In All Reflections
Down, Down Cities
Published: September 13, 2023
Warnings: Violence, gore, character death.
Blurb: Prompt: "There were always debates on what ghosts were — restless souls, the memories of a location, grief made tangible, and on and on — but never what were ghosts. There were more than plenty enough around to be able to know one when you find one."
“So she’s a stubborn one,” I finished.
Nerys’ eyes flicked from Ery to I. They hadn’t stopped fiddling with their hands under the table since we’d cut the smalltalk short.
Ery regarded them with his typical irritated half-lidded frown, arms crossed, legs crossed. One foot was still impatiently tapping as he mulled over the information.
“Do you know who their supplier is?” he asked, after a second.
Nerys shook their head. “There’s been too much flowing in and out. It’s hard to track anything; everyone’s tightlipped and there’s too many pockets here and there.”
“Damnit.” Ery grit his teeth. “You’re fucking useless.”
Nerys didn’t flinch, used to Ery’s attitude.
I leaned forwards in my seat. “Thank you, Nerys. We appreciate the tip, really. Thank you for your service to our Grand Leader.”
“Must be a big deal if Leader’s sending you both personally,” they mumbled.
“Her survival is a problem,” Ery said, eyes narrowed. “Especially if this so-called ‘necromancy’ is true.”
“The magical signatures were hers,” I said, lightly frowning. “I don’t know what other evidence you could want....”
“Someone could be using her ghost as a battery. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s desecrated the dead like that.”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling, “it’d be the second time.”
Ery scowled. I reached into a pocket to fish out the bag of credits, and placed them on the dingy table. Nerys looked to them, then to me uncertainly.
“Even if the location isn’t where her mechanic is, it’s still useful to know how it works,” I explained. “So yes, you’re getting paid.”
They reached a tentative hand. When Ery didn’t move, they scooped up the bag and shoved it into the inside of their coat like a starved animal.
“Thanks, Ausana,” they said, relief warm. “That’s-”
“-Don’t be so familiar with him!” Ery’s hands slammed onto the table, his face a snarl. “Take your fucking money and go. Get the fuck out of my sight!”
They scrambled, chair toppling over in their haste. They were gone through the backdoor in an instant, and I blinked.
“Fucking mortals,” Ery hissed, still standing. “Mortals like them. Homeless, useless cretins.”
“They’re a good informant,” I said.
“This is bullshit. A ghost in a robot?” Ery straightened his back, tucked his hands into his jacket pockets. “I don’t care about the sightings, the signatures. I think they’re just lying to get more money.”
I rubbed at my chest, pouting. “Ery....”
“I like Nerys...”
“You like everyone we talk to,” he said, voice dull.
A mischievous grin grew over my face. “I don’t like our Grand Leader.”
Ery’s expression bristled into barely-contained rage. My smile widened at the sight of him unable to protest, unable to engage with my illicit statement.
It took a second before he spun on his heel, jacket billowing. “Shut up. Let’s go to this fucking garage.”
Our paces kept well as we exited the building, paced out of the dark alleyway. Perfectly in tandem, in sync, every step a double-footfall. I glanced down. It made me happy and satisfied.
Ery’s face, however, was twisted in mild anger. The kind that hadn’t been fanned into full fury yet, but could, if his buttons were pressed wrong.
I stared for several long seconds until he roughly grabbed my arm and pulled me close so that I didn’t bump into a lamppost.
“Watch where you’re walking, Ausana,” he practically spat.
“Sure,” I said, smiling, and looked forwards again.
The city was quiet at dawn. Curfew was still in effect for all but the seldom few approved to break it - guards milling about, who gave us side-eye glances; bakers hurrying into stores, grocery stockers leaving; the local mailman, who balked when our eyes met and crossed the street.
They were all cast in soft muted hues, the sun not yet bestowing true colors onto them. The nondescript stone brick buildings themselves stood quietly, empty at this time. In hours, they would be filled and become bustling hives of work, great gears in our Grand Leader’s machinations.
Would we find her before then?
I tapped against Ery’s hand. His ear flicked in acknowledgement, and I said quietly, “Do you really think they weren’t trustworthy?”
“Not in the slightest,” he hissed. “I should’ve just mind-altered them. I’ve half a mind to turn around.”
“I could head to the rendezvous point while you chased-”
That was that. “What makes me a little suspicious is how detailed Nerys’ description of the robot was.”
“They definitely knew too much specifics. Our Grand Leader will want to hear of it.” Ery scoffed. “What a pathetic waste of void technology.”
My tail flicked, and I smiled. “Haha, a ‘waste’?”
Ery’s muzzle scrunched. He didn’t speak. Conversation over, though my chest was still warm.
I wondered what he wanted to do with the void technology. It wasn’t as if we personally would have a use for it. Did he want to apply it to some mortal we knew? No one came to mind.
Our pace quickened. Ery turned to the right, and I kept in step with him, tapping my chin as we walked in silence.
No, wait. Perhaps Letry, our longstanding sparring partner. Maybe as a backup in case Ery ever went too far. Another body to hold their mind, so that they could survive anything.
A strange thought. Ery wasn’t sentimental, not in that way, and especially not towards mortals. But at the same time, who else?
I hummed as we turned again, this time left.
A group of mortals huddled in trenchcoats eyed us. Ery’s arm slinked around my waist protectively, pulled me closer. I let him tug me in, though a small smile rose on my face. I didn’t need protecting from a handful of randoms.
But it made him feel better, so I allowed it.
Our walk took us towards the capital’s industrial district. Here, far from the businesses and homes that had made up the city center, great factories chugged and churned. I glanced up to their billowing smokestacks, pouring spent magic and material out.
We went further, through the throngs of workers heading to their first shifts, under the bulging pipes and wires above, down several sets of stone stairs worn with time.
In a moment, we were standing at the edge of the great docks. Ships idled at port, some anchored, others gently turning in or out. We were glanced at, sized up, and quietly avoided by the fishers and sailors and captains.
No one called attention to us as we paced in step into the array of warehouses, some abandoned, some stuffed with storage. I watched Ery count them as we went, and turned, and came to a stop in front of a pathetically-normal, sagging individual.
“This is it,” he said. “Check for wards, illusions.”
I nodded, stepping forwards and stretching out my arms.
My magic twisted out of me like flowers unfurling their petals. I burrowed my mind into the structure before me, into its aged and worn walls, into the taste of sea salt that had sprayed against it for its entire life.
I felt it reach for me, too, in its dull unaware way, and relax in my magic’s embrace. It did not protest as I found the thread of illusion underneath its carpet, and pinched it between two fingers.
Ah, but this was more elaborate than a mere unfurling. As I pulled on the thread, I copied it perfectly - mimicked its shape, its structure, its self.
I threaded my copy into the place where the original once was, replacing it wholly and utterly. I upheld it, flowing my own magic through to keep it there and active. I stuffed it with my own alternations, subtle and secret, and bent it to my will.
To the mage who casted it, if they had a ward to alert of its destruction - they wouldn’t know. For it was still there, still holding strong.
To Ery and I, we watched as the illusion sloughed off the building like peeled bark. Chipped paint and details became clearer; methods of egress moreso. There was a window far above: a suitable entrance.
“Wards?” he asked.
“None, actually,” I said. “I guess they didn’t want to draw attention with too much magic?”
“Idiotic of them,” Ery growled. “They drew attention anyways.”
I shifted my weight from foot to foot. “Do you really think she’s still alive in there? In a robot body?”
Like us? But it went unspoken.
Ery gave me a sidelong, narrowed look. “No. But I’ll bet her mechanic is there, with a pile of void technology, and we’ll drag it back to our Grand Leader regardless.”
“What if she is?”
“Are you still scared of her?”
I frowned. “Scared - no. I’m not scared. I just don’t like the idea of fighting her again.”
“She’s not that dissimilar to us....” my voice died as Ery jumped.
He gripped a tiny ledge, heaved himself up, and was now level with the tiny window. He looked down, expression resolute.
“Even moreso now, actually, now that she’s a robot,” I said, and grinned. “The daughter of our Grand Leader and his tools both now robots. Maybe we could find common ground.”
“Stop being stupid,” Ery half-sighed, rolled his eyes. “She made her bed. We’ll kill her again.”
I frowned, but he extended his arms, and I jumped. He caught me, and pulled me up onto that ledge beside him.
He pushed open the window, and gestured for me to follow.
The warehouse was oppressively dark, the shadows clinging to us. The illusion adjusted for the lack of light, swathing us helpfully in the darkness. Ery pulled me along, my hand in his, as we crept along the rafters.
My illusion spell did not falter, even as my heart dropped.
Scrap metal and screws were sorted into neat stacks scattered across the workshop. Several had been welded into the facsimiles of limbs, with joints hammered into proper place.
I felt a pang of terror, and stared for a long second at one of the arms. But the longer I looked, the more differences I saw between it and my own, and the fear that our blueprints had been stolen subsided.
Several walls had mounted tool racks in various states of disarray, their children tossed onto tables haphazardly. As my eye drew deeper into the shop, to the largest workspace against the far wall, I could see piles and piles of metal and tools.
Some were pristine, untouched, maybe pulled free just to have them ready. Others were... dirty and stained, some in black oil, others in dried blood.
From a door near that far wall, there was a quiet humming, broken occasionally by the sound of metal clicking into metal or the sound of a wrench squeaking.
Ery’s hand wrapped around mine, and he tapped a message into my palm. ‘They were right’. Then, ‘Unbelievable’. Then: ‘Trap.’
I squeezed my agreement. I looked to him, and asked with my expression, how are we to approach this?
Ery’s eyes narrowed, and he scanned the room again. I waited, patient. He was, after all, the better strategist between us. I didn’t know if I would’ve called him more observant, but he was better at piecing together puzzles. My instinct was to always brute force; rush in with enough magic that the problem solved itself.
Finally, he moved, crept along the steel joists. I followed, eyes trained on him, waiting for my orders.
He motioned to me - fingers, circling each other. I nodded, and let my magic blossom into fractals as the illusion deepened. The sound of our footsteps faded, our visages reduced to dust. The door was silent as it swung open - but to any who looked on, it was still closed.
It was an easy spell. For me. I had seen the way our sparring partners had struggled to pour over simple illusion spells. To force their magic to trick another’s.
It didn’t really matter. We entered silently.
Before us was the true workshop. Here, the lights were brighter. At the far side, a mortal sat on a stool. Before them was a board of metal, littered with gemstones and circuits. They were tinkering with a fine tool.
To their right was a covered shape on a cot, draped in a white sheet. But the contours of its body were obvious.
Ery tapped my hand. I let the door slip shut - a quiet click, but one that announced our arrival.
The mortal turned at the sound. Their eyes were wide, face pale, fear evident. Their mouth opened, but Ery was already moving.
In his hands was one of his gold cuffs - enough to stop them from casting, but not enough to kill. Enough that we could interrogate them. His sprint had him at their side in a second, too short for any reaction-
-But their arms swung upwards, and a wave of magic blasted Ery back. He stumbled for only a millisecond before his feet caught themselves. They surged to cast again, hands working magic in the air.
They weren’t fully mortal, then.
So I moved, too. I dug my fingers into the murky realm of concepts and flung magic at Ery’s flowing form, tethering us together in a way not physical.
He didn’t acknowledge the gift; he instead utilized it to summon gold throwing knives, expertly tossed.
The mechanic scrambled, ducking - but Ery had already accounted for that. The knife lodged itself with force into the top of their head.
The mechanic gaped, hands flying up to the knife to claw at it. They didn’t comprehend that it was already over; that they’d already lost. In fairness, the fight had lasted all of five seconds.
“Don’t waste your magic,” Ery scoffed, to me. I severed the tether, and dropped the myriad of illusions.
He paced over to the mechanic’s side to stab a fresh knife into their shoulder, and rip the one in their head out. It made sense; it wouldn’t be very helpful if the gold consumed their memories of helping her cheat death.
Speaking of which. I glanced past the mechanic, at the metallic body laying on the cot. It didn’t quite resemble her face as it was on the list, likely to obscure her identity. Her eyes were shut, hands laced over her chest, almost like she was still asleep.
I carefully approached, and waved a hand over the body, and then licked my fingers. I didn’t taste any great quantity of magic. So we’d interrupted those repairs with perfect timing. She was shut off.
Our Grand Leader would still want to see her. They’d want to take apart the void tech, piece by piece, and examine every inch of how this strange necromancy worked.
I had suspicions, of course. An elaborate enough magic circle could emulate a Magninium cycle if it was given a simple enough task. Even something as minor as mimicking breathing could be enough to get enough magic circulating through a body to move it again.
But it begged the question: how had they tethered her ghost to this false body? Was it still trapped within the chassis, tied together? Was she aware of what was happening, and utterly helpless to react, her magic circle shut off?
I thumbed over the body. There was a thud behind me, and Ery hissed something at the mechanic. I didn’t turn - Ery had it handled. There was another thud, this one recognizable as the sound of Ery’s fist colliding with flesh.
There. My fingers sealed over a small pendant. I lifted it, and in the dim light, I could barely make out a gemstone stored in a semicircle-shaped locket.
It was a powerful stone - a pink sapphire. Utterly illegal to own. Where had they sourced it? I pried out of the locket to inspect, but it bore no marks of the mine it was sourced from, and the locket had no smith’s signature.
“What are you messing with?” Ery asked.
I turned to show him. “This was on the robot.”
Ery hummed, eyes narrowing. His hand planted on the head of the mechanic, and burst into magic. They shrieked, but he didn’t relent, instead closing his eyes.
After a second, he lifted his hand and stared at me again. “Give it to me. It’s of the void.”
My hands wavered for a second. But I obeyed, placing it in his outstretched palm. “It’s involved in the necromancy?”
He tucked it into a jacket pocket.
“Something like it.” Ery glared down at the hole in the mechanic’s head. Ah. The knife had already done some damage; some memories were already lost. “A gift from a god of theirs. It enabled this entire thing to happen.”
“It sounds dangerous. Though....” I stared down at the pocket. “Given enough time, I could probably... I think I could reverse-engineer the spell-”
“-It’s void magic. Don’t taint yourself with it. Besides, our Grand Leader will want to see it untouched.”
“They’ll likely just give it to me to unravel anyways,” I said, but backed away from the body.
Ery huffed. He gripped the mechanic’s shoulder to heft them up. “And you’re of the void, too,” he said, to them, voice low. “How did you get in?”
The mechanic’s face was pathetic. Streaked in tears and blood, surprised and uncertain. But at Ery’s voice, they tried to steel their expression, and bared fangs. “You can’t do this to me. I’m a protected Gladar.”
Ery gave them a dull look.
“The Coalition will come down on your heads,” they said, tone wavering. Like they weren’t even sure of what they were threatening. “You can’t harm me like this.”
“The Coalition,” Ery echoed, and then looked to me for explanation.
My face flushed slightly - head turned away, a bit too fast. Words jammed into my throat, and I had to stare at the wall for a few seconds before shyly piecing them together.
The best I could offer was - “The primary group that rules the void-layer, Ery. Beings as powerful as we are.”
“The ones you talked to on your laptop.” he finished.
No, I thought. That board wasn’t part of the COR. But the nuance would be lost on Ery, anyways, so I stayed silent.
Ery turned his glare back onto the mechanic-Gladar. “Why are you here? You’d best answer. I’m more merciful than our Grand Leader.”
“I-” their face paled further, “I was - this is a holy quest! I was put onto this path by a Magnitude Fragm-”
“I don’t want to have to ask you again,” Ery growled, reaching to grip the knife. He twisted it, hard, and the mechanic let out a cry. “Am I clear?”
“What’s a Magnitude Fragment?” Ery asked, looking to me.
I instinctually smiled when his gaze fell on me. “It’s - the void-deities.”
His face darkened into a deep scowl, and he pulled the knife out - only to thrust it in harder, deeper. Blood splurted, and the Gladar screamed again.
I simply watched.
“You’re invading our layers on behalf of your gods?” he snarled. “Should we take that as a declaration of war? Is that what your gods want?”
“No!” they cried, “no, you misunderstand, it’s-”
“What am I misunderstanding? You’re interfering in our politics. Resurrecting our sentenced criminals, bringing void technology in.” stabbed again, screamed again. “You’re trying to destabilize our government. That’s a declaration of war.”
Their face was covered in tears. It was like they’d never experienced pain before. A strange thought, if they were really a ‘Gladar’, if they really were called upon by a ‘Magnitude Fragment’.
I stared. What could their mission be? Why send someone into our Timeline? We were an Original. We weren’t to be touched. So who was going against the COR’s orders?
Nuance I couldn’t posit to Ery.
They let out a pathetic whine as Ery twisted the knife again. I could see the rage on his face - painfully evident, the kind of rage that only roused when he dealt with voidbeings.
He reached into the air, and summoned a thin magical cattle prod.
This is a little preemptive, I thought. Usually our Grand Leader handles interrogations that got this messy. But - Ery was raging.
He jabbed it into the side of their head, and a jolt of harsh magic flooded through their body. They seized - Ery pulled it away, well-practiced at toeing the line, at stopping the pain right before it killed someone.
But their screaming didn’t stop, and their body trembled, and-
-And burst into a cloud of glittering magic smoke.
Neither of us moved for a long second.
“Fuck!” Ery shouted, at once summoning a jar.
I scrambled, too, throwing out armfuls of my magic to wrap around the cloud. But rather than floating and dissipating into the air, it remained in one place, as if holding itself together.
It didn’t resist as Ery scooped it into the jar, wordless. It clumped together, even, as if helping him, as if submitting. It made no motion to slip out as he sealed the lid and held it at arm’s length.
I looked to his face.
Ery’s eyes were unblinking, a cold recognition on his face.
“Ery?” I asked.
His eyes flicked away from me, then he gave a tiny shake of his head - and then turned to face me, expression neutral again. “I didn’t think they’d....”
“They’d what? Explode?!”
“Yes!” he snapped back. “Usually they can take-”
He stopped himself. It didn’t matter. I gleaned enough from what he’d implied. He looked ashamed for the briefest of seconds, then huffed, bared his teeth, tucked the jar under an arm.
They. Gladar. Usually.
Secret missions. Secret tasks, given to him by our Grand Leader. Things I wasn’t privy to. A chasm between us.
“How many Gladar have come into our world?” I asked, voice small.
Ery didn’t respond.
“Or are you being sent-”
“-Shut UP, Ausana!” he nearly screamed, definitely yelled. He shoved past me to head for the workshop’s door, stomping the entire while.
My head spun. When had he gotten the time to leave? I couldn’t recall any moments spent apart. He’d been leaving and not telling me? How? Why?
I stared at the door as it swung shut on its hinges, Ery’s footsteps growing distant. Before I lost the sound of them, I gave chase, hurrying to catch up to a few paces behind. Enough distance to give him time to cool off.
In the pit of my stomach, an uncomfortable realization was growing.
Were they scared that I would run, given the chance? Did our Grand Leader and Ery choose to keep these missions a secret to ensure I wouldn’t try to flee?
I hugged myself.
And bumped into Ery.
I blinked up. He hadn’t turned around, but had tilted his head slightly.
“Secure the location,” he ordered, “so no one touches the robot.”
The wards were quick, simple. I didn’t bother with a circle; I could uphold them myself for the brief time before our Grand Leader’s workers could come collect the metal.
I weaved the magic with my eyes closed, and only opened them again once I was finished. I regarded Ery expectantly, but he hadn’t moved.
Should I say anything? My chest was still tight with the thoughts of... Ery leaving. Leaving and not telling me.
It wasn’t right of me to be upset about that. I’d been keeping secrets, too. This whole void business... it kept driving a stake between us. Destroying the only thing we had. Tearing us apart.
My fingers tightened in my shirt. So why did I still cling onto it so desperately? Why did I still want to leave, that desire deep in my chest, brighter than everything else in my life except Ery?
Did I really value him as much as I thought I did, if I let these thoughts of escape divide us?
Ery dropped the jar.
Now I approached, uncertain. But I froze as Ery’s hand reached into his pocket, and pulled free the pendant, which was vibrating with magic.
A split second of frozen time.
Ery’s arm was swinging. He was trying to throw it away from himself, get some distance. One foot dug into the earth to push him back at the same time.
It wasn’t enough. The locket burst open before he could loose it.
Hands surged from the gemstone - transparent, slightly, a pale tint. A ghost. Or a wraith?
Specifics didn’t matter. Its hands closed around Ery’s arm - but were seared to nothingness with a blast of my magic. He twisted away from it, earning back distance.
The ghost slithered backwards, eyes bloodshot, searching both of us in recognition. I knew her face, too.
Ery’s favorite gold knife found its mark in her throat. Her ghost writhed, but the gemstone was untouched.
It was still an opening. I moved.
Through the intangible smoke, my hand plunged. Fingers outstretched, almost around the locket.
Something grabbed my shoulder. I ducked, dodging whatever whistled through the air. Ery’s foot met their body, and they sprawled. I looked.
The robot body was already getting back up. The ghost jolted out of my hands.
Ery was already there. His knife dug into the back of her head. Her hands lit with magic. I grabbed one of her arms and ripped it clean off with a single heave.
The robot’s metal crashed into mine in a tackle. I rolled onto my back, closed my hand around its throat and jerked it backwards.
The metal snapped, loud. I heard the ghost wail, and my eyes narrowed. How were they still connected? Was this an inhuman gift from the void-deities?
I heated my hand with magic hot enough to melt, and tore into the robot’s body with it. The metal yielded and I dug around, but there was nothing of note. No magic, no circles.
I would have to dig into the conceptual realm to see. It must have been of the void.
To see void-magicks at work... to see how it could animate this dual body....
Pain slammed into the back of my head before I could dip conceptually. The weight and warmth - it was Ery, tossed at me. He was already recovering, sliding to a stop, back on his feet.
The collision had knocked the robot out of my grip. I dispelled the heat and felt Ery tug on my magic. I poured it into him willingly, and watched him tear apart the warehouse’s wall to wrap around the ghost like crumpled paper, containing her.
My eyes snapped to the robot. It was lunging for Ery, one hand raised, poised to stab him with something. Probably Ery’s knife.
He felt my hand of warning shove on his back, and dove forwards, out of the robot’s reach. I swept my leg into the robot’s way.
Their body sailed towards the floor, but caught itself. They twisted, reorientating to swing for me again.
I caught a glint of the shard clutched in their metal fingers. Pale metal, like a soft gold, a poisonous gentle gold.
How had I been so stupid?
My foot embedded itself in the robot’s chest. It was just enough to disrupt the angle, for the tiny shard to miss my neck.
Instead, it screamed whitehot into my upper arm, slicing a long gash until it jammed and stuck.
The lights were flicked out. My magic spilled out of me at all once in a cacophony. My halo died, my spells collapsed, my heartbeat slowed, my eyes widened.
My head boiled in pain and heat, all thoughts slowing down, all things braking and crashing. A tiny body pulverized by an unyielding train.
I felt my hands grip both sides of my head and my body hit the floor, but anything beyond that was nothingness.
Time dilated. My right hand moved of its own accord, instinctual accord.
Fingers slipped into the gash, cauterized by the intensity of the heavensunder.
They thumbed around in the meat, searching. They slicked themselves on the shard, cut open, and my vision blacked further.
I have to get it out of me.
I fumbled, again, desperate. I was slick with blood, couldn’t get my grip, and cut my fingers again.
I tried to dry them on my sleeve, but it was torn and soaked. My arm draped uselessly on the ground, exhausted.
I couldn’t tell if my eyes were shut or not. Everything was dark, regardless.
Move, I willed myself. My arm did not obey.
The pain throbbed instead, shooting lightning stabs up-down my spine, harassing my circuits, drinking from my veins.
The surreality of it all touched the back of my head. The absurdity. I’d been too lost in thought. Too distracted.
Get it out, I thought, and my fingers twitched. But the arm didn’t move. It couldn’t.
Then, my left arm was gripped tightly, painfully so. I wanted to cry out, but my neck was limp.
I couldn’t speak as foreign hands tore into my wound and ripped the heavensunder out. I didn’t know where it went. Just that it was out of me.
But it took several painful seconds for my magic to creep back in. For my breathing to return. For my head to clear, just slightly, replenished with the ability to think.
“Ausana,” he said, voice trembling.
I opened my eyes.
Ery stood over me, smeared in blood. His body was trembling, hands shaking. His eyes were wide, teeth still bared, staring down at me with pinprick pupils. I watched as globs of congealed blood dripped down his face and splattered onto mine.
“You’re awake,” he said, overflowing with relief. “You’re-”
I felt my halo flicker back into reality. I could sit up - but as I did so, Ery nearly tackled me back down, arms wrapped painfully tight. I let out a weak noise, but he didn’t relent.
This close, I could feel how hard he was breathing, gasping for air.
“You’re so stupid,” he said, between - sobs. “You’re so fucking stupid! You-”
I let my arms link around him, mind still half-lost.
“This is why you need to train with me!” he said, pathetically, as if it would’ve mattered. “You almost - you - this is - you -”
It was kind of funny to hear Ery lost for words. It was kind of strange.
“Ausana,” he whimpered, voice cracking.
My eyes slid over his shoulder, to the heap of metal and flesh that remained. To think that it had once been in the shape of a person.
It was nothing more than nondescript, unidentifiable clumps.
Beside it was the locket, broken into a thousand pieces. The gemstone inside was nothing more than inert dust, and the ghost it once held was gone.
“Ery,” I said, my voice hoarse.
“You’re so fucking stupid,” Ery said, ripping away to stare at me. There was an intensity in his face that I hadn’t seen before. “You’re fucking. You’re - I can’t - I fucking hate you.”
I reached to brush some of the blood off of his cheeks. He flinched, at first, but looked guilty immediately afterwards, unable to meet my eyes.
His grip on my arms tightened. He ripped one free to slap it onto my chest, and surged magic through it into my chassis.
I gasped at the sudden rush, at the sudden flood. In the water, I caught vestiges of Ery’s emotions - fear, paranoia, rage, hatred, terror, adrenaline, terror, tension, terror, terror.
My magic had returned to me. My chest rose-fell steadily. I reached to loosen Ery’s wrist, but he didn’t move and didn’t stop. I looked up, helplessly, a little wide-eyed.
He let out a hiss of a breath, and finally sealed the faucet. Half-spent, his arm dropped to his side, and he heaved in his next few bits of air.
He still wouldn’t meet my eyes.
We sat there.
“What are we going to tell our Grand Leader?” I asked, pointing at the remains of the robot.
“Ausana!” Ery screamed.
“AUSANA!” he repeated, louder, and I flinched.
After a second of silence, I opened an eye again. His breathing had become ragged, all teeth bared, the blood dripping down his face.
He grabbed me, roughly, by the horn, and stood. I tried to stand with him, but my legs buckled - it didn’t matter, his other arm hooked under them to pull me into his grip. I squeaked.
“Wait,” I said, but Ery had already started walking. “Wait. What are we going to-”
“-I’ll handle it,” he snarled, voice venom, voice poison.
I opened my mouth, but his free hand gripped the back of my head. I realized the sleep spell a second too late - but it didn’t quite catch, my mind able to resist it.
Ery growled. The spell surged again, this time stronger.
I reached to try to bat at his hand. “Don’t! I’m really asking you-”
“Just shut UP!” he barked, nearly in my face. “Shut up! Just shut up!”
“No!” I countered, louder, “I’m worried about you!”
“SHUT UP!” he shouted, then laughed, incredulous, “Tou came so close to - do you even hear - are you - you’re worried about ME!?”
“You’re - you’re not acting like yourself,” I managed.
“Well fuck, Ausana! I wonder why!” his grip tightened, pulled me even closer. “So why don’t you just shut the fuck up!”
I gripped his bloodstained tie. “I know you’re blaming yourself. It’s my fault, not yours-”
“-Oh, save it,” he hissed.
“No!” I shouted. “No, I’m not saving it! I’m worried-”
His fingers tangled in my hair, wrenched me upwards. Mid-word, our mouths met, a bite of a kiss.
It was unfamiliar, unrecognizable to the shy and quiet ones shared at night, curled up in bed side-by-side. It was screaming, desperate, words that Ery couldn’t speak.
His teeth sunk in slightly - his tongue pushed in, and I let him, eyes wide, his pressed closed. I relaxed into it, then slowly tensed as it continued - too long, unfamiliarly long.
But his fingers didn’t release me, and I squirmed in his grip, and couldn’t quite pull my head away, until -
- He jerked himself away, and stood there, panting, eyes still screwed shut.
“There!” he squawked, bristling after a moment, “there! Now shut up!”
I stared at Ery.
“I’ll handle it,” he said, slightly calmer. He was stilling his emotions, stuffing them back into the box best he could. “Just let me handle it. You’re my responsibility. I let you-”
His voice caught. I reached up to wipe at the wetness on his face, which was no longer wholly blood. Ery’s eyes creaked open, watery and blurry, though his jaw remained a strained snarl.
“I’m okay,” I told him, and smiled.
“You’re so fucking stupid,” he said, shaking.
I didn’t protest further as he trudged through the empty morning, and the mortals scattered before us, and I let my head tuck under his and let my eyes close.
I don’t think I was satisfied, or reassured. But he needed me to be, in that moment.
And I’ll do anything for him.