Zoe pulled her hoodie over her head, and tossed it to the side. Beneath it, she wore a thin tank top and a sports bra. She looked entirely unharmed.
Charlie shrugged out of her coat, tossing it to the side. Her shirt was ruined, and she tied the scraps of it around her chest, an ineffectual binder. Clothing aside, she also looked unharmed.
“So, we finally get to meet,” Zoe said, comfortable but wary. “Face to face.”
“And what a pleasure it is,” Charlie said dryly.
I strained my neck to try and look through the doorway, but I couldn’t see anything. I feared the worst for Rachel.
“You made a mistake, coming here,” Zoe said.
“Maybe.” Charlie shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
“I know what you are. I’ve fought something like you before.”
Charlie reached behind her, pulling out a knife sheathed in the small of her back. She ran her finger along the blade of it, drawing blood, and licked it off her finger before it evaporated.
“See, now, that intrigues me. I’d love to hear more,” she said, licking her lips. “Unfortunately, I’d rather beat your face in.”
The pain in my chest had faded to a dull throbbing. It occurred to me that I could probably pull the metal bars out if I really tried, but somehow I just couldn’t muster the energy. All I managed was a weak groan.
“You doing okay there, Sabrina?” Zoe asked, keeping her eyes on Charlie.
I’m pinned to the wall by a pair of metal spikes, how do you think I’m doing?
“Please be safe,” I said weakly.
“Don’t worry, I can handle myself,” she replied, smirking. Charlie raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
My eyes darted to the back room again. I had to ask. I didn’t want to hear the answer, but I had to ask.
I couldn’t even finish the sentence. Charlie’s attention shifted, focusing on me for a second, then back to Zoe to hear the response. Zoe noticed.
“Dead? Quite possibly,” she said. “Her ego got the better of her. Kind of like this one, hey?”
Charlie’s grip on her knife tightened, the darkness in her eyes returning. I could see the fury forming on her face, spreading throughout her entire body.
“You killed Rachel,” she said, her voice dead.
“Jealous?” Zoe taunted. “Or just upset you’ll never get that piece of you that she stole back?”
Charlie’s death-grip on the knife intensified, to the point where it actually snapped, the blade clattering to the floor. She didn’t even seem to notice. Her attention was now fixated on the back room.
“Rachel, you idiot…”
That wasn’t just anger. Beneath the rage and fury, there was pain there. There was love there.
“Oh, this is precious,” Zoe said, laughing. “You still care about her?”
Charlie snarled, an inhuman, monstrous sound.
“You’re going to regret every second of pain you inflicted on her, you wretched beast,” she growled.
The rage wasn’t even directed at me, and I felt a chill. There was something dark about it, a cruelty and viciousness that seemed to reach beyond that of anything any human should be capable of. Something that seemed to come from beyond Charlie herself.
“Irony abounds,” Zoe replied breezily, seemingly oblivious to that sensation I was feeling. “Alright, let’s do this. I’m sure Sabrina’s eager to get down off that wall.”
Unsurprisingly, Envy was nowhere to be seen. The moment Charlie had turned violent, they were gone. Charlie seemed to be the only person that scared them, and not just because of the danger she posed to me.
Charlie attacked first, a blur of movement that was difficult even for me to follow. Her fist slammed into Zoe’s stomach, and I watched as Zoe buckled, shock apparent on her face. Charlie kneed her in the chest, sending her flying backwards. I heard her bones crack from the other side of the room.
Zoe recovered quickly, turning her momentum into an evasive manoeuvre, putting distance between her and Charlie. I could see the cogs turning in her head, processing new information, preparing a strategy against Charlie.
She moved like lightning, darting across the room. Charlie’s retaliation was too slow, and Zoe’s nails sliced through her neck and shoulder. Charlie’s elbow collided with Zoe’s head, but Zoe rolled with it, carving deep gouges across Charlie’s stomach.
Charlie snapped Zoe’s wrist. Zoe sliced Charlie’s neck open to the bone. Charlie shattered Zoe’s kneecap. Zoe ripped through Charlie’s stomach. The entire exchange was brutal, difficult to watch, impossible to ignore. I felt sick to my stomach.
They were picking up speed, bouncing around the room and breaking everything in sight. Every time Charlie attacked, it seemed like Zoe would learn and adapt, and gain the upper hand, but then Charlie just switched tactics, taking Zoe by surprise all over again.
Charlie wrapped her hands around Zoe’s throat, slamming her against the wall, and I could see her fingers digging into the flesh, threatening to cut through. Zoe dug her nails into Charlie’s forearms, pulling her knees up to her chest and kicking Charlie away with enough force to knock her to the ground.
The force of it ripped Charlie’s arms off at the elbows, and though they started to grow back almost immediately, Zoe seized the opportunity to strike. She was on Charlie like an animal, cutting and stabbing, forcing Charlie backwards.
Charlie staggered back until she hit a wall, and with nowhere else to go, she tried to fend Zoe off with her feet. Zoe backed away momentarily, only just long enough to collect a handful of long metal shards from the floor. With a pointed glance at me, she struck, driving them through Charlie’s body, one by one, pinning Charlie to the wall in a grim mirror of what she’d done to me.
Charlie strained against the metal, but couldn’t build up enough force to get herself free. She struggled to grab shards and pull them out, but they were too sharp, and cut up her hands, the blood making it impossible to get a grip.
Satisfied Charlie was pinned, Zoe took a step back again, out of breath for the first time I’d ever seen her. She wiped blood from her mouth, wincing from the pain of her still-healing wrist.
“You were saying?”
“You fight like a demon,” Charlie said, but the rage was already subsiding. She seemed almost human again. “How appropriate.”
Zoe walked over to another shard of metal, picked it up, and drove it into Charlie’s thigh. Charlie grit her teeth, bracing herself as Zoe twisted the metal.
“And I’m going to show you just how demonic I am,” Zoe taunted, practically whispering the words in Charlie’s ear. “I think I’ll keep you in pieces, tiny little pieces. And your head, I think I’ll keep it in view of Rachel’s corpse. So you never, ever get to forget that she’s dead.”
Charlie strained against the shards again, but only managed to cause herself more pain. It was difficult to watch, and I found myself wincing in sympathy. Nobody deserved that. Not even Charlie.
“Who’s dead?” a third voice said, echoing through the room. Three heads turned to the back room, where a hunched, bleeding Rachel stood, murder in her eyes. A silver pistol-like device hung loosely in her hand, blood dripping down it.
Next Week: Strong Enough Now That I Don’t Need To Pretend (Finale!)