The single word of Sealed, of the person sealed away by the fragment of Wasuryu’s soul, echoed in Fae’s mind.
She’s still in there.
I have to save her somehow.
The candlestick bell had brought out that tiny glimpse, but it hadn’t been enough. Hope alone was not enough to save her.
Because she has a piece of a monster’s soul inside her. I have to remove it, or…
No. He said removing it would require breaking her, killing her.
What if I destroy that fragment of his soul? It’s not like he needs it. And if I destroy it somehow… if that’s even possible…
Then she’d be free of his influence, right?
Long shot there, Fae. But long shots are about all you’ve got.
“Say, what’s this whole thing about souls in the first place?” Fae asked, continuing to stroll slowly, casually through the laboratory. She had to hide her plan as best she could.
And hopefully get some useful answers out of him.
“What do you mean?” Wasuryu asked.
“If you’re going to put your whole essence, your soul, inside someone else… how’s that work? What happens to their soul? What kind of magic is involved there?”
Please say —
“Energy Magic,” Wasuryu said. “Life energy, the energy of a soul. It’s more complicated than that, of course, and I don’t entirely understand Human souls. Dragons are different, naturally.”
“So this stuff,” Fae said, lightly rapping a knuckle against a tube with glowing liquid flowing through it, “has to do with Energy Magic?”
“That’s correct,” Wasuryu said. He chuckled. “You’ve an impressive mind, Vessel. I may actually miss our banter.”
I doubt it.
How did I luck out that much?
Of course, I don’t really know how it all works, but…
That’s a strong start.
Fae’s hand brushed against her stylus Talisman, but she didn’t draw it, not yet.
I need to know more. I’ll probably only get one shot at this.
“So is it… some kind of energy transference?” Fae asked.
“Brilliant!” Wasuryu said, and he sounded genuinely pleased with her response. “How you can understand things so quickly is amazing. I never thought a mere Human could comprehend such grandiosity.”
You’re about to see what a “mere” Human can do. And you won’t like it.
Fae turned a corner, then another, brushed her hand against a series of dials. “What’s it like, having a fragment of your soul separated from the rest?” she asked.
“It’s been so long, and it’s such a small fragment, that I sometimes don’t notice,” Wasuryu said. “But when I think on it, and notice that missing shard… the tiny emptiness within my being…” The machinery began to shudder and shake, the fluid within tubes foaming. Slowly, the rumbling came to a stop, and Wasuryu let out a long, slow breath. “It enrages me, Vessel. Not only am I trapped without physical form, but a small part of me is. It’s a tease of what I could be, while also a reminder that I am not even whole!”
Fae’s hand touched a strange glyph on a metallic plate. She’d noticed the same glyph several times before — the visage of a reptilian eye, like that of a Dragon, within three spiraling lines, one of fire, one of water, one of wind.
“What’s this symbol?” she asked.
“That is a mockery,” Wasuryu said. “A reminder that I was not granted the title I rightly deserve. And also… it is how the soul of a Dragon is represented.” He chuckled. “It’s a secret sign. But it matters not what secrets you glean here, after all.”
Their soul is represented by an artistic symbol?
Almost too perfect.
Fae looked back at Sealed, who continued to follow from a distance. Her eyes were empty, her expression emotionless.
But Fae could still see the glimpse she’d caught of the girl within, could still hear her real voice.
Can I do what I think I can do?
If I don’t do things right… you’ll die, won’t you?
And no matter what he says about it being “salvation” for you, I won’t do it. I’m going to save your life, not take it away.
“How come you haven’t done anything to the shard of yourself in Sealed?” Fae asked.
“Perhaps a touch of fear,” Wasuryu said. “She finally proved herself useful, for one — I don’t want to kill her until it’s time to enter the True Vessel. But also… if I do something wrong, I might destroy that part of me.”
“Destroy it by accident?” Fae asked. “I wouldn’t think a Dragon was so fragile.”
Wasuryu laughed. “It is a tiny fragment of a Dragon, separated from its self. Its fragility is understandable at that point. The process is what truly makes it so complicated.”
“And I’ve been wondering about the process,” Fae said.
“Put simply, I must work on the fragment of me before unsealing Sealed,” Wasuryu said.
“What happens if you mess that up?” Fae asked. “If the fragment of you is destroyed before she’s unsealed?”
“I don’t know everything,” Wasuryu said with a laugh. “That is why we must be cautious.”
“We?” Don’t be so hasty to include me in all this.
But okay. He can work on his soul shard without unsealing Sealed. And it can be destroyed.
And it’s fragile on its own.
We have a symbol related to Dragon souls. It’s all wrapped up in Energy Magic, and I work with symbols and pictures…
It’s like this task was made for me.
“Come now, Vessel,” Wasuryu said. “Haven’t you learned enough? I’d like to start the process. And much as you’ve encouraged me to be patient, it is not something I excel at.”
“A little longer,” Fae said, heart beating a little faster. “I’d really like to know the entire layout of this lab. What if you can’t remember things, or your mind gets all fuzzy when you finish the transference? You might not even know how to get out of here.”
Wasuryu laughed as if she’d made the funniest joke in the universe. “Ah, your wit is tremendously entertaining. But worry not. The signs are there, for those who understand them.”
Fae glanced at Sealed.
Will she remember? Does her true self, buried in there, understand the signs?
If I save her too soon, am I dooming us both?
But if I wait too long, then she’s just as doomed.
Okay. Symbol. Energy Magic. You know the target. You have something concrete to focus on.
Fae let out a slow breath.
I’ve never tried destroying anything.
Is it as simple as I’m hoping it’ll be?
“Come now, Vessel,” Wasuryu said. “Let us begin.”
I really don’t have time. If I press too much, he’ll catch onto my plan. He’ll suspect too much.
Fae looked all around, but she saw no signs, no exits.
She stopped, facing Sealed.
Fae’s eyes widened a fraction, and she pulled out the candlestick bell again.
I’m not counting on you to do everything for me.
Just give me the hope I need to make this work!
Fae rang the bell with her right hand as she drew he stylus Talisman with her left. The clear, bright tone rang out, accompanied by a flash of white light.
Sealed’s eyes changed.
Fae raised her Talisman and drew with desperate speed.
The symbol of the Dragon soul. And then, piercing it, Fae’s own artistic signature, slightly modified. She’d found out the swirling F-G symbol she used as a signature was actually the symbol of the Fates. So she’d changed it, intertwining the initials of her first and last names with the initial of her middle name: O.
Layered into all of that, as fast as Fae could draw it, was another symbol, one that might not mean anything to anyone else, but to Fae…
It was a symbol for the lost soul. The one trapped inside the Sealed Vessel, buried by Wasuryu.
The Dragon symbol shattered, and Sealed tilted her head back, mouth open wide in a silent scream. A sound of glass shattering echoed throughout the laboratory. Pouring forth from Sealed’s eyes and mouth was light, sickly green light like that of the transference fluid. It exploded upward, outward, and then vanished, leaving her completely.
The last symbol, the one Fae used for the lost soul, did not shatter. It lingered, for a moment, glowing in the air. Then it shrank, floated towards Sealed, and vanished into her.
Sealed fell to her knees, panting.
“Please tell me it worked,” Fae said softly, rushing to the girl’s side, placing a hand on her shoulder.
The girl spat on the floor, her ragged breathing like that of someone who’d just vomited. When she looked up, it was with her own eyes, eyes that held pain and sorrow and desperation.
All was suddenly silent, and into the silence the girl spoke with a soft voice.
The silence lasted a moment longer, and then a roar of vicious, primal rage made both Fae and the girl jump, caused the whole laboratory to shake and shudder.
“What have you done, girl?” Wasuryu roared.
“We have to escape,” Fae said, taking the girl’s arm. “Can you stand? Do you know the way?”
“You… saved me,” the girl said, putting her hand over Fae’s.
“Yeah,” Fae said, nodding too many times. “We can talk all about it, but first we have to get out of here.”
The girl looked around, as if in a haze, then slowly stood under her own power. “This way,” she said, just loud enough to be heard over another roar from the Dragon.
The girl led the way, and Fae stuck close to her. They moved swiftly, but not enough for Fae’s taste — she’d be sprinting as fast as she could, but the girl seemed weak and foggy from her time buried under the force of the shard of a Dragon’s soul. And how could Fae blame her?
“Just ahead,” the girl said, pointing. She turned, stepping back and past Fae, her white scythe appearing in her hands. She slashed once, and mechanical arms and nozzles were shredded, forced back from their original path — a path towards Fae.
Together the girls hurried ahead, rounded a corner, and came to a heavy metal door with a valve’s wheel rather than a handle, like something from a submarine. Both of them together had to work to turn it, as Wasuryu roared and the lab shook with his wordless fury.
Suddenly, the door opened. Fae and the girl pulled it inward, and the girl motioned for Fae to go first.
“Together,” Fae said, pulling the girl by the arm and with her into the sunlight.
Outside, they closed the door behind them…
And all went oddly silent.
Soundproofed walls. Not that he needed to be any creepier, but…
Fae looked out at the world that awaited her beyond the laboratory.
It was a sprawling city, a metropolis the likes of which she’d only seen in pictures and videos, but never been to in person. Skyscrapers hundreds of stories tall formed a gleaming alabaster skyline. The lab was built atop one of those skyscrapers, so Fae and the girl looked down from a dizzying height at the wide streets below, populated with thousands upon thousands of people. And there wasn’t just one web of streets on the ground level — there were numerous bridges between skyscrapers and around them, serving as roads at several heights, higher and higher, with the highest being about twenty stories beneath Fae.
Wind whistled at this height. Sounds, muddled and distant, of crowded chatter and motorized vehicles in motion, floated up to her.
Fae turned and looked at the girl, the once Sealed Vessel, who looked exactly like her, save having her hair tied in a braid. The girl looked at her, and for a long time neither said a word.
“Quinn,” the girl said shakily. “O… Olivia. Olivia Scarlett Quinn.” She pointed at herself. “That’s… my name.”
There were layers of emotions in that simple declaration. Olivia held out her hand. “You saved me,” she said. “I can’t… thank you enough.”
“Fae Greyson,” Fae said, taking Olivia’s hand. “So you…”
But Olivia spoke suddenly, cutting off the question Fae had been dying to ask. “This is the Dragon’s city,” she said, looking out at the vast skyline. “He’ll soon have his soldiers pursuing us. We can’t linger.” She took in a long, slow breath, then let it out. She scanned the skyline slowly, then nodded. “I know a way we can go. But there will be fighting. He won’t… let us get away easily. At all, if he can help it.”
“He owns the whole city?” Fae asked.
Olivia nodded. “He used me to find you, only to hide…” she said, trailing off for a moment, then shaking her head. “If his family knew about this place, about him, they would destroy him.”
“Then that’s our hope,” Fae said. “We’ll find a way to let his family know. Then he’ll never harm anyone ever again.”
Olivia looked at Fae strangely, then winced, shaking her head.
“What’s wrong?” Fae asked.
“It’s… difficult,” Olivia said, taking several deep breaths. “I haven’t been… me… in…” She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know how long I’ve been… and yet…” She looked at her hands, down at her body. “I haven’t changed.”
“We don’t have to worry about that right now,” Fae said. “Let’s escape. Then we can work through everything in safety.”
Olivia nodded slowly. “Yes. Thank you.” She stared at Fae. “Fae.” A small smile flickered on her lips, vanished. “Right.” She turned away, heading to the edge of the roof, and Fae followed. Wind whipped at them both, and when they stopped at the very edge, Fae felt her stomach do a flip.
“So… where do we go?” she asked.
Olivia pointed to a platform, a circular intersection on the highest set of roadways, with a grassy park in the center.
“Um…” Fae started, looking at the distance between them and the park.
It was nothing but empty air — twenty stories down, and hundreds of feet across.
“I…” Olivia started, then held out her hand. A portal appeared, its purple edges flickering with lightning, its center a deep, endless midnight color. “Through here.” She took Fae’s hand without hesitation, and Fae flinched at the unannounced contact. But then Olivia stepped through the portal, and Fae with her.
They stepped out into the grassy park, twenty stories below.
“Oh, that’s really amazing,” Fae said, looking back and up at the roof from which they’d departed.
And it only took one step to get from there to here.
“This is my power,” Olivia said softly, as if to herself. She was staring at her hands, eyes slightly narrowed. “This is my power. This is mine.”
Sudden shouts called out through the general crowd noise of the city, and Fae looked across the park to see a quartet of uniformed men starting towards them. Each carried a long sword that gleamed a deep green.
“Uh, I think we need to keep going through portals,” Fae said, pointing.
“Right,” Olivia said. She started running away from the four soldiers, and Fae raced after her.
“Who are they?” Fae asked. “Why do they work for Wasuryu?”
“I don’t know… all the details,” Olivia said. “But… he’s been amassing a following for a very long time. Long before he…” She shuddered, faltering in her run. Fae grabbed her arm, helped her up, and they started running again. More shouts rang out, but Fae didn’t look for them. The path ahead, to the edge of the roadway, was clear.
“I understand,” Fae said. “Sorry for asking. Let’s just go, right?” Olivia nodded.
The roadways had a surprising amount of pedestrian traffic, with the only visible vehicles trolleys that ran on magnetic rails embedded in the road. Fae and Olivia paused as one passed, then rushed across the road, Olivia forming a portal at the very edge before they reached it. Both girls leapt through, emerging into another busy roadway. Fae looked up, shouted wordlessly and grabbed Olivia, pulling her with her just in time to evade a trolley speeding past. The wind from its momentum whipped at Fae’s face, tossed her hair all around her.
“It’ll only get worse as we go,” Olivia said, taking several deep breaths, walking slowly off of the road.
“I’ll help as much as I can,” Fae said, holding up her stylus Talisman. She saw two soldiers rushing towards them and swiftly drew in the air a pair of magnets. Tapping the drawing, it vanished, and suddenly both soldiers fell to the ground, their swords clinging to the road, immovable.
“There,” Olivia said, pointing and starting ahead. As they ran, Fae heard her mutter regularly, “This is my power. It’s mine.”
Another portal, another leap, this time out into a flower garden, small and quaint. It was a balcony of someone’s apartment, more than halfway up one of the great skyscrapers.
“They’re here!” shouted a voice inside. Fae turned to see several people — seemingly ordinary individuals, not armed soldiers — gather together and start racing towards the girls.
“Sorry,” Olivia said, pulling Fae through a new portal. Both fell flat on their backs on a grassy lawn…
Surrounded by soldiers.
“No!” Olivia suddenly shouted, leaping to her feet, her scythe materializing in her hand. She spun in a circle, slashing in one wide arc, and purple light blasted outward. Dozens of soldiers were sent flying. Olivia came to a stop, panting, clutching her scythe tight. She stared at it for a moment, fierce determination in her eyes.
“This is my power,” she said softly. “My power. Not yours.”
Fae saw soldiers and ordinary people rushing together towards them in the distance, and went to work drawing. A tap on the drawing, and sudden thorny vines and brambles erupted from the ground at the feet of the mob, pulling them down and stopping them in their tracks.
“I know I can get us somewhere safe,” Olivia said, grabbing Fae’s hand and rushing across the grassy lawn. Another portal, a step into a new place, a crowded outdoor market.
Hundreds of eyes turned away from wares and money and towards the two girls.
“Sorry,” Olivia said, forming a new portal and charging through, Fae right behind her.
They emerged into a shadowed alley that, mercifully, was empty of people.
“There we go,” Olivia said, leaning against the wall and catching her breath. “This will… buy us some time.”
“Are you all —” Fae started, but shut her mouth.
Stupid question. Of course she’s not all right.
Olivia slid down the wall to a seat on the ground, cradling her scythe against her shoulder, stroking its long handle softly with one hand. Her gaze was far away, lost in thought. Fae sat across from her, watched her silently.
“My name is Olivia… Olivia Scarlett Quinn,” Olivia said, nodding. “I come from Renault. A city. On… Earth.” She sighed, wincing as she leaned her head back against the wall, closing her eyes tight. “My favorite color is purple. Favorite animal… penguins. Favorite food… pizza. With pepperoni and… broccoli. I like… snow. Sledding. Ice skating.” She murmured senselessly for a moment, then shook her head, her eyes snapping open. “Olivia Scarlett Quinn.” She looked at Fae for the first time. “Fae Greyson.”
Olivia sighed, bowing her head. “I haven’t lost myself,” she said softly. “He didn’t take me away.” She clutched her scythe tightly. “He used it, but it’s my power, my magic. But…” She shook her head. “There’s so much. So much I can’t remember. I don’t… so much is a blur, a fog, a mess in my head.”
“It’ll come back,” Fae said. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but you already remember that much. The rest will come back in time.”
Olivia looked up at Fae. “You’re a very kind person,” she said softly. “Thank you for saving me.”
“I…” Fae started, but she didn’t know how to respond.
“You have a lot of… questions,” Olivia said.
“I just…” Fae started, looking away. “I don’t understand why… you look just like me.” She looked back at Olivia. “Do you have any answers? You look just like me, sound just like me, but you’re a totally different person. I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know,” Olivia said, shaking her head. “I wish I knew.”
“But it isn’t some kind of illusion or trick or anything, right?” Fae asked. “We really both… look like each other.”
Olivia nodded. “It’s all real.” She sighed, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t have enough answers for you.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Fae said. “Not after what that monster put you through, not for anything, not to me.”
“I abducted you,” Olivia said. “I nearly killed your friend. And I don’t have enough answers for you —”
“The things you did were Wasuryu,” Fae said, and Olivia flinched at the name. “That wasn’t you, not at all. And it’s okay if you don’t have answers. We’ll find what we don’t know together.” She looked left, towards the end of the alley, towards sunlight and city. “All these people serve the Dragon willingly?”
“Yes,” Olivia said. “They aren’t controlled, like I was. They’re totally loyal to him, completely of their own free will.”
“How do we get out of here?” Fae asked.
“Only entrances or exits, outside of what I could do with the Dragon enhancing my powers, are on the ground level,” Olivia said. “I can’t get us there in one portal. It takes a lot of jumps. And… I’ve been using them the way he had them, with his power enhancing them so greatly, so I’m not used to their short-range forms anymore. I nearly got us caught. I’m sorry.”
“I told you,” Fae said, standing. “Don’t apologize.”
“Can I… have a minute?” Olivia asked. “I just…” She bowed her head, closing her eyes tight. “It’s all so hazy, so… I don’t… my head’s all…”
“Take all the time you need,” Fae said. “I won’t go anywhere without you.”
Olivia nodded, softly muttering under her breath. Fae caught snatches of what she said — her name many times, her city, her favorite things, all things she’d already said.
I know that city. Not really, I haven’t been there, but I did apply to their university.
The “City of Mages,” twenty times bigger than Grimoire, no one has to hide their magic because the whole city’s hidden.
And no wonder her favorite animals are penguins. She probably gets to see them in the wild down there.
She’s safe now. Not totally, not until we get out of this city, but…
She isn’t Wasuryu’s Sealed Vessel anymore. She’s Olivia again. And even if there are still so many questions…
I’m so glad she’s as okay as she is.
“Okay,” Olivia said, standing. “I think I can get to the exit in ten more jumps.”
Fae nodded. Olivia reached out, took Fae’s hand in hers, and Fae fought against flinching away from the touch.
She needs this. Don’t shrink back from her, even if it’s super uncomfortable and have you ever heard of personal space and —
Shut up, Fae.
The girl’s traumatized, forget about yourself and just help her.
Hand-in-hand, the girls left the alley and went through a portal. Stepping out into a grassy park in the center of another circular roadway intersection, they were immediately beset by soldiers and civilians alike.
The girls ran. Olivia used her scythe, Fae used drawings, and they kept leaping through portals. Sparks flew, swords flashed, lights burst in the air, sound erupted in explosions and crackling electricity and roaring flames.
Each new portal, each new jump, brought the girls to worse danger, to more foes and narrower escapes.
Fae kept a count as she ran, diving through the seventh portal and rolling on grass. Metal sang on metal as Olivia blocked a sword intended for Fae, and then they were running, but there were so many soldiers, so many people blocking their path. Olivia couldn’t just make portals immediately, she needed at least a bit of a breather between each one, and the space between portals was getting longer.
Fae was drawing, but even in her adrenaline-fueled, hyper-focused state, she couldn’t draw fast enough. Her mind couldn’t grasp a concept, she was drawing nonsense, and soldiers were closing in on her…
A strong, clear voice rang out, music to Fae’s ears.
Thousands of fluttering, violet butterflies descended on the crowd, and the people of the Dragon’s city were thrown into a panic, screaming, racing away from Fae and Olivia, spinning in circles, clawing at their bodies.
A bird trilled excitedly, and down swooped Raven, followed by the confident march of the superhero Royal Raven into the panicked crowd.
Following her were Neptune, Mercury, and Jupiter.
“About time we found you!” Mercury said, grinning.
“Is that the exit?” Jupiter asked, pointing at Olivia’s portal.
“Three more after it,” Fae said breathlessly.
“Then let’s go!” Jupiter said, waving Fae forward.
“Is she…?” Neptune started, staring at Olivia. All of the new arrivals suddenly stared at Olivia, mouths gaping, eyes questing.
It was Madeline, still as Royal Raven, who spoke first.
“Let’s go,” she said. “Questions can wait.”
“R-right,” Jupiter stammered, starting towards the portal.
“We should all go through each one together,” Fae said. “It’s gotten worse after each one so far.”
“Got it!” Mercury said, regaining her composure. “All together, then!”
Fae and Olivia, now aided by Madeline and the Star sisters, raced through the seventh portal.
Soldiers awaited them, but the girls together broke through, thanks to Royal Raven’s powers, Olivia’s scythe, and strange mechanical spheres that Jupiter threw out like grenades. Each one burst open in a cacophony of noise, arms zapping electricity, and weird metal cords that wrapped up legs and arms.
The eighth portal. Then the ninth. Finally, the tenth.
They stood in a shadowed alley, and at the end of the alley was a door.
“That’s the way out,” Olivia said, pointing.
The girls charged ahead, and Madeline was there first, opening the door as she changed from her Royal Raven persona back to Madeline Crowley, smiling at Fae.
The girls went through, one by one.
They emerged from the Dragon’s city onto a rocky cliff. Wind whipped at them, while the sky above swirled with flickering storm clouds.
“Somehow, this place feels safer than where we left from,” Jupiter said.
“But where are we?” Fae asked, looking around.
“Where Selphine said we’d end up, if we hurried,” Madeline said, stepping to the edge of the cliff. In actuality, there was a wide, rocky staircase leading down, down, down.
“That’s the way to the Fault Line Dungeon,” Neptune said.
“And the Broken Vessel,” Fae said softly, turning to look at Olivia.
“We’re… going to save her, too?” Olivia asked.
“I was hoping we would,” Fae said.
A smile flickered on Olivia’s lips, vanished. “I’m glad,” she said with a sigh. “I… I’m responsible for what happened to her. I’m glad I get the chance to make it right.”
“So wait, are you guys going to explain anything?” Jupiter asked. “Like, I mean… you two look and sound exactly alike!”
“We’d explain if we knew,” Fae said. She took Olivia’s hand and nodded to her. “This is Olivia Scarlett Quinn. There’s a lot to talk about, but all we know is that we don’t know why we look and sound alike. We’re totally separate people. But we were both pursued by the same Dragon for the same purpose. And so was the Broken Vessel.”
“So there’s a third Fae?” Jupiter asked.
“Not Fae,” Mercury said, glaring sharply at Jupiter. “Just another someone who probably looks and sounds like her.”
“And she needs our help,” Fae said. “She… and Olivia, they’ve… they’ve been through a lot. More than we’ll probably ever know.” She looked down at the long stairs. “But it all ends today.”