“So, what’re you still doing in the city, anyway?” Charlie asked, after making sure I swallowed her pill.
I debated whether it was worth telling her. Could I trust her? Probably not. Would it hurt? It was difficult to tell. I doubted she would care, and I couldn’t see how she’d use the information against me, but I wouldn’t put it past her.
On the other hand, she knew Sabrina. They’d been friends once, too. Kind of, anyway. Maybe she’d be sympathetic. Maybe she’d even help. She certainly had a better chance of helping than anyone else, since she actually knew who Sabrina was.
I decided it was worth the risk. Only barely, but Charlie had just saved my life. Probably. If I couldn’t trust her after that, well, I didn’t like what that said about me as a person.
“I’m looking for Sabrina,” I told her. “She’s… missing. Didn’t get evacuated with everyone else. Can’t help but feel like she’s gotten involved, somehow.”
“You’re sure she’s still alive?”
It was an honest question, not designed to discourage or hurt me. If anything, it felt almost hopeful. Was she looking for Sabrina too? Had she at least thought about her?
“Honestly? No, I’m not sure. But until I know for sure, I can’t give up.”
“I admire that,” Charlie said, smiling. “Seriously. I mean, you’re going about it in completely the wrong way, and look what’s happened to you. Still, you’re brave. Sabrina’s lucky to have your loyalty.”
The wrong way? What did she think was the right way? She was aware I didn’t have super strength or anything like that, right? What else could I possibly have been doing?
I’d spoken to five of the most powerful individuals in the city. I’d survived speaking to five people who could kill me as easily as crossing the street. I’d evaded gangs and gathered data about their movements, made predictions and calculations and assessments, and found my way to the heart of the city. What more could I possibly have done?
But I knew the answer to that. Plenty. I didn’t know what, but I was no closer to finding Sabrina than when I started. I could pat myself on the back all I wanted, but it didn’t change the facts. I had no idea what I was doing.
“I need help,” I mumbled, before I could stop myself.
“Well now, that is an interesting idea,” Charlie said. “Help you find Sabrina? Sure. I can do that. And why not? I’d love to see her safe and sound, and as far away from this city as she can get.”
Just like that? No, there was more to what she was saying. I waited for the other shoe to drop.
“On the other hand, it’s risky. I already have plenty occupying my attention, and if I let myself get distracted, people could get hurt. Is Sabrina really worth that?”
“Yes,” I said, immediately.
“Then let me make you a deal,” she said. “I know exactly where Sabrina is. I can tell you that she’s alive, even. And I do believe you can save her.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“Let me tell you what I think,” she said, not answering my question. “I think you’re important. I don’t know how, or why, but I have a feeling. I mean, you’ve come this far, survived this long, that’s gotta mean something, right? You keep finding yourself in the right place at the right time, or at least, the most dramatic place.”
She began to pace, walking to and fro in front of me.
“Do you believe in destiny, Veronica?”
Of all the things I’d expected her to ask, that certainly wasn’t one of them. Destiny? Her, of all people, asking me about destiny?
I had a horrible image of her, as the Vigilante, leading a vengeful crusade against the world, believing it to be her destiny. That was how dictators and supervillains began, right?
“No,” I said, almost choking on the word. “No, I don’t believe in destiny.”
She smiled, surprising me.
“Me either. Stupid notion, honestly. Depressing, too. My achievements are my own, and so are my failures. Anyway. That’s good. Next question, do you believe in coincidence?”
“Guess you gotta fall on one side or the other,” she agreed, nodding. “Not me, though. I mean, I’m sure some things are coincidence, but not this. Not you.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there silently, waiting for her to continue.
“So, Veronica. If your being here isn’t because of destiny, and it isn’t because of chance, then what is it? What are we left with?”
I stayed silent.
“Come on, you’re smarter than this,” she said impatiently. “But alright. Fine. Someone’s behind this. All of this. Someone wants you for something.”
“Why?” I asked, without thinking. “Why me?”
“Who knows?” She smiled, but it was a grim, humourless smile. “Veronica. How much do you know about the Celestial?”
“Not much,” I confessed.
“Did you know he’s superhuman?”
“No, but it doesn’t surprise me,” I said.
“He can see the future,” Charlie said. “Or rather, he can see the futures. Possibilities, branches, chances and coincidence. He can see which insignificant elements can become world-changing.”
As a power, that seemed overwhelming, and more than a little terrifying. What could you do against a power like that? It could see everything coming, plan for every attack. No wonder the Stars seemed unbeatable.
But how could you use a power like that? How could a human mind process that much information? How far ahead could he see? To what degree of detail? What did it look like? Could he control it, focus on specific events or people?
“You think he’s using me?” I asked, my mouth suddenly dry. “You think he knows I’m going to be important, somehow?”
Charlie just nodded. I took a step back. The look on her face scared me.
Over her shoulder, I saw someone else appear. It was completely silent. One second there was nothing, the next, she was just there, leaning against the wall.
She looked kind young, maybe the same age as me, with electric blue hair, a long black trench coat, and skin as pale as a full moon. Most eerily, the wind didn’t seem to affect her at all. She was completely static.
You’re not who I was expecting, I thought to myself, without understanding why.
Charlie noticed me staring, and whirled around, guard up. The blue-haired girl didn’t move, didn’t react. Charlie stared at her, right through her, then turned back to me.
“What’re you looking at?” she demanded.
Should I say anything?
“There’s someone there,” I said softly.
“Describe them to me.”
No hesitation, no scepticism. She believes me completely. Why?
“Young woman, blue hair, black coat,” I said. “You can’t see her?”
Charlie’s expression went completely blank. She took a deep breath, not bothering to turn around and try to look again.
“Fuck,” she said, almost too quietly for me to hear. “I didn’t want to do that. I really, really didn’t.”
“Charlie, what’s going on?” I asked, still watching the blue-haired girl, who hadn’t moved at all. Was she smiling at me?
“The Celestial’s predictions get disrupted around people like me,” Charlie said. “And if he thinks you’re important, worth preserving, then…”
The pieces fell into place in my head. If the Celestial wanted me alive, then she wanted me dead. And if she wanted me dead, there was nothing I could do about that. I couldn’t run from her.
“And the girl?” I asked, failing utterly to hide my growing terror.
“She can explain it better than I can,” Charlie said. “I really am sorry. I didn’t think killing you was going to be necessary, but if she’s here, the choice has already been made. Fuck.”
“Who is she?” I asked again, panicking. I was looking around for somewhere to run, even knowing it was pointless.
“She’s Death,” Charlie said coldly. “I’m so sorry. I can’t fight her, not again.”
She moved, almost too fast for me to see. A blur of motion, and then…