~kieran~

Lily was at the door to the apartment. She had Ursula with her, a younger girl who worked for the OF. Ursula babysat for me sometimes. Lily’s face was all business. “We need your help with an issue on the other side of town,” she said. “Ursula will watch Chance.”

I didn’t ask questions. I’d promised to use Zaza’s powers to help the OF. I’d expected I’d have to sooner or later. I gave Ursula a few instructions for Chance, and Lily and I got in a car and drove across town. While she drove, she filled me in. There was a riot going on. A group of people who didn’t like the OF, possibly with ties to Jason. They had guns and they were marching. There was a threat of violence. I needed to subdue them.

When I’d first heard about Zaza’s powers, she’d tried to explain to me that they didn’t work exactly the way everyone in the OF thought they did. Back then, I hadn’t really believed her. I’m not sure, even after I saw what giving in to them had done to her, if I really believed it then either. But now, I had her memories. I knew the whispery, slithery voice that spoke in her head, urging her to use her power violently. And I also knew that the more that she’d given into the voice, the less she’d heard it.

I was afraid. I’d never used Azazel’s power for anything big, not like this. I only knew I had it because we’d tested it, Lily and me. But these people were a danger to our city and a danger to themselves. I was obligated to stop them. I’d just have to be careful.

We parked on a side street and entered one of the OF’s buildings. Lily took me up an elevator, so that I could look out the windows and be high enough to see the full scope of what was going on. Zaza probably would have been able to do this from home, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to use the power yet. It was probably better for me to be there in person.

Below us, a mob of hundreds of people had flooded the streets. From up here, I could see that some of them were carrying signs, but I couldn’t see what they said. They were marching in a pretty orderly fashion, and they were chanting something. From up here, behind glass windows, I couldn’t hear what it was. It just sounded like a roar.

Behind me, Lily said, “It would be best if we could just get them to turn around and go home, of course. But if that proves impossible, you’re authorized to use whatever resources you need.” She pointed to the edges of the crowd, where I could see uniformed police officers and members of the army. “Including mobilizing our armed forces.”

I nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

She folded her arms over her chest, and I suddenly realized this was a test. If I couldn’t use Zaza’s powers properly to end this situation, then the OF would probably insist I turn the powers over to Lily. I had to do this right. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath, sorting through Zaza’s memories of how to unleash the power.

She always pictured it like a bottle of liquid inside herself, something bubbly and under pressure. She had to uncap the bottle to release the liquid. I followed her example, forming the picture in my head and imagining uncapping the bottle.

Like a jolt, I felt the power burst free immediately, surging through my limbs and into my torso. It was stronger than her original memory of it. Or maybe I was just weaker than she had been. I felt like I’d been overtaken. My fists clenched, and I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter. I didn’t need to see. I could feel all the minds of the people in the crowd. I couldn’t sort one individual from another, but I could sense their intent. Astonished, I realized they weren’t set on violence at all. Instead, they were staging a peaceful protest. They just wanted the OF to hear their complaints. They wanted a return to democratic elections. That was all.

I opened my eyes. “Lily,” I said, “I don’t think these people are a danger to the OF.”

“Of course they are,” she snapped. “Now get rid of them.”

Yes, whispered a voice in my head. Make them tear out their own eyeballs.

I was horrified. What? But I couldn’t help picturing it. All the people in the crowd suddenly turning their own fingers into claws and thrusting them into their eye sockets.

“No,” I said aloud.

Yes, said the voice. Oh yes.

It poured through me. I felt as if it burst out of my body, arcing from my fingertips, flowing through the window and down to the crowd below. I tried to pull it back, but I wasn’t in control of the power. Instead, it pulled me forward with it. My forehead pressed up against the glass of the window, and I looked down at the crowd.

The people had dropped their signs. They had their hands at their faces and they were scratching into their own skin. I watched as blood poured over their cheekbones, as they tore gory bits of flesh out of their own faces and flung them onto the pavement.

But the power wasn’t done yet. I felt it reach out to the minds of the policemen and the members of the army. I felt it tell them to raise their guns. And I felt it urge them to fire.

Bullets rained out over the crowd, ripping into their skulls, drilling into their chests. There was more blood. The sounds of screams and triumphant yells echoed in my head, bouncing around in there. I couldn’t look away as I watched the entire crowd be massacred right in front of my eyes. It lasted for so long. They were shooting into the bodies long after everyone was dead. I couldn’t move. I stood at the window, with Lily at my back.

And then, finally, the power swirled back into my body, pushing itself back into the bottle I kept it in, laughing gleefully the entire time. I capped the imaginary bottle and slumped against the window, feeling sick to my stomach as I looked at my handiwork.

Lily patted me on the back. “Good work,” she said.

I was aghast. “Good work?! They weren’t even violent. They wanted elections, that was all. It was a peaceful protest.”

Lily led me away from the window. “OF intelligence assured us they were a very dangerous splinter group. Trust me when I tell you that what you’ve done was for the best.”

“Lily, I could feel their emotions. I could read their minds. They weren’t violent.”

She laughed. “Kieran, you’ve barely been using the power for the few weeks you’ve had it. How can you be sure that you could read their minds? Now, I know the power is…thorough, and that its effects can seem overly gory. But you and your power are quite an asset to the OF. We know that now. And we can trust you, unlike Azazel, to follow our commands, can’t we?”

“When the commands are reasonable, I’mโ€””

“The OF does not give unreasonable commands, Kieran. We can count on you, can’t we? For the sake of Little Chance?”

Was she threatening my baby? She wouldn’t dare, would she? I took a deep breath. “You can count on me,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “I’ll take you back home now.”

***

~joan~

He stood by the window in his vast living room, staring out over the whole of Jasontown and the river, which gleamed bright in the twilight, reflecting the setting sun. He didn’t turn around when I entered, but he knew I was there. “I’m glad you came,” he said.

I felt unsure of what to do with myself, so I stood just inside the door, my hands in my pockets. “Did I have a choice?” Instantly, I regretted it. I would make him angry saying something like that.

But he just laughed. “Choice,” he said. “We used to believe in that, you and me. We thought we wouldn’t end up like everyone said we would. We thought we could fight destiny.” He turned around then and looked at me. “But here we are. And everything that everyone has said about us has come true.”

He was talking about me again like he knew who I was. Like we’d had some kind of history. “Who do you think I am?”

He crossed the room to me. Took me by the shoulders and gazed deep into my eyes. “If you’re faking, you’re doing a really good job.”

“Faking what?” I said. Was this how this was going to work then? I felt confused. Half of me had wondered if I’d be forced into some kind of weird leather fetish gear and sent over here to perform a striptease. But instead, I was here in the clothes I’d been wearing. What was going to happen? Was he expecting me to be seductive? If he was, he was just going to have to get over it. I wasn’t good at that. At least, I didn’t think I was. I couldn’t remember.

He dropped my arms and chuckled. “A very, very good job.” He strode away from me again and wandered over to a table next to the door. It had a few knick knacks on it. He picked one up and studied it. “All this stuff was in the house when I got here. I’ve never really even looked at it.” He set the knick knack back down. “So, you don’t remember anything.”

“Not before a few weeks ago,” I said.

“The exact time the attacks stopped,” said Jason. “Either you planned this out really well, or you’re telling the truth.”

The attacks? What attacks? “Who do you think I am?” I asked again. “Do you know me?”

Jason looked at me, smiling. “Let’s just say you look remarkably like someone I used to know very well. Maybe you’re her. Maybe you’re not. Maybe it’s not important.”

“It’s important to me,” I said. “If you know who I am, then I want to know. I don’t know who I am.”

He shook his head. “No. If you were her, you wouldn’t want to know. She’s not…” He sucked in breath audibly. “She’s not a very nice person.”

Well that was strange. But if Jason were right, and I was some kind of terrible person, then maybe I didn’t want to know after all. Everything seemed strange. It had been strange, really strange, ever since I’d woken up with no memory. But back then, I’d had this undercurrent of certainty that I needed to find Jason. I’d found him. I was alone with him now. But all that certainty was gone.

Jason was toying with the knick knack again. “She hurt me. She ruined me.”

I couldn’t help it. I went to him. I put a tentative hand on his shoulder, trying to be comforting. “I don’t know if I think that whatever you’re doing here with concubines and whips on the walls is all a great idea,” I admitted. “But I don’t think I’d want to hurt you. Ever.” And somehow, I knew that I wouldn’t want to hurt Jason. Somehow, I knew that I cared about him. Very deeply.

He put his hand on mine and turned to look at me again. “You really don’t remember?”

I shook my head.

He clasped my hand with his own and brought it to his lips. He kissed my fingertips. Then he let go of me. “Maybe you aren’t even her. Maybe I’m just going insane. Maybe I just want to see her so badly that I think…”

“If she hurt you so much,” I said, “I don’t know if I want to be her.”

He nodded.

He didn’t say anything else. He just picked the knick knack back up and began transferring it from one hand to the other. I started to feel uncomfortable. Did he want me to make the first move or something? What did they other concubines do? I wished they hadn’t all seemed so hostile towards me. Maybe then I could have asked them what I should do. I started to fidget with the edge of my shirt. Maybe I should just start taking off clothing or something. Was that what he expected?

Screw it. I hadn’t asked to be some kind of sex slave. I shouldn’t have to worry about what he wanted me to do or not. I should willingly want to have sex with him, not just come because he called for me. I had more self-respect than that. “If you’re expecting me to start throwing off my clothes or coming onto you,” I said, “I’m not going to do that. I donโ€™t think one man having a harem of women is a particularly enlightened thing. You might be this amazing spiritual leader or whatever, but I don’t want to be your prostitute, okay?”

He turned to face me, his face confused. “What are you talking about?”

“You summoned me here,” I said. “Isn’t it because you want me to, you know, like…” I trailed off, feeling my face heat up. This was all a mistake, wasn’t it? Jason had called for me for a completely different reason. He liked redheads, after all. I wasn’t a redhead. Maybe the only reason I was in the concubine house was so that Jason could keep his eye on me. Because he thought I was that woman who’d hurt him.

“I want you to what?” Jason prompted.

“Well, you put me in a house with people who say they’re your concubines,” I said. “So I just figured that if you sent for me, it was because you wanted me to, um, do what concubines do.”

Jason’s face burst into a huge grin. “Oh, that’s what you thought, huh? So tell me, what do concubines do?”

I was blushing so fiercely I thought my face might catch fire. “You don’t have to make fun of me. I realize now that I’m not exactly your type and that I was just confused.”

“Not my type?”

I picked up a piece of my hair and yanked on it pointedly.

Jason closed the distance between us in two steps. His face came within inches of my own. “Oh, you’re my type all right.” His arm wrapped around my waist, and he tugged me against him.

I gasped a little when our bodies touched. Even through the layers of clothes, the feel of his skin against mine made me shiver.

Jason gazed at me hungrily. “That wasn’t why I asked you to come see me.” His voice had a ragged edge to it. “But you’re completely my type. I picked them because they look nothing like you. Because thinking about you hurt. Do you understand that?”

I didn’t understand that. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. But I couldn’t stop myself from running my fingers over his forearms, touching his firm skin. He felt amazing, this close. I parted my lips. I wanted to kiss him.

“You can’t be her,” he murmured, his lips coming closer to my own. “If you were her, you’d make some crack about Lilith. If you were her, you’d never let me hold you like this.”

“I’m not her,” I breathed, moving my lips closer to his.

And he released me, stepping back, so there was an aching chasm of space between our bodies.

“No,” he said, “you’re not.”

This book is being posted on Mondays and Thursdays between 7/4/2011 and 9/5/2011. To access other chapters, check out the Between Posts Archive, here.