She looked almost as shocked as we were. “Derek? Everyone? I…” her mouth worked silently before she managed to get more words out. “I didn’t think you would come! I was locked up…”
She somehow managed to look beautiful, despite her harsh turn of affairs. Oddly enough, while her skin was covered in dirt, blood, and a grisly mix of the two, her white dress was nearly pristine. I guess the fey gave her a new one for some reason.
My head started to ache, but I just ignored it. “Are you all right? How did you get free?”
She gestured vaguely to what looked like an operating table in the corner of the small room. It was empty, and the straps undone, but it was covered in blood. “I got out when…I’m fine. I mean, physically.” She started trembling. “Things…were done…”
I holstered my Occisor and pulled her close. It was the first time I had ever hugged her, I think. I tried not to enjoy it; this was hardly the time for such things. “It’s all right. You’re safe now.” I looked into her golden eyes, wide with fear. “We need to know: Was it the fey who did this? Or the Composer?”
She just trembled harder.
I would have continued holding her, but I had a job to do, and I was getting a headache. Why now?
I stepped out of Lizzy’s embrace and aimed her at Laura. She glared daggers at me, but hugged the weeping girl in white without complaint.
I headed forward, ready for trouble. There was only one other exit from the cold little torture chamber, directly across from the one we had used. While I couldn’t hear any screamers nearby, I was still worried about monsters. I should probably quiz Lizzy more so that I’d have some idea what I was dealing with, but decided against it. I could feel more headaches coming on even as I thought of it.
“Derek,” Akane called as I reached the doorway (empty of any actual doors). “I’ll come.”
I shook my head, both at her and Adam behind her. “No, stay here. They could be back any moment.” She frowned, but nodded, and grabbed Adam’s arm when he started to protest.
The path quickly led into a t-shaped intersection. I tried to follow the tracks on the ground, but my headache got worse when I tried.
Ugh. Of all the days…
On a whim, I turned to the right, towards the steady sound of dripping water. I could see a light on the left path, behind me, which likely led up to the surface. But whether fey or the Composer, I had a feeling this one liked the dark places, and would flee down rather than up. Call it an educated guess.
There was a faint sheen of water on the floor, flowing from the direction I was heading, and my feet made small slapping noises as I stepped. This whole area was probably some kind of sewer maintenance or treatment plant, re-purposed into a lair.
I only had to walk for a few minutes before the smell hit me.
It was the sweet, cloying scent of rotting meat, one I knew too well from dungeon delves like this one. I held out my hand for a face mask without thinking, before remembering Akane was back with the others. I chuckled at my silliness, which made me feel a bit better, and drove away a little bit of the anxiety over what lay at the end of the tunnel. The smell was still stifling, but I managed to keep it at bay by covering my face with my hand.
It only took two more minutes to find the source, and it was as I feared.
Human corpses, thrown haphazardly in a pile and shoved against the end of the corridor. Dozens of them, all tortured and mutilated nearly beyond recognition. They were fresh; they hadn’t had time to bloat, but that just made it worse. Someone can kill this many in a day?
Some small part of my brain noted that they were almost exclusively baseline. Did that mean it was the fey after all? Maybe these were escaped changelings, reclaimed and punished?
Water leaked between the corpses, and I belatedly realized that they were holding back the flow. It wouldn’t be very strong even without them blocking the way, but it was the cause of the smell. Unlike the Nosferatu from earlier, these ones were exposed directly to the mudfish and similar organisms of decay that lurked in the water.
I still couldn’t figure out what this corridor was for, though. This was definitely the end; the wall was solid and unforgiving. What possible reason could there be to have water flowing from here?
I steeled myself and moved the corpses aside, murmuring prayers and apologies as I did. It was slow going, not just because there were so many of them, but because they were in so many pieces, and I didn’t want to disturb them any more than I had to. Not to mention that it was taking some effort to avoid the mudfish. I was probably getting covered in smaller creatures feasting on the corpses. I made a mental note to take a long, hot shower later.
Eventually, I managed to pull enough aside—created a rotting slurry of half-decayed body parts and blood in the process—to expose the source of the flow.
It was a crack.
There was a small crack in the wall, maybe a foot wide. Water was bursting out of it at a pretty decent pace, maybe…call it a gallon a minute. One of the pipes embedded in the wall had probably burst during one of the colder nights recently.
Someone had used several dozen corpses for nothing more than to plug a hole.
I’ve seen terrible things in my life, a few worse than this. But even so, I had to take a deep breath to keep from throwing up. Immediately, I cast about for answers. What kind of person could—
The migraine came back, a thousand times stronger than before, and light flashed before my eyes. I was afraid I was going to lose consciousness, but I kept my grip, though I did fall to my knees.
What in the—I shook my head; I had periodic headaches pretty much my entire life, but never this hard and this close together. I had to get back to the others. I—
It hit me again, though not as strong. I was able to bear through it easier.
That sold it. I had to get back. Heartbreaking as this grisly scene was, I couldn’t do anything for the dead, and if I passed out where my friends couldn’t find me, nothing good would come of it.
I managed to make it back to the room where we found Lizzy with nothing more than one more small spike of pain, to find it exactly as I left it. Akane stood off near the entrance, sword drawn, with Adam close by with his Caedes. Ling was picking at the empty torture table, still slick with blood, apparently trying to figure out what to do with it. And Laura still held Lizzy in her arms—
The migraine came again at full strength, and again I was forced to my knees. I blearily noted that everyone rushed over to my side, but Lizzy was at the forefront.
“Derek?” she asked gently. “What’s wrong?”
“Headache,” I managed. “Just…need a doctor.”
“The retinue—” Ling started, but Lizzy waved her off. They were too far away anyway.
“Derek. Derek, look at me.” Her voice was soft as she held my head and forced me to look at her. My vision was turning blurry; it was like I was at the end of a long, dark tunnel, with only her golden eyes on the other end. “Look at me Derek. Listen to me. Look at my dress…”
I felt something snap. Something in my mind broke, as something…something smashed against it. My soul? Or just sheer weight of evidence?
But something snapped.
And then everything made sense.
Hypnotism. Gods-damned hypnotism.
I was a sleeper. Or something close to it.
And that little white dress was the trigger.
I pushed her away as hard as I could, utterly revolted. Now she looked shocked. She tried to crawl forward but I stopped her with a barrier and scrambled over to Laura, the closest of my friends.
Lizzy looked pained. Even now, I couldn’t see it. Her eyes looked the same as they always did: Gold and beautiful and innocent as a dove.
“Derek,” she whispered, sounding hurt. She stood up; in my short flight to escape her, I had come out on the unprotected side of my barrier. There was nothing between the two of us now. “What’s wrong? Talk to me.”
“Everything she says…” I whispered. I managed to scramble to my feet. How had I not seen it before? “Laura, it’s all…lies.”
Laura stared at me quizzically. “Are you insane? It’s Lizzy. If she’s a sleeper, we’ll handle it. Besides, my power has been on the entire time. She can’t—”
“I never thought to analyze her words more carefully,” I said quietly. “Never thought to notice that she speaks almost entirely in questions and half-truths.”
I gave Laura an iron look.
“The kind of wording that slips right past your ability.”
My old friend blinked slowly, trying to think back.
Lizzy, for her part, looked like I had slapped her across the face. “You…we’ve known each other since we were kids!”
I didn’t let up. Everything was starting to fall into place. “Then why are you covered in blood, but you aren’t wounded?”
The golden girl looked like she was about to cry. “Derek, please, I don’t know what’s going on—”
Then her head exploded.
I turned to see Laura, still standing not three inches away from me, with her Occisor raised and smoking. She was crying silently, tears spilling down her cheeks, but her face was hard. She turned her head and looked me in the eyes without blinking.
“Lie,” she said levelly.
I would have thanked her—she had the right idea—but someone else beat me to the punch.
“Oh, thank you so much for that. I had this click in my jaw that just would not go away.”
I turned to the speaker…
And saw Elizabeth rising from the floor as though nothing had happened.
No, not nothing. That familiar vapid, ‘I don’t know what’s going on but I’m fine with that’ look on her face was gone completely. In its place was a smile wide enough to reveal every single one of her shining teeth. It was the smile of a torturer, of a killer as blood splashes on his skin.
It was the smile of our enemy.
Her eyes weren’t innocent anymore. They held the cold, predatory gleam of a hunter lurking in the dark. The way she stood, the way she moved…everything she did reminded me of nothing so much as a panther, ready to pounce.
“That’s a nice gun,” she hissed. “But it will take more than that…to kill a composer.”
I stumbled back in shock. I had assumed… “You’re supposed to be a sleeper.”
The smile got wider, if that was possible, and the thing that called itself Elizabeth Greene licked her lips. “Yes…that’s it. I wanted to see it.” She giggled, not the warm, honey-like sound of my old friend Lizzy, but the cruel chuckle of a hyena. “I wanted to see that FACE! I wanted to see you when you realized it!” She laughed again, a piercing, echoing sound. “Now, SCREAM FOR ME!”
She rushed forward, a look of naked, gleeful bloodlust on her face—
Her head exploded again.
This time, she didn’t fall, though she did stumble back, and I could see her skull restructuring itself, broken bits of brain and bone reversing course, flying back through the air to slot into place as if nothing had happened.
She shook her head quickly, then glared daggers of hate at Laura. “MEDINA! You’re next, just wait your turn—”
Laura fired again. Adam had finally managed to find his wits as well, and joined in with his SMG, filling the small room with the smell of gunsmoke and the deafening roar of automatic fire.
Whatever regeneration Elizabeth had, it clearly wasn’t perfect. She shrieked in pain and rage and fled to the intersection I had just come out of. Unlike me, she fled left.
Ling and Adam followed swiftly, but there was a great crash, and a large part of the ceiling came down, nearly burying them. I could see daylight filtering down, but we would never climb over that in time to catch her.
“Let it go,” I said tiredly, sinking to the floor. “Let it go.” I took a long, deep breath. “We have other things to do.”
“Body jumping,” Akane muttered, a shocked look on her face. “That’s it, right? The Composer can possess people or whatever.”
Laura holstered her gun and wiped away her tears. “Probably. But if she’s been dodging my power this entire time, Lizzy must be one of her favorite hosts.”
“We need to follow her,” Adam insisted, looking at the rock-filled corridor. “Ling, can you get us through here?”
“Yeah,” she muttered. “But she didn’t set off explosives or whatever. She used a power like mine to bring the roof down. I could feel her rip at the concrete.”
Laura cursed. “This just keeps getting better and better. Start making a hole, but take your time. We’re not following.” She pulled out her cell. “Kelly? Lizzy is possessed by the Composer. Don’t engage; she might have all the powers. Just follow her.”
I couldn’t move.
Seven years I had been pining over this girl…and why? Because some…demon or whatever thought it would be advantageous.
Sure, Lizzy was still in there somewhere. Unless it had killed her…
No. Lizzy was still in there somewhere. The love might not have been real at first, but seven years doesn’t just disappear over night. I…I…
Silver and gold, I didn’t know what to do.
Laura shook my shoulder. “Can you hear me? I said we need to go.”
I blinked. Everyone was standing around me, waiting.
“To talk to Butler,” Laura said, offering me her hand. “He wants a full report, in person.”
I took her hand and pulled myself to me feet.
Butler. Yeah. Maybe he’d have some answers.
Behind the Scenes (scene 108)
Sorry nothing interesting is going on in this scene. I just needed a bit of a break from all the heavy writing.