It was time for class. Math, to be specific. Akane had already gone ahead, and I had told her I was right behind.
I stayed in my room instead.
Three months. That’s how long it had taken for my life to go to hell. I couldn’t deal with this. Between the zombies and superpowers and now Elizabeth…I was burned out.
The others weren’t helping. Akane’s destruction during our most recent mission was par for the course, but still frustrating. Her tsundere attitude towards Flynn was almost worse. She loved him except she didn’t blah blah blah. I was tempted to just lock them in a room and let nature take its course.
Yeah, like that was an option.
Whatever. Laura, or even Ling, would have some ideas. Maybe Lily, too. She had the most experience.
Agh, what was I even thinking about? This wasn’t the time to be playing matchmaker. The game had just been turned completely upside-down, and Laura was nowhere to be found. Right when we needed her the most, she decided to run off to who knows where.
Elizabeth was captured, but we knew we couldn’t hold her for long. There was at least one or two of her renegades running around, likely far more. They’d come to break her out sooner or later.
Which is why we needed a game plan.
Ling had been a bit helpful there, but only a bit. Her encyclopedic knowledge of fiction was only so much use. And I just wasn’t experienced fighting humans. For something like this, we needed an experienced tactician. We needed Laura.
At least she wasn’t actually missing. Skipping class and avoiding her dorm room like the plague, yes. But she had called MC and me, so we knew she was doing all right. She just hadn’t given me any more details that.
I laid back in my bed and sighed. Even when we were winning, it felt like we were losing.
I couldn’t really do anything about that right now. I didn’t have enough information to go on the offensive, and probably wouldn’t even if I did. I’m defensive by nature—as evidenced by my power—which had the side effect of making me reactionary.
The renegades would strike sooner or later. When they did, we’d be ready.
So why was it that instead of preparing for that, all I could worry about was Laura?
I could still smell the faint scent of lilacs, left over from when she spent the night last week after my birthday party. Oddly, I couldn’t detect the odor of the sewers we had been crawling around in earlier that day, even though it should have lasted much longer. I had washed the sheets twice since that night; did that mean it was all in my head?
Whatever. I had had a very long night. I drifted off, soothed to sleep by pleasant memories that smelled of lilacs.
Some people remember their dreams in vivid detail, but I’m not one of them. Other than a few vague feelings that remain behind, only the worst night terrors stay with me.
This dream wasn’t one of those. It was…unique. It didn’t feel like a dream, but it wasn’t quite real either.
I was young. Ten at most, probably younger. And I was crying.
I did that a lot when I was a kid, though never in front of the other children. When I saw a sad movie, or I made a mistake, and sometimes even just when I saw someone else’s father. I just…had to start crying. I could hold it in long enough to get out of sight, but that was all. I was just delaying the inevitable.
What was I crying about this time? Actually, did it matter? Just forget about it, you’ll feel better…
No. I clamped down on my brain, refusing to be distracted.
Because I recognized the soothing voice, urging me to forget.
My eyes snapped open, and I cursed. Silver and gold…this was something important, I could feel it. And yet it was slipping through my fingers like sand.
A memory Elizabeth had hidden from me.
What could it be? I was just a little kid in the memory; I hadn’t done anything interesting or important at that age. I think the most impressive moment from my childhood was when I managed to eat an entire extra large pizza at once. Somehow, I didn’t think the Composer cared about that.
Maybe I had discovered something about her identity, even back then? That would make some sense, but then why would I still not be able to remember? I thought I had broken those blocks. I had recovered the memories of her hypnotizing me to love her, which triggered when I saw her in the white dress the first day of middle school. What else was there?
Ugh, this was so freaking impossible. I had enough normal problems to deal with, like Ling throwing herself at me every time I so much as looked at her. Who in their right mind would think it’s a good idea to drop an amnesia storyline into that?
“I thought I might find you here,” a hard-edged voice muttered.
I looked up to see Akane standing in the doorway, hands on her hips, glaring at me. She dropped her backpack unceremoniously on the floor. “You didn’t fall asleep, I know that much.”
“Well, actually, I did.” And for longer than I thought, too. I glanced at the clock to confirm. Yeah, class was over already.
“I mean you didn’t forget about class,” she retorted. “Not unless you got brain damage when I wasn’t looking.”
That hit a little too close to the mark, so I answered snappishly. “What do you want? If you just want company, Flynn is four floors up.”
She narrowed her eyes. “What is wrong with you today? It’s more than exhaustion.”
I sighed. “Akane, you blew up a building. again. Yes, I’m a little pissed.”
“This is only the third one that’s really my fault.”
“I don’t care enough to argue.” I closed my eyes again. “I just want to go back to sleep.”
There was a long pause, long enough that I assumed she had quietly left. Fine by me. I might feel a little bad about snapping at her, but I really wasn’t in the mood for anything.
Then I heard the distinctive sound of a sword being drawn from its sheath.
I opened my eyes just in time to see Akane swinging at me two-handed. She wasn’t tapping into her speed, but the strike would still kill me easily enough if it connected.
I dodged off my bed by kicking off the wall, avoiding the blade by the width of a single hair. Akane didn’t hesitate to follow me, slashing horizontally at my neck. It was all I could do to summon a shield, a mobile one I attached to my arm like a buckler.
My friend’s sword bounced off the barrier with a vibration that shook my arm hard enough to let me know that she had been attacking for real. But before I could think about retaliating, she took a step back and fell out of ready stance, holding her sword casually at her side.
“Look at your shield,” she ordered angrily. Akane never spoke to me in that tone. All I could do was follow her instructions.
There didn’t seem to be anything odd about my barrier. It was the same as always, a deep and azure blue, with light leaking off it like mist. What was she talking about?
As I looked up at her in confusion, she ripped the ribbon out of her hair, letting her hair fall free and the beads clatter to the ground, and showed it to me.
It was the exact same shade of blue as my shield.
“I don’t know what you’re moping about,” she almost snarled. “But you are the leader of this little band we have. You can’t afford to be weak, or second-guessing yourself.” She forced the ribbon closer to my face. “That’s what you said when you gave me this. That you would always be strong enough.”
I sniffed the ribbon cautiously. “That’s the same one I gave you seven years ago? How has it lasted—”
“Not the point!” she screeched, surprising me almost more than when she had drawn her sword on me. “You made a promise, Derek Huntsman.” She looked away. “Don’t break it.”
Was she…was she crying? No way. I hadn’t seen her cry in seven years.
I steeled myself. She was right. This was not the time for moping about.
I stood up, back straight. She turned to me, a little surprised, but didn’t say anything.
“Tie up your hair and go check on Ling,” I ordered. “I’m not sure she’s moved in the past twenty-four hours.”
The samurai suppressed a smile and started tying up her ponytail again. “And you?”
I marched over to my desk and pulled out my laptop. “I have some people I need to talk to.”
Now I just had to remember how many warlords owed me favors.
Behind the Scenes (scene 138)
Foreshadowing. Ooh, spooky.