The Stars all but disappeared overnight. The thugs all went into hiding, their bases abandoned. All operations ceased. The territory they held became contested.
We picked up reports of Miss Murder being seen, but she was never with the Stars, only ever with Ami. They seemed to have formed some sort of allegiance, which was just fine with me. I had no business with either of them, so it more or less kept them out of my way.
Unfortunately, it made it difficult to get the Celestial’s attention. Nobody knew where he was or what he was doing. He and Haylie were just… invisible. That was a problem, because I needed to draw them out of hiding.
“This sucks,” I complained, sitting atop the tallest building in the city, my legs dangling over the side.
“What about a more personal attack?” Envy suggested.
“You said you recognised him, right? Maybe he has family, friends, something you can use to get his attention.”
“I don’t even remember his name,” I said. “I could be wrong about recognising him. And even if I’m not, it doesn’t give me much to go on, you know?”
“Well, how about Rachel? Or Zoe? They’re good at the sleuthing thing, right?”
“Even if we could find something, going after friends or family, it just feels…”
“I know, I know, you’re all naïve and innocent. I get it. But Sabrina, honey, you can’t be this weak. You can’t. If you’re ever going to stand a chance against Charlie, you need to be ruthless. It’s the only way.”
She’s right. It’s the only way. Charlie murdered your best friend, and everyone, everyone is afraid of her. You can’t pull any punches.
“Envy, you’re talking about innocent people here. Even she hasn’t resorted to that.”
Except by, you know, killing your best friend. Literally the exact thing we’re talking about.
“Okay. I don’t want to push this,” Envy said. “But we do need to find Haylie. Not just for the sake of being able to fight Charlie. Haylie is just as dangerous on her own.”
And you’re supposed to be protecting this city, remember?
Wait. Fucking wait.
That’s not my fucking voice.
Envy wasn’t just in my head. She was actually influencing my thought patterns.
All of that rage, all of that anger… How much of it was me? How much of it was her, pushing me to do what she wanted from me?
But what if it really was me? The anger felt real. The reasons for feeling angry were all real.
I couldn’t say anything to her. I couldn’t say anything to anyone, because she could see everything, hear everything.
“I need to hit something,” I grumbled.
“I can help with that,” a third voice said, coming from behind me.
I jumped to my feet, braced and ready for a fight. Instead, I nearly fell off the roof in surprise.
So it really was her, the night we tried to fight the Celestial? But how? She was dead, I’d seen her corpse.
She was wearing all black, with a pistol strapped to her thigh and a short blade sheathed on her back. She looked ready to go to war.
“Hey, Sabrina,” she said, with an awkward smile on her face. “Um. Surprise?”
“I don’t like this,” Envy hissed.
“How?” I asked, ignoring her.
“It’s complicated,” she said.
“I did, yeah.”
“But you’re alive now?”
“Not exactly,” she said. “Um. Suspended mortality. I’m dead, just… on pause.”
“She’s lying,” Envy said. “This isn’t your friend, Sabrina.”
Much as I didn’t want to believe it, there was a chance Envy was right. Of all the likely explanations, my best friend coming back from the dead didn’t exactly top that list. A shapeshifter was more probable. Or something controlling her corpse like a puppet. Or an illusion of some kind.
“That’s… a lot to ask me to believe,” I said, painfully aware of the possibly lethal drop behind me. “And even if you are my best friend…”
“It’s suspicious,” she finished for me. “I get that. I wouldn’t believe it myself, if I hadn’t lived through, well…” She laughed. “Poor choice of words. But listen. I need to talk to you. Kind of urgently.”
“So talk. I’m here, I’m listening. I can’t promise I’ll believe you, but…”
“You believing me isn’t the problem,” she said. “Privacy is.”
“Don’t trust her,” Envy insisted.
“Privacy?” I asked.
“From the voice in your head,” she said sweetly. “Don’t worry, I have a system for this.”
She pulled the pistol, aiming it at my head. I could have stopped her, could have closed the distance and disarmed her before she pulled the trigger. I didn’t.
The bullet passed through me painlessly. There was no impact, no damage. Nothing happened.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” she answered, grinning. “Whatever it is, it’s supposed to temporarily displace extradimensional energy. Or something like that, anyway.”
Envy was silent. No, Envy was gone. And I could feel my body shifting back to normal. And I was very precariously standing on the edge of the tallest fucking building in the city.
“Sabrina, I need you to relax. You’re gonna be okay, but-”
I could feel the wind, biting and very, very powerful. I wobbled, unable to keep my balance, and fell backwards, off the side of the building.
The sensation of falling was so very different without superhuman strength and resilience. The wind assaulted my frail body as I fell, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The world spun wildly around me, and I felt sick, and battered, and frightened.
For the second time, I felt Veronica crash into me in mid-air, redirecting my momentum sideways. She wrapped around me, and we fell together.
We hit the surface of the river, an impact that would have killed me if Veronica hadn’t taken the brunt of it. We went under, icy water threatening to crush me, suffocating me.
I felt her dragging me, pulling me back to the surface. Spluttering and gasping for breath, I was carried to the riverbank. Veronica seemed fine. Unharmed. How?
She stood over me as I struggled to recover. I felt completely disoriented, shaking and cold.
I lay that way for several minutes, staring up at the sky. Veronica sat beside me, watching me in silence.
“Hey, who’s down there?”
We both tensed up at the voice. Come on, man? Hasn’t tonight been painful enough already?
“Stay down,” Veronica whispered, then stood up. “We don’t want any trouble!” she called out.
Still too weak to move, I could only watch as a pair of thugs, members of some gang I didn’t know the name of, descended down the riverbank, guns trained on Veronica. She seemed completely unfazed.
“Who’re you?” the one on the left demanded, obviously surprised by the site of two teenage girls, soaked to the bone, lying on the shore of the river. There was no way it wouldn’t be suspicious, the only people left in the city were, well, dangerous.
“Nobody,” Veronica said. “Pretend you never saw us.”
“Not likely,” the guy on the right said. “You’re coming with us.”
“Not going to happen, and I’m not going to say it again. Walk away, or you die.”
She was surprisingly good at bluffing. Actually, on second thought, that seemed very appropriate. She always was persuasive.
Instead of responding, the guy on the left just shot her. Three times, all in the chest. I tried to scream, but my throat was hoarse, and nothing came out.
Veronica staggered back, but didn’t fall. Instead, her hand went to the hilt of the sword on her back, and two seconds later, both the thugs were dead, cut clean through from shoulder to hip.
“Fuckin’ told you, assholes,” she muttered, rubbing her chest.
“Wh-what… what the fuck, Veronica?” I said, my throat aching.
“Huh? Oh. Oh. Um. Look. Death is really not as big a deal as you think it is. Trust me.”
I looked up at her, frightened. She wasn’t the person I remembered. She wasn’t my friend.
She wasn’t Veronica.
“No,” I said.
Next Week: Not Exactly The Happy Reunion You Were Hoping For