Arc IV Chapter 49: Broken


Fae led the way down the long stair, a stone descent that bridged a vast canyon. The far side was obscured by a grey, swirling mist, and whatever lay at the bottom of the canyon was likewise veiled. The stairs were wide, so Olivia and Madeline could walk on either side of her, and the Star sisters right behind them.

“Selphine gave us a letter of introduction,” Madeline said, holding up a red envelope stamped with a dark blue seal.

“But like the Fates said, it probably won’t help us,” Mercury said. “We’ll have to rely on our wits to get us inside.”

“I’m pretty witty,” Jupiter said.

“I’m not sure that’s what they meant,” Mercury said. “Anyway, Olivia, it’s nice to have you with us. You know, even though you kinda almost killed me.”

“That —” Olivia started.

“Wasn’t her fault,” Fae finished. “Wasuryu had control of her body. Now she’s free.”

“Yeah, I know, I was just trying to make light of things,” Mercury said. “Sorry. That wasn’t in very good taste.”

“It’s fine,” Olivia said, staring at her feet as she walked. “I… regret all that Wasuryu made me do. Even though I was powerless against him, even though I was just a spectator watching from inside my own body… he made me do terrible things. I can’t run from that.”

“You don’t need to feel responsible,” Neptune said.

“Okay so, just backtracking here, but you don’t know at all why you look just like Fae?” Mercury asked. “I know you’re not her, and I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just…”

“No, I understand,” Olivia said. “It’s hard not to notice, and harder still not to ask questions. And the truth is, quite simply, that I don’t know.” She looked at Fae. “I was as surprised as any of you when I saw how alike we look.”

“And you said you’re from Renault,” Jupiter said, sighing dreamily. “I’ve always wanted to visit.”

“You just want to chase penguins,” Mercury said.

“Who doesn’t?” Jupiter asked. “But that’s not all. Renault is full of pioneers of magitech, at least as far as Humans go. It’s more common in the Enchanted Dominion, but on Earth we don’t really have any magitech — unless you go to Renault.”

“Gearhead,” Mercury said, chuckling.

“And proud of it,” Jupiter said.

“Do you remember much about your family?” Madeline asked. “Of your home, of your life there?”

“Fragments,” Olivia said. “I seem to keep remembering more, so I’m hopeful…” she gazed off into the distance for a moment, stopping on the stairs, and the others stopped with her, “hopeful that I can remember everything, one day.”

“Talking about it might help,” Neptune said. “If you’re comfortable with it.”

“Yes,” Olivia said, a faint smile ghosting across her lips. The descent continued. “I remember favorite things, like food, color, all of that I already told Fae. And things like…” She held out her hand, forming her alabaster scythe. “This is my power, my magic. I was a fighter in Renault. A Guardian, is what we call them. I believe Grimoire has something similar, mages who fight against magical threats.”

“Hunters,” Mercury said. “Fae’s brother is one.”

Not that you need to mention it.

Fae simply nodded, biting back a retort.

“And my father is the Head of the Hunter Guild,” Madeline said. “Hollows roam the streets every night from midnight to one o’ clock. Is that what happens in Renault, too?”

Olivia dismissed her scythe with a flick of her wrist. “There are creatures that appear outside of our city’s boundaries. We call them Stalkers, and many grow to the size of a house. They look for entrances through our magical barriers, and when they find them, we Guardians prevent them from entering the city, destroying them. They appear at the same time as your Hollows, though, every night. Perhaps there is some connection.” She shook her head. “But I… these are all just facts. My memory of my own role… I just have fragments, bits and pieces. Faint impressions and short, out-of-context flashes. I know I’m a Guardian. I can see faces but not hear voices or remember names of friends and allies. I don’t remember where I fit into it all, if I’m a rookie or a veteran, a highly-prized warrior or more of a low-level assistant.”

“What about your daily life?” Mercury asked. “Family, hobbies, that kind of stuff.”

“I remember nothing of my family,” Olivia said bitterly. “And I worry… I don’t know how long I’ve been under Wasuryu’s control. But I do know that in all that time, however long or short it was, my body never changed. Never aged, but more than that, I never needed to bathe, or to cut my hair, brush my teeth, or even change my clothes. He used magic occasionally to cleanse clothes from…” she hesitated, pain flickering across her face, “dirt, grime, things. These are my clothes, or at least what I’d wear when on duty as a Guardian. If it was something he’d made me wear, some kind of uniform for his service, I would have thrown it all away, even if I had nothing else to wear. Just like my scythe, my portals… that’s all my magic. My power, that he used as if it were his own.” She paused, stepping to the edge of the stairs and spitting over the edge. “I’m sorry. I just…” She swallowed, shook her head. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Fae said. Olivia reached out and took her hand in hers, and Fae flinched at the easy contact, but fought not to let Olivia notice.

She’s relying on me. I get that. I just…

I’m not very good at this.

“As for hobbies, and other things, I know I like to ice skate,” Olivia said. “I love it.” Once again, a smile ghosted across her lips. “And I dearly miss it. And I like reading. Movies, television shows, more mainstream entertainment took its time to arrive in Renault, but it got there and became just as popular as everywhere else. But I’m… not very fond of it. An excellent book, a well-crafted story, and a quiet place to myself is far better, in my opinion.”

“I think you’ve got a few kindred spirits here, then,” Mercury said, grinning. “Do you like music?”

“I… think so,” Olivia said. She held up her hands, staring at them for a long while as she walked. She wiggled the fingers of her left hand. “Yes, I’m… fairly certain I like music.”

“You said you remembered favorites and stuff,” Jupiter said. “What’s your favorite food?”

“Pizza,” Olivia said. “With pepperoni and broccoli.”

“Broccoli?” Jupiter asked, making a face.

“Yes,” Olivia said, seemingly oblivious to Jupiter’s disgusted reaction. “We don’t get it very often, it’s in short supply in Renault, but I very much enjoy broccoli. Especially on pizza.”

“So weird…” Jupiter muttered, wincing when Mercury elbowed her in the side.

“Do you guys hear that?” Fae asked.

So much of their descent had been silent, save for the occasional gust of wind, but now a new sound came, faint but constant. Every new step brought it closer, until…

“It’s rushing water,” Madeline said. “A rapid river, or —”

“A waterfall!” Jupiter said, pointing.

Two waterfalls, to be exact. The mist thinned as they walked through it, and soon they could see, one to the right and one to the left, starting high above and pouring out far below, great, massive waterfalls. Between them was a dark, solid shadow, still partially obscured by fog.

“Oh whoa, they’re huge,” Jupiter said. The closer they got, the more that became apparent. What seemed like thin but powerful vertical streams now were clear to be roaring torrents, great falls depositing billions upon billions of gallons of water every second from their marvelous heights down to the distant bottom of the yawning chasm below.

Between them, the dark shadow became clear as a stone structure. Its walls were dark grey, smooth and featureless, its size the only feature it needed. It rose up not just to the heights of the falls, but higher still, many stories above them. Every step made the great stone fortress loom more imposing over the girls.

The wide stairs led to a tall, wide archway, yet inside the archway was an ordinary-size door, metal and grey, covered in round studs. A slatted window was at eye height, with a sliding door on the inside. Standing before the door, Fae raised a hand and, heart pounding in her chest, knocked three times.

The window’s door slid open, revealing a pair of beady, dark eyes that glared out at the girls. “Stand back,” said a hoarse, throaty voice that reminded Fae of a toad. The girls obliged, spreading out so all six could be seen through the slim window. After a moment, the window’s door was slid shut with a dull clang.

For several long moments, the girls waited.

The sound of jangling keys sounded, then a heavy thud. The door swung inward, revealing a dark, empty hall of stone.

Fae led the way, Olivia holding her hand right behind her. One by one, the girls filed in, and Fae couldn’t shake the disturbing sensation she felt when she walked in.

The door was open, but no one was there. Whoever had opened it — if there had ever been a person at all — was gone.

Once all were inside, Neptune taking up the rear, the door shut by itself behind them. The hall was dark, but small caged lights to either side shed dingy yellow light, enough for the girls to see. All around, Fae could hear the dull roar of the waterfalls resonating through the stone.

A faint smell was in the air, one Fae couldn’t place. It had a nostalgic air to it, though, and wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

On and on they walked, step by step, with no sign of other doors, other halls, or an end to this one. The lights on the walls flickered sometimes, casting strange shadows in those brief moments.

“This is ridiculous,” Jupiter said softly. “We should just —”

As she cut off, everyone else turned to look back at her, and then past her and Neptune.

There was the closed door, just a few inches behind Neptune.

“What the heck is this?” Jupiter asked. “We haven’t gone anywhere?”

“Some kind of magical defense,” Neptune said. “But to what end?”

Fae turned to look forward again, and was staring at a steel door, just the same as the other.

The unending hall they’d been walking through was now barely long enough for all six girls to stand in a row.

“Can this not be super freaky, please?” Jupiter asked.

“It’s more fascinating than freaky,” Madeline said.

Fae opened the next door. Inside was some sort of office, and she and Olivia, still hand-in-hand, led the way in. Once all were in the office, the door shut behind them, and promptly vanished.

There were no entrances, no exits. Just the single room.

It was less confined than the hall, giving the girls room to stand more comfortably. The walls, floor, ceiling were all stone. It was sparse, with only a desk across from them, an empty chair behind it, and a large gilt picture frame on the wall with no picture in it.

“So… we wait for someone?” Mercury asked.

“Such an interesting group of Humans,” came a voice, echoing all around so that they couldn’t tell where it came from. It was a woman’s voice, smooth and beautiful, but with an edge to it. “What, pray tell, do you want with my prison?”

“We simply seek a person,” Fae said. “The Broken Vessel. If we could just meet with her, then afterwards we’ll be on our way and won’t bother you further.”

Madeline held out the red envelope. “We also have a letter of introduction from Miss Selphine Miora of Eventide Archive,” she said.

The envelope was snatched out of Madeline’s hand. There was a woman sitting in the chair behind the desk, with dark purple hair cascading over her shoulders in thick, wild curls. Her face had a strange mix of smooth beauty and hard edges, and she surveyed the girls with narrowed eyes that flickered with orange fire within.

When she spoke, it was with the same voice that had earlier been disembodied. “Who are you to receive a letter of introduction from Eventide Archive’s caretaker?”

Fae didn’t know how to answer that. Thankfully, Neptune did. “It’s all in her letter,” she said.

The woman scoffed, pinching the envelope at either end and tearing the letter in half in one smooth motion. Tossing the halves into the air, they vanished in a swirl of light. “I’m not interested in the politics of the Dominion,” she said. “Whatever business you have in my prison, you’ll have to convince me yourselves to let you through. Selphine was a friend of my predecessor, but she has no pull with me. No one does. As it should be.”

“My name is Fae Greyson,” Fae said. She nodded to Olivia, and around the group they went, each introducing themselves.

“Lairah Melos Blackburne, Jailer of the Fault Line Dungeon,” said the woman, standing. She was more than a foot taller than any of the girls. “You said you wish to meet with the Broken Vessel. And that’s all?”

“That’s right,” Fae said.

“What makes you think such a person is here?” Lairah asked.

Fae reached into her bag and pulled out the scrap of paper she’d received from the Basin of Antiquity. “This told us,” she said.

“It also says you should ‘keep distance,” Lairah said, barely even glancing at the scrap of paper. “Yet you’re here.”

“Because we need to speak with her,” Fae said.

Lairah scoffed. “She doesn’t speak,” she said. Her eyes flicked back and forth between Fae and Olivia. “What’s the story here? Twins?”

“No, we’re, uh, not related,” Fae said, wincing inwardly at her awkward response.

“I’m —” Olivia started.

“I know who you are,” Lairah said. “Though you’re not who you were back then.”

Olivia shook her head. “I was in a prison of a different kind,” she said. “Now I’m free.”

“Good for you,” Lairah said, looking over all of the girls. “You have very strange timing. I’ll let you visit the Broken Vessel. But you’ll be with me the entire time. Slip out of my sight, or even make me think you’re trying to, and I’ll lock you in here for the rest of your lives. You’re Humans though, so don’t worry, your lives are short. And you don’t talk to anyone. None of the other prisoners, none of the guards, no one except the people standing in this room right now and the Broken Vessel.”

“But why —” Jupiter started.

“Understood,” Fae said quickly, cutting her off. “We’ll do as you say. We have no other business here. It won’t be difficult to abide by your rules.”

Lairah nodded, the hard edge never leaving her gaze. “Good,” she said slowly. She walked towards the left wall, where a door now stood closed. A tap of her finger in the center, and the door swung outward. “Follow me.”

Outside they found themselves on a spacious path, as wide as the stairs that had brought them down to the Dungeon. And it wasn’t closed in, like the first hall they’d passed through, but was open to much of the rest of the Dungeon, with other pathways above and below, left and right, all around. There were no railings to the sides of the path, but it was easy to look everywhere and see so much of the Dungeon’s inner workings. The rush of water was much louder here, and for good reason — water was fed into the Dungeon from the waterfalls outside, coming down along carefully carved and structured chutes, feeding into canals, powering waterwheels and other types of machinery. Stairs connected pathways to others, but these stairs weren’t always in the same place — they rotated, swiveled, pivoted, at steady intervals changing their paths. All throughout the open space were many cubes of stone, dangling in the air from thick metal chains that flickered with veins of silver light. When a staircase rotated to one of those cubes, Fae saw a heavily muscled, uniformed guard enter the cube, and she understood.

The thousands of cubes that she could see were all cells.

“I want to be very clear with you,” Lairah said as she walked. “It was rare for outsiders to gain visitation rights even in the days of my predecessor. With me, it’s nearly impossible. Surely you’re wondering why you’ve been allowed in.”

Fae nodded, not sure if she should speak, and not knowing what she should say if she could.

“It’s because of the two of you,” Lairah said, pointing to Fae and Olivia. “I knew about her,” here she indicated Olivia, “and about the Broken Vessel, but now you come along, and my curiosity is appropriately piqued. Seeing her now with a name and actual self adds even more to this curiosity. And that scrap of paper… somehow, you girls are connected to the Broken Vessel. I want to know why.” She cast a harsh, fiery stare at Fae. “That means I’ll expect answers in time, Fae Greyson.”

Fae nodded, still saying nothing.

“But it’s also because of the Broken Vessel,” Lairah continued. “To put it simply, she changed recently. Many of our prisoners did. Surely you girls have heard of Collapse?” Fae and the others nodded. “Nearly half of our prisoners were infected with it. This was a festering mire filled with Collapsed. And then, just a few short cycles ago, all of the Collapsed were mysteriously cured. That includes the Broken Vessel. But while the other previously Collapsed went back to who they were before the infection… the Broken Vessel went through something different. She’s… not at all who she was before. I want to know why.” She looked back at Fae again. “I’m fairly confident you have something to do with these mysterious developments, Fae Greyson.”

“We… all of us but Olivia… destroyed Collapse,” Fae said. “We pursued it, confronted it, and destroyed it. Without the Intangible that created and spread the sickness, the sickness can no longer exist.”

Lairah raised an eyebrow. “Fascinating claim,” she said. “You’re very different from the other Greyson.”

“Other…?” Fae trailed off, though, a memory coming to the forefront of her mind: Kairyu, telling her of the ‘other Greyson’ who’d visited her long before Fae arrived, ‘many generations’ before Fae’s time. The words of the Dragon deep beneath the Fallen Plains came to her:

“He was a false sort, presenting himself as peaceful and honest, when in fact he was vicious, and full of mischief.”

“There was another Greyson who visited,” Lairah said. “Many generations before your time.”

The same wording…

He must be the same man. The same Greyson that visited Kairyu.

“My predecessor let him pass,” Lairah said. “He was a false one. Fooled my predecessor, when I could see right through him.” She turned an eye on Fae, the fire within smoldering a deep red. “As I see through you, Fae Greyson. Deception works on others, but not me. Honesty is your only recourse here. Do you understand?”

“I do,” Fae said, swallowing. Her mouth was suddenly very dry.

A man came rushing up the stairs from far up ahead, and then continued his rushing path towards Lairah. He was a tall man, incredibly slender, with a dignified air to him in his attire, his neatly combed shock of red hair, and his silver-rimmed glasses that accentuated deep blue eyes, swirling like the ocean depths. He came to a stop in front of Lairah and bowed once, neatly and respectfully. “My Lady, there is a disturbance at the Cloud Gate,” he said, his voice a clear, musical tenor.

“I trust you to take care of it, Krios,” Lairah said. “I have business with these six, and the Broken Vessel.”

“It will be done, my Lady,” Krios said, bowing again. He turned to go, but Lairah placed a hand on his upper arm.

“If it gets too much, you come to me right away,” she said.

“Of course, my Lady,” Krios said. Another bow, and he departed.

“Is there trouble?” Mercury asked.

“That’s none of your concern,” Lairah said, continuing onward. She stopped as a staircase swiveled past, waiting for it to come back around. When it did, she started down, and the others followed. Two more staircases like that, and then they continued on this lower path in the same direction as before.

“What do you know about the Broken Vessel?” Lairah asked.

“Very little,” Fae said. “She was used by Wasuryu, but his transference into her failed. It… ‘broke’ her somehow, but… I don’t really know the details. I just know that she’s here.”

“Wasuryu?” Lairah asked.

“A Dragon,” Fae said. “He tried to transfer his soul into Olivia, and then the Broken Vessel, and then me. I didn’t let him do anything to me, though, and escaped from him right before coming here.”

“And saved me from his influence,” Olivia said. “A small shard of his soul was within me, imprisoning my soul beneath his power. Fae destroyed that part of him and helped me escape.”

“And now the two of you come to see if you can aid the Broken Vessel?” Lairah asked.

“That’s right,” Fae said. “We want to help her, however we can.”

“She was remarkably dangerous when she was turned into the Broken Vessel,” Lairah said. “She’s here because of that. I’ve never seen anything like it. Pouring out magic, pure and raw and destructive, completely out of her control. She spread death and ruination. And… she doesn’t age. She’s Human, yet she’s stayed exactly the same physically since she was brought here. She should have died a long time ago.”

“You know… how long ago in Human years she was brought here?” Olivia asked, her voice trembling.

“Not in any exact terms,” Lairah said. “Time runs differently here, as it does in many places in the Dominion, and we don’t keep track of Human time. But our lowest estimates are in the realm of fifty years.”

“Fifty…” Olivia started, dropping to her knees. Fae and the others gathered around her, while Lairah looked down at her, raising an eyebrow.

“She’s lost a lot of memories of her life before becoming the Sealed Vessel,” Fae said quickly, taking Olivia’s hands in hers. “She doesn’t know how long it’s been since she last saw her home or family.”

“Ah,” Lairah said, turning away. “I apologize.”

“Fifty years…” Olivia said softly, shaking her head. “I…” She took in a deep breath, let it out. Slowly, she stood. “I’m sorry. These things… however much time has passed, whatever has happened… I can deal with those later. Right now, we have work to do.” She fixed her gaze forward. “Please continue. She needs our help.”

“Fae Greyson,” Lairah said as they walked, “do illuminate something for me. How were you able to destroy Collapse? How were you even able to pursue it in the first place?”

“That goes back to meeting the Fates,” Mercury said.

“The Fates? Really now?” Lairah cast a glance back at Fae, who nodded. “Interesting.”

So Fae told her story, with help from the Star sisters. Lairah asked no questions throughout, as Fae walked through the Basin of Antiquity, the journey to the Fates, their detour to the Mourner’s Collection and Maxwell’s journal, the return and curing the Fates, all they’d learned from them… and then she skipped ahead, bypassing quite a bit to get to the Nightmare Citadel, Nocta’s words to her, and then the final push to find and destroy Collapse.

“Quite the adventure,” Lairah said. “And there’s much more ahead of you. Hope as the cure for Collapse… it’s an interesting idea. One I’ve never heard anyone peddle before. But what works, works. You’re more than meets the eye, Fae Greyson.” She stepped onto a staircase as it stopped next to them, and they were all able to board just before it started rotating again, descending once more to a new walkway. “Here we are.” Lairah stepped to the edge of the walkway, where a wide canal separated her from a dangling stone cube, almost fifty yards away.

“Do we swim to it?” Jupiter asked.

“What a ridiculous and needless solution,” Lairah said. She stepped out over the water, and there was a stone path there, as if it had been there all along, narrowly leading the way to the cell.

“Yeah, okay,” Jupiter muttered under her breath. Across the canal at the dangling cell, Lairah tapped a finger against the stone. A door formed, swung forward into the cell. Lairah stood outside the open door for several seconds, saying nothing.

Soft whimpering could be heard within.

“Please do not be alarmed,” Lairah said clearly to the one within. “There are many visitors here to see you. One of them you may recognize. But they’re all here to help.” She waited a moment, but no reply came. Into the cell she went.

Fae and the others followed.

There were no lights inside the cell, but the darkness was somehow not as dark as it should be in a stone, windowless room, even if there was a single door open to the outside.

In the far corner was a girl. She was huddled tightly, her face against her knees, her back against the corner. Her dark hair was matted and filthy, her long black shirt and white pants spotted with dirt and grime.

“Hello,” Fae said, taking a cautious step forward. The cell was spacious though empty, but Fae didn’t want to alarm the girl if she could help it. “My name is Fae. I’m here to help, if I can.” She reached into her bag, wrapping her fingers around the cool handle of the candlestick bell.

I rely on you a lot. I hope you don’t mind too much.

And thank you. You’ve done far more than I ever imagined.

The girl slowly looked up, peering through wide-framed glasses at the newcomers.

She looked at them with Fae’s eyes, from Fae’s face.

It’s okay. She looks like me, just like Olivia. It’s weird, but it’s okay. Just relax.

She needs your help.

Tears had left her eyes bloodshot, run tracks through the dirt on her face. Though she appeared to be healthy physically, she looked absolutely awful emotionally. There were marks on her exposed forearms, her bare feet, her face and neck.

Marks that looked an awful lot like scratches.

Looking again, Fae saw that her nails were short but ragged, and faint dark stains mingled with the lighter dirt and grit around her fingers. And the expression in her eyes…

This girl was in anguish. She wore the expression of one who’d cried all the tears she had, and found out she had more, and more, and more. Cried so much it hurt, and yet kept on crying.

Fae knew that expression well.

“Can you tell me your name?” Fae asked. “If not, that’s all right. I just —”

The girl looked at Olivia, and her eyes went wide. She screamed, or attempted to, but her voice was hoarse, the sound cutting off abruptly. Yet her mouth stayed open in a scream, and she suddenly covered her eyes, bowed her head. Her feet kicked and slid against the floor, scabs on her heels breaking and bloodying in her effort to push herself back further into a wall when there was nowhere to go.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be here,” Olivia said, her voice breaking as she turned to go.

“No, stay,” Fae said, touching her arm lightly. When Olivia didn’t move to go, Fae stepped closer to the girl alone, pulling out the candlestick bell. “It’s going to be all right,” she said gently to the girl’s frantic scrambling, to her panicked breaths and ragged sobs. When she was five feet away, Fae lifted the candlestick bell and rang it once.

The clear, strong chime of hope filled the air, resonated outward…

And then all went strangely silent. The bell’s chime, the water outside, the girl’s sobs and scrambling movements.

All silent.

Fae stared at the girl, and the girl looked up at her. The world seemed frozen save for the two of them. The girl’s eyes were full of tears, and yet…

There was sense in them. A realization, suddenly, of hope, of possibility beyond the pain.

“Please,” she said, hoarse and soft. “Once more?”

Fae nodded, lifted the bell, rang it again.

The bell’s chime rang out, resonated, continued. Sound returned, of water, of breathing, of distant chatter.

The girl bowed her head, then placed her palms against her knees. With an effort, she moved to stand, pushing herself up, leaning against the wall.

It wasn’t enough. Weakness left her stumbling.

Olivia was there.

She’d dashed forward incredibly fast, yet caught the girl with a gentle touch. The girl looked up, saw who it was that supported her, and her eyes went wide with fear. The two stared at each other for a long time in silence.

No one else spoke.

“You’re not her,” the girl finally said.

Olivia opened her mouth to speak, hesitated. A glint of determination shone in her eyes. “That’s right,” she said softly.

Olivia helped the girl stand fully, and both looked at Fae.

“My name is Fae,” Fae said, placing the candlestick bell back in her bag and stepping closer to the girl. “I only know of you by a title, but… if you remember your name, I’d like to know it.” She held out her hand.

The girl stared at Fae’s hand, then her face. She suddenly broke free of Olivia, stepping forward to wrap her arms around Fae’s neck, bury her face in her shoulder. Fae stood stunned for a moment, then hugged her back.

“Thank you,” the girl said, sobbing. “I was so… after all… and so much… I just…” She shook her head. “Thank you for saving me. Something I never thought would happen.”

Fae didn’t know what to say, just held the girl, let her cry.

Slowly, the girl pulled back, still holding onto Fae but able to look her in the eyes. “My name…” she hesitated on her hoarse, gritty voice.

A water bottle was handed to her. Mercury was there, smiling her winning smile. “You must be thirsty,” she said.

The girl nodded, letting one hand release Fae to grab the bottle. She started slowly at first, but as soon as water was in her mouth she suddenly gulped at it desperately. After several loud gulps she pulled back, gasping for air, and then drank more. She kept at it, with brief breaks for air, until suddenly she held up the bottle upside-down, shaking it.

It was empty.

Mercury laughed. “It’s okay,” she said, taking the bottle back.

“There’s more where that came from,” Madeline said. She, Jupiter, and Neptune were all there, holding out their own water bottles.

The girl looked at all of them, eyes wide in amazement. “Thank you all,” she said, her voice soft and gentle. “I never thought… I never thought…” She shook her head, eyes shut tight against tears. She took many long, slow breaths before she looked up again, into Fae’s eyes with eyes that matched them. “My name is Sonya. Sonya… Marlow.” She nodded, a brief smile touching her lips. “My name is Sonya Marlow.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sonya,” Fae said, smiling.

Sonya looked back at Olivia, then at Fae, then back at Olivia. “We all look alike,” she said. “We could be sisters.”

Olivia looked stunned at that, then managed a small smile.

“I’m so thankful,” Sonya said, tears filling her joyful eyes. “Thank you. Thank you so much. I—”

She was cut off by a sudden blare of sound, a high-pitched whine that dipped low then rose high, cycling through that sliding pitch again and again. Footsteps sounded outside, hundreds, all rushing somewhere. Fae and the others looked to Lairah, who was already halfway out the door.

Krios was there, his hair disheveled, his glasses askew, marks of soot and ash on his clothes and face.

“What happened?” Lairah asked.

“He’s a demon,” Krios said, shaking his head. “The Cloud Gate didn’t hold him at all. Nothing does. Nothing can.”

“Pull yourself together!” Lairah said, gripping Krios hard by the shoulders. “I’m counting on you. Pull the guards together. Do all you know to do.”

“What are you going to do?” Krios asked.

Lairah looked back at Fae and the others. “I’m going to get these girls out of here,” she said.


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