“You doing okay, Charlie?” Rachel asked, taking pained steps towards them. Zoe tensed, but didn’t move.
“You took your sweet time,” Charlie said, grinning.
“This again?” Zoe asked, a predatory glare directed at Rachel.
Rachel flinched, but didn’t back away. Instead, she took another step forward, her entire body straining with the effort. She looked closer to dead than when I’d first met her.
“Not exactly,” she said, waving the gun in Zoe’s general direction. “I had time to finish this.”
“You won’t get a chance to use it,” Zoe growled.
She launched herself at Rachel, but didn’t get far. Charlie wrapped her hand around Zoe’s arm, holding her back, and Zoe whirled back to face her, hissing.
“We’re not done yet,” Charlie grunted.
“Yes, we are,” Zoe said.
With a vicious cut, Zoe severed Charlie’s hand, pulling herself away and turning to face Rachel in the same motion. She charged.
Rachel was already aiming the gun, and all she had to do was pull the trigger.
There was no visible effect, not at first. Zoe froze, dead in her tracks, completely static. The air around her began to shimmer and warp, then tear apart, exactly like the rift that had first brought her to this world.
She began to squirm, twisting and fighting against it, but she couldn’t get away from it. The rift expanded, beginning to engulf her, and through it I caught a glimpse of a night sky, a city skyline that was entirely black, and a cold, dark feeling.
The rift closed.
Zoe was gone.
Rachel let out a long sigh, dropping the gun. It bounced and clattered along the floor. Rachel staggered, but remained standing.
“Fuck me, I’m glad that worked,” she said.
“You okay?” Charlie asked, with genuine concern.
“I’ll live. You?”
“Fuck off,” Charlie said.
The two of them stared at each other, then laughed. It was an awkward, pained laugh, but at the same time, it was full of love. Rachel actually smiled.
“Alright, let’s get these out of you,” she said, gripping one of the shards with her mechanical hand.
“Actually, I’m kind of getting used to it,” Charlie replied, then winced as Rachel pulled the shard out of her.
Two minutes and more than half a dozen shards later, Charlie dropped to her knees, free from the wall. The wounds were already healing, and she stood up again, a little unsteady. Rachel reached out, balancing her.
“Your healing is getting faster,” she commented.
“You’ve missed a lot.”
After another awkward pause, Charlie centred herself, then pulled Rachel in for a hug. They held each other for what felt like a lifetime, then separated again. Charlie stared lovingly into Rachel’s eyes, then kissed her. I looked away.
“I’ve missed you,” Rachel said.
“Tell me about it,” Charlie grumbled.
“What the fuck,” I muttered, and both of them whirled around to face me, seemingly having forgotten I was present. They exchanged surprised glances, then walked towards me.
“Oh, you’re still here,” Charlie said.
“We should probably get her off the wall, too,” Rachel said.
“She’s not gonna try and attack me again, is she?”
“I’ve got her covered,” Rachel reassured her, recovering the dart gun that had neutralised my shifting ability before. She kept it pointed at me as Charlie unbent the desk legs that had pinned me to the wall.
Finally free, I tried to rub the wounds on my chest, but they were still open, raw and bleeding. I definitely did not heal as quickly as Charlie did. The blood loss was actually starting to make me feel a little woozy.
I looked up at the two of them, standing side by side, no animosity or fear between them.
“I’m so confused,” I murmured, feeling unsteady.
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Charlie said.
“I used you,” Rachel said, her voice tender. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” I asked, reeling. “You’re sorry?”
“Charlie was never trying to kill me. We just needed a convincing reason to get me close to Zoe.”
I remembered the condition Rachel was in when we first met. Weak, barely standing, shaking and frail. I remembered the fear in her eyes when she told me what had happened, the pain when she’d recounted the way Charlie had ripped the power out of her, and left her for dead.
“But, your condition…”
“Not Charlie’s fault,” she said.
“Partially my fault,” Charlie corrected.
Rachel shook her head.
“I submitted willingly.”
“Guys,” I snapped. Rachel sighed.
“When we realised Zoe was trying to build a portal back home, we knew we needed to interfere. The last thing this world needs is more of what came through the first time,” she explained.
“But you, you helped,” I said. “She couldn’t have built it without you.”
“Oh, she would have eventually. And yes, I helped. I needed to understand how it worked, so I could build this.”
She retrieved the silver pistol-thing from the floor, the dart gun still trained on me.
“We’re going to send them all back home,” Charlie said, taking the gun from Rachel.
“Why?” I asked, still confused. My head ached.
“It’s better than killing them,” Charlie said.
“And now we have this, the rest should be a lot easier,” Rachel added.
I felt my stomach turn.
“And what about those of us who aren’t from that world?” I asked.
“Undecided,” Charlie said. “The Celestial definitely needs to be shut down. Miss Murder can probably be rehabilitated. And you…” She shrugged.
“You can’t be the one who decides this,” I said, shaking my head. “You just, you can’t. It’s not…”
“Fair?” Charlie offered. “No, I suppose not.” She smiled. “But who’s gonna stop me?”
“Don’t give her ideas,” Rachel muttered.
“I will,” I said, determination filling me. “I’ll stop you.”
“I told you,” Rachel said, rolling her eyes.
“Stop me, then,” Charlie said, unconcerned. “Power talks. You have plenty. So stop me, if you can.”
“Good luck,” Charlie said. “Let’s go, Rachel.”
Rachel looked like she was considering shooting me with a dart, but it was obvious I was too weak to stop them from leaving. They walked out together, Charlie’s hand wrapping around Rachel’s. I felt confused, and full of anger.
“Well, that is not what I expected,” Envy said, appearing out of nowhere the moment Charlie was out of the room. “At all.”
“We have to stop her,” I said.
“Well, you know what we need, then.”
“Precisely,” she said with a grin.
A thousand thoughts ran through my head. Veronica, warning me not to give Envy too much power. Zoe, and her stories about Haylie, her certainty that Haylie was good. All of the anger that had driven me, and the fear it would consume me.
Slowly, every one of them was replaced with the image of Charlie, that smug arrogance of hers forming an impenetrable shield as she bent the world to her will. An unstoppable force of nature.
“Let’s do it, then,” I said.
Envy smiled, but there was no love in their eyes. All of a sudden, I couldn’t move.
“Actually, I don’t think so,” they said.
“You’re weak. Too weak. You’re holding me back.”
“What?” I repeated, fear gripping my throat. I couldn’t move, my head was filling with cotton, and I couldn’t think.
“I’m strong enough now that I don’t need to pretend,” Envy said. “You’ve outgrown your usefulness. Your body is mine.”
They approached me slowly, their fingers pressed against my chest. I could feel them, cold and hot at the same time, pulsing with energy and power. With a smile, they pushed.
It was gentle, no more effort than you’d use on a light door. I stumbled back, out of my body, out of the world. Everything around me grew dark, and I fell.
I fell, and I fell, and I fell.
And from a distance, through a thousand windows, I watched my own body smile. Envy’s smile, not mine.
I’m sorry, Veronica.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story up to this point! It’s probably pretty obvious that this isn’t the end. Consider this more like a season finale. We have an epilogue later this week, then a five-week break, during which I’ll be publishing a bonus story arc, titled Roxie: Dying In Five Easy Steps. After that, we’ll be starting Volume 2 of Impact Day, titled Dead Girls Don’t Cry, which is a prequel story of a comparable length. It’s a story about Charlie and Rachel, and the events that led to Impact Day.
Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed the story so far, consider supporting me on on Patreon, so I can afford to keep writing it. Additionally, you can buy the complete collection on Gumroad and on Kindle. It features a bonus chapter that I’m not releasing online!
See you later this week!