The Child returned to The Citadel, the stronghold of the Guardians that existed outside of any world’s time and space. Her machinations were, at least for now, complete. For now, she needed only be patient.
Time did not flow normally through The Citadel, if there was a ‘normal’ for time. Time within an isolated system is not bound to the time of any other isolated system. They do not interact, do not affect one another. Still, moving through fourth dimensional space was not as easy as moving through third, and moving beyond that was more complicated still. She needed a rest, a chance to organise and prepare.
“What are you up to?” asked a voice, as a figure faded in from the darkness.
The Nameless had the look of a teenage boy, just on the cusp of puberty. His short white hair was swept up as though by some unknown source of gravity, and his footfalls seemed to stop just shy of touching the ground. He stared at The Child with shimmering, golden eyes ringed with black.
“Advancing the plot,” she replied, not making eye contact. He was interrupting, and she didn’t care for it.
“We’re not storytellers,” he said. “That’s not our role.”
“According to who?” she demanded.
“The First is gone, Nameless. Our traditions are empty now.”
“You’re young,” he said, his voice even and patient. “You haven’t even seen a single cycle through to completion.”
“That’s the point,” she said. “I don’t want to see this bullshit repeat itself. I want things to change.”
“Things never change,” he replied softly. “Nobody is above that. Nothing can change that.”
With that, she disappeared, leaving The Citadel once again.
* * *
Rebecca sat beside the throne, staring into a floating sphere of light. Two others joined her, neither of them as close to the throne as she was.
“What the actual fuck is going on out there?” she asked, shaking her head.
“Nothing we need to worry about,” said the tall woman with ashen purple skin and bright silver hair. “Not our domain.”
“It is unusual, though,” said the thin, elegant man with pale skin and penetrating red eyes. “Do you think Lucy knows?”
“Lucy knows everything, Nix,” Rebecca said. “If they were concerned…”
“I am concerned,” said a new voice, as a figure materialised in the throne. “But for now, I’m happy to watch, and see how things play out.”
“What are you waiting for?” asked the tall woman.
“A spark of light,” Lucy said.
* * *
Rachel pored over the data, an empty sheet of the strongest migraine medication she could find lying beside her. Not everything made sense, but her brain wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t rest. She needed to dig deeper, to find the solutions to problems she hadn’t even considered yet. Pointless adrenaline coursed through her body, and her head throbbed and ached.
“What are you looking for?” Sadie asked, peering over Rachel’s shoulder. She couldn’t follow any of what Rachel was looking at.
A series of makeshift sensors, built largely out of repurposed homeware circuitry and spare phone parts, picked up her voice, her face, and converted them to a digital signal, which popped up on Rachel’s monitor.
“Don’t know yet,” Rachel muttered. “Answers, I guess.”
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a sketch Rachel had made on a scrap of paper. Rachel glanced at the monitor, able to figure out what Sadie was pointing at.
It was a sketch of two circles, intersecting slightly. Around them she had drawn five other circles, shaded in, and all seven circles formed a ring. Inside of that ring, she’d drawn a question mark. Outside of it, she’d drawn a bigger circle, encompassing the others.
“Outside,” Rachel said.
“What does that mean?” Sadie asked.
“Not sure yet.”
* * *
Roxie sat high above Melbourne, supported by nothing more than the air beneath her, cloak fluttering in the breeze. She looked down at the city, and wondered.
Felix’s death was as vivid as it ever was, and it still hurt to relive it. Since then, she’d spent every free moment she had trying to figure out what had happened. No answers had come to her.
Charlie seemed normal after that experience. Whatever that creature was, it hadn’t emerged again. It was still in there, though. Of that, Roxie was certain. After all, Charlie didn’t die. Something was breaking the rules, just for her.
She considered going back for Sadie. Especially now, while Charlie was nowhere near. There was no risk involved. Sadie could be taken to where she belonged, kept safe, given the chance to move on. But every time she entertained the thought, she was reminded of Felix, and she couldn’t do it.
There were other Reapers, of course. Any one of them could have done it. None of them did, and she couldn’t figure out why. In fact, they all seemed to steer clear of this city, around this time. Of course, they all came back once Charlie was gone, but within the timeline of this world, that wouldn’t happen for another year or so.
In the meantime, there were so, so many souls to collect, and nobody but her to do it.
She missed Felix.
* * *
“It’s done,” Haylie said. Alice nodded.
“How does it feel?” she asked.
“Sorry about that,” Alice said. “Hopefully it won’t be for long.”
“Do you think it will help?” Haylie asked.
“We won’t know,” Alice said, a little flat. “I mean, if it works, we will. If not…”
“Thank you,” Haylie said.
“Don’t mention it,” Alice replied.
“Your brother still doesn’t know, does he?”
“He’s basically genetically wired to think of me as a kid that needs protecting,” Alice said. “He can’t help it.”
“Still, it’s a shame he doesn’t see what you’re truly capable of.”
“Hey, that’s just my lot in life,” Alice said. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Have you considered finding a way to change your body?” Haylie asked.
“I have about a thousand theories,” Alice said. “And no way to test them.”
“Well, if you ever need assistance…”
“Thanks, Haylie. You’re a good friend.”
Next Week: Until You’re Dead