When Eli usually stood in front of her bookshelf, she was there to pick out a novel that would make her think. She wanted something with depth. With layers, like an onion. One whose interpretation was decided by the reader. She didn't like being told what to think of a book. When she found herself in front of the bookshelf yesterday, she still had the same ideals in mind, but she just wasn't feeling some super philosophical, deep thought novel. She wanted something light. A feel good novel, but not as flowers and sunshine as a children's book. Her fingers traced over the edges of her books. They slowed to a stop over a novel that caught her eye. It had been years since she picked it up, but she remembered it well. Gently pulling it from the shelf, Eli gave the cover of the novel a small smile. It was an oldie, but a goody.
Eli had just started reading the book a day or two ago, but she was already close to the end due to it's meager length of 265 pages. She was right at the point where the great-great-great grandson and great-great grandson of different families had just broken a decades long curse by climbing a mountain. Before she could read about their journey back to their home-away-from-home, she felt her phone buzz against her leg.
Well, that was quick.
Hey, when are you headed to the loading bay?
The loading bay. The welcoming ceremony. Eli had almost forgotten. She wasn't surprised that Keaton, of all people, would be the one to go. Now it was up to Eli to decide whether or not it was a good idea to join her. The loading bay would be crawling with disgruntled security officers. Even more grumpy than usual because of Radvi's accident. Would she really want to be around them right now? On the other hand, it would be good of her to see Keaton after a week of doing her own thing.
I planned to read today, but I guess I should show my support for the newbies. I'll come along.
Well I’m headed over now, I’ll see you there?
Eli set her phone down on top of her novel. She glanced out of the window, anxiously tapping the fabric of the couch. "Were you at the last boarding day?" She asked Radvi, even though she knew there wouldn't be an answer.
The walk to the loading bay was a bit of a long one, but Eli didn't mind. The brisk air felt nice against the skin on her face. The rest of her body was covered, except for her hands, but she stuck them inside of her jacket pockets. She simply wore a pair of boots, leggings, a thick sweater, and her black bomber. Her hair was back to it's normal state of waves. At this point, she'd returned to her normal hair care routine. Especially since she had to do something with herself while she acted like a hermit. Laying in bed all day was tempting, to be truthful. Was it healthy? No.
I'm going to grab a quick snack from the cafeteria. See you in a minute!
Eli slipped into the building, going straight for the little snack bar while ignoring any staff member. Other students were grabbing food already. It was almost a tradition to take advantage of the free snacks at the welcoming ceremony. She grabbed two bags of chips and two water bottles. Keaton would certainly want something, so why not grab enough for the both of them? She was already tearing the first bag of chips apart when she stepped out onto the loading bay. As she chomped on a few chips, she opened up one of the bottles and swallowed them down with a gulp of water. It had been a few hours since breakfast, so Eli welcomed the chance to eat a bit and hydrate. Upon seeing Keaton on the loading dock, she waved the unopened bag of chips in the air as she walked towards her.
"Hey. Enjoying the cold?" She held out the bag of chips in Keaton's direction, her eyes glancing over the other students that gathered. "I grabbed you something while I was in there. The food they've made actually doesn't smell that bad, but if you don't want to stay for the lunch we can go somewhere else."
It was then that Eli's eyes landed on an odd sight. At first she noticed a leather jacket and black hair, which didn't exactly stand out at first, but when she saw hair that resembled fire and a small girl at the base of the flame, Eli knew exactly who she was looking at. "Oh, Lynn and Amelia are here too." She gave Keaton a quizzical look. "Why do you think they're here? I thought they'd skip out on something like this." She hadn't exactly thought about walking over to ask them, but she figured Keaton would be the one to lead them over there.
Location: Sisterhood Base Skills: Vertigo Inducement
The panic was about to creep into every aspect of Elara's mind. In a fortunate, yet painful gift from the gods, Elara was suddenly broken from her trance when the T Rex's tail came barreling towards her. She flew back about ten feet, her body rolling to a stop on the ground. Grunting, Elara pushed herself up onto her feet. Her hands were shaking, and the adrenaline was still pumping through her veins. She hadn't felt that way in a long time, and she had to shake her head around to rid herself of the terrible memories.
That fear soon turned into anger. She couldn't be defeated so easily. It was ridiculous. How powerful was this woman? And how would Elara be able to take her down, when the other had that kind of advantage? She was distracted from these thoughts when she noticed that there was now an ice ramp that lead to the ceiling. A few of their colleagues were gone as well.
So, to follow suit, Elara walked towards the ice ramp. She slipped once, but successfully pulled her way up to the level above. She saw two women unconscious. Rae Gardner was one of them, and Elara frowned at the sight of her. She managed to give her a kick to the arm when she walked by. The two women left looked strong. One had metal claws sticking out of her hands, and she was shocked to see that she could heal from an attack by a sword. The other woman must have been the voice in her head, and Elara's anger tempted her to try and mess her up. The fear of becoming stuck in place again told her not to. She reluctantly turned her attention to the metal clawed lady.
First, she connected with the woman's mind. She induced Vertigo, which would hopefully send the woman to her knees. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like Elara had that much affect on her. The woman was obviously dizzy, but not as strongly as Elara had intended. With a frown, Elara pulled her baton out from it's sheathe and charged her. She slid on her knees past the woman and whacked her right in the knee. There was a loud metal clang, and Elara's brows furrowed as she wondered what this woman's bones were made of. Any normal human would have buckled by now.
There wasn't much time to think. The woman turned and swiped at her with her claws, but Elara moved away in time to avoid it. She heard a little whish as the nails passed inches from her neck. Elara huffed as she backed away from the woman, her anger growing. "Who the fuck are you two? What kind of a trap is this?" She growled. "What has Rae Gardner put you up to? If that's even her real name." Her eyes turned to give the red woman a steely glare. She gripped her baton, still itching to whack the woman upside the head for earlier.
'New arrivals scheduled to board at 1PM! Farewell party for graduates scheduled for 4PM.'
Eli stared at the notification before she turned off her phone and tucked it into her bag. She adjusted her position in the uncomfortable chair, leaning back in a dejected slump. Her eyes lifted towards the almost lifeless man before her. In the three weeks after homecoming night, Eli spent a lot of hours in this very spot. It wasn't because she wanted to be there when he woke up, or even if she could get any updates on his condition by being there when they checked in on him. It was because Eli only felt truly comfortable sitting next to the fallen officer.
"I can't believe they're bringing more of us up here."
She spoke softly, moreso thinking out loud than talking to Radvi. If he was listening, he gave no sign. There was a momentary silence before Eli spoke again. This time she was speaking directly to Radvi.
"I almost applied to go home, today. This is the only time I've ever really wanted to leave." She scoffed, a melancholy smile skewing her lips. "We both know its way worse down there, though."
Her hands came to her face, which was void of any makeup, and rubbed her eyes. Faint dark circles lingered under them still. A sign of her continuing lack of sleep. She liked to think that she'd gotten enough sleep in the few days that it took to recover from the incident to last her for years. The last two weeks, unfortunately, weren't as giving. Although the initial aftershock of overextending her abilities were gone, and she could fully function without instantly tiring, Eli still felt fatigued. This time, something was different about her recovery process.
After the breakout, Eli only took a week to get back to her usual groove. The shock of the massacre still haunted her, but it was easy to go on with the day as if nothing had happened. Ezekiel's death had also been devastating, but Eli shared the grief of his loss with her friends. This time, Eli felt alone in her grief. Her friends had never understood her affection towards the security officer. They'd reached out to make sure she was okay, but they were unable to understand exactly what Eli was going through this time. They knew nothing about Arianna-
Eli felt sick to her stomach with anger, but there still lingered the bitter taste of fear in the back of her throat. She couldn't sleep when she knew that Arianna was still on the loose. A combination of frustration, shame, anger, and anxiety had lingered with Eli since that night. It was a nasty combination. Something Eli had never faced before. Her entire core was shaken.
Amidst the sounds of beeping machinery, Eli released a heavy sigh. Her head lifted once more to look up and she took a deep breath to calm herself. She was trying to look at the bright side- she was desperate to see a silver lining. Radvi wasn't dead. That was the one thing she could hold onto. She hadn't lost a second friend to this terrorist. For a moment, Eli closed her eyes and listened to the sound of Radvi's heartbeat. She could still feel his pulse against her fingers. It beat in time with the EKG she heard now.
The heartbeat soothed Eli, and she found herself returning to a relaxed state. It was this type of emotional turmoil that Eli was having difficulty managing. She'd never felt this unstable before. It didn't help that she hadn't had a proper rest in a while. This would take a lot longer to heal from than Eli wanted. She had things to do, and she wasn't letting her mental exhaustion stop her. In fact, she'd already dragged herself out of her room quite a few times since she felt better physically.
She had to remind herself that she wasn't completely alone. Archie was there for her in the hospital. She wasn't sure how she would have gotten herself home without his literal and figurative support. The lunch with Lynn had also been oddly healing. Their dynamic had changed substantially since their awkward encounter at the mall. Even if Lynn didn't fully trust her yet, they still shared a mutual understanding. Keaton even came to visit Eli multiple times in the first few days after the incident. She brought her food and supplies when Eli could barely make it out of bed. Eli grew to appreciate her company, and even though they hadn't seen each other in two weeks Keaton still sent text messages to make sure Eli was doing alright. Lynn even surprised Eli one day after their lunch with a bootleg DVD compendium of WWE's greatest hits, with a lot of Mike Tyson in it, and two 40's for when Eli was feeling better.
The only people Eli hadn't been in contact with were Amelia and Natalie. The latter probably wasn't as familiar with Eli as Lynn and Keaton. They had only met once before that night, and they didn't even get to speak at the party, which Eli regretted. The former, though, Eli felt obligated to thank for her actions. Amelia was even more of a stranger than Lynn, but her quick thinking saved Radvi's life, too. She could have been hurt by Arianna as well, and Eli wasn't happy about that either. She made a note to get Amelia's number from Keaton or Lynn next time she saw them. She'd treat her to a meal, like she'd done for Lynn.
For a brief moment, she wondered what everyone was up to today. Would they go to greet the new arrivals? She highly doubted it. None of them seemed to enjoy that type of thing. They were most likely avoiding it at all costs. Maybe Eli could meet up with them. Did she have the energy to do that? She wasn't sure if she wanted to sit with Radvi, or head back to her apartment, too. She brought a book along with her. She could sit here and read until the nurses kicked her out to change his dressings. She wasn't family, and whoever had brought him flowers never came again, so it was just Eli that visited. Trevor could have come by again, but Eli hadn't seen him since their encounter.
What was he up to, now? Was he in the Spire, preparing more tasers or developing new weapons? She'd thought about what technology they may have already produced in these past few weeks. What dangers worked below? How were they testing the weapons abilities? It seemed like Trevor was going to say a different name, but had Eli heard wrong? She bit her lip, glancing at Radvi. How much did Radvi know about this? Her head turned to look out of the window, into the snowy landscape of The Promise outside.
In the four years that Eli had been aboard The Promise, she'd learned a few facts about the Spire. The number one fact was that no student nor approved staff were allowed to enter. Anyone that tried never returned. The paths that led to the Spire were visible to all of the people aboard The Promise. The spire only blocked a small portion of their view to the other side of the Ring, but there was no seeing inside no matter how good your eyesight or binoculars were. It was widely known that it contained R&D, and housed parahumans that were too young to join the schools aboard the Ring but too "dangerous" to live on Earth. Eli also liked to think that the Spire is where Misters Black and White came from, but she wasn't sure where, and she still didn't know who commanded them.
Recently she'd done a little investigating. She'd discovered a few little details about the Spire, like ways to enter it, and how tight security was on-board. The threat of disappearing forever was enough to keep Eli from actually planning a heist, but the thought of discovering The Promise's secrets remained in the back of her mind. Like a small ball and chain she took with her everywhere. She even knew a few technopaths that could help her accomplish such a task, but they were flaky and unreliable at the moment. Bottom line, Eli would never step foot on the Spire any time soon. Perhaps even ever.
She'd even done a bit of research on Wrath. Markus Wrath. The guy had an extensive background. Born in Scotland, general researching career in eugenics and engineering (which made Eli wonder if he was using his eugenics degree aboard The Promise), no wife or children to hold him back. Hell, the guy even helped create The Promise. A little bit more digging into public government records and Eli even found a-
BEEP BEEP BEEP
A monitor from the room across the hallway was blaring. Eli jumped in her seat, her heart racing. All thoughts before now were gone in an instant, and Eli suddenly worried that Arianna was here to finish Radvi off... When no blue goop came seeping through the doorway, she realized how irrational her fear was. She moved to the door, quietly shutting it to the noise outside, and pressed her back against it. Maybe she wasn't ready to leave his room yet.
When her nerves finally calmed down, Eli grabbed her phone and book from her bag. She moved to the small couch by the window and made herself as comfortable as she could manage. It was going to be hard to focus on the words, but she thought that reading would keep herself sane. Briefly thinking of her new friends again, Eli turned her phone back on and laid it next to her. For now, she would sit with Radvi in peace, and if the nurses kicked her out or Lynn and Keaton or even Archie wanted to see her, she would then leave.
The light hurt. It took a few tries before Eli could fully open her eyes to see a white ceiling above her. Bits and pieces from last night came flooding back all at once, and she squinted as she tried to understand what had happened. The party. Lynn's light show in the woods. Arianna. Two of her... D went down the ravine. So did Radvi. Radvi was covered in blood.
Eli felt panic course through her, but when she tried to get up it felt like her body was ten times it's weight. She grunted, her face twisting into a scowl as she attempted to sit up. Her body went slack against the bed again. She turned her head, finding that it was much easier to just look around than sit up. When her vision adjusted, she focused on the other occupant in the room.
He'd been the one to take her here. How? All she remembered was that it felt like they were travelling as fast as a car, and she thought that she was much higher off of the ground than before. His bracelet was gone, too.
"Archie," she murmured to get his attention. "Is Radvi okay?"
He responded, and Eli felt relief fall over her like a warm blanket. She whispered a "Thank you." before her mind slipped away and she slept once more. When she awoke again, Archie was gone from the room and two female nurses were there to greet her. They helped her bathe, and put her in some sweats and a t-shirt. Her other clothes were too dirty to wear home.
They explained to her that there was nothing more they could offer. She just needed to rest, and in a day or so she'd feel much better. Eli took the doctor's note, seeing that'd she'd only have until the end of the week before she would have to go back to her usual routine. As Eli shuffled to the elevator at the end of the hall, she wondered if it was even possible. How could she go back to work, after what had happened?
She stepped into the elevator, fully intent on finding Archie downstairs, but when the doors opened next she found herself in the ICU. Radvi... I need to see him. Her feet took her towards the nurse's station. At first they tried to deny her, but something came across their faces as they looked the girl over. Was it pity? Or sympathy? Either way, they seemed to get it. Eli wasn't leaving the hospital until she saw him.
The nurse took her halfway there, but she was quickly pulled away to care for a patient. Eli slowly made her way towards his room. Her body felt heavier with each step. Was it her exhaustion, or was she scared to see what remained of her friend? Either way, she finally made it to the door.
Only to hear a voice inside. It was male, and deep. From what he was saying, it looked like Eli arrived a few moments after he did.
"“So… hey, buddy. Lookin’ good.”
Eli was about to turn away. To find a bench where she could rest her tired legs until he left. She spotted a place not far down the hall, but the next thing the man said to Radvi stopped her in her tracks. The taser? D? She rested her shoulder on the wall, resisting the urge to peek around the doorway to see who was speaking. He continued, mentioning Gennedy and a man named Wrath. Eli thought she recognized that name from somewhere. Maybe some staff member that worked in the Spire. She frowned as he mentioned new projects. More tasers? Or worse? The image of men carrying large nullifying technology popped back into Eli's head and she tensed.
Eli hesitated as she heard the man’s chair slide across the ground. He was finished speaking and coming her way, and he would find her standing outside of the door. He would know she’d overheard him. Did he know her? Had D shown him footage of that night, of her attempts to help Radvi? The panic made her mind fuzzy. It also didn’t help that her body wasn’t cooperating. So, in the few seconds that the man made his way to the door, Eli could only lean her back against the wall and hope that he would just think she was politely waiting for her turn.
When her eyes picked up on movement, she slowly pushed herself away from the wall. The man before her was short, shorter than he sounded, but he was massive. Eli wasn’t sure if she felt creeped out by him, or she wanted to tell him to fuck off. He was the one who was working with nullifiers. There had to be something wrong with this guy. She stared right into his eyes, although it didn’t look as intimidating as she was going for. She looked like she hadn’t slept in weeks. At least she was showered.
The man made his exit from Radvi’s room, closing the door behind him. The moment his eyes met Eli, he stopped. A little bit of a scowl etched itself across his brow, just barely noticeable. “Who are-...” He began, stopping himself mid-sentence. After a moment, he raised his finger towards Eli and said, “I recognize you, from the footage. You were with Rad last night.”
Eli noticed the subtle change in his expression, her body tensing again the moment she felt his hostility. She was in no state to handle a hostile, but something in her gut told her to fight back. Her eyes glanced between his finger and his face. She nodded her head, her own expression blank. "I’m surprised that the robot let you see that.”
“Okay, cool, I guess everyone knows he’s a robot.” The man said dismissively, mostly to himself. “Fuck it. Yeah, uh… Rad’s mentioned you before. Uh…” He took a moment to collect his memories. “Essex, right? Wessex?”
Another nod. Eli almost extended her hand to the guy, but the thought of touching the man that was working against her kind told her not to. "Wessex. I’ve known Radvi for four years now.” She wanted to let him know that she’d overheard the conversation, but she chose to stay ignorant in his eyes. Maybe she could find out more by acting dumb.
“I’m Trevor. I work in R&D.” Trevor replied, “Uh… listen, I’m not… I mean, Rad… look, just- thanks. For being there for him. I appreciate it.”
Eli blinked, in awe that the man would thank her at all. She looked between his eyes and she could see that he was being genuine. Her voice was much softer when she spoke again. “I’m glad that I could help him.” She glanced towards the door and felt a lump in her throat, but she refrained from becoming too emotional in front of a stranger. Her eyes returned to Trevor. “You’re the one who gave Radvi the taser? Did you get footage of that?”
“Yeah, I did.” Trevor replied, “Glad it worked as well as it did on Je-... Arianna. Just wish it didn’t go so fucking south just minutes later.”
Eli’s blood went cold, but her expression didn’t falter. Was he going to say a different name? He caught himself in time, but it was still a huge blunder. “It’s a shame she broke it,” she said, her tone matching his. Maybe if he thought she was on his side, which she sort of was, he would keep going. “The jello bitch got away, and now the best officer out there is down for the count.”
“Yeah.” Trevor replied, taking a moment of pause. “Hey, uh… you’re one of the folks he gave a PSI chip to, right? The ones coded to Arianna?”
Eli stared into his eyes, red flags waving all around him. “I was the one who found her.” She said flatly. “I want her gone as much as you do.” She was definitely not going to return the chip to him. He’d have to force it out of her hands.
“Well if Rad trusted you with one, then I will too.” Trevor said - rather unexpectedly. “D’s got his own and there’s… one more floating around out there, forget who with.”
A brief moment of silence passed between the two.
“Tell me… how well do you know him? Jacob, I mean.”
Eli was caught off guard once more. She felt like she was getting whiplash, without the violence. This guy was either manipulating her, or just too smart and all over the place. Her mind was too fuzzy. She continued on. “We’re close. He keeps in touch, and I do too. I helped him defend the public shelter, in the breakout.”
That was it. That was the fire that cleared her mind. The breakout. This guy was definitely one of the people that wanted to just forget it happened completely. “Arianna was behind that, too.”
“I sure as shit believe it.” Trevor said, “And just… I mean for that? We gotta bring the fucking hammer down, right? But the Chief and the rest of these chuckleshits have just FUCKIN-“
He stopped himself again, before his volume went any higher.
“Sorry… sorry, I’m just… really fuckin’ on edge, y’know?” Trevor said after taking a moment to collect himself, “She makes me… so angry. Especially after last night.”
Eli was silent as he spoke, mostly out of shock. Of course the staff would be furious. She knew that. What was shocking about the man’s reaction was that he felt so emotional about it. She found herself relating to him. Her head nodded in agreement. She was angry, too, but she still felt helpless. As helpless as she’d been last night. She pursed her lips before continuing.
“Are you going to make another taser? To stop her? If we’d known the one he hit was a doppelganger, we could take down the real one.” Her eyes were serious. “What is Gennedy doing about her? He understands the threat now, right?”
“He said so, guess we just have to wait and see what he actually ends up doing.” Trevor had his hands on his hips as he searched for his words. “Listen, I… look, I don’t have the best track record with paras, okay? Seen them do some awful, gut-wrenching shit - recently, especially. But Rad-... Jacob reminded me that you’re not all soulless rotten fucks - don’t take that the wrong way. Point is… I am determined to get this bitch. And D is too, I’m fairly certain. So… I would say we’re all on the same team here, right?”
Eli was silent for a few moments, still in awe that Trevor was acting this way. Slowly, she nodded. “I will do everything I can to help. I’ve never seen anyone that could do what she’s done, and there were some serious threats that came out of that prison.” She pressed her lips together and momentarily was hesitant to say more. She wanted to test his loyalty to Wrath, but she didn’t want to offend him after she just agreed that they were on the same side.
“It’s all about stopping people like her. That’s what this entire station is built for, right? We’re trained to control our abilities, and use them for good. No one would harm one of us unless they had a good reason, right?”
“Kid, c’mon, neither of us are that stupid. This station has a prison on it and a bunch of angry, overzealous, high school dropout fucktards wearing uniforms. And I can admit that because, honestly? I fucking hate this place. I just want Arianna dead.”
Eli nodded, although she looked discouraged by his statement. “We all do. Each side does.” She wasn’t trying to hide her emotions now. In some odd way, she felt like she could trust him. Radvi trusted him. “I’m just scared what this taser means. In the long run. Anyone trigger happy against us could do some serious harm.”
“Yeah…” Trevor replied, “Yeah, I getcha. I know it looks bad - and it’s probably gonna start looking a lot worse at some point - but… look, I’m not gonna condone security using our tech to live out their power fantasies, but it’s not something that’s gonna be stopped in its tracks. Bottom line is, it’ll help stop Arianna. After that…”
He took a moment.
“Well I guess, just… keep your head down.”
Another moment of silence.
“Alright, I gotta get back to R&D, and you wanna… talk to him, I guess.” Trevor said, motioning towards the door to Radvi’s room. “So, listen, you need anything from me, go find D. He’s basically my metal errand boy now. ‘Kay?”
Eli nodded for the last time in their conversation. She found herself thinking that he wasn’t as bad as she assumed he would be. She extended her hand to shake his, in what was the most gracious effort of trust she’d shown to any staff member other than Radvi. “Thank you, Trevor.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure.” He said, shaking Eli’s hand, rather quickly and half-heartedly, as he made his way past her and down the hall - like he was trying to shake off the more pleasant aspects of his personality that he’d just displayed. “Don’t go telling any security we’re all chums now, right? Don’t want the fucking peanut gallery giving me shit while I work.”
Eli let her hand drop to her side and watched him walk away. So, he admitted that they were working on more tech. At least it was nice to know that he wasn't inherently evil. She was still for a moment, but she soon turned to open Radvi's door.
Her heart fell into her stomach as she took in the sight of Radvi's limp body. Half of his face covered in bandages. How much of him was still left? Would he even look the same? Eli made her way over to the chair that Trevor left by the bed. She scooted it closer to Radvi before slumping into it.
"Hey," she murmured to Radvi. "You're still in there, right?" She bit her lip, her hands gripping the edge of the chair. "I met Trevor just now. You really know how to make friends. First D, and now him?" She scoffed softly. "Anyways... I'm glad you're okay." She felt the lump return, and tears began to well up in her eyes. "I... I want you to get better, but don't rush yourself. All of us can take care of the station while you're gone." She was biting back the urge to cry. "She won't get away with this. You'll see. I'm going to make sure of it."
She couldn't stand to say more, and she didn't want to cry in front of him. She pushed herself out of the chair and left the room. On her way to the elevator, she wiped what tears had escaped her off of her face. It felt like it was going to be hard not to cry, but by the time she greeted Archie in the foyer downstairs the tears were all gone.
One week later. . .
The few times that Eli had ever been in close proximity to Lynn, Eli was dressed well. She was also smiling, probably smiling too much. It was in her nature to brighten up a room. She took pride in being the friend that always made others happier. Today was a different story. Eli shuffled up to the entrance of El Vaquero. Her hair was brushed, but it didn’t have it’s usual shine. Not greasy, but flat against her shoulders. She simply wore a massive hoodie, leggings, and a pair of dirty converse. A result of carelessly getting dressed, and also wanting to feel comfortable. Dark circles clung to her eyes, but she didn’t seem tired.
When she lifted her head, she saw Lynn standing by the restaurant. Upon seeing her, Eli could remember the way the young girl looked kneeling next to Radvi. She wasn’t sure if Lynn had been scared or not. It only mattered that she’d been the one to help.
”Hey,” she murmured with a soft smile. ”I’m glad you came. I’m starving.”
Lynn was getting tired of mind games, but at least she wasn’t playing with Denim. Lynn left El Vaquero. She was a minute or two later than she would like to be - meaning she was only a minute or two early. Lynn hadn’t freshened up after her shift so much as she’d scanned around and tried to figure out if there was some angle on this. Her gut was twisting back and forth from the minute she’d gotten the text from Eli. What did I tell her when I was drunk? Lynn couldn’t remember, only bits, only pieces. And then she sees me with her cop friend… Lynn hadn’t thought Eli was the sort, but this certainly felt like some kind of a shakedown.
And finding out where she worked and picking a meet-up there? Christ if that wasn’t a power move if Lynn had ever seen one.
Lynn approached as Eli waved her over. She looked different. Wearing a hoodie? For a brief minute, Lynn contemplated if that was some kind of - no, no, even...no. She’d just happened to pick a hoodie that day. Lynn rubbed at her eyes for a minute. She needed sleep. “Hey.” she looked up at her. Eli was always pretty, a fact that prickled at Lynn sometimes, especially when Eli was being kind, but she looked more like she’d rolled out of bed today. Lynn didn’t get it. And she was glad Lynn came? Wait, did she not know I worked here? “Yeah, let’s grab something. Basically everything’s good if Ignacio wasn’t the one cooking it.”
Eli’s brows furrowed for a moment, but she couldn’t keep up the expression for long. It returned to a blank, almost empty look. ”Who’s Ignacio?” She asked as she turned to push open the doors to the restaurant. She glanced over the contents of the restaurant before turning her head to Lynn. ”You’ve been here too? They have really great enchiladas.”
Lynn opened her mouth to say something - calling it something smart may not have been accurate, as Lynn’s sarcastic jabs were usually not intelligent moves in the long run, but something else came out. Not a lie or the truth but something kind of in-between. In a brief second, Lynn’s play-counterplay look at what Eli was doing became very jarred. Lynn had a good eye for bullshit, and didn’t particularly trust a girl who’d spent years up here to be a particularly good con artist. She...seemed on the level. Lynn turned to the hostess, who eyed her with utter disdain. Fuck off, front of house. “D - Two,” Lynn said. The waitress grabbed two menus and walked them to a table. “Yeah, been here a time or two, I guess,” Lynn said. She chewed on her lip. She wasn’t looking to actively lie to Eli she - “I work here,” Lynn said, so suddenly it almost took her by surprise. Lynn felt like she had sat down to play a game with the older girl, and she changed out all the pieces and rules each time she blinked. “Ignacio’s cool.” They sat down and the hostess left. “That lady’s like, lady Hitler, though. There’s probably anthrax in this menu or something.” Lynn left hers unopened, a policy Lynn took to most written documents. She sat quietly for a second, thinking. Lynn struggled with small talk at the best of times and there was pretty much no delicate way to breach this one. If this is a shakedown just do it already. Lynn looked at the dark circles under Eli’s eyes. She not sleeping either, then? “I’d order tequila, but that doesn’t end so well, it looks like.”
Eli raised her eyebrows as the two walked towards the table, nodding her head to let Lynn know she was listening. It was when Lynn blurted out that she worked here that Eli turned to look at her. Eli remained quiet as she sat, preferring to let Lynn speak. It reminded her of their little moment in the woods, and Eli was making sure to bring that up sometime in the conversation. The lady Hitler comment got to her, and the first real smile she’d had in a week spread across her lips. She giggled when Lynn mentioned anthrax, already opening her own menu to glance over it. The tequila comment also invoked a grin.
”Yeah, you really can’t handle your liquor.” She teased, her eyes alight with mischief. ”Only one bottle? That’s child’s play.” She was joking, of course.
The side of Lynn’s lips turned up in a smile in spite of herself. She started to open her mouth but stopped herself. Yeah, but I know a guy who can’t even take one shot. “Yeah. We’ll do whiskey next time. Stay American.” Lynn frowned. “You are American, right? You don’t sound weird.” Lynn placed her order as the waitress came by, the woman raising an eyebrow at Lynn’s presence but saying nothing. Lynn turned back to Eli. This felt like a game to her - did Eli or Lynn remember more? Lynn didn’t want to let on how little she remembered of what she’d said. What does she want, if she does? Lynn wondered. And then, more quietly, she asked herself if Eli would even want anything at all. It...Lynn couldn’t dismiss it. But it was very unlikely. Exceedingly unlikely. Probably impossible.
Eli smirked as she saw Lynn’s usual pensive frown twitch. ”Born and raised,” she began, looking over the menu one more time. ”I grew up in Phoenix. Arizona.” She looked up as the waitress approached and politely ordered. When she left, she looked back at Lynn and gave her a small grin.“What did you do to her? It looks like you burnt her stache’ off.”
Like a good overhand, that one slipped Lynn’s guard. She snorted into her water, wiping her face off with her sleeve. “She’s - “ Lynn paused. “Shit, I don’t actually remember her name. I’m really bad with names. I dunno, man. Restaurants are like - “ Lynn paused, putting more consideration into her description of restaurant work dynamics than she ever had into a meeting with a principal in high school. “Like...you’re either a douchebag or a bitch in a restaurant, right? And all the douchebags work in the back - that’s where I work - and all the bitchy people are upfront. I don’t really remember, honestly. They always blame all their problems on us, we blame everything on them, circle of life and all that shit.” Lynn sipped at her water again. “No, wait, I called her a breeding horse or something like that one time. I forget why. Yeah, that was it. Forget that other stuff.” Lynn leaned back into the seat. “Anyway, what’s up?”
Eli tried to suppress her giggles in case the waitress overheard, but the breeding horse comment stuck a cord. She laughed. Her chest and back ached from exhaustion, but she laughed. It almost distracted her from her reason to be at the restaurant, but as Lynn made herself comfortable in the booth, Eli felt the momentary joy fade from her body. She gripped the edges of her hoodie under the table and absentmindedly played with a bit of loose string.
”Well. . . I want to thank you. For helping me. And Radvi.” She looked into Lynn’s eyes, her throat tight as she attempted to control her emotions. She didn’t want to become a sobbing mess in front of Lynn. Not again. “The doctors told me that if you hadn’t acted when you did, he would have bled out. I helped- a little bit, but what you did really saved him.”
““Thank you, Lynn.”
Lynn did not realize her mouth was open, or that her hair had simmered down to a warm red, the color of a fireplace that’s near the perfect temperature to sit and talk the night away by. She stared at Eli with equally red eyes, one leg pulled up to her chest at the booth and the other hanging a few inches off the ground. She had felt this way on the Promise one time before, and it was when he had brought her flowers. That was it, then - flowers in one hand and the twist in the other? Where’s the favor, Arizona? Lynn wondered. She had to wonder, because if she didn’t she was thinking about how Eli looked like she’d been hit by a freight train, and she hadn’t been sleeping either, and why the fuck would she include that bit about saving Radvi if she was lying, because anyone on earth could tell you that Lynn saw saving a Promise security guard’s life as a very ambivalent outcome on the best of days. Longer than Lynn realized passed without her saying anything. “Don’t - “ she paused. What it would be? “Don’t thank me,” Lynn said back to her. “I - “ Lynn wanted to tell Eli the truth, but the truth was not particularly kind, and there was a part of her that didn’t get to speak very often over all the other parts. That part was pointing out no one else had invited Lynn out to lunch since then, and this was, well - “I didn’t really do it for any good reasons. But if - “ she stopped. Christ, if everyone she knew back home could see this. “Yeah.” Lynn looked away for a moment, offering Eli a second to compose herself if she needed it. I have no idea what the fuck is happening here.
Eli stared at Lynn, unsure what to think of Lynn’s reaction. She’d never seen her look like this before. Was she ever this… this dim? Her usual fire was soft, and Eli wondered if the girl had never been thanked before in her life. Her hands tightened around the hem of her hoodie as she listened to her. She didn’t do it for good reasons? What did that even mean? She’d saved a man’s life. How was that anything but good?
Lynn looked away, and Eli sniffed as she swallowed back the tears that threatened to escape down her cheeks. She released her hoodie and sat back in the booth as well. Her own legs came up to sit criss crossed in the booth, and she slouched forwards so that she felt closer to Lynn. Both elbows rested on her knees, and her hands hung limply in her lap.
“I… know you don’t like the security officers. I don’t either, really. But, Radvi isn’t like them. He’s never done anything to harm anyone unless it was in defence of an innocent.” She bit her lip for a moment before continuing, her eyes glancing over the features of the table between them. “You may not have done it because you cared about him, but you still helped him. That was a good deed. I really cannot thank you enough.”
She felt the edges of her cheeks burn as she thought of another topic to mention. It was something that brought shame to her. Something she felt guilty of doing.
“You really put yourself at risk that night.” She began, glancing sheepishly up at Lynn before looking back at the stain on the table in front of her. “I’m sorry I didn’t do anything to help. You could have been hurt. Radvi was hurt. And I was just too… scared to do anything.” She wrung her hands together below the table. She couldn’t understand why she was being so open with Lynn, but it felt good. This was something she could never talk to her friends about. Not even Maddy. They wouldn’t understand. Lynn had mentioned things to her that night. Slurred and confusing words, but they still lingered with Eli. She released a long breath to relieve the tension in her body. Her hands loosened as she did so, and she looked up at Lynn with a new feeling of relief.
“You were saying some… pretty dark things, before you put yourself in harms way. It’s not safe to do that. You’re probably the most capable of standing up against… her- but we both saw what she’s capable of.” She pressed her lips together, hesitant to say more, but fuck it. It was something she wanted to say. “I just want you to know that I think it was pretty stupid of you. Everyone needs a backup. I might have failed you that night, but I want you to know that you can rely on me. I won’t be scared again. I won’t.” She laid her hands flat on the table, feeling like she’d laid out all of her cards. “And you can talk to me, if you’re feeling troubled. Whatever happened in your past, it hurts, but it doesn’t matter up here. You have a chance to be a new person. A better person. It’s a fresh start, and I can help you with that.”
Eli was feeling a new sense of responsibility surge through her. Some maternal- no, not maternal. It was something like that, but not as urgent. She’d never had siblings before. Her father had new kids- normal kids, after he remarried, but she barely knew them. Maybe it felt like Lynn was someone she needed to look after, like a younger sibling. She didn’t need to worry about her constantly. She was aware that Lynn could handle herself. Eli didn’t feel obligated to protect her, but it felt like Lynn could use someone to quietly look out and be there for her. That was something Eli could do. Even if she was too weak or scared to protect her completely.
Lynn looked away.
Looking away, it is worth clarifying, is a bitch move. It’s what a dog does when you whip the fight out of it or what a coward does when they get to the sad part in a Nicholas Sparks movie.
Lynn turned and stared at the window for a moment. She had not realized it, but the knee she had pulled up to her chest was her right one, and through the frayed seams of her blue jeans the nasty scar was clearly visible. It looked as if it had at least a year to heal - and, seemingly, even more given Lynn’s gifts - but it looked not much better than as if she’d had her knee split open a week before.
There was too much noise in Lynn’s head. There always was. Dolls. Failing grades. The girls. Juvy. Christmas trees. Him and the lizard both. Keaton. Gennedy. The bad dreams.
Lynn scratched at her knee as she turned back to Eli. There was too much noise now. She didn’t know what to make of any of this. There were so few people who would joke with Lynn - it was why she took such a liking to the cooks in the back of the house. Even fewer told her when she was being a dumbass. Something Eli said had nudged open the little black box buried down deep in Lynn’s thoughts, the sort of thing you could pull out of the flaming wreck of her life and discern all that had led to this point with.
She hadn’t - if Arianna had…it didn’t really…
Lynn put the box away. She was forgetting what she came here for. There was only one thing that mattered. The concern, the tears, the - this was all a hustle. “What sort of things do you remember me saying?” Lynn asked, her voice a murmur. “You were pretty drunk too.” Lynn didn’t like this. All her clothes felt too tight on her, even though they hung off her frame in spades, and she felt naked, as if Eli had seen some part of her no one was supposed to see or slid into her own skin and felt the way her body worked. Part of her wanted to call Eli a pussy, or to leave, something, anything, because this was like twisting a wire tighter and tighter around Lynn’s chest until she couldn’t breathe.
But nobody looked at Lynn with relief. Lynn knew what she was saying - what it really was. Telling somebody you can rely on me was just a pretty, pretty lie. Beautiful, but a lie, at the end of the day. Lynn knew Keaton was loyal, but that loyalty went until there was a gun barrel to her head.
Lynn’s hand gripped her scarred knee. It kept her in the seat, her face still as dead iron, but her hair flickering with soft light.
“To be honest, I could barely understand what you were saying,” Eli said back. A part of her was worried that Lynn was mad at her, but a part of her was firm with her decision to speak about it. “You just… you sounded like you’ve done a lot of things that you regret. You mentioned a woman that wanted to hurt Archie, and you said that you didn’t mean to burn him.” She watched Lynn closely, feeling like their earlier moment of giggles was unreachable now. Had she gone too far? Would Lynn pull away this time? “I didn’t see it happen, and I didn’t know you very well back then, but I have a feeling that Archie shouldn’t have touched you in the first place. I mean, you were literally steaming when you walked away. It was his mistake, not yours.”
“I don’t know if it’s my place to make judgements. Especially since I wasn’t there and I have no idea what happened. But it sounds like if the woman was going to hurt Archie you had a right to do whatever you did to her. I know I certainly would. I mean, the guy is a literal puppy.” She was too tired to think about how to phrase her words. She probably could have said all of this in a more poetic way, but her thoughts weren’t as coherent lately. She was tired of coating everything in sugar to make herself everyone’s best buddy.
Lynn stared at her. She wasn’t bullshitting her, which confused her more. Lynn knew hustlers. They asked for money by now, or they were checking to see which pocket you tucked your wallet in. If she’d waited until after the bill, then - Lynn rubbed at her head and looked back at her. She was livid, she wanted to burn this restaurant down, but she couldn’t explain why, or at who. Eli was….it just didn’t….Lynn didn’t get it, and Lynn didn’t like not getting things. She wanted to grab her by the collar and tell her not to fuck with her, to tell her what she heard, but that was dumb for more reasons than Lynn could name.
She didn’t know. Or at least Lynn let herself believe it. That felt good, too. It felt beautiful. “The thing with him - “ Lynn paused, the name like a acid-dipped brick on her tongue, “Archie. That was the first time you saw me.” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement, Lynn watching Eli. “And you think he was…” she was right, was the thing, but Lynn didn’t trust that, because people told you what was right and what you wanted to hear when they wanted something. “Why did he grab me from behind?” Lynn muttered. “He’s lucky he got off easier than Gar-” Lynn stopped herself. You’re not even drunk this time, dipshit, hold it together. Her mind, she felt, needed a good thirty hours unconscious to get as sharp as she wanted it. Things were slipping. She didn’t want to talk about the woman that was going to - her eyes bulging, magma seeping from the - hurt Archie. Not here. Not in a restaurant. “I - yeah. I don’t…” Lynn stopped, not sure of what to say. There was a lot and Lynn wouldn’t have known how to start on any single one of them.
Lynn surreptitiously reached a hand down to her other thigh, and scorched a small mark on her jeans. A second letter, the faint smell of smoke reached her - just barely, not anything serious. If Eli had been fucking with her mind, would she have covered those bases? “I don’t really know what to say,” Lynn said, entirely truthfully.
Eli’s eyes scoured Lynn’s face as she reacted to the comments. She wasn’t sure what was going on in Lynn’s head, but the physical reactions were enough to give away enough. Eli suddenly felt guilty for even bringing it up. She’d upset Lynn. She’d gone too far. Why couldn’t she have just kept her mouth shut? How was she going so wrong lately? Nothing Eli did ever since the breakout felt right. She had to backtrack a moment. Lynn didn’t need to be reminded of her guilt. It was cruel of Eli to point it out so clearly. Eli’s shoulders sagged, and she felt defeated. This time it was Eli that looked away, her hands coming together to pick at the edges of her sleeves.
“Sorry, I… I shouldn’t have brought it up.” She took a deep breath. “The reason I came up here, when I was younger, was my fault. I could have stayed home with my parents. I could have been happy. But I hurt- well, I didn’t physically hurt her- anyways, I messed up one of my classmates. For a while there, I felt so guilty about it. And then I realized, I’d done it out of self-defense. They blamed me for it, when it was her that should have gotten in trouble. By then I was already up here, but I learned not to be so harsh on myself or others like me. We’re all just trying to get by, one way or another.”
Her eyes finally lifted to look at Lynn. “I guess I just see a lot of myself in you. I don’t like seeing others in pain.” She wasn’t sure what to say after that, so she decided to let Lynn take her time to speak next.
Self defense “What did she do?” Lynn asked, before any of the rest of her could catch up. “I - fuck, that’s not. Sorry,” Lynn said, an apology so genuine it caught her off-guard. “I - that was a dick move.”
The waitress brought by their food, and Lynn was for the first time in her life grateful to see The Fertilization Foaly. “That was…” Lynn hesitated, thinking that she was teetering towards that line, the one that when you cross it’s too late, because once you peel back enough people can just see straight inside.
But the truth was that every single day since the night before she was arrested, Lynn had woken reasonably certain that one might be the day they killed her. And it was easier to peel back the wall when there were already mile-wide cracks in it. “That wasn’t cool to ask. I just - you look like you’re not sleeping. Not in a - you look good, I mean, it’s not like you’re ugly or anything.” Fuck me, I hate all of this. Lynn stopped, gathering her thoughts. “Why do you...you’re the only person that didn’t.” Lynn stopped again, her food still steaming just as much as when it was brought out. “Okay so you don’t even know me, right, and you see Archie go after me, and, and, you assume he’s the dipshit. Not me. Not - and then, at the party, you come out. In the woods. I just.” Lynn looked up at her face. It was pretty, truly, past the sags under his eyes and the puffy features of bereavement. “What do you see of you in me?” Lynn asked, genuinely confused. “I just…” Lynn rubbed at her forehead. She was making an ass of herself. The steel crept back into her voice. Not at Eli, but at everything else. “I think you’re gonna get fucked that way,” Lynn said, looking back up at her. “Not...some people deserve it. Being harsh on them. You can’t go off into the woods after people.” She didn’t say it, but she knew the next two words were clear. Not me. Lynn looked at her and thought she would see Lucy, but she saw Clarita, who had been shorter than Lynn for at least a month or two longer than the others, the sweetest of all of them. The only one Lynn could muster empathy for, when things had gone to hell. She didn’t get it, Lynn thought. She was just doing what Che told her to. “They’ll hurt you,” Lynn said.
Eli was fully prepared to answer the first question out of Lynn’s mouth, but she was caught off guard by the apology as well. She remained silent, listening to Lynn’s point of view come tumbling out of her. She glanced at the food on the table in front of her. It smelled great, but for some reason she barely had an appetite. You need to eat. No matter how you feel. She reminded herself, and she picked up her fork to take a bite while she thought of how to answer.
“Look, I get it. I know the world isn’t as perfect as the staff up here make it out to be. I think this place is just as shit as being on Earth would be. The only difference is that the people up here are trying to make themselves better, while the people on Earth are just trying to survive. Whether or not we were forced to come here.” She took another bite of food, feeling energy flow back into her.
“I’m not trying to get you to pity me. And I don’t pity you. I know you’re strong, and you don’t need me. But it’s nice to have someone to rely on. When my ability appeared, it wasn’t as obvious as something like yours. The kids in my school knew I was different, but they didn’t know why. So, they liked to pick fights. One day I just felt tired of it. So I lashed out. Ever since, I’ve felt this need to fight back. I’ve gotten better about deciding when and who and where, so I don’t get in trouble for it. With Arianna-” She paused, her body tensing as she said the woman’s name. “With her, I felt defenseless. Like if she was the same bully from back in middle school, I wouldn’t have been able to stop her.” She was getting way off topic. This wasn’t supposed to be a pity party. “I don’t want anything from you, Lynn. I just think that after what we went through that night, we could both watch each other’s backs. I don’t want to let you or Radvi down again.”
Lynn hadn’t touched her food yet. She didn’t really feel hungry. She watched Eli. There was a part of Lynn that had been dormant, the kind of sleep most mistake for death, for quite some time. Since the last time she’d zipped up Clarita’s jacket and made sure she’d at least half-assedly attempted her homework for school. She wanted to tell Eli this was a mistake for her, that she was being a fool, that tying your fortunes to Cordelia Lynn Holmes was chaining yourself to a sinking ship, but she knew she couldn’t put into words the older girl would understand. “Yeah,” Lynn said, nodding. There was, somewhere in her, an ounce of ability that hadn’t been stretched thin between watching the police and noting their movements, between wondering if every bump in the night was the arrest for Salamandra or Arianna herself, between trying to pass classes she in no way could begin to comprehend, to keep an eye on Eli. I cannot believe the one decent person on this fucking ship is the cop’s friend. Lynn smiled, thinking for the umpteenth time in the last month what those who knew her back on Earth would think of all this.
There was a lot and there weren’t many words. Lynn started to eat slowly, thinking over everything the girl had said. There was a part of her that wanted to ask if Eli was, you know, maybe not doing anything the rest of the afternoon, or something, but Lynn hushed that part away.
Maybe five minutes had passed of forks on plates.
“Tell me that bitch doesn’t look like Hidalgo, though.” Lynn said, hoping for a laugh. Before she could get one, everything seemed to well back up - Eli's tears, and lying in the cafeteria closet with a knife in her leg, and seeing Archie's scalded hand, and Lynn wanted to say I don't sleep either these days I know how you feel or find some way of saying You're not a terrible person, terrible people are terrible because they go after people like you but none of those seemed to fit and like a spasm Lynn blurted -
"Look, if anyone ever fucks with you, come tell me."
Elara could only stand and watch as the group around her continued to battle the T-Rex. What little she'd done already seemed to be just useless efforts. Her lips pressed into a frown. All of these people had abilities that could affect things physically. Her own strength was much different. At the moment, it was frustrating to realize that she couldn't do much against a threat like this.
It was still hard to grasp that this pre-historic animal was real. If it was just an illusion, like everything had been before, then how was it able to hurt them? What other forces were at play, here?
It was then that Elara heard the voices. She immediately turned her attention towards the source of them. The ceiling? Were they in some observation room, obscured from view? The first voice was unrecognizable, but Elara felt her blood boil as she heard the second. Rae Gardner. So, this really had been just a set up? She knew they were being sent into a trap. She was most likely hoping that they would finish each other off in a fight. Now that things weren't going her way, she'd decided to do it herself.
Gardner spoke again, this time referring to the first voice as sister. It was then that Elara finally pieced two and two together, which made her feel completely stupid that she hadn't figured it out already. These sisters were behind the death of Serval Industries former CEO, Harrison Snow. In what other ways had Gardner lead Serval Industries wrong in the past few months? It wouldn't be safe to return to Serval, and now she realized that it wouldn't be safe to return home. This woman knew everything about her. She knew her identity, and her face. Father... She thought, instantly feeling fear for his safety. If they didn't stop her soon, she could use his safety as a threat.
Elara was shocked to see four new threats materialize in the room. "So, Gardner is an illusionist too?" She murmured to herself, but she soon grimaced as she saw the illusions cause physical damage to her new acquaintances. Before she could step in to help, she also saw the man in green leather aim an arrow towards the voices. Only for the arrow to come hurtling back down towards him. They're using each of their abilities against us to make the illusions real. She curled her hands into fists in anger. How can we beat that?
Looking around, Elara saw that Watts had killed one of the velociraptors. They were able to be beaten, but wouldn't Gardner and her friends simply conjure up more illusions to fight? When would it end? How could Elara help to end it in her companion's favors? She needed to get to the source. She needed to get out of this room. Or she needed to play a few tricks on Gardner too.
In order to do so, Elara stopped affecting the T-Rex's sight. It would hardly matter if the beast could see. The illusion of the beast wasn't what they needed to fear. Whatever was causing the physical pain was what they needed to fear. They wouldn't know what it was until the illusions were dismantled. "Why wasn't I also gifted with the ability to see through illusions?" She grumbled, glancing around at the action before she thought of the only thing that could help them all at once. She was going to have to take on the sisters.
Hesitantly, Elara closed her eyes to the action before her. The sounds of chaos faded into the background as Elara focused all of her attention on what she was about to do. She searched the room with her mind, seeking out the strong minds of the three women that were playing with them. Swallowing, she attempted to sneak her way into the heads of the Mastermind sisters. Unfortunately, she felt herself lose touch as quickly as she started. This isn't a good time for this to happen. She thought as she shook out her hands. One more try. She wasn't sure who the third voice had been, but she could feel their presence near the Mastermind sisters. It was the last resort, and Elara put all of her focus into reaching out for her. If she was successful, she would give the woman a strong enough sensation of Vertigo that she would be writhing on the ground.
"You should learn not to mess with people more powerful then you," Madelyn's voice appeared in Elara's head, before she would end up frozen in place, unable to move.
Elara's eyes flew open, wide in sheer terror. As much as she tried, her muscles would not budge. Instant panic set in. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and it felt like the large room had gotten much smaller-as small as a car. No, no no! This couldn't be happening. She'd underestimated the third woman immensely. What was she going to do now? Scream for help. Elyse is dead. There's something in the back of your neck. Elara shut her eyes tightly, trying to block out the flashbacks that were haunting her as she stood in place.
Please, stop. She begged in her head. It was a last ditch effort that the woman would have mercy on her. If this didn't work, she was sure that the panic would overwhelm her.
"Ah, Hanae! Welcome back!" Asami Hatano cheerfully greeted Hanae, her cheeks pushing her glasses up her face as she grinned. Her cheerful disposition remained ever present, even after a long break between soccer seasons. Hanae knew she could always rely on Hatano-sensei's support. She was the team's very own cheerleader.
"Hello, Hanae! How was your summer?" Hisa Naya chimed in as she laid out a stack of parent permission slips on the table. "I hope you've been practicing over vacation."
Hanae nodded her head, smiling sheepishly at her mentor. Naya-sensei was her favorite coach, but she would never admit it out loud. She was the coach that pushed students to do better; the one that would stick around past hours to work through an issue they were having with their technique. Hanae looked up to her with the utmost respect. Even though Naya-sensei was never disappointed in her students, Hanae always tried her best to exceed her expectations.
"Yes, Naya-sensei. I've gotten especially good at my offensive moves."
Out of the corner of her eye, Hanae could see a few students making their way towards the table. She could tell they were first year students; the way they shyly whispered to encouragement to each other was a tell-all. Hanae remembered whispering encouragement to herself when she first approached the stand.
With a small nod towards the new students, Hanae gave Naya-sensei and Hatano-sensei a signal that she was going to leave by bowing her head. "I'll see you at practice!" The two instructors each nodded and said goodbye before turning to greet the two newcomers.
Hanae smiled reminiscently as she watched the two speak with the women's coaches, and then turned to be on her way. She began to make her way back towards the entrance to the room. On her way she saw a few of her old classmates from last year. She bowed her head, smiling and waving at them. They didn't stop to chatter. They knew that she wasn't one for huge social gatherings aside from parties and soccer games. So, they respectfully moved onward. So did Hanae.
She could see the entrance in the distance, but she still had a bit of crowd to move through to get there. Soon, she would be in her new dorm room with her books. Maybe she'd go one of her secret spots later to get a bit of writing in. She was feeling inspired by all of the new and old faces around her. The seasons were changing, and she was changing with them.
The tears stopped flowing after a few minutes. Eli's anguish quickly turned into a hardened resolve. She couldn't let Radvi's body go into shock, she wouldn't let him die. Her eyes were sore, still closed to the bloody sight before her. She dared not open them, in case she lost control of her illusion. Her back was aching, and her lungs felt like fire. She was still struggling to breathe. It felt like she'd been running and running for ages, even if she'd only started a few minutes ago. She knew she was overworking herself, but she continued to push herself harder.
She knew what would happen if she went too far. An old classmate had overstretched their abilities before, right in front of her. She'd seen the moment that their body broke from the exhaustion. Even though she felt her mind stretching further than it ever had before, she felt like it was only making her stronger. With every beat of Radvi's pulse against her fingers, Eli knew she was doing the right thing.
On the edge of her awareness, Eli felt an arm wrap itself around her shoulders. She gratefully accepted the support, using the embrace as a means of staying upright. Her head hung low, her free hand gripping Radvi's shoulder to comfort both herself and the injured officer. 'There is no pain,' she kept convincing his fractured mental state. 'Warm water is trickling down your face. You're going to be fine.'
She heard a voice calling to her. It sounded like it was a mile away, but she knew that it was closer than she thought. She opened her focus to listen to the voice and soon realized that Keaton had joined them in the ravine. She needed to describe the pain. They were telling the doctors what they were going to deal with when Radvi arrived.
Speaking was agonizing. She had to concentrate harder on her ability to get the air out of her throat, but she managed. This was important. It was worth her time. It was worth risking Radvi's comfort.
"I feel-" She began, her voice hoarse and hitching with every breath she took. It sounded distant and muffled, but Eli could only hope that Keaton and the doctors would understand her. "His head... the bullet-it hit his brain." She sounded surprisingly calm- or did she sound exhausted? Maybe it was a mixture of both. Keaton and the doctor were speaking again, but Eli wanted to make sure they knew where the worst parts of his pain were coming from. "The worst pain is coming from his jaw, his cheekbone, and-" She took another arduous breath. The longer she spoke, the harder it was to get the words out. "-the front side of his head."
Her mind was fuzzy for a few moments and she felt herself leaning against the steady support of the arm behind her. Her head slowly dropped, bu the sensation of gravity woke her before she lost consciousness. She straightened herself as best as she could, her grip tightening on Radvi's shoulder. His pulse continued to beat, but she could tell it was getting weaker. 'It's just warm water... There is no pain.'
Another voice broke into her consciousness. It mentioned getting to an infirmary faster. Eli's hazy mind slowly pieced the dots together: infirmary. . .teleport. Amelia.
Amelia could get Radvi to the infirmary within a seconds passing. He'd get help there- real help. Eli already knew that she wouldn't last much longer. She could feel her mind getting closer to that breaking point. She was stretched too far and too thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. As much as she'd like to go with them to the hospital, she wouldn't be of much use.
"Take him." Her voice was soft, and she allowed herself to open her eyes. The world around her was bleary, but she could make out that Lynn was still applying pressure to Radvi's face and Amelia was nearby. She looked straight at Amelia, wanting to make sure the girl knew exactly what she wanted. "Take Lynn too. Please... Just get him there now."
She couldn't hold onto Radvi any longer. If she did, she knew that her mind would shatter. It hurt to let go, but it wouldn't do either of them any good if she hurt herself too. The pain was already too much. "Go." She uttered before her hands slipped away from Radvi's body. She lost connection fast.
What felt like a rubber band that had been stretched between herself and Radvi snapped apart, and she felt the side attached to her come back and strike her. The shock traveled through her body and her muscles slackened in response. She fell backwards, into the strong embrace of whoever had been holding her up this whole time. It was comforting to know that someone was there to catch her. Just like when her mom or dad had been there. Her head rested on his shoulder, and what parts of her conscious that still remained could smell a mix of cologne, alcohol, perfume, and sweat. Archie. She thought. She would have thanked him for being there, but she was too focused on breathing now. Radvi will be okay. She tried to convince herself, as if she was the one that needed the illusion now.