I walked into the bathroom of the ‘sarian outpost backwards, using my rear to bump open the door so that I didn’t get my dirty hands on everything. It was just soot from reaching into an old chimney where I dropped my phone, but still, I didn’t want to give the cleaning staff any more trouble.
I knew from experience that soot was hard to wash off, especially the greasy kind. I turned on the sink with my elbow, starting washing up, glanced down at my hands—
They were drenched with blood.
I shrieked and jumped back, only to discover that it was just a trick of the light. It was just the soot and water. But just… for a moment there, I thought…
I wheeled around to see Elizabeth Greene, leaning against the door as calmly as if nothing had ever happened, smiling like an old friend, her gold eyes glittering like stars. Her dress was too high-end for a bathroom, even a nice one like this. Black silk had no place—
Wait. Black silk?
“…Miss Silk?” I asked hesitantly.
“Just Silk will do fine, Princess.”
I swallowed anxiously. A dim and stupid part of my brain noticed that the water was still on behind me, but I couldn’t spare the attention to turn it off. “…how do I know it’s really you, and not Elizabeth?”
“She knows the penalties for impersonating me,” the she said blithely. “But on a more immediate note… ” She waved her hand, and the faucet squeaked shut. “That is not a form of kinesis she possesses. Is that sufficient proof of my identity?”
“Not really,” I admitted. “But it will have to do. I don’t really have any other way of testing you.”
She smiled. “True.”
“Well, then let’s get right to the point. Why are you here?”
“To speak to you, of course. Why else?”
Her cheerful bluntness was both unbalancing, and frustratingly vague. “Speak to me about what?”
“About anything,” she said. “But let’s start with what’s bothering you right at this moment. You’re still upset over killing the butler demon Steven Nabassu.”
My blood chilled in my veins. “How can you possibly know that?”
“It’s written all over your face,” she said calmly. “I’ve more than a little experience with guilt, both mine and that of other people. I can recognize someone haunted by the wrong kinds of visions.”
I felt a lump in my throat. “Visions?”
“Visions,” she repeated. She eyed my hands, and the sink. “Judging by the way you jumped… the hands drenched with blood one? It’s pretty common. The neurological processes behind it are actually quite interesting—”
“I’m not interested in your ramblings,” I interrupted with a snap. “Will you please leave?”
The woman stopped smiling, and the expression on her face turned sad. “You need help, little Princess.”
“You live in a city of killers, and are having guilt problems with killing. You can’t go to your friends. None of them are going to understand.” She shrugged, her clothes rustling softly on her shoulders. “You could speak to one of your sisters, I suppose. Both are good listeners. But both my cute little monster and that miraculous child have their hands full right now, and you know it.”
I just glared at her. Maybe she’d go away eventually.
She didn’t seem inclined to do so, however, instead just arching an elegant eyebrow at me. I belatedly remembered what she had said about her age. If she was anywhere near as old as she claimed, a few minutes of the silent treatment from me wasn’t going to do much.
“Fine,” I muttered with a sigh. “Whatever. We can talk. Let’s start with this: Why are you so insistent on helping me, anyway? I thought Derek was your favorite.”
Silk smiled wistfully. “Ah, that man… you don’t see heroes like that every day. None of the doubt, none of the moral ambiguity. Just the simple knowledge of what is right, and the courage to do so.” She grinned. “A little bland, perhaps, but ever so useful.”
“Useful,” I noted. “Isn’t that what you called Lizzy?”
She frowned. “Elizabeth is useful like a poison, or an act of arson. The little hero—or you and the rest, for that matter—is useful as an ally.” She shrugged. “A junior partner, admittedly, but still.”
I glanced at the door. Somebody should have come in to interrupt us by now. How much longer was I going to have to listen to this?
Silk sighed again. “Robyn Joan Clarke, I realize I am not exactly your closest friend for understandable reasons. But you do need help.” She waved her hand. “This is my fault. Let’s bring the conversation back to you. Tell me how you felt, killing Nabassu.”
“Red dusk, are we seriously doing this?” I demanded. “A freaking psych-eval in the middle of a Necessarius bathroom? I don’t have time for this sort of thing.” I stepped forward to push past her.
She just shrugged nonchalantly. “If you don’t like the bathroom, we can try somewhere else.” She snapped her fingers—
And suddenly we were in a psychiatrist’s office.
It was a warm, well-furnished office, with a few big leather chairs and a huge leather couch. Paintings of landscapes lines the walls, and the wide picture window showed a vista I didn’t recognize, some beautiful coastline. There was a big oak desk, poorly organized, with a computer monitor and pictures of smiling children scattered on its surface.
“W-what just happened?” I demanded. “Did you teleport me?”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “Less than a minute after I stepped into the bathroom. Right when I turned off the faucet. I used an illusion to keep the appearance of the bathroom so as to not disturb you, but we were about to be interrupted, so it was the only option.”
“W-where are we?”
“Hawai’i. The island of Lāna’i, to be specific. Doctor Iona’s office.”
“Who? Wait, no, we’re where?”
“I told you, Hawai’i,” she said again, taking a seat in one of the leather armchairs, already positioned close to the couch. “One of the American states? Please tell me you were paying at least some attention to world geography. Domina is still technically a part of the United States, after all.”
“But, we—how did we—”
“Teleportation. You’re the one who said it first, I assumed you understood how all that worked.” She rested her chin on her hand. “Have you met a teleporter yet? Do I need to give you a more detailed demonstration?”
I shook my head swiftly. I was disoriented enough as it was, I didn’t need to be jumped around the planet a few more times. “No! I mean… no. I just… I was just surprised, that’s all. I wasn’t expecting any of this.”
“What were you expecting? There are hardly any usable offices in Domina City itself.”
That was what she thought I was upset about? The friendly, understanding look on her face nearly made me pull my hair out. “White dawn and red dusk—the location of the office you teleported me to is not the point! I meant that when I walked into the bathroom, I wasn’t expecting a thrice-damned psych-eval!”
Silk sipped quietly at her wine. Where in the burning skies did she get wine? “Anything else troubling you?”
“Yes, YOU!” I crushed the empty air, as if wringing her neck in my hands. “You… just come out of nowhere, looking exactly like one of my oldest friends, except she turned out to be evil, so you’re more than a little suspicious, and yet everybody just does what you say!”
She just smiled.
I started pacing. “Lizzy… Lizzy was annoying in her own way. She was a complete idiot, but she was still perfect. So perfect you couldn’t get mad at her for anything, because she wasn’t actually perfect, she was just so pretty and nice it was unreal! Which I guess it was, literally. But you, you’re so smug, and haughty and….” I searched for the word. “Royal. That’s the word I was looking for. Royal. And it is annoying, and you clearly know it is annoying, and you’re just too smug!”
“And does that make you feel…” Silk gestured with her glass. “Weak? Impotent?”
“It makes me feel angry! Like I should wipe that smug grin off your face!” I could feel my teeth grinding, and a distant part of my brain filed away the fact that I’d need my teeth fixed again soon. “But that’s the problem! You’re right. You are strong enough to beat me in a fair fight. Maybe in any fight! So yes, I do feel weak, and impotent, and frakking scared!” I threw up my hands. “And that just pisses me off even more!”
“Is that how you felt,” she asked quietly. “When you fought Steven Nabassu?”
“YES! I—” I realized what I had just said. “No, I mean, I…” I needed to collect my thoughts. “I didn’t… I was just…” I remembered the fight. I remembered being chased by someone stronger, faster, and more experienced than me. I remembered being scared, in a way I had never before in my life. Every other time I had ever been scared, I had always had places to run to. NHQ, Derek and my friends, and with flight, just anywhere at all.
But with Nabassu flying after me, I hadn’t had anywhere to run. There was nowhere I could have gone that he would not follow, and call in an unkillable monster to kill me. I was a rat being chased by a cat, who realized she was being followed into her nest.
Rats get violent when they’re cornered.
I felt my knees give out. I was vaguely aware of something soft under my head as I cried, the numbness I had been building up the last few days washing away all at once like sand on a beach.
And that’s all the numbness was, really. Sand trying to hold back the tide. The fortification holding back my emotions had never had any strength to it; I had just pretended it did so that I didn’t have to deal with what I had done.
I had killed a man.
Had it been self defense? Most certainly.
Had he deserved it? Maybe. He could easily have been an innocent, brainwashed victim, little different from Derek except in scale.
But it had been a battle, kill or be killed. That was the law of Domina City, and had been for longer than I had been alive.
But I wasn’t like the others. I didn’t grow up on the streets, or an orphanage. I wasn’t like Derek, who had killed three kids when he was in middle school, or like Akane, who followed him into monster slaying shortly after. Not even like Laura, who sat far away from the action and gave tactical advice, or Ling, who at least knew how to kill animals.
I was Robyn Joan Clarke. Isaac’s little princess. The first time I was ever in danger, in real danger, my father had built a castle to protect me. A beautiful fortress, where I could run and play in utter safety.
That was the source of Necessarius Headquarters. A scared little girl and a father with too much power.
After a few minutes, I finally settled down and stood up, pushing away from Silk and the couching, sniffling and wiping my tears.
“This was a good first session,” Silk assured me. I didn’t even look at her. “Very good. Also a good stopping point. I think you need to a few days to mull over everything. How about we do this again, same time next week?”
“Go screw yourself.”
“Good. I’ll see you then.”
I blinked, and suddenly I was back in the bathroom.
In front of me, a woman with bat ears turned around and yelped. “Sorry! You just startled me. Where’d you come from?”
Behind the Scenes (scene 236)
One of the side effects of having Robyn as a background character for so long is that upon being promoted to main status, she needs to get a lot of development rather quickly.