I hadn’t slept since I first woke in the toy box.
How long had that been? Weeks? Months? Hours? I had no way of knowing. No way of marking the time while trapped inside the box, no way of knowing anything but the constant, agonizing pain that filled every single moment.
All I could do was extend my awareness as far as possible, try to focus on something other than the pain.
I couldn’t actually affect anything, of course. But my sixth sense was… sharpening. Only barely, but still. Over time, the details of my own body became more and more clear, until I could count the individual shards that made up what used to be my skeleton.
I could feel other things, too. Outside my body, and outside the toy box. Sometimes I could feel things moving at the edge of my perceptions. Too far away to get even the most general shapes, but I assumed they were people, or something alive.
Mostly, I just lay in the toy box, waiting.
Waiting and trying to use my power.
I could feel every single inch of concrete within a hundred yards. The wood-paneled pillars nearby, the floors above and below, and even a couple nearby buildings. I could feel them, as easily as if I was running my hand over their bare surfaces. I could almost see them sometimes.
Sometimes, but not always. Usually, they were just a presence. Sixteen pillars on this floor. Fifteen above, fifteen below. What was unique about this floor? And why wasn’t the floor made out of concrete? Was it an addition, some extra level off the books?
There was a pool nearby, or a pool-shaped concrete floor at least, one floor down and a bit off to the side. I had no idea what it was doing here, and I didn’t care. All I knew was that that was my target. It was the biggest chunk of concrete in the area. If I could do something with it, I had won.
No matter how much I tried, though, no matter how far I extended my sense or pushed my limits, I just could not make the concrete move. I couldn’t lift it, break it, twist it or shape it. The first rule of my power still held true: I had to be physically touching earth and stone to be able to affect it.
I screamed once again, cried out in agony as I burned through every drop in my reservoir in an attempt to do SOMETHING.
But nothing happened. Nothing but my heart tearing a little more from the added strain, nothing but my vocal cords shredding like wet tissue paper. Nothing but the toy box, chugging away and repairing the damage as best it could, bringing me back to this never ending hell of perfectly balanced life and death.
Heh. Turns out pain made me poetic. Who knew?
And I was downplaying my own achievements. Very little was happening, it was true. But every time the toy box finished repairing me, and I started fighting again, my reservoir was a little deeper, my power a little stronger.
Not much. Just a hair deeper, and just a hair stronger.
Deeper, and stronger.
Eventually, I would have enough power to break out of this prison. It might take a while, but I had time and to spare. Velvet hell, I might technically be immortal as long as the stupid box was plugged in.
I felt something.
Something was moving closer, for the first time since… however long I had been in here.
I focused on it, trying to get a clearer picture. Yes! Tall, thin… it was a person, almost certainly! I just needed to get their attention.
But what was I supposed to do? Pounding on the inside of the box was useless; I wasn’t sure if it was actually soundproof, but it was close enough so that my weak, broken fists couldn’t be heard from the outside. Trying would just send more shocks of pain through my body—I knew that from experience.
“Ling,” a small speaker grill rasped. “Can you hear me?”
I jumped, sending my entire body into pain-induced spasms and causing a few of my muscles to rupture again.
The pain was indescribable, but I had gotten used to that. I just kept my lips firmly shut for a few moments to keep from screaming. Doing that would just cause me more pain.
“Are… you asleep?” the mystery voice asked.
“A… wake…” I managed to rasp without any of my vocal cords snapping. “What—”
“Oh, skies above… I’m sorry I haven’t been able to come see you. Soaring Eagle has been trying to disentangle us from the Composer, but it was slow going.”
“It’s… it’s me, Ling. It’s Turgay. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
“Oh, your ears are damaged? Right, I guess that makes sense.”
Yeah, and that was extremely illuminating. Thanks, Guy. It’s not like I’ve been sitting here for who knows how long, with no idea how I got in this situation in the first place. “What… what—”
“What happened? Well… how much do you remember?”
I didn’t bother answering.
“Uh… right. You’re not in a position to… right. Well, during your meeting with Soaring Eagle, you ran into Mitchel, so Sele had to keep you from reporting that she was working with the Composer.”
I remembered that much. But what did she hit me with?
“That would have been all fine and good, but, um…”
He was dodging the subject. He only did that when it was something he knew I wouldn’t like to hear.
“She hit you with the calciophage,” he admitted. “It was the only thing she had on hand.”
The calciophage. The bone-eater. It was designed for use against some types of gargant; hit them with it, and their bones would weaken, and within moments they would be crushed under their own body weight.
Yeah. That sounded about right.
“We put you in the toy box when Mitchel wasn’t looking, and it’s keeping you alive, but… this is beyond us. Us scientists, I mean. We don’t have any disease experience, so we can’t cure this.”
“Butler?” There was a slight pause, during which I could imagine him shuffling his feet uncomfortably. “That’s… a bad idea. For more reasons than one.”
“I’m sorry, Ling. I can’t do it. I honestly can’t. I’ve tried talking to Sele, but…” He sighed. “She’s set in this. She knows it’s only a matter of time before Butler finds her, and she doesn’t want to do anything to accelerate that.”
I didn’t say anything, just sort of… glowered at him as best I could, considering I was in enormous pain, trapped in a box, and he couldn’t even see my face in the first place.
He seemed to get the message, though, because he sighed again. “I’m sorry. And I’m also sorry I haven’t been by to see you since you were captured. But I knew I needed to talk to you before I left.”
Wait, left? Left where?
“Necessarius has started attacking a number of our old labs, as well as sites we considered before choosing this one. They’re searching for us in our most likely hiding spots, which we predicted.”
He took a deep breath.
“Because of that, Soaring Eagle is leaving the city, and taking me with her.”
What? “Nev… er…”
“I’ve never left the city? Yeah, I know. And hiding a dozen ave kemos isn’t gonna be easy outside Domina. But Sele has a plan. She always has a plan.”
“Butler’s reach doesn’t extend outside this city. We’ll be fine.”
No, I wasn’t talking about Butler.
Derek would find them.
If I died—or even if I didn’t, honestly—Derek would be livid. Like Turgay had said, it was difficult for anyone modified by the toy maker to hide outside the city, and that went tenfold for anthros. MC and Laura would find them, and Derek would hunt them down, with all the support the Big Boss could covertly give him.
But I couldn’t say that. Even if I wanted to, which I didn’t, I literally couldn’t get the words out. It was hard to tell, but I knew my teeth were completely gone, though I couldn’t tell if they had been dissolved by the calciophage or if they had simply fallen out of my shattered jaw.
What few words I had, I needed to use sparingly. “How… long?”
“Um… forever? I mean, I’d really like to come back, or never leave in the first place, but I doubt Butler’s ever gonna let our crimes go. Even if he dies, his successor probably won’t be all that friendly to us, either.”
“Oh! Oh, you mean how long have you been in the box? Right, there’s no clock or anything in there. Probably has something to do with the fact that that fey only ever used it for their homunculi, so it wasn’t really—”
“Right! Okay, you were captured on Sunday… October 21st? That right?” A slight pause, which presumably involved him checking his phone. “Yeah, that’s right. And it’s the 1st of November now. A Thursday.”
That was… both better and worse than I had expected. I didn’t know if I had been hoping for more time or less, but eleven days was somewhere right in the middle there. My power had grown quite a lot in just eleven days, that was at least one thing to be proud of.
Turgay continued. “There was some weird stuff last night. The fey tried to replicate the Wild Hunt—it’s some Irish myth or whatever, I don’t know the details—but got interrupted by the Composer. The rest of the Paladins captured her again, and maybe even killed all her Blackguards, but no one’s really sure.”
Ah, that explained a lot. Such as why Soaring Eagle was suddenly in the mood to leave the city. When Elizabeth escaped again—and she would—she’d be pissed. She’d be especially angry at the aves, who had refused to help her both times while she was incarcerated. Getting as far away as possible definitely looked like a good idea.
“No.” He didn’t even wait for me to get more than one word out. He knew what I wanted. “We can’t take you, Ling, we just can’t. Even ignoring the logistics of moving a critically injured person, we’re in enough trouble as it is. If we take the toy box out of the city, Butler will hunt us to the edge of the star system. Besides, by leaving it here, the aves we leave behind can still do their research.”
Wait, edge of the star system? Were they planning on going off world? They had to be insane! Most of the space colonies had treaties with Domina, and with Necessarius specifically. Even looking for a spaceship would send up a million red flags. They couldn’t possibly be that stupid.
“We’re going to America, Ling. The president has offered us asylum.”
Oh. That made a lot more sense. I guess he had just been exaggerating, then.
There was a long pause, so long I almost thought he had left.
“I’m sorry, Ling,” he whispered so quietly I barely heard him. “But this is goodbye.”
And then he was gone.
Just like that, he turned around and left one of his oldest friends, dying in a box.
I felt my heart break again, and this time it wasn’t something that could be fixed so easily.
Behind the Scenes (scene 211)
I knew from the start that I wanted Ling in this situation, so I knew I had to prepare to write for her from a very odd perspective. But it’s still hard. She’s gonna get flashback scenes soon, those will be easier.