even in the black and white color scheme, her skin seems sallow, and dark crescents underline her bloodshot eyes. She stares at a mirror.

"I hated myself."

In a fit of anger, the illusion of Alexis lifts up a hammer, and smashes the center of a mirror. Shards of glass plummet to the floor.

"Dear god, I hated myself."

The young Alexis keeps screaming as she rips any remaining glass shards from the mirror's frame, throwing them on the ground and crushing them into pieces with her foot. Like her reflection's still in there, like she can rid herself of it. She stomps on those shards, again and again and again, before she finally keels over and collapses on her hands and knees, sobbing.

"The only thing that kept me from turning myself in," Alexis says, her voice steadier now, "or from trying to fix myself in some way, was remembering that Mom had given her life for me. For the longest time, I thought her death was my fault . . .

"Until I realized it wasn't."

The young Alexis stops crying. She blinks a few times, like she's just registering where she is and what's going on. Then, she reaches a bloodied palm for one of the glass shards that's still intact, and looks at her reflection through it.

"I may have started the chain of events that led to her death, but that didn't mean it was my fault. I loved my mom, and would have never hurt her. I wasn't the one who pulled the triggers, who gave the kill order. It was the government's fault."

Alexis's hand tightens around the glass shard . . .

Then she brings it around to the back of her head and, in choppy motions, cuts off all of her long hair until it's the chin-length style she has now.

"I was ten years old," Alexis continues as the illusion of her younger self races out of the bathroom and into her room. Her hand scrambles among her notebooks and pencils on her drawer before she takes one of each and flops onto the bed. She leans in closer to the notebook as she frantically sketches, drawing as though her life depends on it. "I knew there wasn't anything I could do to change things. But I imagined someone who could."

Alexis, at last done with the sketch, brushes off any crumbs of pencil lead. She rips the page from her notebook, and holds her sketch to the light . . .

On that piece of paper is a sketch of the Renegade's face.

Color returns to the illusion, replacing the black and white that had made it so bleak. But instead of the pastel tone her illusions had taken on before, the color scheme is . . . darker, somehow.

Slowly, ten year old Alexis smiles.

"I imagined someone who could bring down the government," Alexis says. "I then started imagining how he would do it. He would be a Passion Bearer, the type of Trait Bearer who usually make for good leaders. He would use various government secrets, and exploit them -- some of those secrets being things I overheard my father talking about with the other Generals in various meetings. I imagined that the Renegade would strike seemingly randomly, with no apparent pattern to his attacks." Right then, I remember the first time I fought the illusion of the Renegade. After the Renegade called for a retreat, I'd wondered what the point of drawing us out had been. But there had never been any point, had there? "And then, once he got the government frazzled enough . . . then, he would find his opportunity. He would find his opportunity to use his position on the inside of the government to ambush Vandor Zeidan and avenge Amber Blackthorne's death."

The illusion now shows a twelve year old Alexis, standing in her room. She closes her eyes, and holds her hand out in front of her. Slowly, where she's pointing, the air warps and shimmers until a figure coalesces into the shape of a human. Details of his legs, arms, and face appear, until the Renegade is standing before her.

Twelve year old Alexis tilts her head to the side. The Renegade does the same, in the opposite direction, staring back at her with lifeless eyes.

"I became acquainted with the Renegade."

Alexis smiles. With a wave of her hand, the illusion of the Renegade disappears. In turn, the air around young Alexis begins to warp, until . . .

The Renegade stands where Alexis once stood.

Alexis, with the illusion masking her as the Renegade, turns over both of her hands. Instead of being small and delicate, like a little girl's, they appear broad and strong, like a grown man's.

"And then I became the Renegade."

The illusion ends with Alexis, as the Renegade, turning around and looking out of her bedroom window. She sets her sights on Poena like she's already watching the city burn to the ground.

"I used any information I'd overheard at my father's meetings to strike at the government," Alexis says, still telling her story despite the absence of any illusion. "And after my dad killed himself in Cruore for failing to apprehend your brother, Alexei became my new source and got any information that I couldn't."

"Why?" I say, at last speaking up. "Why would he agree to that? Why would you trust someone like him?"

Alexis laughs bitterly. "Because I had no choice. Again, Imagination's not an easy Trait to control. Even as I worked diligently to keep it leashed -- and I practiced to the point where I was usually able to contain it pretty well -- I did slip up eventually. When he found out what I was, and about what I was doing, he told me he'd be glad to help. He does like to keep himself entertained, and the higher stakes only makes the entertainment more amusing."

"And let me guess," I say, "he also kept it a secret so he could use it as leverage." Leverage just in case the worst happened, but more than that. Leverage in case she told anyone that he was abusing her, leverage in case she told anyone that he . . .

I still can't finish the thought.

Alexis nods. Her breathing gets a little heavier there for a second, like Alexei's still there, inside her mind, and she can't get him out of her mind, out of herself, no matter how much she tries --

"I put up with it." I suspect her continuation is now less of an effort to convince me to be merciful and more of a way to distract herself. "I put up with it, and all the while, I gathered others who could contribute to my cause. I attacked the government more and more, until I actually became something of a problem for them. But then you got put on the Renegade's case, and Vandor Zeidan assigned me to be your partner. It was then that I knew that he was becoming suspicious of me, that I had to be more careful. But being assigned to be your partner wasn't an entirely bad thing. For one, it could help me get even closer to the Dictator, and being by your side allowed me to subtly influence you."

"Subtly influence me," I say bitterly. I hadn't had the highest hopes for our friendship after discovering Alexis's midnight persona, but to now receive verbal confirmation that she'd been manipulating me this whole time . . . "So the entire bond was a lie, then."

"Well . . . not necessarily. I mean, yes, I was using you. I reached out to you after seeing you struggle with the Cruelty Trait to get you to think I was sympathetic to you, suggested that you take a break after Rickards killed himself so you would lose a bit more focus on the Renegade -- "

"You're not helping your case," I snap.

" -- But then you talked to me on the rooftop," Alexis says. "You told me that, once, you'd wanted to change things in Acritudo. And then that's when I realized . . . there's more to you."

I want to speak, but my tongue feels too heavy and too dry to move.

"There's good in you, Therese." I want to say Alexis's smile is genuine. But with her, I'm not sure I can tell what's genuine or what's a lie. "Don't keep it in. Let it out."

No. Alexis isn't going to manipulate me again. Whatever she's trying to do, I'm not going to let her do it. "Wanting to change things wasn't goodness. That was stupidity. The world isn't as simple as I thought it was."

"But maybe it can be." She reaches her hand towards me, like she wants to take my hand. Like she still wants me to be at her side, despite everything. "You and I? Together, we can turn the world upside down."

I know what she's offering. Does she really think I'd join her?

But . . . maybe . . .

I could act as though none of this happened. I could still be friends with her, and she could still show me the stars and I could banter with her and it'd be just us and the world. Hell, maybe we could find Chase along the way, convince him to turn on the Aspernori government as well. True, it could turn out that she was stringing me along, again, and only leave me with a knife in the back to show for everything. It all might be a lie, but I could pretend it wasn't.

Trait Bearers are corrupt. Trait Bearers are a threat. Trait Bearers hurt people. That might be true, in some ways. But to others, it's the government that's corrupt. It's the government that's a threat. It's the government that's hurt people.

I see a crossroads lying out before me, and I'm not sure with path is better. Trait Bearers or the government? Alexis or my family?

My family, I realize.

How could I live with myself, if I left them? How could I betray them? How would I carry out the Zeidan legacy, if I were to stop fighting for something I've believed in for years?

They need me. I need them.

From there, the path to take becomes clear.

I don't realize I'd been starting to lift my hand, as though to take hers, until I lower it. With my family in mind, I embrace the dark -- or, at least, what Alexis would call the dark. Her darkness is my light.

"You have twenty-four hours to leave the city," I say.

"Wait, what?"

I clasp my hands behind my back, and school my face into an expression of authority, like the hurt and disbelief of Alexis's tone isn't getting to me. "In case there was something that you didn't hear correctly: you have twenty-four hours to leave the city," I say. "You have twenty-four hours to pack anything you need, leave the city, and then run. You'll have a head-start. Once twenty-four hours have passed, I will act as though I have only just realized you were missing. I will search your house again, find your sketchbooks, and use that to incriminate you as the Renegade. After that, Acritudo will know who the Renegade is."

Alexis's face darkens. "You're making a mistake." It's not so much a plea as it is a threat.

"This is a generous offer, Alexis. I suggest you take it."

"Generous?" Alexis snorts. "'I won't kill you immediately.' Because not killing someone is such a generous action -- "

"Yes, actually, it is generous," I say. "You said it yourself. You're a Trait Bearer, you've attacked the government on several occasions, and have committed treason. If I were any other government leader, you would already be dead. Getting a twenty-four hour head start is something others in your position would have killed for. I'm already practically committing treason to give you this. I can't do anything more."

"You want me safe, and yet still want to remain loyal to your government. You're trying to straddle both sides, Therese. You can't do that. If you straddle both sides, you're going to fall. You're going to have to pick one side or the other."

"'You need to pick one side or the other.'" I continue smoothly, "For an Imagination Bearer, that sure is small-minded thinking."

"Again, this is a mistake. If you really do want to see me safe, then come with me!"

"I am not asking you to betray your beliefs, Alexis," I snap. "Do not ask me to betray mine. I know where I stand. You know where you stand. Now, you have five seconds to make your decision."

"Don't you dare -- "

"One," I say. "Two. Thr-"

"Fine."

I regard her expectantly.

Alexis's nose has flared, but she takes in a long, calming breath. She hangs her head down, at last having resigned to me.

"Fine," she says again. "I'll go. Just . . . I need some time to get my stuff in order."

I nod, not saying a word to her. She starts to shoves past me, only to stop when she's at my side.

"I was wrong about you," she says. "There is no good in you."

I don't know what cuts deeper -- for her to say I have good in me and am not using it, or  for her to say I have none in me at all.

She's wrong, though, isn't she? I think. I'm not a complete monster. I'm just someone subject to the pain of the past, and just trying to adjust my current life accordingly. I'm not an irredeemable monster.

Right?

Right?


She walks past me, and as I feel like I'm being torn apart, another thought comes to mind. I'm sorry. Not for sticking with my family, not for refusing to completely betray my country, but that things between Alexis and I has to end like this.

Almost one second too late, I realize something.

I have my back to Alexis.

I turn around and bring up my dagger just in time to block a would-be attack from behind.


~  ~  ~


My arm strains under the effort of using my small dagger to keep Alexis's obsidian longsword at bay. "Alexis . . . "

"Shut up." She disengages the lock, and passionately, vehemently, performs a series of jabs and slashes and thrusts.

I parry each one. "Alexis." I wish I sounded angry, indignated, cruel. Anything that isn't the broken plea that comes out. "I don't want to hurt you. Don't throw away my offer."

Alexis laughs. "Yeah, and abandon the quest for my mother's justice? Throw away everything I've worked for in the past six years?"

Copes of Alexis ripple out of the original, forming a line of five Alexis's.

"We don't think so," they all say in unison.

Crap. Alexis can control two sense illusions, dang it --

All six of them close in on me at the same time, surrounding me in a circle. I duck a punch from the real Alexis, but in that second that I'ce ducked the circle of illusions move, and now I can't tell which one's the real Alexis --

So just in case, I have to stave all of them off. I leap out of the way from the slash of a possibly-illusory sword, duck under the overhead arc of another, and land a kick into the stomach of one of the Alexis's. It meets empty air. That one's an illusion.

I meet each of the illusions of the longsword, keeping track of the illusions I'd deemed harmless. I narrow the illusions down to four, three --

The tip of a blade carves a gash just underneath a shoulder blade. I arc my back, clenching my teeth to keep myself from crying out as Alexis strikes twice more, lightning-fast, once at my shin and once at my cheek.

I hold my hand to my cheek, hot with pain, and blood seeps into the the tight spaces between my fingers. The illusions disappear, leaving only the real Alexis. Observing the marks of her handiwork on me, she sheathes one of her glass knives.

She's strong. Much stronger and much faster than I remember. Just how much of her true skill has she been holding back?

"You want to know what I wondered for a while?" Alexis says. "Why."

I try to summon my Cruelty, to muster the desire to see Alexis in pain. But even now, I am unable to wish that on her.

"I wondered why the government persecutes us, why they hate us, why they torture and kill us," she continues. "What reason could they have for any of this madness? So I thought and I thought and I thought, for a long time. Finally, I figured out why."

Alexis raises her hand up high in the air. As though her illusions are answering that specific beck and call, the rooms suddenly becomes alight in flames.

My breath hitches. I look behind me, to the sides, up, to see fire everywhere, overwhelming the room. And even though part of me acknowledges that this is just an illusion, and that I can't be hurt by it, I still find myself cowering.

And then the fire's gone. In its place is a huge tidal wave, and I'm directly under its white-foamed crest. I almost think that the wave is about to crash down on me when the illusion changes to the center of a howling tornado, and then to a dirt ground, rumbling with all of the force of an earthquake.

These are the Traits, I realize. Passion. Persistence. Joy. Strength.

It doesn't stop there. The room is filled with the golden light of Compassion, the blinding rays of Faith, only to be quelled by the pitch-black shadows of Sorrow. Long paragraphs of the Anaphoran language and tangled mathematical equations float in the air, only for the Logic to disappear, negated by Restraint. And then at the end of the chain, with intricate constellations shimmering in a night sky to represent the Trait, is the raw power of Imagination.

Then it all starts over again, the representation of each Trait coming in quick, successive flashes. Passion, Persistence, Joy, Strength, Compassion, Faith, Sorrow, Logic, Restraint, Imagination, Passion, Persistence, Joy, Strength . . .

I tremble, beholding the full extent of their power. At the way they can change and destroy and remake the world.

Alexis, seeing my face, grins.

"It's because you're scared of us," she says. "You hate us because you're scared of us. And you know what?"

The illusion switches from Faith's light to Sorrow's darkness.

"You're right to be scared."

I don't miss the way she unsheathes her blade, preparing to attack.

I roar as I lunge at her, because the only way I'll be able to defend myself from her is if I go on the offensive. I swipe at her, again and again, and yet she smoothly dodges each one. Almost quicker than I can follow, she comes around behind me again and seizes my wrist. One hard twist from her ensures that I drop Evening Star.

This time, I do cry out. I pry her hands from off of my wrist, and with a surge of vigor, turn around to grip her neck with my hand and slam her head into her drawer. She thrashes, struggles. I tighten my grip around her throat . . .

I bite my lip as I stare into those green eyes. Her life is in my hands and she knows it.

The thing is, if her life is in my hands, then I can't bring myself to take it.

"It's so stupid," I say quietly. It is stupid. Alexis is a traitor, a sworn enemy to the government. She's used me, controlled me. She's never had my best interests at heart. It's stupid, that I can't bring myself to kill her. But when I look at her, I don't just see my enemy. I see my friend. Even if she was fake all along, I still see the person that I . . . that I . . .

I'm unable to finish the thought. My grip on her throat slackens.

I may be fighting Alexis, but I'm not fighting to kill.

On the other hand, Alexis is.

That's an advantage Alexis realizes and takes advantage of when she throws me off of her and judo flips me to the ground. Before I can so much as catch my breath, she sets her legs across my chest, pinning me to the ground as she seizes my arm.

"No," I say. I buck, turning my shoulder and twisting my already-aching wrist. "No, Alexis, no, don't do this -- "

"I will break you," she promises, "for you have broken many of my kind."

Alexis, still gripping my arm in an armbar, lowers her back to the ground, taking my arm with her. Instinctively, I try to pull my arm out of her grip just as she pulls on the joints --

I feel my elbow's dislocation.

I scream. Through my tears, Alexis's face is blurry as the one that I confided in, the one that I cared for, twists my arm to the side.

And then I feel everything as my arm breaks as well.

I can't stop screaming.

Somewhere, deep inside, I feel a piece of me getting broken off. That piece of me sinks into the void, never to be seen again.

I reach for my communicator, but for so long as I'm in my pained daze, Alexis will always be faster than me. So she snatches the communicator before I can, and smashes it to bits.

There will be no help coming. I am alone.

"Y'know, I really considered my options, back when I was playing my game with you," Alexis says, standing up. "I mean, with the proper amount of planning, it could have been possible to lure you into a trap, use you as a hostage against your father." She crushes the sole of her foot into my elbow. The pain spears through me, and I cry out again. "But I didn't go through with it, because that would require your father actually caring about you enough to get you back."

Trying to ignore the pain in my right arm, I set my left forearm on the floor, attempting to use that as a support to get back up. The pain is so great that I end up just slumping back down to the floor. Blearily, I look up at Alexis . . .

No, not Alexis. In Alexis's place, I see a cold, cruel, perfect illusion of Vandor Zeidan.

"You're a disgrace." Is it Alexis's voice that says that, or Father's? In my addled mind, I can't tell. "Never will you be able to prove your worth."

Hearing those words prompts another piece of me to break away.

Silver hair morphs into red, broad shoulders into a petite frame. A sharp face becomes more full and feminine, and now it is my mother that appears before me.

"You did nothing." Whatever voice comes out of the illusion is far colder than Mother's voice had ever been while she was alive. "I was burning alive, and you sat there and did nothing."

Another piece goes, leaving me even more fragmented than before.

Mother shifts into a little girl. No older than eleven, she is already a spitting image of mother.

"I hate you," Jezebel says. "I wish you weren't my sister."

Leyland takes Jezebel's place. "Pathetic, aren't you?" he croons. "Just lying on the floor like that, sniveling like a coward. You don't deserve to be a Zeidan."

Piece by piece, I crack.

Leyland's hair darkens to black, his eyes to a different shade of blue. His form becomes older, a bit more gaunt, and his white tuxedo changes to red robes and . . .

I watch in horror as Leyland turns into Chase. Not the young Chase that I once knew, but Chase Spiterwetch, the Hate Bearer and the Head Inquisitor of Aspernor. The face that's found on government files, government files that Alexis could have managed to obtain and used to learn that my Chase and the Head Inquisitor were one in the same.

"Didn't it ever once occur to you that your affection for me was simply the doing of my Hate?" Chase says. "That I was controlling you? Think about it. I never would have left you if I actually did care about you."

I might as well have received the force of a mallet to my stomach. I curl up into a ball and stamp my good hand into my ear, and muffle the other with my shoulder, blocking out any sound I can.

Piece by piece, I shatter.

I smash my eyes shut. Just let it stop. Please, please, just let it stop.

I can hear it even with my muffled ears.

"Oh, Therese."

My spine goes erect and cold, like ice cubes are sliding down my back.

I don't want to look up, because I know what's next.

It doesn't matter what I want. Someone puts a finger under my chin, and uses it to tilt my head up until I'm looking into a pair of dark brown eyes.

Lucian's eyes.

Just like that, I'm a small child again, helpless and frail and with no control over what her brother might do to her next. Lucian smiles, milking a whimper from me.

"Therese, Therese," he says. "You shouldn't have let anyone get close to you."

Piece by piece, I break.

Lucian stands up, his face melting away into Alexis's. I bite down into the top of my shirt, trying to bite down on it hard enough to get myself to stop my sobbing. It doesn't work.

Distantly, I'm aware of Alexis reclaiming her weapon, and stalking over to me. She towers over me, looking down upon my sad, miserable form like a cruel god.

"You know too much," I hear her say.

Alexis raises her longsword high above her head, the black tip poised to sink into my throat.

I should fight back. I don't. Please, end it. I don't care if this means I die. Just end it.

The sword is thrust downwards --

Only to stop less than an inch away from my throat.

Alexis licks her lips and takes in a breath like she's gathering resolve. She thrusts the sword downward again --

The tip pricks my neck, earning the emergence of a bead of blood. It's enough to get my crying to stop. Any sudden movement from me, and that sword will impale my throat.

I look up at Alexis. What is she waiting for?

Alexis bites on her lower lip. Then she brings her sword away from my throat, both to my relief and my disappointment. It's followed by a swift kick to my gut that makes me keel over.

"You're so pathetic, you're not worth the effort of killing," Alexis spits. Then she shakes her head. "That's it. That's . . . that's got to be why."

She sheathes her sword, and backs away from me. "I do wish I'd been able to have my way with the government longer. I wasn't planning on killing your father for just a little while yet, but . . . now might be a good time, too." Savoring the look on my face, she goes on, "Your brother and your sister, too. Might as well try to purge every last Zeidan from the world, right? Plus it'd be funny to see the look on your father's face to know that I have taken family from him, just as he took family from me."

I cough out blood. "You can't beat . . . the Dictator."

Alexis smiles.

"Watch me."

And with that, she runs out of the room, slamming the door behind her.


~  ~  ~


In the darkness of the room, bleeding and hurting and having lost too many pieces of myself to ever feel whole again, I wail.

"Do you trust me?" she always asked.

I trusted her.

I trusted her!

I trusted her . . .

I lower my head. And by doing so, I gave her every single weapon she needed to defeat me. How stupid was I, to give something as fragile as my own trust to her lies? Maybe I do deserve everything Alexis did to me.

She used me, beat me, and tortured me. And now she's going to kill my family --

No.

With a groan, I use my good arm to push myself up into a sitting position.

She won't.

I gasp, blinking any remaining tears back. And then I can feel my facial expression contort, contort into something ugly.

Into rage.

And that's because I WON'T LET HER.

I want Alexis to pay, I want her to suffer, I want her to bleed and to break and to yield and to be in pain like no other person has gone through before and . . .

I unleash a guttural roar. I'm overwhelmed by a surge of my own Cruelty, now ten times stronger than what it was before, and I gasp at the sensation of sensing every metal object in the room. A picture frame on the dresser, springs underneath the bed's mattress, and Evening Star, lying on the ground a few feet away.

I'm not broken, I tell myself. I'm not.

Broken broken broken broken broken I'm broken I'm broken I'm broken I'm broken I'm broken I'm broken I'm not broken I'm not broken I'm not broken I'm not broken I'm not broken I'm not broken I'm not broken I'm not whole I'm not whole I'm not whole I'm not whole I'm not whole I'm not whole I am whole I'm whole I'm whole I'm whole I'm whole whole whole whole whole whole whole whole --

I'm whole.

And even if I'm not, then I'm at least whole enough to kill her.

Trait Bearers are corrupt. Trait Bearers are a threat. Trait Bearers hurt people.

Alexis Blackthorne is corrupt. Alexis Blackthorne is a threat. Alexis Blackthorne hurts people.


My family aren't going to be among those people.

"Oh." I reach my good arm up and latch onto the edge of the dresser. "Oh, ohohohoho." Using the dresser as a support, I lift myself up to my feet. I laugh, and it's nothing like the one I shared with Alexis on the top of the skyscraper. No, I explode into a wild, boundless, and perhaps hysterical gale of laughter.

I pick up my dagger. I do not bother with the communicator; I do not want any assistance, for this is personal. I do not bother treating my broken arm; I only need one arm to defeat her.

By tonight's end, the Renegade will die, and by my hands, I'd promised myself earlier today, after discovering Alexei's betrayal.

I grin. "You're dead, Alexis," I say.

To ensure that her last hour strikes, I go after her.


Last edited by WritingBookworm on Wed Mar 22, 2017 11:22 pm; edited 2 times in total

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[Infinity's Row: Interlude l Anaphora: Pariah l Infinity's Row: Uncontrollable l Anaphora: Vengeance]
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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

Post by Athena Lionheart on Wed Mar 22, 2017 10:22 pm

Holy... damn, Writing.

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Re: Anaphora: Vengeance

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