Several Months Ago, While Flick And The Others Were In Seosten Space
Aylen was hungry.
But not that kind of hungry. Not the kind of hungry that could be satisfied by a trip to the cafeteria or by raiding a box of snacks. This was a very different, yet just as pressing, type of hunger.
When she was a child, she would have said that she was lower stomach hungry. That didn’t actually make sense, as this was not a hunger that had anything to do with a stomach. But it was as good a descriptor as any.
Reapers, like most species in the known universe, had to eat. Unlike most species, they did so in two very different ways. They did so the physical way, and they also did so by absorbing the energies that were given off at the time of death. Often, these two tasks were accomplished together.
Aylen was not a full reaper. She was, essentially, a quarter reaper. Which meant that she only had to absorb death very seldomly, once a week or so on average. And it didn’t even need to be anything big. Being near a few animals when they died was often enough, depending on the size. Hunt nights that came once a month were another good time for it. Those were a feast, really.
The point was, a little less than once a week, the girl would go into the jungle and find an animal to hunt. It allowed her to hone her tracking abilities and test herself while also taking in the energy that she needed.
But she had been stupid. She had put it off for too long this time, busying herself with schoolwork. And then, when it had become clear that she was very hungry indeed, the girl had ended up being trapped in a mandatory school project that she couldn’t get out of without drawing attention. Given Heretic regeneration, playing sick was a lot harder than it would have been. It wasn’t that Heretics couldn’t get sick at all, but it would need to be something that would definitely draw attention. And the last thing she wanted was attention.
So, she had been forced to put it off for even longer. Long enough that, as she flew over the jungle now in the werecrow form that she had inherited from her other mother, the girl felt a little sick. She needed to eat, quickly. Otherwise, she stood a chance of losing control of herself and if that happened, she would stop paying attention to consequences or morality. It wouldn’t be quite the same as becoming what the Heretics called a Hangman. This would be a temporary state that would only last until she was sated. But it was closer than she wanted to be. And if either of her mothers knew she’d let it go that far, they’d both chew her out thoroughly. And possibly take her out of the school entirely.
But everything was okay. She just needed to spot an animal that she could kill and feed off the death of. The jungle was a wonderful resource for that. And in her crow form, it wouldn’t be hard to find a decent candidate.
In fact, there was a strong candidate directly below, a small deer. She could fly down there, kill it, and after absorbing that energy, she would be able to think straight again. Things would be fine.
Dropping on top of the deer from above while transforming into her humanoid self to drive her dagger into its neck was a simple matter. Unfortunately, the not-simple part was the thing she had missed by being so intent on the deer. Namely, the Alter-snake that had been about to bite it from the underbrush. A snake that still lashed out as the deer was brought to the ground. Except instead of hitting the animal, its fangs found their way into Aylen’s ankle.
She felt it, the sharp pain that made her blood run cold, and turned it to see the snake disappearing. But by then, it was too late. The paralyzation had set in, and the girl collapsed to the ground with a strangled cry. Stupid, how could she be so stupid? The venom wouldn’t kill her, of course. But it would leave her paralyzed. Worse, the magic paralyzation poison forced her to revert to her reaper form. Now, she lay in the middle of the jungle, completely paralyzed and unable to move or revert to her more human coloring. Her hair was distinctly blue, as were her eyes.
And because things couldn’t possibly stop getting worse that day, she had barely been laying there for a few minutes waiting for the paralyzation to wear off before the girl heard voices. Multiple voices, speaking English. Students. There were students walking through the jungle in her direction.
Having different colored hair and eyes was really nothing new when it came to students around Crossroads. At most, it would result in a raised eyebrow given she had never changed her hair like that before. But the real problem was that she was paralyzed. As soon as they noticed that, teachers would be brought in. And teachers were a problem. They would pay too much attention.
Aylen was in trouble. Big trouble. If she screwed this up and had to get out of Crossroads without freeing her other grandfather, just because she had been an idiot, she’d never forgive herself.
Move, damn it! She tried forcing it, tried shifting into her crow form, at least. Nothing happened. The paralyzation was total. Which was kind of the point. But she had to keep trying. There was nothing else to do. She had to move. She couldn’t let other students see her like this. There would be too much to explain, too many problems. If the teachers got involved and had to investigate her…
Then she heard something else, something coming from the other side of the clearing, opposite from where the sounds of the students were. It was the sound of someone who was much closer than the others, clearly not a part of that group. From the corner of her eye, Aylen saw a figure come into view, but couldn’t quite make it out.
The figure seemed to freeze for a second, then came closer. As she stepped more into Aylen’s sightline, the girl finally recognized her. Avalon Sinclaire. The headmistress’s adopted daughter. She was the one standing there.
For a moment, both girls simply stared at one another. Avalon looked Aylen up and down, taking in what she was seeing. Her eyes moved up toward the sound of the approaching students.
Then Avalon moved. She was suddenly kneeling next to the other girl, scooping her up in her arms. And with a quick blur of motion they disappeared into the deeper jungle just before the other students would have seen them.
Still paralyzed, Aylen could do nothing to voice any of the myriad of questions that swam through her mind at that point. She was forced to play silent in Avalon’s arms until the girl put her down in a patch of grass well away from the path of the other group.
Her regeneration had kicked in by that point, and even as Avalon moved to gently inspect her, Aylen quickly sat up, shifting back against the nearby tree.
“I guess I don’t have to ask how long the paralyzation will last,” Avalon noted dryly. “I wasn’t sure how much it would affect a… hybrid. That’s what you are, right? Half human and half… half something else.”
Aylen finally found her voice. “How do— why aren’t— what…”
“I wish Flick was here,” Avalon muttered. “I mean, I’ve said that a lot lately, but especially now.” She let out a long breath before focusing once more. “First, it’s okay. You’re not in danger. I’m not about to turn you in or… or whatever else you were just thinking about. I don’t know what your exact situation is, why you’re here, how much you know, or anything else. But you are not in danger from me, okay?”
Before Aylen could respond to that, a wave of hunger washed over her and she groaned, clutching her stomach. It was getting even worse now. She had to eat or she would lose what little control she still had. Aylen was keeping a very tight leash on herself, but if she lost it…
“What’s wrong?” Avalon started, frowning. “Are you okay?”
It was Sovereign who responded then, by diving out of the canopy with a sharp cry as he opened his talents to drop something into Aylen’s lap. It was a rabbit, a squirming, kicking rabbit that she barely caught onto before the terrified thing could escape.
There was no time to explain. It would barely qualify as a snack, but it would keep her going and stop her from losing control. Gripping the thing’s neck, Aylen snapped it in one motion. The rabbit died completely painlessly, going still in her hands.
Death. The energy from it, small as it was, flooded her senses. She slumped back with a deep breath, taking it in. There. It wasn’t a lot, but enough. She could think now. She could focus.
“That…” Avalon slowly started, “that is… definitely something. Are you umm… do you feel better?”
Flushing, Aylen paused a moment. Then she nodded. “I’m okay. Are you freaking out right now?”
Avalon shrugged. “ A little. But that’s not the weirdest thing I’ve seen this year. You weren’t cruel to it or anything. You just… you were hungry, right? You just sort of fed from it dying?” Rather than sounding disgusted or horrified, the other girl seemed fascinated in a way that made Aylen blush.
“I, um, I shouldn’t have waited that long. It was dumb. It… are you sure you’re not freaking out right now?”
Again, Avalon shrugged. “Like I said, seen worse. I’m just glad I got to you in time and that you’re okay.”
“Okay,” Aylen echoed the word slowly before looking up once more “What do you mean, ‘got to me in time’? That sounds like it wasn’t an accident. How did you find me?”
Avalon shrugged. “Tiss. She said she bit a student that tasted weird. She didn’t mean to, you scared her.”
“Tiss,” Aylen echoed. “The snake.”
“Yeah,” Avalon confirmed. “We’ve talked a little bit. Ever since I figured out that I could talk to snakes now. The point is, she found me and let me know where you were. She said you might be hurt, and that there was something weird about you. She said you tasted strange. I guess we know why.”
Aylen was shaking her head. “I don’t understand. You know about… about hybrids and all that?”
“It’s a long story,” Avalon replied. “I guess yours is too.”
Aylen nodded. “Yeah. You could say that. But I’ll tell you one thing, I definitely owe you.
“And someday, I’ll pay it back.”
Aylen had no idea what she was doing.
Something… something she couldn’t explain had driven her to abandon her tour group as they made their way through the city, giving an excuse before slipping away. They obviously objected that she would miss the best part of the tour, but she promised to listen to them tell her about it later.
From there, she had wandered for a little bit, feeling somehow drawn by a touch that was so light it was very easy to lose it. If she focused on the pull, it would disappear. The only way was to wander aimlessly and allow herself to be subconsciously drawn where it wanted her to go.
It took over an hour before she was relatively certain that she was in the right place. In confusion, the girl looked around. She was in the middle of a parking lot near a grocery store that very clearly hadn’t been open for quite a while.
Here? Why would she need to be here? She didn’t understand. But this was definitely the spot.
It was the Reaper part of her. She knew that much. Mother had told her about this kind of thing. Sometimes, not often or even enough to be dependable, but sometimes, they were drawn toward locations where either a lot of death or a very important death would soon happen.
But what kind of death would happen here in this parking lot? It either had to be one that would involve a lot of people, or one that involved someone personal to the girl herself.
But there were no other Reapers here. And she refused to believe that there weren’t any near Washington DC. That would just be absurd. As weak as she was, if there was some huge tragedy about to happen here with lots of dead people, another Reaper would have been drawn to the spot. Which meant that it had to be someone personal.
There was one way to find out for certain, but she had never actually done it by herself before. Still, if it was someone important, she had to try.
Nodding over to Sovereign as the metal bird landed on a nearby lamppost, Aylen murmured. “Wish me luck.” The cyberform bird in turn gave a soft squawk.
Taking a moment to make sure that no one was anywhere nearby, the girl used a small knife from her pocket to cut part of her hand. Squeezing it tight, she let blood pour out onto the ground to form a small puddle. Then she crouched and used her finger to carefully and intently draw a rune in the blood. Her mother had taught her this spell. Aylen just hoped she was doing it right.
She wasn’t. It took her three tries to remember the exact spell, and she was about to give up and call her mother when the blood rune finally reacted. It sizzled, the blood boiling away before her eyes.
“Okay,” Aylen murmured under her breath, “here goes.” Placing both hands on the spot where the blood had been, she focused all the power that she could into it. But not all at once. It had to be a slow, steady charge. This wasn’t the kind of magic that could be done in a minute or two. She would have to sit here charging it for most of an hour. Others could do it more quickly, Reapers who had more experience and power. But she needed time to do it right. Time that she hoped she actually had, since the feeling that had led her here didn’t seem to be overwhelmingly urgent.
Forty minutes later, it was finally done. A wave of exhaustion washed over the girl before she blinked blearily at the ground. The blood was back. Actually, it was a lot more blood than she had initially dropped. It boiled up out of the ground, forming a large puddle that she had to scramble away from on her hands and knees, staring at it.
The blood puddle kept growing. Then it began to rise up, forming the shape of the body that would eventually lie in that spot, the spot that she had been drawn to. Though it remained simply blood, enough details began to form to make out the image of pants, a shirt, fingers, and a distinct head. There were even waves of blood that formed hair. It gradually became an intricate statue that appeared to be made out of red Jello.
The face filled in last, of course, sketching itself in slowly while she stared impatiently. Once it was finally done, Aylen had to stare open-mouthed for a moment.
Chambers. Flick Chambers. That was who the blood formed into. That was who was going to die soon in that spot, and Aylen suddenly knew why she had been drawn here by her death sense. If Flick died, Avalon would…
No. Aylen couldn’t let that happen. Not after Avalon had saved her and kept her secret. Whatever was going on, she refused to let Avalon‘s girlfriend just die like that.
Quickly fumbling in her pockets, Aylen scrambled to get her phone out. She scrolled through the contacts until she found the right one and hit the button to call. Nothing. There was no answer.
She called back again and got the same result. Leaving a quick voicemail to call her back, she bolted from her seat on the pavement and turned in a circle before heading for the nearest street to see where she was. On the way, she sent a text with multiple 911’s and exclamation marks. Then she called back a third time, disconnecting just before the voicemail picked up and called yet again.
On the fifth attempt, the phone was finally picked up. “Aylen,” Avalon started flatly, “it’s not a good time.”
Pausing only briefly as she heard what sounded like fighting and shouting in the background, Aylen blurted, “Don’t hang up. It’s about Flick! Is she there?!”
There was a very slight hesitation, then the sound of a humming energy blade going through someone, followed by a cry of pain that was abruptly cut off. Avalon gave a soft gasp before responding, “Flick? No, she’s not here. She’s… what about her? Wait, she’s not with you…”
“No,” Aylen replied. “No, but if you don’t listen and come here as soon as you can, she’s…”
“She’s what?” Avalon quickly snapped before the sound of gunfire cut through their connection for a moment.
“She’s going to die,” Aylen informed her simply. “I’m at a grocery store parking lot. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I know she’s going to die right here fairly soon. Maybe another hour? I’m not sure. But it’ll happen. I can give you the address.”
Avalon was silent for a few seconds. Then she spoke quietly. “Are you positive?”
“Yes,” Aylen assured her. “Trust me. Like I said, I don’t know what’s going on, what you guys are doing right now, or anything. But I know that if you don’t help me stop it, she’s going to die here tonight.”
That time, there was no pause at all. Avalon immediately replied, “Where are you?
“We’ll be there.”