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Month: April 2016

Chapter 42 – Not Human Anymore

“Veronica’s dead,” Rachel said.

I just stared at her, willing her to take it back, to tell me it was a lie, a bad joke, anything. She shook her head.

I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure there was anything I could say. It didn’t seem real. Veronica couldn’t be dead. Charlie was going to save her, wasn’t she? How could she be dead?

Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Rachel had confused somebody else for Veronica. How did Rachel even know who Veronica was? Surely it was possible it was just a mix-up…

“No,” was all I managed to croak out.

“I’m sorry,” Rachel said. “I-“

“Take me to her,” I said, cutting her off. It didn’t matter what she said. It didn’t matter what anyone said. I needed to see her.

Rachel looked hesitant, almost uncomfortable.

“Are you sure? She’s not…”

“I need to see,” I insisted. “Who did it? Charlie?”

“It didn’t look like Charlie’s work,” Rachel said, trying to conceal a grim expression. I immediately felt guilty, remembering exactly how intimately Rachel was familiar with Charlie’s… work.

“Right. I’m sorry,” I said, though even I didn’t really believe the forced compassion in my voice. I couldn’t barely think about anything other than Veronica.

Rachel didn’t say anything. The silence began to drag out, then Zoe joined us, as unreadable and aloof as ever.

“Who was she?” she asked, as if she’d been present for the entire conversation. Well, knowing what her hearing was like, she probably had been, wherever she’d been in our little base.

“My best friend,” I said, nearly choking over the words.

“Nobody important, Zoe,” Rachel said, almost like she was trying to argue with me. “Mortal. Inconsequential.”

Rage flared up instantly. How dare she?

“She was not-

“Why was she in the city?” Zoe asked, dispassionately.

Keep your cool, Sabrina. Zoe is not your enemy. She’s being logical, considering the angles. You need that.

“She was looking for me,” I said. “It’s my fault.”

“Why do you want to see the body?” she asked, catching me off guard.

What did it matter why I wanted to see the body? Did she not possess basic empathy? My best friend was dead, and she-

Right. Not human. Not even close. Of course she wouldn’t understand.

“What do you mean, why? She was my best friend. I want to say goodbye. I want to know what happened.”

She considered that for a few seconds, then turned to leave. As she did, she called back over her shoulder, “Don’t take too long. We don’t have that luxury.”

“You are not the boss of me, you-“

Rachel stepped in front of me, her eyes flashing with a warning of danger. It was enough to shut me up.

“Alright, I’ll take you.”

That was her last word on the subject. She grabbed her jacket, that black fake-leather thing, and a utility belt. Was she expecting a fight? Well, the city basically wasn’t ever safe. I grabbed the gauntlet she’d made for me, transformed, and we left together.

We walked in silence, keeping as rapid a pace as Rachel was capable of. I probably would have been impressed with her, under better circumstances. She was still recovering from her fight with Miss Murder, and between her skeleton and her portable armoury, she was carrying more weight than a person her size should even be able to support. Somehow, she still moved as fast as any athlete I’d ever seen.

She was so different to when we’d first met. No longer the frail, shivering husk of a human, ruined by Charlie; she was powerful, determined, unafraid. I had to wonder about that. Like me, her power was getting stronger. Where had hers come from, though? What was causing them to become stronger? At least I partially understood mine.

“You need to be careful with her,” she said, out of nowhere. “Don’t provoke her.”

This was about Zoe? Why did she care?

“Or what? She’s gonna attack me? Why would she? Besides, I can take her.”

I wasn’t actually as confident about that as I hoped I sounded, but it felt unimportant. Zoe and I, we weren’t enemies. We had no reason to fight, even if we occasionally got on each other’s nerves.

“I doubt that, but fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She seemed annoyed. Whatever. No skin off my nose. We didn’t need to be friends.

As we walked, I realised I recognised the neighbourhood. A deep, chilling dread washed over me.

“This is where I saw her,” I said weakly. “She was with Charlie…”

“I really don’t think-” Rachel began, but however she was going to finish that sentence got drowned out by my guttural scream.

I saw Veronica, lying on the ground, glassy eyes staring up at the sky. A massive gash replaced her throat. The pool of blood she was lying in had already started to congeal. The smell was overpowering.

“Veronica! Oh, no, no. Oh god, no.”

Whatever I’d been picturing, however bleak, however grim, it wasn’t even close to what seeing her in front of me actually felt like. I felt unstable, like the ground was moving, my head was spinning, the world was racing past me. Nothing felt real.

“I’m sorry,” Rachel said, placing her hand on my shoulder. It felt heavy. I shrugged it off.

“Her throat is slit,” I growled, trying to focus on something productive. Something useful.

“The Celestial’s assassin?” Rachel offered, crouching by the body. “If Veronica was poking around…”

“She didn’t deserve this,” I said, barely able to look at her. None of this was right. None of it made sense. I wanted to hit something, tear something apart, but it wouldn’t help. Nothing I could do would make a difference.

“No arguments here,” Rachel said.

“I’ll kill them,” I snarled, as the thought crystallised in my mind. If not progress, then justice. “Both of them.” The Celestial and his wretched assassin. I’d rip them to pieces with my bare hands, and whisper Veronica’s name in their ears before they died.

“Hey, that’s a sentiment I can get behind,” Rachel said patiently. “But…”


“You know how dangerous they are,” she cautioned.

“And you know how powerful I am,” I retorted.

Part of me knew she was right, but I didn’t care. It was the only thing left for me to do. I couldn’t save the city, couldn’t undo the damage that had been done. I couldn’t save Veronica. All I could do was get vengeance.

“You’d lose,” Rachel said. “We’d lose. At least, without a plan.”

“A plan?”

“We could help each other,” she said, suddenly focused. Intense. “Your muscle, my brain. We could find them, make them pay.”

Telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. Why? What did she get out of it? What did she care if I ran off and got myself killed?

“What’s your stake in this?”

“I have my own issues with them,” she said, shuddering. “Let’s leave it at that.”

I noticed something then, sticking out of Veronica’s satchel bag. Ignoring Rachel, I leaned down and extracted it.

“She had a diary,” I commented, more to myself than to Rachel.

“Maybe you shouldn’t…” she cautioned, but I ignored her. This was the closest I could get to what was going on in Veronica’s head, before she died. I needed to know.

“Heh. She had a name for you,” I told Rachel. “You met her?”

“Once,” she replied, looking uncomfortable. “I liked her.”

“She called you Silver.”

“Huh. I like that.”

I kept flicking through pages. All of the notes, they were so very Veronica. Reckless, analytical, passionate. And her determination to find me, to save me…

It broke my heart.

“Okay, we-” I began, but stopped when I saw Envy, staring at me from a window.

“She’s lying to you,” Envy said.


“Huh?” Rachel asked, and I realised what it must have looked like. I stopped speaking halfway through my sentence. Dammit, I didn’t want her to know about Envy.

“Sorry, I…” I fumbled for some excuse, some explanation that would satisfy her.

“Phone call,” Envy suggested.

“Right. My phone. I need to… Can I have a few minutes?” I asked, certain I looked like a complete idiot. So long as Rachel left me alone, it didn’t matter.

“Sure,” she said, sounding sceptical. Still, she left.

“Talk fast,” I demanded, as soon as Rachel was out of earshot.

“The assassin didn’t do this,” Envy insisted.

“How do you know?”

“Traces of energy,” she said, as if that explained anything. Still, it was good enough for me. Envy was some kind of weird supernatural entity. It’d pass.

“So who did do it?” I asked. “Not…” If Rachel was lying, what reason could she possibly have? Who else could she be covering for?

“No, the cyborg is innocent,” Envy said, as if reading my mind. “Of this, anyway.”


“The Vigilante,” Envy said, and my heart stopped. “You’ve encountered her before.”

No. No, that’s not fair. I trusted her. I gave her a chance, I left Veronica with her…


“Yes,” Envy said. “I’m so sorry, Sabrina. I know how much this hurts you.”

“So Charlie did this,” I repeated, focussing once more. It didn’t actually change that much. It just gave me a new target.


“Then I’ll kill her, too.”

“What?” Envy said, clearly taken aback. “No, Sabrina, that’s not-”

“Not what?” I demanded. “Not a reasonable response? Not like me?”

Go on. Say it.

“Not like you,” she said.

“Yeah, well, surprise,” I snapped. “I’m not like me. Not anymore.”


“No. Listen. Everything has changed. Monsters are real. My city is burning. My best friend is dead. I’m turning into a… I don’t even know what. I’m sure as hell not human anymore. And you, you are just a voice in my head. You don’t get to judge me.”

Too loud. Rachel probably heard. Whatever. It didn’t matter. Maybe she was scared of Charlie, maybe that was reasonable. I didn’t care. Charlie was going to die, one way or another.

“You’re right,” Envy said. “I’m sorry. Just, please, don’t go after Charlie. It’s not a good idea. You can’t beat her.”

“I can try.”

“Not yet you can’t,” she said, her tone still soft. “But I can help you. Trust me, and I can make you strong enough to fight her.”

Of course, she had her own ideas. Everyone did. Everyone just wanted to use me. Rachel had her schemes. Zoe had her schemes. Envy had her schemes.

“I don’t see why we can’t do both,” I said, dismissing her with a wave. “Rachel! I know you’re listening.”

“Only for my name,” Rachel replied, stepping back into the alleyway.

“Whatever. We’re going home.”


I saw Envy watching me, watching us from windows and mirrors, but I ignored her. She needed me, and we both knew it. She’d help me get stronger, because she needed me to be stronger. That suited me just fine. We were just going to do it on my terms.

Rachel didn’t say anything the entire way back. She seemed pensive, lost in thought. For all I knew, she was just daydreaming about the next ridiculous weapon she was going to build. Didn’t really care.

I barged into the main room, surprising Zoe. Not with my presence, but with my attitude. She narrowed her eyes at me, putting down a welding torch.


“You seem… intense,” she said. “Did something happen?”

“Yes. We have a new objective,” I told her.


“We’re going after Charlie,” I announced.

What?” Rachel asked, suddenly tense.

“Why?” Zoe asked, far more composed.

“You know why she’s a threat,” I said. “Let’s deal with her before she deals with us.”

A satisfied smirk played across Zoe’s lips. She folded her arms, leaning back against the bench behind her.

“You think I’m interested in your revenge fantasy?”

Don’t take the high road with me, you bitch. I know what you’re really like. I saw you tear apart those thugs.

“After everything I’ve done for you, you owe me,” I snarled.

“No, I don’t,” she replied, unfazed. “But I’ll help you find her. And that’s all.”

“This is a bad idea,” Rachel interjected.

“So I’ve been told,” I said. “I don’t care.”

Chapter 41 – Playing The Saviour

Part 5 – Celestial

Watching Rachel patch herself up, it occurred to me how severely I’d underestimated her. When Miss Murder had appeared and they’d both blinked out of the fight, I was half convinced it was the last time I’d see her alive. She was already exhausted, and she’d used all of her weapons. I’d seen her in a fight, and outside of a very durable skeleton, there wasn’t anything superpowered about her.

Zoe and I had been left with a couple dozen armed thugs, and for the first time, I’d seen her fight. It was terrifying. She moved like a wild animal, literally tearing the gangsters apart like they were toys. I only saw her get hurt once, a single cut that sprayed a tiny splatter of her blood against a wall. A second later, the gangster was dead, and the wound had already healed.

Rachel had dragged herself back in shortly after, bleeding but mostly intact. When I asked her about Miss Murder, she just grunted and said the assassin was ‘handled’. She staggered into her workshop, and the sounds of grunting and banging followed.

We began cleaning up immediately. There wasn’t a lot of stuff outside of the rooms of salvaged tech we’d really collected, and Rachel and Zoe had been pretty good at disposing of waste. What was left we managed to quickly transfer into a shipping container, which Zoe and I were capable of carrying between us. Perhaps not the most subtle, but in the middle of the night, in a largely abandoned city, we managed. Rachel stayed behind longer, and met up with us later.

All three of us laid low for a while. Zoe and Rachel more or less had everything they needed, at least for a while, so I spent my time trying to get the hang of switching between Zoe’s and Ami’s powers.

Ami’s power was a lot more difficult to get a grasp on than Zoe’s. Whenever I took her form, I gained an incredible situational awareness, as far around me as maybe three metres. It was an overwhelming sensation, like my body had expanded and was pressing up against everything nearby. I tried to visualise it like I’d grown dozens of new arms, extending out in every direction, and I had to manage sensory input from all of them, and learn to control them. It was like that, only much more complicated.

On the other hand, switching between the forms was pretty simple to grasp. In both cases, my body changed physically to someone with a physical resemblance to the person I was copying, but nobody would ever confuse me for them.

I kept Zoe’s as my main form, the sort of secret identity I claimed as the vigilante that protected the city. Considering it changed my race, build and even perceived gender, it was a pretty solid disguise. Ami’s form was more useful for utility than any sort of combat application, and I had a feeling my telekinesis wasn’t as potent as hers. It was possible I just didn’t have the same degree of control, though.

Only Zoe knew I could take more than one form. Rachel knew I could shift between my natural form and Zoe’s, obviously, but I deliberately kept my second transformation from her. I still didn’t entirely trust her. So far as I was aware, nobody else knew I could shapeshift at all, or ‘steal’ powers. There was that one boy who’d seen me shapeshift on the rooftop that one time, but I wasn’t particularly worried about him. Oh, and Charlie had insinuated something, before her declaration on TV…

Without much to do, I found myself wandering the city, enjoying the freedom of moving unhindered. With Zoe’s power it felt amazing, like I could do anything. Running as fast as a car, jumping over buildings, and hardly anyone in the city to hide from.

Then I saw Veronica. I wasn’t at all prepared to find her in the city, and I was immediately petrified for her. She didn’t have any superpowers, and there was a reason everyone was evacuated from the city.

She was slumped against a wall on a rooftop, and I probably would have missed her if I hadn’t smelled her from a block away. That was another weird side to Zoe’s power, her senses were ridiculously heightened, and though I didn’t immediately know that what I smelled was Veronica, I did know it was familiar.

She stirred when she saw me, giving me a curious sort of look, almost like she didn’t quite believe I was there.

“A rooftop is an odd place to take a rest,” I said, hoping my voice was different enough that she wouldn’t know it was me.

“Stay away from me,” she threatened. “I’m contagious.”

I could feel my heart drop down to my feet. Contagious? She’d been infected? Of course, the chances of her avoiding that were next to none. The damn virus, or whatever it was, was airborne, and there were plenty of infected around spreading it.

I did my best to keep my face neutral. She didn’t know we had any connection, and I wanted to keep it that way.

“I’m immune, it’s fine,” I said. “What are you doing up here? The city’s been evacuated.”

She shifted uncomfortably.

“Probably. Doesn’t matter. I can’t leave,” she said.

She couldn’t leave? Oh, she was infected. Of course-

No, that didn’t make sense.

“Because you’re infected? That can only be recent,” I pointed out. It only took a day or so to turn, from what I’d seen. “The evacuation was weeks ago.”

“I’m looking for someone,” she said, surprising me.

“You are? Who?”

“I…” She hesitated, and we locked eyes. She took a breath, and nodded. “My best friend.”

Her best… Me? She was looking for me? Oh, no, of course. I’d basically just disappeared once the evacuation was ordered. I hadn’t explained anything to anyone.

It was my fault she was here. Which meant it was my fault she was infected.

“They’re missing?” I asked, trying not to give away how I was feeling. It wouldn’t make sense to her.

“Yes. She should have been evacuated, but she wasn’t. I need to find her.”

I seriously considered dropping the disguise. I could just reveal myself to her, tell her it was okay, tell her she needed to be safe.

But it was too late. She was infected, and there was no coming back from that. If she knew who I was, what I’d been up to…

She’d blame me. It would be fair, but it would kill me. She’d blame me, she’d hate me, and I didn’t want her to feel like her sacrifice was in vain. She needed what little hope she could hold on to.

“How do you know she’s not dead?” I asked.

“I don’t,” she confessed. “But until I know that she is dead, I’m not giving up on her.”

Present tense. She was still looking, still fighting, even though she was infected. Still as tenacious as ever.

What a waste.

“If she was infected, you’d never know,” I pointed out to her, not entirely sure why.

“Yeah,” she agreed, coldly. “Thanks for the pep talk.”


“Sorry. I just… think you should get somewhere safe,” I said, knowing there was no point, to me saying it or her doing it.

“Too late for that. Infected, remember?”

She let that sit over my head for a while, unable to know just how much it was tearing me up inside.

“Yeah. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, what do you care?” she snapped. “You don’t even know me.”

I want to hug you so badly right now.

“I don’t need to know you to feel empathy. I wish I could help you.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

Another pained silence. What else could I say?

“Ah, hey,” she said, her hostility melting away. “I’m sorry. I’m a little crabby right now. Maybe you can understand.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to live,” she said, sounding a little distant. “But I did want to say. You’re… you’re an inspiration. It seems like you’re the only person trying to make the city safer, and not just working to some secretive personal agenda. So, thank you.”

Don’t do this to me, Veronica. God, you’re gonna make me cry.

“Making the city safe is my agenda. But thank you. I appreciate hearing that.”

Great, what a genuine response. You don’t sound like an asshole at all.

“Well, isn’t this touching,” a third voice said, surprising me. I knew that voice. She’d snuck up on me. How? I hadn’t heard or smelled anything…

“What are you doing here?” I demanded.

“Playing the saviour,” Charlie said, smirking. “I keep telling you, I’m not the villain here.”

“Says the person who threatened to kill someone on national TV,” I retorted. I’d seen what Rachel had looked like, too. Without Zoe, she’d still be a broken husk. Charlie had done that.

“How is Rachel doing, anyway?” Charlie asked, infuriatingly smug.

“You stay away from her,” I warned her. I might not have trusted Rachel, but she certainly didn’t deserve whatever Charlie was gonna do to her.

Charlie sighed, taking a threatening step towards me. My body stepped back before I realised.

“I wish I could,” Charlie said wistfully. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option.”

“I’ll stop you,” I said instinctively. Apparently being protective was in my nature.

“You can try,” she said lazily. “But right now, I need to take care of Veronica, here. Or would you prefer to let the infection take her?”

The way she said it, it was almost like she was threatening me. She knew how important Veronica was to me, if she knew who I was. Did she know who I was? I had to assume so.

Wait. What did she mean by ‘take care’ of Veronica? Surely not…

“You have a cure?” I asked, desperately hopeful. “That’s impossible.”

“No, not a cure. Nothing quite that impressive. But…” She tossed a bottle to me. I caught it before I even realised my hand had moved. “Still fairly impressive, if I do say so myself.”

“What is it?” I asked, feeling stupid. I looked at the bottle, but it was just a bottle, unmarked. It sounded like it had pills inside of it.

“Resistance,” Charlie said. “You and I, we’re immune. And we’re not the only ones. There’s just enough of me in these pills to keep the infection at bay. One every eight hours. See if you can’t do something similar.”

You’re okay giving this to me? If I gave it to Zoe, or Rachel, and it really does have your genetic material in it…

“Since when are you a chemist?” I asked. She was still a girl my own age. Unless her super strength came with some kind of super intellect as well…

“Oh, I didn’t do the heavy lifting here,” she said. “I just bled for them. Now take them and go.”

She obviously wasn’t giving me a choice. That was fine. Being around Veronica was difficult enough, and Charlie did not make for good company. Even still, she’d given me some small glimmer of hope. If she really could keep Veronica from succumbing to the infection, I owed her more than I’d ever be able to express.

“Fine,” I said, before jumping off the roof. It was the biggest mistake of my life.

The very next day, Rachel approached me, a haunted look in her eye.

“Veronica’s dead,” she told me.

Bonus – Status Report 02

Currently known entities…

Miss Melbourne

Real name Sabrina Labelle. Origin: Human, local. Source of powers unknown, presumed to be from the rift.

Known abilities include shifting into multiple forms. She seems to be adding to them, and each makes her stronger. Bears further investigation.

Specimen Z

Refers to herself as Zoe. Continues to be reclusive. Working on a device, probably transdimensional travel. Is she planning on bringing an army over?

Known abilities included superhuman speed, strength and resilience, including greatly accelerated healing. These abilities depend on vast amounts of energy. Where is she getting that from?

Specimen G

Seems to have abandoned his Archangel moniker, and simply goes by Gabriel. Focused on Specimen Z. More active, mobile. Extremely dangerous.

Known abilities included superhuman speed, strength and resilience, including greatly accelerated healing. These abilities depend on vast amounts of energy. Where is he getting that from?

The Vigilante

AKA Charlotte Farrow. She has a base of operations somewhere, and she’s collaborating with someone to try and cure the infection. Why?

Known abilities include immortality, superhuman strength and speed, and something we’re unable to categorise. Far too dangerous to be allowed to run loose.

Miss Murder

Getting uncomfortably close to one of the invaders. Need to keep a closer eye on that. She might be planning to turn on me.

Known abilities include teleportation and minor regeneration.

Specimen W

MIA. Investigation suspended.


Miss Murder knows more than she’s letting on. Definitely telekinetic, motives uncertain. Only dangerous when provoked. We’ve formed a tenuous ceasefire, but I don’t trust her.


Tinker abilities, uncertain how powerful. A valuable asset but too dangerous as an enemy. Terminate with extreme prejudice.


KIA. No noted abilities. Only aberration is that her corpse disappeared. Worth investigating, low priority.


I know her name now. We’re so close to bringing her back, to waking her up. And once we do…

Chapter 40 – So That’s It, Then

“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…

Nothing changed. Charlie stepped back, her face set in grim stoicism. Except I couldn’t feel anything. No more wind, no more cold. There was no sound.

I looked down at my feet, and saw myself. Dead. Charlie had made it quick, at least. Painless.

“You can go,” the blue-haired girl said. Charlie nodded, almost as if she could hear. She leapt off the roof.

The blue-haired girl approached me, a gentle smile on her face. She reached out towards nothing, and then she was holding a scythe.

“Hello, Veronica.”

“You look ridiculous,” I blurted out. She looked surprised, then laughed.

“The scythe is a bit much, isn’t it?” she said. “I wanted to look the part, but I think it just ends up being silly.”

“You’re really Death?” I asked, feeling like it was the stupidest question in the world.

I’d never really thought much about death. I didn’t believe in any God, or the idea of having a soul. I didn’t believe in an afterlife. I figured, when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s the end. That’s what makes like so precious.

Apparently, I was wrong.

“Kind of,” she said. “I’m a Reaper. Not the only one. We collect souls, mostly.”

“For what?”

“To take you to Hell,” she said.

So that’s it? Just like that, I’m going to Hell? Some asshole decides I’m important, a psychopathic teenager with superpowers decides I need to die, and that’s that.

“Why?” I asked. “Is it the not believing thing? Did I break any rules? I mean, I wasn’t that bad of a person, was I?”

She smiled indulgently.

“Ah. I get this a lot. Look, it doesn’t work the way you think it does. The quick version is this: there’s no Heaven, Hell isn’t a punishment, everyone goes there.”

“So that’s it, then,” I said, staring at her in disbelief.

“Pretty much,” she replied with a shrug. “Look, it’s not as bad as you think. You just need a little perspective.”

Perspective? I wanted to wrestle that stupid scythe from her and beat her over the head with it. Instead, I took a deep breath.

“Then by all means, enlighten me. Can I still save my best friend?”

“Your best friend doesn’t need you to save her,” she said, dodging the question.

“So, no, then.”

“No,” she conceded. “Your time in this world is over. Time to move on.”

Time to move on? That was the line that was going to take me out of my mortal life, and into whatever comes next?

“And if I’m not ready?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, almost sounding sincere. “This is just how it goes.”

Just how it goes? I’m supposed to accept that?


No, fuck you.

Behind her, a young girl materialised. Deep purple eyes, long lilac hair, the sort of insufferable grin that only ever looks normal on a child’s face. Clothing that could have been from a sci-fi show with a moderate budget.

“Not necessarily,” the girl interjected.

“What?” the Reaper said, turning around. She tensed up immediately when she saw the child. “Oh, no. Not you.”

“Always a pleasure, Roxie,” the child said, unfazed. I decided not to comment on the fact that Roxie was a disappointingly common name for a Reaper.

“Friend of yours?” I asked, my eyes darting between the two of them. Blue hair, purple hair, it was like something out of an anime. Except for the part where I was literally dead.

Wait, no, there was probably an anime about that.

“Something like that,” Roxie muttered. “Meet the very definition of cheating death.”

“You’re being overdramatic,” the girl accused her.

“Can you blame me?” Roxie retorted.

“Somebody please explain what is going on here,” I begged, “because this is starting to get ridiculous.”

The two of them stopped to look at me, then at each other. Roxie rolled her eyes.

She can handle that, I think.”

“That’s probably for the best,” the child agreed.

“So explain, then,” I prompted.

The child smiled, sliding her hands into her pockets. The way she spoke, her body language, none of it seemed particularly childlike. After everything I’d seen, that didn’t surprise me in the slightest. She was probably the oldest of the lot.

“How about I put it this way instead,” she began. “Are you done with your life? Are you ready to leave it all behind? Are you satisfied with the impact you’ve made?”

What is this, a sales pitch?

“Of course not,” I said.

“That’s just the way things go,” Roxie interrupted, repeating herself.

“No, it isn’t,” the child said, calmly but assertively.

“Come on, don’t pretend you care about mortal lives,” Roxie snapped.

“I don’t,” the child agreed readily. “I care about the bigger picture. And I think she does too,” she added, gesturing towards me.

“She can’t even fathom the bigger picture,” Roxie argued.

“She will.”

“I’m still waiting for any of this to make sense,” I said sharply. The two of them could stand and bicker on their own time.

“Look,” the girl said, her expression suddenly very serious. “There’s a lot more going on than this pathetic little turf war.” She gestured around her.

“And there are already plenty of players on the board,” Roxie countered. “You don’t need more, Alice.”

What an appropriate name, I thought idly. Much better than Roxie.

“That’s not my name anymore,” the child said, bristling.

“It was when I came to collect your soul,” Roxie said, almost taunting the girl.

“Except you didn’t collect it.”

There was clearly a lot of tension between the two of them. A collector of souls and someone who apparently wasn’t all the way dead when they were supposed to be? Like it mattered. The only thing I was interested in was my own fate.

“Can we move this along?” I asked.

“Fine,” the girl said sharply. “I want to give you a chance to return to the world, and make a difference. In return, you need to make sure of a few things for me. Can you still do that?”

“Can I still save Sabrina?” I asked. It was the only thing I was capable of caring about. It was what had gotten me into this situation in the first place.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Then I’m in.”

“She’s lying,” Roxie said, and the girl glared at her.

“That’s enough out of you,” she said coldly. “You’re not needed here anymore.”

“No, I want to hear this,” I said. I was desperate, but I wasn’t stupid. If I was being tricked, I wanted to know.

“There’s not a damn thing you can do about your friend, Veronica,” Roxie said. “She’s beyond your influence. She’s beyond their influence.” She gestured towards the child.

“We don’t know that for sure, yet,” the girl replied, but didn’t deny it entirely.

“Explain,” I demanded.

“Veronica,” the girl began, “Sabrina isn’t… human, anymore. She’s…”

“This should be good,” Roxie muttered. The girl glared at her.

“Right now, she’s fighting a battle, with a power from another reality, and it’s going to consume her. There won’t be anything left of her.”

“No,” I said, my mouth moving before the thought had even formed in my head.

“No?” Roxie repeated, surprised.

“I’ll save her,” I said. “Somehow, I will save her.”

“Well, you can’t do that if you’re dead,” the girl said bluntly.

“Then I accept your offer, whatever conditions come with it.”

“You’ll regret this,” Roxie said.

“That’s fine,” I replied.

“You can leave us now, Roxie,” the girl said, her voice rich with condescension. “Veronica and I have a lot to talk about.”